Friday, November 18, 2011

wilhelm (part 3)

“We're clear of the moorings, captain,” Lieutenant Hammond reported as her hands gracefully worked the controls. The Enduring Justice was like her own body. Hammond could work it with the utmost poise and even, some might say, serenity.

“Get us out of here, lieutenant,” Harden ordered calmly from his command chair. Was he nervous? Absolutely, but he would never let it show.

“Sir, they've positioned themselves exactly where we need to go,” Hammond said.

“Can you get around them?”

“No, sir, we'd have to cross into their weapons range.”

“So, there's no way to avoid a fight?”

“No, captain.”

“Damn,” Harden said under his breath. He carefully mulled over his options. “Bring us in just outside of their weapons range. Chang, load all weapons and get us firing solutions.”

“They're hailing, sir,” Edison reported.

“Put them on them on the main screen,” Harden ordered as he stood. In a few seconds, an image of an aging man in a German captain's uniform appeared. Before that captain could speak, Harden said, “This is Captain Maxus Harden of the U.S.S. Enduring Justice. Stand aside.”

The German captain and then replied with an accent, “Captain Harden, listen, you have violated German space and fired on one of our space stations. This is a most heinous offense. However, you have something that we want. You have a certain individual that we were instructed to retrieve. Hand him over and we will let you go and forget about the whole thing.”

On an instinct, Commander Halsey lied, “Captain, it seems that in our rescue operation from your station, one of your men seriously wounded our operative. He is in critical condition and if we tried to move him, he might die.”

The captain paused, “One of our men?”

“You heard her,” Harden said firmly.

“They had orders to take him alive. We need that man alive.”

“Well, that's going to be a difficult,” Halsey said. “Unless you have any ideas.”

Harden wondered what the hell she was doing, but decided to trust her.

“What if we sent our doctors over to your ship to move him?”

Halsey nodded, “We'll do that-”

“Hang on,” Harden interrupted. “Edison, can you mute the transmission?”

“Commander, just what the hell are you doing?”

“Sir, I'm sorry I couldn't bring this to you before, but if they want to send over their doctors, they'll have to dock with us,” Halsey told her captain. “We get them as close as possible and then we make a break for it. Hopefully, their targeting systems won't have time to get us before we go to translight.”

“Good thinking,” Harden said. “I'll talk to the Germans while you get this thing arranged.” Halsey nodded and then moved to another console. “Put him back on.”

“You're back.”

“Captain,” Harden said. “My medical teams are standing by to move the patient. Our airlocks will be standing by for docking procedures.”

“I am glad that you see this my way, Captain Harden. Leave your ship in its place, we will come to you.”

“Very well, captain,” Harden lied through his teeth. “Harden out.” The transmission cut. “I really hope he's that stupid.”

Halsey said, “Captain, we'll have to time this just right. If they get too close, we'll have to maneuver to get around them, but if we move too far, their targeting computers will have enough time to get a solid lock.”

“And we will need to put some distance between us and them before we jump,” Lieutenant Hammond said.

“Enemy ship is coming right at us,” Edison said nervously.

“Captain, they're in weapons range,” Chang reported. “Firing solution is excellent; mag guns are hot.”

“There's no need for that,” Harden said with almost complete calm. “If all goes well, there won't be any shooting at all.”

“Captain,” the A.I. cut in. “I've done some calculations and if we engage full afterburner in thirty-two seconds, we'll have the best possible window for getting out of here.”

“Put that on my monitors,” Hammond ordered. This was her moment to shine and she knew it. As soon as the A.I.'s countdown appeared, Hammond made a few adjustments and then set her hand on the throttle. Twenty seconds.

“German Kaiser-class battleship,” Chang admired. “Three forward mag guns, twenty-five missile tubes... damn, I'd love to man the weapons sys-”

“Keep it to yourself,” Halsey ordered.

Ten seconds.

“Captain,” Chang started talking again. “I recommend firing a full salvo of Longbows on our way out-”

“I said, 'no,' lieutenant,” Harden said again, this time he was getting frustrated. “There's no need for that.”

“Firing thrusters!” Hammond suddenly exclaimed as she pressed down the throttle. “Engines engaged; accelerating at full speed!”

Wilhelm is maneuvering to compensate,” Chang reported.

“Evasive maneuvers,” Halsey ordered. “Keep their guns off us!”

“Overclocking engines!” Hammond shouted. “We're at one-hundred-ten percent!”

“Are we clear?” Halsey asked.

“Not yet, we're still going past- Holy shit!”

“What is it?!”

“Sir, they just pulled a move that should be impossible for a ship of that class! They've executed an almost complete one-hundred-eighty degree turn and they're moving in for a lock!”

“Emergency evasive!” Halsey exclaimed.

“Calculating translight trajectory. I need ten more seconds.”

“They've got a lock!” Chang said.

“They've fired missiles!”


“Impact negligible, we'll be gone.”


“Oh, shi-! Enemy is firing mag guns! Brace for impact!”

Consoles overloaded as the decks rocked. Crewman were flung out of their seats and slammed into the ground. The lights flickered and died. Captain Harden was launched out of his seat on onto the floor. He picked himself back up and took a good look around. This was not the worst he had ever endured....

“Minor damage!” Chang reported. “Two shots missed, the other didn't hit anything important.”
“Get us the hell out of here!” Harden didn't bother returning to his chair.

“Missiles incoming!”

Those were the last words Harden heard before suddenly finding himself off his feet. He slammed into a wall and fell from consciousness.

Commander Halsey found herself unusually aware of the Smith & Wesson at her side. It was not surprising that it stuck out in her mind, but she wished focusing could be a little easier. Before her was a holographic read-out of the Enduring Justice. On it, she kept track of the marines moving about the ship. Thanks to high-tech security systems, she could also observe the enemy positions as they navigated the halls. There were only twenty-nine marines going up against probably hundreds of enemy boarders. The crewman had all been given sidearms, but were told to clear the corridors and engage the enemy only if necessary.

The goal was simple: to survive until reinforcements arrived. They had sent out the distress signal and help should be on its way. There was no telling exactly how long it would take, but Halsey knew they would get in on time. She had to believe that. To believe otherwise was to accept defeat and that's just something which simply will not happen.

Edison reported, “Commander, the Wilhelm has docked.”

“Alright, open up the airlock door,” Halsey ordered. “Should confuse the hell out of them.”

Halsey watched the readout as the security systems identified individuals entering the ship. There must have been a dozen on the advance team. They took up a formation and were obviously confused by the lack of marines shooting at them. The corridor split in three directions. Straight ahead of them was the most direct route to either the bridge or sickbay. To the left was nowhere important. And if they went right, they would be headed towards engineering.

The blips finally moved. They split into two even groups, one going straight and the other going right. And then they flashed and vanished. The mines worked. Halsey asked, “A.I., can you confirm kills on their advance team?”

“Affirmative. Tangos down.”

“Sergeant Major,” Halsey said into the comm. “The first wave is down. The mines worked.”

“Oorah,” her brother replied. “We'll be ready for the second group.”

“Commander,” the A.I. said, “Second wave is boarding now.”

Halsey turned her attention back to the readout and saw more blips filling the corridor. She could not count how many, but estimated at least twenty. Again, they split into two groups. One went straight, one right. Since they insisted on not going left twice, Halsey could only assume that they knew where they were going. A second group of about the same number came in through the airlock and did the exact same as those before.

“Commander, this is SCAR team,” Mack said over the comm. His team was given the role of keeping the enemy on the airlock deck. They would have to go up one deck to get to engineering and down one to get to the bridge and sickbay. “We're ready to engage the enemy.”

“Acknowledged,” Halsey replied. “A.I., shut down all lights on deck five and seal the airlock door.” By sealing the airlock door, the enemy already aboard the Enduring Justice were effectively sealed inside. Reinforcements were also temporarily cut off.

“Lights disabled.”

“Hope those bastards forgot their night vision.”

Mack and his team were perfectly ready. They could already hear an enemy squad approaching as the room jumped to blackness. They could see absolutely nothing. Mack whispered to his squad, “Light filters on.” This was one advantage of the Smith & Wesson MARS. As an attachment, it featured an advanced digital holographic optic sight system, which included a zoom ability, an infrared sensor, and a low-light filter. The technology was impressive and certainly useful. By looking through their sights, the SCAR team could easily mark their targets.

Also attached to their weapons were sound suppressors, which also eliminated the muzzle flash from their rifles. In other words, SCAR was effectively invisible and almost absolutely silent. They took a defensive formation at the end of one of the main corridors and waited. Mack glared down his sight and looked at the greened hall before him. In an instant, a confused soldier rounded the corner. Then another and another. “Hold fire,” Mack whispered.

More came.


Their formation was sloppy. The darkness confused the hell out of them.


Best of all, they clearly couldn't see the SCAR team about to decimate them.

“Fire!” Mack snarled as he squeezed his trigger. A burst of three rounds roared from his barrel and into the enemy point man. All three connected straight center-mass, bringing the shocked soldier down hard. In rapid succession, the SCAR team members marked targets, opened fire, and repeated. The German marines returned fire, but they were blind. Their shots found nothing but walls.

As Mack blasted the last of them, he called, “Confirm all targets down!”

“Got nothin', boss,” Sergeant Green replied.

“Zero contacts,” Pink affirmed.

Mack hit his radio, “Commander, this is SCAR. We've eliminated our batch of targets and we're moving on to our second objective.”

“SCAR team!” Commander Halsey's voice replied. “We need you up here ASAP! The bridge team has failed and it's only a matter of time before they get to us!”

“We're on our-”

Bullets whizzed by Mack's head as the hallway roared. Green immediately shouted, “Contact! Targets left!” He returned fire.

“They can see us!” Pink exclaimed as he reloaded his rifle.

“Shit!” Mack took aim and popped a few suppressing shots. “Pull back! Pull back!”

The door pounded. They were outside. Halsey could hear the Germans outside as they worked to defeat the magnetic locks. It was inevitable that they would get in. There were not enough solid guns on the bridge to repel a German assault team. A pair of their marines were there armed with rifles and the bridge crew all had side-arms, but it there was no way they would hold.

Halsey knew this.

And then Mack radioed, “We're pinned down, commander! Can't say when we can assist!”

“Just get up here, sergeant,” Halsey half-growled as she stood up from her command chair. She looked around to see that all eyes were on her. Not a one of them were oblivious to their coming doom. They turned their attention to their commander and simply hoped she would have the answer. In truth, she did not. There was no escape, no victory. She looked into the eyes of each of her crewman and realized words would do nothing. Halsey had never been a speech maker or a motivator. She was, however, a woman of action. If the crew truly respected Commander Dana Halsey for anything, that was it. She got the damn job done and didn't make excuses for it.

From her belt, she drew her Smith & Wesson and racked the slide. Its high electronic whine echoed through the silent bridge, indicating it was ready to blast super-accelerated .386 Magnum rounds right through anything it happened to be pointing at. Halsey pushed her jet black hair out her eyes and tucked it behind her ear as she brought her pistol to bear at the door. Although Halsey was exposed, her position was not a terrible one. Between her and the door was her command chair and one of the holographic display tables in the Combat Information Center. Her posture and position both gave an edge of fearlessness and of bravado.

Her crew understood what she had done. They understood her resolve and took comfort in it. The pair of marines took what little cover they found and brought their own weapons to their shoulders. The bridge crew drew their pistols and took positions according to what they had practiced based on the hours upon hours of drills they had all endured.

The commotion at the door stopped. All Commander Halsey could hear was her own breathing. There were no real thoughts in her mind, only a solid focus on the carnage to come. She checked her grip and sight placement, ensuring perfect. Out of all that might happen, missing was not one she would allow. The double sliding door whooshed open. Nothing came through for a solid two seconds. After those elapsed, a small, black tube flew through the air and clanged onto the floor. Halsey instantly realized what it was: flashbang! Her eyes snapped shut. Why hadn't she thought of that happening bef-

It exploded and an instantaneous roar filled the room, which shifted to a ringing in her ears. Halsey opened her eyes to find German soldiers pouring into the room, shooting at anything that moved. She picked the right-most target and double-tapped shots, bringing him down cleanly. It surprised her when she could not hear her own gunshots, but this would not throw her off for long. Halsey found a second target and fired.

Sound slowly returned to her ears. He shots were muffled, but finally audible. Soon, she could make out the shouting in the room. There were no doubt screams of death and orders being cried. Halsey ignored it and kept firing. She took down her second target and then her third. In instinct, she looked to her right and saw Ensign Edison take a bullet to the abdomen. She doubled over and fell to the ground. Halsey expended the last rounds in her magazine and then rushed over to help. She got down on her knees and helped the young, quivering ensign up to a sitting position and examined her. “I can't tell how bad it looks!” Halsey exclaimed honestly.

“It hurts, commander,” Edison groaned as she clutched the bloody mess.

Halsey swiped a fresh magazine from her belt, snapped it into her Smith & Wesson, and released the slide. Still down on her knees, Halsey brought her handgun back to bear. In that moment, she saw the destruction. The bridge was tattered with bullet holes and destruction. On the floor were bodies, including Hammond and both of the marines. There were a few junior officers Halsey did not recognize, but she felt responsible for each of them. She couldn't count how many Germans had breached the bridge, but the number was doubtlessly higher than she would like.

A firm hand suddenly gripped her shoulder. As she prepared to fight back, she noticed the rifle barrel threatening to eradicate her temple. With a frustrated grunt, Halsey dropped her pistol. The shooting on the bridge died off. The commander looked around to see most of her bridge crew had surrendered. She would never admit it pride to this, but it was the right call. The Germans had completely overrun them.

As the German brought Halsey to her feet and led her to the door, she looked around and took inventory. Chang and Edison were both injured, Edison more severely of the two. Good. Halsey would need Chang. Hammond and the marines appeared to be the dead. The rest of the bridge crew seemed to be alive. Six of the Germans lay dead. Apparently, they had put up a valiant fight. Halsey had only expected two or three to fall. Unfortunately, they had lost. That was that.

Then again, Commander Halsey had just one last trick. She said aloud, “A.I. Now.”

In less than a split-second, the decks lurched as the Enduring Justice came to life. The main lights snapped off and the emergency lights ascended. The Artificial Intelligence's British voice came to life, “Transferring all available power to maneuvering thrusters and port side Magnetic-acceleration cannon.”

The German marine holding Halsey yanked her shoulder, turning her to face him. In German, he demanded, Was ist passiert?“

“I am having some difficulty clearing the Wilhem's magnetic docking clamps. Executing high energy maneuver to break free.”

Halsey replied to the marine, “Scher dich!”

With the back of his hand, the German slapped her across the cheek. “Stoppen Sie diese!“

“Executing high energy maneuver!” The A.I. exclaimed just a hair of a second before the ship rocked hard to the right, knocking everyone off their feet. Halsey, who expected it, used the momentum to roll towards her pistol. She took it in her hand and whirled around in a crawl to face her immediate attacker. With lightning precision, she put his head into her sights and pulled the trigger.

“Magnetic-acceleration cannon charge at sixty-percent,” The A.I. reported. Halsey found another target and put him in her sights. Two shots later, another kill. “Lining up a shot and preparing a firing solution. Estimating fifteen seconds.” Halsey glanced over to see Chang with one of the Germans headlocked in his arms. One-by-one, crewmen and enemies regained their footing and the firefight again resumed. Having expected this to happen definitely gave them an edge, but would it last?

“Magnetic-acceleration cannon charge at eighty-percent.”

Suddenly Halsey's skull erupted in pain as she found herself slammed to the floor. She looked up to see one of the Germans standing over her rapidly bringing his rifle to bear on her. Her head hurt like hell, he must have hit her with the stock of his weapon. It was truly amazing she was still conscious. The commander dropped her pistol and put her hands up in surrender. She knew it was coming, but if there was any fight at all....

“Optimal firing solution achieved, magnetic-acceleration cannon charge at ninety-two percent. Firing anyway,” The A.I. reported, doing exactly as 'she' had been told. Halsey faced the viewing screen as they heard the below-decks booming of the mag guns. She watched as a white streak burst and smashed through the Wilhelm. This would not kill the beast, but any mag blow to any ship could potentially be devastating. Halsey hoped the slug would destroy either their engines or weapons systems. From what she saw, the round penetrated the Wilhelm center-mass at the battleship's starboard side, just a bit to the right. With satisfaction, she noted the ship beginning to spin and its lights flickering. They must have hit their power systems. “Direct hit. Target ship is drifting. My sensor systems are damaged and I am unable to give a more thorough report. Our reactor core is completely blown and I currently running exclusively on the auxiliary batteries.”

Halsey smirked as she looked back the stunned marine standing over her. In a throb of anger, he shouted something at her in German and then kicked her side. The commander yelped in pain, but did her very best to contain the outburst. But even she couldn't help but cry, “Holy shit!” when the German's head suddenly popped. Gunfire and chaos erupted once again. She looked over to see Mack and his team bursting into the room, gunning down anyone who happened to be German. With clockwork precision, they took the bridge. “Clear!” Each one of the SCAR team announced.

Realizing her throbbing pain, Halsey put her hand to her head as she stood. She herself weak, but able to press on. “Sound off! Give me a report!”

“We've got five dead, ma'am,” Mack was first to reply. “Both marines and three junior officers.”

“Damn,” Halsey groaned as she took her seat in the command chair. “Mack, see to it that any injured get treatment and-”

“Commander,” the A.I. chimed in. “The Wilhelm appears to have recovered from her blow. They are coming around. We are completely defenseless, commander.”

“We've done some pretty serious damage,” Halsey said. “They'll be more careful this time. “

“Commander!” Mack exclaimed. “The view screen!”

Halsey looked up and watched in awe as streaks of white blew chunks out of the Wilhelm. She sighed in relief as she said, “It's the fleet. Thank God.”

“They're ripping them to shreds!” Pink beamed. “Look at that!”

Halsey counted at least five mag slugs breaking into the German behemoth, each causing more destruction than the last. Following the slugs came dozens of concussion missiles, which ultimately made the kill. The Wilhelm exploded in a fiery fury; the last wrath of the great beast. It was beautiful in the most violent of ways. “Better late than never,” Halsey again sighed in relief. “A.I., signal the lead ship.”

“Signaling the Iwo Jima,” she said. “Shall I put him on screen?”

“Yeah, do it,” Halsey pulled the hair our her eyes and winced in pain. Her head still throbbed. In a flash, a clean-cut man in a captain's uniform appeared on the screen. “Captain, I'm Commander Dana Halsey, first officer. Thank God you're here.”

“Captain Lucius Talbot,” the man on screen replied as he stood and straightened out his uniform. “Looks like you've been through hell, commander. Where is Captain Harden?”

“Sickbay,” Halsey replied. “Took a beating, but I think he'll be alright.”

“What about your ship? You must need aid.”

“Absolutely, captain. We have plenty of wounded. We'll need a marine detail to do a sweep, we suffered some boarding action.”

“Will do. Was your mission a success?”

“The operative is on board, but also in sickbay. I wouldn't call this a totally successful mission, captain, but the objectives have been completed.”

“I believe I understand what you mean. I'll have shuttles sent over on the double.”

“Thank you, captain. Halsey out,” she said and then the screen dimmed. Almost instantly, she buried her face in her hands and heaved a deep sigh. It was finally over.

“Commander, you okay?” Mack asked from beside her.

Halsey looked up at him and said, “We're alive.”

“You look like hell,” he took a knee and looked at her face. It was bleeding in two places and it would bruise badly for sure. “Someone hit you? Looks like a-”

“Rifle butt,” she finished for him. “My head is ready to bust.”

“You took a rifle stock to the head and you're still conscious?” Mack curled his lip in awe. “Damn. You're tough, commander. You proved that today.”

“Yeah?” Halsey rubbed her head. “Being tough sucks, sergeant. It means you take a lot more pain before it stops. You're still standing when your knees are broken. You want to collapse, but you can't. Your body is screaming at you to stop, but you can't. The pain haunts you, but you won't give up. You won't make it all go away. Why? Damned if you know. It doesn't matter. You just won't quit. And sergeant, for the record, being tough is the worst.”

“You're still alive though, commander,” Mack put his hand on her shoulder. He wanted to comfort her like a brother should, but that simply was not an option. No one could know. “And you did good today. Only someone as tough as you could have gotten us all through this.”

“We all didn't make it,” Halsey loosened her uniform by unzipping it a bit at the collar.

“No, but we all could have died. The burning wreck outside could be us, but it isn't. it's the bastards who put us in this mess to begin with. Sure, they gave us a couple of bruises, but they're dead. We won.”

“We did,” Halsey resigned her argument. He was right, but she didn't want to believe it. If there was anything she was sick of, it was being the survivor. Whether it was from her time on the Amber Dusk or the disaster on the Iroquois, she somehow always found herself standing in the rubble alive when she ought not to be. Was it luck? No, it wasn't. She couldn't feel lucky being alone. Perhaps there was a purpose to being left alive, a reason death let her be. The only one she could think of is duty. So, she did it, “A.I., give me a rundown. Damage report.”

“The reactor core is shut down and not likely to function without major repairs. The cooling system is damaged, but I cannot get an accurate assessment without bringing it online. This will have to be done manually. We are running on auxiliary reserve power. We have taken large amounts of structural damage, especially on our starboard side. The starboard magnetic-acceleration cannon tube is destroyed in addition to eighty-percent percent of our starboard point defense cannons. Missile systems are offline. Targeting systems are offline. Sensor systems are offline. Defensive shielding is offline. There are numerous minor systems which have taken damage, shall I list them?”

“No,” Halsey shook her head. “What about casualties? How many injured?”

“Injury reports are still forthcoming.”

“Do you know Captain Harden's condition? And the operative?”

“Captain Harden is expected to make a full recovery. The operative is still in surgery.”

“What about deaths?

“Twenty-two. Shall I list them?”

Halsey mulled over the prospect for a moment. On one hand, it would take time, but on the other, it only seemed right to know. “Do it.”

“In alphabetical order: Petty Officer Sebastian Avery, Gunnery Chief William Barrett, Master Chief Petty Officer Linda Billingsley....”

Friday, November 11, 2011

wilhelm (part 2)

The corridors were a mess. Collapsed bulkheads, wiring, and debris were all over the floor. It was honestly painful for Halsey to walk through all of it. In a few places there was blood. Electrical arcs flew, sometimes fires raged, and sparks burst from open power stations. Seeing all of this helped her note just how badly the Enduring Justice had taken it. She wished could see the outside of the ship in order to really a get a grasp on the damage. With a damage map, Halsey was able to see that the starboard wing was almost completely destroyed, which included the mag gun between the delta wing and the main fuselage.

Commander Halsey tried her best to see things optimistically. Out of two-hundred and fifty-four crewmen, only thirteen were killed. Still... thirteen people. Many of the systems were offline, but could be repaired and restored. The damage looked worse than it actually was. It did not matter. Their only hope was to make to the rendezvous where three American ships, two destroyers and one battlecruiser, stood by. Those three ships, combined, would be more than a match for the Kaiser-class battleship Wilhelm pursuing the Enduring Justice.

Halsey found the normally closed, massive double-doors leading to main engineering wide open. She assumed that the power relays for the automated doors were offline. After pushing her jet black hair off of her face, Halsey took a good around. The T-drive dual-fusion reactor seemed to be constantly venting steam. The temperature was extreme in main engineering. Halsey found the chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Carlos Esteban and asked him, “Commander, what's the situation?”

He looked up to confirm who she was, but kept working on getting a computer console functional, “The reactor core's getting hotter and hotter by the minute. We've sprayed- ah!” A spark buzzed him. “Dammit!”

“You alright?”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” he sighed. “We've sprayed the engine with all the coolant we can. I've even got a couple of guys bringing down ice from the mess hall, but we can't get it under control; not without stopping.”

“Think you can hold it for another hour and a fifteen minutes?”

“Ma'am, I give it an hour. Tops.”

“Shit,” Halsey sighed.

“I hear ya.”

Commander Halsey let her head hang as she thought through what to do next. She considered every possible option. And then it hit her. It was a risky as hell plan, but a plan nevertheless. She found a communications panel on the wall and activated the ship-wide P.A. system, “All hands, this is Commander Halsey. Prepare for boarding action! Security teams, distribute side-arms! All hands, prepare to be boarded!”

Commander Halsey stood by the airlock door nervously. No one expected that the Koblentz security forces would put up a fight, but possibilities abound. Halsey stood behind the others with her pistol still in its holster. Everyone had their weapon stowed. They had hoped to be able to slip into the crowd. Mack, who took point, said to the others, “Our prize says he'll meet us at the entrance to cargo bay four, wherever that is. Should be nothin' to this. We slip in, get the operative, and get out. Try and keep outta sight. Oorah?”

“Oorah!” The other Marines sounded off. Halsey kept quiet.

The airlock door whooshed open. The five of them rushed out to find themselves right in the middle of the station's main docking ring. There was no resistance. In fact, there was no one at all. All of the noise came from station's alarm klaxons alerting the populace of an emergency situation. Mack asked, “Sergeant Blue, what do you have for me?”

The smallest man on the team pulled out a handheld computer with a readout of the station, “If I were to wager a guess, I'd say we need to go down two decks.”

“Then down two decks we go,” Mack ordered. “Move!”

The SCAR team plus one moved down the corridors, still finding them to be empty. Their guess as to why was empty, but it was that the security detail had evacuated the area for fear of what the Americans might do. Many of the doors and access points were jammed. At last, they found a turbolift. Sergeant Blue tried his best to open it, but the computer panel only replied with a negative chirp. “Sergeant major, it's jammed. They've locked it down.”

“Can you bypass it?”

“Sergeant Major!” Halsey interrupted. “There's a maintenance access junction here. It should take us where we need to go!” She pointed to a crawlspace access hatch.”

“How do you know?” Mack stopped and asked.

“I can read a spot of German,” Halsey told him. “Just technical stuff, but that should lead us to the auxiliary access areas.”

Mack nodded, “Okay, that's our best bet. Sergeant Green, you've got point.”

The largest man on the team, a bald man with an eccentric full goatee pulled the access grate off the crawlspace and then made his way inside. Sergeant Blue followed, then Mack told Commander Halsey to go in next. They followed the crawlspace until they came across a ladder, where they went down the two levels one-by-one. Sergeant Blue led them to another access hatch. Green opened it and said back to the other men, “Clear!”

Halsey came out to find that there were several civilians running around, but none seemed to give them any heed whatsoever. Many were preoccupied with their families, others lugged around their valuables. All of this made Halsey question what exactly the standard procedure was in this case. There was no way they could evacuate everyone. Perhaps they were to be locked in their homes. Whatever it was, everyone seemed to be in a hurry.

Mack said, “Our contact said cargo bay four and that he'd be wearing a single black glove. He answers to the call sign 'red rose.' If he's our man, he'll respond with, 'misty dawn.'”

“The cargo section is that way,” Halsey pointed after she found a sign with a convenient arrow.

“German army!” Blue exclaimed as he he noticed several men in uniform armed with assault rifles.

“Keep a low profile,” Mack ordered. “They're probably not even looking for us.”

“Six... five... four!” Halsey said. “It's right over there!”
“Do you see him?”

And there he was: a tall, bearded man wearing a black glove on his right hand. “That's him,” Halsey said.

“Come with me, commander,” Mack ordered. “The rest of you fan out and keep watch.”

Halsey and Mack walked over to the operative, who seemed completely contained. Spies were trained to keep cool despite intense pressure. Halsey figured that were she in his place, she would be quaking in her boots. “I'll handle this,” Halsey told her brother as she approached the contact. When she was close enough, she said, “Is there a florist around here where I could get a red rose?”

“In a time like this?” The man scoffed. “You're more likely to experience a good old-fashioned misty dawn.” He laughed. “Thank God it's you.”

“We're here to get you outta here,” Mack said. “Come on, our ship is-” Suddenly, the operative's shoulder burst open in crimson. The man hollered in pain. Gunfire erupted all around. “Shit!” Mack exclaimed as he rapidly drew his gun. “We've gotta get the hell outta here!”

The operative took a hit to the leg and dropped to the ground. Halsey picked him up and put his arm around her shoulder, “I've got him, sergeant major! Keep me covered!”

The German army soldiers had opened fire. Even more of them emerged from the corridors. The SCAR team members held their own, even though they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. Of course, membership in SCAR meant having perfect accuracy scores with firearms and undergoing the most rigorous combat training available. They were tough and perhaps the best, however, they were not invincible. In this case, their vulnerability was being pushed to its bound. The SCAR team was outnumbered at least five-to-one with more coming.

“Get back to the maintenance hatch!” Mack shouted as he dropped a magazine from his handgun. “Pink! You got any of those incendiaries?!”

“Yes, sir!” The ugliest man in the team replied as he took cover behind a pile of crates. “Just one!”

“Pop one over there!” Mack pointed to one of three corridors from which the German soldiers were attacking. The plan was to plug up a hole to try and thin their numbers.

“Incendiary!” Sergeant Pink shouted as he threw a grenade. It detonated at the mouth of the corridor, spreading and then igniting a clear gas into a deadly white flame. Normally, it would last about ten seconds.

Commander Halsey ripped open the hatch and told the operative, “Get in!” As he did, Halsey drew her pistol and started shooting. Suddenly, a German soldier charged the commander and grabbed her shooting arm. The man's fist came down, but Halsey twisted to the side just time. She used the brief period of the soldier's off-balance to gain leverage and drive her boot into the back of his knees. The soldier stumbled and then was knocked to the ground by a quick closed first to the throat. The commander jerked away the soldier's Heckler & Koch assault rifle and put two rounds in his head.

“Good shit, commander!” Mack exclaimed as he and the rest of team got to the hatch. “You get in first!”

Halsey nodded, slung the assault rifle, and climbed in. The operative was inside clutching his arm, “I'm losing blood.”

“Keep moving; we'll get you to our ship's doctor!” Halsey turned back to see the SCAR team members loading in one by one. “You need go up two floors on that ladder!” She told the operative.

“I don't know if I-”

“You need to.”

“But my-”

“Get your ass up the damn ladder!” Mack shouted from the back of the access junction.

“Okay, okay!” the operative grunted. Commander Halsey did her best to help push him up. While he certainly was not fat, he was not a light man either.

As they climbed, Dana whipped out here communicator and said, “Commander Halsey to Captain Harden!”

“Harden here.”

“Have a Marine detachment waiting for us; we've come under fire,” Halsey told him calmly.

“I'll send out bravo team,” Captain Harden replied. “Harden out.”

Finally, the operative made it up to the second deck. “Blue! Take point! Green, second!” Mack ordered. “Let 'em pass you, commander!”

Halsey and the operative got out of the way as two made their past them. “Commander, I-” the operative groaned. “I'm losing a lot of blood.”

“You'll be okay,” Halsey told him. “We're going to get you to our ship's doctor and he'll get you patched up, alright?”

The operative said nothing.

“Hey! Hey!” Halsey gave him a light slap to the face. “Stay with us!”

“Is he gonna make it?” Mack asked.

“Yeah, yeah, I'll make it,” the operative told him.

“Then move!” Mack shouted.

The operative inhaled sharply and then crawled through the shaft. Halsey could sense his excruciation. The man had taken two bullets, but miraculously managed to keep going. Navy officers were all required to go through SERE school, where they were trained to resist pain and torture, but they were only given the intermediate level. Intelligence officers had to endure the highest level possible and never came out the same. Despite all of the operative's training, he was still showing pain. In her mind, Halsey questioned if he really could last all the way back to the ship. It was not far, but the operative could not possibly have long.

Gunfire erupted outside the hatch. It was honestly a relief to hear. Halsey knew that it was because bravo team was outside securing the area for their extraction. Time, however, was still of the essence. There was no telling just how many soldiers the Germans had garrisoned on Koblentz. The Enduring Justice only had a small marine complement; not enough to take on the amount of men they encountered at the cargo bay.

Green and Blue jumped out of the hatch and instantly took up defensive positions. Halsey emerged next and opened fire with her newly-acquired Heckler & Koch assault rifle. The Germans were coming from both sides, but the real threat was to the left. The airlock to the Enduring Justice was to the right, where most of the friendly marines were fighting a desperate stand-off. As soon as Halsey's clip ran dry, she went back for the operative. His face was paler than ever and his eyes had turned red. She leaned him against her shoulders and made her way down to the airlock. The SCAR members formed a phalanx around her, further ensuring their protection.

And then Halsey's arm flared in pain. It was a sudden and then constant flash of hurt. She looked down at her bicep to find it bleeding. But Halsey did not stumble; not for a second. She pushed her way into the airlock and when the door closed, she shouted, “This man needs a medic on the double! Get him to sick bay now!”

In just about a thirty seconds, a stretcher was brought over and the operative was placed on it. He had fallen unconscious somewhere between the hatch and the airlock. Halsey sighed in relief. And then she remembered....

“Commander, you're hurt!” Mack exclaimed as he holstered his pistol.

“It's not bad,” Halsey grunted as she removed her jacket. She looked down at her arm to find that it was only a flesh wound.

“Get me a first aid kit!” Mack called. He turned back to his sister, “It's not bad; just grazed you.”

“I've taken worse,” Halsey told him.

“Your first bullet wound?” Mack asked as a young petty officer handed him one of the standard-issue first aid kits. He opened it up.

“Yeah,” Halsey replied as Mack applied the biorestorative spray. “Been slashed, cut, bumped, punched, bruised, stabbed- ah!” She exclaimed as her brother tightened a bandage around her arm. “You did that on purpose!”
“Damn straight,” Mack chuckled. As soon as he was finished, he quietly told her, “Hey, listen, the boys all know who you are and I don't think it'd be a problem if I swung by your quarters and we had dinner. Y'know, do some catchin' up.”

“We'll do that,” Dana replied as she rubbed her newly injured arm. A petty officer came by with her uniform jacket.

As she put it on, Captain Harden's voice echoed over the P.A., “All hands, this is the captain speaking! Red alert! All hands report to battle-stations! This is not drill! Repeat, this is not drill!”

Commander Halsey stood with hidden apprehension as she looked at the layout of the Enduring Justice. With her were Captain Donald Lentz and Sergeant Major Mackenzie Halsey, each of them sharing her uneasiness. She pointed to the holographic display and said, “The way I see it, we have three critical points we have to defend: sick bay, main engineering, and the bridge.”

Mack rubbed his chin, “Could we move the operative to a more secure location?”

“Doc says he can't be moved,” Halsey told him. “As much as I'd like to put him in the brig or even here on the bridge, it's impossible.”

“Commander,” Captain Lentz said. “We're twenty-four-”

“Twenty-nine,” Mack corrected.

“Twenty-nine,” Lentz nodded, “marines against God-knows-how-many on the Wilhelm.”

“The crew will do what they can as well. We don't have to beat them, captain, we just have to hold out,” Halsey said. “As soon as the engine safeties engage and we drop from translight, we're going to send out a distress signal. Hopefully, we won't be too far from the rendezvous point and our friends will be here soon enough to bail us out.”

Lentz sighed, “That's risky as all things, commander.”

Mack ignored him, “Then we don't engage the enemy directly.”

“Exactly,” Halsey snapped her fingers. “We'll use diversionary tactics. We do our damndest to keep the enemy away from engineering, the bridge, and sickbay. If Esteban can get the engines running fast enough, then we make a jump for the rendezvous. Our main hope, however, has got to be the friendlies getting here on time.”

“I still don't see us winning,” Lentz again sighed. Captain Lentz joined the marines for no other reason but to pay for college. When he realized that his career options were slim, he kept his job as an officer. With that in mind, it becomes clear that Lentz sucks at his job.

“It's not about winning,” Halsey said firmly. “It's about surviving.”

“What's the situation, captain?” Commander Halsey asked as she briskly stepped through the turbolift door.

“Koblentz is refusing to detach us from their docking ring, captain,” Ensign Edison reported.

“Commander,” Harden seemed relieved that she had arrived. “A Kaiser-class battleship just dropped out of translight. They're out of weapons range, but they're closing fast.”

“And as long as we're fixed to the station-”

“We're screwed,” Chang finished for her.

“Lieutenant Chang,” Harden stood from his command chair and said decisively, “I want you to fire a single mag slug into that station. Port cannon.”

“Captain!” Halsey instantly snapped. “There are civilians on that station!”

“I understand that, commander, but we don't have any choice,” Harden told her without showing any signs of remorse. There simply was no time for it. “They want to be stubborn about this, so be it. But if we don't clear their moorings, then there is absolutely no chance for survival. That's what this is about, right?”

“Port mag gun is hot,” Chang reported. “Ready to fire on your command.”

Harden took his seat and crossed his legs, “Fire.”

“Commander, it's Esteban,” a voice over the comm said. There was a pause that seemed like forever before he finally said, “I disabled the engine safeties and bought us maybe another five minutes. I did this five minutes ago. Commander, I must deactivate the engines now.”

“You've done all you can, commander, and you've done a damn fine job of it,” Halsey told him from Captain Harden's command chair. “Go ahead and shut 'em down.”

“Yes, commander. Esteban out.”

Halsey stood and approached the helm, “Lieutenant, make sure all propulsion is disabled. We can't have the Wilhelm thinking we're anything but dead in the water. I know they don't wanna destroy us, but I don't want us to taking any more damage than we have to.”

“Aye, aye,” Lieutenant Hammond's voice shook. Hammond was the kind of pilot whose thought process was that the ship was like her body and she its mind. Having intruders aboard was like getting a disease. Worse still, there was absolutely nothing for the poor helmsman to do about it. Hesitantly, she applied the inertial dampeners and the Enduring Justice slowed from translight speeds to a near stop.

“Easy,” Halsey said. “Let her drift just a bit. We need this to be convincing. Send out the distress call.”
“Signal away. The Wilhelm's just dropped from translight,” Chang reported. “Their weapons are hot.”

Halsey sat down in the command chair, “By now they're figuring out ours are cold.”

Wilhelm is making a flyby pass, commander,” Chang said.

“Just covering their bases,” Halsey crossed her legs. “Ensign Edison, send out a garbled transmission to the Wilhelm. Make it sound like we're trying to send them something.”

“Aye,” the shaking in Edison's voice was undeniable. Her hands quivered as they made they across her computer console. “They're not responding.”

“They're coming right at us,” Chang reported. “They could be lining up a shot.”

“Easy, lieutenant,” Halsey told him.

“We should perform evasive maneuvers,” Hammond stammered.

“They're not going to fire on us,” Halsey kept still and firm.

“We're sitting ducks, commander!”
“That's enough, lieutenant,” Halsey uncrossed her legs.

“They're too close for optimal firing range,” Chang sighed in relief.

“Their approach is consistent with a docking procedure,” the A.I. reported.

Halsey hit the comm, “Sergeant Major, the enemy is making a docking approach. Prepare for boarding action.”

“We're all set commander.”

“Give 'em hell.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

wilhelm (part 1)

Here we are again! This is another story set in the same universe as "Shatterer of Worlds" and "The Montcalm Incident." It uses the main character as the first of those two, but it set just a few years after each of them. I've set it up so that you don't necessarily have to have read anything else. Also, some of the details have been changed, so a few things don't match up exactly. Some of the back story is a omitted for pacing's sake, but it isn't important. This is designed to be an action story. It's a rush-inducing science fiction story from front to back. I think you'll enjoy the way I've split the story's time frame in order to keep the pacing absolutely pounding. I'm going to post it in parts over the next few weeks, so check back on Fridays for the next part!

Also, this story contains language and violence. If it were a movie, we'd call it PG-13.


May I have your attention, please? This is Captain Harden speaking.

We've been assigned a very dangerous, but very important mission. A few years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency sent out a number of operatives into enemy territory. Their mission was to gather information about enemy plans, enemy ship specifications, enemy formations, enemy deployments; basically whatever they could get their hands on. Before yesterday, none of those men have reported anything back. But that's changed. Yesterday morning, command received a partial transmission from one of these operatives. Apparently, this man has recovered crucial intelligence, but has been found out. He's on the run. He's desperate and he has nowhere to turn.

Our mission is to slip into enemy space, meet with this operative at a specified rendezvous point, and escape. The Enduring Justice is the only ship for the job. Not only is she the most advanced ship in the American fleet, she is also the only ship outfitted with sensor camouflaging technology. Technology, however, is not why I believe we can and will succeed. We will succeed because the Enduring Justice has the best crew a captain could possibly ask for. We will succeed because we are determined, resolute, and above all, unbeatable.

We leave port in an hour. That is all.

Captain Maxus Harden awoke to the unmistakable taste of blood in his mouth and the smell of burning chemicals filling his nostrils. It took effort to snap his eyes open, but when he did, he failed to enjoy what he saw. And his lungs burned. He was in the area between the combat information center and the bridge of his ship, the U.S.S. Enduring Justice. There were crewman all around putting out fires and trying their hardest to keep things in order. The lights flickered on and off. He then realized that he could not hear anything. His ears rang.

Suddenly, a bright light flashed before him. It darted left to right, right to left. It disappeared and then the face of one of the medics was before him. Harden did not know his name; the man's name badge was missing. The medic was saying things, but Harden could not hear. The captain struggled as he tapped his ears and shook his head. The medic nodded.

The medic continued his examination. When he got to Harden's leg, the captain grunted in pain. It hurt like all hell. The medic mouthed to him, “Broken.” Harden nodded. The ringing in his ears slowly turned to a roar. The examination moved to Harden's arms, where they found the same pain. Again, the medic mouthed, “Broken.” Harden shook his head as he winced.

Captain Harden's first officer, Commander Dana Halsey, tapped the medic on the shoulder and they started talking. Harden was not sure what they were saying, but he picked out bits and pieces from reading their lips and body language. Halsey asked about Harden's condition.

The medic responded by shaking his head and saying things Harden could not make out.

Halsey then began arguing with the man. And, although heavily muffled, Harden could make out every word, “...we need him here on the bridge, petty officer.”

“Ma'am, I'm sorry, he's suffered a concussion, possible internal bleeding, and he's broken multiple bones. He can't stay here.”

“Could you give him something for the pain?”

“It ain't that simple,” the medic sharply exhaled. “I've already signaled a stretcher team to come down and get him.”

“Tell them-”

“It's alright, commander,” Harden muttered. “He's right, I'm in no condition to command this ship.”

“But captain-”

“Commander,” Harden forced himself to speak louder. “For the record, I am officially granting you temporary command of the U.S.S. Enduring Justice. Command is yours.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Now, give me a rundown. How bad are we hit?”

“We've suffered major hull damage across multiple decks, the starboard mag gun is destroyed, engines are operating below seventy-percent efficiency, and we're still getting casualty reports.”

“What about the Wilhelm?”

“We're in translight, but they've matched our speed. I'm not sure how long we can hold it. Commander Esteban tells me that we'll need emergency repairs soon.”

“Tell him to do it-”

“We'll need to drop from translight to make these repairs.”

“How soon?”

“Too hard to tell.”

“Can we make it to the rendezvous in time?”

“Esteban wasn't very optimistic, sir.”

“Dammit,” Harden sighed. Another pair of medics carrying a stretcher stepped through the turbolift. “You're in command now. What happens next is up to you.”

The medics gently put Harden on the stretcher. Halsey watched him off. Only uncertainty and fear danced her mind, but her will stopped the music. She sat down in the command chair and did her very best to focus....

“Now entering German space,” helmsman Lieutenant Jenna Hammond said uneasily. “Nothing to report as of yet.”

“And there won't be,” Captain Harden stood from his command chair and straightened out his uniform. His entire crew was nervous about doing a mission behind enemy lines, especially with a relatively untested starship. The Enduring Justice had been active less than a year and had never seen proper combat. “At translight speeds, we're undetectable. As soon as we drop, we've got the stealth tech to keep us under cloak and dagger. This should be nothing more than a go in, get out mission. Simple as that.”

“Wish I had your confidence,” Lieutenant Commander Jonathon Chang, the tactical officer, said. “Weapons and defensive systems are on full alert.”

“As they should be, commander,” Captain Harden told him. “Keep your head in the game.”

“How long until we reach the operative?” Halsey asked from the CIC as she came back to the bridge. Even after having been on Enduring Justice for many months, she still felt slightly disoriented by the bridge location. Most ships had the bridge placed on either the front of top of the ship. The problem with this configuration was that one of the most important parts of the ship was completely exposed and vulnerable. It was also inefficient as far as placement and layout went. The Enduring Justice and her sister ships were the very first to have their bridges placed deep inside the hull. The design was based on around simulating the bridge being at the front of the ship, but knowing that it was not really there proved to be disorienting.

“About an hour, ma'am,” Hammond answered.

“Ensign Edison,” Halsey to the operations officer. “Systems check.”

Ensign Mary Edison, the operations officer, a woman of small stature, checked her console and replied, “All systems are operating at one-hundred percent.”

“Bring us to condition orange,” Halsey ordered. “Have all stations standing by for imminent combat action. We have entered hostile territory and should be prepared for the unexpected.”

“Very good, commander,” Harden paced the bridge. “Doesn't hurt to be prepared.”

“No, sir,” Halsey nodded. She took her spot near the command chair and stood with her hands folded behind her back. Halsey did her job very well. She kept Harden's ship and crew at their very best. Some, however, found her to be somewhat prickly in nature. One of the duties of a first officer to was to represent the crew, to be one of them. This aspect was Halsey's weakness. “No matter what, sir, we'll be ready.”

As Commander Halsey sat down in the command chair, she wiped blood from her brow. A panel had overloaded next to her and the resulting shrapnel cut her right at the hairline. It was just another scar. Halsey had plenty of them. The biggest was hidden under her uniform. About two years ago, Halsey was given command of the Iroquois, a frigate. Just a few weeks into this command, the ship was destroyed by a French battlecruiser. It left Halsey both physically and emotionally scarred. The physical scar was a large gash across the bottom of her ribcage.

After the Iroquois incident, Halsey roamed for a while. She eventually found herself the member of a ragtag crew of a private vessel, the Amber Dusk. No one ever believed the stories she told about her time on the Amber Dusk, but she told that they stopped a dangerous space monster that many private sailors referred to as Cthulhu, the Kraken, or the Leviathan. Which name was used depended on who was asked. Halsey's adventure supposedly took her to the charred remains of earth, where they discovered that the Leviathan was actually an ancient starship from a species long extinct. The final conflict left everyone except Halsey and two others dead. This was where Halsey gained her most obvious scar: a cut across her right cheek.

The lights on the bridge still flickered. The fires had been put out, but things were still in general disarray. A great deal of the panels were offline and repair teams scrambled to keep things operational. Halsey stood, unzipped part of her uniform, pushed her hair out of her eyes and said, “A.I., are you operational?”

A female voice with a British accept replied, “Yes, commander.”

“Can you stabilize the lighting in here?”

“One moment, commander. I am operating at less than fifty-percent efficiency and relegating all of my tasks-”

“Just do it.”

“Achieving lighting stability will mean disabling some of the lights. Is this acceptable?”

“Yes, do it.”

“Deactivating all sub-functional primary lighting, activating emergency lights to compensate,” everything happened just as she had said. The lighting was finally a constant. “Anything else?”

“Perform a diagnostic and get your operating system back to as fully functional as possible. We'll need you if we get into another fight.”

“Yes, ma'am. Logging out.”

“Ensign Edison,” Halsey called. She was not sure where the operations officer might be.

“Here, ma'am.”

“What's the status on the Wilhelm?”

“Still in pursuit, commander. They haven't gained or lost any ground.”

“So, if we lose translight, then we'll be forced to engage.”

Chang cut in, “Commander, with the starboard mag gun offline and the amount of damage we've sustained, we're definitely no match.”

“Not like we were any match before,” Lieutenant Hammond scoffed.

“Hey! There's no need for that,” Halsey said. “We're gonna make it out of this, lieutenant. How much longer until we reach the rendezvous?”

“Two hours.”

“Dropping from translight,” Lieutenant Hammond reported. There was a brief, gentle lurch as the ship shifted from going faster than light to a bare-minimum velocity. The crew shared a queezy feeling as the possibility of being detected shot way upwards.

On the main viewer was a smaller space station surrounded by several freighters. To everyone's relief, there were no military vessels in sight. Nevertheless, Harden gave the order, “Do a detailed scan. Make sure there's no military presence.”

Chang told him, “The freighters are scrambling, sir.”

“I'm not detecting any military vessels, captain,” Edison reported as she very carefully worked her controls. “Looks like we're good.”

“Any one of those freighters could send out distress signal,” Hammond's voice shook.

“Then we work quickly,” Halsey said firmly. “We can slip in and out before they can scramble a response.”

“Send out a wide transmission to everyone here: the freighters and the station,” Harden ordered. “Let's get this little heist underway.”

“Aye, captain,” Chang pressed in the appropriate commands. “You're on.”

“This Captain Maxus Harden of the U.S.S. Enduring Justice to Koblentz Platz and all ships in the vicinity. We are here to do nothing more than retrieve a package from the station. Anyone who interferes will be fired upon. Anyone who wishes to leave the area is permitted to do so. We have no intention of harming anyone, so let's keep things friendly. Harden out.”

“Koblentz just sent out a distress signal, sir,” Edison said as she wiped sweat from her brow.

“Then we're on the clock,” Halsey said. “Signal Koblentz and request a dock and a berth.”

“They're not responding.”

“Try again.”

“Still no response.”

Harden sat back down and clenched his fists, “If they want to do this the hard way, we do it the hard. Lieutenant Chang, target a non-habited portion of that station and blow it away with the starboard mag cannon.”

“Yes, sir,” Chang said with a very much unhidden degree of pleasure. “Target locked and firing.” They all heard the hushed boom of the magnetically-accelerated ferrous slug firing from the starboard tube. The mag guns were the most powerful weapon on any starship. All of the interstellar navies used them. They worked by launching large rounds at around three percent of light speed, resulting in unparalleled brute firepower. “Direct hit, captain!”


“Station is signaling,” Edison happily reported. “They've assigned us a dock.”

“Take us in,” Harden ordered. “Have the SCAR team stand by.”

“Yes, sir,” Halsey took one of the auxiliary stations and got to work making sure the rest of the ship was ready for docking procedures.

“Commander, you have combat training, don't you?”

“Aye, sir,” she answered, hoping he was not about say what she thought he was going to say.

“Good. I'd like you to go in with the SCAR teams.”

He said what she thought he was going to say. “But sir, I-”

“Just do it, commander. SCAR teams aren't exactly known for their friendliness and I'd like someone a bit... nicer to greet our operative. You'll do fine.”

“Yes, sir,” Halsey knew it was best never to argue with one's superior. Besides, Halsey respected Captain Harden. He had proven himself to be a good captain and seemed to do so without any real stick up his ass. Halsey had served under many captains during her career and Harden was easily among the better ones. It was still too soon to tell if he was the best. Halsey liked his chances though.

As Captain Harden came to, the first thing he realized was that his head absolutely throbbed. The pain was bad enough that it almost had him forgetting just how much the rest of his body ached. He fought for every breath. His lungs felt like they were on fire. Harden did his best to push the pain aside. He focused. The pain was a great beast. It would not die. There was nothing he could do.

Harden looked around and realized he was in the ship's medical bay. He tried to sit up but a firm hand stopped him. It was Lieutenant Commander Martin Fitzpatrick, the ship's Irish doctor. “Easy captain, I can't have you moving around. You're not in great shape.”

“What's the damage?”

“Your calf bone is broken, your wrist is fractured, you've got three broken ribs, and you've got shrapnel lodged in your abdomen and left lung. We need to operate immediately.”

“Doctor, you need to get to the rest of the-”

“Captain,” Fitzpatrick interrupted. “We need to get that shrapnel out now. You're the captain and, like it or not, you get priority.”

“How is he, doctor?” Commander Halsey asked she approached Harden's hospital bed.

“Not good,” Fitzpatrick replied. “We have to operate im-”

“What are you doing here?” Harden asked. “You should be on the bridge.”

“We're ninety minutes from rendezvous, captain,” Halsey told him. “I'm making rounds through the ship.”

Harden nodded in approval, “It's what I would do. How are things?”

Wilhelm is still right on our tail, Esteban is doing what he can to keep the engines going but things don't look good. There are casualties all over the ship... about a dozen dead.”

“My God,” Harden winced. “What about you, commander? How are you holding up?”

“Could be better, captain,” Halsey did not want to lie, but also wanted to put it diplomatically. “I haven't commanded a starship since-”

“I know,” Harden knew she referred to the Iroquois incident. “You're doing fine, commander.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Alright,” Fitzpatrick cut in. “I need to put him under. We need to operate now.”

“It's alright, commander,” Harden told his first officer. “You'll do fine.”

SCAR stood for Strategic Covert Assault and Reconnaissance. A detachment was assigned to the Enduring Justice specifically for this mission. They were attached to the Marine Corps, but technically answered to the CIA. They specialized in missions of high secrecy and sensitivity. Recovering a spy certainly qualified.

It was entirely coincidence that the leader of the SCAR team aboard Enduring Justice was a man named Sergeant Major Mackenzie Halsey, Commander Halsey's older brother. The two had not seen one another in years. The worst part was that Dana could not identify her brother by name, nor give any indication of their relation. SCAR team members operated in complete anonymity. Mack, as he was called, wore nothing that gave away his name; only black fatigues with a rank indicator just the same as all of the other members.

Commander Halsey walked into their locker room to find all five members of the team wearing civilian clothing. They all instantly snapped to attention and saluted. “As you were,” the commander ordered. “The captain's ordered me to go in with you.”

Mack looked her over and then said, “We'll need to change your clothes. It'd be open season for ya if you're in uniform.”

“We don't have much time,” Halsey told him. “We're docking in five minutes.”

Mack took a good look around in the clothing inventory and found a smaller sized brown leather jacket, “Hey, take off your uniform jacket and put this on.”

“Alright,” Dana unzipped her navy blue commander's uniform and set it aside. She took the brown jacket from Mack and slid it on. “It's a bit big.”

“It'll have to do,” Mack said. “Take it off real quick.”

Halsey did as she was told.

“Alright, now put this on,” he handed her a light ballistic tactical vest. “The jacket should conceal it. You know how to use a firearm, right?”

“Mack, you-”

“Yeah, you're right,” Mack stopped her. She almost gave away their relationship. “Everyone in the military has firearms training. Tanner, get her a sidearm.”

“Hey, this will do, won't it?” Halsey reached down to her belt and drew her nickel-plated Smith & Wesson 8908 .386 Magnum electronic magnetic-acceleration pistol. It was a truly magnificent handgun, one Halsey had carried for many years. The grips were tailored exactly to Halsey's hands.

Mack took the pistol and look it over, “Damn straight that'll do.” He handed it back as Halsey put her uniform belt back on. “When'd you get that?”

“I've had that since I was an ensign.”

As soon as he knew the commander was ready, Mack decided to kill the elephant in the room, “Let's get this straight now... who's in charge?”

“I am,” Dana told him. “I outrank you. But I'll let you call the shots on the ground. It should be like I'm not even there. Unless you do something stupid.”

“Fair enough,” Mack nodded. “Alright people, to the docking port! Move, move, move!”