The Warlord

Chon’ith were not noted for imagination, nor had they historically possessed much of a need for it. From the rise of the most dominant clans on their home world, to their expansion into a spacefaring empire, the Chon’ith had exploited their greatest asset – their brute strength. Chon’ith warriors were almost genetically hardwired to take severe punishment and keep pressing an attack; their ships and fleets expressed the same quality. They were big, tough and armed to the teeth, able to absorb what many other species regarded as insane levels of firepower whilst dishing out the same. To their strength they married numbers – Chon’ith expansion had given them considerable resources. Workforces – both of their kind and of enslaved weaker species – allowed the war machine to keep spitting out ships and weapons at a steady rate. It was little wonder that Chon’ith were feared and also reviled across the galaxy.

Some other empires had tried to use diplomatic means to avoid war with an enemy that had proven willing to suffer tremendous casualties to conquer and plunder. They had met with only temporary success; if the Chon’ith decided they had need of more territory, it was far easier to take a developed colony than to found one. In the end, some empires had ceded systems to them in a bid to avoid a devastating war. It was akin to caving into the school bully, only the price was terrifying high to say no. The Chon’ith had decided to make full use of the fear effect, relishing how they could win new worlds without having to fire a single shot. It was a tactic they made use of to acquire new technologies too – though the use of trade was not entirely lost to them – not every empire was weak enough to simply roll over, and as their own regime grew, even the ultimate warrior race knew they had to provide food and supplies to prevent their work falling into chaos. Nonetheless, the core of every Chon’ith was a fighter, fuelled by the implacable certainty that they were destined to rule the entire galaxy, for they were stronger and tougher than anyone else. It was the way of the Makers after all.

Just after the fall of the Taingod home world (the six-limbed Taingod’s would make excellent slaves), The Chon’ith became aware of a species that were both physically and intellectually inferior to many others across the galaxy, yet somehow had risen to a place of mild respect among other spacefaring species. These humans had enjoyed a number of prosperous economic arrangements with the Taingods, and they reacted with all kinds of strong words and political and economic threats. To the Chon’ith this was both hilarious (most smart species wouldn’t dare cut off trade agreements for fear of being the next to face their formidable fleet) and audacious – granted, the Confederation government that ruled the humans was unknown, for the most part, to the Chon’ith, but there had been some exchanges of information, passed through different nations, about the weak bags of skin and bone that had carved out a small but robust corner of the galaxy for themselves. They were said to be cunning and also charming, which had brought them much wealth and trade, allowing the Confederation to grow quicker than many had expected. Still, their space was small and their hot words greatly (and to the Chon’ith, arrogantly) exceeded their abilities. The humans had long petitioned other governments to form a coalition or council pertaining to galactic cooperation – now they suggested turning what was a gradually forming unofficial coalition on the Chon’ith, imposing draconian economic sanctions and shutting borders to Chon’ith vessels. They also demanded investigations into ‘abuse’ and slavery and urged the Chon’ith reconsider their aggressive ways.

When the Chon’ith learned of the humans demands the reactions ranged from amusement to outrage. No one dared question them and no one cast any doubt on their ways. The Makers had granted them full authority to stamp their name across the galaxy; humanity was but a tiny, irritating fly, waiting to be crushed. War, in the very blood of every Chon’ith, was called for.

****

Superior Chief Seluban took in his appearance in the mirrored glass in front of him. Red skin looked taunt and leathery from the passage of years, and of years of intense combat. The horns of jutted bone that protruded from either temple were marked with scratches and chipped from battles hard-fought. Scars across his arms, chest and torso were hidden beneath the thick gold-plated armour that only a fleet commander was allowed to wear. To many species that armour weighed enough to nearly prevent movement altogether, yet to Seluban it felt merely heavy, not oppressive. The gold was ceremonial; underneath was a composite of ceramic and alloy that would provide stern resistance to most small arms fire – not that a Superior Chief tended to face such an attack. He tied his belt tight, before snapping slightly thinner armour around his legs, whilst considering the lines that were not scars. Age was not to be feared, for age and time were opponents that could never be defeated, but sometimes, just sometimes, Seluban mourned his youthful days. Still, his mate and offspring reminded him that he retained a keen and passionate mind, something time only served to enhance. It was why he was a Superior Chief, destined to lead Chon’ith warriors to glory. Besides, he considered as he ran a sharp fingernail along one of the incisors that jutted out from his mouth, victory will make me feel youthful.

His cabin aboard the dreadnought was actually quite small by the standards of many other spacefaring navies, and even to other Chon’ith. Display screens cycled through pictures and portraits of his mate and children, along with imagery of his father and sister. Against the dimly lit stone-like walls hung tapestries, hand-woven depictions of his past victories, that wrapped around half the room – dressing the otherwise bare chamber with splashes of ochre and green, representing Chon’ith blood and the destruction of ships. Elaborate portraits of enemy worlds surrounded by the invincible Chon’ith fleet swelled Seluban’s heart with pride, and he looked forward to devoting time to weaving a new chapter in his own personal war story. He crossed from the mirror to the small stack of data pads on the side of a little storage unit and studied once more his fleet’s primary objective.

It was unusual to be in a position to roll straight into an enemy’s home system with little or no resistance, but then, perhaps the humans only had a small fleet to spare. The blue orb that was the third planet of the system called Sol was the centre of nearly all major communications across Confederation space, so it had to be their home world, yet whilst nearly five hundred heavily armed vessels of the Third War Fleet now raced toward the system at five light years per hour, advanced scouts had reported little measures taken to reinforce the system. There were orbital defences around Sol III, plus some meagre installations around Sol IV (a world the humans had apparently invested a lot of time in), but the Confederation fleet guarding the system numbered at only around a hundred and fifty ships, plus they had nothing as large as one of his dreadnoughts. Many of the human vessels were puny, and they’d be pinned to the vicinity of their home too, allowing Seluban to operate with impunity.

It seemed odd, for the trickle of information available about the humans suggested they were smarter tacticians than this. They hadn’t fought many wars, much less one on the scale that was about to erupt in their ugly tiny faces, but they’d spent over two years provoking the Chon’ith with diplomatic protests and trade ‘games’, almost goading them into a war, so why do so only to leave their home world so weakly guarded? To Seluban the question gnawed at him, yet commanders superior to him had wanted to move quickly and decisively – ‘let them make a mistake, we shall seize upon it’. Any species with even half the average intelligence would move to defend their home; if the humans didn’t, they’d become slaves and be scattered across the galaxy, and they could blame only themselves. So why am I so uneasy?

It was true, even to the Chon’ith themselves, that elaborate tactics and strategies were not their strength. They had the muscle – literally and figuratively – to carry the day, and they accepted that casualties were inevitable in such a philosophy, but they weren’t stupid and would stop to consider, in at least a rudimentary fashion, the historic tactics and the defences and strengths of potential targets. Humans enjoyed using deceit and misdirection in times of war, but every indication from the reports snatched from various other species suggested the Confederation lacked the strength to be off playing fancy games. They had to gather in strength to face down the on-rushing Chon’ith, or they’d never stand a chance. Well, if they wish to sacrifice their home world for a fool’s errand, let them. It was stupid to ignore a free gift.

“Superior, welcome back to the Command Deck.” Chief Acklaran nodded curtly from his command chair as Seluban took his own seat, perched above everyone else. Seluban nodded back and took in the remainder of the command crew, doing his best to be an unobtrusive presence. He knew all too well how some Superiors interfered with the smooth running of their command ships – the fleet was his responsibility, not Dagger; trust in his subordinates was crucial to the smooth performance of the Third War Fleet.

“What is our status?” He asked in his deep, slightly husky tone.

“We are nearly ready to drop out of hyperspace. We will be positioned near the sixth planet of the Sol system and rigged to run silent until within range of Sol III.” Replied Acklaran. “We will be able to read the human fleet on passive sensors and should be able to use the gas giant’s radiation belt to carry out course changes prior to silent running.”

“Very good. Send the necessary course corrections as soon as able.” Seluban rotated his chair to take in the tactical display behind him. Bright red icons indicated the probable location of the human fleet, expected to be near Sol III, where it would gain cover from orbiting defences. His fleet’s protected course formed a line up the display from the sixth planet, and Seluban felt a familiar pang of excitement as battle drew near.

“Have all ships sound their war drums. We march to glory!”

****

Four hundred and seventy-two Chon’ith vessels used Saturn’s radiation belt and gravity to mask their arrival into the Sol system. Their scanners noted the positioning of the Confederation fleet, numbering even less than first imagined. One hundred and thirty-one ships floated near Sol III, completely unaware of what now powered toward them. The journey would take many hours, but the slow, stealthy approach would allow Seluban’s people to be well-rested and prepared for the glory that awaited.

****

Of the four hundred and seventy-two warships in the Chon’ith Third War Fleet, three hundred and forty were classed as battlecruisers. They had a broadside of sixteen missile tubes, which meant 5,440 missiles in the opening exchange from the battle cruisers alone. One hundred and twelve of the remaining ships were dreadnoughts – massive leviathans, they were slow to manoeuvre but carried thirty-two missile tubes on their broadside, a total broadside of 3,584 missiles. The remaining twenty ships were considered little more than picket ships to the Chon’ith, though a human commander might have described them as heavy cruisers. Their broadsides were relatively weak, twelve tubes mean their contribution would be ‘only’ 240 missiles, but that gave the Third War Fleet a total combined attack of 9,264 missiles, though that depended upon every ship getting into position to launch every missile simultaneously. It was very possible, thanks to Seluban seeing to it the fleet had been well-drilled for weeks, but the heavy cruisers would most likely be held back, along with a few battlecruisers.

Still, the sight of so many missiles raining down upon their fleet would terrify the human commanders, and that was only the first wave. Additional broadsides would follow as needed, until energy weapons could be brought to bear. Seluban did not expect the battle to last long enough to get to such close ranges, though he hoped somehow the humans could give him a fight. After all their bluster, it would be amusing to see them try, and fail miserably.

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