Chapter One

~ May 12th, 2285 ~

"X, we've just received a message from the Glassama," his Chief of Staff reported during their daily morning meeting. "They were attacked as they were about to finish off the Spacc warship."

"What?" the Supreme Rebel Leader, screamed. "We told that idiot NOT to attack the Spacc ship."

"He claims the Spaccs targeted his FTL envelope generator as he was about to depart the area. He then saw it as his duty to destroy the Spacc ship. But during the engagement, our freighter attacked the Abissto with the torpedoes we had secreted inside ordinary freight containers. The Furmmara was then destroyed when the Abissto returned fire."

"Great Lullelian, it's a nightmare. Why did our freighter attack one of our own warships?"

"The Abissto was attacking the Glassama."

X groaned. "Do I have to drag every morsel from you? Why was the Abissto attacking the Glassama?"

"We don't yet know who was in command of the Abissto. The Furmmara hadn't visited it yet. As far as we knew, the Abissto was still in orbit above Diabolisto, and the oxygen generation system was not operational."

"Then someone must have fixed it if it was able to attack the Glassama."

"It had to be Space Command. They had refused border entry to all Clidepp military vessels, so it couldn't have been anyone else."

"Damn all Spaccs."

"What do you wish to do?"

"Do?" X continued in a loud voice. "What can we do? That operation has now ended, and ended badly. I assume the Spaccs have picked up our people on Diabolisto?"

"Unknown, but they must have. We've received no reports from them in months, and not a single query message has been answered since we first learned that Spaccs were in the vicinity. They must either be in Spacc custody— or dead."

"We'll have to assume the worst. It's time to proceed with the next step, and I've just made a decision about the target. The Spaccs will regret sticking their noses into our business once they see grief-stricken Terran families on their nightly news. Instead of the Clidepp embassy on Earth, our new target will be the GA Trade Conference."

"X, no! I mean, are you sure about this? It was one thing to attack a Clidepp diplomatic ship in GA space, but to destroy a GA political event and perhaps kill hundreds or thousands of GA citizens? I think you might be going too far."

"And what has the GA Senate done to stop the spilling of innocent blood in the Clidepp nation? Nothing. They talk about freedom and peace and then say what's happening in our nation is none of their affair. Well, we're going to make it their affair. It's becoming clear that we can't defeat the Clidepp military on our own. At best we can just drag out this civil war for annuals until everyone is so tired of war that one side or the other capitulates. We must do whatever we must in order to involve the GA in this war, and then let them defeat the Clidepp military."

"Whenever someone has attacked the GA, Admiral Jenetta Carver has been called in to defeat the attackers. Then she absorbs the other nation into the GA. We'll lose our independence if that happens. We'll just become Region Four of the GA."

"Could the GA be a worse master than the Triumvirate? Does the GA torture innocent citizens and send them to death camps? No! Being absorbed by the GA might be infinitely better than the existence our people have now."

"Do you really want us to be part of the GA?"

"No, not really. What I want is for the GA to take on the Triumvirate and squeeze their heads until the blood flows freely from their eyes and ears. Then we'll offer to step in and take over the reins of power. If we handle this properly, the GA will be happy to back away rather than getting involved in another yet nation's messy reconstruction."

"They won't let us take power if they learn we've killed their innocent citizens."

"That's the only way to get them involved, but we'll plant irrefutable evidence that the Triumvirate was behind the act."

"But why would the Triumvirate attack a GA trade event?"

"To make the GA believe we were actually responsible, and we'll even name the minister who was behind the attack."

"But if the GA thinks the Triumvirate is guilty, they'll want to deal with them directly. They won't want us involved."

"They will after we plant evidence that we're really responsible."

"But— but if they believe us to be responsible, they'll ally themselves with the Triumvirate and both will come after us."

"No, they won't. The Spacc Intelligence service is the best there is. They'll discover that the Triumvirate was guilty all the time."

"How will they do that?"

"The evidence we'll plant pointing to our involvement will eventually take them to that conclusion."

"What? I'm confused. I don't understand."

"Don't worry. I know what I'm doing. I've been planning this for a very long time. I'll be leading the Spaccs around by their noses until they're worn out trying to figure out who was responsible. They'll be delighted to let us assume the reins of power for the new Society of Aligned Planets."

* * *

Having been out of touch with family and friends since first being marooned on Diabolisto meant that Sydnee had dozens of vidMails to view and answer once communications were restored. Damage resulting from the collision with the rebel-controlled Glassama during the attempted envelope-merge hadn't been repaired, but one of the rescue ships had loaned the Perry a portable communications system. However, so much had happened that she didn't know where to begin with her responses.

Sydnee feared telling her mother that she had almost been killed three times, but when the transport ship carrying the Perry reached Earth, that information could become public knowledge. A formal Board of Inquiry would be convened to investigate the envelope-merge accident, the attack on the rebel camp on Diabolisto, the loss of the three Marines during a later battle on Diabolisto, her deadly shootout with Colonel Suflagga, the near destruction of a freighter and loss of cargo, and the space battle with rebels from a neighboring nation that resulted in the near complete loss of the Perry, and the total destruction of the two stolen Clidepp destroyers, the Glassama and the Abissto.

Almost as daunting a duty was that of replying to Katarina's vidMails that reported how Admiral Carver's Second Fleet had defeated the Uthlaro armada handily and annexed the former Uthlaro territory, now known as Region Three, thereby forever bringing the Tsgardi-Hudeerac-Uthlaro-Gondusan accord to an end. Her best friend had had a front row seat to the final conflict from the Auxiliary Command and Control Bridge aboard the battleship Pholus, and Katarina's excitement was obvious in her vidMails as she related the events in a play-by-play account of the battle. Her recounting of the event took several days because each vidMail ended suddenly when it reached the maximum allowable time limit for daily transmissions.

Then there was the vidMail from her brother. Sterling had stopped responding to Sydnee's vidMails years ago while she was still a student at the Northern Hemisphere Space Academy, so she was delighted to have received a vidMail from him now but a little frightened at the same time. Why did he choose now to send a vidMail? He couldn't know that she had been aboard the Perry because they hadn't spoken in all those years, and she had eventually stopped sending unanswered messages. She would respond to his vidMail last and chose not to even listen to his message until the others had been dealt with.

The oldest vidMails from her sister Sheree were as light as always, so Sydnee put those aside. The later vidMails showed Sheree's real concern for her sister's failure to respond, so she decided to answer those first and would touch upon the subjects of the earlier vidMails if she had time.

"Hi, sis," Sydnee began as she smiled and stared into the camera lens while she recorded the first vidMail. "I'm sorry I haven't been able to respond until now. The Perry's communication arrays were both damaged in a collision during an attempted interdiction stop. The people who hijacked the other ship tried a dumb maneuver that caused severe damage to both ships. We couldn't even communicate with Space Command HQ to report the problem. I'm fine, and no one aboard the Perry was seriously injured. Actually, I wasn't even aboard the ship when the accident occurred because I was on a mission to a nearby planet. I was ferrying a MAT full of Marines down to the surface when the Perry detected the hijacked ship entering and then immediately leaving planetary orbit. They took off in hot pursuit, and when the ship failed to stop for inspection, the Perry attempted to stop it forcefully.

"The hijackers were stopped, but only because their ship was too badly damaged to continue on. It took months for the engineers to repair enough of the damage so the ships could even maneuver again, and then there was a small battle when the hijacked ship tried to get away— again. Don't tell Mom about the reason for the damage because I know how she worries about me and my being in Space Command. But I have to tell you I've never felt more alive than during the past few months. I was really dreading this posting, but it's turned out to be so much more than I ever expected. I've made a number of wonderful new friends out here, and they're the kind of people who you can always trust to have your back in a fight. That last part is probably something else you shouldn't tell Mom.

"Because our ship was so badly damaged, we're going to be leaving here soon and returning to Earth aboard a transporter ship that will bring the Perry to the Mars shipyard for repair. The transporter is one of the new DS vessels, so I'll probably be home in a couple of months.

"I love you and I'll see you soon.

"Sydnee Marcola, Lieutenant(jg), aboard the SC destroyer Perry. Message complete."

Sydnee took a deep breath and then immediately began composing a message to Katarina. "Computer, new message to Katarina Somulowski, Lieutenant(jg) aboard the SC battleship Pholus in Region Two. Begin message.

"Hi, Kat. I've just been viewing your vidMail segments about the great victory over the Uthlaro armada. The situation sounds like it was terribly exciting— and dangerous, so I'm glad you're safe, and that it's over. The fight with the THUGs is bound to go down as the most difficult war in Space Command history and the best tactically coordinated and fought. It has to be wonderful to be in Admiral Carver's command, even if you're a low-level officer who normally spends most of her days training. Remember what they taught us at the Academy— all of the training will come in handy some day.

"We've had a little excitement out here, but it pales in comparison to what you've been through, so I'll tell you about it one day when you're bored silly again and want to view something other than a training manual.

"We're going to be headed to Earth soon aboard one of the new DS transporter ships because of severe damage sustained to the Perry during an envelope merge attempt. It's possible the Perry might even be retired— finally. I have no idea where I'll be sent if that happens. Captain Lidden says he'll recommend me for transfer to a ship in a more forward area, but with the situation in Region Two resolved and things heating up along the Clidepp Border, I suppose it'd be difficult to find a more forward location than right here.

"Sorry to talk so fast, but because the demand for vidMail time is so high right now, I have to cut this short. Once we're on the transport I should be able to catch up.

"Be well and stay safe. I love you.

"Sydnee Marcola, Lieutenant(jg), aboard the SC destroyer Perry. Message complete."

Sydnee took another deep breath. She would have loved to tell Katarina about her own adventure, but she didn't want to spoil the moment for Kat. She would view all of Kat's vidMails and simply share in her best friend's excitement for now. Her own tales could wait.

The next vidMail would go to her mother, so she took several deep breaths to compose herself . Before she started the recording, she checked her face in the mirror to see if her expression looked bored enough.

"Computer, new message to Kathee Deleone, Park Central Towers, New York City, USNA, Earth. Begin message.

"Hi, Mom. Sorry I've haven't vidMailed lately, but the communication equipment on the Perry hasn't been working in months. They just got it restored. We haven't even been able to contact Space Command.

"I'm fine and looking forward to seeing Earth again real soon. Our ship is returning to Mars for repair work, so I should be there in a couple of months.

"Nothing new to report here. Just the same old job. Katarina tells me the war in Region Two is over. That's great news. Now maybe we can have some peace for a while.

"My love to everybody.

"Sydnee Marcola, Lieutenant(jg), aboard the SC destroyer Perry. Message complete."

Sydnee breathed a sigh of relief once she'd gotten through the entire message to her mother. She always felt a tinge of guilt at perpetrating the deception, but she knew her mom would be pleased if she believed her daughter was bored and safe. Consequently, Sydnee always tried to make her mom believe there was no danger in her job.

She thought about viewing her brother's vidMail next, but decided to relax just a bit more after the mental strain of recording the first three vidMails, each with its special considerations.

As she lay back in her rack, she stared up at the overhead and wished she could be totally honest with everyone. It was a lot of work watching every word she'd spoken and then remembering how she'd handled every previous delicate conversation. She hadn't lied to anyone, although she had stretched the truth to the breaking point with her mom, but that was necessary to give her mom some peace of mind. Life had been so much simpler when she was just a cadet at NHSA.

Now that the comparatively easy vidMails had been taken care of, it was time to turn her attention to the one from Sterling. She got up from her bunk again and moved to her desk to hear what he had to say.

As Sterling's face appeared on the monitor, Sydnee couldn't help thinking how much older he appeared than the last time she'd seen his image. Of course, it had been seven years since he'd stopped replying to her messages, and Sterling had only been fifteen then— a boy. He was twenty-two now, and a grown man. He even had a moustache. It looked good on him. Sydnee stopped thinking about everything but his words as he started to speak.

"Hi, sis. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I feel like such a jerk. I was wrong to shut you out of my life. I was upset that you chose a life in the military, and that was very wrong of me. It's your life and you have to live it as you see fit. No one can tell you it isn't right to devote yourself to the service simply because dad was killed in the line of duty. I guess I just felt that, as a woman, you should want a home and family.

"I actually began to accept your choice years ago when I saw how proud you were during your graduation from NHSA, but I had sort of painted myself into a corner and I didn't know how to get out gracefully. I should have just walked across the wet paint and confessed my sins, but it's easier said than done. I was just too proud to admit I was wrong. And I should have sat with mom, Sheree, and Curtis at the graduation, but I couldn't face them either, so I sat up in the stands.

"I want us to be close again, as we were when we were growing up. I've missed my big sister, and hope you can forgive me. If you reply to this message, I'll know we can make a fresh start. And if you can't forgive me, I'll kick myself every day for ruining what we once had.

"I love you, sis, and I hope to hear from you.

"Sterling Marcola, Bishop's Gate Towers, Cape Town, South Africa, Earth. Message complete."

Sydnee just stared at the screen as the image faded. Her first reaction was anger. Sterling had attended my graduation at NHSA and never told anyone he was there? she thought. How could he do that? But then she remembered how truly contrite he appeared over his earlier behavior. She would forgive him, of course. He was her brother, and she still loved him. And it sounded like he had suffered as much as she from the prolonged separation. She touched the record button and began speaking from her heart. She used up almost the entire time allotment and then quickly signed off. It was such a relief to have completed what she'd foreseen as a chore. In her signoff she told him she loved him and hoped he would message her again soon. Then she retired to her bunk again to think through the events of the day.

A chime in her left ear brought her up out of her reverie. She touched her Space Command ring and said, "Marcola," when the carrier was established.

"Marcola, this is the watch commander. Report to Commander Vernon Galeway in the A deck conference room."

"Right away, sir. Marcola out."

Sydnee hopped off her bunk and checked her appearance before hurrying to the door, which picked this time to malfunction. After an unsuccessful attempt to open the door manually, she used the flat of her fist to smack the bulkhead where the switch was located. The door slid open noiselessly.

* * *

"Lieutenant(jg) Marcola reporting to the Commander as ordered," Sydnee said as she braced to attention in front of a Commander standing in the conference room with a Lt. Commander.

"At ease, Lieutenant," Cmdr. Galeway said. Gesturing towards the Lt. Commander, he said, "This is my XO, Commander Helen Wheeler.

"When I learned of your amazing performance during the past few months, I told Captain Lidden I wished to meet you. He was good enough to arrange this meeting. He said he would approve a transfer off the Perry to a posting more consistent with your remarkable abilities and where you'd have a better path to promotion. Have you decided where you'd like to go?"

"Um, I haven't really thought about it, sir. I suppose a lot will depend on the outcome of the Inquiry Board hearings. I don't know if they'll agree with your assessment of my performance."

"You never know how an Inquiry Board will rule. They sometimes have issues of which we may be unaware, but after reading the reports filed by you and the supporting documentation from the people under your command, I personally believe Captain Lidden's assessment is accurate. You did save everyone aboard the Perry. If you hadn't convinced your fellow officers and the Marines to get that Clidepp destroyer operational to come here to assist the Perry, everyone aboard would most likely be dead. When I spoke to you following the Missouri's arrival here, I wasn't aware of your official rank. I only knew you were in command of a destroyer. I think I was even more impressed when I learned that a junior pilot had gotten a Marine platoon to follow her in battle."

"Um, I was the only officer there, sir. Lieutenant Kennedy had been killed."

"I realize that, but I'm still impressed. If they hadn't had confidence in your leadership, I doubt you could have gotten them to follow a ship's bridge officer into ground combat. I wish I had an open position on my ship. If I did, I'd try to convince you to transfer to the Missouri."

"Thank you, sir."

"Perhaps something will open up before it's time for you to make a decision."

"Yes, sir."

"Would a posting to the Missouri interest you?"

"Um, yes, sir."

"Okay, we'll have to see what happens in the days ahead. It was a pleasure meeting you, Lieutenant. That's all."

"Thank you, sir." Sydnee said as she braced to attention and turned to leave."

As the door closed behind Sydnee, Lt. Cmdr. Wheeler said, "She wasn't what I expected."

"What were you expecting, Helen?"

"More of a Type A personality, I suppose. She seemed almost— indecisive."

"I did sort of spring things on her. I'm sure she's concerned about the Board of Inquiry that will investigate her actions on the planet. Three Marines died, two in battle while under her command. And she did shoot and kill a former high-ranking officer in the Clidepp military, although he had joined the rebels and it was reportedly a case of self-defense."

Sydnee flopped onto her bed as soon as she was back in her quarters. The offer of a post aboard the Missouri had come as a complete surprise. But she had to remind herself that there was no open post available and that it was simply a question to determine her possible future interest. Her response was likewise noncommittal. Yes, she had an interest, but that didn't mean she would accept such a post. Scout-Destroyers only carried shuttles and maybe a tug, but no fighters or MATs. That could always change, of course. Still, it was nice to receive the query from Commander Galeway. It showed that Captain Lidden's opinion of her actions was shared by others— others who didn't owe their lives to the appearance of the Abissto during the battle with the Glassama.

She was grateful beyond measure that she didn't have to make a decision today. There were far too many other considerations, and she might later regret a hasty decision.

* * *

The DS transport ship Babbage finally arrived at the battle site three weeks later to pick up the Perry. The gargantuan ship had been delayed, owing to a diversion to pick up the GSC Destroyer Portland before proceeding to the location of the Perry. The other Tritanium-sheathed warship had been performing interdiction duties much closer to Earth. Although pre-Dakinium, it wasn't nearly as ancient as the Perry. Until a permanent replacement for the Perry's assigned sub-sectors was named, the Portland would patrol in its place.

The first three frame-sections of the Babbage constituted a bow unit that, when swung fully open, revealed a space large enough to accommodate five SC destroyers. Once the Babbage was open and the Portland had been freed from captivity in the enormous hold, tugs arrived to push the Perry into position. When it had been secured, the Abissto, the Glassama, and the freighter Furmmara were guided in and secured, as were the Furmmara's link sections too badly damaged during the battle to ever be used again. On command from Sydnee, in her capacity as acting caption of the Abissto, the freighter's cargo section had been broken in half by torpedoes after the freighter first fired torpedoes at the Abissto. Although no torpedoes had struck the freighter itself, fires and control systems damage resulting from the cargo section breakup had prevented it from continuing the fight. Following the engagement, the Perry's engineers had deemed the freighter undependable for use until significant repairs had been made.

The unloading and loading operation took several hours to complete, but when the nose of the Babbage closed, the hull again became an airtight hold, sans gravity. Kilometers of undamaged cargo containers from the Furmmara would remain behind at the battle site until a freighter dispatched from Simmons SCB arrived to collect them. Not being a DS ship, the SC freighter would require months to reach the battle site. Until then, the GSC Scout-Destroyer Rhine would provide security for the containers.

The Perry's batteries were fully charged, and would be adequate to maintain the gravity deck plating throughout the ship for the entire voyage to Mars. Gravity at the entrance threshold was substantially reduced and then grew progressively stronger moving away from the hatchway until it reached a full g.

The crew was immediately assigned visitor's quarters in the Babbage, while rebel crewmembers rescued from the Glassama and Furmmara were assigned more basic accommodations in an empty hold, with suitable Marine guard around the clock.

Sydnee was ecstatic with her temporary quarters, but they weren't really anything special. They were just the standard-size billet assigned to any Lieutenant(jg) aboard ships constructed during the past fifteen years. But after the shoebox she had occupied aboard the ancient Perry, the visitor quarters seemed like a deluxe suite aboard a passenger liner.

With the battle site cleaned up, the Babbage and Missouri headed for Diabolisto. At Light-9790, it seemed as though they arrived before they left. As the two ships established their orbit path, Sydnee received a message via her CT.

In response to the single-word query, "Marcola," Sydnee touched her ring and said, "Marcola here."

"Marcola," she heard Commander Bryant say, "jump into your personal armor and hoof it down to the shuttle bay."

She didn't understand the reason, but the order was clear enough. She stripped down and stepped into the padded body suit, then slipped into her body armor. Bryant hadn't said anything about weapons, but she decided that since she'd been ordered to wear her personal armor, the situation might involve some danger. She strapped one knife to her left thigh and the other to her right calf, then strapped on her pistol belt and clipped her rifle to her chest plate ring. Grabbing her helmet, she hurried out the door on the run. It required two lifts and a transport car, but she finally arrived at the Babbage's shuttle bay.

"Loaded for bear again, I see," Lieutenant(jg) Jerry Weems said with a smile. It was the way he'd greeted her the first time they'd met and had become a standing joke between them. On her first interdiction, she hadn't known what to expect and had brought all of her issued weapons.

"If what I suspect is true, we might need them."

"And what is it you suspect?"

"I seriously doubt that we're doing an interdiction, so we must be going down to Diabolisto to help round up the Clidepp rebels."

"Yeah, you're probably right. But why? We're not Marines. And I'm sure the Babbage has its own shuttle pilots among the bridge crew."

"We know the planet, and the Babbage pilots probably don't have any personal armor since they don't perform interdictions."

"What about the Missouri?"

"It's a scout destroyer with limited personnel, so the same basic reasons apply. No Marines, no interdiction pilots, no personal armor."

"I was really hoping to never see that miserable planet up close again."

"Maybe it will just be a quick drop and pickup."

"Not with my luck. And I'd feel better if we had the MAT. Think we can get the captain to open the hull so we can fly it out?"

"The way they wedged the Clidepp destroyers and the pieces of that freighter inside, I don't think we'd be able to get the MAT out without moving everything."

"Might be worth it, if we have to ferry a couple of hundred prisoners up here. The shuttles are so small we'll have to make thirty trips."

"That doesn't sound so bad."

Weems laughed. "You'd probably like to make all sixty legs by yourself."

"I wouldn't mind. This might the last opportunity to fly again for a couple of months."

"Ahhh. Three weeks of no flight duty and no bridge duty. It's going to be a relaxing cruise home."

"I'm going to really miss that Marine combat range. It was a great way to unwind."

"We'll get you a pair of magnetic shoes and you can do laps around the inside of the ship hold in full EVA gear."

Sydnee chuckled, then said, "Not the same thing as shooting at a combat target that could jump up from behind every window, or from a hidden sniper platform in a jungle tree."

The doors to the shuttle bay opened then and two squads of Marines double-timed it into the bay. The last one in was Marine First Lieutenant Kelly MacDonald.

"This your gig, Kel?" Sydnee asked, as the Marines lined up in front of the nearest shuttle.

"Nah, Major Burrows is taking an active role. He'll be here in a minute. He's leading the unit on the surface this time."

"Really? That's unusual."

"I think he wants to see the layout down there firsthand so he's prepared to answer questions at the board hearings. And he said something about getting some terrain shots from altitude."

"Why? I mean we have all the images from the helmet cameras and the surveillance cameras."

"The Major just wants to be fully prepared when it comes time to show the Board how miserable that mud-ball is and what we were up against. I understand he found the images of the two battles with Lampaxa Vorheridines so entrancing that he watched them over and over. And Sgt. Booth designed a new unit patch that shows the Lampaxa head. It looks more frightening than the real thing."

"Nothing is more frightening than the real thing," Weems said. "Since we got back, I've had several nightmares about those monsters."

When the shuttle mechanics entered the bay, it gave Sydnee and Weems a chance to perform their walk-around. The shuttles weren't very old and looked sound and well maintained. Then it was simply a matter of waiting around until Major Burrows arrived and gave them their orders.

Marine Captain Burrows, always referred to as Major Burrows because a ship can only have one captain, finally arrived three-quarters of an hour later. He called MacDonald, Weems and Sydnee aside and asked, "Marcola, how's your arm?"

"Um, my arm, sir?"

"I read that your shoulder was dislocated during the attack on the Glassama."

"Um, yes sir. My arm is fine now. I feel a twinge sometimes if I twist it the wrong way, but most of the time it feels a hundred percent."

"Any doubts about piloting a ship with an arm that isn't quite a hundred percent?

"None, sir. The physical requirements for flying a shuttle aren't that demanding."

"How about flying a fighter?"

"Um, a fighter, sir?"

"Let me outline the mission. You and Weems will fly your shuttles down to the planet and surreptitiously land in a clearing a kilometer beyond where the three rebel fighters are parked. The location information has already been downloaded into the navigation computer of both shuttles. After disabling your shuttles so they can't be commandeered during your absence, you'll deploy to the fighter clearing, disable one of the fighters and then take the other two. You'll each perform a single, low-level flyover of the rebel encampment to send the rebels scurrying for cover while my Marine fire teams surround the camp. When the rebels come out from cover and assemble to discuss the situation, we'll move in and take them prisoner.

"At least that's the plan," Burrows said. "We all know that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. We'll be in constant communication, and with this new armor, the only light weapons that can harm us are mortars, RPG's, and hand grenades. According to reports from Lt. Marcola, the rebels have few weapons left, but stay sharp!"

"Sir," Weems said, "I don't know how to fly a Clidepp fighter, and Lt. Marcola might not either."

"That true, Marcola?" Burrows asked.

"Yes, sir." Sydnee said. "We're both experienced pilots, and I don't believe the injury to my arm will affect my flying ability at all, but the controls of those Clidepp fighters might be considerably different from the Marine fighters."

"But you flew that Clidepp tug you stole from the rebels to the Perry."

"Um, yes, sir. But a tug is considerably different than a fighter in maneuvering and flight characteristics. I was able to correlate the tug's controls with those of SC tugs I'd flown, and Lt. Weems had no trouble later flying that tug as well. Of course, we can't really know for sure until we see the cockpit of the fighters. If their ships are like ours, we might be able to work it out, but I don't know about performing a low-level flyover without a little practice."

"Well," Burrows said, "perhaps this is one of those instances where the plan falls apart even before we meet the enemy. I've been told you're the best pilot aboard the Perry, Marcola, so I'll make a decision about the flyover once we're down on the planet and you and Weems have had a chance to examine the fighter cockpits."

End of Chapter 1

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