(33) To Be Named

The Crusader Campaign (139-1123)

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

   The next skirmish will be at about 10:00.  At that point it will represent a 22 hour delay for the invaders, with four days and 2 hours to go in the defenders' orders.  Nevertheless, a total of three days would be significant, and that's starting to look achievable.  One Happy Fun Ball -- Glisten's Darotukshi -- has been wrecked to be point where it only has scrap value, and the previously-installed deep meson sites have all been destroyed in a particularly excessively spectacular fashion.

    The crew of Nightshade have taken the chance to rest while approaching the next orbital engagement.

    The top twelve of the defending command chain has of course been eliminated.  According to the data link that Robert has patched in, Commodore Eneri von Krantzhoff now commands the Trin's Veil fleets.

    At 09:30, Sir Misha contacts von Krantzhoff.  His first goal is to try to figure out his state of mind, if he's qualified and prepared to command the fleets.  After that, he'll discuss Nightshade's role in the fight.
    In response to Sir Misha's inquiries, Commodore von Krantzhoff says that according to instructions left by Admiral Altrafe, they were to be left to do pretty much anything they wanted, and he is certainly personally very grateful for what they've done so far.  He adds that he is very surprised at their capabilities for their size.  That was not a question, he says, as he's been told not to ask, but he is pleased about it.
    Sir Misha says they'd like to lead in the upcoming attack, if it suits them.
    Von Krantzhoff says that would be fine.  He says it's likely they'll be facing four fleets directly with their four.  The Murchison fleet will be leading point this time, and they expect to be facing Iderati, Mirriam, Jone, and Egypt.  Two other fleets on higher station are likely to be available in a supporting role if they have fuel for it; those would be Gl-X-1 and Gl-X-2.  The plan is to stay in low orbit.
    Sir Misha observes that the Commodore does seem to know what he's talking about.  He has less confidence than he's projecting, but he does understand what's going on.  He didn't come up with the strategy -- presumably it's Altrafe's -- but he is continuing to follow it and understands it.  He has obviously been thrust into command a little unexpectedly, but seems up to the task.
    Aloud, after verifying that it's a private conversation on the Commodore's end, Sir Misha offers some advice.  He says it's a good idea to carry on with a good plan, "But if it becomes necessary, don't be afraid to remember who's in charge and go your own way."
    Von Krantzhoff thanks him, and says he's looking forward to what Nightshade can do against space targets as opposed to ground targets.  "If you draw as much fire as you did last time, it might get a little hot there.  Is there anything we can do to back you up?"
    Misha says "No, just don't become so enamored with the light show that you forget to cover your own ass."
    The Commodore smiles and says that they have another four days to last here, and they plan on doing so.

    The crew get back on duty just before 10:00.  On the bridge, Kalida takes up the gunnery station at console 4, Helia at the pilot station 3, Sir Misha on the command dais at 2, Callisto at console 6, Shark at 10, and Robert  at 9.  Elsewhere, Mich is in position in Engineering, Vonish in the Galley, Bridgehead in Sick Bay.  Teri is in full battledress in the Galley with Vonish.  Jack remains in her stateroom, room 20, presumably monitoring things from the computer there.  Shark makes sure that if the need arises, she can use whatever weapons or force she feels necessary to deal with it.

    Kalida has already identified the current flagship of the attackers, and it's the flagship of the Iderati fleet.  It's well protected, but with Nightshade's acceleration it's not too bad for them to get up there.  It'll be close enough to be able to move into position to fire, but would normally be out of range during the battle.  The Iderati fleet is in a higher position, with the flagship higher still to keep out of range of the front line engagement.  To get there, they'd have either to outflank or to come up through the middle.  It would be very hard for an Imperial ship, but they should be capable of doing it.  The high quality expeditionary fleets are positioned higher again, where they too could respond.
    Even though they could do it, they would certainly meet resistance.  Coming back after the engagement would be the most surprising, but going straight up through the middle would have the enemy most distracted at the time.
    Sir Misha favors going straight up the middle.
    Kalida nods and smiles.  It will also distract the attackers and break their concentration on the defenders.  She then says that she hates to dump the nukes because it takes a while to regenerate them, and it's hard to fire small salvos.
    Sir Misha says that they can afford to use 6-12 since the battle will be an hour or so, with the next fight at least 4-6 hours beyond that.  He's happy, in fact, to use 50 of them, since they have so many.
    "And what if a black ship shows up?" points out Shark.
    Kalida and Sir Misha don't seem to take his paranoia seriously.  They discuss how many missiles to fire in each salvo, taking into account the point defenses of the target.

    With the crew in full sparkly pink battle mode, Nightshade takes up position prominently at the head of the Murchison fleet, leading them into battle.

    At 10:00, the Murchison fleet opens fire on the Mirriam fleets.  Laser fire opens up but is being fairly ineffectual.  The front lines are now the larger ships that lasers won't damage; it's not until the battle closes further that the smaller vessels will move into the fray.  Nightshade joins in the laser fire, and return fire plays over the hull too.  The glitter of sandcasters scatter the beams, making the lasers a display of bright intent rather than starting the fighting.
    By 10:20, the fleets reach missile range before coming into meson gun and accelerator range.  Nightshade is first to launch, Kalida selecting a strike cruiser from among the front lines.  Fighter screens should be launched shortly, but right now she has an unobstructed shot.  She spurts five missiles, streaking out from the launcher below the hull.
    Other missiles are flying around now too, but at this range it's too easy for the defenses to take them down.  Smaller ships are assisting the larger, able to use their lasers to help cover the more valuable assets.  Callisto feeds indentification of the ships running nuclear dampers, which are the targets of conventional missile fire from the Imperials.
    Black tech missiles are flying much faster, but even so four are taken down on the way, one finding its target and striking the engineering section of Kalida's target.  The strike cruiser seems to be responding sluggishly, and the crew celebrate their first hit of the engagement.
    Incoming missiles are being no trouble for Kalida.  She flicks the laser around, taking out all of them easily.
    At 10:30, with Nightshade pulling away a little from the Murchison fleet, Kalida is the first to reach heavy weapon range.  Sir Misha tells her to open fire.  Of those around her, the largest in range is a 100kt cruiser.  Helia has been carrying a straight course, waiting to evade until they're within meson range.  It's therefore an easy shot for Kalida, and the cruiser brews up hard.  It's not as spectacular as the dreadnoughts were, but what is left of it is going down right now.
    Sir Misha checks the tactical aura for any ship displaying any non-Imperial characteristics, but finds none.  No attacker fleets have started any maneuver to outflank or reposition outside the main engagement.  The two high guard fleets are maintaining position.
    At 10:40, Nightshade reaches meson gun range.  Helia starts evading as they come in, darting and dashing.  Around them the two Imperial forces are exchanging missile fire.  Against them, there are lasers scanning to keep track of the black ship's position, and that's followed up with coordinated meson fire from several ships.  Eight shots slap at the ship: three miss completely, put off by Helia's erratic flight path; one is a direct hit and completely ineffective; the other four are at varying distance from shields.  Two are directly on the bow shields, with the other two too far away to care.
    Mich monitors the shields taking the load, and on the bridge they see an afterglow from the shields where they were impacted.  Everything on the Engineering board is still red.
    Eight shots means they are clearly a priority target.
    In response, Kalida fires another 5 missiles (10 total) at a cruiser.  Four hit and appear to cause mostly surface damage -- several weapon batteries taken out, with one minor hull breach.  It isn't going down, but it's damaged.  It'll be less effective in battle, and it's another one that the attackers will have to repair.

    This already looks like it will be a longer engagement than the previous orbital skirmishes.  The attackers are expending fuel to keep the forces in contact longer, making a real fight out of what could have been a passing encounter.  One of the high guard fleets is moving ahead of the engagement, heading for a position in which they could take over firing after the main bodies have disengaged.

    It's 10:50.  The lines of battle are now fully engaged with all weapons, while Nightshade pushes on into even closer range.  Fighter screens are fully deployed in a point defence role, while small ships are screening the larger with supporting anti-missile fire and sandcaster deployment.  So far the fight seems fairly even, with no side taking visibly heavier losses.
    The attackers have completely stopped missile fire against Nightshade, using only lasers to ensure their location and heavy weapons to target them.
    Kalida asks Sir Misha how generous he wants her to be with the missiles.  Since they can well over a hundred in a normal jump time, which is how long the other ships will take to get to the next location, Sir Misha says that over the next four days they can spend 100, plus any they can build in the meantime between battles.  He authorizes her to use 20 total in this fight.
    Mich immediately considers connecting the large power cube to the missile regenerators so they can run them all the time.
    Helia's navigation thoughts feed into an indication that the flagship of the Iderati fleet will be in range in about ten minutes.
    In the meantime, Kalida picks a juicier target from the ships around them.  A dreadnought takes an expander shot directly in the main bridge.  It's knocked out of position, trailing debris and drifting at the whims of the gravity well.  It may take some time to fall, but it will be a full kill, ending in a plunge into the world below.  She holds back on the missiles in case she needs them later.
    They are now taking a lot more fire.  They are not just a priority target, they are the priority target.  Spinal mounts from most of the capital ships in the Mirriam fleet are directed at them.  Fifteen shots in all come their way, five of which blast simultaneously at the exterior of the shields.  On the engineering board the feel turns slightly purple, holding but heavily loaded, with a slight weakening after the shot that takes about 30 seconds to recover.  There's a bright visible ripple propagating in the shields from the hit area, and the afterglow is strong.  It feels prickly and uncomfortable in sparkly pink.
    The Murchison fleet is exploiting this distraction, and the Mirriam fleet is taking heavier losses than they are.  The distraction is doing the job, and has affected the balance of the initial fleet-to-fleet engagement.

    At 11:00, the lines of battle come into contact.  All four fleets from each side are now engaging.  Nightshade has now penetrated the front lines and among the enemy.  Up ahead is the Iderati fleet, just coming into range.
    In the lines behind them, the Mirriam fleet is still concentrating its spinal mounts on them, but the other fleets are trying to pick up the slack.  The attackers are dropping into a lower orbit, intermingling the lines in almost a dogfight.  The first high guard fleet is still moving ahead of the orbit to extend the engagement, and the second high guard are just now starting to follow them.  This is not in the manuals.  Both sides are rewriting the book, inventing the whole concept of major fleet action at the atmospheric transition.
    Shark observes the attackers are making a last ditch effort to make their schedule.  They have to refuel, but most important of all is that they have to make their time.  The whole campaign depends on them clearing this system immediately.  And if they haven't secured refuelling capability by the time Santanocheev arrives in an hour, a whole two days after the first ship entered the system, it will make them look really bad.  He makes sure that von Krantzhoff is aware of the outflanking maneuver by the two Glisten Expeditionary Fleets.
    With Helia still dodging and evading, Kalida fires the expander at the flagship of the Iderati fleet, the main command vessel itself of this engagement.  The bridge erupts and the hulk jerks suddenly in reaction, kicking it into an eccentric orbit that will inevitably end in atmosphere.
    Meson gunfire explodes all around Nightshade.  The shields load heavily but hold, taking a full minute to recover to full strength after the fusillade.  The systems are stressed, but holding.  Shark wonders if it's stressing the engineer more than it is the shields.
    Mich is certainly stressed -- he reports that with the current level of fire, if it lands just right it could take down the shields.  They're drawing fire from several fleets here.
    Nevertheless Sir Misha says that while this main engagement is going on, they will remain in the midst of it, draw fire and wreak havoc, and when this peters out and the two high fleets engage, they will race to them and do the same.
    In the battle below them, the Mirriam fleet has been taking heavy losses.  The defenders are exploiting the lack of meson fire and starting to force a weak point in the attacker line of battle.  Sir Misha reflects that their original comment to Admiral Altrafe, that Nightshade could draw fire, was accurate.  They are clearly too dangerous to ignore, and yet going after them is very costly.

    It's 11:10.  Scanning the tactical aura, enhanced with the data feed that Robert's been pulling from the conventional forces, and Baron Bridgehead's conventional tactical input, Kalida and Sir Misha identify the new flagship of this operation.  It's the flagship of the Gl-X-1 fleet, now moving well ahead of the engaged fleets leading the two high guard units into position.
    The Iderati fleet is on the move now, clearly maneuvering to reinforce the growing gap.  Sir Misha's command is to delay engaging them until the Imperial ships can engage them too.
    At his command, Helia drops back into the midst of the Mirriam fleet, drilling into the weakness in the attacker line of battle.  She's still high enough that the Iderati fleet can still bring some fire to bear, but the Mirriam fleet doesn't have a lot to land on them.
    Kalida targets one of the two remaining dreadnoughts in the Mirriam fleet.  It's a perfect expander shot, the reaction to the explosion all but killing the capship's forward motion.  It'll make landfall within the hour.
    Nightshade takes very little fire this time.  The board stays solid red.
    The Mirriam fleet is now in ruins.  With their heaviest weapons concentrated on the black ship, they haven't been able to hold the defenders.  What's left of the Mirriam fleet is trying to disengage and climb up out of the gravity well.
    The defenders have taken losses too, but currently have the edge.  Elsewhere, neither side is taking substantial damage, with no clear advantage.
    Nightshade will not be pursuing the retreating Mirriam fleet, but move in to where they can make a difference in the front lines.

    At 11:20, they move on to the Egypt fleet, engaged with the Trin fleet.  Both are in fairly good shape, but with the Mirriam fleet out of the way the Murchison fleet is coming in on Egypt's flank.  Iderati will come in behind them too, but right now the defenders are concentrating fire on the one attacker.
    Nightshade streaks in, and Kalida strike Egypt's flagship dreadnought deep in the hull.  Gutted and with this fight being in very low orbit, it will probably decay in a matter of hours.
    They're moving so quickly and Helia's evading so well that there's only one strike on the shields, not the slightest threat to them.

    At 11:30, the fight is getting nastier.  The range is closer, the orbit lower still, and heavier losses are being taken on both sides.  Nightshade is in the middle of the most intense fighting of the skirmish.
    Kalida picks her next target and kills another dreadnought with the expander.
    Bridgehead mentions aloud that this is the big capability they are demonstrating: to kill one capital ship every ten minutes, instead of beating them down slowly through attrition while killing the smaller targets to get them out of the way.
    It's not only Kalida who's causing problems with the dreadnoughts, however.  Callisto flags one that seems to have lost engineering power and is helpless.
    Incoming meson fire slams the shield heavily, with ripples and shakes resonating across the surface.  Everything's holding fine, but Egypt's concentrated a lot of spinal mounts on such a small target.
    In response to the Murchison's flanking maneuver, Egypt starts burning hard to move them ahead along the orbit line, trying to delay the arrival of Murchison.  Fuel conservation is no longer a consideration compared with the potential to take fire from two fleets at once.  Overall numbers mean nothing when a local advantage can be pressed.

    At 11:40, the defender fleets have raked the crippled Egypt dreadnought with fire, taking it down.  Kalida drives an expander blast deep into another one, and with the battle pressing ever deeper to the atmospheric transition any kill does down quickly with little opportunity even to abandon ship.
    The shields are taking heavy fire, but sufficiently spaced to offer no concentrated threat.  There's barely a flicker as the sporadic meson blasts hit.
    With the Egypt fleet formation broken for a moment, it's given a chance for Murchison to drive in and open up.  Egypt is taking heavy losses under the major local advantage of the defenders.

    Shortly, though, at 11:50 Egypt regroups and pulls their formation together into a defensive array.  Kalida pokes the tactical aura and with everyone's input -- including Sir Misha's streetfight analogy -- identifies a weak point in the herd.  She culls that dreadnought with the expander, breaking the formation back open again, splitting it into two groups that can't support each other.  Half is being swarmed by Murchison from its flank, while the other is now vastly outnumbered by Trin.  Egypt's attempt to outrun Murchison's advance just pulled them further from Iderati's help, and they have no help nearby.
    Nightshade herself takes plenty of hits, but they are uncoordinated and the shields handle them easily.

    Two hours into the fight, at midday, Egypt is the second attacker fleet to try to pull out of the line of battle.  They're trying to retreat in order, reforming the two halves into one group as they climb, but the sheer number of defenders in the area makes it difficult.  Murchison pursues them higher, while Trin, free from the fight now, moves on to reinforce Tr-X-2 which has been engaged with Jone.
    Kalida's goal is to disrupt the retreat.  Sir Misha helps pick out the critical target in what is practically a close quarters knife fight.
    The expander strikes home.  A cruiser slews off course in ruins, blasting debris into the formation and scattering Egypt in disarray.  Now that there's enough heavily damage ships to perhaps drop their defensive abilities, Kalida tosses a 50 millisecond burst of five missiles (15 total now) at another cruiser.  Crippled, her target starts to drop slowly.  The shots didn't kill it outright, but it doesn't seem to have the ability to climb back out.  Another burst of 5 slams her next target heavily in engineering, and this one loses power immediately and starts to drop into the well.

    Out beyond the reserves, there's a scattering of lots of jump flashes.  The rest of of the fleets, Santanocheev's remaining forces, have come into the system.

    At 12:10, the Egypt fleet is climbing high in complete disorder.  Further out, what's left of Mirriam has regrouped, showing no signs of coming back in.  Neither are now being pursued.  Iderati never made position to reinforce the weak point, and has pulled back out without really getting into the fight.
    Further down orbit, the defenders are outnumbering the Jone fleet by almost three to one, and it is attempting to disengage too.  Even further on, the two Glisten Expeditionary fleets have broken off their maneuver and are breaking back up into high orbit without firing a shot.

    It takes until 12:30 before Nightshade can get close enough to the Jone fleet to engage them in their retreat.  They're pulling out in good order, taking some losses but giving back in return.  The tactical aura shows two dreadnoughts in close company of other ships, and taking one of them out would force a break in the formation and with luck cause secondary collisions.
    Helia has raced them into position very quickly, and Kalida stabs one of the capships with the expander.  It goes down, breaking up the formation slightly but not as much as she'd hoped.
    The Jone fleet is about to break clear of the defenders.
    Kalida refers the decision to pursue or not to Captain Sir Misha.  He wants to press the advantage, but wants to be certain that it's not a ploy to draw them away.

    It's 12:40, and the Imperial fleets are no longer firing on each other.  If Nightshade continues the pursuit for long, the defenders will be well ahead of them soon.  The attackers are pulling into formation in high orbit, and if they get close to that they'll take excessive fire.
    Kalida guesses they can make two more shots on Jone as they climb.  The first brings down a large cruiser, and the first hits on the shield for quite some time.  This group hadn't targetted Nightshade before, and seem not to have the firing solutions quite right yet.  That won't last long, of course.

    Helia continues to keep them in range, while at 12:50 Kalida takes down her final target.
    Suddenly the ships around them are in the wrong place, and Helia has to check up suddenly.  Immediately Nightshade becomes an easy target, heavy meson fire slams against the shields.  They drop to mid-strength briefly and show a blue tinge on the board, but they hold.  It stings.
    It takes three minutes for them to recover to full strength, but by then Helia has taken them quickly away from the enemy and towards a rendezvous with Commodore von Krantzhoff's forces.

    It takes half an hour or so to catch up with the Trin's Veil fleets.  At 13:20 Helia brings them into position with the orbiting defensive fleets.  They've been at battle stations for almost three and a half hours.  Everyone's tired and could use a solid rest.
    The attackers have regrouped in a much higher orbit, and will not be in a position to threaten for quite some time.
    Out in the reserves, classic Imperial regrouping on third jump day is bringing the Llanamith battle group together.  Maneuvers are starting to rearrange the front and reserve lines, bringing fresh forces towards the mainworld.
    Bridgehead reports that it will be at least 6-8 hours before the attackers could possibly mount another assault.  They've bought some breathing space with a decisive victory in the biggest skirmish yet.  The attackers presumably intended to weaken the defenders so much that another strike would wipe them out, which may not even have been necessary if the defenders had chosen to retreat from the system rather than be destroyed.  He adds that it would probably take about three days for the attackers to reform one fleet from the shattered Mirriam and Egypt fleets.