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The Talon House

Operation Hammerhead


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Operation Hammerhead

Introduction

The Alliance wasn't at all prepared when the enemy slammed into four of the Rim Sectors in 2568. For a year and a half system after system fell until the Alliance finally got its act together and stopped the advance at the Battle of Omicron Ceti in 2570.

In the three standard years that followed, the war de-evolved into a bloody stalemate in which neither side was able to establish clear dominance. The war became nip and tuck across a front 150 light years across.

Three years of constant warfare had ruined some of the richest systems in the Alliance and killed or made refugees of millions of its citizens. The enemy used engineered biological weapons that wreaked entire planetary eco-systems. Planets that had taken decades to terraform were rendered lifeless and barren in a manner of a few months.

As rich and established as the Alliance was, the war had stretched its resources to their very limits. The Alliance, as an institution, had always been very democratic and as politically neutral as possible to address the needs and concerns of its thousands of planets and colonies. With its very existence on the line, the Senate enacted Draconian measures to address the threat. In early 2569 Emergency Powers Act was passed and the Alliance geared up for the fight.

Although the measures of the EPA were uniformly hated by civilians, soldiers and businesses, no one complained too loudly. The enemies' early successes and complete lack of mercy bred a powerful resolve. Rationing of strategic materials, mass conscription and even the nationalization of most interstellar capable star ships were met with grumbling but no real opposition.

At the beginning of the conflict, the Alliance military was ridiculously small. Some high value systems were protected by nothing more than police cutters or customs frigates. Thousands of experienced Bluejackets and hundreds of ships of the Alliance Fleet were sacrificed for little more than to buy time.

All that the Galactic Alliance knew about the enemy was speculation. All attempts to communicate or negotiate had failed. In fact, close inspection of wreckage of their ships and ground vehicles yielded no clues to their species or origins. The whispered rumor across the thousand worlds of the Alliance was that the enemy was extra-galactic: from an ugly little dim elliptical galaxy about 150,000 light years away from the Milky Way called 36-theta Carina.

The Alliance was in the fight of its life with an enemy that had no face and there was no end in sight.

Ole Stubby Gets Her Orders

The Raymond T. Burke was a big, fast kilometer long modular cargo hauler. Relatively new, just three years past shakedown when the war broke out, Ole Stubby as her crew called her, was a member of the Argo Transit Corporation's newest class of heavy modular cargo transports. Fully loaded she could move 800,000 metric tons of cargo from the core systems out to the rim in a little under six weeks.

She took her proper name from a Captain of an old Class III freighter that made his spurs running the Sol-Cappella route some 200 years previous. This was a fact that was lost on most of her crew and all but the most fanatical of history buffs.

Ole Stubby earned her nickname due to her appearance without her external cargo containers. In fact she looked quite naked without them. She was merely a superstructure with bridge and berthing forward and engineering and drive sections aft. Her true strength was in her flexibility. She was designed to carry sixty-four large cargo containers with a maximum dead weight capacity of twelve thousand five hundred tons each. The ship was highly automated and required a crew of only about thirty officers and men to operate and most of those were cargo specialists.

Before the war Ole Stubby had been a fixture running freight out of the core systems— Sol, Alpha Centauri, Kappa Prime and bulk raw materials back core ward from the systems at the rim. A contract with Argo Transit Lines for duty aboard Ole Stubby lasted a standard year. Since she had been pressed into military service, the officers and crew were all ratings in the Alliance Merchant Marine.

When the war broke out, Ole Stubby and her sisters quickly became high value strategic assets. Their cargo capacity could easily handle an entire division of Alliance Marines and all of their equipment. The use of special cargo pods could allow her to deliver ordinance, fighters, spare parts, hospital modules, C3I modules, workshops or anything else that the Alliance military needed. Of course, it also made her a prime target.

As Raymond T Burke sat quietly holding station off Titan, her Captain and First Officer, Anders Schmit and Chris Harrison respectively, were en route via shuttle to the flagship of the fast convoy which was gathering. After attending the mission briefing the convoy would be under way within 24 hours.

On the shuttle hop over from Ole Stubby, it was clear to Schmit and Harrison that a major operation was forming up. There were at least six other heavy transports like the Raymond T Burke, dozens of smaller freighters and fleet auxiliaries. Even more impressive was the build up of warships. Four battleships, four large fleet carriers and dozens of cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers and frigates were formed up into nice, neat echelons. Away from the fleet, the carriers' air groups were conducting exercises. What made this task force even more impressive was that all of the ships were either brand new or sporting new refits.

Harrison looked out his window at the gathering collection of ships and asked quietly, "What do you think Skipper?"

Schmit just chuckled and said, "What do I know. I just work here."

The new battleship Repulse looked sleek and menacing as the shuttle approached and was cleared to land in the starboard landing bay. Half the size of Ole Stubby, she bristled with gauss rifles, plasma cannons, point defenses and sensor masts. She was the new generation of Alliance warship- no longer compromising firepower for multi-role capability. Repulse was a predator; sleek, fast and lethal.

Once the shuttle came to a stop and the bay was pressurized, their pilot gave them the clearance to debark. Schmit and Harrison collected their briefcases, straightened their uniforms and popped the hatch.

At the bottom of the retractable gangplank two very serious looking Alliance Marines and a junior naval officer were waiting. Schmit and Harrison approached presenting their credentials.

Schmit stated, "Captain Schmit of the Raymond T. Burke and my First Officer Lt. Commander Harrison— permission to come aboard."

The young naval officer replied saluting, "Lt. Green of the Repulse. Please state your business sir."

Schmit replied tersely, "We are here to attend the mission briefing and receive orders for the upcoming convoy."

The young Lt. inspected their credentials and nodded. "Permission granted Captain Schmit. Welcome to the Repulse. If you'll go through those doors, the Duty Officer will direct you to the conference room."

The ship was abuzz with activity. Both officers were impressed with the professionalism and zeal of the new ships crew. They were also impressed that the crew, although young for the most part, was sprinkled with many salty and experienced officers and Noncoms.

Schmit and Harrison were ushered into a good sized conference room. There was a computer terminal at each seat and a sign designating the proper seats for the officers of the merchantmen attending.

Stewards supplied coffee and Danish. Were it not for all of the uniforms, this could have been a meeting of any large corporation's board of directors. The tone was friendly, professional and business-like. After waiting ten minutes or so for the rest of the command crews to arrive, a senior naval officer stood and addressed the gathering.

An Alliance Marine barked, "Attention on deck."

Everyone stood.

"Good morning gentlemen. I'm Admiral Samuel Stewart. At ease. I'm in command of the convoy screen. My flag is aboard the command cruiser Basra. If you would be so kind, please log into the terminals with your personal identity codes and your ships ICC license number."

There was a tap-tap-tapping as the assembled officers keyed in their various identity codes.

"The overall Mission commander will be Senior Admiral Franklin Bassett. His flag will be here aboard the Repulse. Please be aware that this is a code-word sensitive mission. This briefing is classified top secret and is subject to the Alliance Official Secrets Act. As of this moment, you are directed to maintain strict communications silence. All intra-fleet communications will be conducted by secure, encrypted point to point laser."

"As you may have guessed, this is more than just another convoy. We are gearing up for a major offensive at the front. As usual we expect the first two-thirds of our route to be a milk run. It is the last leg of our journey that is going to get interesting. If I may direct your attention to the monitors in front of you, we'll go over the first leg of our mission."

"We get underway at 1800 today and execute our first jump at 0400 tomorrow morning. Our first destination will be the fleet anchorage at Capella IV. We expect to arrive in four days time with a layover of 3 to 10 days depending on the arrivals of additional fleet elements. At that time we will transmit our next destination to the fleet by secure channel. Are there any questions?"

There was some murmuring among the command crews of the assembled freighters but no specific questions.

Admiral Stewart took their silence as his cue. "Good. Now if you will please enjoy our hospitality, I need to meet with you in groups of four briefly on the Flag Bridge and then I'll let you get back to your commands."

Admiral Stewart left the room and a naval commander stood and said, "Will the command crews of the Atlantic Voyager, Celtic Princess, Aston Radford and Nippon Maru please follow me."

Eight officers out of the assembly rose and filed out of the room. The naval stewards returned with good coffee, doughnuts and Danish as the remaining command crews began to talk quietly among themselves.

A Captain wearing the crest of the Argo Transit walked up to Schmit and extended his hand, "Hi, I'm Thomas Kent, Captain of your sister ship the Elliot Jefferson. What do you suppose the fleet boys have in mind for us? "

Captain Schmit took his hand and replied, "I don't know but it sure looks impressive. I'm Anders Schmit of the Raymond T. Burke and this is my First Officer Lt. Commander Harrison."

Kent smiled and nodded pleasantly, "It's always good to meet the Captain of another 'Old Sea Dog' class transport. Good ships they are. Let's not let the company hear how pleasant they are or they'll expect us to pay them for the pleasure of driving them."

Schmit asked, "Do you know how many of Argo's ships are involved in this little party?"

Kent looked thoughtful and replied, "Besides for our two ships, the Diego Sanchez, Lee Yarlburo and Victor McKant are here and I think that if we look around we might find the Mark Polk and the Marshall Wainwright."

Harrison sighed, "That six out of our ten heavy transports. If this turns out to be a cluster f**k, Argo is out of business."

"Well hell, if we lose this war then we're all out of business." Kent said with a touch of bitterness in his voice. "Sorry- my brother was aboard the Kongo at Omicron Ceti. The really messed up thing about this war is that even when we win, we lose."

Even the mere mention of the Kongo put a shadow over the discussion. She had been the pride of the pre-war Alliance fleet; big, sleek and capable of carrying out a wide range of missions. However, she was a battle-cruiser sized ship that only carried a heavy cruisers armament. She just wasn't up to going toe to toe with the enemies' battleships. She blew up with the loss of all hands but bought enough time for the carriers to rearm and refuel their fighters for the strike that turned the tide of the battle.

Before anyone else could speak, another officer arrived and spoke, "Would the command crews of the Lee Yarlburo, Elliot Jefferson, Raymond T. Burke and Victor McKant please follow me to the Flag Bridge."

Kent looked at Schmit and said, "Sounds like it's our turn."

Eight command officers of four of the Argo Transit Lines most valuable assets gathered their briefcases and followed the Alliance naval officer through a maze of corridors to an elevator.

The Flag Bridge of the Repulse was as impressive as every other aspect of the ship. A swarm of officers and Noncoms were running a blinding array of sensors, communications and data links. Repulse was designed to lead fleets with enough computer power and communications bandwidth to command every single ship in the fleet. The flag bridge was designed with three tiers that backed up to the aft bulkhead. Even sitting quietly at Titan Anchorage, the flag bridge was a beehive of activity.

Standing at the top level of the fleet command center was Admiral Stewart with two other flag rank officers. One of them came forward to the railing and motioned for the transport commanders to come closer. The party went up a short stairwell to the second level and clustered together under the assembled brass.

The officer standing in front said, "I'm Senior Admiral Franklin Bassett. Welcome to my flagship. You've already met my adjutant Sam here and I want to introduce Admiral Tanaka, commander of the Task Force's carrier group. I don't usually meet with the commanders of the transports but this time I'm making an exception."

"We are about to embark on an operation codenamed Hammerhead. If things go well, we'll cut the enemies territory in half and diminish his ability to defend the territory that he holds. I can't reveal too many details of what we're planning but the cargo that your ships are carrying will be absolutely vital to this effort. We have to deliver that cargo on time and in tact. Many thousands of lives and maybe even the balance of the war are at stake. You aren't just carrying G.I. socks and underwear, gentlemen. What you have in your cargo containers is the Alliance's Sunday punch and with it I intend to deliver a knock out blow to our enemy."

"I want you gentlemen to know that for the last third of our voyage, I intend to assign a light cruiser and two destroyers as your ships personal bodyguards. They will remain in close formation with your ships and will not leave a bubble of 5 kilometers around your ships providing close screening and point defense."

"In the next four to six hours a naval liaison will arrive by shuttle on each one of your ships. That liaison answers to me or Admiral Stewart. If you have any problems or concerns, please feel free to contact us."

With the tone of his words, the assembled crews knew that they were dismissed. Schmit and Harrison returned to the shuttle bay for the trip back to their ship with a lot to think about.

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