Outward: Chapter 27: Operation Mulligan

The movement was too sudden for MSgt Abernathy to react to. The front line of spiders jumped on top of her with a force that belied their size, knocking her backwards onto the ground. She flailed, sending a couple of them flying as she knocked them away with her arms and rolled onto her stomach, but they were soon replaced with others.

She heard a shout, and suddenly a storm of gunshots rang out as the defensive line opened fire. She stopped flailing, afraid to get in the way of the bullets now zipping overhead, and flattened herself as much as possible. She felt the spiders scampering across her back. If she stayed there, she was defenseless against them, but she couldn’t get up either as long as the defensive line was fending off a further attack.

The spiders that had attacked her massed themselves along her side and shoved. She rolled in the opposite direction, trying to put some distance between herself and them. The world spun around her, and she couldn’t tell whether she had escaped or whether the spiders were following right behind her, nor did she want to stop to check.

She bumped into something, bringing her to a stop. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and heard a voice close to her ear, “Sergeant, are you hurt?”

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

“Stay low, we’ll get you out of here,” the solider said. “Cover me.”

As gunfire sounded from somewhere past her feet, the first soldier steadied her and helped her reposition herself into a crouch. She braced herself against him as dizziness tried to overcome her. The two of them stayed bent as much as possible as they ran back to the defensive line, followed by the other soldier, who fired back occasionally towards the silo, fending off any spiders that looked like they might be trying to pursue them.

“Make a hole!” the first soldier shouted. The defensive line parted just long enough for the three to pass through, then closed behind them. MSgt Abernathy sat down against a tree, breathing heavily, flanked by the two soldiers.

“How much longer?” COL Griggs asked.

“Five minutes until the satellite is in position,” Col Newmeyer replied. “And the bombers are en route. Can your men hold them off until then?”

“Not a problem. Doesn’t look like the things are putting up much of a fight.”

They looked towards the silo. The spiders that had broken off to attack MSgt Abernathy had fallen back behind their own line, and weren’t showing any signs of making any further advance. The field behind their line was scattered with prone spiders, presumably killed or incapacitated by their weapons fire.

“How are you holding up, Sergeant?” Col Newmeyer asked.

“I think I’ll be fine, sir,” MSgt Abernathy replied. She checked the front of her uniform, then leaned forward and twisted herself to look at her back. “A few grass stains, but that’s about it. I don’t think they even sprayed me with anything.”

“Sir,” asked CPT Young, “should we advance on their position?”

COL Griggs looked to Col Newmeyer.

“MOJO is just about to fire,” Col Newmeyer replied, checking his watch. “There’s no telling what kind of blast we’ll get when it connects. It’d be dangerous to get too much closer.”

“Not yet,” COL Griggs said, “but be ready to move on my order.”

“Yes, sir,” CPT Young replied.

They waited. Hundreds of miles overhead, MOJO-4 was approaching a point on its orbit directly overhead the silo. Its antenna array was already pointed straight down. Its batteries and capacitors were charged to their limit, ready and waiting for the signal from the navigation payload. It came, and the stored energy flooded out of the satellite, through the antenna, and in an invisible pulse of pure energy towards the planet below.

The top of the silo, weakened from having a large hole cut into it, buckled immediately, sending the sound of tearing metal thundering across the field. Everyone braced themselves for the inevitable explosion as the pulse almost instantaneously struck bottom.

Silence.

Col Newmeyer checked his watch again.

“Don’t tell me that was it,” COL Griggs said.

“I think that was it,” Col Newmeyer replied.

“Last time it was more impressive,” MSgt Abernathy said. “Maybe because we only had the one this time.”

“It still should’ve done something,” replied Col Newmeyer. “I’ll give the order for the bombers to–”

They felt a shock wave pass through them. The air directly above the silo twisted and distorted. There was a sharp whooshing sound, and suddenly they saw a large metal sphere shoot straight up and out of the silo, followed by a cloud of shrapnel.

“What the–” CPT Young said.

“It’s the Mackinelly Device!” MSgt Abernathy said.

Col Newmeyer mashed the buttons on his phone. “This is Newmeyer!” he shouted into it. “Scramble the fighters to intercept!”

“What’s it doing?” COL Griggs asked, watching the object recede as it continued its direct vertical climb into the sky.

“It looks like it’s launching into space,” MSgt Abernathy said. “You’ll never be able to intercept it at that rate.”

“But… how?” COL Griggs said, dumbfounded. “There’s no rocket on it! No way it’s going fast enough to enter orbit.”

“And I want every tracking radar we have pointed at it!” Col Newmeyer continued into his phone. “I want to know where it’s going and when it will get there!”

“It’s not a missile silo,” MSgt Abernathy said. “It must be some kind of mass driver! I wasn’t even sure those were possible.”

There was a low rumbling from the silo. The Mackinelly Device had climbed high enough to no longer be visible, but the column of air above the silo continued shimmering and twisting.

“That distortion must be from some kind of energy beam being fired up out of it,” MSgt Abernathy continued.

“Why is it still going?” CPT Young asked.

“It might still be boosting it up into orbit. Or maybe–”

She was interrupted by another whooshing sound as a second sphere launched from the silo.

“There’s another one?” COL Griggs said, dumbfounded.

“Fighters, intercept the second target!” Col Newmeyer shouted. “Do not fly directly overhead!”

In the sky, the second Mackinelly Device appeared over the horizon of the first fighter jet. The target was ascending quickly, but at a steady rate, with no lateral movement. There were no clouds of chaff or jamming signals or anything else to prevent the targeting system to immediately acquire a lock. Like shooting fish in a barrel. The pilot flipped the plastic cover up and pressed the button.

A pair of missiles rushed forward from the jet, flying directly at a point where the target would soon be as the jet itself banked away. “Missiles away,” the pilot radioed back to base.

The missiles converged on the target. As they approached, they shuddered as an unseen force tore through them. Before their payloads could detonate, the force shredded the missiles into tiny pieces, which then got caught caught in the swirling column of energy pushing the target upwards. The shrapnel spiraled up and around the target in a pair of streams, following the target upwards.

The pilot contacted base again. “Target not destroyed, repeat, target not destroyed.”

Col Newmeyer received the news. If Mackinelly Devices had anti-missile defenses, they had no choice but to stop them while they were still on the ground, before any more might get launched. He gave the order for the bombers to strike.

“Give the order to fall back,” Col Newmeyer said.

“How come?” COL Griggs asked.

“I don’t think we want a front-row seat to find out what happens when we shove munitions down that silo when it’s still active.”

COL Griggs gave the order to fall back and take cover as the soldiers abandoned the field. The spiders, who had been standing still the entire time, remained motionless, holding their own perimeter around the silo.

Overhead, a pair of bombers launched their payload of air-to-surface missiles. The missiles flew forward before arcing sharply downwards, towards the launch site. One of them crossed the energy beam as it tried to fly towards the far corner of the silo, and got torn apart in an instant. The rest of the first wave of missiles, however, struck their targets, immediately engulfing the top of the silo in explosions. The ensuing fireball twisted up in the air along the energy beam as the silo began to collapse, large chunks of it falling down, chunks too large made of materials designed to withstand the onslaught of upward energy. They struck bottom just as the second wave of missiles struck the surface.

The ground shook violently as the rest of the silo collapsed, heat and dust flying everywhere as dirt and melting chunks of metal filled the silo. The spiders standing guard outside broke their line and beelined down the hole and into the inferno raging below. The ground trembled again as a series of explosions erupted from the depths of the silo, spewing more dirt and dust and half-molten metal up into the air and onto the field.

“Now that,” COL Griggs said, watching the scene through a pair of binoculars, “is more like it.”

“Judging from that last set of explosions,” CPT Young added, “whatever else was down there has been destroyed.” He pointed his own binoculars farther up. The air was still shimmering, but this time it was from the sheer heat of the explosions and not from any invisible column of energy shooting up into space.

“That’s what we thought too,” MSgt Abernathy said, “the last time we tried attacking it on the ground.”

“She’s right,” Col Newmeyer agreed. “We’re going to need to comb the area to look for anything that might have survived. Give the word, Colonel, and I’ll provide as many people as I can to support you.”

“And there’s also whatever might still be buried somewhere else,” MSgt Abernathy added. “I doubt this is the last we’re going to see of the alien.”


Chapter word count: 1,678 (+11)
Total word count: 47,895 / 50,000 (95.79%)

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