The Hokum - Chapter 6.75

Stories by Zume

Moderator: Zume

The Hokum - Chapter 6.75

Postby Zume on Mon 06 Apr 2020 19:47

Admiral Jocelin, commanding the ISN’s Frontier Fleet in the Cain system, regarded his new orders with a mixture of vindication and grimness. Vindication in that his deductions were right regarding Frontier Fleet going back on the offensive. With the Comensal decisively defeated in their effort to reconquer Hamthen, and the recapture by the Terpla’ns of the Metalstorm system, the Presidio big-wigs decided to put their irons in the fire. Reports from the Hokum liaison in the Commonwealth’s Combined Fleet stated that Silvershoe was entered and, given the distance between warp points, it won’t be long before Connectors was reclaimed. Following was Forger’s Gate and Circuit Run, the latter connected to Laser Burn and in turn lead to Cain. More importantly, Circuit Run also connected to Borehole and Bedrock, Axis systems with major population centers and industrial potential. That fact alone made Jocelin feel grim.

That the Axis hadn’t mounted another warp assault from Laser Burn, and not attempting an assault to reclaim Tire Iron from Admiral Janus in the interim, was taken as proof that their main effort was to reclaim Hamthen. Still, given the size of the raiding group they sent into what was referred to as the Com Systems, and the fortifications they erected in Solid State and Ampere, showed the extent of their industrial capacity. For all that Jocelin knew there was a formidable shell of fortifications in Laser Burn (at least there was a lack of asteroids suitable for use as forts) backed up by a mobile force.

However, and again taken the liaison’s reports at face value, the steamroller that is Commonwealth’s Combined Fleet would make the Axis commanders in Borehole and especially Bedrock very reluctant to leave their respective systems. The fortifications in Ampere were dealt with, and the Presidio elected to let the Axis bases at the Solid State/Redwire warp point to wither on the vine for a few months before destroying them. In the interim the circuitous route to keep Hokum forces in Solid State supplied and reinforced had to be maintained.

It was still uncertain if the entire raiding group was destroyed as the enemy had ample time to disperse small formations into Com-21, Com-22 and even Com-13 before the CVE element arrived. Due to that Jocelin had elected to reinforce the minefields of those warp points along the Stonewash-Com8-Com2-Com1 route as well as Com1-Com2-Com8-Com9 route. Some of those systems were already mined and had attending automated weapon control bases. Others needed Empresario control ships, ships that Jocelin need for his offensive.

The main inconvenience was that convoys between Cain and Whel now required an escort. Normally those captured Axis ships converted to Hokum use were restored just enough to travel to Whel for a full refit. Now it was necessary to restore their passive and active defenses as well as some weapons. At least the sensor and communication buoy chains were still intact or soon will be in those Com systems the Axis many try to enter.

As for the offensive Jocelin elected to wait another two weeks as those assault ships undergoing refit in Cain will be available by then. Armed pinnace squadrons were back to full strength, and even some of the newer model with datalink were among them. Roughly two-thirds of all fighter squadrons were now of the F2 model and the stockpile of the improved fighter missile was growing with each new shipment. Even if he was allowed and they were available Jocelin didn’t want to use missile pods in this instance. The pods were to be kept a secret for as long as possible, only used in those instances where, like the Battle of Com-14, the enemy couldn’t report on their existence. That would all change if the Axis or Commonwealth used pods of their own if developed. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts Jocelin called in his Operations officer to plan the Laser Burn pinnace probes.

*******

Three warp transits from Cain is the Forger’s Gate system. Governor Antran, currently at the spaceport on the outskirts of Hammer, capital city of the planet Forger’s Gate, was concerned. From the control tower’s flight operations center he watched from huge rain-splattered bay windows as pinnaces (regular, cargo, and liner) were fed crate after crate of manufactured goods ranging from machine parts, electronics to antimatter-armed close attack missiles. Next to him was Lenat, the liaison from the system defense commander. He had just finished informing the Governor of the current military status for the system. Lenat requested and was brought back to active duty, despite being only three years younger than Antran, and was in equipment procurement during his service. This meant Lenat knew what Antran was feeling.

“I appreciate the greater need that Bedrock has for our goods in light of current events,” the Governor said, watching as a brace of capital missiles being loaded onto a pinnace like so many sticks of butter into a refrigerator, “but why are they using pinnaces instead of the regular freighter service? Ninety percent of this system’s pinnaces have been allocated to the cargo runs plus whatever Bedrock threw in.”

“It’s my understanding the freighters were needed to handle the increase of materials from Gymnasium to Bedrock,” Lenat said. “The use of pinnaces was seen as practical as the flight time from here to Bedrock is within their life support limitations.”

“That’s because their running with just their flight crews, except for the pinnace liners, Lenat. I see that they even taking the bulk of newly minted asteroid mining engineers, technicians and even new recruits for the Navy and Army.” Antran harrumphed. “At least they saw fit to leave a small tug here in Forger’s Gate, but I wouldn’t put it pass them to recall it. All current asteroid forts are at Connectors warp point. Now, if they hadn’t decreased the defense spending in this system then the two asteroid fighter bases now under construction could’ve been full-sized instead of truncated.”

Lenat joined the Governor and watched the loading on the flightline. “In light of the misfortune our fleet experienced even greater effort and sacrifices are needed for overall victory. However, thanks to your lobbying the fighter forts are equipped with the latest Hatchet model instead of the older hand-me-downs from Gymnasium.”

“Thank Providence for small favors. How long before we can expect the Aboms to arrive at the Connector’s warp point?”

“Two weeks, Governor. Less if they’re sending their faster elements ahead of the main body. Enough time for three more cargo flights, possibly four.”

Antran nodded. “The two fighter forts will be near enough completion by then to be of some use in the defense, such as it is. The small space station we have is merely a formality.” He buttoned up his jacket. “It’s time. I’m going to address the flight crews before they take off. Care to tag along?”

“Thank you, Governor. They’ll appreciate the inspirational words.”

*******

Nisecu Lake carefully made his way through the vineyard, mindful not to leave a discernible trail upon the gravel path. He was informed by his resistance contact that he was to go to this vineyard. There was a message dead-drop location here, so he thought it was going to be a new assignment. Instead he found a yard attendant at the exact spot where the dead-drop was, at the base of vine support post, mending a wire that held a vine to said post. “Nice spot of weather we’re having,” Nisecu said, his gut burning from the thought that this was no coincidence and his hand just an impulse away from ripping the knife he carried from its hidden pouch.

The attendant, old and worn, looked at Nisecu with all four eyes. “Yes, and if it continues for another week then the grapes will make for a very fine vintage.”

Nisecu decided to use a challenge phrase. If this attendant failed to give the proper response… “Some say a sphere is a cube that was designed by a committee.”

“In my opinion is sphere is comprised of reticulating splines,” said the attendant.

Nisecu relaxed a little, but his hand was ready. Two resistance members were picked up by the Anti-Abomination Security Patrol (ASP) in as many weeks, and Nisecu couldn’t help but wonder if ASP agents were in the vineyard at this very moment. Then he considered that if there were agents here, he would’ve been captured already. “It has to be important to have a face-to-face meeting under these circumstances,” he replied.

“You’re perceptive, something you’ll need if you and this world survive the war,” said the elder Eleto. “The Axis has suffered a major lose in their war against the alien Commonwealth. A decision has been made to further hamper the Axis while they’re still off-balance. We have located an auxiliary computer terminal at the occupation army’s ‘firing range’ in the Greenback Hills. This terminal hasn’t been updated, and it’s connected to the primary comm network. Your task is to take a datachip to that terminal and have it upload its contents to the network.”

A sour look came over Nisecu. The ‘firing range’ is where the Axis occupation army tested their weapons in life-fire exercises, often using capture resistance members as targets. “Since I will be waltzing into the deathzone, what will the contents of this datachip do?”

The attendant smiled with both mouths. “Ah, fair enough you should know what you’re getting into. It’s collection of various infiltration programs that will graph themselves to all messages going out system. They’re keyed to the various R&D locations in the Axis, and once in their mainframes the programs will alter and corrupt data to the extent that all research programs will be hobbled. It is hoped that the damage will be great enough that they will have to resort to brand-new mainframes and start their projects from scratch.”

Nisecu pondered for a moment. “So, this is the same thing we did before, but on a larger, more deliberate scale?”

“Yes, but even the boneheads will learn their lesson from this,” the attendant said with a smile on his left mouth. “There will be consequences here on Eleto. They will eventually find that the infiltration programs used elements from Axis ones, specifically from the agricultural department that only has select few Eleto have access to.”

“You,” Nisecu said in a low voice.

“Correct, and a culling of all those Eleto in similar positions in perceived inconsequential departments.” From a pocket on his work vest the attendant produced two dataclips. He handed the blue-colored one to Nisecu. “That is the infiltration chip. You’re to proceed with the mission as soon as practical. It also contains information on the Greenback Hills location.” Then he handed over a green-colored chip. “This one is an up-to-date list of all those Eleto that have actively worked against the lives of their race. Not the ones forced to work for the Axis, either out of coercion or threats against their families. No, it’s the ones that have used their quisling positions to enrich themselves by having their rivals thrown into prisons and death camps, actively enforcing degrading laws at the behest of their Axis masters just so they live in relative comfort while the rest suffer. If by some miracle our world emerges from the war free from the Axis, then these quislings must be dealt justice. The committee has asked you to lead the hunt of these traitors after the war, so they don’t disappear into anonymity or cheat justice by committing suicide.”

“That’s a considerable amount of faith invested on a favorable outcome,” Nisecu said. “If it was a question on a test, I would’ve left the answer blank.”

“Your past service has served you in good stead,” the attendant replied. “The future will belong to the younger generations, and my generation is all but spent. You best be going. ASP agents like to make surprise visits just before and during harvest time to get my grapes. I hope this time the grapes will leave a bitter taste in their mouths.”

*******

The two weeks came and went, and Jocelin was ready. It took the loss of five Garrocha armed pinnaces to scout out the defenses of the Laser Burn warp point. Fortuitously the Garrochas could use the fighter long-range scanner packs, and the sixth Garrocha found an eyeful. There were 450 mine patterns immediately surrounding the warp point, kept company by 300 buoys, 90 F0 Hatchets and 10 Escort Shuttles. Further out at 1.25 light-seconds were three groups of BS4s, each group comprised of three bases. At 6 LS range were three additional groups of three BS4s each. Finally, at 8 LS range sat three more groups of bases, this time each group contained two BS3 and a BS2. All the bases groups were arranged in a subjective north, southeast and southwest orientation. There were no ships within 15 LS range, and if there were any there were beyond that range and were sitting with drive fields down.

It was odd to see no mobile forces reinforcing the warp point. The only reason there weren’t, as Jocelin surmised, was that they were recalled further back into Axis space. Perhaps to reinforce Borehole, Forger’s Gate or Bedrock itself? It didn’t matter. Jocelin took it as a sign that the Five Gods shown their favor on this the start of the Harvest Festival, a ten-day high point in Hokum religious observance. He had all the combat-capable warp point assault ships and fleet pinnace tenders in the ISN at his command, and after an hour of refining the assault plan the first wave went in.

For the Axis defenders they resented being left to fend for themselves. After the great construction effort, one that saw 27 mobile assembly ships and a fleet of freighters filled to the bursting point with prefabricated base components, the equivalent of a task group was assigned as the mobile defense force. Even after the failed assault into Cain months ago that task group stayed, until word came of the Abom Terpla’ns return to the system of Connectors. With the apparent abruptness one would attribute to a person’s haste leaving a burning house the task group was recalled to Bedrock, thus consigning the bases at Laser Burn to their fate. Still the bases crews were determined to do their duty. There were four additional shells of mines, far thinner than the first one, meant to inflict additional attrition losses on any pinnace group. Each of the inner shell bases had a datalink jammer, and a shearing plane to defeat tractor lock-ons. They were ready.

In restrospect the Axis had to acknowledge that if ISN went on the offensive in either Tire Iron or Cain then maximum effort was a given. Also, Jocelin was no piker. 600 armed pinnaces transited into Laser Burn, each sub-group of 200 on a vector that took them to one of the inner shell of bases. Interpenetration and the minefields took their toll, and still that couldn’t alter the outcome. Each Garrocha was armed with two laser packs and a pair of anti-matter armed close attack missile. Despite being transit-addled the Garrochas fired their lasers and one close attack missile each. The nine inner shell bases, those that activated their weapons in time, fired their main armaments at the transiting assault carriers while point defense engaged the pinnaces. In return none of those bases saw the transit of the second assault wave.

The combat area patrol rushed the warp point and activated squadrons pounded the carriers, resulting in two destroyed as both beam and missile bases finished what the Hatchets and Stilettos started. The surviving four carriers launched their broods as the second wave carriers made transit. Having destroyed the beam bases the Garrochas went after the missile bases. Crashed launched Hatchet squadrons went to intercept them at the explicit orders of the defense commander, for every Garrocha shot down was one more the Abom Hokum had to replace before attempting another assault. Rushing gaggles of Hatchet squadrons at the warp point would only result in them being overwhelmed by growing numbers of Spears.

A third carrier from the first wave was destroyed before it could transit back to Cain. In retaliation the Spears fighters from the first wave carriers destroyed all the remaining CAP Hatchets that still had ordnance as well the accompany Stilettos. As for the third wave it was made of four Turtles and two refurbished Critical Mass ships. The active missile bases didn’t divert their fire, focusing on the second wave carriers. 100 laser buoys were armed and fired, doing further damage as well as destroying the Turtles and Critical Mass ships.

The initial crash-launched Hatchets had almost reached the Garrochas, almost. In all three instances they were a scant half-a-light second away; only the Stilettos that crashed-launched with them could engage and only then with their point defense. No so for the Garrochas. Using laser packs and point defense the Garrochas destroyed every Stiletto and mangled each Hatchet squadron to the extent that each one lost at least one fighter.

The fourth wave came a surprise as it was just five regular pinnaces and one Garrocha with a fighter scanner pack. Jocelin wasn’t about to feed more ships into the battle while the missile bases were still active, especially since no mobile units were present. These pinnaces stayed on the warp point and commenced to ‘delouse’ the buoy parks; the next five waves were identical to this one. Meanwhile the Garrochas moved on, staying outside out point defense range of the missile bases and performed a defensive maneuver. Each subgroup turned so that each pinnace faced another, covering the other’s blind spot. The other Axis fighter bases had crash-launched their remaining squadrons and were upon the three pinnace groups, and so were the first and second wave Spear squadrons. In three separate furballs the Hatchet pilots didn’t break from their orders, going after the Garrochas exclusively despite having their outdated fighters cut down like wheat by more modern ones.

It went downhill rapidly for the Axis defenders. The Garrochas formed back up and gathered 1.5 LS from the missile bases with the Spears joining them. Once done all three subgroups moved to attack. Each Spear was of the F2 model, having an internal laser, external laser pack and gun pack, and a nuke-armed close attack missile. The bases fought as best they could, even using their spinal force beams, but they were lazed and nuked to death. Once completed both Garrochas and Spears moved back to the warp point. The Garrochas stayed clear of the minefields while the Spears helped in destroying the remaining weapon buoys. Those handful of Hatchet squadrons that fired on the first wave carriers had rearmed when the first new wave of ships appeared, a brace of Implacable and Broadside capital missile ships. They fired alternating loads of laser-tipped and antimatter armed SBMs, first destroying the BS2s and then the BS3s. The last Hatchet squadrons had launched in any event, gathering in one group before charging. By then additional ships had emerged, including some with datalink jammers. So, after taking one volley of AFHAWK fire at 2 LS range the Hatchets expended themselves in a point-blank attack, failing to knock down the shields of the targeted dreadnaught. For the loss of 338 pinnaces, 11 fighters, three assault carriers and six small ships the ISN had broken into Laser Burn.

A path through the minefield was cleared and Jocelin came in with the rest of Frontier Fleet. He held station as scouts swept outward, picking up and destroying comm buoy chains. A mining group was sent to the Circuit Run warp point to secure it. A reinforced greyhound group went also. Once there a Garrocha with a scanner pack transited into Circuit Run. After ten minutes it was assumed that the pinnace was destroyed but it came back and reported. There were no minefields, ships, and bases within 15 light-seconds on the Circuit Run side. The sole scanner buoy within definitive range of the warp point was destroyed. Acting on one of Jocelin’s approved operation plans the greyhound group went in, but only after a brace of Bird Nest scout ships and their recon fighters had scoured a 12 light-minute radius of the warp point, destroying scanner and com buoys. The greyhound group was tasked to scout and destroy any enemy shipping when practical. The stage had been set.

*******

In addition to removing the mobile force from Laser Burn the AFC also picked up the mines and weapon buoys guarding the Circuit Run/Laser Burn warp point, sending equal amounts to Forger’s Gate, Bedrock and Borehole for their defense. Even the network of scanner buoys was altered, leaving only one scanner buoy in the immediate area of each warp point with a secondary tier of three in a one light-minute radius along with an associated com buoy. As a result, once the Hokum destroyed this ring of buoys the AFC was blind to what came in afterwards.

Events got even worse. The last flight of pinnaces in Forger’s Gate was halfway to the Circuit Run warp point when the CSF attacked from Connectors. This was all the incentive for the pinnaces to continue on, and once in Circuit Run they were escorted by eight Stilettos towards the Bedrock warp point. Just one hour into their trek came word of the destruction of the initial scanner buoy at the Laser Burn warp point. Some hope was afforded to the notion that additional escorts would come from Bedrock in response to this Abom incursion.

The aforementioned Stilettos came from the only two Picket scouts in the system. One of them was six light minutes out from the Laser Burn warp point, and mostly likely would’ve been undetected had the captain kept his nerve. But when his long-range sensors picked up the greyhound group, closing to a point where the quantity of ships was determined, he felt compelled to close in and investigate. Upon detecting the scout’s drive field two F2 Spears were launched, one with a scanner pack and the other with two stand-off missiles. They quickly closed, wary for any Stilettos that might launch. Once in definitive scanner range it was clear that it was a Picket and had no shielding. The Spears attacked, both missiles hitting the small ship, crushing what turned out be empty shuttle bays. It launched its message drone, but it was sniped by the Spears’ internal lasers. Finishing off the ship the fighters returned, and the greyhound commander elected to go to full speed towards the Bedrock warp point. The Bird Nest scouts did the same, sending out their recon fighters ahead like eager hunters.

It was when the pinnace convoy was one-third of the way to the Bedrock warp point that they were first detected by a recon fighter. Eyeing his gauges, the pilot elected to drop his life support pack to get that extra bit of speed to close in. The convoy, without access to scanner buoy data or having long range sensors of their own were totally oblivious as a F2 Spear fighter came within 7 light-seconds. For a full two minutes the pilot kept pace, moving at a sedate 6.7% c, and did his recordings. An older pilot that had seen shuttle service back in the Hokum home system, he couldn’t help but conclude that this was the best-looking small craft formation he had ever seen. In the center of the globular formation were six pinnace liners, huge yet graceful and clearly had civilian markings. Surrounding them were eighteen of the slightly smaller cargo pinnaces, clad this time in colorful company logos. Finally came the twelve regular pinnaces, being a mix of civilian and military marked. Eight of the large attack shuttles formed the only escort. The fighter sped back to its corvette, transmitting as soon as it was in range.

The greyhound commander considered his options. He could just go ahead and intercept with his full force, but that ran the risk of revealing that information to the enemy. As time was a factor and there still could be scanner buoys along the route the commander decided on sending a long-range fighter strike. Along with a life support pack all 36 F2(L) Spears carried an ECM pack for enhanced survivability in lieu of additional laser and gun packs. Slowing down slightly to give the Spears more of a lead, the greyhound group launched its fighters on an intercept course that would put them at 40% of the distance between the Bedrock and Forger’s Gate warp points. Three fighters from a Bird Nest corvette went along, carrying scanner packs to provide long-range eyes.

As for the convoy it kept to its determined pace, every minute bringing them that much closer to Bedrock. The escort commander wished that the comm and sensor buoy network wasn’t culled to its current extent. For as much as it was carrying the convoy did rate for reinforcement. Then again, expecting the forces-that-be in Bedrock to spare even one carrier squadron or a flotilla of escort shuttles was like invoking Providence to stop a falling boulder in mid-air. Whatever Abom forces there were in Circuit Run wouldn’t fail to pick the Bedrock warp point with distant scout ships. Perhaps the convoy was just considered a ‘bonus’ if it made it to Bedrock at all? The escort commander didn’t dwell on that thought for long, lest it manifest itself on his face and made his crew feel unease.

The 39 Spear fighters bore on, dropping their now-expended life support packs at the one-hour mark and gaining a bit more speed in the process. On schedule the pinnace convoy appeared on the long-range sensors of the scout fighters, still on course and maintaining cruising speed. Closer in the pilots also remarked on the precision formation the pinnaces flew in, considering it a shame that they had to destroy it. Once inside the 5 light-second detection range the pilots saw how the formation split into two groups and assumed a tight defensive circle, each group able to cover the blind spot of the other. They even engaged engine modulation. All the Spear pilots saw was a target-rich environment.

For having civilian crews their performance was impeccable, but their defenses were equally lacking. At one LS range from the nearest pinnace group the Spears used some engine modulation so that even the four Stilettos that could engage didn’t because they had no fire control solution. Then the Spears increased the modulation and activated their ECM packs, closing to point blank range of the nearest group. None of the pinnaces were able to achieve a fire control solution, but the Stilettos were able to engage, shooting down three Spears. Because they were the most dangerous due to their improved point defense these eight Stilettos were targeted by remaining Spears, shooting down five. The three recon Spears circled outside of point defense range of the Stilettos, keeping a record of the battle.

What followed became known as the Harvest Festival Massacre. Listening in to the distant time-delay comm chatter the greyhound group commander heard the pilots use slang and exchange profanities on ‘making room to get into the damn furball.’ It took two Spear squadrons to knock down the three remaining Stilettos at the cost of two more fighters. Five cargo pinnaces were taken down along with the last Stilettos, their contents mostly inert except for the fifth for it carried antimatter capital missiles. Its explosion served as an ever so brief sun surrounded by mad, combative comets.

After those five pinnaces died the formation broke, all units moving at full speed in multiple directions. Despite this, four more pinnaces were bagged. The 31 Spears adjusted their modulation and speed, keeping their distance at 0.5 LS. This meant the pinnaces were unable to achieve a lock-on while the Spears, despite the range and the use of fighter lasers, were able to engage, over and over again. Only three other cargo pinnaces proved that they carried antimatter ordnance, exploding like overcooked potatoes during a Harvest Festival dinner. As for the six pinnace liners they all carried antimatter ordnance in their small holds, and unlike the other pinnaces the scanner-equipped recon fighters determined they were carrying a partial load of passengers. It was safe to say that more than one pinnace flight crew cursed the AFC and Governor Antran for their ‘off you go, make us proud’ sentiments in their final moments.

The recon fighters swept through the various clouds of debris, determining the contents of the craft the Spears shot down. They did this for twenty minutes, for they also looked to see if any of the pilots of the five lost Spears were able to eject. Due to operational requirements no shuttle could be sent to search, and in any event no pilot transponder signals were picked up. Once done the fighters made a beeline for the greyhound group which had now edged back up to full speed to meet them. With fighters recovered the group slowed down to standard cruising speed on a course for the Bedrock warp point. After the funeral services the pilots drank and ate a rather large Harvest Festival dinner in their honor.

As for the second Picket scout it was waiting 24 light-minutes from the Bedrock warp point. It was there to recharge the life support of its own Stilettos as well as those of its counterpart near the Laser Burn warp point. The rendezvous time came and went, the little ship staying on a full twelve hours before it followed the operations plan and headed for the Bedrock warp point. It then picked up a sensor contact 72 light-minutes behind it, moving at four times its own speed. Dutifully the scout ship transmitted its readings to the comm buoy at the warp point. At the current rate of closure, the contact will be in weapons range before the scout could transit with light-minutes to spare. With each graduation of sensor definition the contact turned out to be a singular one, then one with military engine strength of that of a corvette, and finally made out as a corvette. The Abom craft kept getting closer and closer until, at 1 LS range, it fired a CAM and external standard missile. Both hit, leaving only the engine room and magazine intact. Not for long, for the only Axis ship left in Circuit Run self-destructed, having received no reply to its messages.

The AFC didn’t even bother to send in one reinforced scouting squadron into Circuit Run. Defense of Bedrock was above all other considerations. Forger’s Gate and Borehole were on their own for the foreseeable future.
User avatar
Zume
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander
 
Posts: 96
Joined: Wed 15 Jul 2009 18:55

Return to Terpla'n Campaign

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron