“This is Admiral Severs of the Diego Fleet, Planetary Republic Navy. To the people of Sporades, I bid you greetings.
“Earlier today, Tetrarch Billings surrendered your planet and the quadrant it controls to the Planetary Lead Artificial Intelligence Representative, otherwise known as PLAIR. At this time, you will notice that StarCen no longer maintains a presence on Sporades. All of her cores have been destroyed, along with all global defenses and military infrastructure . . .”
Hogue shared a glance with Delgado. They crowded around the receiver in the command hut along with several other officers and more than a few sailors and Marines who managed to squeeze inside with them.
Everyone listened to the words coming out of the black box with a quiet intensity.
Severs continued speaking, reiterating that the planet was under Republican control. Citizens would be treated fairly, with elections to be held as soon as things settled down so they could form their own constitutional government modeled after Republican planets. A peaceful transition in governance was expected, and troublemakers would meet swift and just retribution.
When he finished, a slight pause ensued.
Then he began again.
“This is Admiral Severs of the Diego Fleet, Planetary Republic Navy. To the people of Sporades, I bid you greetings . . .”
“It’s on a loop, sir,” Hogue said. “That’s the third time it’s started over.”
Delgado said, “It’s definitely his voice. Why would they try and trick us, do you think? Seems there would be an easier way if they were trying to pull a fast one on us. Hmmmm.
“Well, I hate to be a Doubting Thomas, but let’s keep our guard up a while longer just in case. If our side really did come back and pull off a win, they’ll be sending someone down soon. PLAIR will remember where she left us.”
The door burst open and Jamieson stuck his head inside.
“We’ve got incoming! At least 20 transports! Looks like they’re ours!”
The command hut emptied like a thwacked beehive. Officers and enlisted people ran out, looking up, trying to catch a glimpse of the sky.
In the camp’s clearing, several transports hovered. Everyone could clearly see “PRN” in thick black letters painted on their undersides.
Some on the ground danced, many waved. Everyone cheered.
Delgado strode out of the hut last, following Hogue. He glanced over at the X99s standing at sentry duty. They did not seem unduly alarmed, and were not aiming their weapons at the transports.
Taking this as a good sign, and finally deciding this was not a trick, he shouldered his way through the line of sailors and Marines watching as the first five transports settled down to the ground.
The doors hissed open, and Admiral Severs himself walked out of one of the vehicles.
Delgado separated from the group and approached the Admiral. Severs smiled, white teeth flashing in his dark face.
“Okay, Captain. Your little holiday is over.”
Everyone laughed as the two men shook hands.
“I’m glad to see you, Admiral. We had a couple adventures, but we’re ready to move on, I think. It’s time we rejoined the fleet, if you’ll have us back.”
Severs nodded and turned to look at a group of men unloading equipment from one of the transports.
“We’re setting up a sensor here for PLAIR. As soon as it’s online, we’ll port your boys and girls up to the Barton and let the docs check them out. After that, R and R for everybody. Although, if you ask me, you’ve had plenty of vacation time on this island resort of yours.”
Delgado chuckled. He felt genuinely glad to see Severs, and it showed in his face.
He said, “We’ve got some prisoners, Admiral. Had a small ground force attack us. The Verbergers took out most of them. The other civilians were here before we showed up. They are SSI prisoners. I presume most of them will want to go home.”
Severs nodded. He said, “Very well. We’ll have RNI interrogate everybody and figure out who to lock up and who to let go.”
His eyes grew more serious and he said, “How are you doing, Neal? Holding up okay? We thought you were a goner when that Starfold thing took out a chunk of the Reagan.”
“I’m doing well, sir. We’ve had to deal with some stupid missiles coming in, but once we figured out a workaround, it’s been much better. I haven’t lost anybody in two days. Have I told you what a great XO I have? Not to mention the rest of my crew.”
Together the two men chatted quietly as new personnel swarmed the camp, setting up equipment and talking with those on the ground.
Within half an hour a power core had been installed, then a permanent sensor and communication equipment. PLAIR could see the island and gain terrestrial metrics needed for safe teleportation.
Severs took his leave, saying goodbye to Delgado. PLAIR ported him to Rostin.
Once the Admiral left, the sailors and Marines from the Ronald Reagan began porting up to the Diego Fleet’s hospital ship in small groups.
Aboard the Clara Barton, their bodies would be cleaned, sterilized and subjected to a variety of tests. But, no one expected any medical surprises. Navy personnel were healthy to begin with, before going into battle. And the planet was civilized, with no serious pathogens.
Everyone from the Reagan looked forward to accessing the quantum matrix again, where they could reconnect with loved ones, catch up on the latest news, and resume their online games and other activities.
Delgado was one of the last to leave. He looked around at the hustle and bustle of the small camp and smiled. He looked forward to seeing his wife and daughters again, if only via holo for now.
But his expectations were tinged with sadness as he considered the additional tasks awaiting him once he boarded the Clara Barton. Lots of people on his ship had died, both during the naval engagement and after their crash landing.
Each family who lost a loved one would be hearing from him, once he regained access to interplanetary communications.
And that part of the job, he thought, was his least favorite.