tagSci-Fi & FantasySplashdown Remastered and Housecat

Splashdown Remastered and Housecat

bySnekguy©

Author's note: While writing my new sequel 'Housecat', I read through one of my oldest stories 'Splashdown' in order to refresh my memory concerning the events and characters. In doing so, I realized that I had learned enough to make some significant improvements to the grammar and punctuation, and so I decided to re-edit the story to bring it up to speed. This release contains both the re-edited version of 'Splashdown', and the all-new sequel 'Housecat'. I figured that this was a better solution than simply replacing the old story in all of the places that I uploaded it. If you remember the events of Splashdown and you're only interested in the new content, simply skip to chapter five and begin reading from there.

Thank you once again for all of your kind words and support.

CHAPTER 1: EE-4

The carrier left superlight, spraying a technicolor cloud of gas and dust in its wake as it punched a hole back into reality. Its massive, blocky bulk drifted idly as the residue slowly dissipated, a smear of brilliant color against the blackness of space.

Before it a lush, green world hung in space, snaking rivers and verdant jungles visible even at such great distances. The mixed crew of humans and aliens were strapped into crash couches, their landing craft nestled in recesses along its hull. They clenched their teeth around plastic bits, lest they bite off their own tongues as the dimensional transition wracked their bodies, their muscles twitching and convulsing under the stress.

The autopilot maneuvered the one hundred and twenty thousand ton ship, taking an evasive route while the pilot came to his senses, his addled brain struggling to reboot. Superlight travel wreaked havoc with the nervous system. Some people were more susceptible than others, the symptoms ranging from temporary madness and nausea, to unconsciousness or blindness. Pilots were chosen partly for their resistance to the effects, but even they would take a minute or two to regain enough sanity to steer a vessel. In that period of time the autopilot would take control, performing evasive maneuvers to minimize the risk of taking incoming fire, as exiting superlight was when a ship and her crew were at their most vulnerable.

As predicted by naval intelligence, orbital defensive structures began to fire on the carrier at extreme range, unguided tungsten rods thrown by magnetic accelerators blew past the space where the carrier had been only moments ago. The ship's computer tracked the trajectories of the projectiles and compensated, chemical engines along the hull of the vessel flaring. Orange plasma streamed into space as it heaved out of their path, single-minded in its mission to protect the crew.

The pilot came to, like crawling through wet concrete his mind dragged itself back to awareness. He shook his head vigorously and examined the HUD display on his helmet.

Good, the reentry point was only a few thousand miles off course, they were almost exactly on target. The UNN Shiroyama was on a mission to deliver a contingent of human and Borealan commandos to the surface of Epsilon Eridani IV, it was the only habitable planet in the disputed Epsilon Eridani system and had been heavily fortified by Betelgeusian forces. The Bugs had stormed the planet in a surprise attack and had erected formidable defense systems in order to dissuade a counter invasion. Any battle group that got too close would be shredded by concentrated fire, the only option was to send in small landing craft that the anti-ship weaponry mounted to the orbital stations could not track, and disable their ground-based control systems. EE-4 was a jungle planet, lush with exotic flora that would be dense enough to conceal the commandos as they made their way to their targets.

The pilot took the helm, allowing the auto-pilot to make minor corrections as he steered the mammoth vessel towards the planet. More crew were coming to now, and winding trails of point defense fire snaked from the ship, destroying torpedoes that were only now coming into range. Bright flashes of orange illuminating the darkness, reflecting on the ocean-grey hull of the carrier as it pointed towards its target.

They had to do this quickly. The closer the carrier got to the planet, the more accurate the enemy fire would become. Beyond a certain range the Shiroyama would not have time to dodge those ship-killer magnetic accelerator rounds.

"All hands, all hands, prepare for drive-by insertion. Repeat; prepare for drive-by insertion."

The four main engines in the ship's stern flared to life, acceleration pinning the occupants to their seats as the carrier barreled towards the planet, covering the distance at an alarming rate. The green sphere grew rapidly, filling the pilot's field of view. The orbital stations that ringed it became visible, fat, grey rods with a central torus, suspended above the atmosphere. Pinpoints of light flashed around their central hubs as they fired on the speeding target, but it was going too fast for their weapons to track it.

Collision warnings blared on the HUD, and the pilot engaged the superlight drive countdown. A colorful aura grew around the ship as its power plants were drained in order to charge the jump drive, the vast energies preparing to tear a breach in the fabric of space itself. As the jump countdown reached four seconds, he hit the emergency release on the docking clamps. A cloud of tiny landing craft broke away from the carrier, propelled forward by inertia as the giant vessel warped, then blinked out of reality. A cloud of red, blue and green dust expanded in its wake like a tiny nebula, the colorful smear of a celestial paintbrush.

The landing craft were small, agile shuttles with short, stubby wings for atmospheric flight. They fired their retro thrusters as they sped towards the planet, attempting to slow their descent. They weaved and banked, dodging fire that was still directed at the expanding gas cloud where the carrier had been only seconds ago, punctured by torpedo trails.

They approached the line of defensive installations, blowing past them as AA fire tried in vain to track them. They broke formation, each arching towards a predetermined landing site on the planet's surface. They glowed orange as they hit the atmosphere, air resistance turning their hulls into bright beacons as they trailed fire.

***

Shuttle eight banked towards its landing site, the jungle canopy racing below its wings, a green blur as the craft circled in an attempt to shed speed as it descended. The pilot craned his neck to look back into the troop bay. His charges, half a dozen human marines and three towering Borealans, checked their gear and loaded their XMRs. They carried modular rifles that could be customized to suit the physiology of any humanoid species, one needed only to choose a suitable frame for their stature, and then the weapon could be modified to suit their needs.

The three gigantic Borealans glared around the bay, their piercing, amber eyes intense and alert. They were descended from a feline ancestor, and they shared a few similar features, most notably the round ears that protruded from the tops of their heads amongst a mane of orange hair. They had a flat nose and a long, furry tail, their three fingers and their paw-like toes tipped with wicked claws. They were clad in the ceramic armor that was customary to soldiers of the UNN, their sleeves rolled up to expose their furred forearms, marked with faded tiger stripes. They were perfectly suited to guerrilla warfare, and that was why high command had assigned them to this mission. They were ambush predators, perfectly suited to a jungle environment.

Their human counterparts wore full-faced helmets and camouflaged body armor, with green netting disguising their rifle barrels. While not as naturally endowed as the alien auxiliaries, they were Marine scouts, and no less dangerous.

The pilot examined the readout on the dark visor that obscured his face, and noted that their air speed and hull temperature were now at an acceptable level to attempt a landing. His computers scanned the dense jungle below, and identified the heat signature of the control station they had been ordered to capture. The Betelgeusian installation was driving one of the massive weapons platforms orbiting above them. He steered the ship towards it, they would land a small distance away and attempt to infiltrate, intelligence had reported that the small buildings were not heavily defended.

As they glided towards their target, a sudden tremor passed through the vessel. Warning signals flared on the pilot's HUD, and he glanced to the left to see that his wing was gone. Fuel leaked from the jagged tear, igniting in a trail of fire behind them as the dropship bled like a wounded animal. A second AA shell rose from the jungle below, exploding beneath them and tearing out the belly of the craft. Wind rushed past his ears as his stomach lurched, suddenly weightless. The smell of smoke and blood flooded his senses as he tumbled end over end, the canopy rushing towards him like a green fist, and then his world went dark.

***

The pilot awoke with a gasp, he tried to breathe, but his lungs wouldn't suck air. He coughed and gagged, then vomited water, his cleared lungs heaving as he struggled to sit up.

Where was he? He was sitting waist-deep in shallow water. His fingers sifted through mud and weeds as he looked up, trying to take in his surroundings. Gnarled, twisted trees covered in moss and vines, the sky obscured by a forest canopy, bright shafts of sunlight penetrating the leaves. He gave himself a brief look over, he seemed to be in one piece. He was dazed, and his head was ringing like a bell, but besides that he didn't seem to be in immediate danger.

He pulled off his helmet, its visor shattered like broken glass, and he ran his fingers over his face. Cuts and some tender bruises, but nothing life threatening. He stood on shaky legs, his boots sinking in the silt. He scanned the area, realizing that he was in a clearing, dense forest encircled him on all sides. He was standing on the shore of a shallow lake. The shuttle had plowed through the trees, snapping them like toothpicks, leaving a trail of destruction that must be miles long. It had cratered and eventually come to a stop in the deeper water. It protruded from the surface, its still smoking engines angled into the air.

He must have been thrown from the cockpit, it was a miracle he was still alive, never mind unhurt.

Shit, the crew.

He waded deeper, marching through the lake, struggling through weeds and aquatic plants as he went. Fortunately the area where the shuttle was sitting was not so deep that he had to swim, and the troop bay door was jammed open. He hooked his hands over the lip and pulled himself up, straining with the effort. The bay was partially submerged, the forward section and cockpit were obscured beneath the muddy water. He could see the helmets of two Marines under the surface, still strapped to their seats. If they hadn't died in the impact, they would have drowned shortly after.

Most of the occupants were dismembered, their bodies torn apart by twisted metal and shrapnel, but one Borealan was intact. Her leg was twisted badly and she seemed to be unconscious, but her chest rose and fell, and he could hear shallow breathing.

He climbed down into the bay gingerly, finding footholds between the seats, reaching the alien and unfastening her seat belt. He fumbled with the clasp, eventually succeeding in freeing her. The alien's limp body slumped sideways, but she did not fall out of her chair. He pulled at her arm but she was far too heavy for him to lift. He tried shaking her awake, but there was no response. Frustrated, he slapped her face, nothing. He slapped again, harder, and this time she sputtered to life. Her eyes were wide and frightened, darting about as she tried to get her beatings. She grasped her twisted leg, a low growl of pain escaping her lips.

"What...what happened?" She gasped, looking around the troop bay in confusion. She spoke with an odd, rolling accent, it almost sounded Russian.

"We were shot down over the jungle. My name is McGregor, I'm...I was, the pilot."

"Help me out of this chair."

He supported her arm as she climbed out of her seat, growling in pain as she accidentally put weight on her injured leg. It looked bad, a compound fracture maybe, she might have a concussion too. Together they struggled out of the wreckage, the drop into the water was a lot shorter for the eight foot Borealan, with McGregor supporting her under the arm they waded to the shore together. He lowered her gingerly into a sitting position, then turned back.

"I think they're all dead, but I have to make sure."

He returned to the crashed shuttle, checking the bodies that remained. There were no other survivors. He retrieved what undamaged equipment he could carry, and then made his way back to where the Borealan was sitting. The giant creature was examining her leg with a worried expression.

"Do you have a medkit?" She hissed through clenched teeth.

He sifted through the gear and found one, passing it to her. She took the white box in her large, furred hand and opened it, examining the contents.

"What's your name?" McGregor asked her. She ignored him as she injected a painkiller into her arm, her breathing became more regular. She seemed to relax a little, leaning back as the sedative did its work.

"How far off target are we?" She asked, craning her neck to examine her surroundings.

"We were fifty miles out when we went down, we must have skidded for a few miles at least, I don't know in which direction."

"Find me a stick so I can make a splint."

"Alright..."

He wandered away from the shore and towards the jungle, the twisted creepers and gnarled trunks of the giant trees made it an almost impenetrable wall. It was gloomy inside, every so often a shaft of sunlight penetrated the leaves, but the illumination was poor. A twinge of fear crept into his belly as he made his way through the dense undergrowth. There must be Bugs in the jungle, they had fired on the landing craft from below the canopy. There would surely be a patrol heading their way to investigate the crash site, the fiery trail they had left would be visible for miles. They had to get out of the clearing and into the cover of the jungle as soon as possible.

He reached down and dug through the undergrowth, looking for a sturdy stick, but couldn't find one. All of the broken wood was wet and rubbery on the muddy ground, nothing suitable for supporting a broken limb. An idea came to him, and so he returned to the crashed ship as the Borealan tracked him curiously with her feline eyes. He waded through the water, hefting himself into the troop bay again. He searched for a moment, then found what he was looking for. He recovered the XMRs of the dead Marines, bundling the rifles into his arms. Many of them had long barrels lined with copper rings, designed to accelerate a tungsten projectile to relativistic speeds. McGregor made his way back towards the shore, the Borealan watching skeptically as he unscrewed the barrel from one of the modular weapons and handed the metal tube to her.

"This will serve you better than a stick."

She nodded and took the barrel, sizing it up against her digitigrade leg. Her foot was twisted at an unnatural angle and the flesh around the break was purple and bruised, a sure sign of internal damage. Her foot looked like the paw of a big cat, her stubby toes tipped with sharp, black claws. Pink pads were visible beneath, her orange fur extending up her leg until it reached her knee, where it faded into tan skin that looked remarkably human.

"Give me your boot."

"What?" Asked McGregor, confused by her request.

"Your boot, give it to me."

He hopped on one foot as he removed his leather boot, then passed it to her, planting his sock in the mud. It hardly mattered, his socks were already soaked through from walking in the lake.

She took it in her clawed hand, then placed it between her teeth. She gripped her foot firmly, then in one determined motion, twisted it straight. There was a crunch of bone that made McGregor feel light headed, her eyes flaring in agony as she bit down hard on the boot, yowling like a cat with its tail trapped in a door. He looked on with a pale face as she strapped the metal barrel to her leg with tight bandages, creating a makeshift splint. She lay back on the sand when her work was done, controlling her breathing, trying to work through the pain.

"You good?" McGregor asked hesitantly.

"I'll be ok. We need to move, soon. Gather up what gear you can carry."

He nodded, and packed what he had been able to recover from the wreck into a rucksack. They had some emergency rations, self-filling canteens that absorbed moisture from the atmosphere, ammunition for the XMRs and two medkits. He retrieved his boot, then slung his XMR over his shoulder, helping the Borealan as she struggled to her feet. She holstered her own rifle on her back, then used a third as a rudimentary crutch, resting the stock under her arm with her hand on the grip. The muzzle break on the end of the barrel was wide enough to prevent the weapon from sinking too deep into the mud.

Together they hobbled towards the edge of the jungle, pushing through the dense foliage. The going would be hard for the alien, she struggled over roots and bushes, wincing occasionally as her broken leg caught on something. McGregor did his best to help her along, but she was so large and heavy, he couldn't support her weight or carry her in the way he would a fellow human.

They made slow progress, but after a few hundred feet her ears swiveled behind them, and she froze, her eyes wide.

"Get down!" She hissed under her breath, and McGregor dropped into the foliage, lying prone on the muddy ground.

"What is it?" He whispered.

"Quiet, Bugs."

He listened intently, then he heard it too. Chittering and buzzing, an insectoid conversation happening in the clearing. He pulled up his XMR, aiming down the magnified scope. The Borealan placed her hand on the barrel, pushing it down and shaking her head. McGregor tapped the scope, and gestured to his eyes, indicating that he only wanted to take a look. She removed her hand from the barrel, and he scoped in on the Bugs, glimpsing them through the leaves and vines. There was a small group of them milling around, a short distance back the way they had come.

Betelgeusians, so named because they hailed from the Betelgeuse star system, a belligerent alien species currently engaged in a war with the Coalition to which the UNN belonged. They were bipedal insects, about five feet tall with six limbs. Their bodies were covered in colorful, iridescent exoskeletons in shades of blue, red and green like lobsters or crabs. Or maybe it was armor, he could never tell. They wore elaborate helmets, mimicking the horns of beetles, and their visors (or were those their compound eyes?) glowed bright green. They were standing in the clearing, examining the downed landing craft. There were maybe four or five of them in view, all armed with various pistols and knives. As he watched, a sixth emerged from the troop bay. It dropped down into the water and waded over to its companions, mute save for the clicking on its mandibles.

If they were lucky, the bugs would assume that everyone had been killed in the crash.

One of the Betelgeusians gestured to the ground, and crouched to examine the mud. They must have found tracks leading into the jungle, and sure enough the aliens unholstered their weapons and made their way cautiously towards the brush.

Now the Borealan raised her rifle too, resting it on a nearby root.

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bySnekguy© 16 comments/ 16626 views/ 68 favorites

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