Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Gareth watched the runnels streaking the grey steel from where condensation formed in the shadows above. The annoyed tone emerging from the hubbub that was causing the condensation attracted his attention.

“Major Gareth James. You seem to be more amused than when we started. You do realise this is a court martial with lethal tariff?”

The speaker, Brigadier Rostoph, was the hero of Purlestine Eight. Saviour of Statham Station. Liberator of the Edelfuz Reaches. He was, Gareth admitted, the warrior he aspired to be.

“Brigadier, I am aware of the weight brought to bear. What I am having trouble with is the enormous waste of time that has occurred in assembling this fiasco.”

For a brief moment, Gareth thought the Brigadier was going to achieve spontaneous human combustion. Then he saw the famed tactical intelligence kick in. Gareth smiled as Rostoph took a few minutes to scroll the charges and evidence, eyes narrowing in concentration.

He looked up: “I see that, in essence, you are accused of gross insubordination, and stealing three Assault-class Ultracruisers.”

“Yessir.”

“I fail to see a single defence entry. Your superior has given chapter, verse and diagram on your alleged crimes, along with reams of supporting material that, from my standpoint, merely states you have rudely insisted on fighting a war with complete disregard for submitting the correct paperwork. So why don’t you tell those gathered here your reasons for stealing a trio of smart warships, then promptly sending them deep into enemy-held space – where they will undoubtedly be captured and repurposed to cause us grief?”

Gareth swallowed. Time to stand or fall.

“They will not be captured, sir. I added full autodestruct cut-outs on all anti-tamper routines, and removed any failsafes that could allow a zero-check bypass. If the Blurd try anything except interdiction, the vessels will cheerfully turn into G-class fusion bombs and detonate.”

Rostoph smiled: “Which still begs the question ‘why send them?’”

“The Blurd are paranoid, sir. Despite their technological superiority, they prolong this war by being insanely over-cautious. It’s the only reason we’ve been able to gain ground, by exploiting that. But they are getting better at dealing with our ruses. Now this sector is filling with an enormous fleet. You’ve seen the intel, sir. This is their ‘Invasion Earth’ staging point.”

Rostoph wagged a finger at Gareth: “Nice summary. Question remains unanswered.”

“I sent three stealth ships with variable profile hulls, so they can look like Blurd ships of any similar size. Those ships will make a nuisance of themselves, be difficult to detect, then self-destruct at the slightest capture or subversion attempt. After that, Blurd paranoia will render them unable to resist shooting first and checking later. Especially with so many ships – ships unknown to each other, crewed by the many races that comprise the Blurd – gathering in one place, with more arriving all the time.”

“So this was all for an expensive gamble?”

“Please refer to the launch images, sir. The key feature of my plan is better seen than told.”

Rostoph scanned images of the three launches. Slowly, a huge grin spread across his face. He looked up: “This trial is over. You, Major James, are a bloody menace. I can use that. Follow me.”

Rostoph and James exited. The commandant rushed to Rostoph’s console. Three images were highlighted. Each showed the ship’s insignia, etched in reflective grey upon the matte-black hulls. They all featured the Blurd ‘trademark’: a large visicode. The commander’s brow furrowed. What on Earth? The numbers were ‘01’, ‘02’, and ‘04’.

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