TDF Cartagena - 31 Aquilae
To John Radford’s surprise, his request for marine support to carry out a boarding action of the remaining Buzzard was answered within the hour by the appearance of the marine assault ship TDF Saint Nazarene.
Based on the Vulcan class heavy cruiser TDF Saint Nazarene was an Excalibur class assault ship, carrying little in the way of offensive armament she relied on her extra armor to survive in battle. What she did carry, was a marine assault battalion of 510 fighting men and women. Ten Buffalo assault shuttles to carry twenty wraith suited marines into a hot landing zone. Five heavy lift Gigant shuttles to carry the marines’ heavy equipment and five Reapers to provide close air support on a planet’s surface. The Reapers were a small, two-man, highly maneuverable and lethal craft equipped with rapid fire plasma cannon and HVMs. All in all, Saint Nazarene carried everything a marine battalion needed to carry out independent actions like the one John had in mind.
“Saint Nazarene is hailing us Admiral.”
“Put her through Lieutenant” replied John as he spun his chair to face his personal holo cube. John felt his face break into a grin as the smiling face of Alec Murray appeared.
“Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in. Good to see you Alec. I seeA you didn’t waste any time getting here.”
Alec shrugged his shoulders in his typically nonchalant manner.
“I hear the navy couldn’t finish the job without us marines coming to the rescue... again.”
John let out a short snort of laughter before getting straight to the point.
“That Buzzard out there could be a wealth of intelligence Alec. Just the chance to get our hands on one of their ships, a look at their technology. Maybe even the opportunity to secure their navigational data, find out where they come from and the extent of the area under their control. It could lend us insight into what we are facing in this war.”
John’s voice took on a somber tone. “And make no mistake Alec, this is a war now. We may have won today but we have no idea of what we truly face.”
In the holo cube Alec’s life-like image nodded its head in understanding.
“Time is of the essence here Alec, ‘The Others’ have a two hour head start and if I was in command of that ship I would be destroying anything and everything that I thought would be useful to an enemy; we need to get aboard that Buzzard and secure as much as we can before they have the chance to destroy it.”
John paused and Alec saw a frown appear on his friend’s brow. “To be honest with you Alec, I don’t understand why they haven’t abandoned ship and scuttled her already.”
“That was something that occurred to my planning team as well Admiral. We could only come up with two options: one - for whatever reason they can’t scuttle her or...” any trace of a smile left Alec’s face, “two - they’re waiting for us to board her then scuttle her and take us with them.”
Taking a breath John looked resolutely into the disembodied face of his friend, before he gave the order that he knew could be condemning Alec and his marines to death.
“It’s a risk we have to take Alec. The prize is simply too big to pass up.”
From the holo cube, Alec’s eyes steadfastly held John’s. It wasn’t the first time that John had sent men and women under his command into danger and Alec knew his friend would not do it lightly.
“You of course have my full support for your plan Alec...” the grin slowly returned to John’s face. “You do have a plan, don’t you?”
This time it was Alec’s turn to let out a short laugh. “It may not be pretty but I reckon it will do the job.” Alec’s gaze flicked out of the holo cube’s field of view for a moment before returning to fix on John. “My marines are boarding the shuttles now. We launch in ten minutes.”
“Good luck Alec.”
With a quick nod from Alec the connection terminated. John sat back in his chair and quietly said a prayer for the marines.
Aboard his command shuttle Alec Murray remained outwardly calm. To any observer everything was under control. The operation will run as smoothly as a Swiss watch... Alec reassured himself; so why was his stomach doing flip flops and his brain running at a thousand miles per hour?
“Five minutes ‘til contact Colonel.” The warm, honey like southern accent of the female marine pilot called as if it was just another training flight.
Alec pulled up a real-time flight plot on his Wraith suit’s head up display. Nine Buffalo shuttles were formed up into three flights of three shuttles. Each flight of three performed an intricate weaving pattern designed to fool any enemy gunners as they approached the 1700-meter-long, 220,000 tonne enemy ship from the rear. The navy had assured him that by using pin point energy weapon strikes on the Buzzard’s outer hull, they had turned anything resembling detection equipment, anti-ship or anti-missile systems into worthless scrap metal. All the same Alec saw no reason to take life-threatening risks. He wasn’t complacent, although no enemy fire had been directed at his shuttles, it could mean the enemy were simply waiting until the shuttles reached point blank range before opening fire.
Alec’s plan was simple, as he mulled on it a worried frown crossed his forehead. The plan was stripped back as he had no idea what he and his marines were going into. There was no intelligence to indicate the internal layout of the Buzzard. The crew estimate of 1400 was exactly that. Based on Intelligence’s guesstimate on crew requirements for a human ship the size of a Buzzard. Alec had no idea whether his marines would face The Others version of themselves once they entered the Buzzard or whether it would just be armed ship’s crew. Assuming of course that they were able to actually enter the ship.
The Buffaloes were headed for what Intelligence had identified as airlocks spread along the hull of the Buzzard. Alec let out a sigh of resignation, they thought they were airlocks, they could be waste disposal hatches for all they knew. The thought of his marines blowing their way into the Buzzard only to be confronted by a mountain of rubbish was one that in any other circumstance would bring tears of laughter to Alec’s eyes; not today. Intelligence rationalized that the ports were spread evenly around the hull of the Buzzard and were roughly equidistant along its length.
Alec divided his initial assault force into three sub units: ‘A’ Company under Captain Brandon – the bow where all things being equal they would locate the bridge, ‘C’ Company under Captain Alonso - the stern where they should find the engineering spaces, ‘B’ Company under Captain Tanaka, with Alec’s small headquarters element attached amidships where on human ships you would expect to find the computer core.
Of the three marine companies initially employed in the assault ‘C’ Company had, perhaps, the easiest yet most crucial task. Human warfare was governed by The Rules of War, it stated anenemy should be given the opportunity to surrender. In drawing up his assault plan Alec recognized he had no choice but to breach this rule, he could not afford to give anyone in the engineering spaces the opportunity to set off scuttling charges. ‘C’ Company were ordered to give no quarter, they were to secure the engineering spaces at all costs and hold until relieved. Captain Alonso’s stoic look when he received said order indicated he understood that tough calls had to be made at times and this was one of those times.
Following the initial insertion, the Buffaloes were to return to TDF Saint Nazarene and pick up the second wave of marines who would then insert through the breaches made by the assault force to reinforce as Alec deemed necessary. This was guesswork on Alec’s part but it was all they had to work with.
“One minute... doors opening. Gravity off.” The command came in that same calm voice. The load master pressed a control and Alec felt the bottom of his seat retract until his legs dangled below him. The marines were now secured only by the magnetic shoulder harness as the emptiness of space sped past below. Alec took a sharp intake of breath as, not ten meters below his feet, the scarred and gouged battle armor of the Buzzard suddenly appeared. Damn that hull was close! Alec hoped the pilot didn’t have to make any radical maneuvers. She hadn’t left herself much wiggle room.
The shuttle came to a halt directly over a three by three-meter hatch with what looked like a locking mechanism off to one side. Alec assumed a rigid vertical position as the load master touched the control activating the pusher system. The shoulder harness dropped explosively downward before disconnecting from the marines’ suits, shooting the marines out of the shuttle bay akin to a cork exploding from a bottle. Twenty marines spat out of the shuttle bay doors at a speed only the integral Wraith suit computer could compensate for. The marines’ shoulder harnesses were still retracting into the shuttle bay as the shuttle was piloted back to TDF Saint Nazarene for her next load. Alec felt his legs bend slightly at the knees as his suit automatically prepared to take the impact with the hull. With a jolt Alec’s feet contacted the hull and his suit activated its magnetic boots to secure him in place while he orientated himself.
With no word of command, the two marines carrying the breaching charges moved to the airlock doors and placed their cargo. The remaining marines stacked up a few meters clear, ready to enter once the charges went off. In Alec’s helmet display a small clock appeared and a warning tone sounded in his ear. Five... four... three... two... one... flash! The helmet filters automatically dimmed what Alec knew was a blinding explosion, he felt a slight vibration through his body and knew the initial breach was successful. A marine moved forward and without exposing himself stuck his rifle barrel into the hole. Alec’s head up display was filled by the image, courtesy of the marine’s barrel camera of a room four by three by two meters with a second bulk head at the far end. It was indeed an airlock.
“That’s a beer I owe Intelligence,” Alec muttered to himself as his marines were occupied with the next stage of their assault. A marine maintained an over-watch on the inside of the airlock while another, with a second breaching charge dropped in, his feet found the deck inside. “Internal gravity is on” Alec noted out loud. The marine approached the inner airlock door and placed a second breaching charge before beating a hasty retreat to the outer hull. Five... four... three... Alec watched the countdown on his head up display as the warning tone sounded, two... one... Flash! Another successful breach. The airlock gushed atmosphere as the corridor beyond was subjected to explosive decompression. Atmosphere wasn’t the only thing to rush out into the cold darkness of space. At least half a dozen unsuited crew were dragged through the airlock and ejected into space. They may be the enemy but Alec hoped the merciful embrace of death came quickly to them.
The marines surged through the airlock, into the now empty corridor beyond and took up covering positions.
“Williams! Scan!” Ordered Tanaka. Marine Williams produced a handheld device from a leg compartment of his suit and slowly turned in a circle.
The Buzzard’s armor had previously defeated the TDF’s scanning equipment. The layout of the Buzzard could not be determined without a navy ship closing with it and using a powerful penetrating radar which would have damaged any computers and storage devices on-board and irradiated the crew. The decision to carry out a manual scan after the breach wasn’t really a decision, it was the only choice. Williams was doing a sterling job and within moments Alec’s suit indicated that it had started to receive the data that would build into a complete schematic of the Buzzard. Alec took the opportunity to check the progress of his other assault teams.
The other two ‘B’ Company teams amid ship had successfully gained entry and had as yet met no opposition. On the other hand, the three ‘A’ Company teams in the bow were meeting stiff resistance by space-suited crew armed with laser rifles.
Alec’s suit was having difficulty getting a solid link with ‘C’ Company. He wasn’t unduly concerned as communication difficulties were to be expected. The engineering spaces on any ship were heavily shielded and would, no doubt, cause interference. Alec keyed his radio and called Captain Brandon as Williams finished his scan. A ship’s schematic appeared in Alec’s display containing the marines known positions.
“Sitrep, Captain Brandon.”
“Team One is pinned down in the corridor adjacent to the airlock. I have three KIA and two walking wounded. Without using something heavier I will be unable to make progress. Team Two have met minimal resistance and are advancing to what they believe to be the main missile bays. I have prioritized that task and have sent Team Three in support. I believe we have identified the bridge.
Our scan shows what appears to be a mass of command and control lines running to an area two decks above my current position, it’s more heavily shielded than any other section in the bow. I intend to break through current enemy resistance and make our way to that section.” A clear concise report, a sure sign that Brandon was an experienced combat leader. Alec’s own experience led him to read between the lines. Brandon’s professionalism and dedication to his men prevented him from spelling out his worst fears, his marines would continue to die without the release of heavier weapons.
Alec unconsciously worried his bottom lip, a habit he had developed in childhood that reappeared whenever he had a tough decision to make. He was sympathetic to Brandon’s position but using heavy weapons on board brought with it collateral damage and the possibility of destroying exactly what they had come to secure.
His marines though where taking casualties. Alec came to his decision. “Heavy weapons at your discretion Captain but don’t get all John Wayne on me understood?”
“Aye aye Sir.”
“On ‘D’ Company’s arrival in...” Alec quickly checked the progress of the second wave of marines. Damn! They were still sixteen minutes out. “Sixteen minutes I shall chop two teams to your command. Your mission is to secure the bridge ASAP.”
“Roger that Sir. I’ll use explosives to blow upward through the deck plates and that should side step their defenses.”
“Sounds good Captain. Let’s make it happen!” Alec cut the link and gave the sub vocal command “Suit, call Alonso.” A pause followed by a double tone informed Alec that his suit couldn’t establish a link to Alonso, instead it automatically searched for the next active ranking marine.
“Go for Semple.” The voice sounded strained and distracted. Alec’s face paled as he did a quick mental calculation. Semple was something like tenth in the chain of command.
“The situation is... let’s call it fluid at the moment Sir... Wait.
Jonas on your six! Two enemy on... Shit!”
On Alec’s display, Marine Jonas’ name flashed red then disappeared as Semple came back on the link.
“Sir I have fifty-three KIA and virtually everyone else has an injury of some sort. The initial entry went as planned but as soon as we cleared the airlocks we were assaulted by enemy marines in full-up armor. They were using some sort of plasma grenade. The suits can take a lot of damage but plasma in a confined space you can imagine...” Semple paused, Alec could hear the stress in his voice.
“Sergeant! Can you hold?”
“We’ve killed all the armored marines and secured all the entrances into engineering by bodging the breaching charges and using them to warp the bulkheads. If they want back in here they’ll have to either blow or cut their way in. I’m sweeping the area now for anything that looks like scuttling charges and enemy stragglers. They seem to be mostly suited crew armed with nothing more than improvised weapons but they’ll attack a suited marine with whatever they can get their hands on. It’s like they have some form of death wish or something.”
Alec felt a surge of pride. ‘C’ Company had suffered fifty-three dead from a fighting force of eighty marines. According to Alec’s readouts, the remaining twenty-seven had all sustained injuries to varying degrees. With all his officers and senior NCOs dead, Semple had assumed command continuing the mission until its successful conclusion.
Alec checked the arrival time of the second wave again. The clock wasn’t going fast enough for Alec’s liking and not for the first time that day he wished he could control time.
“Sergeant. You’ll have a team from ‘D’ Company with you in twelve minutes. Murray clear.” A flashing icon in his display told Alec that Captain Tanaka was waiting to speak with him.
“Go for Murray.”
“Sir. If you’ll check your schematic it looks like we’ve identified the computer core.”
Alec scanned the schematics now showing in his display. An area located at almost the center of the ship was highlighted in yellow. It appeared heavily shielded, one small area at the heart, seemingly constructed of the same type of battle armor as the ship’s hull.
Alec’s brow furrowed in thought, it seemed to be overkill. If the ship was struck by a weapon that could penetrate this deep surely the ship would be lost? Why bother protecting this one comparatively tiny area to such an extent. Alec mentally shrugged, there was only one way to find out. Alec pulled up his marines’ positions. His display showed Teams Five and Six, the other two amidships teams, were making their way horizontally along their respective decks - away from the computer core.
“OK, Captain that looks like our objective. Order Teams Five and Six to make their way there now.” Tanaka cut the link to pass the necessary orders while Alec contemplated his next problem.
The Buzzard’s battle armor was blocking all communication with anything beyond the hull, he couldn’t talk to either the Admiral or the shuttles carrying the second wave. At least that problem had an easy answer. Alec punched in the link for his two-man security/headquarter team. Gunny Wanderman and Corporal Fredricks.
“Gunny. You and Fredricks remain here. We’ll use your suit’s comms unit to act as a relay for the marines inside the hull to the outside world. I’ll stay with Captain Tanaka.”
With a curt “Aye aye Sir” the Gunny and Fredricks moved into the cover of the inner airlock and almost immediately the icon for the flag ship began blinking.
“Go for Murray.”
“Thought we’d lost you there for a minute,” came the concerned voice of John Radford before turning business-like, “Sitrep?”
“Admiral we’re taking casualties but we believe we have secured the engineering section. We are confident that we have identified the missile bays, the bridge and the computer core and I have teams moving to secure them now. The Buzzard’s crew are putting up stiff resistance in places but on the deployment of the second wave I am sure that I can secure our objectives.”
“Understood Alec. Keep your head down.”
“That’s one thing you can be assured of. Murray clear.” Changing channels Alec stood up. “Let’s go Captain.”
Gunny Wanderman followed the progress of the various teams and the imminent arrival of the reinforcement shuttles with one eye whilst keeping a wary look-out for the enemy with the other. He clocked Corporal Fredricks bracing herself in the upper corner of the airlock with her head poking out of the jagged remains of the outer airlock door, presumably to allow her suit’s surveillance systems to get a clear image of the outer hull until its curved shape took it out of line of sight. Wanderman’s thoughts were interrupted by a call from Fredricks.
“Gunny I’ve got movement on the hull.”
Wanderman brought the image up on his display. Sure enough he made out at least four space-suited figures cresting the curve of the hull about twenty meters from the airlock. None of the suits were transmitting an IFF code. Wanderman’s heart rate rose several beats per minute, what were the enemy doing on the hull? He didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Two of the enemy figures raised a long tube onto their shoulders. Missiles!
Wanderman activated the emergency link on his suit, automatically overriding all other broadcasts on the marine net. “Vampire. Vampire. Enemy soldiers on the hull with missiles. Location twenty meters ship north of airlock four I am engaging with small arms. Wanderman clear.”
Fredricks had already swung her whole body up through the outer airlock and was firing at the enemy soldiers. As Wanderman pushed himself upwards to join her he saw Fredricks’ shake then, in gruesome slow motion he watched her lower half, neatly cauterized just above the pelvis, fall backwards into the airlock. Macabrely Fredericks’ remains hung, suspended by the suit’s magnetic boots - of her torso there was no sign.
Wanderman stuck his rifle up through the airlock and used his suit’s targeting system to show him the enemy soldiers. Fredricks must have downed two before her demise, there were only two left. One had taken cover behind a large section of damaged hull that denied Wanderman a clean shot. The other, however, was advancing towards his position as fast as his magnetic boots would allow, he made no attempt to move from cover to cover. More fool you thought Wanderman as he fired off an aimed shot which struck the advancing soldier squarely in the chest. The plasma round was traveling at a significant portion of the speed of light and went through the soldiers armored chest like it wasn’t even there. Exiting through the back of the suit it carried on into the infinity of space. Wanderman was contemplating moving onto the hull to get a clean shot at the remaining soldier when the shrill tone of a proximity warning sounded in his ear, interrupting his thought process. The star light around him disappeared as a Buffalo shuttle came to a stop not two meters above him. The nose of the Buffalo was pointed at the section of damaged hull behind which the enemy soldier was hiding and as Wanderman looked on the nose mounted rapid fire plasma cannon discharged. The section of the hull and the soldier vanished in a brilliant flash. Twenty fully armed and Wraith suited marines dropped beside
him and headed through the airlock to join the fight. The blinking icon of an incoming call caught Wanderman’s attention.
He activated the link. That warm, honey-like voice said
“Thank you kindly for the heads-up Gunny. The other Buffaloes are reporting that missile teams were waiting for them at each of the airlocks. That could have been a nasty surprise if you hadn’t got that warning out”
Despite recent events Wanderman smiled. “My pleasure Ma’am.”
“I think maybe we should hang around for a while in case you need any more flies scratched off your back.”
“I’m obliged. Wanderman clear.”
Deep in the hull Alec Murray and Team Four were closing on their objective. The suspected computer core. During a natural pause between tactical bounds Alec took a minute to check on the progress of the teams in the forty minutes since the initial breaching action.
What appeared to be the main missile magazine had been secured with the minimum of casualties by Teams Two and Three. The Lieutenants in charge of each team had gotten their heads together and came up with the idea, quickly adopted by all Team Leaders, of using a small charge on every bulkhead door they came across. The ones on either side of their route of advance got a charge large enough to buckle the frame making the doors inoperable. The ones on the actual route of advance were blown open and left that way. The net effect was that the entire line of advance was left in hard vacuum trapping the ship’s crew in the areas which still retained atmosphere. On reaching the missile bay the marines had simply blown the bulkheads and allowed the atmosphere to escape before entering to minimal opposition. It may seem cruel to some but it kept marine casualties and collateral damage to a minimum. A good thing too as Team Two reported that the crew had been in the process of rigging some of the nuclear missiles with dead man switches which would have allowed them to be detonated by hand rather than electronically. The detonation of a few nukes would have destroyed the ship, the crew and the marines.
Captain Brandon had managed to circumvent his immediate opposition by blasting his way through the deck plates but Brandon reported stiffening opposition from armored soldiers as he approached the bridge area but he was confident that with the imminent arrival of reinforcements he could take the bridge in short order.
Sergeant Semple held the engineering spaces with the arrival of fresh marines he was in the process of evacuating his wounded, although he refused to leave himself. Memories of 70 Ophiuchi came to mind and Alec wondered if he was going to have no choice but to send Gunny Wanderman to Engineering to remind Semple of the consequences of refusing to obey orders.
The call on Team Four’s net brought Alec back to his current position. By the schematics reckoning Team Four was less than twenty meters from the area which showed the heaviest shielding. The lead marine made his way to the corner of the corridor and went to one knee as he extended his rifle in front of him giving it, and by extension, his suit which passed the image to the other suits of the team a clear look along the marines’ line of advance. Alec had the fleetest of moments to identify a barricaded position as the entire corner where the lead marine was kneeling exploded outward flinging the marine clear across the corridor where he bounced off the far wall and lay still. The red blinking name Morales appeared then disappeared in Alec’s display.
The marines around him hugged the corridor walls for cover as two small, round, black objects rebounded off the corridors wall and fell by Morales’ still form.
“Grenade!” screamed Alec as he fell to the deck. The world around him rocked and his suit filters blackened as the first wave of superheated plasma passed over him. Alec sensed rather than felt being violently beaten onto the deck. The beating seemed to last forever. Alec prayed for his suit to maintain its integrity and spare his life.
The detached, rational part of Alec’s mind knew that only a few seconds had passed, not a lifetime, but a few seconds in combat was the difference between living and dying. He knew if he was in command of the enemy soldiers he would order a follow up charge on the heels of the explosion.
Alec struggled to his knees as the first armor clad enemy soldier came around the corner. A lethal looking rifle in his hands was swinging in Alec’s direction. Alec tried to raise his own weapon but his brain was finding it difficult to coordinate. Alec realized he wasn’t going to make it and resigned himself to his fate... What the hell? Alec shook his head to clear the fog... he saw the hand of God pluck the soldier off the corridor floor, throw him high in the air before returning him as a million shredded pieces. Something tapped Alec’s shoulder, he turned towards it. All external sound practically muted by the ringing in his ears, Alec concentrated on the moving lips he saw, and the muffled noises coming from them
“Sir! Can you hear me? Sir! Are you all right?” Alec strained to hear the marine.
“Captain” Alec struggled to get the word out as he re-orientated himself.
Muqimi repeated “Sir! Are you OK?”
Alec shook his head to clear it as his suit systems began injecting pain numbing medication, enough to keep him mobile. He nodded in assent and Muqimi helped him to his feet, urgently grabbing at his arm and pulling with great strength while maintaining possession of his own weapon. Now on his unsteady feet Alec looked around him and snorted at his own stupidity, it hadn’t been the hand of God to the rescue; it was his reinforcements.
He sobered immediately on the realization that Team Four had ceased to exist. Twelve fellow marines gone in an instant. The survivors had sustained severe injuries.
“Muqimi, it must have been the plasma grenades,” Alec gestured towards the destruction. “Semple came up against them in the engineering spaces,” Muqimi nodded his understanding, “around that corner are the enemy that have just wiped out your fellow marines I want them to understand that killing a marine is a bad idea.” Alec was almost running on a full tank of gas now, “Do you understand me?”
Muqimi, a marine for the guts of fifteen years, understood his commander perfectly. “Message received and understood Sir!” He switched to his team channel. “Marines covering fire on my command. Breaching charges forward. Standby. Standby. Fire!”
The wrath of God rained fire that engulfed the enemy position as Team Fourteen poured plasma fire onto the killers of their fellow marines. Under this cover two breaching charges were launched, their magnetic hooks held them fast against the enemy barricade. A heart beat later their shaped charge heads exploded, reverberating throughout the ship.
The barricade and its defenders ceased to exist. The marines charged through the cloud of debris. A still shaky Alec with them. No quarter was asked for nor given. The marines cleared the position leaving only death and destruction in their wake.
Before them lay the bulkhead leading to the computer core. As Alec approached the bulkhead he felt, just for a moment, an unusual tingling. He checked his suit readouts, he hadn’t imagined it. Then through the deck plates beneath his feet he felt a deep rumble. “Suit, analysis!”
A male un-intoned, synthesized voice replied, “Systems show a three hertz ultra-low frequency signal. Duration two seconds. Generated from indeterminate source located seven meters beyond the bulkhead. One second later there was a thermal baric explosion. There is no electrical activity from that section, further I detect the only life signs aboard this vessel are those belonging to Terran Defense Force personnel.”
Thank you for reading!
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