By the time I had gotten back to our new base. The extensive launch facilities of Ristavron 4 had been completely taken over by the fleet. More and more ships were landing and their crews poured out onto the planet. I decided to take a little time off and see what everyone else was up to. The closest ship happened to be the Jean Bart. Her crew were waiting anxiously for their commander to grant them leave. I could see the anxious looks on their faces. Then an announcement rang out over loudspeakers. It was in French naturally. I caught the gist of what they were saying. The ship opened up and a tidal wave of men poured out. It was incredible, some ran headlong into a nearby lake. Others started walking towards the suburbs of the nearby city.
I got a bit worried about this. Soldiers, sailors and marines have been going on shore leave for as long as human conflict has existed. But those moments of fleeting pleasure often come at a price. Diseases, poisoning, fights, drunkenness. And that’s if the locals were friendly. A dagger might wait for every man who went down a dark alley. I couldn’t help but notice that they all had sidearms. Oh well, I supposed that the crew of the Jean Bart were going to find these things out the hard way.
The days were long on Ristavron 4. The planet revolved at a slow rate. I had work to do. There were other ships coming down. The Garibaldi and a dozen Japanese cruisers were landing near the Montana. They were going to need supplies, more munitions, food, parts. There would be more ships coming soon. This was supposed to be my companies speciality. Coordinating the needs of dozens of hundreds of ships and crews. It was then that I realized that this was the myth of the Tower of Babel. Thousands of people, speaking dozens of languages, building a path to heaven. So much to be done, paperwork, organization, improvisation.
So I said, “oh screw it all!”
I checked my 41 caliber revolver and started running to catch up with the stampede of French sailors. Within a few minutes I had found a big clump of them at something that looked like a train station. They were already singing what sounded like a very bawdy song. A lanky blonde lieutenant exclaimed, “Hammond!?” I stated that I was just along for the ride. I wasn’t going to ruin their party.
I was then passed a bottle of rather potent wine. I took one small sip, ugh, tasted like grape juice and paint thinner. Then the train arrived, it was incredibly crude. Looked like it was powered by diesel fuel. We poured ourselves into the train.
Besides a hundred raucous sailors there were a few natives aboard the train who looked like the local equivalent of hayseeds. They tried to ignore us, looking down at their feet. The sailors started dancing and pulled the farmers into their mad dance. The locals looked utterly puzzled. The singing grew louder and louder. Then the train stopped at a spot where the Holstein and a Eutopian cruiser had landed. Five Germans and a few dozen Eutopian’s boarded the train. They were met by loud cheers from the French. Former enemies now friends.
As the train continued on it made one more stop, where a bunch of Japanese and English crews boarded to more cheers. Then we arrived in the city itself. At which point everyone started pouring off of the train. There was a group of what looked like police officers waiting for us. They did not attempt to stop us. The tidal wave of humanity I was caught up in started filtering through a very ugly looking city. Everything was run down, dingy and generally nasty looking. The architecture was about as creative as a box of rocks. Someone shouted, “I think I found a bar!” Sailors flowed towards it.
The local liquors were really potent and low quality. The booze, the food and the clothes that the locals wore matched with the crumbled look of this rundown, crap sack city. Nothing here looked well made, or maintained. Everything seemed like a not particularly well thought out improvisation. Where the human population had long since given up on the finer things in life. The primary goal of everyone in the city seemed to be surviving, just one more day.
Within a matter of hours fights were starting to break out, so I started walking back to the train. There was an awful lot of arguing, threats. Demands that the locals speak something resembling the sailors native tongues. All the while the locals looked utterly baffled. This confirmed an observation that the Drankmastarian fleet had no concept of shore leave. You were on their boats until you died. At which point you got recycled into the ships fertilizer supplies.
As I walked back I could hear the singing growing louder and louder. Pent up anxiety was being spilled all over the city streets. A hundred different languages, cultures, dialects were pouring into this mono cultural city. This was in many ways more interesting than the consequences of battle. In combat there are certain variables. But there are only a finite number of ways that a battle can end. You win, they win, or some variation of a draw. In a situation like this you had no idea what was going to happen.
I rode back to the Montana, having had my fill of drunken revelry for now. I took a nap and got back to the incredibly difficult, but not quite impossible job of properly organizing a supply and repair depot servicing the ships of two dozen nations.
About two days after shore leave was granted. Those who had succumbed to the fleshpots of the planet got an extremely unpleasant surprise. The locals were affected by a variety of extremely nasty diseases. Hundreds of men from dozens of ships found themselves laid up with venereal diseases that no one from Earth had ever seen the likes of before. Some suppressed the immune system. Others caused horrifying skin conditions or organ failure. Fleet commanders were going to have to come up with new rules to prevent a disaster like this happening too often. Men being what they are would succumb and would pay the price.
Time passed by, though time measurement could easily get a bit confusing. The problem of time zones was suddenly magnified immeasurably, and it had already been bad enough with relative times on the planets Earth, Venus and Eutopos. Martians had an insanely complicated way of measuring time. There had been nothing else like it on Earth except for the calendar of the ancient Mayans. For simplicity the fleet standardized on Greenwich mean time.
To get my mind off of the massive headache that was frontline fleet logistics. I went on regular walks around the launch complex. Many of my walks took me over to the ruins of the defenses of the complex. Massive plasma turrets had been taken out by fighter attacks leaving blackened hulls of wrecked machinery. There was a couple of squadrons worth of wrecked atmospheric fighters. They had mostly been caught on the ground. They were pretty big, almost as big as a type three Heron. Though they were driven by gas turbines. So they were incapable of space flight. They probably had much higher maintenance demands as well.
There wasn’t much left of these birds. Both the turrets and the fighters had burned down after being shot up. But over in a hangar there was some stuff that hadn’t been incinerated. Four helicopters. Three were clearly for transport and one was bristling with weapons. A slim, two seat war machine.
Helicopters had been theorized since the days of Leonardo da Vinci. But after the invention of the antigravity drive development of a powered rotary wing machine had stalled out. Then the invention of the autogyro by Ciervia in Spain resulted in the concept dying an ignominious death. Autogyros were often derided by antigravity ship drivers as slow, inefficient and clumsy. A helicopter would be even more inefficient and slower than a Gyro.
I stared at the machines in wonder. These things were absolutely absurd. The level of complication and precision needed to build and fly like this was mind blowing. The men flying these monstrosities into battle must have had balls of chrome steel. All over the machine were dozens, no hundreds of vulnerable spots that could be hit with a rifle bullet and cause it to crash.
I heard footsteps, locals? Here to scavenge something of use out of the ashes of empire? I had my M3 slung over my shoulder. I reached for it, clicking of the safety as I went for cover and shouted “who goes there?”
“Major Boudreaux, third Armee de la Air escadrille. Who am I talking to?”
I put my safety back on and announced myself. “So, what are you doing out here major? It’s a bit of a walk from your ship.”
“I heard that there were enemy aircraft parked around here. I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with the enemies weapons.”
I chuckled and replied that I had the same idea.
We examined the attack helicopter. Major Boudreaux had a good eye for technical detail. Then we started walking back to our respective headquarters.
Rico Boudreaux of the third pursuit escadrille was a rather impressive figure. 6 foot 2 inches tall with the kind of confident wind blown swagger that you only find with experienced pilots. His uniform was an somewhat asymmetric, but handsome pastiche of various items. Unlike many of his fellow French officers he carried a disintegrator instead of a double action revolver in some ineffectual European caliber. His squadron, being one of the most elite forces in the French military had been attached to the Jean Bart. I told him about my ship and he told me about his. He spoke glowingly of his Bugatti-Deperdussin 110P fighter. He made it sound like flying it was the most fun a human could have with their pants on. So I simply had to have a closer look at one.
The Jean Bart, being the prototype of the maelstrom class of ships felt quite familiar. Though she was definitely a bit cruder than Big Blue, being built almost ten years earlier with none of my influence on the design. Though just like the Montana she had a pair of small fighter bays built just underneath the port and starboard 20MM guns. Though they were a bit smaller than the launch bays on Big Blue because Bugatti’s were smaller than Herons.
I wasn’t going to get to go for a flight today. But I did get to sit in Boudreaux’s fighter while he explained how it worked. His plane was beautifully painted with his squadron insignia, a stork in flight and eight flying saucers on the side signifying eight enemy space fighter kills. I resolved that I had to have one for my own. Herons were good birds, but they were so much bigger and older than a “Bug”. This thing felt as though it was custom made with fine climate controlled microfiber upholstery. Lots of wood veneer and a superb integrated sensor suite. It nearly stank of luxury. This bird had been a transitory model between the race plane prototype and production fighter. I imagined that the mass produced versions had to be a bit more utilitarian. I was stunned to see something this tiny be so comfortable. It really gave the feeling that you didn’t get in this plane. You strapped it on like a pair of wings.
Once I had a decent understanding of how the Bug worked I told major Boudreaux that I simply had to fly it in combat. He scratched his neck and told me that I should probably fly it without someone shooting at me first.
The next day I went over some paperwork. My company did not have a contract to build Bugatti’s. But we did have their schematics on file just in case. I made a deal with Boudreaux. If I printed up a Bugatti and gave it to the French military then he would teach me how to fly it.
I took a week off to go through an abbreviated training course on flying the Bugatti fighter in combat. I was already checked out on all models of IEC Heron’s, obviously and the ANZSAC Scimitar. So it was simply a matter of learning the relative strengths of weaknesses of this plane and how best to apply what I already knew about air combat.
Once I was done with that it was back to the usual grind. Managing bullets, beans and bandages. I had summoned a team of 400 people who would form the core of a new IEC headquarters in this part of space. As good as I was at organizing things, this was not the job for me. I had a space battleship under my command, a darn good one. We had places to go and things to blow up.
Seventy light years away was the planet Vimanys. The suspected Capitol of the empire. I had wanted to go there ever since I saw it in admiral Santander’s briefing. The most recent intelligence suggested that the system was guarded by two enemy heavy cruisers and five light cruisers. So I started putting together a plan of attack with what I had at hand. The Russians and Germans were off doing their usual thing, and had taken most of the English and ANZSAC fleet with. Most of the Japanese fleet was down for maintenance. The European fleets were still guarding the Poorsovt terminus. So that left me with only one rational choice for assistance in this attack.
The Intrepid, the second and last of the Valor class battleships. She was still being built when her sister was mortally wounded and crashed at Tunguska. She was unique, the fastest ship in the fleet with an unusually large number of power sources. Two fusion reactors, four thorium reactors and six zero point generators driving four massive ion engines and the most powerful electro-gravity drive that the Eutopian’s had ever made.
That kind of power doesn’t come cheap. The Valor class had proven to be unmanageably expensive to build. So expensive that the Intrepid had been built with no small number of parts salvaged from the wreck of the Valor. Further Valor class ships had been canceled in favor of restoring surviving Wraith class ships. Which in time were replaced by Orion class ships.
The Orion and Valor class ships were very different designs. Though they were of a similar length Orion’s were technically cruisers. They had completely different hull architecture. All this was because they did different jobs. The Valor class ships had been designed to go forth and conquer. To rain death and destruction on determined enemies. To crush Martian tyrants and bring Earth tyrants to heel. The Orion class had been built to run roughshod over uppity Pirates.
Still the Intrepid remained. For years she had been an outlier. A wolf in a world of sheepdogs. The ferocity of her design, the over abundance of heavy railguns. Multiple missile launch tubes, racks of laser batteries and disintegrator banks. Was counterbalanced by the cuteness of the ships official insignia, based off of an internet meme. A handsome dog wearing a captains hat and sunglasses with the words surrounding it. “Such stealth, much firepower, what speed. ESB-9 Intrepid.”
The most powerful ship in the Eutopian Combat Fleet had been sitting quietly next to the Montana while the ECFs cruisers had gone off to study the enemy. It had been decided that while the Intrepid could do surveillance. It was perhaps not wise to use one of the biggest, baddest ships in the fleet for that task. So Admiral Santander had been stuck doing the same job I had for the past month. It didn’t take much cajoling to convince him that we needed to go out there and do what we had come here to do. We couldn’t let the Germans and Russians have all the fun.
We came out of the web-way a good long way away from Viamanys. The sensors immediately picked it up along with the two enemy heavy cruisers that we expected to see in this area. Our escort ships, the Hustler, the Wraith class battleship Persephone and four Japanese cruisers held back near the terminus while Santander’s ship and mine went into formation Charlie. The Intrepid rolled inverted and went underneath the Montana. Providing fire on all vectors.
Their fighters launched, our fighters launched. But while our fighters broke high, theirs came right at us at full speed. In three large formations, two towards the Intrepid, one towards the Montana. I guessed that the pilots thought that since the Intrepid was a bit smaller than the Montana that it was an older and more vulnerable ship. Older, yes, more vulnerable? No, not really.
All of the close in weapons lit up. Rotary cannons and rapid fire, small caliber rail-guns smashed them. Streaks of laser energy scythed them in two. Anything left over was dealt with by timed pulses of disintegrator energy. The big guns remained silent, they were not needed yet. Recursive low velocity railgun shells created a virtual wall for them to fly into. Oh, sorry, in case you haven’t heard of recursive ammunition it means that they are bullets that shoot bullets. A single projectile that splits into many parts when triggered by a proximity fuse.
It was gloriously tragic, watching those brave men in their flying garbage cans dive at us. Trying with all their might to hurt us. All for naught. By the time their wreckage got through our fire we had moved on from that point in space and the shattered remnants of their fighters clashed harmlessly together in empty space like water flowing together from three separate streams.
Once the bulk of the fighters were gone the Intrepid throttled up and cloaked to get into a good firing position. While she had vanished from the enemies view I and my ship remained. The lead cruiser angled to give us a broadside from her plasma turrets while we pointed straight up. Giving them a good long look at the thick armor on the bottom. Too late, they tried to roll to protect their vulnerable bridge. As soon as we were in a good firing position Big Blue rolled just enough to get a
One shot each, from all of the Montana’s twelve guns fired in rapid succession. Shortly after one shot each from the Intrepid’s ten guns came hurtling at the enemies bridge. Time on target being what it is the shots hit the same spot at almost the same time. Their shields couldn’t hold against that much metal moving at hyper velocity all at once. Their bridge blew up, the ship went dead and drifted out of the battle. Rolling tragically away. Like the universes biggest crashed motorcycle.
The second heavy cruiser approached. Coming in straight ahead at the Montana instead of broadside like her sister. As she was coming into range, this Goliath never saw the stone that felled it. A cloaked Black Widow fighter threw an unpowered 300 kiloton fission bomb right into her engines. The cruisers shields instantly failed. Shortly after the forward guns of the Montana and Intrepid fired, straight into her bridge.
The wounded cruiser passed between us, the Intrepid fired a few low powered shots into her plasma turrets on her starboard side. I decided against shooting up her port side, it would just be more work for the salvage crews. The remaining enemy ships wisely surrendered. Our fighters came back aboard, all safe and sound. The Srianyas system and the planet Viamanys was ours.
Unlike every other planet we had encountered so far, Viamanys was far too populated to even consider occupying. Neither I or Santander had any desire to bombard the planet. So we decided to try something a bit different.
Through the web-way came my support fleet, half of the Auxiliary Fleet and several ships of the U.S. Military. Most of them got the job of securing and/or salvaging the damaged or captured enemy ships. The rest of them followed the Intrepid down to the planets surface where they would find the most strategically important buildings, seats of government, military facilities and so on, and loot them. Anyone considered essential to the local military or government would be captured and brought back to the Ristavron system. It was the second Great Kidnapping! The Eutopian’s gladly took on the task of proving the validity of their grand plan to deal with Earths troublesome governments. The AF did their job. Looting and kidnapping is a job that pirates are suited to after all. The U.S. Military contingent did the job with a grudging reluctance. For obvious reasons, they didn’t care to do any of this, especially under the command of corporate and alien leaders. But they had no choice. They were bankrupt and inexperienced in this form of warfare, and anyone who is bankrupt and inexperienced has to start at the bottom.
The planets civilian government surrendered without a fight. The AF and ECF troops sent down to capture them found them to be quietly waiting for their deaths at our hands. Reportedly they were quite confused, but somewhat pleased to find out that we were just going to kidnap them. The military forces remaining on the planet were a somewhat different story. Most surrendered quietly, not all of them.
The U.S. Marine flagship Bonhom Richard dropped its troops near a large citadel full of native troops. As the Richard pulled up those in the citadel decided to start shooting and what was supposed to be a quiet surrender ceremony abruptly turned into a serious battle. The Richard fired all of its weapons into the citadel, then crashed in the city nearby.
Heavily armed and pissed off marines poured out of the crashed ship. With both sides heavy weapons largely destroyed the fight soon turned into a massive melee of urban combat. While this was happening the Intrepid was finishing its mission and was already climbing away from the planet. So I took the Montana down with a few ships from my fleet to rescue the marines.
The marines were locked in combat with dozens of native troops in powered armor. The marines had the advantage of numbers. But their rifles and lack of armor was not doing them much good against their nigh invulnerable enemies and their devastating man portable plasma cannons. Suddenly I saw what was happening. The locals had figured out that we wouldn’t fire on our own people or civilians so they had drawn us into a fight where they would have all the advantages. They probably hadn’t expected the marines to be fighting plasma with bolt action rifles. But I didn’t imagine that they were complaining.
I got on the radio, “General Butler, general Butler, this is Hammond aboard the battleship Montana. If you are still alive come in please.”
“This is Butler.”
“These armored assholes are tearing through my marines like paper Hammond, that’s the situation!”
“Have your men fall back to the Richard as fast as they can. It is about to start raining and you need get inside.”
“Rodger, good copy, all surviving units falling back.”
Not all of the marines got the order. If they held their ground, they were going to die. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter if they died by my guns or the enemies. That still didn’t mean that I felt good about it.
The 20MM guns opened up on the masses of attacking troops. While the main guns fired low velocity shells at the burning citadel. Low velocity is a relative term when you are talking about electromagnetic kinetic weapons. They still hit more than hard enough to obliterate the building and silence what few large plasma guns were left firing.
The gunners tried their best to not hit the marines. Still, dozens of them must have died because of my attack. Once the area was purged of anything that could be perceived as hostile my support ships came down and rescued the survivors. The Bonhom Richard was a complete loss, so once the crew was out and everything of value taken off I fired a short barrage at the ship to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. I really, really don’t like shooting at my allies, or their ships. What had started out as a blazingly successful mission had turned into a rather miserable one.
Once we were all back on Ristavron 4 I arranged for a debriefing with the marine commander. General Smedely Butler was one of the most highly regarded officers in the U.S. Military. He was known as a crusader against government corruption and crony capitalism. As he clomped down the hallway leading to my stateroom I could tell that he was in no mood to talk. His uniform was a complete mess, though he was physically uninjured his eyes seethed with the glow of a man who had just been through a horrible trauma.
“So, everyone wants to know, what happened at the citadel. Do you have any idea why they fired on you?”
He took of his goggles and plugged them into a projector. “I will just show you for now, I don’t think I can handle going through all that again. We can talk about this some other time, for now I need to tend to my men, goodbye.”
The recording started right as the Richard came into the atmosphere. Everything seemed to be going smoothly as his ship hovered outside the citadel and one of his squads fast roped down into the city outside the citadel. As soon as the rope retracted a stream of plasma bolts struck the ship and it crashed a short distance away.
Amidst the various wood and brick buildings came a horde of armored troops. The marines hit them with everything they had. Rifles, disintegrators, grenades. The only thing that seemed to have any effect were the handful of guys who had brought handheld rail-guns.
Regular Drankmastarian military personnel were terrifying over-muscled freaks of science. These warriors did not even look human anymore. Beyond their preposterous bone and muscle structure. They were encapsulated in heavy armor. Powered by some kind of new type of battery that was unlike anything that had been found in enemy weapons so far. Their primary weapon was a relatively small plasma cannon mounted on the users right, or left arm. It could be dialed down in power to cut through metal armor, or up to shoot down a fighter. Inside the helmet was a sophisticated sensor suite. Not quite as good as what was in an Angel Suit. But good enough.
While the Drankmastarian navy had been floating around the Galaxy. Terrorizing the shit out of everyone they met and stewing in their own juices. The Drankmastarian army had been dealing with generations of uprisings, chaos and conflict. Honing their tactics and weapons to a fine edge. While we held the advantage in space, they had the advantage on the ground. This was going to require new weapons, tactics and training. It also meant that the United States Marine Corps was out of frontline combat for the foreseeable future.
They weren’t going to like that at all. So I decided to do something about it.