Recommended Listening: The March Unto DeathValkyrie-class Battlecruiser SMS Brunhild
Flagship Sixth Battlecruiser Squadron
1940 HoursHe can't tell me what the plan is? It must be something Reinhard doesn't want me to know. What would he want to do at this point that he wouldn't want me to know about before it's too late to change his mind?
Siegfried started racking his brain for an answer... ah, that had to be it.
Very well. He knew it would look bad at first, and he suspected Reinhard was trying to keep him from arguing. As if I would... doesn't he know me better than that after all these years?
He looked over at Reinhard. Siegfried could tell just from his admiral's posture that he was fully engaged now- before, most of his efforts had been devoted to planning, not actually directing the operations of his fleet. He'd obviously decided to enact his plan now, which meant this was going to be a very interesting half hour. Enough to make Siegfried a little apprehensive- there were a lot of heavy ships out there, and no doubt Reinhard would be crossing swords with quite a few.
When Reinhard decided to act, he didn't wait long. Snapping his orders to communications section, he put his so-secret, so-transparent plans into action.
"Railgun ships, fire by single ship, battery salvoes, as you acquire, ammunition constraints removed. To the Twenty-Third, alpha strike on enemy target list Green, and..." He paused for a beat. "Personal message to Fleet-Captain Mittermeyer: "Unload half your Acherons, too. Knock them back hard; they're too good to be allowed to interfere with what comes next.""
Reinhard turned to Siegfried as the first independent volley of rounds leapt from Brunhild's
railguns, and one of the enemy light cruisers flared and sprayed a thin mist of atmosphere under impacts from Reuental's destroyers. There was a wide smile on his lips and a spark dancing in his eyes; he looked more alive now than he had in... months, years even. "I don't really expect to need countermissiles where we're going, Kircheis."
F-2515 Series Missile Frigate F-2522
Flagship 23rd Missile Squadron
Fleet-Captain Wolfgang Mittermeyer was an excitable man when he spotted a decisive moment. "You heard the man, line it up! All ships, concentrate your fire on those heavy cruisers!"Something important to do twice in a week; I like this admiral. He's weird.
Normal tactics would have been for von Musel to concentrate on the gunnery duel against the enemy cruisers, leaving the enemy's laser ships alone... and then conclude that his frigates' offensive missiles were useless because the enemy's point defense was too thick for their limited stock of heavy antiship Hellfires to cause serious harm to the enemy cruisers.
Instead, he'd killed the enemy laser platforms first
: three destroyed, and two more damaged, even at the expense of accepting steady fire from their cruisers into his own heavies. He'd paid for that- serious damage to two of his battlecruisers, and one of Reuental's destroyers had taken a beam that opened the core hull along a good quarter of her length; she was keeping up with the formation, but there was no power left for much of anything but
the drive- mission-killed, probably would be killed outright as soon as the enemy devoted any serious effort to destroying her.
And now, only now, was von Musel calling on Wolfgang to deliver a decisive punch. He hoped they could deliver- his gut said yes, but years of training and institutional memory made him worry...
Hours ago, he'd fired off a fair percentage of his ships' ammunition, all too quickly, trying to break up the wave of launches from the first Zebesian fleet's dorsal group. He'd claimed more than his share at the time, though, and since then the fleet hadn't come under heavy missile attack. That left him with most of his Hellfires and a good fraction of the lighter Acherons even now, waiting for the opportunity.
The first launches were undetectable from the bridge, but F-2522
's deckplates thrummed slightly as fresh missiles rolled into the tubes from the magazines, precision machinery slotting them into place for the next salvo... and the third, and the fourth. Wolfgang leaned forward against his command chair's shock restraints, watching. Would it really work? Could his frigates really damage something that heavy? The numbers said so, unless those enemy cruisers pulled out a miracle of unexpected point defense... or something else.BOOM!
One of their heavy cruisers had picked out his flagship, obviously trying to knock out the missile frigate before the bulk of its Hellfires could leave the tubes. F-2522
's shields wavered and sparked as searing lines of green split the darkness, but the generators held and she kept up fire.
Her sister, F-2530
, wasn't so lucky; a combined assault from two of the enemy light cruisers carved into her from above and below, burning through the ship's single armor belt and taking down her drives. Followup shots stabbed through the stricken frigate amidships a few seconds later and her active systems went dead. The last signs of activity from the ship were a spray of Acherons that must have been loaded already when the first beams hit... three more Hellfires and- somehow!- reloads from two of the Acheron tubes... then nothing.Kuhler...
Von Musel's Valkyries
had already started to shift the focus of their electronic warfare suites, taking his frigates more thoroughly under the cloak of their heavy jammers. More of the enemy's howling bolts creased the vacuum, but there were no more penetrating hits, and the birds were on their way.
Recommended listening: Ride of the Valkyries
Watching thermonuclear blasts flicker like strobes around the enemy cruisers, Konteradmiral
Reinhard von Musel considered the implications for Prussian fleet doctrine. We, too, rely heavily on specialized light ships for fleet antimissile defense, with many of our ships lacking a suitable backup point defense capability of their own.
If he ever found himself in a position to dictate terms to the design boards, he'd have to do something about that. He was exploiting these aliens' reliance on light antimissile platforms as a weakness; it would hardly do to allow himself to show others the same weakness as the Zebesians.Misleading name, that... might as well use it, though.
The enemy shot down some
of the Twenty-Third's missiles, but not nearly enough to save them from a beating. Even the light general-purpose Acherons carried a warhead powerful enough to leave a mark on almost anything below capital-class if it could get within a few kilometers. The heavy antiship Hellfires' boosted compressed-hydrogen bombs were almost Shepistani in potency. The phaser batteries on the Zebesian cruisers themselves picked off most of the frigates' first few launches even without the support of their lighter fleet defense platforms. But they'd had little time to engage the fourth and subsequent barrages, and those missiles had dived in to bracket their targets with repeated strikes, hammering them from all directions..
Getting reads on the state of this enemy's shielding was tricky, but the plumes of metallic vapor drifting away from their three heavy cruisers only mean one thing. The ships' power signatures were still largely unaffected, though- Mittermeyer's attack had damaged those ships badly, but not destroyed them.
Meanwhile, the Sixth and Eleventh squadrons concentrated on the enemy light cruisers and plasma destroyers, trying not so much for destruction of targets as disruption- penetrating hits that would temporarily reduce the ships' ability to fight and distract their captains from the task of keeping an eye on the overall battle. With the missile attack done, Reinhard felt confident enough to gamble on his success and make the next move.
"All ships, war emergency main drive burn, vector minus seventeen by minus forty; maximum evasion. Go to pre-recorded electronic warfare settings starting in ninety seconds."
He looked over at Kircheis, the unspoken worry in the redhead's eyes obvious.
"Yes, I know, that takes us right through their capital ships. Trust me, Kircheis."
"Always, sir. But..."
"Yes, this is going to hurt. Don't worry. We'll come through all right."
"You're confident of the EW scheme?"
"It'll fool them for a little while, I think. It should; we sunk three days into it after the raid. And there's a tactic I want to try against these people, something I thought of with an eye to the Taikongjun, but it should work even better here. Also... other considerations. Will tell you later."
Kircheis's expression was strange, but he nodded in assent.And we need to get out of the system; they're sitting directly on our path to the hyper limit. Besides, this will help my case later...
One did have to plan for what would happen after the battle, not just during. Failure to do that... that way, von Mückenberger lies.
Type 22 Core Ship, Serial Number 12E886C8
Flagship Boskonian Core Subfleet
The sight of a Prussian cruiser squadron breaking ranks and accelerating towards the heart of his fleet startled Cosmog of Narshe enough to put a crack in his self-discipline. A racial tic shone through for a moment.
"Kupo?"Curses! Who heard that?
Cosmog looked furtively around the bridge. No one, apparently- or if they had, they didn't dare to show it. Which was good enough.
Zokolova had warned him to expect some surprises from Sixth Battlecruisers, and the way they'd just knocked the Kavoolites reeling supported that. So the obvious question was how von Musel expected to not die while charging straight at a formation with several times his firepower?
Cosmog poked at a few keys on his tactical board. The holographic image of one of his subfleet commanders appeared, and she greeted him in the Boskonian constructed language, one invented specifically to allow almost any kind of intelligent life imaginable to communicate with cold, terse efficiency.
His subordinate, Junior Admiral Cayenne, made the appropriate gesture of mild abasement. "Yes, milord?"
"Junior Admiral, take your flagship and battlecruisers five through seven, with attached screens. Fire on Enemy Sixth Battlecruisers."
She frowned. "Yes, milord. Enemy decoys present difficulty; any direction from flagship would be appreciated."Decoys? Curses!
Cosmog looked back to his own plot... Where once there had been five battlecruisers, five destroyers, and four frigates charging at him, now there were at least a dozen of each on the display.
"Understood. K-" I won't say it!
"-dismissed!" By sheer force of will, Cosmog suppressed the impulsive response. His subordinate, her face utterly still, faded from the viewscreen.
The moogle considered his plot. No decoy was perfect; the computers were bound to find a flaw and disregard the jamming sooner or later. But they hadn't done it right away, and that was a bad sign- it might take minutes. And until then, his ships' macrobeams would have to be divided among many targets...Aaaargh!
Just to put the icing on the cake, the light codes indicating the enemy ships started to elongate- then blur, twist, and contort into improbable cats' cradle shapes, which then vanished in a puff of fog only to reappear hundreds of kilometers away. The electronic warfare suites of these Valkyries
were proving much more of a nuisance than he'd expected. He still had confidence that his crews and computers would sort it out, but he had a bad feeling that von Musel was going to get away with his charge.
And if they kept using their reserve ammunition as freely as they had before, they'd be firing a lot of rounds, from close range, unless he wanted to give up the current action against the Prussian center entirely and pull away. Which wasn't palatable- yes, they'd taken down a few of his screening ships, but he'd taken a few of theirs as well, and surely the battleships' ablative armor couldn't last forever. Pulling back would give von Mückenberger and von Bödicker's battle squadrons a respite, to run damage control and recharge their shields, and that might undo his earlier gains.
And yet for those upcoming minutes, simple arithmetic would give him more cause to fear the guns of von Musel's destroyers and cruisers than the half-ton slugs from von Mückenberger's battleships- they'd be putting more kilotons on target, if nothing else.
So, keep his general position while minimizing the threat of the enemy's charge- "All ships, evasion change: level ten, priority on fire from Enemy Group von Musel!"
Admiral Cosmog of Narshe, giving orders from his flagship
Z-1240 Series Destroyer Z-1261
Flagship Eleventh Destroyer Squadron
Oskar von Reuental regarded the plot with mismatched eyes. They'd left the abused ships of the enemy dorsal group in their wake. With the loss of their laser platforms and the hammering the Twenty-Third's missile batteries had dealt to their heavy cruisers, the aliens seemed to have pulled in their horns. Their fire was uncoordinated and often inaccurate, signals analysis suggested confusion in their ranks. He doubted it would last- it was obvious they were professionals, wherever the came from- but for now they were no real factor in the assault von Musel had ordered against the Zebesian center.
Their ships were burning for the loosely defined Zebesian 'wall'- more like a cloud, really. The ships flickered and danced like fireflies, occasionally flaring in rainbow bursts of light when someone managed to score hits on their shields. That wasn't happening often; they were firing from too far out, their footwork too fast, for the battleships in the center to score heavily on them or often. Though once in a while... the corner of Reuental's mouth quirked up a fraction of a millimeter as one of the enemy battlecruisers reeled backwards, faster even than its own impossible evasion burns. When a salvo of kinetics hit those things, they recoiled like mad; it had to be a side-effect of their inertialess drive, and one von Musel was planning on, for this next stunt.
It was going to be interesting, and possibly short. There was time to check in with his friend once more, before they got close enough to demand full attention. Reuental had served with Mittermeyer so many times, it felt almost like they were brothers. More than that, in some respects- more like the frigate officer was the other half of his own brain. And so he had a habit of leaving a sideband open to speak to his friend, even during combat.
"Having fun yet?"
"How often do I get tasked to fire on something bigger than me?"
"Not enough." Mittermeyer had often complained about it over the years- doctrine tying him to the apron-strings of the capital ships, forcing him to hold back. Reuental felt it too; in his opinion, every light-ship officer in the fleet who was worth a damn did.
He paused for a moment. His mismatched eyes narrowed at the main tactical plot. "Their gunnery's improving, Wolfgang; they just blew away two of the decoys."
"Looks like luck, that battleship must have gotten a look through Kaleidoscope for a few seconds."
"Perhaps." Well, no one promised me I'd be coming back...
"I find von Musel's plan on closest approach amusing. We'd better get ready."
"Your show more than mine."
"You got your chance."
Knock 'em dead for me, Oskar; all I've got to work with are these one-kilo popguns." That was true; the frigates' railgun mounts were very much afterthoughts, and better suited to point defense than antiship work.
Reuental inclined his head. "Of course. Over and out." He then took a few minutes, last checks with the other captains, with his own weapons officers; they were ready.
Those minutes carried them close, very close indeed. The Boskonians opened fire- their beams were visible on subspace, and Reuental could see all too clearly the crisscrossing fire from four capital ships and at least a dozen smaller craft hammering towards the Prussian squadrons.Into the valley of death...
The decoys died fast- the range had already closed so far that there was no possibility of evading lightspeed weapons for long. Jamming became increasingly pointless as the Prussians became more clearly visible to simple, foolproof sensors like lidar and passive infrared. Deception had covered their approach, but burned away all too quickly now as they charged straight into the enemy's teeth.
But like all Prussian ships, the Valkyries
and their consorts were built tough. Their evasive burns still darted them out from under the Boskonian guns for precious split seconds, the blinding afterimages of their ECM still danced in the Boskonian gunnery systems' cybernetic eyes and brains. That hellish storm of ultrawaves would surely have torn von Musel's command into its constituent atoms in time, but 'time' was measured in minutes- many of them. For the seconds of closest proximity, they could walk through this fire.
Reuental's flagship shuddered, the hull groaning under the onslaught as continuous blasts from the Boskonian macrobeams warped and twisted Z-1261
's defensive screens. The destroyer Z-1278
, already critically damaged and with barely enough power to keep pace with the squadron while driving her shields, was chopped into fragments by slicing fire from three enemy ships.
He saw a plume of organic vapor erupt from Brunhild
, but the computers identified it immediately as cosmetic damage. The Valkyries
' distinctive antiflash white color scheme came from the layer of hyper-refractory ablatives covering their outer armor belt; the enemy could blast that away in the scores of tons without causing any real harm to the flagship.
The organic vapor was followed by metal- more worrisome, but Brunhild
kept going, and the datastreams from her computers were interrupted only briefly. Reuental had neither the time nor the inclination to worry, though; he was preoccupied with the offensive side of the admiral's plans.
Throughout the years the violence, intensity, and sheer brute power of offensive weapons had increased steadily. Defensive systems had kept step. One fundamental fact, however, had not changed throughout the ages and has not changed yet. Three or more units of given power have always been able to conquer one unit of the same power, if engagement could be forced and no assistance could be given; and two units could practically always do so, in time. Fundamentally, therefore, strategy always has been and still is the development of new artifices and techniques by virtue of which two or more of our units may attack one of theirs; the while affording the minimum of opportunity for them to retaliate in kind.
Von Musel, observing the tendency of Boskonian ships to skitter across the void like a hog on ice when struck by high-momentum impacts, had come up with another such artifice. His ships, pushing straight through the heart of the dancing cloud of vessels at the enemy's center, might not be able to aim for specific enemy ships... but they'd get close to at least a few of them, by chance if nothing else.
This was the price Cosmog paid for failing to retreat in the face of von Musel's charge. In pressing the attack against von Mückenberger's battleships, he guaranteed that at least some of his ships would come within close reach of Sixth Battlecruisers and its escorts.
The Prussian ships fired no gun, but simply drove straight into the thick of the Boskonian formation, taking the heavy fire from their capital ships and the shoals of lighter destroyers and cruisers as it came. Their sole aggressive move was a simple one. Von Musel had divided his force into two groups; at the moment of closest approach, each group was to reach out with its ships' short-range tractor beams and grapple a single opponent.
In the event, they netted a cruiser and a battlecruiser. Now the Boskonians' inertia-defying Bergenholm drive played against them. Confronted with the raw mass and momentum of the hurtling Prussian ships, with the intense forces exerted by the tractors, they found themselves at a grave disadvantage.
They were seized bodily, anchored irresistibly, dragged helplessly, by the overwhelmingly greater inertia of their captors. Their low-impulse driving projectors, adequate to achieve great speed in free flight, achieved nothing now. The enemy ships' drives howled in helpless fury as, pulled by the competing pull of six ships' tractors each, they were hauled towards the very barycenter of the Prussian formation.
One on one, either ship might have cut free, devoting its own gravitic projectors to neutralize those of the foe. But faced with half a dozen ships, several of comparable power to their own, the Boskonians' ability to cut tractor beams did them no good whatsoever. They might defeat one ship's pull, only to be slung sideways towards the others.
And while the two trapped ships struggled against the invisible bands of force immobilizing them, the Prussian squadrons increased the distance from the Boskonian main body by ever-growing increments with each passing moment. Soon, von Musel and Reuental's ships no longer needed to devote every available erg to defensive maneuver and shielding, as the enemy fleet's fire attenuated and their targeting grew less absolutely precise. And as the need to devote power to the harsh demands of survival faded, it was once again time to use that power for attack!
Now the Boskonians found themselves under attack from every direction, battered by the twenty-kilo ferrous slugs of the Prussian battlecruiser and destroyer railguns, at ranges where those rounds could not miss, against targets that could not evade. This was not the distant, dancing, swirling fight they were made for; it was a point-blank slugging match, a contest of durability and firepower that could only end one way with the tonnage so mismatched.
The trapped ships died hard, as was Boskonia's wont. The Boskonian heavy, in particular, directed a cunning assault against Brunhild
, perhaps detecting that the battlecruiser was still weakened from the heavy fire she'd taken a minute earlier. Macrobeams snarled forth from her glowing projectors, torrents of energy blasting the flagship's shields and scattering away in polychromatic auroras that filled space for kilometers around.
The blazing intensity commonly associated with nuclear fireballs- but these fireballs lasted far longer than those from a nuclear device. They clung to their target, and Brunhild's
outer, intangible defenses wavered under the onslaught. Here and there, for fractional-second flashes, the beams found gaps in Brunhild's
walls of force, battering through individual shield panels or flaring past the joints between them. Bursts of ultrawaves boiled away still more of her gleaming white armor, gnawing into the main hull underneath with fangs of raw, elemental flame.
But if Brunhild
was hard pressed, the Boskonians suffered far more, and far quicker. Their battlecruiser was the target of the combined main batteries of the entire Sixth Battlecruiser division; their cruiser came under fire from von Reuental's four surviving destroyers, ships that had been designed to engage in long range beam duels with practically any ship of their tonnage in known space and win.
As always, the Boskonians' outer shields failed almost immediately in the face of serious attack; they were more tripwire than barrier. Thus alerted, the underlying courses would divert power to the sectors under attack- but englobed and bombarded from all directions, at ranges so short the enemy could even pick which part of the ship to target, there was no place to divert it from
. The second and third tiers of screen failed more slowly, thinning and shedding radiation as they rose through the rainbow from red through ultraviolet- but fail they did, and in only seconds.
The wall shields, hard-driven and carefully designed for endurance and resilience, were a more formidable line of defense. Here, even the combined fire of von Musel's command was stopped for a time. It was the wall shields that bought time to flay at Brunhild's
thick ablative skin, time for the Boskonian cruiser to lay its beams into the frigate F-2544
and tear terrible gashes in her core hull, time for that same cruiser to even switch fire to Eleventh Destroyers' Z-1253
and manage superficial damage there, before dying.
But gradually, this last line of defense began to falter too, swirls of black appearing like sunspots in the blazing violet-white. Clever gunners directed their shells at the weaknesses thus revealed, finally punching their rounds into and through the mighty barrier of force. Railgun slugs tore into their target, and the Prussians found that the clean-lined, graceful ellipsoidal hulls were lightly armored indeed. Key systems were found and pierced, and the targets' shields failed entirely.
Unbeknownst to the Prussians, this was the signal that primed the Boskonian ships' standard-issue scuttling charges. The charges lay in wait, but had only a few more seconds of sustained fire to sit through before railgun slugs started battering into the center of their hulls, slicing through main structural members and splitting the ships apart. Cascading hull failures caused the Boskonians' hull plates to rip at the seams, and that set the demolition bombs into final countdown. The two ships were pulled irresistably apart by the tractor beams locked onto them, torn into large fragments, which then exploded.
Missile Frigate Gacknik*
Engaging Prussian Third Battlecruiser Squadron
*[Translates as "Belligerent, Strongly Inclined Towards Slashing" or "This
Close to Going Axe Crazy," depending on the translator.]
"Dear Zarquon, look what they did to those warbirds! I want some of those missiles! What the hells did they load 'em with, anyway?"
Nugak shook his head. "Dunno, but did they ever take a beating. Glad we're not fighting those
The chief missileer made a crackling noise with his fingertips and grunted. "Don't worry, boy. Those ships are Imperial Navy. The Kavoolites may be a bunch of crazy neofeudal scumchewers, but damned if they aren't the toughest scumchewers you'll ever find. They'll get their act together again. Most of their ships are still OK, once they get the chain of command shaken out."
"The apes just nuked the crap outta the warbirds, right? Well, their admiral's probably on one of those ships; he's probably still trying to get a radio hooked up so he can talk to his people or something. Don't worry, Nugak, they'll be back in shape pretty soon."
"And get an update on those fire control solutions. I want to be able to put a sheaf through any
of those ships in front of us, not just the slow ones."
That kept Nugak's head down for a while. It popped back up when the rest of the crew crowded around the fire mission monitoring plot- sounded pretty intense.
"Shriekbatshit! They're headed straight for the battlewagons!"
"Must've gone crazy, they're never gonna make it..."
"Those poor, brave little monkeys."
The chief grunted. "No, wait, there's gotta be... yep." He nodded to himself.
"Huh? Hey, do we need a repair tech down here? Look at that long range plot!"
"Nah, I think it's just the dorsal group doing something wacky. See? Nothing wrong with our
"Hmm. Reminds me of some of that stuff the humans pulled on us back at the mining facility... you think it's the same ships?"
"...Could be. That'd explain how they just knocked the Kavoolites over so hard."
glad we're not fighting those guys, then. Once was enough."1958 Hours
"That's... unnatural what they're doing to that battlecruiser."
"Yeah. Oh, man, there goes the cruiser. Boy, when those weirdships go down, they go out with style... Gotta be nervous flying those things."
"Victory or death, huh?"
"Hey, wait a minute. Look at their acceleration vector. They're not slowing down..."
. What, they aren't going to try that again? But it worked so well!"Hmm.
Nugak had an idea, maybe... "Maybe they're worried they'd get chewed up. They might've took some damage."
"But they're just running away! They were kicking cloaca a minute ago! Couldn't they just go back after the Kavoolites or something?" Jobblod's voice seemed almost indignant- Nugak guessed the other fellow would call it 'respect' for them. But really, it didn't make a lot of sense to him; did Jobblod want
to keep watching these guys make the sector's navies look like a bunch of chumps?
Nugak shook his head. "I dunno, buddy. I just hope they don't come back after us
Jobblod's teeth clattered. "Hells yeah. Me neither."