Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
Aurora, Part XXXV: The Battle of RAS1441

This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler

Continued from the previous excerpt
8 Thirdmonth 553JR
Republic Astronomical Survey 1441

“I didn't say it was a good plan.”
“I can't think of a better one, cap'n,” Cates offered.
“Nor I,” Prrg added, “with our limited resources and time constraints.”
It was already being called the Danner Manuever before they left Dakota, doubtless growing in madness with each retelling. Solomon wondered what it would sound like when it reached his birth-family and his astrophobic mother. They'd done it once already, not really on purpose. The ship would make a Very Close Transit - a new term and a terrifying one - to deliberately create a massive Transition EMP, hoping to disable enemy ships, using the Marsten Drive as a weapon in itself. Brown's Flotilla was packed tight enough it might even work. If Aurora didn't cripple herself in the attempt - diving into a gravity well was considerably more dangerous than leaping out of one.
Danner remembered, and called everyone's attention to, what he had studied of the First Battle of New Israel. The Terran Empire had performed a Close Transit Attack and had lost three ships. On the other hand, their Drives were only Third Generation and they didn't have Jenny Blain aboard.
She had made some calculations, then some simulations, really talking with Aurora for the first time. “I'm not sure what will happen,” she told the crew, including the Markser volunteers, whose lives were as much at risk as hers, “but the idea is to mitigate the Transition Effects by adjusting the Field, both in geometry and intensity.” This had been the major breakthrough of the Fifth Generation Drive, eliminating most of the Transition Effects suffered by organic minds - but a Close Transit, with the Field interacting with a gravity well, generated energies which could overwhelm those adjustments. It was essentially all electromagnetics, of various flavors, some of which acted on organic bioelectrics as well. The hope was more of that energy would be directed outside the ship, and less inside, than before. If it worked - and they weren't all killed in battle - it would shortly become standardized as the Sixth-Generation-Improved.
“We don't have a lot of choice,” Danner observed, “and I for one wouldn't be able to live with myself if I just watched them sail away with fifty-odd slaves. All hands, to your stations, and prepare for rough seas.”

They knew about the battlecruiser, Bannockburn-II class, though now modified in ways they couldn't guess. The ex-Russian heavy cruiser, about 47 kilotons, was probably a Minsk-IV type with four pair of Class-10 guns and a lot of missiles, if they hadn't been spent by now - but most shipboard fabbers could make new ones if you shoveled the right ores in the right end. They were real warships and everything in Aurora's memory about Brown's Flotilla indicated they knew how to use them; Brown's band had originally organized as mercenaries and had even fulfilled a few contracts with Frontier worlds before turning to piracy. If the EMP didn't work, Aurora would be massively outgunned.
From a dozen-odd light-hours they couldn't be sure, and didn't have time to refine the imagery, but the liner was probably one which disappeared about fifteen Republic years ago, presumed lost with all hands. Danner wondered how many had survived, for how long, as slaves. The remaining ships were two converted freighters, presumably armed now, and a tanker still operating as such to support the Flotilla. For a long time tankers had been built to independently process comet-ice into hydrogen fuel, or moon-ice or gas-giant dippings for whatever other gasses were needed, such as nitgrogen to mix with oxygen for Common-Life-breatheable air.
The EMP was the first phase of Danner's plan, and it depended on navigation as near perfect as possible. Sarah Heusner had brought Aurora within forty kilometers of the enemy over Dakota. Prrg could do as well, and had proven it over Crunch with September Rose, but now he was Executive Officer of a Reserve Privateer entering battle with a thrown-together volunteer crew - and he trusted his Eyani sister. With Aurora helping with the math, she would be trying very hard to beat her own record. The EMP had to be as strong, and as close, as possible, to disable the enemy - who by this time might have their own Fields up in preparation for departure, giving them protection against just such an attack.
Not that anyone would expect such insanity as a military tactic.
Phase Two would be live fire, as rapidly and precisely as possible disabling the enemy ships' engines, weapons, and especially their Drives. The Marsten Field acted as a defense against the Marsten Gun, scattering and neutralizing the incoming particles; a low-level Field was almost always active on any live starship for standard radiation protection, though it took time to build to a level sufficient to power the Guns or enter hyperspace. Holly's shooting would have to be accurate and concentrated enough to overwhelm the Fields. The second planet, around which the Flotilla had clustered, had a shallow gravity well, so the hyper limit was likewise much closer to the surface than a Terra-type world. The pirates could probably Transition from less than one light-second without damage. Aurora's databases held thousands of ship designs, and she, Blain and Cates had made educated guesses as to where to hit each ship without destroying it - slaves could be on any or all of the ships, for labor or... entertainment. Some might consider it a blessing to disappear in a flash of fusion. In any case, no ship could be allowed to escape. Aurora and her crew would have to conquer or die.
With the ships disabled, Phase Three would continue firing as Holly had over Dakota, to knock out weapons and realspace engines, any ability to fight or flee. Once that was done, Phase Four would see Cates and Prrg don their Mobile Infantry power-armor and lead boarding parties. Hostage situations were expected. The target ranges in the forward holds had seen a lot of use during the Transit.

All compartments were sealed. Some, like the crew and passenger compartments of the grav-rings, had been deliberately pumped down to vacuum in expectation of damage. Every crewbeing was suited, with whatever armor could be had and whatever personal weapons gave comfort. Organics were ready to take over nearly every weapon in case remote connections were severed.
If everything went wrong and Aurora was the one being boarded instead, Danner had prepared a self-destruct. Her seven fusion plants would yield about 80 megatons after her missiles, dialed up to their maximum 2Mt yield, would be launched at each of the pirate ships, ending the prisoners' suffering.

Things happen fast in battle, though they seem slow. A split-second decision can seem to take minutes.
Sarah's navigation brought them out of hyper within thirty kilometers of the Flotilla, which had all left the planet's surface and had clustered together within a five-kilometer sphere, though this was beginning to string out as they necessarily separated for their Transitions. Sarah would later insist her accuracy was accidental, based on optical images hours old.
The Flotilla was boosting for the Hyper Limit - they had only minutes to stop them. But Jenny had delivered; the Transition Effects, though harsh on the volunteers whose grandparents hadn't experienced them, were much milder than Dakota's. It was only a moment before Aurora's own crew recovered.
The EMP was partly successful. The liner and support ships were knocked out as hoped, their Fields collapsing and torches faltering. It would take minutes for them to recover. The two warships, however, had much stronger Fields by design, and continued boosting, though priceless seconds ticked by while their crews tried to understand what had happened.
Holly Cates had once reached the quarter-finals of a Schutzenfest on Helvetia, a Republic world settled by Swiss refugees from the Empire's War of Unification. It included long-range precision events as well as action speed shooting. She had fast reaction times. Perhaps they were designed into her by her parents' doctor. Perhaps she had been developing them all her life, since joining the Corps. Perhaps her Transition Effect had sped her perception.
She had planned to fire a pair of Marsten Guns at the battlecruiser's Drive, hopefully enough to breach Field and armor, but when the ship appeared in her own VR visor she saw a third of it laid bare where her guns had flayed it over Mark's World. She could see the naked Marsten Drive and had come that close to preventing their escape - but now Aurora's Marsten Guns would be overkill, likely to destroy the ship, any hostages aboard, and its crew before they could be interrogated.
Aurora's four main ring-turrets each carried two Class-6 Marsten Guns, 180 degrees apart. Spaced evenly between them were a pair of 19-megawatt pulse lasers, which could also operate at 5.9Mw as a sustained beam. With the turrets turned to bring all eight Marsten Guns to bear on the Flotilla, four lasers could also engage... and the Marsten Field had no effect on them.
Holly Cates instantly made the right decision, switching to lasers and firing a salvo of four pulses which converged in the battlecruiser's Drive, shattering it, disabling their Marsten Guns and trapping the ship in realspace. The ship's six main fusion plants were necessarily clustered near the Drive to give it power; four were driven to emergency shutdown, without becoming bombs.
It was the best shot she'd ever made in her life.
Leaving the battlecruiser, she turned to the ex-Russian heavy. It was untouched, not having taken part in the raid, and in her visor she could see its Class-10 Guns swiveling to aim right at her nose. The two ships fired together.
One of the enemy beams smashed through the small-craft bay holding the new Type 347 shuttles and the donated Fontaine aircar. Another pierced the aft bulb, shattering spares stored in Hold Three, blowing out the big cargo hatches and killing two of the Markser volunteers.
As they had after Terra's Second World War, standards of warship armor had changed. A modern heavy cruiser often carried less protection than Aurora's much older, but smaller, design. During the refit at Wilson's Colony, Danner and Blain had made sure Aurora's Drive was as well-armored as her missile magazines. The enemy beam stopped there... barely.
The reaction turned Aurora but Cates, in the “zone”, used the motion as though she anticipated it, loosing a pair of her own Marsten beams. One went wide, but fortunately so, knocking out half the heavy cruiser's torches and crippling her realspace acceleration. The second beam pierced armor and Field just enough to disable the Drive - her VR visor told her so, linked with Aurora's sensors to detect Field strength.
By this time the battlecruiser's crew had their brains in gear, and with reserve capacitors and their remaining fusion plants began firing with their secondary lasers, 25-megawatt. Over Mark's World Danner had ordered countermeasures deployed, but those scattered Aurora's own beams as much as the enemy's, and she needed to shoot. Aurora had to take the hits. A-Turret was jammed this time, losing a laser and a Marsten Gun and killing another Markser volunteer.
Cates went back to lasers, pulsing at the original installations the Caledonians had installed. With Aurora's computer-stabilized aiming, she made the hits, knocking out most of the battlecruiser's weapons.
Now she went back to the ex-Russian again, giving it the same treatment, and receiving the same in return. Pirates they may be, their lives forfeit for their crimes, but they were competent. One enemy laser pulse glanced off the bridge, welding several viewport shutters in place and even cracking one of the armorglas panels, but soon the ex-Russian couldn't hurt them anymore.
She took a few more shots at the ex-Caledonian now, one of them carefully at the other end of an exposed fusion bottle, reducing the pirate's available power even more. Then, at leisure, she began crippling the rest of the Flotilla before they could restart their own Drives.
It was an insane plan. It was miraculous. It had worked.

Now the dirty parts began. Cates had not targeted the enemy ships' communications. Danner transmitted demands for immediate surrender. One of the small supporting freighters began spacing hostages, warning they would execute more if they were not allowed to escape.
A captain should know how to perform every job in his ship. Danner had a duplicate gunnery console at his own station. By his own hand - he could not order it done - he fired four Marsten Guns at the freighter and it vanished in a flash of light.
For years after, he would try to convince himself the hostages would all have been tortured and murdered anyway.
“I repeat,” he transmitted again, “this is Solomon Danner, commanding Republic Reserve Privateer Aurora. Surrender and prepare to be boarded, or you will be destroyed. This is your final warning.”
Seeing ruthlessness to match their own, the Flotilla surrendered.
The Battle of RAS1441 was over. From Aurora's Transition to the pirates' surrender had been four hundred twenty-nine seconds.
Continued in the next excerpt....
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