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UFO: Atlantic Front

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Posted 15 February 2006 - 06:55 PM


“If we lose the war at sea, we lose the war.”
- First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound, 5th March 1942.


Sunday May 23, 2004

Extract from the private diaries of Commander Duncan Llewellyn.

“After months of preparation, we are now only days away from the first test of the revolutionary new Archerfish torpedo system.  If the tests are successful, the Admiralty plans to make them part of the standard armament of HMS Trenchant and the other Trafalgar class nuclear submarines.

“The crew is speculating on why the Trenchant and the support ships have been sent all the way out to the seas off Bermuda for the tests.  I suspect that the Admiralty wants American military intelligence to witness the tests so we can get a good price when we sell the technology.”

The first sign that something was wrong came that evening in the mess.  The crewmen assigned to the fourth shift were having what for them was breakfast and talking to their friends before they went on duty.

“I had this really weird dream earlier.  I dreamed that the skies had gone dark and it was raining.  Only it was black rain like oil, and it was killing anything it touched.  People, animals, trees, everything.  Then I saw some of the dead people change.  They came back to life like they was zombies or something.  I woke up in a cold sweat, I don’t mind telling you.”

“Hey, I had the same dream,” commented another crewman.

“So did I.”

“Me too!”

A quick check revealed that 22 of the 26 crewmembers on the shift had experienced the same dream.  The shift commander, Lieutenant Rolfe, decided to inform Commander Llewellyn.

After interviewing some of the affected people, the commander and Dr Neil Bryson, the chief medical rating, were discussing the situation while sitting around a table in the doctors office.  “You don’t think this is like the Hermes all over again?” asked the commander. A fault in the air filtration system of HMS Hermes had only been picked up when two crewmen smoked some ‘herbal’ cigarettes in their cabin, and nearly fifty shipmates reported to sickbay complaining of dizziness and nausea.

“I’m afraid not,” replied the doctor.  “And neither was it something in the food.  There’s no known illness or hallucinogen that can cause so many people to have exactly the same dream.  So I bent protocol slightly and radioed my colleagues on the Bayleaf and the Monmouth.  Don’t worry, the radio operator made sure it was coded and tight beam.”

“I should think so too.  What did you find out?”

“People on those ships have reported experiencing the same dream.”  Dr Bryson noticed that the commander looked disturbed by the news.  “Would you mind telling me why you’re so worried by all this?”

“Okay, but I’m invoking doctor-patient confidentiality.  And this is strictly off the record.”

“Fair enough.”

“My grandfather was killed in the accident at Aberfan.”

“I know.  It’s in your personnel files.”  The doctor knew that the commander’s family had used the compensation money to give him an excellent education so that he could escape from the poverty-stricken Welsh valleys and become an officer in the Royal Navy.  Although the class system had eroded in recent years, it was still unusual for someone from a working class background to achieve such high rank in the navy.

“Well, there’s one detail about my grandfather’s death that didn’t go on my record.  It didn’t seem to be any business of the Admiralty, and I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t want it to damage my chances of commanding the Astute when it’s launched.”

“What was it then?”

“Well, he dreamed about the disaster the night before the coal slip.  Lots of other people in the town had the same dream.  He mentioned it to my grandmother off-hand before he went out to work and never came back.  These dreams were a warning that went unheeded.  Now it’s happening again.  But I can’t work out what the danger is.”

The doctor thought for a moment.  “Well,   déjà vu is common enough.  Hardly anybody gets flashes they can interpret at the time though.  This is a bit different, I’ll grant you.”

“So what should I do?”

“I think the best thing you can do is to sleep on it.  We’ll have a better idea of what’s going on if the other crewmen experience the same dream.  Also, as an officer, you might get a better class of prophetic dream!”

Sleep was a long time coming for the commander.  When it came, he experienced the most vivid dream of his life.  He was back in Aberfan in the autumn of 1966, and it was raining heavily.  He could see rivulets of water pouring down from the hills.

He could see that the piled up coal on the hillside was about to move and smother the school and nearby buildings.  He tried to run and warn people, but his legs refused to respond.  He couldn’t even open his mouth and shout a warning.

He had no choice but to passively watch as the coal and mud began to slide down from the hillside.  Other people noticed, but it was now too late to escape.  The cascade grew bigger, and ploughed into the school and houses.

But then instead of stopping, the flow continued.  It went on to smother the rest of the town, and then, impossibly, it smothered the grass, heather and bracken of the nearby hillsides.  In a dream, it is possible to know something without being told, and he somehow knew that this dark tide had gone on to smother the entire world.

It stopped raining, and he saw an alien figure standing where the town had once been.  The alien looked like one of the stereotypical ‘Greys’ that were featured in cheesy science fiction films, as well as every single paranormal magazine ever printed.  He noticed that the shadow of this alien somehow stretched to the horizon.

He seemed to have regained control over his legs, so he walked over to the alien in the hope of getting some useful answers.  The alien touched a device on its belt and vanished into thin air at his approach.  He looked down to where the alien had been standing, and he saw something alive.  It looked like a fungal blight, a mottled orange-brown in colour with dark red veins.  It grew at an exponential rate and it spread to the horizon in less than a minute.

He then saw his wife holding a child that he knew without being told was his own, even though they didn’t have any children.  They were with a group of other people from various different nations who were languishing in an alien prison camp on an unfamiliar coast.  He saw that they were all looking out towards the sea, and he realised that they were waiting to be rescued from the aliens.  Waiting for him to rescue them.

Monday May 24th

The commander woke with a start, feeling shaken by the vividness of his dream.  What did it mean?  Had the other members of the first shift experienced similar dreams?  The mood in the control centre gave him the answer to the second question.

The tension lifted during the course of the morning, for an understandable reason.  The highlight of the week for the crew of any military submarine is when they receive the weekly batch of personal messages or familygrams via the satellite link.  Unfortunately, the crew cannot respond to them even in peacetime, as the transmission would give away the position of the submarine.  The weekly messages were scheduled to come through that lunchtime.

Chief Petty Officer Lantree pressed the small printout into Commander Llewellyn’s hand.  As usual, the CPO had carefully folded it to protect what little privacy a crewman had on a submarine.  It was always tempting to read the message immediately, but he knew that he had to set an example to the crew at all times.  Besides, it would be something to look forward to when he went off duty.

The only incident of note in the afternoon came when a sonar specialist, Able Rating Khan, picked up some distant whalesong on the passive sonar array.  He took a deep interest in whalesong, and had become good at deducing their emotional state from their song.  This time, they had been driven to a level of mind-numbing terror he had never seen before, although there was no sign of what had terrified them.  There were no Japanese research ships in the Atlantic, and nothing else is dangerous enough to induce outright terror in an adult whale.

Finally, the shift came to an end, and the commander was in his quarters, ready to read the message from his wife.  Her father had been a career officer in the Navy, so he felt fortunate to have found a woman who was prepared to accept having a husband who would have to spend months at a time on patrol.  He poured himself a small scotch, the only time in the week he allowed himself to drink while on patrol, sat down and began to read the message.

“My darling, wonderful news.  I went to the doctor last week, and he told me that we’re going to have a baby…”

Tuesday May 25th

“What the hell was that?” asked Able Rating Khan.

“Report,” snapped Commander Llewellyn.  He had not been able to get much sleep the previous night, and what little he had managed had been haunted by dreams of black tides and invading aliens.

“Something big flashed across my sonar screens.  I mean, gigantic.  It was airborne, but it didn’t match the profile of an aircraft or a flock of birds, or anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“Check your systems.  It’s probably another malfunction.  The Admiralty spent over £200 million on the damm refit, and we’ve had one bloody problem after another.”

A voice crackled over the radio a few minutes later.  “This is Lieutenant-Commander Perry of the Monmouth.  Did you chaps just spot something on your sonar?”

“Just now,” replied Commander Llewellyn.  “I thought it was a malfunction.  Like the foo-fighters the first radar systems kept picking up.”

“Well, I doubt that both our sonars would have picked up the same malfunction at the same time.  Ours is older than yours, so it can’t be a problem with the controlling software either.”

“Did you pick up anything on your radar?”  The commander noticed that Khan looked slightly smug at having his precious sonar array vindicated.

“Negative on both our radar systems.”

Commodore James of the Bayleaf chose that moment to interject.  “Same with us.  Sonar picked up something massive, but nothing on radar.  My engineers are going mental trying to work it out.  Any idea what it could be?”

“No idea.  It must have some kind of stealth capacity, but it’s too big and fast for an aircraft.  Anyway, whatever it is, it’s going to be in America by now at the rate it was going.  The only thing we can do is to report the sighting to the Admiralty, and see who they pass the buck to.”

“I’m betting the chairborne warriors bounce it straight back to us,” replied Commander Perry.

In fact, the Admiralty said that the matter was already under investigation.  They thanked the small squadron for the additional data they had supplied, and asked them to pass on any further information they obtained.

General Semure was giving the progress report to the other two members of the Reticulan War Committee.  “Brothers, the carrier has reported that it has begun releasing the spores.  No native opposition has been encountered by the escorts.  However, the natives are attempting to communicate with the carrier by radio.”

“Communicate?  Why would they bother to do that?” asked General Peupar.

General Ranalla had learned a great deal about humanity in his studies, and he had not been impressed by what he had learned.  “Terrans yearn for contact with other intelligent races.  They believe that any spacefaring civilization has evolved beyond war, and that it has nothing better to do than to sort out the mess they have made of their planet.”

“Such belief amazes me,” said General Peupar.  “A species stupid enough to think that the universe is so benevolent deserves to be destroyed.”

“What amazes me is that Terrans think that other races WANT to contact them given their intolerant behaviour towards each other and their willingness to destroy the environment that gives them life,” commented General Semure.

“There is still the matter of the other representatives of our people on Earth,” reminded General Ranalla.  “They think that Terrans have potential to evolve from their present state, so they will never cooperate with us.  If they can, they will block our research, like they did back home.”

“The spores will kill them just as readily as if they were Terrans,” argued General  Peupar.  “But I think we should make doubly sure by ordering our fleet captains to bombard their facilities.”  Semure indicated his agreement.

Being the oldest general on the War Committee, Ranalla pondered the matter for a few moments.  The Earth Question had already cost too many Reticulan lives over the years, and he was not keen on ordering the killing of the hundreds of Reticulans already on Earth.  However, they might endanger the experiment and even trigger another civil war when the Imperial Navy reaches Earth as it undoubtedly would.  Perhaps a swift attack before the people already stationed planetside realised what was going on would be the best option then.  “Very well, order the attack to commence as soon as the carrier has completed its mission.”

Wednesday May 26th

A brief coded signal from the Admiralty announced that the Royal Navy was going on BIKINI state amber; equivalent to the American DEFCON 2.  This meant that the government had received specific information about an imminent attack, and the armed forces had to be ready for immediate action.  Naturally, the planned missile test was called off.  However, there was no information on the nature of the threat that had suddenly caused the alert status to jump up from black.

The civilian news channels were not carrying any reports of an international crisis, at least no more than usual.  There was the daily round of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, an American diplomatic protest at Chinese violations of Taiwanese airspace, another military coup in Central America, and a rebel faction in whatever Zaire was calling itself that particular day had taken a provincial city from one of the other rebel factions.  Hardly anything for the Admiralty to get worked up about.

There was one unusual item in the domestic news.  During a routine press announcement to announce the weekly anti-crime initiative, a British government spokesperson had been asked if there was any truth to rumours that a large alien spaceship had been witnessed by amateur astronomers.  The spokesperson, who had not seen the object in question, categorically denied the existence of alien spacecraft in general and that one in particular.

Standard procedure during such a high alert meant that the Bayleaf and the Monmouth had to sail to the nearest NATO fleet rendezvous point, twenty miles north of Hamilton in Bermuda.  The Trenchant had to sail further out to sea, remaining submerged, and await further orders.

Thursday May 27th

Tensions rose throughout the morning after a routine radio message from the Bayleaf commented that the skies were much darker than they should be.  Some of the news stations had apparently made the same discovery, and they were claiming that it was due to an unusually powerful solar flare interacting with Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts.  They emphasised that this was a temporary phenomenon and that there was no cause for alarm.

The BBC morning news bulletins also carried an article on the numbers of people reporting the same bizarre dream that the crew of the Trenchant were experiencing.  The article had a facetious tone that was dropped an hour later after the BBC switchboards, forums and e-mail accounts were swamped by the millions of people who had experienced the same dreams.

The main news story as the day progressed was a series of simultaneous attacks against military facilities in Wiltshire, Nevada and the outskirts of Volgograd among other places.  Although world governments were quick to blame international terrorists, the media had latched onto eyewitness reports of flying saucers.  The Volgograd reports were particularly sensational because several eyewitnesses had taken photographs of what they claimed was a UFO shot down by particularly alert Russian anti-aircraft gunners.

Royal Navy submarine crews were trained to deal with the tension associated with the immediate possibility of a conventional or nuclear war, however they were also used to having some idea who the enemy was.  This time, all they had to go by was wild news stories and government denials.  Commander Llewellyn came to an important decision.  “I’m going to radio the Admiralty and ask them what the hell is going on.”

“Are you sure sir?” asked Lieutenant Commander McPherson.  “We can’t do that without revealing our position, and you know our standing orders about that.”

“I know, but most governments are aware that we’re in this general vicinity anyway.  We had to tell them, so nobody would get jumpy if they spotted the planned tests.”  A nuclear war had nearly erupted in 1995 when the Russians detected a Norwegian missile test; no-one had thought to tell the Russian Defence Department that it was only a test and not the beginning of a Norwegian invasion.

When the commander asked the Admiralty what was going on, he was given the same story about freak meteorological conditions and terrorist attacks.  He then asked what was really going on because nobody in the squadron believed the cover stories, and he didn’t think anybody else would either.  The Admiralty curtly told him to mind his own business if he knew what was good for his career.

That night, the commander was woken up by a junior rating who told him that the Admiralty had moved the alert status up to BIKINI state red, which meant that Britain was undergoing an attack, and had given the Trenchant the launch codes for all torpedoes and missiles.  No explanation had been provided.

Friday May 28th

By early morning, the only news stories were the rapidly darkening skies, the people experiencing the same dream, the UFO (or weather balloon if the news service was government controlled) shot down the previous day, and reports of massive troop mobilisations across the world.  Some independent news channels came to the same conclusion that most of the public had already arrived at owing to a diet of sci-fi films: alien invasion!

Over the next few hours, news channels showed images of panic buying in supermarkets across the world – even the people who didn’t believe in the increasingly hysterical rumours joined in the panic for fear of impending food shortages caused by the panic buying.  A shopkeeper who was suspected of profiteering or holding supplies back for himself could expect to be beaten up, or even killed.

Several governments condemned as twisted hoaxers a group calling itself the Old Greys that had claimed to the international media that the world was being invaded.  Although they had apparently been able to produce a genuine alien for the television cameras, government spokespeople across the world pointed out that much could be done with modern special effects techniques.  Unfortunately, the official denials were taken by many people as proof that something big was going on.

The panic spread to the banks as people across the world tried to withdraw all their savings in one go.  No bank ever held enough cash in its safe to cover more than 15% of the savings invested there; the balance was invested in turn to make money.  They were effectively running on empty, and they relied on people not realising this or losing confidence in the economy.  Most banks ran out of cash less than an hour after they opened, often setting off a riot that had to be broken up by the overstretched local police.  The financial collapse spread to one stock exchange after another, with over 90% wiped off share prices by the end of the day.  Economy analysts were predicting that the financial collapse would plunge the world into a depression that could last a generation.

Every national government was horrified by the mass hysteria gripping its citizens.  Sooner or later they each came to the same decision: use the army to help restore order.  Few political leaders realised that the thousands of heavily armed young men they had ordered onto the streets were just as frightened as everybody else.  There was a tragic inevitability in what happened when they encountered groups of protestors.  In cities where a significant proportion of the population possessed firearms, the result was often a firefight between the civilians and the army.

As the day progressed the political leaders of the major world powers confirmed that a vast alien spacecraft had been spotted in the outer atmosphere.  They reassured the population that they were communicating with the aliens, although nobody was saying what, if anything, was the alien reply.  They claimed that the darkened skies were some kind of test the aliens had come up with to assess the maturity of humanity’s reaction to something new.  They also unanimously claimed that the attacks of the previous day were the responsibility of terrorists who wanted to disrupt this historic contact with an alien civilization.  The reassuring tone helped to calm people down over the weekend, and law and order gradually returned.

Monday May 31st

Many cities across the world were beginning to take on a festive air owing to the arrival of the aliens, although a significant minority of people still suspected that the aliens would be hostile, partly because the national governments maintained a high state of alert.  Around ten pm UK time, TV stations across the world dumped their normal schedules to broadcast a live announcement from the American President that shocked the world.

“My fellow Americans.  As most of you know, several days ago, a number of spacecraft of alien origin were detected in Earth’s atmosphere.

“These alien visitors demonstrated their hostile intent by launching unprovoked attacks upon several military bases in the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China and India.  The government of the United States wishes to offer its sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones in these brutal attacks across the world.

“Scientists and government officials across the world then attempted to open communications with the aliens, but to no avail.  The alien response to our diplomatic efforts was the barbaric destruction of the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.

“In an unprecedented show of cooperation with our British and Russian allies, the US military located the position of the largest alien ship in orbit above our world.  Earlier today it was destroyed in a joint thermonuclear strike.

“Although the human race now finds itself at war with these alien aggressors, it is a war that we are going to win.  The aliens have already learned that we are both willing and able to defend ourselves against their aggression.  The American way of life will be defended against all enemies, both human and alien.”

The War Committee took the setback and the triumphalist sabre rattling of the self-styled leader of the Terrans philosophically.  The spore carrier had been destroyed, but it had already completed its mission, and the spores would soon wipe out most of the natives.  Additionally, the threat posed by the Old Greys had effectively been neutralised.

Although it was expected that the transgenants would be able to eliminate the few natives who would survive the spores, Chief Intelligence Officer Potrenz Rhtahm had come up with a scheme to make things harder for them.  Several large laboratory ships had been refitted with equipment that would allow them to jam Terran communications networks across the planet.  By taking advantage of the natural submersible abilities of Reticulan spacecraft, they would be able to locate the refitted craft underwater, where they would be safe from native attack.  With long distance communications made impossible, the Terrans would be unable to offer organised resistance to the Reticulan plans.

Tuesday June 1st

The world awoke to find itself at war with an alien race, but it seemed to be a war that was winnable.  Also, a war against invading aliens felt good because there was none of the moral baggage that came with wars against other people.  There was none of the mass hysteria of the previous week despite the stygian darkness of the skies, although the American led attack had triggered a wave of anti-American protests and flag burnings across the world.  Such protests happened daily anyway, so the protestors were simply ignored.

People had to pay attention when the spores that had darkened skies across the world began to fall.  The first panicked news reports of people being killed en-masse came from Tokyo, although over the next couple of hours it became clear that the spores were falling all over the world, and millions or perhaps billions of people were dying.  It was difficult to work out how the spores were killing people from the hysterical and often mutually contradictory reports.  Rumours that some people were being rapidly mutated into monsters instead of being killed outright seemed to be particularly far fetched.  The news services unanimously told people to stay inside their homes and offices and keep all doors and windows closed, and not to venture outside even to save friends and relatives.

The Admiralty sent an all-fleet communiqué announcing that the spores were an alien biological attack and advising crews to stay in the airtight areas in the interior of their ships.  As the air filtration systems were designed to filter out radioactive dust from a nuclear attack, they should be able to filter out the alien spores.  Submarines were advised not to surface under any circumstances while the spores remained active.  The Admiralty said that the spores would remain active for two to three weeks, although they did not say if this estimate was based on concrete evidence or wishful thinking.  The fleet was also ordered to engage any alien target whenever practical.  However, the use of nuclear weapons would not be permitted due to the risk to allied forces and civilians.

Perhaps mercifully, all communications abruptly ceased four hours after the first news reports about the spores.  As every communication system on the submarine, including the radio sets in the messes and the commander’s quarters had stopped working simultaneously, it was obvious that the aliens had done something to jam all communications across the world.

Commander Llewellyn thought about what he had just witnessed.  It seemed like the end of the world, but perhaps there was still some reason for hope.  Since military forces across the world had been placed on the highest alert, many personnel would have been evacuated to nuclear bunkers.  Some civilians would be lucky enough to get through the disaster as well.  He had a moment of epiphany when he realised what his dreams had been getting at.  He had a duty to prosecute the war with all the tools at his disposal, not just to Britain or NATO, but to all humanity.

The commander saw the despair on the faces of the other command centre personnel.  Veteran Royal Navy officers were openly crying as everything and everyone they had known were being destroyed by a force they seemed powerless to oppose.  The commander decided that he had to address the crew to prevent them from collectively falling into a pit of despair.  Fortunately, the intercom (which was effectively an internal telephone network, which is harder to eavesdrop than radio) was working fine.  Now all he had to do was to find a positive spin on what was going on.

“Okay, this is a summary of the current situation.

“Our world is currently undergoing a biological attack at the hands of a mysterious alien race, and there can be doubt that millions have died in the last few hours.  We cannot do anything for our people while the attack continues.  The aliens are jamming communications systems across the world, so we have no chance of contacting the Admiralty or anybody else by radio.

“There is only one possible reason why the aliens would go to the effort to jam our communications.  They know that a lot of us are going to get through this disaster and fight back.  Their cowardly attack was launched from orbit, but at some point they are going to have to come down and fight us.  And they know that things will go very hard for them if we’re organised.

“Although the Trenchant is now effectively working alone and unsupported, we are well provisioned.  Our mission now is to seek and destroy targets of opportunity and attempt to make contact with surviving friendly forces.  The aliens think they have won this war at a single stroke, but we will show them that the war has only just begun!

“Most people think that the Trident missiles are Britain’s nuclear deterrent, but they are wrong.  Our nuclear deterrent lies not with Trident, but with the men of the Royal Navy Submarine Service.  Each of you has been carefully selected and trained with one purpose in mind: to continue a war even after a devastating nuclear or biochemical attack.  This and nothing else is what stopped the Soviets.  This is also why I know that we are destined to destroy the alien aggressors.”

The commander did not feel that it was his greatest speech, but there was little he could offer the crew apart from empty platitudes along the lines of ‘do your duty, and things will probably work out fine’.  He hoped his comments about the radio jamming would at least give the members of the crew hope that their loved ones were still alive.

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Posted 15 February 2006 - 08:01 PM


Friday June 4th

Extract from the personal diaries of Commander Llewellyn

“It has now been three days since the spores fell, and we haven’t heard anything on any civilian or military frequency.  The spores that landed on the water are gradually being dispersed by the wind and currents, so it is possible to see that the skies have cleared up.  However, I have given strict orders to keep the Trenchant fully submerged until I can be certain that the spores are no longer a threat.

“I have taken the Trenchant to the NATO fleet rendezvous point.  If we can link up with the other British and American forces in the region, we will be able to share information and plan our next move.”

Precise navigation was difficult because with the communications jammed, the GPS unit had stopped functioning.  The navigators were desperately trying to remember how to plot their approximate position from speed and heading data, as their fathers had done before the advent of satellite navigation.

The commander was confident that they had reached the rendezvous point, despite the difficulties with navigation that had been made much worse by the magnetic field anomalies in these seas that were to blame for the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.  However there was no sign of the surface ships in the vicinity.

Passive sonar (which listens out for sound waves but does not generate any, unlike active sonar) revealed nothing, so the commander decided to use radar and active sonar to aid the search.  This is not a decision that the commander of a military submarine undertakes lightly in wartime because using radar and active sonar reveals ones location to the enemy.

The radar just about worked, but at greatly reduced range as a result of the communications jamming.  Fortunately, the active sonar seemed to be unaffected, and it revealed several unusual objects on the seabed.  A closer examination revealed that they were five recently sunk military ships, including the Bayleaf and the Monmouth.  Curiously, the damage indicated that they had been attacked from both above and below.  One ship had been torn apart and another was still leaking oil from a gash in its keel.

Commander Llewellyn literally felt as if he had been punched in the stomach as he stared at the images on the sonar monitors.  Five ships and perhaps over one thousand personnel lost in this attack alone.  The Bayleaf had been unarmed, and the Monmouth’s defence systems had been proven obsolete as far back as the Falklands War.  Even if the other ships had been better armed, the crews would have been unable to man the guns for fear of the spores anyway.

The commander was shaken out of his thoughts by Able Rating Khan.  “I’ve got an aircraft on the sonar, sir.  Heading for us from south south west.  Range, 37 miles.”

“Nothing on radar, sir,” added the radar operator.  With the radar system working at such low efficiency, this was hardly surprising.

“Can you identify the aircraft?”

“Negative, sir.  Maybe when it gets a bit closer.  I’m guessing it’s a helicopter as it’s travelling at less than 50 knots.”

A few moments passed before Khan spoke again.  “Sir, it’s crashed into the sea!”

“Get us there at once,” ordered the commander.  “There might be survivors.”  It was a forlorn hope as the top speed of the Trenchant was 32 knots, so it would take over forty minutes to reach the crash site.  Even worse, if the spores were still active there would be no possibility of taking any survivors on board.

“Hold on sir, it’s still moving.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know how impossible this sounds, but it is still moving towards us even though it’s now underwater.  And according to my readings, it’s intact.  It’s on a steady intercept course at 18 knots.”

“You sure the sonar is working properly?  And the craft really was airborne?”

“I’d swear it, sir.”

“Battlestations!  Cut radar and active sonar.  Dive to just below the thermocline layer and keep us there.  We’ll rely on the towed sonar array to keep tracking whatever that thing is.”  Between 30 and 100 metres under the surface of the ocean, there is a layer, called the thermocline layer, that divides the warm surface water with the cold, still water that makes up the rest of the ocean.  Water in the two currents does not mix, has a different chemical composition and can even be travelling in separate directions.  This layer reflects sound unless it is particularly loud.  Modern naval submarines reduce their chances of sonar detection by moving to just below the thermocline layer and relying on a towed array of passive sonar receivers that travel above the thermocline layer for detecting enemies.

Commander Llewellyn went over to the intercom microphone.  “This is the commander speaking.  We have detected an unknown vessel heading towards us.  As it is capable of travelling both in the air and underwater, the vessel is almost certainly of alien origin.  It is my plan to observe it in the hope of finding out more information about the aliens before we launch our attack.”

“It’s changing course, sir.  Looks like it’s started a search pattern.  Still at 18 knots though.”

“What’s their depth?”

“Steady at thirty fathoms, sir.”

“Hold position for now, but be ready to go evasive if the aliens get within two nautical miles.  Hopefully, that’ll keep us out of range of their weapons.”

“You think two miles will be enough, sir?” asked CPO Lantree.

“The sonar and optical images of the Monmouth and other NATO ships showed that they had been partially melted by weapons fired underwater.  Some of the engineers think the alien ships used a kind of directional beam of super heated plasma in their attack.  It looks like alien craft can attack while submerged although god knows how, but I’m guessing that the seawater will at least reduce the range of a heat based weapon.”

The Trenchant spent nearly two hours playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the alien submersible, during which time it became clear that the aliens were at a serious tactical disadvantage while submerged.  Their vessel seemed to be unable to travel at more than twenty knots or to dive any deeper than forty fathoms.  They were also unable to detect the precise location of the Trenchant with its quiet pump-jet propulsion system and the conformal anechoic noise reduction coating on its hull.

The commander took the Trenchant above the thermocline layer and risked a quick burst with the active sonar in order to get a reasonable image of the alien craft.  It had a main section that looked saucer shaped, although the front section appeared to be flattened.  A number of curved spikes of unknown purpose emanated from the main section.  The Trenchant went back below the layer before the aliens could pinpoint it.

It did not seem as if they would learn anything else from observing the aliens, so Commander Llewellyn decided to attack the aliens.  “Load a Spearfish torpedo into tube five.”  The Trenchant had five 21 inch bow torpedo tubes capable of firing Spearfish torpedoes, Tomahawk missiles or the experimental Archerfish torpedoes.  Tubes one to four had been loaded with armed Spearfish torpedoes when the fleet was moved up to BIKINI amber.  Tube five had been loaded with a Tomahawk ground attack missile which is useless in an underwater engagement.  Moving the Tomahawk to its storage rack and replacing it with a Spearfish torpedo would take over ten minutes, but it would reduce the probability of having to reload during the engagement.

Eventually the commander was informed that the loading operation was complete.  “Get us to a distance of one nautical mile from the alien vessel and maintain distance.  Stay under the layer at all costs.  Hopefully the aliens won’t see the torpedoes coming until it’s too late.”

When the Trenchant was at the required distance, the commander moved over to the shift weapons officer, Able Rating Balmer.  “Have you got a lock on the passive sonar signature?”

“Yes sir.”

“Fire torpedoes one and two.”  It was easy to see the progress of the wire guided heavy acoustic homing torpedoes on Balmer’s monitor.  The alien craft spotted them and tried to change course and outrun them, but it was too late and it was practically obliterated in the explosion when the faster torpedoes caught up with it.

“The alien ship has been destroyed,” announced Able Rating Khan.  He said something else but it was drowned out by the cheering from the other people in the control centre.

Extract from the private diaries of Commander Llewellyn.

Today’s engagement has done wonders for the morale of the crew.  They have proved to themselves that they can take on the invaders and win.  They also feel that they have gone some way towards avenging our comrades in the Monmouth and the Bayleaf.  However, from the size of the alien vessel and its behaviour, I suspect that it was only the equivalent of a lightly armed patrol boat.  It could not have been powerful enough to sink five ships on its own, so we will face harder battles in the coming months.

Yet we can overcome these challenges.  Alien vessels cannot be picked up by radar, but the aliens seem to have no knowledge of sonar, at least for now.  The alien vessels appear to be hybrid aircraft/submarines, which hints at a very different propulsion system to the ones we use.  This versatility makes them dangerous to surface ships and aircraft, but nuclear hunter-killer submarines such as the Trenchant still have the advantage underwater.

Thursday June 17th

“Alien patrol vessel on the passive sonar,” announced Able Rating Khan, silencing the normal background chatter of the control centre.  “Thirty-seven degrees to starboard, distance, seventeen miles.  It’s the same size as the one we destroyed before.”  

This was the first contact with anybody since the engagement with the aliens two weeks previously.  The Trenchant had continued to patrol the seas around Bermuda in the hope of finding evidence of other survivors, and so far they had been disappointed.  No survivors, no rescue craft, nothing.  The frustration and flagging morale had shown itself in several fights in the junior ratings mess.  “Change course to intercept and go to battlestations,” said the commander.

“The torpedo targeting computers are locked on,” the weapons officer said a few minutes later.

“Wait until we’ve got to within four nautical miles of the aliens.  Then launch torpedo one on high speed setting.”  There was no telling how long it would be before the Trenchant could replace any torpedoes it expended in battle, so there was no point in using more than necessary as two torpedoes had been more than enough in the previous engagement.

This alien commander realised that there was little point in trying to outrun a torpedo that on high speed setting could travel four times faster than his vessel and had a range of 15 nautical miles.  Instead of trying to outrun the torpedo, the alien vessel tried to escape by surfacing and getting airborne.

Commander Llewellyn could see that the aliens did not have enough time to surface.  Evidently their commander reached the same decision, and the alien vessel opened fire on the torpedo.  However, the torpedo was small and fast, which made it difficult for the aliens to manage a hit, or even a near miss close enough to destroy the fragile torpedo.  The torpedo slammed into the alien vessel, causing its instant destruction.

Later that day, the War Committee summoned Chief Intelligence Officer Potrenz Rhtahm to an emergency meeting.

“Two of our patrol craft have been lost to the native aboriginals in this sector since the landing,” began General Peupar.  “These losses are simply not acceptable.  We established our headquarters on the island of Bermuda because your department promised that it would be secure against native attack, but this is evidently not the case.”

General Semure was equally unhappy.  “We cannot complete our experiments on this planet unless our people are free to go where they please without the risk of attack.  If we cannot even ensure our security in this sector then the sacrifices our people have made for this mission will have been for nothing.”

General Ranalla decided to come to the aid of the two intelligence officers.  “We need to know more about these attacks.  Perhaps you could start off with telling us what you know.”

Rhtahm thought about what his department had been able to find out.  “We have analysed the sensor data transmissions from the two patrol craft before they were lost.  There were no native air or surface craft in the vicinity, which means that they were almost certainly attacked by a submarine.  Submarines are common among the military forces of the native tribes.”

“Do you have any specific data on the enemy submarine responsible for these attacks?  What is it capable of?  How many of them do the Terrans have?” asked General Semure.

“It has managed to operate unsupported and apparently alone in the seas off Bermuda for 17 days without surfacing.  This indicates that the submarine utilises nuclear power as hydrocarbon based power systems do not allow a native submarine to conduct such a prolonged patrol in a distant location without support that our patrols would have detected, and they have no alternative methods of powering their submarines.

“The combined Terran maritime navies have at least 149 nuclear submarines.  Each of these submarines is capable of going on a submerged patrol for up to a year without fleet support.  They are armed with high explosive missiles capable of targeting other maritime vessels in their vicinity or ground targets anywhere on the planet.

“Unfortunately, 41 of these vessels are also equipped with atomic missiles.  We have taken advantage of the sporefall to gain control of the nuclear missile silos based on the landmasses, but we cannot take control of submarine based missiles.”

The generals analysed the situation after Potrenz Rhtahm was dismissed.  They, like most of the personnel in the invasion force were from Dchkara, the most arid world to have been colonized by the Empire.  The seasonal saline lakes of Dchkara were very different to the vastness of the oceans of Earth.  They realised that because of this, they had underestimated the danger posed by the Terran navies.  However, by destroying the Quantum Port, they had committed themselves to seeing the invasion through to the bitter end.

The group consensus was arrived at and orders were given.  A third of the invasion fleet would be pulled off existing duties and ordered to patrol the oceans to find and destroy the native submarines.  It would leave the Reticulan forces badly stretched across the planet and force them to become heavily reliant upon the transgenants to deal with native survivors on land, but there was no other choice.  Nothing could be permitted to interfere with the Planetmind experiment.

#3 Accounting Troll

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Posted 15 April 2006 - 03:38 PM


Sunday July 10th

Extract from the private diaries of Commander Llewellyn.

“The death spores seem to have dissipated, but as yet we have had no contact with other survivors.  I have taken the Trenchant to the waters off Bermuda in the hope of learning more about our situation by exploring Hamilton; covert surveillance of an enemy held shoreline is one of the tasks Royal Navy submarines were designed to do.  We will monitor the town from the Trenchant during the day and then send out a landing party under cover of darkness.

“The aliens have stepped up their patrols, possibly in response to our destruction of two of their vessels last month.  We have avoided further engagements and tried to remain hidden in the hope that the aliens will think we have slipped away.  That way, they are less likely to anticipate a landing at Bermuda.”

The periscope view was transmitted to one of the monitor screens so the bridge crew could see what the commander was seeing.  The spores had broken down, but they had left a scene of devastation.

Some of the distinctive white buildings of Hamilton had been destroyed by fire, and several other buildings were stained by the soot.  The biggest change was in the gardens, open parklands and light woodlands.  Instead of green, healthy tropical vegetation, everything was blackened and dead.  It seemed unlikely that a fire had raged unchecked across the entire island as the town would have looked even worse than it did.

During the rest of the day, the Trenchant observed what it could of the island.  A few coded radio signals were intercepted.  This meant that there had to be a military presence in the islands: civilians rarely use coded signals, and the jamming of communications meant the transmitter couldn’t be too far away.  The odd thing was that the coding did not conform to any known style, NATO or otherwise, and the Trenchant’s computers had no idea how to begin decoding the signals.  Apart from the radio transmissions, the only visible sign of life was what appeared to be a gigantic mutant dog wandering around the town.

Consultation of astronomical charts showed that the Moon was waning and that there had been a half moon the previous night.  This meant that it would be possible to surface before midnight, inflate the dingy, disembark the landing party and get away in near complete darkness.  Submarine commanders in wartime are not fond of surfacing at night if it means the submarine will be illuminated by moonlight.  The plan was for the landing party to hole themselves up in Hamilton for the rest of the night, spend the day exploring the area and then they would be picked up the following night.  Nobody had been enthusiastic about exploring the town at night.

The landing party, which consisted of five junior ratings under the command of Lieutenant Truswell, was equipped with USP9 pistols with silencers, knives, four SA-80 assault rifles also with silencers, bottled water, food rations, LED torches, digital cameras and medical supplies.  The crew of the Trenchant had more experience with firearms than most submarine crews because they had started up a gun club a couple of years before the invasion.  Holding a clay pigeon shoot when the Trenchant was surfaced while on patrol had become a popular pastime.  They also took two field radios, although their effective range was limited due to the jamming.

The first thing that struck the crewmen who opened the hatch was the smell.  The air filtration systems on a modern nuclear submarine are so efficient that the crew breathes air that is much cleaner and purer than what people on the surface have to breathe. When a submariner leavers his boat, he is aware of a quite distinctive smell in the air for the next few hours due to things like the local vegetation and air pollution.  However, this time the smell was many times worse than normal because it carried the unmistakable stench of death.

The landing party disembarked without incident.  Lieutenant Truswell directed the group to what had once been the harbourmaster’s office to spend the rest of the night.  During the long hours before dawn, the lieutenant decided to take Hammond and Thomas with him inland in an attempt to locate the source of the mysterious radio transmissions while the others would poke around the town.  He hoped they still had the self discipline not to content themselves with a search for something alcoholic to liberate.

The two parties began their exploration in the cool pre-dawn light.  The lieutenant thought that he was becoming acclimatised to the stench up until the sun’s rays hit the island.  He tried not to think about what Britain must have become.

Nearly three hours after the lieutenant’s party set out, they reached the crest of a low hill and saw something totally alien in the valley beyond.  “I don’t suppose that’s some sort of modern architecture?” asked Thomas.

“Unlikely,” replied Lieutenant Truswell.  It’s got a similar shape to the alien vessels we’ve detected, even down to the spikes and everything.  It’s much bigger, but it’s obviously related.  It has to be a landed alien spacecraft.”  Hammond photographed the object while the lieutenant considered whether it would be worth risking getting closer to the alien vessel.

The decision was made for the lieutenant when Thomas tapped him on the shoulder, handed him the binoculars and pointed.  “Alien patrol, sir.  Half a kilometre.  Over there.  Heading for us.”

Through the binoculars, the lieutenant could see that the aliens looked like the so-called Old Grey, which made him wonder if he really had been a hoax as the government had claimed.  “Hammond, use the zoom lens to get a few snaps of the alien patrol over there.  Thomas, radio the other patrol and advise them of our situation if you can.  Then we get the hell out of here.”  It turned out to be impossible to contact the other patrol from this distance due to the ever-present radio jamming, so the three men made a run for it.

The air in front of the men shimmered, and then a group of seven aliens materialised a dozen metres before them.  The aliens raised odd looking devices that could only be weapons while the men dived for what little cover was provided by the dead grass on this depressingly gently rolling hill.  The lieutenant realised that with his USP9 and the two SA-80s, they were going to be outgunned.

Thomas and Hammond opened fire in single shot mode almost simultaneously.  They were both good shots and the SA-80 is highly accurate in single-shot mode, so the lieutenant was unsurprised to see one of the aliens stagger back as its comrades opened fire.  The aliens turned out to be good shots as well, as a scream from Thomas testified.

The aliens charged the men.  The lieutenant fired his pistol at the lead alien, a wide miss.  His second shot also missed, but it accidentally hit one of the other aliens between the eyes and he tried to look as if that had been what he had intended all along.  He saw disconcertingly red blood welling from the alien’s head as it collapsed; somehow he had always thought alien blood would be green.  He aimed at one of the other aliens, and he had time to fire one shot before the alien touched a device on its belt and the lieutenant lost consciousness.

Hammond saw the aliens and the lieutenant disappear into thin air as abruptly as the aliens had appeared.  He fired into the air where the aliens had been for a few more seconds until he realised that his mind was not playing tricks on him.  He crawled over to Thomas to see that his comrade was dead.  Hammond wondered why he had been spared before the thought occurred to him that perhaps the aliens had only wanted the lieutenant; Thomas and himself were simply irrelevant.

Hammond tried to think what he should do next.  He knew he would not be able to rescue the lieutenant on his own.  However, the rest of the landing party might not be aware of the danger they were in.  Also, the commander would need to know what had happened, and he would also need the photographs.  The commander would know what to do next; he always knew what to do.  Hammond felt guilty about leaving Thomas’s body just lying there like so much carrion, but there was nothing else he could do.  He took the spare SA-80 magazines from Thomas’s backpack before he set out back to Hamilton.  

Just outside the town he saw something that looked like a gigantic ambulatory turnip.  When he looked at it through his binoculars, he was horrified to see that the creature was made up of the twisted decomposing remains of dozens of people who had presumably been killed in the invasion.  He had no idea how it could be alive and moving around.

Hammond had the presence of mind to take some photographs of the monster before he opened fire on it.  As he fired, the monster fired globs of some sort of chemical at him; the globs missed by a wide margin, which was just as well because they left a residue that stank worse than the town.

The size of the monster made it easy to hit, even in burst mode, however Hammond emptied nearly three whole magazines into it before it went down.  He had no idea if he had killed it or merely rendered it unconscious, although there was no way of telling if the creature had been truly alive in the first place.  He loaded his last magazine into his rifle before he set out to the office on the harbour front where the landing party had holed up the previous night.

He reached the office without any further incidents, and he saw that Sidwell had reached the office before him.  Sidwell had located a bottle of rum and had poured himself a rather generous measure, he also poured a measure for Hammond.  “What happened?  Where’s Cooper and Peterson?” asked Hammond.

“Both killed!  We never found anybody in Hamilton, at least nobody alive.  There’s mutant zombies, dozens of them all over the place!”

“I ran into one just outside the town.  It took a hell of a lot to kill it.”

“You were lucky there was only one.  We ran into a pack of them.  They looked like people, only they each had a massive lump coming out of the back.  When you shoot a zombie, the lump splits open and maggots pour out.  Some of them burrowed into Cooper’s flesh before he died screaming.  Hey, where’s Thomas and the lieutenant?”

“Thomas is dead, and the lieutenant is as good as.”

Monday July 11th

Doctor Bryson knew that the commander needed to talk about what had happened to the landing party.  He knew Commander Llewellyn better than anybody else on the Trenchant as they had served together on the Sceptre, but even he felt a certain amount of trepidation at intruding into the commander’s grief at this time.  Still, the man had retreated into his quarters at a time when he should have been on duty in the control centre, and personal issues cannot be allowed to interfere with the command of a vessel in the Royal Navy in wartime.

“Three men dead and one captured.  Christ knows what the aliens are doing to Andy right now.  I shouldn’t have sent out the landing party.  They’re Royal Navy, they didn’t have the training for that sort of situation.  Even the SAS would have found it hard.”

“Duncan, you couldn’t have known what was going to happen.  Nobody could have foreseen just what the aliens were capable of or the danger posed by the zombies.  And I doubt the SAS has much specific training in fighting off invading aliens.”

“Maybe, but I should at least have realised that we’d stumbled upon a major alien nest.  Those coded transmissions had to be aliens; there’s no other way they could have got round the radio jamming.”

“Nobody else thought you’d made a mistake.  The transmissions had to be investigated.  What if we had ignored them for fear of the aliens and it turned out that it had been some survivors signalling for help?  And we have some information on the aliens to sift through, so it wasn’t a total write-off.

“Even if you had made a mistake that could have been foreseen at the time, that doesn’t make any difference to what you have to do now.  You’re still a Royal Navy commander in a time of war, and you have a job to do.  As you yourself told the crew, we have a duty to humanity to resist the aliens with every tool at our disposal.”

Lieutenant Truswell woke up to find he was lying on the floor in a three metre by four metre room.  A quick check revealed that his pistol, his backpack, and even his watch had been confiscated, although his clothes were intact.  The lieutenant got to his feet somewhat groggily, feeling as hungover as if he had been on shore leave, and started to inspect the small room.

The floor, the walls and even the ceiling were made out of a bronze coloured plastic-like substance that felt unpleasantly warm to the touch.  Dull red veins ran through this substance.  These veins somehow seemed to be more important than a simple cosmetic pattern, although the lieutenant could not divine their purpose.  If there was a door, the opening was so well concealed that he was unable to detect it.  The prison cell, as he was beginning to think of it, was filled with a diffuse light, although there was no apparent source of illumination.  There was a hole in the floor in one of the corners; he guessed that it was a latrine as the floor was slightly sloped towards it.  The only other feature in the room was a small water filled basin jutting out from one of the walls.  The basin seemed to be made out of the same unpleasant looking organic substance as the walls.  Closer examination revealed that it concealed a small air vent in the wall.

The lieutenant’s recent experiences had left him feeling thirsty, and the prospect of some cool water was awfully tempting.  He was worried that the aliens might have put something in the water to poison or drug him, but he reasoned that they could have simply killed him earlier instead of getting him to conspire in his own downfall.  They clearly wanted him alive for the time being; he had no idea why but he doubted that it would be for anything pleasant.  He reasoned that he might as well face whatever was to come fully refreshed, so he cupped his hands and placed them in the water, and then raised them to his mouth.  The water tasted as if had been bottled, more so than the water on the Trenchant, but it was still refreshing.  He noticed that as he drank, the water in the basin was automatically replenished, although there was no sign of a tap.

The lieutenant thought about his predicament.  He had no idea how long he had been unconscious; without his watch, there was no way to measure the passage of time in the cell.  He tried tapping, and then banging the walls to no effect; they felt depressingly solid.  He tried shouting, but that did not seem to attract any attention from the aliens.

He wondered about the Trenchant and the other members of the landing party. The commander would not risk a second landing party to look for him as submarines did not carry the firearms for what would be a heavy fight.  Besides, a landing or boarding party was regarded as expendable compared with the safety of a nuclear submarine.  However, the commander would almost certainly order a missile attack against the aliens if Hammond or Thomas had survived to give him some target coordinates.

Perhaps an hour after the lieutenant gained consciousness, the wall opposite the basin split open.  Several alien guards entered the room, and one of them ordered him to follow them in heavily accented English.  He punched the guard on what appeared to be the nose, another guard pressed a button on the device it was holding, and the lieutenant lost consciousness again.

This time when he regained consciousness, he found himself in a larger room.  The room was dominated by a pale turquoise globe about two metres across.  Around twenty tentacle-like protuberances emanated from the globe.  Maybe twelve aliens were standing around the globe, and each alien had a separate protuberance connected to the back of its head.  In the background, the lieutenant could see a couple of alien technicians prodding at his pistol and watch.  He tried to move, but found that he was unable to do so.

“You are held in a psionic field.  Do not waste your energy trying to fight it,” said one of the aliens in passable but oddly accented English.  “Unfortunate, but necessary in view of your uncooperative attitude.”

“What the hell did you expect?  Why did you attack Earth?  What did we ever do to you filthy bastards?”

“I doubt that a member of your species could ever understand what we are working to achieve on this planet, however I can assure you that it was mere chance that Earth was selected for our project.  It was not our intention to single out your species in particular.”

Being told that your planet had been singled out for destruction just because it was marginally more convenient than any other planet did not make the lieutenant feel any better.  “And what possible project could be worth all this?”

“We brought you here because we wanted you to give us some information, not the other way round.”

“You can all get knotted,” shouted the lieutenant.  “You aren’t even going to get my name, rank and number.”

“Perhaps you think you have a choice in the matter.  In this situation, I believe your people would cheerfully use torture to obtain information from any Reticulan unfortunate enough to become your prisoner.  We regard such methods as both inefficient and barbaric.”

“And your invasion was civilized?  I’d rather stay a barbarian.”

“As much as I am enjoying this conversation, we have brought you to this room for a particular purpose.  You have no doubt observed those technicians surrounding that globe.  That globe is actually part of a living organic computer network that represents the pinnacle of Reticulan genetic engineering.  Those technicians are directly connected to the computer, and indeed they are a part of it while they are connected up.  No computer can hope to match the efficiency of a Reticulan or even a Terran mind, so it is logical to combine Reticulan minds with a computer.  When they are connected, a Reticulan shares his memories and mental abilities with the computer and the other Reticulans connected to it, to the benefit of all.”

“Well, I couldn’t be more pleased for you stinking potheads.  What does this have to do with me?”

“We plan to temporarily connect you to the computer to obtain the information we require.  You Terrans might call it plug and play.”  He paused to see if his first attempt at Terran humour had any reaction.  Disappointed, he continued.  “It will only be temporary, and no permanent harm will come to you, but you will find the experience more uncomfortable if you try to fight it.”

The alien made a hand gesture to the computer technicians.  A tentacle whipped out from the computer and the end connected with the juncture of the lieutenant’s neck and shoulder and began to burrow under his skin.  It was not actually painful, but the lieutenant found the thought of what was going on unpleasant.  Then images started appearing unbidden in his mind; images of submarine training, technical details of the Trenchant and other boats in the Submarine Service, his crewmates as well as Royal Navy combat tactics.  Other images flooded into his mind, alien images that threatened to destroy his sanity.  The lieutenant began to scream.

Potrenz Rhtahm really could not understand why the native was making so much fuss about a simple mind link.  He had been particularly hurt when it had called his people stinking.  It was regarded as highly offensive throughout the galaxy to comment on the smell of another species; he had been far too polite to mention the difficulties the air filtration systems were having with Terran body odours.  Still, things could have been worse.  The old 117th generation organic computers had only recently been phased out throughout the fleet, and they had only been able to connect to the Terran nervous system by penetrating the spinal cord via the anus, which was not a sight for the faint hearted.  It was amazing how few people had been prepared to connect to a computer through that tentacle afterwards.

#4 Accounting Troll

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Posted 08 July 2006 - 09:19 PM


Commander Llewellyn strode into the command centre.  "Right, we've got the coordinates of some sort of alien facility.  Load tomahawks into torpedo tubes three, four and five and enter the location of the alien encampment into the targeting computers.  Leave the spearfish torpedoes in tubes one and two."

"Sir, you realise that the Navy has never tested the new tomahawks, and even the Americans haven't tested them in combat?" asked Lieutenant Rolfe.

"Now's our chance then," replied the commander with a confidence he did not entirely feel.  Britain had agreed to buy 64 of the new American Block IV tomahawk ground attack cruise missiles earlier that year for the Royal Navy submarines, of which eight had gone to the Trenchant.  America had probably felt it had the better of the deal, as Britain had followed the American lead when it came to fighting wars and making peace since the Suez Crisis.

The Block IV tomahawks had several nifty improvements over their predecessors, including the ability to hover over the battlefield until they were required by the field commander.  Unfortunately, this ability and the ability to transmit real time camera images had almost certainly been blocked by the alien radio jamming.  They would be depending entirely on the Terrain Contour Matching system to guide the tomahawks to the intended target.

It took nearly twenty minutes for the loading teams to get the 1800 kilogram spearfish torpedoes back into their storage racks and replace them with the tomahawks.  Arming the warheads and entering the targeting data into the control systems took another hour.  The Trenchant took the time to move out to sea; a tomahawk can be launched from the vertical torpedo tubes on Trafalgar class submarines, but it needs space to get airborne.

Finally, the missiles were ready to be launched.  The commander addressed the crew over the intercom.  "As you know, junior ratings Cooper, Peterson and Thomas have been killed in action, and Lieutenant Truswell is missing and presumed captured.  Our comrades have given their lives not just for Britain, but all mankind, and we will not forget their sacrifice.  The memorial service will be held in the junior ratings mess at 1400 hours tomorrow.  Their deaths have not been in vain because we now have the targeting coordinates for an important alien installation, which we are about to attack."

The first missile hit the alien base just after Lieutenant Truswell had been disconnected from the alien computer.  The shockwaves threw the lieutenant and several of the aliens to the floor.  Unlike the aliens around him, he knew what was happening and instead of trying to get up like the aliens, he stayed on the floor and managed to his head with his hands just before the second missile slammed into the base.  The third missile must have hit an adjacent room because the blast ripped away the roof and one of the walls of the computer room, causing lethal shards of shrapnel to scythe across the room.

The lieutenant guessed that the Trenchant would conserve its remaining cruise missiles and he emerged from cover before the aliens could get over the shock.  The aliens had not known to take cover and most of them were now dead or unconscious.

He ran over to a section of the wall and touched it with his hand.  The wall split open in front of him, revealing a darkened corridor.  As he ran down the corridor, almost tripping over something warm and soft that he decided not to look at too closely, he wondered how he had known how to open the alien door as he could not remember seeing how the aliens actually operated doors.  As for how he had been able to sense where the door and the door controls were!

The corridor led to a circular room.  There was an alien in the room who spotted the lieutenant and raised a weapon similar to the ones he had seen when the landing party had been attacked.  The lieutenant was quicker, and he slammed into the alien before it could fire.  As they tumbled to the ground, he poked his thumbs into the alien's overly large eyes and pressed as hard as he could.  Evidently this self defence technique was at least as effective on the aliens as it is on humans; after a moment's struggle, the alien went limp.  He confiscated the alien's weapon and then stamped on its head just in case it was playing dead.

The lieutenant's attention was drawn to a small alcove to his left where a flickering green luminescence reminiscent of a will-o-the-wisp seemed to hover in mid-aid.  He was overcome by a strange desire to step into the alcove and bathe in the green light.  At the very instant that he was immersed in the light, he suddenly found himself standing over a mile outside the alien base, which now looked the worse for wear with smoke billowing out of several large holes.  The position of the sun indicated that it was just after local dawn.  He was not certain what day it was, but he doubted that he could have been a prisoner for more than one day as his stubble would have been longer.

It took the lieutenant a moment to get over the shock and start thinking.  That alien interrogator, whose species apparently called themselves Reticulans, had said that they were directly connecting him to their computer network so that they would be able to share his knowledge.  Could anything have been uploaded at the same time?  Could there be knowledge of the aliens and their technology somewhere in his mind?  The implications of that were disturbing, but how else could he have known how to get out of that alien base?

He was also worried about the fact that everything he knew about the Trenchant and the Royal Navy was now known to the aliens.  Although the missile attack had left the alien computer badly damaged and killed the aliens connected to it, they had said that it was part of a network, so he had to assume that the data had already spread to other alien computers.  The commander would need to know that.  He decided to head back to Hamilton and attempt to send a radio message to the Trenchant in the hope that it was remaining in the area to survey the damage it had caused.

The walk back was surprisingly easy going.  The aliens and even the mutants were nowhere to be seen; he supposed that the aliens were more preoccupied with dealing with their dead and wounded in the aftermath of the attack.  Unfortunately but not exactly unexpectedly, there was no sign of the rest of the landing party.  However, he did find the bodies of Cooper and Peterson, along with some spent ammunition casings and several dead mutants.  A quick check showed that their equipment had been taken.

The lieutenant then headed for the police station in the hope that he could find a working long-range radio, although he had no idea if it would be powerful enough to break through the radio jamming.  The power would be off, but there would almost certainly be a backup generator somewhere on the premises.  There was the risk of bringing down an alien patrol, and he doubted he could fight his way out as he had no idea how the alien weapon worked, but he was out of options.

In a deep cavern under the Reticulan base, a vast alien mind had experienced a sensation she had never experienced before in the countless centuries she had spent wandering through the cosmos; fear.  Being inside the lower levels of a building during a missile attack ripped apart your ability to think rationally and left you cowering in terror as if you were no better than a Terran.  Nothing like this had happened to her when she bent the Reticulans on Dchkara to her will!

Her humiliation was made complete by the knowledge that it had been witnessed by the octopus and angel attendants that had single-mindedly served her since she had been born.  The natives will suffer for what they have done to me, she thought.  She knew that some Terrans would have to survive until some males responded to her mating call, but she promised herself that the Trenchant and its crew would be annihilated, no matter how many Reticulans she would have to sacrifice in the process.

The Trenchant had spent several hours monitoring Bermuda in order to assess how much damage the tomahawks had done.  The column of smoke was easily visible in the periscope, and they were picking up a large number of alien transmissions, which they recorded in the hope of passing them on to someone who could break the code and work out the alien language.  The Trenchant had clearly won some sort of victory over the aliens, but with four men lost, it hardly felt like it.

"This is Lieutenant Truswell to the Trenchant.  Do you read me?"  The voice could barely be heard over the radio static.

"We hear you strength one," replied the radio operator.  "Please boost your output if you can.  What is your status and position?"  The commander was off-duty at the time, which meant that he would probably be sleeping in his cabin.  CPO Lantree was despatched to wake the commander and drag him to the control centre.

"Boost my output?  I'm shouting at the top of my voice here"

Dramatic moments in Star Trek only ever occur when the captain is on the bridge, thought Commander Llewellyn bitterly as he made his way to the control centre.  Captain Kirk never has to glare at his crew when they start sniggering at the sight of him on duty while wearing his pyjamas.  "What's going on, Lieutenant? asked the commander when he got to the radio.

"The aliens captured me, but I escaped when you bombed their base.  Problem is they did some sort of mind probe on me, so they know everything I know about the Trenchant and the Navy.  I'm hiding out on the island."

He's trying to avoid giving his position away to the aliens, thought the commander.  Best to keep the conversation short and hope that either the aliens never pick it up or they never think to triangulate the lieutenant's position.  "Okay, hold position until night time if you can.  We'll contact you later."


The commander knew that Lieutenant Truswell was a capable officer who would have soon risen to command level had it not been for the invasion.  He would know that the Trenchant could only surface at night, and it certainly would not broadcast the coordinates and timing of the surfacing to enemy forces.  There was still a risk of being detected by the aliens when the Trenchant surfaced, but if there was a realistic chance of rescuing the lieutenant after what he must have been through, Llewellyn was prepared to take the risk.  Then he went back to his quarters to put some clothes on.

Tuesday July 12th

The doctors had been unable to save Potrenz Rhtahm's right arm, which had been sliced off above the elbow in the missile attack on the base.  Normally any Reticulan who suffered such a serious permanent injury would take his own life and the nutrients in his body would be recycled for the common good.  However, he was pleasantly surprised when the War Committee turned down his euthanasia request because the Reticulan numbers on Earth were limited and they could not afford to lose him.

"This incident is clear evidence that the threat posed by the native submarines is far greater than we expected at the beginning of our mission," pronounced General Peupar.  "Our entire command structure could have been eliminated at a single stroke, and without our guidance the Planetmind project would fail.  We cannot continue to command our people from a location so vulnerable to attack."

Ranalla agreed.  "Although we have surrounded this base with laser air defence batteries overnight, our gunners cannot entirely guarantee that they will intercept incoming missiles.  To some extent, we were unfortunate; the native's mind indicated that a missile attack on our base was almost certain.  Had we had but an extra eighth part of a day, we would have acted on the information and the attack would probably have failed.

"However, the natives are impressively resourceful and there is no way to predict what form the next attack will take.  Once the base has healed itself, we must relocate to a more secure location.  I have instructed our intelligence analysts to find a solution for this problem."  Five eyes turned on Rhtahm; Ranalla's left eye was covered with accelerated healing gel and an eye patch.

Rhtahm knew that the War Committee would not like what he was about to say as it was effectively an admission that his department had blundered when they had initially recommended establishing the command centre on this blasted island because it would be safe from attack.  "There is nowhere on this planet that is entirely safe from the natives.  Their nuclear and high explosive missiles can reach any part of the landmasses, and our marine installations are also at risk from high explosive torpedoes.  We must therefore relocate our command centre off-world.

"The natives possess primitive space flight, which enabled them to destroy the spore carrier, so near planetary orbit is also impractical.  Although the natives have sent crewed vessels to explore Earth's moon, they have lost this ability in recent years because such missions are highly resource intensive considering their current technology level.  This makes it the ideal choice for us; however, we must establish ourselves on the far side of the Moon so that we escape detection and hence possible attack by remote controlled missiles.  A satellite relay system could be set up quite easily to avoid signals being blocked by the mass of Earth's moon.  Any further from Earth and we will be unable to communicate effectively with our forces."

"Even this is far enough from the planet to cause problems," protested Semure.  "I need to be able to closely cooperate with our scientists.  The move will also delay the planting of the bionodes and that will set our progress back by at least two eighths of an Imperial Standard year."

Ranalla then pointed out that the destruction of the command centre would be an even bigger blow to the project.  The Reticulans had long felt that the advantage of being led by a three person committee meant that when there were differences of opinion among the leadership, it would be possible to discuss the issue and reach a group consensus.  The committee members generally came from different backgrounds so that all views would be considered.  Any fewer made a group consensus impossible and any more meant that they would spend too long discussing even the most trivial matters.  A committee of three seemed to work well for the Reticulans.

Semure eventually assented to the majority opinion that in view of the danger posed by the native forces, they would relocate the command centre to the far side of the Moon as soon as possible despite the delays this would cause the project.

There was one more issue for Rhtahm to raise.  "Despite the unanticipated events, one of our plans is still going well.  We now have an approximate fix on the Trenchant.  Two destroyers with modified weapons will engage it as soon as it is sufficiently far from the shoreline to avoid the risk of radioactive contamination on the island."  He was proud of this success considering how little time his department had been given to develop and execute this plan and the events that nearly caused its derailment.

"We are glad that at least there is one thing that is going right on this miserable planet," said Ranalla.

Wednesday July 13th

"Are you sure you're fit to return to active duty Lieutenant?" asked the commander.  Doctor Bryson had recommended that Lieutenant Truswell be taken off duty because there was no way of telling what the exact effects of the alien mind probe would be.

"It's probably better if I remain active, sir.  I don't think we can afford to have any long-term sick at the moment."

"I'm picking up one, no, two signals on the passive sonar," said Able Rating Khan.  "Airborne.  I can't tell if they're friendly or alien though."

At that point, the Trenchant was mildly buffeted by turbulence on the starboard side.  "Use radar and active sonar.  Cut them out as soon as you've identified the craft."  Was it possible that they had finally encountered other surviving human forces after six weeks of isolation?

"It's the aliens," said Khan a moment later, as another more distant shockwave buffeted the Trenchant.  "Whatever ships they're using are rather bigger than the scouts we've fought before."

"Battlestations.  Dive to 200 fathoms."  That was close to the maximum depth the Trenchant could dive to without causing the hull pressure to exceed safety specifications.  The designers had erred on the safe side when drawing up the safety specifications, but the commander was not keen on experimentation in order to learn just how much they had erred by.  "What kind of weapon are they using on us?"

"Plasma depth charges," said Lieutenant Truswell, automatically.  He then wondered how he had known this fact as well.  Was it possible that the alien knowledge in his mind required an outside stimulus to be recalled?  Would it be worth asking the doctor to place him under hypnosis to have a root around in his subconscious?

The sonar picked up more plasma depth charges in the region at various locations and depths.  The deepest detonation was at over 300 fathoms, which probably made it impossible to dive out of range.  "They know we're in the general vicinity, but they don't exactly know where," mused the commander.  "Take us on a new course, 45 degrees to starboard, full speed."  At 32 knots, it would take around ten minutes for the Trenchant to slip away from what the commander was beginning to think of as the search area.

Khan had some bad news a few minutes later.  "Sir, they've changed the area of their search pattern to match our movement."

"Change course 75 degrees to port.  Launch decoy torpedo one, and launch decoy torpedo two on a different course two minutes later."  In addition to the five 21 inch torpedo tubes, Trafalgar class submarines have an additional two tubes for launching decoy torpedoes whose purpose is to confuse enemy targeting systems by mimicking the sound emissions of the mother submarine.  "And I want Archerfish torpedoes in tubes three, four and five.  We may have to fight our way out of this."

"Sir, we can't launch the Archerfish from below 80 fathoms," reminded Able Rating Balmer.

"I know.  We'll hold this depth until we know whether the course change and decoys have shaken them off."  The commander was not too keen on using the Archerfish torpedoes because the weapons test that had been cancelled by the alien invasion would have been the first launch of an Archerfish.  Had it really been only six weeks ago?  Performing the first test of a new weapon in actual combat was unprecedented in warfare, although he was aware that he might not get a choice in the matter.

"The aliens have adapted their search pattern to match our course change," said Khan a few minutes later.  "They ignored both decoys."

"They're tracking our approximate position and heading, but they can't be using passive sonar because we're below the thermocline layer.  And we'd have picked up radar or active sonar, so how..."  Then the commander looked at Lieutenant Truswell.  "Damm it, they planted some sort of transmitter on you.  Get your clothes off, and put them, your watch, everything you brought back into an escape suit.  Then flush it out one of the towers.  Leave the alien artefact for now, as I don't want to lose it unless we know we have to.  Lantree, go with him."  Every Royal Navy submarine has two towers, the name given for escape hatches designed to enable the crew to escape a crippled submarine while submerged.  A crewman wearing an escape suit gets into the tower, shuts the inner hatch, floods the tower and opens the outer hatch, enabling him to float to the surface.  The controls can be operated both manually and remotely.

The commander was aware that getting rid of the alien transmitter would take time, especially if it turned out they had planted it in the lieutenant's body and surgery would become necessary.  And it would probably only take one direct hit from a plasma depth charge to finish off the Trenchant.  The commander decided that his only realistic option was to take the initiative and engage one of the alien ships.  If it could be destroyed or forced to withdraw, it would take the aliens time to bring in reinforcements.  "Take us up to 80 fathoms and get us within one nautical mile of the nearest enemy.  Report when ready.  Balmer, enter the targeting information into the Archerfish."

The Archerfish missile system had been designed to be a submarine launched anti-helicopter missile capable of being launched from a standard NATO 21-inch horizontal torpedo tube.  Helicopters had been an important part of anti-submarine warfare for decades, and most modern destroyers and frigates carried one or two helicopters equipped with anti-submarine torpedoes or depth charges.  The Admiralty thinking behind the Archerfish missiles was that a submarine needed to have some sort of offensive capacity against enemy helicopters that detected it.  The Archerfish would prove to be ineffectual against fixed wing aircraft, but they were less of a threat to helicopters anyway.  British military intelligence reports had indicated that the Americans and Chinese were developing a vertically launched anti-helicopter missile for their submarine fleets, but the beauty of the Archerfish was that it could be used by the existing submarine fleet, and would not require the expense of designing an entirely new class of submarine.

As the Trenchant ascended, the commander felt his boat buffeted by the shock waves from plasma detonations on two occasions.  It seemed like a long time before the helmsman and Balmer reported that their orders had been carried out.  "Launch torpedo three."

Everybody in the control room seemed to be watching Balmer's monitor as it showed the progress of the first armed Archerfish ever launched.  The first stage, a solid-fuel gas propulsion system, sped forward before the gas thrusters caused it to change course and began climbing vertically towards the surface.  Just after the Archerfish reached the surface, the primary stage fell away and the jets on the secondary stage fired into life, propelling the missile above the water.  The missile then made several corrective adjustments to its flight path to get it onto an intercept course with the alien vessel.

When Destroyer-119 had been assigned this mission, its captain had anticipated a swift kill; how hard could it be to hunt a primitive native submarine with all the sensor arrays that went into the modern Imperial warships?  However, the psionic sensors were struggling to isolate the brainwaves of the native crew, and even the psionic transmitter Intelligence had smuggled onboard the Trenchant was only giving an approximate location.  The other sensors were largely ineffectual as the Terran submarine designers seemed to have a surprising understanding of stealth.  This left the destroyer, and its sister ship, Destroyer-231 with a frustratingly large volume of water to bomb almost at random.  And now the psionic transmitter seemed to be malfunctioning, as it was reporting that the Trenchant had surfaced, but the visual scans were only reporting a small piece of florescent orange flotsam.

The aft proximity sensors yipped into life less than a tenth of a second before the destroyer was hit by a native missile.  As the ship's skin was ripped open by the explosion, it transmitted its agony to the pilot through their symbiotic mental link, causing them both to temporarily black out.

When the pilot regained consciousness, he mentally tried to calm the panicked ship as his consciousness probed the damage.  Fortunately, the damage did not appear to be fatal, and the ship would be able to regrow the damaged sections of the hull, given time.  Unfortunately, two swim bladders had been ruptured in the explosion, and the helium had mixed with the native air.  Reticulan vessels use swim bladders to control altitude in the atmosphere, and depth while submerged: damage to the swim bladders greatly reduce the manoeuvrability of the vessel.  In this case, the ship was rapidly losing altitude and was about to crash into the sea.

Commander Llewellyn had to raise his voice to be heard above the cheering as the alien ship crashed into the water.  "Launch torpedoes one and two at the downed alien.  And if the chance arises, launch four and five at the second alien at will."

Balmer's fingers seemed to dance across his keyboard as he programmed the necessary instructions into the targeting systems.  "Torpedoes one and two launched, sir."

With its manoeuvrability reduced, the alien destroyer was a sitting duck.  It tried to turn round so that it could fire at the torpedoes, but it was unable to turn fast enough and the explosion tore it in two.  As the wreckage began to sink, the thought occurred to Commander Llewellyn that the aliens did not appear to mount their craft weapons on turrets, which meant that they would have to turn the entire craft in order to aim their weapons.

"I've got a lock on the second alien ship," said Balmer.

"Launch four and five."

The second alien destroyer managed to shoot down one of the incoming Archerfish missiles, but the second missile slammed into its midsection.  Although it managed to remain airborne, its captain decided that the damage was severe enough to necessitate breaking off the attack.

The commander gave the crew a moment to savour their victory before saying "Balmer, please note in your report for the Admiralty that the Archerfish missiles performed within acceptable parameters."  Even more cheering followed, even though nobody knew when, or indeed if, the Trenchant would be in a position to transmit the report to the Admiralty.

Extract from the personal diaries of Commander Llewellyn.

"There has been no sign of further alien pursuit, so we have evidently managed to get rid of their transmitter.  Although we have won two engagements in the last few days, the fact remains that we were immensely fortunate, and the fault would have been mine if the Trenchant had been destroyed.  

"I underestimated both the strength and cleverness of the aliens, and my mistake cost the lives of three of my men.  I should have deduced from the alien transmissions that they had built a major installation on Bermuda.  I should also have realised that Truswell's escape was a little bit too convenient.

"However, we now know that the aliens call themselves Reticulans.  We even have a description of their physical appearance, although this raises a lot more questions than it answers.  Were the paranoid UFO fanatics right all along?  And how could I have dreamed the physical appearance of the aliens down to the smallest detail before the invasion began?"

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