The Warlord P3

Seluban clung to the desperate thread of new, revolutionary knowledge that flooded his brain, even as Confederation ships tightened the noose around his fleet. To order a retreat was unfathomable, yet to permit himself to die in the Sol system, Seluban would invite the further destruction of additional Chon’ith fleets. It was a flash of inspiration that had struck him like lightening, even as it filled his heart with shame – no Chon’ith commander had ever ordered a retreat, but then, no commander had ever had cause to, until now.

The humans were continuing to direct sporadic fire from the now dispersed fleet that lay between his forces and Sol III, but it was insignificant against his defences – the force of battleships behind him was the one that had ruined him, delivering huge losses, to say nothing of Chon’ith warships that, whilst technically functional, were little more than charred, smouldering wrecks. All his lighter vessels were now gone, so a hard turn to port and rapid acceleration presented the bows of his fleet to the enemy, a narrower target profile, as well as an onrushing force that would smash through the second human fleet via sheer size alone. An energy duel awaited, one in which he expected many more of his people to die, but he would also inflict tremendous casualties upon the humans, whilst buying time for his fleet to escape.

Escape… a notion that was as humiliating as it was alien to him, yet Seluban had stared into the face of a new, clever and technically sophisticated enemy, one that raw strength would not overcome. Fleet after fleet would come here and fleet after fleet would be lost, draining the Chon’ith of their might.

Yet it was not that simple. Individual Chon’ith commanders would be wondering why their tactics suddenly took them away from their primary objective, and into the jaws of a fleet which had so easily dismantled their own. Why would any Superior Chief avoid the opportunity to devastate an enemy world and cripple their opponent? Acklaran, commander of Dagger, turned his gaze to Seluban, fixing him with a steely stare. The challenge was obvious.

“We can crush them Superior! Why do we turn back?” He asked in a carefully guarded voice.

“Because we will never get close enough to inflict even the smallest blow.” Replied Seluban with measured tones. “Their primary force will destroy us all without us even getting into missile range unless we rush them.”

“We will lack the strength to engage their weapons platforms if we try to destroy that fleet.”

“I am aware of that Chief.”

“Forgive me…” Acklaran began in more conciliatory tones. “But I do not understand your strategy.”

“You do not need to understand, only obey.” Was Seluban’s curt response. “We will charge their main fleet, swing to present as large a broadside as we can, and meet them in energy range. Once we have destroyed them, we shall see what we can do with our remaining strength.”

It made sense, in many ways. The Chon’ith fleet, for all the losses it had suffered, still outnumbered and outgunned the human force that had crept up behind it. Yes, the human vessels had twice the effective missile range, but that range was rapidly falling, and now the Chon’ith were deploying their own ECM and other forms of sensory disruption, even as another wave of Confederation missiles came at them. A hard swing to starboard saw a storm of counter-missiles race out, at a longer range than Seluban would have liked, but even as his ships once again lurched in agony as armour sizzled and cracked, he bared his teeth with a joyful, angry snarl as the humans in turn were wrenched by his own, far larger salvo.

Energy range was fast approaching. Now, finally, Seluban could injure the enemy in a meaningful way, sliding toward that magic mark of ten thousand kilometres… only once again, he found himself outdone.

At twelve thousand kilometres, the Confederation ships, despite the damage they’d weathered from the missiles, swerved to present their own energy cannons. The pulses of magnetically sealed ions immediately began to lose energy as their magnetic jackets weakened against the entropy of space, but at such short ranges, it didn’t make much difference to their firepower. Despite only having a marginal range advantage, it was enough for the human vessels to get off a handful of blasts that ripped new holes in Chon’ith warships. Deck plating vaporised and  super-heated air scorched bulkheads. Fresh explosions rumbled through battlecruisers and several of Seluban’s vessels fell out of formation. His resolve tightened. This new enemy was far dangerous and far more ruthless than any he had fought before.

Only now he would have another chance to deliver anguish upon the humans. Even as another series of cannon blasts ripped into his fleet, Seluban’s armada could return fire with a weight that the humans simply could not match. Focused beams of high energy plasma spat from cannons and overwhelmed the energy-dumping mechanisms of Confederation hulls, shredding their way through and leaving charred ruins in their wake. Seluban allowed himself a moment’s pleasure – no doubt the humans had expected he would continue to press his attack on the planet, like a predictable Chon’ith, whereupon they would pick him off with ease. By reversing course and engaging with their forces, he had caught them off guard, though to their credit, the humans were not fleeing, but instead continuing to return fire, even as his fleet now delivered punishing blows. Both sides continued to launch missiles, and both fleets were absorbing terrible losses, but the Chon’ith had the numbers to weather wars of attrition. The Third War Fleet had been greatly damaged, but it ploughed through the human formation and left in its wake devastation.

“Shall we return to our original course Superior Chief?” Asked Acklaran, ignoring the damage reports that were flooding in to his station.

Seluban gazed at the tactical displays. The small scattering of ships that had first lured him into a trap had regrouped and were nestled within the safety of a number of weapon platforms. As if to emphasise a point, Sol III had powered up ground-based missile installations that could put together a terrifying number of warheads into space. There was no telling what other defences lay in wait, and every single surviving ship of the Third War Fleet was hurting in some way shape or form. To head into the jaws of that particular beast was to invite a glorious death, but a pointless one. To state that aloud, even as Acklaran’s superior, was something Seluban dared not do directly…

“What would be the chances of victory if we engaged with the planet’s defences? Can we calculate that?”

“The chances of victory Superior?” Acklaran gave Seluban a quizzical look from his chair. “Do they even matter?”

“Humour me.” Rumbled Seluban.

Acklaran held his commander’s gaze for a moment, then tapped a few commands into the console at the side of his command chair. No other officer on the command deck knew where to direct their own gazes. No one seemed to dare breathe.

“Based on our fleet’s condition and the enemy’s fortifications, it would appear we would suffer one hundred casualties if we engaged them.” Acklaran reported, matter-of-factually.

“And would we complete our objective of crippling their home world in the process?”

“Superior, I do not believe…”

“Just answer me.”

Acklaran suppressed a grimace. “We would not, sir.”

So it was confirmed then. Victory was out of their grasp. What sense did it make to throw away every ship, every life, that remained, for a gesture of futility? It felt so wrong, so cowardly, so completely against everything he believed in, but yet…

“Then… what is the point?”

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