Notes: You notice some sections will appear truncated with a [SNIP] tag. Those are parts in the story that specifically deal with techological, sociopolitical, or biological aspect of the Great Powers that I have no canonically confirmed with Archduke Astro. Since I have not confirmed those specific details, they’ll remain voided until I have the canon information.
Also, some tech that I discuss (like the SFA mirrors) are just for “flavoring” and probably will no appear in the mod itself.
[size=200]CHAPTER 1: SOLARIAN UNION[/size]
“Preparing to initiate point transition fields, Admiral.”
Admiral Kiriko Mya-ma Tsumura nodded to her flag captain, Captain Veronica Mittal. “Very good, Captain. Open a link to Fleet Base.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mittal said, with her distinctly British accent. Kiriko smiled to herself. Even as cosmopolitan and diverse as Terra had become, she would sure some random passersby on the street would give Mittal a questioning look when United Kingdom-accented English came from a person with distinctly Indian features.
The same could be said for herself, come to think of it. On paper, her name did look Japanese, but a quarter of her features—and her middle name—were Burmese, and she had a little Uzbek floating around there, as well. And when she spoke, she had a feeling people who knew her name didn’t expect clear, West-coast American English. And, humorously enough, her Russian and German were far better than her Uzbek or Burmese, and while she had fairly good Japanese, once you got into regional dialects her conversational proficiency plummeted.
Of course, things like that were just little pieces of trivia now. Terra wasn’t divided into the United States, or Britain, or Japan. You were Terran. And, more than that, the solar system wasn’t just about Terra anymore. You could be from Mars, or the Luna, or from the scores of colony bases that dotted the planets, moons, and orbits of the Sol system. It didn’t matter where you were born. You were Solarian.
She clasped her hand behind her back and glanced at the timestamp and date on the tactical board near where Captain Mittal stood.
Three hundred years ago had been the day Earth had been subjugated by the particularly xenophobic X’javen. And two hundred years ago had been when Terra had risen up in rebellion and driven its alien conquerors from the planet’s surface, and eventually the solar system. The past two centuries had been building up to this point, where Third Fleet, the largest and most powerful fleet assembled in the history of the Solarian Union, would make its sojourn out of the Sol system in search of the X’javen. Securing the Sol system would be Home, First, and Second Fleet, each only slightly less powerful than Third, along with the slowly-growing Fourth Fleet. What was more, the system was further fortified with networks of massive battlestations—each rivaling a superdreadnought in sheer throw weight, even if they were immobile—backed by hundreds of armored SFAs—Solar Focusing Arrays. The massive mirrors channeled the very energy of Sol into mighty coherent beams that would dump quadrillions of joules of power onto a target with pinpoint accuracy.
This very ship, the SUNS Amaterasu, a massive Sol-class superdreadnought , was another reflection of the Solarian Union’s purpose. Each weapon, each piece of technology, each crew member and each officer, were here to ensure that no one would ever threaten Terra… and the rest of the system. Any star polity would know full well that Earth had not been pleased with its century of alien rule. If the X’Javen still lurked out there among the stars, that displeasure would be made apparent with missiles and laser fire.
A small part of her hoped that if they encountered the X’Javen home systems, that the aliens would surrender without a fight, and that reparations for the billions of lives they had destroyed would be made.
A very small part.
“Link established, Admiral,” she heard Mittal say to her formally. A moment later the tactical screen shifted to display the image of a somewhat chubby, balding man who would have looked ridiculous if not for the fierce intelligence behind his eyes. The superluminal hyperwave communications system that the Solarian Navy used would let her carry on a real-time conversation despite the light-hours that separated them.
She nodded. “This is Admiral Tsumura, commander Third Fleet, requesting permission to exit the system under Directive 29.5,” she said formally.
Directive 29.5, drafted by the United Council, had three main points, in rising degrees of importance. Of least importance was to map out the starways, finding suitable star systems for colonization. The Solarian Union only occupied a single system, and having all your eggs in one basket—granted, a basket that was armed to the teeth, but a basket nonetheless—was never a good thing. The additional resources from other stars would also give them a much needed boost to their industrial base.
Second, Third Fleet was obliged to make contact with any other star-faring polities and lay the groundwork for diplomatic relationships. If the aliens didn’t much like them, well, that’s why they were heavily armed.
And, firstly, they wanted a piece of the X’Javen. If they put up a fight, they would die. If they surrendered, there would be reparations for their crimes against Terra. Kiriko felt goosebumps crawl up her skin, for a bit, as she realized the intensity that came with that train of thought.
“Permission granted, Admiral,” replied Star Marshal Wendell Harrison, grand commander of the Solarian Union’s navy, with equal solemnity. “You are approved to carry out this directive. You have full discretion in how your orders are carried out pursuant to Solarian Union law.”
“Aye. Thank you, Space Marshal. Keep the fires warm.” The last part was said with a small smile, and the Space Marshal smiled back.
“Good luck out there, Tsumura. Fleet Base out, and Godspeed.” The tactical board faded back to its usual purpose, displaying data for the officers.
“And now a link to Titan, if you could, Captain.”
Whereas Fleet Base crouched above Terra in geosynchronous orbit, the Shogun-class battlestation Titan hovered just inside Neptune’s orbit along “system west”, and coordinated the defense of Sol system’s borders along that vector. She couldn’t see the station, of course—they were several dozen light-minutes away at the moment, but she could imagine the hulking construct, with its attending light cruisers, fighter patrols, and SFA mirrors.
The tactical plot reconfigured again, and it displayed a man who was as dashing as Harrison had been dumpy. She smiled at Vice Admiral Diego Santiago, defense commander of the sector.
“This is Admiral Tsumura, commander Third Fleet, reporting preparations for transit out of the Sol system.”
“Deep space is all yours for the taking, Admiral,” Santiago replied, and if his words and slight grin seemed a bit casual, the tone of his words were not. “Proceed along your transmitted vectors, and Godspeed.”
She nodded as the communications link was severed.
“All right, Veronica,” she said, addressing her flag captain a little more casually with all the formalities out of the way. “Let’s get this show on the road. Begin entering the warp point and transitioning according to formation Sigma.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mittal said with a nod, and began barking commands to the bridge officers.
Kiriko rocked back on her heels slightly as the topsy-turvy feeling of the hyperspace warp turned her stomach upside down. Thankfully, she’d always had an iron stomach so the moment of disorientation was all that ever happened to her. Some people had found the need to puke their guts up. They didn’t last long in the Navy.
Under normal operating procedures, a ship—usually a survey vessel would be sent through a warp point to see exactly where it terminated. Scanners and calculations could give a rough estimation in the order of a couple of light-weeks or so, but to know your exact position, you had to physically transition through the warp point. Upon getting a bearing of where it was, the survey vessel would then warp back to the awaiting fleet and upload its data. It was then up to the fleet commander—her, in this particular case—to decide whether it was in their best interest to go through that particular warp point.
Solarian Union ships were fast in sublight, and the point transition jumps were practically instantaneous. For all that, though, the vast majority of time spent on exploring unknown regions came from surveying the scores of warp points. It wasn’t a complete Sisyphean task, since, in general, warp points “pointed” in the direction where they were located in relation to the system star. A warp point located system east would more than likely go galactic east, for example. If you had a general direction in mind, you could pick out unsurveyed warp points to explore.
“Admiral Tsumura, I am happy to report successful transition through the Delta-Two-Eight warp point,” Kiriko heard Captain Mittal report. “Awaiting system stabilization.”
“Very good, Captain Mittal,” she replied formally. “Carry on.”
One of the vagaries of warp point transition drives was that immediately after transition, the scanners of the jumping vessel were essentially rendered blind by the chaotic energies unleashed when a ship burst out of the spatial anomalies known as warp points. It took about five minutes for the ship’s sensors to right themselves, but when you were in an unknown warp point terminus—like now—it was a very tense five minutes. For all they knew, a X’Javen armada could be sitting on top of them and they wouldn’t have a clue it was there.
“Chevaliers are launching,” the Fighter Control officer reported from his station. “They are configuring into standard CSP.”
She turned to the tactical board in time to see a spray of tiny blips separate from the icon representing the Amaterasu. The thirty-two F3I Chevalier interceptors configured into combat space patrol formations and maintained a shell thirty light-seconds from the superdreadnought. While thinly armored and lacking in anti-ship weaponry, the speedy, rapier-thin Chevaliers were second to none in space superiority, and when escorting capital ships, their antimissile point-defense systems could be used to bolster their charge’s own PD network. During the period of blindness imposed by point transition, the CSP would be their eyes and ears, alerting them to threats.
The minutes ticked down, until the Scanning officer announced “Captain, our systems have stabilized, and we are establishing links to the other fleet vessels. Standby.”
She shifted her gaze to the large holographic tactical display set in center of the command bridge. Blips representing the other Third Fleet ships slowly began to fade in as they established contact.
In addition to the Amaterasu, Third Fleet included four Terra-class dreadnoughts, two Samurai-class fleet carriers, and ten Hoplite-class battleships. They were supported by four Viking-class siege cruisers and screened by eighteen Myrmidon-class light cruisers. Rounding out the formation were fifteen various support and supply vessels, and three Pioneer-class survey cruisers. The battleships, dreadnoughts, fleet carriers, and Amaterasu carried complements of fighters, ranging from the Chevaliers to the Corsair strikefighters to the lumbering Cataphract assault fighters.
“Ah, looks like we’re all here,” she heard a voice say from over her shoulder. She turned slightly, and looked up into the grinning face of her chief of staff.
“You must be tired,” she retorted. “It’s not like you to make inane comments.”
“We all know what an insufferable talker I am,” the officer replied in a tone that was very nearly a sing-song.
She chuckled at that. If Captain Gilbert Huang hadn’t been half as intelligent as he was talkative, she would never considered him for her staff, much less its leader. As it was, though, Huang was at least twice as smart, and, if anything, the captain’s garrulous nature tended to brighten things up.
In any case, time for work.
“Have orders sent to the task force commanders,” she said to Huang. “Move along survey pattern Omicron. Task Force commanders have full discretion in deployment.”
“Aye, ma’am,” her chief of staff said before nodding respectfully and leaving for Amaterasu’s flag bridge. From there, Huang would have her communications staffers send out the necessary orders.
A few moments later, on the tactical board, the dreadnoughts split off into their component task forces, and the two fleet carriers and the siege cruisers took up station near her flagship. The survey group—the three survey cruisers and their two guardian light cruisers—also mobilized in preparation for their deep space scans. Everything looked to be going smoothly.
She stole another glance at her chief of staff, who looked like he was about to start whistling in a few moments. She almost chuckled again.
Vice Admiral Karel van Doorn, commander of Survey Force 31, nodded to his flag captain, Irina Mendoza. He was on the command bridge of the survey cruiser SUNS Amerigo, awaiting while his flotilla fell into line in preparation for a point transition. Normally, he would be in flag bridge during operations, but as his people well knew, he liked to see things firsthand.
“Off we go into the unknown, Irina. Pattern Delta, if you please.”
“Aye, sir,” the captain replied. Mendoza turned to the bridge officers. “Astrogation, set us on course to warp point Sigma-Six-Two. Communications, inform the other ships that we will be using transition pattern Delta.”
“Aye, aye, ma’am!”
Commodore Cody Preston frowned when his Scanning officer jerked in her seat.
It was bad enough that Rebel high command had stuck him in the ass-end of nowhere. Bad enough that his “task force” was a Valkyrie-class battlecruiser—apparently he wasn’t worth a Valhalla-class, or even a Minotaur—screened by two Fenrirs and a half-dozen light frigates and a double-handful of bombers. Bad enough that they couldn’t assign him a flag captain, so he was stuck commanding Fencer as well as the task force. Bad enough that something in the food had given him irritable bowels.
No, his bridge crew had to be dicking around.
He took a breath, counted to five, then turned to the officer who had moved.
“What is it?” he asked neutrally. Even though he wanted to snarl at the lieutenant, he kept himself civil. He was a Rebel at heart, after all. He’d had enough of the high-handed Imperial snobbery that he could at least remain professional to his underlings when he was displeased with life. It was the Rebel way, yadda yadda.
“Five ships just appeared on my sensors, about ten light minutes out.”
The lieutenant swallowed, as if she didn’t feel like answering his question, but she continued anyway. Well, at least the woman had a spine. “I didn’t detect any. It could be hardware malfunction, sir.”
That it could be. In addition to taking things in stride without undue anger, Rebel axioms also included “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “Improvisation fixes everything,” and “space duct tape is a gift from God.” Rebel ships were mostly constructed from throwaway tech and hardware from the wealthier, more advanced powers, like the Impies and the money-grubbing Feds. That hodgepodge sometimes led to system incompatibly, or even failure, so he wasn’t surprised that—
“But I don’t think so sir,” the Scanning officer continued, cutting off his train of thought. “The ship engineer and I inspected the control runs personally last watch. Everything is working as it should.”
The lieutenant shook her head. “I can’t make a judgment on that, sir. I just know what the sensors are telling me. Sir.”
He chewed on that for a few moments. Oh well, it would get his task force off their asses.
“Send commands to Scorpion and Falcon. Have them engage their ECM systems and observe minimal emission standards. Have them screen the frigates behind their cloaking field.” He shifted his gaze over to Fighter Coordination Officer. A couple of months ago Fencer had been retrofitted with a small carrier bay and support facilities. “Recover the Atlantises.”
The commander in charge of fighter operations nodded and began to relay commands. He leaned back in his command chair, until he straightened again as Scanning peered at her screen again, puzzled look on her face.
“Report,” he said.
“The ships just accelerated sir.”
“Um. Right now it’s zero sir. But, er…”
“Their velocity is now zero-point-one-five C, sir.”
This time Preston jerked in his seat. “Impossible!”
While the velocity itself wasn’t unheard of—Rebel ships were among the fastest in this stretch of universe, after all, and could hit twenty percent of lightspeed reliably—they still needed a few hours to get to that velocity.
His mind raced. Fifteen percent lightspeed with almost instantaneous acceleration? The tactical advantages of that would be enormous, even if the theoretical max speed was only fifteen percent. A Rebel ship would outpace one of these unknown ships at strategic distances, yes, but over short-range tactical ranges?
God in his heaven.
“Get us under cloak, and stretch scanner power to max. Bring up engines to ten percent, and maintain a distance of no less than eight light-minutes from these people. I want to know who they are!”
Captain Johan Richter, commander of the light cruiser SUNS Devastation, attached to Survey Force 31, regarded the tactical holographic display.
“How sure?” he asked.
The Scanning officer shook his head. “Not very, sir. I got a brief sensor ghost about ten light-minutes out, but nothing after that.”
He nodded thoughtfully. Could be some little burst of cosmic radiation… or it might not. He turned to Communications.
“Patch me to the Admiral van Doorn. Priority transmission.”
A moment later the face of Karel van Doorn, Survey Force 31’s commander, appeared on the holo display.
“Captain Richter?” van Doorn rumbled. “What do you have for me?”
“We picked something up on our sensors, about ten light-minutes out. I’d like to vector in and have a closer look, sir.”
Richter watched van Doorn think about that. While, yes, this was only a survey group, the two Myrmidon-class light cruisers were still packing heat enough that they could initiate a fighting withdrawal if things turned in unfortunate directions.
And, hell, their primary job—well, besides trying to pick a fight with the X’Javen—was to initiate contact with new races. If it wasn’t a sensor ghost, it could mean whoever they’d sniffed had some damned efficient ECM.
“Very well, Captain. You have my permission to vector in for a sweep of the readings. Be advised we will be surveying for sixty minutes before we transition back to Admiral Tsumura.”
“Very good, sir. I’ll update you when we have answers, one way or another.”
“Carry on, Captain.”
“Anything from Devastation?” van Doorn asked his flag captain.
“Yes, Admiral,” Mendoza answered. “Captain Richter reports nothing out of the ordinary. However, he is requesting that Sacagawea be vectored out to scan the area itself.”
He chewed on that for a minute. As fast as a survey cruiser was, it would add another hour to their survey time, and his operational timetable behooved him to return to Third Fleet in another twenty-five minutes. And while a light cruiser’s sensor network paled in comparison to a Pioneer’s, they weren’t quite myopic, either. If Richter had gone around there and found nothing, chances were high—not certain, but high—that there was indeed nothing there.
“Inform the captain that his request is denied,” he said after a moment. “Have him return to warp point Sigma-Six-Two in preparation for transition back to Third Fleet.”
“Aye, sir,” Mendoza said, passing on the orders to Communications.
Depending on Admiral Tsumura’s there was a chance they might return here. In fact, he was almost sure of it, since this area was closer to galactic west—the direction they were shooting for—than the other six warp points they had already surveyed. In any case, if they came back van Doorn would have the Pioneers move along in a more thorough scanning pattern. And with the entire fleet combing the area, they would be sure to turn over every proverbial rock.
“Very well, Captain,” he said. “Let’s have the survey group make its way to the warp point. I think we’ve gathered more than enough astrogation data for Admiral Tsumura’s staff to chew on.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Preston was thankful he didn’t have the habit of chewing his fingernails during bouts of nervousness. He’d probably have bitten his fingers clean off.
The unknown ship had closed in on his task force, and when he had discerned the ship’s intentions he’d cut off all power to his engines and switched sensors to passive mode only. With cloaking ECM active and minimal emissions, the ship would have had to close within ten light seconds in order to detect him.
Which it almost had.
After sniffing about a bit, and finding zilch, the cruiser had lost interest and had moved to rejoin its task group… at a velocity of 0.18C. So they could move faster than 0.15C, at least for this cruiser.
After it had moved back out of range, he’d shadowed the task group for another fifteen minutes. That was, until the ships had jumped into superluminal travel just as abruptly as they’d arrived, from the same approximate area where they had arrived.
He shook his head and studied the data Scanning had picked up. The ships hadn’t been using reaction-mass engines—ion, plasma, whatever—so he had no idea what they used for propulsion. And the energy signatures that they’d been able to pick up had told him the ship had been heavily armed, almost as much as a Valhalla-class heavy cruiser. That being said, he hadn’t detected any familiar weapon emissions—beam cannons, quantum blasters, etcetera—so he didn’t even know what they were armed with.
In any case, he was going to stew here for a while until he figured out the best course of action.
God, and he’d liked it when it had been quiet, too!
[size=200]CHAPTER 2: HOSTILE CONTACT[/size]
“Still nothing, eh?” Kiriko said to Huang as she sipped some tea in the wardroom.
“None, ma’am,” her chief of staff replied with a shrug. “In any case, we’re looking at another ten days, and then we move to our next viable warp point and we’re out of here.”
After seeing the data from van Doorn’s survey, and input from her staff, she had decided that warp point Sigma-Six-Two was viable for the general heading. Third Fleet had transitioned through six hours after SF 31’s assessment.
She made a noncommittal noise and raised her cup to her lips. She, Huang, and the rest of her staff had put in some work double checking contingency plans and formulating ops. It kept them on their toes, and Huang’s sharp mind occupied.
She downed the rest of her beverage and waited for Huang to finish his coffee. She set her cup down, and a moment later it was scooped up by a scurrying midshipman. Huang looked after the quickly-moving young man, an amused expression on his face. Then the captain turned to her, still grinning slightly.
“So, what fell deeds await, Admiral?”
Kiriko chuckled and glanced at the chronometer on her wrist. If they had been on Terra, it was only nine in the morning. She got to her feet, Huang following a moment after. “The day is young. I suppose I’ll stop by Veronica and check up on her before we get our update from the task force commanders.
“Very good, then,” the chief of staff said loftily as they exited the dining area.
She looked up at the captain—who, somehow, looked like he strolling about a park instead of a warship under way—and half-expected him to start whistling. She almost snorted at that thought.
She wondered what an odd pair they looked. She was small—barely one hundred and fifty centimeters, and fifty kilos soaking wet—and fair-complexioned. She did have light brown hair, not the expected Asiatic black, thanks to her Uzbek blood. Gilbert Huang, on the other hand, was larger than average, with jet-black hair, a swarthy complexion, and eyes that had somehow gotten green. Huang had mentioned that was he mostly Asian, like her, with Filipino and Northern Chinese in the mix, but she was sure there was something else floating around. Green eyes didn’t come about spontaneously, did they?
Kiriko snorted to herself and shook her head slightly. She was this bored, wasn’t she, to be thinking about these things? Oh well.
She and Huang entered the command bridge, where a Marine corporal loudly announced “Admiral on the bridge!”
The bridge officers, not being green cadets, didn’t pause in their duties. Mittal, however, turned from where she had been standing by her command chair and smartly saluted her. She returned the gesture and the flag captain eased up.
“Quiet watch, Veronica?” she asked.
“It was indeed, ma’am,” the captain replied. “Before I relieved him of watch, Commander Bailey had the same thing to say.”
She nodded. Amaterasu’s executive officer, Commander Wade Bailey, would be able to catch up on sleep. She turned back to the tactical plot and watched as the scattered ships of Third Fleet moved towards their destination.
If space duct tape was a gift from God, Cody Preston had to wonder what coffee was. While, yes, he had his complaints about this assignment—and this shift, and sometimes his officers, and sometimes the cook—he did have to admit the mess people made a mean brew.
Not like he needed the coffee, though. Even though he hadn’t been getting much rest, the events from the past week and a half had kept them on their feet. About six hours after the initial contacts had disappeared using their weird hyperspace drives, a damned fleet had popped into existence. He’d been tailing them ever since, even though a large part of him didn’t want to be anywhere near them.
One thing he had noticed was that the ships had been more or less motionless for a couple of minutes after they’d appeared, though they had immediately launched fighter-class craft as soon as they emerged. Now that he thought about it, he recalled that the ships hadn’t moved, either, while he had spoken with his Scanning officer. Hmm. Interesting tidbit to remember for later on.
In any case he’d had time to look them over from ten light-minutes out. The ships were too spread out for him to track all of them, but he managed to get a good look at one particularly large ship a little closer to him than the others.
The task force command ship—he guessed it was a command ship—had mass readings much higher than even a Valhalla-class, and energy readings were massive. He was willing to bet that it had the mass and weaponry to trounce even the new Ragnarok-class battleships the Rebels had fielded not too long ago. The other ships were too far for him to make out, but at least one class was in between size of the fast cruiser and the task force command ship. He had to wonder what—
“Sir!” he heard Scanning yelp. “I’m detecting [SNIP]!"
Eyes wide, he turned to the lieutenant. “Talk to me.”
“TacComp is crunching the numbers,” the woman said. “Probable arrival coordinates are updating as they are made.”
Preston sat back in his chair, and, after a moment of thought, tossed back the rest of the coffee. Numbers flashed on the screen as the tactical computer ran the numbers and started to give…
He turned back to Scanning.
“Scanning, is that unknown cruiser going where I think it’s going?”
The lieutenant nodded. “Looks that way, Commodore. The unknown cruiser is within a few light-seconds of the projected emergence coordinates.”
Son of a bitch. The cruiser—it was the same one that had almost stumbled onto his task force a couple of days ago, judging from energy signatures—obviously didn’t know it had an unknown number and class of ships about to materialized on its ass. Worse, the data he was getting was several minutes old, thanks to lightspeed lag. For all he knew, the fast ship could be right on top of the projected emergence coordinates.
“There it is again,” Richter’s Scanning officer muttered. “Another ghost.”
Richter felt like shrugging, but he resisted the impulse. He did feel like ignoring it, despite the trust he had in his bridge officers, but if there was a chance that the ghost was a fiendishly cloaked vessel, they had to check it out.
“Communications, raise Admiral—”
“UNKNOWN OBJECTS ALONG OUR VECTOR!” his Astrogation officer suddenly screamed.
For a split second, his heart froze. Then the moment passed.
“Divert to vector thirty-twenty-oh-seven! Sound collision alarms!”
Klaxons blared even as Astro brought Devastation to a new heading. While reactionless drives couldn’t quite make a capital ship turn on a dime, they came well close enough. And they’d had enough forewarning that they passed a hair-raising fifty thousand kilometers under the swarm of objects.
“Jesus God,” he muttered to himself. Then, raising his voice, he addressed Scanning. “What the good goddamned was that all about?”
“I don’t know, sir,” the shaken officer said. “One moment, clear space. Next moment those. And…” Richter saw his Scanning officer peer closer at this display. “And I’m detecting… energy. It’s not the same as the energy emissions of our point transition drives, but it’s congruous.”
“X’Javen?” he asked, voice tight.
He let out the breath he’d been holding in. “Very well, then. We’ll have a few minutes while their systems stabilize. Astrogation, bring us about to hold station eight light-seconds from these new starships, and I want a full scan on them. Communications, get Admiral van Doorn on the horn, with a priority—”
“I’m detecting weapon signatures!” Scanning shouted. “We’re being painted!”
Richter’s blood froze. But they had just completed a superluminal jump. Their sensors couldn’t be online yet!
“Sound general quarters! Open distance to fifteen light-seconds and get me targeting solutions on the lead ships. Do not fire unless fired upon!”
“Oh, shit,” Preston said fervently.
The Spiderii Alliance flotilla had made transit practically on top of the fast cruiser. Only some incredible dodging—maneuvers he was sure any Rebel cruiser could not match—had kept the unknown ship from colliding with the Alliance vessels.
And, God, what was that flotilla about? TacComp was populating the tactical readout, and it had identified at least eight Python-class battleships and no less than two dozen Stingray-class heavy cruisers, some of them the Stingray-C carrier variant. God knew how many frigates and fighters were concealed at this distance in between the capital ships.
He didn’t envy the unidentified cruiser’s situation. The buggy little Alliance bastards didn’t care much for endoskeletal bipeds, that much was known from their contact with the Rebellion, Federation, and Empire. The only reason the Spiderii ships hadn’t opened fire the moment they’d made transit was probably because the ship was unknown to them. The insectoids didn’t know what to make of it.
That was, until he saw his tactical board light up as fire reached out from the Alliance ships towards the lone cruiser.
“Evasive action! Bring us to bearing twenty-forty-zero-niner. Tactical, get me firing solutions!”
Thankfully, the weapons being fired at Devastation didn’t seem to be lightspeed weapons, but he was still sure as hell not going to be sitting still. His light cruiser’s reactionless drive kicked in, and he imagined he felt the acceleration even though their inertial dampeners could more than handle the near-instantaneous velocity change.
“Communications, raise Commodore van Doorn and advise him to get the hell out of the dodge!”
While equipped with military-grade shields and engines, the survey cruisers were only superficially warships. They were practically unarmed, and their survey equipment took up the hull space needed for weapons mounts. When it came to a shooting match, a Pioneer had to rely on its electronic warfare suite and ECM cloaking system to get out of the way while its escorts tangled with the hostiles.
TacComp was populating the tactical board rapidly with speculative information on the enemy capital ships. Some of them seemed to have nearly the same volume as a Viking-class siege cruiser, though he was unsure of mass readings.
He called out orders to Astrogation, setting up solutions to move at flank speed to the nearest closest task force, which happened to be TF 31, based around the dreadnought Nobunaga. On the tactical screen, he could see Corsair strikefighters—heavier armed and armored craft than the Chevaliers—moving in on an rendezvous vector.
The blip representing the Devastation blinked red, and the numbers representing his cruiser’s shield strength dropped by nearly ten percent.
“Tactical, what hit us?”
“Shield feedback indicates some kind of plasma yield, but dammit, something’s wrong.”
“Talk to me!”
“The projectiles were definitely sublight, and at our heading they would have missed us by at least two hundred thousand kilometers, but those damned things vectored in on us. Point-defense was not able to engage enemy missiles.”
Holy bloody fuck. Self-guiding plasma? Plasma was inherently short-ranged, as plasma, because of its ionic nature, tended to repel itself apart. But if these bastards could make long range, coherent plasma weapons…
“UVC is hot!” he heard Tactical shout.
“Send them to hell,” he spat.
His ship’s main weaponry consisted of a 100cm ultravelocity cannon that used electromagnetic impulses to send multi-ton steel-sheathed depleted uranium slugs at nearly thirty-five percent lightspeed. Whatever those things hit suffered catastrophic damage from the relativistic projectile.
He tracked the slug as it traveled the distance towards the lead enemy battleship. The icon representing the targeted vessel flared, indicating a hit.
“Detecting armor breach on target. Shields are still intact,” Scanning reported quickly. “We have multiple reaction-mass signatures coming from the cruisers! TacComp designates holy shit!”
Richter started as his Scanning officer swore, then scanned the readout.
Good god. A massive swarm of smaller blips had separated from some of the large cruisers behind the long dagger-shaped battleships. Now that Devastation had opened the distance, it had looked like their UVC—and heavy capital missile battery—had the reach to engage the enemy flotilla from standoff range.
But those fighters would be able to run him down, and railgun point-defense emplacements or no, they could peck his cruiser to death.
Worse, he saw something else.
“Scanning, what have you got on those larger readings behind the fighters?”
“They look like… frigates.”
Kiriko felt her stomach tighten as the first reports of violence reached the command bridge.
“I’m transferring to flag bridge,” she said calmly to Captain Mittal.
“Understood ma’am. Orders?”
“Execute… contingency plan Echo-Niner. If you have the range engage enemy capital vessels with SRMs. Other than that, fight your ship, Captain.”
And, with that, she exited the command bridge and walked over to a small intraship cart that Huang had summoned with his wristcomm. The little automated car carried her and the captain to the Flag bridge, even as she overheard Huang sending out summons to the rest of her staff.
A few moments later—fast as the cart was, the Amaterasu was still a lot of ship to traverse—they reached their destination. Her staff officers were waiting inside the flag bridge at their stations.
“All right,” she said. “Time for work.”
Veronica Mittal grimaced as she saw the tactical board continuously update. Unless she missed her guess, this new enemy had deployed some kind of parasite frigate.
Back when they’d been planning out the fleet ships, the Bureau of Ships had considered that same concept. Since tunnel warp drives were expensive in terms of hull volume and energy consumption, nothing smaller than a Myrmidon light cruiser could hope to cross interstellar distances with a point transition drive. Thus, BuShips had considered a kind of medium-sized vessel that could be somehow carried inside, or “lashed” to, a capital ship and could be deployed once transit had been made.
Ultimately, they’d canned the idea. The frigates were too ungainly and expensive considering that they didn’t have nearly the same throw weight of a true capital ship. Also, they tended to get… scrambled when carried on external racks, where their electronic subsystems got fucked seven different ways to Sunday. Fighters, nestled in armored and shielded carrier bays, had been the way to go.
But now, in practice, those frigates might have been useful after all. While not as swift as the fighters bearing down on the fleeing Devastation, the little bastards could still run the light cruiser down—over time, since they seemed to be using reaction drives—and avoid incoming defensive fire. Or maybe they didn’t need to. She saw a direct impact from the Devastation’s ultra splash across a frigate, which still continued its chase. It looked like they could take their licks, too.
“Battleships Ticonderoga and Concord, and dreadnought Nobunaga, have plotted targeting solutions and are moving in closer to engage with SRMs,” Communications reported.
“Smashing. Head to bearing niner-four-three and get me solutions for my own launchers.”
The siege-range missiles had a guided range of just under one light-minute, though they traded in raw power and some penetration aids for that range. But it allowed her—and the others, she noted, as the icons representing the Vikings and Samurais also began to maneuver—to engage the enemy from strategic ranges.
After a moment, she turned to her Fighter Control Officer.
“FCO, I want all fighters launched, post-haste. I want a three-light-second perimeter”
“Aye, aye, ma’am.”
Blips began to part from her ship’s icon as Amaterasu’s fighters—Chevaliers, Corsairs, and Cataphracts—flushed from their launch bays. If she was thinking what the admiral was thinking, Tsumura would be sending the order very soon to have the fighters punched. Before the little admiral had become admiral, she’d been a captain. Then-Commander Mittal had been her executive officer. Mittal liked to think she knew how the admiral planned ops.
“Captain!” she heard the Communications officer call. “Orders from Admiral Tsumura! We are to flush fighter wings. Chevaliers are to provide close-in cover for TF 31, Corsairs to engage the fighters, and Cataphracts for the frigates.” The bridge officers were took her apparent clairvoyance in stride.
“Relay the orders, Commander!”
More blips bled into space as her Fighter Coordination Officer sent Amaterasu’s fighters on their way. Even as the superdreadnought’s fighters joined those belched from the fleet carriers, she knew they wouldn’t be able to reach the Devastation in time before the enemy small ships swarmed it. She hoped Captain Richter could hold on.
“UVC is gone!” Damage Control yelled. Johan Richter almost swore, but then decided the effort wasn’t worth it. Without his own fighters to screen him, the enemy singleships were picking Devastation apart. His point-defense autocannon wasn’t nearly enough to hold them at bay, and with the UVC history the frigates were going to close in more aggressively, braving his cruiser’s graviton beams, mass drivers—much smaller versions of the UVC—and sprint-capable close-assault missiles to come to grips and wreck his ship with massed weapons fire. His damage control teams and nanite fabricators were struggling to keep his ship together, but unless they were able to break away that was a no-go.
The fighter wings from Task Force 31 and the rest of the fleet wouldn’t be able to make it in time.
“Have the task force drop cloak,” Preston said suddenly.
Tactical hesitated for a brief heartbeat, but then moved to obey the command. Communications relayed his orders to Scorpion and Falcon.
“Launch a salvo of missiles at the Alliance ships. Once the missiles are on the way, resume cloak and move two light-minutes perpendicular to the Spiderii line of advance.”
Fencer and the other cruisers spat fire on the tactical display. Even as the missiles clawed their ways into the unsuspecting Alliance cruisers’ vulnerable rear areas, the icons for his cruisers turned vaguely transparent, indicating that they had again resumed cloak.
“All right Astro, get us to our next hiding spot. Have Scorpion and Falcon keep in formation.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Tsumura’s eyes widened as her tactical displayed a volley of missiles out of nowhere ramming into the rear of one of the alien carriers. She swung her gaze back to the embattled Devastation, and saw several of the fighter squadrons break off and head back towards the cruiser flotilla, presumably to the targeted carrier. She almost shook her head. Tactical reported that the carrier’s shields had absorbed the impact, and there were no more missiles forthcoming, so the carrier was in no danger. Perhaps the aliens spooked easily?
No matter. It meant Devastation had a chance of surviving. With some of the fighter pressure relieved, the light cruiser began to focus its mass drivers and sprint missile launchers on the frigates, devastating their armor and shields. Then the graviton beams also spoke, and no manner of shielding or armor could resist the gravity-compression waves as they lanced a ten-centimeter wide hole through anything, be it metal, energy, or flesh.
On the tactical plot, one of the pursuing frigates winked out as it exploded, and the heavy cruisers behind them began to blink damage as Task Force 31’s SRMs smashed into the enemy. Several of the siege missiles exploded as point-defense swatted them down, or veered away as ECM scrambled their electronic brains, but a good many of them survived to make contact.
“Send a message to Vice Admiral Pedachenko, and have him assume an intercept vector north of the enemy’s relative plane. Have Vice Admiral Strauss close in from their rear in an enveloping pattern. I want standoff missile bombardment with HCMs, and no closer.”
The representative icons for the ships of Task Forces 32 and 33 began to move to their new positions under the command of the task force commanders, and the ships of Task Force 31—under Vice Admiral Franklin Weatherly—were making their best speed towards the embattled light cruiser. The faster Myrmidons had actually broken away from the slower Hoplite battleships and the task force flag dreadnought, and were within a few light-minutes of reinforcing the stricken cruiser.
Although, Tsumura noted, the fighters were closer. With the unexpected reprieve granted by the unknown missile-shooter, the swift Chevaliers were able to close in with a horrifically damaged, but still living, Devastation. The interceptors drove in with their autocannons—a colloquial misnomer, since the interceptors’ guns were more akin to railguns—to drive off the swarming enemy fighters. Some of the enemy single ships released some kind of torpedo or missile at the cruiser, but the massed point-defense of the escorting Chevaliers put paid to those. The enemy fighters broke off to regroup.
Which led them right into the Corsairs.
The strikefighters mounted the same antifighter weaponry as the Chevaliers, but they were armored and almost as fast. They could stick around in brawls where the thinner-skinned interceptors could not. Even so, she saw casualty figures begin to appear as the enemy fighters chipped away at the Corsairs’ armor, and the fighting got more brutal as the frigates closed in with heavy antifighter energy cannons and missiles. Sensor readings indicated those energy cannons were lasers, whose lightspeed capability made them dangerous if their tracking systems could lock onto the fighters.
The Corsairs weren’t defenseless, however, as they mounted fighter-scaled graviton beams. Energy stilettos not much wider than a pencil’s diameter began to lacerate the frigates behind their shields and armor. The frigates retaliated by shifting fire from the Devastation and the Chevaliers to chew away at the strikefighters.
Kiriko looked on grimly as reapportionment of firepower left them wide open to the Cataphract assault fighters. Unlike the Chevaliers, which were dedicated antifighter and antimissile units, or the Corsairs, which were the everyman generalists, the heavily armored Cataphracts had been designed from the cockpit back as anti-ship bombers. Their advanced fire-control systems locked up the pursuing frigates, and a heartbeat later they volleyed their HVMs. The close-range hypervelocity missiles were all but impossible to engage with point-defense, and they crashed into the frigates with a terrible fury. Shields held for a moment, flaring, but then the high-speed weapons broke past the sputtering barriers and began to hammer at hull armor. The frigates retaliated against the Cataphracts, but the assault fighters’ sturdy armor let them shrug off the lighter weaponry and survive hits from the heavier ones. Freed from the frigates’ fire, the Corsairs divided into pairs to hunt down the whirling enemy fighters.
Losses still began to mount, but the kill-loss ratio was overwhelmingly in Third Fleet’s favor. The frigates broke off their pursuit of the Devastation and dressed their formation, with the fighters forming a protective shell to ward off the Cataphracts. It seemed the enemy was giving up the pursuit of the Devastation as they waited for their lumbering cruisers to close in. Humph. She wasn’t about to let the enemy have his way, would she?
“Send revised orders to Task Force 32,” she said. “I want them to initiate standoff bombardment as well, with the Myrmidons in a screening formation. Have Corsairs and Cataphracts in escort formations around the light cruisers. Get Devastation to coordinates niner-eighty-three-forty. Vector in the repair ship Ploughshare.”
Her staff sent the orders out, and the tactical plot updated again. Amaterasu was still about five light-minutes outside of extreme SRM range, though it looked like Mittal and the siege cruisers and carriers were moving at flank speed to close that distance. The information she was getting on the tactical board wasn’t from Amaterasu’s own sensors, but rather from the sensors of the Devastation and the fighters swirling around it. The hyperwave comm let them update in near realtime, so she wouldn’t have to deal with lightspeed lag.
That still left forty-odd minutes until her flagship could actively support Devastation. Fortunately, the closer task forces were already engaging with SRMs, and would be engaging with HCMs—heavy capital missiles, shorter-legged but more powerful and faster than the siege missiles—a few moments after that.
The frigates and fighters wouldn’t be a problem. Third Fleet’s single ships had achieved local superiority, and soon the light cruisers of the task forces would close in and have the frigates for lunch. No, what she was more concerned with the large cruiser flotilla which had launched the fighters and frigates.
“Now, I’m even more concerned,” Preston heard his Scanning officer mutter.
“What do you have?”
“Sir… [SNIP]. Emergence in a few minutes.”
Captain Mittal was stunned into stillness as a splotch of red lit up the tactical board with horrifying suddenness. Bloody hell, where had those come from!?
“Evasive maneuvers!” she called out, her training and discipline keeping her voice level and calm. The unknown ships had different energy and mass readings than the ones that had taken a swing at Devastation, but they were similar enough both in energy signature and preliminary spectrographic to the first pack of aggressors that she concluded that they were part of the same race. TacComp was already assigning them labels.
Bugger it. The tossers had managed to come practically into point-blank range—nine light seconds—without her detecting them. How had they done that? It wasn’t stealth, she was sure. If they could have gotten this close, they would have picked off the carriers and siege cruisers first. Was it some kind of strange FTL emergence? Was there a closed warp point right there?
She shook her head slightly. Those questions would be for Tsumura’s people to analyze. Right now she had to make sure they stayed alive long enough to ask those questions.
In any case, the ships were inside the arming distance of both her SRMs and HCMs. Worse, they were inside the range of Amateratsu’s main batteries, a quartet of heterodyned, fusion-pumped, ten-petawatt laser cannons. They were, in fact, in any Solarian Union captain’s nightmare zone: medium range.
They were too near to engage with main batteries, but too far to hit with secondaries and tertiaries. She had to make a decision: open the distance, or move closer to hit them with the superdreadnought’s heavy close-in systems.
She was sure she could open the distance, since her gravitic reactionless drive didn’t need any real acceleration to hit max velocity, while reaction drives did. But if she did that, the enemy could quite possibly disperse and go after the wildly maneuvering fleet carriers and siege cruisers that had also been too close to the new hostile ships. Unlike the line ships, the carriers and siege cruisers were not nearly as well armored. And, with the line task forces off going to assist Devastation, it was just her, plus the two battleships of TF 35 and TF 36.
This was out of her hands.
“Astrogation!” she barked. “Cut us on an oblique approach to the enemy’s edge closest to us. And raise Admiral Tsumura!”
Preston almost whimpered. He was sure if he was commanding the ships near where the new Alliance task force had just emerged, he would have whimpered.
This time it wasn’t a flotilla of battleships and cruisers and carriers. This time, lumbering out of the void, came a double handful of behemoths. The Spiderii dreadnoughts, codenamed Anacondas by the people who couldn’t pronounce the bug-speak name, were regarded as either the second most powerful, or the most powerful single starships in this galaxy. They could eat Ragnarok-class battleships as snacks, and the Federation Lion-class dreadnoughts faired only marginally better. The Impie Senators were the only ones he knew of that could hope to stand on even footing with them, and slugging matches between the two classes of ship were always a fifty-fifty proposition.
Data, several minutes old due to lightspeed lag, began to populate the tactical board. A dozen of those titanic ships, and they were being escorted by clouds of frigates and fighters. And they had appeared right in the middle of the unknown people’s formation, to boot! That proved to him that these new people couldn’t detect bow waves. If he had had the forewarning, he would’ve made himself scarce, even if there was no way to detect what was coming through hyperspace.
Preston frowned suddenly, as he noticed something from the data.
“Scanning, how old is this information?”
“It’s as fresh as lightspeed lag allows, sir.”
He turned back to the holographic tactical display. If that was true, that meant Scanning had gotten an eyeful of the ships as soon as they had emerged. Presumably, that also meant before any shooting had taken place.
So why, then, were the Anacondas all damaged?
“Send a message to Admiral Stevens. Recall Task Force 34,” Kiriko said more calmly than she ought to have. “Divert 35’s and 36’s Cataphracts to engage enemy frigates. Corsairs to achieve space local space superiority, Siege cruisers to open distance and engage with SRMs. Request Dunkirk and Lexington screen Alexander and Genghis.”
Her staff officers quickly moved to relay the orders to the respective task force commanders. Even before they began making contact, Mittal’s face appeared in one of the secondary displays.
She narrowed her eyes at the flag bridge’s tactical display. The enemy task group was practically on top of them, in that ugly middle ground between weapon ranges.
“Captain,” she said, slowly. “Move into range of secondary batteries and engage.”
Veronica Mittal felt a shudder run through the ship. That was a bad thing, considering the mass of a Sol-class superdreadnought was so high it took lots of math to really comprehend.
At Admiral Tsumura’s orders, she had guided Amaterasu closer following a volley from the superdreadnought’s ultravelocity cannons, braving the strange plasma discharges and beam weapons to engage the enemy with the flagship’s secondary weapons. Short-range sprint missiles leapt away from Amaterasu, too fast to be engaged with any point defense, while the powerful graviton beams pierced through enemy shields, armor, and bulkheads. A moment later the mechanical whine-thud of mass drivers also began to sound, sending steel-sheathed, diamond-tipped, tungsten slugs careening into enemy armor and shields.
At least half of the strange large ships had turned to go after Amaterasu, as well as the lion’s share of the frigates and fighters. A tiny part of her mind noted that she had been wrong. Those were not parasite frigates. They appeared to have the ability for standalone FTL travel. Not so the fighters, though, for which was eternally grateful.
She saw on her tactical plot that Iwo Jima, Nagashino, Masada, and Thermopylae, the siege cruisers, had opened the distance enough and were supporting the battleships Dunkirk and Lexington with heavy capital missiles. The battleships were tangling with the enemy ships—from preliminary mass readings she saw that the damned hostiles were noticeably heavier than a Hoplite—and were giving as good as they got. Shields seemed to be holding, and as she watched one of the lights representing the enemy dreadnoughts winked out as Lexington hit something vital. Another of the heavy ships broke engagement, streaming air, as Dunkirk volleyed its UVC main batteries into another dreadnought’s spine.
Missiles began to crash into the enemy flanks and engine areas, courtesy of the siege cruisers and fleet carriers. Coming hard on the missiles’ heels came strikefighter and assault fighter squadrons, ripping into the enemy dreadnoughts’ fighter and frigate screen. Some of the Cataphracts disdained the dogfight entirely and sent their HVMs screaming into the enemy capital ships.
“Tactical, focus graviton beams on Delta-Niner,” she said, reading off the designation TacComp had assigned to the nearest hostile. “Let’s give the fighter jocks a little less armor to punch through.”
“Focusing graviton beams on Delta-Niner, aye,” the commander replied, hands playing across his console.
“Astro, move us to vector sixty-three-ninety-four.”
“Moving to sixty-three-ninety-four, aye, ma’am.”
Another enemy dreadnought veered away, crippled, and another icon flared on the tactical board as it was catastrophically killed.
This was going easier than she had dared to hope. For such huge warships, they didn’t seem to have the endurance and throw weight they ought to have had. Either Solarian weapons were far more effective than her wildest dreams, or something else was afoot.
“More [SNIP], Commodore!”
“Estimated location!” Preston barked to the Scanning officer.
“TacComp is giving me coordinates… thirty-twenty-nine-eighty-eight.”
His blood froze. That was practically on top of them! “Time?”
“Sir… we have about five minutes,” the Scanning lieutenant said. Then, softly, “I’m sorry, sir. I had all primary sensors focused on the battle. I should have detected them sooner.”
He said nothing. The lieutenant had nothing to apologize for. It was his orders for her to keep a watch on the battle. Well, if you could call it a battle. The unknown ships were tearing apart the Alliance dreadnoughts, despite the difference in numbers of hulls. And, at the edges of the tactical display, several of the unknown task forces were now engaging the initial Spiderii cruisers. There, the battle was even more one-sided.
All that flashed through his mind in a heartbeat.
“They were my orders, Lieutenant.” He looked away from Scanning. “Tactical, drop cloak. Divert all power to drive systems.”
“Astrogation, move us along vector niner-thirty-twelve at flank speed. Communications, contact Falcon and Scorpion and have them tail us. Frigates are to maintain a screen ten light-seconds out. FCO, get our bombers back into the void.”
There was a chorus of affirmatives.
He vaguely felt Fencer begin to accelerate, shifting location on the tactical board.
The minutes ticked down as the estimated time of emergence came closer and closer. Forty seconds before it hit zero, he spoke up.
“Tactical, max power to shields. Weapons on standby.
No sooner had he given the command when the tactical plot suddenly exploded with icons. Damn it, they were early, and closer than estimated, to boot.
“Sir, I have sensor confirmation on five more Anacondas and eight Pythons. And they’re… they’re all showing extensive damage.”
He blinked. What in hell could inflict extensive damage on five damned dreadnoughts? And almost twice that many battleships? It boggled—
“Commodore!” he heard Scanning shout. “More emergences! They were [SNIP]. TacComp reports… No.”
He jerked at the lieutenant’s disbelieving whisper, eyes flying to the tactical plot. The Spiderii ships were colored a light violet. The new blips—nearly two dozen of them—sprang into existence astern of the Spiderii and flashed the white of unknowns… before settling to the dark, diseased purple of a known enemy.