Smooth-face. Had to be. Maybe he had sent Hrna to keep an eye on me. As I crossed to my station I tucked away the information that Suzanne had served in the Eingana-Rama action. Probably Einganan, given her familiarity with the 'Daya.

I sat down and looked at her. "Can we destroy it?"

Chase dismissed the images. "Captain, we can't blow up an unidentified vessel that isn't threatening us."

I waved him away. Stealth was a threat. "Can we destroy it?"

Suzanne shook her head. "Not directly. We can't target it. That's pretty much its reason for existence. We could try for proximity detonations with missiles, I guess. Their shields are probably crap. Our own hull-mounted weapons won't have the range. Or we could maybe lay some mines, but they'd likely see us and divert. Or I could try to set up some signature-targeting torpedoes if I could find any records in our database - unlikely though. I could also try to go after it in a Sting."

The list of weapons I had bought was impressive. "Sting?"

"A small, single-pilot fighting vessel. Very fast, with weak shields and capable beam weapons. But with a missile load that could ruin somebody's day. We have two of them."

"We have a bay for fighters?"

"Nah. I had them fitted to mounts on each collar wing. External access. Not ideal if we need them in a hurry, but I figured they could come in handy. Surprise some bastard."

"You're a pilot? You were able to just buy these Stings on Melchi?" I'd never heard of them before.

"Not exactly. And not exactly."

Let it go for now. Suzanne had history and the Stings were obviously black market. Focus. If this was an opportunity then I needed to take action. "How would you target it? Or even find it?"

"I can track the shadow, now I know it's there. Or the s'aanDaya can. I'd set the system to relay the position to the Sting. I won't be able to target it with weapon systems, though."

"Can you catch it?"

"Yup. They're fast, but all that shielding gets in the way. The Sting will easily outstrip it."

"What if we just jumped now? They close enough for us to destroy them in the jump?

Silence. Both Chase and Suzanne were staring at me as if I had asked them to stab each other.

"Er... Captain?" Chase moved up beside my station and gazed down at me. I could see the whites of his eyes. "If we jumped before the three-day threshold we would be breaking the most sacred and cardinal rule of shipping. We'd be tagged and forbidden entry into any port, station or orbital in the seven sectors. There'd be an automatic bounty on our vessel and nobody would care how it was collected. Piracy is treated with greater tolerance than sub-threshold jumps."

OK, that didn't sound overly smart. Time to factor Pyke into this. "Aunty FEI, get me Pyke, now."


A few seconds later Pyke's head appeared over my console. "Captain? What's wrong?"

I explained the situation to him. "When we jump in three days, is there any chance that thing could keep pace with us?"

Pyke shook his head. "No way. Not possible. The preon drive is about as unstealthy a device known to humanity. There is no chance that a vessel built for non-detection would be built around a preon reactor."

"Could it carry one as a backup? Have two drives? A stealthy drive for operations and a preon drive for travel?"

Another instant denial. "Too small. Assuming it was even possible, the smallest preon drive requires something the size of a corvette to carry it. The additional drive could conceivably share a few of the systems, but would still require a hull nearly half as big again."

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