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Firestorm

Destroyermen

Taylor Anderson - Author

Hardcover | $25.95 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780451464170 | 432 pages | 04 Oct 2011 | Roc | 9.25 x 6.25in | 18 - AND UP
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"I cannot recommend Taylor Anderson too highly." -David Weber, author of Out of the Dark

Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy and the crew of the USS Walker find themselves caught between the nation they swore to defend and the allies they promised to protect. For even as the Allies and the Empire of New Britain Isles stand united against the attacks of both the savage Grik and the tenacious Japanese, the "Holy Dominion"-a warped mixture of human cultures whose lust for power overshadows even the Grik-is threatening to destroy them both with a devastating weapon neither can withstand.



From Chapter 3

Off New Scotland, southeast of the New Britain Isles, in the "Eastern Sea."

The library was surprisingly quiet, considering the unabated noise outside. Matt had been in the room many times now and the furnishings reflected their owner well. Gerald was like a cross between Jenks and Bradford, personality wise. He had the bearing and reserve of his commodore and friend, combined with the eccentric curiosity and (suppressed) enthusiasm for science of the Australian. As "Plenipotentiary At Large" for the Alliance, Courtney had been in the room even more often than Matt, but he was immediately drawn to the bookshelves as the officers filed into the room. Matt had to tap his elbow and point to the great map dominating the south wall of the room.

"You don't actually need me for this," Courtney complained. "These military machinations are quite beyond me. If you insist I pay attention… I may well ask a question!" he warned.

"As long as you're not asking where we all are a month from now when you suddenly notice we're gone," Matt countered.

Those who knew the Australian laughed. He was prone to a notable absent-mindedness. That notwithstanding, he had a natural talent for analysis and when he kept his thoughts on a single track long enough, he was very good at pointing out obvious flaws in plans that others had overlooked. Matt wanted him paying attention.

The officers and guests made themselves comfortable (a relative thing for Lemurians, since all the chairs were designed for people without tails) and Governor-Emperor McDonald allowed himself to be ushered to a divan, his legs propped up. Matt noticed with pleasure that Ruth McDonald didn't excuse herself, but chose a chair near her husband.

"There's one… small thing we need to have understood before we begin," announced Lord High Admiral McClain, glancing at Ruth. He looked around the room with a closed expression. "Who's the authority here?"

"The Governor-Emperor, of course," Matt replied patiently.

"I mean, the military authority," McClain pressed.

"I am," Matt said simply, "as we've discussed before. I remain 'commander in chief of all Allied military forces, by acclamation.'"

"The Empire of the New Britain Isles did not 'acclaim' you, sir."

"James!" Gerald scolded, and Commodore Jenks stirred angrily.

"With respect, Your Majesty, I speak only truth," the admiral maintained.

"You speak out of place," Gerald said more forcefully. "Captain Reddy was acclaimed by the other Allied Powers long before we became one. You SHALL not forget that even before our alliance was made—before they had any 'obligation' to help us—they willingly spilled their blood to defend us from the despicable Dominion! We've joined them, and heartily! They didn't join us." He paused, gulping an angry breath. "We may know this region of the world better than they, Lord High Admiral, but largely due to your influence, that knowledge is sorely limited. We know next to nothing of the extent of the enemy realm, for example, but that part that borders the vast Pacific. How deep does it go? What lies beyond?"

"My apologies, Your Maj…"

"Let me finish, damn you, sir!" Gerald practically roared. He stopped, forcefully composing himself. "We must not start like this!" he continued quietly. "The time for petty, egoistic squabbles is past. We face a wicked, determined enemy here and in the west! Our allies stand poised to deliver a heavy blow to the Grik, but we're still on the defensive here. The enemy holds a significant portion of our very homeland! We must throw him out! Captain Reddy and his strategies have been much more recently successful at that than any we can draw upon!"

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Matt said, partially to cover Chief Gray's muttered "Puffed-up bugger," and the few ensuing chuckles. Admiral McClain reddened and Jenks stood and moved toward Matt to add his support. "I'm glad you brought those 'strategies' up, because the first thing we need to get clear is, just like our war in the west, we can't have limits to our 'war aims' here. We're going to fight this war hard, ugly and as fast as possible. There're no rules except victory, and there'll be no 'negotiated peace.' His green eyes flashed. "They picked this fight, but we're going to finish it." He sighed. "Maybe we won't have to kill them all, like we'll probably have to do to win in the west, but to accept anything short of complete surrender'll only waste the blood already lost."

There were a few sharp cheers, and the 'cats stamped their feet in approval. Admiral McClain didn't cheer, and even the Governor-Emperor seemed dubious.

"That will be… costly," he said.

Matt nodded. "Yes it will, but believe me when I say it's the only way." He recalled his interview with the Dominion "Blood Cardinal," Don Hernan deDevina Dicha. "Those guys are absolutely nuts. Hell, you know that. We beat them now, knock 'em back on their heels, make 'peace'—it'll start all over again in a decade." He looked at Gray's grim face. "That's how it works," he said. "We know. The only way to end a war forever is if somebody wins and somebody loses… bad." He watched Ruth's face as she stared at her husband. She wouldn't speak, not yet, but she'd already considered the implications of another, future war. Matt helped Gerald come to the same conclusion. "If you don't get right with that, wrap it around you and wade through the awful fact that for us to win they have to lose, one of these days, maybe when your daughter Rebecca is in your place, there'll be another war; and honestly, they're liable to win that one because they have the depth, resources, and manpower. Right now we have a technological edge, but in ten years? Twenty?" He shook his head.

"He's right, Your Majesty," Jenks said. "I've seen their war in the west and it's the most savage thing you can imagine, but little more so than the fighting we saw here, at the Dueling Grounds!" He was exaggerating, but only slightly. The Dominion forces that attacked, without warning, had done so with massed artillery against civilians. "The Grik are… animals, but men would never behave as the Dominion forces did. They, their leadership, this… perverted church they worship, must be erased from the world."

"All right," Gerald said softly, glancing at his wife. He wouldn't leave this mess for the daughter they thought they'd lost to face. "How do we beat them this time… and forever?"

Matt nodded at Harvey Jenks, who stepped to the huge map, fingering his long, braided, sun-bleached mustaches. He paused and drew his sword; a most appropriate "pointer" under the circumstances. Matt had seen the blade many times, even faced it in "practice," but he'd never really appreciated its workmanship before. It was heavier than his own well-battered Academy sword, with a subtle curve toward the tip. Despite all the use it had seen, there were few nicks, and the bright, almost purple steel was unmarred by rust and lovingly tended. Jenks raised the sword against an island west of New Scotland.

"First, we have New Ireland," he said. "The enemy has captured it entire, it would seem, with the aid of Company traitors there." He glanced at Matt. "Elsewhere, the Company is no more. It's broken, along with its monopoly on trade, by order of the Governor-Emperor, and distributed among loyal shareholders. Those same shareholders will now become chairmen of their various new companies, and for the duration of the current hostilities, their ships are engaged as auxiliaries to the Imperial Navy, under Naval regulations." He looked back at the map. "The harbor defenses at New Dublin are not the heaviest in the Empire, not compared to those here and at New London and Portsmouth on New Britain, but they're probably the most formidable. A sustained bombardment of the forts there is difficult because they're on the windward side of the island and mount thirty-pound guns. We can match that and more with numbers, but with their elevation, not in range. Any ships attempting a bombardment will suffer heavily, and any disabled vessel will likely be driven ashore."

After this had been translated to him, Sor-Lomaak leaned forward. "My fifties will outrange their thirties," he said confidently, "and even if we are hit, with her sweeps, Salaama-Na will not go ashore!"

"I was hoping you'd say that," Matt said, grinning.

Jenks grinned too. "Thank you, Your Excellency, you've just finalized Major Chack-Sab-At's and Captain Blair's plan." He looked smugly at Matt, and motioned the two Marines, one Lemurian-"Amer-i-caan," and the other Imperial, to approach the map. They'd fought together splendidly at the Dueling Ground and become fast friends. Blair still walked stiffly from a wound, but he was anxious to strike back at the "Doms."

"Sirs," Chack began, blinking only slight self-consciousness. "Cap-i-taan Blair and I believe the enemy will expect us at New Dublin, or possibly Easky in the south. We will not disappoint him." There were murmurs and McClain looked alarmed, but Chack continued. "A large Naval force composed of the heaviest ships of the line and as many… former Company ships as possible, will menace New Dublin. The Company ships will linger in sight but out of range, as though they carry troops—which they will, but not all of them by any means." He bowed to Sor-Lomaak. "This task force will be gathered around the powerful—and ominously large—Salaama-Na, which will open a steady bombardment of the harbor defenses, supported when possible by Imperial warships. This should, ah, collect the attention of the enemy." He grinned, showing sharp, white, fangs. "The enemy may call troops from Easky or they may not, but it doesn't matter because Mr. Blair will land at Cork, east of there, and fortify these mountains. He pointed at the Wiklow range that began at the northeast "panhandle" of New Ireland, then fish-hooked back into the sea, east of Easky. "He'll hold there until any Easky troops, or possibly some from across this other range at New Dublin try to push him off—at which point my force, landed in the extreme north at Bray, will march down the Valley Road and slam into their flank!"

"Lovely," muttered McClain, "and delightfully complicated. But what will it accomplish? The enemy will still hold New Dublin, and you cannot expect me to believe you'll scale those heights behind the city and take it from behind!"

Chack looked at him with his big, amber eyes. "Why else would I do as I propose?"

"You must be mad."

"But you believe that is my intent?"

"There can be no oth…" McClain's jaw clamped shut.

"Indeed," said Captain Blair. "That will clearly be our intent and the enemy must prepare for it, regardless how imprudent it appears—and we will make the attack…!"

"What?" McClain was incredulous.

"…in the dark of night, coordinated with an attack by boat from the sea, launched by the bombardment fleet—which the Doms will now consider a diversion!"

"By God!" Gerald barked approval.

"I told you those guys were clever," Matt prodded him.

"I knew it already, but this! It's better than chess!"

"Quite clever," McClain muttered under his breath.

"In any event," Jenks said, "hopefully, that'll solve the problem of New Ireland." He waited for the approving applause to wane, then returned to the map. He drew the point of his sword down along the coast of California, near where San Francisco ought to be. "But, even more important than New Ireland, our continental colonies are at risk," he said abruptly. "Before, or while we do anything else, they must be secured. The vast majority of our raw material comes from there and without them, we can't sustain this… front… in the wider war, on our own. It's that simple. If we lose those colonies, we'll represent nothing but a material drain on our new allies who have concerns of their own, and that just to keep us alive." His gaze fell heavily on Lord High Admiral McClain.

"Fast ships were dispatched, immediately after the attempted invasion, to warn the colonies of a Dom attack," McClain said in response. "We now know the attack here was premature, that it was originally planned to coincide with the Founder's Day festivities. The combination of the Christmas Feast, followed quickly by the New Year and Founder's Day observances would have left us singularly unprepared." He paused. "We still don't know if the 'Temple of the Popes' is aware of the current situation, or that hostilities have already begun, but we do know that after January fifth, things are 'automatically going to happen." There were murmurings at the now infamous phrase that had been made public shortly before.

"Obviously," McClain continued, "one of those 'things' was to be the attack here. We must presume other operations were meant to coincide with it. In my view, the next most logical enemy objective is our garrison on the Enchanted Isles, not St. Francis."

Courtney perked up. "The Galapagos Isles?" he interrupted insistently.

"Aye," McClain confirmed, looking at him oddly, "though only the enemy calls them that. The 'Insulae de los Galapagos."

"Good God!" Courtney exclaimed, "we mustn't allow those…" He searched for a suitable epithet. "…buggerers of a… an otherwise sensible faith to defile that place!"

Matt almost chuckled, but thoughts of the very dark… perversion… of Catholicism practiced by the Dominion stopped him. "The islands aren't the same here, Courtney," he reminded.

"Of course not!" Bradford exclaimed, "but they're liable to be different in very fascinating ways!"

Matt sighed. "Go ahead and find a book, Courtney. We've got war stuff to talk about."

Muttering, Bradford stood and marched to the shelves.

Matt closed his eyes and shook his head. "Your Majesty?" he prompted.

"Yes. Well. Obviously, we mustn't let the Enchanted Isles fall, but they're well fortified. The enemy will likely bypass them and hope they wither on the vine. The colonies are the main, immediate concern."

"I beg to differ," McClain said.

"We have perhaps two weeks," Jenks said. He pointed at the map with his sword. "The Doms may even now have an army poised to strike from the south, but the land bordering the Sea of Bones is a terrible place; a sparse, rocky desert inhabited by unimaginable horrors. Oddly, the lands on either side are just as fertile as it is desolate, but therefore teeming with vast numbers of large, terrifying beasts." He shook his head. "Any force attempting such a march would likely lose half its number before the first shot was fired. I predict the assault will come from the sea, as it did here, and it's on the sea we must meet it."

"The fastest ships, the frigates, might get there in time," Gerald observed. "Ships of the line are too slow," he paused, "and will evidently already be employed elsewhere. The questions are, do we have enough to send, and will they have the weight of metal required when they get there?"

"I mean to take Walker," Matt announced. "We might even beat the dispatch sloop you sent. With Commodore Jenks along to talk to the locals, sound the alarm, rouse the colonial defenses, we can at least have them ready for what's coming." He looked measuringly at Lord High Admiral McClain. "That'll leave you to command, or choose somebody to command, the biggest force of fast steamers you can wrangle together, including my ships here. They have to sail immediately, and for God's sake, don't forget my oilers!"


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