Montana was still laid up for repairs. Now the Holstein was on the blocks in Ristavron four’s improvised ground based shipyard. The English Navy had to send most of their ships back to Earth for maintenance and R&R for their crews. Having depleted almost every missile, bolt and ceramic round in their magazines. Rickover was taking advantage of the current lull in the conflict to rush most of his fleet back to Earth to do the same. With our forces depleted Admiral Diehl was put into the awkward position of using his big bad fleet for defense. Not an ideal situation. His brawlers were best suited for offensive operations. While everyone catching their collective breath I started seriously pondering how to deal with neutralizing the strong point on the way to planet Durga.
The strong point was something that no one had seen the likes of anywhere else in the galaxy so far. The strong point was a floating citadel on a water planet called Thau. The citadel sat atop something, probably a volcano or some other form of geologic energy source. The planet was guarded by the finest network of defensive satellites that anyone had yet seen in enemy hands that shot anything that came through the local web-way terminus to flinders. The skill of the operators of this system was unusually high.
The Japanese had been the first to attack. They had lost three cruisers in that attack. The Eutopian’s had tried. As soon as they entered the atmosphere the citadel and the defensive grid opened fire with everything they had. Even their invisibility technology was useless since the sky above the target was alive with energy. Illuminating their ships and making them easy targets.
Even the Holstein couldn’t deal with this target. Stipetic had managed to punch through the satellite grid, only to be stopped by an extremely powerful shield and very skilled gunners on the citadel. It became clear to me that there was no way that we were going to deal with this in the orthodox manner of dropping steel or ceramic pots or raw energy on the enemy until they said uncle. So I decided to have to go at this in an unorthodox manner. I had the faintest outline of a plan. But I needed some specialist tools. So I had a look at the latest fleet catalog of new weapons and weapon proposals and let my savage imagination run wild.
Continuous examination and research. Along with near continuous combat had honed allied fleet tactics and weapons to a fine edge. Though many of the refinements had a habit of looking as crude as hell. The most dramatic innovations came from Bugatti pilots and engineers. A 3D printed plane can be very easily modified. Want to put on a different tail? Change the wing shape? Simply a matter of changing the code on the file you are using to print the components. You also have the ability to modify the weapons into whatever your materials and budget will permit. Make your modifications. Run it through an Eutopian supercomputer to see if it will function, print it up and if you wanted to take the risk. Fly it.
At some point someone working on the Bugatti fleet realized that since most of their fighting was being done in space where atmospheric drag was not a concern that their fighters payload did not need to be limited to four missiles, a disintegrator and a railgun. They could bolt dozens of missiles to the wings and hull. The petite Bugatti fighters looked like a porcupine flying into battle. When a Bugatti launched all of its missiles it would lose a third of its mass and restore its phenomenal maneuverability. This innovation soon spread to the rest of the fleet fighter force.
I was scrolling through a list of proposed Bugatti modifications that had proven to be too expensive, impractical or absurd for production. New stealth technologies, miniaturized kinetic lasers. Even a proposal to allow a Bugatti to transform into a suit of powered armor to counter the Drankmastarian advantage in ground combat.
What really grabbed my attention among the Bugatti modifications was a proposal to build a prototype with the capability to fly underwater. A French engineer had a wild idea while looking at the Jean Bart and the Intrepid sitting in water on the planet Poorsovt. He had wondered if those ships could be turned into submarines. He decided that submerging the Jean Bart was impractical so he turned his attention to something smaller. So he worked out many of the technical details to allow a Bugatti fighter to operate underwater.
As I was looking over this I realized that this might be the secret to cracking the shields of the citadel on the water planet Thau. So I got on the radio to the lead engineer on the French factory ship responsible for manufacturing Bugatti fighters. I asked him about the feasibility of building a Bug that could fly underwater. He heard me out then stated. “You don’t want to talk to me, you want to talk to George. He came up with that batshit insane idea, George, George Gascony! Get your ass over here, someone wants to talk about your fishing boat.”
Another voice came on, he sounded much older than the first man. He did not understand English nearly as well as the first guy. So I had to speak slowly. It took awhile but he understood what I wanted and sounded delighted to take on the project. Before I started putting the other parts of the plan together I had to ask.
“Why did the other guy refer to you in such a derisive tone?”
“The factory head, he talks about everyone in a derisive tone. That’s just how God made him.”
I really had to spend more time back on a factory floor. I was so used to this crisp, cool, uniformed environment on the Montana and other ships. Where everyone either said yes or no that I had forgotten what a shop foreman sounded like.
This operation theoretically only needed a way of sneaking under the enemies shields and a battleship to deal with the citadel once the shields were down. I decided to bring in the Japanese because they had lost the most trying to crack this nut. Once I had a somewhat workable plan I gave my proposal to admiral Kanada and mr Gascony. The Japanese would pay for building the fighters and provide pilots for the mission. Gascony would head up construction and I would be the project coordinator and liaison to the Eutopian Combat Fleet. Who provide the means of insertion.
I was pleasantly surprised when Kanada replied that he liked the idea. He had a few minor modifications, but he wanted to go ahead. So I told mr Gascony to print me up a squadron of amphibious Bugatti’s.
The plan was relatively simple. But it pivoted on a completely new and unproven technology. No one had ever built an amphibious fighter before. Admiral Kanada handed the project over to a subordinate, colonel Hideki. One of Japan’s preeminent experts on advanced military technology. He wisely modified the plan to include an extensive training regimen before the battle.
Mr Gascony printed up a prototype. With the designation 110M. Model 110 Marine. I didn’t think it was possible, but he had created an even cuter version of the Bug. The short wings had been shortened even more and a ducted fan had been installed in the tail. Also, this one was a deep shade of blue. Like the original racer as opposed to the slate gray or black that the combat versions were. The elderly mr Gascony stated that they wouldn’t handle as well in the atmosphere as their normal counterparts. And that they couldn’t go over 300 mph without ripping the ducted fan in the tail off. Otherwise it should be combat ready.
Testing of the amphibious fighters was done on an island four hundred miles south of the Ristavron 4 launch facility. The Japanese had taken over the place last year and it was essentially an island of Japanese culture in this area. I really should have taken the time to look around but on my first visit I had only one reason to be there. To see if the fishy fighter worked.
The fighter was delivered by a French cargo ship. After they landed they unceremoniously shoved the prototype out the back. Mr Gascony fretted over it like a child while a burly French stevedore handed colonel Hideki and I pile of paperwork. I asked, “why didn’t you just fly it here?” The stevedore replied.
“This thing may have been built by SPAD. But for all intents and purposes it belongs to you and the Japs. That paperwork that you and your friend is signing officially waives all liability for us on anything that might happen with that… thing! Personally I think you and George are nuts for even thinking up such a monstrosity. Les aigles n’étaient jamais censés savoir nager..”
Hideki and I asked the same thing at the exact same time. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Eagles were never meant to swim.”
Once the paperwork was filled out final checks were begun. The SPAD works might not have had much faith in this program. Still, they had put this plane together wonderfully. With a proper set of controls and instruments for travel in water as well as the air. I never failed to be amazed by the care and refinement that the SPAD works put into their products.
Since the Japanese had no pilots with experience flying Bugatti’s I got the job of taking it on its first test flight. After familiarizing myself with the manual and doing some careful reading on this particular aircrafts unique quirks I got in and fired up the antigravity drive.
As I drifted lazily around the airport I could detect the usual hiccups in a prototype aircraft. A few things needed to be tightened and adjusted. Otherwise it was a delight to fly. The roll rate was increased over the stock model. Though she was not as perfectly balanced anymore with that big propeller in the tail.
I spent the rest of the day and Gascony the rest of the day and night making tweaks and adjustments getting the 110PM ready for its next day of testing. The Japanese were amazed by this. Officers simply did not work on their own aircraft. They went off to a bar or an officers club after a flight while the mechanics worked on their planes. I could understand this, but I never saw a good reason to have a separation between engineers and pilots. I always worked on my aircraft and all the test pilots I hired were accredited engineers. It shortened development cycles quite a bit when a test pilot could simply explain what was wrong with an aircraft as opposed to saying something like.
“There is something in the tail that sounds like a midget with a hammer.”
The next day it was time to see if this eagle could swim. Gascony ran me through the protocol for underwater flight and I took off towards the ocean. I settled into a hover over the water, made a few final checks and slowly turned off the antigravity drive.
The Bug settled in the water. Okay, so far it wasn’t all that different than a water landing in the Montana. Just a bit closer to the water. So I fired up the propeller, felt the effects of the water on the controls and down I went.
The Japanese really couldn’t have picked a better place to do this testing. The warm waters were gin clear and full of various beautiful species of fish. The whole area looked like a Caribbean paradise. The Bug swam wonderfully. The control surfaces were almost as effective underwater as they were in an atmosphere. This submarine had no need for ballast tanks. All it needed was forward thrust and they would dive just as easily as a fighter would climb. God, it was beautiful down there. I could look up and see my chase plane trying to track my movements above the waves. There were some kind of Dolphins down there that I couldn’t help but chase. I tried to play some games with them as dolphins are known to do. But I couldn’t hope to match their maneuverability. They lived down here, I was just visiting.
After a half an hour I realized that I was going to run out of oxygen soon. I really wanted to stay down there, exploring the wonders of the sea. But I couldn’t, it was time to go. So I radioed my chase plane that I was going to attempt to launch myself out of the water. I dove down to where the sunlight started to peter out and throttled the propeller up to full. The combined effect of the buoyancy of the craft and the power of the engine drove me faster and faster until I breached out of the water like a dolphin. I engaged the antigravity drive and continued to climb vertically. Out of the sea, into the sky. Words fail me to describe how exhilarating that was.
I couldn’t help but feel incredibly privileged. Here I was, flying above a sea on an alien planet. In a fighter that could swim and fly. Something that hadn’t even existed two days ago. All around me was beauty beyond description. And I wasn’t even paying one red cent for this experience.
I landed right next to mr Gascony and the Japanese officers. While my chase plane did a victory roll overhead I popped open the canopy. Gascony asked. “So, how does she swim?”
At that moment all I could say was, “wow.” I was completely overwhelmed with joy. I had flown myself to oblivion.
I was granted the honorary rank of captain in the Japanese Navy. I would lead the mission to take out the Thau citadel. I was also given a flight of six IJN pilots and two weeks to train them to do this mission.
It was nice to do some small unit tactical work. As opposed to my usual job of organizing entire fleets. The six pilots I was given only had two things in common. They were IJN officers who could all speak English. They were from different squadrons and two weren’t even fighter pilots. They were cargo pilots that had been dragooned into the navy. It took a few days to get them to the point that they could work together fairly well. Once that was done it was time to bring in the hardware.
Mr Gascony had really outdone himself in assembling the rest of the 110PM fighters. Machine cannons, railguns, lasers and disintegrators simply wouldn’t work underwater. So he had created a new type of guided torpedo. The amphibious Bugatti’s would carry seven of them. Once I was sure that my pilots could fly the Bugatti’s underwater and in the air it was time to see if they could manage this operation.
The Eutopian’s had a new type of light cruiser. It had been originally designed as a complement to their Orion Class boats. The design had been shelved for a short while efforts were focused on building as many Orion’s as possible. After the war started the design was beefed up from a patrol boat to a multi role war machine. They kept the name though, the Bounty Hunter Class Cruiser. I needed a stealth ship for this mission and I was able to talk the ECF into loaning me one. They lent me the second ship of the class the ECF EC-82 Reaper. Beautiful ship, as most Eutopian vessels are. She was designed primarily to drop a large bomb bay full of missiles at enemy ships. Then get out of dodge. The bomb bay could be easily reconfigured for a variety of missions. So I had it reconfigured it to simultaneously drop six Bugatti fighters straight down.
The first practice run did not go as well as I had hoped. The release mechanism only dropped half of the fighters. I was left dangling with two of my squadron mates in the bomb bay of the Reaper. This is why you practice, to make sure that you iron out the kinks in your act before showtime.
We spent our remaining five days ironing out various technical issues and practicing the drop. If everything hadn’t been ironed out we would have had to have pushed back the mission and that would have probably meant that the Russians and Germans would take another pass at the planet. Where they probably would have lost ships and crew. Within those five days though I became confident that the plan would work with a minimum of risk.
The local sea life didn’t make it easy though. Something that looked like an elephant seal blubbered up on land one day and decided that he really didn’t like the look of our new subs. He smashed up the cockpit of one and was about to start pounding on another when a Japanese military policeman fired a few shots and scared it off.
The worst incident with the local wildlife was during a training flight with a midshipman named Kaito. He was the worst pilot of the bunch, but he spoke the best English. I had taken a liking to him so I was spending a little extra time getting him up to the level where he needed to be. I dove down to the deepest depths that the Bug was rated to go, 350 meters. As we went further down we turned on our lights and then the only thing we could see was each other’s Bugs and the inky blackness of the deep.
It was quiet down there, somber. A whole other state of being from the well lit and cheerful realm that we had just descended from. This was another world entirely, deep in every sense of the word.
Then, out of nowhere something grabbed Kaito’s Bug. I looked over at it and saw that it was something like a giant jellyfish. It was wrapping itself around Kaito’s sub. He was straining to work the controls. I told him to cut the power to his engine. His sub would simply float to the surface. The force exerted by the buoyancy of the Bug was countered by the strength of the creature. It continued to drag him down.
Mr Gascony had envisioned such a thing happening. Probably not this, but something similar involving seaweed or kelp tangling up the boat. He had modified the small arms that had been built into the Bugatti for docking into a wonderful device for gripping and cutting foreign matter around the controls and propeller. In a fantastically difficult operation I started trying to cut the jelly away from Kaito’s Bug while maintaining the proper distance between his craft.
The jelly started flashing all sorts of colors. It was hypnotically beautiful. I had to close my eyes. Then I realized that I wasn’t hearing the sound of midshipman Kaito screaming for help. The jelly was hypnotizing him. The cutting tools were working too slowly. Then I remembered, I had a pair of training torpedoes mounted on the bottom of my hull. I aimed as well as I could at the main mass of the jelly and fired both of them.
The props of the torpedoes plunged into the gelatinous mass. They had no warheads so they couldn’t explode. But the sheer weight of them and the swishing blades of their props chewed up the jelly very nicely. The jelly was dragged off the slippery surface of Kaito’s Bug down to the depths. It’s bio fluorescence flashing like a torch dropped into a bottomless pit. Kaito’s Bug immediately started climbing. I helped him turn it from an uncontrolled ascent to a controlled ascent. Once the surface was in sight I asked Kaito if he wanted to do a launch from the water. He replied, “yes, I want to get as far away from the water as I can.”
We breached the water at full speed. As soon as we left the water I kicked in my antigravity drive to half power. Kaito went up like a rocket. As soon as he leveled out he went at full speed back to his base. I took a somewhat more relaxed route flying just above the surface of the water at relatively low speed.
I arrived back just as Kaito was getting out of his Bug. He was visibly nervous even from as far away as I was watching. I landed and colonel Hideki immediately asked what the heck happened out there. I told him about the jellyfish and he didn’t believe me. I pointed to the damage and bits of gelatinous remnants on Kaito’s Bug. Hideki summoned a Japanese scientist and angrily demanded to know of there was a giant aggressive jellyfish in the area. The scientist started chuckling and looked right at me. In clear English he asked. “So you found a Superbag? The local fisherman tell a story of a jellyfish that is the apex predator in these waters. I have wanted to see one for months now, the local name is something impossible to pronounce. So I call it a Superbag because of the way it hunts. Swallowing everything like a bag, then digesting it.”
Colonel Hideki looked at me with utter disbelief. In fractured English he apologized and went to tend to his traumatized midshipman. Another day, another bizarre thing in this galaxy of utter lunacy. While I was stretching mr Gascony walked up and asked what had happened. I told him slowly that we had been attacked by some kind of sea-monster. I thanked him sincerely for creating such a wonderful little craft that could withstand monster attack. He smiled and replied, “oh no, I still have some work to do. For now, I would like to give you this.”
It was a uniform patch. The insignia of the Bugatti-SPAD fighter program was a mean looking hummingbird carrying a sledgehammer in its wings over its shoulders. This patch was specific to this program. The hummingbird now had goggles over its eyes and a snorkel in its beak.
Four days later it was time to go. Naturally the Japanese fleet was going to provide cover for this operation. The battleships Kaga and Nagano, escorted by three heavy cruisers were going to come out of the web-way terminus at the same time as the Reaper and provide a distraction while she dropped us just over the horizon from the citadel. Under cover of darkness. In the midst of a massive storm.
I suppose the bad weather provided cover for the mission and we should have been thankful for it. Still, it was absolutely terrifying to see the weather that came blasting into the Reapers bomb bay when the doors opened. One last systems check and we dropped straight down into the angry sea.
Once we hit the water we dove away. I saw no blinding flashes of energy so I hoped that the Reaper made it away unscathed. Internal navigation came on. The Reaper and the Japanese fleet were functioning as a makeshift Global Positioning System. If they were taken out we would be left with trying to find the citadel from its energy and magnetic signature. I really hoped that it wouldn’t come to that.
The trip to the citadel was rather bleak at first. Just the inky darkness of the sea as far as the eye could see. Then the sun began to rise over the planet. The light that filtered down into the water where we were illuminated a rich ecosystem with what I assumed to be this planets equivalent of fish, dolphins, sharks and whales. A swarm of dolphin like creature came swirling around our fighters. I slowed down and took off my helmet and my glove and pressed my had up against the cockpit. I swear to god one of them smiled at me, then swam away. I was pretty nervous about local aquatic life after my run in with the Super Jelly. I was relieved when they swam away.
Radar, lidar and stuff like that is pretty useless underwater. So we used sonar. Only passive sonar though, active sonar would be like wearing a bright yellow suit and screaming. “Hey jackasses, here we are, come and kick our butts!”
Finding the citadel was surprisingly easy. It produced an absolutely awful racket. As we drew to the point where we could launch our torpedoes against the vast underwater faculty we discovered that the imperials did have a countermeasure against submarine attacks. A huge net that appeared to be made of something really tough. The torpedoes probably wouldn’t work. This material would simply bend a bit then easily absorb the force of detonation.
I was just about to break radio silence and ask for ides when another one of those dolphin things showed up. It was smiling at me, it also seemed to be beckoning me. Down, into deeper water. It hit me, this net probably did not go all the way to the bottom. George estimated that the 110PM could go as far underwater as 350 meters. I crossed my fingers and hoped that would be deep enough.
We went pretty deep. Diving down towards the suspected location of a rise in the sea floor. As we passed 100 meters my formation was joined by more of the dolphin looking things. As we passed 150 I saw flashes of something. Then it came into view. It was a squad of Drankmastarian warriors, on the sea floor, battling hundreds of sea creatures. Including what looked like a colossal octopus. These creatures had been fighting their own war here against the Drankmastarians for god knows how long. But as intelligent as they may have been. Being aquatic creatures they could never match their opponents technology.
I on the other hand could. The huge octopus had pried a huge hole in the net so I called out. “Attack!”
Lieutenant Shogo launched two torpedoes straight into the squad of Drankmastarian warriors. Once we made a hole I was expecting the fish to pour through the breach. They did not, they swam out of our way. As the giant octopus moved to the side it helpfully pulled the breached net out of the way.
Once we were in the net we stayed low. Looking for targets of opportunity, nice big expensive explody things like reactor cooling systems or arms caches. Someone shouted, “look straight up!”
There was something that looked like a ducting fan for a cooling system. But it was gigantic! The reactor it cooled must have been the sized of a large town. I figured that taking that thing out might do the job so I ordered everyone to fire a single torpedo at the thing.
Two torpedoes probably would have done the job. As it destroyed itself it started throwing big sharp chunks of metal all over the place so I gave the order. “Nagano, come on down and sink this blasted thing. We are getting out of here!”
I pushed my turbines to full speed. We were going to launch straight out of the water, then kick in our antigravity drives to get the heck out of here. But as we came up we could see a variety of small watercraft and even some aircraft buzzing around within the citadels shielded area. Without having to say my squadron fired their remaining stock of torpedoes and we burst out of the water amid a series of explosions.
The velocity from our rapid ascent carried me at least twenty feet into the air. As soon as I breached I turned on the antigravity and started maneuvering fiercely. Suddenly I felt very naked, dozens of the citadels plasma turrets were not more than a mile away from me. There was also the swarm of enemy VTOL fighters around me. Before I could react to them rocket fire came up from the sea. Apparently they had armed patrol boats inside the citadels shields. I supposed that we had never seen them because we had never been able to get close enough. So I throttled up and pulled the trigger on my disintegrators flying straight at the citadels plasma turrets. I was soon joined by my squadron and we were all continuously sweeping our disintegrators against the citadel and the patrol boats while I tried to come up with a somewhat coherent plan.
I didn’t need to. The citadels shields fell and the Japanese fleet opened fire from orbit. The impact of the first barrage almost blew my squadron to kingdom come. We retreated as fast as our antigravity drives would allow us. But while most of us broke high midshipman Kaito took a chunk of shrapnel in his tail and fell towards the sea. I had to grit my teeth and focus on getting out of there. As I climbed out I radioed.
“Kaito, I’m coming back for you!”
As the barrage finished up the escort carrier Shozaku arrived to pick us up. Before I landed I demanded that they rearm my plane with missiles and send a rescue element to escort me. But lieutenant Shogo explained that they were just here to recover us. They probably had no weapons that were compatible with our craft. So I waved off and started heading back where midshipman Kaito went down.
The citadel was sinking into the ocean. Fortunately it did not explode, taking everything with it. The fleets barrage had eliminated all organized enemy resistance in the area so I started looking for any signs of a distress beacon. I was lucky enough to find one. It was moving slowly, that probably meant that he had landed and was drifting on a current. I came down to where he was and I never could have imagined what I saw.
Kaito’s Bugatti had come back down hard on the water. The local sea creatures had swarmed around his craft and were moving the wounded, but still floating fighter away from the citadel. I flew lower, I could see that Kaito was still alive, he had a head wound that had smashed his helmet. He was moving, but barely, clearly in incredible pain. I called to any ship in the vicinity to come down and salvage his fighter. The Shozaku came in and dropped a rescue swimmer who swam onto Kaito’s fighter and secured a heavy cable to the craft. They hauled it out of the water to relative safety. As they were doing so I came in low over the hundreds of creatures observing the rescue. They seemed overjoyed, breaching out of the water and splashing around like children in a swimming pool. I couldn’t help but settle into a hover and slide back the canopy. I shouted, “if you can understand me, thank you for your help.”
I was the last one back aboard the Shozaku. Once I got out of my plane I was met by the usual three rousing cheers. And shouts of praise in a language I did not speak. I thanked them as I ran over to Midshipman Kaito. His head wound looked much worse than it was. He had also broken several bones in his left hand and ankle. He gave me an exhausted thumbs up as they carried him off on a stretcher. I smiled as the rest of the crew of the crew picked me up and carried me off to a post raid party.
The IJN wanted to capture the citadel and whatever weapons or intelligence was being manufactured or stored there. But it sank as their big ships came close. Some of the reconnaissance birds watching the sinking did capture some very interesting video footage. The people who worked in the citadel fought a huge battle with a wide variety of sea creatures as the facility sank. The attack on the citadel of planet Thau cured me of my desire to do anymore fighter combat or “special forces” type attacks. As fun as it had been it had just been too weird and up close and personal for my taste.
At the time I considered it a moot point anyway. With the citadel of planet Thau destroyed the last major defense of the Drankmastarian Empire final Capitol was gone. It was time to end this war.