Today we’ve got something a bit different for you on ITSZ; story time! As a part of the campaign Jon ‘Eternal Ocean’ Gregory wants us to have an idea of what our fleets and admirals have been up to since we started collecting. While my Dindrenzi have a longer history and have more games under their belts I’m going in with the Terrans for this one. Partly to balance the teams at 3 players per side and partly because I’m enjoying the change of gameplay style from the Dindrenzi. As such, I’ve not got a lot of backstory for them so far (only the one game) so I’ve had to come at this from a different angle than the others and instead gone with a more reflective nature of story which you can find below. If you’re interested then keep reading!! Be warned, she’s a long one…
Commodore Marcus Rickard, commanding officer of the 293rd Storm Fleet SCA and master of the NTSC Triumphant, stood at the reinforced viewglass of his quarters aboard the habitation module of the Terran shipyards in the Malkan system. He looked out at the Valhalla Class refit and repair station at gravanchor above the primary planet, a gas giant used to siphon off the hydrogen required for fusion fuel while the various moons provided the heavy elements needed for armour plating, superstructure and weaponry. Lying between the articulated tooling arms of the arachnid-like station was the Triumphant; a Tyrant Class Battleship, the 3rd generation battleship of the Terran fleets.
The Tyrant Class represents years of development between the Terran military and the private arms firm Hawker industry. Boasting improved electronic warfare suites, crewed by the elite of the SCA and with a considerable number of variant options to refine each ship to her captain and intended role. She truly was a next-generation addition to what was, franking, an ageing warmachine. The Triumphant was no exception; designed to function as a centreline battleship, providing an anchor by which the rest of the 293rd could function. Designated as a Tyrant-C3-S, so named for the addition of the 3 wing capacity hangar and enhanced shielding, she was built to sit at the centre of a fleet and provide interceptor or support shuttle cover, additional point defence, and multi-directional direct fire and torpedo support to the ships of the line.
Marcus observed the various tenders and repair shuttles moving across the skin of his ship, placing subsystems and components, welding armour plating and bulkheads and refitting control thrusters and sensor suites. He raised his glass of whisky, a 30 year old McDonnell from the highlands of New Albia on Furdoran, and sipped gently, the two spheres of ice clinking lightly against each other and the intricately cut crystal of the glass. The liquor was a deep, rich gold; a by product of the long ageing process in the new Darkwood Oak barrels, a rare arboreal species native only to New Albia possessing a rich brown-black grain and high resin content. This all served to slowly bleed a potent woody note to the drink while the sweeter resins added the later elements of heavy fruits. This wondrously heady mix is concluded with a strong peaty finish, a by-product of the waters used in the distillation. It was a truly remarkable drink and one of the few luxuries that the Commodore permitted himself. He sipped again, inhaling the aromas as he did so, and contemplated the situation he found himself in.
Ten months the 293rd had been in the Malkan system following the less than ideal resolution of the Battle of the Carnagian Belt. Only three of his ships had returned from that engagement and none without damage. The Africanus and Aruga had both succeed in entering fold space at his orders to flee the engagement even as their sister ship, the Alexander, had been gutted with her Fold Space Drive half charged. The only other survivor of that engagement had been the Triumphant and she had only been spared by the slimmest of margins. Chief Engineer Borelli had quipped that what Marcus had flown back was more wreck than ship, barely void worthy. Truth be told this statement was more accurate than Marcus cared to admit; over half the crew dead, lost or injured, fires across a third of her decks, her entire Combat Air Group wiped out and a swathe of her point defence systems and weapons batteries smashed to ruin upon her surface. She had arrived at the shipyards a smouldering ruin held together by the handful of remaining engineering crews and the tenacious will of her captain.
After the duration of the refit thus far she was looking in far better shape; the interior is complete and her hull made voidproof once more and the majority of her weapons systems fitted and wired in. She still had a way to go yet; most of her final armour plating was yet to be fitted and the engines were still suffering from power fluctuations due to an issue with the fuel lines that was yet to be identified. He had been told a further 4 months would be required, keeping the 293rd out of the conflict for over a year sidereal time. This was, naturally, unacceptable. A new set of orders had come through requiring the fleet to move against a new Zenian incursion the Kurak scouts had discovered would be occuring in just under 2 months sidereal; so Marcus had insisted on triple shifts, round the clock work until the Triumphant was completed. 6 weeks remained on the repairs and that would be cutting it fine to rendezvous with the two other fleets assigned to the battle sector in the northern Storm Zone.
Considering his upcoming allies a moment, the Commodore looked away from his vessel towards the lyrideck in the corner of his quarters. He had received word he would be fighting alongside Nate Leopold and his ornately painted ships. It was no secret among the flag officers, and even among a few of the ratings, that Rickard and Leopold were less than close. Where Nate saw Rickard as overly utilitarian, lacking flair and imagination, Rickard considered Nate an elaborate fop, a gilded lily where the navy needed a thorn. That being said, and while he would never admit such in his presence, Marcus would concede that perhaps there was something to Nate’s love of classical music. The music player was currently threading the room with the sounds of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a composition that had struck even the utilitarian Commodore as a genuinely beautiful piece of music.
Turning back to the view, he scanned the black until his eye fell upon the newly reformed Hammer Squadron. His original trio of Hauberk Class Heavy Cruisers, or what remained of them, lay further in system alongside the Alexander undergoing what was in truth more of a rebuild than a repair. The Herakles, Hermes and Hephaestus all but gleamed in the light of the system’s pale blue star, their hulls freshly painted in the livery of the 293rd upon receipt from the ship forges of the central systems. Even as he considered the relatively new arrivals Sword Squadron, his first flotilla of Armsmen Class Frigates, returned from their routine system patron and adopted their traditional position in the ship line around the facility. Considering his fleet reminded him of those he had lost those few months ago; this was compounded by the notification that arrived 4 cycles ago that the Corsican fleet were reported to be one of the aggressors in the latest Zenian assault.
He remembered standing on the bridge of the Triumphant watching helplessly as his ships died around him, the systems of his flagship failed and his crew died. He remembered watching on the pictscreens as his security details repelled the aggressive Dindrenzi boarding parties at no small loss of their own. He remembered the pain of having to watch the Boar, Losier’s flagship, shrink into the distance as the Triumphant slipped quietly out of the system. But most of all, he remembered returning to retrieve the wrecks of his ships for repair and finding the scant survivors of his ships; Captain Parker of the Horatio had died as his bridge explosively decompressed, Captain Rudet of the Hardrada had been run through by a beam, pinned to his command console, Captain Reinke of the Hannibal had survived, barely, and now lay in a medically induced coma in the medward of the station. Of their crews less than a quarter had made it through and over a full half of them were medically discharged from service.
But it was not these that cut him deepest. He himself had gone aboard the remains of the Alexander in search of her captain; Anna Campbell. He knew how it would look, he had already heard the rumours even while she had lived, muttered whispers of their goings on. He didn’t care. Even as the shuttle approached the wreck and the spotlights stabbed out across the capital ships hull he knew it would be hopeless. One of the beams glanced across the bridge and the Commodore ordered it back; what he saw struck him cold. The entire bridge lay open to space, girders twisted out to space like gnarled fingers clutching towards a saviour that had never arrived. He ordered the shuttle to dock, overriding the protestations of the chief engineer that there would be little point searching such a wreck for survivors.
Donning a voidsuit he stepped through to the bridge, walking round to the command console he had looked down at his former lover. It sickened him a little to see that she had not died well; one side of her body was burned with glinting shards of glass and metal embedded in the flesh where the torpedo detonation had ripped aside the plating on the starboard side of the bridge. But this was not what had killed her. The bloodshot eyes and locked open jaw showed she had suffocated in the vacuum of space even as she bled and burned in her chair. While he could never know the truth of the matter he liked to think that she had died still trying to extricate her vessel and save her crew, or perhaps knowing that escape was hopeless trying to line up one final salvo at the arrogant bastards who had brought this pain to her and her ship.
A chime snapped him from his reverie, leaving the bitter, acrid taste of those memories in his mouth. He drained his glass to wash away the thoughts and bid entry to his visitor. The door slide aside to reveal the broad shouldered outline of Captain Thomas Stephenson, master of the Acheron and 2IC of the 293rd. Widely regarded as a highly competent flag officer it was a mystery to many as to why he had yet to be given his own fleet to command which surely could not be far away. The truth of the matter is that he had already been offered the command of 3 separate fleets and turned them down; he didn’t want it. Hearing that his old academy mate was one refusal away from being ordered to accept command of a long range patrol fleet plying the Relthozan borderlanes Marcus had stepped in and requested that both he and the Acheron be transferred to the 293rd’s command as 2IC, a proposition which both the admiralty and Thomas had accepted.
Marcus turned to welcome his friend, offering him a healthy measure of the whisky as he did so. Thomas took the glass, exchanging it for series of despatches from across the fleet that the Commodore would get to later. His first officer, Hobbs, was still recovering from a number of wounds so Thomas had agreed to take on some of his responsibilities while the fleet was at anchor and there was little for flag officers of his rank to do.
“The men are restless,” growled Thomas in his gravelly tones.
“The men are always restless, my friend. 10 months at gravanchor is enough to put even the laziest rating on edge. The next 6 weeks need to go quickly. The sooner we have a damn good fight ahead of us the less likely they’ll be to start one with each other.” Thomas joined him at the window.
“A fair point. But I get the feeling you didn’t ask me to come to see you to discuss the men’s morale.”
“Astute as ever, Thomas. I actually wish to discuss the officers of the new Hauberks; you’ve served with them in the past but I’ve not had them under my command before.”
“Well, McGowan and Hopper are hardy captains with good rapport with their men and maintaining strong discipline across their ships. McGowan occasionally gets a bit hot-headed in combat, there’s a fire in him that needs to be damped before he can be given command of anything larger though he would be competent in a Marshall if he can get control of that. That being said his tactical nuance and oversight is invaluable, hence why he leads the squadron aboard the Herakles. Hopper is a steady hand and serves to temper some of McGowan’s more… excessive ideas. But, he lacks some of the imagination of his senior captain.”
“What about Captain Arnold? He is relatively new to the role is he not?”
“Yes, sir. He took command of the Hermes 6 months ago sidereal on transfer from the 118th Fathom. I’ve not seen how he handles his vessel in combat but by all accounts his men love him; he transferred over key members of his bridge crew when he moved. I’m confident he’ll hold his own but I can assign an ensign from my crew if you like?”
“No that won’t be necessary. Come, we should start our game if we’re to finish before 3rd bell. Start up the holoboard,” Marcus nodded towards the 6 foot by 4 foot table that stood in the centre of the room, doubling as a mess table when needed it now stood clear, it’s holographic surface gleaming. “I’ll bring the whisky over. And this time I want you to command a Terran fleet; I want to try and get a better sense of how these unrefined Dindrenzi ships fly. It might help give me an edge the next time I face those damned Corsicans.”
“That’s fine, sir. I’m confident I could give you a run for your money with any fleet you care to choose. The usual stake?” Thomas had mastered the art of flirting the line of humorous rapport and insubordination which had simultaneously endeared him to, and frustrated, his superiors. Luckily for Thomas, Marcus had known him too long to rise to his bait. The senior officer genuinely smiled for the first time that day.
“Why don’t we up it a little? Say, a bottle of the McDonnell against a box of your favourite cigars? What are they called again?”
“The Jalehandos? Deal.” As the white-blue light of the holotable underlit the two officers their glasses met with a light clink. The game was on.