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

Ponies in Space - Saphroneth

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

  • ...

Chapter 6

“Alright, Admiral.” Scootaloo said as her board went green – except for a single amber telltale on First Squadron’s status.

It had taken a frustratingly long time to get the shot-out pilots like Minty and Sparrow into their replacement fighters, since they had to run a complete calibration on the craft as well as the normal arming routine.

“Fighters armed for ground attack and ready to launch in thirty seconds.”

“Do so immediately. That Dog brigade is too close for comfort.”

“Aye, ma’am. All fighters, scramble! Form up on the way down!”

Harmony’s own squadron was the last of all to launch, since Minty had been the source of the amber telltale. Her new fighter had been the only one left in the capital ship’s hold, and with the mess Applejack had created building the new shields taken into account it had left her a few minutes behind on her flight cycle.

The fighter bay crews had laboured heroically to make up the time, but the result wasn’t quite enough. They were maybe twenty seconds behind the rest of the fighter attack as nearly seventy fighters screamed down into the atmosphere, pulled up just short of the ocean and began flying a wave-skipping profile.

Minty cursed. The only thing worse than being the first in on a strike like this was being last out, and she’d condemned her friends in First Squadron to it. And herself, as well.

Focus. She checked the decoys – those weren’t exactly designed for atmosphere, as visual identification was often possible at such short ranges, but they would prevent the heavy guns of the mechs targeting the fighters before they popped up over the intervening ridgeline.

And isn’t that a cold comfort.

“Fighter launch detected.” Fido’s aide said, with a slight edge of apprehension in his voice.

“All task force elements, halt in place!” The Brigadier-general commanded immediately. “Pyros to launch missiles now. All Lucky elements,” the light battalion, “spread out, go to ground, guns on air defence mode. Heavies get some separation, configure for defence.”

The Pyroclastic mechs had begun raising their missile packs as soon as he gave the order. They were mounted on three-meter telescoping stalks, to give them enough clearance for their powerful counter-grav drives.

When they reached full extension, they paused for a moment to align… and then they launched, in a torrent of missiles close to that of the entire assault fleet that had brought them here.

“Missile trace!” Cloud Dancer warned, bringing up the plot. “Estimate two hundred-forty, that’s their entire loadout. Ground countermissiles launching.”

Twilight bit back a curse. “Fighters to continue the strike! Open channel to Macintosh.”

“Open.” Scratch said tersely.

“Brigadier, I can’t divert the strike. You’re on your own.”

“No problem. You stop a few of those mechs, and we’ll still be here to stop the rest.”

Mac looked at his tactical display as the channel closed, winced, and gave a nervous glance at the entrenchment of his command post. It was good… but nuclear weapons fired in job-lots were enough to make anyone nervous.

The ten Pyroclastic mechs in the Dog assault brigade launched a total of two hundred and forty counter-gravity cruise missiles. They accelerated hard, their airframes creaking with the strain, and sped south towards the Marines.

Some of them weren’t able to take the force. One lost its’ flight surfaces and smashed into the ground shortly after launch, the tiny puff of hydrogen that had been its’ warhead escaping into the atmosphere. Another disintegrated completely mid-flight.

Two more fell prey to engineering faults – their computers hadn’t receipted the flight plan properly, and they fell to the ground in front of their launchers. A point-defence gun on the launching Pyroclastic quickly destroyed them in case the detonation function was still working.

But over ninety-eight percent of the weapons remained, and they shot over the intervening distance in seconds. The flight rose shallowly to pass over the first of the pair of high ridges, dipped slightly, then popped-up over the second ridge and went into a dive.

The flight path had to be as close to the ridgeline as possible to minimize the tracking and engagement time the defenders would get. Sixteen more missiles were lost when they dipped too close to the ridge, hitting it like so many ancient round shot and loosing showers of dirt and rock – for by now they were travelling very fast indeed.

Two hundred and twenty missiles remained. As they passed over the ridge, a flight of nearly a hundred countermissiles met them coming the other way. The countermissiles had been hurriedly emplaced in jury-rigged launch cradles on the river floodplain hours before, and they gave what help they could.

Sixty-nine more attack missiles were destroyed by the countermissile manoeuvre before bursts of fire from the mechs removed them, and then it was the turn of the Marine brigade and their own point defence.

Ion bolts, laser cannons, railguns and even their lighter sidearm equivalents sent out a storm of fire, winnowing the barrage heavily. The automated heavy weapons claimed ninety-five missiles, the small arms fire another twenty-four, and volleys of blasting spells from every unicorn incapable of running a shield destroyed fourteen.

Of the remaining eighteen missiles, most of them had been set for an overly optimistic burst height – since Caesar hadn’t been able to tell the existence of the magical shields. Thirteen of them did not detonate before they hit the shields, and only three missiles managed to explode – their fireballs incinerating the other two.

Of course, to those on the ground, three was quite enough.

Trixie’s horn and eyes blazed with rainbow witchfire as, running on the ragged edge of a reaction-enhancement spell, she slammed the hardest shield she had ever come up with around one of the warheads in a bowl shape. The opening at the top forced the detonation to expend itself harmlessly into the sky.

Snips and one of her sergeants caught her as she collapsed, utterly spent.

The universe heaved.

Fortunately for the majority of the force, the nukes had gone off so low that they were below the tops of the foothills in which the Marines had entrenched. Thus, only a relatively small portion of the force actually caught the direct blast.

For them, however, there was no hope.

Most of Pinion’s battalion and some of Mystery’s were in the valley the first warhead airbursted over. A few – a very few – of them were dug in deep enough that the wash of plasma was unable to reach them. These lucky ponies, mainly from a squad with a particularly experienced old sergeant, survived despite having been only a few hundred metres from the explosion, though they emerged into the glassed hell more than a little rattled from the miniature earthquake caused by the ground shock.

The second detonated around three kilometres from the first, and was low enough and close enough to a small terraced ridge to throw several hundred tons of earth and boulder clay into the sky. The blast itself killed several hundred ponies, mainly from Hyacinth and Brindle, and the shower of huge rocks sprayed out across much of Harmony’s battalion’s position.

The two air shockwaves unseated a large portion of the painstakingly dug in heavy weapons, damaging their protective berms and shaking many of them hard enough to break the more delicate components.

And the very last of the flying rocks spitefully landed square on top of Caramel’s command post.

As the Dog missile pod salvo hit, the Equestrian fighters crested the ridgeline all along its’ length.

One heavy mech was lucky enough to have its’ port gun battery pointing in the direction of a fighter as it topped the ridge.

The mech’s central computer fired automatically.

A spike of fusing plasma connected the two and the fighter exploded instantly, its’ battle screen no defence against three plasma cannons at such short range.

Lances of plasma sleeted from the faster-traversing cannons of the light and medium mechs, destroying two more fighters and forcing another into a crash. But far more fired at decoy missiles, which were harder still to hit in the first place, and the flurries of fire from the infantry couldn’t hit fighters with any degree of accuracy in the first place.

Missiles flashed from external and internal launchers on the fighters. The external launchers fell away as soon as they’d released their payload, reducing the strain on the fighter drives and giving them precious extra agility, and the wing left relatively unmolested.

The Dogs were far too busy to shoot them on the way out.

Medium Pyroclastic class mechs mounted twelve point defence stations, and the larger Phreatics had around twenty. The larger mechs accepted a relatively small increase in active defences as the price for their much heavier passive defences, including Battle Screen on par with most line-of-battle ships, and also as what allowed them to mount six colossal plasma cannons in two turrets.

It was a design decision that had both proponents and opponents, since the secondary function of point defence guns was their use on ground targets. Some Dog designers held that the defensive and offensive strength of a heavy mech was best increased by adding to the number of smaller guns, allowing it to cut through light forces much quicker and even stress the shields of other heavies. However, the design philosophy which had prevailed in the fractious Dog Khanate had been the one that stated only another heavy was a threat to a Phreatic mech.

The resultant design had won many ground wars on Dog planets during their perpetual civil wars… but it wasn’t as good at dealing with large fighter strikes.

Each fighter carried four internal ship killers, and four external ones on their ordnance racks. Sixty-four fighters had managed to achieve lock before being destroyed, making the salvo they launched over five hundred missiles strong. Against that many missiles, even a fleet’s point defence would have been strained – and while the ship killers were “dumb” for spacecraft missiles, their internal computers were quite sufficient to target objects that were moving below thirty kilometres per hour.

Nearly three hundred point defence guns blazed upwards. The ones on the front and the flanks of the mechs were able to fire two shots each over the time it took their targets to come in for detonation, but the rearward facing guns suffered from restricted target selection.

Nineteen missiles were able to confirm their targets, orient their single emitters and detonate. Focused blasts of gamma radiation, the bomb-pumped lasers, stabbed downwards at the mechs.

Fido’s command mech took a single hit, which formed gyres of deflected energy across the shield – the multi-kiloton Phreatic shook like a schooner in a gale, and what energy managed to bleed through the still-intact battle screen blew a crater half a meter deep in the battle steel war hull. But the screen had held, and for a heavy mech that was a mere dent.

Others were less lucky. No fewer than four missiles targeted the number two Phreatic, overwhelming the battle screen and destroying both main turrets. The heavy was still mobile, though half its’ crew were dead, but would be limited to a supporting role in the coming battle.

Two Pyroclastics were destroyed by three missiles each, the main battle screen projector on another Phreatic was wrecked by two lucky strikes that hit the same place on the shield, and most of the surviving medium mechs had great divots blown out of their armour.

The multiple shockwave from the warheads threw APCs and light mechs around with ease, but they sustained relatively little actual damage – most of the explosions that had been initially vectored down had been focused into the needle beams of the lasers, and what was left “only” stove in the sides of two APCs and turned an Ignimbrite upside down.

“Analysis!” Fido called, as soon as the world had slowed down its’ spinning enough for him to concentrate. Nausea clung to him, but he fought it bitterly. “Our attack, their attack?”

“We picked up at least three airbursts. Less than we had hoped for, but they were widely spread – that kind of overlap is going to have ruined their coordination and probably killed most of them.”

“At least there’s some good news. And what shape is the task force in?”

“One heavy has no screen, that’s four, and two has lost both turrets –curst lucky they didn’t have the reactor blow, after that. Three’s supporting medium mechs have both been destroyed, and the remainder are reading armour integrity lower than standard – probably minor damage. Light force losses aren’t complete write-offs but they’re essentially not recoverable in the short term.”

“How’s our anti air cover?”

“If they have the missiles to make another attack like that, they’ll do even more damage. We lost more point defence guns than they lost fighters, proportionally.”

“That gives us about half an hour. Deploy the mediums in front of the heavies, put heavy two behind them and heavy four at the rear of the column. Light mechs to scout and APCs to use heavy two as a shield for use at a later date. Put the disembarked infantry on the hull of heavy two for now, they can ride until we’re nearly through the gorge. Any track damage, or can we still make the estimated contact time?”

The aide’s eyes flickered over his screens as the column rumbled back into motion. “Some track damage, but not enough to severely affect off-road speed. Two lost three tracks from secondary explosions when the port turret was destroyed, but it still has the remaining five and the loss of the turrets has reduced its’ weight enough to keep up. Estimate fifteen minutes to the blocking position.”

“Hello, Colonel.” Twilight said, glancing aside as Rainbow Dash came onto the bridge.

“Hi, yeah. What happened in the strike?”

“The detonations are still causing interference. We’re waiting on an update.”

Scootaloo looked up from her board. “I’m reading just over sixty fighter transponders. Looks like the Dogs scored four hard kills – no, three and a crash, that’s Wind Whistler. She reported she is laying low and has since gone off air.”

The results of the fighter strike began to filter in first, aided by the relatively huge power signatures of the mech reactors.

Dash winced. “Not as good as it could have been.”

“True, but for all practical purposes they’ve lost the use of two heavies and two mediums. Not terrible.”

Scratch gave a quick warning with a hoof signal, and then a static-hazed channel opened on the main screen.

“Admiral. We’re still here, somewhat.”

“Brigadier Macintosh.” Twilight said with some relief. “I’ll let your sister know you’re alright.”

“Eeyup, though we took a lot of casualties. Colonel Caramel didn’t make it, and ah’d appreciate it if you’d let me tell AJ that.”

“Oh, no.” Twilight looked down for a moment, then turned back to the screen, composure in place. “Effective capability?”

“We’re at about sixty percent strength. Magic support companies’re mostly intact, though Trixie’s out cold. She blocked one of the nukes completely, and ah’d say about five hundred ponies down here owe her their lives.”

“What do you mean, blocked – why would that knock her out? I thought she said stopping a missile with a shield was easy, it just gets crushed...”

“There’s the rub. Her eyes lit up like hearth’s warming eve and she made some kinda bowl around it as it went off. Deflected the whole thang’s blast right back into the air.”

Twilight frowned for a moment, calculating. “There’s no way she could have been able to do that. I don’t have that kind of power, and I know our relative magical strengths from Shetland… wait, her eyes? Not just her horn?”

“Eeyup. And all kinda colours, too. Not just her pale blue.”

“Celestia…” Twilight whispered. “She must have directly tapped the innate magic field itself. I thought that wasn’t actually consciously possible.”

“Well, whatever she did, it’s why a lot of us’re still here. Though most of the heavy guns’re dismounted, we’ll have to slew ‘em manually.”

“At these kinds of ranges that’s less of a hardship than it could be.” Twilight said, considering. “And has Fluttershy sent you the appraisal of the damage to the enemy heavies?”

“That she has. Ah’d like it to have done more, but ah ‘preciate that they did all they could.” He nodded to Dash. “You got yourself a good wing there, Colonel. An’ thanks for the clear skies.”


“Well, ah’d better get on with makin’ us ready for th’ guests.” With that, he closed the channel.

Fluttershy tapped something into her console, frowned, then input something else. This seemed to satisfy her more.

“Fourteen minutes left until the final engagement. And their transport is still sitting in its’ rough-field landing spot, with a battalion of light units dug in around it and most of their static artillery. We can’t take them out from up here, but that’s only true if they keep their static defences up – if they move to support the attack, we can get at them.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Twilight sighed. “Stalemate, except for the remaining heavies. Everyone get yourselves a quick snack or something, back here in ten minutes. We won’t have the time to spare after then, one way or another.”

With a co-ordinated heave, three earth ponies pushed a railgun to the top of the hill it had fallen down. Two of them began setting up tractors to hold it in place as much as possible, while the third ran another diagnostic check.

“Five ready rounds, DSFSLRP…” she muttered. The railgun rounds were accelerated with aid of a sabot, which was discarded shortly after the shot left the barrel. It also had fins to either side to stabilize it, but the main damage was done by a rod of iridium – the same material as that of a Gryphon combat vehicle, and one of the densest metals known. Against shields they were ineffective, but against an unshielded target they could often cause substantial damage, travelling as they did at tens of kilometres a second. The trail of plasma and ablated metal they left behind them caused them to look a lot like a “death ray”, rather more in fact than actual lasers.

“Looks like it’s charging properly.” She finished with satisfaction. “This one came through.”

To either side of them other teams did the same, and more railguns along with heavy lasers and the occasional medium plasma weapon rose over the lips of their positions. The energy weapons didn’t have the recoil problem and had no tractors to hold them.

Roseluck and the rest of her artillery section started back downhill, this time for a heavy pulser. The tiny darts it fired were able to open thin skinned vehicles at range, and damage the exteriors of larger ones once the shields were down – less useful than most of their arsenal, but there were at least a hundred Dog soldiers in among the enormous tracked mechs. And being shot by a fusion lance or a sniper was every bit as fatal as a plasma cannon.

“Time?” Twilight asked.

“Two minutes.” Fluttershy replied, bringing up a 3D plot of the area of battle. “They’re intensifying their recon drone commitment, trying to get a good look at our defences.”

“Thank you. Captain, this is the Admiral. Fleet to move out of the firing line of a heavy mech in the gorge exit.”

“Understood, Admiral.” Rarity replied formally.

“Scootaloo, how long until the fighters are ready?”

The amber pegasus flared her wings in frustration. “I can’t do any better than the last estimate. At least sixteen minutes. The bay crews are already tired.”

“Okay, sorry.” Twilight backpedalled.

Scootaloo gave her an apologetic look. “No, no, it’s fine. I’m just annoyed by it myself.”

“Right. Scratch, open a channel to Mac.”


“Brigadier… good luck. Wish we could give you more support.”

“Thanks, ma’am.”

Mac’s marines were as ready as they could be. The moment the first light mech showed itself, a lattice of medium energy weapons – the type from a battle harness, not the heavier emplaced ones – strobed across its’ shields. No pony fired more than once at a time to deny the chance of back-plotting locations, and they used the hills to shift their positions between volleys.

After three or four seconds of this nibbling away, the driver of the Ignimbrite mech lost patience and fired at the top of the closest hill. A spray of mud and glass went up from the point of impact, and an unlucky marine went flying.

Two heavy lasers unmasked, the first shot depleting the remainder of the battle screen and the second blowing the turret off. It continued moving forward for a second or two, then a railgun punched through the side armour.

A shower of sparks and molten iridium flew from the hole, then its’ capacitors exploded, blowing it apart.

“One Schnauzer down, sir. They have at most three left.”

“Two.” Mac corrected his lieutenant calmly. “One of ‘em got flipped by the fighters.”

“Oh, sorry sir. I-“

Four of the remaining Pyroclastic class medium mechs charged around the corner at almost the same moment, their first volley destroying all the guns that had already fired. Secondary guns began laying down suppressive fire, and the mechs advanced to the river crossing.

“Damn.” Mac said conversationally. “Energy weapons, hold yer fire. Railguns ready to shoot on my say-so and cut the power to yer tractors. Corporal Snips, I’d ‘preciate it if you’d take down those shields.”

The ground shook as the port battery of a Phreatic spoke, demolishing a bunker that had had less perfect camouflage than the rest, and Mac silently cursed their bad luck. Had Trixie been conscious, she would have been able to disguise their entire firing line and all the emplacements, granting them at least one extra shot each before they were back-plotted.

His reasoning behind using the railguns now was that, since without the tractor grips they would simply go flying back down the hill, they could be replaced in a different location to the one they had fired at first from. Scant advantage, but he wanted as many energy weapons as he could get for when the heavies entered the battle.

There was a flare of harsh light, and a line of magic scored along the shields of three of the four medium mechs as they plunged into the river. The battle screen of those touched failed instantly, and the multiple booms of railgun fire sounded.

The slugs intersected on the damaged spots from the fighter missiles, tearing deep into their targets’ war hulls. Capacitors exploded, adding their stored energy to the wave of destruction.

One of the mediums lost the main turret and drive power, but apart from that it was more-or-less undamaged and continued to spit fire. A second was gutted by the iridium slugs, which ripped at power lines and control runs and, ultimately, the crew.

The third exploded violently as its’ power core was punctured by the needle of flame.

“How did they do that?” Fido asked incredulously.

“Unknown. There was the visual flare associated with magic, which suggests-“

Damn it.”

He winced as the fourth medium mech in that attack ran over dozens of mines in the ford, cutting its’ tracks and rendering it immobile.

“Alright, keep the remaining Pyroclastics back. Phreatics to the front, and don’t take any more chances!”

With a snarl, he turned back to the tactical display. At least the flicker of defensive energy fire was relatively light.

Mech three was firing over the top of two, gradually immolating the hillsides which the ponies were using as defence, while two shielded its’ counterpart and secondary weapons stabbed out at anything that showed itself.

“Come on… come on…” Fluttershy whispered, looking at her smaller plot rather than the one in the big holotank.

Then she pressed a key – and the screen showed signal not found.

Her eyes widened, and she looked up. “Admiral, I can’t- oh, stupid! I forgot, I gave the relay to Caramel!”

“What is it, Commander?”

“I spoke to the research team when we first arrived, and they said their main focus was work with antimatter – they have a positron cannon concept but it’s not properly finished, and their explosive state material looked more effective with the time we had. I got all the antimatter they had produced together, put it in a jury-rigged missile with the drive removed and buried it in the gorge. I planned either for Caramel to detonate it when the heavy mechs reached the end of the gorge or to do it myself with the relay he carried – that’s where the signal was rebroadcast since I can’t send something powerful enough from here, the main detonation commands on the ship are lidar and-“

“Okay, slow down!” Twilight said sternly. “Sorry, but you were getting hysterical. So you mean that when the Colonel died, the remote was destroyed?”

“Or buried. I have to use a high frequency that doesn’t penetrate rock well in order to get the signal down to the ground, so it might just be under the rubble.”

The command crew turned to the chaos on the ground as the foremost heavy mech exploded. Snips had managed to fire off his shield-breaker spell again, and Mac had unmasked almost half of his guns to pound their way through the armour belt.

With another thunderous blast of plasma, the one behind it came through the wreckage with both turrets using sequenced fire.

Twilight made her decision. “Scratch, open a channel to Mac.” She paused for a second to let the other unicorn do so. “Mac, I need you to assign all you have to spare to dig up Caramel’s command post. Have the head of the operation in contact with Fluttershy, they’re looking for something specific.”

The currently attacking Phreatic’s shields crackled under a haze of slamming close-in energy weapon fire, and as the battle screen began to show failure patches the railguns spoke again. Secondary weapons were cut away, but the war hull of an undamaged heavy mech was on the limits of what their heavy weapons could handle.

They had even heavier ones, a few 25cm plasma guns, but they’d proven nearly impossible to move back to the tops of the hills.

The last secondary weapon fell off. Mac gave a signal, and dozens of unicorns launched antiarmour rockets with telekinetic shoves in place of the launch tubes.

Capacitor-fed lasers bit deep, and the second mech went into emergency shutdown to avoid its’ power plant exploding from the damage.

Now free from the immediate perils of a heavy mech about to grind his position to rubble, he turned to Trixie’s second-in-command. “Clover, ah need you an’ as many as y’all kin spare to go and excavate command post two. Contact th’ old lady’s tactical officer, she’ll tell y’all what to look for.”

“Aye, sir.” She replied, and indicated half of her reserve squad with a series of light beams. “Follow me. Snails, you stay here. Hit the next mech to come over with a time-dilation spell.”

“You got it, ma’am.” The sergeant replied, horn already lighting as he began building the complex spell structure.

Mac switched channels. “Everyone with a survivin’ heavy weapon, we’re gonna get a few seconds opportunity when the next mech comes over. Unload all you got, aim for the main guns.”

He was running out of tricks. Reports were that Snips had collapsed after his last shield-break spell, and to affect the space a heavy mech would take up would exhaust Snails almost as fast. And the railgun magazines were nearly empty... to say nothing of the energy weapon charges. They’d been running off capacitors brought down earlier, and those which survived successive tithes from the nukes and the plasma cannons couldn’t run them for much longer.

For that matter, the brigade was down to strength little more than that of a regiment – he might well run out of crew for the heavy guns.

“That has to have been some of the last of their magic and their missiles!” Fido said, his eyes bright with battle-fury. “We know it tires them to do magic… they’re breaking! Push them!”

Engines snarled, and his command mech started forward. Behind him were the remaining two Phreatic, the four Pyroclastic, the two Ignimbrite and even the infantry.

It might perhaps have been more prudent to stay back and plan things out, but he couldn’t accept that. Not when they’d killed so many of his pack-brothers, and they were right there.

Dogs couldn’t have stood much longer than this, not facing the incredible monstrosities of heavy mechs. His every instinct told him that one more push would see him through the pony line – recon drones were already showing it as dangerously thin.

“Hell or victory!” he called, and hundreds of voices answered him – from the other mechs, from the infantry outside or in their APCs, and from his command crew.

Clover strained at the limits of her telekinetic capability, lifting the enormous boulder that had crushed Caramel and his aides.

“Okay, ell-tee.” Her sergeant said encouragingly. “Nearly up… okay, move it to the side a little… and down.”

She huffed explosively as the boulder came to rest, and staggered slightly. Two of the other unicorns in the section supported her, and she began picking away at the lesser debris.

There were no flies or fly-analogues, luckily… but the sight was still sickening. She lifted Caramel’s body, carefully not thinking about what she was doing too closely.

“There!” Fluttershy said suddenly in her ear. “Under the table – good, it looks undamaged!”

Clover pulled the table aside, and her sergeant lifted up the relay triumphantly. The buttons twitched as he ordered a self diagnostic.

“Seems okay – no major damage, at any rate.”

“Right.” Fluttershy’s voice was full of purpose. She said something that Clover only barely heard, and then the brigade push came active.

“Hold tight, everyone! Ground shock in two seconds!”

Fluttershy waited as her own remote diagnostic ran. One. Two. Then she depressed the fire key.

Twenty feet down in the flash-flood deposits of the gorge, a receiver buried three days before received the authorization code it had been waiting for with electronic patience.

Capacitors fed their charge to powerful magnetic containment generators similar in concept to the gravitic ones which ‘lensed’ laser heads. These were far more powerful, though.

And the reason for that was in a small, nondescript box the size of a hardback book.

Normally, antimatter was hard to contain – it exploded instantly on contact with normal matter, and magnetic or gravitic containment was expensive in terms of the energy cost required compared to what could be contained. A simple puff of hydrogen gas was much more efficient.

This, however, was different. The research station had found a way to mass-produce both antimatter and the containment it required – balls of carbon atoms, with the antimatter ‘locked’ away at the centre, unable to touch the sides unless the cage was perturbed.

It was no good for fuel purposes. The black dust that resulted was nearly impossible to persuade to give up its’ antimatter, and when a single ball did the resultant flood of gamma radiation destabilized nearby balls. A chain reaction.

This made it, incidentally, a very good explosive. The entire magnetic-lensing set up was a secondary refinement – all it took for an antimatter explosive with this material was a small capacitor, a graser emitter of too small a scale to do any actual damage, and a pile of dust that incidentally happened to resemble black powder.

The emitter pulsed. A single ball of carbon atoms broke open, spilling out antimatter which promptly exploded – breaking open other balls, which spilled out more antimatter… and so on. Within a hundredth of a second, the entire reaction had taken place.

Over a kilogram of antimatter had annihilated with an equal mass of matter, and the resultant energy release was cataclysmic.

The wavefront of exploding plasma met the magnetic containment, and was funnelled upwards.

Directed as it was, it had far more fury than even the largest nuclear explosive – for all that it was actually less powerful than the ship killers – and it struck the Dogs on their lower decks, where their battle screen could not possibly cover.
Fido, his remaining mechs, and the infantry that rode in company with him were utterly destroyed by the blast.

Thousands of tonnes of rock went flying into the sky.

The backspill from the gigantic torrent of plasma killed nearly thirty of the surviving marines, and the – reduced – ground shock sent all of them sprawling.

Mac looked up as soon as the world had stopped trying to shake him to pieces, and saw boulders above him.

Staying above him.

The Admiral was standing next to him, the flare of a teleportation still dying down, and every one of the boulders that had been headed for his force was enveloped in the lavender shimmer of her telekinesis. A corner of his mind wondered why she wasn’t being affected by the heat pulse, then he saw the bubble of a shield spell.

“Afternoon, Brigadier.” She said with forced calm. “I understand that you might be a little surprised to see me here, but we did happen to be low enough for me to teleport down – and I rather thought you might need assistance.”

“Well,” he replied, determined not to appear rattled, “It might seem that way. But that’s just because y’all don’t understand marine training.”

“Oh?” Twilight asked, as she carefully lowered the rocks to the surface and Mac rolled back upright.

“Mah sergeant in basic always told me that ah should be able to eat rocks and spit out gravel. So ah’m sure y’all understand, the only concern ah have right now is where to get mahself a napkin so ah don’t embarrass mahself in front of a lady.”

AN: This chapter was hard to write. Probably partly because it’s just not a very nice subject, when there are thousands of deaths going on. In particular, yes, Caramel is quite thoroughly dead. Sorry to any fans of his, but people die in war.
Trixie’s tapping the magic field checks off another of my Weber series to reference – this time the Norfressa Cycle, and buckyball antimatter is from the Legacy of the Aldenata by John Ringo.

The antimatter bomb itself feels to me like a bit of a cop out. I know it’s not, because I’ve been setting it up since chapter two, but – well.