The Terpla'ns - Chapter 10.50

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The Terpla'ns - Chapter 10.50

Postby Zume on Mon 24 Feb 2020 17:11

The Axis forces in Metalstorm were, just two day earlier, eagerly awaiting news of victory over the abominable Hamthen and their allies at the Hamthen’s home system warp point. Parties were planned, complete with wine made from grapes grown in the agricultural warrens of Metalstorm’s A-3/3 and B-4/2 lunar colonies. It wasn’t doubted that Providence had shown favor in their cause.

When the initial news came of the defeat it was tightly controlled by Metalstorm’s military governor. He told the civilians that the celebrations were delayed until news came of the bombardment of Hamthen Prime, a more fitting event to partake of Metalstorm wine. Privately, the Governor knew it would take at least three weeks for the aboms to arrive at the Dotz/Metalstorm warp point. A strong minefield and buoy parks still guarded the Metalstorm side, and reinforcements for Star Admiral Bonson’s fleet were only two weeks out. Moreover, the escort element for SF 1, 2nd Advance Fleet, could be tasked to guard the warp point in the interim, for they had the speed to come back in time.

As for the Metalstorm/Silvershoe warp point it was well defended. 1200 patterns of mines in three concentric shells (660/360/180) were backed up by 420 weapon buoys. Orbiting the warp point at 1 LS range were 12 destroyers and 6 heavy cruisers. 9 of the new type-4 beam bases were in jamming range with 9 new capital missile-armed type-4s sitting at 7.5 LS range, all in 3-unit groups subjective north, southeast and southwest. Behind them were three fighter type-4 bases at 10 LS range ‘north’ of the warp point, each paired to a defensive type-2. Three of the old-style type-2 automated weapon control bases (each with a Hatchet squadron) sat together with the fighter bases. The combat area patrol consisted of 12 squadrons of F0 Hatchets orbiting the warp point along with a mere four escort shuttles, all armed with FRAMs. There would be more of both, but currently over the A-3/3 colony the recently assembled trio of fighter type-3 bases were undergoing a refit. It would be ten days before they were ready to be towed, but their 30 squadrons added to the 48 already at the warp point would go a long way for the defense. Now that the upgrading of system defenses in the Axis proper was well underway the F0 Hatchets in Metalstorm were going to be replaced with F1s, leaving the F0s here to be finally scrapped for recyclable materials. Crated F1s were coming in two weeks as well. It was just a matter of putting the best possible shine on this steamy mess when it came time to inform the colonists what happened.

The Governor was concerned about the Republican pinnace probes of the Metalstorm/Silvershoe warp point. The last known probe was ten days ago, but for all anyone knew there could’ve been a successful probe. Perhaps the Abom Terpla’ns weren’t strong enough to challenge the defenses. As for conducting pinnace probes of his own the Governor was denied permission until word came of Hamthen Prime’s destruction. In anticipation of the order 12 pinnaces were built and ready for deployment from the spaceport on A-3/3’s surface.

Those pinnaces didn’t get their chance. RSF Task Force 21, 2nd Field Fleet, conducted its attack. Reinforced with the assault elements from Task Groups 111, 112 and 113 the Terpla’n lead force was spearheaded by two Avami and two Salyf assault carriers. Preceding them were 240 Whale armed pinnaces, taking their losses from interpenetration, mines, and last-ditch defensive fire in stride as they reached the southeast beam bases. All the Whales were armed with a laser pack and three FRAMs each, but only used their transit addled lasers against one base, destroying it.

For their part the Axis pilots remained true to their orders as all twelve CAP squadrons converged on the warp point. Four of the five active squadrons went after the pair of Salyfs, and what they couldn’t finish those beam and missile bases that went active in the opening moments did, revealing the carriers had their embarked fighters armed with FRAMs, resulting in massive fireballs that briefly rivaled a star. The fifth squadron fired on the second Avami, knowing that it even with full engines it wouldn’t reach its exit vector for another minute.

A second wave made transit, comprised of five Nikazu-V carriers and an Event Horizon BB (which was there primarily to soak up buoy fire). The tactical scanners on the Avami carriers picked up the distant northern fighter bases and the crash-launch of F0 squadrons. With that information the Whales armed pinnaces split evenly into two groups; one stayed to finish the remaining two southeast beam bases while the other made for the southeast missile base trio. Twenty squadrons of Shark fighters launched from the two big carriers. Seven stayed on the warp point to take on the seven Hatchet squadrons that hadn’t engaged yet with the rest going after the 18 Axis ships. Each Shark was armed with a gun pack and two FRAMs. Once those FRAMs were expended, they would turn upon the weapon buoys and destroy as many as possible before they fire.

And so it went. All six Axis CAs were crippled with seven DDs obliterated. Two more beam bases were destroyed in the next exchange but two Nikazu-Vs and the second Avami payed the price but it was done by overall damage as the Nikazu-Vs flight groups had standard nuke-armed close attack missiles. 90 one-shot laser buoys had to be used to kill those five ships. It was cold consolation that the Axis had their fighter bases 10 LS from the warp point. The first set of crash-launched Hatchets would still need two more minutes to reach the warp point; it might as well have been two hours.

The third wave saw the arrival of two more Avami SD(V)s, two Salyfs, the last Nikazu-V and a Singularity DN. With its extra armor protection, the DN was going to stay while the carriers launch and leave for the ship was going to use its datalink jammer against the incoming Hatchets. Fifteen more Shark squadrons joined the fray as the remaining Nikazu-Vs from the second wave turned to achieve their exit vector. These fighters went for the southwestern beam bases while seven squadrons from the first wave, having dealt with the now departing remnants of the Hatchet CAP, now focused on the crippled CAs for at least two of them had active jammers. As for the Whales that had finished off the southeast beam bases, they had moved on to the northern ones. Despite many having only have laser packs now they were determined to inflict as much damage before being forced to move due to the oncoming crash launched Hatchets. The 13 Shark squadrons that had gone for the ships came about and entered three buoy parks, using their guns packs. In response 60 more laser buoys were fired, inflicting more damage. While the newly-arrived Nikazu-V was dispatched the remaining first wave Avami transited out, much to the chagrin of the defenders.

Wave four had the last two Salyfs and three Luttfomi minesweepers, arriving in time to see the surviving third-wave carriers launch 34 Shark squadrons, all of which went into the buoy parks. The Axis beam bases have been unexpectedly effective for their role. Their combination of sprint missile launchers, spinal force beams, capital energy and needle beams had stripped the shields from the assault carriers, burned out internal systems and lanced engine rooms with precision targeting. Because of this those bases remained priority targets. With the crippled CAs and an additional DD made into such much debris the 7 Shark squadrons returned to the warp point to shoot up more buoys. Compelled to use what was left of his buoys the Axis defense commander fired 90 laser buoys, wiping out two more Nikazu-Vs and crippling the remaining second and third wave ships. After that all the remaining buoys were shot down by fighter guns and point defense

As for the fifth wave it comprised the last two Avami SD(V)s along with four Endrili Perdition assault minesweepers. All the ships in the assault had carried capital mine clearance charges as well as EDMs on their external racks. With the Perditions their internal launchers spat out charges of their own, focusing on the innermost ‘northern’ minefield patch. With the fire of the third wave ships the first group of Whales, now numbering 43, had finished the second of the northern beam bases. As much as they wanted to stay and take on the third base the oncoming horde of 34 Hatchet squadrons, now only 30 seconds from the warp point, convinced them otherwise. The Whales had already turned in the general direction of the southwest missile bases, set on joining their 74 brethren to take out those infernal platforms with laser fire.

Four Engineer assault minesweepers and two Event Horizons emerged from the warp point just as the Hatchets reached the warp point. With every datalink jammer available turned on those 34 now disjointed Hatchet squadrons faced against 89 equally stymied squadrons of Sharks for the last Axis beam base only then activated its jammer. It didn’t last long as three of the Perditions fired antimatter sprint missiles at the base, destroying it while the fourth took care of one of the four remaining Axis destroyers. The painfully annoying laser swipes from the other three destroyers, now all active, were silenced by the transit addled Engineers. Despite still being jammed the Hatchet pilots remained true to their targets, going after ships instead of fighters.

For clearing out all Axis units within jamming range of the warp point TF 21 lost both fourth wave Salyfs (their engine rooms damaged and forced to shut down due to energy and needle beam hits) and the first Event Horizon. Of those ships still on the warp point they began to transit out, denying the Axis missile bases more kills. There were more than enough Shark squadrons to deal with the northern missile bases, even though they were armed with standard nuke-armed close attack missiles and guns packs. The remaining Whales continued to work on the southeast and southwest missile bases, laser packs slowly but surely killing each one in turn. By the time the Sharks had gotten to the northern fighter bases they found them to be completely without passive defenses, aside from CAMs on their external racks. Only 54 Hatchets (now rearmed) and 14 escorts shuttles faced off against 511 fighters. They perished as quickly as their bases, though it came at a further loss of 38 Sharks. The defensive type-2s and automated weapon controlling bases perished as well.

The minesweepers returned, including a brace of Endrili Firewalkers. Once the initial mine patch was weakened the sweepers entered it, taking the inevitable hits in stride as force and tractor beams in wide angle mode finished the job. The outer two rings, being far less dense, were cleared that much quicker. Now the task force entered Metalstorm proper, lead by Admiral Barsus. A personnel transport was left to conduct SAR operations as the task force broke into two parts. TG 211, comprised of battleships, dreadnaughts, fleet carriers and support elements, went to the Metalstorm/Output warp point to seal it off. TG 212, having the heavy cruisers, battlecruisers and light carriers, went to the Metalstorm/Dotz warp point to remove any defenses found.

Sloop scouts were sent throughout the system, ferreting out comm and scanner buoys as well check on the lunar colonies and outpost of the two gas giants. The scout sent to A-3 couldn’t get close enough for a definite scan as it was intercepted by six escorts shuttles and had to flee at top speed. The shuttles didn’t pursue for long as they ran the risk of burning out their engines, yet each time a Sloop tried to get in close it was similarly chased off by fresh shuttles. The same thing happened at B-4, so for the time being Barsus settled on having a ring of scanner buoys 6.5 light minutes around each gas giant, using pinnaces instead of ships to keep the Axis in the dark.

A task element, TE 211.1, was dispatched to the Metalstorm/Abyssal-019 warpoint. It was comprised of a Privateer and Chaq-B pinnace tender, three Rundenro frigates, two Cout escort carriers and two Phyr escort frigates. Preceding the task element was a Sloop scout. The ships of the task element moved at top speed of the Privateer with orders to reach the warp point and engage, if possible, any enemy shipping. It wasn’t long before the Sloop found something along the way.

In the flight operations center on the Privateer class pinnace tender Cone Island there was a meeting underway. Lieutenant Senior Grade Munjo, commander of the Cone Island’s armed pinnaces, was also the task element’s strike group commander. With him was the task element commander, Flag Captain Genvake, and the staff intelligence officer, Hez. They were all gathered at the holoimager in the center of the room, looking at the composition of the convoy found by the element’s scout. “Small fish,” Munjo commented. “Undersized corvettes with matching freighters.”

“Except for the big one,” Hez offered. “It’s a light cruiser-sized freighter hull, and it’s a tug. It’s tractoring five equally sized objects.”

“How big are they, Hez?” Genvake asked. “Collectively it’s enough of a load for the tug to make the cruising speed of our ship.”

“Hard to say, Flag. The scout only got within 8 light-seconds of the convoy before pulling back to 12 light-seconds. Perhaps the tractor beams interfered with the scanners. They’re bigger than escorts, but almost not the same size of the corvettes.”

Munjo made a hard blink. “They wouldn’t tow them unless they had to. Perhaps they’re prefabricated base components.”

An incredulous expression came across Genvake’s eyes. “That large? They could’ve easily stored the components in holds or even use shuttles and pinnaces.”

Hez gave the cluster of icons a measured gaze. “Or they could be small warp point defense ships and require a tug to get to their destination that much faster.”

“They have minimal power readings to be sure,” Munjo replied. “Could we send the scout closer in to get a more definite reading?”

Genvake blinked. “Any closer might provoke a response. Given their numbers, even enough CAMs can kill the scout. I will keep the Sloop at its current distance.”

“They’re showing remarkable patience, for boneheads,” Munjo admitted. From his eye movements one can see his thoughts being applied to the situation. “If there are any fighters based on those corvettes, they won’t use them unless the scout comes in much closer.” He blinked twice. “What are the chances of encountering more of those armed shuttles?”

Hez looked at the ship icons intently. “Can’t know for sure. We’ve only seen them deployed from the fighter bases we destroyed, and inferred they were based on battlecruiser hulls when they attacked convoy HO-6. It’s conceivable some of the convoy ships are shuttle carriers. If they do have armed shuttles, perhaps a dozen at least.”

Munjo blinked acknowledgment. “I’ll plan on that, given the number of ships involved. If it was a major convoy they would’ve devoted more in the way of larger escorts.”

“We’ll be in shipboard weapons range in five hours,” Genvake stated. “By the time we reach the convoy it will be one hour from the Abyssal-019 warp point. Hez and Munjo, keep that in mind as we formulate the initial attack plan. Be ready to consider that the Axis might send in support from Abyssal-019.”

“Yes, Flag,” said Hez. “It’s possible that reinforcements may come from there. The convoy can’t come about and return to the A-3 colony, and scattering will only slow their demise. I suggest we designate the tug as the primary target for our ADMs and capture it along with one of the ships it's tractoring.”

“I’m intrigued as well, Hez. We’ll try to capture the tug and hope the crew doesn’t scuttle. Munjo, let’s start with the squadron assignments.”

**********

Five hours later had Task Element 211.1 seven light-seconds behind the Axis convoy. It comprised of one FT5 tug tractoring five small ships, 2 FT3s, 6 undersized FT2s, and 9 undersized CTs. Genvake used the Cone Island’s flight operations center as his CIC, and Hez was at one of the consoles. The tug icon in the holoimager was red with a green ring around it, signifying its importance. The convoy didn’t detune engines (as they all had commercial engines) or scatter during those five hours. Either they were resigned to their fate or there were other forces lurking out there, waiting for the task element to get into range. “Flag, message from the Captain,” said Hez. “He’s asking if he can start generating his fire control solution on the tug.”

The senior officer gazed briefly at the enemy icons, thinking that if the enemy had any surprise defenses, they were going to have to spring them now. “Tell him yes, Hez. Use active fire control. He is cleared to fire once we’re in optimal range for our ADMs. Remind the frigates not to fire their standard missiles until they have at least an 80% fire control solution and only if they’re in their target’s blind spot. Also, the use of antimatter warheads will be limited to alternate salvos.”

“Aye, aye, Flag.”

The range dropped to six light seconds, the Cone Island sending out both phased radar and laser targeting beams at the tug. Genvake’s holoimager exploded with fresh contacts. No less than 33 armed shuttles and 8 F0 Hatchets were vomited from the tug, the five small ships it was towing, and three undersized corvettes. No doubt the convoy commander was convinced that the Cone Island was a missile cruiser, and it was best to launch now before losing some of the shuttles. Genvake didn’t hesitate for a moment. “Operations, Evasion Plan A,” he said loudly. “Cone Island, Jekna (the Chaq-B tender) and the Phyrs will detune engines once the maneuver is complete.”

“Aye, aye, Flag,” said an officer at one of the consoles. The task element turned 120 degrees away relative to the convoy. Once the engines were detuned the enemy shuttles and fighters were 4 light seconds away. Their closure rate was half a light second per minute. Barely a heartbeat past when Munjo made his call. “Flag,” the strike group commander said over the wall speaker, “based on the rate of closure we’ll have just enough time to rearm our craft to better deal with those shuttles.” All the Whales were armed with stand-off missiles with the Sharks each having a pair of stand-off missiles and a gun pack.

“I concur, “Genvake replied. “Inform the deck crews. The Whales are to be rearmed with three laser packs and a close assault missile each with the Sharks swapping out the stand-off missiles with close assault versions.”

“Aye, aye, Flag. Once done we should have a full minute before they’re in the defensive envelope of our ships,” said Munjo as he passed on Genvake’s order.

“The Hatchets are primary targets, Munjo. The shuttles will be dealt with by the Whales, shipboard weapons and those Sharks remaining in the initial exchange.”

“Understood, Flag. Strike wing commander out.”

Five minutes later had the Whales and Sharks rearmed and ready of launch. At Genvake’s command the ships stopped detuning and reduced speed to 0.1c, sending out fighters and armed pinnaces alike to engage the horde. The ships had made an abrupt turn to engage their pursers, now a mere light second away. It turned out to be a brief but savage exchange at point blank range between shuttles, pinnaces and fighters. All the Axis craft were carrying antimatter armed attack missiles and used them in proximity mode against the fighters. In exchange for wiping out all the Hatchets and shuttles 21 of the 24 Sharks were destroyed. What the Sharks didn’t kill the Whales did and with such lethality that the ships didn’t had to fire their weapons.

“Flag,” said Munjo over the attack frequency, “we still have time to engage the convoy before they make transit.”

Genvake noticed the strained undercurrent to Munjo’s voice. Fighters and pinnaces were expendable, the feeling made more poignant since not one ship received internal damage or crew killed. The loss of striking power was potentially critical, for even two complete Shark squadrons could’ve raced ahead and engage while the ships caught up. Now it was race against time. For all that anybody knew they could be Axis forces waiting on the far side of the warp point. Going through said warp point with the task element was out of the question.

“Bring your craft back aboard, Munjo,” Genvake replied. “Ops, all ships will make an intercept course on the convoy at the Rundenro’s top speed. Rearm all fighters and pinnaces with maximum loads of stand-off missiles. Once at five light-second range all ships will drop down to 0.1c. The Sloop scout and cutters from the escort carriers will stay behind to conduct a SAR operation for any of our pilots that ejected.”

A collection of affirmative replies came back at Genvake. Now at the holoimager he had Hez join him. “What time frame are we looking at?”

“38 minutes before we enter maximum standard missile range, Flag,” said Hez. “If it’s still practical, do you still want to capture the tug?”

“With only 22 minutes our work is cut out for us, Hez. However, capturing an intact Axis database is always a worthy endeavor. Now it’s a matter of dispatching the convoy in the fastest, most efficient way possible.”

The minutes past with deliberate agony for the convoy. What the convoy commander hoped was for the Rundenros to be crippled or destroyed for they had the sustained firepower. Dispatching so many Sharks was just a side benefit. When the task element entered weapons range Genvake had the Rundenros commence fire on the corvettes to ‘remove the barnacles’ and thus destroy any CAMs on their external racks. In the first three volleys standard nukes were used. When the range dropped to 2.75 LS it was a mix of nuclear and antimatter warheads. The convoy did not at any time alter course for doing so would only lengthen the time it was in weapons range. Because of this all the missiles were fired in the blind spots of the corvettes which had to depend on the degrade point defense of their charges they were meant to protect.

At 2 LS range the long-range scanners on the Cone Island were able to discern the internal systems of the freighters and shield-down corvettes. Hez informed Genvake that the tug had no shield generators, point defense or datalink. The same for the small ships that the tug was tractoring, being nothing more than a pair of shuttle bays, scanners and an engine. Those ships could wait their turn.

One shield-up corvette was destroyed by the mixed salvos from the frigates, and Cone Island’s laser nipped the datalink of the first corvette hit. The task element then slowed to match the speed of the convoy and launched the 3 Sharks and 18 Whales. While the range and the lack of datalink among the Whales appreciably downgraded their potential damage they nevertheless took out two FT2 freighters, crippled another, and helped the frigates take out another shield-up corvette.

The frigates took out another FT2 as the Sharks and Whales landed on their respective carriers to rearm, though this was just for insurance. Cone Island focused its laser on the remaining FT2s to destroy their armor and fragile datalink connections. Both FT3s and two more FT2s were destroyed in quick succession. Genvake then had the two corvette fighter and one shuttle carriers eliminated.

Now 13 minutes out from the warp point Genvake focused on the tug. A single salvo of 6 nuke-armed standard missiles was fired at the ship. This was followed up by Cone Island’s laser and solitary external standard missile. The tug lost its dedicated power room and all its tractor beams, releasing the five small ships like so many hot rocks. ADMs from the escort carriers and Rundenros knocked out the tug’s engine rooms while the Phyr’s ADMs took out the sole remaining crippled FT2’s engine.

As the ravaged convoy kept on course the Rundenros fired as singletons at the remaining corvettes, using just nuke-armed missiles. The Cone Island and Jenka fired their ADMs at the five small ships, denuding them of their engines in under two minutes. Hez looked up from his monitors. “Flag, shall we finish off the remaining corvettes?”

Genvake blinked slowly. “No. We’ve crippled them to the extent that they lost their cargo holds. Our sensors have told us that much. Let them proceed to the warp point with the frigates making sure they head that way. Now that the Axis forces between here and Blood Pride are cut off, they’ll have to decided either to waste scarce resources to repair or mothball them.”

“Flag, related to that subject, should we begin boarding actions?”

“Sent out the standard message requesting their surrender. I don’t want to lose Marines if we can avoid it.”

Not one minute later after receiving the message the tug and three of the small ships (later found out be designated as Picket-class scouts) exploded their stocks of antimatter ordnance. The Cone Island and Jenka sent their shuttles to board and capture the two remaining Pickets while a Phyr frigate physically docked to the inert FT2. One database was recovered and provided a wealth of data on the fortifications at the Output/Metalstorm and Data Disk/Output warp points. A pair of fleet tugs came to pick up the captured ships so they could be further studied at Hamthen Prime, as soon as their engines and life support were restored and adjusted for Terpla’n physiology. In his report Genvake stated he underestimated what he called ‘escort’ shuttles and that the formation should’ve been solely engaged with shipboard weapons at the 1 LS mark to reduce their numbers before launching his fighters and pinnaces at 0.5 LS threshold. A small measure of solace was gained as five pilots were recovered; there would’ve been more, but antimatter fireballs reduced the chance of successful ejection. Genvake also called for ships equipped with needle beams to be attached to pinnace task elements so that more enemy ships could be prevented from scuttling by destroying their engines and magazines.

**********

Elsewhere in the system that portion of TF 21 sent to the Metalstorm/Dotz warp point destroyed the three small automated weapon control bases stationed there. After destroying the buoys and clearing a patch in the minefields several pinnaces were sent through, quickly followed by Sloop scouts. They found the Axis comm buoy chain and went about destroying it, putting their own network of scanner and comm buoys in their place.

While it was true that the Combined Fleet was three weeks out from Metalstorm that amount of time was for battleships and dreadnaughts moving at cruising speed. For the smaller warships it was two weeks. To their credit the large Axis support group deployed all of its minefield patterns and buoys at the Dotz/Evershem warp point, backed up by all the escorting warships while the freighters, repair ships, tugs, and troopships went to a predesignated spot in the outer system. Despite the immense resources supporting it, the improvised defenses only gave the briefest of pauses to the Combine Fleet. Once in Dotz, the faster elements of the fleet sped on to the Metalstorm warp point and contacted TF 21.

A task group was dedicated to hunt down the support group, being added by 36 of the new Kingfisher pinnaces. Equipped with a fighter-grade long range scanner suite and enough cargo capacity to carry six buoys each the Kingfishers slowly and methodically laid an extensive sensor and comm net in Dotz’s outer system. In the fourth month a Kingfisher stumbled across the support group, sealing its fate. The sensor buoy net was wide enough that when the task group moved in it witnessed the support group breaking up into smaller formations and spreading out. With Kingfishers extending the network all the while the support group was destroyed completely in one month.

For the Metalstorm gas giant outposts and the two colonies, A-3/3 and B-4/2, they were occupied once elements of the Combined Fleet arrived in support. Backed up with AFHAWKs the ships sent to A-3/3 crushed the defenses with minor fighter losses. B-4/2 was different, having only one BC-sized space station and a small lunar spaceport. A mere 12 F0 fighters and 3 escort shuttles (the rest having been sent to A-3/3 earlier) provided opposition. A Tuphonese BC equipped with needle beams, and backed by two Kilpro destroyers, dispatched the defenders and captured the station and spaceport.

The capital units of the Combined Fleet arrived on schedule at Metalstorm. Admiral Barsus, commanding TF 21, went to the flagship of the Combined Fleet, the battleship Coral Sea, and met with Flag Admiral Jki. For this initial meeting they were alone in the wardroom, drinking hot tea. Barsus noted the sign of haggardness in Jki’s lower eyelids, no doubt related to the responsibility she was saddled with. “The Hazen marines reported no opposition from the Comensal colonists at both lunar colonies and their associated outposts,” he said after a short sip. “They’re dismantling the additional fabrication units the Axis had set up previously.”

Jki made a wry smile. “Well, with this being their third occupation, they had plenty of time to practice the routine. Have the intel teams find anything at the B-4/2 spaceport?”

“Thankfully yes, Admiral. Three of those ‘escort’ shuttles were found crated and stored in the spaceport’s warehouse along with a crated armed pinnace. They’ll be shipped to Yoshibo for complete analysis. We found no evidence that they developed the AFHAWK, but there were examples of their version of the fighter life support pack in the warehouse as well. This backs up what the Royal Valhallan Fleet had encountered at Battlement.”

Jki looked at her tea. “They’ve seen the AFHAWK in action at Hamthen, and enough of their drones got away to spread the news, Barsus. As sure as the tide goes out, they’ll find a way to scrape up enough money and resources to crash-develop their own copy.” She took a small sip.

Barsus stirred his tea for a moment. “We were able to get some pinnaces into Output and confirmed what we found in the captured database from the convoy heading for the Abyssal-019 warp point,” he said with justified confidence. “It was an understrength minefield being heavily supported by laser buoys and tended by a trio of standard-sized type-2 bases. Only 48 outdated F0 Hatchets, 24 of those ‘escort’ shuttles and 3 pinnaces provided the actual defense. We needed only two assault waves to send in enough fighters to defend the regular and armed pinnaces that followed, arriving in a normal transit pattern, to take out the buoys. Once that was done a datagroup of Disam missile cruisers entered the system took out the bases.” He sipped some of the tea. “Our sensor net in Output is halfway done, and only a few Axis ships have been detected. I have to assume whatever follow-up forces they were planning on sending to Hamthem are being held in Datadisk, or in the system linked to Datadisk with the closed warp point we were guarding before this offensive started.”

“Given the tonnage we’ve smashed so far,” Jki said, her voice more lively than her looks, “and the lack of serious Axis probing that you’ve reported, and if what the Hokum are reporting is accurate, then we’ve dealt the enemy a serious setback. That they haven’t set about recovering Citadel when they had the opportunity, or wiping out the Valhallan Royal Fleet at Battlement and the anchorage at Kerama Retto, has made it clear the Axis considered avenging itself on the Hamthen their top priority.”

“That may very well be a component to their reasoning,” Barsus said. “It may also be a matter of them having no other route into our space. Consider, if they were willing to let our forces wither on the vine for a few more months, they could push a task force into Citadel and reclaim it. Had they a proper task group backing up the fixed defenses at the Silvershoe warp point it would’ve been a more costly battle for us.”

Jki sipped some tea. “True. We’re thankful that they hadn’t found a back door into Republican space or that of our allies.” She briefly gazed at the steam coming off the tea in her cup. “Admittedly none that we know of. Survey efforts in the Crajen sector are still ongoing, as well as negotiations with the Inna. Their home system has two additional warp points, and the Tzelan officials are crafting a technological uplift, defense, and trade agreement in exchange to survey those two warp points. The 3rd Field Fleet will be at listed strength in two months, and the great majority of the ships will be Crajen, Humarsh and Tzelan. So, if the survey groups find a fresh route into Axis space that fleet will be on hand to exploit it.”

Barsus spooned some sugar into his cup and stirred the contents. “What will be the mission now for Task Force 21? Guarding the Metalstorm/Output warp point?”

“You’re going on the offensive.” Jki downed the remainder of her tea despite it being somewhat hot. "Reinforcements will be joining you in a month, including more assault carriers and fleet pinnace tenders. This will mean refits for the remainder of Task Force 21 will be limited to battle damaged units or when a protracted lull presents itself. But you will get all the new munitions, fighter and pinnace models in compensation. More ships will be assigned to reinforce Task Groups 111, 112 and 113. In turn they will combine to form Task Force 12 and conduct a campaign to reclaim the Borehole system and assist any surviving Army units on that planet. A task group will be sent to recover Blood Pride, and the Combined Fleet will proceed to retake Bedrock, Brickyard and Bulwark. Task Force 11, if it still exists, will be hiding in the outer reaches of Bulwark as well as those supports ships hiding in Brickyard. It is also the Combine Fleet’s task to recover those ships and crews. The Army units we were forced to abandon on Bedrock will also be recovered. Once that’s done, the offensive will continue on to the Gymnasium system.”

Barsus downed the rest of his still hot tea in one swig. “It’s just as well you have all those ships in the Combined Fleet, Admiral. I hope this time Bedrock will figuratively become the foundation for our eventual victory.”
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