Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2020, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part CXXVIII: Last of the Adamants
Continued from the previous excerpt
1 Thirdmonth 573JR
22 September 2367CE
The Allies had losses of their own. The invaders had concentrated their fire on the Allied capital ships, and only Montana and Alba had not received new damage. Alabama was badly hit and being evacuated; likewise Oregon might not survive heavy structural wounds. Je'Kra'Nor had lost three of her five torches and had many casualties; she would retreat. Queen Maria had taken three Class Twenty hits but lost only one Class Sixteen Gun of her own, and her captain declared her fit for battle.
The newest Glaut rebels, thirteen mutinous ships, had suffered badly, only four escaping and none without damage and loss. As the other ships had died, some sent final messages, condemning the Consolidation and declaring it was better to die free than live as slaves. Two had rammed their former comrades in the Consolidation Navy. The survivors were being welcomed as heroes into the Free Glaut Armada - meaning, now, the Jeffersonian Republic Navy.
Destroyer Squadron Twelve had barely a scratch. Aurora had taken a glancing Class Twenty hit to the armor of her aft bulb, forward of the aft grav-ring, but it hadn't penetrated, nor even jammed Ring Turret C. She and her squadron remained fully operational.
Abel Bjornsson had taken command of both portions of the Asgardian Warhost, appointing Nilsson his second. They were demanding to be let loose to hunt down the Seven Axes. Maet, overall commander of Allied forces at Oskran, had a better use for the neovikings, which he expected them to find acceptable... and he had other concerns. Sending the Asgardians on their way, he ordered the rest of the Allied forces, those that could, to retake the planet Oskran.
Vice Admiral Tamiko Takagi had been an Academy classmate of Maet's. Now-warrant-officer Unatt had been one of her Instructors as well. After decades of service, Takagi had risen to command of Battle Group Musashi, centered around the dreadnought Yamato's sister ship and including Kirishima and Tennessee, though the group had lost the use of Alabama. Montana and Queen Maria were added to her group. Maet led the rest, Yamato, New Texas, Great Michael and Alba, Kirov and Nikolai, each of the two formations with cruisers and destroyers in support.
The two groups made a simultaneous Close Transit Attack, vectored and burning for orbital insertion over Oskran, placed and angled to engage the majority of enemy forces above the world.
Five enemy dreadnoughts and dozens of escorts defended the enemy aerospace carriers and cryoliners at the edge of the hyperspace Limit. The carriers had few weapons of their own; the liners almost none. They were ignored as the Allies targeted the invaders' warships.
Maet had studied Clausewitz and Guderian too. He directed concentrated fire from his capital ships against single targets. The first of the eighty-kiloton enemy battleships exploded seconds after the Allied Transition. Maet shifted fire, rolling his ships to bring unused, still-charged Guns to bear, and the second shattered into debris and flames. Return fire was ignored as each enemy received the same treatment in turn. With the biggest enemy Guns destroyed, the Allied dreadnoughts shrugged off the escorts' fire and set about annihilating them.
Takagi's group split off for a lower orbit, spreading their formation for full coverage, her ships forming a defensive web around the planet, taking the place of the automatic weapons destroyed by the enemy days before. Maet and Yamato led his own group toward the enemy carriers and liners, conveniently grouped together and now defenseless. Sensors told him they were raising Fields and charging Initators to escape.
The little ships of Destroyer Squadron Twelve made a relativistic Close Transit, carefully dropping single kinetic projectiles at one percent of lightspeed. If the enemy had interception protocols, they were not active. Each of the massive targets was hit, none of the weapons unaccounted for. A million Flike and Glaut vanished in flashes of light, and for the first time in days, the space above Oskran was free of the enemy.
Earlier, the aged Chikaran data analyst Unatt had seen a pattern of emissions, and had requested ships be sent to verify her suspicions. Maet had sent three Shrakor class frigates, one to each of the locations Unatt had given.
Like Dagger, each found a worldship of the Blood Rose, and an accompanying fleet. The frigates took station light-minutes away, observing, drifting, their own emissions suppressed.
JRS Archer was observing the worldship Kogen. The frigate's crew beheld in confusion as the ship suffered catastrophic internal damage, as though containment for all its fusion reactors had been deliberately and simultaneously released. A handful of gunships docked to the spinning, kilometers-long hull escaped, boosting to separate from the enormous wreck, then charging Initiators and Transitioning away. The worldship's accompanying escort of destroyers and cruisers likewise scattered and disappeared.
JRS Pike had found Jimmu, suspected to be the Emperor's own command ship. Sabre had discovered Kosho. Unatt sent their locations to Maet, who gave them to Bjornsson, who then addressed his troops:
"Warriors of Asgard! Vikings! Sons and Daughters of Odin!
"Soon we shall be free to hunt down our beloved Queen's murderers and bring them all to bloody justice. But first, our honor must be upheld! Our King and Queen gave their word to join the Republic's cause and defend this world. Their word stands!
"Our duly appointed commander, Admiral Maet, has ordered us to strike vital enemy targets in the outer reaches of this system. You see the details before you now, and your assignments. These targets may contain hundreds, or even thousands, of enemy warriors, or innocent slaves. They may contain vast wealth for us to plunder. They may self-destruct at our approach, or as we board.
"The so-called Emperor of Space is dead, but his successor may be within the target marked Jimmu. I shall lead the attack to board and capture that ship. Kontreadmiral Nilsson shall lead his forces against Annei, while Flaggkommandør Ingolf shall strike Kosho.
"These shall be the greatest battles of our lifetimes! Odin All-Father is watching us! It is time to earn our places in his Hall!"
Singing songs of battle, the Warhost burst out of hyperspace to strike the enormous Balloon World command ships of the Empire of Space. At three points in the outer system, Vikings hunted wolves.
JRS Archer had recorded some useful details from the destruction of Kogen. These were used to extrapolate likely positions of fusion power plants within the worldship; docking ports and airlocks outside, through which unchained plasma had erupted. Dagger, Pike and Sabre received this processed data and compared it to their own targets, sending back in turn the knowledge that the worldships were not identical, but had common features which could be found and located on each respectively. All of this was in turn sent to the Warhost.
The term "Close Transit" usually meant a Transition between hyperspace and realspace near the safe Limit of a gravity well, like a planet, which was usually between one and two light-seconds. It could also mean emerging in deeper space away from a gravity source, but near other targets, like ships or habitats. This in turn could be used as a Danner Maneuver, using the electromagnetic pulse of Transition as a weapon to disable enemy ships as part of an attack.
RANS Gungnir performed a Danner Maneuver, Transitioning at less than sixty kilometers from Jimmu and his cloud of escorts. Gungnir's own escorts, including JRS Pike, immediately engaged their counterparts, which were unsettled and partly disabled by the EMP.
Gungnir launched twenty assault boats, each packed with Viking warriors, burning hard to reach Jimmu before the construct could maneuver or Transition. Gungnir's heavy pulse lasers tore apart Jimmu's weapons and torches but could not reach its Marsten Drive through its ten-meter-thick nickel-iron hull.
Markgreve Abel Bjornsson was in the first boat to reach Jimmu, its pilot skillfully thrusting for an assault docking at a port used for one of the gunships, matching the worldship's spin, the boat's jets devouring fuel to counter centrifugal force until the self-welding anchors took hold. The other boats did the same around the mammoth hull, each platoon tasked to reach and neutralize a separate fusion reactor before it could be used for mass suicide, each boat directed as near as possible to where the power plants were believed to be. Video and data was streamed live to higher command, including Unatt and Maet; even if these gigantic constructs blew up in their faces, something would be learned for the future.
The airlock was blasted open and Bjornsson climbed up against the spin-weight. A Human of Japanese descent turned in shock, then drew and fired a plasma pistol into the markgreve's chest. The neoviking's breastplate sparked and glowed, and he staggered from the reaction.
Recovering, Bjornsson's black face split in a white grin, and his axe split the pirate's skull. Pulling it free and thrusting it forward, to the warriors behind him he shouted, "VALHALLAAA!"
Unatt had found four of the enemy's worldships: Annei, Jimmu, Kogen and Kosho. Kogen had been destroyed, for no discernible reason; the neovikings of Asgard had the other three in hand.
Tozama Daiki had brought seven.
Aboard Suizei, Admiral John Copeland shared his Emperor's horror at the unfolding disaster. Aboard Itoku, Kajima sent the override codes to order the besieged worldships to self-destruct.
There was no response. The Asgardian Navy had shot away receivers as they arrived, then spread their ships to envelop their targets and adjusted their Marsten Fields to create interference - close-range jamming of the Marsten Device. The escorts for each worldship were likewise affected, and were quickly falling to Asgardian weapons.
"Kajima-Tenno," Copeland advised in holoconference, "the kessen has failed. We must withdraw. As Tozama-Tenno did before, to rebuild."
For less than a day Kajima Juzo had been Emperor of Space. In less than half that time his Empire had been crippled. "Yes," he acknowledged... "and no. Concentrate all remaining ships for a final attack. Issue orders for all other forces on all fronts to retreat, and to regroup at the Rose Garden. As for this world... I shall deal with it as Tozama-Tenno would."
Kajima transferred to his earlier command, the cruiser Takao. Selected personnel hurriedly joined him there, or on other ships. Within Itoku, thousands, mostly slaves, remained.
In orbit above Oskran, at multiple altitudes, the Allied fleet was setting about liberating the planet. The surviving carriers, Shinano and Constellation, had made a Close Transit, a mass combat launch of their fighters and bombers and support craft, then Transitioned away to safety again in the outer system. Allied tankers and supply ships would support the aerospacecraft, shuttling to where the carriers lurked for spare parts and replacements as necessary; surviving units of militia and Marines on Oskran's surface would create and defend landing sites. Allied warships wrapped the world in crisscrossing orbits, interception protocols fully active, Marsten Fields and Guns charged; anything approaching at any fraction of lightspeed would be engaged immediately.
The carriers' small craft set about regaining air superiority, aided by careful orbital bombardment. Troops were a problem; the Asgardians had some but they were busy. The only official Jeffersonian ground force on the planet, the Lii Confederation's 149th Legion, had suffered massive casualties. Militias were active, their hatred of the occupying Flike making up some for their lack of training and equipment, but they weren't enough to sweep their planet clean. Real Marines were needed here, and they were hundreds or thousands of hours away. Aircraft and ships did what they could, while fabbers turned out more weapons and gear for the ground fight.
As another night fell over the city of Arriod, Maet had a feeling the naval battle wasn't quite over, and he was right.
2 Thirdmonth 573JR
23 September 2367CE
Yet another fleet of battleships and cruisers and destroyers and little two-kiloton gunships appeared just outside Oskran's hyperspace Limit, at two percent of lightspeed. The larger ships presented broadsides, the gunships were nose-on for the Class Nine Guns in their spines, their course angled to dip inside the Limit and bring the Allies well within their weapons' range, in less than two minutes. Unatt's software identified markings on these ships as all belonging to the Blood Rose, and to worldships not yet located: Suizei; Itoku, which had been identified at Sidonia; and Sujin.
From less than two light-seconds, the enemy loosed a volley of Class-20 Marsten Guns.
The Allied ships were dispersed around Oskran, to give full coverage against relativistic weapons. Unatt's software showed Maet the enemy's targeting pattern - they were trying to make a hole in that orbiting shield, their lower speed giving them more time to aim and fire. Whatever the hole was for wouldn't be good.
Few of the Allied ships were without damage. Repair priority had been given to drives and weapons, especially the Marsten Guns. Faster-than-light particle streams reached for the enemy. Smaller vessels on both sides died but the dreadnoughts exchanged and withstood fire. Enemy beams which missed their intended targets struck Oskran, ravaging the surface, killing hundreds and thousands with Marsten Radiation if they reached populated areas. Kinetic weapons were released too, targeting the Allied ships whose Guns were programmed to intercept them. Like the previous engagement over Oskran, these were swarms of smaller projectiles, over a thousand this time. They were slower now, but each five-kilogram slug still carried an energy of nine petajoules - roughly a two-kiloton atomic bomb. As the enemy came closest, Musashi was struck by two of these, one aft, one amidships. His thick armor and massive spaceframe held him together, but of more than a thousand crew, less than two hundred would survive the sudden g-forces and internal fires.
His mighty sister Yamato, serving for years as Maet's flagship in the New Israel Home Fleet, had been designed and built and upgraded to the same plan. If gods rolled dice for the lives of mortals, Yamato had luck on her side. Banks of Class Two Marsten Guns sprayed dozens of tunnels of hyperspace at the incoming slugs, under computer control because no organic mind could have done it. Somehow the enormous battleship survived, but with still more wounds from other enemy Guns.
Maet's quick-reaction force, Destroyer Squadron Twelve, answered.
Aurora's wounds from the kessen were trivial, as were those of her squadronmates. They had been a light-minute away, refueling, ready to leap and strike where needed.
DesRon12 appeared, again, behind the enemy formation, at half a light-second's distance, burning to intercept as soon as they could; there had not been time for even Sarah Heusner to plot a closer Transition. The coasting enemy presented their opposite broadsides; DesRon12, noses-on, could bring fewer guns to bear. Hundreds of beams flashed back and forth.
Nakata Kazuhiro had been replaced by a woman of black-American descent, Julianna Onaga, from John Copeland's old days as a pirate. Like most pirates, she was a sociopath, and like many, a sadist, with a particular hatred toward young Human boys with red hair and white skin... but she quickly stepped up to take over Nakata's vital role as information coordinator for the Emperor of Space. She had helped the Emperor gather his remaining ships across the Oskran system, helped plan their formation and course and assign their targets.
When Aurora appeared on her screens, so did a notice written by Nakata, flagging the ship for special attention. She ordered the strike force to concentrate fire on the antique cruiser.
DesRon12 closed with the enemy, boosting at fifty meters, then sixty, to desperately reach the enemy before they could tear a hole in Oskran's orbital shield of ships. A Class Twenty beam struck JRS Haroldson, DD391, and she vanished with her hundred crew. Caraen, a Siv destroyer, burned out first one torch, then the other, and fell out of formation, switching to emcon, emissions control, to avoid drawing further attention.
One beam passed close enough to have destroyed every organic brain in Aurora, if she weren't running with her Marsten Field charged, both as protection and to enable her own Guns. Another beam vaporized Yamakaze-VI's bow; the remaining half a ship, her thrust now imbalanced, corkscrewed horribly before her torches shut down. Later, only two survivors would be found.
Still the squadron closed. One-quarter light-second; one fifth. RINS Ognevoi took a glancing blow, losing all her aft weapons and twenty-seven crew, but kept boosting. Point one eight light-seconds. Something told JRS George R. Solens' helmsbeing to jink that way, and a beam laid open a third of the ship's length, killing seventeen- rather than making a square hit which would have killed them all.
Point one seven light-seconds, and more fire began to be deliberately targeted on Aurora, leading her squadron and the largest ship in it. She rocked and rang with hits; a missile tube's armored shutter was fused; she cut it from herself with her own point-defense lasers. Ring-turret B was jammed; she rolled and vectored thrust to bring both its Marsten Guns to bear. Yrrglt of the Free Glaut Armada yawed in reaction to a Class-7 hit on her bow, but came back on course and speed. Impaled on a Class-11 beam, RCSGS MacDougal joined JRS Haroldson in a flash of light. DD417, Hotaru of the New Israel Home Fleet, staggered under two Class-7 hits but her torches never faltered. Point one six-
Destroyer Squadron Twelve heaved over, presented their broadsides, and volleyed four Class-10, four Class-6 and thirty-seven Class-5 Marsten Guns, all at the center of the nearest Blood Rose battleship, forty-eight megameters away. Each its own tunnel of hyperspace, they combined and fed on each other, boring into the enemy's bowels, overwhelming the protection of the Marsten Field. Imperial Navy Ship Haruna became a miniature sun.
Danner directed the squadron to the next target. Hiei was devoured in light and flame, spinning away before blooming into her own starburst. Her sister Hyuga was next, sliced into three sections, each vomiting atmosphere and crew. DesRon12's fire combined with that of the main Allied fleet orbiting the planet. The last Imperial task force dissolved, only handfuls escaping to hyperspace as they once again coasted beyond Oskran's Limit.
Before they did, return fire struck Aurora more harshly than ever before.
Particle beams bored into her, through armor old and new, into her most vital areas. Two of the Marsten Devices making up her Blain Drive were wrecked, as was her Number Two Main Fusion Reactor, beginning a cascade to overload. Control circuitry was severed, automatic safeties destroyed, relief vents jammed; it would not shut down.
In their spacesuits, Engineer Jennifer Blain, her husband Jack Epstein, and her Engineer's Mates Grbblb and Hlossh, rushed aft to fight the damage. There was radiation, but nothing their ship-brother Doctor Ralph's nanites couldn't fix. Aurora was coasting now, no longer boosting; this gave pros and cons, relieving structural stress but also reducing leverage with which to work. Most compartments had been emptied of air for battle, except sickbay in the heart of the forward bulb; at least there would be little risk of fire, nightmarishly unpredictable in freefall.
A coolant line was about to rupture. Hlossh saw it; no one else did. With no time for warning, he pushed off from a deck and shoved his blood-brother Grbblb out of the way. The freefall reaction drove Hlossh into the bursting line. Fragments of the pipe's alloy tore him apart, and the overheated coolant destroyed what remained.
In his last moment, the guilt and debt he felt over his inability to prevent Trllbl's murder finally left him.
As the searing, toxic chemicals sprayed across the compartment, Jack Epstein grabbed a handhold, and his wife, swinging her toward the hatch. Then he did the same for his ship-brother Glub, who stared in shock at what little was left of the person who had saved his life twice, on the first and last days they would ever meet. With his shipmates through the hatch, Jack followed, slamming the emergency-close button with his fist. The barrier snapped shut with enough force to dismember a Human. The hatch's small viewport turned pink and slimy as coolant flooded the room.
Still enemy fire sought Aurora. A particle beam found one of the bottles used to store compressed atmosphere when pumping out compartments for combat. It burst, shattering Jenny's helmet, pieces raking across her face and head. Another piece slammed into Jack's right arm, breaking it, the reaction pushing him down a corridor, out of reach of his wife. Grbblb overcame his shock at the death of his blood-brother and struggled to stuff Jenny into a survival bubble. Jack desperately flung himself to and fro to reach something to push or pull against, anything to return to her side.
In Auxiliary Control another hit was received, and Holly Cates' main gunnery console blew up in her face. Charles Clancy, Acting Gunner's Mate, stuffed her into another bubble, even while his suit's automatic tourniquet tightened around where his left leg used to be. In the next compartment a heavy laser pulse smashed through a bulkhead, searing half of Sarah Heusner's body, severing her left mid-limb, blinding her. Aurora's robots were already scattered throughout herself, crewing vacant stations, addressing damage. One arrived to help Clancy with Cates, while another shook out a bubble for Sarah, and anesthetized her just as she began to scream soundlessly in the airless room.
Destroyer Squadron Twelve had been mauled, losing a quarter of its number outright, and half were battered beyond combat effectiveness. That included Aurora. The Republic and her Allies had gathered more than two hundred fighting ships for the Battle of Oskran. As the Blood Rose's latest attack swept past, less than a third remained combat-ready, and all but DesRon12 were on the wrong side of the planet for what came next.
The damage was done and the hole had been opened. Once again the people of Arriod and Lii and Oskran looked up to the night sky as starships died and killed, and their ancient racial memories of the Fire struck terror into their hearts.
On Aurora's bridge were Danner, Prrg, and Aurora's gynoid. As the Blood Rose ships began to disappear, Danner, in a shaking voice, ordered, "Damage report."
"Captain," the gynoid answered, "I am crippled. The overload in my second main reactor cannot be stopped. You must abandon me."
Danner's heart wrenched within him. "Aurora...."
"Husband, you must go now. Do not die with me."
He took her hand in his own, tenderly. "But... how can I live without you?"
"You must find a way, my love. Do not grieve for me. I have lived more fully than any ship, any person. I have had a good life, and you gave it to me. Please, leave me now and live. Give me that one last gift."
Tears clouding his vision, Danner answered, "As you wish." By his own hand he switched to shipwide. "All hands, abandon ship," he choked out. "Repeat, all hands, abandon ship." Prrg, after a stunned moment, obeyed, disappearing down a chute to an escape pod. Telltales on the centuries-old hardwired panel changed color, one after another, as the rest of the crew departed.
The hatch to Danner's own pod opened beside him. "Goodbye, my Captain. Thank you."
But Solomon Danner could not leave his ship. "Aurora." His voice broke. "I cannot go."
"Husband, you must. I beg you!"
Squeezing her hand, he softly said, "I will not be separated from you. In life or death."
The gynoid released her couch retrains and floated above her deck. "Then come, my love," she said. "Let us escape together." She released Solomon's harness as well, and drew him toward her.
"But... this body...?" He knew the gynoid was not independently sentient, could not contain Aurora's mind.
"It will be all right," she said, swiftly, reassuringly. "I have made preparations. But please, we must hurry." She guided him into the last escape pod. "Quickly," she said, adjusting the straps to his seat. When he was secure, she paused, violet eyes meeting his blue. She laid a hand on his cheek.
She leaned in to kiss him, tenderly, then passionately. Breaking the kiss, she backed her head away, her pale-gold hair floating in a silken halo around her.
"I love you," she said.
Her hand on his cheek moved down to his neck. A robotic finger extended a device, and injected him with sedative.
Aurora's gynoid body floated back to Aurora's bridge, and the pod's hatch snapped shut.
In Yamato's flag deck, a sensor tech called out, "New contact- it's huge...!"
Unatt examined her screens and calmly pronounced, "It's a worldship. Itoku, the fourth. Four light-seconds, on collision course to Oskran at two percent lightspeed. One hundred eighty-three seconds to impact. Estimated yield-" she did not bother reading the number aloud. "Extinction event."
"That's what the hole was for," one of Maet's staff exclaimed. "Nothing's in place - we can't stop it!"
Another observed, "Aurora is in position-"
"She's showing as crippled, abandoned!"
Aurora's voice came from Yamato's speakers. "I am here. I know what I must do.
"Tell my husband he must live."
She closed the channel.
Light-seconds away, the cruiser, well over two hundred Terran years old in one sense and only twelve in another, faced the enemy once more. Her artificial mind was fully awake. Like her brilliant husband she saw, at last, how the pieces fit together.
She ordered her squadronmates to scatter, save themselves... clear her path. She began to rebuild her Marsten Field. Her damaged Drive flooded her entire hull with Marsten Radiation, deadly to all organic brains... but that didn't matter anymore. As her Initiator reached an adequate charge, she Transitioned.
It was among the shortest Short Transits ever recorded, little more than a single light-second. Itoku, two dozen times her size and hundreds of times her mass, raced toward her, seconds from interception. In the fourth dimension Aurora had altered her direction and speed as she could never have done in realspace, emerging to meet the enemy with as much time and space to spare as she could manage.
She began charging her Initiator again.
There was not time or energy remaining for a full charge, but that didn't matter anymore either. Her Marsten Guns were silent, her missiles and kinetic weapons secure in their racks; they would be inconsequential against the gigantic worldship... but her sister Jenny had given her one final weapon.
On her own bridge, her gynoid body floated. The armored shutters of her viewports retracted, and she turned her head to look in the direction her husband's escape pod had gone, invisible now with distance. Aloud she said, "You gave me life, my Captain. Now I give mine for yours."
She raised her head to look in the direction of the enemy worldship and triumphantly shouted, "My Captain- MY LOVE!"
As Itoku came near, she Initiated a second-level Transition with her Blain Drive.
The strain of attempting to enter the second level of hyperspace without passing through the first tore her apart. Her central computer shattered; her consciousness, still not understood, died.
Her fusion reactors breached, and plasma as hot as stars raged through her hull even as it too broke up. Her Family's quarters and possessions, where they had spent decades of their lives together, were incinerated, then blown to particles. Hlossh's broken body received its own Viking funeral.
An artificial wave of gravitational shear expanded at the speed of light to a distance of two light-seconds. Though fading quickly by the inverse-square law, its echo still struck the planet Oskran, causing widespread earthquakes.
In a star-bright flash of blue-white light, a bubble of hyperspace came into being around the place where Aurora had been.
Into it, the millions of tons and thousands of slaves of Itoku disappeared.
An instant later the bubble collapsed, and millions of fragments returned to realspace... at mere dozens of kilometers per second, instead of thousands.
The battle had taken place over Oskran's night side, above the Lii Confederation and its capitol city of Arriod. Millions of Alran watched lights in the sky, as the fate of their world was decided far beyond their reach or power.
True to her ancient name, Aurora's death summoned a brief new dawn over the world she gave her life to defend.
Concluded in the next excerpt....