“Sir, we’ve the final report from the SAR teams.”
Carlos closed his eyes and let out a breath, leaning over the tactical board in the Illuminator’s flag bridge. A steady buzz of activity filled the air, though those nearest to him fell quiet, and stood by to hear.
“How bad, Aral?”
“Good news first, sir,” Aral Contassia said. “We’ve recovered over a third of the downed fighter pilots, as well as most of the crews from the Tomahawk and Aerie. The Kartuiin might be able to make it back home under her own power…” She shrugged. “But we’re going to have to tow Mount Pracyn.”
He nodded, and opened his eyes.
“And the bad news?”
“No survivors from Sayacinth Isle or Aryn Campbell, sir,” she said quietly.
He closed his eyes again, and sent forth a little prayer to anyone who might care to listen. The part of him which was not just Carlos DeLong but General DeLong stood aside and slightly aloof, examining the outcome dispassionately. The Dreadnaught Tomahawk and Nebulon-B frigate Aerie were both hard losses, not least because of the number of fighters he’d have to shuffle around to other ships for maintenance and transport. However, they had some new construction coming only at Golgan III within a few months; the surviving crews and squadrons from those ships would serve well as cadre. The manpower remained, and so the loss was not as bad as it could have been.
But the MC80B Sayacinth Isle had been rammed amidships by one of the Yuuzhan Vong heavies, and the Lancer frigate Aryn Campbell had likewise suffered the suicidal attentions of a half-squadrons of coralskippers. There had not been time for either to launch more than a few escape pods, and those had been consumed by the titanic energies released when two capital ships encountered the gravity emanations of a dovin basal.
Looked at coldly, by General DeLong, the Isle was the greater loss. He had a grand total of six MC80Bs in the whole GDF; now he was down to five, and two of those were heavily damaged. Given the current war – and previous tensions between Golgan III and the New Republic – he was not likely to be able to buy more from their Mon Calamari builders, nor had Golgan III been able to license the design.
Still… they had wiped out an entire Yuuzhan Vong task force, one of which his fleet had flat-out captured. Only four heavies, which he had out-numbered nearly four to one, but more coralskippers than he’d had fighters… but this half of his fleet had wiped them out. And for a better loss-ratio than the task force the New Republic had sent to Helska. For all the loss of precious equipment – and crews – General DeLong could not help but look at the mission as a complete success, something to cheer.
When looked at coldly.
When looked at as Carlos DeLong…
“My compliments to the SAR teams,” he said, quietly. “Send me the lists of survivors and dead, once it’s finalized. Sounds like I have some letters to write.”
“Aye, sir,” she said, making a note on her datapad.
“Actually, yes, it came along with the casualty report. The gantry crews report that they have a full map of the enemy dreadnaught; the 20th is in position and ready to head in.”
“Well, no point to waiting. Lieutenant Atkins, get me Colonel Herclayn.”
It was only the second time – outside of training – that Lieutenant Jonathan Playbird had worn his heavy assault armor. Most of the time, even when taking a slaver or smuggling ship, their standard stormtrooper-derived armor was sufficient. The one time it hadn’t been was officially classified as a Bad Day; they’d actually had to retreat off the ship, don the heavy armor, and then wade right back in.
This time, the Colonel was taking no chances, and had ordered the 20th Marine Battalion (“Hellwalkers”), to armor up before entering the ship.
Superficially, the heavy assault armor (abbreviated HAA, said to be the sound the engineers made when they received the systems requirements from the design board) resembled ordinary stormtooper armor. Each plastoid element was two to three times as thick as standard armor; the chest and back pieces were each reinforced with a two centimeter thick piece of durasteel. The bodyglove underlayer, despite plastoid reinforcement, was no longer visible; mechanical joints now provided protection and articulation at the elbows, wrists, knees, and the like. This sacrificed some overall dexterity in favor of greater protection, and was considered a fair trade by all who wore the HAA.
But the greatest point of difference between the HAA and ordinary armor was the helmet.
Gone was the skull-like death mask; the front of the helmet was rounded, but as featureless and flat as the engineers could make it. The helmet also lay flush with the body armor, almost overlapping the two durasteel plates. The wearer of the HAA could not turn his head, nor could he tilt it forward or backward. This, however, was not a problem for the wearer, as the internal displays in the HAA helmet were connected to series of sensors scattered across the helmet and armor alike; with a mere flick of his eyes, the wearer could rotate the display a full 360 degrees from side to side, nearly as much up and down. These same sensors kept track of the angle and location of the wearer’s firearm, allowing real-time sightless targeting; it was entirely possible, in fact, for someone in HAA armor to fire at something behind them without so much as having to turn around.
Not that they often did so, but having the capability was nice.
A command suit, like Playbird’s, had certain expanded capabilities. With a simple series of blinks and jaw tenses, he could call up a secondary view giving him the sensor take from any man in his platoon. Similar commands let him feed that data or his own to his company commander, or even to the battalion commander – even, he figured, to a brigade or division commander, but if he had to pipe data to one of those while in a HAA, then things had gone far beyond a Bad Day. He could even, if the data streams had been set up before hand, call up the raw feed from attached reconnaissance groups, remotes or otherwise.
He was using that very capability, as his platoon cooled it’s heels on the borrowed docking slip, waiting for the go order. He had noticed something in the IR images from certain parts of the dreadnaught-analog’s interior. A quick check confirmed what he thought: about ten percent of the “bulkheads” were actually hidden compartments, and about ten percent of those likely hid a Yuuzhan Vong warrior.
He flagged the likely images – after using the HAA’s computer to do the search – and forwarded his conclusions to the battalion S-2. The initial acknowledgment from Major Harwell was a simple, terse, comm-click. Her second reply, five minutes later, was far less terse, and a bit surprised. He had to grin at that; most – thankfully – saw him as still new-ish lieutenant. While they knew, intellectually, that he was the Old Man’s adopted son, they had not quite made the connection to the fact that he had been raised by Carlos DeLong, and had therefore grown up amongst the likes of Tag Rendar and Jaq Pellman.
He lacked the temperament for a spy, or even a desk-bound analyst, but he had both good instincts for data and good teachers.
But the important thing was that Major Harwell concurred with his analysis, and forwarded the information onto Colonel Herclayn and the three company commanders.
Just in time, because all too soon thereafter, the Colonel commed the whole battalion.
“New word from Flag,” the Colonel said. “We’re go for Quicksilver. So up and at ’em, Hellwalkers.”