Weatherby studied the plotting table. Half an hour ago, Katherine Anne had passed the moon at a touch over three hundred kilometers per second relative to Warspite. According to the best solution Ensign Hughes’ tracking party had developed, Reprisal had just edged past a hundred fifty kilometers per second, and would double that in two hours. By that time she’d be less than half a million kilometers from Orpheus. Warspite would make her move then.
Winston, too, studied the plotting board, and not for the first time today he marveled at Weatherby’s talent. In the most corner-free field of warfare ever seen in human history, the captain had cornered Reprisal. Her velocity was simply too great—at three hundred kilometers per second of closure, she would go zipping past Orpheus before she could shed even a quarter of her speed. Warspite and Hermes could plot a comparatively leisurely course to meet her a million kilometers out from Orpheus, their crews fighting without hours of heavy acceleration behind them. She could try to run deeper into Confederate territory, but that would do nothing but weight the inevitable fight further against her.
It might be trite to say that there was no escape, Winston thought, but it was true. Warspite and Hermes would bring Reprisal to battle in a scant few hours, and then it would fall to Weatherby, Lassiter, and their crews to deliver a victory.
Two hours passed. Winston had expected a tense silence, but instead in its place was a quiet confidence, and he found himself buoyed by it. Weatherby spoke, his first words outside the routine business of running the ship in half an hour. “Mr. Preble, sound general quarters, if you would. Helm, give me a course along Reprisal‘s track, and send it over to Hermes with my regards to Mr. Lassiter. We depart in five minutes.”
The rising whine of the general quarters alarm sounded, and over Lieutenant Rawlins’ acknowledgement the bridge talker spoke into his microphone. “General quarters, general quarters. Third watch, first watch, to your stations. This is not a drill.”
Soon after, Warspite and Hermes shot out of Orpheus’ shadow and accelerated along Reprisal‘s course. Reprisal‘s captain could hardly fail to notice the flares of warship engines on her forward sensors, and on Warspite‘s screens, Reprisal‘s speck brightened as the Exile cruiser flipped end-for-end, pointing her engines at Warspite. The chase was on.
Winston rubbed below his eyes, and his vision briefly went double as he forced them wide open. He’d been on watch for eight hours now and awake for more like eighteen, and the tea the captain’s steward had just brought around was doing very little for him. The warrant officers in his tracking party had humored him for the first few minutes, but now there was little left to him but to relay numbers to Weatherby, who was seated a meter away.
He was surprised to see that the time to intercept on the plotting board had counted down to just over two hours. Half an hour had passed since the last time he could remember looking at the clock. He supposed he must have been on autopilot, a skill all naval officers eventually developed—though all the officers Winston knew told him they didn’t like to use it.
“Mr. Hughes,” Weatherby said, and Winston, bleary-eyed, looked to him. “Take ninety minutes and then report back here. I’ll need you fresher than this.”
Winston saluted and left CIC. Ten seconds after he hit his bunk, he was asleep.