Space 2315, Chapter 11

Lieutenant Commander Ethan Wanderbee carefully considered the repeater plot on his command chair as the ACS Waterman sped through the extreme outer reaches of the Mon Catha System. On it were the light codes of the Human Federation defenders in-system. His destroyer and the other one with him were stooging around out past the jump point of the star system, far beyond where the in-system sensor net could detect. Even from here, their sensors could pick up quite a bit from inside the system. The heavily stealthed sensor drones they deployed in-system were using discreet burst laser transmissions to relay their passive sensor telemetry back to the two ships. The transmissions had to be light speed because Wanderbee didn’t want to risk using subspace coms in the presence of whatever ships were guarding the system.

Operation Hammer was due to begin in another thirty-six Earth hours and to say he was anxious was putting it mildly. As a tac officer by training, he knew exactly how much coordination went into an operation like this. Planning something like this over the span of roughly a hundred light-years and to have exact coordination on time was a nightmare. Somehow Admiral Moore pulled it all together and the three task forces were going to be hitting their targets at the same time. If you asked him it would’ve been impossible, but the admiral had far more experience.

When Task Force Three exited hyperspace his ship would give the most up-to-date sensor logs they were able to collect on the star system. Even under stealth, they would be hard-pressed to get past the sensor nets the Human Federation built around the system. It would be an incredible challenge and he could only pray it would work.

There weren’t many mobile defenders in the system. There shouldn’t be. The Mon Catha System bordered the Corporate Republic of Sirius and they were neutral. There wasn’t a real reason to station many ships that close to the border of a neutral power.

Sirius said over and over they wanted to stay out of the conflict between Earth and the colonies. That wasn’t to say that some in their government were afraid of letting the Allied Colonies for Freedom camp out in their backyard for some time. If one were to look at the Board of Directors that ran the Corporate Republic, you’d find three or more factions regarding foreign policy. One wanted to side with the Human Federation fully, one wanted to side with the rebels, and the larger majority wanted to stay the hell out of the conflict. There was no profit in it for them and they didn’t have the big capital ships the two major powers had.

Officially Sirius operated nothing larger than assault carriers and battleships purchased from the Human Federation. It severely limited the amount of power projection they had. This was due to the Naval Arms Limitation Treaty of 2275, which both Sirius and the Genetic Republic of Midas signed.

However, there were persistent rumors that Sirius was building its own dreadnoughts, designed and built within their yards and to their specifications. According to unconfirmed reports, Siriusian dreadnoughts bore little resemblance to the few remaining dreadnoughts of the Human Federation. Those same reports indicated that they were somewhere in the tonnage range between juggernauts and super juggernauts.

The Human Federation dreadnoughts that still existed were only slightly bigger than modern-day battleships but smaller than juggernauts; they were too small to be proper line units when stacked against juggernauts but they were also too big and slow to chase down anything smaller than them. So instead the Human Federation had let the things become obsolete, only crewing the few that weren’t in mothballs and instead focused on the juggernauts and super juggernauts.

Super juggernauts, on a unit-by-unit basis, were hideously expensive things to build and crew. No single system power in Human Space could build or maintain many of them, which made the Corporate Republic’s four-star systems more important to them. If the Siriusian Navy was building dreadnoughts it would ensure that the Human Federation would keep their hands off their star nation. At least that was the thought.

Not that the HF had any thoughts of swallowing Sirius but who said paranoia hurt anyone?

Wanderbee looked back at the date/time display on the after hull of the bridge and sighed. Thirty-six hours to go.

Rear Admiral Tricia Lee watched as the last few ships of Task Force Three appeared alongside her battlecruiser, the ACS Broadsword. The two destroyers that were monitoring the system formed back up with the task force and transmitted their latest sensor data to her flag bridge. The task force dropped out of hyperspace well beyond the system’s jump point at about four light hours.

Her task force’s heavier ships dropped out of hyperspace well behind her battlecruisers and their screening units. Those ships and their screens couldn’t possibly do the high-speed run that she intended to do. She didn’t intend to come to rest relative to the planet but wanted to blow past it on a high-speed maneuver that would make it difficult for her forces to be targeted by the defenders. Lee’s fingers flew across her console as she transmitted the movement orders to the rest of the task force.

Her battlecruisers and their escorts lit off their sub-light engines, accelerating at the maximum speed of 0.5 light. That was pushing their inertial compensators to the limit and any failure would smear the crew of a ship into jam. It wasn’t something Lee wanted to think about but she was only going to maintain the extreme acceleration for an hour or so, just enough to give her task force the needed velocity before dropping back to the 0.25 light that their stealth systems could reasonably hide. Once in the system, they’d maintain that rate of acceleration until they were far enough inside. Their current course would take them past any major concentrations of Human Federation warships, particularly the six juggernauts and two super juggernauts in-system, toward Mon Catha IV.

There always was the chance that the system’s sensor net could’ve picked up her ships lighting off their drives. In all reality, they had a better chance of picking up the energy discharge from when her task force entered normal space.

From the sensor dump from the two destroyers gave her the eight HF juggernauts were older models, at least five or seven years old by now. The Imperator-Class Super Juggernauts were still nothing to sneeze at considering that they were super juggernauts. But compared to more modern versions they were out-of-date and quite possibly lacking the latest upgrades. They posed the biggest threat to her battlecruisers. Even if they caught her ships, however unlikely that was, she had her own super juggernauts and assault carriers waiting to hyper in to help her battlecruisers chew them to pieces.

Two hours passed, just long enough for her engineers to have conniptions, and just as planned her ships cut back their engines to 0.25 light. They were nearing the edge of the system and its sensor net and would enter their range in another hour. Even with all the speed, her ships had built up it was still going to take the better part of a day just to reach her intended target.

Mon Catha IV orbited its G3 primary at about ten light minutes. Lee called up the image of the brown world dappled with blue and green. It wouldn’t be her first pick to colonize but the mostly arid world had, if not true oceans, quite a few lakes and a lot of rivers running down from its many mountain ranges. When humanity came to the world they diverted rivers and used advanced irrigation technology to make more arable land. It turned out that the world had unique strains of plant life on it that made excellent pharmaceuticals and its economy rose at a breakneck pace.

Aside from that Mon Catha only boasted a rather modest asteroid mining operation that Lee really had no intention of getting close to. Kinetic rounds would do everything she needed to do.

All of which would’ve probably guaranteed a heavier fleet presence but the Human Federation diverted a lot of the garrison to other systems to try and counterattack the ACF. Instead of the greater numbers of super juggernauts that were supposed to be there the HF was building orbital forts, more than half of which wasn’t operational yet. The forts, which were usually deployed near jump gates, were nothing more than heavily armed space stations. Essentially, they were super juggernauts without propulsion capacity and could be manned by a quarter of the crew.

Not that Lee had any intention of getting into missile range of those massive structures. A few dozen kinetic rounds and they would be so much scrap along with the repair yards in orbit.

Admiral Moore watched the main monitor as Task Force One popped back into normal space and the star-filled vista returned the screen. The other ships reappeared as well, just where they should be. She breathed a small sigh of relief at that. It wasn’t that astrogators were in the habit of making mistakes but a small superstitious part of her was always afraid of what could happen.

The Welton System lay before her task force and she made no attempt to hide her force’s entry into the system. Besides, there was no way to really hide a force of some twenty super juggernauts entering a star system. They came in just inside the system’s sensor net in front of God and everybody. The system’s defenders, which consisted of only eight super juggernauts and their escorts along with four juggernauts and eighteen battleships, were horribly outgunned, even with the orbital forts around by the shipyards orbiting the third planet. Yes, the HF forces here could hurt her fleet but not nearly as bad as she was about to hurt them. Already her forces were accelerating in-system at 0.4 light.

The Welton System was one of those few star systems which had two habitable planets; one very much like Earth but smaller and the fourth planet was just barely. The few cities it did have were encased in domes to keep out the planet’s bitter cold. One would call it Mars-like but it had none of the characteristics of the red planet and was a lot colder and covered in ice and snow. It boasted some large ski resorts for the more adventurous but was for the most part sparsely populated.

Welton III was mostly known for its agricultural output, its highly fertile soil and comfortable climate being easily adaptable for terrestrial crops. It easily became one of the breadbaskets of the Middle Colonies, its output used to feed a burgeoning human population in this sector of the galaxy. The orbital farms and space habitats only increased the system’s output.

This system had a good size of its mobile defenders taken in order to be used elsewhere. Moore was already targeting the defenders in-system, as well as the orbital warehouses around the third planet. Those warehouses, unlike so many in other star systems, held not minerals but food shipments.

As much as she might’ve liked to get her hands on the fresh food there (not that her fleet was in danger of that thanks to Sirius) she wouldn’t trust the Human Federation administrators on the planet to not poison the food somehow if her forces looked like they’d try and take it. Any number of things could be introduced to the supply, not the least of which could be nanites which would make for some rather… unpleasant effects on the human body. Granted the nanomachine treatments which doctors could give would counter them but not before one got sick. In other words, it wasn’t worth it.

Her repeater plot showed the Human Federation warships between the third and fourth planet, not the way she herself would’ve chosen to deploy them, start to move to engage her fleet. She had to give them credit. They knew they were outnumbered and outgunned but still coming after her force, with their heavier ships in front. It wasn’t a normal move but it would give them the best chance to hit her escorts first. Moore wouldn’t give them the chance and gave orders to put her capital ships in front to counter the move.

Moore stepped away from her command chair and toward her flag communications officer, Lieutenant Maria Roman, “Transmit the order to surrender, let’s see if they’re feeling reasonable. Also, prepare the new viral package for transmit as well.”

“Yes ma’am,” Roman answered as she and her ratings suited actions to words. The new viral package was written about two weeks ago and Moore was really hoping that the work they put into it would pay off. It was either that or taking out the Human Federation defenders the hard way. Not that she had any objection to blowing her enemies out of space but she didn’t want too much bloodshed… on her side. She easily outnumbered the opposing force by more than two-to-one but they could still hurt her.

It would be hours until the two fleets engaged each other but the messages flew across the system in seconds thanks to subspace radio. It didn’t take long for the answer to come back and Roman looked up at her admiral, shaking her head, “They refuse to surrender ma’am.”

Moore leaned her chin against an open palm, elbow on the arm of her command chair, “Why am I not surprised? Miss Roman, transmit the virus in,” she checked her chrono, “Two hours.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Two hours later Roman hit the transmit button for the viral package. The package went streaming out across the vastness of space via subspace, reaching the Human Federation warships in seconds despite the light hours distance between them. Like the one before it, it was a delayed action virus that wouldn’t activate instantly. Instead, it would burrow into the subsystems of the ships and wait until Moore’s fleet was within the active missile engagement envelope. At that point, there wouldn’t be enough time for their crews to react as Moore’s fleet put their birds into space.

Lieutenant (J.G.) Marissa Tillman, the assistant tactical officer aboard the HFS Dragoon, one of the new Lexington-Class battlecruisers watched the plot in front of her as Admiral Moore’s fleet raced in-system at 0.4 light. She thought it insane that the local admiral wanted to race out to meet them seeing as how outgunned the local Human Federation forces were. If it were up to Tillman she’d have turned the ships around and raced out of the system as fast as she could and live to fight another day.

But it wasn’t up to the young brunette and now her ship was racing to meet an ACF fleet with more than two times the firepower the local HF forces had. She watched, unable to contain her nervousness and hoping it didn’t show. She looked up at Lieutenant Commander Brown who looked perfectly calm despite the force coming at them. She wished she could be like him, all calm and collected.

She wondered what was going through the mind of the admiral in charge of her fleet right now. Surely, he had to know that a fight here and now was less than pointless, that he was throwing away ships and lives for nothing. She dreaded to think that he was one of those admirals that felt he couldn’t quit the system without fulfilling honor first. Any sane commander who saw the odds here would instead retreat and come back with more forces to crush the enemy.

But if the admiral was being blinded by his sense of honor there was no changing his mind. He probably figured that he could get in one broadside of missiles, somehow complete a turnover and race out of the system; which Tillman knew wasn’t possible at the velocities they were pushing. Even if by some chance their fleet did manage a turnover there wouldn’t be enough time to kill their forward momentum and accelerate back up to speed before the ACF ships swept over them.

However, it wasn’t anything like that. Admiral Hoffman was in fact in a blind panic. He saw the enemy forces coming in and knew there was nothing he could do. Yet he didn’t want to pull his forces out. There was no way that he’d let himself get blamed for leaving a system behind without so much as a single shot. He’d be disgraced and branded the coward that he was showing his staff he was.

His shouted orders were barely coherent and his flag captain, Captain Celina Huntsman, refused to look at him; he had in fact cut the com to the flag bridge and was ignoring her admiral altogether. There was absolutely no way that she’d take the HFS Genghis Khan out of the battle and away from the death that was sure to come and leave the rest of the fleet behind. She knew this was suicide but she couldn’t detract from her admiral’s orders without throwing her career out the lock even though she was right. She couldn’t go over his head and order a retreat either. Right or not, Hoffman’s patrons would make sure that her career was torpedoed and quite possibly have her at best dishonorably discharged. At worst she’d be court-martialed for cowardice in the face of the enemy, which carried a death penalty.

They were coming up on six million kilometers now, almost the maximum powered range of their missiles. After having the enemy force on active scanners for hours they locked the ACF ships up in their fire control. Tillman swallowed hard and pursed her lips as the range to target fell. A red ring appeared around the enemy force on her plot as the ACF ships entered missile range and she watched Brown reach forward to press the red button at the center of his console.

That was when everything on the bridge went black. Every screen, every console, every light, anything at all went black as they shut down simultaneously. The emergency lighting came up, bathing the space in dim red light and the glow from everyone’s vacsuit’s helmet-mounted lights. Tillman looked up from her dead console and gasped. That virus that Admiral Kimery’s forces encountered. That could be the only explanation. But how? The fleet had the latest anti-viral software installed. It should’ve countered the virus! Only it hadn’t.

Her mind whirled as she turned to face her captain and at that moment, she saw what she never wanted to see. The captain was afraid. It was only a momentary expression of shock and fear, but it was enough to freeze Tillman’s heart with terror.

Turning back to her dead console she could picture in her mind’s eye that the two fleets were still closing in on each other. One unpowered and vulnerable. One still under its own power and no doubt firing nuclear missiles into space as fast as their launchers could fire them. Yes, her fleet was running their EW and their decoys were deployed. But that was until the virus struck. Now all they had were the decoys. There was no other active or passive EW online. Not even counter missiles or point defense lasers unless their crews could get them online in local control.

She felt utterly helpless. Never had she felt this way; even when she was aboard a light cruiser chasing after what passed for a pirate heavy cruiser. The pirates pounded her ship into scrap but her ship won. Even then, with nuclear missiles ravaging the hull and energy weapons blasting deep into her ship Tillman hadn’t felt this helpless. Then her ship was alive and spitting defiance back at the pirates. But now her ship was dead and unresponsive and the twenty-six Earth-year old felt an icy fist of panic close around her heart.

The cyber warfare experts on the bridge were hard at work, furiously tapping commands into their remote consoles, trying to restore power and control to the ship. All over the ship crews were fighting to restore local control. Some would and she heard the voices of those crews over her vacsuit’s com as they reported local control established. But they were too few as she felt the slight shudder as counter missiles roared out of their launchers. Too few. Way too few.

The range hadn’t been all that long at all. At six million kilometers and with a closing velocity of 0.8 light it didn’t take much time for those missiles to reach across space to her ship. The missiles themselves could achieve higher acceleration rates because they had no human crews to worry about. The highest rate she’d ever heard a missile achieving had been 0.5 light. She was attempting to figure out the math, with her fleet still moving at 0.4 light, the enemy force at 0.4 light as well, with missiles cranking out 0.5 light worth of acceleration it would only be seconds before they reached her ship.

The ship bucked and heaved as nuclear missiles exploded near or against her armored hull with the fury of splitting atoms. There was talk of scientists designing missiles which could use nuclear explosions to create lasers of some sort. It was certainly within the realm of possibility and science fiction writers of old used them.

She saw in her mind’s eye the nukes gouging deep holes in her ship and she crossed herself, praying fervently. Before she knew what was happening the lights came back up and her plot reappeared. She stared into it and saw the storm of missiles approaching like a tsunami. It was a cruel irony when she thought about it in that second. For minutes her ship was unpowered, helpless, unable to do a thing. Now it could respond and it was too late. Several missiles made it past the all reactivating point defense lasers and in the next second the bridge of HFS Dragoon and everyone on it, including one Lieutenant (J.G.) Tillman, were blotted from the universe in the heart of a star as both fusion reactors exploded.

Admiral Moore investigated the large holographic plot on her flag bridge and saw on it the red-light codes representing Human Federation ships wink out one by one. The virus all but crippled their entire fleet and her ships were mercilessly pounding the defenders to scrap. She enjoyed the taste of the nearly untainted victory here. However, it was still bittersweet as this move wouldn’t end the war. Yes, it would scare the living hell out of the Human Federation but it wouldn’t stop the war. Only one thing could end the war now.

Sector 001, the Sol System, more specifically Earth and Mars. Without taking those the admiral was sure that the Human Federation wouldn’t throw in the sponge. Oh, a part of her knew that if the ACF kept hitting the HF like this they’d eventually kneel, but taking Earth and Mars would end the war much faster than a war of attrition. It was ironic in a way, to save the most lives she’d have to be willing to take those two planets and she didn’t even want to think of the butcher’s bill the ACF would pay to take the most heavily fortified star system in Human Space.

To go in from the outer system would be suicide as an invading force would face the full brunt of the Sol Defense Fleet and the fixed defenses along the way. Even coming in on the other side of the system, as far away from the Pluto outpost as could be, they’d still have a hell of a slugging match on their hands. And she hated slugging matches. There had to be another way, but how? Right now, she couldn’t think about it. There was a battle here and now to worry about.

She and other admirals would find a way to lessen the losses on both sides. Her chief of staff Erana told her a few days ago about the Vonosh Empire. The fact of the matter was that she was scared nearly spitless at the thought of those aliens. Moore knew that to stop them humanity would have to come back together. Erana called them fierce warriors, deadly soldiers, and in her less charitable moments, savage barbarians.

“Mrs. McNally,” she stated calmly.

“Yes ma’am?” her flag ops officer answered.

“Status of the Human Federation forces please.”

Sadie bent over her console to study it for a few moments before replying, “Ma’am, we’ve destroyed over half the enemy fleet. We’re detecting multiple life pods and small craft signatures and many ships are attempting to hail us. Most of their ships are dead in space, unable to do anything.”

“Miss Roman?” the admiral asked. “What do you have?”

The communications officer listened to the coms over her helmet’s internal system then turned back to Moore, “I have a mess ma’am. The coms are scrambled and I’m having trouble sorting out individual messages. Most of them are along the lines of, ‘ACF fleet, we surrender! For the love of God, ceasefire! We surrender!’” She bent over her console and started sorting out the signals. “Ma’am, I’ve managed to isolate the frequency of one fleet pinnace out there. It’s squawking the flag captain’s ID code on it.”

“The flag captain?” Moore asked.

“Yes, the flag captain and some of her other officers. Apparently, she’s trying to tell her fleet to stand down but with all the interference and overlapping signals she’s not getting through.”

“Thank you. Tell the fleet to cease fire on their ships,” she said, “Please relay that information to Lieutenant-Commander McNally and Lieutenant Dently.” Her communications officer nodded, “Yes ma’am.”

Moore looked at the two other officers, “Plot us the shortest course to intercept that craft. I want it aboard our ship ASAP. Dispatch pinnaces and shuttles for Search and Rescue. Secondly, send our Marines over in assault shuttles to take charge of the damaged or intact vessels. I want them.”

“Yes ma’am,” they said in unison.

“Record a message,” she said to Roman. Her com officer tapped the controls then said, “Live mike ma’am.”

“This is Admiral Moore of First Fleet to all Human Federation ships. You will immediately power down your weapon systems, cut your engines, heave to, and prepare to be boarded. Under no circumstances will you wipe your computer systems. Any ship that attempts to lock onto or fire on any of our ships will be fired upon. You will comply with the Marines who will be boarding your ships. First Fleet Actual out.”

“Good copy ma’am,” Roman said.

“Send it,” Moore answered. “Let’s get this job done, people.”

Admiral Moore, Captain Avery Brooks, and Major General Tyler Sanderson, the fleet’s Marine commander, stood in the fighter bay gallery as Golf-Kilo-Two, the pinnace of the Human Federation flagship, settled into place in the fighter bay with the gentle tug of tractors. The personnel tube ran out to mate with the small craft as soon as it was back in the docking collar.

The telltales above the tube turned green as a seal was detected and the doors on either end opened. Around her Marines in powered armor tensed up and their gauntleted hands tightened ever so slightly on their rifles. Despite word from the pinnace’s pilot that the enemy officers were of no threat they weren’t going to take any chances.

Coming down the tube were rather battered and sullen-looking men and women in Human Federation vacsuits. None of them could meet the eyes of their captors. A few minutes later all of them came to attention as a single officer, a surgeon lieutenant commander, pushed a stretcher with a hover unit out into the gravity of Moore’s flagship. On the stretcher was a woman bearing the rank insignia of captain and it was obvious she was struggling to stay awake. She had to be heavily medicated as Moore quickly saw that both of her legs were gone just above the knees. The nametape on her vacsuit read Huntsman.

The only thing that kept her alive was that when the vacsuit detected the horrible injuries it automatically sealed itself and tightened up around the wounds to act as tourniquets. Moore swallowed quickly. Naval officers very rarely saw the end results of space combat. She looked down into the other woman’s eyes and held them until recognition slowly came to the woman.

“Admiral Moore?” the captain managed to say weakly through her pain medication-induced haze.

“Yes, and you’re aboard my flagship, the ACS Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

“My God,” the former flag captain breathed. “Captain Celina Huntsman, Human Federation Space Force, of the HFS Genghis Khan.” She managed to give her serial number. “Forgive me if I don’t offer a salute. My ship, my people?”

Even horribly injured as she was her first instinct was to look after her crew and ship. Moore’s respect for the woman went up a few notches. Moore shook her head, “No offense taken. I’m sorry, but our fleet only managed to recover about twenty-eight percent of your ship’s life pods and small craft. I’m afraid the others either didn’t make it or are still being rounded up. Your ship is adrift and not salvageable. My people will be scuttling her before we leave.” Moore saw the other woman’s eyes widen before she asked, “Your admiral?”

The other woman took a labored breath, “He died when the flag bridge took a direct hit. Don’t take this the wrong way, but goddamn you.”

Moore sighed heavily, “I’m sure if our situations were reversed I’d feel the same way.” She looked up to the Marines around the fighter bay gallery, “Get these people to the infirmary and see that they get proper treatment before taking them to the brig. Have the captain escorted there; see that she gets the best care possible. Tell my personal physician that she’ll be in for one hell of a situation. The captain fought her ship well and deserves our respect.”

“Ma’am!” they all chorused.

Avery Brooks came up to her after the Marines led the Human Federation officers away, “Deserves our respect?”

She looked at him sharply, “Yes captain. She may be the enemy, she may hate us for the rest of her life, but they did what was asked of them to the best of their abilities. If our situations were reversed, I’d hope they’d show us the same courtesies and respect.”

Brooks didn’t look all that convinced yet he wasn’t about to say otherwise to his admiral. Instead, he simply said in the tones of an officer who disagreed with his superior but wouldn’t say so, “Yes ma’am.”

“Brooks,” she said before he could turn away.

“Yes ma’am?” he asked.

“They’re humans too,” she told him flatly. “People like us. We all came from the same planet. We all call Earth home in some way. Don’t forget that.”

Brooks blinked at her before saying, “I’ll try to remember that ma’am. But they’re still the enemy.”

Moore sighed again, “That they are, but that doesn’t mean we don’t respect them as fellow humans.”

Tricia Lee carefully watched the tactical plot at the center of her flag bridge as her battlecruiser force sped farther into the Mon Catha system. Her task force already covered the distance between the jump point and the fourth planet without so much as any active HF sensors blinking in their direction. It was hard to sneak a force like hers into any system but her ships were running silent, with not even point-to-point laser coms being used, and their emissions were clamped down as far as they’d go.

So far, no HF ship even suspected they were there while her ships tracked them on passives for over six hours. Already her ships were turned to slingshot themselves out of the system using the planet’s gravity. By now her missile crews had solid locks on the enemy orbital forts and the cruisers that patrolled the orbitals above the planet. The orbital infrastructure was listed as secondary targets and would be targeted after the active combatants were handled. The enemy’s juggernauts were well astern of her force, at over eight million kilometers and opening. They didn’t have a chance in hell of catching her ships before her force blasted all the orbital industry away.

A tone sounded and a pre-programmed red box appeared on the plot to indicate that her ships reached the area she wanted. She returned to her command chair and strapped in before calling up her ship’s bridge. “Main bridge,” the rating there answered.

“Tell the captain that the festivities are to begin.”

“Yes ma’am,” the rating said before she cut the com.

Almost as one all thirty of her battlecruisers and twenty-five heavy cruisers began a gradual turn to port and fired their first broadside. They rolled ship and fired their second broadside. Most battlecruisers carried anywhere between twelve and eighteen missile launchers in each broadside while heavy cruisers mounted six to ten in each broadside. That many missiles being put into space at once by each ship would task their fire control computers and telemetry links. However, the missile crews and tactical officers and ratings were competent and by now had plenty of practice.

Over six hundred missiles raced away, accelerating at 0.5 light toward the orbital forts and the HF ships in orbit. And more was to follow.

Commander Amin Saab, the lead tactical officer aboard Station Alpha One in orbit Mon Catha IV yawned as he stared into the nearly empty plot. Traffic around the planet was unusually light for this time of day, only if you could consider twenty warships in orbit and something like sixty freighters plying between cargo transshipment points and the outer reaches of the solar system as light traffic. There wasn’t anything going on out there that wasn’t status quo.

He was getting up from his chair with his coffee mug in hand when suddenly his plot came to life with red light codes blossoming not even five million kilometers away. His jaw dropped as he tried to comprehend what his sensors were telling him. How could that many enemy ships get that close without anyone noticing?

Then it dawned on him. They came in completely silent and under stealth. Sensor Ops on the ground tried telling them that they picked up traces of what might’ve been ships hypering in outside the solar system. Nobody took it seriously. Sensor Ops turned their scanners toward that area but found nothing out there and nobody sent anything to check on it. Everyone thought that Sensor Ops was chasing ghosts and there really wasn’t anything out there. Why would any ship exit hyperspace over six light minutes away from the jump point outside the system?

That carelessness was about to cost them dearly. Saab had no idea how dearly until warning codes flashed across his screen.

“My God!” he whispered in Arabic. Shaking his head slightly he fell back into his chair, his coffee mug dropping to the floor unnoticed. “Missile separation! I have missile separation at six million kilometers! Speed 0.5 light!” he shouted in English.

“What?” Captain Ulrick Evanhard asked as he looked at the repeater plot on his chair. What he saw made his blood run cold. “Battle stations!” But he already knew it was way too late. At those speeds and the distances between there was no chance for his command.

None of the crews of those orbital forts were in their vacsuits and they were on a normal watch rotation. Barely a third of their crews were at action stations. The five orbital forts around the factories and refineries started coming to full readiness but it was too little, too late. Their EW wasn’t even online. Why should it have been? There were no enemies out there and the front was light-years away. Who worried about things like that this close to the border with Sirius, a star nation which resolutely told everyone they were neutral? EW systems, especially the active sort, were expensive to operate. Even when tethered to a ship or space station EW platforms had twenty-four hours of operational time on them before they had to be pulled back in and worked on. That was money the Space Force didn’t want to spend needlessly.

Virtually none of their active EW was deployed and the few systems the orbital forts and warships managed to activate weren’t enough to stop the tidal wave coming in.

The result was horrific. The warships in the path of the ACF ships fared little better. They tried to evade, to no avail. Out of the eight or nine ships in that section of space only one was left to try and limp away as a battered, air leaking hulk; the rest were destroyed outright. The orbital forts weren’t so lucky since they couldn’t move. They were able to absorb more damage; but even with their armor, which was thicker than a super juggernaut’s, that many missiles could blast them away.

Lee would give the Human Federation time to evacuate their civilians before she blew the orbital facilities to dust, something she looked forward to. Those orbital facilities represented billions of credits of investment and each one of the nukes she planned to put into them cost far, far less.

Admiral Moore leaned toward the table as she looked around her cabin’s dining room a few days later. Her fleet was reassembled again in the star system designated UU2-589 and she invited the other flag officers, their chiefs of staff, stewards, and flag captains aboard her flagship for dinner. She sipped wine then set the glass down before considering the dessert plate in front of her. Master Chief Steward Bethany McBright, who was directing the other stewards, outdid herself with tonight’s excellent chicken paprikash and looked to top even that with German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

Sometimes I think McBright goes out of her way to spoil me, Moore thought with a hidden smile. I’ll have to put in a few extra hours in the gym if she keeps this up! I’m not from a heavy-grav world where my metabolism can handle this naturally.

She cleared her throat gently and the soft conversations around the table stopped. The stewards still hovered around, refilling water, beer, liquor, or wine glasses with the unobtrusiveness that came with long practice and training. Once the other officers were looking at her, she began, “First, I’d like to congratulate everyone on a job well done!” She raised her wine glass and beckoned with a gesture everyone to do the same.

After sipping she set the glass back down, “I’m very pleased that we managed to pull off these three raids with a minimum of casualties on our side. I think someone on a ship managed to fall and twist their ankle or something, but that might be the worst of it,” she said with a smile that brought similar smiles and a few chuckles from the others. “The Human Federation cannot possibly say the same thing.” This time the smiles that came back were quite predatory.

“Our next target is the Newton System. While we do have scouts out to bring us up-to-date information on current HF deployments in-system, we must remember that this is a Middle Colony. It’s a very prosperous one with no less than three jump gates and already word of our attacks recently. It doesn’t take a genius to know that that system is in range of the three places we just hit. The HF has probably redeployed something there in case we’d hit that system and can bring in more very quickly if need be for word has already reached Earth.

“That said I’d like us to be as cautious as possible when making our plans for the next attack. I don’t want us to think we’re invincible.” Moore paused briefly to reach for the holo-projector controls.

The projector above the table came to life and she brought up a star system view of Newton. In it a G4 primary with two inhabited worlds, the fifth one being very Earthlike at about eight and a half light minutes out, and another at about seven light minutes. The closer of the two planets to the primary was a much drier world with a higher temperature but still comfortable enough for humans to move about without having domed cities. Orbital industry orbited either planet and a fleet yard was in orbit Newton V, the Earthlike world which boasted a population of 5.5 billion. There were also significant asteroid mining facilities located between the third and fourth worlds. The yards in orbit the fifth planet weren’t a building yard, but rather more of a secondary yard that handled refits for battleships and smaller units.

“Here’s what we know so far,” she said, “which unfortunately is a few months out-of-date since no one from our side has been out here since before the Coup. I don’t want to rely solely on the sensor data that Siriusian freighters managed to bring us so our scouting units should be reporting back to us within a few days, a week at most.

“Until that time, however, we will be running drills and simulations based on what we know already and what we can reasonably project to be worst-case scenarios. I want our crews to be ready for anything. We’ll be pushing our crews hard over the next few days before we redeploy for Newton. I expect reports on readiness states and how the simulations are going daily.

“It may be a little early to start planning now, but I’d like some of you to start kicking around ideas on what we should do once we get there. I said that this dinner would be a working meal so let’s get to it. But first, let’s partake of this sinful looking cake my steward whipped up,” she said as she raised her wine glass again.

A chorus of “Hear, hear!” answered her as everyone around the table picked up their dessert forks and spoons.

Continue to Chapter 12…