The Terpla'ns - Chapter 8.75

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The Terpla'ns - Chapter 8.75

Postby Zume on Sat 15 Dec 2012 17:04

Crajen Rear Admiral Ossal Dowel, commanding the allied force guarding the Bedrock/Gravel Pit warp point, suppressed the urge to grind his claws and twiddle his fingers. Only 18 hours had passed since the massed Axis pinnace probe, and with each passing hour the likelihood of an assault kept getting greater. Dowel pondered what comprised the Axis forces confronting him. With TF 11 in Bulwark, just one transit from Gravel Pit, the enemy had to devote some of its resources to bottle up the associated warp point. That would be an economical application of resources, letting the task force wither on the vine, but Admiral Uanbo wasn’t one to sit idle. Likewise the Axis would be inclined to liberate Bulwark if only to eliminate the threat to their rear that TF 11 represented.

Task Force 21 was in Forger’s Gate, two transits away, undergoing refit. The distance alone wouldn’t permit those ships that could assist to arrive in time. Even so Dowel was confident in his ability to hold the Bedrock/Gravel Pit warp point. Being closed on the Bedrock side, no less than 400 patterns of mines were positioned in tight proximity of the warp point with 1200 more patterns in a standard shell, backed up by 900 weapon buoys. 14 squadrons of Shark fighters formed the CAP with 42 more based on 14 carriers orbiting 4 light-seconds out. 18 Whale armed pinnaces, 6 battleships and 30 cruisers of all sizes stood watch in the 1.5 LS shell, backed up by a dozen rapidly-constructed type-2 bases. A half-dozen Oknib missile dreadnaughts kept the carriers company along with 24 destroyers. If for some reason the Axis didn’t attack immediately then there will be reinforcement from Forger’s Gate in two weeks along with 12 type-5 and two type-6 bases in four weeks.

So it was a matter of waiting and watching. Dowel considered the timepiece set in an ornate piece of woodwork on the bulkhead. If nothing happens in the next three hours the Admiral planned to let the guard force's second-in-command take over and retire to his cabin. The ship in the bottle model he was working on was almost done; all that was needed was just half-an-hour of patient, and quite, work.


*******


Activity in the Axis system of Battlement was racing to a conclusion. Axis assault minesweepers and armed pinnaces transited into the system from the third warp point, intent on disposing of the modest minefields and weapon buoys opposing them. Faced with this information King Russen elected to destroy the orbital works over Battlement Prime, greatly reducing the system’s use as an Axis forward base for months. With carriers at full strength Russen had the Royal Fleet abandon its holding position from the inner portion of the asteroid belt. Orbiting the planet was a space station, massing as much as thirteen dreadnoughts plus change. Keeping it company was a pair of type-5 missile bases. That information was earned at the expense of one Sloop scout, the recipient of a salvo of 76 SBMs at extreme range. With a salvo of that magnitude Russen wasn’t willing to indulge in a prolonged missile bombardment that will have his Oknibs and Disams stripped of their armor, consigning them to the repairs ships of the fleet train. Instead the King was going to charge the station with his fleet, bringing along all 576 fighters tasked to intercept the inevitable last-ditch launch of Hatchet fighters. The Oknibs and Disams would follow, but moving at very low speed and generating as much ECM as possible. It remains to be seen how the Axis commander in charge would arrange his targeting priorities.

Moving at maximum speed of the Vanguard, Russen’s flagship, the fleet was at 9.5 LS range with the trailing primary missile ships opened fire, targeting the space station with SBM-Lts. As for the others the majority were launching SBMs in loiter mode, either from internal launchers or external racks, preparing to unleash a massive salvo at a range of 5.5 LS. Only the Reliants were banging away with their light salvos, targeting a base with their newly-supplied SBMs armed with the next generation of lasing warheads. In the opening exchange the 15 Reliants nearly stripped of 40% of the armor of their target. As for the Axis counterfire it fell on a Nikazu-class BB. With such a hefty salvo more than enough antimatter-armed SBMs got through and collapsed the shields of the battleship. The next salvo at 8.5 LS range made a shambles of the armor and wrecked a portion of the interior. Regardless, there was no thought of turning about and leaving. Once fixed on a target the Axis gunners would see the job through, and a final salvo spent on an already damaged ship would spare the rest of the fleet that much longer.

An invisible line had been crossed for the Axis launched their Hatchet fighters, 324 in all, as the fleet reached the maximum range for capital missiles. 9 assault shuttles kept pace with the fighters while 12 pinnaces followed as best they could. Knowing its time had come, the damaged BB and its two datalink consorts fired their loiter-mode SBMs, scoring two hits on the station. Now firing antimatter armed capital missiles the station and the two bases obliterated the battleship and missed a Reliant with their spinal force beams. For this the targeted base lost all of its armor due to the Reliants, the improved lasing warheads biting and slashing into the hull and rendered eight launchers useless.

Having lost a fair number of external missiles already the space station elected to fire the remainder along with those on the untouched base. Again the target was a battleship, with 22 SBM-Lts and 48 CM-AMs bent on delivering their promise of death. EDMs diverted some of the capital missiles that broke past, and only due to that effort was the ship spared from outright destruction. A single engine remained, pushing the wreck onwards even as the surviving crew scrambled to evacuate. The oncoming Hatchet fighters, all of which were the prototype variety, were met by the defending Valhallan ones over the fleet. Once again datalink jamming proved to be the decisive edge. Though it brought about the complete destruction of the Axis strike 68 Valhallan fighters were taken down it turn. As for the assault shuttles and pinnaces they were swatted like so many marsh gnats by a trio of escort battlecruisers. Missile fire from the fleet, fleshed out with SBM-Lt2s in loiter mode, finished the first base and further punished the armor of the space station. The Reliants worked over the second base and scored a decisive hit, breaching the armor with a huge geyser of escaping atmosphere to highlight their success. For this a third BB was mauled, barely moving and daring the enemy to waste a portion of his waning strength to finish it.

Still defiant, and constitutionally unable to surrender while operable weapons were at their disposal, the Axis defenders kept firing. At 4.5 LS range the six Vanguards lead the way, targeting the station with a mixed salvo of antimatter capital and laser-tipped standard missiles. Primaries stabbed at the second base, removing more launchers from the fray. Lasing warheads finally breached the armor of the station and caused several tiers of cargo holds to collapse and fly apart in spectacular fashion. Diminished in number but not ferocity the Axis station fired on a fourth BB, removing all passive defenses while a pair of capital primaries lanced a force beam mount and a section of an engine room. A solitary spinal force beam finished the third BB while the second got a figurative rap across the teeth by a solitary capital force beam hit.

The immense bulk of the space station partially offset its inherent weak hull. More importantly the vast number of now-empty fighter bays served as stand-in armor absorbing all what the Valhallan fleet was dishing out and still retaining the firepower to destroy the fourth BB. Still, the spasms of debris flying from the station meant it was in its death throes. It managed a final salvo of missiles, wiping out the shields and half the armor of the fifth BB with two primaries lancing the shuttle bay and part of an engine room. Capital energy beams picked up where missiles finished on the station, leaving it with just one operable spinal force beam. Using that last beam, the station spat its last breath at the second BB before a final crescendo of energy beams rendered it and the second base as shorted-out hulks.

In the Vanguard’s CIC Russen watched a set of repeater screens, ranging from missile expenditure, SAR operation results, squadron reorganization and marine boarding party reports. He didn’t bother to turn as his operations officer walked and stood by his side. “War is the most imperfect calculus, Ops,” the King said wearily. “I can see my detractors back home decrying the loss of three battleships with severe damage done to a fourth. They will say that the loss of the lion’s share of our fighters would’ve been far more endurable and economical than three battleships and 1,000 lives.”

“My King, war is imperfect, but it does reward those that learn its lessons,” replied Ops. “We will need every fighter at our disposal, and the Axis showed some prudence in targeting the battleships when they could’ve done greater harm to our smaller ships.”

“Yes, and I also wonder why they weren’t targeting our superdreadnaughts. Care to elaborate?”

“Certainly, Sire. The battleships in question were copies of the Terpla’n Nikazu class. Each had a datalink jammer, and the Axis observed the use of jammers by the class on a few occasions. I’m sorry to say that our current standing orders have all ships equipped with jammers to activate them at action stations. The Axis destroyed them so as to make the task of their relief force easier.”

“What is the composition of the relief force?”

The Operations officer brought up the pertinent information on Russen’s main repeater plot. “Sire, based on drive field strengths we’re looking at 9 dreadnaughts, 6 battleships, 25 battlecruisers, 15 heavy cruisers, 11 light cruisers, 28 destroyers, and 6 frigates. A portion of the secondary ring of scanner buoys we deployed around entry point was destroyed by scouts and pinnaces. Consequently, we don’t know how many of those battlecruisers and heavy cruisers are actually carriers.”

Russen gazed at the dominating master system plot in the center of the CIC. The crimson dot representing the Axis fleet was pulsing, as was the dashed line of its projected course. “Our allies are depending on us to tie down Axis forces on this front while advancing out of Bedrock. We’ve spent blood and treasure to break into Battlement and destroying the defense installations. Destroying the incoming fleet will rock the enemy on his heels and force him to shift resources that could be spent elsewhere.”

Standing up, the Valhallan king adjusted his tunic and produced a cigar from a tin case he kept in his exterior breast pocket. He accepted the light offered by Ops, and after an initial drag exhaled a plume of smoke one would expect from an ancient wet navy cannon. “Thankfully our enemies are making it easier for us by coming directly to this planet, Ops. Two of the empty carriers will retire to the support group waiting at our entry warp point. The third one will stay here until the boarding parties have completed their work and then destroy the station, the remaining base and the planetside spaceport. Also, those nine frigates that escorted the ammunition replenishment and personnel transports will join our fleet. Once external racks and magazines have been reloaded with the new missiles the fleet will proceed at maximum formation speed towards the enemy.”

“Your will be done, my King.”


********


Like a pair of magnets being attracted to each other the Valhallan and Axis fleet raced to their merger point. Russen sent out four fighters equipped with life support pods and the new scanner packs to get a solid read on the enemy. Twelve Hatchet fighters greeted the quartet just short of the Axis fleet, but one survived long enough to transmit his readings to a trailing scout. There were eight fleet and eight light carriers, meaning a minimum of 384 fighters. Actually there were 432 as both fleets launched their strikegroups while fifteen light-seconds apart. Russen still had 504 fighters, and deciding to hold onto his numerical advantage he elected to hold them over his fleet, within the envelope of supportive datalink jamming. It remained to be seen if the enemy will play it conservatively as well and employ his own jamming. In addition to the Hatchet fighters the Axis also launched 30 small craft from a BC belonging to a class not seen before. The ship peeled away along with the carriers. As the new craft couldn’t be as big as armed pinnaces in order to be carried by the BC it was mystery to be solved in combat.

Russen’s fleet slowed to .05c, making the first exchange of fire at 10 LS range. Only the 6 Oknibs, 3 Disams and 15 Reliants engaged with the rest firing their internal launchers with SBMs in loiter mode to form worthwhile long-range salvos. The new lasing warheads came as a shock to the Axis commander, seeing one of his three National Reach DNs losing 36% of its armor and all 12 external SBMs with only six hits. The same happened with a Prestige DN, and six other Axis capital ships got one or two hits, losing more external ordnance as expected. In reply all Axis ships launched their external SBMs in loiter mode with as many fire control circuits that could be spared.

With the Axis fleet still move at full dreadnaught speed Russen elected to drop down to .033c, making the range of the next salvo at 8.25 LS. Again the exchange favored the Valhallans for a quartet of Axis DNs lost their rack-mounted EDMs. Like a ballet the missile dreadnaughts and battlecruisers broke off onto their own course as anti-matter armed capital missiles came into play at a range of 7.25 LS. The focus was one of the two Valhallan BBs that remained after the charge against the space station. An EDM spared from being lased off spoofed some of the missiles but couldn't prevent the shields from being brought down. In turn one National Reach lost its shields and armor already weaken by laser hits was made even more so.

Hand resting on the ceremonial hand axe attached to his belt Russen spoke loud and clear in the Vanguard’s CIC. “All ships with missiles in loiter mode will fire them along with remaining external missiles at their designated targets when the range drops to 6.5 light-seconds. Generate maximum ECM allowed for by minimum headway.” While he heard the acknowledgements the King was solely focused on the master plot. The two datagroups of SDs each fired 36 SBM-LT2s and 15 CM-Lt2s, focused on a pair of Prestige DNs. For the first it was obviously blessed with luck for its combined point defense performed well above average. Only its armor and a fraction of its internal systems were destroyed. On the second massive devastation was visited upon it. Likewise the anointed National Reach was rendered useless by bombardment from the six Oknibs. Hits from the improved lasing warheads stripped the remaining EDMs from the Axis DNs, BBs, and most of the BCs. Axis efforts had seen the removal of 20% of the armor from Russen’s Vanguard and 50% from another SD. Capital missile fire punished a Valhallan BB if for nothing more to destroy it and its associated jammer.

The crawling fleets reached the point where 5 light-seconds of empty space separated them. Whatever external missiles were left had been fired at this point with the Valhallan’s primary goal being to strip the EDMs off of the Axis CA and CLs. The two damaged Axis DNs and BBs were further hit with more lasing and antimatter warheads while a fresh BC was added. On their part the Axis continued to focus on the sole operating Valhallan BB. However they did use their capital force beams on a Reliant, bashing the passive defenses and wrecking the interior cargo hold.

“Update on the targeting, Sire,” said the Ops officer, consulting the repeater screen to Russen’s left side. “All enemy beam-armed datagroups, CA-sized and up, are down to two combat-effective units each, either due to extensive internal damage or primary beam fire.”

Russen gripped the handle of the ceremonial hand axe as he checked the seal of his helmet. “How soon until our energy beams come into range?”

“Less than fifteen seconds, Sire. Given the cycling rate of our weapons the effective of the Axis capital force beams will be doubled.”

“Very well, Ops. The first volley of energy beam fire will focus on Axis dreadnaughts that have a high probability of low or downed shields.”

“As you order, Sire.”

The exchange occurred at 3.5 LS range with two Prestige DNs getting the worst of it. Massive electrical surges and arcs raced down the length of the two ships, burning out, fusing or exploding equipment and crew alike. Return fire hit Russen’s Vanguard and the Throne, both losing shields and over half their armor. A Paramount cruiser was mauled along with a Reliant, but the Axis lost a CL as well as two defiant, severely damaged BBs and a BC. It got even more intense at 2.75 light-seconds, for in the interim the Valhallans had concentrated on bringing down the shields of the remaining battleships and beam-armed battlecruisers. Vanguard and Throne took some internal damage as well as losing the last BB, two BCs and heavy damage to a third. Pairs of Hero BCs and National Will CLs were blown apart while energy beams wreaking havoc on the DNs and BBs.

All the slow carnage that started five minutes ago came to its pinnacle once the fleets were a mere 2 light-seconds apart. Sharks and Hatchets left their holding positions and engaged their opposites in a swirling furball in the center. Both sides activated those jammers that still worked, and while the range was too great to disrupt enemy ships the fighters on both sides were made to fight as singletons. Additionally the three Axis BCs that didn’t fire a weapon, but engaged in jamming, did so now and launched six more of the strange oversized shuttles to join the other thirty involved the massed melee. The trio of Valhallan BCEs joined in earnest, point defense and lasers blasting away at this war’s equivalent of a cloud of biting, angry gnats.

“Scans have located the enemy command ship!” said a technician in Vanguard’s CIC. “We’ve been found out as well. A pair of Prestige dreadnaughts is locking onto this ship.”

Vangaurd datagroup targeting priority!” Russen ordered above the din of background voices and equipment. “Engage enemy command ship with energy beam fire! All other weapons to focus on the least damaged battleship!” His eyes fixed on the pair of blinking hostile icons in the holoimager tank, the dots of light representing the ships that were bent on destroying the Vanguard even as they were about to die in turn. Tactical and sensor officers on the other ships watched with one eye as Russen’s ship icon flared in their respective displays and then replaced by a grey dot that signified a dead one. Revenge was inflicted for the Vanguard and Throne’s loss with two Axis ships destroyed and three more rendered useless for combat. In the massive dogfight the losses were almost even. What should’ve been in the Valhallans’ favor was disrupted by the 36 unknown small craft. Larger than shuttles but smaller than pinnaces the craft were armed with pairs of close attack missiles and an equivalent of an improved point defense mount. Long-range laser and point defense fire from the three Jajer-Di BCEs took out seven of the troubling craft.

The fleets, save for the large missile ships, were now within maximum range of each other jammers. Only the Axis had two active jammers, one on what was now classified as a BCE and the other on a crippled DN, and the Valhallans with their three Jajers-Di escorts. It took longer for the Axis to destroy the three ships, allowing the Valhallan fighter squadrons to ravage their Axis opposites. Even so enough Hatchets survived to destroy seven ships. A spent force, the 70 surviving Hatchets fled at top speed towards their distant carriers. None of the new type of small craft survived.

Committed to the end, the beam-armed portion of the Axis fleet closed to a range of 0.5 LS. Only one half-mauled BCE, 3 CLs, 23 DDs and 5 FGs were combat-capable, with all other beam-armed ships either destroyed, mobile but weaponless, or e-hulked and motionless. Still possessing 4 SDs, 4 BCs, 8 CAs, 4 CLs, 33 DDs and 9 FGs, plus the capital missile units, the Valhallans sought to enhance their fighters’ external ordnance by destroying or rendering weaponless as many Axis ships as possible. In this they succeeded for over half of the 186 fighters still had full or partial loads of FRAMs after destroying what was left of the beam-armed ships.

With running no longer an option the two Axis National Reach DNs and the trio of Firebow BCs elected to fire on the Reliants. Despite the nature of their targets the Axis only destroyed one of the cruisers in the two minutes it took the fighters to close in and finish what the Reliants, Oknibs, Disams and Vanguards started. SAR teams were dispatched to pick up life pods while the four remaining Vanguards dealt with those few Axis wrecks that still had motive power. It proved unnecessary for only 8 ships failed to self-destruct, though boarding actions were declined as all small craft were involved in SAR operations. A week later teams were sent to inspect the now-lifeless hulks and in time pried data from two of them. As for the Axis carriers they fled the system, leaving via their warp point of entry. The surviving senior Valhallan admiral elected to conserve his forces, waiting for one of the two task groups in Citadel to join him.

Two weeks were spent in searching for lifepods and for any debris from the King’s ship. A remote hope was held that his body could be found so that it could be buried back at the homeworld. With deep regret the search was called off. With the war situation deteriorating the Valhallan crews wondered if they were going to be recalled to Kerama Retto, Citadel or even to Hamthen space. They waited, and learned of even worse news.


********


Twenty hours after the initial massed pinnace probe Star Admiral Mansel, commanding Star Force 2, Third Advance Fleet, launched the assault to reclaim the Bedrock system. Because the warp point was closed on the far side in Bedrock it was expected the minefields coverage would be extensive. The pinnace probe at least confirmed the existence of mines as well as 900 weapon buoys and a sizeable fleet. Not wishing to have his corvette-sized assault ships wiped out before they had a chance to attack Mansel came up with a solution to this problem months earlier.

The Gymnasium system was one of the major shipyard complexes in the Asteroid Axis with the lion’s share of slips cleared of new construction a month after the fall of Bedrock. Mansel had 500 explorer-sized freighters, each only a little more expensive than a fighter, built. For costing nearly the same as five dreadnaughts these small ships served their destined role perfectly. Leading the way in the first wave those small freighters, along with 60 Dispersion escorts, 90 Critical Mass explorers and 200 Machete armed pinnaces emerged like angry bees being force-fed through a funnel. Interpenetration claimed 154 freighters, 20 escorts, 30 explorers and 34 armed pinnaces. The targeting programs of the mine patterns didn’t have the time to generate the proper fire control solutions required, resulting in only one hit out every ten mines fired off.

All 346 Firetraps moved onward as a Blockhouse BB emerged. Those Firetraps not destroyed by the compact shell of mines were taken care of by the extended shell. Following the BB was a War Engine minesweeper, facing the diluted, confused wrath of the mines. Even so the massive ship lost it passives defenses along with six point defense mounts. A second Blockhouse followed the big ship’s wake, taking the diluted, surprised mine attack in stride even as it lost two engine rooms and part of a third. A third Blockhouse barely retained 20% of its armor. The last group of the first wave was comprised of 10 Falcon Crest assault carriers. To the amazement of all not one was lost to interpenetration, though they did loss half of their shielding to mine attacks. Overall just 87 out of the original 400 patterns were left.

6 of the 14 allied CAP squadrons had weapons primed once they reached the warp point. Carrying pure loads of FRAMs each of those 6 squadrons targeted a carrier, though the damage inflicted wasn’t enough to breach the armor. That fell upon the orbiting warships, provided they became active. Also those Whale armed pinnaces that managed to arm weapons attacked the Axis BBs, ripping up their internal systems with antimatter fury. Barreling through the mines the Axis armed pinnaces targeting those warships that failed to fire or bring up their ECM. Even with additional losses from the extended minefield and dealing with transit-addled weapons the Machetes seriously damaged or destroyed ten cruisers. Revenge was earned as all six armor-damaged Falcon Crests were blotted out like some many spiders under a shoe by those active cruisers and type-2 bases. The huge Axis SD was likewise dispatched by the distant Oknib DNs.

Admiral Dowel ordered the automated weapon control ships to hold their fire, preferring to let the mines weaken them first so that follow-up attacks by the ships and bases could eliminate them. As for the mines themselves they were set to maximum attack parameters so as to further damage and even eliminate the 3 BBs. Only six Shark squadrons crash-launched from the carriers, prompting Dowel to bring his carriers to the 2 light-second boundary to further reduce reaction time. The destroyers were also released, eager to add their fire to the battle.

Another Axis SD emerged from the warp point just in time to see the first wave ships being properly dealt by the close-in mines. Yet the little ships were tough, unlike the one-use Firetraps. That some explorers held on by nothing more than positive thinking of the crews meant that the defenders had to finish them off so that the laser buoys wouldn’t be diluted, yet that came to pass as the Grenadiers appeared right after the SD. After the interpenetrations 40 corvettes, 16 frigates, and 12 escorts remained, attacked by mines that didn’t have enough time and data to conduct proper attacks. Three more SD-sized vessels of unknown classes made transit, followed by six DNs that transited together, though two interpenetrated. From the four remaining Falcon Crest carriers came 16 Hatchet squadrons, primed for dogfighting and mobbing the CAP squadrons.

Crippled as they were, the BBs from the first wave had their jammers at full power, nullifying the datalinks of those 8 CAP squadrons still possessing FRAMs. The allies negated this by having the close-in ships move in slightly, engulfing the area about the warp point with jamming of their own from two Nikazu battleships. Even so while those Axis battleships were dealt with the Hatchet pilots were chipping away at the 8 Shark squadrons. When the last Axis jammer was destroyed the effectiveness of the Sharks was significantly reduced, made worse since only two more ships were released from their standby status.

Two of new SDs fired transit-addled spinal force beams and capital energy beams at two bases within their arc of fire, inflicting enough damage to render them into hulks. Due to this display of firepower the Oknibs fired on the third new SD which only launched rack-mounted mine clearance rounds, suspecting it to be a carrier. The ship's point defense and EDMs kept damage to lost shields and one-third of its armor. As for the Machetes they kept active by firing their internal weapons at the buoy parks and those CAP squadrons that hadn’t reached action stations yet. Addled by transit, the frigates, corvettes and escorts nevertheless fired on a jamming Nikazu, revealing their armament to be HET lasers and sprint missile launchers instead of plasma guns.

The Goddess of Fortune was acting downright fickle with Admiral Dowel this day for while all 60 of the Critical Mass explorers were picked off there were still left 120 ships on the warp point. With the Axis armed pinnaces shooting up the buoy parks and the close-in mines now down to 48 patterns Dowel had the 565 one-shot laser buoys fired, if only to make killing the smaller Axis ships that much easier. Indeed, a good number of the first-wave Dispersions were eliminated, and the four surviving carriers of the first wave were practically denuded of armor. With 30 additional Shark squadrons crash-launched from the carriers 3.25 light-seconds out, and with 54 Whales following, inbound for the warp point there was still a chance in Dowel’s mind to blunt this Axis assault.

The sight of 28 fresh Axis Hatchet squadrons bolting from the one of the second-wave SDs and the four DNs made Dowel grind his claws as he accepted the inevitable. Of the 26 allied ships orbiting the warp point only three BBs and nine (light) cruisers were active. The six Shark squadrons crashed-launched earlier did what they could when fell upon the third wave ships, 4 assault BBs and 2 assault SDs, but were overwhelmed by the 16 defending Hatchet squadrons and Axis jamming. With great malice the stabilized SD duo from the second wave and the newcomers of the third wave fired on the active Nikazus, destroying them and their datalink jammers. In turn this allowed the 28 fresh Hatchet squadrons to act in unity, crushing all but two of the close-in allied ships before the oncoming 30 Shark squadrons could intervene. Though the Grenadier assault ships were put to rest by the 10 remaining 10 type-2 bases the balance had shifted to the Axis. Tractor beams on the second wave assault carriers swept the close in mines, extended drive field energies either frying circuitry or causing premature explosions. Reduced to 12 in number, the Whale CAP finished off those Grenadiers that held on by the skin of their teeth.

The fourth wave entered as the four surviving assault carriers of the first finally transited out as the pitiful few mine patterns of the inner shell expended themselves on the first newcomers, a pair of dreadnaughts, and the other larger ships. In all 8 out of 10 dreadnaughts and 2 battlecruisers successfully made transit, their addled firepower helping the third wave ships to bring down the bases. Dowel’s last 6 squadrons were launched, the carriers firing their light missile armament to assist the fighters. As for the strike it was comprised of 30 Shark squadrons with 54 trailing Whales, all loaded down with FRAMs. They were opposed by 44 Hatchet squadrons (16 with gun and 28 with solitary laser packs) and 152 Machetes. Jammed by the assault BBs and SDs, and with no jamming support of their own, the Shark pilots took great losses but stayed true to their goal. All Axis ships on the warp point lost their passive defenses with inroads made into their interior systems by FRAMs and the weaponry of the 24 allied destroyers. Four of the new DNs were in fact destroyed; making the most of the 200 energy beam buoys fired against the remaining 20 Axis ships. Those with overload dampeners negated a share of the hits while the others took significant internal damage.

Whatever hope Dowel held in his twin hearts died as another mass transit of Machetes arrived behind five National Power battleships. Numbering 162, the new Machetes held themselves over the warp point while the gun-armed Hatchets attacked the last six Shark squadrons and the armed Whales, leaving the laser-armed Hatchets to descend on the allied destroyers. It had all the hallmarks of a massacre, and Dowel has his carriers move away from the warp point at full tactical speed as the sixth wave, 4 DN and 2 BC minesweepers, arrived. The Oknibs stayed in their 4 LS orbit, destroying Axis cripples before they had the chance to leave and being helped in that regard as the last weapon buoys on station, 100 of the force beam type, added their fuel to the caldron of combat.

After their systems were stabilized and traversing the outer mine shell the new Machetes went full-tilt towards the Oknibs. Firing right up to the end the six missile ships even bagged some of their miniscule attackers along with some more cripples on the warp point. Bearing down on the carriers were the laser-armed Hatchets, fixed not on destroying them outright but to cripple engine rooms and slow them down. Taking the losses inflicted by the escorts the Hatchets pulled back once they’ve accomplished their mission, avoiding combat with the rearmed Sharks and combining with the gun-armed Hatchets at the warp point. Once a lane was blown in the outer mine shell the Axis fleet poured into Bedrock like water from ruptured dam. A formation took shape and then went after the retiring allied carriers.

With 119 Sharks at his command Dowel was ready inflict as much damage as he could on his pursuers. Instead of a combined missile bombardment/fighter strike the Axis force settled for a crawling overtake when, at 7.5 LS range three BCs and six CAs opened up with spinal force beams. After losing one CVL to this long-range beam bombardment Dowel detached his escorts and sent them along with the Sharks to engage the enemy. It came as no surprise that the other ships in the formation were carriers, launching no less than 240 Hatchets. Combined with the Hatchets from the warp assault, and with jamming support, it was a complete massacre though two CAs were dispatched.

Dowel found it easy to give the order for the remaining carriers to come about and engage with their limited armaments or even to ram. As much as a tragedy it was to have lost the Bedrock system at least some dignity could be salvaged by having a swift death. The Hatchets swarmed ahead and pummeled the crippled ships with the BCs firing their energy beams into two carriers so as to board them and secure a database if possible. Faster formations had already moved on to the Circuit Run and Tire Iron warp points to lay down minefields and buoy parks. Now that all remained was to eject the ‘abominations’ from the face of Bedrock itself.


********


Terpla'n Commodore Fykusa, viewing the multiple readouts and sensor feeds in the CIC of his command ship over Bedrock Prime, turned his attention to the open channel he had with Field General Tokuno. "It's done," said the naval officer. "Based on drive fields types and strengths of the ships heading here in no way we can hold them off. We cannot evacuate to Circuit Run, and our supplies won't permit use to hide more than six months in the outer system or in Brickyard for that matter."

On the monitor screen the Terpla'n general blinked his inner set of eyelids slowly. "So it's Tire Iron? Just how far will our Hokum friends allow our ships to traverse their territory? All the way to Metalstorm and Hamthen space?"

"I can only hope, General. With the ships bearing down on us we'll have to leave behind all of your heavy equipment."

"It won't come to that, Commodore. My signal section has been monitoring Comensal radio traffic. Those Axis ships had to have been sending tight-beam communications to this planet. In turn various civilian transmitters have been broadcasting in the clear for a full minute before we were able to jam them. All Comensal militia units and their hidden army formations are being mobilized. If I give a general pull-out order those boneheads will lob nukes at our assembly areas. A slower withdrawal will take much longer, and that will allow those Axis ships to close in and destroy our transports."

"You're saying that you want to take the Expeditionary Corps to ground?" Fykusa said incredulously. "There is no telling when the Fleet will return to relieve you and your men."

“This is my job, Commodore. All things considered we rather die here than in the vacuum of space. Any drain on enemy resources we can cause can only help in the overall picture. My troops will be moving into the equatorial tropics. The boneheads hate the humidity and rain. Unless they’re willing to nuke every rainforest they’ll have to pour in the troops to root us out.”

“We’ll make it even harder for them, Tokuno. I will authorize an orbital kinetic strike on all industrial, military, and infrastructure sites on Bedrock. It will reduce the usefulness of this planet for at least half a year, and in turn make it that much harder for the Comensal to devote resources to hunt the Expeditionary Corps down.”

Tokuno made a double blink. “Speaking of resources, Fykusa, are you going to scuttle the orbital hospital base?”

“Regrettably yes, General. We’ll offload the supplies beforehand and land them at locations of your choosing.”

“That’s par for the course. I was thinking of something more. Given the shape of the base it’s possible for it to make a one-way trip to the surface. It could serve me well as a command center in the depths of the equatorial jungle.”

Fykusa made a hard blink. “The station-keeping drives of the base are strong enough for a relative soft landing. Plus when we conduct the bombardment we’ll add in some atmospheric atomic detonations, radio jamming and laser aerosol spraying to make the boneheads believe the base crashed in the deep ocean instead of land.”

Tokuno chuckled. “And here I was expecting you to blow up the base in orbit or drop it on Government Hall. I have orders and plans to make, Commodore. Contact me when the kinetic satellites are deployed and ready to fire.”

“It will be an hour, General. Just get your men to the jungles. Fykusa out.”

End Chapter 8


Asteroid Axis Hatchet Fighter
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Commonwealth Space Force Whale Armed Pinnace
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Zume
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