dWS Hans Zollner
Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser
Warp Point to Elysium
Dave’s World Star System
Standing in the cramped command suite of the heavy cruiser, Junior PackMaster Markus Phelan cursed softly as he looked at the fleet displayed in the holotank. Not the first time he’d led fleets and thousands of Fenren to their deaths in the black maw of Elysium, but he hoped that perhaps this would be the last. The seven Sieg-Class siege dreadnoughts loomed in center of the formation, making even heavy cruisers like the Hans Zollner look like minnows in comparison. The light cruisers were smaller still, and the flights of small craft that continued to drill and practice were like motes of dust as the holotank struggled to accurately report their location.
“Kashenkov reports that the final gunboat crews have completed certification of their craft. He says another eight hours and then all of his craft will be in the cradles.”
Phelan didn’t respond to the information, still studying the fleet. Even the Ibizan contingent was riding in tight formation. They didn’t have the kind of slackness the last fleet had, though he knew that the crews had been raising all kinds of trouble on Egon Gruzelier Memorial Highport, cashing in every marker they’d earned while their fleet had passed the deWulf task force back in the Cloak Nebula one jump back.
“Send a general signal to all ships in Task Force One, Two-1, Two-2, Six, and the Bombardment Fleet.”
“All ships are to stand down from drilling and training 48 hours. All crew are to be given 24 hours leave.”
Phelan felt his teeth grit harder. The breaker had already had more than its due for this one damned system, and it had one more payment to be made. This would be the last.
————————— Three Days Later —————————
In the intervening three days it felt like a continent had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. A chance to decompress, send a message home or catch up on news or simply sleep.
Junior PackMaster Phelan had not planned on giving himself any rest until his adjunct had brought the flagship’s medical officer to the flag CIC and forced him off duty for his own 24 hours of leave; even then it had been a near thing. Only the surgeon’s direct order to have members of the Hans Zollner‘s infantry compliment report as a security detachment had forced Phelan to back down.
“I did need the sleep” he would later admit, but he was back at the holotank not 15 minutes past that 24 hour respite, continuing to plot and try to eke out every advantage he could. But time had run out. ‘It was‘ as more than one engineer at Mittellspannung had said ‘time to shoot the engineers and put things into production.‘
“All ships notice, please.”
His adjunct nodded, the communications officer quickly patching Phelan’s mic in to the fleet’s communications network. A few moments wait brought a nod from the officer back at Phelan.
“All ships, this is Junior PackMaster Phelan. In twenty minutes we will set course Elysium. We will secure low orbit and finish this war. This will be a hard battle, and I will not lie to you. We’re not all coming home. The breaker calls to us all, but I promise all of you; come tomorrow, and every day after, there will be NONE who say that we did anything less than our best. And none shall say we fought in vain! I promise that either I will be with you in orbit of Elysium with you all, or I shall stand at the entrance to Sif’s Garden to guide you forward!”
The comm system was silent: everyone who knew what he had meant. That for Phelan, either he would return with his ship, or not at all. Some thought that this was a suicidal fatalism, but most understood it for what it was. A promise that he would share in danger that he was asking those under him, and that he would stand and die with them, come what may. The energy that rang out in his voice ebbed away, becoming a cold, resigned tone. No more bravado. No pleasure. Only the cold bitterness of experience.
“All ships.” Phelan took another breath, steadying his voice. “All ships. Set course for navigation beacon DW-102. Let us get this great and noble undertaking underway. All ahead cruise.”
The deckplates of the Hans Zollner rose in response, and the fleet began to pull out from orbit.