Hooking the Shark
"In time of war, prepare for
peace." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
"Are the calculations complete?" Commodore Edward Drake was speaking to his chief navigator on the bridge of the Revenant, name corvette of its class. He was trying not to be impatient, but this was an operation that hinged critically on both time, and flawless execution.
"Still working, sir," replied the navigator calmly. He refused to be rushed, as he was entrusted with the safety of not one but three ships. He was calculating the jumps and timing for the entire squadron, and there was little margin for error. The whole squadron had to move as a unit, or this operation would fail.
The Commodore sighed. "C'est la." He turned to the intercom, getting his engineer on the line. "Jump drive status?"
"Doubly charged, sir!" came the snappy reply. He seemed awful bloody cheerful, the Commodore thought. But then, why shouldn't he be? For the first time in its history, the Veiled Republic was taking it to the enemy, and his squadron was about to fire the VRDF's opening volley.
Commodore Drake reflected a moment as he watched the calculations scrolling across the navigator's screen. The Pioneers had done fine work to get them this far. The VRDF had long known that the Diamond Sharks had established a forward base near the Veiled Republic; they had to have such a base, to be operating so far from their homeworlds. Now that base had been found, in an uninhabited system just a jump northwest of the Republic, nearly 135 degrees east of the direction of Clan space. Clever of the Sharks, to hide right behind the Republic's back; it had worked for a long time. But not so clever, as to be within immediate striking range if discovered.
A decisive beep came from the navigational computer, breaking the Commodore out of his reverie. "Calculations complete, sir. We will lead, followed by Revenge and Retribution at double safe intervals. That should allow sufficient time to clear the jump point between arrivals, without breaking our formation." He paused, then scrolled. "Our advance information on the system has allowed me to calculate our escape path. We will strike the target, then thrust to a pirate point here," he indicated a spot on the map, "to jump out as rapidly as possible. If that point fails, we can simply turn and burn through to the system nadir; our ships are faster than anything the Sharks have in this sector."
"C'est la." He keyed the squadron channel. "Revenge, Retribution, stand by to receive navigational orders." He nodded to the nav, who took over coordinating the jump with the other ships. Within minutes, all was ready.
The Commodore looked out the bridge at the stars of the Widow's Tears, and took a deep breath, before keying the intercom. "Action stations. Prepare to jump." Klaxons sounded throughout the Revenant, and then her two sister ships as the order was relayed. Crewmen took up positions, hatches were closed, weapons were readied...all the motions that had been drilled countless times, on countless ships, since the days of sail on ancient Terra. The Commodore listened as each station reported ready, then looked to his helmsman. "Jump."
There was a rising hum and vibration, and then a flash of nothing. Then suddenly, the Revenant was elsewhere. The Commodore looked to his navigator as the helmsman reflexively pushed the ship to safe thrust, the standard action for clearing a jump point. The navigator checked his instruments and nodded. They were right on time, right on target.
And with the precision timing of a metronome, the other two corvettes appeared behinf them, one after the other. The Commodore smiled. So far, so good. The three ships maintained their line formation, burning from the jump point towards the orbital plane. If the Pioneers were right, there would be...
Radar sounded a warning. Contacts, big ones. The Pioneers WERE right. On the scanner appeared the shapes of Clan warships. The Commodore quickly gave orders, the formation accelerating to maximum speed as the broadband channel came alive.
"We are the Black Diamond Naval Star of Clan Diamond Shark! Identify yourselves!" The Commodore smiled again. The voice clearly reflected unpleasant surprise, surprise at enemy vessels appearing from a pirate point in attack range. The Sharks clearly had been overconfident about remaining hidden. He gave no response, but simply designated a target on the outer corner of the Shark fleet, a Carrack class that identified as the Bloodletter. The Sharks had been careless in leaving the ship in the open, and now it would serve to convey the Veiled Republic's response to the Sharks.
One by one, in a line astern, the three corvettes strafed the Bloodletter at top speed, faster than the bigger Shark warships could move to intercept or evade. The Revenant's nose-mounted cannons punched through the Carrack's thin stern armor like paper, then her corner NPPC's pounded the Clan ship as she passed to one side. The Bloodletter returned fire with its more numerous, but smaller guns; the few hits that were scored, were stopped by the Revenant's armor. Then came the Retribution, and the Revenge, each in their turn. And then they were away.
Commodore Drake watched dispassionately as meter-wide shells crashed through the Bloodletter's tail, and beams of deadly energy scorched its flanks. His expression did not changed as the engineering section was opened to space, and a chain reaction of fires danced through the after weapons bays. He could imagine the situation on board the Bloodletter: mass casualties, fires spreading, damaged structure giving way under stress, power failing. He felt sympathy for the warriors on board the enemy vessel, but only as soldiers might feel when they act in the course of duty. And then it was over, as the fires reached the after magazines, and the Bloodletter was sunk by a mighty series of explosions.
The squadron was still moving at maximum speed, heading for the jump out point. The surviving Sharks were manuvering, firing ineffective long-range shots, unable to catch the swift corvettes, even as the hulk of the Bloodletter burned. Eventually, the Sharks gave up, and turned back to brood over their lost vessel.
Commodore Drake allowed himself a reaper's grin, as he flashed off an HPG report of his mission's success. The next step would now be in the hands of the diplomats, who would send a message to the Sharks. That message would be simple: an offer of hegira, and normalized relations.
The Commodore couldn't help thinking that the Sharks would be fools not to take that offer. Between the two sides, three warships and thousands of warriors had been lost. The Sharks were far from home, outnumbered on the ground, and could be effectively struck anytime the VRDF desired, as his mission had been designed to demonstrate. To fight further would be a waste, and the Veiled Republic knew how much the mercantile Sharks abhorred waste.
Yes, the Commodore thought to himself. Finally, maybe...this war is over.