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6.

The local Primoids didn’t have a huge number of ships, but they did have a lot of their chunky fighters. So, forty hours after landing at PSB6, the humans took off with their own eight fighters and the Primoids’ nine plus a cruiser, and with them went twelve locally made Primoid fighters. They bent their course toward the outer of the two gas giants, which has a moon with extremely stable flat plains broken by a dozen big craters. Meanwhile, message photons flew ten times as fast out to the little fleet gathered by Hot Spot, and some hours later, four more fighters—Acevedo, Santos, Li and Timmis—set off to rendezvous at that moon.

From the Primoids’ planet out to the outer giant would take a photon about an hour and a half. After seven hours of travel, they were approaching the orbit of the inner giant, halfway there. Without warning, fighters started coming out of the planet. In about five minutes, over forty of the little Fyaa fighters emerged into space, and then five of their stringy little cruisers, and finally two armed freighters. Everything but twelve fighters began to accelerate toward one of the outer asteroid bases.

“Commander Park,” Natasha noted, “there’s a bunch of fighters and cruisers leaving the inner giant moon too. Headed for the same base.”

“That’s where the new ships are headed,” said Rachel.

“What do you make,” asked Clay, “of the composition of these supposed reinforcements? Let’s see. Six small freighters, four super-freighters, all unarmed. Eight cruisers, four of them clearly damaged. A whole bunch of fighters, like a hundred, because they’re the Fyaa. A couple of armed freighters. And these three things are—!”

“Liners,” said Park. “Those are passenger liners.”

“Lots of life support,” Izawa noted. “Not much for weapons.”

“These aren’t invaders,” said Clay. “These are refugees. They’re not here to win the battle. They’re here because they lost a battle.”

“At their home world,” said Park. “All right. Kleiner, could you be a dear and communicate with our Primoid friends?”

“I’m already putting together a little cartoon about it,” Natasha replied.

“So where are we setting course?” asked Rachel. “Still for the outer giant?”

“Absolutely,” said Park. “We are going to take that objective, even if they don’t defend it. I just hope we don’t have any loss of life if no one’s shooting at us. It would be embarrassing.”

 

So they maintained their course, as did the Primoids with them, who communicated with Natasha by means of animation. “The thing is,” she told Park, “some of them want to attack the Fyaa as they run away, but the cruiser’s captain is under orders to minimize losses and to work with us. Just be aware. They don’t always follow orders.”

“You got all this from an animated cartoon?” asked Clay. The next moment, she sent him a file, and he got to see her cartoon message, their cartoon message back, and then two more of each, and he understood. He didn’t think it would make very good television, but he could see how any alien with light receptors at the right range of frequencies would get what it was all saying. It was eerie: Clay suddenly thought of cartoon advertisements when he was a kid, all with messages: eat your fruit, look both ways, be nice to everyone, eat this cereal. Don’t attack the Fyaa just yet, wait for us. And from the Primoids, the message was clear: we agree, but these locals have excellent reason to be ticked off.

Meanwhile, the Fyaa fighters that had remained near the moon base took up defensive positions in outer orbit. “What are we going to do with these guys?” asked Rachel.

“I don’t want to attack the Fyaa,” said Park. “I want them to fight on our side. They can’t think twelve can stand against this many. Twelve couldn’t stand against eight before.”

So the eight human fighters, along with 21 Primoids and a Primoid cruiser, zipped across space decelerating hard. Park was already having Natasha send messages offering negotiation in the limited amount of Fyaa language they knew. The Fyaa reacted by retreating toward their moon, flying low over it in two groups of six. Their discipline certainly looked better than that of the previous twelve.

A few minutes before contact, the twelve Primoid fighters from the planet, the locals, shot forward, switching briefly to acceleration to catch the Fyaa before they could evade. They crashed half of one of the Fyaa wings from above, but the other three Fyaa took down four Primoid fighters: seven little silent explosions on the planetoid’s grey surface. The other eight Primoids turned along the surface, and soon took down the other three Fyaa. The other wing chose to go to ground in tunnels in the planetoid’s ice-rock surface. The humans watched this on their various screens, with various frowns. At least, Clay was seeing the comparative tactics of Fyaa and Primoid, and again it struck him that their fighter tactics weren’t that different from those of the humans. It was just that the humans did it better. He was sure of it.

“That’s ten fighters we won’t have against the Ngugma,” said Park. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to storm their base entrance, here,” and a spot lit up on the fighters’ displays. Clay wondered what the Primoids were seeing on their displays. “Those six fighters: we have two of them in the bay of the base, and the other four in tunnels out on the surface somewhere. We don’t fight those if they don’t attack us. The two in the bay: shoot to disable, but I don’t want anyone to get hurt because they were going against their instinct. Just: it’s a dangerous environment, you know that, don’t you? It’s not open space.”

“That’s Vera’s favorite mod,” said Natasha. “The inside the mining tunnels scenario.”

“Except we don’t need the mining tunnels. We want the base, because of all the insights it will give us into dealing with the Fyaa.”

 

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