Undisclosed Location, Sector H-12
Boskonian Sector Command Dome
High Admiral Natalya Zokolova grimaced as Sixth Battlecruisers and their escorts charged through Cosmog's fleet of core ships. Cosmog had apparently chosen to keep up the pressure on von Mückenberger's center rather than pull back and away from von Musel's line of flight, and that hadn't been an unreasonable decision. But it had painful consequences as the Prussian ships shot through
his loose-formed, blurring cloud of ships and seized a pair of mid-weight combatants under tractors. The core ships struggled helplessly, their low-impulse driving projectors unable to shift the greater inertia and brute engine power of the Enemy ships.
Cosmog had obviously been expecting a brief, point-blank exchange of fire, one where his ships would give as good or better than they got. Instead, he got a brief opportunity to fire freely at the Enemy... and the Enemy got to engage two of his ships at extremely unfavorable odds. They were dragged off and mauled to death by point-blank railgun fire in a matter of no more than three minutes, taking only a single frigate with them.He's making us look foolish...
But that wouldn't be a repeatable trick. Cosmog's choice to stay on station when the Sixth charged him was avoidable; he could just as well have sidestepped, keeping his forces out of tractor range. Next time, he surely would- Zokolova had no real doubts about the moogle's tactical competence.
What would von Musel do next? She expected that he'd be ordered back to engage the Kavoolites and their Gron auxiliaries; the damage to their ships from the earlier missile attack was significant, but they'd soon have command and control shaken out and ready to fight again...2004 Hours
...or not. If von Mückenberger was going to call the young rear admiral back, he'd have done it by now. Especially with that spread of photon torpedoes from the Kavoolite disruptor cruisers to jog his memory. So what was going on, exactly?
Zokolova pondered for a moment...
Thinking about it, there were only two possible explanations for why ships would be headed for the hyper limit at his best speed. One was to try and escape her forces before the inevitable general collapse of the fleet's resistance- simple desertion, or- oh no.
Had the senior officer had a sudden stroke of insight? Unlikely; the man's dossier was clear. He was a plodder, exquisitely schooled in the Prussian theory of warfare and its emphasis on overwhelming concentration, on using the biggest possible hammer. Detaching a cruiser squadron to break the encirclement trapping his forces and let reinforcements in wasn't beyond him, but it was the sort of thing he'd only think of in a comfortable armchair- most unlikely that he'd consider it under pressure. Which meant it had to be...Von Musel!
He must have decided to go after the interdictor grid himself. Had he won over von Mückenberger somehow? Or was this insubordination-to-incompetent-superior*? There was no way to be sure- though perhaps if it was insubordination, her enemy's forces might split over the question. That would be very convenient, probably the only way she could depend on getting the victory she craved.
On the other hand, if von Musel managed to keep his command together in their mutiny-to-avert-crisis*, her plan might very well unravel entirely...*These terms are both all one word in the Boskonian language, and both have positive connotations.
Z-1240 Series Destroyer Z-1261
Flagship Eleventh Destroyer Squadron
2008 Hours Coalition Fleet Standard Time
"Sir! Orders from Prinzregent Luitpold:
"Split off from the battlecruisers and harass the enemy dorsal group from long range.""I knew this was going to happen.
Von Musel had forwarded a summarized version of his plan already, along with orders to accompany him out of the system, just a few minutes ago. Reuental kept his mouth shut. On the one hand, it was obviously a smarter move than sitting around and waiting for the ammunition to run out. On the other, he knew that the high command wasn't going to like it when something like a quarter of their combat-effective escorts abandoned the field, no matter how
much damage they'd done to knock back the forces immediately opposing them.
The order from the flagship was predictable, though it might well amount to suicide in the long run to obey. It was very tempting to ignore von Mückenberger and proceed as if nothing had happened. He could do it. The junior captains of his squadron would follow him, orders or no orders- something of a knack of his; he could probably have convinced them to turn outright pirate given time.
On the other hand, the aftermath- Reuental didn't want to spend the rest of his life as a captain, nor as a disgraced officer drummed out of the service. Being a destroyerman hadn't done his career any good as it was; being a destroyerman who'd disobeyed a direct order from an admiral with friends on the staff... not good at all. So it was equally tempting to gamble on von Musel pulling it off without him- concentrate on keeping his own ships alive until reinforcements arrived. Regulations would back him, and he thought he had a fair chance of keeping his destroyers intact for another hour, whatever the numbers might look like.
Difficult to say...
A window at the corner of his display flashed. Reuental accepted the call- this, too was not a surprise.
"Yes, Admiral?" He couldn't help but think of von Musel as the
admiral, the real one, even as he considered abandoning the man for the sake of keeping things by the book.
"I am aware of your recent order from the flagship."
"That was on our squadron channel." Encrypted, too, come to think of it...
Von Musel's face was immobile, looking levelly at him. "Command-cruiser comm systems, remember?"Ha. Should have known
The corner of Reuental's mouth rose a millimeter or so. "Yes, sir."
"There is little time. I will not waste it on fancy words. The facts are simple. You have a choice here. I will go no matter what you do. You may stay here and wait for me, if you choose. If I fail, the fleet will be destroyed, and you would die a coward. If I succeed, perhaps you'll still be alive when the Allies come to save you, and then you would live
Reuental felt his shoulders bunching at that- the words weren't phrased as an insult was barely tolerable- but he kept listening to the admiral. Hard words, yes, but it was a hard situation. Von Musel paused for a moment, trying to read the destroyer officer's face, then continued.
"But I don't think that's the kind of man you are." The admiral's smile was thin, sharp-edged, almost a twin to the one Reuental saw in the mirror so often. "I think you have the judgment to see which of two conflicting orders is right. Follow me, Fleet-Captain, and whatever price we may pay, we will have saved the fleet."
"Make up your mind quickly, or you may get the worst of both worlds. Von Musel out." The window went dark.To decide between professionalism and ambition, when duty could be said to lie either way...
it wasn't easy. Reuental frowned in displeasure. He needed time, he needed perspective- no. He needed the other half of his brain. The comm channel to F-2522
was already hooked up- on speed dial, as it were.
Wolfgang seemed very much caught up in the urgency of the moment, though long acquaintance showed the ghosts of two lost frigates in his expression. They'd accomplished impressive things today, but it hadn't come cheap.
"Oskar! Is this about-"
"Yes. What do you think?"
"I think we'd better do it, you even more than me. We're going to need those railguns of yours- they're damn near half the tubes we have left..."
"Two fifths." Reuental supposed that his face was doing more of the talking than his voice- no doubt Mittermeyer could read him as well as the other way around.
"Whatever. Look, we can hash out the legalities later; this is important
, probably the most important thing we've ever-" Mittermeyer's eyes went wide, and his normally ruddy complexion was very pale. "You're not... staying, are you?"
The strain was nearly unbearable- duty against duty, professional pride against ambition- "Conflicting orders. On the one hand, rank, on the other hand..." Reuental made a gesture; they both knew damn well that the sentence should end with "sanity" or the like, but to say it, even under these conditions... it was too much. The system was breaking down, all the rules and doctrine and drill were carrying Second Fleet over a cliff, but what was there to replace it? Every man for himself, follow only the orders you please? What kind of military could function like that?
Reuental could feel the composed mask of his features cracking- only a fraction, he hoped, but the situation was overwhelming. It wasn't even a question of making a single ruthless choice between a right answer and a wrong answer- that he could have done. But the imponderables at work here... everything hung in the balance, too much to think about and no time
. "I don't like this, Wolfgang; either way I'm..."
Mittermeyer took a deep breath, and looked very, very squarely into Reuental's mismatched eyes. "Think of it this way, Oskar. You have two admirals to choose between. Whose command would you rather live under?"
Everything clicked. That wasn't quite the right question, or not his
right question. But it was more than close enough to the one Reuental should have been asking himself all along- one that practically answered itself, when you knew the two men involved.
"Ask rather under whose command I'd prefer to die. More important decision."
"I'm in." He switched to bridge comms.
"Signals, message to all destroyers: prepare for hyperspace jump, outbound in the direction of the allied fleet!"
Recommended Listening: The Boskonian Naval Anthem!Boskonian Sector Command Dome
Not good- Sixth Battlecruisers was already nearing the hyper limit, taking its screen with them. The Contrecoup Six installation was heavily shielded, but unarmed, and in no position to resist indefinitely the attack of a dozen starships at close range.
She had one force in position could potentially save this situation, or at least delay the inevitable. Unreliable assets, with their edge already worn off- but they could reach the trouble spot; they were practically there already...Kavoolite Missile Harrier Toranox
Withdrawing Under Heim Drive
"Admiral, message on the special communicator!"
That could only be one person. "Put her through."
The human woman's origins were mysterious- obviously not an independent actor, but Imperial Intelligence had failed to learn anything meaningful about where she'd gotten her resources from, or the details of how she'd managed to subvert the Urtraghans so thoroughly. The bargains she'd struck with the Empire were nervous: certainly so for the Imperial court, hopefully from her side as well.
Many humans could pass for Kavoolite with relatively minor cosmetic alterations, but there were always those touches of uncanny wrongness
; in Zokolova's case, the flat look in her eyes and the eerie reddish off-brown shade of her hair. Her abrasive, domineering tendencies... those were, strictly speaking, not entirely out of place among the Imperial aristocracy. But in the details, the way she reacted when faced with someone she could not order about, there was again foreign to his culture.
Admiral Maiek was the child of five generations of House Solius Star Lords, the brother of a reigning Lord. He might one day be uncle to another if he lived that long; his sister was young yet and his niece barely out of infancy. A feudal lady of the Empire would be expected to show respect to one of such rank.
Zokolova's emissaries were often exquisitely respectful. In person, even over a communicator, her own social graces seemed nothing more than a mask, and one that was prone to crack when stressed.
For now though, the mask was on. "Admiral. Enemy ships are approaching the interdictor array from the rear. Take your command and engage them as they emerge from hyperspace- the station must be protected until the Prussian main body can be destroyed!"
He didn't like this woman, but he was an officer of the Imperial Navy, an agent of the crown, and therefore had to be courteous so long as the crown called for courtesy. "Milady, I fear I must
consult my sealed orders before committing to another attack. How long before this enemy fleet moves into position?"
"You have twenty minutes."
"I will answer you in five." A faint ripple crossed Zokolova's face, like she was suppressing the impulse to say something. Then the viewscreen went black.
His ships were valuable assets. The warbirds, cruisers, and laser strikers committed to Zebes, those could be replaced in relatively short order, but the training that went into the specialist missile harriers was more difficult to reproduce. Even by the standards of Imperial resources, his ships were valuable and difficult to replace. It was no wonder that the Emperor had personally scribed a set of sealed orders to be read by the commanding officer in the case of a deviation from the original plan.
The admiral reached for a locked compartment in his command console. Biometrics opened the lock at his touch. He withdrew the envelope, slit it with ceremonial dagger, and pulled out the hardcopy packet. He was a quick reader; perusing the top sheets took very little time.
They made for most edifying reading...
Boskonian Sector Command Dome
"We must regretfully decline, milady."Somehow, I'm not surprised. Unreliable assets.
"Admiral Maiek, this is of critical importance to the overall battle plan, including your own fellow Kavoolites; if the Prussian battlecruisers are allowed to strike at the interdictor with impunity, victory will become impossible."
"I have my orders."
"Those orders would seem ill-advised. The situation has changed; your missile harriers could easily tip the balance, committed to another attack."
"Nevertheless, I have my orders."
"Those orders are ill-advised in the extreme, I think, more so than you realize. I'm on the moment of victory here; this is a bad time for your Empire to get cold feet."
The Kavoolite chuckled. How DARE he?
"The Empire is not without intelligence of its own. I don't know who you really are, or where you came from, but I know the fate of those who trust you too far. Or do you deny the involvement of your minions in the fate of the honorable, if lawless, Keldrog? And the thousands of defective dummy 'missiles' your people have supplied to the Zebesian fortress batteries?"
"I say again, this is not the time for doubts. You've committed too many assets to this campaign; how will you justify such a complete failure?"
"I don't need to. As I said, I have my orders for what to do when your plans start changing. And I believe those orders are quite reasonable, given the precedents."I must bring him back under control...
Persuasion was failing; threats? "And you believe it prudent to abandon me at such a time?"
"Very much so, given how you've used others under similar circumstances."
She hated political judgment in an asset. "Really, admiral, do you think you- or your amusing little 'empire-' are in a position to betray me and get away with it? I suggest that you reconsider..."
"I do not fear you, treacherous alien harpy!"
A pit opened in Zokolova's mind.
She felt the hellish flickers dancing in her eyes; knew that her voice was slipping the leash she usually kept on it when dealing with these insubordinate backwater savages, but she was past caring. Her reply to Maiek's defiance came out as a low, baleful hiss, one that didn't sound particularly human, let alone sane.
"It's been a long time since anyone chose to make themselves my personal
enemy of their own free will, Kavoolite. This will be... refreshing."
She cut the circuit, struggling to concentrate on tactics rather than on the red mist pounding in her head. Think. You can still salvage the situation, limit the damage. Revenge is for later. Business before pleasure.
Long years of discipline had drilled those lessons into her; she would not
make the mistake of losing sight of her own interests at the first taunt.
A warning to the interdictor station- no, that would be superfluous; the skeleton crew had long since fled via shuttle, leaving the job of managing the station to its computers. For keeping a fleet locked down the expert systems were perfectly capable of running unsupervised. That they wouldn't be able to do so against two fleets at once was a limit of the hardware, not the operators.Cosmog.
She needed to alert Cosmog. Then the asset fleets, but Cosmog first. A thought and a gesture summoned the admiral's holographic image, floating in the simulator tank. Making the appropriate gesture of abasement, the moogle was first to speak.
"My humble apologies, High Admiral! The lost cruisers-"
Even Zokolova had difficulty keeping up a state of murderous rage while carrying on discussions with the chubby little fluffball. Even knowing what that keen, ruthless tactical mind was capable of, he still had a certain... je ne sais quoi
. She cut off his attempt at self-justification.
"Irrelevant. Your reasoning is understood will be addressed at a later time."
"Your orders, then?"
"Expect Sixth Battlecruisers to attack interdictor grid, letting Enemy reinforcements attack you from behind. Be prepared to retreat. Keep sensor watch out, but continue to do as much damage to Prussians as is consistent with escape."
Recommended listening: Battle on the IceKaiser-class Battleship Prinzregent Luitpold
Flagship Second Fleet
"Word from Rear Admiral Meurer, sir..."
"Put him through."
Admiral Gregor von Mückenberger had made a pretty good guess as to the situation from the numbers alone. Meurer's grim, ashen face confirmed the guess. "We've knocked out five of those damn plasma destroyers for the loss of two of our screening vessels, but Flamme
are out of solid shot. They're throwing flak rounds with the fuzes switched off. That can't last, and my other ships are down to seven percent of magazine capacity."
"Secondary and tertiary weapons?"
"Better, but we can't use
them, except at point blank range…"
"How are you for fuel?"
"No more than forty-five minutes at this rate, sir, sixty if we ease off on evasion and try to take more hits on the armor, if
"I know." At this point, their main power demands were dodging and powering shields; the new Zebesian fleet was fighting a long range action and were putting far more kilotons on target than his own command. Doing less dodging and accepting more hits on bare hull would keep the power flowing longer, at the price of more damage to the outer hull and armor belts; putting more power into the active defenses meant running out of fuel sooner- and a ship without fuel would die quickly in this environment.
They'd have to take the risk, to get those extra minutes. Von Mückenberger nodded. "Do it. That'll be a general order shortly. And Meurer?"
"Word from the allies; the Eoghans are working on a plan to knock out the interdictor platform from long range with FTL torpedoes. They could break through in half an hour or so."
"Thank you, sir!" Meurer saluted; von Mückenberger cut the circuit.
What he hadn't
told Meurer about the message he'd gotten from the Centralist flagship was that the Eoghans were launching from a range best described as "around the orbit of Pluto." Granted the Eoghan weapons had the speed
to cross the distance, but he had no idea if the their 'aether torpedoes' had the drive endurance- and he was damned sure they didn't have the guidance to find a target a few kilometers across from several light-hours away. He assumed the allies expected to land hits somehow, but it was a forlorn hope, an obvious one. He was doomed- doomed and betrayed, with those few of his ships that had the fuel and ammunition to fight having quit the fields like the mincing little cowards they were…
He wanted to sink his head into his hands, but couldn't- one must keep up appearances. It was all collapsing around him. These impossible will-o-wisps in front of him, dancing away from his ships' bombardment and hammering him with their beam weapons, the same on the flanks, now those damned antimatter torpedoes coming in from dorsal. The only ships he had with enough ammunition to make a proper fight of it had cut and run, the damned cowards.No. No. No...
A voice over the intercom- the flag captain: "Brace for torpedo impacts!" The admiral's eyes flicked up to the plot- another salvo of antimatter missiles from the unengaged group to dorsal. Every few minutes, the Zebesian cruisers would fling several dozen more of those little high-speed fireballs. The damned things slipped by point defense, snickered at ECM. The only thing that stopped them reliably was pattern fire from nuclear missiles, and he only had so many of those left... and yes, the captain had been right, the torpedoes were headed straight for his flagship. All of them.Nein. Nein. Nein...
The enemy torpedoes had been launched in a staggered salvo, probably from Umerian-style launch tubes with small ready magazines, but these bastards didn't miss a trick. The individual groups flew at different accelerations to converge in a single massed bombardment against Prinzregent Leopold
. Flak and QF guns on the battleships tried to bring them down, but they came in fast and clever, weaving back and forth, and their narrow profiles made them difficult to kill with barrage fire. He watched one of the torpedoes fly straight through the heart of a flak burst without even noticing it, slipping between the fragments even as two on either side vanished from the plot...
The ship rocked, groaned, convulsed as antimatter blasts flared round her on all sides. Shield generators groaned under the load, pouring more power through fast as their busbars could move it, trying to hold the defensive fields together... then failed.
were, in this respect, a testament to Prussian engineering. Individual defensive panels failed, yes- but slowly and gracefully, breakers cutting out before the generators themselves overloaded and destroyed themselves, and careful design work ensuring that failing panels didn't sabotage the last-ditch resistance of their neighbors. By the time the flagship's shields went down, virtually all the Kavoolite torpedoes had already detonated, and they would no doubt have ridden out the missile attack well enough, with minimal, superficial damage.
Unfortunately, Prinzregent Luitpold
was also under fire from a Boskonian battlecruiser and three destroyers at the time. What the Kavoolites had started, Cosmog's macrobeams did their best to finish.
Nothing made of atoms could absorb that torrent of fire unmarked. Ultrawaves howled against the battleship's bare hull, thunderbolt-intense but far more than thunderbolt-powerful. No earthly bolt of lightning carried its power along a track meters across; no earthly bolt of lightning continued to cling to its target for second after second, rather than expending all its limited reserves of force in a single microsecond-long spark. The high-capacity ablatives of the flagship's outermost protective belt boiled away first by hundreds, then by thousands of tons, buying seconds of life for the Prussians as they burned to and beyond the point of vaporization, continuing to refract energy away from the hull even when reduced to a cloud of ionized gas.
The macrobeams tore into the heavy armor underneath. But this too was to prove a stubborn line of defense, a sandwich of meter-thick slabs of complex metamaterials, ultradense metals, and hyper-refractory ceramics. Cunningly aligned cofferdam spaces filled with low-density materials channeled superheated vapor away from the protective layers underneath, protecting them from the secondary effects of the Boskonians' fire. That bought still more time, allowing each millimeter of armor to resist to the utmost against the direct effects- again, to vaporization and beyond; the great theme of the design being to keep as much durable matter as possible in the path of enemy fire as long as possible.
By this point, the crews were beginning to react to their predicament, knowing they had seconds only to save the ship. In desperation, the helmsman redlined the ship's lateral thrusters, firing wildly in an attempt to sideslip the enemy's targeting. It wasn't enough- the macrobeams walked off target now and then, tracked onto undamaged armor rather more often, but kept drilling, if at reduced speed. Soon they were through the main armor belt entirely.
Normally, at this point a ship would be quickly destroyed. Prussian warships were not normal in this respect. When it came to their resistance to enemy fire, they had a hard crust, yes, but they didn't have a soft interior. They were, to paraphrase the original orkish, "bastard covered bastards with bastard filling." The macrobeams splashed against emergency barrier screens thrown up inside the hull, refracted into cofferdam spaces, and smashed headlong into countless bulkheads- bulkheads crossing the ship in all directions, each one made of the same kind of heavy, refractory, resistant materials that went into the main armor belt.
Far and away the majority of the Boskonians' energy was expended uselessly on titanic masses of armor plate. But the incoming fire was
destroying systems, burning out compartments one by one. Soon deep rents, blazing with steel-mill heat, carved into the battleship's outer hull.
Disclaimer: Prussian battleship may not appear as depicted. However, the large glowing holes in it do.
It was this that caused the ship's forward auxiliary engines to break down at last- they could handle the temperatures, but couldn't handle having their power cut. And it was this that saved the ship. With her maneuvering thrust unbalanced, the ship's energetic attempts to dodge light-speed weapons fire became something more complex: a barely controlled three-dimensional spiral.
Gravitics scrambled to keep the acceleration from smashing her crew to paste as the battleship's acceleration whipsawed back and forth through the full range of her performance envelope in a matter of milliseconds- but they succeeded. And no fire control system could keep track of something so inherently unpredictable: a ship pitching and yawing wildly, her main engines thrown into the balance, a target unpredictable in three dimensions, on a course dictated more by random systems failures than by any intent of the helm.
The maneuvers were unsustainable- the crew was hopelessly disoriented within the first seconds, and the stresses on the ship's hull frames would have torn her apart in minutes- but they bought still more time. And Prinzregent Luitpold's
sheer resistance had finally bought her enough
time. The guns of Bödicker's Second Battle Squadron turned on the flagship's tormentors, bringing an end to her minutes of agony.
Von Mückenberger, meanwhile, was trying not to pass out from disorientation after being slung around at several dozen gravities along a trajectory that resembled a roller-coaster as designed by M.C. Escher. The accelerations he'd felt
weren't nearly so bad, thanks to quick-acting gravitics, but that just meant he hadn't been crushed flat. Looking down to be sure his arms and legs were still there and hadn't been rearranged while the world turned inside-out on him, he tried to make sense of the chaos on the flagship status display.
Main battery at seventy percent, missile cells forward a total loss, but they were empty anyway... some major computing nodes burned out, but nothing that wasn't at least triple-redundant. The worst thing was the loss of steering forward, but the ship was still combat-capable. The admiral nodded to himself, then sighed.
The unengaged dorsal group was making his command's situation far more difficult. Damn
von Musel! He'd needed
those battlecruisers and their ammunition! Combined with the heavy beam fire from the enemy's center, those torpedo barrages posed a serious threat to his command, as he had just learned to his pain. He had a horrible feeling that this experience was going to be repeated for many of his ships, many times before help arrived- if
Recommended Listening: Moving MountainsValkyrie-class Battlecruiser SMS Brunhild
Flagship Sixth Battlecruiser Squadron
"Von Reuental had me worried for a minute. That man bears watching, Kircheis."
"He's a lot like you, in some ways."
"Perhaps." And perhaps I bear watching too...
They were coming up on the destination point- and thank what gods there be, the array hadn't
turned out to be capable of stopping two fleets in opposite directions at the same time. Anyone still on that station must be getting desperate, and rightly so; they were in a nutcracker. He'd had all his ships on a hair-trigger alert approaching the array- painfully slow covering the last light-days in hyper, ready to drop out at the first hint that the buzzing static jamming the space to coreward of the array would expand to envelop his own command. No such hints had come.
Transition passed as usual- it was practically undetectable when it was planned properly, though the secondary effects of machinery shifting and changes in artificial gravity as sublight drives powered up were noticeable. Not too disconcerting, though, and Reinhard had much more important things to worry about.
They knew roughly where their target was; from hyperspace it lit up like a flare as the source of its own massive interdiction fields. Pinpointing in normal space was, if anything, harder- and yet utterly vital. Every minute they waited meant a greater risk they'd come back to a destroyed fleet.
"Sensors, target profile on that interdictor."
"Target bearing plus thirty by minus fifty-two, squadron relative. Range five point three million kilometers; target discrimination... bad, margin of error point four milliradians. Enemy EW very effective." Some kindly junior officer zoomed a section of the main tactical plot in on the target- or rather, the misshapen, flowing blob with the target was probably somewhere inside. Small craft buzzed around the station- must be from the allied contingents.
"Order to all ships: close the range at speed, keep trying to crack that jamming. Sensors, try to get a profile on those small craft from CIC."
The next minute seemed to last forever- finally, a reply came in.
"Looks like an Eoghan design- Heim-capable, can't be all that well armed. Not sure what they're doing, sir, though they do seem to be pecking away with fighter-weight weapons." Interesting
. Clearly, someone out there had decided to try and get something
into operational range of the interdictor; with hyperspace locked down, that left Heim drive. Which left them out of effective weapons range unless... hmm. Just how far could the Eoghans throw those torpedoes of theirs, in an emergency? He suspected he was about to find out.
"We've got it down to point three six milliradians." Still unacceptable.
"Keep trying." If they had to get in close for a fire solution, so be it, but that would consume precious minutes, and he was cutting the timing too close as it was.
"Sir, I've got a flare of exotics, looks like... querying CIC... Heim field came in at around 40c, then collapsed. Must be one of those aether torpedoes."
Reinhard nodded. "Any indication of damage?"
"No sir, the station must be very well shielded. And I see two more coming in... overshot. Passing us to starboard." Blurred lines on the display marked the path of the torpedoes as they screamed past at something over four hundred thousand kilometers' distance- a nicely safe distance, but discouraging.They must be firing nearly blind...
It would be a desperation tactic to take potshots with something as expensive as those missiles had to be, but at this range, what choice did they have? Maybe those small craft buzzing around the station were trying to spot the target for the Eoghans' torpedo fire.
But even if they were sporadic, those hits were exploitable. "Sensors, try to get a fix on the target from those exotics." No EW system he'd ever heard of could fake a direct hit from an FTL missile; if the blasts from the Eoghan weapons didn't give them something to lock onto, nothing would.
Again the interminable wait. The Eoghans scored another hit, several more misses, and flares in the deep field from what looked like tiny Heimships coming apart in mid-flight. Drive burnouts? Some of them were almost impossibly far short of their target; the aliens' attack must be a forlorn hope indeed. Another hit...
"Message from Reginlief
; they're getting it! Target uncertainty down to six microradians and dropping." Not too bad- almost good enough, given a reasonable estimate of how big that station had to be.
"Very good. Tell them to keep on it, and share their findings. Also-" a pause for thought, but one imperceptible to an outside observer- "Message to the Sixth and Eleventh: "All ships, roll to present broadside, stand by for time on target attack on my mark." Then get those Eoghan craft out of the line of fire."
The mongoosoids' little guncraft were obviously trying, but their own weapons weren't even warming up the station's shields. The torpedoes, for all their massive, space-warping punch, weren't doing the job either: not quite
enough power per shot to bring the defenses down in one go, and not hitting often enough to grind it down.
Could he do better? Time to find out, as the speedy gun-shuttles flowed away to a safe distance from the station.
"Target discrimination down to one microradian, sir, we're resolving the target..." A spot on subspace scanners, a different-shaped spot on radar pulses that were finally
returning. Kilometers of metallic field emitter arrays, no doubt dotted with the shield generators and jammers that made this target a hard one- but the idea of component shots at this range was a joke; the best they had much hope of doing was concentrating an area bombardment into a small enough volume to put all their rounds on a target that size.
Seconds ticked by- the rounds were already in the ready magazines, but a squadron fire plan took a bit of time. Finally, all ships' indicators flicked green, gunnery computers done with their work.
bucked sharply as the first broadside crashed out the tubes- a crisp, computer-controlled volley spaced by less than a millisecond. The next broadside- was it psychosomatic, or was the ripple bigger? Hard to say; he knew
the second lot of rounds went out the tubes a few hundred KPS faster, but enough to feel? Then the next, and the next.
Every ship in the Sixth and the Eleventh poured it on, as fast as the busbars and loaders could bear. Each broadside faster, carrying a fraction more energy, with the muzzle velocities precisely calibrated. Barrel temperatures rose, organic supercoolant boiled off and trickled heat outward; the weapons officers knew their jobs though, and nothing went past redline before the final salvo went out the tubes at 108% of rated power. Cooling jackets glowed brick red, but that was within parameters, and the guns were already cooling off.
Nothing to do but wait; the rounds should
be on target, but time of flight was measured in minutes... he leaned forward against his chair's shock frame, teeth on edge- he almost jumped for a split second before he realized the steadying hand on his shoulder was Kircheis, then relaxed... just in time to see a massive flash on subspace, shield scatter from over a thousand slugs hitting the interdictor's shields in the space of a millisecond.
"Picture clearing... field is still up!"Mother of God...
A battleship would have folded under a hit like that- if it were possible to do it against a maneuvering target, at any rate. "Anything more?"
"Should have spectroscopy in a few minutes, when the signal gets back, sir."
"Carry on." No way to hurry, that was a light speed sensor. "All ships, prepare for second time-on-target attack." This would take more time- cycling rounds up to the ready magazines, waiting for the guns to cool. Reinhard imagined lines of spacers transferring twenty-kilo slugs into the autoloaders by hand down in Turret Emil, for all the worlds as if nothing had changed in fifteen hundred years since Coronel and the Dogger Bank...
More minutes, more tension. He looked back at Kircheis, who smiled. "We'll get them, sir."
"Oh, we will." If I have to burn our barrels white doing it.
"Sir, we've got confirmed metal vapor from those last rounds- iron, beryllium, must have gotten burnthroughs. Some damage at least."
"Good." Very good indeed- they could kill this thing, hard as it might be. Reinhard checked the status lights. All green except for Güdr
- they were having trouble with turrets Anton and Bruno, apparently.
Again the rhythmic crashes of the Valkyrie
's main battery, building to a crescendo. Again the long wait, the muttered prayers from down by the bridge stations. Again the blaze of shield scatter through subspace, with no data from the lightspeed sensors for minutes to come. Again the shock as the target appeared,
by some impossible feat of endurance to survive the barrage...
And cheers from every rating within earshot as the seething chaos of the hyperspace interdiction field started to evaporate, like a fogbank suddenly exposed to the noonday sun.