August 9th, 4233
Twilight Sector, Outer Reaches
United Terran Concord
“Tracking puts it at a full dozen battleships and a cruiser screen of twice that.”
Li’s eyebrows raised slightly. These people clearly do not believe in the concept of ‘overkill’.
“We’re also reading what looks like a dozen smaller craft; destroyers or frigates. They’re moving into a screening formation around the main body, near as we can tell. It’s hard to get definitive readings through their ECM shell,” the sensor officer reported.
“I don’t think they liked what the rear admiral did to them at Unicorn Set with HAVOCs,” Shania Forrest, Implacable’s XO mentioned. “And they’re taking some precautions in case we have any.”
“They are learning,” Li deadpanned. “That’s rather unfortunate for us. Still, as long as they have that escort screen deployed forward, I don’t think we need to worry.”
“Is there any sign of heavy units?”
“Negative, captain. But the BBs are bundled up tight; they could have something in there with them and we’d never be able to see it.”
Communications looked up. “Query from Liberty, Captain. They’re asking whether we’ve decided on case alpha or beta.”
Fung mulled the decision for a moment; Case Alpha was a straightforward advance on the enemy’s position to engage them out of range of the planet. Beta kept Blue Team and the militia forces closer to Prior where the OWPs could provide additional fire support, but ran the risk of collateral bombardment from the enemy’s missiles, or them firing on the planet like they did at Unicorn Set. At the moment, the planet’s largest was facing the incoming fleet, but that would only last for another nine hours until Prior’s rotation took it out of harm’s way. And would, eventually, bring it back around.
If the Lefu decided to dawdle, it could mean millions of civilian deaths.
…millions of civilians that he and the rest of TF 111 had already been ordered to abandon.
Li pinched the bridge of his nose. “Case Beta.” If there is a God, may He forgive us all.
“A report from Major Lewinsky, captain. They are ready to implement Roundhammer on your orders.”
LeFay accepted it. “Thank you, commander.”
Donald’s first officer stared at him for a moment, perhaps hoping for an explanation for the orders he’d issued to Courageous’s Marine detachment, but none was forthcoming and the other man did not press, simply inclining his head in a curt nod before he departed.
“Case Beta has been authorized.”
Jacob looked up from his display. Unlike Concordat ships, League vessels had neither the technical nor financial wherewithal to install large-scale holo tanks on their vessels. Although Liberty did have a cloned system installed before it began this training cruise, it was mostly for show, to make the battleship seem more advanced than it was to any visiting Concords. Under battle conditions, the system was prone to glitching and it was eschewed for simpler holograms and flatscreens. “Thank you, Karen.”
Junior Captain Karen Allston nodded to her superior. “All tubes are clear, missile batteries are prepped. The runts made good time in getting her ready.”
“It’s unfortunate that they had to.”
“I know, sir. But,” Karen turned her attention to glowing red mass of the enemy fleet. “It isn’t like any of us had much of a choice about this.”
Goldstein looked at the indistinct blur of enemy jamming. “I suppose not.”
It was hard just to sit here and watch, but there was nothing else for it; Blue Team was staying as close to Prior as they could while still keeping their acceleration up, orbiting the planet in languid arcs that would still allow them to react quickly if the Lefu increased the rate of their approach.
They were still coming at an unhurried pace, which to Fung’s mind only confirmed the earlier hypothesis. They did have something big with them – maybe dreadnoughts, maybe a troop convoy – that they were riding with. None of his drones could get near enough to figure out what it was, though. I guess Nat’ll find out for herself. She likes surprises. But only when she’s the one doling them out, if I remember.
The Lefu had crossed the hyper limit over twenty minutes ago; as soon as Intolerance picked up his drone, Red Team would drop the heavy end of the hammer on those alien bastards. Neither force was powerful enough on its own to defeat the juggernaut coming for them, but if the Concordat squadron could catch them between two fires, they might be able to disable or destroy enough of the battleships to prevent the rest of the fleet from advancing on the planet. Prior’s OWPs might be old, but they were solid and they had some very big fucking missiles. Even Lefu ships couldn’t go toe to toe with fortresses and get away unscathed. That’s what Command was hoping, anyways.
Li’s fingers tightened on the arm of his command chair. Part of him had wanted to give the order to the drone as soon as the alien fleet had emerged, especially since their arrival and the destruction of ill-fated Ghostly Hallows confirmed that their hyper limit was further out-system than that of Concordat ships.
Which, circumstances permitting, would make it deliciously easy to ambush and pen Lefu fleets in-system, while making it next to impossible for them to do the same thing to Concordat vessels. That was a matter for the future, though; Fung had already had the data and his staff’s preliminary speculations downloaded to the courier preparing to jump to Hyperion Hive. He’d up-linked Ghostly Hallows’ Code Black as well; the light cruiser had barely managed to get it off before the Lefu had blown it apart.
The captain kept his eyes on the main display, watching a counter. In less than five minutes, by the time Commodore Archer’s ships arrived, the Lefu would be irrevocably committed to making an attack on Prior. If Implacable sent the signal within those five minutes, they would still be able to break off. They might panic, a little voice inside him whispered. If they’re pincered, they might abort. You can still switch to case Alpha and engage them. You don’t need to risk all those lives, those millions of people who won’t make it off the planet.
They had to hit the Lefu, they had to hurt them. If the aliens disengaged, they’d come back with a bigger fleet, before the Admiralty could pull their own heavy units to combat status. They’d come back, roll over Prior and keep going because there wouldn’t be anyone powerful enough to stop them.
But if they got hurt, if they were the ones counting the dead and the injured, they were ones limping to safety, they might slow down. They might stop to think, to re-organize and reconsider what they were doing, which would buy the Concord the time it needed to mobilize. That would save millions more lives in the long run.
And besides, if the Lefu cut and run, then the Concord would have learned nothing about them and more people would die because of that ignorance. Besides, a traitorous little voice in Li’s head whispered. There’s no confirmed reports that they nuked the other civilian worlds they took. Maybe Prior would get lucky.
Right. And maybe there is a God, after all.
“Send the drone,” Fung ordered, his mouth dry.
The Strike Fleet element continued to close with the planet, crawling along at convoy speed. The Enemy’s showing was disappointingly small; a handful of their capital missile-armed ships and a pair of their battleships, one of which appeared to belong to the Second Enemy.
The Second Enemy Vessel’s presence was an anomaly, but it was pushed aside in favour of analysis of the Enemy force; it was far lighter than projections indicated, certainly not what they would have expected the Enemy to send to defend a world of such value. Perhaps there were others; this Enemy Fleet element could have been divided to protect multiple targets, or…
Tricky, tricky, tricky.
Well. They were not without tricks of their own. They would let the Enemy play their gambit, if they even had one. And then?
And then, they would play theirs.
It took a little over four hours for Captain Fung’s signal to reach the stealthed drone sitting on Priorii’s hyper limit. Once it did, a very simple sequence of events followed: the drone vanished into hyperspace to the coordinates where Commodore Archer’s half of TF 111 lay, fighting the tides that wanted to pull them deeper into the system, to their destruction.
The drone was a harbinger; it uploaded the sensor snapshot included with its command to Intolerance’s databanks. The massive ships clustered around it surged to life, sliding past their messenger, none sparing the time to recover it. Its duty completed, the lifeless automaton’s systems shut down and it vanished into the depths of hyperspace.
Radio signals propagated at the speed of light, the one limitation of interstellar communication. Contact with outer-system outposts and ships could take hours for a single message and reply and sensors were equally limited, relaying information progressively more outdated to their viewers the further away one was from the object of interest. Hyperspace sensors were the one exception to this rule, which was all well and good for detecting incoming or outgoing vessels moving at supralight speeds, but less so for picking up station-keeping vessels.
In simpler terms, this meant that none of the Lefu ships should have had the capability to detect Commodore Archer’s Red Team before they burst into reality two hundred million kilometers behind the aliens’ battle-wall.
Natalya leaned forwards in her chair, a forelock of her blood-red hair falling down her scalp, and her blue-green eyes were intent, almost eager.
All right, you bastards. Let’s play.
UTCNS William Wallace
“Launching Red Squadron. Launching Blue Squadron. Launching Green Squadron….” The litany went on as row by row, the William Wallace released its complement of HAVOCs, the smaller craft pulling away from their mothership and shifting into their assigned formations.
“Red Leader to all HAVOCs,” Wing-Captain Drake’s crackled through the comm lines. “Attack pattern Twinblade; priority targets are the enemy’s battleships and whatever they’re hiding. We are not letting CASK-carrying motherfuckers or troopers near one of our planets. Deos fortioribus adesse.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Clarkson asked Rebecca as Glaive settled into formation with its wingman.
“It’s Latin, dumbass. The Wing-Captain’s favorite call: ‘the gods favour the strong’.”
“Yeah. Are we sure that we’re the ones they’re going to be rooting for?”
Natalya stood up from her chair, tugging on the bottom of her uniform jacket. She looked over Communications, the officer nodding to indicate that she was a go. She wanted to fidget, to pace, but she suppressed the urge. “This is Commodore Natalya Archer of the United Terran Concord Naval Ship Intolerance to unknown fleet. You have violated Concordat territory, committed acts of aggression against its personnel and its citizenry and you will be held accountable for this unprovoked assault. If you wish to avoid further conflict, cease your thrust, cut power to your shield walls and weapons systems and stand by to be boarded by Concordat personnel. Failure to comply will be taken as hostile action and we will respond with lethal force.”
Communications nodded again, indicating that the channel was closed.
Natalya moved to the rear of the bridge to circle the holo tank. She’d done what the Articles of War demanded of her. “If they don’t break off,” she ordered, ignoring the taste of the words in her mouth. “And we fail to inflict significant damage, our escape vector will be along this axis,” she moved to her console, inputting a rough course. “Helm?”
“I’ve got it, Commodore.”
“Very well. Maximum combat thrust, then. Let’s be about it.”