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So they set their photon guns to blow holes in the hull, and now and then something would explode behind them. The primoids in front of them inflicted slightly less damage on the battleship and none on Park and Kleiner. A row of guns on the hull before them began pounding at the Ghosts, but Park and Kleiner dropped to under a meter from a smooth section of surface, a track fo equipment; one of the pursuing fighters took a serious hit, and the other two, evading their own ship’s guns, found themselves in near collision, and then found Rachel and Clay blasting them to bits.

Beyond the line of guns, Alpha Wing found itself face to face with the bridge—and of nine more fighters. Park’s command was in two words: “low evade.”

Then the four of them began dodging and weaving at hundreds of meters per second within a meter of the huge bridge, while the newest nine fighters tried to pin them down. These met various fates, all unshared by the fighter pilots of Alpha Wing. One slammed into the bridge itelf; one more took fire from the battleship’s defenses and blew up. Park killed one, Natasha another; Clay and Rachel chopped through three of them. The last two squared off against Su Park and Natasha Kleiner, who fought them with evasion. As Clay and Rachel came up from the other side, they turned and gave their new attackers the what for: Clay’s shield went down at once, and Rachel took a missile to the drive that missed blowing her up but knocked out one of ther batteries. Then the attackers silently went poof, as Natasha took out Rachel’s enemy and Park deftly disabled Clay’s.

They returned to carving up the bridge, but it was frustratingly ineffective. No doubt they were making someone’s life unpleasant, but the big ship didn’t seem to care about getting kicked in the eye. They blew a big hole in it, and Park said, “Kleiner, let’s go in.”

“You’re kidding me,” said Clay, whose acceptance of military protocol was limited.

“You guys keep an eye on our exit,” said Natasha. “We’re going to give this monster some stomach pains.”

“Okey dokey,” said Rachel. “You be careful.”

The two Ghosts disappeared into the guts of the battleship. Their video feed showed them flying down the central corridor blasting away at anything they saw: hatchways, control panels, ductwork, unidentifiable doodads. Clay had eaten things that felt like those fighters going down.

“Clay,” said Rachel. “Check feed three.”

“Oh goddess,” said Clay. “It’s Vera’s feed.”

They could see Vera herself was in no danger: quite the opposite, as she and Timmis Green sawed away at the big ship, making another big hole: those photon guns were, after all, mechanical lasers before they were artillery. A few kilometers away, Celeste Bouvier and Jane Tremblay were fighting seven of the fighters, trying to keep them off the blasters. Another primoid went down, and another, but Bouvier and Tremblay were both out of shield and taking hits.

“We can’t do anything,” said Rachel. “Don’t even think it.”

“I’m not,” said Clay. “Ooh.”

Tremblay took a hit that they both knew instantly was critical. Her hatch popped open and the pilot, safely wrapped in her vac suit, shot out into space cursing. Her fighter blew up two tenths of a second later.

Five primoid fighters surged toward Santos and Green. “Stay Timmis,” Vera warned. Bouvier blasted one foe, not killing it, then dodged a shot back and got in the way of another primoid fighter, the one in the lead of the race to squash Vera and Timmis. It went down to a furious attack by Bouvier, but her original foe and three others were on her now. She managed to finish the job on her old pal from seconds ago, but the next three hits sent several of her systems into the red and on into the purple. Commander Bouvier could be heard trying to get her computer to keep things together right up to the hundredth of a second before her fighter blew up into molecules.

“God damn it,” said Vera, “break off, Tim, let’s get this.”