The Hokum - Chapter 5

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The Hokum - Chapter 5

Postby Zume on Sat 25 May 2013 13:13

The Expeditionary Fleet held station one light-minute from the Tire Iron/Bedrock warp point. At this point in time it was at strongest level yet. Comprised of 42 BCs, 42 CAs, 72 DDs, 22 CVS and 6 CVs, plus supporting vessels, the fleet could hold its own in a mobile battle. With the Commonwealth Space Force in possession of Bedrock the fixed warp point defenses were rather paltry in mine patterns and weapon buoys. However, within a space of three hours many of Lord Admiral Janus’ senior staff officers wished there had been two dozen bases guarding that warp point.

In the battlecruiser Watch Tower’s CIC there was much activity. Janus waited as the quarterly hour update was processed for her consumption. The main holoimager bathed the compartment with its dull amber light. Presently it showed the warp link chain between Bedrock and Metalstorm. With the successful Axis assault in Bedrock the systems of Tire Iron, Fallowed Field, Solid State, BRB-1, and Abyssal-019 presently formed a potential route for retreating Commonwealth forces that were posted at Bedrock Prime. It was a clause in the military cooperation treaty that allowed the aforementioned route to be used only in case Bedrock was regained by the Axis. It also permitted Commonwealth forces to send reinforcements for the purpose of retaking the system. Given the strength the Axis demonstrated in its return it would be months before any such counterstroke could be attempted.

“We have the composition of the Commonwealth flotilla in Bedrock heading for the Tire Iron warp point,” said Cirro, Janus’ chief of staff, from his console next to the holoimager. “Six superdreadnaught and six dreadnaught troopships, two battleship-sized transports, four light carriers, two escort cruisers, a pair of dreadnaught sized mobile shipyards and one dreadnaught-sized freighter. They’re moving at a speed of 0.05c and should reach the warp point in 19 hours.”

“Any Axis formations in Bedrock heading for the Tire Iron warp point?” Janus asked, eyes fixed on the holo representation of the aforementioned system.

“One confirmed formation, Admiral. Our Commonwealth allies have inferred that the formation is comprised of 40 battlecruiser hulls moving at maximum speed. No definite reads on classes as the Axis sent scouts ahead in a bowl formation to locate and destroy all sensor buoys in their path. All Commonwealth scouts attempting to get close are being chased off or destroyed by Hatchet squadrons. At its present speed the Axis formation will reach the Tire Iron warp point in 218 hours.”

Janus adjusted the view on the holoimager, highlighting all drive field sources reported by the CSF in Bedrock. Her eyes darted from one labeled contact to the next. “The troopships will reach us without fear of interception, and those heading for Brickyard will be safe but isolated for the duration. I imagine the latter have most of the supplies, so it makes sense to have them hide in Brickyard and be on hand for the eventual CSF counterattack.”

“Those troopships are running empty,” Cirro observed as he read from his screen. “I surmise that since there weren’t enough transports on hand their commanders decided to leave all the troops in place rather than leave a portion behind.”

“A tragic decision, Cirro. Either leave some behind to their deaths or leave all of them in hopes that some will be alive when relief comes. If they had been able to pull everyone out that would have meant abandoning all of their planetside equipment. Leaving some behind would entail greater morale problems that just leaving all of them.” Janus’ eyes locked onto the holo icon representing the CSF troopships. “Our allies have suffered far more than us in garrisoning Axis worlds. I hope they’re not developing a case of fatalism in regards to their troops. Or it’s stubbornness that compels them not to fight for the same piece of land twice.”

Captain Benevix, Janus’ chief intelligence officer, frowned as he looked up from his terminal next to Cirro. “If a new route isn’t found to Axis space then our allies will have fight over Bedrock again, Admiral. No doubt the Axis will force the issue and retake Circuit Run at the earliest possible moment and in turn take Laser Burn. We will need to reinforce the Cain/Laser Burn warp point. Though Frontier Fleet repulsed the Axis force attempting to retake the Geode system should Laser Burn fall…”

“We’ll lose 35% of the active fleet,” Janus concluded. “Fleet HQ in Whel will likely have Jocelin fall back to Cain even at the expense of burned-out engines. As for bolstering the Cain warp point defenses we can send all available assault units in Crimson Expanse.”

Benevix nodded. “What of the Axis ships we’ve captured here in Tire Iron and in the other systems, especially Cain? Should those awaiting conversion and repair be scuttled?”

“We paid for those shorted-out captured hulls with our blood, Benevix. Those unconverted Axis hulls here in Tire Iron will be towed to an area far from the Tire Iron/Abyssal 018 warp point. All other Axis hulls in Abyssal 018, Crimson Expanse and Cain will be converted and repaired just enough so that they can travel to Whel for their final refit. Those mobile yards and repair ships that become free as a result will speed up the refit of our ships.”

“Admiral,” said Cirro, “that Axis formation heading for the warp point could be a combined minelayer and guard force. Though several months of neglect have led to attritional losses the minefields on the Bedrock side of the warp point are still formidable. We can take the initiative and wipe out those mines before the Axis can service them and,” he added with some optimism, “prevent them from placing fresh mines and weapon buoys.”

“You may have something, Cirro. Forcing the Axis to expend more ships and effort to guard the Tire Iron warp point can only help our allies in the long run.” Janus shifted her eye from the Tire Iron to the Circuit Run warp point icon. “At present have our three Broadside cruisers, the anti-mine munitions transport and the minesweepers go and clear the remaining mine fields on the Bedrock side of the warp point. In regards to the approaching Axis formation I want several action plans by this time tomorrow. Dispatch the tugs to relocate the hulks awaiting repair and conversion here in Tire Iron and Abyssal 018."

“As you command, Admiral.”


********


Back in the Geode system the Axis was consolidating in wake of its return. At the lunar colony on Geode-3-B a fresh task was in hand. In lieu of a new space station a fighter ground base was being built with the help of a small mobile construction yard. As much as it was for local defense the fighters that would eventually be based there would also serve as a ready supply to replenish Axis carriers. An identical base was being built at Geode-3-A, and together would provide 96 fighters for the defense. In six months the bases would be complete, and fully fitted out a month later. In addition to expansion of industrial complexes the Geode system was set to become a forward supply base for the Axis fleet set on reclaiming the warp chain leading to Crimson Expanse.

Three ISN cruisers, part of Admiral Jocelin’s Frontier Fleet, were in the Smelter system, two transits out from Geode, when the Axis sent its first assault probe. Jocelin repulsed that assault, but when word came of the Axis return to the CSF-occupied Bedrock system he was ordered to fall back to the Cain system to mount a defense. A portion of Jocelin’s fleet remained in Geode to serve as a rear guard and discourage further probes. The cruisers were ordered to return to Geode at cruising speed, and had there been more time they would’ve continued on to Cain. Events turned out different, and Frontier Fleet and its detachment went to full tactical speed after the Axis made its second and successful assault. Word was sent to the last scout in Geode to rendezvous with the three cruisers, now in the adjoining Com-27, since the communication buoys in Geode were either picked up or destroyed.

Now cut off, the senior captain of the three cruisers, Hortens, looked at the facts. Having been dependent on Frontier Fleet for supplies there was only enough on hand for one month. After that the ships would experience accumulative breakdowns, leading to combat impairment and eventually destruction. With Axis populations in Smelter and Geode the likelihood of warships appearing soon in Com-27 was certain. Reaching a decision with the other two captains Hortens offloaded supplies onto the scout, enabling it to operate at full capability for 36 months. It would stay in Com-27, at a pre-assigned spot near the Smelter warp point, engines down so as to be virtually undetectable. So positioned the scout could watch Axis ship traffic transit the warp point and provide intelligence for ISN ships, if and when the ISN returns to Com-27.

As for the cruisers Hortens had a plan that didn’t require what little supplies he had left. Upon entering Geode the ships made a beeline for Geode-3. Hortens reasoned that since the Axis recovered the system there would be a presence at the aforementioned gas giant’s lunar colonies. Any infrastructure being rebuilt would be destroyed. Afterwards the cruisers would remain in combat until destroyed and in doing so Hortens hoped to give pause to the Axis advance and give more time for Frontier Fleet to fortify the Cain system. The cruiser crews understood this line of action, finding it more preferable than hiding in Com-27 and experiencing an eventual, undignified death.

Needless to say the AFC units in Geode were caught off guard. The Com-27 warp point was closer to Geode-3 than the other two, and the local commander was tardy in sending a squadron of frigates to Smelter, leaving it instead to a Picket class scout to re-establish contact. It was believed that the ISN, after learning about the Iron Sky system, wouldn’t have bothered to leave combat units in Smelter as there was only a pair of small unarmed freighters present along with the half-dozen outposts. Well, those two ships had been destroyed by the cruiser trio and soon the approaching Picket would join them. One hour after entry the cruisers had the small ship on tactical scanners, 15 light-seconds out and just four minutes from SBM range. At this point the Picket launched its quartet of escort shuttles, each armed with a pair of antimatter close attack missiles. Hortens didn’t know what they were for the information from the scout didn’t made mention of the craft. In two minutes they would be in range of point defense, and hopefully they would be dispatched before they could inflict harm.

To his chagrin only one was shot down at a range of 1 LS, so Hortens ordered his ships to conduct erratic maneuvers, generate maximum ECM and assume a mutually supportive formation. The three remaining craft, between the size of a regular shuttle and pinnace, homed onto one cruiser. While in the blind spot of the target the other two ships were able to engage and destroy them. Resuming course, Hortens held his fire until the small ship was within 2 LS. It turned out to be a small freighter hull comprised of shuttle bays, a solitary engine room, a munitions hold and ship-grade long range scanners. It was dispatched with force beams, leaving a debris cloud as the cruisers continued toward Geode-3.

Moving at full speed it took less than three days to traverse the distance. Sensor contacts appeared on either side of the cruisers but at observed speeds they were unable to intercept the trio until after they arrived at Geode-3. Hortens watched as one contact resolved into three as his ships approached the gas giant’s second moon. One turned out to be another small freighter of the same type encountered earlier for it launched four big shuttles and fled at a paltry speed of 0.033c. The other two were full-sized heavy cruiser hulls, formed over the second moon and began moving at full speed at the trio of Interior class cruisers once the range dropped to 10 LS.

Hortens opened fired with laser-tipped SBMs, scoring a single hit. Closer in at 7 LS only two of the capital missiles fired obtained a lock but both were shot down. Both Axis cruisers slowed to .033c, bringing the range down to 5 LS and at which point both sides opened up with external ordnance. Of the four internal and four external capital missiles that acquired a lock only one of each hit; the former with antimatter and the later a bomb-pumped laser, collapsing the shields and scouring the armor of the selected Axis cruiser. In turn the two Axis ships fired 9 external laser-tipped SBMs, getting 4 lock-ons and three hits.

Perplexed as to why the two Axis ships elected to expend themselves with only one massed salvo Hortens got his answer. One of the ships launched a squadron of Hatchet fighters, joining the quartet of big shuttles in a full-out drive on the Interiors. That cruiser went to full speed and turned about, leaving its companion to carry on. Armed with a capital force beam the remaining Axis cruiser stayed at .033c, engaging ECM and took what hits the Hokum had to offer, waiting to see results of the fighter/shuttle strike. Hitting the armor-damaged Interior, the Axis ship lost its passive defenses and two engine rooms in the return fire.

Slowing to .05c and assuming a three-point formation the Interiors braced themselves for the onslaught. None of the weapons that could be brought to bear scored a hit on the Hatchets and all missiles fired at the Axis cruiser were shot down. The six Hatchets fired 12 of their FRAMs, crippling an Interior with those that managed to hit. As for the quartet of big shuttles they brought the shields down and most of the armor on another. The Axis cruiser fired but missed with its force beam.

Moving at a crawl, the Interiors attempted to swat the Hatchets as they made their second pass. The big shuttles, having fired their FRAMs, hightailed it for the still-retiring freighter to reload. Again no Hatchets were shot down. Despite erratic maneuvers and ECM a second Hokum cruiser took heavy internal damage. For its taunting attack the Axis cruiser, now seen to be a mobile yard, suffered the loss of all but one of its engines. The one intact Interior pursued the retiring Hatchets while still in range of point defense, finally bagging one. Finishing off the devastated first Interior the Axis ship was destroyed in turn.

Hortens has his intact cruiser inspect the two lunar colonies. Finding two ground bases under construction he had them destroyed by force beam fire. Then he waited, noting the various other contacts being relayed to his ship had come to a stop. Except, of course, the now rearmed fighters and shuttles returning to finish the job. Both Interiors moved as one and allowed the Axis craft to close. Just before engagement both cruisers fired their courier drones, nine in all, on separate trajectories.

While the destruction of the remaining Interior cruisers was achieved (at the expense of one escort shuttle) the drones did have the effect Hortens hoped for. System Admiral Gothan, commander of the task force that retook Geode, was determined to remove the blemish from his record. Scouting assets were reassigned to investigate each drone’s flightpath, resulting in several months of fruitless search. Four light carriers with escorts were dispatched to Smelter on the offhand chance there were Hokum ships present. Overall it delayed the Axis force in Geode a full two months, leaving it to the fleet in Bedrock to take over and assign a reserve force to take Cain once Circuit Run and Laser Burn were secured. Those two months were just what Jocelin needed.


*******


The rainy season for the Pinecone region of Eletoshani Prime was ending. For that reason Nisecu Lake was thankful, but now he wished there was a torrential spring downpour right now. He and his companion, Holsecu Pound, were being pursued by Comensal Anti-Abomination Security Police (ASP) agents. Comensal disliked rain and hated the monsoon-like weather of the northwestern regions even more. Traversing the forest across wet foliage, fallen trees and occasional streams made Nisecu’s four feet and ankles hurt, not that he was out of shape so much that he was out of practice. Holsecu, however, seemed to be having the time of his life.

A hydrologist and geologist, Holsecu was use working outdoors and thought nothing of the weather. An outdoorsman as well, Holsecu traveled light in comparison to Nisecu, picking edible berries and mushrooms during their flight from the pursuing ASP. Due to his outdoor experience and knowledge of the Pinecone region Holsecu was tapped by the increasingly active resistance movement to train field operatives. Provided they elude capture.

“Those damned boneheads,” Holsecu said in a low voice, picking his way through the dense ferns and low-hanging branches with Nisecu doing his best to follow. “They burned down my house just out of spite. It use to belong to my grandparents, and it was built with wood cut down on-site.”

Nisecu shifted his left pair of stalked eyes to observe behind him. There was nothing, but the sound of wildlife in the distance told him that the ASP agents were nearby. “Many more treasures will be lost before the war is over. We have to do our part to ensure those losses weren’t in vain.”

“Provided that the allied aliens can get to us in time, Nisecu. The Comensal need us for our industrial production. If they get to a point where they can live without us then they’ll bombard this planet into oblivion.”

“They’ll have to go really deep into the alien’s territory and place more outposts and colonies on rich rockballs to make up the production they’ll lose from exterminating us. Right now let’s make sure we aren’t exterminated.” Nisecu looked behind him again, this time using all four eyes.

“We’re quite safe,” said a confident Holsecu. “I left an explosive charge behind us for our ASP friends. It’s on a timer, and if they maintain their pace…” a hollow booming sound filled the forest air, agitating the wildlife into making calls and howls.

“Pardon me if I’m not reassured, professor. That didn’t sound like a particularly powerful explosive.”

“Just listen. You can hear it.”

After a moment Nisecu did hear what sounded like a syrup-laced pancake slipping off the top of a stack of buttered up brethren. What followed were the sounds of cascading rocks, trees being uprooted, panicking wildlife and yelling Comensal with the latter ending abruptly after a particularly loud crescendo. “Just what was that, a landslide?”

“Actually a mudflow,” said Holsecu. “That particular hillside had a relatively thin layer of topsoil and the rock below is resistant to the roots of the ferns and small trees that manage to grow there. Will all the heavy rains the soil layer got saturated, and with this brief dry spell a layer of water remained between the rock and soil layer. All it needed was a particular sound at the right frequency to get things moving.”

“We better move even faster, Holsecu. If only one bonehead is alive it’s sure as sin that he pushed his panic button. A cutter will be here in minutes.”

“Don’t worry. By the time they find the bodies we’ll be in the deep woods and beyond their reach.”


********


In the Axis system of Non-Stop there was concern and expectation felt by the ISN crews: concern about the reverse suffered by the Frontier Fleet in Geode and the Axis recovery of Bedrock and expectation of what Admiral Calixto plans to do next. The latter was satisfied as Fleet HQ in Whel sent new orders. Calixto’s command was officially designated Strike Fleet, a term she found amusing. All together this fleet barely had enough ships to constitute two segments, including auxiliaries. However, an officer commanding two segments had to be the rank of segment admiral. Looking at her new rank insignia she liked to think her promotion was due to her efforts in Non-Stop and not to fulfill a bureaucratic requirement. Along with that promotion was a task commensurate to her new rank – to conduct an offensive to invade the Axis system of Bandstand, just two warp transits from Non-Stop.

Calixto detailed her Greyhound squadron stay behind to track and intercept the six Axis ships remaining in Non-Stop while the Strike Fleet moved to invest the Non-Stop/Woodshop warp point. The first pinnace to probe the warp point came back and its report explained the reason why. A mere six Hatchet fighters and like number of big shuttles were keeping guard over a collection of 120 weapon buoys. Calixto waited a mere 18 hours before sending in the first assault wave. Appearing first was a pair of Soar-H carriers, repaired and reconditioned for Hokum crews. Following was an Imposer, a converted Axis battleship, a Dispersion class escort, and two Rodeo Clown minesweepers. External mine clearance rounds blotted out seven mine patterns while three buoys were nicked by transit addled point defense systems.

Slow on the uptake, the Axis defenders only managed to get a duet of escort shuttles to action stations, attacking the Dispersion. Had a third one been active then the little ship would’ve been destroyed. As it was both of the automated weapon control bases, sitting 8 LS out and kept company by a small craft base, failed to activate. The Dispersion was able transit out, being replaced by six more. As for the Soars, after launching eight squadrons of Spear fighters, stayed in Woodshop so that the inevitable buoy fire was diluted by 11 ships instead of 9. First to fire was a Rodeo Clown, targeting and destroying five of the six CAP Hatchets and six buoys all thanks to the advanced point defense mounts she carried. The only success the Axis defenders had was in the destruction of a second wave Dispersion from the remaining CAP Hatchet and one escort shuttle. Again both control bases failed to active, and in response the Hokum attackers reaped more buoys to leave only 71 out of the initial 120. Four escort shuttles were bagged, leaving the initial two heading at full speed for their base.

Wave three was comprised of five Dispersions. A Rodeo Clown bagged eight more buoys when one control base became active and fired the remaining 63. While all ships were hit none suffered internal damage, especially in regards to the 10 Dispersions with their thick armored hides. Four of them transited back to Non-Stop while six Broadside missile cruisers emerged from the warp point and fired internal and external mine clearance rounds. Of the fifty patterns in the targeted patch only 28 remained.

Observing the two retiring shuttles and the base they landed on the assault commander had the Broadsides fire upon the other full-sized type 2 base. One datagroup fired antimatter armed SBMs while the other used laser-tipped warheads. Hits were observed and obviously provided enough motivation for the base to launch 18 Hatchet fighters. Together with 18 of the big shuttles launched from the other base they closed on the Hokum ships. With most of the Dispersions returned to Non-Stop and with six Interior cruisers to replace them fire was shifted again to reduce the targeted minefield patch. The Five Gods shown their favor that day as the clearance rounds were spectacularly effective, leaving only seven patterns. As a group the five first wave ships and the remaining Dispersion entered the exhausted mine patch. Except for the small ship none had breached armor though the one Soar-H targeted by two patterns only had 10% of its armor remaining. With tractor beams taking care of the leftovers a clear path was made for the other ships to follow.

Now in control of the engagement parameters the Hokum moved and attacked the approaching Axis horde at a range of 1 LS. Jammers denied the Hatchets from firing as squadrons, allowing the Spear fighters to harvest them like orchard fruit. Even so 5 Spears were lost but none of the ships were hit. The Imposer battleship, escorted by 12 Spears, moved on the bases at full speed, intent to clear the way for the cutters and shuttles behind it so they could board said bases safely. In the intervening two-and-a-half minutes the pair of big shuttles and the sole remaining Hatchet had rearmed and launched, focusing on the Imposer. Both shuttles exploded like fireworks from the attention given to them by one squadron, and the sole Hatchet fired its FRAMs, breaking down partially restored shields and searing the ship’s armor-cladded flank. That fighter’s death was just a footnote as the battleship began the process of stripping the shields off the bases so that its needle beams could lance point defense mounts and magazines.

Defiant to the end, the three bases launched their complement of two shuttles and three pinnaces. Intent on ramming, the craft failed and were brought down by the Spears. Just as the last fireball faded away the three bases self-destructed, denying any intelligence Calixto hoped to find. It didn’t adversely affect the operation for Woodshop’s layout was known as well as that of Bandstand. The almost armor-denuded Soar-H and the Dispersions were sent back to Non-Stop to get repaired and refitted while the minefields and automated weapons were picked up and moved to the Woodshop/Bandstand warp point. The new advanced point defense system had proven itself in combat. Quite soon other new weapons will get their baptism of fire.
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Zume
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