Thursday, 13 September 2012
Friday, 30 March 2012
Chapter 1: The Encounter.
Just ten ships. That's all the United Terran Navy can manage right now. We built them as large as we could, Kilometers long, hundredmillions of man hours. Over-engineered beautiful pieces of work. Used to police the trade routes for contraband. Boring. Contraband like the independents' manifesto. Excessive. No merchant ship could really challenge us. Not even a match for a fighter wing from one of these ships. 30,000 men crammed on board, just to look for data slates.
We jumped into the system. We've been pursuing these bunch of pirates for about a week now. right to a habitable planet this time. An interesting discovery to say the least.
“Captain Cross!” a comm line crackled. “They've moved into the asteroid field!”
Asteroid fields aren't nearly as dense as people think they are. Not worth firing our big gun at it though. So I decide on a more conventional method.
“Launch the shrikes.” shrikes are interceptors. Well armed, quick accel. Used to fly one myself, back in the day. Those days are over now. Too damn old.
My hands are rough. Fighter pilot's hand. Shakes. Only thing that helps is whiskey. “Put 'em on screen. Front, gun view.” I order. The Mainscreen switched on, giving a view of the top of the main gun, a 900 meter railgun. I like a good view. The asteroids travelled at low velocities. Perfect place to hide. I figure it's time to end this pursuit. “Arm the swivel guns.” More railguns. A secondary battery beneath the main gun. 3 cannons. Good, solid slugs. “Give 'em hell.” I say. A few shots headed in the right direction. The large asteroid the pirate freighters hid behind exploded. It rustled the nest. “Give commander Danik the word.” He's been flying fighters for about 5 years. He's earned this hunt.
Explosions rocked the pirates' hulls as plasma rockets from the fighters detonated. We set about dealing with the planet. I order an away team, and a pair of ore miners to deal with the resupply. Lastly, I order the star examined. It's a red dwarf. Might be a decent resupply point, though. I order one of the FIS batteries ejected. Need 'em to get out of system. Not even enough for one jump right now. Ion engines are slow to accelerate, efficient for sublight, but not fast enough for interstellar travel. Nothing really is, actually.
The Sword of Truth is the name of my ship. She's done well thusfar. A Mars class, she Polices quite effectively, as the navy does. The three systems know her well. Sol, Alpha Centauri, and Barnard's star. Wolf 359 has no planets, so it was never colonized with more than a military outpost and science station. An interesting star, or so the science boys tell me.
“I'm heading to my quarters. Let me know of any interesting discoveries on the planet.” I say. My XO, Commander Adams took over. He's a tall man. A good, bass voice. Black hair, with a well-trimmed beard... a pointed, Honest Abe. The bridge itself is something of a panorama from myself. Helps for voice projection, and so I can see everything going on. I can see we'll be here for a while.
“Radio the flight deck. Send a few orbital landers down, and a science shuttle. On screen.” a few black shapes launched from the hangar. Drop pods full of power-armoured soldiers, among plenty of scientists. Good practice for them. They aren't really used that often. Hopefully this place can be colonized. The science shuttle holds all the amenities they'll need. Large for a shuttle, it's a bulky craft, full of specialized electronics. At the front are a number of sensor antennae. If this place doesn't have any sentients, this will be a great addition. A lot of green. A lot of blue. A couple moons, too... ah well. My old bones can rest for now.
The ship's huge. Two kilometers of Steel. One of the advantages of a captain's position is a short walk to work. Gotta be close to the command deck. I take a quick shower. I say good night to my cat, Floyd. A tortoiseshell cat. Always been there for me. A nice, affectionate cat. He slept on my bed.
I was rudely awoken. I had to run to the command deck. I dumped Floyd right onto the floor. Sorry, cat.
It was about ten hours after we arrived in system when two unknown ships jumped in. We had never found another spacefaring race. I order the comm officer, Gordon Ericson to hail them. We get no response. I don't take kindly to uninvited guests.
“Threat assessment.” I tell the sensor officer, Roger Henricks.
“Sensors picking up nuclear weapons,” Henricks said, “And from the look of 'em, plenty of torpedo tubes and secondary weapons. They'll be in weapons range in an hour. All in all, they'd be difficult for us to counter.”
“Magnify” I say. Two large trapezoidally-shaped ships came into view. Large batteries at the front of missiles, between them what appeared to be a fighter bay. Two double turrets of what appeared to be railguns also came into view, at the back of them. A large number of secondary batteries dotted the hull, which looked to be for anti-fighter duty.
“Arm the Slammer. Prep all fighters for combat. Status on the away team?” I say.
“No way we could get them back before they get here.” Ericson says.
My hands start shaking a little. “Where are they on the planet?”
“They touched down near the equator, in a mountainous region near the coast of the central continent.”
“Tell them to sit tight, Ericson. We can't get 'em back. But we might be able to stake our claim. I have a plan. Adams, ready room, now. You too, Jacob.” Jacob Riggs is the tactical officer. Can't do this without him.
“Alright gentlemen. Here's the story. Right now, we have a few objectives. First, we need to stake our claim. Second, we need to make sure they can't destroy our claim. Third, we have to get reinforcements, and fourth, we need to get that battery back, and jump out.”
“Sir, shouldn't we try to negotiate with them?” Adams says.
“We tried that. We will give them one more chance. This is our planet now. One way or another. We're holding onto this one. That's our mandate.”
“Right, then.” he says. “I'll give orders to the flight leaders.”
“We'll prioritize enemy weapon systems. Those nukes and rails have to be disabled. At least a month's damage. We'll grab the battery first. Just have to make it to the planet, and drop the base. Then we jump out.”
I go back onto the command deck. Gut's pounding. Grit my teeth. First real combat action. Do me proud, men.
“Alright. Ten minutes, give them their orders, get a move on! Come on you bastards, you wanna live forever?!”
A thousand things happened at once. The hustle of the men was a sight to behold. Hundreds of voices went to all corners of the decks. The ship's on red alert for the first time. This is what we trained for. Let's see what the old girl can do.
We made it to the battery. A massive, black shape, with extended solar panels all around. Lots of gold connectors at the top, slips right in at the aft-port quarter after folding the panels. The docking process started, magnetic clamps sealing to the surface of the battery. We started making a quick turn around when the unknowns launched their first salvo from about a million kilometers. Test shots, undoubtedly. Countermeasures deployed. Jets of green plasma fired from our turrets, and fighters scrambled to launch. Many explosions ensued as the warheads were detonated by the plasma. “I think we have our answer, Adams.” -- “They must not know about our claim on the planet, if they do, they don't care right now. Turn as fast as possible. Fire on the first ship possible.” Each ship is about 1500 meters in length. This should be a challenge.
“Fire the slammer! Target the second ship's guns with the trips, and fire!” I ordered. “Scramble all fighters. Have them fly escort duty. Keep firing, then make ready for a broadside! We must reach that planet!” Our rails hit them hard. Looks like we cooked a few magazines, but not enough to destroy them. The slammer's kiloton slug took down one of their rail turrets in a single shot. Good girl.
More shots were fired. This time it was their rails. No time to dodge. Four hits hit the top of the sword near the fighter bay. “Damage report.” I say. “Significant damage to the armour, but it's holding” Riggs says.
The battle continued for a while. The flak guns and plasma projectors kept the missiles from being too big a threat. The plasma projectors didn't seem to have much effect on the fighters. Must have EM shields. These ships don't have a large fighter complement, fortunately. Neither do we, but we appear to have invested in more anti-fighter technology. Then they fired again. The slammer took a hit. Temperamental gun. The fighters kept 'em busy though. Our flak guns did enough damage to the magazines. The fighters kept at the rail turrets, and took 'em down. Our rails are down, too. I have questions. Lots of questions. But no chance right now to answer 'em. The ship's taken a beating. So have they. And nobody, them or us, is willing to commit their ships to this one engagement. But I've got my orders.
The drop pods are all loaded and on standby. Company holding transports... an entire division's worth. Even drops the mess-hall in with 'em. Massive numbers of men, all crammed onto fifty odd ships, with all the proper amenities for the army. Even tanks, helicopters and pads. Lovely technology. The city ship is about to say goodbye to ten thousand men. Many families are split up. Thousands of people killed in the combat. But we held. I give the order.
The pre-fabricated base was dropped. The drop pods were fitted with heat shields. They'll go right into the mountainside. A great way to defend themselves against whoever the hell these guys are.
A white tunnel into subspace opened. The FIS-drives thrummed with power. After a few seconds, we jumped out.
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
We reached the outskirts of El Alamein at about 2 in the morning. We did so intentionally. We had no headlights. It was eerie driving up to the city like that. Numerous spotlights spotting for aircraft... the occasional highlighted 88... it painted a very bleak picture. We knew it'd be suicide going straight in. so we didn't. Instead, we looked at an alternative: driving through the freezing cold desert, and trying to find any remnant of the task force. Well, we found it. About 50 miles from the city, just outside the range of the German heavy artillery, we found medical tents. The first things we found were the blackened hulks of German and British tanks. A bit beyond them were enough tents for about two hundred people.
The cowards have fled. Our cowards. All that remain are the nurses and the wounded. The good nurses. Some of them fled too. Can't blame them, but this is atrocious. The nurses have guns. Deadly nurses.
“That's far enough!” a familiar voice yelled.
I get Walid to stop the car. The boys do the same with the truck.
We come out with our hands up. Unarmed.
That red hair I'd spot anywhere.
I saw the look on her face when she dropped the gun. Somewhat teary eyed. We ran towards each other.
“What happened?” Laura asks me.
“We won. We shouldn't have, but we won.”
I tell her our story.
The boys and I all crowded around a table. Laura put on a kettle. It's still late.
“We can't stay here, Laura.” I say. “And we can't take all the men with us.”
“Some of them shouldn't even be moved.” she says. “When the army retreated, they took as many men as they could. They only kept those who could fight. They left us nurses here to look after these men. At least jerry's got a good track record here with how they treat prisoners. Why the hell are you here? I never expected to see you again.”
“I'm here for you.” and I whisper the other reason into her ear. Don't want the others hearing.
She looked at me. She looked at the boys. She looked at the nurses, and finally at the wounded.
“I never knew Petersen” she says. “But I can't see how you justify running now.”
“Laura, we've lost. El Alamein is a stone's throw from Cairo. They get Cairo and we're done. Five men won't make a difference. We took down one aircraft carrier, it's true. But we'll never have another shot at that again. That's a job for the navy. And the navy's shot to hell. I can assure you, we'll keep on fighting. One way or another. But not here.”
“You've lost your senses. Where else could you fight? Russia?! You'd die before you get there! Any other way I see it the entire Mediterranean's surrounded! You'd be shot by the British, shot by the Germans, shot by the Italians, shot by the Spanish, not to mention the Germans! Where is there to go?!”
“Southern France.” Meyers pipes in. “From there, we see where else we can go, and what we can do. There is a resistance movement there. They've saved many downed British pilots. And it isn't occupied by the Nazi's. Seems like quite the gap.”
At this, laura relented somewhat. “How in hell are you going to get there?”
“Boat. There are a few fishing villages nearby, and I suspect there might be large enough vessels to get us there.” Walid says. “I have a friend who was in the French merchant marine. He helps out the British on occasion. He might still be there. If not, a fishing boat may be available. Maybe a miracle at Alamein is possible.”
“This...” laura starts. “I don't like this. I can't say you're wrong. I know what the Germans did to our soldiers earlier, and we've lost so much... I don't think we can resist theme here for more than ten minutes, should they invade, and we all know they will. I think... I think you're right. If I may say so, however... you must get rid of those uniforms.”
At that, we turned in for the night. For a whole three hours of sleep.
Navittas woke me up. Along with the rest of them. A German column was approaching. There was no time. I got Laura and the rest of the men into the Truck and Jeep. I floored it out of the medical camp. We couldn't load any of the wounded. And we couldn't tell the nurses. It's an ulcerous feeling in my gut. This is the worst. Leaving a man behind is bad enough. Leaving more than a hundred men to the Nazi's... that's the worst. I'll never forgive myself for this, I know it. Soldiers aren't supposed to leave compatriots behind.
We head for the coast. Another dawn. Another death. Red sky at morning. Walid is on the radio. He's speaking French. Almost certainly code. I hear a bass voice coming through it. Walid's moustached face perks up. “My friends, we are golden. He's ten miles off the coast. If we're lucky, we may make it yet.”
“Make your own luck” Pyre says. “Get us there, sir.” he says to me.
I give him a nod.
A long way down a hill we go. Right to a beach. Right to a small fishing village. I just hope they aren't Nazi sympathizers. We see the ship. There's a rowboat coming ashore. To a dock on the eastern side of this village. Just a small hamlet. About 50 or so inhabitants. And there's an APC behind us. A German halftrack.
They're in range right now. But they haven't fired. I'm wondering why. I tell everybody to stay low. I keep the jeep immediately in front of the truck. And that's when things all go to hell.
We've run out of gas.
I order everybody out. We don't have much in the way of guns or ammo. Not that we don't have it, but more that we couldn't get to it in time. I've got a schmeisser. Navittas and Pyre have a couple of bolt action rifles. Walid has a Sten gun. Meyers has a revolver of some kind. Pathetic. And Jennings has a single drum for his MG 34. They've got better guns, and more of them. I order Pyre to switch with Jennings. Get him firing incendiaries. We we aim for the halftrack's gunner, then the driver. We manage to get them both down. But then the men come out. It's a stalemate. We can't move, but neither can they. We can't stay here. They've undoubtedly called for backup. Or worse, artillery. So, I order the boys to do the one thing I wished I'd never have to. Split up, multiple directions, get to the town. Groups of two, 20 feet between them. Prone every five seconds. I give them covering fire. Laura and me, we're the last to go.
I order Navittas to get up and go. He goes about ten feet, then gets shot in the leg. I run over and carry him while the rest of the men give covering fire. Then I hear 'out.' from several of them. Nearly there. There's only five of them left. We enter the town. Town for salvation. And then I notice the blood on my face. Some of it's mine. Some of it's Navittas'. I've lost my ear. Navittas has been shot through the femur. Can't think about it. Gotta keep going. Hand's still on Laura. She's still there. She's still there. We get to the dock. The Frenchmen are firing at the last of them. We're alive. We're all alive. My god, we're alive.
End of book 1. I'm taking a break from this serial for a while. There will be a new one coming up soon. So stick around, the whole 4 people who read this.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
This is probably only the second time it's ever rained while I've been here. When we look to Tobruk, the Germans are hard at work in the mud and rain trying to fix the damage to the city. Knock a building down, they'll rebuild it. Like ants. There's something admirable in that. Well, admirable if they didn't just hit El Alamein. Our job is going to be hard. We attach the spare tire. Hopefully it holds out. Wonder why Rommel's still in the city. Seems to me he should be with his men. Maybe he's sick?
I look out the binoculars again. Jerry's getting a convoy together. Probably the worst kind of day to do so. Probably the worst kind of day for a victory. But a general needs to be with his men. If Monty's any example... god dammit Monty. Why did you have to be with us that day?
We can't get out of here right now. Not with that convoy. They'd undoubtedly see us trying to leave. Maybe in an hour.
I check on Meyers. It hadn't occurred to me whether to salute him or not. So... I ask him what his rank is.
“Technically” he starts “It's First Lieutenant. But you got me out, and I'm still wounded, so... I'll leave command to you for now. I'm putting you in for one, by the way. That was top notch improvisation. We need men like you.”
It's nice to know I can keep command of my unit. But I wonder how long until I can't...
“They're leaving.” Pyre yells at us. There's no dust. But it looks like one of their Kuebelwagens has gotten stuck. That's what happens if you take too long to leave. Good thing our truck's still in the cave. I'm guessing they figure it isn't worth finding one truck. Or maybe they just didn't see us do this. But, hopefully we'll be fine. I'm going in Walid's car. It's a Jeep. Good suspension, at least. Yanks know how to make a decent car. We're going to Siwa, then directly to Cairo, if the plan holds. At least, that's the hope. Hopefully, no axis patrols. There should be a contact there. Tell us if we're needed elsewhere... and hopefully, a sit-rep.
We wait another half hour. We keep ourselves busy. By the time they've gotten the Kuebelwagen out, we've covered up most of the axis markings. When they're well off, we start the truck and Jeep. Thank god that truck had gas. Navittas might have been able to power the APC for a couple clicks, but he can't do that for too long. Needs to eat a lot to do his magic.
We're making good time. The desert all looks the same. The roads aren't good though, when there even are roads. Off-roading isn't comfortable. At least this thing's suspension is doing its job.
“How long have you been in North Africa, Arnold?” Meyers asks. He's behind me. I turn to him. (Navittas, Pyre, and Jennings are in the truck.)
“About ten months thus far. Been a pain in Jerry's arse, I guarantee you.” I say. He smiles.
“It's a pity we never met. A damn shame about Petersen, too. I could have got you places. Intelligence has its perks.”
“Tell me, Meyers, what do we do if we lose North Africa?”
“There are a few options. None of them good. We need the oil here. Without that... things get much more difficult. Furthermore, India and Australia get cut off. Churchill has plans in case of such an emergency, but I surely don't know them.”
“An honest assessment. Have we lost north Africa yet?”
I stare at him for a moment. Then I lean my head back a bit. I didn't think things were so bad. I hate it when I'm right. What the hell was all this for?!
“I'm going to ask you a question. Strictly off the record.” Meyers says. Walid looks at him briefly, then back on the road.
“Would you be against the idea of getting out of here?”
“you mean... deserting?”
“Precisely. We wouldn't be throwing our lives away meaninglessly. We wouldn't be captured by the Germans. We wouldn't be shot, except by our own men.”
“You know what we'd be doing right. We could never go back.”
“We'll see about that. I have my ideas. For that matter, it's not like they'd be surprised if we were all dead. Being missing has its advantages.”
I pause for a moment. “Let me think about this. There are a number of things we need to think about here. And I have unfinished business near El Alamein. And we've got the perfect way in.”
“Righto. Just... don't breathe a word of this to anybody else.”
We get to Siwa. Walid knows the place. “It's my hometown, my friend. Here, you are my guest. Please, Enjoy our hospitality, but be careful. The Axis have eyes and ears everywhere. I will bring you to the contacts' house, then I will have to leave you. He will point you in the right direction, and give you some supplies.”
It's an oasis town. Interesting place. More ubiquitous mud-brick housing. Eventually, we get to something kind of like a garage. It's not much, but it will do. There are a bunch of women clad in veils, and a few men with white robes eating at a small cafe table. One of them waves at us. Or more accurately, at Walid. Walid and him start speaking back and forth in Arabic. I get back to the squad.
Navittas is powering a radio. More specifically, the Radio Walid had. I suppose Walid didn't need it anymore.
“Gents, we'll be here a short while. Don't stray too far. Need to get rest while we can. Also, feel free to take in the local cuisine... though I might suggest you make them eat it first. Make sure it isn't poisoned. We don't know anyone.” I say.
“Roger. Anything's better than field rations, at least.” Jennings pipes up.
“Get what you can. Just try to get it from people Walid recommends.”
“Anything else we should know about?” Pyre asks.
“We won't have enough time to get to Cairo today, or even tomorrow. Pack food.”
Walid comes back to me. The men wander off.
“If I may speak freely, sir.”
I tell him to go ahead.
“If I were in your position, I would not desert until absolutely necessary, and with knowledge your men are on your side. I understand its appeal. I will not oppose you in your endeavour. But... be sure it is a wise decision first. It's about five right now. I would not advise going to Cairo in the dark. Plenty of time for rest. Plenty of time to talk to the men about it.”
“Thanks for the advice, Walid. I will do as you say.”
Then I spoke to the men about it. The next day, we made our way to the coast of Northern Egypt.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Jennings is driving. I'm up front as well. Pyre and Navittas are in the back of the truck. It's damn hard to see out here right now. Our goal isn't so much to get to Walid's place, as to make sure we aren't spotted by the Germans. At this point, we're running at about 80 kph. A damn fine way to get seen. But speed right now is more important. Offroading isn't comfortable. We're going over many a sand-dune. Then a thought occurs to me. We've got German uniforms. If we end up being seen by Walid... oh shit.
One of our tires blows out. I forgot about the escarpment. We get out.
“WALID! STOP SHOOTING!”
“You are late my friend! I shall come down! Do you need assistance? I saw smoke from the harbour from here!”
“Damn right we need assistance! Klaus has been hit!”
“Who is Klaus?”
We get Klaus out. He's breathing, but barely. We get the truck into the Cave.
Walid sets to work. Didn't know he was a medic.
“Tut tut! Don't you people know anything about medicine?!”
We look at him kinda... gawk eyed, I suppose the yanks might say.
“No.” we say, simultaneously.
He mumbles a number of what I assume are Arabic profanities. He gets Pyre to help him as a nurse of sorts. I'm glad Klaus is unconscious for this. I would not envy him.
Navittas, Jennings and I are all waiting outside the impromptu operating cave. All this damn waiting. I look around Walid's cave – there's a radio, a couple beds, and a small armoury. Some food, too, not too much though. Probably a day or two's worth. Makes sense. We've got nothing to do right now. Time to just rest. Exhausting work, war is. Times like this are few. I decide to turn on the radio. It's Mozart.
A few hours pass. We've been asleep. Walid has woken us. Klaus will survive. It's time to debrief him. He's got a cigarette in his hand. Don't blame him.
“My name's not Klaus, by the way.” he says.
“Of course it isn't. I'm not Hans either.” I say.
“If you must know, my name's Reginald Meyers.”
“Right, Reg. So, did you turn up any juicy details on that carrier?”
“A number of things. I can't be sure if intelligence doesn't already know this, but, that those aircraft carriers came in is a very bad thing. They're much ahead of schedule. I think Mussolini's been getting those magitech engineers to do quite a bit of work. The good news is, if our navy can hit that shipyard, they lose a large chunk of infrastructure. The bad news is, now there's aircraft carriers to deal with. And you can bet they'll defend that place with more than enough firepower. It'll be tough. As for the Zeppelin itself, it's good to have it out of the way. But those other two, they're going to make life hell. They probably can't strike the Russians, not with the mines of the Dardanelles in the way, but if and when they can, we can assume the Soviet Caucasus is gone. Right now, what we really need, is the US. The soviets can't do it on their own. Or even with us. If Hitler conquers to Moscow, well... we'd better brush up on our German.”
At this, I'm worried. But he's right. If the Germans conquer Russia, we have completely and utterly lost the war. At least, without the United States, it will be...
At the end of all that, we hear a news broadcast on the BBC. News from the front. El Alamein has been captured. Cairo's next. I wonder what happened to Laura. I need to know.
An aura of despair kind of sets in. No one is in a good mood right now. We relax though. Take our pleasure in the little things. We have some chocolate. We have a fair amount of other supplies, too. We make it into something approaching nice. It's sweet, at least. And we're alive. Everyone that matters.
I decide to break the silence. “For all our dire straights, men... we have done a fantastic job. I'm proud to have served with you. Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.”
We have our rum ration. A toast to the victorious dead. We get a good night of sleep, for once.
Monday, 17 October 2011
The Wehrmacht's hot on our heels. We're half a step ahead. Need to find some place to hide. Mud brick houses aren't good enough. All we have is a Schmeisser and a Kar98. Scarcely forty rounds between us. This is not good. We're zigzagging through these streets. Worse yet, I'm running out of breath. We hear the Germans yells, they sound like Wagnerian knights. They're terrifying. Gotta get out of here. Those men that were on the tank... they weren't like this... were they?
We burst through the door of some house. A woman is in here. She's screaming. Can't let her scream. I get Pyre to get a pillow, make sure she won't keep on screaming. Baby's screaming. God dammit why did it have to be kids. I hate kids.
Then everything is quiet.
The jackboots of the Wehrmacht eliminates the silence with earth-shattering clonks. All the weight of the world is upon us. We're dead silent. As are the people we're with. There's nothing for it.
They break down the door of the house immediately opposite us. We've still got their uniforms. I'm making a huge gamble.
“Da drueben Komraden! Komme! Komme! Los!”
I motion to Pyre to start booking it. We're running in some kind of direction. No germans have seen through us yet. It looks like my ruse worked. The simplest distraction is often the best.
We keep on going. There's no real reason to run so fast. So we just keep at a light pace for now. Make it look like we're out of breath... well, we are out of breath. But it's still working.
We start walking. We don't know where we went. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Where the hell are we?
I tell Pyre to start looking for Kuebelwagens.
We keep on sneaking around. I think we make pretty good Krauts. Then three German soldiers come up to us and start raising hell.
Jennings, Navittas, and Klaus. Klaus is unconscious. They're carrying him between each other. I take Klaus's pulse. His cauterized body isn't leaking much. But his pulse is still weak. He might get through this. My responsibility. Shouldn't have let this happen. Petersen... that bastard.
“Bloody glad to see you're still round here gents. Situation, Jennings?” I say. His eyes are bloodshot. He's tired. I'm tired too. It's getting late. No sleep last night.
“Sir, looks like everybody in the company we liberated is either dead or recaptured. I wouldn't envy them. We need to get to Walid's place. We can either walk during the night, or try something gutsy. Considering Klaus' situation, I'd recommend trying to capture a truck. Preferably one with some gas.”
“Roger. Let's find a road.”
We're in back alleys right now. We get to the outskirts of the city once more. There aren't many convoys coming by, which is both good and bad. It's about 8:00 now. I'm damn exhausted. Hungry, too.
Jennings and myself are on one side with Klaus. Navittas and Pyre are on the other. There aren't a whole lot of people around here right now. Looks like the Wehrmacht has gone someplace else for the night. The sun is setting to our rear. Jennings and I start talking.
“Did you know anything about Petersen?”
“No more than you. He hid it well. Every time we tried talking to him, he played himself well. The man was slick like grease. He had us fooled from the start. Bastard knew he was playing us. Bastard knew just what to do. None of us picked up on it. You didn't either.”
“Damn right I didn't. But I bloody well should 'ave. I'm in charge. I take the heat. It's my damn job. Dammit.”
“Sir, we're only human. If court-martials are involved, I'll stand with you. None of us knew. None of us were close enough to him. Frankly, none of us liked him. The man was a fuck-up to our eyes. We finished our objective under the direst of circumstances. We took down a crew of thousands in return for a single company of POW's, using captured (and now destroyed) equipment. I don't think command has a single complaint to make, except that we've done our job better than anybody else in this damn war. Intel especially. Bloody bastards.”
“...Thanks Jennings. I needed that. Ninth layer.”
Over the horizon we see something coming. Black smoke. Exhaust. We get ready. Gas trucks always come in last.
We're behind a couple of abandoned houses. Navittas and Pyre spot the convoy. They're heading the right way. So are some Wehrmacht to meet them. This is one of the side roads they're liable to take.
Large number of Panzers coming through. Mostly panzer III's. Two Tigers. Those things are dangerous, as you well know. A few up-gunned Panzer IV's, and a few Stugs. We cannot get detected. If we are, we're dead.
Those Tigers drive by; the ground and buildings shake. The 60 tonne monsters churn everything in their wakes. Behind them are recovery vehicles; they're towing a number of Panzers. Of curious note are a pair of Shermans and a pair of M3 Grants. One of them's a command tank. Big antennae for the radios. Three of those recovery vehicles together are towing a final knocked out Tiger. Those things must be a nightmare to maintain. Magitech can only go so far. A few half tracks go by. We duck out of the way for these ones. Can't let them see us. Last comes a pair of trucks with a large number of barrels. We wait for the first truck to go by.
I give the instructions by hand-signals. I toss my last potato masher as far as I can (which is about two blocks down, through a number of alleyways.) Navittas lines his sights. I duck back in. One shot. Two kills. Boy's a damn good shot. The Wehrmacht's heading in the wrong direction. We dump out the bodies. We turn off the lights. We load up Klaus's body. Maybe our luck's finally turning up.
Thursday, 13 October 2011
They're 150mm artillery pieces. Some of the largest field guns the Germans ever produced in quantity. If anything can do it, it's these. That damn ship mounts the same cannons. I get MacDonald's men to capture them and put them to good use. We have to get closer to the zeppelin. Where these pieces should be towed by horse and tractor, they're being pushed by men. These men... they're magnificent bastards. We might just make it.
Then we saw the stukas launching. A little part of me died. It's too late. Those men we ended up butchering – what did it all matter? What was it all for? Those people on the tank – those people before my very eyes slaughtered – god dammit. Can't think about that now.
“YOU ON THE STREET! GET THE ACK ACK FROM THAT ARMOURY AND SHOOT! SHOOT OR WE'RE DEAD!”
They don't say anything. They just do it. Quad 20mm flak. Not much. But it'll do.
The stukas hit the men. A few of those 150's go down. We take down a pair of those Stukas though. Ten left. Just... ten...
The zeppelin's in sight. The 150mm guns it has are intimidating. Our 88 is more important though.
“Pyre! Incendiary ordinance! Let's cook that damn ship up!”
Sir yes sir! Ordinance loaded!
I get on the gun this time. Steady hands. I line the triangles of the sight with the casemate-mounted gun. It's best cook that armoury. The first shot bounces. My heart pounds.
“REVERSE! GET US OUT!”
The house beside us bursts into splinters of mudbrick. It's gone. I view through the scope again. Another part of my heart drops. There are a hell of a lot of those 15cm cannons on that damn ship. I make a quick count. At least half a dozen on this side. What the hell was intel thinking?! I... I just sent a full company to its death. And... there isn't a damn thing I can do about it!
I hear the screams of men. About a dozen of them. All dead. Macdonald's hit. The tiger's fine. Because they missed this tank.
I fire another one. This time, my aim is true. I managed to hit one of the casemates. We should have stuck to the plan. Should have gone onboard. God dammit.
The casemate cooks up. It's not enough to get rid of the ship though.
Then another hit from a different gun. Must have been one of the 15cm cannons. It hit near the rudder. If we can't kill it, we'll cripple it.
I keep on planting these incendiaries in that ship. They keep on shelling us. The stukas have taken out more than half the men. Surprised they haven't hit us yet.
That's when they hit us. We feel the 30mm shots hit the top of the hull. The engine's on fire. I make Pyre see what he can do. One solitary fire extinguisher for the entire tank.
I fire the final shot and order the men to evacuate the tank. It's been good to us. But we can't stay here.
I yell at the men manning the flak to shoot down those damned stukas. But they're dead.
A horrid realization comes into my mind. Everybody in that entire company is dead or dying.
There's only one artillery piece left. The tiger's useless. There's only one thing left to do.
“Lads.... We aren't getting out of here.We have two choices: Sink the zeppelin, or surrender.
Victory or death, men. We destroy that damned ship, or we die trying. We probably will anyway. But we'll go down swinging. You men go. All I need is one volunteer.”
“I'll do it, sir.”
-- It's Pyre.
“Get to Walid's place. If we aren't there within two hours of you, we're dead.”
“Alright. Load it.” This thing has huge recoil. This time we hit the bridge.
The ship's burning in the water. Those stukas are out of ammo. They've stopped shooting us.
We keep firing. Three more shots before some people start coming at us. Wehrmacht.
As we run, we see the zeppelin. It's been battered, damaged beyond repair. The sacrifices of these men... they might not be in vain. The rudder's gone. It's dead in the water. Its guns damaged, fighter bays inoperable. We might just have done something heroic.
But then something in my gut drops. I see something coming through the harbour.
Two more aircraft carriers.
They're flying Italian colours.
I think we may have just lost the war.