By The Sword 20

By The Sword
Chapter 20 Draft (12/26/08)

Three shuttles, eighteen anti-missiles. That’s all Pavel and the other two Shuttle-P’s had to use. They went out like flaring candles, flashing briefly then guttering as they consumed all nearby materials and then interfered with each other while additional warheads continued to detonate. At the first explosion, like Ted Sackett and SP-122, Pavel on SP-101 ran away. Live to die another day.

“How many Audie?” Yuri asked. Madry could see that the three drones had all tubes loaded and ready, but what to do? Fifteen seconds to make a decision.

“Hold the drones. Fire Room 2, send five.” As soon as the words left her mouth the Dragon had five on the way. She just couldn’t do any more if they were to have anything left for their own defense when the Calps got closer. She cleared the signals lock and commed Admiral Raymond. “Admiral—Madry, I have taken charge of the Dragon and await your instructions.”

A story he would never get to hear, Raymond thought, as he watched the explosions from Tsarinstyn’s missiles. “Save them Captain Madry, the Essex will make it through this if the gods are willing. If not make them pay.”

Seven of the Calp ShipKillers made it past the missile screen of the shuttles his own ship, Voinovich and Madry’s. His close-in energy weapons went to work dealing with them. Two were hit and knocked out, then another, and then an explosion at long range as a warhead detonated. Half of his sensors went dead the rest degraded and having trouble sorting out the real from the ghosts and static. A second later another of the Calp launch was destroyed, but that was the last one. Remote feeds were too slow for close -in defense. The final two surviving ShipKillers exploded milliseconds apart and only kilometers away.

Focused gamma rays followed by a beam of directed confined plasma lanced through the aft section of the Essex. Hydrogen storage tanks took the first part of the hit but offered little resistance. What wasn’t immediately vaporized was scattered in all directions, gutting the front section of the ship and killing all remaining aboard. Not a single survivor. The few life pods launched at the end were much too close to the explosion and shockwave to survive.

Jamie Madry heard her cousin’s signal to Raymond and saw the loss of the Essex. She could see the Dragon had stopped retreating and was trying to get close to the three stealthed G-4’s and sent a message to the Dragon on the command channel. For better or worse she was the most senior Cardoman commander out her now and overall control of the battle was now in her hands.

She saw the Sword of the Prophet, an enemy she had met before, and her three supporting ships continue closing on the Dragon, apparently unaware of the Ranger, Wasp, and Hornet. The ships arrayed against her own section and the one closing on Admiral Flynn and Captain Burgeron on Victorious had not yet accelerated into battle.

“Audie—What is your status? Can you still fight those remotes?”

“We still have the links up and everything checks out. I just hope that holding them back was the right decision.”

“It’s the only one you made so it’s the one you live with. How long before the Calps detect them?”

“They’re probably seeing something already, just can’t tell what it is.”

Jamie replied, “I think they have to suspect something by now or else they should have launched on you already. Four to one odds ought to say get it over with and then support the attack on Victorious and me. This is what I want you to do. At the first positive sign they detect your remotes I want you to pick out the closest ship. The one that has the least amount of reaction time. Fire a full salvo from the Dragon and two of the remotes. Save one ship for your reserve. Using your best judgment after seeing how the Calps react, launch as many more as it takes to destroy that first ship. We are going to get at least one back for Admiral Raymond and the Essex. Good hunting Audie.”

“Thank you cousin, Dragon out, we have a battle to win!”

It was going very well, blessed be the Prophet. Suleah Kahn gave the orders splitting his central force in two. Kalid on the Sword should need no additional help. To Admiral Suleiman he gave the Golan Heights under Ali Madiman Badr, the Palestine under Ashari, along with Wabbim’s Persia. Combined with his own squadron of five, that gave Suleiman eight ships, two of them G-4’s, against the three other ships under the G-4 Victorious. For himself and the Gholam he kept the Iran, Shia, Tehran, Tawid, Salat, and Nubuwah. The defending forces showed no sign of breaking off and running for safety. Good! More glory for the victory that would soon be his.

Admiral Suleiman, in the Flag Plot of the Jerusalem, made sure the data links to his three additional ships were working and secure then downloaded his first movement. He considered a battle as something of an artform, akin to a symphony in nature. Kalid with the destruction of the Essex had performed the ‘Prelude’, now for his ‘First Movement’.

They were well within range now. Both the Q’om and Duhabi, with there degraded sensors would be a hindrance on defense but each still had a full missile load-out. G-3’s like each ship in his original squadron, they carried thirty-two Mod IV’s with eight tubes to fire them from, and of course all of their close in defensive array still intact.

“The orders he sent to Ibn Sa’id al-Asadi and Duhabi he repeated to Najafi on his Q’om, “Launch everything at the Infidel Novi Victorious, then fall back on defense!” If she was to live the Victorious must expend all of her resources on that launch leaving nothing to endanger the rest of his command. The three other ships in this group he was tasked with destroying, Casandra, Atropos, and the Ryman Panoply, were G-3’s, and with the loss of their leader they would be helpless.

Sixty-four ShipKillers streaked inwards. Only one seeker failed to acquire, three minutes to contact.

“I’m not going to waste that ship and crew,” Jamie Madry said to her First Officer Vernor Matson when the new launch came up on her display. Send the bug-out Lt. Lovell, with the two ships launching as the target. Have the other three ships fire four then fall back to our support.” She turned her attention back to the display.

He didn’t have to like it but he had to obey. Talbert Flynn sent the ops plan out as written. His ship sent all but four of her 48 remaining ShipKillers towards the two ships that had fired on his own. For now they were on an intercept course that only the first 10 would hold. The other Mod V’s would go around and target the two ships causing the Victorious to run. Even as his missiles were leaving their tubes he ordered the break for the hyperlimit. Now to see if he would make it.

The Panoply, Cassandra, and Atropos, each fired four, two at each of he other Calp ships in the group attacking them with the additional two aimed for the lead ship Sahara. Give them something to fight so that all of their effort couldn’t go into defending the accelerating birds from Victorious. The flights from either side began to spread out so a detonation on one would not destroy them all.

“Their leader is running for the limit.”

“Have the Palestine launch 30 then send her to intercept. With our overtake velocity a fight will be certain and the Novi ship’s tubes are almost empty. The missiles from the Q’om and Duhabi should be sufficient but we will take no chances!”

It was hard for Pavel Tsarinstyn to believe the evidence of his own eyes, yet it seemed that his shuttles, the ones who had not yet opened fire, were still unnoticed. Better yet they were in position to intercept the launch on Victorious. He called for a launch. Though much slower and shorter range than an SK, because they were so far in front of the big guys, if things worked out the 24 anti-missiles from his shuttles would gut the mass launch on Victorious and give her a chance, however small. With magazines empty the six SP’s broke to the rear. No attempt to remain undercover as it was no longer possible.

Forty seconds after launch the tiny interceptors forced the larger Calp missiles to begin evasive action, and then they began to explode. Doing better than anyone expected, they took out 15 of the 42 Calp missiles by direct action and caused another five to lose target and self detonate. That still left 23 aimed at Victorious but the odds had evened up a bit.

“It’s looking better Sir.” Captain Burgeron said to Admiral Flynn. After seeing the destruction caused by the Cardoman shuttles he ordered both of his own launched. It was the hardest order he had ever issued. The crews were almost certain to be killed or captured but another 12 unexpected anti-missiles could make the difference.

The Calp SK’s had gotten out in front of the EM disturbance caused by the first shuttle strike. Their sensors picked up on the diversion of most of the Card intercept flight but it was too late to do anything about that. Of the ten used defensively eight made kills. The Calp incoming launch was down to 14 and still suffering sensor problems when the missiles from the target’s own shuttles began detonating. Only four maintained lock, and all with seriously degraded sensors when the ships close in defenses started firing.

The range and EM interference made help from the closing Calp fleet impossible. The SK Mod IV’s died one by one and Victorious still lived. But she would still need to deal with the Palestine. The ships were well inside each other’s vector cone. It was only a matter of when the next blow was struck.

“Launch ten,” Captain Abu Moosa Ashari said to his Tac Officer.

Five made it through the defensive fire and the battered G-4 cruiser vanished in an all consuming fireball, as the warheads went off in unison. Hot as the interior of a sun, there were no survivors.

Madry knew it was inevitable from the time she ordered the three supporting ships away. It still hit her hard, but there was nothing for it but to continue on. The remaining missiles from Captain Burgeron’s last were starting to close on the Q’om and Duhabi. Of the thirty-two that were targeted only eleven had been shot down by ShipKillers sent from others in the squadron and another three lost lock and self detonated. The fleet elements were too busy keeping themselves safe, and the EM interference was making most all inter-ship communications difficult, for better results. The laser channels still held, but holding on to the rapidly moving receptors must be causing problems with data loss. Thank God for small favors!

Two brilliant bursts of light, fading rapidly, leaving no marker, and two more ships died. “Praise Allah for the chance to serve,” were the last words spoken by Ibn Sa’id al-Asadi. He had lived to see the Victorious destroyed and he went in peace, his place in Heaven secure.

Captain Najafi, on the Q’om had seen the inevitable and recognized it for what it was. A minute before the end he ordered all of his crew to the escape pods. Perhaps if they were retrieved in time some would survive the radiation damage and live, perhaps not. He looked around his empty bridge one last time, then faced towards Mecca, one last time.

“Now we are bloodied too,” thought Razuli Suleiman. “Still two G-4’s, if he counted in the Essex, for a pair of G-3’s; the trade off had been worth it. Now to finish this thing! Captain Freqahri, make all haste to rejoin the Philomel Squadron with Admiral Kahn. We have a battle to win!”

The waiting was hard. Raquel Zavala on James Marquette’s SwiftStrike didn’t think much of the odds. He tried not to think about much of anything at all. It wasn’t the first time he was in a tough spot and it might not be the last. He was a betting man, but given the chances this was one he would have walked away from. Strange that a mercenary ground unit should die in space.

The G-3 SwiftStrike had kept their fully trained weapons crew on board. It made him and the rest of his people seem out of place with nothing to do. The other two thirds of his ‘Company by Courtesy’ were on the Eagle and Carpathian with a two day head start, running for the limit and protecting the Widows Walk and most of Cardoman Station’s dependents and nonessential crew. A couple of upgraded transports, their chances weren’t much better than his own.

He wasn’t expecting it but was ready nonetheless when a call to his comm unit came from the bridge.

“Get out of Damage Control and get your men on the shuttles. We are going to send them off in about two minutes now.” Gene Zerga, the ships new First Officer relayed Marquette’s instructions. Marquette was fully occupied.

Zavala’s men were in their suits with weapons handy. The boat deck was only one floor down. They were seated and belted in with thirty seconds to spare. The SwiftStrike shuddered twice as both shuttles launched. Now, with nothing to do but stare at the bulkhead, Zavala found the waiting harder yet.

James Marquette had the part of his mind turned off that would at any other time been thinking about his wife Kathleen running for the limit on the Widow. Why doesn’t Madry give the order to launch? He could see nothing to gain by waiting and as soon as the ShipKillers were away he could order his crew to the pods. Well he could send some of them there now. “Lt. Zerga, order evacuation for all but weapons, engineering, and damage control. Though heaven knows we don’t have much of that with Zavala’s men gone.”

“Aye aye, Sir!”

Was she holding them too long? Did it even matter? Time would tell and now was the time. Jamie sent orders to Voinovich and Marquette to commence firing. Send them all but for a last load-out. She called for another all tubes mission from the three ships still working to join her. Then called Operation Bug-out for everything under her command except for Audie on the Dragon. They still had something up their sleeve.

Seventy-some SK’s went out, almost as one, and six ships, three Cardoman and three allied, started accelerating for the limit. They split into groups of two. That would force the Calp Command to make some decisions. She ordered all of her own nonessentials on the Sara into the pods, but had them hold off from ditching ship. The battle wasn’t lost yet.

“The solutions are as good as we can get. Do we fire now Audie?” Yuri Borselov looked at Boss’n Hicks, sitting diagonally opposite him. Hicks was looking only at the hatch. No danger of intruders, not now. Despite the artificially cold atmosphere inside of Battle Plot, his skin was damp, and a drop of sweat ready to fall from his nose. Yuri looked at Lt Debus. She seemed cool, but in his very limited experience women always seemed cool, even when angry. But she didn’t seem angry, only alert, eyes unusually bright.

“Let them go first Yuri. Send ours off while their sensors are still dazzled by outgoing.” She issued the same order to Fader and his men in the Dragon’s missile rooms. Little enough, but she needed any edge she could find.

The Sword was hanging back, as was proper for a command ship. Much as she wanted that ship and its captain for Jamie’s sake, she added, “Make sure you send all but five from Ranger and Hornet at the two leads, Syria and Persia. Hold back twenty from the Wasp, she’ll stick with us.”

“Got it Captain, this waiting is a bitch!”

Audie ordered her own two shuttles alongside and then back on board. She told Pavel to try and make it to the Wasp with whoever else was closest. They might have time for a rearm and that was better than flying empty. Waiting for the Calps was nerve-wracking but the sensation didn’t last long. The two closest ships sent half of their remaining load-out. Yuri was seconds behind with a response.

Eighty ShipKillers from Hornet and Ranger, another thirty from Wasp, split equally between the Syria and Persia. Four failed to track but Yuri saved one of them before it destructed. That would get some attention! They had some upgrade programming into these birds. If the first two salvos did the job, the later launches would keep going and head towards the Kandahar and next the Sword herself.

“Where in the name of Allah did those come from?” It should have been chaos on the Sword’s bridge but Kalid’s training and ship discipline was too good for that to happen. He saw his own ship leading the others in counter-measures.

Signals Officer Saleh reported at once. “I have identified 3 G-4’s screening the Dragon and recommend we wait to fire on them until this threat is dealt with. The Infidel have sent too many of their missiles against the Syria and Persia to defend against what we have left.”

Kalid was about to agree bur what happened next was a total surprise. Instead of falling back, the two G-4’s responsible for forty ShipKillers each began accelerating at max in the track of their launch. Suicidal! They were racing ahead out of the covering fire of the other two ships. And where had the Cardomans found a crew for those ships anyway?

Caliphate intel suspected that the Cards might get additional construction online, but that happened intel was certain that crewing such would be impossible. Well firing a few salvos wasn’t hard, but for untrained crews to aid in guiding them in, and to work their own defensive systems was a much harder task.

This was too good an opportunity to miss. “Metemma! One at a time! Take them out!”

The First Officer sent ten from the Sword and then another ten from Kandahar, Persia and Syria had enough problems of their own. The long range defensive action to save both of those ships was about to start.

Audie was sure it was time to fall back. “Yuri, handle the Hornet and Ranger, Debus—lock the Wasp to my control. I think the Sara would appreciate a little help about now.” Audie had a max-G course set to get them in front of the three ships in her cousin’s command. To this point the battle had lasted all of six and a half minutes.

Jamie could see the maneuver evolving by the change in vector cones as soon as they started to change. She saw what the Dragon was doing and commed to find out why. After the briefest of explanations, without hesitation, she sent her own ship along with the Aladin and SwiftStrike into full retreat. It would buy some time—maybe enough.

“Cut acceleration!” Kahn wanted to see how the attack on Kalid’s squadron worked out before he pressed again. It was the first mistake he made since the battle started though he had no way of knowing at the time. He turned his attention to the Syria and Persia.

Warheads detonated, second apart, Captain Zandieh on the Syria felt an icy fear he tried to ignore. It was in Allah’s hands, but he was going to help until the story was written. The Card missiles dropped from his screen, at first in bunches, then one by one. It was looking like he was going to get through this, life and ship still intact.

The core of the Card launch was clustered too close together. With they way the attack developed it wasn’t their fault, but still, the ShipKillers simply could not see through all of the battle debris and sort out threats fast enough to evade destruction. One of his defenders could finish off two and sometimes more of the attackers they were packed so tightly. Those outside the core were doing better but he thought they would be caught before they closed enough to harm him greatly.

Sensor damage, yes. He could work around that so long as the Sword and Kandahar remained fully functional. There were going to be a few left from the last launch to send after the two G-4’s that had caused most of his problems.

Yuri saw the central core missiles die. He could almost feel each one go. He had thought a few might get through and mentally went over the coding choices then gave it up. If he had the chance to do it again he was going to change a few things. He wished Audie had spent more time in review. Water over the bridge.

There were still seven survivors on the outside but they wouldn’t last. But for damn sure they would each take two Calp SK’s to stop them. He got that part right. It left only eight and the new launch still tracking the remotes. And for some reason the Dragon and Wasp were being left alone. That was going to cost someone dearly! He sent his last command to the remotes and sent Debus to the bridge while he ran down to fire room two. Time for some hands on.

“They’re gonna going to let us get in front,” Audie said to Emma Debus as she came on the bridge. “Take Fletcher’s station. I need to concentrate on the Wasp. You handle our defense. Trust Fader, he’s got the instinct for this.”

Emma sat, and seeing the main screen update, started issuing orders to the close in defense. Audie watched her own screen, wondering how the Calps were reacting to the remotes as their drives hitched up a notch. One that shouldn’t have been there. So much for safety circuits and overrides.

This was the second and potentially most disastrous new capability the Calps were springing on him. Those ships were stressing their drive gear beyond anything a four band ship should allow for longer than a few minutes. All the science he knew said if they didn’t cut at once the drives were going to be scrap. Could they really be sacrificing ships and crew for a chance at his two forward ships? It looked that way and it was too late to do anything about it.

It was fortunate Kalid had no idea that it was a relation of the same Madry he had fought once before off of Altoona who was in charge of this latest strike and affront at the Prophet and honor of the Caliphate. He gave orders to close on Admiral Kahn mirroring the actions of the two ships heading that way and put the fate of Persia and Syria out of his mind. With all ShipKillers expended, offensively they no longer counted. He could pray for their souls later.

It was up to the close-in defense now. On the Persia Captain Safavid saw the Sword’s course change and accepted the cold numbers saying there was no longer enough time for either the Sword or Kandahar to try for an intercept. Lasers and particle beam weapons were not meant to deal with warships. Nor were the warheads on anti-missiles.

Yuri Borselov sat in saddle of the fire control blister for gunroom 2. He had it extended all the way, poking through the hull metal and into the emptiness outside. The view was going to be spectacular. He wasn’t going to miss it.

The blister’s viewport should react in time, but taking no chance he had his goggles on and pegged to their darkest setting. With that he could just make out the drives of the Hornet and Ranger at 110% max as they drove in on their targets. Even with the drives pointed in such a fashion that 90% of the energy they threw off as visible light impinged upon and was captured by his visor’s photo-sensor, and even darkened as it was, with amplification boosted, they were almost invisible. He turned down the gain and the dim traces vanished. All was black.

Three, two, one! Even ready and turned down the light knocked out his helmet visor. The blister controls adapted and Yuri threw off his helmet to look through the screen. Whatever else he was going to be one of the very few ever to say they saw a ship’s drive let loose from overload. And he saw two.

The photon storm drove the blister’s shields to a point where for a time nothing was visible but a white glare. Then he saw as the fireballs cooled, an artificial red taking over. And in two places that red was reflected as from embers in a fire. Even a few sparks thrown off from someone stirring the coals. That was the end of the Persia and Syria.

Yuri brought the blister back inside, closed the two layers of hatches, and began to made sure his people were going to be ready for the next part of the plan. ‘His people.’ —that was something new. It felt good, eased the pain of what he’d just done. Getting older Yuri, keep it up.

It was looking like a set piece battle. Jamie Madry was playing it that way and if Admiral Khan played true to form so would he. In his place that’s what she would have done. He had nothing to lose by taking it slow and much to gain. The threat board revealed the story.

Ten minutes ago twelve allied ships were faced off insystem against twenty from the Caliphate. Now only five remained in the main fight on Cardoman’s side.

Panoply, Atropos, and Cassandra were running towards the limit in one direction, drawing off the rest of Admiral Suleiman’s Squadron. They had faked rejoining with the Cardoman central force and now had the jump on Suleiman, the Eagle and Carpathian, on the defense from the start, running in another, trying to reach and protect the Widows Walk and innocent civilians onboard from a Calp G-4. Out of the picture they were, and would be till long after things got resolved here.

The three ships from Novi and Ryman, even with their surprise run for the limit, were already under attack and that situation decided before high command at Cardoman Station even got first notice that a battle was joined. And the Essex and Admiral Raymond would never fight again.

Oh! And don’t forget the twenty Calp ships were now down to sixteen with one chasing after the Widow.

How much worse could it get? Jamie knew it was not going to be long before she would find out.