A Problem Like Myra
This part appeared on the author’s Wordpress blog in January 2016 and was reprinted with permission in the November/December 2016 issue.
On the bridge of the Vakandi, Captain Ornolf silently cursed the seemingly endless paperwork as he sat in his command chair typing on a data pad. It reminded him of the old joke: No ship leaves port, until the paperwork equals the mass of the largest man aboard. Supposedly that joke was first told on Terra, before man had even gone to its own moon, much less had starships. Amazing how some things never change. As he waded through another mind numbing material usage report the bridge crew went about the job of running the ship. The scene around him was one of calm, orderly efficiency. Just the way he liked it. The ship was parked in a geosynchronous orbit, hanging over the starport on the planet below. Aside from the usual shipboard operations, the only thing going on of note was the shore party delivering the cargo of books. He had just received a report from Lieutenant Feldmann that they had reached their university destination. So at least that seemed to be going well. Of course he had one of the bridge ratings monitoring the convoy and the starport. Just in case.
Gerfreiter (Able Spacehand) Beurgsen was trying not to be bored. A portion of the ship’s sensor array was tasked with watching Lieutenant Feldmann’s convoy and the starport. The multi-spectrum scanners and sensors gave Beurgsen a detailed overhead view. But watching crates of books being unloaded or marines and spacers standing around doing nothing, was not exactly thrilling viewing. At least, not until the ship’s boat started launching missiles and the marines and spacers at the port started shooting and running. “Kapiten!”
Ornolf looked up at the rating. “On the main display, gerfreiter.” The quick reply, “On the main display, aye, Kapiten,” and more importantly, the quick response drew Ornolf’s view to the bridges main holographic display. The images painted a clear picture. The group of Sword Worlders at the port were under attack. The fire was coming from the south, outside the view on the display. “Expand the view to show the ships and docks to the south. Communications, raise Kadet Brun and sound battle stations.” Just as the view expanded, a missile streaked from a warehouse to the starport and struck the ship’s boat. There was a flare of light and the boat rocked from the force of the explosion. One of its landing legs must have collapsed as it appeared to settle at an angle. There was an answering flash from one of the marines. The plasma gunner returned fire at the enemy missile gunner. Judging by the resulting secondary explosions he scored a hit. The warehouse started to burn fiercely; unfortunately, so did the ship’s boat.
To the sound of the battle station klaxon, the ship’s crew readied for action. As the different departments reported ready, the ship’s defensive screens and weapons came online. While on the planet below the unknown enemy was moving out from two of the buildings by the docks. They seemed to know what they were doing. They spread out quickly and advanced in small groups. Between brief rushes, they would throw themselves down and provide covering fire to those in motion. They were taking a steady stream of casualties from the defending Sword Worlders. But there were over a hundred attackers. Two small groups peeled off and headed for the two bridges. It seemed they didn’t want anyone from the mainland interfering.
The communications officer called to the captain “Sir, I can’t raise Kadet Brun. There’s a strong jamming signal coming from the middle ship at the docks.” Ornolf snarled and barked out, “Guns, turn off that jamming!” A second later, “Missile away, Kapiten!” He grunted in acknowledgment and smiled grimly. His people were dying down there. But at the same time, the crew on the ship was responding beautifully. They were trying to anticipate his orders, and moving quickly. And the shore party appeared to be giving as good as it was getting. The enemy was leaving a trail of bodies as they advanced. But advance they did. The bulk of the enemy force had made it to a drainage ditch just outside the starport. The Sword Worlders had fallen back to the wreckage of the ship’s boat and were firing from the meager cover it offered. There was a massive explosion as the missile fired from the Vakandi vaporized half of the ship the enemy was using. Within seconds the communications officer turned to face the captain. “Sir, I have Kadet Brun. She’s requesting a missile strike on her own position. What do I tell her?”
Ornolf didn’t hesitate. He could see how close the attackers were. If they rushed his people, they would overrun them before his missiles could arrive to stop them. “Guns, launch her strike. Communications, tell her it’s on the way. Then get Feldmann on the comm.” He hit an intercom button on his chair as they acknowledged his orders “Leutenant Roth, get the rest of your marines and a medical team ready to head to the planet.”
Down below at the starport, if anyone looked up they would have seen eight streaks of light coming from the sky. When they arrived, everyone noticed. Suddenly for those at the starport the entire world seemed to explode into a hell of fire and death. It seemed to last forever. But in truth it was only a matter of seconds. Then a brief silence, till the screaming started.
Myra sat up gingerly, as she did, dirt and bits of metal sloughed off her. “Ow. That was unpleasant.” She grimaced with pain as she moved. Her arm had been broken earlier in the fight; A bullet had hit it at just the right angle. And even though it didn’t penetrate her suit, the force of the blow had broken the bone. Between that and the pounding in her head from the conclusive force of the missile impacts, she felt like passing out. So long as she kept moving slowly she should be ok. The beeping in her helmet wasn’t helping any. That was probably the captain looking for a status update. She reached across to her wrist comm, pressed the acknowledge button. “Hold one, please.” Then switched to the local channel “Alright, everyone, break’s over. Can I get a roll call, please?” She looked around as she spoke at the devastation around her. She could see two large craters from missile strikes on this side of the wrecked ship’s boat. Bodies, both human and Vargr, littered the ground. Some were moving, most were not. The navy crew sounded off first, then the marines. Four of the spacers were wounded, but two of them were still mobile. Three were dead. The marines, with their heavier armor had done better. Only one dead and one incapacitated. There were at least twice that number of enemy dead and wounded in sight. “Can anyone see what the enemy is up to?” Sergeant Myerson replied “What’s left of them are pulling back to the docks, ma’am.” Myra grunted and replied “Thank you, Sergeant.” Then in her most haughty sounding voice she declared, “I believe we should hold this position until relieved. Someone else can deal with the docks.” A raged chorus of “Aye, ma’am” interspersed with laughs answered her. “In the meantime, does anyone have any pain killers?”
On the bridge of the ship, Captain Ornolf looked up at Arva with an amused grin. “Did I just get put on hold by a kadet, X.O. ?” Arva replied with matching humor, “It would appear so, sir. On the plus side, we seem to have found out how she’ll do in combat.” Ornolf nodded his head. “I think she’ll do, X.O., I think she’ll do.”