Author Topic: The Hokum - Chapter 7.5  (Read 320 times)

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Offline Zume (OP)

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The Hokum - Chapter 7.5
« on: January 10, 2024, 07:35:34 PM »
With the advance of the Terpla’ns and their allies deeper into Axis space the ISN, with the approval of Emperor Valsur, recalled two-thirds of the Expeditionary Fleet in Tire Iron back to the Whel system. The remaining third had been refitted with the latest equipment, keeping company the bases and automated weapons guarding the Tire Iron/Bedrock warp point. The rest of the ships are slated to be refitted in Whel, and from there will be divided between Lord Admiral Jocelin’s Frontier Fleet and Segment Admiral Calixto’s Strike Fleet.

On board her flagship Watch Tower Lord Admiral Janus was in her ready room, located next to the combat information center, going over a report with Commander Aulus, an intelligence officer. Janus’ senior staff stayed in Tire Iron to assist the new commander of the Expeditionary Fleet, Segment Admiral Ush. Having been a junior officer of Janus’ staff since the capture of Crimson Expanse, Aulus had a good read on Janus and offered a concise opinion. “In combination with the other reports from the Terpla’ns, the Presidio believes the Commonwealth is taking a pause in their various routes of advance. They had admitted to heavy losses in securing the Gymnasium system, as well as the extended logistical routes and the need to reinforce the defenses of the Kerama Retto system.”

“They still had no luck in securing a more informative database from the two incursions the Axis made in that system,” Janus observed. “Blue giants have been known to host a good number of warp points. Unfortunately, the previous incursions at Kerama Retto have been from closed warp points. The Terpla’ns must invest more in the way of mobile forces to blunt any more incursions.”

“Speaking of incursions, Admiral, we’ll be entering the Crimson Expanse system tomorrow morning. Will we pick up personnel slated for return to the Imperium?”

“Yes. In my orders we’re picking up Region General Ronon. Together we’ll be heading to the capital after our ships are docked at Whel. The Emperor decided that the Co-Belligerent relationship that existed between the Commonwealth and the Imperium must be formalized into a proper military cooperation treaty. Ronon and I will assist in drafting the treaty as well as become members of the Joint Allied Coordination Council.”

“The Emperor values your opinion and experience, Admiral.” Aulus brought up a warp point map on Janus’ desk display. “The raider group operating behind our lines is continuing to pose a problem for us. Depending on how well stocked they are in mine-clearing munitions, as well as supplies, they could further disrupt shipping routes. Not only for us, but for our Terpla’n allies in the Blood Pride system.”

“Our allies have been informed about that group, Commander. The Ampere warp points have been mined. As for us, Com-2 and Com-3 have been mined, as well as Com-8, 9, 10, Stone Wash and Com-12.” Janus pointed to the mentioned system icons on her desk display. “I have advised the Presidio that the mining effort be extended to Redwire, Com-16 and Com-7. Afterwards, all the other systems involved will be mined to the extent that will force the raider group to ration their mine clearance munitions and EDMs. The result is that they must move all their ships into a selected depleted minefield patch to clear it. Hopefully that will mean they will incur damage past their shields, either depleting their supplies or forgoing repairs. I have strongly suggested that 20% of all the mines be of the antimatter kind, further exasperating the raider group’s problems.”

“That will require the construction of thousands of additional mine patterns, Admiral. All new ship construction will have to be suspended for months to enact that plan.”

“Something that Emperor Valsur is aware of, Commander. The minefields in Tire Iron, Laser Burn, and Crimson Expanse will be drawn down to facilitate the plan. If anything, it will make the task element assigned to hunt them down easier. All other forces involved in the search are being routed to Jocelin and Calixto. A feint into any Com Pocket system will result in all the warp points connecting to the system of origin to be mined more extensively.” Janus chuckled. “Any fears of a Bonehead suicide charge towards Whel or even Blood Pride for that matter will come to naught. I received a message from the Presidio earlier this morning. It contained some interesting news from our allies.”

The display of the Com Pocket warp lines was replaced with that of one that originated in Metalstorm, linking to Abyssal-019, BRB-1 and ending in Solid State. “As you recall, an Axis task group that entered Solid State several months ago decided to retreat into BRB-1. Since reclaiming this warp chain, the Terpla’ns have been trying to locate that task group and its support ships. Six weeks ago, they found them in Abyssal-019.”

“A difficult enough task in any system, and even more so in a starless nexus. How did they manage it?”

“Luck played its part, Aulus. Also, our allies used a random number generator that included historical dates in Comensal history to come up with locations. So equipped, they found the ships five light hours from the 019/BRB-1warp point. There was no combat, however, as the ships were abandoned.” The incredulous look on Aulus’ face made Janus raise her left back hand. “It’s an out of the blue occurrence, but it’s true. They could’ve gone back into Metalstorm and die in a blaze of glory. Instead, they went to a predetermined point in a starless nexus where the crews simply left their ships.” Janus pushed a datapad towards Aulus. “Take it. I’ve given you clearance to read the report. I’d expect to hear your observations tomorrow at the morning officer’s mess.”

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The Sloop-class scout, Kettle Horn, approached the inert formation of Axis ships after spending an hour circling at the range of 12 light-seconds. There were no active sensors probing the little ship, and no replies to the calls made on common Axis frequencies. Closer in, the types of ships were defined. It matched the report by the Hokum months earlier: three fleet carriers, six light carriers, two small carriers, a pair of battlecruiser hulls, five heavy cruiser hulls, three light cruisers, and twelve destroyer hulls. There were support ships as well; six dreadnaught-hulled freighters, six CA-sized freighters, four destroyer-sized freighters, two battlecruiser-sized and two light cruiser-sized repairs ships. They had retreated from Solid State, and the search had focused on BRB-1, Ampere and Abyssal-019. Now that search was over.

With shields down it was easy for the scout to probe the ships. No life signs, no power, and all the external airlock hatches and shuttle bay doors were open to space. Kettle Horn’s captain sent over his marine contingent, 20 strong, over to one of the fleet carriers. Using a pair of airlocks, the suited marines made their way to the hanger decks along the utterly deserted passageways. They noted how all the hatches were manually locked in the open position, and that no loose material was floating in the zero-g environment. Once in the hanger spaces they found the fighters situated on their launch cradles, sans external armament. Next came the magazine spaces where particular care was taken to detect traps. What they found was that the magazines had jettisoned some of their ordnance at some point, for the disposal chutes were still open.

Control spaces, such as the bridge, engineering, damage control, life support and flight ops were inspected next. Again, empty, and the crew mess decks and quarters were devoid of any signs of haste. In all it appeared that the crew cleaned and attended to the interior of the ship as if an inspection was scheduled. Even the cargo holds and food lockers were prepped so that storage box contents were protected from the vacuum of space.
 
All signs pointed to the ship being mothballed in situ. In the normal manner, however, all consumables, munitions and other equipment would’ve been removed. Everything remained on the carrier, even the insulated water tanks were filled, as if the missing crew would come back at any moment. The marine lieutenant followed a hunch and checked the vac suit lockers. Save for the helmets, they were all empty. He then has his marines inspect the airlocks, using batteries to power the control panel. Data was extracted, and the last entries of the two airlocks inspected had security footage. With revulsion he saw Comensal crewmembers in vac suits, with no helmets, open the exterior airlock hatch using the emergency handle and blown out into open space. It was even more gruesome when the hanger and shuttle bay recordings were found as most of the crew departed the carrier in that manner.

By the time a task element reached the Kettle Horn the marines had inspected eleven more ships, six of them freighters. On two of the freighters there were signs of violence. At the airlock of one freighter a wall was marked with laser pistol fire. In the other there were copious blood stains at the hatch controls for the shuttle bay. Clearly not all Comensal were willing to commit regulation suicide, or not at least in this manner, perhaps wanting to die in combat instead.

As far as it could be determined the ships inspected had their databases intact, apart from transit data prior to the re-entry to 019 having been erased. It was later estimated that the task group had enough consumables to last three months. Conceivably they could’ve gone to Metalstorm and tied down Terpla’n forces. Yet they hadn’t. The conclusion proposed by the Kettle Horn captain was that faith in their own superiority was so great that the Comensal decided to preserve their ships so that follow-up forces could reactive and use them again quickly, rather letting them deteriorate into useless scrap.  A tug was detached from a support group to tow the ships to a spot one light-minute distant from the Abyssal-019/BRB-1 warp point, to be readily accessible when the decision on their final fate is made.

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“Commander Aulus, what are your deductions from the report?” asked Janus in the officer’s mess the following morning, pushing away an empty plate to the center of the table.

“I’ll have to agree with Professor Alba’s observations on Comensal psychology, Admiral. The conditioning of Comensal young to obey authority is comprehensive. I surmise the two incidents of violence on the ships could’ve either been an expression of martial zeal, in that the personnel involved wanted to die in combat, even against their fellow crewmates, or an example of insufficient resolve.”

“Resolve?”

“It could be as simple as those Comensal that didn’t measure up for serving on warships are instead placed on auxiliaries where any shortcomings in ‘resolve’ can be managed by officers and senior NCOs.”

Janus’ back pair of hands were in front of her, steepled in a single of contemplation. “An interesting opinion. We’ll be orbiting Crimson Expanse for three days. You can visit Alba and see if captured Comensal personnel records have anything describing a ‘resolve deficiency’. Some use may come from it, especially regarding boarding actions on freighters.”

“Hopefully so, Admiral. Under the right circumstances, we can coax surrenders instead of fighting them to the last man. On the brighter side, the Terpla’ns, in their report, have offered to give us that task group. Those ships will make a fine addition to the fleet.”

Janus nodded. “The Presidio, on the behalf of the Emperor, will no doubt accept that offer. However, given all the other recovery operations in Axis space, and the planned mining effort in the Com Pocket, it will be some time before mobile yards are dispatched to Abyssal-019. The ships will be modified just enough to permit operation with a skeleton crew and then sent to Whel for final conversions. That is why I believe the raider group in the Com Pocket will impose on themselves the same fate that the task group did. Retaining just enough supplies that, in their hope, an Axis relief force will find and reactive them and be put back in action.”

“Admiral, I wonder if the Axis crews that sacrifice themselves in this manner don’t consider themselves dead, but going on duty in the spirit realm?”

“Ships haunted by their dead crews would be par for the course in a horror video, Commander. It’s just as well captured ships are exorcised by our priests. An old custom from our history, but one that puts our crews’ minds at ease.”

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Tebes Norsencu worked the compact control panel on the desk with practiced hands. He had secreted that desk into the space underneath the paneled stairwell of his home. He was a member of the resistance, and his task was to monitor Axis civilian communication traffic between Eloto and Evergreen, the two habitable planets in the Elotoshani system. His receiving antennae was embedded into the interior of his chimney, something that took time and a considerable bribe to the contractor to keep his silence. So equipped, and well versed in code breaking, Tebes was able to listen to what the boneheads were doing.

The true hub of Axis activity in the system was the space station orbiting Evergreen. It had the mass of 16 battleships and hosted 10 standard shipyard slips and 6 smaller ones. That station was tasked to construct prefabricated base components, auxiliaries such as freighters, munitions of all sorts, and the occasional warship, though no larger than destroyers. In contrast, the station over Eloto was scarcely more massive than a dreadnaught, and its single shipyard constructed corvettes. Tebes noted how for the past three months all newly constructed warships were being sent out without the usual one-month shake-down drill, instead doing an intensive set of drills for a week to find and correct any major issues that crop up. Because of this, the crews used civilian frequencies when reporting to the station over Evergreen. He listened as the latest trio of destroyers made their verbal reports before departing for Jemstone, a system two transits out from Gymnasium. They used the civilian radio link to the harbormaster, and it was that individual that mentioned the destination. That the boneheads spoke so casually about the destination without using code words could be chalked up to complete confidence in their encryption or that things were going so badly that an oversight on security was excusable in this instance.

Tebes changed frequencies. He listened to intra-system civilian traffic, and compared the announcements to a mental list for he never wrote anything down. Shuttle flights to the Eloto’s sole warp point had dropped to pre-war levels for the past three months. Earlier in the war practically all the minefield patterns and automated weapons at the warp point had been redeployed to other systems. Being a rear-area system, Eloto was considered secure, and the replenishment of the minefields was at a glacial pace. Now even that paltry effort was suspended as all the minefields and weapon buoys that could be produced were being shipped out of the system. All available freighters, even small ones the size of corvettes, were being used in this effort, indicating the urgent needs of the new frontline systems.
 
A final twist of the dial brought up the small craft frequency used by the Eloto station. A pinnace was scheduled to arrive, carrying hundreds of casks of Evergeen wine. The traffic controller on the Eloto station told the pinnace pilot to use the priority cargo landing cradle as the wine was slated for a celebration. Universal Victory Day was next week, a day that celebrated all the victories of the Axis, and this vintage of wine was grown from the first orchard planted by Comensal colonists on Evergreen.

Hearing that made Tebes wince and both mouths grimacing. In his pained heart he knew the Comensal didn’t plant their own grape orchards; they simply appropriated the ones from the Eloto they killed. As a boy, he grew up on Evergreen. His family ran their own wine business and grew their own grapes on several orchards. He was on Eloto, studying business administration when the war with the Axis started. He received a deferment as his g-tolerance was below the threshold. Wanting to return to Evergeen before the Axis invaded the home system, the government had banned all but the most essential transfer of personnel. So, like everyone else on Eloto, they gradually found out the fates of the Elotoshani colonies, and in hushed whispers the stories of what was happening to the survivors on Evergeen.

Tebes dared not to believe, and with an almost maniacal obsession he constructed his own radio receiver in secret. He listened in the dark of night over a period of ten years to random burst of transmissions sent from the resistance on Evergreen. The gruesome tales became less and less frequent, and in a way Tebes was thankful that he was forced to abandon his first radio receiver in the tenth year. Later, and not exactly sure how it was arranged, he was contacted by the resistance on Eloto. Using a latent mathematical talent to decrypt Axis radio transmissions, Tebes applied himself to his secret second job.

In the years that transpired he learned a great deal about Axis activity in the system, and in turn passed it on to his resistance contacts. He sensed the increasing undercurrent of tension and apprehension in the Comensal civilian com-traffic. Gymnasium wasn’t all that distant from Eloto in terms of warp lines. It was feared that when the fighting reached Eloto that the planet would be bombarded into radioactive ruin by the Axis, despite having a small Axis colony present. Tebes could only conjecture that the resistance leaders had taken that into account and had an appropriate plan ready. Later that night he composed the information gleaned from his monitoring and made it into what was commonly referred to as a bar joke. On the next meeting with his contact he will tell the joke, and in turn forward it to those that knew what words in the joke were referring to specific items of interest. Sometimes Tebes wondered if he missed his true profession of becoming a comedian instead of a future wine merchant.

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System Admiral Wanfel, head of the Science Development Bureau branch on Eloto Prime, was in the research center located within the Comensal enclave. He read a report on the first deployment of long-range scanner packs, developed on Eloto, in the Gymnasium system. Carried by fighters and some armed pinnaces, the packs performed as advertised, and in the process something else was learned.

The outer portion of the Gymnasium system had two gas giants with colonies and outposts on their respective moons. Coming to within 6 light-minutes of the gas giant A-5 was a small craft signature. It closed to within 2 light-minutes and stopped. From that position it apparently watched the launch and progression of A-5-2’s lunar ground base fighters towards Gymnasium Prime, heading for the first in a series of small platforms to recharge their life support. The small craft stayed past after four days, so it clearly wasn’t an armed pinnace at least. The base commander launched a trio of escort shuttles to investigate. In reply the contact came closer and then, at the distance of one light-minute, came about and retired at full tactical speed. This prompted the shuttles to do the same. Pushing their engines as they long dared, they gained only an insubstantial amount of closure.

Meanwhile an abom flotilla appeared at extreme range and closed the distance. With just six escort shuttles for defense, the base, which was nothing more than a set of fighter hangar bays, was brushed aside. Before that, however, a fight of a previously unknown type of pinnace approached the base at a range of two light-seconds. After a minute of apparent observation, the base was destroyed by missile and long-range spinal laser fire, but not before the base sent out its last message. More importantly, scans of this new pinnace were included and only by the grace of Providence that the information was loaded on the last courier drone that escaped the system. Wanfel pressed a summons button on his desk and waited for a moment.

Prime Commander Konset, Wanfel’s adjutant, entered the office and saluted. He was waved by his superior to take a seat. “You’ve read the same report. I take it you’ve reached the same conclusion?”

“Yes, Sir. It appears the aboms have made a variation of pinnace that carries a long-range sensor package. Judging from the distance the pinnace observing A-5-2 I’d say it has the same resolution of our fighter packs. Even so, a flight of such pinnaces would extend their search radius by an order of magnitude and are far less detectable than a moving ship.”

“Excellent, Konset. I will immediately send a strong recommendation to the SDB Authorization Board to have this made into a project, with our section doing the work, of course.”

Konset smiled. “Of course, Sir. I can have the technicians involved in the scanner pack project and some engineers skilled in pinnace construction hash out the preliminary requirements. Since endurance is a necessity, I’ll have them use a regular pinnace as the basis of the work.”
 
“Have them do the work on the orbital, Konset. Not one abom Eloto has ever worked or been inside it. Use the dedicated, and isolated, computers in their shuttle maintenance bay.”

“Very good, Admiral. I’m sure we’ll get approval from higher up, Providence providing.”