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7.

They had sat in their Ghosts for another minute or so watching as the crippled station blasted away at the attacking mouthholes.

“Well,” said Rachel, “I suppose we’d better have another bash at it. So what avenue shall we try? I can try calling them again.”

“Rachel,” said Clay, “this may come as a shock, but I have an idea.”

“Does it involve us getting into the station without getting shot at?”

“I suspect so.”

“You suspect?” Rachel repeated. “Well, that’s good enough for me, at this stage. Just let’s be ready to pull the plug on this attempt if we get in trouble. And don’t tell me we’re not going to get in trouble.”

“Oh, I’m definitely not going to tell you that.” He finished sliding things around on his screen, he typed a bit more, then he slid and poked a few times, and then he hit Send. “Navigation coming at you, Rache,” he said.

“Hmm. Ohh kay.” She pushed and slid and poked and then typed a few corrections, and then with a smile that lit up Clay’s fighter, she sent the nav program back to him. “That should work out excellently,” she said. “Your mark?”

“Thank you,” said Clay. “Here’s your go signal.”

With a swipe of a finger, he sent both fighters on their way. They came around sideways, leaving the station on their right, only visible in magnified view at over 40,000 km. The course came in along a shallow spiral, which became much steeper when they came around behind the planetoid. For a short time, they were hidden, decelerating hard while flying almost straight at the planet’s surface. It was mostly bare ice, with a few silicate mountains poking through into the scanty inert gas atmosphere.

Its atmosphere, and certainly its gravity, were no match for the Ghosts. They pulled out over the curving ice sheet—the planetoid was just large enough to be rounded into a sphere—and came over the horizon at an altitude of four meters, flying ten meters apart, at a speed of forty kilometers a second.

“Do not say yee ha,” Rachel texted Clay as they pulled straight up toward the station.

“Hey,” he said over the comm, “to the right there. Sending—!”

“Mouthholes,” called Rachel. “Four at 180 behind us. I’m with you, babe.”

The black of space was again replacing the eerie dark turquoise and the shine of the planet below. Ahead of them, the spidery space station and the attached damaged colony ship were tiny but getting larger. Mouthholes began to appear, coming around the station, which had an emplacement on its underside too. This emplacement started right in blasting at the mouthholes, and one, hit directly, busted in half and fell toward the icy surface below.

“We better get cover before they start trying for us,” said Rachel.

“Got the shadow of the ship there,” said Clay. “Just hang on, we’re going to be hitting the brakes hard.” He pulled upward, according to what happened to be the way he was facing. Rachel followed, firing off half a dozen of her missiles: the evil little ducks headed back along their path, converging on the pursuing mouthholes. The first of these went up, and the remaining missiles started to draw fire from the station, and then Clay and Rachel were behind the old colony ship, decelerating as they moved directly away from the station in its shadow.

Coming to a stop, the two fighters crept back to the lee of the old derelict colony ship. It was a wreck, but parts of it, particularly the old colonists’ cryogenic freezer section, had been distasteful to the mouthholes. The forward section was apparently still airtight, but the rest of the ship, including the cryogenics section, was open to space. They slowed to a near stop and ambled along the outside of the thing. A vast white wall bore the vast, sans serif Roman letters C E N, culminating in a hole. On the other side some big pieces of equipment hung loose in space.

“Cryo,” said Rachel. “You can tell by the reefer gear there.”

“Reefer gear?”

“Refrigeration,” said Rachel, as they moved up along the E and the N. “My jerk boyfriend worked in refrigetation.”

“Want to check it out?” asked Clay, as the two Ghosts hovered just outside the hole.

“I assumed that was how you planned on getting in,” said Rachel.

“No, I had planned on talking sense into these people, actually, but this is better. Me first?”

“Nonsense. I am the commanding officer. You stick to my tail.”

“I love the way you think,” said Clay.

So Rachel’s Ghost edged forward and entered the hole, which was just wide enough that the two of them could have edged in together. She floated through at three meters per second, then let out a curse as she scooted herself to a stop. Clay came through and had to swerve right to avoid bumping her, but his curse was for the same reason as hers.

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