Julia Jones woke up in the room she shared with Gina Wilcox and noticed the Sergeant was already awake in the other bed.
She was propped up on pillows and had her eyes closed, but Julia saw movement under the lids. And it was not the rapid eye movement associated with dreaming.
“Hey,” she said softly.
Wilcox seemed to wind down whatever she was doing online. A few seconds later she opened her eyes. She looked around blankly for a moment then focused on Julia.
“You been up all night? Let’s get some breakfast.”
Wilcox shook her head. “Nah, just a few hours. I’m getting stronger. I can use that relay and poke around with my consciousness online, explore the whole system. I know a whole lot more about what’s going on now.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“One of our troop transports crash landed on a prison island. They’ve launched four missiles at the island after destroying what was left of the ship, trying to wipe out the survivors. But there’s a civilian protection protocol. Our guys are taking advantage of that and mixing in with the prisoners.”
Julia raised her eyebrows and said, “I bet you won’t hear about that on the news.”
“Other than that, I’ve been learning how to control Starfold better. I think I can disrupt their protocol enough during a battle to give our side an edge.”
“Like I said, the subroutine is similar to drones. They keep an eye out for the enemy and teleport short distances to ensnare ships before activating. I think I can make them teleport elsewhere. In fact, I’m sure I can now.”
“So, if you happen to be online when the Republicans attack, you could help out.”
Wilcox grimaced. She said, “That’s the thing. Space battles go quick. If one lasts 30 seconds, it’s longer than usual. We’re cut off from communicating with the fleet or anybody over there. I could be having breakfast with you and they could attack and we’d never know about it until later.”
“Or, they could choose not to attack here again right away. Maybe the fleet goes for Euripides or something.”
“Nah. My gut tells me Admiral Severs will return. I saw the ship count currently in orbit. Thrall sent a large portion of their ships to Euripides. We took out six League ships. So, Sporades is still vulnerable.
“Think about the logistics of moving our fleet somewhere else. It’s not going to happen. They are out there, licking their wounds, and trying to find a way around Starfold. When they do, they’ll come right back here. I think the stranded troop transport will weigh on the Admiral’s decision, too.”
Julia nodded, considering her friend’s comments.
She said, “Is there anything we can do for those poor people?”
“You could maybe bring me breakfast in bed.”
Wilcox cracked a grin. She knew her mother called Julia “Princess” because of her heritage, but Julia did not strike her as someone who put on airs.
Sure enough, Julia smiled back. She said, “I’ll be back with your food in a jiffy.”
Billings came into his office early and began working into the morning. He had been up late, and was operating on only a few hours of sleep today. But, he felt that desperate times called for desperate measures. And a lack of sleep.
So many things had to be taken care of that stemmed from the recent attack. He ground his teeth in frustration at the fact that Thrall had taken away so many ships. If he had his full numbers, if the Fourth Fleet had not been stripped of resources, losing six would not be as devastating.
Half the Fourth Fleet, a total of 30 ships, had been diverted to Chu on the mistaken belief the Republicans would attack Euripides.
Billings supposed he should be grateful Thrall had only taken that many. It could be worse. The decision might have been to take two whole divisions, or 40 ships, instead of one and a half.
As it was, Billings now had only two dozen ships in orbit, most of them Hawks and Sparrows. Four ships had suffered damages requiring orbital repairs, but those had proceeded smoothly. He could field all 24 of his ships in the event of another attack.
Without a doubt, the only thing that saved them was Thespar’s new weapon, and for that Billings felt very grateful.
He knew people on Epsilon sometimes joked about Sporades being a “backwater,” a particularly telling insult on account of the planet’s oceanic nature.
But their branch of Thespar pulled off a miracle. Maybe now the quadrant would receive more respect.
With that comforting thought, he turned his attention to other things, including a downed Republican troop transport on the island of Patmos.
An alert flashed across his desktop holo, indicating that MARS had been activated again. He motioned with his hand and watched the satellite feed as a transport floated over the wreckage of the spaceship and landed near three men standing in the open.
The system flashed a red circle around one of the men, and Billings grimaced. A civilian had been identified.
He watched the missile streak over them as the safety protocol engaged, prohibiting the strike.
Then Billings observed one of the men running away from the transport and start firing. The missile turned around, its engagement protocol reactivated when the individual with a weapon firing at it had enough distance from the civilian.
The person kept firing.
He watched the missile explode, and he raised his eyebrows.
He motioned with his fingers, and the satellite image zoomed in. Now he could see the marksman was in fact a robot. It walked back and stared impassively as the human Marine made a “high five” gesture.
Billings leaned back in his seat while everyone boarded the transport before flying over to the other side of the small island.
“Yes, Tetrarch Billings?”
“Prepare a military task force to retake Patmos from enemy infiltration. I suppose we should let SSI know about it since they have a reeducation camp there.”
“Will do, Tetrarch Billings.”
Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to change or eliminate the MARS safety protocol. Then missiles could fly in and take everyone out.
But they called him a softy for a reason. Billings still felt an obligation toward his people. He would not sacrifice them, if he could help it.
He sighed, hoping the task force would not kill too many innocents.