Length: 98,000 words
Cover: Adrian Nicholas
Taking Shield Series
Shield Captain Bennet arrives on the Gyrfalcon to take up his final year's posting before returning to the Shield Regiment after his rotation out.
On Gyrfalcon he faces up to the fallout from Makepeace—ethical, political and above all, personal. Will he be able to accept necessity: that knowing what the Maess are up to outweighs the humanitarian issues surrounding the prisoners he rescued from Makepeace? Can he ride out the political furore that follows the loss of the dreadnought Caliban? How will he cope with an entire year of serving under his father, Caeden? And worst of all, how in the name of every god in the Pantheon can he stand to see Flynn every single day, with the Fraternisation Regs standing between them and keeping them apart?
It will be an interesting year. Bennet can hardly wait for it to be over. Of course, things never really do go to plan...
“Heads up, boys and girls,” Bennet said over the command line. “Bandits will be here in two minutes. Battlecode comm transmissions only.”
All chatter stopped. Everything around him fell silent. It took him a second to realise that the dull muffled thumping that he felt as much as heard, was his own quickening heartbeat. His eyes never stopped moving—to port, ahead, the scanner, to port, ahead, to starboard, ahead, the scanner, ahead, to port…
His gaze flickered to port-side most. His pilots were out there, tackling the outriders to the first wave of fighters. Nothing much to see. The fighters were drones, with no internal atmospheres to give even the briefest flash of light and heat when they were destroyed. If he saw a flash, it would be one of their own.
Port, ahead, the scanner, port, ahead, starboard…
“All advance bandits accounted for,” Kyle said. “No survivors.”
“None. Clean strike.”
“Good. Stand by.” Look to port, ahead, the scanner, ahead, to starboard, ahead, the scanner, ahead… “Kyle, you have their left flank. Sergei, their right. Starboard Wing, we're punching right through these guys to take on the second wave.”
“Yes!” The excitement in Kyle’s voice was unmistakable.
“Ready.” Sergei was more subdued.
“We're ready,” Cruz said, steady as ever. “We're all ready.”
Bennet took a split-second to watch them get into position, the usual cold clenching around his guts, knowing they wouldn't all come back. He had the fighters on visual now, a close-packed phalanx of ships, blotting out stars. There had to be more than a hundred of them, with a second wave of at least another hundred, maybe more, behind. A full complement of a battleship's fighters all stacked up against the little Hornets.
Bennet opened his private comline to the Gyrfalcon. “Ten seconds, bridge. We're going in.” He only half-heard Quist's acknowledgement. He'd already keyed into the battle code comline. A deep breath. “All Attack Wings, intercept attackers and engage the enemy. Go!”
Five seconds later the front ranks of Hornets and fighters smacked right into each other.
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