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Her thumb hovered over her targeting device as she weighed the emotional satisfaction she would take from simply blowing this idiot out of space. But she restrained herself. "Forget it," she said tersely. "Look, there's no way you're coming out of this a winner. At best it's a standoff."

Despite his situation, the Raider replied with what sounded like a satisfied chortle, "You mean ... it was a standoff."

At that moment, Watkins' voice came through on the com system. It carried a tone of observation rather than alarm, as he reported, "Commander... jump point forming."

Sure enough, a jump point had leaped into existence a mere two hundred thousand kilometers away. The Starfiiries automatically cleared the area as what was clearly the Raiders' base ship came roaring out of hyperspace and into normal space. It was bristling with weapons, and if an inanimate object was at all capable of projecting pure attitude, then this one was doing so.

Ivanova's expression would have been completely inscrutable to any onlooker as she observed the mother ship bearing down on them, clearly ready for battle if the demands of the

Raiders were not met. She heard the same arrogant voice coming over her com system as the Raider said smugly, "Now about that surrender..."

Ivanova wasn't certain, of course, precisely what the Raider expected her to say in reply. A quick surrender, perhaps, or maybe some bluster to cover fear in her voice. He was probably expecting anything, in short, except what he got, which was a tone even more smug than his as she replied, "Funny, I was just about to say the same thing." She pushed a button on her console. As she did so, she murmured to herself, "Say cheese."

Seconds later, in response to the signal that she had sent, several more jump points
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