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V. Parasites



The attackers again split into two groups, but they were more like successive waves than a vanguard and a rearguard. Alpha, Beta and Gamma wings, plus three Fyaa fighters and three Primoids, came on 300,000 kilometers in front, the distance a photon would travel in a second. Then the other four Fyaa fighters, the other three Primoids, and Su Park’s Special Wing flew just ahead of three stringy Fyaa cruisers, a hefty Primoid cruiser, and the two human-built armored freighters.

The departing Ngugma freighter’s group assumed the same formation as before, like an umbrella for the super-hauler’s butt end. They had twelve intact cruisers, two battlecruisers (one of them damaged), and at least a hundred of those spidery little robot fighters.

Clay and his pals were less than an hour from contact when signals came to them from a benighted planetoid far, far out in the Fyatskaab system’s dark closets.

“What the hell?” said Rachel. At almost the same time, Skzyyn’s text to the human fighters came through: AH YES VYEVTYA SENDS GREETINGS

“What’s Vyevtya?” asked Natasha.

“It’s a base, isn’t it?” said Clay. “It’s your ace in the hole.”

“What is an ace in the hole?” came Skzyyn’s squeaky voice.

“I don’t know,” said Clay, “it just means it’s a nice little surprise. Nice for us.”

“Ah,” said Skzyyn. “Sure. Vyevtya is our furthest base. They have remained concealed this long, raiding far from the base and never revealing where they hided, hide, hid, funny language this English.”

“I always thought so,” said Natasha. “Not funny to the Ngugma.”

“Yes,” said Li Zan, “I read twelve fighters and two cruisers, Fyaa. Range is thirty light minutes.”

“Hold off contact,” came the voice of Su Park from a light second back. “Captain Fvaerch has received a message. The Fyaa have a new force. It will be in contact with the enemy in two hours and ten minutes. Repeat, hold off contact. Confirm.”

The forward wing pilots all confirmed. Rachel texted Clay, “She’s not used to being a second away. She’s afraid we aren’t paying attention to her.”

“The question always is,” Clay texted back, “if I’m more scared of her a light second back, or you within a hundred meters.”

“Now that,” said Rachel out loud, “is a deep question.”

They pulled back their virtual throttles to match the anemic acceleration of the Ngugma super-freighter and its damaged battleship escort. The pilots tried to nap, or gave up and simulated, or gave that up and played chess and Set. As the last half hour began to tick away, and the fighters resumed their approach, the Ngugma finally showed signs of noticing the new enemy in front; the undamaged battleship and six cruisers moved up ahead of the freighter, along with half the cloud of spidery fighters.

Ten minutes became one minute, and thirty seconds and fifteen, and then Rachel was calling out, “Good hunting, ladies and gents, just don’t get blown up,” and then they were pushing the acceleration and launching their first wave of missiles. These met a somewhat anemic missile wave from the other side, and mutually annihilated. Rachel ordered a second wave, and a second later, the robotic Ngugma fighters were coming through, or blowing up en route. Cruisers were moving into position behind them.

Clay and Natasha dropped left, Rachel and Vera right. Clay and Tash began taking out fighters as the robots tried to maneuver to block them: two, four, six, eight, ten. Rachel and Vera were doing much the same on the other side, and Skzyyn Aarndr-rii and his two friends dropped through the middle, and then Rachel’s voice came to the rest of her wing and the Fyaa: “Mu, program mu, engage now.”

They dropped, or soared, up and out of that fight, which Beta and Gamma took up. Behind them, Daria Acevedo and Peri Schmitt were already tearing up one cruiser, and Izawa and Apple another, while Li and Timmis and Aliya and Grohl carefully took apart the core of the remaining Ngugma fighters. The damaged battleship began laying down fire, and let loose thousands of tiny missiles. Apple and Izawa shot past the cruiser line and came at the battleship on one side, Acevedo and Schmitt on the other. Missiles knocked out Schmitt, who took serious hurt; Acevedo took two more missiles and pulled away, her drive system blinking in and out. Li Zan and Mizra Aliya were both left dead in space after close fighting with cruisers; Timmis managed to blow one up, and Millie Grohl could be heard hooting as she bedeviled another, which went progressively deader and deader in space.

By now, the Special Wing was on the scene; Bonnie Bain and Anand Ree got nearly blown up by another cruiser, which Jamaica Leith took out with one shot, and with prejudice. She then chased Park toward the battleship.

Clay didn’t register any of this.

He was keeping tight with Rachel and Vera and Natasha, and three little Fyaa fighters were keeping up with him, dodging around the damaged battleship’s dead side and then hitting 110% acceleration toward the rear end of their true target.