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Commander Honor Harrington sat in her command chair and watched her displays as HMS Fearless tore through space under maximum emergency power. The cruiser accelerated at a steady five hundred and twenty gravities—more than five kilometers per second per second—in pursuit of the freighter Sirius; Honor's face was still and cold, a mask against her own anxiety, while her mind churned behind her eyes.

She was almost certain she had it right . . . but only almost. And if she was wrong, if she hadn't guessed correctly after all, if—

She chopped off that train of thought and made herself lean back. The timing of Sirius's departure could mean only one thing, she told herself, and Brigham's projection of her course confirmed it. Sirius was, indeed, headed for the Tellerman wave, and the Tellerman was one of the "Roaring Deeps," the most powerful grav waves ever charted. More than that, it headed almost directly towards the People's Republic of Haven. If there truly was a Peep battle squadron out here, the Tellerman would take Sirius to meet it at two and a half or three thousand times the speed of light.

Back in the early days of hyper flight, spacers would have avoided something like the Tellerman like death itself, for death was precisely what it would have meant for any starship that encountered it, but that had changed.

The original hyper drive had been a mankiller, yet it had taken people a while to realize precisely why that was. Some of the dangers had been easy enough to recognize and avoid, but others had been far more difficult to identify and account for—mainly because people who encountered them never came back to describe their experience.

It had been discovered early on that translating into the alpha band, the lowest of the hyper bands, at a velocity greater than thirty percent that of light was suicide, yet people had continued to kill themselves for centuries in efforts to translate at speeds higher than that. Not because they were suicidal, but because such a low velocity had severely limited the usefulness of hyper travel.

The translation into or out of any given band of hyper-space was a complex energy transfer that cost the translating vessel most of its original velocity—as much as ninety-two percent of it, in the case of the alpha band. The energy loss dropped slightly with each "higher" hyper band, but its presence remained a constant, and for over five standard centuries, all hyper ships had relied on reaction drives.

There were limits to the amount of reaction mass a ship could carry, and hydrogen catcher fields didn't work in the extreme conditions of hyper-space. That had effectively limited ships to the very lowest (and "slowest") hyper bands, since no one could carry enough reaction mass to recover velocity after multiple translations. It also explained why more stubborn inventors had persisted in their costly efforts to translate at higher velocities in order to maintain as much starting velocity in hyper-space as possible. It had taken over two hundred years for the .3 c limitation to be fully accepted, and even today, some hyper physicists continued to search for a way around it.

Even after one had resolved the problems of safe translation speeds, however, there was the question of navigation. Hyper-space wasn't like normal-space. The laws of relativistic physics applied at any given point in hyper, but as a hypothetical observer looked outward, his instruments showed a rapidly increasing distortion. Maximum observation range was barely twenty light-minutes under ideal conditions; beyond that, the gravity-warped chaos of hyper and its highly charged particles and extreme background radiation made instruments utterly unreliable. Which, of course, meant that astrogation fixes were impossible, and a ship that couldn't see where it was going seldom came home again.

The answer to that one had been the hyper log, the interstellar equivalent of the ancient inertial guidance systems developed on Old Earth long before the Diaspora. Early-generation hyper logs hadn't been all that accurate, but they'd at least given astrogators a rough notion of where they were. That had been far better than anything that had come before, yet even with the hyper log, so many ships never returned that only survey vessels used hyper-space. Survey crews had been small, fantastically well-paid, and probably just a bit crazy, but they'd kept hyper travel in use until, eventually, one or two of them encountered what had killed so many other starships and survived to tell about it.

Hyper space itself was best considered as a compressed dimension which corresponded on a point-by-point basis to normal-space but placed those points in much closer congruity and so "shortened" the distance between them. In fact, there were multiple "bands," or associated but discrete dimensions, of hyper space. The "higher" the band, the shorter the distance between points in normal-space, the greater the apparent velocity of ships traveling through it . . . and the higher the cumulative energy cost to enter it.

That much had been understood by the earliest theorists. What they hadn't quite grasped was that hyper space, formed by the combined gravitational distortion of an entire universe's mass, was itself crossed and crisscrossed by permanent waves or currents of focused gravity. They were widely separated, of course, but they also might be dozens of light-years wide and deep, and they were deadly to any ship which collided with one. The gravitational shear they exerted on a starship's hull would rip the hapless vessel apart long before any evasive action could even be contemplated, unless the ship happened to impact at precisely the right angle on exactly the right vector, and its bridge crew had both the reflexes and the reaction mass to wrench clear in time.

As time passed, the survey ships that survived had mapped out reasonably safe routes through the more heavily traveled regions of hyper-space. They couldn't be entirely relied upon, for the grav waves shifted position from time to time, and sticking to the safe lanes between waves often required vector changes reaction-drive ships simply could not make. That meant hyper voyages had tended to be both indirect and lengthy, but the survival rate had gone up. And as it climbed, and as physicists went out to probe the grav waves they now knew existed with ever more sophisticated instruments, observational data increased and ever more refined theories of gravity were proposed.

It had taken just over five hundred years, but finally, in 1246 P.D., the scientists had learned enough for the planet Beowulf to perfect the impeller drive, which used what were for all intents and purposes "tame" grav waves in normal-space. Yet useful as the impeller was in normal-space, it was extraordinarily dangerous in hyper. If it encountered one of the enormously more powerful naturally occurring grav waves, it could vaporize an entire starship, much as Honor herself had blown the Havenite courier boat's impeller nodes with Fearless's impeller wedge.

More than thirty years had passed before Dr. Adrienne Warshawski of Old Earth found a way around that danger. It was Warshawski who finally perfected a gravity detector which could give as much as five light-seconds' warning before a grav wave was encountered. That had been a priceless boon, permitting impeller drive to be used with far greater safety between grav waves, and even today all grav detectors were called "Warshawskis" in her honor, yet she hadn't stopped there. In the course of her research, she had penetrated far deeper into the entire grav wave phenomenon than anyone before her, and she had suddenly realized that there was a way to use the grav wave itself. An impeller drive modified so that it projected not an inclined stress band above and below a ship but two slightly curved plates at right angles to its hull could use those plates as giant, immaterial "sails" to trap the focused radiation hurtling along a grav wave. More than that, the interface between a Warshawski sail and a grav wave produced an eddy of preposterously high energy levels which could be siphoned off to power a starship. Once a ship had "set sail" down a grav wave, it could actually shut down its onboard power plants entirely.

And so the grav wave, once the promise of near certain death, had become the secret to faster, cheaper, and safer hyper voyages. Captains who had avoided them like the plague now actively sought them out, cruising between them on impeller drive where necessary, and the network of surveyed grav waves had grown apace.

There had still been a few problems. The most bothersome was that grav waves were layers of focused gravity, subject to areas of reverse flow and unpredictable bouts of "turbulence" along the interfaces of opposed flows or where one wave impinged upon another. Such turbulence could destroy a ship, but it was almost more frustrating that no one could take full advantage of the potential of the Warshawski sail (or, for that matter, the impeller drive) because no human could survive the accelerations which were theoretically possible.

Improved Warshawskis had tended to offset the first difficulty by extending their detection range and warning ships of turbulence. With enough warning time, a ship could usually trim its sails to ride through turbulence by adjusting their density and "grab factor," though failure to trim in time remained deadly, which was why Sirius's claim of tuner flutter had been so serious. A captain still had to see it coming, but the latest generation detectors could detect a grav wave at as much as eight light-minutes and spot turbulence within a wave at up to half that range. The problem of acceleration tolerance, on the other hand, had remained insoluble for over a standard century, until Dr. Shigematsu Radhakrishnan, probably the greatest hyper physicist after Warshawski herself, devised the inertial compensator.

Radhakrishnan had also been the first to hypothesize the existence of wormhole junctions, but the compensator had been his greatest gift to mankind's diaspora. The compensator turned the grav wave (natural or artificial) associated with a vessel into a sump into which it could dump its inertia. Within the safety limits of its compensator, any accelerating or decelerating starship was in a condition of internal free-fall unless it generated its own gravity, but the compensator's efficiency depended on two factors: the area enclosed in its field and the strength of the grav wave serving as its sump. Thus a smaller ship, with a smaller compensator field area, could sustain a higher acceleration from a given wave strength, and the naturally-occurring and vastly more powerful grav waves of hyper-space allowed for far higher accelerations under Warshawski sail than could possibly be achieved under impeller drive in normal-space.

Even with the acceleration rates the compensator permitted, no manned vessel could maintain a normal-space velocity above eighty percent of light-speed, for the particle and radiation shielding to survive such velocities simply did not exist. The highest safe speed in hyper was still lower, little more than .6 c due to the higher particle charges and densities encountered there, but the closer congruity of points in normal-space meant a ship's apparent velocity could be many times light-speed. Equipped with Warshawski sails, gravity detectors, and the inertial compensator, a modern warship could attain hyper accelerations of up to 5,500 g and sustain apparent velocities of as much as 3,000 c. Merchantmen, on the other hand, unable to sacrifice as much onboard mass to the most powerful possible sails and compensators the designer could squeeze in, remained barred from the highest hyper bands and most powerful grav waves and were lucky to make more than 1,200 c, though some passenger liners might go as high as 1,500.

And that brought Honor right back to Sirius, for the ship in front of her obviously had a military-grade drive and compensator. Her sheer mass meant her compensator field was larger and thus less efficient than Fearless's, but no freighter should have been able to pull her acceleration. Even a superdreadnought, the only warship class which approached her mass, could only manage about four hundred and twenty gees, and Sirius was burning along at four hundred and ten. That left Fearless an advantage of barely a hundred and ten gees, little more than a kilometer per second squared—and Sirius had a head start of just under fifteen minutes.

It would have been worse if Fearless hadn't been at standby or Dominica Santos hadn't cut corners and chopped almost a full minute off the time it took to put her drive fully on line. As it was, Honor could still overhaul before Sirius reached the hyper limit, but not with as much margin as she might have wished. Sirius would hit the hyper limit in just under a hundred and seventy-three minutes from the time she left orbit. Honor had been in pursuit now for almost ten minutes. By cutting the safety margin on her own compensator to zero, she could match velocities with the freighter in another forty-six minutes, but it would take her over an hour just to reach effective missile range. Completely overtaking the freighter would require just over another hundred and seven minutes, leaving her less than twenty minutes before Sirius reached the hyper limit. And even if she did overtake completely, forcing the freighter to heave-to would be far from easy. Worse, momentum alone would carry Sirius beyond the hyper limit, even if she braked at max in response to Honor's demand, unless she began her deceleration within the next hour and a half, and Honor had no way of knowing just how far beyond the hyper limit a Havenite battle squadron might be lurking. No normal-space sensor could see across the hyper wall. The entire Havenite Navy might lie less than a light-second beyond the limit, and no one in Basilisk would know a thing about it, so it was entirely possible Sirius needed only to break into hyper at all to accomplish her mission.

Which meant that, somehow, Honor had to stop her within the next ninety-seven minutes. If she didn't, then the only way to prevent her from translating into hyper would be to destroy her.

Captain Johan Coglin sat on his bridge. He'd run out of curses ten minutes before; now he simply sat and glared at his display while anger flowed through his mind like slow lava.

Operation Odysseus had seemed like a reasonable plan when he was first briefed for it. A few too many ruffles and flourishes, perhaps, but reasonable. There'd been no special reason why they had to use his ship for it, yet no one had listened when he suggested they use a genuine freighter. They'd wanted Sirius's higher acceleration levels and hyper speed "just in case," and he'd been far too junior to argue the point. And, he supposed, if things had gone as planned, it wouldn't really have mattered in the long run. Only the idiots who'd orchestrated the operation should have realized it would never work from the moment Fearless replaced Warlock on Basilisk Station. They should have scrubbed it weeks ago, and he'd told Canning that.

From the beginning, Odysseus had relied on deception, diversion, and the half-assed way the Royal Manticoran Navy policed Basilisk. Now it was all blowing up in their faces. What should have been a neat, clean sucker punch had turned into a fiasco which might yet become outright disaster, in large part because his ship had been used, and Coglin knew NavInt, the General Staff, and the War Cabinet were all going to fight like hell to pin it on someone else.

There was no doubt in his mind that Fearless's captain had grasped the essentials of Odysseus, and even in his anger, his own professionalism had to admire Harrington's instant, iron-nerved response. Blowing the consulate courier boat's drive that way had been incredibly risky but brilliant, reducing the players to Sirius and Fearless instead of leaving her two potential targets to pursue, and his sensors had detected the separation of three pinnaces from Fearless. That had to be the cruiser's entire Marine detachment, and the speed with which Harrington had dispatched them was clear proof Canning and Westerfeldt had grossly underestimated the contingency planning that must have gone on between her and the NPA. Given the numbers of rifles Westerfeldt had handed the Shaman, that planning might not have helped that much if the Stilties had surprised the enclaves, but a full company of Marines with Navy air support would slaughter the natives in an open field engagement.

Which meant that Coglin's part of Odysseus was probably already pointless. With no massacre in the enclaves, Haven could hardly claim that their naval forces had responded only to save off-worlder lives.

Coglin ground his teeth together. That asshole idiot Canning was as stupid as he was blind. He'd jumped the gun by ordering Sirius out of orbit before the Stilties actually hit the enclaves. If he'd waited just twenty minutes—just twenty minutes!—they'd have known about the Marines and could still have aborted the entire spaceborne portion of the operation. But Canning had panicked, and Coglin hadn't known enough about the situation dirt-side to argue, even if he'd had the authority to refuse the consul's orders.

So here he was, running from Fearless, his very flight confirming Harrington's every suspicion, while every hope for Odysseus went down the crapper behind him.

Yet he had no choice now. Canning had alerted the task force for an execution date only six days away. If the courier boat had still been hyper-capable, she could have been sent to quietly stand the task force down, but the courier couldn't be sent now. Which meant that unless Coglin reached the rendezvous with Sirius, the entire force might well move in anyway. That had to be prevented, and even if it hadn't, he couldn't possibly permit Harrington to board Sirius, for that was the one thing which would absolutely prove that Haven had been behind the Stilty uprising. There was no way to hide what his ship truly was from a naval boarding party.

He queried NavInt's files for the readout on Fearless's armament. She was one of the last of the old Courageous-class ships, almost eighty T-years old and small for her rate, by modern standards. But that didn't mean she was senile. The surviving units of her class had been thoroughly overhauled over the years, and they packed a nasty weight of metal for their age and size. They were light on defense, virtually unarmored and with relatively weak radiation shielding (for warships), but they mounted a pair of grasers, two thirty-centimeter lasers, and seven missile tubes in each broadside. They lacked the magazine capacity for a sustained missile engagement, but they could throw surprisingly heavy salvos for their size while their ammo lasted—more than enough to reduce any freighter to glowing vapor. Or it should have been, anyway.

He looked away from the readout and returned his eyes to the maneuvering display. Fearless's light dot swept after him, still losing ground but accelerating steadily, and he glared at it and clenched his fists. Damn Canning—and damn Harrington, as well! Yet even as he cursed her persistence, he felt a certain sorrow deep inside for his pursuer. That was a remarkable officer back there, one sharp and quick enough to reduce Haven's carefully laid plans to humiliating wreckage in less than two Manticoran months.

And now her very success was going to cost her her life.

* * *

"Coming up on fifty-six minutes, Captain. Velocities will match at one-seven-one-zero-six KPS in thirty-two seconds."

"Thank you, Mr. McKeon." Honor rubbed her fingers over her thigh, wishing her suit gloves let her actually feel the contact. She glanced over at Webster.

"Lieutenant, prepare to record a transmission to Sirius."

"Recording, Ma'am," Webster replied.

"Captain Coglin," Honor said slowly and clearly, "this is Commander Honor Harrington of Her Manticoran Majesty's Starship Fearless. I request and command you to heave to for examination. Please cut your drive and stand by to receive my boarding party. Harrington out."

"On the chip, Ma'am," Webster said. "Prepared to transmit on your command."

"Thank you." She leaned back in her chair and glanced at the maneuvering display, waiting until the velocity of her ship exactly matched that of Sirius, then nodded. "Send it now."

"Transmitting, aye, Ma'am."


Almost seven-point-seven million kilometers separated the two ships as Honor's message raced after Sirius. It took the transmission over twenty-five seconds to cross that gulf of space—twenty-five seconds in which Sirius moved another four hundred and forty-one thousand kilometers. The total transmission time was over twenty-seven seconds, and Johan Coglin's face went hard as stone as his com officer played it for him. His eyes dropped to the light dot astern of him—the light dot which had stopped losing ground and started, oh so slowly, to overhaul—and he said nothing.

"No response, Ma'am," Webster reported.

Honor bit her lip but made herself nod calmly, as if she'd expected it. And perhaps she had. Perhaps she simply hadn't wanted to admit to herself that she'd known all along Sirius would refuse to stop. She was virtually certain Johan Coglin was no merchant service officer. Or, if he was, he held a reserve naval commission, as well. Haven wouldn't have trusted this operation to a merchant skipper, and a Navy officer would have his orders. He would no more stop than Honor herself would have. Not unless he was made to.

Her mind shied away from the thought of firing into an unarmed freighter, but if Coglin refused to heave to, she would have no choice, and she castigated herself for using all three pinnaces for the Marines' combat drop. She could have held one of the boarding shuttles for that, fleshed it out with her cutters, if she'd had to, and retained at least one pinnace aboard Fearless. She had the acceleration and the time to overhaul Sirius, and pinnaces were expressly designed, among other things, to put boarding parties aboard ships under way. Her velocity when she overtook the freighter would be barely four thousand KPS greater than her quarry's. Pinnace impeller drives were far weaker than a regular starship's, but if she'd dropped a boatload of Marines or even armed Navy ratings as she overran Sirius, its drive would have sufficed to decelerate for a boarding rendezvous.

She hadn't thought clearly enough when she realized what was going on, she told herself. Not that there'd been time to change her plans once Sirius began to move even if she had thought it through. Depriving Dame Estelle and Barney Isvarian of a third of Papadapolous's Marines with a full-fledged native war under way would have been criminal. But she should have considered the possibility in advance.

"Mr. Webster," she said.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Record this. 'Captain Coglin, if you refuse to heave to, I will have no option but to fire into your ship. I repeat. You are requested and required to cut your drive immediately.'"

"Recorded, Captain." Webster's voice was soft with suppressed tension.

"Transmit immediately."

"Transmitting now, Captain."

"Mr. Cardones."

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"Prepare to fire a warning shot. Set it for detonation at least five thousand kilometers clear of Sirius."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am. Setting for detonation five-zero-zero-zero kilometers clear of target."

"Thank you."

Honor leaned back in her chair and prayed Coglin would listen to sanity.

". . . fire into your ship. I repeat. You are requested and required to cut your drive immediately."

Coglin grunted as he listened to the message, and his first officer looked up from his own instruments.

"Any reply, Captain?"

"No." Coglin frowned. "She'll fire at least one warning shot first, and the further out we are when she decides to do something more drastic, the better."

"Should we prepare to turn back towards her, Sir?"

"No." Coglin considered for a moment, then nodded to himself. "We'll keep running, but blow the after panels," he ordered.

"Aye, Sir. Blowing after panels now."

"No response, Captain," Webster said very quietly.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Mr. Cardones, I—" Honor broke off, frowning at her own tactical display as something tumbled away from Sirius.

"Captain, I'm picking up—"

"I see it, Mr. Cardones." Honor forced her frown away and looked at McKeon. "Comments, Exec?"

"I don't know, Ma'am." McKeon replayed the tactical readouts and shook his head. "Looks like some kind of debris. I can't think of what it might be, though."

Honor nodded. Whatever it was, it was unpowered and far too small to be any sort of weapon. Could Sirius be jettisoning some sort of incriminating cargo?

"Run a plot on it, Mr. Panowski," she said. "We may need to run it down for examination afterwards."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Panowski tapped commands into his panel, feeding the debris' trajectory into his computers.

"Mr. Cardones. Range and time to target?"

"Two-five-point-six-two light-seconds, Ma'am. Flight time one-niner-two-point-eight seconds."

"Very well, Mr. Cardones. Fire warning shot."

"Aye, aye, Ma'am. Missile away."

The missile belched from Fearless's number two missile tube and sped ahead at an acceleration of 417 KPS2, building on Fearless's own velocity of just over eighteen thousand kilometers per second. It could have accelerated twice as fast, but reducing its acceleration to 42,500 g raised its small impeller's burnout time from one minute to three, which not only gave it three times the maneuvering time but increased its terminal velocity from rest by almost fifty percent.

It raced after Sirius, seeming to crawl, even at its speed, as the freighter continued to accelerate. At three minutes, more than ten million kilometers from launch and with a terminal velocity of just over ninety-three thousand KPS, its impeller drive burned out and it went ballistic, overhauling its target on momentum alone.

Captain Coglin watched it come. He'd been certain it would be no more than a warning shot, and its vector quickly proved it was. Even if it hadn't been, he would have had almost thirteen seconds after burnout to take evasive action, during which his ship would move almost two hundred and forty thousand kilometers. His maximum possible vector change was barely over four KPS2, but the missile was no longer able to follow his maneuvers, and the cumulative effect would have made Sirius an impossible target at such a range.

Yet there was no need. He watched the missile race up alongside, five thousand kilometers clear of his ship. It detonated in a savage pinprick of thermonuclear fire, and he grunted.

"Jamming ready, Jamal?"

"Aye, Sir," his tactical officer replied.

"Stand by. I doubt she'll waste another warning shot, but we've got twenty minutes yet before she can reach effective firing range."

"Aye, Sir. Standing by."

Coglin nodded and turned his eyes to the chronometer.

"Nothing, Captain," McKeon said quietly, and Honor nodded. She hadn't really expected there to be any change in Sirius's course. She checked her maneuvering display. Another nineteen minutes before even the longest range shot could reasonably hope to hit the freighter. Tension wrapped itself around her nerves as she realized she was committed, but something else poked at the back of her brain. Something about that debris Sirius had jettisoned. If her captain had no intention of halting anyway, why jettison cargo so soon? He had almost a full hour before Fearless could physically overhaul him and board. It just didn't make—

She stiffened in her chair, eyes wide. Dear God, perhaps it did make sense!

"Mr. McKeon." The exec looked up, and Honor beckoned him over to her chair.

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"That debris from Sirius. Could it have been hull plating?"

"Hull plating?" McKeon blinked in surprise. "Well, yes, I suppose it could have been, Skipper. But why?"

"We know that ship has a military grade drive and compensator," Honor said very softly. "Suppose it has something else military grade aboard? Something that was hidden behind false plating?"

McKeon stared at her, and then his face slowly paled.

"A Q-ship?" he half-whispered.

"ONI says they've got some heavily armed fleet colliers," Honor said in that same, soft voice. "She might be one of them, but we know they used disguised merchant raiders when they went after Trevor's Star and Sheldon." Her eyes held his levelly. "And if that is a Q-ship, she could be armed more heavily than we were before they modified our armament."

"And she's a lot bigger than we are," McKeon agreed grimly. "That could mean she's got one hell of a lot more magazine space than we do."

"Exactly." Honor drew a deep breath, her thoughts racing like honed shards of ice. "Warn Rafe, then punch up our data base and see what if anything we have on file about the Q-ships we know Haven's used in the past."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"And warn Dominica, too." Honor smiled a cold, bitter smile. "Our damage control officer may have her hands full shortly."


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