Reyes had felt a slight pang of guilt as he’d lied to Jansen, but only a slight one, for the truth was, he’d known when the Bloom would take place, and he’d welcomed the absence of Chon’ith from the streets. He’d taken advantage of the opportunity to do some reconnaissance, scoping out the locations of key government institutions and military centres. Being stuck in their embassy, working away on the thick novels the Chon’ith had delivered would have been an extreme waste of his time.
I’m right that Jansen should have read the Words though… That was true enough. Reyes couldn’t help but wonder if the Senate expected diplomacy to fail, hence why they sent Jansen. It was also true that Reyes hoped diplomacy and discussion would succeed, and he was prepared to help Jansen and the team, but he had other things to do. That was why he’d quietly placed the tiny discs onto what his personal scanner had identified as communication towers, and slipped others onto what were the Chon’ith equivalent of switchboards. Camouflage paint rendered the little devices virtually invisible to the naked eye, and he could now tap into both civilian and government communications and computer systems whenever he wanted.
Ideally he’d have liked to place listening devices in the various Conclave headquarters, but the humans were forbidden from entering such locations. Still, as he sat with his personal data pad in front of him on the small white-plastic desk, he was confident he’d be able to keep a close watch on Chon’ith activities. Their encryption was broken easily enough, and he programmed his device to look for key words that might indicate an attack, or any kind of deception that the Chon’ith might employ. Now it was a question of whether such a thing would happen.
When the fleet emerged from hyperspace it immediately began to split into two distinct fleets, of more or less equal strength. Ike’reth took command of Alpha One, and Bertireth was left in charge of Alpha Two. The third and fourth worlds were giving off tremendous industrial emissions and the radio signals were so considerable in number that the fleet’s sensors needed recalibrating before they could proceed. The scout missions the humans had carried out revealed the presence of several orbital facilities around both worlds, as well as around the sixth planet, a large gas giant with a rich system of moons. Elsewhere, the asteroid belt was being consumed for resources, with large heat signatures coming from the massive smelting plants that ships towed the rocky debris into.
The attack plan was straight-forward. Ike’reth would take his fleet to the third planet, and then swing out for the asteroid belt. With the fourth planet at nearly the other side of the planet’s sun, there would be little chance that Bertireth’s fleet would be able to attack it, and the gas giant’s operations, and then return to reinforce Ike’reth. Both fleets would be several hours from each other, and therefore on their own.
Bertireth was quite happy with that. He had the fullest confidence in his people, and had in fact placed a wager with Ike’reth that he would complete his objective first. Upon that claim hung a case of some very potent and very expensive liquor. That was why he had no issue with Ike’reth choosing to let the Cadj see some of his fleet’s vessels – the Supreme Chief’s fleet was splitting into a lead element that was very active, and a stealthed force behind it, on a ballistic trajectory, moving slightly slower.
Unsurprisingly, the Cadj had a very large fleet of their own in the system, but it was still smaller than the massive force the Chon’ith had organised. Two hundred battleships now mobilised to intercept Ike’reth’s force of ‘only’ sixty battleships, unaware of the additional ninety that lurked in the darkness. They had no idea of the presence of human warships, feeding tactical data to the Chon’ith, and were ignorant of Bertireth’s fleet, now cruising under stealth toward the fourth world.
The information stream from the humans revealed that the planet had several large orbital forts, and a scattering of smaller defensive installations, that were nonetheless larger than the defence platforms either the Confederation or the Chon’ith used. Bertireth wasn’t particularly worried – the static defences were more vulnerable at longer ranges, and Chon’ith firepower would make short work of them. His only minor concern would be the enemy’s own range – the emplacements wouldn’t have to worry about power to engines; they could divert everything to ECM and their sensors.
It would be alright, Bertireth was sure of it. He had every confidence in his people, trusting them to execute his orders perfectly. It was a long wait to any actual combat, but he wanted to remain on the command deck, which was where any commander belonged. His mind had become accustomed to the boredom aspect of combat a long time ago, but he allowed himself a smile of amusement at some of the younger recruits, who wanted to remain with him on deck, but couldn’t help but yawn and fidget in their seats as time moved glacially.
When the Cadj were in the fringes of Ike’reth’s range, he had his lead elements move to either flank, and ordered the ninety chasing battleships to drop their stealth and go to full combat power. In a panic the Cadj tried to decelerate, but their closing speed was too great to avoid battle. Bertireth watched the ‘fight’ unfold via his displays, taking note of Ike’reth’s use of three-dimensional planes, sending the starboard element on a ventral course, and the port element on a dorsal one, whilst the larger central fleet met the Cadj on the same plane. Organising a cohesive defence was near-impossible, and the Cadj found themselves assaulted by massive salvos of powerful missiles, from multiple angles.
It was a brief encounter. Lighter units managed to get themselves out of firing range, but all the Cadj battleships and nearly all of their battlecruisers had either been completely reduced to scrap, or rendered lifeless, with large, burning holes in their sides. There was nothing barring Ike’reth’s fleet from surging forward and destroying the valuable resources of the third world. At this point, Bertireth had his own forces reveal themselves, to demoralise the enemy even more.
It took time to sweep through the star system and smash the hard work of the Cadj to dust, but it was time spent honing experience with targeting systems and other equipment. Bertireth considered any chance to learn worth taking, and part of him enjoyed the previously unimaginable scale of the victory. A few smaller ships in his detachment had taken damage from the powerful OWPs available to the Cadj, and Ike’reth had lost a few heavy cruisers, but the disparity in casualties was staggering, and when the Chon’ith were finished, the local Cadj authorities had issued their surrender, fearful their worlds would come under bombardment. That was not the Chon’ith way, but they had taken advantage of the enemy’s fear, commanding that they scuttle any remaining military assets and that any cargo ships turn their supplies over.
Ten battleships remained in the system, hanging like the sword of Damocles over the Cadj governor. The remaining Chon’ith ships converged, then, with their human allies at their side, set off to assault another Cadj system.
There was a knock upon the door of Acklaran’s office, which startled him from his mild bout of daydreaming. Being involved in the Council and helping to rule over the Empire had already demonstrated several stressful situations (juggling budgets and calming departmental arguments had not been what he had foreseen himself ever doing), but occasionally it provided moments of what could be described as exquisite boredom. In such moments his mind, normally disciplined, found itself detaching from the rigours of political office, and wandering happily to thoughts of upcoming feasts, and the friends he would see.
He was enjoying such a moment when the knock upon the door happened, returning him to the realities of work. He sat up and cleared his throat. “Enter.”
De’rata stepped in, flanked by another Chon’ith, a red female who he didn’t recognise. The newcomer was slightly shorter than De’rata, with pale green eyes that scanned the room nervously, and she wore an expression of slight terror, as though she had no right to be in the presence of Acklaran. Her blue jumpsuit denoted her position as a researcher, and Acklaran turned his eyes to De’rata, who smiled.
“Councillor.” She inclined her head, a touch of playful familiarity in her tone.
“Science Chief.” He replied, grinning back.
“This is Researcher Quilaret, one of my new recruits.” De’rata said, gently nudging the young woman forward.
Acklaran stood and bowed his head more formally. “I am pleased to meet you Quilaret.”
“And I… I am pleased to meet you Sir.” She replied meekly.
“Please, relax, take a breath. I am no one to be in awe of. Be seated.” Acklaran gestured to the pair of chairs in front of his desk. When the women had taken them, he sat back down. “What brings you both here today?” He asked.
Silence greeted him, but he noticed De’rata looking rather insistently at Quilaret, who was looking at her fingers like they were some amazing new discovery. De’rata gave her another gentle prod.
“We…” Quilaret looked up. “We have had an idea Sir.”
“No, you had the idea.” Interjected De’rata. “Do not be modest, be bold. You deserve the credit for this.”
“What idea?” Prompted Acklaran with curiosity.
“The wreckage Sir, of human ships, in our space. There were battles fought where we lost… lost horribly… but we still damaged and destroyed some of their ships. There’ll be debris, items we… we can salvage.” Quilaret looked back at her hands again.
De’rata shrugged. “I would never have considered that option. The humans may have swept for any remains before leaving our territory, but even if they did, small, unpowered pieces of a ship would be extremely hard to find.”
“And hard for us to find as well.” Acklaran said. “But I believe you would not have come to see me if you did not have ideas to tackle that issue?”
“We will have sensor logs from the local systems, telling us where battles took place. It will not be easy to track the likely trajectories of debris, but we will make the effort. Anything we can acquire will be of enormous value.” De’rata had allowed energy into her voice. “This is the starting point, I can feel it.”
Acklaran smiled. “Thank you Quilaret, for this remarkable idea. De’rata is correct, you should be proud of it. Let me know what kind of fleet deployment is necessary for the most thorough sweeps of any given region of space, and let me know which systems you believe will yield the best results. Oh… and to err on the side of discretion, keep this project strictly secret. The humans cannot know what we are attempting.”
“Of course.” Replied De’rata. “As soon as we have made more detailed plans, we shall inform you.”
They made their farewells, and Acklaran leaned back in his chair, this time distinctly unable to daydream. Needing to hone his mind, but unable to refocus on the affairs of agriculture and regional flora, he picked up a data pad, and decided to read some of the literature the humans had given to the Chon’ith.