Evening - Alchibah Day 981
I said softly, and much more calmly than I felt, “The bus is lifting Janie.” She could see that as well as I could, but it gave me something to say and used up a fractional amount of my nervous energy.
The cargo bus continued rising slowly to a height of fifty feet directly in front of the First Inn and went –bus like–northeastward, keeping low, maintaining altitude, and then out over the open water of the river. Linda Parker made sure that all the children were onboard first and that their emergency supplies went with them. I think a dirigible filled with hydrogen gas would have made about the same pace and as good a target as the bus but that was probably just nerves again.
The corona surrounding the pointed blue flame coming from the small jets at the vehicle’s rear was readily visible even without using the light enhancing gear onboard the Dora, and would make a pretty picture seen from the ground. Chemically fuel only so no electromagnetic signature.
I keyed the mike and said, “Low and slow Laura, an extra minute saved in a five minute trip and they still won’t be ready for us with all of the gear packed when we return for the second load.”
Laura Seaworth sent back by light beam, “Low and slow it is.”
A mile and a half northeast of Liberty City, the cliffs overlooking the river were honeycombed with caves. Leached out when the water levels were much higher, most of the entrances were blocked with fallen stone but we discovered a few and had started to make them habitable. Not enough provisions inside to last all winter, but if we could get everyone inside without being seen it would be a hell of a lot safer inside them than in town. Or so we hoped.
This evacuation flight had been practiced time after time. Landing in darkness on the ledge halfway up the cliff face was close to second nature.
Three minutes from touchdown the bus was in the air again and heading back for a second and final load.
Over the com, from Sinopa out at Bob Sarra’s came a message, “Two ships heading south towards the City! And whatever they are, I don’t think they’re human. Watch yourself. We’ll be in touch.”
“You copy that Joe?”
“Got it,” Fortson said, “The bots up north just picked them up. Estimated two minutes till they arrive.”
“Damn! No time for the second load. Laura, take the bus down behind windmill hill and shut her down. It’ll take an overflight to see you there.” Then back to Fortson, “Joe, get everyone at the Inn dispersed then send all who are unarmed towards the bio-lab. We’ll see what we can do to distract them.”
“You want to switch seats Babe?”
“I got it Bart. Take care of the weapons and we might just live through this.”
The Dora was well east and south of the two approaching Shuttles. Who—or what—in the hell could they be, and what was going on?
“Back over the cliff and circle west Janie. If they don’t see us getting there they’ll be surprised to find someone on the flank.”
Before we lost the optical link with town I commed Les Reye. “Les, try and get in touch with the Guardians. Maybe they know what this is all about.”
We were getting visual updates from the Mayflower now. No time to talk to them but at least they were still up there. We were a mile north of the cliffs and about the same distance east of the skull ships when Janie made a course change pointing us west and in their general direction.
Either they chose to ignore us, or our stealth systems were working. With luck it was both. Some low hills were still keeping us from direct visual contact but that would change in a matter of seconds. I pickled off two of our ship-to-ship missiles and then sent a reload. Immediately after leaving the launcher all four of them broke sharply north and at mach 6 began a gradual curve so they would come in directly behind the skull ships. I wanted to make it look like they were being launched from the Stuart compound. We had four more of them left but I was going to save them for till I saw how the first four performed.
“Uh-oh.” …The weapons display that had been showing just a large blob for each of the attackers now showed a fuzzy globe of light surrounding them. “Some kind of force screen just went up, Janie; keep us out of visual till we see what happens.”
Janie cut our speed some more then curved south, paralleling the two ships but still out of their sight line. I watched as the points of light that were our missiles neared the enemy ships. The two shuttles were flying in formation but separated by about 200 yards. Their force screens seemed to almost touch one another. Two missiles closed on each ship. At almost the same instance the first two of our interceptors merged with the fuzzy light of the force shield and detonated. We could see a flash of light reflected off the low hanging clouds but the weapons display showed no change in the attacker’s course. They were still heading straight towards Liberty City and only a minute out.
I couldn’t redirect both of the remaining missiles in the couple of seconds left till they would collide with the force screen, but I did have time to get a signal relayed that nudged one of them into a path sending it into the force screen of the nearer ship at the same relative point where the first missile exploded.
That second shot didn’t make the hull but must have gotten close. The skull ship bobbled a moment, then recovered, but slowed down appreciably. The other ship continued on course and started pulling away from its companion.
“That’s our target Janie,” I said highlighting the ship falling behind. “Pop us up and get us a visual.” I said that while punching new course instructions into the weapons guidance computer.
The Dora went arcing up to 500 feet taking us above the intervening hills, and less than a mile away we were looking down at the rear most enemy. I now had my first good look at what we were fighting. Easily three times ours size. It would have had to be in order to bring fifty troops down to the surface and yes, it was shaped vaguely like a reptilian skull.
I fired both tubes and when then one of the reloads, saving the last for later, providing we had a later. The skull ship started to turn in our direction at the same time the first missile exploded against her screens 200 yards out. The second went through the fireball and detonated also. The ship lurched very noticeably. The third, following a similar direct path, made it to the hull and exploded on contact.
I just had time to say, “Watch it Babe,” when the flash automatically darkened our viewscreen and the blast sent us tumbling. It must have been the drive letting loose. If we hadn’t been moving upwards when it hit us Janie would never have had time to recover but as it was, she caught us before we hit the ground.
We switched channels to a feed from town and saw the first ship flaring out and landing right in front of Liberty hall. A close up gave us a good look at the armored figures pouring out of the shuttle. The alien figures were not as snake like as I’d imagined, and most of those exiting were humans in UNWG military gear. Things kept getting weirder and weirder.
I could see the ships force field was down. They probably couldn’t land or unload with it in operation and as Janie closed the distance I sent off the last one of our missiles. Steaks of light were rising from the landing area and heading in our direction. Janie pulled a high gee turn and kicked in all the acceleration we could stand, then a bit more. My field of vision was getting narrower and narrower and I was graying out by the time she eased off. The streaks were short range, shoulder fired, ground to air, and we had out run them but were now miles from town and headed in the wrong direction as Janie looped us back around.
She had almost finished the turn when the visual showed a launch and the weapons display showed two large points of light slicing through the clutter and heading at us.
“Those are no shoulder fired missiles! Get us on the deck and run like hell!” I fired a string of flares followed by chaff and then flares again. They provided enough distraction that we got away but were going in the wrong direction and away from town again.
“What next Bart?”
“I don’t know Babe… Take us south and come up behind windmill hill we’ll see when we get there.”
The camera showing the view from town was now down but we could hear garbled static and briefly Joe Fortson’s unmistakable voice, before everything got swallowed up in electronic interference. We even lost the feed from the Mayflower. What a furball, but the night was still young.