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Chapter Twenty-Five

Helen Zilwicki swallowed hard. She was glad her skinsuit's helmet at least partially concealed her expression from the pinnace's other passengers, although she couldn't help wondering how many of them felt the same way.

She turned her head, glancing at the midshipman seated to her left. She would have preferred being paired with Leo Stottmeister, since neither Aikawa nor Ragnhild were available, but she hadn't been consulted. Commander FitzGerald had simply looked at the three middies still aboard Hexapuma , then jabbed with a forefinger, assigning Leo to his pinnace and Helen and Paulo d'Arezzo to the one with Commander Lewis and Lieutenant Commander Frank Henshaw, Hexapuma's second engineer. Then he'd looked at all three midshipmen, and his expression had been grim.

"It's going to be bad over there," he'd told them flatly. "Whatever you can imagine, it's going to be worse. You three are being assigned primarily to assist me, Commander Lewis, and Commander Henshaw. Despite that, you may find yourselves in positions where you have to make on-the-spot decisions. If so, use your own judgment and keep me or Commander Lewis informed at all times. Major Kaczmarczyk and Lieutenant Kelso will be responsible for securing enemy personnel. You'll leave that to them and their Marines. Our job is to secure the ship herself, and in doing so, we will be guided by three primary considerations. First, the security and safety of our own people. Second, the need to secure the ship's systems and deal with damage which might threaten further destruction of the ship. Third, the need to prevent any acts of sabotage or data erasure. Are there any questions?"

"Yes, Sir." It had been d'Arezzo, and Helen had glanced at him from the corner of her eye.

"What is it, Mr. d'Arezzo?"

"I understand the Marines will be in charge of securing the prisoners, Sir. But what about their wounded? I'm sure we're going to be running into trapped injured personnel-and, for that matter, probably unhurt crewmembers-once we start clearing wreckage and opening damaged compartments."

"That's why you have sidearms, Mr. d'Arezzo. All of you," the Exec's eyes had bored into theirs, "remember what you're dealing with here. Commander Orban's sickbay attendants will have primary responsibility for stabilizing any wounded personnel and returning them to Hexapuma for treatment. No matter who these people are, or what they've done, we'll see to it that they receive proper medical attention. But don't make the mistake of lowering your guards simply because this ship has surrendered. At the moment, her people are probably too terrified and shocked-and grateful to be alive-to pose any threat, but don't rely on that. It only takes one lunatic holdout with a grenade or a pulse rifle to kill you or an entire work party. And it won't make you, or your parents, feel one bit better to know whoever killed you was shot himself five seconds later. Do you read me on this one, People?"

"Yes, Sir!" they'd replied in unison, and he'd nodded.

"All right." He'd jerked his head at the waiting pinnace boarding tubes. "Get aboard, then."

Now Helen looked out the port beside her as Commander Lewis' pinnace held station to port of and just below Anhur's broken hull. It was the closest Helen had ever come to a Havenite-designed vessel, and her blood ran cold as the damage the ship had suffered truly become clear. There was a difference, she discovered, between floating here beside the wreck, looking at it with her own eyes, and even the best visual image on a display. The shattered cruiser was just to sunward of the pinnace, and drifting -wreckage-some in chunks as large as the pinnace itself-drifted hard-edged and black across Nuncio-B's brilliance. Her mind replayed Commander FitzGerald's warning, and she knew he was right. It was going to be worse than she could possibly imagine inside that murdered ship.

She listened to the rattle of orders as Lieutenant Angelique Kelso's First Platoon's shuttles docked. Only Anhur's forward boat bay would hold atmosphere, and Captain Kaczmarczyk was obviously disinclined to take any avoidable chances. Kelso had her first squad in full battle armor, and he sent them in first to secure the bay galleries before the remainder of the skinsuited Marines boarded.



* * * | The Shadow of Saganami | * * *