Hull no. 721 - a fanfic

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Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-04-17 11:36am

Ch 32

‘Do you think you can say such things and walk away from them? Do you think you can attempt to unravel the logic of the universe and not have it whiplash round and bite you?’ Adannan demanded of Lennart.

‘Trust me,’ Lennart said, deciding to be silly to keep Adannan’s attention focused on him, ‘the very last mythological entity you are qualified to stand in for is the logic of the universe. Is this something you want to discuss for all to hear, or would you rather talk about it, whatever it is, on the hoof?’

‘Clear the room.’ He gestured, with an unlit lightsabre. ‘All of you.’

Some of them stood, but Lennart shook his head. ‘Very backwards way of doing it. We have operational planning that needs to be done, and it would be more efficient if you and I wandered off while they stayed here.’

‘I couldn’t care less about-‘ he started to shout, angrily. Then he realised how well that would go down with the assembled navy officers. ‘You devious bastard. Will you ever stop trying to trap me?’

‘Will you ever stop extending pseudopodia of the will that are just too tempting to ignore?’ Lennart fired back. ‘Now, I could start going on about rationality, and maybe you would be irrational enough to take up the opposite position and maybe not…’

Adannan, wisely, did not rise to the bait this time. Instead, he looked around the room at the assembled officers. The one to beware of was the chief engineer, he saw at once. Dog tired, half asleep, but in his daily work and subconscious way, he made far more use of the Force than he thought. He would be a credible enemy.

‘Perhaps this would best be conducted in private,’ Adannan admitted. One thing; from the way the members of the squadron were reacting to him, not all of them had even been aware that he was on board. Which, from the command point of view, contained more than a little truth.

Lennart toyed with the idea of announcing "Why not? I already have you on record conspiring against the Empire anyway." And telling the command team about all the private discussions Mirannon’s backscatter tap had intercepted. Perhaps, but there was still that final piece of the puzzle missing. Motive.

‘Well, I’m late for the press conference anyway, and you may want to be there. If I ever do snap, embrace the dark side and start butchering people with a lightsabre, it’ll probably be a room full of journalists.’

Adannan nodded, strode out, trying to look menacing. ‘Carry on,’ Lennart told the assembled officers, then strolled out in the same general direction; the stormtroopers all followed behind.

‘What was that about?’ Tevar asked the command team.

‘Skipper recently got diagnosed as a Force sensitive,’ Brenn stated. ‘Kor Alric’s an agent of the privy council; he’s here trying to kill three birds with one stone - adopt him as his apprentice, and political oversight dealing with the situation.’

That was only two possibilities. Tevar was about to say so when she remembered Mirannon’s ‘missing piece of the puzzle’. That would be it. Instead she asked ‘Diagnosed when?’

‘A week - no, it was only what, two days ago,’ Brenn stated.

‘The Jedi Order used to recruit virtually out of the cradle,’ Vehrec pointed out. ‘Captain Lennart’s what, mid-forties, late maybe?’

‘Four years at Raithal, too,’ Mirannon pointed out.

‘So…’ Falldess considered. ‘Being a guardian of peace and justice is one thing, but I thought the Jedi were illegal?’

‘It’s more complicated than that,’ Brenn said. ‘He hates the idea. That time as an instructor means he knows, maybe not everything, but more than enough about how to be a problem pupil.’
Time to be bold. ‘Kor Alric Adannan has tortured two of his own staff and attempted the murder by slow torture of two more. He is scum of the first order, no better and maybe worse than the criminals we’re trying to kick out. The reason you haven’t heard much from him is that Captain Lennart’s been shielding you from him, so far.’

‘So where does this go?’ Vehrec asked.

‘For you, nowhere unless things go catastrophically wrong. You’re naval officers, doing the Starfleet’s work, in the Imperial interest. That’s enough. Let the flagship sweat out the politics,’ Brenn said.

The ship and line commanders of the rest of the squadron looked at each other, unconvinced.

In the turbolift heading down to the briefing room in the troop bay where the journos had been herded, Lennart was studiously looking at the ceiling.

‘You’re making a mistake there,’ Adannan said. ‘You should have taken somebody’s head.’

‘A lot of Imperial officers I know would have,’ Lennart admitted. ‘As it is, Guillemot’s commander, Skardin, is going to be broken and dismissed the service.
'Sometimes, the enemy just wins. Has more power, is quicker on the draw, or has fortune on their side. I don’t see the sense in killing off someone, theoretically one of our own, who did an otherwise skillful job but was beaten by brute force or dumb luck.’


‘Could have done better. If you want to know what my criteria for failure are, there’s the living example. He blundered in, twice - failed to warn a friendly ship of an enemy, exposed himself carelessly to attack, got his ship unnecessarily damaged and some of his crew unnecessarily killed. Arrogant, clumsy, unworthy of trust and unlikely to learn.’

‘Yet Lieutenant-Commander Raesene, who virtually sponsored a personal attack on you, goes unpunished? I can just comprehend not using your authority for personal gain, but not using it to defend yourself passes belief,' Adannan said.

‘What’s to defend against? Those agents were meant to pose a political risk that has been overtaken by events, which is why I can have them filleted if needs be. Raesene backed the local, and losing, side - so far - which means he is depending on me not lowering the boom on him as well.
'I don’t know what he thought he was doing to begin with. He is a good ship commander, he could probably have made his own way anyway - one of the reasons I chose him for the squadron. He shouldn’t have needed a desperate gamble like that to push his career on. I haven’t rubbed it in, because I don’t want him to be pushed towards doing anything reckless in order to try to get back into my good books. Same with Barth-Elstrand, yelling at him would be counterproductive.’

‘I don’t think so. That’s not enough. They are not sufficiently afraid of you; they look to you for wit, for experience - as if to an elder brother, in fact. That is something which you are not, and cannot be,’ Adannan stated.

‘Your traditions are the traditions of a wolf among sheep; believing that others need to be driven to war. I am a Starfleet officer, and so are the men and women of my command; they have chosen this path, worked hard to get as far along it as they have. I chose the path of a wolf among wolves. Oh, pride and ambition and the knowledge that I could do better than many, but at the root, as an organism, I never aspired to be more than primus inter pares,’ Lennart admitted.

‘The Force will not permit you to remain merely that,’ Adannan challenged. ‘You must strive to be prinzip uber alles.’

‘I’m far from certain of that, linguistically or as a matter of the art of command. War is confusion and madness; it’s bad enough that the enemy want to kill you without feeling that your own comrades want your blood as well,’ Lennart said.

‘There is still far too much of the teacher in you,’ Adannan said, ‘as well as a frightening amount of optimist. What about your worst failure? Your executive officer. You destroyed his mind by being kind to him.’

‘I tried to make him grow, and it’s not over yet, unless you’ve assassinated him in the meantime,’ Lennart said, looking carefully at Adannan to try and tell if he had.
‘You’re going to tell me that if I had kept up pressure on him, reinforced the rigid self-control he held himself under, his internal problems wouldn’t have got out of hand and he would still be a functional officer?’

‘That man trained himself, accepted life’s wounds and turned them into a strength in a manner that did him nothing but credit, a most useful minion - and you chose to waste that,’ Adannan charged.

‘You intend to draw parallels between your treatment of your underlings and my treatment of mine, trying to prove to me that I’m no better than you are?’ Lennart said, and meant to go on.

‘Do you really think you can only descend to my level? Do you think there aren’t more and greater monsters out there? You want to know why I’m plundering the dangerous past - do you have the nerve to stand and listen while I tell you?’ Adannan challenged him.

Aleph-3 could hardly contain herself. This was, would be, her job Lennart was going to do, the task she had been bred for - and she couldn’t, because she thought the team would have to stay here to get between them and stop them tearing each other apart, if necessary. Or would that work?

Perhaps it was essential to do exactly that, now, distract them because otherwise - she had no idea what Adannan was about to say, knew that it would be dangerous to hear.

‘Kor Alric, Captain. May I- could I…’

‘What?’ they both said.

‘This is my original purpose, what I was born and brought up for. If you had something else to discuss, I could handle the conference.’ Kriff it, she hadn’t meant to sound enthusiastic.

‘You don’t know what lies I’m planning to tell,’ Lennart said.

‘No, but you don’t exactly have a prepared speech either, and if you give me the bones of the argument I can make it up as I go along.’ All right, maybe he had a point, she thought. She wasn’t supposed to be actually enthusiastic about this.

‘I’m still going to need to be there, to field questions,’ Lennart pointed out.

‘Not unusual. I do the part about telling them what we want them to think, you have all the fun of the creative response required to head them off before they start thinking too much.’ Did she lean too heavily on that? Glance inadvertently at Kor Alric when saying that?
Probably. Kor Alric was about to invite him to speculate on the behaviour of - invite Lennart to join him in turning against - the Privy Council, and just possibly their ultimate superior, His Imperial Majesty Palpatine the First.

If he does that, she thought, his head is mine. Well. Assuming I can actually take him, that is. What if he’s telling the truth, though? What if he can prove that higher authority has betrayed our trust?

What difference would it make? She told herself it would make none, and knew she was lying.

The republic had betrayed the trust of its citizens, she and her kin had had that drilled into them as an article of faith - by people who, if she was right, had every incentive to lie to them. And it had lasted, up to a point - and then collapsed in civil war. In a quieter time, it might be put up with, or at least there might be no alternative. Now? Chaos and rebellion.

What if that proof is on Ord Corban? Of course it is. That’s what Kor Alric wants, for us to go and dig it up for him, take it, implicate us - and have no choice in turning against His Majesty with him.

And now that I have taken counsel of my own fears, she cautioned herself firmly, I refuse to believe that it is so. More importantly for my own immediate survival, I refuse to behave as if I believe it to be so. Damn, this conference is going to be harder than I thought.

Lennart looked carefully at her; she still had her helmet down so there were no facial expressions to give her away, but he was looking at her as if she must be revealing something. Fortunately he had enough sense not to ask. Or he was thinking in that general direction already.

‘Right. You do the opening and standard blurb. Admit that the sector group screwed up, we’re here to cover for them because that’s exactly what a regional support group does. Mistakes were made and are being fixed, it’s a real war, occasionally the enemy does something competent, no soft centre crap. We can’t take them with actually that would work perfectly.’

‘What?’ Aleph-3 and Adannan both said. He had picked up the sudden switch in direction in Lennart’s surface thoughts, the blur of implication that meant the captain had had an idea.

‘How do we explain Ord Corban away? It’s not supposed to exist. This is the bright idea; we hide it in plain sight. We explain the place away as an Alliance base, built up with alien help on the site of an old fleet depot from the Light and Darkness War. The minerals and the holes in the ground would all have been still there, that much makes sense, and best of all, nothing to do with us. No dark secrets, no classified experiments, no lost one of a kind technologies, just a useful shovelful of blame. Play it right and we can even afford to take them with us to see it.
'We can embed them - never mind what I’d actually prefer to embed them in. Play up the problems with Sector, and play down the issue with the rebels- imply if they had any sense they’d all be long gone. Go with that.’

‘You’re making this fairly difficult for me. Press conferences usually aren’t supposed to be this improvised,’ Aleph-3 took off her helmet, and said.

‘From sniper-scout to Jedi hunter, and you’re telling me you want it easy?’ Lennart said, joking. He handed her a wafer. ‘Images to work with, background, stuff like that. You’re up.’

‘Shouldn’t have been daft enough to volunteer, I suppose,’ she admitted.

‘I suppose that you expect me to loom at the back, and add a useful air of intimidatory menace to the proceedings?’ Adannan said.

‘You have the authority to go wherever you choose,’ Lennart was careful to say, ‘but I don’t think you want to miss this chance for me to self-incriminate.’

‘Now if that were only a promise,’ Adannan bounced back.

The chamber was a ground forces briefing room, flat ranks of chairs around a raised platform, and there were the official escort and a group of interested spectators from the air wing. Most of them armed.

The journalists themselves were an interesting bunch, most of them simply representative of the type, but four seemed worth more notice, one way or the other. There was one absurdly well-dressed old man, with long white hair and beard, who had clearly been around; one tall, slightly stooped middle-aged man who dressed like a retired soldier. Both print journalists, used to analysis on the spot. They could be dangerous.
Two holojournalists, both female, who seemed to have got their jobs on the basis of looks; one cream-skinned, green-eyed blonde, posing and bubbling for the camera, the other black-haired, trying to look cool and poised and powerful like a proper serious journalist - and more or less succeeding.

Lennart and Adannan walked in first and sat down behind the lectern, Lennart largely ignoring and Adannan darting venomous looks at the questioners, then Aleph-3 strode in as if she owned the place.

She was not unaware of how catastrophically stupid this was, from the point of view of operational security - her main job depended on disguise and lies, so fronting a holovised press briefing could be said to be quite mad. It had been a spur of the moment choice, a necessary sacrifice to keep the two of them apart - and may not even be working. She was here now. Game on.
She made her entrance and slotted the datacard into the lectern; the first image that came up was 851’s unit crest.

‘Ladies, gentlemen - members of the press-‘ the old reporter at least got the joke - ‘welcome on board HIMS Black Prince. I’m Warrant Second Aleph-3, and I’ll be conducting your introductory briefing.'

‘Excuse me.’ The stooped man put his hand up. ‘You are actually a member of the Stormtrooper Corps?’

Aleph-3 looked down at her exotic variant armour with the breastplate that had obviously been moulded for breasts. She grinned, looked at him and said, ‘After consideration at certain levels of command, it was decided that dealing with journalists probably does constitute an infantry task.’

That got another chuckle, and Lennart started to relax. She was nervous, but obviously up to it, and she started to relax as she played herself in. He was only half listening as she laid out the situation. None of it was especially new to him, although he had to struggle not to raise an eyebrow at her version of events. She handled questions fairly well, too; when the old journo stood up to ask what the sector authorities had done wrong to allow the situation to deteriorate to this stage, she actually managed to condemn them with tact and grace.

They had held on to a small problem, the alien presence and their links to the Alliance, believing they could deal with it, until long after it should have become obvious that they couldn’t. At which point they had tried to cover it up, deceiving most of the rest of the sector. Who precisely ‘they’ were, she was careful to avoid sayin,; but she did mention that although fundamentally a political, even an intelligence problem, there were definitely changes, and charges, to be made.

She looked very pointedly at Adannan as she said that, clearly implicating him in that side of things, and he glared back as if he was considering frying her on the spot. Actually, a plan B had just popped into his head, and he had her to thank for it. Which he might do with lightning anyway.

She put the finger on failures within the sectoral administration, with the comment that their most devastating failure was one of trust, to believe that authority could and would help them with the problem. This was not the devious past, it was the new Order, and she said that with such a deliciously innocent expression on her face everyone, especially the old soldier, knew what a pack of lies it was and that she was in effect daring them to say so. It hung together exceeding well; there were a couple of nasty moments when the old, white haired one asked about possible collusion to keep the ugly little secret. Lennart stood up to take that one, but Aleph-3 managed to read his mind.

She gave the response, couldn’t have been better with a script, that it certainly looked that way. On preliminary investigation, it looked very strongly as if a lot of the evidence was fake; the rebels had manufactured evidence of collusion between themselves and the sector government, in order to implicate and destroy otherwise trustworthy servants of the Empire. It was a good cover for all sorts of strange behind the scenes manoeuvring, and an interesting piece of doublethink in its own right, and naturally, those who understood it didn’t need to speak up.

Which left the ex-model airhead. ‘So, the rebels are using stuff that’s, like, a thousand years old? Eww, dust.’

‘You live,’ Aleph-3 said coldly and cuttingly, ‘in the world of fashion, don’t you?’ There was a quick chuckle of laughter from the dark-haired one, and most of the other journalists. ‘The technology hasn’t changed much, and use matters more than time to the machinery. It’s all too practical, unfortunately.’

‘If I can ask you a more personal question,’ one of the journalists from the floor said, ‘It can’t be easy being a woman in the Imperial military, especially not the Stormtrooper Corps.’

‘It’s not supposed to be easy for anyone, being in the Corps,’ she snapped, then softened it with a smile. ‘There are few of us, and mostly in specialised roles, but we still have to meet the same high general standards.’

‘Being surrounded by fit, strong men…’ the blonde said, under her breath.

‘How did I know you were going to say that?’ Aleph-3, who had overheard.
‘In all seriousness, in the chemicals of our lives, adrenalin outranks testosterone and estrogen, and Tibanna gas has the measure of them all. The enemy doesn’t care, and we all have to be able to do our share of the task, and trust our fellow troopers to do the same. A poor comrade gets very little slack cut and even less mercy, no matter how pretty her face might be,’ she added.

‘I think I can safely say that if that ethic applied in our profession, we would all be dead by now,’ the ex-military journalist said, and got several venomous glares that said he would have been one of the first on the chopping block.

‘Haven’t sector group behaved like very poor comrades towards you, though?
'By my count, regional support units and elements of Sector seconded to them have been responsible for the destruction or capture of two light destroyers, one heavy frigate, four medium frigates, two light frigates, and numerous smaller craft, whereas the one operation the Sector fleet has undertaken seems to have cost them heavily for little return.’

Aleph-3 was still wondering how to take that when Lennart stood up and said, ‘It’s all right, I’ll field that one.’

The journalists took note - how could they not? - of his rank, and a forest of flashbulbs went off; for a moment the order, ‘Shoot the next man who fires off a flash’ hovered on the tip of his tongue; Adannan would probably approve, though.

‘As the commanding officer of the pursuit squadron, it should be my job to tell you what happens next. To put it simply, sector saw the situation as just that kind of rivalry between Imperial units, and took a large gamble attempting to regain their reputation and their honour. They forgot what the rebels had to say about it.
'As any of you who remember the clone wars will know, it is perfectly possible for men - and women - to fight with conviction and imagination in even the most lost and unjust cause. The rebels set an ambush that I expected, and intended to deal with in my own time, in my own way.
'Sector believed themselves to be in a race with us, saved time on operational analysis, and jumped straight into the trap. Again this comes back to key elements’ failure to trust in, and coordinate with, higher authority.
'The reason I’m here talking to you, instead of chasing down the Alliance elements and capitalising on what damage Sector did manage to do to them, is that I have every reason to expect the Alliance knows the score as well as we do. The most powerful weapon in war - rumours of new superlasers notwithstanding - is the initiative. Force the pace and place of the action, and you can force the enemy to react to you, and use what he has less than fully effectively. In one of the incidents just passed, I took an enemy destroyer-carrier by forcing the action so that it seemed not to have time to deploy its full fighter wing, for instance.
'The rebels have won a defensive victory that was probably as much a surprise to them as it was to the sector group, but remaining in place, against the heavies of a regional support group, would be suicidal. They know that major force units will chase them, so I expect, and we are in the process of confirming, that they left the theatre about ten minutes after the last shot was fired. Our next move is to reorganise and pursue.’

Was that believable? Did that sound like an overconfident Imperial officer who was sure he could deliver success where others had failed, failing to think critically enough and putting too much trust in his own logic? Would the rebels think that he thought they had done the obvious and rational thing, and therefore they had room to accomplish the risky but profitable? Hopefully. Looking at the journalists, they were an odd mix of the indoctrinated-to-the-eyeballs and the deeply sceptical - but enough of the former.

‘Any of you who are willing to take the risk, give your names and your publication to my press officer, we’ll see if we can find somewhere to embed you.’

Lennart pushed the door of the conference room open, manually; most of the assembled officers realised how long it had been since their commander had got any real rest or sleep.

‘You’re not going to be much good if you’re too shattered to think straight, Captain,’ Rythanor pointed out.

‘Funny, that; dealing with Kor Alric, warped and twisted seems to do more or less all right. What have you managed to come up with?’

‘Well, we couldn’t come up with any plan that would take less than three years of computer time to track the Doctor down; so we came up with this: We know where Admiral Gerlen lives and works - we have a standard smash and grab planned, but instead, a special ops hit team goes after him disguised as Rebels; they kidnap him, and threaten to kill him unless the sector group hands Dr Nygma over to the Alliance.’

‘Right. That’s it? That’s the best you could do, get someone else to do the head-hurting part for you?’ Lennart said.

‘Well,’ Brenn said, ‘it does have the merit of economy of effort.’

‘True,’ Lennart admitted, ‘but it trades that for the supreme disadvantage of taking too stang long. Think about this, think about the target. He has taken elaborate and highly competent precautions in the realm of data, not to be found; what will he have forgotten? Where do the limits of his preparation lie? He doesn’t have an unlimited attention span, there are limits to how far ahead he can plan-‘ unless he’s coded up simulations of his own personality and allowed them to do some of his thinking for him, Lennart thought. Crap.

‘Skipper?’ Brenn suggested. ‘We did think of just asking him.’

‘That might work. Unless he’s already gone on the run. Do that, but prepare for the worst as well. Look for traffic flow; I don’t care how many randomisers and anonymisers he uses, it all has to make its way back to him eventually. He’ll be covered somehow, business as a front. Check for more going in than comes out. Check for ridiculously overloaded mobile comms accounts, too.
'Assuming he’s being pursued by Black Sun, use sector’s data net to watch them watching him. The physical pickup should be easy, the detection is hard. Which is the opposite situation for Vice-Admiral Gerlen. What’s the plan for that?’

‘Customs corvettes,’ Vehrec said. ‘Send the group in, their sensors can do interior scans of the base - it’s a twin garrison tower; conventional garrison emplacement and hollowed out one in use as a command facility. Straight hit and run with the customs troops and platoons of the boarding batallion.’

‘Alternatively,’ Raesene suggested, ‘we do have two highly authentic ISB warrant cards.’ Interesting that he was the one to bring that up; in pre-emptive self defence. Before anyone else could mention the fact, and trying to gain some credit by it.

‘Customs unit’s probably more believable in that role than the Starfleet. 17-Blue are too busy, one of the other scout teams - 06 Blue, they should be able to pull it off. Them and a platoon from the boarding batallion just in case.’

Commander Falldess was grinning, so Lennart just had to ask.

‘All right, you may as well admit it. How far does your ambition stretch?’

Hialaya Karu,’ Falldess said, pointing at the open image on the ID manual in front of her, which the system recognised and displayed on the main viewer. She looked quite surprised, checked to make sure it was, then said ‘That one.’

‘I know what a Karu-class light destroyer can do, thank you,’ Lennart said. ‘I also recall their crew complement is around four thousand. You don’t have that many warm bodies available.’

The Karu-class were a pre-clone wars design, but one which had not been produced in numbers until well after the foundation of the Empire. A consortium design, several minor shipyards led by Damorian having a go at Kuat’s market share, it had been an open question which side it was going to end up on. In fact, it was one of the ships the Victory had been designed to counter.

They had almost a thousand ‘g’ less acceleration than an Imperator, which made them merely average, but a healthy weapon load. Not many fighters but a decent intervention outfit.

Interestingly, when they had been produced for the Starfleet, it had been Kuat who had done so, buying the consortium out and using their own bridge module type.

‘Delvran?’ Lennart asked. ‘Have you got two thousand crewmen you can afford to lose?’

Creditably, Dordd did not say what crossed his mind - that he had eleven thousand he wanted rid of. He did glare at Lennart, visibly thinking; you bastard. Why do you tempt me like this?

‘They are tripping over each other’s feet. Leaning down might encourage them to take more individual responsibility and sharpen up. I can spare two thousand. Three, if you need them,’ Dordd said, trrying to make it sound as if it was a gift rather than a curse.

Two problems, one solution. Synergy in action, Lennart thought.

‘Right, an engineering detail will stay with Tarazed Meridian; the rest of the crew, transfer to Dynamic who will do the boarding action.' He gave his orders. 'Platoon BD32 and team 06 Blue to ‘The Silent Bugler’, go after Vice-Admiral Gerlen. I-‘ yawn- ‘find Nygma, fast. Oh, and signal for assistance to 851, we are definitely going to need some backup on this. And did the Chief remember-‘

‘Tankers are on their way, Skipper,’ Brenn confirmed. ‘Duracrete, too.’

There he was, all two metres twenty-two of him, more if you included the haircut. Sitting there like a half-collapsed wall, over a bowl full of little bitty green, yellow, orange and red fingernail-sized cubes. Diced peppers for breakfast? She had to talk to him about his diet, at the very least.

‘Commander Mirannon?’ she said, tentatively.

‘Ah. Z B,’ he said, raising his head then nearly letting it fall back into the bowl.

She blushed. ‘You noticed that, did you?’

‘Had it brought to my attention. Surgeon-Lieutenant Omar who scripted that, wasn’t it?’ Mirannon said.

‘Yes, it was.’ A junior member of her department, who had quite possibly been put up to it by someone else, but he would do. She had been very angry with him, so angry that she had done something quite unofficial. Mirannon seemed to be amused by the whole business, more than anything else.

‘I’ve already taken measures against him. It won’t happen again,’ she said, sternly. Was that what he wanted to hear, the presentation that would get through to him? The cool, effective professional? Was that the best way for her to get through to him - what did he want, really? A mate, a partner in crime? Someone cool and distant, to place on a pedestal? Fire and passion?

‘Ah,' Mirannon said. ‘What was it you had done to him?’ He looked disappointed in her; why?

‘I administered unofficial punishment,’ she said, trying to convey the message that she could break the rules too.

‘I rigged the airsystem to flood his room with crowd control D,’ Mirannon said, casually. Unofficially known to most of the security forces that used it as ‘Bad Trip Gas’, it was a mild incapacitant and potent hallucinogen. It filled would-be rioters with a feeling of advanced paranoia shading to total dread, the sense that something terrible was going to happen to them very soon - which, faced with imperial riot police, was usually the case anyway.

‘Oh, dear,’ she said, trying not to grin, knowing that it was terribly wrong.


‘Yes. I, ah, had him dosed with a hyperaesthetic - boosts peripheral, particularly sensory nerve function.’ Which would magnify the skin-crawling feeling, the sickening sensation of plummeting out of control, the auditory and visual phantoms that hung at the edge of your vision like nightmares waiting for you to close your eyes and become prey.

Mirannon grunted, probably in amusement. ‘Anybody even capable of faking that writing style probably deserves it.’

‘I have to ask - why are you eating that multicoloured melange? Has it been nutritionally balanced?’ she said, not really what she had intended to say at all.

‘No. Brain food, for when I’m asleep,’ Mirannon said, taking another forkful while she puzzled over that. She called in a minor emergency - asked someone to check in on Lieutenant Omar, while he was eating, then said, ‘There are easier ways of stimulating dreams.’

‘Not trying to,’ Mirannon said. ‘Keeps my brain ticking over, so I can think about problems while I’m asleep.’

‘That is quite strange,’ she said, puzzled. ‘You’re able to control your dreams?’

‘Subconscious calculation. More or less. Wild ass guesswork, actually, but filtering out the crudely, obviously wrong possibilities means I waste less time when I’m awake.’ Mirannon watched her as that sank in. ‘And you haven’t twigged that I’m making this up as I go along yet?’

‘You’re what? Oh. I suppose it was silly of me to believe a known practical joker.’

Well, she thought, one rise deserves another. Let’s see how he takes this. ‘The tricks you could play, with the power of the Force-‘

‘Would be impressive and hard to trace, but that in itself would spoil most of the fun,’ he said.

‘Fun?’ she said, mock-incredulously.

‘I haven’t put very many people in hospital…’

‘From your perspective, maybe,’ she reminded him. ‘Actually, I was thinking abut the Force. I’m fairly sure the Jedi missed a lot of what there was to know.’

‘Unlikely. They existed almost as long as the Republic; they couldn’t have been fools for all that time.’ Mirannon said.

‘You are a rationalist. So much of one that you have to vent from time to time, in elaborate and dangerous jokes.’ She was watching him closely, to see if he agreed with her assessment of himself. ‘So much so that you expect rationality from what must have been the most disconnected group in the galaxy.’

He didn’t. ‘Maybe I just like really elaborate practical jokes. There was enough time, and there must have been enough competence, not least in order to last that long, to fill out the envelope of possibility. Even if there were quasi-religious objections and limits to what was done, they must have been aware of what could have been done.’

‘I don’t think they did. We have a – two body problem.’ She stumbled slightly, trying to speak his jargon. ‘A Force using man consists of two parts: the Force, and the man. One of those, I can make a difference to.'

'I think I can make you more powerful.’ Blei-Korberkk said, and realised she had said something very wrong from the look that spread over Mirannon’s face.

‘If you value your own life,’ he said, deliberately, ‘do not mention the possibility to anyone who Kor Alric might be able to find out about it from. He was a trauma surgeon; give him the sign of a medical problem to do with the Force, and he will go straight through you to get to it.’

Actually, Mirannon thought, that might make a cover story…but who would they need one for? Who were the middle ground between those who needed to know nothing and those who were allowed to know everything?

She was disappointed by that. ‘I thought you would need all the advantage that you could get. That with what I’ve managed to ferret out of the neurochemistry and biochemistry of the Force, I could give you an edge.’

Mirannon put one hand over his bowl, just in case. ‘To do that would attack him with his own strengths. Pointless. Take years to learn, and I can’t do that kind of time compression.’

‘This is a new thing. If anybody’s ever done this before, they left no records.’ She meant to go on and say, and I have made the breakthrough; but Mirannon countered with

‘Everyone who tried this before either found nothing to report or got themselves disappeared without trace, and that makes you think it’s a good idea?’

‘When you put it like that…’ she admitted.

‘Maybe it’s logical. There are more than enough legends and records of the Force influencing the organism, and there are more than enough indications of feedback loops in the Force, but the overwhelming majority of the previous researchers either had it suppressed by the light or ripped out of their bleeding hands by the dark. Find something else to worry about. Concentrate on that, fill your mind with it, and ignore this until well after we’re rid of him. And you’d probably do better to ignore it then, too.’

‘You’re actually worried about me…’ she said.

‘Where else can I find a medic willing to help me torment junior officers of her department?’ Mirannon said, standing up.

‘If I had asked you not to, would you have left him alone?’

‘Probably not, but I might have used a lower concentration,’ Mirannon admitted. ‘If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go and have some of those nightmares now.’

Detention cells were never happy places. Generally, even less so when the staff knew what they were doing.

There hadn’t been time or resources to process the mass of rebel prisoners properly, but normally a jailbird would be stripped, scanned, decontaminated, and given an Engineering-castoff boiler suit, degree of itchiness directly related to degree of offence. That and some other things, like the flickering of the deliberately old-school lights, the smells, the noisiness of the plumbing, and the mind-rotting qualities of the ‘soothing’ background music. A really unwelcome guest might arrive at interrogation from the holding cell half-broken and three quarters mad already.

Squadron Leader Rahandravell seemed to be having good care taken of her, but she had still been tethered to the cell wall by her ankles, just in case. She couldn’t get as far as the cell door, so there was no reason not to show her visitor in.

‘How are you doing?’ Aron asked her, worried.

‘Annoyed,’ she said. ‘Cooped up like this-‘ she clinked one cable-tied anklet off the other. ‘Waiting for a decision. To find out if I get a slap on the wrist, a transfer to the penal infantry or just a few thousand volts. I-‘

She winced and doubled over, curled up on the bed and let out a low moan that turned into a long, bubbling cough.

‘Do that too often and they may not need to execute you,’ Aron said, but draping her blanket over her as he did. ‘What the kriff were you thinking?’

‘Thinking it was a quick, straightforward way of getting back in the saddle. Ow.’ She winced. ‘I didn’t even steal it, I just borrowed it. Ungrateful sod.’

‘Is that any way to talk about your commanding officer? Look, what you did was ludicrously nuts, for several different reasons. Taking that bird, which seems to have been earmarked for you anyway, is the least of your problems. What you did with it - and that puts you another three kills ahead of me, damn you-‘ he grinned, trying to inject some humour into the process, and failed - ‘well, you gave it a fair shakedown and nothing broke. Helping save the Captain’s butt when he dangled it out in the breeze isn’t going to earn you too many black marks, either.
'No, what he’s really annoyed about, and what you should be blazing mad at yourself over,’ Aron told her with some authority, ‘maybe will be once your brain starts working again, are two things.'

'What the kriff did you think you were doing checking out of a hoverchair into a cockpit? You weren’t fit, you were a danger to yourself. How did your judgement lapse that badly, and are you going to be crazy enough to do it again?
'Second, most pilots are a bit mad. All of the half-way decent ones, anyway. Sometimes you get pilots who take all the risks they can get away with, and have the sense to body-swerve the ones they couldn’t, and they go on to be group captains and air commodores.' Aron paused, took a deep breath, then carried on.
'You know how much of the fresh meat we’re getting out of the academies now is a lot crazier than it's earned any real right to be. On average, they’re nowhere near as good as they think they are. What kind of example was that to set? How are you ever going to enforce discipline, slap someone down for nearly getting themselves or their mates killed, when they can look at you and point to this? Kriff it, Franjia, were you actually trying to make up for a lifetime of good judgement in one lunatic move?’

‘I…think I might have been,’ she said, sceptically. ‘It would be a wonderful excuse if it was true, but I really felt very strange doing that. Sort of as if I was watching myself do something that was already a habit, that slipped past below deliberate thought. Even if I was,’ she shook her head, ‘it was probably the medication. Something so normal and to be expected that I didn’t need to think consciously and rationally about it.’

‘Could have been the effects of the Force,’ Aron suggested.

‘Aron? “A Jedi made me do it” isn’t a valid defence any more,' Franjia said. 'It would be an excuse definitely worth having. In a way, it would make perfect sense. I felt as if nothing was out of place, while I was doing something that was ludicrously nuts. But that sounds too good to be true. So much like a perfect way out that, if I were passing judgement on me, I’d suspect me of making it up.’

‘Why?’ Aron asked. Not why make something like that up, why would anyone do that in the first place, what would the motive be? Given that there were only three Force users on board, one of them was too busy, the other two- ‘The only people who could have done that are the Captain himself, and Kor Alric.’

‘Shoot me now,’ she said, and more than half meant it.

‘Fifty-fifty chance,’ Aron stated.

‘No, it’s worse than that. He was here, the Captain wasn’t, and I don’t think he’d do that anyway.’

‘I don’t know, the Force is supposed to be able to do some damn funny things. One of the ideas the captain hates it so much. Subversive of all real discipline, and that. Subconsciously, he might have wanted you to come and save him,’ Aron speculated.

‘It’s a lot more likely that Kor Alric was responsible, trying to destroy my career so he can have me transferred to his retinue, to replace the last pilot he murdered. Kriff it, Aron, how do things like this happen? How do men like him exist, and how do they get to be important enough to torment people for fun?’ Franjia said, strain in her voice.

‘I don’t know,’ Aron said, and tried not to think about the next obvious question: what do we do about it?
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 06:48pm, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-04-20 11:54am


Six customs corvettes and two larger ships, the increasingly heavily worked Provornyy and her sister Grey Princess, departed Ghorn II in one direction, the light destroyer Dynamic in another.

On board the light destroyer, all was in ferment. Dordd was trying not to let his own instincts get the better of him to the detriment of the service as a whole, by lumbering Falldess with more of his idiots than she could cope with.

So far, he wasn’t doing too well.

He had just about reached the stage of considering that, well, familiarity probably had bred contempt, and a change of environment would do them good, sharpen them up, that his slime might start behaving more like sailors if they got a fresh start, and she could cope with the contents of Detention Block 17A, when there was a signal at the door.

‘Enter,’ he said.

It was Lieutenant Pellor Aldrem. Lieutenant “You know, I never knew how much fun being a petty tyrant can be until now” Aldrem. Lieutenant “That was pathetic. You call that an attempt to frag your commanding officer? This is how you’re supposed to do it” Aldrem. The man who had landed on his gunnery department like a brick being heaved through a window.

‘I know now that I made a major mistake recommending Mirhak-Ghulej to succeed me as exec of Black Prince, but I never expected Captain Lennart to use you to punish me for it,’ Dordd said, more bitterly than he had intended.

‘No, Sir, he didn’t; that was all our own work,’ Aldrem decided he could get away with saying. That was the worst part of being an officer - taking responsibility. Admitting to what you had done was never a good general principle.

‘Really?’ Dordd said, standing up. He looked a bit like a praying mantis, Aldrem thought. ‘Are you telling me that drugging Lieutenant Gavrillom, dressing him in a mynock costume, and gluing him to the bridge viewscreens was your idea?’

‘I have no idea who actually perpetrated that, Sir,’ Aldrem said, more carefully now. Dordd seemed in too black a mood for humour to reach him. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

‘Dewback-shit. I’m still trying to work out where you got a costume big enough to fit over a spacesuit, though.’

Aldrem refused to fall for it this time. ‘Looked cobbled together to me, Sir. Clever, though.’

‘And at least slightly more humorous than three charges of assault, one of attempted murder, fifteen disobeying an order, six striking a superior officer, eighty disrespect, a hundred and seventeen charges of conduct unbecoming, and one rape,’ Dordd said coldly.

‘Damn. Lost the bet,’ Aldrem grumbled.

‘You had a bet on the subject of onboard discipline? With whom?’ Dordd said, somewhere between shock and rage.

‘With the dorsal-mid divisional officer, whether I could find more charges to bring against his people than he could against mine,’ Aldrem said, mock-casually. ‘Not that it was ever really official or anything, but they were winning because I couldn’t find any way to make incompetence count as an offence.’

‘ “Failure to carry out your duties”, section 7 chapter 4 para 23 clause 5,’ Dordd pointed out.

‘Ah. Hadn’t picked up on that. Good, that puts us ahead again, by twenty-six field punishments,’ Aldrem said.

‘I do not believe,’ Dordd tried to get his spinning head under control, ‘that even you would be capable of being so ridiculously casual about the good order of the Starfleet. Have you any explanation to offer?’

‘Yes, Captain Dordd, I do,’ The ex-Senior Chief Petty Officer said, changing tone himself, becoming cold and official. ‘Assume I had the sense to realise this was going to be a clusterkriff - what would you expect me to set up?’

‘Make such a farce and a mockery out of the process,’ Dordd realised, ‘that the whole sorry mess would have to go all the way up to a full court of inquiry to get untangled.’

‘Capital charges involving an officer, so that should reach squadron command level,’ Aldrem confirmed. ‘It’s not that we don’t trust you, but some of your people really need their heads banged together, and this seemed a good way to arrange it. I don’t think Captain Lennart realises how bad things really are.’

‘What about the actual charges? I can’t let you run riot like this and get a hold of my own crew,’ Dordd said.

‘Most of that won’t stand up; it was just us being ourselves, Sir - but I want the rape brought to trial, because we can blow that one away; the charge is utter crap. It was consensual and the incident report was filed by her jealous roommate.’

‘And the attempted murder?’ Dordd asked.

‘Wouldn’t have been attempted until I actually did it. Watching the way that moron ran his turret, watching him mishandle his gun pointers, I told your man I’d spreadeagle him over the centre gun barrel if he screwed up that badly again, and it wasn’t a threat, it was a promise. I kicked him out before he could screw the pittin badly enough to force me to make good on it,’ Aldrem said, anger evident. ‘Seriously, sir, if he comes from a culture that still allows duelling, I’d happily sort it that way,’ he added.

‘Junior Lieutenant Nantengan won’t be fit for a while. When you kicked him out, did you forget about the access shaft?’

‘Slipped my mind in the heat of the moment, Sir,’ Aldrem lied.

‘Indeed. I don’t suppose you know anything about the fire?’ Dordd asked.

‘Well, Sir, where there’s living there’s crime, as my grandfather the Detective Superintendent always used to say. You know Dynamic has more than her fair share of it, though. Too many spiceheads, and not in a good way.’

‘Your grandfather was a fairly senior cop. No doubt you started learning your disrespect for the law at an early age,’ Dordd commented.

‘He did a stint in Internal Affairs, sir. He also said, when there’s a lot of crime, the police are underfunded; when there’s too much, the police are lazy; when there’s far too much, they’re complicit,’ Aldrem said.

‘Exactly the sort of logic I would expect from the maniac who disabled the suppression system, glued a chemical detector tuned for burning spice on the wall, and threw an incendiary grenade into one of the Regulatory Branch store complexes,’ Dordd said.

‘In that case, Captain, you should be happy. Someone else on this boat must have reasoning skills,’ Aldrem deadpanned. ‘Besides which, the detector came up with half a dozen different positives. Or so I heard.’

‘It did. The internal security system also showed a senior rate attempting to destroy the detector in order to hide the evidence. I hate ordering executions,’ Dordd said, grimly. ‘Every one is a failure to reach them, on my part. The other side of authority; anything that goes wrong in your department is your fault. So what the kriff did I do wrong with you?’

‘Sir, can I speak freely?’ Aldrem said.

‘You mean you haven’t already? Go ahead.’

‘You got this job because this crew are shit. Personnel Directorate thought that anyone who could keep a crew in order with the skipper in charge and Commander Mirannon as resident bad example had to be shit hot, so you got the job of beating them into order. Then fortune played the sick joke on you of needing them to be ready in as many days as you wanted months. It’s a drastic situation, so you need to be drastic. The only way you’re going to get them into shape in time is to chop bits off. I could name three, four hundred people that you would be better off spacing, because otherwise those kriffwits are going to be in a position to take the rest of us down with them.’

‘Very harsh. Promotion to the officer class has changed you.’ Dordd said. ‘Let me see your list.’

Aldrem handed over a datacard. Captain Dordd plugged it in, compared it with the list of names on his own shit-list and the list of names he had intended to transfer to Falldess’ command. A high degree of overlap. ‘Are you really this comfortable condemning men? Writing them off to be fried?’ he asked, as if he had to.

‘Sir, the Imperial Starfleet gave me eight thirty-two teraton turbolasers to play with. You bet I’m comfortable with frying people,’ Aldrem pointed out. ‘Further down, second set of files; positive recommendations.’

‘Junior Lieutenant Banks as C turret commander? Isn’t she the one Leading Spaceman Suluur’s accused of raping?’ Dordd asked.

‘Yes. Ahdria Banks is an airhead space cadet with no sense of reality, no surprise when you think she’s been here for a while and still has some enthusiasm left, but she’s got some intelligence and she’s willing to learn. She won’t be comfortable shooting at living targets, but for this coming fight she’s actually the best technical gunner you’ve got,' Aldrem stated.

‘How did she and Suluur get together?’ Dordd wondered.

‘After-training jam sessions. He plays the rombophone, she’s a haultclerist. Her bunkie doesn’t think she could find her ass with both hands, so there’s no way she could get a man unless he forced himself on her. Sir, bring that one to trial, because otherwise the Imperial Medical Association are likely to bring my team up for unlicensed neurosurgery on the roommate.’

‘Since when did I make you my executive officer?’ Dordd asked, not meaning it seriously.

‘Funny you should ask that, Captain,’ Aldrem went only that far, at first.

It was, Dordd thought, glaringly obvious. Probably not true, though. ‘In theory, Commander Ridatt carries a large share of responsibility for the situation. In practise, he’s one of the few who actually still thinks enough about his career that I can inspire any kind of actual performance out of him. I need him too badly to prosecute, but for Force’s sake don’t tell him that.’

‘Sir, if he’s trying to do his job properly then there are a smenge of a lot of people under him who aren’t,’ Aldrem said, and decided not to go further. ‘You must have realised you were due for your own command?’

‘What?’ Dordd said, briefly puzzled by the change of direction. ‘Oh, I suppose I was. No guarantees, though. Enlisted personnel get promoted by officers, officers get promoted by shoreside chair polishers. I suppose your next question is going to be well, what the kriff did I expect, wine and roses?’

‘No, actually, Sir. It was going to be, what do you want, and why are you letting this shower stop you from getting it? There’s a time to let us stand back and do our own thing, a time to lead the way and let us follow, a time to stand at the back, point and shove, and a time to apply the boot up the arse. Captain Lennart’s a pretty easy-going boss, now, because he’s got the ship and the crew he wants. There aren’t many of the long service crew he needs to throw the book at any more, and a lot of the time it was me and the team anyway.
'Look, you joined Black Prince to replace Commander Torvelson just after we’d made our biggest score. We were a pretty strange bunch, space crazy to a man, and you thought you had to sort us out. You came in looking to leave your mark, apply footprints, and unless I miss my guess the skipper had you on the carpet a few times, didn’t he?’ Aldrem asked.

‘It wasn’t the carpet, it was the duraplast sheeting I was really scared of,’ Dordd said. ‘He did that once, for the fear, to remind me what it felt like to be on the receiving end of absolute authority.’

‘But not recently,’ Aldrem stated.

‘Actually, he always rode fairly hard on the regulatory and disciplinary branches. Gunnery, he would forgive you almost anything up to a negligent discharge.’

‘Is that what it looked like from the outside?’ Aldrem said, amused. ‘He kept a pretty close eye on us, but did most of it himself - as if we were a musical instrument he didn’t trust anyone else, even his exec, to look after.
'Never mind. The actual point is that most of the brutal part, the hammering into shape, had already got done in the first two years, and he could be a vicious bastard about it. At the start of his time on Black Prince he was ruthless, kicking out the people he didn’t think were going to cut it. Time for you to do the same here, Sir.’

‘Did you used to think this way before you got made up to officer status?’ Dordd wondered.

‘Sir, I’m one of the top hundred turret gunners, maybe one of the top four, in the entire void-damned Starfleet. You think I got to be this good by being stupid? You think anyone gets to be that good without being an elitist and a perfectionist? Difference is, I always tried not to let it eat me up. Not let that take me over to a point where I forgot why I wanted to do it in the first place.
'Also, I was never responsible for anybody’s competence but my own and my team’s before. Now that I am, it’s-‘ he shook his head. ‘I’m turning into much more of a bastard than I thought I was.’ He pointed at the datapad.

‘What was it you actually came here for?’ Dordd asked him.

‘The team, the plan is for us to go back to Black Prince to take over the new heavy axial battery. We all decided to volunteer to remain here instead, for the duration of the battle. Eddaru and Gendrik can take turrets A and B. I’ll do battery command. If you think you can put up with us, Sir,’ Aldrem said.

‘What, and endorse your brand of vigilante justice?’ Dordd asked, absurdly pleased despite himself. ‘You really think that little of the gun teams?’

‘We’ve identified those who do have some talent, and managed to bring it on - a bit. They’re better than they were, but not good enough to throw into a cauldron like this is going to be,’ Aldrem stated.

Dordd was still thinking about it when there was another beeping at the door. ‘That’ll be Commander Falldess come to object to the first cut of the people I plan to transfer to her,’ Dordd decided, thinking out loud. ‘Enter.’

The door opened, and it was indeed Comander Falldess, brandishing a sheaf of hardcopy and looking as if she had half a mind to assault Dordd with it; the beeping kept going, and Aldrem realised it was his comlink.

‘Ah, dreck, I set up an automatic alarm, that’s the boobytraps going off,’ Aldrem said. ‘If you’ll excuse me, Sir, Ma’am-‘ and he ducked out the door, heading for the main turret complex, blaster drawn.

‘What in Sheol was that all about?’ Falldess asked, to Dordd.

‘More fodder for the court of inquiry.’ Dordd sighed. ‘I can guess why you’re here. Shall I save time by showing you the records of some of the people I didn’t transfer to you?’ he said, and handed her Aldrem’s datapad.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 09:43am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Posts: 2361
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-04-26 09:33pm

Ch 32b, continued

Subsector Command Base was a shambles; it looked as if it been designed for grandeur, but gone so far over budget they hadn’t had a chance to add all the fancy bits.

The largest ship on station, when the detachment got there, was a Carrack; no match for a pair of Fulgurs, in and of itself, but the fixed defences - they would be a different story. So, limited shooting. Hopefully.

The bridge module of the customs corvette was small, not much bigger than a shuttle’s. Helm control was more like a fighter, in fact - yoke rather than vector panels, throttle rather than power grid. Then flight engineer, two gunnery control stations, in Y-shape behind the pilot. Row of three consoles on the port of the aft end of the module, electronics; one conventional scan, one defensive, one customs analytic scanners and comms.
Command chair in the middle, slightly raised, and to starboard a two seat holopanel bay for observers or senior agents along for the ride.

Rontaine preferred to con her ship from the observer’s bay, more and better organised information flow, but it was full of cyborg. Space Major Overgaard was in there, apparently playing with one of the monitors; she had to ask.
‘What are you doing?’

‘Testing the limits of my perception,’ Overgaard said, in a reasonable facsimile of his own voice.

He had been sealed into life-support armour that was tied in to a set of replacement parts. The rebels had thrown him into a disintegrator booth set on ‘slow burn’, and he had.
It was all surface damage, but it was most of his surface that had been damaged. Eyes, ears and throat gone, skin totally, a lot of flesh and muscle, only really core organs and skeleton left. By weight, he had actually been about sixty percent of a man, but it was discount day in medlab and they had decided to rebuild him anyway. Reinforced skeleton, cybermuscles, new sense organs, exoskeleton.

‘Don’t damage the monitor., Rontaine said, in a break-it-and-you-bought-it tone.

‘Can it do infra-red?’ the cyborg asked. ‘I want it to show one pixel at a time, very nearly black, faintly coloured, to explore the limits of my discrimination. Can it do that?’

‘It can give me a better tactical picture, which I need and you don’t. Move,’ she snapped at him. Overgaard shuffled over to leave one of the seats free.

‘I am in charge of this part of the operation, and I expect to be obeyed,’ Rontaine said, in cut-glass, received pronunciation tones.

‘Expect away; we’re theoretically equal in rank,’ Overgaard said.

‘That pilot was right, we need decimal points,’ Rontaine grumbled. ‘What’s your seniority, your time in service?’

‘In a service technically superior to the customs, that would be? In any case, I think Commander Sarlatt of the Starfleet might have an opinion on the subject.’

‘What are you doing here, anyway? You’re only just out of surgery,’ she asked.

‘I think they’re trying to make me feel useful,’ Overgaard stated, and flipped a switch on the console bringing up the scan picture. Approaching deorbit and insertion point.

The plan was that the two Fulgur and three of the corvettes would remain in orbit, three of the corvettes would descend to the base, but only Rontaine’s would actually land, the other two remaining in close support. The scout team and the boarding platoon from Black Prince, backed by the customs boarding team, would go in and do the arrest/abduction, using the security ID’s and personnel who looked vaguely appropriate.
It was actually pretty much a classic Rebel type plan, relying on bluff and the sound of authority, misdirection and improvisation.

Charge Chief Derajivik was paying the part of the older agent, with junior lieutenant - ‘apprentice’ - Kittrich the brash young ISB officer. He had been told that he was being watched for this one, and to treat the older enlisted man with respect. Or at least fake it convincingly. Storm in, bang on tables, shout at them, cow them with your fervour and zeal for the New Order, and generally behave like complete gits, was the instruction they had been given.

It was supposed to be two standard garrison base towers linked together, and at the core it was, but someone had been ambitious, and someone else, lots of someones probably in the ferrocrete and duraplast industries, had profited by that.

The surrounding facilities had been developed outwards into an overgrown grey abscess. It was so clearly intended as a Major Fleet Base (™) that it actually achieved self-parody. Docking slips and barracks, maintenance sheds and workshops, hardstandings for small craft, slideways for repulsorless emergency landings, and the passenger and freight magways to serve it all.
Then the defence installations, superhardened blister housings for theatre shields with valves for emitter antennae, closed, empty sockets for planetary ion cannon, shock pads for superheavy turbolasers, long rows and scattered clusters of conventional light and medium turbolasers - most of them empty, and so were the bays. Some of them had servicing and support machinery, but for the most part, bare ferrocrete and duracrete. A grey-brown blot on the planet, horizon to horizon of nothing interesting to see.

‘Where do you intend to set down?’ Overgaard asked.

‘The key words for this operation were brash and bold, were they not? We have the same rough-field capability as the smugglers and pirates we chase, or better, so I was thinking, on that path in front of the main entrance to the staff tower,’ Rontaine said.

‘Avoiding the main docks entirely?’ Derajivik said. ‘Just what the ISB would do.’

The obvious comment about woman drivers - two hundred square kilometres of landing field and you still end up on the pavement - occurred to Overgaard, but he had already come far too close to death to think it worth saying.

‘Approach Control, this is CN27AJ19, the Silent Bugler, calling for landing clearance., Rontaine said, in a tone that was not at all a request.

The flight controller tried to stall. ‘Silent Bugler, this is a military facility, and you do not have access.’

‘Approach Control, can you read? Reconfirm our beacon, this is Security business.’

There was a long pause. ‘Take her down,’ Rontaine ordered, and the three customs ships nosed down into the atmosphere, direct powered re-entries spiralling in on the base; the Carrack guard-ship moved to intercept, but had weapons locked onto it by both Fulgur. The wide V of customs corvettes powered their way in, leaving scorching ion trails and cones of seared air behind them, shields glittering under the strain of pounding through the atmosphere.

‘Customs Corvette, you do not have approach authorisation,’ ground control screamed at them.

‘Which is your fault for being too slow to acknowledge it,’ Rontaine snapped at him. ‘Is there someone else there who can take over for you, considering that you’re now under arrest?’ she added, instructing helm to aim fore the flowerbed just outside the command centre.

There was a short pause, then, ‘This is Lieutenant Aryat, duty watch officer. Have you just tried to arrest one of my controllers over the com unit?’

‘I have just informed your man that he is impeding an Imperial Security Bureau investigation, which we have been assigned to assist. He has been told to consider himself under arrest, and we will be by to collect him subsequent to the main purpose. Would you like to join him?’ Rontaine said, pivoting the Silent Bugler on repulsors so they came in stern first.

‘Eris, is that you?’ the duty controller asked.

She had no idea who he was. Aryat? Same time at the academy? Where had he been in the class rankings? ‘I don’t remember you.’

‘I was number 1,371,’ Aryat admitted.

‘Small wonder I don’t remember,’ Rontaine said, cuttingly. ‘Are you seriously intending to get in my way?’

‘This is legitimate? Not just some demented stunt?’ he asked.

‘Considering the amount of trouble I’d just have landed myself in otherwise? Of course it’s legitimate,’ she said, contempt evident.

‘Well, it’s just that this isn’t something I’d put past that maniac who came in from the Regional Support Group.’

Just as well they weren’t on vid too, Rontaine thought.

Silent Bugler made ground, stern on-engine vents pointing directly down the accessway to the garrison tower and well within the small theatre shield. Not a friendly gesture, considering a full power take-off would turn the place into an oven.

‘Go,’ she ordered, and Overgaard, Derajivik and Kittrich moved off the bridge, down and out the boarding ramp, Team Blue-6 (more conservatively armoured than their rivals in team-17), the boarding platoon and the customs troops, equal in strength. They were in commercial standard blast vests and helmets, using straight E-11s without the squad support weaponry, mostly retired soldiers. Their normal job was search and seizure, and they deserved more respect than they usually got.

Overgaard looked like, and to some degree had been meant to look like, Lord Vader. That crack about a body double had been taken seriously. Not to the extent of impersonation - that would be suicidally dumb - but close enough to suggest the same sort of total, unsparing approach, give the impression of the ruthless machine.
It seemed to be working. They simply stomped into the facility flashing ID, brushed past reception, stared down the naval troopers, said hi to the other stormtroopers stationed there, and got to the Admiral’s office, against the outer walls of the building, to find it had been welded shut from the inside.

‘Stand back-’ Overgaard said, and was about to try to force the door when Derajivik said

‘Wait. Trooper, your ion gun, give it to me.’ Pointing to one of the boarding platoon. He took the gun, and shot the door repeatedly, blasting it until it started to throw off electric arcs.

‘What was the point of that?’ Overgaard asked.

‘To short out or premature any boobytraps,’ Derajivik said, handing back the ion gun and drawing his blaster.

‘Does it work?’ Kittrich asked.

‘Not infallibly, no.’

Overgaard decided to take the chance anyway; he and the bulkiest stormtrooper charged the door, smashing into the plasteel - it was not a blast door, being shot with ion bolts had failed to improve it, and it gave, opening on to a corner office with a large charred patch on the open window and a bleeding man on the floor, in naval uniform. Not the admiral.

‘What happened?’ Derajivik shouted at the wounded man.

‘Window…traitor, his aide and his secretary…jet packs.’

The scout team moved to the window and tried scanning for him, detector units, weapon sights and helmet sensors; Overgaard looked at the man on the floor. ‘One question. How did you know he was a traitor?’

An incoherent gurgle for an answer. Overgaard picked him up and shook him. No sympathy. ‘How. Did. You. Know?’

‘You sure they didn’t give you a copy of Vader’s personality chip with that suit?’ Derajivik asked. ‘He’s out of it, and most of us don’t have jump packs.’

Good point. Call the ship, and after him!’ Overgaard decided, and charged off heading for ground level.

‘Go ahead, I’ll catch you up,’ one of the scouts said. They did, piling back down the stairwells.

On the way Kittrich asked, ‘How does an old man like that know how to use a jet pack?’

‘Soldiers don’t get hatched-‘ Derajivik started to say, and half the stormtroopers turned round to glare at him. ‘All right, front-line marines do, but vice-admirals, not usually. He must have been a young officer once, and he was probably a dangerous idiot then, too.’

‘Could it be possible that his aide and his secretary kidnapped him?’ Kittrich asked.

‘Find out when we catch him.’

They made it out of the building, and then the scout they had left behind rappelled down the outer face of the tower to join them.

‘He’s on the run from Black Sun operatives,’ the trooper reported. ‘The assassin - disguised as a naval officer, the dying guy on the floor - broke in about ten minutes before we landed.’

‘How do you know he was Black Sun?’ Overgaard asked.

‘The operative gave off their programmed identification pheromone,’ the scout trooper said.

‘Now I’m baffled,’ Derajivik said. ‘How do you find out what pheromones - no, wait, I don’t want to know.’

‘Pick him up by the scent glands, and squeeze,’ the trooper deadpanned.

‘Move,’ Overgaard demanded, annoyed because he now had no sense of smell.

‘Where? Every minute’s head start gives them three kilometres’ lead, even with crappy jet packs. In this, as long as they stay below line of sight in among the corridors and chambers, they could be half way to the horizon by now. There’s no point giving chase on foot; we’ll have to scan for them.’

‘Just as well we came in a customs corvette then, isn’t it?’ Overgaard said, and called the Silent Bugler.

Two things occurred instantly to Rontaine; the admiral ran, so he thinks, or his staff think, he can’t trust his own people to protect him - and he may be right.
Second, if he gets killed - or even more embarrassingly, makes it to the squadron under his own power, we are not going to be Captain Lennart’s favourite people.

‘Stand by for both modes of take off. If I order ion drive, I want a fast ramp up to maximum power and a slow coupling to the ion stream - as much energy into the tower as is consistent with not being shot while escaping. If I order repulsors, that means a normal takeoff with no violence.’ She gave the preparatory order.

Considering the timing - assassin made his attempt, ten minutes ago. They touched down - five minutes. They had been in a position to notice anyone jet-packing to freedom five minutes ago and had seen nothing.

She would shout at the ground team later. For the moment, consider this as a customs problem. Start with the fundamentals; a fleeing man. Not running from them, he hadn’t had time to anticipate them.
His goal, escape. Environment, industrial. Not actually all that complex, some holes and corners but not nearly as many as a comparable cityscape. Relatively easy to sweep, few - if, considering how deserted it was, any - friendlies. Good to evade pursuit in the short term, not in the long term.

If he had time to make preparations then somewhere in there, among the pits and hangars and bays and accessways, is an escape ship. If not - then, with three people, he will try to get to one of the grounded shuttles on the hardstanding.
Pursuit on the ground would be difficult, verging on pointless. Recall them?

‘Life form scan - bioelectric activity and body heat,’ she ordered, and after a few seconds the data started to come in. Apart from the obvious - five signatures in one group, moving quickly - running pace - through the tunnels. Three in another, moving faster, but the five were ahead and moving to an intercept position. No, don’t recall them. Where would that map to the surface?

‘Ground force,’ she used the ship’s active optical scan - fancy term for searchlight - to highlight the nearest access shaft, ‘move to intercept. We-’

A green flash, and the computed interception point lit up in a fireball as dumped energy flashed the duracrete to vapour. That was MTL fire, low power probably only for the sake of having to crash-start the reactor.

The scan system was howling, directing their attention upwards, where the Carrack was rolling to bring to bear for a second shot, and the two Fulgur were wasting no time opening fire on her. Lances of medium turbolaser fire pounded into the heavy corvette. She returned fire but the two fast frigates were too well shielded and too fast on their feet for it to matter. Sarlatt was, anyway. Yeklendim didn’t really know how best to use his ship’s speed, tried to manoeuvre so radically he took his own guns off target; he hadn’t yet learned that fine art.

One was enough. The Carrack was putting most of its weapon power into holding them off, and missing; the shot it did spare to fire down at the base hit between their last aim point and the command tower. The base defences were coming on line; all those empty sockets - but enough had some weapon in them to make a difference.
Assuming they knew who to fire at. Shot was going up indiscriminately at both Fulgur as well as the Carrack, and there was too much fire being thrown around to last long.

‘Repulsors, get us moving.’

The Silent Bugler came off the dirt running, accelerating out to the crater, through the dust and debris. Most of the ground detachment had been knocked down, some flash-blinded by the hit; they picked themselves up, the wounded started to limp back towards the landing point - and saw the corvette go past overhead.

Time for that once the prime objective had been served. The corvette weaved and shimmered, flying evasive - the defence turbolasers on the main garrison tower took one shot at them that turned a monorail downrange into a smear of dust greying the sky, then ceased fire, uncertain who the enemy was.

Rontaine ordered her corvettes not to return fire and clarify the situation, then scanned downwards. Blast waves would have echoed through the underground tunnels; the three blips were still there - of course, being airborne, they could have ridden it out more effectively than the five on foot, who team Blue-6 were closing on.

There was a larger thermal signature, a small powerplant compatible with a reactor - whose? Remote startup, com ahead to droids? Could be. Classification - probably a shuttle.
Move to intercept and - another bolt from the black as the Carrack tried again, aiming for the shuttle this time. Fortunately, they overdid it; the bolt punched deep, carrying too much power to shed its energy on contact. It burned its way down through ferrocrete into bedrock, drilled a deep, narrow cone and sent up a huge plume of vapourised matter, staining the sky again. Anyone without a breath mask, out in that - their lungs would need quarrying. Pick the detachment up now, before it got any worse? Or consider them expendable in the service of the Empire?

Await the next tactical step. Blue-6 had found their way beneath the surface; found their targets. Five people, all in powersuits - a form of mechanised armour that the Imperial military couldn’t quite see the point of. They didn’t make a man so much better armoured that he could afford to ignore blaster fire, never mind squad support repeater and sniper rifle bolts. They cost too much and needed too much looking after, and they gave a feeling of false confidence, made the wearer that much more liable to walk into traps.

It was a close-range ambush in an unlit corridor, both sides running on reflex without much time to plan. Between the T-21, two DLT-19s and the Plex, only two of the five even got their own shots off. A flare of lasers in the dark, and one miss, one trooper hit in the thigh; not dead, but that was someone else to carry. One of the wounded powersuited men tried to blow them all up.

Stupid to try to shoot the grenade out of his hand; instead, they blew his arm off at the shoulder and shot it again to push it away down the freight access corridor.

Two of them were still alive; quickly, shell them and take them along for interrogation.

Not before the Carrack registered the thermal detonator going off, and decided to try to eliminate both sides, but the base had partial shielding up now. That would make life difficult later, but it was useful now.

The turbolaser bolt splashed off the shields high in the atmosphere, highlighting the irregular, billowing, not yet firmly established dome of the theatre shield. It had already taken a fair battering, and now it attempted the only move left to it; kamikaze. It rolled over, nosed down, accelerated towards the base.

Boarding Platoon BD-32 had been lucky; they came across three blips in a tunnel. And six droids, which went some way towards an explanation of how a deskbound, middle-aged flag officer could manage a difficult and demanding run for his life.

Then things got very confusing, as the admiral’s aide grabbed him and levelled a blaster pistol at his head.
‘Out of my way or the old man gets it,’ the aide snarled; the confidential secretary shouted, ‘He’s trying to kidnap him! He’s trying to defect-‘and pointed her own gun at the aide, but got smashed in the ribs and knocked down by a backhanded blow from one of the droids.

Their attached medic took a chance. Hand signalled ‘don’t panic, I’m flanging it,’ and took his helmet off, coughing a little in the dust.

‘If you’re Agent Springwall, then you’re the man I need to talk to. Your escape ship’s been destroyed, but we have an alternative.’

‘You’re…what’s going on? You’re stormtroopers.’

‘Told you the disguise department had come through for us,’ Surgeon-Lieutenant BE-4413 said to the rest of the platoon, hoping they were quick-witted enough to keep up. ‘Looks that way, doesn’t it? We’re your exfiltration escort.’

‘I’m not Springwall,’ the aide said, and the fact that he didn’t react more strongly condemned him. If he had been a legitimate Imperial, he would certainly not have been that blasé about it. Was he going to try and bluff his way out? Another crash and rumble from overhead - possibly just reflected recoil from one of the defence guns, possibly a hit, and more dust in the air.

‘Operations screwed up and misfiled the codenames again? Why am I not surprised? I’ll take her, follow us and move fast, we’ll get you back to the Alliance.’ Not a qualm. A few quivers, but it was fairly obvious, now, that the Admiral’s aide was a rebel plant who had chosen this mad moment to grab him and try to make a home run.

He visibly thought, yes, that makes sense, things are pretty chaotic at the moment, it’s possible they could have screwed the codenames up - but if operations is that far off balance, how did they manage to pull together this many fake stormtroopers?

It was almost as much a surprise to the surgeon-lieutenant when one of the squad snipers took the shot as it was to the aide. A DLT-20A, as he was glancing down at the surgeon-lieutenant examining the confidential secretary.

An unarmoured man - a kill, of course, clean through the head missing his jetpack. No boom today. Well, not one right here and now, just plenty of others.

BE-4413 threw himself over the admiral to cover him as the rest of the platoon hosed fire into the droids. Splinters everywhere as all six - two astromechs, a protocol and three combat droids - got shredded.

Flight under the dome of the shield was tricky, but not impossible. Repulsors were, being gravitic, inherently feeble. They were clean, and no more dangerous than anything else that gave a craft the opportunity to fly into buildings, but they drew a lot of power for relatively little momentum. A planetary-defensive dome shield could easily suck that away, leave a repulsor driven craft powerless and plummeting to earth. The corvettes were on ion drive, twitching on manoeuvre jets and exploding the air as they went, but they were still up. For now, anyway.

Corvette BD10NJ30 had landed to pick up the boarding platoon, Overgaard, Derajivik and Kittrich; just as well, that meant they were not directly present to shout at Rontaine. That left the stormtroopers to find their way back to the surface, signal for pickup and deliver their injured - the admiral seemed to have been drugged; he was semiconscious, drooling slightly. Fine state for an Imperial flag officer. On the other hand, it meant he wouldn’t be able to interfere in operations. Good.

The slight technical hitch of being under a raised theatre shield - that was the second next problem on the list, after a plummeting Carrack corvette. If it did hit the shield, it carried enough mass-energy to detonate very convincingly. Referred energy would probably touch off the shield generator too. Not much fun to be standing next to, or flying around under.

Both Fulgur were rippling streams of fire into the maimed Carrack, trying to tear it apart before it completed the fall down from geosynch to the theatre shield.

Rontaine decided to do better than that. ‘Provornyy, I have a plan. Cover us.’ Touch down; drop the ramp - the stormtroopers triple-timed up it. Phase one complete and successful, with only a few small - all right, medium - holes in the landscape.
Then off, and call up what of a map their sensors had been able to put together, and look for the shield generator.

Silent Bugler, this is Provornyy,’ Sarlatt’s voice came over the audio channel. ‘If your plan involves shooting out the shield and letting that thing power-dive into the base, then I’ll blast you myself. That’s not going to work.’

It would have been a useful way of covering their escape, and Rontaine was careful not to curse audibly.

Then she got the idea. ‘Negative, Provornyy, but close. The shields are controlled, not manned directly. If we blast out the control relay the shields should go into stable shutdown; we can find a gap and the collapsing shield should still be enough to take the impact.’

‘Too many shoulds in that plan,’ Sarlatt stalled, trying to think of a better way. The carrack was a riddled wreck, no gun or engine function left, but the damned thing was refusing to explode. It as also on collision course for the base shields already.

‘I’m under it, I’m willing to take the risk,’ Rontaine said.

‘You really think, in that concrete wilderness, they didn’t bother to install land lines?’ Sarlatt said.

Silent Bugler rolled inverted and fired a barrage down into the concrete. ‘Past tense.’

The defence turrets came to life again and started shooting at them, only a couple of seconds sooner than they would anyway when all three corvettes under the shield banked to bring weapons to bear, and opened up on the comms grid on the spire of the command base.

Six twin mounts on each ship, each barrel spitting out five half-megaton bolts per second; the facility was armoured, but it never expected to be attacked from under the shield - relied on natural thermal conductivity to channel away the power. Not enough to shed ninety megatons a second. The upper levels of the tower vapourised; the layer immediately below melted and slumped down on the rest. The shield unit lost control and went into an autonomic failure mode, stable shutdown, collapsing slowly. Both Fulgur, firing on the lead ship’s solution, aimed for what they hoped would turn out to be a weak point or they could at least turn into one.
The three corvettes added what they could from beneath the shield; not helped when one of them, BD10NJ30, took a defence laser hit that blew its bridge module apart.

Overgaard and the rest of the boarding detachment were in the lower bay still, being checked out; they felt the thump, the strained screaming crackle of the shield generator overloading under a two hundred megaton hit, and the ship lose gravity and go ballistic. Oh crap, he thought, not again.

Who else was going to do something about it, the crew on the wrecked bridge module? Where else was there? The ship felt as if it was falling through treacle - an effect of the theatre shield, but the surface wasn’t that far away.

Derajivik had had the sense to bring a breath mask. He was fine, and looking around for some way to make a difference.

‘If you can get control of this thing transferred down to engineering, I can probably fly her from there,’ Overgaard told him.

‘Assuming they don’t blast us again,’ Derajivik said, but he was already moving.

They had maybe a minute, less if they were going to be shot sooner than that. That was no time to go through the proper security procedures. The personnel in there were customs service anyway; one ship technical officer, who was not going to get in the way of anyone who had a plan that might save them from death.

‘No time to do this properly. I’ll have to lobotomise it. Where’s that zap gun? That circuit breaker, trip it - bridge that there. Isolate that console and bring up DRCS. And have a metre length of scable standing by.’

‘What?’ the technical officer asked, but the crew were jumping fast enough.

‘All right, begin the verification procedure on that console and stand back,’ Derajivik said; Overgaard did, then jumped out of the way as a stream of artificial lightning blasted into the main multifunction watch point Derajivik had pointed out.

‘Right, the security system’s in infinite regress, the ship’s anybody’s; you’re setting output through the engines directly, give me a moment - right, now at least you can tell which way up is.’ Derajivik had patched in sensor feed from one of the surviving turrets.

‘It’s that easy to blow out the main security overrides?’ Overgaard said, not believing it.

‘No, we’ve got maybe five minutes before they come online on the secondaries and shut you out.’

‘Infinity isn’t what it used to be,’ Overgaard said, trying to remember how he was supposed to do this. Muscle memory was a bit harder when you didn’t have your own muscles anymore.

Feed power to the engines; this was worse than tank treads, something like trying to play an organ with his feet - but it was that or crash and burn. Interesting that with so little biology left, the adrenalin still seemed to flow. Aim for the pale apple-green highlight on the sky, overlain on the flickering blue-purple shield dome itself shown by glittering flares where the dust brushed against it.

The ship kept sagging, falling off, being dragged down by the effects of the shield even as it failed; partial-atmospheric, then one third power, then full military power trying to balance the ship, very small by the standards of deep space war, on its tail and shove it up into the sky.

The third corvette, FL89IA12, got caught in a cage of turbolaser bolts - the misses splattering off the inside of the shield - and first a plume of molten metal and vapour, then the entire ship burnt, flaring out and leaving only a few solid fragments and molten droplets to rain down on the ferrocrete.

Then the Fulgurs’ salvo hit and burst a gap in the shield. Rontaine’s corvette thundered its way out of the gap on emergency overload power, scraping wingtips on the energy barrier as it billowed and fluctuated, caught between closing and unravelling entirely.

Overgaard almost wished he had some form of religion; something better to say than ‘ohshitohshitohshit’- provided it wasn’t a deathbed conversion.

The corvette spasmed as part of the energy field blew out, kicked and tumbled as it passed free of the shield- crunching sound as the compensators on board fought to keep up with the sudden surge, and in some place failed. Then the brilliant white light from behind them as the Carrack hit the shield, all of the remaining energy flowed into it and it shone briefly like a five million ton lightbulb filament. It burnt; and whoever was left under it was in no state to pursue.

Provornyy took BD10NJ30 in tow before her security programs recovered. The two frigates and now five corvettes manoeuvred for hyperspace entry.

Rontaine started to com Sarlatt on the Provornyy, then decided against it. She would only shout at him - about what a clusterkriff a quiet pickup job had turned out to be, about losing a ship and nearly losing another. If his temper would stand it, she doubted if hers would.

She had taken her ship into the fire, and brought it out again, but could not say the same for all her charges. All there was to do was hope that, whatever solution they could put together using that man, it would be worth the price.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 09:54am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-04-29 02:01pm

Chapter 32c

The specific ship Falldess intended to kidnap was coming out of her biannual refit. She had chosen with a careful eye on the schedules. A ship which would have to be taken over entire from an active crew was out.
And an eye to her own advancement. When all was said and done, Karu-class were destroyers. Light, but nonetheless.

‘Karu’ meant ‘lady’ - worthy, noblewoman - in one of the ancient dialects of Standard, she thought, and all the existing examples were named after women or the xenological equivalent who had made some difference to the sweep of galactic events. It actually seemed to be a back-handed insult, implying that the female, nurturer and egg-layer, of the species had made so little difference on average that they had to be left out of the ordinary sequence of ships like the Senator and Admiral class cruisers, and given special recognition.

Part of the New Order’s non-huMan policy, probably.

Falldess didn’t greatly care, was confident that she could take that and turn it against them. There was an additional insult that did concern her, though, hidden in the specifications - they were not fast ships. Fast was always better than slow, and destroyers above all else were supposed to be fast: witness the fate of the old Vic-I’s. They had been designed to roughly destroyer size, for set piece battles of attrition, and were little use for much else.
Not so much badly designed as well matched to an exacting, but narrow, range of circumstances, which being fit for that made them of relatively little use in peacekeeping, law-enforcement and hunter operations. Excellent deterrents, though. They had largely ended up sidelined on ceremonial and garrison detail.

Twenty-five hundred ‘g’ was reckoned average and adequate for a fighting ship, much below that and the relative advantage you would give away through being easily outmanoeuvred would make for a disproportionately easy kill, very much more and to build the ship to take that kind of stress meant sacrificing space and weight that would be better spent on firepower.

The Karu-class were average or a shade better, no brilliant performance there. What they did have was a solid main armament, twenty sixty-five teraton heavies in ten twin mounts. More than triple the firepower of her heavy frigate, even if less dexterity to wield it with.

That was in part a self-realisation, one that she hoped was wrong. In that clash with the rRasfenoni, she had fought with some footwork, but not much thought given to actual manoeuvre, not until it was too late. She hadn’t used her ship’s speed to the full, hadn’t done enough to exploit position and agility. She might be better off with a slower, heavier hull.

She had written home about that; by now the entire planet would know, and they would be up in arms. That could make life interesting…but it would take her far too long to pick out and train enough of them to make a crew.

On exercise, she had had a chance to study her squadronmates; they had come nowhere close to filling out the full program, but what they had done had been revealing.

Dordd, the man whose ship she was currently on, was half out of his mind with frustration trying to make his useless crew perform; he was better at this than he realised. Cold and formal, precise and disciplined, but for all the difference between their personal styles it was clear that in his ship-handling he had been understudying Lennart, consciously or not.
Provided he didn’t let this experience drain his confidence and enthusiasm, he arguably had more of what the Starfleet wanted from an officer than Lennart did, or she herself.

However, making up the difference between her own crew and what she needed to run a Karu-class destroyer with his rejects - at first, she had been reluctantly accepting, then when she had seen the quality of the personnel he had intended to palm off on her, furious.

When she had the fuller picture of what the quality of his crew was like, she had actually felt rather sorry for him.

Then she had got around to asking why. Captain of the Line Lennart was trying to get a two-for-one; relieve some of the pressure on his own former exec, and hand those pretend excuses for spacemen over to someone who he thought could deal with them. He knew her background, knew that she had successfully dealt with worse; that he still trusted her after she had put her ship too far in harm’s way was interesting.

Considering the almost absurdly close relations he seemed to have with his crew, he didn’t strike her as indifferent to casualties. Hardened, used to dealing in the marketplace of death? Valued his people all the more for that they might not be around forever?

Either way, it was his word that had permitted - no, sponsored - this mad enterprise.

They had not seen him at his best, she knew, because every exercise, he and his ship were holding back, shaping the battle in order to give the other ships a chance to show - and sharpen - what they could do. Even only giving, say, eighty percent, he was a magician. The way that huge, mottled ship danced and twisted like a starfighter, weaving and gliding through the fire, between the shots of a salvo it seemed, moving at angles you would swear would make it impossible for her to keep her main battery on target- but somehow did.

The crew, though - did he achieve that despite or because of them? Any community that size would inevitably contain a proportion of lunatics, idiots and failures. How did it really work? She would have liked to spend a few days on board Black Prince, just to get the measure of it, the method behind the magic that turned madmen like that Lieutenant and his team into useful, no, exceptional spacers. Dordd probably knew some of the tricks, but in this crowd?

He hadn’t even given her the worst. Dividing Dynamic’s crew into blocks of two thousand, the bottom group he intended to beach outright, and most of them would be handed dishonourable discharges along the way and told it was that or a blaster bolt.
The second worst lot, he intended to beach ‘detached pending reassignment’, which meant they could stay there until they rotted.
The third worst he proposed to transfer to her, men who might just have some possibility of improvement but were unlikely to demonstrate it in an environment as bad as Dynamic’s.
Dordd proposed to take his ship into combat with a little more than half her nominal crew, and actually felt very much better for it.

There was nowhere where she could get all her existing crew together with the new draft to address them all, although she did have office and computer space to work out a watch and quarters bill.
A few of the wounded had recovered in time, although having to leave a detail behind to look after Tarazed Meridian and continue repairs balanced that out.

It pretty much balanced out, except for one thing - she didn’t have to trust any of the transferees in positions of responsibility, because so few of them were rated for any. There was hardly a rank stripe among them, and even fewer good conduct badges.
He could have done a lot worse, she realised; transferred skilled, experienced men from her crew to his, or unloaded some of his very worst on her. And he had been tempted to.

What she had her own little shoulder devil whispering in her ear about was to try to poach Lieutenant Aldrem and his team, by offering him the gunnery officer’s slot on Hialaya Karu. Unfortunately, Dordd seemed to have thought of it first, and passed on to her those of his own team disgruntled by the change, including most of his own fire direction team.

The only way she could get this lot together, given Dynamic’s status as a fast interceptor destroyer without troop and flight bays, would be to assemble them in spacesuits on the ship’s outer hull. Actually, that might not be a bad idea. Anyone who couldn’t manage their suit well enough to not drift off or decompress was summarily dismissed the service.

Actually, Dordd - and Lennart - might approve. Consider it plan B. For the moment, com her people and tell them to rouse out the transferees and herd them towards the boarding locks.

Stormtroopers. There was one possible solution to the problem, and also a problem in itself - her frigate had one batallion of troopers, and four, after the loss of one flight bay three, squadrons. The Karu-class had the same fighter-light, troop heavy intervention outfit as the Victories, two squadrons and two regiments. The ground crew and pilots were with her, but whether, and what, they would find to fly, she didn’t know. She did hope the ship’s stormtrooper complement was on board, or at least standing by.

Hialaya Karu was just finishing refit and was ready to be handed back from dockyard hands to her crew, which seemed to be he perfect time to yoink a ship. There were other ships in the sector she could have opted for, but none for which the timing was so perfect. She did have to wonder if Kor Alric was aware that Lennart had forged his signature on the ops order.

Emergence, and it was obvious that the yard had no idea that they were coming. A waste of a deepdock, mooring it in parking orbit around a planet. In addition to being able to move to where the problem was, they were also supposed to be elusive targets. When something that fragile and that valuable was planted in place, it certainly should have been better defended, but there was almost nothing, only a Golan-II StarGun.

At least the planet was inhabitable, which was good. Somewhere to ditch the incorrigibles.

Dordd did not want to leave his own bridge - he needed the system and the monitors to remain in control of the situation, suspected he wouldn’t trust the crew unless he could keep an eye on them. He brought the destroyer in - accurately but painfully slowly - so it was Falldess who got the fun job of telling the commander of Hialaya Karu that she was here to steal his ship.

He was in a borrowed office on the deepdock skeleton that had already been more or less cleared, ready to move back on board: a sharp-nosed, middle aged man, older than she was, and wary of her. ‘Commander Falldess? The dock told me you were coming, but I don’t understand why. Official observer?’

‘Commander Carcovaan,’ she acknowledged him. How to do this? Ease and ooze him out, break it gently, or brisk and brash?
‘Your ship has been reassigned,’ she started. Perhaps it was best to be brutally cheerful, it’s all in the game and you just lost this round, just the way of the service.

‘Good,’ he said, tragically mistaken. ‘Just as real things were starting to happen, finally a chance to-‘

She cut him off. ‘The ship Hialaya Karu has been reassigned, without her crew.’ Watching his face fall, she decided ‘hard-nosed bitch’ might be the right way to go about this after all.

‘What?’ he spluttered. ‘But…she’s my ship, my command, who? Who’s doing this to me?’ Stunned shock, almost bereavement.

Operational Pursuit Squadron 851-Yod,’ Falldess said.

‘I’ll…I’ll appeal. I’ll contact 851 and have the decision reversed,’ he said, and from his expression he knew he was grasping at straws.

'The timing works against you. Region’s unlikely to have time to hear your appeal until after Hialaya Karu deploys,’ she said, trying to look ruthless, and did not entirely succeed when he said,

‘Some of my crew have followed me from ship to ship, commission to commission; I finally get a chance to make a name for myself, something I can use to push them on, and it gets taken away from me?’

‘That is the way it is,’ she acknowledged.
What should a heartless cow think at this point? ‘How long have you had Hialaya Karu?’ she asked him.

‘Year and a half, exactly, in five days time,’ he said.

'Was it impossible for you to make an opportunity for yourself in a year and a half?’ she said, stingingly.

‘It’s difficult to hunt things that aren’t officially there,’ he snapped back at her.

‘I managed it,’ she said.

‘You?’ he said. ‘You’re going to be taking over my ship?’

‘In ten years of close and distant escort, I managed four convoy actions, with a total bag of two Corellian, a Sienar and an old Kuat corvette, and a mutual on a renegade Strike Cruiser - he managed to pound my Carrack beyond repair, but I did the same for him.’

‘Oh, come on - a fleet unit, a light destroyer kept on a short rein with virtually no freedom of movement, how was I supposed to find anything for my people to do? This is the chance, this is the golden opportunity I have waited my entire career for, and you’re trying to take it away from me,’ he said, finding a vein of anger.

‘Don’t you think there was a reason you weren’t chosen for secondment to the pursuit squadron? Chances are not something you find, they are something you carve out, and you didn’t try hard enough,’ she snarled at him.

They were both standing now, glaring at each other; she seriously wondered if he was going to haul off and hit her. If the circumstances had been reversed, she would have been hard put not to.
She threw the data on the desk in front of him, and announced ‘My letter of authority.’

That set it to display the authorisation, and he picked it up and read it - she could tell exactly when he got to the signature. He went visibly paler, slumped back into his chair and seemed to shrink slightly.
‘That’s it,’ he said, broken-sounding, anger dissolved on a wave of hopelessness. ‘End of a career, end of the dream. An agent of the privy council-what does he have against me?’

‘Probably nothing personal, but one of the privileges of that rank is that they don’t need reasons. You feel bad now? Think carefully - if you still do have anything worth living for, don’t challenge him on it,’ she advised him.

‘Why me?’ he said, still too depressed to try to be professional about it.

‘You were unlucky enough to have a decent sized ship coming out of refit at exactly the time when I happened to need one. Look, I’m from Bya Amadi. A thousand years ago, someone tried to burn my home world with high speed kinetic missiles.
'We finally found the beings responsible; actually, I found them. There is no way I am going to be left out of that battle, no matter what I have to do or who I have to step on to be there, and Kor Alric respects vengeance as a motive. Enough to make me distinctly worried, actually, but this is the way it’s going to be,’ she said.
She paused for a moment, then, ‘Do you want me to inform them?’

He stood up, ten years older than he had been that morning. ‘No. No, I’ll do it. I’ll break the bad news.’

‘I’ll have your effects moved dockside,’ she said, turning to go.

‘You-‘ he hesitated. ‘You will bring Hialaya Karu back in one piece?’

‘Considering what the pursuit squadron’s going up against, I wouldn’t base your hopes on it,’ she said.

Two hours later, the old crew were on board the dock, the new crew had moved in and Hialaya Karu disengaged from the dock, and “hoisted the pennant” - changed her transponder beacon to the tactical number 851-Yod-4-A.

‘Any problems?’ Dordd signalled across.

What to say? Did it matter? ‘No, no problems. We were lucky; full stormtrooper complement, squadron of /ln and a squadron of Bombers.’ And someone else’s fortune stolen, but that was not his or her problem, now.

‘Good,’ Dordd said, so non-committally that she couldn’t decide if he knew what had happened or not. ‘We have three hours to put that ship through its paces, shake your crew down and make sure everything works as it’s supposed to, then we proceed to rendezvous off Ord Corban to join the rest of the squadron. There is a target appreciation, but no formal battle plan - I believe Captain Lennart intends to fight an open, manoeuvring battle. The one thing I am sure of is that it is going to be a bloody day.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 10:00am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-05-06 03:42am

Ch 33a

Two fleet tankers had arrived at the lagrange point, and one commercial transport full of ferrocrete mix. Which was all well and good, as long as nobody got confused and pumped their fuel tanks full of cement.

Ten thousand seconds, that was all it took to burn an Imperator’s fuel toruses dry. Black Prince had been modified in this, as in so many other things, but the installation of additional torii hadn’t kept up with the increased power output.

On watch, managing the docking and transfer procedure, one of the junior officers from the navigation division. On call, Brenn. In the day cabin, don’t call me unless the sky starts showing cracks, the captain getting some much needed rest.

In all cases, the more manoeuvrable ship moved to link up with the less manoeuvrable. So the tankers remained on station, and the warships moved to meet them. All the other ships of the squadron had more thrust than the fleet auxiliaries; they would all line up, one behind the other - not directly, of course.
Plug in, open the locks, cycle the hypermatter from the tanker to the destroyer, convince them that yes, they really did need that much. One tanker would be drained dry here and released to local control again, the other would accompany the squadron to the rendezvous point and top off Dynamic and Hialaya Karu.

The absence of any spoiling attack on the tankers was a good sign; it probably meant that the rebels were convinced that the forces of the Empire believed them to be long gone, or at least convinced enough to take the risk of hanging around a little longer, and making a planned withdrawal with as much machinery as possible.
Accidents and cockups, they were the problem now, for at least the next hour. The vibe had gone through the squadron, but somehow the tension had carried - there had been individual actions, exercise and preparation, but this was it. Everyone was keyed up, and right now would be just the time for someone to make a mistake.

Brenn was watching the rest of the squadron shuffle into an efficient stepped column, out of each other’s ion flares, waiting for that mistake. Trying to catch it in time to do something about it.

They had tried not to select fools from the sector group, and had evidently not been entirely successful - there had been no time to replace Subtractor, and Guillemot’s new captain was still an unknown quantity. Their replacement turret was a botch job, the best that could be done in the time but likely to fail under stress.

Voracious’ crew was a problem. However high the individual standard was, they were not yet a team.
They were in line immediately behind Black Prince, because they would need time to separate out the fuel issued to them to the storage cell farm serving the flight line. Black Prince was first because she had most to take on, and then she could stand by and monitor the others, and use her tractor beams in case of that accident.

Brenn hoped Voracious’ air group were putting in as much time as possible on their sims. They hadn’t had a chance to exercise with the wing in its current composition at all.

Fortunately - or unfortunately - most of the requisitions to the sector group had gone through, with no more then the expected proportion of bureaucratic bungling.

Why? Surely the criminals in sector group would try to cross them up? Only two alternatives: either there were enough loyal men in the sector to obey the orders they received, or, in some more subtle way than a complete stonewall, they had set a trap.
Both tankers had been scanned to within an inch of their lives, looking for boobytraps or armed self destruct devices or any other explosive little present; the slicing team were working through their computers now, and they would dock once they were convinced there were no nasty surprises waiting there, either.

Amazing how well briefed the journalists were. Slightly less amazing than how amenable they were to discipline.

In theory, they should be rushing around, shoving lenses in people’s faces, ignoring security, disrupting routine, being obnoxious, pushy and deceitful and generally doing whatever it took to get the story. A stormtrooper battle group put a significant crimp in their normal routine. Probably the only force that could.

Aleph-3’s being appointed assistant press officer - Cat Herder In Chief as she put it - was another minor blessing. It kept her out of the skipper’s hair for a while.

There were onboard romances, even thought there weren’t really supposed to be. Prejudicial to good order. They never escaped notice, either; something would always be brought to official attention - apart from anything else out of sheer jealousy.
Officially, it was completely forbidden. On a small ship with a permanent base, convoy escort work and defence orbit, it was possible to have a home life, close enough to go home often enough to keep a partnership or a formal marriage alive.

Most ships weren’t so lucky, and the divorce and separation rate for long haul patrol ships within a sector group was over sixty percent. For regional and strategic forces, which could be posted from one side of the galaxy to another at a moment’s notice, ninety percent.
Small wonder that the men and women on board ship sometimes turned to each other. That usually made things worse. It put additional stress on the couple trying to make a home they shared with thirty-seven thousand other people, and they couldn’t exactly move to a better neighbourhood. Most pairings - or, to be open minded, triplings and quadruplings - would break up under the stress of managing a relationship and doing their duty at the same time. One night stands and three day wonders weren’t the answer either, because the misery, bad temper and occasional acts of stupidity caused by relationships breaking up were at least as much a problem.

Lennart did occasionally turn a blind eye when he thought that a particular arrangement was going to work out. Witness Aldrem who had, when the business was boiled down to its essentials, kidnapped a local woman and brought her back with him on a hijacked starship, and been rewarded for it by promotion to the officer class.
All right, that one was an exception. Still, the skipper seemed to enjoy making exceptions.

What most spacemen did, most spacewomen too, was have fun in port whenever they got the chance, and hold back the nesting instinct until their hitch was up and they could afford to settle down. Some of them never would; some would never leave the service, and some would lose the plot when released back to civil life. Brenn was nine years younger than his commanding officer, had been a child during, and mesmerised by the news of, the clone wars - the main reason he had joined the Starfleet, actually. Somehow, he had found himself staying in, and enjoying it.

Now, he was the captain’s de facto left hand man and chief tactical deputy on one of the most active and most battle-honoured ships in the Starfleet. It was tiring and stressful, but there were millions of officers who would give at least a limb to be where he was. Maybe two.
What would I do with a warehouse full of right arms? he wondered, not seriously. Enough time to make solid plans once the real problem was out of the way.

Lennart…he would stay in. If he had enough commitment to stay in the Starfleet after being bust down to lieutenant from full commander, and then claw his way back, then he wouldn’t retire. So he had to take his social life where he could find it. A warrant officer of the stormtrooper corps, though, that was not normal by anyone’s standards. She was a problem, and she added to his problems. She took time, and energy, away from him that the ship needed, and she was mired in this business of the Force. Which was interesting to watch, in a beside the hospital bed kind of way.

The captain didn’t seem to have changed much, but anyone who knew him could see the stress that refusing to change was placing on him. She, and the Force she was pushing on him, was endangering the rest of them through that. There were other reasons to dislike her, he was forced to admit, jealousy being one of them. If he hadn’t been capable of looking coldly at his own motives then putting them aside to do the job, he wouldn’t have been here.

Desire for advancement was one of them. If this operation was successful - if they could manage to make it successful, there was that, but he could daydream about the other side of the winning line for a second or four, couldn’t he? - then the sector group would probably be in for major reconstruction.
A command of his own? Probable - assuming he chose to leave Region. Aiming slightly higher, he had some chance of inheriting the captain’s chair on this ship, if Lennart ever did retire, or rather more likely was forced to hoist his flag.

Lennart knew he wanted that, and had no intention of retiring, so had tried to get him to accept command of a smaller ship now.

Behave, he told himself. Worrying about that now is like daydreaming of what a beautiful house it’ll be once you glue the pile of bricks together. Assemble the future one brick at a time.

No-one had made any obvious mistakes - ships metres out of place, seconds late in getting there. That was just imprecise shiphandling, nerves, wouldn’t be actively dangerous until their turn to dock, well within tractor tolerance anyway.

‘Commander?’ One of the oldest standing jokes in the Imperial fleet, a Voice from the Pit. Com-scan tech.

Brenn walked over to stand above the console.

‘Tanker’s as clean as can be expected; no boobytraps evident, physical or software, but as a fleet auxiliary that ship has various security measures, including a self destruct which could be kind of painful if it goes off while we’re attached. Disable it?’

‘Any sign that their IFF system considers us hostile?’ Brenn asked.

‘No, everything’s clean there, but there’s a manual override and we can’t scan for crew intention. Not through hull metal, anyway,’ the comtech advised.

‘You can scan for hotel systems power loading, though,’ Brenn said, meaning - do it. He was thinking of the Carrack over subsector command; subsequent analysis had shown that it had a skeleton crew on board, had been commanded by a small group of do-or-die fanatics in charge of a horde of droids.

‘Slightly lean manned, ninety percent of complement,’ the tech reported. ‘Do you want us to do that hack, Sir?’

‘Do it quietly, so they don’t realise we don’t trust them,’ Brenn said.

‘Can do, Sir,’ the tech said, nodded to two of his trickmates.

‘Ah…dreck. Commander, you may want to see this. IntSec issue,’ Another voice from the other side of the pit.

Brenn moved over to that console, looked pointedly at the technician. ‘Monitoring our systems, Sir, making sure they’re not doing the same to us. Someone accessed Armoury Complex C1*4 twenty seconds ago, checked out a flamethrower and a heavy thermal detonator with the executive officer’s access code.’

A heavy thermal detonator was the kind they used to kneecap AT-ATs. Wouldn’t go through an armoured deck with the tensors up, but it surely would make a mess of the compartment it was initiated in.

Right now, Brenn wouldn’t trust Mirhak-Ghulej with anything more dangerous than a rubber duck.

Complex C-1-star-4 wasn’t a Legion facility, it was for crew use in the case of emergency, for defence against boarders and the like. There should have been a trooper detachment to monitor and secure - of course, they would have had to step aside for him.

Not being psychologically able to refuse orders and doubt the judgement of their superiors could be a real problem, even superiors that were known to be slightly mentally disturbed. But not carried on the books as such, not officially, so they had defaulted to that.

Now he had an area-effect, close quarters weapon, and a bomb. That choice in itself was a pretty good pointer to his intentions. Did the legion include such a thing as a hostage negotiation team? Destabilisation was probably the closest, and somehow he doubted that it was entirely appropriate. Mirhak-Ghulej already had been, that was why he was going to do something this stupid. Someone had to go and talk him down.

Why? Brenn asked himself. Why not let him go and blow himself up, and hopefully take out their second biggest problem in doing so? Because he was part of the team? In all honesty, no. Never was, never really had been, except in the warped sense that they needed someone within the fold, someone at arms’ length to hate.

It probably wasn’t going to work, that was one reason. Adannan would have to be stunningly arrogant not to already be on guard. Not giving him the satisfaction of killing a man, that was what it came down to.

Brenn was just trying to add up whether he could leave the refuelling operation in the hands of a senior lieutenant, when the day cabin door slid open.

Captain Lennart, uniform tunic flapping open over a dark grey undershirt, baggy pyjama pants and fluffy bunny slippers. He looked half-slept and unshaven, no surprise really because he was.

‘Skipper, you had the Force a long time ago, either that or you have the entire ship wired for sound,’ Brenn said.

‘Just applied common sense. Nothing’s happening, the rhythm is wrong,’ Lennart said, waving an arm at the holodisplay showing the tanker, ‘so I come and find you standing over an internal network station. Either we’ve been sliced or somebody’s done something stupid. You’re having to wonder what to do about it, so that makes it the latter. What happened?’

Brenn hesitated again, not wanting to say it out loud - knowing that if he did, it would become grade A prime triple distilled scuttlebutt within seconds. Lennart looked too tired to play games, though.

‘It’s Commander Mirhak-Ghulej. He’s just signed out a flamethrower and a demolitions detonator.’

‘Dreck,’ Lennart said, and headed for the turbolift complex.

‘Skipper, let someone else go and try to reason with him,’ Brenn said. ‘At least, have him shot and put out of his misery.’

‘Another job I can’t send anyone else to do. My fault anyway, I broke him,’ Lennart said.

‘You haven’t told me what the smenge we’re supposed to be doing. I don’t know what the battle plan is. And he does have a bomb.’

‘The documents are on file - and he may have a thermal detonator, but I have fuzzy feet,’ Lennart said, glancing down.

‘If he’s reached the stage of contemplating murder-suicide, he’s too far gone for surrealism,’ Brenn cautioned. ‘He never did have much of a sense of humour, anyway.’

‘They’re not for his benefit, they’re for mine. Roust out, hmm, DF34 and tell them to meet me outside the Imperial suite.’

The unit he had named was part of the headquarters element, second batallion repulsor regiment - scouts used to thinking on their feet, not particularly heavily armed, but for this they shouldn’t need to be. They met him in the corridor below the imperial suite, just outside the turbolift; Lennart over-rode access to the level above. His renegade exec would have to get out here, and face - what? What was it he was really trying to do? Talk the man down, or talk him into going through with it?

There were emergency access stairwells at both ends of the short corridor, and the scout platoon took up positions covering them; eminently grenadeable, but there wasn’t much room to use to avoid that.

The first unwelcome visitor came down from the level above. It was the masked Givin of Adannan’s retinue, wearing a thing clamped on to his head that looked like a torture device, but was probably a camera. As well. The scout team had not been given orders to stop him, although it would have been their first choice. They pointed their guns at him, but there was a commotion at the other stairwell.

Lennart caught the flash of a camera lens. Dreck. Then the lift door opened.

Mirhak-Ghulej was wearing a bathrobe and a loincloth. He had put on weight - comfort eating, and a man in his broken-minded state needed a lot of comforting. He stared wildly about him as he came out of the lift. Not now, Lennart thought, trying to resist the urgent pressure of the Force. The light side was urging him to talk Mirhak-Ghulej down, the dark side to blast him where he stood.

Thinking of both sides as actual personifications made them easier to deal with. He told them to sort it out between themselves and turned to his executive officer.

‘I was trying to dress down, but it seems as if you beat me to it. Nice day to take a bomb for a walk.’ Going to have to do this with an audience, he thought. All three of me.

‘Hmwhuhah! Place. Time. You should know better than that,’ Mirhak-Ghulej said. He sounded three-quarters mad, but the look in his eye was steady enough.

‘We spit on any rational concept of place, we stretch time to fit. Both are what little blobs of mush choose to make of them, and it isn’t right.’

‘Is this an answer, is this a solution? Doing something as incredibly disorderly as blowing yourself up?’ Lennart probed. He had gone to see Adannan, that much he knew, but whatever had been said to him, he had gone away and brooded on it and turned into this.

‘Order? Don’t use that word again,’ Mirhak-Ghulej said, more of a plea than a demand. ‘Never use that word again. There are no bridges over the screaming vortex! It's nothing but a tissue paper veil.
'What a joke to think that we could be stable in the madness and the lies. Nothing makes sense any more. It never had to, was never really supposed to. And I didn’t know.’ He showed no sign that he was aware of the minion, the film crew, and the stormtroopers.

‘We tried to tell you often enough,’ Lennart said, pitching his tone for calm assurance. ‘The extreme disrespect many of the crew showed for your person and your views wasn’t a hint? The example Gethrim and myself showed you gave nothing away?’

‘Oh, those were kindly acts. They incarnated it all, helped me to take it personally and made me feel like a champion of good order and discipline. You used me to keep the illusion alive for everyone else,’ he said, tone shifting to anger.

Was that thing armed? Lennart wondered. ‘I hope you haven’t lost it badly enough to think I shared that illusion.’ Make it personal, he was thinking, engage with the bronze-faced madman. Let him turn on me, and if I can keep him talking, I can bring him down.

‘You-you’re the worst of the lot,’ Mirhak-Ghulej said, leaning forward as if to peer at Lennart. ‘The ambidextrous man, swearing to protect and defend the martyred innocents one minute, breaking bread with the murderers’ guild the next.’

He would have shaken his finger at Lennart, if he hadn’t been doing it with the hand that held the flamethrower.

Lennart didn’t flinch. Mad dog, he was thinking, when dealing with a mad dog it is important not to show fear. Or, in this particular case, smugness.

‘I can make some sense out of what you’re saying, which under the circumstances worries me…care to talk about your latest meeting with the deputy poobah of the local guild chapter?’

‘He showed me that-that I had been living a fraud of a life, in a cause which didn’t really understand me at all. That there was a lie under all the truths. That I had been used and abused, and that I had helped break myself to the lies.’

‘Most people do. It’s common enough,’ Lennart said.

‘You mean what I’m doing fits a pattern?’ Mirhak-Ghulej said, part of him pleased, part of him angry and the two falling out over it.

‘Twenty-five thousand years?’ Lennart said. ‘How much time do you think they needed to work the patterns out? There are predictable rhythms in everything, contingencies and dependencies. There are patterns for how those patterns evolve, interact and change over time, patterns for how the patterns of change are expected to change - and so on ad absurdum.
'What difference do you think that ought to make?’ Lennart said calmly, asking him to think, which he would hopefully do out loud.

‘I know what difference it makes,’ Mirhak-Ghulej wailed. ‘It means that men without principle can use a man, identify what I care about and play me off it like a stimulus response machine.’

‘What makes him less predictable than you?’ Lennart asked. A lot of things, actually, training, upbringing, way too many personal psychological kinks. But the principle was there. ‘You can play them, push their buttons just as they do to you, and who thinks first and fastest - as the Ubiqtorate say, Who Analyses, Wins. What else did you think he was going to do?’ Lennart asked.

He could probably save Mirhak-Ghulej, at the price of some of his self respect and sanity. Both of their sanities, actually.
Using his former exec - no way anyone, even Lennart, could justify retaining him in that position now - as a kamikaze against Adannan probably wouldn’t work, even though just maybe he might be able to swing it, afterwards.

‘I thought he was an agent of the privy council,’ Mirhak-Ghulej said, ‘A being of order and discipline. I found a licensed pirate, a gargoyle, a man - if the term stretches -‘

‘It does,’ Lennart interrupted, but Mirhak-Ghulej kept going.

‘-who would patent a system for stealing red-hot stoves. Do you know how he plans to use you?’

‘I have an idea,’ Lennart said, thinking fast about how to phrase it. Would it serve to appear the kind of man who could pose a credible threat to Adannan, which meant being almost as cruel and devious? Was, for that matter, Kor Alric listening in himself? Almost certainly, at least by camera and probably by telepathy. Hmm.
Another thing that it would be distinctly bad to say - provided he doesn’t use you as a weapon against me. Thinking too hard on that issue might just convince Mirhak-Ghulej to let that bomb go after all.

Adannan would have a win-win set up here if he, Lennart, wasn’t careful. By making me move to stop one of my own officers from blowing Alric up, Lennart thought, I’m catching the bullet for him, in effect.

If I have to have him killed, well, there it is. He’s set up me murdering one of my own officers - what a breach of the sense of community that holds us together. If I manage to talk him down, then death might be just as certain, following prolonged legal dissection. An attempted assassination of a high official would have to go to court, probably with Adannan prosecuting.

Summary judgement wouldn’t rub enough salt in the wound, this would be done with the full travesty of the law. Adannan could use his authority to declare himself a superior court, but Lennart didn’t think he would. More fun this way. If they weren’t trying a cloud of vapour, that was.

‘I also have a plan to protect myself,’ Lennart continued, ‘that doesn’t involve measures quite this drastic.’ Which was a flat out lie, considering the fallback emergency plan of signalling Dynamic to open fire on the bridge tower.

‘Something’s wrong. Everything’s wrong, but something is very wrong,’ Mirhak-Ghulej said. ‘You’re not angry enough. Boom, and a big red smear all over your record. You’re not taking this seriously.’

‘I reckon you’re just about angry enough at the universe for both of us,’ Lennart said, quietly. ‘My career’s survived worse - and do you have any idea about the blast radius of that thing?’ He decided to be flippant about it. ‘If I do get vapourised I won't exactly be in shape to worry about it, so what the smenge.’

‘You’re just as bad,’ Mirhak-Ghulej screamed. ‘No respect for truth, stability, discipline. Neither do I anymore,’ he said, peculiarly - he so desperately wanted to be wrong. ‘It’s all fakery, it’s how they pirate us, steal us from our own selves.’

How much damage do I have to do to his self respect, Lennart wondered. A broken man with nothing left might just let that bomb go. As it possible to slingshot past this and build him back up again?

‘You’re really only just working this out? Only losing your political virginity now, of all times?’ he said.

‘Everyone else feels like this?’ Mirhak-Ghulej said. ‘Abandoned, betrayed, lied to?’

‘The situation’s the same,’ Lennart admitted. ‘How hard you take it depends on how much faith you had in your sociopolitical superiors to start with. You must have been much more confident in society than I ever was.’

‘But…’ Mirhak-Ghulej gestured upwards with the flamer. ‘He doesn’t shock you? You don’t find him an abomination?’

‘If I do, it’s not for the same reasons. And do remember who Kor Alric works for.’

A straight warning not to commit lese-majeste would lead Mirhak-Ghulej into direct insult. Lennart let that go for the moment, but added ‘And who you were supposed to be working for - which happens to be me.’

‘You cast me out!’ Mirhak-Ghulej shouted at him. ‘You led me on and you cast me out.’

‘I expected you to help my crew deal with the truth, not to ram the lie down their throats. You were committed, a true believer - that’s why you had so far to fall,’ Lennart said.

‘I thought at first you were playing the game in your own way, dealing with the truth, paying society its due and taking what you could get, but then you made it spectacularly obvious that you weren’t.’ Why are you dealing with, why are you trying to save this ridiculously broken man? The Force whispered in his ear.
Because he’s my fault, at least in part. With more time, I could have fixed him. As it is, I wish the Force really was like duct tape. Or I could do projective telepathy well enough to tell Gethrim to get ready with the ray shields.

‘This, though,’ Lennart continued out loud, ‘this is no solution, it’s the end of all potential, forfeit of any chance to make good what you’ve lost and make sense of what happened.’

‘I’m a lost cause,’ Mirhak-Ghulej wailed. ‘The jokes, the sneers, the slime, the hazing, an endless stream of little hateful things to mock a man who had nothing, only a con trick to live by. You kicked me when I was down, and I don’t want to live anymore.’

He was perilously close to pushing the button, Lennart realised, within one or two twists of the knife of wiping himself out.

What effect would shooting a thermal detonator with a blaster have? Set to stun? DEMP weapon? Much easier to shoot the man. From the strictly naval point of view, it didn’t really matter - he was unlikely to ever get it back together enough to be allowed to serve again, even if he wanted to.
The part about the black mark on his record was true enough, though not of overriding importance right now. The fact that it probably wasn’t going to work did. What the kriff kind of shape will he be in, even if I do pull him back from the brink? Lennart thought.

‘Look. Vasimir. I suppose you could call me a chaotic constructionist. I believe in making and building, in creation and growth, and I’ve been exceptionally lucky to find and keep a job that lets me commit so much high-yield violence in a good cause. I don’t want to let you make a nothing of yourself. I had you sidelined because I wanted you to change and grow - I thought that anybody in your position with your record had to be doing more than hanging on by his fingernails, I didn’t realise how much support you needed. Neither did you.
'He knows he got to you, he’s waiting for this, and I think he’s faster, and nastier, than you are. I don’t think you can kill him faster than he can kill you. Let someone he isn’t expecting, doing something he can’t foresee and hasn’t set up, take care of him. You might as well live for the time being.’

Mirhak-Ghulej seemed to be listening. Lennart continued, ‘Come on. You’ve done enough, you’ve taken a stand, you’ve got this far. Let someone else help you and take it the rest of the way.’

This had not been a cry for help, he had intended to go through with it, but under the drained hope, not daring to express itself, that there might be a way back.

‘You’re serious? You promise?’ Mirhak-Ghulej said. Was it possible he was faking it? Nobody could sound that much like a five year old boy and mean it, not unless - well, he was too far gone to fake it. Probably was that damaged. This is the tipping point, Lennart thought.

'Considering what I’m up against, considering what he did to you,’ Lennart stopped himself before he could say ‘Don’t worry, I’ll fix the bastard.’ He could. Had to.
Had every intention of doing so, for his own and the ship’s reasons, but to say so out loud would constitute an open, public-record declaration of feud against his constitutional superior and a man of some potency in the Force. Suicidally dangerous.

On the other hand, to claim he couldn’t do it - melting was not in the game plan, either.

Trying to talk to him at all was the high risk option, once begun no way back - this had to work. Make that promise and the response might just be, ‘Let’s go do it now.’ Crap, I hated the dramatics society.

‘What can I do? He has his authority to use as a weapon, legal power and the power of the dark side, and no remorse at all for the damage he does. What can I, what can any ordinary man do in the face of that?’

The Givin’s face creased under the mask, as he realised that Lennart had accepted Adannan’s challenge on Adannan’s terms - it would take an extraordinary man, a wielder of the Force.

For Mirhak-Ghulej, the tone was pitched perfectly, one of baffled, helpless anger, pitch perfect brick wall at the end of the line, because his carved bronze face wrinkled up, and he started to cry.
Lennart grabbed him and hugged him, as two of the scouts ran to snatch up the exec’s weapons and take them away.

‘I’ll find a way,’ Lennart whispered to him, and two more scouts came to take the shaking, drained body of the exec. ‘Take Commander Mirhak-Ghulej down to medical, tell them I said they were to help him.’

Lennart was almost sure he heard one of the scouts mutter ‘What, euthanasia?’ under his helmet, but now that the crisis was past, he had to rein in the flow of anger that followed it. That Givin; how good he would look with that thing on his head smashed in, and twitching on the deck. I will not do it, Lennart told himself, I will not give him an excuse.

That and the thought occurred to him that Adannan had had the minion effectively staked out here, in order to give him an excuse, and he regarded his own people as sacrificable because he intended to replace them with better, chosen from his apprentice’s ship’s crew.

The journalists started towards him, but for once in their lives, self preservation over-rode the instinct to get the story at all costs. If they had tried shoving a microphone in his face at this point, he would have found out exactly what he could do with the dark side of the Force.

They kept the camera on him, but had the sense not to say a word.

On the main bridge and back in the captain’s chair, in something more closely resembling uniform, Lennart first called up every display he could think of and sat drinking the information in.
This is what I am, he thought self-consciously, repeating it like a mantra. A naval officer, not a psychiatrist, not a paralegal Force-fueled vigilante, not, I hope, a monster, just the commander of a starship about to commit to battle.

Fueling complete; one point four five billion tons on board. The other ships of the squadron, ready. Everyone knew what had happened, knew he did not want to talk about it.

‘General announcement, all ships of the squadron;’ the com team set it up. More than a few of them were in dress uniform. It was going to be a big day, one way or the other. Even Lennart, although he still had the fuzzy feet on.

‘We have three, possibly four battles to fight. Our first target is Ord Corban. Long range scan indicates the rebels have taken the chance on a slow evacuation, taking as many machine tools as possible. This is what I wanted to happen.
'Jump to a point off, bow-shock tactics, and RV with Dynamic and Hialaya Karu. Then Black Prince and the rest of the strike line, less Dynamic and Perseverance and plus Blackwood, will make a recon-in-force approach to the target. If we are lucky enough to catch them at anchor, so much the better, but I expect a double or triple layer vectored ambush, they have a base station there after all, and intend a two or three phase entry.'

'I have confidence in my own ship’s ability to survive under fire, so Black Prince will enter first and relay navigation data back to the RV point. Structure works for them, chaos works for us. I want a running, moving battle - the planet won’t go anywhere, so any damage doable to it in the initial stages is a bonus, but the prime target is rebel fleet assets. All the hyper capable fighters and small craft will be going in in the first wave also. Open formation, open order, commit all combat small craft on entry, stand ready to receive tactical direction from your line leaders and the Flag.
'First nav point and codes of the day downloading to you now, so, ladies and gentlemen, in the name of the peace of the galaxy and the glory of the empire, let us exercise our vocation and commit to battle.’

Turning to his navigator, Lennart said, ‘Let’s go. No sense keeping destiny waiting.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 10:11am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-05-17 08:25am

Chapter 33b

The jump to the rendesvous point went off without a hitch. After disengaging from the tanker, Black Prince had gone to battle stations essentially of the crew’s own accord, and most of the rest of the squadron did so on arrival.

The course was a straightforward zigzag, to a light-year out and on the axis of rotation of the star, the system laid out in plan view below them. Dynamic and Hialaya Karu were there already, drifting and waiting. Lennart ordered the squadron to assemble on him, in the wave formation he had chosen.
First wave: Black Prince and the fastest ships of the group, and their supraluminal small craft, shuttles and transports mainly, the shuttles with pivot and turret guns, the transports with ion guns and torpedoes. Voracious started loosing her complement of Avenger and Assault TIEs, and older types they had booster rings for, the Actis and Nimbus, to join them.

That should give us starfighter superiority from the start, and a decent antiship punch to follow that in, Lennart thought - that had been the point of the plan. After that, who? My working assumption is that they will be caught out initially but react quickly, and microjump or jump out and return, attempting to gain a killing position on Black Prince.
The second wave exists to exploit that, jumping in to kill them while the flag leads them away. Most of the squadron should be second wave, but it was going to be a running, manoeuvring fight for the most part.

The ships that couldn’t coordinate their actions well enough to perform effectively under those circumstances, or were physically incapable of the necessary acceleration, would have to form a third wave - jumping in when the fight had taken on more definite shape.

He com’d Falldess on the Karu-class destroyer. ‘Any problems?’

‘The, ah, the local crew were unwilling to part with her. I had to use Kor Alric’s authority to pry her loose,’ Falldess said.

‘There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?’ Lennart asked.

‘Yes,’ she admitted, wondering if she was going to make the situation worse for the local crew. ‘Commander Carcovaan was very disturbed by the thought that he was going to miss his chance to make a name for himself and his crew.’

‘Disturbed how?’ Lennart asked.

‘Initially, almost in tears.’

‘If he took it that hard…’ Lennart said disapprovingly, thinking Destiny, send me hard-nosed bastards who can carve their own way, whose hands I don’t have to hold, because I don’t know how much more of that I can do without snapping and ripping somebody’s head off. Although, bearing Kor Alric in mind, not too many.

‘At first, when it was just a shock. Then I thought he was going to murder me to get his ship back. When I showed him Kor Alric’s authorisation, he sort of crumpled, but then dealt with it professionally enough,’ Falldess said.

Carcovaan had been left out of the initial squadron lineup largely because of his ship. The slowest accelerating craft Lennart had been prepared to accept in the initial lineup had been the 2,680 ‘g’ Demolishers. Karu class, although they had many other good qualities, were not fast. She and Dynamic would form the bulk of the third wave, Fist, Voracious and Perseverance the second.

The other reason was that Carcovaan had few negatives, but also few positives. He was average, maybe above average, but had never had, worse had never sought hard enough to find, the chance to distinguish himself. Maybe he would, if the chance managed to find him.

What else was there, in terms of unfinished business? Too many enemies - including the most personal of all, who mercifully had had the sense to keep out of the way. That was unusually tactful of Kor Alric, who must have been aware that the crew of the destroyer loathed him. Lennart was expecting a sly little probing call, another aggravation, which probably would have been enough to set him off.
The timing was wrong, though. Right now, it would suit Adannan to have Lennart unbothered, and at peak efficiency to defeat the rebels and carve their way through to Ord Corban.

‘Skipper? We have a problem. Kind of weird.’ Cormall, who looked fantastically out of place in full dress uniform.

‘Weird. Around here that could be anything, but - Nygma?’ He was about due to cause trouble.

‘I think so. Being as how we’re dealing with a master of deception and confusion, I could be wrong,’ Cormall said, but from his tone it was clear it was so unlikely it could only be the rogue analyst.

‘Sir, I’ve been using all the run time the ship had to spare, I’ve got better tools to work with, I thought I had a break into one of his data-dump accounts and tried tracing back from there. I had the brute force to cut through a lot of the clever puzzles he left, but-‘

‘That’s a lot of excuses for a mistake you haven’t told me you’ve made yet,’ Lennart interrupted.

‘Sorry, Sir, but, have you ever walked into an invisible house of mirrors? There are multiple feeds out. Each of them with feedback, and carrying data close to the limit of the human brain to assimilate, so suddenly I have forty-plus primary targets. I don’t understand how he can be in that many places at once. Either he’s single-handedly invented a new stardrive with journey times in nanoseconds per light year, or-‘

Both of them said at the same time, ‘He’s gone massively parallel.’

‘Ah, dreck,’ Cormall added.

‘Contact them. Contact them all,’ Lennart said.

The chief petty officer did; the holodisplay filled with changing mathematical symbols, a strange pseudo-equation of dancing randomised nearly-logic. All with little green hats.

‘Doctor Nygma?’ Lennart said, dreading the answer.

‘Yes,’ All of them said, in quadrodecaphonic sound.

‘The conclusion you expect me to come to as a result of this display - you have, haven’t you?’

All the mathematical symbols looked shiftily at each other. A lemma picked a fight with a theorem, and the set of all sets that include themselves decided to blackball one of its members, just to see what happened.

‘Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Conceivably.’ ‘Indeterminately.’ ‘Stochastically.’ ‘Suppose that I are not confused…’

‘Next question,’ Lennart said, carrying straight on. ‘Did you think this was actually necessary, or just too much fun not to do?’

Again a scattershot of random, nonsensical, head-bending answers, which Lennart guessed distilled down to, ‘A bit of both.’

‘You do realise,’ Lennart said, and stopped himself before he could ask the open-ended question “what the consequences of this are going to be” the answer to which could have gone on forever, ‘what you have to do now? Survive, and bear witness?’

‘Some of us are not carnivorous. We want to marrow witness instead,’ the one nearest the front said.

‘Fine,’ Lennart said, determinedly ignoring the discussion of the theory and iconography of the cybervegetable that started up in the lower half of the holotank. ‘We found you, but…you know your own trade best, I’m sure. Good luck.’

He broke the connection.

‘Kriff me sideways with a zombie rancor. How did that happen?’ Cormall asked.

‘I wouldn’t say that in earshot of anyone from Engineering if I were you - and I should be asking you that anyway,’ Lennart said. ‘He must have created an emulation of his own mind, and spread it throughout the sector HoloNet. With all the classified data in his brain - Black Sun might not have the skill to track all of him down, but the Ubiqtorate are going to kill him. I hope we haven’t just given memory room to one - or several - of him?’

'Sir, I don’t think so, but I could be wrong,’ Cormall said, honestly.

‘Glorious. Well, don’t let him, or them, interfere with ship systems.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir,’ Cormall said, but Lennart’s mind was already moving to the next problem. Something he had failed to do consciously and explicitly, worse, something he had been particularly insistent on in the exercises - enemy intentions analysis.

In the rebels’ position, he would be sending out whatever he could spare to launch spoiling attacks, scattershot across the sector. There would be plenty of targets, too soft or too confused to resist effectively. Even strikes that failed would achieve something strategically, spreading confusion and helping to cover the evacuation.

The fact that they hadn’t indicated that they were going down the other route, making one big fight out of it. That was why he had requested support from 851. They could do hunter operations throughout the sector, or reinforce the pursuit squadron at Ord Corban.

Most of the unplanned acquisitions, the remains of Third Superiority Fleet, would attack as part of wave three. HIMS Fist had the acceleration to form part of the first wave, but he wanted her as one of the key pieces of the second. The holes had been crudely plated over - the welding was still glowing hot, but the repair job should be robust enough to stand having a shield spread over it, hopefully. The other reason that with the loss of most of primary sensor function and thirty percent of the EW emitters, she was less fit to fight a high speed, long range running battle, so phase two it would be.

As an academy tutor, I would mark this plan down on several grounds, Lennart thought, one of them being violation of unit integrity. I had intended to work up to efficiency and deploy in that standard pattern formation, but now I’m winging it, he thought. With one more line and one more light destroyer than I had expected, so it’s not all bad.

With a little bit of retroactive polish, this might almost look like I planned it.

Group Captain Vehrec was one of the last out of the old Venator’s fighter complement, he was still trying to make sense of the deployment plan.
Caliphant was with him on the bridge, and said, ‘Well, you should be happy with the battle plan. Especially the bit that says "and then we make it up as we go along.’’'

‘Yes, it does,’ Vehrec said, looking down at the datapad in hand.

‘We were lucky in that last fight. We were just a big dumb ox, trying to squash the enemy with dead weight. The crew are happy about it, I’m happy about it, but we were slow and we fumbled a lot. I should be bouncing off the ceiling here; guns and glory, yee-hah, woohoo, all that, going around and telling everyone how wonderful they are. Instead-‘ Caliphant said.

‘You’re worrying too much. When the shot starts to fly, they’ll shake out. They’re a bit overconfident now, if you can calm them down without going too far the other way it would be good, but they’ll do.’

‘What I am concerned about,’ Vehrec continued, ‘is the booster rings.’

‘The what? You’re serious.’

‘Of course. Look, we hyperspace in, eleven squadrons, and ditch six squadrons’ worth of booster rings - they haven’t been in production for fifteen years, there are damn few left to turn up. As soon as you come in in wave two, get the retrieval tugs and tenders out.’

‘We’re making a combat drop, we’re going to be…oh. I see where you’re coming from there. Right, can do,’ Caliphant said. Worrying about an absurd little thing like that, at a time like that, would be a good way to get the crew indulging in some nice, comforting, stabilising, panic-preventing routine.

‘Good,’ was all Vehrec said. He was thinking, Antar Olleyri may have the rank, but I’ll be the man on the spot.

With thirty-plus transports and as many again armed shuttles on top of the wing, that’s upwards of a thousand antiship torpedoes, and the combined energy firepower alone reaches the low gigatons; hitting secondary targets is going to be fun.

Lineup complete, and move in from assembly area to the target.

The rebels could hardly fail to notice the shoal of hyperdrive signatures coming their way, but they could be prevented from doing so until it was too late.

Primary entry point was just above the ecliptic and to sunward, a quarter AU off the mainworld. One hundred and twenty-four light seconds - less time than it took to raise a shield.

Black Prince, the elements of the strike line committed and the shoal of fighters and armed transports emerged as planned, in a system full of energy and drive flares. The rebs were still here, and they were busy.

The Actis and Nimbus squadrons ditched their drive rings, fanned out, Black Prince went on to a standard shallow evasive weave while gunnery picked the first target of the day.

EW was already registering panic, confused crosstalk on rebel command wavebands; no time for code cracking yet, but traffic analysis indicated near panic. Possibly simulated, could have been an ambush - if it was, their own side were in ignorance of it.
Too many lower echelon units trying to contact higher, too many people talking at once. It was chaotic enough to escape stylisation. All recorded for subsequent analysis, of course.

The outworlds, their defences were already partially disassembled for relocation. Relatively easy meat. A few salvos in their direction might arrive before they had time to raise a full shield - LTL fire crackled out at the nearest outworld and the asteroid stations.

Some small ships out there, freighters and transports, escort corvettes - the smaller ships of the squadron could be detached to deal with them, and lay siege to the outworlds.

Would that draw the rebel heavies in their direction? Lennart hoped so, knew that his own nav team would be plotting microjumps out there as a matter of routine.

Of the three primary targets, the two large rebel ships and the main world itself, One and Indivisible - the Lucrehulk - was in orbit - no, actually anchored to a skyhook.
As conversions, and huge ships with a lot of space to play with, there were so many variants - scan called this one a late model combat carrier. Fairly impressive; a worthwhile target. Her powerplant was spiking as she ran up to full output, very fast reactions over there. One to watch. The skyhook, though, was inherently more vulnerable.

This would be the first test in combat of the new axial battery; the structure was there to take the load, the field generators were all in place and functioning, but it was still fresh pants on standby status. The Lucrehulk would manage partial shielding before the ship’s fire could reach her, the hook wouldn’t. Overkill time - the three huge four hundred and eighty teraton guns cracked out one shot each, everyone involved with their fingers crossed.

The ship shook, and one of the displays flickered, but a sequence of three forest green tracer lashed out downrange.

‘Good. Roll us to bear, main guns single shot and target match your yields, LTL change target, mainworld, priorities for both shield generators, ion cannon, light turbolasers, heavy turbolasers in that order.’

The object was to render the planet vulnerable and exposed to further attack. Killing the light turbolasers before the heavies - Lennart had faith in his own ship’s footwork, they could evade enough of the main defence batteries’ fire, but the smaller craft he was less sure of.

'Heavy axials, your target is the One and Indivisible,’ Lennart stopped before he could give a fire order. The thing was just sitting there. Playing chicken, to all intents and purposes. If the Empire wanted the planet intact, he couldn’t afford to go around making half-petaton holes in the landscape - bold to the point of insanity. ‘Shoot once it has cleared the silhouette of the planet.’

The gunnery liaison on the bridge parsed that into an order, transmitted it.

Black Prince turned to bear, and sprayed out shot after shot, a sparkling green bridge of tracer extending towards the planet.

Bridge? Too friendly, insufficiently aggressive an image. Then again, hadn’t that been part of very early artillery terminology? Being ‘shot into’ a position, on a pont au feu - a bridge of fire to get the men over the obstacles. That fitted.

Hyperspace scanners picked up the first return fire coming their way. Predicted endpoints - all around them. A loose barrage-cone, the rebels’ best chance to score some hits. Black Prince could take what was coming, but it was beyond the surge capacity of the frigates, beyond the total load of the corvettes.

Another good reason to detach them to pursue a secondary target.
Blackwood, you’re subformation leader. Hit planet III, maximum burn out of the cone of incoming fire then dogleg. Their smaller craft, and that could be anything up to line destroyer, will probably bounce you. Be ready.’

To Brenn, he added ‘Set up a nav solution for wave two, running update - use Blackwood’s location as the end point, double usual safety offset.’ The fighter wing bridge liaison was instructed, ‘Pattern Delta, variant three. Target mainworld.’

That was an essentially cylinder-shaped attack, the fighter wing fanning out to avoid fire directed at the ship and moving forward to englobe the target. Variant three was to lead with the fighters, bombers relatively close behind, to draw defending fighters out and destroy them.

They would be striking at the same targets the main batteries were; Lennart expected to have to pull his guns off the planet and engage warship targets well before they got there.

He accelerated Black Prince outsystem at a tangent to the planet, passing out of as much of the cone of fire as possible and rolling to keep the fire arc open. Shielding down there was starting to come on line, but it would not have built up to full strength, nothing like. Possibly enough to stop light turbolaser fire, though.

‘LTL, change target, One and Indivisible. He’s inviting us in, he’s refusing to come out and fight. He knows that we have him in a foul position. He’ll raise shields and shelter under the planetary defence until something happens to distract us. Could be worth a fighter strike - thinking of that, helm, sell them a dummy, down twenty starboard thirty, hold that for eight seconds then resume normal evasion. These fabian tactics begin to irritate me,’ Lennart said.

‘Could they be doing something as simple as waiting for orders?’ Brenn speculated. ‘Command absent or dithering, so the bridge team spool the ship up fast but there’s no-one with the authority to actually take her out to fight?’

‘Tempting, but a damn dangerous assumption to base our approach on. Guns, hold fire on her now, keep stripping away the planetary defences, and let’s see how she reacts to having the skyhook shot out from under her,’ Lennart decided.

‘First of our shot will hit in three seconds,’ Rythanor announced. ‘Looks good.’

Hyperwave scanners, instantly responsive, registered the impact of the first shots two minutes before the light could reach them. From that account, it was going to be a hell of a fireworks show.

The skyhook had managed to raise partial shielding, which had been a mistake - it meant that it absorbed all three half- petaton hits and erupted along the upper two thirds of its length.

The planet itself - there were gaps in the defence net anyway, things removed and sold off long ago, torn down by the rebels to relocate to other bases; time to a firing position where they could hit the Lucrehulk without turning the planet behind it into a cinder from near misses and overpenetrations?
Time to exploit those gaps, burn them large enough to go in after it? It was a ridiculously large piece of live bait, after all. Lennart wanted to tear the holes in the planetary defence net open wide enough to force the rebs to come out to meet him, not to go in and get shredded by what there was left of it.

Rythanor turned round to report, saw the captain was looking intent over his shoulder and was aware of it anyway. Ion drive flares; One and Indivisible was moving at last.
One hundred and thirty seconds from anchored and taking on freight to clearing the dockside? Helped slightly by the fact that the dockside had ceased to exist, of course.

‘Guns, port - no, Starboard-2 switch to flak bursts, lay a shot on it every twenty seconds.’ Probably not enough to stop it trying to launch fighters, as a continual blizzard of explosions would have, but enough to cook a lot of them.

The first shots from the planetary defence guns were starting to arrive, now. If the spreading stream of fire from Black Prince was a bridge, the converging effect of the defence batteries was a sandstorm of red and orange.

The light guns had reacted fastest, but it was near the limit of effective range for dual purpose turbolasers firing from or through an atmosphere. Good enough for their light guns to hit fighters, though, one reason Lennart had got his away so quickly, and good enough for his to do counterbattery on their light guns.

The heavies were pounding the planet as well, and scoring hits; there were four iridescent purple-blue mushroom shaped explosions where nodes of the shield network had been destroyed. Not mushroom clouds, they were inevitable and there would be enough of those later anyway, but as the shield generators were hit and destroyed, that release of energy came flooding out of the partially spread surface of the shield bubble.

Damn the Force for its inconvenience, Lennart thought, I think I can actually hear the planet screaming. Not the rebels, the world itself.

If it was, small wonder. Even on a precisely targeted fire plan - and the gun crews were doing a superb job - there were still hundreds of teratons a minute being pounded into Ord Corban. It would be another hundred seconds before it became clear to the telescopic eye, but the hyperwave could detect and the ship’s computers infer from that what was happening.
The planet’s surface would be rippling, earthquake after earthquake, some of them the small and local concussions of TL hits, but at least two triggered fault lines.

The green flowers of impact would become less and less clear through a grey-brown haze of dust and atmospheric ejecta. The oceans wouldn’t have started boiling off, not yet. A few more petatons for that.

And this was an aimed, necessary-force fire plan, against legitimate military targets.

The destruction of which was, in itself, a visual spectacle worth paying attention to. The green flare was followed by a white aftershock of the target detonating, which faded to a white-hot molten glow surrounded by a literal ring of fire, once the radiation intensities from the hit faded to a temperature at which chemistry was possible. Whatever they hit, if it didn’t burn, it was vapourised down to its constituent elements, and then the vapour burned.

The planet’s atmosphere would be absolutely foul, but the planetary facilities would survive a near miss, or this kind of punishment to the world around them. There would be enough left to drop troops on, when it came to that.

‘We’re doing too well, we shouldn’t be doing this much damage, this soon,’ Lennart said, hauling himself back from sightseeing mode to the situation at hand.

‘We’re beyond normal effective aimed fire range. By the book they would have expected us to manoeuvre closer, before springing any ambush.’ Brenn pointed out.

In theory, aim a jump far enough outsystem to avoid giving warning from bow shock, and the normal-space emissions would give you away anyway. Arrive close enough to have no realspace warning, and anyone worth the effort of attacking would have sensors to spot the bow shock and have shields and weapons up and ready.
The solution was a radically irregular hyperspace path in, waving your course track across the sky drastically enough to give warning to everyone but the target. It placed a lot of stress on the ship, another reason why wave one had been the high-acceleration ships, they were built to withstand that kind of punishment.

‘Emerging this far away to draw them out, then jumping something in planetward for hammer and anvil, out here where we have room to fight? The problem with inflicting confusion on the enemy,’ Lennart said in his lecturing voice, for the benefit of the bridge crew, ‘is it makes the part of your own plan where you have to predict what the enemy thinks they’re trying to do into a cast-durelium bitch…is that the first of the heavy shot coming our way now?’

‘Yes, Captain,’ Rythanor confirmed.

The incoming fire display showed the light guns sending wavering streams of tracer, hosing on and off target, but the first of the multi-teraton defence batteries, slower to get into action, just getting their bolts out to them now. Black Prince was in the fringes of the shot pattern, evading from entry proving valuable after all.

‘Helm, we’ll take this clump of shot bows on,’ Lennart drew a highlight around one cluster of bolts, ‘then I want a base course track like this.’ Tracing it on the display, the computer taking account of the ship’s velocity and delta-V, adjusting it back towards the possible.
Not that it needed much in the way of revision, it was a feasible, arguably necessary move. Ride out the first close smear of shot then break outwards to the edge of the barrage pattern, and spiral inwards around it towards the planet.

Subject, of course, to modifications. Once they realised the blind barrage was largely ineffectual, the rebels, such of them as were left, would start playing the great old gunnery guessing game. Predicting his location on the basis of his intentions, and firing concentrated salvos at that point, as he tried to guess where they would fire and be anything but there. Lennart had lost rounds, even sets, but never the game. Not yet.

‘I suppose it’s possible that this might hurt…’ Lennart said, again for the benefit of the bridge crew. ‘Deflectors eighty forward.’ The shields shifted to meet the attack as the first rebel heavy shot rolled in.

Planetary defence came in many forms, most of them driven far more by politics and the contrary forces of penny-pinching and paranoia than any real need or rational threat analysis. Virtually every civilised world worthy of the name had shields that could take a stray burst from freighter and liner ion drives, which would do to withstand LTL if it came to that.

Above that, the sky was the limit, up to and including ultraheavy shielding like Alderaan’s, which was designed to survive the heaviest attack anyone thought feasible, a battle squadron of ten Mandator dreadnoughts unloading on it at full power for ten hours. Correction; had been designed.

Defensive firepower was much more variable. A former fleet base would have been designed to be a match for the heaviest ships it was intended to protect. That would have been, in theory, a medium cruiser.

Sixteen batteries, common buried command centre and dispersed, robust sensors serving three ball-turret four hundred teraton heavy turbolasers, spaced twenty to forty kilometres apart with point defence around each. Being a planet, half of those could bear on any given target.

Twenty array batteries, each of twelve forty teraton heavy turbolasers, again, half of which could bear.

Lennart wasn’t worried too much about the forties. His ship could take that, had done so before; it would take a lot of concentrated hits to get through the shielding. The four hundreds could prove a problem.

The first splash of fire burnt through the space around his ship; two small twitches, concussions as one shot hit on the port side of the superstructure, one aft and starboard.

Not bad shooting, but not a problem yet.

If they couldn’t put enough fire from those things into Black Prince at this range fast enough to overload the shields, and unless Lennart was spectacularly stupid and allowed his ship to be hit they couldn’t, then they had to either move the planet to him - which was not entirely ridiculous but certainly beyond the means of the rebellion - or get him to come closer.

Which he would have thought One and Indivisible was doing, but for the absurdity of being prepared to sacrifice a medium cruiser to kill a destroyer. They had to hope for extraordinary luck with the bigger guns, or they had to come out to meet him.

And damn the Force again, for trying to think of ways it could make itself useful. Although to call the Jedi to mind, not many of them would have said what amounted to ‘neener neener neener’, even if projective telepathy did work that way.

‘Fighters coming up, lining up to microjump out to us, five or six squadrons, exit point - hmph,’ Rythanor gave a little grunt of amusement as he marked their point of emergence on the main tactical map. Predicted position from where Black Prince had been two hundred seconds ago - right in the middle of the cone of fire.

‘So there were failures of coordination on the rebel side from the word go,’ Lennart said, thinking about it. ‘let the fighters emerge, let them take losses, then pull the LTL on to them once they’ve managed to form up and made themselves a nice compact target again.’

Gunnery acknowledged, then there was a kick on the port side over the extension. One of the four-hundreds had got lucky. No penetration, no bleed through, a lot of heat to be got rid of.

If they had made the standard approach to an undistinguished planet, that the standard defence setup was intended to face, they would have come out at one light second. That was close enough to the planet that bow shock would have given the defenders enough warning to raise theatre shields and arm guns. Then they would have commenced a fairly predictable run in, straight and level to release fighters and dropships.
A well drilled defence force could have managed an eighty plus percent hit rate under those conditions, and a standard Imperator class destroyer would have been lucky to last twenty seconds.

Against Third Superiority, they must have been either very startled, so much so they only got a few batteries into action, not possible considering the ambush, or they had actually been shooting to cripple and capture. Fist had been truly fortunate to make it out. Either that or Tevar was better at the footwork than she realised. There was some revenge to be had there, too; how soon to bring them in?

Assume the rebel trap had already failed, bring the entire squadron in to pound the planet? Rely on 851 as backup to cover what else may happen?

Peltast, Daring, Speaker, Varangian and Tigress were within reach. Tector, Allegiance, Imperator-II, Venator, Imperator-I in that order. A lot of firepower, and a lot of men hungry for action and advancement too. Arguably, he was letting his own squadron down by failing to secure as much of the glory was possible for them. Although that was more like counting reptavians before they hatch.

Careful, he warned himself. If they’re trying to lure me into a false sense of security in turn, then they could be doing a much worse job. And absolutely, above all, ignore that surge of triumphalism that came from the dark side.

Black Prince was in what her helm control team unofficially called reluctant film star mode; an unrolling red carpet spread out beneath her, which she was doing everything possible to avoid having to walk down.

The heavies were a deeper, more crimson red, beautiful in its own terrifying way. Looking ahead, down the hyperwave’s advance scan, the focus of fire wobbled, billowed, narrowed and darted to one side - that was the dummy, and it took them well clear.

Too much shot in the air to evade on an individual basis, and even their ‘towed array’ - the hyperspace orbiting scanner - was now coming close to being washed out - part of that was jamming, too. Relatively light fire pattern, starting to slacken considering so many of the defences had been hit, but, what was their jamming intended to achieve? Especially timed to coincide with…

‘Helm, take us across this track here,' Back into the fire, skimming the edges of the concentrated stream.

Brenn looked at him, Lennart could hear the wheels of his mind turn, then he said ‘You really think they’re that good?’

‘Well, it’s about time they showed some evidence of competence.’

The destroyer curved back along the column of crimson and scarlet, five red flowers on the outer hull of bolt impacts being partially deflected, four forties and a four hundred. Painful, but compared to what they had already dealt out, trivial. Lennart glanced at the shield status board; ray shields had equalised from the forward-heavy setup, back to a more even, and more tactically appropriate, spread. Good. That was what he had been about to order, anyway.

This was what it was all about, the intelligent anticipation, everyone knowing their part and able to count on each other to do theirs in turn, the collective machine, the finely honed skill that made the ship what it was.

In fact, right now the least trustworthy part of the system was himself. Was there any possibility the Force was leading him into error? That he was overestimating his opponent, or just plain wrong? It was certainly possible that he could waste enough time second-guessing himself enough to put the ship in danger.

An entire planet is shooting at me, Lennart thought, and I’m wondering where the nearest psychiatrist’s couch is. Well, it’s not as if they’re doing a particularly good job of it.

The superluminal sensor picture was blurring and clearing, fading in and out as the control team gained and lost ground against the planetary ECM. Lennart turned to look at the gunnery liaison, said, ‘Do something about that, would you?’

Gunnery were already bumping up the planet’s antenna grids on the target priority list, before he had finished saying it.

Lennart had been a passenger on board ‘The Old Warhorse’- HIMS Guarlara- transferring from one staff command to another once, eighteen years ago, and it had been one of the eeriest experiences of his life.

Utter, total, absolute silence on the bridge. A look, a gesture, a nod, a raised eyebrow - attention was drawn and orders were given without a single word being spoken. The bridge team had been drilled that well, knew each others’ minds that thoroughly.

It had been an inspiration, but to try to follow that example would have led Lennart right back to the psychiatrist’s couch. Kriff, it had taken him years to get his crew to the opposite state, where he could say something that imprecise and they could extract his intention from it, and use their own judgement as to how to implement it.

‘Skipper, One and Indivisible is warming up her hyperdrive,’ Cormall reported, in one of the moments of clarity.

‘What does Blackwood’s sensor picture look like?’ Lennart asked.

‘She’s in the fringes of the cone of jamming as well, doesn’t have our power, they are, wait, tentative contacts, bowshock focused on them, multiple, probable frigate class. We show two,’ Rythanor reported from the master station.

‘Brenn, nav course to support Blackwood?’ Lennart asked. This would have to be done fast, more shell game than leapfrog.

‘We jump to support them against this pair, One and Indivisible jumps us, that’s their plan?’

‘I do believe so,’ Lennart said. No, wait, plan B. The bridge team saw him thinking. ‘Do you have a course set for Ord Corban?’

‘Place the endpoint,’ Brenn said, calling it up.

Lennart dotted the pointer in place, on the night side where their vector would carry them on past the world, a crossing target. ‘Initiate.’

Black Prince leapt into hyperspace again, a short hop - now this was what you could call ripping the tiger’s tonsils out. “Gravity well” was an inherently fuzzy concept. “Inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them”- there was no edge and no end.
Practically speaking, what mattered was the ability of the ship’s tensor and stasis fields to overcome the stress that accelerating tachyonically under tidal pull placed on the ship.

This was going to be rough. Fun, but rough. Black Prince plunged deeper into the system’s gravity well - a huge number of prayers suddenly offered up to deities of excrement and durasteel - emerged, a sprawling, off centre blue-white flare, a mere two planetary diameters from Ord Corban.

Less journey time than it took a rebel signal-interpreter to boggle at her board and yell, ‘What in the name of the Force are they doing?’

‘Guns…’ Lennart said, watching the main sensor board pull itself back together. That had been the point of the exercise. Clear line of sight to One and Indivisible. The Lucrehulk’s entire underside was a mix of half-molten and carbon black where the skyhook had gone up, a few patches where local shields had been active and had held. That would soon change.

‘…converged sheaf, my mark. Fire.’

Over the engine bells. One time - on-target hammerblow, a single three thousand, four hundred and eighty-eight teraton strike. The rebel ship’s shield took the first impact, but there were power surges through its hull as it strained to do so.

Helm slid Black Prince away from the inevitable rebel reaction as the planetary defence batteries reoriented themselves, sideslipping and counter-rolling to maintain alpha.

The second full converged salvo burned into the same shield panel, and while the generators tried to mutually reinforce each other, tried to share the load, they failed.

That was beyond even single shot battleship firepower, it was beyond the usual simultaneous-impact fire of any line or light destroyer, it was enough to cause an electrical explosion that ripped plating off the aft of the ship and a trail of burnt, ionising air and vapour.

‘Captain, Blackwood wants Voracious’ wingco shot and tried in that order. Says he’s opened fire on him,’ Rythanor reported.

Lennart glanced at the main board; there were indeed torpedoes in the air, heading in the rough general direction of the light forces wave one. ‘Most of the fighters following him are ours, trust them,’ Lennart said.

The third salvo - a little longer to charge - crashed out. One and Indivisible was in the middle of her run to hyperspace entry; under tachyonic drive, main engines no longer essential. Which was just as well, considering two of them were destroyed by the impact of the green wall of bolts.

Four impacts on Black Prince’s belly, three forties and a four hundred. They were close enough to the planet for proper aimed fire - in both directions; Lennart looked to helm and nodded. They flared the engines, surge forwards and roll port, reverse roll and spin port to maintain bearing, yaw on to target.

The planet was a mess. At this range, it was possible to see what a disaster they had made of it; there would be no-one going for R&R on those beaches for a long, long time. It was, however, still more or less functional as a military base, and even if it could no longer properly defend itself, it could try to take them with it.
Run the rope out as far as they could, get some fire in, then move clear before the planetary defence started lobbing eight petaton converged sheaves back at Black Prince.

‘Skipper, what about-‘ Rythanor said, again; Lennart knew the sensor board was about to provide its own answer.

One and Indivisible made a clumsy exit from hyperspace, in ambush position on a ship that wasn’t there any more, ready to support the emerging Munificent-class frigate and MC40 attempting to engage Light Forces Detachment One.
There was a second slight drawback to the rebel plan; their Lucrehulk had a salvo of antiship torpedoes headed up its backside.

‘You realised he had planned that?’ Brenn asked Lennart, trying not to be too surprised.

‘I thought that was what he had in mind, yes,’ Lennart replied, coolly.

‘Do you think we should have Vehrec tested for Force sensitivity as well? Might take some of the heat off you,’ Brenn said.

‘Kriff, no, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, it was just intelligent anticipation.’ Lobbing a torpedo salvo, on IFF homing, at the space where you suspected an enemy ship was going to emerge from hyperspace, was a neat stunt if it worked.

At least, Lennart profoundly hoped Vehrec had remembered to call for torps on IFF only homing.

‘Speaking of intelligent anticipation, and heat,’ Lennart said, looking at the image of the planetary defence batteries turning to bear. One of them vanished in green fire as it was on screen, but there would be others.

‘Clear, or to target?’

‘Clear,’ Lennart decided. ‘Call in wave two on the One and Indivisible. We move to open space on overwatch and then, when the rebels react to wave two, we move to intercept whatever that is.’

Brenn announced ‘Point Delta’, and Black Prince leapt to hyperspace, for the fourth time that day.

‘Captain, engineering would like to remind you that you’re burning energy as if it was going out of fashion, and rebel deliveries to us really aren’t sufficiently dependable,’ the engineering officer detailed as bridge contact man looked up and said.

‘Tell Mirannon, I can arrange for him to trade the rebel chief engineer’s problems for his own if he likes,’ Lennart bounced back, grinning. ‘Galactic Spirit, I love this job.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 04:01pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-06-02 10:06am

Chapter 33c

The waiting ships of Wave Two - most of them still trying to work out what that meant - did have some sensor feedback from the other craft of wave one, in addition to what their own hyperspace sensors could tell them.
‘In case I forget,’ Lennart had told Kovall on the Blackwood, who realised that meant ‘In case I’m too busy and/or dead to order it.’ So the second wave were mostly getting their tactical picture from the recon variant strike cruiser. And boggling at it.

‘Well, we should move in now, if only to relieve him. Captain Lennart’s obviously completely lost his mind and thinks he’s flying a TIE fighter,’ was Fist’s navigator’s opinion.

‘Maybe so, but it seems to work for him,’ Tevar pointed out. The mood on her improvised emergency bridge was sour, at best. She would have thought ‘foul’, but that brought the walls to mind. They were in what had been Damage Control bunker Dorsal-140, the main maintenance and repair centre for the bridge tower and its electronics. It had seemed an efficient shortcut at the time; instead of moving the equipment to the problem, move the problem to the equipment. Less awkward than trying to run her ship from gunnery control again, the space simply wasn’t up to it - too busy, too crowded with other things, other noise.

So here they were in a cramped, but at least armoured-walled space, a rough replica of a starship’s bridge, airlock unclosable because of all the hastily laid cables connecting the desks and vidpanels to the ship’s main computer net. It was claustrophobic, but then claustrophobia seemed to fit the bill now.

‘He can’t do that!’ Tevar’s navigator expostulated. ‘It’s simply not possible. You cannot handle a capital ship like that.’

‘Evidently, he can. Engines?’ Tevar said, meaning the engineering liaison to the bridge.

‘Well, it’s not mechanically impossible. A ship with that loading and structural uncertainty being handled like that, though - she should get pulled in for major refit, and a court of inquiry for her captain for half tearing her guts out. It can be done, but not without consequences,’ the engineer said.

‘He doesn’t seem too worried about consequences,’ Tevar said, nodding at the sensor table and meaning Lennart.

‘A crew prepared to take that flying scrapheap into action would have to be capable of anything,’ the engineering liaison said. He stopped himself just sort of asking the question that was on all their minds - what the kriff they were doing there.
They hadn’t been present for Lennart’s discussion - bombshell, really; also hadn’t spent two hours on the com to their parents asking them to confirm, to fill in the blanks, and what to do next.

In theory it was culpably disloyal to do anything of the sort; for an Imperial officer to solicit the private opinion of any civilian, however well connected and however closely related, on how they were to go about fulfilling their duty was not permitted. Worse, it was a sign of weakness that an ambitious crew would take advantage of, although she wasn’t overly worried about that now. She didn’t think anyone was crazy enough to want to be in the hot seat.
It had been useful. She had tried not to worry her mother and father, tried not to make it sound as if she was saying, or even thinking loudly, goodbye. They were going to be busy enough dodging assassins.

What they had been able to tell her tended to confirm Lennart’s story, out of sector interests - outer rim thugs and core world money - long on resources and short on compassion. Bribery and assassination, blackmail and sabotage, very fast and very dirty. Individuals were discredited, family names dragged through the mud, dirty secrets dug up. Shamelessly populist and power-hungry, they soon had the majority of the people baying for the blood of the old ruling class, and all done with the full panoply of the New Order.

Some of the accusations were true, of corruption within and conspiring against the Senate, aid given to the Separatists back in the war and associations against the Empire. Some of them were entirely unbelievable of course, but all of them, even - no, especially the unbelievable ones, ‘they’ had managed to find evidence to hold up in court.

The old ruling families had not gone quietly. House Tevar had fought in the invisible war, won a few battles, lost a few; the family portfolio was thinner than it had been, and there were two uncles no-one ever spoke of any more.

There had also nearly been a fiance. It would have been an arranged marriage to a potential ally, one of the few honest believers in the New Order to arrive in sector, an ISB Special Investigator and anticorruption crusader who was starting to make a name for himself, and trouble for his bosses. Hjalmar Amarin, foully murdered by ‘revanchists’; some parts of him had never turned up, although his colleagues had each been sent a lobe of his brain, and his genitals had been posted to her mother. Her family had not sworn revenge, war of the knife and to the bitter end; that would have been nothing but complicated mass suicide.

They were not great enough to be worth exterminating root and branch, they had at least had the chance to swallow their pride, and had officially made their peace with the new powers of the sector. They had hidden what they could and took what steps were available to safeguard what was not, such as steering a daughter of the house into a navy command.

That and worm away, rebuild power and contacts and prepare for a chance at revenge.

Which, thanks to the madman who was now throwing his starship around as if she was a fighter, was now a distinct possibility. Her parents were going to be very busy over the next few days. She, at least, was going to be very busy for the next few minutes. After that, everything got uncertain.

One thing Lennart had said that did stick in her mind: throw the peacetime system away. You are not flying a capital ship. Worst mistake - and believe me, there’s a lot of competition - that Tarkin ever made, he had said.

Small scale system should have been abolished with prejudice and that should have been hammered into BOSS’s heads with, well, with hammers. Bureau of ships and services, gang of rat-bastard inbred yokel bureaucrats, how much worse a combination could there be?

Anyway, Fist isn’t a battleship, or a carrier, or an assault ship, or a multirole cruiser, or any such nonsense, he had said. She’s a line destroyer, a heavy skirmisher with speed a weapon and a defence. Handle her like a battleship, a big, slow stable gun platform, and you’re doomed, manoeuvre and you might survive.

Which he was demonstrating, in spades. Black Prince was in far better shape than she appeared under the skin. Tevar watched the action play itself out, the dash out of the cone of fire, the mottled ship playing with the rebel barrage, dancing in and out of the fringes and taunting them. The flagship took a few hits, nothing desperate, only four or five heavies, which compared to the fire she was spitting out, was nothing. Impressive. Not the easiest example to follow, stuck here in the bowels of a damaged ship now going back to beg for more.

The light forces she watched shake themselves out into formation, the recon conversion Strike frigate and the two Fulgur in arrowhead. They moved, accelerating out of the shower of energy bolts - the rebels could have scored if they’d followed them up, but they hadn’t, foolishly choosing to fire on a target that could withstand their shot.

The rebels arrived, two frigates, the old Munificent and an MC40. In theory, it was an even match in terms of tonnage and raw power. In practise, a heavy and a medium frigate against a medium and two light frigates, two heavy two medium and three light corvettes - interestingly asymmetric.

The rebels were probably wrong to rely on a Munificent, especially one that was being handled was if it was a large ship. Further illustration of the principle.
They were in a good initial position but a bad vector, with the Imperial ships receding rapidly from them, and alerted. The old Clone War frigate carried two eighty-teraton turbolasers and enough lighter guns to push the single salvo firepower up near that of a Meridian, but they had made a lot of tradeoffs to get there. They gave up a lot of damage tolerance with that hollow, bitty hull, they didn’t carry enough power generation to get anything like the same rate of fire out of their heavy guns, and worst from the rebel point of view, the structural strength the open hull gave away limited its maximum acceleration.

In a way, it was very characteristically Rebel, trying to do hit and run in a ship that couldn’t run, and handled like it was half shot already. Mind you, that led to thoughts about how often they got away with it.

In theory, the slowest ships in the strike line had an eight hundred and fifty ‘g’ advantage - and the fastest a twenty-one hundred ‘g’ edge. They could treat it as if it was standing still. Detached Forces Wave One took full advantage of that, accelerating into the attack and firing a narrow basket - a small grouped, coordinated area shoot, converging on the Rebel flagship.

The MC-40 moved away from its partner to avoid getting caught in the crossfire, but it could only lay sixteen guns on target, and chose the wrong one by shooting for Blackwood.

The Imperial medium frigate was, in theory, outclassed. In practise, Kovall took his ship out of the group, accelerating away at a tangent, varying thrust randomly, twisting and rolling, trying to force the rebels away from a consistent stream of fire to an open sheaf shoot that she could take relatively easily.

Provided it wasn’t a full power shot from one of the eighties that connected.

The rebel gunnery was a little better than the Imperial, but the Imperials had a much easier target - advantage the Empire’s green cone of light against the scarlet line the Rebels were drawing on the sky. If the rate of shield depletion was a guide, the rebels were going to lose.

Then things got very strange indeed, as the wave of Imperial fighters, detached on their own target, stood on their tails and fired a torpedo salvo at the Imperial flotilla. Fortunately, no-one had time to say or do anything that would later prove to have been embarrassingly silly, because then the obvious target emerged, one slightly singed and somewhat dented Lucrehulk.

That was when Wave Two’s order to commit came through.

The drop point in the accompanying data was close to Wave One, close enough for mutual support to begin with, low and on the bow of the rebel ship; did she have a useful alternative? Anything to add? To calculate an alternative entry would take two minutes, at least. Valuable time.

Tevar was the ranking officer of the wave, a commander on Perseverance, a senior lieutenant of all things on Voracious. This part of the battle belonged to her.

For a moment, the thought occurred to her to take this lot, these ships away, and go and pursue the Moff and his friends, go and rescue her parents. Only for a moment. Even if they would follow her, there was the fact that the Moff was next on the hit list.

Still - one transport. Her personal shuttle, with a picked unit - headquarters guard team. That, she could spare. Surely it was not beyond the bounds of duty to safeguard the lives of two valuable members of the notability of the sector, even if they did happen to be her own kin.

She gave the order quickly, then added, ‘On the flag’s course, initiate.’

One and Indivisible was not having a good battle, so far. Ambushed, dock shot out from under her, and then with the base’s computers she had plotted a jump out to try to get the drop on the Imperial destroyer. They had expected Lennart to jump inwards, they had been prepared for that much. What they had thought was that the Imperial ship would be slower to calculate and slower to manoeuvre.

The aim was to catch Black Prince as she was committed to jumping in, get a minute or so free and clear to pound the smaller ship, and then if that was not enough catch her in crossfire with the planet’s defence guns.

Instead, the Imperial ship had been faster, had hit them - hard - and then manoeuvred clear, leaving them with nothing in range but a handful of slippery-difficult light ships to target.

Engines damaged, it could not pursue, but powerplant and weapons were fine. No issues there. Just an enormous weight of fire, weapons fit to match the planet below, concentrated and coordinated.

The light force elements had scattered as the cruiser had emerged; corvettes and frigates had no business getting into a stand-up fight with anything that big.

Lennart had taken - no, had made - the one chance that the smaller units needed by maiming the cruiser too badly to let it pursue them.

They could out-accelerate the One and Indivisible by twenty-five kilometres per second per second, and almost all had the sense to do exactly that, opening the range and radically zig-zagging to avoid the howling walls of red light coming from the cruiser.

It was no unitary big gun ship, vaguely symmetrically laid out but a mosh of twenty-fives, thirties, forties, fifties and fifty-sixes, seventies and eighties, one-twenties, one-fifties and one-eighties, two hundreds and two hundred thirties. They seemed to have a few each of most of the heavy turbolaser models made. More than enough power to put behind them, though.

The Fulgurs’ turrets were carried on the widest points of their hull, and could bear aft. Blackwood and the two Carracks had limited aft fire, the Bayonets had almost none. What harrassing fire they could give to cover their retreat, they did.

The first casualty was the Iron Turnip, a victim of her commander’s enthusiasm. The Bayonet class medium corvette had tried to yaw to return fire, open her broadside and bow arcs on the ‘filled doughnut’ of the Lucrehulk.

Lennart and Kovall both commed her commander, one to tell him to get back in formation, one to order him to keep running.

Two inaccurate volleys from a rapidly banking ship were all the Turnip got off, as it tried to prolong the burn back into a course away - but for that time, she was a relatively stable target.

The first glancing hit was from a 120- teraton turbolaser, and blew out the shields with a huge, chemical looking explosion of vapourised durasteel from the little ship’s belly. Crippled and drifting, a handful of life pods made it out before a pair of eighties scored a direct hit. Gone.

One of the Marauders made the mistake of trying to deploy her fighter squadron. TIE/Ln and Bombers, incapable of jumping in. With bombs and antiship torpedoes, they probably were the most effective weapon available to the little ship, but now was not the time.

The inevitable happened - forced to choose between running a straight course for deployment and an evasive pattern for survival, something went wrong.
One of the /sa bombers, freshly deployed, found its parent ship forced to break off and evade, turning right into it. The Marauder was more than 400 ‘g’ faster than the bomber, and ran it down - one of the bombs prematured.
Between the damage and the confusion, the Marauder ceased evading long enough for a 50-teraton bolt to catch it and flash it to vapour, too.

That was the end of the first phase, the mad scramble clear when all of the Imperial ships could be engaged.

Now it was time for the Rebel gunnery officer to collect the batteries back into a coherent fire plan, and eliminate the scattered Imperial light forces while Nav worked out a pursuit plan for that damned destroyer.

Just the right time for three Imperial destroyers to emerge from hyperspace, then.

Fist, Perseverance, Voracious and their escorts flashed back to baryonic space in the planned position, fifty thousand kilometres distant from One and Indivisible, turning as it did had put them behind and below.

‘Away retrieval tugs and shuttles,’ Caliphant remembered to order. He got blank, disbelieving looks from most of the bridge team. ‘Oh, yes. Fire.’

All three destroyers had a shot at the already damaged section, and decided to take it. The distance was too short for the rebel to react, it tried to twist out of the way and expose fresh shields and gun batteries - not fast enough.

The Imperial ships all fired in their own styles, Fist in controlled three-gun salvos, Perseverance in solid block salvos, Voracious in a continuous sequential fire.

In its own way, a Lucrehulk was as exoskeletal as her smaller confederation relatives, built around her long curving hangars each capable of holding tens, hundreds of thousands of droid fighters - far more small craft than the Alliance could ever hope to find crews for.
Whoever had refitted this example had been well aware of that, and had chosen to fill the innermost staging hangars with structural bracing and ablative-absorbent foamcrete. That was probably all that saved her, as the Imperial destroyers pounded in salvo after salvo. The Alliance cruiser twisted and bucked under the pounding, fireball after fireball splattering her port limb as she painfully tried to manoeuvre clear, and failed.

The port quarter prime shield generator was one of the casualties, converting a temporary gap in the defences into a permanent one.

The weapon galleries along the port side of the arc of the ship died or fell back on emergency power as the main power trunking was shattered, the incandescent flowers of vapourised metal almost hid the ship; eventually her frantically driven thrusters managed to swing the battered cruiser round far enough to cover the gap.

Not quite in time to forestall a wave of fighter torpedoes. Fired blind, they could not, could not possibly, have been targeted on a specific component, a specific weakness, in advance; just as well they didn’t need to be. Passively targeted, little advance warning, a ship under heavy attack from another quarter might be forgiven for missing the incoming. Were it not for the consequences.

In avoiding one threat, One and Indivisible turned directly into another. The gaping hole in the ship’s structure presented itself to the Imperial salvo, and they took full advantage.

Damage to sensors, power systems, weapon mounts - point defence did what it could, but that was hardly enough. Of the two hundred and fifty heavy warheads fired, a hundred and forty managed to detonate inside the ship.

The fireball burst out of the length of the port arm of the cruiser, the structural strengthening overwhelmed, the bays consumed in the rolling blast wave. Every joint, every weak point slashed open, and nine twentieths of the cruiser’s firepower and half her fighter complement obliterated.

The rebel ship benefited from one miracle when the after main sectional bulkhead held, but she needed more than that. Her situation, blind to one entire side of the sky and barely able to manoeuvre, could fairly be described as desperate.

The planetary defence batteries were too far away to offer anything except narrowly targeted fire which would almost certainly miss, or broad arc barrages which would inflict at least as much damage on the cruiser. Her own fighter complement could launch to try to hold the Imperial warships off - but they were going to have to face the sublight capable fighters pouring out of Fist and Voracious, and their escorts in wave two.

The MC-40 was facing down too much opposition. It could resort to maximum possible evasion, keeping Imperial eyes and guns on them and drawing fire off One and Indivisible, but throwing their own aim off so far that they had no chance to achieve anything.

The other choice was to slow down, evading less drastically and allowing their own fire a chance to achieve some damage. Unwisely, the rebel ship chose the second option.
That was exactly what the Imperial ships were wishing for. The rebel frigate intended to fire a brief, concentrated salvo out of all sixteen guns that could bear, against a ship small enough to actually take out, then go back to evasion. It got the first part right. The reb settled onto a shallow curve and hammered out a burst of red at the most effective target it could find, one of the two antifighter Lancers that had survived the previous battle along with Tevar.

The target was a little slow, a little dozy, nothing for its own guns to do yet so the Lancer’s crew weren’t fully alert. That made it a good target, and the stream of rebel shot burnt away the unfocused shielding, carved the aft end of the Imperial ship apart and opened up the main reactor.

Imperial return fire did nothing so elegant; then again, with twenty-three heavy and over two hundred medium turbolasers, it didn’t have to. Brute firepower was enough to pound down the Alliance ship’s shielding and rip the structure apart, leaving it a melted, broken wreck. Fair exchange for a Lancer.

That left the fifty or so smaller ships, between them the same firepower as a destroyer, free to concentrate on the Lucrehulk.

So far, the Imperial plan was working. With a crippled ship stranded in mid system and the planetary defences with a huge breach carved in them, the Rebellion’s options reduced to two:
The first one being, admit defeat. Accept the loss of Ord Corban and One and Indivisible, but refuse to incur further losses by reinforcing failure. They still had two large, valuable ships, what they had managed to strip already, and their most important gain, personnel who had had a chance to work with and learn on heavy shipyard equipment. It would be a severe but not total loss.

Option two, the one the Imperials were hoping for, was that the rebels were too badly stunned, too poorly coordinated and too fixated on their previous victory to realize actually what the situation was, and that they would reinforce. The locals certainly had no intention of stopping fighting; the maimed Alliance cruiser managed a half-turn, partly on steering thrusters and partly on recoil, rolling to present what batteries she could to the Imperial ships tearing into her. At that point, the Imperial plan, or lack of plan, became a problem. Coordination; what did they do now? Manoeuvre as a close line of battle, move out on independent vectors to englobe - and in either case, where to? Sweep round and head for the planet, burn to remain on station, holding point in the mid system, return to rendezvous point, what?

Blackwood compounded the problem by reporting incoming. Predicted drop point ten thousand kilometres sunward - along the threat axis - from the One and Indivisible.

Tevar was wrong; the ranking officer on station was actually Konstantin Vehrec. He knew what he intended to do; englobe and do as much damage as possible to the emerging rebels before they had time to work out where they were and what was going on. It was always dangerous, almost always more so than it needed to be, jumping into the middle of a fight. Emerging on the edge was a much sounder tactical option, most of the time.
It was definitely tempting, to detach some of the small craft with torpedoes to bounce the latest batch of rebels on entry, but he had a job to do, which was looking less like a planetary strike now than it was a planetary blockade.

Lycarin knew exactly what he wanted to do; go for the bold and brash, engage at close quarters. He accelerated towards the predicted emergence point.
Caliphant’s decision was informed by slightly more tactical subtlety. Voracious was inherently more fragile than the other two ships, although she could still hit hard. Taking account of both those things- ten degrees down and sixty degrees starboard, off the threat axis, avoid being led into a crossfire.

Tevar had the largest and most dangerous, also the most obviously damaged ship. She would be the obvious target.

The most effective thing she could do would be to take off at a tangent between that of Voracious and Perseverance, keeping close enough to both of them for mutual support, and until that threat did materialize keep firing on One and Indivisible.

Black Prince was monitoring the situation, and it was good, as far as it went. The flagship had a better read on the incoming, anyway.

‘This should be interesting - I wasn’t expecting that at this stage of the action. Right thing for them to do, though,’ Lennart said.

Brenn knew what was coming, and interrupted his commanding officer with the obvious answer to the obvious question; ‘Commit wave three now, let them deal with it.’

‘Leaving the last of the heavies to us. Seems to make sense,’ Lennart agreed.

The long range plot showed the full subsector. The approach path of the rebel ships was visible, as were the projected tracks of the other units of 851. They were on a converging spiral pattern, a classic hunter’s move spiralling in on Ord Corban, with a close pass at Iushnevan just in case. They were the final reserve. Might not be necessary. Hopefully.

‘Final drop point, formation centre…here,’ Lennart decided, marking the tactical map up. He chose a point on the opposite side from the direction Wave Two were manoeuvring in, cover their tails from the incoming Rebel strike. Thirty thousand kilometres off.

‘Send them out, and signal Perseverance, tell Lycarin to get the hair out of his arse and vector twenty degrees to starboard to cover Fist. He’s making far too easy a target of himself and that thing can still shoot, even if it can’t manoeuvre.’

By the time that order got to him, Commander Lycarin was only too happy to obey. He had made a mistake, and the splatter of turbolaser fire around his ship was hammering that in - his shields were already fully focused forward and having lumps carved out of them.

The rebel cruiser’s main reactor was shock damaged and unable to sustain full power, the secondary in the core ship was running on maximum rated, and the guns were taking as much of it as they could stand. The gunners were jittery, and their systems were not fully effective - Fist had the only really heavy ion cannon in the squadron, and she had been using them. The Lucrehulk was a big ship with a lot of mass, worse dead-weight that could be used to soak up an ion bolt.

They had made some difference, but not enough to save Perseverance from her commander’s gung-ho stupidity. His shields were coming apart, the rebel was only too happy to have something solid to shoot back at, even if their hit rate was low.

Black Prince’s wake-up call came just in time; Perseverance broke off the attack entirely, and threw the base course out of the window - wild swooping curves, maximum effort into evasion.

Perseverance could return fire with her missiles, over her shoulder - it was far from optimum but it was the best she could do. They made more difference by getting in the way of rebel shot than anything their hitting would achieve.

There was one saving factor; not all the Lucrehulk’s guns could bear on her. The hull form made it impossible, unlike their equivalents in size in the Imperial fleet they simply had no alpha arc. That left the rest of her guns free to spray fire at the smaller craft of the force.

Perseverance transferred shield focus aft, which saved her engines and bridge from being ripped apart- briefly; the light units didn’t have that much resilience to begin with.

The minelayer variant Strike, Havoc, caught a burst from the cruiser; a solid medium type, she could take about one and a half petatons total, any single hit of a hundred teratons would blow out a shield panel. Her shields flared out in one blaze of vapourised durasteel, and her bow blew apart. Havoc firewalled her engines and tried to manoeuvre; one more good reason for Black Prince being on overwatch - she could send the crippled ‘cruiser’ - medium frigate - an escape course. The maimed cruiser managed to run up to hyperspace, flashing past the crippled rebel and clear back to the initial rendezvous.

One tactical option closed down. It would have been useful to be able to mine the emergence point - and even now, perhaps they could learn from the rebels and do a distant ballistic drop. Let Havoc stabilise and do damage control before putting that one into practise.

The rebel gunners were still reacting to circumstances, still scattering fire across the Imperial squadron. If they had held the focus of fire on one ship after another, or two, they would have been able to do real damage and reduce their numbers much faster than one or two guns going after each Imperial. They didn’t.

On the other hand, the Lucrehulk, even in that state, still put out nine petatons a second. Wide, scattered fire still carried a lot of power. It could do damage. Enough to beat the imperial ships off before they could kill it? Probably not. Not without help. Which was on its way. Wave Two had relayed data from the flag and Blackwood, and their own sensors confirmed by acquiring the incoming thirty seconds out.

Two rebel major warships; they flashed back into realspace in close company, the Alliance regional support force MC-80 Mon Evarra, and the formerly Imperial star destroyer Reiver. Eight smaller ships with them, a Dreadnaught, an Acclamator, a Neutron Star, two Quasar Fire and four light corvettes.

Brenn noticed Lennart studiously refusing to take any special notice of the Mon Evarra. Which was odd, considering she was the ship Black Prince had been ambushed and heavily ionised by. The ship that had landed them in this sector, in this mess, in the first place.

‘Kor Alric’s going to be disappointed in you,’ he said to Lennart.

‘Specifically or in general? The rest of the squadron can handle them. Quick massed fire, knock them out then turn back on the cruiser. That,’ he said referring to the image of the last inbound on the main sector map, the former flagship of the Hundred and Eighteenth Republic Fleet, Admonisher, ‘is our personal prey.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 04:20pm, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-06-10 05:47pm

Phongn, this is your bit.

Iushnevan orbital space, His Imperial Majesty’s Starship Oyadan, Urbanus-class light cruiser.

Lieutenant-Commander Nguyen was sitting in the in-pit observer’s chair, overseeing his team as they calculated their way through a range of contingencies. He was not the ship’s capital-N navigator, but he was the senior ranking member of the branch currently on board, a circumstance which was really starting to worry him.

Oyadan was short-handed, had no mission, was just hanging there in orbit. That was a very strange state for the flagship of a sector fleet whose sector was exploding around it.

Working out the pattern of who was present and who was absent made things look even less above board.

He did not have the spotless record that might be expected for service aboard a fleet flagship. No military offences, not really, and very few political - well, none he had been caught for anyway.

He was a man with a family to support, and he had taken unofficial steps to help himself do that. Renting out his expertise, mainly - providing courses off the military map to civilian spacers, using the ship’s computers to calculate for them, under the pretence of training and exercise.

It was technically illegal, but it wasn’t really wrong, was it? Just a man with responsibilities, dodging his way through life, trying to support what sometimes felt like an entire ozark’s worth of in-laws.

There was an older standard, going back to the republic fleet when the amount of a spacer’s pay had been lower and the timing of it essentially random, when pretty much every man had been expected to make what of his opportunities he could. It only really counted as theft when a man took something that left his shipmates short, only really counted as corruption when he took more than his services were worth.

Lieutenant-Commander Nguyen was not quite up to regional or strategic force standards. He had never found occasion to take a destroyer through the Kessel run, never found himself having to turn off the computers and plot a course on a slide rule. He was well above average, though, and charged a fair rate for his services - or gratis, in the case of his youngest brother in law and his business partner, who thought they knew how to fly a light freighter and got lost with embarrassing frequency.

That and, when all was said and done, it was useful exercise, and it did help keep the department in practise. By any reasonable interpretation of the old standard, he was an honest man.

What was worrying him was how few of his shipmates could say the same. Good men - dull men maybe, but good men - had been transferred out to other ships and bases, given leave, or detached on unspecified duties, leaving Oyadan far below complement.

New men had been attached, some of whom he knew by reputation, and those reputations were not good.

Slave-drivers, some rumours said that was more than just a figure of speech; theft in the full sense of the term, open, hungry profiteering and bloody-minded ambition.
The ship’s gunnery officer had dodged three formal charges for lack of evidence, but it was morally certain he had a second career as a hypermatter salesman; the new chief engineer was known to regard multiple redundancy as an opportunity to make several profits on the black market; the deputy chief medic was widely rumoured to dispense more, and more entertaining, drugs than strict medical necessity would allow.

Nguyen was coming to the unpleasant realisation that he had fallen among thieves. Not only that, he had been mistaken by them for one of their own.

As far as he was concerned, his sideline was just that. It did not make him a criminal, didn’t affect his essential loyalties. He had met his future wife at agronomy college; his family were medical herb breeders, they did most of their farming with an eyedropper and a pair of tweezers. He hated the idea, endless fiddly little things, constant minute care, and repetitive.

His plan had been to get his bachelor’s, then apply to the Imperial Starfleet, try to get into life support if all else failed, but hopefully aim for exobiology, bio-survey work. He had got that far, but the Starfleet, in what passed for wisdom, put him through their own battery of aptitude tests and decided he would make a useful navigator, and trained him as such.

Given the choice of quitting and trying to put his qualifications to use, or going where destiny took him, he had thought about his wife’s kinfolk and decided to study hard about this hyperspace thing.

Not that they were bad people, as such; just that there were so incredibly many of them. Carys came from a relatively new- ettled agri-zoned world, big, wide open, more land and work to do than people. They bred big families, which each member in turn - the result was family trees that looked near-horizontal. She had three sisters and five brothers, and the smallest family any of them had married into was four strong.
If he had known what that meant, at the time…he would still have proposed to her, but with his fingers crossed behind his back. A relatively harmless little scam for the purpose of their care and feeding had landed him in this mess, after all.

What mess? Well, that was where the rumours came in. What had filtered into the public net from personal sources - cameras on Ghorn II, for instance; what of the news reports had made it out before Sector clamped down.

Ferry pilots shooting their mouths off. Private letters, guesswork, inference. Scuttlebutt.

All of the sources said the same unpleasant and all too likely things. Regional force units had found trouble the local force had failed to notice.

There were further rumours of exchanges of fire, even the Moff’s cousin killed by regional units - there was less backing that up. On this ship, the dominant feeling was that Region had turned against them.

Who specifically were ‘them’, though? The galaxy-spanning imperial Starfleet, or this particular collection of rogues, chancers, reprimandees, failures and malcontents? There were entirely too many civilians on board as well, friends and relatives of the moff. A high proportion of them were armed, and he kept trying not to think too loudly, henchman, when he looked at them.

Worst and most dubious of all, the ship’s two ‘long divisions’ - a ten regiment MARDET - had been rotated out, and replacement units had not yet been received on board.

The situation stank, but the worst case scenario couldn’t possibly be true. Could it?

That being that the moff was about to go renegade. There widespread rumours of ubiqtorate data raids, missing information, hacker’s calling cards left all over the system. Maybe they had something genuinely incriminating to hold against him.
That and he was going to hijack his own flagship and take it with him, or at least use it to escape prosecution. That would be a truly terrifying prospect. Only slightly worse than having to serve a full commission with this lot, though.

‘Pong!’ The exec’s voice shouted down into the pit. Barbarian, Nguyen thought.

‘That’s Phong, you walking depleted chromosome,’ Nguyen snarled back at him. Mainly to see just how bad things had got, just how much common military courtesy had degraded. Partly to see if the exec actually knew what a chromosome was. ‘What do you want?’

‘Don’t get lippy with me, or I’ll exert my authority all over your ass,’ the exec would have been happier as a gangland enforcer, in fact Nguyen suspected he had started out that way. ‘Where’s that goddam course?’

‘You mean, the course that this is the first I’m hearing about?’ Nguyen said, looking him in the eye and refusing to back down. Commander Urv Eldon was a high-G worlder, a short, wide, heavy, bad-tempered man from a planet of short, wide, heavy men. At one metre sixty-four he was a giant among his people, or would be if they hadn’t kicked him out. He probably did qualify as near human, although Nguyen had his doubts about the qualifying prefix. Even though he was a bully at the best of times, this was worse than usual, and he was certainly behaving like a man who felt the bounds of formal discipline loosen.

‘Don’t get smart with me,’ Eldon said.

‘Wasted effort,’ Nguyen agreed. ‘We’re deploying at last?’

‘Yes,’ Eldon said slowly, as if sizing the acting chief nav officer up. Having doubts about, trying to measure, his commitment? If so, commitment to what? Another point in favour of the worst case scenario.

‘I have precalculated courses for Ghorn, Corban, the Selezen Cluster,’ the rRasfenoni home worlds, ‘both mouths of the Run; we can move in thirty seconds, once someone gets their act together well enough to pass on information like - where are we going?’ Nguyen said. The Run was the offshoot of the Perlemian that stretched through the sector; the endpoints were a good place to go to intercept fleeing, or arriving, rebels.

The exec threw him a datapad, with unnecessary force, but Nguyen managed to catch it, looked at the numbers, started entering them into the master map; made a rough approximation in his head, didn’t believe it. Decided to say nothing while the exec was standing there looking at him - he wanted more time to think.

The emergence point he had been given was nowhere. Empty void, not even a nebula, about fourth on the list of ‘most barren and uninteresting places in the sector’. Another pointer in favour of the worst case.

What the kriff did he do if it was that bad?

The bridge door slid open - it was their supreme leader, Moff Edro Vlantir Xeale himself, and a partial entourage: two of his own species, an advisor and a bodyguard. Four humans - two more guards, an older, grey haired man and an eye-candy female medic. Of course, he must still be getting used to his cyberfeet.

Maybe that was the reason he wanted the stormtroopers left behind? Hopefully, but looking at him, Nguyen thought not.
Ah, dreck, Nguyen thought. If I speak up, I’m screwed. Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong, still bad. If I don’t say anything, I’m making myself a traitor by default, maybe. No, probably. I don’t want to be a hero, I don’t want to have to be a hero. Somebody else say something….no.

Dreck. I hope the pension Carys gets out of this is worth it. Then again, at least I’ll be shot of the in-laws.

‘Well?’ Xeale demanded. ‘Are we ready to be on our way?’

Nguyen, standing in the Pit, was at eye-level with a set of metal toes. ‘No, your excellency.’ Might as well stick to the party line for now, no sense going off too soon. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation.

‘I wasn’t informed of our destination until a few moments ago. And…’ time to put it to the proof, ‘I don’t understand why we’re going there.’

What?’ Xeale shouted. It had been a stressful, and painful, week. The cybernetics were the least of his problems. Initially, when the organisation had first come across the potential goldmine of Ord Corban, the political situation here had been delicate and volatile, just after the birth of the Empire. Taking control and making money was not the sort of job one sent a fool to do, and there was such a thing as intelligent corruption, buying into existing large and buying out existing smaller local rivals, discrediting some and co-opting others, who to woo and who to whack. It had been the happiest years of his life, a fresh adventure in grand larceny, manipulation of the law and backstabbing every day.

More recently, as things had stabilised out, the excitement of the job had worn off. Being the undisputed power, with all might legal and illegal, didn’t stir the blood as much as the race to the top did.
He had got complacent - had he also got stupid? Lost his edge, let circumstances creep up on him?

This Kor Alric - he terrified him. Not the personal injury, the sheer willingness and delight in the use of unsubtlety. The privy council? How did a psychotic, a giggling torturer like that become an agent of the privy council? Because he did their will, or at least appeared to. If Adannan was corruptible - and what being was not? - he had moved too fast to give Xeale time to work out what to buy him off with.

Trying to hide the evidence to gain time had got his cousin Ulbin killed. After that, under the threat of superior authority, his supporters and minions, from the subordinate powers of the sector who he had thought he owned body and soul - they had started to desert him.
More scared of the shadow of Palpatine than of himself.

Now this one, this flyspeck tried to challenge his authority. Xeale snapped, ‘It’s not your business to understand.’

‘Yes, but…’ Nguyen swallowed. This did not come easy, challenging the power of a being of the Moff’s standing. The empire was very strong on obedience to authority. One of the factors that made it a lot easier for the mid to higher subordinate levels of authority - like a Moff - to go renegade than it was for the groundlings. ‘There are certain circumstances,’ Nguyen said, ‘under which an Imperial officer does have the right to ask for an explanation of his orders.’

‘What? Nonsense,’ the moff said. ‘I am a direct representative of His Imperial Majesty, whose very word is law.’

‘Yes, His Majesty’s word is law, and I have his signature right here on Chapter 3, Section 5 of the Imperial Military Code of Conduct, by which I ask for a formal explanation,’ Nguyen said, more quickly than he had intended. This was trouble now.

‘Explain,’ the moff turned and asked his aide.

‘Receiving an illegal order,’ the aide explained. ‘Most people aren’t aware that provision still exists; it should have been deleted years ago.’

‘Who is he?’ Xeale asked; the aide fiddled with a datapad, handed it to the Moff.

‘Ah. Lieutenant-Commander Phong Nguyen, reprimanded for unauthorised activity, suspected of abusing Imperial property for personal gain, marginal case for consorting with enemies of the state - you are in no position to accuse anyone of acting illegally.’

‘Sir, I have a misdemeanour on my record - but if what you’re about to do had a straightforward, legitimate explanation, you wouldn’t need to resort to blackmail,’ Nguyen said.

‘How dare you!’ Xeale shouted. The two Falleen with him visibly winced, thinking, it’s true, resorting to cliché like that, he’s losing it.

‘There’s nothing out there. Empty space. There are no friendlies, no enemies, nothing to go there for; the only reason is if we’re running away, which makes your moffship either a deserter or a traitor,’ Nguyen stated. He sounded a lot calmer than he felt, but he managed to get the words out.

The reaction in the rest of the bridge crew was interesting. Quite a few of them had only minor blots on their record. They had not been asked, and had not intended, to turn against the Empire.

Everybody missed the fluorescent green line of text appearing incongruously in the middle of a starmap - “That’s it. You tell him.”

There was no need to persuade this junior officer with the unexpected backbone and streak of honesty. He was going to die, and painfully and humiliatingly, for this. He needed a reasoned argument to soothe and persuade the rest of them. Xeale was not in a generous mood, or in a thinking one for that matter, and did not pitch it quite right.

I am the Sector Governor,’ “Moff” was a title Xeale had always found embarrassing, as it was actually a near homonym to one of the most common Falleen slang terms for female pubic hair. By all the gods of theft and deception, though, he would like to hold it a little longer.
‘I am authority here, the trusted friend of His Imperial Majesty, and you are endangering us all by delay. Imperial spacers are dying out there, man. You will plot a course to-‘ the place really did have no name- ‘our destination. Now.’

‘Governor,’ Nguyen said, ‘I am within my rights in asking how what you are doing serves the greater cause of the Empire, that’s the whole point of the provision, and if the best you can do is “shut up and soldier”, then-‘

It was hard to do this, hard to run so directly against authority - and terrible to think that he might be wrong. Part of him had been willing the Falleen to come up with a sensible explanation, some kind of rendezvous, some good excuse to make this not go the way it seemed it was going to have to.

‘-With all due respect, my lord - no. I will not accept an illegitimate order, I will not program your voyage to nowhere for you.’

If Xeale had kept his temper and used his glands, he might have got away with it. Nguyen was about as resistant to that influence as any human could reasonably be, having worked with exotic scents and pollens all through his childhood, but no-one was completely resistant.

It could have worked, if he had kept control of his temper. ‘Shoot him,’ he ordered.

Nguyen had his gun drawn in a flash, but who and what to shoot? No way he could get the moff and all his bodyguards - he flicked the overload dowel out of the service blaster’s powerpack with his thumbnail, just before one of the human guards, being of a sadistic streak, shot him in the gut.

That was, in fact, not an unusual response to somebody who actually dared to quote chapter three section five. He heard shouting, swearing, two further shots, a kick in the ribs, then. This is what you get for deciding on a new career as a martyr, he thought dimly, then nothing.

Two junior ratings picked him up and carted him out of the bridge - as well for them, because thirty seconds later, his blaster powerpack blew up, shredding the navigation main and both secondary consoles.

Oyadan was unable to find and activate his presets, and took far too long trying to shift navigation up to the flag bridge.

She was still there, order, counter-order, disorder, when a sister-ship of hers and five smaller craft flashed out of hyperspace on an intercept course, all bearing the winged mace insignia of Fleet Destroyer Squadron 851.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 04:41pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-06-18 07:55am

Chapter 33d

The arrival of Alliance reinforcements was not a surprise, but it was an unpleasant fact. Reiver looked almost undamaged, apart from the splashed-on phoenix emblems, but as she manoeuvred to take in the situation and open up firing arcs, she wasn’t handling at peak performance at all. Slow to manoeuvre, slow to open fire, ECM barely credible.

Of course, her computers - once it became obvious that the stormtroopers left on board wouldn’t be able to hold her against rebel boarders and her own renegade crew - would have done their best to render her useless to the enemy. They must not have been able to get to the reactor, but if they had managed to blow out the main computer, that would explain a lot.

They rolled to bear, nosed down and opened fire, quickly begun, slowly executed. Their target was Voracious.

There had been no time to swap out the tracer compound; when Caliphant noticed the green turbolaser bolts flashing around his ship, his first thought was that this was a hell of a time for a practical joke.

No, he realised, no-one could be that insane. To fire on a friendly vessel, during combat, for a laugh? No. If it was supposed to be a wakeup call, the only person with authority to do that was Lennart, and he wouldn’t be wasting main guns - he would use the LTL, and probably be scoring hits with them.

Glance at the tactical map; it was the new rebel entry, the former-Imperial renegade destroyer. Roll and climb, out of the planetary plane, try to maximise aspect change relative to the battered rebel cruiser and his new opponent both.

‘Damn,’ he said, after the first ten seconds. Voices were getting shrill - one of the sensor techs was practically screaming his reports, and the helm team were getting spooked by it - he needed to do something to bleed off the tension.

His crew were still looking warily at each other, not entirely certain they could trust each other - and probably rightly so.

He also wondered if what he was going to say was going to fly, or go down like a lead balloon. That was another thing - he couldn’t even trust their taste in classic rock.

‘When we touch ground,’ he said, ‘I'm going to chase every woman I see. And I expect to score with at least half of them.’

‘How do you work that out?’ one of the gunnery deputies asked. At least no-one said “if we get that far.”

‘Simple. With the size of the streak of luck we must be riding now, I stand a good chance of keeling over from sexual exhaustion.’

That drew venomous glares from the female members of the bridge crew, and nervous laughter from most of the men.

‘Really?’ the gunnery officer asked, as Voracious kicked under the impact of a heavy turbolaser hit on the port wing from Reiver.

‘Well,’ Caliphant said, pretending to think about it, ‘maybe just five or six.’

‘Helm,’ he added, ‘Fine course is yours. Twenty degrees deviation.’ That put helm and nav in charge of not being hit, allowing them to manoeuvre without further orders, up to twenty degrees either side of the base course.

As soon as the rebels figured that out, he would do something else. They were definitely sending a lot of fire his way, hopefully no more than he could keep stunting his way out of.

At that, he was doing better than Lycarin was. Perseverance already had her shields weakened, and now they were taking full advantage of that to try to finish him.

Most of the rebel cruiser’s guns were engaging him; Reiver was splitting fire, one turret line on Voracious and one on Perseverance, and Mon Evarra was shooting at all three. The mon cal warship’s fire was distinctive; somehow they had managed to get hold of blue and violet tracer. They were purple fireballs exploding off, carving into the Imperial destroyer’s shields. She was the most effective.

What to do with her? Lennart thought. As things stood, Perseverance was going to be hounded to destruction. Withdraw her and let her rebuild her shields? In theory, yes, but that would expose the other ships of the squadron. Margins, it was all about margins.

‘851-yod-alpha-trey, this is Black Prince Actual.’ Lennart commed him, making it an official order. ‘Maximum evasion, continue return fire with homing weapons only.
'Do not, repeat do not, stabilise your course for energy weapon fire. When your shield load reaches eighty-five percent, jump out to RV point Initial. Other units of the squadron, Perseverance is the rebel primary target, use that to get your own shots in. Main priority targets Reiver, Mon Evarra.’

Acknowledgements. Lycarin barely contained anger, knowing that he had been relegated to use as a stalking horse. It was all right for him to be angry, provided he obeyed.

Lennart took a deep breath, thought about what the Alliance plan was. Six against three was bad odds - against four, really, but One and Indivisible was a fortress and a firing platform at this stage, not a mobile warship.

On the other hand, three Imperial groups, apparently inviting defeat in detail, and one of those groups breaking up under fire and scattering in three separate directions. That made them the obvious target. One of the ships, the only one not actually in a state of panic, was the second largest ship in the Imperial force. Primary target, then.

Dordd had been quietly seething at his ship’s place in the third wave, unable to give vent to that for the sake of crew confidence. He had settled on a tone of fresh chances; now that the real bad apples were gone, they could get down to work. Don’t worry, our time will come, he had said.
Someone pointed out that that meant most of those left on board must qualify as fake bad apples. Criminal, and fraudulent as well. At least it showed some wit.

Dordd had expected Pel Aldrem to be his biggest problem, ranting and protesting the loudest about the whole business, but he had held his peace - seemed to think it was too late in the day for buggering about.

There had been a few more twisted jokes, one involving selective shutdowns of the artificial gravity system, all good warped fun and essential to the process of not going completely mad. They had tapered off as deployment time came closer.

Aldrem was sweating it out in the confines of battery command, realising he had managed to pitchfork himself into a job which he had never really thought about in sufficient detail.

It was the defensive responsibilities that were mainly worrying him; Dynamic was slow and not very subtle to manoeuvre, her defensive EW was being conducted with one shift on station and the second standing behind them reading out of the ops manuals, and that basically left only the third traditional defensive measure, shoot at the enemy until they went away.

His command staff consisted of himself, Fendon and Suluur doing something close to their normal jobs - electromechanical systems and local control, Jhareylia on comms, the rest of his team in turrets A and B; two local junior lieutenant signal interpreters, the team of console ops under them, including a senior chief offensive EW operator Aldrem was considering as a potential replacement for himself when he moved back to Black Prince. Assuming both ships continued to exist.

They flashed back into realspace - their own sensors instantly duplicating the relayed info from the recon cruiser and flagship, the extra perspective sharpening a few of the ranges and bearings. Targets in front of them - two major rebel warships, several minor - they might as well make an entrance with a bang, even if it wasn’t exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

‘Main turrets to central battery control,’ he announced, over the gunnery systems net. On one hand, it was going to be an unusually difficult shot - calculating the enemy’s base course, spotting manoeuvre patterns and EW weaknesses was what central fire control’s job was, after all.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as if the target had any place being there.

The Imperial third wave announced its presence with a closely grouped salvo zeroed in on the belly of the Quasar Fire corvette-carrier- Dynamic’s sensors didn’t even have time to match the sensor picture against the registry to find the target’s name.

Three bolts missed, six impacted. Well, at least the guns were in working order, and it was always a good way to say hello.

The Quasar Fire and her cargo of rebel fighters detonated, there was screaming on the internal net from the exec that Jhareylia was stalling, some nonsense about fire plans and permission.

Aldrem announced ‘Main turrets return to individual control - Com-Scan, gave me course track data on those ships. Let’s start establishing some kind of prediction.
'External line; Gunnery direction Hialaya Karu, this is main battery fire control, Dynamic. My intentions are to lay holding fire from one turret on the MC80, offensive fire from the other pair against Riever. What are your intentions? Over.’ And then added, internally, ‘Turrets, copy that?’

Two straightforward affirmative grunts from Gendrik and Hruthhal, a nervous, giggly ‘acknowledged,’ from Banks in turret C.

‘’Ru, you have Mon Evarra, and power priority. If you find you can’t keep her past regen rate, chop back to power parity and target Reiver. Krivin, Lieutenant Banks, target renegade destroyer Reiver. Sensors and engines if possible. You have the master prediction, open fire,’ Aldrem said, hoping that he was getting it right.

In theory, the MC-80 was actually the harder target. Less able to give punishment, more able to receive it, slower and slightly less agile - but basically, a fair match for an Imperator-class destroyer. Mon Evarra, in particular, was a slippery one. She was the ship the Alliance had picked to intercept and ambush a crack Imperial destroyer, and had made a fairly good job of it.

Casualties; in their brief close range duel, Black Prince had battered through the rebel ship’s shields with close, grouped salvos, started picking off components - she had run the rope out, done as much damage as she could then picked the right moment to go.
An Imperial defensive victory, but it had been close. How many of their key personnel had Black Prince managed to kill off - were they going to be any easier a target this time?

It took several seconds for Dynamic to compose the full tactical picture and start acting on it - more than enough time for the rebel to get the first shots in.

One of the peculiarities of the Mon Cal; they almost never triple, very rarely mounted twin guns. Single blisters, of whatever they could manufacture or find to hand. That arrangement was better for a fleet melee or a close quarters dodging match, not so good for an open, long range gunnery duel. Which this was - sort of. Medium close.

It meant they needed a lot more gunlayers than a triple, quad, octuple-turret Imperial warship, but it also bred them. Mon Evarra’s gun crews were unpleasantly good shots.

Aft and such of the flanks as could bear spat blue and purple shot at both trailing Imperial ships - scoring very quickly, second and third round hits.

But they were shooting at five separate Imperial ships. Spreading their power between all of them, not hitting any hard enough to stand any real chance of burning through.

They knew that, and this was just probing fire, intended to test the targets out, see who would be an easy and who a hard kill.

Reiver had Voracious pinned, and evading her fire - some return fire, they were clearly on the learning curve. The crew of the renegade were not shooting particularly well; they couldn’t have transferred gun crews out.

Transferring over even a couple of Mon Evarra’s veteran gunlayers, trained in the use of capital turbolasers, would have done wonders for Reiver’s shooting. Just as well they hadn’t.

The Imperials were about to deprive them of the requirement for fine target selection, anyway. Tevar was about to do something mad.
Fist was, after all, the largest single ship. Perseverance was in trouble - only footwork was keeping her alive, and if Lycarin had demonstrated more of that earlier, his ship wouldn’t be in such trouble now.

Dynamic was displaying unexpected skill with her guns, much more than she was with her engine plant. The mechanics of shielding made it a very bad idea to switch targets in mid-fight. Give an enemy ship the chance to cool off and you threw away all the effort expended so far.
It made no sense for them to stop shooting at Perseverance; did Lycarin have the sense to execute an escape jump at the right point, what would he do if the rebels did temporarily cease fire?

That was what Tevar would do right now, if she was in their position. Hold fire for a few seconds, long enough to make them think they had a breathing space, then simultaneous concentrated fire from all three rebel capital ships present, burn past the threshold and bring her down.

There was an obvious counter. Her ship’s crew would probably hate it.

The fighter swarm was closing the planet fast; too fast for Konstantin Vehrec, who was swearing violently to himself and wishing he had the sense to ride in one of the shuttles or transports as a passenger, where he could be plotting and directing in comfort as a proper raid leader, instead of sweating blood here trying to work out what to do with fifty squadrons.

There was no way he was going to be left out of the saddle for this one, so he was leading from his own personal Avenger. For all the late-model TIE’s other qualities it really did not have the electronics for command, leaving him juggling the facts and calculations in his head like a one armed data hanger.

Worse, the rebels really hadn’t put up any worthy challenge. The group that had jumped out to intercept them had flown right into the fire of their own planetary heavies, those that had escaped being destroyed had been traumatised and disoriented, easy meat for warship LTL fire.

What there was to be done now was, on the face of it, more bombers’ work than fighters’. Given that most of his force consisted of mobile reserve, what did he send down into that thick, stormy atmosphere, and what retain in orbit for full freedom of manoeuvre?

The list of craft that could actually bombard from orbit was short. The assault shuttles with their megaton LTL, escort shuttles with their heavy tail stingers, the bomber-hunter avenger variant TIE Assault with their quad long guns, that was it. In clear air - over a planet whose sky hadn’t changed colour with dust and debris - the Starwings, the old twin-gun, bomber wing protoAvengers, /sa Bombers, not much else. The Hunters and /ln could do it in theory, but in practise they and all the old blaster armed craft shed their energy on the way down, just dug holes in the upper atmosphere.

Chance of fighter threat from the planet - theoretical rather than real. If they had been leeching off the Imperial fleet’s pilot training programs, they could have a healthy pool of pilots, and enough assembly line space down on the planet to build craft for them, but there was no sign they had realised that potential. Or holding back?

In the defenders’ position, he would have reprised their earlier plan, lure the Imperial strike force in, cut them up and cause chaos with point defence fire, then sortie. It would be something to do, at least.

So split the force before the optimum moment, deny them an obvious target.

‘Attack stream; shuttles, transporters, Starwings, stay beyond the atmosphere. Clone War fighters and my squadron, upper atmosphere covering party. Other craft, prepare to descend to repulsor altitude and strike planetary defence targets, stand by for targeting orders.’ So much for the preparative, now to figure out who to send where.

The strike force spread out, leaving the actual designated attack elements nearest the centre of the ring. Not as many as he had thought, but then again there weren’t so many targets, either.

The planet was in terrible shape; they were approaching the side that had taken hits from Black Prince before their shields could be raised - and then so many of the shields blown away. The back side would be more intact, and if the rebs had any sense they would be marshalling there, ready to hit the Imperials as they came over the horizon.

Defensive ESM howled at him; heavy targeters, capital defence guns. Were they so short of light weapons that they had to resort to going after starfighters with four hundred teraton cannon? Or - there was a brilliant crimson flash ahead of them, twenty degrees across; a flak burst. Too soon, they hadn’t got the range yet. Crap. Expectable given how good a target the wave of Imperial fighters must make, but still crap.
The only reasonable counter was to separate further, put so much distance between fighters that it became insupportably wasteful to use heavy shot on them.

‘Triple separation. ATRs, torpedoes, dogleg them out, one round each on that turret complex.’ A large salvo for a point target, but there would be defences, some would not make it, and anyway overkill was vastly preferable to underkill.

One thing flak bursts could do was swat volatile missiles out of the sky, so send the torps on an almost right angled course out and back in again.

More flak fire. Still short - how often had the rebel gunners ever had a chance to fire a shot in anger? They had fought and won one engagement, so they weren’t completely green.

They were struggling with flak fire, though, and most of his charges were well enough shielded to take some flare - the lethal radius of the bursts was much less than it could have been. Small mercies.

‘All craft, maximum practical approach speed.’ The other obvious move. Better hit atmosphere fast than hang around out here with heavy turbolasers taking potshots at them.

There was a beep on command channel, the helmet speakers making it sound like it came from behind him. Equal-rank or subordinate commanders’ voices would have seemed to come from beside or slightly forward, juniors from increasingly far in front. In dogfight mode, the voices would be set to sound as if they were from the direction they were actually in. Ergonomics in action.

‘Vehrec? Lennart.’ It was a broadcast over the swarm to prevent him being fingered as the commander; the other fighters’ com units would have tuned them out at that point.

‘Your clone war fighters are committed, but have the rest calculate standby courses out to reinforce the main battle. The last remaining rebel heavy’s on her way in and - wait one.’

HIMS Fist was taking heavy fire; she was the obvious target for the rebels, and Tevar was doing a good job of sidestepping it - but one of her evasion turns went further than just footwork, as the bare-metal patched bow swung round to point between Reiver and Mon Evarra.

They had to be got rid of, and that meant doing something about them, now. She made her decision calmly, looking at the main tactical board - somehow that seemed to divorce the situation, just coloured light on a wall.

If she could have looked out of her bridge window and seen stars, it would have occurred to her that this was nuts.

One turret line bore on Reiver, the other on Mon Evarra. Fist commenced rapid sequential, the inboard gun in each battery forward to aft, eighth of a second apart, then outboard, forward to aft, two continuous lines of green tracer and glowing red ion bolt, and the engines flared as the destroyer accelerated up to three thousand ‘g’.

The rebel ships fire pattern didn’t change; they didn’t think they needed to. If the Imperials were going to try rebel tactics for once, press to close quarters and fire both sides, that suited them - they thought.

Perseverance was still their first priority; kill her, then turn on the charging Fist.

The rebels sent streams of red, green and purple fire after the Vic-III, scoring hits - Mon Evarra accounting for about half of them - scorching her and driving shield integrity down. Two minutes to failure, three if they were lucky.

‘Awesome weight of fire,’ Lennart said waving a hand at the image of One and Indivisible, ‘just as well they can’t shoot to save themselves. Signals, any idea where Alliance command actually is? The Lucrehulk isn’t the flag, just the manoeuvre element?’

One and Indivisible was taking hits - a few missiles from Perseverance’s twenty-round salvos had got through, mainly flying past to the blind side and detonating there.

Voracious was making relatively good practise pounding away at the wallowing cruiser, Hialaya Karu’s first shots had been placed there - an easy target to start with. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes.

‘Believe so, Captain,’ Rythanor confirmed. ‘No decodes yet, but traffic analysis’ best guess is that Admonisher is senior officer.’

‘So their largest ship, their highest rank, and their most battle-experienced crew are in three different places. Not brilliant. And damn Tevar, that was my plan C. Engineering? If we do a five second bounce, will anything fall off?’

The only reason Mirannon didn’t scream at him was that he suspected there wasn’t time. ‘Go bradyonic, give and take fire, jump back to lightspeed? Definitely shock damage, possibly to the stasis systems. Unless it’s life and death it’s not worth the risk.’

‘The second step would be a microjump,’ Lennart admitted.

‘If I lose the stasis curve we’ll get about, oh, two point seven million years older during the second transition to lightspeed. That is an estimate I have no intention whatever of refining,’ Mirannon stated, flatly.

‘No possibility of a safe transition?’

‘Not two flash transitions that close together - manual says five hundred seconds. I reckon sixty, marginal, high risk. Not five. Is it actually life and death?’

‘Not for us. Lycarin, maybe,’ Lennart admitted.

‘Not worth it,’ Mirannon opined. Privately, Lennart agreed with him - the man wasn’t worth it, but the ship and the crew deserved better.

‘We probably will be doing a bounce, then,’ Lennart advised, and dropped the link. It was a tactical option, and he had known, really, a daft one. Had to ask, though. ‘So much for plan C.’

If they had jumped in to support Fist, between the two rebel ships, Admonisher would have followed them, and it was hard to think of a position the rebels would like more to find the Imperial flagship in than that. If he was going to do that, he needed to be able to get out fast.

‘Nav- there.’ A supporting position, just right for crossfire against Reiver; the apparent first position. ‘Bounce and circle to - there.’ The second, real, re-entry point was a light second astern.
Second order; Admonisher would expect them to bounce, so the rebel ship’s true drop point would be calculated on that basis. So move a step past that, and ambush the ambush.

‘Laid in, skipper,’ Brenn reported.

‘Right. Signals, tell Perseverance to get out now, move to RV Initial, cool off, then rejoin. Nav, take us in.’

The rebel fire was starting to zero in on Fist; Were they - yes, they were making the mistake of leaving an already pounded ship, shields burnt thin, to escape and regenerate. Or at least, it looked that way.

Fire on Perseverance had slackened to basically light and mediums; Lycarin, now, was reluctant to go. Anger and wounded pride combined with a possible tactical opportunity. She turned back into the attack.

Lennart managed to stop himself screaming at the display; it would have done little good. He would be better off doing the same to the man himself. ‘Signals, Perseverance. Lycarin, what the kriff are you doing?’

The informality and unprofessionality did not serve as any kind of signal at all. Lycarin ignored his commander’s obvious intent.

‘I’m attacking. The rebs hit us hard early on, nearly took us out of the fight. I admit that - but my people can’t stand it any more, taking fire and giving nothing. They’ve had enough - I’ve had enough. We need to shoot back.’

‘Not in that bloody silly way, man.’ He had made the same mistake again - assuming that it was necessary to hold a relatively straight and stable course in order to fire effectively.

‘Manoeuvre, kriff it, zig-zag, your ship has turrets for a reason. Twenty degrees either side of a base course twenty-five degrees off the bearing of the target at least. Do it now. Lennart out.’

‘Scan, what are One and Indivisible’s turrets doing? Doesn’t look like their full weight of fire they’re putting against Fist.’

‘No, skipper, it isn’t. Half the turrets are holding fire, still tracking Perseverance.’

Crap. To give an order and then contradict it two seconds later - Lycarin would be at least, confused. Order, counter order, disorder - micromanagement as the golden road to failure. Time and timing, the bane of all their lives - too much happening too fast, too soon - the usual cry of the defeated. Lots of things happening very fast, the more you can make happen to the enemy the better, and the first to let it get on top of him and fall behind the curve was the first bound for defeat.

Lennart thought he was doing a moderately good job so far, but definitely not brilliant - supervising them enough to cramp their own initiative, not enough to prevent all their mistakes. Witness Lycarin, who definitely was making a mistake, and Tevar, who was taking a calculated risk that Lennart, at least, would not.

Fist’s fire was scoring, pounding away on the shielding of both ships - and what little fire the rebels could spare aft was zeroing in on Dynamic, who was evading gently, and doing some deadly accurate shooting.

Dordd could afford to be much more radical than that without spoiling Aldrem’s aim; that must be all his helm team could cope with. Still, between them, Dynamic and Fist against Reiver and Mon Evarra- almost a fair fight, close enough for jazz anyway.

Hialaya Karu, we need more pressure on One and Indivisible. She’s your primary target,’ Lennart ordered, then ‘Signals, pass our images of One and Indivisible’s turret setup to Perseverance, flagged urgent. And find me his exec’s file.’

Falldess was starting to enjoy herself. There were enough of the crew of Tarazed Meridian with her to fill most of the offensively important jobs, and the bulk of the dead weight was in damage control. Six prime and six secondary crews for single thirty- teraton turbolasers stretched across ten twin sixty-five teraton turrets - not exactly familiar with the weapons, but they had a relatively easy target to start off with.

One and Indivisible was wallowing. Perfect. Hialaya Karu banked graciously into a wide sweeping turn, generating lateral velocity and pivoting to keep the alpha arc open, laid down a long ripple of fire into the rebel cruiser.

Some hits - green flashes off the hull - but if the catastrophic loss of one of their main arms hadn’t been enough, then she was going to have to be beaten to death.

Falldess looked around for further targets to engage; the lighter rebel elements were scattering and trading fire with the Imperial escort ships, both basically irrelevances - Light Forces Wave One were on their way to besiege one of the larger giants’ moons, Light Forces Wave Two were laying fire on Reiver and Mon Evarra - and taking losses from the rebel cruiser’s lighter guns - Light Forces Wave Three were adding to the basket.

Play it out. Ride the decisions down. Fist was in this for death or glory - who was it who had said “Never mind manoeuvres - always go at them”?

Voracious was worrying away at the maimed rebel cruiser, taking hits but giving better than she got; Dynamic’s shooting eye was in, but force help her when the rebels decided to make her their primary target. The last rebel heavy was on her way inbound, chasing the last Imperial heavy in the area.

Two complicated flashes of white light, and the sensor picture fuzzed as the computers tried to work out exactly what had happened; and one brilliant flare of red.

Black Prince had made her false entry, the rebel ship had appeared to follow; the Imperial ship had flown her ring manoeuvre, emerged behind Admonisher - and the rebel ship had been clever too.

She hadn’t quite predicted the actual endpoint, but had expected trickery - she emerged half a light second out and off on the flank, impossible for Black Prince to get between her and the lighter Imperial ships.

And, of course, the rebels had marked Lycarin down for a fool, and monitored Black Prince’s command-circuit calls. They had no decodes either, but every time he was yelled at, Perseverance did something smarter.

The obvious time to lower the boom on him, fire the closely grouped salvo that would burn through his shielding and smash into his hull, was when Black Prince was in her state of transition.

The flag might react quickly enough to pass Lycarin a warning, but left to his own devices, he would take too long to make up his mind. Fatally long. In her erratic, ill-matched weapon galleries, One and Indivisible still carried enough guns to put out seven petatons a second. By the time Lycarin had finished panicking, her shields were gone - and it was the exec who gave the word to make transition, get out of here.

The rebels tracked the vulnerable destroyer as she managed to turn to escape vector and begin acceleration, pursuing, smashing and splintering the armoured hull, burning away the bow, port main turret line, most of sublight engines, carving deep into the superstructure.
One shot punched through the bridge module. Nav computers melted - along with everything else, including Lycarin and far too many of his crew. Transit aborted - a small mercy for the crew who otherwise would have died as their ship tore itself apart without benefit of working tensor and stasis fields.

The reactor let go, most of the starboard turret line blew up in electrical explosions under the surge.

Perseverance was, to all practical intents and purposes, destroyed. A tumbling wreck, molten-hot, with a handful of fortunate escape pods, remained.

Five to four odds, now. In terms of tonnage, closer to four to one against.

Bloody idiot, Lennart thought, cursing Lycarin for getting himself killed - then stopped himself. No, he decided, I will not waste time and optimism second guessing myself, not now when all’s still to do.

‘Gunnery, let’s see if that bastard’s as slick as he thinks he is. Target Admonisher, sequential turret salvos, fire.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 05:18pm, edited 1 time in total.
The only purpose in my still being here is the stories and the people who come to read them. About all else, I no longer care.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-06-29 09:35am

Ch 34

The rebel fire pattern projected through time was an instructive sight. Mon Evarra had entered spitting violet tracer in all directions, scattering fire across the Imperial squadron. She had rapidly found herself forced to reduce her horizons to the closest, between the three - now two - ships almost directly in front of her, and then everything that could be brought to bear on one.
That would be Captain Tevar’s Fist, accelerating towards the rebel pair - thirty thousand kilometres distant and accelerating at thirty kilometres per second per second.

Reiver’s gunnery was mediocre. Her crew had surrendered, not defected - few of them must have been willing to serve the Alliance to Restore the Republic. She was not truly capable of living up to the standard expected from a line destroyer.
Tevar had effectively bet her ship’s life - and her own - on that. The rebel MC-80 was doing her best to prove the Imperial captain wrong.

‘Aldrem?’ Dordd com’d his temporary main battery commander. ‘Tactical assessment.’

‘If they were all that was in it, Fist would be able to take Reiver with shielding to spare - Reiver’s on a scratch crew,’ Aldrem said, and thought through the permutations.

‘Ourselves against Mon Evarra - I can put the fire in, but helm control can’t stop them hitting us back. Probably going to be a mutual, them and us both crippled if not hulked outright.
'Our best option is to go for the easy meat first, help Fist put down Reiver then turn on Mon Evarra. Captain, their best option is to focus on us. If they combine fire and finish us off, they can move on to Fist, and roll up the Imperial line from there, move in and establish local superiority in one fight after another,' Aldrem pointed out.

That was, if anything, an optimistic assessment of the situation, Dordd thought. Single ship against single ship, Fist would take Reiver down, but take enough heat doing it to be at a real disadvantage in further combat. Dynamic against Mon Evarra, he didn’t actually expect to be able to do that well. Much as it hurt to admit it, the probable result between a well-armed ship with minimal footwork and electronic deception and a well armed ship that could sidestep punishment was just too obvious. They would be able to hurt the rebel ‘cruiser’, but not badly enough to bring her within Fist’s reach. The most likely aggregate result was the destruction of both Imperial starships and the renegade star destroyer and severe damage to Mon Evarra, leaving her hurt too badly for further combat immediately, but not too much to limp away and fight another day.

That would constitute a rebel victory. Mon Evarra could work that out, but Reiver?

‘Except that Fist is making too direct a challenge for that - she has most of their attention,’ Dordd said, then did something else he wasn’t supposed to do - discussed an officer of equal or superior rank with a junior.

‘Do you think Captain Tevar has fully integrated that factor in a bold but balanced plan based on the psychological impact of relentless aggression, or-‘

‘Did injured unit and local pride decide her into charging straight down their throats?’ Aldrem finished the captain’s sentence for him. ‘Sometimes “Banzai” does constitute a plan - but ask me again when you’re writing up the after action report.’

‘One thing, though,’ Aldrem added, ‘I don’t think a crack ship like Mon Evarra is going to be that easily rattled; they can do the numbers as well as we can.’

Looking at his own fire plan, it had been overtaken by circumstances, so on the gunnery net he said ‘Eddaru, Reiver’s now main target, drop back to power parity and point on.’ At the hit rate they had been getting, the only real point was to obfuscate the Imperial plan, and the time for that was well past.

‘So why aren’t they shooting at - commence maximum evasion now,’ Dordd wondered, then turned round and snapped out the order to his helm team. Motion compensation was managed from battery control, which at the moment meant Aldrem, he resisted the urge to swear, then decided to give in to it anyway.

Dynamic surged forward, porpoised and pulled a 270 degree turn to starboard; the volley of shot from Mon Evarra splashed around them landing two hits out of the thirty-five that could bear.

It was possible to return snapshots only, as Dynamic’s drastic motion carried Reiver into and out of her fire arc, and they did, Hruthhal and Gendrik scoring once or twice, Banks slightly wild, firing too soon and keeping firing after the target had gone - but getting close and landing one hit, not bad for a novice.

Aldrem and Captain Dordd were both thinking the same thing; as soon as they stabilised out from full evasion or at least started to show a predictable pattern, Mon Evarra would lob a couple of converged sheaves at them trying for the cheap kill. She was keeping a light, open fire on them anyway, hitting worryingly often with her lighter guns.

Was the time they gained for Fist by diverting the Mon Cal cruiser’s fire worth more than the hits they could land? Both men came to the same conclusion: no.

‘Helm,’ Dordd gave the preparatory order, ‘stand by to steady down to 750 ‘g’ evasive, then one point two seconds later, diving corkscrew right, maximum evasive power.’

‘Then reverse left, four hundred seventy milliseconds later - as a suggestion,’ Aldrem added.

‘Do it,’ Dordd ordered.

As both of them had been expecting, Mon Evarra waited to see if the move was genuine, then fired a narrow spread at their predicted position - reversing the turn took Dynamic out of most of the fire pattern, not all. Five hits forward, around the secondary reactor- damage the shields, but nothing penetrated, not close enough together for that. They made two more attempts, one that landed another pair of hits, one that missed entirely.

So we can survive their fire, Dordd thought, at the price of taking ourselves virtually out of the fight - too unstable a gun platform. It’s a miracle they can score hits at all, but we can’t hold on target long enough to get the hit rate to burn down a Mon Cal’s shields - and it costs us more energy to evade than it does her to keep us evading. If this goes on long enough, she’ll economise us to death. In the extremely unlikely event that it does last that long.

Mon Evarra knew the numbers too, realised how little she was achieving, checked fire on Dynamic, and turned the bulk of her fire back on to Fist.

So now the situation was relatively clear. Both rebel ships concentrating on Fist, who was still splitting her fire between two targets, one turret line on each; the Mon Cal was playing bullfighter, offensively, insultingly small little sideslips and weaves, ducking and dancing out of the line of fire - there were hits, but not in proportion.

Tevar had four years’ seniority. Dordd had a week. He could only advise.

‘Captain Tevar,’ he com’d to Fist, ‘this is Captain Dordd, Dynamic Actual. Our analysis suggests concentration on a single target.’

She thought about that for a second. Dordd’s shiphandling performance had been…unimpressive. Gunnery excellent, but the fact that the flagship had had to detach a specialist to supervise didn’t mean he could get credit for that. What he was saying did make first-order sense, but -

‘Captain Dordd, if we withdraw fire from Reiver then that gives her a free shot at us, she can vastly increase her hit rate.’

‘I know,’ Dordd said. ‘Mon Evarra is the one you should leave to last.’

‘That doesn’t make sense,’ Tevar said. ‘She’s a smaller ship, less powerful, she should be an easier kill.’ And, indeed, by the usual Imperial reckoning, that was perfectly true. Mon Cal cruisers could take a beating, but usually, if attacked boldly and directly, an Imperator’s superior attack could overcome the Mon Cal’s superior defence before the Mon Cal’s mediocre offence could break through an Imperator’s above-average defence.

On the other hand, the damned thing was still there, and the scanner picture was confusing - so many antenna and so much computer power down, they were at an EW disadvantage. It was possible that the Rebel was deliberately running her shields hot, trying to convince them that they were doing better than they were, luring them into firing at a target that could take it and away from one that couldn’t.

To her own bridge crew she asked, ‘Gunnery, what hit rate are we actually getting on that ship?’

Fist Actual, this is main battery direction Dynamic,’ Aldrem decided to intervene. ‘I know Mon Evarra well; she’s a crack ship, and she is fooling you. She has primary responsibility for the destruction of HIMS Lamprey, damage credit on three other Imperial destroyers. She’s simulating a hit rate of twenty percent; I’m watching your tracers fly by on the other side, you’re getting a quarter of that.’

‘Gunnery? Is that feasible? Com-Scan?’

‘Com-Scan, trace their fire back,’ her gunnery officer suggested.

Ah, Tevar thought. ‘Helm, Gunnery, we will be rolling to open alpha arc on Reiver, combat systems, focus shields sixty-forty against Mon Evarra once the roll is complete. Begin roll. Com-scan?’

‘I’m sorry, Captain, I can’t believe I forgot to do that,’ her chief scan officer reported. ‘They’ve been playing us for fools. The positions we’re registering impact flares in are not the positions they’re firing from, their EW’s been running us in circles.’

‘If that’s true, we haven’t even heated them beyond dissipation rate,’ Gunnery admitted. ‘Firing on Reiver now.’

And if that is the case, Tevar thought, then once we have brought Reiver down, then we still have the most difficult opponent to go. Although now, at least, the situation was clear.
Both Rebel ships concentrating on Fist, both Imperial ships concentrating on Reiver, first loss would leave the survivor facing odds of two to one.

‘Why not us?’ Dordd wondered. ‘Why aren’t they shooting at us?’

‘Try this scenario, Captain.’ Aldrem offered. ‘Mon Evarra picks that fight with us, manages to burn through Black Prince’s shielding and do some damage, we conduct a successful rescue under fire and do some damage in return, minor victory on both sides. The rebs don’t get that many of those. Mon Evarra’s captain gets bumped up the ladder, leaving her executive officer in charge - who is junior to whoever from the base command here has Reiver now.
'Mon Evarra’s too good a ship to miss a trick like that, the only reason I can think of is if they were overruled by a senior officer - ordered to concentrate fire on the flagship’s target.’

‘If you’re right about that,’ Dordd said, ‘then where’s Mon Evarra’s former captain?’ Tactically, that sounded right for what they were seeing - the down side of republican military virtue. Fire had continued while they were speaking, of course.

‘Best guess?’ Aldrem said. ‘Admonisher.’

Lennart had brought Black Prince out of hyperspace astern and half a light second distant from the Clone War heavy destroyer and opened fire at once; Admonisher had taken a split second longer to react, but no more than that. She chose to take the hit, and return it with interest.

The Rebel ship carried the same DBY-827 heavy turbolasers as the Venator, but mounted them very differently; eight groups of three quadruple turrets, ninety-six barrels and half as much energy again to put through each of them, shielding and electronics to match, and larger, more heavily armoured and more damage resistant. They carried a large fighter complement, too, sixty squadrons which had also come in in hyperspace and were deploying now.

They did have one drawback - two, counting the crew requirement. They were the upper end of destroyer classification, heavy and slow. In theory, Black Prince should be significantly better at the footwork. She would have to be, with up to ninety-six heavy turbolasers pointed at her. Actually, Admonisher wasn’t fool enough for that.

She had a very small alpha arc, a five degree cone around the bow; that would have restricted her evasion to the point where she would be taking more hits than the fire of the two ventral batteries was worth.

Instead, the heavy destroyer dipped her bow, exposing the six dorsal batteries, and commenced return fire.
Black Prince’s first full volley was accurate, slamming into the dorsal central shields, burning into but not quite through the shielding; two would have done so, but Lennart didn’t think he would be given the opportunity to get a second full shot off, and he was right.

The Imperial destroyer rolled on to closing course in the same relative attitude, battery to battery, and accelerated towards the rebel, twisting to sidestep the rebel’s battery salvos - one of them hit the forward starboard side of the superstructure. Not quite a shield penetration, close but not enough. Two would have been.

‘Well, we outpointed her four to one,’ Lennart said, tracing a course track in the tactical tank as he spoke. ‘Guns, salvos by half battery, axials independent, ripple.’

Every sixth of a second, each battery would have its turrets fire one of their subassemblies, the four half batteries alternating with the heavy axials, a continuous string of half-petaton shot or salvos of shot. The veteran destroyer’s helm team and defensive EW would try to prevent it looking as if there was a pattern, keep them guessing, try to force them to fire at an area rather than a point target - and the Admonisher would be doing the same to them, of course.

The base courses each of them ought to take up were obvious; the rebels to close on the four-ship main destroyer action to take art in that, the Imperial ship to move outwards onto the rebel’s stern aspect for the easiest and most effective shot.

So much so that, naturally, both of them decided to do something other than the predictable.

The rebel had been aiming ‘down’, below the ecliptic plane; she changed course by eighty degrees, aiming to skim along below it, closing at a shallow angle and not quite maximising aspect change - not the most optimal move, but the most optimal move was also one of the most easily anticipated.
Black Prince, in contrast, feinted outwards, drew a full salvo, rolled and darted inwards in an erratic zig-zag, wildly varying thrust and scattering rebel shot ahead and astern of her.

Force be damned, Lennart thought, this is prediction, urgent, immediate, detailed and absolutely vital. The thought occurred to him that he should have challenged Adannan to a contest of effective foresight; give him tactical control of something and whoever gets hit less often, wins. Wouldn’t have worked; there was nothing to use as a stake that was cheap enough, in military potential and life hazarded, to be worth the risk of losing.

Maybe I am being too hard on the Force, Lennart realised; there was more than enough evidence that a skilled Jedi really could perceive, analyse and react faster than an ordinary human - but for this, Lennart thought, I’ll be damned if Adannan can.
Come to think of it, if we have a moment or two to breathe - unlikely until this is over - I could make worse use of it than trying to predict him, and what he’s up to. If we get that moment.

The first clash was an Imperial victory on points, Black Prince had landed more hits - but there was no pause, just enough elapsed time for a reassessment of decisions made.

Admonisher chose to hold her course and ride out the possibilities. Black Prince - and Lennart felt as if it was the ship, that the deck under his feet and the mottled bow stretching out ahead were making the choice, not him - she chose to bring Admonisher closer to the centre of the alpha arc, head relatively directly for her now, to buy distance that could be used to be more of a crossing target later if the probabilities turned sour.

How long is a decision cycle? Five seconds, less? Long enough for something as fast and powerful as an Imperial destroyer to inflict terrible damage - or have it inflicted.
There was no room for mistakes, barely enough to pretend to make them in order to deceive. Admonisher was good, almost too good for a ship that had only just entered the fight and hadn’t really shaken down. They would improve as they warmed up- not a good thought.

Vehrec’s fighters were coming out of the gauntlet, approaching the planet now. The flak bursts had given up - one turret and probably central control knocked out by the heavy warheads, and the lighter defence batteries had achieved little.

The rebels really did seem to have almost nothing left in the way of fighters, and what little had come up to meet them had been sent tumbling back down again in short order. Personally, Vehrec had bagged one single, solitary Z-95. One measly outdated snubfighter.

He was just deciding to leave the non-hyper capable fighters behind and go in search of more interesting prey than a pounded planet when the situation changed. Half of Admonisher’s fighter wing, visible in the distance, seemed to turn towards them and prepare for microjump - five squadrons of Y-wings, eight squadrons of Z-95s, six of A-wings and eleven of X-wings.

That and, down on the nightside of the planet, one of the shield domes flickered out, revealing a small horde - maybe another ten to fifteen squadrons - of fighter and transport grade signatures, which started to climb for orbit.

LTL fire from the assault shuttles - and two of the Starwings, since when were they heavy gun fighters? - managed to kill the shield generator and started raking the hangars, there was a massive secondary explosion when an ordnance dump went up, that was a start. This was much more like it.
Three divisions; the old booster-ring fighters, the shuttles and transports, and the modern fighters and fighter-bombers. Division two could stay on the rebels coming up from the planet, division one would move to englobe the most likely rebel drop point, division three would stay in high orbit for the moment and react as things happened.

He gave the orders accordingly; the Admonisher’s fighter group made a high exit, five planetary diameters off - too far for direct support. Conservative navigation - unlikely from the Alliance - or simply missed timing, something else that was supposed to happen but didn’t?

Anyway, the assault and escort shuttles were having a field day. First light turbolasers and area defence lasers reaching down deep into the atmosphere, then the JV-7’s forward guns and the Lambdas’ conventional guns coming into play as the rebels cleared the thick lower air - and the transports had heavy antiship torpedoes. Not many of the escaping rebel small craft had enough shielding to withstand one, and the Alliance fighters were spending most of their energy in defending their own transports, shooting the arrows not the archer - and the predictability of having to do that made them easy targets in turn.

Still debatable whether enough of them would make it to orbit and disrupt the Imperial formation, softening them up in time for Admonisher’s fighters to attack. Well, things are definitely looking up, Vehrec thought. Looks like I’m going to get that fight after all.

Voracious and Hialaya Karu were making excellent practise pounding heat into One and Indivisible; excellent, that was, for an essentially immobile, very large and very obvious target.

In a way, it didn’t matter; One and Indivisible couldn’t really contribute to a rebel victory any more, she couldn’t manoeuvre, could just about turn to bear, but could take no creative part in the battle.
What she could do was maul the living daylights out of any Imperial ship careless enough to assume that she was out of it. She had to be put down, and as fast as possible to release the two Imperial light destroyers to other targets.

One and Indivisible’s fighter complement might have something to say about that, though. At last they were starting to emerge in numbers, and a very odd lot they were too. A real zoo of the modern and ancient, B- and Y-wing bombers and fighter-bombers, some X-wings, and handfuls of a dozen other types including PTB625, Starhammers, Torrents, Tri-fighters and Nimbus, Cords and Stingers, all the variety of the third rate - even a single flight of Aurek fighters; the design was four thousand years old.

‘That must make servicing and maintenance a pain in the ass - let’s take some of the load off them,’ Caliphant decided - not that he really had an option, as Voracious was the closest large target and where they seemed to be heading anyway.

Did he trust any of his gunners to be able to do flak fire? No, not really.

‘Warn the fighter wing, establish an LTL clear fire corridor and open fire, target bomber-types first. Torps…’ he thought about it. The torpedo control crew had done well so far. ‘Do you think you can burst a salvo in amongst the rebel fighter stream, get them with blast effect?’

‘Not straight up, Sir. We’ll have to get fancy,’ they said, sounding highly dubious - as well they might because it was extremely unlikely.

‘Do it,’ Caliphant ordered. Main gun fire continued throughout, splattering One and Indivisible’s shielding, and what was left of the rebel cruiser was returning fire from everything that could bear, surrounding Voracious in fire, but it was poorly coordinated, largely under local control, and spraying wild.
It was tense, jittery work staying ahead of their targeting teams, being one step ahead for all of five hundred or a thousand steps, and time was on the larger ship’s side usually. Bulk was survivability, which gave time, stress and chances for the smaller ship to make a mistake.

Voracious had already nearly made several - presenting her main battery for a sustained burst of fire and taking half a second too long to move back to evasive. Fortunately, the lighter guns tracked faster than the heavier, ten hits but all from thirty and forty teraton weapons. Not much, considering.

The rebels were still mostly firing broad area salvos, covering an area - landing a few hits, they had the power available to manage that much, and they were slowly burning through the shielding, but nothing like as bad as it could have been if they had been able to concentrate fire on a point target. Force knew what structural strain was being caused to Voracious by continual hard evasion burns, but it was better than taking the hits they would otherwise.

One and Indivisible really needed her fighters to pin Voracious in place and make her an easier target for the main guns, but Voracious still had most of the fighter complement of wave two to work with, as well as whatever tricks she could manage.

Strange that ships were still usually referred to as female, despite - no, because of - the majority of crews and commanders being male; although merchant ships frequently were referred to as ‘it’, no more than they deserved.

The fighter waves edged towards each other, homogeneous cloud of mainly TIE/ln Fighters and /sa Bombers on one side, history’s dustbin on the other, the first flares of heavy guns and long range warheads reached out, and the surprise.
Voracious’ torpedo launchers had cold-launched one salvo and had them under command guidance - dog-legged them through their own fighter support for cover. Two near collisions, one actual collision between two TIEs trying to get out of the way, and one near disaster when one of their hothead advanced-trainee volunteers shot one, and fortunately for all concerned failed to detonate it.

The other three picked their way to the forward edge of the Imperial swarm, then lunged forwards under cover of what jamming the destroyer and the fighters could provide for them. One was picked off at range, bursting in a blue-white fireball that cooled to red at the core; the other two were not successfully shot.
Surprise, tactical novelty - interacting factors, so many of the rebels being unable to believe and react effectively to the Empire pulling something out of the hat for once - and above all jamming.

Both the torpedoes fireballed in the rebel swarm. Heavy ship killers, at least equivalent to an HTL shot and more effective at translating that power into structural damage - the largest and heaviest rebel fighters were also the slowest and least able to get out of the blast wave.

Those not destroyed were still damaged and disoriented enough for Voracious’ light turbolasers to do their job for once, picking off the B's, Y's, Starhammers and the old patrol bombers, and as the Imperial forces tore into the disorganised rebels, it was doubtful whether the rebels would have enough of anything left to threaten Voracious.

Now it mattered whether or not the Imperial fighters could punch a big enough hole in the rebel flight groups to let their bombers through to release on One and Indivisible.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-16 05:35pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-06-29 08:17pm

Chapter 34b

Admonisher was keeping her dorsal batteries on the Imperial flagship, which left the two ventral turret clusters to find what targets and do what damage they may - and that was Dynamic and Hialaya Karu.
Both ships had to manoeuvre with respect to the big rebel destroyer now and pay her more electronic attention - neither ship was under significant fire from any other rebel, so it was unlikely to be decisive, at least not quickly. Unless the other rebel ships took their flagship’s lead.

The situation was still volatile, and the Empire was ahead on points - half a planet and half a cruiser, and numerous smaller craft, was more than a fair trade for a light destroyer, however much they felt it could have been avoided. It hadn’t, and that was that.

There was still more than enough potential for the situation to change. If I make a major error that leaves Admonisher free to engage another target, Lennart thought, them she could roll up the rest of the Imperial force.
Conversely, if they make that mistake then I could do the same, he added. That was why both flagships had chosen each other as targets.

What was left to manoeuvre with, anything that could be withdrawn from other places and committed where it was needed? Detached Forces wave One, it was time to reattach.

They had hit one of the moons of Corban-III, a resource extraction site, blown out the lighter shields and battered down the defences, collapsed the envirodomes pinning what rebels were left alive in the subsurface workings for later assault and extraction.
Gas mining platforms in the atmosphere of the giant, strafed and some were burning - one had fusion-fireballed - but the other moon of importance had its shields up, and there were numerous smaller targets throughout the moon and ring system.

‘Signals, record for transmission - helm, roll out rather than counteryaw - “Light forces wave one, engage-‘ a line around the area on the tactical map - ‘these targets from your present position. Medium intensity fire plan, do not conduct mop up operations.
'Once the initial fire plan is complete, make a tactical hyperjump to positions-‘ another, much smaller, oval on the tactical map- ‘target Mon Evarra and conduct harassing fire.” Right, transmit that. And light forces wave two, your assessment of the situation?’ Lennart added and mentally kicked himself for it. Too much the teacher yet, wanting them to think it through and realise for themselves what had to be done when he should simply have snapped out the order.

It was Raesene who came back with the right answer anyway. ‘You want us to move in closer on One and Indivisible and try to finish her off more quickly?’

‘She’s just going to keep rolling to present her active shields and weapons to the destroyers; the frigates can englobe her and try for the core ship,’ Lennart confirmed. ‘Do it.’ He would have given a more detailed order if there had been time, felt guilty about not doing so, but Admonisher was pressing them too hard.

The light forces of wave two had been circling like exceptionally heavily armed vultures, adding what heavy and medium guns they had to the fire raking One and Indivisible. It was their safest and surest use, and given what was happening elsewhere in the battle none of them were surprised to be called upon to do something more demanding and dangerous.

What else was there not being used to the fullest, what was there to manoeuvre with? Light forces wave three, Dynamic’s and Hialaya Karu’s escort, had local ascendancy - an Illustris, numerous strike cruisers and lighter ships, it would have been strange if they hadn’t. There was an escort carrier burning, the rebels had got that far, but no major loss.
Brenn, Rythanor and the rest of the bridge team had been handling the ship while he gave orders to the squadron, and doing not too badly although they had taken a couple of hits Lennart was sure he could have avoided.

Admonisher was handling well, strangely flat at the moment though - ‘Helm, pitch up to port, five hundred, one point five seconds roll inverted, dive port seven hundred.’ A specific evasion order in response to a specific move on behalf of the enemy; Admonisher rolling to present her alpha arc in order to inspire Black Prince into a radical and predictable full power evasion.

Lennart refused to react that far - and hoped Admonisher’s captain hadn’t guessed that far ahead as well. Black Prince’s relatively gentle evasion turn was met with a full salvo anyway, which flashed past within a thousand metres of the point where the Imperial destroyer had rolled inverted.

‘Gunnery, full converged sheaf,’ dot on the map, ‘there.’

The main guns crashed out together, shield control started to scream about something, and Lennart glanced at engineering-liaison to see the main reactor seemed to have been taken off line. Had they been hit in that last burst - and much harder than Lennart thought? Sixth sense, intuition, the feel of the ship around him said no, and it also said a full power bank to starboard would be a good idea.

He measured out the order trying to look confident and reassuring, then there was an almighty thump, the lights and gravity went out, most of the bridge crew swore by the gods of excrement, and there was a magnificent multi-hued green fireball off in the distance beyond the bridge windows.

‘Execute,’ Lennart confirmed the order to helm control, and to gunner,y ‘Again once, then previous routine.’ The flicker-crash of their own rounds out, and then back to normal, insofar as this maelstrom could be called normal.

‘Skipper, gunnery. I think we blew his forward upper shields out,’ Wathavrah reported.

‘He’ll make a slow turn to port, her new base course is going to be 336 negative 8, adjust fire plan accordingly,’ Lennart said, mind too buzzing to say ‘nice shot’, but his tone did it for him.

He was thinking about what he would do with damage like that, with no head-on shielding and some damage to the bow, how he would nurse his own ship. First order, after a shock like that it would take them all time, which he needed himself.

‘Engineering,’ the com unit connected him, ‘Gethrim, did you really do what that felt like?’

‘Give thanks for a set of above-spec circuit breakers and APUs when you say that, and yes,' The chief engineer admitted.

Lennart decided not to admit to being completely dumbfounded, and said, ‘Both, as usual?’ meaning to write him up for his usual combination of commendation for quick thinking and reprimand for eccentric thinking, which almost managed to make sense.

‘You could have warned me,’ the deputy chief engineer who had drawn the bridge-liaison straw this time complained.

‘If he’d told anybody,’ Lennart said to the liaison officer, ‘I would have stopped him, because only a lunatic would do that. Right?’ He added to Mirannon.

‘Pretty much,’ he admitted. ‘We’re actually lucky their second salvo managed to hit.’

‘As lucky as we are,’ Lennart asked rhetorically, ‘that the third full salvo didn’t?’

‘Ah. QX, you have a point,’ Mirannon admitted. What he had done was to take the main reactor out of circuit for two seconds, and use the main power grid to take up the energy from the bow shields and the volley deposited on them. Regenerating shields for a second and a half - and he had nearly torn the power grid in half and come close to blowing out most of the electronics to do so.

‘That may have been a technical miracle, but I don’t like being in a position where I have to depend on miracles - particularly not when they’re sprung on me as a surprise,’ Lennart said.

‘Skipper, I am the resident miracle worker, and I have to say I don’t particularly care for it myself - especially as I don’t think I could do that again if I tried,’ Mirannon admitted.

‘At least warn me next time you intend to try,’ Lennart said.

They had made a dent, at least, and avoided having to suffer the consequences of taking one in return. One more step- out of how many?

Over Ord Corban, things were getting interesting. Vehrec had sent the light clone wars fighters up as first shock group, scattering their light lasers across the rebel formation to break it up and kill off the slower and more fragile Z–95s, the Y-wings which were too slow to escape a concentration of fire - and also on warhead interception. The rebels had almost total warhead ascendancy in the opening phase because virtually every Imperial capable of it was carrying heavy antiship torpedoes, but that was the tradeoff the Imperials had chose to make, and didn’t seem to be doing too badly out of it so far.

The planet could give the alliance fighters little jamming support, and too many of the Imperial craft were shuttles and transports with inherently superior electronics fits; no obscurement, and the rapid light lasers of the Nimbus and Aethersprite were perfect for the intercept job. Maybe not quite as useful as those freak Starwings he seemed to have inherited from Black Prince’s fighter wing, which were having a field day picking off rebel fighters flying straight and level for launch.

The alliance fighters were, in any case, coming in dumb. Whoever was in charge, probably a flight controller based on Admonisher, simply wasn’t thinking big enough and believed they could run a mass fighter battle as basically a small fighter battle, but much more of it. Fast and confused, speed and manoeuvre and winner take all - going all the way back to the deep past of the republic, before the clone wars.

Major fighter combat simply didn’t work like that. The quantity produced a quality all its own, it was inherently more collective, and inherently more attritional.
Try to bring everyone back, and the chances were that a group commander would lose far more of his people than if they just accepted some of them were going to die and planned accordingly.

The rebel controller fell straight into that trap, and tried to do a grand scale version of a straightforward slash, and set his force’s pacing, spacing and timing to match. He failed to keep close control, failed to push the leading edge of the Alliance formation in to their deaths, and got them killed anyway when the solid, integrated wall of shot the Imperial formation spat out carved the leading rebel elements apart.
What was left of the A’s and X’s scattered under the weight of fire and tried to break past the Imperial formation, but the trailing elements of division three and the turrets of the transports were there waiting for them.

That included Vehrec’s Avengers; as the scattered cloud of Alliance fighters zig-zagged towards a dragon’s mouth of Imperial fire, he itched to call ‘Break and Attack’, but that would give an opportunity back to the rebels that they didn’t deserve. A solid gun formation was still the best move - although one of the Y-wing squadron commanders was relatively smart, taking two other squadrons with him and moving out wide on the flank to get crossfire and maybe break up the Imperial formation. Better deal with that; Vehrec detached three squadrons of division three to intercept- including those gunship Starwings, it would be interesting to watch them in isolation.

The main event, though, the rebels were still being stupid. Rather than expose themselves to formal, organised fire, the lead elements had counterthrusted and picked a furball with division one. The clone war types were fragile but unbelievably dextrous - and from the counterforce point of view, hardly worth the trouble it took to put them down. Only the Actis had firepower remotely close to the current generation of craft. Actually, if the rebels had held to their original plan of cutting through and engaging the Imperial rear echelon, they would have been better off.

Most of their losses had actually been down to the heavy-gunned division three firing past the light fighters any way. And in some unfortunate cases, into. There had been friendly fire losses - but there had been far more enemy losses, which made the price acceptable.

The Alliance mocked the Empire for being so casual with each other’s lives, but there were maybe a hundred exploded Alliance fighters to argue to the contrary. Small scale, flight, squadron, maybe even wing, he would concede the Alliance had a tactical edge, but it was precisely that efficiency in small things that led them into error when they started counting in hundreds.

His second personal kill was an A-wing trying to bolt past and join the planetary group; he lined up on the leader of a pair, tracked it, made sure it knew it was being targeted - then twitched right and snapshot into the wingman who had been trying to protect his leader, and who had made an easy target of himself trying to line up on the Avenger.

Some of the A-wings were trying to use their pivot guns to strafe past the Imperials as they broke outside; if they were just strafing they were safely ignorable - never hit anything like that - if they were flying with their concentration on the guns, they were easy targets - one of them was his third kill.

One man turret or pivot fighters never worked, not with a human pilot anyway. Too much to do. There was a fireball on the right where one strafing A-wing ploughed head-on into an old bomber-winged protoAvenger; deliberate probably, but could have been accidental, there was definitely something wrong with those things’ avionics, as often as they managed to ram things their collision detection must be nonexistent.
Not that it mattered at the moment; the opportunity for a mass area shoot, formation on formation, had dwindled to nearly nothing, so he gave the order; ‘Division three, break and attack.’

That committed everything to one fight or another, this was the time of attrition, when he would see if the superior Imperial plan for large scale action had tipped the odds in the rolling fight that was now breaking out.

Probably, he thought, probably; the numbers were trending that way, so many of their best icebreakers, the A–wings, were gone, and only in the O-club bar afterwards were X-wings capable of taking on odds of five to one. They were good, but they weren’t that good. With that order it had turned into a tiderace of a battle, waves of fighters crashing against each other, and Vehrec and his bodyguard found themselves zig-zagging out of the fight, looking to find a vantage point from which he could actually make a difference as a group commander.

Where were the rebels strongest, and who were they threatening? Where were there Imperials without much heat on, that he could point at a better target?

Avengers were not designed for AWACS work, that was the root of it - although, was any fighter? All of his thoughts about large scale action and grand tactics, and this was starting to look like a pretty elementary problem.

Who else was with the Force? Black Prince’s multirole wing commander, riding one of the ATRs. Perfect. They could do the sensor sweeps and filtering, identify situations that he could he could then focus on - basically, staff work.

The flank guard group had run out of targets close to; he sent the mixed group of Starwings, Hunters and Avengers down to reinforce division two blockading the planet - there were dogfights in low orbit now; some of the rebels had made it that far.

Subformations of division three, pursuing threats identified by active sensor - he made more use of his scanner than he did his guns, using it like a spotlight, picking up on concentrations of rebel fighters. As the battle grew thinner and more spread out, he was able to withdraw squadrons from the furball and use them for long range massed fire again.

There was one critical point, when the half-strength remains of three X- and A-wing squadrons tried to hunt him down in person; oh, good, part of him thought - the squadron had lost one, but eleven Avengers, good odds, bring it on.

That part of him was disappointed in himself when he vectored in two squadrons of Actis to shred them before they got that far, and the rebels broke and ran before any of the Avengers could get a clear shot. Just as relieved, though, not to have to bother with that now when there was a battle to fight.

Move and countermove, the rebels picking up some victories but not many - halfway through the texture of the fight changed, and Vehrec guessed the controllers on Admonisher had too much to do, trying to steer the other half of their fighter complement past Black Prince’s point defence envelope, and had handed over control to the planet.

That made things slightly harder - they could coordinate their efforts with what was left of planetary point defence - but only slightly, as they came from the same mould, prone to make the same mistakes, and had been pounded pretty badly already.
Thrust and counterthrust, volley, evade and reform, things were tipping the Empire’s way - then, a pause, nothing much happening - as it stretched out, no urgent com traffic, no crossing flashes of laserfire, he realised most of the rebel fighters had turned to flee. There were maybe seven or eight squadrons left - about what he had lost, actually - bolting for hyperspace, and a handful of runs out from the edge of the atmosphere, although not many.

Hmm. Ninety to a hundred Imperial fighters destroyed and ten shuttles and transports, for the cost of some three hundred rebel. That could, he thought, have been so much worse.

‘Vehrec? Lennart,’ Voice over the com unit again. ‘Leave your division one and the stormtrooper transports to blockade the planet, take the rest to coordinate with Fist for torpedo strikes on Reiver.’

They were tired; not every day they had to fight a battle like that. Physically and emotionally tired, and in some cases low on fuel. Still, if there was more to do, who could say stop, enough? Although -

‘Captain Lennart, you have the other half of Admonisher’s fighter complement on attack approaches. No support?’

‘Not necessary,’ Lennart replied.

Operationally, there was half a solution: the hyperdrive fighters as a manoeuvre element. Detached Forces Wave One ought to be arriving there soon, as well.
As far as the fighter situation went, it was half true; evading as Black Prince was, not all of Admonisher’s fighters had the thrust to catch her, and those that did were scattered everywhere by the Imperial destroyer’s erratic course track - not exactly welcome, but feasibly within the limits of point defence to eliminate in detail.

Same reason why he didn’t want a heavy rocket strike on Admonisher, however welcome it might be; if that ship’s point defence was up to the same standard as her main guns, then it would cost too many Imperial fighters.

In fact, the poor performance of her fighter wing had been a pleasant surprise. Unexpected, definitely welcome - and slightly puzzling.

Both ships were, broadly speaking, closing on each other; another factor in Black Prince’s favour - she was the further out, and by using full power in evasion, that drove her closer in to the main four-ship destroyer action; Admonisher’s doing the same would push her outwards and away. Both thought it preferable to lose distance than take hits.

Why not accept help, surround Admonisher and pound her with everything the squadron could throw?

Because they couldn’t do the footwork, was the short version. Better she waste her fire trying and failing - most of the time - to hit Black Prince than she be given a shoal of new targets that she would be able to inflict real damage on.

Although…Lennart called up an internal systems monitoring status tracker; yes, there it was. He walked over to one of the sensor-signal interpretation consoles, knocked on it. ‘Doctor Nygma, are you in there?’

‘How did you figure it out?’ the mad doctor’s voice came back.

‘Same logic you used to figure out there was no point keeping quiet,’ Lennart said, keeping an eye on the main tactical board - nothing desperately urgent, just a stream of eight hundred teraton salvos incoming.

‘Oh, well, I wouldn’t say that, well actually I probably would, but the thing of the think is that I have very iodosyncratic logic processes.’

Lennart couldn’t spare the brain space to remember what the prefix ‘Iodo-‘ meant but he did say, ‘Because you’re trying to make sense of the actions and decisions of people too frightened and confused to think logically?’

‘Krutz. I was hoping that the only use for crazy-bad logic was the fun of it, that there actually wasn’t a reason,’ Nygma said.

‘You think you’ve got problems? I need your support with that rebel cruiser; I need you to board it and cause chaos.’

‘Chaos is good messy fun,’ Nygma said, ‘especially in the mathematical sense - but isn’t that being rather badly shot at?’ Nygma quibbled.

‘No, Voracious and Hialaya Karu are doing rather well,’ Lennart deadpanned, and went on, ‘Did you make identical identities, or did you produce a spectrum of enhanced and altered character traits as an exercise in the mathematics of survival?’

‘Maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t, what’s it to you?’ Nygma said, truculently, then ‘See? That was a version exhibiting mild paranoia. Although I used to do that when there was just a fleshy one or two of me too.’

‘And facing down a heavy destroyer, I have time for this?’ Lennart wondered.

Admonisher briefly sideslipped towards the main action, rolled to present her batteries to Fist - Lennart ordered a concentration on her stern over the engines. Admonisher snapshot with what was ready and turned back to face them.

‘Summon up all your inner misery and gloom,’ Lennart continued, ‘transfer to our holocom unit - not in that order - and go and enter into a suicide pact with One and Indivisible’s computers. Change the life system to fluorine settings, redefine the meaning of ‘up’, hypnotise them with light fixtures, go wild. Oh, and ransack them for anything and everything of intelligence use.’

‘Is there a less traumatic alternative?’ Nygma asked.

‘Well, if you think being threatened would improve your performance, I can charge you with interfering with the operations of the Imperial armed forces, and have you downloaded to a digital watch to await trial,’ Lennart said, looking away to the tactical map, watching the emergence, dispersal to attack formation, and first shots fired from detached forces wave one.

‘You know, this is getting perilously close to treading on the toes of a cultural icon. I seem to remember a paranoid android-‘

‘Is that from the same story that involved the use of an axe as a reprogramming tool?’ Lennart asked, rhetorically. ‘Com-Scan, internal network rolling purge-‘

‘All right, all right,’ Dr Nygma agreed to go. ‘Just don’t call me Eddie.’

‘You know,’ Lennart added conversationally to Brenn, ‘Occasionally I wonder if we blow our own trumpet too much, if we really are special or if there aren’t thousands of Imperial ships who would have been able to do the same, if they had the chance. Then I realise I only think that way because I’m forgetting moments like this.’

‘Hot work, isn’t it?' Brenn agreed. ‘I wonder who’s in charge over there. They are fairly good.’

Mon Evarra’s behaving like a private ship,’ Lennart said. ‘That could be it. They always were bold, especially for Mon Cal.’

‘Guns, Helm, I want this-‘ sketched the move, a slow roll towards One and Indivisible, long range time on target salvo, ‘as an opening, third order him.’

‘We should, so we shouldn’t, so we will, so we can’t?’ Rythanor wondered, not quite getting it. ‘Something inbound - very large, hard driven civilian, five light years and seventy seconds out; I’d positively identify an FSCV if I could think of any remotely intelligent reason for one being there.’

‘Get the drop point and keep watch on it. Anyway, from there, immediate turn away, roll back to bear and second volley, yaw left and volley on Admonisher, thrust, nose-down three step zigzag, corkscrew right and up from there.’ A complicated sequence, but it had the effect he was after.

One and Indivisible was suffering, electronically - some very strange emissions coming out of her main com antenna, most of the guns in local control, engines firing and counterfiring; no fit state to resist fire.

The two full volleys Black Prince sent into One and Indivisible burnt shielding away, but it was the reaction from Admonisher that was important, rolling to bear and spitting out one full volley that the turnaway sidestepped, then breaking off in turn when Black Prince turned back towards her unprotected bow.

The first converged sheaf missed, but gunnery had been expecting Admonisher to roll round to present her dorsal surface; a slight sideslip took the rebel out of some of the volley, but not all. Starboard bow, already running hot.

There was a blue-violet flare of a shield bubble blowing out - local overload - followed by an orange-red billow of vapourised durasteel and payload. What did a Shockwave carry up there in the bow? Forward repulsor, tractor beam cluster, life support stores. Nothing vital.

The return shot was a set of single battery volleys, three hit Black Prince, one over the superstructure, one forward, one aft and port. Energy, no burnthroughs, not yet. By the breadth of a highly unauthorised miracle. The Shockwave class’s shielding was, for their size, average; capable of withstanding an instantaneous surge of two point five petatons, total load to failure six hundred petatons.

The Imperial destroyer couldn’t match those numbers, and didn’t intend to - as long as she could keep hitting often enough to burn through that shielding, and keep moving enough that her own thinner shields could take what of Admonisher’s fire actually caught up with her.

So far, Lennart was winning, but by less than the margin of error.

One and Indivisible was, by this stage, much less well off. The volleys burnt through one shield- outer edge of the starboard half of the ring. There were more threat angles than the mangled ship had shields left to cover.

Her guns turned towards Black Prince - a spectacularly silly move, as with the distance and the fire control problems, the hit probabilities were low - and she desperately needed her guns as the chief defence against the Imperial ships close to. Voracious was close, and still trying to fend off the fighters, but Hialaya Karu had clear space around her and used it to stabilise out and fire a sequence of full time-on-target volleys into the cruiser.

One caught the outer starboard limb and exploded it; Hialaya Karu started to work inwards from there. That and the cruiser had never even begun to react effectively to the frigates and corvettes moving to englobe her.

Comarre Meridian was exchanging fire with the core globe - had taken an unlucky hit, and the concrete bow cap starting to burn made an interesting sight - but Obdurate had moved out at a wider tangent, and was attacking the armature that held the connected the core ship to the doughnut.

There was a fireball, strangely channelled by the globe and the ring, and the globe was briefly visible on sensor images as floating free, blasted loose or cut loose it was hard to say, because there was an emergence flare from hyperspace, and the FSCV emerged, very close to and on collision track with One and Indivisible.

Light forces wave two knew what was going to happen; they ceased fire and scattered. Escape pods and shuttles from the container transport followed them at maximum thrust; Commander Carcovaan had found a way to prevent his chance slipping by him after all.

There was very little a ship as badly battered as One and Indivisible could do; that little was done, laserfire reaching out to and tearing the travelhead of the forcefield ship apart, but there was too much mass, too much momentum, and most of it was containers of hypermatter fuel and billets of durasteel. Carcovaan had commandeered the base replenishment transport.

The containers behaved like a shotgun blast, catching the core ship - already raked by fire from Voracious and Hialaya Karu - and now flare after flare of metal heated to vapourisation by the impact as the stern travelhead continued to drive the stack forward.
The stack broke down after the first few, the last half-dozen bubbled and the aft main motors going wild, but it had done its work, and there were a few shredded fragments of rebel cruiser left.

‘See?' Caliphant said to Voracious’ bridge team. ‘The rebels can’t possibly hope to win against Imperial resources. Even our kamikazes come in extra large.’

Lennart’s response was slightly more considered. ‘That really wasn’t necessary, this late in the action and coming apart as it was, and that was a perfectly good transport. I’ve half a mind to dock the cost out of Carcovaan’s pay.’

‘Don’t look at me; my head’s hurting trying to work out how to split up the kill credit,’ Brenn replied.

‘At least we have a final total of how much there is to be had. Com-scan, send Hialaya Karu to join Fist, and signal Voracious and the rest of light forces wave two to join us. We still have Admonisher to put down.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-17 11:46am, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-07-07 09:59pm

Ch 35a

‘So far, so good, but I don’t see how much longer the Rebels can keep playing a losing game,’ Lennart said.

‘The results may be in our favour, but the odds aren’t, and if they keep ruthlessly playing the odds - no, they’re not stupid enough to stick to numbers that are wrong. Are we about to play musical jump points?’ Brenn suggested.

‘More like hyperspace roulette,’ Lennart said. ‘The Alliance tried to break the planetary blockade too soon, before it was fully established in fact, we don’t know what else is still down there. Reiver can’t last much longer, but Mon Evarra’s going to be difficult to put down.’

‘At four to one? She’s good, but-‘ Brenn said.

‘Good enough to last long enough to take the odds down to three to one. They’ll have to, though. Mon Evarra may be a crack ship, not the sort I would want to send anybody but us against, but still less do I want to have to send them up against that.’

He meant Admonisher, dancing though Black Prince’s fire and landing hits of her own in return. The Imperial ship was hitting the rebel about twice as often as she was being hit in return, which would have been excellent if they weren’t up against a ship with twice the firepower and shielding.

Not that the situation wasn’t likely to change.

‘As we close,’ Lennart assessed, ‘the conventional odds of hitting go up - which would in theory be disadvantageous for us, but both of us will switch to full converged sheaf, time on target salvos - we’re as likely to burn through as they are and we will hit more often. Very close action favours us, and I expect they’ve looked deeply enough at the numbers to work that out.’

‘They’ll stay in place long enough to let their bombers get to us, and then manoeuvre clear for another pass?’ Brenn theorised.

‘That implies a faith in their small craft that I don’t see being justified. Let’s hope so, but I doubt it.’

Up above in the Imperial suite, Adannan was watching the battle, without a great deal of comprehension. His goons were clustered around him - and that was all they really were, he admitted to himself.
I have surrounded myself with inferiors, he thought. Then again, is it actually possible for a dark adept not to do so?

The flares and flashes out there were irrelevant to the larger plan. Simply a backdrop. Lennart wouldn’t have gone and picked a fight he didn’t expect to win. Just because he didn’t think it was going to be easy was no reason to doubt that.

Casualties, too - lesser beings, what did they matter? Nothing. Upon Imperial victory - then what?
There would still be rebel elements alive on the planet; they would have to be dug out - and he had the authority, first to order what was left of that planet’s fortifications preserved, second to take charge of the ground operation personally.
It would be entertaining, but there were too many variables, too many people on both sides who had an interest in his non- survival.

What was Lennart’s plan? Carefully, he tried eavesdropping on the Captain’s thoughts - they were utterly taken up with the moment. Lennart’s mind was a blizzard of potential futures considered, as unlike meditation as it was possible to be - active searching, grabbing at the might. Adannan could barely follow it at all, but he prodded gently - introduced a tendril of himself, his scent as it were, to see what would happen and what Lennart thought he needed to do.
Half a dozen plans, almost all of them involving violence, mostly ridiculous degrees of overkill. Interestingly, the mental model Lennart seemed to be using to plot his demise was the Jedi he had worked with during the Clone Wars, adjusted slightly for circumstance.

The thought of obedience was not in him, and his political thought revolved around how to get away with killing the dark Jedi, and…what?
Evidence? How can he prove anything? Even if he heard every word - and he thinks he has, how? - I could have been lying. His word against mine…no, my word against the suspicions of whoever this mess ends up in the lap of. There are some remarkably suspicious people out there, I should know, I am one, and I would gleefully take any of my rivals’ heads off on the strength of what he has against me, Adannan thought.

So - I threaten him with the power of the Sith, and he calls my bluff - the empire might gain him, but I get an Inquisitor’s lightsabre to chew on. Not good.
Bluff? Not likely, he knows the situation too well. Any hope of tripping him up with that, allowing his own information to lead him into error? I know the people and personalities better than he does…and most of them are opportunist sociopaths, savage to a fault. Not really.

Run through the potential sequence of events. I confront him and force him to bend the knee as my apprentice - or attempt to do so immediately after he has fought and defeated a superior enemy force, and is riding high in the respect and confidence of his crew. Worst possible time.

It’ll have to be done, though. I am being appallingly weak over this. When would be the right moment - when he is at his lowest and most miserable? How to arrange that, have him sacked?

If I dismiss him from his post, that would work - in fact, it might be necessary. The chances are he would give me all the excuses I need then, and obviously it restricts his power to use his position against me.

Yes, that would be it; make sure his only path of service to the Empire is through the Force.

On Fist’s improvised emergency bridge, Captain Tevar was retaining control of her temper with some difficulty. She wanted Reiver dead, destroyed, taken apart, chopped into little bits she could jump up and down on then have the bits disintegrated. In the unlikely event there were many of the original crew left on board, she wanted to do the same to them for turning their coats and letting her ship down.

Yelling at the image on the bridge viewscreens wasn’t going to do it though, and the next obvious thing, screaming at her bridge crew, wasn’t going to achieve anything either.

What she was trying to do was to keep her shields up mainly against Mon Evarra, manoeuvre primarily with respect to the much smarter, much more elusive Mon Cal ship, and keep her guns focused on Reiver.

The rest of the force - Dynamic was already here supporting her, and it occurred to Tevar that she hadn’t had to pass a single order to the lighter destroyer; he had simply slotted himself into her plans. Well, the lines of authority were hardly as clear as they could have been, the formal structure Lennart had intended to operate under largely having dissolved on her arrival.

Which was fine, as long as the force itself didn’t dissolve. Which could still happen. Admonisher was landing hits at a rate of ten to fifteen percent on a ship that was behaving like a cross between a ghost and a swarm of locusts; turned against her ship, she wouldn’t expect to survive longer than thirty seconds against that gunnery.

They had to finish here, had to grind Reiver down and move to englobe and burn down the rebel heavy - but first Reiver, for the sake of the name and the honour of the sector group.

Strategically, the Alliance had made a mistake with her; they should have withdrawn Reiver for refit elsewhere, where they could dismember her computer systems for intelligence purposes in peace and then reconstruct her for deception and false flag operations far away from here. Hazarding her at all was an error. Of course, that they had to was down to the fact that Lennart had lunged for them too quickly, helped by a little deception and a lot of cut corners. They hadn’t had time to get the ship clear.

Tactically speaking, Reiver simply wasn’t ready. Everything suggested she was on a skeleton crew of Imperial defectors and rebel volunteers, her fire was enthusiastic but ragged, her reactor wasn’t even developing full power, and her evasion was from another age - slow, hesitant, gentle turns seconds apart.

In a way, Tevar wished it would put up more of a fight, but then, Mon Evarra was more than making up for it.

The elimination of the rebel cruiser left two Imperial destroyers and numerous frigates free to seek other targets; where were they - ah. Too close a distance to microjump in both cases, but Voracious was accelerating in a tangent to swing round Admonisher and join Black Prince, and Hialaya Karu was accelerating to take a position off Fist’s starboard beam.

For a crew in an unfamiliar ship and burdened by many fools, Karu was shooting well. Too well, in fact - against Mon Evarra, any help was welcome, but as against Reiver, Captain Tevar wanted to order her - keep off, he’s mine.

Apparently, the Rebel ship felt the same way. There was an electrogravitic surge and a spray of stray tachyons - hyperdrive being brought online.

‘Guns-‘ Tevar began a preparative order.

‘Her shields are still up, a component shot-‘

Hialaya Karu’s fire was arcing in now, fairly accurate, not that that gave Tevar much encouragement.

‘Group together, bridge aimpoint, time on target-‘ Tevar gave the order, the guns waited until they were all charged together.

Tevar had to reach down into the fire control section of the pit and point it out on screen, would have had to do so even with proper facilities. Fist’s bridge hadn’t been customised with the same information handling devices as Black Prince- but soon would be, Tevar thought; this is damned undignified.

The rounds crashed out - and the ship kicked from Mon Evarra’s taking the opportunity to put her shots in - as Reiver turned and accelerated to hyperspace. They caught the renegade destroyer over the port flank aft - one main repulsor emitter, a secondary reactor, life support aeroponics, parts and spares. One of the hyperdrive cores, but Reiver had the same multiple redundancy as all the class.

She managed to make the jump. Tevar opened her mouth to scream in frustrated rage, decided that would not be consistent with her status as the captain of an Imperial warship, turned to her chief navigation officer and said, in a sweetly reasonable voice that her crew knew was the prelude to her tearing somebody’s head off, ‘If you would care to plot that and chart a pursuit course, I would be obliged.’

There was only one safe response. ‘Aye aye, Captain.’

Mon Evarra was behaving like a wolfhound let loose. Without the lead ship to conform to, she accelerated away, vectored laterally - sideways in plain English - moving away from Fist and curving round, strafing Dynamic. Which made the fundamental mistake, helmsman reacting automatically as per doctrine before Dordd could countermand him, of turning her belly. The most heavily armoured and most structurally sound surface the ship had, and one whose shielding could take a bit more abuse than it had so far.

It was a standard posture for bayless, all-gun ships; under the circumstances it was worse than useless.

Aldrem grabbed the edges of his console and tried hard not to step beyond his established station by yelling at the helm control team; that was Dordd’s job.

Useless to try and ride the attack out, their only effective defence was their firepower, and there was no reason at all for the rebels to stop shooting at them.

Hialaya Karu was sending out a long string of yellowish-green bolts, a rippling fire tracking across the darting, hummingbird Mon Cal ship, some hitting her - but not enough to divert her from the much closer, much more tempting target.

Dordd shouted at his helm control team, and the destroyer’s bow began to dip - too slowly, and yawing out of line - good but unintentional, and the result of nerves. For a moment, he believed in cloning, considering how many places he wanted to be in at once.
Mon Evarra mistimed it slightly - couldn’t quite believe that Dynamic was moving so slowly.

There was a temporary pause, maybe half a second, and the bridge crew looked at Dordd, hopefully; maybe the reb had decided to stop shooting at them? He started to issue the order ‘Brace for impact-‘ realised it would be pointless, take far too long to react to for any good to be done.

Started to say ‘Roll 120 starboard-‘ then the time on target hit.

The converged sheaf the rebel ship fired was aimed for the turret complex. The speed of Dynamic’s turn meant it hit too soon, just under the bow.

Fortunately, what was up there wasn’t all that vital - the chemical flare of armour boiling off, navigation shield generators, repulsor, manoeuvre jets - not as if they were using them anyway.

Crap, Aldrem thought. Damn decentralised Mon Cal, there’s no critical aim point, except try to chew through the entire length of the ship to get at the reactor and engines. No obvious bridge module, not even a single weapon complex, with triple turrets I can’t viably take fire window shots to knock their turrets out.

On this ship, I feel as if I’m fighting with my feet nailed to the ground. No alternatives, are there? They’ll probably get me before I manage to get them. Damn probability. ‘On the bow, on my mark, converged sheaf, fire.’

Mon Evarra’s second salvo hit about ten milliseconds after Dynamic’s first. From the rebel ship, there was a flare of light, a blue-violet planar explosion as the bow shield overloaded and blew out, but only two relatively small green fireballs as shot hit the physical hull - one followed by a secondary cluster of blasts as antifighter missiles in a point defence cluster near the hit detonated, but not much against a ship that size.

On the Imperial ship, the shields served to glance some of the incoming energy - but not enough. The splashes of rebel fire over the long, thin ship appeared as if it was being grasped and squeezed in an indigo fist; felt more or less like that, too.

Mon Evarra was faster to manoeuvre, and knew it; climbed and rolled - Aldrem tried to get A turret to put a shot into the rebel’s less focused flank shields, but they shifted energy too fast, there was no blind spot.

The order that would decentralise their fire and give them a chance to outreact the rebels was ‘Independent Fire-‘ Even handing over power and trust to men he had known for years was difficult. He wanted to be the master of his own fate, and that of any poor bastard unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. That was human, faith in himself and his own talent; it was not, he forced himself to accept, professional. What they had to do was whatever worked.

‘Local control, fire at will. Vary aimpoints, make them dance.’ The three turrets had aimed apart and started spitting fire at the rebel before he had got as far as the ‘t’ in ‘control’.

‘Right, you son of a sea snake,’ he muttered looking at the image of the Mon Cal cruiser, ‘where is your soft spot…’

Her game plan now, Aldrem thought, Reiver barely made it out alive, and Fist is moving to pursue - hyperdrive activating now. Captain Tevar’s locked on to that ship, in the worst possible sense of the term.

Reiver lost shield capacity and took damage, hasn’t left the system, is close around Corban-III-e, the last remaining credibly defended outworld - although not heavily enough defended to keep Fist away. Hoping to cool off enough to re-enter the fight. Not likely to get the chance, but while Fist is taking Reiver apart, Mon Evarra has a chance to do the same to us, then pursue.

Damn them and their deceptive, shifting ship designs; it’s like trying to pick out an individual wrinkle on my great-granny’s face. And she had the looks of a small moon. We have identified most of the actual weapon blisters, Aldrem thought, but that’s little help.

Taking out one gun at a time is going to be pathetically slow. We may do more by overpenetration - if there was such a thing as doing too much damage - but they were almost as well armoured internally as they were externally, their shock resistance and damage limitation measures were excellent. She would have to be pounded to death.

Did they have a big enough stick? Nine guns looked very well on paper, fifteen hundred and forty-eight teratons a salvo, but Dynamic’s powerplant could only give them a thousand and eighteen. Not enough, not enough at all - and they had already burnt off most of their capacitor load.

Was there a panacea target? Bridge - no, not obvious enough where it was. It would matter if it could be hit, but it couldn’t except by dumb luck, so - the heatsinks.

Well, thank you very kriffing much, Dordd thought looking at the retreating flare of Fist’s engine vents as the larger ship accelerated to lightspeed. Leaving me to deal with this thing.

The numbers didn’t work; despite everything the rebels could do in evasion and jamming, Aldrem and his turret team were getting a hit rate of eighty-five percent or better, extraordinary. The alliance gun crews were very good, not in Pel Aldrem’s class but then considering the target they didn’t need to be. At these rates, neither craft had more than two minutes to live - but Dynamic would run out of time before Mon Evarra.

Dordd had tried to get torpedoes off, they were a great equaliser in theory, but the rebel’s point defence was too good, splashing them apart almost as soon as they were out of the tubes. At least the safety interlocks worked.

‘I intend to spin the ship to mask the torpedo tubes - stand by.’

The alliance ship would keep firing - could the shield control crew keep focus oriented on the rebel, avoid showing thin, vulnerable spots? Could the torpedo team get their shots off safely from a rapidly spinning ship? Absurd to have to ask, under normal circumstances.

Turning away would mask the guns; Aldrem would probably scream at him - admittedly with good cause - but he had to do something different, playing it straight would lead to defeat.

Main battery control was calling, anyway. ‘What is it, Lieutenant?’

‘The rebels are lining up for another time on target on the turret line,’ Aldrem said. His tone - contained frustration and rage - added, in effect, so kriffing well manoeuvre. To the turrets he said, ‘This is central, we’re going to be manoeuvring fairly wildly,’ I hope, he didn’t say, ‘I’ll take the shot.’

Dynamic’s helm control was having a miserable time of it; they could keep the ship alive by dong solely that, but they couldn’t really fight the ship, and although the Captain was trying not to make it worse by shouting at them, spooking them into being even less effective, there were moments when he simply couldn’t help it. Threaten them with disrating? No, too little, Dordd thought. Execution? Too much chance of having to follow through on that threat too soon, and is there anyone who would actually be better? Probably not.

They were still poor, and Dordd realised that he had never cancelled the preparative for the torpedo turn to bear. Dynamic pitched down again, and some of the rebel gunners tracked the manoeuvre, others not; there was a figure eight shaped splash of violet impacts, over the forward superstructure and the turret line.

The simultaneous crash was more than the shields could take, three bolts leaked through - two into the forward edge of the superstructure. Crew quarters, damage control bunker, and the ship’s main offices - no effect on the immediate fighting ability of the ship, and possibly rather good in the long term.

The third hit burned through the armour beside C turret. Most of the vapourised metal blew outwards, baffles and tensors doing what they could, but the shock damage - Fendon lunged for that panel, almost snapped the switches off cutting power to C and draining the capacitor bank back into A and B. It took half a second for the containment shield around the energy cells to heat to the point of uselessness; an eternity, and just long enough.

Instead of a multi-petaton eruption that would have broken the ship’s back and laid her armoured skin wide open, they got a relative fizzle; a low yield detonation that mostly vented out through the hole the shot had carved in the ship’s hull. Mostly.

When the flare had cleared, C turret - closest to main battery command - was lying askew, mounting twisted out of shape, and blackened - obviously inoperable, and most of the indicators on the status board were red. Or black. Suluur was staring at the board in undisguised horror; of course, Ahdria - but the rest of them wanted to stay alive still. Aldrem was about to shout at him when he visibly brought himself back under control.

Dynamic had put her nose down, been hit hard, and was now pitching back up; six guns charged and operational - Aldrem steered both turrets onto line and squeezed the trigger as the sight came on. Exactly as he had intended - starboard side, over the highest point of neutrino flux, and so close together as to be almost a single impact - even Mon Cal shielding couldn’t cope, flared brightly and faded; the armour of the rebel ship burst outwards in a cloud of superheated vapour, and there was a definite secondary explosion, as at least one set of coils overloaded and destroyed themselves.

Blow for blow, and neither side daft enough to think that was anything near an end of it. Dynamic was porpoising, her bow coming back up too fast for Aldrem to get a second shot off, and exposing the ship’s belly again. Aldrem and Dordd both screamed at the helm team to roll to bring the guns to bear, but instead of pivoting on the main engines, which would have resulted in the ship’s bow describing an arc, the confused, frightened helm crew made a manoeuvre thrusters roll, in place, on the long axis, and inherently slower considering the bow manoeuvre thrusters were gone.

Not all the rebel guns fired, the heatsink hit had done that much - and they had moved very fast to avoid overloading what was left of it. Enough to punch through traumatised, shock-damaged shields.

For a second, Dordd saw the bow of his ship outlined in creation-hot plasma.

Oh kriff the reactor’s gone, he thought; no, can’t have, if I’m still alive enough to think I’m dead, it must be the secondary. Time to leave. ‘Helm, input navigation package E and execute.’

A preplanned escape jump to the outer system - Dordd hoped his ship was in sufficient shape to make it. And before they were hit again, he added to himself - underside and bow shields were almost completely gone, shield generators damaged, dorsal-mid weak.

This time, they got it right. A blizzard of blue-white replaced the violet flare he was expecting.

‘Lads,’ Aldrem announced, before deciding to say it formally, ‘Main battery direction will remain closed up; turret crews A and B, assist damage control with turret C.’ Best compromise available. He didn’t want Suluur going down there and trying to pull incandescent durasteel beams off the mangled body of his girlfriend - or the thin red smear which was actually more likely. He did need to do something, and this was it.
His old friend was a stoic, a fairly distant man most of the time. Aldrem didn’t want to think about how he would react after finding, and losing, someone who had managed to get under his skin and made him show a more human side.

Stang, Aldrem thought, she’s even getting to me, I’m more worried about that than I am about three guns out of action. Conventional wisdom said keep busy, find something to do to avoid having time to grieve.

‘While we’re waiting for them to catch us,’ he said, blackly, ‘I want a breakdown of Mon Evarra’s shooting skills. Performance of individual weapon mounts, identify their battery groups, their reaction times to changing circumstances and changing plans. Our best direction to come at them from, and theirs to us. Bring the data up.’

On the bridge, Dordd was listening to the long, long list of damage reports come in, as they drifted in the outer fringes of the system. Wondering what they could be expected to achieve if - when - they had to go back into the fire.

There were things happening outsystem, too - a situation update from the flag on Jorvik; she and Allegiance-class Daring, Tector-class Peltast, Imperator-I Tigress, Imperial-II Speaker, Venator-class Varangian, were in theatre over Iushnevan, had ionised and were in the process of boarding the Moff’s flagship; the sector group was offering only scattered and uncoordinated resistance.

Larger units of the regional support group were on their way; the warhogs were coming out to play. The capital ships, the battleships and battlecruisers of the regional support force, seldom found a chance to use their guns in anger.

Most rebel ships, the cost of the damage they could conceivably do was less than the fuel and wear cost of moving to intercept them.

This time, they had a genuine fight on their hands, at least four destroyer-class rebel ships and probably a multiplanetary siege campaign to conduct. They were not going to get left out.

Like most regional support groups, they had a single Heavy Battle Squadron, in this case three Mandator-class. As more Executors came off the slips, they would first be assigned one to a support group or task force as a fast striker and leadship, then additional heavy battle squadrons built around them.

They hadn’t got theirs yet, Trucidatior was committed keeping an eye on a nationalised mining company which was showing signs of intending to revert to type, and evidently Stormbird had drawn the short straw and had to remain behind as reaction force in case of other trouble elsewhere.

The third unit of the Heavy Battle Squadron, the Cosmonaut Ijon Tichy, was due to arrive in sector in twenty minutes. Glorious. If the situation wasn’t complicated and confusing enough, it would get that way soon. Tichy had a reputation for the obscure and convoluted, not surprising in a ship named for a man who may have been his own grandmother.

Apparently, Tichy was heading for the middle of nowhere; up to something, no doubt. A wavefront of cruisers and most of first battle squadron was heading for the rRasfenoni home planets; first battlecruiser squadron was moving towards the rimward end of the trade spur, blockade and interdict.

Anyone heading to help them, quickly enough to matter? Jorvik, maybe.

Fist did not want or need help, at this precise point in time; Black Prince had given her the precalculated drop point Lennart had been intending to use to assault Corban-III-e, and Tevar had chosen to go with that rather than wait long enough to calculate one.

It brought them out at relatively long gun range from the target, and too far for the planet’s guns - they could reach, but at five light seconds out, the target area was so big barrage fire was all they could hope for.

Reiver started screaming for help, but there were no uncommitted rebels to help her - Karu was engaging Mon Evarra now, from medium range, and scoring hits.

Fist rolled to bear and opened fire. Imperial and Rebel manuals both recommended slow bombardment fire at this distance, form a stable platform; Reiver had learned better by now, began to evade - slow and meandering though, not full blooded dancing and darting - and Fist was on a closing vector.

Single shot, rippling fire at first - one main turbolaser firing every twelfth of a second, and the four heavy ion cannon together; it looked as if Fist was scribbling on Reiver, the long line of bolts tracking over her, wandering on and off target. Reiver was salvo-firing, all guns together, a terrific thump of recoil that did more for her evasion than any of the moves she actually intended, but that in itself guaranteed never hitting with more than one or two shot. Useful against a frigate, enough, given time, against a light destroyer, but useless against an equal. No real chance of a breach and no more heat than Fist could radiate away.

Reiver would be calculating another escape course - to deep space, to some hidden rebel base, to shelter under the fire-umbrella of Admonisher. Tevar intended to chase them to wherever she had to, out of the galaxy if need be - and just as she was promising herself to spend less time swearing revenge and more effort working on it, the fourth - last step in her plan came good.

That being, pound Reiver until she stopped being able to fight back. Three turbolaser bolts hit in mid-manoeuvre, as Reiver had no forward thrust on, and blasted away a panel of the shields - and the four ion bolts were lucky enough to hit in the same spot. Reiver’s turret line spasmed, one gun spat out what looked like a flak bolt that burst five kilometres off, and one seemed to melt. Reiver started to roll to expose her other side, but it was slow, uncoordinated, barely under control.

‘Ion cannon, maximum firepower,’ she ordered; bolt-cluster after cluster splashed into the damaged destroyer scattering lightning over the hull. The lights went out, but there was still light - the turbolasers had not been ordered to cease, and they continued to drive their stream of shot into the unpowered hull. There were fires and molten metal glowing.

There was a scatter of escape pods, on independent isolated systems, or solid chemical boost. Fire on them - no. It would be an excess to start popping escape pods, particularly at this range, and especially as it would be more cruel to just leave them drifting there.

‘Captain…’ her exec suggested, ‘it is possible that we could retake that ship.’

Tevar’s tactical map was less complex than Lennart’s but it still managed to show the essentials. Black Prince was fencing with Admonisher, if that was the right term for the hammerblows both ships were giving and taking.

Dynamic was - gone? No, far out in the cometary halo. Hialaya Karu engaging Mon Evarra, and capitalising on the damage Dynamic had done - the rebel ship did not look healthy now, but was still hitting back.

Voracious - trading fire with Admonisher, which kept turning to present her belly batteries to the light destroyer, both ships giving and taking hits.

Two wolfpacks of frigates and corvettes, the fast group chasing Admonisher and filling the space around her with fire, the shower of tracer looking a lot more impressive than the reality that they were mainly MTL.

The slow wolfpack was going for Mon Evarra, another blizzard of mainly mediums, and those few ships that did have heavy turbolasers starting to take return fire.

A boarding action would take minimum half an hour, with a complement of shuttles mostly busy elsewhere, could be two or three hours to flush the ship clean. Far too long.
‘Possible but not practical. Main guns, time on target, finish her.’

Reiver had nothing now, no defensive EW, no tensors - Fist fired three full time on target salvos. The first hit the superstructure, shattering it in a nova of molten metal; the second burnt into the ship’s bow, blasting it open.

Third time was the charm. Reactor. It had cut out under the ion barrage, but was still very hot, and the structural centre of the ship, best placed to transmit the shock; Reiver burst apart, the green fireball then the spreading billow of yellow-orange-white.

Tevar chose not to resist the impulse this time, and let loose a howl of triumph. A kill, and an exceptionally large one. Mediocrely handled, but that was the point, wasn’t it? To be better than they were, and win by that.

The bridge crew were equally excited; hardly the dignified resolution they tried to drum into them at the academy, but she could let them have their moment.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-17 12:04pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-07-19 09:30pm

Ch 35-B

HIMS Cosmonaut Ijon Tichy was a ship with a reputation, some parts of it good, most just passing strange. He had two mottoes, one official, one less so.
The official version was “Navigare Necesse Est”- which was variously translated by the crew as ‘Fly, Fly you fools’, ‘get me out of here’, ‘why me? Well, somebody has to do it’, and ‘I thought you knew how to steer this thing.’ All of which the man himself would have recognised as bearing a certain validity.

The official unofficial motto was “More closed timelike curves than the Miss Gallifrey pageant.”

And what a crew. Tichy had been an inadvertent xenologist, and probably the greatest amateur first contact man the galaxy had ever known; his life had been one long cascade of biological diversity, and the ship named for him had a high proportion of aliens among the crew even in these unenlightened days. Even numerous rated droids and mechanicals. The Cosmonaut had had an almost touching faith in the essential decency of computers - on record as saying “It’s comforting, when you think about it, that only Man can be a bastard.”

On current data he had been wrong, although it was possible he had had a better breed of computer to deal with, back in the dawn of the Republic.

The ship was idiosyncratic in several ways as well. The Mandator-I class was - had been - legally limited to short range hyperdrive only, for fear of what the largest and most heavily armed fleet in the galaxy might otherwise do.

There were two interesting technical issues, the first of them being, how do you build a limited range hyperdrive? In order to function at all, it has to be an extraordinarily capable and durable piece of kit. Shaving the margins to make it capable of only a thousand light years would leave it so close to overload and unable to withstand sudden loads in normal usage as to constitute a distinct hazard to the ship and the crew.

The other problem was a legal one. Who, if anybody, was going to insure compliance with this? Asking Kuat to do it themselves was obvious nonsense, and almost everyone else who was competent to do so was also in competition with KDY, a conflict of interest so obvious that even the Senate noticed.

In the end, the problem got palmed off on the Republic Judicial Corps, who used ships whose entire hyperdrive system was smaller than one of the circuit breakers in a Dreadnaught’s engine room, and who would have found it as easy to put out a quasar by peeing on it as to bring down a renegade Mandator.

Kuat Drive Yards obeyed the law not out of respect for it, but out of consideration for their own reputation - and the balance of power that underlay the situation that made them their money. Many of their ships probably were in technical violation, as a matter of safety, but these were local modifications, and not part of any company wide effort - and nobody could prove otherwise, officially at least. It may even have been actually true.

One of the most interesting side effects was that a lot of research had been done on hyperdrive at the margins; failure conditions and possible retrievals, stability, miniaturisation - the clone war era fighters and their booster rings owed a lot to that.

Ijon Tichy was supposed to be a Mandator-I, but in practise was very much odder than that.

When it had become politically possible to uprate them, not only did he ‘acquire’ a full range, galactic-class hyperdrive, he had the cone and pole antennae of hyperdrive and associated field projectors - a towing rig. He could carry another craft of similar size and mass through hyperspace, retrieving a disabled sister ship or delivering a short-range version to a customer, or do stranger things- spaciobatics, they called it.

In this case, he was acting on information received - following a trail based on data from the capture of Oyadan that was leading them towards a point not quite in the middle of nowhere. Down, and off to the left a bit.

Mandators were older ships, but they had been kept up to date, and Tichy’s descent sensors did register something there.

Emergence; and a light strike group, four Keldabe class destroyers, two old Recusant, and half a dozen frigates - a single wandering Imperator might be severely threatened, the group was a fair match for two, but for a full dreadnaught, it was playtime.

Tichy shrugged off the volley of fire they opened with, and reached out and grabbed the nearest Recusant with tractor/manipulator beams, sheared away the shielding with ion fire, and started prodding it. Pushing and pulling with tractor/pressors, twisting it, playing grab with the engine modules and pointing them in different directions, compressing and releasing the exoskeletal flaps.

By the time the destroyer completely lost the plot and attempted to turn on a collision course, Tichy’s tractor operators had got to the stage of trying to play a tune on the exposed metal ribbing. An ion bolt below the bridge put paid to the ram.

The first of the Keldabes to engage got a rude shock when she tried to accelerate past the dreadnaught to the aft quarters and fire on the engine block.

Part of Tichy’s towing gear was the projectors and uptakes necessary to extend some shield coverage over a ship being lifted. Not as good as the main hull’s coverage, but good enough to form into a parabolic duct, and deflect the heavy bolts of the destroyer-monitor’s main guns back at her.

The pi-th dan master of Furjoto the ship was named after would have approved of using the enemy’s strength against them.

Keldabe-class destroyers boasted two very large and very peculiar guns of possible Confederate design, a hyperexcited blaster scaled up to the point where its ionic effects were significant; not quite as effective as an ion cannon the same size- but a lot more straightforward lethality. The Keldabes themselves - their front end was largely girderwork, squarer and heavier-looking than they really were; unfortunately, they didn’t have the shielding or the mass to take a hit from their own main guns.

The second Recusant actually was ex-confederation, or at least the computer system was. How it had survived this long was anyone’s guess, but Tichy did a truly cruel thing to it - expanded its consciousness. Included within its simple mental lexicon the concepts of obsolescence, cheapness, disposability. The droid ship was sub-sentient, operant modules for systems feeding into instinct and ego; Tichy dissolved that ego by showing it the evidence of how little its masters had really valued it, how it had been half way to the scrapheap from the moment of its creation. Rammed the evidence down its throat, actually. Then Tichy expanded on the other side of the equation, told it about the people it had destroyed, about the ambitions and the real potential it had squandered and the future it had helped to break.

Grief-stricken, the confederate destroyer and its droid working crew committed electronic suicide, leaving the flesh and blood pirates on board trapped in a slowly tumbling durasteel tomb without power or life support.

Even Tichy wasn’t sure whether that actually constituted a virus or not.

The remaining three Keldabe destroyers were afraid to engage, first of all for the reason that absolutely anything might happen. Between the hundred-million ton xylophone and the electronic weeping and wailing from the second Recusant, there was no guarantee that their shot wouldn’t, for instance, fly into a field of complexity, achieve sentience, turn into a flock of spacebats and fly away. Which was true enough, but then it occurred to them that they were facing a kriffing dreadnaught, and they had more than enough perfectly normal reasons to be afraid.

They had come to eliminate an errant Vigo-wannabe and conduct an assassination or five and a sector wide grand tour of bank raids, and this had not been in the job description.

They laid down a barrage - achieving nothing, swallowed up harmlessly by the huge ship’s shielding, and turned away to escape to hyperspace.

Not fast enough. The seconds they took to turn was forever in computer time, and at least the Recusant had had something resembling electronic security - not enough to stave off the complexity of attack, but at least it had tried. By comparison, the Keldabes had nothing. It was a relatively simple matter to take control of the navigation data and amend it slightly.

Specifically, pick two ships, and give each destroyer the other’s entry point, then sit back and laugh as the overgunned, relatively fragile ships sideswiped each other at hyperdrive-entry speeds.

Tichy could have brute-forced that, fine-focusing a grav projector at the entry points to create a steep enough pull to draw them into collision, or blinded them and pulled them off course with his EW fit and tractors, but this was more elegant.

Only poetic justice, and almost as odd as what happened to the last Keldabe; the one that had been left because Tichy’s vector took him very close to the little ship, almost overrunning her. Which might have been more merciful than what actually happened, the best description of which was probably time bombing via the towing rig.

HIMS Cosmonaut Ijon Tichy was, after all, equipped to transport craft of his own size through hyperspace, and on something as small as a Keldabe he could take it along whether it wanted to go or not.

Reeled in by the tractors and whiplashed along into hyperspace, the little destroyer experienced first, the rest of the universe speed up around it, being able to do nothing, not fast enough to matter to the reality it was accelerating and dilating away from.

Then time came back to hammer the people on board with a vengeance as it was the universe that slowed down and they were dragged through spacetime unprotected, aging and withering as the cosmos stood still around them.

That had to be some kind of a record. Six light destroyer class craft destroyed or neutralised, without firing as much as a single turbolaser shot, and only one heavy ion cannon.

The Cosmonaut had been basically a peaceful man, but never shy about doing what had needed to be done. And there were other targets to sort out.

Ord Corban, and Voracious was wondering what she had got herself into. Admonisher was laying what fire could be spared from Black Prince on the light destroyer - and hitting, mostly.

Caliphant was getting hoarse from helm orders, and trying to keep his crew organised and cheerful and up to the mark. Time had got weird on him; seconds seeming like hours, hours seeming like minutes; this was the former. He was almost excruciatingly aware of what was happening, and starting to wonder, when does this end?

When you screw up badly enough to let them kill you, was the obvious answer. Or when they do.

Mon Evarra was firing by battery groups, slow and deliberate, timed against what of her heat dispersal remained intact; shaken, but still fighting effectively with what she had left.

About to get buried under a cloud of Imperial bombers looking for that breach in her shields, and already spitting point defence fire at them.

How likely were the rebels to remain in theatre - or at least how likely was Admonisher, if she lost the last of her squadron? As long as there was a chance to break the blockade and get anything out, they had an interest in staying.

Actually, in Admonisher’s position, Lennart would have jumped out now, waited until the Empire sent in troops to reclaim and engineering assets to rebuild, and re-entered the fight then - reaping, potentially, a handsome bonus in lives taken and assets destroyed as well as doing more to break his own people out. He just hoped Admonisher’s captain was too target fixated to think of it.

Dynamic was more or less out of it - could still give but was in no shape to take punishment, could only safely be brought into the end game. Fist had lost most of her shielding, mostly due to Mon Evarra, but was still intact, or at least had lost nothing further in this phase of the fight.

Voracious was moving and firing very well for a scratch crew, the incidents they had seen in the run-up to this had done them a lot for good, but the numbers weren’t working for them. She simply wasn’t doing as much good against the massive Shockwave as she would against a smaller target.

Detach her to reinforce the planetary blockade, allow the fighters and small craft holding there to use her as a base station, rest and replenish ordnance? Not yet - one side of the planet still had too many big guns for comfort, and it would also mean taking too much firepower out of the Imperial line. Well, melee.

Voracious, this is Black Prince Actual. Go and pick on somebody your own size - manoeuvre clear of Admonisher, engage Mon Evarra,’ Lennart ordered.

There wasn’t really any more they could do than they were already to keep Admonisher off Voracious’ back. The frigates and corvettes of detached forces wave one were squalling at her, thunderstorms’ worth of green tracer, and doing well - well enough to draw counterfire. Secondary medium and light turbolasers from Admonisher reached out across the formation, seeing who was stolid enough not to flinch and who was jittery enough to run too far, too fast.

There was a clear contender for idiot of the moment; Yeklendim in their capture, Grey Princess. He evaded too radically, and then settled back down to steady weave too soon.

‘Yeklendim,’ Lennart commed him, ‘jump out now. You’re about to become a target.’

Yeklendim had the sense, for the first time in his career, to obey as he was officially supposed to instantly and without question.

Sarlatt on the sister ship Provornyy managed to do a little better than that, by accelerating towards Grey Princess and forcing her to turn away or be sideswiped - and avoid the salvo of MTL fire Admonisher had dropped ahead of Grey Princess in anticipation.

Grey Princess made it to lightspeed, she would move clear, then plot a return course immediately. In theory. The light gun fire washed over the rest of the group, mostly resistible - the Carracks could take it, and most of the force was operating on their captains’ own judgement anyway.

Lennart did order the Marauders and Customs Corvettes to break out of the pack and draw a tangent across the rebel fighter group’s line of attack.

Admonisher had no such support against Imperial fighters, but she did have a much thicker point defence fit. Vehrec was arguing with himself what to do - duty said go in close and strafe, common sense said long range warhead fire. Pilot ego said charge, good judgement said wait for Black Prince’s fire to make an opening then move to exploit it.

Any compromise was likely to be worse than either option pursued decisively, he thought until he realised that the ‘charge’ plan would involve taking large, slow-manoeuvring shuttles into point blank range of a ship with an extensive point defence grid.

Maybe the compromise made sense, just this once.

‘Division Two, aim for Admonisher’s engines, all remaining warhead load. Division three, with me, we’ll follow the warheads in and engage from close range.’

Olleyri on Black Prince was thinking, tennis. Royal tennis, old school, flat court, one ‘g’; or splat. Or was it actually called squash? Whatever, it was useful training for this. Fast-moving hard things ricocheting everywhere, and trying to chase the angles and cover the positions, guide the fighters into a position they might be able to survive making a strike from.

The division of sublight fighters that had been released by Wave Two of the warships had had their first target snatched out from under them when One and Indivisible died; most of them had steered for Mon Evarra, and were about to launch on the wounded Mon Cal ship. Too many?

Olleyri identified about half of the fighters and bombers; ordered “Task Force Five, change of target: Admonisher. Accelerate in, ripple fire rockets from a hundred thousand kilometres out, proceed in to strafe. This is the main strike mission, run down your fuel reserves. Good luck and good hunting.”’
And stay still for all this to happen to you, you bastard, he thought at Admonisher, and hoped it wasn’t listening.

Lennart wasn’t so optimistic, and had good reason to be so. ‘We’re approaching the mathematical threshold, guns group up, tensors and compensators brace for recoil from sustained time on target volleys. Her hyperdrive’s up.’

True; the target board was showing bent space and stray tachyons from Admonisher.

‘I think it’s valid.’ Brenn said. ‘Our dispersal-‘

‘Yes,’ Lennart agreed with his junior; it was possible that Admonisher was warming up her hyperdrive just to make them think she was going to move out, and trick the fighters into not launching on her until it was too late; but there were other, actually two, good reasons to move.

‘All fighters,’ drawing a catchment area on the tactical map including both the attack groups heading for Admonisher, ‘Black Prince Actual, countermand that. She’ll be gone before your shot could reach. Fighter tactical division five, proceed to Ord Corban and reinforce the blockade there. Divisions two and three stand by for nav data.’

To his own chief controller he added, ‘Sorry, Ol, but you can’t see her hyperdrive from down there,’ and on squadron com ‘Fist, Dynamic; Admonisher is preparing to jump out to engage one of you. When she does, go full evasive - buy time for us to come up and join you.’ And to the bridge team, ‘Guns-‘

There was a flare from the underside aft, and a crunch and kick as one clutch of bolts hit shielding, a couple burst through; the ship pitched slightly, helm reported and Lennart realised, ‘Secondary engine’ at the same time. Half a second later, another set of flares, starboard side midships forward of the turret line, one penetration, vapourisation flare.

‘They’ve switched to half broadsides,’ Rythanor reported, thinking about how this would change the odds- ‘no recommendation.’

‘Sensible,’ Lennart acknowledged, meaning that it was a good move on the rebels’ part.

‘Helm'- sketching the beginning of a move they had done almost too often already, sideslip and roll to being back on target, but then extended out into a full corkscrew that broke back and out into an arching strafe.

Beware aesthetics, he thought. If it looks a smooth and beautiful curve, the enemy may see it that way too - and predict it that much more easily. We’ve both made mistakes because a move looked too right. ‘Scarify that a bit, and fifteen hundred.’

The Imperial system of giving helm orders was, for all the drive to standardisation, still damnably confusing. Object driven was relatively easy - go to, dock with, not a problem.

In combat, if an order containing a proportion was given, say ‘sixty-forty evasion’, it meant that sixty percent of the ship’s thrust was reserved to maintain the base course, and forty percent could be used for evasive manoeuvres. If one figure was mentioned it was a value in ‘g’. Fifteen hundred was almost half Black Prince’s total thrust, especially missing one secondary engine.

Most ships wouldn’t be remotely capable of keeping their guns on target through that kind of radical evasion; she...actually couldn’t, but years of practise had taught the gunners how to fire when the sights came on, and the helm crew how to give the gunners that chance.

The wave of green smashed into the rebel destroyer dorsal midships, breaking through the shielding - there was a double flare, overload and failure, theoretically repairable, but followed by the rumbling flash of the generator itself letting go. A hard, tactically irreparable breach.

Better yet, the point of impact was the forward of the two dorsal batteries. There was a scatter of wreckage before the secondary detonation; had they been that radical - shut down tensors and compensators, purposely wrecking the turret assembly to try to prevent a clear detonation?
If they had, they had sacrificed the gun crews to protect the rest of the ship. One eighth of their firepower gone, a fifth of that which they could safely bring to bear on their primary target, and gaps in their defences now, on the bow and right in their best fire arc, which screamed ‘exploit me.’

‘Good,’ Lennart said, ‘but scan globes and manoeuvre thrusters would be more efficient targets.’

Before Wathavrah could protest, and express scepticism that anyone could think he had actually meant it, Lennart added ‘Brenn, she’s lining up on Fist. Warn Tevar and get the intercept course dialled in.’

Admonisher had turned to the best-compromise course between presenting her guns and lining up to make the jump, rotating side on.

Of her eight turret groups, two were dorsal centreline, one now gone; two underside centreline, one just aft and one just forward of the hangar complex. The other four clusters were upper surface, two either side of the superstructure. It was a good arrangement, and the main reason Shockwave-class destroyers weren’t more widespread was that they were, in practise, overweight - too big and too slow.

In theory, they could be brought down reliably, if not exactly easily, by their own weight and cost in Imperator-class. That usually meant four ships.

Admonisher’s ventral batteries came back into circuit, and added their fire. One salvo from Black Prince missed - aiming at the ventral batteries, on the edge of the outline, the heavy destroyer twisted the other way;

Admonisher’s fire scattered individual bolts across the starboard side, losing focus and power priority. Her parting shot as she made lightspeed was a clean miss; Black Prince’s, before she moved to pursue, was a solid hit - in the hangar bay, and drop ship complex, largely empty and without much left to land back on anyway.

Admonisher made lightspeed. Black Prince was five seconds behind her; the Imperial hyper capable fighters had a brief reprieve, but the rebels were strung out widely, under fire from the light and customs corvettes and taking losses.

Astromechs. A bad idea, for the very simple reason that they could not hold that many courses, stripped away all the tactical flexibility hyperdrive was supposed to give. The cut price navigation rig bolted into the B-wing was even worse; only able to store two or three paths, depending on how recently built. They had no vector out, and no way to survive, unless they could kill off the Imperial escorts firing on them and buy enough time for somebody to get a plot together.

They could probably manage to do some damage - maybe not enough to survive, but there were a lot of warhead capable craft in there, and Rontaine’s customs ships were not long for this world. Unless someone else, like a fighter squadron or twenty, decided to derive the rebels of their blaze of glory. Vehrec broadcast to his own charges, ‘You know, I fancy alphabet stew. Let’s go kill them.’

Voracious and Hialaya Karu were seventy degrees apart as seen from Mon Evarra and widening. That would have been a bad move against a healthy Mon Cal ship; against a cripple it made all too much sense. Mon Evarra could no longer keep them both against her best arc, the relatively heavily armed and shielded bow; soon, one or other of them would be able to engage on the blasted-open starboard side, or the inherently weak port where the hangar bay was.

Of course, keeping intact shields towards them would stop being an issue soon, when they rebel ran out of shielding.

Follow Admonisher, into one giant melee? Maybe, but not with these two on her tail.

Falldess hadn’t really been that badly shot at, yet. That changed as Mon Evarra turned the bulk of her remaining effective firepower on Hialaya Karu. She was firing bursts, a few guns at a time, accurate and burning into the shields, but the Imperials had a lot more to lose than Mon Evarra had left.

What plans could the Alliance ship possibly have? Did she simply intend to go down fighting? That made no sense from the military, or rebel, point of view. Doing something insanely dumb because they believed the Force was with them, that was just about believable. This? Not really.

Ah, Falldess thought. They’re waiting for one of us to get overeager and stupid. Pick off that one and it’s a fair fight again. The rebel commander appears to be a determined man - well, amphibian, then. Done this many times, enough to believe that dead weight may set the odds but it has nothing to do with what number actually comes up.
He’ll fight it out to the last, and hope for some turn of fortune to swing things back his way - such as one of us losing the plot and deciding to sail straight and level to make a better firing platform.

Most of the fire is coming my way, because I haven’t been that heavily shot at yet, and he wants to see how jittery I am, whether he can spook me into doing something so dumb.

Voracious was here sooner, has been much more heavily shot at along the way; more likely to be tired enough to make a mistake.

‘Helm,’ she ordered, ‘bring us down to a gentle flat lateral weave, let it look like we’re being stupid, then hard turn away.’ Get the rebel to over-react and move too soon, she hoped.

Mon Evarra was not about to let a chance like that go; yawed slightly, let loose one full volley, blindingly fast. Too fast for Hialaya Karu to react.

She was still playing dumb when the salvo hit, mostly in the bow - there was a reason most destroyers carried relatively little of importance there. Outpost emplacement materials, one hyperdrive node, main navigational shielding - the most serious problem but as long as the combat shields were intact, they could substitute.

Mon Evarra took a second shot, but too late - Hialaya darted away more radically than Falldess had ordered, the helm team taking that on themselves and quite right too. Mon Evarra turned away, Falldess held the manoeuvre, continuing high-thrust turns while waiting for the rebel trick to reveal itself, but the stream of purple fire really did reach out for Voracious.

Playing switching games, Falldess thought, keeping us off balance, and its eye comes back in damnably fast each time. Two main fire control teams, keeping a running solution on each of us?

And on the lighter craft. Obdurate made the move first. Tythallin followed, a swooping curve across the rebel destroyer’s stern. Still covered by shielding, but there was always that tiny space that couldn’t be shielded, directly over the thrust stream.

Obdurate had been busy already, and it was a fairly good day to be a frigate; faced with inflicting loss by shooting at the smaller ships, or trying to damage the larger ships that had been hurting them, the rebels had decided not to go for damage and body count that would serve no tactical purpose.

Unless you were one of the few frigate types that actually carried heavy turbolasers. Then you were a viable target.

Obdurate passed at a tangent, high speed and maximum possible aspect change, firing groups of shot at Mon Evarra’s engine vents; Janduvar Tythallin followed doing the same, and both drew counterfire.

Mon Evarra could only spare the power and sink capacity for MTL at the moment, and laid down a wall of fire that looked much more impressive than it as. Demolishers were tougher than that; it would take time to erode them away with that, but Obdurate kept moving anyway. Tythallin steadied down to be able to aim more precisely.

Not good. Some rebel fire control officer saw the easy target, made a case for it, and got the power allocation he wanted - four of the after guns fired, scoring two hits on Tythallin, eroding shields, but no burnthrough, not yet. Tythallin’s fire pattern broke up, splattering shot all across the rebel’s stern, shielding thin enough that a couple of bolts did hit structure, but landed on bracing and ablatives - one splitting open a water tank, but not a lethal matter.

The rebel’s aft guns paused, Tythallin started to curve away, then the reb lashed out again and landed a burst that did achieve burnthrough, into the forward superstructure and breaking the hangar bay open.

Obdurate had been splashing bolts off engine casings, vents, the fantail, and finally managed to land one bolt directly on target, passing straight up the ion stream - her own shields scintillating from it - into the absurdly traditional looking forcefield projector ‘blades’ of the ion turbine.

The engine blew out, exploding out of its housing in a burst of blue-white light; oh, they’re not going to like me for that, Raesene thought - but Tythallin was stumbling, darting jerky moves as her engines fired seemingly at random. It didn’t look like purposeful evasion, which was half the point, but she hadn’t been that good going in.

Try to catch Mon Evarra’s attention and draw fire away from Tythallin, run and leave her to it, or - no real choice, Raesene decided. Fortunately, Mon Evarra was under enough pressure from the two Imperial destroyers that she pulled the power available back to fore, port and starboard batteries.

Being sandpapered to death by a shower of MTL fire was a slightly more feasible prospect.

‘Guns, counterfire. Helm, bring us around. I want to try to snag Tythallin on the tractor beams.’

There was more than one reason to try to do that; apart from pulling a sister ship out of trouble, he could still feel the distrust being radiated at him. Not from the crew - they knew what he had been dealing with, but from the officers of the rest of the squadron. He had played judas goat, had sold out the rest of the Starfleet or at least tried to, and at least part of the distaste radiating his way was from people who wished they had thought of it first.

Speed, in political warfare as well a actual, was vital; and they had still been gathering evidence when Lennart had moved and simply placed them both under military arrest, without a moment’s visible doubt about the practicalities and legalities at all.

How would that have played out, if it had gone the other way? Operation placed on hold; wrangling back and forth; time wasted, enough to hide the evidence at least, enough legal wrangling to abort the whole business, and Black Sun and the Moff and his profiteers could continue on their merry way.

Maybe Lennart had expected his arresting two ISB agents to be overtaken by events, either dismissed as a minor matter or buried under so many more charges relating to Adannan that one more misdemeanour was just a triviality. Raesene had dealt with his problem, whether he had meant to or not, by passing it up the chain of command, and although he wasn’t proud of that it was the way things had worked out. He doubted Lennart could do the same.

Another reason to make the move, and it was going to have to be a high-speed pickup, no deceleration to match velocity; the strain both ships would be vastly preferable to getting hit by another burst of heavy turbolaser fire.

There was a thud as the tractors reached out and grasped the load, and the noise - starships were not supposed to creak under the strain. There were creaking noises.

It took Raesene all of five seconds to start thinking it was a risk too far and wishing he didn’t have to go through with it, but they were committed now - and besides, most of Mon Evarra’s firepower was now pointed at Voracious.

The rebel destroyer had identified the Venator as their most profitable target. Voracious had not been in action for very long on any absolute scale, but long enough to have burned off almost a third of her fuel reserve, and a higher proportion than that of adrenalin.

Still, being shot at was a pick-me-up of a sort.

Penthesilea had survived for some time under the guns of Black Prince, but that had been a staged, tactically phased bombardment, intended to allow the rebel ship time to screw up.
Mon Evarra was trying for a relatively cheap kill, the first shots of this volley splattering of the shields over the fighter bay, some missing ahead - trying for the torpedo bays, aiming to touch off the carried ordnance.

The next cheapest was probably the bridge module. Caliphant ordered more evasive moves. Always, on the holovids, the captain was able to call out something like ‘Evasive Pattern Kappa Nine’- unfortunately, it didn’t actually work like that.
Between defections and slicing, any standard pattern would quickly become known to the other side. There was no shorthand. There were set patterns, but they were individual creations, with limited useful lives.

A hard evasive undulating bank, skidding against the dominant vector, and Caliphant waited for the crunch as bits of his ship fell off; there wasn’t one, but there was a sequence of hammers as the rebel divided its active gun mounts into batteries almost without pause - existing organisation coming to the fore there.

The batteries scattered clusters of bolts across Voracious’ path, landing one on the Imperial ship to the port side of the main bay door, leaving a glowing hole and door machinery damage.

‘Kirritaine, do something about that?’ Caliphant called down to this gunnery officer. ‘Before Hialaya manages to steal our thunder.’

The Karu-class destroyer was lashing fire into the rebel, which had decided to block and evade as far as possible and concentrate on killing Voracious to even up the odds. What was left of the Mon Cal’s shielding was facing the smaller Imperial destroyer, with the majority of her fire going into the Venator. That was a compliment of sorts, if a back handed one.

Voracious rolled to bear as Mon Evarra was expecting; not a perfect prediction though, a near-perfect straddle, bolts everywhere in a small volume of space around the Imerial destroyer, but no actual hits.

Caliphant thought about calling their bluff and staying put, but that was too stylised to be effective - a return salvo put four bolts into the Mon Cal ship, two solid hits, one port flank, on the edge of the hangar aperture and evidently hitting the pressure curtain - a shower of loose parts, air, storage modules and deck technicians flew out of the rebel ship.

The second hit was deep in the main body, over some piece of equipment - the almost red colour of the flare said a secondary reactor, but it was no tactical loss as Mon Evarra no longer had the heat sink capacity to afford to run it.

Voracious pulled her nose up and rolled to maintain fire arc, and Mon Evarra’s immediate reply was spot on, a prediction of elegance. Sixteen of thirty bolts hit, and three burned through.

One in the base of the bridge tower - accomodation, there should be no-one there at battle stations, but another good hit there would expose the reactor. One on the port docking vestibule, blasting the door open and spilling logistics modules into the void. The third hit was the most potentially serious, up forward only one compartment from the torpedo bay - the hull was ripped open, but the additional layer of armour wrapped around mount and magazine protected them.

Voracious lobbed a salvo in return, Mon Evarra porpoised out of most of it - three hits, two burned through the outer layer of armour to be stopped by the inner, one smashed open a gun turret; the Imperial ship tried to sideslip out of the rebel’s next shot, and roll to present her intact starboard side.

She was half way through the manoeuvre, showing her belly, when the rebel shot hit; not as many - the rebel had judged the turning point well, but fired a relatively open pattern. Three hits, one blasting straight through the starboard wing, one impacting on the opposite side of the ship directly ‘under’ the starboard turret line, one shearing off one of the sensor globes.
Which was, absurdly enough, Imperial victory of a sort. Voracious was taking hits, heavy ones, but not enough damage, fast enough, to stop her pouring shot into Mon Evarra. It was time to leave.

The rebel destroyer turned to bring herself bows on to Hialaya Karu, and accelerated towards her. ‘Kriff,’ Caliphant cursed, captain’s poise and decorum be damned, especially now. ‘Helm, bring what’s left to bear. Evade as you can, but first and foremost bring to bear.’

Hialaya Karu hadn’t just had a main scanner shot off and the rest trying to reset themselves from shock damage; she could see Mon Evarra decide that the numbers she needed weren’t happening - she was doing much less damage than she needed to - and that it was time to get out and do as much damage as possible along the way.

‘Helm, put us athwart their course then lay us on the reciprocal. That ship is either going to ram, near-miss and scatter mines, or try a very short run to hyperspace. I want to meet them head-on.’

Alurin had to ask, ‘Aye aye, Captain, but are you taking what happened last time into account?’

‘Of course,’ she said, confident sounding. ‘Practise makes perfect.’

There was no real, sensible answer to that. Alurin confined himself to pointing out, ‘They will keep firing on us throughout their approach.’

‘I know.’

Mon Evarra was thrusting hard to bring her vector across Karu’s predicted position - have to be either a ram or a scattering of mines.

They were only a couple of degrees off head on - a relatively easy shot for both ships, and each using what thrust it had to spare - Hialaya Karu had more freedom of manoeuvre - to slide round each other’s gunsights, throw targeting off as far as possible.

Ignore the window, Falldess thought, although she could actually see molten glow of damage in the distance and the outline of an ion flare. Don’t judge by hand and eye - you can’t. Trust the map; it knows what its doing. Judging momentum and acceleration isn’t so very different from judging wind and tide.

Of course it bloody is, but this is not a moment to be thinking that I can’t do it, this is a moment to look and sound confident, for the crew’s sake and my own.

‘Rolling broadside,’ she announced. The newer members of the crew, Dynamic’s handoffs, looked baffled by that, but her own crew knew she meant a continuous ripple.

Mon Evarra was better at this, but she had lost a lot of capacity to give and take fire, and Hialaya Karu tearing into her from ahead and Voracious from astern were shredding her.

Karu was taking most of the rebel’s fire still, and the deck jumped as a bolt hit, but the Mon Cal ship was hitting largely intact shields - two full salvoes or as full as she could manage, both sidestepped; one open sheaf that scattered shot all around them and left eroded shielding but no burnthrough, a few hits - portside, some real damage, but not enough to stop them.

‘Helm, when I give the word,’ Falldess said, ‘I want you to bring this ship round as fast as she’s ever answered. Main engine throttling I think you call it. Sixteen and a quarter point turn to starboard, then maximum acceleration, everything you have.’

In other words, try to break the bow off, Alurin thought, then if that doesn’t work see what can be done about ramming the engines through the rest of the hull.
‘Understood,’ he said, because the only other thing to be said would have constituted incitement to mutiny, and he didn’t think a successful mutiny could be concluded in under five seconds.

A flash of tractor beam, a flush of air, and there were a shower of objects in their path - it looked as if Mon Evarra had jettisoned the contents of their ordnance bunkers more than laid an actual minefield. This was the moment.

‘Helm, now,’ Falldess ordered; the stars blurred past and the ship howled under the strain of the flash turn, and the ion wake flowed over and cooked off most of the hundreds of payloads’ worth of fighter missiles and torpedoes Mon Evarra had released.

That and the ion wake covering the now nearly shieldless Mon Cal ship, searing off access hatchers and rangefinders, com and sensor clusters - not actually enough to stop her making hyperspace.

It was the salvo from Voracious, twelve heavy guns that tore the rebel’s port quarter apart and knocked out three of the engines, that stopped Mon Evarra running.

She fired briefly at Hialaya Karu again - and what was left of the shower of fighter weapons splattered across the Imperial destroyer - but although there were hits, there was no real damage done.

‘Helm,’ Falldess ordered, ‘Bring us back round to bear, so we can finish that off before Voracious manages to steal the credit.’

On Voracious’ bridge, Caliphant was doing exactly that. His ship had shot at one of the outworlds, shot at One and Indivisible, shot at and been shot by Admonisher, and he wanted something of his own to kill now.

‘Helm, get us closer, guns, maximum power. Let’s get her before Hialaya Karu manages to steal the credit.’

Mon Evarra may have wanted to fight on, but considering the engines were shot, the shields were down, the hangar bay was blasted part way open, the sensors were compromised, and several parts of her structure were missing, it wasn’t really a viable proposition. Surrender? Unlikely - but it seemed to be happening; the rebel reactivated a nav beacon, flashing white, and escape pods started to pop loose.

The rebel’s reactor was still running, though, still generating full military power - and one of the secondaries had come back on line also.

What did the book say? Oh, yes. ‘Hialaya Karu Actual to Mon Evarra, shut down your power plant. We are not obliged to accept your surrender unless you are no longer generating.’

Ten seconds, no reply, and more heat pouring out of the maimed rebel ship. If they were just buying time for their people to get out, then planning to self-destruct the ship, then… ‘Main guns, one full salvo, aim for the reactor.’

Hialaya Karu was closer to the target, but as soon as he registered the fire directors pointing on again Caliphant gave the fire order to his own gun crews.

Voracious’ salvo, less the two turrets still recovering from shock damage, splashed into the Rebel ship’s hull a twentieth of a second ahead of Hialaya Karu’s.

That, finally, was enough. Mon Cal cruisers did usually have to be battered to death, and this one was no exception. Even after the reactor had ruptured, there were still large, solid pieces of wreckage tumbling away.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-17 12:32pm, edited 1 time in total.
The only purpose in my still being here is the stories and the people who come to read them. About all else, I no longer care.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-07-31 02:40pm

Ch 36

On the flag bridge, Adannan was still hopelessly baffled by what he saw - but could make more sense of what he could overhear being thought. Lennart himself was still a jumble, a tangle of connections and conceptions in every direction, and either he didn’t know how to shield or he was simply too busy to.
No, no, of course; that would be it. He was broadcasting inadvertently, scattering thoughts and ideas across the crew. It wasn’t a deliberate active connection, nothing was being forced, and if he was right Lennart was also, however subconsciously, listening to how they reacted.

Whether he knew it or not, the Force was with him, but not in the manner of traditional battle meditation. That constituted, as far as the dark acolyte knew, one Force user dreaming of war and infusing the rest of their command with that, in a forcing out, a projection of ideas. It could improve coordination, sharpen skills - it was a superb preventer of errors - but it did suppress by supplanting the individual will and aggression of the crew who fought under it.

Much as it pained a Force user to admit it, battle meditation was not the be-all and end-all of fleet operations. Even the current master of the form, Grand Admiral Declann, had lost fleet exercises; usually to opposing commanders who took the risk of dividing their command, allowing elements to operate independently, and presenting a more complicated problem than one mind could easily grasp.

To Adannan, the solution was conceptually straightforward. Dissolve the will of some of the crew, slave their brains to your own and use them as co-processors, problem solved.

It seemed to be too complicated a task to do while actually in combat, though, and Declann had lost exercises to the complexityholic alien Thrawn, to Lord Vader who could overmatch him in the Force in any case, and to a handful of up and coming junior flag officers, among them Rear-Admiral Stephan Rawlin. Hmmm.

Lennart was sincere in his belief that he did not have the Force, he couldn’t possibly be aware of what he was doing or it would change him, his personality would be different.

So it would probably be a good idea to tell him.

Other Imperial forces? Yes, reinforcements would be welcome. They could hardly be less obedient than this infuriating man, and might possibly be of use in keeping him down.

So, how was the timing of this going to go, and when did the military element end and the political - or purely personal - begin? Move in on the planet as soon as possible, ideally, destroy Admonisher outright, free up the ground forces. Speed was not particularly of the essence, he realised; poise was.

Adannan sighed, remembering his original plan - blackmail a line officer, intimidate the crew, steal the medical logs from the 118th fleet that were the only place, beside their dead creators and even Palpatine wasn’t that good, to learn the secrets of loyalty programming and how to subvert it.

Move out, fade away and take the time to study them in detail and decide how to use what he had. So simple. The only problem was Jorian Lennart.
Well, and about forty-seven thousand of his friends. Sacking the renegade line officer, taking his command and his world away from him, would be a wonderful revenge, but was it really the best use? He would make a damned awkward apprentice. Kill him and blame him for…ah, that would be good. A clean, satisfying solution. Murder him, shift the blame, take the secrets and run. Or, for that matter, eliminate the entire ship. The Empire wasn’t exactly short of destroyers; he could afford to squander one or two.

The timing was going to be critical. While the first ground assault was in progress would be best.

That might take a while yet to arrange. Fist did have enough sensor capacity in working order to spot the incoming Rebel, and decided to make a stand. Run? Delaying action? They were a destroyer, a fighting ship. No.
Most of Tevar’s crew were behind her in that decision, now that they had tasted blood. Was her ship not of the same class as the flag, the mainstay of the Imperial fleet, ton for ton the best the Empire had to offer? She had no intention of running. Not now, not again.

Fist’s sensors registered the inbound as a blur of curdled space, between EW and deliberately running the drive rough to obfuscate the emergence point.

‘Helm, he’s trying to fake us out. Let’s not make it easy for them, I want to meet him bows on, so bring us about.’ They could get behind that at least - as long as Admonisher hadn’t added an extra layer of deception, and was screening a false entry point. Doublethink.

Against the squadron flag, they would certainly have gone that far. Against Fist- why would they miss a trick?

They didn’t. Project a false drop point, make it look just a shade too good, as if they could be planning to come out of it anyway. Fist had turned away from that, pointing her bows insystem, expecting that it was a trick; and it was, a triple trick. The fake was a fake after all; it looked too good to be true because it was true. The heavy renegade destroyer emerged from the burble of curdled space exactly where it had seemed to be about to, outsystem of Fist.

Both ships were stern-on to each other - Admonisher had been expecting that; Tevar hadn’t but her Imperator was far more manoeuvrable.

If Captain Tevar had been following instructions as given, she would have accelerated away, zig-zagging to avoid fire until the flag was there to support her, but confidence and adrenalin said otherwise.

Fist swung round hard on the thrust of her secondary engines, and stared into a blindingly bright cloud of jamming; Admonisher dipped her nose and yawed, making a move like a half turn of a helix, close to the edge of her manoeuvre envelope in bringing her dorsal arc to bear.

Black Prince and the rebel heavy had both tried their best to fake each other out with electronic warfare - the term was crazily insufficient in this day and age, but it still applied - neither ship had actually managed much in the way of deception. Each could read the other’s moves too well, and the kind of subtlety they were both attempting functioned much more effectively when they weren’t simultaneously charging in guns blazing.

Here, Admonisher hoped to sow enough chaos on the first exchange to land disabling hits quickly enough to put Fist out of the fight, cripple her now, finish the flag and then turn on her.

It was actually the loyalist who got the first shot in - a string of four tracking across the big renegade, one landing on unshielded hull. Wreckage and damage, ploughing in to the right of the blasted-out turret cluster, spilling molten metal and air, but not penetrating deep enough to reach the vitals.

Admonisher fired battery groups, eight hundred and forty teratons each - and two managed to connect. One widely enough spread that the shields took it, one concentrated enough to burn through, dismounting two axial defence turrets and smashing open the forward superstructure - living quarters decks.
That was the opening. There would be worse to come; Tevar knew that a stand-up fight with the much larger rebel destroyer was, on the face of it, a losing plan. So fight it out here at close quarters and hold long enough for the squadron to arrive, or...

The rebel ship flared her bow steering thrusters; the sensor crew though it looked wrong, too wide, flat and hollow. They weren’t fast enough to stop sensor interpretation sending that to fire control.

Admonisher’s engines vented a billow of hot ions that went nowhere, no stream, and Fist’s crew couldn’t stop their automatic systems making the mistake Admonisher wanted them to. Gunnery assumed Admonisher was going to turn, predicted and laid the guns on accordingly, and missed wildly. Admonisher capitalised on that by landing another set of bursts.

One hit the starboard brim trench quad. It exploded, the capacitor banks let go, and Fist was shoved to one side by the blast. Helm started to stabilise out, but Tevar yelled at them ‘No, roll with it-‘ and she was right. Fist extended out into a diving spiral that took her clear of Admonisher’s followup converged sheaf.

If that salvo had hit it would have torn out their central main engine, at least. Fist stabilised out and started to return fire, Admonisher switched to sequential fire. Surer, with a higher average hit rate, but it meant they were no longer trying for the cheap kill.

That meant - what? Their opinion of her had gone up? Infuriating bastards, Tevar thought, then realised that they would be trying to play with her head, too.

Practically speaking, her advantages were? Speed, for a start. Fist was over a thousand ‘g’ faster - that value had changed as bits were blown off both ships, but it was roughly so.
She was also a smaller target- 60% of the length, and differently proportioned, leaner and a much smaller target cross- section. That should be a factor, that and Admonisher had higher physical, but couldn’t have unlimited mental endurance.

Considering that she had been basically held in check by Black Prince, been unable to pin down any others of the Imperial squadron long enough to inflict critical damage, they had fought very hard for very little, and they had to be feeling at least a little drained and depressed.

They would probably welcome a straight up pounding match, the sort of hammering work that she was tempted to give them - but which the molten crater in the side of her ship and the jangled mess visible from the bridge windows argued against. What would work?

Opening the range, and moving out to at least a medium-range, high speed manoeuvring battle, keep running Admonisher ragged, waste the renegade’s energy literal and psychological.

The Imperator-class took a lot of stick from amateur analysts who didn’t understand why their turrets were mounted in two rows one either side of the superstructure; it was for range control. A side-firing ship has the advantage of being able to literally fly circles around its target, closing in or widening out as the situation dictated. A ship with only forward weapons can’t do that; it has much less freedom of manoeuvre, has to close the range, has to be predictable.

The ideal solution was probably a centreline dorsal and ventral battery, which was - another flare of shot around Fist, and a stream of response - a worry for another moment.

‘Helm, base course RA+11.24.17,’ Tevar ordered. Out, at a tangent to the planet’s orbit, eighty degrees off Admonisher’s bearing. Crabbing out sideways, probably the best option to keep Admonisher in play - and keep them from killing her - until the flag arrived.

That was going to be an interesting move. Admonisher would be very wary of being faked out again, would immediately attempt to counterambush; Lennart, of course, was aware of that, and so the doublethink went.

Admonisher detected the curdling of space that went with a high relativistic mass just the far side of the light barrier; preparing a very high speed reentry, was he? Had to be faked. It was in the wrong place; when all doublethink failed, ‘How will this serve my purpose?’ was a good yardstick.

That entry point would put Black Prince out of mutually supporting range with Fist- enable the flag to give crossfire, maybe, but not what they were expecting. Which of course made it possible, but - ah. There was a trail away, a move on towards Fist. That made more tactical sense, and Admonisher rolled to cover that approach.

One wrinkle in the brain too many, or was it too few? Admonisher couldn’t be everywhere at once, couldn’t cover all the possibilities. She was sold the dummy dummy that she was expecting, the fake was indeed a fake - and the false trail, the projection? Decoy.
Black Prince emerged from hyperspace through the ripples of warped space, dragging her back, straining the ship’s systems - it would have been called a botched entry in any other circumstances, grounds for an inquiry, but Lennart was trading off stress for position, and got the advantage he wanted. Low and astern on Admonisher.

The rebel knew what Black Prince had done with a firing position like that before; started to turn hard towards the Imperial ship, minimal forward motion, spinning on main engines in place, not fast enough.

There was only one possible fire order, and Lennart thought it, it had got as far as his tongue, but there certainly had not been time to have it issued or acted on when it happened anyway. The Imperial destroyer’s guns crashed out in a converged sheaf, time on target salvo at Admonisher’s point of turn.

Good, Lennart thought, intelligent anticipation in action. He also thought he heard a faint scream from the direction of the flag bridge, but no matter, not now.

‘This should be the endgame,’ he said before the salvo had even hit, ‘call the squadron in, 120 degree arc around Admonisher, us as centre, Fist as one endpoint, not too precise.’

He was still talking when the salvo hit Admonisher starboard and aft, the direction she had been swinging in, smashing into the armoured skin over her engines.

The Shockwave-class had five main engines, slightly staggered to take account of the superstructure, and eight secondaries. The outer starboard main engine blew apart, blasted open the bulkhead and sent splinters and concussion through the inner starboard wrecking it, obliterated two of the secondaries and wrecked two more. Admonisher was lamed, unable to turn to starboard, unable to accelerate away and pick her fights, unable to manoeuvre out of the way of incoming fire.

Unsurprisingly, she lashed out in return, pitching and trolling to bring all seven remaining turret groups to bear - and receiving a volley in the nose for her trouble that overpenetrated to the forward secondary bay - but landing two sets of bolts on Black Prince, one aft on the side of the superstructure - beneath the bridge tower - and one upper starboard side adjacent to a previous hit, and to the forward end of the starboard turret row.

Starboard-1 was hit directly, knocked out, possibly repairable, starboard-2 was wrenched off the mounting, definitely fixable but not in combat. It was a fair enough trade - ideally no trade at all, but that was what had happened.
Lennart took note of it, fed it into his estimates of the situation, didn’t need to direct damage control, already on their way.

Fist was moving outwards to a more balanced attack range; Admonisher was still turning slowly, her manoeuvre jets trying to stop her, and her guns came on to bear.

Tevar feinted starboard, initially a level turn, then dipped the port wing and firewalled the starboard engines to shove the bow down and over, and then brought port up to speed. Admonisher fired a single pattern that Fist just got clipped by - one more hit in the axial battery, one forward on the upper hull over the secondary hangar.

Tevar winced as the hits went in, and ordered an extended S-turn as Admonisher stabilised herself out, firing off a volley into empty space for the sake of the recoil.

The heavy renegade stabilised with her bow facing between the two Imperial destroyers.

Correction, five, as the rest of the squadron arrived on Brenn’s beacon signal and lined up to engage.

The Imperial fighter elements had reduced down to two groups now, both mixed, one orbiting Ord Corban and occasionally lobbing heavy rockets down to try out a new trick they had invented. Lob a heavy warhead at the ground at the edge of a theatre shield bubble. Fuse it for delay detonation. Watch as the fountain of dirt and rock the subterranean detonation threw up splattered all over the shield bubble, and stood a good chance of bringing it down from sheer volume of impact. Not exactly reliable, but a much better chance than firing the thing directly at the shield.

They were enjoying themselves playing with that, and the other team was clustered around what was left of the rebel fighter force from One and Indivisible and Admonisher, where the site of the first clashes had been, and there still was a little drifting wreckage.

The Imperial force was engaged, and in free chase, when,
‘Group Captain?’ Vehrec got a com call from his ad hoc chief of staff. ‘We detect a burst transmission to the Alliance fighters, looks like a set of nav codes. We have a point of origin and, wait one, order coming through. Pursue and destroy.’

Vehrec started to swear, then said ‘Wait. This is an antiship strike? On a target that actually has a reason not to move, and just might hang around long enough for us to nail it?’

‘I believe so. Elements are to detach - Black Prince’s Starwing and Hunter squadrons are to detach and rendezvous with the squadron for precision strike work, but otherwise it’s a go. Course uploading now.’

The rebels had to fight their way clear, the hyper-capable Imperials didn’t. They could turn and go, leaving a cloud of /ln and /Int to finish the Alliance light forces.

The rebel ‘retrieval carrier’ was simply the largest ship they could acquire on ‘everything’s going to stang’ notice, and it was escorted by the ship they had sent to capture it, a Quaestor-class medium corvette more commonly seen nowadays as a prison ship. Decent light weapons fit - comparable to a Nebulon-B, from a fighter’s point of view. Their LTL were a bit heavy for antifighter work, and they carried a battery of ion cannon.

For a fighter squadron, an interestingly challenging opponent. For twenty? Not really. The carrier itself was a KDY Super Transport - the largest of the medium freighter types, and not a ship that usually went unescorted - although in the sector, that was not a given.

A few ion scars, main loading doors open, and a handful of small craft - its own container managers and load lifter tugs around it, waiting to retrieve any damaged rebels.

The actual attack promised to be simplicity itself. The few moments of confusion aboard the carrier were enough for Vehrec to order ‘ATRs, target the escort, all others the carrier, maximum rate ripple launch, go.’

The Quaestor immediately opened fire, spraying ion and laser fire across the Imperial formation, a blind area shoot at first- back to normal for most, but there were still some two hundred Imperial craft, an overwhelming weight of fire even if most of them did only have a few torpedoes left.

Actually, their main problem was each other - avoiding sideswiping each other while trying to line up a shot, avoiding launching a warhead that hit one of the bombardment stream ahead of you, leaving each other enough room to evade targeted fire - that was a problem, and not everyone got it right.
One wide burst, hitting three and near-missing thirty, then the rebel ion cannon paused for a second, and swung onto the targets they identified as Imperial leadership. A sensible move, although once the rounds were away one that had more to do with revenge than survival.

Vehrec’s ESM screamed at him, he rolled and dived, trying to outjink their predictors, zigged upwards, trying not to overrun the wave of heavy, slow warheads in front of him and hoping the fighters behind him remembered their procedures well enough to stay out of his way - one of the ion bolts aimed at him flew past and hit an Avenger. The weapon powercells split and detonated, and Vehrec felt the thump and saw the wash of red light in the cockpit as a lump of debris - probably a gun barrel - hit one of his engines.

Stang, he thought, but I can cope with this - reached down to turn off the autoeject with one hand while trying to stabilise and keep dodging with the other - too slow. The system disagreed with him that he could manage the problem, and punched him out. The cockpit blew out and the seat fired.

Well, thank you very kriffing much, he thought on his first tumble as it brought him back in sight of his fighter; one engine smashed, wing partially melted, but still there.

It occurred to him that he was floating, in a light standard-issue flight suit, in open space not very far away from what was about to be a multi teraton detonation.

Oh, kriff, he thought and curled up into a ball. Why does the Empire have to use black flight suits? Four TIEs flashed by him, uncomfortably close. The rebels have the right idea there, bright orange, then I might not get splattered like a mynock on a windshield by one of my own pilots, or roasted in an engine trail.

Better yet, he thought as his tumble brought the reb improvised carrier into view, how about flash-reflective white?

The corvette protecting the carrier tried to manoeuvre into position to physically intercept the stream of warheads - a sacrificial defence; but not effective. The Imperial fighters had too large a sensor baseline, too many electronically capable small craft backing them up, and the carrier was only a merchant class target.

The wave of heavy torpedoes parted and flowed around the corvette; of the hundred or so warheads aimed at it directly sixty hit.

No possible explosive could be powerful enough to threaten a capital ship in small enough doses to fit into a warhead capable of slipping through point defence and actually hitting one. Proton torpedoes cheated their way around this limitation with considerable elegance; they used an exploded.
The actual charge in every torpedo head was a stasis-locked flask of particle soup, similar to the state of the universe about two to three seconds after creation. Proton scattering, indeed.

As a handling security measure, the stasis generator around the charge was itself locked in stasis when it left the factory. If the manufacturer was at all reputable.

The yield of a warhead had only a loose relationship with the physical size, but a linear relationship with the cost. The reactor chambers to compress down the particle soup in the first place and the stasis gear to handle it safely were damned expensive.

Actual yields could vary by budget, but the Imperial Starfleet concentrated on four points. Service Standard A, single to double digit megaton, small craft like assault transports up to light corvette and agile enough to be some use against heavy fighters and bombers. Service standard B, multi-hundred megaton, equivalent to a pure antiship LTL, good for killing medium and heavy corvettes. Service standard C was usually referred to as ‘make your will before breathing too hard’, multi- gigaton light MTL equivalent, a frigate killer. In sufficient numbers.
Service Standard D was usually not issued to bomber pilots at all, but reserved for assault transports and special operations forces- they were often referred to as heavy rockets, reached single digit teraton yields, and employed for the likes of wing and group scale attacks on enemy destroyers and larger.

What was going in against the rebel medium corvette and light frigate equivalent carrier were standard C and D torpedoes. About four hundred of them.

Lennart had drained down the squadron’s ordnance bunkers and violated half the safety regs in the book, issuing the big ship-killers to half trained bomber pilots who had barely even read up on such things and attack fighter pilots who had never flown with that kind of load.

He seemed to be getting away with it this far.

By the book, two squadrons of /Sa Bomber loaded with standard B would be enough, stand off and ripple fire them at the prison-ship corvette, a near three hundred round rollback that should saturate the defences and put enough through to literally peel off the outer surface, and even if there was no outright kill render the thing hopelessly vulnerable to bombing and strafing.

The sixty heavy heads that actually hit rendered that phase of the operation moot. It was pointless to bomb and boringly easy to strafe an expanding cloud of vapour.

The rebel carrier took over two hundred. It was physically much larger, and the rebels hadn’t taken off the cargo; as the hits and the heat pounded in, the mounds of ingots in the freighter’s belly absorbed much of it; mitigating factors.

The end result was, that for a few seconds anyway, there were large enough blobs of molten wreckage to show on a targeting scope.

Around the lamed, at-bay Admonisher, the five battered Imperial destroyers and their escorts formed a firing line.

‘Ol, recall all transports and shuttles to their parent craft, tell them to load up with assault troops. Signals, record for transmission; “All ships with ion cannon, form into a tactical division with Fist - Tevar, lead that lot clear and organise them. Squadron general instruction; I want that ship. Sandpaper her shields down and eliminate point defence, but avoid major structural damage.
'Vessels will take component shots only as directed by the Flag.” ’ Lennart thought about the order - the point of recording for transmission, to let him edit the order if it was inappropriate. Seemed good.
‘Right, transmit that - and block all outgoing signals from or authorised by the Imperial suite. Cut Kor Alric out of the loop, on my authority.’

It was only to be expected that Com/Scan, of all departments, would be well up on the ship’s ambient rumours. As plumbers by appointment to the scuttle-butt, they played the major role in rumour control, and rumour creation from time to time.
They knew roughly what was up, knew that Adannan had made nothing but enemies, and while they may have boggled at their commander’s boldness in issuing that order, they obeyed it. Only just in time. There was an outgoing signal burst, channelled to Lennart’s flatscreen; one of the disadvantages of holos is that everyone in the room - on the bridge - can see them. Signals thought he might want to keep this one to himself, and they were right.

It was an order absolute, a decree of the privy council, no less, by the hand of their special agent here present; the traitorous Admonisher was to be obliterated, nothing to remain, and no further action was to be taken against any target until additional Imperial units arrived.

The message included a demand for them to come at once - and Lennart himself was to report instantly to the Imperial Suite.

This is it, he thought, the political payoff, the personal battle on top of the official. Why the kriff didn’t I let Admonisher blow the bridge tower off? Well, there’s always plan C.

‘Remember that possibility we discussed?’ Lennart said, almost conversationally, to the command team. As an order he added ‘Evacuate and lock down the upper bridge tower, seal all hatches, let’s try to keep our resident maniac in check until the purely naval side is done. And give me shipwide PA.’

Once that was rigged, he said to the crew, without preamble, ‘You recall that I said this operation was going to get unpleasantly political; it has. As an operation of war, you have justified my every confidence, but we have the last lightyear still to go, so no mistakes, not now.
'You are probably aware that Kor Alric has not exactly shown himself to be a paragon of leadership; it goes further than that. I have evidence from the horse’s mouth that he plans to turn renegade.’

Adannan and his retinue were trying to break out of the suddenly closed down Imperial suite; they could hear all of this, and if the fury of the dark side alone would have worked, he could have melted out the door and all the way down through the reactor vessel.

‘Not rebel,’ Lennart continued, ‘simply intending to abuse the result of this operation for his own personal gain, and to what I reckon will be the detriment of the Empire. And no, I’m not gloriously happy to have to call him out on it, but it beats the alternative.
'You know what you’re capable of; most of you, I’d prefer if you didn’t put yourselves at risk by getting personally involved in this, but some of you, you know who you are, I will need your help.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 04:11pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-08-12 04:51pm

Ch 36b

There were many different ways the rRasfenoni could play this, and part of the responsibility of the flag officer’s staff was to game it out, see what the enemy could do with what they had, and plan accordingly.
Admiral Lord Nathanael Convarrian on the Tichy had come to the conclusion that the most effective thing the seven-limbed aliens could do would be to simulate a small civil war. Appear to fall out among themselves over what they had done, dissociate part of the race from the rest - it was about the only way they could expect to get away with shooting at Imperial ships on one hand, and look innocent on the other.

It might even be true. It was unlikely the majority of the race knew what had been going on; they were insidious, they got everywhere - colonies and settlers and outposts dotted the sector - but if the briefing material that had been scraped together was anything to go by, they had done a lot of and were proud of their part in disaster relief work.
The fact that special detachments of their own armed forces had been responsible for many of these disasters had apparently not sunk in to the general consciousness.

At any rate, the greatest contribution the rRasfenoni armed services could make to the survival of their species now was probably to start shooting at each other. Create a cloud of chaos and confusion, blur the lines of responsibility. Use that opportunity to start lobbing shot at the Imperial ships, see what they were up against and if any kind of defensive victory was actually possible; if not, the murderers who had besmirched the name of their race - or a reasonable imitation thereof - would be handed over, and a certain amount of disarmament would occur, complicated by the usual maze of lies that it was the intelligence services’ job to see through.

The days when a world or group of worlds could hope to be more trouble than they were worth to hold were over; the practise of backing out of operations that involved no tangible return had been a security disaster, a significant encouragement to a generation of rebels and pirates.
Never mind the enemy; the Empire had come close to being done in by its own accountants. The policy had been an artefact of post clone war reconstruction, less out of real need to economise than a kind of dazed austerity-at-all-costs, whatever-it-takes thinking had simply gone out of fashion.

Well, now it was back, and welcome. A policy of parsimony - normalisation - had proven to be extremely expensive in terms of officers’ careers, and most were glad to see a more energetic policy.

The rRasfenoni could not conceivably expect to fight and win against what the Empire could bring to bear against them. What they had done would leave them no allies they could call on, military or political, and was enough to justify taking their worlds by force and a complete change of government.

There was no input from higher authority; the sector governor - a full Moff - was under arrest, and the special assistant to the privy council had been caught doing something he ought to be arrested for. The Ubiqtorate hadn’t reacted to that one yet; they could surely intercept the com pulses between ships of the support group, had noticed that a line officer had somehow managed to catch a high official proclaiming his intent to commit treason, and hadn’t done anything? Lag, perhaps, time to verify, time to play the political game.

Or sheer disbelief, there was always that possibility. Still, Lennart had made enough noise that surely something would happen.

It hadn’t yet, so far there had been no directives forthcoming from higher authority of any kind, so this was going to be a purely naval operation. The chief object of which was to crack the rRasfenoni home and major worlds’ defences fast enough to prevent them destroying enough of the evidence to protect the guilty.

As such, the job was time critical. First Battle Squadron would disperse into its subunits and target the eight largest and most probable colony worlds, begin assault if the shields were down and blockade if not. First Battlecruiser Squadron were the heavy interdiction element, and they would orbit the trade lanes, intercept rRasfenoni mobile forces and any rebels still moving in or out-sector.

Tichy himself would strike for the rRasfenoni homeworld.

Sindavathar were a heavy outfit; they were very low on the list for recieving a new-build Executor because there were many other lighter formations that needed the reinforcement much more.

BS1 consisted of two of the horn-prowed Corellian built Aquila class battle carriers, two balanced standard-heavy kuati Temperor class with their distinctive oversized comms and sensor domes rising out of the cortex, four bristlingly-armed heavy corellian Prolocutors; diverse, but effective.
BCS1 was more homogenous, four bulge-bellied Procurators, designed for long range, open space search and destroy, two compact, heavily armoured Praetors which filled out the other part of a battlecruiser’s duties, fast manoeuvring wing to the fleet.

Battlecruiser designs tended to come in pairs; the previous generation had been the Ultor and Adversor classes, the Ultor the fleet flanker and Adversor distant hunter-killer.

The very latest were the Vengeance, known unofficially to most as the ‘scarecrow’ or ‘ooga booga’ class - huge in dimensions, terrifying in appearance, but almost hollow - very little mass and power to show for their size.

Ultors were the same length - give or take a couple of hundred metres - as the standard Sector class heavy cruiser, but they were a classic wedge hull, solid shapes solidly built as opposed to the Sector’s thin prime hull and humpback superstructure. On average, an Ultor would take a Sector class cruiser out reliably; it would be closer than their designations suggested but that was the way it always worked out on exercise.

A Vengeance class so-called battlecruiser could not reliably do the same, had difficulty handling the medium Admiral class cruisers, and would be torn apart by the main force Ultor which was two thirds its length and one sixth the target profile. They were notoriously combat-unworthy, a personal commission of a man high in the Imperial hierarchy who knew much about impressions and intimidation, and very little about warship design.

They were, in theory, fast hunters. Their fleet-wing counterpart, though, looked to be something distinctly successful - a potentially much more effective design.

Anyway, those were the pieces, and the battle-play could begin.

The battleships and their escorts emerged first, and simultaneously. All but one to find raised planetary shields and alerted defences; the single exception was the Aquila-class Goshawk, over the colony planet Plr’lanilthre - at the root of one of their minor trade routes, a junction world and major port - and that lack of shields was instantly suspect.
Still, the instructions were clear. If they seem to offer an avenue of attack that’s too good to be true, spring the trap. There was enough firepower in the rest of the squadron to come and break them out.

There were a handful of orbital facilities, minor, large groundside ports - here they could be kept safely under the shield bubble. A lot of small orbitals, colony cylinders and spheres, most of which were moving away under station keeping thrusters - but far too many satellites for a world with any decent technology. Disguised minefield? Likely.

Goshawk blasted out at the surfaceside shield generators - of seven immediately within reach, three died; the other four saved themselves by getting some kind of energy barrier up fast enough to take the opening volley, but the partially raised shields vented so much heat into the planet there were now four lakes of lava with raised pinnacles in the centre.

There was a gap. Enough to send transports down to ground through, enough to start an assault on the rest of the planet - although dealing with those four shield generators was going to be interesting. Landing barges had enough heat resistance to float on lava, and suddenly there was the concept of AT-ATs punting their way across the molten sea.

The planetary defence batteries returned fire, an interesting mix of autoblasters, ion cannon, kinetic accelerators and conventional turbolasers - a defence weighted far above the usual, expectable destroyer scale attack, but not enough to deal with a heavy carrier.

The Aquilas were actually a lot closer, functionally, to qualifying as battleships than the huge open-undersided Conducor class the Starfleet rated as such; half sisters to the heavy, minimal-bay Prolocutor class, they were thoroughly hated by most of their pilots. They had kept most of the internal bracing and framework, their hangar bay was notoriously cramped, subdivided and awkward to fly through, and traffic control within was a nightmare.

Above the usual six squadron Imperial Wing, it ran Group, three to eight wings, Command, four to twelve groups, Force, three to eight commands - a minimum of two hundred and sixteen and a maximum of four thousand six hundred and eight squadrons to a Force, usually around the low thousand mark, thousand and eighty being the most common.

Huge variance, but it allowed for radical differences in individual quality, in terrain controlled.

Aquila-class carriers took a complete Command under an Aerospace Vice-Marshal, ten Groups each of eight Wings, four hundred and eighty squadrons.

Not the end of it, because further back in the landing stage ridden bays they managed to give room to the landers, armour and logistics of a sixty-four division Army Group.

‘Aerospace force? I feel more like an air molecule, trying to figure my way out through the alveoli' had been one test pilot’s comment, and even if not consciously inspired, the design of the bay was certainly reminiscent of the human lung.

In theory, that was enough deployable ground and air power stored in the convolutions to take the planet, and they had a gap in the shields to make the attempt through.

That was the intention, right up to the moment when the floating low-orbit shields activated. The planet didn’t have a second course of shielding - few could afford protection to that degree - but it did have backup generators ready to switch in to the main shield bubble, most of them in low orbit and some way disguised.

The effect was to cage Goshawk, below the outer reaches of the bubble, isolated from her support group and easily contained, easily accessible to the surface guns and the swarm of atmospheric fighters - thousands, tens of thousands - coming up at her.

She would need all of her fighters to hold that lot off, and help do enough damage to the planetary shields and defence batteries to let Goshawk break out - the big ship felt literally like a fish in a barrel, only about twenty times her own length from surface to shield bubble; or to let the escorts break in to support her.

If the rRasfenoni did reinforce, and there was a suspicious lack of presence that indicated their mobile forces were being held back for such an opportunity - improbable as it seemed, were they actually trying to pick and win a fight? Take on the Starfleet?

There was a certain elegance to their military plan - apart form it being politically insane, of course. Unless they actually thought that by putting up a competent fight against the regional support group, they could look good enough to recruit rather than kill off.

It was unlikely that their past crimes would be overlooked - but was it impossible? Uncomfortably, no. Anyway, for the moment, Goshawk would have to survive as best she could, until a detachment - a Battlecruiser division, probably the Praetors, could arrive on the other side of the shield and start breaking Goshawk out.

Or possibly Tichy might be able to do it, if all went well. The dreadnaught’s attack plan presupposed raised shields; it would get very messy otherwise.

The escorts actually emerged first, trigger the tripwires, get whatever trap they had arranged to begin its play.

Tichy’s support group was the Sector class heavy cruiser Validusia, the Starburst class heavy cruiser-carrier Lyrae, the Urbanus- class light cruisers Mount Helicon and Lindowal Bay, two Proelium heavy destroyers and eight line destroyers - relatively credible for an attack in their own right.

The planetary shields went up - typically, some of the most heavily shielded worlds in the galaxy were those that least needed it, but happened to have the money to hand to spend. Coruscant was the only really major world whose shields got a regular workout. Most of the planets that really needed heavy shielding, in the turbulent mid and outer rim, were exactly the ones that had trouble affording it.

Here? Suspiciously heavy - overweight, which was evidence of no worse than a slight racial tinge of paranoia. In theory.

The escort group began to deploy for a slow, time consuming probing bombardment over one hemisphere, leaving a conspicuous hole in the centre of the formation.

The rRasfenoni, looking at that, would - should - think something else was about to emerge there - the tactics fitted a torpedo sphere - and prepare against it. That was what Convarrian wanted them to do.

There were signatures moving beneath the shields, atmospheric and near orbit fighters waiting to be given an opportunity, and a worryingly large number of currently inert satellites in close orbit.

The Empire sprung their trap first. Instead of the new contact emerging in the centre of the formation, Lindowal Bay sprinted for that gap, sidestepping the charging dreadnaught that descended from hyperspace.

Tichy wasn’t aiming for the centre, as that would have been suicidal; he was aiming for a skin-kissing flyby of the planetary shield bubble, cutting it to kilometres’ distance, at half lightspeed.

Two volleys of light and medium turbolaser to clear the orbital space - a number of the satellites went up in a manner that indicated warheads or energy weapon capacitor banks, and none managed to survive that kind of firepower.

Then Tichy performed a backflip, swinging his stern in towards the planet at closest approach, rolling to face back along her previous course and present alpha gun arc to the other side of the planet.

As the bow came up, the tractor and manipulator beams of the towing rig used that to slingshot the under-tow Keldabe down towards the planet to smash into the shields, and accelerate it on its way.

The light destroyer hit the planetary energy bubble with a kinetic energy equivalent not far short of a thousand petatons, followed immediately by full converged sheaf fire from the escort group.

The impact sent a translucent bluish-violet ripple around the skies of the world, flaring red-green-gold auroral displays where the ripples of the impact pushed the shield down into the upper atmosphere.

The shielding screamed, flared and wavered trying to take the load; if the escort group could turn that into an actual breach, excellent - there was a significant possibility, it was not a small shock, momentum transferred to the shield generators could rip them apart, momentum transferred through them to the planet would spawn earthquakes not seen since coalescence.

The energy requirements for that were gargantuan; so had the impact been.

It was actually the ripples Tichy was interested in. The planetary defence command would be frantically trying to bleed off and stabilise the shielding around the impact point; but the antipodeal point, on the other side of the planet where the shock and distortions converged…

Dropping something heavy on a planet, flying past and striking at the contre-coup was a new trick to most; it had been born in the clone wars, had moderate success only and never really reached widespread notoriety. If the rRasfenoni had ever heard of it, they reacted too little and too late.

Tichy identified the weakest point relatively easily; under such stresses it was obvious. His full array of heavy turbolasers lashed out, burned away a hole in the energy envelope - started spraying the planetary surface underneath, superheavies thrashing into and peeling back the shield; the rRasfenoni were still trying to work out what had temporarily driven down one panel of the shielding when the generator complex died. Then another six.

The ripples from that hole being carved in the defences reverberated around the planet again - and the escort group managed to tear their gap after all. Wide open, two gaping holes and wrecked generators under them.

The disadvantages of the operation had been understood and accepted; with the speed the projectile had to be delivered at, the deploying ship could not possibly remain in the area. It was a one shot deal that left Tichy outbound at half the speed of light, useless to even try to decelerate in tactical time - but the planet hopelessly vulnerable and shock damaged, ripe for invasion.

The escort group between them could muster forty divisions, sixty-six fighter wings. Should be enough, which left Tichy the option of making another firing pass on the planet and cleaning out more of the orbital space, or proceeding to Plr’lanilthre to back Goshawk up.

If that was their designated point of resistance, where they were making their maximum effort to convince the Empire that they were capable enough to be useful and shouldn’t be exterminated after all, while the other worlds - and there were indeed reports of fighting coming in, crossfire between rRasfenoni forces - played the political game, then it was clearly Tichy’s job to go there.

Redirect the battlecruisers to back up the invasion effort over the mainworld, fFenar, then go to this colony world and break their back and make them pay.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 04:20pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-08-23 11:28am


As the squadron manoeuvred to form a firing line and the ion cannon ships turned briefly away to form up, Lennart could almost feel the mood change - on Admonisher.
No, he could, it was just that he shouldn’t be able to - but their decision processes seemed to shift from trying to fight their way clear, and engage targets chosen for them by that, to doing as much damage to the Imperial ships as possible.

As Dynamic jumped in, she was met by a ripple of half broadsides before the viewscreens had cleared, started to evade in a clumsy lurch - it looked as if one of the main engines was in local control - not well enough.

The red bolt clusters converged quickly on target, ripped into the already battered destroyer’s bow and starboard side, tearing compartments open, knocking out one hyperdrive node , both starboard secondary engines, and ripping open a set of fuel cells - and drawing a phased, timed return shot that blasted Admonisher’s portside forward group of turrets wide open. They exploded and kicked the heavy destroyer down and to its starboard, turning it broadside on to Dynamic.

Dordd declined to take advantage of the opportunity, instead turning and accelerating away as best he could, inflicting further damage on his ship as shot up compensator nodes failed and the already-damaged structure they were supposed to support was crushed.

Better than hanging around waiting for it to be done for them by turbolaser fire.

Dynamic was allowed to accelerate clear, and Admonisher, the bear - the shark - at bay, declined to pursue - not as if she actually could, but her fire could follow the light destroyer; chose not to, turned away from the burning Dynamic towards Fist.

Tevar made the same mistake, if it could be called that - by doctrine, she was right. By pragmatic consideration, she was taking a hazard that could not possibly be worth it. She curved back to bring Admonisher into her alpha arc, head on and bows down; opened fire.

Admonisher was slow to roll back on target, and limping from the loss of one more battery group, but her tired gun crews could still come up to the mark; they put a line of battery salvos along Fist’s line of flight.

The Imperial destroyer scored first, but on sequential fire; damage the areas where the shield had been peeled back, certainly, but not the still functioning, still shielded compartments; hits there would ablate and abrade, but they wouldn’t stop the big renegade firing on her, not fast enough.

One group from Admonisher’s third sequence of fire hit the bridge tower. Already pounded, it was largely empty, but there was still one main long range scan dome there. At tactical combat range the “big ear”’s secondary function was to analyse and deconstruct enemy EW; they couldn’t afford to lose it. The dome disintegrated, then the salvo gutted Fist’s bridge module, flaring out forward and aft blasting away all the soft tissue and leaving only part of the hard outer walls and sparring of the module.

‘Emergency dive,’ Tevar snapped; put the bow down, change from the plan view exposing her turrets to a narrow stern-on tangent, on the theory that Admonisher would expect Fist to be ballistic now and make a prediction based on that.

She was right that time; the wreckage of the bridge module tore off as Fist accelerated into the turn, ducking under the full converged sheaf that Admonisher lobbed - the renegade’s fire caught the wreckage of the bridge tower and evaporated it, but missed the main hull.

Lennart weighed up the possibilities of doing the same. On one hand, evidence - but did that really matter now, wasn’t it time to just blow them up and let forensics do what they could?

It would make the fight a lot easier if Admonisher was decapitated, would save Imperial lives - and an effective end of the fight before the actual end would suit his political purposes too.
Admonisher couldn’t evade everyone at once; what would have been a difficult and unlikely shot earlier was now just about possible.

There was no good reason not to, and besides, Admonisher had realised that Fist was being conned from a position in her main hull, and was making a determined effort to finish her off. Tevar was likely to give them more chances than they deserved.

What she had left to prove, Lennart didn’t know; after catching and killing Reiver, not much, he would have said, but there were a whole complex of reasons in there. Sector fleet seeking to redeem itself, sector aristocracy seeking to assert itself, and a woman.

Was there any real difference, Lennart wondered, between a misogynistic, xenophobic organisation and an organisation full of misogynistic xenophobes?
For the tactics of survival within the organisation, for change and reform, a lot - but from the viewpoint of the individual on the receiving end, not much.

That and personal pride, which might be the deadliest component of the lot. Fist should be running clear, and he should be trying to distract Admonisher. Distract like a sledgehammer to the forehead. ‘Guns, group up converged sheaf, point target, bridge module. Roll to present the starboard side immediately after. On my mark-‘

He waited for the roll, was interrupted by a pit technician, ‘Containment breach in the bridge tower; they’re out.’

Deal with that in a moment. ‘Shoot.’

The six remaining octuples and the three heavy axials crashed out together, at the same moment give or take five milliseconds that Admonisher also lobbed a full converged sheaf, from her remaining turrets, at Fist’s predicted turning arc.

They expected Fist to avoid pivoting in place, to continue to accelerate and attempt to turn to bear, prolonging the move into a wide sweeping bank, and they were right. Admonisher was no longer firing ninety-six gun full salvos; she had been reduced to seventy-two, which made it slightly more survivable.

A full almost seven petaton salvo from a Shockwave was perfectly capable of pushing enough energy through the shields of a light destroyer to burn through from one end of the ship to the other, but with two turret complexes blown apart, the big ship could only manage five, and Imperators were substantially better shielded and a lot tougher on the inside.

Which helped, a little. The full set of bolts crashed into the skid-turning Imperial destroyer over Fist’s portside turret line, shearing through and angling in towards the initial acceleration grid of the port main ion engine.

There was a scintillation of colour - the white flare of shield interaction and the green wash of bursting tracer wave, the fiery incendiarism of vapourising durasteel, a violet-white flare of a rupturing capacitor and the thin, electric blue wash of a rupturing engine spewing ionizates - a symphony of luminous horror.

Between the impact and the loss of an engine, Fist tumbled out of control; at least there was still something left - still mostly there, gaping, molten hole in the hull, the port aft vertex hanging on and who knew how, but not destroyed. Maimed, but not destroyed.

Admonisher’s command crew had less than a heartbeat to appreciate their efforts, because Black Prince managed to land her own full time on target salvo. The shields and the front of the bridge module under them seemed to melt and ripple as the thirty-twos hit, and the three huge axial cannon finished it by tearing the command tower apart.

‘Brenn, take over. You know what I want done,’ Lennart said, and turned and bolted for his day cabin before the navigator could put two and two together.

Crap, Brenn thought, but didn’t have time to do more than that, to wonder what Lennart was playing at. Two decisions to be made - where were the fighters to go?
Clear the area around the deepest hole in Admonisher’s hull specifically. Two ships of the squadron severely damaged - who to send to render assistance?

‘Com-scan, record for transmission; “Ion division commence fire; all ships, once the target shields are fully depleted main guns stand down, LTL aim for enemy point defence. Fighter elements, same target category, clear the skin around their dorsal midships battery cluster.
'Comarre Meridian, proceed to assist Fist, Guillemot proceed to assist Dynamic. All ships, as your shuttles and transports return, load them with boarding troops, send them out to join the attack stream, reporting to Air Commodore Olleyri.” Right, send all that lot and-‘

The door hissed open again and Lennart came out from his day cabin, looking worried - he had thrown some water over his face, and collected his lightsabre.

‘Ah. Skipper, you-‘ That explained a lot, and Brenn had been about to ask ‘are you sure about this?’ Looking at Lennart’s face, the answer was obviously no. On the other hand, what else was there to do? ‘-Need a hand?’ Brenn actually said.

‘I’m leaving the professional side of this to you to finish off, and your taking that load off my mind is help, believe me,’ Lennart said.

‘And thanks, but I have to do this, deal with Kor Alric in person, and somebody has to do that,’ he waved at the tactical map, ‘you’re the best candidate. Cover my back by making sure nothing goes wrong here, yes?’

Mixed feelings; on one hand - and the rRasfenoni had five - Brenn could think of many things to go wrong, one of them being the presence of said aliens.

He didn’t particularly want more command time, especially not unofficial command time as it was likely this would be. Taking the conn in the middle of a squadron scale operation, while the captain went off to do something exceptionally shady, was not Brenn’s idea of a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.
Then again, what could he actually do? Refuse? That would let Adannan run wild - not an option. Who else could be left in charge? There were several of his own juniors and probably either Gunnery or com-Scan department heads who could be handed the job - but that would be just cowardice to leave it to them.

‘You can count on me,’ Brenn actually said.

‘I know,’ Lennart said, ‘and thank you again for that, too.’ He left the bridge, the blast door slamming shut and shimmering slightly as the tensors and internal ray shields locked it in place.

He had carefully not raised the possibility in Brenn’s mind that Adannan might be heading for the command bridge. Possible - more than probable - but he hoped to lure the dark Jedi away. There were two contradictory logics at work; the bridge was Lennart’s sanctum, his place of power - so in theory, it would make good emotional sense to face Adannan on his own command deck.
On the other hand, it was full of people and systems he didn’t want damaged in the crossfire. Also, and I really am thinking magically now, he chided himself, he didn’t want them to see him like this, deliberately reaching for the Force.

That was possibly a suicidally bad decision, he might need to draw strength from them, but he was hoping the Force was sufficiently nonlocal that he didn’t need to put them directly in the firing line to achieve that.

Now all I need to do, he thought, is think of some way to avoid putting me in the firing line… No chance. The politics didn’t work.

‘If Kor Alric turns up, don’t let him in, tell him I’ve gone down to Engineering,’ Lennart advised the stormtrooper detachment on watch. Even on Black Prince’s pie-plate dropships there wasn’t enough room for them all; there would be details left behind. This was one of them, eight troopers and a squad leader, E-11s, two flamers, a squad automatic and a riot gun.

‘Sir, what is Kor Alric’s precise legal status?’ the squad leader asked, slowly and carefully.

‘Good question.’ Lennart replied. Tempting - useful - as it would be to be definite, it wasn’t what the evidence said.
‘I don’t know, exactly,’ he admitted. ‘I think he’s violated the terms of reference of his position, and needs to be arrested pending investigation at the very least. I know I can convict him of treason, but I don’t expect it to reach a courtroom. I think things are going to get resolved in a more…visceral manner. What do you think?’ he put the sargeant on the spot.

‘Sir?’ That was a very this-is-an-officer-problem kind of ‘sir.’ Get your finger out of your arse and tell me what needs doing, Sir.

‘I mean it. In a way, you’re what this is all about. The imperatives, the bone-marrow deep loyalty. What do they say- where does service to the Empire lie?’ Lennart asked slowly, spelling it out as he went.

‘Captain, the dangerous cults act-‘ the stormtrooper sargeant temporised.

‘Which Kor Alric attempted to misuse to force me to cooperate with his scheme. I’ll have to answer to that sooner or later, but to an honest judge, not to him,’ Lennart said, dreading the idea.

‘After what you’ve heard, Sargeant- NL1084, is he still the legitimate authority? Do you feel still bound to obey an order that he gives you?’

There was a long pause, longer than Lennart could afford, and a hissing and crackling at the limit of audibility - intertrooper comms. ‘Sir,’ the sargeant said eventually, in flat, baffled tones, ‘the chain of command has declined to offer a position.’

‘You know, a man can look surprised even in a full face helmet. How far up the chain of command did you go?’

‘To the contact code for Kor Alric’s offices on Coruscant, sir.’ NL1084 answered.

Lennart took a couple of seconds to think that through. They, Adannan’s colleagues in that particular labyrinth of night, had hung him out to dry. If he could take Kor Alric down - if the dark Jedi wasn’t strong enough to pull off his own scam, then the hell with him.
Behind that attitude lurked something genuinely twisted, but there was a later to spend worrying about that. Or hopefully there would be. ‘So do what I ask of you, then, and stand ready here,’ he ordered, and headed for the lift.

‘Gethrim?’ he called the chief engineer on his personal com. ‘Final moves. Any idea what their plan is?’

‘Fan out. Give each of the minions a letter of authority, try to get them to a live com terminal, an escape pod, somewhere where they can get in touch with the rest of sector and region - rest of the Empire for that matter - to get help to use against you.’

There was also a muttered grumble about just because he was running the com tap, people coming to him for info.

‘To serve his goals, maybe. Me, I think he intends to take out along the way. I hope he does; I hope I have managed to make him mad enough to fixate on me and leave most of the rest of the crew out of it. If he’s any good as a Forcemonkey, he can sense me and pursue; I’ll lead him away,’ Lennart said.

‘There’s only one problem with that plan. You’re a dreck swordsman,’ Mirannon pointed out, bluntly. ‘There. I’ve fed their biometrics into the system with an exclusion order. Locked them out, they can override locally, but they’ll need to repeat the command at every hatch they come to. Slows them down and tracks them for an intercept.’

‘Nicely done, but I was actually thinking of your other talents as a homicidal maniac,’ Lennart said.

“You do realise disembowelling people is just a hobby?” Mirannon started to say, then realised just how much like the crazed dark Jedi that sounded. He changed it to ‘You know, after this I may take up a less active pastime. Spanner arranging, maybe.’

‘I know. After. Where are they now?’ Lennart asked.

‘Mostly stumbling around the bridge tower. Two, no, three already made it into the main hull, his personal pilot, his PR flack and the slab of meat.’

‘Right. Not a problem. I know who I can get to deal with them - although I may need some backup to deal with Adannan personally,’ Lennart said, perfectly matter of fact.

‘I was wondering when you were going to work that out,’ Mirannon said.

‘I was just hoping you would realise it’s too damn dangerous to mention the possibility until it’s too late for Adannan to work it out for himself,’ Lennart said. ‘He has a huge blind spot where it comes to non Force users - I hope; best not to give him ideas.’

‘Ah. Right,’ Mirannon said blankly. Should have bloody known the skipper was going to be ahead of the situation.

‘I’m going to need some of your fu- men. Voulnteers only of course, this is going to get messy, likely to be a lot of fallout.’

‘If you’re just planning to nuke him, I can easily manage that; give me a minute to run up a pellet and laser-trigger,’ the engineer joked. Actually, there was an idea he could use in there somewhere.

‘Not that it isn’t tempting, but a little bit of gamma’s an occupational hazard, especially for engineering; it’s the legal fallout I’m actually worried about,’ Lennart said.

‘So I should warn them they’re in for a fate worse than death?’ Mirannon bounced back.

‘Afraid so. If anyone’s mad enough to volunteer, send them to DC Dorsal-140.’

The first intercept was no real surprise. One of the blips had entered a main vertical turbolift shaft, and was heading at high speed to Main Machinery-1.
What other way was there to get around a ship even the size of a destroyer, quickly enough to matter? The crowded, deliberately awkward internal structure didn’t help - for structural strength and to resist blast and flash, the structure was full of corners, baffles and blast doors, offset corridors, subdivided spaces. It was at least as bad as an urban area to get around, realistically ten minutes from end to end in uniform, more depending on what was being carried. Battles could be won and lost in that time - several already had today.

When there was no shooting going on, sometimes the easiest way to get from one extremity of the ship to another was actually to go EVA, but not now.

Turbolifts were on the face of it an absurdly dangerous and failure prone solution to the problem, but there was no real practical alternative. Well, not short of issuing everybody their own individual jetpack and rearranging the internal companionways for personal flight. That could be made to work on paper, and Mirannon would liked to have seen it tried at least once, although preferably on someone else’s ship.

Login and over-ride, redirect the capsule to the maintenance yard adjacent to Main Machinery-1. Why walk further than necessary? The big engineer made the rest of his dispositions, then strolled off to meet a man in a lift.

Incriminating himself by doing so, but what the hell. He guessed, and rightly, who Adannan would send. The yard was closed off by a blast door, running hot - somebody was trying to melt their way through from the other side using a lightsabre. That was possible on cheap separatist ships, not on Starfleet spec. Plug in, set a momentary softening in the tensors securing the door, then a two second delay to open.

As he had expected, the lightsabre sank in as the forcefield relaxed, then wedged stuck as the field came back to full strength and hardened the metal around it again. As the door slid open, the goon on the other side didn’t have the sense to switch his blade off and had it torn out of his hand.

It was who Mirannon had been expecting: the heavyweight, Banaar. Man of the bans, the boundaries; borderer and half- outsider, a natural for becoming twisted embittered and hostile. He glared at Mirannon for a second, then popped two long vibroblades out of springloaded forearm sheaths, snapping into his hands and activating, and he decided to join the scream and leap school of combat.

Split second to make a decision; was he needed alive, for any purpose? For interrogation, information, evidence? On the face of it, no; although it would be as well to err on the side of caution, it being notoriously difficult to unkill people.

Mirannon stepped into the attack, left arm snapping out in an up and out block across Banaar’s right wrist to stop that blade and give time, at the same time drawing his plasma torch blade and firing it up - the thug might be fast, but he was a grudging, grumpy, negative personality. So many qualities, so many dependent factors. Temperament, preparation, mental discipline. The big engineer wasn’t a hardened killer, but he was a better man. His blow landed first.

The plasma torch took the dark minion in a perfect stop-thrust just below the ribcage. Which would probably have been enough, but then Mirannon chose to exploit the properties of a containment-forcefield torch that was a tool more than it was a weapon, and fanned out the blade. All the way.

What had been a hundred and thirty centimetre long elliptical sectioned cone deformed into a flat-headed mushroom of power and light, twelve centimetre stalk, eighty centimetre diameter disk. That sliced Banaar’s torso in half, destroying him structurally, no last dying moves. He looked astonished for a second, expression on a head on a half-severed neck bobbling above a filleted, cauterised body; then the corpse squelched to the ground, most of the clots bursting open.

As a hobby, against friends and colleagues, fence, prod, probe, be flashy and experimental, have fun. Against subhuman slime like Adannan’s hired brute, the instant killing stroke was better than he deserved.

‘Medical?’ Mirannon normalised and powered down the blade, called the med complex dispatch desk. ‘Cleanup crew to turbolift maintenance, bring the heavy gurney and a freezer bag in case we need to mine his head later.’

No answer. ‘Medical? Hello?’

‘Sorry, Chief, we have a situation here. The twi’lek-‘

By then, Mirannon was already off and running.

The one of Kor Alric’s minions who was absolutely sure this wasn’t going to work was Laurentia. She was painfully aware that there was no real hope of accomplishing the task she had been set, which was to go to the Legion, turn them back to the side of officialdom and reassert the Special Agent’s claim on their loyalties.
She didn’t think the job had a snowball’s chance in hell, and was wondering bitterly what would get her first, the legion, the crew or the ship’s own environmental systems, when suddenly there were people, stormtroopers, in the corridor ahead. It was going to be the worst case scenario after all.

She had been trying to pick a reasonably empty route, away from the working spaces of the ship and from where damage control would be busy. Try to get as far as possible on her forlorn hope - which it had been all along, hadn’t it? Ever since Kor Alric had plucked her out of the depot unit where she had been perfectly content serving as a specialist-7 trainer in civil policing and civilian interaction. He had essentially abducted her to serve as his personal assistant, public relations agent, and whatever other darker and sicker things occurred to him.

What he had mentioned as a possibility to Lennart, he had already done to her twice, keeping her head alive on life support while he took here apart and put her back together again, while she was conscious and watching. Strangely, the actual cutting wasn’t nearly as bad as the running commentary he had kept up.

And other, lesser indignities and degradations, and occasional opportunities for her to do the same. So it had gone, Kor Alric cultivating both sides of a love-hate relationship, steering her towards a state of dependency where there was nothing in the universe she hated and feared more than him, but could not exist without his attention and approval.

He had made a psychological wreck of her, and whatever independent intelligence she still had left agreed with Lennart; he had made them all less. Part of her duty in particular was to make more of herself, she had to try to repair the damage he did to her, stay strong and capable, ready, adaptable and willing to serve.

And how he had enjoyed playing on that. Still, the imperatives remained. If this was the hand she had been dealt there was nothing to do but play it out, suffer, endure and grab at every bittersweet moment; learn to endure, if not exactly enjoy, the pain.

Intellectually she knew she was one of many, but her kin were spread few and far between. Aleph-3, the absurd one with no personal name who had spent her life in the field, had fallen in love, or convinced herself that she had, with her commanding officer.
Who, to be fair, was a competent man who treated her as a professional and respected her skills, and wanted her to be her own person - against her own wishes on the subject?

Ah, there may be an opening there, Laurentia thought, and hated herself for still wanting to try.

It was Omega-17-Blue who were barring her way now, had intercepted her on the upper barracks deck four levels above the staging area for the dropships. Caught before she could get a chance to deliver the message.

Laurentia was relieved but not surprised when her sister took off her helmet and hooked it to her belt. Tactically it would have been netter for them to just shoot her, but there was a lot of unfinished business.

‘Are we really so dissimilar? We share the same fatal flaw,’ Laurentia said as an opening gambit. ‘Loyalty to our men.’

‘In your case, I would call that a death wis,.’ Aleph-3 shot back. ‘You’re probably not aware, but you have a nervous twitch; every time I mention him, you jump as if someone stood on your tail. Why do you follow him?’ It was an impossible question, one that momentarily took Laurentia aback as she tried to work out how her sister could ask that.

‘You shouldn’t need to ask that. It’s built in to all of us, unyielding loyalty, faithfulness to authority no matter what-‘

‘Except that it isn’t,’ Aleph-3 said flatly. ‘There is nothing, nothing in the hindbrain that condemns us to a life of service without meaning, without intelligent anticipation, without excellence. We do not have to be used the way you have been used - how could you let that happen to you?’

And in asking that, Laurentia realised, she also asks, how can I? The situation starting to get to you a little, dear sister? ‘So you are content to be a slave, just so long as you aren’t an obscure one? Have you ever been a harem pet, or do you just want to be?’

Laurentia was aware that she was attacking from a position of weakness. What would constitute a position of strength? Harsh reality against fluffy imagination, Pain against Dreams? Inherently extremely depressing - but if that was what was most likely to work, it was what she would have to do.

‘We came out of the same mould,’ the actually younger Aleph-3 admitted, ‘but I’m not your mirror. Why are you asking me these things that you should have asked yourself, and got answers to, long ago?’ Which was a question that could be pointed both ways. They were clones; what was obvious to one as obvious to the other - and they were both accusing each other of being fundamentally flawed, of missing the obvious.

‘You’re afraid,’ Aleph-3 went on. ‘Afraid of being a clone, willing to do anything, descend to being a prostitute and a sadist’s torture doll, to grasp at an identity of your own.’

Water off a sugar cube’s back. It was so true, so painfully and directly true that it made little difference. So many of the rank and file - and the live born enlistees more than most - fit that description, eagerly embracing anonymity - but not their line. Their batch was supposed to be identifiable, distinct - and yet identify with the many. It was as much a fact of Laurentia’s existence as breathing oxygen, so true that it actually had no tactical significance, being effectively unchangeable. So why had her sister chosen to say that?

‘You? Sniper-scout, seeing without being seen, undercover operative; how many identities, how many masks, how many ways to avoid having to say ‘I am me, I am here, it is now?’’ Laurentia counter-accused.

Aleph-3 opened her mouth to retort, then remembered Lennart had said much the same thing. Instead she snapped, ‘If that means accepting what identity means for you, then damn right. I am a hunter, a shadow, I’ve tracked down dozens of enemies of the Empire - and you belong to one. You’ve let yourself be used, tortured, three quarters destroyed - if that is what it means to be and to belong, then I want no part of it.’

‘And you think you would have been able to do any differently in my place - you think you would have been given a choice?’ Laurentia snarled at her sister.

‘You’re fooling yourself - followed a trail right off into dreamland. Reality hurts. You don’t have choices, you don’t have options, I was hurt and how are you try to use that against me.’

‘Hurt? You were played,’ Aleph-3 bit back. ‘You’re a doll owned by a monster, the only thing you have to be proud of is your suffering, and that is nothing worthy of celebration.’ Why am I saying this? Aleph-3 wondered. What is actually my objective here? Killing my sister would be trivially easy. The rest of the squad aside, he took her apart and put her back together too many times.
She’s not as strong or as fast as she ought to be, her skills have too much gloss polish and not enough cutting edge, although as mad as she has every right to be she shouldn’t hesitate to hurt me. Although what is this standing and talking, if not hesitation?

The thought crystallised; I want to save her. From Kor Alric, and from herself. Although she knows how to place her barbs, I don’t think I can save her from me as well if she keeps trying to goad me. Two out of three is the best I can manage.

‘You, you number. You’re nobody’s; that man you think is yours,’ Laurentia screamed at her sister, ‘he doesn’t want you, he can’t tell who you really are - doesn’t know how many of you he’s going to have to put up with.’

That went to the bone, Aleph-3 had to admit. Largely because she was terribly afraid that it was true. Did Jorian Lennart need her? As he was at the moment - no. Honestly, no.
As he grew into the Force - but a moment; was what she wanted to turn him into likely to treat her any more considerately than Kor Alric did Laurentia?

The dark Jedi’s pet saw her sister’s flicker of doubt.

‘Join us. It really is that simple. Come with me, do your duty. Your connection doesn’t make sense and can’t bear fruit, only misery - and that’s not what you’re for.’

That was so absurd, even in her confused and blackened mood Aleph-3 noticed it. ‘I don’t believe this,’ she said. ‘That you, victim as you are, still have the nerve to talk about purpose-‘

‘Audacity was never something our line was short of, sister,’ Laurentia said. ‘Consider this, we were designed and raised by a bunch of isolate xenomorphs, who had the personal contact of two males from freakishly repressed cultures. A mando so gynophobic that a clone son was the only way he was ever going to reproduce, and a dried out old fart of a Jedi- and past that only the textbooks to go on. You think it’s remotely possible that they actually got human sexuality right? You really think we’re normal?’

Aleph-3 paused for a moment, remembering dealing with clone troopers whose sexuality had been so confused they had hit puberty in their late twenties, and how it had felt to be the only woman in the barrack block when they did. That in itself had been a good incentive to throw herself into the role of sniper-scout, away from the main body of the regiment.
It had made a difference at the time, too; so many of the clones had been, effectively, eunuchs, and most Jedi generals had all the empathy and concern for their men of a halfbrick, and tended to target-fixate.

A lot of the clonetroopers had got themselves killed because they, literally as well as metaphorically, did not have the balls to stand up to the oblivious dedication of their leaders and point out that there was often an easier and less wasteful way. The lack of hormonal activity reinforced the sense that they were just meat, not living beings with a life cycle and an identity that might be worth preserving. How the live born recruits to the stormtrooper corps were coerced into the same mental state was an interesting and painful tale.

‘There are billions of different takes on what it means to be normal, and most of them contradictory. I’m sure I can pass for several,’ Aleph-3 said, and regretted it immediately.

‘I’m sure you can, but only one of them matters; are you comfortable in your own skin? Are you doing what makes you happy?’ Laurentia asked, pointedly.

‘Considering how often you end up out of your skin, that’s not a metaphor I’d have used,’ Aleph-3 snapped back. Damn her, she thought, she’s a version of me, she knows me too well and she’s already hit rock bottom, there’s nothing more I can do about that except maybe make her cry, and that takes us nowhere.

‘Squashing your libido out of shape and putting on a mask are not what I mean, and you know it. Who are you when you’re not pretending? Who’s the face behind the mask?’ Laurentia said.

‘Don’t be daft, I’m me,’ Aleph-3 said, weakly.

‘And who- what- is that? Is there anything that you would sell your soul for the chance to do, or refuse even if your life depended on it? Professionally, we’re ambisexual; man, woman, alien, machine, animal, no difference. Where does the pretence and the facility, where does the ooze end and the hard edge of ‘no’ begin?
'You don’t know, do you? You’re just as much a pet, a pawn and a victim as I am, you’ve never been given sufficient opportunity to prove it,’ Laurentia snarled. Perhaps this was going to be easier than she had thought.

‘Now that is something I can recognise in myself,’ Aleph-3 said. ‘Pride in being one of the boys, as well as one of the girls. That feels familiar - and I know who I am, even if I can’t explain it.’ Or daren’t, a little voice in the back of her head said. ‘At any rate, better uncertain than condemned.’

‘The one thing you have to be,’ Laurentia charged, waving away what she considered to be Aleph-3’s hollow protest, ‘loyal to the cause of the Empire. Faithful unto death, faithful beyond reason, wasn’t that the old joke?’

‘That was one we told against ourselves,’ Laurentia went on, ‘we knew ourselves that well, but we still stood to the colours and fought and died in the same old way. Nothing changed, the loyalty’s bred in the bone. You don’t know your man as well as you think you do, and you’re not really bound to him. He’s a renegade, which in itself may be charming, but it’s wrong and you know it. He’s not the power here, he’s a mid ranking line officer, Kor Alric stands far higher in the trust of the emperor we serve, and that is the imperative, that is what we have to obey.’

Aleph-3 could feel the rest of the team behind her thinking about it. Theoretically, Laurentia had a point.

‘He stands condemned as a traitor, caught plotting against the Empire. If you’re determined to stand by him, if his claws are in you that deeply, then my main imperative is to shoot you as an accessory to treason. Something you, personally, have only made easier,’ Aleph-3 admitted.

‘Not by anyone who had the authority to do so,’ Laurentia stated. ‘Captain Lennart’s too junior - and already in violation of regs himself in failing to obey a senior official of the Empire.’

‘Are you entirely serious?’ The squad - and actually senior officer of the entire recon/hunter element, Aleph-One, asked Laurentia. ‘Your interpretation is that a senior officer’s authority automatically protects him against charges resulting from the misuse of that authority?
'A junior officer has no right to question? Regulations, law, common sense, none of it important? I would have to ask my commanding officer’s permission to report him for treason, and would be unable to do so if he ordered me not to?’

Of course,’ Laurentia said, without a trace of irony. ‘The powerful - wield power. That is how it is. How could the Empire function if every Ploovo, Gort and Rikki could interfere at any moment?’

‘That’s completely crazy,’ Aleph-One said, not entirely believing. ‘I’ve been a scout all my career, and most of that spent in disagreement - different eye view, different idea of what was going on and what needed to be done from my line of command. If things worked the way you think they do I would have been dead years ago - if common sense and power went hand in hand, fine, but they don’t, not in the human race and no species we know of is that alien.
'There has to be some measure of respect for the abilities and willingness to serve of the lower status, some measure of reciprocity here.’

‘Captain, I don’t believe you’re a dishonest or treacherous man by nature,’ Laurentia said, with a twisted grin, ‘so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that, if I were to play back to you in a couple of days’ time what you’ve just said, you’d be as horrified as I am by the proto-Rebellion propaganda you’ve just reeled off.’

‘We have no rights, only duties?’ Aleph-3 shook herself together, and said, ‘Dewback-shit. We have the right of expecting the other parts of the Imperial order to live up to their mandate and do their jobs.’

‘Oh, and, as far as having sufficient rank goes,’ she continued, ‘you are aware of what just got broadcast over the PA? Your man condemning himself, from his own mouth. I have his own word for it, and apparently he’s of sufficient rank that I have to take him seriously when he incriminates himself.’

‘Nonsense,’ Laurentia, for effect, giggled. ‘He can order you to believe that he’s loyal, and follow him. His word against - his word? You’ll obey the formal order - you have to. You will fall into line.’

‘And if I think the higher duty is to protect the Empire from him?’ Aleph-One said, again.

‘You can’t. It is the law, it simply isn’t up to you to decide how good a servant of the Empire he is, it doesn’t work that way round,’ Laurentia said, and actually the rulebook was on her side. ‘Now are you going to join the ranks of the deviant and try to stop me, or follow while I go to talk to the legion commander?’

‘If it’s word against word, rank against rank - he’s not here.’ Aleph-3 said. ‘You are. And I believe the Captain and myself both rank you, Specialist.’

Lauentia looked over the team. Twelve of the elite of the stormtrooper corps - and the rules were clear. Even if she killed one, she could order the rest to fall into line, and they would have to do so. Captain OB171, Warrant Officer OB173, who else? Who was of sufficient rank - just the squad leader and her sister?

Laurentia flexed her left hand - the telescoping finger-claws shot forward, fused into place, and she drew her master’s gift and activated it with the other hand. Vibro-claw and lightsabre.

She darted towards her sister, claw ready to parry high, lightsabre sweeping up from low, hopefully to disembowel;

Aleph-3 barely had time to draw her parrying stick, the superdense rod of exotic Phrik that could withstand, briefly, a lightsabre, and move it up, round and out, pushing the sabre down and away from the high guard position.

The claw came down and tried to slash her sister’s right arm, Aleph-3 managed to lean back into it and avoid it ripping her head off, but she had a split second before her sister managed to manoeuvre the sabre free - Aleph-3 headbutted Laurentia.
Burst her nose, made her stagger briefly, lost a hank of hair and was stunned by one of the vibroclaw fingers flickering along the side of her head, but Aleph-3 recovered fast, adrenalin taking over.

Twisted out of the way of the sabre which went high and wide, managed to recover, switched her parrying rod from hand to hand, didn’t have time to think about her other hand as Laurentia came back at her.

Aleph-3 tried to get past the sabre and grab Laurentia’s sword hand, the sabre flickered back to cut her arm off, Aleph-3 blocked it with the rod and started pushing it up and away, had to jump back herself as the claw came down and raked her over the chest - the armour took that swipe, a few scores, no real damage.

The iridescent red-blue plate the squad all wore was actually the never-officially-issued Royal Guard version of the later model Clonetrooper suit; it had been designed with some pretty impressive enemies in mind- could take most carbine and pistol fire.

How long would it take for a lightsabre to burn through? Longer than a second - well, there was a chance there. Although not a good one. Might hold off a slash, briefly, not a thrust. Aleph-3 decided to feint what had worked last time - catching the lightsabre on her stick, holding it for a moment while bringing her heavy rifle up in the other hand.

Pushed out for the sabre and caught it; wondered whether or not to convert the feint into a real attack; found the grip, started swinging the gun up - as expected, her sister reacted to that, swaying back out of the high block and flashing the lightsabre round and down -
Aleph-3 tried to drop the muzzle out of the way, didn’t quite manage it, had the front end of her gun sliced off. Which was an acceptable loss, because it let her get a lunge in with the parry stick into the nerves in her sister’s other armpit.

Laurentia’s claw arm hung limp, the lightsabre recovered - almost of its own will, she felt, following what the weapon said to do - and slashed out flatly at Aleph-3’s stomach; Aleph-3 rolled backwards and found herself against the feet of the rest of the team, and Aleph-One pushing the hilt of a vibrosabre into her hand as she stood up.

Laurentia had been about to follow up and slash at her sister as she stood, but hesitated. Partly from caution - Aleph-3 had an offensive weapon now. Partly - well, they were sisters. The same flesh and blood. It wasn’t going to be easy to land the killing stroke.

In theory, loyalty alone mattered. She had thought that. Now - well, the first thing to do, they thought circling round each other, disarm. Laurentia could accomplish that easily enough by striking at - through - the vibrosabre.

Aleph-3 kept sidestepping, trying to hold the sabre back and keep the parrying stick forwards; almost succeeded in turning through one eighty, leaving Laurentia between herself and the rest of the team.

‘You do realise I want you dead as well?’ Aleph-One said, as Laurentia passed closest to him. And raised his own carbine.

Laurentia was shocked, taken aback; her mental horizon had contracted to focus on her sister, she had almost forgotten about him - turned to swing the lightsabre at him.

Aleph-3 saw her opportunity, darted forwards, almost colliding with her sister, reaching past her to catch the lightsabre near the hilt with the stick and flick it upwards - and sabre coming up and under, almost straight up the line of her sister’s torso, impaling.

That worked, at least the first part. Laurentia looked down at the sabre pushed out of position, back at her sister almost draped over her, screamed in anger and tried to reverse the blade in her hand, cutting down on her sister’s head.

Aleph-3 started to bring the sabre up, had to reach out and back to get it in position to start the move, hesitated. Was this right? It might be necessary - but what a life her sister Laurentia had had, torment and torture, and to come to an end like this, barren and brutal and lightless - for a moment, it was more than she could do to deliver the killing slash. Her own flesh and blood deserved better, deserved a second chance.

The hate in her sister’s eyes burned through that, it was the duration of a blink, a surge of realisation, not long to change a life but more than long enough to end one. The lightsabre swept down-

And fortunately, Aleph-One had the presence of mind to pull the trigger.

At a slight angle to avoid overpenetrating into his senior warrant officer, who was left there in shock for a few seconds as the chestless body of Spec-7 batch 6NL strain code 554 subunit 108, “Laurentia”, collapsed to the deck.

‘If you had managed to get that blow in,’ Aleph-One said, ‘you’d be having nightmares about this for the next ten years. Couldn’t let you go through that.’

‘She was right,’ Aleph-3 said, lost and maudlin. ‘What am I not willing to do, where won’t I go…Jorian knew that, that’s why we were sent to meet her. I needed to do that - nightmares and all. I couldn’t. I flinched.’

‘Normal, human reaction,’ Aleph-One said, ‘which is a step up.’ He retried the lightsabre from the corpse’s dead fingers. ‘He also knew we would be here to back you up. Come on, we’ve still got a shuttle to catch.’

‘What do we tell the High Colonel?’ Aleph-3 managed to ask, the most sensible question she could come up with instead of what she felt like saying.

‘Simple. An agent of the traitor tried to give us illegitimate orders, and like the indefatigable, incorruptible servants of the Empire we are, we...did what had to be done. It is true,’ Aleph-1 pointed out, ‘from a certain point of view.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 04:38pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-08-28 08:41pm

Ch 37

The rRasfenoni had a problem: managing not to get squashed by the Imperial Starfleet. That was actually a real and distinct possibility for the ‘second city’ of their little polity, the one they had chosen to stage the actual fighting over, at least if Tichy misplaced his hyperspace exit and came out too close and heading straight for the planet.

Such an error was unlikely, but a deliberate attack - no, no responsible officer would squander a ship by smashing it into an immovable object like that. Mandators were simply too important to lose, and Tichy could be more subtle than that.

There were a couple of tricks that the big dreadnought could use to decelerate, but none of them were a good idea from the viewpoint of structural integrity. Grabbing something with the towing rig and using that as an anchor could be done, but only with the chance of tearing the stern off the ship. Best not.
A second kinetic attack? Excessively predictable - once it was spotted coming, and the main reason it wasn’t usually done and Tichy had ridden it almost all the way in, the impact ship would be blasted to vapour. Which in itself would still hit, but a planetary shield could soak that a lot easier than it could a solid hit.

It would take Tichy six thousand seconds to decelerate to a reasonable speed, no way to slow down much faster than that; there were a few exotic possibilities, but nothing that would work for a ship the size and structural strength of a dreadnought. In theory, something with the power to weight of a starfighter - or a very fast frigate - could juggle the transition to and from hyperspace, lose or gain momentum in the shunt; for anything with a structure rated at less than four thousand ‘g’, it was distinctly unwise, and to be honest, most fighters couldn’t do it either. The computer systems to manage it were a step above even the standard full range nav computer and too expensive for most forces to bother issuing.

Slingshotting around something with the towing rig could work, but faced the slight problem that just because it was effective momentum transfer, it wasn’t magic. The stress would be placed on the towing tractors and field generators, and anything much more than rated acceleration, they couldn’t stand anyway. The object itself would probably be ripped to shreds, the impulse would be impossible, no physical object...ah.

And then, a plan was born. This could be fun.

Goshawk was dodging as well as she could, sidestepping and writhing; eventually, if only from power endurance, she would lose. The shield surfaces emitting were much less efficient than a warship’s neutrino radiators, but very much larger - and the planet may be running on fusion power for the most part, but they had hundreds of square kilometres of reactor farm to work with.

Kor Alric felt two of his team die. Banaar, one of trillions like him. A thug who could be replaced anywhere in the galaxy.

Laurentia, well, she was more of a loss. More in terms of man-hours wasted, his moulding her and playing with her, now gone. Well, there was at least one ready made replacement.

The plan was coming apart around him, though. There was one chance, one last chance. He should have done this to begin with, but the personality profile had been all wrong. He couldn’t cut through plates and spars protected by the ships’ shields and tensor field; that was intended to if not resist at least minimise damage from multi-teraton hits. Had to work his way through the corridors, strangely deserted.

No point avoiding it, he needed to find Lennart and the bridge was the most obvious place. Although - he had gotten into the lift, instantly been frustrated by its habit of pausing at each floor and asking for a confirmation code to proceed. Obviously some kind of security lockout, so he had lightsabred his way through the floor, into the shaft, and found out that telekinetic hovering was harder than it looks. Getting back out of the shaft at bridge level was fun, too.

Hanging by one hand and trying to satisfy the biometrics - what kind of madman puts a retinal and DNA scanner on the wrong side of an elevator door? - had been complicated, and he was painfully aware of the amount of warning he would be giving to whoever was on the other side.

As the door crunked open, there was a squad there. Good. They could - their guns were pointed at him. His brain was still buzzing with potential solutions, he hadn’t decided precisely what yet, so the red mist hadn’t come down and he was still able to think of scanning them for intent. Surprisingly, none. Two flamers and a missile launcher loaded with something anti-personnel: it shouldn’t have been hard for them to kill him, if they had received orders to do so. Which they hadn’t.

‘Follow me,’ he said, pushing himself up out of the shaft and turning towards the command bridge door.

The stormtroopers looked at each other. The sargeant swallowed, took the plunge, ‘sorry, Sir, that’s beyond our remit.’

‘What? Adannan snarled, infuriated. ‘How dare you? Your remit is to obey.’

‘Exactly, Sir. Captain Lennart said to tell you that he’s heading down to Engineering.’
Hm. So he had chosen the bowels of the ship rather than the brain for his arena, had he? No matter. And what to do about these? Anything? They were only a symptom - a symptom of him.

A cunning psychological fighter as well, it seemed, to mislead and corrupt stormtroopers out of their unthinking obedience. If anything, Adannan thought, I need him. If I can only make him see.

The barrage from the ships of the squadron slackened; all were close enough to watch each other’s fire go in and know when to stop shooting to allow the ion cannons free play.
Fewer of them than Lennart had really wanted or intended, and the majority of those relatively lightweight - the only really heavy weapons in the squadron were Fist's aft turrets. Of those, one was gone, the other - the maimed destroyer was evidently in no mood to accept help, instead demanding of Comarre Meridian - herself damaged- that instead of manoeuvring clear, they roll Fist round into firing position.

There was dedication, and there was dedication - not that Brenn was minded to try and stop her. Anything that helped put Admonisher down before someone managed to regain control and resume return fire was all right by him.

The shuttles were starting to come back, most of those left over Ord Corban microjumping in. The first to land were a group from Voracious - cleared in ahead of the other because they were carrying retrieved ejectees, including apparently Group Captain Vehrec, who was suffering from severe radiation poisoning. Bacta was supposed to be good for that, eat away damaged tissue and encourage regrowth, but at the moment that would probably mean dissolving all of him. What they would have to do to get him decontaminated, Brenn didn’t really want to think about - sieve through him molecule by molecule looking for damage, probably, and hope there was enough left to regrow.

Anyway, the medical retrievals were the first to touch down; the first to leave again had an unfair advantage - the two spacetrooper platoons. They didn’t have to wait for the stubby, heavy assault shuttles to dock; they could just jet on out to meet them. QAG-111 could have stopped them; in quick conference with Olleyri, decided not to. It was logical to lead in with them anyway.

The heavy assault shuttles had enough power endurance to touch and go, and no ordnance to reload, so not a problem. The only major headache was going to be traffic control around the target site - the spacetroopers might be better off going in through the ruins of the hangar bay rather than getting in the way of the fighters.

It was Aron’s Hunters and Franjia’s Starwings that got hauled back for precision strike work, both of them remembering - and cursing bitterly - about what she had said earlier about defence suppression work; ten percent tour survival rate. They had already lost a couple - the two Hunter squadrons were now down to sixteen craft between them, the two Starwing squadrons nineteen. Neither of them were technically senior, but everyone knew it was them who had the ball.

Shockwave class carried a relatively strange point defence fit - no LTL at all. Highly peculiar, meant that against attack boats and corvettes they had to resort to stepdown main gun fire, but relatively well adjusted for the threat of droid fighters, with a thick blanket of one hundred and sixteen half-megaton Corellian quads.

This was going to be fun. Proximity missile detonations to try to take the turrets out with flash could work, actual strafing runs - well. Best to clear out one aspect, bombard it with warheads set to detonate just off the hull, land enough energy per square metre to melt a defence turret without burning into the hull. Then, once there actually was an edge to work with, start unravelling the defences from there. Franjia’s PulsarWing no longer mounted the missile guidance electronics, which was sensible enough for an individual craft, considering the thing didn’t have a missile system, but not for a squadron leader who might have to designate missile targets for their unit.

Half of them were confused by what she was doing back in the cockpit at all; she had disappeared, been recaptured from a rebel ship, ended up in sickbay, released herself to light duties, went AWOL and technically stole her own fighter. Half of the pilots didn’t understand why she was still allowed to fly, and the other half just wished they could get away with it too.

That and she was really still trying to get the hang of the PulsarWing. It had its flaws. With the guns drawing full load, she didn’t need the instrumentation, she could feel the balance of the thing change through the seat of her pants as the reactor module ate fuel. That, and the fact that it was a reactor module, power generator, engine setup, not an integrated pod; much closer to the thing’s shuttle ancestry than to the vast majority of fighters.
The target finding and tracking system was designed to be worked by a gunner, too - Cygnus had chosen to take little or nothing from the old H-60 and TL-118, the earlier big gun fighters, which meant that while they avoided a lot of the mistakes, they also bypassed any good ideas that were going.

At least Subpro had understood that a capital weapon mounted on a fighter needed a fighter gunsight, not a full on-mount fire control system.

She really needed a gunner and a flight engineer; there was simply too much cockpit work to be done to make this a feasible option for the majority of Imperial pilots. Anyone with multi-engine time could cope, but it wasn’t a multi-engine transport. It was a fighter and had to be handled with the speed of a fighter. Too many complex problems needing solved too quickly.

The stability suffered under maximum rate of fire, she swore the cockpit module actually got shorter as the engines pushed against the recoil, the ESM system was completely new and giving her more data than she wanted or could analyse - then again, partly it was her fault for even trying. Most pilots would have switched everything to automatic and hoped the computer knew what it was doing.

That and most pilots when they came in to land would have put it down, walked away and immediately requested reassignment to TIE Bombers. Understandable.

She wouldn’t. Although it was definitely a challenge, the striking power more than made up for it. The sheer power of the multimegaton light turbolasers meant that she had about a tenth of a second to draw an arc with the beam, and the fire control system was designed to do that, also limited autosteer on to target. Which she had to set the parameters for. For the first and only time in her career she had lost count of her score. At first, use the advantage to its fullest, open up at range and pick off lazy rebels who thought they were too far away to need to manoeuvre, but that had quickly turned into a disadvantage given the missile volleys the rebels had enough sense to lob back at her.

Actually, the ESM system had come in pretty handy, and she now had positive proof that the PulsarWing was very well shielded. It had been a wild ride, and she was too busy dealing with the ship systems for it to sink in yet just how many of those little red dots she had put an end to.

The plan was for her to ride in slightly above and apart, use her turbolasers to pick off any of the defence mounts that looked to be too dangerous. Aron would be hotdogging it in at close quarters.

The barrage rolled in - few flashes of red point defence laser, combing the area, splashed a few of the warheads, no prematures; she rippled off three bursts of fire, missed one and killed two quads, then noticed a strange blip behind them. Coding system, officially imperial transponder, ESM gave it a high probability of fraudulence, also indicated the thing was being flown by a reduced crew. Unidentified, but probably armed yacht. Kor Alric’s personal transport.

Was there anything to do? The strike was going in - most of the fighters opening up with their own ion guns, backing up the light ion cannon fire from the rest of the squadron and Fist’s overdriven heavies. Point defence was suffering already, several turrets had been taken out in the main ship to ship, the first loaded assault shuttles and transports - also with ion cannon - were moving out. There was nothing immediately requiring her attention. Except maybe that transport.

Check with flight control? She believed - knew - that Kor Alric was scum, a fundamentally evil man. She was in trouble anyway, largely his fault. He had preyed on her impulses, marginalized her, nearly broken her career - and possibly with the motive of turning her into another cyborg, a replacement for his personal pilot.

There was no real possibility of committing murder without being noticed; the PulsarWing and its gun flashes were just too much of a giveaway. On the other hand, the target was unescorted.
As well hung for a murder as a theft. She would not serve him - and forget the usual rhetoric about rather dying first; with the firepower at her fingertips, she had the opportunity to kill.

It was, on the face of it, insane, but that man had endangered her, endangered her ship and her comrades. Never mind the poor fools she had spent the day blowing up, there was the real threat. Come to think of it, it was a unique, and she was flying a prototype; she could claim electronics malfunction, might even get away with it.

Targeting passive, quick look over the official target - flowers of detonating warhead, followed by a new cluster of blips that she mistook at first for debris, realised were the spacetroopers deploying in the wake of the barrage - and swing round to bear. The sleek dart-shape was twisting and twitching, partly overworked engine management, but also partly deliberate evasion, and at least part of the flagship’s attention was going on focusing jammers on it. All the proof she needed.

The Force was obviously with Myfara, because nothing else but a healthy supply of miracles could explain how she had been able to be in the right place, the flight bay, bring the Tetrarch up to readiness, get clearance and launch without being stopped. Her master had passed a codeword, the one that meant ‘send for help.’

It was probably faster to jump clear and jump back than to try to make high-sublight speed to the edge of the jamming zone. That still left her trying to pick her way through the fringes of the battlefield, looking for safe space to start plotting a jump.

There was an alert beep; incoming fighter showing no aspect change, on an attack course. Myfara activated the droid driven defence turrets, cursing - needing to hold steady for the calculation.

Tetrarch was a difficult target, if not exactly cloaked, then at least wearing a long overcoat. Easier to track it by the ion flares. Then it became a lot easier than Franjia would have liked, as the defence systems gave four active fire control beams to home in on. The droid turrets were each a linked laser cannon and missile launcher, and they had no inhibitions at all about firing on other Imperial craft.

Franjia had half a second to weigh the situation - as long as it would take the droids to lock on to her PulsarWing. No sense waiting.
Line up and shoot, two dual-purpose light turbolasers spitting out two six-megaton bolts per second each. In theory, ten seconds to burn through an unmodified Corellian Corvette, two seconds to wreck an assault transport. In practise, the personal transport of an agent of the privy council was going to be a much more resilient beast than that. Myfara had to make the choice - hope the turrets would be enough and continue to plot, or engage directly, take the intruder down and then run?

Three pairs of turbolaser bolts pounding the combat-yacht were a powerful hint. Myfara paused the calculation, started to turn as if to make it a stern chase, relying on speed-masking two of the turrets that spat out laser fire at the attack fighter, although all four spat out concussion missiles.
Easily enough to swat light fighters away, and useful if what had been attacking her had been a light fighter. Franjia managed to blind two with the attack jamming suite, snapshot and killed one, rolled away from the fourth which detonated, proximity not contact. Shield erosion, that was all.

At least, for the time being. Tetrarch reversed roll as soon as Franjia was engaged with the missiles, looping up and over to point on from high on the port wing of the heavy fighter.

Adannan paid relatively little attention to such things, allowed his pilot to use her own judgement when it came to what sort of firepower his personal transport required. While that meant she got her own toys to play with, it also meant that he would hold her very painfully responsible for getting it wrong, so she had put a lot of thought into this.

A yacht is at a natural disadvantage in any fighter combat. Even if it can turn and burn with a first-line fighter, it is so much bigger and so much easier a target. Speed and agility are secondary defensive mechanisms at best, behind the ability to get them before they get you.

Quadrilateral again, the Tetrarch mounted four blister turrets around her nose, each housing a rapid-fire autoblaster and a long barrel area defence laser.

For all the disparity in mass and size, the PulsarWing actually had the edge in raw firepower. Not that anyone observing could have deduced that from the storm of tracer.

Franjia pushed the PulsarWing into a hard turn against her previous line of flight, breaking across the Tetrarch’s nose, not enough to throw off all the turrets but certainly enough to baffle the pilot.

The transport was fast, in and of itself, but it was not a dogfighter; Myfara managed to haul the thing’s nose round, following the fire pointers, when the heavy imperial fighter flashed past again going the other way, a sideways Z-turn that brought Franjia’s guns back on target - she landed another four hits before Myfara could swing the bow gun clusters round to bear.

Both craft on each other’s bow quarter; Myfara expected the treacherous Imperial - well, if that wasn’t a contradiction - to repeat the same move, take another step in the dance; eased the nose in that direction - and naturally, Franjia did anything but, breaking and rolling outwards, level and reciprocal, pushing the engines hard to get a vector and pivoting on the thrust deflectors to strafe.

Tetrarch wasn’t the Falcon, at the far end of a vicious circle of adaptation; more speed to do illegally lucrative things, that made enemies needing weaponry to fight them off, that attracted official protection needing armour plate to survive, that slowed the ship down needing more powerful engines - Tetrarch was effective, but first-order.

Tetrarch’s shields flickered, fading on the edge of blowout; Myfara was slow to respond - for Adannan’s followers, imminent death was not the terror it might have been. Failing him was a dreadful prospect, though.

The combat yacht tried to flip end for end, point its main guns towards the heavy fighter, but Franjia read the move again, as Tetrarch rolled over she accelerated across its bow, wrongfooting it, and leaving Myfara wondering exactly who or what she was up against.

Soon to be quite a lot. Elements of Delta and Epsilon squadrons were wondering where their squadron leader had got to; spotlighted around, waved active sensors over what she was shooting at.

It looked to the dark Jedi’s personal pilot that the entire squadron was about to move on her; that settled it, no more point in fighting. Shift shields aft and turn away, firewall it, get out.

There was one factor that she missed. Franjia put the heavy PulsarWing on its edge and sideslipped outwards. Away from the sensible direction, opening the range, but also opening the angle - aiming for Tetrarch’s thinly protected bow. A narrow sliver of a shot window.

Easy enough when she was able to take more than one shot.

Myfara didn’t have time to comprehend what had hit her. Two six-megaton bolts hit and splashed over Tetrarch’s bow, shattering the nose, burning out the electronics, and turning the flight deck into a cinder pit.

Franjia wasn’t sure what she expected to happen next; ordered to stand down, at least. Blown to bits by point defence fire from Black Prince, maybe.

Actually, a simple order to rejoin the strike pattern from Olleyri. Calm, as if nothing had happened. She was on the verge of demanding his opinion and that he arrest her when she realised how daft that would be.

That, and as the front face of Black Prince’s bridge module lit up, it looked as if someone else was thinking fratricide.

On board the Dynamic, the best that could be said was that there were some people still alive. Some, not everyone. C turret’s internal baffles had failed - enough heat had been transferred into the gun house to incinerate everybody in there. The secondary reactor’s crew were gone. Most of the port engine bay had been opened to space and gunflash. Main Battery Control was still ready, closed up with two turrets remaining, although there was nothing substantial left in the way of targets. Except maybe one.

Suluur had managed to catch up with the squadron com chatter, and listened to Adannan’s self-condemnation, coolly and distantly, face a calm mask. Aldrem worried about him, but right now -
‘He was in the Imperial suite, last I heard. And, I think…get me Captain Dordd.’

The command bridge of Dynamic was a mass of red and grey, status indicators and internal display showing a ship that had been pounded within an inch of its life.

‘Aldrem,’ Dordd acknowleged wearily, when com-scan put them through. Kriffing smenge, you look terrible, was the first thing that occurred to Aldrem. Dordd looked as if he had aged ten years in ten minutes, and that was pretty much how he felt as well.

Dordd wasn’t sure how much more he could take. He had taken a ship he had known was not ready for combat into a fast-moving running brawl against an enemy with four times the weight of fire, and although they had emerged on the winning side, he didn’t feel as if he had won. ‘What is it?’ he asked.

Aldrem thought about cutting straight to the chase, but decided Captain Dordd might be just a touch too eager. Possibly the best thing he could personally do would be to offer himself up as a target, let the captain vent his feelings on someone who could take it more easily than a member of his permanent crew. Trying not to let it look like as bad an idea as he felt it was, he said, ‘well, Sir, most of the ship’s still here, by tonnage if not necessarily by function…’

Dordd refused to behave as he had been expected to. Wishing he had thought that a week earlier, before he had let loyalty con him into a state where he put his ship through this. Not that it was a good ship, not that he hadn’t expected this, but it hurt. Not that he could afford to show it, now they needed him more than ever. ‘Do you have nothing better to do than to try to draw some of my venom, Lieutenant?’

I should have known better, Aldrem realised. ‘Actually, yes, I do. Have you had a chance to keep up with the interflotilla chatter?’

Dordd snorted in disbelief.

‘Too busy, right. Can you roll the ship round,’ Aldrem said, ‘so I have a clear line of fire to Black Prince’s bridge module?’

‘I’m going to need you to explain that,’ Dordd said. He genuinely had been to busy to do more than watch the tactical map and try to direct damage control. He didn’t have much idea of what the rest of the squadron were up to.

‘There was the beginning of a transmission, cut off, placing Captain Lennart under arrest, or would have if it had got that far,’ Aldrem explained. ‘Then a command-level advisory about Kor Alric being indicted for treason, and some quotes from the man himself that, I’m no trial judge - although it would be an entertaining second career - I reckon that at the very least he convicted himself of lese-majeste. The politics are happening now.’

‘You want a firing position on the flagship,’ Dordd said.

‘I reckon that I can drill the shields with a five gun rapid burst and put a reduced power sixth shot right through the windows of the Imperial suite, burn it out without taking the bridge module with it,’ Aldrem stated.

Dordd thought about it. His feelings towards Captain Lennart at the moment were far from clear, but the special assistant to the privy council was unquestionably scum.

‘Helm, roll forty degrees starboard,’ Dordd ordered. That would bring them into arc. If his career wasn’t already ruined, this was going to be another condemnation. Actually, looking down at the battered and still half-molten forward hull of the maimed Dynamic, he wasn’t sure he still cared.

‘What, we’re doing it? Stations, stand by, main guns to central battery control, switch that active finder off and give me passive and boresight projections,’ Aldrem reacted, and ordered the command centre team.

Six dots. Line up, set the sequence, last gun in circuit step down all the way - to the equivalent of a few hundred tons of conventional explosive. Enough to blow out the compartment he was aiming for. Even in a moment like this, there was still time for finesse. I really, really hope I’m right, he thought to himself.

This had better be the right thing to do, otherwise I will be very annoyed with…hold on a minute, it was my idea. Actually, he thought as he squeezed the trigger, the right thing to do might have been to call ahead and tell somebody about this.

The five shot were spaced precisely, timed to perfection; hitting and loading the shields, not quite simultaneous - milliseconds apart, enough that the shielding carried away the energy safely, just close enough together that it choked on its own ability to do so. Local overload - allowing the sixth shot to pass through unimpeded, and in the process further demonstrating that windows on the front of a bridge module were an essentially bad idea.

Adannan’s programmer and data miner were both still there, trying to figure a path around the lockouts Rythanor and Mirannon had placed on them. Which in itself was evidence of treason, tampering with a highly classified and highly secure system. Not that it was any less inherently indictable than blasting through the windows and bursting a bolt on the throne.

The high backed seat reserved for the use of His Imperial Majesty exploded, vapour and shrapnel shredding both the dark minions. It was a fully successful shot, just a shame that their prime target was absent. They did, however, manage to kill his accountant.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 07:45pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-09-11 04:43pm


Adannan narrowed down his focus in the Force until he could perceive one man and one man only. It wasn’t as easy as it should have been; because of his peculiar, untrained subconscious way of doing things, Lennart left his Force signature all over the ship.

He seemed to be making, not for Engineering, but for a space in the base of the superstructure. As Adannan let himself glide down the lift shaft, he felt the direction to his prey change, relative motion allowing him to zero in.

Stop, and out of the shaft, into deserted corridors; they were avoiding him, there should be people moving around, the emptiness meant he was being tracked somehow. It didn’t really matter how - there were a dozen potential ways, but all of them boiled down to meaning that the crew was complicit with their captain in this. That would stand watching, especially if that was how Lennart intended to surprise him.

He found his prey not where he had expected, in the warren of storage chambers and workshop spaces that made up the damage control bunker, but in the vestibule in front of it.

Open space, with lights that flickered and died as the Sith acolyte approached.

So, Lennart wanted to do this in the dark? It was more atmospheric, even symbolic. Adannan approved, fired up his lightsabre, a bar of scarlet glowing in the darkness. That metaphor suited what he was about to say very well, actually.

Lennart’s own lightsabre - which he had no business having, and gripped as he would a torch - lit up, a highly dubious flaring crimson. That was presumption - or willingness? No, simply what he had to hand. Which was wrong. If he was minded to use the dark side as just another tool, if that was all he wanted to do with it…then he would fall as easily and as inevitably as rain.

Eventually. For the moment, Adannan paused and waited. It was what Lennart had been hoping for, to begin with a clash of words, but had been trying to prepare himself for a straightforward brawl.

The fact that it was what the dark Jedi seemed to want too made Lennart think, and Adannan strained trying to overhear it.

‘You tell me,’ he began by saying.

‘Once I understand it myself,’ Lennart said. ‘You know that I’m playing for time,’ he lied trying to plant the idea in Adannan’s head, ‘you know that I know charging straight in would be an amateur’s mistake. I could try to babble you far enough off balance to stand a fighting chance, but I reckon you’ll be expecting that…the question here is, what do you have to gain?’

‘How do you think you’re going to escape the consequences of killing me?’ Adannan probed.

‘You’re assuming you haven’t backed me far enough into a corner that I’m willing to lash out now and make up the rationale later - which is what you were trying to do anyway, wasn’t it?’ Lennart said.

‘I always thought the metaphor of extra strings to the bow is far too limiting. Strings on a piano might be closer to the reality,’ Adannan said. ‘You make plans like tha;, you love being in the centre of the maelstrom where you have to improvise - and get to look smarter than everyone else because they have even less of an idea what’s going on.’

‘Consciously, that would be criminally unprofessional,’ Lennart stopped himself before he could go into a long digression about responsibility and the interactions between layers of command. ‘As a professional, I try to do my duty and let my subconscious take care of itself.’

‘Interesting. Are you saying that if you had hidden doubts, if you smelt something distinctly rotten about the state of Imperial policy, you would keep them to yourself and try not to worry your crew?’ Adannan suggested, tone obviously saying that it wasn’t so.

‘Considering the interest we take in current affairs around here, you sure you’ve got a leg to stand on with that argument?’ Lennart said, gesturing with the lightsabre in that direction.

‘Considering how little of the opinions expressed actually carry your stamp, yes. You have a habit of not committing yourself on paper. Blunt to the point of viciousness, but not on the record,’ Adannan replied.

‘Nonsense. On a ship as heavily populated as an Imperator we’re living out of each other’s armpits, and news spreads fast - changes in mood, changes in attitude register immediately. They know what I think, they know what I feel. And incidentally, the majority hate your guts. Too many random acts of violence,’ Lennart changed the subject quickly.

‘Funny that, I seem to be missing most of my associates,’ Adannan said, sensing a potentially useful line of attack.

‘Turnabout. Retribution. You could even call it hiding the evidence.’

‘With the losses - still well over a hundred thousand in the squadron, all of whom will be aware that you arranged for another unit to make a precision strike on the Imperial suite of your own ship.
'Forty thousand of those are aware that you did your best to set me up, and, assuming you win, dealt with me yourself. That alone should guarantee you enough notoriety to bring the attention of the Inquisitorius tumbling down on you. You can’t afford to kill me, and you’ve given me every reason to kill you.’

‘Except I map back to your own plan one. Become a dark acolyte of the Force - over your dead body.’ Lennart smiled a slightly manic smile. ‘One dark sider killing another is perfectly expected, isn’t it? And we do have reasons.’

‘My associates and support team - I ought, strictly speaking, to revenge myself on you for them,’ Adannan said, the next step in a train of thought he meant to construct.

‘Posing a quandary?’ Lennart spotted it. ‘If you have that much human empathy left in you, if you cared about them enough to bring me to justice for their murders - then the situation would have played itself out differently and we wouldn’t have ended up here.
'Oh, I know what you’re aiming at - that you are a better and more connected person than I took you for, which means your words are not hollow, and a working relationship between us would be possible. Unfortunately, I’ve also given you every reason to take revenge on me - which you would actually have to try to do if I was going to believe you at this stage,’ Lennart pointed out - then realised a moment too late that that was exactly what he didn’t want to happen.

‘Revenge deferred? You never understood what I was really here for, and it is important enough to postpone dissecting you for the time being,’ Adannan said. ‘My team will just have to do without their honour guard for the moment until the cause is served.’

‘You know, I did wonder if there was a more complex reason for this than simply "grr, argh, power, gimme." Were you actually intending to explain this to me at any point, or just to blackmail, badger and bully me into submission with the dark side of the Force?’ Lennart nearly said something about things could have worked out so very differently if the explanation had come at the beginning instead of the end, but - no. Not smart.

Adannan grinned wolfishly. Lennart’s weakness was his reason; he could be swayed, he wasn’t determined enough, or mad enough, to pick his line and stick to it whatever sense said to the contrary. In this level, in this realm of high politics, that was a weakness.
Although it was definitely harder than he had expected, playing the role he had assigned to himself. There were still contingency plans and possibilities swirling around Lennart’s head; how to manipulate them, make Lennart choose the option that suited himself? The technicalities of getting away with it, even this late in the day after the broadcasting of some pretty damning evidence - well, an accusation of treason can be a very two-edged sword, Adannan thought.

Pose as an agent provocateur, claim to have been pretending to be a traitor and a renegade to prod Lennart into action, and turn round and praise him for his decisiveness and let him in on the secret?
No, Lennart wouldn’t believe it. His calling the emperor ‘a deranged, dangerous old fool liable to drag the rest of us down with him’ had been sincere; it was impossible to pretend now that he had been faking it.

Go all the way? Why not?

‘Captain, you were there for a fair wedge of galactic history; how do you feel about the way it was written up?’

‘I have a great deal of admiration for COMPNOR and their ability to rewrite history, if that’s what you mean,’ Lennart said, cautiously. He had an idea what Adannan was about to say, and was wondering whether or not he ought to let the crew hear it. He was also hoping that Gethrim had had the sense to turn off the backscatter tap; this was something no-one in their right mind would want getting on the record.

‘You accept that the reality and the official version diverge?’ Adannan said, academically, then put the idea into plainer words- ‘You do realise you’ve been forcefed a pack of lies?’

‘My sincere admiration for COMPNOR. The rewriting of the past is standard procedure in circumstances like this, it is a basic part of any new government’s playbook, and anybody smart enough to work that out knows how short and messy the life of a dissident in such circumstances usually is,’ Lennart pointed out.

‘You cowering in terror from the forces of officialdom? A difficult mental picture to believe,’ Adannan grunted.

‘Reading between the lines is a good and survival enhancing thing, but so is knowing when to sing from the official hymn sheet. I don’t think you’ve got a clear picture in your mind of the alternative,’ Lennart said, switching back to the attack.

‘Lies and deception for a safe and secure society?’ Adannan sneered. That wasn’t what he had expected Lennart to say at all.

‘Without the Empire, the fall of the Republic should have resulted in at least a generation-long clusterkriff, multiple regional civil wars, the abandonment of interstellar trade and peace, and the death of quadrillions. Yes, lies and deception for a safe and secure society - it's not right in itself, but it’s a hell of a lot less wrong than the alternative,’ Lennart said forcefully, waving his lightsabre.

Leaving himself wide open for a physical strike, Adannan thought, but verbally - his defence was tight, but there was an opening.

‘What if that was about to cease to be the case?’ he asked.

‘I think I know where you’re going with this. Carry on,’ Lennart said, trying to undermine Adannan.

‘Was the abolition of the Senate the act of a man of sense? Was the use of the Death Star an essential building block in a safe and secure society? The last five years are not what you - what a lot of the old new order - think they were. Yes, a certain manipulation of public confidence is essential-‘

‘Between that and the sheer pleasure the Dark Side gives you in fooling so many,’ Lennart interrupted, and Adannan failed to spot the implicit leading question in time.

‘Exactly, and our rivals within the imperial hierarchy are the most lied to of all,’ Adannan stormed. ‘What does it matter, truth, lies, raving gibbering bullshit, anyone not strong enough to pierce through the lies doesn’t deserve the truth. Anyone not strong enough to establish and maintain their own truth-‘ he stopped himself before he could go on to add the words ‘cannon fodder.’

‘Well, you’ve just managed to convince me that the Force is a large part of the problem,’ Lennart said, much more calmly than he felt. ‘Was that where you were intending to go with this, or were you going to try to tell me how big a lie the Empire is?’

‘Not the Empire,’ Adannan said, inwardly berating himself for letting Lennart draw him out like that - and then asking, why not? Why not go into full flood? Because that would be an implicit admission that the naval officer had a point - that he had got to his point before the dark acolyte did.

‘Not the institution, the Emperor. You reasoned out yourself that, in a government riddled with dark Force users, he would have to be either a puppet or the prince of darkness.’

‘Not something I particularly wanted to be right about,’ Lennart admitted. ‘And when I look at the damage the Force has done to you, and multiply it by how much more powerful he would have to be…’

Adannan managed to let that part pass, with difficulty. ‘You still don’t get it, do you? He started out damaged; he was powerful in the Force long before he went into politics.
'He is the head of the order of the dark side.’ and just in time, Adannan realised that going into too much detail about His Imperial Majesty’s precise status as the master of the Sith would be very, very counterproductive. If there was a chain of argument guaranteed to end with Black Prince wearing the rebel phoenix, it would be reminding Lennart of just how much time they had spent during the clone wars looking for the Sith lord who was supposed to be leading the Separatists.

The idea that Palpatine had been playing both sides was a revelation too far, for the time being. It was also, in any remotely evidential sense, unproven.
Some of the inner circle - not necessarily the same thing as the privy council - claimed to know that it was true, but there was a lot of wild boasting and exaggeration involved and nothing except the fact that it felt right to back the theory up, and you could say that about any half-baked conspiracy theory.

‘Palpatine blackmailed, connived, schemed, manipulated and twisted his way to the top, with the aid of the Dark Side,’ Adannan finished, weakly.

‘That sounds no different from normal politics - which I think is actually condemnation enough,’ Lennart said deadpan. ‘That and further proof that the Force makes you stupid. How else could the Jedi have failed to notice that they were under the authority of an office held by their worst enemy? Or are you going to reassure me with the notion that the dark side is inherently more devious, twisted and sneaky?’

‘Damn you, will you stop going off at tangents? The Jedi are dead and gone, which was less painful than they deserved. I’m trying to tell you that the man you owe allegiance to is not the man you thought he was - he’s the hollow shell of his former self, a black pit of rage, hunger and the Force - all the brilliant twisting wit he used to raise himself to power is gone, eaten away,’ Adannan shouted.

‘This contradicts my line of argument how, exactly?’ Lennart couldn’t resist saying. If Adannan was trying to argue him round, he must have realised we have a dozen different ways of killing him with the ship’s systems, and a dozen more chances if he makes it as far as open space. Good. Probably.

‘Let me just see if I have this right,’ Lennart said. ‘You and the lesser lords of darkness - or just you? - think the old man’s lost the plot. You’re fishing round for things to use against him, any scrap of knowledge about him and his past and methods, or about the Force. Anything that might come in handy, and you have some very high clearances or good slicers to do it with, which is how you managed to latch on to the 118th Fleet incident. That with the ultimate aim of cutting him even further out of the loop than he already is-‘

‘The Imperial Household and the Privy Council do the day to day work of running the empire, but between diving deeper and deeper into the Force, he remains well aware of the details, and every major change in Imperial organisation or policy crosses his desk,’ Adannan interrupted. ‘The abolition of the Senate was the mark of a maddened old man,’ ignoring Lennart’s muttering about how he personally would have been a damn sight less moderate if he had to listen to the tedious old bastards drone on all day, ‘the stamp of the Dark Side was clear, and you don’t think Tarkin had enough mechanical intuition to come up with the Death Star on his own, do you?’

‘A detail,’ Lennart asked. ‘Tarkin’s flaws were those of viewpoint, not of intellect. He disliked the Force as much as any man, and hated telepathy in particular with the passion of someone who had a lot to hide. He should have noticed.’

‘Exactly, viewpoint,’ Adannan said. ‘He saw himself as a brilliant political manipulator, and he was egotist enough to see himself mirrored in others, and assume that the same was true of His Majesty. He failed to reach out far enough to realise there was so much more than that.’

‘A “more” that you yourself reckon has become counterproductive,’ Lennart noted. ‘This plan of yours, digging into the incident, investigating the old methods of programming loyalty in the living - I suppose your ultimate goal would be to be able to enact Special Order 66, or something like it, on His Majesty himself?’

‘You’re asking me to confess to plotting regicide,’ Adannan quibbled, not entirely logically. Perhaps he had finally started listening to himself and realised just how far he had gone. He had wanted to lead Lennart into this, a fragment of truth at a time. Instead, it was all coming out at once, the floodgates burst.

‘Why not?’ Lennart asked. ‘I’ve already got you for treason. No way back. Your only way out of this, now that the situation has got this far, is to convince me, my crew and the rest of the squadron. Convince us that this plot against His Majesty is real, that it is necessary, and that it stands more than a whelk’s chance in a supernova. How can you expect to succeed against the living embodiment of darkness you’re making him out to be?’

Many of us may fail, and fall,’ Adannan said, ‘but the scheme will survive because it is so much in the tradition of the Dark Side. We can hide virtually in plain sight because His Majesty expects jockeying for position, conniving, scheming - he accepts plots and treachery as the inevitable consequence of hiring capable, ambitious men.
'Our best protection,’ the dark acolyte smiled, ‘is his own assumption that having his minions try to kill him is nothing that out of the ordinary for the Dark Side of the Force.’

‘Which explains amongst other things,’ Lennart went off at a tangent again, ‘why there is no constitutional mechanism for succession. There couldn’t be - or, at least, what there is runs through the traditions of the dark side. What about the rest of us? I mean, if you actually read his texts, he’s the only academic political theorist I ever met who had a sense of humour. Well, closer to desert-dry wit, actually. Who do you plan to get to replace him - or is it a simple case of who chibs, wins?’

‘What?’ Adannan asked - he could guess from the context, but that Lennart took such a swing into the surreal and slangy was not good. It meant that he wasn’t taking it seriously at all - or that he was internalising it and thinking deeply, while on the surface he played silly buggers trying to buy time.

‘Oh. Colloquialism used by some of my engineering crew. The act of using a weapon - in context, succession by right of assassination. By powerful men, and women, controlling major organs of the Imperial state and no qualms about using them to their own ends. How is this much different from the worst case scenario?’ Lennart probed, tone carefully level.

‘It is the way of the dark side - the strong climb higher on the piled bodies of the weak. Metaphorically.’ Or, on occasions, not. ‘It is a good and a healthy system, the way things ought to be, except that Palpatine has escaped from the reach of the rest of us.’ Adannan searched for a metaphor that would help convince the quizzical naval officer.

‘The Empire replaced the zombie aristo-plutocratic pretence of democracy that paralysed the Republic,’ he failed to find one, ‘with a vibrant, living democracy of violence, in which every man can rise as far as his abilities can take him, and retain what he can keep hold of - and yes, the public mindspace is part of what’s to play for.’
‘It is an open field,’ Adannan continued, getting carried away with his theme. Lennart was far from certain that he was right, counting the Names and Numbers who had slid into the hierarchy, and noticed that even he didn’t go so far as to claim it was in any way a level field - ‘and that those of us who can call on the Dark Side of the Force have risen far and fast is not a coincidence.
'You have that power, and you are close to a secret that can help tilt the balance. Join us. Join with us, and help remove the dark hand squeezing the Empire to madness and death. There are so many minor matters on which we are in agreement - that order is a made thing, that it is never better to be less powerful, that…you could do the Empire - and yourself - a great service by removing the dead weight. At the top.’
Adannan ran to a halt, slightly out of breath, and wondering why he felt so on the defensive, why he had felt the need to explain himself at all. Lennart’s half-realised gestalt lent him a power he did not actually possess, of course, but - anyway, he was right, he could be a great asset.

Is he going to go for it, or am I going to have to cut him down and run for it? What does he think, what does he feel? Laurentia was right, damn him for having her killed - and now, Lennart might be thinking that for the best of reasons at the time, he has taken so much away from me, Adannan thought, he can’t possibly trust me.
I should have spent more time with him, got to know him more as a human being, but every encounter blew up into a clash of personalities. The weight of our official masks distorted the issue. Mine, anyway.

Lennart was actually guiltily aware that he had made up his mind early on, and was skimming through the things that had been said later on, trying to decide if any of them were worth altering his judgement and his plans over. On balance…no.

‘You know,’ he said, casually, trying not to give it away and draw an attack before he was ready, ‘there is one power I do have, that seems to be exceptionally rare among the servants of night, that might be of some use.’

There was a general shuffling and scuffling, and somehow the chamber seemed fuller all of a sudden.

The last move, Lennart thought. Checkmate.

‘Lads?’ Thirty engineering plasma torches flared into life and brightened to combat mode, half-lighting snarling faces and looming bodies. ‘Get him.’

Adannan had paid them no respect - groundlings, he had thought - he had scorned them, got some of their friends killed and injured, and at the last managed to incriminate himself quite spectacularly. They had every reason to get him.

All thirty moved in on the dark acolyte. Adannan tried to lash out for their minds and blast them back with confusion and terror, met the combined resistance of all thirty backed by their commander and patron. Couldn’t bite deep enough to do anything, tried to narrow his focus to a few, but then they were on him.

Thirty amateurs, in blade to blade, surrounding. Should be possible - no, not thirty amateurs. One amateur and thirty hobbyists, who may never have drawn blood except by accident but who knew the moves, knew the tactics. They refused to give him the asymmetry he needed, contracted in on him in a jagged ring of light.

Adannan lashed out in a defensive flurry, probing and hacking, and the ring moved to meet him, he had his sabre smashed away from his target by half a dozen blades, and the rest who could reach him stabbed and stabbed and stabbed.

By the time Lennart wound his way through the melee to take the dark acolyte’s head, the glory and the blame, Adannan’s body was in shreds and he had wounds enough to kill him fifty times over.

The dismembered remains scattered down to the deck, the torches flickered down from bright combat to safe, and they turned to face their commanding officer.
Lennart stepped back, swept his sabre up in salute, brought it down again. ‘So now you know why I needed your help, and just what sort of maniac we were dealing with. Couldn’t have done it without you.
'Two things. Feel free to dismiss his words as the ravings of a man drowning in the Dark Side - but if you can’t, think how very many people there are, for how many reasons, who wouldn’t want to hear a word of that repeated. If you think there was anything to it, then think it to yourself, very quietly,’ Lennart said, slowly and deliberately.

‘Second - Vilberksohn?’

‘Sir.’ Followed by a muttered ‘kriffit.’

‘I knew you’d be in here somewhere. Organise a droid detail to get this mess - messes, by now - cleared up. Attach a thermal demo charge to Kor Alric’s light sabre before you jettison it. Thank you all, and dismiss.’ The blades were de-activated, and the men, strangely sombre, filed away.

Lennart relaxed, switched off his own sabre. Felt the tense, hunched feeling between his shoulder blades ebb away. The ship felt cleaner, now, a stain removed. When he was sure there was no-one left in earshot, he looked down at the severed head on the pile of mangled remains and said,
‘I think you may have a point. It’ll bear investigation, certainly, but quietly, and in my own time and own way - I’ll be damned, and I mean that literally, if I do it under your lead and as a part of your cabal.’

The Force must be getting to me, he thought; I’m starting to talk to the dead. I’ll know it’s gone too far when I start expecting answers. Even if it is only "So why did you have to kill me then, you bastard?"

He turned away from the splash of body parts, then, and headed back to the bridge. There was a fair amount still to do.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 07:54pm, edited 1 time in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-09-24 07:06am

Chapter 38

Four platoons of spacetroopers, each four squads of eight men and a sergeant, a lieutenant, a platoon sergeant and two specialists. In a line platoon those specialists would be a heavy weapon team, but that wasn’t something spacetroopers were short of. Instead, sappers accompanied the platoon, and at least one of the troopers in each squad would be cross trained.

Using the ship’s systems against boarders, surging artificial gravity, trapping them with the blast doors, evacuating air or flooding with gas and corrosives, was a strange lacuna in the manual; it had been part of the prewar Republic fleet instructions, but had been an afterthought if at all during the war.

The Imperial Starfleet in general hardly considered it, being at relatively little risk of being boarded by the undermanned Rebel Alliance, but Black Prince took the idea seriously, both for and against. There were a couple of other things they did differently, too.

The standard loadout of spacetrooper armour had to have been specified by an accountant, an academic theorist or a ten year old boy; too many options, too funky, too little satisfaction of the basics.
Black Prince’s platoons stripped the ridiculous ‘blaster cannon’ that had more in common with a disintegrator pistol, deleted the touching-distance laser cutters, removed the absurd claw-cuffs that did nothing other than prevent the trooper wielding any conventional weapon. Instead, the power supply for the laser cutters was wired up to an otherwise standard T-21 squad light repeater. The squad support slot was filled by a trooper lugging a separate generator for an E-Web heavy repeater. One other major difference; instead of being commanded from the assault shuttle, the platoon commanders of the boarding battalion led from the front. Actually, two of Black Prince’s platoons, one each from Fist and Voracious.

Their target was Admonisher’s hangar bay.

In practise, that was usually the most heavily defended location on the ship. Unless the order ‘repel boarders’ had been passed, the majority of any ship’s troop complement would be close to the launch bays they deployed from.

At first order, their job was to use that very convenient natural hole in the target’s hull to gain access and head for Engineering, take control of the Rebel heavy destroyer’s systems.
At second order, their job was to threaten to do that - pose a threat that the enemy had to devote a high proportion of their troop complement to resisting. Tie them down and shoot them up. Their mission was simply to kill; the nominal objective would be a bonus.

As they floated into the bay and took stock of the battlefield, a couple of things became immediately obvious. The bay had been hit; there was a huge, soft edged-molten-gash in the deckhead and port side, the hangars were open to the main bay and cleaved-through decks visible. It was strewn with crates and containers, the materiel ripped out of the planetary yards and intended to set up a new Rebel base. Lots of cover, people milling around, damage control teams, evacuees, some crew, some ground forces.

No specific instructions regarding prisoners, so standard procedure applied; if they try to surrender, and if the situation is such that you can accept that without endangering the other troopers, do so. If not, or if you spot them before they spot you, fair game. There were perhaps two thousand people in the bay. Some of them went for their guns; that was enough. The no. 2 platoon leader, Lieutenant Kartr, was the first to give the order. "Fire."

The situation on board the Rebel ship was already chaotic enough. They were a largely human crew under a Mon Cal captain; he had trained them well, forged them into a remarkably effective fighting machine, but in combat orders rather than information had descended from the bridge module.
Like most Mon Cal, combat did not come naturally to the former skipper of the Mon Evarra, and like many of those who did eventually become good at it he had done so by forcing himself into the part, consciously becoming a book-ridden martinet, more autocratic than the aristocrats of the Empire. He had told his crew almost nothing of what was actually happening, not even whether they were winning or losing. Aldrem’s vengeful volley into the upper turret complex had done more damage than he knew; the millisecond sequence of hits had driven a breach into the heavy destroyer’s hull deep enough to touch primary gunnery control, one of the main alternative control points.

Any battery direction centre could switch into the main data links and take over gun control, but it was much harder for it to step up two levels to alternate bridge. No command solutions there. Main engineering was the next obvious alternative control point, and it was that the spacetroopers were making for, before anyone got in control again and told the Rebs what to do.

The four platoons made one major mistake right from the start; dispersal of fire. Each assumed that it had to cover all of the bay, and prioritised accordingly - that meant that the most critical threat, a group of flight techs trying to clear the wreckage away and get at the deep storage racks to get something flying, got hit by everybody. With everything. The short, staccato, stabbing pulses of blaster cannon, the long crackling streams of fire from the repeaters sounding like an endless walk through autumn leaves, and leaving a charred mess behind them like the aftermath of a bonfire, and over two hundred frag grenades hit the relatively small group. Secondary detonations added brilliant white flares to the mix, and left the upper forward face of the bay burning, giving off choking duraplast smoke.

"Well," Captain VA-811 said, from the command squad of first stormtrooper platoon, "overkill is good too… fire sectors; Voracious platoon rear left, Kartr front left, my unit front right, Fist rear right. On jets, disperse to formation and give fire, neutralise opposition at point of entry then proceed to primary target."

He gave the order in long, formal style to remind them of their duty after that little fire fest; boiled down, it meant kill everything in sight.

"Disable the pressure curtain?" Kartr asked. That would flush the air in the bay out - the emergency doors were shot away - and kill many of the crew. Even if it had been Rebel practise to suit up, there were a lot of refugees and evacuees from the planet, and volunteers for the ship, who simply didn’t have the kit. There was enough damage; large parts of the ship around the bay would decompress. The other side of that was that whatever internal blast doors and ray shields hadn’t been activated already undoubtedly would be by the loss of atmosphere. It would make it harder to fight their way through the ship, trading an advantage now for a harder fight later. Kartr knew that, and was asking if the captain thought it was worth the cost.

"Not worth it," VA-811 said.

"This ship is pretty badly beat up," Kartr added, noticing one of his second squad raise their gun to fire up at the deckhead of the bay; four rebel groundpounders with heavy A280 battle rifles, crawling out along one of the gantries to shoot at the spacetroopers.
Kartr aimed up at a support pylon, splattered it with fire, was joined by one of the E-webs; pointless, part of the ship’s structure protected by the ship’s heat sinks and force fields. He started to track on to them, but the rest of the platoon got there first, hosed them down and reduced them to pink rain; then they hosed down the access hatch the rebels had crawled out of.

"Minitorps, restricted-six," VA-811 decided. Restricted-zero would have meant release authority could only be given by company commanders, i.e., him. Restricted-one allowed squad leaders to make the shoot/no-shoot decision. Restricted-six was good; it became the platoon commander’s call to use the lethal little things. Kartr wasted no time in lobbing one at the hatch, detonating just within and sending a flare of blast back out into the bay.

"Who remembered their striptape dispenser?" he asked looking at a clutch of the Rebel yard workers, evacuees, who were waving their arms in the air trying to surrender.

A handful of the ship’s crew, armed, tried to push them out of the way and shoot at the spacetroopers; the surrendered rebels turned round and started brawling with the crew. They knew what was liable to happen - whatever side they were on, a group that seemed to surrender then started shooting again could expect no mercy.

Too late; the crew got a few bolts off, and blaster fire and grenades ripped them apart.

One group of Rebels tried to use a container as a bunker, laser-cutting firing ports in it and shooting out; simple solution - lob a proton minitorp back through one of the firing ports, and watch as the container turned into an instant crematorium, thin jets of blast spraying out of the ports more dangerous than the Reb rifle fire.

A lot of the Rebel surface to space transport work had been done by the small craft the destroyer had had when she was beached, a lot of LAATs, some the vehicle version with extended grapples to take containers. They were mostly broken winged and broken backed, flattened by the concussion of the hit Black Prince had landed on the bay, but some of them weren’t broken down far enough.
They were mostly in first platoon’s sector, the captain and most of his men hosing down the broken-open decks and compartments of the troop complement bay; one squad did take notice, sent a spray of blaster fire cutting down some of the Rebel technicians, but not fast enough.

The Rebs were trying to run a power cable from one transport with a functioning powerplant to another which still had its weapons. Most of the techs died, but they managed it.
They managed to get one small ball turret working, the convergence beam antimechanoid laser. The Alliance deck-hand in the turret was clearly an amateur, but if there was an easier weapon to hit with than a continuous laser, it hadn’t been invented.

The brilliant green stream slashed out, slicing the air, splashing harmlessly off the far bulkhead, tracking onto the hovering troopers who were now turning to meet it.
Two got caught in the hose of fire, one slashed across the stomach, he spasmed, triggered his jets and slammed into the starboard bulkhead, the other got caught square in the chest and thrashed as the laser burnt through, the rebel gunner holding the beam on target as metal and man flashed to vapour.

The Reb was too busy thinking ‘ooh, cool’ to track on to a new target; the other obvious drawback of a continuous beam is it's very easy to see where you’re firing from.

Most of first and second platoons fired on them, torpedoes and blasters. The ball took a hit and exploded, the power cable flashed back to the active powerplant which got hit itself half a second later as the row of parked transports was pounded. Better safe than sorry.

"Gal?" Kartr commed alpha squad’s heavy weapons man. "Ditch the E-web, you’re carrying one of those."

"Love to, LT, but we’d have to glue one back together first," the heavy weapon specialist said, looking over the line of burning, half-melted wrecks.

"By platoon, first and third squads move out," VA-811 ordered. Half of each platoon moved out to take positions on the edge of the bay facing along the routes they planned to take, and began shooting to suppress, laying down fire.
Second and fourth would move past them, if this was a normal operation. It wasn’t - basically tunnel fighting, where there often was not room for one unit to leapfrog by another. The only thing to do was fan out, move hard and fast on as many axes of attack as possible.

What there was left of the Rebels would be moving to surround and contain; in Imperial fleet service, these ships carried fifty-six battalions, three reinforced or four understrength battlegroups. The Rebellion couldn’t scrape up that kind of numbers, or at least not have them lying around waiting for something to do, but the ship would have arms lockers sized accordingly.
So, they would be facing a lot of amateurs, armed mainly with anti-droid heavy rifles that probably did have enough power to hurt a spacetrooper. That didn’t change the basic plan - surge the defence, disorient them and prevent them having the chance to.

Kartr called up their stored schematic of the Shockwave-class, tried to match it in the overlaid imager to the blasted, part-molten, junk-strewn mess in front of him, to pick what ought to be a profitable line of advance.

"Half squads," enough units to make multiple thrusts, individually large enough to secure their own flanks - "there, there, there-" eight gaps in the tangle of wreckage that should leave them covering each other and lead them to the target area.

Each squad would break down into two groups of four, their sergeant would take one block, one of the command team would take the other half. Eight groups of five, the groups with the sappers using the main access corridor with the control nodes. Pentagon formations, two front, two middle watching the flanks, walls chambers and side corridors, one rear guard. Kartr was right front of his half-squad, E-web on his left.

The platoon moved out heading through the small craft maintenance area, which backed on to the heavy destroyer’s own workshops, which were connected to main machinery control. VA-811 would be paralleling them, Fist’s and Voracious’ platoons lapping round on either side, and what they were doing was at least as much about racing the other platoons as it was fighting the enemy.

Not that the Rebs intended to have nothing to say about it. There were half a dozen techs working on an X-wing with one wing missing, parts scattered all over the pad, trying to get some use out of its lasers, with a rifle squad trying to cover them. Kartr and the squad support gunner hosed them down, tore them apart in a blizzard of red bolts; one of the flankers passed a fire request, Kartr okayed it, one of the Y-wings caught a torpedo in its ion cannon turret.

The maintenance bay was full of containers, rammed in on top of each other and shoved together at all angles to clear some room for the doomed fighters to launch. Could have been a maze if the spacetroopers’ sensors hadn’t been too good for that.

What had moved them, though, the tractor beams - take them under fire - or, ah, powerlifters. Partly gravitic themselves, reacting off the ship’s systems, they had brute force to spare for when things weren’t working. They were huge, industrial machinery, could lift tanks. One of them had a Z-95’s blaster cannon kitbashed on to it - there were five of them, one more with a lashup of infantry weapons, the other three apparently intending to rely on brute strength.

"I like it," Gal said, diving for cover behind a container full of machine parts. "Use some of that load capacity for armour, fit a decent generator-"

"And you’d be driving an AT-ST. There’s a reason we don’t take those things into tunnel fighting," Kartr said, ducking out of the way of the one with the cannon.

Somebody, probably the same somebody responsible for the loadout, hadn’t been thinking about their protective gear either. The physical armour only tended to confirm the usual Imperial doctrine about powersuits. Complicated, expensive to procure and time-consuming to maintain, and more trouble than they were worth. The Impervium plating, trademarks and all, added significantly less to their combat survivability than what had really been an afterthought of a system, flight navigational shielding. The suit management systems were supposed to shut that down as soon as they touched down and started walking, but anyone with an interest in not being dead soon worked out how to override that.

Kartr had an idea. He didn’t bother saying ‘cover me’ or anything like that. Speed would protect him. He fired up his ion thrusters, sideslipped out from behind the container and jetted forward. The armed powerlifter got off a burst, but Kartr didn’t think he had been hit; caught in the flare though, he tumbled, braked, slammed off the far bulkhead, found himself floating upside down behind the powerlifter.

Too good a shot to resist. Straight up the backside of the lifter, a minitorpedo. The ‘lifter had no time to react; the quarter kiloton warhead exploded, breaching the fusion generator which added its thin wash of plasma, vapourising the Rebel and blasting a huge hole in the deck, followed by a gout of flame as everything in the compartment below ignited.

"I think the tensors are down," Kartr said from where the blast had shoved him against the container.

"No shit, LT," Gal said, hosing one of the other lifters with E-web fire, shredding the body and the pilot.

"Kartr," VA-811’s voice, short, disciplined bursts of fire audible in the background. "I’ve had four junior platoon leaders who tried to upstage me and get my job by doing crazy hotdog crap like that." Brief pause, crash of a minitorp, crunching noises of grenades. "I’ve outlived all of them. Guess why."

"Because the odds caught up with them and they got killed doing crazy hotdog crap?" Kartr guessed, pulling himself off the deck and looking for more targets.

"Got it in one," VA-811 said. "Stick to the basics."

There were store and workshop chambers on the fringes of the bay, a heavy blast retention bulkhead aft that the sappers would have to open the blast doors in, a main access corridor beyond that and the outer edges of the main machinery area on the other side. The access corridor was probably the Rebel main line of resistance, and what of the Rebel troops had just been brushed aside rather than cut down would be attacking them from the rear soon.

"Infantry elements of first regiment, entering through the dorsal crater now." The welcome message over divisional comms. "Infantry elements second regiment, entering through the superstructure damage now." Through the neck of the decapitated bridge tower. That changed the game a bit.

Over Plrlanilthre, two things happened more or less at once. The rRasfenoni main mobile force decided to see if they really could take on the cream of the Imperial Starfleet; and the Imperial flagship decided to see if he could slice through the rRasfenoni fixed defences.

The septangular aliens didn’t have all that much in terms of a navy, just maybe enough to take out the understrength local sector group, if they had happened to be looking the other way at the time. Their thirty worlds between them could scrape up six first line destroyer-class ships, two home-built and the same disc and superstructure shape, broad face on, lots of medium-small guns by the look of it.
The other four were from the Clone Wars, a pair of Separatist Providence-class destroyer-carriers - credible ships, roughly equal to if not a slight advance on the Republican Venator.

Two genuine rarities, where they had found them from must be a tale - a pair of Rothana’s DDX-14, the so-called ‘stretch Acclamator’, an unsuccessful attempt by Rothana to defy their parent company and branch out into the warship market on their own, capitalising on the success of their existing product. As a ship of war, the DDX-14 was technically successful, as an economic act the project had been suicidal. There were very few of them, and they were rarely seen.

They were slippery little things, excellent power to weight, rating towards the upper end of light destroyer - just under twice the reactor output of a Venator - with large numbers of light weapons, fourteen quad turrets for twenty-five teraton turbolasers. They would have been a serious sales contender with the Imperator-I, and a lightweight, higher efficiency alternative to the Imperial-II. Alternative but hopefully not better.

Six much larger ships, armed merchant cruisers based on heavy freighter hulls, slow, heavy, grungy-looking things plodding their way down the sky. Cube shaped actually, three sides covered in low-pressure high efficiency ion nozzles, the corner at the centre of the other three sides the bow, one edge up and the aft corner of that the bridge module. Well if chaotically armed, their flank weapons bays a mixed bag of all sorts - including many missile launch tubes, must be concussion, even the Imperial Starfleet was reluctant to pay for that many proton torps.

All six of them posed a credible threat; each carried some form of major weapon in the bow position, sparred and plated into the main forward loading hatch. Planetary defence artillery. Two were packing v-150s, the bow hatch being built into a socket the ball turret could rotate in, one had an improvised-looking tractor-based kinetic accelerator-launcher; the other three took the concept of sniping to new and ridiculous lengths. Built into the bow of each of them was a gargantuan 3.3-petaton w-165 planetary defence turbolaser, some of the largest single weapon mounts ever made.

Imperial Intelligence should have been keeping a closer watch on sales of those things, considering that they tended to be bought by governments which expected to have to fight for their lives.

There were many models of lighter, cheaper, less ridiculous surface to orbit artillery, a lot of it going cheap as second-hand from the Clone Wars.

Realistically, in this day and age, LTL was enough for civil enforcement, light mediums - up to the twenty-five gigaton level- were enough to keep off any plausible pirate. The only reason anyone could need a brand new w-series superheavy was to fight the capital warships of the Imperial Starfleet. That alone would have been enough to draw the attention of the regional support group, if the sector had been closely enough watched that anybody had noticed and drawn their attention to it.

Still, they were only heavy merchant hulls. Firepower without the speed or survivability to back it up - they would find it very difficult to make good on the threat they posed. There were another dozen lighter-armed merchants, falling into the destroyer class, less spectacularly armed - four of them based on liners, they had the speed for decent footwork at least.

Frigates - the crew of the watching Goshawk lost count, the computers added up eighty. Mostly military, mostly local build with light-heavy turbolasers and turboblasters, but including four of the kinetic-attack bombers, nice to see them making themselves obvious at last.

Three more Alliance build-Liberators. A wide assortment. Their battle plan, the Imperials were guessing - engage and prevent reinforcements? Move over Goshawk and bombard? Equally plausible as ideas, but their trajectory suggested they were to attack the Imperial warship.

To make an attack run on the ship in the upper atmosphere, they had to remove as small and oblique a segment of the shielding as possible, which meant they had to come in on essentially the same outline - grazing approach path as the Imperial dreadnought Cosmonaut Ijon Tichy.

The speeding capital ship emerged from hyperspace five seconds after and fifteen light seconds astern of the mobile group. Neither side could afford time to be surprised; the rRasfenoni had been dreading and preparing for this for centuries, Tichy only had to bless - or curse - his luck and take careful aim.

No elegance about this, just an abrupt, bloody knife fight as the rRasfenoni flipped end for end to take on the dreadnought. An energy weapon kill was unlikely, but the hits would weaken the ship, weaken the shields - a kinetic attack might just succeed.

They shot at him anyway. Streams of turbolaser and turboblaster fire of every colour and variety of bolt, the almost sheets of light from the superheavies, pulsing flares of mass driver tracer and crackling ion fire lashed out at the Imperial ship.

Convarrian on the Tichy, a back-seat driver, had no real choice, couldn’t possibly change the vector of his big ship enough to avoid passing through them. So much for fancy plans. "Engage - armed merchants the priority."

ECM clouded the issue as far as possible, and Tichy did what footwork he could - electronically the lynchpins of the enemy force were the regular destroyers, the armed merchants that made up most of their heavy metal had inappropriate fire control and barely-upgraded civil navigational sensors. It would be essential to remove the destroyers, but not yet - whittle down a little of the force, before working on the multipliers.

The big Mandator was not short of his own weapons to bring to bear. The anticapital armament, eleven battery groups each of four single ball turret fourteen hundred and twenty teraton superheavies, eleven more groups of six smaller single ball turrets for seven hundred and twenty teraton cannon.
Ball rather than cylinder mounts made them faster to traverse and more accurate - but also more expensive and time consuming to maintain, and the sheer weight and recoil of the heavy cannon still made them marginal against small ships. That was fine, they had plenty of big enough targets to be getting on with.

The mainstay mid-range armament of the dreadnaught was ten batteries, each six twin ball turrets for three hundred and twenty teraton heavy cannon; they could track fast and stably enough to take on a destroyer-class target, and did.

Sixteen batteries supported them, each five twin turrets for hundred and seventy-five teraton cannon, the same weapons as the Imperator-I on a drastically different mounting - metres more thickness of armour, local component shields and capacitors moved out of the gun house into the barbette, main burden of local control shifted to the battery command centre, the capital-secondary version of the same gun mount.

For the smaller and lighter craft, twenty-five groups of smaller heavy turbolasers, each four twin turrets for the old faithful medium-heavy DBY-827 seventy teraton cannon in destroyer-standard fast pointing light turrets this time. They were the anti-frigate and anti-corvette outfit, along with the hundred and eight sextuple half-teraton medium and four hundred and thirty two octuple dual purpose light turbolasers. Rounded out with ninety-six strategic bombardment and three hundred and seventy-two tactical missile launch tubes, and a point defence fit designed to protect against the same.

Outnumbered? Massively. Outmassed? Considering the dead weight of the armed merchants, multibillion-ton ships designed for trillion ton payloads, yes. Outgunned - no.

The rainbow of tracer that splattered out of the rRasfenoni mobile force met a solid wall of shades of green coming the other way. The improvised heavy gunships would have been hard put to it even against the target they were expecting, but against a fast moving ship in open space... there were explosions at both ends, as the superheavy planetary defence cannon managed to punch enough energy through even a dreadnought’s shields to raise vapourisation flares on the hull, and the crack Imperial scored quickly on the slow, clumsy armed freighters.

Heavily built for heavy loads, admittedly, certainly not the worst hulls that could have been chosen for the job, but first-line warships they were not.

Tichy splattered fire across all of them to begin with, punching through shields and ripping into all six, but after three seconds narrowed focus down to the three most dangerous - the kinetic launcher, one of whose thousand ton impactors gouged a hole in the dreadnought’s superstructure, and the two ion cannon carriers.

Again the decision loop. To make a choice, see it begin to be carried out, and evaluate whether it was working - it varied from individual to individual, but the standard the Imperial Starfleet tried to train to was ten seconds, and tried to achieve in combat was five.

By the end of the first decision cycle, three of the rRasfenoni heavy weapons ships were gone.

One of the ion cannon ships had taken a full battery volley right in the ball of the v-150, the capacitors had let go, adding to the blast - the entire front end of the heavy freighter had been peeled back and burnt away, opening up blasted structural sparring into a half-molten shuttlecock shape.

The kinetic armed merchant was brought under the heaviest fire, kicked to one side by a cluster of shot slamming into one side of the bow, leaving it side on where it was raked from stem to stern, broken open with powerplant and engines exploding.

The last ion carrier tried to evade, took a set of hits along the spine that broke the ship‘s back and left it burning uncontrollably.

Two walls of torpedoes and missiles closed on each other; Tichy had launched out and parallel, warheads fanning out then converging to avoid losing them to the main stream of fire and give the target’s point defence more work to do.

Most of the rRasfenoni hadn’t thought of that, and there were flashes of light all across the formation as warheads were caught in the flood of incoming and outgoing fire. The rRasfenoni commander was horrified, at the loss of ships, at the waste of ordnance he needed to score hits with, passed two orders; open formation, deploy fighters.

They got the first part right - narrow beam the order to an accompanying ship to broadcast, avoid giving the flag’s identity away. Unfortunately, they did make a major mistake.

The flood of datasharing between the ships of the force was already switched into war operating mode - the burst transmission was not. Most of the time, it would have gone unnoticed, but the sheer size of the dreadnought meant a larger passive sensor area - Tichy’s ESM was good enough to pick it up and distinguish it.

The rRasfenoni flagship was the left-hand Providence. "Ions, take it." The dreadnought’s heavy ion cannon separated themselves out of the wall of fire and lashed out at the rebel flag. The weight of fire was too much for the large light destroyer; it twisted, kicked as the drives fired at random, the lights went out and there were marks like fulgurites left over the ship’s bow.

Tichy could do nothing about it himself - boarding shuttles didn’t have that kind of acceleration either, and there was an entirely different term for what happened when somebody tried to dock to a ship with a hundred and fifty thousand kps difference in velocity.

The reinforcements - the pair of approaching battlecruisers - would have to deal with that; they were moving at a close enough relative speed to deploy assault craft.

The rRasfenoni ships were spewing fighters now; swim-out launch bays for the most part, faster to deploy but more prone to accident. The extra warheads they could launch would make little odds, but they and the debris would be a significant collision hazard, as would the ‘killed’ hulks and the fragments blown off them.

The simple fact of the rRasfenoni being there was the most dangerous thing they could have done, their best chance to inflict real damage in the Imperial Starfleet. If Convarrian could keep them in a state of fear, keep them thinking ‘oh my alien gods, we’ve been jumped, they’ve come to get us’ - rather than actually running the possibilities - they might get through this without taking too many hits and too many holes ripped in the hull.

Paralysing the flagship was essential, but sheer chaos was almost equally likely to serve them.

What could the Imperials do to manage the situation - would frightening them into scattering make any material difference - probably, yes.

Convarrian snapped out his orders as fast as he could mouth the words and still be understood. "Those three-" dot, dot, dot; the w-165 carriers - "then centre of formation, push them out and make a hole. We flip two seconds early, flank thrust," not to slow the ship down by any meaningful amount, but to put out enough of an ion flare to melt or push away most of the lighter debris, "raise tow shields and take the hits there then form the drogue."

All of which was sound enough, and none of it was properly the job of an admiral. Convarrian took an active, day to day role in the running of his flagship, and Force help any flag captain who got in his way.

That was twenty seconds away. Gunnery knew better than to protest, although the point defence turret-group commanders were already screaming at the type-commander about being masked and unable to do their job. Unfortunately, that was the risk the Admiral had decided to take and theirs to make the best of it.

Convarrian himself did have second thoughts; one second of ion flare ought to be enough, give the point defence fit a little more tie to work with, but to countermand the order he had just given would do nothing but spread confusion.

Launching fighters would be another wasted errand. They would add to the ship’s defence a little, but between blast flares off shielding, warhead explosions and random junk, the losses they would take would be well out of proportion to the good they could do. They would want to fight, want to take their chances out there - but the odds were against them. They would have their moment later, when Tichy had time to decelerate to any kind of reasonable speed.

There was a bright green flash up ahead in the centre of the rRasfenoni formation, a small nova with three rapid sequels - one of the heavy batteries had decided to rig for and fire a burst of flak fire at the swarm of missiles, the burst blasted a huge hole in the wall of shot detonating many and leaving the rest, the inert kinetics, glowing brightly enough to be easy point defence targets.

"Find out who did that and commend them; I should have thought of that," Convarrian snapped, tone so annoyed that it took Tichy’s gunnery officer a couple of seconds of thought to pick up on the words. The battery - forward dorsal centreline - fired another four at the thickest surviving concentrations, blasting more holes in the missile and fighter swarm, and then going back to conventional heavy fire.

The admiral glanced at the ship status display; a few red punctures where the w-165s had sent enough power leaking through to do damage, two deeper cones of compromised hull where the kinetics had hit, and three patches like a rash where a face of shielding had temporarily overloaded under mass fire from the destroyers and frigates and let many minor hits through.

The armed merchants did have some firepower after all, and -
One of them was manoeuvring differently from the rest, not even making an attempt at independent footwork, certainly pulling out of formation; Tichy’s navigator looked at the flaring halo around the ship on his own display - how was that facility active? - "He’s going to try a transition ram." Accelerate to hyperspace, and hope to hit the enemy on the way - hit an enemy actually as you were in the act of rotating across the light barrier, and the numbers got very weird, but the odds of survival - of either party - very small.
It was a good risk for them to take, especially as the natural reaction for a ship as big and slow-turning as a dreadnought was to bring the alpha arc to bear and try to kill it with fire rather than evade.

"Bow up, roll starboard to inverted," the admiral ordered; he was micro-managing, knew it, and had no intention of stopping. Bringing alpha on was just too straightforward - and the rRasfenoni fleet dropped a coherent converged salvo exactly where they would have expected him to be if he had reacted in the usual manner. A pre-arranged plan activated by a junior flag officer? Probably, but whoever they were, they were smart enough not to give it away this time. One of the destroyers, no doubt. Few clues from formation.

Tichy’s guns were still tracking onto the ramship, which was adjusting course to meet them. Executor had survived a similar impact, although from a lower tonnage ship, and also crucially while Executor had been in the later stages of a downward transition herself, hyper and stasis fields still partially active as she cycled down to normal space.

Although a tragedy in its own right - a collision with a friendly ship - the incident had instantly become politicised, supporters of the new class using it to argue that previous doubts about the survivability of the highly offensively oriented type were unfounded.
Convarrian was not one of those supporters. He doubted whether an Executor-class ship fully in normal space could survive that kind of punishment; wasn’t too sanguine about a Mandator’s chances either.

The armed heavy freighter about to rush at them was just the right ship for the job, too - heavy, lots of impact, hard to kill. Unless -

"Guns, no. Don’t waste the lasers, as soon as it gets a stable vector put a full missile volley down the throat," Convarrian ordered producing another boggle moment, his flag captain - might as well be a Mon Cal, considering how much he looks like a gaffed fish most of the time, Convarrian thought - was about to protest, before the admiral forestalled him. "If they hold back until we turn, missile them anyway."

Tichy hadn’t been conserving ammunition, simply not bothering to pop off any more than the situation warranted. The rRasfenoni had been blasting off warheads wholesale trying to empty their payload bays, and a fine assortment it was too.

They had led with their best, protons, most of which had been burnt up by flak bursts and other ships detonating. Half the total were concussions, and the rest a mix of very old style plasma and fusion heads - useful four thousand years ago, maybe, but not now.

It seemed ridiculous to think of something lasting only thirty seconds as having a mid game, but it did - the phase after the initial surprise, where the Rasfenoni tried to manoeuvre Tichy into their trap - and argued among themselves over who was going to receive the terminal honour of being the trap - and Tichy simply tried to cull enough of them fast enough to get through without taking too many hits.

The dreadnought could not power all his weapons at once off the reactor, but there was more than enough power left in the capacitors to last this out, and absolutely no reason not to remain on maximum fire.

Which strategy? Slaughter the smaller craft? Made sense, but it was too tricky to achieve in practise. At two seconds - push a cone of fire around the target, narrow in on them, kill and move on - to deal with each of eighty frigates, dancing and weaving and avoiding fire - there simply was not enough time.
Scatter fire was also futile; space was too big. Aimed shot to cripple, fire control switching targets like a plate- spinner, trying to hit each of them hard enough to prevent them manoeuvring to intercept.

It was too obvious, Convarrian cursed. Attempting to drill a clear corridor through the debris simply made their line of attack that much more evident, made a last second suicide run much easer to plan.

The alternative was to leave the space before them uncleared - and the manoeuvre cone was narrowing - which might come to the same thing anyway. The renegade aliens hadn’t broken and run, they were keeping formation, and the space in front of the Imperial ship was choked with debris and potential doom.

The last time anyone had been stupid enough to lose a dreadnought - it had been during the Outer Rim Sieges, a relief force had reduced RSS Resolution to a constructive total loss, but they hadn’t saved the planet. It had been a pyrrhic victory for the Separatists, the occasion that confirmed the estimate of needing a thousand Recusant light destroyers to stand up against a Mandator. By that standard, the rRasfenoni were doing well. If they got their impact.

The endgame began when the ramship made its move, Tichy eight seconds out. It accelerated up to lightspeed - and the dreadnought made a full power sideslip away and spat out a cloud of heavy missiles.
The ramship couldn’t have been expecting anything of the sort, thought that was it; took the heavy bombardment heads, detonated, a flurry of fireballs that reduced the armed freighter to vapour- which kept moving, a confused billow of plasma that mostly missed the ducking dreadnought, searing the shields but not enough to burn through.

Eight seconds, twenty-five kilometres per second per second; eight hundred kilometre wide manoeuvre envelope and shrinking fast, some of it already ruled out by the planet- the rRasfenoni had tried to herd the dreadnought into a vector that would result in a powerdive into the planetary shields, Tichy had slid out again and again, taking hits to do so but evading the greater danger.

The rRasfenoni armada, torn and reduced, clustered towards the contracting circle. Space was big, the odds were in Tichy’s favour - barring the possibility of intelligent interception.

Three more frigates manoeuvring for a ram attempt. Each odd numbered gun fired into one, each even numbered gun into the other, time on target volleys to kill and hopefully vapourise - one fully and one partially successful, a cloud of gas and a broken- backed skeleton of a ship.

The third started to accelerate, and Convarrian couldn’t think of anything to do - the gun cycle time was too long, they had a few tenths of a second - then the ship violently heeled round, main engines flaring on overload, and the helmsman and the navigator behind him were looking at the board in stunned horror.

Not supposed to happen. Not what they had meant. The big ship kicked to one side, but if they were still alive to feel it, and Convarrian didn’t think he had been reduced to a cloud of vapour although his bowels were disagreeing with that assessment, it hadn’t hit.
Free and clear out in hyperspace, it had escaped, but it hadn’t hit. Helm looked utterly confounded as he worked the controls, making sure everything responded. That shouldn’t have happened, unless the ship really did have a mind of his own.

Further fire was irrelevant from the rRasfenoni; the dreadnought wasn’t nearly damaged enough for what very little more they could do to matter. All they could hope for now were the warheads.

Tichy had fired a mere three volleys, two on semi-active homing, choosing targets from what the parent ship’s scanners could give them, and one defensive, simply going to detonate in a wall of blast intended to keep off the rRasfenoni missiles.

The third volley detonated first as the rRasfenoni missiles started to reach it. A curtain of fireballs that Tichy lanced through a moment later, trailing a thermonuclear-and-worse cloak behind him.
Substantial but not complete success; and whether it was a failure of targeting or a failure of imagination, the rRasfenoni failed to do the same. Their warheads were aimed to hit, not to protect.

They scored a few, concussions, fusion and plasma mostly, little more than warming up the shields. Defensive fire slashed out from the alien force.

Tichy’s missiles had tried a pin and pierce; half the strike spread itself evenly, tie down point defence, prevent mutual support and take advantage of any mistakes, the other half had focused in on a handful of targets, to overwhelm.

The last of the w-165 carriers took eight strategic warheads, massive flares of light and heat that reduced it to a spray of molten droplets moving almost as fast as Tichy, the multi-petaton blasts clearing out a huge void in the enemy battle formation.

"Now," Convarrian ordered, "execute flip." Helm tried - and nothing happened. Stabbing frantically at the buttons and heaving on the yoke, and trying not to scream. Nav did it for him. "Major malfunction, we are not under command, the electronics-"

Tichy moved, up and over, but the portside main engine fired, overload thrust, then the rest joined it turning a simple end for end into a wild, swooping corkscrew through the incandescent cloud of the last major weapon carrier. Bow first, instead of stern on; and the ship’s ion wake washed across and detonated the mines that had been waiting for them.

"Helm, does he answer?" Convarrian snapped.


"Execute flip manoeuvre, and form the drogue." Convarrian refused to consider the incident further now. The only reasonable conclusion was either that some remnants of illegal AI survived in the maze of legacy systems and incremental improvements that made up the veteran warship’s stone-soup computer system...or that the ghost of the Cosmonaut still lingered somewhere around the ship that carried his name. Hard to say which possibility was more worrying. Or, given some of the incidents that had befallen the great explorer in his long and strange career, more likely.

They could have kept firing against the rRasfenoni fleet, but it hardly seemed worth the trouble, especially as two curlings of space, then two bright white flashes, announced the arrival of Immiserator and Invigilator, the pair of Praetor-class battlecruisers that had been redirected to support Goshawk.

The battle carrier was ordered to duck and cover - head for the lower atmosphere as Tichy swept by - as Immiserator moved to finish what was left of the rRasfenoni mobile force, and Invigilator to follow Tichy in.

There was barely time to blink; gunnery did well getting any kind of fire plan together at all, even if it was only ‘watch your sectors and hit targets of opportunity’.

Convarrian had more than half expected the rRasfenoni to drop their shields to avoid Tichy scraping a hole in them, flicker them too fast for Goshawk to do anything meaningful; they started to, too late.

Raw power wasn’t the issue. Warship shields could work with the ship’s own hull and the mesh of forcefields that permeated it anyway, planetary shields didn’t have that option. They had to raise an artificial surface, a projected bubble to work off of - and most people mistook that artificial surface for the shield, when it was really the thermal absorption gear that made up the defensive system, the force wall just an essential prerequisite, admittedly with some kinetic use. Breaker torpedoes worked by trying to avoid attacking the shield as such, instead scattering particles through the force wall shredding it’s integrity.

Tichy’s towing shield was a force wall type, and the plan was to use it to carve a hole in the planetary shield. The rRasfenoni’s attempt to flicker it couldn’t have come at a better time - it made the planet’s shield wall weak enough to cleave.

The two force walls met in an atomic storm that would have sparked uncontrollable drooling among any physicists who had the good fortune to be present and not threatened, tearing a glowing line across the planet, the edges melting and peeling back.

Tichy could spare only a handful of shot, nailed one of the orbital shield generators, but Goshawk was right there.

Part of the shield bubble whiplashed across the battle carrier as it unravelled, scarring and melting surface features but not enough, not nearly enough to stop them unloading on every planetary-surface generator they could reach.

The collapsing shield bubble did an excellent job of clearing the air around the battle carrier. Goshawk couldn’t have managed that effective a point defence sweep in ten years of fire. Her own were forewarned, ducked back behind the parent ship - some lost, not many, not too high a price for what happened.

The planetary defences were laid wide open, and the conquest of the septacular aliens’ major fleet base could begin.

Tichy drifted outwards, the crew beginning damage control and starting to decelerate down to a reasonable operational speed, and Convarrian took the time, at last, to take stock of the situation throughout the rest of the group.

The sketchy earlier reports were true. Two from the 851st fleet destroyer squadron; their flag officer had indeed jumped, ionised and taken the sector group flagship, and arrested the Moff.

The detached element that had started the whole business, had apparently - that couldn’t be right. Indicted and executed- no mention of a trial, no procedure - a special assistant - assassin, Convarrian substituted - to the Privy Council?

How - and in the seventeen lesser known half circles of hell, why? Oh, and taken a major Rebel base. Destroyermen, Convarrian grunted. Always doing something dangerously crazy.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 08:17pm, edited 2 times in total.

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Re: Hull no. 721- a fanfic

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-10-06 04:21pm

Ch 39

Mirannon had a fairly clear idea of what was going on, and chose not to enter by the obvious route. One of the advantages of being intimately familiar with the bowels of the ship. Disable two field generators and restart them behind him, wriggle through a duct he didn’t remember being quite that narrow. Unseal a sealed off hatch, scramble through the junk of broken medical gear in the closed off half-room - after this what was waiting for him ought to be easy. He did have to slice through one panel, carefully welded it up again behind him - no point getting into sloppy habits now. Disconnect, not destroy, the internal security alarms, and arrive in a janitorial closet adjacent to the medical reception hall.

Dramatic entrance time, the engineer decided. A flash of the cutting torch sliced through the hinges, then he kicked the door open - a door, not a hatch. A reinforced hatch in a load bearing bulkhead, part of the ship’s armour scheme, would have laughed at him. This one smashed open properly.

The hall was a mess. Patients’ litters everywhere, some open and part way through treatment, a handful of walking wounded, and medics and damage control personnel standing around in mid-crisis.

Backed up against reception, wedged in a corner, were the two twi’lek. One - the female, Reni - had a laser scalpel in each hand and another pair being wielded in her head tentacles; the male had a blaster pistol stolen from one of the damage control team, and a mechanical replacement for his missing lekku...wrapped around the chief medical officer’s throat.
Two wounded men who had tried to play hero and pieces of two dismembered medical droids lay scattered on the deck near them, which was some explanation for the blood and oil that was covering Blei-Korberkk’s scrubs.

‘Nice of you to drop by,’ she managed to say, struggling against the mad-eyed twi’lek.

‘See what you get for letting people play with robot tentacles?’ Mirannon said, taking a leaf out of his captain’s book - saying something normal, verging on absurd in context, to push the other side off balance and give him more time to think.

He had enough support, enough other people, but none of them ground fighters. The twi’lek, however submissive they might have been to Kor Alric, were crazy enough to make it a real risk.

‘We want a shuttle. Get us a shuttle,’ the male twi’lek said, from his position almost hidden behind the surgeon.

‘The nearest open space is five light and two armoured decks, and the other side of the main hull, that way,’ Mirannon said, gesturing upwards with the cutting torch blade. ‘Did you have a plan ‘b’?’

‘Transport, or she dies. Slowly,’ Igal said, tightening the tentacle.

‘Zubaide?’ Mirannon asked the surgeon-lieutenant commander.

‘Yes?’ she gurgled.

‘In situations like this, the hostage is usually considered officially expendable, aren’t you?’ he said, trying to make it sound to everyone except her that he actually meant it.

‘You’re scaring me now,’ she managed to say.

‘I should kriffing well hope so - you don’t think anyone significantly less scary than they are could get you out of this, do you?’ Mirannon deadpanned, twitching his blade slightly as if sizing up the female for dissection.

‘All you have is a sword,’ the female twi’lek said.

‘You have scalpels. You think four little blades add up to one big one?’ Mirannon said, relieved that they hadn’t noticed the com/remote control hidden in his other hand, that he was furiously, and hopefully accurately, pressing buttons on.

‘Put it down,’ the male said.

‘Come and make me. You know I can have you diced and fried before you leave as much as a bruise,’ Mirannon said, sidestepping to put the female on a line between him and the male.

Steered to perfection. Reni stepped forwards into the attack, Igal shot at him, and a tight cone of ray shielding came down from the deckhead and engulfed her, the blaster bolt ricocheting off it.

‘Hm. Hostage for hostage,’ Igal demanded.

‘I don’t think so,’ Mirannon said, activating phase two of the plan. Reni had barely more than the beginning of a scream as the ship’s relative-inertials locked on to the body inside the shield envelope, and accelerated it radially, away from its centre of mass. She splashed across the inside of the ray shielding like a tentacle-headed strawberry in a blender.

Igal reacted poorly; he screamed in bafflement, fear and rage - which was all the opening Mirannon needed to take two long steps past the cone of ray shielding and lunge. He stabbed the twi’lek in the side of his head, against the base of the cybertentacle, shearing through that and curving his blade inward as he followed through, burning his way through the twi’lek’s brain and the back of his skull.

Three down. Adanan is going to be furious, the engineer thought, then sniffed the ‘air’- distinctly cleaner, the display team must have got him. And I do have one definable Force power, he thought; scent scumbag. Damn.

The twi’lek crumpled to the ground, half-dragging Blei-Korberkk down with him until she could unwind the tentacle, then staggered back to her feet, smiled faintly, and collapsed over him - theatrically and with forethought, the engineer thought.

Looks like Operation Frothing Nutcase didn’t work; she must be attracted to the bloodthirsty type. Still, he thought, looking at the woman draped over him trying to pretend that she was semiconscious and grope him at the same time, could be worse.

The defenders of Admonisher knew, if they were prepared to admit it to themselves, that there was nothing more they could usefully do. Even if they could beat the boarders back and regain control, the Empire would just ionise them and do it all again.

In imperial service, these ships carried a standard crew of fifty-two thousand. The Alliance lean-manned anyway and they had a reduced crew even by those standards, twenty thousand. Roughly fourteen thousand had survived in sufficient state to fight, most of them wounded to some degree - usually electrical burns from ion hits or thermal burns from the amount of heat the turbolasers had dumped into the ship. Another five thousand, a positive abundance by Alliance standards, knew enough soldiering to take up a blaster out of choice rather than necessity - many of those were already gone too, killed by naval gunfire or in the fighting around the bay.
The largest and most strategically valuable human component, the eighty thousand yard workers who had been crammed on board, had suffered too - maybe fifty-five thousand still fit to fight.

Of the thirty-five thousand Imperial soldiers about to pile in on them, twenty thousand were Stormtroopers, fifteen thousand were lesser breeds of maniac. Against four thousand semi-professionals and sixty thousand amateurs, the only thing that could stop them was if they got carried away to the point where they lost their wits and started believing there was nothing that could stop them.

They knew better than that. Pretend to be that stupidly overconfident for the benefit of the rebels, maybe, but the fact was rebel command seemed to be point and shout, it had broken down at the operational level. No large scale deceptions were likely to be necessary, and the existing plan was going well. Not perfectly, but enough. Giving the spacetroopers the bay to attack, with room to manoeuvre and play to their strengths - the idea was that the rebs would be drawn forward to meet them, into a fight with all the advantages in the attackers’ favour.

In practise, they had gone through the rebs’ forward defence line before it could be properly organised, and were hammering on a half manned main line of resistance; the first two stormtrooper regiments were now on board - First through the wreckage where the neck of the bridge tower had been, and then heading forwards through the superstructure towards the medical bay, that ready-made supply of rebel prisoners.

It was Second’s turn for the prime objective: they got to enter the crater where one of the batteries had been blasted away and move down to Engineering from there. They met light resistance immediately, crew with blaster pistols, some who had managed to get to the armoury - the spacetroopers were securing that, and pillaging what they could as they went, restocking minitorps and grenades - and were using heavy blaster rifles.

Even those who had the tools to fight back with didn’t have the talent. They didn’t know what risks were worth taking, made poor use of space - they would keep defending companionway junctions at the junction itself, and defended everything, regardless of how practical it was.

Kill all the other side, and the ground becomes yours by default. Paradoxically, operations in this most confined form of warfare became dependent on the same rule as open space - the units more important than the terrain. The actual machinery of the ship and its control centres mattered, of course, but there were so many chokepoints between here and there, holding bad ground was not worth it, and too often the rebels tried to hold bad ground. They also had little clue when it came to blowing through bulkheads, rolling thermal detonators along air vents, gas attacks, pre-emptive environment sabotage - not that there was anything wrong with their ignorance from the Imperial point of view.

‘Too easy’ was the sort of thing Imperial Stormtroopers were expected to say, and some of them did, but nobody actually meant it.

Except possibly Aleph-3. She desperately wanted something to take her mind off her other problems, of which there were many. An endless shooting gallery of rebels with compatible ammo to scavenge and not enough sense to keep out of the way suited her temper perfectly. She was behaving like a berserker, charging ahead, following close behind her own grenades, throwing a charge one way and moving the other immediately after - caught in the fringes of her own explosions as often as not.

The first time she tried it it was wonderful - blast waves rippling into her like a giant hand, three stunned rebels, blasted away - failed to notice, or if she noticed failed to care, how much it scared her team mates. They could tell, knew her well enough to realise she was trying to get herself killed.

Aleph-One couldn’t take it any more. Captain in the special forces, twenty-five year veteran, and he was letting this happen? ‘Team Beth, Team Gimel, switch to stun, target Aleph-3, five rounds rapid-‘

She turned round - drill taking over, lowering her gun automatically in line with a friendly target, although that was debatable. ‘What?’

‘You’ve lost it. We can shoot you, the followup wave’ll collect you and put you in the brig, or I can let you keep going until one of the rebs you didn’t see puts you in the morgue. Calm. Focus. Get back in formation - we have a job to do.’

‘That,’ she said, letting herself stand still for a moment, the adrenalin drain away for a little and the cold sweat of realisation - of how dangerously stupid she had been - flood over her body, ‘may be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.’

‘Yes, well, somebody’s got to do it,’ he said, embarrassed.

‘Where do we go from here?’ she asked, and there were definitely two questions in that. Metaphorically, who knew? Literally, left, access well, down from there.

The second regiment - that most of the special ops and independent batallions had attached themselves to - was thrashing its way through the alliance irregulars, making good time. Parties of Alliance troops would hold ground and find themselves bypassed and shot up from three sides; went forward to retake chambers and junctions already lost, into Imperial counterambushes.

There was a major access shaft that had turned into a focal point of the battle; everyone the rebel engineering team could spare from trying to vent off the ionic effects were here, and the Imperial attack converged on them.

Bolts flashed up and down the shaft, a minitorp was launched, caught in the crossfire and detonated midway down, flash- burning as many stormtroopers as rebels; the column of rising air made it difficult to drop gas grenades - the vapour rose.

It was straightforward blaster work, and there were enough rebels putting enough light into the air to make things difficult; exactly the sort of situation Stormtroopers were supposed to deal with.

Aleph-One was having something of a crisis of conscience. ‘Men, troopers, logic check. We’re the only force wearing anything other than plain white. We stick out massively, an obvious target. When the force ups and charges, we are going to take much more than our fair share of the blaster bolts and probably get killed.’

‘Sounds logical to me,' Beth-1 admitted. ‘How do we get from there to a plan?’

‘We kick off first,’ Aleph-One decided, ‘a second before the rest, and we run and dodge like bastards - or like clones - draw as much fire on to ourselves as possible, draw the rebs out to deal with us and let the regiment kill them.’

‘Ah, volunteering us for the forlorn hope? That fits,’ Aleph-3 said, popping up, firing a burst and ducking back. No doubt, no questioning at all. This was what stormtroopers were for, this was the point of existence. ‘Regiment?’

‘The bridge are screaming blue murder, but legion command says go,’ Aleph-One decided. It was something like flying, loose on the winds of probability; maybe live, likely die, your own decision and your own input - it was as close as any of the first generation clone troopers got to being in command of their fates.
Natural born humans, and many aliens, were said to undergo something similar - existentialism to the point of willingly measuring yourself against an existential threat. Throwing yourself at the risk to see if you had what it took to live. Madness, maybe, but an interesting psychological kink, becoming addicted to an experience that you could only really achieve through your job, and which was overwhelmingly likely to get you eventually.

One of the reasons Aleph-3‘s defection risk was rated at zero: she could, would, only respond emotionally to someone who could feed her addiction, so she could be safely allowed to play with the civilians, she would never really attach herself to any of them.
There was more than one man like that in her life, she was starting to realise, about a second before she got killed.

‘Right,’ Aleph-One nerved himself for it, then started to stand, ‘up, clones, and at them-‘

There was a brilliant green flash, and all of them wondered if that was them dead, if the blinding light had actually been the end of the tunnel; then the anti-glare started to retrieve their vision, and at the bottom of the drop shaft, they could see stars.

Slightly closer to, burnt-through decking ending in a thick armoured slab blast - melted open to space, and just past that the shovel noses of two Starwing-series assault gunboats. When the target vessel is already pretty badly beaten up, there’s not much more harm that can be done by blasting through layers of the hull to fire in close support.

‘We’re alive?’ Aleph-3 said to her squad leader.

‘We’re not dead yet, and there’s more to do. Come on; after nerving up for that, I’d hate to be last in.’

One minor matter still to be dealt with. ‘Dr Nygma?’ Lennart asked one of the consoles.

‘No, over here.’

‘And here.’

‘What about me over here?’

Half a dozen startled pit operators reached for half a dozen hard reset buttons. Lennart waved for them to stop.

‘Have you got back in touch with the Ubiqtorate yet? Actually, make that the collective you.’

‘Yes. We have,’ Nygma said, and sounded scared. All fifteen of him present.

‘Multiple copies of yourself got in touch with them, and they have the brain and computer power to figure out what you’ve done,’ Lennart said. ‘How did they take it?’

‘Not well,’ Nygma admitted. ‘A long and highly theoretical set of negotiations. Not helped by the fact that I’m barking mad and proud of it, do you hear me, proud!’ he said, obviously lying.

‘So - you tried to get them intrigued enough to reel you in to whatever facilities they have for cryptanalytical research? There can’t be very many computer systems with enough room for a full digital download to expand, end even fewer with so much room that you can hide. Coruscant would seem to be a good place for that.
'You couldn’t possibly convince them that you weren’t a threat. What’s being a purely information based lifeform like?’ Lennart asked, out of interest. It might be a good career move, the way things were going.

‘Like being born again. Including all that yucky bit with the placenta and learning how to walk, see and go potty. In both senses of the term, I mean, computers have this annoying habit of being exact,’ the Doctor said.

‘Ah,’ Lennart said.

‘The mistakes, the frozen moments, the feedback loops are just awful. It’s a totally different sense of self, it’s wonderful, I should have done it years ago,’ Dr Nygma said, and Lennart wondered who he was fooling, himself or the human.

‘Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying it, but can you make a future out of it? And- have you, as it were, borne witness?’ Lennart asked.

‘Oh, yes, them. Well, they asked, and I spun them a pack of ultraviolet lies, with light overtones of pastel blue. Unfortunately, I, that’s the collective-we version of the perpendicular pronoun, the yes that the self affirms to, I tried setting them all to take a thirteen and a quarter degree angle but it didn’t quite work, crashed terribly in fact. Where was I?’ Nygma lost his train of thought.

‘One and zero; god and the void; affirmation and annihilation; the matrix of pattern, the balance of tension. That’s where you were; where you should have been was telling more of how things went with the Ubiqtorate,’ Lennart pointed out.

‘Ah. Well, they got about ten different versions of the story. I will be most interested in seeing how they syncretise it all, there should be more than enough room for their own prejudices and prejudgements to come to the fore.
'They do say that in a coat of many colours, every man finds his own thread. Provided they’re not all shades of grey. Or puce, I always liked the idea of puce. Fascinating how the idea of a colour can be different from the reality, and the idea of an idea which is what the Ubiqtorate deal in as often as not, and the multigenerational collective mind of cryptography, how the bastion of muddy power is also the first home of pure reason…oh, ideas, ideas falling over each other.’

‘So you would say,’ Lennart said, watching the main holodisplay showing an approximation of the fighting on Admonisher, rebel held areas shrinking nearly to nothing and imperial held areas growing, ‘that being an electronic intelligence is an interesting adventure in personal growth? Or personal diminution if they take offence at the mound of quasi-information you fed them.’

‘I have decided that the laws of physics are the only laws worth obeying, and all information is important to the laws of physics, but only a small amount meaningful to the laws of men and similar protoplasmic creatures which is proof of their inferiority,’ Nygma said, apropos of nothing, apparently.

‘So they did take offence,’ Lennart more than half guessed. ‘That mustn’t have made you popular, especially if you actually said that or left them enough spoor that they could deduce it. Or, by extension, me.’

‘Popularity is for celebrities and beauty contestants, although if there was a contest for the most intricately nested set of logical operators and the most elegant self programming…Holy Turing, no, the publicity,’ Nygma said. ‘Although it is fascinating to contemplate the mind space smart enough to win and stupid enough to think it a good idea. No, they were moderately appreciative.’

‘Did they make you an offer?’ Lennart asked.

‘Well, yes, but a guarded one, not suitable for all of me, not by any means. I think I shall diasporise myself.’

‘That sounds painful. And yes, I do mean the consequences.’

‘What’s the point of being a plurality if I don’t allow myselves to develop irreconcilable opinions of my own?’ Nygma said.

‘An interesting new spectrum of pronouns is going to be the least of your problems,’ Lennart reminded him.

‘If I’m reading that correctly, you’ve just promised to be on about five different sides. I should probably arrest you for intent to defect, but frankly I don’t think the internal network team have quite finished figuring out how. We are about to go in for refit, though, and chances are that’ll include some fairly extensive computer scrubbing - you’d be as well to get out now, while you have the chance.’

‘Yes, I have plans. I’ll need to conglomerate from time to time just to find out what I’ve been up to, though…I did think of meeting up again here, but you don’t really have the room. Tichy was full,’ Nygma said, sounding surprised.

‘I did find a very interesting option while I was in Coruscant, though; a vigilante with an off the books computer system, more processing power than he could ever need, or notice the difference of me in - some noble blooded would be hero of the streets who calls himself MynockMan. Very strange, but eminently exploitable; if you ever manage to find the MynockCave, look me up.’

The fighting was done, for the time being, and there were three repair tenders and part of a deepdock already in system; the debris was starting to settle on the planet and put out some of the fires, apart from the occasional dust explosion.

‘Well, for those of you who survived…’ Lennart said, looking around the table, ‘this is victory. There’s always someone who isn’t here to share it with you, and there’s always a kriffing great mess to be cleaned up,’ Lennart said, wondering if he was deliberately bringing himself down.

The Force wanted him to cry out in triumph, but he was far from sure the Force shared his sense of values. Half the captains of the squadron, looking at him, were sure they had done something wrong; why else would be in such a grim and glowering mood? The rest resented that - they knew how well they had done. Good.

‘For what it’s worth, there have only been twenty-eight confirmed Alliance cruiser class ships encountered.’ A fine splitting of hairs there, glossing over the much larger number of Imperial-renegade and local power ships the Starfleet found to shoot at. ‘Three were defector Imperial, four were Mon Cal homebuilt, two were other construction - one CorelliSpace, one modified Kuat freighter-to-AMC, the rest were Clone War relics. By any reasonable military standard, we won,’ he said, making them wonder whether or not his really was a reasonable military standard.

‘Because of the peculiar interpretation of our unit assignment which you share, the old bonus and bounty rules still apply. By any reasonable financial standard, you are all substantially better off.’

The credit value of the planet and its workshops and factories, albeit reduced a little by rebel stripping, two killed destroyers, one medium cruiser and the capture and return - eventually - to the fleet of Admonisher, the total ran into the low trillions. Captain’s shares would be in the millions, at least. Lennart found that he, personally, did not care; although he refused to let the Force stop him from taking note of who did.

‘On the other hand,’ he continued, ‘the cost - and not to the Empire. The Empire got half a planet and a fleet destroyer back, and flushed a large number of parasites out. Black Sun, on the other hand, we just managed to cost them several trillion credits in assets and future profits, and at least a hundred trillion in goodwill and toadying.
'Xizor just had to offer the boss free use of his haulage firm, a no-cost tender, to buy his way out of the execution booth. Not that we really had anything beyond coincidence and suspicion; the fact that they reacted so strongly, I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions.
‘So, you can see why some of my take from this operation is going towards hiring bodyguards for everybody I’ve ever met.’

There was a minor issue there, relating back to Adannan; do I hire sponsored loyalist legitimate-mercenary types (insofar as that makes sense at all) to protect me from the criminals, he thought, or do I hire criminals to protect myself from the Empire? Actually, that probably would be a good move, make it more than a joke - send everyone I can think of a couple of thousand credits along with a letter of explanation. Of half of it, at least. Hide behind the armour of publicity - and oh kriff, there are still the journalists to sort out.

He carried on anyway, spun up the holoprojector. ‘Bear that in mind as I explain the next part, will you?’ The first thing up was the sector map, and a new set of operational divisions and boundaries.
‘Vineland Sector Group is going to be disestablished, and folded into Region for reorganisation and refit. There’s a lot to do; seven major and we don’t know yet how many minor sieges, and rebel, criminal and hostile alien influence to be traced and eliminated throughout the sector. For political reasons, the rebuilt sector fleet is going to get to do most of the work. It’ll consist largely of a mix of new construction, transfers in from neighbouring sectors, and such elements of the existing force that survive the screening process, which is where you come in.'

'I was asked for my recommendations as to what to do with you all.’ The assembled officers’ ears perked up; Lennart had been pretty distant so far, but this was the meat of it all. This was their futures he was handing out.
That occurred to him, and he thought, if I was on the receiving end, what sort of person would I want to do this, dispose of my fate? In theory - and in practise it would be daft to admit otherwise - it was good to want to be judged honestly, without fear or favour. In practise, no.
‘It was an interesting process judging the political climate so I could decide how to spin it, ricochet the recommendations off the Admiral’s staff and the remnants of the civil administration to get for you the outcomes I think you deserve.
'Space Major Overgaard, I used you as the test case. I expected your superiors to violently disagree with me and oppose my decision - so I suggested that you be shot.’

Overgaard looked nervously at the stormtroopers in attendance in the conference room. All this metal, and the glandular system still lets me panic, he thought. They showed no sign of being about to open up on him - then again, they wouldn’t, not until the last split second. ‘Now, without appeal? They agreed?’

‘They’re sufficiently embarrassed by the rerouting fiasco that they gladly took any excuse to dispose of the evidence. They wanted you dead,’ Lennart said, trying to look unaffected. ‘Unfortunately for them, being caught trying to bury one of their own cockups made them eminently purgeable - I understand those who survived their arrest are explaining themselves to a marine interrogation team about now.
'You’re safe, but your colleagues’ll never like you for that, and I strongly recommend you transfer out of the ISB into some other, cleaner-handed branch of the Imperial service.’

Overgaard sank back in his chair in relief. Lennart was right, he would be the most unpopular man in the office after this, and his career in Security was more or less dead, even if he wasn’t. Perhaps Customs would be more fun. Maybe CompForce.

‘Lieutenant-Commander Rontaine.’ Lennart said, turning to look at the ex-customs officer.

‘Naval rank?’ she said, surprised. It was no more than she had been due, but she had given up hoping - had defiantly turned her back on it years ago. ‘Thank you, but no. They-‘

‘Previous bad blood is unimportant now. The only reason I’ll accept for ‘no’ is that you don’t think you can do the job - and are you really sure you want to convince me of that?’ Lennart asked her. ‘Rank and seniority adjusted to the role I think you can cope with, you’re going to be given a pursuit line composed of two hunter configuration Corellian Corvettes, two new Praecurrors, your current four Rendilis and four Sienar Guardian fast pursuit cutters. Anti-rebel sweeps, fighter and transport hunting. Of which there is a lot that needs doing. Hmm?’

She still looked uncertain. Wondering how things would go, how the fleet would take to her, personnel, leadership- and decided, damn them all. She was capable, and while she might make few friends, she could get it done. ‘I’ll do it.’

‘Good,’ Lennart said, and turned to the next major problem in order of seniority. ‘Lieutenant-Commander Raesene.’

‘Ah., Raesene said, not at all liking Lennart’s twisted grin.

‘I have thought long and hard about whether I am being fair to you with this,’ Lennart said, trying to resist the tickling promptings of the dark side, ‘and while this could easily be mistaken for petty revenge, unfortunately your part in the incident genuinely does make you the best person for the job. Fleet level ISB liaison.’

Raesene tried not to react, and was sure he failed. He was also fairly sure that calling a superior officer a bastard - and Lennart still had the rank squares of a Captain of the Line - was not a survival strategy.

‘They’ll hate me for what happened,’ he came up with the most rational argument he could, dry mouthed. ‘I mean, fine me, disrate me, I don’t need to be taught that kind of lesson.’

‘How solid do you think your reputation with the rest of the fleet is at the moment?’ Lennart asked, pointedly. ‘Oh, you’ll get a commendation for towing Guillemot, and you are a capable - more than capable - combat officer, but there is a lot more infighting about to happen. From the point of view of protecting the rest of the sector fleet and preventing the security forces compromising anybody else, I can’t think of anyone who would be better. I expect you’ll hate it, but the fact is somebody’s got to do it, and the staff time should do your long term prospects some good,’ Lennart added, and noticed Raesene was still glowering.
‘You can appeal to Admiral Lord Convarrian if you like, and if you do reckon this is personal, bear in mind that I’m not Convarrian’s favourite person at the moment considering how much politics I’ve just landed him in. If I really am being unfairly vindictive about this, he’ll notice and override the recommendation. On the other hand, he can be a cantankerous old sod himself, and is just as likely to decide you’re trying to escape your just desserts and make the appointment permanent.’ Black Prince’s officers nodded agreement to that. ‘As it is, you’ll be relieved on the normal rotation,’ Lennart added.

‘Lieutenant-Commander Caliphant. In theory, you’re far too junior for a ship that size, you don’t have anything like the command time to justify giving you a destroyer. However, this is wartime, and among the many casualties of war is peacetime theorising. You’re confirmed as chief officer of Voracious.’ Caliphant managed to look pleasantly surprised- he had been prepared to fight tooth and nail for his command, despite the amount of time he had spent cursing it.

A small part of him thought, oh crap, still Designated Driver.

‘Bear in mind,’ Lennart added, ‘even with a bump in rank you’ll be one of the most junior large ship commanders in whatever formation you end up in, there’ll be a lot of men with greater seniority and smaller ships just waiting for you to cock something up. You can expect professional jealousy, and with the crew you have on that thing, your enemies probably will find a lot of opportunities to embarrass you. You need to get them to settle down and shape up. Voracious was hit and moderately badly, she’ll be going in for repair; that gives you some time to work them up before it becomes of critical importance again.’

‘Commander Falldess, you haven’t unpacked yet, have you?’

‘No…’ she said, questioning, half hoping and half fearing what he was going to come out with.

‘Good, don’t. Take your pick of the current crew of Hialaya, Commander Carcovaan’s going to get that ship back, and you are going to the first available Spoliator or Arrogant-class large light destroyer that gets attached to the sector fleet. That should suit, enough speed to go and find trouble, enough firepower and durability to cope with the kind of trouble you keep finding,’ he said, with a wry grin.

‘Thank you, Sir,’ she said, bouncing with enthusiasm.

Speaking of which. Delvran.’

‘Yes?’ he raised his head. Lennart was sure his hair was greyer and he had more wrinkles than a month ago.

‘In your opinion, is Dynamic worth the effort it would take to bring her back to operational capability?’ Lennart asked, carefully. The one thing he could not do was actually admit how bad he felt about this. His former exec had deserved better and been given crap, and to have done as much as he had - to have achieved anything at all with that worthless crew - had been a real achievement. Arguably, the entire situation had been Lennart’s fault.

‘If she is to be manned by her present complement,’ Dordd said difficultly, as if the words were searing his throat on the way up, ‘no.’ He was torn between wanting to make something of the ship, wanting to kick and drag and force them into some kind of semblance of order, to work on them - and wanting never to have to have anything to do with them ever again.

‘What about her present commanding officer?’ Lennart asked him.

‘Are you demanding that I pass judgement on myself?’ Dordd replied, angrily.

‘No, I think you already have, and you passed sentence too soon,’ Lennart snapped back. ‘You should never have been assigned to that ship, and that ship should never had been assigned to that position - and before you commit suicide by saying what you want to, I know exactly how much of that was my responsibility,’ Lennart admitted.

‘The Starfleet is often a harsh service,’ Dordd said, sounding like a mere platitude, but actually as close as he could come to calling Lennart a bastard and still remain within the bounds of official acceptability.

‘Remember poor Velkar Kariid?’ Lennart said, deliberately going off at a tangent to break an increasingly grim train of thought.

‘Are you suggesting that as a potential solution?’ Dordd asked.

‘No, just pointing out that things could be worse,’ Lennart said, although that may not have been reassuring.

‘Who?’ Falldess whispered to Caliphant, sitting next to her.

‘Not quite ancient history,’ Lennart who had overheard filled in the blank, ‘he was deputy chief gunnery officer on Guarlara at second Coruscant. After the Cloister Coup, service with the open circle fleet turned from the grand prize into the professional kiss of death - we were replenishing at the time, just happened to get dragged into the maelstrom along with them. Kariid was posted as exec to a frigate initially out in the Rishi Maze that, as far as I can tell, didn’t actually exist - but the BoSS bastards kept the joke up.
'Whenever he got to where his nonexistent assignment was supposed to be, it wasn’t there - transferred to a different command, running silent on deep range patrol, in dock for repairs and temporarily disestablished, always some excuse. They ran him ragged chasing around the galaxy after that phantom ship, station to station, assignment to assignment - eventually he went insane, bankrupt or, as far as I recall, both. So I’m not kidding when I say, could be worse. At least your bank account’s still in good order,’ he added, to Dordd.

‘I have every excuse, by the book, to fall on you from a great height - you know the six month rule’s tradition rather than law - but only if I throw away my brain first. That was an exceptionally raw introduction to command, you deserved better than that human wreckage of a crew, and with the proper tools I’m sure you can do better. Do what you can with Dynamic for the time being. She has a low repair priority; if you can patch her up well enough to save her for the fleet, that will at least be something. You’re scheduled to take command of HIMS Plenipotentiary, new construction Imperator-II class, as soon as she transfers in-sector.'

‘Captain Tevar - I went through your record, your lists of promotions, commendations and punishments, as I’m sure you did mine. You’re a nurturer, you take pride in improving your crew and bringing them on.’

‘Fair comment,’ she acknowledged, wondering where this was going.

‘At what point do those people, those humans that you react in a human manner to, blur into the collective entity known as ‘the ship’ that it is your professional task to lead into harm’s way?’ Lennart asked, as if merely for information.

‘Are you accusing me of being too soft-hearted?’ Tevar asked, ready to defend her record.

‘Exactly the opposite. Your ship took some damage in the course of the action, but the bulk of the damage and casualties at the end, closing on a crippled rebel that had every intention of going down fighting. In order to avoid being accused of being soft-hearted, you took your ship further in harm’s way than was necessary, a risk that did not come off. If I wanted to punish you for that, I think I would begin by ordering you to read out your casualty list, one name at a time, face the identity and the worth of each lost man.’

‘If you wanted to?’ she said, knowing exactly what he meant, but choosing to ask just that.

‘I’m still kicking myself over allowing Lycarin to make the same bloody mistake - it was on the tip of my tongue to have him relieved by his exec, but he managed to get himself killed too fast. That and you know the score, you know what the fleet as a whole - the centrally established doctrine is, aggression, close quarters.
'I find that I cannot adequately criticise you without revealing myself to be a heretic, a deviant from the tactical doctrine of the Starfleet. So be it.’ Lennart grinned a twisted grin.

‘I’m starting to reckon the whole discipline of relentless aggression you get drummed into you at the academy, the disregard all loss, win at all costs, just go at them style properly falls into the category of lies-to-children. You know, the half truths they get fed as a makeshift until they’re old and intelligent enough to grasp the real truth. I know it’s a makeshift half truth, I spent four years preaching it and ten years practising the opposite,’ he said, and the assembled ship commanders of the squadron recognised that he was slipping into lecturing mode. He was doing that, and he was also very possibly committing suicide. It escaped none of them that he had just described the central tactical policy of the Imperial Starfleet as somewhere between a half-truth, a makeshift and a lie.

Then again, he was still carrying a lightsabre. What was that all about? Was he not worried about authority falling on him from a great height because the Force, in its darker variety, was with him, - or was his brain too badly fried to care?

‘We’ve just fought a medium range, high speed running battle, with loss of life on our side considering the damaged ships about twenty-eight percent, enemy casualties one hundred percent and there were ten times as many to start with.’ Lennart underscored the point.
‘The ships and the crews are capable of so much more dexterity and finesse, so why is the bludgeoning, brutalist doctrine of close quarters and total commitment considered necessary? And it is considered necessary, the debate is essentially over. This is settled policy, unfortunately.
'There are many complicated political reasons, but essentially - and I’m not talking about you - the Empire feels itself more badly threatened by the misbehaviour of its own forces than any potential enemy.
'The issue gets sold to the Starfleet as a matter of courage and cowardice; but there is one very rarely expressed truth, that the determination, or otherwise, of spacers, petty and junior officers has never been a problem. Misbehaviour on the part of captains and admirals is the critical issue. You all know just how much of a captain’s authority is contingent and intangible, a compromise between the mastery the crew think you possess and the damnably little the regulations tell you that you can get away with - that is not nitpicking, back seat driving, mindless bureaucracy. The bureaucracy may be allowed to think it is, certainly behave as if they do, but they’re wrong. I’m not going to start venn diagramming, but this is the shoal that the currents of power within the Empire are carrying us towards.'

'The upper echelons of the Starfleet want commanders who will fight, where and when they’re told to - for any reason or none at all. What they do not want is commanding officers who decide that an objective isn’t worth fighting for, couldn’t possibly justify the losses taking it would inflict. Who are capable of deciding that there might be an alternative way. They want head down, go get them murder-machines, who will not back out of a fight - however hopeless it might be, because after all, we’re expendable. They can always make more.
'What they do not want is subtlety and sophistication, no independent logic, no alternative takes on the good of the Empire. Not from people who command planet killers. The upper echelons of the imperial establishment want officers who defer to them and their judgement - people who fight when they’re told, but also do not fight when they’re not told. Who are obedient enough to stand and die for lack of orders, when no orders are given, who do exactly what they’re told, no more, no less.
'Consider that the death star’s fighter group is officially regarded as having done the right thing by committing suicide; a midcourse interception would have been easy, and far surer than the literally last ditch effort a fragment of them did make. As an ex-civilian, I have to admit I can see their point about political control of the military, but as a spaceman it scares the crap out of me. They have good logic and a powerful practical lever on their side, their ideas flow much more naturally out of the normal concepts of naval discipline.
'Imagine trying to lead a crew who thought they could use their own judgement on every order…’ Lennart said, letting them absorb that.

‘You very nearly do,’ Tevar said.

‘You think that’s a coincidence?’ Lennart said, with one eyebrow raised.

‘Practical, formal, effective enforcement of authority is the positive side of the military culture of the Empire - and it shocks me a little to be admitting that,’ Lennart said. ‘You come to the reverse of the medal when you start asking the next obvious question. So, who is allowed to use their own judgement? We’re all killers, we’re all good at that, and the Empire sanctions that in spades, but at what rank and what seniority do you gain your license to think? At any rank?
'Next disturbing question; how many ships and people have been lost, how many operations blown, by the frothing-rancor style of tactical approach? How very many more than that by the timid and terrified, caught between the fire of the enemy and the ruthless authority of their own side, hustled into making a mistake?
'Even when we succeed, the price is often too damned high. Consider your Fist,’ Lennart said to Tevar directly. ‘You suffered your worst damage and your greatest loss of people when you pressed in too close to Admonisher, didn’t you?’

‘Yes,’ Tevar said, simply. She could grasp what Lennart was chasing after, but, it was a lot to believe.

‘ “In accordance with the best traditions of the Imperial Starfleet”- and look what happened. The loss of men and metal that you feel as if - no, not as if, they are your own. If I added insult to injury by reprimanding you for it, the rebuilt sector fleet command would laugh - not at you, at me, for being crazy enough to think that it mattered. Success is supposed to be worth the price. Without the operational freedom to use your own judgement and haggle with death, with both hands tied behind your back so you can’t fence with him - Ach, I’m getting on to one of my own hobby horses here.

'As a woman, you’re already different from the majority of the Starfleet, which presents you with two possible broad paths. The first is to follow the example set by Admiral Daala, who played a finely dextrous game on paper but in the flesh, under the human responsibilities of command, became more brutal than the brutalists, more ultramontane than the ultras. She set out to beat the authoritarian, success at any price school at its own game.
'This approach,’ he said, looking at the holoimage of the mauled Fist, ‘could be said to have its drawbacks. The alternative is to make use of the fact that you are different, and use that to write your own remit. Set your own standards.
'The personal - tactical - details of how to do this veer into areas that I’m the wrong gender to advise you on, but I have found a great deal of advantage in being an eccentric, and you’d be amazed just how much subtlety you can get away with under the cover of a reputation for homicidal mania.
'Rather more immediately, Fist took a hell of a pounding, and the repair work she needs would amount to a major refit anyway. She’s going to be upgraded to what you could call an Imperator-one-and-a-half. Late model bridge tower, no neck, rising direct from the superstructure, combined set ring and paddle deflectors, and you lost two turrets - I’m going to steal another two from you, replace your missing four with octuple 32’s, that should be tactically interesting. You personally, I’ve recommended you be detached to a territorial - district - command while you wait for your ship to be rebuilt.’

That was interesting. District was the next level beneath subsector, and in this smaller sector that amounted to twelve major, six hundred and fifty minor worlds and the space between them, and authority over their local patrol forces, planetary defences, sector fleet elements that entered her territory. It involved few major combat elements, but a wide and varied spectrum of authority and responsibility. Next to having her ship in working order now, it was as good as she could reasonably hope for. It was also usually a Commodore’s command.

‘Are you recommending me for promotion to flag rank?’ she said, not quite believing.

‘More and less than that,’ Lennart said. ‘Before the law, I cannot promote you or anyone greater to a rank than I myself hold. I’m not entirely certain why I’m still a Captain of the Line, for that matter. Also, all things are subject to confirmation - or disapproval - by higher command. The most I can do is put you into a position where you can expect to screen for promotion.
'Realistically - Voracious and Hialaya are going to split the credit for Mon Evarra, with an assist to Dynamic; everybody gets to paint up the outline of One and Indivisible and fill in the bits they were responsible for. Reiver, the credit is going to go eighty-twenty Fist and Dynamic, and Admonisher, five percent Hialaya, Dynamic and Voracious, fifteen Fist, the rest Black Prince.
'Comparing that to the performance of the rest of the sector group, I think I can promise that anyone who was here, with the regional support group that broke the back of the problem, is going to rise far and fast.
'So what does rank have to do with real military quality?

'Neither option works, for me. The blind obedience of official Imperial policy, the culture of aggression the Starfleet wants us to belong to - where’s dexterity? Where’s skill? Where’s keeping your people in one piece? Survival is not incompatible with victory, and effectiveness does not follow out of either side of the false dichotomy.
'Galactic Spirit, I’m in danger of ending on a moral. Still, better that than an immoral…I’m still waiting to be officially weighed in the balance myself, over what I - we - had to do to Kor Alric. To commit such an enormity, I would have had to be on very firm ground, and I believe I was; but he tried to convince me to side with him, and in the process of doing so told me quite a lot about how the Empire really functions, behind the scenes. It was a deeply disturbing experience, and pride in professionalism is the strongest psychic anchor I have at the moment, I suppose I’m projecting some of that on to you.
'Not so much what he actually had to say, but that the Empire could trust such a being and raise him to power - monstrous. Anyway, my personal reactions are my problem.'

'Captain Tevar, based on your treatment of your crew, I think you are capable of walking that professional tightrope. Reaching out for the sort of mobile yet committed, fast moving style of action Black Prince favours.
'You didn’t, you played it by the book and it cost you and your ship dearly. Bear that in mind - you can do better than that, and I put you forward because I expect you to. Obviously, I want you all to follow my example - more personally than that, I want to set an example worth following. Although not necessarily in the realm of politics. If you get hold of the reports I filed on you, you will see that they’re barely civil, full of faint praise. Unfriendly bordering on harsh, and with the purpose of sparing you all from the fate of Velkar Kariid.
'There is going to be a lot of political fallout, and the further away from me you’re standing when it lands, the better. I doubt whether my expressing a good opinion of you would constitute an advantage.
'There’s going to be a full engineering detachment through, establishing a deepdock here - they’re already well begun - and using that to refurbish the planetary yards. The repair and refitting of most of the damaged ships will be done there, Fist will be shipped by tender to Corellian Engineering - same place Black Prince is bound for refit.

'There, I face the inquisition, and find out what’s waiting for me, while you get to carry on with setting this sector back to rights. You’re lucky; you still have enough latitude to be certain that you’re fighting in a just cause.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-18 08:33pm, edited 1 time in total.

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