The thought of allowing a Confed ship to put his own, no matter what she looked like, in its sights was not something that Goldstein would have ever accepted graciously before, but right now he was prepared to accept the Concords’ little games if it meant a meal not served from ration packs and water that didn’t come from an alien reclamation system. “Let her come in; we’ve got nothing to worry about. Tell the flight pods to prepare for boarding; they’ll want to put in an appearance.” He should feel relieved, but that uncertain feeling was still there.
Goldstein licked his lips. Something wasn’t right. He didn’t know what, but he could feel it. His grandfather, a sea-farmer through and through, had been able to predict storms as if by magic; he’d been a part of the oceans so long that he’d developed a sixth sense about them. The senior captain felt that way now. There was nothing before his ship but empty space and the slowly growing, banded sphere of Hyperion Meta. Everything was quiet, but that silence felt wrong.
The redhead leaned back in her chair, brushing the loose forelock of hair out of her eyes as it again slipped down into them. Even with the fleeting contact she’d had with Arykka, no one was any closer to understanding why the Lefu had attacked them without warning or provocation. You are Enemy. That is enough.
“BXA analysts have put forward several theories, but there’s no corroboration for any of them,” Adeipho continued, doing his best not to grind his teeth. He was aware of his characterization as an ‘empty suit’. In fact, unkind observers had commented that when Rodriquez and Erasmus met, the PDP Assemblywoman ensured that there would be two fine suits in the room, but only one actual person. He was the President of the United Terran Concord, damn it! The largest, longest-lasting civilization in history. Sure, he was prepared to admit that Rodriquez had helped, but he knew he could have done it on his own. But yet, here the president of the United Terran Concord was, giving a briefing like one of his own aides. And Rodriquez didn’t even seem to notice. If the other members of his cabinet had, they wisely kept their mouths shut.
It had slipped into the system two days ago, unseen and undetected. The Enemy were attempting to refurbish their brightspace tracking systems to detect single-ship incursions, but according to the information squealed to it from a Scouting Vessel, they were awaiting a shipment of specialized parts and systems. The Fire Knives had wreaked more havoc then anticipated and severely crippled the Major Enemy Base’s production capability. That was encouraging.
Kanis inclined his head, confirming Liana’s train of thought. “Of course, our position leaves us vulnerable to both. If the Mulkari come down the passage, they will arrive here.” He frowned. “Command is unsure how likely that is.” True; the Prime Enemy were direct in their goals but at times could be disappointingly indirect in how they went about them. “The system they cleansed lies outside the passage,” Kanis continued. “They might not be aware of it, but Command isn’t willing to gamble lives on it. That’s why the Fleet withdrew from offensive operations.” The decision to pull back from their assault on the Enemy System ‘Hyperion Hive’ had been vexing, but understandable, given the radical shift in the strategic situation. Until Command could determine in what force the Prime Enemy were present in this region, it had been deemed better to withdraw then press the assault to the Terran Enemy’s orbitals and risk unacceptable losses.
“Over four hundred thousand dead, military and civilian,” Foraker grimaced. “Most of those were caused when Old Oak collided with Cat O’ Might, but there were the additional sixty-three thousand civilian casualties caused when the Nakir opened fire on the convoy.” Alicia’s expression was no more cheery than Hawthorne’s. “All to one damned scout cruiser.” “Which had taken the time and effort to all but perfectly mimic one of our own ships and managed to fool a half-dozen of our escorts and dozens of freighters for two weeks.” Foraker drummed his fingers on the polished tabletop, the only outward sign of his inner turmoil. Lefu technology was superior to the Concord – they’d known that for months – but this incident was a perfect example of just how vast the gulf between the two forces really was.
The Commander of Blind Oracle sat in her command chair, her chin resting upon her hands as she watched the display. Ahead of her Scout Vessel lay the Enemy System. It was full of noise: chattering radio waves and bubbling energy emissions from hundreds ships and dozens stations, both great and small. This system was a resource node; asteroid miners and refineries filled the system’s thick asteroid belt. Sunward, the Enemy had already cracked open one of the rocky planets, dozens of massive processing stations orbiting the wrecked world, breaking continent-sized planetary fragments down into manageable chunks, shuttles and barges carrying the smaller fragments up to the stations for processing and clearing jettisoned waste products safely out of the stations’ and vessels’ orbital paths. The woman licked her lips hungrily, as she looked over the bounty of targets before her. “Continue to close,” she ordered softly. “I want to see the horror in their eyes.”
“Our options are limited, as far as we can see,” he began without preamble. “The first is simple – we head back into hyperspace and for home. We never wanted to be a part of this fight and we’ve given a lot – some more than others – just to stay alive. Many – most – of you are just cadets who signed up for a training cruise. Not to become embroiled in an interstellar war. There’s no shame in being tired, in just wanting to wash our hands of everything here. If that’s what you think, say so. No one here will hold it against you. “Our second option is to head into Tebrinnin and from there beyond the territory the Lefu control to the Concordat holdings. Covenant’s hyper systems should allow us to get through the alien-held systems in one piece. I won’t lie to you: it’s a risk and a big one, but there’s an enormous shitstorm coming down the pike and they while might be Concords, they’re also human and for that, they deserve some kind of warning. After that’s done, our priority will be going home. I just want to hear what you have to say before I make my decision.”
“Pirates,” Natalya commented, remembering the Endo Massacre from her history books, staring at the images from the true version of history grimly. Foraker nodded. “Pirates were the official cause, yes. Case Omega has learned some interesting things about the Mulkari. They consider their survival to be the highest priority, so much so that they actively seek out other intelligent species and exterminate them. We don’t know why; we know almost nothing about their society or culture. Is it a religious drive? Is it because they were nearly wiped out themselves? Some cultural imperative, like ants? BXA agents who know what Case Omega is have spent their entire careers in silence, trying to understand the ‘Lefu’, but all that we know for certain is that they kill.