|Frontier War: First Contact
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
"What do you mean, the Orks evaded?"
"It's confirmed Admiral. The Ork contact withdrew almost immediately upon their entering the system. However, the human contact is proceeding in system on an intercept course. The spirits estimate initial contact will occur no sooner than fourteen hours."
"Understood. Inform me of any updates." Admiral Disdonna pressed her palm against the contact and shut down the communication link. Pushing her long hair over her shoulder, she turned to again look at the holo of the system they'd entered, imaginatively named by the boneseers as Two. It had a yellow primary, along with two super jovians, and pretty well nothing else. The scannerpsychs were still mapping out the smaller garbage that drifted in the system, most in the Lagrange points of the jovian's. A blue dot represented the Haras ag Iadonna expeditionary force, and a red dot the human contact. "There you have it. The question is, what do we do?"
Anastarn, the Autarch nominally in charge of the expedition, remained silent, but Farseer Catumath folded his gloved arms and leaned on the table below the holo projection. "We should make contact with the humans and negotiate. Each of us can take a jovian. Plenty of resources for us both."
The Admiral tapped her fingers on the table. "We've been sending a universal hail to the humans, but have yet to receive any response. We should at least keep our weapons warmed up, and the fighter crews at ready stations."
"That could be considered provocat--"
"It's prudent," the Autarch said. "Let it be done."
"Seer, until we know more, we can't take the risk. If they want to talk, we'll listen, but we won't risk their treachery. Remember the Skinkal."
The Seer nodded, remembering when the human vessel signaled surrender, and then self destructed taking the Skinkal with it when she had closed to take on survivors.
All three watched the display in silence until the Admiral spoke: "Autarch, I should point out that it's likely there's only one human system and one Ork system beyond Two. Assuming both entered the Ghazetteer at the same time we did, they've each only had time to move through one system. Based on the size of the human contact, it would seem to be a force comparable to our own, which suggests it's their entire fleet. The fact that they moved it here, as we did, suggests that their entry system is similar to ours: one way in, one way out, and nothing of value. The Ork withdraw suggests a smaller scouting force.
"In other words, if these assumptions are correct, and we wipe out the human force, we can use the system that the Orks came from as our point of defense, as there will be no way for any force to get beyond it into our rear areas."
"Admiral, we will not wipe out--!" began the Farseer.
At that point the wraithbone let out a faint ding and the captain's voice came through. "Admiral, we've positively identified the human contact as Space Marine vessels of the Black Templar chapter."
"That's that then," Admiral Disdona observed. She started thumping her fingers on the table in a faint patter.
Farseer Catumath nodded his helmed head. "Sadly, the information we have suggests that the Black Templars are not open to any kind of negotiation. They're more fanatical even than the human Sisters. Conflict is the only answer I fear. That's only my opinion, the final decision is the Autarch's." He turned his ornate helmet to look at the bare head of Anastarn, the ruby of the Autarch's artificial eye glowing in the pale light.
"Admiral, fight your fleet. Show no mercy."
"So say we all," he whispered.
"So say we all," responded the Seer and the Admiral.
Admiral Disdona was seated on the bridge, watching the pulsing spirit stone in the centre. There were no displays; the crew had yet to enter combat gestalt. Each was arranged around her, eyes closed, communing with their instruments and controls.
"Admiral, Captain Halshina reports contact with a human destroyer squadron. She makes it a squadron of two Firestorm frigates. Time stamp indicates message was sent eight minutes ago."
"Order Eliarenath to move towards the contact at best speed. Set course to intercept Halshina's squadron at maximum velocity."
"Admiral, it's estimated Eliarenath will receive our signal in ten minutes. Estimate contact with Captain Halshina's squadron in twenty-eight minutes."
"Understood. Prepare ship for battle."
There was no acknowledgement, instead the pale yellowish light faded as wraithbone grew to surround the bridge crew in a protective shell, similar growth following in all other control nodes. Transparent wraithbone swirled its milkiness around the Admiral's head before hardening to crystal clarity. The bridge crew completed their entombment and the central stone began to pulse deeper and redder. Then it went dark as the Admiral's seat enfolded him and the Mearvair linked to her soul. The crew and vessel were now a single entity, a gestalt primed for combat.
The Admiral's sensorium filled with the vastness of the system, the dull glow of the smaller of the two Jovians to the right and below, scattered streamers of gas, leftovers from comets or asteroidal collisions. With a thought she watched the time-delayed view transmitted from Halshina's command destroyer Shad ag Khaine.
The human squadron advanced at an oblique angle towards her, but she stayed out of range, riding the winds of the immaterium that pressed and fought with the psychic energies of the of the sails. She knew the time delay of the report, and watched, making notes for future discussion and analysis.
Stellar combat possesses a quiet grace. Ships move slowly and gracefully, a deception brought about by the incomprehensible vastness of space. Long minutes passed as the two squadrons approached, and the various distant squadrons moved to the interception point. There were two additional human forces, another small escort squadron, and a massive squadron of four escorts and a cruiser.
Like hawks, Halshina's command spun and swooped down upon the unsuspecting humans. It launched a full strike of missiles, their suicidal spirits accelerating across the vastness, and impacting the target squadron. Energies played, point defense attempted interception, shields flared, and then the human squadron was an expanding cloud of vapour as a pair of missiles sped off into the darkness.
Interception time was down to eight minutes.
The Mearvair was only a few minutes out when a second human squadron made contact with Halshina's command. Two more destroyers, more Firestorms. The two forces moved towards each other as the Mearvair moved into strike range. Another missile strike from the destroyer squadron, but this time the missiles concentrated on one of the human escorts destroying it -- the other survived. With a thought Eldar crews scrambled and fighters and bombers spit from the Mearvair, roaring towards the doomed human ship finishing it off.
Other organs of the gestalt, members of her crew, guided the fighters and bombers back aboard and reloaded them. With a thought Disdona guided the Mearvair to rendezvous with the destroyer squadron. Psychic waves passed outward as she congratulated Halshina on her successful kills.
The Eliarenath was still twelve minutes out when the rest of the human ships entered combat range. They were positively identified as a strike cruiser and two destroyer squadrons, all four flagged as Cobra class. Halshina launched another missile strike, unlikely to hit, but it forced the human fleet to veer away from the approaching Eliarenath, giving the Eldar units more time to group.
A signal flashed into her sensorium -- Halshina was running into a loading problem. The boneseers were wOrking on it, but it was unlikely she'd have more than one missile strike available within the time frame of the battle. Disdona wished her good hunting, and suggested, with a hint of a smile, that she make her last strike count.
Farseer Catumath sent a message into the gestalt suggesting that an opportunity be given for the humans to surrender. With a shrug, Disdona sent "Humans, you're outnumbered and outgunned. If you abandon your ships now, we'll pick up your survivors and return them to Imperium controlled space." The message passed through the translation spirits before being transmitted on the limited radio frequencies in use by the Imperium.
There was no response.
In system of the other Eldar units, the Eliarenath launched a fighter/bomber strike and advanced on the flank of the human fleet as the Mearvair and Halshina's squadron advanced towards their bow.
More in and out movement. The last missile strike from Halshina's squadron sped into the flank of the human formation destroying one of the Cobras, and damaging the cruiser. The squadron withdrew, struggling towards the primary to circle around the human fleet and make laser strikes against their stern.
Pulsars flared, fighters and bombers launched and landed. The human strike cruiser got off two thunderhawks and drove off the two nightwings sent to intercept, destroying one. They moved towards the Mearvair but were destroyed by close range firepower whilst decoyed away by her holofields.
Disdona watched as her fleet fought. Their captains knew what to do, and she only had to offer the occasional guidance.
The Mearvair and Eliarenath moved in to make pulsar strikes, obliterating two more human destroyers, crippling the human cruiser. Disdona sent another surrender demand, which was ignored.
Halshina dashed against the stern of the surviving escort and her squadron fired their remaining weapons against it. It's shields flared, but there was no damage. In one of the oddities of war that seems so obvious later, and yet so sudden at the instant, the Slidd had moved too close to the human ship before opening fire. The flare of the human shields, the dump of energy, all that, or something, sent a shockwave across the Slidd's bow and, as she tried to turn away. A ripple in reality that shattered the containment on her warp reactor consuming her in a ball of fire.
Halshina's squadron didn't react, but that was Eldar nature. There'd be time for mourning, and to search for survivors, later.
Both Eldar cruisers launched mass bomber strikes against the crippled human cruiser, but they failed to penetrate the shattered and air-streaming armour. A last shot from the enemy's flank hits the Mearvair, she shudders, but the gestalt holds and there's only minor damage. Other bomber strikes kill the last human escort.
Another pulsar strike and the human cruiser ceases acceleration, streaming last gasps of air as she dies.
Disdona thinks, remembers Skinkal. She'd been there, she remembered the horror.
She gives her orders and the Eldar ships fall back, firing pulsar strike after pulsar strike into the drifting hulk until her drive overloads; a massive ball of plasma consumes the wreckage.
Then the search begins for survivors from the Slidd.
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