dWS Hans Zollner
Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser
Elysium Star System
En-route to Attica, Elysian Sovereignty Capital World
“Fleet units have all successfully jumped, Sir. Hare has taken station ahead, Hasen is aft with the carriers, and we have Spion port and up and Aufklärer is low to starboard.”
Junior PackMaster Phelan didn’t even look up at the report, his eyes watching the holographic table that already told him the reconnaissance destroyers had spread out to cover the flanks of the fleet. That same table also told him that system geography was about as unfavorable as it could have been. Orbital mechanics had left the planet Attica almost directly opposite their entry warp point. While strategic surprise always was impossible, the additional time the Elysians had to ready themselves was never welcome.
“Four bloody months…”
“Sir?” Hunter Ralf Mache looked over at Phelan as he stared at the holographic table. Phelan pulled a fresh stimstick from a coat pocket, cracking the end with a practiced bite before taking a drag.
“Four bloody months we were waiting for the Siegs. If we had moved four months ago we’d have half the distance to travel.” His hand waved the ‘stick at the display angrily as he cursed physics.
“If wishes were steel we’d have enough ships we could walk from the warp point to their star. Sir. And we’ll need the Siegs before long.”
Phelan cracked a thin smile at that, taking a fresh drag of stimulants from the ‘stick. “True enough. Fleet status?”
Hunter Mache didn’t even have to look at his repeater board. “All ships accounted and ready. We have a double line of Landsers and Baltics forward, with cruisers directly behind. The Siegs are in behind us, and the Saamans behind them. Carriers are two LS aft, and with heavy CAP covering.”
Soft conversation filled the flag bridge as the two officers continued looking at the plot.
“They’ve got us on sensors, then.”
“No way they haven’t, Sir. Their hardware is as good as ours, and the fleet’s radiating enough energy to look like a small gas giant. If they didn’t know something is here, I’ll eat my dress jacket.”
“Do we see anything of theirs?”
“Negative. We don’t have Attica in our sensor range. They had a replacement orbital yard last time we were here, but who knows what else.”
Phelan leaned back into his seat for what was probably the first time in an hour, a sharp chuckle slipping from him “The more we try to tilt things in our favour, the more the universe balances back against us. Just like two years ago, and a year before that. Fine. Ralf, you have the deck. I’m going to get some rack time. Wake me in six hours, or if the Hares report anything.”
“Understood Sir. Attention, this is Hunter Ralf. I have the deck.”
dWS Hans Zollner
Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser
Elysium Star System
Distant orbit around Attica, Elysian Sovereignty Capital World
Four Days Later.
“General signal to all ships: All stop.”
“Sending now, Sir.”
“Hans Zollner answering All Stop.”
“Fleet units confirming. Stand by for confirmation… Fleet is at All Stop, sir”
The fleet had proceeded unmolested for the whole run in-system. In a globe 24 light-minutes across, multiple sensor systems watched for the telltale energy signature of active drive fields and incoming ships. Nothing. Finally the combined fleets had arrived within a light minute of Attica, crawling closer until they were barely half that distance. Much closer, and the illusion of peace and safety would be firmly shattered. The deWulf Navy respected the overlapping layers that made up the Attican planetary defense grid, their understanding earned with a sobering price in steel and blood.
“They’re not responding to us. Is it possible they can’t see us?”
Hunter Mache bit back a sarcastic bark. “You asked that on the run in, Sir. They could see us four days ago when we entered the system. We’re parked close enough a decent optical telescope can see us. Either they’re all dead, or they know we’re here.”
“And yet they aren’t responding.”
“Yes. Still, it makes some sense. They don’t have anything in orbit other than their shipyard. They undoubtedly have gunboat squadrons, but they’ve seen how much defensive firepower a Baltic can pump out, and they’d have to run the gauntlet before they got to anything valuable. And that’s ignoring our own small craft that we’re parading up and down our flanks. We’re almost as secure as they are over there. But they know that we’ve got to be over there in the end. So why expend your resources fighting in our defensive envelope when they can guarantee an engagement in theirs?”
Phelan snorted in response. The logic was irrefutable. But the problem with one’s own logic is that it tended to have blind spots that you weren’t aware of. The old comment of “known unknowns and unknown unknowns” summed up the whole problem. And for Phelan the biggest unknown unknown was just what had the Elysians been up to in the months since the deWulf had last been here.
“I don’t like this. They’ve had over a year, and we haven’t seen a single sign of any mobile units. No cruisers, no carriers. And I doubt that yard’s just been sitting idle.”
“They could have just been making gunboats.”
“And they could have been making little toy music boxes.” Phelan looked at the holotank with a growl. “Doesn’t matter. Breaker take them and their shipyard.” His eyes looked up, locking onto Mache’s face with a cold stare. “Pass the word to Kortex. Start rolling pods. If they’re going to let us sit here, then we’re going to show them what kind of a mistake they’ve just made.”
PDC Hellas, beneath the Palace of Eternal Flight
Attica, Elysian Sovergenty Capital World
Eyrie Commander Saggitari felt the base of his feathers get slick with moisture. Plamades had been with the Strike Fleet for months, but it had been an on-and-off again posting. Why couldn’t he have been here? Then he would be in the command throne, not me. But no, now I have the Czar looking over me Directly!
Only the barest of whispers hinted to Saggitari that Solon had slipped next to him, his voice barely above a whisper. “Relax, Eyrie Commander. The White Wings are here in support. You need not be afraid. Merely do your duty, and all will be well. You have my word.”
“I’m sorry Si-” Saggitari’s voice caught in his throat. “I’m sorry my Lord, I don’t know what they are doing. They’ve been holding station there for the better part of a day now. They have almost as many groups of these smaller gunboats as we do, and they’re clearly some kind of escort. We can go out and engage-“
Czar Nova Scion interrupted with his voice. His calm, relaxed tone so very different compared to the higher, almost whistling tone from Eyrie Commander Saggitari. “No, we hold. Whatever they are doing, we can weather it. If we waste our strength against them, we offer them an opening.”
A sensor rating spoke up loudly, almost automatically calling out information and not realizing that he had nearly cut off his god and leader in mid-sentence. “Status change! Detecting unknown emissions from the deWulf formation!”
Saggitari found himself suddenly in focus. This was a problem that he had dealt with, that he could handle. “What kind of emissions?”
“Unknown! Initial analysis suggests its some kind of command transmissions. It’s a broadband signal… getting a lot of bounces from other deWulf ships. We can’t pinpoint the source. Encryption is fairly light, but the datastream doesn’t make…” The rating swiveled his head to another display, his feathers flattening down hard beneath his uniform. “Transmissions identified as robot command signals!”
Czar Scion and Solon exchanged glances. The former questioning, the latter incredibly concerned, like a piece had fallen into place just a moment too late.
deWulf Bombardment Fleet
“Command upload complete. All drones report condition green. Standing by for final command release.”
The battleship’s command deck was deathly quiet, the only sounds the whisper of the life support vents and a dozen terminals softly beeping to their users.
“Chief Weaponeer, under Fleet Order Three-One-One, you are hereby relieved of command.”
The senior enlisted deWulf nodded once, graying muzzle taut as she set her command channels to ‘hold safe’. “Understood Sir. I stand relieved.” She snapped a salute and stepped away from her console. Under most circumstances, relieving a Chief Weaponeer was no easy task. The senior NCO onboard was not a position given to weaklings, and this was doubly true aboard ships in the deWulf Navy. But today was it was the easiest task ever. Chief Weaponeer Brecht had known this request was coming, ever since her Hunter had politely intruded into her realm many decks below and aft.
Hunter Reiss walked to that command console, pulling a small book from a side pocket on the outside of his skinsuit. He familiarized himself with the command channels, finding them perfectly in order and as Brecht had reported. He flipped the book open to a bookmarked passage, his other hand removing the safeties that Brecht had set.
“I am reminded-” His voice hitched, words catching in his throat “of words I once heard, old memories of the creche in my youth.”
One hand traced along the words printed in the book, the other tying every channel to a single command.
“You who hunger,
Eyes blinded by blood.
Look for me
In the darkness below
where I Sif
tend the garden of Vengeance”