The Hokum - Chapter 7.25

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The Hokum - Chapter 7.25

Postby Zume on Sun 07 Aug 2022 16:25

Free from pursuit and undetected, the Axis raiding force entered the Com-10 system via the Com-22 warp point. Finding no Hokum scanner buoys within a one light-minute radius the force headed to a spot from where it could reconstitute its fighter and small craft strength. After six weeks the work was complete. The commander decided to head for the Com-10/Com-6 warp point with the intent of entering Com-6 to resume raiding.

Since Com-6 was part of a route that connected Com-1 to Com-18 (Cain system) the commander had to take it as a given the Com-6 side of the warp point would be guarded. To that end he sent in two regular pinnaces to reconnoiter the immediate area around the warp point. Both pinnaces came back. In the immediate vicinity of the warp point were 30 weapon buoys in six distinct subgroups. The pinnaces couldn’t detect if there were mines, but no doubt there were mines along with a control base or ship. Beyond the warp point at 2 light-second range were 6 escorts and 6 frigates. Both were known classes, and the Axis commander drew up a plan and executed it within an hour.

As for the Hokum they had not been idle. The Com-22 warp point was sealed off with mine patterns and weapon buoys, kept watched by an attending control ship. Com-3, already heavily mined, was made even more so due to its proximity to the Whel system. Six new-commissioned Type A frigates, intended for Frontier Fleet, were diverted to Com-6 to guard the Com-6/Com-10 warp point along with six Turtle escorts from Tire Iron. All ships were assisted by tugs as to arrive at Com-6 faster. Once done the tugs retired to Cain for the time being. Light minefields continued to be sowed in systems connected to Com-6 with further reinforcement planned when the raider force was finally detected.

It wasn’t a long wait. Six Axis cruisers emerged from the warp point, facing the Hokum defenders directly. Transit addled capital force beams from four of the cruisers only managed one hit on a frigate, demolishing half of its shields. The anti-mine rounds on the extra racks performed much better, knocking out 8 patterns in the targeted section, leaving just 22. In reply two frigates became active, their needle beams inflicting three hits while a sole escort fired its CAM and laser. With shields down the cruiser was revealed to be a freighter as much of its internal volume was devoted to cargo holds. As for the control base, located 8 light-seconds out, its crew was quick on the mark, priming the 30 force beam buoys but holding fire in case there was going to be a second wave.

There was no initial second wave, as the cruisers stayed to dilute the effects of buoy fire, but two of the cruisers launched a squadron of Hatchet fighters each. They were upon the frigates as the first one fired its needle beams against the shields-down cruiser. It missed the force beam mount but wrecked the targeting scanners, curtailing its effectiveness for minesweeping. Three cruisers fired back as one, finishing the frigate’s shields and shattering the armor. At this point all thirty force beam buoys fulfilled their role and fired. Due to ECM two of the cruisers retained some shields, but two more were revealed as freighters while one that launched fighters showed it had no other weapons.

The Hatchet fighters fired their lasers and half of their FRAMs, taking down two frigates. One active frigate took out the force beam and targeting scanners of another cruiser. The Turtles moved as a group and closed on the warp point, now only 1.5 LS distant. Three of the cruisers came about and transited back to Com-10 when the fighters stuck again, taking down one more frigate with another severely crippled. Revenge came sweet as the two remaining frigates removed the force beams and targeting scanners of two other cruisers, meaning none of the three still in the system had an offensive weapon. The three cruisers transited out, leaving the fighters on their own… for now.

The three remaining frigates split up, enabling them to provide mutual coverage of their blind spots against the Hatchets. The cripple frigate was dispatched in short order with the initial one taking internal damage. Two Hatchets were splashed by point defense fire while the Turtles, while urgent, missed with their lasers. Combined, the ten Hatchets fired again, their lasers finishing off one of the two remaining frigates while only losing one of their own.

As if on cue the Axis force sent in their second wave, comprised of all three of their Pinyon Jay carriers and three Fishing Hawk carriers. The Jays only fired their HET lasers, targeting one of the Turtles now that they were only 1 LS out. A single hit was scored, removing half the armor. For their part the Turtles were now all active, firing on one Jay. The remaining CAMs and the sole Type A’s needle beams took down 75% of the shields while the Turtles’ lasers burned off half the armor. Unengaged, the 9 Hatchets attacked the Type A, burning away its armor and inflicting internal damage.

As the remaining three Fishing Hawks made transit the second wave ships, now with stabilized fire control systems, engaged the Turtles with external nuke-armed CAMs, hetlasers and plasma guns. The Jays also launched their Stiletto shuttles, and with the 9 Hatchets obliterated the Turtles and the last Type A. As for the Hokum control base the crew abandoned it, the fleeing shuttle just escaping the demolition charges. In short order the Stilettos destroyed the spent force beam buoys while the present Axis ships reloaded their external racks with mine clearance charges. Joined by the three Balm CA-hulled repair ships, now armed with mine clearance charges on undamaged racks, 12 additional patterns were dispatched, leaving only 10 in the patch selected earlier. Waiting only long enough to equip EDMs, the Jays, three Fishing Hawks and the Balms entered the patch and swept the remaining patterns.

Taking stock, the Axis commander sent four of his Fleet Tracker scouts out to investigate Com-6’s three other warp points and the direct routes between those three. He took his force to a spot that placed him on the far side of the Com-12 warp point. From there repairs could be conducted while waiting word on what the scouts have found. His plan was to stage a probe into Com-12, using practically empty CA-hull freighters to coax the Hokum to focus their attention there. With the rest of the force, he planned to enter Com-11 to get to Com-7 and finally into Com-2, giving him the choice to enter Com-8, thus threatening the Stonewash system, or Com-9, blocking the way into former Eletoshani space in general and the Bandstand system in particular. The commander hoped that for every additional month his force was loose in abom-controlled space would tie down more Hokum ships looking for him. Seeing it that way, failure wasn’t even possible.

********

Tecutani Minter, owner of a greeting card and stationary shop in the city of Deep Bay on Eletoshani Prime, stepped off the bus two stops short of his destination as usual. Over the years he found that he could reach his shop faster on foot due to the increased congestion at crosswalks and vehicular traffic further down the route. The shop was owned by his family for six generations. Despite the Axis occupation and depredations of the Anti-Abomination Security Police business remained good. At this time of the year university graduations were coming up and was one of the few occasions his shop earned a notable profit.

It was then Minter felt a pressure on this back and caught a glimpse of the Eleto that had somehow snuck up behind him. “Good morning, friend,” the strange Eleto said from his left mouth in a low tone. “May I suggest a new route to your shop this morning? They say it promotes brain activity from all the new stimuli experienced.”

Certain that it was indeed a gun against his back Minter let the stranger guide him across the street and through a back alley. If it was a mugging then it would be a poor take for Minter never had more than a typical day’s expense on his credcard. After five minutes of brisk walking both Minter and the stranger entered the back of a building and ascended three stories. From there they went into a hallway and finally a room. It was an apartment, judging from the furnishings, and the two windows were closed with drapes drawn, except for a tiny sliver at the bottom of one of them. What appeared to be a pen attached to a clamp was on the sill of that window, peering outwards.

“Okay, you can take a seat, Mr. Minter,” said the stranger. With that the shop owner sat in the nearest chair, finally getting a good look at the man. He was not that much older, but it was clear he had experienced rough times as there was more scales that fur at the top of his head. “Sorry for bringing you here in a dramatic way.” The stranger showed the object that was pressed into Minter’s back. It was a tube of candy, one that the stranger opened and dispensed the contents, offering some of it to Minter. The shop owner politely refused. “You can call me Lake, Mr. Minter, and I have just saved your life.”

“Pardon me for not taking that seriously, Mr. Lake,” Minter said. “Unless you’re saving me from having that final bowl of sweet stew that will collapse my intestines either take my credcard, blackmail, torture or kill me.”

“Well, Minter, if I was a collaborator working for the ASP then I would do all that except blackmail as that would be redundant.” Lake produced from a belt pouch a tiny viewscreen the size of a credcard. He gave it to Minter. It was on, and what he saw was a view of his shop’s exterior. “We’re in the apartment building across the street and a block down from your shop. To be blunt, you’ve been a subject of interest for the Resistance for some time. Things are coming to a head regarding the Axis presence here on our planet. Your printing service would be useful when it came time to spread the word of open resistance.”

Minter heard the words but was fixed on the screen. Two ASP vans pulled up to the shop and out came ASP agents. They simply broke down the front door with axes, the bipeds barging in like bandits. A crowd of Eleto began to gather at some distance, wary as ASP agents formed a perimeter with weapons drawn. In short order agents carrying boxes exited the shop, shoving them in one of vans and heading back inside to get more.

“You’re wondering why your shop is being raided, Mr. Minter. It seems a peculiar thought entered what passes for brains of those boneheads at ASP HQ. They believe your cards with musical chips are sophisticated spyware models. A few of your cards were found at or around Bonehead terminals.”

“Preposterous!” Minter exclaimed from both mouths. “Those chips barely have enough memory to play a 10 second tune, and they’re officially sanctioned by the government.”

“Indeed, Mr. Minter. Those chips are the same as those used in simple calculators. I would be amazed if the ASP doesn’t raid the manufacturer. All the same they’ll come up with a convoluted theory to self-justify their actions. After all,” Mr. Lake said past his two smiles, “we Eleto can be a devious bunch.”

“What will happen next?” Minter asked as he watched as more boxes of cards being hauled away.

Lake wolfed down another piece of candy. “Your shop will be impounded, and a complete search will be conducted. This will entail all your walls being stripped, flooring pulled up, and pipes removed, among other things. All your inventory will be searched and then burned, as with all furnishings. Of course, you and your immediate family will be arrested, interrogated and then sent to a labor camp.” Seeing Minter visibly shake Lake raised a forestalling hand. “Do not worry. Your wife and son have been picked up by my fellow confederates thirty minutes ago. In a week you’ll be with them.”

Minter looked dejected and resigned. “So I’m to become a member of the resistance by default?”

“Regretfully so. Everyone we rescued has contributed in some form or another.”

Looking back at the screen, Minter saw a commotion. An elderly Eleto male, distinguished by his grey tuff of fur on his head, was arguing with an ASP agent, both mouths speaking at the same time, something that the boneheads considered to be disgusting. That alone was enough to send someone to interrogation, but it was worse for Minter saw it was a relative. He showed the screen to Lake. “It’s my great uncle. He worked at the shop as a boy, before he signed up to join the Army during the war with the Axis. This was his weekly visit.”

“Regrettable, Mr. Minter. That means he’ll be on their database, as all surviving members of the Army and Navy were made to serve in labor battalions for ten years after the war. He’ll be sent to a labor camp after questioning.” Lake placed his hand on Minter’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. We only had a six-hour notice of this raid, and we only had assets available to pick up you, your wife and son.”

Minter sighed. “He has terminal cancer, as the boneheads have denied advance treatment to all veterans. I think he did this as a final act of defiance. Too bad there’s no sound. I’m sure he’s venting his spleen, as was his wont in private conversation.”

Lake removed the miniature camera, taking it to the bathroom along with the view screen and depositing both in the sink. After filling it halfway with water he added a tablet from the very bottom of the candy tube. In an hour the camera, screen and their electronics would be totally dissolved. “Let’s go, Mr. Minter. It will take the better part of today to get to the first safe house.”

********

Lord Admiral Jocelin, commanding Frontier Fleet, was considering his options to enter the Axis system of Iron Sky. Thanks to previously captured records he knew Iron Sky’s other warp point linked to an uninhabited cul-du-sac system, designated Com-34. As for Com-30, linked to the Geode and Iron Sky systems, there was a short chain comprised of Com-31 and 32 (itself a cul-du-sac), and Com-33, leading into former Eletoshani space.

While mining the Iron Sky warp point and leaving a detachment behind was appealing there was a problem. Iron Sky had a population of 4 million at the start of the war along with six lunar outposts across the system. Given time, a raiding force, like the one bedeviling the systems between Cain and Doorstop, could be constructed and sent into Com-30 to prey upon Frontier Fleet’s supply lines. So, after the sixth pinnace probe, all of them being singular armed pinnaces equipped with external sensor packs, Jocelin learned what comprised the defenses, and devised his plan accordingly.

After the initial Hokum advance towards Iron Sky was halted and then recalled the AFC decided to fortify the warp point beyond its initial set of bases. Joined by a mobile shipyard, the space station over Iron Sky produced nine type-4 bases, equally split between fighter, beam, and capital missile types. Along with the twelve type-3 and three type-2 bases the fixed defenses were augmented monthly with automated weapons. As of now 480 patterns of mines and 180 reusable weapon buoys ringed the warp point, joined by a CAP of 7 squadrons of Hatchet fighters and a handful of escort shuttles. 23 more Hatchet squadrons waited in their hanger bays, all armed with antimatter close attack missiles. A very thin shell of mines filled the 0.75 light-second distance between the warp point belt and close in bases. In a few months three more fighter bases would be complete. What resources not being used for construction and maintenance were stored until such time the route back into Axis space was clear. After splashing five consecutive abom pinnace probes the warp point defenders steeled themselves for an attack that surely was imminent.

The attack came in the form of 400 objects, apparently pinnaces, with interpenetration claiming 60 of their number. Given the violence of their destruction it was clear they carried antimatter ordnance, and with passage through the mines a further 49 were claimed. The CAP Hatchet squadrons, along with the Stiletto shuttles, stayed at the warp point, tasked to attack any transiting ships. Meanwhile the objects made a direct line for the fighter and capital missile bases, passing the ‘north’ close in bases, comprising of a BS4 and 4 BS3s. Only the BS4 was able to achieve battle stations and fired all weapons at the objects, eliminating 4.

Sensor technicians on all the bases were perplexed that the objects didn’t broadcast on the expected fire control frequencies. Given the numbers involved, two of three close-in base groups could’ve been invested and dealt mortal damage. Moving at full pinnace speed, it would take the strange objects under two minutes to reach the fighter and capital missile bases. In that time the other two fighter bases have the chance to crash-launch their remaining Hatchets as well as the small BS2 to flush out its Stiletto shuttles…

With fire control systems stabilized and targeting profiles engaged the Hokum missile pods launched their deadly munitions, 861 missiles in all. In the face of this massive wave the defense computers on the BS4s and BS2s, acting on a contingency program that point defense operators couldn’t override, had their point defense engage those missiles that directly threatened their individual units. For each base an above average number of missiles were dispatched, and EDMs (2 from each base) culled more, but the outcome was the same for all. The six BS4s and 3 BS2s were destroyed utterly. An additional BS4V did manage to crash launch its fighters in the moments before its death, as well as the BS2 containing the Stiletto shuttles and another arming the 90 reusable laser buoys. However, with no life support packs and no hanger bays within range meant that in a few scant hours all the spaceborne Hatchets had to be abandoned.

All 69 Stiletto shuttles engaged in SAR operations, and after 36 hours it was decided to stop, sending 24 of them to rendezvous with a tug that held station one light-minute from the warp point to transfer survivors. The attack had rattled the defenders to their core, solace only coming from the observation that if the abom Hokum had more of the new weapon they could’ve destroyed more bases.

The Hokum returned 40 hours later as if a psychic button was pushed. 200 more pods emerged from the warp point, this time heading ‘south’ through the minefields. After interpenetration and minefield attrition only 141 remained. This time, however, the CAP of 11 Stiletto shuttles followed. Three managed to engage with their point defense but missed. Aside from that, the pods were uncontested as they were outside the engagement envelope of the southwest and southeast base groups.

As the pods continued south the first wave of ships arrived; four Turtles and two Rodeo Clowns. Each ship upon entrance started to turn for their exit vector. A BS4 fired, destroying one Turtle with external CAMs and dousing a Rodeo Clown with capital energy beams and a spinal force beam. Having been armed previously, the 90 reusable laser buoys fired, destroying the remaining Turtles and all but removing the armor on the BC-sized minesweepers.

Then the pods fired. Programmed to engage any BS3 within 4 light-seconds, the eight BS3s were swarmed by antimatter-armed SBMs. Only the two engaged anti-fighter BS3s survived, but without passive defenses and some internal damage. A northern plasma-gun armed BS3 fired and destroyed one Rodeo Clown. As for the rest, only the two damaged anti-fighter BS3s managed to engage with their HET lasers with one missing.

The surviving minesweeper finished its turn as the second wave completed entry. Three Indomitables were followed by two Imperial Valors and one Cain assault carriers. One of the Indomitables was a converted Axis dreadnaught, guaranteed to be the focus of fire from all Axis units. The 11 CAP escort shuttles had turned about and closed on the warp point but were out of range for their FRAMs. Those crashed launched shuttles from the first wave didn’t engage, thought they combined on the warp point and waited for the order. With all available active bases the converted dreadnaught was destroyed while only light shield damage to the second dreadnaught. In turn transit-addled energy and needle beams and nuke CAMs destroyed the passive defenses of one plasma BS3, burning out its overload dampeners in the process.

As the minesweeper transited out the carriers launched their fighters, 19 squadrons strong. 10 went towards the northern bases with 3 each going to the remaining southwest and southeast bases. Three squadrons remained on the warp point to engage the escort shuttles, now totaling 23. Following the exiting minesweeper was the Cain; the two Imperial Valors were still coming about to achieve their exit vectors. The second Indomitable was the initial focus of fire, and when its last engine room was lanced by needle beams all it took was the CAMs from the finally active southeast BS4 to kill it. Fire then shifted to one Valor, and it barely held on after both remaining rooms remained active despite precise hits from needle beams.

That was the best the Axis defenders could do for all the remaining bases succumbed to the lasers and antimatter attack missiles of the Spear fighters. As for the escort shuttles, armed with standard nuclear attack missiles, they went after the damaged carrier, but its strong armor held true. Only three Stilettos remained, and they left the warp point, came about and tried to ram the carrier. Again the strong armor held firm, and with that last act of defiance the Hokum claimed the warp point. Only two Spear fighters were lost. While the remaining 112 began removing the weapon buoys six Implacable DNs transited in and began to fire mine clearance charges, creating a lane for a task group to enter.

Preceding the task group was a reinforced Greyhound element. In short order they found the retiring tug and escort of 24 Stilettos. Covered by AFHAWKs the Spear fighters took down the shuttles with light losses, allowing the ships to close in to fire their anti-drive missiles and lancing internal systems of the tug with needle beams, leading to a speedy boarding action and capture. The task group in the meantime reach Iron Sky, finding only a fighter groundbase and an orbital station with the mass equivalent to three dreadnaughts and three unfinished BS4Vs sans fighters. Backed by fighters and AFHAWKs the task group closed to within missile range of the station and bases, destroying them. As for the groundbase it was wiped out with antimatter warheads, and a carrier element was left behind to keep watch, along with a freighter loaded with kinetic bombardment satellites to discourage the Iron Sky inhabitants from rebuilding the base or any orbital works. Scouts kept tabs on the lunar outposts and one was sent into Com-34 to lay scanner and com buoys at the warp point and to investigate the system. Back in Com-30 Frontier Fleet reassembled and entered the Com-33 system, further advancing into Axis territory.

********

Emperor Valsur had two guests in his office on the space station Orbit-1. Admiral Crunan, head of the Imperator of the Navy’s staff, and the Minister of Arms. After giving a critical eye to what he read on a datapad Valsur turned to Crunan. “Admiral, what is the Navy’s consensus on the deployment of missile pods?”

“Highly favorable, Sire,” Crunan replied. “The damage inflicted measurable surpassed losses we incurred, though I must point out that in each instance the Axis forces involved weren’t able to communicate knowledge of the missile pods to higher authority.”

“Indeed, Admiral. The bases destroyed in Solid State amounted to nothing more than shooting boars in a pit, and Com-14 was against a mobile enemy. However, I question the deployment of the pods in Iron Sky. With the pods on hand, Admiral Jocelin could’ve destroyed all the close-in bases, waited a few days, and then gone in with his assault carriers and pinnaces. At least three waves of carriers could’ve entered and launched their fighters by the time the first crashed-launched Axis squadrons reached the warp point.”

Crunan was briefed that he could expect such a question, so he tried to be neutral in his response. “Sire, Jocelin deployed his forces in the battle to preserve his fighter, pinnace and assault carrier strength for future operations deeper into Axis territory. The losses we sustained in Iron Sky are more sustainable for Frontier Fleet than the potential loss of three assault carriers.”

Valsur turned his gaze towards the Minister of Arms. “Yes, about sustainability. Arms, how long will it take to build up the stock of the newer second-generation missile pods?”

“It’s a matter of budgeting, Sire,” Arms said. “All of our stock of second-generation pods were used in Solid State. Those that were recovered have been slated for use in an operation to deal with the Axis force moving about the various systems between Whel and Cain. There are no more first-generation pods. As of now, we can only afford to build and arm forty second-generation pods per month.”

“We’re that limited?” Valsur questioned.

“Yes, Sire. The budget is stretched to the limit, despite the slowly increasing revenue from trade with the Terpla’ns. New construction, refitting of both fleet units and captured Axis ships, reequipping and stocking up on the new datalink-equipped armed pinnaces, and prefabricated bases leaves very little in the way of discretionary spending. The figure of forty pods a month I mention comes at the expense of fighter production and stockpiling. If we go with that figure, only five squadrons per month can be built.”

“I see. So Jocelin may have been inadvertently shrewd in Tire Iron, but he will have to be more circumspect when it comes to his next warp point assault.” Valsur raised both of his back pair of hands up on the desk, a visual cue for his guests to pay close attention. “There will be a more rationalized production policy the next time the council meets. For now we will we accelerate the replacement of all F1 fighters within the boarders of the Imperium from one squadron to three squadrons per month, with two of those squadrons being scrapped and one being crated up and stored. Also, all armed pinnaces replaced by the datalink version will be scrapped. All revenues will go towards increased production of missile pods. Arms, you’ll get a written decree on your desk shortly that will formalize what I just said here.”

“Yes, Sire.”

Valsur focused on Crunan. “Admiral, inform the Imperator of the Navy he will also get a decree as well. It will be a balancing act between economy and supply. We must be prudent in choosing our battles for the foreseeable future. While our allies may have the attention of the Axis fleet that doesn’t mean local surprises can’t happen at our various fronts, not to mention the possibility of more raiding groups like the one we’re dealing with now.”

“The I.N. will be informed, Sire.”
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Zume
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