Previously on Battle of Zebes:
Klaxons screamed. Every status light burned red. Captain Stack howled in rage and frustration.
Leaning against the bulkhead, Major Strakanoff snickered. "Turns out explosively unstable ion cannons are unstable and explode. Who knew?"
Recommended Listening: Third Movement, Carl Neilsen's Fourth SymphonyDisruptor Cruiser Ludelatar
Temporary Flagship, Kavoolite Contingent
Admiral Delion's frown relaxed a little as he saw the light code of the human battleship- not that it affected his command. Then his grimace restored itself at the look on the ensign's face; that told him the news all by itself.
"Confirmed, sir. Definitely stealthed units, striker tonnage. No certain confirmation the cruiser-class contacts, though Tactical swears they're real."
"Understood." The ship's weathered old tactical officer was a veteran of twenty campaigns and more exercises than Delion had seen weekends; he'd take the man's word for it. What did the Eoghans have to play with in the way of stealth ships- light missile combatants, cruiser-sized short range beam platforms that were by all accounts even harder to spot than the missile ships. In their shoes... he'd take a gamble on the beam ships getting into position, then drop missiles in from long range as the heavier stealth units closed for the kill. Force the enemy to react to disparate threats. How to break up their coordination?
"Torpedo launch against the large
enemy stealth craft, the unconfirmed contacts, straight course angled off the target, then engage designators and dogleg onto targets at three quarter point." If the Eoghans didn't work out they'd been spotted, the sudden floodlighting from his subspace illuminators would give the torpedoes good targets, while catching the enemy by surprise. Maybe he could cripple the superfrigates enough to ignore them... Minutes ticked by; this salvo was an easier job for the crews than before, until suddenly the hazy, possible-contact blobs on the monitor in front of him became hard, discrete points as the frigates abandoned all pretense of stealth and barreled straight for him.Damn. They must have guessed what I'm up to.
Which meant he couldn't catch them unawares, and with that many beam weapons he was fairly sure they could kill most of his missiles.
"Light designators now, active-guide them in."
There was still time for his command to outrun them, or at least stay out of the worst of their range envelope; the Eoghan superfrigates were designed more as assassins than as sprinters. But it would mean taking some very heavy risks, leaving the Gron ships particularly naked to the cruisers' fire, unless... the Kavoolite nobleman's teeth skinned back from his lips, in a grin his distant ancestors would have recognized quite well in the old days of cold steel and courage.
"Signal the Gron: all ships boost at maximum acceleration, evading the enemy medium units. Expect a missile attack from stealthed craft shortly, should be within your defense capacity. We'll keep the cruisers off your backs."
His ships turned away from the vector of the approaching Eoghans- the torpedoes were just now getting close... Delion prayed for a better hit rate than he expected, and didn't get it. A few of the antimatter charges got through, and it looked like his torpedomen had managed a few shield-cracking hits, but the damage was nowhere near decisive.Such is life
. At least he'd get a chance to show the alien invaders the Imperial Navy at its best, before they hounded him out of the system.
Cruiser CNS Theseus
Flagship Centralist Contingent
Brevet Rear Admiral Gever Liggs' eyes went wide as the battleship Frod
exploded.Oh shit.Oh shit oh sh- snap out of it, you idiot!
So much for the "standoff energy bombardment" plan. He'd really been hoping for that one; his other plan was a lot riskier, even with the precedent of von Musel's actions. And it'd been working well enough- his fleet, reinforced by the Prussian battlecruisers, had made good practice battering the strange ships of the Zebesian center with plasma, ion, and railgun fire. From the looks of some of that shield scatter, the enemy battleship and a few of the escorts wouldn't have lasted long. But Captain Stack and the Cannon had been landing at least as much fire on the target as half his other ships put together; without them, it was time for the backup plan.
Could he do it? Judging the vectors... barely, a close run thing; they'd never have let him get this close if they knew what his carriers were capable of. Still, he could do it.
"All ships, concentrate plasma batteries on the enemy battleship, it looks lamed. Comscan, signal Brunhild
, and politely suggest
that von Musel- never mind." The Prussian was already lobbing his squadrons' next salvo at the battleship. Time of flight was still fairly long, but not long enough- not when the enemy flagship had lost its inertialess drive; its normal engines weren't doing much good to get it out of the way of the incoming. They were scoring hits, and would score more.
The battleship concentrated all its power on defense, but Liggs winced as beams from one of the smaller Zebesian battlecruisers swept onto- and through-
a pair of his frigvettes. Noisy Cricket
just... melted away; that had to be a concentrated attack. Stormduck
*, pressed with less force by the enemy's heavy beam armament, at least left an intact, recognizable hulk, but hard to say if anyone aboard had survived. This was as bad as Hawk's Nest.
Then again, fighting capital ships had its compensations- Liggs wouldn't soon forget the moment when a sheaf of plasma bolts broke through the Zebesian battleship's shields and lit off... either those ships had truly bad fuel safety on their antimatter supply, or they came with self-destruct charges.
The Zebesians reaction supported Liggs' guess; the battleship had
been their flagship. They broke off course, in different directions, zig-zagged back toward each other as they each realized they still wanted mutual support... they looked like a small swarm of very confused fireflies. The perfect opportunity, if his plan would work at all, and there was only one way to find out.
"Lead division, advance!"
*A predatory bird native to the tropics of one of the Centralist core worlds, this highly water-resistant avian prefers to stalk other birds for prolonged periods, then wait for the chaotic winds and heavy rains of an intense storm to actually catch them, when they are unable to fly away. The stormduck is a slow but determined flyer, and can navigate almost anything short of hurricane-force winds
Patriot-class Heavy Cruiser USS Layla Daniels
Engaging Subfleet Cosmog
Wenli Yang twirled a fresh stylus round his fingers- this
time making sure he had a spare handy in case he dropped it.
He'd winced like everyone else when Frod
blew up, but the rest of the Centralist fleet kept pouring it on. From their latest maneuvers, Liggs definitely had things under control over there.
The Umerian's attention was needed for his own ships; he had a narrow window to make this work. Spin through comm channels... there. "They're switching fire. Signal to cutters, begin boosting for strike."
And now for the one to Ulysses'
flag bridge, was it... had to be that one. "Dusty?"
"Yes, admiral sir?" His old friend's goofy grin filled the corner frame of Wenli's display.Thank the stars they didn't give me a martinet as a screen commander; I'd go mad...
"Fire on your ships has dropped off, yes?"
"And just in time; Hubermann
was taking a pounding. I won't complain, but are you sure they can take it?"
"The strike cruisers? They'll be fine; besides, the crews are all bunkered down in the core hull."
"So what do you want from me?"
"Torpedoes, with a side order of sector jamming. See the cutters?"
"Uh... oh! Time it with them?"
"Right. You still have time, but- all jets when the moment comes."
"Yessir." Dusty's eyes had already drifted from the camera; from the way they were bouncing back and forth, he was pretty sure the rear admiral was figuring courses for that torpedo attack.
"Out." Wenli cut the circuit.
Destroyer CNS Carpenter
Attached to Task Group 17
Approaching Zebesian Defectors
Commander Jiors Leander kept no more than half an eye on the satisfactory hit rate Carpenter
's plasma guns were keeping up on the Zebesians; the rest of his attention was on the main plot. Under the circumstances it mattered more to get a sense for the overall attack, make sure he didn't wind up dancing his ship into a compromising position at close range. Take in the patterns, whose ships were doing what, and how...Wait.
That wasn't right. His eyes flicked across the spray of small craft pushed out among and ahead of the starships- bigger Fireballs tucked in towards the wall of cruisers and destroyers, the Hawks spread into multiple skirmish units in the van... and what were they doing that far out anyway? Hawks were, had to be given the lightweight variant most of the task force's light carriers used space superiority fighters. The room for antiship ordnance, big enough to threaten anything over corvette tonnage- not there.
Why were interceptors flying point for a strike mission? They had to know- step back, they had to know about
the Zebesian missile frigates, but if Sollen hadn't thought to check about what happened before they'd arrived...
That was a hybrid formation. Fighters in front, attrite the missile launch, push through and deliver the Fireballs' missiles and the coilgun punch as best one could. Not much timing, not much finesse, energy on target from whatever was lucky enough to survive the enemy's final protective fire. It was by the book but neither fish nor fowl, best saved for 'do and die.'
Here, it risked dangling out those Hawks for Zebesian point defense when they didn't have anything worthwhile to shoot back. A
plan, yes, but the right one? Hardly.
Try to get them to reorganize? Upside: fewer casualties in the carrier wings, more damaged ships finished off with less trouble, possibly less risk of taking a bolt from one of those axial guns up the engine bells. Downside: if Captain Sollen took exception, trouble for trying to sidestep the chain of command. Quite a bit. Too much?
Worry about that later. For now, keep those lunatic would-be hive minds in the space wing from dying to no purpose. He might not be senior to Sollen, but he was senior in grade to the Grand High Fighter Jock of the moment; there was the angle.
"Comscan, get me a line to those Hawks."
A reply echoed up from one of the pits set in the bridge floor. "Yes, sir, brachiating the chain of command... aaand you're on in five."
Leander nodded, striding over to his command console and leaning over the microphone.
"Seventeen-Space-Group Leader, this is Carpenter
"...I read you, Carpenter.
" The reply sounded a touch abstracted, not surprising given that the group leader was undoubtedly busy feeding telepathic cues to his wingmen. The whole scheme unnerved him a little; Leander was just as glad not to be a carrier skipper.
"Tactical update, Group leader: their missile ships are empty. This is pure strike, not missile defense. Pull your lead echelon in, behind
our ECM envelope. Fireballs in the van, twenty seconds ahead of the main body." That last was as per doctrine- throw the gunships, with their heavier EW fits and missile armament, in with short range missiles at the same time the starships got in close enough to be a real threat. Catch the enemy between two stools, offer a choice between missile defense and dodging coilgun slugs; with luck they'd try to do both and fumble at least one. A beautiful tactical evolution, if they could bring it off on short notice like this. If they would
Someone with more brass on their collars would say it wasn't his place to decide, but- obvious move, how else
to do it?
The small craft commander had been suspiciously quiet.
"Noted, sir-" and Leander found himself willing
the group leader to be smart enough not to take the poster lines like "grist in the mills of the State" as an invitation rather than a grim statement of final necessity...
No one saw Leander's carefully controlled, slowly released sigh of relief when the Hawks started pulling back.
Missile Frigate Gacknik
Out of Ammo and Being Used as Bait
Jobblod clattered his fingers against his knee. "I never thought I'd thank Zarquod for smart enemies."
Nugak couldn't help but agree. He didn't much care for whoever was in charge of this fleet. That guy must be a real scumchewer- he'd ordered the creepy pincer guys with the arm cannons to hassle the battery crew, he'd bailed out on Frugus, gotten the admiral's ships killed and the planet bombed. And Nugak especially
didn't care for the guy now that he'd tried to use Gacknik
and the other missile ships to draw fire from his plasma destroyers.
But the humans, the... U-mer
-yans or whatever, hadn't fallen for it. They'd kept right on zapping the destroyers with their particle cannon, and some of the Urtraghan heavy-beam ships were starting to look the worse for wear- all Nugak could see was trajectories, but when a ship kept flying in an expanding spiral instead of a straight line, it was usually a sign that something was knocked out of shape.
He was glad he wasn't a plasma gunner right now. All the Urtraghan beam ships could do was bob back and forth and pop off shots with their main cannon once in a while. It wasn't working out too well for them... or. Um. Wait.
"Chief? Could you take a look at this? Is it just me or is that one..."
"You mean Target Eight? The one that's about our size?"
"Yeah. Is something funny about them?"
"You mean aside from the way they're dodging like a scritter on hop-drugs?"
"I mean, the shields. Ack. Can't explain, chief, I don't know what to call it."
"No kidding. But- quiet. I think... yeah, that's real funny. Haven't seen that since the Hakka Nebula. That is not
normal. Definitely some flutter in there. If anyone's awake over on the big gun ships, watch for fireworks, kid."
Nugak watched- three of the plasma destroyers, the smaller Type A's, must be awake after all. They spun, killing their engines but bringing the big axial guns to bear... some flashes from the ships as they fired, nothing he could really interpret. But whoever was doing the shooting must be really good, because some of those shots were landing even though the human ship was click-dancing like crazy.
Some very strange aqua light codes appearing around it... then the whole thing vanished in a cloud of sparkles and a little simulated fireball.
"Look, guys! We got one!"
"One of the big ones?"
"No, a normal-size one. But still!"
"Woo-hoo! That'll teach 'em!"
The chief clattered for attention. "Hang on, guys. Order from main fire control. "Prepare to accept decoys from reserve magazine.""
"We've still got decoys left? Cool. I love those things."
"Yeah, I thought we'd shot them all off going up against those Prussian warbirds."
The chief roared in irritation. "SHUT UP! I gotta set this up right! Jobblod, Kurgo, you are both getting it when this is over!"
Nugak winced. Glad that's not me
. He had his own piece of the puzzle to watch- whichever of the humans' fleets had decided to go pick on the Kavoolites was having the usual troubles. Lots of them.
Kadabra-designation Warcruiser Anxo
Flagship Eoghan Contingent
Commodore Pdeudemar, Eoghan First Cruiser Squadron, hissed quietly as the Zebesian battlegroup made their turn and fired up their engines. One of the plasma destroyers, the one that had taken a heavy railgun strike from his cruisers, wasn't going to make it, but the other ships... that course change had turned the stealth frigates from a decisive weapon into a secondary factor, all by itself. He'd seen this coming the minute they "blind-fired" that sheaf of torpedoes towards the frigates. Someone over there had good eyes. Too good.
Also... their ships were turning, everyone but
the plasma destroyers. Which was very strange; so far the other Zebesian ships seemed to have no trouble with firing their weapons in any direction they pleased. No sign of heavy axial weapons for them to throw at him, so why would they turn away from a course that gave them the quickest possible escape? Something was wrong.
Ten ships turned; ten ships came about, aiming their bows at Pdeudemar's cruisers. Ten ships blurred
The ship's neural implant network was better at conveying subconscious impressions than numbers or data- more used to set context for what to do than to tell
what to do. For just over a quarter of a second, the network conveyed a quite uniform impression to all crew tapped into it.<Uh-oh.>
The Eoghan commodore was a fast thinker; he put two and two together in the fractional second available. But there was simply no order to give, no way to anticipate what would happen or communicate it to anyone in a position to act on it. Not before the Kavoolites dropped out of Heim drive, only a few thousand kilometers astern of his trailing cruiser, and dumped a point-blank rain of disruptor bolts into the cruiser Brais
, with her shields focused forward, expecting those same weapons from ahead, from the place where the enemy had been just a eyeblink ago.
The first seconds of tactical surprise had to be reconstructed afterwards; no one had a clear picture of them at the time. Most of the Eoghan crews reacted well enough, but there was no time for thought or analysis- time for nothing but automatic training and fast twitch reflexes. The cruisers' responses were diverse. Some slewed rapidly round trying to bring lightning-gun broadsides to bear; others stayed in place and let their casemates rotate onto target, or concentrated on getting a kinetic javelin mount configured to do the job. Fire control scrambled to get a lock on new targets.
Some of the mad scramble went to cross purposes- there was no time to talk, no time for helmsmen to tell gunners which way
the ship was turning. Computers didn't care and took their shots as they found them; light blaster guns under central fire direction started hosing down the Zebesian attackers in short order. The Eoghan controllers on the heavy javelin and railgun mounts did
care, and with seconds to react, never got the chance to get a shot off.
After dumping the on-mount capacitors for their antiship disruptors into Brais
, the Kavoolite cruisers linked up with their damaged warbird cousins to finish the firing pass with another spread of torpedoes, then relit their drives and darted away and out of range.
Pdeudemar hissed again, louder. The torpedoes' accuracy didn't impress, and a lot of them detonated uselessly, at long standoff ranges where they barely scratched their targets- was something wrong with their guidance? Perhaps so, but between the deep holes left by the Zebesian beam weapons and what few of those agile little missiles had
gotten on target... Brais
was much, much the worse for wear. Thin sheets of venting flame showed breaches of the pressure hull, and the cruiser's acceleration was dropping fast.
"Report from comm section on Brais
, sir, a beam cut through to the bridge. No word from the captain."
The commodore's eyes flashed. "Alert all ships, be prepared for all-round attack, but concentrate on the rear quarter."
The stern aspect was particularly vulnerable on a warcruiser; ahead there were heavy guns and strong point defense, on the broadsides plenty of casemates, but directly behind, nothing but the kinetic javelins and countermissile launchers could bear. The javelins were strong, but not that
"Sir, I'm looking at camera footage from the attack run, those ships look damaged!"
The intelligence officer's first squeaks came after
he'd taken the initiative to bounce those pictures to Pdeudemar's screen. Pdeudemar twitched agreement; the staffer was right. He could use that, hopefully.
The commodore risked a glance at the situation ahead with the stealth ships' half-foiled ambush. His stealth frigates had started slaloming back and forth across their base course to throw lightning-gun broadsides at the distant, fleeing plasma destroyers- no hits, the range was extreme for the frigates' inaccurate weapons, and opening fast. That part of the ambush had already been defeated. The Eoghan hoped his frigates would score enough hits in time to bring one down, but he didn't expect much. Probably they'd finish off the damaged Zebesian raider with javelin fire as soon as the disappointment shook out. There was that at least.
Recommended Listening: Fourth Movement, Nielsen's Fourth Symphony
Back to the rest of the Zebesian force- though the sheer diversity of their behavior was making Pdeudemar suspicious. The dual-drive attack ships almost had
to be crewed by someone other than the common run of the mill; could there be multiple organizations at work here?
Quickly- too quickly- the enemy was making their turnaround; indecipherable scatters from communication beams suggested a round of tactical coordination. Three of Pdeudemar's skippers tried to interrupt the conversation with a salvo of railgun fire; the commodore's face twitched in amusement as the Zebesians crabbed sideways to get out of the line of fire. He could almost hear the "eek!" coming from them.
That didn't do a lot of good, though; they really were far enough out to dodge almost anything the cruisers could throw. The Zebesians finished planning, spun to bear, and blurred
again. Pdeudemar felt rattling hisses scraping against his own flagship's shields- that had to be main battery beam weapons from the smaller cruiser-sized units, with some kind of low-intensity cadence effect heterodyned onto the beam to disrupt shielding. That secondary mode didn't pose much of a threat to the Eoghans' quasisolid shields in itself, but it certainly wasn't doing the generators any good to fend off a resonance attack while already struggling with the weapons' brute energy transfer.
Still, though, their disruptor fire hadn't cracked any of his command's shields yet. His own crews almost
had the heavy javelins configured, it only took seconds. Pdeudemar inhaled in anticipation of the first heavy antiship bolts against their hulls... and the dual-drive ships swirled away again at twice lightspeed and rising, the echoes of their jamming fading like laughter in the ears.
Pdeudemar batted his whiskers furiously- so they wanted to play feint-feint-slash? With him
cast as the lumberer beast? Infuriating and yet... interesting. He relaxed a little, trying to get in touch with his inner mongoose; instinct could serve as much as the tactical manuals sometimes, even more so against an enemy like this than against the run of the mill. What was the pattern, what were they fighting like? Strike, dart away to comfortably long range where none of his energy weapons could reply effectively, line up another run, strike again under Heim drive.
Two could play at that game, at least partly. Pdeudemar checked ranges- it'd work. "Order to the destroyers, stop frolicking. Dump your missiles on those plasma destroyers now
; fire remaining aether torpedoes at enemy dual-drive ships as they come to rest after their attack runs, as targets present themselves."
He only had a few of the FTL weapons left after the failed bombardment he'd thrown at the Zebesian interdictor earlier, but whatever the politicians might chitter about expenses, those munitions existed to be used
. Pdeudemar was pleased to see the destroyers go to active sensors faster than he'd hoped and- yes!
- they were spinning ship and firing off-axis at the fleeing enemy ships; that would compromise accuracy a bit, but gave them better shots where it counted. Would anyone be able to line up on the Heim-jumpers?
The commodore got about what he'd expected, not what he'd hoped. Only one of the destroyers lined up a shot with confidence enough to risk an aether torpedo- aimed at one of the two light laser ships, and it seemed to be having trouble with its sublight drives. A good target. The torpedo flashed across the intervening light-seconds much as the Zebesian ships themselves had- too fast to follow over these distances- and what followed was the strangest fate the Eoghan commodore had ever seen a starship experience.
Kavoolite laser strikers were protected by crude, yet reasonably effective ellipsoidal bubble shields. Aether torpedoes impacted at impossible FTL speeds, in the midst of a collapsing Heim field; they often interacted strangely and unpredictably with shields, decaying on collision into sprays of tachyon-antitachyon pairs, sleptons and squarks. The results could be... exotic. Unusually so in this case- the laser striker's shields actually held against the impact, at least in a topological sense. Sadly, the once near-spherical shield bubble deformed under the impact, forming an ellipsoid roughly three kilometers wide and ten meters thick.
Needless to say, this did not leave much room for the ship. Deprived of its generators, the bubble shield dissolved in short order, opening up to reveal a large slab of pancaked wreckage. Pdeudemar chirruped to himself as the other dual-drive ships jetted away from their rest points. With luck that would at least slow down their next attack run a bit-
Or not. Again the lightning-quick jump to visual range of his cruisers, but the crashing rain of point blank fire didn't burn into any more of his ships. All ships' alarms squawked as disruptor bolts and torpedoes strafed their defensive screens, but there was no concentration, no easy burnthrough here, and they danced away in short order. He hadn't slowed his enemy down; he'd startled them into speeding up
It wasn't fun and games, beings were dying, but forty million years of his mongoosoid ancestors were cheering him on as he waited for the next viperish strike. Let's see. Surprise, feint, this looked like an awkward off-balance slash, next should be another feint...
"Sir, those high-power fire control designators are picking up again, I think they're readying another missile attack on Cunedda
No, that couldn't be right, that would leave them naked for any of his destroyers' aether torps. "Stay poised, ready for all-round defense." Add-'javelins to the rear?' No, they'd figure that part out themselves.
He was expecting the blurring Heim-drive attack run this time, which made it a bit less startling.
Only three ships showed up this time- the large ones, astern of his command. Four ships got off Javelin shots, not bad since one of the ones that hadn't was Brais
. One went wide, one fired a diffused pressor blast that barely rippled the Zebesian's shields, expecting a missile attack. Iria
managed one hit and one near miss, but the shot was centered and didn't do much more than rattle the target. Carme
had better luck, spearing an enemy heavy cruiser with both barrels, bashing it out of line and leaving a sparkling trail of scatter off its deforming shields. Not a penetrating hit, or much of one, but at least it meant that only two
Kavoolite light warbirds were able to dump their ready magazines' antimatter torpedoes into Pdeudemar's command.
The heavier ships jumped out now, leaving the torpedoes behind to finish the job. They weren't split perfectly between the targets the disruptor cruisers' illuminator beams had picked out; the torpedoes' guidance receivers split about 70/30 in favor of Iria
, and the bulk of the weapons homed in on the damaged cruiser accordingly.Iria
had already shot off her kinetic javelins in antiship mode- she couldn't recharge them in time to fire another blast to fend off the missiles. The torpedoes had been set for close proximity; Delion wanted intense hits more than he wanted numerous ones. The Eoghans' jammers counted for a good deal, and a last-ditch spray of countermissiles knocked down about a third of the incoming, but far, far too many warheads got through.
Antimatter charges lit off at ranges of little over a kilometer. Cunedda
weathered the storm, though it flayed her shields and harrowed her surface mounts with deadly gamma radiation. Iria...
didn't. When the static of so many radiation counts blurring his flagship's detectors passed, the warcruiser was plainly a battered wreck, even at first glance. Pdeudemar could see
some of the glowing craters in the armor belt on magnification; at least one reached all the way down to the secondary armor belt over the ship's core. He doubted that ship would ever fight again.Not a diversion.
He'd miscalculated, and badly.
"Try to get in touch with someone on Iria
, we'll need to take the crew off."
Pdeudemar tweaked his mental image of the alien commander: more aggressive than he'd expected, quicker and more decisive on the attack, less interested in distraction, more slash and less feint. The Eoghan couldn't blame his enemy for that- the best way to deal with dangerous opposition was always
to go for the throat.
Could he use that, and properly
this time? Perhaps- and instinctive sense of timing flicked the commodore's eyes to the half of the plot set to large-scale and tracking his fleet. The destroyers' plasma missiles, fired from long range, were closing on the retreating enemy spinal-beam ships at last. Those targets looked hauntingly like the recordings from Hawk's Nest- perhaps crewed by the same saurians, or a different band from the same species.
Whoever manned them was covering their escape with all the defense fire at their disposal- wide-focus blasts of neutral plasma from their casemated secondaries, long bursts from quick-fire autoguns as tertiary missile defense. But point defense didn't serve them well; the Eoghan destroyers' plasma torpedoes were light, agile, and well shielded, much like the ones the Heim-jumpers kept throwing at him. Pdeudemar spared a quick glance; the dual-drive ships were still talking, still organizing the next run...
Far off to dorsal, there were a few complicated moments as the fleeing raiders blasted the Eoghan salvo with last-ditch ECM. That did them more good- trying to see through the plasma-shielding that gave them their name put limits on the acuity and sophistication of the sublight torpedoes' seekers. The raiders' EW suite put out a deafening roar of barrage jamming, stamping out active sensor pulses by sheer short-duration volume. Stunned and confused missile guidance systems reeled, lost track momentarily- at the last moment. Much of the salvo went off target.
After that, the four lead ships fared relatively well- they took hits on their shields, but weathered the attack with modest damage- rippling signatures, and the commnet relayed some promising spectroscopic results that suggested large divots blown out of their armor belts, but none of those four lost shields or drive power to any important degree.
The fifth, the one Brais
put a railgun slug into- through
- in the opening phase... not so well. Her shields and drives were plainly unbalanced by the hit that had torn up so much of the ship's structure, and where the wounded raider had managed well on the helm escaping javelin fire from Pdeudemar's beam-heavy frigates, the guided weapons of his destroyers found and struck their mark far more reliably. Something was off-key about her ECM output, and that. Missile after missile struck home, battering down screens of force and flaying into the raider's hull.
Reduced to a crippled hulk, the saurian plasma destroyer wallowed- barely accelerating but still turning. Out of control, or bringing their axial main gun to bear? It wouldn't matter much either way. Pdeudemar saw the frigates' targeting plans; as he'd expected they were lining up javelin shots to finish the wreck.
Damage to four targets and a de facto
kill on a fifth; not bad for the destroyers' sublight munitions, not against targets of that tonnage and competence. The destroyers celebrated their success with another aether-torp launch against the Heim-jumping main body. Three shots this time, and Pdeudemar realized with a glance at the plot that that was half the shots his destroyer squadron had left.
The dual-drive ships' point defense was practically useless against the FTL weapons, but ECM could and did baffle them. Two torpedoes missed entirely; the third speared the Kavoolite ship Visen
. The disruptor cruiser, made of sterner stuff than the laser ship hit on the last launch, rode out the strike better- she was merely wrecked beyond hope of repair, not obliterated.
Pdeudemar saw the light cruiser's image clouded by a spread of debris and escape pods. "Signal the destroyers, good shooting." Two hits of four launched- good under difficult combat conditions, if not ideal... Then the commodore hissed in alarm, snout quivering in reflex as he realized what the shift among the Heim-jumpers' formation meant. Alarm flashed across the ship's neural net, radiating from Pdeudemar towards his signals section.<Destroyers starburst!>
The mongoosoids in charge of the flagship's communications got the message faster than they could have parsed speech- a second or two shaved off response time, and in the event it made a difference. The Eoghan destroyers had already laid off the cheering to break away from their base course. Those extra seconds' warning bought them precious kilometers, a gain of distance that built steadily as four Heim-drive ships came about and blurred
. This time, the streak on the displays shot across the line of sight of Pdeudemar's warcruisers, rather than directly towards or away. The ships' sensor images split as subspace detectors tracked the motion in real, fractional-second time while lightspeed sensors reeled in confusion.
The surviving Kavoolite disruptor cruisers dropped out of Heim drive, wonderfully placed for an alpha strike with their main antiship beams, against ships poorly prepared to deal with such fire... and which happened to be some hundreds of kilometers and a radian's worth of arc away from where they were supposed to be. The Imperials tracked beams across the sky, walked them onto the targets, but the devastating initial slash was blunted.
Two cruisers tracked their beams onto the Eoghan missile destroyer Cloch-Sneachta.
A third added her fire a few seconds later, and through some trick of tuning they managed to accomplish something useful with the cadence effect heterodyned on their weapons. The light ship's defensive panels flashed, rippled, attenuated, and evanesced, leaving bare metal to be carved up by the heavy energy weapons at point blank.
The Kavoolites cut deep, then swung onto a second target- the destroyer Saighead
. This ship, already farther away, took the brunt of the attack better. The disruptor beams were just starting to leak power through the destroyer's shields when the first volley of guided railgun rounds from the cruisers arrived. They kept firing after that, but a few near misses from anticapital impactors shook them enough to get them turning, still blazing away from their weapon banks at Saighead
until the last moments of blurring FTL jump.
reports fifty percent power output and holding steady, Cloch-Sneachta
reports severe damage, shield generators overloaded and blew out. Her aetherics are down. The squadron is down to one
torpedo, one of Iomhair's
"Tell them to save it for later, then." Ambush-slash, feint, interrupted slash, jump to a new threat and hamstring it, then...
What would the Zebesians do next? Jump back to hit another of his crippled ships? Probably; those plasma destroyers were getting close to the limit, and it staggered belief that the Zebesians would keep risking close passes against his command like this once their ships without
Heim drives were clear. They'd done well against Pdeudemar so far, but the Eoghan had no intention of letting that last.
Finishing off a cripple would be appealing if he were in charge over there. Iria
. Pdeudemar paused and tapped his nose in irritation. He didn't like overriding his captains like this. If the next attack took the shape he expected, he needed them pointed on now
. That meant dragging individual ships to bear where he needed them, coordination at the expense of initiative... distasteful, but there was nothing for it.
"They're spotlighting our ships again, sir."
"All of them."
No clues about which targets he'd need to protect from that. He'd have to go by hunter's instinct.
set javelins to cover vector two hundred by minus thirty. Carme
Pdeudemar finished his orders, in full and unaccustomed detail. With the javelins locked on, there was nothing for it but to wait for the next pounce- and hope no gods meddled, hope he'd figured the angles right. The eight remaining Zebesians spun about- only three blurred towards his warcruisers. Another torpedo attack, then.
Pdeudemar had five cruisers left in something like shape to fight, with nine javelin mounts still working between them. Four to cover the patch of space directly behind Iria's
aft quarter where they'd appear if he was right, three covering Brais
where they might take a shot if he was almost-right, and two in reserve.
The commodore was as correct in his estimate of the unknown alien commander as he'd hoped. The first warbird, the former flagship Ravadrex
, took after Cunedda
- damaged twice in earlier actions, and ripe for a follow-up to wreck her entirely- not what he'd expected but not out of line. The other two of the Kavoolite ships jumped for Iria
to make sure of her with another spread of torpedoes... just as planned.Anxo
, Pdeudemar's flagship, did her best to drive off the pounce on Cunedda
, opening up with a spray of lightning-gun fire. They scored some hits, missed some opportunities to surprise and unexpected tricks of the Imperial Navy's jamming and deception. Honors were about even; Ravadrex
took a few penetrating hits in exchange for a few hits of her own on the the damaged warcruiser, but most of the damage on both sides was done to the crews' shields and nerves.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the Fourth Cruiser Squadron's heavy antiship javelins went in against the pair that had jumped for Iria
. Six shots in the first salvo. One ship's helmsman must have been paranoid or prescient; immediately after emergence he twisted away in a move that would have done credit to a fast frigate. That evasive burn let him outguess a bolt from Antía
and turned a centered punch from Cunedda
into a graze. Grazes from javelin fire carried little energy and a great deal of torque; the warbird spun out of control, shield generators wrenched but more or less holding- fast action saved the ship, but the spread of torpedoes her captain had meant to fire wound up spraying across half the sky. The handful of photon missiles that locked on their intended target died to point defense from Antía
before getting within a hundred kilometers.
The Kavoolite captain, cut from the same cloth as his helmsman, engaged the Heim Drive and took his ship out of there before the Eoghans could get any funny ideas about follow-up shots.
The third warbird, Kenek
, was less lucky- no initial evasive jump, and three kinetic bolts speared her within a few seconds of emergence; her shields blazed white and died under the load, and a ripple of fire from Carme's
port casemates burned a deep canyon along the warbird's hull. That put paid to her torpedo launch- and more to the point, took a mobility-killing bite out of her Heim coils.Kenek
kept firing as a matter of course- disruptors on backup power trunks where the main grid had been cut, and the phaser banks could ignore anything but a direct hit as long as the battery rooms held out. Central fire direction was out of the loop, and it showed from the sudden switch of targets. Despite that, the local-control gunners picked the right target, in theory. They concentrated on Brais
, hoping to turn that ship's damage into constructive total loss and force the invaders to trade a cruiser for a cruiser. Their disruptors burned down into Brais's
dorsal surface, chewing up countermissiles and turret blasters, disintegrating patches of armor and eating towards the Black Box arrays that supplied a healthy dose perpetual motion to the forward axial mass drivers.
Another volley of javelin strikes landed on Kenek's
naked hull. The hull, braced by power-fields, didn't tear; the Eoghans didn't know enough about Kavoolite naval architecture to snap them with component shots. But then, with the brute force of four warcruisers' primary antiship armament brought to bear on a lone cripple that matched any one of them in tonnage but none of them in power output and technical sophistication, they didn't have to.
The next minute of Fourth Cruisers' fire melted, crushed, or sheared off something like ten percent of their target's mass. Shock waves cracked and buckled much of what remained.
Pdeudemar winced at the sight- at this range, literally sight; there was an image of the target displayed on optical magnification for purposes of his display. He wasn't a machine, and seeing a ship spring that many atmosphere leaks and vent that much plasma and vapor made him think all too clearly of what it would be like if the same were happening to him. The raider's drive signature had already collapsed, and as to power generation- something disturbingly like a quantum black hole had just ripped out through the target's ventral hull surface on a beeline for interstellar space. He hadn't done that, was it some kind of horrible equipment malfunction?
Fortunately for the survivors aboard Kenek
, Pdeudemar didn't interpret the scram-shutdown procedure for a cavitronic reactor as an attack- as well he might have, if one of his cruisers had been near the singularity's line of flight. Instead, he gave a rather merciful order.
"All ships, cease firing into that one; it's down, we'll want to scout the wreck for tidbits."
Pdeudemar's intuition paid off; the last bursts of desultory phaser fire died away in seconds, followed by a stuttering omnidirectional radio broadcast in Galstandard English from one of the warbird's few remaining antennae: "Surrender... request terms... no further resistance... medic-"
The radio signal cut off. That was a target thoroughly
down, and if the Zebesians really intended to run for it at all, the Eoghan doubted he'd get time to kill a second. The surviving plasma destroyers, having outrun his pursuit, would be jumping out any moment; Pdeudemar had a feeling the dual-drive ships would run with them.
It'd been a difficult action. Pdeudemar fondly imagined his enemies had found it so too.