The Goolaprap system was kind of odd. One inhabitable planet orbiting a blue star. No other planets, no asteroid belts. Very little debris, or gas, it was almost like the whole area had been swept clean by some incomprehensibly powerful force.
Goolaprap was a rather ambitious attack. Recombining almost the entire allied fleet from disparate star systems in a synchronized operation coming in from multiple Web-Way termini.
The Eutopian’s as per usual were the first through the terminus. Their cruisers and the Intrepid went invisible immediately. However, joining their formation was the fleets toughest warship, my Montana. We were as acting as bait. We came blasting in, giving the impression that we were doing a hit and run raid on the planet. The Eutopian’s had done a couple of raids on other imperial targets. Though never with the Intrepid. While the enemies ships pulled back into a defensive formation around the planet the rest of the allied fleet had a relatively clean passage through the terminus.
As the allied fleet was forming up into a suitable battle formation enemy fighters attacked. A tidal wave of enemy fighters came at our guns. They flew headlong into an impenetrable wall of searing light, disintegrator waves, fire and steel. Once they were dealt with it was the turn of their heavy ships.
Eight enemy battleships bore down on me and my crew. I can honestly say that was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen in my life. If the rest of the Allied Fleet wasn’t in the process of forming up into proper lines of battle I would have immediately cut and ran. Just because Big Blues armor had proven to be effective against enemy plasma fire. I had no desire to find out of it could withstand an entire fleets worth of firepower.
Dreadnought had been badly damaged in a recent battle. But almost every other allied warship was there. As the enemy closed and began pounding on The Montana, Intrepid and her escort of cruisers fired from behind the enemy, through their invisibility cloak. Once the large enemy formation was broken up the rest of the Allied Fleet closed range and let them have it.
The battle of the Goolaprap System became a swirling melee after that. Several ships were hit by friendly fire. More were damaged by enemy ships going bang. After about 20 minutes of contact the enemy broke and issued a surrender message. By then there was only one enemy battleship left and we were just about to start chewing on their support ships. It was good to see that the message was getting through to them. That there was no need to fight to the last man.
Various fleet elements landed on the planet to accept their surrender. It was a simple operation for me. Though for the enemy, anyone could see the humiliation and exhaustion written on their faces. What I was more interested in was how our European allies were doing. While Task Force V had been drifting through the cosmos on a veritable pleasure cruise, they had been grinding through the main enemy force.
During the surrender ceremony I got to meet dozens of fleet officers that I hadn’t seen in months. As I expected the Eutopian’s had weathered the constant fighting fairly well. But months of continuous combat had clearly ground down the European crews, badly. Their ships were in poor shape. Admiral Holland and most of the English fleet were already on the way back home. The Russians especially had an air of utter exhaustion to them. However it was the happy exhaustion of someone who was on the winning side. At the impromptu fleet conference that happened on Goolaprap I advised many of the European officers that they should probably head back to Earth. Their governments would be sending new ships and fighting would probably be dying down for awhile with the second enemy Capitol captured. An interesting wrinkle of deep space combat was the fact that your government could send all the orders they liked and crews could decide wether or not they should be obeyed. Discipline was pretty strict on the ships from captains on down. But there wasn’t much that governments back home could do to enforce their whims, beyond making requests to destroy the enemy.
Intelligence suggested that there were two more Capitol planets to be captured. The location of one had been confirmed, the location of the last one was not confirmed just yet. So I took my fleet back to the Ristavron system to wait for the worn out ships and crews to complete their rotation back to Earth. Other ships would replace them, it would take awhile for them to arrive. Once enough ships had been built up I was going to lead an attack on the last two capitols. With that, I hoped that this war would be brought to a tidy end and I could get to the serious work of finding the source of the toxic web-way energy.
Once we got back to the Ristavron system it became immediately clear that much had changed in the months I had been gone. The two heavily damaged orbital shipyards had been repaired and had been converted to the job of salvaging anything of use from the large number of captured imperial ships. Their cargo ships would eventually be converted into carriers for whatever corporation wanted to pay the price for refitting them. Most of their warships were just scrapped. All but a few were very heavily damaged and Imperial warships, for all their size. Were generally useless in combat and did not integrate at all with our tactics, technologies or ascetic taste.
The whole Ristavron system was full to bursting with ships. It was almost a nerve wracking experience bringing my fleet in to land. When I landed I found that the large launch facility that we had taken over had been massively expanded and improved while I had been gone. Everything looked great, a little shoddily constructed in places because of the heavily accelerated work schedule. That would change in time. I unpacked some of my stuff and returned to the office that I had set up in the nearby marble castle and started on my paperwork.
If you commanded a battleship in the Ristavron system then part of your duties was to guard the web-way terminus. This was some really boring work. Vitally important, but boring. Most of the time you just had to find some other thing to do while you pointed all of your weapons wherever you guessed that the terminus was going to discharge.
While I was doing this profoundly tedious task the terminus activated. It discharged five ships in an excellent firing position beneath Big Blue. As she rolled over it became clear that these were not enemy ships, thankfully. They were kinda small, they also looked kinda familiar. Like the cruiser fleet that the U.S. Government had bought from the English. But much more heavily armed. I zoomed in on the nameplate on the lead ship. “USS New York.”
Over the standard US army frequency I asked.
“Attention, attention, identify yourselves immediately.”
“This is general William Mitchell, U.S. Army Air Corps. I assume that this is admiral Hammond on the line?”
Mitchell, it had to be him. The most competent fleet commander left in the U.S. Military. We had worked together during the attack on the Cores compound in Rhodesia. I had offered him a job with the IEC immediately afterwards. As had numerous other companies and foreign governments but he had remained loyal to his bloated bureaucracy.
“Ah Mitchell, so good to hear from you again, I figured that you would be the one they sent out to assume command after Halsey got himself and everyone round him killed. Will you attempt to seize command of the entire fleet?”
“No, not yet at least. I have read all of the reports that you and everyone else has sent home and I think I will just go with what has been working so far. Although I do hope my cruiser force will fare better than it has under my predecessor.”
“Damn right your cruisers will do better. If not then I will have the foremen at the yards that did the refitting fired.”
“Very good, so what happens now admiral?”
“Now we go to our primary base and wait for enough iron to arrive to finish this war once and for all.”
“Sounds good, I hope we won’t have to wait too long.”
Mitchell hand delivered sealed information that informed me that a large force of friendly warships was on its way to the Ristavron system. It would show up in about seventy hours. I felt like a kid at Christmas, he did not know exactly what was coming or how many of them would arrive. I relished the surprise, I couldn’t sleep, thinking of what might be on its way. Naturally I was waiting aboard Big Blue at the terminus on the designated hour. the web-way terminus. It started to glow and swirl as it always did. Then through the portal came dozens of ships that I simply did not recognize. But were clearly of Earth origin. The radio chirped to life.
“This is admiral Diehl aboard the Bayern. Do we have permission to land?”
“Admiral Diehl, this is Hammond aboard the Montana. You have permission to land. Welcome to the base camp of mount madness.”
The helmsman shot me an askance look. I shrugged my shoulders and commented.
“It just came to me.”
The first four ships passed by. Their nameplates read Bayern, Sachsen, Munich and Wurttemberg. They were followed by a support fleet of dozens of cruisers, corvettes and cargo ships. The Germans had really stepped up their game since Harding gave them the secret to building more fusion reactors. The Bayern class ships were a hundred and fifty feet longer than a Deutschland class battleship and had a much more diverse weapons suite. With provisions for torpedoes and missiles. Even a few rail-guns. Still it was obvious that German designers still preferred plasma turrets, and why wouldn’t they. No one could deny their effectiveness against anything without Singer armor.
These ships just might provide enough firepower to allow us to finish off the empire. If they were half as good as the Holstein the imperials didn’t stand a chance. It looked like the Bayern class was based off of designs that had been lying around since the German-AngloAmerican War. I hoped that lessons learned in this conflict had been incorporated into their design, but I doubted it.
A variety of British and Italian warships floated silently by. Yet more cargo ships, followed by the new English battleships Hood and a new Ark Royal. Along with the Italian battleship Leonardo DaVinci. One of five new Maelstrom class ships that the IEC had been contracted to build.
The DaVinci incorporated a variety of design improvements over the Montana. I still preferred Big Blue though. The chemists had tinkered with the formula for Singer derived ceramic-crystalline armor. DaVinci was a light purplish pastel color. Kinda pretty, but not very intimidating. Just as a matter of dignity I was going to send a letter back to IEC main requesting that no more ships to be built with that color of armor.
I hadn’t the slightest idea how the Italians had gotten the money together to be the first customer for the new production run of Maelstrom class battleships. They had probably sold off the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain and the Vatican or some other priceless collection of national treasures to fund that boat.
Behind them was a huge fleet of cargo ships. They would probably prove to be marginally useful with the over abundance of war material that we were looting from the Drankmastarians.
Finally it was time to inspect the Eutopian contingent. Six factory ships, three small troop carriers. Nine more priceless Orion class stealth cruisers. And four battleships, the restored Wraith class ship Cosmos. Along with three ships of the new Athena class. The Athena, Artemis and the Boudicca Lawarchelt. I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought that my stepmother had a battleship named after her. It was probably inevitable as one of the few heroes of recent Eutopian military history that they were going to name a ship after her.
The Athena class ships were built on a Valor class hull. A bit longer though, with fewer railguns and much more heavily armored with Singer derived armor. Judging by their much reduced heat plume these ships dispensed with the borderline insane design technique of shoehorning in eight reactors. That was how the Germans had found them during the great kidnapping. Thought their ships had been invisible in the visual spectrum, their reactors pumped out so much heat energy that they were easily seen with a relatively simple infrared detector. A few less giant rail-guns on these ships counterbalanced by a collection of plasma turrets and more missile emplacements. They were probably a bit slower than the Intrepid. But hopefully they could take, and dish out much more punishment.
As the last factory ship passed by I announced to the new fleet. “Alright everyone, welcome to the Ristavron system. In a few days we will be engaging the enemy directly. So make sure that your equipment is up to snuff and your magazines are full. Feel free to make yourself comfortable at any of our fine launch facilities or shipyards. We hope you enjoy your stay here.”
I switched from the standard fleet frequency to a German encrypted channel. There was something bothering me.
“Admiral Diehl, come in please.”
“You wouldn’t happen to be related to a Patrick Diehl would you?”
“He was my son.”
I sank into my chair. His use of the past tense to describe him stung much more than I thought it would. Even though it had been completely out of my control and had happened almost two years ago I still felt awful about his death. The admiral interpreted my silence and said.
“It wasn’t your fault, you did everything you could. Who knows, from what you described of the Venusian Cores compound he might still be alive someplace.”
I replied, “thank you. Your English is excellent by the way.”
He chuckled and replied, “how do you think I got this job?”
A few days later the last piece of the puzzle came through. The Schleswig-Holstein returned after refueling and rearmament. I supposed the Schleswig-Holstein was too important to keep out of the war for more than a couple of weeks. So somehow someone had convinced the Singers to do an energy purge operation on captain Stipetic and his command staff. They were accompanied by seven Russian warships under the command of an enigmatic figure, admiral Hyman Rickover.
Rickover was a guy who had become larger than life in Russia and elsewhere. He was the only man in the Russian Empire who had been able to translate the extremely advanced technologies given to the Czar by the Singers. Into functioning hardware. Hardcore racism malingered on in the Russian empire. This Polish born Jew was only able to maintain his position in the Russian Navy because of his peerless mechanical ability and his ability to get results. It was commonly known that those who worked with him hated his brashness and those who worked under him considered him a slavedriver. He had parlayed his technical knowledge into a position of great military and political power. So much so that behind his back, he was sometimes called the Vice Czar. He ran the navy as a technocratic meritocracy, a way of doing things that placed him permanently at odds with most of Russia’s power elite. I suppose that he believed if he was going to rub everyone the wrong way he might as well rub as hard as he could.
In the central conference room of the marble castle I had collected a very impressive collection of officers. The commanders of the French, ANSZAC, Japanese, USAAC and German officers milled around the room talking about this, that and the other thing. As he always did captain Stipetic was teleconferencing. Looking even more hawklike than usual as his cameras scanned the new talent in the room. Unusually the Eutopian commander was late. It was Ganpachi Dorcas, the sole captain of the battleship, Valor. He had been lured out of semiretirement by the ECF with a promotion to admiral.
Coincidentally, admiral Dorcas, admiral Haddad of the AF and admiral Rickover walked into the room at the same time from different doors. In another odd coincidence, all three of them wore suits instead of the uniforms that were worn by practically everyone in the room, except me and my staff. While Haddad took his seat Dorcas and Rickover came over to talk. I had never met Dorcas in person, I found him to be a rather affable guy. Though he sounded quite a bit more bloodthirsty than I expected him to. As he boasted about how he was looking forward to using his new fleet to eradicate the empire. I suppose that was just the Eutopian habit of not starting fights but making damn sure they ended them. Then Rickover came over and shook my hand.
My eyes were bugging out of my skull. I was expecting someone at least in his forties. This dude was younger than I was. I asked him, “Aren’t you a little young to be an admiral?” He couldn’t be a day over 35.
“Oh, I could say the same to you shiksa!”
I stammered, shiksa was a pejorative, one I hadn’t heard in years. This guy was quite unlike any Russian officer I had ever met.
He spoke in clear but somewhat Polish accented English. “Nice to see you again. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself when we met over China. I was commanding the Potemkin during the Nemesis incident.”
The information hit me like an electric cattle prod. I could barely stay on my feet. Though I was able to cough up a reply.
“Why? why did you act so strangely? Why did you chase us and not make any demands? Why didn’t you fire your main weapon at us and end the chase right there?”
“Do you honestly think that I’d be crazy enough to touch off a weapon capable of destroying a planet while just above the surface of a planet? A planet I rather like!”
“Okay, then why didn’t you order us to surrender like the Japanese did?”
In a tone of utter exasperation he groaned, “I don’t know, I’m an engineer not a fleet admiral. At least I am not supposed to be a fleet admiral. My damned government has so few people who actually know anything about commanding spaceships in combat that someone who gets paid much more than I do decided that since I am so good at building things then that must mean I am a decent tactician. My country, you know not a day goes by when I don’t think of just resigning my commission and going to work for EHL or some other Eutopian company. Leave it to aliens to be the only ones who treat human beings like human beings. But I don’t, mainly because the Czar considers me a personal friend.”
I was so confused by his tone of sincerity, anger and honesty that I couldn’t string a thought together. All I could splutter out was. “Are you going to apologize for the Guangxi incident?”
“Apologize for what? I didn’t fire and I wasn’t going to. I just needed to look like big stronk man for the admiralty. I bluffed, you called it. Don’t be a sore winner.”
This guy was unbelievable. He had all the manners of an alley cat. I knew iron workers from the Bronx who were diplomats compared to this shmuck. Yet, he fascinated me, I simply had to find out more about this absurdly powerful young man.
I settled into my massive, overstuffed leather chair around the beautifully polished wooden table. As the party in charge of the largest collection of hardware at this table, Rickover spoke first. After a moment of silence for the fallen in this war so far he began the conference with a slightly meandering message of appreciation from the czar and his government. Then he got to the meat of the matter. Reading from his latest orders he announced.
“The Duma and the Bundestag have concluded that since the combined forces of the Russian and German fleets have had such an exemplary record in combat and that our weapons systems have proven so complimentary in battle that until such time as the end of the conflict with the Drankmastarian Empire the Russian Cosmos Fleet and the Kreigsmarine will be unified under the command of, oh goody. General Admiral Rickover.”
He read that comment with a level of sarcasm that simply cannot be described in print. This was the first time in my entire life that I had heard someone react to a promotion with utter derision.
This immediate got captain Stipetic’s attention. He asked, “what does this mean for me, my ship and my crew?”
Rickover addressed him.
“The crew of the Schleswig-Holstein is specifically exempted from this arrangement. However, all other German ships that join the fleet will be under my direct command.” He briefly eyeballed admiral Diehl for emphasis.
Now, at this point someone with tact would have changed the subject. Anyone trying to be diplomatic would have allowed the famously eccentric, but unbelievably effective captan Stipetic to retain his special status as per his orders. Rickover did not do that, he stepped directly in front of Stipetic’s tele-screen. The brash young Russian admiral directly addressed the grizzled German captain.
“Perhaps under my command your nations priceless fleet won’t be thrown headlong into the gaping mouth of madness.”
“What’s that supposed to mean!?”
“I mean you are the most criminally reckless captain I have ever seen in my life! If it wasn’t for your ships unique abilities you would have been killed at least a half a dozen times from what I have seen.”
“I don’t have to listen to this.”
“Whose asking you to? As long as you are the only person who can fly the Cow the German government will indulge in your silliness. Now that their new ships are on line. Well, you had better have a damn good retirement plan because I can’t imagine that the Bundestag is going to continue to tolerate your nonsense.”
The screen went dark and Rickover cleared his throat. “Well, now that he has been dealt with we can get back to more pressing issues.”
He sat down and allowed his new chief tactician. A Ukrainian officer gave a detailed analysis of what the enemy was up to. In short they were continuing to do exactly what they had been doing. Panicking across the cosmos. They continued to fritter away their battleships one, two or three at a time in ineffective attacks. However the officer believed that a more coherent strategy was beginning to form.
“Darwinian theory claims that survival is the primary driving force of change. As we have all seen the Drankmastarian empire has been without external threats or other pressures for many, many generations. They grew weak, complacent. Utterly obsessed with local threats like rebellion. Not unlike the governments of Turkey and China at home. Subscribers of this theory interpret the changes brought about by these pressures as beneficiary. That such changes will allow an organism longer or more comfortable survival. I believe this is a misinterpretation. The changes brought about by accelerated adaptation to an environment. That can in time be interpreted as evolution often prove to be solely a benefit to the environment they find themselves in. Moths that were slightly darker than other moths were able to camouflage themselves against the trees darkened with soot from industrial furnaces of industrialized countries. Were these moths any better than their cousins? Any smarter? Stronger? Faster? No, they were just slightly different and that difference allowed them to adapt, survive and thrive while their cousins were feasted on by millions of birds.”
“I think what we are about to see in the Drankmastarian admiralty is a radical shift in structure. We have decapitated much of their command structure. Chopped away at the rot that has persisted in their military for unknown years. We have burned down the forest and I think it is only a matter of time until new growth starts to take its place. They will form new command structures that will be willing to think new ideas. Use technologies in different ways, and be able to come up with a coherent strategy for dealing with us.”
General Mitchell raised his hand, “can you speculate as to what that strategy will be?”
The young tactician smiled, “unfortunately my dear general, speculate is the correct word. Hopefully the new command structure will see reason and come to the negotiating table. More likely they will have to be liquidated. The surviving imperial forces will have burning animosities against us. I can hardly imagine them forgiving us for slaughtering so many of their friends and coworkers. As has been seen on Earth for thousands of years. Critical thinking is not very helpful when one is possessed by a lust for revenge. All I can recommend for now is to be alert and prepare for increasingly odd enemy activity.”
Dorcas asked, “odd? What do you mean by 0dd?”
“We are bringing a civilization to its knees admiral. Whenever this has happened throughout our history people’s behavior grows abnormal. It is only predictable in its unpredictability. When an individual faces death they do all manner of things. They fight, flee, bargain, panic, resign. Sometimes they even try to completely ignore or deny what is happening. Living in a fantasy world where they are not about to die and everything is as it once was. Desperation often drives men to do unimaginable things. Imagine that multiplied across millions of people across dozens of worlds. For all the wonders and strangeness we have all seen over the past few months I believe that will pale in comparison with what is to come.”
The officer took his seat and I stood up. “Living in a fantasy world is something we simply cannot afford to do at the moment. Out here in the real world we have these cold hard facts to deal with. According to the latest reconnaissance our enemy is rushing a force of at least nine battleships and an indeterminate, but undeniably large number of support ships to their two remaining Capitol worlds. I believe that we should not only cut them off before they get there. But we should launch a simultaneous attack on one of their two remaining Capitol worlds. Specifically the planet Wortulanst in the Calixes system. Compounding surprise with confusion. I think the bulk of our forces should be used to deal with the enemy fleet. While I lead the smaller secondary force against the Calixes system.”
There was much back and forth, speculation, insults and small details. In the end most of them decided to go along with my plan. Since the new German and Eutopian ships had not been proven in combat we decided that they would make up my force while everyone else sailed under Rickover against the main body of the enemy fleet.
After three boring web-way transits we arrived in the Calixes system. An incredible binary star system that held a strange multicolored city planet called Wortulanst that was the third of the four planets that controlled the Drankmastarian Empire. The most recent intelligence suggested that the system was occupied by three battleships and nine heavy cruisers. Along with various defensive satellites and something strange. A large space station that was speculated to be used for harvesting solar energy directly. Hopefully the forces I had cobbled together would be able to handle this. I figured that an American and Italian set of Maelstrom class boats. Accompanied by the latest battleships of Eutopos and Germany should be able to deal with them. The newer ships were advised to hang back and observe unless things went completely haywire.
I led the Montana straight in. Firing a wide spread of railgun darts at their defensive satellite emplacements. As expected the enemy came after us. But this time they actually tried using some tactics. Approaching at flank speed in a three in line formation. With all of their heavy cruisers in the front to absorb our fire. It looked like this was going to be a bad day. Especially for those poor bastards on the heavy cruisers.
“Montana to German fleet. Arm your weapons and prepare for close quarters combat. I need you to pare back the enemy heavy cruisers before we can engage their battleships.”
Admiral Diehl radioed back, “yes sir! Fleet advancing.” He left the mike on to announce to his crews. “Rein in dim fein!” Which translated as “Straight at the enemy, charge!”
His ships blew by the Montana at flank speed. Closing the distance to where their plasma turrets would be effective. All except one, the Wurttemberg. I asked if something had gone awry on that ship and Diehl replied. “Something has gone wrong, communications are dark. I think Wurttemberg is out of the battle.”
I shrugged it off. These things happen, there was still the Eutopian fleet in reserve guarding it. So I focused on the advancing German warships instead. They were diving straight into the enemy just like the Holstein had done so many times. Though not maneuvering with the same intense, skilled ferocity that the Cow demonstrated. That could probably be attributed to their inexperienced crews. Their weapons were just as potent though. Enemy cruisers were blowing up left and right. As they went kaboom I figured now would be a good time to launch a spread of stealth torpedoes at the enemy battleship in the middle of the formation.
The DaVinci pulled alongside the Montana and we blew right through the mess of cruiser wreckage. Four minutes until torpedo contact. “DaVinci, concentrate fire on lead enemy ships bridge. Prepare for a continuous barrage.” The Italians copied and all of us opened fire. Now it was just a matter of time and if their shields held long enough for them to close range.
As usual they didn’t. The enemy battleship had its bridge ripped clean off. It stopped moving shortly after that. Two seconds later four stealth torpedoes detonated their nuclear payload into the ass end of the second battleship. With just one battleship left I radioed. “Attention Germans, there is a single Drankmastarian battleship dead ahead of you if you would like to take credit for its capture or destruction.”
The slightly dinged and dented German fleet advanced and surrounded the enemy ship. The communications stone turned blue and I told them to hold off. The enemy had given up.
I was just about to give the order to commence mopping up when the radar operator identified something strange advancing towards our fleet. He said that it didn’t look like anything he had ever seen before. It was moving absurdly fast, much faster than normal enemy ships. It was moving towards the Eutopian’s. I radioed back to them that something ugly was coming and they promptly turned invisible. Leaving the incapacitated Wurttemberg wide open to an attack.
The seemingly disabled ships engines promptly came to life and the Wurttemberg started retreating towards the web-way terminus. If memory served the Wurttemberg did not have a web-way key. I told them to engage, but they just sped up. Clearly the Wurttemberg was pushing every ounce of energy into the engines to try to escape whatever the heck it was bearing down on it. I contacted the Eutopian’s. “Engage unknown vessel.”
“We can’t, we are going the wrong way, we can’t turn around in time or have any hope of catching up to them. They are going too fast.”
Well there was no hope of us catching them. We were tens of thousands of miles away. So I asked the Eutopian’s to give me a video link of the scene. The mysterious attacker was the solar collection array. It was apparently capable of moving significantly faster than a regular enemy warship. The radio crackled with Diehl’s voice, “Dorcht, bring that ship around and engage you coward!”
The Wurttemberg pitched down and tried to come around back to where we were. Then the array opened fire. It launched colossal plasma blasts almost as big as the Wurttemberg itself. Fortunately the Wurttemberg was one slippery and fast little target. As it came back to where the Eutopian fleet was waiting they took a snapshot at the array with everything they had. A shower of railgun projectiles sheared off the great wings of the collector. But all that seemed to do was allow it to go even faster and match the maneuverability of the Wurttemberg.
Suddenly the Bayern blew past us. Far faster than the blink of an eye. The Wurttemberg was going to be in firing range of the Montana soon. But there was about as good a chance of hitting them as there was the array. Diehl was going to deal with this himself.
I was as nervous as I was during the capture of the Nemesis. This was something completely unexpected and absurdly powerful. The closing rate of the Bayern and the array had to be a hundred thousand miles per hour. There was no chance that they were going to be able to hit this thing with any accuracy.
So they didn’t. The millisecond the Wurttemberg passed under the Bayern she fired everything they had in the general direction of the enemy. A veritable ocean of plasma blasts and railgun projectiles went forward in a colossal shotgun pattern. I ordered to make ready to do a similar spread of shot as the array began to reduce its speed. The Wurttemberg sure didn’t. It kept on accelerating away from the battle. While the Bayern banked up into an Immelmann to come around to hit the array again. Even with inertial dampening and seat belts the crew of that ship was probably squished like bugs.
The remains of the array came to a halt. There was no response from the communication stone. They probably didn’t have one aboard. I brought the Montana in for a closer look. Someone had blasted a clean hole right into what looked like the crew compartment of the array. Automated systems had probably brought the thing to a stop after the crew had been killed. I called the Eutopian’s to come over and secure the array. I figured that the Germans had some marines aboard who could secure their prize ship. I wanted to finish clearing up any remaining resistance.
There was nothing else. I was expecting there to be plasma fire coming up from the shipyard and the city planet. There was none. I figured that our reputation was finally starting to spread.
By the time the planet and the shipyard were secured the Wurttemberg was a million miles away and continuing to accelerate. I observed that at their rate of travel they might hit another star system in a couple hundred years. Diehl was furiously berating everyone on that ship to turn back or the consequences would be dire. I called up a crew member who I knew spoke German, a cook and told him to compose a translation. “Flugschiff Wurttemberg. Turn back immediately, your ship doesn’t have a web-way key. You will all eventually starve in the vastness between stars.”
A few minutes later the Wurttemberg started to slow down and begin its long turn back to relative safety. Diehl asked how I got them to stop, I replied. “Something that you should remember. Those are still humans aboard those ships, nervous, short sighted, and sometimes cowardly humans. But perhaps I didn’t stop them at all, perhaps they just had some kind of weird malfunction that they only just rectified.”
But as everyone expected it was not a malfunction. Well not entirely, their radio transmitter and a few other systems had failed at the start of the battle. But the actions of the ship were due entirely to the ships captain. Reinhardt Dorcht, when the array started its attack he personally threw the helmsman out of the immersive helm and tried to get his ship to run away from the array. He was to be sent back to Germany in shame for this but I did include in my report on the battle that the Eutopian salvage team concluded that the array that he had run from was a unique piece of Yonth technology designed to absorb power from two stars and as such had stronger shields and more powerful weapons than a regular Drankmastarian warship. I honestly had no idea if the Wurttemberg could have stood its ground against the array. But captain Dorcht might have done the right thing.