• Published 1st Apr 2020
  • 512 Views, 30 Comments

The Bastion Gambit - Smug Anime Girl



An Equestrian attack submarine is ordered to hunt and kill a Changeling naval task force in the frigid north.

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Nuclear Scram

Ponies aboard the Las Pegasus were relatively lucky compared to their comrades in other service branches. Pilots and ground crew in the air force were subject to constant attacks by Changeling aircraft, and those in the army slept in the cold mud. Being stuck in a metal tube under the water with climate control, warm meals, and planned shifts wasn't so bad compared to the alternatives.

Hertz didn't feel terribly guilty about the arrangement. Equestrian submarines had been waging a strategic war at sea, keeping the supply chain flowing. If anything, he figured the submariners deserved better conditions for holding up the entire war economy.

The submarine received rare reports on the progress of the war on random intervals, and rumors trickled down the chain of command. He absently listened to other conversations as he munched on his oat cereal in the mess.

"Last I heard, we only captured back enough land to bury our dead," a pegasus told her friends in a hushed tone.

As a lieutenant, he should have been in the officer's mess eating with the skipper and other command staff, but the Las Pegasus was on a cruise with some cadets when they received urgent mission orders, so everypony sat where they pleased.

"You're afraid of their fleet, mm? Well, you should be. Personally, I'd give us one chance in three. More tea anyone?" An engineer politely asked his friends.

That's not to say that Hertz particularly enjoyed sitting amongst the enlisted sailors; one earth pony cadet, Opaline, had grabbed a hold of him and sat with him during every meal for most of the voyage. She wasn't a particularly bad mare; in fact, she was very good at her station. But her obsession with acoustics made her presence unbearable.

This morning, Opaline sat next to Hertz with a pair of MDR-V6 headphones around her neck, monologuing about the Las Pegasus (which she called 'her baby' despite not being a part of the permanent crew) and her aspirations to skipper her own boat one day.

It was a great relief to Hertz when Sender, the Captain at Sea approached him. "I'm heading to the CIC now."

"Alright, I'm going to return my dishes. See you there, sir." Hertz sighed and began setting cups and utensils onto his tray with his magic. "Opaline, I'll see you later." Hertz usually took the 1200-2100 shift in the afternoon, but as the most experienced sonar technician, the skipper had changed the shifts around a bit so the most qualified ponies were at their stations for the battle.

"C'mon, can't I go too?" she begged. She stuck a hoof out towards the other side of the mess. "Look, Kitt's going too."

"Ask the skipper." Hertz answered and pushed his tray into the kitchen. Mumbling a quick thanks to the cooks, he crawled his way forwards through the cramped compartments.

The Combat Information Center was already set at combat readiness. Instead of normal white light, a dark blue glow emanated from the ceiling, and the two rows of flat, sparse screens on either side cast a green hue on the ponies facing them. Captain Sender and the XO, Slay, were standing on either side of a small table in the middle of the space.

"Yo." A brightly colored mare greeted. She was the chief weapons officer.

"Hey, Coral." Hertz smiled at her. He found her attractive, and would have asked her to dinner by this point if fraternization between officers was frowned upon. Hertz squeezed around Sender and patted one of the ponies’ shoulders. "Today's your lucky day, Anvil, you get off early."

"Right. Well, power and responsibility and all that." The bearded pegasus grunted as he got up. "See you at lunch?"

"Probably dinner, knowing the insects." Hertz took his spot and gently put the oversized headphones over his ears.

His job was to be the sensory organs of the Las Pegasus. There were no windows on the boat--even if there were, they would be useless underwater. He listened into the abyss as he checked over the submarine's disposition.

The time was 0534. Las Pegasus was at a depth of 269 feet, heading 284 at 15 knots. There was a very strong surface duct, and a strong thermal layer at a depth of 89 feet. The ambient noise level was 97 decibels, and the floor was at 578 feet. They weren't the best conditions, but Hertz remembered a time the boat intercepted an amphibious assault convoy with only about 200 feet to play with. It could always be worse...

He was pulled from his thoughts when Opaline sat down next to him. "Hey."

He hushed her. "What are you doing here? This is a combat operation!"

"The COB said it was alright for me to observe, since Kitt's driving the boat anyways." She tossed a wink at Oryu. "So, what's the scoop?"

"Nothing yet, but they should be close." Hertz turned a knob on his console, defeated. "Why don't you make yourself useful--try listening for yourself.”

"Sure." She picked up her own headset and cupped it in her hooves.

On the screen, there was a thin green slip that looked like static on a television with a bad connection. Every few seconds, it scrolled down a notch.

The captain grabbed a CB microphone from the ceiling. Before he spoke, a low beep sounded out on the speaker system. "This is the captain. We're nearing the combat area, all non-essential personnel head to damage control stations. I just want to take this opportunity to remind you that if we fail here, there could be millions back home who will pay the price. I expect and demand your very best. Anything less, you should have joined the Air Force. General quarters, everypony to action stations!" He hung the mic back up. "Hertz, we're counting on you."

"Aye, sir." Hertz said coolly. Both sonar ponies stared intently at their screens.

“I had a sister in the Air Force.” Opaline rambled. “Flew attack jets, but got transferred to fighters. Haven’t heard from her in a while, hope she’s still alive.”

The fuzz suddenly started to form vertical bars. He could hear a very faint sound, like someone banging a stick on a thick metal sheet. "Conn, sonar: new contact bearing 15, designate Sierra 1." He called out, then frowned. "Conn, sonar: lost contact Sierra 1, last bearing 354, contact faded."

Everypony in the CIC tensed up.

"Helm, take us down to 550 feet." Sender ordered. "Turn hard right bearing 341."

"Maneuvering, aye." Kitt pushed the controls forward and gently rolled the boat to the right.

Hertz leaned forward. "Conn, sonar: someone's banging on active. No contact, but they're roughly ahead of us."

"Very good." Sender praised. "Helm, come left bearing 319." He waited for the ship to complete the maneuver.

Slay kept an eye on the fire control monitor. "Shoot torpedo tube three, bearing 341 and set it to go active 0.4 kiloyards."

"Conn, torpedo room, weapon is away." The voice over the speaker called.

"Conn, fire control, wire break on weapon." Coral groaned. Las Pegasus had lost control over the torpedo. Hertz glanced over regretfully.

The torpedo began to ping, making a sharp climb for the surface. It's motor generated a sound like a vacuum cleaner, slowly fading away into the distance.

"Well that's a waste of a perfectly good torpedo." Opaline said in a low tone.

Luckily, the skipper didn't hear this. "Helm, ahead standard, bearing 311. Let's see if we can't swing around the towed array."

Hertz tried in vain to establish a contact. Unfortunately, all he got was a confirmation that the torpedo would not hit the target; the active sonar was about 20 degrees off of the torpedo's trajectory at this point. On the bright side, Hertz could rule out the possibility of a submarine; at that speed, even the very quiet Las Pegasus would have been cavitating. But what kind of surface ship could hide from his ears? He couldn’t think of a single one.

"Conn, torpedo room: tube 3 loaded. Tube ready."

It was quiet for a long time. Other than the Helm and the sonar station, nopony could really do much except hope that the boat's passive array could pick up something, anything.

"Helm, new course, bearing 265." The captain softly ordered. "Rudder left at 15 degrees."

As Kitt eased the boat into her new course, Hertz smiled. "Conn, sonar: contact Sierra 1 bearing 325, contact re-established."

Sender was quick to react. "Helm, one third ahead." He slowed the boat down so the torpedo tube wouldn't break under the water rushing by.

"Shoot torpedo tube 3 bearing 307, set the weapon to go active at 2.5 kiloyards." Slay ordered at the same time.

The torpedo room confirmed the weapon clearing the ship, and Hertz listened, for the second time in the day, as a sucking noise reverberated into the deep. The weapon held altitude, charging towards the contact.

"Conn, fire control, wire break on weapon." Coral rubbed her forehead. "What is wrong with these pieces of shit..."

"At least we didn't set a search pattern on it or we'd have just killed ourselves." Kitt pointed out.

"Yeah, but now we can’t be sure if it'll head to the surface." Hertz explained.

Everypony stared at him in confusion. Coral spoke up. "What do you mean head to the surface?"

"Ah." He explained his logic of ruling out a submarine. "This is a good thing. We'll be knocking out the ASW helicopters if we sink her fast enough. Assuming the torpedo climbs, that is."

"If you say so." Oryu shrugged.

Sender was regarding Hertz with a warm smile. "Helm, all ahead fu-"

"Conn, sonar: contact Sierra 1 is classified as Brummer class helicopter carrier." Hertz cut him off, reading the computer data. "Sorry, sir."

"No worries. Helm, all ahead full." The captain repeated the command.

Opaline was looking at Hertz as if he was a psychic. "I'll be damned, Lieutenant."

"Kid, you're not supposed to be impressed by basic reasoning skills." Hertz turned a knob. "Oh great. Conn, sonar: ASW aircraft active in the area. Cadet, track that aircraft and see if you can't classify it."

"Aye sir, on it." Opaline's demeanor became more serious as she set to work.

"The first weapon has found a target but we have no contact. Second weapon is rising to the surface fast. At least it found the ship.” Hertz frowned. "Conn, sonar: tube launch transient bearing 311! Enemy torpedo in the water!"

"Helm, come hard right, bearing 356!" Sender ordered. "All ahead flank!"

The ship lurched again, rolling hard to starboard. A mechanical whine could be heard aft, the nuclear reactor straining from the added temperature. "Conn, sonar: we're cavitating. First weapon is nearly on top of the unidentified target--" the pauses between the pings were getting shorter as the torpedo neared the enemy submarine, "--second weapon seems to have discovered the contact that just shot at us. New weapon in the water, air dropped! Bearing 131!"

The CIC became a hub of activity. Opaline was still setting her sensors to track the engine noises from the aircraft. The COB was readying countermeasures, Coral was trying to establish a firing solution on the Brummer, and Sender gave course changes to keep Las Pegasus out of the first weapon's search cone.

"Conn, fire control, firing solution on contact Brummer established." Coral announced. However, the XO was busy with readying the damage control teams.

"Conn, sonar: new contact bearing 318, designate Sierra 2. Contact Sierra 2 is cavitating." Hertz pushed the earpiece against his head tightly, listening to the enemy’s propeller generate a storm of bubbles. A sound that could be described as a mechanical release of pressure reached the hydrophones. "Noisemaker bearing 318. Torpedo is executing a search pattern. Torpedo has re-acquired contact. Contact Sierra 2 is classified as Gemini II."

"No wonder." Opaline thought out loud. "Diesel electric boats are really quiet when on those electric creep motors aren't they?"

The two ponies both took off their headsets as the weapon neared the enemy boat. There was a muffled bang that would have deafened both if they were still wearing their headphones. Hertz quickly put his headset back on. "Conn, sonar: lost contact Gemini II, last bearing 318, contact faded."

The CIC quieted down. First kill of the day. There was no celebration or bravado; everypony was still attending to their duties. Perhaps one or two sailors may have snuck a grateful look towards the sonar station.

Hertz tried to listen for any activity again. The air-dropped torpedo had the wrong depth setting and was zooming about in a wide circle at about 100 feet. The thermal duct appeared to have been blocking the weapon's sensors of targets above 89 feet. Perhaps that was why they were having so much trouble establishing contact with the ship, needing to swing the tow array more than usual.

"Hertz, what's the situation on the Brummer?" Sender asked. "Or the airplane?"

"Uh, no contact, sir." Hertz answered. "Someone's banging away on active again. That’s probably them."

"Computer tells me that the aircraft is an Ma-12, codename Buzzard." Opaline responded. "He's flying away sir, but he'll be back."

The skipper nodded. "Helm, one third ahead. Come right bearing 38."

"Ahead one third, maneuvering aye." Kitt looked up at an analog dial, matching the course.

The towed array swung around, and Hertz's face lit up. "Conn, sonar: contact Brummer bearing 341, contact re-established."

"Do we have a firing solution?" Slay asked.

"Aye sir." Coral took over the launch procedures. "Shoot weapon bearing 338, active range 9.1 kiloyards."

"Helm, all stop." Sender was trying really hard to prevent another wire break.

"All stop, maneuvering aye."

The ship noticeably decelerated. Hertz passed the time by identifying the unknown contact the first torpedo had chased after. He wasn't aware of any procedures for identifying and classifying a contact after destroying it, so he simply said, "Sir, the submarine sunk by the first weapon was a Taurus cruise missile boat."

This was horrible news. It was entirely possible that all the vessels in the area were there to escort the Taurus on a merchant raiding mission. "Are you sure it was a Taurus?"

"You didn't question the computer when it said the aircraft was a Buzzard, sir." Hertz said it a bit more harshly than he intended to. "Sir, did we make contact with the wrong task force?"

Emotions in the CIC ranged from frustrated to defeated. It didn't help that the control wire broke on every one of the torpedoes shot so far.

"Helm, two thirds ahead. Slay--" Sender motioned at his XO. "--let's review our mission orders."

The two read over the digital document. “You’d think Admiral Chasey would have given us a little more information to work with...’destroy Changeling nuclear missile armed submarines.’ Well, what type? Was the Taurus carrying nuclear tipped cruise missiles? How do we know if the enemy is carrying nuclear weapons at all? We didn’t have the refit for the radiological detection equipment.” Sender grumbled.

“We can’t jump to conclusions yet.” Slay pointed out. “Who knows, the Taurus might be an escort to the SSBN.”

“Possibly. Or maybe this could just be a decoy, the SSBN could be escaping as we speak." Sender snuck a sidelong glance at Hertz. "Let's press the attack. There's probably only a few escorts around here, we can get our secondary objective completed and then file a report."

"Very well, sir." The XO turned back to the weapons station and rubbed his chin.

"Conn, sonar: lost contact Brummer, last bearing 354, contact faded." Hertz was watching the captain. "Sir, we better shoot now or we might never find her again. Not without jeopardizing the safety of the boat, at least."

"Very well." Sender turned to Coral. "All stop. You think you can kill the Brummer?"

"I've uploaded last known contact information." Hertz added. "Plus, they're still on active."

"All stop, maneuvering aye." Kitt turned the throttle down. He was sweating horribly, and dabbing his forehead with a hoofkerchief.

Coral nodded. "Shoot tube one, weapon bearing 328, active range 0.4 kiloyards."

The torpedo room reported the weapon leaving the tube, and it almost instantly began pinging and climbing for the surface. Coral guided the torpedo along with a joystick, fighting the onboard sensors. "It wants to turn to the wrecked Gemini II. Dammit."

"Just keep it steady." Sender watched the contact information on his table screen. "Once it's close enough, just let go."

"Aye." After a few minutes, Coral leaned back and let the torpedo chase after the boat.

"Conn, sonar: contact Brummer bearing 337, contact re-established." Hertz reported. The torpedo traveled another kiloyard or so before disappearing into the contact. The Brummer's depth began to increase, and he reported again, "Conn, sonar: noisemaker, bearing 327. Lost contact Brummer, last bearing 338, contact faded."

"Conn, sonar: Buzzard is coming in for another pass." Opaline yelled a bit too excitedly. "New weapon in the water, uh, air-dropped--"

"All ahead flank." Sender simply ordered.

"It's in our baffles." Hertz took over, far more calmly.

Sender nodded and waited. Slay counted down the time to impact, and at 20 seconds, he turned to Kitt instead of the COB. "Come hard left, 30 degrees rudder angle."

"Maneuvering aye." Kitt shoved the controls over, kicking around the aft of the boat.

"Reverse course. Come hard right, 30 degrees rudder angle." Sender then turned to Hertz.

"Conn, knuckle formed." Oryu happily told the skipper.

The torpedo turned away around the turbulent patch of water, and Kitt straightened out the ship to build some speed.

"Conn sonar, torpedo is in acquisition, range 120 yards." Hertz groaned.

"Helm, come hard right, empty the tanks, bow planes 30 degrees up angle." Sender leaned forward, pressing against the lowered periscope for balance as the boat climbed over the torpedo.

"Passing 400 feet...conn, we're cavitating. Passing 300 feet..." Opaline reported. "Buzzard just made a pass but missed."

"Rudder hard left, 30 degree down angle. Level out the tanks." Sender ordered Kitt. The chase went on for some time. Las Pegasus bobbed and weaved up and down, passing from as shallow as 100 feet all the way down to the seabed. Luckily for the crew, Changeling torpedoes had far shorter range, and the torpedo exploded harmlessly after a few minutes.

Hertz noted that in the distance, it sounded like somepony had shot off a missile, but it was faint and short. He tried to ignore it but soon heard the muffled high pitched whine of a low bypass turbojet screaming towards him. "Conn, sonar: incoming ASM. Ship launched." There was a crashing noise as the weapon dropped its payload into the water. "Weapon has gone active and is in a search pattern."

"Hertz, can you plot where the missile came from? We can shoot back and make our escape before that torpedo finds us." Sender asked.

"Aye." He set to work, isolating the launch sound on the computer. "Launch transient from bearing 294."

"Good work." Coral complimented. "Shoot torpedo tube one, bearing 294 and set it to go active 0.4 kiloyards."

"This will be a long wait..." Slay commented. "Assuming the torpedo finds the target, of course."

"Rig the boat for ultra quiet." Sender took off his cap and ran a hoof through his mane, looking over at the ballast station. "Rise to 173 feet, turn left bearing 310, slow to 5 knots."

"Rise to 173 feet, aye." Plan had the ship pump air into her tanks.

Las Pegasus responded sharply and shimmied her way up near the thermal layer, waiting for the inevitable distant thump that signified another ship falling victim to the terror from below.

Hertz, however, had his attention drawn away. "Conn, sonar: new contact bearing 238, designate Sierra 3. New contact bearing 249, designate Sierra 4. New contact bearing 216, designate Sierra 5."

"We're in the presence of wolves." Kitt commented.

Sender checked the plot. They were all beyond where the Brummer class was first detected, probably the vanguard of the task force. It looked like they were now coming back to investigate what happened to the main fleet.

Hertz set to work classifying the boats--the computer kept insisting that the lead contact was an Alligator class battlecruiser, but the contact was over 200 feet below the Las Pegasus. Unless the Changelings were in the business of scuttling undamaged warships, there was no way the computer could be trusted.

Sender was having Kitt turn the boat into the enemy slowly when Opaline let out a triumphant shout. "Conn, sonar: contact Sierra 3 is classified as Sigma ballistic missile submarine!"

Slay's eyes widened. "Good work, cadet!"

"Conn, sonar: launch transient, enemy has shot a Jackdevil!" Hertz, who was busy listening instead of cheering, angrily yelled at the ponies in the CIC to quiet down. "Weapon has entered the water and gone active!"

"Release the boat from ultra quiet! Helm, 30 degree down angle." Sender responded and monitored the engine readings. Slay was talking in a hushed tone with Coral, attempting to get a firing solution on the Sigma.

"Brown alert." Opaline chuckled. "Shit's hit the fan!"

"Shoot torpedo tube one, bearing 252 and set it to go active at 7.9 kiloyards. Shoot torpedo tube three, bearing 222, set active range 9.0 kiloyards." Coral ordered the torpedo room.

"Conn, sonar: new contact bearing 251, designate Sierra 6. Contact Sierra 6 is cavitating. Uh, contact Sierra 4 is cavitating." Hertz was momentarily pulled away from monitoring the enemy weapon as warnings sounded.

"Passing 200 feet." Opaline added on.

A loud ping traveled down the length of the Las Pegasus. The Jackdevil had her in its sights.

"Helm, ahead two thirds!" Sender latched onto Kitt's seat as the submarine lurched downwards, still diving. Opaline's eyes bugged out as the torpedo contact merged into the Las Pegasus before emerging from the other side.

"Fuck, that was close!" The reserve weapons officer screeched.

Coral sighed. "Conn, fire control, wire break on tube 3."

"It's fine." Slay said. "That was a speculative shot at best."

"Helm, come hard left." Sender let go of the chair and wiped his forehead again. He licked his lips. "Ahead standard."

"Conn, fire control, wire break on tube 3."

"Conn, sonar: lost contact Sierra 6 last bearing 252, contact faded." Hertz added on, "Conn, sonar: lost contact Sierra 5 last bearing 208, contact faded."

The boat kept the turn, hoping to dive below the Jackdevil's seeker head. She dove down to almost 800 feet (the battle had moved out to sea) before the torpedo found her again.

"Conn, sonar: lost contact Sigma last bearing 239, contact faded."

The skipper had the ship climb and turn left into the diving torpedo, and once again, the torpedo missed by only a few yards, passing under her keel and pinging bloody murder.

"Keep on running, my pretty, I'll get you next pass!" The weapon seemed to taunt. Las Pegasus maintained a silent defiance, ballast tanks and churning propellor pushing her higher and higher at 20 knots. She leveled out at 400 feet and Sender had her turn back towards the enemy contact, not wanting to lose the Sigma.

"Sir, friendly weapon is in acquisition of contact Sierra 4!" Hertz reported. "Enemy weapon is in acquisition." The Jackdevil had come around again. "Conn, sonar: contact Sierra 4 is classified as Orion III nuclear attack submarine and is cavitating."

There was a certain strange comfort knowing that the enemy was having the same troubles as they were, Hertz chuckled to himself. Being a sonar technician meant he got to hear death coming, whether it be for him and his shipmates or the enemy. He watched Opaline call out the torpedo's impact time with a sad smile.

"Helm, 30 degree down angle." Sender finally said. "Right full rudder."

But the torpedo kept coming.

"Chief...?!"

"Aye!" Oryu stepped in. "Countermeasure stations, on my mark, five, four, three, two, one, release noisemakers!"

Las Pegasus kicked out a pair of canisters near her aft and the torpedo turned away like a vampire being exposed to sunlight. It made a wide curving turn around, trying to regain contact, but the submarine had dove away. Finally, out of fuel, the Jackdevil exploded.

Hertz could finally turn his attention back to offense. As he tried to see if the two torpedoes had forced the other subs to give away their position, Coral announced that they were both chasing the Orion III. The changeling sub was cavitating and trying to drop noisemakers, but with torpedoes coming in from two different angles, there wasn't much the enemy could do. Opaline and Hertz took off their headsets, and the Orion III disappeared from sensors.

Sender used the noise of the explosions and creaking metal to mask his own ship's approach. Las Pegasus bore down on the Sigma with murderous intent.

"Conn, sonar: another incoming Jackdevil, possibly a speculative shot." Opaline reported.

Hertz shook his head. "No, they shot that before we got the Orion III." He began adjusting his sensors to track the new threat. "Conn, sonar: new Jackdevil in the water, it has acquisition."

Sender wasn't having it this time. "Helm, all ahead flank." Las Pegasus surged ahead at 33 knots, forcing the weapon to give chase and burn fuel. When it got close, Sender threw the tail around again, forming knuckles to preserve the noisemaker supply.

"Conn, Sonar: second weapon, unknown origin, now has acquisition," Hertz yelled.

"There's an enemy boat using active sonar!" Opaline added on. "They're in detection range!"

Hertz looked at a button on the console marked ‘ACTIVE’. After thinking for a moment, he muttered, "Oh, fuck it," and pressed it down, then released it. Las Pegasus let out a single, mournful screech that increased in pitch. Only one ping needed.

"Helm, 30 degree up angle, hard right." Sender didn't dare hold course for a moment longer. At the same time, Oryu was working the ballast with Plan to rise faster. Once again, Las Pegasus jinked and flicked her tail like a matador, sending both torpedoes spiraling away. The maneuver put her in a head on position with Sierra 4, and about the same depth too.

Hertz got the return ping and almost cheered himself. An enemy torpedo imploded nearby, out of fuel. He forwarded the ranging data to the fire control station. "Conn, sonar: contact Sierra 4 at bearing 323, contact re-established!"

"Slay, shoot them!" Sender practically yelled. The XO didn't need to be told twice.

Las Pegasus let loose another torpedo from tube 1, acquiring the target the moment it was launched.

"Conn, sonar: contact Sigma bearing 231, contact re-established." Hertz checked the range. "Sir, we need to get closer to the Sigma."

"Indeed we do." Sender agreed. "Helm, all ahead flank, come left bearing 221."

Sender waved Slay over. "I wish we had a sonar tech like Hertz on my last command, Slay. The ones on the Baltimare were idiots."

Hertz was busy listening for contacts to pop up, but all he could hear was the creaking of the two Orion IIIs on the seabed and the terrified Sigma making like a tree and trying to leave.

The COB checked on the two cadets. "I haven't had much chance to talk to the Naval Academy students."

"Lucky you." Hertz mumbled.

"Now now, Hertz." Opaline patted him. "You may be good at your job, but you have the social skills of an introverted zebra." There was a cheerful laugh around the compartment. "Oh, feel free to shoot back. This isn't a massacre, unlike that 'battle' we just had."

"Fine." Hertz pushed back his chair and spun slowly. "How does the bocce ball team taste?"

Even Sender laughed at that. Opaline nodded. "That was pretty good, I'll admit."

Another pony came by balancing bottled water and some snacks between his wings. "I heard we were in transit for a bit so, you know." He began distributing his cargo.

"Ah, thanks Therapy." Coral happily tore into her pretzels. "How're things back there?"

"Bit rough. Who's driving?" The ship surgeon turned to Kitt, who raised a hoof. "Swing by later, I need to check for hoof tremors."

"That's a joke right?" Kitt asked. Therapy simply winked and disappeared through the hatch. "Wait, when do I-"

"What boat were you stationed on, Ma'am, before you ended up on Las Pegasus?" Kiwi asked.

"Oh, I was on the boomer Hammerhead." Coral sighed. “Her captain loved to hide down south."

"Ah, then you haven't been on the ice before either." Kiwi sighed. "A bullet goes just as fast up here as it does down there."

"Not quite. An insignificant difference, perhaps, but I think you'll find the operational characteristics of all projectile weapons indicate that a bullet will decelerate as much as 40 feet per second per second faster in these climate conditions. It's denser air, you know." Coral tapped her plastic cap against her keyboard.

"Hey, Skipper." Hertz raised his bottle towards the captain. "Cadet Opaline here keeps saying she'll be captain on a boomer. Whaddya think of that?"

"Call me when she does, I'll retire on the spot." Sender joked. "No, but seriously, it's not that long of a road during wartime. Hell, being XO is practically being captain sometimes."

"Just so long Sender isn't around," Slay chuckled. "I don't mind being XO. It's like being captain with guidance."

"I keep telling you, you should go apply to skipper your own attack boat. You could be doing a lot of good out there." Sender sighed.

"Mmm hmm." Slay sipped his water. "Don't wanna ruin this wonderful partnership we got going on, ya know?"

Kiwi turned to Coral. "Mind if I shoot at the Sigma?"

"It's not every day you get to shoot a Changeling boomer." Coral sighed. "How about this, we both shoot one torpedo?"

"Sounds good to me." Kiwi and Coral hoof bumped.

Sender finished his water. "So you wanna hear a funny story about Hertz?"

"Oh, yes, please." Opaline grinned.

"Oh, hay, no." Hertz groaned.

The skipper was more than happy to indulge the young sailor-in-training. "Lieutenant Hertz here has actually been with me on another boat, the Fillydelphia. He was just an Ensign back then, and I was the COB. Well anyways, the two of us are running an in-port check of the systems and he's listening to Schubert-"

"Schuberry." Hertz corrected. "Her name is Schuberry."

"Let me tell the story, will you?"

"Then tell it right." The sonar tech huffed, feigning indignation.

"Alright, well he's listening to this piano music while we're working, right," Sender continued. "What we don't realize is that he's also playing the music in the ship's sensor array. Cause you know, he's fresh out of the academy and I'm the COB. All hell breaks loose. Everypony in Cold Harbor starts radioing in-"

"-including one waaaay the hell out at Shamrock-" Hertz jumped in again.

"Including one waaaay the hell out at Shamrock." Sender nodded. "And they're all trying to get us to shut off that damn music, and then Hertz goes, 'sir, I'm getting a return.' Turns out there's another guy out somewhere at the Gelding Island Chain who's a violin nerd same way Hertz here likes the piano, and he's sending the violin music back!"

"When was this?" Opaline tilted her head.

"Oh, before the war." Sender's smile slowly faded.

"Well, in time we'll all get back to our own stuff again." Slay mused. "The war will end, and it’ll be like it never happened.”

"Yes, but it won't be the same. We won't have that feeling of permanency that we had before," Hertz said bitterly. "We've learned a hard truth."

"What do you mean?" Opaline asked.

"That there's no end to misery and destruction. You cut the head off a snake, and it grows another one. You cut that one off, and you find another. You can't kill it, because it's something within ourselves. You can call it the enemy if you want to, but it's part of us; we're all sentient beings," Hertz explained. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but this is the third time I've been sent to kill a Changeling boomer. Twice on the Ponyville and once on Appleloosa. I have no idea what they are, what they think. I don't want to know the creature I'm... trying to destroy."

Kitt chimed in. "When I was twelve, I helped my Daddy build a bomb shelter in our basement, because some damn fool parked a dozen warheads ninety miles off the coast. This thing could park a couple hundred warheads off Manehattan or Baltimare and nopony would know anything about it until it was all over."

Hertz retreated from the conversation and decided to listen on the hydrophones again. "I think we're close enough, sir."

The CIC quieted down and everypony returned to their jobs. Coral started drawing a bead on the changeling boat.

"Conn, sonar: enemy Sigma is opening missile doors." Hertz added on.

"Hold weapons." Opaline suddenly said. "Captain, I hear small arms fire."

Hertz grabbed her headphones. It was easier than changing the settings on his sensor station. "I concur. We need to shoot a weapon now!"

Coral raised an eyebrow. "Some things don't react too well to bullets on that boat."

"Sir, just wait!" Opaline yelled. "I think they're trying to defect!"

"They're fueling their missiles, we don't have time to fuck around!" Hertz angrily scolded. "Even if they are trying to defect, what are they going to do, sail into Cold Harbor, pop the hatch, and say 'here I am'?"

"It might be just that simple, yes," Opaline fiercely argued. "Listen, I can hear someone tapping on the hull! It’s Horse Code… ‘Equestrian boat, Equestrian boat, do not shoot, we have control of missile tubes and will not fire nuclear devices’!"

Sender heard enough. "All back full."

"Say again?" Kitt looked back at the skipper.

"I said, all back full!" Sender repeated more forcefully.

"Back full, aye sir." Kitt shook his head in disbelief. "Engines back full.”

"Captain, we're cavitating, he can hear us!" Hertz yelled.

"Conn, aye! All stop!" Sender ordered.

Kitt stopped the engine. "All stop, aye."

"All right, Cadet, we just unzipped our fly. Coral! Open the outer doors, firing point procedures." Sender turned back to the Opaline. "If that bastard so much as twitches, I'm going to blow him right to the moon. Now, what do you think we ought to do?"

"Uh, how about a message back?" she meekly suggested. "Why don't we tell them to uh, meet up by an ice sheet?"

"Well, write a message, we can ping it to them." Sender said. He stepped out of the cramped CIC to pace.

Opaline scribbled something on a notepad and ripped off the page. "Sorry, sir."

"That's all right, Opaline." Hertz was more calm now. "My Horse code is so rusty, I could be sending him the front page of Equestria Daily."

Las Pegasus chittered her message on the active array to the Sigma. After a short pause, the bigger submarine sent back, '⋅- --⋅ ⋅-⋅ ⋅ ⋅ ⋅⋅'.

"Captain, they're saying they agree to Opaline's terms." Hertz reported, gently putting his headset down. "They're heading to an ice sheet on the surface."

"Let's follow them." Sender replied. The deck lurched a little as the submarine broke the surface, and it felt like a surface ship as the waves tossed her around. "Alright, Coral, Hertz, with me. Doc Therapy will also be coming. Slay, you have the conn."

"I have the conn, aye." Slay moved aside so the three ponies could get out.

Hertz stood up slowly. "Cadet, if you hear anything, and I mean anything, report it. Got it?"

"Aye sir." Opaline gave a playful salute.

Hertz looked up at the ladder leading outside. Captain Sender had already opened the hatch and cold, crisp air came wafting down. He gingerly stepped onto the rungs and pulled himself outside his boat and gently slid down the side onto the ice, hooves crunching against the thin layer of snow on the floe.

Coral and Sender were waiting for him.

"I guess you're finding the Sun kind of hard to take, after such a long time in a sub." Coral commented on his squinty eyed expression. She had an enormous wrench slung over her back.

"Oh, it doesn't matter." Hertz shrugged it off. "It's always either too cold or too hot, wherever there's a war on. Where's the doc?"

"Here, you need these more than me." She gave him a pair of sunglasses tucked in her breast pocket. "Doc's taking his sweet time."

"He's gathering medical supplies." The skipper explained. "You said you heard small arms fire. Well, there's bound to be injured changelings on that Sigma." They stared at the massive submarine. Her sail was towards the aft, and her missile doors were still open.

Hertz checked his watch. 1100, not bad. He might make it to lunch after all.

"I'm here, I'm here!" Therapy's voice came from the bowels of the Las Pegasus. "I'm here, it's okay!" He seemed to be shot out of the hatch straight up, before landing on the curved hull and bashing his face into the ice.

The three ponies had a good laugh. Hertz said, "This is the worst arrival at a place ever made by anycreature."

Therapy, laden with boxes and tools, finally neared the group, and the small squad trudged for the looming changeling boomer. "It seems almost benevolent."

"In that state, yes. Protected, controlled, shielded. But it is nuclear fission and it hates being confined even more than you do." Coral said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Is that a commentary on her crap reactor or is it a reference to her payload options?" Hertz asked.

Coral considered this. "I'd say both," she finally answered. They climbed on top of the boat, and Coral banged on the hatch with the wrench.

The pressure door slowly creaked open, and a changeling's head appeared. "приходить!" He waved them down. "пожалуйста."

"Into the rabbit hole..." Sender muttered and swung his hind legs around. Coral, then Hertz, then Therapy followed into the submarine.

The inside was surprisingly similar to the Las Pegasus. It was very sparse, with equipment opened up to save weight. However, the air smelled like iron and gunpowder, and Hertz noted wet green splotches against random surfaces.

The changeling led them into the Sigma's CIC. The lighting was sharp yellow and the entire area was wide open. The consoles were analog dials and the displays were those old, convex screens that gave off a fuzzy feeling if you put your body too close.

Across from the ponies, seven changelings stood with assault rifles in their magic. The guns were pointed up and the safeties were on. Sender slowly motioned at his sidearm in an off-hoof way.

"What's so funny?" The pony captain asked when one of the insectoids chuckled.

"Ah, the changeling seems to think you're some kind of... buckaroo." Hertz explained.

"You speak Changeling?" Sender asked, surprised. “I thought it was only required after you graduated.”

"A little. It is wise to study the ways of one's adversary, don't you think?"

"It is." Sender agreed.

Doc Therapy drifted deeper into the boat to find injured changelings.

The leader spoke up. "Welcome aboard the Agatha King, ponies. We're glad we received your message."

"So are we," Coral eagerly answered.

"As the highest ranking changeling here, I'd like to surrender this vessel, and on behalf of the crew, seek asylum in Equestria." He reached out for a hoof shake. Sender took it.

"Sir!" somepony yelled. He was from the Las Pegasus. "Sir, the XO sent me over here, sensors indicate there is an Orion IV bearing down on us!"

"Did you close the hatch, sailor?" Sender asked.

"Aye!" He turned to the changelings. "You guys need to move this boat, now."

"I am very sorry, but most of us aren't with the bridge crew." The changeling said. "I'm the chief engineer, most of my friends work on the reactor or the nuclear missiles. We were kind of hoping you could help."

Hertz let out a long sigh. "Alright, let's do this." He picked out what appeared to be the sonar station. Instead of the usual screen, dials and mechanical counters greeted the officer. He could only read about half of the panel's descriptions.

Coral called a changeling over to help her figure out the weapons controls. "All I ask is that you keep up with me. If you can't, then that strange sensation you'll be feeling in the seat of your pants will be my hoof in your ass, got it?" She shut the missile doors.

Agatha King dipped below the surface, heaving away from the ice floe. The Orion IV was banging on active.

"Conn, sonar: new contact bearing 93, designate Sierra 1. Sierra 1 is classified as Orion IV attack boat." Hertz announced. Everycreature knew, but procedures were procedures.

"Sailor, take us down to the sea floor," Sender ordered the newcomer. "Maximum speed possible without cavitating. What's the situation on the Las Pegasus?"

Plan begrudgingly took the controls and relayed that he understood.

"She's flooded a pair of her tubes..." Hertz fumbled with a switch. "I think those tubes may have just jammed. You really can't hear anything with this pile of shit."

"Can we shoot back?" Coral asked.

"We need to get torpedoes into our tubes," The changeling explained. "We're not an attack boat."

"What kind of navy allows a ballistic missile submarine to go sailing off without loaded torpedoes?" Coral complained. "Look, go down there, open the inner door, ram a torpedo in, close it, then open the outer door! Go!"

The changeling galloped through the hatchway, forwards into the missile room.

"He's got quite a distance to run." Hertz commented. "Heh, Las Pegasus is hiding in the wreck of the Brummer."

"What do you mean?" Coral, having nothing better to do, looked over.

"XO's driven the boat right above the wreck, the Orion IV can't get an accurate bead on her." Hertz grinned. “Those big ships take hours to settle down on the seabed.”

Sender nodded. "The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch. The changeling is going to force him out at some point."

"Aye." Hertz thinned his eyes. "The trick is timing it right."

"The only Lira subclass submarine in our fleet is captained by Spiracle, the Donnager," The changeling helping Hertz said. "He has proven to make mistakes in an overzealous effort to get another kill in the past."

"Well Opaline better not mess this up." Hertz sighed.

Agatha King beat a hasty retreat from the attack boats. She was like a hind galloping away as two bucks locked antlers in the distance, fighting over the prize.

“So why did you guys end up doing all of...this?” Captain Sender asked the changelings.

“What do you mean by ‘all of this’?” The ringleader clarified.

“Well, you kind of killed half your shipmates to stop an end to the war on your terms.” Sender explained. “No good soldier would allow a victory like this to go flying past without taking a shot at it. You would have been able to get off your missiles before our torpedoes reached you.”

“For me, it’s because I’m a coward.” The changeling admitted. “I’ve grown weary of the lies. Lies, lies, lies. ‘Vanhoover was an overwhelming success’, ‘day by day, our glorious war machines push into the heart of the pony kingdom’. ‘No resistance, no fight’!” Livida roared. “Propaganda still insists that we hold the technological and numerical superiority, and yet, it feels like our entire nation is bleeding out."

"My sister was a fighter pilot in the air force, and she told me half her wing was shot down by a lone ground attack plane. Four of the submarines I have worked on have sunk, only one of which lost to enemy action." She went on. "All of the captains were blamed and promptly sent to the front as common soldiers. You, you ponies are suffering as much as we are and there isn’t even anything to show for it. No glory, no spoils of war, just lies."

"And now, Chrysalis wants to drop the sun on you and be done with it, to wash her hooves clean of the whole business. A few generations later, there will be no mention of this war in Changeling records. The dead will be forgotten, everycreature will move on, and that scares me. I don’t want to be forgotten. I don’t want my friends, or you to be forgotten. Our struggle deserves to be remembered, not just my story or yours, but both sides.” The changeling breathed heavily.

“I disagree.” The captain began, surprising her. “That’s a very, very brave thing to do. It’s hard to do the right thing in times of war. I’m honored to have met such a character.” Sender regarded this humble arthropod with delicacy. “What’s your name?”

“Livida.” She smiled a little. “I’m glad such a careful Captain was sent to sink us. I’m sure any other pony would have destroyed us on the spot.”

“Were you prepared to die?” Sender asked.

“Of course.”

"Conn, sonar: enemy weapon in the water, bearing 93. Weapon is transiting towards Las Pegasus." Watching his ship move away from him was a strange experience for Hertz. Equestrian attack boats had specific designated patrol areas, which meant that all submerged contacts within the patrol area would be hostile. Some submariners went their entire careers without detecting a friendly contact out at sea.

Coral rubbed her hooves. "This will be interesting."

The Las Pegasus sped out of the cover of the Brummer at her absolute maximum speed, cavitating like mad. The changeling torpedo became active and tried to dive down at her, but the Equestrian attack boat was too fast. The weapon had to double back.

It became a long chase, and Hertz waited for a knuckle or noisemaker. However, when he checked his tiny CRT display, he noticed that the Las Pegasus was bearing down at the Donnager. It must have been an impressive sight to see, this 6000 ton warship coming head on and trailing bubbles. The changeling boat began to react, slowly increasing speed without cavitating.

The Equestrian submarine charged past at about 30 knots, and then turned back around the Donnager. Donnager tried to turn out of the torpedo's way and force it to lock back onto the Las Pegasus, but the pony vessel had shaken a knuckle on her aft. The torpedo arced upwards and struck the Donnager amidships.

Hertz had his borrowed headphones off. "Your captain Spiracle has killed himself, changeling."

"Yes, well, like I said, he always was an arrogant ass," The changeling replied.

Sender slowly ambled to Hertz. "Any contacts?"

"No contacts, sir." Hertz looked at the Changeling. "We sunk a cruise missile boat, three nuclear attack boats, a diesel electric boat, a helicopter carrier, and shot a torpedo at a surface contact. Did we miss anything?"

"The surface target you're referring to is probably a Kotlin class frigate. It's probably sunk." The changeling rubbed his chin. "There shouldn't be any other ships trying to sink us now."

"We're going to head back to the Las Pegasus." Sender ordered. "Hertz, let Las Pegasus know."

"Aye, sir."


Several hours later, the away team climbed back into the Las Pegasus. Damage control teams had repaired her jammed torpedo tubes, and she was running smoothly.

At the bottom of the ladder, Coral stopped Hertz. "Wanna grab a drink after we get back to Cold Harbor?"

"Coral, I'm trying to look for mares outside of the service." Hertz tried to squeeze past her.

"Oh come on. Everypony on board knows." She scoffed. "You're the best sonar tech and I'm the best weapons officer in both Equestrian and Hive fleets. They're not going to give us demerits for being close, especially in a time of war."

"Best is an oversta-" Hertz was cut off by Coral kissing him on the lips.

"I'll see you at The Loch. Don't be late." She headed forward, back into the CIC, leaving a very confused Hertz behind.

Sender dropped in on the ladder. "Did I miss anything?"

"Oh, not really, sir." Hertz was about to head aft.

"Walk with me."

"Sir?" Hertz followed his captain back to the entrance of the CIC.

"Did this whole experience change your opinion of the enemy?" The skipper finally asked, lighting a cigarette.

Hertz collected his thoughts. "In my humble opinion, I have always believed that in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself."

Sender nodded. "Slay, short of detecting another boomer, the ship sinking, or being attacked by a giant octopus, I'd like to be undisturbed for the next thirty minutes. Hertz is being awarded the Silver Star today. I’m getting the paperwork done by the turn of the next watch, along with a nice letter of commendation."

"Aye, sir." The XO wrote down a note.

"Remember our talk when we were chasing the Sigma - the weighty one, death and destruction?" Hertz added on. "You might be interested to know that I've seen another reason for hope. Found it in a funny place, too... in the middle of an ocean, right in the middle of a war."

"You had to come a long way to find it, though, didn't you, Hertz?" Sender looked at the navigation charts. Las Pegasus was heading south, following the Agatha King at a distance.

"It was worth the trip." Hertz answered. "I saw good changelings put down their lives in a mutiny, rebelling against their captain, their society, and everything they believed to save a few enemy lives. I can only hope to be that honorable."

"Maybe." Sender took a long drag of his cigarette, thinking about Livida. He wanted to say something, but in the end, decided against it. "I should have died a couple times, Hertz, but I'm still alive somehow. This time, you're at fault again."

"I didn't know." Hertz joked. "Next time I won't throw you the rope."

Sender smiled. "All in a day's work, I suppose. Dismissed."

Opaline was waiting for him in the mess. This time, instead of avoiding her, he grabbed some food and sat down next to her. "Good work, kid."

"Thanks, Hertz." She grinned. "That was something, huh?"

"A little more than something." Hertz chuckled. "I checked the telemetry. Our torpedoes wouldn't have sunk the Agatha King before she she fired her nukes."

"Well damn, that was a close shave then."

"I also noticed something else." He pulled out a pen. "Who's your instructor?"

"Overtone," came the shakey, one word response.

Hertz clicked the pen's tip out and scribbled something down on a document. "This will get you onto any boat you want."

"Even this one?" She asked, starry eyed.

"I thought you wanted to sail on a boomer." Hertz went back to his food.

He really was a lucky pony.


From: LAS PEGASUS SSN-192
To: COMSUBEQR
Info: CINCEQFLT
Subj: AFTER ACTION REPORT

1. (S) ENEMIES ENGAGED:
SIGMA --------------- DEFECTED
TAURUS ------------- SUNK
GEMINI II ----------- SUNK
ORION III ----------- SUNK
ORION III ----------- SUNK
ORION IV ----------- SUNK
BRUMMER --------- SUNK
KOTLIN -------------- UNDETECTED, PRESUMED SUNK
BUZZARD ----------- ESCAPED

2. (S) WEAPONS REMAINING:
19 TORP 2 MOSS 23 NOISEMAKERS

3. (S) SYSTEMS DAMAGE:
NONE

Author's Note:

In case people are wondering:

The title of the chapter is a technical term for shutting down a nuclear reactor. In the context of the story, it's the crew of the Las Pegasus trying to stop the Changelings from firing their ballistic missiles.

There are a lot of references to some popular submarine movies in the story, let's see how many you can pick out and from which movies.

Speaking of references, 'The Loch' is not a reference to The Loch Ness Monster, but actually Holy Loch, a submarine base in the UK.

Equestrian submarines are named after Equestrian cities, while Changeling submarines are named after popular Changeling figures. The names that are used by Hertz like "Taurus" and "Gemini II" are code names, while surface ships are called by the lead ship of the class. Aircraft code names depend on the aircraft role. Since the Ma-12 is a bomber, it's codename begins with a B, and is designated Buzzard.

COMSUBEQUR is Commander Submarine force, Equestria. CINCEQFLT is Commander In Chief Equestria Fleet.

I know in the EAW universe, the Changelings are supposed to be Germans, but in the context of high tech submarines dueling it out in cold waters with advanced homing missiles, making the Changelings closer to the Russians seemed right to me. It's not something that can't be changed to fit the context of the EAW universe, however.

Many thanks to The Red Parade who looked over the story

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