2948-01-13 – Tales from the Service: A Tyrant’s Downfall
As most of you know, the Hypercast relay in Matusalemme went dark a little more than forty-eight hours ago following a major move by Incarnation forces in that system. Though the planet’s fate is far from certain, based on the movements reported in the last hours of the relay’s operation, it is very likely that at the time of this feed item’s ingestion, Incarnation ground forces have landed on Adimari Valis. The world’s citizens are not without hope – the largely mercenary fleet defending the system and the heavily, if hastily, fortified spaceport complex mean that the colony will almost certainly not be subjugated before Fifth Fleet elements arrive in strength.
Though there were many predictions about the mercenary force in-system melting away before the engagement came, I’m happy to report that most of the ersatz warships and carrier conversions in the local flotilla remained in place until the loss of the relay. Even though they’re outgunned, a force of that size can certainly put the brakes on whatever the Incarnation has planned.
Confederated civilians, mercenaries, and military personnel by the millions find themselves in Matusalemme during this period of crisis, and Confederated Congress has voted to recommend that tomorrow, 14th January on the standard calendar, is to be a day of solemnity and prayer for a positive resolution to the battles raging in the Matusalemme system and among the rugged hills of Adimari Valis.
Jacob Borisov, along with a number of his mercenary company personnel, last checked in from the planet’s surface. As he is one of the most repeated names on this text feed and I have been happy to correspond with him in recent months, this embed team hopes he remains safe there until the Navy’s big guns arrive.
This week’s Tales from the Service features the only confirmed Tyrant kill since the Battle of Berkant, claimed not by a cruiser or battleship, but by a specialized Navy cutter with a main battery of one plasma cannon and a crew of sixteen. That ship, the Mahseer, is commanded by Lt. Cdr. Ralph Zappa, who is currently being considered for a Centaur Cross.
[N.T.B. - Screw safety. Mr. Borisov, if you’re down there with a bunch of ground-pounding grunts, hit those Nate bastards hard, paint your combat suit in their tech-tainted blood, and make them sorry they ever came to our side of the Gap. I wish I was down there with you, rather than cooped up doing can’t-say-exactly-what on a dreadnought that can’t seem to quite pass a post-repairs inspection.]
Ralph Zappa held his breath as the Tyrant cruiser slid past in the darkness, so near to his own Mahseer that the gleam of its bluish hull-alloy would have been visible to the unaided eye. Unlike most starships, the bridge of Mahseer had no broad armor-glass viewpanels with which to test this, so he had to imagine the sinister enemy cruiser thrusting daggerlike toward the orange glow of Botterdowns.
“Locked on, Skipper.” Kynthia Van Horn, the weapons officer aboard the small warship, switched the main three-dimensional display to a firing plot. “Optimal range for a shoot-and-scoot in fifty seconds.”
“Where are their strike ships?” Ralph stared at the wireframe diagram of their prey, which could at any moment become their overpowering predator. Any strike craft the Tyrant launched would increase the danger of making a covert attack and getting away with it, but he worried more that the enemy ship wasn’t following its usual behavior. A Tyrant never went anywhere without sending out a few of its ubiquitous Coronachs to watch the flanks, and such ships were only too likely to blunder close enough to Mahseer to see through its ingeniously engineered impression of just another patch of void.
Even if a swarm of Coronachs didn’t spot Mahseer right away, when it came to executing the “scoot” part of a shoot-and-scoot attack, the little ambush gunship would certainly be detected, and agile Coronachs would be very capable of chasing it down and carving its hull into new and interesting decorations for the beautification of the outer reaches of the Botterdowns system. The ship had, after all, no armor worth speaking of, and its screening systems were barely deserving of the name – its best defense was to remain unseen. True, it had a few ways of shooting back at such enemies, but none of them which Ralph wanted to bet his life on.
Souad Stern, the navigation officer, clicked his tongue in the tense silence. “Too good to be true.”
This echoed Ralph’s concern. Mahseer had been unlucky in its repeated attempts to kill the raiding Tyrants meandering through the Coreward Frontier seemingly at random, but no more unlucky than its half-dozen sister ships. The squadron of eight bureaucratically named Stealth Assault Cutters had made the long journey to the war-zone a few weeks after Fifth Fleet, but with the exception of Fierasfer making one unsuccessful attack on a Tyrant near Margaux in September, none of them had even so much as given the careful enemy a bad jump-scare. Nate was too careful to give a few over-armed cutters a chance at their precious cruisers, stealth fittings or otherwise.
Of course, Ralph knew, it might be about to turn around. The efforts of the whole squadron and its service tender, a force of nearly two hundred officers and crew draining who-knew-how-many millions of credits from the Navy’s war chest, might be validated in an instant when Van Horn’s timer ran to zero. If Mahseer slagged a Tyrant and got away clean, its sixteen-person crew would be heroes back at Maribel, and perhaps in the Core Worlds as well.
Still, something was bothering him. They had been on station first, and the Tyrant had appeared soon after, almost on top of them and on a path through can’t-miss range. That sort of chance didn’t appear every day. “Give me a passive visual light sweep.”
One of the other bridge officers huddled at their stations sent the commands to the ship’s sensor clusters to pan across the starfield in all directions, looking for signs of trouble. The results came back in seconds. “Nothing - no, wait. I’ve got something. The Tyrant is venting debris, skipper. It’s already damaged.”
Ralph sat up in his chair. “Debris?”
“Aye. At least three gas vents from its hull, along with particulate.”
“Drive to maximum stealthy acceleration. Keep the nose pointed at them, but widen the distance.” Ralph had seen a similar tactic used once to detect stealthy pirate ships. Smart-dust particles dispersed into local space could not be fooled by any sort of stealth rig. If the Tyrant was doing something similar, his crew would be dead If Mahseer’s hull picked up even one smart-dust mote. The enemy knew or suspected his ship was nearby, and was trying to smoke him out.
Van Horn turned around in dismay at the order. “But optimal range will-”
“Stand by to fire.” Ralph snapped at her. He didn’t like being harsh with his crew, but he suspected he knew what the Tyrant was up to, and didn’t want to be caught in it. The hum of the drive began to rattle the deck, and Ralph’s command chair with it.
“Optimal firing distance in three... two... one...” Van Horn turned around again, finger on the button. “Now.”
“Hold. We’ll fire a little outside optimum.” This was hardly ideal; the farther outside optimum range the target was, the more chance it had to evade what would be fired in its direction. “Helm, prepare to scoot as soon as we fire.”
“Ready.” Stern had his hands on the controls, ready to perform evasive action; there was little else to do to be ready. Mahseer was still outside the system’s gravitational shadow; it could make a safe jump as soon as its capacitors were charged. Of course, the same capacitors used for the ship’s archaic Xiou-Edwards star drive were also needed to fire the ship’s laughably oversized centerline cannon, a nasty close-range plasma weapon of a sort usually not seen on ships smaller than a cruiser.
The shot couldn’t be delayed any longer. “Fire.” Ralph slammed a fist on the armrest of his chair.
Kynthia Van Horn pressed the final key on her console without even turning back toward it. The bridge lights dimmed and the entire ship bucked and shrieked as if a vengeful demon had taken hold of it, but it was over in a second, and the lights returned. As soon as they did, the navigator’s hands flew over his console, and the ship wheeled under full engine power. There was no point in stealth anymore.
“On target in two seconds...” Van Horn trailed off, watching her display. “We have a hit. I’m seeing major debris expulsion on the target.”
The bridge crew cheered, but only for a second before returning to their duties. They weren’t out of the woods yet.
“Time to jump?” Ralph watched the tactical display. There were still no Coronachs speeding after his ship, but the freshly wounded cruiser might still have weapons capable of slagging the little cutter as it fled.
“Update.” Van Horn sounded surprised. “Target’s hull is breaking up. Major reactor breach.”
Ralph sat back, amazed. “We did it. Ladies and gentlemen, we actually killed a Tyrant.”