, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The invading fleet approached the starbase gingerly. It orbited the largest of the three stars, about where the third planet would be if there were more than two planets; neither of the two planets had more than a token colony. Any remaining Ngugma ships remained in their bays and docks. A pair of older-model cruisers and three large, but not giant, freighters could be seen, attached along the rim of the base.

A series of demands and threats from the invaders alternated with conciliatory but unconvincing messages from the station crew. To pass the time, the invaders began putting holes in the freighters at dock. Presently, the station crew seemed to recognize that the invaders were not going to be conciliated. But Ngugma like to remain alive, just as humans, Fyaa and Primoids all like to remain alive. At that point, the dialog became much more constructive.

“You will move all personnel to living quarters, and leave your main control room sealed off,” Park instructed the Ngugma, and they did so. “You will send us schematics of your entire station,” she told them, and that was done. Then Padfoot, Hhmvyvya, Kalkar and a couple of Primoids went over the schematics and compared them with what their own sensors could tell from outside, as they approached to within a hundred thousand kilometers.

“Be aware,” Park told the locals, “that we are prepared to kill all of you. We have that capacity. If you do not want to die, then stay exactly where you are and do nothing that would in any way affect our use of your control room.”

“Commander,” said Natasha, “the Primoids think we can do what we need to with just what’s in the auxiliary cargo control room up here. It’s got the main control between it and where the Ngugma are.”

“Exactly,” said Park. “And send Apple and Izawa out, better send Clay and Rachel too, and put some holes in the main control, because I think it needs a little ventilation.”

“You want it open to space,” said Rachel.

“Just don’t damage anything else, if you can avoid it.”

“Can do, Commander,” said Clay. “Rache, she called us by our first names.”

“Kleiner,” said Park, “you’re going in with Hhmvyvya and however many Primoids and Errhatzky you think you need. Can you be off in an hour?”

“We can be off in five minutes,” said Natasha. “The Primoid cruiser can get us there, if it’s okay for us to blow open the cargo airlock.”

“It’s fine,” said Park. “Can you be back in an hour? I’m a little leery of radiation leaks, whether accidental or intentional on the part of our hosts.”

“We’ll watch out,” said Natasha. “Primoids are somewhat resistant to radioactivity. Did you know that?”

“Well, you’re not,” Park said, almost in chorus with Vera and Rachel.


An hour later, the expedition to the Ngugma starbase had returned. They had plenty of information, and, thanks to Apple and Izawa, supervised by Rachel and Clay in loco parentis, the main and auxiliary control rooms were empty of air. The invaders’ fleet was already putting distance between itself and the station. There was quite a crowd in the Honshu bridge, where images of just a few of the documents downloaded from the Ngugma were displayed, and translated, on the bridge screens.

“There’s a lot to digest,” said Padfoot. “How long do we have before we decide where to go next?”

“We stay here a week,” said Park. “We can go put our feet down on an outer planetoid. We’re a hundred plus light years from Bluehorse and fifty from the next Ngugma population center, this place we’re calling Pentestella. And eleven thousand years from the war zone. I think we can afford a week.” Everyone noticeably relaxed. “But we know where we’re going next. Some of us are going back, to Fyatskaab, then on to Bluehorse, to Primoid Center. Some of us are going on. To Pentestella.”

“Wait,” said Clay. “Who’s going back and who’s going on?”

“The Primoids are going back, they told me that,” said Natasha.

“The Fyaa cruisers are going back,” said Skzyyn by Clay’s ear. “But Dzvezyets and I are going on a little further.”

“And we’re going on, Hunkalicious,” said Rachel. “We are going all the way.”