Chapter 6

Last Kilrathi Stronghold


McAuliffe VI

Sullivan was not about to breath a sigh of relief. Even if the Kilrathi in Doveshire were bottled up in one last strong point within range of the spaceport, he was not about to let down his guard. He had no idea how many Marines died with the end in clear view. Sullivan was not prepared to become a statistic. Along with McCoy, to who he stuck like glue for the whole battle, Sullivan found himself hunkered behind a chunk of concrete the size of a small shuttle. They were not the only Marines trying to make their way up a slight rise towards what was once an industrial warehouse.

Instead of the noise of heavy equipment, the air was filled with the noise of artillery, both shell and missile, firing from Kilrathi positions. Instead of focusing on the oncoming Marines, the Cats left in Doveshire were intent on leaving nothing of the spaceport in tact. The Cats knew they were trapped, and aimed to deny their enemy a complete victory. A few Kilrathi have attempted to relieve their comrades inside the city, but as occasional flashes of low-yield fusion warheads in the north, it was clear the Navy was not about to let that happen.

It was a shame to have so much farm land reduced to glass. He knew little about agriculture in wild dirt, but being a Spacer, it was always a shame to let any useable area go to waste. The Navy was certainly wasting that land, and anything alive upon it. A new flash off in the distant, and the rising of boiling cloud of debris, lit up the night. Not that the night required much light, not with fires still raging behind and before Sullivan.

"You know, times like this I wish we were fighting humans," McCoy said, as he pulled his face back from a corner. Attempts to peer around the slab of concrete could occasionally end fatally.

"Whatever for?" Sullivan could not figure out why. Humanity fought itself so long and with ever increasing efficiency, it was a wonder they did not wipe themselves out. They almost did centuries ago. Without habitations in orbit and on the moon, Earth might never have recovered from the nuclear war. Even after that, and rebuilding, humanity still fought itself. In the past two centuries, however, humans finally managed to get their aggressive tendencies under control. At least until the Kilrathi appeared on the scene, bringing humanity's brutality back to the surface.

McCoy had a sour smile on his face. "Our own have sense enough to know when they're beat. The Cats? No! They won't surrender, which means we get to go into that place and kill every last one of them."

"Works for me," one of the other Marines replied, with a few grunts of agreement from his buddies.

Even Sullivan was ready to kill them all, but not at the cost of his own life. Just why did they want to capture this site? It was far enough from the spaceport that obliterating it would not damage their objective. "Why doesn't the Navy just blast it off the map?"

McCoy shrugged. He had the same thought. "Must be something inside the Brass wants. The Sarge told me once that a his platoon, back at Hubble's Star, stormed a headquarters. Half the platoon died just to retrieve a few files the Cats hadn't yet burned."

Sullivan heard the story. Turned out those files were maps of Kilrathi defenses. Those plans helped saved more lives than they cost. A good trade overall, but try telling that to the grunts who were wasted in the process. Sullivan had no great desire to die for maps. Sullivan was about to voice his opinion when a missile fell short and burst fifty meters to their backs. The concussion of the blast threw him against the concrete block along with every other Marines. Sullivan tried to blink the stars from his eyes. His ears rang as well, but he decided vision took immediate priority.

McCoy was stunned as well, but recovered just that much faster. "They don't get much closer than that," he shouted at the top of his lungs. Even such a bellow could barely be heard.

Sullivan only nodded in response. He could feel blood dripping out of his nose. Explosions that loud sucked up much air. Had he not been about to talk, he might have had the air sucked right out of his lungs. Artillerymen told tales that exploding warheads could kill without even leaving a mark. Sullivan discovered, not for the first time, that it rang true. Three of the Marines who hunkered down beside him were not moving. One Marine's cause of death was obvious; a chunk of metal the size of a rifle stuck out of his chest. The other two— they just looked dirty.

The impaled one and one of the others, Sullivan knew only by name. Lattery and Jailor; just how the latter received his name, Sullivan never knew. The third was one from his own squad. He enlisted in the Marines when he was eighteen, and the Corps took him out of his small town in the Avalon Sector and thrust him towards the other side of the Confederation. Now the bronzed man, his skin almost red, lay still in the night.

McCoy let out his own string of curses. Dumb luck of war, he called it, though McCoy used stronger words. Sullivan had to agree. The only reason he was still breathing was that he exhaled when the explosion hit. The others— inhaled, with the possible exception of Lattery. Giant steel spears can put a crimp on anyone's day.

Sullivan's hearing began to return to him. His first indication was the sound of static. Orders were coming over his helmet's radio. He did not need razor sharp hearing to guess what those orders would entail. He looked at McCoy, who only shook his head in resignation. It was time to end this fight. He could already see other Marines, in their defensive position, slowly crawling forward. "We better join them," McCoy said without relish. It would not do well for a Marines to hide out during the last round. Sullivan's only thought as he joined the crawling masses was a wish to live to see another sunrise.

Doveshire Spaceport

Sullivan's wish was granted, several times over. Three sunrises later, his squad, the battered and filthy survivors, marched back to the spaceport. Doveshire Spaceport was in ruins, but its landing pads were cleared in record time, thanks to the aid of the locals. In just three days, the Confederation Army managed to land close to a hundred thousand soldiers. Confed's greatest strength was not its soldiers or ships, but its organization. What other state in the history of humanity, could have landed so many soldiers in so short a time?

Sullivan envied the soldiers their clean, crisp uniforms. He knew that would not last. The Marines, down twenty-two percent, spent– Sullivan did not care what the calender told him. It felt like months to years out there. The Marines were ragged-looking after the liberation of Doveshire. He did not even want to imagine what the Army would look like after conquering an entire planet. The planet probably would not even be declared secure for at least a year.

As far as the Navy was concerned, Alexandria Station was Mac Six. As soon as the station was cleared of remaining Cats and brought back into action, the fleet could push deeper into the Cat lines. Sullivan hoped his squad, down three, was headed out of the system. He hoped it, but imagined they would probably be sent to Alexandria. After all, the T.C.M.C. was intended for boarding actions from its founding. Securing planetary beachheads was almost an after thought. The Army needed its way cleared by a rapid-action force, and the Corps was there.

Sullivan looked at the faces of some of the soldiers. They were as young as him, and had the same apprehensive looks in their eyes. Did Sullivan look like that when he first hit dirt? They looked so young too. The thought amused him. Some of the newbies were probably older than him. As mature– a couple of weeks fighting the Cats matured Sullivan well beyond his years. What he saw in combat– he would not wish those visions on anyone.

Sullivan did not join as a few of the Marines began to jeer the Army, taunting the newbies. Bad enough to have the Cats to fight; your own side harassing you was too much. McCoy, for wonders, was quiet. If anybody was ready to give someone a hard time, it was he. Instead of his usual antics, McCoy just walked along, exhaustion spelt out clearly upon his face. A twinkle in his eye said his mischievous streak was not dead, just on vacation.

Sullivan heard Fuchian grumble at the idiots the Corps enlists. "Hey Sarge," Sullivan asked on impulse. "Are they all this bad?"

Fuchian paused, considering as Sullivan caught up with him. His sigh told as much as his words. "Sullivan, I fought on a dozen planets and stations, and this as bad as they come." Fuchian said no more, turning inward instead.

McCoy slapped Sullivan on the back. "You hear that, Sully? It's going to be a cakewalk after Mac Six. Lucky dog; when I was first blooded, I didn't have a drill-tank trying to run me down." The memory brought a shiver to Sullivan. That inferno was one of a thousand images he wished he could blank from his mind. Even if he succeeded, it would only last as long as he was awake. When sleep arrived and dreams overtook him– one more thing to look forward to in the coming years.