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AFTER THEIR initial victories the Castleman’s fleet settled onto the defensive. Had they been dealing with a human opponent, their supposition would have been that they had inflicted a defeat sufficient to discourage further attacks. Instead, they had only managed to upgrade man from a local menace to a major threat. Where the original Gerin invasion force had been composed of fewer than two hundred ships, the Gerin retaliated with over fifteen hundred ships, including dreadnoughts and carriers. There was never any question of the result.

The Castleman’s fleet was crushed in the first encounter. Its remnants were rallied around a heavy cruiser commanded by Captain Chu Lee MacDonald. This officer led the survivors in a fighting retreat. At one point, MacDonald’s fifty survivors turned and destroyed over a dozen Gerin cruisers. The unfortunate effect of their success was to reinforce the paranoia of their attackers, convincing them that all humans represented an immediate threat to the survival of their race.

A second ambush by the Castleman’s ships destroyed, at some cost to them, a Gerin headquarters ship. The effect of this astonished everyone as the Gerin force suddenly lost cohesion, fighting individually and in threes. This bought Castleman’s World exactly three extra days. The running battle continued until they were fighting within the actual atmosphere of Castleman’s World itself. Of over two hundred original human ships, less than a dozen fought their way free after their planet suffered the same fate as New Athens.

Having destroyed Castleman’s World, the victorious fleet split into several groups to enable them to strike at a number of human worlds simultaneously. For many of these planets the first knowledge of the loss of the Castleman’s fleet was a Gerin bombardment. Others, warned of the danger, still refused to give up their sovereignty and make a joint response. Seeing the human forces in disarray, many of the nonhuman races chose to limit their support to carefully observing the continuing Gerin success. Unified as a race, the Gerin see division as a weakness and are quick to exploit it. For the next months, a dozen human worlds fought hopeless battles against overwhelming odds.

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