[Author’s Note: It’s back! The reason that Nightwind Wednesdays disappeared for a good long time is because I was busy with the rewrite. The rewrite is done now. I’m letting it simmer and having a few people read it to offer their thoughts before I begin the revision process. In the meantime I’m also working on getting some professional writing credits so I can approach publishers with more than, “I kinda-sorta write a blog. Sometimes.” Tomorrow, as is my custom, I shall go over these chapters and explain exactly why I think they suck. In hindsight.]
June 2nd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
2234, Terran Standard Time
David looked up from his display screen as the Command Crew filed into the room. “Have a seat, folks,” he told them.
Once the group was seated he began the meeting. “Okay, you all know why we’re here. Commander Gregory and four of our crew members are being held hostage down on that planet. The people holding them think we’re pirates and will not give them back. I need any and all ideas for how to get them back.”
Wing Commander Luchenko spoke up. “Keptin, are we allowed to use force?”
“Only as a last resort, Mr. Luchenko,” David responded. “We’re trying to prove to these people that we aren’t here to hurt them and that we aren’t pirates.”
“Well,” Lieutenant Commander Jackson suggested, “We could just sit up in orbit and…not steal anything.”
David’s glare stopped the few chuckles from the officers before they had a chance to truly start laughing. “I’m serious, people. Our people are stuck down there and we have basically no leverage.”
“We know that, Captain,” Templeton said. “At this moment it appears as though the only way we can get them back is by using force or a covert insertion, unless somebody down there starts listening to reason.”
“Is that really all we have?”
“Ensign Thomas has been doing his best to pick up information on what is going on down there,” Jackson interjected. “We have very little to go on so far, though.”
“Wait,” David inquired, “He has the ability to figure out what’s going on down there?”
“He figured out where their military communication gets routed and broke their encryption codes.”
As if summoned by mention of his name, the door of the room opened again and Ensign Thomas stepped in. “Uh, sorry to bother you, but I just got some bad news,” he said without looking up from his shoes.
“What is it, Ensign?” David asked.
“Uh, apparently Private Nait did not survive the crash. He’s…he’s dead, Sir.”
The room fell silent.
“When did you find this out?” David asked after the news sank in.
“Just now, Sir. I picked up a communication between two military commanders. Apparently they are feeling some doubt as to our occupation as pirates. Apparently they have seen the people we’re showing close enough to determine who we are.”
“Keep track of that, Ensign.”
“Aye, Captain.” Thomas spun to leave the room.
“Oh, and Ensign Thomas,” David said just before the junior officer reached the door.
He turned back. “Sir?”
“Thank you, Sir,” Thomas responded, a hint of a smile on his face.
“I want you to let me know the moment you learn anything new.”
David scanned the faces of his Command Crew as the comm officer left. “It looks like we’ve got some good news and some bad news here, people.”
“Unfortunately we don’t know how good our good news is,” Templeton pointed out. “We’re running pretty much blind here.”
“Yeah,” Jackson chimed in, “I think we still need to come up with some way of talking to the people in charge down there.”
“Agreed.” David nodded.
“Should we still come up wi’ a way tae ge’ them oot by force, Sair?” MacDonough asked.
“Of course. I want you and Luchenko to come up with at least two plans.”
“How are we tae do tha’, Sair? We dinnae ken where they are.”
“Work with Lieutenant Commander Templeton and Ensign Thomas. I don’t want to put anyone else at risk, so I hope you don’t mind me telling you that I hope your work will be in vain, but we still may need to do something.”
“Yes, Keptin,” Luchenko nodded. “We understand.”
“Well, we should all get to work,” Jackson said, standing up.
The rest of the Command Crew agreed and stood to leave. Lieutenant Commander Templeton stayed in his seat as the other three departed.
“Permission to speak freely, Sir?” he asked as the door closed behind Wing Commander Luchenko.
“Well, since I didn’t kill you last time, I suppose so.”
“You’re getting better.”
David raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, the way you gave everyone else jobs and all.”
“That’s what the Command Crew is for,” David responded, “And I don’t believe it’s your job to critique my performance.”
“Yes, Sir. You’re right.”
“Remember, Lieutenant Commander,” David leaned forward, “Commander Gregory is my Executive Officer, not you. In fact, Lieutenant Commander Jackson is technically ahead of you in the chain of command. But she knows it’s not her place to tell me how I’m doing, so she isn’t.” He paused. “Just because you were right earlier when I blew up at Ensign Thomas, don’t take that as carte blanche to tell me what you think of my behavior.”
“Uh…yes, Sir,” Templeton replied, slightly stunned.
“Now get to work.”
Templeton left the room. As soon as he was alone, David turned to a task that was entirely new to him: notifying Private Nait’s loved ones that he would not be returning home with Nightwind. For the first time in his Earth Command career he wondered how many people under his command would share in Private Nait’s fate.
* * *
After leaving the Command Crew meeting Lieutenant Commander Jackson headed directly to the secondary communications control room in response to a repair call. Lost in thought, she barely noticed when the lights did not go on as she entered.
“How about some lights?” she asked, knowing the voice activated environmental control system would pick up the command and turn on the lights.
“The lights have been temporarily disabled,” a voice spoke from the darkness behind her.
She spun, bringing her hands up and dropping into a well-practiced fighting stance. “Who is in here?”
“That’s not important right now. What’s important is that you are here with us.”
She thought she vaguely recognized the obviously male voice as one of the officers from Engineering. “Lieutenant Dwyer? Is that you?”
A shadowy form moved in the darkness, but the speaker did not reveal his identity. “I will reveal myself in due time, Lieutenant Commander.”
“Fine,” she decided to play his game, at least for the moment. “What do you want.”
“I have a proposition for you.”
“I want to give you the chance to help us take the Nightwind back home.”
“What would I need to do?”
“Help us get rid of Captain Anderson.”
* * *
Lieutenant Commander Jackson entered her quarters moments after her husband.
“What is it, Sara?” he asked, concern marking his broad, strong features.
“Something big is happening, Carl. I think I’m going to need your help.”
Carl Jackson had joined the Navy just out of college and quickly risen through the Marine ranks through a combination of physical prowess and intelligence. After nearly a decade in the service he had met Sara, six years his junior, on her first shipboard assignment as a junior technician. The pair fell in love and were married the next year.
Carl retired soon after the wedding in order to pursue his love of film making. After seven years travelling around the Solar System he had joined his wife aboard the Nightwind, promising to “make himself useful as the mission’s unofficial documentary maker.”
He spent most of his time with the shipboard Marines, telling tales, talking shop and lending Lieutenant MacDonough some of his expertise and experience.
“What is it, hon?” he asked.
“I need you to talk to Lieutenant MacDonough for me, completely off the record. There’s a message I need you to deliver.”
June 3rd, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1532 Terran Standard Time
“Is that what I think it is, Lieutenant Commander?” Horatio asked, looking up from the Ops console’s tactical display.
“If you think it’s the Dragon approaching the convoy then yes, it is,” she responded, rubbing her bloodshot eyes. “It looks like they are on an intercept course this time, though.”
“Then we can probably expect the Wyvern will be joining us shortly, as well.”
The comm system crackled to life and Tina Morgan’s voice boomed across the generally quiet bridge. “I just got a call from Captain Patterson of the Wyvern, Horatio,” she said.
“And what did the good Captain have to say?”
“Told me if I joined forces with him and the Dragon I’d be, and I quote, ‘well compensated.'”
“I’m not going to have to kill you now, too, am I?” Horatio asked, convinced he knew the answer already.
She laughed. “You couldn’t kill me if you wanted to, Horatio. Fortunately for you, it won’t be necessary, anyway.”
“Good,” he smiled at his Executive Officer. “I just figured I’d check. What did you tell Patterson?”
“I asked what he was offering. Turns out our two friends are working for Robert Laird, and if I go over I’ll get to be part of his new empire.”
“I thought he was just a nut who has something against technology.” Semmes paused to consider the ramifications of Morgan’s new information. “It seems that there’s more to this guy than we thought.”
“Apparently. He got where he is by creating an organization with the purpose of getting rid of the Navy and the colonies, but at the same time he gets enough Navy people in his pocket to start his own.”
“From what General Schroeder tells me,” Horatio added, “He also had some of the Army on his side.”
“Makes sense.” The line went silent for a moment. “Oh, and Horatio,” she said, “I got one other piece of information.”
“The location of the Wyvern.”
Semmes looked back down at the tactical display as the Phoenix received a telemetry update from Morgan’s Glory‘s computer. The second rogue ship was tailing the convoy just outside of the sensor range for either ship, exactly where the Commander thought it would be.
“So it looks like I’m still the only one who doesn’t underestimate you, Tina.”
“Patterson is an idiot,” she confirmed, “He broadcast in the clear, didn’t even try to keep me from tracing his call back to the source.”
“Maybe he was just confident his offer would be accepted,” Bixby offered. “No offense, Ms. Morgan, but you’re not exactly known for taking stands on principle.”
Morgan’s laugh again rang across the bridge. “Too true, Lieutenant Commander.”
The alphanumeric string under the Dragon‘s icon changed slightly, indicating a new vector. It was now perfectly set to hit the exact center of the convoy.
“Hold on for a second, Tina,” Semmes said, weighing his possible responses. “I’ve got to figure out how to deal with our friends.”
“I’ll be here.”
Phoenix Convoy was spread over roughly five hundred kilometers of empty space in the middle of the Europa passage. Semmes had the point position in the Phoenix and Tina Morgan was bringing up the rear in the Morgan’s Glory. Fifteen fat, slow freighters filled the space between. Of those only three, the Tigris, Orca and Liberty could defend themselves, and not very well at that. Dragon was headed straight for the center of the formation, or, as Horatio thought of it, his soft underbelly. Commander Durant of the Dragon undoubtedly hoped to draw Phoenix and Glory toward the center, allowing Wyvern to hit the convoy from behind.
Semmes wouldn’t give them what they wanted, but he thought he could make it look like he was.
“Tina, I’ve got a plan,” he said.
“We’re going to drop back toward the middle of the convoy and prepare to meet the Dragon. I want you to swing wide and make like you’re coming forward. Once the Wyvern makes its move, put the hammer down.”
“Think you can take a patrol ship all by yourself?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Probably not.” Horatio wished for what seemed like the thousandth time that Benito Fernandez and the Gold Brick had not been lost in the action over Luna Base. A third escort for the convoy would be absolutely invaluable in a situation such as the one he was now facing.
But wishes were not any use in a fight. “Lieutenant Commander Bixby, tell the freighters to close up. I want the three armed ships to act as a screen against the Dragon. And put the tac map up on the main screen.”
“Helm, change course. I want us up ten kilometers relative to the convoy and out fifty to starboard.”
“Aye, Commander,” the helmsman responded.
“And decelerate. We’re going to force them to come through us.”
Semmes fell silent as the bridge crew carried out his orders. He figured his course change would force the Dragon to pass directly under his bow if the other ship did not change its course again, giving him an opportunity for at least one full broadside while exposing the Phoenix to only minimal fire from the Dragon‘s weaker frontal and ventral weaponry. Also, for once the slow convoy speed Phoenix was forced to keep would be an asset instead of a handicap, as his ship had a lot less inertia to overcome and would be able to turn quicker to keep the Dragon under its guns.
“Oh, and Lieutenant Commander,” he said, realizing one last thing needed to be done, “Set homing missiles and slave them to the Dragon‘s IFF transponder code.” The fiasco over Luna Base was still fresh in his mind and now he could not afford another mistake of that magnitude. By slaving the Phoenix‘s missiles to an individual Identification Friend or Foe transponder code he could avoid having his missiles lock onto one of the freighters if Dragon managed to evade them.
“Oh, and call Morgan and suggest she do the same.”
Horatio sat in the command chair and watched the distance wind down. Dragon did not change course and his own ship slowly fell back to the perfect intercept position. The rest of the convoy, meanwhile, responded reasonably well to his commands, presenting the attackers with a slightly harder target.
“Dragon is in range, Sir,” Bixby’s call came at the exact moment Semmes expected.
“Open fire. Full broadside.”
Earth Command patrol ships did not have the ability to fire off impressive broadsides, as they carried only four laser cannons in either arc and could not fire more than three missiles in any one direction at any time, but Horatio knew that getting in the first hits against his opponent could still make all the difference. Dragon had taken damage fighting the Gold Brick and Morgan’s Glory over Luna and had probably not been able to stop for repairs yet.
And all he had to do was drive the attackers off. He didn’t have to destroy them. Even though he really wanted Dragon to go down.
He watched as the tactical display dutifully recorded the other ship absorbing the fury of his attack with its shields and returning fire with two missiles and the single unmasked laser cannon. Phoenix didn’t even shudder as it took the hits.
“Again, full broadside,” Horatio ordered.
Dragon continued in, undeterred as more hits struck its shields. It again returned fire and Horatio soon realized the two combatants could engage for hours with little or no discernable results.
As the other patrol ship swept in beneath Phoenix‘s bow, Semmes ordered the helm to turn and give chase. They dove under the convoy, poking and jabbing at Dragon‘s rear shielding, damaging but never breaching it.\
Rather than trying to figure out how to get Phoenix off its tail, Dragon opened fire on the transports, getting in several hits before they passed to the other side.
“When they turn,” Horatio told the helmsman, “I want you to get inside their arc. Keep us between them and the convoy.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, Sir,” Bixby said.
“What do you mean?”
“Dragon isn’t slowing to turn, it’s picking up speed. And Wyvern is already breaking off its attack.”
Horatio sighed. Hit and fade tactics. It was going to be a long trip.