Hunter crouched in a low washout, eyeing the frigate through a small periscope. He glanced back at his strike team, numbering about ten, then checked the ship again.
The Saratoga had had enough desert camouflage onboard to outfit the entire crew of the Glorious Heritage. With the new uniforms and new weapons, they looked completely in their element.
Ten teams of ten each, ready to attack from strategic points all around the Kamian warship. They had already counted over a hundred Kamians leaving, and conservative estimates of her crew complement put the odds very much in their favor.
The rest of it would rely on the Kamians making the kind of mistakes that kept them from ending the war. Their sense of honor, devotion to regulations, and general buggery, would ensure his team had just enough time…
“Doodle-bug! Doodle-bug! Repeat, DOODLE-BUG!!!!”
That was the signal.
In one smooth motion, Hunter rose, aimed, and fired, taking out his sentry. A series of other shots sent the rest of the guards to the ground.
And then, there was running.
The Kamians had been kind enough to leave their landing ramps wide open, and the assault teams(preceded by copious smoke grenades and flash-bangs) raced up these. They had no idea where the Kamians would keep their bridge, or any clue as to the layout of the ship, so each team had been briefed on what to look for.
The vessel was a confusing maze of white-walled, twisting corridors, and flashing intruder alarms. The Kamians, in their black uniforms, were easy to distinguish.
As he led his team, Hunter kept repeating the mantra in his head.
Watch your friendlies.
It was a running joke among the lancers, just how unfriendly so-called ‘friendly’ fire was. Still, in a situation like this, is was a very real and present danger.
Resistance was scattered and disorganized. Clearly, the Kamians did not find board-repel drills as popular as the lancers. Unexpectedly, out of nowhere, Hunter burst through a doorway and realized he was standing on the bridge.
The captain looked up at him with fear, a junior officer in front of him half-way through being sworn in as the ship’s new second in command. If the officer’s loyalty oath had been a little shorter, they probably wouldn’t have made it.
Hunter’s lance shifted fluidly to full auto and he put them both down with a single burst. The rest of the bridge crew had time to draw their weapons, but Hunter had already moved forward to allow his team access. They had secured the bridge.
“Take the stations,” Hunter ordered. “See if you can find some sort of command lock-down, we need to secure the rest of the ship as quickly as possible. Every Kamian onboard knows it is his duty to blow this thing to kingdom come, now.”
Rian moved towards the back of the bridge and pulled a dead Kamian off of a console, before taking his seat. His fingers began hovering over the controls.
“Everything’s in Kami, but I’m pretty sure this is the weapons station,” Rian said. “Hang on, I think I found a lock-down for the torpedo systems, that’ll keep any aspiring weaponeers from detonating a torpedo inside the—oh, uh-oh…”
Jason grunted an obscenity and moved up to join him.
“Rian!” he snarled angrily. “This is the helm station and you just activated an automatic take-off and leave orbit routine! You IDIOT!”
“Oops?” Rian replied.
Hunter signaled to a few lancers to guard the door and then found his way to the captain’s chair and sat down. He looked forward at the small view screen at the front of the bridge as the ship began to rumble.
“Cloud,” he said as he squeezed his radio. “Get your team to the engine room, the ship is trying to take off.”
“Roger,” Cloud replied. “You want I should try and stop it?”
“Don’t bother, we’re already airborne,” Hunter grimaced. “Just take and hold main engineering, and make sure we don’t all suffocate on the way up!”
Cloud let go of his radio as the sweat went cold on his brow. He and his team had already found main engineering by the time they received Hunter’s call, but the notion that some of the hatches might still be open while the ship was rapidly climbing into open space was… problematic.
“All right, take stations, people!” Cloud shouted. “We need to locate the exterior-hull-diagnostic circuit, fast!”
“What’s with all the pretty words?” one of the Glorious heritage lancers barked at him as he shoved his way up to Cloud. “Just tell ‘em to find the bloody Christmas tree!”
“The what now?!” Cloud shouted back.
“The Christmas tree!” The man repeated, then turned to his cohorts. “C’mon guys, find the darn Christmas tree, make sure there are no holes in this boat!”
“Ok, who are you?!” Cloud stammered angrily.
“Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph H. Jackson, just who the heck are you?” the man replied.
Cloud paused for a moment, then swallowed.
“Ok, guys, he’s in charge!” he waved, pointing to Jackson. “Orders, sir?”
“Don’t ‘sir’ me, I work for a living,” Jackson snapped, then turned back to his men.
“Find the Christmas tree,” Jackson repeated. “Make sure there aren’t any holes in this boat, then find me someone who can read these funny squiggles!”
“Ship’s secure, captain,” Cloud’s voice reported through the radio. “I’ve placed a CPO from the Glorious Heritage in command down here, he says the ship is secure and requests somebody who can read Kamian.”
“I’ll send Jason down in a minute,” Hunter replied. “Good thinking, Cloud.”
Hunter released the talk button on his radio and nodded to Jason. Interestingly, Gudersnipe School did not have the rank of Chief Petty Officer. As the highest non-commissioned rank, it wasn’t part of the school’s purview. All students were commissioned officers aboard school ships, so only the Crimson Blade used the CPO rank.
Soldiers like Cloud, who worked as engineers on the school ships, would graduate to become starship designers, not common soldiers. It was a curious distinction, though every student was taught from day one that just because a rank didn’t exist, didn’t mean it wasn’t the very backbone of the entire space force.
In the Crimson Blade Regular Corps, the CPOs kept the ships running. They were the experts, the specialists, the lifers who were willing to make starship operations their all. Advancement not only carried requirements of time in service, superior evaluation scores, and specialty examinations, but also the added requirement of peer review. Only a chief could promote another to chief.
A quick sweep of the internal scanners revealed no more Kamian life signs on board, so the sixty or so of Hunter’s people that had made it before take off were fairly confident that they were alone.
Or rather had been alone, before reaching and leaving orbit.
“Sure you don’t need me here to deal with that?” Jason asked, indicating the large Kamian warship on the main view screen.
“Well, it’d be nice, but I think I’ve figured out enough of the toys up here to handle it,” Hunter replied. “Go give Cloud a quick translation, then head for Rian when he finds the torpedo room. I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to get ugly.”
“We can’t fight them like this,” Jason warned.
“Fortune favors the bold,” Hunter shrugged.
The new ship had been picked up on scanners as soon as they cleared the upper atmosphere. It was large, clearly a Kamian capital ship. Classes were all a Gudersnipe convention, the Kamians didn’t separate and define their ships the way other space navies did. They also didn’t use battle groups, so at least this enemy was alone.
Jason arrived in the cramped engine room. The entire ship seemed cramped, this room was especially bad. Even worse, it actually seemed to be adjacent to the engines!
“Look at this,” Cloud waved, urging him over to a glowing panel. “It started just after we cleared the atmosphere.”
The view screen showed a green wire outline of the ship’s hull, surrounded by a blue bubble that represented the shields. Some n