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Clay had been dead in space and hurtling through emptiness before, and he didn’t like it. This time, at least, he had enough working equipment to watch the rest of the show.

The other Alphas went about clearing out the fighters on that side of the giant freighter. They came back in a long sweep, fizzing missiles and blasting robot foes, and just as two cruisers swung into their way, they coalesced into a jittery triangle and dropped sideways. The cruisers stalled, looking for them, and the triangle shot upward right through the wretched remains of one cruiser; the three wheeled sideways and blew through the other. One further cruiser came around the giant freighter, and in its fierce onset, Natasha’s Ghost took excessive damage and lost combat control and life support, though she didn’t need to jettison her engine. Rachel and Vera made short work of the cruiser, leaving it, too, dead in space.

On the far side of the fight, seven Fyaa fighters were left, along with six of the nine Primoids, and these were sweeping up Ngugma fighters that had got beyond the battle and were in danger of swinging back to flank Park and Beta Wing, who concentrated on really sticking it to one of the enormous battleships. Timmis and Li made a run together along one of the planes of its surface, cutting into the hull as best they could; Li’s combat systems went dead under fire, and Timmis’s shield went down. As they pulled away, they linked up and high-tailed it for the high grasses of space. Apple and Izawa made a run at the other battleship, but it was a feint. It was effective, though under the hail of fire they both took significant damage. Acevedo and Schmitt followed Li’s course up the side of the battleship, taking down a series of gun emplacements and blasting fighters coming out of yet another bay. But then Schmitt was hit so hard she ejected her drive and computer core and went cold. Acevedo dropped back and managed to nudge her second off course; then she turned back to the fight and got her shield blasted to hell. She took a few more shots, covered her ass with missiles and headed off after Schmitt.

That left Park and Anand Ree to fly back up the battleship, raking and blasting. One enormous section, the size of the Honshu, began to show explosions, and then with a series of flashes was jettisoned. Everyone scattered. Five seconds later the section, one of four drive wings of the huge ship, blew up in spectacular silence.

Park, the Great Su Park, had lost some flectors. The Man of Mister Ree had lost most of his, and had also managed to fire off all his missiles. They pulled away, and the Fyaa and the Primoids pulled off with them, hitting the brakes to let their armored freighters catch up and retrieve them.

Clay saw a Ghost come up on him. With a solid clunk, it hit and attached. “Here to get you, Hubby Hunk,” said his wife’s voice. “Déjà vu all over again, huh?”

“I’m sealed up okay, Rache,” he said. “You should open up and check me for space ticks.”

“Oh, yeah, I might’ve picked up a few of those myself,” said Rachel. “We can do each other.”

“Rache,” said Clay as they got the hatches open to each other. “Did we lose anyone?”

“Natasha’s pretty bad off, but not as bad as you. Vera’s got her.” She started peeling off her suit, as if it were the obvious next thing to do. “Let’s see: Park and Ree, Apple and Izawa, Li and Timmis, yep, Daria and Peri, looks like we’re good. Most of the Primoids and, weird, most of the Fyaa are still going.”

“So’s the Ngugma freighter. Basically untouched.”

“Shush, hubby balls. We did a lot of damage, and we kept our Vow. That’s pretty good.”

“It’s pretty good, but it’s not enough. You know that.”

“I do know that,” said Rachel, stepping out of her vac suit and starting in on Clay’s. “Now forget all that and let’s see about those space ticks. Oh, looky, you got something a lot bigger than a space tick hidin’ in there. I better look into that.”

“Ohhh,” said Clay, “I really think you should. I’m experiencing swelling.” And she did look into it, as they fell back toward the Honshu, and the Ngugma super-freighter, with its cubic kilometers of ore and most of its pride intact, continued accelerating.