"Meine Herren, Adler Tag. Die totalle vernichtung der Kra'Vak flotte im Röt Hafen..."
And so began the final briefings in squadron ready rooms throughout the fleet. In Jagd Staffel (fighter squadron) 26's "Schlageter" ready room, Major Brandt, the squadron commander, gave the briefing himself: "Gentlemen, I present to you, Eagle Day. The complete destruction of the Kra'Vak fleet in Röt Hafen. Jasta 26 will provide escort for strike package 2 consisting of Jasta 54 and Jasta 14. At J+ 45 we will launch and proceed to assembly point seven where we will pick up 54 and 14...."
"... Our target for today is a shipping strike against the Kra'Vak super dreadnought squadron", said Major Golob, commander of Jasta 14 aboard the Freidrich. "We will rendezvous with Jasta 54 after launch and proceed to assembly point Seven, where we will meet our escort, from "Schlageter". From there we anticipate a 30 to 40 minute ingress to the target...."
"...The trick is to coordinate our fighter attacks with the arrival of KG4's missile salvos." Said Major Oesau, commander of Jasta 54 aboard the Bismark. "Grunherz". "Because of this, adjusted flight plans, targeting data, and timings will be downloaded via datalink just prior to departing the assembly point. So make sure your receivers are set to X2 mode. Once we reach the IP, remove all safety protocols from your ordnance packages. We'll be in for the first strike, the egress for a regroup. I'll designate our regroup point before we reach the IP. After regroup, be prepared to go in for a second pass, guns only...."
"...Expect opposition from enemy fighters. As you know, they appeared in strength during HARBINGER I." Continued Brandt. "Don't expect another easy time like they had. The Kra'Vak have shown themselves resourceful and able to adapt. Call out your reports per squadron SOP. Everyone is to maintain strict formation and communications discipline. Set your emissions security protocols to level II. I will call the engagements. Unless there is a major response from the Kra'Vak fighters, I will dispatch kette's only (2 ship formations), for intercept. I will lead Schwarm one, Haptmann Schnorr will lead Scwharm Two. The entire strike package will only have one ECM bird in support as the rest have been transferred to HARBINGER II. Don't expect too much from one bird in scrambling their fighter direction control."
"We wouldn't want that anyway, Sir." Said a young pilot from the back. "Then there might not be enough Kra'Vak fighters to go around."
"Don't worry. There'll be enough enemy fighters. Even for you, Bruno." Laughter erupted in the room.....
...The Kra'Vak have repositioned their orbital defend platforms to cover the hole left by HARBINGER I." Said Squadron leader Malloy, No. 42 Group (Attack). "There are now three covering the Western Hemisphere, while only one covers the entire eastern hemisphere. A fifth has been moved in direct support of Dortmund Station. They've been designated Manston, Biggins, Kenley..."
"...Dover, Hawkins. Our target is Hawkins, the Kra'Vak defense platform protecting the Dortmund orbital complex. That includes all stations." Major Beeson, operations officer for No. 13 Group (attack) continued. "It is imperative that we destroy the platform on the first strike. Strike cruisers from Task Group Six will be making a direct run in to Dortmund and attempt to disable her weapons and sensors in preparation for a boarding action. Hawkins must be prevented from interfering with their operation and or firing on Dortmund station. That's why we have two additional ECM birds attached...."
"...Once the fighters have cleared away Hawkins, these strike cruisers will commence their task of disabling Dortmund's defenses. Our task, together with the UNS Peacekeeper, will be to engage and Kra'Vak escort ships in the area and lend assistance to the strike cruisers as necessary. Once we have secured local space, The OUS Australia and the KRS Bittburg will commence their boarding actions. Marines from both UN ships will board the ore processing facility. We must be prepared for the eventuality that the Kra'Vak will attempt to scuttle the station. In that case we will drop everything and commence search and rescue..."
"...So there you have it. That's an update to the fleet attack plan. HANNIBAL remains. We are as ready as can be. All forces and equipment will be rigged for landing before we make transit. Order of insertion remains unchanged. Power Armor platoon 301, RLS 3, 504th Assault, 43rd Fire support, then 4th Hussars. One change to our operations is that the Oceanic Union has made available one close air support fighter squadron for TF Hannibal. Their aircraft will be deploying to the planet's surface with the 504th. So be prepared to dedicate one platoon to airstrip security. It goes without saying that the fast response time of having our own dedicated air support will be vital. With many civilians in the area, we might not be able to rely an accurate ortillery. Its CEP may be to large for the precision we'll need. We haven't had much experience working with the Oceanic Union so they are providing a liaison team. We have One officer and two NCOs. Flight Officer Muldoon would you and your men please stand?"
Muldoon was sitting in the back of the room. He stood and nodded to the curious onlookers. Bloody schwabs. I can't even speak German. The CAS team will be going in with the first wave." Said Colonel Rölle. "Major Wesriedau. See that he's integrated into Raum Lande Sturm 3's deployment order. But go easy on him. He can ride down in one of the Drop ships. No jumping."
Thanks for the bloody favor, Muldoon thought. He looked around the room at the multinational force assembled. There were the rough looking German paras of RLS3 side by side with tankers of 4th Hussars, and the Skimmer pilots of 504th Assault. A few seats from him sat two especially dour-looking Schwabs with a shaved heads. He could see the small silver dots implanted in the their skulls behind their ears.
"Oy, what's with those two, Sir?" Asked Corporal Glover.
Muldoon had seen it during his short stint in the infantry, before switching to aviation. "Those two blokes are power armor. Those leads interface with their suits. There's a few more on their body, also."
"Pretty serious looking crew"
"Yeah, you could say that. Last thing I'd ever want to do is be cooped up in one of those cans for a day. Bloody ripe, it is. Not to mention that they always get the dirty work."
"Better thems then us, hey?"
"I wouldn't be to cozy if I were you Glover. We're not much safer where we're going."
"Hey look there, Sir. They got shielas too."
"Not a bad lookin' bunch. Wouldn't mind being cooped up in a suit with her."
"Though I supposed the old `trouble and strife' would have a thing or two to say about that," said Corporal Max, leaning over.
"Here now, don't you be talking about my Amanda like that. She's no trouble at all, and causing me little strife too." Glover was talking about his wife. "You know why?"
"Why's that then?"
"Because she ain't here." He jabbed Max in the side with an elbow. They both laughed.
"Bloody hell!" Whispered Muldoon. "You two blokes keep it down. You're
gonna get us thrown out!"
Why did that girl have to be the base commander's daughter? He thought.
Later, in the evening, after all preparations were complete, the men were allowed one last trip to the officer or enlisted clubs aboard ship. Because of demand, 504th took over the officer's club and RLS 3 the enlisted club. There was some cross-pollination between the two units, but most stuck with their units. Rölle circulated amongst the men, talking to individual soldiers, sharing a beer here and there. Officers and NCOs could be seen sitting in small groups, discussing the morrow's operation, working out last minute details. Everyone was allowed three beers. Most seemed glad that they would be in on "The Big Show". There were a few scuffles as some individuals keyed up for action got a little too enthusiastic. But any transgressions tonight would be overlooked. Late in the festivities, the RLS3 mess broke into a roaring verse of Röt Scheint Die Sonne (Red shines the sun). This had been the German paratrooper's song for two and a half centuries. Rölle was moved to tears as he sang along and he felt the powerful camaraderie of the men. And in every soldier's eyes he could see the aggressive hunter's instinct simmering below the surface. They were the culmination of all who had come before. It was now time to foster and encourage this aggressiveness. Bring it out in the open and feed it. They were going to war.
"T minus sixty minutes before jump." Said Leutnant Bester.
"Herr Kapitän, message coming in from the flagships. From the fleet commander. It's marked for all hands."
"Go ahead and pipe it through." Said Hauser.
"To the men and women of the First Combined Assault Fleet. Today we stand on the precipice of he greatest endeavor of our time. Today we must do battle with an alien menace, the first ever encountered in human history. The Kra'Vak forces have undertaken a hostile invasion of human space. The plight of the citizens of Röt Hafen is beyond description. If the Kra'Vak are allowed to prevail here, all of human space is threatened. So today you stand together not as spacemen of the New Anglican Confederation, soldiers of the Neu Schwabian League, pilots of the Oceanic Union, or crew members of the United Nations. Today you stand together as Human beings. Citizens of our great race, which faces the direst threat ever encountered. Because of this we will not fail. We will not falter in our task. We will not rest until the Kra'Vak occupation of Röt Hafen has been destroyed and the Kra'Vak incursions into our space have been defeated. All of humanity stands behind you. You represent the hope and safety of billions of people. I know you will do your duty. I know you will herald in a new era of cooperation and determination and bravery. For it is with these tools that we shall prevail in this struggle. God's speed and good luck."
Charlie eased the door open slightly and peered out into the hallway. One human guard sat on a chair besides the exit. A second stood talking to him. He eased the door shut carefully. They were in a large room crammed with sleeping prisoners. Charlie made his way back to the corner where his men sat huddled.
"Yeah. Here's what I was thinking: We know there are three guards in here. Two rovers and one at the exit. If we're gonna walk around outside we'll need at least one of them with us."
"Keep in mind I only have two EM-damper bugs on me." Said Miner.
"I know. The camera is the problem right now. I say we take two guards with us to cover our movement outside."
"How are you going to do that?" Asked Gibbons.
"We nab both and put the bugs on their helmets. That stops all transmission from getting in or out. Then we have a little talk with them. Worse case scenario we kill them both and then one of us can put on his clothes."
"What about the gate guard."
"He'll need to stay since there's a camera watching him. Eric, you have the emitter. You zap the camera. That'll blank the camera with a damper field while we take care of the guard. We prop him back in that chair, get everybody outside and hopefully do it quick. Anyone who happens to be watching the camera will think it was a glitch. He'll just look asleep. By the time they send somebody down here we'll already be at work." The emitter could be adjusted to leave a residual effect that could seconds, minutes, or hours.
"The whole plan is on a bloody shoestring." Said Gibbons.
"You got a better idea? I'm listening." There was no response. "Now when we walk out of here we go to the storage locker out back and grab some tools. The guard ought to have the key. Gentz will lead us down the block to the old Gym. Supposedly there's a tunnel that leads to the physical plant. We'll take that tunnel a block and climb into the basement of the physical plant where Gentz says the bomb is. From there we go to work. We'll figure out the rest from there once our two specialists have a peek. Everyone got it?" Nervous faces peered back at him.
"OK, that guard has been coming in every half hour so he'll be around soon. When he comes in we pounce on him. Then we get the guy on the chair and finally the other guy." Charlie and Frament were already screwing the silencers on their pistols. "Now we wait."
They had arrived at the enclave just before midnight. The storm had made the trip four hours instead of two. Entering the enclave had merely necessitated passing a checkpoint and a quick conversation between the guards. As soon as they entered the enclave, Charlie noticed a change in posture of the Kra'Vak guards. While outside of the enclave, they had seemed tense and alert. In here they visibly relaxed their vigilance. That was good. He was surprised by how much activity was going on within the enclave even at night. It was still a mix of original buildings and new alien architecture. There were many more handlers than Charlie expected. Some were even armed with shotguns. The bus had been driven to an old school. After a weak soup dinner, the prisoners were locked classrooms for the night.
Charlie and Eric waited by the door, backs against the wall. Colin covered them from a corner. The rest of the prisoners, exhausted from never ending toil, had fallen into a deep, undisturbed sleep as soon as they had returned to their bunks.
They heard approaching footsteps. Doors could be heard opening and then closing as the guard checked the room. Charlie tucked his pistol into his pants and readied a garrote. The door opened and the guard took a step in. Charlie looped the Garrote around his helmet and over his neck in one practiced move. Eric pushed him into Charlie and shut the door. He then attached the damper-bug to the side of the handler's head. Now no EM transmission could get either in or out of a three-meter radius around the man.
Charlie pulled tightly on the garrote handles and the man gasped clutching ineffectual at the flex-steel wire around his neck. "If you make another sound or continue to resist I'll cut your head off. It's up to you." The man relaxed his struggle instantly. There were a few murmurs from the sleeping prisoners. "Now listen carefully. You go lay on the floor right there with your hands behind your head. One sound and we'll kill you. Understand?
"Ja...Ja." Colin grabbed the guard and laid him out on the floor
"OK, let's get the guy at the door." Eric removed
They slipped out quietly. The guard at the door sat in his chair looking at a datapad. Eric removed a device and aimed it towards the camera. It sent an electro-magnetic pulse, which would scramble the camera's circuits at least momentarily. The Guard looked up and saw the approaching prisoners. He grabbed his truncheon and stood up.
"Get back in your room you scum!"
"We're sorry, Sir. The other guard told us to come get you. There's been an accident."
"What? He took two steps forward when Charlie lashed out with a hard punch to the man's throat. He stumbled back, gasping and was pounced upon by both men. Charlie worked the Garrote around his neck and tightened down, careful not to cut his head off but enough to kill the man. He kicked for two minutes before he ceased struggling. Charlie removed a flex-cuff and clamped it around his neck to no oxygen could get to his brain. They then propped the limp form back up in the chair, arranging him carefully so he appeared asleep. Several moments later they heard footsteps from around the corner.
"Rolf, I forgot to mention this before but...." Charlie grabbed the guard around the neck and twisted him down to the floor. Eric affixed the bug, then stuck a gun in his face. "One more sound and I'll blow your brains out right here. The stood him up and dragged him back to the sleeping area. Both guards were told to sit up in a corner, hands behind their heads. Both had been frisked. With Eric's bugs attached to their helmets, their belligerent attitudes had changed to fright.
"OK you two. Here's the deal. We are going to the gymnasium and you are taking us. First we will need tools to look inconspicuous. Is there a materials locker nearby?" Neither said anything. Charlie jabbed his silencer into one of the men's mouth. He let out a sharp yelp. "Answer me."
"Very good. Now listen. There's a bug attached to the side of your helmet which will prevent any communications with the Kra'Vak or anyone. So don't even think of it. If you want to live you will do precisely as I say. Understood?"
"Good. You are going to take the six of us out of this building. Is there another guard outside?"
"There is one outside the exit."
"If he asks then tell him you are taking a work detail to the old gym."
"He will not ask." Said one of the guards.
"What about Kra'Vak? Are there many around?"
"No. Most of them are on external defense or at key facilities within the enclave. Most of the internal prisoner security is left to us.
"Good. All right. Stand up. Now let me make myself perfectly understood. When we get outside, if any of you utters a word, I'll kill you all. Now move. And look natural."
The slipped out into the hall. One of the guards led off followed by Charlie, Gentz, Eric, Gibbons, Handily, the second guard and Frament. Both guards paused for a moment when they saw their still comrade in the seat by the door. The lead man unlocked it and led them out into the street. There was an additional human guard outside with a shotgun. He looked at the group but said nothing. It was not uncommon for work details to be dispatched at all hours of the night. There was a smaller building around back that was unlocked. They each grabbed a tool kit. Charlie slipped his pistol into a satchel. As they moved to the Gymnasium, the group tried to appear as inconspicuous as possible. Just anther work detail. Charlie was sure to remain right behind the lead guard to remind him of his fate should anything go wrong. They passed several other work details on the dimly lit streets. Kra'Vak vehicles occasionally sped by and they passed one building with two Kra'Vak guards standing out front. Neither showed more than passing interest in them.
"Mean Transit SEP 99.2% Herr Admiral."
"Excellent. Note a commendation in the logs for the fleet navigational staff." 99.2% was damn good transiting in anyone's book for a fleet so large. Von Bulow surveyed the strategic plot, counting the 44 blips that made up TF Gold. The ships advanced in a wide crescent formation with TF1 on the right, TF3 on the left and TF2 making up the center of the mass. Stasny's missile destroyer screened out ahead of the main formation 6000 kilometers.
"All ships report having gained original formation, Herr Admiral."
"Fill us in on our opponents, Kapitän."
"The enemy has formed a kampfgruppe of 18 ships, all cruiser class or higher. Range, one light second. A second group of four ships. Four more on the way. Mass equals battleship or larger. Range; one and a half light seconds." Von Bulow did some quick calculations. Twenty-two ships, all cruiser-class or larger against his 44, 16 of which were destroyers. "Any reading on fighters?"
"None detected yet, Herr Admiral." TF Gold carried 104 fighters with it. Hopefully that would be their ace in the whole. "Estimated time to firing range?"
"Forty-five minutes, Herr Admiral."
"Very well. Hold present course and speed. Set Fleet at EMCON (Emission Condition) Level Two." EMCON II was the fleet's second quietest setting. No active sensors allowed and all communications through laser data link. Maneuver drives operating normally. All beam batteries remain unpowered. There was no use in giving away more information to the enemy until absolutely necessary. He only hoped that Hauser would appear where he was supposed to be.
Admiral Bellamy tracked the developing situation from within Hornet's CIC (Combat information Center). Sitting in his command chair, he gripped his coffee mug in one hand and light pen in the other. Before him lay a large five meter by five meter 3d holo-plot of the entire battle area. The room was darkened to better see the multi-colored displays set along every wall. The reflections danced of the stern faces of the CIC staff.
"The fleet will be within engagement range in 10 minutes, Sir."
"Right, then. CAG, you may launch the strike packages."
"Receiving Nominal point from the flag, Admiral. Right on time. It was transmitted broad band as per the plan." Transmitting the nominal point broadband would ensure that Hauser, running under cloak, could receive it. A series of feint XYZ grids adorned the holo-plot. Designating the nominal point was the traditional start of fleet action. "EMCON IV, for all task groups except ours. We are to remain at EMCON II. Flag just transmitted Longhorn go."
"Very well, comply." TG3 and TG1 now accelerated so as they represent the two horns of the special Longhorn formation. TG4 was still running out ahead of the main battle The Kra'Vak were maintaining a compact formation of ships that centered on the middle of the Longhorn.
"New waypoint information received from Flag. They're authorizing weapons free at max range. However TG4 will hold their Salvos until the strike packages pass through phase line Gamma." The new information updated itself on the holo-plot. A green line marked where Stasny would let fly with his first salvo. If anything, TG1 would be out of the early fight since they were farthest away from the Kra'Vak group. Already the red dots were shaking out into smaller 4-ship maneuver elements and changing vectors. There was still, no clue on intentions however. Out ahead on the left flank of the Longhorn, TG3 comprised of two battle cruisers and two strike cruisers, and were several thousand kilometers ahead of the rest of TF Gold. It was a slight lead, but calculated to offer the Kra'Vak some bait to commit their forces in one direction.
Bellamy used his light pen to designate two super-dreadnought target groups for his strike fighters. They still kept their fleet in a compact mass, but led off with their cruiser screen. "I'm designating group red four as target for strike one and red five for strike two. Let Stasny know that I want him to target those ships if possible with his second salvo."
"Aye, Admiral. Both strike packages have rendezvoused with escort and are on the way."
"God speed to them."
Both fleets raced at each other with a combined speed of 15,000 kilometers per hour. "Admiral, it looks like the Kra'Vak are taking the bait. They're heading for TG3."
"Excellent." The Kra'Vak were committing themselves to TF Gold's left flank. That would allow TG1 to swing wide behind them.
"The main battle line is engaging. No return fire from the Kra'Vak."
"That confirms our suspicions. We do have a range advantage on them.
"Either that or they're holding fire."
"Kra'Vak are opening fire on TG3. They're concentrating all their fire on the two battle cruisers."
"What's the results of our first beam firing?"
"Several hits scored on various ship. They should be marked on the holo-plot with and orange halo."
"You know what's off Admiral?
"What's that, Jim?"
"Everything we've learned about their ships tell us that they're generally faster and more maneuverable than ours, but they don't seem to be taking advantage of that yet."
"KG4 just launched their first missile salvo." A series of yellow dots erupted on the plot from Stasny's destroyer screen, which was travelling in line abreast formation. As the plot developed he watch the Kra'Vak ships maneuver deeper to the left of TF Gold's formation. Apparently they had learned enough from the last encounter to realize that the missiles should be avoided at all cost.
"Herr Admiral, the enemy is splitting into two elements! One is racing straight for TG3 and the other is maneuvering for our flank." Von Bulow watched as Stasny's first missile salvo ran out of fuel without finding a single target. However it had served the purpose of herding the entire Kra'Vak force into one compact piece of space, already a second salvo would meet them there. The fighter strikes would be arriving upon the enemy simultaneously. The Kra'Vak had split into two groups. Their heavies were driving direct to TG3 where both Lutzow and Seydeltz were taking a severe beating but giving as good as they got. A dozen cruisers used their superior maneuvering to change course almost 180 degrees and were about to fall upon TG1's flank. It was going to get ugly fast.
"All batteries concentrate on enemy target red one-one. Said Captain Schmerk, the Markgraf's commander. The flagships heavy batteries stabbed out at the lead ship in one of the cruiser groups. At close range the beams score heavily and red one-one was streaming atmosphere with the first volley.
"Bismarck reporting damage to main drive. They're at half maneuvering speed."
"There was a series of violent shudders as the Markgraf took its first hits."
"Hit to port armor plating! More Hits! Beam battery three damaged."
The Markgraf now endured a continuous series of railgun hits as the Kra'Vak concentrated exclusively on her. The enemy Super-dreadnoughts added their fire and soon over two dozen garbage can-sized solid core penetrators punctured Markgraf. Systems began going off line as a dozen cruisers concentrated on the flagship. She stabbed back with her own beam batteries and pulse torpedoes.
"Second salvo about to hit, Strike one and two coordinating their targeting with the missile attacks. Perfect synchronization, Admiral!"
"Excellent." Rather than spread the attacks across the enemy fleet, the fighters and missiles struck key ships in an attempt to overwhelm the deadly scattergun defenses. Enemy fighters had also been deployed from the super dreadnoughts. Six separate squadrons were being tracked as they screened their capital ships. The strike package escorts now peeled off and engaged the enemy fighter screen, allowing the attack groups to close within range. The holo-plot erupted in orange blossoms as missals and fighters stuck a number of Kra'Vak ships simultaneously. Larger nuclear tipped capital missiles added their destruction to the chaos, and when the first strike was over eight Kra'Vak ships were in various stages of damage.
"What's the status of our strikes, CAG?"
"Reporting heavy casualties form enemy defensive fire, Sir. They're regrouping now."
"Sir, the Markgraf is suffering heavy damage. She streaming atmosphere!' The enemy cruisers are concentrating all their fire on her. Seems like they're practically ignoring the rest of the fleet."
"I hate to say it but that's probably the best news yet. They're concentrating all their fire on our heaviest ship, which is already combat-ineffective. Don't ask me why. But it's giving the rest of the SDs and BCs a free hand." One of the blue dots in TG3 winked out of existence. "Lutzow gone. Seydeltz reports heavy damage."
"Lets get the task group turned around. Looks like the Kra'Vak are fully committed to the trying to drive a wedge on that flank. By the time Stasny's third salvo hits my guess is they'll try and bug out. I want to prevent that, so lets maneuver TG1 here. That'll also put us in a better position to recover the fighters."
"Aye, Sir." We'll need to watch those two Super Dreadnoughts, target group Red seven. They've remained relatively unengaged so far."
"Noted. Maneuver the Orion and Churchill to port. Right...Here." Bellamy outlined the position wit his light pen. "They'll have to watch them."
"Admiral I'd send half the destroyers there also. We'll be within missile range in ten minutes."
"Sir, the Markgraf is out of control, communications down."
"Understood. Transferring TF control to the Hornet. I am now in command. Notify the fleet."
Obermaat (petty officer 3rd class) Stefan Cesnik went to wipe sweat from his brow and only succeeded in getting blood in his eyes. Cesnik had been assisting ship's Doctor Esterhazy in sick bay. He had been assigned the task on the sole virtue of having had a year of pre-med before enlisting in the KriegsRaumFlotte. This had qualified him to be taken off a damage control party and sent to the sickbay. The Slovenia had taken a severe beating in its role as bait for the Kra'Vak fleet. Fifteen minutes earlier a particularly accurate salvo of Kra'Vak penetrators had taken the inertial dampers off line for five seconds while the Slovenia was in the middle of a maneuver. In that instant, one third of her crew, 21 men and women, had been killed and wounded by being thrown about the ship with no gravity. One of them was Doctor Esterhazy, who still lay crammed half into a supply bin with a broken neck.
Cesnik now found himself with the terrible life or death responsibility of attempting to save his wounded and dying crewmates with little training to guide him. The 6-bed sickbay was now crammed with 23 casualties. Cesnik had a working knowledge of the first aid equipment but little else. Slovenia was in such a dire state that no one could be spared to help him at the moment. He struggled amidst the cries and groans of his friends. Cesnik hooked up a resuscitator to a man with a fractured skull, who lay beside a horribly burned engineer, which lay beside a woman with a crushed leg, who lay beside a man with a missing hand, who sat beside the lifeless corpse of a man who had been disemboweled within his vacc-suit. Cesnik assessed, triaged, stabilized airway, breathing and circulation, then administered morphine and moved on to the next, in a never-ending cycle. The stifling smell of blood, burnt flesh and feces was thick in the small room. Cesnik worked like an automaton, realizing that he would pay for all this later with many, many sleepless nights.
"Bridge to all hands. We are preparing to dump the power core. All hands remain at MOPP-Three. We can keep life support going for a while but we're shutting down all non-essential systems."
Cesnik was in his vacc suit but could not work with his gloves or helmet on. Suddenly all power in med lab cut out, save for emergency lighting. Without power it would be impossible to save many. He mashed the intercom switch with one bloody finger.
"Bridge this is sick bay. What the hell are you doing? I have no power. I need it back now."
"Sorry sick bay. One of the switch relays is down. We can either keep up life support or restore power to your quadrant of the ship but not both."
"Well God damnit, then shut down life support. I have at least fifteen people here that will die unless I get hem stabilized and reestablish their suit integrity."
"Wait one, sick bay. I'll confer with the Captain and Chief Engineer."
The hatch opened and two men carried in a woman whose arms ended in burnt stubs. The victim sobbed quietly as they looked for a spot on the floor to set her down. Cesnik pointed to a place then asked the two ratings to stay and move a person off one of the beds. While they did that, he leaned over the new casualty and did a quick assessment. She had severe radiation poisoning, third-degree burns on both arms, and shock. He administered a morphine injection to her. Then an antibiotic spray over her two stumps.
"Sick bay, bridge."
"OK, we have figured out a way to rout full power to sick bay but the fix will only last twenty minutes. And we'll have to cut life-support and put everyone into MOPP-Four."
"Twenty minutes won't do! It isÉ"
"That's all you have! Get a grip of yourself. Now how many stasis tubes do you have?"
"I've used one so I only have five left."
"The Kapitän suggests that you put serious cases with the greatest chance of being saved into the stasis tubes and try and seal-up anyone else you can."
"In twenty minutes? It can't be done. And I'm not qualified to make those decisions on who to save!"
"You'll have to make due! You have twenty minutes. Bridge out." Cesnik stared incredibly at the speaker for a moment then slowly turned back to his patients. Most had heard the conversation and were staring quietly up at him. Only a few groans punctuated the silence. In the background he felt the Slovenia lurch as she took another hit.
Thick smoke filled the bridge. The primary fire control panel was ablaze and a damage control party was fighting the fire.
"Admiral, Kapitän Schmerk is dead." Said the ship's executive officer. "All weapons down, but we still have fifty percent capability on our maneuvering drive. Shall I pull us out of the line?"
"Absolutely not. We must keep drawing the fire upon us. They must have determined that we are the flagships. The enemy commander probably figures that our destruction will cripple the fleet. But they're practically ignoring everyone else. We'll stay in the line and soak up fire for as long as possible."
"Jawohl, Herr Admiral."
There was no turning back now. The battle was a bloody knife fight at point blank range. Some ships were within several hundred kilometers of each other. Railgun fire at this range, even from the enemy cruisers, was deadly to even dreadnought armor. But the Kra'Vak would soon be trapped. Where was Hauser...?"
Hauser scratched his stubble chin and studied the plot. (He'd been forced to shave for the staff meeting yesterday). The holo-plot was augmented by long range visuals of the battle. Because Markgraf had transmitted on wide band, the Köhl had been able to receive the nominal point information while cloaked. A second wide band communication had sent encrypted targeting data to Hauser, which identified the exact spot where von Bulow had wanted him to decloak. Hauser hoped the other ships had received the vital information.
"Decloaking in twenty seconds."
"Missiles armed. Preliminary targeting information?"
"Target Red seven-one, the closer Super-dreadnought.
"Jawohl, Herr Kapitän. Targeting information confirmed. Red Seven-One."
"Well, people here it is," said Hrabek. "We finally have an opportunity to get in our own kicks."
Nuclear explosions lit up space like fireflies. The fleets had now closed to short range. The Kra'Vak were nearly on top of TG2. TG3 was in dire shape. The battlecruiser Lutzow was gone, and the Seydeltz was drifting out of control. One of the strike cruisers was destroyed but the other was still fighting back as the distance opened up between the two forces. Railgun fire was particularly deadly at this range. Stasny had fired off his last salvos and had reversed course back into the Kra'Vak.
It was with relief that the CIC plot marked the emergence of eight new friendly contacts in the rear of the enemy fleet. That would be Hauser and his squadron. The great success of the Köhl had spurned an emergency refit of the new technology into seven special corvettes. The small ships carried nothing but two missile salvo racks, a short range PDS, and the Mark IX cloaking system. Spiegel Industries had completed refit and a hurried testing program less than 30 hours ago. Hauser had been given last minute control of the squadron. Now the small ships, dubbed affectionately as "pig boats". Emerged in the Kra'Vak rear. Oddly enough they drew no Kra'Vak fire, so intent were they on knocking out the heavies. Each pig boat fired a missile salvo at close range.
Bellamy watched with satisfaction as Stasny's last missile salvo struck the Kra'Vak the same time as the pig boat attack and his second fighter attack. Kra'Vak Scattergun counter-fire was severely diminished. It was believed that they carried a limited amount of scattergun charges. Most of these had already been fired off against KG2 or defending against the first combined missile/fighter attack. A second round of explosions lit the space surrounding the Kra'Vak fleet. Two cruisers and a Super Dreadnought exploded. Both Super-dreadnoughts from Red-Seven, heretofore unscathed, suffered severe damage. Just about every Kra'Vak ship was now streaming atmosphere.
Several of the CIC crew let out cheers but they were cut short when the Markgraf's blip changed to gray. She was gone. Goodbye old friend, thought Bellamy.
"The enemy is shifting all fire back to the Bismarck, Sir."
Again the Kra'Vak concentrated their powerful remaining railgun fire on the Bismarck. In several minutes she was streaming atmosphere and riddled with railgun penetrators. Still, she fought back and cruiser after cruiser either exploded or drifted out of control.
"Seydeltz is gone Sir. She exploded. That's it for TG3. The Slovenia dumped her power core 5 minutes ago and is drifting out of the fight."
"We'll worry about her later."
"Strike one and two returning for recovery, Casualties very heavy."
"All four battle cruisers from TG2 were now concentrating on Red Seven. Both enemy Super-dreadnoughts were streaming atmosphere.'
"Pour it into him, boys."
"How long before our battlecruisers are in range."
"Five minutes, Sir."
"Good. Keep driving to waypoint six. I now the Kra'Vak are going to break any minute. "
As if on cue: "Admiral, the Kra'Vak fleet is accelerating past the battle line. Looks like they're trying to pout some distance between themselves and TG2. The battle line is turning to follow. TG4 is already in pursuit."
"I knew it. That last missile/fighter salvo broke their back. All ships in TG1 maximum acceleration. I want to catch them before they cook off their FTL drives."
"Bismarck has given the abandon ship signal. The Freidrich is now receiving heavy fire."
Go to Adler Tag, chapter 7 of Röt Hafen
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