Sorry, didn't take any screenshots. It was, as I said above, my first game, and I didn't know how to take any. Nor did I really think to, as there was a lot of intense maneuvering involved and it was well past midnight.
Now for the second half, in which Owens' plan of battle makes first contact with the enemy.
The Third Battle of Latiz
Space exploded into Rear Admiral Carter's face as his frigates came out of Phase Space in tight formation - he regretted giving the order now, but it had seemed best at the time to come out all at once. A few seconds later, the siege frigate train emerged directly behind them.
He spent a few seconds surveying the battlefield. Admiral Owens' plan to lure the enemy towards the Aegina phase lane had worked. The Dubhe phase lane lay directly across the gravity well from Owens' present position, and the only thing standing between the Krosevs and Latiz Base were a handful of defense cannons. They had a clear shot.
Carter stared out at the pirate swarm covering First Fleet. He hadn't been present for the First or Second Battles of Latiz, but suddenly he felt a knot deep in the pit of his stomach. There were a lot of pirates. Admiral Owens had not been exaggerating when he'd said the pirates congegrating at Latiz were over two hundred strong. Of those, a hundred were dedicated attack frigates, equivalent to the old Cobalts. This did not change the fact that there were way too damn many of them.
And they were all packed so tightly into those huge swarms. Carter smiled.
"Attention all ships!" he shouted into the com, "Engage cluster missiles and proceed to maximum missile range!"
"Er... sir?" Sawyer said, hesitantly, "shouldn't we wait until we're in firing range to engage the cluster missiles?"
"Quiet, lieutenant!" Carter snapped back, "I don't pay you question my orders! Let's move!"
Lon Regin gazed deep into the tac plot of Latiz's combat operations center. It was almost a shame, really. He'd grown to enjoy the sight of the Confederate president's face, always willing to give him so much generosity, so long as Regin would just tell the next raiding party he organized to head off into Ast Eternal space. He was going to miss that special relationship, but there was nothing for it, now. The Confederacy had betrayed him, and he was damned if he was going to take that lying down.
The Confederate fleet that had jumped into the system almost made him want to laugh. He actually had laughed, the last two times they'd tried this, as they faced the full fury of a pirate raiding fleet. They'd tried everything to break Latiz, from full fleets to that damn cannon of theirs - the shot that hit at the start of the attack had wiped out a full hangar deck - but they would never triumph against the unstoppable force that was a full pirate armada.
"Captain Regin!" one of the PSIDAR techs shouted, "incoming phase space footprint, off the Dubhe phase lane!"
"WHAT?" Regin shouted, turning on the tech, "How the hell did they sneak up on us?"
"I don't know, captain!" the tech said, panicking, "It could have been the solar radiation, or maybe some malfunction in the..."
"Oh, for the love of God," Regin shouted. He turned back to the operating staff. "Divert frigates from the main force! Take out of those missile boats!"
"Sir," Signals said, "the pirates have detected Admiral Carter's fleet. Most of the force is breaking off to engage him."
Owens swore. That wasn't supposed to happen.
"Tell Admiral Carter to withdraw to the edge of the gravity well," he said, "put some space between them."
"Aye aye, sir."
Petrov lurched as another missile salvo hit Karazamov's broadside.
"Sir! Hull integrity is at fifty percent and falling!"
Petrov gritted his teeth. The Karazamov had, reluctantly, complied with Admiral Owens' orders to start withdrawing, but it hadn't spared them the brunt of the pirate force's attack.
"Engage adaptive forcefield! Reload all autocannons and target nearest frigates!"
The green glow of the Karazamov's adaptive forcefield lit the bridge dimly. The field wasn't enough to stop all the missile shots, but the impacts began to slow.
"Sir," Communications said, "the Akkan is hailing us."
"Patch it through," Petrov ordered.
Admiral Owens' face appeared on screen, a red flash from the Akkan's flag bridge's warning lights lighting his face every few seconds.
"ECS Karazamov, you are too damaged to continue combat. Proceed to the edge of the gravity well and withdraw to Aegina immediately."
Petrov stood in stunned shock. Withdraw? Him? "With all due respect, sir, I..."
"Hull integrity at forty percent! We can't take much more of this captain!"
"Withdraw immediately, captain," Owens barked, "that was an order, not a suggestion!"
Petrov nodded. "Aye aye, sir, at once." He turned to the helmsman. "Lieutenant, take us out of here."
"Aye aye, captain!" the pilot replied, "All hands, brace for maneuvers!"
The Karazamov lurched as her main drive came on line. Petrov grabbed hold of his command chair - the Kol-class had been designed with relatively weak inertial dampers - as the ship spun around. Then he was forced back as the forward drives came on-line, carrying her slowly toward the phase lane.
"Adaptive forcefield has failed! Incoming missile salvo!"
"Guns, switch autocannons to point defense mode!" Petrov ordered, "Take them out!"
"They're moving to fast!" Weapons shouted back, "We can't get a target lock!"
Petrov swore under his breath. They couldn't even retreat properly.
"Hull integrity at thirty percent!"
"Increase acceleration! Divert power from all non-essential systems to the main engine!"
The Karazamov[i] rocked and lurched as if she were possessed. Behind her, the swarm of pirates intent on claiming her hull for themselves continued their charge.
"Sir," Helm reported, "we've reached the edge of the gravity well."
Petrov let out a sigh of relief. Maybe they had a chance.
"Hull integrity at twenty percent! Condition critical!"
On the other hand...
"Get us out of here, Helm!" he shouted, "All hands, brace for phase jump! Engage adaptive forcefields!"
A high-pitch whir joined the sound of missile shots as the [i]Karazamov's phase engine charged. For just a moment, Petrov felt fear - the fear that the pirates would destroy Karazamov before they could jump clear, and the knowledge that there was nothing he could do about it...
"Hull integrity at ten percent! Hull breach on Deck Five!"
"Seal off the deck!" Petrov shouted. He stared at the tac plot as the frigates launched a final missile salvo. For just a moment, he stared into the jaws of oblivion.
And then the tac plot dissolved as the Karazamov jumped.
"The Karazamov is away," Tactical reported, and Owens let out a sigh of relief. Captain Petrov had left that far too close for his liking. Now he was down two battleships, and the Solonis was already taking heavy hull damage. So far, nothing had hit the Akkan, but that wasn't guaranteed to last.
"The Solonis is hailing us, admiral," Communications reported. Owens acknowledged the report with a gesture. It was almost surreal, in a way. Looking out at the tac plot, watching the missiles strike their targets in complete silence. The only noise aboard Akkan was the rapid-fire sound of DuValle giving orders, and, for a moment, Owens found himself in an ocean of peace.
The Solonis's captain appeared on the view screen. Captain Joanna Locke was another of the new captains, pressed into service after the disaster that had been the Second Battle of Latiz. Her face seemed very concerned.
"Sir, Solonis has sustained heavy damage. Hull integrity is at fifty percent and falling. Requesting permission to withdraw."
"Negative, captain," Owen said. The Solonis's bomber support was too precious an advantage to lose. "Proceed to the edge of the gravity well and await further orders."
Locke nodded. "Aye aye, sir."
Locke's face disappeared from the screen, and Owen sunk back into his seat. Despite the loss of the Magnius and the Karazamov, the battle was actually going rather well. Only two of the Kodiaks had been destroyed - Owens had never felt more vindicated to scrap the old Cobalts in favor of the new heavy cruisers - and Admiral Carter...
Owens stopped and looked at the tac plot for a moment. The siege frigate train was down - that was a pain, but acceptable - but Admiral Carter's frigates had actually managed to lure over half the enemy combat force to the other side of the gravity well. That explained it. The pirates had taken the bait after all.
"Sir," Communications said, as if reading his thoughts, "Admiral Carter is hailing us."
Carter clutched the back of Captain Sawyer's command chair for support as another salvo of pirate lasers rushed past the missile frigate. They were at the edge of the gravity well, now, with over half the pirate force right up against there backs. This wasn't supposed to happen, dammit! They were supposed to be the trap, not the diversion!
"Are you sure we can't hit phase space, Captain?" he asked.
"I already told you, sir," Sawyer replied, "the only phase lane near here leads into Ast Etnernal territory, and I don't plan on getting my crew chewed up by an Advent task force."
Carter swore under his breath and turned back to the tac plot. The frigates were closing fast. If only they had more time...
He ran to the Communications station himself, sweeping the tech manning it out of the way, and hailed the Akkan. Admiral Owens' face appeared almost immediately.
"What is it, Carter?" he asked.
"Sir, my fleet needs time to regroup," Carter said, "we're taking heavy damage. We need a diversion, something to buy us time!"
Owens took on a sadistic grin. "Hold on, Admiral, I have just the thing. All ships, cease fire!"
Regin stared at the tac plot with his mouth agape. Every single Confederate ship had just ceased fire and closed their gunports. Why the hell would they...
"Captain," Communications said, "the Confederate flagship is hailing us."
"Put it on. Now." Regin snapped, "I need to see this."
Admiral Owens appeared on the screen, his face lined with worry. Regin had seen it before, but he'd never seen the Confederate officer look this pale.
"Captain Regin," Owens said, "I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding. Fleet Command informs me that they want me to make a deal with you."
"Oh?" Regin said, raising an eyebrow. It could very well be a trap, but thi was too good an opportunity to pass up.
"Alright," he said, "let's talk."
Javelis LRM Frigate 3Z819 as the fleet glided out from under the sudden silence. Carter took a deep breath and watched as they filed silently by the enemy fleet. He didn't know what Owens was up to, but it was working.
"Move the fleet to the edge of the launch arc for the Aegina phase lane," Carter said, "I don't want to risk drawing them back toward the main force."
Sawyer let out a deep breath. "Nerve-wracking, ain't it, sir?"
Carter tried to maintain his composure. "Don't worry, captain," he said, "we'll get out of this in one piece."
The last of the frigates flew clear of the pirate force. They were going to make it...
"Sir?" Communications said, "Admiral Carter is in position."
On the screen, Regin raised an eyebrow. "What was that?"
Owens glared at the Communications tech, then turned back to Regin. "I'm afraid these negotiations are over, captain," he said, "all ships, open fire!"
Regin swore as the Confederate ships opened their gunports and let loose another autocannon barrage. It had been a trap - and he'd fallen for it. He was never going to live this one down!
He focused on the missile frigates - they'd moved out of his frigates' range, and were preparing to use their missiles again. Fortunately, however, they were now right between both halves of his strike force.
It was time to end this.
"All ships," he said, "this is Latiz Base. Engage the enemy missile frigates. I repeat, break off your attacks and engage the enemy missile frigates!"
Carter nearly screamed as another autocannon shot ripped past the frigate's bridge. The pirates had already caught up to them, and they were still running hard.
"Uh, sir?" Signals said. Carter shot a nasty glare at the tech.
"What is it?"
"Sir, I'm picking inbound hostile contacts. Looks like they're breaking off from the main engagement."
"WHY ME?" Carter shouted to nobody in particular, "That's all I want to know universe! Why do you have to make me suffer?"
"Sir?" Sawyer asked. Carter forced himself to recover his composure.
"Sorry, captain. All ships, engage cluster missiles, fire at will."
Owens stared in shock at the tac plot. It couldn't be happening. Nobody was that stupid. And yet...
The pirates had disengaged to chase after Carter's frigates. The only thing standing between First Fleet's heavy guns and Latiz Base were a handful of defense cannons.
"Communications, signal the Marza and Station Novalith," he ordered, "Let's end this."
Captain Joshua Lamarcke of the ECS Marza smiled as he rose from his command chair. He'd heard the order from Admiral Owens, but he could still barely believe it.
"Guns," he said, "Target Latiz Base. Fire all missile launchers."
Kerensky grinned at the latest order from First Fleet. This was exactly what she'd been waiting for.
"All right, boys, we can't let the Marza have all the fun, can we? Fire!"
Javelis LRM Frigate 3Z819 danced through the swarm of enemy missiles and lasers like a leaf on the wind. Sawyer piloted the ship himself, and Carter could feel the raw concentration which the lieutenant was flying his vessel, reacting with split second timing as if time had slowed down. Carter had heard of the phenomenon before - the combat training analysts called it "Presence of Mind," while the actual combatants called it simply "the Zone" - but he'd never actually seen it in action before.
Autocannon shots and laser fire ripped by around them. A missile swung past the ship's bridge, striking another pirate craft. The inertial dampers strained to compensate for the maneuvers, and made their displeasure clear in the form of a red warning light. Sawyer ignored it and switched the missile racks to manual for another bombing run.
Carter felt his stomach twist and turn, and threw up over the bridge floor. Sawyer ignored him and took out another Corsair, and for the firs time in his life, Carter felt genuine admiration for one of the men under his command. He climbed back to his feet, gripped the control console firmly, and gave the order to attack.
Regin looked wildly about as klaxons blared and warning lights lit up. "What the hell is going on?" he shouted, storming over to Damage Control.
"Their capital ships have opened fire," the tech said, "We've sustained heavy damage. I don't think life support can hold much longer."
Regin glared at prepared to say something nasty, but he never got the chance. Because at that instant, the Novalith's nuclear warhead penetrated Latiz's outer armor, hit the command deck, and exploded.
"Latiz Base is down," Signals reported, "I repeat, Latiz is down."
Akkan's bridge crew cheered, and Owens let himself join them. They'd done it. No matter what happened now, the pirates would never be able to organize another raid.
"Sir," Signals reported, "the last raiding party just returned from Ast Eternal space."
"Let them come," Owens said, "All ships, withdraw to Aegina. Mission accomplished."