Chapter 22

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A gust of cold air bristled past Joanna from the ocean behind her. It must have taken over a day to sail to Stutgar. The shoreline was little more than a grey splotch on the cloudy horizon, obscured further by a bath of city lights refracting through the mist. This was the closest the fleet would get for now. Any closer and the numerous rail guns and missiles dotting the outskirts would obliterate the entire Strike Group.

"We can't track down and hit every tank, IED, and turret scattered around the city limits. Even if the bombers hit every one of their targets, hundreds of soldiers will still die," Joanna muttered to Charlotte, who stood beside her looking out to sea. From the top deck of the aircraft carrier, the waves of the rough ocean barely looked like pebble-sized ripples.

"Thousands if you count enemy civilians," she replied. "What choice do we have though? We just need to make sure the Dans can't use their eastern shipping lanes anymore. Their own wealthy citizens will be begging for peace once half their trade dries up. People are selfish and pliable like that. You won't see peace unless you hurt the rich."

Silence continued to reign over the fleet as the minutes passed. Joanna wished she could listen for the bombers to boom and roar above, but that was silly. They weren't classified as stealth bombers for nothing. Even with the night sky illuminated by a sea of bright stars and a brilliant moon, the aircraft would have been little more than momentary specks zipping across the sky.

The explosions the bombers left behind were anything but specks. Bright plumes of bluish green flame erupted from the shore, illuminating the rocky coastline in front of the Dannic city. The lights that had engulfed the town flickered and died as the explosion burst through power plants and buildings.

"Admiral, tell your pilots they're clear for their initial approach," Charlotte said into her earpiece. A half dozen combat jets erupted off the tarmac of the aircraft carrier in rapid succession, followed by several dozen unpiloted drones. Joanna shielded her face from the powerful blast of air they left in their wake. It wasn't long before the air was filled not only with the roaring of jet engines but the sharp cracks of Dannic rail guns firing on swarms of approaching enemies. The guns didn't fire very long.

A second, spectacular volley of explosions erupted that made the initial blast look like a soggy firecracker. Pure white flame erupted in mushroom shaped columns all across the foggy shoreline. Once the flames dissipated to smoke, everything went quiet. The rail guns had fallen silent. A fresh wave of planes advanced on the now defenseless city. It wasn't long before every patch of visible land was glowing red and orange. But Charlotte didn't seem interested in any of the spectacle. Instead, she had retreated farther back on the deck, listening intently to her earpiece.

"Confirmed. Meet us back to the rendezvous point. Our work here is done."

"What? That's it?" Joanna exclaimed.

"You said it yourself. The Angleyan Empire has never successfully held Dannic land. We're not landing. We're just cutting off a limb and leaving them to stumble while we buy ourselves time. They won't be able to use that port for months."

"If all you wanted to do was watch a bunch of aircraft bomb a city full of civilians, what was the point of us even coming here? None of us are pilots," Joanna said.

Charlotte turned around with an exasperated frown, as if she expected Joanna to know the answer. She held up her smartphone, which had several text message notifications. "While you were sitting here wondering what kind of massacre I'd order you to carry out, I had Sophia do all the dirty work. She wasn't behind us. She landed with a squad of the RIC's best Royal Marines once we killed the lights. Thanks to her, over half of the Federation's Presidential Cabinet has been butchered. Thankfully, I know now you're not as compromised as I suspected, not yet anyway. We were, as you say, the bait."

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