tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 50

Three Square Meals Ch. 50

byTefler©

The girls looked at him attentively and waited for him to continue. You could have heard a pin drop in the room, as they all leaned forward to hear John lay out his plan to take down the Armoured Cobras.

"We're going to form three teams," John said decisively. "I'll lead Team One, taking Dana and Rachel with me on a ground insertion into the base. We'll rescue the kidnap victims, and sabotage the base's generators. When the generators go down, that'll knock out their planetary defence shield, and any laser batteries. Dana, I'll need you to come up with a good way of taking them out."

The redhead nodded eagerly, her mind already whirring as she thought about different ways to do it. Alyssa was about to protest strongly at not being able to accompany him on the mission, when he silenced her objection with a stern glance.

"You'll be Team Two. You can sneak us down there in the Raptor, then stay on station in case we need an emergency evac," he explained.

Alyssa frowned and said, "Why can't Jade fly the gunship? Then I can join you on the ground mission."

John glanced over at the Nymph and said, "Because I'll need Team Three, which will be Jade and Calara, up here on the Invictus. I want you to stay hidden, but be prepared to engage their defensive fleet if we set off an alarm. If that happens, we'll need those cruisers and destroyers distracted, to make sure we can make a clean escape on the Raptor. If all goes well with the generator sabotage, and getting the prisoners clear, you can hit the defending merc fleet as we're flying out of there on the Raptor. Once their fleet is destroyed, you can start bombarding their base."

The blonde girl pouted, but nodded her acceptance of the plan. She then looked thoughtful and said, "Actually, it might be better if I fly the Invictus and Jade pilots the Raptor. She'll be able to make much better use of the gunship's manoeuvrability than I can, and provide you more effective close fire support if there's trouble. Besides, I'm the only one with real combat flying experience piloting the Invictus."

Jade frowned and said angrily, "But you told me I could fly the Invictus!"

They all looked at her, astonished at her outburst, and she giggled mischievously. "Sorry, I couldn't resist! Of course, I'm happy to fly the Raptor."

John chuckled and said, "Just fucking with us?"

The Nymph winked at him playfully, then said in a more serious voice, "I have quite a bit of combat time in the Raptor now, against both the Drakkar, and the Kintark. Alyssa's plan makes good sense."

He looked around at them and said, "We can't risk direct communication between the teams using normal comms channels, as the base sensors might pick it up. We'll have to coordinate through Alyssa using telepathy, and I'll relay my orders through her." He then glanced at the blonde, and asked, "With you up here, and us on the surface, will you have any problem staying in touch?"

Alyssa shook her head, and smiled at him confidently as she said, "Nope. Not, unless we have to jump out of the system, then I'm not sure. Otherwise, we'll be fine."

Irillith masked her expression, but she was shocked to hear this. From the audio recordings, she was aware the blonde girl had some kind of telepathic talent, but assuming this wasn't some kind of trick, the range of her ability was astounding.

Calara then looked away from the holographic images, and said to them cautiously, "From their fleet listing, the three cruisers and the dozen destroyers, all look to be modern and well equipped. They aren't going to be a walkover like the decommissioned ships the pirates used."

"Can you take them?" John asked her succinctly.

She pursed her lips as she thought it over and replied, "If we just stood there slugging it out with them all, it would be very close, and will depend a lot on the skill levels of their crews. We'd likely sustain considerable damage, though."

He nodded, then said, "We should only be facing two cruisers and a handful destroyers, what are our odds against those?"

Calara grinned at him, and said confidently, "With all the upgrades Dana has done to the Invictus, we should be fine."

Irillith looked at him with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And where am I going to be in this little scenario?"

John studied her for a moment and said, "We all saw what you did to that Maliri patrol cruiser. Can you incapacitate a Terran Cruiser like that too?"

Her sly grin was all the confirmation he needed, and he nodded with satisfaction.

Calara grinned, and said, "Even better! It'll be like shooting fish in a barrel."

John shared her enthusiastic grin, and said, "Alright then, does anyo-"

"Wait a moment," Irillith interrupted him sharply before he could continue. "Have you forgotten our agreement?"

John shook his head and replied, "No, but this first phase of operations against the Cobras is too risky for you to go big game hunting, and you'll be much more effective against their fleet. When we've cleaned out SerpentHold, we'll mop up the rest of their company that's currently on garrison duty. You can hunt as many of them as you like."

The Maliri woman thought this over for a moment, then nodded her agreement.

John smiled, and then looked around at the girls. "Any suggestions or queries?"

Calara raised her hand with a wry smile, and he nodded at her to proceed. "I suggest you infiltrate their base at night while most of them are sleeping. It should make it much easier for you to get around without attracting too much attention."

Irillith had been searching through the data she had assembled and said, "I think this might be what you're looking for."

She hit a button on her vambrace and an email appeared from Colonel Semias Morgan to Captain Hitch Mallor. It read, "Hitch, spring a surprise on the tank boys and send them out on night manoeuvres. They're getting fat and lazy and could do with some exercise!"

John nodded and said enthusiastically, "Perfect! If they send out a group on some night mission that's even better. We could infiltrate the base when there's even less personnel around. When was that sent?"

Irillith checked the timestamp and said, "Two days ago. Judging by the rota shifts on patrol duty, Captain Mallor plans to send them out tonight. There's another option as well, if you'd like to hear it?"

He smiled at her eagerness and said, "Sure, go ahead. What is it?"

She grinned and said, "They're expecting fuel supplies today. We could ambush the incoming fuel convoy, rig it with explosives, and then detonate it while they're refuelling at the base. All that would be left of SerpentHold would be a big smoking crater."

Rachel frowned and said, "Sounds pretty risky, and wouldn't give us much time to rescue the prisoners."

Irillith grumbled and said, "Yeah, but it would save wasting the rest of the day waiting!"

John mulled it over for a while and then said, "We'll go with the night patrol option. We can pick off their tanks at our leisure once we've extracted the kidnap victims. Besides, what about the fuel convoy crews? We can't just take them out, they're innocent civilians."

The Maliri woman shrugged nonchalantly, and said, "Well, that's what I'd do."

John restrained himself from rolling his eyes, and looked around at the girls. "If there's no more questions, let's head out. We can sneak into Beta Draconis and do some surveillance while we wait. How long will it take us to get there, Alyssa?"

"Four hours," she said immediately, having already mentally plotted out a course.

"Alright, let's do this," John said resolutely.

They all rose from the Briefing Room table and headed to the grav-tube to keep themselves occupied for the rest of the day. Alyssa glided up the illuminated steps to the Command Podium, and sat in her seat at the Executive Officers Station.

She smiled at John as he walked up the steps to join her, and soon it was just the two of them left up on the Command Deck. Her hands flashed over the console, and she said quietly, "Two hundred against seven. That sounds like steep odds, even for us!"

He smiled as he looked down at her and said, "All being well, we won't actually have to fight more than a handful in the base. Besides, we must have killed way more than that fighting the Fulmanax."

She laughed wryly and said, "Yeah, but they weren't driving tanks, or flying spaceships."

John chuckled and said jokingly, "You worry too much. Besides, we haven't killed anything for a couple of weeks. I'm getting withdrawal symptoms!"

Alyssa laughed as she finished entering the flight path, and engaged the Tachyon Drive. As the Invictus was swathed in the soft blue glow of the Tachyon particles, and leapt into hyper-warp, she glanced up at John curiously. Something about his tone sounded a little off, and although he'd been joking, he almost sounded eager to get into battle.

Just as the blonde girl was about to ask him about it, he smiled at her and said, "If you haven't got anything interesting planned this afternoon, how about helping me run through some combat drills with Dana and Rachel? I'd like to have them working as smoothly with me as you do."

She grinned, and nodded eagerly, her questions immediately forgotten.

***

After several hours of intensive combat tactics training and drills with the girls, John left them to finish off their preparations for the mission, while he headed up to his Ready Room. He strolled into the room, and over to the heavy desk on the far side, then sank into the big comfortable leather chair behind it. Pressing a couple of buttons on the console built into the desk, the holographic comms interface appeared, floating in front of him.

He swiped his hand over the name of the man he wanted to speak to, then waited patiently for the call to connect over the secure channel. John had deliberately waited before making contact, just in case the man he was about to brief about this upcoming mission, wasn't as friendly as he outwardly appeared. If he wasn't an ally, it was now too late for him to intervene with unfriendly forces, and put their plans in jeopardy. John felt a pang of sadness that he had to handle one of his oldest friends and comrades in such a manner, but until they could make certain of the man's allegiance, it was the only course open to him.

"John! It's good to see you," Vice Admiral Charles Harris said, his bushy grey moustache twitching into a smile that lit up his normally stern face.

John smiled, and said, "Likewise Charles, I hope you're well?"

The older man chuckled and said, "I'm sure you aren't calling to ask after my health, but I'll play along. I'm fine, thanks for asking." He then looked thoughtful and asked, "How did you get on with the Maliri? Any luck trading weapons with them?"

John shook his head as he replied, "Afraid not. Looks like you were right all along."

"Sorry to hear that. Most uncooperative race I've ever dealt with, so it doesn't surprise me," Charles said sympathetically. He then looked at John appraisingly and asked, "Now, how can I help?"

John paused a moment, as he leant forward to tap away at his console. When he was done, he sat back and said, "I've just sent you some light reading, thought you might be interested."

Charles narrowed his eyes, and looked at John curiously as he said, "What are you up to now, you rogue? I thought you were living the enviable life of a millionaire playboy?"

John laughed, and was about to reply, when a chime on Charles' console alerted him that the transfer was complete. The older man opened the files, then frowned as he stared at the dossiers and accounts that had unfolded before him. "What am I looking at?" he asked, bemused.

"Have you heard of the Armoured Cobras?" John asked him soberly.

Charles looked at him with a puzzled expression, and said, "Of course, biggest Mercenary group in the Terran Federation. From all these files, it looks like you're investigating them. Why?"

John's face took on a grim cast as he said, "Because they funded their group by kidnapping wealthy civilians, and ransoming them for huge amounts. I was looking into a murder, and the trail led me straight to them. Before they formed this Merc Company, the media referred to their gang as the New Eden Snakes."

Charles looked shocked and said, "I remember that! It was all over the news ten years ago." He then added in a worried voice, "You must have made some kind of mistake! They're a sanctioned Mercenary unit, they've even done a few contracts for the military."

John shrugged and said, "It's all there in the files I sent. They haven't stopped the kidnappings. Take a look at their accounts, the money trails tie it all back to them. If that isn't enough, the Police Captain on Avalon confessed to tipping them off about targets, in front of a few dozen witnesses, all of them police officers."

Charles blinked a couple of times as he took in this startling news, then frowned as he asked perceptively, "And what are you up to now? Please don't tell me you're about to attack them."

John grinned at him, and said wryly, "I like to keep myself busy in my retirement."

***

They arrived in the Beta-Draconis system shortly afterwards, and Alyssa immediately powered down all their non-essential systems and brought them in closer to the fourth planet. With the minimal use of engine power and retro thrusters, she was able to sneak them into orbit on the far side of the planet, with the Armoured Cobras defence fleet none the wiser.

Calara brought up the tactical map, and the opposing fleet was laid out before them, clearly displayed with the wealth of information provided to them by the Invictus' sophisticated sensor array. The Cobras weren't bothering with mounting patrols of the system, as they considered themselves entirely safe as a legitimate Mercenary Company, fully sanctioned by the Terran Federation. The small defensive fleet had their ship hulls painted tan and brown, and the holographic representations on the map reflected the colouring.

Calara looked through the formations of ships and said, "They've got two cruisers stationed here, as we suspected. That's odd though..."

"What's up?" John asked her curiously.

The Latina pointed up at the tactical map and said, "They've got all twelve of their destroyers with this fleet." She then glanced at Irillith and asked, "I thought they usually split their destroyers and sent half off as escorts for the other cruiser and the carrier?"

Irillith frowned and said, "That's what they've done for the last seven garrison missions."

John thought this over for a moment, and asked, "Could they have expanded their fleet?"

The Maliri woman looked doubtful and tapped some commands into her armoured vambrace. She scrutinised the Armoured Cobras accounts again, and eventually said, "I don't see any new purchases on their books, and the latest entries date from today."

He looked over at Calara and asked, "Are the extra destroyers going to make a big difference?"

She shook her head, and said, "If Irillith is able to disable one of the cruisers, it should be no problem."

John nodded, and asked Dana, "Can you bring up a map of the base?"

The redhead hesitated a moment and replied, "Yes, but only what we've picked up with the passive sensors. We'll be able to see the general structures, but nothing in any detail without an active scan."

He smiled at her and said, "That's fine. We just need to confirm that the maintenance schematic Irillith has is current, and that they haven't built anything new."

Dana smiled up at him, and then tapped in a series of commands on her console, bringing up the planetary map. The section highlighted was in a rolling area, with rugged hills to the north, and flat plains to the south. The base itself was positioned on a raised plateau that was obviously artificial in construction, and the entire base was surrounded by ten-foot-high sturdy looking walls. There was one large structure in the centre, with a dozen smaller looking buildings dotted around the inside of the compound.

"That looks roughly the same to me," John said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Irillith, can you bring up your maintenance schematics for us to compare please."

Irillith unclipped the holo-projector from her belt and placed it on the console in front of her. The light green architectural plans of the base floated above them, showing the various buildings with the names tagged next to them. The largest was their command centre, with a main generator, maintenance garage, and barracks the next largest buildings. Surrounding them were fuel stores, the armoury, a backup generator, orbital shield projector, and several storage units.

Jade's sharp eyes spotted a discrepancy, and she pointed to over a dozen shapes rising skyward on Dana's passive map, which didn't appear on the original maintenance schematic. "They all look new, what are those metal spires?" she asked inquisitively.

Calara squinted at the holographic map, and eventually nodded saying, "Well spotted. Fixed emplacement Beam lasers. The bottom third of the barrel must be underground, but the other twenty metres are visible. They'll be able to hit ships in orbit, so we'll have to draw the defence fleet away from the base when we engage them."

John pointed to the original schematic and said to Jade, "It looks like they've got Gatling laser nests placed evenly around the walls, and on the roof of the Command Centre. We'll probably have to knock out the power to shut those down, before you can come and get us. With the amount they have, they'll cut the Raptor to pieces otherwise."

The Nymph tilted her head, looking up at the map, and nodded agreeably.

They spent a couple of hours watching activity on the base, studying the general movement of vehicles in the surrounding area. A couple of APC's left to perform looping patrols around the plateau a couple of times, but other than that there wasn't a great deal of activity. The highlight of their surveillance was the arrival of two civilian fuel haulage ships, that landed in the open drop zone in the northern part of the base. They waited patiently on site for thirty minutes, as their cargo was pumped into the base's fuel reservoir.

Irillith looked up at John and made an exploding gesture with her hands, then shook her head as though disappointed. He couldn't help laughing at that, and she grinned at him wickedly.

Night started to draw in on this part of the planet, and as the shadows started to lengthen, lights began to flicker on around the base. There were some floodlit areas, and the main buildings were all well lit, but there were plenty of places shrouded in darkness for them to creep around in.

"I think we're going to miss the black armour for this mission," John said ruefully.

Dana smiled at him and said, "Don't worry, I gave our armour a quick lick of paint. It will chip and come off pretty quickly, but it should last long enough to help keep us concealed for tonight."

Calara looked worried and said, "What if they have mag-view or thermal imaging on those gun turrets? You'll stick out like a sore thumb!"

Dana said enthusiastically, "I'm working on counters for those in the new body armour, but that isn't ready yet. I've fitted the Raptor with something that will help get us in there, but its effects will only last fifteen minutes at maximum, so we'll have to move fast."

John smiled at her, and said, "Come on, don't leave us in suspense! What have you got planned?"

The redhead toyed with some thought for a moment before she shrugged and replied, "I was thinking of leaving it as a surprise, but it won't be very impressive. I've rigged up a limited EMP device, which will send out a low powered EMP shockwave. I doubt anti-personnel turrets will be EMP shielded, and any bigger buildings that are, won't be disturbed. Anyone manning the towers will probably assume they've had some kind of power outage, rather than their electronic targeting systems are being scrambled."

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