“So in your opinion,” I asked Hal, “where would the best place for us to go?”
Hal responded without any hesitation. “That depends on your purpose. I’ve simulated multiple versions of the upcoming battle. Judging from the Ascendancy’s soldiers movements, their goal appears to be first of all to capture or kill the leadership and then to move on to destroying the rest of the colonists.
“I don’t know where Jadzen Akri and the Council will be with certainty, but I know where the battle between the Xiniti and Ascendancy forces will be. The probability is that the battle will be fought at a clearing roughly one mile west of here. I believe there to be a shelter there, but since their shelter are designed to be hard to detect by Alliance and Ascendancy technology, I can’t be sure. Were you to go there, you’d be in an excellent position to defend the colony’s leadership.
“In many of my simulations, the colony’s leadership is destroyed or captured because Kamia is singularly effective against them. Your group is effective against her as well as her compatriots. However, that will not help very much in protecting the rest of the colony. The Ascendancy forces are searching for the colony’s shelters and destroying them as they find them. Should it be impossible to capture the leadership and the spaceship battle returns to the area of space around the planet, they will simply bombard anywhere they suspect colonists might be hiding.”
Kals made a small noise somewhere between a grunt and a moan and looked me in the eye, talking into my helmet. “You’re saying that even if we save my mom, they still might destroy the colony? Is there any way we can prevent that?”
Hal responded in the same calm voice he’d been using. “There is a small chance that by sending a small number of people into space with me, I could direct the Xiniti into a more efficient way of destroying the fleet. Alternately, the capabilities of this ship in combat might swing the battle towards the Ascendancy’s defeat or distract them from attacking this planet.”
“What kind of chance?” I asked. “When you say a small chance, is it small, but worth pursuing or small in the sense of don’t waste your time?”
“The probable futures do not include decision points that lead to this ship becoming essential to the survival of the colony. Intervention by the Cosmic Ghosts or additional Xiniti or Alliance ships is the most probable salvation for the colony.”
“Okay,” Jaclyn said. “We don’t go up in the ship then.”
Keeping her voice low, Rachel asked, “What are the chances the Ghosts arrive soon?”
“I don’t have enough data on the Ghosts to predict their actions. The Ghosts act without being observed. In many cases, it’s not even clear that they’ve been in a place except that some action has been stopped.”
A thought struck me. “Would it help if you regarded Rachel’s abilities as examples of a young Ghost?”
“Nick,” Rachel met my eyes, frowning. “I’m pretty sure they like being a mystery.”
Hal said, “It would give me more data, but not the kind that I need to predict where they will or won’t appear. It is useful information.”
Jaclyn looked around and the group of us and then said, “Alright Hal, how long do we have until we lose our chance to protect the leadership?”
“It varies, but the sooner you arrive, the better your chances of success.”
Jaclyn nodded. “That’s the way it always works. We’ll need directions. Can you send us a map?”
“I can direct you with the GPS.”
Jaclyn looked over at me. “We didn’t put any satellites in orbit, did we?”
I shook my head. “No.”
Hal said, “The planet has the standard Alliance system set up. I can translate between it and your systems.”
Thinking about that, I said, “I wish I’d known that earlier. I was pretty sure we didn’t have access to GPS at all… That said, we probably ought to go.”
The map appeared in everyone’s HUD. It wasn’t far away—which was good because Tiger wasn’t as fast as the rest of us. Going slow enough that he could keep up wasn’t a problem, but it did make me feel a little weird about bringing a puppy into a big fight.
I hadn’t come up with a better alternative by the time we reached the clearing. As we reached it, it wasn’t much. On the one side of the open, grassy area, there were trees. On the other side, there were more trees. Even I could tell they were a different type.
A shelter stood on the far side, but this was different from any other I’d seen in that there were more than one hundred colonists around it, all of them armed with guns and wearing armor that adjusted to match the scenery around to the point that they were almost invisible.