Make them Bleed

PDC Hellas, beneath the Palace of Eternal Flight
Planet Attica, Elysium Star System
Elysian Sovereignty Capital

“Automated platforms detected! Drive systems just lit off!”
“Estimated drone count one zero zero zero. Repeat, one zero zero zero!”
“Flight time estimated three minutes!”
“Launch authority released!”

The room descended into a cacophony of orders and status reports, individual words cutting through the noise and forming sentences that only made sense to their speakers. At the center of it was Eyrie Commander Saggitari, somehow understanding the madness that surrounded him and snapping out orders in clipped, sharp tones.

Czar Scion looked at Solon “So this is their drone bombardment. Impressive numbers, but we can handle a thousand of their torpedoes, can’t we?”
“Of course, my Lord. It’s near the upper limit, but well within our capabilities.”

“Approaching engagement envelope. All batteries standing by…”
“Separation! Separation! Inbound count is now two zero zero zero! Say again two zero zero-“
“Point Defense on automatic!”

Freed of their delivery bus, the actual torpedoes screamed in on their pre-determined targets. Their onboard jammers lit off, turning the tidal wave from individual point signals into an undifferentiated hash.

“Unknown ECM system! Retasking point defense!”

There had been a good opportunity for the Elysians to have engaged the drone pods as they moved into position. Even a token gunboat patrol could have blunted the strike, but that window of opportunity required the Elysians to be running a combat patrol. Instead, they had chosen to keep the gunboats safe in their bunkers. By the time Saggitari had seen the possibility, that window had slammed closed, the pods already irrelevant.

Compared to the pods, the torpedoes were like lightning. Their own targeting sensors awakened, scanning for assigned targets as they lived their bare twenty seconds of life. While there was no chance that the planet itself could be missed, their targets could be. They were key planetary defense centers: Gunboat bases, orbital missile platforms, and dedicated point defense installations. For the deWulf, they estimated only half of their strike would land on target. A quarter of the wave would fall victim to the Elysian defense grid, and the other quarter would reach the planet but hit “useless” dirt.

That this “useless” dirt would be inhabited was of little concern to the deWulf. For the Elysians, it meant that they had to stop every torpedo they could. Even the ones that would miss those defensive PDCs would still result in hundreds of thousands of deaths. But what they had to do and what they could do were two entirely separate things.

“New fire patterns locked in! Inbounds commencing terminal dive… area defense systems are opening fire!”

Fortunately for the Elysians at least, their systems were unconcerned about their own limitations. New engagement parameters flowed down from PDC Hellas and they prioritized accordingly. That they could never reach the bottom of their prioritization lists was irrelevant to their electronic brains. Track. Fire. Correct. Fire. Track. Fire. Correct. Fire.

“Point defense systems engaging!”

It was all in the hands of automatic systems now, targeting computers engaging with firing windows that disappeared as quickly as they appeared. A blazing trail of fireworks rained down from geosynchronous orbit as hundreds of torpedoes were disabled or destroyed outright, burning up as the atmosphere thickened.

“My… My Lord, telemetry indicates that they are only targeting some of our PDCs. None of our Spike Strip class PDCs are being engaged!”
Solon smiled at that, looking up to his Lord “Their intelligence is woefully out of date, then. Everything we’ve built in the last two years is completely unknown to them.”

Czar Scion was looked less pleased. He remembered what they had been building for most of those last two years. And too few of those things had been PDCs. The gunboat PDCs were being ignored, at least. So there was a a small favor. But small favors were all that they had. The other small favor was that the incoming wave of torpedoes was not deliberately targeting civilian targets. Czar Scion made a mental note to chastise Solon later; he had advocated the construction of multiple PDCs to defend Highspire, but Scion had decided otherwise. And just as well, as those PDCs would only have invited those torpedoes to land right on their heads.

Of the two thousand torpedoes that the Elysian defense grid had to deal with, it managed to shoot down just over eight hundred. All things considered, a reasonable performance given the sheer volume and heavy jamming. But that left almost twelve hundred torpedoes, and despite everything that the massed defenses could manage, seven hundred and seventeen slammed into every PDC the deWulf knew about. One by one their status lights blinked into a sullen mahogany red. A few held on for a few moments longer, but eventually the hail of fire wiped them from the universe as well. Those PDCs died not realizing they had failed in one more task, for four hundred and seventy more torpedoes missed their targets, but not the planet itself, and they buried themselves into forests. And oceans. And cities.

As the tidal wave ebbed away, a silence settled into PDC Hellas, underscored only by the soft buzz indicating lost communication links with PDCs that no longer existed.

Solon was the first to speak. “We have weathered their attack! A cruel blow, to be sure, but the critical part of our defensive grid remains! My Lord, what are your orders?”

Czar Scion stepped down from his dais and walked to Saggitari, looking at the commander who had watched as their defense grid die. “Eyrie Commander, this is your sphere, not mine. What are your recommendations?”

For living gods to admit their weakness was a rarity at the worst of times, and this was well past the worst that anyone could have envisioned. “Si… Lord.. I…”
“Peace, Saggitari. Your recommendations.”

“At… at once my Lord.” He stiffened, eyes swinging low before scanning from side to side. “We… We must get our gunboats launched immediately. The pups will know how effective their barrage was within a few minutes. The PDCs with our gunboats don’t have point defense, so they remain concealed for the moment, but the longer they stay there, the sooner they will identify them. Look-” as he swung a wing to the man plotting tank “already they form up their small craft. Escort formations are unmistakable. I believe the expression is ‘use it or lose it’. Better at least for them to die in space, striking back at our foes instead of being slaughtered in their launch cradles.”

Scion smiled. As much as he might not admit it, Saggitari had a spine when it was called for. No mindless wing-worshipper, he. “Very well. Launch our gunboats. Form them up. I will leave their targeting up to you. Make them bleed, Eyrie Commander.”

“Of course, my Lord. I believe we should target those dreadnoughts in the back of their formation. A hard target to reach, but they’re a new design, and their ship geometry is unusual. They’ve sprung one surprise on us already. I have no desire to see what other tricks they have in their cargo bays.”

Already the first gunboats were locking into their cradles. Their crews had seen the destruction wrought by the initial bombardment, quietly seething in their command couches. They waited for their turn to die, or for the launch order that would fling them skyward into the hurricane. As the launch tubes came online and the armored doors slid open, the answer to their question was clear. If they would die, they would die screaming defiance at their foes.

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