Saturday, December 31, 2016

Making a Run for It

   My balls are gonna get fried off, the short squat man thought gloomily, looking at the 10 megaton warhead he was working on.
   The missile was huge and packed with antimatter, fully twenty feet long, and it was pitch black(as dark as the fat bomber that carried it).
   "Hey Bertoni!" a shout rang out, crossing the huge flight bay. "Bertoni" was Adam Bertoni and he was wearing the traditional gray and green cammies of a crewman, obviously covered in grease, solvent, fuel oil, and god knew what else. He popped his head out of the massive bombers’ ordinance bay at the sound of the voice.
   The huge stub of a recently smoked New Cuba cigar stuck prominently out of Bertoni’s mouth, a chief petty officer whose swarthy dark Italian/Arabic looks made him stand out prominently among the mainly Anglo crew. The Flight Deck Officer of the assault carrier Yorktown, Bertoni growled for a second and then laid down his tools, stood, and walked towards Cob, the man who had addressed him. Cob wasn’t really his name; it stood for "Chief of Boat" and Toshi Ames was the most senior petty officer on the ship. As the two men walked towards each other, Bertoni looked at the master chief, eyeing the short Asian man. All three of the Yorktown’s top personnel had been reassigned after the Yorktown’s shakedown a month ago, and Captain Frederico Be Doya, the XO Thea Belo, and Toshi Ames had been placed aboard in some bullshit shakeup that had cost the crew dearly in morale. Since the fighting had started, shipboard morale had been crushingly low, and Bertoni had been working hard to build it back up again, but he had achieved little in the previous weeks and months and to have the ship’s top three managers---"the command" as they were called---replaced all at once meant a complete change in the ship’s operating style. No crew ever liked that. Not that Ames was a bad guy, but Bertoni had been in the service for nearly 20 years and he had met many assholes during that time. He had served with Ames for a few weeks and he hoped that Ames wasn’t that sort of guy. 

   "Hello chief, what can I do for you," Bertoni spoke loudly as both men faced each other in the immense cavern of the flight deck. Surrounded by over two hundred men who were rushing to arm the fighters and bombers for the coming strike, the clanging noise of their actions, the test start-ups of screaming engines, and the foul smell of industrial fumes, the two men had to shout just to hear one another.
   "I was just wondering where we are on the strike? The Captain wants an update," the small man yelled, even though he was a mere two feet away from Bertoni.
   "Everything on schedule," Bertoni yelled back. "The total strikewave from all five carriers will be 312 fighters, 120 bombers, 150 combat wasps, and 40 drones."
   "Good, good," the Asian man said, smiling hugely at Bertoni.
   Bertoni thought for a moment. He liked being on the flight deck in the front of the ship. The captain didn’t visit there often, so he wasn’t in your face much. Be Doya let him pretty much run the show up front. The Yorktown was a big family, and, except for a few whiners in the engineering department, Bertoni thought they were the best bunch of guys he would probably ever work with. Be Doya certainly was the best skipper he could hope for, very competent.
   The master chief motioned to a nearby wall screen and both men slowly walked over towards it. The display showed the ships of Task Force 51, two superdreadnoughts, five carriers, and five escorting destroyers. Normally such a small force wouldn’t be able to handle the heavy warships of Admiral Trujillo’s fleet, which included five dreadnoughts, twelve heavy cruisers, and ten destroyers, but the carriers’ strike force was extremely heavy and would almost certainly overwhelm that force before it reached the warp point and escaped. Bertoni had noticed that tensions were high on the ship and he was sure it was because the Union Navy hadn’t launched a carrier-led fighter strike in over a hundred years. He himself had been based planetside on Dharwar, had been the senior maintenance officer of three squadrons for over two years, and he personally had more fighter experience than any ten men aboard the Yorktown.
   Both men were watching the large timing display that was in count down mode as well, with only fifteen minutes showing, the crew in the 1,500 foot flight deck were furiously preparing the sleek fighters and bulky space-black bombers for the strike. Cob had come down for the launch and with 120 fighters and bombers and their escorting automated weaponry the Yorktown and her sister ships were about to rain down a shitload of crap on the enemy. Bertoni didn’t want to think about the enemy however. He had most likely served with some of the men on those enemy ships, and now he was gonna kill them. The flight deck itself was newly built and had almost a hundred electromagnetic rail launchers that threw the fighters and bombers out into space at incredible speeds. The Union Navy had decided to use the more flexible flight deck instead of traditional hangar bays, mainly because of the ability to launch fighters, bombers, and gunboats from the flight deck, that and the collapsible nature of the hangar bays made them very unpopular with the pilots. The flight deck, however had its own Achilles heel for any damage that a carrier took had a high probability of hitting the wide-open bay and Bertoni scrunched his eyes at that, not wanting to even think about what would happen to a fighter or bomber loaded with antimatter would do if it was hit with battle damage while still within the bay.
   The timer counted down rapidly, and both men became anxious as the flight crews cleared the deck, allowing the fighter jocks to power up their small craft and begin launching them out of the bay. After thunderous roars and continual blasts of heat, the huge titanium deck was nearly empty, except a lone fat bomber. It was loaded with antimatter and every man on the flight deck was immediately nervous. The veins in Bertoni’s face suddenly bulged in anger and he shouted into his comm-mike,
   "Get that shit off my deck!"
   The pilot of the bomber obviously heard him in his head mike because he looked in Bertoni’s direction and gave a cheesy smile and a jaunty wave before turning back to his controls.
   The lone bomber’s engine finally started and it sluggishly moved off the flight deck, into deep space through the energy barrier that maintained the atmosphere on the flight deck. With a huge sigh of relief, Adam Bertoni turned back to the display, smiling slightly at Chief Ames and following the graphics of fighters and bombers as they sorted themselves out into combat groups and proceeded full speed towards the Prond warp point. Task Force 51 was moving, slowly closing in on the much larger fleet that was desperately trying to run the gambit and reach safety of the Hellspont Sector
   Nearly two dozen crewmen also gathered around the wall display, watching the strike proceed. The enemy fleet had rearranged itself in the last half hour, Bertoni noted, obviously aware of the massive strikewave that was now approaching their ships. The destroyers, most of which were anti-fighter Nottingham’s, placed themselves between the fighter strike and the dreadnoughts, desperate to defend the much larger warships from danger but Bertoni knew that the effort was clearly hopeless against that many fighters, bombers, and automated weapons.
   Hell the combat wasps alone could wipe most of their fleet, Bertoni mused grumpily. Combat wasps were loaded with antimatter and were designed to ram slow-moving warships, causing crushing damage to the enemy. He glanced around at his crew, grateful that they had performed so well in servicing and arming the strike. He was proud of them, they were all good men.
   A slight alarm rang out and every eye turned to the wall display again. The first wave of the strike was going in. The three-hundred twelve fighters and their escorting drones, most of which had laser warheads, had reached attack range and ships and fighters began to die.
   As Bertoni watched the screen anxiously, nearly two dozen fighters disappeared from the display. Clearly they had been wiped out by the destroyers which were obviously engaging with anti-fighter missiles in rapid-fire mode. But then the destroyers were annihilated and disappeared off the screen. When that happened a mild cheer went up from his crewmen and their was a lot of backslapping and big grins. Bertoni also smiled slightly, but he knew the hard part was coming. The combat information center had ID’d the dreadnoughts on the display and the drones began a run at them, followed by the fighters which were dodging around the cruiser screen. The dreadnoughts’ Vagrant and the Balkaria looked to be heavily hit as the fighter wave screamed past it and began to return home. The Kabardino and Quest appeared to be crippled as well, limping along now and slowing the enemy fleet down significantly.
   His men began slapping each other backs and congratulating themselves as the fighters began returning to this ship. The drones had expended themselves against the dreadnoughts, heavily damaging their armor and internal systems according to the battle reports coming in. The much slower bombers and combat wasps were still 100 light minutes away and it would take some time before they were able to close the range on the enemy fleet but it was clear that the remaining ships would be no match for the heavily armed bombers and antimatter-packed combat wasps, whose ramming tactics would surely doom their ships. 
   "We did it chief," Toshi Ames said, grinning at the beefy Italian. At that moment, the ships' proximity alarm began to scream.

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