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2.

The pilots thought they’d go take over the Canada’s main observation deck and get drunk and dance, but they couldn’t get up the enthusiasm. Rachel got herself a pale ale, and Clay got one and sat down with her, and when Natasha came over, Rachel said, “The heck with this. So, I made up a little simulator thing.”

“A simulator thing?” said Vera Santos, sitting down next to Rachel.

“I’m going to guess,” said Natasha, “she’s fed in the data about the BLBM’s.”

“Lumpoids of Death,” said Clay.

“Shadowballs,” said Timmis, hovering near.

“Mouthholes,” said Bouvier.

“Jana’s Bane,” said Clay.

“What?” asked Bonnie Bain, next to him. She was one beer ahead, and a little giddy: Clay was feeling waves of affectionate pal-ship from her direction. She handed him a pipe, lit.

He looked up at Su Park, who reached down and took the pipe from him. She took a drag on it and handed it to Vilya.

“No, Bane, like something that causes your doom or something.” For some reason this line caught people’s attention: at least seven fighter pilots were looking at him, which Clay was not used to. “Okay,” said Clay, “gonna guess that Rachel wants us to go try out her simulator.”

So they repaired to the Canada’s bay, where each of the twelve climbed into her or his fighter and set up the simulation. They formed up into wings in cyberspace, Bonnie Bain taking tail in Beta Wing.

“All right,” said Rachel, “let’s try Simulation Level One.”

Each wing had its own little bony black beach ball. The frequency patterns that Bluehorse had worked out were somewhat effective, but they didn’t seem to do it any actual damage and eventually it got to one of them: Clay, the first time, who suddenly saw it careening toward him, indeed standing still as it got larger and larger. And then it hit him. Mouth open. And then there was a cute animation of a cartoon version of the thing eating his display, and he was dead.

He climbed out of his Ghost. Against her ghost, right next to his in Beta’s row, Bonnie Bain leaned, having another pipeful. He floated over and she handed him the pipe. “So,” she said, “got killed first, you too?”

“Yeah, we’ll get more tries. We should vary the frequencies. Oh, maybe try missiles. I wonder what we could to with one of those.” He was waving the pipe, and Vera Santos took it and had a drag.

“One of what?” said Vera.

“A missile. You know, the scout probe, except that I think we’re allowed to call it a missile now.”

“Well,” said Bain, who had spent less time in simulators than he had, but more time in the mechanics’ shops aboard the France and the Corsica, “our current missile guidance system is all about chasing a signal, and we don’t have a signal here, or do we?”

“A signal? What sort of signal are we talking about?”

“Oh, you know, if you wanted to use missiles against another Ghost, you’d aim it and it would go blow up anything that emitted the same types of signals that a Ghost emits. You can fool systems like that, but they’re smart systems and it’s not easy to fool them. But these things. What would you hear?” She took the pipe back and took a pull. “Digestion?”

“Okay,” said Clay, “let’s think about that.”

More hatches opened. Tremblay got out, looked at Natasha getting out, and they both laughed. In a minute everyone was standing outside their Ghosts.

“So, any luck?” asked Park. “I had plenty of luck. I was the last one to get chomped.”

“Me too,” said Gil Rojette. “Ironic, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Vilya, “love the little graphic at the end, Rachel. Very cute. Anyone got any ideas? Because that was just one of those guys, folks. Gil and Bluey went up against five of them.”

“Yeah, I do have ideas, actually,” said Rachel. “I got some ideas. Don’t know if they’ll work.”

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