A second chapter for the weekend ladies and gents, because I'm awesome (and totally not because I had sod-all else to do and couldn't afford to go into town and have fun)...
Running Rings Around The Enemy
UNSC Everest, approaching Sigma Octanus IV
July 17th, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Admiral Preston Cole could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a happy man. Even before his “death” he had been tired, dour, stoic, unapproachable and a host of other terms used to describe those who are not interested in interacting with others. Since his unexpected trip to the Ark he had changed slightly, a feeling of hope, of determination had resurfaced. A hope that with the weapons and technology now contained in his ship humanity would have a chance to turn the tide of the war.
That hope had largely died since leaving the Ark. He’d spent a month trawling through the Outer Colonies, hoping to find some survivors, someone he could contact. But there was no one. The Outer Colonies were destroyed, completely and utterly. So he had begun moving, carefully, stealthily, into the Inner Colonies, fearing that he’d have to go straight to Earth before finding anyone else…and maybe not even then.
His initial search hadn’t proved any more fruitful. The only indication of survivors he had found was on the outskirts of the Paris IV system, the wreck of the UNSC Richmond, a frigate that had not managed to escape along with the rest of the defenders as her slipspace drive and sublight engines had been crippled by a plasma torpedo. The Captain had ordered the crew into stasis, hoping to be rescued eventually and revived – but the power had failed three years ago, leaving the crew to die cold and lonely deaths, unknown to anyone but him.
Now he was heading for Sigma Octanus, a lightly-populated world by the standards of the Inner Colonies but one close to Reach. If this colony was gone, then he could be at Reach in an hour – and even after all he had seen he refused to believe Reach could fall.
He stood at his usual position on his gleaming, spotless bridge, alone apart from the AI, Hilary. The AI hologram appeared in the form of a mountain climber, bedecked in ropes, backpack and carrying ice picks, harnesses and all sorts of climbing paraphernalia. Cole had never understood, and no scientists had ever managed to adequately explain to him, why the “dumb” AI’s assigned to warships took on a form and a name that fitted the ship. Even their personalities developed in similar ways. There was a lot of speculation by computer scientists but nothing conclusive. Cole didn’t mind it, really, and Hilary was very good at his job. But he still remembered that drunken discussion with the Captain of the supercarrier Trafalgar, how strange it felt to have an AI appearing as Horatio Nelson in full uniform and advising him to lay his ship alongside the enemy.
“We’re approaching Sigma Octanus IV now Admiral, ETA twelve minutes.”
“Thank you Hilary. Sensor report?”
“Scans show multiple ships in orbit: one Covenant carrier, a light destroyer and two frigates and a UNSC destroyer. The friendly appears to be engaging the Covenant.”
“Four to one odds? That’s suicide, unless that Captain has something up their sleeve. Show me.”
A holo-display snapped into being, showing the relative positions of the ships and predicted trajectories. Cole was in for a shock. The UNSC ship began a headlong charge straight for the Covenant destroyer, and between the two frigates. Suicide indeed.
The two frigates turned broadside-on and icons quickly showed two plasma torpedoes being launched. That would probably be the end of it, Cole mused angrily. Another brave ship and crew burned by these Covvie bastards and…
His train of thought came to a shuddering halt. The human destroyer had suddenly lurched to one side, letting the incoming plasma pass by. Emergency thrusters, Cole knew. His opinion of this unknown Captain was revised upwards. They knew their stuff.
Then the plasma torpedoes began to turn and chase the charging human ship. The holo-display beeped, showing another, smaller object that had been fired, most likely a nuke. Cole examined the trajectories and velocities, making some rough calculations in his head and whistled in admiration. This was a most audacious plan.
The human ship was now getting very close to the Covenant destroyer, the plasma torpedoes hot on its tail. Then, seemingly at the last moment, the human ship ducked up and over the larger vessel before turning sharply “downwards” and firing off several dozen Archer missiles from her aft pods.
The two plasma torpedoes were not as nimble and could not correct their course in time. First one then the second slammed into the Covenant destroyer’s shields, which glowed a brilliant white before flickering and failing. Some of the plasma continued onwards, burning away a third of the destroyer’s hull armour on that side. Then from the other side came the hail of Archer missiles, fired at such close range and from such an unexpected angle that the pulse lasers hadn’t even managed to fire. The powerful anti-ship warheads blasted deep into the larger ship’s structure, shattering vital components of both systems and skeleton. In a matter of moments the ship was irreparably damaged between the punishing missile salvo and the searing plasma hits; something in the ships aft exploded spectacularly, causing the remaining hull sections to balloon outwards in a hail of plasma, debris and escaping atmosphere.
This spectacle and the products of it also did a marvellous job at hiding the still-moving UNSC ship from the sensors on the two trailing frigates, but Hilary could still see what was going on. The nuke that was launched earlier was now moving slowly, the tremendous velocity built up by the human ships charge had been bled off and now the missile was approaching the perfect detonation point – right between the two frigates.
The human ship, meanwhile, had dived deep into the gravity well, picking up speed for a close slingshot that Cole saw would bring her back around into an ideal MAC firing position. All of this had passed without a word being said on the bridge of the Everest, only the countdown timer showing sixty seconds to reversion to realspace brought any comment. Cole decided to alter his intended plan.
“Hilary, I want you to alter our course slightly. Bring us out at optimum engagement range from that carrier and ready all weapons. I want the MACs ready to fire, full salvo.”
“Yes Admiral, MACs are charged and ready with the new rounds, adjusting course now.”
Back in realspace, the Covenant frigates and carrier had no idea that Cole was racing towards them and only the vaguest idea of where the other human ship was. The UNSC Iroquois was even then about to race over the horizon, her MACs charged and ready – and Commander Keyes’ finger ready to send the remote detonation command to the Shiva he had launched earlier. His ship was not unscathed; they had grazed the shields of the Covenant destroyer, ripped away two metres of titanium battle plate all along the underside and breached every lower deck. Half a degree either way with their sharp turn and neither ship would have survived.
But they had, and now they had the two frigates dead to rights. Keyes’ finger stabbed down on the detonation command and the external cameras automatically deactivated to prevent flash damage. Out in space, the Shiva received the code and carried out its programming. The thirty megaton warhead detonated, barely two kilometres from either Covenant frigate. A brilliant flash and a storm of radiation light up the sky. In the planet’s upper atmosphere green waves spread as artificially-created aurorae danced in the sky, producing another brilliant light show for the terrified citizens.
The frigates were not as lucky. They were just too close to survive undamaged. The shields held up quite well, but they still flickered and died even as the flash faded away. With the shock of the blast and the blinding of their sensors with the radiation, neither ship saw the Iroquois as the UNSC ship came into sight.
Keyes barked the order and the ship rocked with twin thumps as the MACs fired. Two heavy rounds shot forth in a streak of fire and iron, crossing the distance in moments. One frigate was hit near the engines, the MAC round punching clean through without appreciably slowing down, the gaping cavity left behind was a mute testament to its destructive passage. The ship was effectively dead, her engines offline, her main power conduits severed, her weapons disabled even before a plasma reactor failed catastrophically; the brilliant blue explosion consuming the ship.
The second frigate died an even more impressive death. The MAC round struck the bow and gutted the ship from stem to stern, destroying the command centre, the main weapons, the primary generators, the computers, the sublight engines, the slipspace drives, practically everything of value to the ship was obliterated. The gutted hulk began to tear itself apart under the inertia of the radical starboard turn it had begun after the Shiva had detonated, fragments spinning away.
On the Iroquois, Keyes turned to his officers and asked for a status report. Aki Hikowa went first.
“MAC guns are offline, half the Archer pods have been expended and the launch tubes for the last two Shivas were wrecked by that collision. We’re pretty much out of options sir.”
Lieutenant Hall, Operations was next. “Every bottom deck is open to space. Main reactors offline, main sublight drives offline. The Covenant carrier is still in orbit over Cote d’Azur. UNSC Gettysburg and Allegiance have arrived in the outer system and are approaching but are still three hours out.”
Keyes nodded. As much as he wanted to take on that carrier, they really didn’t have a way to hurt it short of a collision – and with the ship’s sublight drives crippled they couldn’t do much by ramming anyway.
“Well then. Dominuqe, call up Sector Three Command at Reach, tell them what’s happened and request reinforcements and…” he was cut off by a shout from Hall.
“Slipspace rupture! Aft, near the carrier!”
Keyes sighed, knowing this was the inevitable Covenant second wave. They’d done amazing work, but now the Covenant would bring more ships and crush them, as they always had. He called up an external camera view and waited, wondering idly what ship would emerge to destroy his crippled vessel.
A ship, a human ship, burst out of the slipspace rupture, driving straight at the Covenant carrier that was even now beginning a frantic turn away from this totally unexpected new threat. Keyes called for an ID on the new arrival, the class looked familiar but he couldn’t place it. It was a big ship certainly, at least four times longer than his own destroyer. Hall spoke again, her voice laced with surprise and wild, unexpected hope.
“Database classifies her as a Valiant-class superheavy cruiser…”
Lieutenant Hikowa interjected. “What the hell is one of those doing all the way out here? We’ve only got three left and they’re all back at Earth!”
Keyes looked at Hall with a raised eyebrow, awaiting an answer. He saw the colour drain from her face. Her reply gave Keyes the biggest shock of his life, which was saying something after all he had seen and done.
“Oh fuck me…transponder tags say she’s the UNSC Everest sir!”
That brought complete silence. Keyes’ mind was racing: the ship thought lost at Psi Serpentis reappearing after nine years, there had been rumours ever since that battle that Cole’s ship had jumped out of Viperidae’s atmosphere before the micronova but as neither ship nor Admiral had been seen again those rumours were dismissed. But now…
On the bridge of the Everest, Cole was studying the scans of the clearly crippled destroyer that had fought so bravely. She could probably be repaired, he judged, if a repair station could be brought here before Covenant reinforcements arrived. He turned back to the enemy carrier.
“Hilary, kill that bastard.” His voice held a tone that was almost gleeful.
“Gladly Admiral. Firing now.”
There was a series of rapid thumps as the cruiser’s three MACs discharged. These were no ordinary heavy rounds however. Dying Light and the Sentinels had done an amazing job upgrading the weapons, utilising what was already present and making it better rather than outright replacing it. The superconducting coils now had field recyclers and improved capacitors, allowing five shots to be fired in quick succession with a single capacitor charge. Not only were that but the projectiles were fired with roughly twice the velocity than they originally did, imparting even more damage. The shells themselves were improved, instead of hundreds of tonnes of iron and tungsten, the guns now fired five-hundred-tonne masses of superdense plasma that could achieve spontaneous fusion on impact. It was perhaps the perfect blend of human and Covenant weapon technology. Now Cole would see if it worked.
Fifteen brilliant blue bolts were hurled in five salvoes from the MACs. The Covenant carrier had no chance to evade or even react. The shields held against the first three-round salvo, and the second, but the third collapsed them, excess plasma burning away some of the hull armour as it did. Then the fourth and fifth salvos arrived and the carrier ceased to exist. Six small suns blazed into being all along the Covenant ship’s flank, brilliant fusion explosions that ripped into the structure with staggering force. One bolt had, by chance, struck an open hanger bay that was in the process of disgorging Dropships to land on the planet. The detonation triggered a whole series of secondary explosions that cut the huge ship cleanly in half, a sight that could only be seen for moments before the other explosions consumed the remains.
Cole blinked and then smiled victoriously. The new weapons definitely worked. It would be interesting to try out the new hardlight beam cannons but that could wait. Where there was one Covenant battle group, there were usually others. No doubt a second wave would be on it’s way soon. And Cole would be waiting for them.
Hilary too was pleased with the results of their first engagement with the new systems. He just loved what Dying Light had made his ship into. She’d been a potent warship before, now she could stand up to anything short of a Covenant Assault Carrier and expect to win. All that was needed now was for Dying Light to bring the cavalry and get in touch with UNSC HighCom. No doubt there would be many, many questions ahead.
Cole continued smirking for a moment and then asked Hilary to ID the damaged human ship.
“Hmm…the profile matches a UNSC Halberd-class destroyer apart from those streaks of warpaint on the flanks, but her ID number isn’t in the registry. She must have been built since we…departed. And Admiral, she is hailing us.”
“Time to face the music I guess. Put them through.”
Back on the bridge of the Iroquois, Commander Keyes was waiting anxiously to learn just who was aboard the Everest. If Preston Cole really was back from the dead, with clearly much-improved weaponry, then maybe they could actually win this thing after all. The channel connected and after a moment of static the screen showed their first view of the new arrival.
Standing proudly in the cavernous bridge so typical of the Valiants stood a man, tall, well-built, with stern features and steel-grey hair. He wore the standard duty uniform, the rank tabs showing he was a full Admiral. On the left breast were a collection of ribbons denoting various medals and citations, and on the right was emblazoned the single word “COLE.” Either this was the real thing or an outstanding forgery.
The man was likewise taking in the view of Keyes and his bridge, the command crew trying (and failing) to look like they weren’t listening in. Eventually, the man on screen spoke.
”I am Admiral Preston J. Cole, commanding the UNSC Everest. My congratulations on your efforts Commander, those were very impressive manoeuvres you pulled off.”
Jacob tried not to puff up in pride at praise from such a legend. “Thank you Admiral. I’m Commander Jacob Keyes, commanding the UNSC Iroquois. With respect Admiral…where the hell did you come from? Everyone thinks you’ve been dead for nine years since Psi Serpentis. And…what on Earth were you firing at that carrier?”
Cole smirked. ”All in good time Commander. Suffice to say that I found some friends and brought the cavalry. I assume you have signalled for reinforcements?”
Keyes nodded. His datapad beeped, a message showing that the Sector Three Commander, Admiral Stanforth, was en route with every ship he could spare.
“Yes sir. I’ve just been informed that Admiral Stanforth is on his way with some of the Reach garrison.”
Cole looked up from reading his own brief message from Hilary and replied with a tone somewhere between amusement and surprise:
”Stanforth? Michael Stanforth? They gave that wet-nosed pup Admiral’s stars and command of Reach? Jesus. Well good thing that my reinforcements are inbound as well. In fact, they’ll be here any moment.” The Admiral was wearing a decidedly smug expression as Lieutenant Hall practically leaped out of her chair.
“Another slipspace rupture, a fucking massive one! Ships emerging now…unknown configurations, no IFF tags, no recognisable designs…count is eight…eleven….fifteen…nineteen ships! They’re huge!” The astonished Ops officer called up an external camera feed of the other new arrivals.
There, floating in formation, were nineteen ships with widely differing designs, some were about half the size of his own destroyer, others were two, three, four times the size. The biggest three stood out the most, clearly acting as command ships of some sort as they sat at the centre of their formations. The smallest of the three presumed capital ships was still the same size as the Everest, the next largest was about the same size as a Punic-class supercarrier and the largest was bigger than any spacefaring object he had ever seen.
Keyes turned back to the screen showing Admiral Cole, slack-jawed in astonishment.
Cole smiled, genuinely this time. ”I told you Commander, I brought the cavalry. We’re here to save the day.”
So yeah, I changed the Everest's MACs to rapid-fire versions that lob plasma-fusion warheads at the enemy. Fun!
With regards to slipspace portals and travel...the portals aren't instantaneous. They're a lot faster than anything short of Asgard drives. Basically they force a semi-stable tunnel through slipspace/hyperspace, so that multiple ships can use the same portal to travel while only needing one drive, but they require something like the Ark, or the Voi Portal artifact to set up as they are...kinda power intensive, certainly too big for anything other than a Keyship to handle.
Also, as I was copy/pasting this into SDN and previewing it to check those damned italics tags, it occurred to me that Keyes' run on the destroyer is essentially the same plan that Corran Horn used to take down a Lancer anti-fighter frigate in "X-Wing: Rogue Squadron." Strange how random memories resurface at times.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet
“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed
Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.