Over the next eighty hours, all sorts of interesting things happened slowly.
There were, of course, two more meetings, progressively more businesslike and both smaller than the conference on board the Canada. The last of these three meetings featured guest appearances from the Primoid rebels, who landed one cruiser and debarked with their interpreters. Angelica would stay with them through the battle, but Karen was under no such expectation and was last seen wandering the botanical gardens.
The rebels made a little time to visit the Primoid village which lay mostly underground, under the plateau to the south of Canada town. Its population was now up to several hundred, and was under enforced neutrality: they were the descendants of the handful of Primoids captured after the original battles of Bluehorse.
Then the Bluehorse defenders began to assemble in the skies above their planet, the home now to around 99% of extant Homo sapiens. Clay and Rachel in their far-traveled Ghost 201s joined the 201s and 203s of Bluehorse, and the cruisers and armored merchants, and began to assemble in orbit over Bluehorse-3, veritably the third rock from the sun, well, given that the first rock was actually a gravel pile. The Primoid rebel cruiser that had landed joined them as well, and with the two rebel cruisers already in high orbit, and the human ships there or about the inner system or detaching from the space station, they formed quite a respectable fleet.
They had ten ships of generally cruiser type, three of them Primoid rebels; they had 25 fighters and three armored merchants. Their enemy already had a battleship and two battlecruisers and twelve cruisers, plus at least 45 fighters—no, make that 54, now that bay fighters were appearing in the Primoid “center’s” fleet.
“We totally took them before, of course,” said Rachel on her private line to Clay. “When we were outnumbered and outsized. Why am I not feeling it this time?”
“Well,” said Clay. He paused. “Want a list?”
“I can make a list. One, no Su Park. Two, you and I are the ranking veterans. Three, no Alfred Kalkar, though I’m sure his descendant is perfectly nice and is way smarter about this sort of thing than old Ted Trein or Caterin Mark. Four, we had this great plan that time, we did, remember? No plan this time. I’m just not getting anything. Five? What the hell. I’m just not feeling it. What the hell?”
“Well,” said Clay, “I wish I could argue.” They coasted along, headed, not especially fast, toward the orbit of Bluehorse-4, where they and their fighter pilot underlings would take up their positions in outer defense of Bluehorse-3. There were some stray asteroids, there was a bit of debris, but the enemy was moving with great deliberation and was unlikely to be fooled by, say, fighters hidden under space rocks or among garbage. “Well,” said Clay, “we delay. Fabian tactics.”
“So,” said Rachel after a bit, “do you still love me?”
“I love you more than anything,” said Clay. “Do you still love me?”
“I love you so much.” They glided, watching the enemy form up way out in the Oort cloud. “This interstellar space war stuff is weird. The tactics I get. The strategy is just strange.”
“How so, o wise one?”
“Okay. So you’re attacking somewhere 37 light years away. So you have to use intelligence that is going to be at best 74 years old when you get there. The news of what’s there has to get to you, and then you have to fly there with whatever fleet you think you need: 37 + 37 = 74. You thought you needed three cruisers and ten fighters? Oops. They built eight cruisers and forty fighters in those 74 years. Sorry. So you waste 37 more years running away.”
“So,” said Clay, “you overbuild and attack and find they have abandoned the place. Or the Ngugma have come through. It’s all tumbleweeds and vacuum unsealed space stations.”
“Well, look at this,” said Rachel. “Primoids habitually overbuild. But our guys still outmaneuver them at 667C, and here, they really have just enough to be really sure.”
“Really sure,” said Clay, “that they’re going to annihilate 99% of what’s left of Homo sapiens.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel. After a few minutes thinking about that, she said, “And I’m picking up more stuff coming from other systems. Yes. We will soon see more Primoid cruisers and more Primoid fighters and who knows, if we’re especially blessed by Karma, more Primoid battlecruisers. See, that’s the other side of interstellar strategy. Concentrating forces in one place at one time. Clever logistics, Primoid Center.”
Sure enough, they and the rest of the human fleet were beginning to pick up blobs decelerating from the blur of light speed. There were at least four of these: two from the direction of the Primoid systems, Clay guessed, two from other places.
“Wait,” he said. “Wait a stinkin’ minute.” He did some checks while Rachel queried him. He ignored her, then cut in to say, “One of those is coming from Candywan. God damn it, Rache. It’s the Abstraction. And four Ghosts. And they have buddies.”
Sure enough, three Primoid cruisers and a very familiar Earth cruiser were coming from the direction of Candywan, along a route that Clay and Rachel had come 188 years ago, and there were four Ghosts and nine Primoid fighters with them.
“Clay,” said Rachel. “That other blob.”
“Where is that from, exactly?” asked Clay.
“I don’t know,” said Rachel, “out somewhere in the unknown, but that’s the Tasmania, and that’s the Greenland, and you know what that means.”
“God damn it, Rache.” He stared, unbelieving, then whooped. And whooped again.
“What’s the problem?” came Daria’s voice on the comm.
“Su Park’s with us,” said Clay. “And Tasha and Vera. Yes! May the Park be with us!”