Assault on Draugr

An account of the Sequence assault on Draugr in the Serene Sea, ten years ago, which according to Sequence traditions was meant to be the beginning of a region-wide crusade.

The first contact with Sequence attackers occurred at T+0 hours, when the sensors on Draugr orbital bases detected a massive, grouped emission coming from the vicinity of Lich, the second and outermost planet in the system. In hindsight, these emissions corresponded to the collective deceleration burn of the Sequence vanguard albeit at that time, even though Sequence warships were known and already classified as hostile, the emission only created confusion among Algorab personnel. At T+30 minutes, the L1 and L2 stations orbiting Lich were destroyed and lost with all hands. Shortly after, two survey vessels diverted towards the emissions, Eccentric Cycles and Cause of Paperwork, were destroyed as well. In the first opening hour of the attack, Algorab had lost 867 people, the majority of its personnel on Lich. The only vessel to be spared was This Side Up, an USRE messenger vessel that managed to evacuate its berth and leave the system after broadcasting an emergency message. At T+2 hours, Lich was hit by three relativistic kill vehicles (RKVs) which shattered the planet's crust and sealed the fate of the remaining personnel who had not evacuated.

At T+5 hours, Algorab's armed detachment of twenty-seven combat vessels, helmed by Calm and Orderly Fashion under Azches' command, met with the Sequence vanguard halfway to Lich. The following minutes saw three vessels fall victim to UREB (Ultra-relativistic electron beams) weapons before the ships could reorganize and fire back. At T+6 hours and thirty minutes, the first destruction of a Sequence vessel by a human ship was registered as Luciole Interceptor Pointy Bit Towards Thrust scored two direct missile hits on a Sequence Chapel, shattering its antimatter containment field. A confused battle started to ravage the cold skies, several light-hours from Draugr.

At T+12 hours, Azches was finally capable of assessing the enemy's strength, which made it clear that there was no way the local Algorab units could stem the incoming tide of Sequence ships, even with the advantage conferred by the geometry drive. The IA decided to engage in delaying actions, ordering its ships to stay out of UREB range and perform "drive-by" FTL missile attacks targeted at enemy engines, with the goal of forcing as many ships as possible to miss their final deceleration burn and overshoot Draugr. At T+12 hours and 25 minutes, Starmoth Initiative vessel Don't Look Back was crippled by a glancing Chapel shot, becoming the first human ship to survive a UREB hit.

Between T+15 hours and T+25 hours the battle kept raging on as the Sequence fleet surged towards Draugr at a punishing 9 gees of acceleration. More than fifty RKVs were spotted en route to Draugr: they were all destroyed by direct FTL missile impacts, albeit this successful defensive action further reduced Azches' already half-empty ammunition reserves. Human ships maintained a moving barrier of missiles in front of Sequence vessels, however this form of attrition warfare did not wield tactical results beyond Sequence ship losses. The enemy was still bound to reach Draugr.

At T+27 hours, the last missile was fired by Peace Treaty and Azches ordered her fleet to retreat well behind the planet and towards the neutron star. At this point, the entirety of the Algorab Expeditionary Corps had been scrambled towards Draugr, now the focal point of all military operations in the Serene Sea. Cargo ships were surging towards the system, filled to the brim with every single FTL missile available in the region, while the commune was sending help requests with messenger probes bound towards Communal Space. USRE messenger ship This Side Up had reached its mysterious destination, an unassuming brown dwarf system fifty lightyears away from Draugr.

The planet itself was left defenceless, save from hastily converted mass drivers.

At T+29 hours, the Sequence vanguard entered Draugr's high orbit. A fair share of the fleet had been damaged or destroyed, while several dozen incapacitated ships now drifted in darkness, unable to decelerate, but the remaining firepower was greater than what the entirety of humankind could muster. All stations surrounding Draugr were destroyed within the following hour, and with them almost a thousand people who had not been evacuated yet by lack of available vessels. Bypassing Draugr's moon entirely, the Sequence vessels started attacking the Old Forest directly with kinetic vehicles and UREB artillery, drawing burning glyphs in the planet's worldwide vegetation cover. As soon as the first projectiles hit, Algorab sensors all over the planet detected a massive energy surge caused by the redirection of all sap flows in the planet, followed by the spontaneous digestion of up to 76% of the Old Forest's nodes.

At T+30 hours, the planet screamed. The Old Forest's synapses started emitting a high frequency, all-spectrum pulse that Algorab survivors recall like a "wave that rattled your very mind". While human equipment was merely disturbed by the Wail, as it came to be known later, Sequence ships were downright crippled during the emission, with their seemingly organic hull regeneration systems starting devouring themselves and their synthetic arrays visibly melting in infrared.

In the following twenty minutes, the collective mind of the Sequence vanguard changed its plans and turned its attention towards Draugr's moon, probably in an attempt to acquire a stable firing position whose structure would be impervious to the Wail. Three battle-defining events happened within the following quarter of an hour.

At T+31 hours, Algorab Farseer-class cargo vessel Lightjammer evacuated its crew then started to accelerate in deep space. At T+31 hours and 7 minutes, Azches' reinforced fleet launched a two-pronged attack against the Sequence fleet which was focused on burning the moon to the ground with UREB beams, carving deep molten canyons in the crust. Finally, USRE High Fleet Firebase In Your Heart Shall Burn translated in high orbit, completely unannounced, under the cover of the planet. Helmed by a certain Elisabeth Hoyle, it claimed to be responding to a distress call. Azches did not mind. She needed every ship she could muster -- albeit, she thought, there would be some explaining to do after the battle.

At T+34 hours, while the moon had become but a hellish landscape of vitrified glass still populated by a few unlucky souls and automated defence systems, the planet screamed again. Perhaps the Old Forest had realized the strength of its enemy. Perhaps the first scream had been a test run, but the second Wail was devastating. Several human ships reported massive damage to electronics, electrical surges through the hull, geometry drive interference and bouts of temporary madness among their crews, but it was nothing compared to the Sequence ships. Horrified navigators report hearing what sounded like cries of pain in garbled static as many Sequence vessels erupted and melted from the inside, turning into grotesque versions of themselves, metal-organic splatter turned upside down and disassembled in space, like intestines burning under the harsh light of the neutron star.

At T+35 hours, Lightjammer stopped accelerating and brutally translated away towards a set of coordinates transmitted by one of the few surviving drones on the moon. The cargo vessel re-emerged a mere ten kilometres away from one of the two Orrery-class Sequence ships leading the assault on the moon. Though it terminal velocity was way lower than that of an FTL missile, its mass and length were several orders of magnitude higher. The cargo ship slammed into the Sequence vessel, whose weakened bio-hull absorbed the blow, then slowly gave away until the Farseer collapsed the antimatter containment systems. Both ships disappeared in a massive implosion which showered the moon with debris -- the first successful, albeit crude, application of suicide burns in the Serene Sea war. 

At T+36 hours a third, weaker Wail surged across Draugr's orbit, and for the first time in a day and a half the Sequence vessels turned tail and ran, illuminating the vicinity of the planet with myriads of engine plumes the colour of molten stars. The second Orrery ship, which Algorab suspected to be the personal ship of a Presence (a Sequence mind made of self-conscious baroque representations), slightly lagged behind, covering the retreat of its armada. Azches seized the opportunity. 

At T+35 hours and 15 minutes, the last act of the battle opened with a coordinated attack on the Orrery vessel led by five drone Luciole Interceptors. They were promptly cauterized by the Orrery's powerful UREB array, but they were nothing more than decoys. The real offensive was led by In Your Heart Shall Burn, which translated at pointblank range and engaged the Orrery in a knife fight, almost hull against hull. A gratuitous duel, led only to avenge the deaths of Lich, which lasted for more than twenty-seven seconds, an eternity in such an engagement. In Your Heart Shall Burn took three UREB shots in its mainframe, which severed half its radiators from the fuselage, detached its engine section from the rest of the ship and killed half its crew when the third glancing hit melted through the ablative armour. In return, the Firebase showered the Orrery with pointblank railgun fire, which at this range was accurate enough to disable the UREB array and pierce the organic armour through sheer saturation. For a split-second Elisabeth Hoyle held her ship ready to translate away, convinced the Sequence vessel would self-destruct, but the antimatter explosion never came. The Orrery slowly flipped around, dropped its remaining UREB and came to a halt half an hour later. It had surrendered. In Your Heart Shall Burn was recovered two hours later, drifting in space with its railguns molten and still gleaming hot. The rest of the armada pushed its engines to 15 gees to leave the system. Azches, knowing how weakened her own fleet was and fearing a feigned retreat, gave the order not to pursue. 

The battle of Draugr was over. 

In total, 2,500 human beings, AI included, lost their lives during the battle of Draugr, not even a footnote compared to the great wars of the Sequence. 17 human ships were lost with all hands on board. In return, the Sequence left seventy-two Chapels in the system and two Orreries. The captured vessel was towed around Lich, and though it did not contain a Presence as first expected, its housed something far stranger: a horde of small blob-like creatures, the organic  lumpenproletariat of the ship that had devoured its Sequence "crew" and taken control of the vessel in the midst of battle, probably awakened by the initial Wail. Though only sub-sapient, they had enough awareness to recognize humans as an enemy of the Sequence. 

Lich was left ravaged, covered in vitrified rock and molten debris and, officially, has not been reoccupied ever since. Algorab's science division would take decades to recover from the attack, which had decapitated its leadership and in many ways it could be argued that it never truly recovered, with Azches' power being reinforced by the battle and Algorab becoming even more focused on battling the Sequence. The surprise attack on Draugr, decades in the making, would be the main motivation behind the construction of Adowa Point and its early warning system. The USRE has made no effort to justify the presence of at least one heavily armed ship on Algorab territory, albeit the raven-bearing organisation, strangely enough, has yet to emit an official complaint. 

Draugr would spend nearly a decade recovering from both the UREB-induced destruction and the straining effort endured to create the Wails, a phenomenon which is still ill-understood, though it proved that the Old Forest was no stranger to the Sequence. Had it faced them before? Was it merely territorial, or was it capable of understanding the strategic situation? Was it just defending itself, or defending something else -- for instance, something that would be hidden beneath the distant surface of Draugr? 

Regardless, Draugr still stands, and neither Algorab nor the Old Forest have ended their watch. 

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