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Offline Trivial Psychic

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"Operation: Fearless" a Freespace Story - Chapter 3 - Part 1
Link to Chapter 2

Chapter – 3:  Swimming Upstream

October 9th, 2367 – 20:00 Hours, TGT

   Aboard the GTD Aquitaine, in its cavernous flight deck, the surviving pilots and crew from the Hood stood in somber remembrance.  On an elevated platform overlooking the gathering, stood the stocky but commanding figure of Admiral Joseph Petrarch.

   “All of us here have lost many friends today.  However at this time I would like to say a few words about Rear Admiral Gregory Troy.  As many of you are aware, he served as my Executive Officer aboard the GTC Ravage during Operation: Templar.  During that time, I came to respect the man in ways that none of you could have known.  In retrospect, I think that he taught me more about being a Commanding Officer, than I taught him about being a senior officer.  He taught me about tolerance and to see my crew as the individuals that they are, rather than the simple names on a roster.

   “And so I ask you all to raise your glasses.”  At this point, Petrarch raised a small shot glass of a special vintage brandy he kept.  The Admiral had also had a shot worth distributed to all pilots in attendance.  Tanner had declined, but the Admiral had made it an order, so she couldn’t refuse.  Lt. Sacks stood beside her, and subtly took her left hand in his right, and gave it a squeeze.

   “To the fallen officers and crew of the GTD Hood and GTC Rampart, who served with distinction and gave their lives to protect those who could not protect themselves.  Goodbye old friend.  You will be missed.”  With that, the Admiral downed the shot, and the rest of those in attendance followed suit… even Tanner.  She licked her lips and looked down into the empty glass.

   “That’s a good vintage,” she said quietly.  Sacks gave her hand another squeeze.

   “Unfortunately,” resumed Petrarch, “there is little opportunity to mourn properly as our time is quite limited.  I now therefore turn these proceedings over to Major Kaplan from Intelligence.”

   Petrarch backed away from the podium and Sacks eyes opened wide, as a fit-looking, clean shaven officer, who looked to have never been in combat his entire life, walked towards the podium from the front row.  At the exact same moment, Sacks and Tanner turned their heads towards one another, and locked their eyes for few seconds.  They both recognized the so-called PR officer from the Hood’s briefing room, from two days before.

   “Good evening,” he began, in a no-nonsense voice, with just a hint of superiority, “My name is Major Allan Kaplan and I’ve been assigned from the Liaison office between Galactic Terran-Vasudan Intelligence and Special Operations Command.  Some of you may have seen me around the Hood over the past week.  I was given orders to assess the fitness of your squadrons for potential participation in a highly dangerous and classified series of missions.  Unfortunately, the escalation of Shivan activity has forced us to accelerate our timetable.

   “Phases 1 and 2 of this operation are a direct assignment… there is no backing out.  However, once these objectives have been achieved, any further involvement is entirely voluntary.  For the mission specifics, I will call upon one of our most decorated operatives, Lt. Commander Christopher Snipes, fresh off deployment.”

   A weathered young officer strolled out of the front row and approached the podium.  Sacks had never met Snipes, but he’d known about him by reputation.  He’d been practically a legend among the 99th Skulls.  Word was that he’d been in deep cover with the NTF, gathering Intel. on ETAK.  Upon seeing him in person, Sacks knew he liked the man immediately.  He was a not-very-subtle officer, who could cut through the bull and knew what it was like to risk his life with little overt reward.  Snipes reached the podium and activated a large view screen on the wall behind him.

   “This is the GTD Phoenicia,” he began, “she took heavy damage during an exchange from the first Sathanas incursion and has been trapped in Gamma Draconis ever since.  We continue to detect her locator beacon, and the status code indicates that she has evaded Shivan patrols so far.  The primary objective of Phase 1 is to re-enter the system and directly assess the Phoenicia.  If we can repair her subspace drive, then she will be extracted from the system and withdrawn from the combat zone.  If not, we will evacuate her crew and scuttle the destroyer.  During this time however, she will serve as a weigh station to repair, rearm, and refuel our fighters.

   “A number of our pilots will either return with the Phoenicia or escort the evacuated crew back to Capella.  Those that remain for Phase 2 will then proceed into the Nebula to board the GTD Yorktown… an Orion class destroyer.  She too took damage to her subspace drive, which was deemed irreparable.  While she can still perform an intra-system jump, the Yorktown could not be evacuated from the nebula.  This destroyer had been scheduled to be scuttled, but SOC stepped in and assumed responsibility for the vessel.  She is currently powered down and without any crew, adrift near a series of Pharos beacons.  We will board and reactivate the destroyer, and it will be our base of operations for Phase 2.  Joining us will be a number of corvettes and cruisers, both Terran and Vasudan.  The Vasudans will also be contributing pilots and fighters for this operation.  They are being briefed just as you are, at this very moment aboard the GVD Memphis.  Additional freighters and transports will accompany you in bringing those supplies and personnel needed.  Missions in the nebula will consist primarily of capture, escort, and defense.

   “Once Phase 2 has been completed, non-volunteers will be permitted to return to allied space, providing cover for our cruisers and corvettes.  I must impress this on any pilots that do volunteer to proceed beyond Phase 2, you will be closing the door.  Command’s plan to keep the Shivans from expanding beyond Capella will also cut you off from both reinforcements and retreat… permanently.”

   Pilots and other officers in the room looked at each other in disbelief.  Sacks furrowed his brow, recalling a piece of the dream from earlier that morning.  Lizzy had been standing beside him, holding his hand.  Other pilots were with him… his squad-mates.  The path before him was surrounded by danger, but not heading into the jaws of death.  Snipes had not said the words “suicide mission”, he just said “cut off, permanently”.  Before he even knew what he was doing, Sacks lifted his left hand (since his right hand was still holding Lizzy’s left), to ask Snipes a question.  It was normally not permitted to ask a question in the midst of a briefing, but neither Sacks nor Snipes were straight-laced officers, and Snipes permitted it.

   “Is this a suicide mission, sir?” he asked, his voice a little more cynical than he intended.

   Snipes leaned over the podium and lowered his voice, “Only if you believe that it is.”

   “What does that mean?” asked Mallory, dropping the 'sir.'

   “It means that as long as you chose to continue staying alive, then it’s not a suicide mission.  True, you’ll be trapped behind enemy lines, but as long as you play it safe, the Shivans won’t know you’re there.  I can’t give any more details at this time.”

   A mist of muffled murmurs echoed through the room, sounding intrigued, yet skeptical.

   “In any case, we’ve got Phase 1 to worry about first.  In one hour, the Aquitaine and Memphis will jump to the Gamma Draconis jumpnode.  Our forces will reinforce the reestablished blockade.  We must provide cover while our warships and convoys enter the jumpnode.  On the far side of the node, we will deploy a number of Mjolnir remote beam cannons to provide cover on that end.  Timing for this portion of Phase 1 is critical.  The Shivans appear to be deploying forces through the node in waves, and our operation will be timed to occur between waves.  That said, the gaps between are getting shorter, the duration of the waves are getting longer, and the volume of forces per wave is increasing.  Fortunately, our warships have identified an energy precursor pattern, which is associated with the inter-system jump of a Sathanas.  If a Juggernaut is about to come through, our forces will have enough time to clear out before it exits subspace.”  Snipes allowed several seconds to pass before finishing with, “Any further questions?”

   A smattering of hands went up around the room.  Snipes was about to pick one out, when he was cut off by Tanner, “Any intelligent questions?”

   One by one, hands around the room dropped until only one remained… Sacks’.

   “What’s the real reason that we were all chosen for this operation?” he asked, sounding mildly accusatory.  Several other pilots nodded their heads in agreement… his question seemed to resonate with the room.

   Snipes exhaled and gazed around the room. “I won’t lie to you.  None of you are what would be considered model officers.  You’ve had authority issues, personal issues, aggression problems, but above all that you’re excellent pilots.  You fight with a determination, skill, and personal finesse that are rarely found among the more model officer pilots of the GTVA.  Finding that in one squadron is rare.  Finding that in multiple squadrons all on one destroyer is… unprecedented.”  Snipes stopped at that point, hoping that his praise of the pilots in the room would prevent any further probes on that line of questioning… but Sacks wasn’t done.

   “And,” he pressed.

   “…and,” resumed Snipes lowering his voice, “all your records indicate that you have minimal family and friends outside your own fellow pilots.  Therefore, you will have fewer people to miss, and be more likely to volunteer, both having less to leave behind, and would be more likely to want to help your fellow pilots.”

   “So we’re expendable,” concluded Sacks.

   “That’s putting it a bit on the harsh side, but yes,” he replied, “every pilot who flies for SOC is potentially expendable… even me.”

   “Fair enough,” Sacks added.

   “Very well,” finished Snipes, “if there are no more… intelligent questions,” he stressed with a nod to Tanner.  Silence followed for a few seconds, so he resumed, “in that case, all pilots will report to your squadron commanders for individual wing briefings.  You’ll be given your specific objectives for Phase 1.  We launch in thirty-five minutes.  Dismissed.”

   Sacks and Tanner disengaged their clasped hands as other pilots from their squadron crowded around, all looking to Tanner.

   “All wings of the 77th will meet in Briefing Room Four in ten minutes,” ordered Tanner, returning to her role of Squadron Commander. “I’m off for my briefing from Quarterdeck.  See you all there.”

   Sacks craned his head back around to the podium and caught sight of Snipes in conversation with Admiral Petrarch, and a young female Lt. Commander of whom Sacks was not acquainted, but something about her seemed familiar.  The way that she carried herself, nodded her head, her green eyes, even the dark brown hair with individual blonde highlights.  “Oh my GOD!” he thought, “She could be Lizzy’s younger sister.”  The resemblance was quite astonishing.  Sacks took a few steps closer to try to make a better identification, when he caught sight of her squadron shoulder patch and he stopped dead in his tracks, and his jaw slacked slightly.  It was the squadron insignia of the 70th Blue Lions, but more than that, it indicated that she was its Squadron Commander.  She’d fought in every major battle for last month, having rocketed up the chain of command with meteoric speed.  She’d even flown against the first Sathanas on more than one occasion and had been involved in its destruction, flying a Vasudan bomber, no less.  The name floated up from the depths of his mind… Lt. Commander Alexia Anderson.

   Still standing frozen in place, Sacks watched as she turned and looked into the crowd of pilots.  At first, Sacks thought she was looking at him, but then realized that her gaze was directed toward Tanner, as she exited the hall.  Her gaze was one of pain and loss. “Was ‘Tanner’ Lizzy’s married name or maiden name?” Sacks asked himself, but before he could muster up the courage to ask the young woman about it, she concluded her discussion with Snipes and the Admiral, saluted, and headed for the nearest door.  It was then that Sacks caught sight of the Admiral looking his way.  He cautiously made his way forward to the old man and saluted.

   “Well, you seem to have pulled yourself out of the fire nicely,” began the Admiral, then to clarify Sacks’ puzzled expression, “the Hampton Roads incident.  I heard you’d been pulled out of the flight line.”

   “I wasn’t aware that you’d been tracking my career, sir,” asked Sacks, feeling more than slightly intimidated by the presence of the fleet legend.

   The Admiral chuckled, then explained, “I knew twenty years ago that you’d end up as a fighter pilot.  Ever since Gregory introduced me to you and your father back in Beta Aquilae.  You were flying a remote-controlled miniature Valkyrie.”

   “I recall that, sir,” replied Sacks, with a bit of a nostalgic smile.

   “Admiral Troy had been keeping me updated about your escapades,” continued Petrarch, “did you know that he personally requested you for the 77th when he heard about your troubles with the 129th Mustangs?”

   “No sir, I didn’t,” Sacks was enjoying this moment with the Admiral, but was short on time, “I apologize for derailing this, Admiral, but I have a briefing to attend in about five minutes and I have a favor to ask.”

   “Name it,” replied the Admiral, appearing to harbor no ill will at being interrupted by a junior officer.

   “Would you be able to have a list of those survivors rescued from the Hood brought down to Briefing Room Four?” he asked.

   “Of course.  Someone on the crew you were close to?” the elder asked with a twinkle in his eye.

   “No sir, it’s actually for one of my wing-mates,” Sacks clarified, without being too specific.

   The Admiral seemed to understand that he was looking out for one of his own, without betraying her identity. “I’ll see to it,” he replied, “in fact, I’ll make sure that all pilots from the Hood have access to the list.  Thank you for bringing it to my attention.  Dismissed.”

   Sacks gave the salute, turned, and headed briskly towards the exit.  Next on his list of people to ask personal questions of: Lizzy.


===============


   The Squadron briefing room was, to put it bluntly, small.  Where the room aboard the Hood had been a lecture hall, aboard the Aquitaine it was a glorified classroom.  That said, it was quite functional.  Multiple display screens, data terminals at each pilot’s seat… hell, even the seats were as comfortable as a lounger.  Sacks had to remind himself that aboard the Hood, there had been only the one squadron briefing room, whereas aboard the Aquitaine there were eight.  It was far more efficient than the older Orion’s layout.  The smaller size took some getting used to, but the perks of the ergonomics were beginning to grow on him.  “Too bad I won’t be aboard her for long,” he thought to himself, “I could get used to this.

   “Command has deployed a number of warships along the approach vector for the Gamma Draconis Jumpnode, as well as a few Mjolnir RBCs,” Tanner continued, getting into the meat of the briefing, “We’ll be assigned the task of providing escort for the supply ships as they arrive near the node and jump out of the system.  Each wing will be assigned a different group to escort.  You’ll also be responsible for covering these ships on the far side of the node until they jump to the Phoenicia’s location.  In addition, you will be receiving assistance from further Terran and Vasudan fighter wings, as well as those capital ships that will be part of Phase 2.

   “The first group through the node will be a group of four Argo class transports, designated Lambda wing.  Each one is carrying an RBC docked to its forward port.  Once they’ve entered into Gamma Draconis, they’ll position these to provide cover for our warships as they follow.  They’ll be accompanied by the GTC Pershing, an Aeolus class cruiser, which will provide additional cover.  Beta and Eta wings will be part of the escort for this group.  Once Lambda wing has completed positioning of the RBCs, they’ll jump to the Phoenicia’s location, and you’ll then be responsible for providing fighter cover for the Pershing and the RBCs.

   “The second group will consist of the Io, Miranda, and Sinai.  All are Triton class freighters.  This group will be accompanied by the GTA Hamako, an AWACS ship, as well as the GTCv Lemnos, GVCv Maahes, and the Mentu-class GVC Ptah-Nu.  Delta and Epsilon wings will be assigned to this group.  On the far side, the capital ships will take up defensive positions to reinforce the Pershing, while the supply ships jump away.

   “The third group will consist of the Argo-class Notus and Sunder, the Satis-class Har-Wer, Ba-Pef, and Monthu, as well as Iota and Sigma wing transports.  Iota consists of four older Elysium class, while Sigma wing contains five of the older Isis class.  You’ll also be joined by the GVG Hez-Ur, the Aeolus-class GTC Sparta, the GTCv Warspite, and the GTCv Hampton Roads.  Alpha and Gamma wings,” she said looking Sacks directly in the eyes, “we’ll be handling this convoy.  Once all the ships are through, all forces will jump to reinforce the Phoenicia.  Any…Questions?” she asked, the pause meant to say “I shouldn’t have to remind you of the ‘intelligent’ part.

   “The Hampton Roads?” thought Sacks, “this should prove interesting.

   “What will happen to the RBC’s once our forces jump to the Phoenicia?” asked Sharpov, guessing the answer already.

   “They’ll be abandoned,” she replied in resignation, “Command will transmit a signal to place them into safe mode, in which they’ll have minimal power signature.  With luck, that fact will cause the Shivans to not consider them a threat and leave them alone,” then she added in a more personal tone, “though I wouldn’t hold my breath.  If they’re still in place when the Phoenicia or its crew makes its run back to Capella, they can be used again for further cover fire.”

   “We won’t have any RBCs to help us enter the Nebula, will we?” asked Rashid, her voice resigned to the truth.

   “Affirmative,” replied Tanner, “The plan is to time our entry into the nebula with the Phoenicia’s escape into Capella.  Hopefully the Shivans will concentrate their forces on that node.  By the time they respond, the Phoenicia will have jumped.  If the Phoenicia can’t be rescued however, some of our capital ships will be reassigned to cover the transports carrying her crew.  We’ll just have to do without them until the crew escapes.  Any more questions?” Sacks gave a subtle gesture, which indicated to Tanner that he needed to speak with her in private. “Good,” she resumed after some silence, then checked herself, “Oh! I almost forgot.  Gamma wing, front and center.”  Sacks and his crew stood and came forward to the front of the ‘classroom’, feeling somewhat puzzled.  “What did we do THIS time?” he wondered.  Tanner picked up a small box on her podium and walked over to Gamma wing, arranged in a row.  Standing in front of Sacks, he thought he saw for the first time, Tanner, while still in her Squadron Commander role, smiling.

   “Lt. Sacks, Lt. JG Yuka, Lt. JG Manetti, En. Mallory, En. Rashid, and En. Sharpov, in recognition of your brave acts for the Alliance in securing the surrender of the NTC Damocles, you are all hereby awarded the NTF Campaign Victory Star.  Congratulations!”  Every member of Gamma wing beamed pride, and the other pilots in the room displayed similar expressions.  Finally, someone in the 77th Black Sheep had been recognized.

   “I understand that Admiral Troy had a hand in this,” Tanner continued, with a bittersweet tone.  She then brought up her hand to salute, as did Gamma wing with the most enthusiasm they’d ever displayed.  “All pilots report to your fighters within ten minutes.  For those who are concerned, Admiral Petrarch has posted the list of those crew members rescued from the Hood, including the injured.  You’ll find it in the fighterbay entrance.  Dismissed.”

   Manetti, among other pilots, nearly bolted for the door, and Sacks gave a knowing smile.  He hadn’t seen the list yet, but he had a gut feeling as to what it would say in regards to her dearest Corporal Mars.

   Sacks made for the door at a leisurely pace, until the last of the pilots had left the room, save himself and Tanner.  He let the door shut then swiftly came about and walked over to Tanner near the podium.

   “There isn’t much time Percy,” she quickly dropped the formality, “so do you mind cutting to the chase?”

   “Lizzy, is ‘Tanner’ your married name?” Sacks asked with furrowed brow, but a raised left eyebrow.

   Tanner was again caught off guard by the unexpected question. “Um, yes.” she said with her own furrowed brow, “my maiden name was-”

   “‘Anderson’, right?” finished Percy, to an astonished Lizzy.

   “Yes.  How did you-”

   “There an Alexia Anderson aboard this ship,” explained Percy.  Lizzy’s expression visibly changed to one of unfortunate recognition, “I can see the family resemblance.”

   “She’s my…” began Lizzy, but trailed off.

   “Sister,” Percy finished again.  Lizzy gave him a discerning glare, “just a lucky guess,” he rationalized, then threw caution to the wind and added, “the same lucky guess I have that Corporal Mars is alive, and will be with us in time for Phase 2.”

   Lizzy was visibly shocked at Percy’s casual prediction.  “How can you know that,” she asked with a sharpened stare.

   Sacks just shrugged and replied, “I saw it in a dream.”  At this Lizzy rolled her eyes.  She was about to say something further but she was cut off by a page over the P.A.

   “Now hear this, now hear this.  All pilots, five minutes to launch, I repeat, five minutes to launch.”

   Percy looked Lizzy in the eyes and smiled softly, “thanks for the honesty,” he said.

   “Not that you needed it,” she noted, “When did you get so perceptive?”

   “Beats me,” he replied, “any chance you can fill me in on the background between the two of you?”

   “If we both survive the next forty-eight hours and if we’re both heading the same way after that…” Lizzy summed up, moving in close to him and kissing him, “…then I’ll think about it.  Come’on ‘fly boy’, It’s ‘Go Time’, remember?”  With that, she quickly released Sacks then grabbed her helmet and gloves and made for the exit, with Sacks in trail.

Link to Chapter 3 Part 2
« Last Edit: March 18, 2021, 07:22:12 am by Trivial Psychic »
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