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afford to do was lose significant numbers of her people as a result of some brand-new race choosing to flex its power by wiping out a battalion.

Nonetheless, she wasn't exactly in a position to turn away from a potentially important discovery. Who knew for certain? She might be about to make contact with the newest and greatest ally Humanity had ever known.

Providing the new ally didn't turn out to be an enemy who had a thing for obliterating every last member of the Human race. It had been known to happen.

"Maybe a first contact," she admitted slowly, and with very guarded enthusiasm. "But whatever it is, it isn't under power.... It's definitely either abandoned or dead." She shook her head once more at the readings. "Damn, that thing's big..."

The distance between the squadron and Delta 9 was becoming a consideration. So well trained was Ivanova's squadron that the pilots didn't have to wait for her to instruct their every maneuver, particularly when they knew what had to be done. Delta 4 dropped back and informed her, "Delta Four taking relay position and holding."

"Acknowledged, Delta Four," responded Ivanova, slightly distracted and still absorbed with her instrumentation.

"We're almost to the target," Marlette told her. "We should have it on visual any time now."

Ivanova nodded, that automatic, reflexive movement that made her glad Delta 7 couldn't see her. "All right, stay close, and go weapons hot. But nobody fires without authorization," she added firmly, although it was more procedure than anything else. She was confident that people weren't going to just start blasting away. "Keep scanning."

They moved through the churning madness, and not for the first time did Ivanova feel the surge of frustration that was commonplace whenever she was
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