• Published 24th Feb 2012
  • 4,232 Views, 78 Comments

Ponies in Space - Saphroneth

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

  • ...

Chapter 4

“Right, everyone. Fleet accel?” Twilight asked.

“Ah, one-ninety.” Fluttershy volunteered. “Pinion holds us back a lot, but they’ve also got quite a lot of fighter bays.”

“Given the choice, I’ll keep the fighters and spend more time.” Twilight said with finality. “They’re a substantial portion of our firepower anyway. Work out a rendezvous with third division in as short a time as possible, don’t compromise our accel curve though. Remember, if we do pass the Hyper limit it might be easier to just dump velocity there.”

“I’ll get on it.”

“Thank you, Fluttershy. Oh, and keep an eye on that Kennel, I’m a bit put off by it just hanging around like that.”

“Okay, Admiral, it looks like about two hours ten minutes to reach Palomino-IV d on a zero/zero intercept.” Fluttershy said a few minutes later. “Third division have to make up some overtake, but they can rendezvous with us before our at-rest point, let alone our turnover.”

“Thank you again. That’s good news. And what of the second Dog fleet?”

“They found an extra few g somewhere. They’ll beat us to the planet, but not by much.”

“They must really be redlining that freighter’s drive, then.” Twilight mused. “What about if they don’t go for zero/zero and dump a lot of velocity on entry for the assault brigade?”

“I’m assuming that. Without it, we’d beat them back by about ten minutes.”

“Very well. Transmit an appraisal of the current situation to the groundside forces, and emphasize that we can’t give them any sort of fighter support until we’ve dealt with their orbital forces and then rearmed the fighters.” Twilight manipulated her console. “Dash, you alright?”

“Yeah. Lost a few, but Cavalcade’s off to pick up all the shot-out pilots. Better tell AJ to get breaking out that spare fighter we have crated up, though, Derpy lost her second fighter.”

“Yes, I saw the manoeuvre. Inspired. I wonder if it would work on an enemy missile launch…”

“Eh, you can work that out later. I’ve just received the green light from Scoots – my bay’s clear. Dash out.”

“Engineering. How’s the ship, Commander?”

“Could be worse. Hell, could’ a been that we blew up ten minutes ago – fusion reactor going critical ain’t like some fission pile.”

“Can she fight?”

“Depends how much. We still got the Athena links, tight as you please, but energy range’d be more dicey than usual. And we got missiles for only a few salvoes.”

“I see. We’re going to try to rectify some of that with Third Division’s magazines, but it’ll be more for your work parties to do.”

“Ah’m game. So long as ah don’t have to do it by my lonesome. That never works.”

Twilight managed a chuckle. “Okay. Flag out. CIC.”

Pinkie’s face appeared. “Hiya! What is it?”

“Well, I noticed that you were steering us for the last part of that missile engagement. Er, why is that?”

“It’s just something I can do. I can kinda-sorta-tell the future at times, and I felt it a-coming so I took the helm. I’ve done it before, AJ and Rarity can tell you, they were on the Harmony last cruise! That’s part of how we avoided getting damaged much!” Pinkie rattled off.

Twilight blinked. “Er, I see. Okay, don’t let me keep you.”

“Okie Dokie!” The screen blanked.

“I swear, I will never understand that pony…”

Lt. Lyra nodded from her chair. “She’s stranger than sea serpents, and that’s saying a lot.”

Fluttershy’s wings flapped out in shock, then she pulled them hastily back in and blushed. “Er, sorry…”

“Don’t worry. What is it?”

“The wedge signature of that Kennel just vanished off the scope. It was really sudden, and I didn’t spot their hyper generator cycling up. I know that I shouldn’t be able to pick it up at this range, but – well, the light speed sensors didn’t spot anything.”

“Hmmm… put them on screen. I want to see what it was doing.”

The screen lit, with images in several bands of light, from UV to visible to IR and radar. The sidebars indicated that very little had changed in the past hour or so.

“Well, who knows. Maybe they-“

The gunboat tender abruptly exploded.

“-Whoa! What just happened!”

The repeater screens in the pilot’s ready room displayed the sudden explosion. Dash frowned, then nodded over at it. “Wonder what caused that?”

“My bad.” Derpy said casually, munching on a muffin.

Most of the squadron did a double take. “What?”

“Oh, sorry. When we fought the gunboats, I had a decoy missile that got hit on the ECM emitter. I was going to just throw it away, but I saw that the gunboat ship hadn’t actually put any drive power on since it appeared. So I made a guess that it wasn’t going to do that at all, and sent the missile on its’ way. Sort of a special delivery.”

Dash found her voice. “You mean you sent a tiny little missile the size of my leg off towards a gunboat tender nearly two light minutes away, just to see if they were going to manoeuvre out of the way?”

“Yep! Muffin’ doing!”

Scootaloo shook her head wearily, and trotted out of the room. On the way, she shouted back “Now I have to tell the bay crews to stencil even more silhouettes on the side of your new fighter!”

“Oh, Dinky Doo. Yes, thank you muchly for doing that.” Derpy said brightly.

“What did you name that one after? I know you named the first one Ditzy Doo, and your one that was destroyed was Muffin Too – not a bad joke, actually – but Dinky?”

“Daughter.” She replied, and returned to her meal.

“Uhh, Admiral? Dash here. Thought you should know – that gunboat tender? It was, er, Derpy. Again.”

“Somehow, I’m less surprised than I should be. Thank you for letting me know, Colonel. How’s your squadron?”

“Bay crews are fixing up what damage we took – mostly a matter of redundant links that got burned out by the blasts, lost capacitors on the battle screen, that sort of thing. Derpy’s taken one of the crated spare fighters as she can fly it. Oh, and I assume you want the anti-shipping loadout?”

“You assume correctly. We’re going to want their space forces destroyed before we can start interfering in the ground battle – that is, as much as we can interfere, given that it looks like they’ll make it down first.”

“Yeah, I gotcha. Given the kind of firepower Dog mechs have, it’ll be fighter strikes all the way – can’t let anything as relatively un-manoeuvrable as this turn up in close LOS of them. Especially with most of the shield generators melted and on only two reactors.”

“Exactly my reasoning. Make sure to replenish the decoy missiles as well, though.”

Dash chuckled. “Don’t have to tell me twice. Those things saved our flanks. Well, I’ll leave you to it – I got some squadrons to reorganize. Dash out.”

Fluttershy careted an icon. “Turnover. The transport’s going to hit atmosphere at, er, wow. That’s… quite fast.”

“Good thing they’re coming in on the other side to the installation, that’s going to be a brutal airshock on the atmosphere as they slow down. Might even cause some kind of typhoon in the next few days, that much heat dumped into the atmosphere and hence the oceans. I think our fighter pilots might be needed to do extra cloud-busting duty.”

“Er, I knew Rainbow Dash at one point, before, I mean. She’s very fast outside the cockpit as well as in it – she might be able to do quite a lot on her own.”

“Most fighter jocks are pretty fast out of their birds. It’s how they get the reflexes they need.” Twilight looked distant for a moment. “I wonder what it’s like. I mean, I found a spell to generate wings, but they’re fragile butterfly-things, and they don’t really work well with actual speed flying. Teleporting is much quicker.”

Fluttershy looked downcast. “I’ve never been a fast flyer. It’s part of why I’m a tac officer – not many pegasi go into tactical, and our spatial senses help with fleet planning.” By the end of the sentence, she was barely audible.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to upset you. Come on. Go and get some rest for an hour or so, you’ve only had a few hours of sleep. Actually, we’d better all do that.”

“O-okay, thank you.”

Rarity blinked. No, she wasn’t imagining that – the telltales on her console had just showed Harmony’s maximum shield strength doubling.

“Applejack, this is the Captain. Did you just manage to bring two extra generators online?”

“Yep, ah did. Just running a full-power test for now, since they take a load of power, but we’re going to step them down and then put the last pair we’re workin’ on up for the same.”

“But however did you manage to work this miracle? We don’t carry nearly enough spares, I thought.”
“Well, we got a mighty capable machine and ‘tronics shop. Few spare parts for things like drive nodes, ‘an some of the xaser projectors, and of course we took Fusion three apart… they’re not so hard to make when you git down to it, ‘specially with enough willing hooves. It’s a good thing we didn’t take a hit on hold three, though, that’s where mosta this stuff was.”

Rarity frowned. Applejack was considerably understating her achievement – warship parts were hardly modular. In fact, it must have been a considerable achievement even getting the parts to the same workshop – the only xaser projectors on the ship were fore and aft, while the shutdown fusion reactor was amidships. And as for the software needed to get that monstrosity to work properly…

“If you say it’s fine, then it’s fine, AJ. Good work, though I don’t even begin to understand how you did it.”

“Sure thang. And Rarity?”


“Ah think that’s the first time y’all ever used mah nickname. Thanks.”

“So. Any questions?”

Every pony in the room, and a number of them on board the other six ships still in company with Harmony, digested the plan.

Silver Star spoke first. “So the plan is to mix in the missiles with the fighters?”

“Correct.” Twilight replied.” We’ve programmed an IFF discriminator into them, of course. Though it’s more a case of timing the missiles so they arrive as the fighters make their run, so the fighter-launched shipkillers can add to it. We’re planning on seeding as many EW birds as we can, both fire-confusion heads and deception-mode heads, into the salvo to draw enemy fire – as far as we know, the Dogs don’t have anything, even ARAD missiles,” an ancient term for missiles that homed in on ‘radar’ sources, “able to discriminate between latest generation ECM and the real thing.”

“And then you want the fighters to fight a close action with those monster Pitbulls? Fighters don’t have a drive wedge to block with. It’d be an awful risk.”

“I don’t deny that. But we have made readjustments to the fighter ordnance packs. They’ve been equipped with one heavy deception-mode missile each that’s been set to replicate the signature of an entire fighter–and-decoy shoal, and since the decoys are programmable to some extent we’ve latched two of them to each deception-mode missile to replace losses – without betraying the fighters themselves, that is. In addition, we’ve switched mode on the fighter battle screen to ablative – it won’t take many hits like that, but it will be able to take a plasma cannon shot without simply killing the pilot.” Ablative mode didn’t try to absorb the energy of a shot and reradiate it as normal battle screen did, instead flaring the shield outwards and dispersing it in response to a hit – any hit. “And finally, we’re spotting missiles into space with a firing delay, so we can manage the maximum density the Athena platforms can control – totalling about six hundred and sixty missiles in addition to our remaining standard control links. I know that after that we’ll have maybe two normal salvos each, but it’s the best chance we have.”

“Yeah, yeah, point taken. Guess it just don’t feel right, I’m used to having a lot more missiles in my magazines.”

“That’s the nature of the beast with this new ship design. I know one thing I plan on recommending the second we get back to Epona is about twice the magazine space. I’m afraid we didn’t really look much at slower-speed firing passes when we were gaming the technology out – that and fighting at a numerical disadvantage.”

Scootaloo raised her voice next. “Would it be possible to use cloak ECM on the fighters to get around into a better attack position?”

“Unfortunately, no. It’s something I considered, but we’d have to remove either the laser pack or one of the missile packs to fit it on, and either option leaves the fighters a little under gunned for taking on a dreadnaught. Good question, and if we had more time to work the fleet around into a blind spot as well I’d do it, but the longer they’re in orbit the more they can wear down the installation’s defences – ten minutes is pushing it as it is.”

“Okay.” The fleet ATO nodded to herself, digesting the explanation – and lesson.

“Hey! Uh, Firefly here, Brindle’s squadron leader?”

“I recognize your voice. And attitude. You and Colonel Dash are too much alike.” Twilight smiled to take away the sting. “Anyway, your question?”

“Any reason we can’t send a few decoy shoals under shipboard control to fake attacks from other directions? I mean, they use countermissile links, right? And your Athena platforms have the links to spare.”

“An excellent suggestion. Ensign, would you mind getting it set up? Decoy missiles are one thing we have in abundance.”

“Uh, okay! Each fake squadron would take a lot of links, though…”

“Not a problem – use rotating links for pairs. That should let you manage to fake, oh, about three times our total squadron strength complete with attendant decoys. We’ll be going in stern-first, by the way – that’ll keep our shipboard control links clear for the actual countermissiles, and of course let us complete deceleration. Now, as for target assignment, we can assume that the Pitbulls are…”

“Status change! Their main body has gone to full power deceleration for the dreadnaughts, while the transport is maintaining its’ own maximum power. Separation between their vectors is opening at one point five KPS squared.”

“Thank you. Does that affect our timings in any way?”

“We’ll reach them a few minutes sooner relative to their time they reach the moon, but apart from that not really.” Fluttershy checked another time tick. “Fighter launch in thirty seconds. Ensign, prepare the decoy missiles.”

Next to her, Scootaloo activated the Athena platforms and brought the main missile broadsides online. Many of the launchers had as their first round a canister of decoy missiles, as the most effective way of getting them into space without emptying the revolver magazines of the fighters.

“Ready, commander.” Her own eyes were now glued to the clock as it spun down through the final seconds.

“Colonel?” She said quietly, as it went past five.

“Yeah, Scoots?” Came back over her communicator. Dash’s voice was slightly odd-sounding from the effect of the cockpit acoustics, but the eagerness came through clearly enough.


Dash gave a wild grin. “You got it!”

With a sensation like the first downbeat of her wings on takeoff, she shot forth from Harmony and straight out of the forward aspect of the drive wedge (facing away from the moon, since the ship was decelerating.)

Glancing at her flight board to ensure everyone else was in space, and lingering for a moment on the pair of fighters flown by Derpy to check she was running Dinky Doo properly, she began setting up her squadron and decoys. Each squadron was going to be operating semi-independently on this attack, coming in from widely dispersed vectors, and to get that organized in the fifteen minutes or so before the attack went in she had to hurry.

At least she didn’t have to worry about her own fighter. She’d only been flying Wonderbolt for a few months, but the Aurora felt more like the extension of her body it was supposed to be than even her old Sonic Rainboom.

Lights pinged green. Her squadron were ready and formed up. She watched as the other five shook into formation, as did the swarms of countermissiles running Scootaloo’s program. She noticed that they had used their launch geometries to appear as one sprouting five more, just like the fighter signatures themselves. Attention to detail.

Her squadron was the third cluster of points to start moving to their start positions, after one decoy cloud and Firefly’s fifth.

The Chondrite-class Diamond Dog assault transport Coesite occupied well over a million cubic metres of space, with a wedge hundreds of kilometres on a side and the capacity for an entire armoured brigade in its’ holds. This kind of manoeuvre was one it was designed to be able to perform – using the enormous, perfectly flat, inviolate plane of the wedge as an air brake.

The coupling between the wedge and the hull was extremely inefficient when engaged, with only a tenth of a percent of the theoretical momentum change being actually exerted on the hull. But the sheer size of the wedge meant that there was a lot of force to go around. As the plane of focused gravity swept down the air literally could not get out of the way fast enough, compressing in front of the ship, heating to incandescence and leaving a vacuum behind.

All the gravity plates on the ship itself were capable of cancelling most of the effects of the manoeuvre when it was performed as shallowly as this, barely skimming into the atmosphere at first. That didn’t mean it was enjoyable, and the passengers and crew of the Coesite had to briefly cope with gravitational stresses well over ten g.

For ten seconds, the ship left a blazing trail of plasma behind it, and then it slowed to the point the compression heating of the air no longer ionized it and entered a rather more normal flight regime in counter-gravity. Coesite lumbered down over the expanse of the main continent, crossing hundreds of kilometres of steppe, gentle plains and the occasional mountain range, before alighting minutes after it had begun descent in a catchment feeding the river Fluttershy had identified days before.

Her marker was barely a kilometre out.

But those minutes of descent were hardly idle ones above.

Rarity checked something on the main screen. “Admiral, I see the assault transport has reached the moon. Initial sensors show heat pulse on the farside, humidity skyrocketing.”

“Acknowledged, Captain. However, we have Dogs of our own to deal with. Please pass order to all ships to begin spotting their missiles for the attack.”

The seven dreadnaughts ceased their deceleration towards the planet, coasting with wedges on standby. Those of them with mostly full magazines – principally Stellar and Brindle – started launching missiles under no-power settings at maximum rate. Ninety-six flowed into space every fifteen seconds, and one by one Athena platforms took control of their allotment.

With the launch geometries, the range for missiles on full power was barely greater than that for the countermissiles – and both forces were holding their fire in a kind of game of chicken, not willing to fire on half power lest they provoke the other into doing the same.

But now, with Sixth Fleet still a considerable time from the planet, they were forcing the issue. Hounds were less powerful than the Mastiffs they’d torn apart with missile fire, but their smaller energy signatures and the nature of the two fleets’ make up made the discrepancy in their armaments much less than it should be. The cruisers were agile enough to dodge missile fire more adroitly than a dreadnaught, fast enough to close the distance with their enemy at unsettling rates, and more heavily armed in energy broadside than even Reprise and Cavalcade.

The Pitbulls, of course, were even worse. Escort ships built on dreadnaught hulls, they made use of all the tonnage saved in missile armament with heavier point defence, stronger shields, tougher armour – and twenty-four enormous Plasma Cannons, firing blasts of energy each powerful enough to overload a shield generator.

All of this meant that a close range clash with the Dog fleet would heavily damage Sixth, possibly even destroy them. Fighters, on the other hand, were such tiny targets that most of that heavy firepower would find itself without a hard lock, and useless – so they with their internal lasers could do the killing, knifing through armour at ranges that prevented beam dispersion and maximized the effects of the weapons.

“Missile spot complete.” Fluttershy said, as Harmony’s Athena platforms took the last of their share. By now, even Stellar and Brindle were careted with an icon marking critical ammunition shortage.

“Fighters in place.” Scootaloo said, across her.

“Execute.” Twilight said softly, and nearly eighteen hundred missiles came to life.

Dash saw the storm front of missiles appear barely a million kilometres from the Dog ships, and gave a feral grin entirely out of place on a herbivore. “Alright, everyone, good hunting!”

Wonderbolt snapped to full dogfighting acceleration, and her squadron followed her. And the other five squadrons, and the swarming decoy missiles. They made a massive target for enemy point defence, of course, though only one in twenty-four of the signatures represented a real fighter.

But the Dogs had other things on their minds at the moment. The launch range of the missiles was short enough they had only three countermissile launches, and they’d been ready for something – not this, but something – so their first launches were off while the attack front was still shaking down into formation. But every countermissile that went the way of the missile storm was one not aimed at the fighter group.

Dash watched the range counters spinning down. She was well within shipkiller range, but firing them would reveal which of the squadrons were the true ones. So she held fire, held fire, until the other broadsides of the Dog ships began firing at the fighters.

Only then did she order the launch, and dozens of fresh missiles slashed in from the Auroras.

The broadsides of the Pitbulls and Hounds were up to the task of destroying the missiles, of course – they were moving slowly, the demands of minaturization to fit an enormous warhead in a missile that could be launched from a fighter meaning they were sluggish and “idiotic” – but it took time and weapons away from killing fighters, and the fighter wing stooped on their targets in the wake of their shipkillers.

“Don’t linger for now, remember!” Scootaloo reminded everyone. “You’ve got to break off before the ship missiles arrive!”

“Yeah, I got it.” Dash muttered. Spinning Wonderbolt on its’ central axis, she darted towards the stern wedge aspect of a Hound, locking the shot into the fighter’s powerful but specialized computer.

The rest of the squadron did the same, moving in a complex dance to confuse the fire control of the enemy point defence clusters, then fired in rapid sequence with both internal and pack-mounted lasers. The battle screen of the Hound flared as the high-energy blasts pocked it, and two fighters shifted aim as a black patch of local failure appeared – probably a result of a capacitor blowing. Lasers that strobed through that gap hit the rear chase weapons, resulting in an immediate reduction in the fire targeting the squadron, and as the pegasi continued their aerial ballet more of them were able to exploit the gap – until, with a flare, the shield shut down completely.

Unfortunately, by that point the fighters were barely a thousand kilometres away.

Dash hauled Wonderbolt away in a high-side vector turn, feeling the drive strain as it she were making a turn with her own wings, and glanced back as she completed the wheel.

The Hound was racked with explosions, stern to bow, and most of them seemed to result from deep wounds along the top and bottom. That wasn’t surprising per se, the dorsal and ventral angles of a warship weren’t armoured – the wedge was so close to the hull, relatively speaking, that adding armour there was almost pointless compared to spending the mass budget on weapons or on thicker side armour – but that at least two of her fighters had made the audacious decision to fly inside the wedge was astonishing. Checking, she saw that Dinky Doo had done it, along with Wind Whistler’s Buccaneer.

“Nice work, Whistler, Derpy!” She congratulated them over the squadron channel. “And well done, everyone, if the rest of the wing did that well then we might not need the missiles!”

Those were her last words before a flare of intolerably bright light, and then blackness.

“Tracking… three cruisers out of commission, Admiral, and only one dreadnaught still has shields!” Scootaloo said excitedly. “I’m reading… oh, no.”

“What?” Twilight said urgently, alerted by the sudden change in her assistant tactical officer’s voice and stance. Getting up, she walked over to the station.

Rainbow Dash’s icon, alone of the entire strike, had gone red – fighter lost. And unlike most of the casualties they’d suffered earlier on, there wasn’t the yellow halo of a life pod.

“What happened?”

Fluttershy didn’t answer, too busy updating the final attack targets as the missile strike roared in, though tears rolled down her face.

Scootaloo eventually forced herself to explain. “By the looks of it, one of those monster plasma c-cannons hit her, and the shield ablation wasn’t enough. Some of the blast leaked through, and – those, those guns are meant to hurt ships our size!”

Feeling tears start in her own eyes, Twilight suppressed them as best she could. Her ponies needed her, and they needed her competent, not grieving over a single colonel who just happened to be part of her command team – and who’d got to know her, been a friend.

“Fluttershy. Report.” She said, voice like iron.

Nobody on the flag bridge was fooled, though. Not after seeing their Admiral’s eyes glistening.

Dash came groggily to consciousness, and felt out of place. Like her head was full of felt, like something was missing.

Blinking them open, she saw that she was in the cockpit of a fighter. That was fairly normal. But why was she asleep? And why wasn’t she flying the fighter? The rush of the engines like wind at her back, the throb of the reactor like a second heartbeat?

Still groggy, she looked around, and more things leapt out at her as wrong. The dashboard – hee, dash-board – was dark, instead of being covered with lights. The heads-up display was missing entirely. And everything in front of her, past the window, was spinning crazily…

Tailspin. She thought automatically, practically reflex from flight school. Stall, coupled with uncoordinated turning. Recover by correcting rotation rate to stabilize, then decrease angle of attack to regain control.

Then it hit her. She was out of control. Something had blasted her fighter so severely that it no longer functioned, but the cockpit and some of the remainder was still intact.

By the looks of things, even the beacon was dead. She probably seemed lost from the outside, which explained why the Dogs hadn’t finished the job with a laser cluster or something. But since she was so close to the planet, she must have been out for several minutes – the planet!

“Oh, great…” she muttered. “I’m not just shot out, but I’ve managed to find a way to be shot down.”

Focus. Crashing. First things first, get out of the fighter. Her beloved Wonderbolt was now more of a hunk of dead weight acting as a meteorite, and it was going to dig an impressive hole in the ground – yes, she was heading towards the ground, not the sea. From what she could see in the spin, anyway.

Her wings were trapped. In the neural links. They wouldn’t disengage with the power off her wings were trapped she couldn’t escape trapped unable to fly-

With an almighty wrench, she pulled the link equipment itself free. She could remove it by mouth and hoof later, it was mainly wires. No stunt flying for her until they were removed, though – they may not have actually pierced her skin, but they’d infiltrated her feathers right to the skin to get the induction loops in the right places.

The air was starting to glow around the cockpit. This was the most dangerous part. If she acted too early, she would be too high to breathe. Too late, and the fragment of fighter would probably start to melt around her, incinerating her.


Sitting back on her haunches, she kicked out with all her strength at the canopy. It moved slightly, the magnetic seals having been scrambled by the Electro-Magnetic Pulse along with everything else. A howling like all the world’s Windigoes came through the gap.

Again. The canopy fell away, and she was carried out like a leaf in a storm.

“That’s all of them picked up, Admiral.” Fluttershy said quietly. “There were only half a dozen or so life pods from the Diamond Dog ships, and two fighter pilots shot out.”

She typed something into her console, and a map of the landmass appeared with a caret at the corner of the hologram. “The transport is on final approach. We’re keeping it under observation with passive satellites in high orbit, and unfortunately we can’t get into ground attack range before they can deploy at least two Shitzu.”

Twilight nodded. Shitzu mechs carried six gigantic plasma cannons almost a meter in diameter each, and their combined firepower would allow them to destroy her command’s complete dreadnaught strength in around a minute.

“Looks like it’s up mainly to the ground team, then. Captain Rarity,” a channel opened, “My compliments, and please let the marine contingent know that their guests have landed.”

“Of course, Admiral.”

Rarity’s own comms officer had already opened a line to Major Macintosh while the two unicorns were speaking, and her next words followed almost immediately. “Major, Diamond Dogs have landed. Proceed as planned.”

“Aye-yup, ma’am.”

Twilight stood up again, and walked around the hologram. “Where will we need to be, to stay out of the line of fire of the Shitzu mechs but still be able to interdict the airspace around the installation? If they can swarm it with their air cavalry, we’re in trouble.”

Two ridges blinked red as Fluttershy highlighted them. “These are the highest divides in the range. They block line of sight with the entire route of advance of their main body. By manoeuvring around under low power, we can keep the second one under our guns along with all subsequent ridge divides. Keeping that in mind, the air cavalry units will be forced to either face four or five full chase energy weapon barrages,” which would leave them winnowed down to barely platoon strength – if the fleet’s gunners missed half their shots. “Or land in between the ridges and hence come down that valley to the main Marine blocking position from a flank. That second option would mean they could keep in ground weapon cover against orbital ships, but fighters should be able to slip through and bombard their column. Not to mention that a battalion of light infantry won’t do well against an entrenched marine brigade.”

“What if they took one or two ridge hops to attempt an outflank – no, I see. The valleys they could land in then simply lead into the flanking one in the first place.”

“That or have them travel so close to the Marine position they’d be shot down anyway, yes.”

“Right. Ensign, I’m going to need your fighters again. They’ll have to harass the Dog main column, possibly with airbursting shipkillers – individual ones won’t get through their battle screen, but can probably do substantial harm to the infantry and Schnauzers in company with them. Those aren’t as dangerous, but the kind of concentrated power needed to handle a heavy mech is going to be harder with that rapid reaction capability on the enemy’s side.”

Twilight paused. “In fact, the major problem is those Akitas. They’re much lighter than a Shitzu, but they have those single use missile cells.”

The cells of an Akita carried 24 nuclear cruise missiles each, in two packs of twelve. Their purpose was to wipe away individual blocking positions that were too heavy for the Shitzu they rode in company with.

“Right, I think we might need a combat air patrol. Drop a few shipkillers into any missile storm they send up, to thin it out. Hopefully with that kind of reduction the point defence stations the marines set up – and their unicorns – will be able to handle it.”

Fluttershy checked a sidebar. “That’s a lot of missiles they have.”

“True. But see if we can transfer extra countermissiles down to the ground. Nothing fancy, just pointing straight up in the floodplain with sufficient separation for launch. With the Athena platforms we can thicken the ground forces’ defences. And one of the problems with warheads that powerful fired in job lots is that firing them line of sight is basically an interesting way to commit suicide – so we should have the tracking time.”

“I’ll see to it. We’re running low on countermissiles, though.”

“We’ve still got a lot of fighter ammunition.” Scootaloo volunteered. “At least as much again as we’ve expended – and I bet a few gun packs used in atmosphere would tear up anything not protected by a battle screen.”

“Very good thought, Ensign. But balance that against manoeuvre capacity, remember. Fighters are relatively ungainly in atmosphere, even with the surfaces deployed.” Fighter surfaces were an adaptation of battle screen, projected out from the fighter’s stubby wings to give them extra atmospheric turning capacity. Not much, but often useful – especially when the fighter’s main screen was up.

In a way, it was analogous to the ancient variable-wing fighters. Down to how external weapon packs also harmed speed and response.

“Okay.” Scootaloo turned to her superior. “Let me know when the first enemy units start to move out, please. I’ll arm the fighters up for taking on the air cavalry flying column, and get that combat air patrol set up.”

Rainbow Dash struggled out of the surf, coughing up seawater. She’d managed to steer herself into the shallows instead of plunging into the landmass itself, but there’d been too much momentum for her to entirely lose it with her wings constrained.

There was already a storm front on the horizon, the effects of the transport’s flamboyant atmospheric insertion making themselves known. She shivered. Pegasus coats and feathers were usually great insulation, but plunging into the sea at high speed and then coming through a crashing surf zone had pretty much soaked her to the skin. And with the rain coming on, she needed to find somewhere to stay out of it.

Nothing to the west… but there was a large headland to the east, one that bulged near the water and curved back away from it. That kind of structure sometimes had caves, she remembered from somewhere, and in any case being able to huddle against a corner would be better than nothing.

Sneezing, she ruffled her soaked feathers and set off at a walk. She’d preen herself until she could fly, then see about getting something to eat and heading above the clouds.

AN: As anyone who has read Old Soldiers will see, these are Boloverse vehicles the Dogs are using. Bootleg copies of Surturs, Fenrises and Heimdalls. This is a Bad Thing, since that’s the same universe the Hellbore comes from.

I felt it appropriate for the doglike Melconians to inspire the Diamond Dogs’ weaponry.

Oh, and was anyone fooled by what nearly happened to Dash?