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.She told me she didn’t blame me, and I felt our relationship improving.We shared mealtimes in her cabin.She gave me good advice and insight, and I realized it was important to have someone nearby who wasn’t under my direct command—someone who could speak her mind without worrying about her career or petty politics.You’d think people would forget about all that stuff when enemies were all around, but human nature just didn’t work that way.I found that I really needed to talk to a friend to get me through the long hours filled with work and worry.Sometimes in my exhausted dreams, I wasn’t sure whether it was Olivia’s or Adrienne’s face I saw.We talked about how I had nanotized her to save her life, and she understood.Everyone aboard was now nanotized, even the few surviving civilians.When they had argued with me about getting it done, I’d led them down to the improvised morgue and showed them the bodies of their dead colleagues.Then I jumped into a medical bay for booster nanites, making a show of how easy it was.Despite the pain, I sat rigidly and kept inside the howls that wanted to escape my lungs.After that, they’d been mildly shamed.They climbed into the machines semi-voluntarily under my marines’ watchful eyes and suffered through it.As always, the treatments provided hours of agony.I left just as they began cursing my family name in earnest and pretended not to hear.“Sir?” came a call as I left the scientists to their torment.“Bridge calling.Warrant Officer Hansen on watch.”“What is it, Hansen?”“The Pandas have finally made a move.They’re on our screens and closing fast.They’ll intercept us just as we reach Tullax 5.”I released a string of curses.“Are they launching from that battle station on Tullax 5?”“No sir.They appear to have come from the alien home world.They circled around the star, using its gravitational pull to slingshot them to greater speed and surprise us.”“How many ships?”“Thirty-six.”“Of course.Maintain course and speed.Riggs out.”I hurried to the central factory, which was now churning out munitions.It was my final preparation, one I wasn’t sure would work.I’d ordered the machine to build small, simple mini-missiles.They had no warhead, just a tiny radiation source to fool sensors into thinking they were nukes.The motive force would be one repeller, like on a marine skateboard or in a battlesuit.Normally repellers were much too slow and weak compared to engines, but they had the advantage of using much less fuel and space.A generator, a repeller, a sensor package and a tiny brainbox basically made up each missile.There wasn’t time to test them thoroughly but during the final hours, I fired off a few prototypes.They worked well, and I had the factory spew out as many as it could make, which turned out to be about a hundred per hour.Once we had four hundred of them, I was ready to put my plan into motion.-13-By the time we were closing in on Tullax 5, I wouldn’t say we were ready, but we’d done what we could.It had taken some maneuvering, and I hadn’t fully explained what was going to happen to my crewmen, but they were all too busy to complain.I’d never liked meetings, so other than the duty watch, it was just me, Hansen and Kwon around the bridge holotank as the battle began.I’d deliberately excluded the scientists.They would debate everything endlessly if I’d let them loose on the command deck.Adrienne had slipped onto the bridge, the only non-military person in sight.She sat down near enough to listen in, and I didn’t have the heart to order her away.I guess because I’d included her in the manufacturing and crash repairs, making good use of her engineering degrees, she figured she was part of the command staff now.Fair enough, I figured.If I was lucky, she could become my technical liaison, my eyes and ears among the geeks.She did seem very well-liked by the technical staff.“Let’s get a status report,” I said.“What’s with those thirty-six Panda ships? I can see on the display they’ve slowed down.”“Yes sir,” Hansen said.“Why?”Hansen shrugged.“Not sure.I thought maybe you could tell us what the enemy was thinking.”I stared at him coldly for a moment then nodded.“I’ll do my best.I would wager they think we’ll slam into their battle station and die on their guns.Why risk losing a few cruisers in battle if they can take the damage on a tougher station?”“Why indeed?” Hansen asked.“I’m beginning to admire their strategic thinking.”“All right,” I said.“If they’re hanging back to play clean up, it’s all about us and the battle station.In fact, it makes it even more imperative that this plan works.”“Because otherwise,” Hansen said, “we’re dead.The Panda ships will sweep in and blow us away from behind—if we’re so lucky as to survive that long.”“We will,” I assured him.“Valiant is lined up on the open part of the ring sticking out of the moon of Tullax 5—or at least lined up on where it will be at the moment we pass through it.I’m hoping that as we approach, our intentions won’t be obvious until the last minute.All we have to do now is accelerate.”“That’s still going to be some tricky piloting,” Hansen said.“Getting the timing right…”“Are you saying you can’t do it?” I asked quickly.The grizzled veteran’s lip pulled back.“I can do it.But if I miss and we all die, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”“I won’t say a word,” I said, smiling tightly.“But how are we going to get past that battle station?” Kwon asked suddenly, leaning his bulky body forward over the command displays.“I was thinking maybe we’d have to land troops on it—or something [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]