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!”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.”