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2.

Anand Ree got in his Ghost and was dumped out the personnel airlock along with a padding of Ngugma trash. The trash had a peculiar, but hardly noticeable, tendency to decelerate a little faster than the super-freighter, and fall behind in the dark of space. It was fifteen minutes before Ree raised his deceleration to 50% capacity, to let the trailing friendly ships catch up. By then, no one could get a decent fix on his position, not even Clay and Rachel on the freighter, who knew where he was. In another six hours, he was entering the bay of the Tasmania, which was linked up with the Honshu and surrounded by the Fyaa and Primoid cruisers and . A minute after that, he was delivering his verbal message to Kalkar and Root, while being hugged by Tashmina and Vijay.

“Okey dokey,” said Clay, once Ree had disappeared into the closet of space, “now what? Am I ready to take over? I hope not.”

Park took a few moments, then said, “No, not yet, you can relax.” She walked away, chatting with Rachel about something.

“Well, guys,” Clay said to the two Errhatzky in his lap, “you mind if I—?”

“Here, Clay,” said Natasha, and she and Vera helped him out of his seat.

“So,” he said, when he was free and the three of them were standing around with nothing to do, “any idea how this is going to work?”

“Oh,” said Natasha, “if you mean taking over the freighter, we literally just flip a switch.”

“And they lose control of the con to us for good? They can’t do anything about it?”

“It’s rigged so they won’t even be able to open hatches. They’ll be prisoners. Hhmvyvya is a clever lad, or whatever. The only question is, when we do flip that switch, will it work?”

“Or will they have planned for it,” said Vera.

“And we won’t know till I flip the switch?”

“Park’s gonna flip the switch, obviously,” said Natasha. “But yeah.”

“Am I crazy or is it rational to be kind of worried at this point? I mean, what are the percentages? 80% chance it works?”

“It is like before,” said Skzyyn, propelling itself up from the paneling and grabbing Clay’s shoulder. He was turning into something between a pet parrot and a bro. “99.99% chance. What do humans say? Don’t worry be happy.”

 

Big Fourteen continued decelerating: it would take an entire week yet to get the thing stopped and docked. They slept, they ate, they simulated various things, and twelve hours later, Park called a conference, or perhaps it was just a huddle. “Takeover is when we’re down to 1% of the speed of light,” she said. “That will be twelve to fifteen hours before full stop and dock.”

“So I’m docking this beast?” Clay objected.

“I’m confident in your abilities,” said Park. “I understand your concern, but this allows us some opportunities that wouldn’t be there if we let the Ngugma do the docking.”

“How so?” asked Vera.

“That’s the agenda,” said Park. “Ms. Andros and Padfoot and Mr. H and I have worked up a little plan.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” said Clay, while Vera was saying, “And you’re going to tell us?”

“Fyaa get to take part,” said Skzyyn.

“Are you predicting, or requesting?” asked Park. “Of course you get to take part. We need your friends to get in on this. The problem we have, and the advantage, is that we have three separate groups of enemies, three separate Ngugma units to deal with. One is the crew of this spacecraft. We should have them taken care of. The second is the crew of the depot station we seem to be headed for. We don’t know what that consists of, but it would not be unlikely to meet hundreds of Ngugma and their robots with small to medium arms. The third is the guard fleet here, including, or not including, the ships escorting the other freighter out of the system.”

“And our clever plan,” said Rachel, who looked as darling as Clay had ever seen her with her suit on, “takes advantage of every aspect of the situation.”

 

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