By The Sword 19

By The Sword
Chapter 19 Draft (12/16/08)

“Missile launch, we have incoming,” his words were calm and professional. Dimihijra al-Chibah, the Gholam’s tactical officer was surprised he could sound so calm. He was even more surprised that the Cardomans had opened fire, so soon and at this range. They must have a new missile design with a longer burnout time. He could see the acceleration numbers were slightly higher than their own Mod IV’s as well. A bit more than 10% faster, enough to cause problems, but considering the numerical advantage the Caliphate forces held, they should able to deal with them easily enough.

They would likely hold to plan and launch their own first strike in just over a minute— though Dimihijra would prefer to wait a while longer. Extreme range led to an extremely poor kill ratio, and kill ratio was how he was rated. Dimihijra made a formal request for release authority. Captain Asani gave the Ok to arm, but ordered he hold off until Admiral Kahn designated final numbers and targets, something the TAC officer could see was already being done as the information was flooding his targeting display.

“Kalid, take the Sword, the Syria, Persia, and Kandahar, out from Moosa Ashari’s squadron. Interdict the flanking Essex and SnapDragon.” Kahn made his first direct order. “Watch yourself. Something does not smell right with them.”

On SP-101 Lt Cmdr Tsarinstyn pried his eves from his display screen and looked out of the armorplast window. This was nothing like sim practice or even the mock engagements with real ships, where one or two live missiles might be in flight. Each of their side’s capital ships had let loose a full salvo, all but the three remotes that still remained stealthed.

Something must have changed the thinking up the chain, as the fire-plan’s last iteration called for all ships, the remotes included, to unload at once. That be as it may; each G-4 had ten tubes and each G-3 had eight, so Pavel could see a total of seventy-two bright streaks against the darkness. Each glowing dot trailed by a kilometers long stream of ionized plasma, shading from brilliant white to a dull red before it cooled and faded from sight. But not from the ships instruments, which traced the trail from each dot back to its point of origin.

“What’s the problem Madry?” Why didn’t you launch? Control failure already?” Langston’s voice dripped with venom, almost as if he were gloating, but to Audie it sounded like she could hear a hint of hysteria there as well.

“Sir, as soon as I launch the Calps know what we got. I think Tsarinstyn can intercept those recon drones before they pick my ships up, and keep them a secret for a while longer. That is important and we gotta find out.”

“Your ships is it? My—we have come up in the world haven’t we? Madry, you launch at once or I am pulling this ship back! The Calps have four ships heading out our way. We can stop them from closing if your remotes work as well as you claim. Fire Dammit! Fire Now!”

“I can’t do that Sir.”

“Can’t or won’t?” The tone was all venom now.” Langston shouted into his pickup, “Borselov, launch those birds!”

“Captain, could you repeat that? I’m having trouble hearing you.” Yuri didn’t even look away from his remote display.

“Disobedience to a direct order in time of war. You are relived of duty. Both of you, leave your stations at once; I will deal with this later.” Langston next addressed his Second Officer, “Debus, get down there and take charge.”

“Sir, I can’t operate those ships!”

“You damned well better be able to. You’ve been training with that bitch for six months! Get down there and relieve them! If they give you any trouble call for the Marines, no belay that, call for ship’s security, but I want those missiles fired!”

As Debus left the bridge Langston said to his first officer. “Fletcher, until this situation is resolved all further communications with the fleet are to pass through me. Is that understood?”

“Yes Sir!”

Then he called down to the ships Third Officer Lt. Fitzgerald on the Battle Bridge above engineering, telling him only, “We have a C and C problem that is being dealt with. We will start a slow movement to the rear under my control… Until we have completed that motion, and have absolute control of this problem, we will not risk the ship, nor any portion of her loyal compliment. You will seal your data links to all sections of the ship outside of your station and direct command. Take relays through me and the command deck until further notice.” He cut the connection abruptly, then went to the piloting station and began making adjustments.

“So what now Audie?” Yuri was interested all right, but it didn’t seem like he understood the gravity of the situation.

“I need to talk to Admiral Raymond. Let’s see if I can patch through.” A second later she said. “The bastard’s blocked us. Yuri can you route us through one of the remotes?”

“Sure, it’ll take a minute, we never did it before.”

“What the hell is going on with the Dragon!” Les Raymond had noticed the lack of remote fire in the original salvo but figured either Madry knew what she was doing or was having problems with the links, though that didn’t seem likely. In either case his interference wasn’t about to help anything so he had left her alone. But now the Dragon was sliding out of position. “Get me Langston! Soonest!”

This took but a moment and Langston was on the line. “Roger! What the hell is going on over there? Get back into position!”

“Admiral, I am sorry but I can not do that at this time. I will get back to you.” Langston killed the connection and looked to his bridge. No one else had heard that last and his orders were being carried out.

He had just noticed the Calps war launch, couldn’t avoid noticing, but was ready for it. Someone in this fleet could think ahead. ‘I am going to save us all, in spite of everything.’ He increased the Dragon’s retrograde vector then strated thinking about sending someone to check out the situation with Madry. He wasn’t going to talk to her again till she was locked in her room or behind bars, if that was what it took to keep her under control.

“Fletcher, launch a second volley, and divert all of our first shots into defending against the Calp barrage,”

“Audie I’ve broken through the encryption of the shuttle circuits—but the lines into the Battle Command circuit are going to take a lot longer. . . If I were on the Ranger and could get at the hardware. . .”

“This’ll due for a start, thanks Yuri,” and she flashed him a weak grin. “S-P 101, Madry, SnapDragon. Pavel can you hear me?”
The signal was garbled, drooping every third syllable, and the echo was fierce, but Audi could make out the return, barely.

SnapDragon, I hear you—reception poor. Why the call?”

“We have a—situation. I want you to take out those Calp recon drones. If you can do that I can keep the remotes hidden a while longer. Can you do it?”

Pavel looked over his display and started switching to the various ship icons to vector intercept mode. “It could be possible. But it’s not part of the plan.”

“They never survive contact with the enemy. Just do it. . . And if Langston calls ignore him.”

“What?”

“Like I said, we have a situation.”

The door to the control bridge opened and in came Emma Debus, followed by a burley sailor with an un-holstered power gun. It was Carl Pilchard. Still a chance.

“I’ll call you back Pavel.”

“I was wondering how long that would take,” Audie said as the pair looked around the control bridge. It was empty but for Yuri and herself.

“Cmdr Madry, I have my orders. Boss’n Pilchard will escort you both to your quarters.

“Will he now?— Carl—it’s come to Jesus time.”

“You were right and I was wrong Audie. Now what?”

“Let’s get Lt. Debus a chair, and then I think we need to talk to Capt. Jameson.”

“I can do this on my own,” Debus said, showing relief rather than resistance. “Put me in front of a weapons console and I might even be able to help.”

“Carl would you secure the door while I talk to Fader?”

“Just what I had in mind Audie, take your time.”

* * *
On the Sword of the Prophet Rashid Kalid was taking his time. Three G-4’s along with his own ought to be more than enough to deal with the Cardoman ships Essex and SnapDragon. He drove inwards at 30 G’s, less than half the acceleration that he might have used. There was something wrong with the recon drones nearing the target vessels. Electronic interference from two ships was not enough to explain the poor quality of their returns.

“Send another four.” He was going to wait before committing more of his onboard stores. “Saleh, slow down and get the shuttles out. They are doing us no good in the boat bay and some more anti-missile defense can never hurt.”

“The crews will be glad to have something to do Captain. There they go. What about the rest of the ships with us?”

“Order a launch of two from each. Concentrate on the SnapDragon this time. We will wait until we are closer for more. Send the releases.”

Roger Langston saw ten missiles inbound, all in his mind aimed straight for his heart. “Launch all tubes,” he ordered, “intercept courses.”

“Sir, if we wait a bit I think the Essex will take on a few of those for us. We could conserve our. . .”

“Launch now Fletcher!” Then he commed the plotting bridge. “Debus, what’s the mater with you. Can’t you tell we’re under attack?”

“Captain, the plan calls for us to wait and give Tsarinstyn and his shuttles a chance to knock out the recon birds. If we fire now we give away the three remotes before the Calps are committed.”

“As of now Debus, all plans come from me. A full salvo, all ten tubes from each remote. Take them through the incoming and hit any left that our own launch misses! Send however many are left against the nearest Calp. Concentrated firepower that is our key. Make them go on the defense and buy us some time!”

Debus looked at Madry who just shook her head.

“Captain, the release codes are scrambled. I’ll have to reenter them manually. I’m working on it.”

Petty Officer Hicks at the main comm station reported, “Captain Langston, Admiral Raymond is signaling Most Urgent. I will patch him through.”

“My station only! Everyone—pay attention to your own duties.”

Raymond’s angry face filled the center screen of Langston command display. “Captain you have thirty seconds to explain yourself or—”

Langston cut the channel, waited a second, and announced to his bridge, “No further off-ship communications, I have locked the comm channels. The Admiral tells me we are being intercepted, and all messages, coded or otherwise are compromised. We will continue our defense and continue falling back.”

* * *
It was luck, maybe fate, there was nothing in the plan that said SP-122 would try to intercept the recon drones headed towards the Essex and the stealthed G-4’s. Ted Sackett was grateful he didn’t have time to worry now. He had used his total worry allotment trying to get to his present position undetected. Now it remanded to see if the new anti-missiles that Trudelheim was sending them would work for real, like they did in practice.

He saw a red cone, with it’s apex on the first recon drone, touch tangentially the yellow cone of his defensive envelope, and felt the slight bump caused by each interceptor as his magazines emptied. Four shots from each. The target was too important to hold anything back. They went streaking away, too close for the Calp drones to do much in the way of evasion. Now if he could just keep out of the way. He didn’t believe the Calps would waste any effort going after him, they must know the missile load-out of his ship. Still it was max G to the rear.

“The drones are gone, taken out by short range antimissiles, but there’s something else.” Simini Asfaruddin, on the Sword relayed to his Captain. “At the last moment, when she was obviously lost I blew the warhead on recon-2. Just a hunch but there was a backscatter that should not have been there. I reconstruct it as a reflection off of a shield screen. Possibly more than one. The Cards are trying to hide something from us, something big.”

“Reverse vector, max G. Lt. Asfaruddin, get this information to our escorts at once, and notify Admirals Kahn and Suleiman. We are in no hurry here. Let us probe a bit. Metemma, are we ready to intercept the launch from the SnapDragon?”

“Programmed for the Persia in 2.7 minutes Sir! We can advance timing upon your command. Sir—if we slow down too much, the shuttles will be racing out far to the front of us and be more at risk.”

“Inform Safavid he is to launch at once, I want maneuver room in case of other surprises, but more importantly, I want no other surprises. The shuttles will continue with their current flight plan. People, look lively, I want to know what the SnapDragon is trying to accomplish. Get me some answers.”

On the Bridge of the Essex, Lester Raymond was beside himself with anger, no longer just confusion as he saw the Dragon thrusting to the rear. The man was bugging out! “Keep trying to contact the ship, let anyone who answers, anyone I say, know that Langston is relieved of command. Dalton, inform the rest of the fleet, then send a message to Cardoman Station.”

Yuri, on the Dragon, was reporting, “It didn’t work Audie. The Calps are slowing down and we’re running. You have to do something.” Borselov’s voice was flat and calm.

“How did he do it?” Audie wondered. She shrugged her shoulders, not realizing she sounded equally composed, and said. “We’re in for it now.” She hit the connect button and said. “Fader, this is it. Meet me at the entrance of the stairwell leading to the corridor outside the bridge. Bring everyone you can spare and make sure they’re armed.” She turned back to Yuri, who had started to stand. “Get in touch with Raymond and make sure those remotes are ready. Emma, you stay here too, work with Yuri.” She left with Pilchard at her heels.

Fader Jameson hit the comm to missile room 2—Raleigh, Lassiter, Friedikin, grab your weapons and meet me at the entrance to the Bridge Deck. Fargo and Mathew,” he said to the two in his own fire room, “do the same and follow me.” That left each of the two launch rooms at half strength with a battle taking place. This better not take too long or it wouldn’t matter who was running the Dragon!

With the ship on alert and at battle stations, Fader’s men had their rifles and side arms with them at all times. They grabbed the rifles from wall-mounted rack and did as ordered.

“Fargo asked, “What’s this about Captain?”

“Langston has gone off the deep end. Cmdr. Madry will fill us in when we get there.”

Even though the rate of closure had decreased, the Sword, the Syria, Persia, and Kandahar were still closing the distance due to their initial overtaking vector. With the SnapDragon heading rearwards, even though he did not know what it meant, Kalid made his decision. “All tubes, all ships. I want the Essex destroyed while the SnapDragon is falling back. Launch Now!”

On the Syria, Captain Zandieh saw he was authorized for 10 and fired a full salvo. On the Persia and Kandahar the release data was the same. Forty ShipKillers with megaton range warheads were away in a matter of seconds. Time to target—four minutes.

“The icon representing the Essex, along with those of the missiles zeroing in. drew the eye, and called for immediate attention. Stan Voinovich, on Aladin, could see he was the closest ship outside of those in Essex’s own squadron, and his the only ship that could give any support from a distance. It would take all of Raymond’s own long range ShipKillers to knock down the Calp strike to a point where his close in defenses would even have a chance. And as always they would need a 100% kill ration in order to survive.

He told his First Officer Joe Speedway, “Launch 10 on an intercept.” Then he commed Tsarinstyn and asked him to do what ever he could. “It’s all we can spare, good luck Les,” Stan said to himself, and an Admiral who couldn’t hear him over the control channel static.

The mass launch on the Essex was followed by a period of inaction, as both sides waited for the results and the Calps worked defensively knocking down the first strike missiles that the Cardoman fleet had out starting this thing earlier. On the Gholam Kahn saw two of those first birds get close enough before detonating that they caused some minor damage to the Duhabi and Q’om, older G-3’s. But both remained active and in the battle, though minus most of their external sensor packages. He made sure they were linked to the rest of the fleet by comm channel, and watched while they each dispatched a drone at low speed to precede them.

On the bridge of the Dragon Cmdr Fletcher broke the silence saying, “Captain, shouldn’t we be supporting the Essex? The solutions are loaded we can launch now.”

“We will hold our fire, and react only to threats to our own ship until the shape of the battle is clearer.”

“But Sir!”

“Enough Fletcher, follow orders!” Langston remembered his own orders concerning Madry and changed his station view for one of the plotting room, and was not in the least bit happy with what he saw.

“Debus! What’s Borselov doing still there, and where are Madry and Pilchard?”

“He, ah—took her away Sir. It was after Lt. Borselov said he wanted to stay here and help save the ship.”

Langston called up the locater screen then narrowed down to a view of the end of the corridor leading to the control room. There was Madry, and yes, Jameson too. He jumped from his seat and ran to the hatch, pulled the guard inside, then closed it, killing power to the lock controls. That would slow her down. But now what? He turned to the staring bridge crew.

“We have enemies from within who are getting ready to try and take the Bridge. He ran back to his command station and acceleration couch and started strapping in before thinking better of it, “Fletcher, pull us back, max G.”

“Sir I can’t do that.”

Fletcher was standing just two meters away.

“A direct order Cmdr!”

Fletcher hesitated, Langston didn’t. He pulled his sidearm and a shot rang out. Fletcher slumped to the deck.

“I have the Comm! Hicks, call for a ship’s security detail. Do not call upon the Marines! Gadders, drag that dead traitor into my day cabin! Make it snappy, then get out of sight of the door but keep watch. Stand over by life support and keep your weapon pointed at the hatch. Those off-planet bastards have proven to be traitors, one and all, and are going to try and take the ship away from us. We will not let that happen!”

It was a measure of his own muddled state of mind, that Langston didn’t consider the fact that he was from off-planet himself relevant to the situation at hand.”

As the three marines Seventh Recon and from fire room two came pounding nearer then reached them, Audie could sense the change in the ship’s internal noise level as the drive ramped up. “Captain Langston is running from the fight, has been from the start. I am going to relive him of his command. Fader, when I open the hatch I want Langston subdued at once, that is your job. I want the rest of you to insure that he gets no support from anyone else on the Bridge. Let’s do it!”

She raced to the hatch control and slapped it, then swore when nothing happened she swore again, “Damn, he’s cut the power. Lassiter, crank her open.”

“Langston must have known we were on our way,” Jameson said, “Raleigh, Friedikin, watch our backs!”

Pvt Lassiter folded the handle away from the bulkhead and began to crank. The armored hatch cover started moving slowly into the wall and a crack appeared then widened. The attack alarms began wailing again all over the ship. Kneeling at floor level Jameson peered inside and saw Langston bracing his pistol on a console strut, pointing vaguely towards the hatch, and waving to someone out of view.

“I can see the Captain, but I don’t see the door guard Audie. Langston’s got his pistol out. It’ll be suicide if we try and squeeze through one at a time.”

“Wish we had combat suits and visors so I could see what you see.”

“Captain’s at his station, the rest are manned, but he has someone, maybe more than one, the outside guard at least, watching the hatch.”

“Stop cranking Lassiter!” Audie picked up his rifle, yelled, “Friendly Fire,” for the benefit of Raleigh and Friedikin at the end of the hallway, then shot out the nearest lights, and then the emergencies when they came on. That was going to make it harder for anyone in the control room to see movement through the partially opened hatch. This was taking too long. Every second taking them farther away from where they should be, supporting the rest of the fleet.

“Leo, start cranking again, Fader get ready to follow me in.”

Audie, standing slightly offside of the almost wide enough opening, shouldered her rifle, Jameson stood up and pointed is own upwards. “Here it comes.” Madry moved a step to her right and looked into the control room. There he was, looking at the opened hatch but not seeing her in the outer darkness. She sighted in on the second from the top button of Langston’s tunic. My, it seemed ever so sharp and clear. She squeezed once, then rapidly again and took two quick steps before diving headlong through the opening.

Audie hadn’t consciously heard the report of her own weapon, but the crack when Gadders fired seemed to merge with the pain when she hit the control room’s deck plates. Twisting sideways she saw his rifle swinging towards her. Audie kept rolling and trying to get off a shot but it was going to be too late.

She heard a second shot and felt a searing pain. Time had slowed till seconds were minutes. From the corner of an eye she saw Fader step inside and point in the direction that she was looking. A three shot burst and Gadders was on the floor. Fader moved out of the way and Pilchard, Fargo, Mathew, then Lassiter entered. The last three covered the room while Pilchard bellowed out, “Stay Calm Everybody,” and Fader ran over to check on Audie.

A dark stain, just above her waist, was visible, even against the black of the shipboard uniform. Fader pulled her blouse up and away, used the tail to wipe away some blood, then said, “How’s it feel Audie?”

“Hurts like hell.”

“I think it coulda been much, much, worse. The bullet went through the stock of Lassiter’s rifle before getting to you. You’re not bleeding much. I think I feel the bullet just under the skin.” She winced as his figures applied a little pressure.

“Get a pressure bandage on it and get me to the Captain’s station. I gotta find out from Yuri what’s going on out there and make some kind of announcement to the rest of the ship’s crew.”

Boss’n Pilchard was already bringing over first aid materials from the emergency medical cabinet. He applied a dressing and asked, “A painkiller and a stim?”

She nodded assent, and felt it kick in as they helped her to the Captain’s console, where first thing she shut down the attack alarm. In the welcome silence she could start to hear herself think again. She first commed engineering and told Lt Fitzgerald to reverse course again and take them back towards the fight. She didn’t yet trust the bridge crew. Next she got a hold of Borselov and told him to hang on but do what was right and she would soon be back with him. And then the announcement to the ship.

“This is Cmdr Madry, Captain Langston is dead. Everyone not already there, go at once to your assigned duty stations. I do not know why the Captain chose to run, and for now I do not care. This ship is returning to support her own. We have a battle to win!”

She turned off the All Ship channel. “Carl, talk to everyone on the bridge starting with Tactical. Explain what happened and why, but do it quickly. Fader, make sure that everyone goes back to their stations, then get your men back to their own in the missile rooms.”

“You sure you’ll be Ok here?”

“I better be or we’re all lost.”

The ship’s surgeon came rushing in at that time. Audie stopped him, “In a minute Doc.” Then she waved Fader away and hit the comm link to Borselov and battle plot. “Go ahead Yuri, I got the present situation up on my display, now tell me how we got to be this way?” She asked that question as she looked in horror at the changed conditions, what had transpired during her own last three minute eternity.”

Yuri fed the Bridge a high-speed playback. She watched, eyes wide, as the Calps launched a second salvo a minute in, ten seconds real time in the speeded up presentation. The tracks followed right on the heels of their first 40 tube launch, both now heading straight towards the Essex and Admiral Raymond.

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