Friday, February 25, 2011

week forty-six: the montcalm incident (part 1)

Hello readers. This week's story is going to be broken up into two parts. As I wrote this, I realized just how long it was and decided that it would be better to have it separated. Anyway, it's set in the same universe as this story, so if you read that one, a lot more will make sense in this one. Those of who really pay attention will also note that this is in the same universe as the novel I'm currently working on. It's just the same universe. None of the characters from the novel appear in this story or vice versa. But anyway, I hope you enjoy this. I've had a lot of fun writing it. This is the sort of stuff that most people expected me to write when I started the Story a Week project. They probably expected it to suck too...

Have I proved them wrong? Tell me in the comments!

Captain Jacques Fierre knew he was in trouble. Three armadas, two enemy and one formerly friendly, were on the prowl for him and his ship, the Montcalm. Just hours before, he had opened fire on and crippled the friendly warship, the Republique. He had very good reason for doing so. The Republique was about to break formation and perform an incredibly stupid maneuver, which would have given away the position of the entire French fourth fleet. The only issue with this is that Republique belonged to Admiral Fleur, who commanded the entirety of fourth fleet. Fleur did not take being fired upon well and declared the entire crew of Montcalm traitors.

After a very quick engagement, Fierre managed to escape, but not without damage. Their port side engine was operating at forty percent, several of their guns were offline, they had exhausted their complement of concussive missiles, and were low on supplies in general. Fierre could not be sure what their long-term goal would be, but immediately speaking, they needed to stock up. In his mind, he played out several scenarios. They could not turn back and give up. Each and every member of his crew would face time in prison. Fierre would not go to the Americans. He was still loyal to his nation and defection was simply not an option. Only one choice remained: go rogue. If they could stock up on supplies and get far enough away from government-controlled space, then they could live the pirate civilian life. At present, however, they didn't have enough supplies to last more than a week or two.

Fierre stood from his command chair and said, “Commander Leon, what is the closest friendly supply outpost to our location?”

Commander Claude Leon, a larger man with a receding hairline, replied, “It would take us three weeks to get us to Outpost Seventeen, captain. There are no friendly supply out-.”

“What about unfriendly? What is the nearest supply outpost in general?”

Commander Leon walked over to the cartography station and input a few commands. The holographic display changed colors and displayed brand new information, “Captain, the Americans have an outpost, Nashville Station, just a few hours away.”

“What do we know about it?”

“It's small and the Americans use it as a stopgap for short-range vessels making their way to the front lines. Its strategic value is minimal, I would not expect it to be well-guarded.”

“Then it's perfect.”

“You want me to lay in a course?”

“Yes, yes, I do, commander,” Fierre sat back down and brushed off his uniform. “With any luck, the Americans won't even know we're coming.”


Lieutenant Commander Raymond Evans of the U.S.S Johnston was happy to finally have a moment to catch his breath. They had doing maneuvers against the French and German fleets for months. Sure, they had not seen any action, but it was tiring having to constantly be on full alert. Their admiral, Admiral William Forrest, was a master of deception. He kept the American fleets doing complicated maneuvers. At times, it looked as though they were retreating, and other times as if they were preparing for large-scale assault. The American fleet was larger than either the French of German fleets, yet smaller than their forces combined, and they therefore played the situation very carefully. Only very small skirmishes had occurred, with the Americans usually on the winning side.

The drawback was that his fleet was constantly on edge. His captains and commanders were growing tired and they were consuming supplies quickly. Either way, both sides were tiring of the standoff and both sides knew that something big was about to happen. The only question was when. Either side waited for an advantage. Sure, the Americans and British had a larger combined fleet, but if they attacked the wrong place, then they could be outflanked by the French and Germans. Admiral Forrest was waiting for just one more advantage. His hope was that they could get some kind of intelligence about the enemy's positions and plans. They needed a miracle.

For the next two weeks, Lieutenant Commander Evans and the Johnston did not have to worry about any of this. They had rotated them out of the fleet and were to take two weeks for R&R at Nashville Station. No, Nashville was not exactly a tourist destination; there was nothing to speak of as far as recreational facilities go, but it was away from the action. At Nashville, they would refuel and restock. Just a few days before, they had won a fight against a German heavy destroyer and needed to restock their ammunition. Part of the reason Johnston was rotated was because her usefulness in combat was reduced.

American ships depended very heavily on their powerful semi-active ship-to-ship missiles called Longbows. The advantage to the Longbow was that they were very powerful, very long-ranged, very fast, and very accurate. There were, however, two major disadvantages. One is the very limited ammunition. The second is that Longbows have limited firing arcs. Generally speaking, Longbow tubes were concentrated to the front of the ship, with only the larger classes having side or rear tubes. American ships were notorious for being extremely deadly in frontal assaults, but less so at the sides and rear.

Other nations used missiles, however the Longbow was exclusively used by the Americans. One would think its design to be simple, however no other nation succeeded in constructing a missile with quite the same explosive yield, speed, and range as the Longbow. Such being the case, no other nation felt it necessary to build their ships quite so front-heavy. Another advantage of the Longbow was that they were so fast that point-defense systems had great difficulty tracking and destroying them. Other missiles could, generally speaking, be tracked and destroyed by point-defense cannons. Missiles were often employed as distraction tactics rather than being relied upon as primary weapon systems. American ships, therefore, stood unique.

The largest draw for the Longbow was its supporting role. The most powerful weapon in any starship is the Magnetic Accelerator cannon. Mag cannons fired ferrous slugs of varying sizes at about three percent of light-speed, making for incredibly powerful and awespiringly deadly weapons. Mag cannons required long tubes and huge power draws, yet a well-placed round could end a fight very quickly. Every nation used the mag gun as their primary weapon and few warships existed without a mag cannon. Because of the necessity for such a long tube, mag cannons were placed as forward weapons without exception. Guidance for such a weapon is impossible, therefore the range of a mag cannon is very limited. The Longbow, however, had no such range limitation. American captains had the distinct advantage of being able to fire Longbows at enemy targets and soften them up before closing in to finish the enemy off with a mag shot.

Johnston's complement of Longbow missiles was almost completely exhausted, their magnetic-accelerator cannon's targeting computer was fried, and their general supplies were low. They needed the repairs and resupplication badly.

“Dropping from translight speed right... now,” Ensign Daniel Howard, the helsman, reported as the ship lurched forward from the drop.

“Send Nashville Station the docking codes,” Evans ordered. “Let's not keep anyone waiting. Take us in steady as she goes.” He paced the bridge. Johnston was a small ship with a crew of thirty-eight. There was no command chair for him to sit on.

“Aye, aye,” Howard replied. “Riding steady, commander.”

Evans sighed, “I cannot wait to get a full eight hours.”

“I'm with you,” Lieutenant Pete Haddock, the tactical and executive officer, replied. “I'm just happy to be free from positioning and repositioning.”

“While it lasts,” Howard sighed.

Suddenly, Haddock's console came to life. “Commander, I'm picking up another ship coming out of translight.”

“No other ship is scheduled to be with us,” Evans walked over to Haddock's station. “Can you identify?”

“Not yet, I can't get a clear silhouette,” Haddock said. “They're still making the drop... hang on, they've just- Good God, commander, it's a French battlecruiser!”

“Full alert! Get all hands to battle stations, load up the Longbow tubes, charge the defensive cannons, and prime the mag guns!”

“Sir, the targeting systems on the mag guns are friend; they're useless.”

“Do it anyway.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Maintain our course, put us between that ship and Nashville Station. We've just become their only line of defense.”

“Yes, sir,” Howard said as his hands darted across the controls.

“Haddock, give me a read on that ship.”

“She's the Montcalm, a Charlemagne-class battlecruiser. They have a pair of forward mag tubes and more primary cannons than three Johnston's put together. Sir, even if we were a hundred-percent, we are no match for a Charlemagne.”

“Agreed,” Evans swallowed. “Send off a distress signal.”

“Aye,” Haddock affirmed. “Sir, the Montcalm is hailing.”

“Put them on-”

“Wait, commander, something doesn't add up about all this.”

Evans rubbed the back of his head as he thought, “Explain.”

“Think about it,” Haddock started, “what do the French want with Nashville Station? If they actually cared, why would they send just one ship? Something just doesn't add up.”

“Put them on-screen, we'll figure this out.”

The image of Nashville Station suddenly changed to a man in uniform sitting in his command chair. The man said, “This is Captain Jacques Fierre of the Montcalm. Stand aside or be destroyed.”

“Captain Fierre, you have violated sovereign United States territory. Stand down or I'll be forced to open fire. You turn around before this gets ugly.”

“Reconsider. Your ship is no match for mine. Stand aside or be destroyed.”

“You know I can't do that, captain.”

“If you value the lives of your crew, then you will stand down.”

“Captain, answer me this, what do you want with Nashville Station?”

“He's cut the transmission,” Haddock reported. “Orders?”

Evans rubbed his chin and then bit his lip, “We'll have to get creative with this one.”

“Something in mind, sir?”

“Give me a rundown of the weapons systems.”

“All standard batteries are online and ready to fire. The mag guns are fully operational, but the targeting computer is fried and we'd have to at point blank to guarantee a hit. All Longbow tubes are loaded and ready, but we have no reloads. We fire once and that's that.”

“We've got one shot,” Evans clenched his fist. “Let's make it count.”

Montcalm has powered her engines and they're coming into range now.”

Evans thought through every maneuver he had been taught at the academy. There was literally nothing in the orthodox that could help them here. With standard maneuvers, Johnston could do some damage, but Montcalm would still be operational enough to be a total threat. Evans knew that he would have to do something to even the odds. And then he remembered. The famous Harden Maneuver. “Ensign Howard, plot a collision course.”

“Sir?!” Howard squeaked.

“Just do it,” he turned to Haddock. “Lieutenant, arm all batteries, but I want you to save the Longbows and mags to fire on my mark only. Other guns are fire at will.”

“Understood,” Haddock gulped.

“Course laid in,” Howard said. “Just say when.”

“Who does that man think he is? Leonidas?” Fierre snarled as stood from his chair and paced the bridge. “Arm all weapons and fire up the engines, I want that ship destroyed. Now.”

“Engaging engines, weapons are charging. We'll be in range in thirty seconds,” Commander Leon reported as he watched his operational panel, which gave him a summary of all systems at a glance. He then asked, “Sir, if you were the Americans, what would you do here?”

Fierre licked his lip, “I would either surrender or put up a battle of attrition. There is no winning for the Americans here. They know-”

“Captain!” Leon suddenly perked up. “The Americans have put on full afterburners and they're gunning right for us!”

“Their commander is stupider than I would have thought possible.”

“As soon as they're in range, teach them a lesson!”

“Full evasive!” Evans exclaimed. “If their mags hit us, we're through!”

“Sixty seconds until impact!”

“Give the engines more juice; give 'em all we got!” Evans cried.

“They're firing!” Haddock reported as two white streaks burst from the front of the Montcalm. These were the mag cannons firing. “Complete miss, sir! Their mag guns have completely missed us! They're firing missiles.”

“I hope the point defense is up to snuff...”

“Forty-five seconds!”

“They are going to ram us!” Leon exclaimed with an unsubtle nervousness to his voice.

“No, their captain is most certainly 'playing chicken' with us,” Fierre said with a confident grin. “They will break off. More power to the engines. We will finish them off with our superior main cannons.”

“But what if their captain does batter us? It will be the end of us!”

“It will be the end of him too and he knows this. Continue our course!”

“Thirty seconds until impact!” Howard exclaimed as he held to the conn. tightly. “We should abandon ship, commander.”

“That's not the plan,” Evans said rubbing his chin. He then doubted that his plan would even work. It had to. It just had to. There was no other way.

“Twenty seconds!”

“Prepare to alter course on my mark,” Evans said flatly.

“Anything, commander.”

“On my mark, roll portside fifteen degrees.”

“That's it?” Howard twitched.

“One more thing, after I give that order, redirect us to hit only the ventral portion of the Montcalm,” Evans kept his calm like it was an art form. Underneath his command shell, he was scared beyond common threshold. “Graze them, ensign.”

“Ten seconds,” Howard nodded, slightly reassured. Part of him understood Evan's plan, but fear slowly took over.

“Use whatever guns you can to hit them on their belly, Haddock, but save the missiles and mags,” Evans told him as he pocketed his right hand. It shook as panic made its attempt at a takeover.

“Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Impact!”

“Captain Fierre, they've changed course!”

“What?” Fierre relinquished his tight grip on his command chair. He had fully prepared himself to be rammed. What in the name of God were the Americans planning?

The decks rocked, throwing Fierre out from his chair and hard onto the floor. He looked up to see all of his crewman falling to the ground. Electrical arcs flared as computer panels overloaded and exploded. Shrapnel flew around the room along with bodies. The worst, however, was the sound. A horrifying, screeching sound filled the room. On instinct, Fierre covered his ears and shouted.

“They are grazing us, Captain!” Leon shouted as he read the tactical readout.

“Pull us off! Pull us off! Full afterburner!” Fierre cried desperately.

“I can't, sir!” The helsman screamed back.

Lieutenant Commander Evans was down on his knees, his hands over his ears. It took every part of his will to keep from shouting. He forced himself to his feet and over to the helm station. The helmsman screamed to him, “Separating from the Montcalm in three... two... one...” the screeching stopped.

“Continue full afterburner and prepare a starboard Crazy Ivan on my mark!”

“A Crazy Ivan, sir?! Are you craz-”
“Just do it!” Evans put his hand on helmsman's shoulder. “Tactical, get us a firing solution that puts all of our forward weaponry hitting the rear of the Montcalm just as soon as we're turned around!”

Haddock let out a slip of a smile as he realized the plan. It was suicidal and risky as all Kingdom Come, but if it worked.... “Aye, sir! Commander, the mag targeting computer's toast, I'll have to calculate that manually.”

“I've got every confidence in you, Lieutenant,” Evans clutched one of the safety rails. “Helm, are you ready with that Crazy Ivan?”

“Sir, I can guarantee you that we'll burn out the starboard engine and the port might not survive either.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, commander, ready to initiate engine suicide on your mark.”

“Do it!”

The screeching stopped. Captain Fierre pulled himself into his chair and called, “Damage report!”

Leon looked at his panel and shook his head, “Major hull breaches across multiple decks, our defensive shielding is shot, we're venting plasma, and the main computer core is overloaded... I cannot get a complete assessment. Casualty reports are still incoming.”

“What of the Johnston?”

“They are still on full afterburner, pushing away- oh, merde!”

“What is it?”

“They just pulled a Crazy Ivan maneuver, captain! They're firing!”

Quietly, Captain Fierre agreed, “Merde.”

“FIRE!!!” Evans shouted as he stared into the glowing afterburner of his wounded enemy. The Johnston's decks rattled yet again as everything she had was let loose. Lieutenant Commander Evans hoped and prayed that each and every weapon would find its mark. Their lives depended on this one chance. If it failed, they were doomed. Evans decided then that no matter what, his crew had done their best and he would be proud of them.

“Impact!” Haddock cried. “Direct hit with the mag slug! Yes!” He shook his fist.

“Excellent shot, Mister Haddock!”

“Missile impact in three... two... one... Direct hit on all accounts, Commander!”

“Report! Give me a report on the Montcalm!” Evans knew he hardly needed it. The ship on the viewscreen was a burning hulk.

“Massive damage across all decks, they're venting all kinds of plasma... their weapons and defensive systems are offline. Sir, they're dead in the water! I can't even get an accurate reading of just how badly we've hit them. But we got 'em. We got 'em.”

“Good job, lieutenant. You should be proud.”

“Sir, we've completely depleted our ammunition banks. We have no more missiles or mag shells. If they've got any fight left in them, then we're dead.”

“Give me a full damage report.”

“Defensive shields are offline, we've lost all starboard batteries. We've got a few hull breaches and casualty reports are still coming in. We're a lot better off than they are, but we're not in great shape.”

“Well, they don't know that. Keep the missile bays and mag guns charged. Act like we're still ready and able.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Signal them. Let's see what they've got to say now.”

Captain Fierre pulled himself off the floor and onto his feet. He looked around. The main lights were down, only the dim emergency backup systems ran. Small fires had ignited all around. There were bodies on the floor. He was beaten. That tiny American ship had just completely ravaged the once-illustrious Montcalm. Now she was a broken beast. But just how broken? “Leon! Give me a damage report!”

Leon wiped sweat and blood from his brow and ash from his uniform. He attempted to activate his console but nothing happened. With a heave, he switched to another and pulled up the emergency systems. He reported slowly and surely, “Captain, they hit us on the engine systems and detonated one of our fuel cells. The damage is... catastrophic. Our reactor is down and we cannot generate sufficient power for most ship systems. The weapons, defensive systems, and all primary systems are down. We only have emergency life support. The primary and secondary engines are both inoperative. I can only get us maneuvering thrusters. Captain... we're dead.”

Fierre sunk into his chair. “Get medical teams up here on the bridge. Let's get these fires out.”

“Damage control is already on it, sir.”

“My God, how did it come to this?”

Leon's console suddenly beeped. “Sir, the Americans are signaling.”

Fierre shook his head.

“What should I do, sir?”

“Put them on-” Fierre then noticed that his viewscreen was shattered. “Let's hear it.”

“You're on, sir.”

“This is Captain Fierre, you may go head.”

“Captain Fierre, this is Lieutenant Commander Evans. Your ship is crippled and helpless. One more volley from us and it's not only your ship, but you crew that I've taken from you. We've signaled our navy and more starships should be on the way eventually. We will let them deal with you. In the meantime, you are to stand down. You will not make communications of any kind. If we detect any sort of signal whatsoever, we will open fire. If we detect any engine activity whatsoever, we will open fire. If you attempt to power on your engines, we will open fire. Is that clear, Captain?”

Fierre rubbed his forehead, “Surely you understand that we will need to use some power to attempt repair operations?”

“You will attempt no repair operations beyond that which you need to keep your crew out of harm's way.”

Fierre signed, “Very well, Commander Evans. Have it your way.”

“It's my way or hell. Evans out.” The transmission ended.

“We need to get out of here, captain,” Leon said as he attempted to cross a few wires on a broken panel.

“I know, I know!” Fierre clenched his fist. He hated being trapped. “Suggestions are appropriate right now.”

“Sir, if we could get a transmission out... if we could tell our fleet our location and our situation, it's a good bet they send some ships. If they did that-”

“Then we could use the fray as a distraction to escape!”

“Exactly, captain.”

“But how do we get out a transmission without them detecting it?”

“I am not sure, captain-”

“Wait! A power surge!”


“If we could simulate a power surge in the engine reactor and simultaneously send out a burst transmission packet, their sensors would totally miss it.”

“We would just have to be careful to make sure we are not pointing it at them...”

“Can it be done?”

“I'll get on it.”

They had really done it. French battlecruisers were near-revered by the American fleets. For their size class, they demonstrated almost absolute efficiency of design. They used the most modern technologies and packed a wallop. Besides being fast and powerful, they were also cheap to manufacture. The French produced them en masse. To have just killed one using nothing more than the U.S.S Johnston, a Fletcher-class destroyer was a true feat.

Rather than gloat, Evans got down to business, “Alright, let's get repair operations underway. Signal Nashville and tell them to start sending shuttles laden with supplies, prioritizing reloads for the missile bays.”

“What about our own shuttles?” Haddock asked. “Should I send them over to make runs?”

“If we can spare the manpower, then yes, but we need to get ourselves operational again. I won't risk the French running dirty business with us.”

“We've got nine wounded and two dead, commander.”

“That's the final report?”

“Yes, sir, all other crewmen accounted for.”

“Good. Now we just sit and-”

“Commander!” Haddock cried. “I just detected a power surge from Montcalm!”

“Signal them.”

Haddock worked his controls and in a few seconds, “Ready when you are.”

“Captain Fierre, we've detected a power surge from your vessel, please explain.”

“Commander, it is nothing; an accident. In our attempts to stabilize our reactor core, it would seem that we triggered a surge in electrical emergency. As you can see, our power is back to the way it was. We are only trying to stabilize it, as I said before.”

“Very well. Evans out.”

“It worked? The signal is away?” Fierre asked as he pulled himself from his command chair.

“Yes, captain, the signal is away,” Leon told him. “Now we must hope that the signal reaches our fleets.”

“Best-case scenario is that our fleet receives the signal and acts before the Americans can.”

“Worst-case scenario that the Americans get here soon and our fleet does not respond at all.”

“Exactly,” Fierre paced the bridge. “In the meantime, we must prepare ourselves.”


“Any scenario,” Fierre turned to face him. “Have the crews double up on repair duties. Do not power on the engines, tell them to repair as much as possible without activating anything. We need to get the reactor and translight engines operational-”

“Captain, translight is impossible,” Lieutenant LeFouvre, their helmsman interrupted.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Captain, with a hull breach as massive as the one on our starboard-ventral side, going to translight velocities would tear the ship apart.”

“He is right.”

“Then we are stuck here.”

“Yes, captain, I am sorry, but-”

“Then even if our comrades were to arrive, there would be no escape for us.”



Leon rubbed his large forehead, “Captain, we need a new plan.”

“Why did you not speak up before, Lieutenant?”

Lieutenant LeFouvre sighed, “Captain, I was unconscious.”

“Then you are excused,” Fierre rubbed his chin. “Yes, we need to come with a new solution. We cannot risk being captured by the Americans and we cannot risk being captured by our comrades. Either solution is inevitable.”

Leon spoke carefully, “Captain, perhaps we should consider a full surrender to the Americans. It is a safe bet that the would be more willing to harbor us than our comrades. They have a policy of taking defectors-”

“No! I will not betray my countrymen.”

“But sir-”

“There is no debating this.”

“Then what is the plan?”

“Do a scan of the area, the must be something we can use.”

LeFouvre worked his navigational panel and then turned back around, “Captain, I have it. Just a few thousand kilometers from the starbase is an asteroid field.”

“So? It is not uncommon for a starbase to built near an asteroid field. In fact, it is more common-”

“Sir, it's one of four documented extremely magnetic asteroid fields. The asteroids inside are so magnetic that there is a hazard beacon placed near them. Our sensors rely heavily on magnetism to get accurate readings... if we were to enter deeply enough, we would be hidden.”

“Excellent, but why is there a hazard beacon?”

“Well, captain, that is the problem. The asteroids will stick to our hull.”

“Can we prevent it?”

“If we set our shields to a negative magnetic frequency, it should repel most the asteroids-”


“Captain, it would still be very dangerous-”

“But we have no choice,” Fierre plopped back into his chair. “That is what we will do. When our comrades arrive, we will make for this asteroid field.”

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