Next to me, Haley paused as she’d been turning back toward the dashboard. “A pretty good time?”
Lee smiled wider. “The best. In moments like that people stop worrying about how you get things done. They need it done, and they don’t have time to care how. Say you have a Skerrish battle station orbiting the planet. Normally you’d try to talk them into leaving, but if you’re in the middle of a battle, barely anyone cares if you ram them with one of their own heavy cruisers. As long as the battle station’s out of the fight, no one complains.”
Haley turned back to the dashboard without saying anything, and we took the jet out the underwater airlock into Lake Michigan, the engines humming as we traveled underwater.
After twenty minutes we surfaced, started the main engines, and flew into the sky. Staring down at the ice that ran down the coast, I reflected that I could have used the jet’s guns to burn a hole through the ice and surfaced earlier.
Deciding it didn’t matter that much, I took the jet up to 30,000 feet, and then I started to pile on the speed. Not long after that we left Earth’s atmosphere, entering space somewhere over Canada. I hoped they didn’t mind. They’d sent us a sternly worded note after we’d flown up there to rescue Cassie from Rook.
To be fair, the rescue had ended with a couple massive explosions, and we’d only let them know we were flying up through back channels, but we had good reason for that. Unfortunately the guy who’d written the note hadn’t been reached through the channels we’d used.
Well anyway, they didn’t try to radio the jet, send RCMP’s capes after us, or try shoot us out of the sky, so we were probably okay.
Once we got into space, I aimed us toward Mars orbit. The jump gate and the Xiniti were at Lagrange point four—an interesting choice. Lagrange points one and two would have been right next to Mars relatively speaking. Points three, four, and five weren’t very close. Either the Xiniti wanted the jump point to be inconvenient, or they wanted to bring something through the jump gate that was so large that being at L1 or L2 would be inconvenient.
Of the two, the former seemed more likely.
It took an hour and half to reach the jump gate and the Xiniti space station near it. We weren’t contacted by anyone during the flight. That was okay. Last time around, we’d talked to too many people.
After forty-five minutes of deceleration, we arrived. I aimed toward the station, avoiding the “lanes” that ships exiting the jump gate used.
Not that there were any ships. Earth was a provincial backwater in the middle of a forbidden section of space. All the same, if a ship did come through the gate, it would be moving at a speed we couldn’t easily dodge.
The Xiniti space station was ball shaped, escaping a resemblance to Star Wars’ Death Star only because its gray surface was smooth, unmarked by an indentation for a planet destroying laser—not to mention a trench.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Vaughn said.
I ignored him.
“Oh come on, you had to get that reference,” he said.
“I did,” I told him, checking the dashboard for messages. “It’s just that I am a little nervous. I’d expected them to have hailed us by now.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Lee said. “If the Xiniti regard you as trustworthy, they won’t hail you. See the landing bays near the bottom. Try to land there. If they want you to land somewhere else, they’ll say something.”
A glowing green, but transparent shield covered the openings to the bays. I adjusted the jet’s course, and it descended toward them.
That’s when the messages started.
[AI ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL OF SHIP’S COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS]
[The Xiniti are requesting that you land in the third bay above the bottom.]
I adjusted the ship’s heading.
“Done,” I said. “Anything else?”
[The Xiniti are requesting that if this ship contains one they call ‘Eater of Abominations and Slayer of Kin’, they intend to speak to him privately regarding compensation for their losses.]
My first impulse was to say, “We don’t have anyone named anything like that here,” but I knew better.
Still keeping my eyes on the dashboard, and aiming toward the bay where the green force shield had already disappeared, I said, “Lee? Are the Xiniti mad at you?”
Lee sounded amused at my worry. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve had a few minor misunderstandings over time, but since I don’t have my own spaceship, I never got a chance to clear them up. Looks like I’ll get to now.”
I took a breath. “Are you sure they won’t try to… uh… do something to you?”
I leveled off, checked the dashboard, fired off the front maneuvering rockets to slow us a little more.
Lee laughed. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not going to be any big deal. They’ll show you the traffic logs, and I’ll join you later.”