• Published 24th Feb 2012
  • 4,231 Views, 78 Comments

Ponies in Space - Saphroneth

A fusion fic with various space opera, mainly Honor Harrington.

  • ...

Chapter 3

Rainbow Dash flew up to the cockpit of her fighter (since all fighter jocks were pegasi, the technicians hadn’t bothered installing a ladder), entered and strapped herself in. “Okay, how’s it looking?”

One of the fighter technicians, a Petty Officer, nodded at her. “Clear, ma’am. Neural links… online. We set up the armament mix half an hour ago at least, so you should be go to launch any time.”

“Understood. Clear the hanger, PO, I’m heading out.”

As the fighter bay party left and the blast door sealed, she settled deeper into the link and felt the fighter come alive. “Okay, everyone. Ready?”

Ten green lights blinked on the HUD.


Tractors in the bay caught the fighter and flung it out into space, aiming for the point the narrowing after aspect of the drive wedge would intersect as it closed to minimum thickness. A few seconds later, the fighter was clear and its’ own drive activated.

“Everyone still here?”

Markers appeared on her screen, and the four squadrons of the attack moved around at low accelerations for a few seconds getting into formation.

Scootaloo’s voice came over. “Clear decks, Colonel! I’m assigning you the current course now!”

“You got it. Nice work. Let me know if there’s a change, alright?” She switched to the squadron main channel. “Okay, there’s one of them for every one of us, and spares for the best. Pick your targets, get the decoys in position on the way, and stay alive. Dash out.”

Twilight checked the time. “Twenty minutes to go. I think it’s time to deploy the Athena platforms, get their system check cycle done. Captain?”

“Understood. Sixth fleet, order from the flag. Deploy Athena platforms.”

Recessed shapes on both sides of each dreadnaught detached, snapping out and past the drive wedge on tractor tethers. Beamed power from an emitter in each bay woke them and began their systems test, activating powerful sensors, scanners and electronic warfare systems.

“Hey, Twilight!” the exec’s voice suddenly interjected, “The platforms just let CIC down here get a good look at that mixed force. Their dreadnaughts are actually modified to have the same signature as Mastiffs, but they’re really Pitbull-class. The others that are coming to meet us have the same ID as we originally gave them.”

“That could be a problem.” Twilight muttered. “Pitbulls are escorts - much more energy weapon rich, plasma guns and that sort of thing. Though I have to admit, with how much we’ve deleted energy armament on these Alicorns they could have been a sticky enemy. So it’s probably better they went with that group. How did you manage to see through it?”

“Oh, one of the ponies down here used to be an astronomer. So he used the platforms as a single large optical telescope! Their hulls have more energy ports and no missile ports, and their point defence clusters are visible at this resolution!”

Rarity came back into the conversation. “Good work that pony, then. Do commend him, Pinkie.”

“Of course! Uh, CIC out.”

“Captain, are we still in range for com laser to the planet?”

“Unfortunately not, Admiral. It’ll have to be radio. And I doubt that it would tell them much in any case.”

“Point well made, Captain. A thought occurs, however. Engineering. Commander, how much energy weapon fire could your battle screen stand up to?”

“Hum, well, it’s able to take ground-based plasma fire well enough… for a moment, anyway… I’d say that given the scales of the fleets we’re talkin’ about, it could take their bombardment for long enough to get everyone underground. Atmosphere’s a great help in degradin’ laser and plasma fire, too. And that kind of deep buried installation kin rely on the shielding rock… yeah, the installation can take that kind of bombardment as a whole for long enough. Good thing they won’t have long holding the orbitals before we get back, though.”

“True. I make it about thirty minutes to turnover, with that transport.”

Scootaloo raised her voice. “Admiral, the fighters are going in.”

“Thank you, Ensign.” She replied formally, zooming the plot in on the engagement. Apart from the drives, all the information they were going to get was several seconds old – and the fighters and decoy missiles looked identical even to sensors that knew what to look for at this range.

But to do anything else would be disrespectful.

“Okay, thirty seconds! Everyone, remember – Derpy, what the hell are you doing!”

The grey mare’s two fighters had gone to full dogfighting power early, pushing her out ahead of the rest of the fighters. They were attended only by ten decoy missiles, and against the fire of four full gunboat flotillas the conclusion was almost foregone.

Then the fighters fired their ship-killer missiles and snapped around in a sharp skew turn port, taking them out of the same vector as the countermissiles streaking to kill her and distracting the pilots of the gunboats. To be fair to the gunboat pilots it wasn’t as if the big shipkillers were manoeuvrable enough to hit them-

Then they detonated. Two by two, the eight enormously powerful warheads, designed to damage dreadnaughts, exploded – and their gravity lenses that normally focused the blast into their lasing rods were offline. They built a wall in space of threshing, blinding radiation, sending the main countermissile swarm haywire.

And Dash understood. Derpy had got them through the interception zone. She’d gone in alone ahead to find what the Dog gunboat computers considered “hard lock” range, then timed the missiles to fry their countermissile launch.

“Nice work, Derpy! Just, let us know next time, okay?” The short wing passed through the expanding bubbles of plasma left by the explosions, and salvoed their own missiles at what for interstellar combat was knife range – and then the gun packs began firing, and there was no time for thought.

The first, flashing, high speed pass was over. Dash swung her fighter into a turn, vision greying as her drive rode the edge of its’ performance curve. “Sound off!”

Soarin’ replied first. “My squadron has eleven effectives and one loss, lifepod is signalling and trajectory recorded. Lt. Echo should be fine, those pods have about two days’ supplies.”

“Acknowledged, Major. How did your decoys do?”

“We took about fifteen losses among them.” He sounded disgruntled.

“Looks like they were a good plan after all. What about Third, Surprise?”

“No casualties!” The white pegasus replied jubilantly. “Though I have such a big dent on my port side, and that laser’s packed in. I think it must have been a point defence laser that got through the battle screen at a glancing angle. Oh, and we lost only a couple of decoys.”

“Good to hear. Fourth?”

“One KIA. Bluebird. My computer says a pair of countermissiles took his shield and his fighter out too close together to eject. I’ve also got one lifepod beacon, that’s Sparrow.”

“Ouch, that’s rough. I was hoping we’d have no fatalities.” She checked her own indicators – there were ten fighters left in the squadron, one lifepod, but no red icons for KIA. “For my part, Minty’s shot-out and… we apparently lost another fighter?”

“My bad.” Derpy said. “I lost all my decoys, the countermissiles that were after me had locked on. And I lost Muffin Too as well.”

“That’s your second? Okay, at least it wasn’t piloted.” Dash punched a few commands into the computer, and with something that felt like itching feathers her decoy missiles replenished themselves. “Right, shake back into formation. We’re going back in. Everyone arm your shipkillers.”

“They won’t fall for it twice.” Derpy said sadly. “Not that close together.”

“Did I say anything about doing it that way? Oh, Derps, that reminds me. Can you manage a double load of decoy missiles and still fight?”

“Just about, if I concentrate. What do you want me to do? I haven’t got any ship killers left.”

“You’re going to use your gun packs and standard missiles to take snapshots, and ram them with any decoy missiles of yours that happen to be close enough when their shields go down.” Dash continued reorganizing her somewhat reduced fighter wing, sorting out the mess created by jammers and what EMP got past the particle shields. “Looks like they have about fifteen gunboats left. Everyone else get that?”

Acknowledgements came from three or four other ships. “Right. I’m marking areas of responsibility, the overlap is deliberate. I want these bastards too busy shooting down shipkillers set to proximity fuse to have the time to go after us. And then it’s a dogfight with lasers. Surprise, hang back, you’ve only got half your close in armament functioning.”

For a tiny moment, the squadron hung motionless relative to the planet, with the gunboats speeding away from them at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light. Then their immensely powerful drives accelerated them into the planetary system again, for a second attack.

“I’m reading around sixty-nine percent casualties among the gunboats, and two more leaking air. Fighters are down to forty three, with one KIA, one unmanned loss and three shot-out.”

Twilight exhaled. “I’d been fearing worse. Those gunboats are brutal in a head-on intercept.”

“True, but the decoy missiles worked wonders. Dash is coming in for a second attack with her internal weapons.”

“I want to call her off, but I can’t justify it. We really do need to make sure those things don’t jump us in the middle of a missile exchange.” Twilight said aloud. “Captain. As soon as the missile engagement is about to start I want a hard skew turn to port, and hold maximum military power to generate side vector. We do not want to interpenetrate with those dreadnaughts. And as soon as we reveal our sheer weight of broadside, they’re going to be attempting to generate an energy engagement as soon as they can – so that turn is subject to change to keep the wedge stress bands interposed.”

“Understood, Admiral.” Rarity looked away from the link, and began relaying the order.

“CIC. How good are the locks you have now?”

“We’ve got them pretty much dialled in! If they start up any EW systems of their own it’ll be a bit more dicey, but the Athena platforms are a real help! They let us make visual identification of the targets.” The Countess’ cheery voice replied.

“Fluttershy. How many salvoes will we have?”

“Ah, cycle time is fifteen seconds, so… twenty-one, counting the ones after we pass. But we don’t have that many missiles in the magazines of the pure missile ships.”

“CIC. How many point defence stations per enemy ship?”

“Ah… eighty-five! But not all of them can bear in any given firing arc, so we’re looking at more like fifty or so if they open their broadsides. Call it half countermissile, half point defence. Oh, and they have thirty or so grasers that can be used in an emergency.”

“Thank you. Fluttershy, missile transit time across the engagement envelopes?”

“Ah… first salvoes about eighteen seconds for the countermissile envelope, so two or three launches. And the energy weapons will each get one shot. That length of time will increase as we get closer, because the drives will have less time to build up their speed, but they’ll also have more manoeuvre time on the drives so the hit probabilities go up. And then the second half of the salvoes we can use full power and still have drive time, so the interception time is shorter again.”

“So their entire fleet’s point defence can stop something like three times our maximum density. But that’s assuming they’re all in range. Factor in intership spacing, what’s the most vulnerable ship – that is, which one could we get most missiles through their defences?”

Fluttershy typed away for a minute, and the plot zoomed in on the Dog battlegroup. Their icons were beginning to haze as they brought up their own EW systems, but their positions were still known by visual identification.

A red icon careted one of the DNs. “This one. It’s only in range to be supported by three of the others.”

“Assume we get a big piece of it. What after that?”

A second caret appeared.


One by one, the ten ships were designated in order.

“Right. I want one salvo per target, in that order. After that, aim for what’s left – assess each ship’s relative survival as we move on to the next.”

“O-okay. Ah, what about electronic warfare missiles?”

“Each salvo to be one-sixth or less electronic warfare. Work out your fire plan for them with the ship tac officers.”

“Missile range in two minutes.” Fluttershy said absently, finalizing her fire plan.

“Battle screen up, roll fleet.” Twilight replied. “Captain, I have little more to do in this engagement. I leave us in your capable grasp.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

The link between the bridges went into standby, and Twilight’s horn glowed. The crew were in skintight space suits as per GQ procedure, but all skinsuits made provision for their owners’ biology – indeed, Spike’s let him breathe fire through a permeable forcefield – and as a consequence the light of her magic was visible.

She barely heard Scootaloo excitedly reporting that the fighters had finished off the gunboats for no further losses, or Lt. Commmander Scratch asking what she was doing.

As for what, it was simple. She was attempting another of those feats of magic that had earned her the Golden Horn she preferred to forget about.

She was holding the armour of the Harmony in place relative to itself.

While a warship’s armour was easily capable of enduring massively destructive attacks, at least partly because it was made of magically produced, molecularly perfect crystals and metals, the kind of energy involved in a missile duel – or an energy weapons firing pass – was so monumental that it could shatter that armour. No fusing or melting with that kind of energy. And the splinters that resulted often did hideous damage to the insides of the ship, for all that it was better than letting the energy get to them directly.

The structural members of the ship lit with a shimmering indigo witchfire, startling Applejack and her engineering work parties as they made ready for damage control. It made Rarity frown, before she recognized it for what it was. It made Pinkie giggle, as the ship now matched its’ fleet flag icon. And it still made Twilight ache, for she couldn’t do it to her entire squadron.

“What are the ponies doing?”

The tac officer didn’t reply. He didn’t have anything to answer with, after all.

Rover tapped his claws on the deck irritably. “They should be turning to present their broadsides, not the roofs of their drive wedges! Have they decided to play the chicken after all?”

“All their manoeuvres so far indicate an aggressive commander, sir. They won’t back down now.”

“If they were Dogs, maybe not. But they’re ponies. They might see it as a worthwhile trade to bluff us into changing vector like we have, then recover their fighters, relaunch and send them to help with the defence of that moon.”

He chuckled harshly. “Besides. Those hybrid carriers can’t have nearly as heavy a broadside as we do. Maybe even they have finally noticed!”

“Captain, I’m picking up targeting emissions. One minute to extreme missile range.”

“Signal the fleet. Present broadsides!” Rover rapped out. As senior captain, he was in command – Dogs had fewer flag officer ranks, tending to rely on their post captains. It was part of their pack nature.

The ships slowly swung in space, generating side vector parallel to the Equestrian fleet.

“Broadsides ready, sir. All ships report cleared, and- martyred avatars!

Fluttershy depressed her firing key as the ‘ballistic time’ estimate on her console fell to zero.

It had been the energy weapons that had been removed from the hybrid carriers to free up fighter deck space, so both broadsides still carried their original complement of twenty-four missile launchers. Reprise and Cavalcade, however, had lost some of their energy armament and had the missiles in place compressed to the new “six-cell” arrangement, taking up far less broadside space. Which had allowed the engineers to fit in an extra twenty-four tubes in each broadside.

Even more important, however, was the more sophisticated new design of those missiles and launchers, allowing them to fire at a radically off-bore angle, and the Athena platforms letting them do so even when the enemy were invisible thanks to the interference of their own wedges.

All six ships opened fire with both broadsides.

Every missile made a right angle turn within the first second of launch, coming around in a great, sweeping arc and racing towards their target.

The ten Dog dreadnaughts had fired two hundred and forty missiles at the Equestrian fleet, concentrating on the lead division; Sixth Fleet replied with three hundred and eighty-four, targeted on a single Dog dreadnaught in a precise time on target salvo.

Fifteen seconds later both fleets fired again. And again. By the time the first salvo reached attack range, five more from each fleet were in space and a sixth was launching.

Sixth Fleet’s ships, while not new construction, had been extensively refitted to fit with a primarily missile-based warfare. It was in this field that the recent electronics and hardware advances could be put to the greatest use, and consequently every ship had over a hundred point defence countermissile launchers, and a similar number of laser clusters, studding its’ sides. The Athena platforms provided vital telemetry that meant the countermissiles could engage without revealing the ship itself to easy attack, and meant that when the attacking laser heads finally “popped up” past the wedge looking for the ship inside, the laser clusters could already be trained on them.

In spite of this, several missiles from the first salvo made it through the interception zones, enduring successive tithes from the electronic warfare systems, two countermissile launches, and laser clusters. Two of the missiles also impacted harmlessly on the roofs of drive wedges, their small drives barely causing a ripple in the far more powerful ship wedge.

The first hits, focused mainly on Reprise and Cavalcade, did no actual damage to the hull directly but strained the ability of their battle screen to compensate. One capacitor blew, venting into space and making Cavalcade lurch slightly starboard.

Her captain, Ruby, narrowed her eyes in frustration. But the tactical team were already engaging the second barrage and she didn’t want to jog their elbows. Deciding on a compromise, she opened a link to engineering.

“My compliments, Starlet, but could you expedite patching repairing that generator? I feel rather vulnerable without ten percent of our shield strength.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, captain. The generator’s fine – we just need to switch in the extra load to Fusion Two.”
The ship’s battle screen flared a brilliant white as it vented excess energy, the second salvo having been stopped more successfully. But by now it was clear the Dogs had identified her division as the sources of more than their fair share of missiles.

“Understood. Just get me that generator back up.”

Things were far worse for the attacking force, however.

The Equestrian attack missiles were fundamentally very similar to their Dog counterparts, but the salvo also had a few dozen electronic warfare platforms seeded into it. At carefully choreographed times, some of these missiles engaged deception-mode ECM and the attack birds moved in a complex dance around them, resulting in nearly a hundred new threat sources to assign countermissiles to as they slashed across the interception zone.

Then, as the countermissiles attempted to attain their onboard locks – thus freeing up control links for an additional launch of countermissiles – the rest of the electronic warfare missiles activated fire-confusion mode ECM and threshed the controlling ships with a wall of jamming. Half the first countermissile salvo simply wandered off into space, frustrating the Dogs controlling the fleet defence systems.

The second launch was more effective as the platforms burnt out, but by that point the missile barrage was aligning for their final attacks on the exposed broadside of the chosen target, and even the targeted ship’s main broadside grasers supplementing the point defence was not enough.

Corundum, the most exposed of the ten ships referred to by the RESN as Mastiff-class, writhed at the centre of a latticework of heavy laser fire. Her battle screen absorbed nearly a score of the bomb-pumped lasers before the generators melted in showers of sparks, and her armour was very, very strong – even more so than the Alicorns, for Diamond Dog dreadnaughts were optimized for close brawls – but not invulnerable. Alarms screamed, air boiled out of compartments ripped open by the beams, drive nodes exploded and her port broadside was reduced to ruins.

Whether Corundum could have brought her relatively lightly damaged starboard broadside into play would never become apparent, however, as one of the missiles towards the end of the salvo smashed clear into her second fusion reactor and breached it, breaking her in half with the enormous explosion.

“Clean kill, ma’am.” Fluttershy said, with a hint of sadness in her voice. Her hooves and wings, on the other hand, did not slow in their direction of the fleet fire mission.

“Good work. Now do it again.”

By the time the second salvo stooped on Garnet, the captain had managed to work out that his ship was targeted. So he spun it on its’ axis to interpose the belly stress band of his wedge, denying the incoming missiles their easy shots. This also had the effect of significantly degrading Garnet’s defence fire, but the overall result was positive. Over half of the missiles that survived to reach attack position expended themselves eroding away the battle screen, and the remainder were unable to replicate the succession of close hits that had demolished the armour and reached a reactor.

Nevertheless, the laser storm destroyed over half of the drive nodes of Garnet, reducing her acceleration to barely a hundred g, and completely removed the forward drive hammerhead. Such was the redundancy built into a military design that the rear nodes alone could sustain the wedge, but the ship’s broadsides were pounded heavily enough that the stronger held only four grasers and five missile launchers.

As the ships closed, the tempo of the missiles increased, and less and less time was available to intercept a salvo before their trailers demanded attention. Reprise lost most of her shields to the fourth barrage, and the fifth demonstrated one of the weaknesses of the new design – a single laser beam from the same missile hit the centre of one of the port launcher hexes, removing six missile launchers from the barrage in a second.

Worst of all, however, was when the two fleets closed to half of their original engagement range. At one point five million kilometres, the ninth salvo to be launched could be fired under maximum acceleration and still reach its’ target before the missile drives burned out – and the eighth, fired under half acceleration fifteen seconds earlier, reached its’ own attack range at the same moment.

Both of the Diamond Dog ships targeted by those successive broadsides were pummelled into complete ruin, hideous bubbles of nuclear fire and lances of light destroying shields, armour and machinery. A larger explosion signalled that Cordierite had barely managed to eject Fusion One before it went critical, and Spinel took such heavy damage to the drive rooms that she was reduced to a solitary sublight drive node, wedge fluctuating and down to 6 g of acceleration.

The equivalent salvoes from the Diamond Dogs had been fired with their targets spread across the entirety of Sixth Fleet, and while the integration of their defences was such that they could respond to an attack on a single ship with coordinated fleet fire, there was little more that could be done against a dispersed attack.

Reprise took a hit on number three magazine, losing almost a hundred precious unfired missiles, and several more missile tubes and a pair of xasers were destroyed along with a dozen minor wounds. Cavalcade lost her fore drive ring, instantly cutting her acceleration to half, energy blasting back from the capacitors and punishing the forward chase battery. Hyacinth lost both Athena platforms, in spite of their independent battle screen and far smaller size, and the wounds along her sides destroyed a boat bay and two mercifully empty fighter bays. Pinion was especially hard hit, at least one beam raking along each broadside and reducing her total throw weight to barely a dozen missiles. Her division mate, Mystery, came through nearly unscathed, even managing to take over the task of Hyacinth’s fire control in addition to her own.

And then it was Harmony’s turn.

Forty missiles made it through the interception zone, homing in on the ship that some Dog captain had correctly guessed was Fleet Flag, and popped up over the drive wedge stress band. A dozen were picked off by laser clusters, the remainder detonated.

Shield generators all over the ship tripped themselves out of circuit or collapsed in a shower of sparks, and then the lasers hit home on the armour.

Rarity held herself in place as the ship – her ship, her beautiful Harmony¬ – writhed under the assault. Red damage icons flashed on the schematic, detailing the chaos and damage done in spite of Twilight’s telekinetic trick. Two hits directly amidships, boat bay number one depressurized, fighter bays five and seven blown through…

“Captain!” Applejack’s voice broke in. “Fusion three’s governors just took a hit! I’m shiftin’ the load to one and two, but it’ll take a minute or so to do a clean shutdown.”

Pinkie joined the conversation, unusually serious. “Rarity, give me control.”

Rarity didn’t need to think about it. “Agreed. Helm control to CIC.”

Pinkie grabbed the emergency joystick in her hooves. They almost hadn’t included one at all, but it was there in case of heavy battle damage.

She closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating. All that missiles really were, from her point of view, were falling objects…

Her tail twitched.

Commander Raindrops, on the bridge, looked around sharply as her link to the drive wedge died. “Captain, I think we just lost helm-“

“No, Commander. Watch.” The pegasus looked at the close in tac plot, and gasped.

Harmony was rolling, pitching and yawing in a complex evasion pattern. And the strangest thing was, it was working. The next salvo of missiles found themselves unable to get locks for the precious extra second it took for Athena point defence to finish them off.

“How – skipper, how – who’s piloting?”

“Countess Pie – Pinkie Pie – is a very strange pony.”

Applejack galloped into Fusion Three. “Braeburn! How’s the bottle?”

“Still holdin’ for now, but I can’t step-down the hydrogen feeds – you’ll have to do it.”

The Commander glanced over at the readouts, and wished she hadn’t. Braeburn was having to tighten the gravitational pinch constantly to stop the wildly out-of-control fusion reaction from escaping, and one of the side effects was that the forcing pressure was itself increasing. They had to get it sorted out within the next couple of minutes, or the pinch generators would hit their max and the bottle would fail even if no more fire came in…

She shook off the thought, and started rerouting the control links to give her back control of the hydrogen feeds themselves. Some of the software had itself been scrambled by the power surge… she’d have to just do this by ear.

“Hey, cuz, how long we got?”

“I’d say about a minute fifty till the bottle fails. Pity this ain’t an external power room, eh AJ?”

“If this were an external power room, it’d have just blown t’hell the first time it actually got hit. Now keep it up!”

Down on Palomino IV-d, many of the Marines had paused in their entrenchment and were gazing up into the sky. A dense cluster of explosions was visible, down near one horizon.

Trixie walked slowly over to her commander. “She’ll be alright, Mac.”

“Ah hope so.” He drawled. “It’s just so much harder, when I can see her but I don’t know how she’s doing.”

A particularly large flash startled some of their force for a moment.

“Must have been a fusion bottle.” Trixie said quietly.

Twilight winced as another laser hit lashed at the shields. Applejack’s engineers had managed to disengage some of the generators just in time to prevent wholesale loss, and the battle screen was holding again – if barely. But she could see the damage codes that indicated the ruin her command was turning into, and they were about to reach the most dangerous portion of the firing pass.

For they couldn’t both dodge missiles and avoid giving the remaining Mastiffs a shot with their energy weapons.

“Fluttershy! Closest approach?”

“Thirty seconds, and three hundred thousand kilometres!”

She looked over at the damage codes. Mystery and Harmony were the closest to intact, and the fleet still had eight or so Athena platforms…

Tirek’s teeth, she was an idiot. Every Athena platform had redundant fire control!

“All ships, point defence fire plan Pinnule! Roll ship to interpose wedges with Dog fleet while inside energy range!”

Fluttershy initiated the stored program before Twilight had finished speaking.

Pinnule was an emergency measure. It involved taking some of the missile launchers out of the active broadside and instead ordering them to throw canisters of countermissiles out, for any control links that still existed without an attendant launcher.

Under normal circumstances, it would have resulted in one or two launchers changing mode. But with the presence of the Athenas, it allowed Sixth Fleet to control one hundred and sixty countermissiles per platform.

There were side effects, of course. Switching that many launchers away from attack mode meant that at least one Dog ship got away completely unharmed, the Feldspar able to endure the suddenly reduced missile storm with the assistance of her more damaged cohorts. And the sheer number of countermissile drive wedges produced a hail of interference that meant they nearly obscured the incoming missiles. One attack missile from Hyacinth even collided with her mother ship’s countermissiles.

But the result was enough. The heavily wounded ships of Sixth Fleet no longer needed to dodge missiles – except Harmony, now positively identified as the Equestrian flagship and target of the vast majority of the incoming salvos. Pinkie managed to steer through the cluttered space with only two more hits before closest approach, one of them a Dog electronic warfare bird that literally impacted on the battle screen.

A few seconds after closest approach and the torrent of graser fire that uselessly battered the fleet’s drive bands, Applejack contacted the bridge again.

“Rarity, it’s done. Fusion three’s shut down properly, no more risk. Now I gotta get to all the other damage control, o’course, but I thought I’d let y’all know there’s no more risk of the ship blowin’ up.”

“Much appreciated. Bridge out.”

As the fleets sped apart again and their last few parting shots were picked off, Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank Celestia… we managed to make it through that.”

Then her expression hardened. “Damage reports?”

Fluttershy looked up from her console. “Er, Mystery didn’t take any hits past the shield, though they lost half the capacitor rings. Harmony herself no longer has a backup fusion reactor, we’re down two fighter bays – fortunately we still have space for our own, though there’s debris all over a few of the surviving bays that’ll have to be cleared – and we’ve lost two missile launchers. Cavalcade is badly damaged, but Ruby says they still have the rear nodes in play and some semblance of a shield. She shot herself dry, though.”

“Hold on a moment, Fluttershy. Captain Ruby?”

The pony appeared on screen. Alarms could be heard through the video feed. “Yes, Admiral? Hold on a moment, Roneo. Sorry, Ma’am, CIC were reporting in.”

“Understandable, Captain. I need you to coordinate chasing down the pilots that were shot-out. You can’t keep company with us on only one hammerhead.”

Ruby nodded smartly. “I’ll find them, Ma’am. I’m good at that.”

“So I have heard. Sparkle out.” The window closed. “Continue, Fluttershy.”

Reprise is pretty much out of missiles as well – they have about twenty birds, though according to Sparkler there are a few dozen more in the feed queues for the destroyed launchers and work crews are recovering them.” Fluttershy then looked sad. “Pinion took the most damage. She’s got maybe eight launchers left, and her fighter bays are a wreck. Crews are clearing them now. Hyacinth lost both her Athena platforms, though she still has most of her broadside. Casualty counts are around two hundred or so, mostly on Pinion, with eighty-three fatalities fleet-wise and another ten who got time-frozen by Doctor Romana until we get back to Equestria, since they’re salvageable in ideal conditions. They’re on Reprise.

Scootaloo chimed in. “It looks like some of the fighters are going to have to orbit for a bit longer – I’ll head down to the bays we took damage in to try and help clear them. We need all the hanger space we can get, and we’re about five short fleet wide.”

“Thank you, Commander, Ensign.” She tapped a key with a hoof. “All ships excepting Cavalcade to make for the moon at maximum fleet acceleration, damage control and recovery of fighters as convenient. Ensign, if you could see your way to diverting time from your efforts with the hangers, then coordinating a transfer of missiles over to Reprise would be most appreciated.”

“Will do, Admiral.”

“Er, Admiral…” Fluttershy asked, “What about the Dog ships? I know they took heavy damage, but, er, with enough launchers they could still saturate the defence systems the marines put up…”

“Not a problem, Commander. You see…”

“Bleeding wounds!” Rover snarled, coughing. His ship had endured the clash fairly well, but fairly well differed from “unscathed”, and smoke was in the air throughout those parts of the ship that were still pressurized.

“How the hell did those ponies manage to do that?

By way of reply, his tactical officer brought up what analysis he had been able to manage. “First off, sir, they seem to have stripped out almost all their energy weapons. I don’t know how they fit them in, but the broadsides we saw were so large I can’t imagine any other explanation, even with… well. This.”

Rover’s eyes widened as he saw the recording. That was both broadsides firing at once… at a target on the other side of the roof of the wedge. “How did they guide them?”

“That, I don’t know. Possibly they worked out how to see past their own stress bands? Certainly, being able to keep the wedge interposed gave them a great advantage defensively.”

“So their broadsides were relatively normal in size – for a pure missile ship, anyway – it’s just that they were able to use them both at once? It does explain how their density of fire only went down, rather than their being able to bring in undamaged broadsides. And what’s this?”

“Oh, those were some kind of tethered point defence platforms. Lots of laser clusters, and they could poke out past the wedge to fire on missiles before they got a solution.”

The tac officer then realized something. “Sir, I think that if they did strip out all those energy weapons, their shields might have been denser than expected as well.”

“Confounded ponies… they managed to make missiles do their work? Real fighting should be at point blank range, with energy weapons! Ripping into the enemy!”

“I agree, Captain.”

“Well, we’re past them… even if we did lose four ships, basically lose a fifth, and have the rest of the fleet battered half to rubble. Get me the best trajectory you can for an orbit around the installation, I think I want to see the assault brigade at work myself.”

His navigator turned to the board, typing away.

The tac officer suddenly frowned. “That’s strange. I’m picking up sensor ghosts.”

Rover shrugged. “Probably battle damage. Spirit alone knows we took enough.”

Silver Star spoke quietly. “Fire.”

Fluttershy watched with amazement as twenty-four fresh fighters, and almost a hundred missiles, exploded from empty space within half a million kilometres of the Dog force.

At that range and bearing, flight time was under thirty seconds, and the Dogs had known they were safe. Their entire fleet was destroyed for no loss by the time the third salvo had expended itself, and the fighters were almost completely unnecessary except as confirmation.

“And that,” Twilight said with just a hint of satisfaction, “Is that.”

AN: I was totally raiding my copy of An Introduction to the Rock Forming Minerals for the names of those Dog dreadnaughts. Also, the command crew of Cavalcade are immigrants from Story of the Blanks, now rather more productively engaged.
Of the fighter pilots, I’ve tried to keep them canonical, though I believe Echo and Surprise are Wonderbolts from Ask blogs only. I don’t know if Echo is present in other gens.

I'm pretty sure all these vectors are accurate to within the limits of the writing.

So, fight scene. Any thoughts?