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Some seconds went past. Then Rachel said, “Okey dokey, hubby-hunk.  Getting an idea here. Prep for sep.”

“What?” Clay asked. “Don’t you hate separation? And at this acceleration?”

She slid a bar on her screen with her right hand, and one on his screen with her left hand. She did them in perfect simultaneity, and was totally adorable doing it. “Now. Separation. We’ll still be ten meters apart.”

“Okay,” said Clay. “Tell me we’re not taking on two Ngugma cruisers.”

“Not if this works,” she said. “Now suit on up, much as it pains me to suggest.”

“Believe me,” said Clay, taking in Rachel’s body yet again, “it hurts me too.”

They got their vac suits on again, executed the separation procedures and took up their position ten meters apart, and then Rachel sent Clay and his Ghost their instructions.

“Clay,” said Rachel, smiling at him from the left side of his screen, “I’ll let you hit the engage button if you want. It’s up on your screen.”

“Hey, there it is,” said Clay. “It says Okey dokey. Thanks, Rache.” He put his hand on the green button in the middle of his view. “So are you going to let me in on this plan?”

“We are going to veer sharp left, Clay. We are going to take these hairy bleepholes on a ride. And then we are going to leave them here and head for Alpha C more or less as planned.”

“Is there anything else I need to know?”

“Nope. Trust me?”

“Of course,” said Clay, and they smirked at each other (of course).

According to the program, the two Ghosts went over to full deceleration for a solid two hours. Twelve minutes into the third hour, they fired off a dozen of their guitar-pick-sized missiles onward along their course, in close formation. Then both fighters opened up on full acceleration perpendicular to their velocity vector.

The two cruisers delayed just a little in maneuvering to follow. But follow they did, accelerating at about 90% of the rate that the Ghosts could manage. Another two hours went by, and the Ngugma were clearly pushing their cruisers as hard as they could, and they began to gain on their quarry, and then the Ghosts were suddenly decelerating on full. They veered slightly to the left, and suddenly a planetoid was in their way. They soared past it at an altitude of a hundred meters and a velocity of four thousand kilometers per second. Their courses bent under its small gravitation, a fraction of Earth’s, but the Ngugma did not accurately judge the effect and allowed the gap in acceleration vectors to increase again.

Another four hours passed, at nearly full acceleration, and another planetoid approached. The Ghosts passed over it at an altitude of eighty meters, and a velocity of seven thousand kilometers per second, its course bent again, the opposite direction, a little away from the distant, dot-sized Sun. Again, the Ngugma misjudged the precise effect and the gap widened faster.

And then, just as the cruisers were pushing their engines beyond whatever their maximum was, the Ghosts were decelerating hard, in line, pushing their metaphorical brake pedals to the floor. And in just under two hours, they were coasting to a stop in the immediate vicinity of a third, quite tiny planetoid, an object of Sol’s inner Oort cloud.

And that was where Rachel and Clay got out and went for a short walk, their boots clamping onto the icy stuff of the object, looking up into the black, star-speckled sky.

“There they go, the dopes,” said Rachel.

“No one outsmarts Commander Rachel Andros,” said Clay.

“Not Commander, silly boy.”

“Wait till we get home. Anyway, would my sensors have been mistaken in perceiving signatures of certain P-group metals nearby? Say, osmium and iridium?”

“No, they would not have,” said Rachel. “Come on, muscles. Let’s get that thing clamped onto your vehicle and get headed for Alpha C.”

“Of course, wife-a-licious.”