In the Clarion solar system, some 200 kilometers from the planet, a spare tandem Wu Drive popped into existence.
It floated freely, a giant rectangle the size of an Old Earth elephant, with a slightly thicker base around the bottom. Someone had bungee-corded a portable power supply to one side, which fed into the unit via wires snaking underneath.
For a moment, the Wu Drive floated alone in the vacuum of space, reflecting faint starlight and the distant sun.
A sensor unit popped into existence two meters away. Unlike the Wu Drive, the sensor was the size and shape of a soup can. It tumbled slowly next to the larger unit for precisely one second before porting away again.
This morning, as on so many others in the previous months, Elven put the last of the weights up and headed for her shower. Thrall headed toward his.
Before they left the gym, he said, “I’ll need you to accompany me to Stockton today. I’ll be addressing the Joint Assembly at noon regarding our current progress in the war.”
Elven nodded. She knew about the Joint Assembly meeting. She had been uncertain as to whether he wanted her to stay here and look after Jillian or not. Evidently, he was unconcerned about her.
She decided to ask anyway.
“Will your daughter be joining us?”
His nostrils flared slightly. She expected some negative feedback from the question, though, and did not take it personally. But, she did wish to know one way or the other.
“Jillian will stay here. StarCen is under orders not to port her away, and she is 18 kilometers from your pub. I think she’ll be fine until we return.”
Elven’s ears reddened. How did he know about the pub? She and Steele had limited themselves to two drinks last night. Did he know about that too?
Furiously, she racked her mind about what she had shared with her former classmate. Nothing classified, and nothing embarrassing. Well, except she did share with Steele her personal opinion that the Tetrarch was an attractive older man, if a bit distant and somewhat aloof most of the time.
She made a mental note to herself not to talk about him in public again. Maybe not in private, either . . .
He left to go to his room, and she headed for her quarters to shower and change into her uniform.
The sensor popped into existence five meters from shore, about 80 centimeters above the water. It plunked down into the green-blue lagoon and sunk to the shallow bottom.
The height it appeared would not be bad under normal circumstances, but LuteNet had estimated the sensor would land half a meter above the placid surface. She made a note of the discrepancy in her first calculation and quickly took local readings from the scanner to help coordinate her logistics.
Elven appeared in Thrall’s office and waited patiently. She stood at ease, hands behind her back. Somewhere, she had heard he liked to see officers standing at ease. Privately she wondered why. Could it be the stance accentuated the officers’ chests?
Quickly she dismissed the thought. Such ideas were unprofessional, she decided.
The door opened, and he walked in wearing a new dark suit imported from Italia, complete with a red tie. He stopped to pick up a vidsheet at his desk and headed for the door leading to the courtyard.
“Do we at least need to let your daughter know that we’re leaving?”
He stopped at the question and looked at his Naval attaché for a moment, as if trying to decide what her sudden interest in Jillian might be about.
Finally dismissing both questions, hers and his unspoken one, he said, “She’s probably still asleep. I’ll discuss her little adventure when I get home tonight.”
Elven followed the Tetrarch out the door and toward the holographic circle hovering past the three-meter mark from the house.
They stood in the center of the circle, turning to face back in the direction they’d come.
StarCen’s high-pitched voice said, “Prepare for teleportation.”
Thrall and Elven popped out of sight.
About 200 kilometers away, a man in a spacesuit popped in beside the Wu Drive. He free-floated for precisely one second, then he popped away again.
He reappeared one half meter above the lagoon, facing Thrall Manor, and immediately splashed down into the water.
He floated quickly to the surface, his helmeted head poking up out of the water. He remained floating in place, buoyant, while he looked around to get his bearings.
A guard bot heard the splash. It walked around the corner of the house and approached the beach, scanning the water.
Raleigh realized he was holding his breath. He forced himself to relax. The only thing visible from shore was the top half of his space helmet, an oblong head cover with a smooth shaded visor.
With any luck, he thought, the bot would not be able to discern a threat from a motionless half-dome floating several meters away.
But the bot’s head stopped swiveling, and its eyes seemed to be resting right on him.
Raleigh held his breath again and moved his hand to the blaster strapped to his side. He found himself wondering if the gun would shoot underwater.
A seagull flew into view. It dipped down, heading straight toward the guard bot.
The round red eyes shifted from Raleigh to the bird at the last minute, just as it dove for the robot’s face.
Raleigh jerked in surprise as the bird exploded, taking them both out. The now headless guard bot collapsed to the ground.
Raleigh heard more explosions and watched as seagulls flew in around the house, each one exploding near a different bot.