course, that they’d actually done anything to Admiral Crandall at Spindle.
Commissioner Floyd was inclined to think they hadn’t.
Rear Admiral Pyun was inclined to think Commissioner Floyd was an idiot.
“Anything from their picket commander, Ephram?” he asked out loud.
“No, Sir. Not yet, at least.”
Pyun turned his attention back to the master display.
* * *
“I don’t suppose we’ve heard anything back from our visitors, Justin?” Captain Ivanov asked. “No transponder signals? No snappy little comebacks to Captain Arredondo’s instructions?”
“No, Sir,” Lieutenant Justin Adenauer replied.
“Somehow I thought you would have mentioned it if we had,” Ivanov said dryly, then looked down at the display screen connecting him to Auxiliary Control at the far end of HMS Sloan Tompkins ’ core hull from his own command deck.
“I guess it’s time we got into the act, Claudine,” he observed.
“Bound to get interesting when we do, Sir.”
“There’s a lot of that going around.” Ivanov smiled grimly. “It seems we’ve been cursed to live in ‘interesting times.’”
“True.” Takoush nodded. “Of course, we can always try to make things more interesting for others than for us.”
“My goal in life,” Ivanov agreed, then turned back to Adenauer. “Record for transmission, Justin.”
* * *
“Admiral, we have another message,” Ephram Turner announced. “This one’s not from Astro Control.”
Pyun turned away from the master display and crossed to Turner’s station. Zambezi Treasure (and his battlecruisers) had been in n-space for almost exactly ten minutes. During that time they’d covered almost a million kilometers and raised their closing velocity relative to the terminus to approximately 2,200 KPS. He’d wondered how long the picket force commander was going to wait to contact him. In fact, he’d just won five credits on a side bet with Captain Steinberg on that very point.
“Go ahead and play it, Ephram,” the rear admiral said, standing at Turner’s shoulder and looking down at the com officer’s console.
Turner touched a stud, and a brown-haired, green-eyed man in the uniform of a senior-grade RMN captain appeared on a small display.
“I am Captain Hiram Ivanov, Royal Manticoran Navy.” Ivanov’s voice was crisp and professional, and if he was dismayed by the disparity between Pyun’s force and his own there was no sign of it in those green eyes. “I’m aware that you’ve been instructed by Astro Control to activate your identification transponders and that no Solarian warships or Solarian-registry merchant vessels are allowed to approach within eighteen million kilometers of this terminus. Be informed at this time that while my Empress continues to desire a peaceful resolution to the current tensions between the Star Empire and the Solarian League, I have orders to enforce my government’s directives concerning this terminus by force. Moreover, I also hereby inform you that I have no choice but to construe the presence of so many ‘unidentified’ battlecruisers in company with a single merchant ship as a deliberate effort on your part to defy those directives. Should you continue to approach this terminus without active transponders and close to a distance of less than thirty million kilometers, I will engage you. I would prefer to avoid that, but the choice is in your hands. Ivanov, clear.”
Ivanov nodded almost courteously, and Turner’s display blanked. Pyun stood gazing down at it for a heartbeat or so, then inhaled deeply.
“Thank you, Ephram.” He patted the com officer on the shoulder and walked back across the flag bridge to Captain Gilmore.
“Well, that’s clear enough, too,” he observed dryly.
“Yes, Sir. And that thirty million-klick tripwire of his is consistent with what they say happened at Spindle, too.”
“Agreed. On the other hand, it would be consistent, don’t you think?