OOC Note ~ Soundtrack to Battle of Aten-Re I: Agnus Dei
Astronomers were never quite in agreement on how to classify the Aten-Re star system; most called it binary, though a not insignificant minority disagreed. Aten, the system primary, was clearly enough a Class B blue giant. Re, the system secondary, provide something of a quandary. Depending on the astronomer, Re was alternately classified as a large Jovian with rocky moons, or a smallish Class M brown dwarf with rocky worlds. The fact that Re tended to lose and gain mass over a twenty year cycle, depending on how close it was to Aten, merely confused the matter.
Astronavigators, on the other hand, felt no confusion about what to call Aten-Re. They called it damned useful. For Aten-Re sat right in the middle of the Shermach hyperspace run, and was a hub for naturally clear spurs out to the Perlimian Trade Route and the Hydian Way. Ever since settlers had moved into that segment of the Rim, Aten-Re proved a natural stopping off point. Over time a great network of stations, foundries, warehouses, repair slips, smelters, and all the other little bits and pieces integral to a space-based merchant economy. Aten provided enough energy output to run all the stations on solar power. Re provided ample supplies of drinking water, O2, hydrogen, tibanna, and other useful gases. The moons of Re – essentially great rocks in space, and useless for colonization, though at least one played host to what the xenoanthropologists described as “some weird-ass sort of tomb”, so somebody had been there before the Republic – were rich in iron and other heavy metals. Throw in about two hundred square kilometers of agristations, some three-hundred thousand temporary and permanent employees of some umpteen dozen merchant houses, shipyards, and everything that went with that, and the facilities of Aten-Re became fully self-sufficient.
And those facilities kept on growing, for there was much profit to be had in Aten-Re.
However profitable, astronomically anomalous, or damned useful Aten-Re was, Virgil Spoony merely called it home. At least for the next six months: most of the independent corporations who ran the stations and platforms and what-not manned them with personnel on two-year ‘deployments’; although one could request an extended or permanent assignment, only a few did so, and most of those were non-humans. Virgil had questioned this until his fourth month on site, when he realized that he was starting to freak out over the complete lack of a horizon, even on the agristations. He’d learned after his first break down that such was a common problem with humans. For that matter, such was a common problem for most species which primarily lived above ground, which explained why most of the permanent employees (who were paid very well) were Talz, Sullustians, and the like.
Still, life on the stations wasn’t all that bad; one just took a while to get used to it. The company took great pains to make sure the station was well equipped and mostly comfortable: they wanted spacers to dock there and spend money, after all. So there was no surfeit of ‘quality’ distractions: bars and women – or men, as the case may be – being the chief items. A few nick-knack shops (“bring him a vial of real hydrogen drawn off from Re!”), some theaters, restaurants galore, and several chapels for just about every religion out there including a few he’d never even heard of, rounded out the selection. So there was plenty for a single, human male in his mid-thirties to do.
The problem, Virgil pondered as he glared at his screen, was that sometimes the customers didn’t leave him a lot of time to do those things.
He was – thank whatever gods there might be – a first-shift controller for the second docking station on one of Methula-Borgone Inc. three class-D platforms. It could be annoying at times, but hey, it beat third shift. Poor bastards. Things had gone fairly swimmingly – minus the incident with the Diamala, but he was trying to forget that – until two days ago when eight Golgan III registered freighters came tromping in system.
They were schedule to dock to take on reactor mass and give the crew few days of R&R, before the formation would split to their respective destinations. No big problem. Virgil didn’t mind Gollies – they beat the random Imp vessel to come marching through, all spit and polish and with one hell of an inferiority complex – and he could grudgingly admire the way almost all GIII-flagged merchie captains tended to stick together. But that didn’t mean he liked that the fact that all eight freighters were holding position three light-minutes off his platform because one of their number had suffered an engine casualty. Normally an easy fix – dock with the station, get the necessary party, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am – the issue was apparently severe enough that the freighter could not move, much less dock with something. Again, no problem: standard procedure would allow the ship to hold position until they got the thrusters back up, and then everything would proceed as normal.
SOP did not allow for seven other freighters to cluster around the wounded ship for ‘logistical support’. That caused a lot of jumps in the dock schedule, and would cause a few delays when the ships slotted back in. Nobody, neither spacer nor station controller, wanted last-minute schedule adjustments. Even if it meant loading/offloading early, those adjustments just added a lot more room for error and unintended consequences. He’d heard stories of ships that were early, and had lost whole cargoes because they had to unload perishables before the buyer arrived…
He glared at his screen once more, then tapped the icon representing the dammed Gollies.
“Get in touch with Captain Heffner again,” he growled. “Let’s see if they can get moving sometime today.”
“Right, boss. You want to talk with her?”
Virgil sighed. Dammed Gollies.
“Just so long as she isn’t singing.”
“I run where the darker crowds run/in the rain-swept streets where the black rain runs,” Captain Mallory Heffner sang quietly, as she leaned against the tac console, “I play where the darker kids the play/the one who goes out when you end your day…”
The crew tried to hide their smiles and pretended that they couldn’t hear. The crews were a tightly nit bunch, the crew of Procyon – ‘flagship’ of TF Q-RON-23 – especially so, and they were quite fond of their red-haired and silver-eyed Captain. At least she had good taste in music.
“Ma’am,” the communications officer said, “call for you from the station. It’s Spoony. Again.”
“Oh my,” Mallory replied, with just the slightest widening of her eyes. “You’d think they were eager to be rid of us.”
“Can’t say, ma’am. Want me to put him on?”
“Oh, might as well,” she said, and rose up off the console. “Let’s see how red we can get him to turn this time…”
‘Well, I shouldn’t do that,‘ she thought with a bare trace of remorse. ‘Poor guy is just doing his job. Besides, in another half-day, Oberon will have their ‘engine troubles’ ‘fixed’, and we can all go home. Unless the Vong show up first, but I’d rather this be a-’
Right about then, the Klaxons sounded as a new contact appear on the tactical display.
“Sir! New contacts!”
Virgil looked from his screen – where he’d been about to try and chew out Captain Heffner, again – and froze. Four ships had jumped, unscheduled, to a point six light-minutes away from the Aten-Re L4 station cluster. L4 was the largest and oldest of the clusters, and also contained all three of Methula-Borgone’s platforms. Joy.
“No, I mean none. They aren’t transmitting an IFF signal, boss.”
“Profile on the sensor return, McGee?”
“On it, boss,” the junior controller said. “We’ve got a hard profile, comparing it to-”
“Oh, my God…”
“That tells me sh-”
“Contacts identified as Yuuzhan Vong ships. One dreadnought analog, three cruisers. They… they’re launching fighters, boss.”
“Oh, my God.”
Shipmaster Hul Matuul’a was unhappy. A proud warrior, though very young for his rank, he had found himself at the eve of the invasion yoked to Supreme Commander Rupaak Kag. This had not worried him, at first: Kag espoused a philosophy of combat which Matuul’a himself shared, and their mission – to disrupt New Republic logistics and force the enemy to redeploy away from the invasion – was an important and honorable one. To date, it had also been a success: Kag’s own unexpected engagement at Xenen had pinned the Aurora Force, and the actions of his three group commanders – including one Hul Matuul’a – had forced the other local Republic forces to redeploy defensively along the Shermach, and other trade routes and inhabited sectors, instead of joining in battle with the invasion force.
There was honor, and great glory, in what he did. But no-one had told Matuul’a that it would be so boring. These… merchants… put up even less fight than a Shamed One. Killing them was a waste of effort. Not that he let any live, of course: his pilots and gunners needed the practice. But it was so dull.
On the other hand, he had a system full of infidel abominations upon which to vent his frustrations. Bounty from the gods!
“Forward, my warriors!” he cried through the villip choir, as his ships came up to speed and began to launch skips. “Let none remain alive!”
“Thats right, just go,” Virgil yelled in his comm at the third recalcitrant merchie skipper in as many minutes. “I don’t care where. Forget the schedules, forget the cargo, just turn and get the hell out of this system.”
The skipper growled something back.
“Take a look at your sensors, dumbass,” Virgil said. “Now go away.”
Sometimes merchies could be dumb as dirt. Most of them had taken the hint and were already turned to skedaddle for the hyper limit. But some just… dammed merchies. At least the Gollies had enough sense to-
“Sir!” McGee cried. “The Gollies!”
“Oh, what the hell-” Virgil growled as he turned to his screen. Then he stopped, blink once, and tilted his head a bit to right as if that would change what he saw. The freighters were moving a lot faster than a ship class ought, and Oberon moved just as readily as his fellows. But the weird part was their vector…
“What… what the frack is that crazy woman doing?! Comm, get me Heffner!”
He glared at her as her face appeared on his screen.
“Captain,” he said, trying very hard to control himself, “why are your ships heading towards the enemy attackers?”
He could feel himself turning red. This time, he decided to go with the explosion.
“Dammit, woman, what the hell are you doing?! First you… you… you come in here and frack-up my docking schedule, and now you’re acting like you’ve got some sort of damned death wish! Just turn around and get your crew the hell out of here, instead of trying to be some damned hero!”
Instead of replying she smiled, shook her head, and then worked a single control. That control, Virgil realized with great surprise, deactivated a bit of computer trickery of astonishing verisimilitude. He’d never even realized that she had masked her appearance… until the white and green uniform of a GIII merchant company faded away to show the truth.
For Mallory Heffner wore the black and silver of a Golgan Defense Force Captain.
Captain Mallory Heffner of the GDF Q-Ship Procyon, commander of GDF Q-Ship Squadron 23, smiled at the senior traffic controller. She tried very hard not laugh at him, which proved difficult given how his jaw hung somewhere around his ankles. But she was one to persevere in trying times.
“Don’t worry about us, Virgil, this is what we came for. This is what my crew came for. Just get the rest of the ships out; we’ll buy you some time until the cavalry arrives. Out, here.”
She cut the channel and turned to her crew.
“Comm,” she said quietly, “all ships under way?”
“Good. Signal, ‘x-formation, and stout hearts’. Also, make sure the holocom link to Illuminator is on continuous update,” she said, then turned back to the tactical display and started to sing. “With a crew of drunken pilots\We’re the only airship pirates\We’re full of hot air and we’re starting to rise\We’re the terror of the skies, but a danger to ourselves now…”
“Well…” Maatul’a whispered to himself as he studied the infidel ships. Most, as was to be expected, had turned to flee. Most of those he would not reach in time to destroy; a good thing strategically, as that would allow the tale to weaken the hearts of the base infidels, but unsatisfying from a personal standpoint. However, those eight freighters…
They came at his forces arranged in four lines of two, each line at ninety degrees from the adjoining two. Weak, infidel freighters, and yet they charged him.
“At last, someone worth killing,” he said in appreciation, then turned to the villips. “My warriors! Angle to those ships! Let us give them as an offering to the gods!”
“Ma’am,” the tactical officer announced, “they’re turning to come at us.”
“Good. They took the bait.”
“Since we’re the bait, ma’am, I’m not too sure I’m happy about that.”
“Look at it this way, TACO, we’re coming out of Aten. So we’ll be silhouetted against a blue giant.”
“Think it’ll mess up their targeting?”
“Can’t say,” Mallory shrugged. “But at least we’ll look cool.”
“I’m not comforted, ma’am.”
The first rule of Q-ship combat is that a Q-ship does not engage a regular military vessel. The second rule of Q-ship combat is that a Q-ship does not engage a regular military vessel. Mallory was about to break both rules. Dangerous, but that was the mission.
Procyon, Oberon, and the other six Q-ships were all built around the single most basic and common freighter the design in the galaxy. Take a single, thing, command-crew-engine section, then attach two large cargo boxes to either side. Wa-la, a freighter, one each. Outwardly, the Q-ship was no different: command-crew-engine section with two large cargo boxes. Even the ‘armor’ was the same.
Inside, however, was another story. The Q-ship actually carried slightly fewer crew than a regular freighter, in order to make room for an expanded tactical sensor suite. The engines and shields were upgraded to military standard. But the fun part was in the ‘cargo boxes’.
Each box carried a set of spoofers to ensure that anyone who looked – unless they looked really closely and with more sensor power than was strictly healthy, and each Q-ship carried a ready supply of certain items to ensure that didn’t happen – could confirm that the Q-ship carried what it claimed on the cargo manifest. What they really carried, were weapons. A popular anti-pirate design had one box equipped with a cluster of turbolasers and ion cannons, while the second box carried boarding craft and – maybe – an A-wing.
The boxes on Procyon and the others each held fifteen proton torpedo tubes. Each tube contained forty advanced proton torpedoes loaded end-to-end. Between the eight ships, she had a total of 9600 torps to throw at the enemy.
A mag-rail would ‘fire’ the torpedoes, the engines of which would not activate until five hundred meters out from the ship. The tubes were arranged in a rank of four, a rank of five, and rank of six, following the shape of the boxes. Standard firing profile was a twin-linked, alternate corners right-and-left launch.
“Comm, how’s the link with Illuminator?”
“Still active, ma’am. They continue to acknowledge receipt of data.”
“TACO, firing range?”
“Two minutes, ma’am.”
She thought for a second, then nodded.
“No point in waiting, they’re already coming to us. Blow the doors.”
“Blowing doors, aye.”
The TACO flipped two safety switches then pressed the master control. A series of explosive bolts fired, causing the hull paneling which hid the torpedo tubes to swing open and out from the ship. A second series of bolts severed the panels and sent them spinning away into empty space.
They waited. Mallory did not sing.
“Enemy in range,” the TACO announced.
“Attack plan Delta. Target priority three-one skips to ships. Fire!”
“I wonder if they have a yammosk,” Aral murmured as she and Carlos studied the tac feed from Captain Heffner. Illuminator and the GDF First Squadron held position two light-days out from Aten-Re, so the data was almost real-time.
“Probably not,” Carlos replied, just as quietly. “From what we’ve gathered, none of these smaller forces carry a war coordinator. Which is perfectly fine by me.”
They fell silent again when she opened fire. The torpedoes shot from the formation in clusters of sixteen, one cluster every second, as each ship’s fire control shifted from tube-pair to tube-pair.
“Good girl,” Carlos whispered as she continued to fire and carry her ships into the teeth of the enemy.
“Interesting targeting priority,” Aral said. “Most of the torps are going after the skips.”
“I told her the other half of the Plan before she left,” Carlos explained to his chief of staff. “Speaking of such things, I think it’s time we get underway ourselves.”
The first of the torpedoes struck the skips; most were swatted way by enemy fire or dovin basals, but some hit. The objective, after all, was to keep the Yuuzhan Vong ships focused on the Q-ships instead of the civilian facilities. Their mission was not to the destroy the enemy.
That fell to the Illuminator and the GDF First Squadron.
“Well, Aral?” Carlos said quietly enough that no one else could here. “Which one should it be?”
He pointed to the four vessels.
“For the capture, sir?”
“Exactly. Which would you target, if it was your choice?”
Aral pursed her lips and tapped her chin as she studied the plot. Then she pointed to the dreadnought analog.
“Since it’s the bigger of the four, it’s less likely to blow up when we start shooting off the gunports. That and… there’s something about formation, sir. It’s forward of the others… I think that’s their command ship. The psychological center is there.”
“Well reasoned,” Carlos said. “Commander Tremaine,” he called to his staff tactical officer, “please designate the dreadnought analogue as target Omega. Comm, signal Commodore Kincaid: prepare to jump on my mark.”
“Thank you, Mr. Atkins. Nav, plot our courses: when we arrive at Aten-Re I want 1/1 here, 1/2 there, and the screen and our fighters slashing in like so. Illuminator and Freedom’s Fire will attack in tandem.”
Lieutenant j.g. (still! dammit!) Mikele Sunschilde, Charlie Eleven, was starting to snooze in her X-wing when Arfor beeped at her.
“What!?” she snapped, then looked at her CMD. “A tac update? Target Omega… what was… oh, right. The one we’re not supposed to blow up.” She called up the transmitted data, in order to get a good look at the target. She raised an eyebrow. “That’s a big one…”
“Charlie Squadron,” came the voice of Commander Nathaniel Delacourte, her squadron commander, “report in.”
“Charlie Two, standing by.”
“Charlie Three, standing by.”
“Charlie Four, standing by.”
“Charlie Five, standing by.”
“Charlie Six, standing by.”
“Charlie Seven, standing by.”
“Charlie Eight, standing by.”
“Charlie Nine, standing by.”
“Charlie Ten, standing by,” said Bren.
“Charlie Eleven, standing by,” she said.
“Charlie Twelve, standing by,” said Cullen.
“Lock s-foils in attack position.”
Mikele’s heart began to race as she complied with the order; locking s-foils before jumping was risky proposition, but intellectually she understood the reason why they took that risk. She also knew that every single X-wing and B-wing from Illuminator and the First Squadron were doing the exact same thing. That did nothing to decrease her nervousness, for she knew that the whir servomotors sounding in her cockpit meant that the GDF was going to war, and that she would soon take part in her first pitched battle. This was no interdiction against pirates, or even an enemy ambush in the home system. This was a direct assault against an enemy force, and she couldn’t help but be a little bit afraid.
Still, it was on the General’s terms, and on ground of his own choosing. That had to count for something, right?
Even so, her heart raced, and her hands shook.
Arfor trilled encouragingly.
“All hands!” came the voice of General Carlos DeLong. “Soon, we will jump to Aten-Re. An enemy force of four capital ships and several hundred coralskippers has launched an assault against that system. My children, we hold the advantages of numbers and surprise. Do your duty, guard the man to each side of you, and we will win this day and live to see another. May the Force be with us.”
Mikele’s hands tightened around the control yoke. They still shook, but Arfor dampened out the input. So this was it. Her first real battle.
Arfor received one last astronav dump. The jump counter started as fighter and starship each began to accelerate.
“Prepare to jump on my mark,” the General said.
Her hands stopped shaking.
“Three… two… one…”
God-dammed, mother-fracking pieces of-
Her torpedoes had destroyed over a hundred skips, and had damaged each of the four Vong cap ships. But there were a hundred plus skips remaining, and they were faster than her torpedoes, and would be on top of her ships well before she could kill the rest of them. Kind of a sucky way to die, but them’s the breaks.
Idly, she tapped the tac console as the skips continued to close. Where was-
“New contacts!” the TACO screamed. Mallory looked up the tac display and grinned. She and her crews would live another day.
“TACO, cease fire on the caps!” she ordered. “Shift all fire to the coralskippers!”
Ever since the Second Battle Xenen, the GDF had built something of a reputation for precision hyper jumps. The Battle of Ketaris and the Battle of Kartuiin had only reinforced this, and by now all GDF astronavigators considered it a point of pride to be able to put their ships where the commander wanted them, when they wanted them. Since the navigator was Lieutenant Commander Rakari Bransford from General DeLong’s staff, there was no question as to where and when the ships would arrive.
The Vong caps – the dreadnought analogue and three cruiser analogues – were arrayed in a echelon right formation oriented towards the Q-ships, with the dreadnought slightly out of formation and ahead of the others. The coralskippers ground forward in what could almost be called a great cloud. Explosions and flashes of hawking radiation lit their formations.
Upon them fell the combined fighter strength of the Illuminator and the First Squadron, sans bombers, but with support from Aurora Force fighters. They swept in from above, relative to Re’s orbital plane, engaging with lasers. Everyone remembered their training, and engaged the skips in flights of three. Simultaneously, from below, the Lancer frigate Aryn Campbell, and the Nebulon-B frigates Gryphon, Harpie, Aerie, and Basilisk jumped into place and began to engage with dedicated anti-fighter laser batteries. The two assaults were offset laterallly from each other, to reduce the chance of green-on-green.
Upon the capital ships fell the entire might of the First Squadron. From the First Division, the MC80B Mount Pracyn and Interdictor Lariat attacked along their right flank; the MC80B Sayacinth Isle and Interdictor Binding Ward assaulted from the left; the First Div flagship, MC80B Kartuiin, accompanied by two squadrons of B-wings, came up from below and in between the two flanks.
The Second Division, VSDII Hammer and dreadnoughts Tomahawk and Mace stormed the Vong from above. They poured merciless fire into the greater aspects of the enemy cruisers, while presenting a minimal aspect of their own.
And into all this, into the rear of the Yuuzhan Vong force, charged the ISDII Illuminator and Freedom’s Fire, as they had in songs from the GDF of old.