4 | DOWN RANGE
TCD-112 AUSTIN, MAXIM OMEGA SYSTEM | 2200 HOURS ZULU
The door to the command and control center shut with a hiss as the gravlocks engaged to seal the room. Filled to capacity with computers, screens and chairs, the CNC was a top of the line information center onboard the Confederate Destroyer Austin. Her captain, Thomas McAdams stood to the side of the podium while a platoon of marines all took their seats. They were dressed in urban combat fatigues ranging in ranks from Corporal to Sergeant Major and all of them had shoulder patches of the 7th Special Forces Company nicknamed the Hellcats.
Captain McAdams was pleased to see the platoon again and in one piece. Their last deployment together in the Forester System was a nasty engagement with a Pegasus battle group and a battalion of their Red Guard marines. He had promised to get them out alive and he did, but not without losing a lot of good men and ships along the way. That had been a year ago and he had little contact with them since, in particular his baby sister Tracy who was a grunt and backup pilot in the group. Times were hard with the cold war with the Pegasus Republic not being as cold as the general public believed. Thomas knew his sister couldn’t contact him often due to the secretive nature of her missions, so when he got orders to pick up the Hellcats at Vanguard Station, he jumped at the chance to get the opportunity to see his sister once more.
The time for talk, however, would have to wait as Captain Josh Herrera walked up to the podium and gave a nod to Thomas. The commander of Delta Platoon was known to be a young, but hardnosed marine with Confed blue and silver running through his veins. Though his skin was clear and his uniform tightly pressed, his eyes showed a man who would lay down his life for the Corps. He was a patriot and lived to serve his beloved Confederacy by any means necessary. Thomas had respect for the man, even if they didn’t always agree on everything.
Once the captain took the podium, the marines on the floor quieted down and gave their undivided attention to the matter at hand. “First off, thank you Captain for giving us a ride out here to the middle of nowhere.” he said in a gravelly voice.
Thomas gave a nod. “For the Hellcats, anytime, anywhere.”
Josh Herrera returned the nod and then hit a button on his podium, which activated a holoprojector, which displayed a twin sun solar system with six planets circling it. A green blip was on the outer edge of the system labeled as TCD-112 Austin. “Marines, welcome to Maxim Omega system. Command has handed down a mission to rescue some scientists off a highly classified research station named Mendel, which is in orbit around Omega 692. There are unconfirmed reports that Pegasus commandos have raided the station and are now holding the scientists hostage. Our mission is to neutralize the threat and extract the scientists back to the Austin and deliver them to Heimdall Station.”
The captain paused for a moment before hitting another button on the podium that zoomed the holoprojection to a planet with a space station made up of multiple spheres joined together like several bubbles joined together. “The op is to make a forced entry at LZ Alpha entry hatch using a Raven combat dropship. Once we have breached the station, all three squads will make their way to the CNC located on Deck 2. Once the Command Deck has been secured, the squads will break off, sweep the station for the scientists, and neutralize any hostile forces they encounter. All squads will then rejoin at CNC before withdrawing to LZ Alpha for extraction back to the Austin. LZ Bravo and Charlie are designated secondary and tertiary extraction points should Alpha be compromised. Austin will stay in orbit should any space-bound hostiles attempt to seize control of the station. Questions?”
Sergeant Major Anthony Gordon raised his hand. “Sir, do we know the size and armament of the Pegasus commandos?”
“Negative Sergeant Major. Confed Intel does not have eyes on the station due to its security level. Considering the size of the station, I would guess a full platoon of commandos with small arms and infantry suppression weapons.” Herrera replied with a slight furrow of his brows that was gone a moment later.
“At least they won’t be packin’ those new particle rifles,” Staff Sergeant Samuel Wells quipped. “Those suckers would punch right through the hull.”
“Thank God for small favors.” Dominic Rustovich added with a worried smile. The Corporal was the newest addition to the platoon having just been released from Confed’s Advanced Military Training Academy.
“What is our gear load out Cap?” First Sergeant Michael Karzarian asked to get the briefing back on track.
“Standard assault gear. Small arms, suppression, and close combat weapons. The station is not military grade so watch your fire on the outer decks otherwise you’ll be sucking vacuum.” Herrera replied to which Karzarian nodded.
Sergeant Tracy McAdams spoke up next. “Is there anything on the station we need to know about that would be hazardous?”
“Unknown Sergeant. The station is classified and the brains upstairs didn’t feel fit to give us clearance. All research on the station is to be left alone and as is.”
“Roger that Cap.” she replied.
Thomas McAdams took a step forward and looked to the gathered marines, “The Austin will be in orbit around Mendel Station to provide support and keep the sky clear. We don’t expect there to be any trouble, but being this close to Talishar space, we aren’t taking any chances.”
When a few seconds of silence elapsed, Captain Herrera gave a firm nod and shut down the holoprojector. “The mission specs have been downloaded into your PMA’s. Read and gear up. Each of you will need to report to medical for screening and sterilization injections, so be nice to the medtechs. We will reach Mendel station at 0400 hours. Dismissed.”
The marines began to fill out of the room to their racks to prepare for the upcoming mission. When the room was cleared, Captain Thomas McAdams looked over the empty room and found a single person remaining. She was the smallest marine in the platoon with red hair cut short and an army of freckles on her face framing her green eyes. He gave her a smile and walked over. “It’s been awhile sis.” he said in a brotherly tone.
“It has Tom. Not since Forester right?” she asked, leaning back in her chair and propping up a boot on the chair in front of her.
“Yeah, that was a hairy mess.” he said.
“Sorry I haven’t written. You know how it goes with all of these hush hush missions lately.”
Thomas nodded, “Yeah, I’ve had my share. It won’t be long before this cold war isn’t cold any more. Hell, out on the DMZ it has been practically full scale for the past six months.”
“Yeah, it only reinforces my plans to get out before the Galactic Senate passes the War bill they have been talking about.”
Thomas tilted his head to the side. “You sure you still want out?” Confed could still use you.”
Tracy laughed, “You sound like the recruiter.” she said and shook her head, “No, I want out before that bill passes. Otherwise, I’ll be stuck with at least another four year tour if not more. No thanks.”
“And leave your big brother out here all alone?” Thomas mocked a hurt look.
“Oh stop it!” Tracy laughed again.
“All right. You win. Just make sure you write more hm? I’ll need them while I’m out here fighting the good fight.”
Tracy shook her head, “You’re impossible I swear. Just like dad.”
“What are you going to do when you get out?” he asked.
Tracy gave a shrug, “Nothing set in stone yet. Probably get a civilian license and do some commercial work flying freighters.”
Thomas scrunched his brows, “Talk about a one eighty. Flying overloaded grimy fat ladies is about as exciting as eating Confed’s infamous meatloaf.”
Tracy laughed, “I think I’m all full on excitement Tom. I don’t know. I just want to slow life down a bit. Relax, maybe even start a family.”
“A family? When did the homemaker bug hit you?” Thomas said surprised, “Oh, wait, there’s a guy isn’t there. You actually found someone?”
“Hey now!” Tracy chuckled and kicked him with her boot.
“I’m just saying, you have a rep. What was it that they called you back in school?” he said.
“Ice Queen.” they both said together.
“And they still do.” Tracy added.
Thomas took on a serious look and folded his arms over his chest, “He better be treating you right or I’m going to have to come down and beat his ass.”
“He perfect Tom, and he’s a master of six different martial arts. He’d school you six ways from Sunday.” Tracy laughed.
“I have a gun.” Thomas continued.
“He’s rated expert on the R-92, Viper and the Razor. Sharpshooter on the G-10.” Tracy countered.
“I have a big gun on a big boat.” Thomas tried.
Tracy opened her mouth to counter again, but had nothing. She then laughed, “Ok, if you want to drag your little boat into this, you win.”
“Damn right I win.” Thomas said with a grin.
“You’re just like dad I swear.” Tracy said.
A few moments passed while the two siblings thought of their dad who died fighting the Royal Guard at the Battle of Troy. Thomas then broke the silence, “So, anything I should know about this op. You know, off the books?”
“You know as much as I do. Ultradark super secret stuff.” Tracy said shaking her head, “Confed is playing this one pretty close to the chest. The Cap doesn’t seem happy about it, but orders are orders. What about you? I can’t imagine your battle group is happy about you being pulled off the line to run us marines out to a station out in the middle of nowhere.”
Thomas gave a nod, “Commodore Norrington wasn’t happy about it. We’ve been playing cat and mouse with the Pegasus Royal Fleet for the past several months. Losing one of his destroyer skippers in the middle of tactical exercises makes him grumpy.”
“I bet. What is the situation with the Royal Guard from the Navy side of things?” she asked.
“It’s bad Tracy. We’ve lost one battle group in the last month out near Mjolnir. They have these stealth drives that make them really hard to pick up radar. They jumped the TCC Lexington and her escorts from aether space without so much as a trace of tachyon particles to signal they were jumping in. Admiral Reynolds nearly had a heart attack from the news.” Thomas said quietly.
“So that’s what happened to the Vipers.” Tracy said surprised.
“The Vipers. 3rd Special Forces Platoon. Word came down that they were lost with all hands in route to an op on the DMZ, but command never told us how.” she said.
Thomas frowned, “There is a lot of that going around lately. A lot of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing and a lot of it has to do with the civilian oversight committee. Those damn politicians are trying to play a bureaucrat war and getting good sailors and soldiers killed in the process.”
Tracy sighed, “Good to know that we aren’t the only ones having problems with the politicians.”
“Yeah, they keep cutting our budget, but at the same time ask us to maintain alert status against the Royal Fleet who is hell bent on making us pay for losing the last war.” said Thomas with a sour tone.
“Which leads us back to this mission. Remember when we use to get intel that would make a woman blush? Now everything is either classified or they never bothered to find out. Just send the grunts in and let them figure it out. They are suppose to be the best right? Then they red flag our debriefs for unacceptable errors made downrange. Well what the fuck did they think would happen sending us into an unknown situation.” she grumbled.
“And to top it off, there is a corporation involved who probably have lobbyists so far up Confed’s ass they can’t turn their head without asking for permission.” Thomas said with a shake of his head in disgust.
“Now that is a sad state of affairs. But they are just a bunch of scientists right? How bad could that be? I mean, what are they going to do? Use hard language and mathematical equations to bore us to death?”
Thomas laughed, “Well, they are one of the biggest defense contractors for the military and they did develop some pretty amazing stuff like the nano medical pads.”
“True, but if it was just that, why all the secrets? No, this has black book programs written all over it and it stinks to high hell.”
just glad they picked me to go on this little adventure so I can watch your back.” Thomas said reassuringly.
“Adventure is putting it mildly.” Tracy said with a frown.
“We survived Forester didn’t we?”
“Yeah, not for a lack of trying to die. Those bastards came out of nowhere. We lost ten good men on that goose egg.”
“I lost the Covington, St. Allen, and the Moscow on that mission. Nearly a thousand men.” Thomas replied.
Tracy frowned. Though she was a pilot in addition to being a marine, it was still sometimes hard to see a warship as nothing more than a single person when in truth, they were hundreds of sailors on board a single ship. For her, it was about the squad and the platoon. Thirty men to look after and protect. For Thomas, it was usually ten ships and over eight thousand souls that he looked after. For as much shit she gave Thomas for being a sailor instead of a marine, she envied his ability to not crack under the pressure of going to battle with that many lives on the line.
The chaos of fleet engagements was a whole different animal. They weren’t personal and up close like squad engagements. You couldn’t see the white’s of your enemy; you couldn’t see their faces as they died. You instead shot your particle cannons and missiles at a target several klicks away and watched as they died a silent death, vaporized from the explosion of their ship. To kill one person was one thing, to kill four hundred men with one shot was a completely new category that Tracy just couldn’t bring herself to do.
“The op was a bust because we didn’t know what we were getting into.” Tracy finally said.
“Ultimately, we are in the same position. Unknown hostiles on an unknown science station in an unknown system.” Tracy said, the tone of frustration clear on her voice.
Thomas nodded. “At least we know where we’re going this time.”
“So, what do you know about this system? I haven’t even heard of it till now.” Tracy asked.
“Maxim Omega is seven jumps past Heimdall towards old Talishar space. It is a five planet system orbiting a class IV red dwarf star. There are no inhabited planets except a lone research space station around Omega 692. A classic definition of the middle of nowhere.”
Tracy frowned. “Why the hell would anyone build a station way out here?”
“Who knows,” Thomas shrugged, “But whatever it is, they didn’t want anyone poking their noses in it.”
“Tell me Tom, how likely is it that the Royal Guard made it all the way out here without anyone knowing until now?”
He shook his head, “Not likely. Not with the 3rd and 5th Fleets at the DMZ line. They would have to go the long way around and through Talishar space to get past us and that isn’t plausible for two reasons. First, it would take too damn long. Second, the Talishar aether lanes are unreliable after the aether storm that wiped out their home system.”
“Yeah, that is what I was thinking. Well, I better go study the mission specs and see a doctor about an injection.” Tracy said as she stood up from her seat. “Keep an eye open hm?”
“Anytime sis and make sure you watch your six.”