United Nations, Hope Naval Station, UNS Vengeance
Dozens and dozens of large cargo containers occupied both the flight decks of the Vengeance, so much so that they prevent the decks from launching and recovering aircraft. The stacks of cargo containers were further strapped down and secured with steel cables to prevent them from slipping or falling overboard in bad weather.
The Vengeance with both its flight decks covered with cargo containers looked more like a cargo ship rather than a warship and yet still, cranes were continuing to load more cargo containers on board. Each cargo container contained crucial supplies, from essentials like fuel, food, water, and medicine, to weapons, ammunition, spare parts, vehicles, and even a couple of industry grade fabricators.
While such a decision rendered the entire carrier's fixed wing aircraft totally useless but without a support fleet or any form of resupply, the Vengeance had to bring everything they would need to establish a forward base in the Old World. Hence, after filling the Vengeance's internal holds to the brim, the rest of the needed supplies were stacked on the flight decks.
The loading of the cargo containers had taken almost a week while the Vengeance underwent some repairs, maintenance, and refits. A small army of technicians and engineers which a large majority of consisted of goblins went through the entire ship, replacing worn parts and other required maintenance.
On the side of the carrier air wing, the old first generation F/A - 1N Sea Cobras were also swapped out with the newer F/A - 2 Vipers, upgrading the Vengeance's air power. The Vengeance's 3 inch guns were also replaced with the newer 3.5 inch (88mm) calibre guns further increasing its firepower.
Six brand new Mechanized Armoured Walker MK VIII were also loaded onboard with another twenty Infantry Fighting Vehicles and a host of other light vehicles, trucks and MRAPs. In the aft of the ship where the well deck was, eight PT boats were suspended with steel cables securely in the air, while another four troop barges were secured to the well deck.
Captain Blake watched the ongoing work from the top floor of the naval station's headquarters. Behind him, seated behind the desk was Commander Ford who had a thick pile of documents stacked on his desk. "The Vengeance would be ready to set sail by the end of the week."
"What is left is to pick up the Marines from Port Sanctuary and the First City," Ford added as he scribbled his signature on one of the documents. "You should have plenty of time before winter hits and closes the sea."
Blake nodded as he continued to watch the work on the Vengeance. Ford let out a sigh and said, "I will have a fleet to escort the Vengeance into the End Zone. After that, you and the Vengeance are on your own..."
"Thank you," Blake said as he turned away from the window. "I know I had been... not myself for quite a while..."
Ford kept quiet as he waited for Blake to continue. Blake took out a small brown pouch from his pocket and seemed to sagged visibility as he bounced the pouch in his palm before he placed the pouch on the desk. "This... is a drug called... Happy."
Ford was surprised as he picked up the pouch and opened it. A fine white powder mixed with a green glitter poured out on to Ford's palm. "This!"
"I got it from a group operating just beyond our borders," Blake confessed. "It... kept... me sane..."
"But... now, I have no need of its use anymore..." Blake said as he took a seat before Ford. "It does not excuse the use of drugs."
"You could have died!" Ford hissed in anger as he dumped the pouch into the bin. "You know how many people's lives were ruined because of this drug?"
"I know," Blake replied calmly. "I will step down from command once this... is over..."
Ford stared in silence at Blake after hearing his words, uncertain what to reply. Blake let out a sigh, "I'm tired, and whether if we find her or not... I think it's time for me to rest."
"You will take over me when that time comes," Blake said as he headed for the exit. "I think this is the best for everyone."
Ford watched Blake exit and a sense of disappointment and dismay weighed deeply in his heart. He recalled back to the first time he read Blake's resume records and the first meeting with him. His feelings now were exactly the same as before, after meeting the man which was unlike anything written in the naval records.
In Blake's records, there were several commendations and citations for valor under fire but Ford's first impression of the man was disappointing. The man he saw was nothing like the record stated and he seemed more like a washed out old man instead. But when the Swarm came and crash landing on this planet had changed the captain a lot and it seemed Blake had returned to his former self.
Now, it appears that Blake was returning to his previous washed out state and that made Ford feel a sense of loss that he could not explain. He leaned back on his chair and stared at the ceiling thinking that a few years ago, he would have been happy to be in charge but now, the responsibilities of command was no longer as attractive as before.
Letting out a deep sigh, Ford looked at the pile of paperwork and shook away his brooding thoughts and decided to put his whole focus in ensuring that Blake and the crew of the Vengeance would stand a fighting chance in the Old World. Once they had settled that problem, then he shall focus on Blake's problems.
United Nations, The Isles, First City of the Fleet
A stone hurling across the air struck with a loud clank against the raised round shield of a shield wall. Facing the shield wall of Marines and isles guardsmen were an angry mob who wielded stones and crude weapons, The mob rife up by rumors and uncertainty of the merge with UN were mostly the uneducated and of the lower class.
Mills had a frown on his face as he watched the mob clashing with his troops. For the past couple of weeks, there had been an increase of unrest throughout the Isles. But the First City was relatively quiet until now just when there was a court hearing of the two disposed Fleet Masters.
The Marines were scheduled to be rotated out with Army units and board the Vengeance but with things looking so bad, the Marines might not be able to pull out at all. There was a loud crash as the shield wall charged into the mob, the Marines and guardsmen wielding batons and scattered the rioters.
Unlike the New Kingdom of Mecca where the people were war weary and in poverty, the Isles boasted the densest cities and villages compared to the other kingdoms as land was scarcer. The people of the Isles in general were also more well to do compared to the rest due to their flourishing trade and lack of wars.
This made pacifying the people of the Isles harder as many were still grieving with the loss of their loved ones from the betrayal of Megan. Efforts that seemed to pacify and calm the populace seemed to have failed suddenly, made Mills suspicious of some underlying scheme.
"Raider One, this is Island Command" His earpiece called out. "Pull back your men to the Wheeler's Street. Over."
"Raider One copies!" Mills yelled over the noise. "Squad leaders! Rally your men! We are falling back!"
His squad leaders quickly rallied the men and they fell back in good order. The mob seeing the soldiers retreated cheered in victory as they chased after the soldiers, throwing stones at their retreat. Mills gestured to his radioman over and said, "Get me Major James!"
"Yes, Sir!" The radioman fiddled with his radio before handing the handset over.
"Major?" Mills held the handset to his ear. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Mills! Pull your men back and hold that street!" Major James replied. "The unrest is a ploy to distract us!"
Mills's suspicion was correct. "Anything to do with those two assholes we are holding?"
"Very likely!" James's worried tone could be heard over the radio. "Reinforce the guards there! Do not let anyone without authorization through! Out!"
Mills cursed as hurried his men down the street. Their new position was right where the House of Law for the hearing of the two Fleet Masters was being held today. They reached the street where both ends had checkpoints set up. The Army units and guardsmen had been warned of their arrival and they allowed them through while the senior most officer spoke with Mills.
"What is going, Captain?" The Army Major asked as he looked around nervously. "Are we expecting an attack?"
"Very likely!" Mills replied. "My boys are the nearest unit here, so they diverted us over to support you!"
"Oh fark..." The Major cursed as he saw the approaching crowd behind Mills's troops. "Form up! Form up!"
Mills eyed the approaching mob and hesitated for a moment before he grabbed the Major by his arm. "Sir, we might need to go live here..."
"Live rounds?" The Major's eye widen in surprise. "Fire at civilians? You want this whole shit to go out of control?"
"We might need to!" Mills said firmly. "This mob is clearly incited by someone... And that someone wants to break out those two inside the courthouse!"
"Even so, there are civilians there..." The Major hissed. "This is such a fark up! I better check in with Command!"
"And before I get further orders!" The Major gestured to the line. "No one fires at the crowd without my order!"
"Yes, Sir!" Mills sighed as he ran over to join the shield line. His men had been fending off the crowd with non lethal means as to not escalate the conflict. He knew that if civilians were gunned down the situation will turn for the worse, but if the plotters behind this managed to steal the two disposed Fleet Masters out of their hands, it surely would turn into civil war.
"Shatter the crowd!" Mills commanded from behind the troops. "Hit them with flares!"
The troops with flare guns aimed at the crowd and fired, sending streaks of fiery sparks flying into the crowd. The unlucky crowd in the front was knocked back as the flares slammed into their lines and the hot sparks and choking smoke broke the crowd, buying more time for Mills's troops.
"Captain!" The Major came running over. "Command... gave us permission to go live... ONLY IF, our men lives are in danger!"
"And reinforcements will be coming... but no ETA yet," The Major said as he stared at the crowd splitting around the burning flares. "This is going to be tricky!"
"Major, the House of Law?" Mills asked as he gestured to the grand looking building built into the side of the mountain which the locals used to conduct trials, signing of contracts and other legislation stuff.
"I had the entrances locked down when reports of riots had broken out," The Major said. "There's both an Army and guards platoon holding inside."
The House of Law was sited with its back against the dead volcano with an open plaza lined with fronds and the plaza was surrounded by buildings. The only way into the House of Law was the street running across the front of the plaza. Both ends of the street had a checkpoint which was currently held by the UN troops and facing them was a large angry mob.
"It would be some time before reinforcements come," Mills said to the Major. "If I guess correctly... There would be riots everywhere... And everyone would be too busy to come support us..."