Saints of a Solar Empire Chapter 2, Part 5.1: The Price of Betrayal
Over two hundred light codes dotted Admiral Cambridge's data stream as Task Force 87, known as the White Fleet, flickered into existance at the Nexus Multanna star.
The voyage had taken longer than expected. TF 87's lighter combatants--one hundred twenty frigate and cruiser vessels--couldn't hold enough reactor mass to keep up with the larger, better equipped vessels, and Hades' location at the edge of known space meant that refueling facilities were in short demand. All in all, the White Fleet had lost another month with the need to constantly replenish their stores.
Still, they made good time, Annette had to admit (not that she ever would to anyone but her staff--there was always room for improvement). A full half of Annette's forces had never worked together as a squadron, much less a vest-pocket fleet.
And, of course, there were other minor annoyances that Cambridge had been saddled with.
"I see we have finally arrived, Admiral. Good, good. It seems my minor suggestion of skipping the Artanis system refueling point has saved us quite a bit of time."
Ronald Archer was a slimey weasel of a man, in Cambridge's opinion. His position as ambassador wasn't even earned--his entire career had been made by powerful patrons, and Archer had risen to the level of his incompetance.
Not only that, but there were the orders from the Chamber which had put him in command of this mission. After all, it was a civilian mission, despite the Navy's involvement, and a civilian should be at the head of it. Surely the demonstrated dominance of the people over the military establishment would only help negotiations?
Especially with the firepower of twenty squadrons of frigates and sixty capital ships to back up said civilian negotiator.
The fact that the task force would be critically short of plasma when they reached Multanna fell on Archer's deaf ears. In fact, the light combatants would only be able to make it just to Artanis, assuming they would suffer the projected drainage on their systems. Archer had argued the point that with negotiations, there was a good chance that the Hadeans would offer them their services. When Cambridge had pointed out that they might not, Archer ended the discussion by producing orders, which the Fleet Admiral had no choice but to obey.
"Admiral," chimed in Commander Winthrow in a voice not quite low enough to be called a whisper. "The fleet has finished phase transfer and have formed up in standard cruising formation. We've also detected a single vessel. From its mass range, it could be a light frigate but is most likely a scout and--" Winthrow paused, touching her ear piece. "Admiral, we've received a transmition. It identifies itself as a vessel of the Hadean Republic and welcomes us to Multanna."
Annette nodded. Of course the Hadeans would have a scout vessel watching them. Probably several, in fact, though the costs of keeping several vessels rotating would be quite immense for a single system politicy, which only made Annette more wary. Not even the individual entities in the Northern Kingdoms in their heyday could tangle with TF 87 and win--but they could hurt them and at least open up a new front to suck off supplies and men.
"Ah, Admiral, can we not communicate directly with them?" inquired Archer in that condescending tone that parents usually reserved for naughty children.
"No, Ambassador." Annette would be shot before she'd call him sir! "We're too close to the start for a clear signal, and the time lag would make a conversation awkward. Also, the scout will most likely leave as soon as we're close enough to get a good look at his exit trajectory. After all, the Hadeans need time to prepare for our arrival."
"Admiral, sir," reported Winthrow, as if on cue. "The Hadean vessel has departed. We have a firm reading on his exit trajectory."
"You see, Mister Archer? You will have to wait a few more hours before making official contact."
"Of course, Admiral. The sooner the better." Archer didn't--quite--lick his chops at the power he would be exerting over the negotiations. "I welcome the opportunity to bring impoverished people such as these the quality of life we so enjoy."
"And return our personel."
Archer tilted his head in a look that very much reminded Annette when a writing utensil broke. "Yes, of course."
Mistress of the Fleet Altima exited the intraship tube, the pulsing lights of the Alert guiding her way to the flag bridge. Her staff was still assembling as she walked in. Immediately a screen within the holotube opened up, and Altima was treated with the view of her young, but experienced, flag captain.
"Mistress Altima, our scouts have reported that they have sighted the traitor fleet. Prelimmary reports put their number around two hundred, M'lady, as well as fifty-plus capital ships. All indications point that they did not detect the other scouts. As per orders, the other seeker vessels have been deployed."
Altima nodded. She hadn't been on the flag bridge when the seekers had delivered their news, but that was what standing orders were for.
"Thank you, Captain," she said sincerely and closed the circuit. Captain Aunel had her entire ship to prepared.
In a way, the traitor's delay had been most helpful. From the start of the plan, Altima had been most concern for her own forces. She knew--and had had explained to her--that the success of the operation was more important than the loss of her openly operating force of four Radiance vessels and four Halcyon assault carriers and escorting elements. They had to lure the traitors further into system and not put them on edge.
However, the Hadean system had four moons, though only two were useful enough to dictate mining. However, in Altima's opinion, the rough-hewn cosmic debris that orbited Hades named Omega would be worth its weight in gold. It hid the rest of Altima's forces--twelve Radiance vessels, twenty assault carriers, and twenty-four Rapture battlecruisers, which were much more deadly than their tonnage suggested.
A smile creeped across the Mistress's face as light codes signalling readyness began to dot the holo-tube--and not all were ships. Twelve massive behemoths, each the size of full-scale trade station. Those were the vessels that mattered. They would act as the hammer to pound the traitors against the rest of the Fleet.
Scout frigates are the fastest military vessels in the space. The size of light frigates, they used a minimum of point defense and offensive weaponry to squeeze in heavier engines, more engines, and larger anti-matter stabilizer fields. Having left sooner and being able to pull much higher velocities than the slower capital ships of the TEC, the waiting Hadean fleet had plenty of time to come to full readiness.
Cambridge saw this as the White Fleet entered the Hadean system on the outskirts of the Hades gravity well. The Hadean 'fleet' which consisted of eight battleship-range capital ships and a little over two dozen frigates--with no heavy or battlecruiser range vessels, she noted--was manuevering into position. While not that impressive by TEC standards, even a multi-star nation would be hard pressed to create such a navy, especially since, the Admiral thought, at least SOME of their units must still be in yard hands after having the Vasari waltz through their system.
When the reports of the planetary orbit started coming in Annette thought that Archer would start drooling. All reports indicated a massive space-borne industry which must be supported by a large population, and judging by the fact that Hades was a dry, desert-like world, Annette knew why Archer was salivating. Hades must need such amenities such as food and water, not to mention everything else the former Trader Order could offer. Even if the Hadeans did not join the TEC, they could be bullied economically.
Annette didn't particularly agree or even like with standard practices with worlds such as this--selling of foodstuffs and technology for dirt cheap rates to drive up the population, then sudden 'shortages' and price gouging to cripple the world, practically forcing it into the Order. Too much greed on both sides would only cause distrust. Economic bullying could only cause mistrust, why, even in the Northern Kingdoms in this day and age there was still a groundswell of dislike towards the home worlds.
Annette shook the thoughts from her mind and pushed them out of the way. Whatever Archer would do, she only concerned herself with the military aspect at the time. She was actually grateful in this instance because Archer's zeal allowed her to operate normally.
No doubt Archer would have forced her to keep the White Fleet together, just to keep the power concentrated and awe the locals into submission or if only to annoy Annette. As was, Admiral Cambridge was able to peel out her carrier elements and escorts and leave them at the hyper limit, as was standard TEC practices. Fleet carriers and the cruiser-sized light carriers were too brittle to be used in battle, as the Vasari had eagerly demonstrated against them, so the TEC had simply began to leave them at the hyper limit where they could launch fighters, keep the battle fleet between them and the enemy, and run if need be.
So after peeling off the two squadrons of Sovak fleet carriers, four squadrons of light carriers, and their escorting elements, the White Fleet, the greatest concentration of ships of the TECN within a thousand light years, advanced towards the planet, along coordinates given to them by the welcoming Hadean ships.
As more and more reports began to come in, Annette was even surprised that the Hadeans were, apparently, even repairing the seized TECN vessels in their shipyards.
"Mistress Altima, the traitors have divided their fleet. It seems they've screened out their purely carrier elements," Captain Aunel's voice echoed in Altima's mind even as she watched the reports on the holo-tube.
"Very well, Captain. Inform the Third War Mistress that, unless the situation changes, we will activate Tempest-2. Inform the Anima that they will be called upon in twenty minutes."
Captain Depp of the Sovak carrier Hiryu thought this whole White Fleet ordeal was a huge waste of time, especially for the carriers. Other warships could train up their crews just as well--carriers needed to use their strike craft to be truly useful, and there was no practice better than with a large group of your fellows, and the rest of the fleet watching.
Captain Depp truly hoped that Admiral Cambridge would give Admiral Toda permission to perform carrier exercises when this whole waste of time was finished with. After all, Depp's ship was a brand, sprakling new Sovak-B ship, carrying seven full strike groups and militarily designed. If Hiryu strayed into enemy fire, a freak accident wouldn't crippled her like the earlier civilian built versions.
"Captain, sir, I'm picking up some strange readings on the sensors."
Depp was pulled from his thoughts as he forcued on Lieutenant Wade, his sensor officer. "What is it, Daniel?"
"I don't know, sir," said the squeaky new lieutenant. Once he had some experience, he'd make a fine officer in TECN blue and gold. "It could be a sensor ghost, but...it looks more likea ship under strict emissions control."
He thought for a moment. It must be a scout frigate--anything bigger and Wade would be able to nail down at least if it were a ship. It must be Hadean, of course, but what would a lone vessel out here be doing....?
Admiral Cambridge sat up as a slightly edged voice appeared from the communicator. She instantly recognized it as her flag captain, Captain Ellis.
"Admiral, something strange is going on. The Hadean ships just raised their shields."
Annette sat up straight at that. Shields could be brought up relatively easily at general quarters, but no one ever brought up their shields...unless they planned for them to be used
"Raise our shields. Sound general quarters, and launch the fighters from the Dunovs, but keep the bombers back--"
"Admiral, what are you doing?!" came Archer's strangled response.
"Ambassador, the Hadeans have just raised their shields, which is an act of aggression, and my orders are clear."
"But they wouldn't, Admiral! You and I both know that it'd be suicide if they--"
"Admiral," came Ellis's voice once more. "We're detecting thirty-plus vessels emerging from the shadow of Hades's third moon--and they have their shields up as well."
"There you have it, Ambassador," Cambridge said flatly.
"No, I refuse to believe it! Raise them, Admiral, get them on the screen!"
This time it was Commander Winthrow who spoke. "That would be impossible, Mister Archer. They've raised their ECM and we're being jammed."
"No, it can't be! You're lying! You barbarians are doing this, aren't you!?" cried Archer. "I'll have your heads for this! There's no way I'm letting yo--"
"Corpsman!" ordered Annette with angry eyes and a voice as cold as a tundra's breeze. A large, well-muscled marine carrying very real and very practical weaponry stepped forward. "You will escort Ambassador Archer to his quarters and make sure he stays there."
"Yes, sir!" replied the marine quickly. Archer was too shocked to speak, much less move, before the marine took the slight man in his grip and literally led him off none-too-gently.
Annette waiting a moment then shook her head and turned back to the screen. "Now, let's--"
"Admiral," interrupted Captain Ellis, "they're launching fighters and--oh my god!"
Many structures orbitted the planet Hades, and, in fact, many of those were centers of industry that the TEC had thought they were...but twelve were not. A dozen great behemoths of armor and rage were constructed by the Hadean forces from shipped in prefabs. Larger than even battleships, these stations devoted the room from engines and standard weapons to a very different kind of weapon--the strike craft.
Those twelve platforms launch almost a hundred and fifty squadrons of strikecraft at the White Fleet, and were, in fact, much more dangerous than the numbers appeared for the Hadeans used larger squadrons than their terran counterparts.
Annette was as shocked as any at the launch of the strikecraft as any, but she recovered quickly and observed the situation. CIC analyzed their acceleration--they must be fighters, no anti-ship bomber could move that fast unless they were naked hull. Still, those fighters were more strikecraft than her entire fleet possessed, and they'd be on her quickly.
It must be an attempt to strip her of her own fighters and her lighter combatants. Even a fighter's internal lasers without any ordanance could chew up a frigate if there were enough of them.
Orders quickly went out, and the fleet reformed, and the combat space patrol fighters were joined by even more of their brethren as the full fighter strength of White Fleet's Dunov battlecruisers was deployed--just under one hundred squadrons themselves, though they were actually less than a third of the advancing force. Joining them would be the Garda-class defense frigates--bristling with multi-angle defense autocannons and tracking systems, andthe White Fleet's fighters would engage the enemy strikecraft in the Garda's defensive envelope.
Just as quickly came the order to bring forward Admiral Toda's fighters from the carriers, though only half of their strikecraft compartments were fighters, they would add another sixty squadrons to her strength. Hopefully she could bleed these Hadeans on her fighter defense before deploying her own bombers to wipe out their pathetic little fleet.
These Hadeans will always remember what happens when you mess with the Traders, thought Annette.
The TECN's CIC analysis were completely right and, at the same time, completely wrong.
Because of their size, strikecraft could only be fitted with a certain amount of inertial compensators. Granted, their 'sump' allowed them to move much faster than other vessels, but the human body could only withstand so much abuse. At certain speeds, the very speed which created the strikecraft would kill the pilot, and with external ordanance in the case of bombers, their maximum speeds were even lower.
It was a certain principle. Even the Vasari were limited to the same, basic speed as their Terran counterparts, though they did have the technical advantage they always enjoyed.
It never occured to the TECN what strikecraft without any pilots would be capable of. After all, any attempts at creating 'fighting AI' had failed against any sort of skilled and motivated human opponent. However, the Hadean strikecraft also had pilots.
They just weren't aboard the actual strike craft.
And so it was that over a hundred squadron of bombers, not fighters, suddenly accelerated beyond every known limit in the galaxy.
Organic and mechanical brains were baffled. The fighter pilots and gunnery crews of the White Fleet couldn't believe it--it was impossible what their computers were recording, and the mechanical point defense cannons--constructed to destroy incoming missiles or wildly evading strikecraft--simply could not move fast enough to take one the strikecraft speeding past them.
However, almost a third of the bombers weren't concerned with speeding past the blockading fighters and defense frigates, and the TEC met at once the full fury of an exiled people. Hundreds of beams were salvoed from the bombers--light speed weapons designed to crippled capital ships. Surprise and a superior weapon destroyed half of the terran fighters in a single pass, and then they were in among them.
Fighter squadron cohesion disappeared. They were fighting as pack animals against a superior coordinated foe who then split once more, with a fourth busying themselves with the fighters and the rest speeding after the defense frigates.
A few Hadean bombers died--more than a few, in fact--by sheer luck and law of averages, yet they were doing far more damage than expected and simply too surviveable.
Thirty seconds after a third of the enemy bombers engaged the White Fleet screen, the majority of the strike intercepted the main fleet.
Point defense took its toll, tearing scores of bombers out of space, but not before almost a thousand bombers salvoed their beam weapons into the waiting capital ships. While individually weapon, those beams were launched with extreme precision and coordination, and a dozen vessels fell out of the fleet, maimed and crippled, and half that number of starship exploded as their systems were overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught.
Unlike normal fighters, these bombers didn't immediately break off, either. Again they turned, making a second pass on the wounded fleet, and again their diminished numbers inflicted out of proportion again, and they strafed the fleet a third time. TF87 could only hold out and wait for the oncoming fighters from the carriers to join the fighting.
However, the bombers would fire no more. Detecting incoming fighters and with their energy reserves depleted, only one more mission and only one more weapon were available to them. With as much speed as possible--rivaling most missiles, the Hadean fights hurled themselves upon the broken, air-streaming wrecks of mangled TECN ships. They used themselves as missiles.
And entirely too many got through.