The galaxy as we know it was shaped by war. And in order to prosecute war on a galactic scale, ships are required. When ships belonging to opposing forces meet a space battle occurs. This is an archive of space warfare, past present and future. Welcome to Sucking Vacuum and other stories - A Compendium of Space Warfare.
Before we get started, I would like to tell you all a little bit about this fic. This will be a collection of short space battle scenes from the history of the Mass Effect universe. Although I, Palladius, will be writing several, I am not the only one who will be contributing to this collection. If you wish to contribute, all you need to do is write a scene (or tear one out of your own story) and PM it to me. All contributions will be posted but I reserve the right to edit them for spelling/grammar corrections only. Without further ado ... Space battle.
Palladius presents ...
2183 CE - Battle of the Citadel
The Citadel fleet operates thousands of warships ranging from tiny one-man fighters to kilometre-long dreadnoughts. Each unit has its own part to play in any space engagement. In any battle, the cruisers screen the dreadnoughts and make up the bulk of the fleet's firepower, frigates darting ahead to unleash torpedoes as the grim mass of the dreadnoughts press towards the enemy, hurling ferrous shells accelerated to around 2 per cent of lightspeed.
The popular image of soldiers manning the guns, swivelling them to manually track ships is a fallacy propagated by cheap action flicks. In reality, the speeds at which space vessels travel necessitate the vast majority of the actual fighting be delegated to VIs, capable of reacting in nanoseconds. Likewise, there are hundreds of false assumptions made about space combat, most of them holdovers from the days of atmospheric aerial combat or even oceanic naval combat. No air or gravity radically alters the playing field.
All this was most decidedly not at the forefront of Salarian dreadnought captain Ollinn Kirosa as an armada of Geth ships poured through Relay 062, closing in on the Citadel.
The bridge of the Vermaeto was in a state of barely controlled chaos as Captain Kirosa pounded on the arm of his command chair, reedy voice bullying his bridge crew into action. The bridge of the Salarian Jaeto-class dreadnought was circular, buried deep within the ship's central bulk and relying on sensor uplinks from the vessel's hull to act as the ship's brain. Evolution had sacrificed durability when it placed the brain sticking out of the body and Salarian shipbuilders weren't about to make the same mistake. The bridge was a two-tiered affair, with the captain's chair, helm and navigation consoles up on the central higher tier, 75 per cent of the remaining lower tier taken up with a ring of control stations and an extension of the higher tier with stairs on both sides extending off to the door of the bridge, found to Kirosa's right.
Technicians leaped into their stations as the Captain snapped out orders, slowly bringing the ponderous dreadnought around to face bows-on to the invading Geth. In total there were six dreadnoughts in the Citadel Defence Fleet. Glancing at one of the floor to ceiling tactical plots projected on the curving wall of the bridge Kirosa watched the Asari dreadnought Transcendant Goddess come around, the faint blue glow emanating from her mass effect impeller turning her far quicker than the Vermaeto. Behind her, he could see the Turian dreadnoughts Stalwart Blade of Digeris and Proud Heart of Bostra swooping round together, their movements more reminiscent of aerial predators than kilometre long starships. Looking out at the hostile fleet, Kirosa observed the insect-like ships approaching. One in particular appeared far larger than the others.
"Tactical, get me a range on that one."
The tactical officers, noting the vessel the Captain was indicating, pinged an active sensor band at it, consisting of extrapolating its course and shining a low intensity laser in its path. By measuring when the laser was scattered the sensor techs could calculate the disparity between the ship's observed and actual location and thus how long the laser took to transit between the Vermaeto and the target ship.
He anxiously drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair as he waited on the answer.
"Six light-seconds, Captain."
Six light seconds ... Impossible! He quickly ran some mental math.
"That thing must be two kilometres long, at least!"
He barely had to think about it.
"Open gun ports."
The kilometre long length of the Vermaeto shuddered as three metre thick slabs of high density ceramic armour hinged aside, exposing the barrels of the dreadnought's main guns. Smaller shutters in the ship's spine and flanks opened, exposing the telescopic barrels of the ship's eight quad-linked secondary mass accelerator turrets, the squat blisters of missile banks and the blue-tinted bulbs of GARDIAN laser defences. Despite himself, Kirosa felt a surge of raw excitement, an emotion mirrored by everyone on the bridge. The Vermaeto had been constructed to wage war. Here, she was in her element.
"Captain, incoming transmission from the Destiny Ascension."
Nodding his assent, he glanced at the image of the Ascension holding station over the Presidium as another part of the bridge wall was replaced with a grid, each one showing the face of a different dreadnought captain. The sixth box in the grid was occupied by a third Turian face, that of the Captain of the carrier Fierce Cry of Macedyn. Kirosa personally didn't see the point in carriers. The Human innovation involved ladening down a dreadnought sized hull with hundreds of interceptors and bombers. The resulting ships were slow, lightly defended and supremely vulnerable.
"Captains." That was Matriarch Lidyana, captain of the Destiny Ascension and de facto admiral of the defence fleet. "The Citadel is crawling with Geth infantry, we're evacuating the Council as we speak. It is imperative the approaching fleet does not link up with the Geth ground presence. Intercept three light seconds from the Citadel. Good luck."
Kirosa glanced around at his display. While the captains had been talking the VIs had linked and calculated the optimum formation for the imminent fleet barrage. Nodding his assent, he felt the faint rock as his dreadnought surged into position with a hard burn from the manoeuvring thrusters. With the Destiny Ascension engaged recovering the Councillors, the five other dreadnoughts formed a cross formation with the Transcendant Goddess in the centre, the cruisers arranged in a rough vertical disc around the dreadnoughts with the frigates and the Turian carrier hiding behind the bulk of the fleet.
The Geth fleet were taking up a similar formation, the central super-dreadnought flanked by the three dreadnought-sized Geth vessels, the remainder seemingly partway between a frigate and a cruiser dispersed widely, interspersed with swarms of sixty metre dropships and tiny fighters. Kirosa tapped his console and spoke the words every dreadnought captain fears and longs to speak.
In the main battery of the Vermaeto, every Salarian was stripped to the waist and sweating profusely. So close to the main gun and the engine room, the ship's cooling system could barely keep the temperature survivable. Comfortable was a pipe dream.
The gunnery chief puffed out his lungs, preparing to holler again. He was a particularly large Salarian by the name of Mosok Charbon, one who ran his gunnery department with ruthless standards. The sailors under his command tapped away at their control banks, eager to give the attackers a taste of what their ship could do.
The autoloader cycled, dropping an osmium-tipped armour penetrating shell into the breech of the main gun. Ten decks below them, the scene was being repeated for the second main gun, both stations reporting ready at the same time.
"Spinning up mag-coils."
With a metallic grating sound the enormous magnetic coils that lined the barrel of the gun began to spin up, coolant gas beginning to spray into the room from vents in the ceiling in order to keep the temperature in the main battery within habitable parameters. The light in the room took on a reddish tinge as the thermal conduits began to glow red hot.
"Mag coils at full revolution."
"Engaging mass effect field."
While not quite able to replicate the massless tunnel used by relays to facilitate FTL travel, the mass effect field lowered the mass of the slug sitting in the weapon by a factor of one hundred, allowing it to be accelerated by the powerful magnetic field the coils could produce.
"Gun one ready to fire. Transferring control to gunnery VI now."
The fleets were getting closer and closer together. Kirosa couldn't help but anxiously jitter as the icons representing the Geth vessels neared the green ring that represented the maximum effective range of the Vermaeto's main guns. The whole bridge was silent, eagerly anticipating the instant when the icons would cross the line.
They inched closer, closer still, then crossed.
The entire vessel was rattled as the main guns spat out their armour piercing shells, the entire fleet stabbing out as one. The dreadnought shells had almost twice the muzzle velocity of the cruiser shells, meaning they intersected the Geth fleet seconds before the cruiser shells.
The forward surface of the Geth dreadnoughts lit up as one of the Turian dreadnoughts landed a hit but other than that their shells went sailing past the Geth fleet. Kirosa pounded his chair in annoyance.
"What just happened?"
The reply was quick to come, accompanying a replay on the screens of the bridge.
"The Geth dodged the shells."
Kirosa resisted the urge to smack himself on the head. He had broken the cardinal rule of warfare. If you make an assumption you screw things up, every time. He assumed the Geth dreadnoughts were limited to the same level of mobility as the Vermaeto, when in fact the only reason his dreadnought wasn't doing backflips was the necessity of safeguarding the organic crew from crushing G-force.
"Keep firing. See if the VI can predict their movements."
In order to prevent the vibrations from the cannon shaking the ship apart, the firing was spread out with the second gun firing approximately half a second after the first one. The double thumps sounding once every three seconds sounded like a heartbeat as the dreadnought continued to spit fury at the approaching Geth.
A shell from an Asari heavy cruiser caught a Geth destroyer head on, shattering its barrier. Seemingly stunned by the impact, the ship was easy prey for a fusillade from a Turian light cruiser squadron. Kirosa leaned forward, eyes narrowed at his display.
"Why aren't the Geth returning fire?"
As he gaped in amazement, the entire Geth fleet began to disintegrate. Dreadnoughts and destroyers blew apart, fighters careened drunkenly into dropships.
"What the ..."
He didn't have much time to boggle. The advanced ECM probes that had been projecting the images of the Geth fleet self-destructed as the real Geth fleet, hiding on the very edge of the nebula for days, emerged from FTL behind the Citadel fleet.
The Vermaeto's bridge exploded into chaos as Kirosa began snapping out orders. The enormous ship slewed round in concert with the rest of the fleet, bringing her formidable array of broadside weaponry to bear.
"Ten light milliseconds."
The space combat equivalent of going at each other with knives. In one move the Geth had negated the primary advantage of the dreadnought - long range punch.
Captain Kirosa selected a target - one of the Geth dreadnoughts, his systems telling him both Turian dreadnoughts had selected the same target.
"Full broadside on my mark."
Both Turian dreadnoughts and their attendant cruisers signalled green.
The left flank of the Vermaeto came alive. Waves of Disruptor torpedoes rippled out of their launch sites, closing the distance between the two vessels in about two seconds. GARDIAN laser fire flickered out, but when faced with the broadside barrages from three dreadnoughts and their attendant cruisers there was no chance of intercepting them all. Around thirty per cent of the Vermaeto's torpedoes struck home, the combined fusillade knocking the Geth dreadnought's barriers down to around half strength. The attack was immediately followed up by the roaring of mass accelerator fire, each of the four secondary turrets on the left side of the dreadnought spitting out chunks of hyperaccelerated metal that pounded on the target's already weakened barrier, accompanied by the hundreds of rapid fire cannon set into the Salarian dreadnought's flank. Lacking the eezo payloads of the Disruptor torpedoes, the mass accelerator rounds weren't quite as effective as the initial barrage but they still took their toll.
"Sir, hostile dreadnought is opening gun ports!"
Kirosa leaned forward in his chair.
"Who are they targeting?"
"The ... The Destiny Ascension, sir."
The majestic Asari dreadnought soared up from between two of the Wards, her gun ports open and barriers at full strength. Not that it did much good. The initial Geth barrage hit her full on the bows, balls of plasma cutting through her barrier with impunity and carving deep gouges in her hull. Every Geth ship in their fleet joined in the barrage, destroyers pounding away as dropships swooped in to unleash plasma bolts at close range. Pounding the arm of his chair once more, Kirosa practically roared out his next order.
"Protect the Ascension! General melee!"
Those orders were echoed throughout the Citadel fleet, formations disintegrating as the fleet moved to engage the Geth armada. In his hurry to engage the Geth he forgot there was still one signal left in the Geth decoy fleet.
The entire ship bucked and jerked as something blew through her armour, shattering her engines and exposing about ten per cent of her compartments to hard vacuum. The bridge was instantly filled with blaring alarms, Kirosa gripping his chair in alarm as the vessel rocked beneath him.
"What was that?"
Reports started filling the air as the bridge crew fell over themselves trying to answer the question.
"We took a major hit ..."
"Barrier punctured ..."
"Hull breach in Engineering ..."
"Venting atmosphere ..."
"Eezo core breach probable ..."
Kirosa held out a hand.
"Stop. Damage control."
The damage control watch stander gulped and delivered his report.
"Main engines have been destroyed, sir. Eezo core has been breached, engineers are trying to contain it. K-barriers are offline."
Kirosa gripped the edge of his chair.
The watch stander gestured to the display, where the squid-like dreadnought was making a beeline for the Citadel.
"A single shot from that thing tore through our barriers and armour like they weren't even there."
Kirosa's fists clenched as the Geth super-dreadnought disappeared into the arms of the Citadel just as they closed.
The situation didn't look good. Along with the Vermaeto, one of the Turian dreadnoughts had been disabled by the Geth flagship as it breezed through the fleet and the Ascension, cut off from the rest of the defence fleet, was getting pounded.
"How are our manoeuvring thrusters?"
The helmsman quickly replied.
"Good. Full burn on manoeuvring thrusters, all available weapons fire on targets of opportunity. Get us to the Ascension."
The crew, to their credit, didn't hesitate. They knew that riding a crippled dreadnought into firepower that could punch holes in the Destiny Ascension was suicide but they did it anyway. Kirosa tuned out the repeated damage reports, instead focusing on the feel of his ship, charging into her last fight. He had no doubt they were going to die, that their gesture was likely futile. All he could do was unleash everything his crippled ship had left and pray for a miracle.
"Captain? We're picking up new contacts on the scanners."
The entire bridge crew tensed.
"LADAR silhouettes match Systems Alliance ships."
Kirosa allowed the uproar of celebration to continue for precisely eleven seconds before he snapped the crew back into focus.
"My orders remain unchanged. We fight until we can no longer, no matter the cost."
The cheer that brought up almost matched the one the Systems Alliance had caused.
Mass accelerator shells filled the space around the Destiny Ascension, smashing aside Geth ships before they could react. Into the devastation the Vermaeto ponderously sailed, any functional weapons roaring despite the fact that the back 20 per cent of the ship was a ruin.
"Destiny Ascension, you are in the clear. The Citadel is opening, all ships focus fire on Sovereign. Take that monster down."
Kirosa's next order came out as a ferocious snarl.
Mosok Charbon rallied his gun crew.
"Come on, you spineless tadpoles! Get to it!"
The gun crew obeyed, manually hefting the thirty kilogram shells from the now deactivated autoloader to the main gun's chamber.
"Sir, Engineering reports drive core breach. Eezo possibly leaking into ventilation system."
Eezo poisoning was a bad way to go. The process was very similar to radiation poisoning as the element zero nodules interacted with the nervous system, creating tiny warp fields every time a nervous impulse passed and slowly shredding the body from the inside. Only those exposed before birth could adapt to the foreign material and gain biotic powers. Everyone else just died horribly. So it was an incredie show of bravery when the only reaction among the gun crew was a snide comment asking a colleague if he was carrying eggs. They kept working even as a thin blue mist started to seep into the compartment.
The main guns rattled the crippled ship as they fired, solid shells punching outwards and smashing into the shields of the monster ship in the centre of the Citadel. Around them the shattered remnants of the Citadel fleet rallied with the Alliance reinforcements, lending the fury of their own guns to the ferocious bombardment. A wave of Turian and Alliance bombers overwhelmed one of the few Geth destroyers left after the Alliance's surprise attack, blowing it into shards of broken hull as ripples played over the hull of the ship identified as Sovereign.
"Its shields are too strong!"
Kirosa stood up in his chair and pointed one finger at the image of the squid-like dreadnought.
"We are going to kill that thing. Keep firing."
His comm console buzzed and he hit the accept button, the voice of his gunnery chief coming through, sounding strained.
"I'm sorry Captain."
The only reply at first was a fit of wet coughing.
"Eezo mist is venting into gunnery, sir. I estimate you've got six minutes before we are no longer able to operate the main guns."
Kirosa clenched a fist.
"Get out of there, that's an order."
"Negative. We can give you six minutes with the main guns. Use them well. Charbon out."
"Charbon! Char ..."
The comm line abruptly cut.
"Keep firing. Everything we've got, I want it hitting that ship."
Munitions exploded in a cloud from the Vermaeto, volleys of mass accelerator rounds and disruptor torpedoes hammering Sovereign and lighting up the entire monster. It started to return fire, cherry red beams lancing out and cutting through Alliance and Turian cruisers in single shots. Then it turned, one tentacle aiming squarely at the Vermaeto. Kirosa gripped the arms of his chair.
"It's been an honour serving with ..."
Then the beam hit.
The weapon discharge scraped through the side of the vessel, cleaving off turrets and chunks of armour, blowing through critical components and bulkheads like ceramic plate was tissue paper. The shockwave coursed through the ship, rattling, then buckling corridors as the force ran back and forth before dissipating.
Kirosa was vaguely aware of the battle outside as he watched more and more of his ship decompress, the buckled bulkheads unable to withstand the force they were subjected to. As the ship flashed green with decompression compartment by compartment on the display red lightening crackled across Sovereign, unlatching from the Citadel tower. The decompression wave reached the bridge as a frigate, the Normandy, dove at the stricken ship, unleashing a single torpedo that punched clean through and hit something critical. Kirosa sat in his chair and straightened his uniform as the bridge bulkhead slowly buckled. He was a spacer. He always knew he would die sucking vacuum.
Sovereign exploded, the debris smashing into the Citadel as the remaining forces broke off, pursuing what was left of the Geth armada. The Vermaeto hung in space, barely in one piece, a few compartments still holding against the vacuum, a few crew still alive. Among the shards of debris blown out by the decompressing vessel were a number of bodies, shattered from multiple impacts with bulkheads and each other. Among those bodies was a Salarian dreadnought captain, his head miraculously intact with an expression of contentment on his face.