“Most battles are decided by the intelligence team.”
“The evacuation exercises aren't well received by the civilians. There are a lot of complaints about lost time. Many don't want to accept that waiting inside the living areas is safer than being outside. They argue that it doesn't matter where they are if Illum gets destroyed.”
I finish my report and rub my cheek tiredly. Somehow I ended up with the job to coordinate the civilians in case of a crisis. We should have done it sooner, but there are so many things to consider that it didn't come up.
This is the first real meeting we had since the destruction of Laos. For the sake of getting everyone up to date, everyone of importance met in the large conference room which is adjacent to Nova's quarters. For that reason, we gathered around the large, round table.
The others look solemn, but a lot better than me. My hooded eyes are proof of the hard work which I invested since we departed the World Assembly. I run a hand through my blonde hair and wince. A proper bath wouldn't be half bad either.
Our departure was three days ago and I've had three scheduled evacuation exercises since then. None of them went down as smoothly as I wished. There are always stupid stragglers or people who plainly refuse to take part in the exercise. I wonder what they would do if there is a real danger.
Tristen gives me a reassuring smile. “You are doing a good job, Fae. Everyone can see that you are giving your best, but some things simply don't work with pretty words alone. Brian and I will try to get the guard involved in the exercise. There will always be some people who need a few good arguments and a little authority to follow orders.”
Brian snorts. “You want to say that they need the stick!”
Nova sighs and pushes a stack of documents to the side, allowing them to disappear beneath the table. She always does that when a report is too detailed. Having disposed of the offending material, she turns her attention to me. “Well, I suppose that it's good for the people to get the experience. The whole enterprise isn't a total failure. We already made several adjustments which make a panic less likely. Wider corridors and more access-points to the living areas for example. Though, it irks me that getting everyone under ground takes over an hour.”
She smiles. “It isn't your fault. I can see that you didn't get much sleep recently.”
I nod. “The worst problem are the market stall owners. They refuse to leave until their shops are closed down,” I grumble.
Nova rubs her temples and grimaces. “We will pass down a law that requires them to be able to close their shops within ten minutes. Or we forbid stalls and booths altogether. Illum isn't an average city. Even if it weren't for the danger of a military attack, there could be other problems which require safety evacuations.” She turns her attention to Zane. “How are your forces doing?”
Her consort plays with his control ring and calls up a hologram. A cube appears above the table. It slowly turns around itself, displaying several charts. The spreadsheets inform us of the status of Illum's military units. There are several columns with numbers and explanations next to them. Strangely enough, the most important ones seem to refer to our available manpower. But before I can ask the obvious question, Zane starts explaining.
“I am reasonably happy, though not everything is as rosy as it seems. My people are getting used to the new ships and I've several new tactics in mind which make full use of their capabilities. We have about eight hundred fighters, two hundred bombers, and ninety of the larger attack cruisers. There is no reason to complain about our resources. Illum’s average soldier is better equipped than most elite troops of other nations.”
They better be. Nova poured more resources into our growing military than is healthy for a nation.
Even though the mentioned numbers sound awesome, Zane shakes his head. “Sadly, I have to inform you that there is a major problem. Our air-forces rely on large numbers and speed. The fighter jets and bombers are fast, but their defence is weak. Their very nature makes them perfect for swarm tactics. It's a completely new strategy for this world. None of the other nations will expect it. Illum is a floating dockyard which doubles as a carrier and a dreadnought. Normally, it would be a strong and reliable strategy.
“The issue is that we simply lack the manpower to make full use of it. On paper, we have pilots for all the ships, but in reality, I wouldn't trust even half of them with their vessels. Not everyone is a natural talent like Willow. I suspect that sending them into a real battle right now would cost us a lot of pilots due to human mistakes. The fighter jets are so fast that a single wrong reaction means the end.”
He leans back in his chair. “Oh, I am reasonably sure that they can lift off, land, and fly in a straight line. But any kind of real combat manoeuvres?” He shakes his head. “Most of them will collide with an ally or fly their machines straight into the ground. And a machine that isn’t piloted by a capable man won’t last ten seconds against an airship.”
Turning, he looks at Nova, a grave expression on his face. “I am afraid that you underestimated the spell projectors which are installed on each and every airship. They are the most used weapons in aerial combat on this world, but I can’t blame you for making this mistake. You never got to see the spell projectors used to their full capability. All you saw of them are a few oversized fireballs, which are admittedly the best way to fight other airships.
“The spell projectors are large prisms which can channel magic. If they are supplied with enough power, they can turn a simple fireball into a spell that’s strong enough to destroy an airship. Do you already realize where this is going?”
Nova tilts her head and looks at the table in front of her. It doesn't appear as if she is offended by Zane's critique. “You want to say that they will simply use other spells against our fighters. Maybe we can take them by surprise and deal a few initial blows, but that won’t last. Once they realize that their fireballs are too slow to hit a fighter jet, they will change to other spells which are more effective. The weak defence of our fighters will turn into a problem.”
He nods. “I can imagine that they will be surprised. Maybe they will even take a few unnessecary losses until they adapt, but I can think of several spells which would be effective against small objects with weak defences. As an example, something that’s based on lightning magic would be hard to evade.”
Tristen raises his hand to gain our attention. “Would you please explain why that’s a problem? We still have about four hundred ships. Isn’t that enough?”
Zane snorts. “That’s true, but our best tactic would be to overwhelm the enemy with numbers and firepower. I would say that ten fighters have a reasonably good chance to take down an airship with their first attack run. Fifteen to be sure. Four hundred divided by fifteen is twenty-seven, rounded up.”
He crosses his arms in front of his chest. “So I would say that I feel secure in taking on a force of thirty airships without unreasonable losses. Anything above that and we have to expect a lot of casualties among our pilots. That’s something I want to avoid at all costs at this point in time. We are still training up our forces. Spending a week at the World Assembly didn’t exactly help. We were building new ships, but our new pilots weren’t able to train.”
“So we have to avoid a battle,” Nova murmurs. “How long until all of our forces are ready? If they get out to train every day?”
Zane furrows his forehead. “One- maybe two months. Some of our pilots grasped the concept very quickly, but most are struggling with quick manoeuvres. The training schedule is already very demanding. I even put up with losses due to training accidents. It teaches the other pilots to be careful with the machines.”
It’s Kiara who speaks next. “So we rely on our cloud to hide us while we travel to the Mirai State. Shouldn’t we send out some of the fighters as scouts? It would be nice to have some warning ahead of time in case that we are being followed. Isn’t that the reason why we have this meeting?”
“That’s actually a good idea. Didn’t I add a cloaking function to the smallest vessels?” Nova turns, looking expectantly at Zane.
He nods. “I’ll make sure that our scouts patrol the area around Illum.”