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“So what do you mean the discussion is far from over?” asked Rachel in a low voice as they examined some minor damage to the skin of Clay’s Ghost.

“You agreed with me when I said it,” Clay replied.

“I don’t frickin’ care who I agreed with. What did you mean?”

“I didn’t mean anything. No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is, I didn’t mean we were going to keep an open mind or anything, just that—!”

“Well, that’s good, because when it comes to—!”

Karen appeared, bending over between them. Rachel glared at Clay, then looked up. “Excuse me,” said Karen, “but Angelica needs one of you to talk to the Orangemen. I can help with this.”

Rachel gave her an are-you-bleepin’-serious look, then made a quick estimation by glance at Angelica, who was standing ten meters away with three Primoids, looking angelic. “Dang it,” she said, “I’ll go. Do not take Clay’s frickin’ machine apart. And Clay—!”

Clay took her glare with what he felt was just the right sort of cower. She got up and stomped over to Angelica, who did not quite mask her disappointment. Clay was somewhat relieved as Karen started right in listening to what he wanted and doing what he told her as they repaired a flector and the skin under it.

“So your sensors and weapons can move around under the skin?” she asked after a minute.

“No,” he replied, “the whole skin is the sensors, and the photon cutter that we souped up into our guns was set up to be used out of any point on the skin.”

“But the flectors don’t move.”

“Nope. They just sit there and take the damage. They’re great against things like Primoid guns. They’re not that useful against mouthholes—you don’t know what mouthholes are.”

“Do they have something to do with Ngugma?”

“Well, actually,” he said, standing up. She stood up next to him and there she was, ten centimeters taller than him, those pale blue eyes filling his sight, her suit unzipped just enough for her breasts to loom along the lower half of his view. She was right in his space in a way that no one but Rachel ever was, and he found himself a little intoxicated by it.

“You think two people could fit in there?” she said.

“No, actually,” he said, “no, not really, not, well, actually,” and he fumbled because in point of fact it was possible to fit two little people into one Ghost, at least for a journey within a system. Those two people would have to both be fighter pilot sized, or get pretty intimate, or perhaps both. He was thinking: Natasha. Vera Freaking Santos. Rachel. Karen?

But he’d said no, hadn’t he?

“Excuse me,” said Rachel, wedging herself between them. “What exactly is going on here?”

“I’m trying to get him to take us away from here, obviously,” said Karen.

“Not going to happen,” said Rachel. “Right Clay Gilbert?”

“Definitely,” said Clay, his skin hot. “Not going to happen. Sorry.”

“Oh you are not,” said Karen. “You’re just going to abandon us here and it’s—!”

“Hey hey,” said Angelica. “What’s up here? We’re supposed to be—!”

“You,” said Rachel, turning, “are staying here, and so is your,” and she gave Karen a withering look, “mother.” She turned away and said to the nearest Primoid, “I cannot believe this is happening.”

“Look,” said Clay, “maybe you can talk the Primoids into taking you to Bluehorse. They’ll have room in one of those escort cruisers.”

“Riiight,” said Karen. “They’re going to totally want to give up Angelica, who can do what no one else can and interpret for them.”

“I can’t really interpret,” said Angelica, “it’s more a sort of, hello?”

Two Primoids loomed over them. They bent and waved their tentacles at Angelica.

“What are they saying?” asked Clay.

“They say, um, they say two human fly cruiser. Help talk humans. Um, star far away, distant. Colony star.”

“Wait,” said Rachel. “Are they saying they can take you to Bluehorse? Really?”

“Uh, yeah, I think,” said Angelica. The Primoids were still gesticulating with the tentacles on top of their bodies. “And, um, they think it’s time to get into some simulations. Before battle. Okay?”

“Oh yeah,” said Clay. “That.”