New Glory (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by on Jul 27, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on New Glory (Part 1 of 2)

New Glory (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Spartan Franco | Tags: ,

Somewhere in the South Atlantic, December 6th 1870

Gigantic paddlewheels churned the already white-capped waters of the southern ocean as the FSS Reliant ploughed onwards. The huge American battleship stretched several hundred feet in length, and while its low freeboard and shallow beamy hull made it less of a looming presence than its peers in the fleets of other nations, they nonetheless gave Independence Class vessels such as this an aggressive, intimidating air. The low profile also served a practical purpose – with even its funnels and bridge projecting only a short distance above the weather deck, the Reliant and her sisters often proved considerably difficult to hit.

There were significant disadvantages, however, and one in particular was troubling the mind of Thomas Anderson, captain of the Reliant, as he stood on the battleship’s bridge. Here, in the deep ocean, the waves were forming peaks and troughs of considerable size, leaving even his sharpest-eyed lookouts staring more often than not at rippling walls of water. The Reliant’s blunt prow was also repeatedly cutting into the swells rather than riding over them, causing a considerable amount of sea-spray and making life thoroughly miserable for the crews of the fore secondary batteries.

The heavily-built, dark-haired captain puffed on his pipe, glad of the chilled air circulating the enclosed bridge of his ship – the volatile weather had given birth to several heavy storms over the last two days, and as a result the humidity outside was oppressive. Men sweated heavily even in their light tropical uniforms. Captain Anderson, a native of Louisiana and certainly no stranger to such weather, nonetheless found that the conditions were even beginning to get to him.

“Sir, signal from the Jubal Early.” The voice of Lieutenant Ross Richards, the communications officer, cut through Anderson’s reverie. The tall, rangy black sailor was crouched in a jumpseat beside the battleship’s secondary wireless receiver, the primary one being buried safely within the hull. “She says she’s sighted several vessels away to the south, estimated distance less than fifty miles.”

Anderson snapped his head around. “Identity?”

“They can’t be sure as yet, sir, but they seem to be on a converging bearing with us.” Richards’ expression betrayed his nervousness even if his calm voice didn’t. “Do you think it’s the Iwate, sir?”

Anderson removed his pipe from his mouth and smoothed his moustache with his free hand. “Perhaps, or it could be the Brit reserve squadron from the Falklands on a northward patrol. I’d guess we’ll soon find out, eh? You stay on that radio and tell me anything new from the flyboys.”

“Sir, yes sir.” Richards smiled, reassured by his captain’s apparently calm confidence, and returned to his station.

Anderson returned his subordinate’s smile and then resumed his own watch out of the bridge’s armoured viewports. In truth, his confident facade was just that: a facade. He knew, as Richards and everyone else except Executive Officer Breem did not, that the Britannian Falklands squadron had been badly mauled two weeks before. The culprit, the Blazing Sun battleship Iwate and its attendant escort group, was still at large and it was these ships that the Reliant and its escorts were hunting. Apparently the intercept orders had come from Washington itself – a gesture of goodwill and solidarity with the Britannians in the conflict.

Anderson fervently hoped that the under-strength forces at his disposal were sufficient. Aside from the Reliant, his battlegroup consisted only of two Lexington class cruisers, the Cougar and Hunt, four frigates and the FSAS Jubal Early, the Valley class airship that droned overhead like a watchful shepherd over its aquatic flock.

Anderson was grateful for the presence of the gasbag – he had no other air support this far from base, and the East and South Coast fleets as yet had few Saratogas to go around.

Nonetheless, Anderson knew his battlegroup was in for a tough fight. The Iwate was known to have an escort group of its own – a few frigates and single scout gyro according to most reports – but Anderson was worried. This small group had supposedly crippled a whole squadron of Britannian gunships and destroyers in a single engagement, for the loss of a single frigate – apparently only one badly damaged gunship, the HMS Fortitude and two of six destroyers had limped back into Port Stanley.

The Britannians wouldn’t simply have accepted defeat – they were known for never bucking a challenge at sea. The Blazing Sun battleship had a reputation for fine gunnery, but Anderson was sure that some other factor was in play for such a limited Sun force to inflict damage on that magnitude without suffering substantial damage.
“Captain Anderson, sir.” Again, Richards’ voice broke into his thoughts. “Another message from the Early.”

“Let me take a guess,” said Anderson. “Whoever’s out there ain’t friendly.”

“Yes, sir,” said Richards. “The flyboys have a positive confirmation – they’re Suns, alright.”

“Composition?”

“Five frigates, plus one capital ship, presumed Sokotsu class battleship,” said Richards, reading from the teletype message. “Direct interception course.”

“Heh, we’ve found the Iwate, or they’ve found us”, said Anderson with satisfaction. “Either way, looks like we’ll be seeing some action. Estimated contact time.”

“Fifteen minutes, sir, give or take.”

Anderson thought again of the fate of the Falklands Squadron. “Are they flyboys sure there’re no other contacts?”

“None that they could see, sir. Certainly no other capital class. Only the gyro’s unaccounted for…could be hiding in a cloud bank.”

“Stay in contact.” Anderson reached out for the tannoy controls on his command podium, setting them to general broadcast. “Now hear this. This is Captain Anderson. We have enemy ships inbound. Primary and secondary weapon crews to full alert. Generator team, raise shields to combat power. Battle stations, I repeat, battle stations!”

The Reliant’s siren boomed out across the waves as the huge vessel came to combat readiness, a clarion call to arms that underscored the wireless signals relaying the details to the rest of its battlegroup. Mechanical whirring started to challenge the continual murmuring of the seas. The battleship’s two huge primary turrets tracked left and right as the gun crews made a last test of their bearings. Automatic loading systems rattled and clanked as the first rounds were slammed into the breeches.

Secondary guns in sub-turrets cycled up as their crews slotted magazines into place. Multi-barrelled Gatling autocannons clattered into readiness.

A low whistling sound began to grow in intensity as the Reliant’s engineers activated the arcane control systems of the battleship’s shield generator; the bulbous, dome-shaped structure dominated the centre of the vessel, just ahead of the bridge. Flares of unearthly aqua light – Sturginium energy runoff – seeped between the slats of the generator’s outer shell of tough ceramic plating. Within a moment a strange rippling of the air had encompassed the battleship, as if it was passing through an area of intense heat.

Unlike their flagship, the two cruisers lacked such advanced battle technology. Instead, their crews busied themselves preparing their great central rocket batteries for firing. On every ship in the fleet, every man braced himself and looked pensively to the skies – the enemy was known to favour rockets as well. The sight of fiery contrails splitting the grey-blue expanse would be the true signal that all hell was about to break loose.

“Fire in the sky!” The cry rang out across the Reliant’s bridge. Anderson and Richards peered out of the thick armoured glass shutters that had slammed down over the vulnerable windows. But still, they quickly spotted the red-orange tails of Japanese missiles plunging towards the battleship’s decks. The Gatlings thundered in response, rivers of tracer fire reaching out to caress their prey with a deadly touch.

Three rockets blew apart in mid air as the guns found their mark. Two others burst against the shield-aura, creating strange flat-edged coronas of flame that traced the outline of the otherwise near-invisible protective dome. Luminescent gas spewed from the generator housing as it compensated for the force of the hits.

Two more rockets slipped through unimpeded and smashed into the deck just ahead of the generator, blowing a Gatling position to pieces along with its unfortunate crew. Their faint, shrill screams were quickly smothered by the roar of a newly birthed fire erupting from the deck. Anderson heard Richards let loose a curse – the Blazing Sun fleets favoured ferocious chemical incendiary fillings for their rocket warheads. Luckily, the flames were quashed as rapidly as they appeared, jets of water and inert gas spewing from the automatic fire-damper network that permeated the ship.

Anderson gritted his teeth. Sure the Suns couldn’t have closed the range that quickly? “Where did they come from?”

“Gyro!” The cry arose simultaneously from several bridge officers. Anderson peered upwards out of the embrasure. As if on cue, a big dark shape, looking for all the world like a steel-blue cigar with turbofans bolted to it, buzzed overhead. A heavy double thump resounded, followed by a crash as a volley of shells exploded against the shield bubble. At this short range, even the protector couldn’t stop all of the debris and Anderson flinched as shrapnel hammered the outer shutters. Outside, the Gatlings rattled off their defiance, joined now by the heavier auto-cannons on the upper deck. The captain saw the gyro yaw under a stream of impacts. Flames gouted from its hull in several places, but, with frightening ease it banked sharply to port, and then came around for another pass.

“She’s lining up for bomb run!” Anderson barked. “Evasive manoeuvres! Helm hard-a-port!”

“Hard-a-port, aye aye sir!”The coxswain grunted as he spun the Reliant’s wheel hard over. Anderson felt the deck lurch sluggishly beneath his feet as the battleship responded. The vessel shuddered as the port side paddlewheel slowed and then reversed, tightening the turn still further.

The gyro swept overhead with a howl. The battleship’s guns roared again, and its shield vibrated with a base humming noise as it bounced multiple rocket bursts. A huge pillar of water erupted next to the ship’s starboard side as a stick of bombs splashed down mere yards away. Anderson cursed – every moment they wasted in trying to avoid the aircraft’s attentions was another moment for the Iwate to exploit.

But then salvation arrived, in the form of the Jubal Early.

The battleship’s crew cheered as they saw the off-white cigar-shaped bulk of the airship burst from a cloudbank. She had been flying high in her role as spotter, but now descended to join in the attack. A great roar erupted as the double row of rocket tubes that circled her star-embossed nose vomited their payload towards the gyro. With only three hundred metres between the gasbag and its target, the rockets had no time to disperse, and struck the gyro as one focussed mass. The result was devastating. With a huge boom and a great flash, the gyro’s hull gave way and its munitions cooked off. Debris and shrapnel barraged the Reliant like metallic rain. A chunk of rotor, propelled at freakish velocity, cut a great rent in the Early’s starboard flank as the ponderous gasbag started to bank. What was left of the enemy skycraft plummeted into the choppy seas in the battleship’s wake.

“All right!” Richards punched a meaty fist in the air. “Scratch one for the flyboys!”

The experienced captain, though, didn’t join in the cheering. Even as the aerial blast dissipated, his eyes turned forward, towards the Iwate, the true threat. “Alright, boys, pipe down! We’ve still got a battle to win!”

Anderson quickly took in the situation and swore. His move orders, although necessary, had cost the battleship valuable time. The Lexingtons and frigates had pulled ahead, screening their engaged flagship from any opportunistic attack from the enemy sea forces. Anderson prayed they would not pay too heavy a price for their valour.

To be continued.