Fifteen Republican ships appeared in orbit around Seychar, joining the eight already there. Briefly, with the other seven around Gotha Mu, a total of 30 ships were in the same system. At long last, the earlier 15 guarding Seychar and its rich golden neighbor were going home.
Commodore Severs appeared on the holovisions of the ships. He smiled into the camera and said, “I want to thank each and every one of you for your service. Your squadron is now relieved . . .”
The Captains called in, saluting the Commodore, the sailors aboard the Thomas Paine and others in her squadron.
One by one in quick succession the other ships popped away, leaving Severs’s squadron alone in the Seychar system.
Severs then directed seven of his ships, including three Eagle-class destroyers and four Hawks to orbit around Gotha Mu. He kept three more Eagles around Seychar, along with three Hawks and one Sparrow. Despite their limited numbers, the strength of the squadron was notable. Hawks were deadly, Eagles more so. And the Condor-class, of which Thomas Paine was currently the only one in existence, was the deadliest of them all.
Severs ordered Captain Strand to move the Thomas Paine into a position equidistant between the two planets. Strand gave the order and the Paine popped into place.
The Commodore opened communications channels again, and addressed all the Captains in his squadron.
He said, “We will keep shore leave rotations the previous squadron had in place. Other than that, we will retain positions and wait for the action to begin. Maintain readiness at all times.”
Later that evening, Severs invited Captain Strand to accompany him in the Admiral’s quarters on the Paine. There were in fact four Admiral’s quarters on the spacious ship, and they were all nicer than the Captain’s. Strand had little to complain about, though. His own quarters were by far the most opulent and spacious of any ship he had ever commanded.
Not that Strand had commanded that many ships. A capable officer approaching 40 years old, he had shown himself cool under pressure and claimed nine League ships in prior engagements. He graduated from a Sparrow to a Hawk to an Eagle before taking on the Paine. He felt highly honored to get a chance at captaining the newest and most powerful ship in the galaxy.
Emmet Strand stood at average height, or maybe a bit below average at five foot nine, 175 centimeters. But height had little to do with command, and the sandy haired officer carried himself well, Severs thought. The Republic chose wisely, as far as the Commodore was concerned. Strand was a known killer, who made wise and decisive maneuvers when it counted. He was a proven leader and an excellent choice for Captain. If Severs could not be this wonderful vessel’s Captain, he could not think of anyone better than Emmet Strand for the honor.
When the two officers finished the last of their meal, which included quail wrapped in bacon, or at least the Diego variants closely resembling quail and bacon, Severs stretched back in his chair and asked the serving bot to bring them snifters of brandy.
Swirling the amber liquid, Severs thought the light shining through it caught his dark skin just right. An interesting design from the overhead illumination patterned on his hand as he held the stemware up.
“The hardest thing,” he said, finally taking his attention away from the reflections cast by the liquor, “is keeping everybody ready for action when we may be waiting months for the League to show up.”
Strand nodded and took a sip from his own snifter. He said, “Hopefully they’ll attack early, thinking we’re fresh and unprepared.”
“Or, they could show up toward the end of our tour when we’re bored out of our skulls.”
“Well, as long as they attack sooner or later . . .”
“Oh, I think they will, Captain. PLAIR thinks so, anyway. Whatever intelligence she’s been receiving seems to indicate the same thing. This time, she says, they will try bringing in an ‘overwhelming force.’ Probably an entire fleet, if I had to guess. They’ve got a bone to pick with us over Gotha Mu.”
Strand smiled. He said, “And that’s just what we want. An entire fleet would be excellent.”
“Yes. That’s just what we want,” Severs nodded. “The more ships clustered together, the more we can take out. The unknown is what will happen when those who aren’t wiped out in the first round see and understand what our weapon can do.”
“What do you think they will do, Commodore?”
“I would imagine they would retreat as fast as possible. Nobody is going to want to stick around when the full scope of our abilities becomes apparent.”
“Do you think they’ll try to come up with their own gun, sir?”
“Absolutely. They’ll try to develop their own Condor-class ships, too. Probably already working on it, spies being what they are. I don’t care how safe Republican Shipworks says it is, information always has a way of leaking out.”
“We should press our advantage, then. As soon as we take out whatever comes for us here, we should go on the offensive.”
“I’m with you, Captain. I’m with you. But, we’ll see what orders we get after we engage with this League fleet everybody is expecting to show up here. If this ship can take out an entire fleet . . . we might just end the war early, even without looking for more trouble.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Strand said, and he raised his glass.
Severs smiled and they clinked the snifters together.