The Day Was Night
The Night Was Day
And All the Sky Was Fire
The Hymn of the Fire
ancient Alran folk song
25 Secondmonth 573JR
14 September 2367CE
The Jeffersonian states on Oskran had built seventy-one automatic Marsten Guns in orbit, many of them disguised as ships and stations, some with crews.
A spy from Garch, fluent in the Lii dialect and culture, had been inserted into the Confederation's military shortly after Contact with the Jeffersonian Republic, thirty Monticellan years ago. The spy had been sent on the orders of Queen Iroli, but had since - remotely and secretly - sworn fealty to King Ardnu. He had risen steadily in rank and responsibility in the military of the Lii Confederation and now the Jeffersonian Republic, until he had access to top-secret information- specifically the identity and ephemerides of Oskran's orbital defenses.
The Glautak/Flike Alliance - and Human agents of the Blood Rose - had promised Garch dominion over Oskran. Ardnu had promised the spy governorship of a large province of the Lii Confederation, should the Alliance invasion succeed.
As they had at Sidonia, the gunships used their own Marsten Guns to strike the defensive stations before releasing their kinetic weapons. Their fire was too accurate for chance, striking forty-three of the platforms including the camouflaged ones, the rest surviving only because they were masked by the planet at the time.
The gunships had Transitioned at five light-seconds at twenty-three percent of lightspeed, in two waves, angled slightly away from the planet so as not to be automatically engaged. The first destroyed the defensive screen, then the second released their relativistic weapons - but these slugs were not targeted on the surface of the planet, not yet. They were aimed at the defending fleet and remaining stations... and there was another difference.
Instead of each gunship releasing four half-ton slugs for planetary bombardment, they loosed spreads of smaller projectiles, each only a few kilograms. It was an astronomical volley of grapeshot at nearly a quarter of the speed of light. Each piece, little larger than a beer bottle, carried a kinetic energy of a dozen etajoules, or nearly three megatons. There were only seconds to respond. Most organic minds could not even process the events in realtime.
That was what computers were for.
Admiral Maet had ordered all interception software left on automatic, and constant sweeps with active Marsten Detectors. In fractions of a second the Navy's tactical network identified and distributed the incoming targets and engaged them.
Different modes of attack had been wargamed, as the interception software spread through Known Space. This scenario had been anticipated. More milliseconds passed as Marsten Guns were recalibrated for lower power, to conserve energy for rapid fire. Priority was assigned to the targets most likely to strike Allied ships and stations, or the world's surface below. Tunnels of hyperspace reached out for the iron slugs and began to send them away.
There were nine hundred thirty-eight projectiles in this attack. A hundred were intercepted, two hundred, three-
JRS Saratoga was struck by at least seven. In a moment she was gone, transformed with her thousand crew to an expanding cloud of debris and gas. JRS Virginia took a single hit aft, but the lighter armor standards of the modern age allowed the slug to pass through without dumping all its kinetic energy; nearly a third of the crew would survive, though the ship was reduced to scrap. More Jeffersonian stations in orbit, for peacetime use, were also lost, as were other ships, outside the hyperspace Limit. Seconds later the flares of their deaths were seen on the planet below.
The Reserve Privateers responded.
There were a hundred forty in the Oskran System, performing various support tasks for the true warships. Sixty-seven were in orbit around Oskran, and thirty-nine in position to intercept the Blood Rose's kinetic strikes.
A hyperspace Transition was expressed as a flash of blue-white visible light, and a storm of energy throughout the spectrum. Hundreds of such lights flashed above Oskran as beams of superluminal particles sought out fractional-lightspeed projectiles, removing them from Einstein's universe. Some of the Marsten beams skimmed the planet's atmosphere, causing tremendous EMPs and auroral displays, overloading power stations, burning out electronics, even causing some aircraft and ground vehicles to crash as they lost power and control - but those losses were less than if the slugs had hit the surface, or a fully-crewed warship above.
Some two thousand local years before, a swarm of meteors had ravaged Oskran, slaughtering most of the population, knocking their civilizations back to preindustrial. Their days were night, in choking clouds of dust and smoke which would block sunlight for months and years. Their nights were day, as meteors blazed through their atmosphere, as the light of burning forests and cities reflected from those clouds for hundreds of kilometers. For millennia the legends of those twenty terrible days and nights had survived in oral tradition, in churches and cults, and in the craters scarring their world.
The battle was taking place above the planet's night side. The people of Oskran looked up to the darkness, and saw the dreaded Fire return.
Two thousand years ago, the Fire had lasted twenty days. This phase of the Battle of Oskran lasted barely twenty seconds.
A few of the anti-ship slugs had hit Oskran, in wilderness or ocean. The depopulation of the ancient Fire prevented great losses to the people now living. The ocean strikes were not powerful enough to raise a real tsunami, and coastlines were not in great danger... this time. The weapons and debris which were not intercepted would continue on through interstellar space, perhaps threatening some other civilization years or centuries in the future.
There could be no rest. The enemies would press their attacks, Maet knew... but how, from where?
The gunships Transitioned as they sped beyond the hyper Limit - they would make no second pass, with their kinetic weapons expended, and against an alerted enemy which was badly hurt, but not destroyed. As Aurora had done at Nowy Krakow, the gunships of the Blood Rose made multiple Transitions to change their course away from Oskran, attempting to conceal their destination. Their captains and navigators had been trained to do so, in accordance with their Emperor's doctrine. Not all understood why they must do this, but they obeyed.
It was difficult to track ships through hyperspace, but Jenny Blain had done it more than once, and had trained a handful of Jeffersonian Alran to do the same. One such was Lieutenant JG Bott Yarm, sensor officer for FF1948 JRS Dagger.
In the class on hyperspace tracking Jenny Blain had given on her last visit to this world, Yarm had met Nrii Tlam, and in the following years, they had fallen in love. He had in his pocket a Human-style engagement ring he could now never offer her.
Likewise, Dagger was commanded by Lieutanant Commander Tohn Kyoh, younger brother to Jihn, who had commanded Shrakor. Without a word the captain looked to his sensor officer.
The captains and navigators of the Blood Rose gunships obeyed their Emperor's commands... as a group, two dozen of them, intensifying the faint and temporary ion trails between hyperspace and realspace.
Yarm nodded once, and sent data to the navigation tank.
For years Admiral Maet had kept in touch with his favorite data analyst, sometime-Warrant Officer Unatt, a Chikaran female of advanced age and less-than-military bearing.
She was of the kind who recognized patterns, connected dots, that others could not see or follow. She had made a fortune in stock markets, decades ago, then quit and lived off the interest because she found the game boring. She was as wealthy as any of Aurora's family and had no cause to get out of bed any given day, but her mind needed occupation... and there was one endeavor of sentient life which held her interest above all others.
Unatt had spent some time with the Order of Librarians, and still cooperated with them often. She had explored the war-ravaged ruins of her own world and many others, not least Terra, standing bare-footed on the ancient battlefields of Thermopylae, Agincourt, Lexington, Gettysburg, Verdun, Iwo Jima. She had audited, then taught, military history classes in universities on six worlds - which is how she had met Lieutenant Junior Grade Maet a very long time ago, and Staff Sergeant Holly Cates once as well. She was fluent in both her own race's major dialects and most of the minor; all four primary Eyani tongues; three Nikar; eight Human languages besides American. One of those was Japanese.
When the pattern of news reports suggested to Unatt that war was imminent, she abruptly resigned her professorship at the University of Alexandria and took her aircar to orbit, and then to the military section of Beta Station. There, she displayed a pass given to her years before, by then-Vice Admiral Maet. She and her aircar were waved through, into the cargo hold of DD979 JRS Rioc, one of the early production of the Maerca class, recently refit with a Blain Drive and already under rush orders for deployment to the front. Twenty minutes later the ship was boosting for the Limit.
Some two thousand hours after that, in the Oskran system, Maet entered JRS Yamato-IV's Flag Deck and found her working at a console with eleven displays and four interfaces active. Siv, with their inflexible beaks, could not smile, but Maet's pheathers rippled when he saw her. With a few words to an adjutant, her status was made official. Her place in the Table of Organization was unconnected to any other commander or duty; she answered to Maet alone.
For months, even before the declaration of war, and again during Transit through updates at fueling stops, Unatt had been gathering data, searching for dots to connect. Among the dots were the markings on the gunships which made fractional-lightspeed attacks on Sidonia, and now Oskran. She had long ago learned to read katakana, hiragana and kanji. Her custom-fabbed wrist 'puter held entire libraries. She had identified the name Itoku on the gunships at Sidonia. At Oskran she saw the name Annei. She quickly made the connection to the names of Japan's legendary first emperors. To Maet's 'puter she forwarded a list of suspected names for enemy command ships, speculating these would also be the rumored Balloon-Worlds... and that one named Jimmu might carry the leader of the Blood Rose, the supposed "Emperor of Space", Tozama Daiki.
She also alerted him that JRS Dagger had Transitioned away, after sending a brief message: "Tracking enemy ships."
Hyperspace Transits between stars, across light-years, took hundreds of hours, in either Marstenspace or Blainspace. During this time hydrogen, or Helium-3, fuel was consumed by a ship's fusion reactors to generate the Marsten Field, which Transitioned the ship safely into and out of hyperspace, and protected the crew from deadly Marsten Radiation. Most ships were designed to carry only enough fuel for a single interstellar Transit of a dozen light-years or less, expecting to refuel on arrival, either from established facilities, or independently from water-ice to be found in the target system.
A Short Transit was measured in light-hours, or -minutes, or -seconds; its duration tiny fractions thereof, its fuel consumption proportionately less, allowing ships to make multiple Transits at interplanetary distances before needing to refuel, though it still took minutes to charge an Initiator and generate the necessary Marsten Field after discharging it to return to realspace.
Nearly all fighting ships of the Jeffersonian Republic Navy had now been equipped with the Blain Drive, which included the Sixth-Generation-Improved Marsten Drive; Short Transits were made only in the first level of hyperspace, since upshifting to Blainspace would be pointless and likely overshoot a target. Speeds for modern ships in Marstenspace were usually above c130. Smaller and recently-built ships like the Shrakor class frigates could reach c150.
A journey of six light-hours, to the emergence point of the enemy gunships, took less time in hyperspace than was necessary to recharge the Drive.
Tohn Kyoh had seen the recorded lecture on tactics Solomon Danner had given at the Royal Naval Academy of Illyria, and had studied the Battle of Adda in detail. He directed his Navigator to return to realspace several light-minutes away from the enemy, placing his ship in emissions-control and drifting, darkened, with passive sensors only.
He was rewarded with the first images of a Balloon-World of the Blood Rose.
The Shrakor class frigates, cheap and simple, were equipped with telescopes and computers NASA engineers could only have dreamed of. Even at a distance comparable to Terra's from Sol, details could be seen or extrapolated: docking ports, fusion torches, weapon mounts... the symbols for Annei, third legendary emperor of ancient Japan, two hundred meters tall. Specks of light could be deduced as the engines of gunships returning to their mobile base for resupply; larger heat signatures would be conventional warships in escort. Dimensions: a cylinder with rounded ends, four kilometers long, half as wide, spinning at one revolution per minute; perceived internal gravity would be about eleven meters, comparable to Monticello. Warriors living in those conditions would have advantages of strength and endurance against natives of Oskran.
By the tight beam of the Marsten Device, Dagger transmitted these findings to Yamato.
Dagger's transmission appeared on one of Unatt's displays. She forwarded it immediately to Maet's personal device, acting as his filter... but then she looked again.
Heat signatures, energy profiles... patterns. There was something....
A sensor contact, incidental to an active Marsten Detector sweep during the last relativistic engagement. Fragments of static her custom software thought might be encrypted communications, like those recorded at Sherrington. Tiny pinpoints of light, hours old from distance, which might be the flares of fusion torches in deep space.
"Maet," she called, with no military etiquette at all, "I need a ship sent to look at something. No... three ships."
Maet did not take offense. Floating away from the general system plot to Unatt's station, he said to her, "Show me."
The man now known as Tozama Daiki may have been insane, but he was not stupid. Years ago he had warned his followers against overreach, invoking his predecessors, Tojo, Hitler, Napoleon. He had taken considerable territory and resources, but even he, with his ideal of a mobile Empire of Space no longer tied to vulnerable planets, saw a need to halt, rest, resupply, consolidate and secure his gains. His plan was to win a decisive battle here, at Oskran, defeating the forces of civilization with such overwhelming strength that they would lose their own momentum and morale, and be willing to accept the status quo.
Oskran would be Tozama's Midway, the kantai kessen... and this time it would turn out right.
To ensure that it did, Tozama wanted as many of the enemy to assemble here as possible, and this was what he was truly waiting for. Remembering the lessons of Clausewitz and Guderian, the schwerpunkt, the center of gravity, the concentration of power, he had assembled his own forces, hidden across the outer system. This would be one of the greatest naval battles in modern history, with numbers of ships and personnel to challenge Jutland or Leyte or the Last Battle of Terra.
His spies remaining in the civilized nations of the known galaxy reported the presence or absences of the ships of his enemies, orders issued by their governments. He knew more were on the way to Oskran, many more. He would lure them all, and crush them all, here... one fleet, one nation, at a time.
Timing was critical, with the enemy's new, faster stardrive. If the forces of civilization did not cooperate with his schedule, if anything delayed his own movements, he could fail.
The Glautak Consolidation, the Flike Empire, and the Blood Rose sent a combined total of thirty battleships, nearly a hundred cruisers, and half-again as many destroyers. They Transitioned in formation four light-seconds from the surface of Oskran, at one percent of lightspeed. More than two hundred of the small gunships were scattered between them, their relatively-small hulls carrying a powerful Class Nine Marsten Gun in their spines. At three thousand kilometers per second they released another spread of anti-ship slugs, and opened fire with their own Marsten Guns, up to Class Twenty, some of the largest ever put in a trainable mount.
Jeffersonian and Allied ships exploded.
Shrakor class frigates were torn apart by the heavy fire and smashing kinetic weapons. Light cruiser Uary tumbled out of control, tearing herself to pieces with the strain, attitude jets thrusting futilely. Yamato suffered four Class Twenty hits, but her builders had insisted on anachronistic armor and damage-control systems; she returned fire with her own beams, piercing enemy dreadnoughts nearly her own size. Washington, their namesakes once deadly enemies, joined Yamato in both giving and receiving fire.
Yorktown was the next capital ship to die, raked by Class Twenty beams. At least two antiship slugs struck her as the enemy fleet made its close approach and shafts of murderous energy flashed between them. Yamato was hit a fifth and sixth time, losing dozens of her crew and one of her six fusion torches. New Texas was hit twice, by a beam and a slug, both glancing blows that would have crippled or killed her with better aim or worse luck.
Outnumbered ten or more to one, none of his major ships undamaged, Admiral Maet swallowed bile and ordered... retreat.
JRS Cynos, one of the Lii-built frigates, was the last to escape. Her sensors recorded one of the enemy cryoliners Transitioning in.
On the surface, as dawn broke over Lii, once again the people of Oskran saw streaks of fire in their sky - but this time they were under conscious control: Landing craft, carrying Flike troops, armored ground vehicles, heavy weapons; and finally combat aircraft of the GFA's own, projecting power with more precision and versatility than orbiting ship's guns could, providing close support for the invaders.
Jeffersonian Lightning fighters, with four races at the controls, rose to meet them. Each Republic fighter killed at least two of the enemy but they, too, were massively outnumbered. Glautak pilots, their cockpits filled with cushioning fluid, their bodies enhanced with drugs, could pull higher-g maneuvers than the defenders. In minutes the skies were clear of all but the enemy.
Assault shuttles began touching down on the outskirts of Arriod, and in what had once been the Jeffersonian Zone and remained Arriod Spaceport. The 149th Legion's artillery and panzer components opened fire, drawing return fire on themselves from the landers, enemy air cover, and warships in orbit. The Legion numbered some five thousand Marines. Perhaps six hundred survived to retreat from the spaceport into the city of Arriod. They had killed at least twelve thousand Flike and Glaut. Thirty thousand more continued to land. A second wave of fifty thousand boarded the other half of the cryoliner's shuttles.
Glautak soldiers in armored vehicles, Flike in their natural hide-and-bone armor, a company's worth of exiled Nikar in raptorhide body armor, and a few Human advisors and officers from the Blood Rose, pursued the retreating Marines into the city. The population, now widely armed as the Jeffersonian Founders intended, turned guerilla en masse, sniping from their own windows and doors and back yards, from personal vehicles on the ground and in the air, hurling grenades made in factories and fabberies and basements and garages, and bottles of petroleum with flaming rags stuffed in their necks. Housewives with their grandfathers' hunting rifles, their children with spears fashioned from crel trees their grandmothers had planted, fought and killed and died in their own living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms. Old men and women who remembered a time when there were no other people in the known universe spent their last strength to throw satchel charges under Glautak tanks. Factory workers and office workers crashed their ground- and aircars to wipe out squads and platoons of Flike infantry. Streets and bridges and buildings were mined, to explode or collapse when they could do the most harm.
Over half a million people lived in the city of Arriod. At least a quarter of them died in nine hours of the most vicious urban fighting ever recorded in the explored galaxy. Corpses and parts were heaped like drifted snow, blocking streets and building entrances, red with different shades of Common Life blood flowing into gutters. Flike troops, and the Nikar exiles, fell out to feast on freshly-killed Alran men, women and children, even as their comrades continued to fight a block, or a building, or a room away.
A second cryoliner Transitioned toward orbit, already loading a third wave of fifty thousand Flike predators into its landers. Leading this third wave was a company of power-armored Humans from the Blood Rose. Leading this company was the Emperor of Space, Tozama Daiki.