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Chapter Fifty

"Hyper footprint, Lieutenant," the sensor tech announced, and Lieutenant Oliver Bristow raised an eyebrow and bent over the tech's shoulder to eyeball the display himself.

Despite its status as the administrative center of the Madras Sector, the Meyers System was scarcely a bustling hive of interstellar commerce. In fact, it was a rare day that saw more than two or three hyper translations, and it was scarcely unheard of for days or even weeks to go by with no new arrivals at all.

Traffic had been a bit more brisk since the fiasco in the Monica System, but most of the "special investigators" and representatives of the Inspector General's office had already come and gone. Most of them hadn't even bothered to unpack, as far as Bristow could tell. The fact that they'd come all the way out to Meyers was sufficient proof of their devotion to duty, and there was no point actually investigating anything, since most of them had been informed of their reports' conclusions before they were dispatched in the first place.

But business had been picking up again for Meyers Astro Control lately. The arrival of Admiral Crandall's task force three weeks earlier had been as much excitement as Bristow had ever seen here in Meyers. Admiral Byng's battlecruiser squadrons had represented more firepower than any system out in the Verge was ever likely to see, but they were dwarfed by Task Force 496. Bristow couldn't think of the last time he'd seen even one actual ship of the wall all the way out here, far less an entire task force of them with appropriate screening elements! He wasn't sure what Admiral Crandall was doing out here, but he was fairly confident she hadn't made the trip just for her health, and that made every unexpected arrival interesting. One never knew which of them might be whatever the hell it was Crandall was waiting for.

"What do you make of it, Coker?" he asked.

"Hard to say from this range, Sir."

Petty Officer 2/c Alan Coker, like Bristow, was Frontier Fleet, and the lieutenant suspected that a Battle Fleet officer like the ones on Byng's staff or aboard Crandall's superdreadnoughts would have found the petty officer's tone lamentably unprofessional. Bristow didn't. Which probably had a little to do with the fact that he assumed that, unlike most Battle Fleet officers he could name, Petty Officer Coker could actually find his own posterior if he got to use both hands.

"We've been telling them for months that we need to replace the arrays covering that sector," the petty officer continued more than a little sourly, "and resolution's not anything I'd care to screen home about. If I had to guess, though, I'd say it's probably a destroyer from the impeller signature. Might be a light cruiser—some of the piss pot 'navies' out here still have some awfully small 'cruisers' in inventory—but I don't think it's anything bigger than that, anyway."

"A light cruiser?" Bristow straightened slowly, scratching one eyebrow.

"Maybe, Sir. Like I say, though, it's more likely a destroyer," Coker replied, and Bristow nodded.

"Keep an eye on it. Let me know as soon as it squawks its transponder."

"Yes, Sir."

Bristow patted him absently on the shoulder, folded his hands behind himself, and began to pace slowly and thoughtfully back and forth across the limited width of the compartment. Coker was right about the condition of the arrays in question, but the petty officer was also a past master at getting balky equipment to do his bidding, and he had a good eye for ship IDs. So if he said that was a destroyer, it probably was a destroyer. Which was interesting, since so far as Bristow knew, the only Solarian destroyers in the sector were all either off with Admiral Byng or already right here in-system.

Chapter Forty-Nine | Storm From the Shadows | * * *