2947-12-31 – Tales from the Service: Matusalemme's Crowded Sky 

This week’s entry comes from the tip of the spear – theirs, not ours. A fleet of at least a dozen (reports differ as to the exact number) Tyrant cruisers entered the Matusalemme system during the first shift on the 27th local time, escorting a handful of ships of an unknown (but apparently rather crude) model to a parking orbit around the fifth planet, a gas giant known locally as Bodrogi, which is currently on the opposite side of the stellar primary from the third planet, Adimari Valis. 

They’ve been there ever since, surrounded by a veritable storm of Coronachs. As previously discussed in this space, the system’s local defense force and a series of mercenary auxiliaries make the system rather well defended for its colony size, but even two dozen mercenary outfits, a few second-line warships, and a swarm of short-range patrol boats won’t stand up to the concerted attack of that many fleet cruisers. Almost the same force had plenty of trouble with a single raiding Tyrant a few weeks ago (Tales from the Service: A Mercenary’s Trade). 

Fifth Fleet is scrambling a reinforcement squadron, but it won’t reach the system for some time. For security reasons, I cannot access any information about what ships are being dispatched, or be too specific about their timetable. After the Battle of Berkant, however, I can only imagine the force being sent will represent overwhelming firepower against the Incarnation fleet in Matusalemme. 

In the meantime, the Hypercast Relay in the system is still functional, and ships are able to come and go freely as long as they give the encamped enemy a wide berth. I reached out to a friend of this feed, Jacob Borisov, and he was only too happy to give us some recordings and data streams with which to portray the grim situation in the half-besieged system. I hope this audience will be joining me in praying for a clean and victorious outcome in any battle at Matusalemme; after all, this time it seems the Incarnation has come to stay. 

Jacob Borisov stared out the viewpanel at the artificially-dimmed corona of Matusalemme which washed out the cloud of tactical position-markers which would otherwise have appeared behind it. The situation was far more comprehensible when viewed in the tactical display tank, but things were static enough that he’d moved up to the cruise bridge, where the reassuring buzz of a dozen officers and half a dozen ratings performing the minutiae required to keep Bancroft running smoothly helped him relax. 

The situation was bad, but it was not yet critical. The enemy fleet in system, encamped as it was at nearly the farthest large body from Adimari Valis, had chosen neither to cut off the planet nor to move up in preparation for a blockade. As such, two days after their arrival, traffic out to the edge of the star’s gravitic shadow and inward from it to the planet continued in a mockery of normalcy. Every captain on every ship was waiting for the situation to change, as it could only change for the worse, and to give the orders which would in every case come as a relief. When Nate moved, the civilian skippers would order emergency speed out of the system carrying whatever and whoever they had aboard, and the ragtag defending fleet would move to meet the attackers in order to buy time for the exodus. 

Reinforcements, the Navy had assured Adimari Valis, were already on their way. Jacob believed they were – after all, the fleet had sent a vast number of its own eager boys into the shooting gallery at Berkant without hesitation. This time, however, he knew Nate wasn’t waiting for the fleet. He could feel it in his bones – this time, the Incarnation was not playing with its food. It was biting off a system, which it meant to swallow. The fleet would arrive too late to save the defending force – including his ship. If it was lucky, it might arrive in time to save the colony, but even that seemed unlikely. 

“They’re just sitting there.” Jacob muttered, resting his palm on the armor-glass panel at the forward end of the bridge. 

“Strike patrols out to ten lisec, enough active sensor activity to map the orbital sphere every ten seconds. They’re hardly sitting. They seem to think we’re not either.” 

Jacob turned toward his second in command and marveled at the man’s unruffled appearance. He knew even his signs of worry were hidden deep, but he had always been able to identify his subordinates’ tells before Lestat Pain had hired on. Even for a former Navy man, he was an exceedingly reserved officer. “They’re waiting for something. Another formation of theirs, probably.” 

“You think there will be more Tyrants?” Lestat’s incredulity was obvious. The Incarnation didn’t need even half the force they’d already sent to subdue Matusalemme. 

“No.” Jacob tapped on his wrist control to call up a best-guess wireframe of the new variety of ship the Incarnation had brought to the system. They were blocky, squat things, as ugly as Tyrants were wickedly graceful. A spacer’s eye for design recoiled from the idea of serving on such a ship, which looked like little more than a fabcrete tenement block sheathed in hull plating with two Himura-style star drive spindles bolted port and starboard. “More of these, or something new.” Even the most hideous of all the ugly extruder-hull chimeras operating as haulers on backwater freight runs couldn’t compare to the repelling appearance of the new Nate ships. 

“More?” Even Lestat struggled to conceal his alarm at the idea that more of the repulsive vessels existed. 

“Analysts groundside think these things are meant to be reentry-capable.” Jacob tapped the markers on the wireframe where hull fixtures that might have been landing gear protruded. “Troop carriers.” 

The executive officer squared his shoulders, and Jacob guessed he was wondering where the Incarnation had found a few tens of thousands of infantry brave enough to ride down to a planet’s surface in such an uninspiring vessel. If they were brave enough to make the landing, they were brave enough to charge into the teeth of any defense the planetary governor could throw up before they did. “Have you put the groundside teams on recall notice?” 

Jacob sighed. “No, I haven’t. It’ll be at least another two weeks before our contract is up. I’m going down there to see the operation through personally, since I got them into this mess.” 

“Captain, you can’t be-” 

“Commander Pain, you will be in charge up here in case communications with the ground team are lost.” This was of course a near certainty; the Incarnation would slag every comms satellite in Adimari Valis orbit and wreck the Hypercomm relay the moment they were ready to storm the planet. “Do you understand what that means?” 

“Going down there is-” 

Jacob cut off his protest with a wave. “Do you understand?” 

Lestat Pain backed down and nodded with no sign of agitation, though Jacob knew he was, at some level far below the surface, agitated. “I understand, boss. The company’s name is its most valuable asset. Until it’s hopeless or the battlewagons get here, we stick in the fight.” 

“Good.” Jacob walked past his subordinate toward the lift. He didn’t say anything more, but he hoped his expression communicated the rest, which he couldn’t say in front of the bridge crew – the certainty that the other mercenary outfits in the ragtag defense fleet, being not so protective of their reputations, would flee the moment the enemy made their move. When the time came to stand and buy time, Pain and Bancroft might well find themselves doing it alone.