, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Another little gaggle of robot fighters came around the freighter at them, and at Rachel’s direction, Clay and Natasha and two of the Fyaa went for them. One Fyaa pilot got its ship rightly blown up, but it managed to bail, along with one Errhatzky mechanic who had flown along. The other Fyaa pilot was Skzyyn, who slid along about two meters off the hull of the freighter, digging the Ngugma robot pilots out for Clay and Natasha to blow up. Leaving one Fyaa pilot and one mechanic floating in vac suits, the three turned and found themselves over the hexagonal meshed walkway.

Rachel, Vera and the third Fyaa had blown an opening in the mesh, and Clay, Natasha and Skzyyn got in and chased them. Light blasts came over their heads: these were no robot fighters, no gun emplacements, but actual Ngugma in Nugugma-shaped vac suits, blasting down the mesh walkway. By the time Clay got over the curve of the super-hauler’s buttocks, they were no more.

He and his two pals accelerated up the straight section of walkway, tiny dots far ahead labeled Andros, Santos and Fyaa B. As Clay and company approached, the three in front of them seemed to be just sitting there, but at last Clay noticed that Fyaa B, whose actual name was something like Dzvezyets, was using its laser weapon to carefully pry their way through the hatch at the back of the bridge. It was like watching a tick fasten onto an elephant, or perhaps give the elephant a lobotomy from behind.

A hatch about twenty meters to the left opened, upward (as it were) out of the front of the freight section, and several more suited Ngugma began emerging. They looked like large, flattened bowling ball bags, but with big weapons. Natasha saw them a moment before Clay, and began shearing them in two as they came out. The third dropped back and shut the hatch.

“Watch that one, Clayburger,” said Natasha.

He did, and indeed, fifteen seconds later, when it thought they might have forgotten it was there, the Ngugma popped the hatch and took a wild shot. Clay and Skzyyn sliced it into three pieces. The hatch shut again and didn’t open.

“We’re in,” came Rachel’s voice. They were: the hatch had been opened in such a way that it could be closed again. The six fighters zipped inside. Vera exited her ship and slammed the hatch, and a couple of the little Errhatzky mechanics, who had hitched a ride with Dzvezyets, made sure it was sealed. “Kay,” said Rachel, “Tskelly out. There’s gonna be resistance in there.”

“What?” said Clay.

We’ve gotten this one,” said Skzyyn. “Ready.

Rachel blew open the inner hatch. Four Ngugma in suits opened fire; she and the others still in fighters dodged. Then Skzyyn and Dzvezyets leaned in and fired their hand weapons, zap zap, zap zap, and the four went down.

“Out of your ships and in,” said Rachel.

Clay ejected from his Ghost, and pushed himself into the next chamber, which was a sort of maintenance storeroom. It was disturbingly well lit: evidently the Ngugma were adapted to bright light. Three Errhatzky were already at the console. They were not so much working it as taking it apart. One of the first things they managed to do was turn the lights down.

Clay took a breath. He looked at Rachel, who was also taking a breath. She smiled at him, then pushed over to him and kissed him. “How’s it going, hunky?”

“Is there a bit of gravity in this place?” asked Clay.

“Well spotted, Ron,” said Natasha. “It’s the mass of all that magma. This is like a small moon.”

“So what are we doing?” asked Vera. “Should someone go back out on patrol?”

“Dzvez and I will be happy to,” said Skzyyn.

“No, no,” said Rachel. “We’re better off here. Hunkster and I are going to dump the dead crew overboard. Tash, if you would just open a channel and report in with Park?”

“Sure, from my Ghost,” said Natasha, sliding back toward the bay door.

“So,” said Clay, “there’s still live Ngugma in control of this ship?”

Two hundreds Ngugma,” said one of the Errhatzky, in a strong accent, not looking up from the panel they had open.

Alive,” said another, as the first disappeared into the innards of the panel. This one had much less of an accent. “But not control, not for long.