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The Last Spartan - By JA Baker[]

Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written August 2019
Story Era Late Star League Era

They called it Task Force Leonidas, and to the history books, it's a small footnote in the grander story of Operation LIBERATION.

You see, the old Star League Defense Force loved their tech: they had to have the best, the newest, the shiniest toys available. Didn't matter if it was a combat knife or a battleship, they were obsessed with showing off just how powerful the Terran Hegemony. And nothing showed just how big your package was like warships. BattleMechs and infantry may take a planet, but it was warships that got them there and made sure nobody rained on their parade. And the Star League had the biggest fleet of the best ships humanity has ever known. They played by Steiner Rules: you brought a Corvette, they'd bring a Cruiser. You bring a Cruiser, they'd bring a Battleship.

In fact, their entire naval doctrine can be summed up with just four words: kill it with battleships.

The Star League Defense Force had the money, the manpower and the will to simply drown their opponents with massive firepower. Not to say that they were a blunt instrument, but when you own a hammer worthy of Thor, it's real tempting to look at every problem like it's a nail. But even they had their limits. Space is kind of big, after all, and a flotilla of warships guarding System A aren't covering System B. And if you spread them out too thinly, you risk being defeated piecemeal by an enemy able to gather sufficient forces to overcome each individual detachment one at a time. The old 'death by a thousand cuts' problem. The Star League decided they needed something new, something that would tip the balance of power back in their favor. They wanted to make the idea of invading the Hegemony simply unthinkable, something that would allow them to redeploy their massive fleet in such a way that nobody within a thousand light years of Terra would dream of defying the will of House Cameron.

Because while the other Great Houses of the Star League thought they were playing chess, House Cameron was playing Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker the entire time.

The Star League had the ability to alter the rotational velocity of planets and weld continents together, and while all the hospitals and schools they built across the Inner Sphere and Periphery may have been good PR, they were the velvet glove that hid a fist forged from a neutron star. And when they put all that brain power into killing something, that something tended to end up very, very dead. Enter the M-5 "Caspar" Capital Drone, an AI controlled warship the size of a destroyer but packing enough highly concentrated death to ruin anyone's day. With no need to stock food, supplies, or provide crew quarters, the ships were upgraded to include a weapons suite more common to a battlecruiser. As the ships were not hindered by human limitations, they could outmaneuver the manned vessels they were designed to attack. Using the advanced computers provided by Nirasaki Computers Collective and control systems from Ulsop Robotics, the Caspars could out-fight any manned ship in space. The concept was that a star system protected by Caspars as part of an integrated Space Defense System would be, to all intents and purposes, immune to the threat of invasion.

Drone Warship (Under Thrust)

M5 Caspar Warship at full throttle

Caspars did not need to eat, drink or sleep. So long as they were kept supplied and maintained by their equally automated command stations, they could operate round the clock. A Caspar couldn't be bargained with. It couldn't be reasoned with. It didn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely would not stop, ever, until you were an expanding cloud of debris. It was a suit of armor that the Star League was going to put around the entire Hegemony, the ultimate defense against any imaginable attack from without.

Unfortunately, when that attack finally came, it came from within.

One of the first things that rat-bastard Amaris did was take full control of the Space Defense System of every Hegemony world that had one. Entire fleets of Cameron loyalist warships were lost, like bears set upon by wolves. It didn't matter how many drones it took to take down a warship, because they were far cheaper and easier to replace. Only the Charlotte Cameron was able to put up a real fight, but that's a story for another time. So now this ultimately defense was in the hands of a mad man. The Caspars didn't know any better, least, most of them didn't.

There are stories, okay, about a few experimental models that were effectively self aware, who tried to fight back against the Usurper. Most died under the guns of their less intelligent kin, while the others... we'll, they say one pointed itself at the Andromeda galaxy, burned all its fuel to reach near relativistic speed and shut itself down. The rest just vanished into the out darkness. But, again, a story for another time.

There's an old hypothetical question: what happens when an immovable object finds itself in the path of an unstoppable force?

Because if the Caspars were the ultimate defense, then the Star League Defense Force was the ultimate weapon, a giant creature made of armor and weapons, born from your darkest nightmares. Aleksandr Kerensky was a man driven by the sure and certain knowledge that the universe would be better off without Stefan Amaris around to use up perfectly good oxygen. His army was willing to follow him into the gates of hell if so ordered, and that's what going up against the Caspars was like. The drones didn't understand politics, couldn't comprehend that their orders were coming from a power mad murder. All they knew was that they had been told that the incoming SLDF forces were the enemy, and that meant only one thing: kill them with fire. Every system protected by Caspars became a meat-grinder, with dozens of ships and thousands of people lost just to reach orbit. It was a fight even the SLDF could not win, so Kerensky had his best minds work on finding a way to defeat the drones without having to throw bodies at them.

So they did, sort of. They found a way to jam the long-range communications links between the individual drones and their command nodes. Cut off, these drones could often be ignored as they just sat there, waiting for orders that would never come. Unfortunately, this only worked on long-range communications, meaning that Caspars closer to the nodes would still fight, and the Sol system had been seeded with control nodes, meaning that, when the time finally came to liberate Terra, most of the 250 drones protecting it would be active. But Terra had to fall; the Usurper had to die for his crimes, and that meant sending the Star League Defense Force into the jaws of death.

Which that brings us back to Task Force Leonidas.

Kerensky assembled a flotilla of forty warships, led by the captured Stefan Amaris class battleship SLS Chieftain, and gave them the task of gutting the fleet of Caspars defending Sol. It was a suicide mission, a fact that wasn't kept from the crews, but even then, less than thirty members of the eight thousand men and women serving aboard those ships opted to back out of the mission when Kerensky gave them the choice. These people knew full well what was being asked of them, but they also knew that every day Amaris was left in charge of the Hegemony meant thousands more dead civilians. They were soldiers; they had sworn to give their lives if necessary in defense of the Star League and everything it stood for. And when the time came to fulfill their oaths, they would not be found wanting.

While the rest of Kerensky's massive armada attacked the main jump-points, the ships of Task Force Leonidas jumped into the L1 point between Sol and Mars, instantly drawing the attention of the Caspars in the area. Fearing that this was the prelude to an attack on Mars, Amaris ordered more and more drones in, but he didn't give them time to build up sufficient force to deal with the Task Force. Instead he sent them in as they arrived, meaning that many went in alone, while others attacked in twos and threes. The ships of Task Force Leonidas ripped these first few drones apart with overwhelming firepower for three hours, until thirty Caspers arrived at once.

That's when the gloves came off.

Nuclear fire enveloped the first wave of the Caspars as the ships of Task Force Leonidas unleashed a barrage of missiles in the 250-650 kiloton range. Sixteen drones were destroyed outright, with more crippled or badly damaged. The planners had expected the drones to break off at this, but it only spurred the Caspers on, as to their simple AI minds, Task Force Leonidas had just made itself the single biggest threat in the entire system. Singling out the ships that had fired the nukes, they doubled-down, going into what, had they been crewed by humans, could only be called a frenzy. Star League ships started to fall under the withering fire, and that brings us to the subject of this story.

The SLS Jervis Bay was a Congress class frigate that had seen almost two centuries of service, mostly escorting supply convoys around the Inner Sphere. However, the fighting to retake the Hegemony had taken its toll on the Jervis Bay, and she had suffered severe damage to her interplanetary drive in the fighting above New Earth. Indeed, there was some debate as to whether or not she'd even be able to make the jump with the rest of the flotilla. Her engineers patched the damage as best they could, the crew petitioning General Kerensky for a spot on the mission: knowing that their ship would likely be scrapped once the war was over, they wanted to give her the chance to go out in a blaze of glory.

Congress Frigate (by R

SLS Jevris Bay, Congress Class Frigate in action.

But fate is a fickle mistress, and had other plans for the Jervis Bay.

The jump into the Sol system had crippled the frigates drive. Knowing that retreat was not an option, the crew of the Jervis Bay decided that they would sell their lives dearly, and set about destroying every single Caspar that came within range. For two days, the crew of the Jervis Bay and the rest of Task Force Leonidas fought like their namesake, destroying or crippling over a hundred Caspars before the last ship, the cruiser Sovetskii Soyuz, was final ship destroyed.

But the fate of the Jervis Bay remains... contested.

The official after-action report by the Star League Defense Force states that it suffered damage to its reactor shielding, inflicting lethal radiation doses on the crew. They were ordered to pull out of the fighting, but instead on remaining on station, those not killed outright taking massive doses of pain killers and combat stimulates to remain functional. Then damage to the Chieftain crippled its starboard point-defenses, a potentially catastrophic opening that the Caspars pounced on. All guns firing definitely, the crew of the Jervis Bay redlined their already damaged engines in a bid to cut off the drones and buy the flagship time to effect repairs. It was a desperate move, as it caused a fresh surge of radiation to envelope the ship. Killing most of the surviving engineering crew as they man their posts to the last. Her hull torn and venting atmosphere, the Jervis Bay threw itself at the enemy.

And then something happened.

Officially, the Jervis Bay was destroyed when her reactor finally lost containment, the resulting explosion destroying a nearby Casper and badly damaging two more, while leaving no wreckage of the frigate. However, long-range sensor records indicate that the IR flair that preceded the disappearance of the frigate was closer to what one would expect from a catastrophic miss-jump, leaving many to speculate that the damaged reactor sent a power surge through the damaged jump-core, triggering it. Many who subscribe to this theory believe that the Jervis Bay was destroyed by the resulting energy release.

That was the end of Task Force Leonidas, with the remaining Caspars dealt with. General Kerensky sent ships to recover the pitifully few lifeboats and escape pods to be found, and the twisted, broken remains of the flotilla and the drones they had given their lives to destroy were left to settle into a solar orbit. A tomb for those who did their duty until the very end. No attempts were made to salvage the wrecks before the Exodus, and they quickly faded from common knowledge. That was until around twenty years later, when an enterprising group of Belters decided to see if there was anything worth recovering from the hulks. Now, many might consider this akin to grave robbing, but let's not forget that three centuries of war have left their mark on the known galaxy, and battlefield salvage is part of everyday life. At least the Belters were more interested in simple survival rather than killing.

Well, next thing anybody knows, they're sending out a distress signal, yelling that an unknown warship suddenly jumped-in and started firing on them. ComStar, who by that time, had taken control of the Sol system, dispatched a rescue mission, expecting to find nothing more than a few idiots who'd hit some debris and panicked. What they found was a crew of experienced spacers in a ship that showed signs of having taken damage from capital grade weapons. Fearing that one of the Successor States was making a secret play for Terra, ComStar deployed the CSV Alacrity, one of the few active warships in their possession at the time. The Vincent class corvette approached the Task Force Leonidas debris field with the crew at battlestations, only to be surprised by an unidentified Congress class frigate suddenly jumping in, firing upon them without making any attempts to communicate. The Alacrity made use of its superior acceleration to break contact, and the unknown warship seemingly jumped back out again.

Vincent Class Corvette (blockcade run) (by Colourbrand)

CVS Alacrity

Twice more the corvette would approach the wrecked ships, but no matter the angle they chose, the Congress would appear and open fire.

After this, modified Mark 39 Voidseeker Attack Drones were deployed, broadcasting various IFF transponder codes, but no matter what, the Congress always appeared and destroyed them. Long-range observations of the frigate showed that it taken massive damage, but showed clear signs of operating under human control. One drone was able to survive long enough to take a close-up image of the hull, from which the ships registration number could be seen: F40. A search of surviving records identified it as the Jervis Bay.

All subsequent attempts to contact the Jervis Bay, including by former Star League officers who knew the crew, failed. Any attempt to approach the Task Force Leonidas wrecks invited immediate attack from the frigate. All attempts to discover just how the shop was able to jump in and out so frequently failed, as did trying to plot where it was between appearances. In the end, ComStar simply deployed navigation buoys to make the area as a serious hazard to navigation and left. The Jervis Bay would not be sighted again for almost three centuries, until the Word of Blake, having recently wrested control of Terra from their former brothers, sent an expedition to inspect the wrecks. The Belters living in the system tried to warn them off, worried that they'd awaken the 'Last Spartan' as they called it.

The Word ignored them, and lost five ships with all hands.

More ships were sent, including warships from their small but growing fleet: they were all attacked relentlessly until destroyed or driven off, the Jervis Bay seemingly taking no damage. Countless theories have been put forth since the first encounter with the Jervis Bay as to what exactly happened to the ship, and how it is able to appear and disappear seemingly at will, always when someone approaches the ships of Task Force Leonidas. Scientists have speculated that the power surge caused the jump-drive to create a window in spacetime, and that the Jervis Bay and her crew are forever living out their last, glorious charge in defense of their long dead comrades. They have plenty of big words and charts to back up their theories, but the Belters have a far simpler answer.

They say that the Last Spartan is standing eternal vigil of the grave of Task Force Leonidas, and will strike down any who seek to desecrate their tomb.

The End

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