Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Task Force Dominant arrived in Old Bastion's Star, transitioning through an Inter-solar subspace vector endpoint located in far orbit of the ice world of Bastion, approximately 200,000 kilometres from the planet at 01:41 Local System Time. Dominant followed shortly after Task Force Excalibur, which transitioned through subspace to a position some ~50,000 kilometres from the Ice giant world, 'Vanguard's Oath'. at 01:39 LST. The Imperial Navy Commanding officer of Operation Ultima, Rear Admiral Ahlbor Jernik, captain of the brand new EDX (Pattern X) class battlecruiser Fire of Eridonia, took personal command of the attack, ordering Task Force Excalibur lead by the ED (Pattern 7) class battlecruiser Vendicativa, heading up a dozen cruisers and destroyers, to engage hyper-cruise and enter weapons range of the Eridonia Free Peoples' Fleet's Honeywell-class outpost orbiting 'Vanguard's Oath', with orders to fire for effect on the installation and any nearby starships.
Task Force Excalibur entered hyper cruise at 01:46 LST, arriving at the Vanguard Outpost within a few minutes. During this time, Task Force Dominant also entered Hypercruise and began to rapidly approach Bastion. Admiral Jernik's approach would be to use a fast strike of fast cruisers to break up any rebel fleets stationed over the world, allowing the pair of battlecruisers attached to the Task Force, including the RE-II-class Meridian, to use their long-range firepower to neutralise larger ships with relative impunity.
Jernik's cruisers consisted of two formations; a trio of the Imperial Navy's fast RV-class cruiser accompanied by a single Missile cruiser of the RV2M class, and a trio of new SP2-class destroyers acting as a forward screen. Lead ship of the destroyer formation, SP2-002, made contact with the EPF's defence fleet at approximately 02:35 LST, and dispatched communications to the heavier battlecruisers that the engagement had begun. The three SP2-class destroyers dropped out of hypercruise approximately 5000 kilometres from an EFPF staging area in geostationary orbit over Bastion, immediately alerting the rebel ships to their presence on both long range and short-range MLADAR scopes. Due to the situation, the EPF defenders were caught completely by surprise; the defence force over Bastion consisted of the recently captured turn-coat dreadnought Nobilis Historia, which had hoisted the EFPF flag and was renamed Caroline Anne Webb after the legendary Old Federal admiral. She was accompanied by the ancient Endeavour-class battlecruiser Eridonia's Hope, along with a quartet of frigates and the support ship Imervim.
Rapidly approaching at Impulse Cruise, Admiral Jernik seized the opportunity and capitalised on the element of surprise; ordering the three SP2-class Fleet Destroyers to deploy several salvos of Viper-L Anti-ship missiles from their twin launchers, using the advanced long-range tracking systems on the SP2's updated Fire Control System. Targets were set on the Eridonia's Hope and her escorting frigates, along with the staging platform itself; however Caroline Anne Webb and Imervim were spared the opening salvo under orders from Admiral Jernik himself. At approximately 02:49 LST, Eridonia's Hope was hit by two Viper-L Anti-Ship missiles along her prow, flaring up her forward CTM shields violently. About two dozen Viper-L missiles were intercepted by Hope's PDS system employing Clusterfire CIWS emplacements, which proved effective.
However, two of the four escorting Hammerhead-class frigates were disabled by two Viper-L missile impacts each, launched in tandem to disable shielding and impact the hull. Bellowing out flames and debris, the two stricken frigates were out of the battle before they even had a chance to return fire. By 02:50 LST, the rebels had identified the threat and began desperately getting the remaining warships underway to respond; Eridonia's Hope's crew got the ship underway at 02:51 LST and she began to enter a defensive holding pattern to confront the approaching destroyers. Caroline Anne Webb's communication system fell silent moments after she herself had gotten underway under the command of then-captain Amiori Kociero. However, unbeknownst to the rebels, Ronin's daughter would silence the dreadnought's guns, preventing her from being used to defend Bastion.
With Eridonia's Hope under way along with the two remaining frigates, Captain Ronin Kociero, who had transferred to the Hope's bridge after the loss of Pathfinder the year before in the Battle of Corona, ordered the remaining ships to fall back to the planet in a defensive move while a desperate distress signal was dispatched to the nearby system of Hook's Gate; where the EPFP's remaining Vengeance-class cruisers from the Battle of Corona were stationed. However, the signal was intercepted and jammed by the electronic warfare systems of the imperial fleet operating in Bastion. Even if the signal had escaped, little did the rebels over Bastion know that Hook's Gate had also been besieged by an Imperial fleet and was in no position to render assistance.
While Hope slipped away from the staging point under medium-range fire from the Imperial destroyer's lance batteries, her own main battery swivelled into position and began firing blindly into space based on loose co-ordinates provided by triangulating incoming laser fire; with very little accuracy. Imperial SP2-class electronic warfare systems had proven incredibly effective at preventing rapid detection, and as such, the mighty Battlecruiser's main guns had no 'eyes' to direct their salvos.
Unable to return fire, the remaining pair of frigates alongside the Hope desperately deployed countermeasure flares in an attempt to disrupt the Imperials' own targeting systems, with limited effectiveness. At approximately 3:01 LST, Admiral Jernik ordered the destroyers to break off their attack and circle round to the now-abandoned rebel staging platform to link up with the fast cruisers deployed earlier. Ronin Kociero, taking command of Eridonia's Hope knew all too well this slight break in the attack was the calm before the storm; Imperial capital ships were likely fast approaching the world. With no other option, the Captain turned the old Battlecruiser to her broadside and ordered the surviving frigates to head planetside and begin evacuating as many civilians as possible. Knowing full well this would likely be a last stand, the Sempiternalis captain prepared the Hope's crew for the ultimate duty to their people and the old Endeavour-class battlecruiser levelled out, full broadside approximately 3:06 LST, with her seven, triple-barrel 840mm FIMD cannons facing towards the approaching imperial fleet. Moments later, Endeavour's long-range SDD scope picked up high-mass signatures, supported by data from planet-based early warning systems. The signatures were consistent with capital-class warships with a significant escort.
Still unable to triangulate their precise location, and without forward sensor units to 'paint' targets, the Hope's battery remained silent as Captain Kociero made preparations to buy enough time for the frigates to evacuate as many people from the world as possible. Several local minutes passed, still with no sign of incoming fire from the Imperial Fleet; Hope's long-range SDD scope pegged the two battlecruisers, Fire of Eridonia, and Meridian at approximately 6000 kilometres - well within their weapons range - yet they did not open fire.
Admiral Jernik ordered Task Force Dominant to regroup, as the two capital ships and their carriers linked up with the fast cruisers and destroyers at the abandoned rebel staging platform. Fire of Eridonia received direct communication from Task Force Excalibur that the rebel cruisers over Vanguard's Oath had been neutralised, but a single vessel had slipped away from the Imperial Navy's net and conducted an in-system subspace jump to Bastion - the EPF light cruiser Winter Blossom had survived the attack at Vanguard's Oath and was desperately returning to Bastion in a last-dich attempt to mount a defence.
Imperial Angel Sector Naval Command gave Admiral Jernik and his Task Force specific orders to neutralise the rebel warships in orbit, and launch precision strikes on surface-based military installations and supply bases in order to completely cripple the EPF's fighting capability. A specific order was given by the admiralty to not engage the civilian installations on the surface; an order which Jernik took as an insult to his 'pride'; the chance had presented itself to rid Aquarius of the dissidents, entirely, once and for all. After exchanging requests with the Admiralty, who ordered him to stand-down, Admiral Jernik disobeyed direct orders from the Angel Sector Naval Command of the Imperial Navy and ordered Task Force Dominant to begin a direct attack on Bastion - civilian infrastructure was not to be spared.
Amiori Kociero had done her part in the deal she had brokered with the Director the year before. She sat upon the command deck of the Nobilis Historia, once a ship under her command, and she felt a sense of duty had been completed. But she couldn't help but feel that the means used to achieve that duty were immoral. Regardless, she had locked herself in the command deck of the dreadnought after detaining her impromptu EPF bridge crew single-handedly by surprise. Seeing the Imperial fleet hold their fire moments before had reassured her that, indeed, the Director had kept his side of the deal... That was, until the first SPARTAN-E missiles found their marks on Bastion.
It's not something you get used to, even someone as chronologically 'old' as Amiori. She had seen her fair share of death and destruction, hell, she had lived through the Radacri Wars. Yet the hair on the back of her neck stood and shivers ran down her spine for each and every thermobaric mushroom cloud that blossomed over the ice-world's surface, engulfing cities and bases alike in a firestorm of unescapable destruction. Thoughts rushed through her mind, anger, hatred... sorrow, as she watched tens of thousands of innocent lives evaporate before her. She frantically tried to re-activate the Historia's weapon systems in a vengeance-fuelled bid to defend the world from the Imperial fleet, yet the systems remained unresponsive; locked externally after she opened the connection to the Red Sector from within - her part of the deal had been done, but she had been betrayed.
And in the process, she had betrayed her father, everything he fought for. In a moment, she had been used as a tool, a pawn, to wipe out innocent lives.
Eridonia's Hope narrowly avoided the first salvo of orbit-to-surface warheads, instead weaving between the cruising trails desperately trying to shoot down the payloads, with very little success. Ronin Kociero could do little more than stand and watch everything he had fought to build and protect be wiped away in a thermobaric apocalypse; yet the Old Man remained silent, his cold, emotionless expression didn't change as Eridonia's Hope's shields flared up; proximity impact and shield collapse alarms sounded across the command deck as the old warship shuddered violently, almost knocking the Old Man to the deck. Steadying himself, Ronin weighed up his options. Every moment that passed, another violent shudder as the Hope's armour plates were shredded by Anti-ship missile impacts.
Taking manual control of the old warship's fire control system, Ronin moved the control column - the command deck's Heads Up Display produced a small targeting reticule which tracked his movement, followed shortly by the mighty mechanical whirring of the actuators on her main battery rotating into position as impacts sent superheated debris into space around them. Foredeck battery A was hit moments later; the entire turret complex broke from the battlecruiser's deck and exploded into space in a mighty plume of twisted metal and explosive discharge. Foredeck Battery B remained intact long enough to swivel into position sufficiently to engage the manual fire control system: Ronin squinted slightly, he longed for Pathfinder, but this old war horse would have to do.
Hope's drives were offline, her shields down, she was almost breaking up under constant long-range fire from the Imperial Fleet some 7000 kilometres away by this point. There was no way to swing the warship around and use her main gun; in her fast retreat from the staging platform she had spun around so her stern was facing the enemy, and only managed to reach broadside before succumbing to a mobility kill. Ronin knew she was a sitting duck, only matter of time before the Imperial fleet finished her off for good. He wasn't scared of death, in fact; he welcomed it. If anything, it would be a relief to finally be set free from this never-ending war of life and death, freedom and oppression. What better way to go, than firing the dying shots of the very warship that started it all some four hundred cycles prior? Poetic, he thought.
The Old man squeezed the trigger as the reticule passed over his 'eyeballed' target, moments later the enormous flash of FIMD batteries discharging erupted from foredeck turret B; sending the Eridonia's Hope's final act of defiance towards unstoppable odds.
Amiori Kociero watched has the Hope was hit repeatedly; the old warship was stricken, trailing smoke, fire and debris, slipping ever closer to the planet of Bastion. She knew it was over, her Father's freedom fighters had lost the war, and they had paid a dear price for it. Before she could think about what to do next, the Historia's comms interface lit up; the holographic display manifested an apparition before the console in a very distinctive form.
"YOU BETRAYED US!" Amiori screamed, tears filling her eyes as she violently stood from the Historia's command chair. "YOU SAID YOU WOULD SPARE THEM!"
The Director's 'eye' gazed into hers for a moment, as if it was thinking deeply.
"I thought..." Amiori said, dropping to her knees in tears. "I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought YOU were right, I thought I saw the truth." She said, looking up to the holographic form of the Director; tears running down her face.
"Now I will watch my Father die, and I will watch his legacy die, and I will watch all those innocent lives be taken, and because of what?" She said, sobbing, looking back to the hologram after momentarily wiping her eyes. "You're just like them. You're just another criminal, no better than pirates. Fuck You", she spat on the floor before the hologram.
Still, the Director remained silent. Instead, the 'eye' moved back to the Historia's observation deck, observing the approaching Imperial Fleet; cruise-trails of long-range missiles gracefully arcing towards the planet and the stricken Eridonia's Hope above it.
Admiral Jernik had refused multiple orders from the Angel Sector Fleet Command; which had already ordered the entire Task Force Dominant to stand down immediately. Refusing to comply with direct orders, the Angel Sector Fleet dispatched elements of the 1st Core Fleet's Rapid Response force to bring the rogue admiral back under control. However, before they could arrive, subspace ruptures manifested around Task Force Dominant; proximity alarms sounded on the Imperial Ships but the resultant emergence didn't prompt defensive action. No, the emerging ships declared Imperial IFF, but they were not Imperial Navy. They were Red Sector.
A dozen autonomous combat vessels of the Red Sector Fleet began to surround the rogue Admiral's flagship. Fire of Eridonia received direct orders from the newly arrived warships to stand down immediately. Upon their arrival, Admiral Jernik had realised that this matter transcended mere tactical or strategic importance; no, it was far greater than that. Red Sector ships meant this came from the top. Realising the severity, Jernik ordered Task Force Dominant to stand down and began to co-operate with the autonomous ships; who had already assumed remote command of the Fire of Eridonia and her escort. Moments later, Admiral Jernik was apprehended by his own Crimson Marine guard and arrested for High Treason; the worst possible offence in Imperial Aquarius.
The Director's hologram disappeared moments after it returned its gaze to Amiori; who had stood up and composed herself somewhat, returning the hologram's gaze momentarily with a look of pure hatred and disgust. The holographic display on the Historia's command deck was instead replaced with a direct video feed from the bridge of the Fire of Eridonia, as Admiral Ahlbor Jernik was relieved of his command and arrested; walked from the command deck to what was likely his final moments alive.
Amiori didn't say anything. She didn't need to. Instead, she thought about what she had just seen, shaking her head in disbelief as the video feed transformed back into the Director's holographic 'eye'.
"They cannot be trusted with freedom, Amiori Kociero." The Director's synthetic voice crackled over the intercom, as the eye scrutinised the woman standing before it. "I do this for them. To protect them. You have seen what this so-called 'freedom' does, what it brings. You know the only viable path that lies before us, Amiori Kociero, daughter of Ronin Kociero."
"You knew." She said bluntly, wiping tears from her face for the last time as she clutched her sidearm in her waist holster with one hand.
"Sometimes a sacrifice is required to open one's eyes". The Director's voice replied, as the holographic Eye turned to face the bulkhead to the command deck; moments later it receded with a mechanical whirr as a heavily armed squad of Imperial Crimson Marines marched onto the deck, levelling their weapons at the woman standing before the intercom.
Amiori instinctively drew her sidearm and turned to face the marines; levelling her weapon. "So that's it, is it? This is where it ends now?" She said, clutching the grip tightly.
"That is your choice alone, Amiori Kociero."
Continued in Part 3.