(32) To Be Named
The Crusader Campaign (138-1123 to 139-1123)
This file has yet to be fully
This file has yet to be fully
At 19:00, Santanocheev's fleets start maneuvering
and heading towards the mainworld.
The crew of Nightshade have been considering
exactly what they can and cannot use without violating the contract
with the Arden Society. They know the expander is ok, and Captain
Sir Misha Ravanos makes the argument that stealth mode comes into the
same category: it's not Imperial technology, but they're not showing
anyone how it works or how to use it. The crew accepts
that. They are free to use the full capabilities of Nightshade
in the upcoming battle.
Sir Misha's plan is to wait until Santanocheev's
forces actually start firing on the loyallists at the mainworld, then
pick a juicy target in the reserve fleet and fire on it with the
expander. He wants to wait for Santanocheev to fire the first
shot, but not hesitate as soon as he does so.
As for what constites a juicy target in the
reserves, the most obvious would be a Happy Fun Ball. A mission
kill on that would certainly make a statement. There are only two
of those in the flotilla, Santanocheev's presumed flagship Llanamith
from Five Sisters, and Glisten's Darotukshi which is in the
Kalida Siena, Marchioness of Nakege, says that it is
like that Admiral Darfield would have been assigned command of Darotukshi.
She says he has a good reputation. He's willing to take some
risks, but more well known for his expertise in a defensive role.
The Tigress class' spinal mount meson gun would have
a similar range to their own expander. To exit from stealth and
fire, since they already will have the target all but locked, will not
take long at all. To exit stealth, fire the expander, and go back
into stealth would take about a minute and a half, with the actual shot
fired about thirty seconds after dropping stealth. That leaves a
full minute to evade after the shot before they can put stealth back
up. The power demands of the expander do not allow stealth to be
running, but the shields are not an issue.
Of course they do have the larger power cube, but
it's only set up to run the jump drive. It would be very hard to
realign it to power the expander. First of all, Mich would need
to understand the expander more thoroughly, the power channels under
full use conditions, and so on. He doesn't need to understand how
it works, but he does need to understand how it uses power.
Kalida points out it will be a total surprise the
first time they do it, but the second time their reaction will be much
faster. She also suggests they target a specific area of the
ship. She says that the Tigress would have two command centers,
the main bridge located at the front, and the battle command bridge in
the depths of the ship. Other possible targets could be
Engineering, or the spinal mount itself. She adds that in
reserve, in an alert but non-combat status, she would expect the
primary bridge to be used unless they saw a threat approaching.
She is sure they can cripple it with one shot, and taking out the
bridge delivers the most effective message. Of course once they
hit it, the happy fun ball's battle group will be after Nightshade
Sir Misha says he thinks that there is a definite
chance they'll run into stuff tougher than Imperial warships, and so
they should reserve the missiles for what Erik called the "serious
By 20:00, both fleets are in classic positions,
approaching fire range. The four defending fleets have adopted a
diamondstar formation, with Santanocheev's responding with an offset in
doubled numbers. According to the book, the defenders will be
intending to establish a local numerical advantage through maneuver,
while the attackers will counter that by outflanking and surrounding
wherever the defenders concentrate.
The fleets have reached laser range, but there has
been no fire from such relatively weak weapons as yet.
Suddenly it is no longer going by the book.
Having pulled the attackers into a classic offensive formation, the
defenders break hard into the gravity well and shoot fast towards the
mainworld, expending fuel shamelessly in the process. Admiral
Altrafe has done something that definitely is not in the book.
One simply does not allow attackers into the high position advantage.
One wing of the attackers breaks after them, and
while the remainder are rotating in that direction, they are not
following. Just three fleets are diving after the
defenders. The remaining five are being more circumspect at this
Altrafe's forces get lower and lower, and win the
game of chicken as their pursuers break for higher position. The
defenders shoot into very low orbit, right at the boundary of
atmospheric drag. No-one in their right mind fights there.
The attackers are showing definite signs of
disorganization and indecision. Altrafe has been allowed to
execute his strategem without a shot being fired.
Suddenly Altrafe's forces break for the
2030: Altrafe hits low orbit. Sant's flankers
break into high orbit, others hanging back.
2100: attackers start to take up positions in higher
orbits, spreading out a little to get some coverage. They are
still staying fairly close together, and not able to bring any forces
to bear on the defenders. The main body of the fleets has been
delayed by nine hours.
It takes a couple of hours before the attackers can
finally bring some forces in position to fire on the orbiting
defenders. They too have taken up an orbital position, presumably
to conserve fuel, although of course the major mismatch between their
orbital periods severely limits their ability to engage in sustained
At 2300 the first opportunity to open fire arrives,
and the attackers do not hesitate. Imperial forces fire on
Callisto reports (and therefore it shows up in
sparkly pink experiences) that it looks like the attackers' fire is not
being as effective as would be expected given the range and disparity
of forces. While the defenders can't bring all their fire to bear
because of the need to stay in orbit, in terms of how much can engage
at once, the defenders are about even with the attackers.
Meson guns have opened fire, among other
weapons. The atmospheric transition and gravity well is limiting
the missile capability of the attackers in particular, and the particle
accelerators are losing effectiveness too.
While the attackers are fighting poorly, the
defenders are not firing particularly well either. The need to
maintain orbit is affecting their accuracy as well. There are
definite hits on both sides, but neither has taken significant losses.
The orbital period mismatch limits the engagement to
about half an hour. By 23:30, the fight is over with the
defenders moving ahead of effective fire range. If the attackers
had full fuel, they could ignore orbit and follow the defenders by
maneuver, but it would be too costly without having had the capability
to refuel before the battle.
But it's twenty minutes before that ends, at 23:10,
that Nightshade starts offensive action.
They drop out of stealth.
No-one reacts. Darotukshi has no
screens up, and no weapon systems are even powered up.
Kalida fires on the main bridge of the 500kt
dreadnought, the pride of Glisten subsector.
For a split second the outer hull bulges slightly at
the point of fire, and then wreckage spews violently from the front of
the ship. What is left of Darotukshi rockets backwards in
reaction, leaving a trail of debris in her wake.
Kalida has hit her target exactly. This was a
much larger explosion that the one occasion they fired the expander
before, to rescue Third Eye from the INI destroyer.
Helia Sarina is a butterfly, and she flies rapidly
and unpredictably back out of the reserve lines. A minute later
she is back in stealth.
Radio frequencies light up, but nothing is even
heading in Nightshade's direction. It is as if the
flagship of the Glisten fleets has spontaneously exploded. Comm
chatter is full of unencrypted expletives as everyone reacts to this
amazing accident. There is not even the slightest hint that they
might have been attacked.
For about 30 seconds there had been nothing from
their target. After that there were unencrypted mayday calls and
encrypted traffic too. The open comm was screaming that they had
nothing: they had power and drive but no bridge -- main and secondary
-- and no sensor capability until they can patch the ship up to run it
It's a total mission kill. Darotukshi
will never jump again.
Kalida and Bridgehead pick the next target.
Another flagship, the bridge again.
The reserve fleet is moving into readiness.
Active sensors are firing up. Support ships that were not damaged
by the secondary effect of the blast debris in front of the ship (which
were several) are starting to try to catch up Darotukshi,
presumably to assist or rescue her crew. The remainder of the
battle group is trying to move into position to protect the
wreck. This fleet has been effectively removed from the
Moving a few fleets along in the reserve line brings
Nightshade to the New Rome Fleet. They arrive in position
in stealth in about 20 minutes. This time, they're going to be
among ships when they open fire. Active sensors are flashing
around them, but there has been no other reaction.
At 23:40, Nightshade drops out of
stealth. Some active sensors pick up the black ship almost
immediately, but Kalida opens fire before anyone can react. The
flagship of the New Rome fleet, a dreadnought in the 400kt range, is
next to fall. Again the bridge area bulges, then erupts, flinging
the ruined warship back out of the reserve line and this time down out
of the orbital plane.
Helia butterflies again to buy time to get back into
stealth, pulling the full 20g of which Nightshade is
capable. Despite the sensors, there has been no fire before they
slip back into stealth.
At this point, the reserves clearly know they are
under attack. Helia brings them clear before all the fleets in
the reserve line light up the skies with lasers, scanning for a ship
that can't be seen.
It won't be so easy for Nightshade to attack
again. They'll have to be well within laser range to fire the
expander. The lasers won't hurt the ship, of course, but they can
be used to locate a ship in stealth mode. There's no friendly
fire as there was at Dawnworld, as it has clearly been
incorporated into their Imperial Navy doctrine for an unobserved
Sir Misha selects the other end of the line for the
next target. They will attack the flagship of the Motmos Fleet.
The fight, the first open conflict in Santanocheev's
revolt, enters the second day. How will history record
this? Is this the beginning of the Second Civil War, or will it
just be a footnote in the proceedings of Santanocheev's treason trial?
Will an Archduke Santanocheev declare 138 to be
Patriot Day, the day when they celebrate the downfall of the
incompetent Domain of Deneb regime that sought peace with the
Zhodani? Would an Emperor Santanocheev look back at this battle
as the turning point of the Third Imperium, when it was brought back
into glory days of a true military ruler? Was this just a small
interlude between the Fourth and Fifth Frontier wars that proved that
peace between the Zhodani and the Imperium could not ever last?
Or will Archduke Norris note this as the last gasp
of those who could not adjust to changing times, the desperate
thrashing of a military machine before it can be turned to more
peaceful duties? The time perhaps when the nobility was purged of
those who would spend lives for power, to be replaced with those who
were better suited to an Imperium at peace with itself and its
But all that is for the historians. On Nightshade,
on the second day of the Battle of Tussinian, the thoughts are of
sensors, avoiding the searching lasers, and another flagship to be
At 00:20 Nightshade moves into firing
position against the
Motmos Fleet. Dropping out of stealth, again they are pinged, but
it's only a few seconds before Kalida fires the expander again.
Another dreadnought drifts away from the line in ruins, streaming
wreckage on the way. Three shots, three flagships down.
This time as Helia flits away from their target, Nightshade
comes under heavy fire. Lasers from many ships splash off the
shields and do nothing. Missiles launch their way, but are too
sluggish to catch up with the streaking black ship. The tactical
display indicates they even took two incoming meson beam hits,
neutralized by the screens before they reached their targetted decay
point inside their hull.
A moment later, Nightshade is in
stealth. The missiles can no longer be directed onto their target
and detonate harmlessly well away. Lasers still track Nightshade,
used to target particle accelerators which are completely ineffective
against the hull. One meson shot explodes fairly nearby, but not
close enough to endanger the ship. Indicates are, however, that
had it hit their unshielded ship, it could have damaged them.
At 01:00, Nightshade breaks clear of laser
range and is safe.
Kalida suggests that next time they might want to
keep up shields rather than be in stealth. She explains to Sir
Misha that stealth does them no good if they can be detected with the
lasers, and the shields protect them against fire that could damage
them in stealth. As soon as they are out of laser range, they can
go back into stealth to set up for the next attack. That goes for
the dive in, too -- once they've been tagged by laser, the Imperial
ships will know where they are.
As the crew start to relax, their mood is suddenly
"Look at that!" shouts Callisto.
Robert Morris pipes through a general radio
intended for them, saying, "They've got meson sites! Nightshade,
they've got meson sites! Don't get close!"
Callisto points out that Nightflower just
went down. Multiple simultaneous meson gun hits, with no fleet in
"Mora all over again," says Kalida. "It
means Santanocheev's forces have control of meson gun sites on the
Sir Misha says, "Plainly they had meson guns on the
planet before all this started."
Kalida says it's a water world and not inhabited by
Sir Misha acknowledges it wouldn't have been
hard. He says, "Can we find them?"
Callisto says you might pick them up from fusion
plant emissions, but they'd be shielded. With Imperial technology
the best you can do is take out their fire control sensors. On
the other hand, with the equipment on Nightshade, it might be
possible to pick up their locations directly.
Kalida wonders what it would do to the planet.
She explains to Sir Misha that there is no scaling down of the
expander, it fires and is what it is. Deep in the ground -- or
even water -- is a lot of mass to work with. An atmospheric shot
is around a gigaton level shot, but in heavy mass would be
bigger. It will probably not, however, ruin the planet.
Kalida continues that they would presumably only be
able to detect them directly when they fire.
Callisto says they can penetrate further than
Imperial sensors, but picking up a shot is the most reliable way, even
though that is not easy. Easiest would be if Nightshade
herself was under fire. Either way, they'd have to be close to
"Let's do it," says Sir Misha.
Santanocheev's line of battle consists of eight
fleets in high orbit. They'll go in using stealth mode, and once
they're in they'll have to drop stealth and put up shields. It'll
take about half an hour to get there if Helia pulls out all the
stops. She does so.
As they arrive and pop out of stealth, the fourth of
the defender capital ships goes down. They weren't close enough
to the shot to get a trail for targetting, but Callisto does produce a
general area. She says there were six firing, and they are
targetting the fleet in order of seniority of the command chain.
Clearly they know who is in which ship, which had to have been
determined after Trin's fleets arrived.
There are no attacker fleets within firing range,
although obviously they are close to the defenders.
Helia plunges Nightshade into atmosphere,
maneuvering hard. She's clearly having the time of her life,
making zooming noises to herself as she sweeps and turns.
Callisto manages to pick up the site and it lights
up in everyone's sparkly pink experience. It's about a kilometer
down, and she also points out a comm sensor site on the approach.
At 02:00, with seven defender capships already down,
Kalida slaps the sensor site with the laser, Callisto reporting a
direct hit. She follows up with an expander shot directly on the
deep meson site.
The ground shakes visibly. Helia sweeps on
past, which is clearly a good thing. The ground starts to blow
up, collapses suddenly, and then a big column of bright white light
shoots up, devastation radiating rapidly in a big shock wave off ground
zero. No-one has seen anything like this before.
As they pass on, Callisto scans back to the
location. It's glowing brightly, and a huge column of smoke, ash,
and dust is rising in the air.
Mich nods happily, recording details of the
expander's power usage.
The attackers have not yet reacted.
Aside from losing a capital ship every ten minutes,
there's not much the defenders can do. Well, except one lucky
tech on the defenders managed to get a tight-beam link with Nightshade.
It's now 02:20, and the tally is nine capships down.
"What's going on? What was that?" Robert
patches the incoming call to Sir Misha, and goes on to lay a data
stream on top of the link. He finds that the defenders are
holding on well so far in battle, not having to face overwhelming
numbers yet. They're taking hits, and every crippled ship goes
down and crashes, gone, but the attackers can't concentrate their
forces. He sets up a real-time feed, but they have no data that
can help Nightshade. He patches their data into the
sparkly environment, enhancing particularly the tactical picture.
"We are attempting to deal with the meson guns."
"OK, we'll hold on. Quick as you can, we're
losing ships up here. Worst thing is, we know who's next."
This is from an officer a good dozen ships more in what's left of the
chain of command.
Another capship goes down. That's ten.
Robert's set up the list of priority targets so they know which one
will be shot down next.
Callisto picks up two more sites -- the first is
underwater, the other underground. Knowing who was going to be
hit has allowed her to pinpoint the locations quite accurately, she
If Helia really flies hard, she can take them in one
At 02:40, as the eleventh capship crashes to ground,
Kalida fires the expander at the first of the pair. There's an
enormous blast again, huge clouds of vapor shooting into the high
atmosphere as the ocean blasts outwards and then collapses into the
hole in the water.
02:50: twelfth capship is destroyed, but it was at
the fleet which has advanced in orbit. It was too far away for
Callisto get any location from it.
Kalida takes out the next underground site, the
effects the same as the first.
The defenders are approaching another cluster of
attackers, who have not changed their positions or apparently reacted
in any way to the destruction of the deep meson sites.
They have to wait for another meson shot before they
can find the fourth site. Helia sweeps them towards the
defenders, hoping to get in range in time.
The locating is not a problem, however. At
03:00 the next batch of three shots are at Nightshade
herself. One is a direct hit, completely ineffective. The
other two are slight misses -- one is far enough away to just buffet
them in flight, the other is just about optimum distance to hit the
screen. The screens take the hit, but are still all red on Mich's
All three sites are located, one so precisely that
Kalida is sure of a perfect direct hit.
Travel time is the issue, and the zooming Helia
takes care of that as much as possible. It will take 20 minutes
to get to the first one.
At least they're now firing at Nightshade,
which is much more capable of taking it than the defending fleets in
03:10: one misses, the other two are direct hits and
do absolutely nothing. Mich points out that the enemy are getting
valuable information in
that direct hits fizzle, while near misses seem to at least land even
though they're not stopping the black ship.
03:20: the fourth site is in range. Kalida
opens fire and takes out the underwater site. It'll be about 20
minutes to the next site.
At 03:30 the shots from the two remaining sites hit Nightshade
on the screens, simulataneously just outside the bow shields. The
shields absorb it with a slight afterglow flare, but the ship is fine
across the board.
Kalida has perfect target on the next one.
It's another underwater shot. Only one meson site now remains.
Nightshade takes one shot right on the nose
of the shields. The meson sites are undeniably targetting the
shields, which Mich is pleased to not are holding well.
The last site is underground. It goes up,
taking an entire island with it. Water rushes in where the ground
used to be, vaporizing as it explodes into steam, spewing up into the
There is a big cheer from the comm link with the
defenders, who have been glad first that Nightshade drew all
the fire, and now that the deep meson fire has ceased.
It's 0400: the fleets in orbit engage in
battle. It's a longer
skirmish this time, taking about an hour before the defenders' orbit
sweeps them from under the high guard attackers. It's now clear
both sides have released nukes, although there's no indication of who
started the exchange of nuclear missiles.
Kalida tries to check on the reserve line, but
particularly in atmosphere Callisto can't help her. They're also
slipping behind the planet, taking them out of line of sight.
Kalida asks Sir Misha what they are to do now? They could stay at
the world and harry the attackers, or go back out and mess with the
reserve fleets -- or something else entirely, of course. It'll be
about seven hours until the next batch of invaders are due to arrive
out of jump.
Nightshade is lagging badly behind the
defending fleets. Sir Misha's order is to catch up and join with
them. They'll run with shields up now -- there's no advantage to
stealth at this point, and they can run faster in atmosphere with the
It takes about an hour to get to the defender
fleets, soaring up out of the atmosphere and sparing no thrust in
catching up. Helia brings them to Trin's fleets at 06:00.
Robert's been able to hold the comm link, and still
has the data link operating.
The incoming fleets have now been delayed by 18
hours and have no access to refuelling. Only 102 hours remain
before reaching the defenders' target.
The next attacker engagement will be in four hours,
at 10:00. It looks like they're combining some forces and this
will be a larger skirmish.
They could go up and harrass the assembling fleets,
but the crew could also use a rest. They've been on the offensive
for 11 hours now.
Before resting, however, Kalida identifies the
current command ship of the attackers. It's the flagship of the
Iderati fleet, which is among the attackers that they will be
Sir Misha orders a rest, while Nightshade
orbits with the fleets of Trin's Veil.