CROWN OF STARS, Solace of Manticore Book 2
Part 4: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 5
Previously: Basilisk on Station, Chapter 4
Timestamp: Immediately after Chapter 4
“Admiral… we’ve got a Destroyer from Guillotine 1. She’s got five Erewhonian flagged freighters with her,” the comm tech aboard PNS Saint Joan said.
Admiral Cesare Flochard belonged to a senior Legislaturalist family, as did most of the flag officers chosen for Operation Guillotine, and the entire operation had been given to him by President Harris personally, as a favor to his mother, who ran the Department of Energy as her personal fiefdom. The exact details of Guillotine had been rehearsed time and again, and so far, everything was going exactly to plan… at least in Jewel and Corona. Cesare’s sub-commanders were in orbit around each of the key planets of the distant binary, and the few remaining BCs and the entire new build SD core of the Jewelian Navy, which their spies had indicated barely had skeleton crews, were stooging around defending their shipyard in the outer-system.
Guillotine 2’s elements had ignored the Brokkir-Etri yard and its defenders, knowing that a decapitation strike was much more important. And even though the Queen was in hiding, and no one exactly seemed to know who, exactly was supposed to be surrendering to him, it wasn’t like the eight under-manned SDs and twelve BCs at the yard could stand up to the 20 SDs, 20 DNs, and 42 BCs of the Havenite occupation fleet. And as soon as Harpe finished fucking around in Atropos, the balance of power would be even more extreme.
Cesare frowned in thought, then asked. “Erewhonians?”
“Yes sir. Bulk freighters it looks like. They’re just sitting there, waiting for clearance. The Destroyer captain is demanding to speak to you sir.”
“Personally?” His frown deepened. Why would he need to talk to a lowly DD puke? “Why are we dealing with civilians right now?”
“The freighter captains are all clamoring about trying to get away from the shooting and how they’d been ordered to transit or be seized. They’re bound for Manderlay with heavy farm equipment, according to the manifests they’ve transmitted.”
Floachard rolled his eyes and stroked his salt-and-cayenne-pepper beard. Finally, he sighed. “Tell them to heave too for inspection and we’ll get to them eventually.”
“They’ll want to know how long,” his aide pointed out.
“Until I’m good god-damned ready…” he saw the comms-officer not sending his message and asked, “Problem, Lieutenant?” His tone was anything but pleased.
“The Destroyer’s captain is repeating her demand to speak to you, sir. She sounds upset. Says that there’s a problem.”
“Tell her to…” he paused, then nodded, “Very well. On screen.”
The woman who appeared on screen looked a bit too old… and definitely too attractive… to be a mere Destroyer captain… she was probably some Captain’s pet Dolist… She also looked frazzled and a more than a little upset. She wasn’t facing the pickup, and instead yelling for her communications officer to try again. “Tell them it’s all gone to hell!” she snapped.
“What, exactly, has gone to hell, Commander…” he paused, squinting to read her name plate. “Henchel?”
Commander Henchel’s blonde-hair whipped around and she swallowed hard, then salluted. “Admiral, sir! There are more BCs in Atropos than we’d anticipated and Admiral Harpe is having trouble pinning them down.”
“Merde! What does that idiot think he’s playing at. Just go for the planet!” Fochard growled, gripping the arms of his command chair.
“Sir,” she paused, clearly worried about how the Admiral would take her next bit of news.
“Spit it out, woman!”
“The… the planet… the Maegi have some kind of planetary super graser… it took out three DNs at a full light-minute.”
There was sudden silence on the Havenite flagbridge. “They have a what?”
“It… We think it’s a graser. Admiral Harpe thinks that… he sent us to through to ask you to hold the Terminal so he can free up the ships there. Sir… I think he’s going to nuke the planet.”
Flochard gulped… No matter how justified blasting the festering hellhole that was the Maegi-homeworld of Elysium might be, the Solarian League would not sit back as Haven casually engaged in a global Eridani Edict violation. “Err… yes. Thank you Henchel.” He waved his hand to have the link cut, then snapped. “Get everyone moving. We’re going to Atropos to crush this idiocy and reign in Harpe before this gets any worse. Tell Nimrod to leave four of the wall on station over the Capital then move to replace us at the junction and have Hastings leave four of his BCs and his CAs and move to support the junction.”
As the sixteen SDs and twenty-four BCs of TF120.1 lined up on the Jewel Junction to come to the aid of a man who had never asked for aid and who had, in fact, been dead for nearly a day, Admiral Flochard’s commands to Rear Admiral Florence Nimrod, currently holding the orbitals of Jewel itself, and Vice Admiral David Hastings, currently holding the orbitals of Emerald, were transmitted to a courier ship, since the junction was currently two light weeks from it’s primary, and three light months from Corona. Insanity, thought Cesare Flochard. Who could conceivably hold a binary system a quarter light-year apart with only battleships.
Oksana Strigoi, Erewhonian Intelligence Apparatus and sometimes Navy, who was not the actual Susaska Henchel, watched in amazement as the Havenites disappeared in one gigantic poof. “Son of a bitch,” she commented to her bridge crew aboard the recently captured PNS Muftard. “I cannot quite believe that worked.”
“We did have all their codes, ma’am,” her XO, commented. “And some doctored sensor data.”
“That they probably haven’t even looked at,” Strigoi said, chuckling. “They just assumed that Harpe’s forces have control over the other side of the Junction.”
“And if they’re very lucky, they might even live to appreciate that old adage about assumption.”
“What adage would that be?” she asked.
“When you make an assumption you make an ass out of you and umption.”
Strigoi blinked, then snorted. “That’s stupid,” she said, but she was chuckling.
Eight hours later, summoned by the courier, the twelve DNs and two SDs of TF120.2, microjumped from the Hyperlimit to the edge of the interference zone around the wormhole. By that point, they could clearly see that the situation at the Junction had changed. Instead of a Destroyer squadron left behind by Flochard… they found Solace with five of the wall and fourteen BCs waiting for them. The fifteen LACs that had been brought into Jewel in the hold of the freighter Corleone (which was owned by Andros-Brandyne and very much not flagged to Erewhon no matter what her transponder might say) had completely surprised the token picket that Flochard had left behind, and turning to face their smaller opponents had left their skirts open to point blank fire from Muftard.
Solace’s forces had made the transit unopposed after accepting the surrender of the remaining ships of Flochard’s Taskforce. Ships without wedge or sidewall just could not fight ships ready and waiting, no matter how heavy the imbalance of forces. Flochard’s face had resembled an eggplant when he’d (begrudging every moment of it) ordered his ships to power down after the first two SDs were simply blasted out of space by the waiting Manticoran.
Now she appeared on the screens of the incomming TF120.2 and gloated, laughing as she taunted Admiral Nimrod and her captains about how she’d slaughtered Harpe and how Flochard had begged for his life before she’d blown him out of space. So angry were the Havenites that they came in hot, missiles firing the moment they ranged on the smaller Manticoran (and others) Fleet, even as the bitch on their screens continued mocking them while her own ships turned and ran.
So angry was Admiral Nimrod that she didn’t even notice the five freighters in parking orbit around the junction even as her forces streamed past them. If they noticed anything, it was how light the counterfire from the BCs and wallers of the Manticoran fleet were. They rightly assumed that many of them were damaged and, like sharks scenting blood in the water, all they could think of was closing for the kill.
That distraction was, perhaps justified. The freighters were, after all, just freighters. No one would have paid them any attention. And had it been two days earlier, that’s all they would have been. But the technicians of the Svalbards called Uris and Tyrash had been quite busy, gutting everything they could from four of those freighters, leaving little more than glue and string to hold the sides of the freighters on and stuffing their even more eggshell than normal frames with every missile pod they could.
As the fourteen ships of the Havenite wall roared past, building acceleration as fast as they could, the freighters essentially exploded, their sides disintegrating as explosive charges ripped them to pieces and then each of the max hull freighters poured the contents of three thousand missile pods down onto just fourteen ships. The missiles were ship killers, twelve to a pod, and quite dumb on their own. They had almost no ECM or ECCM and no ships to control them. They acquired their targets entire randomly, and hundreds of them obliterated each other as their spreading formation caused them to brush each other with their wedges… but there were simply too many to stop entirely.
144,000 outdated missiles that had been stripped off of battlecruisers of the Jewel Navy and stuffed into pods where they might still be useful were flushed at only fourteen ships of the wall and their escorts from a distance that was, in the language of space-warfare, essentially knife range.
The tactical officers of TF120.2 never even had time to get over their shock before they were expanding plasma.
“Complete destruction, Ma’am,” Ray Chatterjee said from sensors. “I think we might have used too much boom.”
“Had to be done, Ray. We had no way of knowing how many they’d have on this side,” Solace said. “Did that courier head toward Corona or Jewel?”
The courier that had doubtlessly brought the Havenites she’d just destroyed had not been part of the pursuit group and had, as the trap sprang, hypered out… and while they might have just run for it, the odds were that they’d be heading to one of the other elements of Guillotine 2.
“Corona, Ma’am,” Ray said.
“Excellent. Take us to Jewel… and send word to Admiral Torag that we’re on our way,” Solace said, stroking Ruth’s soft belly. Torag was the commander of the Jewel Fourth Fleet, currently at Brokkir-Eitri putting together what was not Jewel’s first SD squadron, but it’s third.
By the time the DNs of TF120.3 could be summoned from Corona, they’d arrive just in time to for Jewel’s Crown Fleet and her sixteen brand-shiny new Koenig Class SDs, which had been doing joint war-games with the Andermani in Weissen, to arrive. Solace had no doubt that Queen Elspeth would be more than happy to show the Havenites her displeasure at their attempted conquest of her domain.
And in far off Manticore, which would not learn of the events of Operation Guillotine for two more weeks, plans were, even now, being finalized, plans which would see Admiral Whitehaven dispatched to Yeltsin and Admiral Donislav dispatched to Hancock Station. If all went well, Operation Perseus would be just as big a disaster for Haven as Operation Guillotine had been.
But as much as Haven had had its nose bloodied, they had the ships to spend. Their fleet was larger than all the fleets outside of the Solarian League combined and their production facilities, though much slower individually than those of Jewel or Manticore or even The Andermani, outnumbered all those polities by twenty to one. As much as Solace had joked about it, she knew this war would be anything but short, and if victory were to be had at all, it would be hard won.
“Well, Ray?” she asked as the ship jumped to hyper for the very short trip to Jewel, “What do you think?”
“Think ma’am?” he asked, confused.
“Think RMN’s going to do. Lynch me for starting a war or bury me in even more medals?”
He chuckled. “Ma’am, you’d complain if they hung you with the Manticore Cross.”
Frances Yeargin, who’d been recovered from Corleone where she’d been in command of the LACs, ground her teeth. How could they joke around when… she paused, looking over as Naomi jumped onto her shoulder and, bleeking happily, pawed her nose and stole her berret. Pulling the hat down over her fluffy ears, the treecat mimicked France’s own scowl, and the woman had to laugh despite herself. “Okay, okay, you little thief. Maybe I do need to lighten up. And beware of sneak attacks. It’s like my great aunt once said… always suspect an ambush, right?”
The treecat returned the beret and shrugged… then leapt to Solace’s chair and tackled Ruth for no apparent reason. Frances shook her head. Despairing of ever understanding the universe, she sighed and turned back to directing the damage control teams dealing with keeping HMS Basilisk running. She still had battles to fight before Jewel was free of invaders.
Next: Crown of Stars – Part 5
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