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By the Horns (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 64 - By the Horns[]

Hammer Flight, Taurian Aerospace Command, New Vallis Detachment
Inbound to Point Sunshine, New Vallis
Taurian Concordat
November 23rd, 3025

“Approaching Sunshine, Hammers,” Cornet Shelly Lee said crisply; “Eagle Lead are we go/no-go to deploy?”

The lead pilot of the four escorting Stingrays of Eagle Flight clicked his transmitter twice. “Hammer Lead, the sky is clear of all bogies—you are GO for mission. Eagle Flight is breaking off and returning to base—good hunting, Hammers.”

Shelly inhaled deeply and she made certain her oxygen mask was tight against her face. She looked left and right, and then at the rear display . . . the three remaining Stingrays of her wing were tucked in tight as they flew low and fast over the parched wastes below.

“Arm the weapons,” she ordered as she toggled two switches and lifted a safety cover to slide a third home. On her HUD, the icons of the two F61 bombs changed from red to green—all systems go. “Confirm tritium injection for maximum yield,” she continued, double-checking her own gauges . . . all were good.

“Hammer Two, confirm.”

“Hammer Three, confirm.”

“Hammer Four, good to go—it’s Hammer Time, boss.”

“Central, Hammer Flight is go for loft toss . . . request final authorization,” she broadcast.

“Hammer Flight, Central—you are GO. Repeat GO for delivery.”

“Roger that, Central—ten seconds to Initial Point,” Shelly broadcast. “Stand by for maximum overthrust climb.”

As the counter in her HUD raced down to zero, she slammed the throttle to the firewall and pulled back on the stick, making certain to keep her bird steady—the slightest rocking of the wings could send these firecrackers kilometers off target . . . and she wasn’t about to waste two 200-kt warheads on empty desert.

The Stingrays accelerated as they climbed steeper and steeper, clawing towards the vertical—and all of the pilots felt the crushing pressure as the G’s piled on their bodies. But still they climbed . . . until the HUDs flashed green and Shelly squeezed the pickle once, and then a second time as she yanked the stick back and hard to her right.

The Stingray rolled over onto its back and righted itself, rocketing away along its original course as it dove, adding still more speed to the stressed airframe as it put kilometers of distance between Shelly and her target with each passing moment. The two F61 bombs, however, they flew up and away on a ballistic course now in the capable hands of Sir Isaac Newton . . . well, him and the local jetstream.

Eight nuclear weapons flew up on the curve of a parabola—until gravity remembered that it was charge here; the bombs reached the apex and then they began their long descent towards the target far, far below them. Down they plunged towards the silent desert, separating slightly to box in the target between the eight detonation points. At 610 meters above the desert floor, a pressure detonator in each of the F61s clicked on . . . and eight massive fireballs blossomed into momentary existence, heralding the release of almost unimaginable amounts of energy.

Energy that slammed into the Command Headquarters of the Sixth Syrtis Fusiliers from all sides before hurricane force winds ablaze with fire formed into eight mushroom-shaped columns of ash and soot and dust visible for scores of kilometers.

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