The Warlord P2

For centuries the Chon’ith had relied on superior firepower and a willingness to absorb losses that most other species would consider intolerable. Those two traits combined usually assured them of a comfortable, crushing victory over their enemies. It had never occurred to them that there might another species prepared to meet them on their own terms – or to use those traits against them.

Four hundred and seventy-two warships of the Third War Fleet were now approaching twenty thousand kilometres from a small group of one hundred and thirty-one human vessels. The largest of their warships was barely half the size of Seluban’s dreadnoughts; and they numbered no more than twelve. In fact, two diminutive types of ship dominated the human formation – only a scattering of larger, tubular shaped vessels hovered among them. They continued to move lazily and loosely around Sol III, blissfully unaware of the dark green shapes that drifted closer and closer. The range fell to twenty thousand kilometres, leaving the Chon’ith fleet only a few thousand kilometres from optimal missile range. Seluban and his cohorts bared their teeth in anticipation of the impending slaughter – then the stars ahead of them seemed to explode with a dazzling fury.

He would never know it, but even as over nine hundred nuclear warheads rigged to mines detonated ahead of Seluban’s fleet, smashing wave after wave of multi-megaton energy over the hulls of his ships, the humans were quietly cursing. The mines were layered both high and deep, but they’d gone off just a fraction too soon, not-quite enveloping the entire Chon’ith force. Even so, several Chon’ith vessels were left with broken armour and scorched sensors, and still others had suffered worse, for the nuclear fire had permeated through cracks in weakened armour to finger the delicate control systems, deck plating and bulkheads within. Even for the vessels relatively untouched from the minefield, scanners were momentarily blinded, and in that moment of vulnerability, the second stage of the trap was sprung.

The twelve battleships of the Confederation fleet were equipped with a broadside of sixteen missile tubes and they offered up 192 missiles at a range of just under nineteen thousand kilometres. The missile cruisers also had sixteen tubes and they also offered up their broadsides, but they were a little more numerous, at sixteen vessels, adding another 256 missiles. Sixteen battlecruisers spat their own salvo; twelve tubes gave another 192 warheads. Forty-six light cruisers, each with a six-tube broadside, gave another 276 missiles, and forty-one destroyers, each with only three tubes, still presented 123 missiles. Each ship fired almost at once, in a pre-planned, coordinated action that gave the Confederation fleet a total broadside strength of 1,039 missiles – and they focused their attack on sixty of the Chon’ith battlecruisers. More importantly, twenty percent of the human missiles were not really missiles – they carried decoys and ECM generators designed to play havoc with the sensors and defences of enemy warships. Combined with the effects of the mass detonation of roughly nine hundred nukes, the Chon’ith fleet was completely unprepared, and it was even worse than they realised.

Human missiles were not as powerful as their Chon’ith counterparts, but they had more powerful propulsion systems and targeting systems. Their effective range was therefore higher, and Chon’ith computers would have struggled even under ideal conditions with Confederation ECM warfare. Sophisticated hyper warheads detonated barely sixty kilometres from their targets, and the shaped charges focused nearly all of their three megaton firepower at their targets. Chon’ith armour was thick and energy dumping mechanisms were coming online as individual commanders used initiative to defend themselves, but the weight of firepower directed upon such a small number of ships meant nearly each battlecruiser absorbed far more energy than they were designed to handle. Armour vaporised and the hulls that armour protected were burned and shattered. Millions of tons of metal and alloy expanded outward from nearly sixty battlecruisers, sending them into chaotic spins and tumbling from their formation. A handful of the craft annihilated themselves as reactors overloaded and turned their entire forms into energy.

Seluban screamed orders at his staff to get the rest of the fleet into formation and to fire off a broadside as soon as they were able. His blood now boiled with fury at the cowardly approach of the humans, but part of that fury concealed his inner turmoil. He had known the humans could be tricky yet he’d fallen for their trap, completely and utterly. Now all he could do was watch as the humans belched another wave of missiles at his fleet, targeting another set of battlecruisers. This time counter missiles raced out to meet them and defences were fully online, which absorbed some of the sting, but it was impossible to stop them all, and Seluban cursed as another twenty-three ships of his fleet were reduced to ruin, racked with internal explosions as fires triggered by their damage raged. But now it’s my turn… 

His fleet had finally slipped to within fifteen thousand kilometres. Flight times for his own missiles would be barely a minute at such a range. At his command, over seven thousand missiles leapt from their tubes to overwhelm the insolent human forces that had dared to wound him. He would take great delight at watching them die.

“Chief, new sensor contacts, aft of us!” A technician in charge of sensors cried. Acklaran spared Seluban a glance as both of them realised they had caught out again. “Fifty ships, at thirty thousand kilometres!”

****

As mentioned before, a human battleship could fire sixteen missiles in a single broadside. Now fifty of them fired eight hundred missiles right up the large, sensitive engines of the Chon’ith fleet. Those missiles were concentrated on the dreadnoughts, whose engines provided the easiest signatures for them to lock onto. They had been running silent, drifting, much like the Chon’ith fleet, but aided by superior sensors and the sensor platforms that the Confederation had seeded much of the Sol system with. They’d had to lie in wait, so the Chon’ith would be suckered in, even if that meant placing other ships in danger. The bait had done their part extremely well, and now they scattered, moving to gain extra cover from the weapons platforms and stations. Being comprised largely of smaller ships, they could accelerate more easily, though against the huge volume of missiles bearing down upon them, it was inevitable they would take losses. That was the price of trapping and destroying as much of the Chon’ith fleet as possible.

Scores of destroyers and light cruisers died, or were at least holed, as the larger more powerful warheads of the enemy detonated in their midst. Still, many survived, moving away from the scene of destruction and deploying decoys that were way ahead of what the Chon’ith had previously encountered. They’d also seen to it the rears of the enemy were exposed, and now the Chon’ith truly tasted pain. The new fleet’s attack penetrated the screens of ninety-one dreadnoughts, sending their considerable power into the fragile systems that channelled fusion reactors to propulsion. Fuel lines for thrusters and sublight drives were ignited, primary power conduits were hit with huge and sudden surges in energy, and ship after ship burst apart like a mini nova, each bright and beautiful scene almost demanding its own, dreadful applause. By chance more than anything else, Seluban’s ship was spared, though the liberated energy of reactors buffeted Dagger like waves crashing over a yacht.

Seluban grimaced with a deep, sudden anguish. The humans had already pulverised far more of his fleet than he could have imagined, and all he’d managed was to destroy a few puny vessels. The difference in cost, of both ships and lives, was incomprehensible. A part of his brain screamed at him to give it everything, to go out in a blaze of glory – Sol III was not far, why not get in a few shots to at least make the humans ache like he did? Yet that thought died quickly, for it was clear the humans would crush his entire fleet before he made it remotely into firing range. He wasn’t even going to get into energy weapon range, where his fleet was almost certainly superior! Another thought, one he could not have conceived of, warned him of the great danger he now saw. The nature of war had changed, his people were going to look weak and foolish, because of smoke and daggers. What would come of this?

He’d observed a capable and talented fleet commander at work, one willing to sacrifice but in such a way that maximised the efforts of their fleet. Now, with a smaller force, that commander was dismantling his fleet- dismantling him.

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