Equilibrium (Scattered Stars - Conviction Book 3) by Glynn Stewart


“Stand by for firing pattern alpha.”

Commander Kira Demirci listened to the calm report as she waited. The bridge of the newly rechristened mercenary heavy cruiser Deception was quiet, with no one speaking except for the tactical officer. The bridge crew were faking calm competence, but Kira could feel the tension under it.

For six weeks, technicians had gone over every link, every switch and every breaker of the cruiser’s main batteries. Even the small cadre of the cruiser’s original crew weren’t sure they’d found every one of the traps the ship’s previous Captain had activated.

“Check charge and status on all guns,” Deception’s new Captain ordered. Kavitha Zoric had been the executive officer of the mercenary carrier Conviction until Kira had poached her. Now the dark-haired and dark-skinned officer occupied the central chair of the amphitheater-style bridge like she was born to it.

“Every turret is green,” the chief engineer reported. Konrad Bueller was a broad-shouldered man who did dual duty as the cruiser’s executive officer—he was the senior officer of the contingent of defectors from the original Brisingr crew.

He was also Kira Demirci’s boyfriend, even if that role was still very fresh. He was from Brisingr, the sworn enemy of the petite, hundred-and-sixty-centimeter-tall nova-fighter commander’s homeworld of Apollo.

That might still wreck them, but for now he was the XO and chief engineer of the cruiser. He’d been the one who’d led the testing of Deception’s twenty-four heavy turrets.

“All right,” Zoric said. She looked around the bridge, twisting slightly in her chair to meet Kira’s gaze. She raised a questioning eyebrow and Kira nodded.

Technically, Kira Demirci was the Commander, Nova Group, for the cruiser. She was also the Commander, Nova Group, for Conviction, the mercenary carrier currently half a star system away standing guard over their employer’s planet.

Of course, Kira Demirci was the main shareholder of Memorial Squadron, the mercenary entity that owned Deception. Zoric might command the ship while Kira led the nova fighters…but Kira was Zoric’s boss, not the other way around.

But there was no point in delaying. They’d spent at least two weeks longer than they should have, in Kira’s opinion, going over Deception’s systems—but the Redward Royal Fleet had insisted. Going over Deception with a fine-toothed comb had been part of their price for letting Kira keep the ship.

“Activate the drones and…fire,” Zoric ordered calmly.

Almost a hundred automated drones activated their Harrington coils, leaping into motion around the heavy cruiser in preprogrammed but complex patterns. This was a test in more ways than one.

“Turrets in independent control. Engaging the targets,” the tactical officer reported. Marija Davidović was a hawk-nosed Black woman from Redward, “borrowed” from the Redward Royal Fleet since the mercenaries hadn’t previously needed gunnery officers.

Deception shivered as her turrets opened fire. Each pulse of plasma from the magnetic tubes was equal to the firepower delivered by a nova-fighter torpedo.

The first sequence took almost a minute, each turret firing its dual guns independently in a carefully calculated sequence that allowed Bueller to assess their problems.

“Well?” Zoric asked him as the plasma pulses faded from the display.

“All turrets still green,” the Brisingr man reported. “All power-load systems are green. Everything looks like it should, Captain.”

“Davidović?” Kira asked, turning her attention to the tactical officer. “How are the gunnery crews looking?”

“Twenty-four shots, sixteen hits against automated targets without jamming in play,” the Redward woman replied crisply. “For a first firing run on a new ship, I suppose that’s acceptable, but the guns and the targeting systems on Deception are more effective than I’m used to.

“They’d better improve.”

“Then they will,” Kira said with a small smile. Davidović was new to being a mercenary, but Kira was a twenty-year veteran of the Apollo System Defense Force, a fleet for whom Deception would have been barely a first-rate combatant. She could live with some of her new mercs being rather more hard-edged than her old mercs might prefer.

“With your permission, Captain, Chief?” Davidović turned to Zoric and Bueller. “Second-sequence tests?”

“Fire at will, Commander Davidović,” Zoric replied. “Everything is looking good so far. Let’s stress the guns and see what happens when we’re a short nova from a proper yard.”