Murati and Shalikova soared toward the enemy fleet.
They had taken their tails. The fleet cruised past them while they climbed. As they rose to the level of one of the enemy Cruisers, Murati quickly sought out targets. They had to act fast.
Several vessels were packed tightly before them, with maybe half a vessel’s width between them, their formation five ships tall and maybe five ships wide around their dreadnoughts. It was incredible seeing the wakes of their jets, the bubbles from Union ordnance forming all across the mass. It was like gazing upon a structure, bristling with guns and occupied by dozens of enemy Divers. The Volkers were stationed farther up on the ship, as if they were additional gun turrets.
They were dwarfed as humans, but even as Divers they were swimming among giants.
Briefly, Murati made note of where her allies were. There were two Streloks armed with handheld cannons and two more with torpedo launchers, all of them following in her wake. Farther east there would be another squadron of six suits looking to crack the enemy fleet from the flank. To protect their squadron’s anti-ship combat power, Murati and Shalikova had to act quickly.
“Two ahead, then the two at six o clock. Watch out for gun turrets.”
Murati and Shalikova charged between the enemy ships and dove upon a Cruiser.
There was no steady footing. Due to all the shockwaves, the battlefield was vibrating, shifting, moving all around them. Both of them hovered a few centimeters off the actual hull. Overhead, enemy gas guns from the underside of a Destroyer were busy with incoming torpedoes. The two of them glided gently across the sloping deck of the Cruiser and thrust across from the center of the hull to the tapering, beak-like prow, upon which two Volkers stood guard.
Pressing one of her triggers for the first time, Murati engaged her weapons systems.
Her assault rifle targeting camera appearing on one of her screens.
She rapped the trigger.
Murati unleashed a burst of gunfire that tore into one of the Volker units. Supercavitating shells launched out of the barrel of her gun like lances cutting through the water ahead in their air bubbles. Three impacts on the Volker’s back penetrated the mechanisms of the hydrojet pack and detonated a few centimeters within the works, ejecting chunks of pumps, propellers and ducting.
Filling with water and bereft of thrust, her target lost its balance and tumbled over the edge.
Ensign Shalikova remained the swifter of the two pilots.
While Murati had slowed down to aim, Shalikova continued to accelerate.
Just as Murati’s target realized its own grisly fate, the remaining Volker on the prow turned halfway to meet them. At that moment, Shalikova crashed into the back of the unit.
One arm wedged her diamond cutter into the Volker she had bullrushed.
Her second arm raised the assault rifle toward a neighboring ship.
Ensign Shalikova opened fully automatic fire on the next pair of bewildered Divers.
There was no need for Divers to hold a gun the way humans did, lifting it to the shoulder to aim, but without being stabilized against a surface, such as the hip pack, it fired wildly. Dozens of bullets exploded into tiny vapor voids around the Divers, signs of failed impacts.
“Ensign! No fancy stuff, just aim at them!” Murati shouted.
Her cutter had sawed a hole between the hip intake and the backpack of her initial target, through which water would quickly fill the cockpit. There was no response from it — likely the diver was scrambling for survival equipment inside. Shalikova delivered a dismissive kick, sending it tumbling away, and grabbed hold of her assault rifle with both of her Strelok’s hands.
Noticing the attack, the alerted Volkers turned their weapons toward the Cruiser.
Assault rifle fire began to pepper the air around Shalikova. She returned fire briefly.
Then she stopped. Her rifle must have clicked empty. She scrambled to reload.
Murati shifted her attention. She charged toward the edge of the Cruiser and flew off toward the neighboring vessel, a Frigate. However, the enemy fleet had begun to awaken to the reality of their attack. One of the Frigate’s rotund gas gun turrets swung toward the incoming Diver.
Dozens of 20 mm bullets hurtled out of steaming hot double barrels. Lines of water displaced by the cavitation bubbles flew past Murati, like harpoons trying to spear a fish. Several bullets bounced off the cockpit’s sloped armor surfaces, failing to penetrate.
Murati was felt each impact like a jab to the chin. She quickly retaliated.
Even if she could damage no other part of this Frigate, one burst from her assault rifle tore between the two barrels of the gas gun like a bullet between the eyes on a human head and silenced the control mechanisms inside of it. Those barrels would steam no further in this fight.
From the Frigate’s prow, the pair of enemy Volkers rushed to meet her.
They were like two big white eggshells just begging for a crack.
Engaging her left hip thruster, Murati suddenly strafed the first bursts of gunfire.
In a second, she had circled around the Volkers as they charged pell-mell toward her.
From this angle she could have hit anything, but the surest kill was the hydrojet pack.
Without thrust, they were just lumps of metal and could not hope to function in battle.
Murati squeezed off a fully automatic burst, two-handed, braced against her hip.
She had far greater control of her fire than Ensign Shalikova had exhibited.
Dozens of rounds chewed up the jets on the backs of the Volkers.
Struck mid-charge they tumbled out of control and quickly rolled off the ship.
They could have kept shooting. Their momentum was lost nearly immediately and the fall out of Murati’s sight was slow enough for them to take a few chances. But the reason a thruster hit was so deadly, was that most pilot’s self-preservation would kick in at that point.
No one was going to keep fighting with shredded thrusters.
Inside those Volkers they were probably frantic, rooting around for survival equipment.
As such, they dropped out of sight like corpses, arms spread out, weapons abandoned.
“Lieutenant! Up above!”
Overhead, gas guns from the bottom of the Destroyer sprayed the deck Murati stood on.
Hundreds of bullets rained down all around her.
A chunk of her shoulder pod armor blew off, damaging the jet anchor inside.
She barely applied thrust for an escape before a response came from the deck of the Cruiser.
Ensign Shalikova turned her weapon on several of the emplacements and loosed dozens of rounds from her assault rifle on the underside of the Destroyer. Lines of displaced water slashed across the Destroyer’s keel, littering three separate recessed gun emplacements with holes.
Metal ejected violently from below the Destroyer.
Perfect magazine detonations crippled each of the guns in a shockingly brilliant display.
“I owe you one, Ensign!” Murati shouted.
Luckily, the jet anchor pod was the only casualty. No water was getting in.
Hydrodynamic loss was palpable, as there was now a hole and the flailing guts of a weapon system on her shoulder that were disturbing the flow of water around her as she moved. There was no loss of raw thrust, so she was still able to fight. Murati sighed with relief after a quick diagnostic.
It had been barely minutes since they thrust up the tails of the enemy fleet.
To Murati, every exchange of gunfire felt like a slugging match that went to several rounds, despite it flashing before her eyes in seconds. Everything was moving at a bizarre rate. She barely took notice of her ragged breathing, the sweat dripping down her forehead, her pounding heart.
“Lieutenant, more are coming.”
Ensign Shalikova swung around to intercept a pair of Volkers rising to meet them.
A pair of rifles turned on them.
Murati liked her chances. If it was just these piecemeal attacks, they could hold it off.
Volkers were the same generation of suit as a Strelok but had seen no upgrade packages to match the continued refinements that the Union had made to their own standard suits. Harkening back to their lineage as worker suits, they had bulbous, bathyspheric central bodies, heads that looked like flattened hard hats with a single, glowing red sensor in between, and thick arms with three chunky fingers. Their intakes stuck out of the side much more obviously than a Strelok’s while the backpack jets stuck out farther outside of the body shape than on a Strelok, and their rifles were larger and much more unwieldy, designed to be operated by their fewer, fatter digits.
The Southern Border Fleet’s Diver liveries were standard, factory spec stark white.
In most respects, the Volker would have been a respectable bit of engineering.
All Imperial craft had that curved, well-crafted aesthetic, and the Empire’s advanced manufacturing techniques and access to better quality raw materials allowed them to make suits that at least in appearance if not performance, appeared better machined, better put together than Union suits. But the performance was not there. For around the same weight as a Strelok, every piece of weight on a Volker felt distributed wrong, and overall performance was just a touch worse.
As such, when the Volkers flew over the prows upon which Murati and Shalikova were perched, they did not have the crucial first shot on the Union divers. Their approach had been just a few knots too slow, and the mass of bubbles kicked up by their too-detached thrusters preceded them. Shalikova engaged her own thrusters, threw herself to the side of where the Volkers expected her to be. When they came upon the Cruiser’s prow, she easily raised her assault rifle to meet them.
Shalikova did not even have to shoot.
From above and behind them, cannons delivered two rounds that exploded mercilessly between the enemy divers. When the pressure bubbles formed, they expanded and contracted against the flanks of the suits, ripping off arms and shearing the flanks of the Volkers. A cloud of blood followed in the wake the sinking suits; the pilots clearly struck down amid the carnage.
“Units 04 and 08 here, Lieutenant! We’re ready to assist.”
Both of their cannon-armed compatriots landed on the deck of the Cruiser with the Ensign.
Murati nodded, though it was unlikely any of their video feeds would pick it up.
“Are we ready then?” She asked.
“Just watch the fireworks!”
The pair of cannon-armed Divers turned to face the center of the enemy formation.
Murati heard a rushing sound as their Diver-launched torpedoes sped past them.
With the path cleared, they cut through to the center of the formation.
Ahead, there was a brief and muted flicker from an enormous detonation.
Two torpedoes struck the starboard hull of an Imperial dreadnought deep within the fleet.
Even with modern algorithmic detection there was no way to respond to a torpedo fired from such a close range. The Dreadnought didn’t even know it had been targeted until it was too late. A pair of massive holes formed in the side of the dreadnought. Newer ships and especially newer Dreadnoughts had redundant systems, temporary sealant defenses against hull breaches, auxiliary ballast, and all manner of ways to survive this sort of savage pummeling.
An old Koenig class Dreadnought would have had none of those mechanisms. Other than its thicker armor, it would have had no defense. And no armor could protect against a close-in hit from a 120 mm torpedo. Especially not the basic pressurized steel armor of an old Koenig class. Primary ballast was utterly destroyed, and the second hit had punched a hole through to the reactor room, which would begin flooding. Soon the dreadnought started to list amid the fleet.
According to plan, the Imperial fleet detachment began to panic.
With one of their prized Dreadnoughts suddenly crashing through the fleet, ships began to spread out and disperse. A frigate that could not escape the warpath of the rapidly sinking capital ship was pounded by it, lost buoyancy and began to sink alongside. Several Divers were knocked about by the explosions and the subsequent crashing of ships that followed. Those ships that could move began to swiftly abandon the tight, protective ball that the fleet had organized.
Murati’s Divers took to the water and thrust out of the enemy’s formation.
They had done their part of this phase of the plan.
Now that an opportunity had been created, the Union barrage viciously intensified.
Coilgun shells fired off like never before, and fresh volleys of torpedoes swung toward ships tearing away from the Imperial formation. A Cruiser, abandoned by the protective gunfire of the dozens of emplacements carried by its escorting Frigates, took a direct torpedo to the prow. Forward ballast emptied out into the ocean, and it quickly tipped and sunk at a full ninety-degree angle. Imperial Cutters dropped like flies as Union coilgunners scored direct, penetrating hits.
The Union fleet advanced to within 400 and then 300 meters prow-between-prow.
This was essentially “chase” range. The Imperial Fleet was no longer coherent.
Stray gunfire met the Union approach, but bereft of direction, the Imperials were doomed.
Within minutes, ship after ship became casualties. A remaining Imperial Dreadnought took two holes to the upper port hull as it limped away. It was lucky that none of the ballast was hit, and the coilguns were not as powerful as torpedoes. Amid the barrage the third of the prized capital ships lost its entire conning tower to a torpedo blast and ran away deaf, dumb and blind. Much more gruesome fates met the Frigates, which were both older and less armored than any other ship. These practically split in half by the barrage and disgorged their crews out into the ocean.
Four Union vessels took serious damage. The Empire lost 23 ships in a 30-minute battle.