The first attempt by Confederation officials to contact the Cadj cemented the inevitability of another war.
Captain Sarah Kindle, now commanding the battlecruiser Mulan, had arrived back to the front lines of the Chon’ith/Cadj war with the aim of establishing communications. Her ship, and a small flotila of other Confederation craft had been assigned to begin to assist with the Chon’ith with tactical adjustments, and to take advantage of any opportunity to speak with the mysterious Cadj. When a large Cadj fleet had arrived in the system, she had been both pleased and concerned at how the Chon’ith performed (there were no crazed charges into enemy firing range, which meant they were learning), and utterly dismayed with her conversation with the other aliens.
“We do not seek war, surely there must be another way?” She had asked, when one of the reptilian beings, resembling a chameleon, with unsettling eyes that kept looking in different directions, had appeared on her view screen.
“There is not.” The Cadj had replied. “We need space and room for our young. We regret that we need to do this, but there can be no other way.”
“Please, we understand the need for growth, but we might be able to help…”
“You cannot help us. I am sorry.” The Cadj had cut the channel, leaving a bewildered Kindle to exchange incredulous glances with her command staff.
That had been six weeks after the conflict with the Chon’ith had been brought to an end. Now Mulan and her sister ships floated in space, 42 million kilometres from a Chon’ith world three days travel from the front lines, and as such, a world that had come under attack more than once by their enemy. The defences had held, even during the earlier attritional warfare, and now the Chon’ith were fighting smart, they were virtually impregnable to the Cadj. Unfortunately the Cadj appeared to be slowly realising that swamping the Chon’ith with sheer numbers wasn’t working, for they were now seeking to stretch the Chon’ith, spreading their attacks among different systems, seeking to make the Chon’ith split their defences.
It wasn’t working, at least so far, because the Confederation had deployed sensor platforms and scout ships to assist the Chon’ith, albeit they weren’t letting the Chon’th actually use those platforms directly. Small groups of Confederation vessels now operated in several Chon’ith systems, which had the added bonus of letting the Confederation see just how vast Imperial territory actually was. It also pleased Kindle, as she took another sip of the steaming, frothy cappuccino from the Confed-branded travel mug, that they’d gotten a good look at the major Imperial shipyards and factories. If they wound up back at war with the Chon’ith, they’d be able to deliver a crushing blow early on.
“Anything from the probes Sanchez?” She asked casually, watching the steam billow from the mug.
“Nothing yet Captain.” The other woman replied.
“Well, they have to be coming, they’ve sent an attack every three days, I doubt they’ll start being tardy now.”
Sanchez chuckled. “Maybe they haven’t finished painting their latest ships?”
“They must use a lot of paint.” Remarked Commander Ricciardo from his own seat, wrinkling his nose. “Captain, I appreciate you have an addiction to that horrible liquid, but do you have to bring it onto the command deck?”
“I didn’t have to transfer you to this ship Alain.” She looked at him over her mug, a stare of faux disapproval in her eyes. “It’s rare I trust anyone who doesn’t enjoy a hot mug of this beautiful nectar.”
“I’m with the captain on this one.” Remarked Sanchez.
“Me too.” Another voice chimed in.
“Quiet Butler.” Ricciardo retorted. The other man just grinned.
“Captain, I’m picking up a hyperspace signature.” Sanchez was suddenly all business. “They’re definitely Cadj, from the looks of it, three hundred ships, of various configurations.”
“Overlay on the main screen please.” Replied Kindle. A series of lines and dots flashed up. “Likely target?”
“Has to be the Chon’ith world here, as before.” Said Ricciardo. “I know I know, take nothing for granted, but what else can it be?”
Kindle nodded. “And we thought the Chon’ith were single-minded. Wait, are they splitting their forces?”
Sanchez pressed a few buttons and studied her readouts. “Looks like it Captain. A more or less even split, two different courses. They’re more adaptable than the Chon’ith, that’s for sure.”
“What do we think they’re up to?” Asked Ricciardo.
“It looks like one force is heading on a direct course for the inhabited planet, the other is taking a looping course, that will swing by one of the smaller rocky worlds.”
“Okay, designate the direct threat Tango One, and the other force Tango Two.” Kindle sat up. “How long till Tango One is range to engage the Chon’ith?”
“Seven hours at current accel Captain.” Sanchez reported back.
“And Tango Two?”
“If they maintain their heading, eight hours and forty-seven minutes.”
“Emissions from their ships have cut off. They’re going ballistic.” Said Butler.
“I wonder if the Chon’ith would spot them on their own?” Pondered Ricciardo.
“Well, they’ve been learning a few new tricks of their own, and they’ve employed a similar tactic of their own on a few rare occasions, but it’s a hard one to fight if you don’t have sensor nets, so I’d guess they wouldn’t.” Answered Sanchez.
“Which won’t matter, because we’re going to transmit our data to them, as per the norm. Tight-band, low power signals as usual please.” Kindle commanded.
The FTL communications signals were received moments later by the local command centre on Yerik IV. The Superior Chief in charge of planetary defence spoke with the Overseer, who gave the Superior Chief authority to defend the system as he saw fit, asking that she be kept informed of developments. A message went up to the orbiting Chon’ith fleet that they should prepare for battle.
Superior Chief Bertireth finished applying the green and blue warpaint to his yellow skin and made sure the golden armour was on properly before making his way to the command deck of his flagship, Incisor. He took stock of his people, upon whom he held high confidence, and his fleet, which numbered at twenty-eight battleships and twenty-two battlecruisers, sixteen heavy cruisers and nineteen light cruisers. He studied the plot, and considered how best to arrange his ships, given how heavily the Cadj outnumbered them.
It was still a struggle to get used to thinking about battle beyond a direct confrontation, but ever since the Revolution, or as some called it, the Awakening, it had become clear to survive meant change, and that meant thinking. How could an outnumbered fleet with a technological advantage score a decisive victory with minimal casualties? It would have made Bertireth feel better if they were learning without human help, but then again, without it, would they have changed at all?
After looking at the plot, the angle of the approaching Cadj fleets, and the nature of his fleet, Bertireth put his plan into action.
The shelter of the defence platforms was useful, but to make the best use of them meant allowing the Cadj to get within firing range of Yerik IV, which was not acceptable. There was the question of confronting two fleets at once – Bertireth and his commanders had quickly reached the conclusion that they couldn’t meet Tango One, defeat it, and intercept Tango Two before Tango Two was in range of the planet. However, splitting his fleet was risky, for it would mean two very small fleets against two large ones. There was the additional problem of Cadj acceleration – their ships were less massive, so they could dictate the pace of an engagement.
To deal with the problems, Bertireth had the heavy and light cruisers group together with the battlecruisers and deploy under stealth to meet Tango One. The light cruisers were on a slightly off-set course, aiming to swing by the starboard flank of the enemy, whilst the bigger ships were arranged with the heavy cruisers nestled in-between the wall of battlecruisers.
Directing the battle from his flagship, Bertireth gave orders for the battleships that were now completely on their own, to begin a slow, looping course for Yerik III, where Tango Two was heading. Hopefully it would look like a random maneuver, whilst the Cadj drew deeper into the trap.
The telemetry from the scattered Chon’ith forces was a new string to their bow. The different fleets could see the locations of the Cadj forces, in no small part to the superiority of their sensors, but the assistance of the humans, as maddening as it was, had proven to be the most vital element. Bertireth was disgusted to need their help, but the budding tactician in him understand a commander needed to use every resources at his disposal.
It took several hours, but when the time was right, Tango One was in position. At a range of 75,000km, the battlecruisers and heavy cruisers powered up their defensive and offensive systems, letting the Cadj see them. Lighter Cadj units surged forward to protect their own capital ships, and left their flanks exposed. From his command deck, Bertireth and his staff monitored communication signals, identifying their primary quarry.
A wave of Chon’ith missiles fired from the heavier elements of his fleet, targeting the enemy heavy and light cruiser forces, specifically on their starboard flank. The range was stretched by Chon’ith standards, but with the light cruisers quietly providing better targeting options, and the humans continuing to feed Bertireth data, they could ‘see’ through the haze of Cadj countermeasures, and nearly all of the large warheads erupted in one frenzied explosion, rippling along the front of the Cadj fleet.
Scores of their smaller ships were completed destroyed, reduced to energy by the fury of the explosions in their midst. Powerful surges of hard radiation burned at sensor nodes and communication systems, and for several seconds many of the remaining Cadj ships were blind. In those moments, the group of Chon’ith light cruisers dropped their stealth and fired, focusing all their efforts on just four enemy battlecruisers. They had quietly drifted to within just 50,000km, perilously close to typical Cadj firing ranges, but by the grace of the Makers had remained undetected, and now they could spring their part of the trap. The battlecruisers had been lined up along the now vulnerable starboard quarter, and whilst they faced only the firepower of light cruisers, those light cruisers were far more numerous, firing from a position that would render the enemy broadside mute, and from a range that would make it virtually impossible to defend against. Adding to the disarray in Cadj lines was the scrambling of scanners from the first missile salvo, and so it was that not a single one of the targeted battlecruisers survived, deep searing wounds burned into their hulls.
The light cruisers swiftly fired up their thrusters to swing themselves around, ready to present their other broadsides. As they did, the other Chon’ith ships opened fire again, once again attacking the support ships, but this time a handful of battlecruisers. For the Cadj there was no choice; they had to keep attention on the larger formation – but their countermeasures were still struggling in the wake of the first attack, and with thinned out defences, they were easy pickings. Still more Cadj ships were wiped out, including the four battlecruisers the Chon’ith fleet had gone after, which created the window the Chon’ith had wanted.
Once again the light cruisers opened fire, even as now some of the Cadj ships fired back at them. All their missiles zeroed in on one Cadj ship – the battleship commanding Tango One. Even as multiple Cadj missiles broke through jammers and decoys to unleash their own destructive force upon the little formation, the command ship was caught in a maelstrom, its hull ripped apart and shattered, the entire forward section breaking away.
Bertireth silently said a prayer for the crews of the seven light cruisers who had perished, and watched as the other ships fired again, this time into a formation that was falling apart, suddenly leaderless. His light cruisers began to accelerate away from the Cadj, coming back toward their sister ships, firing as well, keeping the Cadj off balance. Some of the enemy ships were breaking off, whilst others pressed on, but Bertireth’s forces were starting to accelerate back toward Yerik IV, holding the range open as much as their engines would allow, confident they could stay just out of range of the on-rushing enemy. Chon’ith missiles kept racing back toward the Cadj, who were now in a state of chaos, unable to coordinate properly as they struggled to repair their chain of command.
By the time Tango One was in a position to be a threat to Yerik IV, their lines had battered, their light elements were nearly completely gone, and several ships were fleeing. Several of their battleships were trailing atmosphere from hull breaches, and each new wave of Chon’ith missiles yielded yet more carnage. When the Cadj were in range of the Chon’ith orbital weapon platforms, the battle became a slaughter. Not one Cadj ship in Tango One that had remained in formation survived, in exchange for seven light cruisers.
Tango Two was coming around Yerik III as Bertireth’s battleships suddenly accelerated to cross their path. At a range of just over 100,000km, neither set of ships was able to exchange fire, but Bertireth’s plan didn’t involve a missile duel. His ships arranged themselves in a flat square formation, and adjusted themselves to maintain such a formation as they then turned to speed away from Tango Two, though the Cadj were closing the gap at a fairly rapid pace.
If the Cadj had slowed, taken the time to scan the area in front of them in detail, they might have figured out why the Chon’ith had manovered in the manner they did. Instead Tango Two sailed into a field of warheads, rigged for remote detonation. Bertireth’s ships had been deploying missiles, but not activating them, until most of the Cadj fleet was within the midst of the makeshift minefield. At Bertireth’s order, those warheads now exploded, sending a torrent of violent energy through the ranks of Tango Two. Many ships were crippled or torn apart by the flood, drifting as dead wrecks, and many more were damaged. What was even worse, from the Cadj perspective, was that there were more mines, as the Chon’ith had left a second wave. By the time the Cadj had run through it, only sixty of their ships had survived, and they were all marred by damage.
They attempted to reverse course, hoping to flee, but only a small number of those ships managed to. The rest were hurt so severely that they could not outrun the Chon’ith when Bertireth turned his fleet around. His aim had been to take prisoners and capture Cadj ships, as per his new orders, but the relentless fire from the remaining Cadj ships had forced him to return fire to silence the missiles threatening his people. The Council would have to make do with what limited data they could draw from the wreckage, and what the paltry number of survivors had to say.
Kindle and her crew had watched the battle unfold, uncertain of whether to be impressed or scared by the willingness of the Chon’ith to learn. She had been spoonfeeding ideas to Bertireth, who had put them into action with ruthless efficiency. More advanced strategies remained in the Confederation arsenal – ideas that were not to be shared – but the Chon’ith were starting to defeat Cadj fleets with very few losses of their own, and Kindle wasn’t at all sure how she felt about that. She could only hope this new, strange alliance was a good idea.