2949-10-18 - Tales from the Service: The Defenders of Berkant
I’m sad to say that despite all Fifth Fleet public predictions to the effect that the Incarnation was not capable of another offensive this calendar year, a large enemy fleet and a handful of troopships has arrived in the Berkant system and occupied Hallman, a barely-habitable moon orbiting one of the system’s gas giants.
While this is all but certainly a staging point for an invasion of Berkant proper, the planet is still not interdicted, and I am told an evacuation effort is proceeding. Meanwhile, the Fifth Fleet is in motion – as of this feed item appearing in your ingest, the main battle line will be in the Berkant system. It seems likely that Fifth Fleet will be able to take up defensive positions around Berkant long before the Incarnation is ready to attack.
Though the defenses at Berkant are nowhere near as sophisticated as the ones on Margaux, it’s also unlikely the enemy has nearly as many troops to put into a Berkant land campaign. With only a few troopships in the system as of this writing, the invaders can take settlements on the outer planets and moons, but would have trouble against the F.D.A. garrison already in place. More troopships are almost certainly on their way, but their delay gives the Navy time to make its own move.
Just before Fifth Fleet left Maribel, a sizable force of mercenary warships and haulers mainly from Sovereign Security Solutions departed as well. My understanding is that this force did not coordinate its movements with Admiral Zahariev, but it is coordinating directly with the Maribel headquarters of both the F.D.A. and Confederated Marines. What a bunch of antique destroyers and frigates can be expected to do offensively against a few dozen Tyrant heavy-cruiser analogues I can’t imagine, but the troops and supplies those haulers are carrying have to be considerable.
Captain Alia Arendse paced between the bulkheads of the cramped bridge, not bothering to conceal her agitation from the crew at the duty stations all around her. As warships went, Ronan Lyndon had never been the most imposing thing, but it was one of the larger system defense units on the entire Frontier, fitted out in the days when Bozsi Kirke-Moore had prowled the spacelanes aboard Samarkand. Now, it was a superannuated prestige piece, but it was the only thing between thirty Incarnation heavy cruisers and the ongoing evacuation of Berkant.
Why the enemy had pounced on Hallman, rather than making straight for Berkant itself, still wasn’t clear to her or anyone in the diminutive Berkant system defense force. True, it was the only body in the Berkant system besides the planet itself with a breathable atmosphere, but the moon had little in the way of infrastructure or industry worth taking – its main export was the disgruntled and under-stimulated children of the few homesteaders clinging to its lichenous rocks.
“Any sign of Fifth Fleet?” Alia knew she’d asked the question only a few minutes prior, but staring down a full-scale invasion of the Berkant system until Admiral Zahariev arrived wasn’t her idea of a pleasant shift. At any moment, Nate’s interest in Hallman could end, and the enemy fleet could surge forward toward Lyndon and the handful of picket cutters in its loose skirmish line, cutting the life expectancy of every Confederated spacer in the system to a matter of hours.
“None yet, skipper.” McKee, hands dancing across the sensor console, shook his head without looking up. “If this is one of that blasted brigand’s ruses, it’s a damned good one.”
Alia winced and nodded. The supreme irony that Lyndon had been built to repel Kirke-Moore and now hoped for rescue by a fleet whose commander relied on the old pirate as a tactical adviser was not lost on her. Perhaps Zahariev and his favorite adviser had concocted some fresh scheme to surprise the Incarnation fleet, but more likely Fifth Fleet was merely running behind schedule, as usual. “Fifth Fleet will be here.”
“Yeah.” Magro, one of the gunnery techs in the recessed pit at the front of the bridge, muttered, probably to his neighbor. “Question is, will we be when they show up.”
“Belay that, spacer.” Alia sympathized with the man, but couldn’t permit that sort of talk during a battle drill. Lyndon was fast enough to save itself, true, but if it did, the civilians evacuating from Berkant would be left totally exposed.
“Contact. Strike units coming in fast.” McKee called out. “They’re going to try to get among the transports.”
“Hellfire.” Alia spun and dashed to the center of the compartment, where she could best see the three-dimensional tactical plot in the main display. Sure enough, a swarm of tiny orange motes was moving in from the direction of Hallman. “All ships and stations, weapons free. Engage when you have lock.”
As Lyndon’s bow railguns rattled off a spray of railshot into the paths of the incoming attackers, Alia counted only a few dozen motes among their number, and only a handful of them seemed to be Nate’s new “Jericho” bombers. This was, she decided, a probing attack, intended to test the defensive screen centered on her ship rather than to defeat it. If they did break through, however, the toll taken on the evacuation ships would be high.
Old though she was, Lyndon wasn’t going to let a little probing attack slip by, however. The gunners quickly filled the enemy force’s flight path with deadly slugs, and the attack force broke up almost immediately, scattering and heading back into interplanetary space.
A green crew might have cheered, but Alia’s bridge crew didn’t utter a sound. They knew as well as she did that Nate would be back, and in bigger numbers. The armada at Hallman could launch thousands of Coronachs and hundreds of Jerichos, enough to overwhelm even the best gunnery from such a small force. Perhaps they already had, and this easily-dispersed few were the scouting force for the main body.
“Any kills?” Alia found this question more encouraging than the repeated query about the status of Fifth Fleet.
“Aye. We got one Coronach before they scattered.” McKee bracketed a tumbling wreck in the sensor plot.
“BD98, that’s going to drift into your sector. Check if there’s anything worth retrieving.”
“Acknowledged. We’ll let you know in about ten minutes.”
Alia scanned the main plot, then glanced over at the secondary display showing the activity at Hallman. “Quick as you can. Something tells me we’re not going to be left alone for very long.”