She held up a finger, then waited until he had composed himself. “I will receive your report now, Commander.”
“Majesty, we have picked up multiple ships dropping out of AltSpace.”
“How many?” I asked. He ignored me. If it was more than a handful then it was more than coincidence.
“The Captain recommends that we leave orbit and disperse the ships.”
“How many ships?” Asked the Empress. This time he answered.
“Twenty three, Majesty.”
“Leave orbit.” I said. “Now!” This was no random event. Either they had come for us or for the Empress.
“Gabriel, as you know, in addition to the Stobo, I have a full squadron of frigates at my disposal. I presume that Captain Ladywood is capable of handling these new arrivals. So many ships must be a fleet of pirates. It’s happened before.”
“Absolutely not. It’s a reconnaissance group.” She looked at me blankly. “There is a destroyer and four heavy cruisers in the system, and they’re looking for the Stobo.” That might not quite be true, but it didn’t matter.
“Captain Ladywood agrees, Majesty.”
“Why now?” She looked at me. “Did you bring them here.”
“No.” I hoped that was true although the end game might be just the same.
“Then it’s a remarkable coincidence.” Commented the Naval Officer. “I have orders to escort Admiral York to his quarters and confine him there. The rest of his crew are being rounded up.” Ladywood clearly thought we were the vanguard and wanted us where we could do no further harm. I would have done the same. I had an idea what had happened but, right now, exploring that wasn’t the priority. I had to avoid being locked in my cabin. If the Empress didn’t act quickly, the warships would be upon us.
“How soon before they arrive at our current position?” I demanded.
“A little over four hours.”
“Esther, you need to leave orbit.”
“Thank you, Gabriel. I think you need to go with the Commander.” I knew she had an implant and could have recorded the names of all her senior officers, but she clearly hadn’t bothered. I was surprised that she had managed to retain the loyalty of her crew for so long.
“Sir, if you will come with me.”
We were in a small compartment one deck above the ball. It had a single hatch and I knew there were four Imperial Guards outside. I couldn’t think of a way to get past them and, even if I did, where would I go? Going with the marines was a better option.
The Stobo’s two marines took up position behind me as I followed the officer. As we turned a corner, he nearly collided with a woman who had been the ball and was now standing in the passageway. It was Cavendish. The lieutenant commander turned to shout out a warning but his face showed increased alarm as he looked past me. There was a pair of thumps and the clatter of weapons falling to the floor. He reached for his holstered pistol but Cavendish put her hand on his shoulder and spun him round, head-butting him into unconsciousness.
“We need to get off the ship.” Said Cavendish. “Team two are rounding up the crew.”
“I’m surprised you got out of the ballroom.”
“Echo created a diversion. It got us as far as the hatch unnoticed. After that we had to resort to violence.”
I grimaced. It never sat well, having to fight with other Imperial troops.
Cavendish saw me. “There’s an Imperial destroyer in system. Everybody on the ship is dead, they just don’t know yet. I don’t see why we have to join them."
She was right. I wasn’t sure that it made me feel better but I might not hesitate when we had to fight our way through the ship’s security. She handed me a weapon. One in the chamber, safety on. The others had weapons that they’d obviously taken from Stobo personnel but I’d seen the small automatic pistol that before. It belonged to Cavendish and I was surprised that she’s managed to smuggle it in to the ball. The line of her dress didn’t allow many hiding places.