A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Poul Anderson. Chapter 13, 14, 15, 16



The earliest signs of trouble reached them faintly across distance.

Fifty astronomical units from Zoria and well off the ecliptic plane, the

Hooligan phased out of hyperdrive into normal state. Engines idle, she

drifted at low kinetic velocity among stars, her destination sun only

the brightest; and instruments strained after traces.

Flandry took readings and made computations. His lips tightened. “A

substantial space fleet, including what’s got to be a Nova-class

dreadnaught,” he told Kossara and Chives. “In orbits or under

accelerations that fit the pattern of a battle-ready naval force.”

The girl clenched her fists. “What can have happened?”

“We’ll sneak in and eavesdrop.”

Faster-than-light pseudospeed would give them away to detectors. (Their

Schrodinger “wake” must already have registered, but no commander was

likely to order interception of a single small vessel which he could

assume would proceed until routinely checked by a picket craft.)

However, in these far regions they could drive hard on force-thrust

without anybody observing or wondering why. Nearing the inner system,

where ships and meters were thick, Flandry plotted a roundabout course.

It brought him in behind the jovian planet Svarog, whose gravitational,

magnetic, and radiation fields screened the emissions of Hooligan.

Amidst all fears for home and kin, Kossara exclaimed at the majestic

sight as they passed within three million kilometers–amber-glowing

disc, swarming moons–and at the neatness wherewith the planet swung

them, their power again turned off, into the orbit Flandry wanted,

between its own and that of Perun to sunward.

“With every system aboard at zero or minimum, we should pass for a rock

if a radar or whatever sweeps us,” he explained. “And we’ll catch

transmissions from Dennitza–maybe intercept a few messages between

ships, though I expect those’ll be pretty boring.”

“How I hope you are right,” Kossara said with a forlorn chuckle.

He regarded her, beside him in the control cabin. Interior illumination

was doused, heating, weight generator, anything which might betray. They

hung loosely harnessed in their seats, bodies if not minds enjoying the

fantasy state of free fall. As yet, cold was no more than a nip in the

air Chives kept circulating by a creaky hand-cranked fan. Against the

clear canopy, stars crowned her head. On the opposite side, still small

at this remove, Zoria blazed between outspread wings of zodiacal light.

“They’re definitely Technic warcraft,” he said, while wishing to speak

her praises. “The neutrino patterns alone prove it. From what we’ve now

learned, closer in, about their numbers and types, they seem to match

your description of the Dennitzan fleet, though there’re some I think

must belong to the Imperium. My guess is, the Gospodar has gathered

Dennitza’s own in entirety, plus such units of the regular Navy as he

felt he could rely on. In short, he’s reached a dangerous brink, though

I don’t believe anything catastrophic has happened yet.”

“We are in time, then?” she asked gladly.

He could not but lean over and kiss her. “Luck willing, yes. We may need

patience before we’re certain.”

Fortune spared them that. Within an hour, they received the basic

information. Transmitters on Dennitza sent broadbeam rather than

precisely lased ‘casts to the telsats for relay, wasting some cheap

energy to avoid the cost of building and maintaining a more exact

system. By the time the pulses got as far as Hooligan, their dispersal

guaranteed they would touch her; and they were not too weak for a good

receiver-amplifier-analyzer to reconstruct a signal. The windfall

program Flandry tuned in was a well-organized commentary on the

background of the crisis.

It broke two weeks ago. (Maybe just when Kossara and I found out about

each other? he wondered. No; meaningless; simultaneity doesn’t exist for

interstellar distances.) Before a tumultuous parliament, Bodin

Miyatovich announced full mobilization of the Narodna Voyska, recall of

units from outsystem duty, his directing the Imperial Navy command for

Tauria to maintain the Pax within the sector, his ordering specific

ships and flotillas belonging to it to report here for assignment, and

his placing Dennitzan society on a standby war footing.

A replay from his speech showed him at the wooden lectern, carved with

vines and leaves beneath outward-sweeping yelen horns, from which

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