Chapter 7 - The Grand Fleet
"Further, please advise Technical Intelligence that I can confirm their suspicion that the stern of a Sa'arm ship appears uniquely vulnerable to missile attack." Wilhelm Koenig wrapped up his post-battle report and ordered it copied to the message drone they were sending to Borneo Command. He'd already added personal letters for his family back on Atlantis, as had the rest of Archerfish's crew.
"Personal note to Commander Marcie Haywood, Confederacy Navy. 'You make tasty fish.'" She'd appreciate that. They'd joked about how "tasty" this new sort of ship, all to be named after fish, would turn out to be.
"Captain!" called Charlie. "Engine trails spotted."
"Very well, I'm coming."
Captain Koenig and his crew had learnt to love the Sa'arm propulsion system. It was primitive and threw off a trail of particles as wide and long as a four-lane highway, leading right to the target.
Right now, a stealthy pair of ships - the Archerfish and its Remora - were following this nice well-lit highway to see what mischief Archerfish and her crew could get up to.
It turned out to be plenty. When they neared the planet this trail led to, they discovered a large collection of Vacuna scouts, Venti destroyers and Vervactor cruisers, all with their shields down and all just sitting there. In the middle were two Volturnus freighters and a Voluptas hive sphere. It looked like someone was building an invasion fleet.
"We'll pull a page right out of Baron Manfred von Richthofen," Koenig was explaining.
"We're going to hit them with a rolled up newspaper?" Ensign O'Brien suggested sarcastically.
"Ah, no, that's how the Baron attacks Snoopy. We are going to feed the Sa'arm our delicious little puppy treats of nutritious depleted uranium from out of the sun. We'll go around the star close-in, hide and fire from behind this planet here." He pointed to a hot ball of rock whose orbit was between those of Mercury and Venus. "We'll take advantage of the slingshot effect to increase the speed until momentum itself renders them practically unstoppable. Then, we'll take advantage of this comet here and follow its shadow as it interposes its convenient little self between the targets and ourselves."
"Elegant," Sam conceded. "It could work. I especially like the 'getting away' part."
Wilhelm nodded modestly. "It does have the advantage in that the Sa'arm are unlikely to see it coming."
"How many missiles?" asked Sheila.
"All 16 we have left. That may be a large agglomeration, but it's a pinprick size in terms of space and a lot of individual targets." They'd expended three missiles a few days earlier sinking a trio of Vacuna class scouts in a classic stern-shot ambush.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Davison was somewhat sceptical of the plan. "You do realize, oh fearless leader, that any and all survivors are going to be coming after us like a bat out of hell and that they only need to get close enough to read our tail signature to spot us."
"That has been a constant hazard. However, first they have to figure out where the missiles came from, and by the time they even realize the fish are on their way, we should be far, far away from the launch point. But why worry about that now, and not in previous operations?"
"Because before we always had Plan B: Shoot more missiles. We'll be out of missiles this time, which makes Plan B kind of moot, and last I checked we had no realistic Plan C. It reminds me uncomfortably of the Japanese Imperial Navy at Midway. Everything was predicated on the Americans behaving exactly according to plan, but missed the minor point that the Yanks hadn't signed off on the plan. The Americans did their own thing, and by the end of the day two-thirds of Japan's fleet carriers were lying on the bottom of the Pacific with the cream of their naval aviators. I have no desire for my spirit to join theirs at Yasukuni Shrine just yet."
"I'll make a deal with you," Wilhelm offered. "If they show the slightest sign of reacting to anything, we'll abort the plan and get the hell out of here rather than wait to see if it was a false alarm."
Captain Koenig and company now sat at their battle stations, dressed in their airtight battle armour. The missile module, normally pressurized during a fight as trying to depressurize the module would take more energy than it was worth and leave too much trace gas to escape via the tubes, had this time been depressurized to make missile tube loading about twice as fast. Courses had been plugged in to the little computers on board the missiles, as well as instructions for targets of opportunity. Of the three Remoras the ship carried, one was sending a tight-beam communications signal from the comet's tail and a second was trying to peek from the planet's magnetic pole. The third was functioning as a communications relay.
"As per plan, begin launching missiles on my mark."
Sheila's hand hovered over the launch button.
"Begin. Launch all missiles." Beneath his feet the ship shuddered as the dynamic stress of the missile launch temporarily overwhelmed the inertial dampeners. And again. And again. Sixteen times, with a brief respite following the first and second volleys to reload the tubes.
"OK, now for the part the Chief will like. Pick up Remora One. Order Remora Two to join Remora One, so we can pick it up. Have Remora Three go to the far side of the comet's tail and wait for us to pick it up there."
Staff Sergeant Walters repeated the order and turned to his board to pass the instructions to the three little sensor platforms. Ensign Greene steered the vessel first to pick up the pair at the planet, and then to meet up with the Remora hiding in the comet's tail.
As the Archerfish and the third Remora met in their cometary rendezvous, the first of the missiles had begun creating havoc among the fleet of Sa'arm ships. Most of the ships at first suffered only localized damage as their engines were not running, and those few who did have fires in their reaction chambers did not receive a down-the-tubes shot that would have utterly destroyed them.
However, one of the freighters was just in the process of arriving, and as luck would have it the craft was stern-on to one of the Archerfish's missiles. The impact pierced the forward end of the reaction chamber and carried its force to the fuel tank beyond. As had happened so often before, shrapnel pierced the fuel tank and as the fuel mixed with the fire now suddenly venting forward from the shattered reaction chamber, the newly-released fuel lit explosively. The ship proved to contain munitions for the fleet, and the fuel explosion set off the many bombs within the freighter's holds. The resultant detonation was as if it were a supernova. When the light died out, the crew of the Archerfish could see that none of the fleet had managed to avoid incurring at least some damage. Even those which looked somewhat intact were obviously bleeding air and lacking power, tumbling and falling gradually out of orbit.
In his after-action report, Wilhelm Koenig would refer to the scene as the "grand coronation of death".
"Where do you suppose that fleet was going with that much ordnance?" asked a stunned O'Brien, not really expecting an answer.
"I really don't even want to speculate," responded an equally awe-struck Koenig. Shrugging off his feelings of wonder and horror, he turned to his crew. "Let's pick up our third little Remora and make our way for home. We're missing the Borneo strip acey-deucey tournament."
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