Stand at Cornith
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Stand at Cornith
by P.M. Griffin
Tags Military space adventure, Character development & relationships, Space combat, Battle preparations, Waves
Release July 4, 2014
Content Editor Christine I. Speakman
Line Editor Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
Federation Navy Chief Admiral Jack Dundee is sent to the planet Cornith for medical R&R following intense combat in space, but he finds little rest. Beginning with a near disaster at the planeting field minutes after setting down, Dundee and his comrades, Lieutenant Mike Sandpiper and Stellar Patrol Colonel Sybil Hunt, face death from difficult spacers, aberrant winds, and enormous waves. Even more terrifying is their discovery of a massive Arcturian invasion armada whose size and power will ensure the Federation’s utter defeat in the decades-long War should it reach their ultrasystem intact. With only thirty-four small Stellar Patrol ships and armed civilian freighters at his disposal, he must draw upon ancient naval tactics and perfect timing to delay the attacking force until the help he has summoned is able reach them. Can even the brilliant and famed Gray Jack Dundee pull it off?
“Nemesis, fifties, fives, take the bastards on. Keep them near the wall where they can’t fire their pletzars. Remainder of fleet, stay put.”
“Aye, sir.” Hunt’s response was crisp, automatic. Her concentration was fixed on the battle ahead of her.
She sent her flagship in after her foe, scarcely waiting for the barrage the Redjackets had sent out to drive back and break the spirit of the force converging on them to fade. The Nemesis raked the closing ports. Most of their enemy’s screens were already securely in place, but two still remained vulnerable, and the Patrol ship’s bolts tore into them. It was only a couple, but the first blood in the unequal fight had gone to the Federation.
Gray Jack Dundee turned his attention back to the Crawlspace, to what was already struggling to emerge from it.
“Tens, twos, keep those buggers where they are.”
This was a one hundred-class, not another five hundred. Cornith’s fleet could just possibly defeat the two big ships in open space if they could be prevented from activating their pletzars, but there would no one left to hold the passage, no one to stop the hemorrhage that would gush out to overwhelm them all. The Arcturian had to be held where she was.
The two Stellar Patrol ten-classes raced across the invader’s prow, strafing her ports as they were opening. They neutralized several but died themselves in the storm of deadly light that met their challenge.
The admiral glanced quickly over his shoulder. The order he had been about to issue remained unspoken. Incandescent dust sparkled where the Sherwood Forest had been. He could not pull their only other fifty out of the fight against the five hundred in order to assist in the battle at the Crawlspace. The force still on hand there would have to manage it on their own.
He frowned. “Crawlspace unit, the sons are inching forward. Hold them.”
The Arcturians loosed another barrage, as if in defiance of the Federation leader’s order.
Ezra’s Free and Easy shot across the one hundred’s prow as soon as the big battlecraft’s fire began to recede. The freighter’s gunners discharged fast, each lining up on a retreating beam of light.
More than half of them found their targets. Those ports blew along with the bays behind them. Some, at least, of the invading bolts punched through to the interior, and the Redjackets ceased their slow advance as they struggled to contain the damage they had taken.
The one hundred was not out of the fight. She had lost lasers, but plenty more were left. The Malkites had made their charge knowing that would be the case and that they could not have their screens in order in time to meet their foes’ response.
It came with blinding speed and fury.
The Desert Moon came faster. Hans Krake did not fire. Rather, he interposed his ship between the enemy and the other freighter so that his screens deflected the Arcturians’ salvo.
Ezra seized the opportunity given him. Keeping pace with the Sarvan starship and using her for a shield, he opened fire on the one hundred, ducked down, and fired again from beneath his moving screen.
Gray Jack Dundee sat upright. “Cornith Fleet, ships of equal class, pair up. Work as teams, one partner shielding, the other firing.”
The benefit was immediately clear. All his ships on both fronts were already fighting more effectively. Trusting in the shields provided by their comrades, the active gunners were taking more care in aiming, not merely snapping off shots. When they did fire, they kept their bolts out longer, testing and punishing their larger enemies’ screens, stressing and weakening the seams where they overlapped.
The duel with the five hundred had developed into a vicious battle. The Nemesis and Robin Hood were carrying the heaviest portion of the fighting, engaging the Redjackets head on and keeping them engaged, but the remaining fives were, if anything, even more aggressive. They were functioning as a wolf pack, and they provided a graphic illustration of why this technique had made pirates so deadly a threat throughout all the rim. There were only six of them at this stage, but they seemed to be everywhere, snapping at the big battlecraft, darting in to burn a discharging port from the side and tearing away again to escape retribution, never giving their victim peace or a moment in which to completely address the challenge presented by her major opponents.
The Nemesis was outclassed, but Hunt was managing her masterfully, keeping her moving fast and constantly to avoid as much as possible of her opponents’ fire, centering her own bolts on relatively small areas so that their power was concentrated, magnifying the effectiveness of each broadside. Her gunners’ eyes were sharp, their judgment sound, and she rarely missed going for a good target. On the few occasions when she did or when too many presented themselves simultaneously, the Robin Hood was there to pick them up.
Neither vessel was unscathed. Both carried sears proclaiming the destruction of ports or very near misses, but there were fewer of them than the Terran might have expected. The speed of their seemingly erratic maneuvering and the skill of their crews combined to hold their foe’s strikes and the damage wrought by them to a minimum.
His eyes were bleak. Whatever their companies’ ability and courage, their luck would not hold forever. The Arcturian was so much more powerful than her opponents. It was only a matter of time before a hostile bolt drove home to some vital system. Only by making a fatal strike of their own first could they ultimately save themselves. They would have to do it soon…