Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2019, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part CXX: The Battle of Sidonia
Continued from the previous excerpt
19 Secondmonth 573JR
7 September 2367CE
Sidonia Territory, Jeffersonian Republic
Grbblb had recovered from his second mutilation at the hands of his former government. Again Ralph was amazed at the recuperative powers of Glaut biology, and infuriated at the Glautak regime. Grbblb had resumed his station as Engineer's Mate, and by his Captain's word, would crew a weapon when opportunity arose. If there was to be a boarding action, he would don his power-armor and come to grips with the enemy who had murdered his beloved wife.
Hlossh would be at his blood-brother's side. His transplanted eyestalks were working well, but he might not get his biological limbs back until after the war. The cybernetics would do. He suffered from the trauma, physical and emotional; he felt guilt for failing to protect his brother and ship-sister. Grbblb had assured him he was not to blame. Hlossh wasn't convinced.
Alice McKinley, one of the oligarchs who had signed the petition for Membership during Aurora's last visit, was now acting Governor of Sidonia, with emergency powers. She had used them to strike down all prohibitions on keeping and bearing arms, or on arming ships. There was no room for such nonsense with Flike on the horizon. She openly wore an M437 on her own hip and encouraged all her world's people to do the same. She and her husband would not be evacuating - though their children had - and she had liquidated her own oligarchic fortune on her world's behalf, to import weapons, supplies, and even a few mercenaries.
For thousands of hours, Sidonians had been recycling, shoving refined metals and other materials into their fabbers, to get more useful things from the other end: small arms, munitions, vehicles, armor, web gear, communications, night vision, tools, power supplies, any and everything a guerilla resistance would need. Reserve Privateers and independent ships had brought cargoes of the same. More females and children boarded to flee.
More warships arrived too; another three Jeffersonian destroyers, and a pair from the Republic of Caledonia, who had also declared war on the Glautak/Flike Alliance. A single Glaut heavy cruiser had shown up, her captain swearing allegiance to Admiral Brttlb, who had sworn his to the Republic. This ship, FGAS Justice, had fortunately not broadcast its arrival, and joined the ships from Rntggld in the outer system, to help conceal the existence of the Blain Drive. That made a total of two light carriers with six squadrons; nine heavy, one hybrid and five light cruisers; and thirty-two destroyers. The Sidonian "Navy" had never been true warships, and had been downgraded to Reserve Privateer status, used for support and evacuation. The number of Privateers in the system had dropped to eleven, as some arrived and more left with refugees. Four independent ships were on their way out.
The GFA arrived with six battleships, twenty-one cruisers, and at least fifty destroyers. Four cryoliners Transitioned further out, each carrying flocks of landers to deploy once the naval battle was won. Various support ships accompanied them, tankers, freighters, tenders, with three cruisers and five destroyers as escort.
The enemy warships swept the whole system with Marsten Detectors, faster-than-light radar. This revealed the positions of the main Allied force nearer Sidonia, but also gave the Jeffersonian, Caledonian, and Free Glaut forces locations for the transmitting ships. Since this made emissions control pointless, the Allied fleet illuminated the enemy as well.
The group to which Aurora belonged had anticipated such an event and snugged themselves against iron-rich asteroids. They remained hidden, for now.
The Alliance warships made their Close Transit at two point six light-seconds from Sidonia and boosted for a passing attack. The outnumbered Allied fleet burned to meet them. What refugee ships could, immediately made Close Transits outbound, while others boosted for the Limit on whatever vectors they had - hoping they wouldn't be ambushed by another detachment as had happened at Rntggld.
Steeltown, Aurora, Vengeance, Justice, four destroyers and two Free Glaut Armada tankers made up the outer-system group in hiding. Commodore van Agt conferred with Ya'Kur, Brttlb and Danner by Marsten Device. "Fred, your group is in a position to raise some mischief. The whole point of the GFA being here is to land and occupy the planet. If you can strike at their landing group it would remove that reason and maybe even call off this battle before it begins. Can you do it?"
Ya'Kur's hologram showed some fang. "You'll have heard of Captain Danner. He has some experience in exactly this sort of thing. He's already come up with a plan." The white-furred Eyani gestured to where Danner's hologram would appear on van Agt's bridge.
"Simple," Danner explained: "Short Transit, low-relativistic passing attack, just like we did at Runtgold. Our sensors show they have Fields running in case of such an attack but we still don't think they're expecting it, and I'm highly confident they don't know we're here. With Aurora helping coordinate, we expect to inflict severe damage on the enemy. We could even derail their leapfrog plan for their next targets." Estimates were a quarter-million Flike soldiers on each three-quarter-megaton cryoliner. The pattern so far was fifty thousand or less being deployed at a time, on the low-population worlds of the Frontier. They didn't carry near the landers for all of them, only enough to shuttle whatever batch were awake. There were four or five GFA fleets in operation across the Frontier, this strike wouldn't win the war, but they could monkey-wrench this part of it and maybe save a dozen worlds from invasion. "Commodore, I recommend Fred's group here attack and destroy the entire enemy landing force." Which would be the deliberate killing of about a million thinking beings without warning - but the enemy intended slavery and worse.
"That is my intent, Commodore," Ya'Kur added.
"Very well, Captains, you are so ordered, and may God go with you. This might be our first real chance of stopping them."
It worked perfectly.
All the ships Transitioned at the same time, so their EMPs would not give any more warning than necessary, but the Armada tankers went further, to arrive at a rendezvous far beyond the battle. The warships of Ya'Kur's flotilla emerged ten megameters from the Flike invasion force at one percent of light speed, three megameters per second.
Beams poured out of the streaking warships. Marsten Guns struck Marsten Fields and became lightspeed particle beams, but still with enough energy to slice open hulls and shred whatever was within them. Aurora still felt she lacked imagination and creativity, but she was learning, growing in her artificial mind. She distributed fire from every warship to efficiently engage the most targets for the most damage. Destroyers and cruisers burst open, spewing air and crew and fusion plasma.
The cryoliners were bigger targets and needed a more energetic solution. Missiles with fusion warheads would have been pointless under these conditions; a paper cup at these speeds would have as much impact as a pre-Escape naval artillery shell. While waiting for the invasion, Ya'Kur's flotilla had taken a petal from the Blood Rose, mining the asteroids they were using for cover, for kinetic weapons to launch through their standard mass drivers, conserving their more conventional missiles for better use. Now the ships of the Jeffersonian Republic Navy and the Free Glaut Armada threw rocks at the predators who sought to turn innocent people into food.
The cryoliners were over a kilometer long and half that wide, with a small internal grav-ring for their small crews. Dozens of assault landing shuttles dotted their hulls. Aurora gathered imagery as her targets grew large in her telescopes, to better understand and destroy these ships in future engagements. She continued recording as the flotilla slashed through the invasion group, again turning each ship to use their fusion torches as flaming swords. She watched as fragments of asteroids smashed into and through the sleeping invaders.
She had seen what Flike were capable of, at Mark's World and Adda. She had seen how their Glautak allies treated good and decent people. She felt no remorse as a million Persons died by her hand.
The flotilla continued, coasting now to recharge their Marsten Drives, as the Alliance's hopes for the conquest of Sidonia burned behind them.
Commodore van Agt attempted communication with the GFA warships. "Your invasion force is destroyed," he transmitted in the clear. "Withdraw or die."
The response was a volley of Class Twenty Marsten Beams. At least three struck JRS Cincinnati.
Allied fleet command fell to Captain Paige Nicholas aboard JRS Peleliu, as planned. She had already ordered all fighters and bombers launched from both carriers. There would be no tight-turning dogfights or close-in strafing runs, like atmospheric wars of the past, or pre-Escape science fiction; the speeds were too high, each craft would have only moments to acquire and engage targets. Carriers were useful mainly in ground-attack roles, projecting power to a planet's surface with more precision and restraint than orbital bombardment; they rarely made sense in modern fleet combat. The Third Battle of Terra, at the end of the Republic-Empire War, had been the last significant use of carrier craft in a major space battle. Peleliu and Daraea were sent simply because they were available, when few other ships were. Still, each fighter or bomber carried torpedoes, and at least she got the pilots out of their launch bays, so they wouldn't die helplessly.
It was the Siv pilots from Daraea who led the charge. Natural-born fliers, from their avian evolution, nearly half of all naval aviators in Republic service were Siv. Sometimes they were arrogant about it. Today they would earn their bragging rights.
Taugu, Commander JRNR, was CAG for Daraea and in overall command of the aerospacecraft. He had used the time before the invasion to work up with Peleliu's group, to train and practice tactics, and to make contingency plans. After examining the enemy formation, he sent to his flock, "Plan Alpha Four. Charge!"
There was no evidence of carriers or fighters among the Alliance Navy, and none came to meet the Allies here. Instead there were clouds of countermeasures, gas, dust, pebbles, beams, kinetics. To fly through them was death.
Taugu knew better. Simulations had anticipated defenses. The Glautak and Flike had numbers, but lacked imagination and experience. "Evasive Three!" he called, and the formation split in two, the craft from each carrier staying together, their fusion torches blazing to change their vectors. Sixty-four fighters and thirty-two bombers were in the strike package. Three fighters and a bomber were lost, one of the fighters too slow to change course, the others struck by energy beams. Faraday hulls, powered by the crafts' fusion plants, protected their crews from Marsten Radiation if beams came near.
"Resume!" Taugu called, and the little ships changed vector again, aiming themselves at the enemy. "Launch!"
Over two hundred torpedoes, each a disposable fusion torch, streaked from rails, reaching well over a thousand meters acceleration. Electronic-warfare pods broadcast noise to overwhelm enemy tracking systems. Some of the torpedoes had shaped-charge fission warheads, because they happened to be in the carriers' magazines. At these closing speeds the impact alone would be sufficient to kill ships. The moment the torpedoes were clear, each craft broke into its own evasive maneuvers, each practiced to avoid collision.
Dozens of the torpedoes were lost to the GFA ships' countermeasures, smashing into clouds of dust or gas at kilometers per second. Dozens more came through. Rapidly gimballing their miniature fusion torches, their computer brains steered themselves into the desperately-evading warships.
The lead battleship erupted as it lost fusion containment. Its nearest sister was pierced by three atomic lances, one of which burst through the opposite side, the other two gutting the ship. A third lost acceleration as a torpedo smashed through its stern, wrecking its power plants. Four cruisers had also been hit, at least two of them destroyed, a third likely crippled and out of action.
Return fire swept the strike force. Fighters and bombers were raked by beams. Ten, twenty, exploded or tumbled. Taugu's own Lightning was hit, spinning, but he somehow regained control. The survivors escaped, boosting to deeper space. The carriers Transitioned to recover them; with no atmosphere or ocean to turn against, the little ships could not carry enough fuel to reverse course and return to their base.
Half the GFA's battleships were out of the fight, but that left three, at least seventeen cruisers, and dozens of destroyers, all rapidly closing with the Allies. Class Twenty beams had already made hits; Cincinnati barely managed to Transition away, to the same rendezvous as Ya'Kur's flotilla. She was a mess, with heavy casualties, and might have to be abandoned. Commodore van Agt was confirmed dead.
The carriers were absent too, and Captain Nicholas with them, having struck their blow; fleet command now fell to Captain Tim Yale of JRS Vicksburg. He ordered, "Concentrate fire on lead battleship." The Class Twenty guns were the biggest threat.
The Allied cruisers' Class Ten beams reached for the enemy, and some touched, as the distance closed to less than a light-second. The fourth GFA battleship spun out of control, leaking from multiple wounds. Yale shifted fire to the next in line.
Return fire sought out Vicksburg. Class Eleven and Class Seven guns from the escorting cruisers joined, less deliberately concentrated than the Allied fire but there was a lot of it. Even the Class Fours from the destroyers, which had not yet been touched, began to inflict damage. Vicksburg rocked with hits and lost main power. Her sister Atlanta moved to cover her, spreading countermeasures. She too began taking damage. Another cruiser, Savannah, was drilled through by a Class Twenty beam. Two destroyers were killed, then a third, one of the Caledonians. Yale continued directing fire. Enemy destroyers and cruisers moved to shield the oncoming battleships, but that also masked the heaviest GFA guns.
Space combat was hours of tension punctuated by minutes or split seconds of overwhelming violence. As the two fleets approached the merge, smaller ships began exploding on both sides.
That was when the ships and spacers of the Free Glaut Armada earned their first medals in service to the Jeffersonian Republic.
Ya'Kur's flotilla, consisting of cruisers Steeltown, Aurora, Vengeance and Justice, and destroyers John W. Ripley, Urakaze, and the renamed Swiftwing and Biter, had Transitioned after their passing attack on the invasion force to a rendezvous point in the outer system, where the Armada tankers Restorer and Quencher waited. In record time they had refueled their warships, with Glaut crewbeings performing EVAs without safety lines. Two had gone "Dutchman", the pre-Escape term for a spacer out of control or contact, like "man overboard" from the age of sail; but one of Aurora's robots, fitted with maneuvering gear, had scooped up each and returned them to their work. This, too, had all been planned by Solomon Danner, and Aurora marveled again at her husband's foresight.
Now the flotilla Transitioned again, for yet another Short Transit attack, appearing in the rear of the oncoming GFA formation. The enemy still had greater numbers and weight of Guns, but were now in a crossfire.
The GFA and main Allied fleets were almost head-on, angled slightly to unmask more Marsten Guns, but were mainly using their forward weapons on each other. Ya'Kur's ships did not make relativistic speed this time, but were vectored to "cross the T", as much as that could be applied in three-dimensional space combat; the four cruisers and four destroyers would be presenting broadsides, the maximum number of weapons, to the enemy, their formation spaced to avoid masking each other, while the GFA could only bring their aft chase armament to bear.
Class Four, Six, Seven, Ten and Eleven Marsten Beams ripped into the Glautak/Flike warships. Enemy destroyers shielded larger targets within the GFA formation; Ya'Kur's ships shot through them. Hundreds of Glautak and Flike crew died, their ships coming apart around them or flaring into miniature stars.
The GFA returned fire in both directions. FGAS Biter was sliced in half by a Class Twenty beam. JRS Urakaze took at least four Class Eleven hits and exploded. Swiftwing was shot through by a light cruiser's Class Seven Gun but miraculously stayed on course, still boosting and firing even as crewbeings fell out of her wounded sides in burning pieces.
Steeltown, Aurora and Justice concentrated their Class Ten and Eleven Guns on the nearest of the last two GFA battleships, boring into its stern. Individually the beams could have been shrugged off, but together they defeated the battleship's armor and Marsten Field. Torches and fusion plants died, the eighty-kiloton ship began tumbling. Danner, acting flotilla tactical officer, redirected the fire to the last enemy battleship-
-which fired four Class Twenty beams aft. Three of them converged on Steeltown.
The Bremerton class of Jeffersonian heavy cruisers did not carry a fraction of the armor Aurora wore. JRS Steeltown, and Captain Frederick Ya'Kur, vanished in a flash of blinding light.
Flotilla commander Danner seamlessly took leadership of his detachment, by simply continuing what he had been doing; Ya'Kur had deferred to Danner's greater combat experience and had effectively given him tactical control.
More enemy beams reached for Aurora, but Sarah Heusner, with a Shipfolk's three-dimensional sense, dodged and jinked with what seemed precognitive skill. RCS jets bigger than shuttle main engines tossed her thirty-one-kiloton sister in every direction, wrenching her crew against their couch harnesses. Deadly streams of lightspeed particles missed Aurora's hull by mere meters, downshifting through her own Field to neutralize the brain-destroying Marsten Radiation.
But Sarah wasn't psychic. A Class Twenty beam connected, obliterating Craft Bay Four, where the two medium shuttles and the Captain's Gig aircar were kept. Beneath the small-craft bay was armor which hadn't been replaced during her refits; the alloys were over two hundred Terran years old. In the microsecond-perception of Aurora's artificial mind she could feel the charged particles, gnawing at her, reaching for her vitals.
There was nothing she could do. If she sent commands to maneuver out of the path of the beam, the damage would be done before the reaction control system could respond. No organic mind could perceive what she felt, could even register the process; to her fragile biological crew, it was simply a terrible impact amidships, one sharp instant of violence... and then it was over and she was still alive.
"Continue evasive," she instructed Sarah. Then to her husband-and-Captain she gave a damage report before he could ask, speaking through the clumsy bottleneck of biological speech as quickly as she knew her brilliant husband could follow: "Class Twenty hit on Craft Bay Four. Craft destroyed. Interior armor degraded. Structural frame intact." Without orders, Sarah rolled Aurora to turn this weakened spot away from enemy fire.
Without a word, Solomon caressed his wife's control console and continued his work.
Tim Yale hadn't been idle, and reacted swiftly when Ya'Kur's group appeared in the enemy's rear. "Prepare for merge!" he ordered, and his weapon crews knew what that meant. Missile tubes and mass drivers were readied, lasers charged.
The Allied and GFA formations slashed through each other at dozens of relative kilometers per second. Only computers could aim and fire in the moments available. Jeffersonian and Caledonian computers were faster than Glautak and Flike.
Which was not to say the enemy was harmless. Beams and projectiles ravaged both fleets. Destroyers shattered or vanished in starbursts. The last GFA battleship was torn into four pieces by crossfire.
JRS Vicksburg lost one of her four fusion torches, then another, and a third. The reactor feeding the fourth raced toward overload and went to emergency shutdown. The ship went ballistic for a moment, then lit orbital maneuvering engines, the smaller, oxygen-hydrogen rockets which hadn't changed in concept since the days of Goddard and von Braun. With these she could only make twelve meters of boost, and sustain it for only thirty minutes. Atlanta, with one of her own torches gone, fell back to cover Vicksburg and pick up survivors. Acting fleet commander Yale transmitted that he would be transferring his notional "flag" to Atlanta, as the enemy fleets raced now away from each other, throwing a final few beams in their wakes.
It had been close to mutual annihilation, but the Allies retained four cruisers and seven destroyers. The GFA had lost all their battleships and their entire landing force, and while they still had eight functioning cruisers, none were without damage. Eleven enemy destroyers seemed to have survived, but one stopped boosting as Allied captains watched in their tactical displays.
Yale ordered the Allied force to regroup, and with Danner, planned for another pass, to finish off the enemy before they could escape, or bombard the planet, or cause any other harm. The Allied ships shut down their fusion torches and coasted, redirecting the output of their power plants to charging the Initiators of their Marsten Drives.
Lights flashed and alarms wailed on the bridge of every Allied ship, and their Marsten Guns began tracking and firing automatically.
Continued in the next excerpt....