Gall Force: Another Journey, Another Story

Captain Gail looked out the viewport at the wreckage of the Solonoid and Paranoid fleets, a massive debris field that would likely choke any ship passage in this system for years to come. She was pretty young to be a ship's captain, this twenty five year old redhead, a promotion that she gained after their previous captain had been killed when their ship's bridge received a direct hit a few months ago. As the Captain of the Solonoid cruiser Lady Grace she had proven herself again and again, but this test might be too much even for her.

Gail looked back as casually as she could manage, watching as the conference room gradually filled with her bridge crew. Looking at them she had to admit that almost none of them would be where they were right now even a few decades ago. The long, grinding war with the Paranoid fleet had brought on both fast promotions and an increased chance of death in the fleet, something that had become a hard fact of life for them all.

Commander Allaine sat right beside Gail's seat at the large round table, almost the exact same age and experience that she herself had. The dark brown haired second in command was tough, but she also had a gentle side that she worked quite hard to conceal. The two of them had been down in engineering when the bridge was hit during that fateful attack, and as the only two command level officers left alive they had taken charge, leading a successful counter attack against the Paranoid ambushers that had slain their captain.

Lieutenant-Commander Karin was studying a data pad, patiently waiting for the meeting to start. The dark haired ship's engineer was a relatively new arrival, and hadn't made herself very popular with the engine room crews with her spot inspections and unannounced maintenance checks. On the other hand she had also caught two serious problems before they went critical, so she certainly seemed to know her stuff.

Lieutenant Lauren looked a bit nervous sitting there, but then again helmswomen usually did look nervous when away from their posts. The slim blonde was fidgeting a bit when she realized that Gail had seen her. With an apologetic smile she forced herself to calm down.

Gail forced herself to remain a cool appearance as she met the blonde's gaze steadily, but it wasn't very easy for her. They had been lovers once, her and Lauren, until Gail's strong sense of personal responsibility had forced her to break it off. But the feelings still lingered on, however much she might try to forget about them.

Lieutenant Danielle was the ship's tactical officer, a cool and capable young woman with a reputation for ruthlessness that was very well deserved. In their last major conflict the black haired young woman had advocated that they abandon their shielding fighter groups to stage a tactical retreat, only to be overruled by the captain. From the intense look in her eye, it was clear that she hadn't forgotten about that public rebuke at all.

Catty, their new communications officer, was still an enigma to Gail. The purple haired girl was quiet, unassuming, and as easy to read as a armor-plate wall. Her personnel file was unremarkable, but there was something about her that was off, somehow.

Last, but certainly not the least, was Major Tanya, the captain of the fighter squads that were now housed in the ship. Effectively the same rank as Gail she was given a courtesy promotion to the rank of Major. The green haired pilot was tough, bearing the scars on her athletic body of more than one near miss, with a reputation to match She and Danielle hadn't gotten along terribly well even before the last battle, and from the look on her face she had probably heard all about the attempted abandoning of her fighter groups.

'And I get to be the one who has to try to keep them all from killing each other,' Gail thought to herself with a wry smile.

"Captain," Allaine said to her softly, "everyone's here."

Gail slid into her seat smoothly and said, "Then let's get this meeting underway." There were some nervous glances out the windows at the devastation, and Gail knew that she could just order the windows to be shut. But she chose not to do that. They all needed to understand the stakes and the consequences of any error.

Allaine consulted her data before reporting, "We've tabulated all the survivors of the last Paranoid attack. Including the fighter crews we're down to 32 people."

Gail tried not to wince. She knew their losses had been bad, but to have their crew reduced by so much! She forced the dismay she felt down, keeping any of it from showing on her face as she asked, "How are your fighter wings, Tanya?"

"We've reorganized in four wings of three pilots each," Tanya reported, "the most senior pilot leading." She hesitated a moment before adding, "And I'm going out with them."

According to the standard regulations, the leader of the fighter squads should never be out flying combat missions. "They're your people, it's your call," Gail mentally tossed the rules right out the airlock as she nodded to her firmly. She turned to look at her chief engineer and hoped for good news, "And how are the repairs going, Karin?"

"We've been concentrating on getting the primary tactical systems and reserve ECM back on-line, and we've been mostly successful," Karin reported crisply.

"Mostly?" Gail raised an eyebrow.

"An entire bank of the targeting computers were destroyed," Danielle stepped in to explain, "and we don't have the materials to fully replace it. We're hoping that the salvage teams have some luck, but I'm not counting on it. If we can not replace it, at least some of our targeting will have to be done manually from the bridge."

'Salvage teams,' Gail thought bleakly. They were literally out there sifting through the wrecks of their sister ships, praying that they would find anything useful. Keeping her voice level she asked Karin, "Have you had any luck?"

Karin brought up a file on her screen, "We've recovered sufficient armor segments to replace the stores we used up in our repairs, and have accumulated parts for both the ship systems and the fighters. Water and rations, along with other supplies have also been recovered."

"Thank you," she nodded to Karin. Gail turned to Danielle, "Please give us all a summary of the present tactical situation."

Danielle got out of her seat and brought the main screen in the room to life, giving them all an overview of the solar system they were now in. "We are here," she touched a control and marked their position within the debris field, "and the Paranoid are here." She highlighted three ships based on the far side of the debris, "We activated our ECM systems as soon as we spotted them, and I'm confident that they do not know we're here."

"You're sure about that?" Major Tanya offered coldly.

'Yes, their friction is going to a problem,' Gail thought to herself grimly. She was about to say something when someone else took it right out of her hands.

Surprisingly Allaine spoke up in Danielle's defense, "While our back- ups were temporarily off-line, our primary ECM was still fully effective, and with debris all around us made up of similar alloys to our hull, it will add to our cover."

"But once we start moving again," Gail supplied, "we'll be visible again." She looked at the monitor, "Do we know what class of ship they are?"

"Their version of light cruisers," Danielle reported. With a grim little smile she said, "Even with our present system limitations we could take any one of them in a fair fight, it's getting any of them alone that's going to be the problem."

Gail hesitated, wishing someone else had the information as she asked, "Lauren, what did you pick up while we were drifting?"

The slim blonde met her captain's eyes steadily as she checked over her file. "We crossed the warp signature of another Solonoid ship, probably left behind when they received a general order to retreat," Lauren reported crisply.

Gail could hear the murmurs around the table, the soft repeating of, "Another ship made it." Or, "There's other survivors." The bridge crew quieted after a moment, but Gail saw the hope in their eyes. And she hated herself for having to crush it.

"If we warp out after their ship, what will the Paranoid forces do?" a grim faced Gail made herself ask Danielle softly.

The mildly sick expression on Danielle's face told Gail that she had figured it all out. The tactical officer quietly said, "Our ECM is far less effective when we're on the move. They would spot us immediately, and pursue." She paused a moment, "And unless we were remarkably lucky, both ships would probably be destroyed."

Gail was faintly surprised that Tanya spoke up right then, "So why don't we run the other way, try to lead the Paranoid ships off?" She shrugged slightly, "Hey, who knows, we might even be able to out run them."

Allaine and Gail had talked about all this before hand, of course. They and one other. But they hadn't been really expecting to get this kind of support from any of the bridge crew. "I'm a little surprised to hear you say that," Allaine managed.

"We fighter jocks know we're all living on borrowed time," Tanya shrugged again, "I figure if we're going down anyway, let's save another ship in the process."

"We are not going down, as you so eloquently put it," Gail said to her forcefully, "I intend to do everything I can to keep this crew intact."

"Tactically, though, it's not too bad of a plan," Danielle looked up to say coolly, "as long as we have enough supplies and materials. We could quite successfully wear the enemy force down in this sort of running fight."

Karin leaned forward, "I'll redirect the salvage crews. We'll need reactor components and fuel reserves, if we're even going to attempt this." She paused a moment before she asked, "But where, exactly, do we run to?"

Knowing this question was coming, that was Catty's cue to take over the display screen just as Gail and Alliene had rehearsed with her earlier on. A very simplified overall map of the Solonoid and Paranoid territories appeared on the screen.

"Before we first encountered the Paranoid we launched several colony ships through this region," Catty highlighted a path right through part of Paranoid space, "where they established a few colonies. At least one of the colony ships then left both our and Paranoid territories, going off into completely uncharted regions of space."

Allaine smiled grimly, "We're certain that the colonies themselves were totally destroyed by the Paranoid, but there may be supplies and material's we can salvage."

"And then go try to find the missing colony ships," Lauren murmured.

Gail stood up from her seat, gazing out into space. "There's no guarantees in any of this, of course. The Paranoid could take us down before we even reach where the colonies were, much less finding the lost ships," she said simply.

"There's never been any guarantees in this job," Danielle said firmly.

"I really hate to have to agree with her," Tanya gave Danielle a very disdainful look, "but I think she's right about this. You've got a good crew here on the Lady Grace, and I figure we've got as good chance as any to pull this off."

There was a general chorus of agreement from the women of the command staff. Gail smiled, keeping her face turned away as she felt tears prickling at her eyes. Keeping her voice as steady as she could manage she said, "All right. We'll do it."

To be continued...