2949-08-03 – Tales from the Service: The Mereena Sortie 

Word has come to us here at Maribel that most of the officers and crew of the surviving Lost Squadrons ships are being transferred to the Seventh Fleet. Since most of these personnel are apparently guests aboard the Seventh Fleet’s cluster of superannuated carriers, their vessels judged combat ineffective, this seems to be a pragmatic move rather than an organizational one. If and when replacement postings are found for them (which might be some time, since they’re all still across the Gap at Sagittarius Gate), it will probably be to replace combat casualties within the Seventh Fleet rather than aboard new vessels. 

What that means for the two surviving cruiser skippers and the dozen-odd destroyer and frigate skippers has not been announced, but it’s likely all the Lost Squadrons senior officers will be given a considerable amount of time to recuperate from the stress of their ordeal before they are given new postings. This might also be an opportune time to shuffle officers like Samuel Bosch out of field commands and to desk postings. He is, apparently, not a terribly popular officer among the senior ranks of the Confederated Navy, despite his commendable efforts at the head of the Lost Squadrons, and it would seem a sensible move to put him on an academy teaching rotation in any case, given his unique experience fighting the Incarnation. 

A squadron of vessels preparing for the Gap crossing departed Maribel two days ago to reinforce the Seventh Fleet. While Naval Intelligence prohibits me naming the size of the force, I am permitted to state that the old battleship Tranquility, freshly arrived only a few weeks ago from the Core Worlds, was the squadron’s flagship. While I’m not sure I’d trust crossing the Gap in a century-old battlewagon that only two years ago was being demilitarized to function as a museum ship, the Navy knows what it’s doing, and presumably the admiralty has every confidence in the ship’s ability to make the crossing. 

In news nearer to hand, it seems that the ground-side combat services are no longer coordinating their operations with Fifth Fleet command, and have staged a limited but successful raid on the Incarnation depot on Mereena without major fleet support. Mercenary warships, led by the notorious Holzmann, were present, but evidently they were barely needed, with only a single enemy cruiser in range to respond to the raid, and that vessel held back from what would have probably been a suicidal counterattack. This raid captured a significant amount of enemy equipment and a few hundred prisoners, and it is being advertised that the whole supply depot's worth of materiel was destroyed when the raiders withdrew.

Captain Halthora “Hal” Ferro clutched her carbine and tried to focus on the readouts scrolling on her wrist computer’s tiny screen as the dropship thundered down through Mereena’s atmosphere. She could feel the eyes of his subordinates on her, and had to try very hard to look calm and confident while being neither. 

Though only twenty-five T-years old, Hal knew she was older than all but a handful of her junior officers and troops. A Frontier Defense Army company at full strength comprised fifteen officers and one hundred sixty enlisted, and every single one of them was a volunteer. Most of her troops had signed up for three-year terms of enlistment without really knowing anything about what war was, and only a handful of them were veterans, blooded in the charnel-house of Margaux or in the delaying actions which had permitted the evacuations of smaller colonies like Mereena itself. Soon, the bay doors would crash down, and green troops would face the ultimate test. 

Hal wasn’t afraid of dying as such. She’d nearly bought the plot twice already, once during a training operation and once on Margaux’s Causey Plana. Dying, she’d discovered, was the easiest thing in the universe. If she could only die herself and avoid the necessity of ordering her young volunteers to rush in and buy the plot themselves, that would simplify things considerably. 

Unfortunately, Hal knew her duty. As a captain now, she had a headquarters, and a handful of personnel assigned to her as company staff. Her platoon commanders could lead from the front, but she had to stay where the information flow could reach her. 

“Thirty seconds to touchdown.” The dropship’s chipper pilot announced over the intercom, amplified to be audible over the intermittent buzz of the vessel’s nose-mounted autocannon pummeling likely enemy positions. “Opposition on the ground looks light.” 

Hal closed her wrist computer’s protective cover and bowed her head. An old soldier’s prayer came to mind, asking for God’s protection and mercy either on this beachhead or the next. This was the prayer on Hal’s lips when she and three other wounded hauled themselves out of their wrecked personnel carrier during the Botterhill training exercise, and again when the contrails of Incarnation landing craft spiralled down through Margaux’s lavender sky. It had been the prayer looping through her delirious mind after she’d been hit on the Causey, lying half-conscious among the broken rocks during the heat of the day while dead bodies festered all around her. 

The same prayer would have been perfectly serviceable now, but Hal found it insufficient. She wouldn’t be buying a plot on Mereena, nor would she be storming the beaches beyond the Sea of Glass, not today. Some of the confused and apprehensive youths around her, though, would not be coming home. She wanted to pray for their protection, but found herself struggling for the words, even inside her own head. 

The dropship slammed into the ground, rocking everyone in the bay against their restraints, ending Hal’s attempts to structure a prayer for her soldiers. The staccato chattering of the twin remotely operated railguns on either side of the bay doors indicated the presence of enemy soldiers outside. 

Despite her failure to build an appropriate prayer for the occasion in time, Hal raised her head, snapping off her restraints and hefting her carbine as she stood in the narrow aisle. “Welcome to Mereena.” Her officer’s voice turned on automatically, with all its built-in snap and swagger. Maybe she couldn’t really lead from the front anymore, but she could at least be the first one off the dropship when the ramp came down. “Follow me and keep moving.”