Disclaimer: I can't believe that this still has to be said, but Halo belongs to 343 Industries. Any attempts to sue the author will net you at most one of my doomsday devices (Go ahead and take, I have more!).
A/N: Hello again, avid readers. I must admit that I might have gotten a little too academic in portions of this chapter. I can't help it. More importantly, this is not the chapter as I had originally planned for. The section below was originally supposed to be just the first portion of next chapter, but it got WAY out of hand. Still, I'm happy with it because I gave Miranda Keyes and her new ship a chance to shine.
On a side note, I finally got a job that has to do with my degree. Yay (-ish)!
Also, the following names will be accepted for the next chapter's Covenant legions: Grounders10 (Legion of Pious Resolve), J.E.P.1996 (Legion of Oracle's Fury), OMAC001 (Legion of Glorious Retribution), Random Rockets (Legion of Righteous Indignation). A special mention for the anonymous guest reviewer who suggested "Wappa Force"; that shall not be a name for a legion, but it shall be used for reasons related to grunts.
Special appreciations for Tikigod and Reichenfaust for their assistance.
Finally, I got to say this. I told friend-of-the-fic Laughing Death some of my long term plans for the sequel (that is, if I ever get there). He almost clocked me right in the face, saying that as good as my ideas are, I still deserved to get punched for what it involved.
"No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength." - Helmuth von Moltke the Elder.
2056 Hours, November 11th, 2552 (Military Calendar) / UNS Lancer, Battlegroup Stanforth, X-3279 System, Sector 357.
Considering who her father was, to say that Miranda had gotten a good education would be a great understatement. Though military deployments had taken much of the time they would have had together, Jacob Keyes took great pains to make sure that Miranda would get everything she needed to become the great ship captain she was so evidently destined to be. Even before Miranda had enlisted and enrolled at the Luna Officer Academy where Jacob Keyes had once taught, she had been regularly acquainted with the art of war from a literary perspective. From Lorenzo Zambernardi and Martin van Creveld, Miranda had learned the intricacies of counter-insurgency. Corbett and her own father had taught her naval operations. Of all the great thinkers of war, though, two stood head and shoulder above all others: Sun Tzu and Baron Carl von Clausewitz. Though the two write of mostly the same subject and ideas, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is more well known because his work is more quotable, digestible, and generally readable when compared to Clausewitz's almost ridiculously philosophical and dense On War. Clausewitz, however, is important because he emphasized the need to think beyond one's perspective to both the enemy's perspective and to one's own people and allies. To him, war is a dialectic, an argument to resolve the contradictions between the combatants and within the combatants themselves. And like any good argument, the enemy will always respond. The only questions are in what manner will they respond and how should one respond to them in kind.
Miranda could imagine the long dead Prussian baron standing either on her bridge or in the CIC of the Trafalgar talking about the ongoing dialectic between the battlegroup and the remnants of the High Charity Defense Fleet and of each sides' contradictions in form and intent. The UNDFSC fleet could not attack their greatly weakened but still stronger foes, yet eventually they would have to extract the operation's ground elements. For their part, the Covenant must crush the human attackers but currently lack the strength to flush their prey from their impossibly strong position in between the two gas giants. Beyond that, though, there was another contradiction to consider that affected both sides. Time was the enemy of the humans and the ally of the Covenant as more and more Covenant ships rushed into the star system to reinforce the High Charity Defense Fleet. And though the Covenant were at their weakest, the battlegroup couldn't attack since the ground element had not completed its task. An early departure from their position would leave them exposed without their strong defensive position that had served them so well.
The baron would say that the resolution to both sides' contradictions ultimately came down to the tactical initiative. The battle seemed to be locked in stalemate as neither side could attack and accomplish their respective goals. While true, the initiative still mattered- for the only thing to do if one does not have the initiative is to ensure that the enemy does not possess it either. As the Covenant clearly could not attack in any way, the possession of the tactical initiative would be decided by what actions Battlegroup Stanforth chose to take in the meantime. Considering that the intent of the Covenant was to maintain a blockade until they were strong enough to attack, there was only one logical action for the humans.
A spoiling attack.
This is why eighteen UNDFSC ships, the Lancer among them, were now staring down a small flotilla of Covenant warships right at the edge of the blockade. As with the previous engagements, the Lancer and four of her fellow Hussar-class destroyers were at the very front of the battle plane, forming an ECM screen to protect the older ships. The lone battlecruiser, Captain Gorchakov's Embers of Summer, and several squadrons of Longsword-B interceptors and Saber fighters were hovering in the middle of the formation. That being said, however, there were two big differences between the current battle and the ones past. One being that the Covenant fleet had taken up a formation with 19 lighter ships protecting to Reverence-class heavy cruisers, and the second being their unusual conduct.
"They're not rushing towards us." Miranda said to herself. In fact, the almost two dozen Covenant ship before them were barely moving at all, slowly edging towards their human foes at a pace that would have taken hours. The only exceptions were the the two heavy cruisers, moving slowly to the point of almost drifting. Both sides were at extreme weapons range with the UNDFSC ships far outside the reach of plasma torpedoes while the Covenant ships were far enough give them time to shoot down ECM screened missiles. Only the two Reverence-class cruisers and the Embers of Summer had their respective enemies in weapons range, though considering the sheer distance, the targeting solutions for the UNDFSC ships' weapons was tenuous at best.
"They're learning. That's no surprise after what we did to them. With enough experience, even a dog would learn not to stick its nose into an electrical outlet." Kalmiya added from the holotank next to Miranda's chair.
Miranda simply nodded. How many times had she heard that old trope that the Covenant were inflexible and refused to learn from failure? Hard and bloody experience had taught her otherwise to a degree. While true that the Covenant could be inflexible more often than not, Miranda knew this was because they knew that they could afford to do so. Constantly on the offensive with seemingly limitless resources on the strategic scale, the Covenant on both the tactical and operational level would prefer to die gloriously in battle than sully their all-important honor. Glory was a luxury that they could afford. If defeat cost them nothing more than the lives of the immediately committed soldiers while gaining them esteem, then it was an inconsequential price to pay from their perspective.
The Difference here was plain to see- they had something materially important on the line that they didn't want to lose. If they kept repeating their suicidal charges for the sake of their all-important honor, then High Charity would soon be at Battlegroup Stanforth's complete mercy. Even for the most dogmatic and fanatical Covenant ideologue, it had to be a sobering thought.
"So we probably did them a favor when we wiped out most of their hotheaded idiots in the engagement." Miranda responded.
Kalmiya's avatar shrugged. "Survival of the fittest, or at least in this case the ones most grounded in reality."
"Yes, but what are they doing now?" Miranda pondered as she looked to the TAC display once more.
"I think that we should be looking at their fighter strike wings." Kalmiya said as she focused the TAC display on sectors just in front of the Covenant formation. With the Prowlers and Clarion spy drones still feeding the Battlegroup real time information, Miranda saw dozens of Seraph fighters escorting a force of Phantom and Lich gunboats. With their shattered ranks since reinforced by the new arrivals in the star system, the fighters and gunboats were taking up a much more aggressive stance than before. Unlike the UNDFSC fighters who were relatively dispersed behind the ECM screen to hide their position, the Covenant fighters were making themselves known.
"Yes, they've formed up for an attack run. But they're not attacking either. What are they trying to accomplish?"
"I think I know." Kalmiya finally answered as the Covenant fighter formation began to move towards the UNDFSC line at a steady speed. The Covenant frigates and destroyers followed, keeping pace with the fighters. "I'm also detecting high density sensor sweeps emanating from the Liches focusing on a few sectors at a time."
Wanting more data to confirm her suspicions, Miranda took another look at the sensor readouts on the Covenant ships. The cruisers at the rear were lit up at full power while the frigates and destroyers were running relatively cold with their plasma torpedo turrets offline. Moreover, Miranda remembered that these cruisers were Reverence-class, one of the few Covenant ships that the UNDF actually had some decent information on as evidenced by the fact that they were labeled by their Covenant class designation instead of the nondescript alphabetical designation. Unlike the CCS-class battlecruisers, these heavy cruisers traded troop capacity for additional firepower in the form of powerful long range particle beam projectors. Their only weakness was that they can only fire those projectors intermittently. The fact that these ships had their weapons alight with power while the lighter ships had their big guns cold told Miranda everything she needed to know.
Kalmiya beat her captain to the punch. "They're trying to flush us out. The Liches are sorting through the ECM screen with brute force to give their cruisers a targeting solution on us."
"And they're daring us to attack their fighter screen to stop them." Miranda concluded. "They want to bleed us, force us to either sit here and let their cruisers snipe at our ships or to send out our fighters without support so they can tear them to pieces."
The TAC display flared red as Kalmiya sounded out the warning. "Alert! Covenant Cruisers are firing!"
"Turn us towards them and fire emergency thrusters!" Miranda shouted at her helmsman. Every ship in the battlegroup did the same, following the standard countermeasure to make themselves as difficult a target as possible. It turned out to be unnecessary as the bright lances of particle beams were more than a dozen kilometers off their target. Still, it was a lot closer than it had any right to be, indicative of the fact that the Covenant's adaptation to the ECM screen had a chance of succeeding. Miranda had to hand it to whoever it was that was leading the Covenant flotilla. They had turned the UNDFSC's terrain advantage into a disadvantage. The Covenant tactic only work because of the confined environment between the gas giants. If this was open space, the the UNDFSC would have instantly reacted by spreading out, preventing the Covenant from concentrating the sensors enough to defeat the Hussars' ECM screen.
"Incoming orders from Captain Gorchakov." Kalmiya announced. "Target the Covenant screening ships. Update for cruising formation inbound."
The TAC display showed the new formation Captain Gorchakov had in mind. All the ships were to spread out with the Hussars to maintain a distance of roughly twenty eight kilometers from each other. Miranda understood what Gorchakov was trying to do. The new cruising formation was meant to create the maximum overlap between each of the ECM capable ships so as to increase the number of plausible looking ghost signatures that the Covenant will have to sort through. This came the cost of making it harder for each ships point defenses being able to support each other, but that didn't matter for now considering the range and nature of the incoming fire.
"That's not going to work. It'll only buy us time." Miranda concluded.
"Well, unlike you, I myself like having time." The AI retorted. "Targeting solution locked, commander."
"Fire." The commander ordered.
All eighteen UNDF ships opened fire, sending missiles and MAC rounds towards the Covenant line. The Covenant ships immediately turned hard, the extra power from their offline plasma turrets giving them a boost. One of the Covenant destroyers lit up on sensors as kinetic fusion rounds gutted the ship. The remaining eighteen ships, however, escaped unscathed, hardly a good kill ratio for the number of rounds fired. The missile barrage also proved rather lackluster as the Seraphs screamed in to intercept the missiles. With the concentrated sensor and point defense density, the remaining Covenant ships saw hits on their shields and even a few onto their hull but survived to fight again. Left with no other option, the UNDF ships fired again.
As the two lines of ships exchanged fire, the two Reverence-class heavy cruisers began to move in a long arc around their screens to put them at an oblique angle against the hot Jupiter gas giant. They continued firing their particle beam projectors as they went. Even with the overlapping ECM screen, each shot drew closer and closer until the inevitable happened.
"Alert, the Lancelot is hit!" Kalmiya announced. The Tribal-class destroyer just behind the Lancer took a shot right through her bow, severing the entire front fourth of the ship. Now flaring clearly on everyone's sensors, the Lancelot became an easy target for the Covenant cruisers as more particle beams proceeded to slice her to pieces. Escape pods quickly flew out of the Lancelot's hull but it was too late for most of her crew as the destroyer split in half with secondary explosions ripping the decks open.
"Alert the S&R corvettes. We can't do anything more to help them now." Miranda said quietly as she forced herself to look away and turn back to the TAC display. As the Lancelot met her end, the majority of the Covenant flotilla began to move to put themselves closer to the puffy atmosphere of the hot Saturn. While they weren't between the UNDF ships and the hot Saturn, they were definitely trying to restrict the humans' ability to retreat into the gas giant's atmosphere by forcing them against the hot Jupiter. Meanwhile, the two Covenant heavy cruisers moved closer to the hot Jupiter to give their particle beam projectors the maximum arc of fire on the UNDFSC ships.
Their enemy had adapted well.
"New orders coming in from the Embers of Summer." Kalmiya announced. "All ships are to begin a phased withdrawal. The fighter squadrons will launch against the Covenant to cover the retreat. All ships are to lay down cover fire for their approach as we withdraw."
Miranda's mind rebelled against the order, though it was not only because of her moral objections at the though of sacrificing the dozens of Longsword-Bs and Sabers along with their crews in a retreat that would surely cost them at least several more ships. No, it was that she saw the situation from a completely different light compared to Captain Gorchakov. The man is doing the right thing by trying to preserve as many ships as possible in what is really just a skirmish, a sideshow as the real battle takes an intermission. With the ECM blanket and the gas giants' gravity field still in place, the UNDF could win an outright clash with that formation. But the fact that they now had to take on organized Covenant ships and the cost it would take to defeat them meant that such a tactical victory would effectively be an operational defeat. Retreating now is the right decision, but Gorchakov was trying to accomplish it in the wrong way. Miranda knew that they have to deny their Covenant foes the ability to harass them as they withdraw.
If Baron von Clausewitz was here, he would tell her that they have to destroy the Covenant's center of gravity, the one critical thing on the battlefield that allows them to fight effectively and defeat the UNDF ships. The problem with that is the center of gravity can be difficult to discern. Was it the two heavy cruisers with their deadly particle beam projectors, or perhaps the Covenant Liches and their fighters? Maybe even the lighter screening ships? However, as Clausewitz often commented, the center of gravity was not always a physical object. As her father had taught her, a well-aimed rifle is infinitely better than a poorly aimed cannon. Miranda knew that the Covenant's center of gravity was not a ship so much as their ability to effectively deliver long range firepower. But because of the circumstances of the battle, the Covenant did not have that ability concentrated in individual ships, but instead had it spread out over an information kill chain. That meant that Miranda had to break that kill chain one way or the other.
For that, Miranda had an idea, one requiring fast ships, deception, and no small amount of luck.
"Hail the Embers of Summer." Miranda ordered. Moments later, the gruff old face of Captain Gorchakov greeted her.
"What's the meaning of this, Commander? You have your orders." The captain demanded.
"Sir, we can't withdraw, at least not yet. We have to stop them from firing those particle beam projectors at us first." Miranda offered.
Gorchakov looked exasperated by the comment. "Haven't you noticed, commander, that is exactly what I'm trying to do right now?"
Miranda chastised herself. Sometimes she assumes that others have already come to the same conclusions that she had, a fault that her father pointed out many times. "I'm sorry, sir, but even with cover fire the fighters alone might not be enough. But I have an idea."
Even as she detailed her plan, Miranda tried not to focus on just how visibly unhappy Gorchakov was. A captain is not supposed to question a flag officer's orders in the middle of a battle without a very good reason. Miranda knew that she was risking her career doing this. Considering her plan, though, she'd be risking a lot more if Gorchakov approved.
Though she knew that it was absurd, Miranda thought she could hear Gorchakov's teeth grinding as he considered her plan. There was no small amount of relief for the Lancer's CO as the captain relented.
"You really are as ballsy as everyone says. Alright, you have a go. I just hope that your AI is as good as you think she is."
Kalmiya looked towards her commander as Miranda settled back into her chair.
"Well, the hard part's over." The AI quipped.
Miranda simply stared at Kalmiya's avatar. "I'm trusting you. You know that, right? And not just with the lives of my crew but also those of four other ships. I hope my mother didn't skimp when she was programming you."
Kalmiya's avatar simply grinned as the AI began her calculations. In the meantime, the UNDF formation redeployed to begin their next move. With a deep breath, Miranda opened a channel to the other four Hussars.
"This is Commander Miranda Keyes of the Lancer. I want to clarify Captain Gorchakov's orders. I intend for us turn the Covenant line. To do that, we're going to have to charge them. Set course for the two cruisers and slave your AIs to mine. Be prepared for some rough maneuvers. Best of luck to you all. Keyes out."
After a few moments, Kalmiya spoke up. "All Hussars are networked to me. We're ready, Commander."
"Then light it up. Take us towards those cruisers, full speed ahead."
As one, the five Hussars charged straight towards their target, the force of their engines slamming Miranda into her seat. With their powerful engines pushing them faster than a Charon-class frigate, the distance between the two sides closed quickly. Their course took them parallel to the bulk of the Covenant screening force which had previously been positioned towards the hot Saturn to prevent the UNDF ships from escaping into its atmospheric cover. It was this flaw in the Covenant maneuver that Miranda had hoped to exploit. By deploying most of their screening force to cut off the UNDFSC escape route through the hot Saturn and to extend their sensor range, the Covenant had weakened the part of their line that stood between two heavy cruisers and the UNDFSC ships. Only a small force of two frigates and a destroyer now protected the Reverence-class ships. Of course, the additional distance of open space would have normally given those two ships ample time to shoot down any attackers crossing the distance, but the presence of the Hussar-class destroyers' raw speed and ECM capabilities left the two Covenant heavies vulnerable to attack.
As Miranda had hoped, the sudden charge by the five Hussars had surprised the Covenant ships into reaction, mainly by transferring power back to their weapons, making the target locks on them once more crystal clear. More importantly, every Covenant ship had now turned their attention to her detachment instead pursuing Gorchakov and his ships. Seraphs and Phantom gunboats turned hard before rushing to intercept the attackers. But the only ships that Miranda now cared about were those two Covenant frigates and the destroyer standing between them and the heavy cruisers.
"Covenant ships are trying to get targeting solutions on us!" The ensign at the sensor station yelled.
Miranda turned to her AI. "Kalmiya, start mixing it up. Ready MAC targeting solutions on those three ships in front of us."
As the Hussars closed with the exposed wing of the Covenant line, their formation became fluid as Kalmiya began adjusting each ship's position to constantly re-randomize the detachment's ECM configuration. All attempts to get a target lock on the Hussars became far more difficult as they moved both within and without the formation.
"Targeting solutions confirmed!" The AI announced.
Fifteen kinetic fusion rounds spat out from the five Hussars along with dozens of the smaller Mk 17 standoff MAC rounds. The lone Covenant destroyer and her two frigate escorts had no chance and were quickly blown to pieces. Miranda's ships had smashed the Covenant battle line open, but the Covenant ships and fighters were rushing to head them off and seal the breach.
"Commander, the two cruisers are moving off. They're turned outside of our line of fire." The ensign at the sensors announced.
It was exactly what she was hoping for. Miranda had never intended to actually attack the two cruisers. She just needed them to withdraw from the battle for at least a while.
"That's fine. Just let them go." Miranda answered.
"You know that those will be back once they've figured out that we weren't really going for them." Kalmiya commented.
"I know, but that doesn't matter." Miranda replied before turning back to the display, her attention now on the remaining Covenant frigates and destroyers along with their fighters. Now it was time to deal with them. "Turn us towards the hot Jupiter and start our run."
Snapping their maneuvering thrusters, the troop of Hussars spun on their axis before blasting straight towards the nearby gas giant at an oblique angle. The Seraphs and Phantoms that had been hot on the Hussars' tail suddenly found themselves overshooting their targets and attempted to match the heavy destroyers' maneuver. With the planet's massive gravity adding to their thrust, the five destroyers quickly arrested their forward momentum and began doubling back on their original course even as they were drawn in closer and closer to its roiling atmosphere. The five ships angled themselves upward to slow their descent, their inertial dampeners set to max to aid their engines.
"How long until we make it into the magnetosphere?" Miranda asked.
Kalmiya didn't hesitate. "Two minutes and twenty seven seconds until we reach the magnetosphere, but the closest Covenant ships will cross the minimum ECM range in one minute and twenty four seconds."
Miranda had been counting on using the hot Jupiter's magnetosphere in conjunction with their ECM screen to shield them from the Covenant on their return run. The plan is still viable, but they have to buy some time. "Give me a missile solution on the lead Covenant ships; Archer and ECM missile. Ready Harpoon torpedoes."
"Commander, those missiles aren't going to work. They have to burn out their engines just to make it out of the gravity field." Kalmiya said.
Miranda wasn't deterred. "I don't need them to hit anything, just need to blind those ships for a while. Fire missiles when ready. Launch torpedoes thirty seconds after."
A wave of missiles left the ships before they struggled to rise against the hot Jupiter's intense gravity. With the Covenant now past minimum ECM range and the missile almost crawling to meet them, Covenant PDLs quickly began shooting the ordinances down. The missiles had, however, distracted the Covenant from the five stealthy Harpoon torpedoes following behind.
"Detonate the torpedoes." Miranda ordered.
Five massive nuclear explosions flooded the area with EM radiation. The blast collided with the hot Jupiter's magnetic field to flood the upper atmosphere with synchotron radiation, leaving a great EM haze that obscured the five UNDFSC destroyers as they finally crossed into the magnetosphere.
Miranda sighed. Her ships were safe, at least for a while until they get out of the atmosphere. Fortunately, they were in the dark side of the planet so they could survive here for a least a few minutes. "Take us up. Engines to 110 percent. Vent coolant if you have to."
As the minutes passed, Miranda thought about what was to come next. Her maneuver into the hot Jupiter had saved her ships, but had also left them blind as the sensors could not penetrate the EM saturated magnetosphere. Neither the Covenant nor the Hussars would know where the other would be when Miranda took her ships back into open space. They'd only have one run for this as they wouldn't have the time to make another gentle atmospheric descent as before with the Covenant shooting at them. They'd have three advantages that would determine their survival: First, the Hussar-class destroyers had proven themselves a match for any Covenant ships up to a cruiser and there would only be frigates and destroyers up there. Second, the Covenant would have to be somewhat dispersed to have a chance at catching the Hussars coming up. Finally, the third advantage was that the Covenant seemed to have forgotten that the Hussars were only a portion of the UNDFSC forces that they had engaged.
"Okay. Let's see what they have for us." The commander muttered as the Lancer finally ascended far enough for her sensors to work again. The Covenant flotilla was clearly visible, hovering over them with their shields up and plasma torpedo turrets hot and ready. Those fifteen frigates and destroyers were not pointing their weapons at them, however. Instead, their targets were pointed at the Embers of Summer and the eleven frigates and destroyers surrounding her.
The Covenant flotilla was now sandwiched between the five Hussars and Gorchakov's ships.
"Incoming hail from the Embers of Summer." Kalmiya announced as Gorchakov's face appeared on the TAC display.
"Well Commander Keyes, I guess that it's now my turn to save your ass." The captain commented dryly.
"Thank you, Captain. Your timing is impeccable." Miranda replied with a smile and a nod.
Gorchakov simply chuckled. "You should know, Commander, that those two cruisers are coming back as we speak. Let's finish this little skirmish and get out of here before they're back."
As the COM channel died, Miranda readied herself for one more charge. With the Covenant heavy cruisers coming back and the Covenant flotilla between them and Gorchakov, they couldn't simply stand back and bombard the Covenant flotilla into oblivion. Worse, though, was that the Covenant ships were now within minimum ECM range. This time there would be no maneuvers to avoid a straight up fight.
Miranda turned back to her channel to the other Hussars. "All ships, weapons free. Set course for the Embers of Summer, full speed ahead. Loose formation then close up as we approach."
Once more, the powerful engines pushed the Hussars into battle. The ship shuddered as the missile pods and MACs ripple fired, meeting the dozens of plasma torpedo now flying towards the two UNDFSC formations. The TAC display became littered with new signatures too numerous to count. Already, the shields flared with every pulse laser strike. With the Covenant fighters too busy intercepting the inbound Archer and Firestorm missiles, the dozens of Sabers and Longsword-Bs finally made their attack run, tearing into the Liches that had been so critical in guiding the two heavy cruisers' particle beams. With the Lancer at the lead and drawing the most fire, the Hussars weaved through the storm of plasma.
And yet through it all, Miranda couldn't help but find the entire situation so incredibly amusing. Before the battle, the commander had made sure to learn as much as she could about her new ship. Among the information she garnered was the story behind the ship class' name. The Hussars were named specifically after the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Among the finest heavy cavalry in all of human history, the Winged Hussars were notorious for both the odd looking feathered wings that they wore into battle and for repeatedly scoring incredible upsets against overwhelming odds. Their greatest moment of fame was in leading the biggest cavalry charge in history, breaking the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 and saving Europe from Turkish domination. What made the Winged Hussars so deadly was not so much the excellent equipment they wore or their masterful horsemanship but rather their ability to coordinate in the middle of a charge. This allowed them to start out dispersed before coming together, making them near impossible to hit with the primitive single shot smooth bore muskets of the day even with volley fire. That little historical fact had apparently been what inspired the ship's designers to take the name. With their ECM suites, Phalanx free-electron laser turrets, and magnetic disruptors, the Hussar-class was a ship meant to fight dispersed at range and clustered together once the fight got up close. Of course, Miranda doubted that the ship's designers had meant for the Hussar to charge the Covenant lines like she intended to do now.
And it was all up to Kalmiya. The AI that Miranda's mother had given her was, for all intents and purposes, now the pilot of the ship. Even with the inertial dampeners, Miranda could feel every powerful yet precise twist and turn that Kalmiya was putting the ship through. As big and heavy as the ship was, the AI was flying her like a competition space yacht. The emergency thrusters fired again and again, almost tossing Miranda out of her seat several times. And that was not all that Kalmiya was doing as the AI was still in communication with her less-advanced brethren on the other Hussars. She was helping them process the inbound plasma torpedoes' vectors, speeding up their reaction time to give them a better chance to avoid getting hit. All this, however, came at the cost of the Lancer being further ahead than the other ships, making her the prime target for the Covenant.
"Kalmiya..." Miranda muttered with a hint of fear in her voice as she saw eight or nine plasma torpedoes barreling straight for the Lancer. They were coming in a column one after another. With the magnetic disruptors, the Lancer slid past the first two torpedoes as Phalanx turrets shot down a third.
The AI responded with an annoyed tone. "I'm trying, but ship's mass profile is off and it's not making it easy.
The fourth torpedo struck into the shields, all but draining away the protective barrier. It was the next two torpedoes that tore into the Lancer's armor. The ARC armor instantly cooked off, blasting the plasma back out into space, but also sending shockwaves into the hull and tossing crew and equipment into the bulkheads. The remaining three torpedoes dispersed as incoming MAC rounds from Embers of Summer took out the Covenant destroyer that fired them.
"The MAC is down, the forward rails' power converter is damaged. Missile pods A1 through B7 are down. Hull breach in section A3 to A7. Emergency response teams are en route." Kalmiya said as she rolled the ship's damaged section out of the line of fire.
"Seal off the section. Take us back closer into the formation. We should be through the worst of it by now."
The Lancer drifted back closer to the trailing destroyers, taking cover behind their combined point defense screen. As the Hussars shot at the torpedoes and Seraphs trailing them, they crossed the hundreds of missiles headed back the way they came. Sabers and Longsword-Bs followed, stopping the Seraphs in their path. More missiles followed, forcing the Seraphs to split between defending their ships and engaging the UNDFSC fighters and giving the Sabers and Longsword-Bs time to join the retreating Hussars. At the same point, the two Reverence-class cruisers had finally made their orbit back to firing positions. Still under ECM cover, the UNDFSC ships went unmolested as they made for the cover of the hot Saturn's atmosphere.
It was over.
Miranda sunk into her chair, the adrenaline in her system finally releasing its grip on her. After a few moments, Miranda finally turned to taking stock of the situation. She saw that though the Lancer was the worst hit of the five Hussars, she was not only one wounded. The Uhlan had also taken a torpedo to her aft and had one of her engines damaged. The Cataphract, though not hit by torpedoes, had been raked with pulse laser fire and had lost some of her missile pods and Phalanx turrets. Only the Mangudai and the Cuirassier had escaped relatively unscathed. Still, all five ships had survived and no other ships had been lost. The Lancer, Cataphract, and Uhlan will have to retire from the fight for a while to lick their wounds but they were still in the fight. The Covenant, however, had not fared nearly as well. The Hussars' charge and the subsequent battle had left fourteen of their ships as floating wrecks. Moreover, the Liches, left exposed as the Seraphs rushed to intercept the human destroyers, had been torn to pieces by the Sabers and Longsword-Bs.
Looking back on the TAC display, Miranda grappled with just how tempting it was to turn the squadron back and finish off those Covenant ships. With the numbers now clearly on their side and the Liches gone, the Covenant wouldn't be able to pull off the same trick as they had before. But already, more Covenant ships were rushing to take their fallen comrades' place. Miranda was sure that they could destroy those two heavy cruisers and their surviving escorts, but that would leave them in yet another fight when the Covenant reinforcements arrive. Her father had taught her that after breaking the enemy's back, every captain had to know when to go for broke and finish off their foe and when to call it quits and save their ships. No, they had accomplished their objective of corroding the Covenant blockade and keeping them off balance. There was no need to risk further battle and more irreparable losses like the Lancelot.
Commander Keyes turned towards Kalmiya's avatar. The AI looked expectantly towards her captain, her holographic arms behind her back as she smiled. The Lancer's CO simply nodded appreciatively in response. Miranda's next words were not for the AI, but it meant just as much for Kalmiya.