A science-fiction story fragment I wrote in 1998.
Jacobi saw the devil coming just in time.
He threw his four-racer into a desperate spin and pivoted the ion cannons to his rear. The comp was flashing frantic red warnings at him as the G-forces built; he ignored it, switching fire control to manual and sweeping his gunsights onto the oncoming duo-thrust fighter.
Normally, a fully-equipped OrbGov four-racer with a boosted power source and high-end shielding would make mincemeat out of an E.C. duo-thruster. But this one wasn’t piloted by a normal man. In fact, many doubted if Mirko was a man at all.
As Jacobi opened up with the ion guns, sending a scream of particle fire shrieking back at his pursuer, he tried to keep his mind off the stories he had heard about its pilot.
Almost nothing was known of Mirko prior to the war. He seemingly came from Earth, though the likelihood was that the few files OrbGov intelligence had managed to dig up had been altered or were outright fakes. No gene-normal human could perform the way Mirko – code named Dark Angel by OrbGov – had. Since the beginning of hostilities with both OrbGov and the Alpha Centauri Empire, Mirko had amassed an almost unbelievable kill total. Four hundred Orbgov ships, from single-engined laserscoots all the way up to C2-Class troop transports and C4 light cruisers. Two-hundred-twenty Centaurian craft, various sizes. Three orbital platforms, destroyed or incapacitated during attacks he led. One Centauri Marauder, totally destroyed by Mirko and four other ships.
No, Jacobi decided, the Dark Angel could not be a gene-normal human. Whether he was alien, gene-mod, or cyborg, well, Jacobi would leave that to the doctors who could examine whatever DNA fragments survived after he blew the scary bastard to pieces.
The comp told him that Mirko’s shielding was absorbing what hit him (if anything had) so far. Jacobi swung to the left, zooming past the burned-out hulk of a Centauri battlewagon. He had no delusions of escape: once Mirko found a target, he pursued it until he ran it to ground and destroyed it. As if on cue, the twin blue beams of Mirko’s plasma lasers flashed by, dangerously close. Jacobi checked the shielding and adjusted frequency for maximum plasma dispersal. His cybernetic implants made controlling his quad-racer about as easy as controlling his own body. A long, thin cable stretched from a port in his temple to a similar structure embedded in the control panel in front of him. He usually ignored the onboard computer, except for its scanner display. His own chip was faster, and his electronic/synaptic interface was more sophisticated than the fighter’s motherboard could ever hope to be.
Now he ran through a series of calculations, the math co-processor buried in his brain coming online instantly to assist with thrust vectors, weapon lock, and target shield strength equations. Jacobi fired all the way, switching over his ship’s comp to monitor ion-cannon muzzle temperature. He needed to keep Mirko occupied, he didn’t need a fatal overheat explosion in the middle of the largest battle of the war.
Mirko’s plasma lasers fired again, and this time the beams found their target. Jacobi spared about a millisecond to verify his shield integrity, and wonder at the incredible skill which enabled his enemy to hit him full-on while following a spinning dive at over 6 G’s. Then he was back to his calculations, finishing while the ruined bridge of the Centauri ship flew by beneath him.
As they emerged from the shadow of the hulking wreck, the entire battle could be seen against the blue backdrop of Earth. Of the seven E.C. cruisers that had risen to fight, three were heavily damaged. One was venting oxygen-fed flames at a furious rate – it looked as if it might explode at any moment. The two others were listing badly, but still disgorging thousands of attack craft from their holds. It seemed this was no feint: the Coalition was playing for keeps this time. Already one of OrbGov’s Damascus platforms was dying, its immense bulk slowly sliding toward fiery atmospheric destruction. It vented escape craft as it fell, thousands to be rescued, taken prisoner, or left to die in the void. Two other platforms were pounding away at the Coalition cruisers, while the only other nearby Damascus had its gigantic railguns trained on a Centauri Marauder, which seemed to be trying to take advantage of the situation by invading the perimeter and staging an opportunistic raid on an OrbGov city-station – it looked like New Paris to Jacobi, though he couldn’t be sure.
What he was sure of was that Mirko had to be killed, and he was the best candidate for the job.
His calculations completed, Jacobi’s math coprocessor fell silent, feeding its last data through the synaptic interface and into the pilot’s cerebellum. There native motor neuron control centers were enhanced by fiber-optic linkages, which replaced dendritic communication in 26% of Jacobi’s brain. His muscles moving with robotic precision, he was able to simultaneously throw the quad-racer into a spectacular reverse roll and fire the mini-railguns in precise, shield-killing bursts. His ion cannon never stopped firing, nor was there any advance power spike to warn Mirko’s scanners. The coalition pilot was as good as dead.
Except that Mirko somehow managed to follow Jacobi’s nearly-impossible maneuver – and simultaneously ratchet up his magnetics just in time. The composition of his shields changed instantly, Jacobi’s high-energy matter fire being dispersed short of its target. Not only that, but Mirko struck at the same time. His plasma lasers flashed again, but this time they were violet, not blue.
Caught off-guard by Mirko’s frequency change, Jacobi mentally adjusted his shields. For thirteen thousandths of a second, however, the lasers got through.
Not that they had been perfectly aimed. If they had, Jacobi would have ignited like phosphorus as the coherent light pierced his quad-racer’s ion charging unit and mini particle accelerators. Those targets had been missed. The fighter suffered damage on its ventral side all right – Mirko knew what to aim for on an OrbGov quad-racer – but the loops, spins, and incredible G’s had thrown off his aim. Finally, Jacobi had evidence that his enemy was fallible.
Damage control reports came in, filtering down through the network of connections inside Jacobi’s brain. The ship was okay.
He stopped the spin and began a steep ascent. He would draw Mirko toward one of the Damascuses, where he would encounter fire from many directions. Then Jacobi would show the Dark Angel the extent of his skills. He would take Mirko to the limit of his talent, and beyond. And, when the day ended, he would return to his base with another kill etched into his quad-racer’s hull.
First things first, he chided himself. He modulated the shield frequency, so that Mirko’s little trick couldn’t be tried again. This was a drain on his primary power, but he killed the ion cannons to even out the load. They weren’t doing anything to his enemy’s top-of-the-line shields, at any rate.
It would be the mini-rails that would spell the end of Mirko.
Jacobi accelerated as the blue and violet beams streamed by outside, as if they could sizzle the very void itself with their brilliance. He responded with another blast of rail-gun fire, which was again absorbed by his adversary’s magnetic shields.
As his quad-racer and its pursuer flew toward Damascus 2, Jacobi glanced to his left.
New Paris was ablaze.
* * *
Major Lewis Dalden paced continually behind his command-station. Below him, his gunnery control crew worked furiously to coordinate sector 7-G’s weaponry. With one Supra-class rail turret, four PlasMax laser cannon, dozens of torpedo-ports, and hudreds of smaller gun emplacements, the control crew was rarely short of work during a wartime engagement.
And this was the mother of all wartime engagements.
Dalden clenched his fists in frustration as he stared at the readouts, display screens, and damage reports flashing across his consoles. The temporary truce between the Earth Coalition and OrbGov had collapsed completely. Now OrbGov itself was under seige from planet-based forces loyal to Harold Banner and his autocratic “coaltion” of small-minded nationaliasts. Meanwhile, the damned Centauris were winning the battle for control of the entire space sector. Dalden personally thought (though he would admit this to no one) that the invasion of Earth itself was being drawn up in some Centauri HQ, if it hadn’t been already. And he didn’t think it would be very long before that particular nasty bit of business would move from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the doable, either. Especially if OrbGov and the EC destroyed the planet’s defensive capabilities for them.
At that moment, Major Dalden’s thought processes were interrupted as the deck beneath his feet jumped and shook like a sailing ship in a bad sea. Dalden whirled to his left, where command second Hubert Nymes sat.
“Lieutenant Nymes, report!” He bellowed.
Nymes turned, pale-faced. “Nuclear weapon, sir. Direct hit on our planetside B shield. Integrity at 23% but rising fast. Give me 30 seconds and I’ll have it back.”
Dalden thought for a second, then flashed a glance to his right. “Trajectory?”
Sergeant Ralph Cameron was as fast as he was good. The response came back immediately. “EC cruiser, sir. Firing on us from just below. I’m sending coordinates over to targeting– ”
“Belay that, Sergeant,” Dalden snapped. “Monitor that cruiser only. Repeat, monitoring only. Continue firing at primary target.”
As Cameron moved to obey his orders, Dalden punched up his overall battelfield position chart. His platform – Damascus Two – still had a direct line of sight on the Centauri Marauder attacking New Paris. General Kline or one of the other OrbGov bigwheels might send orders at any time to break off firing at the alien, and join the battle against the EC cruisers, but Dalden would be damned if he was going to give those orders himself. Given a choice between killing fellow humans – even humans that had been brainwashed by Banner and his ilk – and knocking off Cenaturis, he knew which one he’d pick every time.
The biologists still insisted that the denizens of the Alpha Centauri system shared over 80% of their DNA with humans, and therefore had almost assuredly had a common ancestor. Nevertheless, Dalden refused to even consider that the creatures who had captured, tortured, and dissected the Prometheus expedition crew were anything but twisted, monstrous things. Since that horrible first encounter, the resume of the Centauris grew by leaps and bounds. The destruction of Exploratory Station One. The massacre at the Oort 5 mining outpost. And, of course, the raid last year that destroyed most of Phobos and all five Mars colonies on that moon.
True, that last atrocity had led directly to the joint Earth Coalition/Orbgov attack on Proxima-3, and the liquidation of the Centauri population there – all six million of them – but they had brought that on themselves. War was war – always and forever, amen.
Now that the EC had broken the truce, however, it looked as though Earth might be heading down Defeat Avenue – and if there was one thing Major Lewis Dalden had been taught by his daddy, General Ewing Dalden (retired), it was that Defeat Avenue is one dead-end thouroughfare you want to steer well clear of.
“Sir!” sergeant Cameron bellowed, breaking Dalden from his reverie. “Centauri target is firing on New Paris again.”
The major looked up at the main viewscreen in time to see a myriad of orange, snaking proton laser fire erupt from the Marauder. New Paris – home to ten million OrbGov citizens – deflected most of the barrage with its sturdy shield network. Most, but not all.
Dalden could see some of the beams get through, simply overpowering the orbital station’s ability to soak damage. Primary and secondary explosions blossomed like terrible fireworks as thousands died before his eyes. He gripped his command-chair in fury.
“Coordinate with 6-G and 5-G!” he bellowed. “Pinpoint PlasMax strike. On my authority and mark – fire!”
Seconds stretched by like eons as Dalden’s troops relayed his orders, fed info and coordinates to targeting, and powered up the biggest guns the Damascus possessed. Finally, three pale pink beams sliced through the vacuum, looking like spotlights, not weapons. Dalden knew, however, that the Centauri Marauder was in a heap of trouble. The plasma cannon threw streams of Xenon focused by intense magnetic fields. The gas reached temperatures close to one billion degrees centigrade – hot enough to make a supernova seem like an icebox. At that temperature, strange things happened to matter.
The Centauri craft had detected the power surge aboard the Damascus platform. Its commanders had ratcheted up their shield power considerably during the fifteen seconds it took Dalden’s crew to fire.
It didn’t matter.
The superhot, coherent plasma sliced through their shielding like a needle through cloth. Three pink beams reached the unprotected hull – and soon exited the other side of the cruiser.
The Centauri’s guns fell silent almost immediately. Next, she took on an ominous list, drifting helplessly away from New Paris. Hundreds of escape craft began to flood from the doomed vessel as the first blossoms of secondary explosions began. Moments later the entire battlefield was lit as the Marauder blew apart in a silent conflagration. A great cheer went up from the men and women around Dalden. The major himself merely stared, unsmiling. One down, thousands more to go. This war was far from over.
As if to punctuate his dire thought, the control room once more shook below Dalden’s feet.
“E.C. cruiser firing again, Major,” Nymes reported. “Direct hit – planetside B shield. Integrity at 17%. I’ll have it back in 45 seconds, sir.”
Dalden bunched his hands into fists and leapt from his seat. Were they insane? A Centauri at the doorstep of Earth and those E.C. fools choose that moment to try to kill fellow humans?
“Sergeant Cameron!” He barked. “Target that coalition vessel. Fire planetside laser batteries. Target her shield emplacements and thrusters. Fire at will.”
Cameron smiled grimly. He hated the Earth Coalition and everything it stood for. Dalden knew that Cameron’s family had been among the thousands of people “liquidated” when E.C. forces had overrun Geneva, last planetside stronghold of PlanetGov, which had become OrbGov. Now the talented scanner operator had devoted his life to the Orbital Government and its quest to reclaim the planet from President Banner and his cronies.
“Sending info over to targeting, sir,” Cameron reported. He peered into his viewscreen as the lasers opened up on the attacking ship. Dalden punched the same display up on his command screen.
A Damascus battle platform was the single most powerful piece of hardware in OrbGov’s vast arsenal. While the E.C. controlled 95% of the planet’s surface, they were effectively locked out of space – and its limitless resources – by Orbgov. They could not build any vehicle capable of challenging a Damascus one-on-one. OrbGov’s very survival depended on its eleven super-platforms, which measured a jaw-dropping three kilometers in length. Constructed from materials mined from as far away as the asteroid belt and Oort cloud, these enormous battle stations protected the twenty-eight orbital cities that together comprised OrbGov. Powered by titanic fusion reactors, and capable of destroying almost anything they fired upon, the Damascuses had been originally built to protect Earth against the Centauri empire’s expansionist policies. Now, however, their guns were frequently turned on the Earth Coalition, who constantly sought to destroy or (better yet) capture them.