Nearly an hour had passed since the Montcalm had entered the asteroid field. Once deep enough to where they were certain that the two remaining French battlecruisers had lost them, they stopped the ship in order to try and get repair operations initiated. Things were not looking up. The hull breaches were simply too large to repair, especially with magnetic asteroids attaching themselves to the ship at random intervals. The point defense cannons had been brought online, the shield systems were working, and other means were being used, but there was simply no 100% efficient way of repelling them. Fortunately, only the smallest made it through. Most of these barely classified as meteors.
Halsey's mind was occupied with watching the viewscreen. They had managed to get a telescopically-zoomed view of the area around Nashville Station. Both French battlecruisers were occupied with destroying Nashville Station. Halsey had expected Lieutenant Commander Evans to try and ward them off, but he seemed bright enough to know when to quit. Still, he proved his courage. She could see the Johnston orbiting the wreckage of the Saratoga. Halsey assumed that they were trying to find survivors. The French seemed to have no problem with this. They were not monsters after all.
“Admiral Halsey?” Commander Leon approached the command chair. This was the first time he had spoken directly to her. “I am sorry to report that the repairs to the hull could take days. We do not have the tools or the manpower necessary for us to finish on time.”
“Then we need a new plan,” Mack said.
“Agreed,” Halsey replied. “It's only a matter of time before-”
“Admiral!” Fierre exclaimed. “Look!”
Halsey looked up the viewscreen to see Nashville Station exploding. There were at least a hundred servicemen aboard that station. At least a hundred good men.... Halsey steeled herself. If not the destruction of the Saratoga, the destruction of Nashville would not have even phased her. Unfortunately, she was partially emotionally compromised and she knew it. She would have to take extra caution not to let it get the better of her. Or, worst of all, let Mack see it.
Of the commando unit, only Mack was left on the bridge. The others had gone below decks to try and help with repairs. Mack grunted, “With Nashville gone, we'll be their next priority.”
“They will find us,” Fierre said. “There is no doubt.”
“There's no way we can get repairs done in time?” Halsey asked.
“I do not think so,” Leon said.
“Admiral, the Bonaparte has stopped outside of the asteroid field, while the Turenne is coming in. They're using sensor pings to try and locate us,” Fierre reported.
“It's inevitable,” Leon told her.
“Fire up the engines,” Halsey ordered. “Let's get moving.”
Fierre started to sweat, “And go where?”
“Away,” Halsey answered bluntly. “We can't risk being captured.”
Fierre had gone over everything in his mind. The worst case scenario to him was giving up to the Americans. He was far too loyal to France to allow that. The best case was that he could somehow recapture his ship and escape, but that seemed impossible. So, what was left? Get captured by his compatriots. “Admiral, perhaps we should consider surrender.”
“That's just like you Frenchies, ain't it?” Hank grunted.
Fierre continued, “I am sure my countrymen would be more than gracious to you-”
“Captain Fierre, I won't hear it,” Halsey insisted. “There is no debate. We will not surrender.”
“Admiral!” Leon suddenly exclaimed. “They've pinged us! The Turenne has us and they're changing course to intercept!”
“There is no doubt,” Leon answered. “None whatsoever.”
“Well, we can't outrun them,” Halsey sighed. “We need other options.”
“We can't fight 'em,” Mack said.
“What about these asteroids? Is there some way we could use them against the Turenne?”
Leon thought it over and then answered, “Yes! We could modify one our missiles with some of the magnetic grappling equipment we have in the cargo bay and then launch it at the Turenne! The asteroids will follow the missile at rapid speeds and collide with the Turenne!”
“You would destroy our countrymen, Leon?”
Leon did not answer.
“Do it!” Halsey told the commander. “Get that missile ready and in the meantime, continue evasive maneuvers!”
Leon worked furiously at his console to put in the orders. It probably would not take long to attach industrial-strength magnets to the warhead socket, but then again there was no telling. Had this been before? Who knows. And really, who cares?
Leon said, “With the sensors nonfunctional, there is no telling how long it will take before the Turenne is in firing range. This likely depends on the confidence level of their tactical officer.”
“Let's hope he's a total pussy,” Mack laughed.
As a mother, Halsey wanted to slap him for that joke. As an admiral, however, she had no time to scold him and bluntly stated, “Agreed.”
Fierre stood and walked to the other side of the room.
“They are gaining ground,” Leon said. “Our engines are still in no shape to outrun them.”
“Give it all you got, commander,” Halsey ordered confidently.
“That is not much, admiral,” Leon actually uttered a semblance of a smile.
Suddenly, Fierre barked, “Drop your weapon!” Everyone turned to find him standing behind Mack with a pistol drawn. Mack, without a hint of fear or worry, did as he was told.
“Captain Fierre,” Halsey said, “You don't want to do this.”
“Shutup!” Fierre shouted. “You will all take orders from me now! Leon, take this man's weapon and help me secure them.”
Leon did as he was told. He walked over to where Mack was standing and picked up his S&W MARS.
“Fierre, you're making the wrong call,” Halsey told him again. “Mack's boys will be back up here soon and they'll kick your a-”
“I said shutup!” Fierre cried. “Leon! All stop on the engines! Send out a surrender to-”
“Leon, you need to make a choice right now,” Halsey said firmly. “You know you're captain's making the wrong one. You know how the American government would treat you. Now, think about how the French government will treat a traitor like yourself. What's the punishment for treason? Are you willing to go through with that?”
Leon said nothing.
“So you are?” Halsey kept going.
“Stop talking or I will shoot him!” Fierre cried as he kept his gun trained on Mack.
“What about the hundreds of men below decks? You're willing to throw their lives away?”
“You have three seconds! One!”
Leon pursed his lips. Halsey said, “Decide now, Leon!”
Leon scowled. And then made his choice.
Mack was surprised as anyone when he felt the warmth of blood spatter all over his neck. More surprising to him, however, was that it was not his own blood. He quickly wheeled around to find Fierre with a hole drilled through his head. The French captain fell to his knees and finally the floor. In his last waning seconds, he looked at Leon in disgust.
Leon dropped the rifle. “I- I killed him.”
“You did what you had to,” Halsey assured him.
“Can you still work?”
“Yes, yes, I will do what I can,” Leon shook his head, trying to look away from his dead captain whose eyes were still trained to him. He returned to his console and reported, “Madame, our magnetic missile has been loaded and is ready for launch.”
“Get a nice, clean firing solution and let those bastards have it,” Halsey ordered as she crossed her legs tightly. She regretted calling the French “bastards,” which was especially insensitive towards Leon. Either way, she was sure he understood. He seemed like the reasonable type. And it was in that brief second that Halsey came to wonder how exactly Fierre had gotten himself in command. He seemed horribly incompetent.
“Ready to fire on your mark.”
“Fire!” Halsey ordered as she stood.
Leon hit the magic red button. Since the viewscreen was still out, they all had to watch the visual monitors as their missile flew. The fascinating aspect was that it was working. Asteroids started following it like bees to honey. Even the larger ones changed direction. In the event that the missile somehow missed, there was no way that this flurry of asteroids could somehow all miss. And indeed, they did not. The missile itself stuck to the Turenne and a flurry of asteroids big and small followed.
At first it was mere bumps and shoves knocking the massive starship off course, but explosions followed. The once-lit and once-illustrious battlecruiser darkened and died. The haphazard crew of the Montcalm watched with amazement as their foe was defeated. The glorious subdued.
“No way they're comin' back from that,” Mack chuckled.
“I've seen ships at ninety-two percent hull damage remain combat-capable,” Halsey said. “It's entirely possible that all we did was put a dent in their fender.”
“From my knowledge of French ships, it is beyond doubt that the Turenne is vanquished completely,” Leon told her.
“All that's left is to get the hell out of here,” Halsey said.
“Admiral, if I may, I have an idea,” Leon said brightly.
“Well, let's hear it.”
“Do your ships come equipped with any sort of cutting laser technology? For instance, for asteroids or like?”
“Yes, most American ships have that sort of tech... why?”
“Would the Johnston have one of these lasers?”
“Couldn't say for sure, but I'd say it's likely. What are you getting at, commander?”
“What if the Johnston were to use her laser a sort of welding tool for our hull? She could seal the hull breach and we could make our escape.”
Halsey thought it over only briefly, “Better than sitting here and doing nothing. Let's do it.”
Mack protested, “Yeah, but how are we gonna get past the boney-parts out there?”
“Bonaparte,” Leon corrected.
“We shall have to distract them somehow,” Leon thought aloud.
“A probe,” Halsey said. “On my first executive officer, we launched a probe that fooled the enemy sensors into thinking it was us... Their targeting computers aimed for the wrong target and we got the better of them. If we could do the same thing and send them on a while goose hunt...”
“Then we might have a chance at signaling the Johnston and getting those repairs in time,” Mack finished for her.
“That is very, very risky, madame.”
“Well, we don't have a better plan,” Halsey bit her lip. “It will have to work.”
Lieutenant Commander Raymond Evans found himself gazing at his viewscreen as they waited on what to do next. They had been gathering survivors from the wreckage of the Saratoga and found that they were sadly few. There were about five hundred crewmen aboard the Saratoga. Only about forty survived, plus there were about a hundred aboard the Montcalm. It was a sad, staggering number. But there was no reason to linger on it.
“Commander, I'm seeing large explosions in the asteroid field,” Lieutenant Haddock reported.
“Can you identify the cause?”
“No, the asteroids are causing way too much interference,” Haddock scratched his head. “Wish I could say.”
In the back of Evans' mind, he knew it was the Montcalm that had exploded. He knew it was all over. But he refused to accept it, instead he chose to adopt a wait-and-see approach. Maybe the Montcalm actually managed to somehow vanquish her enemy. “Let's hope Admiral Halsey and her crew are alright.”
“They're fine,” a gruff voice suddenly said as the bridge door whooshed open. Evans turned to see Captain Galloway walking into the room. His uniform was stained with ash and blood. But the most remarkable feature was the massive, gaping cut that ran down diagonally from his forehead to his cheek. “Stay here and await orders.”
“Um, how exactly do you know this?” Evans asked.
“I don't,” Galloway clarified. “But we're going to operate on the assumption that they're fine, understood?”
“I'm sorry, how did you get put in charge?”
“The United States Navy put me in charge, Lieutenant Commander,” Galloway put it harshly. “See this? It's rank indicator. Mine says I'm a captain.”
“This is my ship, captain.”
“That it may be, but in the meantime, you're taking orders from me,” Galloway insisted. “It's either that, or you get your ass court martialed faster than you can say 'disobeying a superior officer'.”
Evans sighed, “Fine, you get it your way.”
“Commander!” Haddock exclaimed. “I'm detecting the Montcalm's signal emerging from the asteroid field! It's coming from the far side. The Bonaparte is moving to intercept.”
“Follow them,” Galloway ordered. “But keep a good distance. We won't give them a fight unless we have to.”
There was hesitation to obey, but it was quickly quelled as Evans said, “You do as he says.”
“Captain!” Haddock again exclaimed. “I'm detecting another signal on the other side of the field... it's... the Montcalm again.”
Galloway smirked, “That's more like the Halsey I know. Move us to intercept the second signal. That's her.”
“Second signal is hailing us,” Haddock reported.
“This is Rear Admiral Halsey,” a slightly garbled voice said over the loudspeaker. “We need your immediate assistance, Commander Evans.”
“This is Captain Galloway. What do you need?”
“Jacob! Thank God you're alive. I thought we had lost you.”
“Takes a lot more than that to kill me, admiral.”
“Apparently,” Halsey laughed just a bit. “We have a plan, but we need your help. Our hull breach is still catastrophic and we're incapable of translight until it's repairs. Commander Leon here had the brilliant idea of modifying your cutting laser to simulate a welding gun. I'll send over the necessary specifications, but it's just a matter of increasing the beam size and lowering the temperature.”
“We'll get on that,” Galloway said. “See you on the other side, admiral.”
“Indeed. Halsey out.”
Leon reported, “The Bonaparte has figured out our ruse! They are coming about!”
“Keep moving,” Halsey ordered. She bit her lip. “Slow us down for the Johnston.”
“The Johnston is activating her cutting beam now,” Leon said. Within a few seconds, he reported, “I'm getting reports of massive superheating on the hull. I think it is working!”
“Impossible to say,” Leon scratched his head. “Thirty seconds, perhaps.”
Mack checked the tactical console, “Bonaparte's comin' in hot. They might be in range before then!”
“One shot from their mag guns and we're through,” Halsey said. “Prime the translight drive, we need to punch it ASAP.”
“Admiral, I've got red lights flashing on here, but I can't read this damn French bull-”
Leon went over to Mack's station and reported, “The enemy has achieved a computer lock-on with their missile systems!”
“As soon as they fire, I want you to hit the accelerator regardless of whether or not Johnston is finished!” Halsey exclaimed.
“What?” Leon's eyes shot wide. “That might kill us!”
“Waiting around will kill us, commander. Do as I say.”
“Yes, mada- they are firing!”
“Then punch it!” Halsey exclaimed.
After a very brief warm-up, the Montcalm shot forward at speeds beyond that of light....
Commander Raymond Evans walked the halls of the newly-inaugurated U.S.S Johnathon R. Fulton*, a Presidential-class supercarrier, the largest ship class in the American fleet. He was aboard to accept his new posting as executive officer. On his chest was a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery at Nashville Station. As he walked the halls, he could not help but notice the crewmen admiring him. He had become something of a legend.
He stepped through the door and onto the bridge, which had a CIC much larger than he was used to. Not only was it used for ship operations, but also for fleet operations, and even fighter control. There were officers of varying ranks and position bustling about trying to get the ship ready for her maiden voyage. The Americans were planning a direct attack against the French and Jonathon Fulton was to be a major player in this.
Evans looked around until he found the person he was looking for. He introduced himself, “Commander Raymond Evans reporting for duty!”
“You know you can knock that off, commander,” Vice Admiral Gillian Halsey smiled. She was glad to see an old friend. “I'm glad you could make it.”
“As am I, admiral,” he relaxed his posture. “Not many people get to be XO's on a carrier, much less a Presidential. Great career move,” Evans joked.
“You stick by me and your career will be just fine,” Halsey kept her warm smile.
“I haven't seen you since the debrief after Nashville, how have you been?”
“Hanging in there,” Evans said rather unconvincingly. “They kept wanting me to do academy lectures and tours and all that, but I turned it all down. Can't say the other admirals were too happy about that.”
“They aren't,” Halsey laughed. “But screw them. I want an officer here I can trust and you're just the man for the job. You've got chops, commander. I like that.”
“Have you heard from Commander Leon?”
“They're putting him through the usual BS,” Halsey rolled her eyes. “I'm convinced that he's fit for defection, but you know the brass.”
“All too well.”
“Not even I have enough tug to slice through that much bureaucracy.”
“Can't imagine anyone does.”
“So, I heard Captain Galloway tried to get you to serve on his ship... what is it, the Amber Sky?”
“Yeah, he requested me... turned him down. Nothing competes with a Presidential. Ever.”
“I had better get to work,” Evans bowed out. “I'm looking forward to serving with you, admiral.”
“Likewise, Commander Evans,” Halsey said. As he started to walk away, Halsey stopped him, “Oh, Commander, one more thing... we won't be doing any Harden maneuvers on this ship, got it?”
That joke never got old.
*Named for President Jonathon R. Fulton, the sixty-fourth president of the United States