Six hundred kilometers separated Reprisal and Warspite as they slowed, running side by side until they were steaming at just over one gravity.
Warspite‘s R turret, foremost on the ship’s underside, was one of her baby turrets, mounting a single twenty-centimeter impeller Mark VIII and well-suited to a junior officer’s command. Gunnery Sublieutenant Erich Ostertag had been an ensign in Weatherby’s first command, and the captain had spent a favor or two to get him aboard Warspite a few years later. Now he had eleven men answering to him, counting the four in the gunhouse further outboard, past the bulkhead off to his right.
As Warspite‘s acceleration slackened, R turret’s crew clambered out of their chairs. Ostertag pushed the bits of cloth in his ears deeper against the clatter of the upper shell hoist, which ran side to side to the center of the inboard bulkhead. The hoist carriage came to rest at the junction ring with the lower hoist, the one that came up from the magazine, and the fighting platform on which Ostertag and his men stood shifted on its rails as the turret turned on target. Green lights showed on the status board, and Ostertag gave his two gunners the thumbs-up.
The gun gave its customary heart-stopping crump, the first of four to come over the next quarter-minute from the ready magazine in the gunhouse, while Ostertag watched his hoist operators coordinate the transfer of four shells and propellant charges from the lower hoist to the upper. The gun had sounded twice more before the hydraulic rams and shell carriages finished their interlocking dance. Motors whirred up to speed, and the hoist trundled along its rails out to the gun.
The lower hoist carriage in turn vanished through the inboard bulkhead, and Ostertag surveyed his command. He’d have more to do soon.
A dearth of things to do was not high on Ship Subcommander Athelney Jones’ list of problems. Command would fall to him were the bridge to take a hit, God forbid, so his battle station was well away from it, in the damage control center aft of midships and centerline. The plan view of the ship on the screen before him flashed red in places, while the petty officer and the two sailors at the comms panel— the ship’s largest— behind him dispatched damage control parties around the ship.
That blasted EMP had done a number on Warspite, Jones thought, certainly more of one than he’d have liked. His teams were still tied up replacing compute modules while Reprisal‘s gunners were finding the range. He heard a shearing sound, and moments later another patch of radiator went red on his display. “Mr. Mulrain, be sure Mr. Callamy knows to be cautious with his thermals,” he said to the petty officer.
Jones had a second display mirroring the bridge plotting table, and it chimed softly. He looked up at it to see more of Reprisal‘s shells incoming. Warspite lurched beneath him, and he felt the shell go off through the decking. His screens flashed angrily, showing a deep gash into Warspite‘s starboard shoulder.
“Pull your teams from the port side,” he said, as a telltale caught his eye. He spun, grabbed the annunciator microphone from the comms panel, and spoke into it. “Fire in B ring starboard side, frames six and eight. Damage control to your fire stations.”
They would be sealing additional airtight doors and preparing to pump the atmosphere out of those compartments. The leaks from the shell hit would tke care of the rest. Jones looked back down at his board and took a moment to revel in the quiet efficiency of his men.