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Chapter Forty-Five

Citizen Lieutenant Commander Heathrow leaned back in his command chair and smiled as Lois, the sole inhabited planet of the Clarke System, fell away astern. He hadn't enjoyed dealing with Citizen Colonel White, the system's senior StateSec officer, but at least there were other people on Lois. More to the point, perhaps, Lois had some of the most glorious beaches in the entire People's Republic. He and his crew had been made welcome in traditional Navy style by Citizen Captain Olson, CO of the small PN patrol detachment, and his engineering staff had managed a little creative reporting to justify a full extra twenty-three-hour day of sun and sand.

There were, he thought smugly, occasional advantages to courier duty after all.

Yeah, sure. "Join the Navy and see the Galaxy!" He snorted suddenly. You know, that's probably truer for the courier crews than it is for anyone else, now that I think about it!

He chuckled, but then he let his chair come back upright with a sigh as his mind reached out to their next destination. He wasn't looking forward to his stop in the Danak System. Clarke had a relatively small SS detachment, which spent most of its time fulfilling regular police functions. Personally, Heathrow suspected that the warm, languid tranquility of Lois had infected them, as well. The system's Navy personnel were crisp and efficient enough when onboard ship or crewing the planet's orbital HQ base, but they tended to go native, all crispness vanishing into a sort of planetwide, laid-back surfer culture, the instant they hit groundside, and the same seemed to be true of the SS.

Danak was different, however... and not just because of the weather. Granted, Danak Alpha, the inhabited half of the double-planet pair of more or less terrestrial worlds was considerably further out from its G8 primary than Lois was from its G1 primary. That gave it a much cooler climate, and its weather was characterized by clouds and rain liberally seasoned with various objectionable atmospheric compounds from volcanic outgassing. At that, it was a nicer place than Danak Beta. Beta was only technically habitable, and to the best of Heathrow's knowledge, no one had ever expressed any particular desire to visit it, much less live there.

But Danak, unlike Clarke, had been settled for four hundred years, and where Lois had been a resort world catering to the tourist trade before the Republic annexed it, Danak had been a heavily industrialized system for more than two T-centuries. More than that, its current population was up to something approaching four billion, which was extremely large for a system this close to the frontier. All of which meant that miserable as Danak Alpha was, and dour as people assigned here tended to become, the system was very important to the powers that were.

As a consequence, Danak System Command had always been home port to a largish fleet presence, and State Security had made Danak Alpha the HQ for its intervention forces here in the Danak Sector, just as Shilo was in the Shilo Sector. Needless to say, the presence in force of StateSec had not increased the attractiveness of gray and miserable Danak Alpha when it came to choosing someplace as a potential retirement address.

Or, for that matter, one to visit on courier duties.

Heathrow grimaced. Ah, well. We had our run ashore on Lois; I suppose it's inevitable that we pay for it on this end. I just hope Citizen General Chernock has been replaced.

He checked the time and date display on his console. His command was fourteen days, sixteen hours, and thirty-three minutes (base-time reckoning) out of Cerberus. Of course, given relativity's input into things, that worked out to only ten days, twenty-two hours, and some change for Heathrow and his crew, which seemed like a particularly dirty trick. The rest of the universe got to enjoy the full fourteen days between the time he touched base with two different groups of sourpuss, pain in the butt SS types, while his people got cheated out of almost three whole days.

Oh, well. No one had ever said the universe was fair.

Chapter Forty-Four | Echoes Of Honor | * * *