The Lady Aberdeen
Season 2: Mission 2: Just Breath
There were few things more beautiful in the life of a Starfleet officer than the words, ‘You’ve got a few free hours.’ Gallia had been blessed with a few this afternoon and was going to put them to very good use. With Liorga and Sami Justice in tow they were on their way to the holodeck for a mission into the Ardennes Forest in ‘Lady Aberdeen,’ Gallia’s Sherman Firefly tank. As they walked through the corridor Gallia, then Liorga, saw Anya, “Anya! Over here!” Gallia called out.
“Hey, roomie!” Liorga added, motioning for Anya to join them.
Anya changed course and joined them. “You two look like you’re dressed for some very dirty maintenance. Did you get saddled with waste management duty?”
“No, no.” Liorga laughed, “Ens. Norris has asked us to come with her to the Ardennes to slug it out with the German Army.”
“Panzer IV’s, maybe the odd Panther.” Gallia shrugged, she wasn’t going to throw her new friends, new to the game, up against Tigers right off the jump, “Gonna rescue a unit of combat engineers that got themselves surrounded by the 6th Panzer.”
“Sounds like fun, huh?” Liorga asked, she was, somewhat surprisingly, pretty excited about the idea.
Anya grinned and started singing, “Yankee Doodle went to battle, riding in a Sherman, popped him with my eighty-eight and then he started burnin’.”
“This ain’t no standard Sherman, darlin’!” Gallia protested, “This is a Sherman Five, the Firefly. Not one a’ them American M-4 Zippos that caught fire when somebody lit a smoke too close. The Lady Aberdeen.”
“Too cramped to be born in”, Anya remarked. “So, you’re looking for someone to lob shells at you while you’re trying to advance?” Depending on how arcade-style the programme was, she figured she could do that.
“Oh, the computer will be doin’ the shell lobbin’.” Gallia answered, “But we’d be happy ta have ya on the machine gun.”
“I’m going to drive, Ens. Norris will command, Sami’s going to man the main gun or possibly load if we can find a fifth.” Liorga added, “Unless you wanted to drive and I’ll run the machine gun.”
“My butt already got toasted once this week”, Anya said. “I will only get in there if you promise to keep the safeties on. And nobody, absolutely nobody wants to be the loader.”
“Actually, with the weights being simulated realistically I’d love to load.” Justice answered, flexing her biceps, “Work my guns a little by loading hers.”
Anya grinned. “You might actually grow some muscle. Sure, I’m in. What can possibly go wrong?”
“That’s the spirit, roomie.” Liorga smiled, “Come on, we’re in holodeck three.”
“Lead on”, Anya said. “I’ll follow your lead. It’s arcade style driving, yes? I usually ride horses, or fly.”
“Grow some muscle?” Justice sneered, “You mean more muscle on top of this muscle.” Sami Justice’s body was a work of chiseled art and she was rightfully proud of it.
“All right, calm down.” Gallia laughed, “She didnae mean nothin’ by it, Musclehead.”
Anya snickered. “Good, I’m not the only one with a nickname here.”
“Not at all.” Liorga, aka Rapunzel, laughed.
“So, have you got one of those coveralls for me, too?” Anya asked. “They don’t look particularly appealing, but they do seem somewhat practical.”
“We’ll zap ya one up when we hit the holodeck.” Gallia promised, “Oh, and just in case there’s a need ta exit the vehicle we’re gonna have period weapons, too.”
“I’m looking forward to something called the ‘Ten Gun.’” Liorga added, “Seems a nice weapon.”
“Sten Gun, darlin’, Sten Gun.” Gallia laughed.
“Stun gun? They had those back then?” Anya wondered. Note to self, she thought, ear wax.
“No, not stun, Sten.” Gallia corrected her, “It was a British submachine gun, it was like… ah, ya know what? You’ll see when we get there.”
“Submarine gun, got it”, Anya grinned. She wondered when the others would catch on. “Torpedoes away, ma’am.”
“There ya go.” Liorga laughed, apparently the Ensign didn’t realize she was being screwed with yet.
When they arrived at the holodeck Anya walked in and left it to Gallia to call up the programme. She’d have to replace her comfortable dress with one of those ugly things, but at least this promised to be fun. “Computer, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones”, she requested, then put them over her ears. “Guns are so loud”, she remarked.
“That’s okay.” Sami boasted, “I can handle it.” She could handle it, but she went ahead and got a pair of the headphones for herself anyway; why take chances?
Gallia brought the program up and the holodeck turned into the French forest, the temperature dropping over fifty degrees instantly, “Glad we bundled ourselves up, hey?”
Liorga instantly added some new gear to her outfit: a wool cap with ears went under her helmet, “Hey, the rest of you have hair to keep your brain warm.”
Anya shivered. She quickly had the holodeck make one of those ancient uniforms and changed into it. “Where are we? Andoria?”
“France, 1944.” Gallia answered quickly, “We should get to the briefing.”
“Briefing?” Justice asked, she hadn’t expected this kind of detail.
“Aye.” Gallia nodded, leading the others to a small, drafty metal building, where a man with a heavy, Walrus mustache was going over the details of the mission.
“All right, people, let’s pay attention.” The man, a Colonel by insignia, began, “We’ve got a pilot downed in the forest, shot down during a spy mission. He’s got information we need, so you can imagine Jerry wants him as bad as we do. He was able to give us a good location before he went down, we expect he’ll be somewhere within a few kilometers of his last reported location. Expect heavy resistance, intelligence reports elements of 6th Panzer in the area. Dismissed.”
“All right, let’s do it.” Gallia exclaimed, literally running to her tank.
Anya followed suit. She quickly found the hatch she was supposed to squeeze into, the holodeck had placed a hud marker on it so she knew where her objective was. Easiest setting for the newbie, which suited her fine. Squeezing in, however, wasn’t all that easy for the tall Anya.
Liorga and Sami found their way into the tank behind Ens. Norris, adjusting themselves to the interior of the tank and the biting cold. Sami finally was the one to ask, “There a heater in here, Sir?”
“There is on this one.” Gallia smiled, flipping the unit on and making things slightly more comfortable for everyone else.
Anya went through a quick tutorial on how to drive the tank, she had never dealt with anything that moved on tracks before. “Someone will have to tell me where to go. I’ve got no navigational sensors, and can’t see shit.”
“That’s what this is for.” Gallia laughed, flipping up the metal visor in front of her to let Anya see out.
“Ah, much better, thank you”, Anya smiled. How Gallia had been able to reach was beyond her. Maybe being small had some advantages. “I think I’m ready now.”
Liorga took her place at the main gun, Sami right behind to load, “We’re all ready here, Sir.” Liorga reported.
“All right then.” Gallia nodded, “Anya, pull us out and let’s go find our downed flyboy.”
With a lot of sputtering and some rather disconcerting noises, the engine of the metal box kicked into gear and it started moving in the general direction of where Anya could see a lot of trees. “There’s so many trees, I can’t even see the forest”, she said as they moved closer.
“That happens.” Liorga laughed, her roommate’s sense of humor was on point today.
“Accordin’ ta this we’re somewhere around twenty miles out.” Gallia said, “How fast do ya feel comfortable drivin’ this thing, Anya?”
Anya floored it, and it did go a little faster. “I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain!” Anya called in a horrible approximation of an engineering accent, which just so happened to be mostly Scottish, only that Anya couldn’t do it right.
“Thank God she’s pretty, huh, Sami?” Gallia laughed as she addressed Justice, “That voice a’ hers is enough ta scare a Borg!”
“It’s not that bad.” Sami replied, “But not very Scottish.”
“Donnae take it bad, Anya, it’s just Sami ‘ere’s gotten a bit spoiled hearin’ the real thing all day in engineerin’ is all.” Gallia said, she was already having fun.
“We could turn the turret backwards and shoot for some extra thrust”, Anya suggested. She figured they weren’t particularly stealthy in that thing anyway, not with four more controlled by the computer and a bunch of mechanised infantry advancing with them.
“That would probably be a bad idea in this case.” Gallia sighed, though she really did want to try it out, “Too many of our people behind us.”
“Security types.” Liorga laughed and rolled her eyes, “Always wanting to shoot something.”
“Well, if you’re wantin’ ta shoot at somethin’, here’s a chance for ya.” Gallia informed as she surveyed the area with the periscope, “Seems someone’s watchin’ us.”
Liorga looked through her view flap and confirmed what Ens. Norris had seen, “Looks like some sort of armored car.”
“Aye, a Puma 234.” Gallia said, she’d dealt with them before and they were tough to handle, “Sami darlin’, load up an AP shell for me.”
“Those are the red ones, right?” Justice asked, she was playing for the first time after all.
“No, red are HE, AP are green.” Gallia corrected, “Anya, how close can ya get us to give Liorga a good shot? WITHOUT givin’ them one.”
“That thing’s a lot faster than we are”, Anya warned. “If they run, we can’t catch them.” If they didn’t run, could the little Sherman be caught? Anya didn’t know. That gun on the odd-looking wheeled tank looked impressive enough, though.
“Can ya get me broadside it?” Gallia asked, “If ya can we’ll snap a quick shot off.” She knew if that seventeen pound shell hit the much smaller vehicle it would tear it open like a sardine tin, but if they missed that vastly faster and more maneuverable thing would be out of there and probably running to tell its big brothers where they were; that’ll bring the Panthers for sure, she concluded.
“I’ll try”, Anya said, swung the tank around to chase after the Puma. It was good going for a while, then there was a thud, followed by a loud creaking noise. “Fuck.” They had hit one of the larger trees, and it had not budged. “Too many trees.” Anya had to back up, but their momentum was lost.
The Puma had swung it’s gun around, they were a little too close and the smaller German vehicle had a good shot in front of it.
“Awww, bloody hell!” Gallia groaned, “Liorga, take the shot, Anya, pull us out and get us on the move, Sami, grab an HE round in case we need ta make a hasty escape.”
“Got it.” Liorga obeyed, lining up her shot, managing to get it off before the Puma’s gunner could do the same.
Gallia watched through the periscope as the AP round flew straight and true, hitting hard against the smaller vehicle’s front armor, peeling the other tank’s gun back like something in a Looney Tunes cartoon, “Great job, Liorga!”
“Ooh, nice one”, Anya grinned. They were on the move again, now Anya was following what looked like a logger’s path. At least there weren’t any large trees in the way. “And we’re not burning yet.”
“Nor will we.” Gallia laughed, casting a final glance towards the smoking Puma, the ammo had started to cook off now and there was a satisfying wave of explosions behind them, “Everybody stay alert, not likin’ the odds of that Puma bein’ out here all by itself.”
“If they’re any smart, they’ll have lined up firing positions right along this one path we can take”, Anya said. She was no expert in tank warfare, but it’s what her security training told her should be done. “If I was in charge, my shots could hit this tank blind.”
“Aye, keep alert, we should expect traps set here.” Gallia agreed, and was quickly proven right when two infantrymen stepped out from behind a tree, holding something Gallia hadn’t hoped to see, “Bugger, panzerfaust!”
“Got it!” Liorga replied, a quick burst of .30 caliber from the coaxial machine gun rubbed that blemish right out of the picture. Turning to Anya, she smiled, “So, you want to be gunner next time?”
“Is that a trick question?” Anya asked. “I love blowing holograms to pieces.”
“So we switch seats next time.” Liorga nodded, “Works for me.”
“All right, steady now.” Gallia instructed, “Those two with the bloody panzerfaust didnae come on foot. Sami, put that HE shell in, we’re gonna need it soon I think.”
Sami quickly locked the HE shell into place, she’d been using it like a dumbbell for a few minutes now.
“There’s a halftrack behind that bush, bearing 300”, Anya reported, using the standard Starfleet system but reduced to two dimensions instead of three. She didn’t know whether that was even approaching the jargon tankers used back in the day.
“Bloody hell.” Gallia said, that was a Hanomag half track alright, and it was the one with the Anti-Tank gun, she didn’t remember the number right off the top of her head, “The good news is we caught it sleeping.”
Liorga took a second to line up her shot, not that it was going to matter much with HE. She squeezed the trigger and sent the massive shell whizzing through the air towards the halftrack, missing actually impacting it by a few feet, but the detonation of the HE shell beside it was enough to blow the vehicle into the air, causing it to land upside down when it did come down.
“Little off, Li.” Justice joked.
“Hey, it worked.” Liorga shrugged, “They’re just as screwed. Driver, if you would…”
“I can drive you closer, so you can hit them with your sword”, Anya offered as the tank rumbled along the forest path. Shells exploded around them, mortar fire directed at the few clearings along the path. A personnel transport behind them went up in flames.
“And there went our best infantry support.” Gallia sighed, she’d done this one ten times and that truck full of Commandos had never made it yet, “Trouble ahead.” Gallia reported, directing their attention to a grouping of downed trees.
“Great.” Justice sighed, “Gone back in time and I-75 is still under construction…”
“What’s I-75?” Anya asked. Just then, a huge explosion ahead of her threw snow and earth into her face. Time to close the hatch, she figured. But now she couldn’t see as much. But she kept the tank on course, more or less.
“That was a tank.” Gallia stated the obvious, she could see a Panzer IV about two kilometers out, and they were starting to get their bearings, “Better take it out fast. Sami, another AP shell, please.”
“Yes, sir.” She replied, locking another green shell into the gun’s massive barrell, this was proving to be a good workout for her.
“Ready when you are.” Liorga said quickly, turning to Anya, “And you be ready to get us out of here if I miss.”
“Okay, in 3… 2… 1..” Gallia counted it down, watching the shell fly away as soon as she’d said one, the massive force behind it rocking the entire tank, a few seconds later the smaller tank was in flames from the direct hit, “Well, well, this is one of the best games yet. Anya, what do you see?”
“We’ve scored a direct hit”, Anya reported. “On a tree. Poor thing.” She swerved when she saw a shell crater up ahead. There was a loud thud. “And now we’re missing parts”, Anya announced calmly as the tank turned sideways, with one set of tracks quickly running off the suspension where it had been snapped in half. “Someone get out and push?”
“Pushing probably won’t work.” Liorga laughed, “But you’re thinking, I like that.”
“We do hafta get out.” Gallia stated, “We gotta fix this tank and get it movin’ again. Sami, you and me will work on the track, Anya, you and Liorga grab them Stens and keep an eye out for the bad guys.”
“You want to put stents in to get this thing moving again?” Anya asked as she climbed out the hatch with one of those primitive firearms in hand. She figured this was a futile endeavour as shells were dropping all around them. This was why she preferred the pre-gunpowder age, where personal prowess in battle still counted for something. But she kept her mouth shut. This wasn’t her game, and she played along as well as she could. In this case, that meant lying down on top of the tank, looking out for infantry coming their way.
All the same, their NPC support was rolling past them but, as was often the case in holodeck simulations, did not advance much further. They stayed where the players were. Artillery and anti-tank fire didn’t move much either, and they were given a chance to fix their vehicle, which Anya hadn’t expected. This programme was nicer to them than the situation called for.
Liorga, suddenly hit by a realization, turned to Gallia, “Uh, Ensign, didn’t you say that we were going to rescue a team of engineers?”
“That I did.” Gallia replied as she slid back into position, suddenly realizing why the Deltan asked, “Oh, bloody hell…”
“What’s wrong, Sir?” Justice asked, a little confused.
“We’ve got a glitch.” Gallia sighed, “Makes me wonder what the next one will be…”
“Someone clue me in?” Anya asked.
“Glitches are errors in the programming.” Liorga replied, “And this is a big one with an NPC changing the mission parameters, means there’s probably another glitch coming because programs are bleeding over onto one another.”
“How have the mission parameters changed?” Anya asked. She knew what a glitch was. She wasn’t stupid, after all. But she could see nothing wrong with the programme. “Just because you three are engineers doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rescue more of them, does it? And engineers can fly, no?”
“The program was supposed to be combat engineers, the pilot is a bleed over from another chapter in the program.” Gallia sighed, this was a major glitch.
“Oh”, Anya said. “And here I thought, after almost forty years, they’d have ironed out the kinks. Holodecks should be more reliable than this.” She looked around. “At least things aren’t moving, for now.”
“There is that.” Gallia nodded, trying to remember the pilot rescue mission and what all it entailed, “Okay, so if the mission bleeds over entirely we’re gonna face some trouble from the air in the form of Stuka dive bombers.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Just inquired.
“Then we could face anything from samurais to porn.” Gallia laughed, remembering her old roommate from the Academy loading a program called ‘Sexy Scientist’ that featured a curvy woman with a shaved head into her programs...
“I don’t want to spoil the fun, but…” Anya said, raising her voice, “Computer, check the integrity of the holodeck safeties, and the programme currently running.”
“Holodeck safeties are running at one hundred percent integrity.” The computer replied, “Program is experiencing a loss of integrity of up to thirty four point six percent.”
“Crap, that’s over a third.” Justice whistled, “What does that mean, Sir?”
“Means literally anything can happen.” Gallia answered truthfully.
“Speaking of which…” Anya pointed to the right of where their tank was stranded. “What is this, any why is it stepping on the trees?” A four-legged metal box, about twice as tall as the surrounding trees, was slowly walking towards them, three feet on the ground and one in the air.
“Uh, what the frack is that, Sir?” Justice gasped, her eyes as big as her muscles.
“That’s the Empire strikin’ back….” Gallia groaned, “Computer, pause play.”
At that second everything stopped, “Play paused.”
“Computer, close and debug the program.” Gallia directed, turning to the gathered women, “Sorry, ladies, looks like we’ll have to try this another time. So, we got time, how’s about a swim?”
“Only if you set this to a much higher temperature”, Anya said. She really could use a hot bath. She was still wondering about the steel monstrosity. “Who builds something on those kinds of legs, anyway? That’s unstable, and the weight distribution on the ground is just asking for trouble.”
“How Luke took one down with his T-47.” Liorga chimed in, Empire was one of her favorites, seeing the look of confusion on her roommate’s face she promised, “I can’t really explain, I’ll show you later, okay?”
“A strong wind would do”, Anya grinned. “But yes, please do.”
“So, looks like a cease fire’s on.” Liorga smiled, “Time for a swim. Computer, run program Liorga-Seven.”
“Initiating.” The computer chirped, the holodeck turning into a hidden grotto inside a cave in the South China Sea.
“There we go.” Liorga grinned, “Water’s pleasantly warm.”
“Warm is good, I’m freezing”, Anya said. Time for some skinny-dipping, she figured. After peeling out of the tanker uniform, she splashed into the water butt-first.
“Well, not my usual pace, but, when in Rome, I suppose.” Gallia shrugged, beginning to peel off her tanker’s outfit as well.