As they completed their checklists, Conn saw someone at a window inside the space station, waving frantically to get their attention. She pointed him out to Jake. Jake tuned back in to the space station’s frequency, then blinked and gawped at what he heard.
Turning back to the moon frequency, he told Conn and Daniels, “There’s what they’re calling a swarm of Pelorian spacecraft inbound. Heading this way.” Daniels and Conn looked at one another. Daniels chuckled nervously.
“Doesn’t have anything to do with us. It can’t,” he said. But the spacecraft had gotten the astronauts’ attention. Jake told the workers to hurry it up.
Since they were in zero-G, Conn was able to pull herself up to the command module’s navigation telescope and look in the general direction of the moon. She saw nothing. Daniels took her place and shook his head.
Jake got back on the radio to the station. “Where’s this swarm coming from? We don’t see it.”
“Your four o’clock,” was the response.
Jake took a look. “Shit on a shingle,” he said. “At least a dozen. I don’t know how big they are, so I can’t tell how far out.”
Conn shouldered him aside. She’d seen plenty of Pelorian shuttles. She gasped. “I don’t think those are shuttles. I don’t know how far away they are, either, but it’s not far enough,” she said. “Are those guys done out there yet?”
“They’re going over their checklist.”
“Can we afford to wait?” Daniels asked. A NASA veteran, Daniels would normally be the most rigid of the three of them when it came to checklists.
“They can’t be coming because of us,” Jake said. “Why would they be? How would they even know?”
“The feeds would have told them we were going to the moon,” Conn said. “But not when. Not now.” The world knew a team would go to the moon to reconnoiter the Pelorian fortress, but details were classified.
Jake radioed the contractors to clear away. They objected. Conn switched to their frequency. “This is Conn Garrow. The person who pays you. Unhook us now and get out of the way.”
Jake barely waited for confirmation they were untethered before he goosed a maneuvering jet. Conn hit the wall. Daniels hit her.
“Sorry,” Jake growled. “Strap in.”
They no longer needed a telescope to see the inbound craft. The ships winked in the sunlight, in roughly a rectangle formation, three rows of four. The astronauts heard Gasoline Alley operations trying to warn the inbound craft to slow down, as well as protesting to Jake that it was unsafe to proceed out.
“I’ve never seen this kind of spacecraft before,” Conn said. They had aggressive, harsh angles, noses shaped like bee stingers, and intimidating protuberances Conn imagined were weapons. It was as though someone had ordered a squadron of spacecraft that were exactly the opposite of the Pelorians’ friendly-looking “rocketships.”
“So they could be OK,” Daniels said. “We really don’t know what they are.”
“We’re not going to find out,” Jake said, clearing the docking bay and dropping below the plane of the space station’s orbit. “Hang on.” He fired an attitude jet, and Rocinante shuddered.
The Pelorian spacecraft each flared and fired jets propelling them in the direction of Rocinante. Some spacecraft broke formation and dipped down, seemingly to intercept the command module.
Jake wasn’t having it. He fired attitude jets three more times to point in the right direction, then let loose with the main engine. The sudden acceleration pressed the astronauts back against the command module walls, and Conn watched the viewscreen in horror as a Pelorian spacecraft got bigger, bigger, bigger. She winced, and braced herself—