The Third Battle of Thassalid Trench [2.3]

“Coilgun shell penetrated UNV-024! Crew has sealed it off, taking emergency measures!”

“Order them to lay off the engines! Slide toward the rear of the formation! Bozhe…”

“Torpedo successfully interdicted by UNV-027, Comrade Brown!”

“What do you want me to do, clap? Tell them to keep shooting!”

“UNV-065 requesting to move rearward as they reload!”

“Granted. What do they expect, to stay in front with no bullets?”

“UNV-065 has Divers out sir! They are afraid of moving back–”

“So is everyone else! They can dive their way to the back with UNV-065 if needed!”

In the command pod of the Formidable, there was a generalized cacophony. All fleet communications ended up in the Formidable, which meant that in the middle of battle, the five girls handling the dreadnought’s laser and acoustic messaging ended up shouting at Admiral Deshnov who would shout back at them. For a gentleman of his age he was moving no less swiftly in the middle of battle. While shouting commands, he and his Chief Officer quickly went over the live battle data on one of the hanging minicomputers around the Admiral’s chair.

Barely minutes had passed since the barrage had started and the battle was already red-hot. Union forces had struck the first blow by downing an Imperial Cutter, but that had been a mistake. That torpedo was meant to strike at one of the Destroyers, thereby opening up a hole in the enemy’s interdiction coverage and forcing them to move ships around to retain the same spread of fire around their formation. Instead a Cutter had been hit, which meant little in the overall battle.

Deshnov was more than a bit concerned. This was an intense barrage, even in the command pod of the Formidable he could feel slight vibrations from outside. His own barrage felt poorly practiced. Coilgunners were shooting shells off into the wild blue prizing saturation over accuracy, and torpedo officers could not tell one profile from the next. Even with the computers, it was, in his own internal words, a bit of a shit-show. He recalled the great gallantry and deadliness of the gunnery officers serving alongside him in the Revolution. His current crew, quickly assembled out of veteran skeleton crews supplemented with Thassal Station citizens, was not up to snuff.

However, despite the intensity of their fire, his enemy was far and away worse. Compared to the Imperial Southern Border Fleet, it was difficult to tell which ones were the runaway slaves and undisciplined brigands, and which ones were the high and mighty royal navy. Boasting an amorphous formation and a scattered barrage, they seemed almost like they were trying to buy time more than actually win. As they began to slow down near the 500 meter “prow between prow” range, where fleet actions became grinding slugfests, it was a wonder whether they had scopes installed, or any rangefinding. Blasts went off all around the Union fleet, rocking the water, shaking people up. And yet maybe 1/10th of the gunfire actually did any damage to the Union.

Then there was the Diver action–

Deshnov knew a little about Diver tactics. In his glory days they were an ambush weapon, improvised. Using mining tools, hurling quarry explosives, hiding in caves and trenches until an enemy showed up. They were deadly effective and rarely ever shot down: most casualties came down to mechanical failures (horrific ones, in the middle of the water). Nowadays, there was all this talk about whether they should add firepower or just sit in the middle of fleets to defend them.

The Imperials opted for the latter. Hardly a single Volker was seen to move in for assault.

Deshnov admitted a certain fondness for Murati’s proposed strategy.

It harkened back to what he knew Divers could do: run up under a ship and go berserk.

“Sir, computer simulations predict the ‘Ahead’ team of Divers will soon begin their attack.”

“Keep your scopes peeled for them. We don’t want to hit them.”

Because they would be attacking from the back, that was not so much a worry.

But everyone looked to the Fleet Admiral to say something.

It was truly too bad that all he wanted to say was to that girl fighting out there.

Murati Nakara. Daughter of a pair of solceanists. Was she religious at all?

Everything happened so long ago. And yet he couldn’t shake himself from the belief that it was because of him that she was out there fighting. Had he been stronger– had they, all the old guard, been stronger. Could the Union’s children be living in peace and plenty, instead of fighting to protect the barest sliver of their existence under the cold, uncaring depths of Nectaris?

“Can’t do more than apologize. Too late for more.”

He mumbled this, staring at the computer simulation of the attack.

His Chief Officer noticed him saying something and began to ask–

Deshnov interjected with a smile. “Don’t mind me. Not saying anything meaningful.”

There was a loud, audible gasp.

One of the overeager communications girls had seen something incredible.

“Sir, Imperial Dreadnought IRN-007 Dreizen is sinking!”

An additional monitor came down from a slot in the ceiling, and the whole crew raised their heads. Grainy video footage was run through filter after filter before their eyes to try to clean up the image. Soon it was possible to see the computer-outlined silhouette of the Imperial Dreizen, a massive ship with a break-like prow and a rearward sloping design that ended in adjustable winglets covering the massive hydrojets powering the craft. It was like a work of art.

And that work of art listed precipitously down the middle of the enemy fleet.            

“They’ve gotten started then.” Deshnov said, sighing deeply.


Previous ~ Next

The Third Battle of Thassalid Trench [2.2]

“Confirming algorithmic detection of enemy torpedoes! Enemy fleet will be close after!”

Across the Formidable, the cries of the intelligence officer resounded through the intercom to every department on the ship. This was accompanied by the sound of klaxons. Divers were already underway. All six had been sealed in their deployment chutes, awaiting final dive authorization. Everyone else on the ship was braced for battle and awaited further details.

Several other stations made ready. Gas gunners and coilgun officers controlled their weapons from gunnery consoles in the command pod. They were not physically present at the integrated mechanisms of their weapons. Those who would be on call to actually go touch a gas gun emplacement or a coilgun autoloader were the ship mechanics and engineers.

Gunners needed all the sensors at their station to have a chance against a torpedo or ship.

Murati watched through one of her monitors a diagram of the ship, with every section turning from blue to red to indicate its combat readiness. Soon the entire diagram of the Formidable turned red. There was a countdown of fifteen minutes, estimating time to deployment for the Divers. Murati had this on one screen, the diagram in another, and Sonya on a third.

She would clear all of them before battle was actually joined, to focus on her cameras.

“Be advised!” cried out a chirpy-voiced master sonar technician, “Enemy force consists of 38 vessels. Preliminary analysis of enemy acoustic signatures suggests: three Koenig class light Dreadnoughts, eight Lowe class Cruisers, two Wespe class Destroyers, ten Marder class Frigates and fifteen Ratten class Cutters. Formation is currently amorphous and at combat speed.”

“The Cutters and the Destroyers are the latest models there.” Murati said, talking to herself. “Everything else is a series of floating museums from the time of the Revolutionary War.” All of the vessels would have likely been retrofitted with the space to carry and support Divers, except for the Cutters. Newer imperial Dreadnoughts could carry four divers, but these old Koenigs could only carry two each after their retrofit. Each Wespe could carry a single Diver, same with the Lowe classes. Marder frigates could carry a diver strapped on an external gantry.

Assuming maximum force composition, that meant twenty-six Divers or so. Volkers were lighter than Streloks and about equivalently armed. Murati liked her chances against one.

Her heart was beating fast, waiting out the countdown.

Her fingers looped into the Diver controls, and she felt the joysticks, the pedals.

“We can do this.” She said. “We’re getting back home, Karuniya.”

For a brief moment she thought she saw Shalikova staring sidelong.

Just as quickly, that flash of indigo from the Ensign’s eyes was gone.

Maybe she had Murati’s feed on that monitor and had briefly glanced at her.

She had a completely stone-like face now, no emotions whatsoever.

Finally, the countdown on her screen approached zero.

“Enemy positions predicted and confirmed! Commencing barrage!”

Two voices sharing half a statement each sounded over intercom. Deshnov’s sonar officer spoke first, then the Commissar who acted as a Gunnery Chief. Murati could neither see nor feel the ship’s demeanor change in any particular way, but she knew the initial stage of the attack would be a massive forward barrage that would rake the center of the enemy’s formation.

Amid that barrage, several stray shells would hit the ground of the Thassalid plain.

Beneath her, the deployment chute hatch burst open.

Murati squeezed the sticks and pushed herself down and out into the open water.

From then on, it was like a switch flipped in her mind. Her brain’s currents flooded through a different circuit. She became master over more than just her body: the machine became her limbs. Her eyes scanned the cameras for input into the outside world; her hands moved the arms of the Strelok; the pedals and the hinges they were set into controlled the movement of the mechanical feet. When she turned her body, the machine turned with her. When she charged, it would do so.

It was natural, trained. An extension of her own body.

Heavier and more ponderous than her own. Only just so; feedback was near-instant.

She was the machine, and her body was surrounded by water.

There was a sensation of falling. Moving out of the deployment chute and into the open water, there was no perch or pressure to hold her up. The Strelok descended, at first unaided, toward the sandy seafloor of the Thassalid plain. Murati took control of her descent. She aimed her uppermost pair of rear jets upward and thrust down toward the white, sandy seafloor.

Muted rushing sounds all around them as torpedoes burst out of their tubes, brief flowing boom noises as the coilguns and gas cannons opened fire at the most extreme ranges. In a way, it was a calm before the storm. There was something eerily peaceful about that moment. Those noises sounded almost false, as if they could not have belonged to the weapons making them. It gave a surreal, almost divine quality, to the situation, coupled with the descent and the low visibility.

A vast, gloomy expanse of murky green and blue surrounded her. She knew the lay of the land. In the distance she could imagine the rising and falling, complex geography of Ferris’ border, great peaks rising in the distance as if pushed up by whatever impact split the vast, gaping wound of the Trench that was dead ahead of them. Between the trench and the distant mountains that ringed the Thassalid region was a stretch of open seafloor known as the Thassalid plains. Little of this geography was visible to the naked eye. Even the high-powered cameras of the Strelok and the various filters she had access to were limited in such thick water. Particulate matter was evident all around her, a sign of the dense biomass. Her physical visibility was limited to 50 to 75 meters. It took the high-end optics of a ship to “see” farther using computer prediction, sonar and lasers.

Thankfully, she also had a miniature sonar and the laser rangefinder on her suit.

These latter instruments began to pick up faint enemy signals on approach.  

“Ensign Shalikova, how’s the feed?”

Murati’s eyes flicked toward one of the screens. In addition to suit diagnostics she had arranged a picture-in-picture of Ensign Shalikova after they were paired up. While the video was troubled, with the picture tearing and desynchronized, her audio came through quite clearly.

“I can hear you Lieutenant. Awaiting orders.”

She sounded near completely deadpan.

With that friendless expression on her face, it made Murati want to dote on her.

“Cheer up. I’ll make sure you get home safe. We have a good strategy–”

“I’m fine ma’am.”

Shalikova instantly shut her down. Her voice picked up the barest hint of emotion.

That emotion was probably annoyance.

“Copy. Stay close. Our targets will be the Volkers among the formation.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Both of them were armed mainly with AK-96 37 mm Assault Rifles. Their Streloks also had a tungsten-alloy, diamond-toothed saw, retractable into the wrist. This could be used to cut weak spots in an enemy Diver and flood their cockpit. Both of these were standard armament for Pilots going toe to toe with enemy Divers. It was not their job to take the glory and down enemy ships, at least not at this juncture. However, they also had access to a pipe charge that could, in a pinch, bring down a Cutter or other light vessel by blowing a hole in the underside ballast.

“On my signal, apply maximum forward thrust.” Murati said.

Her suit then finally touched the dirt. The Divers took a moment to regroup.

From the underside of the Formidable, a final laser transmission occurred to Murati’s Dive computer. It was a diagram of the enemy fleet formation made by the ship using its advanced sonar and laser imaging instruments. Murati’s own rangefinders and sonar could have never created such an accurate 3D picture, but a ship could carry far more computing and sensor equipment. There was nothing in the diagram she had not foreseen, however. Three dreadnoughts were sequestered in the high center of a tight formation of ships, all stitched together by a few dozen Volker suits.

As the sides closed in their barrages intensified. Most of the fire came from many pairs of coilguns with their unguided, supercavitating explosive shells. Due to the water they displaced as they traveled, coilgun shells seemed almost like lines being cut across the ocean toward the enemy fleet. While coilgun shells were relatively small, by firing in saturation they created shockwaves that could potentially do great amounts of internal and external damage to a fleet over time.

Wire-guided torpedoes, directed personally by torpedo gunners, were the most powerful ordnance. Easily capable of tearing a ship apart on a direct hit, and inflicting damage with a graze. Close-in defense systems were able to potentially down torpedoes 75 to 100 meters or so away from a ship, minimizing damage. Even in such cases, the ensuing shockwaves could potentially rattle a ship enough to put some systems out of order. Torpedoes were never to be trifled with.

Closer and more numerous around each ship were the short-ranged gas gun emplacements. These double-barreled heavy machine guns fired 20 mm supercavitators that were intended to detonate torpedoes and hold off enemy watercraft and Divers. There was an old, crude military saying that went: give your gas gunners a wine bottle or a blowjob, you’ll both need it.

Murati had heard enough stories about the heroics of a gas gunner to almost believe it.

Like coilgun shells, the cavitation bubble around gas gun bullets made them somewhat visible in the water as they traveled. It created an impressive visual effect around the entire fleet, as hundreds, maybe thousands of cavitation bubbles blew out toward the enemy. Shells went flying, torpedoes sped across, gas guns hunted in the water for incoming ordnance. On the seafloor, Murati could look up and watch, hearing little but the distant, muted sounds of the guns.

Spread around them, a dozen other Divers hit the seafloor moments after Murati and Shalikova. Ahead of them, several shells seemed to fall well short out of the fleet’s barrage.

A dozen explosions across the plain kicked up an enormous cloud of dirt and biomass.

This was deliberate. Murati knew the plan, and this was the signal to begin.

She oriented herself toward the enemy formation, made note of where the Ensign and the rest of the Formidable’s unit was, and positioned her thrusters. She was ready to charge.

“Ensign! Forward!”

Murati and Shalikova were the first to dash forward into the cloud of dust ahead of them.

In fact, Shalikova got a split-second head start! So quickly did she react to Murati.

The Lieutenant was no slouch. Together, they led the attack.

Looking at a Strelok in the hangar, it seemed impossible it could ever move.

And yet their metal bodies cut through the water with surprising alacrity. With their arms and legs tucked up, their jets properly oriented, and the hydrojet turbines working at maximum capacity, they built up acceleration in seconds. This was not difficult to do when all they had to do was charge straight ahead. The only things faster were the coilgun shells flying in their bubbles overhead. For their weight, the Streloks would have wowed any bystander with their speed.

Four hydrojets in the back delivered the main thrust by sucking in water through the intakes and accelerating it rapidly toward the back, where the movable exhaust jets were installed. On the legs, hips, and elbows, there were additional Vernier thrusters that could be used sparingly for a boost. These used gas propulsion rather than more advanced hydrojets, and each Diver had a limited complement of fuel aboard. Use of these tools separated a novice from a veteran.

Murati and Shalikova needed none of their liquid fuel for the charge. As far as Murati was concerned, she knew enough about Diver combat to keep her liquid fuel thrusters far in reserve, for a quick advantage in the middle of a firefight or god forbid if a melee broke out.

Hurtling through the sand kicked up by the fleet’s covering barrage, Murati saw the outline of the enemy vessels growing quickly larger and more detailed in their physical optics. In less than a minute since they had left the fleet, the Diver squadron slipped under the enemy formation. No one had noticed. The enemy’s barrage remained directed fully forward at the opposing fleet.

Shockwaves moved through water in every direction, dozens of explosions blooming in the sea. Everyone inside the smaller ships would have felt the shaking, and the mechanics would be scrambling to make sure nothing broke down amid the constant barrage. Larger vessels resisted shockwaves much more strongly, and any ship designed for survivability had multi-layered hulls.

Up close, the violence was still eerie, surreal. Murati had a keener understanding than most of what all that displaced water meant. Fleet combat was a terrible, alien form of violence.

“Decelerate. Four seconds.”

“Yes ma’am.”

In the next instant, Ensign Shalikova and Murati leaped up toward the enemy.

With their thrusters pointed to the seafloor, they climbed almost as rapidly as they charged.

Again, Shalikova moved almost before she was told, reacting faster than Murati.

Above them the fleet continued to move at combat speed.

There was a massive explosion. A torpedo grazed an Imperial cutter and detonated.

For an instant a bubble formed, the explosion displacing the water around it and quickly creating an expanding void of steam in its center. The void was short-lived, eventually collapsing, pulsing, against the hull of the Cutter. Once the water settled, it left a massive hole in the side of the Cutter, around which hovered shrapnel and ejected equipment — and people sucked out too.

 Compromised, the Cutter fell toward the seafloor. Such a small, light ship had no way of surviving such a massive explosion. Murati thought she could almost see the red mist of dozens of people dying inside. Had any of her people been struck? All it took was one torpedo to get through.

But she could no look behind herself. There would have been nothing to see.

And she had no communication with the fleet right now.

“Ensign! Commence attack!”

She could not let herself get distracted by this.

Hefting up her assault rifle, she focused herself on all she could do.            

Kill them before they killed any of her comrades.


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The Third Battle of Thassalid Trench [2.1]

The Imperial Southern Border Fleet had an impressive advantage in numbers over the Union defenders at Thassal. With over 70 vessels to around 30 combat-ready Union ships, even with basic barrage tactics they would have easily routed the Union vessels. But Fleet Admiral Gottwald wanted more than a rout. He would accept no less than the Union’s total destruction.

 In his view, the way to achieve this was to preemptively split into two fleets in a strategy to trap the Union forces amid a barrage from two sides. Kampfgruppe Kosz, commanded by the Admiral’s most trusted officers, remained on course for Thassal. He expected the battle would be joined in the broad, open plain just before the trench fissure itself. He would command the rest of the fleet personally, carefully maneuvering through a series of rocky highlands known to the Union as Konev’s Mountain, and then descending on the Union flank once they were out in the open.

Admiral Gottwald was convinced of the genius of his strategy. Had those Union thugs even conceived of a flanking maneuver? Did they even post scouts? They would fall to the Imperial art of war perfected over generations. He would win; he was already planning his next move.

It was not the Union that concerned him most. He’d make worse enemies soon.

Taming the barbarians was just a steppingstone to his rise.

“I’ll have to give my thanks to that moron Groessen in hell. If there was one man in this Navy who would shoot first no matter the cost to himself, it would be the good old Duke.”

In the vast, throne room-like command pod of his flagship, the Strasser, Admiral Gottwald stood above his command staff, whose stations were recessed below his own and arrayed around him. All of them had been well taught to mind their own business. There was one voice of sheepish dissent that came from his secretary. She clutched a circular medallion on a chain and mumbled.

“Sir, with all due respect, is it truly proper to slander this man in death?”

“Who’s to say it is slander? You?”

Had it not been her niece, he certainly would have treated her far worse. Instead, he found it amusing to argue with her. As a devout Solceanist she was an easy target for logical argument.

“We don’t know what happened sir–”

“What happened is immaterial. We’re already set on our course.”

Once upon a time, Duke Groessen had been the nobleman in charge of a large portion of the Thassalid territory. Upon the Union uprising, his stature vastly diminished. All Dukes had to perform military duties for the Emperor. Groessen’s domain shrunk to such an extent that all he could do was patrol a strip of border and wait with his hands on his lap, cursing his fortunes.

He was easy prey for Gottwald’s machinations. All he needed was a mission to die for.

With his death, there was immediate cause to reprimand and suppress the Union, but that was less important. There was also no legitimate claim to much of Union territory anymore.

Lands, and vassals to tap into, would soon play a major role in Imperial politics.

Gottwald was not a noble. He was pure military. He had no domains of his own, either to govern nor to exploit for advantage. However, in the coming storm, blood would only go so far. If he could capture the materials and industry of the Union, he would be a Duke in all but name.

“That old bastard will soon perish. There are already significant factions marshalling all of their resources. With Prince Erich deployed to the Ayre Reach, this will be our only chance for us to secure a potential base of power. The Southern Border Fleet is the weakest fleet in the Empire. But with the resources of Ferris at our disposal, we will be undoubtedly relevant to the outcome.”

There was a dawning realization upon the gentle eyes of his niece. As a God-fearing woman, the Lèse-majesté would not have upset her, for the Solceanists believed in the Light-Giver above the surface and placed their faith in him over their imperial duty. Perhaps, however, the scope of current events had finally struck her as an everyday citizen amid the coming chaos.

She made no comment about the state of the Empire. But her expression was troubled.

“Can the Southern Border Fleet truly overturn the Union sir? After all these years?”

Admiral Gottwald smiled.

“We have never seriously tried. They are mere gnats. If it were not for the Republic putting pressure on us, we would have crushed them already. It was the hope that Prince Erich could bloody the Republic enough for a ceasefire, allowing us to march on the Union freely. But that’s a future that’s not worth speaking of, except for this: the Union stands no chance against us.”

On a computer screen hovering just in front of his chair, was a map of the Union territories, with projected enemy deployment and the projected pace of both of his fleets. Soon the pincer would wrap around the enemy’s forces, and their total defeat would inevitably follow. Admiral Gottwald would cease to merely be the Empire’s lookout on the wild frontier. In his own right, perhaps, he could become a king. Or he might just settle for being among those to crown the next.

“Besides, we don’t need to conquer all the Union. If Ferris falls, those cowards will simply hide in the fortresses at Solstice and wait for better tides. We need only cow them into obedience. They were slaves once. A sufficient drubbing from their masters will render them docile.”

Admiral Gottwald sat back on his chair and silently bid his niece to stand at his side.

Obedient, yet sheepishly clutching her little sun icon, she joined him.

“All stations report. We should be seeing the enemy, and our allies.”

There was a generalized murmur among the specialists charged with sonar detection.

On the Admiral’s minicomputer, the sonar readings and their interpretation appeared.

Admiral Gottwald stared at it, dumbfounded.         

His hands were shaking. He could not accept what he saw.


Previous ~ Next

The Roar That Parted The Currents [1.6]

Sounds of klaxons piped through the intercom alerted everyone to ready for combat.

Murati climbed up a wheeled scaffolding into the awaiting, open cockpit of her Strelok. Once she took her seat inside, it sealed completely and locked in the current pressure. Several monitors in front of her displayed the camera feeds, as well as diagnostic data. She ran the cables for her communicator headset through her vest and suit, connecting herself to the Strelok. She strapped herself to the chair and pushed back on it to adjust the angle to her liking.

In front of her were two horizontal joystick-like objects with loop grips that her fingers slid through. Pulling on these or pushing them into depression in the joystick allowed her to control individual digits of the Strelok’s hands if necessary. Each joystick was also a throttle control, and buttons atop the stick had other functions. At the foot of her seat were several pedals.

Between the joysticks and pedals, she could control the Strelok’s jets and systems. While perhaps crude-looking, the setup gave her enough inputs to exercise a degree of control over her Strelok that almost felt, in a sense, like moving her own body. While the arms and legs had a lessened degree of motion compared to her body, she could turn, grip, and move in a way that had come to feel natural to her from all the simulations and live testing that she had done.

Behind her there was enough room for a few tools and survival equipment, including a smaller pressure suit and helmet, along with an air tank. Even with such tools, she did not fancy her survival outside the Diver. Killing the enemy and avoiding damage were the best survival tools.

Once she was settled, she waited for the crew on the hangar to give her a signal.

“Lieutenant Nakara, your partner will be Ensign Sonya Shalikova. Unit 005.”

Rear Admiral Goswani’s voice sounded in Murati’s ear.

“Copy.” Murati said.

On the forward camera she saw the crew wave flags. The deployment chutes opened.

One of her monitors flashed briefly as someone connected with her over encrypted laser.

Big indigo eyes, a pale face, pink lips. White hair now tied up behind her head.

“I’m Ensign Shalikova. Awaiting orders, pair leader.”

Her voice was a bit intense. A little bit brusque, and blunt, but also seemingly quite matter of fact. She was not angry, Murati could tell. That friendless look was just how she was.

Murati smiled at her. “Lieutenant Murati Nakara. We’ll get out of this alive, Ensign.”

Shalikova nodded and shut off her feed.

The Strelok group stepped forward into their deployment chutes. It was finally time. The 3rd Battle of Thassalid Trench awaited them.


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The Roar That Parted The Currents [1.5]

With heavy breaths and a racing heart, she searched through the sterile, steel halls.

She lunged forward into room after room, surprising the analysts and maintenance crew beyond the doors, but she could not find the person she was searching for. Every hall felt the same and every room as well. She had never been in the vast halls of a dreadnought before. At most she had ridden in frigates. There were so many places to search and she had so little time.

How had it come to this?

After everything they went through together, would she not even be able to say ‘Goodbye’?

Her head felt tight and simultaneously airy and empty. She breathed in and out, heavily and audibly, her lungs feeling like they were compressed under her bodysuit and pilot vest. Standing in the middle of a hallway– what hallway? Where was she? Where was she?

Murati thought she would have a panic attack.

All she wanted at that moment was to see Karuniya. She did not care how she looked.

Maybe she was in the wrong hall? She jumped in a lift, smashed the button to go up.

When the lift doors opened, she nearly tumbled out. A guard stared at her in confusion.

From across the hall, Murati peered into an instrument room.

She would have never mistaken her in a crowd. Even when they were strangers.

“Um, ma’am, this is the command deck, deployment is down–”

Murati ran past her.

Storming into one of the dreadnought’s decentralized instrument rooms, she saw Karuniya looking over a seismograph, hydrophone readings, a screen collecting data from a water density probe. Karuniya looked up from the LCD control screen and stood up with a muted gasp.

Over the protests of the security officer, Murati grabbed hold of Karuniya.

In turn, Karuniya sank her head into Murati’s chest.

A couple of other analysts stared. One younger girl chirped with delight and clapped.

“Karu, I’m going out. I’m sorry.” Murati said.

“What are you apologizing for? Don’t say that. Be a big hero and protect us.”

Karuniya was sobbing.

At the door to the room, the officer seemed to ask himself how any of this was happening.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, can I please escort you down to the Diver deck?”

For a moment, Murati was frozen in Karuniya’s arms.

Just like– just like mere hours ago.

While the two of them spent the night together, the Union slowly realized an imminent threat and put in orders to begin mobilizing. These orders crawled through the acoustic network. First from a patrol cutter that caught sounds of a battle on hydrophone; then to an outpost, which established a relayed laser over to Thassal. By the time the Navy HQ puzzled through the situation, it was morning. Murati awoke with a spent Karuniya laying still asleep on top of her.

An alarm sounded almost as soon as Murati came to. People came banging at her door.

“Officers Nakara, Maharapratham! I’m sorry for bothering you, but you’re being called, it’s an emergency deployment! You need to make it up to the Formidable, you’re reassigned!”

At first, Murati didn’t even realize what she had been told. She was groggy and annoyed.

Of course, they knew she had been fucking Karuniya because of the room logs.

That was the first uncharitable thought that came to mind. That and throwing a wet condom down the recycling chute. Her room lights started to climb, and her moving around a bit was shifting the still-sleeping Karuniya and prodding her slowly out of her slumber.

“What’s all that noise? Is that an alarm?” She asked.

Murati realized her music was muted. All the noise was from outside.

At that point, the two of them bolted up.

“Can I borrow a uniform?”

In a panic, those were some of the last words they said to one another.

The Formidable was a massive Union dreadnought, one of the few in the fleet. Over 300 meters long and 50 wide, its curved, cylindrical hull fielded two heavy coilguns, six light coilguns and over a dozen gas gun emplacements, four torpedo tubes, and the capacity for six Divers. This was top of the line firepower. As she walked along the walkways to the berths, and stared out at it through the glass, Murati realized the gravity of the situation. Formidable wasn’t alone. Thassal was at capacity, docking, in addition to its civilian complement, over thirty or forty military ships.

There were people everywhere, rushing to ships, using Rabochiy suits to push cargo crates into the loading chutes on the docks, working powerful cranes to lift equipment onto the supply ships docked at the stations’ heavy-duty loading areas. Officers and commissars directed foot traffic, calling out for people to assemble in this or that area of the dock for boarding specific ships.

Karuniya and Murati arrived at the Formidable along with at least a hundred more hastily drawn-up members of the crew. In peacetime, the Formidable ran a skeleton crew. Now it needed to be fully crewed for battle, which would take over three hundred souls to do separated between several departments. All of those people would ride this massive machine into battle.

Battle– nobody had told Murati yet what was happening.

It wasn’t until she and Karuniya were finally separated into their particular departments and assignments that the situation was laid bare before them. There had been an attack by the Empire over the Thassal trench. A ship had been lost. The Imperial border fleet quickly used this an excuse to take unilateral actions and would likely meet them, in anger, just past the trench.

They could expect to be heavily outnumbered.

Backing down would mean that Thassal station would be put in danger.

And all of Ferris, too. Reinforcements were beginning to muster, but–

“We will have to commence battle by ourselves.”

The Formidable bore the command of Fleet Admiral Deshnov. He addressed the crew over the submarine’s loudspeaker system. Deshnov was an old man who spared no one the grim details of their situation. He embellished nothing. It was likely to be 30 on 75 out there, he claimed, and if you wanted a good luck charm, instead of praying, you should promise yourself to a gas gunner.

There would be a lot of torpedoes to interdict.

“The Imperial Southern Border Fleet is large, but their equipment has not been updated. We may well outnumber them in one inventory: Divers. So perhaps, also, tell your nearest Diver that you love them very much. It will be their spirit and heroism that may yet see us through this.”

Deshnov’s voice rumbled through the ship.

“Each individual department’s business will be outlined to them soon. Carry out your tasks to the best of your ability. Your counterparts in every other ship will do the same. That is all; there is no grand strategy or trick that we have. We are not fighting just to wait for reinforcements. We do that, and we will all be destroyed one by one. Our plan must be aggressive. And it will be.”

Murati had been on her way to the diving deck, having received her orders from a LAN terminal from one of the habitation areas. She had stopped to listen to Fleet Admiral Deshnov. More than anything, it was that which gave her a sinking feeling. Everything was happening so fast; one thing was clear. She was not in command. She had no agency, no control over anyone’s lives. As a Diver what was asked for her, was to charge forward and fight to the death.

This realization, that she would be out in the waters amid the shellfire, led to panic.

Seeing Karuniya only further cemented all of her fears.

It was not a bad dream. They would not wake up together in bed.

There was no science expedition in a week anymore.

This feverish, lightspeed march that they were on, had one destination.

War.

She held Karuniya in her arms and did not want to let go.

For a moment, the security officer indulged her.

He then laid a hand on Murati’s shoulder. It was not brusque but understanding.

Karuniya looked up at her, and brushed the hair off her ear, stroked one of her cheeks.

“Be a big hero, ok?”

Murati did not respond. She allowed herself to be led away, silently.

The security officer took her to one of the lifts between the dreadnought’s floors.

“You can take it from here, right hero?” He said.

Murati, still feeling like an observer in her own life, unable to fully come to grips with the moment she was in, simply acted automatically, and stepped into the lift. As she did so, she saw the security officer step forward and tap her on the shoulder again, as a form of comfort perhaps.

“My girl is a pilot. They need you down there. Hell, more than anyone needs me.”

With that send off, he winked and saluted before sealing off the lift and sending it.

Soon the elevator was moving.

Murati shook her head, trying to come to her senses, alone in the dim box.

She was needed. Karuniya– no, not just her. Everyone needed her too.

This was war and she was going to have to fight.

Not how she planned, but nothing was going to plan anymore.

Murati descended into the bowels of the dreadnought.

Her destination was at the very lowest deck in the middle of the ship.

It was there that the ship carried its complement of Heavy Divers.

The Formidable had a Diver compartment suitable to deploy and support six Heavy Divers, twice more than most Imperial dreadnoughts. For the nation that practically invented Dive combat, the suits were an integral part of their combat power. From the Diver hangar, the machines would be supplied weapons and ammunition, their agarthicite batteries charged, and through the deployment chutes at the bottom of the hull, they would go out into the water to engage the enemy.

Stepping off the lift landing she saw three maintenance gantries on each side of the room. Each of them had a suit, presently strapped into the gantry and attended to by a pair of workers. LED lights overhead made this room as bright as the rest of the ship’s sterile steel hallways. Between the gantries were the hatches down to the deployment chutes. Computer terminals near the walls connected the hangar to the ship LAN and could be used to call any other compartment.

All six of the machines on the hangar for this deployment were Strelok models.

No other model was in quite as widespread manufacture as the Strelok. Developed five years ago to replace kit bashed, armed Rabochiy labor suits, it was routinely updated with new developments and weapons, and nobody could not argue with the basic craft of the design.

After all, they made it look like a person.

A stocky, odd person with a flat head, perhaps. But in every respect, it was an extension of the human body, in the same way that old lift exoskeletons were, and in the same way that their successors, powered armor Laborers, also were. It was a human body adapted for the sea.

Atop, there was a flat, square “head” with sensors and cameras. There were additional cameras situated around the frame, but the one with the highest resolution was the frontal “eye.” The body was very geometric: there were a lot of surfaces angled at certain degrees for defense. These armor plates were shaped around the oblong control pod housing the pilot. On the sides of the body, around the “hips” and “flanks” were the water intakes for the hydro-jets it wore like a “backpack” behind itself. The thrusters on the back could turn to move the body along with the leg jets. On each shoulder there was a utility shoulderpad with a jet anchor on a steel cable.

They had many uses.

Two sturdy legs with small electric thrusters and gripping feet, along with two arms with digits capable of some degree of manipulation. It was enough to allow them to carry weapons.

On the far wall there were many such weapons on racks. Ubiquitous 37 mm Assault Rifles, the heavy 76.2 mm guns for heavy support, and 100 mm torpedo launchers for taking down ships. There were close-in weapons also. Thermal knives, diamond-bladed saws, piston-driven spears. These were sometimes the most effective weapons for pilots with limited combat training.

Aiming a gun underwater, and hitting with it, wasn’t easy.

Anyone, however, could charge at something with a spear or a saw.

And these particular saws and spears could rend metal with enough effort and anger.

Murati could not take her eyes off the suits as she assembled with the other pilots.

Everything about the Strelok was typified Union design. It was not pretty, it was only as sleek as it needed to be, and as thick as they could get away with while maintaining acceptable speed and hydrodynamics. It was reliable and its manufacture was very standardized. Perhaps the Empire’s divers were sleeker, just a bit quicker, just a bit slimmer, more aesthetically pleasing; the Union’s sturdy designs could endure incredible punishment, however, for all their ungainliness.

The Strelok was an absolute beast. Looming over them, over six meters tall.

Weapons that could turn humans into giants.

Outside the ship, at this depth, a human would be crushed by barotrauma, dying in agony before they could even drown. The Strelok was pressurized and treated for the deep. It was a body; a surrogate body that allowed a human to live in the deep, where light barely penetrated.

Murati had seen them before, both in simulations and physically.

She had even piloted one before.

Now, however, the suits were fully armed and setting out in anger.

This was completely different than before.

And yet, in her mind, she could already see the cockpit, feel the controls in her hands.

Soon she was snapped out of her reverie by a voice over the intercom.

“Attention all stations. Be advised that biomass density in the waters around the Thassalid has climbed to over 100 Katov scale. Expect that communication between ships, and between ships and their divers, will be unstable in battle. Trust in each other to carry out the fleet’s strategy.”

That was Karuniya’s voice. She must have been put in charge of the oceanography station.

Murati smiled. That woman was always overachieving. She had to do her best too.

For a few minutes, the pilots had loitered around the hangar, waiting for their superior officer to arrive and to brief them on the fleet strategy. Murati stood with five other women in pilot suits: full black bodysuit with an additional thermal layer. It was thick enough to be worn on its own, not like the tighter, thinner, casual wetsuits that most people wore. Over the suit they also had thin vests with pockets and holsters for their emergency air tanks and other needs.

Murati did not know any other Pilot; but one of them stood out to her, when Murati caught a glimpse. She was skinny, long-limbed, pale with dusty white hair. Her lightly pink lips and indigo eyes were the only color on her. She must have been barely over twenty years old. What most struck Murati, was the sharpness of her gaze, compared to the softness of her face and features.

In the next instant, she shifted on her feet, perhaps nervous. Those piercing indigo eyes then met the auburn eyes that had been spying on her. There was a brief flash of realization.

For a second, she flashed grit teeth. Her face twisted into a bitter scowl.

Murati almost felt a dark aura being directed at her. There was a strange, grim and ghostly beauty to that petulant expression. Her delicate, doll-like appearance curled into a vicious snarl.

Auburn avoided indigo: Murati broke eye contact, and the other girl turned her back.

At that point, the lift opened to reveal their superior.

Rear Admiral Goswani arrived, carrying a minicomputer under her arm. She called for everyone to meet her, pilots and maintenance personnel alike. They huddled around a table with the minicomputer in the middle. The Rear Admiral slid a flat square disk into a slot in the computer. The screen promptly displayed grainy footage, the perspective of something out in the water.

“Our scout submarine captured this footage with a spy tentacle a few hours ago.”

At first the picture showed only vague shadows in the distance. When the scout realized they had something important on camera they frantically adjusted the picture, zooming in on the shadows. Once properly captured, the shadows appeared much more like a tight cluster of imperial ships. Suddenly, a second shadow started to bloom from the first, and move its own way.

“Our enemy is the Southern Border Fleet of the Imperial Navy.” Rear Admiral Goswani said. “They were created from the remnants of the forces that fought us in the Revolutionary War twenty years ago and tasked with patrolling our border. They haven’t taken offensive action against us until now: we believed it was simply not their mission to do. We had brief altercations with them at the border with hardly a shot fired. We’re still investigating the recent events, but whatever we did to trigger their entry, the fact is they are now invading our territory. Most of their ships are as old as their mandate, but they have a lot of them, and enough firepower to challenge us.”

Goswani swiped a pen-shaped object across the minicomputer’s screen, switching from the camera footage to a diagram with projections of the enemy’s fleet movement. Murati saw two groups. One was headed straight over the trench while the other seemed to be moving southwest.

“They have split their forces into two groups to try to flank us. Both groups have a roughly equal number of ships. We are going to deploy multiple battlegroups and try to merge the battle lines as best as we can. It is unlikely that the enemy will arrive all at the same time, so if we can preserve our strength, we can fend off one group and focus all our power on the other.”

More diagrams flashed by, including their own fleet position.

“Divers will stay with the fleet and help defend them from barrage. You’ll be torpedo hunting, so keep your distance, spread out, and remember it’s better to let one go and potentially miss its target than to detonate it right amid our fleet. You all know these formations: do us proud.”

When she examined the diagrams being shown, Murati found herself disagreeing with that course of action. She did not know whether it would be proper to respond. Would she lose face again? Would she be seen as an upstart who had no idea what she was saying? But she had to speak up. As a student of strategy herself, but also as a Pilot, she felt this was a mistake.

“You’ll be assigned pairs closer to deployment. Until then, get to know all of your fellows.”

Rear Admiral Goswani asked for any questions. Nobody raised their hands.

Murati did not have a question. She had a statement she wanted to make.

She just had to think of the right words to say.

As everyone dispersed, she cut through the crowd and approached the Rear Admiral.

“Murati Nakara. I look forward to seeing how you in particular do out there.”

Goswani reached out a hand and Murati shook it.

“Ma’am, I would like to have a word with you in private, if I may be allowed.”

“Oh? Of course. If you want to talk about the mission, we could call everyone together–”

“I would rather not, ma’am.”

Murati tried to steel herself and project confidence. She balled her hands up into fists to try to keep them from shaking. It must have still been so obvious how fast her heart was beating.

She kept thinking about their conversation yesterday.

Would this be seen as pointless social climbing?

“Very well. Follow me.”

The Rear Admiral led Murati to a side-room with several private communication booths for officers. Officers were meant to speak most of their decisions out loud to their subordinates to “foster a culture of transparency.” For the worst sort of news, or to take care of personal affairs, private LAN terminals were available with their own little rooms to sit inside and have privacy.

“Is something wrong, Lieutenant?” Goswani asked.

Some people could make the word Lieutenant sound so dismissive, but Goswani seemed genuinely concerned for Murati. This gave her a bit of a morale boost. Maybe she would listen.

“Rear Admiral, I would like to make a suggestion for the mission.”

Goswani’s eyes drew a little wider. “That’s unusual for someone of your rank. But go on.”

They were seated in one of the booths and gathered around a terminal set into a table.

Murati picked up the digital pen and switched the minicomputer in the table to a drawing mode. She drew the enemy fleet groups and drew little arrows from them to the Union fleet.

“In the current water conditions, the enemy dividing their forces represents an enormous weakness that we need to do more to exploit, ma’am. We should not divide our own fleet too.”

Goswani said nothing in response. She looked over what Murati was drawing in silence.

Murati took that as her queue to continue with a fuller explanation.

“Their communications will have been fully cut off from one another for hours, so they will have assigned separate fleet commands. It is also not a matter of whether one of the enemy forces will lag behind the other. The flanking force will absolutely arrive after the main force. This is because the main force will be able to main altitude, heading and speed since its separation. Meanwhile, the flanking force is taking a circuitous route, which means they will correct course at least once. Since they are moving to the southeast, they will also have to correct their elevation at least once, over Konev’s Mountain. They could very well appear thirty minutes to an hour later. Even when they join, their coordination will be minimal, as they can’t rely on lasers in these water conditions. We need to take advantage of the separation of the fleets and the lag between.”

These ideas had come to Murati’s head in bits and pieces as Goswani briefed the pilots. When she spoke it, she managed to put everything together far more eloquently than she thought she could. It was a miracle that she had mustered the determination to speak without faltering once.

“There’s also another grave weakness we can exploit.” Murati then said.

Rear Admiral Goswani was not speaking. She was looking over everything Murati was drawing and scribbling on the board as she spoke, with her arms crossed and a neutral expression. She made eye contact with Murati exactly once after this particular offer to continue her monologue. Murati thought this meant she should continue speaking, and so she did.

“During the Revolutionary War, the Imperial forces were impressed with our improvisation of laborer suits into underwater, armored forces. Because we mostly used Laborers and other light watercraft in ambush tactics at the trench and around stations and habitats, the Empire’s own Divers came to be used in protection roles, sticking close to the fleet. As we’ve learned through smuggled books from the Empire, as well as leftover books from the time of the Revolution, the Empire is deeply entrenched in the doctrine of Escort Warfare: the idea that the main firepower of a fleet are its dreadnoughts and cruisers, and all other watercraft, ships, and now also divers, serve to safeguard the ability of these larger ships to engage in prolonged barrages on enemy targets.”

Finally, the Rear Admiral spoke again. “I know the history, Murati.”

She had used her first name. Hearing an Admiral call her by name gave Murati chills.

“Explain what you intend for us to do.” Goswani said. Thankfully still sounding calm.

“Yes ma’am. Because each fleet is divided, but its subordinate units are clustered so tightly, it does not make sense to me for us to do the same. I’ll draw for you what I have in mind.”

Murati began to sketch out her own battleplan.

Goswani watched. She mumbled something inaudible at several of Murati’s strokes.

Both of them seemed, strangely enough, to agree at the end of it. Goswani asked her several questions about the forces at play, about how they would communicate, about what their orders would be and how they would react to certain situations. Murati had to think for a moment each time but she ultimately came up with answers. For a moment, Goswani even seemed excited.

“Murati, if we survive this, you’re coming with me to Fleet Planning HQ.”

Rear Admiral Goswani smiled the rare smile of a soldier who smelled blood in the water.

A soldier who had found an effective way to kill and who realized that glory would follow.

Murati was intimidated for an instant. Goswani composed herself quickly, however.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll promise you this. Let’s call the Fleet Admiral right now and I will help you make your case.” The Rear Admiral pulled a lever down from the side of the table that lifted the minicomputer up, so it could be used as a videophone communicator. “If you can convince him, we will go with your strategy as a fleet. Otherwise, you’re on your own.”

Nodding, Murati watched in silence as Goswani got in touch with Fleet Command.

Stationed at this very vessel, the Formidable, bearing the flag of Fleet Admiral Deshnov.

On the screen appeared the old, scarred visage of Yervik Deshnov. Wherever there were not deep, burned gashes on his cheek and over his lips, there was scruffy white beard. His skin was the color of baked leather, and without his cap he was fully bald. His eyes, however, burned with recognition. Through the videophone picture, Murati could tell he was staring at her.

“Rear Admiral, good to see you, as always. May I then inquire as to the presence of the Lieutenant with you?” Deshnov said. “Are you trying to bribe your way back to shore, Murati?”

Rear Admiral Goswani turned to face Murati with great surprise.

And yet, when the Fleet Admiral said her name, Murati was not shocked.

In fact, it emboldened her.

“Absolutely not Yervik. And you know it.” Murati said.

Fleet Admiral Deshnov laughed heartily.

“I would send you back, if you absolutely wanted.” He said. “But I know that what you seem to want more than anything is to fight. You are in a great hurry to die with a ship, I hear.”

Murati gave Deshnov the same grin that Goswani had given her before.

Talking to the Fleet Admiral, who was not an unfamiliar character, gave her confidence.

It was not just in the battle ahead that she would win. She would win her battle now.

“I will always listen to you Murati. It’s the least I could do for you. I can’t guarantee that I will join whatever scheme you seem to have convinced the Rear Admiral to participate in.”

At that point Goswani stepped in. “Sir, the Lieutenant has devised a strategy that I want to vouch for with the fleet. I believe it will result in fewer losses for us, and perhaps, victory.”

“That’s modest.” Deshnov said. “Murati’s bloodthirsty face, I thought it would be more.”

Since they were using the same minicomputer as before, it was easy to send through the images of what Murati had drawn up and planned, as well as a record of their conversation from before. Goswani explained the details Murati had given her. Deshnov’s expression remained unchanged throughout the explanation. Inquisitive, with a wizened glint behind his eyes.

“Murati Nakara. To think, all those years ago–”

Yervik Deshnov sighed deeply. Murati blinked. Was he about to mention her parents?

He mastered himself. Not in front of Goswani, they couldn’t recapitulate that here.

“Murati,” Deshnov said gravely, “A hundred generations live in you. Keep that in mind.”

This was a sentimental saying among the old guard of the communists to the youth.

“I will disseminate orders to the rest of the fleet.” He said. “Lieutenant: return to us, ok?”

Her heart soaring with triumph, Murati saluted the Fleet Admiral with a grin on her face.


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The Roar That Parted The Currents [1.4]

Tragedy and time had an eerie relationship to one another.

For the people of the domed cities, the spire-like station towers, the cave-bound in the quarries, the workers at the geothermal plants, time was a concept that they brought with them through the ages with little in the way of a natural association. Their world was always dark, at times darker, at times less. Time was unbound from light, and it moved ever so slowly in their cramped ships and the tight halls of their stations and the labyrinthine paths of their great cities.

Time seemed to move the fastest just before a calamity.

In the disputed territory around the Thassalid Trench, the Union Cruiser Comrade Stoller and an Imperial counterpart, the Sacrosanct, spotted each other via sonar and moved to within a kilometer of one another. Both were patrolling territory that they claimed as their own. There was no ceasefire between their nations; but torpedoes and coilguns were not immediately primed.

“Ma’am!”

Inside the command room of the Stoller, the ship’s Captain, who sat between the stations of the electronics, sonar, communications, and ballast/rudder control personnel, saw one of her communications officers turn from her large, wall-mounted console to speak to her personally.

“We received an acoustic text from the enemy. They have identified themselves as the Sacrosanct and wish to open laser communication. Should we respond?” Said the comms woman.

“Put them through but be on the lookout for electronic warfare.”

Captain Mirasol Fuentes had a calm, confident, serious tone.

With her hands behind her back, she stood up from her chair.

On the wall, a camera captured her upper body.

Atop the Stoller’s fin-like conning tower, a hatch opened to reveal a swiveling blue laser transmitter and receiver head, the size of a human body. This device synchronized with its equivalent from the Sacrosanct to establish a laser communication. Stoller’s camera feed was transmitted to the Sacrosanct, and vice versa. Despite the sophisticated technology, the feed was poor. Both Captains saw each other’s screens tearing and blurring. Biomass density was high.

“I am Captain Mirasol Fuentes of the Comrade Stoller. Imperial ship, you are in the territory of the Laborer’s Union of Ferris, Lyser and Solstice, allied with the free peoples of Campos Mountain. We can escort you to Imperial territory peacefully, but you must turn around.”

Mirasol wasted no time staking her position.

Her imperial counterpart scoffed at the notion.

“Well, I am Duke Groessen of Sverland, milady, and I am here on orders of my sovereign himself, the Emperor! My mission in fact, is to restore the acoustic network relay at Thassalid, which you occupied during your bloodletting 20 years ago and left to rot, and which is by rights ours.”

Mirasol recalled that during the revolution, the Imperials routed much of their acoustic and blue laser communication through the relay at Thassal to alert their border forces of the uprising.

This allowed the revolutionaries to predict their every move by intercepting the messages.

Since then it had gone silent. Neither side used it. It had become a symbol of détente.

“It has been decades since the relay at Thassal has seen maintenance, let alone actual communications.” Mirasol said. “That being said, the Thassalid Trench is Union ground, Duke.”

“Would you truly fire on a ship carrying out a strictly infrastructural task, Captain?”

On the video-screen in the Stoller, the image of the Duke could be seen to play with his mustache. A smile could have been made out, had it not been for the screen tearing over his face.

“I would fire on a ship invading our territory.” Mirasol said.

She was unwaveringly serious. Around her, the crew began to fidget at their stations.

“I would not expect any less from slave-blooded rebels and bandits!”

“With all due respect, Duke, these poor bandits defeated the mighty Imperial Navy over this very trench, so I would not take for granted your freedom and peace when navigating here.”

At that moment, the geothermal vents in the Thassalid Trench sent a swell of water and gas up between the erstwhile combatants. It was a small and common upwelling from the trench, which had not been notably unstable in those months. This modest surge was enough to make the laser communication between the ships untenable. Mirasol and the Duke could no longer continue their argument. Their last words to one another were garbled. Their visages on each other’s screen torn into a pair of inhuman, twisted rictus out of which no intentions could possibly be gleaned.

Both ships withdrew their laser transmitters.

Neither ship sent acoustic messages from then on. There was no more discussion.

There was no meaningful underlying reason for what happened next.

Time simply went at a breakneck speed when it came to the instant of tragedy.

Wire-guided homing torpedoes launched two at a time out of the underside of each ship.

Topside coilguns emerged from their hatches and the seals on their barrels did break.

Fore and aft gas gun stations on each ship fought fiercely to intercept incoming torpedoes.

Ordnance exploded all around the ships, whether from fused coilgun warheads or the tricky maneuvering of guided torpedoes, forming massive pockets of vapor and pressure that rocked the hulls and the respective crews. Despite the advanced armor and great manufacture of the ship hulls, designed to withstand the pressure of even the abyssal deeps, cracks formed, and water entered.

Neither ship had an advantage and therefore neither ship survived the brutal salvoes.

Who fired first? Why was a shot even fired? All answers died with them.

Time beckoned. History obliged. Tragedy followed. Never answerable, never accountable.

Years of an inevitable tension were released in the span of mere minutes.

Weapons roared, the currents parted, and human life, as always, ended in the wake.


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