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The eight fighters got out of the immediate vicinity and regrouped, to the extent of assuring none of them was just about to explode and getting Jane Tremblay fitted inside Timmis Green’s Ghost. Whatever message was that the remaining battlecruiser was trying to get across, it was no longer firing on them, nor were the two cruisers that had broken formation to come try and help the battleship. The eight Ghosts turned to accelerate toward their comrades in the area of Bluehorse-3. There had been a fight there too.

Nine primoid fighters remained intact—nine that had been sent back before the squadron engaged with the two Earthling escorts, two armored freighters and the four fighters of Beta wing. The nine remaining Primoid fighters were coming toward Clay and his pals, accelerating away from Bluehorse-3, where the colony ships were all successfully landed: the fourth and final one, the Argentina, was just in the process of putting down on a gravel flat near an inlet. Ted Trein was unstrapping, shaking hands with his bridge crew and preparing to go out into the morning sunlight; elsewhere others were having the same experience, though it was raining steadily on the Canada and Ally Schwinn and Alice Grohl and Jill-ann Mooney.

The remains of eighteen primoid fighters were still on course to be gravitationally captured by Bluehorse-3, where they would eventually rain down as shooting stars over the next ten years in salute to the new colony. Minutes before, they had looked certain to overcome the defenders and overwhelm the colony ships.

They had approached within ten thousand kilometers of Beta Wing, with the escorts ten thousand kilometers behind that, and they began to pick up echoes from chunks of moving rock. What seemed to be a meteor shower was brewing between the eighteen attacking fighters and the four defenders. The primoids deftly split into two groups of nine, one above and one below what seemed to be a planar shower, though whether the primoids for even a second believed that the the Earthlings had nothing to do with the meteor cloud is frankly doubtful. They came on.

The nine on top found the escorts and the freighters laying down nicely coordinated corridors of lethal light. The primoids dodged among these just as nicely, picking their way toward the big ships as they fired off their own muscular missiles.

The nine on the bottom found themselves veering around chunks of rock on erratic paths, and from behind the third through tenth of these, Ghost 201s emerged: Beta Wing and four patched-up colony ship fighters, flown by Anand Ree, a slight, affable, vaguely Indian man of a certain age, a young blonde named Sally Smit, and a couple of teenage colonists who had scored high, Maria Apple and Meena Manan. The bottom nine began to go down in a row: the only losses on the Earthling side were both Ree and Smit getting their fighters disabled early on.

Two of the primoids actually got hit by chunks of rock while evading the onslaught. Bonnie Bain, Jamaica Leith, Indra Singh and Maria Apple all took their opponents from behind, using the advantage of their trajectories to quickly dispatch their larger foes. Sally Smit got in a serious tiff with her opponent: the two wore each other down to the point where they were practically sitting in their pilot seats floating in space holding joy sticks. At some point, the alien enemy lost combat and thrust, but Smit took its last missile to the drive and had to eject her entire engine. Ree went down against his foe, losing the front of his fighter and being left with his vac suited feet sticking out. Manan found herself caught up against a much better pilot, but she went over to evade after losing her shield and managed to keep chunks of rock between her and her opponent, until it was joined by the other remaining reptiloid.

The two hunted Meena Manan around the ten meter chunk of rock at peculiarly slow speeds, and then all of a sudden they both took off, and the fighter behind them, which cut one in half and then neatly zapped the other, was Li Zan.

The freighters and the escorts were taking serious damage, but rocks continued to cascade in from odd angles and that was driving the attackers across fire lanes. One, then another, then another: three fighters went in on the Abstraction and three against the Quality, and the Abstraction gunners took out two of their three before they could get close.

The Quality had a worse time, getting pounded close up by three enemies that it couldn’t hit. Tasmania and Greenland came up to its defense, but the enemy had discovered where the drive section was and were blasting it into overload. One of the fighters went down to the Greenland’s missiles. Then two Ghost 201s came firing up through the meteor cloud: Li Zan and Bonnie Bain, followed by Maria Apple, Indra Singh and Jamaica Leith. The last two enemy fighters were gone.

“Are they going to blow?” Alfred Kalkar asked Irah Chontz.

“Yes, they are going to blow,” said Chontz.

“When are they going to blow?”

“There’s a 50% chance they’ll last at least six minutes.”

“Let’s go in,” said Kalkar. “Fast rescue condition and let’s have red alert.” In thirty seconds Tasmania and the highly docile, highly fragile Quality were docking. In five more seconds, the hatchway was open. It took ninety more seconds to move the entire 8-person escort crew into Tasmania. Five more seconds and they were pushing away, while the Quality pushed the other way on auto pilot. Two minutes and ten seconds had passed, and another thirty-five seconds later the Quality blew up, drive first and then, a half second later, the rest of the systems all at once.

“All hands are safe and accounted for,” Jack Dott reported from main freight several minutes after the Quality blew.

“I don’t think we lost a single person,” said Irah Chontz. “Three fighters are disabled, but no one died.”

“That’s strange,” said Kalkar. “No dead? All we lost was machinery?”

“All we lost was machinery,” said Chontz.

“And it wasn’t my machinery,” said Kalkar. “Well, excellent. You know what’s stranger? Look what Su Park and her people have done.”

“Oh my goddess,” was the general consensus, as the photons from the explosion of the primoid battleship, moving at the speed of light, began to reach the freighter’s sensors.