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 Post subject: [TGG] The Burning of Kass Zaris PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:06pm
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June 7th, 2886
Kass Zaris,
Zaris System,
Ssi Rissan Khanate, HAB-1


A strong wind blew up clods and fits of the loosely packed sand underneath the feet of Ssi Hsiher, billowing into a thick dust that his inner, opaque eyelid struggled to protect against. It assaulted his nose, clogging his sinus cavities and drying out the membranes inside, leaving his struggling to keep the scent of the prey. Even the thin, bristly hairs of his protective coating were being matted down by his instinctual hindbrain, in preparation for a potentially deadly sandstorm of the sort that still killed millions of Ssi Rissan every year. That, at least, was no threat here, for the environmental controls were set only to remind him of the hardships of his ancestors and not to replicate them.

Something in the storm twitched. His muscles tensed, and his ears signaled to the other members of his pack, skulking immediately in his rear, that the time to pounce had come. He knew that his clanmate Ssi Shik was approaching from the prey’s flank, and his newest broodmate Brak Zawl had circled around to close off the forward avenue of escape. He tensed forward, his hindlegs coiling like springs to propel his predator bulk through the air, his fur standing on edge, and saliva already flooding his mouth as his hindbrain anticipated the sensations to come. And then his six hundred pound bulk was flying through the air, springing with little grace and extreme power, with foreclaws extended and ready to tear into the prey…

As usual, the mostly hairless, mostly pink ape thing screamed out in utter terror as it happened to turn and catch sight of its impending death. Ssi Hsiher literally tore the unfortunate to ragged strips of flesh, as his forward paw ripped through the animal’s head and passed all the way downward into the torso. He could feel the chunks of brain lodged into the paws, and the wetness of blood coating his mane, and it was exhilarating as always. The rest of the pride began crowding in, grabbing chunks of flesh and devouring them as the packleader stepped back. Ssi Hsiher licked his lips, the salty taste of gore stimulating his appetite, but the protocol was ancient and ingrained; the packleader proved his worthiness first by providing food for others, and then himself. He idly flicked off parts of the central nervous system with his pseudothumb, and began to groom himself.

He noted the approach of Brak Zawl, coming from the far end of the hunting lodge where she had taken the vital role of blockguard in the pack. She nestled her ears backward in the Ssi Rissan version of a submissive smile, and began muzzling his mane, licking the remains from his short fur. He straightened up, enjoying the close contact and readily submissive gesture from this prospective bearer of his line. “You please me, Zwal. You performed well in this hunt, as a true blockguard. If the ape-thing had escaped me, you were positioned perfectly to ambush it.”

That was no light compliment. The packleader was the most honored position in the pack, but the blockguard was next and in many respects seen as even more vital. The blockguard would sacrifice his or her life alone if need be to buy time for the rest of the pack to attack the prey. The position required skill and selflessness and no small amount of intuition, all traits desirable in a mother to Ssi’ clan sons. “I am pleased to demonstrate my fitness, my Packleader.”

The title Khan was chosen by humans to translate the title held by Ssi Hsiher, partly because of the Ssi Rissan system of government and partly because it was vaguely close phonetically to the Ssi Rissan term. It translated more literally as “Great Packleader of the Eternally Conquering Pride of the People”, which encompassed something of the semi-divine status that the Khan held as the literal head of all packs of the species. Even the name Ssi Rissan meant “Those who belong to Ssi Ris”, the legendary unifier of the homeworld Kass Zaris and founder of a dynasty that had propagated itself across four millennia. The scale of Ssi Ris’s success was perhaps best gauged when one considered that nearly 4% of the entire homeworld population could trace their lineage back to the near-legendary conqueror.

Some, though, more directly than others. Ssi Hsiher was lord of all he surveyed, the unquestioned leader of an entire race. His hunting pack this day comprised the purest of Ssi Rissan clan heads, and his own group of exclusive broodmates. As Brak Zawl nuzzled her way down his torso, he reflected that life was indeed, very good. But his position was not without obligations, and he subtly pushed his mate away as he focused upon them. She recognized his signals, and stepped aside.

“I know you find these humans to be unsatisfying prey,” he addressed his hunting group, demanding their attention while attempting to maintain the informal, respectful aspect of the pack intact. “You wonder why I insist on hunting it instead of the armorbeast or clawbeast or even the succulent meatbeast. True, we are stalking the human species through the stars, but even a symbolic display needs only to be repeated once or twice, do I know your minds pack-kin?”

The grizzled, somewhat balding Kas Amer, the head of the revered Kas tribe, leaned forward in polite but dubious stance. “These humans have little meat to them, and more fat than even a meatbeast. They can barely provide sport at all in the hunt. I know you bred true of the great Ssi Maks, and have some agenda at work here, but I do not see it.”

His remarks annoyed the Khan, as they frequently did, and despite his own invitation for them. The old warlord looked as if he would be killed and devoured by an ambitious subordinate or his own sons any day now, but he had looked that way for eighteen cycles now, nearly as long as Ssi Hsiher had been alive. The reference to his great grandfather was also irritating but opportune.

“The revered Ssi Maks was of great stature, yes,” the Khan conceded with deceptive equanimity, “and yet he failed to deal with these humans. Even the greatest of my forbearers, the Hornbeast of Kass Zaris and Slayer of Zar Daan himself, had to settle with some minor adjustments of our territory when leading the pack against these humans. For hundreds of cycles we have warred with these mocking ape-things, and failed to sink our teeth and claws into their throats. We have not felt their life’s blood pool in our mouths, and tasted of their sweet organs after gutting them. I have had our pack hunt these creatures to remind us of this humiliation.”

Kas Amer barely shifted, though his subtle twitching indicated passing interest. Another of the pack thrust himself forward, and the Khan recognized Ssi Ussik, a descendent of Ssi Gharis whose flesh Ssi Maks had feasted upon. “You humiliate us with these games, then! You think we are unworthy to face real prey, and remind us of these ape-things and their endless resources. The honor of our pride has been proven over and over again, and if it were not for their artificial power these humans would be nothing but fodder for children and the elderly. So, scion of the great Ssi Maks, what do you show save that your line has failed to rid us of their infestation?”

The Khan bared his teeth in an obvious threat. “Would you invoke a trial to combat, Ussik? I would like nothing more than to rip your throat out and spill your blood into the sand here. Your cowardly and disgraced ancestors handed us the most humiliation before these weaklings, and it is I who will erase the stain that they have burdened the All-Conquering Pride with. My point, brain-hobbled Ussik, is to make clear what must be done, that hunting the human is no longer a matter of the thrill of chase or the pleasure of the kill, or the fullness of belly. We must destroy them until none of them are left, and this exercise will be accomplished as the task that it is.”

Ssi Shik, more closely related to Ssi Ussik than the Khan, stepped in to restrain a new visibly taut challenger. “There should be no combat now, not over a fresh kill and during time of trial. Your point, oh Khan, is well taken even if some of your pack have chosen to take offense where only a prod to action was meant. I have long held the same view of these matters, and after the last round of combat…”

The environmental controls of the hunting lodge suddenly, and without much warning, were reset to a more neutral environment. The harsh heat associated with the rising daysun disappeared, as did the strong winds and after a few moments the billowing sand. The Khan, annoyed, looked towards the environmentally sealed entrance for an explanation; it was far distant now, but he could make it out on the horizon. A bounding figure caught his eye, a Ssi Rissan on four legs moving at the rapid pace of a sprint; he could only be a messenger.

“It appears your speech is to be cut short, my Khan,” Kas Amer replied, demonstrating that his eyesight was still unimpaired despite his advanced age. “Let us wait and hear what news this cub brings.”

The cub proved to be a mature Pride Coordinator, the signal of his office bouncing wildly up and down from its neck harness as he began slowing down out of the sprint after the initial rush. He sounded even faintly out of breath as he prostrated himself before the Khan. “My Khan, the humans attack!” he finally got.

“What? This is impossible!” Shik exploded, already beginning to tense into the wary attack stance. Not once in seven major wars and countless skirmishes fought against the humans had they dared to penetrate so far into Khanate, and the homeworld was sacred. He might as well have announced that Ssi Ris had returned with the Honored Host of Prides to join the war.

It was Brak Zawl who broke the stunned spell. “This officer has forfeited his life if he is making a joke or is mistaken. This must be a raid. Our Khan, leader of the Eternally-Conquering Pride, you must leave this place and defend our homeworld and life’s blood against the humans. Smash this immediate threat down and eat their entrails, and there will be plenty of time to speak of the more efficient slaughter of their race. The rest of you, too, have you no packs to form, no prides to lead?”

The bold speech sparked everyone to action. The Pride Coordinator led the group to the underground bunker with its maglev connection to the planetary defense center in the capital. Despite his urgent behavior, there was still plenty of time for Ssi Hsiher to work himself up in a rage over this latest insult. Another part resolved to mate with Brak Zwal to produce a strong litter as soon as possible, but it was blood that was on his mind as he scrambled down into the deeply protected basement. Whatever was happening, the humans who had defiled the sacred center of the Khanate would pay dearly for it.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:08pm
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SKKMS Dünamünde

Jump points blossomed in sets of a half-dozen, with over a thousand such patterns marking the emergence of the largest space fleet in history assembled by any known power in the universe. Human ships sudden blossomed into realspace right above the outer gravity well of the system in a display of helmsmanship that astonished and terrified the Ssi Rissan military personnel assigned to monitor the area. Within a few seconds of stunned silence they were on the hyperradio, sending alarmed reports to the home fleet and the Coordinator of Hosts on Kasszaris. This close to the gravity well the human ships had translated with no momentum at all, but they could be upon the defenders of the homeworld all too quickly…

The immense bulk of a Siegreich class battleship, nearly one and half kilometers long and massing over thirty million metric tons, served as the brains of the enormous fleet. Slab-sided and squat looking, it radiated a brute force that the Ssi Rissan, who designed graceful and sleek capital ships, had long eschewed; the only concessions to aesthetics made by the human designers was a vestigial viewing box just above the spinal mount railgun that formed the “prow” of the ship. The hull was painted a natural looking grey with special stealth paint, but a band of black and yellow was run along the top and bottom of the hull amidships, linked by bands of Tyrian purple on the port and starboard hull. A crest was visible above the viewing box, proclaiming it the SMS Dünamünde, and a hull number was painted in white on the uppermost engine at the back of the ship. Five other such vessels arrived in formation with the Dünamünde, forming one of the most powerful squadrons of the fleet.

Aboard the flag bridge of the Dünamünde a flurry of activity was taking place as the staff of Admiraal Johannes von Beidecker confirmed the safe arrival and positioning of every ship in Special Task Force 9. As per standard procedure everyone was wearing their skintight space survival suits, creating a mass of seemingly identical white-suited sailors milling about consoles ringing the command pit. Only an experienced civilian could have made out the information conveyed by ribbons on the breasts of those spartan suits, but even a tyro would have been able to guess which one was Beidecker. He was lounging comfortably in the center chair of the command pit, a command console extending from it held outward as if at leisure. He was carefully and conspicuously broadcasting an air of utter unconcern and even boredom despite the incredible power at his command.

His flag-officer, Kapitän Andrés Tsiba, handled the collation of reports and prepared a summary for his commander. Unlike most of the crew Tsiba did not come from a system settled by one or more of the ethnic groups of Central Eurasia, rather hailing from Earth itself. His mulatto complexion was common among the population of the Kingdom of the Kongo, but it stood out on the Dünamünde. Beidecker appreciated his competence, and was gratified when the junior officer finished downloading the report to his console. “The French Navy vanguard is off by several degrees to port and the mixed reserves are an average of three million kilometers out from their expected translation zone, but that is the extent of the miscues. All ships have emerged safely,“ Tsiba confirmed.

“Excellent.” He clapped his gloved hands together, and looked up at the ceiling. “The wall elements will precede in-system at 1200 gees of acceleration to Point Alpha, opposite the system primary’s fourth planet. I want the screen ready to boost to 1400 gees to overtake the wall thirty minutes to arrival. Now, what do our sensors say about the disposition of the system’s population and defense forces?”

Tsiba went to work at his console for a few more seconds, ordering the ship’s artificial intelligence to compress the sensor readings of the entire task force into a single composite picture. “We have confirmed that the second planet orbiting the system primary is heavily inhabited, and judging by the neutrino readings orbital traffic is heavier than that around Earth itself. There’s also significant traffic around the third planet out, and light traffic around a moon of the fourth planet. There also seem to be habitation stations orbiting all three planets and in the asteroid field between the primary and secondary stars. There are… a lot of defensive stations around the second planet, and what look like dockyards and mooring sites for a big fleet. We haven’t located their home fleet yet, though it could just be masked in with orbital traffic, and we seem to have picked up an isolated detachment engaging in maneuvers in the asteroid field.”

The Admiraal tried to reconstruct the picture of the system in his head. The plan had called for a sudden entry into the system gravity well, keeping the Cats from using their FTL systems to outmaneuver the fleet, and hopefully pining them up against their homeworld. The Cats would certainly rely on vast swarms of strike fighters, but the Empire had a nasty surprise in store for them on that score. But the intelligence on the Ssi Rissan home system had been spotty at best, only an identification of the system and a confirmation of the second world from the primary as their homeworld and (presumably) capital. They were spread around further than anticipated, and that asteroid field would surely be the backbone of their system industry. To smash up the habitats there, and destroy an isolated segment of their fleet, would let the fleet accomplish a severe blow to the Cats even before the decisive battle.

“Take us in as planned, and we’ll hit their settlements on the fourth planet’s moon in passing,” he finally ordered. The goal was to deliver the Ssi Rissan a message they would never forget. Beidecker decided that falling on their homeworld with all his available forces was still the best course of action. If the battle went as planned, they’d have time to deal with the other settlements before Cat reinforcements could arrive.

The standard encrypted burst transmission array was not being used to relay orders to the fleet, as a high degree of synchronization was required and that would take time to propagate through the many formations. Rather, the fleet had been so tightly grouped to allow for the relay of orders through a more exotic means, namely the telepaths abroad each ship. Telepathic contact was instantaneous, and individual telepaths could form relays that functioned as real time networks over vast distances, and even better they could relay the orders they received directly into the ship’s computer via the Direct Neural Interface Core every Imperial ship used to control the on-board AI. There were, needless to say, formidable advantages in coordination rendered possible by the system, but this was the first time it was being used on such a large scale.

In the case of the Dünamünde there were two telepaths aboard, one as part of the ship’s complement and another as part of Beidecker’s staff. The latter was Leutnant Kommandant Marcus Lum, a native of Sichuan IIb, and the central hub of the entire network. He reached out with his mind, seeking Leutnant Ruth Yuang at her station besides the ship’s DNI Core; her telepathic presence was like a searchlight besides the mindblind crew’s torches in the darkness. As military telepaths both were consummate professionals and rigidly disciplined, and they compartmentalized all extraneous thought by well-drilled instinct. Even so, the extraordinary sense of intimacy that marked all such unions remained in the back of their minds, something sensed but unremarked.

Alerted by the intrusion into her mind, Yuang reached out, seeking the minds of the rest of the squadron’s telepaths. They in turn reached out to the next squadron over, according to pre-planned design, and within seconds everything fell into place. Lum, sensing that the telepathic network was ready, looked over at his commander for a final confirmation.

Beidecker gave him a bored nod. “That’s 1200 gees for the wall to Point Alpha, with the screen to overtake thirty minutes out at 1400 gees. Kapitän Tsiba will provide you with further orders for the reduction of the moon settlement once he has the plan in hand.”

Lum relayed the order to Yuang, and it reached out across the fleet in an immeasurably short period of time. Then he sent another signal, the synchronization signal, and the engines of over 6,000 warships started boosting simultaneously. It was an efficiency that astounded and slightly terrified the Ssi Rissan monitoring the fleet, not least because they believed their own race was the pinnacle of such elaborate coordination.

Satisfied, von Beidecker stood up and began heading to the command pit’s steps. Several members of the crew looked quizzically, though Tsiba merely smiled in amusement. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee,” the Admiraal announced nonchalantly. “And I’ll have some sandwiches and drinks brought down here. If the Kitties are slow on the uptake there might be time for pastries too.”

Most of those new to his staff laughed nervously or looked to their duties. The rest knew that the Old Man was serious, and it was his way of steadying their nerves before battle. If the fleet commander was relaxed about the coming engagement, and able to get in some last minute refreshments, they shouldn’t worry so much either. It was an unorthodox approach to command, but that was something that had marked von Beidecker’s career. And where very orthodox Imperial commanders had been stymied by the fast-moving, deep raiding tactics of the Ssi Rissan on the frontier, von Beidecker had adapted and pacified his front. Which fact explained why he was in command, and not some other, better connected Admiraal.

Kapitän Tsiba knew that much from long experience, and did his part. “Best to eat while you can, it might be a while before you’ll be able to do so again. There’s some good chorizo stocked in the mess, and I’m going to have the chef use that for my sandwich. If the rest of you have orders to place, let me know now.”

It was a bit undignified acting like a waiter, but it alleviated some of the tension building up on the bridge. The rest was in the hands of the Ssi Rissan. And not for the first time, Tsiba wondered how the homeworld of the enemy had been discovered, after over 600 years of contact and conflict with the intermittent enemy. Admiraal von Beidecker’s lack of connections at Court had probably not helped the strange silence of the Hofkriegsrat toward his polite inquiries about the intelligence. That bothered him more than he had been willing to admit, and that meant it bothered Tsiba a great deal. As he settled into his chair, and began opening the inter-ship coms to page the mess, he put it out of his mind. Whatever sources had been required, they had opened the way to the end of the Ssi Rissan threat; no price could outweigh that boon, he was certain.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:10pm
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VMF La Réforme

The battleship La Réforme was built along similar lines to the larger Siegreich class vessels, though instead of the orderly arrangement of missile batteries and energy weapons on the broadside favored by the Imperial and Royal Space Navy, she concentrated all of her missile launchers amidships, saving room for fewer, but more powerful, batteries of particle beams and capital scale lasers. She also boasted more cruiser scale energy batteries on her secondary armament, a feature of French naval engineering that placed her squadrons at the vanguard of Special Task Force 9. She featured the same grey stealth paint as the Dünamünde, this time livened by a broad strip of white with golden fleur-de-lises, the heraldic design of the Bourbon flag.

One design feature it shared with other warships Holy Roman Empire was the spinal mount mass driver, which it was employing to devastating effect against a moon settlement around the fourth planet orbiting the system primary. Efforts by the Ssi Rissan ground-based defense to intercept the near-luminal projectiles were mostly futile, their batteries of missiles and capital lasers overwhelmed by the sheer hail of fire from the Imperial fleet. Environmental catastrophe would greet the survivors who emerged from their deep bunkers, even without the fleet adding to their misery by raking the world with capital weapons once they passed within twenty light-seconds of it on the course to the imaginary Point Alpha. With enough time and effort rendering the surface crust a sea of boiling magma was eminently possible, though the fleet would not be lingering around to carry out such an extreme operation. That fate was reserved for another body in the system.

The flag bridge aboard La Réforme looked similar to that of Dünamünde, but the attitude of the crew was very different. Amiral d’Escadron Jean Leblanc was the very model of the stoic, sober-minded and industrious Frenchman, and the example he set was reflected by his crew. There was no banter, no last minute tension, only a humming efficiency reflecting the intensive drilling that the ship’s crew had endured as part of France’s contribution to the Home Fleet defending Earth. Reports on the devastation to the Ssi Rissan colony, the status of his battle squadron, the dispositions of the enemy and of the rest of the fleet, were all entered in silence. Leblanc used his command console to access relevent data as he needed, though the use of the telepathic relay had left him without serious responsibilities during the burn in-system. That was not a situation he relished.

“Amiral, traffic around the second world, the enemy homeworld, has broken up.” The sudden spoken report shook up the taut silence on the bridge. The speaker, a lieutenant assigned to monitor the sensor situation, was new to the staff. “Our recon probes show a large group of ships moving on an intercept course from the third planet, as well. They may be trying to link together and engage us before we enter range of their homeworld.”

“Naturally.” That was all the response Leblanc had to the news. He had assumed the Ssi Rissan would try to gather as large a force as they could and intercept the fleet as far out from their homeworld as possible. The trade-off would be time to gather up more forces against the desire to keep them as far away as possible. Judging by the course of the squadrons from the third planet, it seemed as though the cats would not be trying to link up with the portion of the fleet out in the system asteroid belt. But that was a concern for Admiraal von Beidecker.

“Sir, we have multiple inbound signals from the third world on a direct interception course with the fleet! Estimate two thousand, seven hundred strikefighters at three thousand gees.” The lieutenant was not exactly panic, but Leblanc could sense the fear in his voice.

“Steady now young man,” the Amiral replied, his voice utterly level. He keyed in the channel to the ship’s chapel, requesting the pastor. His request to the clergyman was direct and simple. “Reverend, would you please provide this squadron with an appropriate prayer for facing the enemy in combat?”

Reverend Philippe DuPre had been inside his chaplain’s office when contacted by the Amiral, and took the call on the desktop monitor. He heard out the request, and slid his pince-nez glasses further up his nose, a gesture he had picked up at the seminary on Coligny when he needed to think. “But of course, Amiral. I will need a little time to open up the chapel proper and prepare the projector for transmission. I will work on a simple exhortation to the men, something to focus their attention on their martial duties and to remind them of the Lord’s presence.”

“As you think best, father.” Leblanc ended their conversation on his end, and the monitor returned to the ecclesiastical report that DuPre had been working on before the call. He turned the thing off and sighed wearily as his mind tried to pick out the best passage around which to frame a short sermon. Under the circumstances, he thought, the book of Joshua would be a good starting place; like most Reformed religions, the state church of France looked to the Old Testament as readily as to the New.

Setting up the transmitter was a task for one of his three assistants, and fortunately Jean was in the chapel proper sweeping and dusting. Phillippe called out for the younger cleric to set it up, while he changed into his cassock for the benefit of those crew-members who would see him from a holographic or visual display. After a bit of fumbling with the rather unwieldy garment the reverend succeeded in dressing himself, and heard Jean call out that the audiovisual transfer device was ready for broadcast. On a French warship that meant everyone was at least going to hear him, and many would see him via holographic or video projection, which lent gravity to his reflections. He was burdened with responsibility as a counselor and a guide to the crew in their relationship with Christ, but that sort of spiritual reinforcement was far removed from the immediacy of battle, never mind such a clash as was shortly to erupt in the home system of the hated and feared enemy.

The chapel he entered was small and humbly furnished, especially by the standards of the Catholic chapels aboard Imperial warships or even the Lutheran chapels of Denmark-Sweden’s fleet. The chamber was long enough to include two aisles of pews capable of seating half the ship’s company, those being metallic pieces welded into the floor and covered with faux-wood paneling, as were the walls of the chapel. They faced a real wooden altar, with a simple Reformed Cross carved into the front of the piece and a microphone for the reverend concealed on the top. Illumination was provided by subdued artificial lights built into the ceiling above, rather than the ostentatious and dangerous candles used aboard Catholic warships. There was no organ or box for a choir, both staples of Lutheran chapels, and only a hint of color was provided by several plants grown at the side of the altar as a reminder of the existence of a world beyond the ship. It was a stark and severe setting well suited to the Reformed faith of the state church of France.

DuPre assumed his usual stance behind the altar, and bent down to pull out his well-worn Calvin Bible from the compartment holding it. He opened it to the beginning of Joshua and then laid it out on the altar before him, a familiar touch from any of his sermons. He then waved to Jean, who first checked for any other transmissions going out or in the queue for use of the projectors; there were none, so he turned it on and flashed the reverend a thumb’s down sign to signify everything was good to go. Philippe resolved to talk with the younger man about adopting pagan mannerisms from the heretic English, but it slipped his mind as he began his message to the squadron.

“Brothers in Faith, we are called upon these days to deliver a mortal blow to the aliens that have oppressed our colonies for so long. The predations of these foul, demonically inspired monsters are long known to us, and have burdened our fellow believers without ceasing for centuries. Most recently the slaughter of the innocents on the world of New Albion, a massacre exceeding that of Herod or the foul Guise in intensity, has weighed upon our Scottish brothers in the Reformed Faith. In an unguarded moment we may ask ourselves why God has seen fit to allow such oppression, despite knowing that this world is full of toil and suffering for the Elect for good reason. I say to you all, this is part of God’s plan for those who will be saved, a crucible to shape and harden the true believers of this world in preparation to enter the next. Just as the Israelites were afflicted by the pagan tribes of Canaan in order to drive them away from false idols and to remind them of the Covenant, so too have we been afflicted by this satanic enemy as punishment for our sins of pride and following after false gods.

But God has not forgotten the Covenant that the true Christian people have made with Him, and the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ that all would find solace in Him remain as true today as they were two thousand and eight hundred years ago. The Lord has given us the means and knowledge to strike back against the alien oppressor with overwhelming force. Let us remember that the Lord is a patient and just ruler, and that as surely as He collapsed the walls of Jericho for the armies of Israel, he has given this system over to the vengeance of His people. We have been tested and tried for not forty years but yet longer, and while we must remember those trials with humility, now has come the time to act, now we stand before the walls of our own Jericho and we must believe that the Lord our God will blow down the defenses of this system. Have faith, and be of stout heart, knowing that your eternal reward has been decided upon and that the Lord has placed you here today in this system, and that you do His will at every station.

Pray with me; Oh Lord, bless me this day as I do your bidding. Give me courage as I perform my duties. Give me the wisdom to remain serene whatever this battle brings. And grant me the true faith to be aware of Your presence and benevolence in his time of combat. Amen.

Now let us look to the Book of Joshua for further insight…”

From the bridge, the reverend’s preaching was cycled back to an elective broadcast. The crew could choose to follow along, or not, as they chose. Amiral LeBlanc judged that the purpose had been served, and soon enough he would need the channels clear. Admiral von Beidecker meant to save his carriers as a surprise for the Ssi’Rissan later on, as a mere 3,000 strikefighters were surely the tip of the iceburg of the system defenses. The French commander grudgingly agreed, but that wasn’t going to make this any less painful for his own command, and he silently hoped that most of his squadron’s crews were of the Elect; the odds were not bad that many would be finding out one way or another before the system was secured.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:14pm
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In orbit of Kass Kra Wel

Kass Kra Wel, the third planet of the Ssi Rissan home system, had been settled at a time when the bravest minds of humanity had been debating whether or not the universe revolved around their own homeworld. It was a cold, desolate world that had harbored only a thin atmosphere at that time, and it had taken two hundred years of terraforming before it had hosted large numbers of settlers. The genetically engineered algae suffused in the atmosphere to absorb ultraviolet radiation and produce oxygen had been joined by common nitrogen-fixing plants to allow Ssi Rissan to settle, plant, harvest, and hunt. The settlers of Kass Kra Wel had gained a reputation for being taciturn and individualist, so far as Ssi Rissan could be taciturn and individualist, and had clearly adapted thicker fur coats than was normal for the baseline species. They regarded their own environment as more challenging than that of the dusty homeworld that had given them birth, and had earned a reputation of stubbornness among their species that had persisted even when the Khanate had spread across twenty thousand systems.

Claw Leader Cheiss Sher had visited the world and hunted the ice-fauna that it boasted, and he reluctantly concurred with the natives. The ice, so cold and treacherous, lacked the capriciousness that marked the dust-storms of the homeworld. It was not so immediately deadly, but it was a constant malicious presence that threatened everyone at every minute where the dust-storms merely claimed their victims randomly and quickly. If one knew the desert signs well enough one could avoid the storms, or at least know when they threatened and when they did not, but from the ice there was no reprieve. In that way the ice hunting reminded him of space, which was after all the ultimate in cold death and a constant presence every single time he took his strikefighter out, and every second he remained inside the thin walls of Orbital Station 17.

As his Claw launched in urgent response to the sudden violation of the sanctity of the primordial Ssi Rissan lair, Cheiss Sher was reminded of the time he and his Claw had decided to hunt the most challenging of the ice-beasts, the genetically adapted Wyvern from Kass Zaris’s own polar region. It had led him and the other eleven hunters around a glacier, always staying just outside the range of their spears, exposing itself only to goad them onward to a frozen stream where it had suddenly burst up through the ice and claimed poor Leik Wyms in its great jaws, ripping her in half before disappearing with part of the kill beneath the freezing waters. Now his Claw faced another Wyvern, and the smell of death was in his nostrils as it had been at the glacier, this time stalking his entire Claw.

His Claw was one of two hundred and twenty eight available to make the first blood-strike at the intruders, a position of honor but also a sign of how suddenly this catastrophe had come upon them. Cheiss Sher activated his commlink to the rest of the Claw with literally a thought, sophisticated neuralware that merged him into his fighter translating his intent into action, allowing him to address the rest of his command as ritual packleader.

“Clawkin, we have a heavy burden and great responsibility. The womb of our people is defiled by this alien filth, staining the honor of our Claw and every other Pack of Ssi Ris. Already they have blotted Tris Wol from the rolls of the lairs of our race and they press on to Zaris himself. The First Kra Wel Host is throwing itself against these ravagers, and this Claw will be at the fore of our valiant strike of defiance. We will claim hot blood from these mewling humans, inflaming those who still mobilize with the anticipation of the kill. Our strike will show to the gods themselves that the Host of Ssi Ris will never brook such an insult without death prevailing and will leave these animals who pretend to be people in dread fear.

We are outnumbered. We will all die. That is truth. Remember that we serve a purpose in our defiance, and remember that I will see you all again in the Eternally Conquering Host before this rotation is through. Strike deep, my Clawkin, and give your lives for the Pack.”

He ended it with a howl of the hunt, the high pitched cry of defiance used for as long as the Pack had existed to warn others of imminent danger. But that cry also alerted other members of the pack that mortal combat had begun, and urged them forward to overwhelm with numbers what the individual strength and cunning of an Ssi Rissan had failed to conquer. It seemed like an appropriate note to end upon. He heard other howls of defiance from his Clawkin, and several pledges of self-sacrifice, which he reckoned proved the point, and afterward chatter died down in accordance with the instinctive pack discipline.

Still, the biggest feature of the transit from Kass Kra Wel to attack range was simply boredom. Even at the 3,200 gee limit of acceleration, it was a long way to go and little to do. The neuralware meant that all the strikefighter’s controls were tied into his head, meaning that even little adjustments of course required complete concentration but did not require the least bit of physical activity. So he stayed still the entire way, as snug inside his flightsuit and cockpit as though he were in his grave. It was unsettling for many Ssi’Rissan, remaining as still as required; oh, certainly all Ssi’Rissan could lay in wait for prey, but to call upon those skills in the absence of any stimulation was unnatural, and it was one of the biggest challenges of finding psychologically suitable strikefighter pilots. It also meant that those pilots were incredibly aggressive once stimulation was provided…

In his mind’s eye, Cheiss Sher was his fighter, in space, and movements were as simple as willing them, and they were made, once they were within attack range. But on the transit in, the entire Host was controlled by the command fighter, which locked the neuralware’s functionality in favor of keeping everyone on a single efficient track. Even as he was beginning to feel the strain of enforced inaction, his vision suddenly expanded to take in the entire Host and the enemy fleet, and he “saw” the ship that his Claw was targeted against, and even the line denoting attack range. The command fighter for his Pride had downloaded the information directly to his fighter and thus into his mind, and his mouth watered involuntarily. His Claw would pave the way for dedicated bombers to attack by striking against one of the light cruisers in the enemy screen.

The Host finally crossed into attack range at a quarter of a light minute away from the outer screen of the enemy force, and it was as if he had stopped being paralyzed. The Claw instantly broke into an intimately coordinated, constantly practiced dance of weaves and bobs designed to throw off the light-speed anti-fighter weapons of the enemy. Dedicated ECM aircraft of the single support Claw in the parent Pride of his formation provided assistance against enemy anti-fighter missiles, and those began clawing in as they crossed twenty light-seconds to the enemy screen. The point defense bubbles on his fighter and those of the rest of the Host responded, doing what they could to limit the damage.

It wasn’t enough. He felt one of his Clawkin disintegrate as a human missile slammed directly into a nearby fighter, and he was aware in the back of his mind that the Host was losing strikefighters every second as they crossed the black void at the grim-grey spearhead shaped enemy ships. He began grinding the pseudo-molars at the back of his jaw together, his fangs threatening to tear into his lip, and the natural aggression-boosting hormones began to flood his system. The inertial compensators were only so efficient, and strained to the absolute utmost as Cheiss Sher’s Claw strained into an attack run on their own target. Another one of his Clawkin ate an anti-fighter missile, and then another seconds afterward, and he knew that his Claw was lucky so far.

At 10 light-seconds from the screen the enemy laser point-defense weapons became far more deadly, and a hail of death met the Host at that range. Strikefighter after strikefighter was blown from the void, and the Host was evaporating like a pool of water spilled in the Cradle of the Race. The toll was enormous, and his Claw felt it as one by one they blinked out, until there were only Sixth Claw, Eighth Claw, Eleventh Claw and himself at the six light-second range where the Host could salvo their anti-shipping missiles en-masse. He gave out a growl of triumph as he willed his salvo at the designated target, launching out a dozen quarter-gigaton missiles in rapid succession, their boost-phase accelerating them far beyond his own fighter. They could not be intercepted in the short distance and time left, though their guidance systems were rudimentary and easily confused…

Victory! Many of the missiles of his remaining claw slammed into the enemy light cruiser, despite the hail of invisible but still deadly laser fire directed into their general location. The enemy cruiser was wounded he knew it, and his Claw had only to close to use the torpedo slung under their fighters…

And then he realized that only he, of his entire Claw, had survived the run. He howled in frustration. He raged against his fate, and he thought to shake his fighter to piece in his anger. The rest of the Host was being torn apart, and there remained only one thing to do. He aimed his fighter directly towards the light cruiser, reeling under the attack of his Claw, and armed the torpedo. He did not release it. There was too much chance of it missing, and it might not do the job by itself.

The claws in his suited form extended, straining against the nanonmachined fabric of his flight suit, as he began the ritual intonation. “Fathers of my fathers, hear my cry of hate! I will join you this day in the Eternal War! Let my enemies taste my blood, and wretch at the cost of it! I pledge the gods my life for the cubs of the Pride of our People!”

The light cruiser, suddenly aware of the threat, began throwing up every bit of fire it could at him. So did the other members of the cruiser’s squadrons, and they fired every point defense battery in his general direction, trying to create a kill box. His prayed his luck would hold, and… never felt the impact that tore his strikefighter to pieces.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:15pm
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VMF Hydre

The starboard shield of the light cruiser Hydre heated up as a sudden burst of energy was absorbed with the detonation of nearly three dozen light anti-ship missiles. The field would convert and contain the strike as heat rather than allow it to be passed on as damage to the ship, but very little more would be required to get a burn-through or even to force a collapse of the field. Ensign Terranove in Point Defense Cluster 13 noticed the harbinger of destruction barreling in just following the missile strike, and knew enough to understand that it had to be killed fast. Of course, the dedicated and automatic tracking computer installed to really control his point defense cluster knew that too, and was expending full effort to accomplish just that. Indeed, the computer had reported back to the central computer core even as Terranove opened his mouth, with its psychic companion reaching out to send a priority target override to the rest of the squadron even as the young officer shouted “Flame that bastard now!”

A curtain of invisible fire lept out from the Hydre and her fellows, all aimed at a single Ssi Rissan strikefighter barreling in on the ship. The result was a foregone conclusion, with the Nymphe claiming the kill as one of its anti-fighter lasers struck and blasted the target into interstellar dust. Total engagement time was somewhat under four seconds, though the momentary distraction did grant some help to the dedicated bomber craft coming in behind the fighter squadron. The stalwart computers, freed of any threat to themselves, shifted their priorities to the protection of the battleship squadrons they escorted.

The senior PDC enlisted man, an old salt hailing from the Provencal settlements in the Orion nebula, had a bit of a laugh at the alarm of his superior. The other seamen nervously joined in, as their fellow placed a hand on the shoulder of the officer. “That’s how it goes, Ensign. With the computer about there’s hardly any reason to get excited. It will take care of the problem, or it won’t. Up to God there, I suppose.”

The younger man’s back stiffened and he bristled a bit at the fatherly intervention. But the old sailor was right, he knew. The academy had tried to make clear how important the men of the ship were, but the truth of the matter was that everything was computerized. Humans were only around as a backup in the direst of situations. “Yes, yes. That will be all, then.”

Terranove sat back down in his seat and analyzed what he could of the broader situation. The strike was petering out, obviously, the enemy fighters winnowed down to nothing by the integrated defenses of the battle-group. His overview was only that of the squadron and a portion of the line, but the rapid disappearance of enemy icons made what was happening pretty clear. The squadron itself was intact, with most the icons showing a lighter color representing the state of their shields, and the Hydre alone marked by the orange of a highly heated shield. There were thin trails where the enemy bombers had closed to salvo off their own anti-ship missiles but none of them had gotten into torpedo range.

“So, why the hell are we here anyway?” The enlisted men had returned to the card game they were playing before the alert, and one of them spoke up loud enough for Terranove to hear. The ensign considered a rebuke, but it was pointless; they had no real duties at the moment, and the sailors were far gone from the discipline of civilization or fear of God.

The sailor across from him laid down his cards on the deck, aces over nines, clearly confident of winning the pot. And being the section wit, replied to the rhetorical question with another. “Why are any of us here? What is the purpose of life, no?” And then he provided the answer. “You are here, mon ami, because you were too drunk to tell the recruiter to stuff it when he was asking about re-enlistments.”

“That’s not what I mean, Jacques.” And the other able seaman responded with his own hand, and grinned wickedly. “Three of a kind. Read them and weep, you too Rogier.” He reached over to claim the assorted chits piled on the commandeered workbench. “I meant, how do we suddenly know where the cats are, after so long? The rumors say some kind of agent or sensor intelligence, but anyone with half a brain knows...”

The older Provencal, sitting nearby, leaned over to stop him from taking the pot. “Not so fast, Henri.” He laid his own hand down, and both Henri and Pierre looked at it with amazement. “Royal House, gentlemen.” And so Rogier slid the chits off the workbench in a fluid movement with his left arm, sweeping them into the waiting outstretched palm of his right. “Clearly, God placed you both here to provide for the poor whores will blow your money on once we get back to port.”

Everyone nearby guffawed as though it were the most hilarious joke they had ever heard. The banter grated on Terranove’s nerves, though. Even more so once Henri began bringing up the question of the fleet’s intelligence again.

“We know the Imperial intelligence is more concerned with harassing the outsiders and looking for Bogumil phantoms than doing anything with the cats.” The priorities Henri assigned to the Evidenzburo were not particularly questioned among French crews. “The Papists would burn us if they had the chance. But how exactly would one pass among the Cats? It’s ridiculous to imagine that we picked anything up from some agent on their homeworld, they even eat the slaves they take within weeks.”

“Perhaps some manner of signals intelligence, then,” Jacques suggested. “Maybe we finally picked up on their early radio broadcasts, or something like that. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

Terranove scoffed without meaning to, and drew the attention of the enlisted men. They looked at him, expecting an explanation, and the young man felt compelled to provide it and defend his intellectual superiority. “We met the Cats about five hundred years ago, and began searching for clues to their territory afterward. So far as we can tell, they have been spaceborne for over two thousand years. The earliest radio communications from their civilization would have passed through our space centuries before we knew to look for them. And like us, they would have switched to low-visibility digital communications as soon as they could, rather than continue radiating their presence out to the universe.”

“And that is why the Ensign went to the Academy and you did not,” Rogier added.

“Maybe something more recent, then.” Jacques was not ready to back down and meekly accept his mental inferiority. “We’ve always captured Cat equipment. Maybe they slipped up and left some coordinates for our technology people to recover, or we finally translated their language they way they did ours.”

Terranove shrugged. “Most of what we have recovered has always been smashed to pieces, given the way they fight to the death when cornered. If we managed to finally translate their language fully it might explain things, though it would be hard to keep that secret.” He had no idea if they had, at any rate, and such matters were well above their rank. If the Empire had even bothered to tell their French auxiliaries about such a development...

“So, clearly les Boches have broken the Cat language and learned where their homeworld is,” Jacques concluded with excitement. “It’s the only explanation that makes sense. They can’t hide this information, as Monsieur Ensign makes clear, so they used it as quickly as they could. And thus, we find ourselves in this system!”

“Could be,” Terranove conceded. He was losing interest fast, and as his eyes dropped down to his screen he was suddenly and violently reminded of the larger picture. Fleet command was sharing the system view, and a massive cloud of enemy icons was pushing out from the system’s second planet. Interception would be in a mere few hours.

Rogier had evidently had the sense to check his own station. “Here they come. That is a lot of pissed off Cats heading straight for us.” He whistled in appreciation. “Haven’t see this much pussy in one place since the docks on Marseilles Station.”

“And just like those whores, these Cats are out to fuck us over,” Henri chimed in. “Also, they’re about as hairy...”

“Enough!” Terranove cracked his hand down on his station. “This is the greatest battle humanity has fought since the Empire was reborn over Earth, and you make jokes about prostitutes! If I thought you had a chance of being elect, I would urge you all to pray for the serenity of your souls. But if nothing else, we will do something useful such as running damage control drills! If you cannot keep your souls from Hell, at least you can put off that day as long as you can. Now, damn it, get a move on...”

Aboard the six thousand warships of the Imperial fleet, other officers were likewise hustling their men into readiness for desperate fighting. The Ssi Rissan always fought to the death when cornered, and now the Empire had concerned them up against their own sacred homeworld. Clearly this was “death ground” in every sense, with the onrushing collision certain to leave one side annihilated; whether that side would be Imperial or Khanate would be determined by technology, firepower, and abstract laws of combat, but every ounce of preparedness and tenacity of the crew could and would weigh in.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:17pm
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SKKMS Dünamünde

The flag bridge of the Dünamünde had a state-of-the-art holographic display for the use of the commanding admiral and his staff, capable of zoning out to provide an overview of an entire system, or zooming in to display the readiness status of single ships. It had been set to display the arbitrary limits of the space between the Imperial Fleet and the Ssi-Rissan homeworld. The third planet of the system, already outside the definition of the holodisplay, had been swept clear of orbital infrastructure and bombarded in passing by the fleet but had not been worked over as thoroughly as the Imperial would have liked. But any irritation on the part of Admiraal von Beidecker’s staff was pushed aside as scanners made clear the scale of the Khanate response to their incursion.

What was clearly the Khanate Home Fleet had been moored around their homeworld and the formidable orbital defenses it boasted, and as the range cleared and the ECM struggle shifted in favor of the Imperials, their numbers were pinned down. Over five thousand Khanate warships had boosted at breakneck speed out of the planet’s gravity well, trying to link up with yet another detachment of warships that had been conducting maneuvers in the system asteroid belt, while keeping themselves between the Empire and their race’s cradle. That group numbered well over another thousand warships, many of them registering as cruiser-sized or larger and some of them even the size of the Dünamünde herself. The Cats would still be outnumbered, with over 8,000 warships at his command, but it was going to be a much closer fight than anyone back on Earth had anticipated.

And that was before the homeworld orbital defenses had unleashed their strikefighters. “Mary, mother of God.” The hushed gasp came from one of the junior officers at his back, but Beidecker shared the sentiment. The holographic display actually buzzed out for several seconds as the computer was temporarily overwhelmed displaying the Khanate strike package at the requested resolution. When it came back, the fighters had been condensed down into arbitrary groups of over 100 strikefighters, but they still blanketed the display.

“How many strikefighters are among the inbound package?” His flag captain, the redoubtable Tsiba, queried the computer. They were simply too packed together for even his trained eye to estimate.

The heavily synthesized voice of the dumb-AI core responded as flatly as if he had asked the time. “Estimate one hundred and sixty thousand enemy strikefighters, with a confidence of 98.567%.” It also appended a small running counter tracking the strikefighters to the bottom of the holodisplay.

“So much for our surprise,” Tsiba finally declared, after the assembled staff had absorbed the news. “Even with the new battleship conversions, we’ve got less than a fourth as many fighters. They’re going to be hard-pressed to attrit that strike down to something we can absorb, and it’s going to buy the Cats all the time they need to link up their two home system fleets. Even if we win that combat, the fleet won’t be in shape to execute a full scale bombardment.”

Beidecker studied the display in silence, with his deep contemplation displayed outward only by a tensing of his jaw. His orders were quite clear. The Ssi Rissan homeworld was to be reduced to lifelessness, and that would still take tens of hours to accomplish even with his fully intact fleet. An old settled world like the Cat’s capital would have immensely powerful municipal and continental shields with generators buried safely deep underground. A classic depopulation exercise would first turn the surface of the planet into liquid magma, before concentrating the fire of the entire fleet on each shielded urban island and popping them one by one. Any survivors in the deep underground shelters would have nothing left to sustain them when they emerged, tying up significant enemy assets to relocate or feed them.

They could... probably... defeat the combined enemy fleet even after the sort of damage done by the strikefighters, but such a slugging match leave his own down hundreds or even thousands of ships, with most of the rest damaged to some greater or lesser degree, and vulnerable to any enemy riposte. And the presence of the Ssi Rissan battleship-sized combatants, hitherto unknown, worried him greatly. They were in the core of the Khanate’s ancient zone of settlement, with who knew how many similar powerful fleets ready to rush to avenge the desecration of their birth-world. Well, there was still one opening left to him...

“I want the entire fleet to accelerate at 1900 gees in anti-fighter attack formation on a shortest-time heading right at the enemy homeworld. We’ll barrel through those fighters to get into engagement range of the primary target as quickly as possible. Our interceptors will launch loaded down with as many anti-fighter missiles as they can carry, at the very last minute before they can enter the enemy swarm ahead of our ship-based long range AFMs. We won’t have the time to attrit the strike before it hits, so we’re going to have to blow through them with as much firepower as we can put out.”

Tsiba entered in his Admiraal’s instructions into his personal datapad out of habit, translating them into operational orders for the fleet. It took him a moment to recognize exactly what Beidecker had in mind. “That is... daring, sir.” Not at all like Beidecker’s usual, subtle maneuvering and emphasis on long-range engagement, but as Tsiba considered the implications he realized it was the only solution that would work. “We’ll draw the entire strike into a knife-fight as we accelerate through them, and put ourselves between them and their support bases before they head back to rearm. We could blow their orbitals to flinders before the survivors could realign themselves for a second wave...”

“And if the Cats react the way I expect them to do, we can also defeat their Home Fleet in detail, leaving enough punch left in our own fleet to burn down their capital around the Khan.” There was a grim edge of anticipation to Beidecker’s voice. After hundreds of years of war and trillions of deaths, the Empire was finally going to start collecting on what the Cats owed it.

There were still dangers, Tsiba realized. The enemy fleet would be carrying yet more strikefighters, for example, and their own interceptors would be mauled in the coming furball. And the capabilities of the Ssi’Rissan battleships were a complete unknown, but if the performance of their cruiser-sized vessels were any indication it would not be pleasant finding out. But it was the best option on offer, and it was his job to turn it into the battle-winning plan that would preserve his fleet and insure it accomplished its objective. “Aye, sir. Will transmit to squadrons by telepathic coordination system in... fifteen minutes. The vanguard will need to be told to accelerate at a graduated rate to fold into their assigned positions in the fighter-attack fleet contingency formation.”

In fourteen minutes and thirty-nine seconds, the telepathic officers riding herd on the DNI computer core interfaces received individualized orders for their ships. Fortunately for Tsiba, the dumb-AI of the flagship had still been smart enough to adjust the stored formation orders for the French vanguard while simultaneously pulling up the specific orders for each ship in the fleet. The AI was in contact with the flagship’s telepaths through the warrant officer plugged into its DNI interface, who in turn relayed the orders to each squadron flag telepath, who relayed the individual orders on to each ship’s telepath-computer core connection. The flagship telepaths, especially Dünamünde’s own, were in danger of being overwhelmed by the rush of data but their intense discipline withstood the demand, with amazing effects.

The squadrons of the Imperial Fleet adjusted their headings and acceleration in an intricate ballet, with groups of lighter vessels bearing ahead as the battlewagons grouped closer together. The screen forces would be able to engage fighters emerging on any and every vector before they reached torpedo range of the heavy ships, while the concentrated mass of battle squadrons were able to provide each other with mutual support against those fighters that leaked through. The longer-ranged anti-fighter missiles based on capital ships covered the outer range of the laser batteries of the destroyers and escorts, even as the anti-fighter missiles from the screening elements would strike into the enemy right behind the waves of interceptors yet to emerge. The general principles had been proven over and over again in thousands of battles with the Ssi Rissan, and today would receive a final valedictory exercise.

The vanguard folded back into the main body of the fleet, without any disruptions. The massive wave of enemy strikefighters showed no sign of turning back, but the long-range scanners picked up a sudden reverse course in the first Ssi Rissan force, back towards the homeworld at over 2200 gees of acceleration. Several times warships in their formation were forced to drop out, unable to sustain the frantic pace, and it would be too late in any event. The Imperial fleet would pass through the fighter wave and be in position to sweep the homeworld orbitals before the Khanate warships were able to press the sort of close range engagement they preferred.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:20pm
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Jagdeschweder 1/3

An invisible line was crossed and the carriers in the Imperial Fleet began releasing their warbirds, with powerful magnetic accelerators shooting them out of specially designed launch tubes with enough momentum to stay ahead. Squadrons formed up and assumed formation behind wing-leaders, as previously deployed EW shuttles joined them. Group commanders aboard specialized command fighters would provide direction for the dozens of fighters in their authority, trying to insure that no one avenue of approach was overlooked or concentrated too heavily upon. But outnumbered four to one, the Empire’s fighters had only one real role to perform; they had to kill as many enemy strikefighters as humanly possible.

Jagdeschweder 1/3 of the 318th Naval Fighter Group, based on HIRMS Albatros, was typical of the forces soon to hurl themselves against the Ssi Rissan horde. The highly-trained pilots of the squadron were equipped with a dozen top-of-the-line Daimler-Suiza Falke interceptors, each boasting an anti-matter reactor and advanced gravity drive with superior inertial compensators allowing them to accelerate at over 2900 gees. Each interceptor also carried six long-range anti-fighter missiles on external mounts, and a dozen short-range missiles in an internal bay, and possessed an integral nose-mounted laser useful for attack runs as well as providing a last-ditch dogfight weapon once the missiles were exhausted. The Imperial pilots lacked the DNI of their Ssi Rissan opponents, but had a multi-target and vector computer system that kept track of all potential opponents in engagement range and ranked them by threat priority.

“So, everyone remember to kill four Cats and we can go home heroes.” The squadron tactical net squawked, and Leutnant Birgit Ramier recognized the voice of the unit’s jokester. She found Grassi far less engaging than most of the squadron, but then he wasn’t trying to get into their pants.

Fortunately, their Squadron Leader found him as tiring as she did. “Shut up, Leutnant, and keep the lines clear for orders,” Kapitan Woeder rebuked. “We’re all professionals, act like it.” With that, their commander shut off the commlink and no one else dared to restore it.

Birgit concentrated on her HUD display, which was providing the vector information for the squadron relayed from the 318th Group command ship. Their squadron was the leading edge for their wing, which would be positioned as a reserve element just behind the other three wings of the group. The group itself would be boosting at full military power right into the onrushing Ssi Rissan strike, with a synchronized release of their long range missiles, salvoed one after the other, within twelve light-seconds of the enemy. Their short-range missiles would be used at tactical distance, under five light-seconds and closing, where the entire formation would as likely as not break up into a giant furball designed to kill or tie up as many Ssi Rissan strikefighters as possible.

The maneuvers into position were just like the hundreds of training exercises, and when the order came to accelerate to full power she complied by unthinking instinct. The Imperial Naval Aviation Command was known for ceaseless drilling, designed to insure that pilots knew the operations of their fighters and the maneuvers of their commands by rote. For all the glamour of the “Knights of the Void” they were strikingly fragile in combat, and safety rested on the heightened situation awareness that flowed from no longer having to think consciously about the most routine elements of flying.

The holographic display generated inside her cockpit showed her fighter in the midst of a vast swarm of familiar Imperial fighters. Transit gave her time to reflect on what would be her first combat sortie. Like most Imperial fighter pilots, she came from a solid burgher family yearning for the greater respectability of a purchased title and an officer among their sons. They would be of mixed emotions, if they knew what she were doing now; they had despaired when she had decided to join the military, but had provided the money to enroll her in a good college that let her get into the Naval Fighter corps. The few women who volunteered into the common military usually wound up in the fighter corps for a variety of reasons, and while the most comfortable fit for female (and middle-class) officers, the attrition rates were ugly.

So why was she here? At one point it had seemed so obvious, so natural. She was going to be independent, be something more than a well-educated wife for some prosperous burgher. But she could feel the adrenaline coursing through her veins as anticipation of the fight ahead built, and embraced the killer instinct it augured. She smiled grimly when recalling Grassi’s earlier comment; she meant to down at least five, and claim the title of ace. Lucky there would be so many targets...

The range closed, agonizingly slow to Birgit but now merely a matter of few minutes. Her HUD was filled with targets, but she forbore from marking out hers until after the wing was committed from reserve. Ten seconds later, the leading wave of the Imperial strike reached the outer range of twelve light-seconds, where the pilots ahead of her wing fired off their long-range missiles one after the other, two per enemy strikefighter to insure the broadest sweep of targets. At that range, against the Ssi Rissan ECM and superior maneuverability, they were pretty much relying on the odds to deliver them hits.

Group command finally vectored them onto a new course, slightly above the rest of the 318th on the Z axis, and gave release to fire. Birgit rapidly selected three targets via her HUD, even as other targets went grey as the squadron datalink indicated that other pilots had chosen them. Having selected, there was little else to do; Kapitan Woeder would release the long range engagement, and then...

Her missiles were off! They joined a general wave of long-range missiles heading towards the Ssi Rissan strikefighters, who were already beginning radical maneuvers to force the Imperial missiles to waste more of their limited burn-time. She watched, trying to track her own strike, hoping all three were kills but expecting to be lucky if only one were hit. The Ssi Rissan had no equivalent long-range weapon and so there was little else to do as the range closed, down to the fateful five light-second mark that would bring short-range missiles in play. The toll then would be terrible, and as the range closed even further she would be free to maneuver and engage at will with the deadly laser cannon of her fighter. If she was going to make a mark in the battle, it would happen then.

Thousands of Khanate strikefighters blinked out of existence as the first salvo of Imperial missile fire reached them,, and Birgit shouted in triumph as two of her targets disappeared from the screen. Most of the Imperial pilots were far less lucky, and though over twenty-thousand Khanate fighters were blasted to pieces the odds against them remained heavily stacked. And as the line closed further, she could finally feel a soreness in her throat as bile started to work its way up, and her heart constricted and pumped and her hands felt clammy inside her pilot suit...

And then, suddenly, they were all within the short range and she began selecting targets with her HUD again. The squadron would fire off another salvo of six missiles ahead of it, and then break into dogfighting elements. Grassi, unfortunately, was her wingman and would be behind her in the breakout, but not everything could be perfect. Just before the last release from the squadron, she contacted him directly. “I’m breaking left at ten o’clock on a vector through the swarm. Follow and cover me.”

“Ah, signora, I’ll cover you any...” Fortunately, his pickup line was cut off by the release of the missiles, and a directive from wing command releasing them all.

“Happy Hunting, JS one-three,” Woeder chimed in again. “And last one to make ace buys the drinks next time we’re in port!”

At the ranges they had closed to lasers were deadly effective, as the laser would arrive almost immediately after being fired. Imperial fighters had only minimal shielding and any time at all in the firing arc of another warbird would deplete its defensive capabilities. Khanate strikefighters had slightly less powerful shields but had better acceleration since the Cats could withstand some bleed-in gee effects better than humans, and their laser cannons were nearly twice as powerful. That made them deadly in a furball, even if they lacked the long-range punch of Imperial interceptors.

And the skies were full of Ssi Rissan.

Birgit jerked her fighter hard-left to get out of the cone of fire for one onrushing enemy fighter, and rotated her front facing upward to slash into the belly of another Khanate target. She squeezed the trigger on her laser cannon, not really firing the device so much as releasing the targeting computer to fire once the target was within the forward arc. Invisible death tracked across the skies, cutting into the shields of the Ssi Rissan strikefighter and in a matter of seconds depleting them. After the shields were depleted it sliced through the body of the craft, causing a rather satisfying explosion.

“Three down, two to go,” she counted off. Of course, she hadn’t been able to track what her short range salvo had accomplished, but the computer had and it might add to her score after she returned home. But she was going to be conservative for the time being.

“Bogies on my ten, help!” Grassi called her in alarm. Most of the Khanate fighters were ignoring the toll being taken on them by the Imperial interceptors, but it seemed like a few Cats were still willing to play.

Ramier checked her scope, and located Grassi behind and below her with a pair of enemy fighters coming in on him. She rotated the fighter again, now with her engines towards the onrushing Cat fighters, to try and get a shot off at Grassi’s pursuers without losing her own momentum. The Khanate pilots weren’t maneuvering as violently as they could, for the same reason; their main task was to harm the fleet however possible, not to tangle with the Imperial fighter forces. It was an easy task to line her fighter’s nose up on one, and at less than two light seconds, the targeting computer would automatically adjust for where the fighter should be...

She toasted one. “That’s four, Paolo. And you damned well owe...” Even as she was taunting him, Grassi had rotated to face the other Khanate fighter, but he was too late. The enemy’s reflexes were better, and his weapon more powerful. Grassi was flamed out of the sky as she watched on, shocked. And then the Ssi Rissan pilot turned back to concentrate on the enemy strike package, and momentum carried him out of her engagement range before she could react.

And the rest of the enemy strike was already clearing out. She tried to engage a few stragglers, but she had to cut her own momentum to chase after them rather than continue to drift out towards the orbit of the Khanate homeworld. Squadron lead called the remaining fighters to rally at a point within the broader sweep of space assigned to their wing. When Birgit maneuvered her way there, she found only seven other fighters left. They’d lost a quarter of their pilots in the brief melee.

“Alright, good job 1/3.” Kapitan Woeder sounded almost relieved, as though he were shedding the stress of the battle then and there. “Once the Khanate fighters come back from their strike we’ll have another go at them. The fleet should be on their orbital bases before they have time to return and rearm for another strike, so let’s make the next pass count.”

There was little enough to do know but let their momentum build up again, though carefully. The fighters would not want to get into the line of fire of the Imperial warships as they engaged the enemy strike. The level of firepower being thrown at the Khanate fighters was custom made to deliver tragic identification errors no matter how good their IFF gear was. For her part, Birgit was eager to have another go and found herself impatient with the wait.

And then Woeder exploded over the squadron commlink. “God gloeiend godverdomme!” He had even slipped out of the standard German of the common military, but Birgit could figure out the jist of the expletive. “The fucking Cats aren’t coming back, they’re launching suicide attacks! Every last one of them! We’re going in at full military power, damn the friendly fire!”

A lump formed in her throat, but she obeyed automatically. The squadron, the wing, the group, and all of the fighters strained up to 1900 gees of acceleration right back towards the cauldron of fire that had enveloped their fleet. She didn’t know if they would arrive in time to matter, but the situation was desperate. There would be tens of thousands of guided missiles bearing down on the Imperial fleet, in addition to the heavy loads of anti-ship munitions carried by the Khanate strikefighters.

She prayed, for the first time in a long while, as they headed into the holocaust.

As they approached the fleet they could see evidence of the massive holes torn into the Khanate strike force by the waves of long-range anti-fighter missiles launched by 8,000 Imperial warships. The globe that had marked the Khanate formation before had collapsed into chaos, with Ssi Rissan fighters taking off on their own vectors and seemingly choosing targets at random. They seemed to be heading towards the first ships in sight, and the lighter flotillas acting as screens for the wall of battle were being savaged.

“Clear those bastards off the Hydre!” Woeder ordered. The French light cruiser was being swarmed by nearly twenty of their strikefighters and had been battered heavily by their anti-ship missiles, with several Khanate pilots already lining up on torpedo runs. She lined up on one and poured engine power into emergency acceleration boost, and strained against the heavy gee bleed-in as the figher reached 2980 gees of acceleration. She slammed down on the trigger of her laser cannon well before she had fully put the target in her line of sight, there was no point wasting time.

Her target disintegrated as she reached within three light-seconds of the target, from a short-range missile fired by the crew of the light cruiser. She was momentarily irritated, but there were other targets, and she was able to simply rotate her craft’s nose upward to find another one. That Cat pilot was even further along in his run, and to her immediate satisfaction she managed to flame him down before he launched.

“There’s a leaker!” Another one of her squadron mates shouted, and she saw a Khanate fighter barreling in on the Hydre. She squirmed, trying to angle her craft to get a lock, but it was spiraling in from above the cruiser and she was over three light seconds away. That Cat was a good pilot, damn him to hell...

He impacted at full acceleration, and the damaged light cruiser took the impact squarely on her spine. Explosions ravaged the interior and in a series of horrifyingly short seconds she broke in half, both sides still firing away at Khanate fighters now passing her bye towards the battle squadrons. Lifeboats and evacuation pods began streaming into space as the explosions in the interior of both halves built up, and Ramier was momentarily shocked by the violence of the scene before her. And then the Ssi Rissan began casually striking down lifeboats as they passed bye.

“Fuckers! We have to save those survivors, kill all the damned Cats!” She shouted over her comment. Kapitan Woeder didn’t respond, but the rest of the squadron’s survivors shouted out their agreement, and she returned to the hunt. She sensed a Khanate fighter over towards her one, above her, and she was quick enough to catch it rotating to blaze down a lifepod. “Not today, pussy cat,” she snarled. The feel of her triggers was comforting, as she lashed out in her hatred of the enemy and felt the Ssi Rissan pilot yelp in surprise as he was painted and killed by another fighter.

The rest of the battle went by in a blur. The squadron was following her, she noted without really registering, and they were simply trying to kill as many goddamned Cats as possible in as short a period of time as possible. The Hydre wasn’t the only ship she saw go up, not by far, but it was the only one etched in her memory later. Fuelled by adrenaline and the rush of danger, she danced along the flanks of battleships and blasted apart another four or five Khanate fighters, including taking one out even as it spiraled in at 300 meters before impact.

And then, at last, an all-clear signal was received from the Albatros. Group command, it seemed, hadn’t survived the battle. A haggard voice reached across the group’s commlink. “All squadrons, stand down. Enemy fighters have been neutralized. Return to Albatros by wings in order of precedence. Well done.”

She signaled the rest of the squadron to form up on her. Four other pilots returned her orders. Kapitan Woeder had bought it, and the rest were obeying her for the time being. She realized that as they finally began procedures to land on the Albatros flight deck. She was an ace, and she had her own squadron command.

And as she was finally climbing out of her cockpit back to the deck the cost finally reached her, and her grip slipped. But only for a moment. There was going to be a lot of killing yet, and she had to be strong if she were going to survive. She took a deep breath, and continued down. The flight crew was there, all cheers and smiles. So she smiled back, and shouted herself hoarse advertising her new status as an ace. If she hadn’t, she might have broken down and cried.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:22pm
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SKKMS Dünamünde

Even before the Khanate fighter strike had ended the fleet datalinks had brought loss information streaming into the flag bridge aboard Dünamünde. Admiraal von Beidecker had stopped tracking the course of the battle on the holotank and had instead settled back down in his command chair. He evaluated the incoming data coolly, trying to keep his mind on the operational consequences rather than on the thousands and tens of thousands of deaths the figures represented.

The figures were bad enough. Entire light flotillas, mobbed by Ssi’Rissan suicide fighters, had ceased to exist. The inner screen of cruisers was being savaged as well, as they were large enough to look conspicuous compared to the destroyers and heavy frigates, but could be overwhelmed individually as their linked defenses suffered damage. The battleships were large enough to take care of themselves, though even the Wall squadrons were taking hits in the strike. The Ssi’Rissan resorting to suicide tactics shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it had come as a horrifying shock, and his people were paying the price.

Mercifully, the strike petered out fairly rapidly. Most fighter strikes lasted minutes at most, with a headlong dash to close to range, salvoes of anti-ship missiles released, torpedo runs and laser strafing against weakened targets and then a return to base as quickly as possible. It was even quicker when the fighters had no intention of turning back and instead plunged into the closest warship at hand. In doing so the Khanate pilots had cost von Beidecker 639 warships destroyed outright, and another 2,378 damaged either heavily or moderately. Scarcely a vessel in the fleet had escaped being lightly damaged, though the battle squadrons were all still intact and at peak readiness.

The same could not be said of the screen. The French contingent in particular, out in front, had been ravaged and were down by nearly one in two ships. The light flotillas were already maneuvering to compress inward, reducing gaps in coverage caused by missing elements. There was one last bit of business to deal with before commencing preliminary operations against the Khanate capital...

“Start clearing the orbital infrastructure out of the sky,” he instructed his aide Tsiba. “No need to waste capital missiles, just fire off torpedoes and the mass drivers on ballistic paths.” He smiled grimly. “It doesn’t matter if we’re off a bit and hit the planet, this time.”

Tsiba, standing closer to the holotank, turned and acknowledged the orders. “Aye aye, Sir. I’ll assign targeting to each battle squadron. This shouldn’t take long.”

Static defenses suffered from a major Achilles’ heel, namely the part about being static. The huge orbiting stations around the Ssi Rissan homeworld could not move from their position, leaving them wide up to attack from ranges far beyond their ability to reply to. The Imperial fleet could just launch tactical missiles on a ballistic course to intercept, overwhelming the active defenses of the stations with sheer numbers while staying outside a light-minute. The destruction of the orbitals was not a combat so much as a massacre, and von Beidecker didn’t bother to observe. Instead, he turned his focus to the oncoming Khanate fleet.

“We can expect them to launch further suicide attacks,” he said aloud. “We weren’t prepared for it with their fighters, not on that scale. We’ll need to adjust formation to allow the squadrons more room to maneuver.”

Tsiba took note of his commander’s concerns. “Shall we implement loose order, sir? We’ll have less need of defensive concentration against this Cat fleet. Judging by our sensor scans the surviving fighters can handle their strikefighter complement, and our capital ships can count on unit superiority.”

“Against their standard Tiger and Lion class cruisers, easily enough. They’ve got a few Sabertooths though, and they’ll stand up to a Siegreich.” He took another look at the data from the third enemy force, which the Home Fleet had been maneuvering to link up with before reversing course at maximum speed. “The third Ssi’Rissan group with the 30 megatonne ships concerns me. We have no idea what capabilities they represent, but if they’re packing the same anti-matter power plants as the rest of their fleet I don’t want to find out. We need to engage their nearest group as quickly as possible to be able to overpower them when they close in to avenge their homeworld. Once we’ve swept the orbitals I want a full scale reverse-orientation and deployment in loose order against the first enemy force.”

“The necessary orders are already being pulled up,” Tsiba replied. “The group with the real heavies hasn’t accelerated further. If I were the Cat commander there, I’d be pissed and straining to coax every gee of accel I could. Thank Christ for small favors, I guess. We still have full magazines for a long-range missile engagement, should we save them for the battleships or concentrate them on the Lions and Tigers in the approaching fleet?”

Beidecker pursed his lips, a clear sign that he didn’t like any of his options. “No. If the Cats are going to try suicide runs their light vessels are a bigger threat than the larger ones. The large group approaching us could cripple the fleet if it closes to range intact. No, concentrate the capital missiles on their smaller vessels, frigates and destroyers, and keep pounding them until they’re rendered mission-killed. The fewer Cat vessels to close to range, the better. Tell the captains not to worry about burning through their missile stores, the only thing that matters is mission-killing as many Khanate ships as they can.”

“Aye aye, sir.” Tsiba grimaced, though. The orders made sense but even the heaviest warships only carried so many mass-hungry long-range engagement missiles. If they were all used up now, there wouldn’t be any to degrade the capabilities of the really big Ssi Rissan ships. A knife-fight with the larger Cat warships was always costly and von Beidecker had previously made it a point to avoid letting them close to energy range.

“We’ll get through this soon enough,” the Admiraal commented, reassuring his staff. “The Cats won’t forget what we’re about to do to them, and neither will the Empire. Now clear the orbitals, reverse course, and prepare for engagement!”

With no need to press on into energy range to dismantle the planet’s orbital infrastructure, the Imperial fleet simply massed enough ballistic fire to overwhelm the enemy defenses and launched it. There was no need to wait for the results to be known, given how mechanistic the results of the engagement were when one side could neither maneuver nor shoot back effectively. If the computers had not accounted for some variable, such as improved point defense or space interception, the orbitals wouldn’t be going anywhere and the fleet would soon be back to finish the job in any event.

One Beidecker was satisfied, Tsiba again transmitted the orders along the telepathic coordination system, which saw a near-simultaneous shift in the orientation of the entire fleet. Ships rotated with alacrity, swinging in a tight circle thanks to their gravitic drives, bringing their bows around to where their engines had been in a stunningly dramatic about-face. Their momentum was still carrying them towards the planet, but a sudden flare from the engines of every ship in the fleet began the process of redirecting them towards the onrushing Ssi Rissan warships. The gravitic drive could damp the existing momentum and then accelerate them on their new course at nearly 2000 gees, though at even that breakneck pace they would still have hours to prepare for the showdown with the main Khanate fleet.

The Imperial fleet had not even built up full speed before the first salvo of long-range missile fire was launched. The sixty-four missile tubes of the Dünamünde launched out the special long-range attack munitions, good out to nearly 40 light-seconds, well beyond any effectual energy range. The missiles could accelerate at up to 8,000 gees and had their own maneuver drives and targeting systems, as well as greatly improved ECCM capabilities and penetration aids compared to their shorter-ranged cousins. They paid for it by having substantially smaller warheads and their long ballistic course towards the enemy made them easy to track, but in sufficient numbers they could degrade an enemy’s force beyond their ability to respond. The Khanate in particular regarded ranges above twenty light-seconds as being too far to secure effective results and so had to take the Imperial bombardment without shooting back.

Beidecker’s orders to target the smaller Khanate vessels did pay off somewhat, since the smaller frigates and destroyers of the Ssi’Rissan fleet were just too small to pack in the sort of ECM and point defense required to handle swarms of capital missiles. But “swarm” was a relative term, and most Khanate vessels faced only ten to twelve long-range bombardment missiles coming in short but distinct waves, and had plenty of space within which to maneuver. The lengthy transit limited the mobility of the capital missiles due to drive depletion, and allowed the Ssi’Rissan defense network to operate at peak efficiency. It also spared the much larger Lion and Tiger class cruisers from suffering heavy damage, and aboard the Imperial flagship Tisba was still wincing at the prospect of those ships getting into energy range.

The Khanate had a key technological advantage over the Holy Roman Empire in the production and use of anti-matter, and all of their warships boasted anti-matter power systems. The Empire relied on an advanced fusion process and saved anti-matter for use in munitions or in space fighters where the superior power-to-weight ratio of anti-matter reactors was necessary. The reduced cost and superior safety of the massive fusion plants probably would have appealed to the Hofkriegsrat and the Design Bureau in any event, but it meant that Khanate vessels always punched well above their above weight in Imperial vessels. The Lion and Tiger class cruisers, at 12 megatonnes and 18 megatonnes respectively, represented the most powerful of Khanate warships commonly encountered, and at ranges under 20 light-seconds were a match for Imperial dreadnoughts nearly twice their size.

Piranha class frigates, though, made up the bulk of the Khanate fleet and at a mere 400,000 tonnes were far more fragile. The Imperial long-range bombardment mission-killed first dozens, and then hundreds of the nimble little ships. Since the Khanate fleet was acting as a suicide force the reduction in numbers mattered more than the relatively limited firepower the small ships added to the balance. The haste with which the Ssi Rissan fleet closed hurt them, since the light vessels out-accelerated their larger cousins and thereby placed themselves outside the defense networks of the cruisers. The closer they came to the Imperial fleet, the more deadly the missile storm became.

And then, as they closed within 25 light seconds, a last wave of capital class missiles washed over the van of the Khanate fleet. This last salvo had been focused by squadron and tore into the leading Khanate frigate squadrons, utterly decimating them at the cost of a substantial overkill among the precious long-range missiles. The disorder created by the sudden change in Imperial targeting tactics left the Khanate forces scrambling to restore their formations even as both sides began readying their fighters for launch.

This time the Khanate strikefighters were much fewer in number, a mere 40,000 strong, but they would be backed by missile strikes and incoming warships. The 15,000 surviving Imperial aviators were once again hurled out, loaded with anti-fighter munitions and told the fate of the Empire rested on their skill. As the range closed further they tore into the Khanate fighter swarm once again, even as Ssi Rissan missiles raced by and Imperial missiles slashed through the furball. Beidecker ignored the fighter situation, trusting to the initiative and capabilities of his fighter squadrons. The Khanate warships were showing no sign of slowing down to a safer engagement speed...

“Maneuver authority delegated to individual commands,” he barked at Tsiba. It was an unusual order in the highly synchronized and regimented environment of wall combat, but it was going to be necessary here. “We’ll miss the datalinks but we can’t have every captain waiting on signals from the flagship to get out of the way of a suicide run. Priority is still mission-kills to reduce the number of ramming threats.”

Tsiba finished transmitting the orders for him, and sighed. “Nothing more for us to worry about. It’s in the hands of the captains now, God help us all.”

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-09-07 10:28pm
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HKS The Glory of Ssi Maks

Coordinator of Prides Ssi Rasses watched the homeworld of his race die. The humans had translated at the outer limit of the system without warning, and had burned at high acceleration straight at the cradle of his race. It had been a bold strike, he was still willing to concede, something worthy of the Eternally Conquering Pride. It was all he could to keep his claws sheathed and teeth unbarred in frustration and rage.

One of his subordinates could contain his rage no longer, and leapt up from his console, in the challenge position. “You coward! You have allowed Srem Shans and his heroes to die in vain! We should have followed him in glorious death, wretched kill-fouller.”

Ssi Rasses stood up out of his own command seat in a relaxed, calm manner. The Pack Coordinator who had challenged him was the sensor watch officer, and Ssi Rasses regretted the necessity of what he was about to do. With a confident stride, the Coordinator of Prides walked over to his subordinate, still in the challenge posture stressing his willingness to strike. In a sudden, sharp move he released the claws in his striking forearm and slashed the other officer’s throat with every ounce of strength he could summon up.

The Pack Coordinator flopped to the floor, warm red blood flowing out of the vicious wound in his throat, unable to even mewl after Ssi Rasses had severed his windpipe. “Does anyone else wish to reproach my course of action?” he demanded, now in his own challenge form. No one replied.

He settled back in his command seat and watched the unfolding display on the holotank couched below. The remnants of Srem Shans’s Kass Zaris Guard Pride wasted itself in more suicide attacks against the human fleet. It had suffered heavily against the unanswered bombardment by long-range missiles, and had not conducted the usual ballet of faints and coordinated strikes his navy prided itself on. No, true to his line, Srem Shans had simply given in to rage and, Ssi Rasses suspected, no small amount of fear and had just pounced with all his might and none of his thought.

“If only that fool had slowed down to rendezvous with us before launching this suicide run.” The Host Coordinator of his staff had slipped over to his side, without his noticing, and whispered in his right ear. “You could have prevented this.”

“Tell me what I do not know, Rashaal.” Rashaal, of the Xem clan, was a young black-pelted female whose ascent in the Stellar Conquest Prides had been rapid and mostly earned. She did not deserve his ire, but she had brought it on herself.

“Then know this, Ssi Rasses. That human fleet will destroy the cradle of the race. And with it will die Ssi Hsiher.” She leaned in closer, as though she were going to invite him to mate. “You will be the senior dynast of Ssi Ris in the system, in command of our most powerful warships. You will be the new Khan, packleader.”

His first response was the opening and panting of his muzzle that qualified as laughter. What difference did that make now, he wanted to ask. How, even, could she think of such a thing while the humans defiled their homeworld? But she had no choice except to think of such things, he realized. Someone would have to pick up the pieces after this battle ended.

“Maybe so.” He dismissed her with a flick of his paw, before adjusting the holotank display to zoom out to the entire system. Features of the system were deleted until there remained four icons. The homeworld, the human fleet, his own portion of the Kass Star Host, and the rest of the Kass Star Host out on training maneuvers in the system asteroid belt. There were 3,000 warships out there, mostly smaller and older types but still capable, and heading towards Kass Zaris as rapidly as they could. And then there was his own fleet.

The Glory of Ssi Maks, renamed innumerable times, something of a relic that had been pulled out of orbit and overhauled, his flagship. There were dozens of similar vessels there, long obsolete that had been gutted and provided with a state-of-the-art anti-matter reactor, modern shields and weapons, and new missile launchers. They did not, however, have modern inertial compensators or gravitic drives, which limited the acceleration of his force regardless of any wishes on his part.

If the human fleet lingered he might have the opportunity to engage them, but he would need the rest of the Kass Star Host with him to have a hope of victory, even after the battering the humans had already taken. And that would give them more than enough time to burn Kass Zaris and escape out of the system’s gravity slump to exit into hyperspace.

“The last elements of Srem Shan’s Pride have been obliterated.” Xem Rashaal was still there, by his side. “The humans did not even wait to kill all of his ships before they turned on our homeworld. Even now their missiles are on a ballistic course to impact.”

A final failure, he conceded. He yearned to accelerate as fast as his fleet could handle, fly to avenge himself and his people on the cursed monkeys, but that would just destroy his part of the Host.

“Reverse course,” he suddenly ordered. “Tell Gres Zass to rendezvous with us around Kass Kra Wel. We must confront these intruders as a single, united Host if we are to spill their blood in satiation of their crimes. We can only offer our sacred homeworld the lives of these vermin; we can no longer spare him this violation.” Much of the bridge looked at him, stunned. “Do it now, or I will spill your blood too!” The growl in his voice left no question as to his intent.

No use mewling over a spooked quarry, he thought. But there would be targets for his vengeance, even as he realized that he was going to allow the enemy fleet enough time to finish the job on the homeworld and exit the system. But he needed his full Pride, and if the humans were stupid enough to linger he intended to send them all to the underworld as prey for the Eternally Conquering Host. Failing that, oh yes, the war would continue and the humans would pay a thousand-fold for what they had done, but he would not act in a blind rage.

Of course, he would first need to secure his own rightful claim to the Khanate. His intact Pride would help there, and Srem Shan would provide a useful scapegoat. So too would Ssi Hisher, who had opened war with the humans once more before the Star Conquests Hosts were ready for it. Undoubtedly, there would be those who would call him prudence cowardice. He glanced over at the still untouched body of the Pack Coordinator, and took heart from it. He would kill them too.

Even as he followed the human bombardment of Zaris and his stomach wrenched, his head considered the possible alliances and political support. He knew there would be opposition from the other Thousand Litter-Broods of Ssi Ris, but as Rashaal had noted his warships were the most powerful in the fleet despite their age. A template for the new sorts of vessels the Ssi Rissan would have to construct to challenge the bold humans. They would rejoice, he knew, and become overconfident. Like one of the slothful hunters of Lis Smel, glutted and sleepy after killing and eating a herd of prey animals and never suspecting that a pack of little-devourers was gathering outside.

“You are thinking of revenge, packleader, aren’t you?” Xem Rashaal guessed confidently. “I yearn for the taste of their flesh now. But you will have to spill the blood of many of the Race before you can have that vengeance. Think of that now, and savor the heightened taste of denial ended when we are finally in a position to tear into their throats.”

Ssi Rasses grunted in acknowledgement. The Xem clan was another group of rising stars, from the outer sector colonies founded in the last half-millennium. Striking out Zaris eliminated a lot of the powerbase of the old clans, and evidently she was finding an opportunity to improve her clan’s fortunes further still.

“You look to the future, even as our past dies,” he whispered softly. The bombardment was already well underway. “I will be Khan. And many things will change.”

Xem Rashaal looked pleased. “The Race will need a worthy leader, one who can think beyond his own bloodlust. One with the vision to recover from this disaster.”

She was, in her way, inviting him to mate with her. And Ssi Rasses would accept. As Zaris burned, he realized that he would either be Khan or be dead after this disaster. And he intended to live to a long age, having sired many litters and enjoyed many more kills. And he glanced at the holotank again. If he was going to avoid death, never underestimating the humans was a good place to start. They would regret their day of victory, he vowed, but the single-minded mania of Ssi Hisher would never be repeated.

He would forge a new Race from the ruins of their homeworld, and the humans would wish they had never set foot in the system.


FINIS

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