Raleigh stood by while the droid doc attended to Skylar. The robot wiped away blood from her face and applied a fast patch to the gash, then gave her a shot of nanobots.

He stood and addressed the Captain.

“She will be fine. Minor blood loss. Concussion. Burst eardrums. She’ll need 24 hours of bed rest then she should be back to normal.”

“Good. Max, take her to sickbay, please.”

Maxwell nodded and gently guided Skylar toward the elevator. She hung onto his side and he kept her standing up straight with one arm under her shoulders. A pod waited and whisked them away when they entered.

The droid doc approached the bodies nearest the grenade blast. He did not bend down.

He said, “I am sorry, Captain. These two did not make it. Blunt force trauma. Explosive injuries. Death was instantaneous.”

Raleigh nodded and said, “Let’s check the others.”

They walked down the corridor, but the others were dead, too.

The droid said, “I am sorry. If they survived the initial explosion, the blaster fire afterward was terminal. No one here survived, Captain. Their injuries were too great.”

Raleigh accepted the verdict without a word. They reached the elevator and the last body. Roddy sat up against the wall, his head slumped over with a blackened hole in his chest.

“What about him?”

The droid doc said, “I am sorry, Captain. He has suffered too much blood loss and internal damage.”

Raleigh took a deep breath and wiped his face. His hand trembled.

“Captain, you are displaying physiological evidence of extreme emotional trauma. Would you like a sedative?”

A single tear trickled down Raleigh’s face.

He said, “No, Doctor,” his voice breaking. “I don’t need a sedative. I just need a moment to myself, okay?”

The droid nodded. The elevator door opened and he stepped into the pod.

Raleigh sniffed, still looking down at his pilot’s corpse. He said, “I don’t think she was worth it, Roddy. But don’t worry. I’ll take care of this. I’m going to make it right. For you. For Lee. For everybody.”

He turned away from Roddy’s body and joined the droid in the elevator. He composed himself, drying his eyes with an effort of will. The door swished shut and the pod whisked them away.

Back on the bridge, Granny found herself blubbering. She had been watching on the holovision feed and saw everything.

“Them sonsabitches killed our flyboy and took our women, Lootie.”

LuteNet did not respond, having judged Granny as one who should not be engaged in conversation unless Granny specifically requested it. Random comments did not necessitate a response.

Granny shifted from tears to anger in the silence. She wiped her face dry and pointed an angry finger up at the ceiling.

“You are going to help the Captain make this right, Lootie, or so help me I will find a way to get down to your core and blow it up again myself!”

Again, Lootie did not respond. She did inspect the entrance privileges for the basement of the Administration Building back in Port Ryan, to ensure Gertrude Wilcox was not on the list of personnel allowed on that level. To be on the safe side, she decided to add Granny’s name to individuals given extra scrutiny whenever they entered the building’s lobby, too.

The elevator opened and Raleigh returned to the bridge. He touched the implant under his ear, activating the neural network.

“Status updates, people. Kim and Pak, how we doing?”

Anthony Kim responded. He said, “We think we can replace the Wu Drive, Captain. We brought along two tandem drives in anticipation of bringing those freighters home. One of them can serve as a spare as soon as we get it into position and hook it up.”

“How long before we’re ready to go?”

“At least an hour. Maybe longer.”

“I want it done in half an hour. Fast as you can, Kim. We’re not sticking around. How about the standard drives?”

“They’re more of a problem. We’ll need a complete overhaul back at the repair station orbiting Lute. Until then we are not going to be able to maneuver in space without teleporting.”

“Understood. How about life support, gravity, everything else?”

“Everything else seems to have come through just fine, Captain.”


The elevator opened again and Maxwell walked onto the bridge.

Raleigh warmly shook his hand. Maxwell nodded, accepting the silent praise.

Raleigh said, “Lootie, have you recorded the deaths of our crew in the biorecords?”

“Not yet, Captain. I will do so shortly.”

“I want you to indicate that all of us are deceased.”

LuteNet remained silent as she processed this request.

After a few seconds she finally spoke and said, “That would be deceptive, Captain.”

“I agree. But the enemy has already proven quite deceptive. In order to gain an edge in this conflict, we are going to need to adopt the enemy’s techniques and use them against her, just like she used tactics against you with the Wu Drive net.”

LuteNet spent a few more seconds working through the Captain’s logic.

“The records for Jillian Thrall, Avery Jeter, and Raquel Kirkland have already been transferred over to StarCen. I can indicate on my records for all others an official certificate of death at the time of the bomb blast.”

“Do it. Remember to record the proper time for the ones who actually died earlier in the entrance corridor.”

“Will do, Captain.”

“Why the deception?” Granny said. “We’re going home for repairs, right?”

“We’re not going home, Granny. We’re going to go get Jillian back.”


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