The display blanked, and Michelle looked back up at the tactical plot.

            While she'd been talking to Blaine, Achilles' division mates in BCS 106's first division — Penelope, Romulus, and Horatius — had followed her through the terminus. As she watched, Filipa Alcoforado's Theseus, the flagship of Commodore Shulamit Onasis, who commanded the squadron's second division, erupted from the invisible flaw in space, radiating the blue glory of transit energy from her sails.

            Not much longer, she thought, and glanced at Commander Sterling Casterlin. As she'd told Cortez, she'd met Casterlin before, although they'd never served together until now. They'd almost served on the old Bryan Knight together, but she'd just been leaving the ship when he came on board. She actually knew his cousin, Commodore Jake Casterlin, better, and from what she'd seen of Sterling already, she was willing to bet that Jake's Liberal Party sympathies drove the far more conservative Sterling bananas.

            She might be wrong, though, since it looked to her as if it would probably take quite a bit to shake Commander Casterlin's equanimity. He'd been late arriving aboard, through no fault of his own, but he hadn't even turned a hair at the prospect of having less than forty hours to "settle in" with an entirely new department, aboard an entirely new ship, under an entirely new vice admiral, before departing for a possible combat deployment. Under the circumstances, he'd shown remarkable aplomb, she thought.

            "It seems we'll be leaving soon," she observed.

            "Yes, Ma'am," he replied without turning a hair. "I've just passed our heading and course to Commander Bouchard."

            "Good," she said.

            He looked over his shoulder at her, and she smiled. She'd known she wasn't going to catch him out without a course already figured, but he'd quietly one-upped her by going ahead and passing the course to Jerod Bouchard, Achilles' astrogator, before she asked.

            "I believe he'd already worked out approximately the same course, Ma'am," Casterlin observed.

            "No, really?" Michelle rounded her eyes in innocent astonishment, then chuckled as Casterlin shook his head.

            Daedalus and Jason had followed Theseus through the Junction, now. All they still needed was Captain Esmerelda Dunne's Perseus, and they could be on their way, and Michelle was looking forward to the voyage. It was sixteen days from the Lynx Terminus to the Spindle System, and just as Spindle had been the site of the Constitutional Convention, it had been chosen — at least provisionally — as the Talbott Quadrant's capital system. Which meant that was where she was going to find Baroness Medusa and Vice Admiral Khumalo. When she did, she'd finally be able to begin forming a realistic idea of what she was going to have to do and what she was going to do it with. Under normal circumstances, her desire to hit the ground running would have left her feeling impatient and antsy, but not this time. The sixteen days' passage would undoubtedly be welcome to her captains, even thought it would be only ten days for them, given the relativistic effect, since it would give them additional time to complete bringing their ships' hardware to full readiness. And, of course, getting their ships' companies trained up to something approaching the standard expected out of a Queen's ship.

            “Remind me to invite Captain Conner and Commodore Onasis to dine with me tonight, Gwen,” she said.

            “Yes, Ma’am,” Archer replied. “Should we invite Commander Houseman and Commander McIver, as well?”

            “An excellent thought, Gwen,” Michelle approved with a smile. “For that matter let’s get Captain Armstrong, Cindy, Dominica, and Commander Dallas and Commander Diego on the guest list, as well. And you can drop them a little hint – unofficially, of course – that we’ll be talking about training schedules.”

            “Yes, Ma’am.” Archer made a note to himself, and Michelle smiled at him. The youngster was working out even better than she’d hoped he would, and it looked as if at least some of the ghosts of Solon were fading out of the backs of his eyes. She hoped so, anyway. It was obvious that nature had intended him to be a cheerful extrovert, and she was pleased to see him shedding the . . . somberness which had been so much a part of him at their first meeting.

            He was quick, too. His suggestion that Conner and Onasis bring along their chiefs of staff was an excellent one, and exactly the sort of anticipation and thinking ahead a good flag lieutenant was supposed to provide to her admiral. And it probably represented his own experience aboard Necromancer, as well. Obviously, Gervais was aware of the squadron’s rough edges and recognized the need to start filing them down.

            Her nostrils flared at that thought. Those rough edges weren’t her captains' fault, anymore than they were hers. In fact, they weren’t anyone's fault. Despite which, Michelle was uncomfortably aware of just how unprepared for battle her command truly was, and that was precisely why she, too, was looking forward to those ten days of exercises. Hard exercises, she thought — as demanding as she and her captains could make them. Given the situation she might well find herself facing in the very near future, it was time she and her officers started finding the problems, figuring out what to do about them, and doing it.

            And the sooner the better, she reflected grimly. The sooner the better.