Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 22

SdL Megalodon, off Santa Catalina Island

Extremely low frequency communications had never been on Balboa’s wish list, even though it might have allowed communications down to hundreds of meters of depth.  The problem was just too hard, and the soil of the republic too conductive; never mind the unfortunate side effects.  Instead, the classis had opted for a very low frequency system, supplemented by an acoustic system and some prearranged codes.  The very low frequency system, or VLF, was based on the mainland.  VLF was slow, though, very slow.  And, while it could retransmit Dos Lindas’ messages, the simple act of sending that message was a potential risk from a radiation homing missile. 

Or – fuck, I don’t know, maybe a homing torpedo if we responded.  And homing pigeons are right the fuck out, thought Chu, commanding the Meg and the squadron.  Pity no one’s yet come up with homing mackerel.  Salmon…note to self, see about homing salmon. 

They’d heard the Zhong fleet depart, generally to the north, half a day or so ago.  Chu had eaten his own guts out over the question of whether he should attack on his own ticket, even without the presence of the classis.  Standing orders for the squadron had been that, if one of the seven engaged, they were all “weapons free.”

Ultimately, he’d decided against.  And, sure, maybe I’m a little skittish after sinking a Zhong carrier I wasn’t supposed to, loaded with civilians, mostly women and children, when we weren’t even at war. Would anyone blame me if I were? But, no; it was because as far as I could tell the other six weren’t in position to engage, and the classis wasn’t remotely near. 

The Zhong had left half a day ago, but then they’d heard the approach of a similarly sized fleet.  Acoustics in the shallow, island-rich waters off Balboa’s and Santa Josefina’s northern coasts were difficult.  It was only four hours ago that Sonarman Auletti had been able to confirm, “Those are the AZIPODs of the flagship and Kurita.

That the fleet approaching was friendly didn’t necessarily mean that there were no enemies about.  Chu waited until…

“Underwater explosion, skipper!” Auletti announced.  A minute passed.  “And another.”  Another minute passed.  “There’s number three, all timely.”

“Wait for it,” Chu ordered.

“One…two…three…four.  I have four bangs in rapid succession,” the sonarman said. “A delay…nothing…another bang…I mark two minutes…another bang…one-fifty-nine…another bang…another…another.  That’s the signal, skipper: be ready to surface in five hours.”

Santa Catalina Island, Balboa

Fleet Admiral Wanyan Liang had been aboard his flagship for several days, ever since the Balboans had appeared to have knocked the Tauran Union right out of the war.   Long before that, the admiral, currently ordered away with the remnants of the fleet, had demanded that sixteen pyramidal flak towers be built.  This was not so much to raise the guns and missiles above the clutter on the ground, though that mattered, nor to extend their range, though that mattered, too, as to make them relatively immune to any incoming fire that wasn’t a direct hit. 

Since Wanyan had left, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ma Chu, the admiral’s aide de camp, had served as the admiral’s “eyes on the ground” of the whole effort, island, port, and mainland, all three.  Ma was outranked by any number of people, ashore and afloat, but, as the admiral’s eyes, his “I suggest” or “I think” or “Why don’t you?” had the effective force of coming from the admiral, himself.  Ma had tried not to abuse that and, it had to be said, generally succeeded.  He’d only had to say, “Let me consult with the admiral” twice to bring some hardheaded sailor or soldier around.

Being driven in the admiral’s vehicle by the admiral’s driver, passing between two of the air defense pyramids, the two nearest the port, Ma thought he spied a small aircraft, briefly visible before disappearing into the clouds.  The view was gone so quickly, and the air defense people seemed so oblivious to it, that he was inclined to discount his own eyes right up to the point that he saw half a dozen bursts of smoke suddenly spring into existence above and to the east of the pyramids.  The shell bursts – for he knew instantly, from hard won experience, that that was what they were – were followed by the sound of their own explosions, the freight train racket of their passage, and the sound of heavy steel rain pattering down to the ground.

Just under seven seconds later, the same pattern was almost repeated.  This time, though, some of the enemy’s guns – A single turret, I suppose – must have been aimed a little off, because the steel rain came down all around Ma.  One ball went through the hood of the admiral’s vehicle with a sound of tearing sheet metal and the clang of steel off an engine block.  That ball then came up through the hood again, through the windshield, and then went right through the driver’s head.  Ma was splattered with blood, brains, and bits of crimsoned bone. 

With the driver no longer in control, the wheels straightened, letting the car run off the road.  Too late, a shocked Ma grabbed for the steering wheel. The vehicle went nose first into a freshly carved drainage ditch, hit the far wall, and stopped.

Ma, however, did not stop.  There were no seatbelts in a Zhong military car.  He was thrown forward, over the frame of the shattered wind shield and past the ditch.  He hit, rolled, bounced, and finally came up, gut first, against the stout trunk of a tree.  His lower ribs cracked on the bark.  The pain was intense but, Thank you, ancestors.  If it didn’t hurt, it would mean I’d been paralyzed. 

Ma wasn’t paralyzed but he was hurt.  Slowly, gingerly, feeling cracked ribs grate inside him, he turned himself over and got his back to the trunk. There he saw that the salvos – about nine or ten per minute per gun, I suppose, if it’s their cruiser – were no longer bursting in air but coming in to strike at or below the ground.  He saw one air defense gun simply lifted into the air on a cloud of dirt, rocks, sandbags, and angry black smoke, men and parts of men falling away as it arose. 

I know the admiral understood and intended that they come for this place, but I wonder if he understood how quickly they would trash it.  I wonder, too, if her imperial fragrant cuntedness will let him come back to save us. 

I wish we’d had some of the same class of cruiser when we went for their Royal Island…

Standing, rather, using the tree to pull himself to his feet, Ma Chu gasped at the agony radiating from his shattered ribs.  He felt light-headed and found himself swaying side to side and back and forth, swaying, indeed, in something of an oval.

Concussion?  Internal bleeding?  Both I…

BdL Tadeo Kurita, East of Santa Catalina Island

Naval guns will often confuse a landlubber.  In part, this is because, for a given shell’s caliber, the shell itself will be much more powerful than its land bound equivalent.  In part, too, it is because it is often much longer ranged than a similar land caliber.  In part, too, rate of fire can vary dramatically.  The reasons for the difference were largely that weight of gun made a great deal of difference on the land, but ships weren’t much bothered by weight.  In the case of the dozen six-inch guns mounted in Kurita’s four triple turrets, the range was roughly sixty percent greater than for a similar land based system, while the shells – which could be armor piercing, enhanced armor piercing, shrapnel, high explosive, or illumination – were a quarter heavier.  Moreover, while a land based but similar system might fire two and a half to three and a half rounds per minute, maximum, and temporarily, these particular naval guns could fire nine, in the first minute.

Kurita’s skipper, Legate Cristóbal de Carvajal, down in fire control, watched four salvos of six come in atop one of their first two targets, one of the curious pyramids the Zhong had put up.  The first dozen were shrapnel, followed by another dozen of straight high explosive, with point detonating fuse.  The latter exploded on the flat surface atop the pyramid, sending clouds of razor sharp, smoking hot metal in all directions.  Zhong air defense troops, running for the lives to the shelters, were cut down in swaths.  One fairly dense group, clustering at the entrance to a shelter, had the misfortune of having a shell detonate in their midst.  The bodies, parts of bodies, and bodies still shedding parts were flung away from the blossoming yellow, red, and black flower.

It somehow still surprises me, thought Carvajal, that you can actually see a shock wave in the air.

“I think we can call Target Two Alpha ‘destroyed,’ Skipper,” Gunnery said.  “Shifting X and Y turrets to Three Alpha.”

“Ammunition?” asked Carvajal. 

“We’ll be ceasing fire after this target to restock the turrets,” Gunnery said.

“Very good.”

Santa Catalina Island, Balboa

Every breath was a struggle, every movement of his chest, whether internally or externally driven, sent waves of agony coursing through Ma Chu’s body and mind.  He found crawling was better that trying to walk since, when the pain put him into unconsciousness, he didn’t have as far to fall.

The ambulance crew found him like that, face down in the tire-spun muck, still trying to rise to all fours to move himself forward. 

“The admiral,” Ma Chu whispered, “…the admiral must be told…it cannot wait…”

Bridge, BdL Dos Lindas, Heading west toward Santa Catalina Island

When the sea was smooth, as this one was, on a ship the size of the Dos Lindas, even at her top speed of twenty-seven knots, the ride was as smooth as the sea.   At her current speed of about fifteen knots, only the natural vibrations of the ship and the passing of the land to port told of any movement at all.

 “Okay, Meg,” replied Fosa to the news.  “Go back on down and spread your squadron out to screen us if they start heading back.”

Beepbeepbeep “Wilco….Meg, out.”

Fosa walked – it was only a few short steps – to the chart table laid out centrally to the bridge.  He sensed someone, his ship’s chief non-com, Ramirez, he thought, take a position just behind and to his left.

“What are we going to do, Skipper?”

Yep, Ramirez.

“They’ve got nearly ten knots on us, Top.  We couldn’t catch them if they had a head wind and we had a hurricane force tail wind.  So…I’m kicking this one upstairs.”

“Makes sense,” Ramirez agreed. “But…”