The vessel off the port bow slowly rotating in the blackness of space. A small ship of the Hegemony's Intrepid
class, it was a scout ship equipped with an advanced lab well suited to the exploration of the Void, and any of the potentially powerful - or lethal - precursor artifacts scattered here and there about the galaxy.
This scout, and a nearby freighter, were fated to do no more exploring. Commander Wilson sighed; their gutted remains were a sad sight, as well as a trophy to the ineptness of their former captains. Assuming they'd even had a chance to recognize or respond to what hit them before it was all over. Space warfare, Commander Wilson knew, was almost always over before it even properly began. The mathematics of defeat were often plain to both the defeated and the victor before any weaponry even reached their targets.
"Weapon's fire, definite weapon signatures on both hulls and some of the surrounding space debris. This was not a stellar accident or navigation failure, Sir."
"Unknown origin?" Wilson kept his voice calm, but inside he tensed. Of all the terrors endless space could conjure, little was as dreaded as a new enemy. A new unknown
enemy, he reflected. Knight-Commodore of the Hegemony fleet, he was no stranger to battle nor to the flush of victory in the aftermath.
"No sir. Weapon signature's are known to us and present in the computer's memory archives. Kzinti, without a doubt. There's also traces of fusion drives and a hyperdrive eddy. Yet they're . . . odd, Sir. "
Wilson turned to the Lieutenant. This junior officer, Lt. Peabody, was a calm, almost cold man with who displayed little emotion. One of the latest Knights from the biotanks on a nearby colony ship. Wilson had little liking for these cold, almost robotic pseudo-men, but he couldn't deny their efficiency. "Odd?"
"Eddy currents speak of several . . dozen . . .yes, dozen ships, sir. A small fleet. Yet only a few engaged our exploratory force. In fact, too few to easy defeat us - there, that debris is not ours, but from a Kzinti vessel, a fighter.". Wilson's eyes followed the pointing finger and grunted. Chewing on the narcostick, he slowly nodded.
"Those sighted us and the others kept on moving . . . even avoiding our vessels. Plainly instructed not to attack us, yet some disobeyed. Likely a little-bloodied captain of those reeking cat-men seeking coup and fresh meat."
"Yes, sir. I thought the Kzinti command structure was strict and well regimented?"
"Hardly" the Commander replied. "Fierce, yes, formidible in body and spirit. Yet not so well disciplined. Given the size of the force that avoided us, he's either roasting over his leader's fire-pit right now, or displaying the heads he captured. . . . either depending on his political or clan standing with their own commander. "
"Order, sir". Wilson sighed, then nodded. "We cannot allow them to get away with this without bloodying them, or they'll return with a force large enough to damage even the Star Warden
. That cannot be allowed". His eyes wandered over the maps, then fixed on a habitable world some ten light years away. Scanned from afar, it was revealed to be a barren desert world with little in the way of value. Yet energy signatures cryptic before now made sense. A small Kzinti force lingered there, likely bored fightercraft and mining vessels.
"Set the fleet to flank speed. Encircle this system " his finger stabbed down upon the screen, virtually pinning the spheroid that was the icon representing the planet.
"Standard "Rally Boy" maneuver, yet do not enter orbit. That will likely throw them into disarray, attempting to guess our motive. "
The Lieutenant turned. "Not enter orbit, Sir? Why encircle at all?" The Lieutenant blanched then, as Wilson turned a beady eye on the junior officer. The skin of the Commander's face rippled sparkling gold, fractal tattoos as current rang along the the biotech pathways connecting the various implants imbedded just below the skin. Wilson grunted, then grinned; perhaps here was an officer worth cultivating, few of them would dare to speak so, out of turn, to a Knight-Commander of the Irrefutable. The luminescence of his skin faded back to normal as the datastream packet he mentally sent to the officer's own implants arrived.
"We destroy every fighter craft coming up to meet us - and, believe me, the Kzinti will come up, they're aggressive to a fault. Then destroy every craft in orbit from the outside, excluding mining vessels or non-combantants.
"Once that is accomplished they'll be a larger Kzinti fleet on the way. We're not there to conquer the outpost, which will also delay them as they will likely pause to bolster its defenses once more."
Immediately withdraw into this sector " he muttered, tracing a line with his finger. The computer complied to the touch, sensing the biotech device implanted in the Captain's finger, and a glowing line sprang up from the semi-intelligent console. A few light-years away from the outpost, it was at the edge of a dark sector with few stars and no habitable worlds. "A large nebula that will hide us and mask the bulk of our fleet. Not enough to prevent them from finding us, but it'll give them pause and their sensor techs headaches."
"Then we wait, and see if they want to dine, or to talk. Either way we'll give them a bloody snout and a belly-full of their own blood . . . and maybe gain the respect we're warranted."