A Very Blue Moon 8

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 8 Draft (05-14-10)

Clara Potter waited and waited, it seemed like forever . . . though it could have been longer . . . before releasing defensive fire. She was going to insure that the initial missile intercept point was considerably closer to her own ship than the two Calp attackers. That would help some, maybe even enough. It had worked with pirates the couple of times she had a chance to use it, why not here? The lightspeed lag would let her shipboard sensors augment those on her counter missiles and at two to one odds she needed all the help she could get.

Nur al-Din, Captain of the G-4 Al-Wazir was not in the least surprised when he saw no immediate response from the FNS Mt. Soyka. His ship was riding easy under standard military power; inside everyone was experiencing just one standard G. On the sensor screens of an outside observer would show her boosting at 55 G’s, a number that the was in line with the acceleration used as standard by the G’3s that still made up a majority of the fleet. It was easy on his own ship because his extra drive band provided a large margin, twelve and a half G’s compensated which he held in reserve.

On the offensive side, in terms of absolute performance, the Mk-V ShipKillers in his magazines had a powered envelope of 800 seconds at 24,920 G’s. That gave them an actual range under power of almost 8 million kilometers or a bit more than 26 light seconds. His own ship had a slightly positive vector towards the Soyka which would add to his missile’s powered range so call it half a minute for the FNS Battle Cruiser to even see the launch and a like period of time for Captain al-din’s own shipboard sensors to detect a response.

After that first minute the tension on the Al-Wazir’s command deck began to rise. Two minutes and still no enemy launch and Captain al-Din ordered a second wave of ten. With the eight shot salvo fired from his sister ship the G-3 Meydan under Captain Moustafa Akkad the Federation Soyka would need to use at least the same number, twenty eight, of her own ShipKillers to intercept at long range, and that would leave her at best only four remaining. It was a near certainty that ship’s captain would hold back from a one to one intercept so he would get a chance to see some close in defensive work.

It was possible the ship carried a few reloads but there was little room on any warship as small as a G-3 or 4 for that type of extravagance as something else aboard would have to suffer. Even if that were the case this engagement would be over before any reloads might be in place and the launch tubes recertified. If she had them the Soyka would be advised to drop them off outside the ship in stand alone mode and suffer the performance penalty.

Something went wrong with the drive on one of the missiles in his first wave and the icon on the tac screen went from green to yellow and turned to red as it began to veer off course. The fact that this could happen was one reason to delay a defensive launch but intercepts close in had a tendency to degrade sensor performance as it was standard doctrine to explode a warhead at high yield rather than suffer its loss to an SK in defensive mode where the defending missile would have its blast dialed down to a much lower yield most of the time in order to direct the blast effects more accurately and of course those effects would be aimed outwards.

Some two and a half minutes from weapons release the Mt Soyka’s initial response showed. Only a single launch of eight at first and another twenty seconds showed she was holding off on another full salvo. Using her defense in depth looked to al-Din to be the best of all the bad calls she could make. For a moment he felt a sense of pity for the Captain off the opposing ship but just for a moment.

Over the time it took for the two forces to reach this present state of conflict the spread between the Al-Wazir on one end of the 9th Fleet’s shorter interior line, and the Dzarugian on the other, had grown to three hundred and fifty million kilometers. Centrally located as he went for the middle of the line and Union lead ship Bradford Admiral Zubayr had a six minute time lag on the sensor readings from either end. Seven minutes into the battle it was clear that except for those far outside ships he had chosen to ignore all of the Federation’s remaining six ships were attempting to break away from engagement distance.

Zubayr watched with pleasure as 9th Fleet units, one by one, and especially Captain Basheer Fansa on Dzarugian, the man and ship were the newest additions to 9th fleet, reacted to the evasion. The Feddies Mt Morris and Van Rijn would make it safely past his flanks but two more ships in New Britain orbit would do little to stop him from completing his mission once he was done out here.

He had good idents on all of the Confederation vessels now. The ship that Fansa and his partner Rizqallah Hassqun on the Samaan would face was the G-3 Ripper; inboard of that battle cruiser was another G-3 the MacCartney. In the center were the two Feddie G-4’s, Bradford and Shark, then completing the six ship line were the Covington with Mt Soyka at the other extremity.

Waiting a full minute from her first launch, and well before she could know the result Clara sent another four of the long range ShipKillers running anti-missile software on their way. Eight went out on her first launch and starting with a full weapons store she had twenty remaining. The purple vector cones covered the Caliphate’s incoming and she watched as they started a dance, jinking in all three dimensions in an attempt to avoid feeding on the appetizer and going for the main course, which in this case was the Clara Potter and the crew of the Mt Soyka.

This time it went all too fast as her counter missiles met the first of the Calps and one for one took out a Mark-V ShipKiller. The resultant blast and the EMP would take away any chance of remote guidance but at long range that was never much of an issue anyway.

“Another four on your command,” Clara said to Inga Madrie who may not have been related to that other branch but was performing miracles none the less. Each one of the missiles the weapons officer had sent thus far made a clean kill, one even managed to take out two from the Calps barrage. Clara studied the fire plan then gave up making changes as hopeless. Inga was spot on and the plan called to use just two more of the Mark V’s at thirty light seconds out. Closer in G-types and the beamers would have to take on the rest of this flight. If they made it through this one Clara was going to have twelve of the big birds left to deal with the Calp’s next launch.

“Well done,” thought Moustafa Akkad on the Meydan. His screens were clearing and he could see the close in defense from the Mt Soyka had been up to the task so far. He had sent another flight of ten and the Soyka responded with eight taking out the two which had dodged the SK’s and the other two untargeted with a swarm of lesser missiles.

The Federation ship had sent nothing his way. Nothing towards the Wazir either. She was making a fight of it but it would not last. The Soyka had perhaps 12 SK’s remaining, they had fifty-four. He would wait another minute before launching again, overwhelm the last of her SK’s, and make it that much harder for her close in systems. He could not be sure but it was most likely the enemy had suffered some battle damage. No ship was impervious to multi-megaton explosions scant kilometers away from its hull and this Federation ship would not be an exception.

The ships engineering screen showed sensor damage at 20% with another 5% off line, bands of yellow with isolated splotches of red. Still Clara was not disappointed, in fact the reverse, her ship and crew had survived the first and second waves.

“The Calps are sending another demand for surrender,” her comm officers relayed over the direct link. “Last chance it says but otherwise the same as the last.”

It was tempting but for Clara impossible to surrender while still able to fight.

“Damn them to Hell!” she said into a dead pickup, then switched it on and began polling her section chiefs while the preplanned evasion routine continued to play out, then the threat alarm began to blink once more as another Calp launch was detected. They were beyond the point of closest approach on a flight time basis though not in an absolute spatial sense. If they made it through this one the Calps would need to kill the rest of their outward velocity and finish reversing course. That would subtract relative delta-V from their SK’s and give the Soyka a fair chance to close on New Britain and whatever help they had to offer.

It was not to be. Another Calp launch a full salvo from Meydan and two SK’s from Wazir. The Mt Soyka’s last four long range missiles got three of them, the type G short range missiles stopped another four and the particle beamers destroyed two beyond detonation range. “A classic defense. One for the books,” Clara Potter told Inga Madrie directly and the rest of her ship’s crew by remote. And then her last words with a grim smile upon her lips said one more time, “Damn them all to Hell!,” just before the Soyka and all aboard vanished in a star like burst of radiance.

* * *
“There goes number two, looks to be the Ripper,” Carla Bignotti said as a distant light shone through the forward facing plastiglas panel brightly enough to cast shadows on the bulkhead behind her couch. “This may be cold Yuri but I sure am glad I don’t know any of them.”

“Yeah,” Yuri said while he kept punching at his input and seeing colors and shapes change on his display while his intuitions in the form of instructions were visualized before dissolving as he made more changes to his command strings.

“And there goes another one,” Lt Bignotti said. “This is more like a slaughter than a battle.” But this time Yuri did not respond at all, lost in concentration.

“This might just do it!” Yuri said with a shout somewhere between pure, fierce rage and one verging on glee. Take a look Carla. When the Calps are finished they are going to be coming back towards New Britain to finish up where they left off after we bailed from the Perseus. We will still be right on that track.”

“Sure we will, and I hope they miss us again. I don’t fancy the chance of a couple of shuttles against a planetary sized fleet unit. Except for the fact the Calps don’t know we’re here we are in far worse shape then we were the last time.” Carla kept looking out the viewport and another Union ship flared recasting those shadows again. Then she said, “I think three of the Union ships are going to get past the Calp line. The two that started at the far ends and the flagship. If the flagship makes it she’ll be playing it save and heading out, at least for now.”

“Carla, get Captain Kenwood on line, I got a plan. And send this along.” Yuri indicated the operations plan file he had been working on.

It took a few moments as the carrier beam wandered on and off of the other Cardoman shuttle’s receiving unit, a few more before Julian Kenwood’s voice could be heard. “What is it Yuri,” he said. “I don’t like talking even on a lightbeam when we have no idea about what might be out there stealthed and listening. The danger of them catching us before lockup or from reflection off the receiver is slight but a risk is a risk.”

“Sir, I think there is a way for us to hurt the Calps when the come back this way, something worth the risk. It’s in the download. Message me when you decide. Out Captain.” Yuri broke contact and relaxed, staring at his screen again but without making changes. “He will be getting back in a few minutes Clara, take a look yourself,” Yuri said needlessly as Lt. Bignotti was already studying the Op Plan download.

She managed to say, “You know, this just might work,” by the time Kenwood was requesting contact.

“We’ll do it Cmdr Borselov, thanks for sending the programming code,” and Kenwood signed off.

“They got another one,” Carla said shaking her head. “Three out of eight so far. I think two of the others from the Union battle line are almost out of range now but their trajectories won’t get them anywhere near New Britain for days even if they make the attempt. There goes the MacCartney. The Covington and Bradford both took some damage but seem to be in the clear so long as they can keep their drives up.”

“Let’s get those missiles reprogrammed and turn us around Carla, times a wastin’”

The plan was simple, but only a programmer in Yuri’s class, and one already familiar with the code he was hacking, could have pulled it off. The brain inside of the small shipboard missiles carried on a shuttle didn’t have any memory to spare. But by eliminating routines he felt “unnecessary,” and recoding others, Yuri had turned the shuttles anti-missiles into a poor man’s underpowered version of a stealthed ShipKiller laying in wait. He had to power everything down with a restart on a timer, and even then if he guessed wrong about when the Calps would get into range this was going to fail, but as he had heard said a few times, “No Guts No Glory.” In going ahead with this Captain Kenwood was showing that he had guts and enough to spare.

After dropping the missiles off, both shuttles, drive pointed away from the Calp 9th Fleet and its sensors, decelerated at low G and for just long enough to build separation. No point in making their own selves easy to find if and when those missiles went active. Forty pinpricks, but even a bull could die from mosquito bites.

Thirty one hours later the Calps had swept past the two Cardoman shuttles without noticing a thing. On SP 189 Carla was once again in the command seat and Yuri was tuning the view. He wanted to see the small missile drives kick off. He had removed all the code that might have sent telemetry. “There it is,” he said, his voice carrying into the crew and cargo hold through the open bulkhead passage.

Hours earlier the Federation Van Rijn and Mt Morris had reached New Britain orbit. But on the shuttles they had heard nothing of what was going on in that region of space. New Britain should be just as ignorant of their being here as the Calps were. Another few minutes when they detected the missiles just lighting off they would know that something other than vacuum was out here.

Yuri would have given a months pay to see the expressions on the faces at New Britain control when the tiny drives were noticed. Hell, he would give a years pay to live and talk about it later and consider it money well spent. Carla was beaming, Yuri was trying to get used to that. Not easy but it sure beat walking.

Ninth Fleet was a few hours short of returning to battle stations and full alert, closing on New Britain at 1400 KPS with all sensors active. That was the only reason for the quizzical look on the al-Shouneh signals officer as he saw something odd on his screen moments before drive signatures started radiating, dozens all at once, and the klaxon loud alarms began to sound. First they wailed on his ship and then on each of the others making up the Caliphate’s 9th fleet. On the Shouneh on one other the alarm was more than advisory. That other was the G-3 al-Ghumrok, the fleet unit that with the al-Shouneh, combined for the destruction of the Federation G-4 Shark.

As was standard when not engaged each ship had two of her beam mounts powered up, the ones normally used to deflect rock or derbies larger than the sand grain sized pieces of rubble that the ships field could handle alone.

The weapons crew were running for their stations when without need for human intervention the rest of the anti-missile beam mounts started going through their power-up sequence. Almost at once and the two on line switched to software that could make predictions about where a powered target would be when a beam got there and they began firing.

Without the electromagnetic noise of a general battle and with all of her mounts powered up and ready the al-Shouneh and Ghumrok could have dealt with this attack easily, even when tracking started with the attacking missiles so close in. The kill rate always increased as the attacker neared and lightspeed lag played less and less into the intercept solutions.

Fractional kiloton warheads like the ones these diminutive missiles, they were shuttle types the readouts showed, were totally useless against the battle armor on a warship unless contact detonated. It was taking too long but one by one the forty weaving, swarming lights, on the ships tac screen were going dark. Between the two of them more then half were extinguished before the Ghumrok’s hull was pricked by the first. The shockwave, confined for an instant to the battle cruiser’s interior, killed everyone on board milliseconds before the battle hardened electronics and comp gave out and then without control the ships drive bands blew out.

There was time for the crew of the al-Shouneh to notice but not to grieve as a missile came into contact with her own forward band and then there was nothing left at all.

On the New Britain Victory there were lights flashing but no alarms even though the surprise was every bit as great.

“Those are shuttle missiles, where the hell did they come from?”

“Not ours,” the tac officer said without a lot of certainty. He was new to the job and new to the ship as was everyone else on the command deck. “We have a few out there but none anywhere near that location.”

The magnification went up and the view centered around the swarm of bright specks. “They’re Cardoman made, or built under license, but exactly who put them out there is anyone’s guess. And they are not beam riders as a picket or larger would carry so I would say they must be from shuttles off the Perseus but I can’t see how they could have gotten them there it in the first place.”

“Got two!” and a cheer went up on the bridge. “I wonder what the Calps do next.”

* * *
Seething inside, half with anger and half with shame, Fleet Admiral Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr in the Khayer Bek’s flag plot looked to Abdu I-Malik for an explanation.

“Shuttle types Admiral, they must have been placed there recently. Not enough energy reserves for them to have been holding for long and no way for anyone to predict our course in advance.” He looked at Zubayr, expecting him to lash out at the nearest target, that being himself and was not disappointed.

Zubayr tried mightily to remain unemotional but could feel it slipping, “Tell me something I don’t know,” he said, voice beginning to take on the worst stereotype of an enraged Admiral looking for vengeance. He looked into the heart of the holo-tank and muttered under his breath forcing his heart to slow down and his face become neutral in expression. He was realist enough to know that whatever blame existed was his and that there was nothing to be gained by berating Malik. “Your best guess for now,” and he was his normal self again.

“The Brits must have sent a couple of shuttles out and dropped them off while we were dealing with the Federation fleet.”

Zubayr held his thumb beneath his chin and stroked his beard with an index finger. “That makes sense. Why not more missiles then, they have at least four ships in orbit not to mention a couple of dozen pickets scattered through the system that we haven’t dealt with yet?”

“We would have seen the drive from anything out system. As to other shuttles, they might have sent them but dropped the missiles off outside our path. What I can say is that now that we are on full alert we will not be caught off guard again.”

With a curt nod Zubayr indicated forgiveness then opened a channel to the flagship’s bridge. “Captain Darwish, you may start the run-in to New Britain.” Then for all to hear, “I want no more surprises!” And to himself, “I should be so lucky.”

Lionel Pomeroy was back on his G-2M Trafalgar, and even with a Calp fleet bearing down he felt safer here than in the bowels of the Admiralty Building. Little wonder, he was in charge, had something to do, and was much too busy to worry about anything other than his own ship’s readiness while he loitered doing station keeping a few hundred kilometers from the Victory. His tac officer had no trouble detecting the old G-1 powering up. And based on the radiated emissions level neither would the Calps. The ship, constructed out of too much metal was impossible to shield. The cat was out of the bag but her claws were still hidden.

The Van Rijn and Mt Morris were docked hard to the moon sized ships hull. Moon size she seemed at almost half a million tons fully laden, especially compared to the newer Federation ships. There was no oxidation and hence no rust in space. Over time the Victory’s hull metal had taken on a bluish cast even more pronounced then when she had been commissioned. It made her look — Regal. Not a dowager Queen but a warrior King. Though Pomeroy checked himself lest he take the analogy too far. She was after all a G-1 transport that had never been within lightyears of a battle.

Lord Shimmersford was aboard new with, for him, an incredibly small support staff. He had invited General Ramseyer to come along for the ride and Basil had agreed much to Pomeroy’s surprise. “Waterford can mind the store in my absence,” he had said with a hearty chuckle which must have masked his true feelings.

The Federation ships were undocking now; they would take positions at the front while New Britain’s Arc Royal and Jutland kept close to the Victory as she lit her torch and ponderously began to distance herself from the planet below. No on wanted a near miss to strike the ground.

New Britain’s Aubrey, try as she might would remain out of the fight. Torn down for maintenance upgrades there was no way to get even a single fusion plant on line. Towed out to geosynchronous orbit, her defensive systems, operating at 50%, and most of her crew now on Victory, her batteries would only come into play if all else was lost. Every one of the systems pickets were driving inwards now, position revealed. The closest was over ten hours away. They would not fight this battle but if things went well they just might help to pick up the pieces.

“Sure can get lonely out here,” Yuri said, “Kenwood is doing the right thing though. We got no business at all getting any closer than we are already.”

“I hear that,” Lt. Bignotti agreed. “Of course if we hadn’t used up all our ammo we might be of some use.”

“We can still be of some use,” Yuri grinned. “Get Captain Kenwood again won’t you Carla? I got a plan!”

“So that is the situation,” Commander I-Malik finished, “we can ignore the Victory, finish off the other ships, and then concentrate our fire on the old relic, or we could wait to see what they do next. But if we wait their pickets get closer and might affect the outcome. We also have no way of knowing if the ship in geosynchronous is active, near active, or just a ruse. As things stand we have eight ships against their six. That should be enough.” With no immediate response the sound of the decks ventilation system and the feel rather than a heard throb of pumps feeding the reactors took on a life of their own and became something other than just background noise.

Admiral Zubayr was unconsciously stroking the short hairs on the side of his chin again. To everyone in flag plot it meant he was about to make the decision his job required of him.

The eight ship fleet, where once had been ten, kept closing on New Britain as it had for more than three hours with just a minor shift when the Brit forces separated from their home world. The glowing light cones showing engagement range on both sides were starting to overlap. There was still time to break off and rethink this but not without risk of position and reputation. Zubayr started, then came erect in his seat. A glow even brighter than the one inside the tank seemed to enfold him.

“It is time,” he said. “Continue onwards, for today we fight! Glory be to Allah, and his Prophet Mohammad!”