Children of Heaven: Choir of Silence, Chapter 25

Chapter 25:

November 11th, 4233
Gryphon Peak
Grey Zone
United Terran Concord

Hyperspace-Capable Drone 14711

It was the last. It had been one of the first, and now it was the last. It was speeding through the cosmos, scarred repair systems attempting to regenerate its sole vital system. It was not intelligent enough to reflect on what had led it to this point, nor introspective enough to consider the weight of the data it carried. It if had been either of those things, it just may have gone mad with grief.

As it was, HCD-14711 simply attempted to fulfill its final directives, ignorant of the data within its mutilated databanks and what the loss of a vital part of information signified.

“Get on them! Get on them now!”

“All squadrons attack, attack!”

“We have to hold them here!”

“You’re beaten! Die! Die, already!”

“Why won’t they stop?”

The assault began on November 10th, at 2402 local time. Local defences, never much to brag about, were caught completely off-guard by the size of the attacking force, and their identity. Or lack of one, to be precise. Missives to Sector Command and Gryphon Peak’s fellow military bases indicated that they were expecting a sizable Lefu raiding force, but were prepared to push them back. After Ramillies had returned with news of Curare’s destruction, all ships within a week’s travel had been recalled to Gryphon Peak, assembling for a planned sweep through the Grey Zone. That the Lefu had chosen to attack a military base – even one as poorly equipped as Gryphon Peak – this far outside the war zone, had seemed an unusual choice.

“Squadrons Five through Nine – fall back, fall back!”

“We’re not even slowing them down!”

“Concentrate your fire on their screen! We have to take out their dreadnaughts!”

Sabra’s on fire! We can’t hold her!”

“Who are they?!”

Rear Admiral Herzog Cavazos, acting on what he believed to be accurate projections of the invading force, deployed his fleet in order to deny the Lefu raiders access to the inner system and Aerie, planned to use his numerically superior forces to envelop and batter the smaller assault force into pieces. That had been the plan… but no plan survived contact with the enemy.

Barracuda, pull back! You’re too close to their energy range!”

“…all decks… losing helm… …trol. Point def…. ….nd dropping!”

Achilles, break – break now! You’re being targeted!”

“Their HAVOCs have gotten through the last line! They’re attacking the civilian fleet!”

“Minefield down to 13% capability! Jesus, they’re just mowing right through it!”

There was always a degree of unpredictability inherent in hyperspace emergences; no one could ever count on having their enemy drop out neatly under the guns of a waiting armada. In fact, standard doctrine was to avoid such actions; there was a chance, however small, that an emerging craft would translate into normal right into waiting craft. Concordat warships might be tough, but very few of them could withstand the impact of a multi-thousand or million-tonne spacecraft.

“Cut them off! All escort craft break for the refugees! All capital ships, continue the assault!”

“Where are you? Where are you, you pig-eating son of a whore?”

“Delta Nine – missiles loose.”

“Yes! Eat it!”

“They’re coming in too fast!”

Normal tactics called for the defenders to err on the side of caution, and try and place themselves between the attackers and the inner-system, normally just inside the hyper limit. Otherwise an over-eager officer might find themselves woefully out of position and forced to stern-chase their supposed ambush victims if the invading force translated into normal space further in-system then predicted.

“That’s not… that can’t be possible!”

“Red group, Gold group, all squadrons on me!”

“Fire fire everybody now now now now now!”

“Burn baby, burn!”

“Yes! Take that, you bastards!”

Expecting his visitors to be Lefu and thus, come out of hyperspace further out of the system, Cavazos had deployed the ships available to him accordingly. What had been envisioned as a vast net of heavy cruisers, CAs and escorts englobing a single Lefu attack force became a desperate, tattered network of ships fighting for survival as nearly a hundred battleship-sized warships emerged from hyperspace within fifteen million kilometers of the Concordat lines.

“Die! Die, damn you!”

“Hermes squadron: coordinate your fire on Target Rho-Three. Saturate its defences. Ramillies will take it from there. Time on target.”

“Orbital defences are trading fire with the lead elements of the enemy task force. Ben Nevis and Saber Peak are engaged. Rollici Shear and Ganner are coming over Peak’s terminator. ETA: eight minutes.”

“Losing power! Point defence grid off-line! Engines are fluctuating, we’re going i-”

“Come on, come on! I know you can feel that – why won’t you stop?”

The attackers were completely unfamiliar to the human defenders – vast, filled-[b]V[/b] hulls layered with thick slabs of armour, each one of hundreds of weapons ports a railing testament to the aliens’ mission. They were out for blood. Superior Concordat targeting and electronics fought against the thousands of missiles that that incomprehensible fleet could spew out every moment. While each of those monstrous warheads had only a small chance of finding, let alone hitting, a Concordat ship, there were simply too many of them, and only a small fraction had to get through.

“Steady, boys.”

“Stay on target.”

“Fresh salvo incoming!”

“…can’t… jett…ing… cape pods…”

“Core breach imminent!”

One by one, the defenders fell. The enemy were relentless; for every battleship-sized warship BG 103 shot down, another took its place. Several of the alien vessels rammed aside their own dying cousins in order to close with the Concordat fleet. They waded into the fire that tore at them, ignoring their stricken siblings and their own fate if it meant that they would have a chance to attack before they died.

The Achilles was the first to fall as dozens of missiles struck home, the concentrated fire coming too hard and too fast for her shield walls to handle, the cruiser ripped to pieces. Less then three seconds later, the destroyers Mako and Scorpion followed, blasted into miniature nebulae. What the enemy lacked in quality, they made up for in quantity; their fleet was a networked hive of command links, more tightly bound then any Concordat task force. BG 103 was not fighting a hundred individual ships, they were fighting a single entity that moved and reacted with frightening speed. One that would ceaselessly expend itself to make sure its mind, the dreadnaughts lurking in the heart of the formation, stayed functional.

On Ramillies’s bridge, Moira beat her fist against the arm of her command chair, watching and listening as friendly ships screamed and died, an implacable tide surging towards the remains of Gryphon Peak’s command. Thirty of the monstrous ships were already dead, burning wrecks or expanding fields of debris, but they kept coming, accepting the deaths of two, three, four of their own for a single Concordat warship. It was a trade that they were willing to make, one that they could afford to make.

She wanted to weep as the enemy’s HAVOCs savaged the evacuees from Aerie; the aliens’ missiles might be pathetic, but their energy weapons were Hell itself. A solitary HAVOC swept through Wolverine’s desperate defence of a freighter packed with civilians, cutting the destroyer in half with a single pulse of its prow-mounted cannon, eviscerating the transport with its next attack. The refugees were thirty light-minutes away; what she was seeing had already happened. There was nothing she could do. Nothing but watch and listen.

“You can’t leave us to die!”

“Help us! We’re under attack! Can anyone here me? This is the CSS Olympic and we are under at-”

“Damn you to Hell!”

“Please, stop firing! We’ve got women and children aboard!”

“We surrender, we surrender! For God’s sake, we surrender!

A lone missile spiraled out from the heart of the enemy formation, threaded its way through a desperate hail of counter-missiles and point defence fire and blew the damaged cruiser Artemis apart. That had come from one of the boomers; the battleships’ missiles weren’t anywhere near that good. Even with their network, those dreads should be blind with their screen packed so tightly around them – how the hell can they see anything?

It didn’t really matter.

Another alien vessel fell out of formation, secondary explosions rippling up and down its port flank as something ignited; a fuel line, magazine clusters, or simple overpressure from a superheated atmosphere? MacLean didn’t know, not that that mattered either. With an impossible grace, another of the blocky giants was already taking its stricken comrade’s position, seamlessly filling the gap in their screen.

“Weapons live! Ganner is clear of Peak’s terminator and our weapons are go!”

“…Nevis here. …to main rea… …ning dry, siphoning power from… …hope that’s enough.”

“There’s too many!”

“Dorsal shield wall is gone! Roll the ship, roll her roll her roll h-”

“We hold the line! All ships, hold them here! We will not allow these bastards to take one step further!”

HCD-14711, along with a score of brothers and sisters, had been launched towards the hyper limit as soon as the battle started and fed updates from its parent ship, UTCNS Ramillies, as the conflict progressed. An ever-increasing number of Code Blacks reached the drone in addition to tactical information, sensor readings and log entries. More then enough to warn the Concord that they were being attacked by a second foe on a second front. More than enough.

The final transmission HC-14711 received was a Code Black, the death-cry of the Ramillies as Captain Maclean tried to hold off half a dozen enemy attackers and failed, though she dragged four of them into death with her. She and her crew fought to the end in a brave but futile effort to strike at the enemy’s command ships. Very soon after that, Gryphon Peak was silent, save for the crackles of static from damaged communications arrays and the throb of automatic distress beacons. And one by one, those too were snuffed out.

There was only silence now. Silence, and the cold.

The courier drone never saw the beam that gutted it, nor had it ever known that it had been tracked by an enemy hunter-killer since it had been launched. The enemy had inserted a drone tender into the system over a day before their fleet had been detected, the craft seeding the outer system with hundreds, perhaps thousands of the stealthy little assassins.

All throughout the system, HCD-14711’s siblings suffered similar fates, cut down before they could reach the hyper limit. By luck or design, HCD-14711 was the sole survivor of the winnowing. Perhaps the enemy AI was unfamiliar with its design and had assumed that a single shot would be enough, perhaps it was planning to seize the crippled hyper drone and bring it back to its masters. It scarcely mattered to the Concord AI; no other outcome but the fulfillment of its objective could be allowed.

Struggling to restore power to what remained of its systems, HCD-14711’s mind flickered with what could be (generously) described as agony and outraged indignation at something trying to prevent it from accomplishing its mission. Fortunately, the Concord had expected hyper drones to draw fire; they were fast, but not faster then a missile. In the event that a hyper drone should find itself the target of a lone missile, DIMWATER had installed a single point defence laser on their robotic craft.

Now that an attacker had revealed itself, new imperatives within HCD-14711 sprang to life and it began re-routing its functions through undamaged circuitry. The robot shunted nearly the entirely of its reserves to its PDL, sacrificing its other systems to defend itself; if it were destroyed, those systems would not matter anyways. HCD-14711 directed the weapon’s emitter squarely at the hostile unit that had had the temerity to try and stop it from carrying out its orders. Whether the alien AI had assumed HCD-14711 was crippled and no longer a threat, or if it had been moving into capture the Concordat drone or if it was simply waiting for new orders made no difference in the end – it made no move to defend itself until it was too late.

HCD-14711 didn’t go for the wound.

Now running on its dwindling emergency reserves, the hyper drone was in a race against the clock; its first priority was to restore its primary power systems. Once those were operational, it would restore functionality to its hyper systems and complete its mission. If it ran out of energy before then… it would not.

Auto-repair functions set to work as diagnostic systems in the background ran, cataloging the rest of HCD-14711’s damage.

hyper field generator Two nonfunctional…

port side prow thruster assembly non-responsive…

port side hull breach along all axes…

port side power distribution systems 63% nonfunctional…

memory core 2 damaged beyond repair…

memory core 1 running at 37% capacity; multiple system errors…

estimate total loss of 82% of stored information…

~

+situation assessment: highthreat units neutralized. threatvessel units neutralized. all heralds neutralized. all planetary infestations cleansed by appropriate termination procedures+

+splinter killfleet losses: 42.6% killships damaged, 28.0% of casualties unsalvageable+

+imperative: eradicate all trace of killfleet presence. jettison massivethreat artifacts+

+mission objectives: complete+

Fallen Idol gathered its children to it and its bond-sibling, Desecration and Defilement, the surviving members of the Mulkari assault force pausing for one instant to ensure that the mission’s objective had been met before they turned out-system, vanishing into the depths of hyperspace.

Shortly thereafter, a minute flash of energy signified the departure of the last survivor of the battle of Gryphon Peak, determined to fulfill its mission, no matter the cost.

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