Prologue

The damaged cruiser appeared at the LaGrange Point and moved a safe distance away. Just as the cruiser began repairs, it's Jump Point indicator registered a lone corvette. As the corvette approached to attack, the cruiser launched fighters to ward it off. When it seemed that the fighters would be successful, the cruiser detected another ship jumping into the system. This one was a destroyer that quickly accelerated toward the cruiser. Desperately, the cruiser launched nearly all of it's fighters at the destroyer. They would have crushed the destroyer, had not the cursed corvette annihilated them as soon as they began firing at the vessel. As the crew of the cruiser watched helplessly, the mammoth destroyer crashed into the cruiser, taking out weapons, shields, and propulsion.

In an act of desperation against the enemy corvette, the cruiser launched the faulty AI fighter and hoped for the best. But-as they expected-the corvette blew apart the fighter, but the small ship took out the corvette's weapons before it spun wildly out of control.

 Both corvette and cruiser floated motionlessly in space for nearly a minute. Then, with obvious intent, the corvette undocked with its accommodation modules and reoriented itself so that it faced the cruiser. The corvette then fired maximum thrust and engaged a collision course for the cruiser. Those on the space station sized ship were now completely without hope. Within a few more seconds, the corvette would crash into the cruiser...

 Or perhaps not. Without preamble or warning a single COSA PatCom appeared at the LaGrange Point. It then accelerated at such a speed that its single occupant was nearly crushed against his seat. The PatCom reached a speed over 2 kilometers per second when it collided with the corvette. Both ships detonated soundlessly, and the cruiser was struck with small pieces of debris that barely affected it.

 A cheer rose from the cruiser's crew, but the cheer soon turned into gasps of surprise as the deck rumbled and shook underneath their feet. It was later said to be caused by some sort of gravity malfunction. But they were wrong. A pivot was turning. History had been reborn.

**Six Years Later**

 The military transport Forest of Time was surrounded by four corvette escorts as it approached a New Commonwealth mining base. The Forest of Time showed obvious signs of recent battle but it was still able to efficiently fly, which seemed to be the basic requirement these days. Inside the large cargo area, the marines were being given a last minute pep talk.

 Sergeant David Jones swaggered down the two rows of motionless Alliance troops. "What we do," he began, "is of vital importance to the well being of the Alliance. We cannot fail on this day. According to our intelligence, this base mines the surrounding asteroids for radioactive material. This material is used to supply the New Commonwealth both power and weapons. There is also believed to be a stockpile of weapons and spare parts stored at this base. If...when we destroy this mining base, it should disrupt the New Commonwealth significantly. Also we will be in a position to..."

 Trooper Michael de Camp automatically tuned out the Sergeant. He couldn't help but think back on the past six years, and be blown away by the changes in his life. It had all began when he heard that the former President King was still alive and was gaining power and ships. In the beginning, everyone thought that King would be crushed by the New Alliance, but it was not so. Dictator King-as he was now referred to-was a distinguished military officer before he ever became President. Among other things, he was a superb tactician. He countered the Alliance blow for blow, and managed to gain hold of a couple of star systems. His greatest strength was his large military. de Camp remembered his shock when he got the notice that he was drafted into the military. Nobody had actually been drafted for years. Even when the war with the Indies was going on, it was not necessary. Apparently it had become so. He remembered his first assignment. A squad of Alliance marines had landed on a New Commonwealth inhabited moon in the Delta Pavonis system. He was terrified at the time, but had since hardened himself to such missions.

 de Camp absentmindedly brushed his fingers against his sidearm. It was now mandatory for all military and navy personnel to carry them. The New Commonwealth was notorious for boarding and capturing Navy vessels. He was interrupted in his thoughts as a general announcement came over the ship speakers.

 This is the captain speaking. We have entered the attack zone. All troops, prepare to storm as soon as we dock. ETA: 3 minutes. Captain out."

 ***

 "Move, move, move!" Sergeant Jones screamed out.

 The soldiers rushed into to base in sets of threes. Trooper de Camp was with Sergeant Jones as they moved toward the control center. Any person that crossed their path was instantly mowed down in a hail of bullets. Using charges, they blew open the airlock to the control center. But the people in the command center were ready. As Sergeant Jones entered through the airlock, he crumpled to the floor as he caught a bullet in the throat. Unhesitatingly, de Camp and the remaining trooper swept the room with their guns. Bodies dropped, screens exploded, and workstations sparked and hissed.

 de Camp stepped over Sergeant Jones' body and unclipped his radio, "We have the control center. Bring the bomb through and we can get this over with before any NC ships arrive."

 "Roger that. Get back to the ship and we'll plant the bomb. Out."

 Five minutes later, the mining base was destroyed by the 1.2 kiloton explosive. The Alliance fleet registered the explosion, but they were in LDS and nearly four thousand kilometers away.

 The cruiser "Pittsburgh" was in a low orbit around the planet "Oroginos" in the Barnards Star system. A planet conveniently close the resource-rich asteroid mines of the sector, its capture by the NC forces dealt blow to the stock markets, as shipping companies were close down from either lack of shipments or because their freighters and tugs had been captured by the New Commonwealth.

 President King had quickly found the usefulness of the sturdy little Puffins, and --just like the Indies before him-- had all of them converted into military vessels. The sheer number of tugs out there offered a strategic prospect that proved luring to all rebels. Able to hide behind asteroids or gang up on ships in groups of three or four, the tugs had once again made a name in guerilla warfare.

 The New Commonwealth was strong, however they had not quite gotten accustomed to such high-risk missions. Nevertheless, the Alliance naval forces attempting to seize the critical asteroid belt were too vital to the movement to be ignored: they had to be destroyed. Because it was not known where the Alliance forces in Barnards' were based, the only solution was to let them get to the NC and ruin them in a decisive battle.

 "Comms, send transmission package zero-four in standard code. Let's hope they get this," said the captain.

 "Aye sir. Coding in effect…sending text message. Message repeats 'Cruiser CNV-132 in low orbit around Planet 432. Orbital vectors are 47,200,7000 at 100k. Send backup now, damaged.'"

 "Very good," said Captain Holmes of the Pittsburgh. How ironic that a man with his name be creating mysteries.

 ALLIANCE NAVAL BASE, BARNARDS SYSTEM

 The message was received and quickly decoded. Within an hour and a half, the navy force of fourteen Corvettes, ten PatComs, and a destroyer was underway.

 In another two hours, the force approached the planet. Aboard the Alliance destroyer "Blackholm", passive scans were underway. A surprise attack was the goal, however it was believed that the forces could be taken out in this single blow. However, the cruiser and its escorts were so close to the atmosphere that it could not be detected. This was the moment where the first trap would be laid.

 Aboard the cruiser, the Alliance attack fleet had been tracked for some time.

 "Sir, they haven't detected us, but it's getting close. We are rounding the planet and out heat emissions will be easier to detect as we are protected by the planet."

 "Very well. Send go code to fleet. Instruct escorts to follow us. Deploy the mines and full burn ahead!"

 The mines used by the NC forces were of a COSA design, with the same stealth as gravimetric mines, but they had warheads and some had EM equipment that made normal disrupters look like squirt guns.

 Through three tubes in the rear of the cruiser, mine after mine was deployed until a full, invisible to sensors, field was set up in the wake of the "Pittsburgh". The cruiser's acceleration caused it to move faster in its orbit, but not fast enough to break the orbit itself.

 The detection was instantaneous. "Sir, sensors show one navy cruiser running with full engines in low orbit around the planet. Recommend rear attack pattern to utilize restricted orbital conditions for that big old ship"

 "Agreed," said the captain. "Send the corvettes on attack run. Tell those captains to be damned careful so close to the atmosphere! We will LDS to ahead of the cruiser and make our attack from the other direction."

 "Aye sir, sending orders now"

 In a quick maneuver, the corvettes broke formation and pushed their engines to the maximum in order to catch up in orbit with the cruiser. The cruiser had since stopped accelerating, and had taken the time available to make a full 180 in preparation for the defense. Such a maneuver in itself was impressive, as it required precise calibration of each thruster as to not disturb the orbit.

 The mines drifted behind the cruiser, moving away at a relative 10 meters per second. Painted dark black, they were quickly out of sight and the only thing that signaled their presence was the homing beacons active on each of them. The Alliance Navy corvettes were quickly catching up, ready to attack their six Commonwealth counterparts and the hulking cruiser…until the mines detonated.

 Pieces of corvettes turned into plasma as crew members were instantly vaporized before the nerve impulses of pain could even reach them. As far as most of the crews were concerned, they were manning their stations when life ceased to exist. Several corvettes survived, spiraling headlong into the atmosphere and quickly burning up. One lone captain had pushed the eject button to detach the command module just in time. The four bridge crew were the only survivors of the entire minefield, as the spiraling command module regained control and fled from the scene. Cheers of victory erupted on the "Pittsburgh" as the crew of the "Blackholm" passed off the lack of contact to atmospheric disturbance.

 However, the truth was realized as the destroyer approached the still-standing New Commonwealth fleet. The commander of the fleet couldn't believe his eyes. However, this was the final stand. The markets were crashing, ships were not being built: this asteroid belt was needed.

 "Continue attack! All PatComs, outflank the cruiser with rapid fire! Concentrate on the Corvettes, however!"

 The PatComs flew past the cruiser, evading all of the capitol ship's Gattling fire as they peppered the LDA's with bursts of PBC fire. Some penetrated, as small and scattered hull breeches formed on the hull. The Alliance ships then broke up into squadrons of three and hit the corvettes. The cruiser could only cover her own escorts so much, as the oncoming destroyer was rushing in fast.

 Gattling fire began to hit the cruiser's hull, as return fire hit the destroyer. However, the key to the attack was at hand. From the asteroid belt, a fleet of twenty armed Puffin's emerged. In sprays of fire coming from single-PBC's, the "Blackholm" was crippled and adrift as the tugs proceeded to pound at the faster PatComs.

 "Sir, we are on attack vector for Alliance Destroyer. Opening fire at your orders sir!" For a moment Holmes considered giving the "Blackholm" a slow, frightening death for the trouble she had caused him and the "Pittsburgh". However, these men, enemies of not, were worriers. Fighters respected fighters.

 "Open fire in horizontal arcs. Kill them."

 And so the entire Barnard's system was won over by the New Commonwealth Navy.

Xi Bootis

 The New Commonwealth Headquarters orbited high above the planet Fenton. Its location, like the Alliance Headquarters, was openly known. But like its counterpart, it was nearly impossible to attack. Nothing that came within 10,000 kilometers of the base escaped detection. Fenton was declared the new home world by Dictator King. Since it's discovery by Doctor Fenton, the planet had undergone massive terra forming and boasted a population of nearly three billion. It was on this planet that Dictator King attended a meeting with the New Commonwealth Council.

 King sat at the head of a massive table. Over twenty faces waited for him to speak. In a low, grave voice he said, "Well, it seems that we have met both failure and success in the past few days. On one hand, we have lost one of our mining bases. On the other, we have gained almost complete control over the Barnard star system. Now, tell me Admiral Brett. Will we be able to hold onto it?"

 Admiral Brett stood up and addressed the Council, "In the past 24 hours we have sent thirty small warships and six more capital ships into the Barnard system. We've also sent more then three thousand marines in to take over the systems mining and production facilities."

 King smiled broadly at this, "And what of the plan to instigate rebellion on Earth?"

 Admiral Brett suddenly looked uncomfortable, "As you know, for the past six months we have been covertly shipping weapons and ammunition to rebellious groups on the Earth. The 'Freedom Fighters' -as they call themselves- are not more then twenty thousand in number, but with the weapons we have given them they should be able to make quite a ruckus for the Alliance."

 "Good," commented Dictator King. "Now on to the matter of increasing our fuel production by at least 6 percent..."

 Venturi Space Port

 Civilian Captain John Hardgrove looked up from his dinner as a stranger said, "This seat taken?"

 Without waiting for a response, the man sat down in front of him and smiled. Though the smile seemed genuine, it didn't reach the man's eyes.

 "You're a captain of a civilian freighter right?" he continued, "Cuz, I have to have some stuff shipped out within a few hours."

 Annoyed, Hardgrove said, "I'm eating right now. Come to my ship in two hours; its the Olive."

Wordlessly, the man slide a data pad toward the man. "Fifty thousand credits have been transferred to your personal account. Another hundred thousand will be transferred on completion of the mission. Four cargo pods filled with delicate material will be docked to your freighter. All you have to do is to get it out of the system and into Alpha Centuri. At star grid 276, 564, 009 there will be two LSTs waiting for the cargo. That's it that's all. All right?"

 Captain Hardgrove's face flushed, "This ain't right. No way would you pay anyone a hundred and fifty thousand credits for only four cargo pods!"

 The stranger gazed back at him calmly, "As I said before. This is very delicate material. You have an outstanding flight record. We can't take any chances with this. Will you transport the material or not?"

 Hardgrove hesitated for a moment, then nodded.

 ***

 Ten minutes later, Hardgrove sat in his command chair and ordered the navigator to undock the Olive. The freighter gave its clearance codes and destination, then disappeared into the LaGrange Point.

 Once the Olive arrived at the Alpha Centuri system, Hardgrove ordered the chief engineer to scan the cargo pods.

 Within minutes, Hardgrove got a call from the frustrated engineer, "It's no use. Each of the pods have a scanner dampener inside it. All we get is static from our equipment."

 Hardgrove felt an alarm bell go off in his head. Scanner dampeners meant that there was something in there that someone didn't want anyone seeing. With worry in his voice, he said, "Try and break through the interference. We'll be at the target zone within a few minutes. I'd like to know what we are carrying. Bridge out."

 Less then two minutes later, the navigator dropped the freighter out of LDS. "We are approaching the coordinates. Receiving a hail sir! From the three ships heading our way. Two LSTs and a 929-f corvette."

 A hoarse voice played through the bridge speakers. "This is the captain of the lead LST. Drop off your cargo and leave the area. The credits will automatically be transferred to your account."

 Captain Hardgrove was about to respond, when the engineer screamed out, "Holy sh*t! We got past the interference! We have enough weapons on board for an army! All of this sh*t has the NC logo on it; we have to get out of here!"

 "Full power to LDS!" ordered Hardgrove. "Make best speed for the Point."

The navigator began charging the LDS coils when a volley of missiles slammed into the engine section of the freighter. PBC fire from the corvette chewed up the freighter's thin armor. Then, the corvette ceased firing.

 "We're being hailed by the corvette!"

 Hardgrove waved with his hands in a vain attempt to clear the smoke in front of him. "Let's hear it."

 Hardgrove immediately recognized the voice of the stranger that was on the Venturi Space Port.

 "Captain Hardgrove. I had a sneaking suspicion that you would do this and I thought it best that I be here. You just couldn't leave things well enough alone. Couldn't just take his money and go. Had to stick your nose where it didn't belong."

 "Why did you need me?" Hardgrove demanded

 "You were simply the easiest way to get the weapons off the station. Thanks to you they'll make it safely into the hands of New Commonwealth sympathizers that are on the Earth."

 "Sir, they're charging PBCs!" yelled the navigator.

 Hardgrove didn't have time to respond as the corvette vaporized the bridge of the Olive. Within half of an hour, the weapons and ammo were unloaded from the nearly destroyed freighter. The LSTs then quickly traveled to the Earth and dropped off the newest supply of munitions.

 Tau Ceti

 Trooper "Acting Ensign" Michael de Camp gripped the control panel in front of him to keep from falling over as the destroyer was hit by another wave of PBC fire.

 The Rout of Tau Ceti he thought sarcastically.

 He silently cursed the Alliance idiots that had thought up this plan. Of course, he didn't actually say anything; to express any anti-Alliance feelings while serving in the armed forces meant execution. He nearly lost his balance again as the destroyer twisted in space to avoid another barrage of fire.

 ***

 As bad as things were going for the Alliance, they were worse for the New Commonwealth ships. Many of the crews of the ships had been on shift for over 20 hours. They worked to keep the ships operational so that they could kill, kill, kill. All the deaths were over the city New California, located on the planet below. The Rout of Tau Ceti was the longest space battle in human history. The planet's dense asteroid fields allowed each side to attack, retreat, repair, and then attack once more. The deadly cycle had continued for nearly two days, but the New Commonwealth simply didn't have enough ships in the Tau Ceti system. The leader of the New Commonwealth fleet-Alex Steele-was seriously considering a strategic retreat to his home system-Wolf 227.

 *Bridge of the cruiser Howler*

 "Bring aft missile launchers on-line!" snapped Fleet Commander Steele. "Target the coolant tank of the corvette in space-grid 2.7.12. Fire when ready."

 The lone missile streaked out of the Howler and struck the corvette's coolant tank dead-on. The metallic liquid spewed out of the ruptured tank; when this happened, the CPU automatically shut down the Ring. This left the ship almost completely defenseless. Not a heartbeat later, three more missiles impacted the crippled ship.

 Alex Steele ordered, "Turn the ship 106 degrees port. Activate main thrusters and head for the Point; 50 meters per second until we clear the asteroid field. Send out the message to all ships: We are retreating."

 Steele only heard a brief "Acknowledged" before he sat down and sighed. He thought back to when he had first entered the war. Up until ten months ago, this hadn't even been his fight. As a matter of fact, he was for staying neutral in the war. But that was all changed when the stranger had knocked at the door of his mansion...

 **Ten months earlier**

 Planet-Wolf 227a

 Senator Alex Steele sat down in the softest chair in his den. He sighed in relief; for the past two weeks he had been traveling around Wolf 227a attending rallies and press meetings. It was a great feeling to be back home. He was just falling asleep when a drone wheeled into the den and electronically cleared it's throat.

 Without opening his eyes, he said, "Yes? What is it?"

 Politely the drone replied, "There is a man at the door that wishes to see you. He says that it is urgent, and it is about the political status of Wolf 227b."

 Instantly alert, Steele ordered, "Let him in. Have him meet me here."

 Less than a minute later, a large man strode into the den followed by the drone. He made a beeline for the senator and griped his hand firmly, "A pleasure to meet you, Senator Steele."

Steele smiled blandly and said, "I believe you have something to say about Wolf 227b, Mr...?"

 The stranger waved his hand dismissively, "You're right. Let's get to business."

 He placed his briefcase on the nearest flat surface and pointed it at the southern wall. He then flipped a switch and the briefcase illuminated the wall, "I hope you don't mind a short film strip. It is primitive, but rather effective. Not to mention easy to transport from place to place. Here we go."

 The 'briefcase' hummed to life and projected an old video of Wolf 227a and its moon Wolf 227b. Seconds later, a narrative activated, "The system Wolf 227 was first colonized ninety seven years ago. Wolf 227a was thought a prime candidate for colonization, which it proved to be. But; fourteen years later political and cultural differences caused a relatively large fraction of people to move to Wolf 227a's moon. From that point, there has been an air of distrust between the two colonies."

 "In recent years, the schism between the two governments has enlarged rapidly. This was caused primarily by the war. Wolf 227b feels that they should side with the Alliance; while the government of Wolf 227a stresses neutrality. So far, Wolf 227a's beliefs have been respected by the Alliance-but for how long?"

 The picture suddenly switched to a large group of ships-LSTs. The photos were obviously taken a long way off. "These photos show a fleet of LSTs hiding on the dark side of Wolf 227b. It has been discovered that these ships have been jumping in and out of the system for the past few months. They have also been making frequent landings at the military base Prime Star. We are certain that the Alliance is amassing troops on Wolf 227b in preparation for an invasion of the main planet."

 The stranger than reached forward and deactivated the recording, "We do not want to see this happen. We're willing to stop Wolf 227b; but we require the support of your planet."

 Senator Alex Steele looked at him stonily, "You're from the New Commonwealth."

 The man smiled, "Yes. And we're willing to offer you a lot in return. We know that if you declare alliance to the NC; you would suffer from attacks from the Alliance. So we offer you ten tugs, twelve PatComs, three corvettes, and one armored freighter. Plus you will be in the NCs sphere of protection. Now, we know that you hold a lot of clout on this planet. If you were for joining the New Commonwealth, then there would be practically no doubt that everyone else would follow."

 Steele shook his head, "No deal."

The man's smiled never wavered, "I didn't think so. We are also prepared to offer political freedom for Wolf 227a, and a new cruiser will be given to you. You personally, I mean. It is very important that you ally with us. Like the Alliance, we realize that it is strategically important to this system."

 Steele then said, "I'll see what I can do."

 The stranger smoothly rose to his feet and left the room. He called over his shoulder, "A diplomat will be sent tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and if you want to see an entertaining light show; then look out your window in about thirty minutes."

 ***

 The stranger left the mansion and walked swiftly down the street. He hadn't walked more than six kilometers when he heard the rustle of footsteps. He saw three adolescent males about sixty meters in front of him. He could tell by the way that they were standing that they were confident. He easily made out the features of the lead boy; by the way he was grinning he must have thought that he looked ferocious.

 The stranger sighed. He knew that he should humor the imbeciles and switch to the opposite side of the street. He then shook his head. He felt to good to allow these idiots to ruin his mood. Quickly gaining speed, he charged the group...

 **Present**

 Bridge of the Howler

 Commander Steele drummed his fingers on the CMD station. Thirty minutes after the man had left, the night sky lit up as if by a second sun. When he looked out the window, Wolf 227b was glowing harshly. The affect had lasted less then ten seconds. The NC had scoured all life from the small moon.

 Once the government had announced that it was allied with the New Commonwealth; the NC delivered the ships that were promised. And now here was Alex Steele; commander of the fleet of Wolf 227.

 Steele's cruiser quickly entered the LaGrange Point and disappeared in a flash of light.

 **Two Years Later**

 The war between the New Commonwealth and the Alliance continued to rage on. Star systems were won one day, then lost the next. Hundreds of thousands of youths were drafted into a war that showed no sign of ending. The worst blow to the Alliance was the Earth Rebellion.

On the previous New Years celebration, Freedom Fighters all over Earth had opened fire with automatics, subautomatics, mortars, anti-tank rifles, and even a few B-light laser cannons. All happily supplied by the New Commonwealth. It had taken months for the Peacekeepers to completely stifle the Rebellion. During this time, the president of the Alliance had declared martial law for the planet Earth. Reluctantly supporting the president, the Earth Council agreed to 'temporarily' suspend the Bill of Rights. This suspension still was in effect, and showed no signs of ending. These desperate acts cast grave doubt on the abilities of the Alliance.

 But the New Commonwealth also was facing problems. Soon after the Earth Rebellion, Steele declared himself Potentate of Wolf 227. He then promptly sealed off the system from Known Space by the use of LaGrange Point Destabilizers. There were only two LaGrange Points in the entire system, so it was easily accomplished. Now it would take months of travel time to get into Wolf 227. So far, neither the NC or the Alliance had chosen to do so.

 The Alliance had nearly 50 billion people to draw warriors from. The NC didn't have this luxury. So Dictator King legalized cloning. Using these methods, the New Commonwealth boasted the largest and most powerful army in Known Space. So far, the war was a stalemate, with no sign of a victor.

 Xi Bootis

 New Commonwealth Headquarters

 Dictator King stormed out of the board meeting, with a scowl on his face. According to the last reports, another NC fuel processor had been destroyed. Fuel would now have to be rationed out carefully among the ships. Though it was just one of the hardships of war. King knew that it wasn't that major of a blow, but he didn't have to like it.

 King pushed pass the two guards and entered his outer office. He immediately moved for his personal office when his secretary called to him.

 "What is it?" he growled.

 The secretary gave a nervous glance to the office door, then said, "He is waiting for you in there."

 With a sinking feeling, he nodded and then entered his office. Stiffly he walked toward his marble desk and sat in his chair. Only then did he acknowledge the man sitting on the opposite side of the desk. It was the very same man that tricked Hardgrove, and that had temporarily won the alligence of Alex Steele and the Wolf-227 system.

 The man smiled faintly, "Don't put on airs around me little man. You might live to regret it."

 Dictator King swallowed hard, then demanded, "Why are you here, Beutel? I doubt that this is a social call."

 The man lost his smile and leaned forward, "You're right. I'm here about the New Commonwealth's humiliating defeat in the Metallake system. You informed me that it would fall to the NC within days. It didn't."

 "I don't answer to you! You answer to me!" King said angrily.

 Beutel leaned back in his chair and smiled menacingly, "Perhaps...for now."

 King's face now flushed red, "Just saying that is high treason! I could have you-"

 "Shut up!" Beutel spat out. "The times are changing and you stay the same. You can't even see facts that are right in front of your face!"

 Beutel stormed out of the office. King debated whether or not to have the guards arrest Beutel. He immediately decided against it; Beutel wouldn't care about killing two guards. Besides, Beutel had a nasty temper and was more then a little crazy. King thought that he was just blowing smoke. He hoped.

 Sirius

 Moon of Sirius III

 Lieutenant Michael de Camp simultaneously leapt for cover and fired his SD-Pherson laser rifle. Bullets rent the air where he was just a moment before. de Camp safely dove behind an old ore refiner. Having earned a few seconds of peace, he checked his combat suit. All diagnostics were in the green; if they weren't, he probably would have already died from vacuum exposure. The tiny moon had nearly no atmosphere, and in Lieutenant de Camp's opinion, was worthless. But the Alliance and the NC were battling over the moon because it was rich in metals, and neither of them cared about his opinion.

 Lieutenant de Camp sighed as the New Commonwealth's bullets began to tear the ore refiner apart. He then gripped his laser rifle in both hands, and pulled the outer casing off. The combat suit's servos artificially augmented his strength, so it was an easy task. He ripped wire from the laser's targeting scanner, and used it to create a feedback loop from the beam emitter to the power module. de Camp switched the rifle to full automatic and threw it over the refiner. In the low gravity, the Pherson laser rifle prescribed a lazy arc through the air. Less then ten seconds later, there was a massive explosion and the NC's guns stopped firing.

 Cautiously, he looked past the refiner. What he saw made him grin savagely. The four men that had pinned him down lay on the ground lifelessly. He heard many pounding footsteps behind him and whirled around. A company of nearly sixty marines marched down the street toward him. He breathed a sigh of relief as he realized that they were Alliance troops.

 Lieutenant de Camp switched to the military radio band and demanded, "Who is in charge?"

 A man stepped forward. His combat suit was exactly like the others, save for the insignia marking his rank. "I'm in charge here. Captain James Hamilton. Who are you?"

de Camp saluted smartly, "Lieutenant de Camp sir. My platoon was ambushed nearly an hour a go sir. I'm pleased to report that all NC troops are dead. Though, sadly, I am the only one left in the platoon."

 "Sorry to hear that, Lieutenant." Captain Hamilton said. "Join formation; we're assaulting the New Commonwealth's LST landing base. The fifth and ninth division has begun an attack on their headquarters. We believe that they will have minimal troops at the base. With a surprise attack, we should be able to take the base. Our orders are to destroy the LSTs. We hope to cut off the New Commonwealth's supplies coming into Sirius III's moon."

 Lieutenant de Camp nodded and began to march.

 New Commonwealth LST Redrum

 Beutel sat as comfortably as he could in his mammoth combat suit. He had designed it and aimed for defense rather than offense. He had it made to take hits from artillery. The seats around him were empty, he had commandeered this LST to take him to the moon of Sirius III. He fully intended to take charge of the NC troops and crush the Alliance forces that were on the moon.

 The copilot emerged from the flight cabin and announced, "We'll be landing within a minute sir."

 Beutel smiled. "Excellent."

 ***

 Captain Hamilton watched as a LST landed. He turned to his troops.

 "That LST might be full of New Commonwealth troops. We've got to take the base now while surprise is on our side. Move out!"

 The Alliance marines cheered and dashed out of the rock field. The NC marine in the tower gaped stupidly as Lieutenant de Camp put a bullet in his head. The rest of the Alliance marines shot anyone that was wearing NC colors. The Alliance troops quickly over ran the base.

 Lieutenant de Camp felt triumph fill his chest as the NC marines began to fall back. Then the LSTs landing bay opened. A large man in a pure black combat suit stepped out of the transport confidently. de Camp watched as Captain Hamilton raised his sidearm to fire at the stranger. But he never pulled the trigger.

 Suddenly, Captain Hamilton's suit exploded outward. Bits and pieces of the man smacked wetly onto de Camp's suit. The lieutenant looked around to find out who had thrown the grenade at him.

One of the other men saw it also, "Who the hell...ughhhh."

 Lieutenant de Camp stared in confusion as the man fell on his face and lay still. de Camp looked up at the man in the black combat suit just as he thrust his hands strait into the thin air. Not believing his eyes, he watched as rocks of all shapes and sizes rose into the air around the man. The man then pushed forward, as if he were throwing something.

 Obediently, every single rock that was suspended in the air hurtled toward the Alliance marines. Lieutenant de Camp went down as a good sized rock hit the chest plate of his suit. As he fell to the ground he thought, Telekinetic.

 de Camp had heard that the Alliance Navy was working on a telekinetic project using genetic alterations. From what he heard, the best that they came up with was someone pushing around a bullet with his mind. Not even a shadow of what de Camp was now viewing.

 Lieutenant de Camp winced when his radio barked out static, but it was quickly replaced by a pleasant, amused voice. "My name is Beutel. Surrender now, and nobody will get hurt."

 Before he could answer, a marine rose to his feet and trained his gun on Beutel. Before he could fire, the marine's face plate imploded as if it had been punched in. The man fell to the ground; gasping for air in the near vacuum.

 No longer pleasant, Beutel said, "Fine, we'll do it my way."

 Lieutenant de Camp saw Beutel stagger as the ground began to quake beneath the Alliance marines. Tons of dirt rolled like waves; crashing into the troops; then burying them. Beutel smiled faintly. Underneath his armor, his nose gushed blood. Using so much TK had overexerted him. He watched for a moment as the New Commonwealth troops began digging out their Alliance counterparts. Then he pivoted on his heel and stumbled toward the base headquarters.

 Six months later

Alpha Centuri B

 Nearly forty ships in tight formation blazed through the system. All of them bore the markings of New Commonwealth ships. Leading the armada was Admiral Brett's cruiser Brazen. The armada had been traveling at high LDS speeds for nearly a month. The NC armada had jumped into interstellar space; and was now approaching the Toliman Jump Point. Only now did Brett allow the other commanders of the armada to know the objectives of the mission.

 TO: ALL CURRENT NC ARMADA CAPTAINS

 "This is Admiral Brett. As you no doubt know; the Alliance has placed a large blockade fleet

Page 2

1