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Chapter 28



No-Name-Key, FL, United States of America, Sol III
0832 EDT October 5
th, 2004 ad


Mike carefully set the last case of hand-rolled Imperials on the stack. The cigars were in twine-wrapped bundles of fifty, a gross of bundles to the case. The stack of cigar cases and rum barrels made an awkward fit in the back of the SUV.

Honest John rubbed his face and grimaced. "Christ, I knew I shouldn't dicker when I was drunk."

"And never play poker with her, either," Mike opined. "She'll clean your clock."

"She already did," the trader bemoaned.

"Oh, fiddlesticks," Karen said. "You know how that wine-jerked venison will go over in Havana. Not to mention that muscadine brandy. You're going to make a killing."

The trader just snorted but then smiled. "It's been a good visit, guys," he said to Mike and Sharon. "You guys keep safe. Don't bunch up."

Mike turned from where he was securing the empty gas can and frowned at the trader. "What rank did you say you were?" he asked.

"A third class petty officer," John answered. He smiled faintly and patted the pockets of his floral shirt until he found a panatela and a match. He flicked the match with his thumb and lit the panatela. "Why?"

" 'Don't bunch up' is not a Navy saying," Mike answered.

"Musta heard it somewheres," was the trader's answer.

"Uh-huh," Mike answered. "And didn't you say they just sent you a recall notice?"

" 'Bout two weeks ago," John agreed, warily. "Why?"

"Oh," said Mike, smiling. "Just wondering. Most of the notices went out last year. I can only think of one group that got recalled in the last few months."

"What are you two talking about?" asked Sharon, frowning.

"Nothing," said Mike, closing the back of the Tahoe.

"Guys," said Harry, giving Sharon a hug. "You take care, ya hear?"

"We will," said Sharon.

"Keep in touch," said Karen, smiling. "Herman will want to hear about all your big adventures."

"Okay," said Cally, giving the woman a hug. "I'll make sure to write him."

"Well," said John. "I'm not into soppy good-byes and I've got a tide to catch." He hugged Sharon and Cally and waved at Mike. "Tell that big ugly bastard Kidd that Poison said 'Hey.' "

"I will," said Mike with a smile.

"And tell Taylor he can kiss my fat, white ass."

"Okay," said Mike with a snort.

"Keep your feet and knees together, snake," he finished and walked towards the dock. He started to yell for his two missing crewmen but after the first wince thought better of it and just hopped in the dinghy, untied and started rowing towards the harbor opening.

As he was clearing the opening the two half-clad worthies, trailed by two swearing females, charged out of one of the abandoned bungalows and down the shore towards the retreating rowboat.

"What were those women saying, mom?" asked Cally, ingenuously.

"I think it was 'See you later honey,' " Sharon answered, pushing her towards the back seat.

"Oh," said Cally. " 'Cause, you know, it sounded a lot like, 'What about our money?' "

Mike laughed and shook Harry's hand. "Thanks for having us."

"Anytime," Harry answered. "On the house."

Mike nodded and smiled, then got in the Tahoe. He turned to Sharon and shrugged. "Ready for a long damn drive?"

"Sure. And this time let's bypass my parents."

"Works for me. Actually, if we go by way of Mayport, you can probably catch a shuttle from there. Then Cally and I will drive back to Dad's. I can catch a shuttle out of Atlanta or Greenville."

"Okay," she answered with a sad smile. "And one last night?"

"Yeah," he answered. "One last night. Until the next time."

Sharon nodded. Of course there would be a next time. It had taken the highest possible command authority to pry them both loose for this time. And they were both going to be in the thick of combat. But, of course there would be a next time. Mike put the Tahoe in gear and they drove out of the parking lot, down the shell-paved path, wrapped each in mirror thoughts.


Chapter 29



Geosynchronous Orbit, Sol III
1444 EDT October 9
th, 2004 ad


"Join the Fleet and see the Universe, eh Takagi?" mused Lieutenant Mike Stinson for the umpteenth time as he looked out the clear plastron of his fighter canopy at the swirling stars.

"Yes, my friend. For once the recruiters didn't lie."

Captain Takao Takagi was the number-one-rated fighter pilot in the Japanese Self-Defense Force when he leaped at the opportunity to transfer to Fleet Strike Fighter Force. He knew the objective realities of the situation, that without dreadnoughts to break up the Posleen battleglobes the fighters could only peck ineffectually at the surface, that the Posleen space-based weapons would probably sweep the limited number of fighters available out of the heavens. He recognized that his chances of ever seeing the snow-capped mountains of Honshu again were slim to none. But he also understood the ancient mantra of the Japanese warrior, the words that every Japanese soldier, airman or sailor carries in his inner heart: Duty is heavier than mountains, death is lighter than a feather.

Someone must stand between Earth and the Posleen landings. Until the heavy Fleet forces were ready, that meant a rag-tag band of converted Federation frigates and the space fighters as they came off the assembly line. If it was his day to die, when the Posleen came, then so be it, as long as he could take an offering with him to the ancestors.

And the view didn't hurt.

Working in two fighter Combat Space Patrol teams, the first three fighter squadrons maintained a close Earth patrol. Since the first few scouting Posleen could be expected any day, it was hoped that the CSPs could intercept the Posleen as they exited from hyperspace and began their movement to Earth.

There were two forms of hyperspatial transport known: "ley-line" transport and "quantum tunneling."

The Federation, without exception until recently, used "line" transport. A quirk of quantum theory first proposed by humans in the 1950s turned out to be true. Along the path from star to star was a "valley" or "line" that permitted easy entry into the alternative dimensions of hyperspace. These valleys permitted ships to travel at high "relative" speeds, far exceeding the speed of light. Although it was possible to "quantum tunnel" outside the valleys, it was slower and more power intensive.

The problem from a military perspective with the "valleys" was that the openings were both a known location and they were relatively distant from the inner planets. Therefore, it took hours or sometimes even days for a ship to travel from the habitable world to the "valley entrance." Nor were the entrances necessarily near each other or near planets. So most of a long hyperspatial trip involved movement in star systems from one valley to the next. Furthermore, the approach of a ship in the "valley" set up a harmonic that was detectable outside the "hyperspace dimension," but ships in the valley were blind to the outside. Although the Posleen did not, currently, set up space ambushes, the possibility existed. And that made Fleet dislike "ley-line" hyperspace intensely.

The Posleen, however, used an alternative method. Disdaining the "valley" method they used "quantum tunneling." Quantum tunneling had numerous items to its advantage. It permitted "small" jumps within star systems. It permitted the ships to come out relatively close to their target, be it a planet or some other location. And it was practically undetectable.

However, "tunneling" had two countervailing problems. First, it was slow and energy intensive, compared to the "valley" method. The trip from Diess to Earth took six months using the "valley" method; most of the time spent in systems going from valley to valley. Using the "tunneling" method it took almost a year and seven times as much energy. Second, the "exit" phase was highly random. Ships come out of hyperspace on a random course and at low velocities. But it was the preferred method of the Posleen. Indeed, the species seemed unaware of the "lines" between star systems.

Because of the vagaries of "tunneling," and the low relative velocity of the ships exiting it, if the first few ships were individual Battle Dodecahedrons or Command Dodecahedrons, the combination of fighters for immediate reaction and frigates to pound with marginally heavier weapons might keep some of the pre-landings from happening. At least, that was the hope.

In the meantime, what it meant for the pilots of the First, Ninth, and Fifty-Fifth Interplanetary Fighter Squadrons was an up-close and personal view of the world spread out before them. The patrol positions were just beyond geosynchronous orbit—close enough to intercept the Posleen but far enough out to avoid the junk belt surrounding the planet—and the swirling blue globe constantly caught the eye. As Takao rotated his fighter to take in the view again, the terminator was just starting to cross the Atlantic. The pair's current patrol was just ahead of it—maintaining a near geosynchronous orbit—and he could clearly see the American coastline coming up. After the series of cold fronts that had lashed them for the past two weeks it looked like they were having some extraordinary early fall weather.

He had spent some time at Andrews Air Force Base, cross training with the American F-15 wings before anyone had heard the word "Posleen" and he imagined that quite a few people were heading to the mountains or the beaches this weekend. His next leave was several months off, but he might take it there instead of . . .

* * *

"Come on, Sally!" shouted Big Tom Sunday as his daughter stepped up to the plate, "keep your eye on the ball!"

The booming voice caused more than one head to turn and Little Tom at his side grinned sheepishly as he saw Wendy Cummings look their way. She gave a slight, disinterested smile and looked back across the diamond. There Ted Kendall was surrounded by a bevy of young ladies like her, sentenced by their parents to watch a Saturday afternoon elementary school softball game.

Tommy followed her eyes and quickly turned back to watching the game. At a moment like this the shadow of his father seemed to overpower him like a rising flood, just as irresistible and as elemental. His father had been a football star, his father had been chased by the girls, his father never had to worry about what to do on a Saturday night. His father was a butthead.

Little Tom pulled his glasses off and wiped them on his shirt. There was a moment's sting in his eyes that he put down to the strong north wind and he took a surreptitious swipe as he redonned them. Just the wind. He need not bother being surreptitious, another check had Wendy halfway around the diamond, headed in the other direction.

* * *

Wendy walked slowly and carefully towards the crowd around Ted Kendall. Until the week before he had seemed welded at the hip to Morgen Bredell, the two the undisputed class king and queen as a classic double whammy: head cheerleader and lead quarterback. Since their spectacular breakup during study hall, the competition for both had become heavy. Morgen had latched onto Ted's number one rival for big man on campus, the school's lead fullback, Wally Parr, but Ted had seemed totally uninterested in female companionship.

Most of the school thought that he was waiting for Morgen to come back. Sooner or later she was bound to discover that Wally had fast hands not only in the backfield. Besides being the quarterback Ted was considered an all-round nice guy. As too many girls had learned, that did not hold for Wally.

Wendy had considered that dissimilarity carefully before deciding to move into the circle around Ted. After a few unpleasant dates with the backfield she had practically sworn off football players, but maybe Ted would be different. She practiced her opening line as she swayed closer.

* * *

Little Tom glanced over again as Wendy closed in on the bevy, then looked away as his eyes burned from the sun shining off her long blonde hair. You'd figure sooner or later they'd learn. He pulled his glasses off again and took another swipe at his eyes.

"What the hell's wrong now, Tommy?" asked his father.

"Nothin', Dad."

"Allergies?"

"No, just the sun. I should have brought my shades."

"With all I paid for custom sunglasses, you think you would. Stop a Posleen shotgun blast."

"Yep," said Little Tom with an unheard sigh at his dad's total cluelessness. "Pity about the rest of my face, mind you."

His dad laughed and went back to berating his sister. At nine she was already a star athlete and well on the way to erasing Big Tom's shame at having a computer geek for a son. Big Tom unconsciously checked the Glock behind his back as a high, thin line of cirrus clouds swept across the sun.

"Could come any time," he commented just as unconsciously.

"Yep. Anytime," Little Tom agreed. Another sigh and rolled eyes. "Dad, can I go home now?"

"No. We need to stay here and show our support for Sally."

"Dad, Sally's got enough confidence for three of us. She knows we support her. I've got homework and I have to get in two hours range time so I can be in the tournament next week. When am I going to be able to?"

"After the game," answered his father with a frown.

"After the game you are taking Sally and her friends out for sundaes," answered Little Tom with the sort of remorseless logic that always got him in trouble. "You will expect me to participate in that as well. After sundaes we will convey Sally's friends to their various residences. We will return home at approximately nine p.m. You will maintain lights out for ten p.m. I repeat . . ."

"Tommy," Big Tom growled.

"Shut up."

"More or less. You are going to show your support or you can kiss any goddamn computer game tournament good-bye."

Little Tom took a deep breath. "Yes, sir!" he snapped, crossing his arms and tapping one boot.

"When is this damn tournament, anyway?" asked his father.

"Next Saturday, three p.m. until it finishes," said Little Tom, knowing he was in for it.

"You're supposed to be participating in a Youth Militia exercise that night!"

"Chief Jordan excused me," said Little Tom with another roll of the eyes. "I've outgrown the local militia, Dad. Besides, the tournament counts as tactical exercises for military prep credit."

"Who says?" asked Big Tom with a snort of disgust at the asinine idea. As if sitting in front of a computer playing shoot-'em-up games could be considered real combat training.

"Fleet," answered Tommy. "They count national standing in Death Valley toward military pre-training."

"Well, I don't. You need to know what the real thing is like, not a Virtual fairy tale. You're going on the Youth Militia exercise."

"Dad!"

"No means no."

"Okay, no means fucking no," said the son furiously. "In that case, what is my motivation for watching this softball bullshit, O Great Master of All Things Military?"

"Watch your mouth, mister!"

"Dad, you are a fuckin' dinosaur!" the teenager finally exploded. "I am damned if I'm going to be in any Ground Force unit! I am going to be Fleet Strike or nothing! And Youth Militia does not count towards Fleet! I don't mind you acting like I've got two heads and a tail because I don't measure up to your ideal son, but you are not going to screw up my chances of getting into Fleet!"

"You had better calm down and get a civil tongue in your head or you're going to be grounded for the rest of the school year!"

Little Tom met his father's eyes fiercely but he knew the old man would never back down now. With the other parents listening it was going to be a point of pride, something that his father had in overabundance. His eyes closed and his face worked in anger as he tried to control himself. Finally he opened his eyes.

"I am going to go catch a ride home," he snarled at his father. "And then I am going to cap targets for a couple of hours. And I suspect I am not going to miss."

"Get out of here," his father husked and dismissed him from his attention.

He stepped out of the crowd of parents and started looking for someone, anyone who had a car. As he did he saw the coach of the opposing team charge onto the field towards the umpire.

* * *

Wendy waited carefully as Ted warmed to expounding about himself. Until his breakup with Morgen he had been the quietest of all the football players. His humility was rapidly slipping away under the onslaught of female attention and since there was not much he could think of to talk about except football the focus was on recent games.

"Then I handed off to Wally and he ran . . ." he continued.

"Thirty-two yards for a touchdown," interjected Wendy.

"Yeah," he said, momentarily stymied.

"You were down by more than seven, so you decided to go for the double point rather than try for a touchdown and a field goal."

"Uh-huh."

"So you threw to Johnny Grant for a touchdown," continued Wendy, flipping a lock of blonde hair out of the way, "but I was wondering something at the time . . ."

"Yeah?"

"It looked like Jerry Washington was in the open and you had to throw past a safety to get to Johnny. Why didn't you throw to Jerry?"

"You know," he said, chagrined, "Wally, the big son of a bitch, was blocking, was in the way, I couldn't see past him. Everybody asked me that, afterwards, especially Jerry. He was really pissed." He turned towards her as the conversation finally turned to something he could talk about.

"You need to do something about that. That explains the same problem on the next series when you got intercepted," she said with a toss of her hair. She personally thought it was her best feature and decided that subliminally showing it off would help.

"What," he asked, laughing, "you doing a piece for the school newspaper?"

"No," she answered, "do you think we need a better sports section?"

"Oh," he started to respond, "I think the school . . ."

"What is that bozo doing?" asked one of the suddenly snubbed coterie, watching the coach of the opposing team apparently charging the umpire.

* * *

"For she's a jolly good fellow, for she's a jolly good fellow, for she's a jolly good fellllow, which nobody can deny!" "Woof! Woof!"

The chorus of male, female and canine voices rang through the Fredericksburg Public Safety Building and out the open windows into the splendid autumn sunshine. A mob of happy faces in jumpsuits and body armor–bulked uniforms were gathered around a conference table to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the fire chief.

"Speech! Speech!" cried the usual joker at the back.

"Speech! Speech!"

"Okay! Okay!" said the slight gray-haired female as she stepped up to the head of the table. Her blue, patch-covered coverall bore the nametag "Wilson" over her left breast. One side of her face and the back of her hand on the same side bore the stigma of replaced skin, slick and shiny, but her electric blue eyes were undimmed by age and untrammeled by care. "If I can get you guys to just shut up for once it'll be worth it."

She looked around at the sea of young faces and suddenly grinned. "Now," she cackled, shaking her finger and gumming the words, "lemme tell you about the ooold days, smack, smack, wah in mah day, we had ta carry the water up from the river, yep . . ." At the common, quavered litany the group of firefighters and police—most of them trained and all of them at one time counseled by the wise old woman—laughed uproariously.

"No, really," she continued in a normal voice, shaking her head. "I just want to say that the last thirty years are what living is all about. I don't know how people who don't like their jobs get up in the morning. Every damned day I wake up and spring out of bed more ready to come to work than the last." That the job had eaten two marriages and left her without children she carefully did not mention. There were balances in any life and on the scale she was willing to accept her portion.

"You people, and the generation before you and I hope the generation after are what makes this job so special. That and the chance, every day, to go out and do some good. If there is a better thing to do with your day than to save a life—whether fighting a fire or preventing a crime—I don't know what it is. Someday, someday fairly soon, I suspect, I won't be able to climb the ladders, or carry the stretchers or run the hoses. And the legacy that I will leave is right here in this room." There were a few sniffles in the bunch now and she thought it best to wrap up before it got too sentimental.

"And every day, I want you to keep that in mind. There is nothing more important than saving an innocent life and anything that you have to do, through fire or explosion, it is worth whatever effort. There is just nothing like it." As the crowd was cheering the door to the hall burst open to admit the dispatcher.

* * *

One of the opposing team softball players was following her coach, dragging a boombox nearly as big as the player. At the same time, one of the teenaged sisters dragged along by the parents was tugging at her father's arm, leaning into him and proffering the headset from her Walkman. At the coach's first words the umpire waved the game to a halt, leaned over and dialed the boombox's volume to the max.

" . . . not a test, this is an announcement of the Emergency Broadcast System. Posleen ships have been detected exiting hyperspace in near-Earth proximity . . ."

Everyone at the game unconsciously looked up. As they did there was a flash of white light, clear against the crystalline blue sky. The blossom of nuclear fire marked the location of at least one space battle. Tommy looked back towards his dad and, as they caught each other's eye, they both unconsciously checked behind their backs. When they realized the mimicry, they both looked chagrined. For a moment they seemed to connect in a way that they had not felt in years. Then Big Tom headed out to the field to collect his daughter and Tommy headed for the Suburban.

* * *

"Earth is under a landing watch. This means that probability of landing in your area within the next four hours is high. All military personnel are ordered to immediately return to their units by the shortest possible means. All aircraft are ordered to ground immediately at the nearest possible landing area. Citizens without military duties are strongly urged to go immediately to their homes and stay there until landing areas are determined.

"All businesses with the exception of essential services, such as groceries and fueling stations, are ordered to close immediately. All citizens are urged to return to their homes and remain there. Stay tuned to your local TV and radio stations for updated watches and warnings. Up-to-date watch and warning information for your local area is available through National Weather Service Broadcasts. . . ."

Wendy listened to the announcement in shock. The group around Ted swayed towards him then started to break up as individual girls sought out their parents. Wendy was the last one to leave and she looked at him for a moment, reached out her hand in farewell then walked away.

* * *

" . . . Citizens are urged to remain off interstate highways which are designated for military troop movements. If you feel it necessary to leave your area, or if your area is ordered to evacuate, follow the designated evacuation routes from your area to refuge areas. There will shortly be a statement from the President. . . ."

The dispatcher had a portable weather radio with her and simply held it over her head. As the dispatch began to repeat Chief Wilson looked around and said, simply, "You all know the drill. Time to get to work."

* * *

The mountain of black metal had appeared with a brief flicker of plasma discharge at a range of less than six hundred kilometers—knife-fighting distance in space—and more or less on a collision course. Before Takagi and Stinson could even initiate evasive maneuvers a plasma cannon wiped Stinson from the heavens. Takagi grabbed his stick, flikkered, engaged thrusters and hit the Hammer. The next plasma wash missed his fighter by less than thirty meters.

The fighters conceived of and designed by the GalTech Fighter Board were the most advanced spaceships ever built. Because the Posleen occasionally exhibited a degree of skill at jamming, and because the Galactics required a human in the fire decision loop, there had to be a body in the cockpit. To survive in the expected environment the ships had to mount not only impressive countermeasures but be able to maneuver in ways considered impossible by the first designers.

The primary Posleen weapons that would be used against fighters were either a terawatt laser system on the landers or a similar grade plasma cannon. Galactic reports and information developed on Barwhon and Diess determined that Posleen detection and acquisition systems were state-of-the-art. Indeed, there was mounting evidence that they surpassed the Federation in every respect. Furthermore, a laser beam traveled at the speed of light, a plasma ray only fractionally slower. While over extremely long ranges there was lag, at any practical engagement range the time between firing and impact was effectively instantaneous.

Given these two facts there was little hope for a fighter component, despite their obvious utility against landers. The entire battle would have to be fought by ships that could take a hit and keep coming.

However, in any weapons system there was a slightly longer lag between acquisition of target and firing, the "lock-on" phase. It was this inherent lag that was the single chink designers could foresee in Posleen antiship weapons. What would be required to survive in that type of environment would be a fighter capable of carrying a reasonable payload and sufficient projectors and deflectors to be able to somewhat spoof the Posleen acquisition systems, but most of all it would have to be incredibly maneuverable. It would have to be able to make vector changes that could avoid a light-speed weapon in the time it took that weapon to acquire it and fire; it would have to be able to turn on a dime at a fraction of the speed of light.

The only thing that made this possible was inertial control. Inertial controllers were used in all space craft, otherwise they could not reach reasonable speeds without squashing their crew flat from acceleration forces. After months of research and development the Galactic science/philosophers, the crablike Tchpth, managed to create an inertial stabilization system capable of damping six hundred standard gravities with a reasonable field area and mass. Since the resulting craft would be at least the size of a conventional F-15 it had more than enough room for weapons and jammers. Acceleration, however, remained a problem.

The Federation in general used a reversal of the inertial damping field for reactionless acceleration. While it was a tremendously efficient system, it had some limitations that they had not yet overcome. Specifically, although they could damp six hundred gravities of acceleration, they could not generate them. Thus the fighter's dampers exceeded its actual abilities. This was where human ingenuity came to the fore.

The humans on the design team made a series of points on the subject of reactionary as opposed to reactionless thrust and the utility of some of the materials the Galactics used regularly. After a brief protest over the inherent danger of the system, the antimatter thruster and afterburner were born. Antiprotons and water were squirted into a plenum chamber at a three-to-one mix ratio. When the antimatter hit the water it created a thrust just made for getting down and busy. Dropping more raw antimatter into the thrust plume created an afterburner that gave new meaning to the name "Hammer." The Space Falcons could even do a maneuver previously the sole prerogative of the Harrier jump jet, a VSLP.

This maneuver was discovered, accidentally, by a new Harrier pilot who found himself in a fairly high-altitude battle of maneuver—a dogfight or furball to the military—with an F-16. The F-16 was inarguably the superior aircraft for the situation; it was considered the best dogfighter in the world.

The new pilot was desperate to avoid impending mock doom and not yet instinctive about what not to do in a Harrier. As a mistake, he accidentally pointed all of his vector fans in opposed directions, then somehow recovered. If he had not been high above the ground he would have found out just how unforgiving an aircraft he was flying. Briefly.

Instead, he suddenly found himself going one hundred eighty degrees in the opposite direction, directly at the rapidly encroaching F-16. He fired his own, notional, missiles, dove for the deck and both avoided the nearly inevitable midair collision and "killed" the surprised and momentarily terrified F-16 pilot. Once it was determined what he had done—and a method to successfully and safely replicate it was developed—the maneuver became a regular part of the Harrier's repertoire. All the other pilots suddenly started to give Harrier pilots, mostly semisuicidal Marines, a wide berth in a furball; they were likely to fly right up your nostrils.

What was unusual in an "airbreather" fighter was the norm in a space system and the F-2000 Space Falcon could do the identical maneuver. In spades. With a flip of the pilot's wrist the fighter could be pointed in the opposite direction, but because of inertial forces would continue along its initial vector. However, an application of antimatter thrusters and afterburners slowed all but the most extreme velocities and had the fighter headed in the new direction in no time. In the case of Takao Takagi—up close and personal to a Posleen Battleglobe that had not even existed moments before—he used every trick he knew in that first moment and it spared his life for another day.

He flipped his fighter end for end, a "flikker" maneuver, and fired off his antimatter thrusters. At almost the same instant he kicked in his afterburners. Hitting the Hammer was a desperation maneuver at low relative velocities. At reversed velocities, as he was after the flikker, it was nearly suicide, requiring an extraordinary degree of skill. If the ship already had velocity or acceleration negative to, that is away from, the antimatter mass, the additional punch of the antimatter degrading was absorbable by the ship systems. Although the inertial effects would be high, the dampers could absorb them. All that occurred was extremely rapid acceleration.

However, if the vector was neutral with respect to the location of the antimatter mass or positive to it—as in flying into it—the danger was that not only could the inertial dampers be overloaded, resulting in pilot mush, but portions of the unconverted antimatter might touch the ship itself, with catastrophic results.

As it was, for a moment he sustained over sixty Gs after damping. While likely to kill most human beings, with training and if they are sustained for only an instant, sixty Gs are marginally survivable. In the case of Takao Takagi it was an instant he would remember for the rest of his life. As he came out of momentary shock, he fired a volley of antimatter "lances." The small, "brilliant" weapons were about the size of a conventional AMRAAM that had hypervelocity drivers and penetration aids designed to get inside Posleen defenses. The Class Four antimatter warheads should be able to destroy or severely damage a lander. He knew that his AID would be broadcasting warnings so he didn't even bother.

The battleglobe right in front of him was the only one he could worry about, but he heard scattered reports of others. His globe was on a vector headed away from Earth but it was already maneuvering ponderously back into orbit.

The thing was so large it was incomprehensible as a ship. Up close his fighter, nearly the size of a World War II bomber, was swallowed by the immensity, a gnat pecking at a house. The black globe was kilometers across, and every cubic meter was devoted to killing. As his fighter tossed him through pounding evasion maneuvers, it seemed that every one of those weapons was aimed at him.

The gigantic black globe was comprised of thousands of individual ships. It was not concentrating on the unimportant gnat pecking at its exterior. Indeed, it was throwing missiles and plasma and lasers in every direction. As the Posleen dropped towards Earth they seemed to target everything for destruction. Whether it was wanton violence or calculated experience, nothing escaped their ire. Satellites flickered and died, burning like moths in a flame as gouts of plasma or laser beams touched their fragile skeletons. The nascent International Space Station, a valiant project dropped in favor of more immediate plans and real deep-space work, was good for an antimatter missile. Inoffensive bits of space junk, sections of orbiters, detached skins or deceased satellites that had inhabited useless orbits doing nothing but being in the way since the 1960s were washed from space as the extraterrestrial juggernauts descended.

Light kinetic energy weapons dropped towards the planet below as probable threat locations were spotted or a God King simply wanted to make a pretty explosion. Dozens of the small, smart entry vehicles dropped through the atmosphere striking cities and military bases across Earth. Four of them for some reason struck the Great Pyramids in Cairo and another half dozen were targeted on deserted areas in the Central American jungle. The detonations—equivalent to a ten-kiloton nuclear weapon—were tiny, white pinpricks on the surface of the planet.

After what seemed like days, but was in fact hours, Takao had expended all his lances and was reduced to peppering the globe with his dual terawatt lasers. The globe began to break up, exposing to fire more of the vulnerable landers and the more important command dodecahedrons as it neared the atmosphere.

But despite its increasing vulnerability, Takao had to break off. Space Falcons were exactly that: Space falcons. Only vaguely aerodynamic and without a heat shield, they would burn up entering the atmosphere at combat speeds.

Bitterly ashamed at his inability to stop the inevitable, the pilot turned back to Lunar Farbase, watching in his rear camera as the black ball broke apart into a swarm of death descending towards the Pacific and his beloved home islands.





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