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4.

“Holy shit,” said Clay. Skzyyn shot him a look from about twenty centimeters away.

“No battleship,” said Vera. “Those jerks. I wanted a piece of that thing.”

“Holy shit,” Clay said again. “The other battleship, its engines are all knocked out.”

They went on, remarking on details of what had happened out there without them, as their three-dimensional display resolved the space outside. The previously damaged battleship was now a dead hulk, wracked by explosions and abandoned by what remained of its crew; a few dozen Ngugma in vac suits floated out there. The other battleship had been set upon by a pack of fighters, and its four engine pods were all sheared off or blown up. The rest of the vessel seemed intact, aside from the loss of its gun emplacements, but the big ship was coasting now, stuck at 6.3% of the speed of light. Two intact cruisers clustered near it; four more flanked the super-freighter, still accelerating.

“We’re leaving them behind,” said Natasha. “How many did we lose?”

“I pick out Park and Leith,” said Vera, “and there’s Timmis and Apple, there’s Izawa, she lost her engine.” Meanwhile Skzyyn and Dzvezyets were having the same discussion, in the Tskelly tongue (the Tskelly had tongues, in fact, three-forked ones).

“There’s Aliya,” said Rachel. “And Millie Grohl is with her, they both took damage.”

“Okay,” said Clay, “I pick up in vac suits: Schmitt, Acevedo. Dead in space, Ree, Li, Bain. We have four Primoid fighters flying, and I see one Primoid in a vac suit. The Fyaa lost a cruiser, it looks like it got hammered. But they have more fighters—I think they have a net increase of a cruiser, because of that hidden base.”

“Vyevtya,” said Skzyyn with a pride that transcended species.

“All the humans survived,” said Rachel. “All of us. Skzyyn, I hope I’m saying that right, you understand that matters to us, we lost our home world, there aren’t as many humans as there used to be, not by a couple orders of magnitude. Now that’s your situation as well. You know you will never be our enemy again.”

“That is goooood,” said Skzyyn, “since you are the best fighter pilots in the Galaxy, as all now know.” Skzyyn did something along the lines of a laugh.

“Meanwhile,” said Natasha, “the Ngugma freighter trundles on. I wonder what they think happened up here?”

“Okay, let’s think about that,” said Rachel. “They know some fighters came in near their ship. They sent security to get us and security didn’t report back. And they know we forced our way into this maintenance area. They’ll be back with more force.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Natasha. “We seal off this place, our friends are just tailing the freighter, they’re back there a couple light seconds right now, the Ngugma have to figure they can’t do anything about it right now, might as well lead us to the nearest Ngugma planet and have the home fleet or whatever show us the what for.”

“You need to trust Errhatzky,” said Skzyyn, squatting on a piece of cleaning equipment. “Seal you off. That is what they do, exactly. They seal us off. And meanwhile! They are very sneaky technicians, very good technicians, they find a way in, to really controool this freighter.”

“So then what do we do?” asked Clay. “We get to the Ngugma home world or whatever. We meet the Ngugma fleet which makes this Ngugma fleet look like a neighborhood patrol. What do we do, fight them? With what, a couple of cruisers, a couple of freighters, maybe twenty fighters total?”

“Well,” said Rachel, “bear in mind, someone named Park is back there two light seconds away. But yeah, we fight them, if we can and if there’s a reason to. Lacking either of those things, no, we take the information we’ve got and we leave this freighter behind, as a smoking hulk if at all possible.”

“Very possible,” said Skzyyn. “Hhzmyvya, my mechanical friend, or my friend who is good with mechanical things, he says this is easy to do.”

“So there it is,” said Clay. “Our wildcard.”

“That’s nice to have,” said Vera. “Because one thing we’re not going to do is sneak in. They know we’re here.”

 

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