Chapter 1 - Stand Before the Storm
November 25 1940 14:05, log of VADM L. E. Holland - Operation Collar's convoy rounding Gibraltar carrying 1370 RAF technicians, HMS Manchester and Southampton escorting the merchant ships SS New Zealand Star, SS Clan Forbes and SS Clan Fraser with Force F. Fair weather and fair seas, and no fighting God willing. No movement reported by Force H's scouts.
This wasn't what I had in mind when I think about going on a Mediterranean cruise, John Falshaw mused as yet another man gave up his lunch to the ocean. The Yorkshireman shook his head at the sight and turned his gaze over to the ocean. As much grief he gave those RAF blokes, he too was feeling a bit queasy as HMS Manchester gently rolled along the waves, and anything to take his mind off of it was welcomed. It was hard to believe that he, a former sniper in the Duke of Wellingtons Regiment during the Great War, was now lumped in with these pseudo-fly boys en route to Malta and Alexandria to tune up Hurricanes and Spitfires. Then again, they didn't really have much that an old war dog such as himself could do.
His left knee began to ache as he started to move himself from the side railing and along the side of the warship, reminding him of the Jerry bastard that got him at Passchendaele. It was a different time back then, and remembering it brought forth a heavy sigh. He had been another one of those bright eyed youngsters who at 16 lied about his age to go off to war almost as soon as it had been declared. It didn't take long for the romantic visage to become replaced with the horror that was reality. The first battle he had ever been in had taken four of his best mates in a single artillery shell, and his second resulted in another two choking to death on poison gas. His older brother (by three years) got tangled up in barbed wire at the Somme, an easy target for the German machine guns that cut him to bloody shreds, and his youngest (by only a year) impaled by another's bayonet while he was recovering in hospital. By war's end he had seen every conceivable way a man could die on the battlefield, and he was none too excited for another Great War.
Which was why, in an ironic twist, he was now once again in the military in a new world war, only this time he hedged his bets to make sure he would never serve on the front lines again. Getting work during the Depression was hard, but he managed to do well in a machinists job, well enough that when he applied to become a Royal Air Force technician they took him on the spot. Granted it was probably out of necessity than anything. He had little experience with the planes before he and the nearly 1400 others were stowed on board HMS Manchester and Southampton, so he had been trying to read up on manuals on the voyage, something that he ended up tossing aside. He was the type to learn as he worked, rather than to be straight taught what to do, and the manuals only served to alleviate boredom.
Stopping for a moment for a quick smoke, John looked across the water to HMS Southampton, and noted the figure standing on the foredeck with mild amusement. It was unusual to have a woman on board a vessel unless they were being transported someplace, but this girl wasnt a normal woman. She was, as they called themselves, a Belle, a physical manifestation of a warship that protects the world from the Morganas, a group of seemingly demonic forces that want nothing more than to wipe out humanity. The Belles choose their captains with no discernible criteria, no matter what they are or where theyre from. There was even tale of a female American Belle captain, and of a German Belle going off with a Russian. Fortunately, Southampton's Belle stayed to her mother country so there was no fear of some foreigner getting their hands on one of His Majesty's ships. The captain was also a rather unsurprising pick, a Lieutenant who was on board for a training exercise when the Morgana fog rolled in. From this distance, John was only able to make out Southamptons white sun hat, though he was sure the daintily appearing Belle was enjoying herself in the sun. Funny how she would probably be better suited as the Belle for HMS Brighton, but that ship hadn't manifested a Belle yet, and she at least was a good enough representative of Southampton itself.
Just as he finished his cigarette, tossing the butt into the sea, he looked up only to see Southampton's Belle rigid and staring to the east. Something caught her attention, something that snapped her from her usual cheery disposition, and that wasn't easy to do. Following where she was looking, he found himself gazing at a fog bank. It wasn't close by any stretch of the imagination, but from what the sailors told them, when there's fog, there's almost certainly a Morgana. It didn't take long for the ships to turn towards the south to try and avoid contact. With all these extra bodies on board, the two Town-class cruisers weren't at peak combat efficiency; the best tactic was to avoid conflict as much as possible. It was left to Force H to deal with any such threats. Heading back inside the warship, John took one last look towards the fog bank and thought he could see lightning coming from inside. Morgana or not, a storm wouldn't do well for Force F, and with any luck they would avoid it. Hoping for the best case scenario, he went down into HMS Manchester and to his bunk to see about trying to understand those damned manuals.
Nearly an hour passed before the ship lurched, nearly tossing Falshaw out of his bunk in the process. "What the-" he grumbled as he tossed aside the manual he had been reading (rather using as a cover over his eyes so he could take a nap). He groaned as his knee shot with pain, getting down with a short leap. Those bloody sailors are trying to kill me, I just know it.
Several other technicians were wondering what was going on, some trying to look out of port holes and others like John scrambling to the deck. As soon as he had made it back on to the foredeck, the fog bank had now nearly closed the distance. From what he could tell, it was well out of sniping distance but for ships it was right in the sweet spot. Again he saw lightning coming from within, except this time he could hear thunder, followed by a whistling sound. The water next to him erupted into a column, making him jump. It was a warship alright in there, a small fleet of Morganas. The thing was though, only a scant few shells landed around them, and they seemed to be deliberately aimed so they wouldn't hit. Most shots were being fired at targets within the fog, and it was unclear who. Another British convoy? A supply train? A group of Belles from Force H out of position?
Things were slowly clicking into place for the former sergeant as the warships steamed towards the thunderous fog. The lurching was probably Manchester turning to avoid a shell and towards the fog, and the shells missing around them were probably to get the attention of the British force. At this point running away wasn't an option, so the two cruisers along with the rest of Force F were forced into combat. He just hoped that whatever happened, he'd stick to his plan of being as far from the front line if possible. Maybe the Morganas would be sunk before they arrived on the scene. In any case, he wasnt going to stick around on deck waiting to be shot at. He was going to head back down and wait this skirmish ou-
"Oh no you dont!"
A hand suddenly grabbed the back of his RAF jacket and began to yank him out. "You need to get onto the bridge, mate."
John was spun around, and was looking right into a young womans face. "We need you, Captain."
Oh, you've got to be kidding me
Well here is my foray into Victory Belles fanfiction courtesy of YuriMom. The next chapter will have more dialogue as this was more for setting the scene and getting the ball rolling. Let me know what you think. I decided to end there because it was a decent enough spot to do so, otherwise I would have carried on for longer