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“Clay,” said Rachel.

“We have to sit tight,” said Clay, blasting a few more square meters of opening into the bridge. “They can handle it.” They have to, he thought but did not bother saying.

But three seconds later, Park and Kleiner came squirting out of the enlarged hole in the bridge. “To Vera,” said Rachel.

“Let’s go,” said Park.

The reformed Alpha Wing, not without a lot of damage already, zipped out and around the side of the bridge and down the battleship. The unfought battlecruiser was firing missiles at them, and Clay, in tail position, shot down most of these. When three had fallen in behind him and were chasing him down, Rachel did her patented flip and blasted them, and kept on scooting along backwards a few meters from Clay.

Ahead, Kleiner and Park were coming around what was perhaps a residential wing of the big ship, carving as they went. Gun emplacements were still blasting away at them, and Clay and Rachel, still scooting backwards, reverted to gun emplacement blasting. Then they were around and in view of the area where Gamma Wing had been fighting.

They were fighting no more. Two fighters were coming at Park and Kleiner, signaling. One of them had Jane Tremblay clinging bodily to its hull. Two more fighters were coming in from open space, but like Rachel, backwards: Lidi Moss and Gemma Izawa, both heavily damaged and firing away at two approaching escort cruisers.

“With me,” came Park’s signal. Then she and Rachel and Clay and Vera Santos, the recipients of the message, followed her into the hole Vera and Timmis had made in the hull. Inside, they found a ruinous cavern: the drive section, whatever it was that made the enormous vehicle go. Clay found that Park and Vera had labeled some of what he saw on his screen: words like “Battery” and “Core” and “Controls” decorated his view.

“I’d go with Core,” said Vera, and they all started blasting. There was no observable effect at first; their shots seemed to be absorbed into the energy system, whatever it was. But in just a few seconds, they were getting some very disturbing readings indeed. About one second after Clay thought he would have broken off if it had been up to him, Park gave the order to get out. They whipped around and shot back out of the belly of the beast.

They found Green, Kleiner, Izawa and Moss zipping around near the hull, blasting away at the missiles the cruisers were using to try and pin them down. It seemed humorous only later that Jane Tremblay was hanging onto the outside of Timmis Green’s fighter the whole time, gripped by a couple of mechanical arms that were normally kept retracted: Timmis knew his ship’s equipment, all right, fortunately for his wing second. Meanwhile, the two cruisers and the battlecruiser were having a bit of a traffic jam. Then the four fighters came out of the insides of the battleship and everything changed. They needed no further orders: following Park’s lead, they all accelerated straight at the remaining battlecruiser, Tremblay still clinging to Green.

The battlecruiser tried to back out of their way. The two cruisers started blasting away with their gun emplacements as well as their muscular missiles. Only the battlecruiser was taking any damage. After ten very disturbing seconds the eight remaining fighters came around the battlecruiser and out into open space. Behind them, a sudden radiance grew to solar intensity in moments and then subsided: the supernova explosion of the primoid battleship.

“We did it,” said Vera.

“We lost Celeste,” said Tremblay from her perch on Timmis Green’s Ghost.

“Receiving signal,” said Park. “Rachel, are you getting this?”

A long moment went by. They were all getting signals, from the remaining battlecruiser, in a wave somewhere near the radio spectrum. || ||| ||||| ||||||| |||||||||||. Two, three, five, seven, eleven. Natasha replied in kind. Then a whole string of numbers came at them.

“It’ll take the linguists to figure this out,” said Natasha. “I have no idea what they’re saying.”

“But they’re saying something, that’s for sure,” said Rachel.

“And they’ve stopped shooting,” said Clay.

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