"It's all set up," Ken breathed nervously. "Nothing else we can do but give it a go."
Torra typed the brief command to open the plasma shutter, and poised a tentacle-digit over the key that would commit it. Its display-facing eye bent toward the temperature reading. "Sending engine heat to the Zero Drive in five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . ." It stabbed down on the Enter key.
Both Ken and Torra felt an instantaneous shock, like the shock of almost falling asleep and jerking into wakefulness — and then, everything was exactly the same as before. No freezing, no frying, not even any new sounds in the hum of Mercurand's working machinery. "Is it on?" Ken asked.
"Those tentacle-fingers of yours look so delicate," Ken tried to regain his composure. "I'm surprised they can grip that hard."
"Our ancestors subsisted partly on baaai(t)i," Torra replied, pronouncing the "aaa" in three-part harmony and the "(t)" with a separate mouth while sustaining the "i." "Centaurian lichen. It grows mostly on sheer rocky cliff faces. In 0.8g, our hands had to grip hard to whatever handholds we could find climbing up there."
"Recording incoming signal," the S.I. intoned. A message display console blipped on, showing the Human-Centauri Defense Force emblem while a voice announced, "From New France, this is HCDF News, July 27 . . ."
"Looks like the ultraviolet from their comm laser isn't blue-shifted either," Torra mused.
News broadcasts from the last ten years rushed past their receiver antennae in quick succession, each one dutifully played and recorded in rapid succession, starting with the first HCDF broadcast beamed along their old course to UV Ceti when their mission began.
They saw the news of their own mission.
They saw the second full year of war. And the third. And fourth. And fifth, and sixth.
They watched in horror as New France and New Mars collapsed into rubble.
They worried as Yukariah Heap negotiated with Krammer, and Ken shook his head while Torra craned its eye stalks in stunned disbelief when the Leonian Fanatic Brigade pulled into Human-Centauri's sacred Citizen Areas.
And then came a newscast from one year ago. . . .
The Pentagon War is continued in chapter 15.
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