Soon, his men were aboard, and he busied himself organizing their deployment, not noticing the growing chill amidst the bustle.
Perun fought on. He drew the yashcherit ships away from Proti; now they were a few thousand stadia away and standing further off by the moment. His main batteries had scored good hits on another yashcherit raider. That was three out of the fight. In response, the raiders had sent a salvo toward Varouforos’ frigate Daring. He took a glancing hit, breaking formation under half engine power.
Suddenly, Perun and his remaining escorts turned sharply away from the yashcherit ships. With palpable glee, the raiders turned to chase down their foes. As they did, a little tear in the starfield behind them grew into a great rent. Out of it came a blinding blue-white light, far brighter than even Abila. When the light faded, Varouforos’ other six ships were there, lighting their drives and bearing up on the flank of the yashcherit fleet.
The three cruisers, Lelia, Zosia, and Koliada, led the way, attended by their three frigates. All six carried micro-jump drives. Their capacitors were not suited for travel between stars, but could push just enough power into the drives to spring a trap like this one. The cruisers showed their broadsides, unloading a raking volley into the yashcherit fleet, then turned head-on again to close the range still further.
The balance of forces still favored the yashcheritsy if the battle became a slugging match, but it was close enough now that Varouforos’ fleet, with good handling of their ships and a bit of luck, might still prevail. With a bit more luck, it wouldn’t come to that at all.
Varouforos and Ippocampos waited for the lift doors to open. A few burn marks scored Varouforos’ jacket, revealing the mesh armor underneath. He checked his pistol’s capacitor pack, frowned, and slapped a new one into place.
The doors slid apart. Snow blanketed Spire Park, falling so thick that Varouforos could barely see fifty paces away. He and Ippocampos cautiously left the lift.
Just as Varouforos caught sight of the outline of a human form, someone shouted, “Halt! Identify yourself!”
Varouforos held up his hands. “The navarch,” he replied.
Two other outlines appeared, then resolved themselves into Varouforos’ men. One kept a weapon on them. The other said, “Let’s see your papers.”
Slowly, Varouforos passed his pistol to Ippocampos, who made a show of pointing it directly at the ground. He reached into an inside pocket and produced his identification. The trooper looked it over, then waved at his comrades. They lowered their weapons. The trooper passed Varouforos’ papers back. “Sorry, sir. Protocol.”
“Not at all, soldier. Your diligence is a credit to your company.” Varouforos took his pistol back from Ippocampos and slid it into its holster. “Where is the strategos?”