((Collab with @Ozerath
))MSV Friedrich Lochland
MSV Friedrich Lochland
stood still in space, vigilantly watching over the swarms of mining drones swirling about the asteroid field nearby. MSV was perhaps a misleading prefix for the Friedrich Lochland
. It was indeed registered with the Commonwealth Ministry of Commerce as a “Merchant Space Vessel”, but it was considerably faster and better armed than most ships of the same designation. Friedrich Lochland was in fact a decommissioned Resiliant class battlecruiser, purchased and refurbished from the scrapyards above Bravia. Formerly named RCNS Impatient, the vessel’s original hull was over a hundred years old, and it had been mothballed for 50 before being refurbished and renamed. The Resiliant class predated Commonwealth positron beams, so its turrets were less potent grasers. Combined with the removal of its axial weapons, it was cleared for civilian ownership and operations, but it was still very much a warship. Just a very, very old one.
The expense of purchasing and maintaining such a vessel exceeded the costs of a more traditional freighter, but the Friedrich Lochland’s captain had come to possess it under some interesting circumstances-namely with assistance from the Office of Naval Intelligence. The captain himself was an interesting man, engaged in all sorts of interesting business. His name...was also Friedrich Lochland. Lochland was a bit of everything; innocent cargo hauler when it suited him, smuggler and gun for hire most of the time. He occasionally took passengers as well; there wasn’t much of a market for high security high discretion personal transport, but those few who needed the service tended to pay well.
Lochland prowled around the bridge, deep within his ship’s armoured bulk. He was a male Vit’azny, a touch over 70. He was a little on the tall side and a little on the thin side. His frame was lithe, but well muscled, and he twisted a stylus between his fingers with tremendous dexterity.
"Status?" he called out, continuing to fidget with the stylus.
"All clear. Wild Rose
and Rusty Razor
report holds are at 80%." Vana replied with a touch of exasperation. Vana was a yanissan woman who served as Lochland’s pilot and first officer. On most ships, the two roles were filled by separate people, but Lochland insisted that he was the only one allowed to walk around the bridge looking ‘captain-y’, so his first officer had to be firmly seated to avoid clashing with his image.
“Well I’m sorry that my concern is bothering you Vana,” Lochland replied sarcastically. “We’re just a little exposed here, and starships are very expensive. I think about these things Vana, that’s why I’m Captain and you’re...well, definitely not Captain.”
Lochland’s sarcasm blew over his XO like so much hot air, the woman having long since gotten used to his eccentricities. Something on the display gave her pause though. Vana frowned. “Hold on, I think we just detected a bunch of FTL transits...Confirmed. Nine signatures, one of them outmasses us by a good chunk too."
Lochland stopped fiddling with his stylus, his face grim. This had been a possibility from the beginning; the system was in restricted space for a reason. But its fabulous mineral wealth had made it too tempting to pass up for a particular mining consortium, and they were paying Lochland a staggering sum of money to escort two of their ships.
"Signal the miners. Tell them to flush the holds and abandon the drones, we're leaving right now."
Thankfully, the mining captains didn't argue. They were evidently frightened enough to listen to their escort without question. The three ships set off on a vector that would clear them of a nearby gas giant's gravity well while keeping them away from the unknown ships. But the problem was speed. Friedrich Lochland
could have outrun their pursuers on its own, but the mining vessels were proving to be too slow, even with empty holds. Lochland watched the plot as the unknown ships drew closer.
"Captain...we'll have to leave the miners behind." Vana said quietly. That was certainly an option. It would mean forfeiting pay, but money wasn't much good if you weren't around to spend it. Lochland was seriously thinking about it when a particular memory struck him, a young boy saluting a uniformed father he'd never see again. A memory that had troubled him for years, and gotten him into
trouble many times.
"No. Turn us around and prep for combat. Tell the miners to keep running for the well limit." Lochland said firmly.
Vana sunk her head. "Captain, I know what you're thinking but you're going to get us all killed."
"You're welcome to take a shuttle and leave, if you're feeling cowardly. The ship is staying to fight, and I'm staying with my ship. You're all welcome to run actually..." he cast an eye around the bridge, but no one moved from their post. "Good. Now prep for combat."
The 'Merchant Space Vessel' did exactly that. Armoured shutters slid down to protect vulnerable areas, the space around her flickered as her shields came up, and missile hatches and railgun batteries popped up into battle configuration.
Meanwhile, the unknown vessels, having fully emerged from the spatial ruptures they had opened, had approached dangerously close. Though the distance was still too great to distinguish most of their shapes' finer details, their overall appearance was dishearteningly clear. The distinctively sleek and smooth black hulls, scattered with green markings, betrayed their origin, yet this was apparently not a concern for whomever had sent them. While it was not yet entirely recognisable, their sides bore the criss-crossed golden circle of the Yrrkeltharl Coalition. Whether by chance or machination, a small fleet of its battle drones had found its way to that perilous out-of-the-way system; and anyone who had ever had dealings with the Coalition knew that, however horrid and strange its acts, it rarely ever did anything by chance.
The nature of this force showed that whoever had sent it not only knew what they were doing, but likewise did not want to take any chances. Over half of it was made up of small, oblong and predatory Thorns, which now were speeding further and further ahead of the other ships as their infamously fast sublight drives accrued strength. Behind them came a couple of Nhuul Parasites, their mechanical mandibles already poised to sink into the enemy's hull. Some way to the side, a single Tlaelon Scavenger, not as minuscule in comparison to the Friedrich Lochland
as the others, flew in a way that would have been cautious had it not been a machine, occasionally swerving evasively to one side or the other.
But it was the last of the drone ships that truly laid the Coalition's intentions bare. Advancing much slower than its escorts, yet not the less threatening for it, a Nfaal Devastator was making its way towards the old Resiliant and its charges. The vast, gleaming bulk was partly obscured by the crackling of its shields, stronger by orders of magnitude than those on the Parasites, but what could be glimpsed of it, from the vicious spike of its spinal projector, flanked by what seemed to be purely ornamental steel jaws, to the grates running along its armoured back, eerily similar to some gigantic monster's ribcage, seemed to be there solely to flaunt the construct's deadly purpose.
As the Lochland
began to turn about, three of the Thorns abruptly accelerated and shot forward so suddenly they became for a moment a blur on the sensors. However, they were not headed towards the battlecruiser itself. Turning aside by a slight angle, they moved to intercept the mining ships, cutting off the shortest route out of the gravity well. At the same time, the other two, followed by the Parasites, charged the larger craft head-on in a bid to distract it from the threat to the miners. Beams of pale-green light flashed from their prows, and the Nhuul began to pulse with ominous light-blue luminescence as they charged up their unmakers.
Lochland watched the various ships manevuering about intently. His own vessel had barely completed its turn, and there was plenty of time to intercept the group heading for the miners. But that would expose him to the second group...ah well, he'd already committed to protecting the miners, might as well go all out. "Match vectors with Bogey 2, I don't want them reaching the miners. Railgun batteries to full offensive fire, smaller vessels are the priority targets. I want all missile launchers on rapid fire mode, double broadsides on Bogey 2, a mix of standoff warheads and proximity nukes. Main graser batteries, target Bogey 2. Disable engines if you can, but whatever you do don't let them reach the miners."
"What about Bogey 1?" Vana asked, referring to the group of ships targetting Friedrich Lochland
"We'll just have to worry about them later." Lochland said, trying to project calm. They had to be Coalition ships, he thought to himself. The system was near enough to where their territory apparently lay, and the designs of the ships didn't match anything in the databanks, so they had to belong to that mysterious faction. He'd heard stories of the Coalition, but only stories, and had hoped never to encounter them. Too late now.Friedrich Lochland
turned about again, maneuvering to intercept the Thorns pursuing the miners. Her missiles were the first to fire, all of her tubes from both broadsides throwing their weight towards the still distant targets. A second salvo of missiles was away scant seconds after the first, then her dorsal and ventral graser turrets lashed out with their invisible fire. Finally, her broadside railguns opened up, barraging both groups of enemies with relentless fire.
The grasers and the first salvo of missiles reached their targets almost simultaneously: without access to military munitions, the Friedrich Lochland
made do with weaker bomb pumped lasers and good old fashioned nukes, which furiously erupted among the Thorns, even as the graser turrets swept across them, with the first waves of railgun rounds coming in close behind.
Struck so suddenly in their progress, just as their speed had reached such heights as to make manoeuvering impossible, the drones found themselves in the very middle of the barrage. In an instant they were engulfed by the explosions bursting out around them, tossing them off-course and causing them to careen dangerously close to each other. One of them attempted to redress itself, firing its thrusters forward to stabilise its mass, only to find itself shredded by the oncoming railgun projectiles. Its armour, already weakened by the grasers, gave way, and the metallic shell caved inwards as though something inside it had begun to drag and fold the hull. In an instant, a misshapen husk surrounded by minute debris was all that was left of it.
Another of the Thorns tried to spin sideways without slowing down to elude the Friedrich Lochland
's fire, but its excessive momentum, combined with the debilitating effect of the explosions and a lucky graser shot having hamstrung its lateral propulsion drive, caused it to spiral uncontrollably and crash into the remains of the first one. Beaten, but still functioning, it began to retreat in order to resume its trajectory, but some well-placed rounds struck it in the fractured point, penetrating into its engines. With an inaudible groan, the ship seemed to literally implode, an invisible anomaly at its core drawing in both what was left of it and the carcass it had slammed into, reducing both to an unrecognisable bundled lump.
The third drone, however, was more fortunate. Flying at the head of the group, it had already been rather forward when the barrage struck, leaving only a section of it exposed. While that part did include the vital rear thrusters, it had nonetheless escaped serious damage. Graser burns pitted its flank, and stray railgun slugs tore off pieces of its armour, but, though battered, it flew on, without even losing much of its impetus. In a blink, it was near the scrambling mining ships. With an abruptness that would have left a living pilot smeared over the walls of the cockpit, the craft decelerated and swung around, facing its defenceless targets. Yet its goals must have been less evident than they seemed, for, instead of firing at them directly, it began to weave over them, blasting their engines with surgical accuracy. It shot to cripple, but not to destroy.
All the while, the four vessels that had hurled themselves against the Friedrich Lochland
had drawn so close as to be visible to the naked eye. And they showed no sign of stopping. One of the Thorns swerved towards the main drive at its rear; the other dodged upwards, aiming for the heaviest weapon emplacements. They were within metres from the battlecruiser, and still they did not stop. If anything, they were going faster
, their great speed letting them punch through the old battlecruiser's shields with minimal effort.
The battlecruiser's batteries were barely fast enough to respond. Mere seconds before the drone struck the larger ship's flank, it was torn to scraps by intensely focused fire from directly before it. The greatest part of the Thorn fractured into several pieces before and inward force akin to the one that had claimed another from its ranks sucked it in, compressing the loose plates and machinery with tremendous strength. Only a few stray shards of debris clattered harmlessly against the Friedrich Lochland
But the other drone met no such resistance. Avoiding the sparse belated blasts from the fore, it sped along the ship's side, now distinctly locked onto its rear. Another moment, and it struck. Its spiked head tore into plating, scattering parts of itself around as it did. The whole carapace began to crack open as it was still moving, the anomaly within it seeming to grow by being fed with tatters of both hulls. There was a silent creaking, and a section of Friedrich Lochland
's drive aft collapsed on itself, sending shudders through its whole bulk, before exploding into a series of bright flashes.
The ship bucked and heaved as the smaller vessel tore into it and explosions ripped down the aft section of the hull. Emergency bulkheads slammed into place, the shields flashed and failed, and on the bridge, Lochland himself was thrown off his feet as the lights and displays flickered. But the ship was built to last, and it kept fighting, railgun batteries lashing out with massed fire.
"We've lost the GDC. We're not going anywhere now," Vana reported grimly. Lochland clambered back to his feet. Technically they were still travelling at a great speed, but they could no longer accelerate or decelerate, except with tiny amounts of thrust provided by maneuvering thrusters. Lochland glanced over at the tactical display, noting the 1 remaining hostile surgically carving up the mining vessels. He couldn't risk another full barrage, not with the miners so close, but he still had grasers...
"Wait for a shot, then blast that last guy from Bogey 2 with all the grasers. Throw all our missiles at that farthest ship from Bogey 1, keep railguns at maximum offensive fire!"
The remaining Thorn finished crippling the first mining ship, then moved to begin it's surgical attack on the second. As it moved between them, Friedrich Lochland
's grasers fired, reaching out at the speed of light and neatly catching the Thorn in its center of mass.
The missiles flew off towards the more distant Scavenger, their number reduced and their targetting compromised, but still deadly. The railguns kept right on pounding away at the approaching Parasites. The Devastator remained untouched, its vast bulk too much for the crippled battlecruiser to contend with.
While the last Thorn imploded upon itself as it was struck directly in its battered midsection, the Scavenger continued to weave at the edges of the battlefield. Until that point, it had not yet fired a single blast, though it had had ample opportunity to do so. Now, abruptly finding itself the target of enemy fire, it seemed to gain speed as it began to twist and dodge in even more intricate patterns than before. A few of the missiles were thrown off their trajectory before they reached it, swinging wide past the ship. As another cluster approached, the Tlaelon hurled a brightly-pulsing sphere of plasma at it. Some of the warheads fired off moments before it reached them, scattering the others; yet that did not prevent them from being drawn in by the unmaker bolt's second wave and incinerated as the sphere collapsed upon them. The last few missiles crashed against the drone's shields, which momentarily dimmed before starting to rapidly recondense.
At the same time, the Parasites, which were already dangerously close to the Friedrich Lochland
, responded to the railgun shots with their own scorching flares of green light. A good part of the first shots to reach them was deflected by their shields, which, however, seemed to give way soon afterwards, albeit vague halo of sparks still surrounded them. One of them brought itself to the front with a short burst of speed, drawing the brunt of the continuous fire upon itself. Yet, as its beaten hull seemed to be about to give way, it dove under the Friedrich Lochland
, bringing itself outside its broadside radius.
The focus of the batteries turned upon the second Nhuul, but found itself once again repelled by its shields, which had strangely coalesced in the brief interlude. They did not last longer than the first time, but that was enough for the drone. It blasted forward, the large spines on its prow digging into the armour between weapon emplacements. Its entire fore suddenly blazed with searing plasma light as it fired its unmaker directly into the surface, incinerating it and sending superheated gusts into the battlecruiser's interior even as its own form, the batteries and the plating around it were fused into a single liquid wave, rapidly cooling into a fantastically distorted shape stuck to the ship's side like an unnatural tumour.
Alarms blared on the bridge and the ship heaved again. The lights flickered again, this time going dark, to be replaced only by dim orange emergency lighting. Lochland checked the tac display again. One of the miners was hopelessly crippled, but the other was just now making it to the edge of the gravity well. An instant later, it disappeared into the relative safety of slipspace. Lochland breathed a long sigh of relief. He'd saved at least one of them. He wasn't expecting it to summon help; the Royal Commonwealth Navy had made its stance on venturing into Restricted Space very clear. But they were safe.
"What've we got left Vana?" he asked with a calm that surprised even him.
"We just lost 60% of the port broadside railguns, 80% of the missile tubes, and control runs to turrets 3 and 4 are fried, though they still have local control capability."
"Can we do something about the ship below us?"
Vana shook her head. "He's out of the ventral turret's firing arcs, and we can't roll or maneuver fast enough to change that without the GDC. Missiles could still get him, but he's really close; we wouldn't survive our own barrage. We don't have enough left to do much to the other two hostiles. We've done all we can Lochland."
Lochland nodded. "That we have. Stand us down, but have everyone ready to abandon ship, in case our 'friends' out there hold a grudge."
Just like that, it was over. Trailing vapour and debris as it drifted through space, the Friedrich Lochland
's guns finally fell silent.
As the surviving Parasite swept further down below the damaged battlecruiser, the last ship finally approached. The vast silhouette of the Devastator hung menacingly over the Friedrich Lochland
, drifting, almost idly, to cover the remaining mining ship from its sight. It had lowered most of its shields, and the long curves of its dark, glistening armour were clearly visible in all their facets. The force driving the great vessel seemed indifferent to the possibility of its quarry still having some hidden trick to bring to bear against it despite the destruction of their weapons. Still, the immense focus projector between the horns on its prow remained aimed at the smaller ship's midsection, sparks of yellow light coursing around it.
Once it found itself directly above the Friedrich Lochland
, the giant drone slowed its progress to an imperceptible speed, strangely coloured blazes pulsing from its exhaust vents. Then, a circle of evenly spaced beams of pale green light erupted from the tips of its frontal spikes, encompassing the battlecruiser from all sides as they blasted past it. Not one of them had struck or even glanced it, but the message was all too clear. None was to leave the ship or otherwise attempt to escape.
Some minutes passed before the Scavenger emerged into view. As fast as it had been during the battle, it circled around its prey once, then a second time, pelting its sides with what seemed to be missiles. Or, rather, what would have seemed to be missiles, had they not been so large and slow. The foresides of the cylindrical steel capsules were lined with large, thick triangular blades, whose purpose became apparent when the Friedrich Lochland
shuddered under several impacts from both boards, and a quake of continuous vibrations, accompanied in some spots by the odious screech of plating being torn open, coursed through it. Soon, they faded, only to be replaced by a thundering of steps through the ship's corridors. Heavy, metallic, mechanically rhythmical. They were approaching.
A dozen figures marched onto the deck. They were shorter than most of those on board, but in the silence and fading light of the dying ship they seemed enormous. The blows of the thick, crude digits of their fourfold limbs remained brutally cadenced even as they dispersed around the chamber, their ovoidal carapaces more than vaguely resembling the bodies of monstrous mechanical insects. The spots of golden electric eyes, empty of thought or emotion, sought their living quarry, quickly, accurately. Yet, of all their parts, it was perhaps the unassuming tubules of the particle stream-blasters that were most menacing. Not, perhaps, for their shape, or even that they were there at all, but rather for how many there were on each of the machines.
Once the steel invaders had ascertained the number and position of the crew on deck, they began to rather unceremoniously push them into the corridor whence they had appeared. The drones’ strength was even greater than what their armoured exterior led to believe, and no amount of resistance could make them budge. Slowly at first, then faster and faster as the struggling was crushed by implacable unfeeling motion, the metallic herders and their captives made their way through the battered ship, past closed emergency bulkheads and failing engines. The sound of more such processions could now and then be faintly heard from other parts of the Friedrich Lochland
, converging then trailing away into the distance.
At last, the machines roughly ushered their convoy into an empty, dark lateral chamber that had quite clearly not been there before. In fact, even though its entrance was itself in heavy shade, it could be seen that the wall around its circular doorway had been molten and torn. Inside, there was nowhere to sit, nor even anything to properly stand on but the treacherously concave floor. The space did not seem to be designed with humanoid occupants in mind. Or, for that matter, living ones.
Heavy panels slid down with a clang, swallowing the last glimmers of light, and all was silence and darkness. The maw of the Coalition had closed around its prey.