The Hokum - Chapter 7

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The Hokum - Chapter 7

Postby Zume on Wed 21 Oct 2020 18:22

The Hokum – Chapter 7

Emperor Valsur was in his office at the Presidio, located on the Hokum homeworld. Sitting in front of his desk was the Imperator of the Army, Bemus, and the Imperator of the Navy, Conovus. The two officers were present to give Valsur a concise briefing on the status of the Navy and Army before all three went to the council chamber to inform the assembled ministers in a more comprehensive fashion.

Conovus went first. “Sire, based on the reports from our liaison officer in the Commonwealth’s Combined Fleet, and with a collaborating report backed by scanner data from the greyhound group in Circuit Run, now recalled to rejoin Frontier Fleet, we can expect our allies to conduct their assault into Bedrock in the immediate future, if they have not done so already.”

“I certainly hope so, Conovus,” Valsur said. “If only to release some segments from the Expeditionary Fleet to bolster Frontier Fleet’s advance.”

“Yes, Sire. Frontier Fleet will be entering the Binary Code system presently. The warp point wasn’t mined, and scouts have yet to detect any Axis presence. It’s likely the Geode warp point will be invested with defenses. As for Strike Fleet at Bandstand they’re stationed at that system’s second warp point. As the plan for Strike Fleet is to stand on the defensive in Bandstand for the foreseeable future, I’ll venture the idea of placing three of the six prefabricated type-6 bases there, with the other three slated for Tire Iron.”

Valsur nodded. “I agree. Considering how expensive they were to being with, and twisting the arms of Finance to agree, using them will finally silence his economic grousing.”

Conovus continued. “As for the Expeditionary Fleet their reinforcement will be at a minimum, and all units it receives will have the latest refits. Refitting of Expeditionary Fleet units will continue at a deliberate pace, using a few mobile shipyards in Fallowed Field with emphasis on lighter units before focusing on the main strength of fleet carriers and battlecruisers. As for the Axis fleet that ran back into BRB-1 our pinnaces had made several transits, confirming the existence of a minefield with an attending control ship. We’ve been informed that a Commonwealth task group will be entering BRB-1 in a few days. Our allies have mined the Abyssal-019 warp point, and our own defenses are guarding the Solid State warp point. Unless the Axis have additional forces in BRB-1, including minesweepers and a stock of mine clearance rounds, they’ll be on the clock regarding supplies. Accompanying the task group is a relief force slated for the Blood Pride system. We’ll maintain the minefield we’ve placed at the Ampere/Blood Pride warp point until the Commonwealth has secured Blood Pride.”

Valsur thought for a moment. “Given the low population of that planet is concentrated in a few settlements the Commonwealth occupation troops had plenty of room to evade Axis forces.” He then looked at Bemus with level eyes. “Had our own Army levels been sufficient I would’ve been tempted to send in our own relief force after the Battle of Com-14.”

“We can thank the Ministers for that, Sire,” Bemus said in an equally level voice. “They have limited Army funding until such time that ‘a practical method of quelling civilian Comensal resistance has been devised.’ As of now we’re only able to rotate Army units on Crimson Expanse. We don’t have enough capacity in both troop levels and transports to invade Bandstand. Even the trio of low-population worlds in Fallowed Field will be a strain. We been only able to monitor their activities and kinetic strike any heavy industrial and resource stockpiling they happen to have, as well as suppressing their ability to build spaceports and ground bases.”

“I don’t relish the thought of spending decades periodically bombarding factories and busting underground redoubts, even with relatively ‘clean’ kinetic strikes,” said Valsur. “The same goes for fighting planetary populations that are more than willing to abandon their cities and fight in the wilderness until hell freezes over. Professor Alba is of the opinion that it will take decades of isolation from higher authority for even younger Comensal to question their commitment to resistance.”

“It’s shaping that way, Sire,” Bemus admitted. “Eventually their caches will run dry, and I daresay they’ll go so far as using spears and arrows to supplement any gear they capture.”

“Two weapons that their children are taught to use in elementary school and used in sport competitions, along with pipe rifles,” Valsur snorted. He then shook his head. “Enough of that. The Ministers will say the same thing 10 times over.” He turned to Conovus. “Now, any update on that unaccounted group of Axis ships in the rear-area systems?”

*******

In terms of warp connections, the shortest route between Whel and Cain had five. Naturally the ISN used this route the most, especially for their battleships and dreadnaughts due to their low cruising speed. As for the second most used route it had seven connections, being the domain of pinnaces and freighters. These two routes made extensive use of comm and scanner buoy chains and pinnace waystations. Both sides of all warp points in these chains were mined and watched over by small prefabricated bases or cruisers equipped with automated weapon controls. It was taken for a given that the Axis detachment, the one that separated from the fleet before the Battle of Com-14, had the supplies to conduct operations for months, if not a year or more.

All other systems in what was collectively called the Com Pocket were slowly being sown with their own comm and scanner buoy chains between warp points. One of them was Com-22, and a small, but special, convoy was moving through it. Comprised of one Fusillade battlecruiser, two Interior heavy cruisers, one Imperial Wave small carrier, two Type 1 destroyers, a Type B frigate, and an Oxgoad tug, this convoy made its way across the system. As it did, a shuttle preceded it, deploying scanner buoys so that they had a 50% overlap, returning to the cruisers to resupply. Comm buoys were farther apart, using tight-beam communications to extend their range. If the Axis group was in Com-22 it was hoped the convoy’s small size will prompt it to attack. To that end the last ship in the convoy was expected to provoke such an attack.

The ship was an Axis Grim Reaper class dreadnaught. It was captured after the last abortive Axis attack on the Cain/Laser Burn warp point. After being converted and receiving minimal repairs it would’ve gone on the short route between Cain and Whel. Instead the ship had more substantial repairs. All armor and shield generators were restored, along with life support, cargo holds, shuttle bay, half of its point defense, electronic warfare and datalink, and its sole HET laser. The only exception was the engines. While repaired, the drive field signature was left intact. Upon seeing that signature any Axis commander was compelled to attack for the standing order was to destroy any ship that fell into enemy service. The big ship was being tractored by the Oxgoad so that it could match the cruising speed of the formation.

Due to their greater resolution the long range scanners on the cruisers picked up the presence of a small craft drive signature before the most recently deployed scanner buoy did. The shuttle was recalled and a Spear fighter, equipped with a scanner pack, was sent out. Before too long the contact was resolved into 36 Hatchet F1 fighters, 36 Stiletto escort shuttles and 60 Machete armed pinnaces. A formidable force in face of its opposition only having 18 fighters, but they were all F2 models with internal guns. All the Hokum ships had the latest refits and had stocks of AFHAWKs on hand. The Grim Reaper, while datalinked to the frigate and tug, had to count on its truncated point defense suite and strong passive defenses to see it through.

The convoy commander recalled the Spear fighter. Running, while an option, was out of the question as the dreadnaught couldn’t keep up, even with detuned engines or engine tuners. Moreover, the orders were to engage any Axis force to gauge and denude the enemy of strength. AFHAWKs and advanced point defense would go a long way to mangling Axis fighters and small craft. So, holding his 18 F2 Spears in reserve, the commander waited as the oncoming craft approached like a stormfront.

With precise timing the Grim Reaper engaged its engine tuners and the convoy altered course 120 degrees just as the Axis formation, now moving at top speed for a pinnace, reached the edge of the AFHAWK envelope. With 19 AFHAWKs fired in the first exchange three Stilettos were shot down, followed by five more in the second exchange. At 2 LS range 4 more fell. To a one they all have antimatter close attack missiles, their fireballs pocking the void like exploding ancient lightbulbs.

For having one-third of the Stilettos shot down the Axis force continued its inexorable closure on the Hokum ships. The fifth exchange had them just within advance capital point defense range. Four Machetes were splashed by deadly intercept missiles while five Stilettos and one Hatchet fell to AFHAWKs. It was at this point the Hatchets and Stilettos sped up, so at the sixth exchange the Machetes were 1.5 LS from the ships with the rest at 1.25. At this range all AFHAWKs were directed to the Hatchet fighters while advanced point defense mounts took on the Stilettos. Five Hatchets, six Stilettos, and two Machetes erupted into antimatter-fueled fireballs.

Due to the disparity in speeds between the now two separate enemy groups the convoy commander elected to keep the Hatchets and Stilettos engaged, now 0.75 LS out. The Machetes were 1.25 LS away and in the blindspots of the ships, but neither they nor the ships could engage the other. In the face of concentrated firepower the Hatchets and Stilettos were reduced to 12 each. Maneuvering at the last moment the convoy kept the fighters and shuttles out of the collective blind spots at a range of 0.25 LS. This effort had all remaining Stilettos splashed, one Machete dispatched, and only 4 Hatchets surviving. Seeing that the Hatchets had enough FRAMs to destroy his carrier outright the convoy commander launched his fighters, and just in time for the Hatchets fired on the CVS, destroying it completely. The Spear fighters went after the Machetes, for staying with the ships will only see them whittled down by the Machetes’ point defense. In this way more Machetes will fall. Taking this opportunity, the last four Hatchets moved at maximum speed away from the ships.

With the Spears maneuvering into their blind spots half of the Machetes turned to bring their guns and point defense to bear. The ships did what they could against that particular formation, firing AFHAWKs to keep their point defense busy so they couldn’t be used against the Spears. All told 34 Machetes were felled, but came at the cost of 13 Spears. Now in two groups, at a range of 0.5 LS, the first one was in the blind spot of the ships with the other closing on the rear port quarter. The five Spears knocked down four Machetes, and the ships bagged eleven, leaving just four in the blind spot.

Fuel as much by hate as by fusion power the death-bent craft were now 0.25 LS distant. The convoy commander ordered the escort frigate to accelerate to maximum speed. This put the ship out of the reach of the last Machetes; not so for the two Type 1 destroyers. For all their work only one miserable FRAM hit one of the destroyers, collapsing its shields. A final broadside of point defense lasers destroyed the last of the Machetes.

The convoy commander brought his ships about, heading for the spot where the carrier was destroyed. SAR teams were dispatched, and the pilots of the five Spears abandoned their craft, being picked up by cutters. A few minutes later fresh drive contacts appeared on long range scanners. There were nine, all Axis, moving at maximum speed towards the Com-10 warp point. One of the contacts broke off and took an apparent intercept course for the four Hatchet fighters. Clearly the Axis force had been lying in wait, drives down, along the direct route between the system’s two warp points. Com-10 had no scanner and com chain, for there was no need for one until recently.

Com-10 connected to Com-6 and Com-3. The former was part of the seven-transit route between Whel and Cain and thus all of its warp points were mined. As for the latter it was two transits out from Whel, and its warp point to Com-10 was already heavily mined and had laser buoy parks as well. As for the convoy it resumed its trek to the Com-10 warp point after spending two days on SAR work. The Axis ships had long since slipped beyond the reach of long range scanners. They had either entered Com-10 or were in the outer reaches of Com-22. The scanner chain was completed, the last buoy a mere 8 light-seconds from the warp point. With that done the convoy reversed course and headed for the Com-11 warp point. Messages sent, it was up to the planners in the Presidio on what to do next.

*******

Frontier Fleet reached the Binary Code/Geode warp point without incident. With a scout dispatched to watch over the Binary Code/Redline warp point, Admiral Jocelin sent in a probe to see what defended Geode. Instead of pinnaces he used all six of his Union Animals, hedging that the defenses were light considering the size of the lunar and asteroid populations in the system.

Two minutes later a pinnace from one of the ships returned with good news. Defending the Geode side of the warp point was a paltry shell of 240 mine patterns and 60 buoys. Only six F0 Hatchets served as the CAP with a full-sized Type-2 base a mere 8 light-seconds out. These pilots were painfully green as only five of the twelve FRAMs fired hit, reducing the shielding of one Union Animal by 67%. The base crash-launched three additional squadrons of Hatchets just before the pinnace transited back to Binary Code, and that the ships shot down 25 buoys.

Three minutes after the first pinnace came the second, reporting that all the buoys were gone and the three fresh Hatchet squadrons, again green to the gills and of the F0 variety, expended their FRAMs and were retiring to their base. For the buoys only 31 remained when they were primed and fired, erasing the armor of each Union Animal by 33%. When the Hatchets attacked, they were faced with the ships having taken the inverted star formation, so that five ships were able to cover the blind spot of the sixth. The ship with the partial shield damage lost the rest of them and barely had any armor left. Only one squadron was able to fire before it and the other two were down by intense advanced point defense fire.

Jocelin sent in three of his Implacable dreadnaughts immediately. After warp transit effect subsided the trio fired SBMs with lasing warheads at the base. With the third volley the CAP squadron had finished rearming and made its fatalistic run. They were all downed by advanced capital point defense so that AFHAWK stocks remained intact. The rest of the fleet entered, firing mine clearance rounds from external racks and internal launchers, leaving what remained to the minesweepers.

Instead of taking the fleet to the lunar colonies on Geode-3-A and B, Jocelin sent a single Bird Nest scout to investigate, waiting to see what they had in the way of defenses. The fleet went to the Com-30 warp point. Com-30 connected to the Iron Sky system, one that, according to captured records, had a sizeable population on the main planet along with a minimal sprinkling of asteroid outposts. A separate minelaying group went to the Com-27 warp point. Two transit out from Geode was the Smelter system, host to some asteroid outposts in two very rich asteroid belts. Having a minefield present would serve as a tripwire defense in the unlikely case the AFC had stashed away some warships in Smelter. It turned out to be prudent move, but not in the expected way.

A Bird Nest scout was dispatched to the midpoint of the direct route between the Com-30 and Com-27 warp points. Tasked to start a hunt for comm buoys, the scout instead picked up a drive field contact. After an hour’s observation it was clear that the contact came from the direction of the Com-27 warp point and was on a direct course to the Com-30 warp point. Moving at top speed, the scout launched one of its recon fighters when the range permitted it. By then it was resolved that the contact was comprised of 132 separate drive sources, all Axis commercial engines. Closer in the count was 3 type-4, 100 type-9 and 29 type-10 freighter hulls. They were classes never seen before, and the recon fighter stayed at a range of 8 light-seconds for five minutes to get a comprehensive recording of his findings. At no point did the huge convoy indicated that it was aware of the fighter’s presence, either through deliberate inaction or that they had no long range or tactical scanners or had access to scanner buoy data. Later it was found out that there were no scanner buoys along the route, and that the convoy truly was blind.

Upon receiving the news Jocelin conferred with his staff. They concluded that the convoy was, in all likelihood, a colony mission, retiring after emplacing either an asteroid colony or a set of asteroid outposts in the Cache system. While it was a tempting target several points were raised. It could be that the convoy knew it was discovered and elected not to destroy the recon fighter or reverse course. Some of the freighters, especially the type-10s, could be small craft carriers, stuffed to the gills with armed pinnaces or escort shuttles. It was also known that the Axis had a penchant of putting a squadron of fighters on some of their auxiliaries.

Any thought of attempting to capture some of the ships was rejected. Jocelin didn’t want crippling losses to his fighter strength if it could be helped. Also, armed with ADMs, the fleet would have to close to a range that would make externally mounted missiles on the freighters effective. Never mind losing destroyers or heavy cruisers, it was the thought of the ‘counting coup’ concept that weighed on Jocelin’s mind. Armor damage spread across his heavy units would render them less combat capable until repaired, putting them out of action for at least a month while Frontier Fleet’s paltry number of repair ships and mobile yards tended to them and slowing the offensive by that much. The plan on dealing with the convoy came abruptly as Jocelin noticed the minelayer group heading for the Com-27 warp point. After ten minutes of discussion the plan was put into effect.

The minelayer group went to full speed, sprinting to Com-27 warp point while the fleet moved on to the Com-30 warp point. A scout went ahead, pushing its engines until they came within two light minutes of the warp point where it launched its recon fighters. The comm buoy was found in due course as it was just one light-second from the warp point. There were no scanner buoys evident anywhere within one-fourth of a light minute of the warp point as well. It was clearly a case that the Axis considered Geode to be a rear-area system. Either a lack of time or equipment or importance prevented even one scanner buoy to placed there.

As for the Axis convoy commander he was informed that the Com-30 communications buoy was destroyed or no longer transmitting due to some technical fault. It didn’t help matters that the buoy was as blind as a post. For all the commander knew the buoy could’ve been destroyed by a random meteor swarm or weapons fire. He was informed from the colony on Geode-3-A that the abom Hokum had entered the system. Given the distances involved the convoy had a good chance getting to Com-30. With its own belt of mines and buoys it would’ve slowed the Hokum down, perhaps enough for the convoy to return further back into Axis space.

Now that all changed. The commander had to assume Hokum ships were at the Com-30 warp point. His contingency orders came into play. With abruptness the convoy reversed course and headed back to the Com-27 warp point. Going back to Cache, and with supplies in hand (including what the outposts could produce), the convoy would hide in the outskirts of the system for as long as possible. But the convoy had to get there first.

A transmission from the Hokum was received, informing the convoy to surrender and to make for the colony at Geode-3-A. After listening to this message, which included the affirmation of good treatment for the crews, the convoy commander had a laughing fit so intense that it made him light-headed for several minutes. He replied that he will not surrender the convoy to a mere voice and that it will take boarding actions on every ship, provided they didn’t self-destruct first. Besides, the commander thought as he sent his reply, with 72 F0 Hatchet squadrons embarked the abom Hokum would get thrashed for their effort.

Meanwhile the minelayer group, comprised of five Empresas and one Empresario control ship, reached the Com-27 warp point. In no time a standard shell of 600 mine patterns were deployed. With engagement parameters set and mines armed the minelayer group moved off, leaving a scanner buoy 8 light-seconds from the warp point. Moving to a spot 30 light seconds out the group went drivefield down and waited. Again, being as blind as a post, the comm buoy couldn’t warn the convoy.

Upon arrival the convoy stopped a light second from the warp point. In total ignorance the first ships to proceed were the FT4s. They moved in trail, and they died by the numbers as their navigation was preset and couldn’t be changed in time. The only usefulness to come out of their loss was the discovery of the number of patterns present in that particular patch of the minefield, now number 98 plus change. The Hokum watching this wondered what the convoy would do next. Scattering and hiding in the outer system seem the most likely course of action, while turning back and going to the lunar colonies to land the crews and scuttling the ships being the second option. Surrender seemed an unlikely third option; the convoy went for a fourth.

The drive fields went down for twenty minutes on all the freighters. Tractor beam usage was noted during that time. After that, the fields came back up and all 100 FT9s spun up their ECM, engage erratic maneuvers, and approached the warp point. Upon entering the previously encountered minefield patch all the freighters fired EDMs from their external racks. Combined with less than optimal point defense fire the first mine attack was blunted, though all the freighters lost shielding with those with less shielding to begin with sustained armor damage. The ships kept moving with 49 being assaulted, resulting in totally depleting the mine patch. The Hokum knew the majority of those ships took internal damage for 20 indicated a drop in drive field strength.

Afterwards the convoy ships transited one by one into Com-27. Two hours later the Empresario went forward to redistribute the mine patterns. Once done the Empresas left to rejoin Frontier Fleet while the Empresario kept watch. Eventually a small prefabricated base and laser buoys will be deployed as per standard procedure. Jocelin had expected the convoy to scatter and hide in Geode after encountering the minefield. Seeing that the Axis would rather sustain damage to auxiliaries rather than surrendering or scuttling implied that the ships were considered valuable enough to save.

Jocelin wondered if it would been a different story had antimatter mines been available. The Commonwealth had them, being instrumental in defeating the Axis assault against the Hamthen home warp point. But there was only so much money to go around, and the R&D effort for antimatter mines had only started the month earlier, after all the other projects were nearly or had been completed. One of them was second generation missile pods, and those will be used against the defenses of the Iron Sky system once the stockpile was complete.

On further contemplation Jocelin concluded the convoy would still have gone through the mines even if they were antimatter. The FT9 freighters being sacrificed in order to insure the larger, more valuable and more expensive FT10s were preserved. This may explain why the Axis group in Com-22 attacked with only fighters and small craft. Destroying the Imperial Wave carrier prevented it from using its fighters in reconnaissance, allowing the Axis group to slip away. Otherwise it would involve its ships in direct combat. Had they did, they ran the risk of losing launch platforms for their small craft.

The recon of Geode-3-A was complete. A small spaceport resided on the moon’s surface in the same spot as the previous one while a battlecruiser-sized space station sat in orbit. There was a spaceport on 3-B as well. Jocelin decided to send in three missile battlecruisers with a carrier division to destroy these installations. While he did consider earlier to let reinforcements take care of this job, by the time they arrived the colonists could’ve easily filled those spaceports with escort shuttles, construct fighter ground bases or even add fighter bays to the space station. Given the range of escort shuttles they could become a nuisance to supply convoys and pinnaces that will be coming through in short order. Once dealt with, the colonies will be watched over by a Bird Nest scout, snuffing out any attempts to build ground bases. In the meantime Frontier Fleet reached the Com-30 warp point and began sending in pinnace probes to see what awaited on the far side.

********

It was a cold morning as Prime Commander Konset arrived at the Science Development Bureau building on Eletoshani Prime. He was early as usual, and once in his office he went through the latest dispatches from other R&D teams across Axis space to prioritize them for his superior, System Admiral Wanfel. The dispatch that held the highest importance was from Gymnasium. The R&D project assigned to Wanfel’s team was to reverse-engineer the fighter long-range scanner pack; Gymnasium ran independent simulations based on data provided by Wanfel.

Konset’s bony brow furrowed as he read. Being involved in the project he discerned that the numbers weren’t adding up to the simulations conducted by the team. He decided to run the provided simulations from Gymnasium in an independent and physically separated mainframe computer, one that was constructed after the damn abom Eletoshani conducted their sabotage nearly a year earlier. When Wanfel showed up he was appraised of what was happening, approving of the action taken by Konset.

It only took an hour before the independent mainframe showed signs of corruption. Huge gaps appeared in the output, the computer seemingly struggling to process an increasing demand of functions. “I have a bad feeling about this, Sir,” said Konset as he watched the processing indicator lights pulse at a rate to give someone an epileptic fit.

“It’s those damn Eleto again,” Wanfel seethed. “In no way could the R&D team on Gymnasium send us corrupted data.”

Then it happened. Screens went blank for a moment before displaying ‘Error 601’, a message that there was too much information for the mainframe to process. “Only a compulsive directive would cause such an error, Sir,” said Konset. “A corruption of core code is the only way such a thing could happen.”

Wanfel glared at the mainframe, its indicator lights all glowing a solid red. While the project will still go on without independent simulations it will be definitely slowed down by months. “Damn! Send word immediately to all other R&D stations. Tell them what happened here, and strongly advise they don’t run any simulations provide by other stations, even on their independent mainframes.”

“Yes, Sir. Anything else?”

With righteous indignation Wanfel disconnected the infected mainframe from power and kicked it, earning a stubbed toe though he didn’t feel the pain past his hate. “Inform the ASP director to see me immediately. I want to know just how the damned Eleto were able to do this to us again.”
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