Chapter 24

Traci Ganner had never been so happy to see the ragtag Valdi transports. As Adamantine pulled alongside the largest ship to dock, the Valdi fighter pilots helped distribute supplies to their cargo handlers. They set up a special carbon dioxide atmosphere in the cargo bay and extended it to the air locks. Traci could only watch as the Valdi refugees came into the cargo bay and helped receive blankets, medical supplies, and fresh water.

“Ma’am, I have a message from the bridge,” Lazarus said as he walked toward where she was watching. “They say to tell you that the superstring is gone and the rift is closing—something about an expansion of dark plasma now that the gravity forces are reduced. Someone must have fired the Star Caster after all.”

“Thank you,” she said, and leaned against the glass to watch the people she had come back to help. Lazarus smiled and went about his duties. The threat from the future Terrans was over. “I’ll tell Zuarit when he finishes loading the supplies. He will want to tell his people that their homeworld is gone.”

As soon as they finished loading the supplies, they would be underway through the rift and back into Terran territory again, but this time, it would be defended by the Terran Navy that she had known for most of her life. And it would be good to bring her crew safely home to the Orion family that she had only begun to know.

But she also had a duty to the crew of the Corsair. She had sworn to bring them home too, and she was now closer to being able to fulfill that vow.

She broke the news to Zuarit when he came back through the air lock wearing his breathing helmet. He looked at her and blinked twice. He said nothing, but went back to his station on the bridge. She wanted to reach out and put a hand on his shoulder, or ask if he had counselors aboard his vessels to help them deal with the grief, but he continued efficiently coordinating the convoy and getting them prepared to make flight into the rapidly closing rift.

Traci returned to the bridge and spared a glance for Zuarit, but he seemed unperturbed. “Set course for Gamma Hydrae, Shannon,” Traci said. The helmsman complied, and her ship slowly led the way through the rift. She was very glad to find that the minefields surrounding the rift on the Terran side were still thin enough for them to easily carve a lane through. The surviving Valdi frigates helped her cut a way through the mine field as they led the transports toward the hyper limit. Although she didn’t understand why the Terran force no longer stood guard at the rift, she suspected the Orions had kept them distracted somehow.

“Captain, I have contact bearing zero four seven, one seventy-six off the plane. CIC makes it seven Terran ships; the largest is a light cruiser.”

“I have them on my plot, Shannon. Time to intercept?” Traci said.

“Seven minutes, ma’am.”

“Thoughts?” Traci invited. She had expected to meet a Terran picket group, but she was surprised that it wasn’t larger.

“They didn’t add any additional mines. Do you think their navy may be stretched too thin?” Lazarus said.

“So where is the rest of their fleet?” Kenaniah asked.

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