By Bill Baldwin

Whereas the Empire crumbles less than the blitzkrieg attack of the League of darkish Stars, Helmsman Wilf Brim rallies the surviving Imperial Starfuries for a determined last-ditch attempt to avoid wasting the center of the Empire at Avalon.

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It probably had been helping to ferry evacuees from an orbiting starship too old to qualify for surface license. As the clumsy spaceship lumbered out onto the lake, Brim shook his head. Every vehicle capable of spaceflight had helped in the evacuation. " *** Walking to the staff skimmer that would take them to the Admiralty, the trio passed between long lines of bedraggled soldiers who were giving their names to tired-looking officials with logic scribers, dropping what blast pikes and other weapons they'd managed to save into heaps, and climbing wearily onto hovering omnibuses.

Brim nodded, staring at the floor of the skimmer. "Makes sense," he said. "Leaguers conquer by gaining control—absolute control. You saw what they did to your countrymen in the last version of this war. " "Yeah," Aram said bleakly. "I still have a bad time with that. The bastards really didn't do that out of any overt love of inflicting pain—although I'm certain some of 'em do. " By the time Brim looked up, they'd cleared the base entrance and were speeding along a broad highway that paralleled the shore of Lake Mersin, In the distance to spinward, a baroque clutter of towers and domes that was Avalon City dominated the horizon.

Thank the Universe," Brim said with no little feeling; Aram had always been one of his favorites. "I'm certain he will be glad to see you, Captain," Knorr said, clearly anxious to continue his talk with the other A'zurnians. Touching his forehead in thanks, Brim set off across the lobby, through a new crush of wounded Imperial servicemen who must have just arrived at the base. He grimaced. The steady stream of casualties boded ill for the defense of Effer'wyck. Unless he missed his guess, it would soon be Avalon's turn.

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