Thursday, September 24, 2009

…And A Time to Reap

Carstairs was lost inside his own head as he pondered the system map. The Centauri hold was growing stronger, he thought, but we must never lose sight of our real mission here. Much of the system fleet was tied up in constant chase and patrol thanks to Hrudek and between the repairs to the fleet, the fuel consumption of so many ships, the monotony of constant drilling and the pall of the defeat Earthforce had been handed, many things were in short supply, most importantly materiel and morale. The boys needed a win and needed it badly. Earth didn't need it as badly. The victories on the way to Omelos were racking up. But these men? You could see it in some of their eyes. Many accepted that you win some and you lose some, but the sting of being the superior force and losing was still fresh.

The one real coup, however, had been the capture of a Dilgar ship. Intel was still going over the information from the computers, but now Carstairs understood why the Dilgar were here.

They want planets in this system for colonization. That means one of two things. Either they are so certain of their victory against Earth and the other races that they're already planning more expansion or they're trying to get people off their homeworld in case they lose.

Wheels continued to turn in Carstairs' head.

The former seems unlikely based on the reports from the front. Maybe a little propaganda was mixed in but even the most conservative reading says we're winning and our allies' reports were backing that up. The latter seemed much more likely. If they're afraid of losing their homeworld to us, then no wonder they're trying to evacuate. They virus bomb worlds they take. In their minds, why wouldn't we do the same to them?

We know what they want. So now we must deny it to them. Carstairs spun his chair around and began typing. We must deny them…

The decision was clear. The die was cast.

"General, Admiral Carstairs wishes to speak to you." Hrudek groggily ran his hand through his hair and over the empty socket. He could still see in his mind the branch that cost him his eye at the age of 14. But if people wanted to believe it was a battle scar, let them. It made most men afraid to…inconvenience him, but not Carstairs. And only he would probably have the guts to call him in the middle of his sleep like this. Unless there was an actual emergency, of course. One could only hope not. There had been enough misfortune. And by "misfortune", Hrudek meant "incompetence". He slipped on an eyepatch and gruffly announced “Put him through.”

Carstairs face appeared on the monitor. "Good morning, General. I'm sorry to wake you, but your new orders were too important to allow them to wait."

Hrudek shook his head to wake himself more quickly. "What new orders?"

"I know you and Kallis have been planning to retake the garden world from the Centauri. The plan has changed. You will have a new target: Demeter."

Hrudek cocked his head. "The virus bombed planet? What good is it to us?"

"I'm broadcasting intel on a sub-channel. Look at it and hopefully you will understand. We're attacking it and taking it. There can be no other outcome. I'll even lead personally."

Hrudek gave a dismissive grunt. "Fine. What forces do you want back from me?"

"You misunderstand, General. Every ship in the system capable of fighting, yours included, will be involved in this action. Failure is not an option on this one."

"I didn't think you had the stones to make that sort of gamble and I question the wisdom of it anyway. What if we lose?"

"If we lose, we will hit it again and we will keep hitting it until we take it or a truly better option comes along. And as long as the Centauri keep the Garden, there is no other 'better' option."

Hrudek shifted uneasily. "What you describe is madness!"

"Read the intel. What I describe is strategy. You have your orders, General. Carstairs out."

That damnable bastard! Hrudek thought. He better damn well know what he's doing! Hrudek scanned the orders he was sent, forwarded them to section heads and then barked out for a com to Navigation. "Plot a course for Rendezvous Point Gamma at half speed. What's our ETA?"

"We...we won't have exact figures for a few minutes yet but about seven hours, sir."

"Fine. Have my adjutant wake me up in three and I want the section heads there waiting 10 minutes later. We are going to be hunting Dilgar."

"Sir! Yes, sir!" and the link went dead.

Hrudek took off the eyepatch and pulled the covers back over him. He damn well better know…

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Price of Victory

Lord Maximo Drusella, graying but stately in his dress uniform, stepped up to the viewing gallery on Star Fortress Victory overlooking the spacedock, courtiers and adjutants yet in attendance from the recent victory celebration.

"WHAT. HAVE YOU DONE. TO MY SHIP!?" roared the aged Centauro, his contorted visage approximately 15 centimeters from that of the Emperor Morell's apprehensive captain. The rest of the company became immediately silent.

The once-proud Emperor Morell, a Primus-class battlecruiser of the Drusella House Expeditionary Force, hung pathetically at the end of the primary service arm of Star Fortress Victory's spacedock. The starboard and port sections were relatively intact, but the aft engineering section had been knocked almost completely off, and the central portion of the mighty ship virtually did not exist, only a thin skeleton of internal supports uniting the two sides together, underneath the lolling command section.

"Do you know how much that ship is worth?" Maximo continued, his roar having reduced now to a seething hiss. The ship's captain began to speak, but Maximo cut him off, returning to a roar. "More than you!"

"Yes, m'lord."

The battle over Garden had begun so well. Emperor Morell and her Maximus-class escort Triario had arrived to "show the flag" and perhaps bully Earthforce out of the system with veiled threats and implications of Centauri sanctions... pure bluffing, of course. However, two things surprised the Centauri: first, that the garrison around Garden had been reduced to a minimal level; and second, that the Earthers took an immediately aggressive posture. When the Earthers moved to attack, the Centauri had no choice but to make good their initial bluster.

Even though the Centauri group consisted of only two ships, they were more than a match for the small Earthforce contingent: EAS Spruance, an Avenger-class carrier, EAS Duncan, an Olympus gunship, and four Tethys-class gunboats of various types.

The captain's arrogance was only confirmed when the first shot from Emperor Morell, in a perfect example of precision gunnery, struck the EAS Duncan directly down her spinal beam mount, vaporizing her only weapon (and, indeed, Earthforce's most powerful weapon in this carrier group) and crippling her. The Centauri crew gave a cheer as clearly the battle had already been won.

Surprisingly, the Earthforce group came straight at the Primus. In another stunning display of gunnery from the Primus, two Tethys laser boats were vaporized, and two on the flank were damaged.

Then, the unthinkable happened. First, one of the wounded Tethys missile boats rammed the Emperor Morell, almost knocking away the aft engineering section and setting her adrift. And then, to the horror of the Centauri, the EAS Spruance, with a flight deck still containing at least a dozen Starfuries and crews, launched herself straight into the bow of the Emperor Morell! The aim of the crazed Earther helmsman was off just a tiny bit, and so instead of breaking apart into space junk, the Emperor Morell managed to hold together by a tiny sliver of skeletal structure between her two halves. The enormous brick-like Spruance, however, was crushed and compacted into a smouldering ball of wreckage and human jelly... all hands were squashed and melted in an instant of mind-bending violence. Over half the crew of the Emperor Morell were variously crushed and/or exposed to vacuum.

"Great Maker..." Maximo had begun mumbling, staring out the gallery window. "Great Maker." He heaved a sigh. First, the Dilgar virus bombed the entire planet of Demeter. Why? Why kill everyone? They could have taken the Centauri governor, his family and all the Centauri citizens as prisoners for ransom. They could have made a fortune! And why kill all the millions of native sentients? They were an entire army of slaves waiting to be gainfully employed. To waste all of that potential... for what? It didn't make any sense.

And now this. The Earthers ramming. With a half-full carrier? In order to protect an uninhabited planet? It was pure insanity. Though Garden was not a poor world by any means, it would take a long time for the resource yields on that planet to equal the price of a carrier. After the EAS Duncan was scratched, they should have withdrawn and ceded the issue. Like gentlemen.

"And you have no idea why the Earthers rammed you?"

"No, m'lord."

"Did you say something about their mothers?"

"No, m'lord."

"Did you try to get out of the way?"

"Yes, m'lord."

Silence followed.

"Shall I resign my commission, Lord Drusella?"

Maximo sighed again. "No, no. I'm sure you did everything you could. Besides, you are a Hero of the Centauri Republic. You destroyed two capital ships and three escorts."

The captain gulped. "M'lord, I destroyed one and two, and the others rammed me."

"Don't contradict me again, captain. You are a Hero of the Republic and that is that. You will conduct what remains of my ship back to the Imperial Shipyards at Centauri Prime. The Station Master owes me several favors... and so he will be seeing to these repairs personally. And perhaps make some improvements while he is at it."

"Yes, m'lord."

"Captain, have you ever even heard of anyone using a loaded fleet carrier as a missile?"

"No, m'lord."

"Doesn't it sound as if they are simply flushing ducats out of an airlock?"

"Precisely so, m'lord."

"Well. Now I understand why the Earthers and the Dilgar hate each other so much. They're exactly alike."

Ambush at Transfer Point Baker

Bridge: Dilgar flag cruiser Reaper

"Scout pentacon reporting in," the communications officer whispered. "They are reading two battleships, two dreadnoughts, nine cruisers, four missile ships, a fleet carrier, and various support ships."

"All ships to action stations. Prepare to execute attack when the bulk of the human fleet has passed the ambush point." Warleader Jo'tok spoke softly into the command interface, her orders relayed to every ship in the fleet. While it wasn't truly necessary to be silent on a spacecraft to avoid detection the hunter's intstinct was strong in the Dilgar. Every crewman in the fleet could feel their blood rise as the moment of the attack grew near. Each felt the electric thrill of an impending kill.

Despite this, Jo'tok was worried. This ambush had been initially planned as an easy excercise. They were to raid Earther shippping and await the task force sent in response. What responded was nothing short of a full battle fleet. Hiding in the dust cloud had played havoc with sensors and the true scale of the human fleet wasn't apparent until moments before they reached the ambush point. Even with surprise on their side Jo'tok doubted that her force could completely destroy the enemy.

Still...not attacking was out of the question. Dilgar did not cower before the enemy. Never. The plan now was to inflict maximum damage and disengage before the enemy could mount an effective response. With some luck they might be able to eliminate key vessels and put the humans on the back foot.

She had an impressive battle force under her command.

Pentacon Reaper: Lead by her own ship, consisted of the heavy cruisers Reaper and Raveger, the light cruisers Flawless and Vigilant, with the command destroyer Dogma providing coordination. There was more firepower in this single pentacon than Jo'tok had ever led in an entire fleet. This was to be the hammer.

Pentacon Omen was led by Dar'shal commanding strike cruiser Omen. In support were strike cruiser Slayer, torpdeo ships Pistol and Rifle, and the command destroyer Certainty. This was a swift pentacon, capable of out manuvering anything in the earthforce fleet. If possible it would swing to the far side of the enemy formation and perform a pincer manuver.

Scout pentacon consisted of the scout ships Hunter, Searcher, Finder, and Quester lead by the command destroyer Doctrine. They would initially provide sensors support. Their job then was to close with the enemy at point blank range and cover the retreat of the more important ships.

Finally, was the heavy carrier Venom. It was to remain in the dust cloud and provide tactical support for all fighter wings. Instructions were to evade and disengage if needed.

Jo'tok gave one last glance at the tactical readout. It appeared that the humans had anchored each end of their fleet with a battleship and a dreadnought. The center held cruisers, missile ships, and the carrier. An excellent formation for a closing engagement. But a poor one when attacked from a flank.

"All ships, attack!" The command was now loud and clear. The time for stealth was done.



Two heavy pentacons emerged from the dust clouds at high speed, bearing down on the surprised earthforce ships. Most of the vessels were slow to respond to this new threat, lumbering forward into the fields of pre-vectored fire. A few ships were more alert. The Hyperion Savannah made an emergency turn toward the approaching dilgar, bringing its forward plasma batteries to bear. A swarm of Dilgar attack fighters moved to intercept the cruiser. Its interceptor network swatted down their attacks, but the effort depleted them and left Savannah vulnerable.

The opening volley from the Dilgar was devastating. Pentacon Reaper was the first to reach optimal range. The heavy cruisers Reaper and Ravager fired full into the Earthforce carrier Mitchell, a massive spread of missiles followed closely by a hail of bolter fire. Starfury flights responded to this by hurling themselves between the incoming storm and their charge, but weight of fire brushed them aside like leaves in a storm as the proud carrier was reduced to a drifting grave. The light cruisers Flawless and Vigalent, with support from the command destroyer Dogma, unloaded into the missile cruiser Barker causing it to explode when a bolter volley ruptures the ammo magazines. The ensuing conflagaration damaged nearby ships and blasted dozens of Starfurys from the sky.

Pentacon Omen followed suit destroying another missile cruiser, the Morgan, and damaging the only earthforce cruiser with the temerity to turn into their attack, the Savannah. Though suffering a hail of fire which would wreck lesser ships, the proud cruiser refused to be bowed and brought all forward plasma batteries to bear on Reaper. Superheated plasma lept across the void and struck Reaper amidships, ploweing through the armor plating of the massive ship like it wasn't there. The engines of Reaper sputtered as they struggled to compensate for the loss of all starboard fuel feeds.

One ship, the Marakesh, which had appeared to be a standard Hyperion cruiser suddenly became the source of a cloud of misiles which all angled toward the Dilgar heavy carrier Venom. These missiles were joined by scores more from the remaining missile cruisers Franklin and Mercury. Too late, Dilgar sensors showed that the human missiles were a new variety of high-yeild warheads never seen before. Venom is pushed violently to the starboard as a dozen new suns are born in close proximity. Though she survived the assault her flight decks are wrecked and all sensors have been vaporized from her hull.


Bridge: Dilgar flag cruiser Reaper

"I'm geting tired of these human suprises." Jo'tok growled as she helplessly watched the Venom wither under fire. It seemed that Earthforce had a weapon system custom tailored for every fight. "Order Venom to retire before we loose her entirely."

Assessing the tactical situaion, Jo'tok quickly decided what to do next. They'd picked off the outer fringes of the fleet. But to inflict real damage they would now need to close range and get in a knife fight with the humans. This meant getting dangerously close to the Nova Dreadnought and Orestes Battleship at the rear. She may never again be offered this many human ships in so vulnerable a position. There was little choice. One high-speed battle pass and out the other side.

Her orders were relayed quickly and the Dilgar pressed their advantage. She smiled a predator's grin as she watched the entire front half of the human column struggling vainly to come about in time help their fleet mates.



Pentacon Reaper dived into the heart of the human fleet bringing all guns to bear on the massive form of the Nova Dreadnought Medusa. Two full wings of Thorun attack fighters launched their torpedoes at the dreadnought, overtaxing its inadequate interceptor grid. In a perfect display of Dilgar precision, the bolter fire from all five ships in the pentacon raked the Medusa. Under the concentrated firepower of four cruisers the mighty dreadnought is transformed into a flaming wreck.

To accomplish this the Ravager had to move within weapons range of the battleship Alexander Suvorov - which now opened a full broadsides. The Dilgar had learned to rightly fear a broadside fusillade from a Nova dreadnought, but few had any experience fighting the Orestes Battleship. They were generally too slow and lumbering to ever reach the cruicial points in a battle before it was over. But if one can be in the right place at the right time...

A veritable wall of plasma belched from the starboard side of the Suvorov as every gun was brought to bear on the Dilgar heavy cruiser. Armor plating boiled off of the hull of Ravager as if it were water, exposing the innards of the ship to vaccuum. Secondary explosions and fires rolled out of control along her length, reducing power to all weapons and defense systems. In an instant, Ravager was reduced from a ship in prime fighting trim to a barely spaceworthy hull, limping away at reduced power.

Pentacon Omen targeted the auxiliary ships, concentrating fire on the missile cruiser Franklin and her escort frigate Norden. Again, the vulnerability of the Sagittarius missile cruisers is exposed as ammo magazines alight and explode, gravely crippling the ship. The Norden didn't fare so well, the tiny ship overwhelmed and destroyed by bolter and pulsar fire. In return the hyperion assault cruisers Guan Yu and Vostok moved within range and raked Flawless with their plasma batteries, disabling her damage control systems.

One squadron of trhee Hyperion cruisers realized that they will not be able to turn around in time to join the fight. Instead, they all turned directly away from the skirmish and aligned their rear heavy lasers on the Dilgar flaghsip. The Reaper is momentarily pinned in place by three massive lances of light, like a butterfly in a display case. She is struck just forward of engineering, completely cutting power to all aft weapons and reducing her speed as the engine struggles to compensate.


Bridge: Dilgar flag cruiser Reaper

Jo'tok picked herself up from the floor and took her station. She was amazed that Reaper was still in one piece. Any other Dilgar ship short of a dreadnought would have been destroyed by such a blow. Still, she knew the ship would not survive another like that. She also saw the wounded status of her sister ship Ravager. It was time to leave before they suffered more extreme losses.

"Pentacon Reaper, plot escape vector and make best speed!" She needed to occupy the human forces while the more valuable ships disengaged. "Scout pentacon, close range and engage the core of the enemy fleet. Concentrate on long range missile ships."



The ships of the scout pentacon raced out of the dust cloud, quickly coming to point blank range with Savannah. Though designed for scouting and electronic warfare they are still heavily armed. Every Dilgar ship is a fighting vessel first and formost. The weapons batteries of the five ships at such close range devastate the wounded Savannah, finally striking the fusion reactor. A chain reaction quickly follows and the Savannah dissappears in an expanding cloud of debris.

The forward half of the human fleet had performed about half of the needed turn to fully come about. There was only one target available to them and that was the carrier Venom, vainly attempting to disengage on wounded engines. Three Oracle scout cruisers, three Hyperions cruisers, and the battleship Winfield Scott all line up Venom with their heavy laser batteries. The ship simply ceased to exist as seven massive lasers carve her into pieces.

As the command pentacon with wounded Reaper and Ravager attempted to escape, the other Dilgar ships furiously pressed home the attack.

Buying time with their lives; scout frigates Finder and Searcher race toward the missile cruiser Franklin attempting to ram it. The Searcher just misses as Franklin performs a desperate evasion manuver. But Finder slams into the side of the ship, burying itself several meters into the hull before exploding. Franklin is gravely wounded and has lost all starboard missile tubes. Searcher is carried by its inertia straight into the waiting guns of the Nova dreadnought Chronos, where it is reduced to component parts in seconds.

Franklin is then beset by the remaining Thorun attack fighters. The nimble dart and weave along the hull of the ship, getting close enough to fire into the gaping wound left by Finder. The attacks finally hit their mark and Franklin's missiles detonate in an increasingly common pyrotechnics display - taking the cruiser along with all the attacking fighters.

Pentacon Omen closes with the squadron of Hyperion cruisers which damaged Reaper and performs a strafing run on the cruiser Jakarta. The timing in the attack is flawless, a testament to Dilgar discipline and training. Each ship in turn races by the Jakarta, unloading missiles and bolters as it then vectors away toward escape. By the time the last ship has finished its attack run the Jakarta is a flaming hulk. Its mission accomplished, pentacon Omen then breaks and disengages.

The battleship Alexander Suvorov pushes its engines to the limit and makes an impossibly tight turn, bringing its long range heavy laser to bear on the fleeing Dilgar flagship. Out of spite, if nothing else, it takes one last shot at the diminishing shilouette of Reaper. The shot strikes true, passing entirely through the ship and out the far side.


Bridge: Dilgar flag cruiser Reaper

"Damage report!" Jo'tok had to yell to be heard above the howling wind. She knew the ship had been gravely hurt. Gravity had failed, but she was still in her chair because the engines were locked at maximum acceleration. The wind told her of multiple severe hull breaches and the damage control display showed loss of atmosphere over 80% of the ship.

"Total casualties in all sections aft of section nine! Emergency engineering teams are working on the engines!" yelled the DamCon officer. Suddenly the wind stopped as airtight doors closed off the breaches. "Ships systems", she continued at a more level tone, "are largely intact. But crew casualties are nearly total."

One last time she was suprised by the humans as that cursed battleship fired a laser with a range they had never seen. It was believed that the Hyperions represented the extent of Earther beam capabilities. Apparently what they couldn't make up for with technology they would compensate with size. Her scans now clearly showed how the Orestes battleships were literally built around a massive spinal laser which could fire even further than Dilgar missiles.
Twice now she had nearly lost her ship to the unexpected. "That was the last time," she vowed, not entirely convincing herself.



As pentacons Reaper and Omen receeded into the distance, the few scout ships remaining rammed and destroyed the last Sagittarius missile ship, Mercury. The command destroyer Doctrine attempted to escape, but were overtaken and hulled by multiple human ships. It was then boarded and taken a prize.


Commander's Office: Star Fortress Station Prime

"I've read your report, Warleader," War Captain Tor'han placed the reader on his desk. "You did considerable damage to the humans. A fleet carrier, two heavy cruisers, and four of those damnable missile ships. They will not soon recover, I think."

Jo'tok stood before the War Captain's desk. Behind him she could see the massive shipyards patching the damage to her ship Reaper. "They still have signifigant forces remaining, sir. Now that we've seen the Orestes battleships in action, I wish we had eliminated them as well."

"Yes. Those are troubling ships. But they are few and expensive, like your own ship. Thanks to your work, we have the humans on the back foot. If it wasn't for those damned Centauri we could have control of the system with a final push." Tor'han pressed a control on his desk and a graphic of the system appeared on its surface. On it were all the strategic points and known fleet dispositions in the system.

The War Captain waved at the display, "as you can see. The humans have been pushed back to their base in the asteroid belt. They still have siginificant resources there, but they are effetively bottled up." As he spoke, two locations on the map flashed. One at the mining station known as Slag, the other at the ship graveyard on the edge of the system.

"Our real worry now is the Centauri." At this the map flashed to emphasize three of the four planets in the system. "They have an iron grip on Krish Prime. That damn space station of theirs is a fortress. They also have gas mining facilities in orbit over Krish V. Most importantly, they hold Garden. That is going to be our new homeworld."

Jo'tok stared at the display for a long moment, taking in that fact. A new homeworld for the Dilgar. It was so close she could almost touch it. But it was nothing unless they took the system. "What of our colonists?" she asked.

"We've settled the first quarter million on this station. A few hundred thousand are even now establishing a colony on Demeter." Tor'han sighed, showing his fatigue for a moment before the mask of command returned. "But there are now over eight million queued up in stasis on refugee ships and more arriving every day."

"Eight million?" her shock clearly showing, "Is it going so bad at home?"

"This is our home now, Warleader," the old soldier looked Jo'tok directly in the eyes as he spoke. "Don't forget it." He wanted this to sink in. "But, yes...the war is all but lost. Omelos will hold out as long as possibe but we are the future of the Dilgar people. Either we win here or our peple will be nothing more than a glorious footnote in history."

For a long time the two soldiers stood in silence, gazing out the window at the stars.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"We Regret To Inform You..."

Carstairs brow sagged as he read the fleet loss reports.

Captain Follitt of the Barber had four children back home in Melbourne.
Captain Katkov of the Savannah was leading his first command.
Captain Kelley of the Medusa had been a classically trained pianist.
Captain Rawls of the Norden spoke four languages.
Captain Allen of the Morgan collected Chinese pottery.

And they were all dead. They and most of their crews and so many others. So many young men and women... Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters all. Carstairs despised the form letters that Earthforce sent to the widows and children left behind and whenever possible, he would dictate something more personal to the families of those left behind. But how do you tell a man's wife or a woman's husband that their spouse is dead because of you sent them to die? What solace could they gain from knowing that you wish you could trade places with their dead? And, lastly, what of all the others? The ones he didn't know? All the nameless, faceless crewmen whose families would get nothing more than a form letter, a funeral and a flag?

Carstairs looked at the picture on his desk of his wife, daughter and granddaughter all posed together. Focusing on the little two-year old smile he thought to her. I will go to hell for all the death I have caused, but I will leave the galaxy safer to play in. I made that promise to your mother and I make that promise again to you.

Two raps at the door. Carstairs knew who it was: another meeting he didn't want to have. He straightened his jacket, leafed through some papers to burn a few moments of time and exhaled. "Enter."

The door slid open to reveal a short, heavyset man with graying strands of hair hanging down over an eyepatch. Each step he made forward seemed to shake the room until he stopped at the edge of Carstairs desk and saluted. "General Piotr Hrudek reporting."

Carstairs noted the lack of a "sir" at the end of that last sentence and shot a salute back. "Welcome abord, Pete. I see they finally gave you a star." Carstairs remembered that ever since the Academy, Hrudek never liked being called "Pete".

Hrudek's eyes almost imperceptibly reacted and he replied in his gravelly not-quite-Polish/not-quite Ukranian accent. "Well, some people can't rely on being liked. Unlike you, we have to earn it." Their two eyes met and their stony, unmoving faces betrayed all the love and respect these two men had for each other.

Carstairs broke the silence. "Why are you here?"

"You asked for another Orestes so here I am."

"Most Orestes still have Captains, not Generals. Did they send you to replace me?"

Hrudek betrayed a hint of smile at the thought. "Not originally. But after that run-in with the Dilgar three days ago, who knows?"

The tension returned but Hrudek broke the silence this time. "You had a bad time. Today I take it easy on you."

Carstairs wasn't sure if that was sincere or meant to be a barb of some kind. He was sure that he didn't miss these verbal fencing matches. "Then say what you have to say."

Hrudek let go a little and began to speak more openly. "I'm here because the scope of things has changed a bit. Now that we're fighting two forces in this system, it has been decided to have two commands: one for the Dilgar and one for the Centauri."

'One for the Centauri' arched Carstairs brow. "Really? So Earth has decided to take the gloves off?"

"Yes." Hrudek replied. "Nobody in Earth Dome thought the Centauri would go to war over the actions of one House, especially for a system on the other side of Narn space. Through diplomatic channels, we have learned with more certainty that Centauri Prime will not significantly or militarily protest any actions against Centauri forces here. So we came to help you kick them out. You will remain in overall command but I will be in command of aggressive elements meant to drive out the Centauri specifically. After the incident with the Primus, there is much support back home for fighting them. And if we run into Dilgar, too, all the better."

"That's very forward thinking of Earth Dome." Carstairs didn't entirely buy it.

"It's not. I was sent to support before. This decision was transmitted to me this morning. You should have it through channels later today."

"Why didn't they send it to me first?"

Hrudek leaned forward with his stony grin. "Because I wanted to tell you myself."

Carstairs shifted uneasily in his chair. "This is insane, you know. Everything we waste against the Centauri is something we could use against the Dilgar."

Hrudek grew pensive for a minute. "True. But back home, people like the idea of driving the aliens away. Many people are happy to fight the Dilgar because it'll keep the other aliens from coming to Earth space as refugees. And the Centauri may look like us but they're nothing like us."

Carstairs betrayed a grin. "I have at least one commander who would beg to differ with you on that point."

"No matter. Many people back home want this, therefore Earth Dome wants it. Vox populi..."

Carstairs leaned forward. "Nobody ever finishes that quote. 'The voice of the people is the voice of God. But what if the people are mad?'"

Hrudek chuckled. "We are at war! Everyone is mad!"

Carstairs shifted uneasily again. He knew that the war had become a kind of fever for some. But it was a little distasteful to see it in someone so high up the Chain of Command. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes. I'm sorry you have to write all those letters." For one moment, Hrudek let an almost sympathetic feeling slip out. But only for a moment. "Next time, don't get beaten by Horatio Nelson!"

Carstairs needed no reminding how Napoleon's naval ambitions were destroyed by the same tactics the Dilgar used on him. "I am still in command here, General. When I want your advice, I shall ask for it. You may now leave my office."

"Yes, sir, Admiral, sir!" Hrudek stood, offered a half-hearted salute and turned his back on Carstairs as quickly as he could to leave.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

None Returned....

The sound of the call button at the door of the reading room startled Maximo from his reading. "Yes?" he called. A smartly-dressed officer entered the study, his countenance grim. "M'lord, I have news about the Demeter blockade."
"Yes, yes, let's have it."
"M'lord, the planet has fallen."
Lord Drusella stood bolt upright from his chair. "Fallen!? So quickly? How?"
"Our forces were unable to break the blockade and shore up planetary defenses."
Maximo was caught between anger and panic. "And how do you say that they have assaulted the planet so quickly?"
The adjutant swallowed audibly, and appeared shaken. "They did not assault the planet, m'lord."
At this, Maximo stormed from the study and stalked down the sumptuously-appointed halls of Star Fortress Victory to the War Room. Officers and staff came to attention as he entered.
"Will someone who doesn't have the brain of a Narn tell me what is going on!?"

The issue had indeed gone poorly. The blockade runners, two Sulust-class Escort Destroyers and two Maximus-class Escorts had been vaporized trying to run the Dilgar blockade, along with numerous fighters. The Dilgar then sliced through the planetary defenses and, instead of assaulting the native population and the Centauri base... virus bombed the entire planet.

"All dead, then?"
"Yes, m'lord."
"And what of our crews, what of the governor, what of his wife and daughter, what of our other personnel? How many escaped?"
"None returned, m'lord."
"None? None returned...."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Demeter: Pride cometh...

Bridge: Strike Cruiser Omen

"Action Stations!" Jo'tok checked the sensor readings. Sensors showed two hyperspace vortexes opening up just at the edge of their jammers. The Centauri had cut it close. To attempt a crossover into real space inside the range of a gravitic jammer was certain destruction.

Once they had transited to real space the ships turned toward Demeter and made full burn. Sure enough, the Centauri were making a run for it. They shrewdly avoided the bulk of her fleet by racing toward her left flank.

The sudden appearance of the ships meant that the Centauri had a few precious seconds before the Dilgar could properly react. They used this time to full advantage, pushing their engines to the limit. But this wasn't some League fleet they were facing. It was Dilgar, the most professional military in the galaxy. As one, the blockading forces fell into formation and began to move.

Checking the tactical display, Jo'tok saw that pentacon lead by the light cruiser Flawless, would be right in the path of the Centauri. Scout pentacon #2, lead by the command destroyer Dogma was already coming about and bringing ELINT systems online.

The most fortunate turn was that hers was the closest Strike Cruiser to the closing enemy. Slayer was too far away to participate, as was pentacon Dogma.

"All ships, move to engage." Jo'tok ordered in a level voice. She turned to her XO, "Order the fighters to begin making missile runs. Let the scouts designate the targets."

ELENT showed four ships approaching: two Sulust class destroyers and two Maximus class escorts. Four full wings of the excellent Sentri fighter were flying close support.

As was typical for a Dilgar engagement, the first weapons to fire were missiles. A cloud of them flew from pentacon Flawless. Centauri defensive systems and escort fighters put up a massive wall of counter-fire stopping nearly every missile inbound, but at the cost of a score of fighters.

Jo'tok toggled the inter-ship channel, "Flawless, this is Omen Actual. Avoid the forward arc of the Sulust destroyers. They are armed with battle lasers and..." her words trailed off as she watched one of the ships in battle pentacon Flawless explode under the battle laser of a Sulust.

"Damn. They are going to get in trouble over there." She checked her ship's position. Still too far away to help. "XO, get down to the engine room and use your override codes to bypass the safeties. I want more speed!"

"Sir!", Dar'shal jumped up from his station and left the bridge. Running for the engine room.

Soon thereafter Omen shuddered as her engines were pushed beyond the red line.

"Well done, XO." Jo'tok spoke aloud. She made sure that her crew knew when she was pleased with their performance. In her opinion, positive reinforcement was so much more effective than the more harsh training methods prevalent throughout the Dilgar fleet. Many captains even executed officers who failed to perform to their standards. Let the home fleet and stormtroopers keep those fanatics. A professional force needed to learn from mistakes and grow. Dead officers learned nothing.

The space around the speeding Centauri vessels was alight with fire. Dozens of Thorun Torpedofighters were pouring fire into the nearest two ships, Samno and Courageous. Flawless had realized the error in positioning of her pentacon and maneuvered behind the Centauri, but not before another frigate was lost to Ion Cannon fire from the same Sulust.

But now pentacon Flawless was in bolter range and a hail of accurate fire fell upon the Cenauri task force, backed up by torpedo fire from fighters. The Sulust began to break apart and even the sturdy Maximus was showing signs of damage.

On the bridge of Omen, Jo'tok was counting the seconds. "How long till we are in range to engage?" she asked the ELINT officer.

"Coming into range now," came the smart reply.

"Excellent. Spool up missile batteries and prepare for time on target attack with bolters." She would show these 'advanced' Centauri what Dilgar weapons technology could achieve.

"Conn, ELINT! Lock from enemy Maximus! Incoming fire!" the ELINT officer reported.

The Maximus firing at Omen was damaged and leaking atmosphere. Its weapon array was severely damaged. Jo'tok wasn't too worried about the incoming fire. "Prepare to return fire."

Then the Maximus fired. Jo'tok was right about the reduced effectiveness of the weapons on the Centauri escort. However, Omen's engines had been overtaxed trying to reach the battle on time. One of the plasma conduits had been severely weakened by the stress. This is precisely where the blow from the Maximus landed.

Hot plasma was diverted by the damage and burned like a blowtorch into the fuel lines, causing a catastrophic secondary explosion that rippled down the entire length of the ship. Bulkheads buckled and airtight seals failed throughout Omen as automated damage control systems struggled to contain the cascading disaster.

Just below the bridge there was another explosion as the jump engine capacitor suffered from a massive feedback through the disrupted power systems. The breakers and field dampeners kicked in quickly, stopping a full rupture. But the bridge was wrecked. Lighting and gravity failed throughout the ship.

Dar'shal was moving back to the bridge from engineering when the blow struck. He was thrown against a bulkhead and very nearly broke his neck. He had just righted himself when the light on his wrist monitor went green. That light could mean only one thing. The Battlemaster was dead or incapacitated and he was now the senior officer on board.

Quickly regaining his bearings, Dar'shal made his way to auxiliary command. Gravity was out so he had to glide along the hallways. This wasn't a difficulty as Jo'tok regularly trained her crews in zero gee maneuvers.

As he arrived, he floated to the command chair and began to give orders rapid fire, "Damage control to the bridge! All stations report in. Weapons free to fire on any targets of opportunity."

Omen may have been crippled, but Dar'shal wasn't about to advertise it. Weapons fire showed that the ship was still able to fight and just might convince an enemy ship to keep its distance rather than finish them off.

As the reports came in it was clear that Omen, while not dead in space, was gravely damaged. They still had partial maneuverability from the port side engines and the power grid could support some weapons fire.

"Come about! All weapons lock onto the bastard that did this to us!"

Not far away, the battle was still raging. Though central command was momentarily disrupted when Omen was struck, Slayer soon took over the role and began to relay commands to the various pentacons.

The scout pentacon was now called upon to charge the enemy, discarding their support role for a more direct approach. This they did with relish, as all Dilgar ships are warships first and foremost.

Weight of fire from waves of fighters, pentacon Flawless, and the scout pentacon were finally taking their toll. Nearly all the defending fighters were killed trying to protect their charges. The Sulust, Courageous, was a burning hulk and the Maximus Samno was set upon by the scout pentacon. Fittingly, the final blow that finished Samno was from the heavy bolters of the Omen.

With all their fighters destroyed and one of the escort ships eliminated, the staunch defenses of the Centauri fleet began to fail. Repeated fire from the fighter wings set the other Sulust, Valiant, adrift. The fleet then concentrated all its firepower on the last remaining Maximus, Scutario, quickly overwhelming and destroying the lone vessel within a few kilometers of the safety of the Demeter defense satellites.

The Centauri were stopped. There would be no relief for Demeter and now it would fall to Dilgar guns.


Sick bay: Star Fortress Station Prime

Jo'tok awoke in pain. She could see that she was in a med lab. The last thing she remembered was the explosion on the bridge. As her vision cleared she saw her XO, Dar'shal, standing next to the bed.

"Report", she said reflexively though in a weak voice.

Dar'shal smiled, "I'm glad to see you are still with us. Omen is in drydock at Station Prime. We won the fight against the treacherous Centarui."

"You did well, Battle Captain." That was when Jo'tok noticed the new uniform Dar'shal was wearing. "Or should I say Battlemaster. It seems you were promoted in my absence."

"Indeed. The War Captain felt that I showed initiative and has seen fit to give me a new command."

Jo'tok chuckled, causing her to wince with the pain in her ribs. "So Omen is loosing you as XO? Some reward for saving her. But you have certainly earned it. You're a damn fine officer"

Taking a moment to absorb all this, Jo'tok nodded and considered the next step. "Has the ground assault commenced? Omen should be in orbit over Demeter to provide support for our troops."

"Ah. Well, there's been more developments while you were lazily sleeping away the hours. First, there will be no assault on Demeter."

This took Jo'tok by surprise. Hadn't that been the whole point of besieging the world?

"I can see this has you worried. It shouldn't. We took Demeter three days ago. I ordered a full planetary cleansing with virus bombs. All sentient life on Demeter was dead within the week. Our troops landed unopposed and the world is ours."

"What? Why would you do that? We needed the inhabitants of Demeter as labor to build our new home!" Jo'tok tried to get up, but she was in no shape to move. She lay back down and waited for an answer.

Dar'shal replied casually, "They obviously were collaborating with the impudent Centauri and had to be made an example of. The other inhabitants of this system will not be so quick to defy us."

Nodding slowly, Jo'tok simply let herself relax. There was little she could do to change what had happened. While she didn't flinch at genocide when it was necessary, she hated wasting resources. "You said there were developments? As in plural?"

"Yes, " he said enthusiastically. "Omen isn't loosing me, she is losing you. I'm her new captain. You have been promoted to War Leader and will have command of the Heavy Cruiser Reaper. Congratulations, War Leader!" He gave her a crisp salute.

Jo'tok returned the salute, but her mind was already working over this new situation. Omen had been a fine ship. She would miss it and her battle-hardened crew. But command of a Heavy Cruiser was quite an honor. The Tikrit class was the newest class of ship in the navy, more powerful than any cruiser before her. It would be interesting to learn exactly what Reaper could do.

And she had the perfect idea for a shakedown cruise.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Moment

James Carstairs had seen many things in his life. He had seen the innards of cows burst from disease and stinking in the heat of the sun on his grandfather's farm. He had seen the light leave a man's eyes after being stabbed for the money in his pockets. He had ships burning in the void of space, set alight because a word from his mouth. But never in his life had he seen the pictures before him now. He had read of mad men doing such things but never in his life had he seen it with his own eyes.

Genocide. The systematic destruction of all life on a planet.

And the Dilgar did it.

This wasn't just propaganda. This wasn't just murder. This was...something else, something that he had no words for. And as he watched the last of the virus bombs fall on Demeter, he didn't know how to feel. What had he ever seen, ever experienced that could compare to this?

As the viewscreen went dark, he knew it had to be time. Something had to be done about the Dilgar and it had to be now.

The next report would present the opportunity he was looking for. The Delphi, which had sent back the pictures and readings from Demeter, followed the Dilgar to a point in deep space not far from the routes Earthforce had been using for shipping and resupply. The biggest massing of ships thus far seen was waiting for something to happen. Carstairs studied the reconnaissance information. The Dilgar had picked on a number of ships, but not badly enough to cause real damage to the effort. They were trying to get our attention. It was a trap. The Dilgar were setting a trap for Earthforce. This was the time to give them what they deserved.

Carstairs ran his finger down a list, choosing ships with the touch of a name from his datapad. When all was done, he had chosen much of the system fleet. With one slow, deep breath of finality he pressed the send button. He could see in his minds eye was happening outside his office. His adjutant would relay his orders to the War Room. Orders would start spitting out for all the ships. Logistics and transportation would be revised and rerouted. Officers and crew all over the system would begin rendezvousing with his at his location in 18 hours. And where would that location be? On the bridge of the Winfield Scott, waiting for the Dilgar to attack.

William Cargano, lying in (or rather tethered to) bed, drank his tea from a pouch. He hated pouches but, with no gravity, a teacup wouldn't work. A tragedy, he thought. A beautiful teacup wasn't just a receptacle of liquids but rather a work of art that made the experience more than jus...

His XO broke in on the intercom. "Sir, I'm sorry to disturb you, but we just received a message for you from Admiral Carstairs. 'The balloon has gone up', sir."

Cargano perked up his ears. "Timeframe?"

"Eighteen hours."

Cargano's eyes darted back and forth in thought for a second. "Relay full orders to my screen. Let the subordinate captains know I want both watches get 9 hours of sack time each. It'll probably be a while before they're going to get any real sleep. I also want readiness drills for every ship on each watch. Auxiliary instructions to come in four hours."

"Anything else, sir?"

"That is all. Cargano out." A button made the screen black out. Cargano knew that the details would be attended to. His crew was the model of efficiency and their attention to detail was exemplary. He even felt confident about getting a little sack time himself. He would need it, too. Contrary to popular belief, he was just a man.

The screen came back to life with orders and dispositions. His eyebrows arched with the fleet size. This offensive was a make or break proposition. If this battle failed, there wouldn't be much left to fight with. But they came to Krish to fight, not fly around and look pretty so war it would be.

Fleet Roster as follows:

Orestes Winfield Scott
Orestes Alexander Suvorov
Nova Chronos
Nova Medusa
Hyperion Delhi
Hyperion Richmond
Hyperion Veracruz
Hyperion Savannah
Hyperion Jakarta
Hyperion Stockholm
Hyperion Missile Marakesh
Hyperion Assault Guan Yu
Hyperion Assault Vostok
Avenger Mitchell
Artemis Escort Hawk
Artemis Escort Norden
Oracle Hind
Oracle Curran
Oracle Malachi
Sagittarius Morgan
Sagittarius Franklin
Sagittarius Barber
Sagittarius Mercury
Alpha Wing (Novas)
Beta Wing (Novas)

Friday, September 4, 2009

At the Precipice

War Room, Star Fortress Victory:

Lord Maximo Drusella paced back and forth, ignoring the bustling adjutants and planning staff. He was lost in thought... or was it worry? "I have become old" he thought to himself "and I no longer enjoy the confidence of youth. I've seen too many good enterprises go awry."

At length he stopped his pace and exclaimed loudly "Has there been any word from Krish V?!" A junior adjutant sighed with relief, for word had just arrived. "My lord..." he began "we have received word from the warship Slicer." She was a Vorchan, trim and swift... all engine and guns, it was commonly said. He continued: "Slicer has reconned the enemy's main body and run the blockade!" There was a patriotic hurrah from the staff.

Maximo was pleased, but still concerned. "And?" The young adjutant, a man of a minor house, had gone from apprehension to visible elation, happy to be the bearer of good news. "My lord, the Earthers did not fire on her."

"Very good...." thought Maximo. "They are not ready to fire on us... they value good relations with the Centauri Republic and, though we are here only unofficially, are loathe to cause an incident." He addressed the War Room: "Proud warriors of the Republic, we have not yet come to blows with the Earthers. This is a good thing, because we may now focus our attention on the movements of the Dilgar. Nevertheless, we must strike all the non-Centauri vessels in the trading lanes. Krish is a Centauri system now, and all piracy must be interdicted!" Many clipped affirmatives answered him back.

The situation was looking stable, now. The Earthers would hold their peace and continue to exploit their mining interests, and of course make war on the Dilgar. The Dilgar held the gate, but little else of importance. Soon it would be evident that this system belonged to the Centauri Republic, and matters would be quickly negotiated. All in all, this was shaping up to be a very profitable enterprise.

Sadly, these strategic reveries were interrupted almost as soon as they began. "Lord Drusella! The Dilgar have blockaded Demeter!" Maximo's face betrayed grave concern. So, it was Blockade the Centauri Day, was it? As the situation began to be revealed via Demeter's long range sensor emplacements, the Dilgar appeared to have brought almost half of their fleet. Clearly they were seeking a permanent planetary base, and were hoping to strangle the life out of the fledgling governorship of Demeter.

The Dilgar did not yet seem prepared for a planetary assault. Maximo gave the order to send a strike force through the blockade, reasoning that if they could reach Demeter's defensive line, they could shore it up enough to forestall a Dilgar invasion... at least for now. If they could get through....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tiger by the Tail: Prelude to Demeter

Bridge: Dilgar strike cruiser Omen

Battlemaster Jo'tok had to smile at the irony of the situation. Just a few weeks ago she had run the gauntlet of a human blockade. Now she was the one trying to stop enemy ships from slipping past. She hated blockades. They were an exercise in luck rather than skill. But if enough ships broke through her cordon they would lose this operation and have to withdraw.

For a week now they had kept the planet Demeter under siege, making high-speed missile attacks against the orbital satellite network and forcing the enemy to expend ordinance in its defense. Now their supplies were critically low and the planet would be defenseless in a few more days. The Centauri knew this and were not yet ready to give up the rich world and its resources.

Elsewhere in the system the Centauri were rampaging unchecked. The Earthforce commander had attempted a surprise assault on the gas giant, Krish V. But his scouting elements stumbled across a picket ship which escaped and raised the alarm. The human commander then opted to withdraw the assault rather than face an organized and well prepared defense. At least that was the best guess from intel. Who knew what the humans were really up to? The Centauri, on the other hand, were being entirely predictable. They had taken to raiding trade routes throughout the system, looting what they could and destroying the rest. With both opposing fleets busy organizing planetary assaults there was little to stop the Centauri depredations on shipping lanes.

Sensor sweeps showed that two Sullust destroyers and two Maximus escorts were making an attempt to break through, their holds no doubt full of supplies. They were flying under a heavy fighter screen, nearly half of the Centauri fighter reserves if her intelligence was right. This was no feint. The Centauri were desperate and now was their last chance to relieve the besieged world.

The Battlemaster calculated what ships were going to be able to intercept the enemy squadron. A handful, but not as many as she liked. Her scout pentacon, lead by the destroyer Discipline. Two standard pentacons of missile frigates led by the light cruisers Flawless and Vigilant. It was doubtful that both would achieve contact with the enemy. Perhaps one would be enough to slow them down. Rounding out the force were her flagship Omen and its sister ship Slayer. In support were half a dozen wings of Thorun fighters. This would normally be heartening news but the Centauri fighters had proven more than a match for the Dilgar Dartfighters and the Maximus escort ships burned down Throun flights like kindling.

Jo'tok handed her data pad to the XO, "Forward these orders to the fleet."

The young officer looked over the orders and raised a quizzical eyebrow, "Sir?"

"Those orders are correct," verified the commander, "Attach my personal ident code for validation and send them."

She did not like the odds. But she had one ace she could play. One that the Centauri would not expect.



Admiral Carstairs knew as soon as he answered the call what he would hear. "You're performing invaluable picket duties for us and containing the Centauri at the same time." It was a hollow answer but it was, to some extent, true.

"Fine. Now why am I really here?" Captain Kallis' contempt for the mission oozed from the speaker.

Carstairs debated for a moment in his head and then gave a little more truth. "The Delphi just reported a massive movement of Dilgar force."

Kallis' tone changed. "The Delphi's still here? I haven't seen her in any of the fleet rosters."

"She's under orders to operate independently shadowing the Dilgar and keeping us appraised of their movements. Until she send us burst transmissions, I don't even know where she is. And since her captain keep on the move, I never know for long."

"Then where are the Dilgar going? And why aren't I getting ready to intercept them instead of running 'picket duty'?"

Carstairs punched a few keys and brought up a display as he answered. "They're not moving against us. They're moving against the planet designated 'Demeter'. They're hitting the Centauri."

"What a shame. Now I don't know who to root for."

Carstairs didn't like to delve into people's motivations. Doing so usually created problems whether it was enabling someone's worse demons or trying to use clever orders to manipulate fellow officers. But he had to know. "Jeff, it's never come up before, but what exactly is your problem with the Centauri?"

"Did you know that I am a noble?"

Carstairs was a bit stunned by the seeming irrelevance of the question. "No, I didn't."

"My full name is Jeffrey George Kallis Howard, Viscount of Morpeth. When my father dies, I will become Earl of Carlisle. And if you look further back in the family tree, you'll find barons and marquis, earls of Gallway and Orkney, dukes of Devonshire and Grafton and Norfolk. Hell, there are even a few German Elector Counts."

Carstairs didn't know how to reply. "I'm not seeing your point here."

Static flared for a moment. "...bauched ancestors, ruling the land because of the accomplishments of their grandfathers' gra...hers, went on to exploit people and resources all over the world; India, Africa, America, Australia and anywhere else th...ake a profit at the expense of others. Their noble blood gave them leave to do whatever they wanted to whomever they wished. And that is what you are dealing with when you face the Centauri. They would destroy us all to ensure their prosperity, exploit us to create their wealth. I know them all too well. My genealogy is littered with people like them. And the only way we will keep that from happening is to oppose them at every turn in every way. We always have to keep a knife at their throats because the Centauri will not hesitate to slit ours."

There was a long, uncomfortable moment of silence. "I see your point, Jeff."

"So, once again, why am I here with this token force?"

Carstairs decided to give as much truth as he could. "We decided to apply some pressure to the Centauri without being too provocative. A few ships to serve as a blockade and then we see who wins at Demeter."

"If you had given me more ships, we could have taken this world, James. Hell, with what you've given me, I can't even properly blockade. They're coming and going at will and they're not firing on us because we're not even a challenge."

"Hmmm. It was a calculated risk. If we keep them bottled up for a few days, we could move on Demeter before the winner can fortify. We even let them slow down and poach shipping in the hope of spreading them thinner. Besides, everyone else is out on other operations. By the time I get you something else, the chance will be lost. "

"We're losing a chance now."

Carstairs put his commanding officer voice on. "Captain Kallis, you have your orders. I expect you to abide by them. Carstairs out."

On the bridge of the Poseidon, Kallis fumed. Knowing what he did now, he wanted to just say "To hell with orders" and charge out to fight. Of course, that would make him like all the men he despised so very much. He would follow orders. He pressed a few buttons on his console to contact all the captains of the few ships he had. "Gentlemen, pull back the perimeter five klicks and maintain readiness. If any ship comes within range, intercept and fire upon it." A press of the mute button gave him a few seconds of privacy from his fleet. At that range, he thought, there's no way we could engage or catch the fast moving Centauri fleet. "No reason to actually upset the enemy." Kallis mumbled under his breath.

The XO piped up. "Did you say something, sir?"

"Nothing." Kallis replied, removing his finger from the button. "You have your orders. Kallis out." Another button press severed the connection. He gave a snort at the ridiculousness of it all. Some days he didn't even know why he came into work. He did his best imitation of Carstairs broad and flat American accent. "Good luck and good hunting."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Battle for Krish Gate

Bridge: Dilgar strike cruiser Omen

"Increase to flank speed!" Jo'tok commanded, "Order fighter flights to defensive positions." Her tactical display showed that she would be through the blockade before most of the human ships could react. They had made a mistake in placing their powerful missile cruisers so far from the outside edges of their deployment. Now the squadron moving to intercept her would be unsupported and isolated. Assuming they avoided plasma cannon range from the assault ship, both cruisers might get through this unscathed.

Between her and the safety of Station Prime's defense grid was a single squadron of ships and a handful of fighters. The anchor of the squadron was an assault ship. Built on the hull of the ubiquitous Hyperon class, at long range it could fool a sensors officer into thinking they were facing a true heavy cruiser. While these ships were as tough as their cousins they did not have the lethal weapons suite of the Hyperion that had proven so deadly to Dilgar ships over the last several months. Supporting the assault ship were two Tethys class frigates. Sensors now showed that one was armed with missiles and the other with a small but effective laser array. Jo'tok cursed under her breath. There would be no avoiding these weapons. These were likely not enough to stop a strike cruiser alone but there was always the chance that a laser weapon of any size could gut a ship with a lucky sustained burst.

"Should we brace for impact?" Jo'tok's executive officer asked. She, too, noticed the patrol closing in on them and had seen the risk.

"No. Without missile support these ships present only a minimal risk." Jo'tok ran the scenario in her head, covering all possibilities she could in the seconds allotted. "Speed is our best defense now. Continue at maximum burn."

Light flared as the engines of the Dilgar cruisers strained to contain the energies being channeled through them. Blue ion trails followed the fast moving vessels like fading comet tails.

"Multiple locks on Slayer!", the ELINT officer reported with an excited staccato. "Detecting weapons locks from ahead and from the missile cruisers!"

"That can't be right." Jo'tok switched her own console to mirror the output of the ELINT station. "We are clearly outside range of the their missiles."

As if in answer the screen suddenly blossomed with contacts as a massive cloud of missiles launched from the Sagittarius cruisers and the scout ship escorting them.

"Incomming!" The warning from ELINT was an understatement.

The missiles separated from their launching ships and rapidly began to close on Slayer. A few moments later the nearby frigate launched its own missiles timed to arrive at the same instant as the others.

The nimble Thorun Dartfighters in formation around Slayer reacted quickly, interposing a wall of fire and even themselves before the incoming threat. Scores of the vulnerable missiles were shot down by defensive fire. As the missiles got closer a few fighters rammed them in desperation. But the weight of fire was too much to stop completely.

For a brief instant there was a second sun in the Krish system as half a dozen nuclear warheads detonated around the strike cruiser. Jo'tok waited in frustration during the long seconds it took for her sensors to recover from the massive spike in radiation. She found herself simultaneously concerned for the fate of Slayer and relieved that it wasn't her ship that had suffered the humans' wrath.

As the static cleared, Jo'kor could see that Slayer was still there. Damage reports were streaming in from the wounded ship. She had lost her primary power relays and was suffering from several uncontrolled fires but the ship was largely intact and stubbornly forging ahead at reduced speed.

"Readings indicate that the missiles had smaller yield warheads than standard human ordinance," the ELINT officer offered in explanation, "These missiles were optimized for increased endurance."

That explained the extraordinary range displayed by the human missile cruisers. Jo'kor had allowed her preconceptions about the humans to lull her into complacency. She should know better. The humans had shown a capacity for flexibility in warfare that the Dilgar had once believed was theirs alone. It was this ability to evolve in response to tactical challenges which had allowed Earthforce to push the Dilgar back the very doorstep of their homeworld.

"Tell Slayer to continue at best possible speed!" Jo'tok turned to her executive officer, "Be sure to record everything in the sensor logs. If we survive this War Captain Tor'han will surely want the data on the new human weapons." She hit the intercom at her station and spoke calmly, "Engineering. If there's any more power you could give us, now would be the time."

All deployed fighters were lost in the defense of Slayer, either consumed in the flurry of detonations or in ramming attacks against the missiles. Twelve more fighters were on standby in the launch bays of Omen and Slayer but the ships couldn't afford time for flight operations. Speed was the total focus of both crews. That and surviving the next few seconds.

As the two Dilgar cruisers made best speed toward the relative safety of Station Prime, the human vessels were busy reloading and preparing another volley of missiles. The process was a slow and laborious one as the massive devices were moved into the launch tubes, warheads armed and safeties calibrated.

"Human vessels opening launch doors."

Jo'kor silently nodded to her ELINT officer as she watched the distance between her ships and those missile cruisers slowly open. How far will be enough?, she wondered to herself. Another volley like that could easily finish off Slayer now that they had no fighters covering them. She leaned forward in her chair, watching the tactical display as if she could push the two ships faster by will alone.

"Multiple locks on Slayer! Incoming fire!"

Again the screens filled with scores of tiny lines, all converging on the Dilgar squadron's position like a grasping claw. The seconds crawled by as she watched the lines get longer and longer - messengers of death sprinting across the gulf between Dilgar and human forces. And then it happened. The lines were winking out, one by one, each terminating only a short distance from the lagging Slayer.

"They've run out of range! The missiles are falling short!" The ELINT officer was excitedly yelling, reflecting the relief of the entire crew.

Throughout the ship, Jo'kor could hear the shouts of celebration and joy as her ship entered the defensive perimeter of Station Prime. She let them have this moment. They had earned it. Close behind Omen her sister ship limped to safety - trailing a cloud of atmosphere and fuel from multiple ruptures - as a patrol of Torpedo frigates formed a wall of steel behind them. If the humans wished to continue the chase they would pay heavily.

"Human ships have broken off pursuit. Sensors show that they are leaving the region."

Now Jo'kor allowed herself to relax as well, breathing a long sigh of relief and clapping her XO on the shoulder.

She activated the comms channel at her station and broadcast squadron-wide, "This is Battlemaster Jo'kor. You have all done excellent service for the Imperium today. I know you don't like running. It is not the Dilgar way."

With a conviction in her voice none could mistake she continued, "I promise you time it is we who shall be the hunters!"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yamamoto's Admonition

Shirish sat stiffly in the chair as Carstairs reviewed data across the desk. Shirish was quite anxious and tried his best to hide it behind military bearing.

Carstairs put down the datapad and spoke. "Alright son, what's the problem?"

Shirish laid out the facts. "Sir, I failed in my mission. Not only did my group fail to hold the blocade firmly but they managed to get through with enough Quantium-40 to build a small fleet of jump engines."

"True. If you had to let something through, this wasn't the one to miss. But that's not what I'm talking about."

Shirish was confused. "I don't follow you, sir."

Carstairs was a good judge of people's emotions. He could read most people like a book and Gonzalez was in big print. "You think you're in trouble... That you're going to lose your command, don't you?"

Shirish looked down for a moment and took a deep breath before answering. "The blocade was my mission. It was my responsibility and I take full responsibility for failure."

Carstairs pursed his lips. "Are you familiar with World War Two, Gonzalez?"

Shirish was not a historian but he read a lot and knew enough to follow a conversation on the war. "Germany invaded Europe while Japan invaded China. Conquered France and bombed Britain until the United Stated entered the war. The United States used the first nukes on two Japanese cities."

"And do you know who Admiral Yamamoto was?"

"Japanese High Admiral, managed a number of strong victories and was assassinated by American forces?"

"Yes, him." Carstairs replied. "Yamamoto said something about war that has been my guiding philosophy when it comes to military strategy. He said 'War is a series of mistakes and the winner is the side which makes the fewest mistakes.' Do you know what that means?"

Shirish thought before he made his reply. "I made a mistake that has threatened this entire campaign."

Carstairs let out a disappointed huff of air. "No. It means mistakes happen. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and you just have to keep going and try to win more than you lose. Every strategist has said it. Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Eauclaire, Tsien Chin... They've all said it and it's as true today as it was for the Warring States or Renaissance Europe or the French Expansion or the War of the Rising Star. So why are you beating yourself up like this?"

Shirish furrowed his brow. "They're going to have more jump capable ships because I didn't stop them."

"No. They're going to have jump capable ships because they found a good supply of Quantium-40, put it on fast ships and managed to slip through a blockade hindered by radiant output from an ancient jump gate." Carstairs leaned forward. "And you didn't answer the question. Your ability in the captain's chair is almost without peer. You're competent and capable and a shark to be feared. Why are you beating yourself up like this? Why have you turned into a nervous Nancy all of a sudden?"

Shirish looked down at the floor. What can I say? he thought. How can I explain?

Carstairs knew it was time to back off a bit and act like the father and not the commanding officer. He leaned back in his chair. "Son, this is off the record, just between you and me. This isn't the Shirish Gonzalez in your record. What's going in there?"

There was silence for a minute as Shirish composed his thoughts. "Sir, when I take out a ship, I'm there and if I make a mistake, I pay for it along with my crew. I've never had the kind of command where I send people out to do things in my stead. I can risk myself but..." His words trailed off and he sat back as if a weight had been lifted from his chest.

Carstairs thought for a moment. "Do you know who Robert E. Lee was?"

"Confederate commander, American Civil War."

"Correct. He said something else I remember at times like this. 'A good general loves his army. A great general must be willing to send to death the very army that he loves.' I think you're a good officer. If you weren't, I wouldn't have requested you. But you're not a great officer yet. The war's not over so there's time and there's hope." Carstairs could see the gears of understanding turning behind Gonzalez's eyes. "Can you do the job, son? If you can't, let me know now."

Shirish understood. "Yes, sir. I can."

"Then go out and be great."

Shirish felt a little better. "Yes, sir."

Carstairs shifted in his chair. "Good. Now I've been thinking about the blockade. The energy field wreaks havoc with engines and weapons systems. We don't have enough ships to conduct the blockade from a longer distance so we're going to start having scouts closely watch what they're bringing in and follow their shipments. Something's going on here and we just don't know quite what. I want you to coordinate with the scout vessels and hunt down any of their incoming materiel. Try to keep out of the energy field whenever possible. Besides, they have a base close to it. Let them burn energy keeping it going that close to the gate."

"Understood, sir. And thank you for your confidence."

Carstairs cracked a smile. "You're welcome. You've earned it. Dismissed."

Shirish saluted and when it was returned, he turned and walked out of the office. He didn't make a mistake before and he wouldn't make a mistake again.

Carstairs sat back. I sure hope that fixes the kid. He pressed a button and brought up VicCom. "Give me the new consumption reports along with the projections and resource logs. And I want them by the time I get back from the head."

The voice acknowledged. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir."

He stood up but stopped at the window for a second. I've traded flying for paperwork, he thought. Glory for gravity. Maybe I made the mistake here...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Caged Tigers: Prelude to Kish Gate

Battlemaster Jo'tok reviewed the tactical display once more to check if she missed anything, any hole in the Earthforce net that was closing in on her position. Unfortunately there was no such easy route through. Omen and her sister ship Slayer were completely cut off. They had come through Krish Gate expecting an escort to take them to Station Prime. Instead they were faced with a contracting ring of Earthforce ships.

Each of the two strike cruisers had their cargo bays filled with the volitile Quantium-40. Together they had enough of the precious fuel to support local operations for weeks. The substance was rendered safe for transport by specialized stabilization equipment. Unfortunately, the local energy dampening field permeating the area was weakening the stabilizers to a dangerous degree. Escaping by way of the gate or a jump point was out of the question. The transition into hyperspace would overload the strained stabilizers and cause a chain reaction. Jettisoning the cargo was likewise not an option. Giving free Q-40 to the enemy was frowned upon by high command. The last captain who had ejected his cargo was last seen being taken to one of Jha'Dur's infamous hospital ships.

There was no choice. They would simply have to break through the blockade and make a dash for the station. The fuel on just one of the cruisers would be enough to keep the campaign supplied until more could be requisitioned from Omelos. Jo'tok considered having Omen race ahead and detonate her Q-40 stores in order to clear the way for Slayer. It would be a spectacular death, taking many human ships with her.

No, she thought, It would be a waste of resources. The fanatics in the Home Fleet might consider it as a first option. But she was a soldier not a martyr. Tor'han had picked the forces for this operation based on experience and professionalism. She would get her ships through this blockade. Both of them.

Analyzing the closing net of ships again, Jo'tok calculated her best chance at a breakthrough. One of the tasks forces seemed to be more of a threat in number than quality. Where the vessels first apeared to be multiple cruisers, it seemed many of them were assault vessels built on cruiser hulls. These ships, while as large as their cousins, had the massive heavy laser arrays removed to make space for assault shuttles and barracks. Tiny Tethys-class frigates were taking station where the heavier Olympus or Artemis escorts would normally be. The humans were making a show of greater force than they actually posessed. She percieved that this force was a paper tiger, and it was through here that she would make good her escape.

"Signal Slayer. We will make best speed to these coordinates. Our main objective is to break through to Station Prime," a feral grin spread across her face, "but destroy any targets of opportunity. Let's show these humans what happens when you corner a predator."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

We Walk Where Few Would Dare

Admiral Carstairs walked along the floor in his new office. Gravity was relatively weak, but it was there, thank Goodness. He stared out at the stars, lost in thought...

Victory Station had gone up far more quickly than he had even hoped. Then again, it wasn't hard to convince his superiors to build it either. The mining colony below offered an excellent source of raw materials for the war effort. The ship graveyard offered alien tech that the eggheads in Earthdome had never guessed at before. The pretty little garden world was nice (and that massive coltan deposit they stumbled upon was helpful in building the station generators) but the mines and the tech were more than worth investing in this station. Besides, when the war was over, a presence could be strategically useful against the Narn or any of the other worlds in this area of space that may decide to act up. Having a place to do repairs and refits and cycle crew off all the zero grav ships... It was win-win on every front.

The Centauri being here (despite Captain Kallis' feelings about them) was, until recently, win-win also. They had taken possession of two other planets in the system, keeping them out of Dilgar hands. Reconnaissance had also found that the Centauri had stopped Dilgar attempts to dominate the shipping lines that all three races were already using. Of course, the Centauri would eventually attempt to do the same. They had already shown their commitment by constructing their own base over the primary planet of this system. They intended to be here for the long haul and that could present a long term problem.

The Dilgar had chosen their position well. They had possession of the local jumpgate and built the base they brought to defend it. They don't have the ships to stand up to us, but they want this jumpgate pretty badly. This system must be really important to them. But what did they hope to gain? We and the Centauri have captured the most useful worlds in this system. The Dilgar beat Earthforce here but instead of taking a planet and defending it, they chose the jumpgate. They either want to bring something here or take something away. Whatever it is, they would have to be stopped if for no other reason than because the Dilgar want it. Blockading the jumpgate has been much easier because of the reinforcements from Earth and the new Nova fighters from Victory. But how to crack that station of theirs? Maybe a few more Orestes fr...

The familiar beeping of VicCom broke his concentration. "This is Carstairs. Go."

The Station's female communications officer appeared on screen. "Sir, we have received word from Captain Gonzalez that two Dilgar capital ships are attempting to run the blockade. He has sent forces to deter them."

"Hmmm." Carstairs could see why Gonzalez was sending this message, but what good was it if he wasn't reporting a result? "Acknowledge his message and tell him that we await his report on the outcome. Carstairs out."

"Yes, sir."

As her image faded from view, Carstairs was possessed with a new though: this kid is some kind of butcher in the Captain's chair. Why is he so...insecure?

To be continued...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First Battle of the Krish Trade Route

Summary of Summary of Summary of After Action Report: Krish Trade Route

Centauri Order of Battle: Maximus Scutario, Kutai Slash, one Sentri Wing.
Barbarian Forces: Dilgar Garasoch Heavy Carrier Wrath plus fighter compliment.

Instructions: For the eyes of Lord Maximo Drusella alone.

Special Instructions: To be delivered to Lord Drusella after he awakes from his customary nap. Per Senior Adjutant.

Summarized Description: The Dilgar Garasoch-Class heavy carrier Wrath, a trim vessel with an elite crew, had attempted to undertake commerce raiding along the Krish main trade route. In order to curtail this threat to Centauri economic security, a small task force was dispatched to intercept the raiding vessel. Scutario and Slash, along with their fighter escort, engaged Wrath in a fight to the death in the open space lane.

The battle consisted of a primary battle pass and consequent pursuit. As our forces came within range of the enemy's guns, their fighter compliment, which outnumbered Centauri fighters 10 flights to 4, engaged the escorting flights in a ferocious dogfight. However, the Dilgar's primitive weapons were unable to do substantial damage to either Slash or Scutario due to the latter's interceptors. Wrath, however, was raked several times by Centauri guns, suffering serious reactor damage and losing her bridge to almost flawless gunnery.

Meanwhile, Centauri fighter craft fought magnificently against their more numerous foes. Though they lost half of their number, they shot down many more than that and at difficult odds. Only 3 enemy flights would survive the entire engagement.

After the ships had passed, our forces swung around with characteristic agility to pursue the lumbering carrier. Wrath, unable to cope with the loss of her bridge and without any prospect of attaining another firing solution, attempted to quit the battle by speed. However, even though the last of the Dilgar fighters desperately attempted to shield their carrier against Centauri gunnery, our ships crippled and swiftly destroyed the barbarian vessel.

Analysis: Despite the glorious victory, our ships made two errors. First, they failed to attack from an oblique angle, which might have improved their prospect of gaining superior tactical positioning more quickly. Second, and to the embarrassment of the staff, the operator of Scutario's Guardian Array failed to effectively use her Anti-Fighter weaponry to assist our fighters in staving off the enemy attack. Consequently, several fighters and pilots were lost which might have been preserved. This crewman has been demoted and will be given an appropriately dangerous reassignment.

The Maximus-Class frigate continues to prove its worth as one of the finest vessels in the Centauri navy. Officers at all levels of staff urge that we obtain as many of these vessels as feasible for the duration of the campaign.

Outcome: Centauri victory! Congratulations, Lord Drusella. Your name will surely go down in history as one of the great admirals of the glorious Centauri Republic. Our light shines once again in the stars, as it did in the old days.

Trade and Tribulations

Station Prime: Fleet Command Center

Tor'han sighed as the lighting in the room dimmed for a moment and then reasserted itself. At least the engineers finally reconfigured life support so that it would no longer intermittently fail.

Over the last month, the fleet had moved in and begun to lay claim to various strategic locations in the system. But the jewel of their holdings was the jump gate. Tor'han looked up from his station to gaze at the mysterious structure. It was unknown who built this gate. His engineers told him that it was at least a hundred thousand years old. Worse, it permeated the entire region with a strange radiation field that drained energy from any weapons, engines, or generators nearby. For once, he was glad that the budget-minded high command had provided him with a station that generated gravity through spin rather than a gravitic field.

He could live with the lights failing from time to time. Ad-hoc shielding had guaranteed that other systems operated well enough to support the fleet. But his engineers has warned that bringing the station to battle readiness would overload the shielding and power would rapidly begin to fail.

Still...the field would prove as troublesome for any attacker as it was for him. And with Station Prime upgraded to a full Star Fortress he felt secure that the gate would remain in Dilgar hands. Also, the station couldn't now be moved even if they wished it. They would have to make the best of it.

The old War Leader turned back to his console and read over the latest reports. It seemed that the system was quickly divided up among the 3 empires. The Dilgar had gone for the more strategic locations, capturing the jump gate, the commerce station, and the sensors outpost in order to try and gain some advantage in the fluid combat environment. Data from Outpost IX had already given him some clues as to the tactics of his enemies.

The Centauri, however, had proven quicker even than he. Their centuries of experience in stellar warfare were evident as ships quickly subdued and captured the two primary inhabited planets, moving on to secure the space around the resource rich gas giant. Tor'han couldn't help but grin at this. The Centauri were always thinking solely about money and their choices in target showed it. Perhaps he could use that against them. He made a few notes for the next tactical briefing with his staff. One troubling item was the battle station they constructed in orbit over the industrial world of Krish Prime. Prying that prize from their hands would now prove to be a very difficult task. It also indicated a significant investment in the system. The Centauri were not simply raiding. They had come here to stay.

The Earthers were on the move as well. They first secured the mining outpost in the asteroid belt. Not surprising since each earth dreadnought seemed to use an entire asteroid's worth of metal in construction. They proceeded to immediately build their own powerful battle station near the smelting facilities. He had hoped that only the Dilgar would bring such a mobile facility to the system. The methods of making war spread too quickly throughout the galaxy. While construction of their station was underway, the Earthers built up rally points in orbit over Garden (the future Dilgar homeworld) and the ship graveyard that marked the site of an ancient battle. These concentrations of ships gave them control of these locations - for now. Tor'han sighed.

The most troubling news of late was the failure of the fleet carrier Wrath to report in. It's captain had taken it upon himself to try some commerce raiding in order to disrupt the nascent enemy economies. Scouts had reported a Centauri task force in the area. The conclusion was only too clear to an old campaigner like Tor'han. He pulled up his order-of-battle and crossed off the name of the Wrath. The ship was one of the elite crews from the Third Strike Fleet. Their experience and leadership would be sorely missed in the coming weeks.

He only hoped that they had died well.