The Bigglersport delegation was still on Tanith, trying to recruit mercenaries from the King of Tradetown and dickering with a Gilgamesher to transport them to Gram, when the big lie turned into something like the truth. The observation post on the Moon of Tanith picked up an emergence at twenty light-minutes due north of the planet.
But presently it was alone, and the battle was raging confusion scattered over light-minutes, and somebody went down in to the engine room and brazed in a low-power overdrive unit providentially made by a junior officer and the flagship of the Kandarian fleet waded in erratically, never knowing where it would come out, but rarely failing to find a Mekinese ship to launch at.
"Hi, Art and Joe it's us," Ramos almost apologized. "Yeah we don't quite know yet what Tiflin is pulling. But here we are if it's you we're talking to..." There was the usual long wait as impulses bridged the light-minutes. Then Art Kuzak's voice snarled guardedly. "I hear you, Ram and Nel. Come in, if you can...! Tif, you garbage! Someday...! This is all. This is all..." The message broke off.
As he entered the room the king was speaking. "I don't deny that it was a splendid victory, but I'm saying that our victory was a catastrophe! To begin with, we happened to hit the Mekinese fleet when it was dispersed and disorganized. That was great good fortune if we'd wanted a victory. The enemy was scattered over light-minutes of space. His ships could not act as a massed, maneuverable force.
Half an hour later, there was another one at five light-minutes; a very small one, and then a third at two light-seconds, and this was detectable by radar and microray as a ship's pinnace. He wondered if something had happened on Amaterasu or Beowulf; somebody like Gratham or the Everrards might have decided to take advantage of the defensive mobilization on Tanith.
Most of the single-mounts, landing craft and manipulators and heavy-duty lifters went with him, jamming the decks around the vehicle ports of Valkanhayn's ship. They jumped in to six light-minutes, and while Valkanhayn's astrogator was still fiddling with his controls they began sensing radar and microray detection.
He waited for the light-minutes to pass, before he could hear her voice. "Hello, Frank..." There was the same eager quaver. "Still pretty jammed, Frank... But we know about it here from Art... Some of the Pallastown convalescents will be migrating your way... I'll wrangle free and come along... Maybe in about a month..."
He thought he was cautious when he said, "We're riding a bit heavy for you guys..." But after the twenty minute interval it took to get an answer back over ten light-minutes of distance traversed twice 186,000 miles for every second, spanned by slender threads of radio energy which were of low-power but of low-loss low-dispersal, too, explaining their tremendous range Art Kuzak's warning was carefully cryptic, yet plain to Nelsen and his companions.
It had been designed for this purpose and no other. Its overdrive hops shortened to one light-hour of distance covered. Regularly, its transmitter flung out a repetition of what it had been sent so far to say. In time it arrived within the limits of the Varenga system. Its hops diminished to light-minutes of distance only. It ceased to correct its course.
As usual, time was crowding Nelsen. He had to get back on the job. He had just a couple of hours left. He wrote a letter to Nance Codiss, answering one of hers funny, he'd never yet tried to contact her vocally. Being busy, being cautious about using a beam these were good reasons. Now there was hardly enough spare time to reach twice across the light-minutes.