“Whoa, whoa, Captain, slow down…” Charlie was pressing his earpiece right into his ear, trying to make out Zail Patel’s words.
“I am sorry, Major. I believe that Io might be attacked from space in a matter of hours. It may have been a trap here all along. I thought it best that you were made aware of this possibility.”
Charlie’s brow creased into a deep frown, “Ken knows about it?”
“He is on his way back as we speak.”
“Well, I’ll let him worry about it…”
“Very well, Major. We will keep you apprised of all happenings!”
The comm cut, and Charlie shook his head, tapping his comm to open the channel to his people, “Looks like the Martian space kids are coming back, part of a planned counterattack.”
It had only been an hour since we’d pulled out of Io space – as you can see, these first hours were all very eventful – so Charlie’s six cars were still buzzing through the dome, looking for any visible sign that the Commandos were here.
And they’d found nothing.
“Wait a minute, the Martian ships coming back… would that be a good time for them to counterattack against us? Try to get the dome back?” Marcus Atallah asked the question at the very same moment it popped into Charlie’s head.
For a second, our intrepid Major Peters said nothing. He sat still and thought about everything they’d seen – and not seen – so far today. The Martians were keeping a low profile, he’d assumed because they were hoping to go unnoticed. He’d thought they weren’t picking a fight so they could outlast the DC occupation, or at least be in position to harass DC personnel and processes when normal operations resumed.
But if the Martians had a planned counterattack, the Commandos could be staging a counteroffensive… they could want to seize the dome out from under the Jupiter Force while we were preoccupied with a space fight.
“I think you may be right,” Charlie replied to Marcus’ suggestion after that delay.
“What’s our play, boss?” Captain Weiss asked the tough question, and Charlie’s mind started turning over options.
They were sitting ducks in these cars – one shot to the hover pad and down they’d go. But if he could stay airborne, at least with part of his force, he could drop them into better tactical positions to counter a Martian offensive, if one came.
But there had to be more.
“If they’re coming for us, they’re hitting HQ… we didn’t clear the bottom floors of that building, so Gina, start doing that,” Charlie shook his head as he realized his mistake there. He should have spent more time checking out the Headquarters building – what if a squad of Commandos was hiding in there, waiting to spring out during an attack?
But perhaps there were tools that could help, “Actually, Gina, get to base C&C. Check to make sure the Commandos haven’t patched into the sensor grid, and then use the base surveillance cameras to look for movement. It’ll be safer than going room to room.”
Gina, sorry, was Gina Bertram, the Captain in charge of those nine extra Branchers left in the HQ building.
“They could have overridden the feed on the surveillance cameras, looped through some recordings…” Bertram came back over the comm, and Charlie nodded to himself again.
“Yes, they probably would have. So use the central light control and flash the room lights on and off in every room from floor thirteen on down. If the cams are showing a room without flashing lights, that’s the one.”
See, that’s Charlie Peters for you right there – thinking on his feet, ready for counter-counter-strike operations. I’m sure you’ve seen in the movies what Bertram was worried about – the good guys or bad guys override a surveillance camera, record some footage from it that shows everything is quiet, and then feed that recording up to the screens on a loop.
Well, that worked as long as the picture wasn’t supposed to change. But Charlie had a fix for it – because that room, with that unchanging looped feed – would stick out like a sore thumb when the lights started flashing.
The other important thing Charlie did was to make certain the Commandos hadn’t rigged something that would actually allow Martian ships on the dark side of the moon to patch into Io’s sensors. That whole discussion we had last chapter about being blind back there would be irrelevant if the Commandos patched their ships into our grid.
And Charlie wasn’t done, “Alright, all cars drop to ground level. I don’t want one sniper to be able to take out a whole car, so get those pads down low. It’ll hopefully look like we’re just taking our sweep lower…”
As Ben Belete guided Charlie’s own car lower at those words, our intrepid Major turned his head and let his eyes sweep over the whole dome. Where would they come from?
“My money for attack would be on the commercial district. They’ll come right up the middle to hit the HQ, so keep yourselves in positions to pounce.”
At this point one editor asked, “Was this really all just Charlie talking?”
The question is understandable (although the editor who asked it was summarily called an idiot by another editor, which I enjoyed). But there were over thirty Branchers down on Io, was Charlie the only one giving orders?
Yes, Charlie’s hopefully proven his insane abilities to you by now in these books. At Egesta for one, and every time he’s saved my life for another. That’s a lot of times, let me tell you.
Marcus Atallah? Top officer, no doubt, but he was 2IC overall to Charlie, and Carly Henderson was 2IC in Charlie’s own squad… they weren’t going to be giving the orders. No, Charlie had command, and he had their collective trust. They were listening to him.
I suppose they would have said something had he seemed to miss the mark, but Charlie rarely misses the mark. Actually, the only times I can ever remember Charlie missing anything were those occasions when he actually meant to miss… I might be forgetting something, but I doubt it.
Anyway, he was on top of this, and his teams were listening.
“One more thing. Marcus, can you get a team into the cargo receiving building, and open the outer doors? I’ll tell you why…”
I am so leaving that explanation out of the narrative. Cheap suspense building, you see!
So as Charlie’s cars reduced altitude and started moving around the streets of Io dome, one vehicle headed for the cargo docks (like the Defense Command headquarters tower, they jutted out of the top of the dome too, but instead of being set up for military docking, they were built to receive freight). The mayhem was coming soon… presuming the Martian Commandos were doing what Charlie expected them to.
What do you think – was Charlie right?