In the morning, I called my best Knight pilots together for a briefing. “We have a tough one for our first outing for the Knights. Our targets are in a deep channel in the Southern part of the Inland Sea. We suspect that they are Taurian bases, especially because repeated attempts to bomb them with depth charges have ended in the depth charges going off prematurely. It’s our job to find out why and destroy the bases if possible. Any questions?”
Sureshot raised a hand, “Any chance we are going beneath our safe depth?”
“The channel isn’t more than 200 meters at its deepest point. That’s like 600 or so feet? Anyway we are rated to 1,500 feet or so in the pressure tests. On the other hand, no one has ever done this before, so this is part of our job as test pilots to check it out. Everyone needs to be extra careful. This means you Lena.”
“We are using the whole underwater kit that we practiced with; including the torpedo missiles you like so much Buddy.”
Buddy grinned, “Aww, you shouldn’t have, boss.”
I countered, “Especially after you took four of us out with those thing in our first sim run, but I did it anyway. Any more questions?”
Sureshot raised his hand again, “Do we have any backup on this mission?”
I winced inside, “We will have Japanese Coast Guard and Navy ships overhead with depth charges as well as ASW choppers on station. Anything else … Then let’s suit up and no one goes anywhere unless we all get through both checklists successfully.”
* * *
I walked up to the eight Knights in a row and sighed. The Knight is one of the most powerful battlefield weapons ever devised and I had to order them dressed in clown suits. OK they were underwater adaptation devices, but they looked ridiculous. There were huge fans attached to the arms and legs, buoyancy bags around the waist and search lights all over them. To top it off they were carrying double ended tridents that were bigger than they were. All they needed were the red noses and rainbow hair and their outfit would be complete.
I approached the ground crew and spoke to their leader, “Hey, Pepe, how is Fluffy doing?”
“She is purring like a kitten, Seignior.”
“And how is Fifi?”
Pepe frowned, “Well, she has no red lights so far.”
I rolled my eyes, “Perfect. Do you really feel these things are ready for combat?”
He gave me one of his big grins, “As long as you don’t get shot, you should be OK.”
That got a smirk out of me, “Remind me to put you on the comedy tour.” I climbed into Fluffy and started going through my checklist. Once I completed that, I climbed into the chest of the Knight while still in my battlesuit and plugged Fluffy into Fifi’s control rig. The checklist for the Knight is much longer than that of the warrior and I had left us an extra hour to get everything green-lighted before we left.
Luck was with us and everyone checked in within 45 minutes. We lined up and started out of the base … and that’s when I found out that someone had let the press know that we were going on a mission. Hundreds of people were lining the roads and there were news crews everywhere. “Listen up team, keep your eyes open and step carefully. In a crowd this size, there’s bound to be some Loons. I was planning to walk overland for a while, but let’s take the straight road to Miyzaki instead.” It was still over thirty miles to the coast and we were treated like a parade the whole way. Four times that I remember a person or persons tried to lay down in the road to block our progress while shouting things at us in Japanese. In all cases, the other people along the road dragged the out of the way (and not always gently.)
It was such a relief to get to the beach and be able to get away from the fear that I was going to accidentally squish someone. We waded into the surf with all the grace of an octogenarian without their walker and began marching parallel to the coast. The crowd followed us and we gained an escort of small boats. Luckily, after about a half hour, a coast guard cutter shooed the flotilla off, but we still had our fan club on the shore.
It was another eighty miles until we got to our first target, which meant that we had four hours of wading and swimming after we got into the water. Everything almost went smoothly until I noticed that my visor was fogging up, “Anyone else notice that their internal temperature is going up?”
Lena said, “I’m still comfortable.”
“No I meant outside the Warrior and inside the Knight. I don’t think we’ve ever run them this long while doing something like wading.”
“I think our boys and girls here are getting tired, we should let then rest.” said Sureshot.
I thought for a minute, “I agree. Wade out until we are completely submerged. That will help cool them off and we can use thrusters to move for a while. We’ll just add this to the list of problems for the design team.”
“Why don’t we just stay still?”
“A: We still have a fan-club watching from the shore and B: I don’t want to be a stationary target.”
This worked out pretty well until Rico announced, “I have twelve fast moving bogeys moving in from the southwest.”
I immediately went into combat mode “Everyone get in defense formation, turn on your searchlights, and head for the bottom.” By the time our feet touched bottom, we were in a circle facing out with trident’s at the ready. “Rico, what do we have incomming?”
“Just a sec, they’re staying awfully close to the surface … stand down, they’re dolphins. Sorry boss.”
“Don’t apologize. That was good eyes on your part. Believe me, I’d rather be ready for dolphins or whales than be surprised by Taurians.” With a bit lighter hearts we continued wading or gliding until we got to the entrance of the Bungo Channel and started heading for deeper water and our first target.
As we glided down Rico called out, “I have a faint echo pulse ahead of us. Somebody’s looking for us.”
“Everyone cut your thrusters and drop to the bottom. We’ll proceed on foot. Switch searchlights on.” Let me tell you, slogging across the sea bottom is no picnic. The mud can be hundreds of feet deep and incredibly fine. You can find yourself blind and stuck with little warning. I finally had to say, “Rico, see if you can locate some solid ground or we’re going have to risk detection.”
“I have some rock 150 yards to our right.”
“Get yourself on solid footing and then guide the rest of us in.” He complied and proceeded to guide us from one outcropping of rock to another in a surreal version of hopscotch.
“Boss, I have multiple contacts above us.”
“Everyone, form up around me. What do we have, Rico?”
“I think it’s a patrol of Mermen above us, but their far enough away that their hard to make out.”
“Keep an eye on them and tell us when it’s safe to move.”
“It seems to be an awfully big group or something.” Rico paused while apparently studying his scans, “Every time I think that they’re gone more come onscreen. Anyway, they’re too far away and heading the wrong direction to be a threat to us.”
“OK, then lead on as soon as you are comfortable.” We continued on at a somewhat slower pace as Rico divided his attention.
“Hey boss, I think they are forming an umbrella over their base. All the ones I can see seem to be swimming in a big arc and all seem to be about 26 feet from each other and about 85 feet from the from the surface.”
I laughed, “Way too simple. What you are seeing is their depth charge shield. I didn’t expect them to use suicide troops to stop depth charges, but it makes sense now. OK Rico, can you pinpoint that pulse well enough that we can torpedo it?”
“Give me a few minutes and I can.”
“You have all the time you need.” I checked the outside cameras. There were a surprising number of creatures within the range of our lights. True, some of them were a bit flatter than usual, but that’s war.
“OK boss, I got you a fix, 12 miles north-northwest.”
“Excellent work, remind me to recommend you for a bonus.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“Yeah, and if you’d checked you’d have seen that you got one.”
“I get a bonus every time!”
“You see how well it works? Anyway, Buddy this is your shot.”
Buddy took up the challenge with enthusiasm “Everyone face north and get into firing positions … Slaving missiles to my command … Setting the lead missile for sonar homing…Setting the rest to follow an fire at intervals … Lead missile away … all missiles away!”
“Let’s swim to the shore in formation people, and keep those tridents ready. There’s going to be a lot of bio-soldiers at loose ends here in a minute.”
Buddy whined, “Don’t we get to stay and watch the explosion?”
“It’s too far away to see underwater.”
“That takes away half the fun.” Just about then the pressure wave rocked us gently, “Never mind.”
We glided to the surface without incident and resumed out trek northward toward the next target. I was on the line with headquarters giving a report when Rico broke in, “I’ve got a bunch of bogeys coming in this general direction. Seems like you were right boss.”
“Lets get all the way underwater and continue onward. Spear anything you come across and toss it up on the shore, but don’t go out of your way. Giant Killer Leader to command. We just popped one base and all the bio-soldiers are at loose ends. Pass this along to the appropriate Japanese military units.” I continued with my report while the rest of my group killed confused Mermen and later Centaurs. Japanese units were called in to scour the coasts and finish the rest of them. “OK troops, we’ve been recalled. Once we figured out how they were stopping our depth charges, the navy boys can handle it from here. Let’s head home.”
There was a chorus of “Aw man,” and similar sentiments.
“We can kill more bio-soldiers that way.” I taunted. That got me grudging acceptance and we started wading/swimming back down the coastline.
We were swimming around a rocky island where it was too deep to wade when Rico came on in a panic, “Bogeys, big ones, at 1500 yards and closing. I count three no four Krakens and a Leviathan!”
There was no time to sink to the bottom and form a defensive position. The Krakens closed in while the Leviathan lurked at the perimeter. Buddy launched a spread of torpedo missiles, which took out one of them, and then they were on us. Krakens are medium bio-soldiers, but they looked freaking huge up close. I stabbed at one which was closing straight toward me. I was aiming for its eye, but cut deep into one of its arms instead. The other three arms grabbed me and tried to pull me apart, but I was already ready for a second jab which I plunged deep into its body and then set off the electric burst.
I took a second to look around and saw that Sureshot’s machine looked damaged and Beth had an extra arm attached. Then I realized that I had been moved away from the others and was exposed, and the Leviathan was closing. One of its giant claws reached toward me and I jabbed at it desperately with my trident and released its charge. The resulting explosion of the bio-soldier’s weapon stunned me in more ways than one. By the time my vision cleared, my trident was gone and I looked around just in time to be swatted by its fluke as it closed in on my friends. I engaged my thrusters at their maximum and yelled into a malfunctioning com, “Get to the shore! I’ll keep this one busy!”
I caught up with the creature’s tail and began pulling myself hand-over-hand toward the area that my display said its brain was buried. It stopped going forward and started groping for me with its claws. I had only one shot before it found me, so I targeted where its brain should be, “Ultimate override! Point blank target! Ripple fire all missiles now!” I heard the last of the torpedo missiles launch just as one of the flailing claws slammed into me, and then the pressure waves hit … I heard Lena call me from a great distance…
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