The first leg of the trip from Talis to Corona went off without a hitch and the Whisper and its
escort emerged from hyperspace at the waypoint they’d designated before the jump in order to
swap navigators and check for messages.
“The remaining Vaian ships have gone very quiet,” Niobe said. “They think that means they are
regrouping. The situation on Vaia remains unchanged.” She listened some more and a frown
spread across her face. “The Talis computer and our own scans have indicated that the rail gun did
send a message to its creators and it seems while they can’t enter hyperspace they do have
superluminal communication capability.”
“Well, it is normally developed first,” Amanpreet said. “As a precursor to developing jump
“Possibly, but the Talis computer says that its creators were of the opinion that their
communication technology was not their own creation. That they must have stolen it from some
previous victims. It was too different apparently.”
“It scarcely matters,” Amanpreet said. “They’ve got it. That’s all we need to know which means we
can assume they’ll be coming. What does the Council say?”
“Let me see.â€ Niobe listened to some more of the message and her frown turned to a look of
horror. â€œOh God!â€ She took several breaths but her voice still shook as she continued. â€œThey’re
having all inhabited systems checked for things like that railgun. They’ve already found a couple of
things and at least one has activated. A barrage was mostly deflected from the Mez planet Acularia
but they lost an entire city to what slipped through..â€
â€œBloody hell!â€ Amanpreet exclaimed. â€œThat’s awful.â€ Then more quietly, â€œAnd into the rabbit hole
of war we go.â€
“So now we’re thinking the might have booby trapped the entire region of space?” Vanna said.
Niobe just nodded.
“It makes a certain amount of sense,” Vanna said. “They can’t get back here fast enough that we
can’t prepare for them.”
“Yes,” Niobe said. “I wonder why they’ve been so determined to keep our area of space clear of
spaceÂfaring species for so long. Sweeping through an area every few hundred years seems
“I can’t think of any situation where genocide isn’t extreme,” Amanpreet said. “Let’s hail our escort
and see what they think.”
“Captain Amanpreet.” The escort commander gave her a strained smile. “Not good new is it.”
“No,” she said. “I never thought I’d see a war.”
“Neither did I,” he agreed. “And I’m in the military. I’m not even sure we remember how to fight a
war any more. The odd skirmish with pirates who’ve decided to form a fleet is the closest we’ve
come.” He shook his head. “We need to take a diversion though. There’s system enÂroute that has a
level four intelligent species of its own. They’re no where near spaceflight yet but they are
industrial enough to be detectable from space. The council want us to sweep through the system
and check for enemy weapons.”
â€œYou mean Valhr?â€ Oni’s voice came over the intercom from where the scientists were patched
into the conversation from the dining room.
â€œNow’s there’s an oddball world. It’s the closest planet to a red dwarf, tidally locked and extremely
windy as a result. How it has sophont life I don’t know. I’m amazed it got beyond unicellular life.â€
â€œI’ve heard that it’s strange,â€ the escort’s commander said. â€œBut the check does need doing and
â€œI know,â€ Oni said. â€œWe could do without losing any more time. Especially since Corona is
probably in worse danger if there are such weapons everywhere, but it does have to be done.â€ He
hummed to himself. â€œCould we split the escort and send some to deal with Valhr?â€
â€œWell we could,â€ the commander said. â€œBut I’m concerned that the Vaian’s may still be looking for
us. The search will only take a couple of hours off our schedule. I doubt that’s enough time to
make a difference either way if they do have a weapon in the Corona system.â€
â€œThat’s fair,â€ Oni said. â€œAnd Acularia is about the closest inhabited world to Talis. I wonder if it
was triggered by the Talis gun directly?â€ There was a pause. â€œI wonder if this means there was a
sophont species there as well.â€
â€œLet’s let the Mez mourn before we start digging one of their planets up,â€ Amanpreet said.
â€œYes, of course,â€ he said. â€œWe’d better get going and check Valhr. I want to get this done because
I’m really worried about Corona.â€
When they jumped into the system the escort ships started scanning the system looking for
weapons immediately. Amanpreet has the Whisper start scanning as well but a moment later Oni’s
voice came over the intercom again.
“Excuse me, Captain,” he said. “But since we’re here could I impose on you to do some
atmosphere readings, please? We could do with some new data points on how their early
industrialization is effecting their atmosphere.”
â€œI can’t see that being a problem,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œNiobe, send a message to our escort and let’s
head in system.â€
Niobe didn’t have time to respond because moments later the Whisper’s proximity alarms went off
and she was thrown from her seat as the Whisper took evasive action to avoid colliding with a
huge asteroid. Amanpreet managed to avoid flying out of her own seat and immediately began
checking the object’s trajectory. Her mouth went dry as she saw the readings.
â€œWas THAT heading for the planet?â€ Vanna asked from where she was helping Niobe up.
â€œIt was,â€ Amanpreet said. â€œAnd it’s moving far too fast to be natural.â€ She took a breath and pulled
herself together. â€œWe’ll go after it and deflect it with the asteroid busters. Send information on its
trajectory to the others so they can track it to its source.â€
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