Flight of the Claymore -chapter 20

Chapter 20

North of the White Sands R-n-D Central Plain.

Mobile Command Center for the Amazon Third Army Group

Group Commander Richard White looked on in disbelief at the holographic display in the center of his mobile command center. A pair of fighters from the White Sands Airbase had just closed the Northeastern passageway. Even now they were performing the same type of attacks in the Northwestern passageway. It was disconcerting for the Group Commander, as he had two regiments of Armored Cavalry in that pass. If those fighters are able to complete their bombing runs those two regiments will be cutoff.

“Where the hell is our AIR SUPPORT?!” White screamed at his radio operator.

“They’re engaged with the enemy sir. They have been able to drive off two of those new fighters of the Empire. According to Flight Leader Calisto we’ll have control of the skies over the operational area in a few more seconds, sir.” The young private answered his enraged Commander.

“IN A FEW MORE SECONDS WE’LL LOSE OUR RECCON FORCE!” White had to calm himself down before he did something rash. “Get me Flight Leader Calisto on the radio now!”

“Black Witch flight here Command. Over” Emily’s voice was calm and collected. She knew that she was not in trouble.

“Black Witch flight you are to break off your current operations. Come to grind one-seven-seven and engage fighters in the Northwestern passageway. Over” White had to get Calisto to engage those two fighters. If not, then their plans for attack on the White Sands base would be worthless. They needed one of those two passes to be open. With them closed off it will take them ten to twelve days to march clear around to the only other avenue of attack. Even that would be at a forced march.

In the skies over the Amazon Third Army Group

“Understood Group Command. Breaking off now. Out.” Emily may be a glory hungry bitch, but she knew the importance of this attack. They had to take White Sands now. The reports coming in from the other systems were disturbing. A whole Death Dealer Battle Group along with all eighteen Combat Division had just vanished. Those types of units just don’t vanish. They either sit in one area of operation or they attack.

Seeing as how the only current combat operations within the Empire were on New Texas. Emily Calisto knew exactly where that Death Dealer Battle Group was headed. She and every Amazon warrior on New Texas were those deadly warriors’ newest targets. Unless they could drive the Death Dealers out of the White Sands Airbase they were done for. Even with twenty-eight combat division, plus the fourteen mercenary regiments, on planet, it wouldn’t be enough. Emily knew this for fact.

Unlike her superiors Emily had studied alongside men and women who went on to become Death Dealers. She knew intimately the type of person it took to win the Empyreal Blacks of a Death Dealer. At one time she had dreamed of win those coveted uniforms in her most secret of heart’s desires. She may be a clone, with programed loyalty to the Collective, but she still had her dreams.

Keying her mike for her wingman. “Harlequin, Warthog, Razorback, break off operations and fall in on my tail. We got a priority target. Two fighters at one-seven-seven in the Northwestern passageway. How copy? Over”

“Good copy, Witch. What we hunting? Over” her wingman replied.

“Don’t know Harlequin. All I know is we got to break up an attack run on that pass. Now let’s get over there and get the job done. Over”

“Right behind you Witch. Out”

“Moon dog, Warlock, Jackal, and Wizard. Break off and handle any escort fighters the ground attacker may have. Out” Emily knew that the other four members of her squadron would follow her orders without question. For now, she just needed to get her wingman and herself into position.

The two heavy fighters in their iconic paint schemes screamed away from the aerial battle in the hopes of stopping the ground attack. If they are in time, then the overall attack would be saved. If they were late they could at least get revenge on the two fighters for destroying all the Amazon High Commands hard work and planning. The fact that Emily had to let the two twin-tail devils go was not an easy thing. Yet, she knew that neither of the pilots was the Claymore. That is who she wanted. Not some second-string crop duster. No, Emily wanted to face the only pilot that was truly worthy of her time and skill.

Even on her base the Claymore pilot was gaining a name. One that was almost whispered with the same reverence as her own. The Silver-eyed-Witch. Emily Calisto wanted to put an end to the rumors that this Claymore was the perfection of pilots. Emily knew the name of the Claymore Pilot and it tasted like ash in her mouth. In her mind Terresa Cole was the true enemy. She represented everything wrong within the Empire. How something so fundamentally flawed as the Claymores could be allowed to live baffled her. Did not the scientists of the Empire see how dangerous and uncontrollable such a thing like the Claymores were. To Emily and the Amazons, any genetic defect such as the Claymores needed to be eliminated.

As she and her wingman neared the Northwestern passageway they could tell they were already too late. The explosions rising from the canyon walls let them know that the passage was or soon would be, impassable. Swinging wide so they could evaluate the damage to the pass Emily led her wingman in a high altitude run the length of the pass. With each explosion for a total of six explosions the walls of the canyon were collapsing inward. She knew that there was no way for the Army Group to use this passage. She could not believe the speed of the two fighters that were rocketing down the length of the canyon. The pilots of these fighters had to be cyborgs. There was no way for humans to react to or handle the g-forces generated by the maneuvers to snake their way down that canyon.

Surely these pilots would not make a mistake. They were just too good. Emily could tell that by the way the leading pilot flew through the canyon that they had to be Terresa Cole. “Finally. You have come out to face me, whore. This time you will not get away from me. You will die today Terresa Cole.”

Emily keyed her mike opening a connection to the rest of the fighters with her. “Warthog, Razorback, you got the second fighter still in the canyon. Harlequin, you’re with me. We got the lead fighter. Once they clear the canyon we take them both. How copy? Over”

Emily didn’t bother with wait for their answers. She knew that her wingman, and the other pilots would follow her orders. Nosing over Emily lined up on the led fighter as it exited the canyon. Applying power to her engines Emily pushed her Marybelle to the very edge of its performance envelope. Keying her mike one last time Emily called out to the other pilots. “Glory or Death.”

The skies over White Sands.

I feel the pounding of autocannon shells impacting down the port engine nacelle. I bank hard to starboard and wing-over popping the flaps. The Black Witch flies passed me not expecting my sudden drop in airspeed. By all rights no one in their right mind tries to stall out in combat but I just did. It may have been reckless, but it saved my ass. I poured the power to my engines and pulled back on the stick trying to swing in behind the Black Witch and her wingman. I just had to get her wingman out of the way first. I flipped the arming switch on the autocannon and squeezed the trigger. I didn’t bother with burst fire. I just pulled the trigger and poured the rounds into the fracker’s ass. I just kept an eye on the round count.

It went from 160 to 147 in just over ten seconds. The vibration from the recoil was enough to rattle my teeth. Thirteen rounds gone in the blink of an eye. It was worth it though. The red, gold, and black checkered painted KV-81 lost more than just paint. I watched as a few armor plates fall away. It’s not much but at this range I can get another burst in. I would love to be able to use my PPLs or PPCs but I’m just too close for them to be effective. The same goes for my missiles. I’m too close for a target lock. I’m in a million-credit aircraft with the ability to engage targets out to 20 miles, and I have been reduced to the oldest method of aerial combat. The dog fight using guns.

I squeeze the trigger on the autocannon for a second time putting eight more rounds into the enemy KV-81. This time I get a better result as the portside engine flares then starts to smoke. This one is done for. One more burst from my AC and he is dead. The pilot must know this as he pulls hard over and out of line with my next shot. I pull back on the stick to follow but have to change direction hard at the last second. The Black Witch is on my ass again.

If my missile lock warning hadn’t sounded the bitch would have put one right up my exhaust. “Where the hell is McQueen?”

“He’s a little busy dealing with two KV-81s of his own, Terresa.”

“Well, shit! Look’s like we have finally out run our luck, Lilly.” I bank hard left and roll into a split Ingram loop trying to shake the Black Witch. I may have run out of luck but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to give up. “Get the escape pod ready incase we need it girl.”

“Remember bailing out is not my scene Terresa. Keep rolling the dice baby.”

I have to laugh at Lilly’s smartassed reply. She may be one of the powerful bio-AI in the known universe, but she could always find something to make me smile in the most trying of circumstances. Even as I pull out of the loop I feel my smile return. Gone is the panic that had gripped me at the start of the dogfight. I was still alive that meant I could still fly. If I was still flying, I could still fight. If I could still fight that meant I could still win. If I could still win that meant the Black Witch was a dead bitch.

My half loop brought the red, gold, and black checkered KV-81 back into my gunsights. As my crosshairs turn from green to red I pull hard on the trigger for the autocannon for a third time. Again, I watch as my round count drops like an elevator in freefall. When I finally letup on the trigger I have dumped another twelve rounds into the KV-81. This time I got a much better result out of the exchange. After thirty-three rounds the KV-81 blew its engine completely. That son-of-a-bitch nosed dived towards the ground. I bank left then pull hard right.

I know better than to fly in a straight line during combat for too long. That is a sure fired way to get dead. For once, I’m glad as all hell that I follow that rule. I had no sooner changed my flight path than eight PPC’s, twelve PLL’s, and a one-oh-five autocannon tear through the space that I would have occupied if I had not changed course. As I pulled hard on the stick I was greeted by the sight of the Black Witch coming into line with me for a head on attack.

“Oh shit! Lilly please tell me that crazy bitch isn’t going to play chicken with us.” I know that is exactly what Calisto is going to do, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. Head to head at close to Mach six leaves no room for mistakes.

“I won’t lie Terresa. But unless you do something fast that bitch is going to be past us and into our rear.”

“Not if I can help it Lilly.” I got a solid target lock on the Black Witch and pulled the triggers for my PPCs, PLLs, and autocannon. If I was going down I was taking that bitch with me. My mind flashes back to just over a month ago. Once again, I’m going head-to-head with a real killer of the skies. Only this time we’re doing it we’re on equal footing. In her favor the KV-81 has better armor, and slightly better handling than my FB-11. In my favor, the FB-11 is faster, and has more firepower, over all. The heavy thump of the autocannon firing is barely drowned out by the thunder of the PPCs. While the flash of my PPLs ripples across the skies.

I know that I hit the KV-81. I can see the damage form my weapons as we rocket pass each other. I check my damage monitor and find over half of my armor has been reduced to an almost paper like thinness. The exchange between us is comparable. What is most damaging for me is the loss of the portside PPLs and PPCs. I have lost a full one quarter of my main weapons. I pull back hard on the stick going into a loop hoping to come around on the Black Witch’s tail.

As I come out of the loop I scan for the bitch only find that she is gone. “LILLY! WHERE DID THAT BITCH GO?!”

“She broke off the engagement as soon she cleared us. Terresa, we have a bigger problem right now. I count eight new inbound fighters. They’re fresh, fully armed, and have us outnumbered four to one.”

I key my mike. “Banshee, you still with me? Over”

“Still here and still flying, Scorpion. What is your condition? Over” I sighed in as I hear McQueen’s voice.

“Not good Banshee. I lost over a half my armor and a quarter of my weapons in that fight with the Black Witch. What happened to Rimshot and Pony girl? Over”

“They shot down five of the KV-81s and ten of those F-86s before having to bug out. Which I believe we need to do now. Over”

Damn. If they took out fifteen enemy aircraft before being forced to breakoff, then we were in deeper shit than I realized. “Copy that Banshee. Heading for Homeplate now. You coming? Over”

“Right behind you Scorpion. Besides, I don’t want to face off with eight fresh fighters in the shape we’re in. Over”

“Copy that Banshee. I just wish that the Black Witch had stuck around to finish our fight. That bitch owes me a fighter. Over” My anger over Emily Calisto bailing on our fight stung like an uncontrolled wildfire in my belly.

“I hope you get your revenge Scorpion. But now is not the time. The division needs these fighters and us. Now, head for Homeplate. Out”

I wanted to turn and look for Calisto, but McQueen was right. Besides we had those eight F-86 Saber jets climbing up our asses. I had a feeling that we would have to deal with them first before we crossed back over into friendly lines. I also notice that for some reason my starboard engine is running in the red.

“Lilly, what’s going on with engine two? Why is it running in the red?”

“We took a few heavy hits to engine number two Terresa. I’ve been trying to regulate the revs but for some reason I can’t. I think that the throttle controls for that engine are damaged. At the current pace that engine will need to be shut down.”

I thought about what Lilly was telling me. I double check the damage monitor for my fighter one more time. The more I see the madder I get at myself. I had thought that I had only sustained armor damage, but I was wrong. In my fight with the Black Witch and her wingman, I had sustained damage to the starboard engine, targeting radar for the Maverick missiles, and three of the lunch rails for the Rattlesnake missiles. In short, I had eighteen missiles that were useless in a fight.

“I should never have gone head-to-head with that bitch.” I knew that I couldn’t land with that much ordnance onboard. “Lilly use the overrides and drop the missiles. They no good to us now and they’ll only be a hinderance to landing.”

I had no sooner finished giving her the order to dump the useless missiles than I heard the sounds of the emergency releases opening. I watched as all eighteen fell away from my Claymore one at a time. “We’re clear of all external ordnance Terresa. Should I dump the autocannon rounds as well?”

“No Lilly. We’ll keep those. We might need them yet to make it home. Go ahead and shut down the number two engine. Before it blows and takes the rest of the fighter with it. Personally, I don’t feel like walking the rest of the way home.”

I watch the engine monitors as the starboard engine shuts down. With only one engine it’s going to be a real bitch to land. I know the Claymore is designed to fly with just the one engine and land on just one engine, but I hadn’t tested that option yet. Something about landing with only half power didn’t sit well with me.

As I pass over the outer marker I contact the ATC. “Whiskey Sahara this is Scorpion on approach. Over”

“Scorpion, this Whiskey Sahara, come right to runway two and descend to one-thousand feet and hold. Over”

“Negative Whiskey Sahara, I need immediate clearance to land. Over” I knew that White Sands didn’t know the current condition of my aircraft. I was ready to force their hand by declaring an emergency landing, yet.

“Scorpion are you declaring an emergency landing? Over”

There it was, they wanted to know just how bad my aircraft was. “Whiskey Sahara, I have lost my starboard engine and flying on half power. I repeat I need immediate clearance for landing on runway one. Over”

It took them a few seconds before they answered me. “You’re cleared for runway one, Scorpion. Fire and Rescue has been notified and are on standby. Over”

“Okay Lilly here we go. Let’s just hope like hell we don’t need Fire and Rescue.” I eased my nose over and lined up on the number one runway.

“Well, look at it this way, Terresa. If we do crash at least we’ll be close to some of the best medical attention in the service.”

It took me a few seconds to understand what Lilly meant. When I did I just laughed. She was right after all. I crash now, mom and Sylvia will be there to put me back together. If I live that is. I get my head back in the game as I cross over the last outer marker at little than a hundred feet. I drop my landing gear and pray for three in the green on my landing gear indicator lights. When one of the indicator lights flashes yellow instead of green letting me know that the starboard gear is down but not locked I want to shit my pants. All I can do is hope and pray that the starboard landing gear holds long enough for me to bleed off my speed at landing. If not, I will be crashing for sure. I feel my wing gear with the very unstable starboard landing gear touch the runway first. I quickly push the nose over and bring down the nose gear. I dump my flaps and kick over the buckets while pulling the release on my emergency drag chute. I watch as my speed drops to almost nothing in under four-hundred feet. I no sooner get the bird stopped than the Starboard landing gear gives way and dumps that wing and engine on the ground.

I pop the emergency release on my canopy. “Time to bail the frack out Lilly.” I don’t bother with removing my helmet and just drop over the side after releasing my harness. Once on the ground I haul ass to get as far from my stricken fighter as I can. I just know that this time she is going to blow. I get about fifty feet away when the fire trucks pass me already spraying my fighter down with foam from the turret mounted spray cannon. I can tell though that they are too late. The flames from my damaged starboard engine are blazing out the intake and exhaust.

“Shit. Look’s like I’ve lost another fighter to that bitch.” I grumbled.

“Better the fighter than your life Terresa. Don’t worry though, this time it was an even exchange. She may have caused the death of our Claymore, but we put an end to her KV-81 in return. I was able to collect the damage scans before we bailed out. There was more than one reason for her running from the fight. Trust me on this Terresa, that all black Sturmgewehr is not landing in one piece.”

“So, instead of us being down by two to that bitch she still owes for one fighter. That puts our fights at one lost, and one tie.” My self-absorbed bitch fest was interrupted by the explosion of the autocannon rounds still on board the Witch. I ducked as a few pieces of shrapnel flew over my head. “Yup, there she goes. Oh well I knew that my luck couldn’t hold out forever. I just wonder how long it will take the factory to produce me a new Claymore.”

“Terresa, I’ve run a scan of the current inventory of fighters here on base. There is an already completed FB-11A2 waiting to roll off the factory floor. I think that Chief Daily has been tinkering again. Because this new Claymore appears to be even deadlier than the original FB-11A1.”

“WHAT THE HELL?! Are you telling me that Chief Daily has been holding back on me?” I was pissed. For the past six days I have been pushing my old fighter to its limits. Dealing with having to rebuild it fight after fight and there has been a perfectly brand-new fighter sitting in the hangers waiting for me.

“I have not been holding out on you LT. I just haven’t gotten all the bugs worked out on your new fighter yet.” Chief Daily’s voice made me jump. As I spun around to face him I found him smiling at me. “But it looks like you’re going to need her sooner rather than later. I’ll have my crew roll her out for you within the hour.”

“Damn it, Chief! Don’t sneak up on me like that!” I took a deep breath and looked back to where my old fighter sat burning. “Sorry about not bring her home in one-piece Chief. I know that you loved that bird like a second child.”

“Don’t worry about it LT. I saw you coming in on just one engine working and the other smoking like it was about to blow. You did right by her. You kept her flying in worse conditions and brought her home every time. This time your luck just ran out. Nothing more than that. Not your fault. Did you at least take down the bitch that did that to my baby?” Chief Daily just stood there in his usual unflappable manner. As if the fact that I lost his prized fighter was no big deal.

“Let’s just say that she won’t be flying her precious all black KV-81 anytime soon.” I gave Chief Daily my biggest smile. “If she can land without one engine and half of her landing gear then she is not human. I figure she’ll have to bail out somewhere over their lines and walk the rest of the way home. Because according to what my AI was able to salvage from the tactical data before the Witch went up. I did more damage to her bird than she did to mine. I just had to deal with the combined damage of taking on two KV-81s at the same time.”

“Damn. Two on one odds are not good. How bad do you think it will get LT?”

“If we don’t get relief soon Chief. We’ll be looking at six to one dogfights. With guns only. The River Sluts have figured out our weakness.” I was honest with Daily.

“What weakness? I designed that bird to be a pure killer. It doesn’t have any weakness. If there is one I would know about it.” Chief Daily snapped defensively. He every right to be upset over what I just said. After all he helped design the FB-11.

“We suck at close quarters combat, Chief. If they stay in tight, under a thousand meters. We cannot use our missiles. Under five-hundred meters, and the PPCs and PPLs are useless as they cannot get a solid lock. The only weapon we have that works that close in is our autocannon. In short if they get into knife fighting range they own our asses. That is how they got me.” As I broke the fight down for Chief Daily I could see his mind working to solve the problems.

“I don’t know if I can fix the problems before you have to go up again LT. But you can bet your ass I’ll have an answer and fix by this time two days from now.” With that Chief Daily turned and walked away. Leaving me to mourn the loss of the Witch.

Super Carrier Lady Dai Etsu, Outer edge of New Confederate System

Admiral Danial Cosby stood looking into the holographic tank. At one time there would have been eighteen ships represented by the tiny icons. Now, he barely had more than a third of his battlefleet left. The only good news was the Medical Dropship Bifrost had jumped out two days ago before the Amazons started their push to take the jump gate. If it had not been for the Corsairs of her fleet the Amazons would have taken the jump gate by now.

“Admiral, we cannot hold out for much longer. Please, reconsider and take the fleet through the gate. We can come back with the relief fleet.” Cosby looked up at his XO and just sighed. This was the third time in as many days that they have had this discussion. With the loss of the battleships Colorado and Montana holding the jump point and its gate was now an act of final defiance.

One that Cosby was willing to make. For no other reason than he was going to be only the second Admiral in history to abandon a Death Dealer unit to die. The reports coming out of New Texas had become the only good news in his day. According to his Com-techs the 101st were playing ten kinds of merry hell with the Amazons by using gorilla tactics. The reports of the local militia being commanded by Death Dealers were reporting the biggest impacts on the Amazon forces. It was those reports that kept Cosby where he was with his fleet.

“Number One, we’ve had this discussion already. We stay unlit the relief force arrives. We will not abandon this gate until then. Not one minute before understand?” the fact that Cosby wasn’t snapping the head off his XO just showed how tired the man was. Danial Cosby had been living off of coffee, cigarettes, and four hours of sleep for the past seven days. He also knew that if the relief force didn’t arrive soon he would have a mutiny on his hands.

His XO’s next words just confirmed this fact. “Sir, I will stand by your decision, but the captains of the other ships may not. We no longer have the ability to perform offensive operations. We barely have defensive capabilities. More than a few will be voicing the need to retreat at this morning’s fleet conference, sir.”

There is was. The none to subtle threat of fleet wide mutiny by his commanding officers. Not that Cosby blamed them. One more solid push by the Amazon fleet and they were done. With no fighters, or torpedo/bombers, his Carrier was nothing more than a moving command post. Without battleships his two destroyers and one frigate would be hopelessly out gunned by the much larger ships of the Amazons. Even the deadly little Corsairs would be overwhelmed in a matter of minutes.

All these thoughts though were quickly pushed aside as a Yeoman stepped over to him. “Sir, we have incoming on the long-range scanners. A fleet of Amazon warships are on approach. Scans indicate two Super Carriers, four Heavy Battleships, Four Fast Attack Battleships, sixteen Destroyers, sixteen Frigates, and thirty-two Corsairs, with at least six squadrons of fighters, and six squadrons of torpedo/bombers. Estimated arrival time, twenty-one minutes for the fighters, and thirty-nine for the rest of the fleet, sir.”

There it was. The Amazons had decided to put an end to his standoff. And with it his beleaguered fleet. “Sound battle stations, Number One. Helm, bring us about, heading one-eight-zero. Take us right down their bloody throats. Guns plot a firing solution for those Carriers. Cee-Cee pass the word to all remaining ships. Prepare for jump. We’ll buy them the time to get out safely.”

A round of ‘aye, aye, sir’ erupted from his command on control staff. He knew that what he was about to do was nothing more than a suicide mission. Yet, he had to do something to buy the remainder of his fleet time to escape. Also knew that he was sentencing the 101st to death. He had held the jump point and the gate for as long as he could. Now, there was nothing more to do than to go down in a blaze of glory taking as many of the enemy with him as he could.

“Number One prepare to sound abandon ship on my order. Engineering, stand by to overload the engines for self-destruct.” Cosby let a smile cross his face at the stunned looks his command staff were giving him. “That’s right people. We’re going to blow the Lady Dai Etsu to the hereafter deep in the heart of that enemy fleet. When the order is given I want you all off this ship. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you all. Carry out you orders.”

With that Cosby stood up and left the command center. As he walked the corridors of his carrier Cosby couldn’t help but be proud of his crew as they rushed to man their individual battle stations. There was no wasted movements or steps, but each person performed their assigned tasks as if in a training video. These were some of the best Personnel in the Empiral Navy. Cosby wasted no time in reaching his private quarters. Once there he went straight to his desk. Where he opened the bottom draw and pulled out a bottle of saké he had been holding onto since the day his Carrier was first commissioned. It had been a gift from the Grand Lady herself to him on that most rememberable day.

He laughed at her when she said that the saké should only be drunk on the last of the day in the last battle of the ship named for her. He even remembered how he had boosted that nothing short of him dying at the helm would bring about that day. She just gave him an idiosyncratic smile. Then started to give him a class on how to prepare saké the right way for drinking. Within the Empire most people did not know that top quality saké should be served at room temperature, to keep the flavors and aromas from mixing. Setting out the six ceramic choko that had come with the saké Cosby poured to the line marking 180ml inside of each cup. He knew that his command staff would be joining him shortly. His orders had basically ensured that.

Cosby looked around his stateroom. These small quarters had been his home for the last ten years. Unlike most of his fellow General Staff Officers, Cosby had never married. The Navy had been his life. He remembered one time when he was asked by Empress Maiha why he never married and his answer. ‘Your Majesty, if the Navy wanted me to have a wife and family they would have issued me one.’ Not that Cosby had ever felt the need for a wife and family. The Navy was his family. The knock on his stateroom door brought him back from those melancholy thoughts.

“Come.” Was all Cosby called out as the door was opened by his XO and the rest of his command staff. “Ladies and gentlemen, I take it that you’re here to talk me out of my course of action?”

“No sir. We’re here to ensure that you don’t go quietly into the night on your own.” The XO looked over at Cosby’s desk where the six choko cups sat each holding a measure of saké. “If you don’t mind sir. We’ll be joining you on Lady Dai Etsu’s last grand adventure.”

“I’ll be honored, Number One.” Picking up the cups Cosby passed them out. Holding up the last cup Cosby smiled. “But first, a toast. To the Grand Lady our ship is named for. Long may she guide our Empress. To the Grand Lady Dai Etsu! Kampai!”

As one the gathered officers emptied their cups. As soon as the cups had been returned to his desk Cosby refilled them. This time it was the XO who made the toast. “To the One-oh-first. Let them spit in the eye of Death! Kampai!”

Again, the cups were drained and refilled. The bottle of saké was rapidly being emptied. There was enough for just one more toast after this one being given by the Weapons Officer. “Long may the Lady Dai Etsu be remembered. She has been a beautiful lady of warfare. Kampai!”

As the last of the saké was poured Cosby held up his hand. “The last toast is mine, ladies and gentlemen. HONOR and GLORY! KAMPAI!”

Those three simple words meant more that all the flowering words of praise that Cosby could give his Command Staff. They all knew that today was their last day. And they would face their deaths with pride and dignity. That no matter what happened this day the Command Staff of the Super Carrier Lady Dai Etsu, the first of her class, would go down fighting.

As the last of the saké was drained each member of the Command Staff broke their cups on the floor, then crushed them under their boots. Cosby gave his Command Staff a hard look. “Let’s get to our posts people. Time to make the River Sluts pay for daring to challenge us.”

As one the Command Staff snapped to attention and saluted. As they filed out of Cosby’s stateroom it was a somber yet determined group of officers that stepped out to face their collective fates. Cosby led the way to the bridge instead of the Combat and Control center. It would be from there that he would give the final orders for the Super Carrier Lady Dai Etsu. As he took his seat in his Command Chair, Cosby looked out the forward view screen.

“What is the distance to the enemy fleet, Helm?”

“Forty AUs and closing sir. Approximately fifteen minutes to their fighters. Twenty for their main fleet, sir.” The Helmsman called out.

“Full power to the engines, Engineering. Melt down the bearings, Chief.” Cosby called out.

“I’m given her all we got Admiral. She ain’t got no more.” The Chief Engineer called back at Cosby with the time-honored manner of insolence that come with the job.

Cosby squared his shoulders and prepared to give the order to abandon ship. “ADMIRAL! WE GOT JUMP SIGNATURES POPPING UP ALL AROUND US SIR! AND ONE OF THEM IS MASSIVELY BIG! BIGGER THAN A SUPER CARRIER!”

Cosby looked over at the Yeoman who was screaming. Then looked out the portside viewport. No sooner had the first blaze of light marking the arrival of a dropship from hyper-space then one of the biggest flares Cosby had ever seen appeared. Through the rip in space and time appeared the bow of a monster straight out of hell. At one time there were only four of these monsters, now there was over thirty. To see one coming though a jump point was terrifying even to friendly ships.

Like a nightmare shark from ancient earth, the unbelievable mass of the Shinigami Battle Platform Katsumi slowly appeared in the New Confederate System. Even as it appeared the Amazon fleet started to turn. The old saying of it takes a Shinigami to kill a Shinigami was true. Not even the massive Battle Platforms of the Gorgonzola Fleet could stand up to the Shinigami class Battle Platform. And just like those ancient killers of the seas the Katsumi attacked the Amazon fleet with a vengeance. The massive guns spoke for the first time in anger since her commissioning.

With the flash of twenty-four, eighteen-inch Naval PPCs main guns, the Katsumi announced her presence on the battlefield. In the blink of an eye the Super Carrier Anaconda died. She was not alone in destroying the enemy fleet. Her eight escort Battleships, Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia descended on the enemy fleet like avenging angels. Even the fast attack Destroyers and Frigates of her Battle Group were racking up the kills. The massive Death Dealer Battle Group were exacting their revenge for their fallen bothers and sisters of Cosby’s small battlefleet.

“Admiral if you don’t mind I think I’ll back down on my engines now.” Cosby looked over at his Chief Engineer and chuckled. “I doubt that the Twenty-second need us.”

“You know something Chief. I do believe you’re right. Helm come about and get us clear of the big boys. I don’t want to get between them and their meat.” Cosby ordered. “Number One pass my compliments onto the men and women of the Twenty-second please. While you’re at it invite the Lady Saris to have a drink.”

“Aye, aye, Admiral.” The XO called out as he headed for the Communication Center.

Command deck of the Shinigami Battle Platform Katsumi.

Lady Saris Victoria stood stalk still behind her Command Chair. Unlike most Death Dealers, Saris was forced to use glasses with light dampening lenses. Her home planet of Wallachia was not like the other M-3 class planets in the Empire. The small planet revolved around a blue dwarf star. It was also one of the very first planets colonized by the human race. Due to the low light of the dwarf over the past centuries the citizens of Wallachia had developed low light vision. They had also developed a much stronger bodies. It was easy to tell some one from Wallachia. All you had to see, was their blood red eyes, elongated canine teeth, and pail white skin. More than a few citizens of the Empire had called them vampires.

Saris often used her unusual appearance to her advantage. She loved smiling at politicians while showing off her ‘fangs’ with their ruby red tips. Tips that she had installed at her own cost. The fact that her ‘fangs’ were framed by a pair of blood red lips, just added to the overall effect. An effect that she used to intimidate those who faced her combat. To Saris and the people of Wallachia everyday life was nothing but combat. She turned to face the Communication Officer as he waved for her attention. “What do you have Comms?”

“Message from Admiral Cosby, ma’am.”

“Go ahead and read it, Comms.”

“From the Super Carrier Lady Dai Etsu to the Battle Platform Katsumi. Stop. Have fun playing with your new friends. Stop. When you’re done please join us for celebratory drinks. Stop. We’re buying. Stop. Signed Admiral Danial Cosby. Tenth Battlefleet. End of message.” The yeoman wanted to bust out laughing. The truth was that every member of the bridge crew wanted to start laughing at the message from the Lady Dai Etsu. For Saris it was just an invite for drinks. Nothing special.

Then again, over the last thirty years, Saris had risen through the ranks solely on merit alone. She had no family rank or connects to use in her favor. To receive such an invitation was one that she couldn’t pass up. “Comms, please send the following reply. To the Carrier Lady Dai Etsu, from the Battle Platform Katsumi. Stop. We’ll be there in our Dress Blacks with bells on. Stop. Break out the good saké Admiral Cosby. Stop. Signed Lady Saris Victoria.”

The eighteen flashes off the stern let Saris know that her Ogre Class dropships had arrive. With them the eighteen combat divisions of her battlegroup. Even as her ships-of-line finished moping up the enemy fleet those massive assault dropships began racing towards the planet of New Texas. “Looks like we might be in time to relieve the one-oh-first, Carol.”

Carol Billings looked over at her and smiled. “You know something Lady Saris, you have a gift for the understated.”

“If you think I’m bad you need to spend some time around the royal family. The Grand Lady Dai Etsu makes me look like a rank amateur.” Looking out the view screens at the eighteen disappearing engine plumes of the Ogres. “Let’s finish up here ladies and gentlemen. I have a feeling that our brothers and sisters in those Ogres are going to need our guns sooner than they expect.”

Looking over at the display for her Carriers Saris noticed that they had yet to deploy their fighters or bombers. “Carol, pass the order for the Carriers Queen Elisabeth and Prince of Whales to head for New Texas. Have the Invincible, Illustrious, and Ark Royal hold position until further notice.”

“Yes ma’am. Do you think the combat divisions are going to need the air support that soon?” Carol asked with more than a little concern.

Saris gave her a soft look before answering. “I hope not but there is no such thing as overkill. Only open fire and pass the ammo.”

-----tbc-----



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