"Hell, they’ve got limpets all over. They must have diagrams of where all the airtight compartments are." Sergeant O’Malley reported from the surface of el eight. "No sign of hostiles."
"Leave the limpets until someone who knows what they’re looking at sees them. We need to find the Piggies and snuff them quick." Lieutenant Conde responded. "Head down to the next el, I’ll skip it and go to fourteen." He was still on the comm, relaying information when Corporal Perez reported a sighting.
"They look like they’re heading sternward. Looks like eight Piggies total, four on el fourteen, four traveling between eight and eleven . . . and there are at least two more on fourteen’s hull." Perez had a bird’s eye view perched on the outside of the pod.
"Clear them off fourteen, priority, before they place more limpets, then take the others if they keep heading this way. O’Malley, take them from the rear." Conde frowned. How many teams did the piggies have? "I’m going to check seventeen."
Wisdom was flying the pod and just nodded, reaccelerating as the last trooper got out of the danger zone around the pod. "There they are, looks like they just started." The figures on the el spotted them and the one with the huge backpack took aim at them.
Baker took her pod all the way to engineering where the spaces were larger before ducking into the frame. There was no sign of movement on the bottom el, and she headed for the next. The Mall, they called it.
"There they are." Sergeant Eddings called. "We beat them to it." Baker spotted them, now. Four figures still headed sternward and four that had just turned and were touching down on the el. The backpacked figure closest to them turned, then threw its arms out and kept turning. "Good shot!" Eddings called. The lasers were invisible to Baker. She wished she could have worn her armor, but it was too awkward for piloting. "Look for other bulky ones," Eddings called. "But don’t forget the rest. Quizimo, take your squad down to the el and get them off before they can plant limpets. Gonsalves, get the three flyers then head for the next el forward."
Ivan shoved himself out of the tram, trailing pieces of armor, which went flying as he grabbed for his laser rifle and an anchoring point as he spotted the armed man . . . no, ichimp. Friendly. He blew out his breath and tried to slow down his speech. "Don’t scare me like that!"
Simon grinned wryly. "Ditto." He gestured at the small airlock to the side, "I thought I’d better watch that."
Ivan nodded. But could you shoot someone coming through? "Good idea. I’m going out to see if I can stop any more Piggies from getting out. Want to come?" He suppressed a twinge of guilt, this was not the time to get overprotective. At least Simon was holding a weapon.
Simon nodded. "Yes. We need to stop them cold."
Ivan blinked at the icy resolution in Simon’s eyes. So ichimps can’t fight, eh? More Damn Foundation conditioning, no doubt. Let’s see what Mata Hari’s kid can do. "Catch some armor." He had grabbed without sorting, but the armor had been racked in sets, so were complete. Seeing Monkenstein snag a set, he shoved the rest, and all but two of the laser rifles back into the tram and sent it to engineering. He floated over to the comm, and wrestled himself into the minimally flexible torso piece waiting for engineering to answer.
"Yes?" the voice sounded worried.
"George? Is that you?" The environmental systems tech must have headed down, rather than up. Excellent. He could hear, turned down to nearly inaudible, the marines chatter. It sounded like they’d intercepted the piggies before they’d gotten to Engineering.
"Yeah. What’s going on, Ivan? Do I need to get up there? I think I should stay with the main repair crews."
"You are in exactly the right spot. Listen up. The Piggies have soldiers outside placing hole cutters against the walls of the els. The Marines are after them, and I’m going to stop any more of them from getting out of el three. I’m sending armor and weapons down tram one. Don’t let the Piggies take engineering." Ivan gritted his teeth, wondering if any of them could shoot. "Lock the trams in station so they can’t use the stations for airlocks, shoot them if they cut through a wall." Damn, the sides of the armor wouldn’t seal, his chest was too large. He snapped the crotch strap and grabbed his floating leg shields.
He could hear the ichimp gulping uncertainly. "If you really can’t, George, find someone who can, and give them the guns." He fielded the arm pieces Monkenstein threw him.
"Right." George sounded a bit breathless. "We won’t let them get in, Ivan."
"Good. Out." He closed the upper arm pieces and started in on the lower arms.
Monkenstein was already into his and was back at the airlock. "It’s cycling, Ivan!" he clicked down and examined the dials of the laser rifle.
Ivan cursed, shoving himself side ways to get a clear view around Monkenstein, then shoving off the wall and forward at the airlock as the hatch popped and slid. Monkenstein fired two quick bursts. Ivan hit the still opening hatch a moment later, nearly fumbling his landing in shock. Not even any hesitation!
"Oh, my God!" Monkenstein yelped, "Tell me those were piggies, not Marines!"
"Piggies." Ivan diagnosed at a glance. "Complete with cutters. You’re a pretty good shot." He added.
"Mom." Monkenstein explained. "I’m out of practice, though."
They crowded into the airlock and cycled back through. No one on the other side, no one in sight. He could hear consternation on the marines’ channel, the piggies has built some high powered lasers strong enough to damage the pods, let alone the marines . . . actually, the marines could probably take more fire than the lightweight pods.
"Watch out for piggies with bulky backpacks, they’ve got heavy lasers." He passed on to Monkenstein.
"Right." Monkenstein followed him past the anchorage for Spider’s ship and jumped without comment over to the main framework. Without jets, Ivan kept the jumps as small as possible, working quickly around to the el three tram station. The top plate was sealed across it, the bottom open. He growled a bit at his lack of preparedness. Not even a mirror to take a look in. He hissed a bit and grabbing a strut, swung himself down around and in. The first shot flashed across his chest. Unable to bring the rifle around easily, he just let his momentum carry him into the piggie and twisted his helmet hard. He shoved the flopping thing out of the way as Monkenstein joined him.
"I’ll get the controls." Simon turned his back on the dead piggie, "Ready?"
Rifle to the fore, Ivan nodded, then grimaced and made it verbal. "Open it."
The bottom plate slid across and sealed. He could feel the squeeze of the skin suit relaxing as pressure built up.
"Door opening." Monkenstein warned him.
He pounced through, giving himself enough spin to shoot . . . no one. He hit the other side and clenched his toes to hold on. "One guard? They had one stinking guard outside and nothing else?"
"There’s not very many of them, they must not be able to muster many goons. Sabotaging over a dozen habitats is a big job, I’ll bet they sent nearly everyone they could." Monkenstein floated over to stare down the corridor and into the el. "Where to? Their technical controls will all be up top, we can take their comm and order their surrender."
"Yeah." The hair was standing up on his back, "I can’t believe this is all." He shoved off again, touching down at the egress into the sphere proper. Nothing. It was eerily quiet. He floated silently down to the tech office and triggered the door. Rifle to the fore he stepped in. The redhead at the comm station glanced around calmly, then suddenly shrieked as she registered the nature of the intruder. She leaped straight up into the deckhead and bounced off clutching her head and shrieking even louder. Ivan grabbed her arm, yanked her down and into his face. "Shut up or I will kill you." Abrupt silence fell. "I’m Ivan D. Terrible. You’ve heard about me, haven’t you?" She nodded. He could feel her shivering through his grip. "Do as you are told and I won’t kill either you, or anyone else. Understand?" Nod. "How many soldiers does Beringer have?"
"I don’t know." She whispered, "He just came in and made an el-wide announcement. He said for us all to remain home while he rid the ship of abomin . . . " her voice trailed off, her eyes jerking to his right. The lights reddened and dimmed as he spun. Monkenstein got one shot off, clipping the first soldier through the door. As he spun in slow motion, Ivan bounded forward, grabbing a handhold to swing through and down the short corridor. Two more armored figures were ducking into doorways, moving with nightmare slowness. He pulled his rifle up through the thick air and fired twice. Kicking off a body into the room it was headed for, he backhanded an unarmored man rising from the el’s tech panel. Room clear. He bounced back out to find Monkenstein approaching, hugging the wall and sticking to the floor, rifle pointed slightly downward.
"No sightings." Ivan heard it as slow and deep but knew Monkenstein must be deliberately speaking fast and high on purpose for it to have been understandable.
"Let’s scout." Ivan spoke slowly, then broke off suddenly to listen to the Marine channel. "They’ve made contact out there."
Keeping close to the hull, Chuck hustled around to where his visor display showed the piggies. Especially the one with the backpack laser. Target One. He took him out almost before he’d cleared the curve of the hull. A single blast of plasma was all it took. Up close, he could see that their hard suits were just separate pieces, mostly overlapping, over their skin suits. No contest against full up armor. Not bad against lasers, but mostly didn’t cut it where plasma was concerned. At close range these guys were toast. "Use your plasma rifles, get close." He called, scanning his visor display as Herring and Wolfe split left and right to take out two more. There were more piggies incoming, three of them lit in red. "Heads up! Incoming!" a red line flashed onto his visor, unneeded as the hull beside him vaporized and peeled. The last piggie icon on the hull disappeared. "OK, lets head up and get them." The piggie icons grouping above them scattered suddenly as the big green icon of the pod sailed through them. In the confusion, Chuck took one out with plasma, then crashed straight into another. He jerked the man’s gun away and found himself face to face with Berringer. He touched helmets, "Have a nice ride!" he spun him around and fired the laser rifle through the compressed fuel tank of the jet pac. At point blank range it made a neat little hole. Berringer shot off, veering wildly. He crashed into one of the other piggies and grabbed, but they both crashed and bounced off the fuel sphere, then spun off through the gap into open space.
"If the other one has enough fuel to get back, you’re going to regret that gesture." May Huang commented.
"Yeah," Chuck admitted, "but the thought of him dying alone out there was irresistible." He broke off and shot another backpacker, as the pod rotated and gigged the engine just enough to roast another.
Deveroux jetted over and grabbed the pod, climbing around it to fire off two laser pulses. Checking his visor, Chuck followed suit. "May, can you spin counter?"
"Sure." The pod turned, pulling him with it. He switched to laser for more distant shots and started hammering at piggies as they appeared over his horizon.
Deveroux joined him, showering the hardsuits with pulses that sooner or later hit a vulnerable spot. The icons started retreating, and not in any sort of order. The last red icon paused long enough to get one more shot off, and Chuck heard Wolfe cursing.
"You hit, Wolfe?"
"John took that straight through the helmet."
Chuck hissed, then, "Grab the pod. May, after them."
Wolfe hit the pod with a double trump and bent immediately to fix Herring’s stiff, unresponsive armor to the hull. "We’ll need the armor, sooner or later." His voice was shaky, but with anger not fear. He grabbed a handhold, and up close Chuck could see bubbled trails of multiple laser hits across his armor. If any had punched through, the armor’s sealant had already done more to stabilize underlying injuries than anything he could do out here.
"Coming up on el ten, looks like the Piggies are just leaving." May voice whispered in his ear. "Christopher Columbus says he’s sending workers out to find and if possible, remove the limpets. All the workers will be in yellow overalls. Ivan reports he’s inside el three, no guards left."
Chuck switched to the all troops channel, "Listen up, troops. Don’t shoot the guys in yellow, they’re the bomb squad."
"If I rotate clockwise, you can start long range," May Huang’s voice broke up in crackles, then resumed, "Long range shooting. Do me a personal favor and take out that backpack laser before he trashes the pod completely."
Chuck turned around, Wolfe and Deveroux copying him. "Rotate."
The four remaining saboteurs never got a shot off.
Chuck switched over to Conde’s command channel and got dead air. Not Good. "May, head around to the number two run." He switched to O’Malley’s channel.
". . . last one." Said a vaguely familiar voice, one of the Eden brothers.
"Head up then, and we’ll meet you at eleven." O’Malley sounded strained.
"Woods here, report."
"El seventeen is clear, eight and fourteen are clear of hostiles, but has been mined, we’re headed for eleven. The pod was struck by one of the heavy lasers. Lieutenant Conde is dead, I’m injured. Wisdom says the pod is still flyable, but I’m not sure that will last, we’re wide open and not much more than a mobile shield. Corporal Perez is dead, three privates injured but still functional."
"We’ll meet you at eleven." He has two uninjured soldiers. Chuck switched to Sergeant Eddings’ channel. "Woods here, report."
"Els eighteen and fifteen are clean. We’ve just polished off twelve, but it’s mined. Enroute to nine. I have two fatalities, one badly injured."
Four still fighting, "We’ll be around to help mop up shortly."
"We may have gotten them all," she replied, "there’s no movement."
"Heads up." Wolfe broke in, "We’re at eleven."
The helmet showed only marine icons, and May cruised the surface, the sensors picking up the limpets, but no piggies. "O’Malley, Eddings, take your injured people back to the docking bay for medical treatment. Healthy ones I’ll take." He frowned, turning in the stiff suit to look at Wolfe and Deveroux.
"I’m fine." Wolfe sounded firm.
"I’ve got a slow leak," Deveroux admitted reluctance in every tone. "Real slow."
"Keep an eye on it." Chuck told him. May was maneuvering slowly and two more marines joined them on the exterior. Chuck could see Conde’s pod, open to space, but still under power. A third green pod icon popped up on his visor as Baker’s pod cleared the central funnel. Three marines swooped over from it before it eased away again. "Let’s go visit the neighbors, shall we? Eight against about a hundred should be about even, considering that we may well have just offed most of their soldiers."
As they slid up toward el three, Chuck switched to Ivan’s channel. "Woods here, what’s happening?"
"Nothing now. We’ve taken care of the few soldiers left in el three. The civvies are hiding under their beds. Engineering reports that no one got that far. They have the repair tram running on rail three. Columbus has his workers suited up and cycling out. Do you have specs on the limpets? How careful do we have to be in removing them?"
Freeman’s voice broke in. "We’ve looked at the cutters the Piggie Monkenstein captured was carrying. Straightforward radio initiated circular cutter, no traps. I’ll send Adamson down to look at the rest before anyone touches anything."
"Spider here, someone or something slid around el four, can’t see shit now."
"Four?" Chuck frowned, "That’s the empty one below our el." He bit his lip uncertainly, "Let’s check it out. Ivan’s got el three secured. May, head over and look at it. Monkenstein, where are you?" The pod shifted gently under him, and drifted around the funnel. There was no sign of movement on the surface, and apparently no limpets.
"I’m in el three, with Ivan."
"Someone’s gone inside el four, the tram station is set up in airlock mode." May said.
Chuck bit his lip, "Deveroux, you get in the pod and take over piloting. May, I may need you inside the el to open doors and so forth."
"Right." she sounded surprised, and perhaps a bit gleeful.
"Ivan," He hesitated. "I’d like to send some troops to el three to join you and search the place."
"Good idea." Ivan sounded very positive. "These idiots need to see that the Marines and the ichimps are allied against them."
"Right. Sergio and May, with me, everyone else, back to three. Eddings, you’re in charge of the troops, but consider what Ivan suggests." Chuck pushed off the pod and landed against the tram rail and peered up into the makeshift airlock.
"Oh, SHIT! What do you mean you’re in labor. KIRBY! I CAN’T FUCKING DELIVER A BABY!"