2949-10-26 – Tales from the Service: Watching Hallman

As most of you already know, Fifth Fleet has reached the Berkant system and taken up station in orbit around Berkant. The evacuation of the planet is ongoing as a precaution, but Admiral Zahariev’s staff has indicated that they like the odds as currently presented and plan to hold the line. 

The Incarnation fleet remains in orbit around the outer moon Hallman, and all reports indicate that they have received very little reinforcement since Fifth Fleet arrived. Whatever their plan is, it seems to require Hallman at least as much as it requires Berkant itself, though the world lacks any infrastructure to support their fleet. The force in-system seems to be the main body of Incarnation forces operating in the Coreward Frontier; there have been raids elsewhere but as far as I can tell, no more than five Tyrants are involved in these operations. 

Berkant lacks all but the most basic orbital defensive systems, but the Frontier Defense Army is well entrenched on the surface and has installed numerous surface-to-orbit anti-ship missile batteries; it is a concentration of these that the failed Raid on Berkant some months ago was apparently attempting to capture. 

This week, I’ve been able to interview one of Saint-Lô's Magpie pilots who went out on a high-velocity scouting run past Hallman. While he didn’t have much to discuss in terms of what his rig’s sensors saw there (the systems record and catalog without crew input), his own observations with the good old Mark One Eyeball were quite interesting. 

[N.T.B. - On paper, the odds are in Zahariev’s favor here at Berkant, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is going to go badly. The enemy is taking his time even as auxiliary units pour in, suggesting that they expect overwhelming success against us. Given how things have gone at places like Margaux, they can’t be blamed for confidence.] 

When the autopilot began its turn and Hallman swung into view, Samir Pajari frowned at the dirty grey crescent, following its lazy trek across his canopy from left to right. Shortly after the moon appeared, banded brown Blythe, its parent, began a similar journey. 

Ten days before, he couldn’t have guessed which system the moon was in, or even what region, but now it was the name on everyone’s lips because it was Nate’s footstool. From such a vast distance, the cruisers and support ships circling the moon were quite invisible, but the console in front of him showed the orbital space around the forsaken orb festooned with red and orange indicators. The Incarnation’s inexplicable interest in Hallman was quite beyond Samir’s pay grade, but he still spared a few seconds to wonder about it. Perhaps there was a raw material in its crust they needed to fuel their war machine, or perhaps it was a simple staging area where troops and gear intended for the invasion of Berkant could be unpacked, inspected, and stockpiled. 

The silent view didn’t last long, however. Soon, the board was chirping alerts as wide-ranging Coronach patrols detected Samir’s Magpie. Though he had the benefit of a high base velocity courtesy of a double slingshot maneuver, there was still some chance at least one of the patrols would get a shot on him before he zipped past Blythe’s family of moons and out into the void; that was a risk he’d understood before starting on his run. Four other Magpies rigged for surveillance had set out on the same mission, though on very different courses, and if things had gone according to plan, they’d all reach closest approach within a few minutes of one another. Though there were hundreds of Coronachs pacing the void around Hallman, it was unlikely that more than one of the five Magpies would find enemy strike units in the perfect position to intercept. 

Fortunately, though several nearby patrols turned to parallel Samir’s course, none of them could accelerate to match his rig’s velocity before he zipped past them in a long arc bent slightly by Blythe’s massive influence. The other four surveillance craft were outside the range of his sensors, but he prayed they had similar luck. There might be more Coronachs waiting when he exited the enemy perimeter, and forewarned they had a slightly better chance of intercepting usefully, but by the time he ran into them, any data from the close approach would be sent back to Berkant on a tight beam. 

With the autopilot doing most of the actual flying, Samir was free to scrutinize Blythe, Hallman, and the other visible moons, and he took full advantage of this as soon as the Coronach patrols had given up their desultory intercept attempts. Blythe’s crescent seemed something carved of agate and set in the firmament by a cosmic jeweler, beautiful despite its rather dull pallette. The other moons also each shone like a polished cabochon, but Hallman had none of its parent’s charms. Even from a distance, the moon’s lit limb looked unclean and scabarous, and it took deliberate effort to think that people might live on its surface. Compared to Blythe and its other moons, Hallman was an aesthetic ugly duckling, an unwelcome foster child in a canted and retrograde orbit. 

As the planet and moons crossed the canopy, they also grew somewhat in size, and Samir knew that closest approach would happen soon. The autopilot puffed the thrusters to turn the Magpie to face its nose toward the moon of interest, and the gray crescent halted in the center of Samir’s view. He imagined he could make out the geometric green plots of settlers’ crop-fields and the criscrossing lines of irrigation canals bringing meltwater into the mild latitudes from the ice-caps. The meager agricultural export of Hallman couldn’t be of much use to Nate’s war machine, but Samir had heard rumors that the Incarnation’s ships contained many parts that were grown rather than manufactured, so perhaps they had other crops in mind for its rocky soil. 

As the moon grew ahead, Samir began to pick out the faint orbital glitter of ships crossing into the light of Berkant’s primary before vanishing over the moon’s horizon. He wondered how many of these were Tyrants, how many were lumbering cargo auxiliaries, and how many were something else entirely. No doubt his ship’s sensors were logging that information as he watched. 

A curious phenomenon caught Samir’s attention just before his ship spun to begin its randomized outward acceleration. Along the night side of Hallman, he picked out faint networks of light, as of a network of interconnected cities on a much more populous orb. The network had at least a dozen bright nodes, with gossamer threads connecting them, and must have spanned at least two thousand miles of equatorial plain. 

Samir took a few stills of the phenomenon and added them to the data payload his Magpie was already sending on a tight-beam signal back toward Berkant. Whatever Nate was doing on Hallman had him stumped, but he hoped the images would give someone in fleet headquarters something to go on.