Prologue and Backstory.
On the far G-East fringes of the Aquarius Cluster, the remote system of Montes Ignis hangs under the mighty shadow of the north-eastern most outcropping of the Great Tempest Barrier Nebula. During the Radacri Wars of 4013 to 4040 A.D., Montes Ignis was the location of an Old Federal Navy remote monitoring outpost and a small garrison of the Old Federation's eastern Rapid Response Fleet; one of the first human military units to confront the alien advance into Aquarius.
After the fall of the UTN in 4040 A.D., Montes Ignis was abandoned as Aquarius plunged into what was known as the 'wasteworlds'. It was only when the loyalists of the TLA, dedicated to restoring the Old Federal Government after the war, re-discovered the remote system in circa ~ 4060 A.D., that the system was brought back under Terran control. As the TLA transitioned into the United Aquarian Systems, marking the beginning of the New Federal Era in 4299 A.D., Montes Ignis once again saw some development - its close proximity to the mineral-rich silicate fields of the outcroppings of the Tempest Barrier Nebula made it a suitable candidate for metallic element mining. As such, many private, UAS State-sponsored mining organisations made their bases in the system, remaining active well into the Imperial Era at the dawn of the 45th century.
Despite the heavy-handed approach of the Aquarian Terran Imperial States in bringing outer sectors under the control of the Imperial States, Montes Ignis enjoyed relatively autonomy until the middle of the 45th century, when the ATIS Council dispatched a compliance unit to bring Ignis under the control and authority of the Imperial States. Since 4459 A.D., Montes Ignis has been registered under the Imperial Flag and remains officially in ATIS Territorial Space. The previously state-funded private mining organisations transitioned relatively uneventfully into Imperial Authority in the passing cycles.
To increase rare element output from the mining installations in the system, the ATIS Council authorised a civic enhancement plan for the system in 4460 A.D., resulting in new initiatives being set by the ATIS Civil Development Commission in Tempest, such as upgraded and improved housing infrastructure for independent populations in the system. Initially, the Imperial Government promised high levels of autonomy for the system and to respect the freedom of its independent populations, yet provide all the benefits of an Imperial System; such as protection provided by INSD Task Forces.
In 4461 A.D., the Imperial Navy Tempest Sector Command (ATCOM) assigned an INSD Task Force consisting of a single Eel-class Frigate and a wing of Dragonfly deep space fighters operating from it, to protect the central civil station in the system and provide security against the well-known nomadic raiders and pirate cartels operating in the Tempest region. Due to the relatively well-established supply route passing through the system for the Joint VC/ATIS Expedition into the Tempest Far sector half a century before, Montes Ignis was also of relative strategic importance to the Tempest Sector Command.
Attacks on Ignis-1 Station Complex.
In the early cycle of 4464 A.D., the primary station complex in Montes Ignis, Ignis-1, detected unidentified signatures matching mass-readings for cruiser-sized vessels and smaller, on an intercept trajectory with the Station's orbit of the Ignis star. The signatures raised immediate alarm, being on a direct hypercruise intercept with communication silence and failed to respond to the station's hail requests for identification.
Considering the significant build-up of privateer/illegal organisations in Tempest after the Imperial Navy's earlier expeditions (likely garnering interest from criminal elements in the region looking to plunder established infrastructure), Ignis-1's sensor operators contacted the Station Master and the facility was immediately placed on high-alert. Communications on short-wave tight-beam active frequencies were pulsed to the Imperial Navy Sector Defence force stationed in the system, consisting of a single Eel-class Frigate with fighter support. Within moments, EL0471 was underway from a routine patrol and altered course to intercept the unidentified signatures.
Despite repeated hail requests from the Station Complex and EL0471, the unknown vessels maintained their course, refusing any form of communication. The INSD Frigate deployed its wing of DF430 Dragonflies and entered combat ready status. Communications on tight-beam were dispatched from the frigate with initial sensor data, to the INSD controller on Ignis-1, which broadcast FTL comms back to Tempest ATCOM requesting assistance be ready if required.
Shortly after, Tempest ATCOM replied confirming that a Light Carrier Task Force from the Tempest Sector Fleet's 1st Rapid Response Division was en-route to the neighbouring system of Tempest Delta, from the Imperial Navy Base in Tempest Tertius, ETA 2 hours LST. EL0471 was given orders to withdraw from Ignis-1 if faced with strong opposition, but advised to confront the assumed hostile ships directly - it was hoped that the presence of an Imperial Navy warship in the system (even if outnumbered and outgunned) would be sufficient to deter any direct attacks from the privateer groups who had previously seemed unwilling to make any direct moves in the region.
A final warning was given by EL0471 at 07:49 LST; a few moments before the first contact - identified as a pre-fall Farlease-class Light Cruiser, but lacking any known IFF or colour schemes, crossed the Station Complex's restriction zone. Two more Farlease-class warships passed the restriction zone at 07:58 LST, approximately two hundred kilometres behind the first. Anticipating hostile action, the captain of EL0471 ordered communication silence and general quarters.
By 08:00 LST, the three light cruisers and a third vessel, identified as a converted Vengeance-class hull, likely operating as a mobile base - lacking the vessel's primary A-type armament, instead featuring improvised B-type upgraded hardpoints, had entered within 100 kilometres of the Station Complex, and approximately fifty kilometres from EL0471 and its fighter wing, which made a sharp turn towards the attackers and ordered the Dragonflies to deploy anti-ship missiles in a fixed sweep ahead of the attackers to deter them from approaching anymore.
It became clear that the assailants intended to make contact with the Station Complex, so EL0471 turned away from the approach ships at the extremely close range of under 20 kilometres; well within visual range - however the attackers had yet to open fire on the Imperial warship, and citing orders from Tempest Command, the frigate began to withdraw while her captain assessed a contingency plan.
At 08:04 LST, EL0471's dragonflies made their first pass of the lead Farlease-class Light cruiser, deploying a dozen Hornet-M Anti-ship missiles, most of which struck the approaching warship's prow, flaring her CTM shields up brightly. The Dragonflies maintained formation and dusted the cruiser within a kilometre, which responded by returning fire with short-range C-type point defence weaponry. Reporting enemy fire, the Dragonfly wing commander ordered evasive manoeuvres as their own shields deflected incoming 25mm FIMD fire from the old warships. The first strike on the lead ship collapsed her shields shortly after, and the wing commander requested authorisation for a second pass from EL0471's fighter control - which was authorised as the frigate took up a defensive posture a few kilometres from the Ingis-1 station complex.
Circling around at 08:06 LST, the four Dragonflies made their second pass and two of the fighters jettisoned their final stores and headed back to the frigate, the other two broke off the formation and used the cover from the first salvo impact to cruise underneath the approaching warships; now within 50 kilometres to the station complex, and swing around to the rear. Targeting the heavier CCH-class hull was considered ineffective and it became clear that EL0471 would be outmatched if the cruisers turned their 345mm FIMD batteries towards her. A second communication was broadcast to Tempest Command requesting immediate assistance, but was partly jammed by a blanket EMP from the CCH-class warship - suggesting this was an organised attack.
Lacking a QEC transponder, EL0471 would have to wait as Tempest Command sent reinforcements - it would be clear from the first part of the broadcast that they were in trouble.
The first Farlease-class cruiser was forced to alter course after the missiles from the first two Dragonflies found their marks on her hull, detonating iwth penetrative hits along her prow and just before her dorsal/bow B-type hardpoint; apparently disabling the turret as the cruiser flared into Cruise and seemed to withdraw, but remained active. At 08:12 LST, the two other Farlease-class cruisers had entered extreme CQC range of the station complex and EL0471, and began to open fire with short-range salvoes from their 345mm Mass Driver turrets, several of which impacted on the frigate's shield, causing it to flare up brightly. A few rounds impacted on the Station Complex and disabled her long-range transmitters almost immediately, with several casualties on board already.
EL0471 returned fire in earnest with several pulses from her ventral B-type Heavy Laser Cannon; aiming to disrupt the targeting systems on the cruisers, however their shields negated most of the damage. The second fighter wing was ordered to disable the nearest cruiser's shield generator and propulsion to force the second out of cruise to avoid an impact. This order was carried out at 08:15 LST, with EMP mines detonating over the closest Farlease-class warship, collapsing her shield, along with two direct hits from Hornet-Ms on her drive stack. The plan worked, and the remaining operational Farlease and the CCH-class dropped from cruise and circled around to avoid the floundering vessel.
EL0471 began discharging its main battery again, targeting the stricken cruiser's electronic systems on her command tower, the forward sensor arrays and using the well-known targeting data for the Farlease-class, fired several high energy blasts into her ventral (belly) capacitor banks in an attempt to overload her powerplant; which worked, the vessel lost primary power and fell out of the battle seemingly disabled.
The first Cruiser had made a full circle, and despite taking heavy damage from the Dragonflies, had re-joined the other two warships as they approached the complex on impulse cruise. EL0471 was now receiving heavy direct fire from both light cruisers's B-type batteries with 345mm FIMD Armour Penetrating rounds impacting the frigate's bow section, penetrating the forward armour belt and causing damage to her lateral manoeuvring thrusters. Unable to turn quickly the frigate fired its cruise engine and made a slow turn under the approaching vessels using ECM mines deployed from the escorting fighter wing to cover its withdrawal and disrupt enemy electronic targeting systems; which worked and allowed the frigate to escape. However, she was hit with another 345mm AP round which penetrated her starboard drive nacelle and slowed the ship considerably, but by this time the attackers had turned their attention to the station complex which was merely a few kilometres within their range.
At 08:40 LST, EL0471 was several hundred kilometres clear of the complex, and out of visual range, but SDD analysis reported that the enemy vessels had apparently docked with the complex some time before, recording sensory data for transmission to the support vessels when they arrive. At 08:51 LST, the remaining vessels broke from the station and engaged hyper cruise on an exit trajectory into the Tempest Nebula. EL0471's long-range sensors detected that several mines had been deployed around the stricken Farlease-class cruiser, likely in an attempt to disable or destroy it, preventing capture. Since the attackers likely knew Imperial Navy reinforcements were en-route, they would have had little change to attempt a rescue.
Despite this, Dragonflies operating from the frigate successfully disabled a dozen or so anti-ship seeking mines near the stricken vessel with ECMs, allowing potential recovery of the vessel - likely an invaluable piece of intel on the identity of the attacking ships.
At 09:37 LST, Imperial Navy forces arrived in the system from the nearby Tempest Delta system. Tempest Sector Fleet's 1st Rapid Response Division, Task Force Delta arrived with a RV-class Fleet cruiser, two SP-class destroyers and a Hydra Pattern 2 light carrier. The Task Force made contact with the INSD unit and EL0471 shortly after.
||Continued in Part 2 (story)||