Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Eridonia's Hope's main battery swiveled into position, the automated loading bays filling the three primary magazines per battery with a the requested ammunition, before riding a mechanised conveyor through a reinforced blast shield and into the turret itself, clanking into place beneath each of the 31-inch Mass Drivers.
"Main battery is ready, Captain". Ellie reported, displaying green-lit indicators on the HUD displayed cross-section of each emplacement. "We are ready to engage. Awaiting Master Arm Confirmation".
Marcus paused a moment, he had to think. His actions in dealing with this situation could decide the fate of the entire Aquarius cluster forever, and potentially dictate relations, or lackthereof, with an alien species. Not one to make a rash decision, Captain Raiko gestured to the AI to wait a moment, running his hand along his brow, the 79-year old Phoenix War Veteran weighed up the options.
"Tactical assessment. The Federal Navy had lost contact with a deep-space surveillance platform in the fringes of known space. Naval Intelligence had very little solid information as to the circumstances. Command was either witholding information or they are genuinely in the dark here. Eridonia's Hope made contact with an unknown formation of mass signitures in the proximity of the last known co-ordinates of the platform. The signitures appear to be artifical, and on an intercept trajectory with the Group and haven't declared themselves via any form of communication, I have no other way of interpreting this other than apparent hostility."
"Cut drives. Hunter Group, maintain synchronisation, we are coming to a stop. It's clear we've been detected but we have yet to recieve any communication." The captain paused again, looking around the bridge; concerned officers and bridge-staff returningh his gaze, awaiting his next orders.
"Prepare for armed action." He ordered, opening a protective casing on the arm of his command chair, revealing a switch under which the words "MASTER ARM" were clearly inscribed. The captain flipped the switch into the engaged position. Immediately after, the ship's board computer let out a warning tone.
"Master Arm On. Master Arm On" the computer's verbose announcer declared, as the cruiser's HUD flashed to a red colour and multiple read-outs across the bridge let out their own tones as bridge crew rushed to prepare the warship for combat.
"Ellie, track the closes signiture and put that firing solution into effect. No discharge until my direct order, understood? Need a bit of human instinct on this one before we start a war." Marcus spoke firmly, squinting at the visual indicators, a series of small highlighted red boxes following the real-time position of the approaching signitures, on the combat heads up display before him.
"Understood, Captain." Ellie acknowledged, his holoform dematerialising from the command deck as to keep the area clear.
The one and a half kilometre long battlecruiser slowed to a stop as her drives entered idle, her lateral and axial thrusters flaring up to counter the enormous inertia as the ship-board computer made fine adjustments to her course as per the combat manouver routines. Escorting Hammerheads maintained their distance at the flanks of the warship, still in direct synchronisation with her Combat Adaptive Harmonics System.
"Direct power to our primary repulsor shield, give me fine control instead of handing over to the AHS, I like to set it manually..." Raiko ordered, interacting with the console in front of him, swiping objects in the holodisplay around a cross-section of the Eridonia's Hope's primary shield topology.
Since the cruiser was facing the unknown contacts, the captain placed capacitor charge priority on the forward modulators, strengthening her forward repulsor shields, at the expense of the rear or flanks. A standard practise, often controlled by the ship-board computer or AI, to maximise shielding efficiency and reduce power usage by diverting power to repulsor zones under direct threat.
Veteran Captains, especially from the stand-off battles with CEG-era warships in the Phoenix Campaign, often prefered to do this themselves, prefering their own gut instinct or experience than the ship-board computer. However in combat, the CAHS is usually enabled to provide a tighter response to developing threats in co-ordination with other vessels and a large number of battlefield variables. The captain, of course, can advise the system or override it entirely at any time.
"Of course, Captain." Ellie replied.
Eridonia's Hope's forward repulsor field flared a bright blue, as the tetramatrix energy crystals formed tighter bonds, before settling to almost invisible.
"Visual Range. We are a thousand klicks from the closest object" Ellie declared, as the captain looked up to the observation window. "The distance closed quickly, they are acellerating parallel to the debris field. It would appear they are mimmicking our own manouver."
Two small objects appeared on the visual display, still too far to make out any distinct features of shape, but they were rapidly closing on the Task Group. It would not be long before their true nature was revealed.
"Amplify that image. Focused Optics, hundred-times." Marcus demanded.
There was a moment of silence on the bridge as the AI performed the action. The once blob-like dot took shape into a form that Marcus had never seen before, in his five decades of service. This was no CEG-era warship. This was alien.
"What in the Pathfinder's name is that thing?" The captain exclaimed, turning to face the sensor staff, who looked equally confused from the readouts.
"Ellie, data. I want data, show me everything you have. What in Kociero's name are we dealing with?"
"I do not know. No matching signitures in the Naval database, this is in alignment with our prior analysis. The object is alien. We are within effective Mass Driver range, captain. Awaiting your orders".
There wasn't long to react, before two more objects emerged from behind the first, followed by another half a dozen, all moving in an eerie, intelligent, formation. Before the crew's disbelief could be vocalised energy readings on the Short Range Sensor Array lit up, sending warning alarms across the command deck.
"Energy Spike detected. Fore, eight-hundred klicks." The ship-board computer exclaimed. Marcus squinted momentarily before his eyes opened fully.
Two large pulses of light, with a green-ish hue arced from the first object with alarming speed, pulsating and growing brighter every second as they made their way towards the terran warship.
"Prepare for impact!" Marcus shouted, strapping himself into the command chair as the two pulses arced straight towards the cruiser's bow, almost blinding the observation window. The first pulse impacted on the forward repulsor; releasing a huge shockwave as the repulsor field flared up blue, in stark contrast to the alien green energy. The blast subsided as alarm tones sounded on the bridge.
"Foreward Repulsor at forty percent." the ship-board computer exclaimed as the frontal arc of the cruiser's shielding diagnostic cross-section flashed orange indicating a loss of integrity.
"Goddamnit we're under attack, Ellie, weapons free. I repeat: Weapons free. Target the lead object, foredeck battery, salvo, concussion." Marcus shouted, as the AI followed the orders.
The Endeavour-class battlecruiser's two foredeck turrets, already tracking the alien objects, locked into place as their triple barrel mass drivers elevated to track the incoming ships. The immense stopping power of the warship's main battery filled the captain with a sense of confidence that they could respond with deadly affect.
"Firing. Salvo One. Concussion" Ellie confirmed as the sharp pulse of a capacitor discharging shook the deck, an almighty flash erupted from two of the three drivers on each turret, the observation window was dulled to prevent harmful light from entering the bridge, but the flash was still a sight to behold. Each driver barrel retracted into the mantlet with a mechanical hiss to counter the immense recoil of a twenty-ton round leaving the breach at 3 kilometres per second, as super-heated coolant is ejected into space above the firing mechanism, the discharge coils going from brilliant red to a cool metalic grey after only a few seconds.
The cruiser let off four shots, two from her two frontal turrets. Each firing a 31-inch High-Explosive Plasma Concussion Charge. Nuclear energy erupted into space for a hundred metres beyond each driver, as the tracers from the rounds streaked towards the opposing ships. In a few moments, an enormous flash erupted from the first object as a ten-kiloton Plasma charged found its mark, the optical display still zoomed in to reveal the insect-like shape of the alien vessel. The explosion blossomed upon its bow section, sending superheated debris into space around the ship. The object appeared to slow down, before going slightly off-course. But before the crew could celebrate the second blast unleashed earlier found its mark on the Eridonia's Hope.
The blast flared the forward repulsor up again, but this time the energy was too much for the cruiser's shielding array, and amongst the repeated warning tones of a shield collapse, the greenish energy wave pulsated through the collapsed shield onto the foredeck of the Battlecruiser, barely missing her first main battery emplacement.
The impact was felt on all decks of the warship. The command deck shuddered and shook with incredible force as metalic moaning echoed through the forward decks. From the observation window, a huge plume of greenish plasma erupted from the surface of the deck, sending hot fragments of composite armour and plating into space.
"Damage Report. Give me a damage report, foredeck. Bastards." Marcus stood from his chair, anger evident in his voice. Ellie's visual indicator on the HUD nodded in acknowledgement as the AI ran diagnostics routines. "Return fire, everything we have. Target that stricken vessel again, with main battery one through five. Helm, bring us around, portside, 45 degrees and engage combat manouvers. These bastards want to play with the Hope, then we show them her fangs."
"Captain. Primary foredeck armour belt has been penetrated in two places. We have reports of at least two atmospheric pressure losses in the upper bow maintenance deck 2-B and Siege Array secondary capacitor bank on level four and two ancillery power couplings are offline. I have isolated the damaged sections. Bulkheads are sealed. The damage is superficial to our combat capability at this time, but further hits risk disabling our Siege array. Fortunately, neither compartment was occupied, there are no reported casualities" The AI reported, displaying detailed diagnostics information on the secondary HUD, to the side of the battlefield holodisplay. The affected sections of the warship were lit in orange and red colouration to denote damage.
"That was a tough hit. Now return the favour. Keep those decks sealed, and I want medical and repair crews on the job but keep them out of the damage zones. Probably going to get hammered again."
"Captain, I have prepared a follow up salvo --." The AI reported, but before it could finish was cut off by the captain.
"Then what are you waiting for? Fire it, let them have it!" Marcus bellowed, pointing at the approaching alien vessels as two more pulses emerged from the object behind the first, which had manouvered around the stricken lead warship, which was continuing to fall out of its intercept trajectory.
"And again. Ellie do everything you can to get our shields back up. Direct reserve power from our rear repulsors. Helm, I'm switching to manual control, now. What's the status of that stricken one? Did we get them?" Captain Raiko shouted, once again gripping the control column, pulling sharply to the left, bringing the cruiser further portside, so now the lion's share of her main battery could be brought to bear on the opposition.
"While you're at it, ready the foredeck LRM battery. Might aswell give them the full package." The captain ordered, as three more flashes erupted from the Eridonia's Hope's main battery, sending more orange-tinted tracers hurtling towards the approaching alien force. Two more impacted on the seemingly stricken vessel, as the kinetic rounds impacted, blossoms of high explosive energy erupted from the mid-section, effectively severing the vessel in half, a strange, dark, almost fluid-like substance firing out of the wound almost as if it was bleeding into space.
"What is that?" a bridge officer exclaimed, pointing to the still-zoomed in combat display on the HUD. "Is that organic?" he asked, turning to Captain Raiko.
"Based on data from the impact and additional sensory information provided by our high-resolution short-wave electronic scanning systems, I have concluded the 'Alien' vessels are composed of a highly resistant organic compound. I am still analysing the data, some close-up scans of the wreckage would be much appreciated" Ellie interjected.
"Not now, we still have half a dozen more to deal with. What's the situa-" The captain asked, being cut off as the two other tracers narrowly missed the second object which had apparently moved out of their trajectory with alarming speed.
"Naval Command on ELRS link right now." Ellie interrupted again.
"About damn time. Patch them through." The captain gestured to the communication station's projector to the left of this command console. "And ready those LRMs, Hornet ship killers, full readiness. Target the next two closest objects."
"Patching now, Captain". The AI replied.
"Eridonia's Hope. This is Naval Command, admiral Roland Augr speaking. I need a full situation report please, Captain." the admiral's face materialised on the holoform as his voice crackled over the communication line.
"The situation went to hell, Admiral. We've taken fire from unknown hostile aggressors. Our shields are down and we're in action. No casualties yet, but some backup would be very much appreciated". Captain Raiko replied, punching some commands into the console as the Eridonia's Hope's foredeck LRM bay engaged, blast covers retracting to expose the 24 individual torpedo bays. Within each, a Hornet-2 Anti-Captial Long Range Missile locked into position slightly below the opening, mechanical wirring and hissing sounding in the launch bay as the missiles prepared for ignition.
"Captain. Foredeck LRM is ready to fire." the AI reported.
"A moment, admiral." Marcus put his hand over the intercom momentarily. "Fire". He ordered as the foredeck of the Battlecruiser lit up, as twenty-four long range missiles left their bays in a staggered launch from left to right, across six rows of four launchers. Leaving long clouds of chemical propellant fumes behind them as they arced towards their intended targets, the trails slowly drifting apart as the battlercuiser engaged in combat manouvers.
"Birds are in the air. Tracking. Main battery reports ready to fire, captain." Ellie confirmed, as the 'green light' pulsed over the self-diagnostics display of the cruiser, upon each of her main battery emplacements, indicating firing readiness".
Hold for now. I don't see any more incoming blasts. Maybe they came to their senses". Marcus replied, before uncovering the intercom. "Admiral."
"Captain Marcus Raiko, you have orders directly from the highest authority, the board of admiralty and the President herself. You are to prevent these aggressors from entering Federal space, and you are to prevent them from leaving Sigma. You are hereby authorised to use extreme force to acomplish this. I am routing two Task Groups, callsigns Strider and Lancer, to your position. Support is on its way, but you are to fulfill this objective. Is that clear, Captain?" The admiral replied, his voice was uncharacteristicly stern.
Marcus paused for a moment. "Understood, Admiral." He replied, as the communication closed. "I think we stuck our foot in it now, gentlemen" he remarked as he placed the intercom back.
"Well, you heard the man. Let's show them a little bit of Terran 'Hospitality'."
To be Continued...