Chapter 2

The Adamantine hung limply in space, like a wounded animal warily watching as pack wolves closed in. Three looming ships sat menacingly around it, poised and ready to attack if it tried to run. The lead ship was a dreadnought, a huge and formidable beast designed to destroy any similarly armed ship. Against Traci’s smaller ship, and at this range, it was a harbinger of death.

As Traci watched in detached horror, four assault shuttles sped between the ships, having just left the shuttle bay of the nearest light cruiser.

“Track them,” Traci said, moving away from Scott for a moment while she considered her options. “I want to know where they’re planning to embark.”

Traci crossed to the tactical station, where Magnus was monitoring the tiny craft. She thought they might try to blast through her fighter bay doors, and she briefly considered letting the Valdi fighters tear into them, but instead they flew directly to the hull of her unprotected and vulnerable battle cruiser.

“Colonel Magnus,” Traci shouted, turning to her tactical officer. “Have your marines position themselves at vital areas: maneuvering, cloaking control, computer core. Have them remain stood-down but prepared to destroy any of those systems if an attempt is made to take them by force.”

Colonel Magnus acknowledged the order and began sending commands. One of the two marine sentries stationed at the doors to the bridge unholstered his sidearm and stepped outside the bridge compartment to secure the hallway. The other marine also checked his sidearm to ensure it would be ready for action if need arose.

Magnus busied himself checking door seals on all outer hatches so he could report intruder movement.

Michael had moved to the science station to see if he and Lazarus could find some way to counter the ion arc weapon. Traci stood motionless in the center of the bridge. Never had she felt less in control.

They waited as the assault shuttles came to rest against the ship’s outer hull. Magnus projected the contact points onto the tactical schematic of the ship. Traci thought it was odd that they had landed nowhere near any of the maintenance hatches or bay doors. Were they planning to try to burn their way through meters of steel and armor? This piqued her interest enough to momentarily overshadow her fear. That was when the first shimmer appeared.

At first, she thought it was just a trick of the light out of the corner of her eye. But then Shannon pointed at the shimmer and cried out in alarm. Within a heartbeat, Terran boarders were pouring onto the bridge, with rifles, scanning for hostile resistance. Colonel Magnus slowly lowered his own firearm to the ground as two boarders rushed to his position with their weapons trained on his chest. One of them reached down and secured his weapon. Another pair of soldiers moved quickly to stand beside Traci and Scott, weapons pointed professionally with fingers just touching the trigger mechanisms.

Colonel Magnus was a well-trained special forces officer. But even in his long years of service, he had not seen a boarding party arrive so quickly and precisely at its objective. He had expected the enemy party to meet his defenders throughout the halls of the ship. The bridge itself was designed as a choke point, so that a few well-armed defenders could hold off a force of many. Traci was astonished that they had secured it so quickly. Out of morbid curiosity, she glanced up at the bridge chronometer and noted the time.

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