Surg'Fess always made an effort to appear unaffected by the off sensations of transit. Others on the bridge crew had less time in space than her, and shook their heads violently in an attempt to clear the dizziness. Within moments systems were back to full operation.
"Before you know Commander!" In battle she had the crew dispense with her formal title. That alone was considered hearsay in most Kra'Vak houses.
Projected before her, Surg'Fess saw the disposition of the First Arm. The ships, arrayed in Maneuver to appear as if they suspected nothing, moved slowly towards the original transit point. Her fleet was deployed with less distance between ships than normal and precisely prepared in such a way to spring into Confront when she gave the command. As the sensor picture began to grow, the ships of the Noc'Sol fleet appeared on the plot. Just as she expected, the frshhtook were arrayed in Confront, nearly surrounding the transit point location. No doubt they were scrambling now as the outlyers in their formation detected a force behind them.
After a moment's delay: "Coming on screen now."
A distorted picture came into view. An officer of the Noc'Sol fleet, unrecognized by Surg'Fess, scowled into the viewer. "Identify yourself!" She demanded.
Surg'Fess remained amicable. "I am Surg'Fess, commander of the P'Ah'Cad fleet sent to join forces with the Noc'Sol against Rahl'Soo. And you are?"
"T'ahl of the Noc'Sol. You are grossly off bearing. Explain!"
"Commander surely you won't allow this thing to address you in as such a manner!" One of the younger hotheads on the bridge staff leapt from her seat.
Surg'Fess muted the transmission. "Relax, young one. Deception is our friend here."
She could see the Noc'Sol swinging their fleet around rapidly so as to realign themselves, still in Confront, upon the slowly advancing P'Ah'Cad. "T'ahl, we have experienced transit difficulties due to an ion storm near our last jump point. This may have offset us somewhat." She knew it was an insufficient excuse. An Ion storm would have dispersed the entire formation, not merely offset it intact.
"Feh! Your shoddy navigational skills are no concern of mine. You a re to proceed along your current heading and attach yourself directly under my command in preparation of transit to Rahl'soo."
"It concerns me to have found your ships arrayed in Confront. Is there a problem?"
"There have been some hu'man ships detected near by."
"Out here in the middle of nowhere? How did they get here? How could they have found you? The odds are infinitesimally small..."
"That is of no importance! We stand arrayed to attack should they return."
"Commander, their targeting systems are active, no doubt their weapons are armed also" Said the sensor officer. They were trying to home in on Surg'Fess' command ship, but her voice was going on secure narrow beam to a dozen different ships and being broadcast simultaneously. Also her position on the bridge of a Vo'Bok would never have been imagined.
"Well if the hu'mans lurk, why orient and array yourself around the transit point? I thought this operation joint? One more suspicious than I might assume you have hostile intentions against us."
T'ahl's tusks angled inwards in frustration at Surg'Fess' calm logic. "I might assume the same by your appearance in our rear."
Surg'Fess eyed the range displays as they wound down. The Noc'Sol were accelerating to fighting speed. Soon they would be in range.
"Commander, give us the word. We must deploy to Confront now."
"Negative. It must be seen that they strike the first blow. I recognize her now, this T'ahl. She is a hot head. A seeker of glory. Allow her blood to cloud her vision, she has. Our fleet has their instructions. We proceed as planned."
A second readout was also vying for the bridge crew's attention. The time until the Second Arm would transit directly onto the Apex. This would trap the larger Noc'Sol fleet between them. 1st Arm would be the Anvil, second Arm, the hammer. It was time to trigger the action.
"T'ahl, I am a bit surprised. I thought the Noc'Sol fleet to be larger for this operation. You are taking only this force into Rahl'soo?"
"Be not foolish. The main fleet departed Thaars ago. I wait here on you."
"So I see. Your commander wisely chooses to leave you here away from the danger of initial transit." Surg'Fess watched T'ahl's tusks curl inward in anger at the implied insult, and she brought down her fist cutting off the transmission. "Well that should do it." Remarked Surg'Fess.
"They're opening fire, Commander."
"Fleet to Confront." Surg'Fess felt the slight hum of the ships engines through her feet as the Vo'Bok accelerated to its new position. The Noc'Sol would be concentrating their fire on the big Yukas, as was their habit. Knock out the flagship first and the rest of the enemy would fall apart, or so the belief went. Surg'Fess had foreseen this and was in one of the small Vo'Boks even now speeding directly forward. The P'ah'Cad fleet would be advancing with the smaller ships in the shape of two great horns on its flanks. The Noc'Sol would concentrate on the bigger ships, ignoring the smaller ones and assuming they would surrender once the flagship was dead.
There was no mistaking the lethality of their fire. One of Surg'Fess' large Yu'kas exploded under the concentrated fire of the Noc'Sol main battle line. One of the main drive columns tore off, spewing ignited plasma. They would not be able to take this kind of punishment for long.
"Commander, the Second Arm!"
Surg'Fess noted Na'woos arrival with relief. "All ships to flank speed. I want the Vo'Boks in amongst them when the greatest chaos hits!" Within minutes the neat Noc'Sol formation broke up as half the ships turned back towards the new threat. T'ahl still outnumbered them, though the position of an enemy in her rear weighed heavier in her mind than did the actual numbers.
"Another Yu'kas is streaming heavily commander!"
"Steady." Surg'Fess eyed the range readouts, she wanted to be within the primary range band before opening fire. It would have the greatest effects. Then she would take the Vo'Boks to within scattergun range. "Make sure everyone concentrates on T'ahl's flagship. While it was possible that T'ahl might have taken the same precautions as she had to mask the Noc'Sol flagship, somehow, Surg'Fess doubted it. That would have seemed too cowardly.
"Enemy flagship already locked in and position transmitted to the rest of the Vo'Boks."
"Good, I want emergency speed.
We'll run right past her."
"Range band one achieved, Commander."
"Commence attack, continuos fire on the flagship, all Vo'Boks." The sleek Hunter craft began spitting out their titanium carbide penetrator cores in a non-stop fashion. The small projectiles sped off towards their targets at the incredible speed of 29,000 kilometers per second, or .1c. Travelling at that speed, each small projectile, fired in multiple bursts, could hit a target with up to 1 kiloton of force.
Surg'Fess felt the ship shudder as it was struck with return fire. "I see we have their attention. Status?" "Hull armor damage. No critical systems…" There was a more violent shudder from another hit. And another.
"Commander we must pull of the attack! We cannot risk loosing you!"
"Silence that nonsense. Give me another status check."
"Port side weapons down. Venting atmosphere on deck two."
"Seal it and roll us over. I want full weapons on that flagship as we pass her. What's the status f our engines?"
Fully functional, Commander."
"Good, how long before we can start in on them with the scatter guns?
"Just one turnas, Commander."
"Do not wait for my command, fire and reload as soon as we are within range, and keep firing until we are out of range or out of arc. Then concentrate on the next target as we egress."
The two Kra'Vak houses collided. The Noc'Sol ships concentrated on the P'Ah'Cad capitals, which was their undoing. They had hoped to knock out the P'Ah'Cad leadership early and were successful, terribly damaging the heavies, however they ignored Surg'Fess' Vo'Boks. No doubt having to face a threat from the rear made the Vo'Boks seem even less a threat. It was a mistake T'ahl would not live to regret as four separate Vo'Boks closed close enough to pour scattergun fire directly into the great Noc'Sol flagship. A well-coordinated fighter attack had arrived moments earlier, thus drawing the attention of point defenses towards them.
They died in the sacrificial maneuver, but as Surg'Fess pulled away in her damaged Vo'Bok she noted the Yukas venting long flaming streams of atmosphere and spinning slowly out of control. After designating the next attack, Surg'Fess went back to the scanner and watch as the Noc'Sol ship was wracked with a series of small explosions followed by the telltale blinding flash of a power core detonation.
"Get me Na'woos."
"At once Commander!"
The Second Arm Commander appeared onscreen. "Na'woos, I've dispensed with T'ahl and her flagship. We've damaged several others but have lost or had damaged most of our heavy units. I'm ordering the 1st Arm to maintain emergency speed and we are speeding past the enemy, which have been detailed to confront us. You are to engage those ships at close range. Slow your rate of closure so that we synchronize our impact. We will overtake them from the rear. T'ahl's ships are slow to react now that she is dead. They are only now turning. I believe once they see the comrades destroyed by our combined attack that they will disengage. Understand?"
Those Noc'Sol ships which had been ordered to turn and pursue the 2d arm when they made their transit now found themselves in trouble. The bulk of the Noc'Sol ships were only now sorting through the confusion of T'ahl's death. No doubt her style of leadership had been such that frowned upon great latitude for subordinates. Now with their commander dead, these defects would weight heavily on the outcome.
The P'ah'cad fleet, well trained and exercised to achieve maximum articulation of its sub units, could react to changes and ride out losses in a much better fashion. This enabled the coup that followed. Na'woos and Surg'Fess' ships opened fired upon the hapless Noc'Sol ships at roughly the same time. The battle was short and furious. By the time Surgfress' Vo'Boks had overtaken the Noc'Sol, made a pass and turned them around, a third of the Noc'Sol ships were destroyed or streaming atmosphere. The rest had scattered and were even now beginning to generate transit points. Surgfress slowed her Vo'Boks so they could maintain station with their damaged sisters and maintain the appearance that her formation was still intact.
The Noc'Sol fled into the warp. Any ship too damaged to escape would soon surrender. It had been a short, costly battle for both sides. The Noc'Sol had lost 15 ships destroyed, but P'Ah'Cad had captured an additional 7 in various states of damage. This had cost Surg'Fress nearly all of the heavy ships of the 1st Arm plus 4 Vo'Boks. Na'woos had lost 5 ships also. There would be no question of proceeding onto Rahl'soo. Most unfortunate , thought Surg'Fess, given the strike claw mixed she had on the ground there. It would have been proper to get them out but she could not take the risk. Her attention must no be on the upcoming council meeting with the Royal Mother. She had enough evidence to prove the duplicity of Noc'Sol actions in the attempted ambush. This should serve to severely weaken Shal'Cog's influence on the Royal Council while boosting hers to new heights. With Surg'Fess' newfound power, perhaps she would be entrusted with executing this war against the hu'mans. With the limited resources available to the Kra'Vak, it had to be done right.
While the P'Ah'Cad salvaged the remnants and survivors of the battle there was just one more task to accomplish.
The group slowed its onward rush to a brisk walk as they entered the city and approached the fighting. Where possible, they avoided the streets and moved through holes within the inner walls between buildings had been suitably smashed during the fighting in order to allow passage between buildings without risking needless exposure. They arrived at a corner that needed crossing. Four special forces men gathered together while the exhausted Mogen and his cronies were still thirty meters back picking their way though a smashed ground floor. No doubt fear of the approaching danger made them move slower still. Watermann had gone across the danger area to secure the far side. A constant crackling of small arms fire, with occasional rumbles of artillery grew louder the deeper they went into the city. A flash and a crash resounded in the street.
"Jeez Sarge, ain't you crowding us a little close to the fighting?" Asked Donner.
"That's the point," said Lawrence, glancing back in the darkness to the security team. I wanna ditch these guys at the first opportunity. "Kurt how's it looking?"
"Clear. Come on over, I have you covered."
"Go." Mellor sprinted across followed by Molitoris, Donner, and then Lawrence. As he hopped through a window, he glanced back and flipped his NVGs in place to see Mogen and his men enter the room across the street. He was blinded by another flash and thrown back from the window as the concussion from several explosions hit the street and buildings around them. Dazed, he was quickly helped to his feet. Tracers flew down the street corner.
"Damn that's our stuff. Our own guys are trying to kill us!" Said Molitoris.
"Good. Let's go. Now is the time to ditch them. Kenny drop a charge in here, ten second delay. Blow out that wall. Make it look like we've been hit. By the time they screw up their courage to get over here we'll be long gone.
They scampered out of the room. Mellor, last in line tossed the charge underhand and it slid just below the window frame. He hustled out and was clear of the building as the explosion ripped out the wall. Charlie was leading then on another run away from the fighting. After three or four minutes they pulled into a quiet building and Charlie examined his map.
"OK. We're here. We have to go there. It's another 500 meters, so let's move."
"Hey I can hear that lieutenant calling on the radio." Said Donner.
"Fuck them. Zero out that freq." They all laughed. Donner deleted the frequency.
It took them about ten minutes as they slowed and grew more cautious. They approached the old municipal works building from a direction that would afford them maximum concealment. Charlie had remembered the spot from their original trip into Röt Hafen. In the time spent with Mills, he had observed very much about where people went and where they did not go and had a pretty strong hunch as to which building they were using as a safe house. He sketched out a quick plan, leaving Watermann and Donner in overwatch, then moved forward silently with Mellor and Molitoris.
Admiral Bellamy had to urinate badly. In the rush to get into his vaccsuit, he had forgotten to hook up the relief tube. Now he was paying the price.
"Admiral we need to wait a little longer. There are new arriving ships that won't be here for two hours."
"Can't wait. We've been dancing with the Kra'Vak long enough. They have the speed advantage. Lord knows why they haven't pressed it yet, but it's clear they're forming for the big push. Tell Admiral Gortlund to gather up the stragglers at…reference point Romeo. When he's assembled the rest of the newly arriving ships he can lead them in as one consolidated task group. Hopefully to cut off the Kra'Vak rear. As for the rest, it's time to put the sickle into operations. Give the orders to close up formations. How are we with rearm and refuel?"
" Five minutes tops before CAG gives the green light for launch."
"OK I'm going to head down to the deck for a few minutes then I'll come back here. Keep me updated. Go ahead and designate the new nominal point.
Bellamy would stop off at his cabin and take care of his other problem first.
Thompson gingerly passed his two full piddle packs to the crew chief. One was improperly sealed and leaked over the woman's hands.
"God dammit Sir!"
"Sorry about that Kroft. I would have rather gotten out to do this but the turnaround time on replenishment doesn't allow it."
"Yeah. Well, you're almost ready." She looked back toward the armorer who was overseeing loading of the last Z34 DSM. "Check the profile download."
Thompson glanced at the system display. "It's complete. He gave it a quick look over and didn't like what he saw. "I say, this one's a bit hairy." He quickly cross-checked the arming board, navigation system, and NNAT to ensure all systems were in synch with the plan.
He activated the NNAT. "Good morning Natty. Systems check please.
"All systems nominal.
"Very well. Launch checklist please."
Thompson readjusted his seat straps and patted the bulkhead of Greyhound 213 affectionately. She had just brought him through one harrowing mission, which should have been enough for the day. Now they were heading in again.
"OK sir. Time to seal her up." Kroft saluted and gave him a warm smile.
Thompson thought it might be the last he would ever see, and was too nervous to smile back, so he simply returned her salute and hit the canopy seal. Kroft leapt down as the ladder was pulled away. She held up both hands fists clenched. Thompson held up both of his hands showing he was not touching anything in the cockpit. Kroft nodded to a crewman who slipped under the Greyhound and removed the engine and arming safety locks. Once complete she nodded to Thompson and pointed to the lift controller, which picked up the greyhound and set it upon the launch rail.
Thompson activated comms.
"One, Seven. Commo check."
With the system checked those were the last words he would speak until launch. Placed on the launch rail, Greyhound 213 disappeared into the launch chamber.
"Thirty seconds." There was no waiting around on this launch. Ahead of his fighter, the launch doors opened.
"Ten seconds." Thompson activated the reel lock on his shock frame, to help against the initial kick of launch. He could hear the whine of the rail launcher as its capacitor wound up.
Thompson was kicked back in his seat as five Gees of acceleration shot the Greyhound away from the Ark Royal. His HUD showed all systems green across the board. Once free of the Ark Royal's inertial dampening system, 211s own dampers took over and gravity returned to 1 Gee constant.
"A new Nominal point has been designated and downloaded," said Natty
"All Strike elements, form up and head to push point."
"Natty update group position, please."
"Group position on screen."
"Time to push point?" Push point was the post launch form up for the strike package.
"Time to IP?
"Twenty one minutes."
Thompson allowed himself a few minutes to review the strategic situation. He could see the Kra'Vak fleet had reformed from the earlier skirmish and was heading straight for the Humans. The enemy's earlier tactics had been difficult to decipher. Following a massive, though scattered transit, they had dispatched a force of small ships straight to Röt Hafen and a rapid and nasty fight had brewed as the humans scrambled to adjust. Apparently it was a ruse meant to slit the main elements of the fleet. But Bellamy had not gone for the bait. The Kra'Vak had been beaten off by ships in orbit but not before heavy losses including the Dortmund station which even now was in danger of destruction despite ejecting the power core. Meanwhile the two fleets had traveled parallel to each other with only the two UN cruisers keeping up a long-range fire out in "no man's land". Reinforcements had been dribbling in from all over human space since Adler Tag and even now several ships were in system but had not reached the fleet. Apparently Bellamy could wait no longer. Thompson watched on the plot as both fleets turned towards each other and accelerated. The manner in which way both sides committed to battle simultaneously, was like a choreographed dance.
"Control to all dog elements. Stand by for a data dump."
"Receiving new parameter log." Said Natty as the transmission came in.
"Well what is it."
"New primary target designated." Thompson studied the plot as the IP and target was updated with the new intelligence. It was Dog's mission to destroy the enemy flagship. No doubt, fleet had been carefully collating all available sigint, or signal intelligence, to determine which ship was had the largest electronic signature and from this data making a best guess as to which was the flagship. Based on all the previous Kra'Vak actions, it had been determined that they put a lot of emphasis in killing the enemy fleet's flagship. Perhaps in Kra'Vak mentality, when you killed the commander it was a major disruption in their operations or normally lead to surrender. Were they more centrally controlled than humans? If so taking out the flagship had a bigger impact. Heck it was as good a guess as any.
"Push point." Thompson noted the NSL escort groups forming up around Strike One.
"Thank you Natty.
The human fleet approached the Kra'Vak in the now standard missile destroyer screen forward followed by the main battle line and flanked on each side, top and bottom with smaller fast hitting battle cruiser groups. The Kra'Vak maintained their standard tight swarms of 4 to 6 ships each, all moving in unison. The human ships halted acceleration and glided in. No doubt they wanted to maintain their range advantage for as long as possible.
"Formation is a standard four by up and back. Let's start off with deception mode CX one."
"Deception Mode CX one is active." Hopefully on enemy screens, Strike One went from eight fighters to twenty-four in two line abreast formations separated by 20 kilometers. Or so the ‘77 pod would have the enemy believe.
"Anyone tracking us yet?"
Dog Leader, Strike Seven. If you can bring in your ships a little tighter I can incorporate you into our deception scheme. I'm sending you a recommended profile.
"Roger Seven, thank you. Break. Dog leader to all elements. Adapt to Seven's profile." The sixteen escort fighters moved into position.
On the strat plot, Thompson noted the main battle line accelerating past the destroyer screen. That was a change for the last few fights. Must be something to cross up the Kra'Vak.
"Maneuver complete, Admiral. The battle line is up front and engaging."
In every previous engagement, the Kra'Vak had ignored the destroyer screen and gone for the big ships. Human targeting was based on best shot at the time of firing and of spreading damage evenly across the enemy fleet, which had paid off as the fight progressed. The Kra'Vak had focussed on narrowing the targeting onto fewer bigger ships. Perhaps they had underestimated the human salvo missile lethality. After several fights like this Bellamy was determined to switch things up, since the Kra'Vak were sure to have learned that lesson sooner or later and concentrate their powerful weapons on the weak hulled missile destroyers first. He wanted them to think they were pursuing the same strategy until just before opening fire. Now the destroyer screen peeled back and were heading out to the flanks as the main battle line took the lead. Hopefully the Kra'Vak would have to switch up their strategy and go back to their original targeting plan. This would be hard on the main line, but would enable the destroyers to get in closer before firing, thus maximizing the effect of their salvos. Of course it was to be coordinated with the fighter strikes. Bellamy hoped intelligence had guessed right and they would be successful in destroying or crippling the Kra'Vak flagship. The two most likely candidates each received a strike package with fusion-missile attack fighters. The earlier launched fighter strike had only pecked at the periphery of the Kra'Vak flee. It had really been meant to draw out and destroy as many Kra'Vak fighters as possible.
"The Kra'Vak are returning fire now, Sir. The main battle is joined."
"God help us." Remarked one of the staff.
"One minute to IP. Battle go."
"Strike One, looks like we're drawing company. I'm counting thirteen bandits. Seven K out." Said the fighter leader.
"Roger that Dog One." Said the leader.
"Dog this is seven. I've set up jamming on channel one. I'll keep it up through your merge. They're coming in at incredible speed. After that you guys are on your own."
"Baker leader we'll take this group, you stick with the strike.
"IP reached, beginning attack run. Everyone have the target? She's coming up on the plot clear as day?"
"Their PDS targeting is reaching for us."
"I'm shutting it down." Thompson already had the BM66 and the ALQ178 active. He was so intent on parrying enemy targeting attempts that he nearly missed the "fight's on!" call between Dog's escort and the Kra'Vak fighters. Baker‘s eight fighters sped ahead and assumed lead for the flight.
"Twenty seconds before we are in enemy PDS range."
"Final self test all DSM."
"All DSM in the green."
"Arm all DSMs and set to mode C."
"All DSMs armed and set to mode C."
"Set all DSMs automatic release."
"DSMs set for automatic release."
The now familiar wall of flashes appeared before them. In sequence the DSMs launched and sped towards the Kra'Vak fire-control sensors. Baker's flight accelerated out past Thompson's protective deception umbrella. They served no use except to divert enemy scatter fire from the actual strike. Within one minute every fighter would be destroyed. Despite the BM66 and ALQ178 active jamming and decoying enemy return fire was heavier than he'd ever seen it. First one of the Greyhounds exploded then another as they pressed into the launch point. There was a jarring explosion, which blanked out every screen in 213. Thompson found himself spinning out of control. He had a second to reach up and eject.
Once the pod was clear, stabilizers halted the rotation and activated the recovery beacon. Much to his horror he found himself drifting forward through the enemy formation. Judging by the ferocious return fire, he surmised that perhaps the target really was the enemy flagship. Magnifying his view screen, he watched four brilliant flashes impact upon the hull of the ship. Several very satisfying secondary explosions followed this. Soon it was not only streaming atmosphere but venting flame or plasma. The escape pod's viewer gradually lost picture as the enemy ship moved out of its view. There was nothing Thompson could do now but wait as the Kra'Vak fleet sped by trailing the debris of broken ships. Either the Kra'Vak would win and he'd run out of power and air and die slowly, or the Humans would win and they might be able to recover him or he'd still run out of power and air and die slowly. Either way, it was a hell of a choice.
"There it is Admiral. Post strike scans reporting our packages were successful. Both enemy dreadnoughts hit, streaming atmosphere and out of control."
Bellamy could see the rest of the news was bad.
"Both packages were wiped out." Bellamy winced at that. "Forty-five fighters gone." The aide was quick to continue. "But in the bigger picture the entire strike was well coordinated with the SMLs. Your plan to hold off on the firing paid off well. Four other Kra'Vak capitals were hit bad in the attack. One must have suffered a power core breach since it went up in one huge explosion. A smaller cruiser was also destroyed"
"How many fighters lost total?"
"Seventy percent, Sir. Heavy losses. We're recovering the survivors now."
"What's that leave us for fleet defense."
"There aer only twelve interceptors spaceborne now. We can probably get another dozen turned around and out with a hot replenishment."
"That'll have to do. What's the threat form Kra'Vak fighters?"
"They took it on the chin also, Admiral. Nothing with in scanner range."
"Intel, what's the reaction from the Kra'Vak?"
"Right now they are boring ahead as usual."
"Reorient the main fleet to a new heading. Zero four five mark ten. Pull the destroyers out and have them orient to three-three seven mark thirty. Let's see how they react."
"Sir, Gortlund wants to know if he should stick to his original plan."
"What's he got with him now?"
"A battlecruiser, two heavy cruisers two destroyers and a frigate. He can move forward with that force now or wait thirty minutes and he'll have another pair of battle cruisers."
Bellamy knew he should wait for the added strength but realized it was better to do something now than the right thing later. "No. Have them move forward at once. Flank speed. Try and cover the rear quadrant as we planned. Engage at max range. Get the two UN cruisers back into the fight also. I want the appearance of having surrounded the Kra'Vak. Numbers are less important."
The fight was now up to the heavy units. Dreadnoughts and Super dreadnoughts slugging it out with the Kra'Vak. The enemy sought to drive their smaller ships in as close as possible, where their railgun would be hitting as hard as the any human main battery fire. The fleets were now evenly matched, the missiles and fighter strikes had seen to that. There was nothing left to it now but a grim close range slugfest. Bellamy hoped that the Kra'Vak command and control had taken the hit he had planned.
K'zirt ground her tusks in frustration as she eyed the tactical plot. It was clear that fate had placed her into a position where she would most likely bear the blame for the debacle now was gathering above the heads of the Kra'Vak fleet. There had been no word from T'ahl, who should have by now warped in system. No doubt that foolhardy ambush had backfired. The fool Ig'Har had ignored all her hard earned lessons on fighting the Hu'mans. Not that it mattered for she was dead, as was B'Long. Command had devolved to her. Of course the official change had not been without an argument with Bz'Alag, nearly of equal rank was a permanent member of 3rd Arm. A bridge hit from an enemy ship had cut the argument short, but not without costing more precious time. They had been slow to react to the Humans splitting and this had cost ships and damage. Now a third force was closing in on the aft quadrant. K'zirt could see that the normally ordered formations of the Kra'Vak had become disorganized and fire was not being synchronized as it should. It was time to make a decision. Stay in this situation and potentially suffer annihilation, or move the fleet to withdrawal and preserve part of the force. She thought for several moments. The cowardly thing to do would be to remain here, expending the fleet in a losing action, at the same time avoid the brutal questioning that would follow upon return to the homeworld. She pondered the option for a moment but realized this human foe was too dangerous for any self respecting Kra'Vak to take the easy route out of this mess. No, she would withdrawal the fleet. Much valuable data had been gathered here. The clan would already be severely weakened by its actions here. No point in making matters worse.
"Ensign Open a channel to the fleet."
"This is Sub-Commander K'zirt, fleet commander acting. I am breaking off the action at once. 1st arm is to remain and engage the human fleet while the rest of the fleet moves to warp stations. Set destination to the Apex. First Arm is to target in order to damage and destroy the maximum number of ships, do not concentrate fire solely upon their heavies. We must wound them enough that they will not pursue. I will take the third squadron at maximum speed to orbit, collect a data upload and order Bu'Kal to blow the demolitions and evacuate what forces he can. We will leave Rahl'soo a wasteland which no one can use. There will be no discussion of these orders. Taken upon my responsibility. K'zirt out."
She turned to the ship commander. "Send a message to Bu'Kal. They have fifteen tu'runs to prepare for evacuation and set of their demolitions. We are coming to provide cover for their escape. If they are not ready they will be left behind. Ensure that they uplink all pertinent data they have gathered in their operations."
There. It was done.
Ja'Fol read the message and scowled. "Well that about does it. The frshtoook are pulling out and we have been ordered to cover their withdrawl! What draat!" Her claw had been fighting non-stop since the counter attack with little support form the Noc'Sol commander. Now Bu'Kol expected him to cover their cowardly retreat. And no doubt as soon as they were off planet the entire city would explode in their face as was normal Kra'Vak operational procedure.
An order like this coming from her own clan would have been complied with immediately, but from the Noc'Sol? Feh. They could cover their own retreat. Ja'Fol looked around. "Gather all the survivors. Want them here now. Break off whatever they are doing and assemble at once. Everyone who is already ere, you have three tu'runs to gather what provisions we can carry from the supply cache. Move quickly!"
When all the warriors were assembled, (there were but 21) she spoke: The Noc'Sol are abandoning the planet like the Frshtoook they are. I have no word as to what P'Ah'Cad guidance in this situation would be, but we follow the hunter's path. We will not help the draat-eaters as they flee. However, I have no doubt that there will be much opportunity for the hunt if we merely conserve ourselves and move to the hills. We have been operating in that environment for some time now and know it well. We shall take our clan there and go on hunting. This is why we must leave now. All the wounded will stay behind and at their posts to put up the appearance of continued resistance. The rest of us will carry what we can and move out. Any questions?" There were none.
"We will carry on for the clan."
"Hoi!" The Juves answered in unison.
Go to Nice Try (Part 2), chapter 12, of Röt Hafen
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