Recommended Listening: Third Movement, Dvorak's New World SymphonyDestroyer CNS Carpenter
Attached to Task Group 17
Closing on Zebesian Defectors
2145 HoursGetting close
. Captain Sollen had already given the order; plasma batteries to open fire shortly, at a range close enough to theoretical optimum to warm a doctrinaire's heart.
Leander passed the word to Gunnery, then rapped out his own addition. "Helm- surpass yourself; I don't want the neighbors leaving here thinking they've got a monopoly on footwork."
In a protracted action he'd be sorely tempted to push them aside and take control of that himself, he'd done it before, but not this, not here. Jousting, not fencing, a quick firing pass- time for nothing more before the Centralists overshot and the Zebesians reached the hyper limit. Carpenter
needed a captain's undivided attention for that situation more than she needed a marginally dodgier helmsman, in any sense of the word.
It'd begin, though not end, with a few minutes' fighting on even terms- both sides had the range only with neutral-plasma beams. Power output per ton favored the Zebesians' all-plasma armament, but the Centralists were the side of the heavy battalions: more tons to use. Roughly fair- that would start to change when the gunships launched their birds, but not yet. Leander expected to learn something useful from watching that- or at least put some dents into the enemy ships to make getting close to them less a recipe for major damage.
Seconds ticked by; Burns started weaving the destroyer back and forth with the lateral thrusters, twitching the plane of oscillation- relatively gently, perhaps a bit too much so.
The Zebesian plasma destroyers shot first, pitching about to throw rapid-cycle, low power bursts from their axial heavy guns, going after the missile-carrying Fireballs accompanying the starships into the attack.
As always in the strike role, a handful of Fireballs lived up to their name early on, targeted and smashed apart by long range beam fire before they could unload their heavy, high-acceleration knifefighting missiles. They were little more than targets at this range, but difficult ones: the gunships' antenna-searing ECM and long, slim fuselages made unrewarding targets for weapons heavy enough to burn them down. Within seconds of observing the outcome of their opening fusillade, the Zebesian captains switched fire, pumping the next wave of plasma bolts at bigger, harder targets now that the Centralist starships were getting closer, into more effective range.
A stream of fire rang off Sollen's flagship, the cruiser Stalwart
, with a crackling wake of electromagnetics to mark the flux tube hammered into being by the Zebesian gun. Fire from a lone plasma destroyer wasn't enough, hadn't been against Stalwart's
sister ship at Hawk's Nest and wasn't now; the raider didn't even get ions through to her armor belt. The cruiser's own slow-cycling beam armament wasn't making much better practice against a surprisingly well-handled, agile target, though; beam fringes and halos washed the Zebesian's screens in auroral light without leaving any more lasting mark.
Another destroyer's stream tracked towards Terrier
, but the Blitz
-class frigate's peers rallied and hosed that raider down with their own beams. The Zebesian veered away and firewalled its engines, trying to avoid being coned and hammered down by the sixteen- no, twenty now- tubes focused on it. They made it, though spectroscopy picked out a few puffs of metal vapor and a whiff of carbon left in its path. Which gave Leander a cheery feeling, until the third enemy destroyer's decision to fire on Carpenter
was joined by a fourth.
Comscan was first to notice the fourth destroyer's main battery fire control firing up- a strange combination of radar backplot and gravitic tracers. They flashed the warning to Leander, as per standard- and handed it off to Navigation, to draw their own conclusions, as per nonstandard. The first conclusion was of course "duck;" the helmsman kicked in Carpenter's
dorsal thrusters, then flipped back to ventral and started alternating. The irregular two-dimensional slalom he'd been using to throw off the first Zebesian's fire mutated into a stuttering, crooked spiral.
Leander nodded in approval, idly wondering whether Fermat or Archimedes would win the paternity dispute over the new spiral course, whether either of them would want to, and whether there was such a thing as a barrelstave roll. If there was, Burns was doing it; if there wasn't, the lad would probably patent it next week. Good work, that, and it seemed to have the Zebesians badly confused- enough so that the fourth Zebesian decided to go pick on something less inclined to slip through their fingers. The third kept firing, in a steady barrage of shot that flew dizzily and mostly wide. Mostly- Carpenter
jarred back on her heels when a quick burst of cruiser-weight bolts pounded the forward screens.
Damage control indicator showed a radar antenna lost, an antifighter defense missile tubes at condition orange, a few score tons of armor missing- wide scar, not deep, nothing serious. With his other eye he noticed something more
serious; his chosen target for the plasma guns was shifting evasion plane. As were... come to think of it, a lot of the others. The whole formation, with the spinal-gun ships flipping end over end and burning away
...He's shifting formation, putting his missile haulers out in front.
Trying to use the empty ordnance ships as screens and decoys- speaking of which, the missile ships were spewing what had to be decoys and jammer platforms. Comscan's picture of the plasma destroyers blurred, wheeled, tied into an vaguely fractal-looking something
. One branch the tree suddenly sprouted an unexpected bulge of highly visible gas as Pelton put a ripple from the forward turret into the destroyer that'd been firing on them. The stream of bolts cut off, cut back in... if the magnetometers were any guide, at about two thirds power. Good show, that.
Comscan's fit of myriavision faded and the plot started to settle back down; handy to be able to check an estimated position against the plume of titanium vapor where it'd really been.Carpenter
shuddered- not much, not with that much integral damping in the structure to protect against hits from heavy weapons- but enough for Leander to notice. Damage indicators- damn
. The core of the shot had stopped cleanly, but those new bolts were poorly focused: a lot of stuff coming in at the fringe. A good-sized chunk of them poured through, scoured down... and left a stream of recondensed metal along the dorsal surface- two subspace antennae heat-kinked, a shuttle bay welded shut, and most importantly, Gun Three in the aft plasma turret reported a clog.Good thing their shot didn't meet one of ours coming the other way, that could've been ugly. Must have bank-shotted off that eddy in the dorsal shields.
He'd have to talk to Liggs after the battle, maybe with an admiral co-signing the forms now, the dockyards would believe the fault actually existed instead of being a figment of his imagination.
Still, not too bad as yet- no dead, and his guns weren't hurting as bad as theirs... starting to get quite close, though. And with the Fireballs spread ahead, twenty seconds ahead of the main body, any moment- there. Esper squadron leaders ran the gunships as temporary hive minds; launch times were tightly coordinated as the craft spun round each other and tossed ripples of impactors at the Zebesian ships.
Some wandered off- those jammers were still live; the missiles didn't have anything like his own comscan teams to see through the maze- but Centralist ordnance was cheap and plentiful, and all the 'warhead' they needed for a devastating strike was a good-sized bundle of lead bricks. Leander watched the barrage boost downrange, waited for the plasma destroyers to start refocusing their guns to blot out chunks of the incoming... they didn't flinch. Didn't notice? No, wait, he saw it now, missiles pushing through the beaten zone of the main armament and into the region dominated by individual-target, low power defense guns. The lead wave started to wash into the Zebesian formation- into, but not across.Damn
. Impactors hit the Zebesians and hit them squarely, in quantity and in quality, but much, too much, of their fire was going for the obvious targets- the missile ships. The plasma destroyers kept blazing away at TG-17's starships- and at Carpenter
, undistracted and still in the most dangerous zone, where the Centralists still didn't have much chance of scoring with the coilguns.
Shields whined; a bolt scraped along Carpenter's
ventral surface, carving a shallow trench in the armor belt. What was down there- defense missiles, emergency landing gear that was seldom used, nothing much to speak of; she could laugh it off. Still, though, the raider seemed to be getting their beam focus sorted out- six bolts flew past in varying directions as Burns attempted another nameless spatiobatic dodge, and even the stodgier captains were trying to sidestep, though not with the same success. Leander winced as Stalwart
took a supercharged bolt in spite of Sollen's efforts. From the flash, that one had
gone into her forward plasma turret as it was firing. There went those guns- but nothing into the core hull, speed and shielding not seriously impaired- the cruiser kept fighting. Rattlesnake
took a direct hit of similar intensity, and that had
done drive damage; the light frigate took a tumble. The Blitz's
evasive sideslip turned into a flat spin, as drawn in a plane about thirty degrees off the squadron-relative horizontal, at maximum lateral thrust. Optics showed her spin speeding up until she blurred
, which was frightening when you considered just how large a ship like that really was, and what kind of accelerations that meant for her bow and stern. Leander hoped their internal gravity was on the ball; otherwise, Rattlesnake
would need her crew cleaned up with a mop before they could take her in for repairs.
Hits across the squadron, a few more ships tumbling though none like Rattlesnake
, others taking partial firepower-kills from Zebesian bolts, but no time for that. Leander took the squadron fire mission for Carpenter's
coilguns, glanced it over in light of recent events, shredded the second half of it and passed the pieces on to Main Battery Control for Pelton to make sense of. Obvious enough what needed to be done, and that bought him seconds to trace a rough curve through the Zebesian formation- steer close to the destroyer they'd shot up from long range, risk one bolt but exploit the lower cyclic rate they were using to keep away from the others, pitch up and roll to get some good shots in against that one that looked to be limping. And time was up. Throw that to Burns, and hope he hadn't missed anything, coilgun firing point coming up...Carpenter
bucked. She was light on drivers for her tonnage- by Centrality standards. By power on target and most especially by momentum transfer, her coilgun batteries were heavy indeed. Unlucky skippers could warp hull frames by firing those guns too enthusiastically- had.
The timbre of the destroyer's vibrations shifted as the 'midships turrets rotated between shots. Each salvo of half-ton rounds posed its own massive ballistics problem, demanded its own fire solution, from a platform that had already built up speed to something comparable to the guns' own muzzle velocity, against an evading target moving nearly as fast. Gunnery's situation wasn't helped by the helm's dutiful obedience to Leander's orders- Burns was surpassing himself. Streams of shot reached out ahead of the Centralists-
There was a ship-rocking report, far worse than the recoil of the guns, ominous groaning sounds from overhead, damage indicators- kriff, there goes one of the sensor domes
. And a good-sized bite out of the ventral outer hull with it, power dropping off to one of the 'driver turrets and holding at around half as the engineers rearranged the power grid to rout around the hole. The Zebesian raider had- literally- shot its bolt; that'd been supercharged and powerful enough to rip a third of the way down Carpenter's
core hull... if the ship hadn't been a few hundred meters below and to the left of where the Zebesian gunnery computer had expected it to be.
Then the 'driver rounds started hitting. Carpenter's
first and favored target, the plasma destroyer that'd just tried to kill them, flared as the coilgun armament proved as accurate as it was heavy. Pairs and triplets of flashes sparked off the raider, a brute-force hammering against her shields, the guns still firing as they came towards closest approach- and stopped. Shifting target? Did Pelton think this one was d-
He was right. A strange, conical quasi-fireball erupted from a through-and-through puncture, then two more, another... The Zebesian destroyer broke up under shock long before enough rounds could hit to slag it, what with the glorified tuning-fork construction. Target one down, see to another, who was the opportunity, probably- and Pelton's first round impacted on what would've been Leander's third choice out of fifteen; good enough. That one had already shrugged off or jammed past most of Terrier's
ready magazines and looked to be pivoting to put a tight-focus bolt in when the light frigate reached closest approach. Carpenter
reached out and tapped the raider on the shoulder of one of its long arms, with two tons of high-velocity impactors.
The joint flashed, sparkled, then the defense screen overloaded; shields must've been focused against the Blitz
... the bolt went wild- yes!
, and only a few more hits to half-cut the structural linkages before a long string of misses- who'd been caught napping there, Burns or Pelton, have to do something about that. Never enough gunnery practice. Still, though, Target two was venting radicalized air and metal-slurry flame, though a lot of the work must've been Terrier's
. Good enough. Time to rein Main Battery in.
"Guns, Parthian shot, missile frigate two."
That one was nearly immobilized- three other ships had the same idea and put over-the-stern bombardment into the ship as they flew away. Drivers would be damn near useless- overtake and muzzle velocity didn't quite
cancel- but enough plasma landed on the frigate as Task Group 17 (reinforced) overshot to slag the thing. A few others finished in the same way over a few more minutes' fire; survivors such as still had enough engines, jamming, and power to run and duck were making it clear faster than they could burn down what was left of the defenses.
Ah well, you couldn't have everything. Then again... pursuit? Possible. No, Prussian wounded, ground troops needing orbital support, practically the only unengaged reserve left the Atlanteans- unlikely in these shoals. Still, not a bad sweep, looking at the mess they'd made of the Zebesian escapers.Priorities- cleanup...
"Comscan, try to get a hail on Rattlesnake
, failing that systems access, see if their inertics pulled them through."
Missile Frigate Gacknik
Running Away Very Fast
"Owwwww. Those poor guys."
"Zarquod, I'm glad we aren't fighting those guys."
The chief grunted. "Eh, dunno, not sure they could've reached us. The vectors..."
"I hope not. These U-ma-yeens, er, U-mer-yons, whatever..."
"Yeah, bad enough."
Nugak clattered a little. It was true. The decoys were drawing off some of the fire from the human beam weapons, or at least getting them to spread it around a bit, but that only got them so far. At least they were concentrating on the plasma destroyers. Privately, Nugak kind of hoped they'd nail the flagship; even if there'd been some kind of big plan behind the way they'd pulled out the wings earlier and left Frugus in the lurch, it was still a pretty rotten thing to do at a time like that. Plus, everyone he'd seen from the flagship were like those pincer-guys who'd come in earlier. Real mean.
There wasn't much left to do but watch and hope their ships could keep the range open- so far, so good, but they were still overtaking a little, and the humans had to be pretty mad about that ship the plasma destroyers had blown up earlier...
Then Nugak half-guiltily took a look the fleet monitor, the one Kurgo had, um. Not
hacked into, he hadn't
hacked into that, because they weren't
supposed to be able to see what was going on. No, Kurgo had... somehow! Somehow accidentally pushed a button, not
so they could see what was going on, but totally by accident
. That was the ticket.
Anyway. His eyes refocused on the display. Oh shit.
"They're doing it again!"
"It's those damn cruisers, their beams are too heavy."
"Wait, that's... I think that's the flagship!"
"He's slowing down..."
Nugak shivered. Maybe he was psychic or something and didn't know it. Nah, that couldn't be it. He'd checked like three times because he'd kind of been hoping, and the medtechs said he actually had a negative psi rating, whatever that meant. But anyway... I'm never going to hope something bad happens to somebody again...Well. OK. Maybe if I really really mean it.
The moogle is displeased...
Recommended Listening: First Movement, Nielsen's Symphony No. 3Type 22 Core Ship 12E886C8
Flagship Boskonian Core Subfleet
Cosmog of Narshe scowled. The beam duel was going, at best, marginally as his ships fought to avoid taking severe damage before making their escape. The Umerian strike cruisers seemed most difficult to slow down, avoiding so much of his screen's macrobeams and drawing fire from the Enemy's lighter cruisers and destroyers. That would improve those
ships' ability to target his forces in turn- always easier to turn high-resolution sensors onto a target that wasn't firing on you.
Meanwhile, the Enemy cutters were definitely boosting for an attack run. Some of his captains were already directing burst fire from needle-beams against the building Umerian small craft attack. But even the Enemy's ships were difficult targets, infernally so for inertial-drive warships; how much worse the tiny, elusive parasites?
The moogle barked an order to the escorting ships, redirected their fire, pointed their main batteries back against the Enemy's screen of lighter starships- now slowly advancing to cover the cutter attack with jamming. Needle beams would make little difference there, and the expenditure could be allowed, but the main battery macrobeams were wasted on cutters until the Enemy could get closer. The strike cruisers- those could wait indefinitely.
His own flagship continued its one-against-three battle against the Umerian heavy cruisers, matching snarling macrobeam turret-projectors against the forty megacycle hiss of their spinal proton cannon. Cosmog's flag captain had done well; his maneuvers were deft and his deceptive jamming and sensor-baffling adequate. Pressure on the battleship's wall shield had eased, and that critical line of defense had held and was holding yet at a comfortable six thousand angstroms, safely in the orange.
Pitted against that were the Umerian ships- powered, armed, and screened for battle on a lesser scale than the terrible poundings a Boskone battleship was made defiantly to receive and merrily to give. On reactor rated output alone, the Type 22's victory against these enemies would be inevitable, were it not for their seemingly random evasive burns- and the Boskonian gunners were learning fast. Already, fully half the power from the battleship's atomic-converter plants poured out in a torrent of annihilating force against the least agile of the Enemy vessels.
Cosmog cackled softly in anticipation, for subetherics made the gunners' success plain. At any moment the Umerian's forward screen would fail, exposing the naked metal beneath! Granted that the Technocrats placed heavy defensive armor over their core hull from this angle- what of it? The thickness of that final barrier was well known; even against the Prussians and their blocklike vessels, his battleship's raving projectors had carved away such walls in little time. Here, he would receive his measure of revenge for the humiliating retreat the Enemy's untimely arrival had forced upon him, for the hard-earned victory they had denied him!Burnthrough!
The Umerian's bow-screen flashed its death throes and vanished in a spray of hyperwaves and short-lived virtual particles. Cosmog cackled, expecting a torrent of boiling armor to herald the ensuing death of the Enemy cruiser...
There was a whiff of something
, yes, a very disappointing one. Cosmog did not then know of the unbelievably dense and ultimately refractory synthetic composing the main belts of the cruiser Samuel Jacobson
's bow-plate. So saturated were those metals with exotic fields of static and vibratory force, so carefully tempered and forged, that where even great thicknesses of iron, graphite, or other ordinary substances would begin unavoidably to ablate, Jacobson's
The great circular shield at the Umerian's bow burned to bare metal in moments, but that bare metal was a formidable barrier indeed. Red radiance, rising in frequency into a strange yellow-orange spread across the bow shield, from center to edge. Sensor arrays volatilized in flashes of silicon and metallic vapor. But these were ephemera, merely the fringes and side-lobes of the destructive energy directed against the Technocracy's vessel.
At the heart of the inferno raging from the projectors of the Boskone battleship, multiple beams converged, fire predictors deducing and tracking the cruiser's evasive moves fast enough to maintain a lock. There, the bow plate experienced no such gentle, diffuse treatment. At those spots, the armor glowed white, then an eerie witchfire blue- or so it would seem, to the naked eye. To the detectors of Cosmog's flagship, which seamlessly perceived the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum as a single integrated whole, at those spots the metal positively blazed with incredible, far-ultraviolet heat, against which no material substance should be able to stand in even a quasi-solid form!
Cosmog goggled. Impossible!
Already one of the Umerian's heavy proton cannon had ceased fire; a second followed suit, but that bow-plate held! The battleship's captain, reacting in the same spirit from the ship's command bridge, directed more
batteries, more of the heavy ultrawave blasters, against the Enemy cruiser- he would burn that armor through! The zones of ultraviolet grew and deepened, clung to that unthinkable plate for a minute, and a minute more- and were joined by a flash of exotic radiation. The standing waves of bracing, strengthening force gave out, overwhelmed and washed away in a flood of ultrawaves, and the dureum barrier evaporated at last.
Hotter, brighter came the macrobeams, and the expected gouts of plasma appeared- but in unexpected places, attenuated and mitigated through time and space. Blast channels and blowout paths, cunningly aligned within the composite layers of that defensive wall, diverted the half-ionized vapor out and away rather than allowing it to widen the scars created by Boskonian beams. All too soon, the macrobeams's drilling came up against a second tier of dureum panels, as resistant and adamant as the first, and halted. Undismayed, the battleship kept pouring it on- one battery group tracked off target and scored a white-hot scratch across the surface and licked past
the edge of the shield. Gunners pulled their screaming projectors back on, and in the process scored a lucky success- the beams punched into the integral shielding covering one of Jacobson's
Those modules were armored and shielded in their own right, but not to stand up against capital-class weapons. The ultrawaves flared hull-hugging barrier shields down, clung viciously to a thinner dureum plate for a few seconds- a few lost track and wandered back towards the center of mass, but then the armor belt failed and a blast of vibratory destruction ripped down the length of one of the heavy cruiser's engine pods. Antimatter tankage blew out and to the side, away from the core hull; busbars shorted explosively. The connecting pylon twisted, torqued, and cracked through- and powered by the dying sparks of its internal power, the nacelle flashed away from Jacobson
at speed, tearing loose of its fetters and breaking up from its own catastrophic damage at the same time.
A pleasing sight to the Boskonians, but the Patriot
-class's drive redundancy was enough to keep the ship mobile- and still agile! Another battery of projectors tried to duplicate the shot, aiming for another of the drive pods themselves... and failed, most of their fire going wild or serving only to make defocused heat shimmer off the edge of the Umerian's bow plate. Meanwhile the bulk of the battleship's fire- nearly two thirds now- concentrated against that plate. They were burning through, slowly but steadily...
Cosmog bit off a startled cry as he looked again at the shield indicators. Average fifty-five hundred angstroms, with patches in the high blue already? Where was- curses!
The other Umerians had kept up the fire from their own proton guns, taking cheerful advantage of their larger prey's concentration. The six heavy beams- Jacobson's
fire was well and truly suppressed, for the moment- curved around each other through self-generated magnetic vortices, lashed in unison at small areas on their targets whenever the Umerians could find the range accurately enough, and most importantly never
yielded an angstrom, with new slugs of protons driving against the battleship's wall-shields at every moment, leaving not an instant free for the Boskonian to rebuild its defenses!
If this went on long enough to finish the abominable Enemy ship, they might actually damage
his battleship, perhaps severely. Not an acceptable price. The admiral keyed in comm-code with fast but stubby fingers. "Captain!"
"Yes, Your Supremacy!"
"Rebalance fire, forty on damaged target, thirty on each other."
"Thank you, Your Supremacy!"Good, he saw it too.
Cosmog cut the channel.
Now, what of their small craft attack...?
Corsair-N Fleet Melee Cutter CG-86149 "Ace of Hearts"
Flying Off USS Trinidad
"Applejack Leader, this is Delta Leader. We're after the battlecruiser, check networking with Alpha and Iota wings."
Lieutenant Commander Poplan nodded; the intercom was smart enough to pass that along to the co-pilot monitoring comms; Gabe was already muttering into the interface, checking their synchronization. "On it."
With the commander happy, Oliver darted another look Gabe. "How are we?"
"Having trouble with Iota's missile network. Diagnostics are running and... OK, we're good. A hiccup."
Ten seconds of nothing but flying, then another call, this one with the tone that preluded something from in
his flight. "Applejack One, this is Applejack Three, fire code Mu."
A problem, but a common one. He took care of this one himself; Gabe was busy enough as it was. "Uploading our subspace picture, reinitialize fire control."
"...got it, that's got it. Thanks, Ollie!" And that was one less thing to worry about; with Ace of Clubs
seeing straight again, Oliver wouldn't have to hand off their missile sheaf to his own weapons officer. Sabita had enough to worry about; the second round of the new greencap missiles that'd come out with the Intervention ships hit hard, he'd give them that, but some genius back in Armaments had done a botched job with the targeting software updates- supposedly to fit the changed blast pattern, but more likely just to screw with the missileers. He hoped it worked better with the torpedoes.
The Zebesians were starting to shoot back harder; they must have figured out that the strike cruisers weren't going to bother them just yet, and the battleship seemed to have given up trying to headbutt its way through Jacobson's
bowplate. And the defense fire was nasty
- hundredth-second bursts from main guns, probably. Ace of Hearts
groaned as fringe effect washed over her ventral shields in the middle of a complex sideslip move; he could hear some painful-sounding harmonics ringing through the hull, probably from the shield generator machinery aft. His flightmate Ace of Spades
took another near miss just a few seconds later, and that punched the flight lead's survival instinct right in the gut.
"Applejack, evasive level five!"
Sideslipping like mad, sacrificing forward acceleration from the main drive to put more power into the lateral fields... Where was the nearest sector-jamming beam? Coming off Nefertiti
, and close enough they could ride the cruiser's ECM in a ways. Good.
"Applejack, shift pattern center to dorsal, uploading centroid trajectory." The information on where the Empress
-class cruiser's jamming beam was going to go, that was part of the plan, predictable to his computers given the right random seed. His flight was going to need the cover if the Zebesians kept it up...
...They didn't. Once his flight ducked into the cover of the cruiser's main jammers, whichever ship had been pounding on them decided to go pick on a target that was easier to see or less savvy.
A well timed respite, too; that squadron was close
. Applejack Flight flicked bursts of laser traffic back and forth, among themselves and with other flights, exchanging data what they had on the Zebesians' defenses. Most of that went below, or above, the level a human being could follow; too much information to dissect, with the gaps in the defenses being too narrow and too numerous for organic eyes and brains to spot except in the broadest outlines.
From experience, Oliver knew the networks' expert systems were perfectly capable of finding cracks that could be pried open. And what the melee cutters' Galias didn't pry open, the starships' torpedoes would smash down.
Core Ship 12E886C8
Flagship Boskonian Core Subfleet
Cosmog of Narshe tapped his foot and murmured to himself. Something about the range to those advancing light ships wasn't making him comfortable, they were getting close and it reminded him of the range figures for...
He'd been tricked!
He'd thought of the Umerians as taking him on in a beam duel- which they had, and continued to do. The Enemy's heavy cruisers battered his own flagship with a proton storm; even the ship he'd damaged earlier was firing with two beamlines of three. The lighter ships, too, raked his screening element with electron beams, and the lighter ships were pressed to the very wall shield by that fire. But in the process of engaging the Boskonian ships in a battle of the beams, they'd made Cosmog commit one of the cardinal sins. He'd forgotten the Enemy's backup weapon.
Those light ships weren't closing just to get tighter beam focus, or to cover the small craft attack. They were coming to... yes, there were the first heavy missile launches. His gunners annihilated a few more cutters during the moments that the Umerian destroyers and cruisers slewed their bows off the target, but the window in their jamming didn't give him nearly the edge to offset what they'd done to him. For now, dozens of deadly shaped-fission missiles hurtled down upon his command!
"All ships, concentrate defense fire on those torpedoes!"
The spray of Umerian cutters were irrelevant; their 'antiship' missiles had no real force and posed no real threat. But the torpedoes, weapons of moderate yield but ferocious intensity, those were another thing entirely. Should his subfleet miss enough of the Enemy's heavy missiles, their vicious needles of nuclear flame might well prove potent enough to breach the very wall shields of his ships- not even his own flagship was immune!Fleet Melee Cutter "Ace of Hearts"
Final Approach to Target
Oliver grinned. Torpedoes away; our turn soon.
Judging from the fire they'd received so far, their defense fire was almost... arrogant. There didn't seem to be any point defense weapons as such, only hard-driven, short-duration sweeps from the main guns, with little or no tracking onto the target. Their hit rates were frighteningly good for that kind of gunnery tactics- Applejack was far from the only flight to have a close call on the way in, and there were boats down, swatted out of the sky by the more-than-lightning intensity of the heavy beams' core. But against the tiny, numerous smart missiles of the fleet melee boats, keeping up what they'd done so far wouldn't serve the Zebesians well.
"Just a few bad birds still searching... four, three, I have no solution on Seventeen or Twelve."
Thirty-four solutions in a sheaf wasn't bad, and they were coming up on launch point...
"Just take a best-guess."
"Best-guess on Twelve, partial solution on Seventeen. Yes, sir. Coming up-" A few breathless seconds- "Launching thirty-six." Ace of Hearts
shuddered in two-four time as the boat's Galia-greencaps left the boxes, rippling out in pairs. The starships' torpedoes were already starting to overtake; other melee boats added their weight to the launch. There were less than two hundred torpedoes; the cutters' launch numbered in the thousands.
He growled, spun Ace of Hearts
around, and started building perpendicular vector- a lot of the torpedoes were going down, a lot
; these guys' ECCM was too good for comfort, and sheer volume of fire took its toll on even the fastest-dodging missiles. But each Cantaloupe took a lot of beam fire to bring down, and the Zebesians were doing hearteningly little about the cutters' smaller missiles.
With their countermissile fire working the way it did- no area effect, no specialized quick-fire weapons, just straight bursts from antiship energy weapons- could
they handle a swarm of small threats like that properly? As the commander watched the shoals of Galias close in, he saw that the answer was "no."Too many- they can't stop them!
Bursts of needle-beam fire from the teardrops and ellipsoids of the Zebesian fleet speared a few hundred of Galias; the vast majority made it in, running in on the heels of the longer-range torpedoes, just far enough back to keep a safe distance as they started going off. The outermost standoff shields of the enemy ships were already burned away by the starships' particle guns; those of the multimegaton shaped charges that survived the approach punched into the Zebesian wall shields with blasts of ionized boron and residual X-rays from rubiconium-boosted fission charges.
One of the enemy destroyers took a particularly square hit- a torpedo sensed weakness at the high-curvature endcap of the target's hull-hugging shields, sideslipped to flash across its stern, pivoted, and fired. Fringes of the blast enveloped the destroyer on all sides, but the high-intensity core flayed away the wall shield and ripped down the long axis of the target's ellipsoidal hull. Oliver was surprised to see the ship come apart in a fireball, though- antimatter fuel and bad handling protocols? He hoped so, because his own Galias were coming up and he didn't
want to overfly those ships at point blank without having scarred up their defense fire.
The cutters' lighter missiles were team players, much more so than the torpedoes. They had disproportionate telemetry suites for their size and punch, and used it. Ace of Hearts'
own launch slotted neatly into the overall fire plan against their target battlecruiser. Their target's shields were already reeling and glowing in harsh, eye-searing violet from torpedo strikes. The hundred-odd light missiles fired from Oliver's cutter flight abused the quasisolid field of force further, punching millisecond-synchronized blasts of copper plasma into the wall of defensive force and leaving crazy patterns of ripples along its surface. The next sheaves, from the rest of Delta Wing, spread the ripples further, left predictable thin spots in the integrity of the battlecruiser's defensive force field- which the next
wave, from Iota Wing, lanced right through.
Those were lightly armored ships, and not built to take much punishment once their shields failed; the battlecruiser did not
respond gracefully, and after yet another barrage from Alpha piled in, it went up as dramatically as the destroyer, in a sensor-dazzling fireball.
That looked to be the cutters' only kill, though; Oliver held his breath as the last seconds before closest approach ticked away. Ace of Hearts
was due to flash by the enemy battleship at under five thousand kilometers' range, and prayed his EWO had the sense to redline the jamming pods... yes!
Some tics on the shields as a stuttering burst of needle-beam fire searched for the cutter, but nothing direct and nothing lethal.Core Ship 12E886C8
Flagship Boskonian Core Subfleet
"Damage control reports... Beam projectors at seventy percent, tracer grids to ventral and port gone, forward antenna array at forty-five percent capacity. Mostly surface damage, except for one torpedo strike. Fuel containment breach on Tank Six, but no other serious damage to drive and power systems."
"I see. Proceed as ordered."
The fuel leak was inconvenient, but Boskonia was not so foolish as to build its ships with high-volatility fuel reserves. The steady loss of liquid metal meant for his disintegration furnaces might be inconvenient, but no more than that. He had enough to spare.
Cosmog noted with disappointment that shots fired in the wake of the Umerian cutter group as they receded were having little effect- with so many of his macrobeam mounts and sensors damaged, the tiny, agile targets were harder to engage going out than going in.
At the same time, the Umerian light starships were reversing acceleration, pulling back and away, though their cruisers dallied a little to finish off one of his own cruisers. The ship's damage from the torpedo attack hadn't triggered its self-destruct charges, but as the Enemy electron beams sliced through the tattered remnants of a wall shield its half-fused generators could maintain... that was odd. They weren't
lighting off. Cosmog let out a high-pitched, ratcheting growl; if he let one of his core ships be captured quasi-intact on an operation like this, Helmuth would make sure he died horribly. He keyed a command phrase, a low-bandwidth submesonic transceiver aboard the Boskonian cruiser AEEA6C52 took the message- the cruiser blew up into safely unsalvageable fragments.
Return fire from his remaining cruisers and destroyers was having at least some effect; there were bursts of vapor and one multi-kiloton flash off one of the Umerian light cruisers, suggesting reasonably serious damage through their relatively thin shielding, in spite of the mad evasive dance and veils of jamming they kept up while backing away. Another such flash off one of their destroyers, and what had to be nearly a thousand tons of vapor; the ship's acceleration dropped and a few of his ships turned more macrobeams on to finish the job.
He still had most of his subfleet; the first and greatest priority was to escape
. They'd weathered the worst of the Umerian attack now, though. The range was opening, escape seemed likely unless those damnable proton-beam ships sprouted more guns all at once. So on to second priority: revenge.
He'd been tricked twice too often fighting these Technocrats, and it seemed... suitable
to extract his price for that from the hides of the ships the Enemy'd used to make the tricks work.
"Order to all ships. Concentrate fire on Enemy medium cruisers; flagship to fire on target five."
It would be amusing to see how tough they really were- those absurd mules, those glorified troopships, that the Umerians called "strike cruisers." By all reports, the hybrid ships had nowhere near the kind of metal the proton-beam cruisers showed...
Cruiser CNS TheseusCruiser CNS Theseus
The enemy 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!"
Flagship Centralist Contingent
Under High Acceleration
Liggs smiled thinly. We're catching them!
The heavy ships of the Zebesian center had a damnable inertia-reduction drive; it made them hellishly agile, and it made them fast... but not faster in a straight dash than his command's ion engines, not at redline. It was a close race, yes. The trio of battlecruisers and their screening elements might even have gotten away, if not for the disarray he'd caused by finishing off their crippled battleship, paralyzed by its failed hyperjump, with plasma fire. But his backup plan would work- the geometry guaranteed it.
Liggs' ships formed three waves. The Prussian Sixth Battlecruiser Squadron grumbled in the rear, Liggs could tell von Musel was irritate with his refusal to transfer command of his fleet, and seniority in grade would support his right to object, but- to abdicate the responsibility Verio had breveted on his shoulders? Unthinkable! The Prussian ships were a hair slower, had higher-velocity drivers, better suited for long range fighting, but they'd taken serious damage from earlier action against the Zebesians. He had plenty of respect for von Musel, but those ships were little more than artillery support this time around.
Von Musel's dash through the Zebesian center hours earlier was the reinvention of a tactic the Centrality was already familiar with; Liggs was going to add another wrinkle, to take the best advantage of his carriers. The carrier element, pushed out into the van, had the most powerful engines- designed to evade enemy warships in sublight for as long as possible so as to recover fighters even in the event of a defeat, they were almost as fast as their own parasite craft. They could build the vector to overtake the Zebesians, and did as Liggs watched. The carriers closed in.
They were detected, of course, and the late Junior Admiral's ships engaged their Bergenholms to dart out of the attackers' path. Scarcely had battle been joined when the enemy began to realize that this was to be a battle the like of which they had never before seen, and when they began to understand it, it was too late. They could not run; despite the great agility of their inertialess drive, they could not compete with the brute force of the Centralist ion-torch engines. They had no choice but to accept a momentary close range action against their enemy.
A moment was all Liggs needed. The first, fast-moving carriers of the Centrality fleet did not fight at all. They simply held on like bulldogs with their mighty tractor arrays
, taking without response everything that the Boskonians' white-hot projectors could throw at them. Their defensive screens radiated fiercely under the appalling punishment being dealt out to them by the enemy cruisers, even failed locally under poignant lances of elemental force and allowed great wounds to be torn into the carriers' armored hulls. But they did not go down, nor did the grip of a single tractor loosen from its anchorage. The Boskonians were well and truly pinned- and in minutes the squat and heavily-gunned cruisers, destroyers, and corvettes of the Centralists came up, backed by the remaining Prussians of the Sixth. From the refractory throats of their massive driver batteries raved the most ferocious, the most terrifically destructive barrage those ships had ever faced.
Boskonian outer screens scarcely even flickered as they went down before the immeasurable, the incredible violence of that assault. The second course offered a briefly brilliant burst of violet radiance as it gave way. The inner screen resisted stubbornly as it ran the spectrum in a wildly coruscant display of pyrotechnic splendor, but it, too, went through the ultra-violet and into the black. Now the wallshield itself- that inconceivably rigid fabrication of pure force- was all that barred from the base metal of Boskonian walls the indescribable fury of the Centralist bombardment. Now force was streaming from that shield in veritable torrents. So terrible were the conflicting energies there at grips that their neutralization was actually visible and tangible. In sheets and masses, in terrific, ether-wracking vortices, and in kilometer-long, pillaring streamers and flashes, those energies were being hurled away. Hurled to all the points of the sphere's full compass, filling and suffusing all nearby space.
Those guns were designed to do just one thing- to maul- and that one thing they did well, relentlessly and thoroughly. Higher and higher into the spectrum the defending wallshields began to radiate. At the first blast they had leaped almost through the visible spectrum, in one unbearably fierce succession of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo, up to a sultry, coruscating, blindingly hard violet. Now the doomed shields began leaping erratically into the ultraviolet. To the eye they were already invisible, upon the recorders they were showing momentary flashes of black.
Soon they went down, and within instants of each failure, one vessel of Boskone was no more. For, that last defense gone, nothing save unresisting metal was left to withstand the ardor of those ultra-powerful, hammering drivers. Substances existed that could withstand such onslaught, delay and deflect its blazing assault, but none were to be found in the hulls of this Boskonian squadron. Therefore every atom, alike of vessel and of contents, went to make up the searing, seething burst of brilliant, incandescently luminous vapor which suffused all circumambient space.
Thus passed out of the Scheme of Things a dozen starships of the H-12 Detachment of Boskonia.