Front Lines Book 2 - Hangman's Noose

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Greetings, sorry for the long space between any kind of anything for this project but I really did need some time away.

This continuation takes place after a fair few chapters which I haven't written yet. My plan is to release book 1, (up to just after the battle with the Hvarkann) once i've ironed out all the plot holes and spelling errors. This will take the form of a downloadable word document/PDF file. Book 1.5/ the interlude/ whatever i'll release when it's finished, and book 2 which is what happens after the assault on Ghorah Khar, I was impatient to get on with. There's no major effect on the narrative through this skip ahead really I don't think.

Thanks again to all who've read and commented over the years and kept me from abandoning this story like I have countless others.


Front Lines

Book 2 – Hangman’s Noose

By Richard Paul


Salamander’s Perspective

“There she is sir,” An enthusiastic 2nd Lieutenant chortled merrily from the shuttle’s cockpit, “repaired and ready to kick some furry flank.”

She didn’t need to tell me, I’d been staring out the window ever since we’d arrived in system, eager for my first look at the now repaired and fully operational TCS Hermes. She had spent the last few months lingering in a dry-dock in the Tomayo system, having the hull breaches filled in and a new bridge installed. Now, on the eve of a huge Confederation assault deep into enemy lines, the newly renowned carrier was ready to rejoin the fight.

I couldn’t quite shake the fear that with the ship’s fighter pilots under my command, these new voyages of the Hermes would be a short trip to the grave. I’d had two months and about fifty thousand pages of relevant reading material to help me prepare for my new role as the ship’s wing commander, and I still felt like a first year academy student about to take his first real flight in a hornet.

As Colonel Trent had been known to say though, there was naught for it but to do it.

“Incoming shuttle this is Tomayo Dockyard control, please state your identification and destination.”
“Dockyard control this is Shuttle TS-032 out of the SS Howel Davis, carrying crew and medical supplies to the TCS Hermes.”
“Understood, transmit your security clearance and we’ll clear you to land.”

The shuttle came to a halt as we waited for landing clearance. The Hermes was still a little way in the distance, but what I could see looked almost new. There was no remaining indication of the pitched battle against a ship more than ten times its size earlier in the year, nor of the bridge that had been torn off. This could have just as easily been the maiden voyage of a new carrier as opposed to the re-launching of a battle hardened one.

In case you were wondering, with a fair number of Confederation warships involved in forceful thrusts into Kilrathi territory and the rest still tied up in or around Sol, we’d been hiring on a number of privateer destroyers and cruisers as peacekeeping forces in our territory. The Howel Davis was a rustic Exeter class destroyer captained by a fearsome woman named Alice Badami, who looked like she’d be far more at home unloading a broadside at an armed merchantman than ferrying Confed pilots to space ports.

“Authorisation confirmed,” The com officer stated after a few moments of silence, “Shuttle TS-032 you are cleared to land onboard the Hermes.”
“Understood Control, shuttle out.”

We made our way quietly past the other shuttles and small craft that were flittering from one dry-dock to another, sweeping into the flight deck, interrupting a transfer of new Thunderbolts from a transport as we did so (No Excaliburs yet, much to Razor’s annoyance).

With the place so busy it seemed I’d have to wait before I could stop to enjoy the scenery, so I made my way to the exit where I found Scar leaning against a nearby wall, he seemed to have adapted to his new rank of ‘Major’ far better than I was adapting to mine. Upon seeing me he pushed himself off of the wall a little too vigorously and nearly fell flat on his face. In an attempt to regain some lost dignity he made it a point not to salute.

“Welcome back to the Hermes Colonel.” He said, extending a hand.
“Hello Gennadius.” I replied, drawing back my own hand and then flinging it at his.
“Sorry your welcoming party is so modest but you’ve happened to arrive shortly after a platter of steaks emerged from the galley.”

Steaks? I could only imagine the nightmare queues stretching from the rec-room back to the primary engine if there was real food on offer for once. No expense spared for the moment it seems, though I got the impression we’d run out of real food before we left the system.
“I see.” I said finally, “I take it you’ve already eaten.”
“Well not to sound rude sir, but you don’t think I’d wait on a meal like that just to welcome you onboard did you?”
“No, not really.” I’d have done the same if I was him, in Confed if you’re late for a meal, you normally wind up getting the greasy sludge from the bottom of the stew pot or the charcoal husk that by a stretch of the imagination could be called meat. Back on the Formidable they called it ‘Night watchman’s Fare’.

“To that end I’d best get in line.” I said again, “All I’ve had to eat today is two synth cookies and an orange.”
“Get in line? Why not just pull rank and skip to the front?”
“Good point, either way, I’ll see you later.”
“Farewell sir.”

It’s funny; he almost never used to call me ‘sir’, despite the fact that I outranked him before we’d all gotten promoted.

Six Minutes Later

“Hey! Hey, hey! Bloody look you fool! That’s the Wing Commander?”
“I’m telling you man, that’s the bloke who offed Deathfang.”
“Well how about that, he’s tall after all.”

I honestly don’t think that this last comment was directed at me, but just in case it was I turned to glare in the direction it had come from and found only the same kind of half nervous faces that I was seeing on all the new rookies we’d been handed. I decided to let the matter drop and started to make my way to the bar when a truly terrifying thought occurred to me.

Was I going to have to say something? These kids were still staring at me, was I supposed to give a rousing speech to give them a good first impression? As I contemplated this with my eyes glued to the Confed insignia on the far wall and the rest of my face probably making me look a proper idiot, I was relieved indeed when salvation came in the form of Fool.

“Hey Salamander, over here!”

Concealed behind two unfairly tall officers, I saw both Fool and Torrent sat before two recently eviscerated meals. I also noticed that a number of people nearby seemed to be glaring angrily at Fool, I was later to realise that these people felt he wasn’t showing me sufficient respect. To my lasting regret, the media’s over dramatised bullshit about my so called duel with Kramm Deathfang nar Whatsit had had a slightly greater impact on Confed’s youth than I’d thought possible.

Anyway, I sat down and was more than a little pleased to see that Torrent looked like, well, Torrent. I’d half expected not to see her again at all. Rumours about her possible medical discharge had spread about our small social circle for the duration of our shore leave. Apparently her time on Ghorah Khar had served her well.

“Good to see you sir.” She said, Fool merely grunted in agreement through a throatful of tea.
“You too.” I said, flicking my eyes back towards the bartender, realising that I’d neglected the important lunch part of my trip to the rec-room.
“Shore leave agree with you sir? Did you and Colonel Baez find much to do betwixt the sheets?”

The man had not changed.
“More than you managed I’d wager.” I replied, to which he shrugged.
“Yep, that’s the sad truth of it. Still, with so many attractive young vacuum-virgins coming aboard, who knows what might happen?”
“You’re always saying that.” Torrent added, “Yet nothing ever comes of it.”
“Good lord woman, you bag one lonesome marine in the Kilrathi jungles and suddenly you see yourself as the Casanovress of the Hermes.”

Maybe he should have been Wing Commander, such one liners like that would probably be good for morale, if he wasn’t using them to taunt the pilots that is.

“I take it shore leave agreed with you then Ryuku? I mean…”
“After the Imperial attack was stopped? Yes sir, it… had its moments.”
“I think it was Z’ratmak personally.” Fool whispered loudly enough for Torrent to hear, he then winced as a result of, I’m assuming, her kicking him.

I might be wrong but I think there was just the slightest hint of jealousy in his voice. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking. After so long of listening to him going on about me and Razor the thought of returning the favour was somewhat appealing.

I cast another glance at the bar and found three people had appeared out of nowhere and were forming a new queue.
“Are Razor and Adish aboard yet do you know?” I asked, deciding to leave it a little longer.
“Tomorrow I think.” Fool said, “Adish’s shuttle will probably have to steer clear of Lucanda and…”

We all grimaced, Lucanda IV was still a sore spot for the Confederation. Part of the reason for this upcoming thrust was revenge.

“…And God knows what Razor’s up to.”

Killed in transit perhaps?
Fuck off!

“But word is that we should have all our people conveyed hither by tomorrow.”
“Good. If you’ll excuse me a second I’ve really got to eat someth…”
“Attention, Colonel Mclean please report to Commodore Moran’s office immediately. Repeat, Colonel Mclean please report to Commodore Moran’s office immediately.”
I’m sure there are days when the loudspeaker sounds at times other than the lunch hour, but I can’t for the life of me name one.

“Would you like me to sabotage the com system sir?” Fool asked helpfully, “I get the impression that’s going to be happening quite often.”
“We’ll save a steak for you sir.” Torrent added, predicting my priorities precicely.
“Thanks guys.”

Two Minutes Later

Commodore Moran looked far better than she did the last time I saw her. The dejection and exhaustion had vanished from her eyes and she was now bent over her computer with an eager focus in her eyes.

“Bear with me one second Colonel,” She said as I entered the dimly lit office which, for the record, seemed at least twice as big as my cabin, “I’ve got about a thousand performance evaluations to send to the dock master before she’ll clear us for departure tomorrow.”
“Of course Ma’am.”

She continued working for another two or so minutes, the silence of the room broken only by the occasional expletive directed at someone or something I knew not what. Finally she deactivated the monitor and looked up at me.

“Sorry about that Colonel, please, have a seat.”

I nodded and sat myself down in an uncomfortable swivel chair opposite the Commodore.

“Is she how you remember her?” She asked.
“So far, I haven’t had much chance to look around yet.”
“Hmmm, me neither. There’s at least ten times more paperwork now than I had back on the Toronto.”

I’m guessing she was no happier about her own promotion. Being Captain of a single cruiser must seem very small and straightforward compared to being in charge of an entire carrier group.

“But anyway, to business,” She handed me a small data pad, “as you know, Confed is sending out carrier groups in strike missions far behind enemy lines in an attempt to shatter the enemy advance through the Vega and Deneb sectors. We have been assigned the task of destroying an enemy shipyard just outside Vega where intel believes five Bhantkara carriers are under construction and numerous other ships are currently docked for repairs.”

The prospect of such a target burning was a cheery one indeed, but of course nothing comes that easy.
“Any idea of enemy defences?”
“None, but you know as well as I do Colonel that such a target won’t be left lightly defended.”
“More’s the pity. Where exactly is this shipyard?”
“All the relevant information is in the pad I just gave you. It’ll be two weeks before we arrive in enemy territory, I want you to use that time to organize your new squadrons, assess the competence of your pilots, formulate attack strategies and discern any potential factors that might be relevant to the mission.”

Oh, okay then. That was all was it?

“I understand Commodore.”
“Good,” she smiled again, “on the plus side, from what I hear, a lot of your new wing seems to like you. You’ve become a hero of the Confederation Colonel, keep that in mind when you’re breaking in your men, it might prove useful.”

Like any insufferably modest tit, I found it tempting to speak up and say that I wasn’t a hero, that I’d only bested Deathfang with luck and help, that I was a charlatan undeserving of even the slightest praise or admiration and should be flogged for the levels it had already reached, but considering the surge of embarrassment that hit me at this revelation, it was all I could do not to place my head between my legs and start counting to ten.

“I see,” I finally managed, “if that’s all then Ma’am I get the impression I should get started immediately.”

She grinned and stood up, extending a hand as I did the same.
“Congratulations again Colonel, and good luck. I fear you might need it.”
“Thank you Commodore.”

With a feeling of abject terror steadily growing within, I suddenly felt a rather strong urge to urinate. I had little doubt that Colonel Trent’s atoms were spinning in their cold vacuumous grave.

To be Continued