HMS Intangible
Flagship, Task Group 13.2
Hyperspace, between Erewhon and Congo

"Missiles inbound! They will be in detonation range in 139.4 seconds, mark." The assistant tactical officer for the HMS Intangible announced as every ship of the simulated Mesan System Defence Force fired double broadsides at the Task Force. Immediately following the announcement, the thirty pod-carrying superdreadnaughts and their consorts bellowed nine thousand missiles of return fire.

Of those 9000 missiles, 1000 of them were Apollo relay birds, leaving eight thousand ship-killers and EW warheads, four thousand of which were split evenly between the five SDs of the MSDF. None of them had any chance, nearly six hundred missiles made it through the counter-missile fire for each one of those SDs, turning all of them into expanding balls of plasma.

The screen wasn't any better off, as nearly as many missiles were targeted on each of the battlecruisers and heavy cruisers that were helping to deepen the missile defence field for the task group. The only thing that allowed one of them to escape the onslaught of fire was its size relative to the volume of space the MSDF had occupied. However, there wasn't a single living being left on the ship—the inertial compensator had failed while the ship was accelerating at nearly 450 standard gravities.

The Mesan missiles were not quite as numerous as 13th fleets, due to the sheer size differential between the two forces, but because of pre-deployed pods, they still had managed to throw nearly six thousand missiles into space. The Grand Alliance's missile defence was much better than that of the Mesan fleet, and so, only fifteen hundred of those missiles made it into attack range. Of those fifteen hundred, nearly eight hundred were armed with not warheads, but penetration aids and electronic warfare suites. However, the other seven hundred mounted laser warheads, and they had been split between the six ships of one of TG 13.1's SD squadrons, two of which took heavy damage, while the rest got off with relatively minor casualties.

Every display in the entire task force stopped showing its usual information and switched to an image of Admiral Shannon Foraker, commander of 13th fleet. "Ladies and Gentleman," the image started to say, "You all did an excellent job in this simulation, however, it was one of ONI's more optimistic estimates. Yet, since you all have been doing so well the past few days, we will not conduct exercises tomorrow. Enjoy your day off. As you were." Every display flashed off, then showed exactly what they had before the Admiral's announcement, as if nothing had happened.


The call was impeccably timed, Catherine decided, as she had woken to her alarm only seconds ago. Slipping into a robe, Catherine checked the ID tag on the incoming transmission. Seeing that it was Admiral Foraker, she hit the 'accept' button on the comm terminal. "Admiral Foraker," she started, "To what do I owe the honour of this call?"

"Good morning Lieutenant," The Admiral's reply was the next best thing to immediate, because instead of using old style communications systems, which were limited to data transmissions at light speed, every ship in Joint Fleet 13 was equipped with the RMN's most modern generation of the FTL comm, with extended ranges and higher transmission speeds and bandwidth. "It's nice to see that I am not the only one who cherishes every moment of sleep that they can get, yet also manages to be completely alert when the time comes for interpersonal activities just after waking up. I had Captain Hearns review your last paper on your estimates of Mesa's naval power and abilities, and she believed that you did a superb job at analysing the most likely worst-case scenario that could occur when we arrive in-system. She also thought that your analysis of the best tactical course to take coincided very closely with what her own would have been in that situation.

"In fact, because of this, she recommended to me that you should, as a sort of exam that would count towards your ATC credit, write the simulation parameters and command the Mesan defence force for the next training exercise. I've already gotten Admiral Lewis' permission and all I need now is your willingness. Of course, you do not have to, but my staff, Admiral Lewis, and I all think that it would be a valuable experience for both you and the crew. Do you want to do it?"

"I'll probably go a bit beyond the worst-case estimation that I wrote about in my paper, but I think that, if that idea is fine with you, I would be honoured to write and run the next exercise." After finishing her reply, Catherine waited politely for a moment, and seeing that, besides a short confirmation, the Admiral had nothing more to say, bid her good bye and cut the circuit. She stepped to her personal terminal to check when her next scheduled appointment would be, and, in seeing that she had none until just after her lunch break, set to work in devising the exercise scenario that would set the stage for their assault on the capital of the Mesan Alignment.

Catherine's thoughts were rudely brought back to reality when the growling of her stomach told her that she had completely forgotten to make herself anything to eat for breakfast. As she stood up, a slight twinge in the area of her Achilles tendon told her that food was not the only thing that her work had caused her to neglect. First, she walked to the micro-cooler that was the privilege of her position on a flag officer's staff and grabbed the closest thing to her hand when she reached in. She pulled out a small box of the chocolate-chip cookies that she had made before the Intangible and the rest of the fleet had departed from the Manticore Binary System. Not the healthiest of breakfasts, but what I need is sugar and something with high energy content, categories in which these cookies certainly fit. She popped one into her mouth, took another out to eat in a moment, and put the rest back in the cooler to have later. After which, Catherine put on her uniform, grabbed a gym suit and headed to the common exercise gymnasium.


SLNS Sherlock Holmes
Flagship, Task Force 1435
Mesan Orbit

Just now, Admiral Justin Gillam fervently wished that his task force were anywhere but in the system of Mesa. He had been on his way to reinforce the Skylar picket when a Mesan dispatch boat had contacted him just before they had taken the last hyper bridge on the way to Skylar itself and ordered them, ordered them, to assist in the defence of the system. Upon arrival, he was told, in no uncertain terms, that his force had become effectively assimilated by the Mesan Defence Force, and that he was to obey all orders from the system without question and at all costs. They had already kept his task force in Mesa for three weeks. What made the affront even worse was that his was the second-largest formation of the new Detective-class superdreadnaughts, and that he had no authority to refuse to picket even the most inconsequential of planets, thanks to a clause in the constitution that had not been paid any attention for last couple of centuries.

His brooding was interrupted by the beep of his communications unit. The Admiral pressed the answer button, hoping, foolishly, that the message was from the Mesan System Defence Force, giving him leave to depart. However, He was greeted with the face of his Intelligence Officer, Rear Admiral Herald Sheldon. "Admiral," he started, "I have the intel update from Mesa that we've been waiting for. I'll—"

"Sheldon," he cut the junior admiral off, "I did order you to send me any new intelligence reports that we receive, not to contact me when you received any new intel. Send the report over." With that curt line, he cut the link and opened the document that had just appeared in the 'urgent' area of his download. Just shows how bureaucracy has hurt our Navy; I give an Admiral orders, which he then messes up with the mistake that even an Ensign wouldn't make twice. I'm sure that even Haven, at the height of its Legislaturist issues, hadn't screwed its armed forces over so much. He started to read the report.

It did not look good, he decided, as it stated that just over six battle squadrons of Manticoran and Havenite vessels were en route to Mesa. His task force had ten modern battle squadrons while the MSDF had only three conventional superdreadnaughts and no pod-layers. The one thing that they did have was dozens, if not hundreds of their new "spider drive" vessels, which, in effect, would be invisible, semi-mobile missile pods with built in fire control in any reasonable battle. The Manticoran EW was still far superior than even the best modules installed in his wallers—the newest in the fleet—yet, on a per ship basis, the balance of power was approximately equal to that of Manticore and Haven when Manticore had introduced FTL controlled missiles. In other words, whenever their ships encountered even a single Manty, they were royally screwed unless they could close the range to about 70 million kilometres.

He hit a button on the console next to his comm unit, which activated and showed the face of a weary-looking Marine Corporal. "Corporal, please ask my Chief of Staff to report to the briefing room immediately." Turning around, the Admiral picked up his beret and walked through the doorway onto the flag bridge, turned to his right and continued into the briefing room. About thirty seconds later, his Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Eleanor Nolan, followed him in.

"Eleanor, did Herald send you the intel dispatch?" Admiral Gillam asked, without preamble as the tall, dark haired woman walked into the room.

"He hasn't sent it to me yet, but I could guess what it says, based on your expression. I bet you read that a force of Manties is on its way. And your stance says that you believe that we cannot beat them." Her tone was supremely confident, as it always was. It was disturbing, how she could read him like a book, even after he spent months trying to learn how to hide all emotion from others.

"To have any chance of defeating them, we need to take them by surprise. Do we know where they are coming from?"

"You're the one who read the report, yet, if I would hazard a guess—this is going to sound pretty insane—I think that the attack is coming from the system of Congo."

"That is insane; they'd have to travel nearly 500 light-years through the meat of League Territory."

"Not if there is a hyper bridge directly between Congo and Mesa. How else do you think Manpower put their facilities on 'Verdant Vista'?"

Her point had logic. "So will you talk to the MSDF Admiral and ask him to share the location of the terminus that the Manticorans are probably going to arrive through?"

"Of course, sir. And I'll even make sure that we get it." With that, the Vice Admiral saluted, turned, and left the room.


SLNS Ptolemy
Flagship, 19th Battle Fleet
12 Light-Hour Limit: Sigma Draconis System

"Sir! Hyper Footprints! They are at a bearing of one-two-zero by three-six-point-niner at a distance of four light minutes. Four point sources." Commodore Paul Kotz was more surprised than concerned when he announced the unexpected arrival of four ships just over six-light hours from the star Sigma Draconis.

"Commodore, does CIC have any info on their impeller signatures?" Fleet Admiral Andrew Treichel sounded slightly bored as he asked the question that was the only suitable response to Kotz's announcement.

"Yes, sir. CIC says that the impellers belong to large couriers, frigates, or really small destroyers. Shall I hail them?"

"Go right ahead, it's not like we have anything better to do while we sit here."

:

"Admiral, they say that they're from Mesa, and that a fleet of Manticorans will be arriving in-system in three days. And—," Kotz's incredulity was painfully evident as he continued, "—you are not going to believe this—they are requesting our assistance to repel the Manties—and they expect us to be able to stop them! I told them that they were crazy, but they said that there was a hyper bridge connecting Beowulf. In this case, I think that it is the only occurrence of such, it isn't even in the same area as the Beowulf terminus of the MWJ!"

"Is that even possible?" The Fleet Admiral asked in a burst of astonishment that was unfit for his rank. However, he quickly regained his composure and, in a calmer tone, continued, "No, if they're here, of course it's possible, but if they expect us to help, we're going to have to transit the wormhole. In order to do that, we need the info on the damn thing. Try and get it."


Auxiliary Control, HMS Intangible

"Alright people," Catherine felt odd addressing those who outranked her by light-years almost as subordinates, even for an exercise. Nonetheless, she tried not to let it show as she slid into the final stages of the pre-simulation brief, "I know it's almost time, but jet's hit the high points one last time; we will be controlling the Mesan System Defence Force, repelling the Manticoran invaders when they emerge from the Mesa-Congo Hyper Bridge. We have been able to snag ten battle squadrons of Solarian League Naval units for the defence of the system. We then can add our two divisions of SD(P)'s and accompanying screen to that and eighty spider-drive gunboats.

"We do not have any fixed fortifications guarding the wormhole terminus and our fleet is stationed in orbit of the planet, thirteen light-minutes in-system from the hyper limit. The good thing is that we do have the rudiments of the FTL comm system and we will be able to detect, within minutes, when they come out of the junction. When we detect them, we will head out on an intercept to where they will arrive from they're micro-jump to the hyper limit. On the way we will roll 300 pods per ship and limpet them to our hulls, once we get within 50 million kilometres, we will launch and engage in earnest. The gunboats will lie in wait 20 million kilometres from the projected interception point, and when the enemy truly drops out of hyper in-system, they will reposition as necessary. They will engage as soon as they get an acceptable range. Any last-minute questions?"

There were none, and Lieutenant (JG) Catherine Mozak hit a button on the command chair's terminal to comm Admiral Foraker. When her face appeared on the screen, Catherine announced, "Well, Admiral, I believe we are as ready for this as we will ever be. Shall we bring the sim online?"

The Admiral smiled, "I will start the fleet-wide alert."