The black void was shattered by the dull grayness of the ship. Like some massive leviathan splashing in the sea, the starship fired its braking thrusters as it approached the planet-sized moon. Red lights along the hull began to illuminate. The ship settled into orbit roughly a hundred miles above the pockmarked surface.
“Make sure your men keep their fingers off the trigger. I don’t want anyone accidentally hitting a non-combatant,” Captain Derek Cross told the three sergeants who stood before him. “I don’t want any firing unless it’s being returned toward a hostile. There are dozens of women and children down there. Make sure your men check their targets. You got me?” he bellowed.
“Yes sir!” the three men said in unison.
“Once you’ve made contact with the miners, let me negotiate this time, Sergeant De Silva,” he said, glancing at one of the men. “Let’s get this over with quickly. I’d like to find out what’s bothering these people and make sure somebody fixes it, so they can get back to work. This disruption in ore shipments is costing a lot of money.”
The three sergeants stood like statues, facing the empty wall behind Captain Cross.
“Alright, then. Let’s light ‘em up,” he said with a slight nod. The three men gave quick salutes, and moved toward the door, their heavy boots thumping on the floor.
“Sergeant Cook,” Captain Cross said.
One of the men turned back to Cross as the other two left the room.
“Yes, sir,” Cook said, scratching his freshly shaved head.
“You up for a little golf when this is over? I bet I can drive two thousand yards here,” he said, nodding toward the moon, visible through a small porthole.
“I got fifty that says I can top your best shot.”
“Deal,” Cross said with a smile and a slap on the back as they walked out of the room.
Along the side of the ship facing the moon, two large doors slid open, revealing a series of holes, from each of which projected a white cylinder. From a distance, the eight-foot long cylinders looked like needles bristling along the side of the massive ship. Behind the ship, Jupiter’s massive bulk dwarfed the ship and moon. The planet’s surface, brilliantly striped with shades of red, tan and even the occasional blue, stood in stark contrast to the dark gray of the tiny moon and the miniscule spacecraft.
“I want you men to remember why we’re here. We are to negotiate and get the installation up and running again. It has to be back to full production before we can go home,” Sergeant Cook yelled at the men in front of him.
Twelve men stood there, all outfitted in armored environment suits.
“If we start taking fire, remember your non-lethal striking points. The Captain wants no kills. Remember your training. Keep your eyes open for hostiles, but keep your fingers away from the triggers. I also don’t want to hear any excuses why someone’s pickup accidentally got blown up,” he said, rolling his eyes, then glaring accusingly at a young Hispanic soldier. The soldier looked down at his boots, smiling.
“I also want you men to act like adults this time. Especially you, Jiminez!”
“Come on Sarge. I blow up one truck, and everyone thinks I’m trigger-happy.”
“Shut up, Jimmy. I’m talking about the way you men are going to treat these people. I want you to watch your mouths this time. There are going to be women and children down there,” he said. Pointing at a tall, slender soldier whose ears seemed to stick straight out from the sides of his head, he barked, “You too, Radar!”
The skinny soldier had been given the nickname during basic training because his drill sergeant said his ears looked like radar dishes.
“After we take the station, I want you men to stay clear of the local female population.”
The men laughed.
“Remember your low-G combat training. Ganymede has a gravity field comparable to Luna, so stay low to the ground, lean forward, and for God’s sake don’t jump. If you’re in the air, you’re an easy target,” he said, turning his back on them. Several seconds passed as he stared out a small porthole at the moon’s rocky surface.
“What a desolate fucking wasteland,” he muttered. “And to think, I had to get out of bed to come here and tell a bunch of miners to get back to work. Why couldn’t we have been called out to go to Luna? At least they’ve got biodomes filled with trees and grass. They haven’t got shit here.”
Cook turned back to his men and took a deep breath.
“Alright, ladies. I’ll see you on the ground. We’ve got a job to do, and we’re going to do it. Can anyone tell me why?” he asked, his voice just above a whisper.
“Yes sir, Sergeant,” they yelled. “Because we’re marines!”
“Goddamn right we are! Let’s do the Captain proud,” he said as he picked up his environment suit helmet. He snapped it on with a loud click. The soldiers began putting on their helmets as well.
Along the underside of the ship, forty radar-like dishes slid into view, aligning themselves with their targets on the surface.
“Receivers firing,” chimed a human-like electronic voice. “Stand by for departure.”
Silently, the cylinders began hurtling toward the moon in a wave that started from the front of the ship, working its way toward the rear. In ten seconds, all forty of the cylinders were in flight.
“Receivers away. First wave enter transport chamber.”
Thirteen soldiers entered separate, phone booth-sized pods. With a clang, the doors slammed shut, committing them to their duty.
“Receivers at fifty miles and decreasing.”
The tips of the white cylinders began to glow a light shade of orange as it easily pierced the planet’s almost non-existent ozone atmosphere. With a flash, the white casing blew apart into four sections. From inside the casing, a shiny, six-foot long titanium javelin sped toward the surface of the asteroid, accelerating from the lack of resistance. The rod was unadorned, except for a series of slots near the tail.
“Receivers at twenty-five miles, prepare for transport.”
Like spears thrown by some ancient warrior, the receivers began to hit their mark. The titanium lances began slamming into the asteroid in a pre-designated pattern. They landed in three groups, forming the corners of a triangle around the mining station. Each lance had a space of fifty feet between it and the next. Of the six-foot long spear, only about eighteen inches was exposed above the ground; the rest was buried beneath the surface.
With a flash of green light, the receiver was activated. These pulses were signals sent out in a circle from the lance, to verify that there were no obstructions within a twenty-five foot circle surrounding it.
“Landing zones 100% clear, transport commencing.”
The red lights along the outside of the hull began to dim. More brilliant than the distant sun came a wave of lightning from the dishes along the underside of the hull. Each bolt silently connected with a lance on the surface of the planet, depositing its cargo. Again came a flash from each of the lances, rechecking the landing zone. From the slots on each lance, a light green glow began growing brighter and brighter, illuminating the area around the lance for several feet. Another brilliant flash blasted across the barren landscape, as an arc of energy was fired from the tail of the lance, hitting the ground a few feet away. Now standing on the charred dirt was an armored soldier.
Upon realizing that transport was complete, the soldiers instantly threw themselves down on one knee and scanned the horizon to get their bearings. They first scanned the area, verifying that it was clear of enemies. The soldiers got to their feet and began working their way toward their objective.
“First wave transport complete. Alpha team is feet dry,” came a voice over Captain Cross’s radio. He stood in the ship’s command center, listening to the communications. “Beta team, prepare for transport. Alpha team, move to rally point,” came another voice.
On the planet, a young soldier looked up at the inside of his helmet. The helmet’s internal display showed his location marked with an “X”. The alpha team rally point, marked by an “R”, was only fifty meters away. Numb from adrenaline, he was already moving before he made the conscious decision to start running. His environment suit was heavy, but its weight was more than manageable under the low gravity conditions on Ganymede. On his screen, the “R” turned green as it was “touched” by his “X”. He crouched and pressed a yellow button on the side of his rifle, activating his communications system.
“Marshall in position at rally point,” he said, scanning for the enemy.
“Jiminez approaching your position,” came a reply. To his right, he saw Jiminez sprinting toward him, his black environment suit bouncing up and down as he ran.
I don’t care what anyone says, I’d take a high-G assault over this bouncy shit any day, Jiminez thought to himself.
Transmissions began to come all at once, as more soldiers began to near the rally point. Sergeant Cook had counted only nine when the hills and sky to the southeast lit up with lightning as beta team was transported.
“We’ve got to move,” said Sergeant Cook. “Stragglers regroup at Op Point Able, over.” The sergeant looked over his squad to recheck his numbers. His men were huddled together, still shielding their eyes from the blast of light to the southeast.
“Call off,” he ordered. There were nine replies.
“Marines not currently at the rally point call off,” he said. There was no response.
“Call off!” he barked. He waited a few seconds, but still there was no reply.
“God damn it! They should have sent us down here in transports. This electronic shit pisses me off! I need to shoot those engineers! Alright, saddle up ladies. Let’s move to Op Point Able. The Captain will be down in a couple of minutes, and I want to be the first squad in position. Keep your eyes open, and check your targets. We have families down here.”
The squad began moving in groups of two, in a leapfrog fashion.
“Squad, hit the dirt!” ordered the sergeant. “Gamma team comin’ down!”
The troops barely had time to shield their eyes before the flash of brilliant light came from the east.
“Thanks for the warning, Sarge,” Jimenez mumbled.
“Cut that shit out, Jimmy! I give you as much warning as they give me. Keep moving,” Cook scolded.
“Gamma team is feet dry, sir,” Corporal Tanaka said, his voice cracking.
The control room’s three-dimensional display showed the moon’s topography in green, wavy lines. Moving slowly across these lines were three groups of dots, each designated by a different color. Sergeant Cook’s team was displayed as a set of nine blue dots, and Cook himself as a yellow dot. There was also a cluster of six white dots and Sergeant Hunter’s yellow dot to the southeast of Cook’s men. To Cook’s east, seven green dots were being followed by Sergeant De Silva’s yellow dot. In the center of the three colored groups was a white outline of the mining facility - the objective.
The individual dots seemed to be moving in zigzag patterns, stopping for a moment and then moving again at random intervals. The dots in each group were moving roughly parallel to each other. The yellow dots, however, were moving in a straight line behind the groups they followed. On the left-hand side of the screen, Tanaka noticed that four of the blue dots, as they went through their leapfrog and zigzag pattern, were slowly getting farther and farther away from the next nearest pair on the screen.
“Captain?” Tanaka said, pointing toward the four blue dots, his finger shaking.
Although Corporal Tanaka had been through all the required training and simulator time for his position, Captain Cross had seen that even the smallest deviation from mission protocol had caused him to show signs of nervousness, if not outright panic.
“It’s alright Corporal, relax. I see it.” Captain Cross rested his gloved right hand on the Corporal’s shoulder.
Captain Derek Cross understood that many of the men under his command felt intimidated by him, and he assumed that Tanaka was no different. The men knew that if a soldier under Cross’s command didn’t give everything during a mission, that soldier would find himself reassigned. Much of this idea had been created in the minds of the soldiers themselves, and then perpetuated by their sergeants.
Captain Cross reached his gloved hand in front of the Corporal to the screen. His thick, stubby finger touched Cook’s yellow dot, and waves emanated from it as if the screen were made of liquid. The dot began to flash.
“Sergeant, tighten up down there. You’re getting a little sloppy.”
“Yes sir. I’m…” a crackle of static interrupted the transmission. “Op point…fifteen…rally point…”
“What the hell is going on, Corporal?” Captain Cross demanded.
“I’m checking it out sir.” In a flurry of movement, Tanaka’s hands moved across the control station, pressing various buttons. The screen above his head showed a cut-away version of the ship in the center, and to the right was a three dimensional representation of Ganymede. A small red dot appeared, slightly above the asteroid, and was sending out red circles in waves.
“Sir, we’re being jammed by a small satellite in orbit.”
“What?” Captain Cross demanded, squinting at the screen.
“It’s right there, sir! Sensors didn’t pick it up earlier. It must have been on the backside of Ganymede when we arrived. It’s sending out a jamming pulse.” Corporal Tanaka appeared on the verge of tears.
“Alpha team approaching Op Point Able, sir,” came a voice from across the room. “Beta team has reached their rally point.”
Information was coming at him in waves, seemingly from all directions. Although his pulse was only slightly elevated, he was getting nervous. His left hand was in his pocket where it had been for at least ten minutes. Around his left wrist was a beaded silver chain, on which hung a medal. He rubbed the medal between his thumb and fingers, his finger slowly moving across the five points of the star, one at a time. Although he had been trained on them and how they worked, he had never actually encountered a jamming system. Cross noticed that the medal in his pocket felt warm and damp, and he realized he was sweating.
“Sergeant,” he leaned his head to the side listening. “Sergeant, please respond, over.” He was answered with static, and an occasional bit of a word here and there.
“…op…ess…. Repeat, alpha team…awaiting…”
“Fire control? I’ve had enough of this. Target that satellite. Take it out as soon as you get a lock,” he said, through gritted teeth. He shifted his weight back and forth, his thickly insulated environment suit weighing heavily on him.
“Target acquired, sir. Firing,” responded the weapons officer. A blast of white light erupted from a small hole at the front of the ship. The satellite was hit by the blast, and bits of molten metal sprayed in a cone from where the satellite had once been.
“Sir! What the hell is going on up there, over?” Sergeant Cook yelled at them.
“Calm down, sergeant. Everything’s under control. Give me a Sit-Rep.”
“Sir we’re at Op Point Able.”
Captain Cross looked at the screen in front of Corporal Tanaka noting that the blue dots were all clustered around a small, flashing “A”. He noted that De Silva and his men were slowly approaching a “C” from the north.
“That’s where I’m going in, Tanaka,” Cross said, pointing to the south of the flashing “B”.
“Sir, I only received nine men,” Cook interrupted. “Please tell me the other three are still with you, over.”
“Yes, sergeant, your men are still alive. There was a malfunction with a few of the lances. Your men, six from Sergeant Hunter’s squad and 5 from De Silva’s squad are standing by in case they need to come down as an additional wave.”
“God damn electronic shit!” echoed through the situation room.
“Uh, sergeant?” Captain Cross said smiling.
“Sorry sir, I thought I switched off.”
“I think we all appreciate how you feel” he paused for a moment, squeezing the medal in his palm until it hurt. “Have your men hold at Op Point Able. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“Lieutenant, radio the Colonel. Let him know I’m dropping in through one of Sergeant Hunter’s lances, as planned. Tell him I’ll be in contact when I reach the facility. You’re in command. I’ll be radio blackout for about three minutes. I’ll report in when I’m down,” he said, as he reached down and picked up a helmet sitting just behind Tanaka’s console. He turned and headed toward the door.
Captain Cross walked down the long hallway. The white walls were awash in pink from the red lights, indicating the ship’s red-alert status. His boots felt unusually heavy as he approached the transport station. The black plasma rifle bounced against his back with repeating thumps, which he could hear emanating from his chest as he exhaled.
Stepping into a long room, he began patting all of his pockets, double-checking the presence of all of his equipment. He paused for a moment and pulled his rifle down from his shoulder. With a click, he pulled his primary power cell from his belt pouch and held it in his hand, staring at it. He pressed a small button on the top of the cell, activating the cell’s “self test”. After a few seconds, the display showed a green light and read “75”, the number of rounds the cell’s charge held.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he muttered.
Cross almost never felt the need to have a magazine in his rifle when he dropped into a landing zone, and actively resisted the urge when he’d had it. He served more as a negotiator than a fighter, although he was well suited to both tasks. He slowly placed the cell back in its belt pouch then and placed his medal and beaded chain in a zippered pocket on the chest of his environment suit. He put on his left glove and then slung his rifle back over his shoulder. When he put his helmet on, the latches clicked and the suit’s air system began to hiss as it filled the helmet with breathable air. He reached down toward the pouch containing his secondary power cell, but stopped.
“Oops, almost forgot,” he said, reaching toward a plaque on the wall. He rubbed his gloved hand across the plaque. A swath of dull bronze was worn down the face of the plaque from all the soldiers who had passed this way before. The plaque, rubbed by the soldiers for good luck, gave the history of the ship’s name – USS Valley Forge. The plaque read:
USS Valley Forge
The USS Valley Forge was named for the United States Revolutionary War location where George Washington’s soldiers weathered several months of winter in 1777-1778. The camp was marked by the bloody tracks of barefoot soldiers in the snow, around the nearly 1000 small shacks that made up the camp. Nearly 3000 men died in the camp from a variety of ailments, including starvation, disease and exposure. The leadership and training instruction of General Washington and his officers burned away the cold in the hearts of his men, and after the winter’s chill had abated, his men, now well-disciplined and well-trained, marched on. Five years later, these men helped win the American Revolution.
The name USS Valley Forge was first used during World War II. A Boxer Class amphibious assault ship (CV-45) was the first to bear the name. This ship also served as an assault aircraft carrier (CVA-45), as an anti-submarine warfare vessel (CVS-45), and as an amphibious helicopter assault ship (LPH-8). After a long career, this ship was decommissioned in 1970. The USS Valley Forge served its crew valiantly in Korea and Vietnam, earning the ship eight and nine battle stars in these two conflicts, respectively. Overall, three Navy Unit Commendations, two Meritorious Unit Commendations, and two National Defense Service medals were earned prior decommission.
USS Valley Forge was reissued in 1986 for the Ticonderoga Class Aegis Cruise Missile ship (CG-50). The Valley Forge served in Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom, and served in anti-drug operations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Caribbean before being decommissioned in 2004.
The current designation (CV-192) was commissioned on May 18, 2128. A Daedalus Class Assault Ship, this ship carries on the proud heritage of the name:
USS Valley Forge
Below the history, pressed into the bronze plate, were replicas of the awards the name had earned throughout its history.
“Step on the pad, please,” came a human-like electronic voice.
“Yes, mother,” Cross said sarcastically, stepping up to the shiny steel plate outside the chamber door. He looked down the wall at the row of small booths that lined the wall. They looked similar to telephone booths, and each stood empty.
“Checking landing zone, stand by,” the voice said. Captain Cross had always joked with his sergeants about the psychological meaning of having a woman’s voice, or at least the resemblance of one, played to them before they were deployed. Psychiatrists were consulted on all aspects of design for the Valley Forge. They had decided that a woman’s voice would stimulate a primal instinct to fight for a female. Whether that female was a mate or a maternal figure was irrelevant. One man would fight for a mate, while another would fight for a mother-figure. Some men would call the voice “Honey”, some “Dear”, while others called it “Mother”.
“Standby for departure. Please enter the transport chamber,” said the voice. His pulse began to race. The transport chamber door slid silently open. He stepped into the chamber, turned to face the door, and looked down at his equipment for one final check. Seeing his secondary power cell pouch still open, he closed it.
Derek took a deep breath and looked up as a gray-haired, barrel-chested man came into the room.
“Come to see me off, Captain Gregory?” Cross said loudly in his helmet.
“Yes, sir. You and your boys have fun down there. I’ll have my Ex-Oh get the galley to make something special for you guys for dinner,” he said, his voice barely audible inside the transport chamber.
“Thank you, sir,” Cross said. “Cook and I have eighteen holes scheduled when this thing is over. How ‘bout you?”
“I’ll bring one of my officers, and we’ll make it a foursome.”
Captain Gregory flipped him a relaxed salute, but Cross drew himself up and fired back a very stiff salute in return. Gregory turned and left the room.
“Receiver at twenty-five miles. Prepare for transport.” Cross took a deep breath and exhaled loudly in his helmet. The clear faceplate fogged over, and then slowly cleared. He looked back down at the belt pouch that contained his secondary power cell, and realized that he had forgotten to check run the self-test on it. As the lights in the transport bay began to dim, the realization that it was too late to check the cell washed over him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as a chill ran down his spine.
“Landing zone clear, transport commencing,” chimed the voice. “Stand still.” The hair all over the rest of his body began to stand on end, as the chamber was filled with an electric charge. The white light in the room began to grow brighter. Suddenly, there was a flash of brilliant light, and then he was plunged into darkness.
Captain Cross was suddenly disoriented. He felt as though he were being pushed down into his boots. Tremendous pressure had suddenly built up around him, although there was no pain. He began to hear a buzzing in his ears. Suddenly, the pressure faded and he felt as if two people were trying to pull him apart. It felt as though someone was holding his feet, while someone else was holding his head, trying to stretch him him like saltwater taffy,. He felt as though he had been smashed into nothing in the booth, and was now being stretched back into shape. The buzzing in his ears grew louder and louder, until he could make out voices. They were screaming.