Planet Magazine No. 2 - Science Fiction

The Bombardment

Prologue to "The Star Nomad Chronicles"
(Vol. II, Part I -- "Tales of Casa Alto")

by Rick Blackburn

Stardate: 6903.30
Casa Alto, 70 Ophiuchi

For several days now there had been uneasy rumors that the Rebel's V Battle Fleet was heading for 70 Ophiuchi, and for its sole Class M1 planet -- Tarsus. No one was sure why; there certainly was not much tactical advantage to attacking what was essentially an agricultural world. Tarsus 2 held little in the way of strategic resources, and even less in the way of war materials. But it didn't take a Mensa graduate to see that since they had erupted out of the warp gate at Arcturus, their course was straight for the 70 Ophiuchi three-star system.

Lord Eric Everett, the Star Nomad port captain on Tarsus, watched as the computers updated the last known position of the Rebel Fleet. When they had first come through the Arcturus Warp Gate last week, it had been suggested that they were on a suicide run at Imperial Terra itself, only 17 light years further up the American Arm than Tarsus was. But now, there could no longer be any doubt. Their destination was the Agro-world of Tarsus. The huge situation board covered one whole wall of the Strategic Defense Command Headquarters, buried deep in the mountains thirty kilometers northwest of the capital of Casa Alto. The situation board was set at long-range sensor position and displayed all of the Terran Empire's Prime Quadrant -- in essence a globe surrounding Terra 50 light years in radius. On it flickered lights of various laser-pure colors, indicating stars, planets, and manned vessels en route.

It didn't look good. Although, like all worlds in the Prime Quadrant, Tarsus was protected by an orbital fortress and several ion-gun emplacements on the surface -- these were meant to act in concert with Star Fleet units. The Terrans were of course safe, in the home system; nearly every chunk of rock was protected by ion cannons and literally thousands of sub-light fighters capable of delivering a lethal blow to the most powerful dreadnought. All of this was backed up by planetary defense screens that would vaporize any invading ship or missile while it was still several planetary radii out.

Such elaborate defenses for the agro colony had been discussed briefly at each meeting of the Planetary Assembly for the past 100 years; however, in the end, the cost of establishing such a defense network had led the Assembly to continue to vote to rely on Star Fleet for protection. After all, as 70 Ophiuchi had never been molested in any of Terra's many interstellar wars over the centuries, it was reasonable to assume it never would be.

Except now a Battle Fleet of Rebels was on a direct course for them . . . and where was Star Fleet? Ninty-nine percent of Star Fleet's resources were engaged in fighting the Rebels on their homeground, around the New Titan Warp Gate, 9,000 light years away in the Persus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy -- four warp gates away. To be sure, Star Fleet was aware of the V Rebel Fleet, and a Star Fleet Task Force was in pursuit of them, but the Rebels would have five to seven days in the 70 Ophiuchi system before Star Fleet caught up with them . . . plenty of time to crush Tarsus's obsolete defenses.

* * *

The Nomad turned to General Yanov, the Commander-in-Chief of Tarsus's Armed Forces. The general looked gaunt and worried, and much older than his eighty years. Eric was here in his official capacity as Port Captain, but Yanov was also a close personal friend.

"Do you think we can hold them, Mikel?" Everett asked.

"Not in space," the general conceded. "All we can do is slow them down, make them bleed. But they will get through. And they will make a landing -- then will come our chance. We may be able to hold them on the ground with the Army."

"Then the battle is already lost if the Rebels use nukes."

Yanov sighed, "I know. But I'm gambling that they are fresh from taking a pounding by Star Fleet at Corridon -- you've seen the TACNEWS. The Fleet kicked the Rebel's ass at Corridon, and I'm betting they're low on ammo, fuel, and practical everything else."

"But why come to us?"

"I think we're looking at a pirate fleet now, not Rebels. I think we're in for the granddaddy of all pirate raids here, and if the Terran Sector Commander waits even a week to send relief, there won't be anyone here for the Terrans to fight with."

Eric looked at the situation board, and watched as the computer again updated the position of the Rebel Fleet as it inched its way across the electronic screen toward the green circle of light representing Tarsus. "You may be right," the Star Nomad nobleman said. "I'll do my best to get a squadron of Orbit Guards from the Homeworld, but with most of the fleet deployed backing up the Star Fleet, it may be tougher than I'd like . . . ." He spread his hands in front of him in a show of helplessness.

"Hell of a way for a spaceman to die," Yanov growled, "grounded here, behind a desk!"

"Bah!" Eric snorted, "You're too mean and nasty to die . . . ."

A collective cheer from the technicians manning the defense computers made the two officers glance at the status board again. Off in the southwest corner of the huge board the orange ball that was Arcturus and its warp gate had swollen to twice its size. Green and blue diamond-shaped symbols of Star Fleet and Allied Navy craft began to inch after the Rebels.

"Well, now, with the Terrans through the warp gate," Yanov said, "it's a race. If we can hold them for a week they may yet come to regret this day."

Eric leaned over a computer terminal and typed in a command.

"Less than two hours before the advance units of the Rebels arrive," he muttered at Yanov.

"Yes, I know. They'll be coming out of warp in under an hour. The Orbit Guard will slow them down some, but there are too many, they'll be over the city very soon now."

"Spaceman's luck, Sir," Eric said, and saluted. The General only had time to nod in acknowledgment as he began to attempt to deploy his too-few defenders in the path of the oncoming fleet.

* * *

The Army guards at the entrance to the vast underground defense complex came to stiff attention and presented arms as Eric came out. He returned the salute and clattered down the concrete steps to the jetcar port, his red and gold and black cloak swirling around him like a super-hero's cape. If he only had some of those super powers, Eric thought ruefully as he headed for the far end of the ramp. His protocol droid already had the staff car around in front awaiting him.

Eric climbed into the front seat with the droid -- he wanted to feel the wind in his face -- it might be the last time he would be on the surface for an extended period.

"Good-morning-sir," the droid's monotone voice greeted him. "Where-are-we-going-now?"

"Home, CP-47, it looks like the Rebels are about six hours closer than we originally thought."

"Is-that-bad-sir?" the droid inquired.

Dumb droid, Eric thought. "Yes, CP-47, that's bad -- very bad."

* * *

Nine-and-a-half-year-old David Everett and his best friend, ten-year-old Bobby Starkie, were playing catch with a small, hard rubber ball in David's front yard when the staff car pulled up to Eric Everett's ranch-style home in an affluent westside sector of Casa Alto.

Eric paused a minute to take a loving look at his young son. He was small and lithe, slender and long-limbed -- like his mother. His chestnut brown hair was straight and thick; it was square-cut in the back and long in the front, so that it fell across his forehead and his large brown eyes. He had a sprinkling of freckles over the bridge of his nose and was somewhat taller than average for his age. He had a loud, high-pitched voice that he could shape into a lethal weapon by whistling between his strong, white teeth.

He was slow to make friends, but once he had, he was affectionate and loyal to that person lucky enough to be so favored. Eric was pleased and proud of being a friend and a parent to his young son. Star Nomads had a tendency to spoil their children because they were so fond of them. This dated from the Great Exodus that had sent the Star Nomads roaming through the galaxy. The location of their home world and the nature of the Great Catastrophe were now forgotten, and about the only thing Nomad historians could agree on was that it had all happened some 27,000 to 30,000 years ago. Children had been scarce and precious commodities in those long-past days, and their value to their parents had not decreased over the millennia.

"Hi Daddy!" David screamed, and ran over to his father. Eric grinned and picked up his young son under the arms and swung him around.

What will become of the children? Eric thought. Will the rebels have slavers with them? Will they even bother with enemy children . . . or just slaughter them?

"Hi, brat!" he said aloud. "Is Mom in the house?"

"She's shopping. Can Bobby and me go swimming in the canal?"

"No, son. Not today . . . ."

"Aww, but --" both boys started to protest.

"David!" Eric said sharply. Much too sharply, Eric reprimanded himself, too much of my own strain showing through. "I have a good reason for wanting you to stay close to the house today, and Bobby?" he said, turning to the ten-year-old.

"Yes sir?"

"I know that both your parents are working, but I'm sure that they would tell you to stay close to home today also."

"But why?" asked David.

"Is something wrong?" Bobby asked.

Eric frowned, too many questions for which he did not have answers. "Well, you boys have heard that there is a space fleet cruising toward Tarsus. Well, they're going to be here in a little more than an hour now."

"Oh boy!" the two children said in unison.

"But no one knows exactly what they want. We parents will want to know exactly where you kids are today. If it turns out that there is going to be trouble, we may have to evacuate all the children."

"INVASION!" Bobby said. "Like on the Tri-D!"

"I want you boys to promise me that you'll both stay close to home, and always ask before you take off somewhere," Eric continued.

"We promise, don't we Dave?" Bobby immediately said. David nodded, still not quite aware of the seriousness of his father's warning. The two boys returned to their game of catch, and Eric started for the house.

* * *

He immediately headed for the comm-web, wondering if he could still get an off-planet call through. He dialed a five-digit code to access the interstellar net, and specified his calling destination: the planet Valhalla, in orbit around Mu Cassiopeia, 31 light years away. There were some delays, but the system did not outright reject the coding, as it would have if the Rebels had been able to jam the sub-space channels that the hyper-relay used. In under 30 seconds the blue, gold, and red banner of the Star Nomad Nation was displayed on his screen, with the letters "VALHALLA" along the bottom limit of the screen. Another eleven digits and a similar instrument on a desk over thirty light years away in the Valhallian Defense Directorate was ringing.

"Deputy Chief of Operations."

The Ops Specialist was an attractive young woman in her twenties with the insignia of a Chief Petty Officer Three on her gray uniform jersey. An involuntary whistle escaped Eric's lips; although happily married, he still enjoyed the art of girl-watching.

"This is an official autovon circuit, sir. Whistling is prohibited," the Specialist said curtly, and leaned forward to press the dissolve switch.

"Of course," Eric said, somewhat abashed. "Captain McKim's office please."

"Yes sir -- and sir?"


"Its Commodore McKim now, sir." She disappeared from the screen, and an instant later the face of his old friend, Donald McKim, filled the screen.

"Eric," the Commodore said warmly, "are you and the family off that mud-ball yet? What IS happening over your way?"

"Hey, Don! Congratulations on your posting to Flag Rank!" Eric was glad of the personal business to blunt the requests he had to make of his old friend . . . requests he knew the other could do nothing about.

"Well, I'm not in your league." McKim grinned widely, and Eric blushed. "Boy military genius, graduated top of your class at the Academy at sixteen, Captain at twenty-nine, promoted to flag rank at thirty-five, Hero of the Ardallian Campaign."

"But you finally got here to the rarefied heights of senior command." Eric grinned.

"How are things there? Our latest intelligence plot locates the V Rebel Battle Fleet as being only hours away at best. You and that pretty wife and kid had better high-tail it out of there -- and I mean now!"

Eric's grin disappeared. "The advance elements are already in system." he said. "Janice and David are safer behind the city defense screen now. Look, Don, I've got to ask -- do you have any uncommitted units you can send us to patch up a centuries-old defense structure?"

McKim's face fell. "I was afraid that was what this call was about. Why the hell did you wait so long? When the fleet's trajectory confirmed 70 Ophiuchi as the destination I called to warn you to get the hell out of there . . . ."

"Janice --"

"Yes, I know, didn't want to leave her people behind -- but look at my situation." The Commodore's face was replaced by a combat-readiness spreadsheet. "Admiral Starn's 83rd Squadron is due in port tomorrow from the Eastern Circuit." As he spoke, colored icons moved around the spreadsheet from one disposition to another. "But they are totally dry on Tylium for their interceptors and are low on ammo. Admiral Starn made me swear a blood oath that he's top of the list for refitting. But even so, that'll take a week to ten days.

"The 179th just left for the Capella Warp Gate and the Ras-Algethei front; 22nd is on stand-down, their crews scattered all over the Empire on 30-day leave, not due back for another 14 days; 4077th is also on stand-down -- but because of heavy casualties and severe battle damage, it'll be six to eight months before they're ready to warp out of orbit.

"Battle Group C -- now there's what you need: two attack carriers, four battle ships, a dozen cruisers, and their supporting auxiliaries. They are scheduled to leave tomorrow to relieve the convoy escort group taking convoys to the Perseus Arm battle front. I can try to divert them, and I will try, but . . . ." The display on Eric's comm-web screen changed from data mode back to HD visual mode as the Commodore was speaking.

"A Romulan's chance, eh?" Eric growled.

"I'm afraid so."

"What about some of the Allies? The H'Rumbians? Wookies? Chrissakes, the Klingons never willingly miss a chance at combat."

"The problem is that although this is a Terran war, it has polarized much of the Federation also. Most races either already have taken sides and their militaries are as stretched thin as ours, or they have decided upon a policy of complete neutrality. Good idea about the Klingons though, I have a friend on the Armada's CinC's staff who owes me a favor. I'll send him a message immediately, 'All Speed' and all. If they've got anything, you can count on the Klingons to show up, but the victory party after might be as bad as a pirate raid -- the Klingons are big believers in partying and fighting."

McKim's face suddenly brightened. "Is that your little rugrat, there?"

"Huh?" Eric turned. David was standing at the rear of the room, Eric's makeshift office in their home.

"Yeah," he said, motioning David to join him. "This is my son, David," he said, squeezing the boy's shoulders affectionately.

"Good-looking kid," McKim said.

"David, this is an old friend of mine, Commodore McKim," Eric said.

"By your command, sir," David said, repeating the formal military greeting that his father had taught him, wide-eyed and awestruck by the figure on the screen.

"At ease, Trooper," McKim said, laughing at the solemnity of the small boy. "Do you think you will follow your father's people then . . . and take the TEST and become a Star Nomad?"

"Yes sir," the little boy said, still standing at attention. The screen blurred for a moment and was filled with snow, the picture rolled several times before stabilizing again.

". . . jamming . . . -squawk- . . . when it's all over," the speaker of the comm-web spat. McKim's image wavered again and dissolved into snow for a final time. "Spaceman's Luck!"

"Stop by for a drink -- Frank's Pass Out -- next Empire Day," Eric shouted before the connection was totally broken by enemy electronic warfare. He turned away from the set, worried.

"What happened, Daddy?" David asked.

"The Fleet is jamming all off-world calls." He turned to David and took the boy by the shoulders again. "You may be called upon to be very brave in the next few days. I want you to remember that you are a Star Nomad. It is not a sin to be afraid, but you must not panic . . . no matter what. Do you understand, David?"

"Yes, Daddy," the small boy said.

"I'll be at the star port for a few days, I may have to sleep over. I want you to mind your mother. And if you have to, to take care of her until I get back."

"I will, Daddy."

Eric sighed, "You and Bobby will be able to watch the Fleet landing from our front yard, it should be quite a sight."

At that moment, Bobby's treble voice drifted into them, "DAVID! Come outside, quick! You won't believe it!" His voice was drowned out by an intense, rumbling sonic boom.

* * *

Outside, up in the sky, a formation of five delta-wing Planetary Assault Cruisers were lumbering across the city at perhaps twenty-thousand feet -- tree-top level for the mile-long interstellar behemoths. Suddenly, a double-V of ten Viper interceptors flashed overhead, perhaps 1,500 feet off the ground. The alien fighters were followed by a huge sonic boom. David and Bobby were jumping up and down with excitement at the unexpected military air show. David shouted something, his hands jammed over his ears, but was drowned out by another squadron that flashed overhead even lower. Mach 2.5 or 3; Eric automatically began thinking like an antiaircraft gunner -- lead the target by some much, determined by the estimated speed multiplied by a coefficient representing the altitude and read in degrees, minutes, and seconds of arc.

Janice Everett, Eric's wife, pulled the family jetcar into the long drive beside the immaculate lawn and immediately drafted her young son and his friend into servitude, unloading the cargo compartment of her purchases. She came over to stand beside the tall, muscular figure of her husband.

"Does this mean war?" she asked.

Eric smiled at his long-limbed young wife. "Honey, half the galaxy has been at war for the past four years . . . but yes, I'm afraid that the war has finally caught up with us. I only hope we can negotiate an honorable surrender."

"Surrender?" Janice was surprised, "but you're the one who always says surrender is the coward's way out."

"Yes," Eric agreed, "But that presupposes that both sides have the means to continue combat." Eric pointed skyward, other formations of PACs -- higher up -- were still passing overhead. "That's a full battle fleet . . . against an outmoded planetary defense system that should have been scrapped and rebuilt over a century ago."

David and Bobby had managed to draft Eric's protocol droid, CP-47, into service carrying groceries from the jetcar parked on its landing ramp into the kitchen of the Everett's home.

"If we fight," Eric said with finality, "we sign their death warrants." A sweep of his hand indicated David, Bobby, and all the other children on the block. "We simply cannot defend the planet against that many guns and ships."

Eric put his arm around her waist and bent down to kiss her on the cheek. "Don't worry, unless the Fleet Commander is a madman, they'll simply raid the planet for gold and supplies; after all, there really isn't much here to loot for a smash-and-grab pirate. And, they've got the Star Fleet less than a week behind them . . . ."

"I know," Janice began, and suddenly snatched out at a bag David was carrying and retrieved a thin piece of paper. "The newsfax is full of speculation about the fleet." She waved the newsfax in Eric's face. "Look at this . . ."

"TERRAN FLEET ANNIHILATES MAIN REBEL RESISTANCE IN PERSEUS ARM (United Press Interstellar) -- In a news release from Star Fleet Command, Admiral Melvin...." Eric frowned as he scanned the newsfax rapidly. The Trilateral Alliance, which had long been neutral during the interstellar power struggle for the Terran Throne, had two weeks ago concluded an agreement with Gar Landry, the Terran Emperor, and had entered the war on the Emperor's side. The first effects of their powerful military had been total obliteration of the Rebel's XIII Fleet in the Perseus Arm and the subsequent fall of Corridon to the Imperial Marines. It meant the beginning of the end for the rebels loyal to Tokerarat Bulgannin, self-styled king of Perseus. It meant the rebels would be twice as dangerous to deal with when they arrived, fresh from a smarting defeat.
Eric and Janice had walked to the staff car, their arms intertwined. Eric paused to kiss his beautiful wife again; it was a long and passionate kiss.

"Will you be home this evening?" Janice asked.

"I don't think so," Eric said slowly. "I may be away for a few days, but I'll be back as soon as I possibly can. To be on the safe side, perhaps you'd better load the car in case we have to evacuate the city, okay?"

"Okay," she said, and squeezed his hand. "I love you!"

"And I love you, too, sweetbuns."

* * *

CP-47 had returned from his porter duties and Eric climbed in, saying, "Starport, CP-47."

The staff car pulled out of the driveway and headed for the starport, 20 kilometers toward the center of the city. The drive was a short one, but in that time, Eric managed to read all of the newsfax concerning the Corridon Battle. The more he read, the more worried Eric became; it was obvious that the rebel Admiral would be in no rush to join the blasted XIII Fleet in the Perseus Arm, and it would make an honorable surrender harder still.

The starport was a beehive of activity. Tarsus had no official navy, its GNP being too small to support a large fleet, but several captains of Free Traders currently in port had agreed to accept Tarsus's commission as privateers in return for commercial concessions after the war and gold up front. These twenty or so rust buckets had been mounted with phaser cannons and ship-to-ship missile launchers. Most had completed the instillation of weapons and repowering and had lifted into circumpolar orbits around either Tarsus or Awesome, around which Tarsus orbited.

Two of the ships, relics from the last century, were still standing on the port, techs hurrying to finish connecting power leads from hastily installed phaser cannons inside weapons turrets that looked like two large blisters on the port and starboard sides of the ships.

CP-47 eased the staff car into Eric's reserved space at the Port Operations center; Eric climbed out and began surveying the work still in progress on the two remaining privateers on the ramp of the starport, a half kilometer away. As he shaded his eyes, Ian Fischer, the port's manager came up to him.

"What's the word from the defense center?"

"Hi, Ian. Not good, I'm sorry to say. The planetary defense batteries are about two-thirds combat-ready and only Casa Alto has a defense screen . . . and I don't know long that antique will hold up against a concentrated attack."

"Have you heard about the Government emissary's meeting with the Rebels? He's shuttling up right now, should be in about fifteen minutes."

"I've still got a lot of work to do," Eric said. "I'll watch from my office."

"Okay, Eric," the other said. "We'll have to get together for a good stiff drink when this is over."

"Yeah," the Nomad agreed, "next Empire Day."

* * *

Eric's office was in a long, wide building in the administration complex of the Starport. In the center of an auditorium-sized room was a three-dimensional image of the starport itself; around the edges of the room in a two-tier semicircle were the people responsible for the smooth technical operation of the starport, Tarsus' Space Traffic Control people. As Eric headed for his private office, the Bulwark, one of the tramp freighters-cum-privateers, lifted off. Its highly detailed 3-D image balanced on its ion-plasma flame for a second, running its drives up to maximum output to make the 60-second run for deep space. Then it quickly rose toward the ceiling, where the image left the model at a scale altitude of 50,000 feet.

Eric sat down in front of his desk, just as the soft "kweep" of the beep signal indicated something on the communications channel he should watch. Eric leaned forward and touched a button and the 36-inch LCD screen on the opposite wall of his office glowed to live with the image of T. Cecil Olgelthorpe, local news pundit.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is your KSRX news service, anchored by the award-winning commentator T. Cecil Olgelthorpe. Of course, the biggest news story to cross this reporter's desk in several years is the arrival of the Space Fleet, currently taking up station in planet orbit around our modest little world. Although the exact intentions of the aliens are not currently known, the government has appointed Cyrus Wackerbath, a well-known retired politician, as well as a former member of the Imperial Senate and Federation Ambassador, to communicate the complete welcome of the government of Tarsus to the aliens . . . ."

"Hhrump!" Eric snorted. "A lot of good that'll do," he muttered to himself.

". . . while they are in orbit." the Tri-D continued. "The alien fleet is composed of a mixture of Federation races, with the majority being Saurians. Saurians are reptilian bipeds native to the 45 Delta Aquillae star system, just the other side of the Rigel Warp Gate . . . Ahh, I think the Admiral commanding the Fleet is about to address us . . . ."

* * *

The image shifted to a large briefing room aboard one of the Saurian battleships. Cyrus Wackerbath, together with his entourage, was standing at the foot of a long, polished Tarmarakwood table, while the Saurian Admiral, and his officers, including a sour-looking human, sat at the head of the table.

"Your Excellency . . ." Wackerbath began, but was cut off in mid-sentence as a Saurian MP used his phaser rifle butt to hit the emissary in the midsection. Wackerbath doubled over to the gasps of his entourage, who rushed forward to him.

The camera shifted to the Saurian Admiral, whose jaws were open, exposing half-inch incisors and lots of needle-sharp teeth. Eric, having dealt with Saurians, recognized the alien facial expression: contempt for a meat animal.

The weasily human arose from his chair and introduced the Saurian Admiral: "The High Lord Admiral Ra'ak Leahcim kor Reay, Flag Office Commanding the Fifth Fleet of his Most Sublime Majesty, Tokerarat I, King of Perseus."

The Admiral arose and looked directly into the Tri-D camera.

"You arrrreee our meat!" the sentient reptile hissed at the camera. "You cannot save yourselves by attempting to surrender. Surrender from a foe who lacks the ability to defend himself is an insult to the attacker. For this insult, and because you all have committed treason against the lawful Emperor, Tokerarat of Perseus . . . you are all sentenced to die!"

"Crom's Devils!" Eric roared, and jumped to his feet, slapping at the dissolve switch. There would be no honorable surrender, and, as long as that lizard was in command, no surrender at all -- the rebels meant to slaughter them all!

Eric stabbed at the comm-web button, the screen came to life with the Chief of the traffic controllers.

"Get that ship off the field, NOW!" Eric ordered. There was no need to specify which ship, the Chief Controller had been watching the Tri-D also.

"Aye, aye, sir," was the reply.

* * *

Eric went out onto the operations floor. Already the pre-start warm-up of the freighter's plasma igniters was visible as a soft purplish-green glow at the stern of the stubby cigar-shaped starship, sitting on its tripod landing gear on the ramp outside. Eric sat in his oversized command chair with its computer connections and display screens, pulling on the headset with its earphone and attached microphone. Eric signaled that he would handle this departure himself. It was quite likely that he was sending these men and women to their deaths high above the planet in combat against an implacable foe. If it was to be, better the order came from him, rather than one of the civilian technicians.

"Privateer Wodin's Beard requesting clearance to lift," the omni speaker crackled.

"Wodin's Beard," Eric said into the boom microphone on his headset. "All clear forward and up. Spaceman's Luck, guys."

"Thanks, Tarsus. We'll need it."

The last remaining privateer began its slow ascent to orbit, a starship's most vulnerable moments.

* * *

Two Viper interceptors suddenly roared across the apron of the main ramp of the starport, pulse-laser cannons blazing. The gunners on the newly created privateer returned fire, and for a heart-stopping moment it appeared that they might actually make it into free space as one of the vipers was caught in a burst of killing light and dissolved into flame.

But it was not to be. The remaining Viper swooped in close, firing at the most vulnerable point of the ancient starship, it's liquid-fuel boosters, used to attain orbit and then jettisoned to be reclaimed by an orbital truck later. With a single, thunderous report and a huge gout of red-yellow flame, one of the mono-hydrozine18 tanks exploded, spewing flaming wreckage over a five-kilometer radius of the Labyrinth, the warehouse and black-market sector just outside the ring of the starport proper.

Already, one could hear the wail of fire sirens in the distance.   

Story copyright © 1994 Rick Blackburn.
Illustration copyright © 1994 Andrew G. McCann.

(Editor's note: "The Bombardment" will be continued in the next exciting issue of Planet. Rick Blackburn can be contacted at or at

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