October 17th, 4233
United Terran Concord
Alicia Hunt was standing to the aft of Warlord’s elongated command deck, around the table that she used for informal briefings with her senior officers. She preferred this over the main briefing room itself, since the lack of chairs and cramped surroundings of the Secondary Plotting Station made for a greater discomfort in her and her staff and thus made for shorter and to-the-point meetings.
It also kept her on the bridge of her ship and since the SDS main table had its own holo tank, she could keep up to date on tactical situations without breathing down her crews’ necks. No matter how much paperwork she was saddled with, how many meetings with her fellow increasingly politically-minded and (decreasingly military-minded) admirals, she remained a ship-driver at heart and the urge to meddle, though infrequent, still existed. But Asija was a good officer and she knew could trust him with ‘her’ ship.
She had that same faith in every officer under her command.
Hiro half-rose from his chair as the first missiles began to spill from the enemy contact. “That’s no scout,” he heard himself whisper, and his voice was hoarse. “She’s a battleship. Comm the hive immediately. Tell them we have engaged the enemy.”
A pause, marked by Communication’s increasingly frantic efforts. She looked up, her face drawn. “I can’t, sir – we’re being jammed on all frequencies.”
Singh took a quick look at the display, reaching into the holographic field and tapping empty air. The computer responded to the movement and placed a glowing contact marker there. “Belligerent’s last transmission puts them and Covenant system south-east of Hyperion Meta; the next nearest vessel is the Hermes.”
Hunt frowned. “A light cruiser.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lieutenant Commander Alan Parwyn, Hunt’s chief of staff, put in. “Her skipper’s good in a scrap though… if it comes to that.”
“Hopefully it won’t. Unless the Empties are extraordinarily stupid.”
Singh’s expression went blank as he turned to face Alicia. “You believe it is them?”
Hunt nodded. “Yes. The Lefu scout in Pioneering tipped off Titania Mons when it refused to answer a simple docking request. Covenant’s been entirely too chatty to make me think this is another wolf in the fold. But, admittedly I will feel better once Hiro boards her and confirms the League’s presence.”
“Damage to our port broadsides! Batteries Five, Nine, Eight and Seven are down! Missile Twelve and Sensor Five are out! Port shield wall at 3 minutes to replacement!”
“Roll us! Dorsal spine to the enemy!” Hiro clutched the arms of his chair, watching the main plot as a fresh salvo of missiles bored in towards his ship. “All defensive missiles to rapid fire, emergency power to shield walls. Bleed the batteries dry if you have to, but hold the walls.”
“So far, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting much from Covenant,” Parywn commented, skipping through the logs. “There’s some notations about her hyper systems, and her energy mounts could have potential, but so far I think we’re looking at a BXA curio and not much else, unfortunately. I’ll have a more complete idea once we actually get in there.”
Hunt had left the bulk of Covenant’s logs for her staff and those on the hive to go over; at the moment it was the technical specifications that had her and her staff’s interest. “Given that a Lefu scout can put one of Covenant’s ilk down, I believe you’re right,” she replied. “Still, it’s worth having the yard hands here taking a look at it before we send it to Sol.” Hunt smiled dourly; here she had an alien craft of unknown origin literally dropped into her lap and she was brushing it off as ‘unimportant’. How quickly things changed. Now, if it was a Lefu ship, she would have damn well taken Warlord out there to personally escort this Senior Captain Goldstein in.
“And if the Empties don’t want to give it up?” Singh asked quietly.
“I’m certain they’ll be reasonable about it,” Hunt replied, skimming to the bottom of Goldstein’s casualty figures. With only a skeleton crew left from their original complement, the Empties would be hard-pressed to offer more than token resistance if the worst came about. “We have the industry to take advantage of whatever advantages the ship possesses and the leading experts in alien technology.” Which, until now, had been mainly theoretical, but the BXA was still head and shoulders above its Empty counterpart, the League Astronomical, Observation and Contact Society. “They have neither. If they’re foolish, though… well. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
Sin Child closed steadily, firing in measured bursts from its prow tubes as it angled to cut inside the Enemy Vessel. The broadside tubes were coming up and the battlecruiser added a slow roll to its approach; gradually shifting its spinal turrets away and bringing over one hundred and fifty missiles to bear on its prey.
Commander Yolinii looked over at Tactical. “Stagger our salvos for maximum offensive system damage, minimal structural. The Fleet has not yet taken an Enemy Vessel intact. Let’s try to remedy that.” Looking back to the wireframe of her prey, the Evea’shi Commander bared her teeth in a predator’s grin as her missiles bore down on the Enemy battlecruiser. You. Are. Mine.
“Sir! Covenant is moving to engage the Lefu battleship!”
“Hail them immediately! Use a comm laser to get past the jamming.” Hiro snapped. Belligerent took another hit against her hull and two-point-three kilometers of warship shuddered with the impact.
“Turret Nine is gone; we have a breach in that section. Pressure doors sealing affected decks, damage control teams responding.”
“Main Engineering to bridge – we can’t keep taking hits like this. We’re losing systems faster then my crews can bring them back. Our shield wall generators are in the red and the reactor’s starting to overheat.”
“We need that power, Simon.”
“Yessir, but we’re working our way towards a core breach.”
“Do what you can.”
“Channel to Covenant open, sir.”
Hiro thumbed off the comm to his engineer. “Belligerent to Covenant: break off immediately. Leave them to us.”
“No offense Belligerent, but you’re in no shape to tangle with a Lefu BB yourself.”
“And neither are you, if your records are right. From what we can tell, that is a Hydra. You understand? It’s a heavy battleship, which means it can fuck both of us sideways. Get your people to the nearest patrol, Covenant. We’ll cover you.”
“Dammit, do you Empties have to be this stubborn? The intel you’ve got is worth more than one ship. Break off, Covenant. We’ll buy you the time you need.”
A pause that had nothing to do with the time lag between the ships. “Understood, Belligerent. Good hunting.”
The Enemy Vessel staggered again and again under the hurricane of missiles that flayed it, its bow shattered and molten, gaping streamers of plasma spiraling out from the ruined forward quarter and along the boundaries of its shield walls.
Venti felt her missiles lance out from her batteries, autoloaders replacing the deadly warheads, magazine feeds sustaining the tubes. Hers were locked onto the fleeing the Prime Enemy vessel; their vectors were divergent and the range between them was at the outer limits of Sin Child’s missile envelope. They would get one, perhaps two more salvos before the Mulkari ship was beyond their reach. That might have been enough to cripple it, but the Enemy Vessel was, against all logic, protecting it, expending their defensive missiles to cover the Mulkari’s retreat towards their Base.
Echoing her own puzzlement, she could feel the confusion from her brothers and sisters, but she shunted it aside. The Enemy’s actions were something for Command to deal with; hers was to do her best to kill the Prime Enemy and failing that, to send the Enemy to the depths.
A yeoman paused at the open entrance to the SDS for a moment, before stepping up to Admiral Hunt. “Admiral Foraker has requested a status update,” she informed the flag officer.
“Then send him one,” Hunt replied distractedly.
The yeoman bit the inside of her lip, trying again. “He’s requested one from you, Admiral.”
Alicia nodded politely to her officers, excusing herself from the meeting and striding over to the master Communications panel. Petty little prick. Though they were both of the same rank, Foraker was technically senior to her, since he was the officer on-station. In reality, they were splitting duties; BG 97 was Hunt’s as was the rest of Hyperion Hive’s mobile assets, while Foraker took the stationary defences and was responsible for security. Which wasn’t looking good for him, given this latest incident.
The comm officer looked up at her. “I’ve got Admiral Foraker on the line, ma’am.”
“Very well. Put him through.”
There was a click as the channel opened, one of Warlord’s forward screens shifting from starfield to Foraker’s office, the older man sitting in his chair. Alicia tilted her head in a deferential greeting. “Admiral Foraker; what can I do for you?”
“I’ve been waiting on your next check-in regarding the Covenant situation, Admiral Hunt.”
“Ah, yes. I apologize. I was caught up in a staff meeting and neglected to have an update ready. One should be coming through momentarily. However, very little has changed. We’re still going over Covenant’s design, but I’m sure you know that our archives are not flush with alien ship specifications. “
“True.” There was a pregnant pause as Foraker shifted position, lacing his fingers together. “I’m dispatching the 181st to escort the contact in to Hyperion Prime Command Base.”
Alicia frowned. “That isn’t necessary; Hermes and Belligerent are capable of handling that duty.”
“I’m not questioning your officers’ ability. But Commodore Archer and her battlecruisers will be responsible for securing the prize vessel.”
“Is there any particular reason why?”
Foraker hesitated an instant too long. “Not at all. Call it a whim.”
Hunt’s eyes narrowed slightly. He’s hiding something. “Very well, Admiral. I’ll make sure the outer-system patrols are informed of your ‘whim’.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I and my staff look forward to your dispatch as well. Foraker out.”
The screen went black.
“Fires reported in all inner prow sections! Sensors down to 43% and dropping! Prow and dorsal shield walls are gone, repeat: complete collapse and their generators are slagged.”
“EW effectiveness is degrading steadily; the Hydra’s adapting too quickly!”
“Switch all remaining tubes to CASKs and fire, time on target!” Hiro barked. “After the first salvo, all batteries will go to rapid fire on their own shooting solutions.”
“Sir, without our defensive missiles-”
“Do it – we’ve got to force them to switch from attacking us to defending themselves. Push the engines harder; we’ve got to get inside their missile range.”
“We’re already risking a core breach and the inertial dampeners are in the red. If they fail-”
“Then those bastards don’t get the pleasure of killing us. Take us into the red.” Hiro met Norita’s eyes. Quietly, almost lost under the clamour of alarms and damage reports: “She’ll hold.”
She has to.
Alicia rubbed her forehead, returning to her officers. “I want the 73rd and 19th on opposing orbital paths around the system. “Tighten the mid-orbital patrols. There’s enough gaps in the sensor coverage that the Lefu might be able to drop a small force down the seams. I don’t want to be caught by surprise and have some of those tattooed freaks roll up our ships one by one.”
Singh, nodded, issuing the orders and then paused, leaning towards Hunt. “You think they’re coming back,” he asserted softly.
“I think they wouldn’t have gone to this much trouble if they were just going to let us rebuild our LPs. The only questions are how many and how soon. Which is why we have to locate their scouts. I am not going to lose any more people to these butchers.”
“Life support systems are failing; gravity plating is down in 70% of the aft sections. We’re coming apart, sir.”
“We’re almost there,” Hiro said between clenched teeth, his knuckles white on the armrests as his ship and crew died around him. The Hydra hadn’t blown him out of the sky. That was, he supposed, a good thing. But their careful bursts meant that they weren’t trying to kill him; they were trying to take him. If they’d gone to heavier or rapid fire, there’d be nothing left of his command but free-floating atoms. That their arrogance was going to cost them. He was going to make sure of-
“Target hit!” the exultant cry came from one of the gunnery stations. “By God, target hit! She’s venting air!”
The missile was not an orphan, but it was the sole survivor of Belligerent’s first heavy salvo. Irradiated by the detonation of a Lefu defensive missile, the Concordat warhead wallowed drunkenly, trying to re-acquire its target as its self-repair systems attempted to rebuild its ruined sensor apparati. They were only the most rudimentary of regeneration capabilities; the whole point of a missile was to die and since most hits would destroy one outright, there was no reason to spend more money than necessary on what was viewed as a superfluous system. Still, the Division of Military Weapons and Technology Research (DIMWATER) had allowed for the possibility of such a situation as this and pressed hard to get this minimal self-repair capability installed in the current generation of CASKs.
Those systems are what saved the survivor from a suicide imperative and allowed it to do what every fiber of its mindless AI insisted it do. The Lefu fire control, believing the radiation-scarred survivor to no longer be a threat, tagged it as low priority as Sin Child tore through Belligerent’s salvos. But even Lefu technology had its limits and the battlecruiser took hit after hit against its starboard shield wall. Enough to destabilize the protective barrier, but not enough to collapse it entirely, nor to damage the hull beneath.
Until the survivor slipped through the Lefu’s defences.
Over two gigatons of concentrated fury washed over Sin Child’s flank, boiling her obsidian armour away, searing sensor eyes, melting shield wall projectors and wiping Missile Battery 42 and Thrall First Rank Venti Tellinii away.
…and abruptly hundreds of people were gone, their final cries brutally cut off, still ringing in Cendi’s mind.
It was no longer a game. She’d given the Enemy the oppurtunity to lie down and die gracefully, but they had spurned that chance. Evea’shi were not Mulkari; they did not torture and experiment on prisoners. The Enemy Commander could have spared many lives simply by letting Yolinii batter their misshapen, inelegant vessel into helplessness. Instead, they had foiled her efforts to take the Prime Enemy Vanguard and had locked themselves into a doomed charge. So be it; if they sought death, then she would oblige them.
She wanted them to burn. “Engines to ramming speed,” Cendi said quietly. “Prepare for a high energy turn. We will be executing a Spirochete Maneuver. All batteries configure for salvo fire.”
Her executor nodded, standing beside her as her crew rushed to carry out her orders, cold fury radiating from the Commander. In the back of her mind, she felt Sin’s eagerness to avenge itself. She stroked one hand over the arm of her chair in a soothing gesture the ship would neither feel nor understand. Very soon now, she promised, trying to banish the gunnery crew’s death-screams from her mind.
As Sin Child leapt towards the Enemy Vessel, she wondered if they could feel the deaths of their brothers and sisters and if not, if she should pity them or envy them. But at the moment, she had very little pity for her people’s would-be destroyers.
Freakishly quick, the Hydra rolled, interposing its dorsal shield wall towards Belligerent, a pair of follow-up missiles wasting themselves harmlessly against the coruscating energy layer and Hiro tasted bile; if those two had managed to get through, they might have taken out the Lefu’s broadside. Now, the enemy ship was coming to meet them and he had no doubt that blood was on its mind.
Don’t like it when you take a little damage, do you? They were approaching each other head on – it would mean a single raking pass. That actually favoured Belligerent; though her prow was beaten into scrap, she still had several spinal turrets to fire down the Hydra’s throat and the Lefu didn’t mount enough bow guns to core through Hiro’s slagged forward section. “Sensors, try to guess how they’ll break over us and feed that vector to Tactical. Guns, I want our broadsides raking them as they pass – don’t wait for my order, it’ll happen too quickly. Helm, turn us into them when they pass and Guns – I want as many missiles as we have shooting up their backsides. They’ll keep their damaged side away from us, but try to make as many hits count as you can. We’ll only get one shot at this.”
“Thirty seconds to Lefu energy range, captain.”
“All hands, prepare for incoming fire. Damage control teams, prioritize weapons and engines.” If Belligerent survived the next few minutes, he’d break for the inner system, slingshotting around Hyperion Meta or losing the battleship in its rings. Covenant was already beyond the Lefu’s grasp and he wasn’t looking forward to dying in a quixotic charge.
“Captain! The Lefu ship’s cutting thrust!”
Hiro Takasawi saw it on the holo tank and his eyes widened as the sleek murderess sailed towards him on a ballistic course, spinning to face her broadside straight down Belligerent’s throat and then firing her engines again, carrying her across Belligerent’s bow in a maneuver that would have blown every inertial compensator on a Concordat ship and sprayed the crew over the bulkheads. That’s not f-
Sin Child could burn a world down to liquid bedrock with her energy batteries and now the full fury of those horrific weapons was trained solely on the bleeding Belligerent. Lasers smashed into armoured plating, particle beams cored through the dying ship’s hull, grasers rained down pulses of released nuclear fury. Vast swathes of the Concordat ship were shorn into molecular gas, splinters bursting free as Belligerent shuddered in her death throes, her murderer walking fire up and down her flank. Internal temperature and radiation counts soared, and those of Belligerent’s crew who survived the initial salvos died microseconds later, flash-roasting inside their own ship.
The battlecruiser hemorrhaged superheated atmosphere, thrown off its course by the plasma ejaculate’s explosive release.
One point seven seconds after Sin Child’s first salvo, Belligerent was no longer recognizable as a ship.
After the second salvo, there was nothing left of her at all save for a slowly-expanding cloud of vapour.
“Admiral… we’ve just received another transmission from Belligerent.” The yeoman’s face was ashen. “It’s her Code Black, ma’am.”
Alicia closed her eyes for a moment, suppressing the flush of rage that welled up in as the Lefu made liars out of her again. She was about to respond, but one of her analysts came up to her breathlessly. “Ma’am,” the junior officer began. “I’ve found something in Covenant’s later log files that you need to see.”