Nothing is Futile

ESW Screaming Vengeance
Elysian Imperial Strike Force
Elysium Star System
On Approach to Scylla Jump Point

One hour after the gunboat strike

“Have we restored communications with Tarquillian Glory yet?” Eyrie Commander Peres was looking over what remained of his strike force. Only two ships lost, but the gunboat squadrons had been savaged, cut to barely half of their standard compliment. And that was assuming that everything that had returned could be repaired. The dreadnought Tarquillian Glory had taken heavy damage, including her communications systems. But her engines and main power systems remained online. With luck the rest would be repairable.

“Latest emergency signal suggested they would be coming online in just a few minutes.”

Peres looked at his Flag Commander disapprovingly. That promise had been made twice so far, and both times come and gone without result. Willing his crest to relax, he turned back to his Strike Commander, who merely twisted his neck in a grimace.

“We’ve completed an initial review of what we have left. Of the thirty-six squadrons we had embarked, we have eighteen left. Of the eighteen, four squadrons have taken severe damage, with another two lightly damaged. We might be able to get two squadrons out of all of them, three if we’re lucky. The flight crews are still checking to see what’s damaged where: if the White Wings favour us there won’t be too much overlapping damage.”

Taking advantage of the pause in the conversation, the Flag Commander lifted an arm and drawing attention back to him.

“We have Tarquillian Glory on comms. It’s a bit rough, but we can communicate now.”

The command holotank focused in on the stationary dreadnought, the model of the ship shrinking as a communications window appeared above it. While the picture was coherent, it was equally clear through the static that not all the repairs had been completed.

“Third Pinion Iphis reporting, Eyrie Commander.”

All three Elysians looked at the scratchy communication in surprise. Third Pinion?

“Good to see that you’ve finally fixed your communications array. I need to speak with Prime Micycos. Immediately.”

The scratchy image seemed to shrug in response. “Prime Micycos is with the Mendicants. The crew citadel was breached and he was badly injured.”
“First Sosippos?”
“Dead. Tactical command took a direct hit. No survivors.”
“Second Xanias?”
“Second Pinion Xanias is aft in central life support leading the repair efforts. Futile, but leading nonetheless.”

Eyrie Commander Peres gritted his beak and leaned forward, doing his utmost to glower through the scratchy comm link.

“Nothing is futile, Third.”
“I’m sorry Eyrie Commander, but I’m afraid it is. Central life support took repeated hits. Current systems are at fourteen percent of rated capacity. We may get it up to thirty or forty percent, but that’s just not enough. The main regeneration tanks are shattered. Right now, the ship is running on backup scrubbers, but those are rated for thirty hours of full use.” Third Pinion Iphis leaned back, far enough to show that their uniform carried the insignia of habitations specialist.

“In that case, Third. I will wait for the Second to get on the comms and inform flag of your Actual condition, and not what you think it is.”

Peres cut the link with a dismissive wave.

“We’ll see what Second Xanias has to say about this.”

Twenty minutes later

“Central life support is a scrapyard. I can get us twenty five percent, but no more.”

If there was one thing Peres hated, it was being told that he was wrong.

“Are you sure, Xanias?”
“Absolutely.” The Second Pinion rolled onwards without giving a moment to Peres for him to respond. “Command has its own system in miniature. That’s giving us what we have so far. But the central system is destroyed. The oxygen regenerators are shattered, the growth medium is contaminated with long-chain carbonates, and half of the regulation system is fit only for fabricator feed.”
“Can you make the ship capable of moving?”
“Oh, the engines and main power plant are perfectly intact. We can move the ship. We just can’t live on it. When we lost the forward dorsal launchers we also lost the primary radiator array. Parts of the ship are starting to feel like summer on Menausus, and it’s only going to get worse.”

Peres shook his head “is there anything you can do?”

“Yes, Eyrie Commander. I can strip the ship of any usable spares, pull the supplies and fabricator feed, offload the crew, and scuttle the ship. We can either do that, or we accept that this ship will become an anoxic roasting oven within two days.

He hated it, but arguing with engineers was never a path to success. “Very well Second Xanias. I authorize you to strip and abandon Tarquillian Glory. We’ll make some space aboard Pyrabaris for you and your crew.”

Eight hours later, Tarquillian Glory disintegrated as her scuttling charges finished the job deWulf gunboats had started earlier that day. The expanding debris glittered as light faded from what remained, another sacrifice to the void.

dWS Hans Zollner
Director Mk4-Class Heavy Cruiser
Close orbit around Attica, Elysian Sovereignty Capital World
Elysium Star System

Three hours after the gunboat strike.

“Incoming message from the gunboat strike.”

Junior Packmaster Phelan looked up at the Lancer bringing him the message.

“Yes?” Phelan glared. He was still working the same pot of pfen that had been brewed yesterday, and it taken on a sharp, bitter taste. But it beat back the exhaustion. And it kept away the dreams.

“Sorry, sir.” The Lancer provided a quick salute before handing over a datapad, retreating from the day cabin as quickly and quietly as he had entered. The hatch whispered shut behind him, leaving Phelan alone again. He snorted at the tradition. He didn’t need a pad brought over to him; it would just call the message up from the ship’s systems no matter who owned the pad.

But no matter how much he ignored it, he’d still have to read it. He put his drink down, pushing the fat-bottomed mug away before picking the pad with the same hand. His thumb pressed down on the ID square to unlock the message even as he pulled it up to his face. The navy logo melted away, replaced by a somewhat low-res image of Lev Varga.

“So he’s still alive. Lucky.” He snorted again as he looked at the image quality “Three generations and the picture quality is still trash. Should get some Krak compression algorithms. Looks like someone recorded this with a damage control console.” The same thumb that unlocked the message slid down to start the message playing.

“This is Gull One, Strike Force Gull reporting.”

Lev looked like he was coming down from a hard run of stimulants, body occasionally shuddering, his membrane a pale green.

“Primary objective failed. We were detected on final approach, and the carriers were able to achieve an effective escape vector. Secondary objectives partially achieved. Two hostile cruisers destroyed; one dreadnought crippled. Approximately half of the enemy gunboat force has been destroyed outright, with another ten percent badly damaged. We have sustained over fifty percent losses, with multiple squadrons crippled. Estimate Elysian forces have been delayed by two, perhaps three hours. Combat logs are attached. Formal report will be ready by the time we return to the carriers.”

The video cut abruptly, replaced by a compilation of the attached sensor feed. Losses, confirmed kills, probables, as well as a rough prediction of next intentions. It was all likely to be updated later by actual analysts, but even this preliminary work was useful.

“Three hours… so they’re probably starting to move now…”

He put the pad down, reaching over to the command console on the nearby bulkhead.

“CIC, Hunter Mache.” ‘Good’ thought Phelan. ‘Mache was on duty. He’d understand.’

“Mache, general signal to Task Force One: All combat-ready warships without engine damage are to form on flag immediately before proceeding with flag to the Scylla Jump Point. Task Force Two is to accompany Task Force One. Any ships unable to make full speed are to detach and join Task Force Six.”

The comm channel was quiet as Mache digested the order. “Assuming cruising speed, Sir?”

“Negative, Mache. I said full speed. Order is for all ships to red-line their drives. Full combat speed.”

Another pause. “Understood sir. Suggest you have the order written out?” Verbal orders could be refused, but with risks. But writing out an order made it Official, to be refused at the officer’s peril.

“Inform the Hunters that they’ll have a written order in the next ten minutes. If anyone isn’t running their drives flat out by the time the official orders go out, I’ll break them so badly they won’t be able to operate a spaceship ride at the park.”

“Understood Sir. I’ll get the fleet moving.”

To: Task Force One; Task Force Two; Task Force Six
From: Junior Packmaster Phelan
Subject: Immediate Deployment
Clearance: 2-Clarity

All Combat Ready ships are to form on fleet flag for immediate full-speed transit to the Scylla jump point. Ships that are not Combat Ready are hereby ordered to detach from their formation and attach to Task Force Six until ordered otherwise.

All ships are to proceed at full combat speed; damage to engine drive systems is hereby authorized. Any ships that suffer engine damage are to continue to make best speed until countermanded. Carriers that suffer engine damage are to transfer strike craft to undamaged carriers. Hunters and Chief Engineering Officers must take all precautions to preserve and protect their commands at all times.

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