2949-11-16 – Tales from the Service: The Skirmish Line Testbed
While there has been no full scale battle here at Berkant, there have been several skirmishes along the Fifth Fleet outer defensive perimeter. Most of these are engagements between enemy strike units and our own, with occasional participation by picket cutters and frigates, but on two occasions, a lone Tyrant cruiser has attempted to bull through the pickets, requiring in a response by Confederated light cruisers and destroyers. On both occasions, the enemy cruiser was damaged and forced to withdraw back to Hallman, though losses have been suffered by our forces as well.
What’s interesting about these skirmishes is that the enemy seems to be using them as controlled test environments for new weapons. We’ve seen a trio of new enemy fast frigate analogue make their appearance in these skirmishes, though little is known about these vessels that I can relay. Perhaps these three are the only ones that exist to date, but I think we can expect to see more if the enemy likes their performance here. Their main role seems to be hunting assault cutters, and they’re probably intended to take on Fifth Fleet’s stealth cutters as well.
More concerningly, in the second cruiser-level incursion, the light cruiser Drachenblanche briefly tangled with the enemy intruder and discovered that it was not armed along the lines of the standard Tyrant model. The inclusion of a heavy kinetic prow cannon to this new variant (already being referred to as Tyrant-B) is probably intended to introduce weapons capable of threatening total destruction of the eight Confederated battleships of the Fifth Fleet line.
While this is probably the objective, single cannons firing on fixed arcs, even of the largest caliber, still present little threat to our battleships.
[N.T.B. - Drachenblanche got lucky. This was probably a prototype weapon, but I imagine the enemy has got something on their slipways that will carry more than one of them.]
Captain Lukas Sorrentino felt his ship shudder even through the inertial isolation field as a pair of warheads detonated in its shear-screens. With the first salvo from Drachenblanche's launchers already on the way to the opposing cruiser and the missile-room crews hurriedly reloading for another volley, he had little to do but hold onto his console and wait to see the result.
Though he refused to let the command part of his brain focus on the thought too long, Lukas knew Drachenblanche was hideously outmatched. Though his cruiser was nimble and carried a lot of firepower for its weight, the single Incarnation “Tyrant” heavy cruiser which he was dueling with outmassed him by almost two to one and had an arsenal to match. Drachenblanche could weather a few more salvos at long range before its defenses degraded too far and it suffered a hit, but once it did, he’d be forced to withdraw. The ship’s chance of survival if that first hit crippled the screens or gravitic drive were effectively nil.
Fortunately, Lukas wasn’t fighting alone. Drachenblanche had moved out to engage the probing enemy ship with a trio of destroyers in the van and a fire-support frigate in close escort position. As the fight unfolded, the frigates and cutters along the picket line were also beginning to trickle in, adding the long-range firepower of their railguns and launchers to the ordinance hurled at the incoming cruiser. All those other ships equalized the tonnage situation and almost made up for the firepower discrepancy, as long as Drachenblanche itself could weather the full force of the hostile cruiser’s main weapons.
“Aspect change.” The voice was that of Commander Biskup, skipper of the destroyer Zeman. “Advise enemy cruiser is opening hangars.”
“Understood. All ships, start railshot denial on probable attack vectors.” Lukas started a timer, and a red sphere began to billow out from the enemy ship’s position on his display. Coronachs were notoriously hard to detect in open space, even with their tiny gravitic drives burning at full gee, so the computer would keep track of any place they might be until the squadrons were spotted. If the cruiser carried the rarer Jericho strike bombers, they would be somewhat easier to find, but also somewhat more dangerous to his ships.
As each ship in the growing melee diverted several of its rapid-fire light railguns to spraying ferroceramic slugs into space in the hopes of catching the incoming strike squadrons unawares, something occurred to Lukas. Though the Tyrant type had a sizable launch hangar within its hull, its hangar doors were quite small. Their opening should not have been visible at long weapons range. “Zeman, please confirm. Opening hangars?”
After a few seconds courtesy of the speed-of-light signal flitting from Drachenblanche to Zeman and back, Lukas heard the reply. “Aye, Captain. Visual observation confirmed.”
Before he quite understood why, Lukas switched channels. “Helm, full evasive. Now.”
To her credit, the officer at the helm didn’t hesitate. The hum of the reactor feeding power to the gravitic drive went up an octave and the little wireframe of Drachenblanche pirouetted in Lukas’s display. Courtesy of the inertial isolation systems, he felt none of the violent acceleration.
“Evasive engaged, Captain. What’s-”
The cruiser rocked and the lights flickered as a short-lived star bloomed into being not far from the ship’s port quarter. Lukas noted with grim satisfaction that the explosion, only thirty kilometers away, was right where his ship would have been, had he not ordered evasive action. Evasion didn’t fool missiles and torpedoes, but sensors could track their approach – this was something different.
“Relativistic cannon. A big one, too." Lukas answered the incomplete question, as much for himself as for the helm officer. Up until that point, Incarnation ships had generally lacked kinetic armament, and so his ship, like most Confederated warships, had long since dispensed with standard evasive maneuvers during battle. “Continue evasive and advise all ships. This Tyrant isn’t the standard model. Commence evasive maneuvers.”