Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright (c) 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part LVI: Shell Game
Continued from the previous excerpt
11 Firstmonth 560JR
Lublin, Kingdom of Illyria
Lech Nowak, Marshal of the Sejm of Radom, was released from his Stefanist cell and appointed interim Governor of Radom. He immediately demanded the Jeffersonian-style reforms Queen Agnieszka had promised. Within hours she sent a recorded response by Marsten Device, reiterating her promise to reduce the power of the entire nobility including her own, guaranteeing more rights to the people. "But first," she concluded, "we must overthrow Stefan the Usurper. To that end I ask- I beg the people of Radom to support our common cause, with ships and soldiers and any resources you can spare, to remove my murderous uncle from the throne. Rally to me, people of Radom! Help me break your chains!"
As before, the Stefanist minority had been rounded up, loaded on a ship the Agnieszkans could bear to part with, and sent back to Illyria. With Radom secure and relatively stable, and the Radom Fleet back in action under Agnieszkan command, the Lublin Fleet returned home to prepare for Stefan's next move.
"Still they overwhelm us," Agnieszka observed to Danner and Lipinski. "Just one of those battleships... and they have four." Well, two, and two battlecruisers, not quite the same thing, but no different where the Agnieszkan cruisers were concerned.
They were gathered for another War Council meeting, in the Viceroy's Residence in Lublin City. "Stan and I have been working on that," Danner said. "A head-on confrontation would be suicide, obviously." At Danner's suggestion, Lipinski had been raised by his Queen to Rear Admiral, while Commodore Danner became his deputy and tactical advisor. The two captains had quickly become friends, despite their different social backgrounds. Men who had commanded ships in battle had far more in common than a Jeffersonian merchant and Illyrian knight otherwise would... and Lipinski, having now seen the worst a monarchy had to offer, was opening his mind to a republican way of life.
"Therefore," Lipinski said, "meeting them head-on is not what we shall do." Sir Stanislaw looked very much the part of a senior naval officer, dignified, a bit graying - Jeffersonian anti-aging treatments would be made available to the whole kingdom later - the same height as Danner and if anything even more physically fit despite his greater age. "Your American history has so many delightful idioms. We shall 'hit 'em where they ain't.' And your brilliant engineer, Ms. Blain, has given us a great advantage."
Many of the Royal Illyrian Navy ships were old, a few of the support ships dating back to the Kingdom of Novy Krakow, though all the frontline warships had Sixth Generation Marsten Drives. These, Blain helped to quickly bring up to the Improved standard she had developed with Aurora, then personally hopped from one ship to the next in both the Lublin and Radom Fleets, personally tuning each Drive and leaving detailed notes. She was now exhausted, resting in her and her husband Jack Epstein's cabin aboard Khameleon, but thanks to her efforts every Agnieszkan warship could now make c142 - at least twenty times lightspeed faster than any Stefanist fleet. Theoretically the Stefanists had access to the Improved data, released on the galactic Net years ago after the Battle of RAS1441, but Lipinski, and Sir Bogdan's spies on Illyria, reported that the Stefanist regime had ignored it, citing increased fuel consumption. That would play into the Agnieszkan strategy.
The populations of Lublin and Radom were preparing for a large-scale Stefanist counterattack, rather like Britain had done in 1940, fearing invasion by National Socialist Germany... but with differences. If Stefan made landings on the two colony worlds, the plan was to immediately start a guerilla campaign, not meeting the invaders on the landing grounds - indeed their landings would be unopposed. Sniping and sabotage and even terror tactics, lessons learned from the Viet Cong and Mujahideen and even the Terran Empire's Occupation of New Israel, would be used to frustrate and weaken the Stefanist forces.
But that alone could not win the Illyrian Civil War, if Stefan's navy remained in action. Those capital ships could bombard rebel targets from orbit, wiping out whole regions, killing tens of thousands in moments. Somehow that threat had to be neutralized.
Word had come from Illyria. The Army had boarded and the Fleet had sailed.
Evacuation of the population centers, Lublin City and Radom City, began at once, and with a minimum of panic. They'd been preparing since before Danner and Lipinski left for Radom. Much of the population of both worlds was rural and scattered already, ranching and farming and taming their raw worlds. Lublin City was the largest concentration, at a little over 200,000. With over a thousand hours' warning, these were easily dispersed. Essential industries, factories and fabberies, would be the last to evacuate, building up as much war materiel as possible, then demolishing the equipment so it couldn't be used by the enemy. When the Stefanist ships and troops arrived, they would find no population to oppress, no resources to reclaim, not even targets to bombard - only an empty shell.
The Illyrian Resistance said that the Fleet had been divided. The battleships and carrier were heading for Lublin, the battlecruisers for Radom, each with a few cruisers and destroyers for escort. One of the infantry divisions was going to each world, with two tank battalions for Lublin and the third for Radom. Five cruisers and the rest of the smaller warships remained at Illyria, along with about a brigade's worth of reservist ground forces. Stefan himself was confirmed to still be on Illyria and not accompanying his fleets.
That was exactly what Danner and Lipinski had hoped for.
The Radom and Lublin Fleets departed only four hours after word of the Stefanist departure had been received. 183 hours later they rendezvoused in deep space between the three worlds of the Kingdom of Illyria. They updated their navigation and leapt into hyperspace again, doing the one thing Danner, Lipinski and Agnieszka hoped Stefan would never expect - going straight for Stefan's own throat. At some point the enemy fleets must have passed each other, undetectable.
Hundreds more hours passed in Transit. Meanwhile the evacuation of population centers on the colony worlds continued, the cities booby-trapped, factories and power plants and centers of infrastructure and even buildings that might be used as troop quarters rigged to blow up in the occupiers' faces. The people scattered, to farms and ranches and forests and hills, avoiding large concentrations that could become targets. More than half the able-bodied males of fighting age were armed, and at least a quarter of the women. The history of the Occupation of New Israel had been a popular subject on the colonies' newly-freed Nets.
Wiceadmiral Sir Michal Judycki had seen three different monarchs of the Kingdom of Illyria, but expected Stefan to be his last. Sir Michal was an old man, well past the age when others would retire, but the Royal Illyrian Navy was the only thing he loved - without it he would have no reason to live. He had no family or really any kind of life outside the service.
With a reputation for utter impartiality and obeying any order from the recognized monarch, Judycki had been left in charge of the Illyrian Home Fleet. Too old to lead it into battle, he was nonetheless trusted to command the few ships which remained when the rest of the Navy went to reclaim the Kingdom's rebellious colonies. Prime Minister Michael Aliewicz, the Sejm, and Cardinal Jan Wysocki had declared Stefan the rightful King, and the rumors surrounding his ascension to be lies. That was enough for Sir Michal Judycki.
Old the wiceadmiral may have been, but not stupid. If the Navy was all he loved, he would study the arts of naval warfare, keep up to date on technological innovations, ponder countermeasures to new tactics. He was a disciplinarian, but not for discipline's own sake - he often addressed his spacers personally, or at least issued memos, explaining why things must be done in certain ways. Judycki was respected as a true professional, with no malice or capriciousness in him.
Stanislaw Lipinski had been one of his best, and favorite, students at the Royal Illyrian Naval Academy in Novy Warszawa - in some ways the son he would never have.
Lipinski was known as a pirate-hunter, but even as a cadet he had gained a reputation for competence, even brilliance. One incident, still spoken of, was when, in his fourth and last year at the academy, he had been the first - and so far only - man in the Navy's history to defeat the academy computer's combat simulation graduation exercise.
Judycki often thought of his favorite pupil, wondering what had become of him since Lipinski's resignation and self-exile in protest against Stefan's coronation. When the ship from Radom arrived with the returning Stefanists, Judycki's unspoken question was answered. He questioned the returnees personally, thoroughly, taking extensive notes for later Net research.
Judycki knew of the Sixth-Generation-Improved Marsten Drive and had been in favor of its adoption, but the First Space Lord, Mateus Witthoff, an unimaginative man who had Stefan's ear, had persuaded the King that the greater speed was not worth the extra fuel consumption, or the time and effort required to bring the Navy up to the new standard. Judycki was reminded of the video tutorial he had seen, from Jennifer Blain herself.
"Obviously this will increase a ship's fuel consumption," she had said. "But this is the Cheap Energy Age! Few ships carry enough fuel for more than one Transit anyway, expecting to refuel at each destination. A simple conversion of some internal space, or even more simply a fuel tank attached to the outside of the ship, will easily make up the difference. Tankers, like the one which refueled Aurora over Mark's World, have been well established in civilized systems for generations, usually waiting in orbit around any world worth visiting. Many ships, including Aurora and most modern warships, now carry equipment to mine comets or skim a gas-giant's atmosphere for hydrogen fuel. As a merchant captain, or a warship commander, you have to ask yourself which costs more; fuel which is nearly free for the taking, or the time saved taking your goods to market or meeting an enemy of your world?"
Though Judycki, even despite his age, was more comfortable with technology than most Illyrians, he still did his best figuring with a pen and paper. He began running some figures - estimated speeds, Transit times-
The day after the Stefanists returned from Radom, he brought the fleet to full alert. He ordered tankers to make rounds, ensuring no warship under his command carried less than 70% of its fuel capacity. A rotating schedule was developed for alternating ships to run their Marsten Fields at full strength, as defense against the Marsten Gun or a Transition EMP. Sensor watches were doubled, then tripled, in all directions, with even the slightest anomalies to be reported. He ordered his own 'puter to monitor all such reports throughout the Home Fleet, alerting him instantly if so much as a mat (spacer) thought he saw something.
The Illyrian Resistance had sent as many details as they could, including the name of the Home Fleet's commander. "Another Danner Maneuver won't work against him," Lipinski had warned before the Agnieszkan fleet's departure. "As soon as the Stefanists arrive and tell their stories, Judycki will start working on countermeasures."
"The most obvious of which," Danner observed, "would be to run a full-strength Marsten Field, constantly." That used fuel, and also complicated communications and resupply. The Field interfered with conventional electromagnetic communication, though the Marsten Device could operate through it, as could lasers. More to the point, the Field had to be brought down to refuel or restock a ship, or to transfer crew. Some of the ancient animal experiments had survived passage through an active Marsten Field, without another Field to protect them, but a lot hadn't. There was no documented case of a sentient being doing it.
Lipinski nodded. "He will know your name soon if not already, and he has the clearance to access the Net for the reports of your battle against Brown's Flotilla. Also... we know each other. He was... much like a father to me, during my years at the Academy. He will not underestimate me, and we cannot underestimate him."
Now, with fleets in motion and no practical way to update or recall them, both sides were rolling dice.
8 Secondmonth 560JR
The Agnieszkan fleet consisted of three cruisers, the heavies Dragon, and Gryf still under repair during Transit, and the light Hawk from Radom; destroyers Grom, Blyskawica, Mazur, Orkan, Gawron and Slazak; the frigates Zuraw, Jaskolka and Mewa; three tankers and two Navy freighters; the hired merchants Sabrina, Venture, and Eridani Trader; and the armed cargoliner Khameleon. The Queen was aboard the last, personally coming to reclaim her throne - the point of the exercise.
The Stefanist fleet at Illyria was two older heavy cruisers, Warszawa and Poznan, and three mismatched lights, Lew, Pantera and Tygrys. With these were four destroyers (Wicher, which had fled Lublin, was returning there with the Stefanist fleet) and four frigates, three tankers, four freighters and two repair ships. Five merchant ships were in the system, and the Illyrian Resistance suspected they might have been commandeered. They were pretty sure Judycki was using Poznan, the youngest warship left at Illyria, as his flagship.
As before, the Agnieszkan fleet Transitioned a light-day out and made contact with the Illyrian Resistance by Marsten Device, for an update on conditions and enemy dispositions. The Device, centuries ago, was developed as a line-of-sight, faster-than-light method of communication. The Marsten Gun, the FTL particle beam weapon, was developed from it, just as lasers were used both for communications and as weapons. Like laser communications, it was practically impossible to detect, intercept or jam a Marsten Device signal.
The Illyrian System was laid out conventionally, like Sol, with seven planets in an ecliptic plane. Illyria was the fourth, with an axial tilt of only 19.3 degrees from that plane, even less than Terra. The Home Fleet was orbiting at 1.6 light seconds from the surface, right at the accepted hyper limit, closer than which ships could expect damage upon Transition. They were strung out, five pairs and a trio, evenly spaced in the orbit. If one group were attacked by a Danner Maneuver, at least two other groups could make a Short Transit to come to their aid. Of the thirteen Stefanist warships, all but three at a time were running their Marsten Fields at full strength; those other three, one in every other of the six evenly-spaced groups, left theirs at minimum for standard radiation protection and to reduce interference with their sensors. The Navy support ships were making rounds among the warships further out, but the five civilian ships were in lower orbit.
Given the low numbers of the Agnieszkan fleet, it wasn't a bad strategy. Solomon and Stanislaw had given much thought to the problem. "Attacking from above or below the ecliptic," Danner suggested, "would give us an element of surprise. Or would it?" His face showed he already knew the answer.
Lipinski shook his head. "Not against Judycki. He will have sensor watches in all directions - and knowing me, and reading about you, he would expect just such a tactic. From these positions, he is far enough from the gravity well to easily change vector for interception, or even to perform Short Transits of his own, concentrating what force he has."
"I don't want to kill your teacher much more than I guess you do," Danner said. "Besides, they do have us outgunned, by about half."
"You seek a plan that avoids engagement altogether."
"Not sure there is such a thing-" Suddenly Danner slapped the tactical holotank's console. "Stan, it's staring us in the face! What are we both known for?"
Slowly, Lipinski began to grin.
Like a pirate.
Continued in the next excerpt....