Severs sighed, resigned to yet another meeting with top brass and diplomats. This part of leadership, he decided, was worse than waiting out in space for enemy ships to show up.

He stopped in the hallway and glanced at a giant holoscreen showing the Republican Shipworks orbiting platform, with several vessels in various stages of completion or repair.

After all that waiting, Severs thought, when the League Navy finally decided to show up they were destroyed in less than two minutes. It would have taken less than one minute except for the latecomer who showed up after the initial assault. Apparently, StarCen managed to port that one away before it was totally destroyed, because nothing was left of it save for a few chunks of scrap metal.

In the end, after all that waiting, the Thomas Paine took out an entire fleet. Not just any fleet, a fleet buttressed and expanded with half again as many ships as usual, 92 in all. And they were almost all destroyed. All except the last one that StarCen popped away in the nick of time. PLAIR had assured him privateers later finished off the damaged ship.

It was a phenomenal feat, unheard of in the annals of galactic warfare. Severs and Captain Strand and everyone else were feted as heroes back on Diego.

For his part, Severs played down the praise, turning it toward Strand. And Strand heaped praise on Severs in every interview he gave to the media. But the credit for taking out so many ships lay entirely with the new weapon. The press duly noted this in their programs and stories, with varied lurid headlines.

“Star Weapon Devastates Enemy Fleet.”

“Sun Gun Stuns Seychar’s Sons!”

“Harnessing the Sun to Get the Job Done.”

Severs was happy to accept the accolades, but privately he pressed his superiors to be allowed to sail again. The problem with that notion included the fact that Thomas Paine was disabled.

While engineers had perfected the algorithms for teleporting parts of the nearest star into combat, no one had taken into consideration actual combat conditions. In combat, the weapon needed to be used repetitively and in quick succession. So when Strand and his crew began lobbing parts of the sun at the enemy, they ported as many as they could, as quickly as they could.

The resulting power drain melted the Thomas Paine’s core. After the last fireball was sent toward Excelsior, Paine was adrift with nothing but emergency reserves to keep life support operational. The ship had to be towed back to Diego via tandem drive, where engineers with Republican Shipworks swarmed over every inch of the vessel to try and figure out what went wrong.

Their verdict: rapid overuse contributed to the meltdown. Pulling out part of a star took much more energy than typical teleportation. The Thomas Paine used all five Wu Drives in rapid succession to do so, over and over again. This resulted in the entire power core shutting down.

Working overtime, the employees of Republican Shipworks managed to restore the core . . . in two weeks. Severs literally gnashed his teeth at the thought of delay. Their entire planning centered around the Paine being used as a spearhead for a fresh assault on the League. That could not happen now.

Meanwhile, he thought, StarCen’s engineers would be busy developing their own weapon, or devising methods of countering it. The Planetary Republic no longer held the element of surprise.

He could do nothing but wait as workers repaired and outfitted the ship.

Now, today, at last . . . the Paine was ready to go. So was the Diego Fleet. Every spare ship had been called in. The Republic was going to move on the League. Even if the League had their own star gun by now, which everyone doubted, they were down 90 ships. Now was the time to make their move.

And even better, Severs thought as he looked out at the huge holoscreen displaying the orbiting shipyard, they would be bringing two of their newest ships with them: Francis Marion and Patrick Henry. He smiled at the identical Condor-class vessels.

“There you are.”

Severs turned at the sound of a voice interrupting his thoughts. Chancellor Elsa Cole walked up, short, petite, and strawberry blonde. The freckles on her face and her easy smile belied her age and the burden of responsibility she carried for the entire Republic during these times of war. But she reached up and patted the large man’s shoulder affectionately.

She was very personable, he thought, which was how she got elected. She could come across to voters as personable, too. But in private, those interacting with her could tell this was not simply an act to garner votes.

“The Diego Fleet departs in the morning, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’ve been waiting for that, haven’t you? Chomping at the bit.”

“Yes, ma’am. I fear the longer we wait the less advantage we have.”

She nodded, staring at the holoscreen displaying the two new ships ready to sail into battle. A twinkle shined in her eye.

“The Diego Fleet will sail with a new Admiral, you know.”

He turned to her and lifted an eyebrow. “No, I hadn’t heard. What happened to Admiral Caldwell?”

She smiled widely and said, “I’m promoting you to Admiral. You understand the Condor-class and their capabilities. The fleet will have three Condors sailing. I think you’re the best person for the job.”

Severs nodded as the full realization of her words struck home. He had always understood promotions were more rapid in wartime, but this . . . this was the fulfillment of his childhood dream.

His chest swelled while his mind swam with the new responsibilities being placed on his shoulders.

“Thank you, ma’am. I won’t let you down.”

The petite woman smiled up at him and patted his shoulder again.

“I know you won’t. Go out there and win this war for me, Admiral.”


End of Book III


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