2948-09-08 – Tales from the Service: Siblings in Arms

I hoped last week to bring news of a second engagement over Margaux, but as any of you following the war situation through Cosmic Background’s daily coverage (or through any other media outlet) already know, this proved not to be the case.  

In the days following the Battle of Margaux (which I hope is to be only the first), Admiral Zahariev contented himself with probing the enemy fleet with fast cruiser-led formations before (presumably after consulting with his staff and Captain Kirke-Moore) ordering a withdrawal back to Maribel, which is where we sit at the time of this feed item’s completion. Though the Fifth Fleet suffered no heavy cruiser or battleship losses at the battle, and reports put enemy losses (destroyed and long-term disabled) at six of their big heavy cruisers and many hundreds of Coronachs, the admiral believes the ground-side Margaux defenses give him plenty of time to repair the damage to his vessels and return, while the enemy’s losses won’t be made good in the same time-frame. 

Perhaps he is right, but neither Nojus or myself like his decision. We are of course not military professionals – Captain Liao suggests the admiral had good reasons for making his decision. Saint-Lô is currently being swarmed by yard techs once more, examining the damage, and though the battering seemed (from our perspective in CIC) far less severe this time than at Berkant, the officers are not optimistic about getting things repaired quickly. Apparently this old battleship had its primary phased matter condenser blown away in the middle of the engagement, and the reserve unit’s power hookups were also badly damaged. According to the skipper, we limped back to port on the ship’s reserves.  

The phased matter fuel situation aboard Saint-Lô certainly contributed to Admiral Zahariev’s decision, though I did the math on my own and believe the ship had several more days’ worth of phased matter in its reserves, plenty for one more run at the enemy fleet before pulling back.  

More likely to have made his decision is the situation aboard Argonne, which suffered far worse than Saint-Lô and currently occupies a berth in the yards just across from our own. There are dozens of stories of the heroism that saved that ship from almost certain loss; it seems that nearly every damage control tech aboard Argonne performed their duties to a level worthy of merit, and Fifth Fleet brass has evidently been distributing the Centaur Cross and lesser medals liberally among its enlisted crew for their efforts. Sadly, many of these awards will be sent directly to their families, along with the Carmine Bloom, which is awarded posthumously to all Navy personnel killed in the course of duty. 

This week’s entry comes from one of the Centaur Cross recipients who did not also receive a Carmine Bloom. Though he refused to give an account of the actions which earned him the Navy’s highest award for gallantry in action, Renat Dreher did sit down and help us compose an account of his experience and personal loss just prior to those actions. 

Technician Renat Dreher woke to a violent shaking sensation and the distant warbling screech of multiple overlapping alarms. Dizzily, he tried to clamber out of his bunk and toward the locker where his damage-control over-suit was kept. The heavy garment was all but fire-proof and carried a hard helmet and internal oxygen supply vastly better than the flimsy bubble-helmet and tiny emergency atmospherics cartridge in his smart-fabric uniform’s stiff collar. 

Renat’s hand came down not on the yielding foam of his bunk-rack, but on a hot metal surface with the unifomly rough texture of standard Navy deck-plating. The panel’s heat was such that he should have noticed it through his back, and this told him before he even opened his eyes that he had already put on the over-suit. Grasping hold of this detail, he recalled in a moment the previous shift’s events – the general alarm, the announcement of imminent battle, and the thunder of enemy plasma-cannon fire breaking in rolling waves against Argonne’s armored hull as the screen projectors failed one by one, the alarms shrieking in an ever more chaotic and meaningless tangle of sound. It was, he had thought as he worked to rescue a handful of crew trapped by damage in a local gunnery control station, the agonized cry of a dying behemoth.  

Once more, Renat scrambled to get up, but something was holding him down. He didn’t know what had become of the trapped personnel – he had been working to cut open a stuck blast door, and remembered nothing after that. Had the ship degraded so badly that the corridor had collapsed? Was he buried? 

The shaking started again, and he realized that it was coming from a gloved hand gripping his shoulder, and another firmly pressing down on his chest.  

“Dreher!” A voice – Morello's – was shouting, though the other tech sounded tinny and far away. The atmosphere in the compartment had apparently grown thin since he had blacked out. “You okay? Please be okay.” 

Renat slapped the other tech’s hands away and got to his knees. “Hells no I’m not okay.” He looked around for the first time, and saw that the corridor was mostly intact, though several bulkhead panels had blown inward and the stuck blast door, glowing cherry-red with heat from the other side, was now veiled behind a thick web of torn wires and ducts. Feeling his lungs burning from the weak atmosphere, he deployed the oversuit’s heavy helmet and pressure gloves. “What happened?” 

“Compartment on the other side took a direct hit while you were cutting. Blew you clean over here.” Morello helped Renat to his feet and put an arm around his chest. “Atmo’s leaking out through the hole you were cutting.” 

“The gunners-” 

“Stars around, Dreher, they’re all dead. There’s open space on the other side of that blast door.” 

Renat shook his head. There was something about the group of personnel trapped in that gunnery control center that had been important, but whatever it was fled maddeningly from his attention. “Wait.” 

Morello, already dragging Renat toward the sealed door into the less-perforated parts of the battleship's habitatation complex, did not stop. “Wait for Nate to shoot again? Couldn’t make me for all the credits in the Reach, Dreher.” 

“There’s something...” 

Another rumble of plasma-thunder shook Argonne, this time accompanied by the shriek of distressed structural elements and the rattle of bent bulkhead panels falling to the deck around the two techs. The ship seemed about to fall apart under the punishment of enemy gunfire. 

As the enemy salvo ended, Renat wondered whether Alonya was all right. This thought seemed useless given the situation – his half-sister, a lieutenant aboard the same vessel, was certainly somewhere important, either helping direct the fight against the enemy cruisers doing their best to pick Argonne apart, or overseeing the crippled vessel’s abandonment. The ship sounded like a dying beast, but from a corridor outside the portside aft gunnery control station, there was no way of knowing how bad the damage really was. 

A moment after he had that fleeting thought, Renat remembered what it was that was so important. “Alonya!” He wrestled himself free of Morello’s grasp and tried to run back toward the glowing blast-door, but instead he fell to his knees, unable to rise. Nevertheless, he began to crawl. He remembered the comms identifier on the damage report – Alonya had been inside that gunnery control station. 

Crawling as he was, Morello had no trouble wrestling Renat to a halt. “Hold it! Everyone past that door is gone. You hear me? They’re gone.” 

Renat struggled against his compatriot’s grip, using his helmet comms to request the location of Lieutenant Alonya Dreher. Ordinarily, a crew tech would be unable to request the location of an officer they weren’t reporting to, but since he was registered as family, the query was accepted and immediately completed. Alonya Dreher, the computer system reported, was not currently aboard the vessel. 

“No!” Renat managed to push forward another meter along the debris-littered deck before Morello dragged him backwards. Witty, brilliant Alonya couldn’t be gone. She was everyone’s favorite in school, and when father had only been able to afford for one of them to go to the officers’ academy, Renat knew she was the better choice. Everyone knew even before war broke out that she stood an even chance of being the first Confederated Navy officer in almost fifteen years to be fleet captain before the age of thirty.  

Though he struggled, Morello, bigger and stronger even before Renat had been blasted ten meters down a corridor, eventually managed to get them both to the closed pressure door at the far end of the corridor. It was sealed, but as damage control techs, they both had the codes to force it open for exactly two seconds. This proved plenty of time for Morello to haul Renat across the threshold through the buffeting wind of escaping atmosphere. As the door closed once more, Renat made one more feeble attempt to scramble back through – an attempt Morello easily foiled. 

“Get ahold of yourself, Dreher!” Morello shook Renat again. “Every moment you waste on the dead, others are dying. Hells, the whole ship might be dying. You’re concussed and you might have a cracked skull but you’re the only help I’ve got down here. Are you with me?” 

Renat turned to look at the other tech, tears blurring his vision. Alonya was dead because he hadn’t worked fast enough to cut the blast door open. His father would never forgive that – but that paled in comparison to his inability to forgive himself. Still, the small part of his mind still thinking clearly could see Morello’s point. There would be dozens or hundreds of others like Alonya who could still be saved. 

With a shuddering sigh, Renat put out a hand, and Morello took It. 

“Good.” The bigger man hauled Renat to his feet. “Let’s get going.”