“Coilgun shell penetrated UNV-024! Crew has sealed it off, taking emergency measures!”
“Order them to lay off the engines! Slide toward the rear of the formation! Bozhe…”
“Torpedo successfully interdicted by UNV-027, Comrade Brown!”
“What do you want me to do, clap? Tell them to keep shooting!”
“UNV-065 requesting to move rearward as they reload!”
“Granted. What do they expect, to stay in front with no bullets?”
“UNV-065 has Divers out sir! They are afraid of moving back–”
“So is everyone else! They can dive their way to the back with UNV-065 if needed!”
In the command pod of the Formidable, there was a generalized cacophony. All fleet communications ended up in the Formidable, which meant that in the middle of battle, the five girls handling the dreadnought’s laser and acoustic messaging ended up shouting at Admiral Deshnov who would shout back at them. For a gentleman of his age he was moving no less swiftly in the middle of battle. While shouting commands, he and his Chief Officer quickly went over the live battle data on one of the hanging minicomputers around the Admiral’s chair.
Barely minutes had passed since the barrage had started and the battle was already red-hot. Union forces had struck the first blow by downing an Imperial Cutter, but that had been a mistake. That torpedo was meant to strike at one of the Destroyers, thereby opening up a hole in the enemy’s interdiction coverage and forcing them to move ships around to retain the same spread of fire around their formation. Instead a Cutter had been hit, which meant little in the overall battle.
Deshnov was more than a bit concerned. This was an intense barrage, even in the command pod of the Formidable he could feel slight vibrations from outside. His own barrage felt poorly practiced. Coilgunners were shooting shells off into the wild blue prizing saturation over accuracy, and torpedo officers could not tell one profile from the next. Even with the computers, it was, in his own internal words, a bit of a shit-show. He recalled the great gallantry and deadliness of the gunnery officers serving alongside him in the Revolution. His current crew, quickly assembled out of veteran skeleton crews supplemented with Thassal Station citizens, was not up to snuff.
However, despite the intensity of their fire, his enemy was far and away worse. Compared to the Imperial Southern Border Fleet, it was difficult to tell which ones were the runaway slaves and undisciplined brigands, and which ones were the high and mighty royal navy. Boasting an amorphous formation and a scattered barrage, they seemed almost like they were trying to buy time more than actually win. As they began to slow down near the 500 meter “prow between prow” range, where fleet actions became grinding slugfests, it was a wonder whether they had scopes installed, or any rangefinding. Blasts went off all around the Union fleet, rocking the water, shaking people up. And yet maybe 1/10th of the gunfire actually did any damage to the Union.
Then there was the Diver action–
Deshnov knew a little about Diver tactics. In his glory days they were an ambush weapon, improvised. Using mining tools, hurling quarry explosives, hiding in caves and trenches until an enemy showed up. They were deadly effective and rarely ever shot down: most casualties came down to mechanical failures (horrific ones, in the middle of the water). Nowadays, there was all this talk about whether they should add firepower or just sit in the middle of fleets to defend them.
The Imperials opted for the latter. Hardly a single Volker was seen to move in for assault.
Deshnov admitted a certain fondness for Murati’s proposed strategy.
It harkened back to what he knew Divers could do: run up under a ship and go berserk.
“Sir, computer simulations predict the ‘Ahead’ team of Divers will soon begin their attack.”
“Keep your scopes peeled for them. We don’t want to hit them.”
Because they would be attacking from the back, that was not so much a worry.
But everyone looked to the Fleet Admiral to say something.
It was truly too bad that all he wanted to say was to that girl fighting out there.
Murati Nakara. Daughter of a pair of solceanists. Was she religious at all?
Everything happened so long ago. And yet he couldn’t shake himself from the belief that it was because of him that she was out there fighting. Had he been stronger– had they, all the old guard, been stronger. Could the Union’s children be living in peace and plenty, instead of fighting to protect the barest sliver of their existence under the cold, uncaring depths of Nectaris?
“Can’t do more than apologize. Too late for more.”
He mumbled this, staring at the computer simulation of the attack.
His Chief Officer noticed him saying something and began to ask–
Deshnov interjected with a smile. “Don’t mind me. Not saying anything meaningful.”
There was a loud, audible gasp.
One of the overeager communications girls had seen something incredible.
“Sir, Imperial Dreadnought IRN-007 Dreizen is sinking!”
An additional monitor came down from a slot in the ceiling, and the whole crew raised their heads. Grainy video footage was run through filter after filter before their eyes to try to clean up the image. Soon it was possible to see the computer-outlined silhouette of the Imperial Dreizen, a massive ship with a beak-like prow and a rearward sloping design that ended in adjustable winglets covering the massive hydrojets powering the craft. It was like a work of art.
And that work of art listed precipitously down the middle of the enemy fleet.
“They’ve gotten started then.” Deshnov said, sighing deeply.