(31) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (134-1123 to 138-1123)

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134-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    It's about 02:00.  Discussions still continue back on board Nightshade, after the meeting with the Imperial Navy officers on the 100kt Nightflower battle rider.
    Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, runs a quick check and reports that yes, the expander can be fired from underwater or -- as Edward "Shark" Teeth suggests -- from inside another ship.  Rate of fire and range are about the same as a meson gun.  As long as it's targeting transports refueling from the oceans, the effect on the planet won't be too bad.  Immediately, that is -- there will be some fallout from secondary radiation effects, but the environmental factors will be lessened by being over water.
    Captain Sir Misha Ravanos is, of course, not familiar with the strategies and tactics of flotilla-level operations involving the Imperial Navy.  He asks a whole sequence of questions for the ship's tacticians -- Kalida and Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead -- who supply him with an overview of the likely scenarios.
    The incoming fleet will need to refuel as a high priority, but the tankers to do so are not capable of doing so under fire.  That means that Santanocheev's forces will have to secure the mainworld -- the only large-scale source of water in the system -- before they start refuelling operations.
    That means, says Sir Misha, that sitting under the ocean to take out the tankers as they refuel is really a last ditch effort.  That plan was originally not about taking out tankers, but to give them something to do to keep them out of the battle.
    Mich says brightly that if they removed all the water from the world, the fleet couldn't refuel.
    They can't do that with the weapons on this ship, but if they had whatever was used on Karma they could if not remove the water, then make the conditions pretty much impossible for refuelling operations.
    Kalida points out that there are people on this planet -- Bridgehead nods, saying just 500 -- and it's bad enough already that they're going to be wiping out Imperial Navy forces.
    That brings up the point -- this is where the Civil War, or coup or however history describes it, really starts.  Here is going to be the first time that Imperial Forces will enage other Imperial Forces since the Civil War ended almost exactly five hundred years ago.  The Solomani Rim War of 990-1102 doesn't count, as the Solomani Confederation's independence was already well established.
   Sir Misha's next idea is that a semi-destroyed hulk left after the battle (his crew assure him there will definitely be plenty) could be used as cover.  On the other hand, the tacticians say, Admiral Altrafe indicated that he was planning to fight in the gravity well, and that would mean much of the wreckage would fall down on the planet itself.  But by then, they could take up station underwater.  While their targetting would be limited by the sensor capabilities, using the equivalent of gigaton nukes doesn't need a lot of accuracy.  They don't have to be very far underwater, either.
    Shark's goal is that after the Trin's Veil fleets have retreated, then Nightshade should slow Santanocheev's flotilla down by another three days.  That will be enough to stop them getting to Mora on time.
    Kalida is certain that the fleets here are only capable of delaying for one or two days at best.  They are so severely outnumbered, especially with the Duke of Trin holding his flag fleet back rather than committing it to this action.
    The incoming fleets will have to be aggressive.  They are on tight time, and simply must secure ocean access.
    Sir Misha says he'd expect the incoming fleets to attack immediately.  After all, it's not like there are hills and woods that can be used to hide.
    Kalida and Shark are quick to correct him.  Admiral Altrafe will be defending a planet, with two moons to consider, and the effect of the gravity well is to restrict ship movement much as woods restrict free cavalry operations.
    The Imperial Navy fleets will arrive over three days and very likely with a decent balance of forces given that there are so many ships coming in.  One sixth the first day, two thirds the second, and the final sixth the third day.
    Now while the fleets here would outnumber the first day fleets, it isn't by enough to make any sort of decisive conclusion -- it would severly weaken the ability of the defenders to take any action against the mass arriving on the second day.  The fight would be over on the first day if the defenders engaged.
    Sir Misha's next idea is to go ahead and use the expander indiscriminantly.  They might well think it was some sort of massive meson gun -- they would be amazing at the strength, but the ability to explode at a distance with no intervening signs is very similar.  Then, of course, there's the fact that it would go straight through meson screens.
    Kalida points out that this is not actually a problem as far as the Arden Society is concerned.  Erik in fact told them that the expander should be their weapon of choice against Imperial ships, saving the missiles to knock down the screens of a real target should one appear unexpectedly.  Using any missiles against Imperial ships would leave them with no offensive capability against any ship that really mattered.
    As for the nuclear question, if someone else uses nukes then they can too.  If they are the first to use them, then they are in serious trouble for using them in the Imperium.  It'll be interesting to see who blinks first, but it must not be Nightshade.
    The laser, of course, is a heavy weapons grade system by Imperial standards, but that's not its mean purpose.  While it's to be used as point defense against an incoming missile swarm, what is really important about it is as a sensor system for detecting ships in stealth mode.
    Sir Misha is now leaning towards joining the battle.  Santanocheev has, however, almost certainly alerted his fleets to look out for a black ship like theirs, and to deal with it as a very high priority.  They need to tell Admiral Altrafe about that, as it would affect the direction of the battle.
    Kalida is fine with that.  As long as it doesn't violate the contract with the Arden Society -- and Erik was very clear that it did not -- they really don't have to hold back during the fighting.
    The question that Sir Misha now poses is do they want to be part of the defensive fleet, or be independent and come in after the battle has been engaged?
    Shark says they should be a little more open with the Admiral, saying that the capabilities of this ship don't really fit in with his fleet, and that they would be best used on detached duty.  They need to make him aware that as soon as they are seen, Santanocheev will send something after them.
    Mich says they'd be better off in another ship and just piggyback for the ride.  They can shoot from there.
    Kalida says their accuracy will suffer, and Helia dislikes the idea even more strongly.  They'd be stuck with the capabilites of that other ship and what it does, how fast it can go, where it will be.  Although Nightshade is extremely strong, they don't want to be stuck having to blast their way out of a crashing hulk.
    Sir Misha says they will propose that they be a separate striker and join after the battle has been engaged.  They might even be able to draw other ships clear of the battle.  Although they won't mention it to the Admiral, they can stay around for several days and could even catch up with the defenders during jump.
    Bridgehead laughs that they could do that to Santanocheev -- they could jump ahead and wherever he goes, they'll be there waiting for him.
    Kalida points out that from Tussinian, the path is uncertain.  There are a lot of other places that he could go from here, and they can't really predict where he'll be with any certainty.
    Sir Misha adds that while the Imperial Navy surely have their own tacticians, they have two very fine ones on board here, and could they add something to the defense?
    Shark says the Imperial Navy has plenty of people assigned to that job.  Then, of course, so does the other side have a lot of Imperial Navy tacticians.
    Sir Misha nods.  What they need is tactics from non-Imperial navy.
    Kalida says she's concerned that in addition to the alien encrypted communications, they might have alien tactics to bring to the table as well.
    Bridgehead suddenly asks Sir Misha to put it in barbarian terms.  There are a lot of people with swords.  A bunch of them are defending an oasis, about to be attacked by a much larger force of people with big swords who must take the oasis quickly.  What would he do in that scenario?
    Sir Misha says, "The group I was in, we didn't do it with whole armies.  We set up quickly at night, broke a few knees, and came back the next day and asked what they needed."
    Kalida says that's pretty much what Nightshade does.
    Shark asks him, "As part of that striker force, how would you help the army defend?"
    Sir Misha laughs, "Before the battle was engaged, we'd sneak into the camp and break a few knees."  On that note, he says, they should all get some sleep.  It's about 03:00 by now, and they definitely need some rest.
    Before Shark retires, however, he tells the ship to wake him if more than a few ships arrive in the system.  He doesn't want to miss the arrival of any of Santanocheev's ships.  He drifts off to sleep wondering if Mich and Robert could manage to synchronize the firing of the expander with the target's black globe flicker.

    Despite Shark's paranoia, nothing shows up overnight.  His first move in the morning is to ask Callisto to look for black tech in the system.  He knows the ship usually panics -- because it would be a serious target -- but he wants to be sure.  Callisto assures him there is no other black tech here, at least within detection range.
    Kalida has been checking up on black globes, but the ship has no knowledge of them other than what was in the Imperial computer data that Robert transferred.  It can't simulate them.  Mich probably knows the most, but even then it's a unit which is installed on ships of great importance, and can't be serviced.  She herself doesn't know much about them either, other than it stops everything going in or out.  Even the expander needs a line to the point of expansion, kind of like an astral silver thread -- it can't be detected without black tech, but it can be blocked by extreme measures.  A black globe might be such an extreme measure, but the ship doesn't know.
    Mich can however add that the black globe absorbs energy which has to be shunted and stored or dissipated.  It's possible to overload one by pumping enough energy into it.  Standard procedure is to use the zuchai crystal array of the jump drive, and it can be used to jump if necessary.
    Kalida wonders if using the expander outside the black globe could pump enough energy into it, although she really doesn't know at what distance outside it she should aim.

    Shark calls over to Nightflower, and gets an appointment for 13:30.  He suggests to the crew that they could tell the Admiral they were going to hid in the inner asteroid belt -- it would definitely be plausible, it's not hard to hide in an asteroid belt so close to the sun.  Rather than starting a large discussion like last night, however, the crew all relax and do their own thing until lunch.

    After lunch, Robert Morris takes Sir Misha and Kalida over to Nightflower.  Again, they are escorted to the same room to meet with Admiral Altrafe, Captains Gorren (INI) and Wistfat, and Commander Trent.
    Sir Misha says they've discussed what would be a good plan for their ship.  They have decided that it was important to let them know that the capabilities of the ship were somewhat better than a luxury yacht.  "It's more on the order of" -- Sir Misha looks at Kalida -- "a fast attack ship.  My tacticians tell us that our most useful position in the upcoming battle would be to wait for the battle to be engaged, then come in from behind.  We wondered if you had any better ideas."
    "Obviously you're not under command," says Admiral Altrafe.  "I'd prefer ships to come in and work in a coordinated fashion with the rest of us.  We are pretty much settling on a conventional defense of the mainworld, but forcing the fighting into the gravity well.  We'll be using the mainworld to try to get some sort of local numerical advantage."
    Kalida says theirs is rather a maverick crew, and not likely to work well with others.  "We've had very little reason or opportunity to work with other ships.  We're very much used to being entirely on our own."
    Sir Misha continues, "Santanocheev is aware of the existence of our ship, and we have annoyed him in the past.  It is likely that his ships have orders to keep an eye out for a ship of our particular configuration, and once our presence here is known, it is likely that it will affect their battle plans at least a little."
    Admiral Altrafe raises an eyebrow and says, "You think they're going to go after one couple of thousand ton ship?"
    Kalida says, 'He has a personal grudge against us."
    Sir Misha says, "Like I said, we have annoyed him in the past."
    "Sufficiently that he would subvert his fleet tactics to get at you?"  Admiral Altrafe says.  "I must admit I find that a little hard to believe."
    "I would at least lay it out as a possibility."
    Kalida points out that with a great number of fleets coming in, he could divert a small portion without changing his overall battle structure.
    "So how can we take a group of admitted mavericks and use them without disrupting your plans?"
    The Admiral says, "It's going to be chaotic enough in there anyway.  Just don't shoot our ships and shoot theirs.  That's going to be hard enough under the circumstances."
    Kalida says, "The odds are with us.  Lot more of them.  And if we do as we say and come in from behind, especially in the early part of the battle it will be a lot harder to hit any of you."
    "I'd like to find out if he really is going to commit that much to chasing you.  If he could put enough into it to create a weak spot in the rest of his forces that we can exploit..."
    "We can try to set that up.  Whether or not they'll fall in is unknown, but..."
    "We're thinking of making this an extremely dangerous battle, running it really deep in the gravity well.  It cuts down everyone's maneuver options, so he's going to have more trouble concentrating his forces.  We're practicing already.  The other thing is that everything that gets disabled is going to end up crashing rather than repairable, so anything we take out will be removed completely.  It's not nice for us, and it removes the option of jumping that close into the gravity well, but I'm not jumping this thing anyway.  They're going to have the high position advantage, but we're going to make the situation difficult enough.  It'll even it out."
    "Are you planning on waiting for them to come at you?"
    "Yes.  We figure that they'll come at us within a few hours of the second day arrivals.  They're obviously not going to come in on the first day.  We suspect that they'll keep a large amount of forces in reserve and rotate fresh forces in and out."
    Kalida and Sir Misha both consider that a very tempting target, but it makes the idea of staying out behind the lines much less attractive.
    "So we guess about 27-30 hours after the first ships get here, we'll be fighting.  It's going to be the first major action of Imperial vs. Imperial forces for a very long time."
    "Yes," says Kalida, "We lose either way.  What are you planning on doing the next couple of days, until they start coming in?"
    "Exercises.  Briefings.  Meetings.  Internal training.  Moving everything to peak readiness level in about four days.  Making sure everything's fully fueled.  You need fuel?"
    "We'll take care of it."
    "And once we're clear here, any forces jumping out are headed to Katarulu.  That's going to be our assembly point after the battle."
    The discussion seems to mostly over.  They'll need to exchange sensor profiles for Friend or Foe identification, of course.
    The Admiral's goal is to keep this as an insurrection rather than a civil war: if this is the one battle between Imperial forces, then that has been achieved.  He has one more question, however: does the Marchioness of Nakege wish to take a position in the command chain in case enough levels get knocked out, and if so, at what point does she wish to become the commanding officer of the fleet?  Apparently the Duke of Trin thinks very highly of her.
    Kalida says she'll think about it, and they make their goodbyes and return to Nightshade.

    Back on board, the inevitable crew discussion starts up.  The subject of the command chain is quickly settled -- Kalida doesn't want to be in the position of taking orders from someone else, and the command chain goes both ways.  Nevertheless, if they lose that many line officers they'll need some help.
    Shark agrees. If it comes to that, the best order will be for them to go to 100d and jump.  The others all chime in with their agreement too -- it's unanimous.
    Kalida calls back and politely and tactfully declines a position in the command chain.

    Over the next few days, they'll spend the time pretending to refuel, and scouting out positions both in the system and in the mainworld's ocean.  "Refueling" is the first task, and that's performed flawlessly from Tussinian's ample oceans.
    At the same time, Callisto does a full detailed scan on that run to get a good picture of the world.
    The oceans are not shallow -- it's essentially a deep world-ocean with some peaks and plateaus sticking up out of it.

    Kalida takes an afternoon to gaze into her metaphorical crystal ball.  She decides that everything is still coming here -- that's the first thing to consider.
    The next matter is that there are three fleets unaccounted for, and she wants to see if she can get any feeling for where they are and what they're doing.  One, of course, is going to Caladbolg, leaving two more to find.  Well, where could they go?  They were not in Bicornn.  Everything that came from Dawnworld arrived in Bicornn, so it's two Glisten fleets that are somewhere else.  Whether they're held in reserve or part of the offensive is harder to determine.
    She is sure there is only one fleet headed for the Sword Worlds, and everything else is still headed to trailing-coreward.  That's about the best she can figure out.
    So instead of trying to find out where they're going, she looks for whence they came.  What she does realize is that they are both gone from the Glisten subsector -- by now, there are no fleets left in Glisten.  So they have or had already jumped from Glisten somewhere to coreward or trailing.

135-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    The day is completely uneventful.

136-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    The defending forces lose a heavy cruiser to a crash during atmosphere-edge maneuver exercises.  It goes down into the ocean, a total loss with no survivors.
    Bridgehead and Kalida are not very surprised -- the exercises, like the upcoming battle, is dangerously close to atmospheric drag.  Normally the zone from world surface to atmosphere transition would be allocated to world-based forces rather than the Imperial Navy.

137-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    At noon, a sparkling of jump flashes announces the arrival of the first part of Santanocheev's fleets.  They're coming in roughly in the mainworld's orbit, ahead of it in its movement around the star.
    Kalida suggests hiding themselves, and then moving into position behind where they now know the rest of the fleets will arrive.
    The incoming forces are simply assembling.  It's an assorted mix from all the fleets, 1/6 of the fleets that were in Bicornn, but none of the Happy Fun Balls are among them.
    The defending forces are in position near the mainworld.  The invaders are moving out to account for the moving 100d circle, and clearly not attempting to move in at all.

    About an hour after the fleets arrive, Admiral Altrafe calls.  He patches them in on a call from the incoming fleets.
    An Admiral comes on saying that this fleet is on the way with legitimate authority to arrest Archduke Norris for treason.  He says that there is no intended military action involved with this, that the fleets around the mainworld should move aside and give them room to refuel.
    Altrafe questions their authority.  They respond that official information authorizing it will be arriving tomorrow -- they do not have an officer with the documents in this portion of the flotilla.  Nevertheless, since these are all Imperial fleets involved in a legal Imperial operation, the local fleets should move aside.
    Altrafe says he will wait for the authority, and cuts the link.

    The Admiral asks them what they think, and the consensus is that they have learned nothing new.  When they come through with their authority tomorrow, he intends to meet them in person, take a few hours, and reject it.  Then he'll wait for them to come in, and hope they fire the first shot.  He adds that they are authorizing nuclear use the instant it becomes necessary.  Individual ship commanders are to refrain from using them until a target appears that requires them, at which point they are free to go ahead.
    Kalida asks for the official word on what determines the acceptable point.
    Altrafe expects it to escalate pretty much immediately.  Whenever a commander feels he can't eliminate his target with conventional weapons, he is free to go ahead and use nukes.
    Since Nightshade is not under his command, does this include them?
    The Admiral says, "I am officially giving you authorization to use nuclear weapons if you have them.  At your discretion."
    Shark smiles and notes that in asking, she just pointed out that this was not a yacht.
    Kalida tells Altrafe that they are moving out to place themselves behind the incoming ships.  They will not show themselves until the first shots are fired, unless he directs otherwise.
    They wish each other good luck, and finish the call.  Since they're headed out, it probably won't be possible to patch them in on anything else from here on.

    The ship goes dark, into alternate total black color scheme, and Helia takes them out of orbit.  She loops behind the outermost of the two moons and slips into stealth behind there.  Nightshade moves into position, now at full speed.
    Out here, Robert can't pick up anything useful in terms of communication.  Open broadcast radio would be fine, but no-one's using that.  They're far out and in the wrong direction, and it would be practically impossible to get anything from tight beam scatter.

    They wait for violence.

138-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    They are still waiting.  It's 138.  Everything happens today.

    Sir Misha and Kalida burn off a little nervous energy exercising with their zacks in the gym.

    High noon.

    Space lights up with jump flashes from an enormous mass of ships appearing between Nightshade and the mainworld.  Most of Santanocheev's forces are now here, including all the Happy Fun Balls except Llanamith.
    The fleets move into a classic Imperial line of battle and reserve line.

    Kalida directs them into position near the reserve line, still of course in stealth mode.

    After two hours at 14:00, a heavy cruiser from each side starts out, heading towards the middle between the two forces.  Presumably this is the official paperwork.
    Callisto monitors what's going on in the middle.  A ship's boat leaves the standing fleet's cruiser, and after about an hour returns to its ship.  The heavy cruisers return to their respective forces.

    At 19:00, Santanocheev's fleets start manuevering and heading towards the mainworld.