(34) To Be Named
The Crusader Campaign (139-1123 to 140-1123)
This file has yet to be fully
This file has yet to be fully
It's 13:30, with about 6-8 hours before the Santanocheev's
forces could mount another assault against the naval forces of Trin's
Veil subsector at the Battle of Tussinian. The Mirriam and Egypt
completely out of action, presumably in the process of being repaired
The crew of Nightshade now plan to take it
easy for a while. That's an
orbit and will bring them back behind the planet.
Shark has told Callisto to watch Llanamith
and try to detect any ships that leave it. It's too far away,
though, and that's hindered in that the defenders' orbit is taking them
around the far side of the mainworld.
Kalida would like to know the chances of
Santanocheev remaining on Llanamith. She discusses it
with Shark, who is very definite that he does not expect him to stay
there. That agrees with Kalida's instincts too, although it is
his style to lead in person and Llanamith has by far the best
command and control facilities.
Shark asks her which would be the third best in line
Kalida responds that their very first target, Darotukshi,
was the second in line. Next would be the flagship of another
The next order of business is what they should do
next. Should they continue to fight with the defenders, or go
harrass the reserves? That's settled quite quickly. They
will stay with the defenders, but as Shark suggests that on one of
these orbits, when they get behind the planet they should climb much
higher and match the defenders from above in stealth mode. That
will take them out from where the attackers will be lasering for them,
which should give them at least one surprise shot. The clinching
argument is that the crew have been in sparkly pink for several hours
in the battle, and to be fresh for the next engagement need some
rest. Shark offers to stand watch, as his role in battle stations
is not critical.
Sir Misha agrees. Several hours of rest is
likely to leave them capable of contributing more to the defense than
running a raid on the reserves, coming back, and fighting right away
again. He decides the crew will rest for two hours, and
re-evaluate their condition then. That will bring Nightshade
back behind the planet again.
Shark contacts the Doc, and checks to see if the
Baron has any chemical means of keeping the crew alert. He does
indeed, although he warns that the side effects as it wears off will
not be pleasant. On the other hand, he can keep the crew in a
boosted state pretty much indefinitely if necessary.
The first time around when they come back into view
of Santanocheev's forces, Shark focusses the sensors on them. He
sees that their reserve line is moving in, but while
the more battered elements of the front lines have moved back, they're
settling in at the back of the approaching fleets and not retiring to
the reserve position. The forces as a whole are on their way in
towards the mainworld.
Shark muses that the attackers want this to be the
final battle. He directs the ship not to wake the crew for the
next orbit too.
Later, as they orbit back around the mainworld,
Shark wakes Helia. The larian flies down from her hammock high on
the aft wall of the bridge, and follows his instructions.
Nightshade climbs out away from the
defenders -- Shark tells the defenders they're taking a higher orbit --
out to below the estimated attacker orbit, and goes into
stealth. It's 15:40 and they're in position. Helia locks
the ship into following the defender fleets (not in a true orbit, of
course) and goes back to sleep, after tossing Shark a bag of candy from
Sir Misha wakes up to find the ship climbing out of
the defending fleets. He goes to the Bridge, where Shark briefs
him on the expected major battle to come. Sir Misha agrees that
the crew should rest. The only other thing they could do would be
to go out there and knock out some of the top candidate command ships.
Shark says he can't tell whether they're actively
scanning for them yet, but should know in half an hour or so. If
they are scanning, they'll have a hard time sneaking in.
At 16:30, it's time for Shark to try again to scan
the other fleets. To his disappointment, he quickly determines
that they're using lasers, actively scanning in all directions.
There are no unguarded ways to get inside the enemy flotilla.
Oddly enough, the incoming fleets are heading for
the mainworld's moons right
now. This will delay the attack by another 8 hours or so.
At this point the crew have been asleep for about
three hours. Shark decides he needs backup from the tactical
minds on the crew, and so wakes Sir Misha, Kalida, and Bridgehead and
brings them up to date.
The mainworld has two small moons, fairly close to
the mainworld. The nearest orbits at 25000km from the mainworld,
the other at 40000km. The larger outer moon has a slight
atmosphere but no water; the smaller has no atmosphere and is almost
Shark asks the experts what they would be doing out
there, what they could possibly have stored? He goes on to
suggest that there could be a cache of missiles and supplies there,
which could be safer than putting it on the mainworld. He doesn't
think they could have enough fuel there for all the fleets. He
adds that Nightshade could get there before the fleets arrive
and find out what they have. It would take about 15 minutes to
get to the nearest, 20 minutes to the farthest. The fleets are
about an hour out and he guesses they would arrive at 17:30. He
can't tell which moon is their destination.
Shark fetches Callisto. She says she can
identify any man-made objects on the moon with just one orbit.
They'll need to come out of stealth, but if they take a polar orbit in
black color scheme they won't be in silhouette against the moon and
should have a reasonable chance at remaining unseen. There might
be a little scatter from the active sensors, but with luck there won't
be much and the incoming fleets won't be looking for it.
The smallest moon is the closest, so that's where
Helia takes them first. She blasts them around the world on a
polar orbit path while Callisto does her thing. By 17:00 she is
sure that there is nothing that is not natural on this moon. She
then takes another passive scan of the incoming fleets and feeds the
data into the tactical information.
Helia and Kalida determine that the fleets are
heading for the small moon, the one they have just scanned. All
of them are heading here. None of the crew can figure out any
reason why they would be coming here, but they are all agreed that they
need to move on to the other moon. Staying here, even in stealth
on the moon's surface, is far too much a sitting duck for most of the
crew, especially Helia.
It takes 15 minutes to get to the larger moon, and
another 20 minutes for the scan.
In the meantime, the fleets have arrived near the
small moon, with the New Rome fleet leading on point. Kalida
quickly identifies the new flagship of that fleet. They've set up
in an orbit around the mainworld, very near the small moon, rather than
orbiting the moon itself.
Callisto's scan reveals something on this
moon. There's what seems to be an unoccupied crude settlement,
which she thinks is probably old and abandoned. It's a couple of
dozen residential prefab buildings, with a few larger central
buildings. There's no power to anything, and no sign of anyone
now or in the recent past.
Kalida and Bridgehead estimate that for the fleets
to rearrange into formation and mount an attack would be at least 8
Shark suggests that they could make one pass diving
through the fleet and take out Llanamith. It would
however involve going through the fleets, which are doing their laser
show trick. He still thinks that even though they'll pick up Nightshade
on the approach, they could be moving so fast that it would reduce
their exposure to fire. He (and several others) wonder what would
happen if they jumped from in the middle of those fleets, but Helia
points out that a situation just like that caused their first misjump
Shark again says this is their opportunity.
There would be time to rest after this before the next fight, and they
could take out the Happy Fun Ball before that next battle.
Bridgehead's comment is simple: "You're mad."
He says it's a suicide run and they would never even make it far enough
to get off a shot at their target.
Shark agrees that they'll have to take concentrated
meson gun fire, for at least three shots from three fleets on the way
in, and the same on the way out. They can use the moon for some
cover, but it's not going to be effective enough to make a substantial
difference. They could hit ships on the outskirts of the flotilla
by popping up from behind the moon, firing, and popping back, but they
couldn't reach Llanamith that way.
Kalida points out that their shields have gone to
purple already in the battle, and if they try this they're going to
draw more fire than that. Mich agrees: if they try to dive in,
they'll be toast.
Bridgehead's opinion is to wait until the fleets are
engaged and then take out their command center on the Happy Fun
Ball. He says that would have more impact than doing it now and
giving them a chance to set up a new command before the battle.
Kalida wonders how much command and control would be
centered on Llanamith, given that it's quite clear that
Santanocheev won't be on it. If he doesn't have a tight beam link
with that ship and its elite crew he will be giving up some of his
Shark identifies which capships are closest to the
flagship, and picks out four other dreadnoughts in the Tigress Battle
Kalida then uses her best poker skills, reading
Santanocheev the man rather than the Imperial strategy, to take her
best guess as to where he is likeliest to be of those four ships.
The dreadnought Dark Horse is
the clear favorite for
Santanocheev's actual location, Kalida guesses.
Sir Misha asks what the odds would be of getting
some missiles through to Llanamith if they just fired all 700
Zero is the answer. They would see the
missiles incoming, and turn on the black globe to absorb the impact.
The compromise decision is to use the pop-up method
to take out one big ship at least, just to harrass the fleets.
The Motmos Fleet is nearest to the small moon, and presents the most
suitable target. Kalida selects a large cruiser on the outskirts
as the best to take out, as they won't have a full shot at the core of
Helia takes them into position on a
terrain-following trajectory, slowing as they reach the horizon.
At 18:00 they pop up from the moon, Kalida splits a cruiser perfectly
with the expander, and Helia takes them back under cover and streaks
into terrain-following again. On the far side of the world she
pulls up and drops them back into stealth mode.
As they sweep back towards the mainworld, they note
that the fleets have not broken formation. Helia takes them back
into high guard position over the defenders and locks them into
position. Finally, at 18:30, the crew can rest again.
With just four battle-weary but motivated fleets to
face Santanocheev's thirteen, several of which are completely fresh and
undamaged, they will need all the rest they can get.
Even Shark takes a break this time, trusting Nightshade
herself to keep station. As they head to dinner, he mentions to
the Captain that the Doc has drugs available to keep people going if
The attackers have now been delayed by a day and a
half. Only three and a half days to go before the Trin's Veil
fleets' retreat orders, but it's not looking good. It would be
really good if they could simply remove the ocean from the world, but
the expander just isn't enough to do anything on a global scale.
The weapon used against the Karma FarSpace Station could do it, but
they don't know what that is. They do have a large weapon on the
swiss cheese ship they set on a course out of Zett, but just
fetching it, let alone setting it up to fire, would be impractical in
the time available. Even then, the don't know what that weapon
The tactical assessment is that once the attackers
start moving to engage, it would take them at least a couple of hours
before they engage. Given the defenders' orbit, at worst it would
be an hour and a half warning if they
started moving when the defenders just moved behind the world.
Shark suggests that the attackers might simply keep
up a constant series of strafing runs against the defenders, four
fleets at a time.
Kalida mentions that's in the Imperial manual as the
Galaga Strategem, and points out that it is very intensive in fuel use
which he can't afford to do. She then says she's going up to the
Bridge to consider matters in sparkly pink, and that if she seems to be
taking too long he is to wake her. She adds, "If it makes you
feel any better, fish oil will not be involved."
Kalida takes up one of the consoles on the command
dais and goes into her thread-seeking state of mind. The first
thing is to see if he's waiting for anything to arrive, and then to
follow anything that Santanocheev might be attached to.
If there was anything extra coming in, it would have
to have been pre-planned or have some alternate means of
communication. She'd already determined that anything that was
coming in was centered around the one date, which was 138. If he
has called anything in, it would have to be with FTL communication and
with fast-jumps, and no-one else has Helia to do that.
As for connections with Santanocheev here, pretty
much everything is connected to him. Even more than Kalida had
thought, so much is depending on him personally and what he does.
He himself is affecting to a great degree the outcome here. He is
clearly taking personal charge and aware of how much is riding on it in
the global scheme of things. The book, the predictable elements,
none of that applies anymore. It's his personality, his thoughts,
that's what's deciding his end of events here, and that's not
predictable enough. There's a solid lump around him and it's
surrounded with fuzz.
That said, they can pull back on those
threads. But then they're linked hard into Santanocheev's
threads. What they're doing is factored into what he's
pulling. He's taking into account everything that's going on here.
Kalida then tries to confirm that he's on Dark
Horse. With shock, she realizes he's not. She can't
tell where he is, but he's not on any of the five primary ships in the
battle group. She's pretty sure he was on Dark Horse
recently, but he's moved off and out of sight of her abilities.
She switches back to the normal view of the
universe, but remains in sparkly pink. She feels the fleets in as
detailed a view as she can, but can't sense anything moving amongst
She muses that there are still two other fleets out
in this general area somewhere, but really doesn't know where they
Kalida reports what she's discovered about
Shark suggests they move to a different position
around the orbit from the defender fleets, so that between then they'll
have more warning when Santanocheev makes his move.
This a good idea. On Kalida's advice, Helia
moves them into position leading the other
fleets so the element of surprise is weakened.
At 04:00, with Nightshade able to see them
but the defenders not, Santanocheev's operational fleets start moving,
of them. It'll be two hours to the attack. Robert sets up a
tight-beam link that can be maintained in stealth mode, and they inform
Commodore von Krantzhoff.
It's hard to predict the exact position in the orbit
where engagement will take place. They also can't see what the
final formation is likely to be.
Kalida goes back into sparkly pink and tries to
figure out whether Santanocheev is with the Thirteen or the remnants of
the Egypt and Mirriam fleets. She sees his influence everywhere
and it's obscuring any attempt to discern his location.
Shark ponders the question of whether the moon will
be in sight of the world all the time. The tactical crew inform
him it's very unlikely, as the fight will be in orbit around the world
and will slip behind it. Nevertheless, he considers the
possibility that Santanocheev might sit on the moon, have a tightbeam
connection to two ships stationed on the mainworld poles, and be
watching from his shuttle or whatever and not be in the battle at
all. There is not, however, any ship at the poles -- not yet,
anyway, or rather nothing of any size. If there was a gcarrier or
launch it would be hard to pick up from here.
Kalida and Sir Misha don't think that is
Santanocheev's style. On the other hand, he has to win here,
whatever that takes.
Sir Misha says that Santanocheev's personal survival
will not affect the outcome of this battle.
Shark and Kalida have more faith in the latter's
fish-oil induced hallucinatory trances. Kalida says that he is
the one who's influencing everything.
Shark adds that he's the one showing operational
knowledge of Nightshade and how to deal with her. As soon
as he turned up, the fleets started showing effective tactics to
protect against them.
Sir Misha says they probably learned it from the
lessons they'd dealt them, and not from his arrival. He is
convinced that it's not his style to lead from the back.
Kalida and Shark are in total agreement that if they
can get Santanocheev, the whole thing falls apart.
Sir Misha says that if he's thinking along those
lines, then he's just as likely to be setting it up as a decoy rather
than actually doing it.
Kalida is sure that normally Santanocheev would be
in the battle, but here the rules are out the window.
Shark says that all they can do is fight the battle
they are prepared to fight. That's predictable, and nothing they
can do about it. But what can they do to surprise them, given the
black ship's capabilities? The line of battle is generally a
line. There's a front. A screen of smaller ships, then the
capships, then command and control. Santanocheev is going to
change that some to protect from behind, but he can't change that
entirely and still guarantee a win. And he has got to guarantee a
win. So of the 13 fleets going down, he has to have eight on the
front line, so that only leaves four to protect the command and control
fleet in the middle. He's going to be in one of the ships in the
other four, he says. He adds that the two non-operational fleets
are making no move to follow the others, so they will be out of sight
for half an orbit.
Sir Misha asks if they should be concerned that
while the fight is going on one side of the world, that the attackers
could make a dive for the planet.
The tacticians assure him that there is not enough
time to refuel. To refuel, a flotilla must have orbital
superiority at least, and that can't happen with a battle passing over
every hour. A refuelling operation takes a long time with soft
ships. They have to clear the skies to refuel.
Sir Misha says the best way to draw him out is to
whack enough ships that he feels he has to take command
personally. Of course, he may have something up his sleeve at
Shark believes Santanocheev will be in one of the
four fleets that is protecting the decoy command and control
fleet. Either that, or in a small scout ship far outside, looking
down. A courier, so he could run, perhaps, but then Callisto
could probably pick up any starship. If he loses this battle, he
loses the war. He will be keeping an eye on the tactical display
to look for any ship that is not doing the normal thing.
It's 05:00, about an hour before the expected
attack. As the fleets approach, they're starting to flatten out
into more of a dome shape. It looks like they're on a path to
come down to the defenders, all 13 fleets at once, as an enveloping
shell. They should be able to bring to bear at least two fleets
on every defender, and if they choose to concentrate may be able to
pull off a local 4:1 or even 5:1. They're in a formation where
they're supporting each other, with the Happy Fun Ball Battle Group at
the top of the shell.
If Nightshade makes an attack run from
behind, there would be three fleets that could bear on them. If
they went all the way around and came directly down from on top before
the battle began, if they were picked up at all on the way in they
could probably bring five to bear. If they went straight up the
middle rather than coming from the top, they may face as many as
six. In the last battle, 1-1/2 is all that attacked them.
Their options look much the same as the last
battle. There is no point in "getting themselves whacked," as
Kalida puts it.
Helia points out one advantage -- they can dive into
the atmosphere at full orbital speed. It will slow them down, but
they can't be followed and it will be unexpected.
The defenders are simply vastly outnumbered.
There really is no way around that. All Nightshade can do
is try to help out.
Sir Misha wonders what the chances would be of
sneaking up from behind, hitting the Happy Fun Ball, and streaking back
If they did it while everything was engaged, the
response could be limited by the time it took to retarget their ships.
Shark says that if they started knocking away at the
corners, taking a fleet at the edge, then they'd get a lot less
coverage on them. After a while, they'd draw more of the
attackers to respond to them, disrupting the attacking formation, and
once they start grouping they can move and attack another more isolated
They can keep costing the attackers fuel, force them
to expend as much as possible to respond to them.
And that seems to be the best option so far.
Helia plots out a paths to descend to attack each of the four diamond
Sir Misha chooses the front fleet on point as their
target. It's a solid choice, as it allows them to dive into the
atmosphere and not lose track of the battle when they lose some speed.