Raleigh held a meeting in his office. Jillian sat on his right, and Granny to his left. Around the table were Kim, Pak, Maxwell, Skylar and Dillon.

Skylar smiled at Jillian. Before the meeting could start she said, “Did you have a good honeymoon?”

Jillian smiled back. She said, “Yes. There’s this resort up in the mountains called Pekindale. It’s a beautiful place. Stunning scenery. You need to go sometime if you haven’t been there.”

“When did you get back?”

“We just got in a few minutes ago.”

“That’s right,” Raleigh said, interjecting himself into their conversation. “We have word of a possible target that is very, very lucrative.”

All eyes focused on him. He made a gesture and a hologram appeared above the center of the table.

“This is a model of a League gold transport.”

Everyone examined the compact, angular ship.

“Looks kinda small,” Granny said.

“It doesn’t need to be big in order to transport precious metals. It’s about the size of a Sparrow-class. Nonetheless, it can easily haul several tons.”

“Is that why it’s so bulky?”

Raleigh nodded. “It is designed to withstand almost anything. Its power core is extra large, providing enough energy for superior shielding all the way around. There are no weak points.”

“That’s another reason to keep it small,” Maxwell said.

“Right. And even if it loses its shields, there’s enough metal to keep it flying through multiple direct hits. No, these things are built to withstand anything.”

“Except for that new Republican weapon,” Pak said.

Raleigh nodded. They had all heard rumors that the Republic used a new super weapon against the League at Seychar.

“We don’t have one of those, obviously. But, I’m open to suggestions. Here’s what Lootie has told us. Someone is offering to sell information on the arrival time of a League gold shipment to Petra Roe.”

This caused some commotion around the table. Feet shuffled, seats shifted, and eyebrows shot up.

Raleigh said, “I’m inclined to gamble on this person’s information. The price is 100,000 credits.”

“Is that a lot?” Jillian said.

Everybody looked at her. She held up her hands defensively.

She said, “Okay, okay, I get it. It’s a lot.”

“It may be worth it, though,” Maxwell said, rubbing his chin. “If this thing is loaded with gold . . . and usually they ship credit tokens too, if I’m not mistaken . . . this must be a bank transfer.”

“You’re seeing it my way, Max,” Raleigh said with a smile. “I think 100,000 credits is nothing if we can pull this off.”

“How, exactly, are we going to pull this off?” Kim said. “These things are drones, meaning they are completely guided by StarCen from one planet to another, with no human input at all. I doubt there’s even life support onboard. The gold and tokens are untouched by human hands while in transit. They are also typically followed by Navy ships for protection, especially for big shipments like this.”

Raleigh said, “That’s correct. Lootie says if they follow protocol, and her source believes they will, the shipment will be accompanied by three Navy ships. Usually these are Hawk-class. But, with the current shortage of vessels thanks to the Republic and their aforementioned secret weapon, Lootie thinks we will be facing Sparrows. Or, some combination like two Sparrows and one Hawk. She thinks the odds are extraordinarily low for an Eagle to be tagging along.”

“That’s all well and good,” Kim said. “But how are we going to stop them? Even with no escort, making this thing stop before it gets to Petra Roe will be difficult. Almost certainly they will have shielded the Wu Drives. You’re not thinking about attacking while they’re in orbit, are you?”

“No. I’d like to move on them at least one AU out from PR. The information our informant is offering includes five possible approaches. This is a security procedure by the bank just in case someone tries to pull off what the informant is doing. It would reduce our chances to 20 percent if we waited at any one of the possible approaches. We need to have all five covered. Then, we stop the flotilla, or at the very least the transport drone with the gold, and prevent it from arriving in orbit. Then we loot the drone and get away before the Navy sends more ships.”

“Breaking into one of those things is not impossible,” Pak said. “But it’ll take a while. It won’t be an easy smash and grab.”

Everyone looked at each other around the table. Granny very slowly removed a fresh cigar from her travel case and placed it in her mouth, chewing on the end.

She said, “Does Lootie have an estimate on how much we might get away with if we’re successful?”

Raleigh nodded. He said, “Based on prior shipments, and she does have access to that info from Petra Roe, she thinks this one will have about 22 million credits in gold and tokens.”

The cigar drooped down in Granny’s mouth. Maxwell whistled.

Dillon and Skylar exchanged glances. He said, “Not a bad haul.”

Raleigh and Jillian looked at one another. She held a hand up and said, “I know, I know. That’s a lot.”

Raleigh smiled and said, “So, now that we’re sufficiently motivated, I’ll open the table for ideas on how to go about doing this.”

Pak said, “Well, we could use our own drones at all five entry points just before PR. That way we could see it coming for sure.”

Kim said, “Yeah, but it’s only going to be in that spot for one second before jumping into orbit. We need to spot it coming beforehand, then move to intercept.”

Pak shrugged. “Okay. Put the drones further out. That will give us some lead time before they come within one AU.”

“Can Lootie calculate that?” Maxwell said.

In reply, LuteNet’s contralto voice came down from the ceiling.

She said, “Yes I can, First Officer Maxwell. The five approach points have known teleportation coordinates leading from Petra Roe to Epsilon. While they may vary further out, they will likely remain the same the closer the ships get to Petra Roe.”

“Okay,” Raleigh said. “We’ll put drones five or six points out. We’ll know which direction it is coming from and move to intercept. Now, they’re on to our Wu Drive disruption trick. So, how do we stop an impregnable gold ship and her naval escorts?”

Everyone looked at one another around the table, saying nothing.

Finally, Pak’s eyes flashed with inspiration.

He said, “We still have the Aquamarine, don’t we?”

Granny said, “Yes. We never found anyone willing to meet our original price, on account of all the interior damage. Scrappers have gutted it, which landed us a fair deal. Wiring and such is in short supply thank to the war. What’s left is just a big empty shell.”

Pak said, “I think I have an idea how we might be able to use it.”


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