The Canadian spec-ops team search for the generator powering the electromagnetic field as Admiral Johnson struggles to keep his fleet in one peace during the resticted fire protocol.
Meanwhile, American Admiral Stone and Dr Greer discuss whether to kill the true source of the EM field should the Canadians discover it.
…and… a new, unexpected player enters the game. Introduced by ‘Lala13’, it’s… well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
If you’re new to this co-written serial, you can find Episode 1 here.
- Miss (USA, I-1)
- Hit (USA, C-5, size:3)
- Attack (USA, K-1)
- Attack (USA, K-5)
Sure enough, luck had run out. He hated being right. Captain Peart stood on the bridge and assessed the damage through his binoculars. The HMCS Shabandewan had taken a hit to the bow and was listing badly.
“Ready the lifeboats, and offer our assistance to the Shabandewan,” he ordered.
Captain Peart swept the position of the unseen enemy fleet. The order to stay was unusual, but these were unusual circumstances. The enemy fleet had been on a vector right down the St. Lawrence so the initial attack was understandable but, in light of recent developments, the prudent action would have been to back off and leave the situation to the politicians. Yet that hadn’t happened, despite the almost certainty that they faced an American fleet.
“Shabandewan accepts our aid, Captain. They report the collapse of forward bulkheads and flooding of the bow compartments. They’ll stay afloat barring more hits, but they’re out of the battle.”
“Launch lifeboats,” he answered automatically, his mind elsewhere.
The only reason there could be for staying was if this wasn’t a standard American fleet. Thus, the real reason they hadn’t disengaged must be…the electromagnetic field.
Could the Admiral believe it was generated by the American fleet, itself? If so, that would truly be a prize worth fighting for. But by launching an attack, there was as much chance of destroying any generators as saving them. Perhaps that explained their recent orders to avoid any ordinance delivery along a longitudinal vector through the zone. It was possible the Admiral had launched a covert team. That could also explain his silence on the topic. If true, however, they may need air support for the extraction.
“Prep a squadron of sea-harriers for launch, notify pilots to be on standby.”
“But, Captain, we can’t fly in the EM zone.”
“We’re not going in yet. But I have a feeling we may be needed.”
As the small armada of lifeboats sped across the gap between ships, Captain Peart watched the elevators lift the aircraft to the runway. The Nunavut might yet have an important role to play in the closing act of this drama, he thought.
* * *
“It’s too soon to tell, Admiral, but the field seems to dissipate faster after each discharge of the EMP.”
“That’s something. At the current decay rate, how many more discharges do you estimate before a negative effect.”
“Well, we don’t know the charging time, sir, but if we can assume a linear decay sequence with a twenty-minute charge cycle, I would estimate they still have another ten uses before the field dissipates faster than they can charge it. Again, that assumes a linear decay in field strength, Admiral.”
“I understand, Lieutenant. It’s all we have to go on for the moment, but it gives us some hope.
“What’s the latest sit-rep?”
“The Shabandewan’s taken a hit, sir, Nunavut is lending aid. The Atikokan and Nipissing have left alone the crippled ship for the moment, as per your orders, and continue to bombard the zone.”
“Keep me apprised of any developments, Lieutenant,” he said, turning to leave the bridge. Admiral Johnson checked his watch – forty-five minutes remaining to the team.
* * *
The small team floated at the base of the battleship. In the cover of the dark and the friendly fire, they had decided on a silent approach via the surface. Sergeant Gary Wilks searched the side of the vessel for identifying marks but found none; not even a designation. This was no ordinary fleet.
He gave the hand signal and launched his boarding grapple the same time as the other five shot into the air. All six caught the railing and the team scrambled up the taut lines hauling their scuba tanks on their backs. The tanks would have to be hidden on the deck. He didn’t trust the raft to stay afloat in the strengthening storm and the gear would be needed for their extraction.
The deck was oddly quiet and the team stowed their gear in nearby lifeboats before entering the closest hatch. He gave a series of hand signals and they split into their two designated groups. The others sped off down the stairs for engineering and, what should be the simple job of crippling the generator. His team had the more challenging task of finding the EMP plans.
The corridors seemed oddly deserted in the quiet red strobing of the emergency lights. It made him uneasy. The crew must be somewhere, and he didn’t relish the thought of coming upon them all at once.
The triad sped silently down the corridors, quickly checking the room designations as they crisscrossed the narrow maze. He was about to order them down a floor when a sign caught his attention: Tactical. He signalled guns at the ready as the trio surrounded the door.
They each pulled out a specially modified pistol. Standard ‘covert’ orders were in place and they were to use non-lethal force. All pistols were equipped with tranq-darts.
On his mark, Xiou hammered in the door with a powerful kick and the three burst in the room. The four Lieutenants dropped quickly amid the hail of darts. Bill closed the door behind them, locking it, before joining Gary and Xiou at the telemetry station.
The entire fleet lay before them, mapped out on table-top computer screen. It was a standard, protective deployment, clearly designed to provide maximum cover for the two capital ships.
“Sarge,” whispered Xiou. Gary turned quickly from the table.
“What do you got for me?”
“Fleet records, sarge. From launch, updated to the present.”
“Let me see,” Gary said, as Xiou passed him the most recent log.
“The ‘Zarathustra’.” It was a name he didn’t recognize, but that meant little these days. With the rampant production of weapons of all types, it was virtually impossible to keep up with every new vessel commissioned.
Gary flipped quickly through the pages. They detailed the attack by the Canadian fleet, including hits on two vessels, the Ahura Mazda and the Aura Mainyu. It seemed the latter was currently being evacuated. That might explain the absence of crew, as they helped rescue their comrades. But there was nothing regarding an EMP generator except a mention that their systems had been knocked out prior to the initial attack. It actually seemed that the fleet wasn’t entirely sure where they were.
Gary signalled Xiou and Bill and they both came to him quickly.
“Men, I think things have just gotten more complicated.”
“How so, sarge?” Bill was looking at the telemetry map as he asked.
“There’s no record of an EMP generator in the logs except in response to its use. I think it’s safe to assume it is aboard another ship.”
“But there are six ships in the fleet, sarge, that could take forever to search,” said Xiou.
“At the very least, we’d better hope its not on either of the cruisers or we’ll have to retrieve it from Davy Jones himself.”
“This ship,” Bill interrupted. They both turn to where he was pointing.
“I think you’re right,” Gary said, a smile growing on his face. It was the largest ship in the fleet. Sophia, was the label and it appeared to be a carrier. As Gary recalled, there was little mention of it in the logs. He had a feeling that was their boat.
“Alright, men. Back to the deck. We rendezvous with the beta team and make our way over to the big girl.” He didn’t want to address the question that was on all their minds, ‘how were they going to board a carrier?’.
Gary replaced the logs and scooped up his bag as the three headed to the door. A shadow lingered in front of the door and the team froze.
As the handle turned slowly, stopping part way from the lock, they quietly pulled out their pistols from amidst their vests.
The handle turned back and forth and then jiggled violently before there was a shout, “Hey! Why’s tactical locked?”
“Whadda ya mean?” came the distant reply.
“Let me see that.” The doorknob jiggle some more, followed by a hammering on the door.
“Anyone in there? Hey Mike, you there, what’s going on?”
“I’m tellin’ you, there’s no one there.”
“And I’m tellin’ you, there has to be. It’s against regulations to leave tactical during a battle, let alone lock it.”
There was a brief pause in the voices before both spoke in unison, “call security!”
They were sitting ducks if they stayed. Better to chance the two outside the door, than fully armed security officers.
“Follow my leader men,” Gary whispered. He lunged for the door. Flicking the lock and throwing it open, the trio burst into the hallway. There were two men running down the hall, Gary shot the first in the back and he dropped like a sack of sand. But the other was already out of range of the pistols. To make matters worse, heads had begun to poke out from the cabins.
“Quickly,” Gary said, turning back the way they had originally come.
As the trio sprinted off down the hallway, there was a distant explosion below them and all the lighting suddenly went out accompanied by the dying hum of fading electricity.
The beta team must have taken out the generator in engineering, they didn’t yet know that this was the wrong ship. He wasn’t sure if their timing great or terrible.
- Miss (Canada, K-1)
- Miss (Canada, K-5)
- Attack (Canada, C-7)
- Attack (Canada, J-6)
- Attack (Canada, G-1) **bonus attack for hit**
Captain Ronald Durant watched the darkening sky as thin slivers of lightning sliced through the heavens to kiss the ocean in the distance. The deck was silent, for once. He watched as the last of the crew boarded a lifeboat headed for the Zarathustra, Lieutenant Rodriguez among them. The USS Ahura Mazda would no doubt start evacuations as well, but space was tight, they wouldn’t be able to ask the Zarathustra to take on any more survivors. The Sophia was too far away. Their only hope would be the two remaining ships, the Aries and Athena, but they were small, and bringing them into the battle-heavy zone would only make them easy targets. Luck had given the Ahura Mazda a second chance. The recent enemy attacks had both missed, but none were even close to making impact with the Aura Mainyu. The enemy’s sudden change of heart didn’t sit well with Captain Durant. Before, they had fired heavily on the ship, missing every time. Why had they ceased their attack now? They no doubt knew where to strike the fatal blow by now.
What the hell was Admiral Stone thinking, making them stay out here, fighting this goddamn battle? He’d remembered her bitter little slogan “Goddamn Americans,” and the way she would saunter around so arrogantly, pretending to be the reluctant soldier, the humble hero. Just an act. She knew something, something big, something that she was willing to risk her life – no – his life, the lives of his men, the whole goddamn fleet for.
“One way or another…” Durant said to the growing storm, “one way or another, I’m gonna find out what you are hiding from us, my dear Admiral. And it better be worth it.” He couldn’t help but think of Joseph. Durant had had Joseph transferred into his command just before deployment, a favor for a close friend. Now he’d wished that he hadn’t used the leverage of his rank to get the young recruit aboard the Aura Mainyu, now he’d wished that he’d denied the request of a good man if only to save his life.
* * *
Admiral Stone stood before the reinforced door of the sealed lab impatiently. The two armed guards greeted her and began the sequence to open the heavy door. It was a real circus act. The door was outfitted with some fancy new security crap. The procedure reminded Admiral Stone of the arming of a nuclear warhead, bad Hollywood movie style. First, the two guards used their keys, in unison. This opened up a small panel. The men each placed their hand into their own slot and waited patiently. Stone was surprised to see that the delicate instrumentation had not been damaged by the EM field, but then again very little in the doctor’s lab had been damaged. Apparently, the shielding in the lab had been made of a different, more costly material. Too costly to use in the shielding of the fleet. As if price really mattered now.
Stone could hear small electronic beeps as the panels scanned the fingerprints of the two men and read their vital signs. The way Dr Greer had explained it, the two men had to be of good health, and their heart rate had to be within normal parameters in order to get the door opened – a preventative measure to keep any unwanted guests out. Admiral Stone only hoped that the two men could keep their calm even if the Sophia were under attack. What use was it to be locked out of the lab then? Luckily though, the lab could be easily opened from the inside. After all, the procedure was meant to keep anyone out of the lab, not trap the doctor or his men in.
The door slowly opened as the two guards saluted her in, seconds later the door was closed, and a series of clicks could be heard as it locked into place once again. Dr Greer stood in front of the glass tank that housed the Prototype, staring up into the milky water while scribbling into his notebook. Stone could tell by his rapid movements that he was agitated.
“Coms are back up Doctor, I’m sure you’re aware. That means that radar is going to be back too.”
Dr Greer looked up surprisingly, as though he hadn’t seen her enter the room. “Oh, Admiral Stone. Yes.” He tilted down his notebook to show her his scribblings – as if they were supposed to mean something to her. “I’m surprised they’ve gotten word to you so quickly.”
“Like I said, coms are back up.”
“Yes. Well, take a look at this,” he motioned for her to take the notebook.
“Dr Greer, you know that’s all Latin to me.”
“Yes, but I’ve charted out this graph, it should be rather simple to-“
“Simple for you is a headache for me. Why don’t you walk me through it.” She didn’t have time for this.
After a pause, the doctor answered, “You see this?” He pointed at a progressive downward arch in the graph, “We’ve picked up anomalies in the EM output of the Prototype. Seems that the first discharge spiked dramatically, performing well above expectations. Probably why our systems got fried. But the second and third discharges have decreased dramatically. The decay rate is accelerating.”
“And this means…”
“It means, that the Prototype is failing. I don’t know, maybe we were overzealous. We should have started at a lower charge rate. I think we’ve done some serious damage to the Prototype.”
Greer set down his notes and walked over to the tank. A small steel plaque adorned the front of the tank, the word “Archangel” inscribed into the metal. The tank itself was large, at least ten feet long and wide, and high enough to nearly touch the ceiling. The base was hooked up to a large generator, with massive cables snaking out of it and cutting into the lower decks, connecting it to the super carrier’s two nuclear reactors. Behind the thick glass, the anthropomorphic figure could be seen. Hairless, pale, the androgynous figure looked as though it were sleeping. Greer had said more than once that this was where humanity was headed, this was human evolution at its best. The thin, weak looking figure trapped in this glass cell, represented the epitome of human evolution. Stone doubted that, but this monstrosity had been genetically engineered from human DNA, and any being that could create an electromagnetic blanket by pure will alone was something to be feared as well as respected. It was for this reason that she felt fortunate that this thing was just a shell. Empty. With no soul, or consciousness. It wasn’t aware of itself, had no grasp of time, heck, without all of those tubes and wires to keep its heart going, without the milky water that provided it nutrients, this thing would easily die. Admiral Stone did wonder about the sedatives though. Dr Greer was very adamant about keeping the amount of sedatives flowing into the Prototype at a continuous rate and monitored its responses to them religiously. Why was he so concerned with keeping it drugged up if it didn’t have consciousness in the first place? If it couldn’t feel pain? Couldn’t think? If it weren’t really alive in the first place?
“I think its dying…” Doctor Greer said, his tone of voice filled with an air of failure.
“Dying? I wouldn’t call this much of a life, doctor.”
“If the Prototype fails, this will set the Archangel Project back years. Its taken us three long years to get it to this state.”
“The Archangel Project? I didn’t think you were capable of such shortsightedness Doctor. If this thing fails, we won’t last until the end of this battle, and correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve gotta be alive to continue your research, yes? What exactly is wrong with this thing anyway? Why haven’t you fired the EM field again?”
“It’s not necessarily a problem with the Prototype. It’s the energy from the reactors. Like I’ve said before, the Prototype is not a conscious being. Sure, its biological, but we can’t just tell it to discharge the EM field whenever we want. Instead, we use power drawn from the nuclear reactors to stimulate it. In the same manner that antivenomists apply a small electrical charge to black widow spiders in order to stimulate them into producing venom, we use this diverted energy to stimulate the Prototype into discharging the EM field. But the current data suggest that the application of the energy is actually harming the Prototype. Our buffers aren’t doing a good enough job, the energy is coming through too harshly. As a result, it’s taking us more and more time to calculate the correct amount of energy needed to stimulate the Prototype without causing further damage, and the EM charges themselves are getting weaker as the Prototype gets weaker. We can’t keep the EM field up much longer.”
“How long before you can activate the Prototype once again?”
“Admiral, I’m not sure you understand – “
“I understand completely. Now I’m reminding you for the second time, your research doesn’t mean jack if we don’t make it out of this engagement alive. This thing is the only edge we’ve got right now, we have no choice but to use it. Repair the buffering system to the best of your abilities, anything you need that I can provide, you know you’ve got. Just remember, we’ve got two cruisers about to sink out there, and then we’re next.”
“Yes, Admiral.” Doctor Greer turned away and returned to the panel that controlled the energy output of the nuclear reactors.
It was Captain Jackson. His voice floated above a sea of static as Stone picked up her radio. “Captain, this better be important.”
“It is. We’ve just received word from the Zarathustra that they’ve been boarded by an as of yet unidentified enemy party.”
“Yes Admiral. As best we can tell, a small team of at least six men boarded her. There were at least two teams. One was spotted in tactical. Lieutenants Michel Smith, Jose Cortez, Vincent McCarthy, and Tom Black were incapacitated in the attack.”
“Incapacitated? Three men took out four Lieutenants?”
“It appears that the intruders were well armed as well as trained. A covert op. Luckily they used non-lethal rounds. Tranq darts from modified pistols, best we can figure. Another one of our boys was attacked in the hall just outside of tactical, he’s with the others in the med bay. One managed to get away and sound the alarms, but that wasn’t before the other team managed to take out generator one.”
“They got into engineering?”
“Looks like it. They damaged the generator pretty badly. We’ve got engineers down there working on it right now, but they are scared out of their minds. Seems like a few of them were down there when the enemy team infiltrated the ship. They had the team cornered for a little bit, but they managed to get away.”
“Get away? How did that happen!”
“Sorry Admiral, but those guys are just engineers. They aren’t too good at handling situations like this. They did try though, but the team was too good. Again, we’re lucky that those were non-lethal rounds, or two of our engineers wouldn’t have seen another day.”
“So you’ve lost both teams?”
“Yeah, and there’s no telling if they were the only two that boarded the Zarathustra. Its gonna be hell for them to get out of there though, now that the crew’s oh high alert. That was a stupid move, if you ask me Admiral. We’ve got twice the men onboard now, how do they expect to get out of there?”
“No, Captain. I’m sure they would have known that the Zarathustra was lending aid to the Aura Mainyu, they used all of the activity as a cover. Besides, it will be hard to coordinate activities with a couple of hundred men who aren’t familiar with the ship.”
“I see your point. But why did they board us in the first place? Were they after our battle plans? That doesn’t explain why they took out the generator.”
“They Prototype. They were trying to steal it.”
“So they do know of its existence. That would explain their reluctance to sink the Aura Mainyu. This changes things considerably.”
“Yes. Captain Jackson, resume attacks on the enemy fleet. We do have a confirmed hit, right?”
“Yes, Admiral. Should I concentrate our attacks there?”
“Yes. Sink that ship, Captain. Also, increase security on the deck, I want extra men guarding the lab. I don’t think I need to remind you of what’s at stake here.”
“Good. I’ll be up top as soon as I’m done here. We’re preparing to fire the EM generator again.” With that Admiral Stone turned to Dr Greer, who had been listening to the conversation with obvious fear. “Dr Greer, we need to fire the Prototype now.”
Dr Greer nodded slowly as if he’d been put into a dream state.
“How easy would it be to kill this thing?” Admiral Stone suddenly asked, staring up at the figure in the tank.
“Admiral? Kill it?”
“If we’re compromised, I’m not gonna let the Canadians have this thing. I’d rather destroy it than see it in enemy hands.”
“Not much. The sedatives could do it, an overdose.”
“If those doors are breached, I want you to OD this thing. You got that Dr Greer.”
“But – “
“And under no circumstances allow that laptop of yours to fall into enemy hands. It does contain your life’s work, doesn’t it.”
“Then guard it with your life.” Admiral Stone approached Greer and handed him her sidearm. He took it in shaky hands.
“I’ve never used a gun before…”
“Just point and pull the trigger Dr, there isn’t much more to it.”
* * *
“Confirm that!” Captain Jackson barked into his radio as Admiral Stone returned to the deck. “Say again!”
“Captain, we’ve got a mast on the horizon, headed our way!”
“What?” Admiral Stone rushed forward, “The Canadian’s have surrounded us?”
“Negative. Radar, as scrambled as it is, suggests that these are new ships, a new fleet. We’ve confirmed the presence of at least two ships, one a destroyer. They’re just too big to be anything else.”
“Should we fire on them, Admiral?” Captain Jackson asked.
“We’re surrounded….” Admiral Stone tried to think fast, but this situation was getting real bad real fast. Who were these new ships, and were they an enemy? There was a good possibility that they were, and the recent situation on the Zarathustra didn’t make matters any better. Enemy reinforcements?
“Correction. We’ve got four confirmed ships headed directly our way” Came the static-filled voice again.
“Admiral, should we fire?”
“What if they aren’t Canadian reinforcements?” Stone asked.
“That’s highly unlikely Admiral”
“Admiral, the Athena has just spotted two more ships. That’s six enemy ships headed our way!”
“We need to fire now Admiral Stone!”
“No.” Admiral Stone answered slowly. “No, concentrate our fire on the fleet already engaged.”
“Captain Jackson, do as I say. I don’t believe that this new fleet is connected with the Canadians.”
“But if they are-“
“Then they would have fired on us by now. Maybe our EM field has covered a larger region than we thought, this may be an opportunity here, and I don’t want to mess it up. Continue firing on the Canadian fleet, with any luck they’ll think that these new guys, whoever they may be, are our allies. Hopefully, those unfortunate souls will draw Canadian fire.”
“But what if you’re wrong? What if they’re with the Canadians?”
“Then God help us all…”
Yukio Ren looked out of place standing on the bow of the great battleship. With her brightly-colored kimono and pale face, she didn’t look anything like the Admiral she was.
“Yukio-sama, something suspicious has been spotted on the radar.”
Ren whipped around to look Naegino Kyokuran in the eye. “Already?!”
One eyebrow raised slightly on Kyokuran’s face. “Hai, Yukio-sama.”
“Well, what is it?”
“We can’t tell yet. The radar is acting strangely, obasan.”
“Strangely? How so?”
“It seems to be… well, messed up. Why don’t you come take a look yourself?”
Before they could, a shape loomed on the horizon, dark and large.
Kyokuran nodded. “Yes, obasan, I think it is.”
“Kamisama… Who are they?”
For the first time, Kyokuran saw fear on Admiral Yukio’s face. “Yukio-sama, what should we do?”
Ren’s face hardened. “Get the guns ready, but don’t fire. I want to see who these people are first.”
“Do you think that’s wise, obasan?”
Ren glared at Kyokuran. “If I fire at those ships and they turn out to be friendly, we’ll have made another enemy and gotten into a battle. I do not want that, Kyokuran.”
“And if they are not friendly?”
“We’ll deal with them the way we’ve dealt with every other enemy.”
Ren looked at the ships ahead and hoped she wasn’t making a mistake.