The Terpla'ens - Chapter 9.75

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The Terpla'ens - Chapter 9.75

Postby Zume on Sat 14 Mar 2015 16:47

“Just tell me how it was possible,” said 2nd General Bolsan as he gazed out the window of the hunting lodge owned by Bedrock’s Governor Lovcon. The equatorial jungle outside looked humid and thick as it always did. It matched the atmosphere of the room as the assembly of officers, both Army and Navy, waited expectantly for the inevitable berating. “How is it possible for a submarine, a submarine, to shoot down a starship?” He looked to the senior naval officer present which happened to be the Prime Commander (Commodore) of the Bedrock system. “Well?”

“All precautionary measures and routines were in place, General,” said Darqan, “as far as the Navy is concerned. Had there been more information about the composition of Commonwealth surface forces,” he eyed the Army commander of Bedrock’s troops during the Commonwealth occupation and Bolsan’s second-in-command, 4th General Honton, “then more stringent measures would’ve been in place.”

“Don’t put that on me, Darqan,” Honton said indignantly. “I didn’t have the wherewithal to keep all those Aboms under surveillance. They controlled the orbitals, and had plenty of small freighters entering the atmosphere. We didn’t know which ones would be carrying full-fledge submersibles, much less how many there may be left in the oceans.”

“Ocean surveillance should’ve been increased, Honton. More autonomous drones and sonar nets could’ve easily been deployed under the aboms’ noses.”

It was the way that Darqan flippantly spoke his words that grated Honton. He squeezed his fist under the table. “They were watching the fishing ports and all aircraft flying over the Purple Murk,” seethed the 4th General. “If an aircraft flew too low and at reduced speed it was shot down from orbit. Also the native sealife seem to like catching and chewing up our aquatic drones. If anything the fault is weighted towards you for the complacent way the ships in orbit did their business.”

“Complacent? No, an accepted risk for if the supply ships were positioned further away the transshipment of…” Darqan was interrupted by Bolsan’s dismissive hand gesture.

“Enough. I wanted to hear it for myself instead of reading reports padded with contextual explanations and blame shoveling.” Bolsan motioned harshly at to the two senior officers and their collective lieutenants. “This action by the Aboms has instilled a delay in our orbital work. Instead of hitting a drive-down freighter they could’ve gone for a mobile yard and easily kill hundreds of skilled personnel. Now they’ll have to stay on the far side of Bedrock’s moon along with the freighters, incurring a much more involved effort for the shuttles and pinnaces ferrying supplies. It would’ve been worse had they gone after the space station currently under construction. The station-keeping drives would’ve been activated automatically for the attack, and despite at being at such lower level the radiation would’ve killed workers by the dozen.” He looked at Darqan and Honton until both men were made to lower their eyes. “Both of you will come up with a comprehensive plan to locate and destroy any threats to our orbital infrastructure and traffic. Until such threats have been countered and neutralized, all ships in Bedrock orbit will have their drivefields up regardless of their length of stay. You may go.”

The officers and their lieutenants left, leaving Bolsan and an aide to pour over field intelligence data on a flat panel screen. Little did they know that they were being monitored from afar: four kilometers in this instance. On a stout branch of a cascade tree two Tuphonese soldiers were eavesdropping on the lodge. They had focused a laser on the edge of the window pane, listening and recording what was being said inside the room. Field Sargent Guntha and Corporal Nas didn’t mind the humidity at all despite the signature suppression suits they wore. What they did mind was that they weren’t allowed to snipe Axis soldiers unless it was absolutely necessary. To shoot one this close to the lodge would likely spook the general and make him relocate his headquarters.

“So what is the Old Man gonna do with his info, Sarge?” said Nas as he listened to the Comensal talk over his suit’s headphones. “I’m sure our Sigint would’ve been more useful than this.”

“There’s more to know about the enemy than cracking his codes and observing their deployments,” replied Guntha as he gazed through a pair of field binoculars, recording the lodge and its environs. “General Tokuno and Dr. Huu are trying to get a feel for this General Bolsan. That’s why we’re recording his conversations with his lieutenants and his reaction to news.”

“Just how long are we gonna be out here? I mean he’s not gonna stay in that lodge for long. He doesn’t sound like a desk general to me.”

“We’ll go back to Company once he leaves. Too bad. His helicopter would’ve made a fine target for our sniper rifle.”


With minefields and buoys in place the newly arrived Star Force 4, Third Advance Fleet, transited from the liberated system of Borehole and entered the Guilded Wire system. Further down the warp line were the systems of Tinsmith, Brass Latch and Citadel, the goal of SF 4. The formation divided into four groups. First were the CA and BC-hulled minelayers, escorted by fleet carriers and battlecruisers. Their job was to mine the Tinsmith/Brass Latch warp point. Following at a slower pace were the DNs, BBs, CAs and CVLs. As for the third group it was actually composed of several scout divisions. Each of Guilded Wire’s planets and moons were investigated as a new sensor buoy network was building emplaced.

The fourth group was SF4’s fleet train, escorted by CLs, DDs and CVSs. It entered Guilded Wire two weeks later, heading for the second moon of the second gas giant. As the sensor buoy network was up and running the Axis admiral, Sanvas, believed it was safe enough to bring in the support elements. The vigilance paid off as a Commonwealth Sloop scout, engines down and drifting aimlessly was stumbled upon by chance by a Picket scout that was four light-minutes from the gas giant. Powered up, the Sloop moved on the Picket, intent on using its sole CAM to destroy the freighter-hulled vessel. But the captain did not know about the Stiletto shuttles and was surprised by what his sensor readings told him while 2.5 light-seconds short of his target. He launched a solitary courier drone just before his ship was destroyed by four of the armed small craft. As for the drone it headed out past the orbit of the lone methane world and the ken of the sensor net. Because of this there was a suspicion of Commonwealth ships hiding in ‘the big dark’, and half a dozen Pickets were dispatched to ferret out these supposed ships. It was a tedious, thankless mission that was in all fairness suited for these little ships while the fleet concentrated on other duties.

In the BRB-1 system Star Force 2, Second Advance Fleet, was in the process of preparing two operations. The first was the recovery of the Solid State system followed by the Comensal colonized Fallowed Field system. As for the second operation it was a raiding group. Starting from the Ampere system, this group was slated to enter Com-14 and then Com-7. From there the mission was to destroy any and all Hokum installations such as pinnace waystations, com buoy networks and shipping in systems two warp transits out.

Despite its label SF2’s size and composition was on the light side. With no dreadnaughts to slow it down SF2 had a higher cruising speed and could keep the range open should it encounter dreadnaughts later on. While SF2 was preparing there was still work ongoing in the recovered systems. In Abyssal 019 the sensor and comm buoy network covered both warp points and the direct route between them. Slowly this network was being expanded so that mobile ships could be detected as far away as 252 light-minutes from the warp points. This task fell on Picket-029, a freighter-hulled vessel barely larger than an escort. After two weeks into its effort 029 encountered a surprise.

Convoy BP-05, comprised of two frigate-sized freighters and a corvette, was on its way back to Hamthen after delivering supplies to the occupation force on Blood Pride when the Axis reclaimed the Metalstorm system. Cut off, the convoy commander had the option of hiding in the trackless depths of Abyssal 019 or back track to Blood Pride. He chose the former, knowing that the enemy will likely emplace a minimal sensor net in the starless nexus. Sitting 216 light-minutes from the Abyssal 019/Metalstorm warp point the convoy commander, a Tzelan named Capp, was notified of an approaching ship thanks to a deployed sensor buoy. Slowly, surely, the contact came close enough to be identified as a single Axis ship. That it moved at a sedate pace and by its drive frequency Capp came to the conclusion it was a freighter on a sensor buoy deployment mission. He decided to intercept and destroy the ship and in doing so tie down additional Axis scouting assets needed on other fronts.

As for the 029’s commander he was more delighted than surprised when Capp’s ship suddenly appeared a mere 70 light-seconds away. From drive strength alone the commander knew he faced at least an escort and working on that assumption he waited until the range dropped further. At 15 light-seconds he launched his four Stiletto escort shuttles and came about, all eyes turned to the tactical plot on the 029’s bridge.

Despite being perplexed at what he saw approaching Capp pressed on. He did not know about the new type of attack shuttle the Axis employed and assumed these were attempting to ram. Maneuvering, the corvette engaged the large shuttles at 1 LS range, missing but in turn was hit by two lasers. At 0.5 LS range one of the shuttles was splashed with two more laser hits sustained. Capp then went to maximum engine modulation as the shuttles maneuvered into his blind spot at point blank range. They crippled the ship with two FRAM and two laser hits. A second salvo of laser fire finished the ship.

The two freighter captains watched as the sensor buoy kept tabs on the shuttles returning to their mothership and in turn that ship came about and headed in their general direction. The Axis captain would’ve known the corvette didn’t have the tonnage to mount a long range scanner suite when it fired its point defense systems and advanced launcher. It stood to reason that another ship or least a buoy was nearby, and if the latter then destroying it would deny its use to other Commonwealth ships. Moving now will only confirm the two freighter’s existence to this Axis ship, so the captains agreed to wait and see what happens next.

Slowly and inevitably the 029 reached the detection threshold and discovered the drive-down freighters. It launched the three remaining Stilettos and turned away. On their part the freighters brought up their engines and went after the 029, keeping an eye on the approaching shuttles. At 1 LS range the captains had their point defense mounts fire what they assumed would be their only volley and were surprised that two of the shuttles were splashed, their deaths proving they were carrying FRAMs. Instead of modulating their engines the freighters maneuvered in place so that they both faced each other, ensuring that the remaining shuttle would be in firing arc of one freighter. The sole Stiletto survived and did crippling damage to its target and sped back to the 029. Undaunted, the undamaged freighter pressed on, moving at twice the speed of the smaller Axis ship.

Understandably anxious the crew of the 029 rearmed the shuttle with the last two FRAMs in stock and sent it back out. The freighter captain knew his business, waiting until the shuttle reached the right distance before maneuvering his ship so that the range was 0.5 LS. A point defense missile exploded just a mere 200 meters away from the shuttle, destroying it with the liberated energy of the 20 kiloton warhead. With that danger removed the captain went back after the 029. On his part the 029 captain believed his ship was going be tractored and boarded. This wasn’t the case for the tractor on the freighter was for cargo handling only. What it did have was a CAM on its external racks. At 0.75 LS the short-range missile hit but didn’t destroy the 029. That didn’t satisfy the freighter captain. At full speed he rammed the smaller ship from behind, destroying it outright while losing passive defenses and half of his holds (empty in this case).

The first damaged freighter was able to repair one of two wrecked engine rooms and three holds. Sixteen hours were spent on searching for lifepods from the destroyed corvette and what pods that were found had enough to fill the remaining crew space on the freighters. With enough supplies on hand to last eight months the duo moved out, picking up the scanner buoy in passing, and headed for another pre-arranged spot in the expanse of Abyssal 019. Because of this action three scouts and two Pickets were pulled Star Force 2, 2nd Advanced Fleet to hunt down the freighters. In time those scouting assets were going to be sorely missed by the commander of SF2.


The tension on Elotoshani Prime was still palatable a month after the purge of Eloto science teams working for the AFC Science Development Bureau. Several demonstrations were held at universities directly involved in the collaborative effort, but the Axis garrison allowed the local Eloto police to break them up. They posed no problem to the colonial enclave. If they did then punitive measures such as flooding the southern farmlands with open dams and reducing output of the fusion power plant network would enforce the necessity of obedience.

System Admiral Wanfel, in charge of the SDB division located at the enclave, wondered what the central staff back on the homeworld was planning for him. All effort for the past month had been focused on a new secured computer network, starting from scratch and adding data from the backup cores only after they’ve been checked for Eloto Trojan horse programs several times. This galled Wanfel for that meant a whole month was wasted when it could’ve been put to use in devising new systems and weapons for the fleet. It was also in the realm of possibility that this SBD division could be shut down entirely and thus remove even the remotest chance of future Eloto sabotage.

Wanfel, having been sent to Elotoshani to fix the previous director’s mess to being with, was sure his chances of career advancement were good. Those officers of lower rank ran a high risk of being placed in departments and bureaus where advancement was much slower. However, by going on a combat tour these officers could have this incident expunged from their records. Provided they survive the full year, naturally. He was sure that his immediate subordinate, Prime Commander Konset, was going to take a tour due to his close association with the former director.

The door to Wanfel’s office opened, and there was only one officer that could enter without identifying himself first. “Ah, I was just thinking of you, Konset,” said the System Admiral as the subordinate stood smartly in front of the desk. “Providence has a way of responding to one’s idle thoughts. I was wondering what happened to your former boss.”

“Ah, System Admiral Joncan,” replied Konset. “Yes, about him. He was made the commander of all defenses in the Virus House system. I imagine he has a duty shift in the Marine cafeteria, given the number of personnel assigned to him.”

“Now, now, prime commander,” Wanfel chided. “I’m sure he has an assistant to handle that particular task for him. Counting plaspaper rolls is more suitable for his rank.” Both officers chuckled. Found after the conquest of the Elotoshani, the Virus House system played host to a pair of gas giants, an asteroid belt, two greenhouse planets and, on the surface of it, a habitable world. It looked the part, and covetous eyes were on the great harbors and valleys for placement of settlements. However the planet played host to several diseases that were quite fatal to Comensal. A colony was established on the planet’s moon, and along with the normal mineral extraction a biomedical complex was included so that cures to these diseases could be found. It was also the center of the AFC’s biological/biochemical warfare research. A virus to kill off the remaining Lauset was among the ongoing projects at this center.

Virus House became to be known as a hardship duty posting for those AFC personnel sent there for a one-year tour. There was nothing to do since visiting the planet was prohibited and the facilities on the other asteroid and lunar outposts and colonies in the system were exactly the same. Their sole apparent duty was to destroy the biolabs in case of an infectious breakout. AFC officers sent to command the system defenses were either on the verge of retirement or had done something to earn the displeasure of their superiors. Joncan was the latter, and despite his age it was likely he was going to command that detachment until the war was over or reach the mandatory retirement age.

Konset handed a datapad to Wanfel. “This is the latest message from the SDB on the homeworld. It requires your security code to unlock it.”

Accepting the pad Wanfel entered his code and read the contents. He smiled moments later. “Good news all round, Prime Commander. We’re not destined for the chopping block. A new research project has been assigned to us. In the abom Hokum seizure of the Bandstand system they displayed two new technologies. The homeworld will be handling what appears to be a new point defense missile, while we will tackle a scanner pack scaled down for external mounting on a fighter.”

“Reverse engineering yet another enemy invention,” Konset mused. “Hopefully the tactical scans obtained in combat will give us some pertinent clues.”

“Remember that when Providence provides it comes at a cost. It a fast track project, Prime Commander. All available teams will be working in shifts until results are produced. I expect to have the duty list in two hours on my desk. They will be staying here in this facility for the duration of the project, so have the quarters prepped as well.”

“As you order, System Admiral.”


In the Battlement system the Royal Valhallan Fleet kept to a routine that took their minds off the predicament they were in. At the far end of a supply line that was cut off with the loss of the Metalstorm system and threaten by a new warp point in the Kerama Retto system it was tempting to pull back to Citadel and support the three Terpla’n task groups assigned there. However, Admiral Pike, now in command following the death of King Russan, was not about to give up on the gains the fleet had paid so heavily for. He organized his forces and send probes to Battlement’s other two warp points.

Warp point three was where the survivors of an Axis fleet, mainly carriers, fled after their defeat. Pinnace probes finally revealed that the carriers had been resupplied with fighters, most likely uncrated on-site, and a buoy shell 300 strong ringed the far side of the warp point. As for warp point two the pinnace probe was completed with far fewer losses. The reason was simple for there were only three fighters, F0 Hatchets at that, within 5 light-seconds of the warp point. With that miniscule threat facing them Admiral Pike elected to send in just armed pinnaces for the first waves.

Six Whales emerged from the warp point and turned to face each other so that the Hatchets would still be in the firing arcs of the majority. Loaded down with standard close-attack missiles the Whales, for the loss of one of their number, got all three Hatchets. When the 9 other Hatchets arrived two minutes later, crashed-launched from their bases, there were 29 Whales on the warp point, blasting away at the modest weapon buoy shell. Those Hatchets extracted 7 Whale kills before they themselves were consumed by proximity-fused close attack missiles. With buoys destroyed a Whale transited back to Battlement and was replaced by a light carrier and a scout. Three Shark squadrons were launched and were vectored towards a trio of undersized type-2 bases 8 light-seconds from the warp point. Before they could be attacked the bases self-destructed, denying the possibility of boarding them and securing information on the system.

Admiral Pike committed his two survey ships to explore the new system and locate any further warp points. Two weeks later a drive source was spotted at extreme range. A scout was dispatched to investigate, and upon further inspection the drive frequency was found to be Hokum. Closer in messages composed in prearranged codes were sent and responded by both sides, proving each other’s veracity. Pike and the rest of the fleet were greatly relieved by the news. Forays by the Hokum Imperium Space Navy had gained control of the warp line leading out of the system, thus creating a tenuous but tangible communication route for not only Pike but the rest of the allied forces in the Citadel Theatre of Operations.

It was through the Office of the Terpla’n Ambassador on Hokum Prime that Pike and his fleet learned the news. Upon hearing word of the death of King Russan a coup, staged by anti-monarchal forces on the Valhallan homeworld, broke out. It lasted only two weeks for the coup plotters underestimated the people’s devotion to the King. All involved that survived the pitched battles were arrested, including some of the government leaders. Princess Quasso, daughter of the King, was ordained as Queen. Morale climbed several orders of magnitude, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the Hamthen system of Evershem, one transit out from Hamthen, the defenders of the Evershem/Dotz warp point were stoic in the face of the threat against them. The Terpla’n, Hazen, and Hamthen crews knew they served an important part of Admiral Jki’s plan. As ever, the goal was to destroy and damage as many Axis ships as possible. This went double for any purpose-built assault ships and armed pinnaces. If the stock of these weapons was low the Axis faced the choice of waiting for fresh ships, restock supplies and repairs, or plowing right on ahead to storm the Hamthen warp point. Many hoped it was the latter for as soon as the Axis spent its strength the quicker the allies could mount their counterattack.

As far as strength went the Axis still had a considerable amount of it. A probe force consisting of 100 regular pinnaces and 100 Dispersions emerged from the warp point. 18 of the former and 34 of the latter interpenetrated and exploded violently, leaving the survivors to come about to reach their exit vectors. What they found in the immediate area were 9 bases in three groups 1.25 light-seconds out and 6 bases in three groups 3.25 LS out. 600 buoys ringed the warp point and 120 Shark fighters formed the CAP. To round out the findings there were 12 light cruisers and 12 destroyers, all Hamthen built and crewed, orbiting in two groups 1.25 LS from the warp point. After all was said and done, and firing of 99 one-shot laser buoys, there were 73 pinnaces and 21 Dispersions left thirty seconds later.

Aside from the expenditure of external ordnance from those active close-in ships and bases the allies only lost one pattern of mines. For the Axis their total losses (including interpenetration losses when returning to Dotz) were 39 pinnaces and 87 Dispersions. However, thanks to the tactical scanners on those sacrificial little ships Star Admiral Bonson, commanding Star Force 1, 2nd Advance Fleet, knew of the 12 additional bases 5.5 LS out and 3 small bases 8 LS out from the warp point. Some of the bases were capital missile platforms while four of them, type 6s, were likely fighter bases. As for mines the scanners showed at least 900 patterns immediately around the warp point along with 501 out of an original 600 weapon buoys. Eager for battle, Bonson made his plan and attacked 18 hours later.

The defenders had settled back into their routine when 300 Machete armed pinnaces emerged from the warp point. 48 interpenetrated and exploded. Having arrived in three different approach vectors it was clear they were going to swamp the inner bases, moving through the solitary minefield shell and taking attritional losses. Despite the strong urge to come about and pursue, the 20 CAP squadrons closed on the warp point and were rewarded by the sight of the rest of the Axis first wave. 42 Critical Mass explorers came next with 12 destroyed just like the Machetes, followed by 6 Blockhouse BBs (losing two) and 4 Ablative BCs (all lost). The 3 type-5s, 3 type-4s and 3 type-2s were destroyed, overwhelmed by FRAMs fired from the transit-addled Machetes. In turn only 12 explorers remained despite the efforts of those CAP squadrons that did go active as well as those bases that did the same. 52 Machetes were splashed by a combination of both the minefield and point-blank point defense fire from those active inner bases. Even the expenditure of 90 laser buoys did nothing but further reduce the defenders’ strength when it faced the following wave.

In perfectly metered entry so as to keep the warp point stabilized the Axis sent in twelve Falcon Crest carriers (losing two), eighteen Grenadier 3 frigates (minus six), eight modified Grenadier 2 corvettes (less four) and four Interception escort cruisers. The first four Critical Mass explorers transited back to Dotz in a normal manner, leaving the last eight to leave as a group with only two lost via interpenetration on the far side. Meanwhile nine Shark squadrons, having expended their ordnance, sped back to their bases while the remaining four active ones, firing partial loads, stayed on the warp point with the last seven still working on bringing their weapons into the fight. It was a slaughter for the small Axis ships were destroyed along with two carriers and one escort cruiser. For the allies all twelve Ice cruisers and Thunderbird destroyers were wiped out by those Machetes still carrying FRAMs. Those Machetes that had expended their FRAMs fired internal guns and point defense upon the buoy parks and the CAP fighters, leaving none that still carried ordnance. Just 133 laser buoys remained, not enough for what came in the third wave.

The eight remaining Falcon Crests transited back to Dotz, but not before launching 144 Hatchet fighters. Three of the carriers had to transit out together with two of them interpenetrating on the far side. Arriving to replace them in measured transit were six Soar assault carriers, two Battering Ram DNs, two Grim Reaper minesweepers, ten Grenadier 4 escorts and 4 Critical Mass 2 explorers. Both Cannonade BBs and six Grenadier 4s interpenetrated, ratcheting up the self-inflicted losses for the Axis. After what the missile bases could do the commander of the defenses had the last of buoys fire on the enemy, destroying the other three CAEs, six Grenadiers and one Critical Mass.

The Soars launched their fighters, 180 in all, with three of the carriers achieving their exit vectors and transiting back to Dotz. What replaced them came in the form of a conventional entry by a Sapper, Hand of Providence, Talon Pride, and three Wave Riders. Showing great persistence the 270 Sharks crashed-launched two minutes earlier went after the remaining Soars, taking out two of them along with a Grim Reaper. The six capital missile bases obliterated the third Soar while five of the 31 still armed Machetes were knocked out by the point defense of two of the standard missile bases. In turn those two bases were destroyed by the fire of ten Machetes and all 270 Sharks were splashed by the Hatchets from the Soar and Falcon Crest carriers.

Going back to Dotz the second Grim Reaper, three Critical Mass explorers and a pair of Grenadier 4s were spared from certain destruction. That was the potential fate for the three Nation Reach and Firebow capital missile ships, but, tenacious to the end, the defenders continued to inflict damage on the fourth wave ships. Aided by the missile bases the 90 fresh Sharks attacked, and despite the datalink jamming destroyed one Wave Rider and crippled a second one. Defending Hatchets and Machetes took care of them, leaving no armed Sharks at the moment. During all this 66 Hatchets of the second wave, 180 Hatchets from the third wave (60 of which still had two nuclear-tipped close attack missiles each) and 48 from the fourth wave moved on northern missile and fighter bases. It remained to be seen how many Hatchets would fall to the bases’ defensive fire.

The crippled Wave Rider and the untouched Talon Pride transited out and were replaced by six escorts of a design not seen by the allies before. With no fighters to kill 66 Hatchets still armed with close attack missiles from the second wave headed for the southern missile bases. Missile fire destroyed the third Wave Rider while the missile DNs and BCs fired mine clearance rounds. At his point the targeted mine patch was reduced to 59 patterns. Very soon the mine patch will reach a critical level and be breached and there was nothing the base crews could do to slow it down.

Six more new escorts arrived just as the northern bases came under Hatchet attack. 54 were swept away by point-blank defensive fire but the rest was more than enough to destroy the three type-5 missile platforms and a type-6 fighter base. Those Hatchets with laser packs continued with their attack, taking whatever the other fighter and defense base had to offer in stride. Success was achieved in taking the second fighter base with the further loss of 30 Hatchets and a Nation Reach DN, smothered in antimatter fireballs courtesy of the southern capital missile bases.

Coming in after the eighteenth new escort was a collection of four superdreadnaughts (one of which was Bonson’s flagship) and two minesweeping battlecruisers, turning to the face the targeted minefield patch and southern bases. These new arrivals, like the rest of the ships before them, fired mine-clearance rounds from their external racks and internal launchers, bringing the selected mine patch down to a critical level. Antimatter-filled capital missiles pummeled the second National Reach but only its shields were collapsed for a pair of EDMs spooked more than their share of incoming fire.

Six Stout class battlecruisers formed the tenth wave, ready to make use of the impending clear route in the mines. All 18 escorts and the fresh Sapper of the ninth wave entered the pummeled mine patch at minimum speed and at maximum engine modulation. Each ship was attacked by a solitary pattern of mines. The little ships lost shields and half their armor while the Sapper lost 26% of its shields. A second volley of missiles all but killed the second National Reach, but it had enough motive power to leave. Before it left the little Lightning Rod escorts, equipped with tactical scanners and tractor beams, swept the mines and cleared the way for the Stouts, permitting them and the SDs and assault DNs to close within 4.5 LS of the southern bases. One capital missile base was half-wrecked in the exchange, having sustained damaged earlier due to missile fire and spinal force beams, but one Battering Ram took the last full salvo of capital missiles, losing all passives and three engine rooms.

Now with a clear route the surviving Machetes began their slow return to Dotz, include three that still had their FRAMs. Only a pair of destroyers arrived, moving out and away from the still active bases. Those SDs and DNs that could were now 3.5 LS from the southern bases, intent on destroying the missile platforms and capturing the fighter bases, dousing them with energy beam fire. One allied base and one Battering Ram were lost in the exchange of fire, and closer in at 2.5 LS range another missile base was wiped out. Slowing and engine modulation engaged, the ships were at 2 LS range when the last four allied Shark squadrons launched and swarmed them. Engaging them were the 144 Hatchets from the second wave, still armed with gun packs and assisted by the datalink jamming from the SDs.

A Sapper, which had become the focus of attention, had its passive defenses destroyed by sprint-mode missiles and FRAMs from those fighters that fired before they died. The defense base, having sustained hits from missiles, force beams and primaries alike, began taking internal damage. Slated to be boarded it took energy beam hits, forcing the base to use its overload dampeners to ruinous effect to stave off death for that much longer. In any event the Sapper and the Battering Ram would require extensive repairs after the battle. The northern and southern defense bases self-destructed as well as two of the three standard missile bases. Even the trio of BS-1s with the automated weapon controls self-destructed without so much as a life pod or shuttle fleeing the scene. Of the remainder, one standard missile and two fighter bases, their records were erased prior to boarding actions that lasted over a day.

Having limited repair assets on hand, Bonson sent those ships that required extensive repairs back to the Output system while his fleet moved on to invest the Evershem/Hamthen warp point. Two days after the battle he was mulling over the after-action reports when he had the head of his staff, System Admiral Vangen, join him in his day cabin adjoining the CIC on his flagship.

“It must be a fascinating read,” Vangen said while taking a chair offered by Bonson’s hand gesture. “That’s your favorite datapad. The one you had when you commanded a destroyer back in A.I. War. You only keep files on it that help you evaluate and devise plans and tactics.”

“You should know, Vangen. You were my XO on that destroyer all those years ago.” Bonson placed the pad on his small desk. “Overall the losses we incurred for recapturing Evershem were within the acceptable parameters, especially for the Machetes. Also an above average number of lifepods were picked up, giving our reserve pool of personnel a boost.”

“I doubt that the crews of the four escort cruisers would see that as a benefit,” Vangen said wryly.

“It was a fine balancing act. I had to select ships for that particular wave that would attract the abom defenders. Regular cruisers wouldn’t have guaranteed the sufficient draw of firepower away from the larger, more important ships.”

“Speaking of ships, we’re going to be short of Critical Mass and Grenadiers if we’re going to stick to our schedule. Admiral, you still plan on assaulting Hamthen in 31 days?”

Bonson leaned back in his chair. It creaked from age, for it was the same one he had in his cabin aboard the destroyer Vangen mentioned. He kept it over the years for it was a reminder of the victories he earned while commanding that destroyer, wiping out Nu’Chut AI ships and fighters. “Yes. We must keep the momentum of our advance. By retaking Hamthen, and turning that wretched planet into a radioactive husk, we will deny the enemy a marshalling area for supply convoys and task forces. Whatever ships they have in the systems behind us will run out of supplies and fall into disrepair. If they attempt to force the issue in Metalstorm they’ll find us ready thanks to the prefabricated bases already built and those soon to be completed as well as the mobile defense force. As for the abom Hamthen defenses I believe we’ll find them formidable but not insurmountable. Vangen, did you know that the investigations of the abom fighter bases found something interesting? They were eight squadrons short. That tells me that they spared whatever forces they could here in Evershem so as to insure maximum strength for Hamthen.”

Vangen swiped a finger over his boney brow, a gesture of agreement. “Then it’s a good thing that we’ll have 600 Machetes in time for our assault. Even in the moments after transit their degraded fire did wonders on the abom bases here.”

“I would prefer 900, but that will have to be for another battle. The Machetes have more than proved their worth to me, Vangen. Also, we will be better off if the small assault ships are rationalized.” Bonson handed a different datapad to Vangen. “In my opinion there’s no further need for the Grenadier 1, 2 and 4 classes. We’d be better off with the 3 and 5s with one of their sprint launchers replaced with a capital missile defense system. I estimate that ships so equipped will be able to stay on the warp point for an additional minute before being destroyed or transiting out. The smaller Critical Mass ships are still useful in soaking up buoy fire, and the Lightning Rods did their intended role perfectly. Have our staff go through what I’ve written and bring any suggestions to me before I send the final report to Fleet Command.”

“Very good, Admiral. I’m sure Fleet Command will agree to any idea that will increase combat effectiveness coupled with greater resource efficiency. Also the investigation of the captured bases will hopefully produce some results, especially in regards to that apparently new point defense system they used.”

“Yes, but that will have to wait until the mobile shipyards in our fleet train complete repairs on the least damaged ships. Hopefully something can be puzzled out from the shorted-out ruins created by our energy beams.” Bonson picked up his datapad, bringing up a file that brought a frown to his face. “If it wasn’t for those damned abom Elotoshani wrecking our R&D databases we could have new systems and weapons in development now.”

“Nothing that we can’t overcome,” Vangen assured. “Just like the Eloto and Nu’Chut AIs we’ll counter whatever technological surprises may come.”

On Hamthen Prime Flag Admiral Tulcus Jki was burning the midnight oil as she went through the initial post-battle report for Evershem. She was kept company by a familiar friend in the form of a pain in her gut. The casualty list was bad enough for there were no survivors aside from the two scout squadrons assigned to keep tabs on the Axis fleet’s advance across the Evershem system. Not even the news of the link up of Hokum and Valhallan forces at Battlement did anything to ease the pain for the link was a long and tenuous one, ruling out any measure of coordination. Morale increased nonetheless in spite of what happened in Evershem. The crews may have the same conviction of breaking the Axis upon the defenses of Hamthen but Jki knew that they didn’t had to make and live with the decisions required for such an outcome.

Seeking a break Jki went to a terrace that was part of the hotel being used as the Unified Command Center. The railing was set of Hamthen height, so she stood further away as a precaution. The night sky had scattered high clouds, marring the view of the stars. Nevertheless it was pleasing sight as was the night lights of the capitol city. The ravaging effects of the Axis occupation were becoming less and less noticeable as new buildings continue to rise to replace those damaged or outright destroyed by random and deliberate action. Street noises were in abundance as civilians went about their evening affairs. It was a city of light and life.

“A fine example of our resiliency, wouldn’t you say?” Jki’s left eye turned slightly back and down to see the source of the voice. It was Hamthen President Skuu, looking particularly pleased as he went to the railing and looked about. “Even those towns and cities blighted by the Axis’ use of black smoke are being restored. More than living it’s living well that’s the best revenge.”

“Revenge is no good if they enemy doesn’t know about it,” Jki commented.

“Ah, but they do know.” Skuu pointed to a patch of sky. “There, at the warp point leading to the Stratus system. Of the Axis bases that were there during the occupation just four remain. As you know each Allied task group that passed through this system used the Hagelkorn warp point, but before going on to Evershem they fire three volleys of laser-tipped SBMs at the Axis bases. Well, after the Hatchet fighters were taken care of in the first battle the subsequent bombardments were little more that live fire exercises for the Axis missile bases used up their own laser SBMs beforehand. I had civilian broadcast feeds beam directly to each Axis base. They know, Admiral, and they will know that the impending assault will be crushed in an undeniable vice of righteous fury. Afterwards, to spare them prolonged anguish from seeing the results of the battle, the four bases, having exhausted their supplies and sustaining compounding failure of internal systems and breached armor for over a year, will be destroyed. It’s long pass that a more direct route for allied forces to use through Hamthem space be open. Plus I want to deny them the cop-out of self-destruction. Then our revenge will be complete.”

Jki made a hard blink as her guts made her feel an especially potent stab of pain. “You will get your wish, President Skuu. The rapid advancement of the Axis forces convinces me that they won’t hesitate to attack. In 27 days we’ll have an answer.”

End Chapter 9

Axis Fleet Command Punch Class Frigate - M1 Refit
In limited production later in the war 3 out of 4 Punch frigates were of this type.

Commonwealth Space Force Privateer Class Pinnace Tender - TL 10 Refit
Based on the Gymen class battlecruiser hull the Privateers had their superstructures moved forward and enlarged to house the embarked squadrons of Whale armed pinnaces. Seen here the upper and lower laser emitters have been deployed.

Axis Fleet Command Flak Lighter 2 Class Corvette - F2D variant
The most common small anti-fighter escort used by the AFC. The F2D variant was the most produced as each pair of small freighters was assigned one of these escorts. All three external ordnance racks are located on the bottom of the hull. All corvettes, escorts, explorers, mine warfare and dedicated warp point assault ships (aside from carriers) were painted with the displayed color scheme. A further variant was the F2DM, which had a slightly more sophisticated multiplex tracking system and was used in dedicated anti-fighter datagroups. There was no external sign to differentiate a F2D from F2DM.
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