I once heard my CO, Commander Avary, say, ‘when all else fails, hold a meeting’.
Maybe it was a joke, but if I did nothing, we would just continue floating here on orbit around Sebka A, waiting for something to happen at some indeterminate point in the future. That’s no way to run a ship, so I didn’t. I called a meeting. Myself, Joss, Kirkwood with Martins calling in on a private circuit.
I used the control room, with most of my monitors showing various stills from the reconnaissance. The big screen showed a wide shot like a satellite image, although it had probably been taken on a high-altitude recon mission.
That photo, the closest thing to a map of the area I had, showed pock marks from shelling, but the lander and the large hardened structure that I believed to be the Ondo base were both untouched.
“We’re all already briefed, so I’ll skip the situation report and cut straight to the point. I asked the battle group for resources to extract my crew, and, just like the guys on the ground, their response was, ‘there aren’t any’.”
“Things are that bad,” Martins mused. I nodded, although she couldn’t see it.
“It’s just extracting six people…” Kirkwood protested to herself. She looked like she wanted someone to explain it to her, but the fact was that any of us would be guessing. “How can they not have a single aircraft?”
Joss stated, “The ground reports that nothing can successfully fly within five thousand meters of the ground. They believe significant Enemy anti-air weaponry is in the area.”
Martins mused, “I wonder what they mean by ‘nothing’. A space fighter is not easily damaged by typical anti-aircraft fire. Surely there aren’t any Enemy anti-space weapons in the area yet. They only just moved in, right?”
“The Alexander carries Afreet fighters,” I responded. “They aren’t flying tanks like your Luna Moths. They’re no tougher than atmospheric fighters. That’s the reason you can get more of them on a carrier. They build them small and light.”
I heard Martins make what sound the sound you get from sticking your tongue out and blowing air. Probably that’s what she did. “They should live with fewer craft and use Banshees. They’re as tough as Luna Moths.”
The likelihood of Battle Fleet agreeing with her was pretty low, but I didn’t say it. The brass sees a lot of value in having more craft to spread out around the battle group. Banshees are for planetary based operations. They simply take up too much space on a carrier.
“They don’t have any Dragon bombers either, I bet,” Kirkwood noted. Dragon bombers are the same airframes as Farley’s lander, only equipped for Meta-space. It’s a very versatile spacecraft. But just like Banshees, too big.
I answered, “Carrier wings use Wyverns. Light bombers, not mediums like the Dragon.”
“I bet a Luna Moth could make it,” she said.
I wondered if Joss had the same idea as Kirkwood. She had been inspecting the wide aerial shot. Both her eyes and Kirkwood’s turned toward the speaker.
“A Luna Moth could probably fly in the area,” Martins agreed. “But you saw the shell holes in the area. On the ground, standing still, it would become a great big target for the artillery.”
“But that’s something we can work with,” I answered. “If you could fly air cover…”
“You are not going to try to land Mo in the middle of that!” Martins immediately.
Just for a moment, my ‘watch me’ gut response had me ready to take Martins’ challenge, but it wasn’t the time for that.
Besides, she didn’t actually say that I couldn’t do it…
I admitted, “One of the options I considered was offloading everyone to Alexander, detaching the pod, and flying down there. It wasn’t completely unrealistic. Mo’s shields are limited in atmosphere, but they do give protection. And I do have a responsibility to those guys down there.”
“Resnik… ” Martin’s began, but I cut her off.
“I’m not an idiot, Commander. I had to consider it because it was, in point of fact, an option. But I made the same analysis about Mo that you did about your Luna Moths. She would not last under that kind of ground fire. She’s just a four story building on the ground.”
“Then what do you have in mind?”
“You could stay in the air, identify the threat and take it out at a distance. Then, with the ground softened up somewhat, maybe we can beg for resources from the guys on the ground.”
“Mm…” Martins seemed to be mulling the idea over. “If those guys haven’t id’ed it yet though, that means it’s pretty well hidden.”
Joss turned toward me from the big screen. “Captain, a single Luna Moth cannot retrieve the crew, correct?”
“At most it can carry two extra persons,” I replied. “They’re built for long range patrol, but they aren’t busses.”
“The space in here is about as much as a big lorry with a sleeper cabin,” Martins added.
“So to retrieve six people, at least three of Martins’ craft must land. That is not acceptable.”
“I quite agree,” Martins answered.
“But if three stayed in the air flying cover, one could land. And the lander can be repaired.”
My guts began tightening as I realized what she was getting at. I answered, “It can, and I forbid it.”
“You forbid what?” Kirkwood asked, baffled.
“She’s thinking one of Martins’ ships could land Red so she can fix the lander. Luna Moths have gear to load propellant from one craft to another, so the lander could be refueled. How’m I doing, Joss?”
“It is correct. And it is the most straightforward solution.”
“A Luna Moth would have to sit on the ground while she worked.”
“Or take off and return when it is time to refuel.”
I was wondering why I wasn’t hearing protests from Martins. But I argued anyway. “That would be double the risk to that ship. And I’m not going to put Red into that kind of danger on her own.”
“I agree,” Martins final stated. “There are just too many unknowns about the ground conditions.”
“That can be rectified, Lieutenant Commander,” Joss answered, completely unperturbed by the opposition. “The standard mission supplies include equipment for aerial insertion.”
“To what purpose?” Martins asked.
The PTO stated, “It is necessary at times to send our special forces troops ahead of the lander. The procedure is to drop them off at high altitude and circle while they soften the LZ.”
I think my eyes bugged a bit. “Are you talking about jumping in? I’m not going to tell Red to do a combat jump! She’s got no infantry training and she only has emergency jump training!”
Joss answered, “The flight engineer is not the first requirement on the ground. She may be landed using a Luna Moth once the ground threat has been reduced. The first requirement on the ground is a set of eyes that can help the air cover identify ground targets. A forward observer, in other words.”
“Other than Gereben, our entire special forces team is already on the ground and we have no communication with them. Gereben is in no shape to make a jump, so I will not permit his participation.”
“A more suitable candidate for the jump would be a veteran with forty years ground combat experience, full training in HALO insertion techniques, and the experience of eighteen combat jumps, as well as experience in reconnaissance, including forward observation for air strikes such as will be conducted on this operation.”
My eyes really had bugged at this point, and my blood pressure was starting to rise. Struggling to hold down my exasperation with this alien, I demanded, “And exactly where am I supposed to find this ideal candidate?”
I’m such an idiot, I told myself as I noticed how oddly specific her description had been, a half-second before she gave the obvious answer in a perfect Zindavoor deadpan.
“Directly in front of you, Captain.”
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