“Now,” Jadzen said, moving her eyes across the group, “we have at least three different problems left. First, while there may be more of us than them, they’re all trained military and we aren’t. Second, they still have the shuttles, fighters, and military equipment. We don’t have much military equipment. Third, they had members of the Ascendant Guard, the First Ascendant’s elite forces, on the Annihilation—two of whom we’ve been told about—Neves and Kamia. There may be more. In addition, they have a motivator—Agent 957. We have members of the Xiniti nation, but they can’t solve all of our problems. We will have to fight along with them.
“Our plan is to make their numbers a disadvantage, damage or destroy their ships, and hope that between the Xiniti and ourselves, we can handle what’s left.”
I raised my hand. “You know where I’d start? Those force field generators you’ve got. I was looking over the design with my implant and it looks like you could set a timer that would turn off the force field. After that, though, you could change the width of the projection to something really thin, maybe monomolecular, and rake across the ships. I don’t know how long the power would last after that, but you’d poke holes in the ships and it would open the whole place up for the animals.”
Two men on the other side of the circle from me laughed. Both wore homespun clothes with grey, blocky weapons holstered on their hips. Short and narrow-faced, they might have been brothers. I thought I remembered seeing them with Alanna’s tech group.
“We’re not laughing at you,” one of them said. “I’ve been telling Sian over here that someone would figure it out eventually.”
The other guy—Sian, presumably, gave a slow grin that reminded me a little of Lee. I didn’t feel the telltale hint that he was an inhuman, eldritch being from beyond time, but I did have a gut feeling that the two of them were casual killers.
Sian leaned over the glowing map between us. “We’ve been using the technique for assassinations back home. We have a list of spots where making little holes will disable a shuttle. Asan and I are still calculating if the shield generators will have enough power, but they should.”
The other guy—Asan—said, “Look, from what we’ve got so far, I’m 99% certain it will work.”
Jadzen didn’t let them go any further. “We’ve been watching the Ascendancy camp from a distance and they seem to be fighting among themselves—not an all-out civil war, but we saw what appears to be the naval commander’s body on the ground near one of the shuttles. Since then, there have been a number of murders among the naval staff—“
Sian muttered, “The agent’s consolidating power.”
Jadzen glanced over at him and frowned but continued, “and they don’t appear to have organized any kind of patrol schedule with the fighters yet or replaced the codes on our shield generators with their own. Since the starport is now nearly empty of people, Sian and Asan will use the shield generators to damage the shuttles and the fighters. Meanwhile, our people will herd the native megafauna toward their main camp. When they arrive, the shields will be down except for the shields around the towns themselves, and the animals will be able to charge and attack whatever they like.
“We know that after we do this, they’ll retaliate. It’s possible that they’ll try to find us in the tunnels and it’s certain that someone will have the technology to find us. We’re going to hope that they’re too busy to try, but if that happens, those of us remaining in the caves will resist. We’ll let those of you outside the caves know if we can’t handle what we’re facing, but your primary responsibility will be to find and capture or kill the leadership—Agent 957 and the Ascendancy’s guard.”
It sounded reasonable even if finding the leadership in the chaos of a big fight would be harder than it sounded. I asked our group with my implant.
Katuk sent back, “Our implants can monitor Ascendancy battle communications if we’re in range. I believe we have a realistic chance.”
I checked the implant’s data on secret communication methods that they’d broken and the Xiniti had broken quite a few—both enemies and allies. I doubted that the Hrrnna and the Alliance would be happy to find out how much the Xiniti had access to, but I wasn’t planning to tell anyone.
Jadzen went on, assigning people to specific duties, but we were set. As she talked, I checked with the group. “Just to get this straight, but we’re all going in with the animals, right?”
A few feet down the circle from me, Jaclyn gave a lopsided smile, sending back, “That’s it. They’ll be sending people with us to start the animals going and Crawls-Through-Desert will be directing us and supporting forces from a distance since he’s experienced at that sort of thing.”
Near Jaclyn, Cassie shook her head. “That’s what I meant when I said we’d have a lot of chances to die. We’re going into battle on the backs of a herd of crazed animals. It’s going to be fun, but is it crazy? Hell, yes.”