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III. The freighter



“That’s your plan?” was Kalkar’s response. Alpha Wing had flown out to meet the incoming little fleet, and now, with their Tskelly friend (who had a name; it was something like Skzyyn Aarndr-rii), they floated in the Tasmania bay control.

“It’s more exploratory than anything else,” said Rachel.

“You take two wings and you attack one of those freighters,” said Park. “And you don’t lose anyone.”

“I have the privilege to go wiiith,” said Skzyyn Aarndr-rii. “Tskelly will definitely go wiiith.” Floating meant that the Tskelly could be the same height as the humans: Skzyyn, as presumably it was known to its friends, hung in the air near Clay as if it were part of a mobile.

“And you consider than the Fyaa pilot’s sensible, risk-averse attitude is on display in this plan.”

“I consider that we have to figure out what we can actually do,” said Rachel. “Look, the Fyaa can go with us, but you know they’re not bound by the Unbreakable Vow. They can do what they want.”

“So you don’t mind them throwing their lives away,” said Daria Acevedo.

“Noo nooo noooo,” said Skzyyn, who seemed put out by Acevedo’s suggestion. “Nooo, we would throw away life if we seet and watch our home worlds get chewed up and shat out.”

“They don’t see it that way,” said Natasha.

“Okay, okay,” said Acevedo to the Fyaa pilot, who was about twenty centimeters from her sharp nose, “I take your point. Anyway, I didn’t take any unbreakable vow, nor did my wing.”

“You’re going anyway.” She looked at Kalkar. “You have a question, Alfred?”

“The question that comes to mind,” said Kalkar, “is, are you insane? But I know your answer to that.”

“Oh, perhaps we are crazy. I suppose it’s what’s called for.”


“We don’t get to go,” said Apple, when the eight pilots of Alpha and Beta were all together in the number one barrack. “That sucks. You’re punishing us.”

“I’m not anything,” said Rachel. “Anytime I’m in a room with Su Park, I’m not the one in charge. She’s just switching you out for her wing. Maybe she wants them to get some experience.”

“She could send us all,” said Apple.

“Well, she’d say she’s leaving half with the freighters for security, and it’s just a matter of which half is left. And who knows, there’s all kinds of Ngugma gunboat around here. You could end up in a tougher fight than us.”

“Probably not,” said Apple, subsiding.

“Are any Primoids going in with you?” asked Izawa.

“They gave us nine,” said Rachel. “And six Fyaa. All fighters. The three Fyaa cruisers and the Primoid cruiser are staying with Honshu and Tasmania as backup.”

“When is the jump-off?” asked Clay.

“The freighter will be in the target zone between 41 and 43 hours from now. We have about 24 hours till we need to be in our Ghosts. The freighters and everyone else is going to be a light minute or so behind us.”

“So, simulations?” asked Timmis.

“Simulations,” said Rachel. “Then dinner, then more simulations.” The hatch to the control room opened, and in came Park and her wing, Bain, Leith and Mr. Ree.

“Simulations,” said Park. “Ruthless simulations. For four hours. Then we have a little party.”

“Really?” said Rachel. “Like the old days?”

“Like on the Moon,” said Park. “Then we sleep it off, and then we join the Fyaa and the Primoids to simulate the hell out of it right up till jump-off.”