“Maelstrom had obligations to the Alliance and Grand Companies. Such were taxing its means to support the stifling presence Commodore T’Subaki had established against the Confederacy. Indeed, the slowly escalating conflicts ashore were forcing the Company fleet to stretch thinner and revert to tactics more prevalent in our first years. The risks were not what we remembered." - Katryn Vaunter, Personal Log.
The Scion Air Ships (SAS) Fairstar, Fairwind, Fairsea and Andustar (ex-Fairsky) comprised the four Saxton class airships in Company service. Andustar, Fairstar and Fairwind were escorting a long convoy of surface and air ships toward Kugane. Ex-baggers, over several refits by the Thursby Company, the Saxtons had forsaken their lifting “air bags.” Replacing them were greatly enhanced Garlean style Corulium wheels amidships and lift plates along her conventional waterline. The class retained the masts support lines which added a grace while underway and utility in close action. Their profiles allowed them to pass for merchant vessels at a distance. Aesthetically the Saxtons resembled fat paddlewheel passenger boats in some respects. Only with gun casemates studding the sides rather than the passenger verandas.
The assorted gun mounts housed a mix of new and somewhat antiquated mid-caliber naval guns. Her main deck offered swivel guns and arms intended for use in boarding and repelling of boarders. Comfortable, well equipped and immaculately kept, the Saxton class were antique improvised compromises all the same. Leadership, tactics and the skill of crews made them into effective warships and Commodore T’Subaki had been at the root of that.
“Continuous bearing, decreasing range, time to track inception five minutes.” the ensign at the plot table said aboard Andustar. Her captain, Katryn Vaunter and Commodore Aubreen T'Subaki listened. "Azimuthal quad screws, wheels, no bags. Two gun decks." Vaunter reported as she used her hand scopes to view the contact.
Open piracy had not known a more miserable time at sea. Able to check the Confederacy and pirates on the open ocean for years, such had not prevented the would-be toll keepers and pirate lords from convincing privateers to challenge them. This was the third such challenge of the journey.
"Designate Privateer One." Vaunter instructed the ensign. The designation was passed to fire control.
T'Subaki glanced over the plot table. "I have him captain."
"Commodore has the con." Vaunter said in turn.
"Signal Fairwind to proceed 15 points to port and advance to emergency ahead. Then bring us to a direct course abeam." T'Subaki ordered, peering at the makeshift commerce raider hardly more than a small dark silhouette.
Andustar and Fairwind turned from their positions within and among the convoy ships. The Confederacy had presented a barrier to most trade until Maelstrom pressed independent pirates into compliance with it and the Thursby Company Fleet pushed the rest aside. Free trade was not the wish of the ruling men of Hingashi, but it was powerless to enforce tribute or prevent escorted vessels from making port in Kugane. The Thursby Company had done much by way of creating jobs and patronizing business' that curried favor that made their work palatable to Hingashi's shogunate.
"Pennant flying." Captain Vaunter said over her shoulder to the commodore whose attention was now on the opposite side of the convoy. "Aye, Sunrise and sword on a purple background. I saw it." T'Subaki said.
"Plot, report all contacts." T'Subaki ordered, her gaze to the distance unbroken. The ensign glanced at his chart. "My only contacts are convoy and Privateer One." he replied, looking up and seeing the direction of the commodore's attention. As he did the sound phone buzzed. He picked the handset up and answered. "Plot.......right then" replacing the headset on its hook. He began to update his chart and announced "Con, new contact, starboard bow, unknown vessel type, range 18 kilometers. Bearing and speed undetermined." the ensign reported. "Con aye. Designate Ghost One. Mister Vaunter the con is yours, Take us in." T'Subaki acknowledged.
"Those eyes." Vaunter thought to herself as she snapped her hand scope toward a small dot just above the line of the horizon. "Signal Fairstar to increase angels to fifteen hundred and maintain speed. Helm, advance to flank. Signals, send all ships to stand to quarters. XO, rig for boarding action." Vaunter ordered in a flurry that sent still more orders along their chains of command and duty. The increased altitude Fairstar gained would make it clear to the new contact that the convoy was escorted if the new contact was hostile. The Andustar and Fairwind would still be obscured from it for a time. But the privateer would know also. All the more reason to close the shrinking distance with it quickly.
The Andustar rumbled as her corilum powered generators surged and the power shunted to her thrusters. As her speed increated the inverted, or ramming bow created pressure which depressed it. Small thrusters in the bow and increased power to the Garlean designed lift wheels evened its pitch.
The Fairwind made her best speed away from the convoy. As Andustar closed within a kilometer of the privateer T'Subaki retook the con.
"Signal Fairwind to begin her run and pull the hook in. Plot report changes, contact Ghost One?" T'Subaki asked.
The ensign replied, sounding surprised, "Unchanged, holding at original position, now fourteen kilometers off starboard bow."
T'Subaki nodded and leered at the dark shape in the distance. The faint look of misgiving did not escape Vaunters attention.
"Trouble?" she asked. T'Subaki shook her head and turned toward the contact abeam.
"No, the Garleans are not disposed to raid commerce." she said.
Vaunter's look of concern was followed by a quick look with her scopes.
"Yes, oversized, incoherent design. Gaudy, gilded details like a flying house of ill repute. " T'Subaki said with a tone of derision.
"But lets be about the business at hand."
The matter of contact Ghost One was subordinated to after action discussion. The women both turned to the plot table. Seeing Fairwinds position, T'Subaki raised her voice.
"Signals, send Privateer One, issue hostile challenge and order them to stand away from the convoy or it will be fired upon. Helm, reduce speed to ahead dead slow, come to starboard and present port broadside. All mounts to global control. And raise my colors. Execute." T'Subaki ordered.
Twice already this cruise from Limsa to Kugane, a motley assortment of vessels, some bearing no weapon more threatening than the smell below decks had challenged the convoy. As before T'Subaki deployed her ships to ensure their lack of speed and numbers did not allow for the privateer's escape.
"Action on the decks." Vaunter observed as the privateer waivered in her course as its crew scurried about. "They are preparing to fight." she added. T'Subaki nodded and shook her head.
"Their effort would be flattering were it not so ill advised and the methods amateur." T'Subaki said. It was not the futility of this would be raider but the unseen parties that must be driving them to try that were of concern. Consulting the plot, she nodded again. "Signal Fairwind to engage. Then signal Privateer One to strike colors and prepare to be boarded."
As in the previous two encounters Fairwind's course formed a hook shape on the plot chart. Like a fisher the company escort would effectively catch and release the raider after a short fight, boarding and dropping ordinance over the side. None had actually attempted to fight.
"Fairwind engaging." Vaunter said a few minutes later as from the ships forward most casemates flashes and delayed cracks of thunder announced a warning volley over the privateers bow. "Response from Privateer One?" T'Subaki asked.
"Negative, only latent coms noise on the link." the signals bosun replied. T'Subaki furled a brow. "The new link pearls or upwell set?" she asked.
The bosun shook his head. "New."
"Very well, log the issue after action. Signal, clear Fairwind to engage hostile, route ship-to-ship channel to the plot handset, link two." T'Subaki said. Vaunter spared a look. "Not worried we might miss a reply?" she asked. T'Subaki shook her head.
Aboard the privateer the scattered efforts of its crew finally produced a deck of loaded cannons. Either a fire order or fearful gun captain led to one firing, which led then immediately to the decks entire division to discharge. The rounds largely failed to strike save a few shells which burst against the improvised armor plates. These plates were used for protection and emergency ballast aboard the Saxton class.
"Not worried at all. The new links have not failed yet, if the quality leaves much to be desired." she T’Subaki told Vaunter as the vibration from the ad hoc barrage calmed. "Helm, ahead full." She ordered.
Picking up the handset at the plot table T'Subaki flipped a switch, "Control, Con, current track, Kill Gun, all mounts. Commence firing, fire continuous." T'Subaki flipped the channel selector to the next setting which connected it to the ship-to-ship Linkpearl box at the signals station. "Fairwind, Flag, weapons free, nav free, mind our solution and prevent Privateer One from egressing the engagement."
Within a moment, the full port side armement of Andustar fired. As quickly as each could reload the guns fired again. The vibration and noise merged into the engines surging to their full power thrusting the ship forward. Fairwind turned hard to starboard and released her own broadside.
Fairwind and Andustar circled the ship slowly. Their combined fire ripped through the air and into the privateer relentlessly. The engagement that followed was as lopsided as the contrast in combatants. In a matter of minutes the return fire had ceased, deck fires were prevalent and the ships propulsion and lift screws were destroyed.
Falling from the sky, the burning hulk shed crew into the water before drawling too much water the capsizing. Fairwind held station to recover survivors before rejoining the convoy. Andustar sprinted to resume her place near the front of the flock it escorted.
The convoy itself never stopped moving nor changed course. Fairstar resumed her cruising altitude and position within the convoy. Kugane was now a half days sail. "Fairsea, Orrostar and Cutlass put to sea this morning with the convoy to Limsa. Watch Tondera was advised of the downing and the Garlean contact. All ships are proceeding as before" Vaunter summed the watch notes in the officer galley.
The freshly offwatch officers were celebrating around them. No prize to be had, the privateer was not captured. All the same, after confronting and subduing two earlier assailants there was satisfaction in sounding hammering the third.
"Whatever the new Garlean ship was it never moved until the convoy passed. Then it drew east bearing toward Limsa." Vaunter added. T'Subaki sipped at her glass of a wine from Ul'Dah. And thoughtfully looked at her friend, lover and protege. "In your written after action report, note the performance issues with the Linkpearl gear." She said, catching Vaunters eyes long gaze for a deliberately long moment before a mutual knowing laugh broke punctuated the moment. "Early morning dear, convoy putting into port. Shall we retire?" T'Subaki asked rising from her seat beside Vaunter.
"Very well. We can….debrief more then I hope." Vaunter said with a smirk tucking and arm about T'Subaki's waist as they walk to the exit.