The Paklet (BEO2K10V2, Arch Angel, Quad) © Christopher “Mestophales” Haigood & Jared “Sequestrian” Buchanan
Reference to Luke Skywalker and Han solo: Characters © LucasFilms, Disney
Macy’s © Macy’s
Of Men, Melani, and Malevolent Machines
Chapter 5: Grind
A controlled descent through Earth’s atmosphere was supposed to take no longer than ten standard minutes, but it seemed much longer for Commodore Ketros and the bridge crew of the Nadyn. They also had to account for dealing with an invading Paklet force attacking the ship and its three remaining squadmates.
“Shield integrity dropped below 60 percent, sir,” Helmsman Timuron reported. “Hull integrity down to 75 percent. Altitude 47.3 kilometers. ”
“Sensors reporting massive hull damage to the Dalca, sir,” Tactical Officer Ayers said.
On the viewscreen before them, a fuzzy image appeared of the Dalca off of Nadyn’s port, taking the brunt of the Paklet’s firepower. Eerily reminiscent of what befell the Orand, plasma beams tore into the Dalca’s hull. Flames streaked away as the air around the ship became thicker.
“Missile crews!” Ketros said over the ship intercom. “I want those Paks diverted away from Dalca at once!”
“We only have three banks ready, sir,” came the response. “That won’t be enough-”
“Launch what you have! NOW! Then get more launched as soon as possible!” He then turned to Ayers. “Can we risk firing the ion cannons at this altitude?”
“Atmospheric damage is possible, sir,” Ayers replied. “This ozone layer might not withstand an ion strike, given what we know about the abuse this planet’s already taken before we first arrived.”
“So we worry more about a hole in the ozone than about Paks having their way with our ships?" Timuron asked. "Are you serious-“
“Enough!” Ketros said. “We will use missiles only. At least until we get to a lower altitude.”
On the screen, missiles streaked away from the Nadyn, hitting two Paklet ships. One veered away.
The bridge jolted. Ketros gripped the arm rests of his chair. “That more or less worked,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Ayers said, looking at her screen. “Two Pak ships are now on us from behind.”
“Shield integrity 50 percent,” Timuron reported. “Hull integrity 62 percent. Altitude 30.7 kilometers.”
Another violent jolt, knocking the helmsman off his seat. “Isolde curse them all!” he growled.
Suddenly on the screen, pieces of the Dalca shot away.
“Lifeboats launched and away,” Communications Officer Tressler reported. “Dalca’s captain says she and her bridge crew are remaining to make sure the ship doesn't crash land in a populated area."
Ketros noticed her quivering mouth betraying an otherwise stoic face. “She also said: ‘Goddess be with you all. Always.’”
One Paklet ship continued its assault on the dying Dalca. Missiles were seen leaving the Nadyn, making concussive hits on the attacker. Bright orange-red explosions rippled across the attacker’s hull before veering away uncontrollably off-screen.
It was too little, too late. With one final explosion, the Dalca shattered. What was once a proud and majestic battlecruiser became nothing more than streaking debris and fire, not unlike a meteor shower.
Ketros slammed his fist against the armrest. How many more of his people, his comrades-in-arms, must suffer at the hands of these cretins?
The bridge jarred violently. “Impact from debris!” shouted Timuron. “Shields down to 32 percent! Hull integrity 45 percent! Altitude 15.8 kilometers! We’re in the troposphere.”
“Level off,” Ketros ordered, then said over ship intercom,“All weapons crews prepare to engage!”
“Sir, the Paks have broken off their attack!” Ayers said. “They must be heading off to their original Earth targets.”
Ketros growled. “They wanted to make sure we were no longer an immediate threat to their primary goal. They could pick us off at their later choosing, assuming we survive the damage to our ships. Tressler, get a status report from all...remaining ships.”
“Engineering to bridge,” said someone over the intercom.
“Go ahead,” Ketros said.
“I recommend landing as soon as possible, Commodore. One engine is dead and the hull breaches are widespread. Luckily the shields didn’t give out during transit from orbit or otherwise we would have blown up. We’re also dealing with fires on several decks.”
“How much repair can you effect while we’re aloft?”
“Not much, sir. Nothing that would help us in a sudden battle.”
“Both Landau and Rohan report critical damage, sir,” Tressler said. “They too are recommending that we land.”
Ketros nodded. “Current position, helm?”
“31.342 degrees latitude, minus 97.932 longitude, heading north by northeast” Timuron read off his display. “Altitude still at 15.8 kilometers. Central Texas.”
“A bit far and high from where we planned on heading. Take us down to 9 kilometers and level off. Tressler, send out a request for landing on all frequencies. Also have both ships report if their condition worsens. Hopefully the Earthers can help us, so we can help them.”
It was a place of learning just some several hours ago, but now the tall college building like all the others around the immediate area was vacant and ruined. Aseska had hoped to come to a place like this to learn and study in communion with Earthers one day.
But who knew what ‘one day’ might bring? The Paklet were certain to make any sort of positive future questionable.
She wondered, for the umpteenth time since first seeing the missiles overhead by Macy’s several difficult hours ago: Are these finally the end times? For all of us who are not Paklet?
“Sess!” she head Shion’s voice in her headset. “Come on! We need cover fire here!”
She blinked her eyes. “Sorry, love. I’m on it.”
Ten standard Paklet and two Quads held ground to the east on Jackson Boulevard; between the college building on State Street, to just past the ruins of the “L.” Shion and Humphreys led one flank while Cartwright led another flank. Aseska was behind Shion’s group, as she was to deal long-range damage to the enemy.
At the moment, a red Quad exchanged fire with Shion’s group. The redhead vixen uneasily gripped the Pak gun she appropriated earlier, firing bursts of plasma at the red. The red skittered to the right, absorbing bullet and plasma fire. It then climbed on top of wreckage and fired back with its shoulder-mounted cannons.
A human soldier fired a rocket grenade at the Pak. Suddenly Shion yanked her by the shoulder and away. A half-second later plasma beams from the Pak’s guns impacted the spot where the soldier once stood. The grenade exploded and left a smoldering hole in its chest and abdomen, but the Pak was still on the move, albeit slow and clumsy.
From her hands Aseska cut loose a storm of red lightning at the Paklet. At first the mech convulsed within the electric field, then recovering enough to aim one cannon at Aseska.
It fired. She dove aside and ducked, feeling the heat of the plasma beam as it streamed past, shattering windowed glass. So strong was the beam that it continued on until it hit something beyond, which exploded and caught fire.
Shion quickly fired two bursts of plasma from the Paklet gun at the red Quad’s shoulder cannon, causing smoke to billow from it. Humphreys fired a rocket grenade near the gaping wound on the Pak’s chest. In a flurry of black smoke and flame, the red Quad exploded and slumped down on its four spidery legs.
There was no time for a breather as a gray Quad and seven standard Paks entered the fight. With the gray Quad in the middle, the standard Paklet encircled it, facing outward toward the two flanks. They all opened fire.
“Scatter and fall back!” Cartwright ordered. “Back behind the line!”
The troops did so; however, a couple were cut down by enemy fire. While behind an upturned armored police cruiser, Shion fired off several shots from the Paklet gun at two of the standard Paks.
“We’ve got to move, Shion!” Humphreys said. “You heard Sarge!”
“Then go!” Shion replied. “I’ll cover for you!”
Shion ducked behind the car as laser fire pounded it. Aseska scurried towards them, crouching.
“Both of you go,” Aseska said, her hands glowing red. “I’ll cover!”
“You foxes are stubborn,” Humphreys said.
“We would’ve been extinct a long time ago if we weren’t,” Shion said. “And right now, Sess is the worst of us. We’ll be behind you, Humph. Go!”
Aseska made an internal note to have a long conversation with Shion later on about who’s really the stubbornest.
She waited for Humphreys to get back behind the defense line where Army tanks took up position. With teeth gnashed she leapt on top of the police car and leveled three fireballs at the gray Quad. At the same time Shion fired her appropriated gun at the standard Paks.
“You space foxes!” Aseska heard Cartwright say into her headset. “This is no time to play Skywalker and Solo! Let the tanks do their job!”
As the Quad tried to recover from the attack, Aseska quickly summoned another lightning spell. However at the same time, the standard Paklet opened fire on her with their guns. Beams sliced her shoulder, abdomen, and leg. The red lightning instead struck the ruins beside the Paks, crushing one of the standards.
Stumbling, Aseska fell down behind the car. She hit her side, writhing in pain.
“That’s it, love, ” Shion said as she put Aseska’s arm around her. “We’re done here!”
Just as they moved away Shion stumbled, going down on a knee. Aseska realized it was Shion’s semi-healed thigh causing problems. Blood seeped through Shion’s pants leg.
Aseska felt her friend’s grip on her shoulder tighten. “Mind over everything else,” Shion grunted as she stood up. She winced. “Goddess damn it!”
Humphreys back out came out and helped them get behind the defense line.
Aseska saw three tanks advance and fire shells at the gray Quad, which quickly and finally exploded in a flurry of parts. Some troops in Cartwright’s flank regrouped and fired mortar rounds at the standard Paklet; taking out three. The others retreated past the “L” ruins, east to Michigan Avenue, where Aseska saw a battle still in progress.
“I think we’re winning this,” Humphreys asked. “Or am I saying that too loud?”
Aseska frowned. “Sorry, but it won’t be that easy.”
She then looked at Shion as she tended to her wounds. “And neither will managing that leg unless you let it heal completely, Shion.”
The redhead vixen raised an eyebrow. “You’re joking, right? As long at those Paks are still here causing problems my leg will have to wait. Besides, you got it worse.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Aseska said quietly. “All the same let me heal you, please. I don’t want to be responsible for letting that leg get infected and your losing it.”
“And then what good would you be, Corporal?” Cartwright said as he approached. “I’d be loathe to lose either of you right now, with the Paks dwindling in numbers.”
Aseska looked north towards the Paklet battlecruiser above Macy’s, engaging in a skirmish with a squadron of Air Force fighter jets. “Sorry Sergeant, but I’m not so hopeful.”
“Regardless, we’re still heading east to rendezvous with your friends and hopefully wedge those mechs in. Even if there’s just a sliver of hope we can turn this to our advantage, I’m taking it.”
“As will I,” someone else said.
They looked up. A dark-skinned human female about the same height as the petite Melani women approached.
“El-Tee,” Cartwright and Humphreys said in unison, saluting her.
“At ease, gentlemen,” she said before turning to Shion and Aseska. “So you’re part of the Terra Squads I hear. I’m Lieutenant Shelley Stewart, Sgt. Cartwright’s commander. We intend to deliver a message not only to these Paklet, but to you Melani as well: we humans are not easily pushed around, and we will not give any more ground than we allow. Chicago and the world will be retaken. Maybe you don’t believe it now, Aseska T’Jani, but trust me: you will.”
Stewart turned back to Cartwright. “Get all able bodies in formation, Sergeant. We’re heading out.”
Cartwright saluted. “Yes, Ma’am. At once.”
As Stewart left Cartwright turned to the vixens. “Aseska, how long will it take you two to heal properly?”
“Too long, considering what we’re still dealing with,” Shion cut in.
Aseska sighed. “Thirty minutes, if I can keep Shion still and quiet.”
Shion smirked. “Do you have a spare bottle of antiseptic? And some good gauze? That might be quicker for both of us.”
Aseska rubbed her head. “Hopeless,” she muttered. Granted, her friend had a point.
Cartwright’s face was anything but amused. “I think you better let Aseska do what she can to heal you and herself, Corporal,” he said. “You two are too important in putting a stop to this current surge. I’ll have a medic help you. Just get it done. Quickly.”
Shion nodded, losing the smirk off her face. “Yes, sir. You got it.”
Aseska felt a bit relieved at Shion regaining her seriousness about all this. Perhaps this would play out to their advantage after all.
If only for a while.