2951-03-01 – Tales from the Service: The Firmament Strike

As of this posting, Ashkelon is still in transit to a new area of operations; we cannot say which one for security reasons until we arrive. As such, this conclusion of the last two entries was scheduled much longer in advance than usual, with the ship expecting to be outside of Hypercast relay range for several days.

Since I wrote what will by now be last week’s post only about an hour ago, I don’t yet have anything interesting to report about the vessel which we are now assigned to.

“We’re past thirty klicks.” Beck grunted as he threw his Magpie into a tight roll to avoid a stream of plasma from the cruiser’s point defense batteries. “Two, any luck pinpointing those capacitors?”

Wynn Richards glanced over at his sensor console as he brought his own Magpie out of an evasive turn. As he did, he heard the rattling hum of the quad-mounted railgun ball-turrets behind him. That probably meant at least one group of enemy interceptors had managed to catch up. “Negative, Lead. No heat differential. Hull’s probably too thick.”

“Best guesses it is.” Beck grumbled. “Two, target a hundred meters forward of my aim point. Three, a hundred aft.”

Wynn checked the spherical tactical plot at the center of his display for red pips, and quickly spotted the trio of Coronach Interceptors who his gunners were firing at. “Company already? Didn’t think these guys would get here fast enough.”

“They’re straight from the beast’s belly.” Sullivan, one of the gunners, didn’t bother to stop firing to reply, and the railguns’ EM fields made his comms pickup crackle and hiss. “Must’ve been in the hangar fueling up when we came out of TR-XE.”

“And they’re damned good.” Iwai, the other gunner, sounded nervous. “Should have nailed that last one.”

“You don’t have to nail them, just keep them at a distance.” Wynn hoped the pilots of those interceptors weren’t Immortals, but there was always that possibility. Nearly every vessel in the Incarnation fleet seemed to carry a handful of these cybernetic super-men, and they were perhaps the most formidable pilots to have ever flown. Fortunately, they were bound by the limitations of their equipment, the same as anyone – a Coronach was fast and agile but not durable, and its weapons were only effective at the closest range.

“Aim point set.” Beck called. “Arming.”

Wynn called up the munitions bay controls, opened the bay’s sliding door, and tapped the “arm” switch. “Arming, Lead.” Behind him, in the weapons bay between the gun stations, a little robotic arm started mechanically arming the warhead of each of his three guided anti-ship torpedoes. These weapons, larger, slower, and more potent than missiles, were equipped with all manner of clever technology intended to foil both point defense and shear-screening systems, but they still needed to be carried close to the target by something much faster.

Nine torpedoes was a fairly pathetic salvo, all things considered. If it weren’t for the fact that the Nate cruiser probably had its jump capacitors fully charged, they could expect to do little real damage to a ship that big. As Wynn set his aim point on the hull, he couldn’t shake the sense that even if the cruiser was vulnerable, their nine tiny pinpricks, winnowed by defensive fire, wouldn’t make any difference.

“Arming. Range of weapons release?” Kariuki’s voice was strained, and Wynn briefly hoped that his own voice didn’t sound quite like that.

“Make it about ten klicks.”

Beck wasn’t taking any chances with the torpedoes; they were making a very close approach. Assuming they survived that long, there wouldn’t be much for the enemy gunners to do about the weapons.

Just as Wynn was approaching to form back up on Beck’s tail, his systems wailed the alarm that meant an enemy fire control targeting lock. Beck broke one direction, and Wynn the other, just in time to avoid a withering volley of plasma that would have given them no escape even a half-second later. As they got closer, the targeting system’s job got easier, and the approach became far more dangerous.

Wynn maneuvered wildly until the wailing faded, ignoring the cries of alarm from his gunners and the red that began to push in from the edges of his vision as he exceeded the gee-rating of the Magpie’s gravitics. As far as he was concerned, if the flight crew was still alive to complain about bruises at the end of a mission, he’d done his job properly.

The range indicator read only twelve klicks by the time Wynn thought to glance at it once more. The flight of three Magpies had once again been scattered widely, but the interceptors were nowhere to be seen, likely chased away by the same batteries that had come so close to killing Beck’s ship and Wynn’s.

Wynn straightened out his course, only to be forced into a wheeling spiral by another concentration of battery fire. “Be advised, weaponry release in about twenty seconds.” The gunners, far closer to the munitions bay than he was, would feel the shock of three torpedoes being kicked out of the bay, and it wouldn’t do for them to think they’d been hit, or worse, to spot the weapons and reflexively start shooting them.

“About damned time.” Iwai clicked his tongue. “Those Coronachs will be back any minute, and they’ll bring friends this time.”

Wynn set the controls to release automatically the moment the Magpie past Beck’s proscribed ten kilometers, just in time to be forced to evade once more. This time, he evaded toward the cruiser, not away from it. “No point trying for a simultaneous release, Lead.”

“Agreed, Two. Take your shot. We’re right behind you.”

 Wynn watched the distance indicator slip down in fits and starts as he juked around masses of white-hot plasma, until finally it became a four-digit number in meters. This lasted only a moment before he was forced away again, but that moment was long enough for the Magpie to fire its payload out into space.

Even as Wynn peeled away, he imagined the three tumbling torpedoes orienting themselves toward where they’d last been told to find a target, then lighting their chemical-reaction drive units. Unlike missiles, which any decent set of gravimetric sensors could pick up, chemical reaction drives were easy to miss on most sensors, especially in the thick of an ongoing battle. True, those boosters had limited fuel, but with only ten klicks to travel, it would be more than enough.

Within seconds, the Incarnation cruiser’s gunners recognized the threat, and almost all the batteries switched to saturating the approach vector of Wynn’s torpedoes. He heard Beck shout in triumph as he got close enough to launch himself, and a shrill laugh from Kariuki as she did the same.

The three distinct flashes of brilliant white visible on the rear cameras a few moments later told Wynn that all his weapons had detonated, though he lacked any way of knowing if any had hit home.