The Span Of Empire – Snippet 15
Vaughan captured Dannet’s orders. The battleship formation began to rotate, just as the individual ships rotated on their respective axes. It only took him a couple of second to catch on to why: to reduce the impact of the Ekhat lasers on the ships. He felt good about that realization for, maybe, half a second.
He sobered when he caught a message sent by Vercingetorix. One of their gun decks was open to space and sealed off, damaged by the collision with the last of the Ekhat ships that had attacked them inside the star. He suppressed a shudder, and hoped the crew had managed to evacuate safely. Another note was made; this time about the fact that between the battle off Valeron and this one, in two collisions two different Lexingtons had lost a gun deck, a full spine. Make sure that one gets to the design group.
The Welshman continued to watch and make notes as Dannet stood, hands behind her back, watching the view screen, head slightly tilted. He got the feeling she was waiting for something, but he couldn’t tell what.
“So,” Gabe Tully concluded, looking around at his jinau officers in the assault group, “we only have general guesses as to what the interior of that ship is going to look like. Fortunately, we don’t have specific objectives in mind. It’s just ram the ship, debark, create as much hell and destruction as we can, capture as many Ekhats and slaves as we can, and get out while the getting is good.”
Gabe saw First Sergeant Luff’s mouth quiver for just a moment, before he forced it into a straight line.
“Alpha Company will lead out,” Gabe continued, looking at Captain Sato Kobayashi, the Japanese-born company commander. “Sato, terminate every Ekhat you see in that space. They’re too dangerous to let get close to us while we’re trying to un-ship. If we can capture some elsewhere and drag them back to the ship, great. But any of them in the entry space needs to be turned into quivering little pieces of Ekhat meat. Anything that’s not Ekhat but is carrying a weapon also gets hammered. Got it?”
Kobayashi gave a sharp nod, and entered notes on his pad.
Gabe turned to Captain Torg krinnu ava Terra and 1st Lieutenant Richard Boatright, commanders of Companies Baker and Charlie respectively.
“Once the entry area is under control, you guys will debark. Each company will leave one fire team for entry space and ship security, under the command of Major Liang.”
Major Shan Liang, the executive officer of the assault group, looked up from where he was making notes of his own. “And where will you be, Colonel?”
“Probably with Alpha Company.”
Tully saw identical frowns appear on the faces of both the exec and the first sergeant. He held up a hand in a “stop” signal.
“Don’t start, guys. I’ve seen Ekhat in action; with the exception of Torg, none of you, no matter how experienced you are, can say that. You have no idea–you can’t know–just how insane and crazy it will be to face them.”
“I heard that from some of the troops who were with you at Valeron,” Luff said.
Tully shook his head. “And anything they told you just is nothing compared to the piss-your-pants feeling of seeing a giraffe-sized sort-of-praying mantis with too many arms and legs charging you like a racehorse with the intent desire of turning you into a smorgasbord of cold cuts and a stain on the deck.”
“What he said,” Captain Torg muttered.
“The best I can do to share the experience is for me to be with Alpha and First Sergeant Luff to be with Charlie; that’s the best I can do,” he repeated. The first sergeant’s frown disappeared at that. “And Shan,” Tully turned to the exec, “that leaves you holding the bag at the ship. If things go well, you’ll just be helping corral the specimens. If things go in the crapper, you’ll be the last-ditch defense of the Ban Chao. Don’t let me down.”
Major Liang’s face set in very determined lines. “You got it, Colonel.”
Tully looked at Luff. “What’s that old Marine motto you like to trot out, Top?”
“You mean ‘Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome’, sir?” Luff grinned.
“That’s the one.” Tully looked at his officers. “Guys, this isn’t going to be a set piece battle. Watch your sensors, watch the walls, watch your backs. Don’t trust anything. Drop communication links every time you change directions. Fall back if you have to. Yell for help if you need to. This is about breaking shit and grabbing prisoners, not about heroic last stands or forlorn hopes. Everybody clear on that?”
Tully stood. “Good. Now go prep your troops.”
Vaughan didn’t catch what it was that the fleet commander saw at that exact moment. He’d have to dig it out of the recordings later. But Dannet shifted to a different posture and said almost matter-of-factly, “All battleships, Fire Plan Alpha 3. All subordinate ships, seal the edges of the zone. No one escapes.”
And with those calm orders, the second phase of the battle for the system began.
Fire Plan Alpha 3 called for the battleships to all concentrate their lasers on the same ship. It took a bit of coordination, Vaughan noted. Dannet had to issue some rapid corrections to get the Arjuna to target the desired ship, but before long all the lasers from all four battleships were focused on one of the smaller Ekhat ships. Despite the attempts of the target to evade, the Jao/human laser crews kept the heavy beams from the battleships focused on the Ekhat ship as if they had been glued there. And in truth, a multi-thousand ton spaceship just doesn’t dance around like a third-grader playing dodge ball, so it wasn’t that hard.
It only took a few minutes for the heavy lasers to overload the defensive screens of the Ekhat ship, and it was rendered into an expanding cloud of navigational hazards.
A few minutes more saw the second of the lighter Ekhat vessels also destroyed.
Descant-at-the-Fourth staggered as the dissonance brought by the invaders resurged as the second of her ships disappeared in a flash of light. For just a moment, her voice wavered, and Second-Strong-Cadence and the other Ekhat lost their way altogether. In that moment, the harmony disappeared.
Kaln krinnu ava Krant stood by Krant-Captain Mallu, since the lasers were the weapons in use in this phase of the battle. She looked up suddenly, and found her eyes locked with his.
“The flow is free again,” she said. The captain nodded.
Kaln’s head twisted in an odd direction. She left the command deck without a word. Mallu let her go without comment. Her sense of flow was stronger than anyone else’s on the ship, and if she needed to be somewhere else, he trusted her.
Tully watched as his jinau troops, human and Jao alike, stepped into their shock frames. There was no way around the fact that the Ban Chao was going to take one monster of a hit when it rammed into its target, and the frames were designed to keep the troops from flying all around the deck when that happened. This was the first time they would be used in combat, though, and he really hoped they worked as well now as they did in the tests he’d seen.
“Hope those things work as advertised, Colonel,” First Sergeant Luff said as he stepped up beside him, faceplate to his combat suit standing open.
“You and me, both. But five-to-one Murphy shows up somewhere.”
“No takers, here, sir. My momma didn’t raise no fools.” The sergeant’s Jamaican accent got a little stronger. “But we’ll deal with that if we have to.”
“Feel free to ‘Improvise, Adapt and Overcome’ as necessary, Top,” Tully said with a grin.
“Will do, sir, will do.” He looked around. “Looks like we’d best get locked in place ourselves.”
“Yep.” Tully slapped the sergeant’s armored shoulder. “Lead the way. It’s Ekhat killing time.”
Not a few of the troops drew some comfort of the almost identical evil grins on the faces of the two men.