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CHAPTER TWENTY Complications

The warp point at the Sandhurst end of the Parsifal-Sandhurst warp line lay nearly six light-hours from Sandhurst's orange-yellow G8 primary, which barely showed as a first-magnitude star at such a distance. It seemed even further to Ivan Antonov.

He'd been impatient enough after the numerous delays in repairing the ships damaged in the brutal Parsifal slugfest. Now, with the weak orbital fortresses that had guarded the warp point reduced to cosmic detritus and his fleet proceeding on a hyperbolic course toward the New New Hebrides warp point on the far side of the local sun, the less than 0.06 c his battle-line must maintain seemed excruciatingly slow.

Berenson was luckier, he brooded. The rear admiral led the faster screening force well in advance of the main body: battle-cruisers and heavy cruisers, sweeping ahead of the light carriers and their escorts. Fortunately, Sandhurst's third planet-a gas giant nearly massive enough to be a self-luminous "brown dwarf"-wasn't presently in such an orbital position as to complicate astrogational problems. And the asteroid belt it had created wasn't quite on the fleet's course and presented no hazards.

He tried to shake loose from his mood. Stop being such an old woman, Ivan Nikolayevich! There was no sign of mobile forces in the system; they must still be sitting in Lorelei, awaiting a direct attack from Parsifal. They'd shit in their pants-or whatever Thebans did-when the pickets at the Sandhurst-New New Hebrides warp point fled to Lorelei with the news. The absence of any opposition beyond the few fortresses was a clear indication he'd taken them completely by surprise, and if any mobile units were foolish enough to advance from Lorelei in the face of his fighters, his wide-ranging scout ships-already crossing the far edge of the asteroid belt ahead of Berenson's screen-would detect them and give him plenty of time to bring his fleet to general quarters.

Still, as he watched the lights on his display representing Berenson's ships approach the inner fringes of the asteroid belt in the scouts' wakes, he couldn't rid himself of a nagging worry-a feeling there was something he should have remembered.

Then it came to him.

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