Quartz slipped down the steep ladder and down into Engine room of the Daisy. He saw the unconscious engineer laying against the bulkhead with an egg sized bump on his head and shook his head. He will have to thoroughly ensure everyone keeps on their helmets when they are under combat if they survive this!
"What's the situation here?" Quartz asked one of the mechanics who was hunched over the open panels of the boat's engines.
"Skipper!" The mechanic replied. "We lost one of the propeller screws from that landing!"
"Shit!" Quartz cursed before asking again. "Anyway to fix it?"
"No, sir," The mechanic slammed the panels close and replied. "It's a repair yard job!"
"Damn it," Quartz looked at the puddles of water slowing gathering at the bottom of his feet. "Patch up what you can and get Alec strapped down till we can get medical on him."
Quartz left the Engine room and went forward towards the crew quarters located at the bow of the boat. He looked at the ugly mangled ballista bolt that had pierced through the overhead of the crew quarters, impaling the starboard side triple stacked bunks.
Luckily the bolt did not pierce all the way through and holed the boat below the waterline, but the force of the ballista nearly killed everyone.
He exited the crew quarters and climbed up to the top deck and saw how the ballista bolt had stuck at an angle right at the bow deck, missing the 20 mm gun mount and its crew by a couple of hand spans.
The XO yelled down from the flying deck, "Skip! We broke through the blockade but the damn dragons are still following us! And we are slowing down!"
"I know!" Quartz called out. "How's the ammo?"
"Last can of ammo for the fifties and the twenty mikes have barely two dozen shots each!" The XO replied. "We are screwed if there is another blockade up ahead!"
"Keep your pants up!" Quartz didn't want to make their situation sound so grim. "We made it this far, we can make it home!"
"We have survived so far with barely anyone having major injuries!" Quartz grinned. "We can do it!"
"SKIPPER!" The fifty cal gunner yelled out suddenly and pointed ahead. "MORE IMPERIALS!"
Quartz spun around and stood next to the 20 mm gun and used his binoculars to scout out the river ahead of the Daisy. Immediately, the looming hulks of another two Imperial barges covered his view as the two ships blocked the river further downstream.
"Shit!" His face fell as he put down his binos and as if on cue of their impending doom, the circling Imperial dragons overhead roared out in unison.
"What do we do now, Skip?" The gunner crew of the forward 20 mm asked him as he stared silently ahead.
Quartz glanced around and saw most of the crew had come up to the decks and were looking at him with hopeful eyes. Eyes that looked upon him for answers to their predicament.
He opened his mouth to tell his crew that there is nothing to be afraid of but no words came out and he couldn't face them for he knew there was nothing they could do anymore.
The Daisy was running barely at a third of its speed and majority of its hull were badly damaged. It could not suffer another hit like the ballista bolt that was stuck at the bow deck as a grim reminder to their vulnerability. Ammunition was all but used up and the men were all tired and had already put their best.
The men seeing their skipper looking away knew that they had used up all their luck in their lifetimes and they couldn't escape their fate anymore. "Hey Skip, didn't you always say not to give up?"
"Yeah!" The young crew of the Daisy grinned as they proudly stood with heads high. "We single handed destroyed over half a dozen Imperial barges and killed more enemy to send us on our way to the next life!"
"What more can a soldier want?" The crew boasted. "The most we go down fighting and show these Blue boys what a true warrior is!"
"You guys..." Quartz straightened up and saluted smartly at his crew. "You and the Daisy are the finest crew and boat that I ever have the fortune to serve with! I am proud of you all!"
The crew of the Daisy stood straight and returned their Skipper's salute solemnly.
"Action stations!" Quartz barked. "We fight like men and die like men!"
Northern Front Central Command
Joseph turned away from the display after he finished his report to High Command back at Haven. He rubbed his tired face and turned to the map table and took a break to reorganize his thoughts.
High Command has decided to send in more guns and supplies in support to the offensive by the Imperials and also what little fighting men they could spare.
But all that takes time for the war materials to be transported over and he worries that the enemy might decide not to assault his short defensive lines and instead take a detour around.
And on top of that, there was an exodus from the previous standing Sin City that he has to dedicate a valuable FB - 1 Mariner to constantly supply them.
And he also has a PT boat and its entire crew gone MIA for two days over the northern Shard River!
Too many things happening at once and he only has limited resources to deploy. He gave the order to the other PT boat to keep an eye out for the missing boat and its crew as it went on a reconnaissance in force up the river.
He looked at the UAV imagery of the rows and rows of tents set up just roughly two kilometers away from his forward lines and was very tempted to unleash all his firepower on hitting them.
But he decided not to, to keep it as a surprise once he was certain that he could catch every single one of those Blue bastards together once their reinforcements have all gathered.
Besides, he did not want to let the Imperials know his artillery range so early in the game and hitting their camp now will force them to disperse which makes it even harder for his already limited troops to stop any attacks if they decided to attack in small groups from all directions.
The terrain was just too open, Joseph frowned as he rapped his fingers on the map. Luckily, the Imperials were not trained in modern warfare, if not they would have dispersed their troops and come from all directions.
Instead, they have continued with the traditional way that won and broke armies since wars were started. If a battle was offered on the field, both sides will mass their armies together and throw at each other till one side remained standing.
Or, one side digs in and force the other side to crack their teeth against their defenses. Normally, the attacking side with the greater strength will not overlook the defenders and instead will attempt to thoroughly destroy them, least the risk of having an enemy at their rear.
Joseph was hoping that Moel will not overlook his defending force and keep attacking them instead of taking a detour around. A detour will take days for the Imperials but it could severely threaten Joseph's position and even the city!
He knew the enemy will be using the waterways as a supply route, hence he let loose his only two PT boats to raid and ambush their supply ships but he did not expect to lose a PT boat on the first day of the battle!
He wanted to send out the Cobras to do a search for the missing PT boat but declined it almost immediately as he needed the planes to be his rapid responders to any massed attacks.
After their first failed pre dawn assault, the Imperials had attacked once again during the late afternoon and it was repelled by the combined efforts of the mortars batteries and the dive bombing of the Cobras.
And he had assigned his two dragons on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) duties over the city instead of placing them on the front lines as he needed his Cobras on a pure bomber role. And the remaining FB - 1 Mariners are critically needed to run as transports between Haven and Orwell's Point instead of being bombers.
"Sir!" One of the command staff suddenly called out. "FAC Ten just spotted our missing FAC Oh Niner!"
"Where?" Joseph quickly asked.
"Here!" The staff tapped the map and placed a green boat shaped token on the river. "They are roughly twenty kilometers upstream!"
"What's the status of Oh Niner?" Joseph asked in concern.
"Sir, Ten just reported that Oh Niner is engaging the enemy!" The staff reported. "They are saying they will provide assistance to Oh Niner!"
Quartz stood on the flying bridge and watched the distance between their boat and the two enemy barges closing fast. Crew members transferred all the remaining ammo from the aft 20 mm gun to the forward gun and they took up positions on the deck armed with their rifles and shotguns.
Even the Engine Room's mechanic was topside armed with weapons as there was no longer any point in manning the engines. Either they made it through the enemy or they all die trying.
He didn't bothered to hook a safety line to the deck and instead checked his shotgun and worked the pump to chamber a shell in.
"Alright, boys! This is our last fight!" Quartz yelled. "Show the Blue boys how we fight! And make this a fight that people will drink to in the bars!"
"YAAAAA!" The crew screamed as they readied themselves both physically and mentally. As they neared the blockade, the Imperial dragons overhead swooped down again, trying to disrupt the crew.
As one of the Imperial medium weight dragons swooped over, the crew fired their weapons at its underbelly and by luck or due to the sheer volume of small arms fire, the dragon suddenly gave a scream of pain before its wings folded inwards and the dragon and its crew dropped like a stone and splashed mightly into the river.
"YEAAAAAAAH!" The Daisy's crew cheered madly. "Suck on that!"
Angered by the loss of one of their own, the rest of the dragons renewed their attack. The dragon crew armed with crossbows fired as fast as they could reload at the Daisy. Luckily their stocks of alchemical fire were depleted or they would have bombed the Daisy.
The forward 20 mm autocannon roared as it came to range, targeting the leftmost Imperial barge. With the lower speed of the boat, the gun crew was able to accurately direct almost all its fire onto the barge.
Smoke and debris rained down from the attacked barge as the powerful 20 mm shells chewed its wooden hull away. Some of the Imperials frightened by the power of the strange weapon fired their ballistas in panic.
The hastily fired ballista bolts missed and gave Quartz a sense of comfort, as he knew that their chances of surviving the charge just went up slightly.
"Fifties! Sweep the top decks! Clear the archers and mages!" Quartz yelled. "Twenty mikes! Keep aiming for their ballistas!"
"The rest, shoot at anything that comes close to us!" He ordered the rest of the crew crowding the deck.
A sharp crack followed by a smell of ozone assailed Quartz's nose. A lightning bolt conjured up by the mages onboard the Imperial barges almost hit the Daisy and the passage of the lightning left a white afterimage in his eyes.
"Whoever that knows how to cast a bloody magic shield or barrier, better do it now!" Quartz yelled. "Or if you got some magic artifact... Now is the time to use it!"
None of the crew were proficient in magic, everyone was barely able to even cast a Level 1 spell. The crew could only pray for a miracle as the Daisy entered the ballistas' range.