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Ten hours later, in orbit around the outer gas giant, there gathered in the Honshu’s half-empty freight section almost every human in the little fleet, plus a dozen Primoids and a dozen squirreloid Fyaa fighter pilots and two stork-like fellows with big skulls and eyes on stalks: these were the Fyaa race of scholars and priests (and cruiser officers).

“So the situation at Fyatskaab, the Fyaa home world,” Captain Root summarized, “is that the Ngugma tried to do the same thing there as at Earth, but they were foiled by the fact that the five species are generally immune to one another’s diseases, and that the tskelly and the kaahriig and the technicians, I really can’t pronounce that one as yet—!” She looked at one of the stork-like fellows, who shrugged its wings and wiggled its eye stalks. “That a lot of them spend basically all their time in space. So the Ngugma settled for thoroughly irradiating both planets with synthesized astatine, and essentially wiping out all life, and in the process, they may have wiped out the other two species completely, the, uh, factory workers and the administrators, I guess.”

That’s fairly close,” said a piping voice near Clay’s ear. It was one of the tskelly, the pilots, possibly the one Clay had crunched against the wall. It was hanging on a tskelly-sized sashay bar near Clay’s head. Clay nodded.

“As the refugees fled,” said Root, “the fighters were holding out in dozens of little bases, raiding and doing damage, but not yet anything so serious as destroying one of those Ngugma freighters. And the Ngugma were going right in with their mining crews. The isotope they used has such a short half-life they didn’t have to wait more than a few days.”

“So,” said Captain Kalkar, “the famous Ngugma are in the next system. It’s our chance. How do we not blow it? Commander Park?”

“I’ve developed a two-step plan,” said Park. “First, we observe. We don’t know what the situation is. Apparently the Fyaa and the Primoids independently discovered the basic fact of military science that the later your enemy knows where you are, the better chance you have of winning. We’ve already picked out a planetoid in the Oort cloud of the home world, Fyatskaab. There is an old Fyaa base. We will occupy it and observe from there. Captain Sheaeek and Captain Fvaerch invited us to use it as we need.”

She smiled at the two stork-like fellows, who bowed and then stuck their beak-like jaws upward. One said, in a peculiarly squeaky accent, “Yooo are welcome eeen to have food and bed down and drink wine and killll these basssstards. Please. Ha ha ha,” it added, and then made a gagging, creaking noise with its beaky jaw upward. Its friend imitated: the Fyaa laugh.

“The second point,” said Captain Kalkar.

“The second point is: assuming the Ngugma are still there, and believe it or not, even if they work at the rate they were doing Earth when Andros and Gilbert were there, they will be profitably draining the magma from the mantle for thousands of years to come, so I predict that they will still be there going strong after sixty years, and we are going to smite them. We are going to figure out something very clever and we are going to destroy them.  And the best kind of destroying them is to capture them, because then we get their brains as well as the debris that had once been their ships.”

“We heard there was still Fyaa resistance in their home system,” said Daria Acevedo, Gamma Wing’s leader. “Is there any chance that will still be true?”

“There’s every possibility they’ll have been wiped out,” said Park. “The Captains here would not rule it out. But it’s fair to say that their fighter pilots all think there will still be resistance.” The two captains slowly shook their heads, but the squirreloids cheered and hopped around. The extra pairs of legs and arms gave them interesting dance moves.

“In any case,” said Kalkar, “other Fyaa worlds would at some point start sending ships. They are of the habit of gathering forces in the outskirts of a system until they feel they have enough, and it’s very possible there will be a nice little Fyaa fleet there.”

“Okay,” said Vera, “can I ask one impertinent question?”

“Only you, Santos,” said Park.

“All right. Let’s go defeat the Ngugma. Once we do that, do we all just start fighting again? Have we figured out how to say ‘status quo ante bellum’ in Fyaa?”

One of the stork-like captains propelled itself forward into the middle. It spread its ragged wings a little to maneuver in the weightlessness: it was as tall as Clay and its wingspan was twice that. It shook its head out and said, “The Fyaa will not come back in war to Kleegrg, you say Primoid seeestems. These,” and it swung a beak toward the gathered Primoids, who made glowy, googly tentacles, “these are not our enemy. Weee make this promise.”

“And we like traaaade too,” said the other captain.

“But our job,” said Rachel, “just Alpha and Beta, is to take that planetoid base and start scouting out the system.”

“How far behind us are you guys going to be?” asked Clay.

“One week,” said Park. “We will have the Primoid cruiser, their nine fighters, and a small fleet of Fyaa; I believe they are sending us three of their own cruisers and a freighter. We’re hurrying up supply from PSB6, but you don’t need to wait for us, or for the Fyaa to assemble and make their farewells. We need you to sneak in ahead of us and spoil all the surprises.”