The Battle of Mariana 161

Aboard the Kol-class ship all was deathly quiet as it hung there in the orbit of Secundus Mariana, the system's only gas-giant. They'd already spent seventeen hours orbiting it, staying on its dark side to avoid being silhouetted by the Vasari fleet that was supposed to be jumping in to take out the mining plants on Primus Mariana. Its captain, Edward Delacroisse, was the leader of the small taskforce in the system. It consisted of over 15 ships ranging from the titanic bulk of his Kol, the Falco, to the small dagger-like Cobalts. Delacroisse, sat in his chair in the small and dark bridge. The hourly report from the Arcova scout stationed on the systems outer edge flashed up on his screen to be read, but instead of its standard Yellow warning, they were in a combat situation after all, a bold Red PRIORITY stared out at him.

Delacroisse hit the open panel and stared at the flickering hologram in front of him. 'Message begins' came the flat, synthetic computer voice.
'This is Lieutenant Johnston of the Robin to Mariana Force Commander. Inbound enemy ships confirmed. Estimate five, repeat five, Skarovas-class cruisers, three, repeat three, Junsurak frigates and ten-plus Karrastra frigates. Will attempt to engage. Over.' Delacroisse played the message again, not sure whether he had merely imagined that last part. This time though he listened, beneath the formal tone, beneath the seeming air of confidence and listened to the man, hearing his fear and then hearing it turn to determination by the end. He knew they would never see the Robin again, or it's captain. He solemnly tapped his stylus on the computer screen for the status of his ships, scrolling down the list for the Robin and changed its status to DIB, the fleet's little inhumane shortcut for letting everyone know that a ship had been destroyed.

His XO entered then, a short bear of a man from the Novya Moskva colony, and padded over to his side. 'Order's Captain?' he rumbled in that deep voice of his, marked by his ever-present Russian accent. 'We fight' Delacroisse replied tersely. He leaned over suddenly and activated the ship's intercom. 'All crew, report to battle stations, set Condition Red.' Inside the Falco, the decking reverberated with the pounding of booted feet as crewmen reported to their stations. Flight leader Dextra raced across the hanger bay, up the ladder on his plane and landed in his bird's cockpit with a thud. He hurried through his pre-flight checklist even as he was carted into the launch tube . He slipped on his helmet and sat there, waiting silently.

Three hours later Delacroisse had had enough 'Helm, order the fleet to leave Secundus's shadow and swing us towards the enemies last known position.'
'Aye aye sir' came the reply, as the Falco's engines erupted into fiery life, pulling it out of the darkness and into the light of Mariana's corona. The Vasari ships were easily visible with bands of luminous red wrapped around their hulls. They'd advanced surprisingly quickly but then again the human's sensors had been blinded by the gas giant. 'All ships make ready. Missile and Carrier squadrons cease forward velocity.' went the inter-ship message from the Falco.

The glow of engines belonging to the Percheron's and the Javelis's died away as the ships applied their reverse thrusters. Bomber squadrons streaked out the hangers and turned to the enemy. Missile launchers on the Javelis's silently slid open as the peaked cones of the warheads emerged. Meanwhile the Falco, along with the Cobalt squadron and the pair of Kodiaks assigned, formed a wall formation. They were close enough for each ship to support the others but far enough to leave a safety zone for the missiles and bombers to pass through safely. Delacroisse stared at the tactical screen. The fleet had their weapons ranges shown by a green circle right at the limit of their effective range and a timer whiled away the seconds until the enemy entered range. Thirty seconds, twenty seconds, ten seconds, zero. 'Missile squadron target Junsuraks, fire'.

Dozen's of missiles hurtled through the vacuum, all focused on the lead Junsurak. The missiles tore through its shields and impacted on the hull, each hit tearing it apart. Suddenly it flared for a moment as it exploded into a bright fireball, then suddenly fading to nothingness. The exchange wasn't one-sided however as the Vasari cruisers returned fire. The green slashes that emanated from their cannons collided with the Falco's shields. Delacroisse just barely avoided being thrown off his chair. 'Damage report!' He snapped.

'We've sustained around 17% damage to shields, Captain. Permission to fire beams?' the XO asked urgently.

'XO, fire beams. Gunnery, direct autocannons, fire when ready.' Delacroisse smiled, a cold look in his eyes.

A voice came out of the intercom in Dextra's bird, 'This is Bay Control to Falco flight. You have permission to engage. Lift and go, good luck.' He pulled his helmet on and activated the mike, 'Thanks Bay. Launching now.' He turned his attention to his squadron, 'Alright, boys and girls, lets show those frigging bug things what vacuum feels like.' His plane slowly lifted itself off the carriage as the gravity was disabled and he threw the engines into full burn and roared out of the tube. Meanwhile, four yellow beams lanced out at the nearest cruiser its shields visibly distorting under the impact. Suddenly they broke and the beams ripped through the hull, shredding it into scrap. Then something unexpected happened. 'Sir, the Karrastra's are charging their beam projectors.' an ensign reported.

'What! They're nowhere near Primus. Why are they charging?'

'Sir! The damn things are altering course towards us. In range now.'

Delacroisse realised what they intended. With panic in his voice he began, 'Ful-' before he was cut off by the explosion on the bridge that lifted him off his chair and threw him to the deck. He blacked out for a few seconds. Slowly, his vision still fuzzy around the edges, he got up and glanced around the ruins of his bridge. His XO was laid out cold with a deep gash on his forehead. 'Dimitri, can you hear me?' he shouted. No reply came from him. 'Damn it, Dimitriā€¦ ensign, call infirmary and have them send a med-team up.'

He pulled himself back onto his chair. 'Gunnery, direct autocannon control to me and prepare beams and lasers.' he snapped.

'Aye aye sir. Directing control and charging beams.' The ensign stabbed a button. 'Lasers firing.' The screen showed thin red darts crashing against the shields of a Karrastra, straining them, but not getting through. Delacroisse opened a channel to the rest of the fleet, 'Cobalt squadron, move forward to engage any targets, Kodiaks follow us in.' His next orders were for the rest of the fleet, 'Javelis squadron move forward but hold fire, Percherons make ready to receive combat landings.' The screen changed to show an image of the Cobalt's activating their thrusters, moving forward as their twin lasers began firing at the Junsaruk's. The two bomber squadrons raced past them, firing missiles from their wing-mounts at the anti-fighter frigates. One Junsurak was stripped of its shields, but it took its revenge when it and its wing-mate fired dozens of phase missiles at the bombers, destroying four of them and crippling another. Delacroisse spoke into the com-link, 'Percheron's, recall all squadrons.'