Friday, March 4, 2011

week forty-seven: the montcalm incident (part two)

Okay, how about a three-parter? This story is a sequel to the previous week's. The conclusion will arrive next week!

“Commander!” Lieutenant Haddock suddenly exclaimed. “I'm detecting a ship dropping from translight!”

“Identify!” Evans ordered as he turned to face the viewscreen. His confidence was way up from before. They had been sending shuttles back and forth from Nashville Station and had managed to completely resupply their stock of Longbow missiles. The Montcalm still rest right in their sights. Before, Evans was bluffing that he could open fire and destroy the French battlecruiser, but at this point, he was not bluffing. Far from it.

“It's an American battleship, Lexington-class! It's the U.S.S Saratoga.”

“Damn, a whole Lexington,” Evans could not help but be somewhat slack-jawed. The Lexington class battleship was the smallest, most nimble battleship that the Americans produced, but they were also the most modern. They had three forward magnetic-accelerator cannons and Evans was not sure exactly how many Longbown launchers, but the number was substantial. Lexington's were America's direct answer to the Charlemagne-class. Lexington's were superior in almost every way. They were larger, more powerful, and even marginally faster. The only disadvantage was that it was more expensive and time consuming to manufacture a Lexington. Either way, in general, a Lexington was said to have a 1.5:1 kill ratio against Charlemagne's in direct action. At long range, however, there was no telling just how superior a Lexington could be.

“They're signaling,” Haddock reported.

“Put them on screen!”

An image of a bustling, modern bridge appeared. At the center was a graying red-haired woman in an rear admiral's uniform. Evans recognized her as Rear Admiral Gillian Halsey. The admiral stood, straightened her uniform and said, “I heard could you could use some assistance.”

“That's right, Admiral Halsey,” Evans saluted.

“Oh, knock that off, we've got business to take care of. What's your name, son?”

“Lieutenant Commander Raymond Evans, ma'am.”

“Well, from what I'm seeing here, it looks like you'll be dropping that 'lieutenant' soon.”

“Thank you, ma'am.”

“Anyway, give me the breakdown, commander. Get me acquainted with the situation,” Halsey sat back down into her chair.

Evans recalled the event in detail. He retold everything from their arrival at Nashville Station to the sudden appearance of the Montcalm to how he crippled the French battlecruiser using the famed Harden Maneuver.

Halsey stopped him there, “Captain Maxus Harden is a friend of mine. He was my first officer at one point. Anyway, please continue.”

“We have the Montcalm disabled and we've kept them at gunpoint. We've given them orders not to make any communications or attempt any repairs beyond that which is necessary to save lives.”

“Very good,” Halsey smiled warmly. “We'll take it from here, commander. Report to Nashville Station and resume repair operations. You need it.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Evans nodded as the transmission cut. He turned to face his crew, “Thank God this over.”

Rear Admiral Halsey uncrossed her legs and came back to her feet. She approached the Saratoga's commanding officer, the ever gruff Captain Jacob Galloway. Halsey was in charge of the Saratoga, but only temporarily; only for the duration of their mission. Galloway bore an uneasy expression. “Something wrong, Captain?”

“Something's not right, admiral.”


“I can't place it, but my instinct tells me-”

“We'll be careful,” Halsey told him firmly. “Meanwhile, I want you to get the Marines ready for boarding action. And let them know I'll be accompanying them.”

“I'm sorry... what?”

“I've never seen the interior of a French battlecruiser and I'd like to take the opportunity.”

“Ma'am, that's crazy-”

“Our Marines will take care of me. Meanwhile, you do as you're told.”

“Of course, admiral.”

Halsey turned back to the viewscreen and said to her tactical officer, “Lieutenant Chang, signal the Moncalm. Let's get to know this Captain Fierre.”

“They're responding audio only, ma'am,” Chang told her. “Their viewer system may be damaged.”

“I guess we'll find out,” Halsey nodded. “Captain Fierre, this is Rear Admiral Gillian Halsey of the U.S.S Saratoga. We are preparing boarding shuttles and should be boarding within the next half hour. Once we've gotten your vessel secured, we'll start sending over repair teams to help get your ship operational again. I expect your full cooperation.”

“Of course, Admiral Halsey.”

“We'll let you know when the first shuttles start moving. Halsey out,” she turned back to Chang and made a cutting motion across her throat.

“Transmission out,” Chang reported.

“Admiral,” an all too familiar voice said from behind her. Halsey turned around to find Sergeant Major Mackenzie Halsey, her son. No one except the Halseys themselves knew of this relationship. Mackenzie's identity was kept secret. He wore unmarked black fatigues with a combat vest over that with a patch to identify his rank. Unlike the regular Marines, Sergeant Major Halsey, or Mack, and his squad did not wear the traditional American navy blue, but instead wore special forces black. The reason for this being that Mack and his squad were part of elite unit that went without designation. “My team's ready to go on your order.”

This was business. Admiral Halsey knew she had no place talking to him as her son. “Good... it looks like we've got what we came for.”

“Sometimes you get lucky, ma'am,” they were referring to Mack and his team's mission. Their mission was to find and capture a French warship. Upon its capture, the plan was to use it for a Trojan horse operation that Halsey had spent months preparing. Their luck was proving astronomical.

“Go and make sure the Marines are ready. I'll be joining you shortly.”

“You can't come, admiral.”

“Yes, I can, and I shall.”

Mack knew he could not argue. Not only because she was an admiral, but because, well, this was his mother, “Fine, but look you stay right by my side at all times.”

She sighed, “If I don't stay be yours, you'll just follow me and stay by mine. Alright, sergeant major. Now report to the shuttle bays and finish prepping.”

“Yes, ma'am,” he straightened himself, saluted, and then took to the turbolift.

Galloway remarked, “Must be a requirement for special forces members to have poles up their asses.”

Halsey smiled to herself, “I don't think the Marine Corps has anything to do with his pole.”

Captain Fierre wiped his brow. The interior temperature regulation system was going in and out of whack. Fortunately, the internal safeguards prevented the system from either cooking or freezing the crew. The atmosphere, however, was the least of his concerns. After an agonizing silence, it was Commander Leon who broke it, “Captain, what are we to do? What is the plan?”

The captain stood and went over to a small compartment on the wall. “We need only to control the bridge in order to control the entire vessel.” He opened and pulled out a small pistol. “There is no doubt that the Americans will search for and secure every weapon.” After checking its load, he slipped it into his boot. “They will not find this one.”

“Captain, I object! I offer that we surrender and-”

“We will not! Surrender is not an option! You will do as you are told, Commander Leon. Am I clear?”

“Aye, aye, captain.”

Though Admiral Halsey cared little for such things, the Smith & Wesson MARS assault rifle was a beautiful thing. MARS stands Magnetic-accelerator Assault Rifle System. It fired the 5.82x60mm AMS round at extreme speeds. It used technology borrowed from the magnetic-accelerator cannons found on starships, although the rifle could never achieve quite the same insane velocities. They were compact and used an electronic that enabled the rifle to fold into an even smaller state for when not in use. A simple button press and the rifle would instantly convert back into its firing state. Because of the limited space aboard a starship, the MARS did not use an iron sight at all, but rather integrated a computer-corrected holographic sight. All branches of the armed services adopted the MARS because of these impressive capabilities.

In the silence of the shuttle ride, Halsey looked over Mack's MARS, which was securely attached to his tactical vest. It was such an intricate thing. And then she found it strange that such a weapon baffled her. After all, she was in command of three guns hundreds of times the size of the MARS. Such a small thing should be nothing... but alas. And, Mack, she knew, was an expert with it. The Unnamed, as those who actually had heard of Mack's division, were the most selective of all special forces units in the military. It was impossible to have have even heard of the Unnamed without at least some credential. But to be a part of them? Only a demigod.

And this actually baffled Admiral Halsey. She had met her husband, the late Captain William Halsey, while serving in the officer's training corps. They took different posts, but managed to stay in touch. Eventually, William bludgeoned his way to getting posted with Gillian. They married in just a few short months. A few years, and nine months after a rather adventurous shore leave, they gave birth to their first child, a daughter they named Dana. Dana took most of her physical traits from her father: dark hair, deep blue eyes. She took on more of her mother's personality: indomitable spirit, outspokenness, and a fiery loyalty. Dana attended college and the Navy ROTC program, eventually being accepted as an officer. The last Gillian heard from her daughter, Dana had just accepted her first command.

Mack looked more like Gillian. He, like her, was a ginger. He also took after his father. Of the two, Mack was always the quieter, more passive one. It took quite a bit to get Mack angry, but once provoked, there was little that could stop him. He started life as a scrawny kid, but a semester at a boarding where he and his sister were bullied toughened him up to the point where he took martial arts and began working out. Mack joined the Naval ROTC just like his sister, but quite after the first semester and joined the Marine Corps, where he excelled.

Having Mack aboard the Saratoga was difficult for Gillian. Because the identity of his squad was kept a secret, no one could know of their relationship. Gillian wanted desperately to catch up with her son, but such was an impossibility. She suspected that Galloway knew, but he would never admit it and she would never ask.

“We'll be docking in thirty seconds!” The shuttle pilot exclaimed.

Mack looked over to his squad and ordered, “Lock and load, boys. You know what they say about the French, right?”

The four other men said in unison, “Semper cowardice!”

“Oorah,” Mack said as he stood up and hit the button to unfold his rifle. It snapped into firing mode literally in the blink of an eye. He raised it at the door.

“Sergeant Major, I ask that you not keep your rifle down unless the French actually present a plausible threat.”

Mack winced as he obeyed, “Yes, Admiral, of course.”

“Docking in five! Four! Three! Two! One!” The shuttle suddenly shook as it connected with the Montcalm's airlock. A hiss filled the air as the atmospheric pressure equalized. “Airlock is ready. Open the door whenever you're ready.”

Halsey put herself in front of Mack and pushed the button. As soon as it opened, she stepped through and onto the French battlecruiser, Montcalm. The interior was very gray, very functional. It had a much darker tone in comparison with the American ships. Perhaps the damage and clutter was responsible for this. The most gripping feature, however, was the two men in French naval uniform standing before them. One was a lean blond man with captain's indicators, the other a tall and burly man with a large forehead and the rank of commander.

The captain was first to speak, “Beinvenue. I am a Captain Jacques Fierre and this the Montcalm.”

Halsey issued him a courteous professional smile, “Rear Admiral Gillian Halsey. These men will be accompanying us,” she said referring to the Unnamed. “This is Mister Red; he is their leader.”

Mack only nodded. It was only coincidence that the ginger was codenamed Mister Red... or was it?

“Much obliged, admiral,” Fierre said, some of his illegitimacy poking through. “This is executive officer, Commander Leon.”

Leon gave a quick a bow. Not a word was spoken.

“I trust you crew has been advised of our arrival?” Halsey asked.

Oui,” Fierre replied. “They are looking forward to having the repairs move more quickly. They have been ordered to render their full cooperation. There will not be one, eh, what is it you Americans say? 'Kink in the chain'?”

Halsey chuckled, “Yes, captain, that's how the phrase goes.”

“Shall we make for the bridge?”

“Lead the way, captain.”

“This way, please,” Fierre started walking. “Your timely response is impressive.”

“We were in the neighborhood,” Halsey explained as they stepped aboard the turbolift. This was not a lie. She could not help but exchange glances with Mack. “Captain, may I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“How is it that you French have managed to achieve power equalization across your coaxial pylons with an asymmetric reactor system?”

“Well, admiral, the answer is very complex, but I can explain....”

“Captain,” Lieutenant Chang said as he kept an eye on his console. “The first wave of shuttles has returned and the second wave is loading up as we speak.”

“Excellent,” Captain Galloway replied from the command chair. He much preferred the command chair to the executive officer's chair, which had no headrest and smaller armrests. It was nice when Admiral Halsey was away. Still, Galloway was thankful to have her as his commanding officer. She had taught him more in just two months than he had learned in all of his career. Plus, she was easy-going as hell, but still earned everyone's respect. “Let's try and get the turnaround time cut in half.”

“Aye, sir,” Chang answered with no emotional inflection whatsoever. It was not a feasible order, just one to try and keep everyone's spirits.

Galloway then missed having his first officer, Commander Les Mitchell onboard. While Halsey was present, there was no need for the additional officer and so Mitchell had been assigned on a temporary posting. While Mitchell was around, there was no need to do anything to keep spirits, no, that was the first officer's job. The captain's job was to focus on commanding the ship, regardless of the crew's feelings. Galloway had not been a first officer in a very long time and having to think on those terms was foreign to him. “What is the status of the Johnston.”

“They've docked with Nashville and they've been brought up to ninety-percent system efficiency. Their hull is still compromised,” Chang said. “They've got it stabilized,but Nashville doesn't really have the facilities for major hull repair. They'll be heading over to Chattanooga Shipyard for sure when this all said and done.”

“No doubt,” Galloway sighed.

“Second shuttle group is away, sir.”

“Good,” Galloway stood and walked over to Chang. “Let's get the last wave ready to go.”

“They're already on it, captain.”

“I'll bet,” Galloway smirked. It was another act.

Chang's console suddenly came to life, “Captain, we've got a situation.”

Galloway's false smile vanished and a scowl grew, “What is it, lieutenant?”

“Three ships are dropping out of translight, dead ahead.”

“Identify!” Galloway retreated back to his chair and sat. “Dammit, last thing we need is more problems.”

“Captain, it's the worse kind.”

“Lay it on me.”

“Three Charlemagne-class French battlecruisers, the de Gaulle, the Bonaparte, and the Turenne. They look pissed off, captain.”

“Full alert! Get everyone to battle stations! Get the longbow tubes and mag cannons charged and locked! Helm, maneuver us between them and the Montcalm. They aren't getting anywhere near them.”

“Aye, aye.”

“Hail Admiral Halsey, let's get her read on this.”

Rear Admiral Halsey had taken her seat on the command chair of the Montcalm. Their chairs were actually more comfortable than the American ones. Halsey considered requisitioning something similar for her own assignments, but then realized it was hardly worthwhile. A chair is a chair, but... then again, chairs can make or break a day.

Suddenly, one on the panels started bleeping. Commander Leon instantly sprang into action. He reported, “Captain, three of our ships have just come out of translight. The de Gaulle, Bonaparte, and Turenne.”

“I know the commander of the de Gaulle,” Captain Fierre said. “He is relentless.”

Halsey bit her lip, “This is about to get tricky. Power up the engines and defensive systems. Get whatever you can.”

The French crew exchanged uneasy glances. They were unsure whether or not to take orders from the American. Fierre realized this, “Do as she says. For now, she is your captain.”

They got to work. After a moment, Leon reported, “Engines operating at thirty-percent capacity. We have minimal defensive shielding.”

“It'll have to do,” Halsey said.

“The Saratoga is hailing.”

“Let's hear it,” Halsey remembered that the viewscreen was out.

“Admiral, it's Captain Galloway. I assume you've seen our guests.”

“That we have.”

“What are your orders?”

“Well, Captain Fierre just informed me that translight travel is impossible with the extent of hull breaches Montcalm has suffered. That leaves us two choices, fight back or surrender. I think we'll take the former.”


Fierre suddenly interrupted, “If I may interject, Admiral Halsey, there is another option.”

“Yes, captain?”

“If you would look at your charts, you will see a nearby asteroid field. It is highly magnetic and could shield us from the enemy's sensors. We would only need to adjust the polarity of the shield grid to repel the asteroids themselves.”

“You're suggesting we hide in there?”

“Yes, ma'am, we hide in the asteroid field until we can get the ship in a sufficient state of repair.”

“Better than nothing,” Galloway grunted. “Head on in there and we'll buy you some time.”

“Give 'em hell, captain.”

“You know me, admiral,” Galloway said as the transmission cut.

“Well, you heard him,” Halsey said. “As soon as those shuttles dock, let's get moving!”

Chang reported, “The Montcalm is moving away, captain.”

“Hail the lead French ship, let's meet the opposition.”

“Hailing,” Chang said as he worked his console. “They're responding.”

“On screen,” Galloway stood as an image of a bald French captain appeared. Before the Frenchman could speak, Galloway said, “This is Captain Jacob Galloway is the U.S.S Saratoga. You are in violation of sovereign American territory. I suggest you leave immediately or I swear to God, I will blow more holes in your ship than you can count.”

“You are outnumbered, captain,” the French captain said. “We and should destroy you. However, I am merciful. Hand over the Montcalm peacefully and we will leave without incident.”

“I can't do that and you know it,” Galloway refuse to back down. “Leave. Now.”

“I will give you one more chance-”

“Go to hell,” Galloway snapped. “I'm done threatening you. My mag guns are charged, locked, ready to fire, and looking for an ass to kick. Yours just happens to be in my way. Leave right now and maybe that won't happen.”

“This conversation is ov-” Chang cut the transmission before the French captain could even finish.

“Captain, the Johnston is signaling.”

“Put 'em through,” Galloway sat back down.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Evans. We are ready to engage on your order.”

“Stay put, Evans, you've done enough today.”

“Sorry, sir, won't have it that way. We're ready for action.”

“Have it your way. Coordinate with our tactical officer and we might just have a chance at this.”

“Right, sir, Evans out,” the transmission faded.

Chang reported, “French battlecruisers have entered a diagonal formation and they're gunning right for us.”

“Are they in range?” Galloway asked.

“Negative, sir.”

“We can't possibly take them head on,” Galloway thought out loud. “They know that. And they're being stupid about it. Helm, plot a course right at their lead ship. Break off to the starboard side just before collision. Erratic maneuvers all the way. Engines to full. Chang, as soon as you get a comprehensive firing solution, coordinate with the Johnston for a simultaneous strike. We'll hit them once and we'll hit them hard.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Chang and the helmsman both replied. The decks jerked slightly as the engines roared to life.

Galloway looked ahead to his prey. He was outmatched and he knew it. But miracles happened and he knew that too. They tended to happen when Captain Galloway was pissed off. In this case, Galloway was pretty angry. Nobody, except for those in authority, can tell Captain Galloway what to do and get away with it. Especially not the goddamned French.

Galloway's plan was ingenious. Since both American ships could out-range the French ships, it was possible that their combined firepower could completely put the de Gaulle out of commission. If this happened, then the other French ships would be forced to break formation and most likely lose their bead on the Americans. Galloway's plan also involved maneuvering in such a way that the empty hulk of the de Gaulle would serve as a makeshift shield, protecting them from fire. From there, they had command of the situation and could decide exactly what happened next. Victory was actually entirely possible, but still relied very heavily on luck.

“Firing Longbows,” Chang said as the swishing sound of missile fire could be heard from below decks. The Johnston did the same thing at the exact same time. “Firing mag guns in three... two... one... Fire!” A loud boom was heard all across the ship.

Galloway stood and watched as the the four white streaks, three from Saratoga and one from Johnston, slammed into the de Gaulle. The once-mighty Charlemagne spun out of control, bleeding fuel, chemicals, and debris. She had been conquered. Galloway probably should have said something to congratulate his crew, but he did not. He was focused.

“Captain, the other two French are breaking formation!” Chang announced.

“Helm, put the de Gaulle between us and them,” Galloway ordered as he stood from his command chair and approached one of the holographic displays in the Combat Information Center section of the bridge. “AI, display a three-dimensional readout of the current engagement.” The computer complied. Galloway took in the location of the enemy ships and decided on his next move. “Break us hard to port forty-five degree and get us a firing solution targeting the Bonaparte.”

“Aye, computing solution-” Chang's eyes suddenly went wide. “CAPTAIN!!!”

Galloway turned back to the viewscreen to see that the de Gaulle was not, in fact, dead. What he saw was just an instant. The flaming wreck rushed and slammed right into the Saratoga.

Admiral Halsey watched her monitor in awe. For one second, she was amazed at Galloway's strategy and in the next, amazed at just how quickly it had been put to rest. She watched in disbelief as the Saratoga was split almost evenly in two. Wreckage and fire abounded. How did this happen?

“Admiral Halsey? This is Lieutenant Commander Evans. We'll do our best to keep Frenchie off your ass, but we're pretty useless against two of those things.”

“You've done enough, Commander, get out of here,” Halsey told him.

“Negative. We aren't leaving until we've seen this whole thing through.”

Evans was stubborn. Halsey liked that, “Alright, but don't get yourself killed, commander. The Navy needs more officers like you.”

“Don't plan on it, ma'am.”

“Good,” Halsey crossed her legs. “Give 'em hell. And no more Harden Maneuvers.”

The transmission died.

“Admiral, we are entering the asteroid field now,” Fierre told her.

“It is more magnetic than I first thought,” Leon reported. “Smaller particles are attaching themselves to the hull, even with the additional shielding.”

“Do what you can, meanwhile, we need to keep moving,” Halsey said. “We get the repairs and then we get out of here. How long until we can be ready for translight?”

“There is no telling,” Fierre told her.

Halsey sighed and buried her face in her hands. Everything was going so right... then suddenly so wrong. The Saratoga was nothing, they were hiding in a dangerous asteroid field onboard a barely-intact French battlecruiser, and there was no help. Halsey prayed that some of their luck was saving itself, but it seemed as though it had all been spent before....

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