The Terpla'ns - Chapter 9.50

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The Terpla'ns - Chapter 9.50

Postby Zume on Sat 01 Feb 2014 19:27

Dovsol, commander of Star Force 3 of the Third Advance Fleet, reasoned that she should feel honored for the task given to her. The recovery of the Bulwark system, currently occupied by an abomination task force, would provide for a new source of supply as well as improve Dovsol’s prospect for promotion or being moved closer to the actual front lines. However, with the resources on hand Dovsol was concerned that she was facing a pyrrhic victory.

In the drive to recover Axis territory the higher ups had drawn all reserves in Gravel Pit forward to Bedrock, Circuit Run, and Borehole. Brickyard, adjacent to Bedrock as the warp lines went, was technically liberated but for some abom ships that took refuge in the outer reaches of the system. A comprehensive scanner buoy network is being constructed in Brickyard and backed up by a carrier task group. It was a matter of time before the abom ships ran out of supplies and start breaking down.

The same cannot be said for Bulwark. What supplies the aboms have on hand might be considerable when factoring in the number of ships and how long they were getting supplies from Bedrock before being cut off. Instead of waiting them out Star Force 3 was ordered to reclaim Bulwark at the earliest opportunity. Dovsol didn’t mind but for the fact that the Grenadier escorts, corvettes, and frigates had been taken away from her and moved forward. The Nu’Chut Theatre Command in Gymnasium decided that they weren’t needed for Bulwark as the most recent probe showed only 240 weapon buoys and 30 capital ships within scanner range of the pinnaces. 11 squadrons of abom fighters prowled close to the warp point. Such a low number made Dovsol suspicious for any commander would have as many fighters as possible for a combat area patrol. Did the enemy commander wanted to keep an attacker unaware of his full strength? If that’s the case where were the cruisers and destroyers? Smaller ships were more expendable that capital units and would complicate any warp assault. That dipping into Star Force 3’s stock of capital ships didn’t still well, but Dovsol had work with what she had on hand.

First to emerge from the warp point were 200 Machete armed pinnaces and a Soar assault carrier. 30 of those pinnaces interpenetrated and exploded violently due to their pure loads of antimatter close attack missiles. The big ship escaped that fate, and its transit-addled sensors took in the surroundings. Buoys remained at 240 with the number of mines still unknown, and the 11 CAP squadrons began their short run on the warp point. As for ships there were 6 Terpla DNs at 1.5 LS range, divided between subjective NE and S. Further out at 3 LS were 6 Cqux DNs, split NE and S. Settled in the 4.75 shell were the 6 Oknib DNs, also allotted in two groups N and S. Six Nikazu BBs in groups of three were situated 1.5 LS from the warp point on a subjective heading of SE and N.

The last six ships were slightly further out at the 1.75 LS shell. A pair of SDs were NW, two DNs at NE, and two BBs at S. From orientation and direction of travel all the abom ships were orbiting the warp point in a subjective clockwise pattern. As the second Soar emerged the Machetes entered and encountered the expected minefield patch. It was comparatively light at 50 patterns but it did cost 17 Machetes. Moving on the small craft ran into a second mine shell, comprised of 25 patterns. 15 more Machetes were consumed in nuclear fireballs before the rest were clear, coming atop the southern trio of Terpla DNs with the two Nikazu-Vs just 0.25 LS away. Four Falcon Crest carriers finished the first wave, and at that the first Soar opened fire with its HET laser at a southern Terpla DN while unloading anti-mine charges into the patch that claimed the first set of Machetes.

It was a brutal first exchange as far as the Comensal were concerned. Eight of the eleven Shark CAP squadrons were able to fire, putting the hurt on the first wave ships. Follow on salvos from those Commonwealth ships able to arm and fire weapons would’ve made the result of the impending laser buoy release very satisfying. Yet the sole control ship wasn’t able to arm and prime those one-shot weapons, and for that 26 Hatchet squadrons were flung into space like pigeons released from their coop. Against this the Commonwealth SD(V)s and DN(V)s were able to crash-launch 27 Shark squadrons, all of which converged on the warp point.

One first wave Soar and all four Falcon Crest carriers transited out and were replaced by two Hand of Providence SDs, one Cannonade and Raptor, and two more Falcon Crests. All of these ships, including the other first wave Soar, were destroyed by the fresh Shark squadrons and those Commonwealth ships that became active. Defending Hatchet fighters destroyed 97 laser and FRAM-armed Sharks and 20 of the gun-armed original defenders while losing 30 of their own. Despite the loss of the second wave ships one Nikazu battleship was lacerated by spinal force beams and had over half of its innards fried by energy beams. Likewise three Terpla dreadnaughts and both Nikazu-V carriers were swamped by the Machetes, destroyed in a maelstrom of antimatter explosions. Some measure of vengeance was secured as both carriers crash launched their six remaining squadrons, destroying 33 Machetes even as they were destroyed to the last by the enemy’s sheer numbers.

Dovsol made transit in the third wave aboard her superdreadnaught, the Alpon Fedun, along with two more SDs and three Falcon Crest carriers. The loss of the entire second wave only briefly registered on her mind as she took in the situation. She was pleased to find that three enemy dreadnaughts had been vaporized as well as two assault carriers. As for the defending Hatchets they had their job cut out for them, bagging those Sharks armed with laser packs while being bagged in turn by the defending CAP fighters. Again the buoy control ship failed to arm its charges, but the aboms warships and Sharks took down the three Falcon Crests and collapsing the shields of all three Righteous superdreadnaughts and lancing engine rooms with primary beam fire. Two abom Nikazu BBs ceased to exist with a third made immobile by the Machetes. Those that had already expended their FRAMs went to work on the southern buoy parks. Hampered by distance thanks to the mines these Machetes nevertheless took out 13 buoys.

Three battleships and three battlecruisers joined the ongoing battle in Bulwark. As for the aboms their other sets of Terplas and Nikazus had closed the range to one light-second. Aside from the more distant missile DNs both sides were now being affected by each other’s datalink jamming. Again the Machetes proved their mettle by finishing what the SDs started, turning all the Terplas into barely mobile wrecks. Dovsol’s transit addled newcomers pummeled one Nikazu in exchange for one BB and BC destroyed and another BC made nearly dead. While the fighters continued their frenzied battle about the warp point the unloaded Machetes continued to work on the still silent buoys, taking out 30 more.

Fresh Axis forces came in the form of three more Righteous SDs and a Talon Pride kept company by a pair of Stalwart cruisers. The six Cqux and like number of Oknibs were all now active, firing in full datagroups at the intruders. Two Axis BCs and a BB from the fourth wave were destroyed while the aboms lost another Nikazu and took heavy damage to another. As for the Sharks those with laser packs fired their final shots at a battleship before they were erased from the continuum by the Hatchets. Finding that the three Cquxs to the northeast of the warp point were in arc Dovsol had one of them designated as a target for the third-wave SDs. Some hits were made with spinal force beams and HET lasers. Payback came in the form of 100 laser buoys for the tender finally got its act together. Already shields down and with armor damage the third-wave SDs all got internal damage. Dovsol doubted that the two remaining Nikazus could be destroyed in time to restore the datalinks, seeing that the abom missiles ships were the major threats now. She also expected her three SDs to be destroyed presently. Working with that in mind she had the eight Hatchet squadrons from the Talon Pride to take care of the southern Cquxs and Oknibs. Meanwhile the spent Machetes continued to work over the remaining unused buoys, leaving 84.

As it turned out the aboms had their own priorities. All of their missile armed warships focused on the Talon Pride, flailing it with antimatter ordnance to such an extent that all of its now-empty hanger bays were wrecked. The last Nikazu fired on a Stalwart, crippling it. Before the Machetes and Hatchets could make further inroads into the buoys the last 79 fired, destroying the Stalwart and furthering harming the third wave SDs. With datalink jamming gone Dovsol’s SDs fired on the same Cqux, hacking into its armor. As for the Nikazu it was finished by the sixth wave’s BCs.

Shifting fire as the seventh wave’s light cruisers emerged the abom missile ships finished the Talon Pride and worked over four SDs and a sixth wave DN. Of the 36 still-armed Machetes 28 took care of the northern Oknib trio. Dovsol had the remainder head for the two Avami assault carriers. In the south the three Cqux unleashed their external CAMs, taking out two complete Hatchet squadrons. With assistance from the sixth wave DNs and BCs the Hatchets broken down the passive defenses of two of the ships and breached the internals of the third. Three Hatchet squadrons still retained partial loads of FRAMs, ordered to save some so that the southern Oknibs could be denuded of their shields. As for the SDs they had hit their stride, bashing an eastern Cqux with all their ordnance.

Six minesweepers arrived in the next wave, firing clearance rounds into that part of the second mine shell where the pinnaces passed through. Then, along with the seventh wave light cruisers, they finished the job, creating a clear path back into Bulwark. Despite the temptation of polishing off the cruisers the aboms continued on their goal of eliminating the SDs and a DN. Dovsol’s SD finished its laborious turn and transited back to Gravel Patch. It was practically dead and with Dovsol injured as the CIC had become a tangled wreck around her in a parting shot from the enemy.

Now free and at full speed the CLs wrecked what remained of the SW Cquxs. For last three Oknibs they dropped ECM and went to full speed away from the warp point and commenced firing on their pursuers. The result was never in doubt, though one CL was claimed and another lost its passives. What followed was the scuttling of the cripples by their Commonwealth crews. No life pods were ejected by any Commonwealth ship during the battle. Six ships failed to self-destruct and were boarded. In two instances records were found. They were of limited value for only sensor data in a twelve light-minute radius around the warp point for the past month was recovered.

Dovsol, recovering aboard a transport, took in the salient facts of the battle. Insofar the enemy didn’t employ their full strength in defending the warp point was the main reason why the assault was successful. However, aside from the automated weapons ship (which was ran down and destroyed), there were no cruisers, destroyers, fleet and light carriers. Scouts found no signs of moving enemy ships, and once contact was reestablished with Bulwark’s population centers they had no sightings of the enemy for a month as well. Two scout elements were dispatched to the warp point leading to the uninhabited and lifeless Nu’Chut home system while four others began the thankless task of reestablishing Bulwark’s sensor network. For the 107 remaining Machetes they were collected aboard their motherships and moved on to the Laser Burn system for a planned assault on the abom Hokum in the Cain system.

The bulk of Star Force 3 moved on to Bulwark Prime and settled in orbit. Fleet train freighters began disgorging supplies and components of a base for the mobile yards to assemble. With the Gravel Pit side of the warp point covered by SF3’s capital units, mine fields and buoys the remaining abom ships couldn’t force the issue now that they had sacrificed their assault carriers. If they had moved on to the Nu’Chut system, or even to the trackless depths of Bulwark’s outer system, they’ll run out of supplies. Dovsol strongly suspected the aboms conducted the battle the way they did in order to extend their supplies as well as increase tactical flexibility. With no dreadnaughts and battleships to slow them down the aboms could cruise at a higher speed. They could’ve simply left their larger units in the outer reaches and mothballed them, but that ran the risk of them being found and inspected by her units.

A week later new orders came from Gymnasium. To the chagrin of Dovsol all of her assault carriers, dreadnaughts and battleships were detached from SF3 and, after repair and refit, sent forward to Star Admiral Mansel in Bedrock to deploy as he sees fit. She was counting on those units to defend the Gravel Pit side of the warp point in case the remaining abom ships in Bulwark attempted a breakout. Instead of ships four lunar colonies in Gravel Pit, with the facilities of a quartet of mobile yards drawn from her own fleet train no less, will construct at total of four of the new type-4 fighter bases as well as assemble two type-2 automated weapon control bases. 60 squadrons of F0 Hatchets by themselves would take the starch out any opponent though having mobile units to back up those fighters was much more preferable.

After recovering from her wounds Dovsol resumed command of SF3 in Bulwark. She waited while the scout elements performed their job. In the interim Bulwark Prime was being restored to full industrial capacity. A new space station was under construction, and individual units were repaired and refitted. Lunar colonies began building new fighter bases. Dovsol knew it wasn’t going to be long wait. Sooner or later the aboms will show their hand.

*******

Bedrock Prime was bristling with activity. On the surface the newly constructed spaceport was being added upon. Industrial sectors bombarded by the Commonwealth were being rebuilt, increasing the planet's overall production capability. Troops from other Comensal worlds were being settled and equipped to hunt down and destroy Commonwealth Army units still residing in the wilds of the continental interiors.

In orbit a newly assembled base was itself assembling another one while a mobile shipyard assisted in the construction of a new space station to take the place of the previous one that was destroyed. Freighters dispensed cargoes for all concerned, ranging from army units in the field to destroyers replenishing their holds. All and all it was activity devoted to the cause of victory over that abomination known as the Commonwealth.

For a pioneering people the Comensal still didn't know all that much about the planet they colonized. The one hundred million souls were concentrated in their towns and cities, along lakes and rivers. Few settlements were at the shores of oceans and only then for fishing. Thus the deep waters of Bedrock still held onto its mysteries and secrets. One of those secrets was about to be revealed.

The Commonwealth Army is responsible for anything on a planet's surface and atmosphere up to 200 kilometers. Oceans were included, but out of respect to the Navy all mobile objects that operated in liquid environments had to be called water craft, not boats or even ships. One such water craft was a 'submersible patrol craft' with the designation SPC-014. Name aside it was a true submarine powered by a micro-fusion bottle one would find in any ordinary cutter. At 4,000 tons it was the largest object every carried in the holds of the cargo ship that brought it to Bedrock. Crewed by 14, the SPC-014 could stay submerged for over two years. With a crew so small on a relatively large craft one could expect it to stay on-station for much longer. But while it was designed for long-term surveillance and interdiction of enemy ocean craft the SPC-014 had one special role.

Field Lieutenant Pessus was strapped to his command chair as well as everyone else on board. The 014 was standing on end, its bow a scant 300 meters below the surface of Bedrock's Purple Murk Ocean. His Terpla'n eyes blinked, regarding the flat panel screens as a chess master would when contemplating moves against three opponents. Sitting in orbit a scant 1,200 kilometers above was an AFC freighter of the Ballast class. Passive camouflage sensor panels dotted the surface of the Purple Murk. They had detected the ship when it entered orbit three days earlier. In that time she just sat there, dispensing cargo via shuttles and tractor beams. Not once did she move to a higher or lower, faster or slower orbit.

While it was something to observe Axis supply routines and operational procedures it was the job of the 014 to complicate the life of the enemy. While equipped with two torpedo tubes the 014 was literally built around four silos, each one holding a starship-grade standard missile. In this case each missile was armed with an antimatter warhead. While not a match against an attentive enemy the same cannot be said for the Ballast. Her shields and drivefield were down to facilitate cargo transfer. Also her point defense radars were not active.

However, the silos weren't launchers, meaning the four missiles had to use their own drives instead of getting an initial kick from magnetic launchers. While still quite fast there was a chance for an interception… if the enemy knew.

"Fire control solution at 99%," said the 014's weapons operator.

"Traffic in the orbital space is routine," added the sensor tech. "No contacts on the local passive sonar and the nearest Comensal fishing boat is 800 kilometers away. All radio chatter points to normal."

"Awaiting order to release records buoy and perform crash drive, Lieutenant," announced the helm operator.

Pessus involuntarily brushed the rank insignia on his suit with his thumb. He had only just been promoted to field lieutenant upon arrival at Bedrock three months prior and placed in command of 014. After officer training he was selected for what was commonly referred to as the Lung Fish Navy, the aquatic portion of the Commonwealth Army. Other field lieutenants would be commanding a tank squad or infantry platoons. But how many of them can claim that they can shoot down an enemy ship in orbit? "Weapons and Sensors, mark the time in the log. Launch will commence in twenty seconds. All hands brace for launch and crash dive. Helm, continue to send data to the records buoy until the order is given to launch it."

The operators acknowledged their orders. 014 shook slightly as the missiles left their silos in pockets of air. Only when breaching the ocean's surface did the attached rocket boosters ignited, pushing their loads to a height of 1.5 kilometers at which point their main drives kicked in. If it was done at a lower height it would've destroyed the 014 in a convergence of drive field energy. As for the 014 the submersible had begun its descent just a scant second after the missiles had cleared their silos. The helm operator brought the craft level and then pointed its bow down 45 degrees, bringing the craft up to its maximum speed. No clichéd engine noises were heard in the 014's control room, only the depth counter clicking off every 100 meters further down the craft went.

It took the computer minds aboard every Axis ship in orbit near the Ballast a moment to register that there were multiple launches on Bedrock. A fraction of second was needed to confirm that there were no scheduled launches by the Axis Army, despite the fact there were no assets in the Purple Murk that were capable of launches to begin with. The tardy point defense systems weren't fast enough to engage the missiles while they were fleetingly vulnerable in the planet's atmosphere. Then again the warships weren't the target.

With drive field and shields down, point defense off-line and even datalink not even active the Ballast didn't stand a chance. Detonating a scant 100 meters away four angry suns engulfed the ship, each one doing five times the damage thanks to the drive field's absence. Armor boiled away and the relatively weak internal structure failed. What replaced the ship was a cloud of container-filled debris that not only heralded its own death but that of two shuttles as well for they were just five kilometers away at the time, unable to bring their drives on line in time.

On the 014 Pessus saw a computer interpretation of the explosion, extrapolated from the data from the passive sensors. Then the screen went blank. "We lost our wired connection to our receiver buoy," said Sensors. "The spool ran out."

"Helm, release the records buoy," Pessus ordered.

"Yes, Lieutenant." Actually torpedo shaped, the buoy left its launch tube and speed away on a different course. If it survives it will reach its pre-designated resting place, under the southern polar cap next to a submerged mountain. Hopefully it will be picked up by the Commonwealth, for not only did it contain a record of 014's activities but the last messages of her crew.

"Current depth is 5 kilometers," said Helm. "We're at maximum speed of 30 knots."

"Attention crew. Expect an orbital saturation bombardment by the enemy presently," Pessus said into his open mic. "They will most likely use antimatter ordnance..."

"High-velocity impact above us!" Sensors yelled. The submersible shook violently, the lights flickering and finally cutting off. In the cacophony of underwater explosions that followed the Axis was sure the submersible was put to rights. The discolored waters of the Purple Murk slowly assumed their natural state over the next few days. As for the confidence of the ship masters over Bedrock that took much longer to restore.

********

For the third time the Hamthen system of Dotz was violated by an Axis assault. Just a warp link separated it from Metalstorm, but the Dotz defenders swore they felt the warp point pulsing to the hideous beat of the Axis enemy's heart. What emerged was the source of that imagined beat. Four Blockhouse and two Ablative probe ships emerged, turning in place to achieve an exit vector. They found a collection of six type 4 bases aligned in pairs at the edge of jamming range of the warp point. Just beyond them were six type-2 bases, also placed in pairs. Further back at 4 LS were three groups composed of one type-4 and two type-2s each. At 4.5 LS range was a trio of type-4s, most likely capital missile platforms. Finally, though unseen at the moment, at 8 LS range was a trio of automated weapon bases. Mobile forces comprised just nine Hamthen destroyers, orbiting in the same shell as the close-in type-2 bases.

This time a control base became active and unleashed 100 reusable laser buoys out of 660 around the warp point. Of the ten CAP squadrons on duty five got active and obliterated one Blockhouse and crippled an Ablative. Not one base within weapons range became active. For getting that unexpected reprieve three BBs and one BCA transited back to Metalstorm. However, before leaving, one BB launched two squadrons of F0 Hatchets. Their target was a type-4 that had taken all the transit addled fire from the Axis intruders. That base got active and took some of the Hatchets, but after all was said and done the base was practically dead. As for the Ablative it was further crippled and then immobilized as the DDs fired energy beams into the laser blasted hull. The drones it had launched were all shot down by those type-4 beam bases that did get active. A Hamthen tug, sitting 16 light second out, collected the Axis hulk and towed it towards the Dotz/Evershem warp point where mobile yards were busy constructing three more missile bases from prefabricated stocks.

The defenders, a mix of Terpla’ns, Bulani, Crajen and Tuphon, had their disgust of the Axis renewed. Using armed pinnaces, which at least had a chance to escape after conducting an attack, was understood. But using obsolete fighters and abandoning them and their pilots to their fate suggested a level of callous presumption bordering the criminal. It appeared they didn’t care whether or not the Hatchet pilots were successful in finishing off the base. Doing that little bit more damage to the enemy, even against armor, and making them that much more vulnerable to the real assault appeared to be the goal of the Hatchet attack.

After three days what emergency repairs to the type-4 that could be done was done. It was a shell of its former self, but its two HET lasers and jammer were workable. When the Axis assault began later that day it had a chance to spit in the enemy’s face before dying. Two Soars emerged first, turning on an exit vector that placed the suspected capital missile type -4s directly head instead of astern. Next was a mass transit of Grenadier escorts, corvettes and frigates. Out of 52 ships 24 interpenetrated, two-thirds of them being corvettes. With them came also 120 Machete armed pinnaces of which 18 interpenetrated and died. A third Soar and two Falcon Crests followed.

Only two of the close-in beam type-4s got active, including the crippled one. Also none of the fighter type-4 and type-2s crashed launched their pools of Shark fighters. Two missile type-4s did have their act together, and along with four Hamthen DDs and five CAP squadrons they took down one Soar, seven corvettes and one escort. The other two Soars had their passive defenses either destroyed or badly mauled. As for the Machetes they stayed on the warp point, losing four of their number from long-range point defense fire from one beam-armed type-4. With transit addled guns they brought down three complete squadrons of Sharks, leaving just two that had yet to become active.

The control bases failed to activate any buoys and for their trouble 18 F1 Hatchets squadrons catapulted from their hangers. Both Falcon Crests transited back to Metalstorm with the other two Soars doing their best to follow. What replaced them were three superdreadnaughts (Talon Pride, War Engine, and Providence), a minesweeping dreadnaught, and two more Falcon Crests. On this day fate was decidedly cruel for the Commonwealth for only three type-2 bases went on-line while the larger beam type-4s were destroyed by Grenadier plasma fire and the Machetes, despite the latter losing 25 of their number from passing through two minefield shells and point defense fire from the one intact type-4. The Hamthen destroyers closed in, taking on the five jamming Grenadiers. The distant missile type-4s took care of the resulting cripples, leaving just 24 Axis ships on the warp point. A control base went online and had 72 primary and 24 force beam buoys open fire. One previously hit Grenadier escort was destroyed along with a first wave Soar. Both remaining CAP squadrons were shot down before they could fire, leaving the remaining Hatchets firing on a buoy park, claiming 55 that hadn’t fired yet.

A pair of Grenadier escorts, a first wave Soar, a second wave Talon Pride and two Falcon Crests transited out, but not before launching 16 more Hatchet squadrons. Replacing them were two dreadnaughts, three battleships and a battlecruiser. While the new Hatchets speed towards the missile bases the three squadrons of Sharks crashed-launch moments earlier made for the warp point. While the pilots knew they were doomed they were determined to inflict more losses on the enemy. For the Machetes, those still with FRAMs or even just the single laser packs, they went after the close-in type-2 bases, leaving only two mostly intact examples. Eight Hatchet squadrons were temporarily detached from buoy clearance duty and attacked the Hamthen DDs with laser packs and regular close attack missiles. The stalwart defenders were down to just one intact ship and 4 immobile cripples. Some good news came in the form of two of the three fighter type-4s and two type-2s crash-launching a total of 126 Sharks. ETA to the warp point was one minute.

While the Axis was busy both of the control bases primed and fired 195 reusable weapon buoys in sequence. First came 15 laser buoys, denuding those ships that still had EDMs on their flanks. Following this was 30 primaries, lancing engines and weapons on the small ships and engine rooms on the larger ones. For three Axis ships it was the end as 75 force beams pierced the void, destroying them with overkill. Shields on some of the big ships, already hit, were brought down. That the opportunity for the last set of 75 buoys – all energy beam mounts. Two assault DNs were forced to use their overload dampeners with one having to burn out all three. In response the Hatchets still tasked to destroy buoys took out 46 that hadn’t fired yet.

A fourth wave emerged in time to see 18 Shark fighters brought down by the defending Hatchets for a pittance of damage done in return. The last three Grenadiers were finished off, as well as the Hamthen destroyers and the last two close-in type 2 bases, leaving the missile type-4s, the incoming 21 Shark squadrons and the buoys as ongoing threats. Again the buoys were fired in sequence, with the last force and energy beam buoys being used along with 84 of the laser variety. The latter’s power was great diluted for in the fourth wave were 3 DNs, 2 BCs and 100 explorer-sized vessels, 30 of which interpenetrated and exploded. Even so both third-wave Battering Rams, previously hit, were damaged to such an extent that they transited back to Metalstorm along with a Raptor battleship. However that battleship launched 20 escort shuttles before departing, adding their fire to defeat the incoming Sharks.

The last type-4 fighter base had finally launched its 48 remaining Sharks and where halfway to the warp point when the fifth wave emerged. With the datalink jamming the Sharks that were already there did a credible job by destroying the Providence and a Grim Reaper. All 126 Sharks were shot down by the Hatchets, Machetes, Stilettos and ships. All three missile type-4 bases were obliterated, leaving the 13 still armed Hatchet squadrons from the second wave carriers the task of demolishing the remaining bases. As for the Stilettos they moved off the warp point and made for the three 3 type-1 bases 8 light seconds out.

In the end phase the Critical Mass explorers launched their marine-filled cutters, heading for or waiting just outside point defense range of the bases. Just three new ships transited in. One of them was a Sapper assault minesweeper. It fired mine clearance charges to finish what the earlier waves had started in a primary minefield patch. The fifth wave capital missile battlecruisers began the process by destroying the type-2s that had the jammers, making the Hatchets’ job easier. Save for those Shark CAP squadrons that made it back to their respective bases to rearm there was no resistance. One fighter type-4 was destroyed and another lost all of its hangers. The third did manage to rearm and launch two Shark squadrons. They attacked the converging Axis Hatchets and bagged five before dying in antimatter fireballs. Meanwhile the Stilettos lost 13 of their number as they brought down the shields of the three type-1 bases and landed on them. Overall the Axis boarded 11 bases and one e-hulked Hamthen destroyer. On the Commonwealth’s part there were no records for the Axis to plunder, nor were there any examples of new technology with which to study. The hulls were destroyed soon after they were inspected.

Star Force 1, Second Advanced Fleet, moved into the Dotz System. Instead of heading for the Evershem warp point SF1 first moved on Dotz III. There the ships orbited the planet for two hours. It was done to motivate and inspire the crews. Earlier in the war the 40 million Hamthen abominations on the planet were exterminated, their cities incinerated by nuclear fire and land tainted with fallout. Bonson, commander of SF1, had a short speech before the ships broke orbit. “What was done here will be visited a hundredfold on the Hamthen homeworld,” he said. “All the Comensal lost on that planet, including the civilians that formed the first outpost in conquered abom territory, will be avenged. From there our drive will be renewed, blazing past the Uan system and onto the rest of abom space. Strength, unity and purpose! With Providence’s favor our nation will succeed!”

*******

While Bonson was reveling in victory other forces went about their business. A reconnaissance group finished its rounds in the Abyssal-019 system, destroying the chain of communication buoys leading to the BRB-1 system. From there it probed the warp points for Solid State and Ampere, finding Hokum mines covering the former and nothing for the latter. That made the decision easier for the group had no appreciable mine clearance ability. After eliminating the Commonwealth comm buoys the group moved onto Ampere and dispatched a small pinnace tender accompanied by a scout to probe the warp point for Blood Pride, finding it clear to enter.

With the reconnaissance group was a transport carrying a battalion of infantry backed up by a company of armor. There was just a type-2 base over the planet, dispatched from outside point defense range by fighters and armed pinnaces carrying stand-off missiles. The Comensal colonists of Blood Pride were greatly relieved that their navy and army had come to their aid after long months of occupation. Now with the help of a pair of cruiser-hulled mobile yards the colonists began to construct a small space station and spaceport with which to build mines and buoys for their defense as well as fortifying warp points in Ampere and BRB-1.

The other reconnaissance group moved into Silvershoe, also knocking out chains of comm buoys as it investigated the warp points for Connectors and Citadel. Unlike the other group this one had a substantial amount of mines and buoys in the holds of its freighters. A mobile yard began the task of assembling prefabricated bases to control those automated weapons. Citadel was guarded by light forces and only then after the expenditure of four pinnaces. As for Connectors a trio of scouts made a beeline for the Forger’s Gate warp point, laying a comm buoy trail as they went. Halfway in the scouts detected a Commonwealth drive signature. In the hours that followed the signature resolved into over 100 contacts, a mix of military and commercial drives. With orders to investigate further the scouts continued to close.

Two contacts broke from the main body and closed on the scouts at 0.117c. Once identified as escort carriers the scouts came about and moved at full speed, putting a good 5 light-seconds between them and the four squadrons of Sharks that now followed them. After an hour the fighters dropped life support packs, giving them the speed to overtake the scouts. In response the trio detuned engines and hoped the fighters would turn about when their life support became critical. Instead the odds beat them for thirty minutes later two of the scouts lost an engine room, reducing their speed. Staying together and utilizing datalink the scouts attempted to defend themselves as they slowed to 0.1c and waiting for the fighters to close the range.

At a distance of 1.5 LS the four Shark squadrons fired their stand-off missiles, 12 per squadron, at the two scouts with burned out engines. Distance and ECM had their role, but the Axis didn’t know that the fighters used a new generation of missile and that the fighters themselves were of a newer model. A shield went down on the first scout with the other one, mounting the extra point defense, had its armor breached. Closer in showed that there was a joker in the deck for a jammer went online, breaking the datalinks of the Sharks. One was shot down while both targeted scouts were slagged into mobile wrecks. The Sharks destroyed those two and slowly dismembered the last one with the jammer while losing just one more of their number. When the escort carriers arrived this scout had managed to repair its point defense system. It didn’t matter for the squadrons had landed with two being reloaded and launched; one had scanner packs and missiles while the other had laser packs. Once the shield was down the carriers launched their shuttles, their landing on the scout’s hull cleared for the lasers took out the repaired point defense. After wresting control of the ship from the crew there were no records on the computers. With no compelling need to further inspect the ship it was finished off with the carriers rejoining the main formation.

Aboard the Captain Velkoi, command ship for Task Force 21, Admiral Barsus reviewed the situation. That Axis scouts were in Connectors proved that AFC units were now in Silvershoe. Considering that Citadel also had a warp link to Silvershoe meant that the AFC had to watch two warp points. However Citadel was part of a warp chain that lead to Borehole, giving the enemy two routes to choose from. With three task groups in Citadel it will require a major effort on part of the enemy to remove them. Given the situation it would’ve been a prudent plan to simply keep a blockade on both warp points and stave out the Commonwealth ships. It all depended on how disciplined and patient the AFC was this time.

Barsus’ plan was to place his own mines and buoys at the Silvershoe/Metalstorm and Silvershoe/Connectors warp points. Any Axis formations in Silvershoe would be cut off from supply as a result, and any half-hearted effort to clear a path at either location would be countered. The Axis would have to mount a proper assault to gain entry, and once that happened TF 21 will stage an assault into Metalstorm and destroy any defenses, instillations and shipping that happen to be in the system. In turn it will be the Axis forces staged from Metalstorm that will be cut off from supply, giving the reinforcements in Hamthen a better chance for its own counterattack.

There was a time limit, however, for TF 21 had just five months of provisions on hand, longer if supply ships and auxiliaries were mothballed when they ran empty and losses due to combat. Barsus was confident that supplies will not become an issue. Given the apparent speed of Axis operations he expected to be in Metalstorm before his five months were up.

********

In the conference rooms at the Unified Command Center on Hamthen Prime there was a gathering of government and military officials. Among them was Flag Admiral Tulcus Jki, giving a private briefing to Hamthen President Skuu and Commonwealth President Huj. The Terpla’n admiral had the warp point defenses of Dotz on display, playing the battle out with detail-laden annotations.

“As they have done in Output and Metalstorm the AFC has used dedicated probe ships to gather information on our warp point defenses,” Jki said clinically. “They may be doing this instead of using pinnaces and Dispersion class escorts because they correctly assumed that there will be fixed defenses waiting for them. They’re also tailoring the number of Grenadier class ships they’re using based on the threats they observed.”

“So they’ve become more economical in their approach,” Skuu surmised. “I suppose that will mean they’ll use more armed pinnaces for the Evershem assault.”

“I have no doubt, President Skuu. Armed pinnaces are inexpensive compared to the armor-laden explorers the AFC uses, especially for personnel requirements. Evershem has significantly stronger defenses along with a larger mobile force. Again it depends on factors we can’t gauge to any degree of certainty. How fast, strong and confident those AFC formations tasked to reclaim the rest of their territory will directly influence how the forces arrayed against us will act.”

Huj, looking better as of late due to heeding his doctor’s advice and resting more often, blinked slowly. “We have to assume that they’re saving the bulk of their assault carriers and those heavily armored warships equipped with spinal force beams for us, Admiral. As Hamthen is the main objective of this offensive what are the chances of a mass transit assault involving carriers?”

The clutching pain made its presence known in Jki’s gut. Instead of suppressing it she used the great discomfort to emphasize the conviction of her words. “I’d be surprise if they didn’t do it, President Huj. Hamthen was the first instance in their history that they were forced to abandon a planet they’ve considered their own. Add to that the destruction of the civilian evacuation convoy, which will fuel the desire to avenge their loss,” she continued, despite a brief intensification of her pain, “and their own written history the AFC is perfectly willing to perform a mass transit that will involve not only their assault carriers and Grenadiers, but of other capital units as well.”

Skuu had become quite practiced at noticing Terpla’n expressions. He had seen the subtle twitch of Jki’s inner eyelids whenever she had the pain in her gut, the result of a wound receive earlier in the war. He believed that it was a psychological act of punishment, devised to keep her humble and honest so as not to become a self-righteous parody that exalted her greatness. Nevertheless the pain was quite real, and there was one way to quell it. “They will break their backs when they try to scale the walls of our virtual fortress, Admiral. They are in a hurry. In less than three months they have reconquered three systems. But we’re getting stronger each week as fresh squadrons of ships arrive from our allies. All the bases at the Hamthen/Evershem warp point have been refitted or will be finished in two months time, and the pinnace support stations we’ve taken from Hagelkorn are being reassembled here as we speak. Plus there’s the new energy weapon buoys and mines.”

“We’re encouraging them,” Huj added. “We could have easily placed all available mobile units in Evershem or even Dotz. By holding back our strength the Axis is being convinced that Hathmen is heavily fortified, and is planning accordingly.”

Jki looked reproachfully at Skuu. It was the way he spoke about the strength of the defenses that reminded her of over-eager pundits in the Terpla’n media. On her part she sought to ground Skuu in reality. “As sound as that strategy may be, it’s coming at the expense of our base crews and our ally. Mr. Skuu, the ships you have now at Evershem represent a significant fraction of your fleet. They can better serve your nation by standing at the homeworld warp point.”

The Hamthen made a fist and pounded the table. “I’ve made a pledge to my nation that all future Axis incursions into our territory will be resisted by Hamthen steel and blood. I will remind those boneheads as well as everyone else that we’re still an active participant in this war. It’s regretful that we’ve traded the lives of those in Dotz, and will do so in Evershem, just to gain an advantage. My people may forgive me, in time, and the crews of my ships know what is expected of them. Breaking the Axis advance is the only answer they accept. We must not fail.”

Huj blinked acknowledgement. “We won’t, Mr. Skuu. Cut off as they may be, our forces in Axis space are siphoning enemy ships and resources away from us. Let us not forget that the Valhallan fleet in Battlement is a threat to all those Axis systems beyond it, and the Hokum found a system that our enemy is undoubtedly scrambling to fortify. Once they’re broken here the Asteroid Axis will be retreating so fast they’ll be tripping over their biped feet.”


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Commonwealth Space Force Gymen Class Battlecruiser - Tech Level 10 Refit http://www.novacw.com/CSF%20Gymen%20Class%20Battlecruiser.jpg

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Axis Fleet Command Righteous Class Superdreadnaught http://www.novacw.com/AFC%20Righteous%20Class%20Superdreadnaught.jpg
The two spinal force beams are arranged vertically on the bow. An additional capital point defense mount was refitted to the class after battle experience showed the need for it.

Art by Adam Kop http://adamkop.deviantart.com/
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