Captain Christopher Raleigh stood on the bridge of the Ultima Mule and looked at the man known as Smithers on the main holo.
Smithers was likely an alias, Raleigh thought, since the man worked in Republican Naval Intelligence. His face was probably fake, too. No one looked that forgettable. He just seemed . . . average. He could blend in anywhere, and be gone before you knew it.
“Thanks for answering my call, Captain. We have still not heard back from our friends.”
Raleigh nodded. He knew that Smithers would speak in vague generalities, just in case. Raleigh had been instructed to do the same before they began this mission. Even with the vastness of the quantum communications network, there were few guarantees that everything remained completely private, despite all the safeguards.
Raleigh said, “So, you’re going to continue as planned?”
Smithers nodded. The Republican attack on Sporades would occur even if Sergeant Gina Wilcox and the resistance agent known as Angel, who only a few knew was actually Julia Thrall, Tetrarch Thrall’s oldest daughter, did not or could not open a line of communication. They had been sent in to soften the target before the Republican Navy got there.
The move was not without precedence. Julia had taken out the Tetrarch on Juventas before the Republic attacked there.
She was considered, in many ways and by many people in the Republican naval and intelligence hierarchy, to be one of their greatest assets behind enemy lines.
But the plan was to attack anyway, even if they did not hear from her.
Smithers said, “That’s right. Everything remains on schedule. You might want to stick around just in case, but otherwise we can pick your friends up afterwards.”
If they’re still alive, Raleigh thought. That part went unspoken.
Out loud he said, “We’ll probably stay for the show. Lots of folks here want to know something, one way or the other.”
“I understand, Captain. And I can’t say I blame them. Well, I hope to talk to you again after we’re done.”
The image of Smither’s plain face winked out.
Raleigh looked to his right, where a smaller holo showed the engine room. Kim and Pak looked back at him, staring up at the camera.
“You can stop broadcasting to the whole ship now, guys.”
Kim grinned at him. He said, “There’s no privacy on the Mule, Captain. You know this.”
“Well, tell everyone to meet in the cafeteria. We’ll talk about our next move.”
Pak said, “You just did, Captain. Everyone’s listening in, remember?”
In the cafeteria the crew sat waiting for him. Raleigh walked in with his wife, Jillian. Behind them trailed Granny, then Biff Jones. These three were family members with Gina and Julia, so he had conferred with them privately before addressing everyone else.
But the message was the same. They were sticking around to pick up their loved ones, if at all possible.
Conversation died down as the Captain stepped up to the front of the room. He looked at everybody, nodded, and started speaking.
“So, we have no idea what’s going on, on Sporades. For whatever reason, Julia and Gina have not been able to get word out.”
Everyone shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“I don’t think that’s too surprising. There’s only a couple of known ways to communicate without interference, and if they ran into trouble doing that, it would mean no word. We’re operating under the presumption they’re okay.
“The Republic is attacking Sporades. Soon. They haven’t said when, exactly. But I’m certain it’s within days. Maybe hours. We’re going to stick around for the attack and see what happens. We’ll stay out of the fighting. At least, I intend to. But, once the Republicans have Sporades, we’ll drop in and find our people. We’re only an hour or so out, as you all know.
Pak raised a hand. Raleigh nodded at him.
“What happens if the Republicans lose?”
Granny’s face dropped at that thought. Biff and Julia did not look happy, either.
“Let’s take it one step at a time,” Raleigh said. “This battle that’s coming is out of our hands. We can’t really influence it one way or the other. It’ll be over in seconds and it will involve a lot of sun power, which we can’t fight against.
“Once it’s over, we’ll figure out what to do. But I promise you this . . .”
He glanced around the room, looking everyone in the eye.
“We are not going to leave them behind.”
“Admiral, I have brought the fleet to a halt for final preparations. We are 100 AUs out from Sporades.”
“Thank you, PLAIR.”
Admiral Frederick Severs looked at the star map on the holo in his quarters and gathered his thoughts. He would follow the tradition of giving his officers a final word of encouragement before the engagement.
“Do we have any word if our efforts at subterfuge and sabotage have been successful?”
“Tetrarch Thrall has moved several ships from Sporades to Euripides in the mistaken belief we will attack there first. But our agents behind the lines have failed to make contact on Sporades, so no word whether they were successful in their mission to eliminate Tetrarch Billings or not.”
“Mm. Well, hopefully it won’t matter. The depletion of their fleet is the important thing. What do you calculate our odds of success are, PLAIR?”
“With current information, I give us a 90 percent chance of success or higher. We have far superior numbers, and the Condors give us a virtually unlimited amount of solar ordnance versus their limited number of torpedoes.”
Severs nodded. He thought the same, but he was glad to hear the AI say it.
“Very well. Let me address my leadership, and we’ll move against Sporades.”
Severs took a deep breath and thought for a moment. He let it out slowly, and then he felt ready.
He turned toward the holo and PLAIR broadcast his image to every ship in the fleet.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Captains and Commodores of the Diego Fleet, welcome. This is our final briefing before the attack on Sporades . . .”