I held my breath for a moment, thinking about how it would work. “Here’s my idea. You know how near space extends nearly to the planet? No one takes advantage of it because anyone with any sense sets up near space mines around the planet. It’s cheap and easy to do for most planetary governments. But here’s the thing, it’s not cheap or easy for a small colony like this, so you never did it, right?”
Jadzen didn’t say anything at first, but after frowning, she said, “No. We couldn’t afford it. The mines around the Lagrange point were all we could fit in the budget.”
I nodded. “Right. So there aren’t any mines in near space because you couldn’t afford it. Also, that ship above us may have mines, but they probably aren’t sending them out yet because they don’t know how long they’re going to be staying. Plus they’ve got control of your mines so they’ve got control of all the probable routes into the system. They’ve got control of real space and someone coming in through jump space has to enter real space first. Only after that could they go into near space.
“I’ll do what I’ve done before in this situation—flip into near space on the planet, come out of it right next to the ship and start blasting away before they have time to respond. They’ll be surprised because they destroyed your fighters and they didn’t see any evidence of our ship. At least that’s my theory. They might have a few ships outside the main ship and those ships are probably near space capable, but they won’t expect us the first time. After that, it’ll get complicated.”
My implant registered questions from everyone in our group or near to it. I set up a private channel for Jaclyn, Cassie, Katuk, Marcus, Tikki, and Kals because they were asking the questions—more or less. Katuk, Marcus, and Tikki hadn’t asked anything, but I included them because I didn’t think I should leave them out.
“When have you done this before?” Jaclyn’s voice sounded in my head.
“In video games,” I told her, “but not some random space game, a realistic one. I told you about it.”
She shook her head. “The ship’s video game. I do remember it. Do you think it could possibly be as good as the real thing?”
“Well,” I said, “you were with us when the ship ran us through exercises on the way out. What did you think?”
“I felt like I was there.” She nodded.
Tikki, who I remembered made some kind of hobby out of AI, said, “It appears to be a powerful AI whose primary focus is combat simulations. I would trust its judgement implicitly in such things. When we trained on the way here, it became clear to me that it was one of the more powerful AI’s of its type.”
“Grandpa found it after a battle near our planet,” I told her. “He scavenged almost every piece of the ship.”
Tikki’s face lit up. “I would never have guessed. It was connected seamlessly and he’d improved on what he found. He had an amazing mind.”
“If you’re confident,” Jaclyn’s voice stayed even, “then go for it.”
Kals’ voice broke into the conversation. “Everything Nick said fit with what I learned about space combat in school. I wasn’t a specialist, but I’m comfortable with his plan. They won’t expect it.”
Outside of our channel, I looked over Jadzen, the Council and the plant in addition to our group. “I’ll need a volunteer to help me with either weapons or piloting. I can do both, but I’ll do better with only one.”
Marcus waved his hand. “I’ve got more hours training in the ship than anyone else here and I’m less useful in a straight fight than most. I’ll go.”
Jadzen Akri looked us over. “If you’re going on the attack, we’ll have to prepare to fight. I’d like the rest of you to meet what there is of our fighting force.”
Then she turned to me. “When are you going to go?”
I thought about it. “Now, I guess. The longer we wait, the more likely they are to start mining near space.”
“Then we’ll have to signal our people immediately.” She looked over at Kals.
“I know,” Kals said, her voice raising. “I’m part of what little we’ve got of a fighting force. I’ll show you there.”
As everyone began to leave, I commanded my armor to reassemble. It covered me, reorganizing into the “fake Xiniti” version within a few seconds.
Marcus stepped up as it finished. “What’s the most convenient form for you to carry me in? I can fly after you if you’re not worried about speed, but if you are, I could hang on and turn into something aerodynamic.”
We went with the second option. Marcus hung on to my legs and transformed into a shape that reminded me of a paper airplane. I felt a little less maneuverable, but it wasn’t too bad.
We flew out of the tunnels and out over the water of the ocean near the tunnels’ stone cliffs. It didn’t take long before I flew over the area where the ship had hidden itself. The ship surfaced and we went in for a landing, Marcus letting go as I circled and swooping down next to me as my feet touched the hull.
He swung inside the hatch before I managed to climb down to it, but then we were both inside. “Hal,” I told the AI, “we’re going to have to either destroy the ship or hurt the main gun so badly they don’t have a chance of fixing it.”
[I’m already running simulations of the possibilities. I’ll give you a list of your best options shortly.]