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Titans (Part 2)
Posted By: Mr Bill Jr V<mr_bill_jr_5@hotmail.com>
Date: 21 October 2004, 3:57 PM

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      "Sir!" shouted the observations officer, her voice echoing across the tranquil bridge, "Covenant battle-fleet... holy god..." she trailed off.
      Herrscher spun on his heals, turning to face his admiral and relay what information was now blatantly obvious. Alexander stopped him with a dismissive wave of his hand.
      "Captain, inform your observations officer that such a breach in naval etiquette will not be tolerated again," spoke the commodore, his gaze still steady. He sighed slowly and removed his cap, tapping it at his side.
      "Admiral, what are your fleet orders?" enquired the competent captain. And it was a reasonable question all things considered, especially given the clear size of the fleet now arrayed before them. Yes, he knew they would come. He had heard the stories, and even seen the facts behind them- brief tales and lists of numbers all leading to one inevitable conclusion: the aliens were coming for Earth. Launching an offensive against Delirium as a pre-emptive measure before the Second Battle Group could be withdrawn to Sol would be a sound military maneuver, and of this the Covenant were aware. What they were not aware of was Alexander's intentions. His orders- a personal message from Fleet Admiral Commander-In-Chief Earth Defenses- had called for a withdrawal to Earth three days ago.
      But Alexander had no intention of leaving.
      Rather, he spoke with the definitive nature of a man resigned to witness his own death. "Captain Herrscher, order the Eighth fleet to our starboard echelon, and tell them to form up at twenty-five-thousand kilometers." He paused and allowed the German a chance to relay those orders.
      "Fourteenth fleet is still..." started Herrscher, but was cut off by Alexander's level voice.
      "...Standing by? Yes I know. Tell them to follow to our port echelon in three minutes."
      The Captain looked to his Admiral quizzically, not fully understanding what the man had in mind. Alexander smiled, seeing the expression upon Herrscher's face. Perhaps it was time to elaborate somewhat, and at least test the waters for what he had planned.
      "How long until the Sixth is within prow cannon range?" he began, and then looking out to the right of the bridge canopy, added, "and when will the Eighth be in position?"
      Herrscher turned to his navigations officer and relayed the questions. The man shot back an answer after only a moment's notice- which the Captain relayed. Alexander nodded his understanding upon hearing the respective figures of three and two minutes. The aliens would be charging their plasma batteries now, readying for the first shot. That would take a few moments, but it really didn't matter. The plasma would never draw nearer then a thousand kilometers.
      "Operations officer onboard the Aurora reports enemy fleet makeup as planet-killer type, alpha variant," reported the Titan's communications officer. Alexander understood the looks of dismay which skittered through the bridge, but refused to equal them: this too he had expected. And for that reason he applauded the crew before him.
      "Gentlemen, you are about to witness the greatest slaughter ever dealt upon the Covenant by a fleet of man," the Commodore began. "I suggest you lose the disheartening looks." A fleet of twelve frigates, six cruisers, two battleships, and the plant-killers themselves; any number of support craft equipped with massive, albeit slow firing, plasma reserves now stood to face the Second Fleet Group. Thus, his three fleets would be pitted against a collection of ships less than half his numbers. It was to be a true slaughter. Evidently, the Covenant were only now realizing this.

      Of course, Lana held no illusions- those ships twisting and accelerating out beyond Delirium's orbit were aliens, the Covenant, whom she had until now held the good fortune of never confronting face-to-face. But she knew well of their exploits and was aware that should they win the day here, Delirium would never again see a sunrise in life. However, Lana also knew from taking a single look to the United Nation's armada, that the aliens could not win this fight. They faced staggering odds, and when in naval action such odds equated victory itself. She considered again what she saw before her: a suicidal charge by a Covenant fleet into the assembled guns of humanity. Should not she follow through then in her right to that title of human? Yes, it was a shuttle she commanded but Lana was no simpleton; a pair of seventy-five millimeter chain-fed cannons could be brought to bare at the mere tapping of a switch. Their depleted uranium rounds could tear through a good measure of steel plating- or so the trader from whom Lana had acquired them had boasted- and that meant that even the vaunted Covenant armor could be beaten at poorly sloped locations.
      Across her display rolled what statistics the shuttle's computer could draw up on the alien fleet. Lana flipped down a pair of master switches and waited. Green identification tags crystallized and the windshield tint darkened to its battle-ready stature. Steel plating slid in over the glass and the windshield suddenly shrunk in size, the majority of Lana's display now being projected via her heads-up-display rather then the windshield itself. A second layer of quartz folded down between the steel and glass, auto-firing bolts locking the three pieces together. Fifty feet behind her, the ship's hull performed a self roll, bulkheads slipping away to reveal the cannons until then concealed inside the ship. Breach heads slammed down and the thousand round drum-chain magazines required of such weapons locked into place. Recoil compensators flew open, preparing for the inevitable havoc the firing of such weapons would cause with such a small craft.
      Taking one last look at the planet above her, seen out the top of the cockpit-canopy, was all she needed to finalize her decision. She would not be left out of this fight.

      Alexander allowed himself his moment of early victory and near laughed at the foolhardy bravado the aliens would now certainly display. Surely, they had assumed all of Earth's forces would be in the process of withdrawing back to Sol, and thus a simple attack-fleet could dispatch the planet Delirium without the slightest of worries. No, they had not counted on the utter hatred held for their kind by a man without fear. They had never, and could not possibly, have predicted Alexander.
      "Gunnery reports prow cannons ready to fire," relayed Herrscher, his mood lightening upon seeing the determination still held by his Admiral. Indeed, the German had never faced such one sided odds before: always it had been himself with the underhand, and those times had been the greatest of his naval career. Now, the advantage was theirs.
      "We shall destroy them here without mercy," continued Alexander, "and you will have a true victory." He nodded his thanks then to the gunnery officer, and looked to the ship's captain. His fleet order would be simple, concise, and guaranteed to deliver victory.
      "Captain, order the fleet: volley fire, nuclear rounds- fifty megatons." Herrscher shouted his orders with gusto, the same optimistic energy that invigorated his Admiral now flowing to himself and the crew. Somewhere deep inside the ship the Captain knew that a pair of thousand-millimeter breaches were opening. Half a kilometer of un-rifled smoothbore cannon was being automatically loaded with seven-ton warheads who's blast radius could melt reinforced concrete from thousands of kilometers away. He himself had ordered the use of such weapons innumerable times, and knew that even the aliens were utterly incapable of matching the brute power from the fusion reaction which resulted. However, never before had he employed thirty of the weapons at once- that from the two combined fleets. And then, even then, another fifteen guns stood ready in the immortal form of the Fourteenth fleet less then a thousand kilometers distant.
      Herrscher was beginning to understand what was unquestionably the admiral's plan- hammer the aliens from the fore, closing range, then turn for a broadside of what would amount to over a hundred macro-caliber guns in the five-hundred millimeter range so popular of United Nations Star Command ships.
      The deck plating shuddered as breach doors closed and compression rams slid open. Alexander looked to his right and was rewarded by the sight of six capital ships and countless additional craft- the Eighth Fleet in all its glory. This opportunity would never again occur, yet Alexander was more then thankful for it now. Out, beyond the curving edge of Delirium, and silhouetted against the stunning Canis Majoris, the Covenant fleet lit up- plasma batteries charged. Alexander wasted no more time. Words spoke louder then actions for the first time in half a millennium.

      Never had such a thing seemed possible until now, seen through her own eyes. The shuttle's windshield vanished to near black in tint at first, then slowly lightened as it adjusted to what was now occurring no more then a thousand leagues distant. Countless megatons of energy erupted in the perfect silence of space and swallowed the alien fleet whole. The nuclear storm boiled and raged and then seethed over its foundation engulfing the very void in its briefest life. A glorious ball of iridescent energy fumed, racing outwards at the speed of light. Twin glistening spheres of energy shot away, curving out for endless kilometers until they passed Lana herself and fell upon Delirium, mixed with the solar light glistening in beams. Her shuttle rocked gently, physical energy and condensed photons pushing against the ship in small volumes and thus causing certain maneuvering engines to fire in compensation. Instruments on the shuttle counted the dramatic increase in what could not possibly be solar radiation and Lana noted it as unimportant given the armor shielding protecting the shuttle. The nuclear furnace gone, Lana waited while the shuttle's instruments returned to normal.
      It took a few moments, but before too long she was again looking through her display at the alien fleet. The computer, no doubt still frazzled from the radiation bombardment appeared sluggish but still reactive. To her left, backwards and away from the planet above, the United Nations' ships maneuvered and increased their velocity, closing quickly with the Covenant. To her right, the alien ships sat vapid and distraught, hulks sitting lowly and at odd angles, while other ships had simply vanished and the computer scrambled to locate them where none could be found. It appeared for all the world as though some great wineglass had shattered and left its shards floating on a plane of water. This fight would soon be over, and most likely before Lana could even close the distance required to engage. Regardless, there was always glory in the pickings, no matter how slim, and for that matter, Lana fired her main engines and began to close with the aliens.

      "Excellent shooting, gentlemen," began Alexander after the nuclear cloud had dispersed. He had expected success but even this he could not have imagined. The entire alien fleet, all eight capital ships and all twelve frigates lay scattered or gone. The big alien battleships were twisted, their hulls scorched with nuclear energy and endless fire. Massive holes lay melted in their metal frames. The cruiser's armor and shielding had proven utterly useless against the cumulative volley fire, leaving not a single one of the ships wholly intact. What remained aside from those somewhat discernable forms were mere pieces and ruins. As much was confirmed by both the Titan's and Revenge's operations officers. The alien fleet had been completely destroyed from a single volley. It was true victory in that, and Alexander applauded himself for the foresight to prepare his battle plan for mass of firepower, not elegance of maneuvering.
      However, he was also not a man to take what he could see for granted. "Close with the enemy, captain Herrscher, and make sure the fleet stays in good formation."
      The captain relayed his orders, keen but equally weary of what lay ahead. One of the lower echelon officers spoke something that the commodore did not quite hear. Herrscher leaned closer to the man and listened, then turned to query the commodore.
      "Admiral, the Fourteenth congratulates us on this victory and requests orders," spoke the German without showing an ounce of jubilation. In his career, he had found such early glory near always fleeting. He would not be disappointed in that belief.
      Alexander was even now considering the very possibility that he had been set a trap, and though the chances of that were truly slim, it seemed intelligent to remain cautious in his maneuvering now. For that reason he ordered Herrscher to hold the Fourteenth in Delirium orbit in the event a second Covenant fleet were to arrive in a more strategic location.
      Herrscher did as he was ordered and returned to the Admiral's side for a moment's respite while orders carried across their distances.
      "Captain, cannon autoloaders processing," reported the master-gunnery officer. Herrscher noted the information and made a quick calculation. It would take the loaders and scrubbers a few minutes to clear the twin breaches and re-strip the barrels. Add to that the time required to sufficiently cool and reload the weapons and he was looking at well over a dozen minutes until a second firing could commence. Of course, he had expected nothing less, and was thankful for the presence of the Fourteenth Fleet with its fully armed cannons still standing in reserve. As the scattered alien fleet grew larger in the viewscreen, the captain turned back to the gunnery officer.
      "Prepare for broadside firing," he told the man, and waited while the order made its way down the chain of command. Alexander nodded his approval as the five-hundred-millimeter side cannon doors slid open. Great stretches of the ship craned apart, massive doors hinging free and folding away. Running lights clicked on in the vacuum and twenty-ton rail sliding hydraulics pumped forward. All along the Titan's hull, for what amounted to easily a kilometer of length, the extended barrels of three decks of guns rolled into place; muzzle suppressors, velocity inhibitors, oxygen fuses and all.
      The master-gunnery officer turned back to his captain and spoke a few words. "Guns are oxygen flooded and prepared for firing, sir." Herrscher smiled curtly as the ship shook beneath his feet. The brief shudder vanished as oxygen pumps quieted, signaling that all hundred guns, port and starboard, were prepared to fire. Autoloaders chimed and gears rolled as the appropriate caliber of ordinance was fitted home. Alexander turned his head from side to side, eyes scanning the two fleets arrayed before him. Truly a formidable amount of firepower stood in position; countless fleet guns prepped and loaded. Distances continued to close with the alien fleet, if it could be called such a thing anymore.
      "Halt at three thousand kilometers," the commodore ordered of the Titan's captain. Closest to his view, Alexander watched the Aurora's engines fire in reserve, massive ionic thrusters pulsed as the ship's drive engines burned their exhaust backwards. He could feel the same occurring onboard the Titan but it was hardly the same to see it directly before him. Thrust spun and vented from the entire combined fleet, energy spewing awkwardly into the void as billions of tons of mass slowly ground to a total halt. So precise and fluid was the movement that at one point Alexander could feel both thrusters burning, one pushing and one near pulling the ship into position. In front and behind him lay the thousand guns of the Sixth and Eighth fleets. Such a waste it was to spend so much effort on this pitiful display of what men would label the Covenant's 'power'- typified by the ability to destroy entire planets. But this was nothing in that regard. Like brushing aside a few grains of sand with an engine of industry designed to crush boulders.
      But a weary man the commodore was, and now he could but wait. The Covenant planet-killer fleet had been destroyed, and he would not waste his current combined firepower on such an unworthy target. It would be far better to wait for the alien's next move- and no doubt there would be one.

      Two days had elapsed since the Covenant planet-killer alpha fleet had left Epsilon Eridani. They had not traveled alone. To minimize the time between Delirium's death and a unified move on Earth, the aliens had sent a further pair of battle-fleets some fifteen minutes behind the alpha fleet. Just as the aliens could not possibly have predicted that one man with a vendetta would hold back an entire star-fleet to face them, that same man could not have possibly predicted how the aliens would operate without missing some small fact, some detail. Yes, Alexander had predicted another move by the aliens, but of this scale? Two battle-fleets, over fifty capital ships and countless support craft? No, that would be far too many for any man to assume... And it was for that reason, that as the Sixth and Eighth United Nations' armadas waited, a pair of slip-space shockwaves appeared in both Lana's and the Titan's windshields. Time stretched out and the shockwaves rippled like rain on water. Starships appeared, blue and shimmering with horrible radiance and fell across the void. They moved with terrible speed, some unknown force still pulling them towards Delirium with unmatched velocity. So it was that they plied directly between the combined human armada and finally halted. Massive blue hulls sat aglow not more then a dozen kilometers from the blunt prows of the United Nations vessels.

      Words tried and failed, and there was a moment when Alexander knew fear. He opened his mouth to speak but said nothing. Instead he gasped, eyes wide. Fifty kilometers away, orbiting beneath the hull of the Prey, Lana squinted through her sunglasses, trying to make out the shapes that had so suddenly shot into view. The two commanders, separated by meters of armor and kilometers of space both connected what was before them at the exact same moment. They were brushing the shields of the Covenant ships so close they sat. Ion plumes, vented from the Titan's maneuvering engines and scattered across space, lit the alien shields with a near beautiful fire. A moment of respite while computers calculated and human minds rationalized. A moment more while lungs filled with air and muscles tensed.
      Plasma batteries charged. Countless divots of light shone new, brighter then the backdrop of stars a thousand fold over- cutting through the Titan's running lights. The bright grew, a florescence showering over the curvature of the Aurora and Revenge alike. Below and above the quartz bridge, covering the vertical and horizontal they sat. A hundred alien ships. Alexander dared not speak, but in that he felt oddly comforted: though he stood now faint minutes from his death, he stood in the same sense faint seconds from his victory. Composure was quick in coming- respite and action. Lana saw it first, cradled below the great shone hull of the revered Prey; the hideous way in which thing warped and twisted.
      The Aurora, hardly distant in Lana's vision, burst asunder, ripped and dashed across the void. So fast it happened, she saw but a brief shift of light and then a spiral of solar energy; then only the spreading of debris. Plasma flew thick, from every angle, and engulfed the battleship like nothing she had ever laid witness too. It was utterly incomparable. The great battleship, ruined and burned brightly for a moment more before its own hull seemed to shrug off: the entire ship exploding. A nearby support craft burned its engines in a feeble attempt to escape its own death. Hardly had the prow of the ship began to maneuver before it too was caught up in the star-wrenching explosion. Vast sections of the shattered United Nations warship flew wide, hurling through the void. Lana watched in horror as a piece of the debris, clearly visible and still glinting with plasma tendrils, swung head wards- and collided with a corvette. The quarter kilometer steel and titanium chunk of refuse cut the smaller craft clean in half, then ricochet off into space in a violent spin.
      Maximilian Herrscher spun on his heels and shouted the most relevant order of his command. "Fire at will!" Further screams and echoes burst into the air, voices overpowering as the unstoppable mechanisms of warfare cut in over human controls. Cannons adjusted and fired. No volley of united fire, but instead a pure smattering of shellfire from un-rifled breaches. Oxygen ignited, burning instantly. Charges lit afire, and barrels shuddered- shells accelerating up towards and surpassing the speed of sound a thousand fold. Inside the burning air, great cacophonous explosions echoed as each shell left its chamber. The sound however would be instantly silenced once the air fell cold out upon the vacuum of space. The battleship Titan shuddered across its entire endless bulk. Flames licked from the edges of cannons, point range and hell.
      Herrscher smiled in his glory- as what little remained of the Aurora fell across his vision, retribution in the form of twin broadsides scored home across a collection of alien ships. Compression rams burst a moment later, the Titan's deck plating shuddering slightly as more case-less five-hundred-millimeter shells were loaded home for a second firing. Alien shields flamed bright, trying with desperate futility to absurd the energy that threatened to tear and rip at their ships. Alexander, the commodore, sighed deeply as he watched. To his left and right both, a pair of Covenant cruisers glowed in deep hues of blue as their shields faltered and failed.
      "Weapons loaded, sir!" shouted the master-gunnery officer. Herrscher nodded his approval and responded directly. "Full broadside fire, destroy those cruisers," he ordered. Alexander spoke then, orders to the Fourteenth Fleet.
      "Tell them to prepare nuclear rounds, bow guns, fifty-megatons," spoke the admiral. Herrscher crooked and eyebrow, curiosity still reigning amongst the confusion.
      "Sir, what do you...?" he was cut off as the deck shuddered. Port and starboard guns fired again, volley and concentrated. Vibrations ran under the hull's armored plating as the great cannon auto-loaders worked their open breaches. Massive gashes opened in the Covenant hulls, the cruisers' thin armor failing to stop the half-meter in diameter hollow-core ammunition. Explosions peppered about the alien ships, splintered horribly like shattered wood. Alexander smiled in triumph- as the Covenant ships cracked apart along their bowlines, another dozen cannon shells struck home: the Prey and Revenge coming to the aide of their flagship. In recognized glory, twin star-fires burned like lit torches. End to end, raked by cannons, the alien ships shattered. Brief cheers rose from the Titan's bridge crew as the Covenant cruisers exploded outwards.
      Kilometers distant still, the Eighth Fleet engaged their targets, guns blazing in silent fire. Another human battleship fell to an onslaught of unified plasma fire. More then a thousand men died in that instant, but the commodore could afford them no sorrow.
      Alexander responded now to Herrscher's question. "Captain, order the Fourteenth to fire their guns the moment any Covenant ship approaches Delirium beyond our perimeter." Herrscher understood now the admiral's intent. It was a grim business to fire upon one's own ships, but in this fight it had now become a necessity.