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Chapter Thirty-Seven

Despite the temperature setting, most of the people in Basilisk ACS' central control room were sweating hard as they tried to cope. The initial reaction of the merchant traffic awaiting transit had been confusion, promptly followed by a panic that was as inevitable as it was irrational. They were ten light-hours from the Peeps' obvious objective, and every hostile starship in the vicinity was headed for Medusa, which meant almost directly away from them. There was ample time to get every one of them through the Junction and safely out of harm's way, and even if there hadn't been, they were far outside the Basilisk hyper limit. The FTL sensor net would give plenty of warning if any of the Peeps turned around and headed this way, and it would be relatively simple to duck into hyper and vanish long before the enemy could possibly get here.

Those comforting reflections, however, did not appear to be foremost in the minds of the merchant skippers arguing vociferously with Michel Reynaud's controllers. Lieutenant Carluchi and her pinnaces had already been required to physically intervene to keep a big Andermani ore ship and a Solarian freighter loaded with agricultural delicacies for the inner League worlds from jumping the queue.

Despite his fury with both skippers and a personal dislike for the Solarian League which had grown with each report of technology transfers to the Peeps, Reynaud could summon up rather more sympathy for the Solly than for the Andy. Asteroid ore was scarcely a perishable commodity, and the skipper's flight plan indicated he was on a fairly leisurely routing anyway. But while the Solly was less than two hours out of Sigma Draconis on a direct transit via the Junction, she would add over two T-months to her voyage just to reach Manticore the long way if she was forced to run for it in hyper. And her cargo was about as perishible as they came. Understanding the reasons for the woman's blustering anxiety hadn't made him any more patient with her, however, and he'd watched with satisfaction as Carluchi's pinnaces chivvied her ship back into line.

That was the only satisfaction he was feeling at the moment, however, and he darted a look at the main plot. The six dreadnoughts and eight battlecruisers composing the terminus picket had headed in-system at maximum acceleration the instant the first report came in. They couldn't possibly arrive in time to intercept the Peeps before they hit Medusa, but their CO could hardly just sit here and watch the system fall. The dreadnoughts had all received new compensators, but they were only second-generation upgrades with no more than a six percent efficiency boost over the old style. Nonetheless, Rear Admiral Hanaby was running them at full military powerright on four hundred and eighty gravitiesand she'd been underway for ten minutes now. She was over eight hundred thousand kilometers from the terminus, up to a velocity of twenty-eight hundred kilometers per second and still accelerating at 4.706 KPS?, and as he watched the icons of her ships moving further and further from his command area, Michel Reynaud felt a chill of loneliness.

Hanaby's departure didn't leave the terminus completely unprotected. But the outbreak of hostilities and the more immediate needs of the Fleet had cut deeply into the funding originally appropriated to pay for the deep-space fortresses that had been supposed to protect the Basilisk terminus... and into the priority assigned to their construction, as well. What had been planned as a shell of eighteen sixteen-million-ton forts had been downgraded to ten... and only two of those had actually been completed. The other eight were anywhere from six T-months to a T-year from readinesswhich put the most advanced of them something like five T-years behind the prewar scheduleand Reynaud gritted his teeth at the thought. Two fortresses should be ample to stand off any Peep battlecruisers which might be hiding out there to come running in and jump on the terminus from which Hanaby had withdrawn, but if there was something bigger and nastier in the offing...

He turned his mind away from that thought once again and concentrated on his own job.

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