PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 5 of 28 )
“ Common Heroes
Near outpost 312, Blackmane System
Outpost 312, this is TCS Chicago. Requesting docking clearance, over."
"TCS Chicago, this is Outpost 312. You are cleared for docking at docking collar six, over."
"Roger that, 312. Chicago out. XO, dock the ship."
"Aye, Captain," Commander Galloway replied. "All hands, this is the XO. Man your docking stations." He then went about closely monitoring the docking procedure. It was only the third time that Colby had let him conn the ship into port, and it was valued experience. Galloway wanted his own ship someday, of course, and docking maneuvers were his weakest area.
Colby strode over to the helm station, checking on the procedures himself. He was, after all, ultimately responsible for all actions of Chicago, whether he was truly responsible or not. In fact, one of his friends from CO's school had been relieved a few months back for something that had happened under his command. The kicker was that the CO was asleep in his rack when the OOD had run his destroyer into a smaller civilian transport. Even though he wasn't even on duty, the CO was still responsible, and had been relieved of duty. In effect, both men's careers had been ended by the incident.
"Starboard thrusters on my mark..." Galloway said, watching a readout closely, "... mark." The thrusters burned for a minute, and then shut down as Chicago bumped gently against the docking collar.
"Nicely done, Joe. I'd watch the angle a little closer next time, but you're getting to be a natural at this," Colby said reassuringly. The crew finished the docking procedures, and opened the airlocks. He then walked to the comm panel. "All hands, this is the Captain, set the in port watch. Liberty is sounded."
Colby could almost hear the cries of joy from the crew. In fact, he shared them. Their six month tour had turned into an eight month tour, and the possibility of heading straight into a major battle from there. He was determined to give his crew a rest, even if it was only going to be for a couple of days.
He turned to the OOD, Lt. Alex Jones. "Jonsey, you're first up for watch officer, if I recall."
"Good. I'll be in my quarters for a while if you need anything."
Colby sat at his desk looking at the status reports from the whole squadron. It could have looked better. There were several fighters from each ship that had class I leaks in various places. One of the new Tigersharks on board the Chicago had a stripped sensor rotor. The pilot had been flying patrol missions with only short range scanning capabilities, relying on his wingman to spot any long range trouble for him. Then there was an Excalibur from the Blue Ridge with a fractured cockpit glass. He had authorized the plane to be flown, but only with its pilot wearing full pressurization gear. Both of the latter two planes were awaiting parts from a resupply shipment that would have to play catch-up to their present position.
Then things moved from bad to worse when Colby looked at the specs of the destroyers themselves. Chicago was still having problems in the engine room which had caused the whole squadron to arrive at the outpost later than expected, Dallas had an intermittent sensor glitch where everything just completely blacked out, and to top it all off, the crew morale was not the best he'd ever seen. Generally, crews preferred isolated patrol duty to a formation of the whole squadron. Fleet regulations that were often relaxed while on patrol were enforced again when the squadron formed up. Little things that made the cruise more endurable while on patrol were taken away. Things could have definitely looked better.
A knock at the door brought Colby back to the moment.
"Hey, Colt, I thought I could find you here." It was Cdr. Laird.
"Come on in, Tony. Is everything set with Miami?"
"Yeah, I sounded liberty about a half an hour ago. I brought a bottle of blackberry brandy that I figured you might be able to help me put away."
Colby smiled and pulled open a drawer and retrieved a couple of glasses. Laird filled them, and almost instantaneously, there was a sweet smelling aroma in the air. Colby hoisted a glass and downed it.
"Yeah, that hits the spot. Thanks, Tony."
Laird reclined on the couch opposite Colby's desk. "Are those the specs for the whole squadron? I know how mine looked, and I can imagine how the rest looked."
Laird took a drink, closed his eyes, and rolled the liquid around in his mouth. "God, we're going to get slaughtered, aren't we," Laird commented. It was more of a statement than a question.
"Between us? No question of it."
Bridge, TCS Chicago
Colby stood up from his command chair on the bridge. The slightly nauseating feeling was still present after all of the years of service, and after all of the jumps he'd made. You just never got used to it. He had found that walking around helped him regain his senses a bit more quickly.
"Sir, navigational charts confirm successful jump to the Nephele System. Reading a large grouping of ships 40,000 klicks off of our port bow."
"Is that the battle group?" Colby asked.
"Helm, lay in a course, ahead one third."
Colby turned to Cdr. Galloway, standing beside him. "XO, I'm heading down to the flight deck. I'll go over and meet with Admiral Hanton as soon as she arrives in system. Hopefully she can give me some more answers, or at least more direction. You have the conn until I get back."
Colby turned to leave the bridge, but turned back to the XO. As a second thought, he added, "Oh, will you also check on the engines one more time? If we're going to be heading back into the mess, I don't want to be guessing if they're going to leave us hanging when we really need them."
Galloway nodded his acknowledgment, and Colby left for the flight deck.
Once Colby was off the bridge, the Operations officer approached Galloway. "XO, can I have a moment?"
Galloway's eyes met the man's, and both knew what it was pertaining to. Galloway led the way to a quiet corner of the bridge.
"XO, have you noticed any change with the Captain?"
"I've been watching him. His performance has been fine, but I have noticed a couple of empty bottles in his room. My guess is that he's still drinking, but I don't know to what degree. It's not affecting his performance, so we'll let it go for now."
"But, sir! If our CO is having a serious problem with alcohol on duty then we have to take steps!"
Galloway pulled the man against the wall so that in turning, his back was to the bridge crew. He pointed a finger at the man's face, and lowered his voice. "You listen to me, I'm taking care of this. Colby and I have served together far too long for me to throw his career away the second I see him take a drink. If anyone does relieve him of command, that duty will fall to me. Make no mistake that should I find it necessary to do so, it will be with the express purpose of saving the lives of this crew and that man's career. Do we understand one another?"
"Good. I want you to carry on then, and continue to report anything that you think is unusual. Just make sure that you understand my motivations and intentions. I don't want you to do anything that could jeopardize either the captain's career, or the crew's trust in their captain. We understand each other, right?"
"Fine. We're done then."
Galloway turned, walked back to the command chair, and sat. He was aware that the Ops officer exited the bridge in back of him, and also that several of the bridge crew had seen, if not heard, the conversation. He was certain that curiosity was rising. Colby had better get his act together, he thought.
February 2, 2681
Colby looked around the room at the assembled officers. Again, it was the COs and squadron commanders for each of the eight Murphys in the destroyer squadron. He took a final sip of coffee, and walked to the front of the room.
"All right, I believe that this is everyone. Let's begin. We'll start with the situation. The fleet is moving to the Tyr System to intercept the Nephilim, so that will be our next jump. We will make that jump in approximately four hours. Our first engagement will be a fast strike run past the Nephilim fleet. Our purpose in doing this is twofold. First, we want to size up the Nephilim force. Our second purpose is the actual mission of the fleet while in Tyr. Our purpose in this system is to delay the Nephilim force long enough for the system to be evacuated. Other elements will be performing similar delaying actions. While these units engage the Nephilim, certain elements of the fleet will be conducting an evacuation of this system. Bear in minds that at this point we are not expected to stop the fleet. Admiral Hanton has in mind to make the stand elsewhere. Everyone okay with that so far?" No one spoke as Colby took another sip from his cup.
"Good. In that case, let's move on to the mission at hand."
Colby pushed a button on the remote, and the briefing screen behind him lit up. Displayed was an upside down triangle. The single point at the bottom of the screen was in the middle of a blue circle. In the center of the line on top, there was a red circle. Colby pointed at the bottom, blue circle.
"This is our fleet. We will run a two point course. From this point, we will proceed to way point one."
Colby pointed at the top right point of the triangle. "This is estimated to be several thousand klicks from where Intell believes some elements of the Nephilim fleet are likely to be. Fighter squadrons from the Yorktown will be performing forward recon, so hopefully we'll have better data by the time we get to Waypoint One. From here, we will head towards the Nephilim. This is going to be a hit and run attack, so we will head in at about 2/3 speed. Fighters will launch about 10,000 klicks out. Fighters from the Denver and Waterloo will remain with our force, as protection. All other fighters will go on ahead of us and engage the Nephilim's fighter cover. We should be close behind, and hopefully you guys won't be alone for too long. The fighter group that goes ahead will be under the command of Lt. Col Ward. One note at this point to all squadron commanders, if you notice a pilot that looks like they are in trouble, have them get clear and head for the rendezvous point. We will not be able to stop in the middle of the Nephilim picket force to retrieve any pilots that have ejected. Understood?"
"Good. Now, the destroyers will proceed into the mass of Nephilim ships, and move straight through, guns blazing. We want to inflict as much damage as possible while minimizing our own casualties. I don't know how effective our torpedoes are going to be against the Nephilim ships, but I am planning to target capships on this run. Whether or not the ships in the rear will have to fire at the same targets, or if the first round of torpedoes is effective, we'll have to see. This time out, don't bother targeting anything larger than a destroyer-sized ship. Basic premise for the destroyers is to burn through, get a good size estimate, and do as much damage as possible in the meanwhile. When we get halfway through the Nephilim picket force, we will power up to flank speed. As the destroyers begin to leave the Nephilim force, the fighters should break off as well. Cover our butts on the way out; I doubt they'll let us waltz in, shoot the place up, and leave without a fight. It's the fighters' job at that point to cover our destroyers' escape from the Nephilim force. Our hope is to lead as many of them as possible away from the evacuation operation. The rendezvous point that I mentioned earlier is the second waypoint."
Colby pointed to the top left point of the triangle. "It is here that we will recover the fighters. From here, we will proceed another 70,000 klicks straight out from that point, not returning to the main fleet. And that, people, is the plan. General theory is to get in and out fast enough that they can't organize a defense, and then lead some of them on a wild goose chase. Are there any questions?"
Cdr. King, from the Dallas spoke up, "Sir, do we have any plans is we are successful in getting a force to follow us?"
"Yes. First, we run for all we're worth. Should the pursuing force not give up and return to the main force, we may have to confront them. Otherwise, they return to the main force, and we return to hit and run tactics."
There was a moment of silence as the officers reviewed the plan in their heads. Cdr. Wehrmann spoke up, "Sir, what's the order of march for the ships?"
"We will form in two columns; staggered, not parallel. Chicago will be first, followed by Miami, Kiev, Blue Ridge, Manchester, Dallas, Denver, and then Waterloo. Anything else?"
No one spoke.
"All right, then. Four hours. We'll form into the line of march as we start out."
Four and a half hours later...
Colby sat in his command chair nervously biting a fingernail.
"Sir, we're approaching Waypoint One."
"Sir! Message from the Yorktown! Their Grendel Squadron reports they have an exact fix on lead elements of the Nephilim fleet. There's a force of destroyers and corvettes, lead by a heavy cruiser, approximately 270 degrees to our left."
"So, the Space Force is good for something, after all," Colby said. "All right, come left to 270 degrees. Ahead two-thirds."
"Come left to 270 degrees, aye."
"Ahead two-thirds, aye, sir."
As the ship turned, Colby could feel the engines power up. "Comm, signal the other ships to go to two-thirds."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Flight deck control room
Lt. Col Ward could see most of the flight deck from the viewport in the control room. He saw all eight of the Tigersharks lined up and ready for launch. The pilots had finished their preflight inspections, and were just waiting on the signal to go. He felt an uneasiness in his stomach that he always felt before a mission. It had been intense when he had began his flying career, then settled down once he was used to flying the missions. Since his promotion and subsequent command however, he had felt it more intensely again. It was the pressure of responsibility for the lives of his people. Colby and he had talked about it once, and Colby had confided that he felt the same. He walked around the room once more, checking to see that everything was ready. Then, left the room and made his way to the flight deck. His crew chief was there, running down a checklist of his own.
"Everything okay, Chief?"
"Good to go, sir. Bring her back in one piece."
Ward climbed into the cockpit, strapped in, and waited.
"Sir, we are 10,000 klicks from the Nephilim force."
Colby saw on the tactical screen a large force. They were aimed to go through the edge of the Nephilim force. That way, they would be close enough to get a good size estimate. They would not, however, be going through the middle of the force, allowing them to get away more cleanly.
"Launch all fighters. Comm, relay that message to all ships. Weps, prepare targeting relays. As soon as one of those buggers is in sight, I want a firing solution. You're not going to have much time, so make it fast."
The weapons officer began the process of selecting a target that the torpedoes would be useful against. "Sir, torpedoes sighting in on target bearing 037 degrees."
"Launch as soon as we have a lock."
Ward flew out to a point 3000 klicks from Chicago and waited for the rest of the air group to form. He passed the time looking at his HUD and VDUs, and re-figuring how far ahead of the destroyers they would be. Even a minute was going to be a lifetime, and truth be told, he didn't want the destroyers so far behind. He'd seen the size estimates and suffice to say, they were vastly outnumbered. The only merit to the plan was that by skimming one edge of the Nephilim force, they wouldn't encounter the full brunt of the full force. He saw on his screen that most of the fighters were present.
"Squadron COs, sound off by ship."
"Blue Ridge, present."
"Denver, in position and holding."
"Waterloo, in position and holding."
"All right, let's go get 'em." He pushed his throttle to full and engaged the autopilot.
Four minutes later...
Ward saw them on his HUD. They showed up as gray dots, unrecognized by the computers. "That's them, people. Stick with your wingman. Break and attack!"
He zeroed in on an enemy fighter straight ahead, following its movements on his HUD. He fired a volley at the ship, glancing it on the starboard wing. He pulled hard to port to pursue, and his heat seeking tracker began the lock process. The enemy dodged a couple of times, but Ward stayed on his tail. Finally, the steady tone of a lock was heard. Ward released a missile and it chased after the target. It slammed home, slowing the enemy ship. Ward released a full barrage of gunfire, which blew away fragments of the enemy ship.
"Sir, you've got one on your tail," Ward's wingman reported. "Just hold steady, I've got him in my sights."
Having confidence in his wingman, he continued his pursuit of the Nephilim fighter.
"Scratch one fighter!" came the report.
He released another missile. Almost simultaneously, there was an explosion behind him as his wingman took care of his pursuer. A moment later, his own missile found the sputtering ship, and finished it off in a brilliant explosion.
"Sir, we are within weapons range," the Ops officer announced.
"All guns, open fire. Weps, do you have firing solutions yet?"
"Almost isn't good enough, Glen. I want solutions, and I want them now!"
Colby walked to the tactical plot and looked a the positions of the enemy ships in relation to his own small fleet. They were closing fast.
"Sir, I've got the firing solution!"
The ship shook slightly as the first torpedo left the tube.
Capt. Ruebaker dodged a Nephilim ship that seemed inches from his own as he attempted to maintain his pursuit of another. The fighting had stretched on for a good fifteen minutes now, and his missile racks were almost empty. He was determined to save what few missiles he had left for the exit run. He had also ordered the same from those under his command. His command. Since Maj. Lewis had been relieved, the squadron had been all his. It had been a welcome change, never having liked the frigid major.
"Delta 4, you have a bogey on your tail. I'm on him; break left and I will engage."
Ruebaker anticipated the their pilot's turn, and began his own tun. When the other pilot did turn, the Nephilim fighter that was following turned right into Ruebaker's sights, where a full volley of fire was waiting. The Nephilim was engulfed in flames.
Cdr. Wehrmann stood behind his tactical officer watching closely. They were nearing the heart of the Nephilim force, and the ship's guns were beginning to run a little hot from the activity.
"Sir, we got another fighter!"
However, at the same time, the ship shook with a direct hit from another.
"Keep it up! How's the damage looking?"
"Sir, we've lost port maneuvering thrusters and two of the starboard laser turrets. Shielding has been restored to 43%."
"Good, let's just focus on getting out of here."
His operations officer spoke up. "Sir, we're picking up a transponder signal 2300 klicks ahead, slightly off the port bow."
Wehrmann's brow furled. Their orders were not to stop for ejected pilots. He quickly debated about launching a shuttle, but a slower moving shuttle would be chewed to pieces quickly out in the heart of the Nephilim force. Still, he couldn't just leave the pilot out there. After all, they were going to pass right by him. He walked to the operations control panel.
"Ops, when we pass by, will we be close enough to catch him in the tractor beam?"
"Uh, I believe so, sir. But at our present speed, it would be extremely difficult."
Wehrmann thought for a minute. "Okay, I want you to concentrate on this. Leave the other things alone for a second, and focus on this. I want you to get that man as we go by. He's counting on you, you're the only chance he's got. Make it count."
The young officer nodded nervously, and turned to his panel and began to prepare.
"Helm, all ahead flank! Comm, relay that order to the fleet. Let's get out of here!"
"Sir, direct hit with the torpedo. The Nephilim ship is badly damaged, but is still maneuvering."
Colby knew that there wasn't enough time to get another torpedo lock. "Comm, radio the Manchester to target that sip and finish it off."
"Sir, Chicago has ordered all ships to flank speed."
Wehrmann was standing over the operations officer's shoulder. "What's the time to intercept, Ops?"
"Another forty seconds, sir."
An eternity, both for those aboard the Denver, and the pilot out in space.
Wehrmann sighed. "Ahead flank."
The operations officer turned around with wide eyes. "Sir, we can't leave him."
"We don't have a choice."
"Sir," the officer protested, "we have a responsibility to that man."
Wehrmann raised his voice slightly. "We also have a responsibility to those on board this ship."
Wehrmann turned and walked to his command chair, fully feeling the weight of the position. The operations officer turned back to the panel, and watched the pilot's transponder grow closer and closer. Even attempting to lock onto the signal at this speed was folly. The tractor beam required a set of coordinates and a vector to lock onto an object. When moving, the difficulty was compounded, but at this speed was impossible. He watched with unblinking eyes until the signal stopped growing closer, and began to grow further away.
Lt. Col Ward also saw the transponder signal on his HUD, and his heart fell. All of the other ships were already past the ejected pilot, save for the Waterloo. The fighters were beginning to form around the tail end of the formation, to guard the exit from the Nephilim force.
"TCS Waterloo, this is Flight Lead. Do you have a recovery shuttle ready?"
"Lead, this is Waterloo. That's a roger, but we have orders not to launch, over."
"Waterloo, I am ordering you to launch that shuttle. We have a downed pilot out here. Do you copy?"
There was a moment's silence, and then, "Lead, I copy. Recovery launching."
"Attention fighters, this is Flight Lead. All fighters from Dallas and Waterloo form on me. We will be defending the recovery shuttle while it performs its rescue operations. All other fighters, cover the destroyers. Squadron commanders, confirm."
One by one, the other squadron commanders acknowledged the new tasking. The sixteen other fighters from Denver and Waterloo formed around Ward as the shuttle launched. It only took a few minutes to get to the pilot and rescue him because they were already close to him. It also seemed to be working as a diversionary tactic to keep the enemy fighters off of the destroyers.
Good for the destroyers, bad for him. Many of the Nephilim fighters that had been pursuing the destroyers broke off to take care of this threat which was remaining in the middle of the Nephilim fleet. The pilots fought ferociously for what seemed like an eternity.
"Lead, this is rescue. We have the pilot aboard."
"All right everyone, let's get out of here! Fighters from the Denver, forge ahead and try to clear a path for us. Waterloo's fighters have close-in support. Recovery, you had better have that thing at full throttle."
The force fought their way toward the edge of the enemy fleet, aided by other fighters from the rest of the destroyer squadrons that had returned to help. When they finally broke free of the enemy force, they had lost a total of five fighters. Two had lost during the rescue attempt. That wasn't counting the ships that had returned to the destroyers early because of damage. The operation had been more costly than anticipated. Then again, they always were.
TCS Chicago; Bridge
Colby was furious. He'd monitored what had gone on out there, and the two pilots that had been lost to save one. Totally unacceptable.
"Ops, is there indication of a force following us?"
"Yes, sir, there is a force breaking off to pursue. It looks like eight destroyers, five corvettes, and one cruiser."
"Keep me informed as to their whereabouts. XO, you have the bridge. Keep us running at full, and inform me if any Nephilim ships pursue."
Colby stormed off the bridge before waiting for a reply. He was headed for the flight deck to give Lt. Col. Ward a thorough ass chewing. They met halfway, Ward seemingly equally steamed, and headed for the bridge. They met in the hallway, and began shouting simultaneously.
"Who do you think you are, ordering the rescue of that man! Do you think you..."
"What are you doing, leaving people to die on the battle field? You think that people are just some..."
"... have the authority to change the whole fleet's movements? Maybe I should just..."
"... sort of material resource that you can use, use up, and leave lying around when their usefulness is used up?"
"You're ordering this fleet around... "
"... charge into battle and let you sort it all out once we're there, huh? Did you really think..."
"... as if you have no discretion about its crew! Let me tell you that command is caring about your people..."
"... that we were going to rescue that man without more casualties? I need to tell you something about command, son. Command is making decisions..."
"... and making sure that they know that if they are left lying on the battlefield, you're not going home without them! It's about respect!"
"... that are in the best interests of the entire force, not just what you should happen to feel at the moment! What kind of officer do you think..."
"... Respect is something that you earn, not something that you wear on your collar, you spineless little..."
"... that you are going to turn out to be? Do you think that you're going to win the heartfelt admiration of the men?"
"... bastard! You keep treating this fleet like it's some sort of tool for your personal vendettas, and..."
"... sake, you're going to get people killed!"
"... you're going to get a whole lot of people killed!"
They both finished at the same time, and without a moment's hesitation, both stormed off to where they had come from. Just another day in the glorious fleet.
To : Rear Admiral Hanton, Commander Battle Group Valkyrie
From : Capt. Colby, Commander 15th Destroyer Squadron
Subj : After action report
Priority : 2 - Eyes Only
The 15th has completed our mission as discussed. We managed to take out three of the enemy destroyers, and 25 fighters. We lost five of our own fighters in the mess, however. We were able to rescue one pilot, but lost the other four. Combine these with 23 other casualties aboard the destroyers for our total losses. Destroyers sustained minor damage; we should be able to repair those systems within a few days. As of now, our scans report that a small group of about eight destroyers, five corvettes, and a single cruiser in pursuit. Aside from slightly larger casualties on our side than had been anticipated, everything is roughly going to what was planned. I will update you further as the need arises. Unless I receive additional direction from you, I will proceed as initially planned.
Colton Colby, Captain, TCN