Location: CWS Hoplite, Rogue Island System, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Eve didn’t realize how colossally fucked they were until her boots hit the deck of the battleship.
CWS Hoplite was newer than Valkyrie. Her decks were a little shinier, her shuttle bay a little larger, and her crew was just as professional. Which was why it came as a surprise when a petty officer third class started screaming at everyone when the Spyder touched down.
“Move! Let’s go people. Get your asses off this bird NOW!”
SGM Queen didn’t take too kindly to the PO3’s attitude either. Eve knew the “chew your ass up and spit it back out” expression that appeared on the older Ranger’s face and she sat back to enjoy the show.
“I don’t care Sergeant Major.” The PO3 didn’t even blink when the hulking Ranger stepped up to him. “We need to get everyone off this bird now so it can get back down to the planet. It’s my job to make that happen.”
Since most of the people onboard were injured from the FOB on Rogue Island the process of unloading wasn’t a quick one.
“Shut your mouth and open your ears…” The SGM started.
“You need to move, Sergeant Major.” The PO3 cut him off.
Eve had trouble keeping her jaw off the floor. She’d seen a lot of stupid shit happen in her short time with the military. Davenport came to mind. She’d also seen one of her friends die, killed a few people in anger, and was watching her mentor struggle to hang on. Despite all of that, she’d never seen something more idiotic than interrupting a Ranger SGM when he was about to chew someone out. This was rapidly moving from a chewing out session to putting a foot up the Fleet NCO’s ass session.
“We don’t have time for this.” The PO3 kept going. “An enemy fleet is headed this way.”
That stopped the SGM in his tracks.
“And it’s not a pair of harassing battleships or another task force. The Blockies Sixth Fleet is heading this way, and if you’d like to get the rest of our people off that planet you need to step off my dick and let me do my job.”
Both NCOs were red in the face, and Eve was wondering what was going to happen next. Like most people in the Spyder, she’d stopped to see if the SGM stomped on the PO3.
“You heard the man!” The SGM rounded on the inactive soldiers in the Spyder. “Get the fuck off this bird. MOVE!” The SGM’s voice did what the PO3’s couldn’t. It lit a fire under everyone’s ass.
Eve grabbed one end of the stretcher GYSGT Cunningham was lying on and helped haul her off the bird, out of the shuttle bay, and down to sick bay. They were one of the first shuttles to make it back from the planet with casualties, so the GYSGT was the first patient to get treatment. She didn’t have to wait. Nurses were standing by at the door to take her. Eve and the SGM had to switched the Gunney over to a grav-stretcher because she was still in her armor and heavy as hell. After that, the nurses were able to take it from there.
“She’ll be fine.” It wasn’t part of the SGM’s nature to sound comforting, but he came as close as he was able to. “If you can make it to proper medical attention in our profession there is over an eighty percent chance you’re going to live. They can put humpty-dumpty back together again.”
That was good enough for Eve. She gave one last look around sick bay and followed the SGM out of the room. Now, they needed to get back to their assigned ship and prepare to haul ass out of the system.
That was a no-go the second they reentered the shuttle bay. All available birds were shuttling people on and off the ship. They were even going as far as to keep the engines running in the bay, so they didn’t have to do pre and post flight checks. The shuttle bay crew was moving as fast as they possibly could, and judging by the strained looks on their faces Eve didn’t think it would be enough.
“Come on.” The SGM didn’t want to stick around and be in the way once it was clear they weren’t getting back to Valkyrie. “Let’s go find some friendly faces and put our boots up. Something tells me we might have more action then we bargained for in a bit.”
Eve didn’t argue with that, so they headed off into grunt country to find this ship’s SOCOM personnel.
CWS Manchester Bridge
Location: Rogue Island System, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“How the bloody hell did this happen?” The Rear Admiral in charge of the Rogue Island task force sat in his command chair on the flag bridge. “Those scouts royally fucked us.”
It was clear to the RADM’s staff that his question was rhetorical. Everyone except the Chief of Staff was too busy to answer it anyway. They were executing a massive withdrawal of all Commonwealth forces on the planet, and the countdown clock on the wall showed they had less than a hundred minutes to do it.
<It is not going to be enough.>
The RADM was running the scenarios on his PAD. If they left orbit in a hundred minutes, they would just barely skate out of the system before coming into weapons range of the massive Blockie force, but that was only if they held their current speed. The RADM knew when the Blockie admiral over there smelled blood in the water he’d push his units to the brink.
The numbers weren’t looking good. The Commonwealth RADM had over thirty vessels under his command, but the destroyers and battlecruisers weren’t going to be any help. They were out doing what they were supposed to do – locate any threat trying to sneak up on the main task force – and they’d done their job. It had been a tiny destroyer that had picked up the Blockie Fleet trying to act like a hole in space hiding behind another planet in the system. That destroyer had paid with its life, but it did its job and got the word out.
He’d sent orders for those smaller ships to bug out if they couldn’t reach the main task force body. They were to plot the fastest route to the hyper limit and get back to Syracuse. The drone that had been dropped at the hyper limit had already been sent back to the sector capitol with news of the enemy fleet’s position, but third fleet wouldn’t be able to mobilize and get to Rogue Island in time. All the RADM really had was his twenty-two battleships and two assault carriers to work with, and that wasn’t a lot when facing an enemy whose battleships alone outnumbered him four to one.
<We shouldn’t have dropped so many troops.> The RADM second guessed his earlier decision even though he knew it was the best one to make with the limited information he had available. It was always better to have numerical superiority. He’d given the troops on the ground that to retake the planet, and now he had to deal with the reverse.
The clock continued to tick down as assault shuttles flew well outside of recommended safety standards. The fighter jockeys were probably having a blast getting to screw with the rules. They were entering the atmosphere at steeper angles to cut down on the time. All they were doing was getting refueled when they got back to their ships. They weren’t even doing post-flight checks. They were just shoving them back out the door.
It was crude, but it was necessary. It was a miracle they only lost two shuttles during the evacuation, but that was still more troops lost than in the entire retaking of the planet.
“Final flight is in route, Sir.”
The RADM looked over at the clock. They only had fifteen minutes left, and for a flight to break out of the atmosphere, rendezvous with the ships, dock, and secure was at least double that.
<Twenty maybe thirty minutes.> The RADM computed the amount of time his task force would be in the engagement zone of the Blockies. <If I group us tight enough we might be able to survive.> That plan offered its own dangers, but this was the type of situation where you had to take risks. Playing it by the book was a sure way to die.
“Get us out of here.” The RADM commanded the second the last ship had acknowledged that they were good to go.
Manchester, its fellow carrier, twenty-two battleships, three battlecruisers, and one destroyer pulled away from Rogue Island. They broke free of the last of the planet’s gravity and steadily accelerated at full military power on the most advantageous course toward the hyper limit.
Then came the waiting game. For two hours, they were forces to watch as the Blockies inched closer and closer. They had the acceleration advantage and the angle. The RADM did what he could to remove as many of the enemy’s advantages as he could, but there was only so much he could do.
He grouped the task force closer than doctrine advised for better interlocked defenses. It also gave the Blockies a smaller target to shoot at. If they wanted to do more damage they’d have to bring more of their force to bear, which involved altering their approach vector to bring as many ships as possible into position for broadside volleys. That would cut down the overall engagement time as they exited the engagement window faster.
There was still no knowing if that was going to be enough. Eighty plus battleships alone could throw a hell of a lot of missiles in a single volley.
“Sir, everyone reports they are at battlestations.” The Commonwealth task force had been ready to fight for that last hour, but as the distance fell below ten million kilometers it all became much more real.
“Fighter launch, Sir.”
The RADM expected this. The Blockie admiral was going to want to do as much damage as possible in the short time he could, and that meant bringing out the armada of fighter drones stuffed into the bellies of the assault carriers.
“Launch fighters, defensive formation Alpha.” The RADM’s order was transmitted to the Manchester’s captain who executed.
A Commonwealth assault carrier’s MTOE called for one thousand fighter drones. The little arrow-shaped crafts were stealthy, well-armed, short-range combatants that could be used both in a planet’s atmosphere and in deep space. Doctrine mostly called for them to assist planetary invasions, but they were also excellent skirmishing units. They carried a single nose cannon in the twenty-five megawatt range, a single missile launcher with five more rounds, point defense laser cluster, and one railgun with plenty of ammunition. The missiles were much smaller than capitol-ship rounds, and had a range of only half a million kilometers, but with their numbers they could do a lot of damage.
Two thousand fighters swarmed out of the assault carriers and took up positions above and below the main formation of ships. While the counterfire from the warships would meet the enemy’s holocaust head on, the fighters would be able to shoot up and down at the enemy’s attack. It was the best coverage the RADM could get with what he had.
Everyone on the flag bridge watched as the distance steadily decreased between the two navies.
“They’ll get two maybe three broadsides in before we’re out of range.” The task force’s gunnery officer was the only one talking on the bridge.
Tense silence filled the last few seconds of peace a lot of people would have in this world.
The Blockie fleet opened fire at the maximum range of eight million kilometers, and the Commonwealth fired back. They didn’t fire any missiles because they needed all of the tubes for countermissiles, but every energy cannon in the task force unleashed hell on the enemy fleet. The RADM had them concentrate their fire on the assault carriers and a few battleships, but distance, the weakening of the energy beams, and evasive maneuvers made killing the Blockies virtually impossible. Despite the odds, a Blockie battleship was forced to fall out of formation streaming wreckage. It wasn’t dead, but the Commonwealth had definitely kicked it in the nuts. It was a small victory.
“Fifteen thousand inbound contacts!”
The RADM paled slightly at the wave of red heading straight for them. <And that’s going to be their smallest broadside.> Only about eighty percent of the battleships had fired on the first volley.
“Second launch! Eighteen thousand inbound.”
“Third launch! Ten thousand inbound.”
<Forty-three thousand missiles.> The RADM had made his peace with everything he loved and believed in before he went out on every deployment, but seeing that many instruments of death heading straight for him was truly awe inspiring.
“Enemy is out of weapons envelope.” The navigation officer informed as the Blockies course took them out of range. Not that it mattered much. Those missiles were still coming in hot.
The tighter grouping was going to be a disadvantage now. He’d hoped the change would have resulted in less missiles being fired at his task force, and he’d partially succeeded. They were dealing with forty-three thousand instead of fifty-four thousand, but when so many missiles were flying around it was tough to think what difference eleven thousand made.
Worst of all, the RADM really couldn’t do anything else now. It was all up to the ships’ captains to fight their ships. They weren’t going on the offensive. That would be suicide. They just needed to fight through these missiles and make it to the hyper limit, but from here on out the RADM was riding shotgun.
The deck rumbled beneath the flag bridge as the first wave of countermissiles went out to meet the Blockie’s missiles in the opening number of the dance of destruction. Several millenniums of human ingenuity, training, and bravery were all coming to the forefront in a little backwater system in the middle of nowhere. This was the culmination of warfare. If he wasn’t so stressed, the RADM might have even laughed.
The assault carrier continued to shudder as it pumped out as many countermissiles as fast as it could. The combined throwing weight of the entire task force was only a little over five thousand missiles. That was where the drones came in handy. The task force got off two volleys in the time it took the first Blockie salvo to cross the space between them. With the addition of the drone’s last-ditch efforts they nearly had force parity in terms of numbers.
It was never a one for one exchange though. Electronic warfare systems on the missiles and ships flared to life. Confusion and chaos plagued both sides as phantom ships and missiles appeared, their location suddenly changed, or they disappeared long enough for the missiles to lose their lock on their targets. Countermissiles met missiles in the largest display of destruction the Rogue Island system would ever see. Point defense lasers flared to life and added to the light show. Last but not least, rail guns mounted on the hulls made the last stand before missiles detonated.
Can openers and funneled anti-matter blasts tore into eleven of the twenty-two battleships. The Blockies had grouped their targeting for the maximum damage, and it showed. Several ships went from green to red or yellow status as damage reports started to scroll across the side of the holo-bubble, and a few disappeared entirely.
“Sir, Valkyrie is just gone.” The RADM read the rest of the list himself.
The old battleship was the only one they’d lost, but another one had their Alcubierre drives knocked out and wouldn’t be able to jump. They were essentially lost. The rest looked like they’d limp across the hyper limit, but casualty assessments were already coming in and it didn’t look good.
<That’s what happens when over a hundred missiles target each ship.>
There was no time to mourn their losses though. The RADM turned his attention back to the tactical portion of the holo-bubble just in time to see the second – and largest – Blockie broadside tear through the Commonwealth’s countermissiles. Both sides had learned from the previous volley and adjusted accordingly. Fortunately, the Commonwealth adjusted better, but that still didn’t stop over fifteen hundred missiles from getting through.
This time they were targeted on the other eleven battleships. The RADM lost two outright this time with another two getting their drives knocked out. Also, the lone destroyer, which wasn’t even targeted, got blown to shit. The rest would make it.
All that left was the final broadside, and there were really only two targets left. Only two reduced countermissile launches leapt out to meet the last ten thousand Blockie missiles. The RADM knew what he had to do before those missiles even met.
“Sacrifice!” He broadcasted.
Immediately, the two thousand drones sprang to life and started moving. The RADM’s command was a last-ditch effort to save the carriers. The drones would act as shields. They would take the hits or try to pull away the missiles. They’d also fire the last of their missiles and fill the space in front of the carriers with duro-steel railgun rounds.
The RADM had now literally done everything possible to save his command. Most would make it out, but two destroyers and three battleships were already gone. Another three weren’t going to make the jump and would get destroyed or captured by the Blockies when they came back around. Now it was his turn to see if Manchester survived.
Missiles came screaming in as point defense lasers and the drones made a last-ditch attempt to kill them. They did their job and died for their carrier, but there was only so much they could do. Five thousand missiles had been targeted on each ship, and even giving it everything they had they were going to take some hits.
The RADM took a deep breath and clenched the sides of his command chair. <Come on! Give us the best you’ve got. We can…>