3 AC: Harsa System, Harsa
The WarSeed cluster fell towards the star.
The seven objects, long and flumed, shifted out from their stealth configurations as they approached the star's photosphere.
"Plotting entry. We'll hit the photosphere in 5 minutes. Estimated dive time, 36 hours," announced WarSeed 3.
WarSeed 1, the nominated leader, answered. "Good. That'll keep us on schedule for the Yggdrasil's arrival. Timing is going to be everything here. Begin spinning up the 'scoops. Signal when ready, and we'll begin the mesh."
Each WarSeed altered its configuration further, internal mechanisms spinning up and extending magnetic fields. The mag-scoops were invisible to the naked eye, but huge. They kept expanding until they contacted the 'scoop of another WarSeed. Carefully, they adjusted position until they were a ring of six, with WarSeed 1, noticeable thicker than the others, in the centre and slightly forwards. The 'scoops merged, expanding outwards rapidly as the WarSeeds also slowly slid apart, holding position the whole time.
"Contact with photosphere in T minus 2 minutes," said WarSeed 3.
"How long will it take for the scrams to engage after we enter?" asked WarSeed 5.
"Unknown. Approximately 3 minutes to hit top speed, and hope they catch," said WarSeed 2.
"And how long until we lose 'scoop power, if they don't catch?" asked WarSeed 5 again.
"Also unknown. Approximately 3 minutes," answered WarSeed 2, again.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," said WarSeed 5.
"Everyone, increase dive speed. Trajectory is calculated, and we don't want to be late to the party," said WarSeed 1.
This close to the star, the ramscoops had enough ionised hydrogen to initiate fusion easily, if they were travelling at a reasonable speed. The kind of speed that you did not want to hit a star at. The photosphere was only a fraction as dense as a standard planetary atmosphere, but it was much more dense than vacuum, and heated to over 5,000 degrees Kelvin. The WarSeeds had to drop their speed, enter the photosphere, and then accelerate back to ignition range before their 'scoops failed and the stellar plasma made direct contact with their hulls. They couldn't resist that for long.
They passed into the photosphere, and vanished from sight.
"My Lord Batrak, a report from an in-system recon satellite."
Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan, turned to his assistant. "I am somewhat preoccupied. Is this important?" he said, the calm politeness of his words underscored by the flat look in his eyes and the assistant's awareness that he had had people spaced for interrupting him before.
"I-I believe so, my Lord. Something passed into the sun."
Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan, stared coolly at his assistant. His assistant tried not to start crying.
A small side screen, not currently occupied with the spectacle of a Relay being towed, lit up. On it, 7 small dark objects transitted across the face of the sun, then vanished into it.
"Were they destroyed?" Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan asked.
"We do not know, my Lord. However, their approach vector indicates they launched from the Human fleet, and they showed no signs of deviation from their course. Additionally, given their insertion trajectory and apparent size, if not destroyed their exit trajectory from the sun will send them at Khar'Shan, on the day side. Arrival time close to the Human fleet's."
The Human fleet approached on the night side, these objects the day side. Not a coincidence.
"Seven small ships, stealth insertion, and diving into a star to hide their approach? Hmm." Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan stared at the data. It did not pay to underestimate Humans. "Send a picket group to meet them. Double strength. Those ships seem too small to be much threat, but annihilate them before whatever they have planned happens."
"Yes, my Lord."
The aide hurried away, and Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan stared at the main screens. A invasion fleet whose numbers were still uncomfortably high, arriving in a day and a half. A Relay, arriving in 4. And these unknown stealth vessels arriving with the main fleet.
He gestured, and the display adjusted. The main fleet and the Relay occupied almost 50% of the main display each. Below them, the seven objects appeared in a smaller division.
He could feel them planning something. He could feel the slow slide of their victory. He knew there was little chance of winning. His plan was to hurt them, make them bleed enough that what they obviously hoped was going to be a clean-up turned into a siege.
He sneered. The arrogance, to treat the Hegemony like an errant slave, to be disciplined back into obedience. That he knew they had the power to do it only made it worse. Still, no race liked war, apart from the krogan. Hold out long enough, make them pay for every hair's-width of territory, and support would shift. It was the downside of governments that relied on people to speak for themselves. This "Voice", the aggregate opinion of Humanity, would shift when what they blindly hoped was going to be a lesson turned bloody. He doubted they were ready to die for their "morals". His armies were ready to die on his word, in defense of the homeworld.
Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan, watched the Human attack, and thought.
The WarSeeds weren't prototypes, but they were damn close. A new weapon, designed to make war outside of Sol, sibling project to a legion of similar new R&D projects that were finally getting the resources they needed.
"Time to 'scoop failure is under one minute!" yelled WarSeed 2, her voice hissing slightly in the effort it took to broadcast through the photosphere.
"Dive deeper! Push our intake higher!" ordered WarSeed 1.
The 'scoops were glowing, great webs of plasma trapped by the invisible EM fields. Seeing inside the photosphere took a lot of effort, but through reduction filters so thick they dropped the sun's inner light to a mere background glow, the 'scoops were flaring like wildfire. Each 'scoop drew in stellar matter, pushing it along the vanes that lined the WarSeeds, before pinching into the drive bottle at the rear of each.
"Pulse! Now!" said WarSeed 1.
Each WarSeed pulsed its 'scoop, sending a briefly denser wave of plasma down their throats. The pulse vanished into the drive bottles, and then there was light.
"Ignition! Fusion drives online," announced WarSeed 3. "Speed increasing. Power levels stablising."
"We still on schedule?" asked WarSeed 1.
"Excellent. Begin Stage 2," said WarSeed 1.
Six hours. Six hours until the Humans arrived. One hour until the stealth ships would exit the photosphere, based on last known trajectory. The Relay was still enroute, but observation platforms had seen it successfully activate while in motion. Made sense, thought Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan. All Relays were in motion, technically, orbiting stars and planets and the galactic core. Why would shifting one slightly in-system, stop it?
He had done well. Against a force that could have wiped his fleet out, he had actually inflicted more losses than he had taken, if only just. There were still sufficient batarian ships to mount a defense, particularly with the orbital defences.
"M-m-m-y Lord?" said an assistant nervously.
"What?" he said, still calm, controlled, and as cold as a distant moon.
"The Hegemon has requested your presence."
Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan, stared for a moment, then turned away. "I'm busy."
"My Lord! He-"
Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan spun around. "He is a petulant child who wishes to show his personal power by taking me from the most important battle in the history of the Batarian people! He can wait, for I have more important things to do!"
The command room was silent. Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan, may have just signed his own death warrant.
Striding forwards, he loomed over the assistant. "Tell him, that I will neither leave here nor cater to him until the siege is done. Tell him that if he wants to remove me from power, he can do so if he finds someone he thinks can do a better job! Once this is over, if there is still a Hegemony, he is welcome to apply whatever discipline he wishes. Until then, tell him to SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND PRAY!"
The assistant, all four eyes so wide they filled half his face, nodded rapidly, and ran out the door.
Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan watched him go, then turned back to the silent room.
"Is the Bahak fleet ready for deployment?" he said.
"Y-yes my Lord. Our stealthed comms relay got an update package from them a few minutes ago."
Humanity had cut off all out-system comms when they arrived. All in-system comms were limited to tight beams, point-to-point lasers, and hardlines. Anything else was inviting a Ghost to ruin your day. The hidden comms buoys were not part of the standard network, and were quite expensive. But they let Batrak, Lord High Defender of Khar'Shan, give the order he hoped would save his people.
"Send a reply. In precisely 3 hours, deploy."
The Humans may have outsmarted themselves. He had never intended to deploy the Bahak fleet this way, but the opportunity was perfect.
The Batarian picket waited. Orders were to fire on the seven ships that would exit the photosphere any moment. Over two dozen ships awaited them, ready to reduce the Human sneak attack to ash before jumping back to assist in the defense of Khar'shan. The Batarians couldn't get too close to the star, but at the speeds the Human ships would be exiting, they'd be unable to evade before being fired upon.
There was a ripple in the surface of the sun, close to the designated coordinates. Weapons charged and shields ready, they waited.
The surface of the star burst up, a bubble several kilometers across. The orb, streams of plasma falling from it, shot towards Khar'shan and the waiting ambushers.
"We cannot get a firing solution!" rumbled one weapons tech.
"The plasma is degrading. We should have targetting in a few minutes," said another.
The orb bled plasma, its luminescence fading as it grew thinner. Shapes could be discerned within.
The Batarians rechecked their sensor data. They were expecting 7 objects, each no larger than a frigate. Yet their readings seemed to indicate-
The plasma dispersed in a final flare as the objects were revealed. None of the objects matched either the configuration of what had entered the star, or of any known Human ship.
All 49 of them were complete unknowns.