Matt Reddy and his sailors have fought, bled, and died for their Lemurian friends and other allies from across time, but their enemies are still operational. In Africa, the Grik General Esshk has escaped defeat to build a new army and new weapons, and is desperate enough to use them to destroy the world if he can't have it.
In South America, the NUS, General Shinya, and the Army of the Sisters have the evil Dominion on the ropes and are closing in on the seat of its blood-drenched power, but the twisted Don Hernan has struck a deal with the fascist League, and Victor Gravois is finally assembling the awesome fleet of modern ships he's always craved. If he's successful, the war will be lost.
Undermined by treachery on a stunning scale, Matt Reddy must still steam his battered old ship halfway around the world, scraping up what forces he can along the way, and confront the mightiest armada the world has ever seen in a fiery duel to the death.
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////// USS Walker
Indian Ocean (Eastern Sea)
May 1, 1945
Damn, Skipper, it's good to be back at sea!" Commander Brad "Spanky" McFarlane proclaimed. Standing in his trademark pose-hands on hips, chest out, chin jutting-he always seemed bigger than he actually was. Short reddish hair ruffled in the wind on his uncovered head as he stared through the newly replaced glass windows in the pilothouse of USS Walker (DD-163), past the busy sailors around the number one gun on the fo'c'sle, and out at the white-capped, purple sea. The detail on the fo'c'sle was largely composed of furry, long-tailed Lemurian "'Cats," as was nearly all the old "four-stacker" destroyer's crew, these days. Similar details still worked all over the ship to patch her many, but thankfully-this time-relatively minor wounds. The ship looked like hell, battered and rust-streaked from battle and toil, but was steaming easy and the 'Cats at the big brass wheel and engine order telegraph (EOT) seemed relaxed and satisfied with how she handled.
Overseeing repairs to the forward 4-50 gun, tracing balky wiring from the director, was an amusingly contrasting trio. The giant Chief Gunner's Mate Dennis Silva, the veritable Hercules of the Grand Alliance, seemed to be aping Spanky's pose as he loomed over the diminutive, furry fireplug that was Chief Bosun's Mate Jeek. And for no other reason than he apparently never left Silva's side, the Grik-like Sa'aaran named Lawrence was there, standing slightly back out of the way. Unlike the sailors in T-shirts and dungarees (or blue kilts on the 'Cats) Lawrence wore only a new tie-dyed combat smock, sunlight flashing on the dark plumage of his tail, crest, and orange and near black tiger-striped pelt on his arms and legs. Occasional humorous snippets of Silva's profane and bombastic declarations regarding how the work should proceed, and Jeek's adamant denunciations could be heard. All this was punctuated by the cawing shrieks of a small, fuzzy, tree-gliding reptile draped around the back of Silva's big neck like a sweat rag.
Captain Matthew Reddy, Commander in Chief of All Allied Forces (CINCAF) and "High Chief" of the "American Navy and Marine Clan" leaned slightly back in the chair bolted to the starboard side forward bulkhead of the pilothouse. The chair's shape and rigidity had always made it profoundly uncomfortable and only the soft, carefully embroidered cushion some anonymous Lemurian sailor secretly left on it one night made the long hours Matt often spent there physically bearable. And the responsibility the chair represented, not only to his ship but the entire Grand Alliance, could make it even harder to take. Matt was younger than Spanky, just thirty-five, but his brown hair was completely gray at his temples and the rest was starting to turn. His clean-shaven face remained boyish, but new lines were starting to undermine that impression as well. Turning away from the reassuringly normal entertainment below, he grinned at his friend and XO. "Considering you've said that every day since we left that nasty sewer river behind, I'm inclined to believe you're sincere," he noted wryly.
Spanky shrugged and made a noncommittal grunt. Matt chuckled and followed his gaze. A few heavy clouds were building in the humid afternoon sky and a squall caressed the sea with filmy gray fingers a dozen miles to port, but a cooling breeze generated by the ship's fuel-stingy twelve knots washed through the pilothouse and the eastern horizon they chased was clear. It was indeed a far cry from the filthy, muddy, blood-thickened waters of the Zambezi River. Most of First Fleet had been confined there for the last few months, after establishing a beachhead against the savage and seemingly numberless Grik. And these Grik were no longer the mindless mob of killing machines that relied as much on their teeth and claws as the other weapons they carried. They'd finally gotten wise and built real armies with thinking soldiers.
The battles that followed had been brutal and costly, and only a bloody, grueling campaign of misdirection and focused ferocity, capitalizing on dissension among the Grik themselves, allowed the Allies to shatter their way through to Old Sofesshk, capture the Grik "Celestial Mother," and command the cooperation of a percentage of her subjects. A larger percentage still opposed them, however, led by the cunning usurper Esshk, and the Allied armies still had a momentous task before them. They were tired, worn down, depleted, and if Esshk's troops were on their heels at present, that could quickly change.
Matt frowned. Yet except for a little "brown water" work, the war in Grik Africa had changed to a land and air campaign. It would still gobble precious transports and supplies, and troops of course, but for the most part, the Navy had done as much as it could. Now it must race to confront an equally difficult, maybe hopeless situation, on the other side of the world. More than likely, they'd get there too late, with too little.
Matt looked back at Spanky. Despite all that, it was a beautiful day. Walker was plowing smoothly through the choppy swells and notwithstanding her many dents and patches, the rumble of her boilers and engines, vibrating through the chair into Matt's very bones, felt and sounded as healthy as he had any right to expect. And behind USS Walker, in a long straight line, steamed the pride of the American Navy Clan's surface fleet . . . such as it was.
Matt glanced over his shoulder, past his ship and the men and 'Cats going about their duties aboard her, and contemplated the massive form of First Fleet's most impressive element a quarter mile behind: the captured League battleship Savoie. She'd taken a serious beating herself when they took her from that madman Kurokawa-the League's former client in the Indian Ocean-but churning through the sea in her new "dazzle" paint scheme, she looked much better now. Some work remained, primarily to her sabotaged fire control system, but Steve "Sparks" Riggs cryptically promised they'd have it when they needed it. Like most of Matt's "old" destroyermen, Steve was still just a kid, barely twenty-two, but Matt didn't doubt the electronics wizard from Delaware, now Baalkpan's "minister of communications and electrical contrivances," would come through.
Savoie was French built, a Bretagne Class superdreadnaught from another, different "earth" where France, Spain, and Italy had all gone fascist in the wake of a broader war against Bolshevism as the Great War juddered to an end. Though crushed in Russia with the help of all the great powers, Bolshevism took firmer root in the rest of Europe and civil wars flared. That apparently triggered a quicker, more aggressive rise of fascism and despite their mutual animosities, the three chief partners in the "Confdartion tats Souverains" intervened in civil wars in Germany, Austria-and elsewhere, Matt supposed. Ultimately estranged from Great Britain, the United States, and Imperial Russia-virtually all its former allies-and requiring external threats and conquest to keep it together, the Confdration sent a powerful fleet to wrest Egypt and the Suez Canal from the British. That's when a similar . . . phenomenon . . . to that which brought Walker to this world apparently occurred. And if Walbert Fiedler is to be believed, Matt mused, and he didn't really doubt the German pilot who'd defected to the Allies, the . . . event . . . brought over nearly the whole damn fleet and a fair portion of the city of Tripoli around the harbor where it had been at anchor. Fiedler described a cataclysm on shore, particularly where buildings-and a few ships-smashed down on another city already there.
Matt sometimes wondered how the Confdration fared on that other world after such a big chunk of its naval might simply disappeared. I hope they got clobbered, he thought. But its descendant here, ruled by a triumvirate of senior officers from its "big three" members, formed the League of Tripoli and commenced subjugating the Mediterranean's "indigenous" peoples, many of whom had arrived in a similar fashion through the ages. And the League's starting to make itself a real pain in the ass for us, Matt thought darkly.
Behind Savoie was Walker's somewhat misshapen sister from another world, USS Mahan (DD-102). She'd been destroyed and resurrected-from less-even more often than Matt's own ship. She'd required two entirely new bows and been shortened the length of her forward fireroom. She'd lost a little speed, but no armament, and not much endurance.
Next came USS James Ellis (DD-21). She was another "sister," though maybe "daughter" was a better term. Copied from Walker and built on this world, she'd been the very first all-steel ship ever made in the Union capital of Baalkpan. Inevitably, she had a number of kinks. Her own first sister, USS Geran-Eras (DD-23), had been better, but she was sunk in the Battle of Mahe. Two more "Wickes/Walker-Class" DDs were supposedly complete, and at least two more were almost ready for sea. Others were being built in the Filpin Lands far to the East.
Bringing up the rear of the column was the light cruiser USS Fitzhugh Gray (CL-1). She was a beautiful thing, the most ambitious naval achievement of the Allies to date. Begun before they knew about the League, however, she'd been built to slaughter the big, tough, and frighteningly powerful Grik battleships and cruisers by running rings around them and outranging their big muzzle-loaders with modern 5.5 rifles. But the Grik navy was finished and Gray didn't compare that well with what Matt knew of her League counterparts. And there was only one of her, so far. Another was finishing up in the Maa-ni-la shipyards using machinery shipped there from Baalkpan, but there was no way to know if she'd be complete in time. The Empire of the New Britain Isles, where the Hawaiian Islands ought to be, were drawing on their colonies on the West Coast of North America for materials to build steel-hulled "protected cruisers" of their own, but Matt had no idea about their particulars. And the Republic of Real People, their allies in southern Africa, was building "battlecruisers" as well. Matt had seen preliminary plans and was skeptical of their design.
But Gray sure is pretty, he thought wistfully. She was long and lean like the smaller destroyers, with a similar silhouette and the same four stacks. She might even lick one of the lightest cruisers the League throws at us, Matt cynically appraised, but then shook his head. Not only is she a fine ship with a crew blooded in hard fighting, everyone aboard her believes the ghost of the man she's named after watches over her. She'll make a good account of herself. Turning back in his chair, he stared out at the sea ahead.
They'd left La-laanti, where Diego Garcia ought to be, earlier that day after an overnight refueling stop and wouldn't see land again for two thousand miles. A convoy of oilers bound for where they came from and escorted by the last unaltered sail/steam DD, USS Revenge, would meet them around the halfway point. The task force would fill their bunkers again at the former League outpost of Christmas Island before steaming through the Soonda Strait to B'taava, Jaava. After taking on more fuel, they wouldn't stop until they crossed the Jaava Sea and opened Baalkpan Bay on the southeast coast of Borno.
It'll be the first time I've been home in the better part of a year, Matt realized, never associating the word "home" with the small ranch in Texas where he grew up anymore. I wonder how it's changed? He started calculating all the things they had to do once they got there, and grasped he wouldn't have much time to enjoy his "leave." Pushing that away, he decided, like his friend, to just enjoy the moment. "Not ragging you," he said at last, "I'm just as glad to be back out on the open sea."
"I think everyone agrees with that," added Sandra Reddy pleasantly, stepping up the ladder behind them. Matt froze after a quick glance in her direction because his wife had brought their infant son, Fitzhugh Adar Reddy, on the bridge, swaddled in a soft white blanket. We've talked about this, he inwardly groaned. He'd lost all preconceived notions against women aboard ship; a third of his crew was female now, both Lemurians and ex-pat Impie humans. Fully half the snipes in Lieutenant Tab-At's (Tabby had been the first female 'Cat to join) engineering spaces were female as well. And there'd been babies aboard before-briefly, either rescued from other ships, like Neracca, or twice when crew members gave birth. But it was still against regulations for "mates" to serve on the same ship, and infants were quickly transferred with their mothers.
But transfer to safer, more suitable transport hadn't been an option for Sandra and their son. Both the great carriers, Salissa (Big Sal), under Matt's best Lemurian friend, Admiral Keje-Fris-Ar, and Madraas, now under Keje's intended, Commodore Tassanna-Ay-Arracca, had offloaded most of their planes at Arracca Field and promptly left the theater right after the Battle of the Zambezi. Most of the other large ships in the fleet, like the floating dry dock Tarakan Island and the armored transport Sular, went with them, relying on the carrier's remaining planes for protection. Not only did they require refits and upgrades at Baalkpan, they carried most of the campaign's wounded, as well as Colonel Chack-Sab-At's extremely hard-used 1st Raider Brigade and the equally exhausted II Corps. II Corps' badly wounded commander (and Chack's mate) General Queen Safir-Maraan was in Salissa's extensive infirmary with Chack by her side.
In any event, in the wake of the terrible battles and their child's birth at their height, Matt relented when Sandra insisted on joining him in Walker, as he'd earlier promised she could. But this wasn't part of the deal. Parading around the ship, and on the bridge, with infants hadn't been any part of the Navy he'd come from, or was trying to build on this world. More importantly, he had to set an example. If he let his wife cart babies up on the bridge-drawing along doting admirers, he noted, as Tabby, Surgeon Lieutenant Pam Cross, and Diania (Sandra's steward/bodyguard) tromped up the stairs behind her-how was he ever going to stop others from doing it? And to top things off, there's Silva too! he seethed, darting a glance at the fo'c'sle. How did he get here so fast, with Lawrence in tow? And that ridiculous tree-gliding lizard named Petey was peering, big-eyed, from beside the big man's scarred, bearded face. Matt almost felt like it was mocking him too.
Sandra saw the thoughts behind his face as surely as if he'd spoken them and smiled sweetly. She looked so much better than after they'd rescued her from Kurokawa, and to see her eyes glitter with such genuine mirth . . . Matt's outrage deflated.