Thrall sat in the Stockton Administration Building conference room with his arms crossed. He scowled at the holograms of his admirals around the table.

Six Admirals now, he thought. No longer seven.

He had not yet come around to finding a replacement for Kwan, who died at Gotha Mu along with the rest of his fleet and half of Cooper’s.

Thrall sighed, then brought his mind back to the present and matters at hand.

He said, “The war is not going well for us. Our main ship factory is maxed out on capacity, and we are nowhere near replacing the ones lost at Seychar. It’s almost pointless to crank out new ships and crew if they can get blown out of the sky so easily.

“I have been speaking with the Naval liaison at Thespar Industries almost daily. There have been some delays in the development of our own ‘sun bombs.’ Mostly these revolved around the power requirements involved in teleporting a large chunk of solar energies.

“Part of that engineering dilemma explains the reasoning behind the Republic’s new Condor-class. It was designed from the start to handle the enormous amounts of power involved. It’s one of the reasons the ship is so big. Our spies say even with all the Republic’s preparations, the ship’s power core blew when they attacked the Fifth Fleet at Seychar.”

Thrall took a deep breath to control his emotions. He was still deeply upset over the fiasco Operation Golden Return had become. So many ships lost! Every single one. Even Excelsior, the Lucky Lady, which showed up late to the battle. She managed to port away before total destruction, gaining valuable intelligence about the Republic’s new weapon in the process, but the enemy had one of their privateers in position to finish her off at Halcyon.

With an effort, Thrall set aside that memory and swallowed the bile in his throat.

He said, “We are trying to counter the Republic’s weapon without designing our own version of the Condor-class.”

That stirred the Admirals’ interest. He saw them shift in their chairs.

“That would take up more time than we have right now. I informed our weapons development team I wanted something that could be used on existing ships with minimal retrofitting. They gave me two options.”

On the table, another hologram appeared, this one visible to everyone in the conference call. A sleek, tubular device floated in the air. The measurements and other specs scrolled by in text floating in the air. Everyone could see it measured about three times the size of a typical skybus.

“This is a . . . ‘solar torpedo.’ The nerds have a much longer technical term for it, but that’s essentially what it is. Our engineers solved the issue of power by placing the source in the torpedo itself.”

Eyebrows shot up around the table. Thrall nodded at the Admirals.

“Yes, they put power cores and Wu drives inside the torpedoes. So, an Eagle can simply carry the torpedoes in their cargo bays. When they get to the battle, StarCen will port the torpedoes into a cluster of enemy ships, and it will pull in the sun. Directing the energy straight to the Wu drives rather than teleporting it from the heart of the sun to another location in space solves a variety of vexing technical issues. Or so I am told. The math is simpler if the sun is brought to the Wu drive itself, evidently.”


Thrall looked to see who made the comment. It was Cooper.

Thrall nodded and said, “Yes, they say it solves a number of issues. It’s not without a price though. The torpedoes are very expensive, and they’re only good for one use. The solar energy they pull in will take them out along with all the nearby ships. Manufacturing them will be costly and time consuming. But, in the short term they will be less costly, and less time consuming, than designing our own Condor-class ships. The torpedoes will allow us to counter the Condors immediately.”

“How many do we have?” Cooper said.

“Three, at the moment. I know that’s not many. Thespar is producing more as we speak. I hope to have three more by this time next week.”

Admiral Ricci spoke up. She said, “Tetrarch Thrall, you mentioned two options under development. What is the second one?”

Thrall smiled mysteriously. He said, “The second option I am not prepared to discuss, just yet. Let me say that when the Republic goes on the offensive, we’ll have a nasty surprise waiting for them.”

“And, where do we think the Republic will go next?” Cooper said.

Thrall gave him a flat stare. Cooper knew the answer to the question already, just as Thrall and the others knew. But Cooper wanted everything out in the open. Thrall obliged him.

Thrall said, “StarCen predicts the Republic will move on Juventas. Your fleet is halved. Your resources are in disarray, your population is in open revolt. You are low hanging fruit, Admiral. The Republic will try and grab a capital planet next, and you are the one they will strike.”

Cooper’s face looked grim. He said, “How soon can you get those torpedoes here?”

“I’ve already sent the first three your way, along with my little surprise. I think you’ll be fine, Admiral. With these new weapons we should hold Juventas in the League column, for now.”

“Begging your pardon, Tetrarch Thrall, but I hope you’re right. If the Diego Fleet is headed our way . . . we’ll need all the help we can get.”

“In this radical new method of warfare, Admiral, the number of ships you have no longer matters as much. What matters is the amount of sun you can bring into the battle for your side.”

“I understand that, sir. But right now we don’t have any way to bring in the sun, until those torpedoes get here.”

“And as I said, I am getting them to you. In the meantime, I suggest you work on containing your population. I’m not liking what I’m reading in the SSI reports over there.”

The blood drained from Cooper’s face. He said, “The Resistance is strong, no doubt. But we are supporting SSI in every way possible to maintain control.”

Thrall nodded. “I’m sure. But if StarCen is correct, you will shortly be facing threats from without as well as from within. StarCen has calculated survival maneuvers for our ships if the Republicans get there before then. If that happens, your internal problems will only get worse. At that point we will discuss more severe population control measures.”

Admiral Cooper looked like he had bitten a lemon. The survival maneuvers essentially involved running away. If the Republicans showed up before he got the torpedoes, his fleet would be evacuated, leaving Juventas abandoned. The population measures . . . he felt uncertain what Thrall meant by that. But he could hazard a guess.

“Very well,” he said, in a resigned tone. “I hope we get the new weapons as soon as possible.”

“As do I, Admiral. As do I.”


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