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2.

Alpha and Beta wings flew ahead of the rest of the fleet, but only by a few light-hours. Thus they had the first view of the system poetically known as PSB6. They drifted in at 25% of light speed, decelerating hard, their ships attached in pairs, and the two pairs of fighters that made up each wing attached by conduit. Beta was a hundred thousand kilometers out in front when the sensors cleared enough for them to see each other. Li Zan’s call light showed up shortly afterward.

“Zip up, hubby-hunk,” said Rachel, getting her vac suit back on. “Give us ten seconds, okay?”

“No problem,” Li’s voice said from the air between them. And ten seconds later, the screen that occupied most of the inside wall in front of them opened up a window so that Li Zan and Timmis Green, vac suit clad and looking chipper, could smile at Rachel and Clay.

“I take it you had a restful transit?” asked Li.

“It was utterly devoid of mouthholes or half-seen stuff,” said Rachel.

“Shall I send out Apple and Izawa as scouts? You can already pick up four Fyaa bases, and you can see that inner planet’s satellite defenses, but there’s plenty of outer belt they can check.”

“Well, I think it’s prudent. Of course the others will be along in a couple of hours. Remind them that they’re not allowed to do anything dangerous like die.”

 

Maria Apple and Gemma Izawa, the second a former colony-ship fighter pilot, the first a former teenage colonist, separated their fighters and took off side by side to tour the inner edge of the PSB6 Oort cloud. The star, a ruddy orange dwarf, was tiny in a black sky, a reddish pixel just a little larger than the other pixels. It held one terrestrial planet in close embrace, warming it to where water could flow; there were a couple of smallish, Neptune-size gas giants, and then a diffuse asteroid belt.

The inner planet, PSB6-a in the humans’ computers, showed, on high magnification, satellite defenses and an orbiting station, both clearly Primoid make, as were a few cruisers and fighters in orbit. Lively colonial emanations indicated Primoids on the ground as well. It was hard to tell what other life dwelt there, locally evolved or introduced, but the planet clearly showed water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, iron, calcites, silicates, carbonates, and chlorophyll.

Much further out, the largest moons of the two gas giants showed a different tech signal. Two, no, three, no, four more showed among the planetoids of the belt: Fyaa bases. Fyaa ships, the little zippy fighters and the stringy-looking cruisers and destroyers and three well-guarded dreadnoughts of some sort, could be detected hanging out or maneuvering. It was a formidable fleet in its way, but clearly not enough to overcome those Primoid cruisers or their satellite defenses.

The Tasmania and the Honshu and the other two wings, and their Primoid companions, were just starting to become visible as Rachel led Clay, Vera, Natasha, Li Zan and Timmis toward a hard-frozen planetoid eighteen light-hours out from the star. They picked a landing spot but they didn’t land. “What are we going to name it?” asked Clay.

“Great,” said Rachel, as the six fighters came to a stop, relative to the planetoid, a thousand kilometers from its surface.

“Hot Spot,” said Vera. “Wait. What?”

“Commanders,” came Izawa’s voice from six light-hours off, “guess what? We’ve found one more Fyaa base, and they’re coming after us. We threw some missiles at them and headed out. We’re arcing around, we have twelve of them chasing us, they’re accelerating faster than we can but Maria got us on a course that should keep us ahead of them. They may follow us all the way to you. Would you prefer we hit the brakes and take them on ourselves? Maria thinks we can take them and so do I.”

“Yeah, but,” said Clay, “the computer says they only have a 60% chance of winning without either of them getting wasted. As they would both know.”

“Yeah,” said Rachel, “and they both know what we’re going to say, because Li and I are both channeling Su Park. Am I right?”

“Ladies,” said Li, “you are under orders not to behave dangerously. Bring those new friends of yours back here and we’ll help take care of them.” She hit send and smiled at the others over the comm.

“Invite him inside, Wormtail,” Clay quoted. “Where are your manners?”

“Oh,” said Rachel, “so now not only are you Harry Potter, but I’m Volemort?”

“Don’t say his name,” said Natasha.

“Oh, I dibs Voldemort,” said Vera.

 

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