(32) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (138-1123 to 139-1123)

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

    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 reserve line.
    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 immediately.
    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 targets."

    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 unexpected development.
    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 mainworld.
    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 battle.
    At 2300 the first opportunity to open fire arrives, and the attackers do not hesitate.  Imperial forces fire on Imperial forces.

    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 from Engineering.
    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 battlefield.

    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 attacker.
    Sir Misha selects the other end of the line for the next target.  They will attack the flagship of the Motmos Fleet.

139-1123 : Tussinian / Trin's Veil / Spinward Marches

    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 neighbors?
    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 taken down.

    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 broken.
    "Look at that!" shouts Callisto.
    Robert Morris pipes through a general radio broadcast clearly 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 targetting range.
    "Mora all over again," says Kalida.  "It means Santanocheev's forces have control of meson gun sites on the planet."
    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 many people.
    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 the target.
    "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 believes.
    If Helia really flies hard, she can take them in one 20-minute sweep.

    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 board.
    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 orbit.

    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 atmosphere.

    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 that 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 shields.
    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 approaching.
    Sir Misha orders a rest, while Nightshade orbits with the fleets of Trin's Veil.