Thirty (part 3)

“Who the hell are they?”  Adam Windsor snapped as he strode into his command center with Brendan on his heels.  They’d been going over revisions to training protocols when the alarm had been sounded and Adam, knowing he hadn’t requested a drill today, had known instantly that something untoward was going down.  Trailing in his angry wake, Brendan kept his mouth shut—though only for the moment.

Tomasi jerked around from her position next to one of the consoles.  “We’re not sure, sir.  They’re not broadcasting identities.”

“Bring up the sensor plot.  What are they looking like?”

“Nothing identifiable, sir,” one of the other techs said.  “There’s two dozen of them, mixed sizes, no fighters that we’ve been able to identify.”

Two dozen ships.  Brendan swallowed bile.  Was this the invasion he and Lindsay had seen?

He shuddered and Windsor glanced at him.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Brendan said.  “Just that there’s two dozen unidentified ships out there and we don’t know who the hell sent them.  Do we have birds in the air yet?”

Windsor cast a questioning glance at one of the techs.  The younger man swallowed hard.  “The CAP is on its way to intercept,” he said.

“Bad idea,” Brendan said, heading for the console where Tomasi stood.  “Give me a line.  Who’s got the CAP?”

“Captain Brenner,” she said as she got him a headset, handing it over quickly.

Brenner.  Brenner was a sharp pilot, a veteran of the Commonwealth Military, an expiate like him and so many others.  He’ll know how to get a look and then pull back.  “Who else?  Experienced, or otherwise?”

“Otherwise, sir.  Last month’s graduating class.”

Brendan grimaced.  That makes this slightly more problematic, then.  He took a breath and toggled the comm to active.  “CAP Lead, this is Home, come in.”

“Reading you Home.  It’s about to get messy.”

“So I’m seeing,” Brendan said, turning to stare at the sensor plot that Windsor was examining as if it held the answers to every question in the universe.  “Look, tell your wings to hang back.  We need to know what’s incoming and the sensor plots aren’t helping.  We need visuals.  Can you do that?”

“With my eyes closed,” Brenner said, his voice crackling over the comm.  “Are you scrambling the squadrons?”

Brendan grimaced.  “Hopefully, we won’t have to.  Get the visuals and hopefully this turns out to be just one really scary drill.”

The look Windsor gave him said that he hoped against hope that this would be just that—but that he wasn’t counting on it.

Neither was Brendan.

“Good luck, Lead.”

“Roger that, Home.  Starting my climb now.”

Brendan nodded, even though Brenner couldn’t see it.  He handed the headset back to Tomasi.  “Keep an eye,” he told her quietly.  “And let me know if he runs into any trouble.  Sound the alert and get as many birds in the air as we can—here and at the other bases.  Have them screen the cities.”

I’m giving orders and my commanding officer is in the room.  What the hell is wrong with me?

When he turned, though, Windsor was smiling.

“Anything else, sir?”  Brendan asked, hoping his voice didn’t betray how unsettled he suddenly was.

“I think that’ll do it for the moment,” Adam said softly.  “Ping your wife.  Make sure she’s safe.”

Brendan swallowed and nodded.  “And yours, sir?”

Windsor gave him a weak smile.  “Rachel will be where she’s needed, one way or another, whether I like it or not.”

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