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* * *

Vanessa Murakuma's bleak, frozen eyes watched the fragments of Jackson Teller's fighters fall back to their carriers. They'd killed sixteen SDs, and Plotting estimated that they'd inflicted heavy damage on six more, but they'd paid for it with almost seventy percent of their number, and it was her fault.

She stared into her own soul, loathing what she saw, then made herself accept it and set it aside. There would be time to face her dead later.

She drew a deep breath and looked back into her plot. They'd put the next best thing to thirty superdreadnoughts out of action, but that many more were already in-system, and more were making transit as she watched. It was unbelievable. Whatever she did, however many she killed, however brutally she smashed them, they just kept coming, and with her fighter strength decisively blunted, she couldn't stop them. Perhaps she couldn't have stopped them anyway. Perhaps her hope of doing that had never been anything more than a hope, no more than a desperate need to believe she could do it. But whatever it had once been, it was only one more failure now.

She inhaled again, nostrils flaring, then looked up at Ling Tian and Leroy Mackenna.

"Go to Charlie Seven," she said, and her own calm, even voice as she ordered her task force to begin its long retreat astonished her.

"Yes, Sir," Mackenna said softly, and she looked at Teller's ashen face on the com screen.

"Consolidate your squadrons, Jackson. I'll give you as much time to reorganize as I can."

"Yes, Sir." There wasn't a trace of condemnation in his voice, and she wanted to scream at him. But she stopped herself. Somehow she stopped herself.

"Once you've consolidated, detach any carrier without at least two squadrons on board," she said flatly. "Send them back to Justin and Harrison to evacuate every civilian you can pack aboard. You're authorized to redline your environmental systems."

"Yes, Sir," Teller said once more, and Murakuma nodded. She leaned back in her command chair, watching the ravaged light dots flashing back towards their carriers, and her mouth twisted.

At least she'd just made sure they'd have lots of spare life support for the civilians, she thought bitterly.



* * * | The Stars at War | CHAPTER TEN