ADM Janet Blackbird
Location: Orbit, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Ops, how is my fleet?” ADM Blackbird, CO of Second Fleet, stood at her station with her hands clasped behind her back, while her piercing, dark eyes surveying the flag bridge of the Assault Carrier Little Big Horn.
“Still moving, ma’am,” the haggard looking CAPT announced as information flashed through the holo-tank in front of him and his five-person section.
<Too slow,> Blackbird stopped her face from scowling, but this sudden alert was showing her just how unprepared her fleet really was.
For all intents and purposes Second Fleet was more of a reserve than a cohesive fighting force. They protected the fortress that was Mars, one of the Commonwealth’s most precious planets, but this was the Sol System. No one had fought here for centuries. To do so was just…unproductive to anyone. As such, her fleet often sent out task forces on specific missions, or joint training operations with different fleets in different sectors of the Commonwealth, but as a cohesive fighting force, the Fighting Second was sorely lacking. One look at her own holo-tank showed her that.
Currently, in the system, her fleet had four hundred twelve warships, another seventy-seven were elsewhere on operations, so she was already at eight-four percent of her assigned strength. Of her available ships, one hundred eighty seven where battleships accompanying six assault carriers. That gave her a proper wall of battle of one hundred ninety three ships. The remaining two hundred nineteen weren’t going to help if this turned into a slug fest. Second Fleet was cruiser heavy because it was in charge of commerce protection for the system. With it being Sol, command opted for lighter cruisers instead of the heavier battlecruisers, which could help fill in a battle wall in a pinch. Back when the world was rational and an unknown force wasn’t about to assault Mars, she didn’t complain. Now, she felt like she’d shit the bed big time.
Even worse, forty-two of her cruisers were anchored out at Titan for outer system patrol. Even in Sol they had to worry about the occasionally brazen pirate looking for a big score, and those space lanes were rich in rare-earth minerals and precious-metal deposits being transported by some of the galaxy’s largest corporations. Since they knew second fleet was out there, they could deploy their own corporate security ships elsewhere.
<Now that’s about to bite me in the ass too.> No one had heard from the task force of cruisers, which meant she was about to go into battle with only three quarters of her assigned strength. <Then there is the problem that we have no fucking idea what we’re facing!> Her hand gripped the edges of the holo-tank, and her normally bronze skin turned bone-white.
Most commanders would consider having their flag ship named after a famous defeat an unlucky omen, but to Blackbird it was a victory. One of the few Lakota Native Americans left in the Sol System that didn’t leave to settle a new world, she’d immediately wanted Biggie, as she affectionately called the massive warship. Biggie had been getting a little long in the tooth before the new alien tech came to town, but now the three kilometer flying fortress was updated with all the latest and greatest. Even more important, she was ready to protect Mars from whatever had come knocking with ill intentions.
“Formation Theta achieved,” the Ops CAPT announced with visible relief.
Formation Theta was born out of planning sessions after the Battle of Harper’s Junction, and the first real test of new tech against new tech, especially when the Commonwealth was fighting with only a portion of its force upgraded. For Second Fleet, this meant for the fleet to be centered on the six assault carriers. Each carrier would be backed up by five of the upgraded battleships, to create a six-vessel wedge. That wedge, with the carrier at the center would fly in loose formation to maximize their shields’ range. The purpose of this front wedge was to not only throw rounds downrange, but to provide cover for the twenty-five or so battleships stacked behind them. These wedges of obsolete ships would spilt above or below the elliptical, or shoot through designated firing lanes between the front-wedge ships. This allowed them to throw the maximum amount of fire power down range while providing the most protection against the enemy. It was more efficient against enemy missile batteries, but things could be tightened up if it turned into energy engagement.
Also, if things got up close and personal, which they had at Harper’s Junction, the front wedge could also act as a battering ram into the enemy formation. They would drive into the enemy formations while spitting out marines to try and take the enemy ships. Biggie had ten thousand marines chomping at the bit to do more than damage control duty. The other wedges would then follow suit and pick apart the leftover enemy carcass. It was a solid doctrine, and Whiskey One through Six stood ready between the slightly-tinged red of Mars and the asteroid belt that was currently concealing the enemy.
“Anything, Ops?” her eyes flicked between the holo-tanks sensors and the high-resolution scopes that were watching the edge of the belt like hawks.
In its current orbit, the belt was close to Mars, which was currently far from Earth. It was a worst case scenario in terms of First Fleet offering any assistance in the coming battle, but Mars wasn’t without its own defenses. Dozens of orbital cannons designed to engage enemy warships were in stable orbit around the planet. They had limited movement capabilities, but they could put energy beams downrange and rob the enemy of avenues of approach, which would allow Second Fleet to dictate the terms of battle. Only a quarter of the cannons had been updated, but that was still a powerful weapon in Second Fleet’s tool kit. Even more important, a chunk of the planet’s population was Fleet or Infantry personnel. Mars was a tough nut to crack, and the enemy was going to learn that soon. Once they exited the belt it would only be a short time until they were in effective weapons range.
“We’re getting a lot of interference,” the Ops officer replied.
“Even with visual?” The ADM was looking at the same images as the rest of her staff. The edge of the belt was still tens of millions of kilometers away, and even though asteroids in the belt were much farther apart than people thought, they should still be able to get a look at what was coming.
“Yes, ma’am. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they deployed chaff around their formation.”
The ADM knew that was impossible. The amount of chaff needed to encompass the size of blank space their sensors couldn’t penetrate was more than the inventory of all the fleets in the system. It was just a logistical impossibility.
“We might be looking at a new weapon design,” she came to the conclusion. “Make sure to get all this data ground-side, and get me all Whiskey-Actuals.”
As the CO, the ADM was Whiskey-One, with the other rear admirals in charge of the five other wedges being Whiskey-Two through Six. Down at the Command center, buried deep beneath the surface of Mars, the Deputy Commander of Second Fleet was coordinating all atmospheric traffic and troop deployment. Their job would start if Second Fleet failed and the enemy decided to do to Mars what the Commonwealth did to Harper’s Junction.
Three holographic men and two women appeared in front of her as the RADMs joined the conference. They all looked just as concerned as she felt.
“We still have no actionable intel on the enemy. So, I’m leaning toward Crouching Tiger,” she stated.
Heads nodded as the RADMs agreed. With nothing concrete to go on they needed to close the distance and strike against the enemy. They couldn’t give up the initiative and risk Mars. The orbital cannons could be used if Second Fleet was drawn too far from the planet and parts of the enemy fleet were able to get around the flanks. The plan assigned the smaller cruiser and destroyer elements screening and interdiction missions against enemy ships and ordinance. The most important part of their mission would be to take down rogue missiles The last thing anyone wanted was something hard and fast slamming into Mars at a percentage of the speed of light. Second to that, but still pretty shitty were ships getting around the wedges and shooting at them up the skirt. Hopefully, the smaller, faster ships could prevent that.
“Ok, claws out,” she sent the coded order in case the enemy had broken into TACCOM.
On her command, the fighter bays of the six assault carriers opened and dumped twelve thousand drones into space. The arrow-head-shaped fighters shot out away from the carriers faster than anything carrying organic life could ever move. The drones weren’t updated with QE com nodes yet, but light speed communication was good enough for a battlefield that was shrinking by the second.
The drones swirled, banked, and flew through various formations to keep any gunners on the enemy ships guessing. CAGs on raised daises, in the central decks where the drone pilots’ immersive holo-tanks sat, barked mental orders over newly implanted IORs that improved the efficiency and speed of their pilots. The fighter pilots were one with their weapons in a way they never were before as they darted toward the edge of the belt and the unknown enemy.
On the flag bridge, ADM Blackbird watched as the blue icons of the combined drone armada arched toward the most likely emergence point. The wedges were also on the move. As data flowed in, the wedges constantly adjusted their positions to bring the most guns to bear or attain the greatest shield coverage, but at the tip of the spear was Whiskey-Three under RADM Schweizer. The woman was a bulldog, and the universe giving her the first crack at the enemy was poetic justice.
For twenty-two minutes the drones and warships closed with the edge of the belt. The range shrunk to twelve million kilometers, with the drones midway between the fleets, when the holo-tank suddenly changed.
“I’ve got them on sensors and visual!” the Ops CAPT yelled as the threat indexes lit up like a Christmas tree.
As the enemy cleared the asteroid belt they dropped whatever interference or cloaking they’d been using and gave Second Fleet a good look at them.
It was a hell of a lot better than Blackbird was expecting, and at the same time worse.
The holo-tank took in the data over its QE relays so it was instantaneous. The ADM tapped one of the icons and enlarged it to get specifics on the enemy. There were only two hundred and twenty two enemy signatures registering on their sensors. That was the good news. The bad news was they were bigger than anything Second Fleet had.
“We’ve got a universal disposition of enemy contacts, ma’am,” Ops was parsing the data as quickly as they could. “Their formation is also unusual.”
Blackbird saw what the CAPT was talking about. The ships were grouped in pairs, which made sense for linked fire control and mutual support and defense purposes, but these ships were too close. Sensors were showing less than a kilometer between the hulking cigar-shaped vessels, which didn’t match anything the CIC had on record of Windsor or Blockie tactics. Being so close was doing more harm than good. It made it so if one ship took a hit from an antimatter warhead that other likely would as well. Tactically, it was stupid. On top of that, the distance between that pairings were large and varying. Some were a few hundred kilometers apart. Other were tens of thousands. If she didn’t know better, she’d say that the pairings were doing their own thing at the expense of the whole formation.
The fact that the behemoths also made Biggie look like a gangly teenager didn’t help the tonnage disposition she was now faced with. <Look at those things.> She couldn’t help but gawk at the intricate details carved into the bow and sides of the ship. Now that the distortion was gone, it looked like Second Fleet was about to get attacked by works of art masquerading as warships.
<What the hell is going on?> her forehead scrunched in confusion as she took it all in. <These don’t look like the Windsor’s.> She had no idea who this enemy was, what they were thinking, or how they fought. That sent a shiver of cold fear down her spine.
A red block of text flashed in her peripheral vision so fast she nearly missed it. People yelled in surprise around the bridge as the received the same blocks of text. Blackbird quickly scrolled back through the system log to see what she’d missed. It took only seconds to find, and she knew for certain it was something a fleet officer hadn’t seen outside of training simulations for nearly two centuries.
MALCON WARNNG flashed in black letters with diagonal yellow slashes through them. MALCON meant malware contamination, and the ADM was still remembering what that entailed from her academy naval history classes when Biggie’s CAG’s emergency call broke through her reverie.
“Ma’am, we just lost all the drones! Links were severed like my credit balance when I found my ex-wife in bed with the pool boy. What the fuck just happened!” As the CAPT and veteran drone pilot screamed at her, she watched on the holo-tank as the drones banked into a wide arch, coming around a complete one hundred and eighty degrees, and headed back toward the fleet.
What was about to happen hit her about two seconds early, which was only enough time for her to hit the big, red button next to her chair and scream, “EVASIVE…!”