Onslaught: The War With China — The Opening Battle
The tiny, pale, crab-like animal had hatched only hours before. It scurried about a world it barely sensed. Tendrils of weed. Cool water, seething with microscopic prey. And arching above, a scatter of stars. The crab clambered here and there, fearful and greedy, grasping and eating. With only the faintest stirrings of thought.
Until it dimly felt some distant change. A high-pitched vibration, trilling through the translucent sea. It peered nearsightedly around, then returned to its instinctive seeking.
A shadow neared. The crab-thing paused again, eyestalks waving frantically.
A gentle wave lifted the sprig it perched on. It tensed. Sensing danger, yet not knowing what it feared.
An immense column of gray steel tore the universe apart, tumbling the creature over and over in a seething froth. It beat at the unsupporting sea with segmented legs, helpless in a hissing green.
Until something silver flashed in the darkness…
Leaning against the splinter shield of USS
On the horizon another shape raced eastward with the speeding cruiser. Neither showed running lights.
Eastward, toward impending battle…
“Good morning, Captain.”
Captain Daniel V. Lenson, USN, turned, sighing inwardly, and returned his executive officer’s salute.
Petite, humorless, and apparently immune to any need for sleep, Cheryl Staurulakis was the best second-in-command he’d ever had. Her pale hair was pulled back tightly, just visible under one of the black-and-olive shemaghs they’d bought in Dubai. Like him, she was in dark blue ship’s coveralls. “Come on out, Exec. Geeks still down?”
“Geeks” was the Global Command and Control System. Staurulakis frowned down at a clipboard. “Uh, yessir. They either shot down our satellites or jammed them somehow.”
“Which is also why we’ve lost GPS. All right, go ahead.”
“We’re in company with
Dan massaged his jaw. Someone aboard had abducted and raped one of the female petty officers, capping a series of sexual assaults. “Good. We can use his help; we need to nail this guy, fast. Names on the Japanese units yet? Capabilities?”
“No sir. Comms are still spotty. Heard anything from the States? Your wife? Your daughter?”
Dan shook his head as
On the other hand, Intel said all enemy reconnaissance assets, at least that the U.S. knew about, had been taken down as well.
Joint Operation Plan Sachel Advantage/Iron Noose was the contingency plan for a conflict with China. It had placed a carrier battle group in a blocking position north of Taiwan. But USS
A temporary commodore. He leaned back, squeezing his eyelids shut. Tuning his hearing to the steady roar of blowers and machinery, the murmuration of voices inside the pilothouse. Smelling, along with the dark sea, the ship scents of exhaust and fuel and fresh paint and the night baker making cookies. When he opened them, the top-heavy-looking superstructure towered against the dark sky. Her ID flags snapped in the wind, and the battle ensign streamed out straight.
The powerful radars of Aegis cruisers could detect and track over two hundred contacts simultaneously. But
With the U.S. sucked back into a reflare in the Mideast, China had come to Pakistan’s aid with an attack on India. Now the dominos were toppling around the world.… He coughed into his fist. “We’re crossdecking Dr. Schell, right, Cheryl? We have to keep sterilizing those hot-water heaters.”
“Chief engineer’s on it.” The ship’s lead engineer, Bart Danenhower.
“How about the other antiballistic cruisers?”
Dan said, “If everything works perfectly, and we don’t get overwhelmed.”
Staurulakis murmured, “Yes sir. Also, our sub forces are moving closer inshore.”
“Great. But Intel said most of the Chinese sub fleet’s already vanished.”
“Yeah… they’re out here somewhere.” Staurulakis squinted past him into the dark. “The U.S. and Indian navies have been directed to impose a blockade on China and the ‘Opposed Powers.’ No grain, no strategic materials, no oil.”
Dan fiddled with his wedding ring, contemplating the paling sky. Not yet dawn; merely a lighter shade of black, as if a fluorescent light had been snapped on below the horizon.
A thousand miles to the west, a combined U.S./Vietnamese force was gathering. China’s far-flung atolls, bases, and logistics in the South China Sea would be vulnerable, as Japan’s outposts had been in an earlier war. If the Chinese premier, Zhang Zurong, pushed southward, the allies — Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia — would fight to defend their claims there.
But if China could break through the
Dan’s task group would be the last line of defense. If it failed, if
The aluminum gridwork underfoot rattled. “Captain. We join you out here?” The chief quartermaster, Van Gogh, cradled a sextant. Behind him was apple-cheeked Ensign Mytsalo.
“Morning stars, Chief? Sure, step into my office.”
Van Gogh held it out. “Do the honors, Skipper?”
“I’m pretty rusty on a sextant, Chief—”
“Hey, we’re all
Dan had to grin at that. “All right. Sure. XO, you might want to listen in. You’ll be doing this too. If we don’t get GPS back.”
Staurulakis positioned herself beside the canvas-shrouded bulk of a machine gun as Van Gogh read off his calculations. Dan set the sextant to the elevation, sighted along the pelorus for the bearing, and found Sirius. The Dog Star. The brightest in the sky.
Muscle memory kicked in. He found the brace, tucked his elbows, and rocked the distant glitter in an arc, verniering it down with the micrometer drum until it just kissed the barely visible sea horizon. He twisted the lock nut. “Mark.”
“Time: zero four fifty-one,” Van Gogh intoned, clicking the stopwatch. “Elevation? We need to get these fast, Cap’n, sunup’s a-comin’.”
Dan hit the light button, and read it off the arm and the drum. From the pilothouse the junior officers gaped with holy awe, as if at some arcane ceremony. Van Gogh gave him the next bearing and elevation, in the hushed tones of an acolyte.
He lifted the apparatus that had guided mariners for centuries, and steadied it once more.
Dan’s pimply mess attendant, Longley, brought up a tray at 0530. Sliced ham, eggs, and coffee. Dan ate perched in the command chair, groggily watching the sun blowtorch the curved horizon from ironglowing red to lily orange, then blazing gold. He’d only gotten uneasy naps in the padded leather chair.
His operations officer, Matthew Mills, came up as the radioman arrived with the morning traffic. Tall and fair, Mills could have graced a Harlequin cover. Dan flipped through the clipboard.