They are coming.

That thought formed early in Admiral Severs’s mind as he scanned Naval Intelligence reports from the outer quadrant. The pirates had sent in accounts of their encounters before retreating, and all three solar systems were occupied by League ships again. Except for maybe Thalia. All sides had left the scene of battle there, apparently.

Severs did not mind the lack of assets there. He had no Marines or Navy personnel on any of those planets, and no ships in the systems. Everything was concentrated back here on Juventas. So far, the plan worked better than he had dared hope it would.

The pirates accepted a lucrative offer to “guard” the outer quadrants. No one expected them to fare well against the military efforts that would be brought against them.

It was unknown if they would even be attacked. But the Third Fleet evidently decided to try and take back the three minor planets first on their way to Juventas. They were probably afraid of getting hit from behind if they bypassed the outer systems, Severs thought. He might have tried a similar maneuver.

So, Ricci split up her forces and sent four ships to each of the three systems. They appeared ready to take out Republican vessels and reclaim the skies for the minor planets.

What they found instead were privateers. And to Severs’s surprise, and no doubt Ricci’s, the pirates performed remarkably well under the circumstances.

Severs was old school Navy. He believed in law and order, and like many officers he held privateers in contempt. They were nothing but scoundrels, vagabonds and thieves.

Still, they had warships and were not afraid to use them. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, he thought.

Who could blame the pirates for preferring to pick on relatively defenseless merchant ships? So long as those were League merchants, Severs had no problems with that. But the Navy needed them to tangle with League warships this time. They dangled enough gold to entice them.

Still, no one expected the pirates to actually be successful.

He glanced over the report one more time. Three Hawks. Two Eagles! And one Eagle severely damaged. How in the world did they get that many? And, not a single pirate ship was lost.

He delved deeper into the report. Evidently the AI controlling Lute was pretty good. She threw some maneuvers at StarCen that the older AI had never seen before at Palisades, which took out both the Hawks sent there. StarCen evidently held her Eagles back, not considering the pirates much of a threat at first. By the time the Eagles went over to engage, LuteNet pulled the privateers out of the system.

At Aegea a short while later, StarCen did not make the same mistake. She sent in all four of her ships to meet three pirates orbiting the planet. They quickly managed to score several unlikely direct hits, though, ganging up on one of the Eagles and damaging it. Before the other Eagle and the Hawks could move in to help, their AI again pulled her ships out of the system.

Finally, at Thalia the pirates took out two Eagles and one Hawk. This time StarCen retreated, removing her last ship before they could destroy it, too.

“PLAIR, I want to know more about what happened at Thalia.”

A virtual holoscreen appeared on the table in front of him, showing the Dauntless and Courageous, two Eagle-class warships, in orbit above Thalia along with two Hawks.

The Aquamarine appeared suddenly, her massive hull invading the space around the Eagles. One was sliced almost perfectly down the middle near the mammoth’s aft. The other lost a third to the giant ship, closer to its bow.

Both chunks scattered, instantly powerless and broken. Severs watched as pieces of metal, machinery, and human bodies drifted away.

“Incredible,” he murmured. “They never knew what hit them.”

He watched, this time from the Ultima Mule’s recordings, as it chased one of the Hawks across the solar system.

“Hm. They must have deployed drones to set up a surveillance grid. Smart. Time well spent.”

He watched as the ships crisscrossed space, the pirate taking potshots at the League warship with each jump. Then the other League Hawk joined in, popping in behind the pirate and shooting.

Severs nodded and said, “Standard procedure.”

He watched in amazement as the procession occurred one last time. The pirate appeared behind the enemy and opened fire. The other Hawk appeared behind the pirate and fired. Then the Aquamarine appeared, with disastrous results for the last League ship.

At this point, StarCen had enough and took her fourth ship out of the system. It popped away and did not reappear.

“It’s outside thinking, isn’t it PLAIR?”

“What do you mean, Admiral?”

“When an organization gets too insular . . . staring at their belly buttons long enough . . . they become resistant to outside ideas and get ripe for disruption.

“We have been teaching galactic warfare for how long? We’ve developed certain techniques involving warfare. But there’s room for new ideas, ideas we haven’t bothered to go looking for because we’re . . . insular. Ideas like taking a giant hull and using it as a weapon.

“These pirates are able to teach us a thing or two, aren’t they?”

PLAIR spent a few microseconds deciding if this was a rhetorical question or not. She decided it was indeed rhetorical, and did not bother answering.

Instead she said, “Admiral, the new ships from Diego are arriving momentarily.”

“Good! Put it on the holo.”

The employees at Republican Shipworks had cranked out not two this time, but three new Condors. And, best of all, the engineers had continued improving on the power core. These new models could produce not five, but seven fireballs every second, teleporting chunks from the nearest sun in quick succession.

The new ships included the Paul Revere, nicknamed “Midnight Rider,” of course. Also the Thomas Jefferson, AKA “Tommy,” and the Alexander Hamilton whose crewmembers dubbed her “Big Ham” for unknown reasons. The Captain probably unwisely took the top three nicknames and put them up for a vote. The worse ones invariably won when that happened, Severs thought.

The three Condors popped into orbit suddenly, along with several support and supply ships and a troop carrier with fresh Marines.

Republican Shipworks had also supplied the Navy with their own version of solar torpedoes, which were designated for the Eagles and their large holds. PLAIR promptly dispersed via teleportation a total of 36 torpedoes throughout the fleet.

Severs smiled at his reinforcements when they showed on the holo. He would now be able to throw 31 solar chunks every second. Plus, he could give the League back some of their own medicine with the torpedoes.

They are coming, he thought again.

Then he smiled as another thought replaced the first.

Bring it.


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