Chapter 11

As Scott’s forces dropped out of hyperspace and into the edge of the Libuscha system, he was surprised to find only a handful of picket cruisers guarding this side of the system. It seemed that their intel was correct: the Draul had amassed their main force on the far side of the system’s primary while an even larger force was engaged in the next system, thus siphoning off forces that might have prevented the Terran fleet from getting into the system at all.

Scott looked at the Draul formations for a moment longer before making up his mind. “Alright, folks, execute ops plan Gamma One,” Scott said. His staff began passing subsequent orders, and the task group shook down into their run formation. As they made their parabolic course around the system’s class-K star, the Draul fleet began to come to various states of readiness. Apparently, they were indeed off their guard.

The first group began to power up their engines and pursue Scott’s fleet, but they were caught flat-footed. Leaving only two ships to guard the hyperspace lane back to Shahar, the remaining picket cruisers began to accelerate, but rapidly fell behind Scott’s faster attack fleet.

The larger fleet guarding the far side of the system also left a small force to guard that junction while they swept across the expanse to bring their own ships to bear on Scott’s invasion. Scott nodded with smug satisfaction that they were cutting directly across the system to try to prevent him from changing his mind and leaving the way he had come in. But Scott had no intention of leaving anytime soon. And whether or not the Draul knew it, the longer they pursued his force, the more time that would give Admiral Hood to get his minelayers and tugs into position to begin the assault on the base itself.

“Would you look at the size of that sucker!” exclaimed Commander Crayton, his destroyer commander. Scott looked at his own tactical display and caught his breath. The base was enormous. Its mammoth body protruded from the rift like some overgrown sea monster with huge, stubby tentacles that each supported a massive shielding array and multiple Vulcan weapons, far stronger than those employed by Draul ships, even what the Terrans called their Arkoli-class dreadnoughts.

The base loomed in the corner of Scott’s tactical monitor like some obscene growth. Only part of the base was visible, as it was deployed directly atop the rift itself. That gave the Draul a tremendous advantage, since the Terran force could only attack the portion of the base that was on their side of the rift.

To make matters worse, the base was rotating, so that even if they managed to damage one segment, a fresh segment could rotate into play while the damaged section rotated into the space beyond the rift and away from attack. God only knew what other surprises lay in wait on the other side of the rift. Scott knew that the best battle plans fell apart the moment the enemy was engaged. But Sun Tzu had also instructed that those who did the most careful planning were often the victors in an engagement. Scott prayed that this wisdom would favor the Terrans.

After two hours of stern chase, the Draul forces had combined and cut off Scott’s fleet from retreating along the Shahar hyperspace lane. They could still make for the Thane sector, where a power collector and hyperspace gateway were waiting, but the Draul had also been amassing forces along that lane, making it impassable. Scott was being forced to commit his force against the Draul pursuers--or so it appeared.

Scott’s task group continued to run deep into the star system’s periphery, until it became clear to the Draul that they could not run his fleet to ground. They took up station-keeping at six hundred thousand kilometers from the system’s primary star and decided to wait him out.

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