Lewis Brackett 4280 words
1674 Palm ave 08
San Diego Ca 92154
Member: San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. SDWEG.
The sailors bar the guys chose was a dive. Full of second class whores who job was to get sailors to buy them “pay me” drinks . These drinks were really colored water. The sailor got smashed, then found himself in the gutter, with his wallet and shoes gone. The girls looked well worn. A couple of them maybe still half pretty.
That dirty blonde at the bar was doing her best to ignore Me. After all, she already had her eye on a clueless mark, and I was only an enlisted man. A junior, yes very junior petty officer at that. But I still looked her over again. She stiffened in annoyance, said a few low word to the guy next to her. A moment later, the guy got up and menaced in my direction.
A large hairy hand grabbed where my neck had been a moment before, then the twerp’s eyes bugged out as eighty thousand volts quivered him all over. I brought my half ounce Manriki weight down on the thug’s head. His lights went out.
Two long moments later, a bouncer started elbowing his way through the crowd in My direction. My friends drug me out the side door. “Whats wrong with you, Brackett?” Fred asked. “You trying to get dis-rated, again?” Chris chimed in. About the time they made it outside, a klaxon at the base a couple blocks away sounded for several seconds, then an agitated voice said “All service personal return to your ships, “they” have just smashed Alpha Delta Prime. We are at war.”
The three just stared. Then realized all hell was coming for them - well, Me, anyway. We trotted back to the guard shack at the gate. Shortly, they were inside and ten minutes later beside their ship’s duty launch.
Yes, she was old, an obsolete Corvette layed down during the last unpleasantness with, well, “them.” All the other pesky races “out there” were “Them.” Aliens who periodically seemed annoyed at the ever expanding Human hegemony.
After all, it was Humanity’s “Mamifest Destiny” to subdue, enlighten, and even civilize the “barbarian hordes” from the outer marches of the galaxy. Whether “they” wanted “civilizing” or not. At least that was what our elite repeated every chance they could find a microphone.
Our corvette, to be fair, has a minute armament. I mused about that as I stood at my Quartermaster station on the Corvette’s bridge. A rail gun, laughingly referred to as a C+ cannon, which could- maybe -throw a five inch diameter projectile at some respectable percent of C or light speed--- on a good day.
Likewise six torpedos which skipped in and out of otherspace toward the enemy. Perhaps hoping to exit otherspace close enough to a raider to do some damage .
All assuming They could hit a battlecruiser likewise moving at thousands of miles a second. A cruiser firing at us with laser pulse cannon. One such hit, and a Corvette would cease to exist.
A Corvette’s fate and glory is to make that last gallant charge into the guns of the battlecruiser, giving the convoy time to scatter, assuring that at least some of the convoy has a chance to escape.
The ancient refrain often recalled in the minds of those who served under England’s white ensign … ‘England expects every man to do his duty”… Echoed by a more ancient refrain told to soldier brothers and sons by their mothers and sisters of Athens. “Come home with your shield or on it.” There is no place in “The service” for any other anthem.
Watch and watch, they call it. Wartime cruising, meaning half the crew at battle stations at all times. Four hours on four off. Eventually you get so tired that you fall asleep the moment your head touches the pillow. Only to be mercilessly roused for your next watch four hours later. The sixth night out, I ambled into the darkened Bridge for the mid watch, 0000 to 0400. Chris tiredly mumbled ships status, I approached the Deck-command officer, noted I relieved the OM watch. A minute later, QM Chris disappearing below to his bunk. We could hear the chatter from the radio room. The subspace radio was alive tonight.
We heard a distress call from an un-escorted merchantman. The brief RRR for being attacked by a raider, her position, a few more words, then silence as she was sliced to oblivion by the raiders guns.
There were too few ships to go look for unlikely survivors. No point in searching for a commerce raider long gone. So our convoys sailed on. A high value convoy might even have a cruiser escort. However our convoy of twelve ships had only our Corvette and a lightly armed merchantman for “protection.”
Chris and his watch mates made their way down to the ship’s galley for a midnight munch. Collapsing onto the bench at the table, Winston sighed, said to no one in particular “That wench Sally in Stores, anyone know anything about her?” But silence replied. He started doing his sandwich as Tom, Chris and several others mingled around the rancid bug juice table seeing what other stuff was left. Chris said “I hear she’s a party girl, to a stud in any port.” To snickers from all. There were a few dozen stale cookies there that looked as if they had survived the age of Nelson. Not much in the way of sandwiches, but maybe some few even editable. So, Alan grimly gave then the evil eye, and sat down at the same table. The guys noted Sally’s accomplishments and two other girls as well for the next several minutes. Then one by one, left for the shower then their bunks.
Two hours later the klaxon woke them, followed by the command “al hands al hands, man your battle stations.”
“Something inbound at high warp.” The bunkroom emptied in a rush, fully clothed people jamming on their shoes, then running down the passageway to their stations.
On the bridge, I noted the alarm details in my log. The sensors showing something rapidly approaching. The fire control station reporting they were tracking the incoming. However, a couple minutes later, It was obvious the approaching ships would-maybe- miss the convoy by a bit. Moments later, the IFF seemed to say they were friendlies. The formation flashed by a few miles distant, going somewhere in a big hurry. A minute later, the Captain ordered stand down. The off watch people tiredly went back to their bunks.
Two days later, they were about to make planet fall. This was the most dangerous part of their voyage. A raider could be lurking behind any rock in the far reaches of the system. Harry, Smitty, and several others were fussing about nothing in particular. Wondering if they were even going to get off the ship for a few hours.
It turned out that there were barely sufficient planetary defenses to ward of the casual raider, at least. A half dozen C+ guns on moonlets placed in orbit for that reason.
Meaning that yes, over the next four days, each watch section would get a few hours evening liberty.
The pubs were elbow to elbow the first evening. Chris and I each had a girl in arm as we sat at the bar, trying not to drink too much. After a while, I drug my girl, Megan, out to the dance floor. Now while there wasn’t much room, it was nice slow dancing cheek to cheek. Turns out she wasn’t a bar girl, but a steward off one of the convoyed ships. She was from a small seacoast town in America’s Pacific Northwest. I allowed that I was from a village in England’s midlands. We talked quite a while, sat in a corner later, and necked a bit. She was a nice girl, however, so that was a far as it went. My time ashore was about up, so I walked her back to her ships landing craft. A deep kiss, then we parted, likely never to see each other again.
Chris had the bridge QM watch as the Corvette Boudica left planetary orbit. The Captain quietly sitting in his bridge chair, with the ship’s first officer busily supervising everything.
It took over an hour to clear pretty much everything in orbit. The Exec set a course up over the elliptic so as not to run into anything.
The convoy was forming up when the ships c+ gun started firing. A few moments later the close in defense system missiles launched in quick succession. An atomic flash shone briefly a mile or so away, the radiation alarm went off . Two more atomic flashes in the distance likewise darkening the viewports. The female computer voice announced, “Missile launches from asteroid green 60, down 46. Missile destroyed, asteroid destroyed, two convoy ships hit.”
The captain growled “some freak slipped in the system somehow and planted a missile launcher on that rock.” Then he really swore profanely a few minutes later when he heard the convoy damage reports. Two ships with most of their crews killed , a few badly irradiated, cargo spilled-well-everywhere. Badly needed cargo at that. However, the dead needed to bury the dead, the convoy had to sail on. The remaining ships pressed on, outward bound. The mess- salvage- would be cleaned up by someone else.
Chris looked down at his radiation badge. It was still mostly green, barely tinged with yellow. He might feel a bit sick a few days. A medic opened the bridge med kit, and was passing out anti-rad pills.
The only bright spot was that they had picked up a merchant cruiser in orbit waiting for a convoy. She had several heavy caliber C+ guns and a mostly navy crew. At least now they had some firepower if they ran into an enemy fleet unit.
A few minutes later, I relieved the watch. The helmsperson, Cheryl, smiled over at Me. I went over to her and pretended to be checking the steering gyro while Cheryl asked in sotto ”We did not see you ashore at the Pequod, are you mad at us?” I did not look up at her while fiddling at an adjustment screw. “No of course not,” I whispered . “Its just that the guys wanted to go somewhere else. The Paper Dragon was more in line with what they wanted.” Cheryl pouted, said nothing else, not wanting to embarrass herself by appearing to be chasing a guy. No girl wants that rep. He was the one supposed to be doing the chasing. It was just that she had an erotic fantasy about his strong arms and hard body. She tried not to look as he walked away.
The captain made a decision. He returned the ship to three section watches in deep space, except for the weapons department. Their extra people not needed until battle stations could sleep in hammocks in a new ready room just outside battle central. This compartment used to be for storage , now it had a nobler purpose. Even though the crew had some rest at the last port, tired people often make critical mistakes under pressure. He also gave an order that mid watch people needed to be in their bunks and all day lights out at 1800.
The next morning, an alert was received from Central Command that a big pushback was underway against “Them.”
The captain got on the intercom, sharing this information. Next he said “you may have been interested in where we have been going and why.” Well, really no one did, every day was the same old boring routine of watch and watch. With an equal chance for a few brief moments of terror before becoming an expanding cloud of dust. However, the captain continued: “We are bound for the marshalling place that is supplying this new offensive against “Them”.” “Just before we reach our destination, we will be met by a couple fleet units. They will escort our charges the rest of the way in. We will pick up several empties outbound for the naval supply depot on Charlie Vega Prime. That is all.”
Once again, everyone shrugged. The party that night was loud, the captain allowed a couple beers per rating. The girls got some of the attention they wanted. Cheryl was one of them.
Back in the wardroom, word was the officers were too fussy and stuffy to have “fun.” At least that’s what the stewards said, which got some smirks among the lower deck.
A couple days later, I looked up at the speaker above My QM bridge station as it began to squawk. “incoming,” the computer voice exclaimed. The Klaxon sounded, followed by the same Battle call that had been heard for centuries. “General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations. Set condition Zebra throughout the ship.” The clock said 0211, which I noted in the ship’s rough log, along with initials “GQ, Ship approaching.” My chief appeared at my elbow, as the Captain slammed the bridge door behind him. Then, a minute later, The correct IFF and code received, and a few moments after that, two beautiful fleet destroyers hove too parallel to the convoy. “Nice to see you, captain,” My captain transmitted over the laser signal light. Moments, later, the lead destroyer’s reply. “Yes, I’m sure you are. We will take them from here. Our empties will be along in a few minutes, You bare off on course 026 down 11 and rendezvous in several.” “Thankyou, willco” the Corvette captain replied, ordering the Corvette to slow to behind the convoy. Sensors had already picked up their new charges. In five minutes, we turned, and another ten, was matching the convoy’s pace. As always, at the top speed of the slowest ship.
This slow speed was annoying to the rest in the convoy. It made a seven day voyage at the Corvette’s best speed stretched to seventeen.
They were two days out, just changing watch. I was about to take over the watch from Fred, when a flash message came over the speaker from communications.
“…… raiders, this is Charlie Vega Prime. All ships all stat….”
The transmittion cut off mid word. Deck officer Smith asked “comms, what else did you get?” “Just a few words, sir” the tech replied. “We shared as soon as we realized what was happening.” “Comms, send out a mayday relay all ships all stations” The officer ordered. “Aye Sir” came the reply.
The captain was on the bridge a few moments later. “Any more, lieutenant Smith?” he asked. “Just that they are getting hammered by “Them,” sir,” Smith replied. “And I ordered a mayday relay” “Have the convoy stop,” The captain ordered. “Sir,” Smith replied, and gave the order to comms.
A few moments later, all heard Comms broadcast “Mayday relay, mayday relay, Charlie Vega Prime under attack by several raiders, This is Corvette Boudicea PG 194 sends- K.”
That evening was a bit somber on the mess deck. Everyone dealt with their close call in their own way. If, that pesky little word. If the slowest ship in the convoy had been just a little bit faster, their convoy would have been in orbit of CVP when the raiders came. They would have to make that final gallant charge like many other little ships in history. Being a history geek, I could remember several such heroic names. Even the double rum ration given to sailors in a King’s ship did not quiet the butterflies in a ratings stomach. Several had taken the opportunity to loose themselves in the caring embrace of another, to forget for a brief time. The anthem “England expects” and “For King and country.”
They sat there over a day before receiving another message from Charlie Vega Prime, this time in code. “PG194 there is a big mess in orbit, but we had three fleet units in system when six raiders blew in. They and our orbital batteries stopped the assault, but at significant loss. You may have to wait out by our moon for cargo, if we can get it up through the orbital battle debris. CVP sends.”
The captain sent a brief assent.
Yes, on the Corvette’s forward view screen, the bridge watch could see that planetary orbit was a mess. However, It seemed the planetary defense had held long enough for the fleet units to catch the raiders in a crossfire and destroy them. One of our Destroyers was only a shell gutted by fire, the other two units somewhat damaged, but appearing to still be spaceworthy. They welcomed the Corvette as she and her charges appeared.
“Boudica, nice to see you.” from the Destroyer Rawalpindi. The Cruiser Chicago sent “you’re late, you missed all the fun.” To tired smiles from the bridge crew, and the captains message “Thankyou, seems you left quite a mess for us to clean up.”
There was indeed a lot of debris in orbit from the wreckage of three moonlets that had mounted major caliber C+ guns.
The CVP central command interrupted their welcome. “Yes, Boudica, nice to see you. We are sending orbits to your charges. Please take station behind Luna lagrange point one.
Do you need anything other than basic supplies?” “Yes, the Corvette captain responded. We used up six of our starboard close in defense missiles a couple weeks ago. We are also short nineteen five inch railgun ammunition as well.”
“Is that C+ ammunition? “ CVP asked. “It’s actually more like C- rounds” the captain replied. Everyone snickered at that. The Rawalpindi even chimed in.” We have a few rocks you can throw at them.” To laughter across the net.
The CVP comms were only mildly amused at that, and curtly replied “we will have your stores ASAP. We have to boost everything straight up over the poles for now. However we will see your ammunition request is expedited.”
“Thankyou, CVP,” Captain Jones replied, then the talk between ships resumed.
Rumor new was that the remains of the destroyer Rio would be towed in a terminal trajectory into the sun. This would be a while yet, long after the Corvette had left with her outbound convoy. No shore liberty was possible, as a near miss nuke had irradiated the town a few miles from the base. The community that had hosted the favorite naval bar was, well, just plain gone. A sea of glass was all that was left.
Seven days later, the Corvette led her convoy outbound from Charlie Vega Prime. Sealed orders told the captain their destination. Rendezvous with third fleet to give underway replenishment. Until then, they were on their own.
Cheryl cornered Me in the passageway. Seeing no one was there for the moment, she slipped up close with her arms around my neck, and drove her tongue into my ear. She was tired of being a good girl, waiting for Me to do something. After all, they could well be floating debris by tomorrow. I responded as any man would. Then we heard someone coming. Still clutching one another, we hurried down the passageway. In a few minutes, we were forgetting the Corvette, the war, the .service. All that evening all we responded to was each other.
Finally, My watch alarmed, telling me that i was due on the bridge in 30. So, also , was Cheryl. One final deep kiss, then we went our ways. In 25, we saw each other again in the pre watch briefing room. The next four hours, no one would have suspected a thing.
Three merchant convoys converged on the fleet. It was a magnificent sight I saw out the forward view screen of the corvette. Hood, Defiant, Victory, Delhi, and over a dozen more battle cruisers were in line ahead, stretched out over 40 miles. In an hour, all of them were suckling replenishment ships. A large swarm of lighter craft were also greedily awaiting their turn. I knew that if I survived the war, this was a sight I never would forget.
Smitty, Cheryl, I and several others were sitting around the game table in the recreation deck. Cheryl’s luck was holding. She had won the last two hands at poker. Of course, the rest were cat calling out about how she just had to be cheating- somehow. Alan asked, “Cheryl, you sure you weren’t hiding that ace up your sleeve?” She wised back “Allen, you’re blind , I don’t got no sleeves!” Which was somewhat true, as her floppy “sleeves” only reached to her elbows. Everyone laughed. At the end of the next hand, once again she reached forward to pull her winnings from the center of the table. “You have GOT to be cheating!” Smitty exclaimed. Cheryl just stuck out her tongue out at him.
At that everybody snickered again. Smitty stood up, pulled his pockets inside out said,” Harry, your girl has cleaned me out.” Alan replied “me too. I’m going to go pull Sue into that corner over there.” Sue smiled, got up and they left the table. At that, everyone just talked for a while about nothing in particular. Finally, Cheryl and I left together. Fred called out, “don’t be late for watch!” I waved back as we left.
I was watching the forward sensor screen from his bridge watch station. Not that there was much to see, but he was bored. The Corvette was somewhat ahead and to one side of the convoy. I guess We’re the first thing a raider would notice” I thought. “That there was obviously only one escort in this convoy.” I was turning back to his log book when I had a thought. Pondering this new idea a couple minutes. “Lieutenant Jones, sir” I called out to the watch officer. Jones looked over at him. “Yes,” he replied.
I said “ A long range scan could see that there is only one escort to this convoy, but they can’t actually make out any details. What if we had a couple of the faster merchantmen take station outside the convoy, pretending to be escorts? That would discourage any single raider from attacking us.” Lieutenant Jones turned fully around staring at Me, frowning. Several long moments later, he wordlessly went over to the bridge phone, dialing it. He spoke in a low voice about ten seconds, then hung up. Looking over to Me, said “good idea.” Then, went back to looking into the forward view screen. A few minutes later, the Captain entered the bridge from his ready room. He walked over to Lieutenant Jones. “What’s this?” the captain asked. Lieutenant Jones ordered “Brackett, come here and tell the Captain what you told me.” I did so, then stood there waiting. “Thankyou, quartermaster,” the Captain said. “I think we’ll do that.”
Then, he turned and walked through the doorway to the communication room. A few minute later, the message was sent out to two convoy ships by laser signal light, and they took up station as faux escorts. As the Captain left the comms room, he glanced over at me, said “Good work, quartermaster,” then went back into his ready room.
Two days later, and still three days from their destination, A distortion from otherspace appeared Then the momentary form of a ship- a raider? After four heart stopping seconds, otherspace opened again, the ship disappeared. The klaxon had already sounded Battle stations. Three seconds stretched into a minute, then several. The Captain gave the order to comms. “Send this signal via laser light, All ships prepare for major course change. The enemy knows where we are and where we are going. They will be back shortly with several friends. We must not be here when they return.”
Ten minutes later, he sent the signal. “Convoy column Able, come to course 025, up 46. We will execute in two minutes.”
Each of the three columns of the convoy executed the turn in good order, then began merging into a closer formation. They were almost doubling back from where they had come from. Six hours later, the command for another course change was given, sailing ninety degrees from their original base course.
Finally, a day later. The Captain put the convoy on a course to miss their destination by a wide margin, He still thought several enemy fleet units would be waiting for them somewhere along their original course. Their destination, Sirius Bravo, was fairly close to whatever “front lines” were possible in a fluid naval war. His intention was to get there “through the back door.” Three days later, despite all the odds, they arrived safely.
Cheryl came out onto the portico as the sun was setting, carrying two tall glasses of lemonade, and a large plate. “Go back in and get your supper, boys,” she said. “Aww, do we have to grandpa?” one boy complained . “We want to hear more of what you did in the war.” I sighed. “Do as grandmother said, boys,” I replied. As soon as the boys were gone, Cheryl sat in My lap, and we held each other. “Tell me a story,” she impishly demanded.
“Well, once upon a time, a pretty girl”- I kissed Cheryl’s cheek - “could not keep her hands off a sailor boy……………….”