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6.

A few minutes later, Padfoot, her helmet off and her brown ponytail floating just a bit, was more or less sitting on the floor in front of the open console. One of the Errhatzky was standing on her crossed ankles. They were conversing in the Fyaa lingua franca, with Natasha, Skzyyn and Park paying attention, while Rachel, Clay, Vera, and Anand Ree looked on, mystified.

“How’d you manage, Anand?” Clay asked. “You took some bad damage.”

“Well, you know,” said Anand Ree, “it turns out that if your body frame survives, Ms. Padfoot and Mr. Bell can rebuild you in six hours.”

“He’s exaggerating a bit,” said Padfoot over her shoulder. “Frzdetz yitzyz dzyn, um, dyissin?”

“No, yayay, dyiztzyn,” said the Errhatzky.

“If you have your seat and nothing else, it’s twelve hours,” said Vera. “More if you also lost the seat back. Less if you still have your joystick.”

“Like that ever happened to you, Killer,” said Clay. “So, Anand. Was your wife worried? Tashmina?”

Ree rolled his eyes and grinned. “To say the least,” he replied. “But I told her, you’re in just as much danger as I am, you and Vijay, on Tasmania. Really, if you think about it.”

“Did that help?”

“No, not at all, actually.”

Ztyvzty, Bviyi, zevtyay bvayrii-rahy,” Skzyyn was saying, as he and another Tskelly did something between a hug and a multiple-armed high five. It was the third pilot, the one whose ship had gotten blown up in the approach.

“Park picked you up?” asked Natasha. Uh, Su Park gyy kyivitz?

“Ya, ya,” said the other Tskelly. “Park picked me up. Truth, Anand Ree picked me up.”

They resumed watching whatever was going on. Park asked a question in Fyaa, and Skzyyn answered, and Park said something back to him, which Clay could just tell was sarcastic. He wasn’t sure if Tskelly understood sarcasm, but he suspected they were good at it; Skzyyn gave Clay a sideways look and what might have amounted to a smile.

Park waited a moment and then asked her question again, and this time Padfoot answered in English. “I was just helping them seal off the computers up here. We know a few things about Ngugma telecommunications, from what Rachel and Clay learned at Mathilde, and I think I spotted a couple of vulnerabilities, but there are definitely things Hhzmyvya knows that I didn’t know. Meanwhile, I think we have the outer walkways under surveillance. They’re still in control of the engines, of course. I wish we could do something about that.”

“I’d love to be in the pilot’s chair up here,” said Park, “but they’re going where we want to go.”

“Exactly,” said Padfoot. “So—!” Hhzmyvya said something to Padfoot, and she said something back, then she looked back at Park and said, “Sorry.”

“No, please go back to that,” said Park. She turned and took Clay and Vera by the sleeves to pull them back a little way. “Let’s let them do their thing,” she said. She looked around. “Nice accommodation. I suppose we will sleep in our Ghosts?”

“It’s comfier than the floor,” said Clay.

“Damn Ngugma,” said Vera, “they could have installed some bunks, don’t you think?”

“We could ask them,” said Clay. “So, the next question is, where are we going, and what do we do when we get there, for the next question after that.”

“The second answer depends on the first,” said Park. “And we won’t know the first answer till we get there. How fast are we going?”

“Closing on 8.5%,” said Ree. “It’s so slow.”

“It’s better than the Centaur project,” said Park. “Still, one is tempted to take off and get there ahead of them.”

“But we want to get there with them,” said Rachel.

“Except,” said Clay, “that since they know we’re here, the first thing they’ll do when we get there is put whatever they have, wherever we’re going, toward killing us.”

“It’s a problem.”

“If only we,” said Clay, and stopped. He looked at Vera.

“Could make them forget we’re here,” said Vera. “Okay. So they’re trying to kill us. Right? And we’re trying to take control of piloting. Right? What if we—?”

“Santos,” said Park, “are you having one of your Santos ideas?”

“Oh, I am. It’s scary.”

“And are you going to let us in on it at all?””

“I’ll have to,” said Vera, “because this one’s going to need Padfoot and her scaly friends to actually do the work.”

 

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