In a maneuver that felt choreographed, the Xiniti ships all moved to the right side of the bottom of the Ascendancy battleship, firing bright beams at a spot three-quarters of the way down the battleship’s side.
Flame burst from the spot and the back of the ship. The battleship’s nose turned downward, aiming for the ground and hitting it, throwing up dirt, rocks, smoke, and flame.
The ground moved as it hit. It wasn’t hard enough to make anyone fall over, but it was hard enough to feel. Along with the shock came a series of booming noises accompanied by the screech of hard surfaces scraping against each other, finishing in a final thud.
It was long out of their screens’ view by the time that was over, but one screen showed the side of a large hill. The forest cascaded into the small valley below and then up the hills on the other side. Past them rose a great cloud of black smoke in the distance. Chunks of the top of several hills had been ripped off, destroying the trees and exposing dirt and rock, leaving mangled pieces of the hull, some of them still glowing in spots, making thin trails of smoke in the air above where they touched the trees.
I hoped that they weren’t hot enough to start a forest fire. That could be worse than fighting the Ascendancy. We had a hope of winning against them in a fight, but we weren’t prepared to fight fires.
I thought back to Larry’s “Rhinomobile,” a tank-like vehicle he’d designed for combat, but included hoses in case he started fires. Judging from stories my grandfather told me about Larry, it seemed wise. He did seem to do more damage than you’d expect.
That said, Grandfather’s claim that Larry had something to do with the volcanic eruption of Mt. Saint Helens seemed unlikely.
I had a moment of wondering what technology I could get out of the ship, but I knew better. Assuming the technology survived the fall and the explosions, the ship was too hot inside and possibly radioactive.
On the bright side, if this could be considered a bright side, any people inside were dead—which meant no reinforcements for the planetside Ascendancy troops.
Well, not until the Ascendancy decided to send a landing force down. It wasn’t likely until the battle was over or close to it. According to the Xiniti implant, Ascendancy dropships were relatively easy targets if you knew they were there. It was when they dropped at night and outside of a battle that they became useful. In that situation, they reached the ground quickly and then you had to deal with ground forces.
Whatever I knew about the Ascendancy forces, the colonists must have also known because they all watched the smoke, but they didn’t seem scared.
Jadzen Akri put the best possible face on it. “That’s one more down. If the Xiniti can keep that up, the Ascendancy ships may not survive the night.”
On the screens that showed the sky, Xiniti ships flew upward, disappearing into the blue.
Turning to us, Jadzen asked, “Do you know what the situation is in space? Are the fleets large?”
Jaclyn looked her in the eye. “I don’t know how many there are, but right now there are two fleets—Xiniti and the Ascendancy. We don’t know who’s winning.”
I spoke up too. “There are at least five Ascendancy battleships—one less now, but I’d be surprised if that meant there were only four left. I got the impression that the ships I was seeing were only a small part of the fleets. The Xiniti didn’t have as many ships, but they had enough to be roughly equal.”
Another thought pushed its way to the front of my brain. “Have you seen any sign of Katuk or the plant?”
Jadzen shook her head and then looked around the room. “Have any of you seen them?”
A few people said, “No,” while others said nothing—an answer in its own way.
“You’re welcome to stay here,” Jadzen said. “Our best chance for survival is to remain here out of sight until the people above us are finished fighting. We have hundreds of hidden retreats. The plant and the Xiniti could easily be with any of our groups.”
I turned to Jaclyn, “What do you think?” Noticing Cassie’s scowl, I added, “What does everybody think?”
Cassie leaned forward, “I think that Katuk’s out there alone, he’s going to go after Kamia and die. He practically said he would when he first found out she was here.”
Marcus sighed. “He kind of did, didn’t he? She killed a bunch of his people. I don’t have the faintest clue how we’d find him though, not without opening up our implants to the world and getting Kamia’s attention ourselves.”
Jaclyn frowned. “I don’t like the idea, but I think we should stay here. We can’t do much out there except attract attention to ourselves. If we do that, we’re either going to die or accidentally reveal any colonists who happen to be nearby.”
“That’s probably the best idea,” I said. “I agree with Jaclyn.”
The discussion went on longer than that, but that was what we settled on. After that, there’s not much to be said. We had a meal of the Ascendancy equivalent of an MRE and sat there in the dark, listening to the chirp of the insects and the howls and screams of distant wildlife.
We hoped it was distant, anyway.
A few hours into the night, HAL woke all of us up with a message, “The battle has shifted away from this planet, but that’s not all. Though the main bodies of both fleets are fighting further away from here, the Ascendancy and the Xiniti have both released dropships on the planet, all of them heading for the colony.”