Friday, July 15, 2022

The Sentinel Gate Affair, Episode VI: The Battle of Kerberos

 Continued from Episode V: A Friend in Need

          Gaihomme felt reassured when the fleet dropped out of warpspace and back into the comfortable reality of stars and moons, planets and people. The protector's ships surrounded him like an invulnerable cloak, stronger by far than his hard armor. He heard the chiming of several alarms and turned toward Captain Mickelson, listening as he called out to his crew. 
          "Hard to port and give me half thrust forward. The rebels are there at Kerberos, just as we expected."

Gaihomme glanced at the flimsy in his hand again:

Received AIC
From Imperial Naval High Command, Terra
To the Lord Admiral of Imperial Armada 2406

Begin Transmission

You are instructed to escort the third company of 6th Marines to the Kerberos system, where they will commence with an assault on the orbital and ground military spaceport facilities of the planet pursuant to seizing same as a forward operating base for operation Justice Hailstorm. The company is to be embarked on four Serpens class galiots: Aspis, Fulvius, Crotalus, and Ophiophagus. For escort you will have six additional Serpens class galiots: Piscivorus, Contortrix, Polyepis, Oxyuranus, Bungarus, and Naja, two Comitatus class galleons: Dirk and Sacrificium, and four Furious class great galleons: Collegium, Magistratus, Legatus, and Praetor.

Kerberos is believed to be a significant operating base for the so-called Tartarus Rim Navy. As such, it is expected that you will encounter combatant warpships. You are ordered to engage and destroy any foreign military vessels you encounter. All are assumed to be either in open rebellion against the Terran Imperium or aiding such rebellion. You are further ordered to secure the nearspace areas in the system and to eliminate any such facilities as you find it necessary to ensure Imperial victory during the assault. In the event that you encounter an armada exceeding your own you are instructed to transit west towards Fort des Chartres if able. If you are unable to do either of these you are to fall back to the Memphian Sector and await reinforcements.

See attached catalog of assets, order forms, and star charts.


          Gaihomme glanced out the bridge window. Kerberos loomed giant before them, two of the three moons barely visible above it. Coming away from it at great speed were a few poncy ships and a half dozen stunties, one a massive galleon larger than any he had personally seen. But the Tartarus Rim's provincial ships were not visible. His own armada, six galleons and ten galiots strong, should more than suffice to deal with the issue. He eagerly awaited what would be yet another glorious victory for the forces of Holy Terra.
          "Action stations, everyone," said Mickelson casually. Almost immediately the klaxon began to sound and able spacers ran around the ship closing hatches and donning helmets.

. . . . . . .

          On the opposite side of the field Sir Stanley looked out nervously from the Burkhan Kaldun flagship's bridge. In command, and seated in the captain's chair, was Progenitor Lucas Warmbier.
          "What do you make of our chances, Lucas?" he asked.
          "Mm? Oh, excellent, I'd say. The Impies won't know what hit 'em," Warmbier replied with an almost casual lilt to his voice.
          Sir Stanley was a little surprised at his certainty. "How do you figure?"
          "Well, we checked them out in a joint exercise on Thalia a while back. We've been doing quite a lot of that lately, just to check our records and update anything that's gotten out of date." At that Lucas paused a moment. 
          He took a pull on his pipe and continued. "It seems they've stagnated pretty badly back on mother earth, as they've gotten more religious about all this nonsense. They seem to have decided a ship should be handled a certain way, or a suit of armor. They think it's their god's word, or maybe a declaration from the Emperor. One or the other. Not that they necessarily recognize a difference there, what with their inquisitors and priests and warrior monks and so on."
          Stanley nodded along at that. "I hope you're right. You're confident we can hold out until the TRN arrives?"
          "My boy, we don't even need them. It'll be quicker and less bloody with them, so I'm glad they're coming, but trust me, we can take this bunch all by ourselves. They'd be hard pressed to beat even just the Tahti if we were still off at Burkhan Kaldun."
          At that Sir Stanley was genuinely surprised. The Tahti force numbered only four ships. They were capable, but . . . four against sixteen? My word! Warmbier really was confident.
          "Ensign, sound general quarters," said Warmbier, standing and turning to Sir Stanley. "I think it's time we donned our vac-suits Stanley. When this all over and we can breathe again properly I'll share a pint with you.
          Stanley nodded and walked to the locker in Warmbier's day cabin as the bosun piped and the horn began to sound. That was an order he could agree with. "Nothing like a cold pint with Warmbier!" he chuckled to himself.

. . . . . . .

          For a time, the two fleets closed on each other silently. And then, just as the dwarves and elves were almost within firing range of the Terrans a Tartarus Rim force dropped out of warp and began closing quickly.
          "Blast! That will complicate things," Gaihomme cursed.
          "We're picking up two to four galleons and a number of escorts," piped up a junior officer buried behind a viewscreen of some kind.
          "That does away with our advantage in numbers. Maybe even puts us on the back foot," Gaihomme observed.
          "We should be able to beat them with quality if quantity won't suffice," Captain Mickelson said. "A bunch of untrained provincials and conscripts. Probably half of them are criminals serving out their time."
          Just then the shields began to flare, even before Mickelson gave the order to fire.
          "Why on earth aren't we firing yet when they are?" Gaihomme demanded.
          "They're not in range! How on earth can they target us this far out?"
          A few seconds later Mickelson gave the order to return fire, but the damage was done. The bridge was in a state of silent shock, only broken when the great galleon off their starboard bow began to vent explosively into space.

          "We've lost Collegium sir! And we're picking up a host of small contacts. It looks like they have fighters. Coming from the largest Tartarus galleon, a pair of smaller galleons on our right, and several small escorts on the left."
          "Escorts?" Mickelson asked incredulously.
          "Yes sir. And closing fast. They have at least 9TG acceleration."
          "Yes sir."
          "How would the pilots survive . . . "
          He didn't have time to finish the question, as the "fighters" began exploding around them. Legatus was one of the first ships to lose power as the hail of splinters began cutting through cable trunks and spacers alike.

          "Abandon ship!" the captain screamed, before leaping from his chair and dashing down the hatchway to the nearest boat bay. Gaihomme and the poor ensign who'd been calling out all the dreadful news followed quickly after.

          No sooner had the ensign cleared the hatchway from the bridge than it disappeared into a wall of plasma, venting from some broken line or other. Explosions rocked the ship. They might say that it was cold and silent in space, but war remained a hot and noisy affair, even if your screams would never reach enemy ears. He sincerely hoped brother Castrian fared better.

          It was a false hope. Aspis was struck in the same hail of missiles that finished Legatus.

          Even though Castrian himself escaped, nearly a third of her crew and passengers were consumed by the flames and splinters radiating out from a dozen explosions, both from the missiles and from Aspis tearing herself apart. Of the great armada, only three galiots returned: Piscivorus, Bungarus, and Naja. Of the third company of the famed Sixth Marines, none could seek the solitude of their fortress monastery. Castrian himself, and the bulk of his compatriots, were eventually rescued, even if it was only to be questioned by the lords of Tartarus and sent to await their eventual fait on Erebus.

. . . . . . .

Behind the Curtain

          This was, of course, a game. Several of my friends have been so kind as to run the factions, and several more willing victims helped to push miniatures around for the battle. Much has been left to chance. The resources of the Terran Imperium are vast, but her commitments are many, so luck plays the part of the fickle lords doling out warships in penny packets. Though you are permitted to count the cards battle is always a gamble. Even the best laid plans must face Dame Fortuna. The Tartarans are better prepared, but there is always wind and weather, even in space. And you just never quite know what the other player will do.
          The first bit of luck was when the Tartarans arrived. They'd started four sectors away from the zone of engagement, but the Imperial fleet was sighted two sectors away, and the Tartarans know the territory and fly fast, so they were able to cover the ground in approximately the same time. The Terrans arrived first, but only by d6 turns. The . . . let's call it the Rim Alliance . .. since they were defending they started at the line of the planet. The Terrans were entering from the galactic south (or coreward in this case), which is to the right on the board. The defenders placed first and the Terrans placed in response to that. As a result, the allies decided to reshuffle their force on the fly. The rules of the game were a lightly modified version of Full Thrust. The usual order of things is writing commands for your ships and then moving according to them. Once everyone has moved, the fun begins. Fire is considered simultaneous, but for ease of play you fire in alternation, with the larger fleet going first. Damage doesn't really occur until after everyone has fired, but I didn't ask players to declare targets in advance or anything quite that fancy. At the end of a turn damaged ships might attempt repair. (And if they've dwarves aboard they might be pretty good at it.) The first turn, which you see below, was pretty quiet. Nobody had the range to shoot.

          As it happens, the Tartarans rolled a one on that d6, so they arrived on the second turn. And they were allowed to move as quickly as they wanted, so they absolutely booked. (And then immediately hit the brakes.) The Imperials simply marched forward steadily. And after all the moving was done . . . things were in engagement range.

          The allies basically concentrated their fire on the leading Terran battleships (or great galleons). After the first one exploded the elves switched targets to a destroyer, but there weren't too many guns left so it survived the exchange. The Terrans were still at pretty extreme range for their weapons and they were unable to do much.

          On turn three things got more . . . interesting. The allies launched . . . let's call them "contacts." The rule of thumb here is you plot your orders, but before moving you move these "contacts" quite quickly and according to specific rules, which movement you see below.

          Once that's done you move your ships according to their orders.

          After that's complete the "contacts" do their thing, which is attack. At this point they're NPCs (non-player contacts), attacking whatever target in front of them is closest. Which if you play your cards right is the other guy. And oh, but it was.

          One battleship miraculously survived the onslaught, but two battleships, a cruiser, and four destroyers did not. And since this happens BEFORE the firing phase, those ships don't even get to shoot back. (They can and did engage the contacts, but . . . not effectively.) With the target selection greatly reduced the allies concentrated fire on what was left, thus eliminating the last two battleships, the cruiser, and another destroyer. The Terrans returned fire, of course, but at this point they were horribly outnumbered, so it wasn't very effective.

          Quite reasonably, the Terrans attempted to retreat to the relative safety of warp space. The three destroyers on their left were able to break away. (They're surprisingly fast little snakies.) But the other two were surrounded and quite thoroughly cut off. They did their best, but there was nothing left to it but to be forcibly ventilated directly to space.

          The three snakes as made it off the table took word back to Inquisitor Augustus, but the rest of the Terran fleet became scrap for the Tartarans to collect. And their occupants, if not in pieces, will find themselves interrogated and shipped off to a POW camp.(It could be worse. I doubt the Terran zealots would be so friendly.) And I, your humble game-master, have rolled up the results, who was killed and who captured. What can be salvaged, and so on. The Imperium will doubtless send more ships. Likely many more after this debacle. We shall see where the fighting leads us next.
         And that, as they say, is that. Thank you for joining me on this little adventure. Stay tuned. The war isn't over. Just the first battle. Many more will doubtless follow. Hopefully fairly quickly.

          The Composer

Friday, July 8, 2022

The Sentinel Gate Affair, Episode V: A Friend in Need

Continued from Episode IV: A Fine Day for a Parade

          Colorado fought to catch her breath as she walked up to the long table. Deep in the bowels of the executive mansion the room looked to be a hastily converted storeroom, dusty from disuse and still packed with crates and boxes that hadn't yet been moved aside. Several of her friends and co-conspirators had already arrived. Christos Commodus, Lord Whye, stood at the head of the table, immediately to her left, a small pile of papers in front of him. To her right his eminence Yaddish, the Padda ambassador, stood with the elaborate pot of office that contained a quantity of the liquid his people used to seal agreements and to season nearly everything they ate. (Their word for contract, deelsous, apparently translated to agreement juice, though she suspected he had it tonight more for savory reasons than seditious ones. The rebellion was already thoroughly agreed to.) To his right were Dame Astrid Shaam, the Propraetor Jus Tartarum, holding her charge, Lord Ali Khan XIV. Over her shoulder her husband Lord Bakker Shaam, the fourth Baron of Morgan, glowered. Perhaps he was worried he'd lose his place in the cursus. They all would, at the very least. More likely they'd be burned as heretics, but there was nothing else to it. Behind them all Inspector Nguyen took notes.

          "Let's begin," Christos said. "Time is short, so I'll be brief. You should each have a handout, and there's a map in the center of the table should you wish to consult it. The matter at hand is securing the aid of the Tahti and Burgkhan Kaldun. They've been reliable friends in the past, but we're going to need all the aid they can give when the cruisers start dropping out of warp."
          "Do you have an idea of the Terran commitments?" asked Bakker.
          "Not yet, but they'll doubtless be significant. Colorado, do you think Sir Stanley could meet with the Dwarves? He seems to have a knack for it."
          "I think it's their mutual fondness for a good malt," Colorado replied. "Yes, I think he'd be willing. He's with the fleet at Hecate aboard Proserpine. Could she be spared for the journey?"
          Commodus scratched his chin and thought a moment. "Yes, I think so. It'd be a good exercise for them anyway." He paused before turning to the Padda. "Ambassador Yaddish, do you think you could make our situation clear to the Tahti?"
          The giant frog croaked slightly, deep in his throat, before answering. "Yes, I think I could. But my shuttle couldn't make the journey. I believe they're presently out in the void past the Moirai."
          "We could make Moab available for you. Would she be suitable?" Christos responded.
          "Yes, I believe she would," said Yaddish. "That will be perfect."
          "I believe that's the crux of the matter. We need to begin mobilizing and preparing as quickly as possible. Astride, I'm counting on you to secure support in the Senate and the Camarata. The Propraetor Imperium can be a bit headstrong, but I think you can get him on board. And with him the rest of the legislature should follow."
          "And if not," she said, "I'll arrest him."
          "My word, what days we've come to, when judges might arrest senators." Commodus shook his head sadly. "The only way to get the world we want is to fight for the one we're given. I think that covers everything. Carry on and let's make the inquisition rue the day they set foot in our sector."
          A general round of assent went up. "Hear hear!" "Indeed!" "Amen!" and something guttural and almost primal seeming from the amphibiod throat of the ambassador.

. . . . . . .

          Sir Stanley Ursaline Drakemore stepped from his shuttle into the airlock of the BKN Chinghis Khagan. She was a truly massive ship, even bigger than Proserpine, quite probably the largest warship he had ever seen. He was surprised he'd been permitted to travel her corridors alone, but the bosun had given him clear instruction on where to go. He walked down the long hatchway to his right toward the blue door. 

          And passing through he found the freehold's Archmechan Timochi.

          "Your grace, Tartarus calls for aid. We have need of your assistance to protect the spacelanes from the Terran despot," he said.
          In a deeply sonorous voice the armored warrior priest replied "The dwarves of Burkhan Kaldun Freehold are ever loyal. And we know the evils Terra would perpetuate in their constant fear of the other. We will answer your call. Say but where."
          "That will be a matter for the admirals, but I expect they will make for the gate first. Either way, they'll need to pass Kerberos. And we've a good fleet base there."
          "Then there shall we go."

          Meanwhile, in the far northern reaches of the rim, past the stars known as the Moirai, the froglike Padda ambassador made contact with a Tahti ship and thought about just what kind of "deelsous" he would strike that night to be sure of the elfin support.

          Barely a week later and fleets of the Tahti and Burgkhan Kaldun, the elves and dwarves as they were popularly known, were entering parking orbits at the sole planet of the star called Kerberos, just coreward of the Tartarus Gate, at the edge of the rim and sitting astride the only safe route from the Memphian sector.

. . . . . . .

          Further south, toward the galactic core, Augustus beamed as he arrived at Neith II. The ships of the Emperor's navy had begun to rendezvous in orbit beyond the moon even before he arrived aboard Armentarius.

          He boarded a pinnance and transferred to HIMS Legatus, which was acting as the flagship of the force.

          He met his brother inquisitor, Robert Gaihomme, at the first junction.

          "Augustus, you were expected. May your arrival bring us many blessings."
          "And you also, Robert," Augustus replied. "This fleet couldn't arrive too quickly, though I surely wish it were larger. What can you tell me of our forces?"
          "You've probably already seen all the ships. We've been dispatched with a half dozen galleons and half again as many galiots. We've a company of the Sixth Marines' finest aboard the galiots AspisFulviusCrotalus, and Ophiophagus."
          "Excellent!" said Augustus. "The sixth is a suitably ardent legion. They've no love of mutants and xenos in their ranks. We'll need that kind of dedication to cleanse this sector of heresy." He thought for a moment before continuing. "I presume that you'll accompany the fleet, correct?"
          Gaihomme answered "Correct."
          "And has any thought been given to spiritual support for the legions?"
          Gaihomme gestured to his left down the adjoining corridor. "Inquisitor Marcos Castrian will accompany them," he said, as a third grey armoured warrior monk strode into view.

          "Father Augustus," he said. "I'm honored to meet you. I've heard great things about your ardor in the Terran cause; your zeal to find and remove heresy. I hear you've found a den of it," he said grinning.
          Augustus frowned. "Indeed Marcos. The Tartarans have taken to consorting with . . . elves. And orcs! I think I might have seen a floater. There were mutants beyond counting. There might have been ape people, the benighted frogs. It's beyond comprehension, I tell you."
          "We'll sort it out and put them to the fire as lead the people down this path," Marcos said. "Don't you worry. "The Emperor's wolves will break their bones and rend their flesh ere another fortnight has passed."
          "I pray you are correct," Augustus said quietly. "Organize your troops. You will take this rather modest armada and subdue Kerberos first, so that we can use it as a forward outpost from which to launch our attack into the heart of the Rim itself. May the Holy Terra's peace guard you and may you bring His Majesty swift victory."
          Augustus took a step back. "I can't stay over long. I'll need to inspect our facilities on the surface to insure that the corruption hasn't spread this far. On the way out I sent word to a detachment of the 32nd Marines. They should be on planet now. I'll meet them. Send word after you secure Kerberos and I'll provide further instructions."
          "Yes father!" the two monks said in unison.
          Augustus strode off, re-boarded his pinnance, and soon found himself back in the comfort of a roughly Terran gravity well. This would be a long and complicated process, but in the end, he rather relished the task. He'd never before encountered such heathens in need of the Emperor's justice.

. . . . . . .

          Thank you for reading along, friends. Stay tuned for the next edition of the Sentinel Gate Affair in Episode VI: The Battle of Kerberos.

          The Composer