Recommended Listening: From Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, First Movement
Arsenal Ship Hurgaa
1402 Hours Coalition Fleet Standard TimeSo far, so good.
The humans were putting up a heavy fire from their railguns, and the battleships in particular were hitting some of his ships hard- he'd already lost three of his plasma destroyers and a missile frigate from the flanking groups. Quite a few hits from the humans' numerous cruiser-weight railguns, along with a handful of battleship rounds, had punched into his laser ships as well, but they were taking it on the carapace well enough. Those ships' outer holds were full of enormous thicknesses of rock, and so far all the Prussian guns had managed was to turn some of it into gravel and powdered glass.
The bulk of their fire was spread across his fleet- very heavy and reasonably accurate, but easier to handle than it would be to take full salvoes from single human ships. One of the plasma frigates escorting his heavy units had died that way already. He didn't know whether it was a fluke or careful gunnery that had put six rounds of eight from a Prussian destroyer's broadside into it, but the frigate's shields went down and took her engines with them. The follow-up salvoes finished her off. A few other groups of four or five hits had come roaring in on his laser monitors- but again, they could take it.
If any other such salvoes had been thrown, they'd missed. Frugus had worried about the limits of his EW systems too; Urtraghan technology was behind galactic norms in some ways and the Boskonians had only provided so much. But they seemed to be up to the task of keeping the Prussians from putting too many of those tightly aimed sheaves into his ships.
Then the holiday ended, as the flagship's control room flexed
. Walls buckled momentarily; the display screen at the far end of the room twisted a few degrees out of true before snapping back with an ear-flaying screech. Several flat-monitors cracked outright. Glancing at the ship status display, Frugus muttered a curse. That hadn't
gotten through the shields. Damn all underbuilt civilian construction... at least the construction crews had put enough flex in the data cables and power trunking to keep that from tearing the connections apart.
Just as he was starting to recover from the moment of disorientation, he saw something worse yet. Hurgaa
's sister ship Skrehdor
* took a dozen rounds and exploded, shields flaring down as the high-energy kinetics tore through her missile magazines. Urtraghan antiship missiles were pure kinetic weapons, with no volatile warheads, but when cruiser-caliber rounds came through the side, the shattering high density power capacitors in the missile drives did the job.
"Festering dung of every imaginable herd beast! Find out where those shells are coming from!"Hurgaa
shuddered again; this time one of the stanchions cracked part way through as a flaw in one of the welds couldn't match flex of the hull- three more rounds slamming against the shields. Thank the gods they weren't breaking through; coming harder on the heels of the first wave that might have finished them. Precious seconds ticked by as the Fleet tactical computers tried to figure out where the fire was coming from. They weren't energetic enough to be coming from the battleships... there!
Grouped salvoes from the enemy cruiser squadron farthest to dorsal... uncannily high hit rate.Homing rounds of course... homing on our jammers perhaps?
"All arsenal ships, switch decoy drones to full power, step down EW emissions to 10%." If he was wrong, that might just make them more vulnerable. Would it work? Hurgaa
's captain rolled her ship to keep the disrupted shield facing from falling apart outright, just in time to take another hit. Other ships reported impactors, one of them a hit that disabled several of her launch rails. But things were going back down to normal, hit rates on his ships' shields more manageable, though he was losing decoys at a disturbing rate.
He'd managed to avert the worst of that barrage, but they plainly had him marked. It was time to start flushing his missiles before he lost any more of the platforms carrying them... or his own life.
Part of him wanted to give that cruiser squadron to dorsal a nice double helping of missiles, but the fire plan was set up across his entire fleet; revising it on the fly might
work, but might equally well cause confusion as the commlinks between ships were overloaded by the revisions. "First missile salvo, fire!"
* Translates as "Shriekbat" or "Bizarre [obscenity, possibly some sort of curse directed at fate with an overtone of 'WHY?'] Kamikaze Death Flier," depending on the translator.
Missile Frigate Gacknik
Ventral Flank Group, Zebesian Fleet
The officer coming in over the intercom was pretty harsh, like most of the guys on these ships. Nugak had already gotten the feeling that they must be scraping the bottom of the barrel back home, but from the look of it the new guys fought pretty well even if they were jerks.
"All batteries fire, fleet fire plan Magenta Two, support the arsenal ships' launch!" Like Nugak, battery chief Jorrobie was from the handed subspecies- the pincer guys didn't make for fine manipulation of controls. And he needed that now, frantically entering the launch codes to get as much preparation done as possible.
The fire plan was complicated, he knew that much. This Frugus looked to be a lot tougher than that alien they'd had in charge back at the mining colony, and he was counting on all the missileers- it was the fleet's biggest punch against the humans, and he'd spread the word around about that. Gacknik
would be launching at the same time as not just the other frigates in their own battlegroup, but the ones firing at the enemy from above too- and the big arsenal ships at the core of the fleet, the ones that carried a ridiculous number of missiles and not much else.
Maybe it was for the best that he wasn't on an arsenal ship with the long-service guys, come to think of it. They sounded kind of flimsy.
Anyway, the battery chief was almost done working. This time, Nugak had been dropped into the fire mission monitoring slot- in case anything stupid or useful happened to the fleet at large, he was supposed to give the battery chief a warning so he could switch targets. It was a better job than just manning a watch station during off-hours, though considerably more confusing; Nugak hadn't exactly earned top marks in tactical training. He was kind of worried, really.Don't screw up don't screw up don't screw up...
So far, everything was going according to plan though, so he didn't have to say anything that might screw things up. The humans were sitting fat and happy around their big troop transports, coasting towards Zebes and blazing away at everything nearby with their railguns. Meanwhile, the fleet was stinging them with plasma and laser cannon; he'd already seen a few of their ships wobble from their base course or rearrange formation a bit, and he was pretty sure that meant damaging hits were slowing them down or interfering with their ability to protect themselves.
But so far, they'd only stung the humans, and the human battleships had already blown up at least four ships he'd seen. Not good. Especially since you couldn't see those damn railgun slugs coming; everything would be fine and then WHAM! Gacknik
had already been hit four times from the smaller guns, all on the shields so far, but always with no warning. It was almost as bad as having laser cannons shooting at you.
Then the plot started changing. The arsenal ships in the center disappeared into a cloud of fog. At first, Nugak thought there'd been some kind of disaster, until he realized the leading tendrils of fog were flowing
towards the human fleet, and pulling the rest of the cloud behind them at high speed- those were missiles!
A lot of them, too. Nobody had told him just how many of the things the arsenal ships carried, but it looked like whatever he'd have guessed would be too low. Wow.
"Arsenal ships are firing, chief."
"I copy. Ready to launch on central control's go code." The chief flipped up a cover on his control board and pressed a button, signaling that he was satisfied with his tubes' fire solution.Wait for it... wait for it... aaaaaaah!
Urtraghan antiship missiles were big beasts, and Gacknik
was first and foremost a missile platform. She had launchers almost everywhere her designers could find room... which did not
leave much space for shock absorption.
The ship bucked and shuddered as the frigate's acceleration coils slung the missiles out and howled for more. Ready magazines threw reloads into the launchers fast enough that there was no time for the shaking to stop before the next wave went out. It was fifteen confused seconds before the last rounds went out and the process of reloading the ready magazines from deep storage could begin.
But the missiles were on the way now, the waves from Nugak's own battery group only part of Gacknik
's launch, and that only a small part of the bombardment headed for the humans from the fleet. He hoped this would go better than the last time.
The fog toward the center was picking up speed: The arsenal ships' missiles had been underway for a while now and were going at a pretty good clip. They'd hit hard when they got to the targets, but Nugak was worried about how long the bad guys would have to line up shots at the missiles before they arrived. The frigates from the flanking groups were closer in- their missiles wouldn't hit as hard, but would hopefully hit more often...Go go go... aaaaaaah!
Ready magazines reloaded, the frigates threw another salvo, with more coming from the arsenal ships. They weren't done yet. A third wave followed the first, and that was it- the arsenal ships were running on empty.
And now the humans were trying to shoot down as many as they could. Nugak hadn't gotten a good look at their missile defenses during the fight at Mining Facility Two, because he'd been too busy running for the escape pod at the time. Now he saw that they started off with their own missile launches, mostly from the smallest and largest of their ships, with midsized ones holding fire- those were the railgun ships, though weren't the Prussians supposed to have missile-carrying cruisers?
The human countermissile launches flew right into the middle of the advancing missile clouds; his display registered their nuclear explosions as tiny bubbles of light that popped in the blink of an eye. The leading edge of the fogbanks started to fizz and dissolve as they ran into the Prussian nukes. But the fog was rolling on faster than the nukes could push it back.
Cone and cylinder-shaped holes started appearing as the fog got close to the human ships- they must be loading their large caliber guns with flak for close-in defense. Individual red flashes were missiles killed by point target weapons: quick firing autocannon probably, and they added a dancing scintillation along the leading edge...Come on!
The first wave was shredded, with only a few making it in. The second and third had rather more luck, with the enemy's long range counterfire out of the picture. The markers for human ships flared as Gacknik's
sensors spotted the flashes of shield scatter, flared brighter where they spotted debris plumes.YES!
There were quite a few of those bright flares.
"We nailed some of the little bastards, hits on the battleships, hits on the transports... holy Zarquod, looks like a couple of 'em are breaking up!"
"What, the battleships?"
"Crap. Does the computer think we hit anything?"
"Isn't saying." Nugak started fiddling with the display. "Not sure. But... a couple of the battleships look, um. Aaagh, I can't read this thing right!"
"Lemme see!" Jobblod hopped up from systems monitoring; with nothing in the launchers for now it was probably OK, though the chief hissed displeasure. What were we shooting at, chief?
"Preferred target was number eight, secondary was target seventy-four."
"Hmm. Number eight-" that was one of the battleships- "Hells. Doing OK. But seventy-four, hey, that's one of the transports that broke up! That'll teach 'em to invade our planets! You think it was us?"
"Anyway, looks like targets two and four are limping pretty bad, their EM sensors are all shot to Groolidar* too. I think we got a piece of those two. Plus the smaller ships we bagged, and, well, lots of damage it looks like. All over the place. I think a lot of the missiles got mixed up and wandered off the fire plan. You think that's good or bad?"
"Dunno. Anyway, says here we're supposed to start thinking about follow-up strikes if we see anything we can kill without the arsenal ships, so get back to your post and run some diagnostics! Let's move, people!"
*One of the Urtraghan "special hells," generally agreed to be the one with the most lava, the dullest tridents, and the most grating music.
Valkyrie-class Battlecruiser SMS Brunhild
1415 Hours Fleet Standard Time
Siegfried Kircheis shook his head at the display as the transport Hanau
broke up under a storm of missiles- past a certain point, the sheer number of impactors punching through the armor robbed the ship of structural integrity. After the last few hits, the stern section simply drifted away, and the main hull split open soon after.
"Those poor soldiers." There were over a hundred thousand men on that ship; how many will make it out alive?
There were emergency bubbles for every soldier, but nowhere near enough proper escape pods- pods for a ship that densely crewed would take up an impossible amount of room. The bubbles would keep them alive for some time, but how long would it be before anyone could pick them up? Or how many were dead on the other transports that took hits?
Reinhard nodded. "Ja,
but you know it could have been worse, Kircheis."
He closed his eyes. "I know. Those bombardment cruisers threw a lot
of missiles; if we hadn't been able to jam them off Kellerwald
..." The deck shuddered as Brunhild's
main battery director decided she had a good fire solution for one of the plasma destroyers to dorsal. The pirate beam weapons were still throwing fire, and now that the Prussians had damaged ships, they presented more of a problem.
"Mittermeyer's counterfire shook out nicely too- very quick analysis, he was launching countermissiles almost before the last rounds left the dorsal attack group."
"You did order him into missile defense formation half an hour ago."
"Still, it was neatly done. I like him. I think I'll keep him."
"Heh." That was good news. Finding good people was an endless struggle. "Do you think Bödicker's flagship will be able to keep up? Oldenburg
is still losing speed."
Reinhard frowned. "I don't think he'll have to worry about any sudden dashes. Mückenberger will be relying on gunfire to keep the beam ships off our backs."
"I hope it works." The deck jerked as the flagship took a shot at one of the Zebesians again. The broadsides often came as a surprise; it was more a question of when Sixth Battlecruisers' computers came up with an educated guess exactly where to aim than anything else. Mostly they missed, but once in a while they got lucky and one of the raiders was knocked reeling by the high-speed rounds, shields cracked and hull battered.Now what?
Would the raiders manage another launch, or were they limited to destroyer-weight harassment fire now? How much more would they take before they broke?
Missile Frigate Gacknik
"Any good targets for follow-ups, chief?"
"Nothing from central fire control yet; they're not talking."Weird
. Nugak wasn't the most aggressive guy, sure, but he'd think they'd be planning something by now; the first missile launch had been a while ago.
Then the door slid open. A pair of pincer guys strode in.
The chief turned. "What are you doing with those arm cannons?"
"We're here to explain a few things to your boys."
"What are you talking about? Who ordered you here?"
"The captain. Now listen up!" He twitched the arm with the gun attached. "We're pulling out of the system to rendevous with reinforcements."
On whose orders?"
"By order of the high command. There's a plan. Keep your head down and do your job, and you'll be rewarded."
"This is korakkshit. We're in the middle of a battle here!"
Suddenly the two troopers looked really alert
. Nugak edged away from the chief a little.
Apparently the chief saw it too, because he sounded a bit less... pushy now. "Seriously, we're pulling out the fleet?"
"Yeah. Keep your head down and do your job, and then
it'll be just fine. You got it?"
"...I got it."
Jobblod drummed his fingers along the edge of his control board, nervously. "What do you think that was all about, chief?"
"I dunno. I don't like it. Guys waving that kind of artillery around inside the ship... I've been in the Navy for ten years and I've never seen anything like it. Something's fishy. These guys... they're not normal navy. I've been off Urtraghus for two years now, but I can't believe recruiting and training have changed that much. They've got the right insignia and all, but... something's fishy."
"What if this is some kind of mutiny?"
"What can we do? We're not boarding elites, we don't have any weapons; they'd kick us to pieces without even firing up those guns of theirs. It's like the guy said, we've got to keep our heads down. Hopefully it'll all be sorted out later...
"What if it isn't?"
The chief rasped in resignment. "Eh well. When life gives you bombfruits, make grenades I guess."