Not the dawn that we shall see…

————————————————————————

dWS Hans Zollner

Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser

“-your drives. We’re going in.”

Phelan cut the connection before looking back up at Mache. “General signal. All ships to advance. Panfilov will manage the small craft, so don’t worry about them.”

“Understood. Communications, General signal: All ships advance, weapons free.” Mache passed along the order, adding on what was understood, but needed to be explicitly ordered. The orders flashed out from the flagship to the rest of the fleet, thirty-nine warships advancing all at once and into range of whatever other defenses remained on the planet. In front of the battle line were two waves of small craft; thirty-nine fighter squadrons and forty-seven gunboat squadrons that were racing ahead of the battle line to engage their own targets.

“Incoming fire from the planet.” Mache did his best to stay calm, but it had been the avalanche of fire from the planetary defence centres that had shattered the last two attacks. Both times, the deWulf hadn’t quite weathered the storm long enough to turn battle to their advantage. “Estimated fifty-four capital missiles inbound, splitting fire on Adria and Ostsee. Both ships are reporting shields holding.”

“They went after our area defense battleships. They won’t make that mistake for long.” Phelan pulled a fresh stimstick, chomping on the end and taking a harsh drag. He felt his vision sharpen as the drugs rode his bloodstream and accelerated his perceptions. It was a false feeling, but the lives of tens of thousands of deWulf personnel depended on him, and if he could do something, anything, he hoped it might deal with the gnawing tension in his soul.

“Gunboats are trying to cut past the fighter screen; estimated closest pass to fighters 2 LS.”

“I’m sure Panfilov and Kraft have it well in hand. They have their fight, and we have ours.”

Phelan had said after 2nd Elysium that there wasn’t a good way to take a planet, and those words were about to be proved again. The battle was already beginning its decent into a bar-room brawl, and the fight wouldn’t be decided on the flag deck, but on every individual command deck and fighter seat. Each individual victory and loss would add up. All that had to be done was to have more victories than the other side. That he had far more pieces helped.

“Another volley coming up from the planet; they’re focusing on Ostsee. Hostile ships are in behind enemy gunboats, same course.”

“The Baltics are going to have to take care of themselves. General signal to heavy units: enemy warships first, then PDCs. Ibizans to focus on hostile gunboats when possible, but enemy warships have priority.” Elysian gunboats continued to bore in on their targets, ignoring their deWulf counterparts, but that single-mindedness had let the fighters close in behind them. The Elysians were a more sophisticated craft, as usual. But the fighters outnumbered them three to two, and the sheer volume of firepower began to tell as gunboats staggered out of formation, only to be pounced by five or six fighters and torn to shreds.

————————————————————————

PDC Hellas, beneath the Palace of Eternal Flight

Highspire

Eyrie Commander Saggitare winced as the board lit up as gunboat after gunboat reported damage or worse, outright destruction.

“My Lord, those smaller craft are tearing into our gunboats… they may not…”

Czar Scion looked down at the Eyrie Commander. When he had first seen all those small craft, he had an idea of just how this battle would go in the end. He had hoped for better, but the truth was that he knew the deWulf had successfully developed countermeasures to the two cornerstones of their defenses.

“Fight your battle, Eyrie Commander.”

Fresh orders bolted out to the gunboats, and they changed their attention from those distant dreadnoughts to problems closer at hand.

————————————————————————

dWS Hans Richter

Alex Seidel-Class Carrier

Junior PackHunter Kraft grimaced as the he watched his own tactical plot shift. His command was the fighter squadrons, and he saw the shift in tactics just as his own strike commanders began to relay their own reports. In their haste, some fighter squadrons had dived into the middle of the gunboat swarm, and had not just attracted the attention of the gunboats’ defensive weapons, but their onboard strike packages as well. Four entire squadrons disappeared from his status board as the Elysians ripple fired their anti-shipping ordinance into the overeager fighter squadrons. An easy dozen more had suffered some kind of damage, but they had their target square in front of them, and there was no escape for prey or predator.

“All fighters are to fall behind behind the Elysians, stay in their blind spots!”

For some, it was an order that came too late.

————————————————————————

dWS Hans Zollner

Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser

“Admiral Bahram, bring your ships starboard thirty and concentrate on the incoming gunboat squadrons. We’ll deal with the warships.”

“Understood, Flag” The Ibizans pivoted as one, lining up on their ordered targets.

Phelan was already opening a fresh command circuit to his battleships “Flag to all capital ships: Priority target enemy warships”

————————————————————————

dWS Konrad Gloda

Landser Mk2-Class Battleship

“Sir, incoming signal from Flag…”

“Take a message. Weaponeer! Range to target?”

“Range to Battlecruiser Alph Zero One, Three LS and dropping! Targeting has good lock. Torpedoes are on internal tracking, doors are open!”

The Battleship’s CIC was a scene of organized chaos. Riding on the right flank, Konrad Gloda had found herself in front of everything the Elysians were throwing. Elysian gunboats were lining up, their own targeting systems ignoring the battleship’s ECM, instead locking onto the massive EM bloom from her drives. The hostile targeting sensors were setting off a symphony of threat alarms, made worse as a battlecruiser selected the Konrad Gloda as something worthy of its attention. In the background the battleship’s point defense launchers sent a dull “thump thump thump” echoing through the warship’s frame.

“Fire when-“

“Autolaunch set!”

And new sensations entered the fray as all ten of the Kondrad Gloda’s plasma torpedo tubes cycled. Once ejected from their tubes, the massive weapons lit off their own drives and covered the short range in bare blink of an eye, nine of the ten impacting square on the nose of the Elysian battlecruiser. Shields shuddered before winking out of existence, forcing the hull to bear the brunt of the violence. Plasma boiled over the battlecruiser’s nose, melting armour and hull equally, the forward third of the ship disappearing entirely in a glowing burst of debris. Only the armored citadel and the battlecruiser’s massive engine array remained intact as she continued to close in.

“Autoloaders cycling. Ready to fire in… twenty seconds!”

The CIC felt the deck shudder as ten autoloaders pulled torpedoes from the magazine feeds, passing them through armoured hatches before they were fed into the launch tubes. Hatches opened and closed, air hissing out of the tubes as they depressurized.

“Outer doors opening, targeting has good lock!”

And the cycle continued.

————————————————————————

dWS Hans Zollner

Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser

“Confirmed heavy damage to Elysian Battlecruisers Alph One, Two, Three, and Four. Elysian Dreadnought is… undamaged?”

Junior PackHunter Phelan pinged CIC “CIC, Flag. Confirm status of Elysian Dreadnought.”

Both Phelan and Mache looked at Battlecruisers the plot as the single Elysian dreadnought refused to blink or change status.

“Flag, CIC. Confirm. Elysian dreadnought is shields down, but unharmed. We detected a surge in shielding as she was taking hits. It appeared that she regenerated approximately thirty percent of her shields before they failed. CIC is working to confirm. No sign of reoccurrence.”

“CIC, this is Junior PackHunter Phelan. Was this seen on any of the battlecruisers? Confirm.”

“Negative, PackHunter. We only observed this on the enemy dreadnought. Note that she has minimal shielding: thirty percent regen isn’t very much, but we confirm she did regenerate some shielding in combat. CIC out.”

Phelan looked up at Mache, his voice low and dry “Did we catch them in a refit cycle? Something they developed but didn’t have a chance to roll out fleet-wide?”

“I don’t know Sir, but if that’s all they have, it’s not going to help them.”

————————————————————————

RINS King Orbetello

“Target?”

“That battlecruiser to port and down. Beth Four.”

“She’s a little bit of a stretch, but I think we can get her if we pivot a little.”

“Line the shot.”

Using the tactical data relayed by dWNS Hans Zollner, the King Orbetello adjusted her nose, swinging her course a few points port and down towards the Elysian target designated Beth Four, one of five battlecruisers that had moved in to try and stop the attacking fleet. Already hit by several torpedoes, she bled atmosphere and structure, but still charged on like a punch-drunk boxer.

Queen Preveza is following our track. Firing synchronized.”

Gone was the comical pretensions that the Royal Ibizan Navy had displayed when they had first fought alongside the deWulf. Their attitude was still incredibly relaxed, but now there was a core of professional steel. Once they had been relaxed because they didn’t know better. Now, they were relaxed because they did.

“Lined-“

“Shoot!”

King Orbetello shuddered as her twin mass drivers fired, each one launching a twenty-kilo titanium slug downrange. Queen Preveza fired a moment later, their shots timed to arrive at the same time. Barely fifteen seconds later, both ships shuddered again as a second volley followed the first. For the Elysian cruiser, the first four were bad enough. Shields knocked out, the slugs impacted onto the drive field and became jets of raw energy that speared through her hull, blasting apart what remained of her armour. Reeling, her hull began a slow roll to starboard that her engines struggled to halt. She was already dead, her engines failing when the second volley arrived. One slug passed high, disappearing into space behind the battlecruiser. The drive field flared and died when the second slug hit, its destructive force ablating away into nothing. The final two landed in quick succession on the battlecruiser’s spine, shattering the already crippled ship into three separate pieces. What was left of her aft third disappeared when the power plant suffered a runaway power failure, the rest of her breaking apart into a cloud of metal debris.

————————————————————————

dWS Hans Zollner

Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser

“Elysian small craft passing aft!”

The master repeater showed the shattered wave of strike craft flying through the deWulf formation, pushing on towards what was clearly their original target.

Junior PackHunter Phelan was about to send another order when he watched every Baltic-Class battleship pivoted at once, dropping out of formation to focus their attentions on a target they could actually hurt. What had seemed to be a direct path for the gunboats onto their targets proved to be a killing zone as Ibizan heavy cruisers, deWulf fighter squadrons, and a half-dozen Baltics poured out a torrent of fire. Kinetic canister shot, fighter plasma guns and shoals of point defense missiles enveloped one gunboat after another, breaking them apart in twos and threes. Entire squadrons disappearing in a rolling explosion as a Baltic singled out an Elysian squadron to receive its wrath.

The Sieg-Class siege dreadnoughts didn’t even have a chance to engage as the gunboats ceased to be a threat, their tracking systems instead watching as a cloud of debris floated out of the combat zone to be picked over by salvage teams in some distant future.

While the Elysian gunboats were being torn apart, every other deWulf and Ibizan warship focused on what was left of the Elysian battlefleet. The Elysian dreadnought found itself targeted by no less than five deWulf battleships, as well as two Ibizan battlecruisers. Even her heavy armour plate couldn’t withstand the rain of plasma torpedoes and kinetic rounds. Eventually her drives failed, her hulk pounded until it simply came apart. The few remaining battlecruisers each found themselves targeted by a single deWulf battleship. One on one it would have been a challenging fight. But already crippled, there was little they could do but die with honor.

And die they did.

————————————————————————

PDC Hellas, beneath the Palace of Eternal Flight

Czar Scion and Solon both watched as Saggitare and his command staff struggled to eke out any last bit of defiance they could at the advancing deWulf fleet. With the mobile units destroyed, the deWulf gunboats rained their fire down on the PDCs that remained in action after the initial drone strike. Only one had been destroyed outright, but all but three had their layers of earth and armour blasted away in a hurricane of fire. And freed of other threats, the deWulf fleet began to steadily silence that last line of defense, one PDC at a time.

To them both, it was clear that the end was coming. There was nothing to be gained her once the command center had completely lost everything that was theirs to command. Rather than standing there, having to come up with answers to questions that were better left unasked, they left while there was still something that could be commanded. The doors to Czar Scion’s private lift slid open silently, allowing access to a room that looked like a comfortable sitting room rather than a lift car. As they both stepped in, Solon leaned to an attendant standing guard at the outside controls, whispering something. The doors slid shut, but not before Czar Scion could see the attendant leaving his station and walking back into the command centre.

“Off to order your final counterstrike, I take it?”

Solon whirled, looking at Scion as his ruler and God sat down on his reserved seat in the lift. It was climbing up, floor by floor to Scion’s private residence at the top of Highspire, but the trip itself was the last thing on Scion’s mind.

“I know what you did, by the way. Ordering that we purge the deWulf from their planet. Smothering that investigation into the destruction of part of their district… Southgate, I believe? Once, I cared why, but it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s out of our hands now.”

Solon stood there, his jaw agape as that revelation was laid out so casually, like discussing who was sitting where at a luncheon.

“But then, orders sent out under my seal can be countermanded by me, personally.” His voice had gone from being calm and relaxed to ice cold. “I don’t know how long you’ve been… managing me. But I will give you credit. You did it well. It was only after I met Imon that I began to have some inkling. You were right, by the way. Very smart lad. But perhaps a bit more idealistic than you gave me credit. An Imperial Order signed by me personally, on paper in the old way, opened a LOT of doors for him. Enough to have him find out everything I needed to know. How do the commoners say it? Ah, yes. ‘Not what you wanted, but what you needed’.”

The lift played out a soft and relaxing tune as it slowed to its stop, doors whispering open as Scion stood up and walked out. “Follow me, won’t you? We have nowhere else to go.”

Solon by now had shut his mouth, but as soon as he had gained some distance, he reached for his own comm “Forgive me my Lord, but I have a message to send.” His voice was cold now as well, realizing his status, his life was dangerously exposed.

“Hoping to get some last revenge on Imon? An understandable gesture. But he is beyond ALL our reach. He left months ago, in my private yacht. You remember, the one graciously donated to help send one last bit of supplies to our colony? He left with all of the research he had done in my name as well. What he does with that, I have no idea. But it will be something impressive. Tea?”

The sudden sharp turn in subjects caught Solon off-guard, his voice a shaking stutter as he watched Scion pour out a glass for himself and then for Solon, leaving it in front of a collection of flavourings and juices. Solon’s hand fell away from his communicator.

“A pity. It’s an excellent blend, Solon. You should know. Still, shall we step out onto the balcony and enjoy the view?”

“My lord, you know that it’s still several hours before dawn, and even you cannot see the stars here at Highspire.”

The smile that spread across Scion’s face was cold, never reaching past his cheekbones as he sipped at the fresh tea. “It is not the dawn that we shall see. Or the twinkling of the stars. It is the future.”

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