shell, and then I want recon fighters moved up in random patrol patterns. Someone’s out there, and I mean to find him before he finds us.”
Marius stroked his chin. Someone a very long time ago—probably as far back as the Roman legions—had said that wars were ninety-nine percent boredom and one percent sheer terror. He’d reached the battlestation and the enemy starfighters had been beaten off, but now he had to wait and see what happened. Unless random terror was the objective, there had to be an enemy fleet out there, heading towards Earth. And if they were expecting Home Fleet to sit on the sidelines until the fighting was over, he might have a chance to give them a nasty surprise.
“Sir,” Fallon announced, “Federation Intelligence has confirmed that they have a StarCom in the Earth-Luna Sphere. I don’t think they’re too happy with you.”
“Fuck them,” Marius said. This was no time for games. “Tell them to hold the unit at readiness once they send the first set of orders. We may not have time to power it up again...”
The display flashed a new icon, and then zeroed in on the escaping freighters. The icons representing intact ships had vanished, to be replaced by four expanding spheres of destruction. Marius swallowed a curse as the starfighters broke off, heading back to their parent fortresses, while gunboats closed in to investigate the remains of the freighters. The enemy, knowing they couldn’t escape, had triggered the self-destruct systems—or someone, hiding under cloak, had sent a destruct command to their ships. There was no way to know for sure.
“The fighters didn’t fire, sir,” Fallon said. He sounded as if he was expecting to be blamed for bringing bad news. “The ships just blew up as soon as the fighters came within engagement range.”
“We have a ruthless enemy,” Marius agreed gravely. “Recall one half of the duty fighters”—he trusted the fighter controllers to issue the correct orders—”and give their pilots a chance to rest and rearm.”
The enemy commander was ruthless , he noted in the privacy of his own thoughts. The enemy starfighters were doomed, unless they reached a cloaked carrier. He watched the shell of recon drones spreading outwards and asked himself again, where would he put a force advancing on Earth? How would he position his ships for best advantage?
He keyed his console and linked into the Marine channel.
“Toby, I need a report on the silent fortresses as soon as possible.”
“They’re crippled by chaos software,” Vaughn said. His old friend sounded reassuringly competent, as always. “My engineers don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the hardware, but the main codes have to be purged and then rebooted—and if the chaos software remains in place, we’ll have to strip out the cores and replace them.”
“Purge the systems,” Marius ordered tightly. They needed those fortresses. If the purge failed, they wouldn’t be any worse off. “I’ll assemble a scratch crew and have them sent over to replace the prior crewmen. Once the crew is aboard, you can start shipping the old crew down to Earth. We can’t trust them, not until we find out who uploaded the chaos software in the first place.”
“Understood,” Vaughn replied. Marius knew that he would carry out his orders, or die trying. “Good luck, sir.”
The connection broke. Marius leaned back in his command chair and made a show of looking up at the overhead bulkhead, trying to suggest a sense of unconcern about the whole situation.
“Have coffee and snack packs brought in for the duty staff,” he ordered absently. They would have warning of the enemy’s approach, unless the enemy’s cloaking technology was far superior to the Federation’s—and in that case, the war was lost anyway. “The remainder can get some sleep.”
“Yes, sir,” Fallon said. “Sir...shouldn’t you get some rest, too?”
“Not at the moment,” Marius said. It