Chapter 19:

Kill Them All

The Lindwyrm

"Tell me what we are facing," I order the technicians, making it clear that I am going to be commanding this battle, at least on the outset.

There is a long period of silence and then one of the technicians turns to me, her skin nearly as white as the mask on her face. "The report is three battleships, two heavy defense stations, two frigates and six patrol boats."

The world seems to spin and I almost lose my balance. "What?" I mutter. I had expected a single battleship, two at the absolute most. But three? Unbelievable. The normal garrison over the Crescent was four. Did they somehow anticipate me? No. No, there would be more ships here if that was the case. We are just unlucky.

"My lord!" Another tech calls out. "I believe that one of the battleships is suffering from engine trouble. That could explain why it is here instead of participating in the hunt."

I snap my head around spitting him with my glare. "How do you know that?"

The tech gives me a hard smile and I decide that I like the young man. "There is a repair crew working on one of the thrusters as we speak."

Poisonseed steps up beside me. "My lord, do we retreat? This is more that the worst case scenario."

"No. This is still the best chance we'll have to raid a major colony." Wheels turn in my head and my eyes scour the map, looking for a way to salvage this. One of the battleships can't move well at the moment. There is something there. Things click into place. I point at the holo showing a map of the battlefield. "I want the three battleships designated Scrapped, Slagged and Screwed," I say touching the avatar of each one as I say it. "We will be enacting Plan Seven. Scrapped is Ship One and Slagged is Ship Two. Swap the roles of Skoll and Hati."

Sora is the first one to put her thoughts in order, "But, my lord, Plan Seven only accounts for two battleships. What about the third one?"

Screwed, the third battleship and the one that is being repaired. "It is mine!" I growl. I've been playing it cautious, as the Lindwyrm has to. The truth is, though, I have absolutely no stomach for retreat. I am also furious. I stacked the deck in my favor as much as I possibly could and I still got dealt a rotten hand. Well, if the only way to reverse my luck was to rip a damn card out of my opponent's clutches, that is just what I was prepared to do. "Poisonseed, order your fifty best marines to assemble in the bay."

With the way she's been reticent about this plan from the start, I expect her to protest. So she startles me when she throws her head back and laughs. "You’re planning to board them? You're not going to give up no matter what, are you?" I don't give an answer but I don't think that Poisonseed was expecting one. She sweeps out her hand. "A full out blitz, then? Fuck it. Let's do it. Let's kill them all."

I bark a laugh. I had been wondering where this Poisonseed was. "Glover, you have the command while I am gone. And you heard the Lady Poisonseed. Kill 'em all."

Glover cackles. "Now, that's my kind of plan." He stomps his foot. "Nidhoggr flank speed! Prepare to engage!"

I spin around, my cloak flaring out behind me, and march out of the bridge, headed straight for the bay. My weapons are on my person and I need nothing more. I forget about Tiamat until I see her walking beside me. "Tiamat," I say. "Return to the bridge. You will not be accompanying me on this mission."

Tiamat stumbles. "What? But I thought that..."

"You will, once you are trained. This will be far too dangerous for you right now."

"You have to let me come!" She pleads. "The Crescent was my prison for half my life. You have to let me help."

"I promise you will be with me when we land in the city. This is too much for you though. I cannot be distracted trying to make sure you are safe."

"You won't be! I can take care of myself. I know I can. Please, Lind."

"It's out of the question!" I snap. "You will remain here and that is all there is to it. Go back to the bridge and observe."

"Lind..." That finally stops her in her tracks. "Come back alive." Then she turns and flees in the other direction. I breathe a sigh of relief. She's not ready for something like this yet. It's going to take everything I have to do it.

Poisonseed has the fifty marines assembled in the bay by the time I reach it. I stride up to the nearer transport and board it. I'm surprised when Poisonseed follows me up. When she sees me looking, Poisonseed smiles. "You didn't think I'd miss out on this did you? It's been far too long since I've been in a real fight. I miss it." Unlike with Tiamat, I have no inclination to send Poisonseed out. She personally killed more niao fighting in the jungles of her homeland than probably any human alive. Except me, of course. Glover and Sora can handle coordinating the fight while I'm gone. They understand that sort of thing better than Poisonseed anyway.

"Glad to have you along," I say with sincerity. I push my way to the front of the transport and relieve the pilot of his seat. Then I connect with the pilot of the other transport. "Stay hard on my port side," I command.

"Uh, yes, sir! My lord!"

I ease the ship up and then blast out of the bay. Four fighters surround each of our transport, a nice bit of thinking by Poisonseed. Once I reach some distance from the Nidhoggr, I can see some of what is happening with the battle. The Storm King, successfully masquerading as the Lord of Lightning, managed to fly between the Scrapped and the Slagged. I can see that he did a great deal of damage by attacking both ships at the same time. Now, though, Crow is angling to get behind the Scrapped while being fired on by both battleships. The Nidhoggr is closing in on the Scrapped as well. The Screwed is slowly shuffling around, in an attempt to support the other two battleships.

Not if I can help it. I swoop down, heading for the portside thruster, the thruster that is under repair. The fighters flying patrol around the battleship realize we are in the area and move to engage. Our own fighters fly to face them. They are outnumbered at least three to one but I'm not worried. A Yggdrasil pilot is worth ten regular navy niao. I don't have time to watch the fight, either, because my destination is coming up fast and I dare not slow down lest they react to what I'm doing in time. There is a portside hatch open for the fleeing work crew of the damaged thruster. I laugh madly as I smash through the hatch, reducing those niao in my way to little more than red droplets.

The transport skids across the bay floor, crashing into niao and ships alike until it finally screeches to a stop. I'm thrown hard against my restraining straps several times but the moment the ship halts, I slap them free and jump to my feet. "Onward, my soldiers," I cry. "Create a beachhead!" To my edification, Poisonseed and the marines are hardly a breath behind me in releasing their restraints and moving out of the ship. They move out of the ship in orderly pairs, laying down cover fire for each other. I notice that the other ship followed me in exactly, skidding to a stop only a few meters from me. I make a note to figure out who that pilot is. If we survive this, I'll make him the goddamn captain of the Skoll.

My marines quickly exterminate the niao in the bay. Half of them are equipped with disrupter cannons and the others with Je'Techt lasers. They make short work of the repair team and their meager security detail. The two squads of marines link up, making a tight square with me and Poisonseed in the middle. "So what is the plan from here?" Poisonseed asks, winded from the short but brutal fight.

"First, this." I hold my arms out from my body, palms up and close my eyes, neck craned up. I release the bevy of viruses I carry with me. They spread out from my to infect the behemoth ship, like I am some malignant cancer cell. "That should wreak all kinds of hell on their computer systems." I place a hand on Poisonseed's shoulder. "You will take these marines and conduct Operation Havoc."

"Operation Havoc?"

"Destroy gunnery ports, sabotage electronic systems, kill officers. Do anything and everything to draw attention to yourselves and raise hell."

"What about you?"

"I'll be seizing this ship for myself."

Poisonseed's eyes open in disbelief. "By yourself?"

I smile. "Speed and stealth will be my allies. Trust me, concentrate on your own mission. I will be fine. The moment you receive my signal, be ready to evacuate."

"Should we leave a detail to guard our transports?"

I shake my head. "No. Get back here if you can but just steal something if you can't. It's more important that you stay together."

"Alright, my lord. We won't fail you."

"I know you won't." I raise my voice. "Soldiers! We are all that protects our comrades on the Nidhoggr and the Skoll and the Hati. Failure is not an option. Dying is not an excuse. A true Yggdrasil soldier doesn’t die, even when they’re killed! We are the spirit of humanity! We are invincible!"

The soldiers of Yggdrasil raise their hands as one. "Hail!"

With that, I leave them, moving at fast as I can, which is very fast indeed. I wasn't lying when I said that speed and stealth were my allies. If I see a niao alone, I kill it. A knee or an elbow moving at fifty kilometers an hour does just fine for that. If there are multiple niao and I see them before they see me, then I avoid them. It slows me down but not as much as getting bogged down in a protracted fight would be.

The first time I have to fight a group, it's because one soldier of the squad sees me and cries out. I'm in the midst of them the next second. The weapons of the Lindwyrm are a ballistic pistol and a nuero-whip. My whip lashes out, curling around the throat of one niao and flinging him into another. They both cry out as their nerves light on fire. Bullets from my gun smash into the beaks of two more niao. Then I leap over the head of a niao, wrapping my arm around his face and twisting it all the way around. He collapses instantly. The last niao drops his disrupter and starts begging me for mercy. I shoot him through the forehead. Then I run on.

As I continue through the ship, my viruses let me start hearing the niao broadcasts and I learn that they are coordinating on the Yggdrasil marines. They are doing as I asked, having already seized one gunnery station and used it to fire on a few niao fighters before moving on. I also hear some chatter about the bodies I've left behind but nobody knows exactly where I am. The virus' number one priority is to shut down the security camera network. My lightning strikes on the squads I run into leave them no time to call in the attack. I've killed dozens of niao on their own or in pairs and annihilated three more squads before I reach the bridge.

I don't have time to stop or appraise the defenses of the bridge so I just charge straight in. I draw two vials out of a pocket in the lining of my cloak as I do so and throw them through the doorway of the bridge ahead of me. The resulting explosion is so massive that it actually throws me backwards. I tumble head over heels before managing to skid to a stop in a crouch. Ignoring my battered body, I sprint right back into the bridge. It is a hellzone. Just about all of the equipment is destroyed and on fire. All of the niao are dead. I curse. Those things were way more powerful than I expected.

The backup bridge. I'll need to take that over or take it out to complete my neutralization of Screwed. I consult the map I have in my head of the layout of these battleships and set off. It's understandable that they would build the backup bridge so far away from the primary one but at this moment it is also infuriating. I run as fast as I can, this time not even bothering to kill the niao I come across. Even with my body, I am out of breath my the time I get to the backup bridge. I slide to halt just outside and take a peek around the corner. The backup crew is at least smart enough to have closed the blast door to the bridge. Unfortunately for them, I have more of the vials that absolutely destroyed the primary bridge.

I chuck one at the blast door and duck around the corner. The thing explodes and when the smoke and heat die down a bit, I glance back around. The door is still intact but warped and hanging loosely. I stomp up to it and physically rip it off and throw it to the side. The niao on the other side all stare at me in stark terror. I draw my whip and my gun and smile.

Before they can pull themselves together, I am amongst them. My whip licks out, causing seizures and screams. My gun is the kind one, blasting through eyes and beaks and hearts, killing before there is pain. The niao crew try and shoot me but my guess is that most of them haven't fired a disrupter since basic training. And I never stop moving, leaping, flipping and changing direction in as unpredictable a manner as I can. It isn’t long until all of the niao are on the ground and I am standing in the middle of the bridge trying to catch my breath.

No! I don't have time for this kind of weakness. I move around to the captain's station so that I can get an idea of the situation. Skoll arrived sometime while I was fighting through the ship. It has taken its proper place in the battle line and seems to be surviving. All my ships are in good shape actually. The Storm King has taken the heaviest beating. As I’d hoped. None of the enemy ships are disabled yet, which makes me frown. Well, two of the patrol boats are dead but they hardly count. I am relieved to see that our impromptu boarding has thus far kept Screwed out of the battle. Time to take it out permanently.

I move to the helm and adjust the coordinates. The computer spits a warning at me but I override it and lock in the course. "You scum!" I spin around and see a niao with a disrupter pointed at me. His left arm is a ruin. I remember that I curled my whip around his arm and flung him into the wall. I never imagined he would get up from that. Careless. Hurrying too much. But what choice did I have? "Look what you have done!" he screeches. Then his whistles a few different niao names. "You killed them all. My friends. You murdered them."

I dodge to the left, aiming and firing my pistol. The niao jerks the trigger of his disrupter. The bullet from my gun hits him right between the eyes, snapping his head back. The blast from his disrupter hits me in the left arm, spinning me around and to my knees. I glance at my arm and see that it is severed below the elbow. It may be a false arm but the Doctor made sure that it could feel pain. Crimson blood shoots out of the stump and I scream. I scream until I vomit, emptying my stomach onto the ground in front of me. After I'm done, I stare at the vomit for a long time, breathing hard, saliva and bile dripping from my mouth. The nanobots stanch the blood flow from arm and start to dull the pain.

I have to move. There is no time. The course is locked in. Poisonseed. Poisonseed has to know what is happening. I connect with her. "Poisonseed," I croak.

"My lord!" she cries. "I was beginning to worry. Are you alright?"

"I'm...I'm fine," I lie. "I've taken over command of the ship. In twenty minutes it’s going crash into one of the heavy defense stations. Evacuate everybody right now."

"Yes, my lord!" Poisonseed cries joyfully. "Where should we meet you?"

"Don't worry about me. I'll find my own way off the ship. Get everybody off now."

"Are you sure you'll be alright, my lord?"

I force a laugh. "Of course. Who do you think you're talking to?"

"Yes, my lord. We'll see you on the Nidhoggr."

That's right. I push myself to my feet, wobbling a little as my body adjusts to the new balance. I have to remember who I am. I can't fall here. It's impossible. I tug my cloak around so that it is covering my severed arm. Now how the hell am I going to get off this ship?

"I think he is in there.," I hear somebody say from just outside the bridge. I grit my teeth. Must be one of the squads I left alive on my way here. I can't just escape, either. They could conceivably change the course of the ship before it hits the heavy defense station. The damn messed up thruster is slowing the ship badly. I snarl, annoyed my own thoughts. Run away? Just because I am missing an arm? Never. I grip my pistol and charge out of the bridge.

Their shock at my wild and reckless attack buys me the second I need to get amongst them. I fire at point blank range and lash out with feet and knees. In a few seconds, the six niao marines are dead or dying around me. I slump against the wall, breathing hard. "Just who...the you're dealing with?" I gasp out. Now how the exactly am I going to get out of here if I need to protect the bridge for the next ten minutes? A quick looks tells me that it would take me about five minutes to reach the nearest escape pods. Damn niao. Trying to make sure the bridge crew goes down with the ship?

I'm torn. I need to stay here to ensure that the Screwed hits the heavy defense station. It's the only gambit that could turn this mess of a raid around. On the other hand, if I die, what was the point of any of this? I've barely begun to train Tiamat. She's nothing without me yet. Poisonseed would be a competent leader but she didn't have the vision to do what needed to be done to actually affect real change. I need to stay and I need to go. What to do? I scrutinize the map and see that there is a maintenance hatch I can reach in about a minute. A plan starts to come to mind.

I scan for nearby ships broadcasting a friendly IFF. There are a few close enough. It would be a cramped trip back in a fighter but it could work. And if I couldn't fit, it would be the pilot’s duty to let me take his fighter. Then I pause. There is one signal that isn't coming from a fighter. The Toxin! Why? How? I patch through. "Toxin, this is the Lindwyrm. Respond."

I get nervous laughter and a meek, "Oh, hi, Lind."

I knew it! "What the hell are you doing out here?" I snap.

"Sorry," she says, sounding anything but. "I couldn't just wait on the ship. I wanted to do something!"

I hammer the wall behind me with the butt of my gun. I want to chew her out and order her to get her ass back to the Nidhoggr on the double. But I need her, damn it. I send her a map of the battleship, the location of the maintenance hatch marked on it. "Do you see that hatch?" I ask.

"Uh...yeah! Yeah, I got it."

"I need you arrive there in about..." I check the clock and glance at the progress of Screwed toward the defense station. "Four minutes and twenty seconds. Don't get there more than a few seconds before. You'll get blown out of the sky if you're a sitting target for too long."

"Alright, Lind. I can do it." The determination in her voice gives me confidence.

"I know you can," I say. "Don't let me down." I hear a noise so I shut down the link and glance toward it. More niao. I pull out the final explosive vial and toss it down the hall. The explosion incinerates the niao and sends me flying until I crash into the doorframe of the bridge. I slide down and sit there, gasping. My gun is still in my hand though and I know that I won't let a single niao through. I really hope no more show up though.

My desperate wish is granted and the next two and half minutes pass in relative peace. I stumble back to my feet. Got to move. I put one foot in front of the other and soon I am sprinting. Warning lights and noises start to go off as the ship activates the automatic abandon ship warnings, realizing it is now on an unavoidable collision course with the defense station, That only aids me. I don't have time to fight any more niao so I just run past the ones I see. They're too flustered to react in time to stop me.

I see the elevator that goes up to the hatch and fling myself inside. I hit the up button and then hurriedly connect to the Toxin. "Tiamat, are you there?"

"I'm here, Lind," she says excitedly.

"Are you strapped into the pilot's seat?"


"Good. When I give you the signal, open the door to the Toxin. The moment I am through, close the doors. And brace yourself. The vacuum is going to try and suck you out. The restraints should stop it but you might get hurt if you're not ready."

"I'll be ready, Lind."

I crane my neck up, watching the hatch grow closer. I override all of the warnings and force the thing open. "Now!" I yell. I take a quick glance at where the Toxin is and am impressed and relieved she got it so close. I exhale, bend my knees and spring up with all of my strength. My leap sends me rocketing through the vacuum of space so fast that it doesn't have time to do the bad things a vacuum does. Then I crash head first into the interior of the Toxin. Tiamat has the door closed a second later. Oh, that hurt. "Get us out of here, Nailah," I mumble. I don't think she needed me to give that order though. The Toxin is already blasting away from the doomed battleship.