The spheroidal metallic vandals were at it again, plunging in and chewing off bits of the old colony ship, of the damaged and abandoned sections, of protruding antennae and other equipment, or what was left of them at this point. A few dozen brave individuals figured, according to whatever neural chemistry was available to mouthholes, that this was a good time to have a go at the control areas in hitherto little-damaged Section C.
Clay and Rachel were pulling themselves down the control room, accelerating past the area where Court was taking command of Renko and three others at the lasers, and just passing where Avery was just now occupying the electronic countermeasures chair. A dull loud noise, between a clang and a thud, came from a spot on the bulkhead just by Avery’s position. Another one: clang-thud, and a dent. Then, just a little further on, another, and then a horrible little noise as a crack formed in the wall.
“Seal up suits!” called Court, who then flicked a switch and started another, different alarm sound, a sort of whine-whistle. Everyone started fumbling for their helmets, which were updates of the old plastic bubble. Clay stopped to pull his helmet over his head.
Clang-thud, and another horrible tearing sound. He looked to his left, and Avery, her helmet not quite shut right, was wrestling with a broomstick. No, she was trying to use a broomstick to beat on a thing, a brown-black-grey thing, and its horrid little invented mouth was chewing up the broomstick, literally chewing it up, pulling the handle into its mouth, dragging, somehow, the gagging Avery toward it.
A blur of light was Rachel, wielding a laser cutter. It possibly made a scratch, but the mouthhole pulled back out for just a moment: given its ability to accelerate, Clay supposed it might have dropped back a kilometer and made another run. For a second they could see space: Avery spent the second trying to get her helmet on right. Then the hole opened wider and the damn space blob practically forced itself into the room.
Rachel was punching and dialing on the handle of the cutter. Clay grabbed a nearby piece of steel and swung it at the mouthhole, whacking it good in what might have been its forehead, to no effect. He gave it another whack, and this went even worse: a second mouth opened in the very spot and took hold of the beam.
“God damn it,” he cried out, wrestling with it, “it’s bleeping stronger than me, and here I am feeding it chocolate.”
A bright light nearby was way into the blue. Clay supposed it would have been heavy on ultraviolet; probably local bees and butterflies would have loved it. The mouthhole did not. A meter-long gash joined the two mouths, and the thing shot back out of the opening before popping visibly a few meters out in space. Bits of black charred metal shot in through the tear. Rachel’s laser cutter switched off like a mechanic’s light saber. She smirked through her visor.
Then Bing was there with what looked like a big fire extinguisher. Out of its hose came a spray of grey plastic. He got the seal covered, with help from Avery, who recovered enough to grab another of the extinguisher things. Then she threw herself at the ECM station and began furiously, literally furiously, sliding and poking and pushing.
“Let’s go,” said Rachel. Clay took one more glance and followed: by that time, his wife was nearly to the other end of the control room.
“Come on,” said the young man who was still, or again, holding the white cat. He was at the impromptu airlock. In a moment they were through, and there hung the two Ghosts, looking very good after the station control room.
“Power up,” said Clay, getting his hatch sealed; he heard Rachel say “Power up” at the same moment.
“Attack plan theta,” said Rachel.
“Follow me and do what I do.”
They might have had to find their way out to the battle, but here came three mouthholes, bouncing down the long passage from the cryo section. Clay, gritting his teeth, knowing that Rachel was gritting hers, threw himself at them, and they fell to the Ghosts’ ferocity and fully refined frequencies. Then the Ghosts were out in space through new holes in the side of the big passage.
The majority of the mouthholes were going at Section C now, and they were chewing more holes even as the crew was sealing them up. Through the windows, Clay could see more people rushing to help out, still sealing up their helmets. They saw a big hole open at the far end, and two vac suited people came flying out into space. One, then the other, was eaten for their suits’ metal content: those old suits.
Rachel was streaking down the side of Section C, dark and silent as a mouthhole. One came across her path and she opened up, and it opened up, opened like a walnut shell. Three more came after her, and Clay, forty meters behind, took one, then another, then a third. They got to the far end and had their way with a crowd of a dozen or more that had nearly broken the end of the section off from the rest.
It was work, but they managed to chop their way through the crowd. Six, eight, ten: the pieces flew off like splinters of chopped wood, or splinters of walnut shell. More came to join the fray—at first, and then the mouthholes seemed to get the idea and scattered.
It was then that Clay and Rachel turned back and found the station’s four laser guns, the four that were still working, anyway, working together quite nicely. Eight mouthholes were still trying to get through in the middle, but now they were trapped in a narrow place, surrounded by suddenly lethal beams. Around them, many dents and many bits of mouthholes testified to the violence of the attack: it was the Angle at Gettysburgh, but Pickett’s Charge was just about over. The two Ghosts came at them laterally and blasted the survivors without pity.
Just as they reached the spot, Rachel pulled out and headed off into space perpendicular to the station. Clay futzed a bit as he tried to follow; by the time he was on her tail, she was two kilometers ahead. She was chasing down a knot of mouthholes, but they were accelerating away, and now more were coming in behind her: she hardly seemed to notice them, blasting away at those she was pursuing. They were closing on her.
Clay’s heart was in his throat. It felt great there. He was on them before they knew it, before they were on her, and one, then another, then another went to pieces under his attack. Then Rachel hit the proverbial brakes and flipped around blasting: three more went under their combined attack. The word FLIP lit up in red on his console.
He flipped. Three mouthholes were on him. One went to pieces. Another took a Rachel shot and blew. The third struck him on the left side, but he toppled away, still grappling with his controls. He pulled it together and found himself in blank darkness. Behind him, he could see Rachel’s Ghost. She was surrounded.
Then she was not. By the time he could get there, the station’s beams had found targets. Four mouthholes blew, then another from his shot, then Rachel stood in space and got off deadly shots on two more as they fled. The field was theirs: Lee was in full retreat.
“You okay?” came Rachel’s voice.
“I’m fine,” said Clay. “You?”
“Oh,” she said in a tired but bloodthirsty voice, “I’m just ducky, hunk-a-licious. Let’s go see if they have beer on Alpha Centauri.”