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8.

They had captured both Fyaa fighter pilots: Rachel had taken hers out in one shot in the back of the freighter bay. The captives were of the “squirreloid” species of Fyaa, who called themselves something like Tskelly. They had four pairs of short legs or arms; the front two were more arm-like, the back two more leg-like. They were hairless, but their scales were soft like velvet. Their prehensile tails made up a third of their length: their bodies were the size of Clay’s forearm, their tails the length of his hand. Their pair of eyes were frog-like, almost protrusive enough to be on stalks. They had lovely vac suits, but their helmets were bubble-like, allowing their surprisingly intelligent eyes to gaze around with full independence. The Fyaa who had hidden in the tunnels had bugged out and headed off to join the refugee fleet at one of the outer bases.

Now, four hours after the skirmish, on board the Tasmania, the two captured Fyaa floated in a sort of plastic cage, chatting with Natasha as best they could about planets, while a dozen humans pored over the video screens.

The images were from the incoming fleet. As they accelerated away from the world of their birth, these Fyaa camera-wielders, whichever species they were, had looked back and recorded the circumstances of their departure.

The Fyaa, all five species and several other semi-sentient members of the community, had evolved on this world, and lived nowhere else aside from a dozen very limited colonies. From here, they had reached out into the stars within forty light years around them, mining, setting up posts, attacking the Primoid colonies within their zone, like PSB6. But it all came back to this system: a small yellow sun, two nearly co-orbital terrestrial planets, both inhabited, a gas giant much further out that was so large it was almost a red dwarf, with beautiful rings rakishly aslant, and a wide litter of planetoids and comets.

In orbit around each of the terrestrials were several colossal black freighters. Many hundreds of little spidery fighters flew about; smaller but still colossal freighters and chunky cruisers and battleships came into and went out of the system on more or less the same path to no place in particular out in deep space. Shuttles the size of Manhattan dropped down into oceans or boreholes, or rose up out of them. The two planets were being eaten, with spoons the size of small moons.

“Okay,” said Clay to Rachel. “We’ve found them.”

 

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