The two Commanders in Chief were neither naïve nor stupid: Space Vault one’s test firing of the Sunbeam Cannon and the companion universal broadcast had kept every space faring species in the galaxy 1,000 light-years from Union Space except the Empire. And the even with a pair of Senator-class dreadnaughts the first Imperial fleet had suffered a pasting at the hands of the Starburst.
So there was only one reason Stardock Delta Nine’s long range scanners were being overloaded by signals from incoming ships.
“It’s a Uni-T assault force alright,” Admiral Smith finally piped up. “Maybe the biggest one ever!”
“Just to attack little old us? I’m almost flattered.” Admiral Bianco made a joke to conceal the fact that he was physically shaking as he spoke. “How much time do we have?”
“Not enough,” Vice Admiral Tornatore piped up with the fear of the Order’s One True God on her face and voice. “Five Galactic Standard Chronocycles at most, probably less.”
“What’s the first target on their subspace path?” Robert asked looking over starcharts. His voice carried some concern.
“Looks like, oh no.” Captain Peter Carolla’s voice faded out for a solid ten seconds. “Hibernia itself! Space Vault One will be in the planet’s sensor shadow!”
Andrew was already power walking across the station’s main control room to the communications console. The Nomad officer sitting there backed away and saluted as the former Rebel admiral began speaking.
“Attention, all Union ships, I have grave news. The day we’ve been preparing for and dreading is upon us, Unity forces are closing on our territory, and their first target will be the planet Hibernia itself!”
There was a muffled hush as the Admiral went on, everyone intently listening to his orders. “The planetary defenses and orbital assault platform have absolutely no chance of repelling or even surviving a battle of this scale. We MUST defend our homeworld at least long enough to evacuate it. We will form a defense grid with every single ship we can muster!”
Admiral turned around and saw every single sentient being in his presence making for the shuttle bays, the level of commitment and willingness to sacrifice themselves brought a tear to his eye, this was dedication he thought. In that moment he felt more honored to be part of the Union Coalition than he EVER felt as a Rebel.
“Where did Bob go?” Carolyn asked.
“He took off as soon as you started talking.” A the Nomad communications officer stated. “The Coward’s deserted us!”
"Not likely" thought Andrew, but neither he nor Carolyn had time to debate Robert’s absence with the Nomad as they made their way to the shuttle bay
Four Standard chronocycles later every single Union ship had assumed stationary orbit around Hibernia. The fleet consisted all 6 Windreaper Assault Frigates, 8 Jackalope carriers, 9 Aurora Frigates, 8 Nova-class frigates, 10 Millennium-class frigates, and an array of 12 defense satellites in towed into position from other planets in the system. A fighter screen of over 100 heavy fighters, bombers and corvettes flew in a holding pattern around the main fleet
The Assault Platform stationed in orbit around the planet was orbiting behind the planet and would not be able to participate, the personnel were detached to other ships or to oversee the evacuation of the planet’s surface.
Finally the two Starburst-class carriers Union had been able to cobble the resources together to make; the Starburst and Prominence served as joint-flagships. Both were fitted with over a dozen long range siege weapons at the cost of anti-fighter artillery.
Andrew didn’t have to wait long before he heard the same digitized voice he heard back in his days as a Rebel; “We are Unity, you will be cleansed.”
“Save your breath everyone, there’s no negotiating with those things” Andrew spoke to the entire fleet
“Prime Uni-node will now handle communication protocols, channel opening.” the digitized voice spoke
“Prime node? Somebody wanna explain that?” Admiral Smith was surprised enough to temporarily forget his professional mannerisms.
“We are Prime Uni-node. This sector requires cleansing.” This time a different voice spoke. In his previous encounters, the A.I voice was nothing more than sampled voiced strung together without inflection, or flow. This voice was completely digital, uniform and even less organic. The lack of any organic sampling made it even more threatening to Andrew.
“There is nothing that needs to be cleaned here, so go clean somewhere else! ” Admiral Tornatore said with a hint of disdain in her voice.
“Statement Invalid, this system contains material identified as garbage. Unable to comply."
"Maybe you don't understand, your cleansing will result in the deaths all sentient life in this sector." Andrew retorted.
“Prime directive is to remove waste material materials only.”
The lack of inflection in the robotic voice made Andrew and Carolyn unsure whether the words were a statement or a threat.
"Alright, according to your databanks what am I classified as?” Carolyn asked
"Cross referencing with materials database, You are trash, you will be cleansed."
At that, the unity fleet began to move, fighters deploying from over a dozen ships, all on course for the planet and the billions of people on it’s surface that had not evacuated. At the rear of the armada were 3 massive cruisers. Individually they were less heavily armed than the Starburst or Prominence but, even at this distance it was clear each weapon was capable unleashing catastrophic damage. The fact was the Union fleet was staring down no less than THREE dreadnaught-class cruisers, to say nothing of the rest of the ships.
“All ships initiate defense pattern Seven Echo Foxtrot!” Andrew barked out on a universal channel. “Maintain a range of no more than 700 clicks away from a flagship, the fighter screen is to fly escort patter Tau-5, with a maximum distance of 800 clicks All ships weapons free!”
“At that tight a formation we‘re not gonna have much room for maneuvering chief.” Carolyn spoke as the Prominence slipped alongside the Starburst. “Are you sure you don’t want us looser?”
Andrew didn‘t have time to reply. The Unity fighters were already firing beam cannons and disruptor bombs at the growing mass of ships. The Fighters may have been quick and well loaded but the sheer number of weapons targeting them proved an overwhelming prospect, a solid half of the fighters were committed to the attack, but not one was able to avoid the immense deployment of Union firepower.
“Brilliant Andrew!” Carolyn cheered, “Our defensive fire is so thick they can’t get close it! And our we’re so close to they can’t focus enough on any ship to take one out!”
No sooner had the formation began creeping fowarrd than all three behemoth dreadnaughts opened fire. They were over 1,000 clicks away each but each one struck something. Two struck frigates, one struck a Windreaper cruiser, two more connected with Jackalope carriers, and the Prominence was unlucky enough to take the rest.
“Carolyn, damage report?” Andrew asked, showing fear in his voice for the first time in the battle.
“Three hits, a feedback loop in the shield emitter caused a hull breach on deck 24, shields down to 89% and holding.” Carolyn replied. “The frigates and cruisers are moving to an attack posture!”
“All ships hold formation” Andrew ordered.
Finally, the Unity assault force was in striking distance. Within seconds the first Unity frigates began losing shields and only moments later they were reduced to scrap metal. Even the heavy cruisers that attempted making attack runs on the fleet were driven back after only firing a few quick beam discharges.
The four dreadnaughts fired again. Different ships were struck this time, Two of the frigates suffered massive shield trauma as well armor damage from feedback through the shield systems.
And them Admirals Smith and Tornatore realized something dreadful, the enemy fighter screen had vanished from their scopes.
Neither could raise the warning fast enough, No sooner had they realized this than the Unity fighter compliment had decloaked within the formation!
In an instant ships were deploying every close range weapon they could. But with the formation so tight and the risk of friendly fire so great there was no way to defend each other.
“All ships break formation and initiate defense pattern Delta, three frigates to a cruiser!” Carolyn ordered. It was a testament to her command skill that Admiral Smith didn’t belay the order.
Immediately the cluster began breaking up, three frigates clustering around a cruiser. But the damage was already done, three cruisers lost armor and a pair of Millennium frigates were destroyed. A Corona frigate suffered extensive damage and lost one of it’s tractor couplings, it starboard section spinning into a nearby Nova, tearing frigate apart.
With the cluster formation broken the and the Union armada now in manageable groups the Unity cruisers had more success. But these weren’t the same ships Unity was used to fighting, these had the combined technology and firepower of all eight races in the war! Even with only four ships to a single battle group the Union firepower was unlike anything the relatively frail Unity ships had ever seen before.
The massive dreadnaughts at the rear of the fleet were looming closer now. And as their heaviest weapons began to impact the Starburst’s shield Andrew began to tremble, this was firepower that was heavier than most of the Union’s best. Still the networked shields were doing their job, spreading out the strain and keeping shield strength high.
The next thing they knew a light cruiser was decloaking as it rammed the Prominence! Andrew had just enough time to see a handful of escape pods launch before the two colliding ships exploded in a colossal fireball the likes of which he had never seen!
Only a few moments later, all four of Unity dreadnaughs began unloading their firepower upon the starburst and it’s escorting frigates. The mighty shields held for two salvos. But as a third heavy salvo rained down the shields buckled and collapsed, leaving nothing but the thin armor plating between the Starburst’s crew of over 1,000 beings and oblivion.
“Admiral, we’re starting to see hull breaches on multiple decks, we can’t take much more!” An Impreial engineer stated. “We MUST abandon ship!”
“And do WHAT!” A female Nomad ensign shrieked, “Sit in an escape pod and wait for unity drones to pick us off? We’re all dead!”
The forward most dreadnaught fired it’s superheavy plasma launcher. As the energy burst lumbered towards the Starburst Andrew braced himself for what he was sure was the end.
A second later Andrew’s eyes popped open in surprise. He was sure he wasn’t dead. And a moment later he knew why.
Another cruiser had decloaked and flown in the way of the beam and taken it for the Starburst.
“Attention Starburst, Prepare to receive a shuttle with repair supplies.” Robert signaled. “Attention all ships, this is Admiral Bianco assuming command of the fleet, Attack pattern Epsilon 5. All fighters commence attack, all cruisers and frigates fall into formation behind the Resolute!”
Wave upon wave of fighter began weaving in and out of the Unity fleet. They didn’t making a dent in the shielding or armor. But they were serving their purpose, drawing some of the fire of the enemy frigates and cruisers it gave the beleaguered Union fleet the precious seconds it needed to re-organize.
Robert shouted with a healthy blend of anger, frustration and determination that Andrew had never heard from him before. “This is for Carolyn! All batteries, OPEN FIRE!”
Andrew had been taken back when he saw the Sunbeam cannon test fired. He had been stunned when he saw what the Starburst was capable of. He knew what the Resolute was theoretically able to do. But knowing it and seeing it for the first time were two entirely different things.
Andrew thought aloud: “That ship carries more guns than SIX average cruisers, it’s armed with all the best Union tech Bob could muster and ALL that power is being focused onto a single target.”
The attack was so immense it was actually hard to see just what was being fired The shields of the forward most dreadnaught held for ten agonizing seconds before collapsing just in time for a rocket barrage to rip into the armor. With the shields down and so many weapons being brought to bear on a it, the Unity dreadnaught never stood a chance.
“This is the Starburst.” Admiral Smith cheered, “Repairs are completed and we are recycling shields, we’ll be back in the fight in 40 chronoticks. In the meantime, Red group, gold group, all fighters provide a fighter escort for the Resolute! Rearm and repair aboard the Phoenix at your discretion!”
Even before the formation was completed the Union flagship began diverting it’s incredible firepower across the Unity fleet. The few fighters that penetrated it’s weapon spread were quickly dispatched by the supporting frigates.
Finally, the task force began gliding closer to heart of the Unity fleet. Most of the ships in the formation didn’t even have a chance to fire with the Resolute obliterating a dozen capital ships. After a close brush with the enemy the Union force, following Robert’s lead, broke away from the battle and began to run for Hibernia.
The Resolute, being so heavy, was easily outpaced by the rest of the Union fleet, and within a chrono cycle the aft shields were taking a tremendous amount of punishment. The shields held firm however, and the Unity fleet was so busy making a concerted effort to knock out the Resolute the didn’t notice the trap they were being drawn into.
Admiral Smith knew Robert’s plan the moment he saw the fleet braking off the battle, and before the shields were at full strength the Starburst began running for the planet. By the time the fleet was within firing distance he had already pulled the Assault Platform orbiting the planet into a firing position along with the rest of the orbital defenses.
A Sunbeam cannon blast from the station, impacted the closest unity dreadnaught with enough pressure to halt it’s forward advance. Rockets from each defense platform ripped into every surviving ship in the Unity fleet. The Starburst assumed formation beside the Resolute, it’s six fighter groups moving to cover both union dreadnaughts from the swarms of Unity fighters.
“Bob?” Admiral Smith asked nervously as he saw the Unity dreadnaughts “They’re using my strategy against us! Hope you’ve got some bright ideas for this one ‘cause I sure don’t!”
“I do Andrew!” Robert replied. “All ships fire at the enemy formation with all batteries, all fighters maintain an escort pattern.”
At that, every frigate and cruiser in the Union fleet began unloading on the formation tightening around the three Unity dreadnaughts. With the Resolute and Starburst at the heart of the bombardment it was like the equivalent of three fully equipped battle groups. But the combined power of the Unity cluster and the three dreadnaughts at its core was overwhelming and one by one Union ships began exploding.
“Bob this is NUTS!” Andrew shouted. “We’re not gonna take every one of their ships down before we’re blow to pieces!”
“We don’t have to!” Bob cheered back as he saw a Unity cruiser lose it’s shields “We just have to take down ONE!”
Finally, the first Unity cruiser exploded. It was only a modestly armed and equipped ship, but in a tightly packed formation like the unity fleet was in it was more than enough to start a chain reaction that tore through the nearby frigates and cruisers alike. One by one the entire Unity fleet began blowing itself apart, each frigate and cruiser that blew up took the nearest ships with it. The cycle continued until only one of the three dreadnaughts was left, and with most of it’s systems crippled it began limping away from the battle, trailing smoke and flames in it’s wake.
“Consider this a warning prime node!” Andrew shouted as the Starburst continued to bombard the crippled behemoth, “Whatever you are, where ever you are, if you want to clean this galaxy you’ll have to get through US!”
Finally, the beleaguered cruiser succumbed to the attack and, in a fireball the size of a small sun, it exploded.
“Oh, thank goodness it’s over.” Andrew slumped back into his captains chair exhausted. “It’s finally over.”
“No it’s not, not by a long shot.” Bob replied. “I was monitoring the battle while the Resolute got underway, whatever that ’prime uni-node is, it’s out still out there and calling the shots! Unity won’t stop until that prime node, whatever it is, is blown to pieces.”
“And we’ve got to tools and the talent to see that happen Bob!” Andrew allowed himself a smile and a few tears, “There’s enough scrap here to make another Starburst-class cruiser and I already know what to call it.”
“Let me guess.” A female voice crackled across the comlink. “The Prominence 2?”
“Carolyn!” Andrew almost cried for happiness. “Where in the void are you!”
“Currently drifting dangerously close to Hibernia’s gravity field.” Carolyn remained calm knowing rescue was imminent. “It would be VERY nice to get out of this cramped little escape pod.”
“Copy that Vice Admiral Tornatore!” Robert chuckled. “Attention supply shuttle Razor, please secure the Vice Admiral will you?”