Saints of a Solar Empire Book 2, Part 10: Falling Stars
Fleet Mistress Altima stared through the glassy walls of the pod to the figure it encased.
Twelve weeks had passed since the Battle of Naeve. Her people had suffered far more losses in those few days than they had in the entire course of their retribution. The First Sword of Third Fleet had been blunted, broken...shattered. Altima could feel the mourning of the survivors, even as the somber tones of the Anima echoed throughout her own Sword.
The Unity brought the Advent together. It made every member as family, and every loss only enfuriated and saddened her people. Yet, even then, with most losses, there was the sense of accomplishment. They had died doing their duty. They had brought victory, and secured the Unity from a Second Exile.
Not with this. The finest in Third Fleet had lost. Decisively. Truth would be spoken if it was said they had also broken the betrayers, but their military, their people, whole worlds, were nothing more than cattle. Chaff. Fodder. They would sacrifice hundreds, thousands, and not blink an eye. They were little more than animals to feed the apetites of their rulers.
She squeezed her hand into a fist as a fresh wave of pain passed through her. Her fellows might be family, but there was something so powerful about the death of someone she knew so intimately. Someone she had respected and loved. The universe was a lesser place for that person's loss.
The body of War Mistress Lenus lay within the clear walls of her tomb. She was naked upon the sheets of white. The healers had struggled to breath life into her broken form when she was pulled from her command deck, but they could only delay the inevitable. Her left leg had been crushed and amputated, and the fresh burn tissue still covered her side from her hip to her cheek. Her psychic pain had cried out against her would-be saviors, but such was their love that they couldn't bear to silence her pain for her.
It was futile. In the end, the last embers of her soul cooled, and she was gone.
Altima had not been with the War Mistress when she fell. Her own sword had been tied down, mopping up the worthless defenses of another infidel world. The Fleet Mistress couldn't help but feel that if she had been there, it could have been different. She could have brought them victory. She could have lessened the Unity's suffering. She could, at the very least, have saved the War Mistress.
She gazed at the body. The loss of a Fleet Mistress was a very powerful blow to the Unity, and her funeral would be attended, at the very least, by War Mistress Reka and War Mistress Zeyus, commanders of First Fleet and Second Fleet, respectively. The Coalesced would also make an appearance, of course. As tragic as Lenus's loss was, Altima knew that that tragedy was replaying itself all across the First Sword.
Altima reached down to her side and removed a single, adorned dagger from its sheath. It was a badge of her office and of her honor. She layed the blade across the pale flesh of her palm and closed her hand into a fist once more. Once she removed the blade from her grip, dark crimson marred the alabaster of her open hand.
"Vendetta upon you, people of Naeve. If I must live to be a thousand, I will see your kind burned from the stars," she said quietly but with her voice full of conviction.
"Vengence is a powerful motivator, Fleet Mistress."
Altima turned to face the deceiptively young for of the Coalesced Ajura. She was dressed in a traditional robe of her office. The silk-spun robe of white clung to her form and had little in the way of decorations. It was simple and pious, as befitting one of the leaders of the Advent, and one powerful enough to affect the whole of the Unity.
"Coalosced Ajura," she said reverantly and gave a respectful bow. "I was unaware that you had arrived."
Ajura smiled at the Fleet Mistress and bade her to rise. "I arrived in the latest Progenitor ship to care for the wounded and the dying. As for your senses, I fear I am not as young as I used to be, and the losses have created such sorrow that I felt the need to protect myself, less we all be consumed."
"Yes, Coalesced. Ah, if you need time with the War Mistress..."
Ajura cut the woman off with a wave of her hand. "There will be time for that later. I have come to speak with you, Fleet Mistress." The Coalesced gestured to Altima's wounded hand. "And about that."
"Do you require nourishment, Coalesced?" Altima asked flatly as she led the robed woman into the conference room of her Radiance battleship.
Her flagship was one of the oldest generations of ships in the Advent service. Third Fleet had not been earmarked for the newer vessels, and Altima's battleship reflected a time when Unity was brought by fleets of battlelines instead of the drones of the Anima. Still, Altima commanded from the elderly vessel's flagship. Her Sword--sixteen battleships, twenty four carriers, and twenty four battlecruisers, as well as the traditional screening elements--was old by Advent standards, but it was still a powerful force, though it had only recently been concentrated from multiple system blades back to something resembling a Sword.
"Thank you, Fleet Mistress, but no. I have little time to spare, sadly, but one day I do hope I have the time for pleasantires."
The fleet commander nodded and took a seat beside the youthful Coalesced. She opened her mind, hoping to gleam some manner of the Coalesced's mental state, but Altima's superior was far more versed in the powers of the mind, and she could hardly feel the presence of her as a living being, much less scry any of her thoughts.
"First, I wish to offer my condolences. The losses suffered by Third Fleet have been great, and the personal loss of War Mistress Lenus has wounded all of us among the Advent." The Coalesced looked directly into Altima's eyes. "I knew her quite well, and she spoke highly of you. With that said, we do not have time for proper mourning. We suffered a setback at Naeve, but the Crusade must continue."
Altima felt the gaze of the robed woman upon her hand, then a sense of satisfaction.
"The Coalesced have reviewed Lenus's journal, and we have been most impressed by a certain operation of your own. Though it was merely hypothetical, a new class of ship has made the plan practical," she said, then resumed after a pause. "With all these factors in mind, and with our approval, the Coalesced have decided that Third Fleet shall take Naeve, with you at its helm. Congratulations, War Mistress Altima."
Shock rippled through Altima's aura, and the woman across from her smiled.
"We shall all have our revenge."
The wood paneled office had been filled with feelings of achievement, relief, and exultion in the past few months. The Exiles had been stopped, one of their primary fleets decisively blunted, and all while preserving Naeve's industrial capacity. The cost the TEC had paid in order to achieve such victory had been great. Of McKeon's original forces, over fifty capital ships had been destroyed in the brutal combat, with at least a dozen more so broken that the shipyards had decided to strip them bare in order to facilitate the repairs of the remaining vessels.
Reinforcements had continued to trickle in, but Naeve had been expecting fleets of warships to respond, not the one or two ships at a time in response to whatever the Core Worlds could safely cut loose. The fact that phase travel between Naeve and the closest Core World took over a month by merchant vessel did not help matters at all.
Magistrate of the Eastern Reaches Ollys Gerard sighed to himself as her battled the never ending stream of paperwork. Before the Exile offensive, his work had been relatively routine, though still quite monumental. Ever since being forced to declare martial law, his load had trippled. Executive orders for industrial capacity, recalling of military and para-military veterans, promotions, system commands, it never stopped.
Before the Battle of Naeve, Gerard had been able to nudge certain tasks onto his senior admirals. While not quite fair, he suspected that the naval officers were secretly satisfied at having people with experience in military matters directing a larger part of the war effort. This had allowed the Magistrate enough space to reorganize the system and turn the monumental beaurocracy into something resembling only a massive beaurocracy. By the time the Battle of Naeve occured, things were running relatively smoothly.
Unfortunately, after the repulsion of the Exiles, any breathing space Gerard had generated had been taken up by the reports of the battle casualties..
The death toll had been catastrophic. Though many ships were destroyed, the number of dead was higher than the number of destroyed hulls suggested. Even if a ship hadn't been lost, practically all the surviving members of Fifth Fleet had the scars of battle. Though quite a few crewmembers, sometimes up to thirty percent, of the critically damaged vessels managed to escape aboard escape pods earlier in the conflict, once the Exiles had closed to laser range, the sheer amount carried by Exile capital ships quickly reduced most vessels to plasma before any but the luckiest people to escape.
Even if one was able to escape a dying vessel, that wasn't always a guarantee to survive. One of the last actions of the Exiles during the battle was the launch of practically all their remaining light frigates in a suicidal run at the advancing Fifth Fleet to save as many of their capital ships as possible, and their intact squadrons had given a disproportionate amount to Fifth Fleet. When the terran vessels finally dealt with the enemy ships, they had closed on kamikaze runs. Post-battle estimates indicated that the Dagger-named vessels had massive--for their size--anti-matter for their reactors and any collision caused extreme damage.
One of the last vessels to take a successful ram was the dreadnought Stephen Mackay, the Fifth Fleet flagship. The resulting explosion had gutted the ship and killed a third of the crew. Of the remaining crew, most had been trapped in airless compartments and suffocated while others had been burned alive by fire. Others had also received varying doses of radiation, and even now, many medical workers were attempting to scrub irradiated crewmen.
The thought of escape pods brought Gerard to another headache. His naval personnel weren't the only ones to escape dying ships. Fifth Fleet had also captured several thousand Exile prisoners who had escaped their own dying vessels. Gerard knew that Admiral Corbain probably heard mutters about using Exile escape pods as targetting practice or simply allowing them to drink, but one of the few reports of Exile behavior was that they always recovered crews from defeated ships, and the Magistrate was glad that Admiral Corbain had taken initiative to retrieve the Exiles.
The Exiles themselves were more of a mystery than the Magistrate thought POWs should be. Universally, they refused to speak to anyone, even each other. The reports stated that they did understand standard, as they did follow instructions, but all attempts to illicit information from the prisoners proved to be universally useless.
Even though Naeve had crews working around the clock to repair battle damage, Admiral Corbain somehow found enough technical personnel to start going over the less damaged Exile starships, or what was left of them. There were a few promising reports, but according to the preliminary scans, the Exiles had completely wiped their computers clean. The only data the technicians could extract from the hulks was simple electronic noise.
Gerard's thoughts were interrupted as the soft chime rang from his work screen. With a quick wave of his hand, Ollys's secretary's face shuffled all the other files off to the side of the screen.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, sir, but Tycho General just commed. Admiral McKeon died of radiation sickness twenty seven minutes ago," she said.
Shit, Ollys thought.
"Thank you, Mary," he said somewhat more calmly. There wasn't much he could do about McKeon's death. In fact, there was really only one thing he could. "Please send my official condolensces to his family and try to clear my schedule for his funeral. After that, send Admiral Kol a message. I need to meet with him in private."
War Mistress Altima watched the latest maneuvers of her growing command. Very few ships were actually being added to her Third Fleet, but many of the far-flung elements were beginning to reunite. Her force has mulitplied at least two-fold from what War Mistress Lenus and growing steadily.
Unfortunately, it had been some months since her units had operated as a fleet, and training could only do so much. As such, the War Mistress had scheduled a series of drills to warm her people back up to the sheer joy of having so many disciples together after so much time apart. Once her forces were up to her standards, she considered where best to direct her forces.
The two planetary hold on Naeve's periphereals were always acceptable targets, though Altima preferred using them to train the new Anima that were sent to replace the losses suffered at the Battle of Naeve. Advent hit and run raids had reduced most of the system defenses to near-impotence, allowing her the safety of such actions.
She supposed she could do the unexpected and bypass the heathen system of Naeve to hit one of the three Core Worlds. She thought about it more and decided against it. She didn't want to galvanize the Traders into stripping their Core World pickets and sending them to this front. At least, not when the Unity continued to be denied at Naeve.
Altima shrugged and decided to do the most expected course of action, though it was the one she wanted most. She would hit Naeve, and hit it hard. If she could conquer the system, that would be fine, but if she had to cripple their defenses, she would take that. Indeed, she would savor their panic and despair in such an outcome.
A mental chime broke her reverie and she nodded, letting the door to her chambers open to administer the handsome Crusader.
"War Mistress," he said with genuine respect and bowed.
Males of such rank were rare. Nearly every aspect of the Advent war machine required at least some psychic talent, if only to manipulate the complex control systems that her people built into their technology. Unfortunately, the wonders of genetics forever dictated that men would be lesser in regards to the powers of the mind. Advent society reflected this, with a disproportionate amount of females among the officers of the fleet while males were mostly relegated to lower-level psintegrate duties, such as crewing Disciple-class vessals.
For a male to be talented enough--both in psychic gifts and command ability--to achieve the rank of Crusader was truly impressive. Not only would most males with such psionic power normally be kept at home where they belonged, but to be able to discharge his duties with such zeal to impress his female superiors was a credit to his talent.
Altima almost felt a surge of regreat as she looked upon the male. The mission she had for him would be dangerous, and the probability was high that he would not survive, even if everything went according to plan. The War Mistress felt an almost maternal instinct to wrap the male in her arms and protect him from all the hurt in the universe. They weren't known as the weaker sex for nothing.
However, one look into his eyes disintegrated Altima's instincts. He was a Crusader, a soldier of the Advent, of the Unity. He would do his duty as she would do hers.
"Crusader Kelsa," she said, not rising but giving a slight incline of her head. "Have a seat." She gestued to the chair before her semi-circle desk.
"Thank you, War Mistress," he said and took the offered seat.
"Simply put," she said, "I've been monitoring your squadron and their operational uses. Early on, it was decided that the risk was too great at the time of its conception." Which was the truth, she thought. It could only work once, really, and the pissant systems had not been worth the effort. "However, with the discovery of the Naeve system's defenses as well as our immediate need to neutralize it as a choke point to hold our current gains, I believe now is the time to put the plan into place."
"Yes, War Mistress," Kelsa said. "My people are I are eager to perform our duty."
Altima chuckled as she sensed apprehension from her subordinate. "Relax. We have the full permission of the Coalensced, and we have several new factors to consider."
The War Mistress manipulated her desk and a halographic represensation of a ship, complete with weapons, crew, and utility outlines.
"This is the new class of vessel that we've developed out of the technology and tactics we've acquired since the beginning of our vengeance."
Crusader Kelsa studied the schematics, then surprise and comprehension bloomed in his aura.
"I see, Mistress Altima," he said with a cold smile.
Commander Montoya watched from his command chair as his scout frigate stalked the empty void around the Lazion Star. Months had passed since the Exiles had been repelled from Naeve, but their scout forces were being steadily reinforced, and many of Montoya's fellows had detected larger phase transfers indicating that the enemy was seeding the star with something with a bit more bite than mere scouts.
Hardly a week had passed since Commander Ashleigh, one of Montoya's oldest friends, had discovered that Exile scouts were armed as well. Montoya's ship was the one to detect its mayday signal then an energy spike indicating the vessel's destruction.
Though Ashleigh's loss had been tragic to Montoya on a personal level, the TEC scouts were remeaining surprisingly inconspicuous. It was a dance, of sorts, to stay out of range of the other. Given the scale of space, it wasn't too difficult to remain undetected, and central command had ruled the loss of Ashleigh's frigate as simple bad luck to stumble upon an alert Exile vessel.
A console alarm interrupted Montoya's reverie. He wondered if he'd ever be able to trust another unscheduled phase out alarm again after seeing the Exile's massive war fleet arrive all at once.
"Commander," said Montoya's sensor officer. "We're detecting a rather large phase out, sir. Bigger than a frigate."
"Try to refine it for me, Jimmy," said the commander.
"Working on it, Commander," he said. After a few minutes he broke the silence. "Looks like about the right size for about half a dozen ships, sir. Let's call it five of those oversized battlecruisers of theirs."
"I see. Loci?"
"They came in at one-one-six by three-three-zero, sir."
Montoya raised an eyebrow. That wasn't a course from either Trinh or another of the other adjacent systems. Battlecruisers were a hell of an investment, and to risk them in as something as trivial as scouting was stupid. It was possible, of course, that it was simply the vanguard of a fleet meant to clear out the entry point. Given the way phase space worked, several factors could combine to have a squadron or two arrive before the main force.
"Alright, Susan," Montoya said, addressing his communications officer. "Get a message off to Captain Trask," he said, referring to the picket commander. "Send all of our data as well as our tenative estimation of five Exile battlecruisers."
Montoya didn't know if he should consider it good luck that his command was barely in range to track the bogeys. He was able to bring them to the very maximum of his passives before they went into emissions control, and he was driving his tracking department nuts to keep track of the unknowns. Twice, he lost contact with them before managing to bring them back onto his scanners.
He could have easily gone active in his sensors or brought his frigate close enough to get a hard passive scan, but either case would have been akin to pushing a duckling into a pool of hungry pirrahna. He didn't know if any Exile vessels were flanking the new comer, and he sure as hell didn't want his engines to leak too much power and send up a red flank. He missed his friend, but he didn't quite want to join Ashleigh in the great beyond just yet.
"Sir, there's something strange about the unknowns," said Jimmy as he worked over the sensor data.
"Strange how?" Montoya asked.
"They're not moving as fast as they should, sir. They're not as big as they should be either."
"Could they be a new class?"
"I suppose, sir, but their readings do look familiar..." Jimmy trailed off. "It looks like they've got battle damage."
That was more than enough to grab Montoya's full attention. "Battle damage?" he asked as he stood behind Jimmy's chair, staring over his shoulder at the data.
"Yes, sir," said the sensor officer. "They're leaking too many emissions at this range, but they're obviously trying. That's how we lost them those two times, but now we're getting some pretty hard readings and--sir!" he said as the latest intel flashed on his screen. "Those are ours!"
"Ours?" asked the Commander as he looked over the data.
"Yes, sir, those readings are a near-perfect match for six Dunov-class battlecruisers!"
Montoya shook his head and smirked. Good news at last. "Alright. Susan, get us a laser comm ready. We'll send them a message and verify 'em."
"Are you sure?" said Admiral Corbain as he looked up from his desk. A year ago, such news would have brought shock, the times of war dulled his reaction to such surprise.
"Yes, sir," said the voice from Corbain's screen. Captain Stevens was Corbain's exec and was the one currently on duty at the verry heart of the massive asteroid fortress Anubis. "They're six ships from White Fleet! They're the Minotaur, Basilisk, Viper, Griffin, Corinth, and Paris, sir." He paused as he checked the details. "All the information checks out. Captain Trask has personally verified it through communication with the senior officer, a, uh, Lieutenant Tennerman, the Minotaur's navigator. He was fourth in succession."
This was enough to cause Corbain to wince. He knew the Minotaur well, it having been a ship born from Naeve's own shipyards. The fact that the Minotaur had lost four of its top officers spoke heavily on the sort of constant and brutal fighting they had been suffering.
"Alright, get on this immediately, Sam," the admiral said. "Send them straight to Naeve. Get in touch with the yards there and get an inspection team ready for their arrival. If the squadron got here under their own power, they're in fighting shape, and we can use another squadron of battlecruisers." He paused for a moment. "Also, alert the medical base. We'll get them checked out, too."
It had been a week since Montoya's contact with the remnants of White Fleet. That small contact had done wonders for moral. It was the mystery about White Fleet that had tweaked at people's nerves. Oh, they had a general idea at what had happened, but to have a force the size of White Fleet disappear without any word had been almost as big a shock as the Exile invasion. To have the first hand information from the survivors had done much to put the minds of Montoya's subordinates at ease.
Not all of Montoya's crew were put at eased, though. His sensor officer had an unpleasant expression on his face as he hunched over his monitors.
"Something wrong, Jimmy?" Montoya asked.
"I don't know, Captain," he said dazily then shook his head and spoke more clearly. "I've got a sensor ghost that could be a stealthed scout ship, but I can't seem to lock it down. I've got three techs checking the computer for glitches, but so far, nothing."
"Hmm, alright. Stan!" Montoya said, turning to his tac section, such as it was aboard a scout frigate. "Lock the shields into computer override. I want to be able to bring them on at a second's notice."
"Aye, Captain," the Lieutenant said, punching at his console to bring up the necessary subroutines.
"If this is a bogey, let's get lost. First, we're going to--"
Montoya's orders were cut off by the phase transfer alarm. Lieutenant James Sonderford turned from his sensor station.
"Unscheduled phase transfer! Capital level readings across the board, sir!" Needless to say, his motivation had increased as his fingers danced over his readouts. "Approximately twenty capital ship readouts, Captain."
Montoya swore. Everyone knew the Exiles would return, but he assumed it would be much, much later than this. After all, they should be attacking with a force larger than the one they sent in before but this one was actually smaller. He wished he could move in closer for a look, but the smaller transfers were blurring some of the readings of the larger ones, indicating a huge amount of frigates with the invaders.
"Susan, prepare a comm signal for Captain Trask. Our primary responsibility is to alert the rest of the fleet and--"
"Active sensors! We're being pinged," came the cry from the tactical department.
Montoya barely had time to turn before a capital-level beam nearly as powerful as the energy armament aboard a Kol battleship lanced his scout frigate. The ship's shields barely attenuated the strength of the beam as it passed through one side of the hull and out the other.
Across the system, Captain Trask's own ship was being attacked in much the same way. The scout frigate flotilla commander didn't even have shields up as an Exile beam frigate was fed targetting data from a scout.
Both scouts had been tracking their prey ever since the terrans made contact with the wayward refugees from White Fleet.
Admiral Tigra watched with relief as the six ship squadron from White Fleet phased in at the extreme edges of Naeve's gravity well. He, like everyone else, was glad to see them. If the shipyards could repair the vessels fast enough, then those veteran crewmembers would form a solid addition to Fifth Fleet.
The senior officer of Naeve's planetary defenses was mainly a political station. Occasionally, Tigra would offer his 'expertise' on matters of military in order to supplicate whatever political master he was currently serving. Never in a thousand years would he have imagined he would be in any physical dangers. After all, Naeve hadn't been hit by pirates in over sixty years, and any invader to the system would almost have to go through Anubis. In the past ten years, of course, there had always been the possibility of Vasari raids, but the size of Naeve's normal defense fleet as well as its massive orbital defenses would drive off any notion at a raid.
With the arrival of the Exiles, that sense of danger was very real. While the TEC had driven them off in the Battle of Naeve, the Exiles had reduced Fifth Fleet from a powerful force to a gaggle of ships who mostly were listened as 'only available for defensive actions.' Tigra had no doubt that the next Exile assault would smash Anubis and he would be forced to deal with the defense of his world.
Still, that would be months away, and he was safely tucked away in the gargantuan starbase floating amid Naeve's shipyards. While something so large couldn't have shields--the energy demands were impossible for terran reactors--the fortress was heavily armored, and possessed the firepower rivaling an entire squadron of Kol battleships.
Trask watched as the on-duty officer cleared the six ships for entrance to Naeve orbit. After all, why wouldn't he? It was merely a formality. The scouts had verified their IFF readings, and the Naeve Starbase's computers had compared their emissions enough to that on record.
"Unscheduled phase out detected at the Naeve Star!"
Trask immediately turned to the sensor section as did his exec. Trask spoke up over the sudden din of activity. "What? Report!"
"Aye, sir," said the unfortunate tech on duty. "It appears to be approximately two dozen capital ships with escort elements. We've just detected their transfer on phasic sensors."
"Why didn't we hear anything from the scouts?" Tigra almost screamed, though he held his tongue. His voice only contained a miniscule amount of venom and fear.
"Admiral, we're detecting the Neph," said Tigra's exec, referring to one of the several scouts tasked to watch the Naeve star. "We're receiving a tactical upload now, Sir."
"My god," whispered Tigra as he watched the read out. The attacking force was almost as large as the previous one, and the computers detected no identical emissions, which indicated that none of these ships were present for the Battle of Naeve.
For the first time, Tigra was forced to emotionally accept the size of the forces the Exiles had at their disposal.
The admiral shook his head. "Alright, let's clear the traffic, and put the fighter platforms on alert."
War Mistress Altima watched as her forces reoriented themselves at the Naeve star. Her scouts had assured her that the relevant infidel frigates had been removed from the nexus star. Of course, she couldn't have been sure of that until she entered the Naeve system itself, but the reports from her own Seekers seemed to confirm almost total shock.
She watched as more of her hunter-killer teams of ships blew more terran ships from space even as her fleet-based scout vessals sprawled out to flank her main force. Even now, her Disciples were busy transferring energy from their capacitors to her larger capital ships. It wouldn't be much, of course, but her ships wouldn't need that much power for what she planned.
"Inform the fleet that Retribution I is activated, and inform Crusader Kelsa that he has my blessing."
The dark-haired commander of the remnants of White Fleet stifled the feeling of wrongness about his surroundings. The battlecruiser had been quite damaged, though his six ships were the most complete survivors amongst the Second Battle of Hades which had seen the death of so many TEC personnel.
He watched with pride as his people went about their duties with expert precision. The battlecruisers may not have had the integration technology of the Advent, but their crews had had months of preparation and training, and while he barely had the numbers of three full ship companies among his squadron, he had the utmost confidence in them.
"We're receiving communication from the Starbase indicating an enemy attack," said the fair-haired officer manning the crude communications. "Update," he continued, listening into the archaic ear piece. "We are instructed to hold position at a new rendezvous point in order to aid in the possible defense of the system."
"Continue, then," said the command and then he leaned over his tactical officer's shoulder, scanning his system read outs.
Rows of crimsons lights indicating activity greeted his eyes, all except one emerald blip blotting the symmetry of the board. Every shield in his squadron was down. After all, shields required vast amounts of energy, and regular use of them tended to cost quite a bit in wear and tear of the systems. Warships tended to only run with shields only during a battle.
"The hangers and the starbase are our primary target," Kelsa said. "I want them to feel the War Mistress's kiss first, then move onto the secondary targets when our reinforcements arrive."
"Yes, Crusader. As you wish."
Kelsa turned and stalked to his harness. Like he imagined his opposites aboard the system stations were hurrying to do, he and his crew were fully clad in hostile environment protection suits. A reality of space combat was that, sooner or later, your ships was going to have its shields battered down, and when hostile weapons began tearing into your hull, decompression was bound to occur. The difference, however, was that Kelsa's, and the crew of his six ships, wore a style of garb that was never meant for a TEC vessel.
Kelsa felt a twinge of excitement before a voice echoed through the bridge.
"Crusader, we've received a confirmation from the War Mistress."
Kelsa felt a very predatory smirk pull at the corners of his lips.
"Very well," he said, excitement mirror his psintegrate's own and magnifying throughout his crew. "Inform the squadron, and tell the Missionaries to prepare for assault."
Alexander Kol, Admiral of the Fleet, TECN, rode the elevator to the gardens above the Gilded Towers. The day he had been apprehensive about had finally arrived. He had been reactivated.
It was almost inevitable, he thought. The magnitude of the Exile invasion almost required it. Now that Kol thought about it, he was surprised he hadn't been recalled earlier. Part of that probably lie with McKeon being a competant fleet commander in his own right. With his death, though, the Magistrate had had no choice but to bring in Kol.
The former and soon to be again admiral knew that the battle with the Exiles would be much longer and much harder than his battle with the Vasari. It might take another decade, at least, to gain ground against them, and the Vasari were still out there, with some hundred billion terrans slaving away in conquered colonies. Alexander knew that this time, there would be no withdraw of the first generation. He would have to fight to the death--his own or his enemy's.
He had considered telling Gerard to fuck off, but only for a moment. The Magistrate had had no choice, and under martial law, Kol could be imprisoned or even shot if he refused. He doubted the Magistrate would go to such extremes, but the Admiral could not tolerate the idea that he might sully the family of Kol by refusing.
There was even the more immediate concern of his wife and child. If his contribution might mean the difference between freedom or slavery and death, then it was his duty as a man, husband, and father to slaughter until they were safe.
Kol hadn't even changed out of his enviro-suit before returning to his home from the space port. He, after having had a rather heated discussion with the Magistrate, had explained his position and his duties to his wife. She was downstairs packing her and Nathaniel's belongings with the intention of relocating to her sister's for an indeterminate amount of time.
All Kol had to do now was explain to his son. Despite how much he thought on the subject, he couldn't think of a way to explain to his child whose father was a stranger that the man who should be responsible for him would not see him until the child had become an adult.
The elevator stopped at the uppermost level of the towers and Kol stepped out. His son was sitting in the middle of the park next to an impressive specimen of oak.
"Son..." the father said, his voice thick with emotion.
His son turned, the beautiful face of a child that would one day grow into a handsome man with the strong features of the Kol family.
"You're leaving, aren't you?"
The first missile barrage caught the orbital defense forces surrounding the planet Naeve completely by surprise. The half dozen battlecruisers had given no warning, no mercy. One moment, they were drifting along like loyal ships and then their weapon bays had belched forth a great cloud of death. Given the shortness of the range, even sprint mode missiles had been blasted from their weapon ports.
Even as their shields came online, streaks of destruction rained down on the defenders of Naeve. Scores of missiles were in space before anyone realized what was happening, and those destructive arrows slammed into the fortress defenses that were never meant to take such an abuse.
Tigra, along with most of the other crew, was thrown from his feet as the first missiles crashed into the massive armor of Fortress One. Gaping holes blotted the armor and tore into the hull, killing people and weapons.
"Report!" he cried, pulling himself to his shock chair and strapping himself in. Luckily, a large portion of his command crew were also doing the same, though Tigra noted a few bodies that lie unmoving on the floor. "Who's attacking us?!"
"Sir, the battlecruisers have opened fire on us!" came the shrill cry from somewhere out of Tigra's vision.
Those sonsofbitches! thought the Admiral. "Lock weapons on those bastards! Light them up! All platforms fire on them!"
"We're trying, Sir!" came a shout from tactical as Tigra's exec worked the primary console where a Lieutenant should be. "We've lost three hangers and--oh god, multiple ships detected outside the well!"
Tigra looked to the screen even as another barrage shook the massive station. Normally, battlecruisers should have stood no chance against something as massive as Fortress One, but they had been caught completely by surprise. Tigra's point defense wasn't even activated, which meant every missile launched was another one that sliced deep into his station's hull.
"The new units appear to be Dancer and Daylight class Exile frigates, Admiral," shouted the exec over the din of shattering bulkhead and surging electronics. "We're detecting a new class of frigate, Sir. It's big."
Tigra watched in horror as another hanger was blasted from space. The battlecruisers had almost cleared the space around them of platforms, but luckily a few orbital defense platforms were beginning to awaken and reorient themselves. Massive gauss cannons poured fire into the traitor shields, but it wasn't enough, and missiles began to streak their ways to the aggressive platforms. Blots of explosions appeared over the armored platforms, expanding until they covered the outer hole, and when they dispersed, all that was left of a platform was drifting debris.
"Admiral, we've lost sixty percent of ours weapons, and fusion three and six have gone into emergency shut down," reported Tigra's exec. "I've lost contact with decks eleven through thirteen, and fire control seven is no longer responding."
"Get Commodore Jackson online and tell her to coordinate attacks with the surviving strikecraft squadrons and the planetary based ones, and get the surface missiles firing."
"Unauthorized phase jump detected!"
The Advent War Mistress looked out into the space surrounded the Anubis Station. The space where War Mistress Lenus had fought and perish, along with many of her fellows. Though they would not know for a while longer, she was giving them a down payment on the revenge she intended to reap upon the wretches of this system.
"Let us see if they will sit by as their world dies," she said to no one in particular.
"What do you mean Naeve is under attack?" shouted Admiral Corbain to the suddenly meek Lieutenant.
"Admiral, we've received word from the Neph, Sir. She says that they managed to sneak in some heavy fire power and they're tearing the defenses apart at close range," the lieutenant paused before continuing. "She also reports that light enemy ships were heading into the battle from beyond the gravity limit."
Damn, Corbain thought, looking out to the Exile fleet hovering just outside the phase limit. What he wouldn't give to strangle whoever was in command over there. He knew what the enemy commander wanted him to do, and he had no choice about it. Without Naeve to support it, Anubis Station could be isolated and battered into impotence, whereas if Naeve survived, Anubis could be sacrificed.
Corbain gave out the orders for his light combatants--his Javelis missile frigates and his Cobalt light frigates--to head to Naeve with all haste. He hated to weaken himself in the face of such a large Exile force, but he had to save Naeve.
The enemy fleet was content to watch as Corbrain split his forces. They were even so polite as to wait until the lighter ships were nearing the phase limit of Anubis's artificial gravity well before launching a massive wave of strikecraft at the weakened asteroid fortress.
Tigra watched in horror as Fortress One was reduced to near impotence. The massive starbase was nothing more than an air-streaming wreck at this point, and instead of finishing him off, the traitor battlecruisers turned their weapons onto the defenseless orbiting space stations and construction ports.
The strikecraft were proving highly ineffective against the newly arrived Dancer-class anti-strike frigates, and the Daylights were blasted Commodore Jackson's frigate flotilla into vapor. Tigra couldn't blame the Commodore for withdrawing and waiting for reinforcements from Anubis in the face of capital-level beams from far outside his weapon ranges.
The bridge crew were forced to watch as Exile beams and their own missiles tore into the construction platforms, rending them apart and annihilating the wounded ships within them.
But the worst was yet to come. The tertiary stations that supported the construction slips were massive, almost the size of Fortress One. There were almost a dozen of the weapons and manufacturing stations, and it would take too much time to blast them apart, and Tigra's estimations were that the traitor battlecruisers were running low of ammunition.
The Exiles evidently agreed with Tigra.
"What the hell is going on?" demanded Magistrate Ollys Gerard as his secretary came running into his office.
"We're under attack, Magistrate! We've got to get out of here," she nearly screamed.
"What? How?!" he said, already moving with her from his office. Communications had been jammed when the battlecruisers had first opened fire, but if the station was being attacked directly, everyone needed to leave. It was a tough old piece of space junk, but it wasn't meant to take missiles and laser abuse.
"I don't know, but it's...oh god, it's horrible," she sobbed, almost in tear.
"Alert. Alert," came the automated message on a speaker that caught both of their attention. "Station keeping drives malfunctioning. Abandon ship. Repeat, abandon ship. Time to planetary impact two hours, fifteen minutes. I repeat..."
"Good god, they're going to drop the station on Naeve!" shouted Ollys. He fought back the panic and dragged his secretary off to the nearest escape pod. He only prayed that everyone who was still alive would get out.
Tigra was already coordinating with other ships in the sector to pick up the escape pods, and he was instructing the stations not already under attack to begin evacuating. He even ordered all non-essential personnel to abandon Fortress One.
Tigra hated his positioning. He was reduced to a mere spectator as the battlecruiser squatted among the destruction they'd wrecked in his beloved Naeve. Two of the battlecruisers had even lowered their shields enough to launch assault shuttles at the planet.
However, something else caught his attention. The new frigate type, which had stayed conspicuously out of the battle, seperated with the rest of the main force and proceeded to enter low orbit around Naeve.
Now what are you bastards up to, he thought.
"...I understand," spoke Nathaniel Kol softly to his father.
"I'm sorry, son. I really am," said the senior Kol to his son, taking to one knee and putting his hand on his boy's shoulder. "I wish I could be more of a father, but I do what I do to protect you. To make sure that you grow up free."
Kol paused at that. Nathaniel had turned from the admiral's intense stare but was now looking up into the dome that covered the gardens. Alexander scrunched up his face before looking up as well to see what could draw his son's attention so.
What he was a crescent shaped shadow blotting out the orange sky created by setting sun.
"Look, Father. Birds," said Kol's son.
It was then that the Purge vessals opened fire with their mass driver kinetic bolts upon the jeweled world of Naeve.