Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Prologue

2701. – 111 Tauri; CFV-B Pallas

“There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” I muttered, as Phaenna, one of the corvettes escorting my battlecruiser, exploded in a brief flare of light that was quickly extinguished by the vacuum of space.
“What was that, sir?” asked Commander Jameson, my XO.
“Nothing, Number One. A quote. Now I know how Admiral Beatty felt at the Battle of Jutland.” I said, as Jameson looked at me blankly. It was a stare I was used to from my Executive Officer and ex-wife. I shook my head and refocused. I only had a couple of minutes to reform my picket line before the beam cannon on the enemy dreadnought would recharge and take out another of the ships in my battlegroup. “Commander, order Enyalius to take up Phaenna's position. Helm, bring us to flank speed. We've got to get in close before that monster can recharge its main gun.”

I got two terse acknowledgements and turned to the tactical holograph. We were in a tricky position. Our fighter squadrons were outnumbered by two to one, the alien dreadnought had more firepower than three Titan-class battlecruisers combined, and my battlegroup only had one. On the plus side, the Thrinax fighter drones were slow and dumb – no match for the battle-hardened, veteran pilots in my fighter and bomber wings – and while the dreadnought had weapons of incredible power, the alien ship's mobility was terrible. If we could get in close enough, my corvettes and frigates were fast enough to evade the point defence weapons of the five kilometre long vessel and disable its subsystems and weapon emplacements one by one. The key would be rushing the five thousand kilometres between us and the dreadnought before it could attack my ship directly. While my picket ships could harass and de-claw the alien vessel of its weapons, only my battlecruiser had the firepower to actually destroy it. If the dreadnought got in its shot first and neutralised Pallas, my entire battlegroup would be wiped out. The Thrinax would reinforce their command ship long before my support ships could disable the dreadnought's engines and retreat far enough away to be free of the effects of the alien ship's stardrive jammer. At the moment, we had the advantage of numbers and surprise, but it wouldn't last if Pallas couldn't get into combat range. The aliens knew this too, and the dreadnought began to manoeuvre to put my ship in the firing line. I countered with a fleet manoeuvre of my own, but in order to stop the Thrinax from destroying their primary target – my battlecruiser – I had to sacrifice ships.

“Commodore, vox message coming in from Enyalius.” Commander Jameson reported. “It's Commander Langer.”
“Put him through, Number One.”
“Online now, sir.”
“What is it, Dietrich?” I addressed Langer informally to unnerve him a little, already knowing that this would be a short and unpleasant conversation.
“Commodore Kincaid, I acknowledge your order, but I am obligated by my responsibility to my crew to inform you that the shields on Enyalius cannot repel fire from a Thrinax dreadnought.” Langer's voice was clipped and tense.   
“I'm aware of that, Dietrich. None of our ships can.” I glanced again at the holo. Enyalius was being slow taking up her new position in the picket screen. “You know how this works, Commander. If the dreadnought gets a clean shot in on Pallas, we lose the entire battlegroup and that dreadnought has a free run all the way into the colony at Pollux.”
“Commodore, you're ordering me and my entire crew – 600 souls – to die.” Langer's voice was starting to crack, his pitch wavering in distress.
“Yes, I am. I'm sorry, Dietrich, but Enyalius is the only ship that can get into position in time. And I'm responsible for not just the 42,000 crew in the battlegroup, but the 63 million colonists on Pollux as well. Take up your position, Commander. Before it's too late.”
“I'm not sure I can do that, sir.” Langer croaked, petrified.
“Sub-Commander Robson?” I addressed Enyalius's second in command.
“Yes, Commodore?” Robson's voice was noticeably calmer and more controlled.
“Relieve Commander Langer of his command and confine him to quarters. If Enyalius isn't in position in the next ninety seconds we're all dead. Do you understand, Robson?”
“Yes sir!”

I cut the channel and hoped that Langer wouldn't live long enough to be executed for cowardice at a court martial. The corvette drifted back up into formation, blocking the path from the dreadnought's beam cannon to Pallas. My fighter groups were starting to achieve parity in numbers with the Thrinax drones with remarkably few casualties; less than 10%. Now was the time to launch my bomber wing.

“Number One, launch Omega Squadron and recall Beta to fly escort. Priority target is the beam cannon.”
“Aye sir.”

Twenty Erinyes-class bombers streamed out of the launch bay in under ten seconds, breaking into a loose inverted-vic formation and streaking towards the enemy capital ship at full speed towards the alien vessel, their quad-ion engines glowing an iridescent blue in the black void, xenon gas vapour trailing in their wake.  The timer on the tactical holograph showed an estimated forty seconds before the beam cannon on the dreadnought would finish recharging. I checked the distance between our ships. Three thousand, four hundred and twenty kilometres. We would not be in combat range before the dreadnought was ready to fire, but the beam cannon would not have time to recharge again before my fleet was inside the beam cannon's effective range and would be able to engage the dreadnought in earnest.

“Helm - time to combat range?”
“Fifty seconds, Commodore.”

I walked over to the Tactical station. A junior gunnery officer, Ensign Kato, who could not have been a day over twenty years old, was on duty as my regular Chief of Security had been supervising the upgrade of the guidance systems for our nuclear weapons down in Engineering when the Thrinax dreadnought had jumped into the system. Kato twitched as I stepped beside him, before furiously concentrating on his haptic control board. I put a fatherly hand on his shoulder, steadying the young officer. Kato took a deep breath and looked back over his shoulder at me, waiting for orders.

“Power up the mass drivers, Ensign.”

While the Thrinax employed immensely powerful particle beam weapons on their capital ships that could slice through titanium like butter, the anti-ship weapons on the Pallas were decidedly more low tech; though that was not to say they weren't as effective. Take a fifty kilogram uranium-tipped steel projectile and accelerate it down a 1500 metre long superconducting rail gun to 80% of the speed of light in a hundredth of a second, and... well, that's going to ruin anybody's day. The two mass drivers running the length of my Titan-class battlecruiser did exactly that. Ten times a second. So while the mass drivers might not have the effective range or spectacular appearance of a Thrinax beam cannon, they were just as deadly.

“Enemy beam cannon firing!” Lieutenant Fisher reported from the Remote Sensing station.

I turned to look out of the bridge viewport. The powerful crimson beam struck Enyalius in the midships and ripped her in half, lingering on the stern to obliterate her fusion reactor and stardrive engines. I saw a few tell-tale flashes of light from the bow of the corvette's superstructure that marked the launch of survival pods, so there was a chance that some of her crew could be saved, though they would have to wait until after the battle before it would be safe enough to try to recover them.

Enyalius is down, sir. Seven lifeboats have been launched.” Fisher reported, her calm, detached professionalism suppressing any sense of distress at the loss of a ship.
“Ops, detail four fighters from Gamma Squadron to fly CAP and provide security for the lifeboats. Helm, bring us onto a direct intercept course with the alien dreadnought. Number One, signal the fleet. Attack Plan Mjölnir.”

Attack Plan Mjölnir was colloquially known among the crew as 'bringing down the hammer'. It was aggressive and unsubtle, but devastatingly effective if you had an enemy capital ship engaged at close quarters. The bomber wing would first try to disable or destroy the main beam cannon of the dreadnought, making an extended ship-to-ship engagement more survivable, while the picket ships and escort frigates in my battlegroup would break into two strike teams (Loki and Ragnarok, flanking to the left and right respectively) to attack secondary systems of the capital ship while leaving Pallas with a clear line of fire to strike at the dreadnought's colossal superstructure with mass driver shells. A two-tone electronic squeal of alarm came from the tactical holograph. The Thrinax commander must have known that the momentum of the battle had shifted to our advantage, but that wasn't going to stop the alien from fighting to the last with every weapon it had.

“Nukes incoming!” This time Fisher's warning had a tinge of fear attached.
“Flak batteries coming online now.” Jameson was ahead of my order, having used her neural link to send a ship-wide order to the flak gun crews before she had opened her mouth. “Combat range in five seconds.”
“Let's give this bastard a lesson in special relativity. Ensign Kato, fire.”

Pallas shook as the mass drivers propelled ten shells every second into the enemy dreadnought at a speed of nearly one hundred and fifty thousand miles per second, slowing my battlecruiser down noticeably. Every loud thunk of shell being fired was followed instantly by a flaring explosion from the Thrinax ship. Each shell struck the dreadnought with almost unimaginable kinetic energy, smashing clean through the ship, leaving ragged holes hundreds of metres wide in their wake. Five seconds later, the mass drivers vented excess heat to prevent their superconducting magnets from quenching, and there was a pause as they reloaded. The dreadnought was mortally wounded, but still a threat. Thin crimson beams spiked out from the hundred turrets covering the length of the dreadnought, probing and prodding at the shields of the fast, harassing fighters, corvettes and frigates. The beam turrets weren't nearly as powerful as the dreadnought's main beam cannon, but were still doing a considerable amount of damage to my escort force. The tactical alarm sounded again as another volley of nuclear missiles launched from the dorsal batteries of the alien ship. The holograph showing the readiness of Pallas's flak batteries instantly turned blue to show that they were engaged and laying down an impassable cloud of flak shells to take down the missiles and any drones that strayed to close to the ship. We were now within a thousand kilometres of the dreadnought, and it was possible to see stars through the holes in its superstructure.

“One more volley should do it. Number One, have strike groups Loki and Ragnarok fall back to a safe distance.” I ordered Jameson. I didn't want to lose any ships to collateral damage when the dreadnought's antimatter reserves went up. I waited a few seconds as Jameson brought her hand up next to her temple to forward my orders silently to the two strike groups via her neural link. Jameson nodded confirmation to me once the orders had been received and acknowledged. I stood next to Kato at the Tactical station. This time he didn't flinch. “Hit it again.”

For a second time Pallas shuddered and stalled as a barrage of shells blasted through the outer hull of the alien dreadnought. This time a shell ruptured one of the dreadnought's antimatter storage vessels, blowing the five kilometre long ship into pieces no larger than a few centimetres across.

"Bang! Headshot." muttered Kato, with quiet satisfaction.
"Well done, Ensign. Good shooting." I patted his shoulder appreciatively.

Quick as that, the battle was over. With no command ship to provide control, the Thrinax drones shut down and self-destructed to prevent them from being captured. I ordered the fleet to regroup and had the surviving lifeboats towed aboard by the bomber wing. Once all fighters and ships had been accounted for, I ordered the battlegroup to jump back to Starbase Hera at Wolf 359 for repair and replenishment.
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