2950-04-05 – Tales from the Service: The Angel of Physics
Since last week’s entry, there has been more action here in the Håkøya system. While again, Fifth Fleet seems to have done as much damage as it took, the ongoing field repairs to Tours meant that only seven of our eight battleships moved into action when the Incarnation force moved in force toward the planet Håkøya.
Unfortunately, already-damaged Saint-Lô took another bad hit early on in the battle and Captain Liao was forced to pull us back. As it turned out, this made us lucky, even if we did lose dozens of good spacers. Though we were out of it, Fifth Fleet seemed to be doing quite well for itself, until Marseille, got it even worse than we did. She suffered at least four major hits through overloaded shear screens and lost all power. Venting atmosphere and unable to maneuver, the ship quickly became the target of opportunity for most of the Incarnation’s strike force and for several sections of cruisers.
Admiral Zahariev was faced with an impossible choice when it seemed Marseille would be lost. He could either pull his forces back to rally around the wounded ship, or he could continue pressing forward toward the huddled mass of Incarnation troop-ships at the center of the enemy formation. He chose the former, and the Incarnation ground force was able to deploy almost unmolested (except for strike-craft harassment).
In the end, Marseille was saved, though it took a bloody, close-range melee between the remainder of the Fifth Fleet battle-line and several squadrons of Incarnation heavy cruisers to accomplish the task. Our strike-screen frigates were all but wiped out, and the strike-craft losses on both sides were horrific. A decent number of enemy cruisers were badly damaged or destroyed as well, but I don’t know the exact numbers. The fleet is calling this action the Battle of Veslemøy after the name of the Håkøyan moon which loomed large over the battle space, to avoid confusion with the previous battle.
With enemy troops on the planet’s surface, I’ve noticed a distinct loss of morale here. The enemy had to suffer horribly to achieve a major landing, but the landing, in the end, succeeded. Even with the bulk of the population already evacuated, and a garrison of significant size to oppose the invasion, popular sentiment among Navy spacers is that the beautiful world of Håkøya will be lost to the Incarnation within weeks.
This week, I have a brief description of what it's like to fight a battle from inside a battleship's gunnery stations from a gun-turret commander aboard Argonne. Don Symons reports that his gun turret has two confirmed cruiser kills and hits on three more, but I cannot verify his kill claims. If true, they make his gun crew the most effective in the whole fleet, at least in the battles here in Håkøya.
Lieutenant Don Symons shook his head as the ringing in his ears faded. He hadn’t heard the shot hit the armor this time; he had only felt the shock through his restraints and felt the ship’s frame twist back and forth as the smart-alloy girders tried to absorb the shock of a ten-gigawatt plasma charge vaporizing centimeters of plating.
Since he could not hear the alarms, Don scanned his board for any new alert indicators. Argonne had weathered the hit as well as could be expected, deafening effects on its gunners notwithstanding. The ship had meters of thick armor-alloy plating protecting the belly now turned to face the four enemy cruisers with which it was trading fire. As long as it could maneuver to take each hit on relatively thick parts of the armor not already glowing cherry-red from previous impacts, it could expect to win the four-on-one mid-range duel fairly handily.
As Don watched the capacitor indicators for his turret systems crawl toward the full mark, the targeting information from the main fire control system suddenly changed. Frowning, he switched his display to a tactical plot, and found that the commander of the main battery had given him, and presumably every other turret commander aboard, the fire control solution for a target not among the four cruisers currently cratering their ship’s armor.
“J Turret to central control.” Don could barely even hear his own voice, so abused were his eardrums, so he cranked up his headset’s volume far past safe levels to compensate. “Confirming target change.”
“Confirm target change, J Turret. Captain’s orders. Turrets firing at will.”
Don shrugged and waved to the men seated at nearby consoles, giving them the hand-gesture indicative of a target change. Once he had received several nods, he engaged the turret’s automatic training system. Everything around him vibrated violently as the triple two-hundred-fifty milimeter rail cannon gun mount bolted to a hull sponson barely twenty meters away spun on its titanic gimbals to face the new target.
Just as J turret was finishing its huge sweep, one of the other turrets aboard fired its salvo. Don always tried to guess which turret was firing when he felt the familiar rumbling shock reverberate through the ship, and decided that this was B Turret, near the bow. In his tactical plot, he saw the dotted lines showing the training angles of each of the eight turrets turning around the wireframe of Argonne to pin the new target.
The rumbling of the turret’s motion ceased, leaving only the silence and the ringing in Don’s ears. “All capacitors ready. Gunnery solution locked in?”
“Ready and tracking, Lieutenant.”
The triple bass rumble of the rail-cannons throwing titanic projectiles at relativistic speed seemed to push the whole battleship to one side. Though not loud by comparison to the sound of the weapons being aimed, the report of the cannons had an apocalyptic finality that Don had never grown tired of in nearly two years of war aboard Argonne. In a few seconds, those slugs would arrive on target, and anything they contacted would cease to exist. As his old battery sergeant had once remarked, the avenging Angel of Physics took no prisoners.
“Time on target... eight seconds. Seven.” Don doubted most of the gun crew could hear him, but he counted down anyway.
When the timer reached two seconds, everything in the compartment lurched violently to one side. This time, Don heard the impact on the armor as Argonne once more rang like a bell. Something about this impact set his teeth on edge, and this time, several warning indicators began to blink on his board, indicating minor damage to the weapon system under his jurisdiction.
Don tried to say “impact” when the timer reached zero, but he couldn’t hear himself or anything else. On the tactical plot, the red-orange symbol at the intersection of all Argonne’s dotted line gun-aiming indicators, already blinking to indicate damage, faded into a dull brown.
“Tracking multiple hits on target.” Don shouted, his own voice sounding a whisper in his ears. “Target is down.”
Unfortunately, there was no time to celebrate; already, the capacitors were beginning to charge once more, and already, the fire control director was sending new target information. Don waved the “change target” signal over his head once more, sent one of his damage control techs to check on the worst of the damage indicators, then set the big gimbals turning once more.