Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Come on, Terri. Open the door!” Gwen didn’t pound on the door, but she did knock with authority.
Terri had locked herself in the bathroom and refused to come out. It was a childish antic, but it was still effective.
“Please,” Gwen pleaded with her. “You don’t want to leave things like this.”
“I don’t want to leave things at all,” Terri cried back. Her voice hiccupped with sobs. “Why do you have to go?”
Gwen’s longtime girlfriend had asked this question hundreds of time since Gwen broke the deployment news to her. Sometimes it was asked somberly. Sometimes it was sobbed like it was now, but most of the time it was yelled in a fit of rage. One time the MPs had stopped by to make sure everything was ok. It was embarrassing, and word would get back to LCDR Shepherd about it, but her commander and the MPs had understood. Deployments were tough.
Gwen calmly waited for her girlfriend to pull herself back together. She knew Terri was a strong person, and would deal with this, but sometimes a girl just needed to vent. The least Gwen could do was wait.
“It’s my job, Terri.” Gwen’s answer wasn’t much louder than a whisper.
“Well your job sucks!”
That got a laugh out of Gwen, but it quickly subsided when Terri didn’t open the door.
“My shuttle leaves in an hour, babe. I’ve got to meet my new LT before that. Please open the door,” Gwen sighed.
“If you’re late will they leave without you?”
Gwen shook her head. “No. They’ll come and arrest me for being AWOL.”
“Would that keep you on Earth?”
“For a few hours, maybe. Then they’d slap me on the wrist and send me on deployment.”
“God your job sucks. Why couldn’t you just walk down a catwalk like your sister.”
Gwen involuntarily took a step back from the door like she’d been slapped. That comment hurt more than Terri knew. Constantly living in your supermodel sister’s shadow, and trying to make her own career was something Gwen had worked very hard at.
“Terri.” Gwen’s voice was harder now despite her trying to keep calm. “I’m leaving in five minutes. I want to give you a hug and kiss goodbye. I want to make sure we stay in contact. I don’t want to break up with you because what we’ve had has been incredible, but making you wait isn’t right or fair. You’ve got a life to live, and so do I. It’s just shitty luck that it’s a couple hundred light years away from each other right now. So please just open the door.”
And then the latch clicked and the thin layer of polyplast opened up a crack.
“I’d wait for you, you know.” Terri’s red, puffy-eyed face emerged.
“I know, babe.” Gwen opened her arms and her longtime girlfriend fell into them and started to sob again.
Gwen comforted her, brushed her hair with her fingers, and held her tight. They held the embrace for the full five minutes until the reminder on Gwen’s PAD lighted up.
“Ok.” The big Gunnery Sergeant didn’t even realize tears had started to roll down her cheeks. “Everything’s going to be ok.”
Terri kept on sobbing as Gwen released her and picked up her bag. The rest of her stuff, which wasn’t much, had been picked up by a company contracted with the Ministry of War to transport or store service personnel’s gear while they were on deployment. Since Gwen’s deployment was a hostile environment deployment, the majority of her stuff was stored, but she was allowed to bring one polyplast crate with her to her new home. It wasn’t much, but she stuffed it full of everything she could.
The one thing that was missing was a picture of Terri.
<Breaking it off is hard enough. I don’t need a constant reminder.>
Maybe the school teacher would wait for Gwen. The soldier thought the odds of that were close to zero, but maybe she would. If that was the case then they’d pick up where they left off, but Gwen expected to receive an “I’ve met someone new” letter within the first six months. The only thing that kept it from being a Dear Jane letter was her breaking it off now.
<Terri will let you know though. She’s a decent person like that.>
“I’ve got to go.” Gwen walked to the door which slid open as she neared it.
“I love you, Gwen!” Terri cried out as Gwen stepped through it.
Gwen looked back at Terri with a sad smile. “Take care of yourself, Terri.”
The door slid shut and Gwen walked away without looking back. She pushed all of her feelings into the back of her mind and sealed them up tight. Compartmentalization was a necessary evil in her line of work. She couldn’t let feelings get in the way of the mission.
Her quarters were only a short ride away from the spaceport, and she was there with plenty of time to find her new commanding officer. Which was a good thing, because the fresh shavetail didn’t have a clue where he was going.
“Sir.” Gwen walked up behind the young man her PAD identified as Lieutenant Martin Maddox.
“Jesus, Sergeant.” The guy jumped a half-meter into the air and he didn’t even come up to her height.
“Sorry, Sir.” She tried not to think about how jumpy the guy was going to be when rounds started flying. “Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham, your new NCOIC.” She introduced herself.
“Marty Maddox.” The guy smiled and offered his hand.
“Sir.” She kept it professional, but took his hand and shook it.
The LT was small, but most people were small to Gwen. His MILNET profile listed him as 169 centimeters tall. His sandy-blonde hair was done in the typical officer fade style, and his brown eyes beamed with enthusiasm and energy. He fit the big-eyed and bushy-tailed stereotype to a T.
Normally, Gwen would only be able to pull the basics from his MILNET profile, but she still had some friends in SOCOM, and one just happened to be doing a stint at the academy. He sent over the LT’s file.
<Graduated West Point last year, middle of his class, and finished infantry basic officer leadership course just a few weeks ago. Also middle of the class. No other school training aside from the academy and IBOLC.> That part was a little worrisome. Usually, cadets got at least some additional training under their belt before they left the confines of the academy. Maddox either didn’t try or wasn’t good enough to get a slot.
Gwen tried not to judge a book by its cover though. A MILNET account didn’t tell you what a person was capable of.
“So, Gunney, where are we headed?”
“Our shuttle is over in foxtrot concourse. From there we will take it to CFB Constitution. Once we reach the fleet base we’ll check the boards. The deploying battalion is assembling on the Cruiser Coral Sea. They’ll be our ride to Rogue Island.” Gwen explained the entire plan, although it would probably change by the time they made it to the shuttle.
“You seem on top of everything, Gunney.” The LT had a relieved smile on his face, which was good.
<At least he understands who runs the company.>
“We should get going, Sir.” She pointed toward the F-Concourse.
“Yes, of course.” He led the way and Gwen stayed slightly behind him.
<This should be interesting.> Gwen thought as she followed the LT into the shuttle and strapped in.
She looked down at her CMUs and saw her new unit designation, 8552nd INF BAT. She took a good look at her gunnery sergeant rank and let the new level of responsibility really sink in. She looked at her ranger tab, and wondered how Eve Berg was handling the shuttle ride to Styx. Then she took a look over at the LT who didn’t have anything but his platinum stripe.
<If he lets me do my job we’ll survive. If not, then we’re all totally fucked.> She sincerely hoped it was the former.
System 1552, York Sector, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Prepare for transition!” The Captain’s voice echoed throughout the ship. “Battlestations!”
Sirens wailed and hatches secured themselves, but the spacers had been at their stations for the last thirty minutes as the Lancelot hurtled through her final leg of space toward System 1552.
The CWS Lancelot was a Knight-class Battleship and had been in service for a quarter of a century. It’s military-grade duro-steel hull was five meters thick beneath the protective nanite armor. Its electrostatic generators would fuse that armor at a molecular level, and make it one of the toughest nuts to crack in the known galaxy. On top of that, the one-and-a-half-kilometer long warship was equipped with a giant reactor capable of producing deflector shields to further strengthen its defenses.
Offensively, it had two hundred missile tubes and thirty energy cannons to bash away at its enemies. Along with Lancelot, her sister ship Galahad traveled toward System 1552. Together they could target the four reported enemy cruisers with four hundred missiles and sixty cannons. The enemy force would only be able to throw three quarters of that firepower back, and their hulls were thinner and they lacked shielding. The fight wouldn’t be a long one.
“Transition in three…two…one…” The communications officer counted down.
Lancelot lurched as she dropped her Alcubierre bubble and translated back into normal space.
“Navigation, get our location. Ops, full drone deployment. Get me eyes now. Comms, get me Galahad Actual.” Lancelot’s Captain ordered as he surveyed the holotank and its slowly growing one-light-minute bubble.
The steadily expanding bubble currently only showed two icon: BB 112 Lancelot and BB 115 Galahad, both the steady blue of friendly units. They were right on top of each other on the holotank despite being thousands of kilometers apart.
“Galahad Actual.” The other battleship’s Captain’s voice came through TACCOM.
“Galahad, this is Lancelot. Play it safe and go in together?”
Both captains had similar time in service and were both combat veterans. Lancelot’s skipper was given command by Admiral Nelson, but that didn’t mean he’d ignore the other captain’s experience.
“Roger that, Lancelot. We don’t know what they’ve been up to. Better safe than sorry. Five-thousand-kilometer spacing?”
“Roger that, Galahad. We’ll stick to the ellipse.”
“Happy hunting, Lancelot out.”
They cut the TACCOM connection and focused on their operations. It would take time for the two battleships and their expanding drone vanguard to get a full read of the system. All they could do for now was sit back and wait.
“Contact!” The readout changed as the combat information center updated the holotank over an hour later. “Four hostiles identified. Designated Bogies One through Four. All bogies are breaking orbit from around the second planet. They’re running, Sir.”
The mood on the bridge brightened considerably, but the Captain knew better than to let a perceived retreat influence his battleplan.
“Lancelot, Galahad, you seeing this?”
“Roger that, Galahad. If they want to run let them run. Our orders are to secure the system. Once they leave the system you get into orbit and do a full scan of the planet.”
“Roger that. Can’t let them get a foothold. Galahad out.”
The information coming in was already several minutes old due to the vast distance between the two forces. The Commonwealth captains watched with several minutes lag as the Eastern Block ships fled to the FTL limit and jumped out of the contested system.
<That was too easy.> They both thought. It cost a lot of resources to get a cruiser squadron all the way out here, and to have it just turn tail and run without even a rude comm message didn’t make sense.
“Sir, I’ve got weird readings coming from Drone Thirty-Two.”
The Captain overheard the young ensign analyzing the drone feed, and pulled up the data as the officer in charge of tactical operations moved over to take a closer look. The lieutenant might not have known what it was, but the two senior officers did.
“Evasive action! Full power to bow deflector shields!”
Everyone felt the lurch as Lancelot veered to starboard and fought the system’s natural gravity as it dived below the ellipse.
But it was a half a second too late. The lurch of the maneuver was nothing compared to the shockwave the rattled the ship as a continuous energy blast collided with Lancelot’s port side and drilled it for several seconds.
“Countermissles fire! Hide us in the chaff cloud. Ops get a targeting solution on those mirrors and have the drones blow them out of space.”
The shaking stopped as Lancelot exited the kill zone, but that only made the alarms sound louder.
“Forward deflector shields completely drained. ES armor down to thirty-three percent capacity from sections twenty-two to twenty-nine. No hull breech, but we’ve got a fire in Shield Generator Alpha. Damage Control Team Five is working on it now.”
The Captain knew it could have been a lot worse.
“Lancelot, Galahad, how the hell did they get a solar laser array up?”
A solar laser array was the first, basic defensive system put into any star system. An array of mirrors was deployed to harness the power of the local star to create a beam of energy stronger than anything mankind could artificially create.
Most infantry heavy weapons operated in the megawatt realm. Planetary defense centers, depending on their size and importance had gigawatt and terawatt level energy cannons. Warships started in the terawatt level and peaked in the low petawatts on battleships and assault carriers. In comparison, a solar laser array could easily throw out a one-hundred petawatt continuous beam of energy. Give it a minute and it would put a hole in a battleship.
It was quite possibly the most powerful weapons system in the universe, and it was cheap and easy to use. The problem with it was its limitations. It could focus the most powerful energy beam in the galaxy, but it wasn’t maneuverable. It took time to realign all the mirrors to hit moving targets, and starships moved awfully fast. To overcome this fatal flaw, system engineers went for sheer quantity. A developed system would have thousands of mirrors to fire dozens or hundreds of focused beams. It was certainly a deterrent, but not an insurmountable one.
No matter what engineers did they couldn’t fix the fragility of the array. The mirrors were mirrors after all, and all it took was a one crack to throw off the beam, and one mirror taken out to disrupt the whole array. Quantity was the best fix for this problem. Having lots of options to redirect the beam was the engineer’s best idea, but a system like 1552 wasn’t going to have a big array.
The two Commonwealth battleships executed their plan quickly. It was a standard battle drill hammered into the minds of every officer since their schooling. First, they needed to get out of the kill zone. Second, they needed to throw up a chaff screen so whatever was aiming the laser array couldn’t find them. Third, they needed to find the mirrors. Finally, they needed to take out the mirrors with targeted drone strikes or proximity kills with antimatter missiles. Either would do the job.
Lancelot and Galahad executed the plan flawlessly. Their combined drone vanguard stalked and killed the mirrors one by one. But that wasn’t the big thing on the Captains’ minds. They both knew that deploying a solar laser array was the first step in building a sustainable system infrastructure. An infrastructure like that included terraforming and colonizing worlds.
The Blockies’ decision to do that in a junction system to Commonwealth space spoke their intentions loud and clear. The Commonwealth wasn’t on the path to war with the Blockies in York Sector. They were already knee deep in it and they didn’t even know.