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Chapter Twenty-Four

"There it is, Ma'am," Scotty Tremaine said very quietly, and Honor nodded. The island of Styx was a blur of green and brown on the wrinkled blue of the DuQuesne Ocean, named for the powerful Legislaturalist who had been the architect behind the PRH's original plan of conquest.

Funny thing to call an ocean on a planet StateSec owns, she reflected absently. Wonder why they didn't change its "elitist" name to something more proletarian when they took over the lease?

Not that it mattered. It was just another of those distractions a human mind sought when the tension ratcheted high, and she knew it.

"I see it, Scotty," she said, and keyed the intercom. "All right, people. We're about five minutes out. Stand by." She released the stud, gave Nimitz a light caress, and looked at Tremaine. "The bird is yours," she said simply.


Citizen Major Cleilia Steiner rubbed the tip of her nose and contemplated the coming change of shift. She and several friends had a date to spend the afternoon surfing, and she was looking forward to trying out that new stud Citizen Captain Harper had brought back from Delta One-Niner last month. He was a political who'd been a big cheese in the Treasury Department under the old regime, and that lent a certain spice to demanding "command performances" from him. Besides, Steiner had always been a sucker for that distinguished, silver-temple look, and if he was even half as good in bed as he was in the looks department, it should be quite an experience.

She smiled lazily at the thought. I wonder what "the People" would think if they knew how damned much fun we have out here? she wondered. I know I never would've thought there was a post like this one! Sure it's boring when you're actually on duty—too much of the same old, same old to be any other way. But there are the off-duty perks, now aren't there? Sort of makes you understand why all those rotten old Legislaturalists got such a charge out of being lords of creation, doesn't it? Well, it's our turn now, and I, for one, intend to enjoy it just as much as they ever did.

She chuckled, yet in the back of her mind was the memory of the day she'd joined StateSec, all bright and shiny with her desire to protect the People from their enemies. It hadn't taken long for the shininess to rub off, and deep inside she had never stopped mourning the fact that it hadn't. But the real world wasn't like dreams, or the promises people like Cordelia Ransom had made. The real world was where you did the best you could, and you looked out for number one, and you watched your own ass, because it was for damned sure no one else would.

She shook herself and looked out over the neatly parked ranks of shuttles and pinnaces lined up along the parking circles down the side of the main field. Here and there a small cluster of techs labored over one of them in a desultory sort of way. There was no rush. Two things Camp Charon had plenty of were time and—especially—small craft. Steiner sometimes wondered exactly why there were so damned many of them, but no one else seemed to know, either. Of course, they'd already been here when StateSec took over from InSec, and the InSec garrison had been twice as large as StateSec's. Maybe they'd actually needed all those birds for something . . . whatever it might have been. Not that it really mattered. All of them belonged to Steiner—when she had the watch, that was—and they made a satisfyingly perfect geometric pattern, parked side by side with their wings in maximum oversweep, gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. Except that the pattern wasn't quite perfect. There was a hole over there on parking circle twenty-three, and Steiner smiled.

Tsk, tsk, tsk, Citizen Lieutenant Jardine! Is Citizen Perfect running late? Goodness. You'll never hear the last of this!

She chuckled at the thought and checked her approach radar. There he was. The blip of his shuttle traced its course across the holo display, its IFF code blinking beside its icon, and she shook her head. Then she frowned. He was a few degrees off the right heading for a least-time flight from Camp Inferno, and as she watched, he was sweeping still further off. In fact, he was circling around to approach the field from the west, and she rubbed an eyebrow in puzzlement.

There was no operational reason why he shouldn't come in from the west, but, as a rule, pilots did their best to avoid a western approach even when the tower wanted them to use it, because that approach brought them straight in over the base's main installations . . . and over Citizen Brigadier Tresca's personal quarters. Steiner hadn't flown supply runs herself in over three T-years, but she remembered her own experience. Overflying the base's anti-aircraft defenses while they automatically challenged her IFF codes had never bothered her half as much as the possibility that she might disturb the CO while he was napping. After all, even the most wildly errant SAM could only kill you once.

But Jardine was definitely coming around to approach from the west. Not only that, but he was high, and Steiner grimaced, wondering what the hell the Book-loving citizen lieutenant thought he was playing at.

Jardine, you dumb prick, she thought. Not even your fixation on the Regs is gonna save your ass if you disturb Tresca's afternoon siesta! She watched his icon a moment longer, then shrugged and reached for the com.


"Jardine, this is Steiner." The voice came from the com, and Tremaine and Honor glanced at one another. "Would you care to tell me just what the hell you think you're doing?" the voice went on. "You do realize whose quarters you're about to overfly, don't you?"

"Coming up on Initial Point in thirty-eight seconds," Linda Barstow said from the tac section.

"Understood, Tactical," Honor replied, and flipped up the plastic shield over the master weapons release switch. What have you got in your basket, Little Red Riding Hood? a corner of her brain asked her, and she pressed the release button firmly with her thumb, then shifted her hand calmly to the multiposition toggle on the fire control stick and selected missiles.

"Weapons hot," she said.


Steiner frowned, wondering why Jardine hadn't replied, as the shuttle continued its approach. Its icon blipped green as it crossed into the base's anti-air envelope and the computers routinely interrogated its IFF beacon and identified it as a friendly, and her frown deepened. There was still no concern, only irritation, and she keyed the com again.


"Listen, Jardine," the voice from Base Ops said in a much tarter tone. "You can dick around up there if you want, but if you piss off the Old Man, I'm not gonna bail your butt out! Now what the hell d'you think you're doing?"

"Looks like they're still buying the beacon, Ma'am," Tremaine observed. His voice was inhumanly calm, but a single bead of sweat rolled down his forehead despite the cockpit's air-conditioning, and Honor chuckled mirthlessly. Her eyes were on the holo image of the base in her heads-up-display. They'd been able to generate fairly detailed topographical imagery from the data Harkness had stolen from Tepes, and the shuttle's passive sensors had been updating the HUD by adding specific targeting codes to the display for the last five minutes. Now half a dozen numbered locations were centered in bright red sighting rings, and she smiled.

"They're buying it so far," she agreed. "But it's about time to show them what sharp teeth the Big Bad Wolf has." A soft tone chimed as the range readout to the closest sighting ring dropped to twelve thousand meters, and she straightened in her seat, her voice suddenly cold and crisp.

"Tactical, illuminate Target One," she commanded.


An alarm screamed behind Ceilia Steiner, and something hit the floor with a crunching clatter as she spun her chair to face it. The citizen sergeant on the air-defense console had dropped his book viewer and sat gaping at the brilliant, flashing red light which announced that target designator lasers had just begun illuminating his remote fire stations. He knew exactly what he was supposed to do in that situation, regardless of whether or not the incoming aircraft was friendly, but he'd had absolutely no reason to expect it to happen, and he was as frozen by surprise as Steiner.

Not that it would have mattered anyway. It was already far too late.


"Launch One!"

Honor Harrington's soprano voice was colder than space as she announced the shot and squeezed the trigger on the control stick. A single laser-guided missile dropped from the racks and accelerated at four thousand gravities.

"One away!" she said crisply, confirming the launch

"Target Two up!" Senior Chief Barstow called from the tactical section, illuminating the next target on her queue.

"Launch Two!" Honor replied, and a second missile launched, acquired, and went screaming in on its target.

"Two away!"

"Target Three up!"

"Launch Three!"


Given more launch range to work with, the missiles would have made respectable kinetic energy weapons, but the attackers had had to get in too close for that. Not that it mattered. State Security had very kindly armed those missiles with massive warheads designed to take out hardened targets, and the first missile slammed straight into the primary fire control radar for Camp Charon's air defenses.

A huge ball of fire bloomed against the ground, boiling up into the heavens, breaking windows and sending shockwaves through every structure within a thousand meters. And then the second missile slammed into Radar Two, and the third ripped Number One Missile Battery itself to bits, and the fourth exploded in the exact center of Missile Two. And even as Cleilia Steiner jerked to her feet, staring in numb horror at the destruction marching across the base towards her, missiles five through ten were in the air and streaking for their targets.


A howl of triumph went up from the troop compartment, like the baying cry of a wolf pack, as the passengers nearest the view ports caught a glimpse of the explosions, but Honor had no attention to spare. She was locked into her mission, fused with Chief Barstow and Scotty Tremaine. Barstow was their eyes, peering ahead, finding their prey, marking it for death. And Scotty was their wings, bearing them onward like a falcon stooping upon its victims. And Honor—Honor was the very hand of death, and her hand squeezed again, her one good eye bleak as flint, as she sent a final missile scorching down into the sea of fire and smoke and secondary explosions which had once been Camp Charon's air defenses and the shuttle lined up on the field.

"Designating ready aircraft!" Barstow sang out.

"Acquired," Honor replied as the targeting lasers picked out the ready section of pinnaces. The magnified image in the HUD showed her the missiles tucked under their fuselages, but they were the only armed craft on the entire field, and they'd never been intended for a combat scramble against one of their own shuttles. They were meant as a fire brigade in case some camp full of prisoners went berserk and mobbed a supply shuttle or some equally bizarre occurrence. Yet nothing like that had ever happened . . . and the planners had never even contemplated anything as bizarre as what was happening. But for all that, someone down there obviously had her head together, because Honor actually saw a pilot running madly towards one of the ready birds. But whoever she was, she was too late, and Honor thumbed the toggle to select bombs.


Citizen Major Steiner watched in sick, horrified disbelief as the intruder swept over the field.

That's not Jardine! she thought wildly. It's not even a trash hauler at all! It's a goddamned assault shuttle! Where the fuck did that come from?

She didn't know where it had come from, yet an assault shuttle it indisputably was, and she could see the StateSec markings on it. It wasn't Jardine, but it was one of their own, and what in God's name was happening here?

But God didn't answer her, and she flung herself down, trying to burrow into the tower floor, as she saw the ominous shapes detach from the shuttle and go plummeting towards the only armed pinnaces on the entire face of the planet Hades.


The cluster munitions spewed bomblets across the parked pinnaces. They weren't the snowflake clusters designed for anti-personnel use. These were dragon's teeth, designed to cripple or destroy heavy ground combat equipment. Each bomblet was the size of a Grayson baseball, and hundreds of them rained down across the neatly parked pinnaces.

And then they exploded in a long, incandescent wave that lashed a storm front of destruction across the field. The red and white fury of high-explosives was spalled with the brilliant blue of flaming hydrogen as the pinnaces' fuel tanks let go, and Honor watched a splintered fuselage go smashing across the ceramacrete in an end-for-end tumble, like a toy discarded by some huge, petulant child.

"Put us down, Scotty," she said flatly, then keyed her com. "Cub, this is Big Bad Wolf," she said clearly. "We're inside."


"What did you say?" Citizen Lieutenant Commander Proxmire demanded, staring in disbelief at his com officer.

"Camp Charon is under attack, Sir!" Citizen Lieutenant Agard repeated. If he hadn't sounded as shocked and disbelieving as Proxmire felt, the citizen lieutenant commander would have suspected him of trying to pull some macabre kind of practical joke. But if it wasn't a joke, then what the hell was it? How could anyone be attacking the base? The prisoners damned straight didn't have the capability to do it, and no one else could possibly even have gotten here without first fighting his way through the orbital defenses!

And if someone was attacking the base, then what the hell was he supposed to do?

He scrubbed a hand over his mouth, thinking furiously. His was perhaps the most boring of all the State Security duty assignments in the Cerberus System, for he was Camp Charon's emergency mailman, the only way Hades could get a message out to the rest of the galaxy if it needed to. Someone had to pull the duty, however mind-numbing it was, and Proxmire supposed he shouldn't complain too loudly that his turn had finally come up. He'd spent over four T-years assigned to play diplomatic courier for various embassies before they stuck him here. That had certainly been a cushy slot, and he was due to be relieved from this one in another eight T-months, as he made a habit of reminding himself every morning.

Not that any of those bright and sunshiny thoughts helped a great deal. His forty thousand-ton courier boat was one of the fastest vessels in space, but she was also little more than a pair of Warshawski sails and a set of impellers, with strictly limited living space for her thirty-man crew. That was why half his people were usually down on Styx, rotating through enough liberty to keep bulkhead fever from driving them crazy and simultaneously giving the people still stuck upstairs aboard ship enough extra living space to stay sane. It was strictly against The Book, of course, but no base commander had ever objected. After all, there would be plenty of time to get the rest of Proxmire's crew back upstairs before sending his ship off with a message. Besides, no CO on Hades had ever actually needed to use his communications ship, anyway.

Proxmire scrubbed harder, cursing his own complacency. Yet even as he cursed himself, he realized his error had been all but inevitable. No one had ever threatened Hades. Hell, no one but StateSec even knew where it was! And there had been no point in putting his people to any more hardship than they had to endure simply to satisfy the letter of the Regs. But now this—whatever this was!—was happening down there, and he had only half his crew on board and no orders from Citizen Brigadier Tresca. But—

"Start bringing up the impellers," he ordered harshly.

"Yes, Sir."

Proxmire nodded, then jerked his attention back to the display. It would take his ship almost forty minutes to bring her nodes up, and he hoped to hell that by the time they were on-line, the situation would have clarified enough down there that he wouldn't need them after all.


Scotty Tremaine put the shuttle down, and the twin dorsal turrets whined as their heavy pulsers tracked across the base. The single ventral turret joined in, and hangers and parked ground vehicles blew apart under their ravening fire as the troop hatches sprang open.

Three hundred men and women streamed down the ramps, armed to the teeth and carefully briefed on their objectives. They split up into three groups as officers' shouted orders, and then they were gone, flowing away into the chaos and flame like vengeful ghosts.

"Last man out!" Horace Harkness announced over the intercom. "Hatch closing . . . now! Good seal, Flight!"

"Copy," Tremaine replied, and the shuttle howled back into the heavens. There were no heavy anti-air defenses to challenge it—not anymore—and it took station directly above the heavy vehicle park, prepared to destroy any ground armor the garrison might manage to get into action.


"Move, move, move!" Jesus Ramirez bellowed. His team was the truly critical one. Alistair McKeon was leading a second group to seize the vehicle park and appropriate any heavy armor he could find, and Harriet Benson (and, inevitably, Henri Dessouix) led the third group to secure the perimeter of the landing field. Those were both vital missions, but Ramirez's group left them to it and sliced straight across the base, charging for the very heart of the chaos of explosions and flame Commodore Harrington had sown, for their objective lay in the midst of that destruction. It was, in fact, the one defensive installation Commodore Harrington had very carefully left untouched, and the attackers had to secure it intact.

A small knot of SS troopers suddenly appeared out of the smoke. One or two of them had side arms; the others seemed to be completely unarmed, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and no one was taking any chances. Pulse rifles whined and a grenade launcher coughed. One of the SS men might have been trying to surrender, but no one would ever know, and Ramirez and his people trampled the bodies underfoot.


Citizen Major Steiner dragged herself to her feet. Her ears rang and her face was bloody, yet she knew she'd been incredibly lucky. The outer crystoplast wall of the control tower had been reduced to splinters and driven across her work area like shrapnel, cutting down and killing every other member of her crew, and she staggered towards the door. She had to get out of here, she thought dazedly. Had to find a weapon. There was only the one shuttle. There couldn't be more than a couple of hundred people aboard it, and the defenders had them outnumbered ten-to-one, with armored vehicles and battle armor to support them. All they needed was time to recover from the shock and get themselves pulled back together, and—

She stepped out the door, moving more briskly, just as Henri Dessouix's twenty-five-man platoon came around a corner, and a dozen pulse rifles opened fire as one.

If anyone had cared, it would have taken a forensic surgeon days to identify the remains.


"Go!" Alistair McKeon shouted, and half a dozen of his people dashed across the open ground towards the vehicle park. A handful of SS types had gotten themselves back together, and a light tribarrel opened fire from somewhere in the enlisted housing blocks facing the main vehicle building. Two of McKeon's people went down, killed instantly, but the others cleared its field of fire before it could engage them.

The gunner would have been better advised to shoot at the hovering shuttle, instead, McKeon reflected grimly. Light as his weapon was, he was unlikely to have brought down the heavily armored assault craft, but he might have gotten lucky. Instead, all he'd managed to do was kill two people and attract the shuttle's attention. It twisted around in midair, the nose dropped slightly, and the building from which the fire had come vomited flame and smoke as Honor put a missile into it and followed up with a half-second burst from her heavy bow-mounted tribarrels.

He waved the rest of his party forward, and they swept across the clear ground. A dozen or so technicians had been working on vehicles or tinkering with the powered armor stored in the base "Morgue," but only about half of them were armed, and those only with side arms. Some of them did their best, with far more guts than McKeon would have expected from SS thugs, and he lost eleven more men and women before he could secure the park. But then he had control of it, and he posted fifteen people to hold the Morgue and keep the garrison from getting to the powered battle armor stored there while the rest of his people began firing up the power plants on armored personnel carriers and light tanks.

McKeon stood on the rear deck of a tank, feeling the armored carapace shudder underfoot as the turbines began to whine, and his gap-toothed grin was a terrifying thing to see.


"Now!" Ramirez barked, and the woman beside him pressed the button. The beehive charge on the armored door ahead of them detonated, blowing the hatch apart, and Ramirez's point team, armed with flechette guns and grenade launchers for this very eventuality, charged through the smoke almost before the debris had landed.

Pulser fire met them, and two of his people went down. But the third triggered a burst from her grenade launcher. The grenades whipped through the opening and exploded in a rippling snarl of light and fury, and the grenadier charged behind them.

They were only flash-bangs, light concussion weapons intended to stun and incapacitate, not to kill. Not because anyone felt any particular compassion for the people beyond that doorway, but because it was absolutely essential that they capture the equipment beyond it intact. Jesus Ramirez had already lost nineteen people on his way here, and he was determined to make their sacrifice count.

"Go! Go!" someone screamed, and another half dozen men and women lunged through the shattered door on the grenadier's heels. Flechette guns coughed and bellowed, pulsers whined, and a single grenade—not a flash-bang this time, but something heavier—exploded thunderously. And then one of his people poked her head back out.

"Objective secure, Commodore!" she shouted. "We've got some blast damage, but nothing we can't fix!"

"Maravilloso!" Ramirez pumped a fist in congratulations and loped forward, already reaching for his hand com.


"Commodore Ramirez has the control site, Commodore!" Senior Chief Barstow announced, and Honor felt the fierce flare of triumph rip through the skeleton crew still aboard the shuttle. It had taken almost twenty minutes longer than the ops plan had hoped for, because Ramirez's group had gotten bogged down in half a dozen tiny, vicious firefights on its way in. But what mattered now was that the commodore had done it! He now controlled the ground base to which all of the planet's orbital defenses were slaved. He couldn't use them yet—even if he'd captured the control site completely undamaged, which was unlikely—because none of them knew the security codes. But they would have time to figure the codes out later, especially with Horace Harkness to tickle the StateSec computers, and what mattered for right now was that the Peeps couldn't use them, either.

She stabbed the com stud again.

"Cub, this is Wolf. You are go. Repeat, you are, go!"

"Cub copies go, Wolf," Geraldine Metcalf's voice replied. "We're on our way, Skipper."


Half a planet away from Camp Charon, Shuttle Two screamed straight up with Geraldine Metcalf and Sarah DuChene at the controls. Master Chief Gianna Ascher, who had been the senior noncom in Prince Adrian's combat information center, manned her tac section, with Senior Chief Halburton as her flight engineer. It wasn't the first time Metcalf and DuChene had taken this shuttle into action, but this time they were running late, and they glanced at one another grimly as the sky beyond the cockpit windows began to turn dark indigo.


"Well?" Citizen Lieutenant Commander Proxmire snapped at his hapless com officer.

"Sir, I can't get a response from anybody down there," Agard replied unhappily. "Base Ops went off the air almost immediately, and all I'm picking up now is a bunch of encrypted transmissions I assume are combat chatter. I can't tell who's saying what to who, but you can see for yourself how it looks."

He gestured at the holo display, and Proxmire bit his lip. The courier boat didn't carry a true tactical section, for she was completely unarmed. But she had a fairly respectable sensor suite, and the sky over Styx was cloudless and clear. That was enough to let them generate a needle-sharp view of events there, and his stomach knotted at what he saw. The fire, smoke, and chaos was even more widespread, but the display projected the icons of armored vehicles moving out of the vehicle park. Unfortunately, they seemed to be firing on SS positions, not the attackers. And if anything had been needed to confirm who was in control of them, that damned assault shuttle wasn't firing at them. In fact, it was providing them with fire support!

He shook his head numbly. Surely this was impossible. It had to be impossible! He still had no idea at all who those people were or where they had come from, but they'd taken barely forty minutes to overrun the most critical sectors of the base. The garrison was cut off from its heavy weapons—for that matter, the attackers were using its own weapons against it!—and simple numbers meant very little against someone who controlled the air and had all the heavy firepower.

But as long as the shuttle stayed occupied down there, it wasn't bothering Proxmire. And as long as he was free to go summon help, it didn't really matter whether or not the enemy—whoever the hell he was—managed to overrun the base.

"Impellers in thirty-five seconds, Skipper!" his harassed second engineer reported, and he smiled thinly.


"There she is, Gerry," Lieutenant Commander DuChene murmured as the courier boat's icon appeared in her HUD.

"Got it," Metcalf acknowledged, adjusting her heading slightly. "Gianna?"

"I've got her, Ma'am," Master Chief Ascher replied, "but these sensors are pure crap." She sniffed disdainfully, and despite her own tension, Metcalf grinned. She and Ascher had worked together aboard Prince Adrian for almost two T-years, and she knew how proud the master chief had been of the people and equipment aboard her lost ship.

"Just tell me what you can, Gianna," she said.

"I can't—" Ascher began, then stopped dead. There was a moment of silence, and her voice was flat when she spoke again. "Her impellers are hot, Ma'am. She's already underway."

"Shit!" Metcalf breathed, and looked at DuChene. "Have you got a shot, Sarah?"

"Not a good one," DuChene replied tensely.

"Talk to me about accel curves, Gianna!" Metcalf commanded.

"We've got the velocity advantage now, but she's got a deeper compensator sump and a hell of a lot more brute power than us, Ma'am. She can pull about five hundred and thirty gees to our four hundred, but our present velocity is about four thousand KPH—make it sixty-seven KPS—and hers is only about twenty-seven KPS. Current range is one-three-point-three-five k-klicks, and she'll match our velocity in a little over thirty-one seconds, so we'll equalize at range one-two-point-seven-two k-klicks. After that, she'll pull away from us at one and a quarter KPS-squared."

"Sarah?" Metcalf looked back at DuChene, and the lieutenant commander chewed her lip for a moment, then sighed unhappily.

"These birds weren't designed to kill starships—not even small ones," she said, and Metcalf nodded impatiently. She was a tactical officer herself. But she was also a better pilot than DuChene, and the missiles were DuChene's responsibility. "I can take her out, but it'll be an awful long-range shot for our weapons at this range, especially if she knows they're coming and takes evasive action. But if we're only going to close the range by six hundred klicks . . ."

She paused, and Metcalf nodded in grim understanding while her thoughts flickered like lightning, considering options and outcomes, weighing and discarding alternatives.

Courier boats didn't mount point defense, and they weren't equipped with the sophisticated electronic warfare suites of warships. But the shuttle didn't carry the nuclear and laser warheads which warships normally fired at one another, either. Even its limited number of impeller-head missiles, designed for combat with other small craft, had been expended during the breakout from Tepes. Those which remained were intended primarily for short-range work against planetary targets, and they all carried chemical warheads, and that was the problem. Although those warheads were many times as efficient as any chemical explosives from pre-Diaspora history, they still required direct hits, and at this range, scoring a direct hit against a nonevading target would be hard enough with ground attack missiles. Worse, stopping anything the size of that courier boat would require multiple hits, not just one. All of which meant that at this range, they would have to fire without warning to prevent the target from taking evasive action or rolling to interpose its impeller wedge . . . and they couldn't reduce the range enough to change that.

Which meant they couldn't take the risk of even trying to convince the crew to surrender alive.

This wasn't supposed to happen. They were supposed to be too confused to light their drive off this quickly, and we were supposed to get here sooner. It wouldn't matter how short-legged our birds are if they couldn't move. Hell, for that matter we could've forced them to surrender with plain old pulsers, because there wouldn't have been anything else they could do! But now—

Now if she took a chance, demanded their surrender, gave them even the tiniest warning, they just might get clean away. And if they did, they would bring back enough firepower to turn Hell into a glazed billiard ball. And that meant—

All her flashing thoughts took less than three seconds, and she inhaled deeply.

"Take the shot," Lieutenant Commander Geraldine Metcalf said quietly.

And may God have mercy on us all.


"Sir, I'm picking up something overtaking from astern."

"What?" Proxmire spun his command chair to face his astrogator. "What kind of 'something'?"

"I'm not certain, Sir." The woman was doubling for the courier boat's absent tactical officer (although applying the term "tactical officer" to someone who controlled only sensors and no weapons had always struck Proxmire as a bit ridiculous), and she sounded doubtful as she tapped keys.

"It's some kind of small craft," she announced a second later, "but I'm not getting a transponder code from it."

"No IFF?" Proxmire demanded as an icy fist seemed to grip his stomach and squeeze.

"No, Sir. It's—" The woman froze, and then her head whipped towards Proxmire. "It's launching on us!"

But by then the first of sixteen missiles were in final acquisition, and it was much too late.


"Wolf, this is Cub." The voice in Honor's earbug sounded drained. "The target is dead. I repeat, the target is dead. We're closing to look for survivors . . . but I don't think there'll be many."

"Understood, Cub," Honor said quietly. She looked down on the carnage below her. The Peeps were falling back—in fact, they were running for their lives—but they still had an enormous advantage in sheer numbers. She needed Metcalf and DuChene to return to Inferno and bring up the rest of the inmates as reinforcements, but she couldn't tell them that. Not yet. Like them, she was a naval officer, and she, too, knew the code. You did not abandon possible survivors—yours or the enemy's—and especially not when you were the one who had killed their ship. And yet—

"Expedite your search, Cub," she said calmly. "We need you down here ASAP."

"Understood, Wolf. We'll make it as quick as we can," Metcalf replied, "and—" She paused suddenly, and then she laughed harshly, the sound cold and ugly with self-loathing. "It shouldn't take long anyway. Her fusion bottle just failed."

Honor winced, but she couldn't let herself think about that just now.

"Understood, Gerry," she said instead. And then she cut the circuit and turned her attention back to her targeting HUD, searching for more people to kill.


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