Chucks’s prompt this week is a perfect excuse to tease you with more from War of the Worlds: Retaliation. I’m a little heavy at 1500 words:
“Finally, we’re prepared for you.” A grin slowly formed on Admiral Beatty’s face. He leaned back in his chair, staring at the large ebb screen in King Edward VII’s battle management center, heart pumping quicker as the four hundred sixty dots representing the Martian fleet closed with the ASEF ships. This would not be like slaughter of his gunboat fleet in the Sudan. This time, they’d fight the bloody squids on equal footing.
Fight and win. Beatty closed his eyes. The faces of the young lads from his gunboats floated through his mind. A slight shudder went through him as he recalled the heat of the explosions, the screams of the wounded, the sight of men vaporized.
A lump formed in Beatty’s throat. I’ll make them pay. I swear it to all of you.
“They’re splitting up.” Captain Gibbons pointed at the screen. “Looks as though they’re sending most of their bigger ships to hit our flanks.”
Beatty nodded, watching large groups of dots break off and make for different parts of the ASEF fleet.
“Leftenant Porter,” he said to the combat coordination officer. “Have US Task Force Forty-Four and the German Eighth Fleet reinforce our left flank. he British Third Fleet and French Sixth Fleet will reinforce the right flank. US Task Force Thirty-Four, the Brazilian First Fleet and the Norwegian Third Flotilla will reinforce our rear.”
“Aye, sir.” Porter repeated the order to the appropriate fleet commanders.
“Also,” Beatty held up a finger, “move up the Canadian Second Flotilla, the Spanish First Fleet, and the Italian Second Fleet to protect the transports and support ships.”
“Aye, sir.” Porter relayed that order as well.
Anticipation grew within Beatty. He yearned to give the order to fire. He looked around the BMC, thought of the thousands of human ships at his command, all built from the technology the Martian invaders left behind when they died.
Technology about to be turned against you monsters. Oh, the delicious irony. Perhaps he’d pen a poem about it one day.
“Lower projection screens. I want complete three hundred sixty degree coverage of the battle area.”
“Aye, sir,” replied Porter. “Lowering projection screens.”
Four large gray screens, similar to those found in a cinema, descended from the ceiling, two on each side of the ebb screen. Images transmitted by four ASEF space corvettes appeared, each one showing a multitude of allied ships spread out across the blackness of space. Before long, the moving picture cameras spotted the cylinder ships of the approaching Martian fleet.
Beatty’s eyes flickered between the ebb screen and the image from the British corvette HMSS Pegasus, which covered the front of the ASEF fleet. More than a hundred Martian ships headed straight toward them.
He reached out for the console, switched on his radio, and grasped the steel, circular-shaped microphone. “All forward fleet elements, line up behind your flagships. On my mark, turn to starboard, and bring all guns to bear on the enemy.”
Beatty watched the various allied ships maneuver into compact formations of parallel lines. He drew a slow breath, watching the two fleets close, almost in firing range.
Almost . . .
“All forward fleet elements,” Beatty said. “Hard to starboard, ninety degrees. Bring all guns and rocket launchers to bear.”
Beatty felt the maneuvering thrusters kick in, nudging King Edward VII to the right. The other ships followed right behind his flagship. They formed a long line in front of the Martian fleet, “crossing the T,” a tactic used to great effect by Japan in its war with Russia in 1911. Beatty hoped it would be just as effective in space warfare as it was at sea.
“New contacts!” Porter hollered. “Numerous small contacts around the forward element of the Martian fleet.”
“What are those buggers playing at?” Gibbons stared at the ebb screen.
Beatty watched as tiny dots, like a swarm of gnats, formed around the Martian ships.
“Readout from the ebb identifies new contacts as shuttles,” Porter reported.
A puzzled look came over Gibbons face. “Why would they use shuttles against us? Boarding parties?”
Beatty shook his head. “Can’t be. Not practical in a zero gravity environment, especially with their bodies.”
He straightened in his seat when the realization hit him. “They’re armed.”
Anger flashed through him. Curse the damn intelligence people. They always maintained Martian shuttles were only used for transport and reconnaissance.
Maybe if those arrogant fools worked a bit harder . . .
Beatty grunted. Being angry wouldn’t change their situation. He reached out for his microphone. “All corvettes, concentrate your fire on the Martian shuttles. Cruisers and dreadnaughts, concentrate fire on the larger vessels.”
He checked the picture from the Pegasus. A mass of small, oblong craft with stubby wings streaked toward the ASEF fleet. Nervousness slithered through Beatty. There were so many of them, and so small. Could they prevent every one from slipping through to attack the transports and support ships?
Beatty clenched the microphone. “All ships . . . open fire!”
More than a hundred beams of light flashed across the projection screen. Balls of light burst and faded as dozens of shuttles exploded. More beams reached out to the bigger Martian ships. Several of them vanished in brilliant fireballs.
The Martians returned fire. The image from Pegasus filled with countless beams slicing through the black void. A rumble and shudder went through King Edward VII. Beatty’s muscles tightened. He flashed back to the Sudan.
“Impact portside, aft,” stated the ship’s systems analyst, Petty Officer Douglas. “Damage is superficial. No loss of hull integrity.”
Beatty’s muscles unwound ever so slightly. He thanked God for the dreadnaught’s thick armor.
Heat beams and missiles filled space. Explosions flared non-stop.
“Four shuttles on intercept course with us,” reported Porter.
“Target them with secondary batteries,” ordered Captain Gibbons. “Main Guns One and Two, target large Martian cruiser, coordinates zero three five, range one hundred ten kilometers.”
Pencil-thin beams shot from King Edward VII’s smaller ray guns just beneath the superstructure. One shuttle exploded. Then another. The remaining two fired their heat rays. Beatty barely felt the jolts from their impact. Those ray guns had less punch than the ones carried by the Martian tripods and cruisers.
At least against a space dreadnaught. Corvettes and transports had much weaker armor.
A flurry of beams lashed out at the remaining two shuttles. Both exploded. A bright flash erupted further away. Beatty watched a Martian cruiser slew to port, its entire fore section ripped away.
“Main Guns One and Two, hit that cruiser again,” Gibbons ordered. “Finish it off.”
Heat rays streaked from King Edward VII. Both struck the wounded Martian cruiser. It vanished in a ball of white light.
Beatty checked the other screens. Beams and missiles criss-crossed between the ASEF and Martian ships on the flanks. Here and there little suns winked in an out of existence.
Shuttles soared around the ASEF ships at the front of the fleet. A rain of heat rays fell onto dreadnaughts, cruisers, and corvettes. Beatty tensed as he watched two of his ships flare and disappear.
“Corvettes Ariadne and Medusa destroyed,” stated Porter. “American cruiser Atlanta damaged.”
More quakes rocked King Edward VII. The straps dug into Beatty’s torso, keeping him in his seat.
“Damage to Decks Four and Five,” Douglas said. “Damage control parties responding.”
The flurry of beams and missiles never let up. Martian shuttles zipped around the human ships, peppering them with their heat rays. The cruisers HMSS Bedford and USSS Independence fell out of line, gaping holes in their sides. The corvette HMSS Argonaut exploded. More beams slashed through space at the Martian shuttles. Several vanished in flashes of light.
More poured through a gap in the ASEF line.
Beatty held his breath. He checked the armada’s inner defensive ring, then grabbed the microphone. “German cruisers Konigsberg and Emden. Move up and plug the gap between British ships Minotaur and Good Hope.”
He watched the two German vessels rush toward the gap. Heat rays and missiles burst from their launchers. A few Martian shuttles exploded. Others flew on, firing at the Germans. Beatty cringed when a bright flash erupted on the bow of the Konigsberg.
Dammit. Beatty pounded his fist on the armrest. We should have armed our shuttles, too. Better yet, they should have built jets that could operate in space instead of solely within the atmosphere.
Now ASEF might pay for that oversight.
King Edward VII’s heat rays fired again. A Martian cruiser flared and disappeared. Another cruiser appeared and opened fire. Beatty grunted as a hammer blow rocked his dreadnaught.
“Damage to multiple decks!” hollered Douglas. “Main Gun Turret Four destroyed.”
“Severe damage to American dreadnaught Chester Arthur,” blurted Porter.
Another tremor shook King Edward VII. Beatty glimpsed two of their escorts fired on the Martian cruiser. Heat rays sliced into the cylindrical hull. The alien ship turned into an orb of white light.
An explosion blossomed among the Allied fleet.
“American cruiser Albany destroyed,” Porter reported.
Beatty held his breath when he saw another flash, then another.
“French dreadnaught République and British cruiser Furious destroyed.”
Two more explosions appeared.
“British corvette Erebus and German cruiser Seydlitz destroyed.”
Beatty looked at Lieutenant Porter, eyes narrowed. He then swiveled his chair to face King Edward VII’s commanding officer.
“Captain Gibbons, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.”