[YC 126 NEWCWC] War Fleet: Event Horizon

The blurred streams of light seen outside while in warp space rapidly condensed, and then froze in place on the wall mounted displays of Resolute’s bridge as the ship yawned back into subspace. The rush of stars outside the ship transformed into the familiar, unmoving prismatic smattering of lights painted across the cosmos, separated only by the vast expanse of darkness that loomed in between. Silent, unseen shockwaves burst outwards as the kinetic force of the Caldari battleship’s rapid deceleration was converted and dispersed, muffled only by the inertial dampeners.

Those shockwaves were quickly mimicked by a dozen others as more and more ships burst out of warp and resumed their place in the ragged formation. Debris and jettisoned flotsam tumbled in their wake, bobbing along like planks of wood on a planetary ocean–though this ocean would offer no shore or solid land.

“Jump complete, ma’am,” Lieutenant Yorma called out, his hands already grasping and tugging his navigation console displays closer for a more thorough analysis of the data pouring in. “All surviving ships accounted for.”

Surviving ships, specifically.

“No hostile targets on scope in-system, Captain; all systems reporting green.”

Captain Hollorand slapped her hand onto the keypad attached at her armrest, activating the communications circuit.

“All ships, immediate execute–accelerate to point eight KPS at time one-zero, then pivot one-eight-zero degrees and engage shields at maximum strength. Engage all enemies as they enter your targeting envelopes.”

“Warp drive respooling, ma’am,” Yorma announced once Captain Hollorand had disconnected the transmission. “Engineering reports propulsion units answering one hundred percent capacity power. Faurent star on scope, sixteen point nine AUs distant; we’ve arrived on target.”

“Then at least one thing ended up going right,” Captain Hollorand snapped, her frustration directed at no one in particular but still easy enough to feel by everyone. Her fingers balled up into a fist that pounded gently on the arm rest as she surveyed the damage reports flooding in from the other ships.

Nothing good there. Nothing at all.

Of the destroyers that had survived the ambush, Sinister had barely any of its armor left; Vengeance and Swift Strike had practically tumbled out of warp with half of their propulsion systems blown–they’d not be able to keep pace with the rest, but hopefully they’d be far enough away from the jump. Malice, Blight, Desolation, and Malevolent all had varying degrees of damage to their weapon systems and armor, but fortunately little hull damage among them. By and large, the destroyers had made out the best.

Hollorand’s focus drifted down the list towards the battlecruisers, and a subconsciously issued “bloody hell,” escaped from her mouth under her breath.

Victory and Stalwart wouldn’t even have been rated combat-able had an inspection team been the one surveying them–their armor was gone and their hulls cracked and reduced down to below twenty percent. Shields were the only thing keeping those two vessels from unraveling at the seams at this point. Crusade, on the other hand, was salvageable, with most of its armor still intact–but half its weapons were offline. That was problematic, especially for a battlecruiser. Defender would have to pull the heavy load for that division. Its armor was weakening, but at least it had all of its weapons still online.

And then, of course, Resolute–the only Raven battleship out of the trio to have survived the ambush. Hollorand grimaced as she thought back to the ambush and the sudden destruction of Triumph and Indefatigable, along with the death of the Admiral and the whole crews of both battleships.

Fifty percent of Resolute’s armor had been burned away, with hull damage evident in places where the armor was peeled back. Nearly two thirds of the ship’s munitions had been used up–spent on the thundering, rolling barrage which had held off the attackers while the rest of the fleet accelerated to warp. And though one of the propulsion units had been blown as Resolute turned to jump out, the engineers had restored it to serviceable order while in warp.

Perhaps not right now, but soon, the Guristas were going to get what was coming to them. But the priority was survival–survive and escape with the turn-coat they’d been tasked with delivering safely to Unpas.

“Align the fleet to the Iyen-Oursta Stargate and prepare for warp, Lieutenant.”

“Yes ma’am; setting course for Iyen-Oursta Stargate. All ships affirming directive and adjusting vectors.”

Captain Hollorand’s gaze narrowed, her focus set firmly on the warp point they’d just emerged from and were now accelerating in the opposite direction of.

They had one shot to get out of this system before their pursuers arrived.

One shot to keep going.

The Guristas, however, had no intentions of allowing that progress to continue unimpeded.

A dazzling array of flickering lights announced the arrival of new ships right on the heels of the ravaged fleet as it sped in-system. The speed of those new arrivals was hampered by their warp space departure, but was quickly ramping up.

Ninety kilometers distant.

“New targets on scope, Captain; Guristas pirates. Ten–fifteen–make that twenty eight vessels, ma’am. Warp alignment is still in progress; we won’t make it in time,” Yorma announced, his head turning back towards the captain.

“Noted. It’ll be a fight, then. Ensign Harua, load and prime all missiles in launchers alpha through foxtrot, and set point defense turrets to auto. Primary target should be their cruisers. Primary is… that one,” Hollorand called out, her fingers gliding across the displays to isolate and highlight the desired targets, “and secondary on that one there. Lieutenant Yorma, keep steady on course as long as possible; you have control for evasive maneuvering.”

“Yes ma’am,” both Harua and Yorma called out in unison.

The same situation would be playing out across the fleet as the warship commanders scrambled to prepare for the coming engagement. The destroyers would be targeting incoming missiles and other escorts, while the cruisers would focus their fire on the heaviest combatants. With the inferior numbers the Caldari had, however, target selection would mean little against such overwhelming enemy firepower.

A droning hum interrupted the preparations, filling the bridge of the ship and drawing grimaces from the watch standers as the unsettling, resonant warbling thundered on and on in their ears.

“Enemy stasis field engaged,” Harua announced, her voice sounding somewhat strangled by the discomfort. “Interference has crashed the warp alignment vectoring.”

Fifty kilometers.

“Confirmed,” Yorma added. “Warp alignment failed.”

“It was always bound to be a fight; slipping out ahead of them was a long shot. All ships,” Hollorand announced, her finger pressing down the transmission key once more. “Focus turret fire on their escorts; missiles and heavy weapons reserved for the battlecruisers.”

“Enemy closing range to contact.”

This wasn’t going to be about firepower. Hollorand’s gaze was drawn to the readouts, the vast sprawl of data depicting the array of enemy ships and their fittings. The Caldari had to survive, and that meant being cunning, outwitting the enemy. The only way to achieve that would be to trade firepower for tactics.

Hollorand slapped the transmission key again.

“All ships brake at maximum capacity and engage all weapons.”

Missiles leapt from their launch tubes and careened towards their targets, taking advantage of the remaining distance between the flotillas to gain all the speed they could, making for a far more deadly impact. The Caldari fleet’s velocity shrank rapidly, the inertial dampeners screaming in protest as the strain of such tremendous force on the frames of the ships was converted and then dispersed across a variety of mediums. For the Guristas, the point of intercept had just been reduced by a sizable measure, and their reaction time and targeting would suffer as a result.

The two formations passed through one another at a blistering pace, a chaotic mess of turret fire lighting up the space between them. Missiles darted and weaved through the fields of fire, slamming into shields and armor and shaking those targets down to their frames. Two warp fields spun out from Defender and Crusade, their churning, wavey nets gripping the propulsion units of one Guristas cruiser and, in a terrifying display, dragging it far enough off course that the vessel slammed into one of the two battleships that had pursued the fleet. The pair of vessels blossomed into a brilliant flash that blinded even the strongest sensors in the fleet.

Warships shattered into fragments, some of the larger pieces the size of destroyers, all now rocketing through the already dense field of mayhem as the two fleets passed through one another.

The Guristas fired off a late return volley of missiles as they reoriented themselves, the munitions chasing after the Caldari fleet as the two formations started to break apart. Half those missiles went off target due to having been fired too late and at sub-optimal range, or were simply blown apart by turrets, but all the same, shields flickered and burned under the much more accurate drilling of turrets and electronic warfare that assaulted the Caldari. And yet still the fleet held its formation.

Even Vengeance and Swift Strike managed to initially hold their positions despite lagging behind, though the latter fell out of formation once the moment of action had passed, tumbling aimlessly as its crew scrambled to get the failed propulsion units back online.

The Guristas mob boldered onwards beyond the Caldari ships, their shields and armor raked by the heavy fire unleashed against them during the lightning fast engagement.

The Caldari wouldn’t get another pass like that, not now that they’d used the tactic.

As the two fleets sped off and away from each other, more missiles launched out of tubes from both fleets, most blossoming into shrapnel as defense turrets tore them apart, but some making it through the slam into shields.

“All ships, turn starboard nine-zero degrees and accelerate to point-nine KPS,” Hollorand ordered over the comms.

Resolute was the first to abide that course change, naturally, and the strain of rapid acceleration was once again felt throughout the ship as the inertial dampeners struggled to keep up.

“Enemy fleet coming starboard for another intercept,” Yorma announced. The display on screen reflected the very same; the Guristas were making a wide arc to come around. “Estimated two minutes to contact eighty five kilometers ahead of our current position at the current rate of acceleration.”

Allowing the Guriastas an intercept on their own terms wasn’t going to end well, but another simple change in velocity wasn’t going to be enough to throw them off this time.

Hollorand keyed the transmission again.

“All ships, at time nine-zero come to port five-zero degrees and maintain speed and formation.”

A minute and a half later–just thirty seconds shy of the intercept–the fleet made its abrupt turn, now on track to cut across the back of the Guristas formation as it sailed onwards to the intercept point.

Sinister has lost all propulsion,” Lieutenant Yorma called out. “They’re falling out of formation.”

And there they went, tumbling off course.

And there wasn’t anything that could be done to save them.

On its current track, Sinister was going to cross the Guristas’ path as they made their firing run.

“Commander Reith, get your crew off that ship, asap.”

Less than thirty seconds wasn’t enough, not nearly enough, but it had to be said.

And none wouldn’t respond well to it–to abandoning ship before the fight had even been faced–but there was no chance of surviving what would come next, and it wasn’t worth dying just to save face and pride.

Grim as it was, there wasn’t anything left to do for them.

Hollorand slapped the communications panel again.

“All ships, engage weapons as enemy ships come into range.”

They’d have to come back for any survivors after.

That is, if they themselves came out alive.

Seconds later, the fleets passed one another at a range of just five kilometers and once again ignited the space between them with the wildfire glow of turret fire, stasis fields, missiles and rockets, and every other fitted weapon the ships could unleash.

Resolute trembled violently as a deadly barrage slammed into the hull, and chaos exploded on the bridge in its wake. Sparks showered down from the exposed wiring mounted to the ceiling, the consoles and display panels flickered while compressed air vented wildly into the room, and most of the bridge officers were nearly thrown from their chairs–Hollorand included.

“Captain–shields gone; hull breaches in sections six, four, and twelve–” Hollorand’s eyes were glued to the display, Yorma’s words passing in and out of her head as she surveyed the damage not to Resolute, but to the Guristas’ ships. “–two propulsion units blown. Weapons reporting two turrets down and one launcher permanently destroyed–”

Hollorand slapped her hand down on the communications link once again.

“All ships, immediate execute–come starboard one-five-zero degrees and accelerate to maximum velocity. Fire everything still operational. Primary target for all missiles is the surviving cruisers.”

On the combat displays, Sinister flickered and then vanished as the Guristas formation thundered past it, each warship pounding the tumbling destroyer into scrap. Escape pods–which had launched too late–had been caught too close to the bombardment and were obliterated as the engine core blew. Those pods which had survived were blasted apart by turret fire in short order, though.

All those souls now gone–avenged only by the damage inflicted on the passing Guristas ships by the overcharged explosion of the destroyer.

The Caldari fleet swung about, turning into a stern chase aimed right at the Guristas formation which–as Captain Hollorand noticed–had been devastated in the latest pass. Most of the pirate flotilla’s escorts had been destroyed, its battlecruisers left barely operational, and its battleships entirely decimated.

Twenty eight enemy warships had been whittled down to ten, most of which were ravaged by the firing passes.

The Caldari had taken serious damage on that pass too, though, but they’d at least inflicted three times as much on the pirates in the process–the curved angle of attack and cutting the point of intercept short at the last minute had kept most of the Guristas ships out of optimal firing range while allowing the Caldari the advantage of knowing exactly where to shoot.

Now it came down to who could pounce first, and Hollorand’s intent wasn’t to come in last.

Afterburners kicked on, and the nine surviving, combat-able Caldari warships lurched forwards, missiles leaping from their tubes, as they closed range. Turret fire would join them soon after when the two fleets closed range.

And that was the trick; right there.

The last time this situation had played out it had been in reverse–the Guristas had been in a stern case and Hollorand had tricked them by slamming on the breaks, throwing off the pirates’ firing vectors. Vile and criminal as they may be, the Guristas weren’t stupid, and if nothing else, Hollorand could bet on them trying to use her tricks to their own advantage.

In fact, she was betting on it–betting the lives of her sailors and the warships of her fleet.

“All ships, immediate execute–pivot and push full capacity engine burn to reduce velocity for four seconds, then turn bow on to the enemy and fire as targets enter weapon envelopes.”

Yorma glanced back over his shoulder with wide eyes, but quickly set back to his tasks as the counter ran down. He knew Hollorand enough to trust her, as surprised and terrified as he may be.

The Caldari ships braked hard, and Hollorand cast a wide grin as she viewed the displays which showed the Guristas doing the exact same thing. They were trying to use her own tricks against her.

Instead of slamming through the Guristas fleet as the pirates had anticipated, however, the Caldari ships also breaked, and stayed right on the pirates’ heels as they fired missiles and turrets and every other weapon they had left.

The Guristas firing vectors hadn’t been prepared, once again, and their shots went wide. The hulls of destroyers and cruisers blew apart under the avalanche of Caldari fire, the space surrounding their ships burning white hot as engine cores blew and other munitions detonated.

Caldari shields flickered, and klaxons whined as the scant few Guristas’ volleys found their marks.

Yorma could feel the vibrations through the chair.

It became hard to determine whether the subsequent jolts were missile impacts or just the fragments of destroyed ships slamming into Resolute as the fleet boldered through the expanding field of wreckage–the debris which had once been the enemy flotilla.

Ensign Harau half spun in her chair, gaze peering back towards the Hollorand.

“Captain, all cruisers and battleships assessed destroyed or disabled; half a dozen escorts still oper–”

“All ships, break formation; general pursuit,” Hollorand interrupted as she keyed the transmission panel. “Vessels below forty percent armor integrity limit targets to only ships you can kill before they strike back hard. Ensign, find me a target that needs hammering.”

The Caldari fleet disintegrated, its formation breaking apart like the hull of one of those ships that had exploded. Ships flew off in every direction to give chase as the Guristas fled on outbound vectors towards any gate they could align to. The stasis fields hampering the Caldari ships were gone, but they wouldn’t need to deploy their own–those frigates weren’t getting away.

Missiles and turret fire erupted from the fleet’s battered but still dangerous warships, decimating the last remnants of the pirate flotilla. The hardpoint weaponry on Resolute thundered with their own activation, and Hollorand bared her teeth with vengeful glee.

Mere minutes passed, and in that time hundreds of lives were snuffed out. And then the weapons went silent–their tasks complete.

“All enemy ships assessed destroyed or disabled, Captain.”

Hollorand sank back in her chair, a deep breath escaping through her nostrils as she finally took time to survey the final damage reports.

Too many losses to be content, but in this system it hadn’t been bad enough to be considered a failure. And, they still had their valuable prize on board.

“Lieutenant,” Hollorand called out, “I need to know how they knew we were going to be there–how they knew to wait for us.”

Yorma hesitated, and then finally turned in his chair to face Hollorand.

“Transit route was secure, ma’am; no one would have had access below Vice Admiral rank, or yourself as Fleet Captain. As far as I know it was all passed off the net; hard discs, not networked.”

Captain Hollorand met his gaze, her focus narrowing to mere slits as she considered that, and then leaned forward. One arm brushed aside the display that typically loomed in front of her.

“Meaning what exactly, Lieutenant?”

Yorma swallowed.

“Meaning there had to have been a leak, ma’am. Either an accident or–”

“Or a mole.”

Captain Hollorand sat with that for a long moment, her tongue pressing at the inner edge of her lower lip. They had a half dozen more jumps to go, and if there had been one ambush because of an informant…

“Lieutenant, turn us towards the gate and prepare to jump.”

Whatever came next was out of her hands–but like hell she was going to take it without putting up a fight.