The Hokum - Chapter 4.75

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The Hokum - Chapter 4.75

Postby Zume on Mon 15 Oct 2012 17:33

First Leader Grandous looked critically at the three government officials in his ornate office. The first was Director-General Qeron of the Anti-Abomination Security Police (ASP). Befitting of the position he held this Comensal expressed no emotion on his boney face. Not so for Executive Director Canso of the Science Coordination Office. She showed her restlessness by tugging on the fine strands of purple hair that grew out of the merging points of bone plates on her chin. That left the representative from the AFC Strategic Planning Office, Prime Commander Arnken. He waited with rapt attention that would do a fleet academy cadet proud.

Grandous fixed his gaze on Qeron while rolling a most officious pen in his fingers. An artifact passed on from one First Leader to the next, this pen was used to sign executive orders including promotions… and executions. “So, have there been any more incidents on Eletoshani Prime?”

“No major incidents after the destruction of the Southwestern University, First Leader,” said Qeron. “Abom casualties are estimated at 5,000. We’re still searching for the remaining senior science associates. All Abom science centers associated with our R&D establishment on the planet have been closed down with all employees and their families moved to detention camps. Interrogations are ongoing. 1,000 additional ASP officers are en-route to Eletoshani Prime to assist in the management of the camps. First Leader, it will be advantageous to send more troops to the planet to safeguard the enclave against any mass insurrection.”

“I am of the mind to exterminate that race for their treachery, Qeron. However, we can’t divert the resources and troops to make it a proper job of it. Operation Restoration has priority. The simple expedient of an antimatter bombardment will make the following cleanup an expense we can’t afford while the war is ongoing. As much as I hate to say it, we need their industrial production for as long as possible.” His eyes moved to Canso. “How much harm was done to our R&D database?”

Canso found it in herself not to sound flustered. “The computer virus was most insidious, First Leader. Even civilian research databases have been comprised. We’re looking at a complete rebuild of thousands of databases. Until that’s done all projects are at a standstill.”

“Can’t we use the archive storage to get back on track?” Grandous asked. “Surely not all of them have been corrupted.”

“First Leader, given the planning that the Abom Eletoshani invested in their computer virus we can’t even trust the archives. We could spend months on development of new systems and general research only to find out that base values and calculations were wrong. Fixing hidden flaws and defects will squander months of effort.”

Grandous narrowed his eyes ever so slightly while handling his pen, making it look as if he was about to write. “Either risk working with data that may be flawed or start from scratch. Is that what you’re saying, Canso?”

“First Leader, you only need look at the long development time for the armed pinnace and escort shuttle programs for proof of Eleto sabotage. Even with the funding of those priority projects there were setbacks and intrinsic flaws that had to be corrected at great expense of materials and time. I speak for the other senior members of the SCO. Starting fresh will eliminate any lingering contamination from the Eleto.” Canso wondered where she found the conviction and sincerity for her reply. She was thankful that she didn’t faint from the intimidation she felt while in the First Leader’s presence.

The look on Grandous’ face betrayed nothing as he pulled a sheet of plaspaper from a small stack on his desk and affixed his signature to it. “As it happens I agree with you. The extraneous expense of using Eleto science will come to an end, as well as the mental enhancement project. Our predecessors showed how improvement to the race was achieved. All we have learned from those Eleto abominations was just how devious they can be. All Eleto test subjects are to be destroyed immediately and all scientists assigned to the project reassigned to more promising lines of research.”

“As you command, First Leader,” said a relieved Canso.

Grandous’ eye was softer on Arnken. “Prime Commander, any evidence of new technologies being used by the CSF and its allies?”

Arnken sat up straighter in his chair. “Just one, First Leader. The Aboms developed a new lasing module for their long-range and standard missiles. For the larger missiles it’s twice as efficient compared the ones we use. More important, this new efficiency allows for standard missile to be outfitted with lasing modules, giving them the same damage potential of our current lasing warheads for our capital missiles. One Abom base was captured during the assault to recover Bedrock, and we secured several standard missiles with the lasing heads for study.”

“Good. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a reach to duplicate the technology.” Grandous pulled another sheet of plaspaper from a stack on his desk and signed it. “I authorize the development of the new lasing technology with the allocation of sufficient funds for all associated departments. Unfortunately we cannot devote more funds like we had done for antimatter technology. War production and expansion of the fleet take priority.” He handed the sheet to Arnken. “When practical, capture of enemy ships and facilities is to be conducted for the purpose of intelligence gathering. Especially in regards to newly observed technology.”

Arnken took the sheet and carefully folded it, placing it in his uniform’s interior jacket pocket. “As you command, First Leader.”

Grandous gave the first sheet he signed to Canso. “This is a list of researchers that have, in my opinion, been too Eleto in their thinking, too eager to accept what they had to offer. These researchers are to be demoted and placed in positions where they have no influence on official policy. If they prove to be too independent and willful,” he make eye contact with Qeron and Canso in turn, “they’ll be tried as enemies of the people and executed.”

Canso felt a slight chill go down her spine. There were a few she knew off hand that matched the words Gandous used. It would be a blow to morale if the ASP became involved. What was unspoken but clearly said was for the SCO to clean its own house to the First Leader’s satisfaction without outside intervention. “As you command, First Leader. The changes will be made immediately.”


********


In the Geode system all was still quite since the repulse of the Axis assault four days earlier. Six squadrons of Spear fighters orbited the warp point, rotated with fresh squadrons every 90 minutes. The detachment from Lord Admiral Jocelin’s Frontier Fleet – 8 CVS, 1 CAE, and 2 mine warfare ships – could only wait for the next attack or the order to break off and rejoin their retiring brethren. As it was the fleet, moving at .1c, was halfway of the way to the Binary Code warp point with the support group, previously at Geode-3-B, even closer to leaving.

Much time was given to speculation if the Axis had shot its bolt and was waiting for reinforcements. After the expenditure of so many small assault ships it seemed unnatural for the Axis not to follow through with another attempt. Now that they’ve demonstrated possession of armed pinnaces it would make sense for a follow-up wave made up of such craft. Late on the fourth day all speculation came to an end.

Six Axis battleships of class not seen before emerged from the warp point, all turning as soon as they emerged to achieve an exit vector. All fired mine-clearance charges from external racks, taking out seven patterns from one particular patch, and three weapon buoys were shot down by transit-addled improved point defense mounts. Three of the six Spear squadrons got their weapons on-line and fired full loads of FRAMs, taking out the shields and nearly half the armor on three battleships. The detachment, only four light-seconds from the warp point, only managed to get two Imperial Wave carriers active. Both Empresarios failed to arm the buoys, and thus the three damaged battleships transited back to Com-30. In their place came three National Powers and three Wave Riders. They carried mine clearance charges as well, firing them even as the other three CAP squadrons maneuvered into position with six more, crashed launched half a minute earlier, closed in. Due to the range the three remaining BBs from the first wave fired their stabilized HET lasers at an Empresario, scouring nearly half of its armor away. Also displayed was the use of jammers on all three ships, making the fighters fire as singletons. Two CAP squadrons dispersed their fire, hitting all nine ships in turn with one extra for each National Power.

One Empresario became active, priming and firing 45 force and 30 energy beam weapon buoys. All the second wave ships lost shields and sustained light internal damage with the first wave battleship trio taking the hits in stride, shields still holding. At this point the Hokum detachment had moved to 5 light-second range while the third wave, comprised of six Stalwart cruisers, made its appearance. The six fresh Spear squadrons attacked, practically denuding the first-wave battleship trio of armor and making inroads on the shields and armor of the second and third wave ships. Just one CAP squadron remained with unfired weapons. The rest of the unused buoy weapons, 36 force and 22 energy, were released and fired on the 15 ships. More armor and internal systems were lost, but not on the first wave battleships for they had overload dampeners to take the energy beam hits.

The detachment kept moving away, leaving the last CAP squadron to greet the light cruisers of the fourth wave. As for the jamming battleship trio it transited back to Com-30 and thus did not participate as the second and third wave ships entered the targeted minefield patch. All three National Powers and Wave Riders took three patterns each with the Stalwarts taking two. Predictably the mainline battleships took internal damage, and had the Empresarios set the mines to maximum saturation there would’ve been six less ships in the Axis navy. The Stalwarts still had some armor and the Wave Riders, while slowed from energy beam hits, withstood what was dished out. With nothing better to shoot at the CAP squadron fired on the Stalwarts as singletons. While this didn’t have the gratification of destroying a whole ship it did make for a more expensive repair bill, taking them out of the fight for at least a month. Since they were in the blind spot of the ships in question, as well as the Wave Riders, not one Spear fighter was lost in the whole engagement.

Moving at full speed the detachment would leave the system in eight days. Engine damage was guaranteed, but speed had to be maintained even in the neighboring Binary Code system. Only in Laser Burn could the detachment, let alone the Frontier Fleet, slow down to such cruising speed that their abused engines would allow. Even now light minefields were being set up around two of Laser Burn’s warp points. One group of ships that didn’t have to worry about engine burnout was the Balcony and three Legion armed pinnace carriers. Based on battleship-sized freighter hulls, the Legions still had 45 Garrochas embarked with the Balcony having 25 regular pinnaces. Currently 12 days shy of the warp point the Legions would be joined and then surpassed by the detachment in 4 days’ time. However the AFC had other plans.

The Fast Walker scout assigned to the detachment trailed 4 light-minutes behind. Detecting an enemy drive field signature the scout turned about and investigated. It was revealed to be a cluster of nine ships, comprised of three fleet carrier hulls and six heavy cruiser hulls. Having done its duty the scout went to full speed to rejoin its larger brethren. Also moving at full speed the Axis ships would intercept the Legions roughly halfway towards the Geode/Binary Code warp point. The detachment commander contacted Jocelin via the still-intact comm buoy chain, asking and receiving permission to defend the Legions. Had there been significant Spear losses it was likely Jocelin would’ve declined. 144 Spears, 45 Garrochas, and 25 pinnaces formed a potent defense, and any damage that would slow the Axis drive to reclaim their territory would be welcomed.

Fatefully the combatants drew closer and closer in the intervening four days. The Hokum carriers pulled away from the slower freighter-hulled ships so that they were just outside SBM range when contact was made. Not one missile came from the Axis formation for two minutes, and nor did any fighter or small craft belch from catapults and launch bays. The detachment commander had his fighters and pinnaces launched at this point when the unexpected happened. Slowing their overtake of the pinnace carriers, the Axis ships highlighted one of them with fire control radars with two carrier hulls and three cruisers opening up with spinal force beams at a range of 7.5 light-seconds. Two beams hit, reducing the selected Legion’s shielding by 50%.

The Spears, Garrochas and regular pinnaces came about, adjusting speeds so as to form a coherent force. Retaining their slow overtake the Axis ships fired again, this time scoring four hits that brought down the shields and impacted the armor of the Legion. With the closure rate factored in and reduction of speed the Hokum strike wave stayed out of point defense range while the Axis scored six more hits on the ship in the interim, nearly breaching the armor.

Unwavering and committed the Axis ships kept to their course, rewarding the Hokum strike with fighters of their own. 72 Hatchets were catapulted into space, and backing them up was the jamming provided by an escort cruiser. Combat at point-blank range centered on the ships with those Spears and Garrochas in the blind spot of one target were defensively engaged by another. The Axis ships had laser-armed SBMs on their external racks, and with their certain demise about to happen they used them on the assailed Legion. With one final salvo of spinal force beam fire added in the ship’s large shuttle bays were destroyed. Paying the price for their arrogance and overconfidence the Axis force was destroyed completely. Going down with them were 65 Spears and 2 Garrochas.

Jocelin, reading the reports sent from the detachment, was tempted to think it was another example of blinding aggression on the part of the Axis. Having witnessed the number of Spears on the CAP it should’ve been clear to the Axis that there were far more fighters involved. A modicum of patience would have seen the detachment leave without incurring combat. Then he considered his fighter losses. In total the Frontier Fleet lost 147 Spear fighters from an initial 396. With engine damage already sustained in the desperate bid to reach the Cain system before the Axis it would take months just to bring up Frontier Fleet back to strength, let alone refit it a timely manner. The mobile yards and repair ships were still busy converting and repairing captured Axis ships from the Battle of Cain, and the two repair ships that came with the fleet would be immediately tasked with uncrating fighters to replenish empty hanger bays.

Still, there was some good news. The fleet’s pair of Oxgoad tugs was on hand to tow those ships unable to maintain a sustained speed of .05c. Moreover the 9 Leash tugs, originally used to tow the Type A defense frigates, were more than capable of pulling pairs of engine-denuded destroyers at cruising speed. All that remained was figuring out how fast the Axis was willing to go in their bid to reclaim lost territory. It seemed unlikely now that the forces in Geode would engage in a ‘hot pursuit’ after being handed a harsh defeat. As for Bedrock the Axis could go through Tire Iron, taking on Janus’ Expeditionary Fleet, in a gambit to recover Fallowed Field and Crimson Expanse. Or, in Jocelin’s mind, take a more practical route of going through Circuit Run, Laser Burn, Cain and then into Crimson Expanse. Liberating another world so soon could only embolden the Axis to push even harder. Jocelin hoped that by going so fast the Axis would trip over their boney feet and give the Imperium the break it needs for a counterattack.


********


Region General Ronon took in a lungful of night air and followed it with a half-cup of lukewarm coffee. The command post for the ISA Expeditionary Corps had relocated to an island in the equatorial zone of Crimson Expanse. Defense from Comensal sappers was greatly enhanced. Combined with the great dislike for high humidity and fear of a slew of predatory sea animals that populated the tropics made the island one of few safe zones where a Hokum can get a full night’s rest. Ronon, however, couldn’t allow himself that luxury.

Back inside Ronon felt the relief of air conditioning yet the smell of sweat persisted. Banks of consoles were manned by technicians, each responding to a request or issuing orders to units both on the ground and in orbit. The lighting was low, kept company by the murmur of overlapping voices. Ronon look and listened at a few consoles before heading for an interior office. Once there he found Professor Alba and Novillero Phes, his Chief of Intelligence, going over some notes. “If you’re looking for coffee,” said Alba without turning, “I took the privilege of tenure and took the last cup.”

“You could have at least cleaned the pot, tenure or not,” chided Ronon. “The politics of coffee is the same in university as it is in the army. Phes, has there been any noticeable changes to Comensal activity for the past two weeks?”

“Yes, for those groups we’ve been able to follow,” said the officer, holding pads in three of his four hands. “The modified Eagle Eye and Talon drones are performing night time harassment raids, dropping a mix of butterfly mines and noisemakers on Comensal camps and trails. With less sleep and deepening fatigue they’re making hasty and poorly thought-out actions. At least three platoon-sized groups have been wiped out in situations that could’ve been easily avoided. No counter-measures have been reported yet, but it’s guaranteed they’ll seek the cover of thick forested areas to hide from the drones.”

“To hide from our eyes they’re willing to face teeth. The planet is far from tame, Novillero. There’s all sort of beasts waiting for the colonists in those forests.” Ronon then focused on Alba. “Professor, you believe this will make the Comensal colonists break down?”

The short, fine fur on the top of Alba’s head was decidedly more grey now, the product of less sleep and relentless thinking. “Despite their proclamations of hardiness and living in the wild there have been signs of depravation appearing among the colonists. They’re running out of whatever rations they’ve squirreled away. Living off the land isn’t providing nearly enough for their nutritional needs. Native fish and fruits don’t have the caloric density for the time spent collecting them. Combine a lack of sleep, force to seek shelter in claustrophobia-inducing forests filled with predatory wildlife, and slow starvation you have all the fixings for doubt and self-examination. If the groups were subjecting with this treatment results in defections and submission then we should apply it on a larger scale.”

“I would agree with you, Alba. But I just received news from Tire Iron, and it’s weighing heavily on my mind.”

“Tire Iron? Surely our allies…”

“It’s not general knowledge. Five Gods know what will happen when it does.” Ronon pulled a chair and sat across from Alba. “As part of my inner circle you should know. The Axis started a major counteroffensive and ejected Commonwealth forces from Bedrock. Combined to what happened in Geode we’re now threatened from two directions. If we lose control of both Tire Iron and Cain the Expeditionary Corps will be trapped on this planet.”

“Do you have the authority to call for an evacuation?” Alba asked briskly. “If they break into Cain our most direct route back to Whel will be cut.”

“It’s out of my hands, Alba. Only the Imperator of the Army can make that call, and even then the Emperor has the final say.”

Alba shook her head, her back pair of hands involuntarily making the gesture of denial. “If we stay, then I can guarantee that the Axis will bring in as many troops it will take to destroy us. Their history is replete with stories of ground campaigns that had no restraint whatsoever. They would blanket entire continents with their ‘black smoke’ if it would help their cause. Plus their penchant of collecting trophies…”

“I wouldn’t worry, Professor,” said Phes. “Emperor Valsur values our lives far more than holding onto potentially untenable real estate. We can pull out our troops relatively quickly.”

Ronon laced the fingers of his front hands. “That is true, Novillero. It will mean abandoning and destroying all of our heavy equipment and vehicles. The Troubadours don’t have the speed to run. We will have to use pinnaces and Hostel personnel transports. It all boils down as to which route the Axis will apply its strongest effort. If through Tire Iron then we have the time to evacuate. If it’s Cain then it will be a much longer route, if it all.”

“There’s another factor, General,” Alba asserted. “People being people, word of the Axis recovery of Bedrock will filter through the ranks. In turn, the Comensal colonists will learn about it as well, either through intercepted in-the-clear radio chatter, captured datapads and computers, and… prisoner interrogations. Should they believe the evidence they’ve collected then the colonists will redouble their efforts.”

“We’ll make them more concerned about staying alive than conducting attacks against us.” Ronon stood up and consulted an interactive map on the wall. “For starters we’ll initiate a campaign that will burn out all the fields of wild wheat near known enclaves of colonists. In conjunction with the harassment tactics we’ll reduce them to a diet of eating raw ferns, roots, and tree bark. If the Five Gods give us a poor pair of pairs by having the Axis recover the planet then we’ll leave them with colonists that will be unfit for labor for months.”

“I hope we get the results we’re seeking, General,” said Alba guardedly. “However, I cringe to think what a broken, starved Comensal turns out to look like after all this. We may end up wishing we had bombed the planet to oblivion."
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