The Hokum - Chapter 5.25

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The Hokum - Chapter 5.25

Postby Zume on Sat 03 Aug 2013 17:19

The destruction of the deteriorating Axis minefields at the Bedrock/Tire Iron warp point was complete. With armor untouched the Rodeo Clown minesweepers returned to Tire Iron while the Broadsides had their magazines cleared of remaining anti-mine charges and filled with regular ordnance. A pair of Fast Walker scouts entered Bedrock. One scout stayed at the warp point while the other headed for the approaching CSF troopships and auxiliaries. After informing their ally that they could continue the scout headed for the more distant Axis formation. Like the CSF scouts the Fast Walker couldn’t get close enough for definite reads on the ships. From drive signatures alone it was clear they were 40 battlecruiser-sized hulls, but how many of them were warships or carriers couldn’t be determined.

Lord Admiral Janus decided to complicate the situation for the Axis. She brought in the Expeditionary Fleet into Bedrock and held it, with drivefields down, over the warp point. The operation was done with such speed that the enemy initially had no idea how many Hokum ships were present. When a trio of Axis scouts approached they were engaged by six Spear squadrons carrying partial loads of stand-off missiles. With detuned engines the scouts ran, counting down the minutes until the Spears had to break off due to life support limits. That time came and went, and five minutes later the Spear squadrons dropped their missiles and closed on the scouts. Given the numbers involved it made no difference to scatter so the scouts stayed together. Great was their surprise as the Spears opened up at a range of one light-second with internal lasers while moving at the speed of an unloaded F1 fighter. The lead scout was crippled in the opening exchange, and all three launched their courier drones to back up their transmissions to the minelayer taskgroup. No longer detuning engines, the scouts came about and accepted their fate. In all four Spears were shot down, but it was small price to pay to destroy three scouts and make the Axis take stock of the situation.

At a range of two light-minutes the Axis force came to a stop and waited. Three hours later Janus launched twenty Spear squadrons and sent them to investigate. All moved as if they were fully loaded, though they were actually unarmed except for six. With restraint the Axis commander allowed these squadrons to close for his fighters outnumbered this force by over 7 to 1. He wanted to preserve his carriers’ identity for as long as possible. When it came down to 8 light-second range the Spears came about and moved away at just under their maximum loaded speed. The Commander could only surmise that this was just a probe to provoke him to launch his fighters and therefore reveal something of his strength. Since he launched no fighters, and the enemy hadn’t come close enough for scans, he felt his secret was safe.

He was wrong, for six Spears carried the newly developed fighter scanner packs. Janus now knew she faced 30 Eagle Crest carriers and 10 battlecruisers of a class not seen before. At a minimum it meant 900 Hatchet fighters, giving them a 50% advantage. She had no doubt that heavy losses would be incurred if she stayed, but with the Garrochas of the assault element serving on the defense those 900 Hatchets would be destroyed in their entirety. It all depends on when and how the Axis will advance and attempt to fortify the warp point.

*******

Camp Lazlo was quiet on the night when the news of what happened to the CSF in Bedrock was made general knowledge. In one of the motor pools the mechanics and Mongoose crews of Company B, 31st Tactical Armored Regiment, resumed work on their vehicles. The Mongoose known as Loaded Vice was undergoing a 500 hour overhaul, entailing the instillation of a new powerpack, rail gun, and suspension adjustments. Furdex, the vehicular commander, was assisting two mechanics in connecting the powerpack. “I’m telling you, fame cuts both ways. The Five Gods decided that we’ve done such a good job that they’ve invoked the Axis to reclaim this planet.”

“Or that no good deed goes unpunished,” said Pendex, Loaded Vice’s driver. “Just two months left before the regiment is to be rotated home. Whoever said the duration is longer than the war wasn’t kidding.”

“I was looking forward to having a year back home while the regiment got reequipped with tanks,” Licus commented as she tested new electronic modules before having them installed. “We’re either going to be stuck here or evacuated without our heavy equipment.”

“What? I won’t hear of it.” Spuran, the gunner, poked his head out of the turret. “Our baby doesn’t deserve to be reduced to slag. She deserves to come back with us.”

Furdex wiped his brow with his right front hand while working a kink on his side with his left back hand. “No such doing, Spuran. Loaded Vice is going to the surplus pool here at Camp Lazlo when we leave. She’ll be put to service when another platoon has a Mongoose combat loss.”

“Those have been increasing lately.” Licus subconsciously rubs her right ear when recalling bad news. “The boneheads are using more and more of those cheap shape-charge rockets in massed volleys. Remember what happened to that one Mongoose in the 29th? A technical ambushed it and used a calliope to overwhelm the point defense system. Two rockets got past the reactive armor blocks and breached the hull and turret. Only the driver survived because her compartment was separate.”

Pendex patted the bow of the combat proven vehicle. “Even more reason why we’re being upgraded to tanks. Thicker , denser armor. A more comprehensive point defense system, additional weapons, and treads. No disrespect, Vice.”

Spuran shook his head. “Treads? Why not ground effect like the Axis tanks? Treads are so old that they don’t event count as old school cool. Plus the tank the Army made is just an updated 500 year-old design.”

“Those Axis blowers are power hogs, Spuran,” said Furdex. “Sure, they can go over water, but they require a cutter-grade fusion bottle to move around and fire their overblown laser pointers. Plus those blowers move around like pinballs even from hits that don’t penetrate their armor. I’d rather have 40 tons on the ground than 100 floating around on a cushion of air.”

Licus penned her signature on a tablet and handed a comm module to a technician to install in Loaded Vice. “We’ll get to see how they perform in combat before we leave. An armored regiment arrived from Iridescent last week. I’m sure they’ll find an appropriate pocket of Comensal resistance to put the tanks to the test.”

*******

A small formation of ISN ships was making its way across the Non-Stop system, heading for a rendezvous with the mobile repair squadron in the outer reaches. At the lead was a DN-sized Soar class assault carrier, captured from the Axis early in the war and made compatible for Hokum use. It was moving at cruising speed, towing another captured and converted Axis ship, a Dispersion warp point probe ship. Keeping pace with the Soar were 10 more Dispersions, each having armor damage to one degree or another with one having to patch up its life support to make the trek. Providing escort was a pair of Type 1 destroyers and a Podium pinnace carrier. With 24 F1 Spears and 4 Garrocha armed pinnaces on hand it was felt it would be enough to handle the attention of the known pair of Axis patrol squadrons still present in Non-Stop.

After four days the formation was detected by one of these squadrons. Comprised of one Pinyon Jay and two Fishing Hawks, this squadron attacked a Hokum convoy over a month earlier. While successful, the striking power was reduced to 8 Hatchet fighters (out of 12), 12 Stiletto escort shuttles and 7 (out of 20) Machete armed pinnaces. Moving at full speed it took over 36 hours to close the range. With no supplies remaining, and having received a message from the last Fleet Tracker squadron about the Hokum investment and apparent entry into the Woodshop system, the Axis commander elected to attack this new contact while he still had a potent attack force. The Greyhound squadron sent by Calixto was out of position to intercept. It still closed on the outside possibility of the Axis succeeding in its mission.

Two light minutes before interception the Hokum captain in charge released the 10 Dispersions, having them move at full speed on a different vector, and dropped the crippled Dispersion the carrier was towing. At 9 LS range, the Axis commander, upon receiving confirmation that the dreadnaught hull was a converted Soar, made it the primary target. He had no choice, for a general order issued by the First Leader required that all AFC ships captured and used by the enemy had to be destroyed. At 5 LS range both sides launched their fighters and small craft. With ECM spun up the opposing sides commenced firing at 3.75 LS. Only 13 of the 21 external capital missiles locked onto the Soar, and after point defense and EDMs just 3 inflicted damage. The Pinyon Jay’s sole HET laser hit, scouring off one external missile and further weakening the Soar’s armor, damaged earlier in the assault on Woodshop. In reply two of the Soar’s HET lasers hit the Jay, removing its sole EDM, and took a hit from a Type 1’s force beam.

Holding onto unreasonable optimism the Axis commander thought he would still be victorious. On the defensive the Hokum units engaged the Hatchets, Stilettos and Machetes at point blank range while the respective ships exchanged volleys at 2.25 LS. The Soar lost it shields, remaining armor, and three of its engine rooms from one abbreviated Hatchet squadrons. All four Garrochas were shot down by the point defense mounts of the Stilettos and Machetes. In a swirling maelstrom the Spears dealt death to the Axis craft, and all but 4 Hatchets were destroyed. Closer in at 1 LS range the Jay knocked down one Spear and scored a solid hit with its laser and three of the Hatchets did the same with theirs, reducing the Soar’s speed further and wiping out three hanger bays. Both of the plasma bolts fired from the Fishing Hawks were slapped down by the Soar’s capital point defense unit. Using up their remaining standard close assault missiles and laser packs,the Spears knocked down the passive defenses of the three ships, allowing one Type 1 to lance the Jay’s HET laser while the other one missed the plasma gun on one Hawk. Further hits made the Jay effectively toothless. One Hatchet was splashed by the point defense mount on the Podium.

The Hawks moved away, putting distance between them and the Type 1s while the plasma guns were recharging. It was in vain for both needle beams lanced the gun mounts like boils. Now down to a pair of laser-armed Hatchets the Axis commander gave the final order. Incredibly, despite the Axis penchant of fanaticism and devotion to duty only one Fishing Hawk managed to explode. As for the other one the engineering crew made a mess of its control systems, reducing the ship to a crawl. With scanning data provided by the Type 1s the Spear squadrons worked over the remaining Hawk until it was a true mobile wreck. The Pinyon Jay had its magazines and engine rooms lanced. At that point the Soar launched its marine-loaded pinnace and boarded the Jay. After the marines boarded the pinnace went to the Podium and took its marines to the Hawk. Where they failed to explode the Axis crews did destroy their computers. Also, before they were shot down the last two Hatchets had done more damage to the Soar. Now down to five intact hanger bays the commander of the carrier had a brain storm. All 23 Spears landed in sequence, each loaded with one life support pack, and launched while emergency repairs were conducted. This procedure was repeated twice as seven bays were patched up over a period of nine hours. The 11 that couldn’t land on the Soar took refuge in the shuttle bays of the Podium, unable to launch until retrieved by a cargo ship in the support group. Two tugs were dispatched to tow the new captures as well as the Soar and the lifeless Dispersion.

For the loss of one fighter, four armed pinnaces, and heavy damage to an assault carrier (that was going to be refitted with new equipment in any event) the Hokum gained two more Axis hulls. The Pinyon Jay was slated for conversion to a fleet carrier with the Fishing Hawk to a Stout (Hokum) class cruiser. In five months the two ships, as well as the damaged Dispersions, became available for Calixto’s Strike Fleet.

********

Above Hokum Prime was Orbit-1, the largest and oldest space station in the Imperium. It continued to be the largest for two additional shipyards were being built, fueled by revenue generated from trade with the CPS. After making a tour of the construction site Emperor Valsur retired to his official office in the station. Located in the core, the office was circular in shape and had a domed ceiling. Antique but usable furniture was spread about with the hand-crafted wooden desk in the middle. Sitting behind that desk Valsur motioned to the two men before him to take a seat in chairs made from thousands of years old Ironbark trees. Conovus, Imperitor of the Navy, wore his dark purple vest smartly. The gold buttons gleamed in the light as did his official badge of rank and Imperitor medallion.

Manosum, on the other hand, was the opposite. From his looks one wouldn’t believe he was the head of the Naval Weapons Development Department. The green vest he wore was rumpled instead of neatly pressed. Both lower pockets were stuffed with gummy worms, his favorite snack food, and his upper right pocket was jammed with his well-worn minicomp. As for his ID tag it was stained from when it was dunked into his coffee from two weeks ago. He didn’t change it as the chip inside was perfectly functional. Besides, guards don’t look at pictures anyone – that’s what DNA and rental scanners are for.

“Conovus, I understand that you have an update on the new weapon system,” Valsur commented.

“Yes, my Emperor. We conducted our third field test with the warp capable missile pods. This time it was against a mock-up of defenses around a warp point, comprised of old bases and ships taken from the ship boneyard parking orbit. A simulated assault force was used in conjunction with the pods. We even used fighters and armed pinnaces of the simulated CAP to attack the 100 pods. While it was a foregone conclusion that such derelict hulls would be destroyed we gained information that will be most useful in an actual assault.”

Valsur lifted a datapad with his right back hand from the desk, reading the displayed print briskly. “I see. You’ve even activated a portion of the minefields for enhanced realism.”

“Correct. It was felt that actual observe results would make for better calculations than relying on hypothetical outcomes before the first combat use of the weapon system.”

“Mines are easy enough to replace, not so much armed pinnaces and their crews.” Valsur lowered the datapad. “I congratulate the both of you. We now have a way to enter fortified systems without having to pay an exorbitant amount of lives. How many pods do we need to stockpile to form a worthwhile reserve?”

Conovus was expecting this question. Funding the construction of thousands of pods would mean reductions in other areas, and those in charge of procuring armed pinnaces and ships, the most likely candidates, would be most vociferous in their objections. However, there was a way to greatly ease those objections. “Emperor, while impressive, the pod system we’ve developed can be improved upon. To minimize obsolescence I suggest that only 120 first generation pods be constructed per month.”

“Ah.” Valsur turned to Manosum. “I suppose you can elaborate?”

Manosum resisted the urge to pull out his minicomp and syncing with Valsur’s displays so that he could show what he was talking about. “Most certainly, Sire. It’s within our technical grasp to construct a new class of pod. With improved launch tubes and a 25% increase in size a second generation pod can hold six SBMs instead of three. Even the pod’s speed can be increased by 14%, making it as fast as a corvette. Better yet, using a more robust drive based on that of a pinnace this class of pod can be reused if it survives warp transit and combat.”

“You certainly gained my interest, Manosum,” Valsur said briskly. “Being the smart man that you are, you wouldn’t have made your pitch without knowing how much such an endeavor will cost. Regretfully to say, there are those in the Imperial Council that are more concerned with money than the lives that will be saved.”

“Yes, yes, quite true, Sire. The development cost is reasonable, especially compared to those programs used to develop the advanced point defense systems. You can tell them that for the price of three updated dreadnaughts this second generation pod is a bargain. When used in a warp assault the defender’s fire will be split four ways instead of three, resulting in overall fewer losses in Garrochas, Spears and ships. Savings all around.”

Valsur smiled. “You can sell atoms to the Five Gods and still make a profit. Very well. Manosum, I expect your technical specification report and request for funding on my planetside desk on the day after tomorrow. I will give my official endorsement on one condition.”

“What is it, my Emperor?”

Valsur held out his back right hand, open palm up. “In the days of old, when a subject approaches his sovereign for a favor he brings a gift. In this case it’s an admonishment. Genius only gives one so much leeway. You’re in the presence of your Emperor, and you couldn’t spare five minutes to make yourself presentable. Make it one of your understudies’ responsibilities to make sure you look decent.”

“Yes, my Emperor,” said a suitably admonished Manosum. On his part Conovus couldn’t suppress his smile.

“Now,” Valsur said, the fingers on his extended hand flexing in a ‘gimmie’ manner, “hand over your gummy worms. My son enjoys them.”

********

The spaceport for the Comensal enclave on Elotoshani Prime was 60 kilometers from the population center. Access to and from the spaceport was by means of a vacuum tunnel 30 meters under the surface. Any attempt to access the spaceport from any other means will entail evading minefields, patrols, automated bunkers and ever-vigilant guards on the 20 meter walls.

Trodanscu Vat, retired wildlife ranger and member of the resistance, had made it his mission to observe the spaceport ever since the forest that use to be there was destroyed during the construction . It had become so second nature that he could know which watch commander was on duty by their deployment of patrols and wall guards. The past week was different, for the number of guards was doubled. Such an occurrence happened when VIPs arrived, but there was no scuttlebutt about such a thing happening. Plus this doubling of the guard for an extended period happened only twice before, once when the First Leader made his visit to the Comensal enclave. This appeared to be related to the second occurrence.

Four months ago there was a flurry of activity within the spaceport. Trodanscu followed it with keen interest from one of his many hidden observation posts in the surrounding hills. Mammoth side dumpers emerged from the spaceport walls and deposited tons upon tons of dirt and rock onto a fresh piling situated in a natural depression five kilometers away. In three weeks it was over. It wasn’t an extension of the actual spaceport, but of the base beneath it, equipped with no less than 72 fighter launch tubes. That it took 20 months to build this base was indicative that it was a rather large underground facility.

Now the side dumpers were moving again. With high-powered binoculars Trodanscu followed the squat, long vehicles as they made their trek to the pilings. Then he heard a whistle coming through his headphones. He had left the parabolic mic focused on the spaceport for there was no need to listen to the loud grumblings of the dumpers. He refocused his binoculars on the spaceport. It was a whistle Trodanscu hadn’t heard in some time, and it was a warning that there was going to be surface blasting. After the whistle there were three short blasts, followed by multiple explosions.

After the dust cleared the vigilant Eloto noted that there were twelve neat holes in a previously clear patch within the confines of the spaceport. He seen them before, and they matched in size and pattern of the holes made for the fighter launch tubes. An increase in the number of fighters? Interesting to say the least, he thought to himself. Why waste time and material upgrading a base if there’s no need? Have the boneheads suffered another reversal? Perhaps. The bigwigs will make better sense of this. As much as he wanted to leave and inform his contact Trodanscu had the patience to wait. It would be another five hours before he could make the trek back to his cabin. The current bonehead watch commander had a thing about the hills where Trodanscu was hiding, and the old Eloto didn’t want to become another notch on some bonehead’s rifle stock.


Image
Hokum Imperium Space Navy Interior Class Cruiser - Tech Level 10 Refit http://www.novacw.com/Hokum%20ISN%20Interior%20Class%20Cruiser.jpg
The two capital missile launchers are in the bow of the main hull. A force beam emitter is deployed from its dorsal hatch. Both dorsal point defense system turrets - two barrels/advanced capital point defense - four barrels/advanced point defense - are deployed. Shuttle bay hatch located behind national 5-ring symbol. Hatches for the PD missile interceptors are located at the front of each secondary hull. External missile racks are underneath the connecting hull struts.
Art by Adam Kop http://adamkop.deviantart.com/
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Zume
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