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2.

“I don’t know whether we should be holding a victory party or a wake,” said Captain Alfred Kalkar as he and pretty much all other humans currently in the Candy One system had a confab among the crates and containers in Tasmania’s main freight. “We lost a bunch of people but we clearly came out on top on this one. We blew up at least six of those bleep-heads. We have something that can kill them, finally. And maybe even help us repel them.”

“I’m not so sure it’s a win for us,” said Celeste Bouvier. “Sure, we have new weapons and defenses. Still, they might have run a profit on this, except that the Corsica is so radioactive right now that they can’t get within a light minute of it.”

“It may be,” said Maya Nilsstrom, captain of the Greenland, “they’re the hyenas of space. They’re just what you would call vicious scavengers.”

“Well,” said Padfoot Hixon, “whatever they are, they don’t like enriched radiation any more than we do.”

“I didn’t like having those things chomping on me,” Clay said to Natasha beside him. “Now I know how it feels.”

“Because someone else had to rescue you?” replied Natasha in his ear.

“So why weren’t you the one who linked up with me? Didn’t want to go hatch to hatch?”

“Clay. One, it was in the heat of battle and all. Two, she was actually closer and you looked bad off. Three, I wanted to, but she insisted. You don’t argue with Santos.”

“That you don’t,” Clay agreed.

“Not that it would give you any excuse.”

“Excuse for what?”

“Clay. My holy bleeping goddess, Clay. You are not allowed to act innocent. Excuse for sleeping with her.”

“In any case,” said Su Park, “it’s imperative that we get the Andros evade package and the newest settings and modifications for the lasers and scout missiles. Andros, you and Padfoot and whoever else need to continue work on upgrades. I would have to guess that we do have the better of them, and that from now on, the only people who will be lost to them are idiots.”

“We slept together because we were hatched up,” said Clay. “It does not mean we were naked together.”

“Were you naked together?”

“Yes.”

“Clay. With your ex. Don’t you ever see the advice for the lovelorn vids?”

“My ex? Is that what she is?”

“Clay!” Natasha looked around. “Shush. I want to hear this part. We’ll talk over coffee. You’ll be incredibly lucky if Rachel doesn’t join us.”

“So this allows us to turn our attention,” Su Park was saying, “to the situation on Candy One-5.”

“We all pored over the videos,” said Irah Chontz, Kalkar’s navigator. “How many aliens do you think there are?”

“Anywhere,” said Rachel, “from maybe four or five, up to thousands. I kind of feel like if there were millions of them down there in an underground realm, we’d see more of them going in and out.”

“We’re seeing none of them going in and out,” said Gil Rojette. “That suggests there aren’t that many, there isn’t a city down there underground or something. But that’s not the only explanation. Maybe they just don’t come out on the surface much. Maybe they don’t fly in space.”

“Something about the weapons,” said Rachel, “just screams space alien to me. I’m looking at them and I’m looking over my shoulder. It’s an outpost.”

“What do we know about the photon blaster thingy?” asked Captain Nilsstrom.

“Oh, we know some things,” said Rachel. “It’s not that different from our photon laser blaster guns or whatever.”

“Not that different?” asked Nilsstrom. Rachel shrugged.

There was a brief lull and then Agneska Vilya said, “Have we made efforts to communicate?”

“Yes,” said Park, “if you call shooting a form of communication. If you want a solution that is a little more linguistic, you’ll have to wait for the linguists to roll in. And they live on the colony ships.” She fixed Kalkar with her medium strength glare. “Perhaps we ought to think about putting people whose skill is talking to aliens in the anchor freighters.”

“Well, there’s me,” said Natasha to Clay, “but they usually forget about me.”

“Well, Miss Kleiner,” said Su Park, “do you wish to open communications with our aliens in the ravine?”

“Uh, no,” said Natasha. “On second thought, I think maybe we should wait till the colony ships start arriving.”

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