Month 52, Day 4, Burian home system

On the planet of Buria, in the center of the capitol city there stood a grand palace. It had served as a center of government for centuries, first for a small nation-state, then an expanding empire, and then finally, after a series of military conquests and royal marraiges, the entire world. Now it still served as a center of government, administered by the Peshf military governor and his staff.

For over a year, Fleet Commander Thrulb had been that governor. Today, he officially handed over 'power' to the 'leader' of Buria's new puppet government. Buri tradition necessitated a ceremony that was long, elaborate, and dull, but it was over now. Thrulb was finally getting back onto the bridge of a starship.

Thrulb stepped into the gig that would take him to the shiny new command cruiser which was to be his flagship. The pilot eased the craft up a bit, then shot up quickly after clearing the ground.

For 14 months Thrulb had been stuck dirtside, establishing and maintaining political control of Buria during and after the occupation. To advance his family's political interests he had had to do this himself, to take full credit as the Conquerer Of Buria. It was just dumb luck that (then Battle Commander) Thrulb was in command of the fleet assigned to take out Buria's pitiful defenses. The Burians had even made it easy for him by having half their units at the WP, and half at the homeworld, so he outmassed them by over 200% in each battle.

To fully exploit this opportinity for carreer advancement, he used his influence to become military governor of Buria. Now that the Subject World treaty administration was in place, Thrulb's brother would become 'Ambassador' to Buria, and Thrulb himself would go on to the Klagg front, this time not as just as a Battle Commander, but as Fleet Commander of the entire operation.

Thrulb looked out the viewport and saw the specks of light that he knew were ships, barely visible at this distance. Some of them were the new fleet he was to command, others were the remnants of the Buri fleet captured during the war. The burned out hulks left behind after battles involving energy beams (10xDD, 11xCT) had been repaired and refurbished by the Peshf, and were now being sold to the new Buri government, along with a couple of scout EX.

The space station the Peshf had assembled loomed large in the view for a moment. This, too, was being sold to the Subject World, so that they could re-refurbish and then deploy the ships in the service of the Peshf. The old station had self-destructed after the Peshf fleet destroyed its combat modules, denying the conquerors the prizes of the shipyards and their contents (including the incomplete prototype CA).

The gig slowed as it approached the flagship. Fresh from the yards and still shaking down, the CLC Hrin was a monument to Peshf technology. With her improved shields, point defense, and XO racks loaded with sprint missiles, she was also a monument to the technology the Peshf had acquired from the Burians.

Thrulb waited as the pilot gently set the small craft down in the bay. According to the documents he had received, he would have four months cruising to the other side of the empire in order to reach the original Klagg contact point. By that time, the Buri fleet element would be nearly ready to do its part.

The hatch was opened, and Thrulb climbed out to meet his staff.

********

Month 58, Klagg empire

The Klagg home system had two warp points. One led to an orange star with a single hostile planet, and beyond it were two systems each with a single harsh world. In the other direction was Radit, a red giant with three outgoing warp lines, one leading to a starless nexus, one to Djaam system, and the last to Peshf space.

Aside from the home system, Djaam was the richest system in Klagg space. With three asteroid belts, the first system discovered by the Klagg to have multiple terrestrial planets would have been a prize even if surveys had not found both to have benign environments and rich mineral deposits.

Once the planetary survey data came back, the entire Klagg colonization effort had been directed into this system. In a year the Klagg population in Djaam system had swelled from zero to nearly twenty million.

The first survey sweeps of Djaam had found no outgoing warp points, and the survey units had been reassigned to another warp line off the starless nexus. Recently, however, the first CTX units had been assigned to do a resurvey of the system while they waited for the rest of their number to finish refitting.

The CT component of the Klagg fleet was being retired from active service as the first battleships came off the line. Instead of cruisers, destroyers, and corvettes, the three tiers of the Klagg warfleet would now be battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Instead of mothballing them, though, a decision had been made to outfit the small warships with science instruments and create a survey fleet capable of exploring a lightly defended system during wartime.

Eight CTX circled the system, taking detailed readings. The idea was that since the WP through which the Peshf had entered Klagg space was of the second magnitude, but had not been found by the Klaggs' detailed survey, they may have missed a WP here as well. They didn't know it yet, but they were right.

Month 58, Day 10, Djaam system

In an office adjacent to the bridge on the CTX Fritt, Shiplord Heck was immersed in paperwork (which didn't actually involve paper anymore, just a computer console, but the term remained). The fur on his back and neck bristled as he once again cursed the circumstance that led to his ignoble reassignment. Fritt had been a warship when Heck took command, not a large one, but a part of the Combined Fleet, ready and able to fight for his Warlord and maybe grab some glory along the way. There was no glory to be found out here, measuring gravitic field strength on the outskirts of nowhere.

Heck's career plan had been to use the CT command as a stepping stone to a more prestigious ship, maybe even flag rank. Instead his ship had been reclassified as a survey vessel and he had been exiled to the dim reaches of space.

Heck extended a claw to scratch his muzzle and tried to concentrate on the screen in front of him. Status reports, requisitions, personell files, an endless deluge of mind-numbing forms that were the bane of a Shiplord's existence, but could not safely be delegated to his executive officer. As ambitious as Heck, Shipchief Toam would be only too happy to sabotage his superior in order to advance his own career.

Heck was rescued from this procedural nightmare when his desk comm came to life. "Shiplord to the bridge," came the voice of his second officer, "unknown contact detected."

Heck strode onto the bridge and took his seat. "Report."

Shipchief Gruar extended a claw to point at the amber dot on the viewer. "Long-range sensors have picked up an unknown drive contact headed in- system at five krohar. Distance two light-minutes and closing."

Five krohar was slightly better than the cruising speed of Fritt, about the same as the tactical speed of the new battleships. Heck knew of nothing capable of cruising at such speed, therefore the intruder was moving at tactical speeds toward a Klagg population. This was a clear sign of hostile intent; there was no reason to risk engine burnout when merely probing an unknown system. Maybe there was a chance for glory out here after all.

Heck turned back to Gruar. "Execute general order fourteen."

A tense silence descended on the bridge. In the history of the Combined Fleet, general order fourteen had been triggered exactly once before, when the Peshf survey group had been encountered in Radit system.

Gruar punched some keys on his console. A moment later, a faint thud echoed through the ship, announcing the departure of Fritt's courier drone. At the same time, radionic signals were broadcast throughout the system warning anyone who had a receiver of the arrival of this new threat.

Heck odered the helm to position Fritt right in front of the aliens. Per general orders, the broadcast hail continued, updating any listener on the progress of the intruder, and also warning the intruder that he had been seen and giving away Fritt's location. If they weren't hostile, now would be the time for them to stop and attempt communications.

The minutes dragged by, and the bogey didn't change course or speed. In two minutes the aliens would have picked up Fritt's broadcast, in four they could have responded. Heck wasn't surprised; their tactical speed had already convinced him that they were enemies. He sat silently and watched them close.

Nearly an hour passed, uneventfully except for the arrival of Shipchief Toam onto the bridge, roused from his bed by the alert klaxon. Gruar yielded his place to the first officer, and went to his customary station at the starboard ops console. The range dropped, and Fritt waited.

After a long, tense wait, the enemy passed into Fritt's midrange sensor envelope. Now Heck could see what he faced. 6xDD and 6xCT, not much of a fleet by Klagg standards but obviously way too much for a single corvette to face down. The information was added to the broadcast datastream. Heck bared his fangs and ordered Fritt to come about and move to the side of the enemy's course. If he couldn't stop them, he'd follow them in and keep an eye on them. The enemy maintained course and speed.

Five krohar, Hech mused. A fleet of destroyers should be moving faster, unless they were outfitted with obsolete alpha-generation engines. If they were going to risk engine burnout, it didn't make sense to take half measures, so it was reasonable to conclude that the enemy most likely had only alpha engines. The Klagg evidently had a substantial tech advantage over their new opponent.

Fritt swung into a paralell course, matching the enemy's velocity. Over the next few hours, the enemy corvettes repeatedly tried to run him off, but they were slow and easy to avoid. After a while they got the idea and just ignored him.

********

Month 58, Day 11, Radit System

Warrider Ku was bored. Sitting here watching the warp point to Peshf space was not the Klagg officer's idea of excitement. There had been no activity for seventeen months, aside from the periodic exchange of trade goods and diplomatic couriers, and it didn't seem likely to change anytime soon. Ku just had to endure another month, and then he would be going back to the homeworld and the intrigue of the Council of Clans.

Ku had been assigned to guard this WP since first contact was made with the Peshf. At first the Peshf had seemed very belligerent, claiming the contact system as their own and demanding that the Klagg withdraw. Since the Klagg had already explored and colonized systems beyond it, the Combined Fleet was sent from the adjacent home system to defend the Clans' claim. By the worst luck, this occured while most of the Klaggs' cruisers were in the yards for refit. Still, when Ku arrived with the remaining 2xCA, 14xDD and 28xCT, the Peshf force of 6xFG and 12xES hastily withdrew, leaving a single escort to explain that there must have been a translation error.

After that initial 'misunderstanding' was settled, the Council cautiously entered into a Non-Agression treaty with the Peshf, but remained wary. After eight months of uneventful contact, the Peshf offer of Restricted Trade had been accepted (over the objections of many, including Ku, who considered the Peshf untrustworthy). Ku's fleet strength had been reduced as bases and mines were placed at the warp point. Now that the WP defenses were built up to a comfortable level, and the Peshf trade route was well established, his taskforce would soon be recalled home to receive the third generation refit.

The hiss of the lift door announced Strikechief Thep's entrance. One of Ku's ears turned slightly toward the sound, but he gave no other outward sign of recognition. Ku glanced at the chrono. Eight minutes before shift change, same as always. You could set the chrono by him.

On a normal day, Ku would have handed over command of the bridge to Thep exactly at 18:00 (with Thep it had to be at _exactly_ 18:00). This day, however, would not be normal. Three minutes before Thep would have releived him, one of the bases routed a priority message to Ku's flagship. A moment later, the Warrider was on his feet.

An unknown alien force had entered Klagg space and was threatening the colonies in Djaam system. Ku was to proceed at once to Djaam to respond to this incursion, leaving Strikechief Thep to oversee the WP defenses. While he didn't like leaving the Peshf WP attended only by bases and mines, Ku was eager to see some action again. It had been a long time.

On the way there, he would overtake the second set of CTX refits, already en route to join the resurvey of Djaam. Further reinforcements would be just six days behind him, including both of the finished battleships. Ku's force was the closest, though, so it was up to him to contain the invasion.

********

Month 58, Day 13, Djaam system

Fritt had followed the enemy group for three days. Once they were inside the planets' detection range, Fritt went ahead to join the other three CTX that had gathered at the nearer world, summoned by Fritt's call. The Shiplords had exchanged messages. Though they hated to let a hostile fleet into weapons range of Klagg civilians without a fight, they were outmassed by over 300%. Four more CTX were on their way in from the edges of the system, but would not arrive in time and would not be enough to make a difference if they could.

As the intruders approached the first colony world, the Klagg ships retreated before them, staying outside of the detection range of any non- capital sensors.

On Fritt's bridge Heck watched the relay from the planetary sensor grid. Every civilian ship that could launch scattered and ran for their lives. The enemy fleet surrounded the planet in a blockade formation. Two hapless commercial frieghters were too slow to escape the enemy's weapon range as they encircled the planet, and died in a hail of missile fire from the destroyers.

The blockade tightened its radius, closing in on the planet until it was orbiting at less than a quarter light-second. Intense scans were directed at the defenseless world, but there were no military installations to find. After a few minutes, half of the enemy force split off and set course for the other planet.

Now, Heck thought, the enemy had given him an oppurtunity by foolishly dividing their forces. Within sixteen hours, the arrival of the remaining CTX would bring the scratch defense force to nearly equal the mass of one of the two enemy groups. As the oldest Shiplord present, it fell to Heck to assume tactical command. Heck turned to his comm officer, and began sending out orders.

Month 58, Day 14, Djaam system

The eight Shiplords had exchanged messages, and were ready to engage the enemy. Even though they were outmassed, and half of their weapons had been removed in the recent refit, the enemy's evident tech inferiority and the imperative to protect Klagg civilians emboldened them. Also, each Shiplord recognized the opportunity to rescue their careers from survey oblivion if they drove off the enemy.

Each colony world was surrounded by 3xDD and 3xCT, circling in blockade formation. The defenders formed up 2.1 LM out from the second planet, and began their approach.

On Fritt's bridge Heck watched the shrinking distance between the six amber blips on his screen and the blue dots representing his own force. But before he got anywhere near them, the amber dots began moving away from the planet.

Heck looked a question at his sensor officer. "They're breaking off, my lord," the puzzled crewer reported. The intruders were retreating. Heck paused for a moment, considering. Even if they had capital sensors, they could not know how many or what size ships were approaching. The cowards could be running from a single escort, for all they knew.

Heck ordered his force to full tactical speed and pursued. Soon he got word from the other planet that the enemy group there had also abandoned their siege, and were moving to reunite with their comrades. A few keystrokes on his console told him the enemy would be able to regroup before he could overtake. The two planets' orbital positions were near their closest approach. Heck's force was barely up to fighting half the enemy, all of them at once was too much. De-tuning was the only way to catch them, and doing it for the 10 minutes necessary would surely cause multiple engine failures. The opportunity had passed.

Heck cursed. His hope of distinguishing himself by crushing the enemy in detail faded. At least they would now only be able to blockade one planet. The Klagg ships chased the enemy until they regrouped.

But they surprised him again. Instead of returning to one of the planets, the enemy set course back in the direction from which they had come. Heck followed.

********

Month 58, Day 15, Djaam system

Warrider Ku gritted his teeth, fighting the wave of nausea that always hit him when his ship went through a warp point. Ku carefully maintained his composure; it would not do to let his subordinates see his weakness. Once his stomach had stopped trying to crawl out through his esophagus, Ku swallowed his bile and called for a status report.

The sensors confirmed the area around the WP was clear, showing only Ku's taskforce. In addition to his own flagship, the BCC Khrall, and the assault BC Mahar, he commanded 4xDD, 8xCT, and one capital-sensor DDa, plus the 8xCTX he had overtaken just short of the WP. With this, he was to defend Djaam system, and if possible take the fight to the enemy. He wasn't counting on the CTX to do much, as they were still shaking down from a recent refit which had removed half their weaponry. Still, they might draw some enemy fire, taking some of the heat off ships that mattered more.

Before starting toward the planets, Khrall queried the comm bouy by the WP. As Ku had expected, the colonies had been sending updates to it, and he downloaded the most recent to his console.

The Warrider was pleasantly surprised. The intruders had unexpectedly retreated in the face of wafer-thin opposition. Ku's concern over their aggression melted into contempt for their cowardice. This would be easier than he thought. Clearly the enemy had no stomach for battle.

Twenty ships formed up on Khrall, and began moving toward the inner system at five krohar. A pair of CT was left behind to watch over the warp point.

During the journey, Ku took the time to familiarize himself with what had been learned of the enemy's technology. The engine signature did not match any known race, and it appeared the enemy was limited to alpha engines. The missiles were similar to the basic missiles now being phased out of the Klagg fleet in favor of enhanced or capitol versions. All of the destroyers had shown themselves to be missile-armed, and the fact that the corvettes didn't fire along with them suggested they were beam-armed. The low technology level shown in the enemy's engines and missiles suggested that the destroyers might be their largest and most impressive warships. If that was the case, Ku's capitol-missile cruisers would give them quite a rude awakening.

********

Month 58, Day 25, Djaam system

The enemy were not only cowards, but fools as well. By the time Ku's force had gotten to the planets, reports had come back from the CTX group trailing the intruders, detailing the location of their hidden warp point. The CTX had been following at 7.5 LS, close enough to allow them to pinpoint the WP location when the enemy transited out. The eight CTX had waited nearby, watching the WP, until Ku's force had arrived.

Once Ku's force had invested the WP, he had sent a dozen CTX to probe it. They returned unharmed, reporting no sign of enemy presence. They were running scared. Ku transited his fleet into the aliens' system. Now the CTX would do the job for which they were designed. Ku had not been a proponent of the idea when it was first proposed, but now he was glad to have them.

The Warrider was ready to hand the enemy their heads. In six more days he would add to his fleet 2xBB, 2xCA, and 4xDD, and the newer builds/refits among them would finish their shakedowns just before they arrived. After the long peace, Ku was looking forward to the campaign. As weak and stupid as the enemy was, they would fold like a house of cards before the Klagg fleet, and would soon take their proper place as slaves in the houses of the mighty.

16xCTX moved out into the enemy system, and began their survey.

As soon as they did, the hidden enemy EX came up on scanners. With its engines shut down, the little ship almost escaped detection, but as the CTX spread out, two of them had run almost directly toward it and had picked it up. When Ku sent his CT contingent toward it, it tried to run, but was quickly overtaken. As soon as the Klagg fired a warning shot, the unarmed ship lowered DF and surrendered.

Ku knew the reason the EX had been placed here. From 7.5 LS away, they could not have missed getting the Klagg fleet size and composition, and must have transmitted the information to their comrades before being discovered. So they had gotten their information, but at the same time had given him a prize. Soon the fleet train would arrive with its repair ships, which would take this vessel apart and analyze its data core. Then the enemy would learn the consequences of angering the Klagg empire.

********

Month 59, Day 4, Radit system

The WP to Peshf space was guarded by six battlecruiser-sized bases, positioned 3.75 LS sunward of the WP itself. Around the WP, eight minefields of 15 bouys each were placed, four at 0.5 LS and four at 1.5 LS. The closer mines, armed with bomb-pumped lasers, were deployed in a half- circle on the side opposite the bases. The more distant ones each carried four capital missiles in their external racks, and were placed in a half- circle on the side toward the bases.

All of this was 'just in case' relations with the Peshf turned sour. The anti-Peshf faction in the Clan Council was not strong enough to block the trade treaty, but they did have enough influence to get these defenses placed here.

The trade activity here had been going on so long, one might expect the defenders to become complacent, their vigilance eroded by months of inaction. But not the Klagg. The anti-Peshf faction had arranged for its most fervent adherents to be assigned to these bases, and constant drilling kept them prepared for action. On this day, their mistrust would be proven to be well-founded.

On this day, as on many other days, a small customs ship hovered near the WP, waiting for the scheduled trade shipment to arrive. When eight ships transited the WP, there was no alarm. The 12 HS vessels appeared on the scanner as freighters, and while eight FT was an unusually large number, it was not unprecedented. The Peshf government often awarded special sweetheart contracts to well-connected individuals which gave them an exclusive liscence to trade certain products with the Klagg, often resulting in a whole FT arriving to trade less cargo than they could fit in a single hold.

It took about half a minute for the crew of the customs ship to realize that these freighters were not freighters. The engines were commercial, and the shields and armor had been replaced with cargo holds to make them LOOK like FT, only the armament gave them away.

By the time the alarm was raised, however, more ships were already pouring through. Six light cruisers appeared, facing toward the bases. The ES(FT) split up into pairs and moved to engage the minefields. Previous trade missions had lasted more than long enough for even the standard sensors of common freighters to detect mines within 2.5 LS of the WP, so the Peshf knew where to find them. Each of the four clusters of laser mines was engaged by two ES(FT) firing energy beams from 0.25 LS.

Klagg crewers rushed to battlestations, activating the bases' weapons and AP control systems. Within seconds, two bases each fired a half-dozen kinetic weapons, striking a CL. The target used some unfamiliar defensive weapon to intercept one of the four hits, and the shields blew themselves out absorbing the rest. The cruisers' plasma weapons remained silent for now, waiting for transit effects to subside rather than firing ineffectually and wasting ammo.

At the same time that the kinetics were firing, the laser mines were receiving new orders from the bases' AP control systems. The current program instructed them to ignore units in a 0.75 LS wide corridor leading from the WP to the bases, in order to allow civilian traffic to safely transit, but now new targeting programs were substituted. Seven laser mines were shot down by the ES(FT) before the new programs were implemented, but then all hell broke loose.

In each minefield, six bouys were instructed to fire at targets within 0.25 LS of their position, which meant only the ES(FT). Six more from each field were aimed at the area immediately around the WP, where the cruisers lay. In a flash of unparalelled brilliance, 48 nuclear detonations fueled massive laser bursts, incinerating all of the ES(FT) instantly, and ripping into the cruisers. Each CL lost at least one engine room, and most lost two.

The second wave (not counting the bogus freighters) came in, six frigates each followed closely by an escort, and charged at the bases. The cruisers also made their way toward the bases at their best speed.

The recently transited frigates and escorts had no targets in range to shoot at, so they remained silent for now. Though the cruisers' armor, engines, and XO were damaged, each still had all its internal weapons intact. Each CL shot three plasma torpedoes at the Klagg. Six hits left one base shieldless and with minor armor damage, then four torpedo impacts weakened the shields of a second base.

The reply from the bases was much heavier than before, with five of the six now firing. The two CL still moving at five krohar were targeted by two bases each, and the fifth took aim at the one whose shields had been eliminated by the last volly. Again the strange defensive weapon was used, though not very effectively; of the eighteen shots that were on target, one was intercepted. All three targets took substantial damage, and showed further drive field fluctuations.

Now the second ring of mines was brought into play. 1.5 LS to either side of the line of Peshf ships leading from the warp point to the bases lay fifteen bouys equipped with missile racks. AP control systems on four of the active bases took direct control of them, providing targeting information from the bases' scanners. The three CL which were spared from the kinetic bombardment were soon using their active defenses against a different threat. Each was subjected to the fire of five XO bouys launching a total of twenty capital missiles. Though the defenses were somewhat more effective than against the kinetics, two were destroyed outright and the third deeply wounded.

At the same time, the remaining laser mines were reprogrammed by another base, given a narrowly defined engagement zone in which to look for enemy vessels. The last FG to transit was bitten hard, slowing to four krohar, while its companion ES was flash-fried, leaving only a rapidly expanding ball of incandescent gas.

As the third wave of Peshf ships entered, they found five each of the FG and ES left intact, one wounded FG, and four crippled CL. By now the bases were pretty much active, but the laser mines had been depleted. Four FG-ES pairs came in, followed by two more CL.

The first two FG rushed forward along with the ES, but the last two stayed back and joined the two CL. The crippled cruisers closed to 2.25 LS, optimum range for what little weaponry they had left, and stopped there. The FG-ES force closed rapidly, the foremost elements reaching a range of 0.5 LS before the next exchange of fire. The escorts which were within 1.5 LS jinked at the last second to bring the bases into their side-mounted weapons' arc.

The bases directed their fire at the damaged cruisers of the first wave. Before they died, two of the cripples got off a quick torpedo from their remaining launchers, and the one hit took out already weakened shields of the second base.

As the continuing kinetic bombardment from the bases reduced the rest of the CL group to scrap, the beam ships opened fire. There were two frigates and three escorts in the 0.5-1.0 LS range bracket, and another two of each firing from farther out. They poured their beam fire into a single unshielded base, and directed their XO-mounted nukes at a second. The drive field modulations which had been ineffective against the earlier plasma fire were now a factor, but the extremely tough armor on the bases was useless against the Peshf energy beams. The massed beam fire ran through the internal systems and shorted out most of them, including the EMS module. Of the missiles, eight found their target, weakening the shields of the other base by 80%.

By the time the beams were done ravaging the base, the cruisers of first wave were obliterated, and the laser-damaged FG was slowed further by the fire from the last base. Again, mines were slaved to the controls of the bases that still had AP controls, and most of the remaining mines fired. Five frigates were targeted by four mines each, and five escorts by two mines each. The active defenses the cruisers had used were not evident on these smaller ships. 2xFG and 2xES were killed outright, the rest damaged heavily.

The fourth transit wave came in, four FG-ES pairs and two more CL. As before, the first two FG charged forward with the ES while the other two held back with the cruisers. Mine-damaged beam ships made their best speed toward the bases, and the last wave's plasma ships closed to optimum range, 2.25 LS.

Now that the Klagg had seen what the Peshf energy beams could do, they concentrated fire on the beam-armed ships. Over 50% of the bases' durability was in their armor belts, so these weapons were a major threat. Mass drivers flung shot after shot at the Peshf, as their beams played over the bases.

The bases split their fire, trying to kill mine-damaged ships before their emitters could recharge. All three damaged ES were killed in a single salvo from a Klagg base. Of the damaged frigates, only one got a shot off before dying, incapacitating the damaged base before its weapons cycled.

Again, the new arrivals from the previous wave split their fire, sending beams one way and XO missiles another, accepting a slight degradation in accuracy for both. By the time the close-in shooting was done, the third base was stripped of its remaining shields by the missiles, and the first base had lost half its weapons and its APC module to beam fire. Torpedoes and XO missiles from the now-ignored cruisers and plasma frigates stripped the shields off a fourth base and damaged its armor.

The last of the mines fired, targeting the remaining beam ships. There were 2xFG(e) and 3xES left which were not suffering transit effects. Each received the attention of three or four mines (only one mine for the damaged ES), again courtesy of direct control by the bases' APC. One FG and all three ES were obliterated instantly. The surviving FG was just plain lucky, only five missiles out of sixteen hit it, so its passives and cargo hold absorbed all the damage.

Two minutes after the attack began, only two of the six Klagg bases had their shields up. One had lost shields only, one had moderate armor damage as well. Beam fire had taken half the weapons from one, and rendered the last totally inert. The Peshf had 4xCL and 4xFG(p) in system, intact. 2xFG(e) and 4xES were intact and one damaged FG(e) had lost only its passives and hold. The Peshf had lost 6xCL, 7xFG(e), 10xES, and 8xES(FT), mostly to the mines. There were no mines left.

Six more FG-ES pairs entered, the escorts charging forward as the frigates grouped up near the WP. Fourth wave's arrivals moved into their optimum range, and the survivors of the third wave turned and began modulating their drive fields like crazy, slowing to a crawl.

A fourth-wave FG was about to fire from 1 LS when the kinetics smashed through its defenses and stripped its XO. Before the second salvo could finish it off, the FG's twin particle beams bit into a base, and the base's drive field modulations ceased. Even as the mass drivers slammed their projectiles into the FG, the now-easier target was burned out completely by beam fire, and left drifting. More beams struck at another base, eating into its weapons as a second FG was shattered by the mass drivers.

From 2.25 LS, sixteen plasma torpedoes rained in, accompanied by a few XO missiles. The shields on the two intact bases fell, and minor armor damage was inflicted on them. Now that the way had been paved for the beams, the base with the most damaged armor received the rest of the plasma fire, but still its armor held.

Now that the mines were gone, the Peshf tonnage built up rapidly. A dozen more ES transited to bolster the Peshf strike, and surviving ships from earlier waves switched to EM after reaching their range. Kinetic rounds flew out to meet them, but the battle was increasingly one-sided. In thirty seconds, one base was destroyed by missiles and torpedoes, and two more were left beam-ravaged hulks. The cost to the Pehf was a mere two ES. One more salvo, and it was over. The base's last gasp inflicted further damage on the sole surviving FG(e), leaving it weaponless. Then the particle beams fried it.

The total cost to the Peshf to take the WP was 6xCL, 9xFG(e), 12xES, 8xES(FT), and one crippled FG(e). Five of the six bases were salvageable. A drone was sent back through the WP to proclaim the success of the assault, and call forth the fleet train.

********

Month 59, Day 4, Djaam system

At the WP leading back to Radit, a lonely pair of CT stood guard. As commercial frieghters fled the system, their IFF was polled and DF signature was scanned to insure no enemy ships sneaked past. The two ships were scheduled to have gone in for refit next month, had the war not erupted and changed everyone's plans. The crews were just as glad to be here, though, instead of being relegated to mere survey duty.

The Klagg crewers were alert, keeping watch for an enemy which might be lurking about behind the lines. Sensors were kept running hot, searching the sky for any sign of DF activity.

They found it. Operating in stealth mode, creeping up on the WP as though they thought they would not be detected. Warnings were sent in both directions, using the comm bouy as a relay. The corvettes waited for the enemy to come closer, so they could see how large the force was. When the range dropped down to 8 LS, The contact shifted to tactical and charged in at full speed, seven krohar. Four frigates bore down on the picket, and the picket withdrew through the warp point (after sending an update to the inner system).

On the other side, the two ships ran in the direction opposite the way home. At 7 LS they held station and watched. The enemy came through the WP, as the two watched. The FG group blasted the comm relay bouy on this side, as they presumably had on the other. After an unsuccessful attempt to chase down the corvettes, which were as fast as they, the FG returned to the WP and sent on of their number back across. They settled in to wait, and the two CT resumed their station 7 LS away, watching the watchers.

End chapter 3

Klagg BS3(k)

Sx10 A1x30 HQb(APCa)QbKbKb(M2)KbQbKb(?a)KbYeKbQb

Sx10 A1x30 Kbx6 (APCa)

Cost: 1,008.0

Peshf CL(pt)

S1x6 Ax4 ZaHsMgsQaMg(J)(JJ)MgPtaDa

PtaQa(J)(JJ)MgYaPtaQa(J)(JJ) (XOa x6)

S1x6 Ax4 Ptax3 XOx6 Dax1 (Ja)

Peshf FG(pt)

S1x6 Ax3 ZaHsMgs(J)Mg(J)(J)YaPtaQb(J)(J) (XOa x3)

S1x6 Ax3 Ptax1 XOx3 (Ja)

Peshf FG(e)

S1x6 Ax3 H(J)(J)(J)EbEbQb(J)(J) (XOa x3)

S1x6 Ax3 Ebx2 XOx3 (Ja)

Peshf ES(e)

S1x3 AH(J)(J)QaEb(J) (XOa x1)

S1x3 Ax1 Ebx1 XOx1 (Ja)

Peshf ES(FT)

HHHHQaEb(icIc)

Hx4 Ebx1 (Ica)