2949-12-07 – Tales from the Service: The Kingfisher Melee 

While I have had a number of requests in our inbox asking us to speculate in greater detail what the Incarnation fleet is doing at Hallman, I don’t think it’s reasonable to do so at this stage. Simply put, we don’t know much more now than we did a few weeks ago when we spoke to Captain Kirke-Moore and Colonel Durand. Both sides are using the skirmishes here to test new tactics and weapons, but the need for a testing ground can’t possibly be the only reason the Incarnation has invested so heavily in this offensive. 

That the ultimate goal is Berkant itself seems obvious, but given that the planet is entirely evacuated at this point except for a strong garrison, and even the farming machinery that tills the fertile Berkant soil has been removed, there seems little immediate value in the place. 

This week, we continue from the account of Vitali Borja, one of the first pilots to fly the new Kosseler-derived Kingfisher Gunship into battle. 

“Lead, how do you want to do this?” Lieutenant Tollemache’s calm, clear voice broke the silence as the squadron closed in on the battle ahead. The frigate Gottfreid Muraro was the only participant visible to the naked eye, but its wild evasive maneuvers and the molten-orange clouds of railshot thrown up by its batteries hinted at the multiplicity of its foes. 

“Like we practiced, Two.” Commander Roubio sounded excited, and for once, Vitali didn’t blame his commander’s exuberant energy. The few dozen Coronachs ahead wouldn’t know what hit them; the sleek new Kingfisher gunships most of the squadron had been equipped with hadn’t been used in battle before. “Make them come to us.” 

Vitali slid his hand along one display and switched his controls from cruise mode to combat mode. Unbidden, the status indicator for Fisher Four, his wingman, appeared next to his own in one of the secondary screens. Like the older Magpies, Kingfishers were not meant to fight alone; an isolated gunship could be quickly outmaneuvered and cut to pieces by agile opponents like the Incarnation’s Coronachs. “You with me, Four?” 

“Right behind you, Three.” Rocco, the pilot of Fisher Four, sounded tense, and his tone sobered Vitali up a bit. They would be outnumbered two to one at least, and their Kingfishers weren’t really optimized for tangling with Coronachs, but they could hardly be expected to avoid the innumerable interceptors on the battlefield. Kingfishers’ real prey was supposed to be the Incarnation’s more valuable, less common bomber, the so-called Jericho, but to get to those targets, one always had to slice through a swarm of agile Coronachs. Today, they would merely be proving the Kingfisher’s ability to do the latter, more dangerous task. 

“Fisher Squadron, this is Muraro.” The frigate’s skipper sounded young, inexperienced, and terrified. In theory, her ship could tangle with twice as many Coronachs for much longer than it had been under attack so far, but being under fire and relying on theory for one’s safety was a comfortable experience for very few spacers. “You’re on our boards. We’ll clear your approach.” 

A moment later, the frigate spun on its axis and a new cloud of glowing railshot erupted from its side, forcing a trio of Coronachs to break off from an intercept course with Fisher Squadron. Coronachs, with their fragile frames and close-range plasma weapons, were easiest to fight if kept at a distance. 

“Landon, Patel, start marking your targets.” Networked with the gunners on Fisher Four as they were, Vitali’s gunners could fire complex patterns of railshot to herd enemy inteceptors into the path of a pre-planned killshot from the other gunship. If the enemy got too close, the gunships’ heavy plasma weaponry could vaporize a Coronach with a single direct hit. 

“All gunners, weapons free.” Commander Roubio’s grin was fully audible over the audio channel. “Kingfishers, stay close.” 

Even before their leader had finished speaking, the railguns on all the Kingfishers began to spew railshot ahead, creating a cloud of murderous ferroceramic projectiles to lead the way into the melee. This, Vitali knew, was not intended to kill the enemy, only to open a path for the squadron. The killing would mainly take place as the squadron slashed through the circling Coronachs, and as those same enemy ships pursued the gunships. 

The six Magpies still attached to Fisher Squadron slowed and fell back as the new rigs accelerated. Vitali didn’t envy those pilots or their gunners; their role in the battle was mainly to watch and only to intervene if their experimental compatriots got into trouble. 

“Two incoming! Damn, how did they slip past the net?” 

Vitali heard the computer’s siren wail as a Coronach targeting system locked onto his ship. With a reflexive flick of his wrist, he rolled to starboard and engaged the lateral thrusters to juke in what he hoped was an unexpected direction without slowing his forward progress. Behind him, the plasma cannons cracked out a reply to the slashing Coronach’s bow cannon, and then it was over. The intercepting Coronach made a desultory pass against Fisher Seven, but by the time it had recovered from this, the whole squadron was past it. 

“Where’d the other one go?” Rocco called out. 

“We bagged him.” Tollemache’s reply, as cool and matter of fact as if she’d been talking about passing the salt-shaker in the mess hall aboard the carrier, made Vitali smile. 

“Gunners, watch your timers.” 

Vitali glanced up to see the bulk of Muraro already looming large ahead. Commander Roubio’s assault run took them on a tight pass along the frigate’s aft quarter, and in the heads-up display within his canopy glass, orange indicators already bracketed several Coronachs which would pass within range, indicating the ire of his gunners. As the timer crawled toward optimum weapons range, Vitali gripped his control sticks, listening for the wail of another target lock, and praying that his rig would emerge on the other side of the fracas in one piece.