HIDMS Michiko, in orbit near the Sodesuka Shipyards - 18:01 Central System Time.
"Strike has engaged the enemy," Michiko's
Comms Officer reported, his voice ringing loudly over the blaring alarms of the flagship's bridge. "Heavy enemy casualties reported. Arurior Ermolai is on-station for PD support."
"Good!" Dyatlov called back, his eyes never leaving the holotank. "Orders to the Pamyat
: Arurior Ermolai has the conn of the strike wave. They are to pound the carriers to scrap and then they are to come up the Pegasus rear."
"Understood, Sir!" came the reply; and Dyatlov could now glare at the sensor readouts to his heart's content.
The CRF forces had formed a double battle-line, sailing in parallel. Three enemy ships were badly hurt: they brought up the rear, in a tight cluster. The others were covering each others' flanks; and they were offering battle, closing the range on Dyatlov's own ships. Their main beams had clear shots at the Delest battle-line; and their sensors were already pinging the Delest ships.
Dyatlov's forces were in a looser formation - two long columns of Volyas
and the remaining Zhins
, with minimal Destroyer and Frigate escort. They moved sluggishly, constrained by the poor maneuverability of the old monitors; but, while, originally, the two columns were sailing in the same general direction, they now split apart, aiming to flank the incoming CRF line.
"Maria," Dyatlov ordered, the minute it was clear that Arurior Kunokin of the Oku
had managed to complete his manoeuver successfully, "You are free to engage with long-range weaponry. They're likely to come after us - if they do, we simply need to hold them and give their side to Kunokin to rake with ordnance. Whatever happens, we need to hold the line here
Sir," Sebrenova snapped; and then she turned, a whirlwind of white, black and silver."Tactical!"
she called, "Get me a firing solution on their lead ship. Engage with torpedoes and gravitons. Helm
- engines at half power; transfer all the rest to shields and energy batteries. Comms - send the message down the line - spread our fire around, close formation and hold here
The CRF forces continued to close the range - and Dyatlov's stomach sank, slowly, painfully, as all of his training screamed at him that he was making a dreadful mistake. The Volyas
ships - but they were primarily carriers
, not close-range brawlers; and what he was offering the enemy commander here was a point-blank slugfest against their own Dreadnoughts
. But he had no options. He could not afford a running fight, like the ones the Volyas
were designed to engage in. One of his battle-lines would need to take the brunt of the assault - delay the CRF forces and keep them within the inhibitor field's range
, while the other, hopefully, pounded them to scrap. He hoped and prayed that the CRF commander would identify his challenge for what it was - that he would come after the Michiko
and her force, giving Kunokin the chance to...
But it was not meant to be. At four kilometres, the CRF battle-line turned, gracefully and ponderously, to starboard; and trained their main batteries on the Oku
and the ships that had followed her.
Dyatlov's blood ran cold.
"Belay!" he called, turning to the bridge crew. "Belay!
General signal, to our battlegroup - engage in pursuit, flank speed! Fire at designated targets - double-time on all torpedo launchers! Get Kunokin to..."
The CRF ships fired, a perfectly disciplined staggered succession of main beams, starting from the front ships and moving down the battle-column, as it turned, ship after ship after ship. They had concentrated their fire perfectly, to the credit of their commander: three ships per target, on the Oku
, the Poltava
and the Vernost
-class Imperatritsa Varvara Enma Delest
visibly lurched, her reinforced shields holding for a few seconds and then collapsing under the pounding. One CRF beam stabbed through her port nacelle, cutting through armor, struts, fuel tanks. Secondary explosions ripped a two-thousand-ton chunk of debris off the ship, sending her into a slow roll. Yet, miraculously, the carrier's compartmentalisation held true; and the Oku
stayed in the fight. Her followers were not so lucky, however. The Poltava
was hit through her fighterbay and her fightercraft ammo storage compartments. Fire and plasma belched out of her fighterbay entrance and into the ship, melting metal and flesh indiscriminately. The flash-fire lit the space around the ship like a roman candle. The ship did not break apart, but it, nevertheless, died, quite conclusively.
And then CRF fire tracked onto the Imperatritsa
- and the old battleship's armor crackled like flaming paper. Her missile batteries spoke once, lobbing a desperate salvo towards the closing Invincible
; and then her entire starboard side was peeled off
, venting almost half of the ship's atmosphere and crew into space. Even worse, now the CRF battle-line was sailing broadside-onto Kunokin's force, still closing; and their broadside railguns tracked targets and opened fire, in a single devastating salvo.
HMS Bellerophon, in orbit near the Sodesuka Shipyards - 18:10 Central System Time.
bridge crew were crying, in a hoarse, triumphant chorus and Aretha found herself crying out with them, a wordless scream of joy and battle-lust. Simmons, next to her was silent, his eyes fixed on the holotank, but his fist was pounding
on the railing. No more tricks for the Delest. Fletcher (Sir
Fletcher, Aretha decided, then and there, whether that hero
made it out alive or not) had pinned their dreaded bombers several kilometres away - and now the Lords
had their hands around the enemy carriers' throats. This
was what she had come here for - this
was what she had sought.
"Keep it up!" she cried to her officers - her family
, her battle-brothers and -sisters, now, "Keep it up! Concentrate our fire! Helm, take us in closer - fix engagement range at a thousand yards."
She paid no more attention to Simmons. Now- now
, she had a battle to win.
As for the silent Champion, next to her - he continued to slowly, repeatedly, pound the railing, his eyes fixed on the blips of the escort carriers, blinking out, one at a time, with horrible finality.
HIDMS Michiko, in orbit near the Sodesuka Shipyards - 18:11 Central System Time.
"Bright Lord, preserve us," Dyatlov choked out, aghast at the destruction visited upon his fleet. "Arurior, for God's sake get us in there!"
"We have the range, Sir," Sebrenova growled behind him; Dyatlov turned to see her hunched over her tactical officer's shoulder. "That
one," she snapped, pointing at a ship on the targeting display. "Pound
the ***** to slag,
flushed her tubes, followed, in quick succession, by the other capitals of Dyatlov's battlegroup. More than eighty anti-capital torpedoes screamed their way towards Aretha's ships.
And, twenty seconds later, eighty more.
And, twenty seconds after that
, eighty more.
HMS Bellerophon, in orbit near the Sodesuka Shipyards - 18:14 Central System Time.
Aretha didn't speak, or cry out, or allow herself to howl out her anger
; but her hands tightened around the holotank railing until her knuckles turned white. She had allowed her crippled Lords
, Royal Oak, Atreus
to fall behind her main line, in an attempt to keep them safe from the counter-fire of the enemy battlegroup she was engaging. Now, looking at the massive
torpedo volleys the second
Delest battlegroup had sent up from behind, she considered whether that had been a mistake. On the one hand, her crippled ships were likely to attract most of the Delest attention and were likely to not survive the encounter. On the other hand, this left her main
battle-line mobile, and still able to punch a hole through the secondary battlegroup.
"Message to the Oak
," she ordered. "My compliments to Commodore Ramsworth, and he's to set up a tight PD formation with Cyclops
. Stay as close to the battle-line as they can. And then, to the rest of the fleet: Full turn to starboard, on my flag. Get us into knife-fighting range, and push through them. We must
be getting to the limit of their inhibitor fields by now."
She glanced to her right, where Simmons was still glaring at the holotank; he was nodding, almost imperceptively, his fist still clenched. Aretha felt a welcome surge of relief and confidence; if her Champion was approving of her orders, they might still escape this.
The orders went out; and the massive CRF Dreadnoughts began a graceful turn, bringing their spinal guns to bear on Kunokin's carriers, reinforcing their forward shields and channeling every smidgeon of power they still had to their engines. Thrusters flared; and Aretha's battle-line pushed forward
, opening up with every forward-bearing weapon they had.
was less than a thousand yards from the nearest Delest carrier, the enemy ship scrambling out of formation to dodge out of her arcs of fire, when the Delest torpedoes arrived, in dense, overwhelming waves. As Aretha had feared, fire concentrated mostly on the trailing Dreadnoughts, to devastating effect. Cyclops
was the first to go, not with a bang, but the victim of multiple, merciless hits, that tore from her her remaining thrusters, her guns, her batteries, her armor, her crew. She died like a Dreadnought ought to die: unbowed and fighting to the last. Atreus
did not have that distinction. Her port thrustter took a hit that sent her spiralling out of formation, in a ponderous, slow turn; and the Destroyers Achilles
did not have the chance to maneuver out of her way. The Dreadnought plowed into them like a juggernaut and rammed both of them out of the sky; her own armor did not withstand the impact or the ensuing point-blank reactor failure of the Memnon
. She died too, a drifting ball of flame, scattering the small CRF flotilla to the four winds and allowing the fourth and fifth Delest salvoes a clear shot at the Oak
, he really
tried to bring what remained of his escort ships back into formation. But, even though he was a brave man -an exemplary Knight-, he was neither the inspiring leader that Simmons was, nor did he wield the tactical genius of French. The Oak
died alone, pounded to scrap, her Destroyer escorts fleeting the scene of the slaughter, the Delest fifth salvo hot on their heels. A third of Aretha's capital fleet was simply gone.
But, meanwhile, Kunokin's battlegroup had dissolved into an undiciplined mess
. Only the Oku
and the Tomoe
(both originally ships of the 5th Fleet) were still operating in anything resembling an ordered formation; the other carriers were frantically spiralling out of the line, to avoid the devastating incoming fire. Into that chaos, the Pegasus Dreadnoughts calmly advanced, firing with frontal spinal mounts and both broadsides, swatting enemy missiles away with concentrated PD fire and soaking up grav pulses on their overcharged shields. Railgun shells and lasers burned their way into the guts of the Delest carriers; and Kunokin's force broke
like a dry twig.
YCS Pamyat Slavy, in orbit near the Sodesuka Shipyards - 18:22 Central System Time.
Ermolai stood behind his Sensor Officer and cocked his head in acknowledgement of her summons; she immediately forwarded her latest data to his headset and he confirmed receipt with a light tap on the back of her chair. Ermolai considered the information with a slight frown.
The collapse of Arurior Kunokin's battlegroup was unfortunate, but unavoidable. Sadly, this did not make the imminent escape of the enemy forces any less disastrous. The Praetor's battlegroup was pursuing, but they were still lamed by the presence of slow Vernosts
amidst their ranks; they had destroyed the trailing CRF capitals, but they were unlikely to catch up to the fleeing ones in time without breaking order of battle completely.
The Praetor would not make that mistake. He would prefer to preserve his remaining capitals rather than allow a disorderly pursuit. And thus, more than two-thirds of the enemy battle-line would escape, potentially ruining the Praetor's plans and souring this victory. This was unacceptable.
Ermolai thought deeply, calling upon his own battle-making skill. He did not consider himself the equal of the Elders in Uuni, or even the Praetor; but for better or worse, he now had the fastest, most rapid-response force in the battlefield and he was
a Yonsakuren Arurior. This was a test, a gloriously
difficult one and he felt his heartbeat skyrocket
. Adrenaline brought the world around him in perfect, crystal-clear focus, and his mind spewed out a stream-of-consciousness mess of ideas and plans that he cheerfully and gleefully began untangling.What is my power? What is their power? How can I match them?
He moved to Tactical; touched the shoulder of his Officer there to let her know of his presence and loomed over her shoulder for a better view of the tactical plot. He had six Grazhdanins
, including his own three Yonsakuren ships; and a mass of strikecraft that were just finishing off the last CRF carrier.
"Can we get there in time?" he asked, softly.
His Tactical Officer immediately shook her head. "No, Ermolai," she said, her voice low. Her fingers danced on her keyboard; his headset updated with a projected least-time course. At max thrust, the Grazhdanins
would arrive twenty minutes too late to assist.My cruisers are not my power. What else do I have?
"What of the fighters?" he asked.
"Negative," was the response, again, followed by another update. With all power to engines, his fastest strikecraft would be four minutes too late; and they would be the interceptors
, with no true anti-capital capability.
He needed speed
. It was maddening
. He had a ship that could fly between the stars;
but his jump drive was still recharging and he did not have the time to fly a few kilom-
And then things just clicked
into perspective and Ermolai's eyes widened in surprised realisation.
to go the long way. But not all
of his force did.
he said, smiling wildly and showing all of his teeth
, "not through realspace
. Calculate a jump."
"A j-" and then, because she was his
Tactical Officer and her mind was keen, she realised
it too; and she shuddered
in battle-lust ecstasy (in a most fetching
way, Ermolai noted).
Dyatlov had brought his carrier force in as separate battle-lines; and he had launched his fighters on-site, instead of leading with a fighter assault. This had been necessary, to bring all his force together in as organised a manner as possible; but what it meant
for Ermolai right now was that every Delest fighter out there had a fresh jump drive
. This was so contrary to Delest doctrine (which stressed
that carriers were supposed to stay out
of combat and deploy fighters via subspace) and so rare an occurence that it hadn't truly
she gasped, only half-conscious of Ermolai now, and twitching like a raptor bird. "Calculating, calculating. Yes. At least seven minutes
of contact time. Yes
. I need a link to the navcomps of the others, to crunch the numbers. Ermolai, by Uuni's light
, let my hand tip the scale, help me, get me a link!