Paradox of Oronos

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Chapter 22

“Contact report from recon’ six,” Lorran announced, “First group, two first gen’ carriers and one type four battleship, at two-nine-five by five point six two high, range seventy-two point three six three thousand LI (just over seven-hundred fifty-three million miles).

“Second group, two type three battleships, emitting heavy interference, deploying at thirteen point nine zero by ten even, range, sixty-six thousand LI. Both groups are firing engines to decelerate”

“Can you identify any of those ships?” Yanex called from the open floor of the COC.

“Just the carrier group, sir. They are the Taggen and Blou, escorted by the battleship Lowis.”

“The Lowis, that’s Ly Hess’ ship.” Marcone remarked as he shifted uneasily in his seat at the Command Station. The prospect of facing the infamous war criminal in battle disturbed him. Nor was he happy about the person sitting next to him, Princess Marlanna. Somehow she’d missed the shuttle. When Marcone went to pound on her door, one of her men told him she was indisposed and rather strongly suggested he not disturb her.

There was no keeping her from the COC. She had dismissed the Colonel’s argument that she would be safer somewhere else with the fact that few sections were more secure than that very chamber. She sat quietly, for the most part, watching the events unfold before her as if it were a performance for her entertainment alone.

“Ly Hess,” Yanex remarked, “this is an honor.”

He looked over the placement of ships on the holographic display and walked around it slowly.

“Have they spotted our reconnaissance ship yet?”

“No, Commander,” Lorran responded. “They are still doing over point seven five of light. Their scanners won’t be effective until they are under point five.”

Yanex put his elbow on the edge of the display table and leaned on it to study the map. “Have the rest of the recon’ flight take-up shadowing positions. They’ll never know they’re there.”

Then he called out, “We see the carriers, not the battleships, and we’re afraid.”

There were a few chuckles from his crew.

“Major Ratoe, come about ninety degrees to port and bring us to one eighth of light.”

“Yes sir,” responded Ratoe, “setting course away from the carriers.”

“Carrier group is responding with a direct pursuit heading,” reported Lorran after a few moments. “They are at point seven three of light and continuing to decelerate. Recon’ also reports they starting to launch fighters.”

Marcone focused one of his monitors on the carriers. “Are the fighters advancing?”

“Not yet, they appear to be staging in front of the taskforce.” Lorran read from another flashing report from Tri-S, “Two flanking battleships are changing to a parallel course of us.”

Yanex pointed at representations of the two battleships floating above the table, “They’ll run alongside us until about here,” he gestured at a position in front of the Oronos. “Then, they’ll cut in and try to broadside us.”

He stepped away from the hologram and addressed the entire room. “We’ll have made our move before then.”

“So long as they don’t spot the Attragone,” Marcone breathed.

“They won’t,” Yanex responded with confidence. Then louder for all to hear, “If the Delphians are anything, it’s arrogant. And they’re far too dependent on their scanners for information. So long as the Attragone remains stationary behind that planet she’ll look like any other orbiting object. They are far more interested in us. Besides, even if they do, Gilderith has plenty of interceptors to protect himself with.”

“Yes,” Marcone had to agree. “All of ours.”

“Commander,” Lorran called out, “two full interceptor squadrons launched by the carriers are being joined by medium torpedo strikers.”

“Once they complete their launch,” Yanex asked over his shoulder, “how long until they intercept us?”

Lorran repeated the question into her headset and quickly had an answer. “Tri-S estimates that if the Delphian strike group coasts at their launch velocity and slows to point two five, they will be in their scanner range in just over twenty may’ (five hours).”

Yanex went back to his holographic map and sped up the display’s time index to see where that would place everybody. After a few calculations a smile crossed his face.

“Good,” he said out loud. “We’ll initiate in about eighteen mayda. That fighter group has no visual tracking capabilities. They’ll be receiving course instructions from their carriers. We’ll have no trouble shaking them at that range.”

“Those fighters may not be able to keep track of us, sir,” Marcone warned, “but those battleships certainly will.” He pointed at the two flanking ships.

“Not to worry about them,” Yanex said calmly as he stepped away. It was a confidence that Marcone did not share. And he was having a hard time hiding it. In her prime the Oronos would have no problem taking on any two battleships. But now, in her damaged state and without her shields. Marcone could only hope it didn’t come to that.

A swarm of disk like fighters, along with larger attack ships, raced ahead of the advancing Delphian warships. Having launched at such high speed they could conserve their fuel. They would slow even further to launch their attack. Targeting systems were even less accurate at such high velocity. Most of their fuel was needed to decelerate and then accelerate again to catch their carriers on the return trip.

The two carriers were elongated ovals with rounded pods jutting from various points on their hulls. The lone battleship was stout by comparison. It bore the same rounded features, but was much bulkier in design.

For the equivalent of four and a half hours Ly Hess sat in his command center aboard the Lowis watching his fighters converge on the fleeing alien ship. He had two battleships running on a closing vector alongside the prey, and his own carrier taskforce was also closing in. Soon his force of fifty strikers and one hundred interceptors would be within their firing range.

His initial deployment from ex-space had put him well outside the jump limit. He then slipped into an open portion of the system. Once his scanners located the unknown alien ship he had set a pursuit course that would lead him across the access of the system and past its inner group of planets. Intense scans of the closest of these planetary bodies, the forth out from the star, told him that there were no threats hiding there. Even if there were, he’d held another hundred interceptors to defend himself.

Hess sat confidently waiting for the right moment to introduce himself to his helpless victims. Victory was within his grasp once more. Yet there was something not quite right, there was a gnawing in the corner of his mind that was trying to warn him of something.

This was going far too well. Even if the majority of the human fleet was tied up in Darcane and defending their capital system there should have been more of a force to meet him. Other than the few squadrons that were cowering around their base on one of the inner planets, it was as if they had abandoned the system to him. The only other human warship in the system was on the far side and making a run to ex-space. Even the ship he was there to engage had done nothing but flee from him. Could it have been that simple?

Well, he thought, he might as well give them a chance to surrender as they obviously were terrified of him.

“Alien vessel,” his voice boomed out across space, “this is Ly Hess, of the Delphian Empire. You have committed an act of aggression against us. You will stand to and explain yourselves.”

The message was repeated in a simplified pattern so even the most basic of intelligences could understand it. Much to his displeasure there was no reply, an even further insult.

Hess glanced from the image of the alien vessel floating on the domed ceiling to a second view of his own flanking battleships. His fighters were also closing in and his own ship would soon enter firing range. How could those obviously foolish creatures dare ignore him? They would show him proper respect when he crushed them in his deadly grip.

“Still no sign of aggression, My Ly,” a voice said from the darkness. “The ship continues to retreat.”

“What of the humans?”

“Fighters have taken up defensive positions around the third planet, and strikers are running up speed in the outer orbit, but they are not moving to intercept us.”

“As well they should not,” Hess announced. “Anything else?”

“We have confirmed the battleship Rijian on the far side of the system, moving to ex-space. No sign of any other major vessels.”

The Delphian scanner net had been destroyed by the time the Attragone and her escorts had arrived. Hess never knew she had been there.

“Strikers at nine says (forty five minutes) until maximum firing range, continuing to close.”

“Hold fire until they are at optimum range,” Hess ordered.

“My Ly,” called another voice, “we are receiving a response, voice only, in our language.”

Hess smirked. He anticipated some plea for mercy. “Let us hear it.”

The deep tones of a voice computer altered to speak in the Delphian tongue echoed in their tiny ears. “Delphian warships, this is the Aultrian Star Ship Oronos. You are to stand down for boarding or prepare to come under fire.”

A flabbergasted Hess sent back his response in the form of loud, boisterous laughter that echoed out into space.

His moment of jubilance was soon interrupted by calls from one of his subordinates. “My Ly, the alien vessel has just vanished from our scanners.”

“What?” Hess turned toward the officer.

“We have lost all contact with it, except for the visual lock.” The image on their view screens was the result of a neutron particle stream scanner. Instead of looking for light particles bouncing off an object, it used the much faster particle spectrum.

“Ly!” called another voice. “I’ve lost telemetry with our other two battleships.”

Yet another officer stated, “Communication is also lost. We can’t raise the ships or our fighters.”

“What about long-range?” Hess demanded.

“It is also out. We can not raise our base.”

The cause was quickly discovered. “We are being jammed, My Ly!”

They had never detected the reconnaissance ships shadowing them.

“Cut through it,” Hess boldly ordered. He viewed the inconvenience as part of their plan to elude him. An act they would soon regret.

“My Ly, the alien vessel is changing course!”

Hess looked up to see the enemy ship turning about. It was accelerating and swinging off to its port side. It was a course that led away from his flanking battleships and deeper into the system’s inner planets. He surmised that they had spotted his battleships and were trying to elude them, a move that would fail.

Despite the fact that Hess could no longer direct them, his ship commanders had taken the initiative to alter course in pursuit. They were now behind the ship, but still closing at an angle. The alien ship had over turned and was allowing them a side approach rather than a direct heading away that would prolong the chase. It also gave Hess’ own ship a dramatic side approach that would allow him to broadside them. A move he made without hesitation.

Hess’ confusion over what must have been a dramatic mistake on the part of his opponent was pushed aside by anger. Anger at the fact that his one hundred and fifty fighters were still on their same heading. Without visual tracking capability they had missed the course change and were flying off into space with no way to be called back. Only when their squadron commanders realized the error would they turn back.

Then an even more infuriating thought hit Hess. He had changed course to intercept the alien ship on its new heading. When his fighters finally did turn back they would retrace their course to rendezvous with the carriers, carriers that wouldn’t be there because he had altered their heading. They would continue backtracking, hoping to spot their carriers until they ran out of fuel or air.

Hess balled his fist in rage, but he did not lash out. Although no one on his staff had pointed out the grave error when he ordered the change of heading, it was his oversight alone. For him to break off his intercept course and make the course changes that would be necessary to put them back on their original course would be an admission of guilt on his part. It was an admission that he could not make. Even if it did cost two hundred lives.

This development was something that Yanex and Gilderith had not anticipated in their strategy sessions. Their plan had called for the Delphian carriers to remain on their heading to pick up their returning fighters after their communication had been cut and the Oronos changed course. The only question was whether Hess would detach the Lowis and go in pursuit by himself, leaving his carriers even more vulnerable to what was to happen next.

Few in the command center of the Lowis dared speak to their enraged leader. For well over an hour there was silence, except for the buzz of computers at their work and hum of cooling fans. Only when alarms began to sound was some unfortunate forced to give more bad news.

“My Ly,” the officer called out in a shaky voice, “aft observation reports a contact.”

“What?” Hess exploded as he turned to face the officer.

“Multiple targets on an attack vector,” he read from his screen without looking up. “They have confirmation now. Aultrian S-5 attack-craft and other vessels of unknown type.”

“Arm main batteries,” Hess ordered as he rose from his seat. “Launch all staged interceptors!”

“Red Leader to Green Leader,” called Colonel Pathos, the commander of Attragone’s strike squadron, the 145th TSS.

“Go ahead Red Leader,” Colonel Sands answered. He and the other remaining sixty-four fighters from the Oronos had been crammed into the flight-bay of the Attragone as she lay hidden behind Arkonus’ fourth planet. With one of the Oronos’ jamming probes crudely mounted to her hull, Attragone had lain dark as the Delphian carrier taskforce past within a mere six-two million miles. The sudden jamming that knocked out all but one narrow frequency for them to communicate was their signal to launch. In addition, two squadrons broke orbit from around Layix’s base. The ground based S-5 and MAC-32 squadrons would make up the second strike.

Much to General Gilderith’s surprise, the entire taskforce had altered its heading to intercept the Oronos, bringing it even closer to his hiding spot behind the barren planet. He was sure that his strike force would be able to hit their target long before the Delphian fighters returned, even if they immediately turned back. However now all they would have to contend with was whatever Hess had held back to defend himself with.

Even with the relatively short distance to target, it took time for Attragone to launch Oronos’ interceptors and the four reconnaissance ships that would serve as their eyes. Then the strikers were brought down into the flight-bay, armed and sent out. Once the strike squadron was away the attack group could get underway. Only then was the Attragone’s interceptor squadron, the 115th TIS, moved into the bay and made ready to defend the ship if things should go wrong.

Then there was the fact that the carrier was at a virtual dead stop. Once the launching operation started, she did fire her main engines to move away from the planet, however it didn’t help her fighters much. Without the advantage of the carrier’s speed, the Aultrian fighters would have to take the time to accelerate on their own.

Compared to most combat missions, where flight time to target could be between five to ten hours, this relatively brief flight was easy. Then it was cut even shorter when the Attragone’s escorting reconnaissance ships made visual contact with the carrier group. The two carriers flanked the sole battleship and a full squadron of fifty interceptors flew cover above the formation.

“Looks like they spotted us,” Colonel Pathos stated as explosions start erupting around them from the Lowis’ main guns. “If you’ll be so kind to occupy that defensive screen, we’ll start our run.”

“Copy Red Leader,” Sands replied, “good hunting.”

Using the narrow frequency left clear of jamming, Sands changed to his flight leader channel. “All right, Green squadron will make the first pass on their cover interceptors. Brown will follow and clean up.”

He thought a moment, then said it anyway, “Sic ’um boys!”

“We need to talk about this boy bit,” uttered Aurora.

Thirty-one SF-75s from Sands’ Green Squadron peeled off first, followed closely by the remaining thirty-three of Brown. Then the twenty-five two-man S-5 torpedo strikers broke into their five flights and started their run on the main fleet.

The Delphian interceptors ignored the fighters that were streaking toward them. The garbled orders they had managed to get through the jamming told them to concentrate on the strikers. Besides, with both formations moving at nearly a quarter the speed of light, targeting for them would be difficult at best, but not for the more advanced systems of the SF-75.

Much to the Delphians surprise, twelve of their interceptors were destroyed by the first body of fighters passing. The second group hit an additional eleven more. The remaining twenty-seven managed to destroy four of Attragone’s strikers as the two groups past each other in the blink of an eye.

The Delphian interceptors tried to regroup when they were again strafed by the Oronos’ SF-75s. Taken completely by surprise by their opponent’s speed, maneuverability, and accuracy, the remaining thirteen Delphian interceptors were scattered and thrown out of the battle. The second squadron never got up to speed or assembled.

As Sands and his units were chopping up the defending interceptors, the 145th started its attack. With orders to concentrate on the carriers, their commander ordered two flights on each carrier and held his own back to follow-up. He trailed behind the other flights with just enough time for him to call out what weapons would be used on which ship.

With changes in Delphian shield design since the last major conflict between the two nations, Aultrian torpedo tactics had been adapted. The S-5 carried four projectiles, two designed to overwhelm and short out shield generators and two armor-piercing warheads. As a standard practice none of these had complicated guidance systems that could be jammed or fried by ECM pulses. The missiles just flew in a straight line to their target. This meant they had to be lined up and fired at very close range. An extremely dangerous task that sent the S-5s and their crews straight down the barrels of Delphian defensive batteries.

The defensive fire was brutal. Three more strikers were lost to the Lowis’ main guns before they could even fire. Another was hit by antiaircraft guns as it past the taskforce. The shield disrupting torpedoes were to be fired on the first pass. If they scored enough hits and the ship’s shields fell, then the warheads could be used.

Taggen was hit only once and her shields were merely weakened. Blou on the other hand took six hits and her shields collapsed.

Now Colonel Pathos had a split second to make his choice. His flight was the only group left with shield disrupting torpedoes. He could try to knock down the Taggen’s shields or blast the Blou before she could recharge.

He chose the hard kill. “Explosives, starboard target,” he barked over the com’ link.

By the time his Alpha flight fired their armor-piercing torpedoes they numbered only four ships. Of those eight projectiles, three hit the Blou with devastating results. One struck mid-fuselage, blowing armor plates and debris out into space. A second hit near the propulsion section causing a fiery explosion that shutdown the ship’s engines.

The third was the money shot. Not that there was any real choice on where the torpedoes hit, it was sheer luck if at the speeds the strikers and their targets were moving they hit anything at all. But it did hit, and hit well indeed. It impacted just behind the forward opening for the flight-bay. The torpedo cut through the ship’s heavy armor before detonating inside the explosive and fuel ridden chamber. Flames and debris shot from both ends of the flight-bay before the loss of atmosphere extinguished the deadly conflagration.

“Well,” Sands called out to his fellow squadron commander as the units assembled on the other side of the Delphian taskforce, “looks like you got one.”

He watched his scanner as the damaged form of Blou drift out of formation. “That leaves two more.”

“I’m afraid, Colonel, we only have eight shield breakers left,” Colonel Pathos responded slowly. Plus there were only seventeen ships left from the 145th.

“What?” Sands exclaimed, a lot louder than he wanted to. In hindsight he’d wished he hadn’t commented at all.

“They don’t have multipurpose torpedoes, Sands,” Talya bitterly snapped. “Each ship is armed with two shield disrupters and two explosives. Maybe if you had attended the briefing...”

“All right, shut-up,” Sands barked, “we don’t need that out here.”

After a moment, Sands addressed himself back to his counterpart. “I, ah, hate to say this, Colonel, but that one carrier can service their entire fighter formation.”

“I’m aware of that, Colonel,” Pathos said without emotion. He then took a few moments to review his squadron data. Eight ships were gone, sixteen sons and daughters whose lives had been entrusted to him had been traded for a Delphian carrier with a crew of over two thousand. Somehow it didn’t seem like a fair trade to him. He suddenly found himself hating the job he once loved. Furthermore, he hated himself for the decision he knew he had to make.

“Bata and Echo Flights,” Pathos said without emotion, “you go in first. Make a run on the battleship and draw its fire. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get one through. Cigna and Delta will follow Alpha in on that second carrier. Fire your torpedoes no matter what happens.

“Alpha,” he paused and drew a heavy breath, audible through the com’ link. “We’re gonna have to be accurate on this one. That means we’re gone have to get close.”

There were only sharp voiced agreements from the other three ships in his flight, but the tension and fear were clearly there.

“Colonel Sands,” Pathos called out, “I believe I see interceptors launching off that carrier we’re about to destroy.”

“Don’t worry about them, Colonel, we’ll handle them.” Then a thought hit Sands. “Actually, Colonel, we’ll go in first and draw their fire. We have shields and maybe our weapons can do something to their shields.”

“You have shields?” Pathos said with a bit of surprise.

Sands didn’t respond, instead he started issuing orders to his two squadrons. “Brown, you guys hit those interceptors that are already off. Talya, you take one half of Green and hit the carrier. I’ll take the other half and see what we can do to the battleship.”

There were no more scathing remarks from Talya. She resumed her role as a highly efficient combat commander and drew her pre-chosen flights to another com’ channel and briefly laid out their plan of attack and formation.

The Lowis concentrated her main gun fire on the first of the formations to come at her. Not knowing what the capabilities of these unknown ships were, her gunners were taking no chances. As powerful as the shields of the SF-75 were, they could not withstand a direct hit from the mighty main guns of a battleship. Two of Sands’ interceptors were destroyed before they got off a shot.

The antiaircraft guns were another matter altogether. Of the three ships hit by them all the pilots survived, though damaged to varying degrees. One would be able to make it back to base on its own, while the other two would have to drift and wait for recovery ships.

Where the cannon fire and warheads only weakened the Lowis’ shields by about a third, the powerful explosions did throw her off axis. The great battleship tilted off its course and began a slow spin, effectively disabling its targeting systems as the crew fought to regain control.

Talya had slightly better results, depending on your viewpoint. Two hits from Pathos’ Alpha flight, combined with multiple cannon hits from her half of the squadron brought down the Taggen’s weakened shields. This was at a cost of two of her own pilots and ships. A price she would’ve been willing to pay was it not for the fact that all of the following strikers missed. Taggen had also been thrown out of sync’ by her attack. The straight flying missiles simply flew off into space.

At least with the Taggen’s shields down and the taskforce effective broken up, Sands was able to reorganize his squadrons and make a strafing pass at the carrier. Though not nearly as damaged as the Blou, they did manage to disable Taggen’s engines and shutdown her flight-bay before Lowis was able to recover and bring her main guns to bear on them once more.

The strike on Hess’ carrier taskforce wasn’t anywhere near the knockout blow Vice-General Yanex had wanted. But, it did serve to disable the carrier group, if only temporarily. The Battleship Lowis remained fully operational while both carriers were set adrift. Hess was left with thirty-one interceptors in the sky around his fleet, including the thirteen survivors from the initial squadron, and eighteen that had escaped the flight-bay of the Taggen. His second strike squadron burned in the Blou. The bulk of his fighters, the one hundred-fifty ships sent after the Oronos, still flew off in the wrong direction.

Hess had anticipated an attack from the ground-based units he had detected in orbit of the system’s third planet; however the attack had come over an hour ahead of schedule. There was no way those ships could’ve covered that distance in that short a period of time. The squadrons that had hit him had to of come from somewhere else, the ship he was pursuing or another source. Wherever they had come from, Hess knew he still had the ground based squadrons to contend with. They would hit him at any time, while he was still recovering.

As much as he wanted to destroy the strange warship with his own guns, Hess was forced to hold his position and defend his damaged carriers. The only hope he had for victory now was to somehow recover his main fighter group and organize another strike.

“Commander,” Lieutenant Lorran called out, “Tri-S is picking up a number of explosions among the Delphian carrier group, sir.”

Yanex stepped over to glance over the woman’s slender shoulders. “Have any of their capital ships been destroyed?”

“It doesn’t appear so, sir, but at this range we can’t get detailed damage reports.” After a moment she added, “The formation is losing speed and breaking up.”

Yanex glanced back over his shoulder as he spoke into his headset. “I want a detailed strike report from Colonel Sands as soon as it’s available, Major Carlisle.”

“They definitely got hit,” Marcone said as he reviewed the data on the holographic display. He watched as the myriad of symbols separated to once more define their own fighter groups as they withdrew from the engagement.

“Although not nearly as hard as you had hoped for, ay General?” Marlanna quipped as she stepped up beside Marcone.

Yanex paused to review an updated report as the second Delphian carrier started to drop from the formation. Clearly he had overestimated the abilities of the older S-5s. Although the S-5 was the premium attack ship in the Aultrian nation, it was not quite what he was use to.

“Perhaps not, Your Highness,” Yanex slowly responded. “But, we are by no means done yet.”

Yanex turned back to his staff. “How long until the ground based strike hits?”

“Depending on the carrier group’s follow-up maneuvers and heading,” Lorran answered, “approximately four mayda (one hour).”

“Good.” Then Yanex turned to his Flight Operations Liaison. “Get a dispatch off to Colonel Sands. He is to escort the 145th back to the Oronos.

“Notify FDO (Flight Deck Operations) that they’re to refuel and arm the S-5s with our torpedoes.”

“That still presents you with a dilemma, General,” Marlanna said as she walked around the display and gestured at the two pursuing battleships with a jewelry covered hand.

“Not really, Your Highness,” Yanex said with a slight bow and a coy smile. “Depending on how damaged the carrier group is after the second strike, we will launch the Attragone’s strike squadron at those two battleships.”

“Commander,” Lorran interrupted, “Delphian fighter group is altering course.”

“Where?” he demanded as he checked the display.

“Toward the sixth planet, which lies along their general heading, sir.”

“The sixth planet?” Marcone questioned out loud. He was annoyed to have his query answered by someone who should have no opinion on military tactics.

“They believe you are hiding there,” Marlanna said casually. “Or you are setting up an ambush for their fleet there.”

“Yes,” Yanex had to agree. “They’ll definitely turn back once they don’t find anything.”

He turned once more to his SLO. “Assuming that the carrier force holds its relative position, how long for the fighters to get back to them?”

“If they turn back right now, six mayda (one and a half hours),” Loran read from information she had ready on her screen as she punched up the other calculations. “A high speed swing around the planet should only cost them another two mayda.”

Yanex nodded at the display. With the battleships behind him and forcing him on a heading away from the carrier group, it was going to take him about forty-five minutes to recover his own fighters. Then at least another thirty minutes to turn over the strikers before he could launch them at the battleships. Then, depending on how damaged they were, he could turn his main guns on them and finish them off before heading back for what was left of the carriers.

It was vital that those Delphian carriers be neutralized before their main fighter group returned. Yanex knew he had little chance of surviving a hit from those hundred and fifty ships. At best they would miss their carriers in the jamming and fly off into oblivion. At worst Hess would send them after the Oronos. Although they would be low on fuel if they managed to rendezvous with the carriers, everything he’d read about Hess made it likely for him to send those fighters on a suicide mission if he couldn’t refuel them. Hess could not be allowed to give that order.

His thoughts were interrupted by an urgent call from Tri-S.

“Two pursuing battleships are altering course, sir,” Loran called over the com’ link. “Colonel Kayliss believes that they are assuming an arching course around the fifth planet.”

“The fifth planet?” Yanex questioned out loud as he viewed the new data being posted to his display. Oronos had passed within twenty-million miles of the fifth planet since her last course change. The Delphian’s intercept vector was going to take them even closer.

“They believe you have long-range surface guns on that planet,” Marlanna said before he could finish his thoughts. “They are trying to avoid them.”

“Surface batteries?” Marcone questioned. “Even if we had placed guns down there, we don’t have anything with that kind of range.”

“We don’t have anything that can blind their scanners like this either,” Yanex responded as he considered his new advantage.

Marlanna had an evil little grin as she stated, “Regardless of whether or not there are guns on that planet, the Delphians believe there are. Fear can be a very powerful weapon, General”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Yanex said as he ran a few quick simulations. “It can indeed.”

Then he surprised most of his crew by ordering a sharp port turn. One that put them on a course back towards the laggard carrier group.

Colonel Marcone made no attempt to hide his concern as he pulled the General aside. “Sir, even if those battleships do take a wide swing around that planet, they will still come in at an even sharper vector. It will leave them just nine-hundred LI off our stern (just under nine and a half million miles). Almost within gun range.”

Yanex gave the man’s shoulder a confident squeeze. “Not to worry,” he said. “This will mean we can recover our strike squadrons that much faster by closing the range to them. We’ll have those S-5s rearmed and ready by the time those battleships get back on our tail.”

Yanex then started back toward the center of the chamber, re-keying his headset as he went. “Lieutenant Nather, send a dispatch to General Gilderith. Give him our new heading and request that he plot an intercept course.”

“Commander,” Major Carlisle snapped to attention before the two men and handed over note placard, “strike report from Colonel Sands, sir.”

“Heavy damage to one carrier,” Marcone read out loud when Yanex handed it to him. “Light to the second, presumed operation.”

“And the battleship untouched,” Yanex grumbled as they reached the holographic display and the attentive ears of Marlanna.

“They have altered their heading as well,” Marlanna said. “They are heading back to their original course to pick up their fighters should they ever decide to turn back.”

“They’re down to a tenth of light,” Marcone read from the updated information. “But, that will still put them back on an intersecting course in plenty of time to meet their fighters, even if they turn back now.”

“Let us hope they find that planet far more interesting and take their time,” Yanex said as he zoomed the display in on the Delphian fighters. “The ground based strike will hit their carriers before they get back on course. Hopefully they’ll do a lot more damage. That will give us the time we need to take out those battleships.”

“Perhaps,” Marlanna commented. “However, you still have one-hundred and fifty Delphian fighters out there.”

“Well, Your Highness,” Yanex said as respectfully as he could, “we’ll deal with the situation as it arises.”

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