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An hour and a half later things were beginning to look organized. Many of the passengers turned out to be military, so the injured were laid out in precise rows being tended to, food and water were in one area, uninjured civilians in another.

“Things are looking good,” Sarah said approvingly.

“Yeah,” Raeder growled. “But where is everybody? Those rescue crews are late.”

The conductors had told them that the train tripped certain telltales as it went along to show where it was at any time. Not to mention satellite information. By now the station had to know that something was wrong, despite the strange loss of communication.

And still no one came.

They were passing what they’d come to consider the civilian enclave when the middle Faron girl skipped up to them and fixed adoring eyes on Peter.

“Does your daddy know where you are?” he asked.

She nodded, smiling happily.

“How’s your mom?” Sarah asked.

Instantly the little girl’s face fell.

“She’s crying!” she confided, obviously devastated. Moms weren’t supposed to cry.

“Well,” Peter said calmly, “that was quite a bump on the head she got. You’d cry too, I bet.”

The girl looked dubious. “I’m brave,” she said.

“True. She is,” Peter said to Sarah. “Very.”

“Piggyback?” the kid said reaching up.

“O-kay.” Raeder sounded dubious now. “Where’s your dad? I’ll give you a lift over to him.”

Her brows came down in an impatient little curl and her lower lip slid out.

“Well, he said I should go play.” Her voice implied that Dad didn’t care if he ever saw her again.

“When was that, honey?” Sarah asked.

The look she gave Sarah left no doubt as to what she thought of this woman butting into a conversation with the object of her adoration. An adoration that was beginning to have a pretty shaky foundation with all this talking and no piggyback ride in sight. She shrugged, in a way that indicated the usual devotion to time of a five-year-old.

“Okay,” Raeder said, squatting down. “Hop aboard and we’ll go look for him.”

“Yaaay!” She ran around Peter and threw her arms around his neck in her own patented choke hold. “Giddyap!”

“Remember before,” Raeder rasped out, rearranging her hands. “Gotta give your horsie some air.”

They left smiles in their wake as they hip-hopped towards the injured section. Once within its borders though, he started walking and saying “Sssh,” to the enthusiastic girl on his back.

“Demi! Where’ve you been, honey?” Her father came up and pulled her from Peter’s back.

“Hi, Daddy.”

“Thanks for finding her,” Faron said. “That’s, what, four times you’ve come to our rescue today? Come meet my wife,” he said before Raeder could answer.

“Oh, no,” Sarah said. From where she stood she could see Lisa Faron, who looked bruised and exhausted. Nobody in that condition should be forced to meet anybody. “We’ve got to go talk to the conductors.” She grabbed Peter’s arm. “We better get moving, sweetie.”

Raeder shook Faron’s hand, waved to Demi and took Sarah’s arm.

As they walked away Peter said, “Conductors?” out of the side of his mouth.

Sarah grinned. “It was an excuse. I just didn’t think the poor woman was up to meeting people.”

“That’s what I figured,” he said. “But I liked the sweetie part.” He put an arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “Actually, I’m trying to restrain myself from bugging the conductors again.”

“Yeah,” she agreed with a sigh. “They don’t know any more than we do.” She kissed him. They were several moments into it, when they heard, “What the heck was that?”

They opened their eyes and saw nothing different.

“What?” Raeder shouted over his shoulder.

“That white flash?” an older man said. “Came from over that way.” He pointed off northeast.

Peter and Sarah looked at one another. That was the direction of the spaceport. Naw, he thought.

“Fusion bomb?” Sarah said, her lips stiff.

“Airburst,” Raeder agreed. He turned to look at her. “Something in the five-megaton range, I’d say. We’ve got to get to Marjorie Base. Soonest.” To the Invincible.

He looked around and, seeing a rocky outcropping, climbed up and put his hands to his mouth.

“Attention!” he shouted. “Attention! Any uninjured military personnel rally to me.” Raeder repeated it again. They came running, worried frowns on their faces, many of them bearing bruises and bandages. They were followed by a crowd of able-bodied civilians.

“I’m Commander Raeder of the C.S.S. Invincible. This is Lieutenant Commander James. We’ve got to get back to Twillingate and the spaceport.”

“What about us?” one of the civilians piped up. “You’re not going to just leave us here, are you? What about the injured?”

“To be honest,” Peter answered, “you may well be safer here than in a city. Once we’re in Twillingate we can find out why no help has come for us. In addition, our leaving leaves more food and water for you.”

“Are you thinking of walking out of here?” one of the conductors asked, a tinge of horrified disbelief in her voice.

Raeder grimaced. Under perfect circumstances they were a full day’s hard march from the city. And the country they’d traversed to this point, while beautiful scenery, was lousy for foot travel. One major river, some swamp, lots of ravines and plenty of unfriendly wildlife.

He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped. “Listen,” he said.

Over the rustling breeze and chirps of insects could be heard a high-pitched whine. Definitely mechanical and growing nearer and louder as it continued.

Everyone scanned the skies, finally focusing on the northeast. There a pair of tiny black dots could been seen; they swelled with astonishing speed into two rescue boats. The boats hovered, found a viable landing space and came down slowly. People rushed to greet them, turning their heads from the upflung leaves and dirt the craft’s old-fashioned, but powerful, rotors stirred as they landed.

A single door opened on the side of each vehicle and ramps were deployed. Men and women in pale blue uniforms disembarked, carrying med kits. An older man stood at the top of one the ramps and signaled for silence.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, at the moment we will only be able to take the most severely wounded victims of the crash,” he said.

There was a universal sound of distress from the waiting crowd.

“What circumstances?” a woman called out. A chorus of, “Yeah!” echoed from the crowd.

“Communications are down,” the blue-clad man told them. “I really don’t know the full story. All I know is that we won’t be able to return here for a full day at the very least.”

Now the crowd made a sound of alarm.

“We have tents, cots, blankets, food and water,” the aid man said. “You’ll be in no danger. And we will be evacuating the most injured among you. As well as leaving behind some of our qualified medical personnel. By tomorrow we hope to have more emergency vehicles available to come for you.”

Raeder had stood listening with his arms crossed over his chest, backed by the military personnel he’d gathered together.

“Well,” he said grimly, “I guess it’s up to us, people. If we’re getting back to Twillingate any time soon we’re going to have to make this train—” he glanced up at the track above them “—what’s left of it, run.”

There was an affirmative mumble in response.

“Do we have any engineering personnel among us?” Peter asked.

Three hands went up and Raeder found he had one full lieutenant and two second lieutenants.

“Okay, people.” The commander pointed upward. “How do I make that work?”

“Well, sir,” said Lieutenant Tiffany Shelton, obviously thinking on her feet, “that last car up there has a set of controls, just like the first one that crashed. We’ll need to lighten the load first. I’d estimate that there are only about eighty of us, so we can easily squeeze together in one car.”

“Okay,” Peter said with a nod. “We decouple the second car, remove the seats and anything else we can get rid of. How do we make it go?”

The three engineering types looked at one another, changed position, rubbed their chins and noses, nodded and grunted, then turned as one to Raeder.

Shelton said, “There are emergency batteries on every car. We can scavenge those and cobble together a sort of localized mag-lev system. The batteries are supposed to last twelve hours, but this will drain them in at best five.” She looked doubtful for a moment, silently consulted with her fellow engineers. “Actually, more like four,” she admitted.

Raeder shrugged, then shook his head.

“Better than walking all the way,” he said.

The trip had taken six hours to reach this remote spot. But they’d been traveling very slowly. Still, even if they had to walk cross country for the last leg of the trip it would save them at least eight to ten hours.

“Okay people,” he said to his group. “Let’s get to it. Sarah, talk to the conductors, find out how to decouple that car. Then take a team and do it. You,” he pointed out several men and women,”you, you get the emergency batteries disconnected from those downed cars.”

He sent someone to the emergency aid crew to scavenge any tools they could to remove the seats. Then Raeder climbed up to the mag-lev track for, he hoped, the last time to help with the work.

It was pitch dark when she woke. The first thing Second Lieutenant Cynthia Robbins was aware of was the hissing sound that had wakened her. The second was the complete darkness around here, a darkness that could only be a closed compartment with no lights at all, like velvet lying on the surface of your eyes, with only the strobes and flashes of your own retinas to light it.

The third was a slightly musky, mildly astringent scent. She knew that scent. It was Paddy. And though she usually enjoyed the scent of the man she loved this was a bit too much of a good thing. He lay upon her so that she could hardly breathe.

She meant to say, “Paddy?” but it came out, “Pdddg?”

That’s when she remembered. They had been on their way to a meeting with the quartermaster to wrangle over a lost parts order. The Invincible was lodged at the repair facility over at what had been a civilian luxury liner’s berth. Nothing at the military site had been able to accommodate her.

It was inconvenient being miles away from headquarters and being required to slog over almost every day for some meeting or other. She and Paddy had been grizzling about it as they trod down the long tunnel leading from the underground shuttle to the military base.

“Bad enough,” Paddy had been saying, “that we have to ride over here two and three times a day.” Which was wild New Hibernian exaggeration at its finest. “But this bloody tunnel is two miles long if it’s an inch!”

More like half a mile, but that’s pardonable.

“Couldn’t they at least have a moving walkway?” he demanded.

“They probably want us to get our daily exercise,” Cynthia remembered telling him.

And then . . . and then she woke up with Paddy on top of her, crushing her, in fact.

“Pad,” she managed to say, shoving at him weakly. “Mmm-ove.”

After a moment she felt him jerk, then shift slightly.

“Wha?” he asked.

“Move,” she pleaded. “You’re crushing me.”

He slid away from her, and she shifted onto her side, which seemed to give them more room.

“Where?” the big man said plaintively. Then she felt him stir, as though he had lifted his head to look around. “What the bludy hell happened?”

“Gas?” she suggested, still hearing that nerve-wracking hiss. “Some sort of explosion?”

Cynthia waved her arm around above her head and met no obstacle. She sat up cautiously, suppressing a groan as she moved. Whatever had hit them had left her feeling one hundred percent bruised. Continuously waving her arm above her, she carefully got her feet under her and started to rise. When she was standing straight the lieutenant stretched to her full height and found the ceiling. It seemed to have a tentlike shape, a bit asymmetric; it was hard to tell in the pitch darkness.

“I think you could stand up if you’re careful,” she said.

“Oh, darlin’, I don’t think I want to stand up at all.”

“Are you hurt?” she asked in alarm, squatting down and reaching for him.

“Well, I’ve felt better, acushla. But if I am hurt it’s nothing that will kill me.”

Cynthia found his face and cupped his broad cheek in her small hand.

“Then call me Lieutenant.” There was relief and a smile in her voice though she spoke crisply. “We’re on duty.”

Paddy grinned in the dark.

“Aye, Lieutenant, me love. Though I think we’re alone here and no disgrace to anybody but ourselves.”

There was a sliding sound, as of debris shifting, and a light went on, almost blinding them after the intense darkness. In a moment they could see again and beheld a face, discernable only by the whites of its eyes staring out of the dirt.

“Help,” said the captain’s dry voice.

“Civilians in uniform,” Mai Ling Ju, the executive officer of the Invincible muttered.

She maneuvered the all-terrain tractor over the rim of a crater as bits of conversation drifted in and out of her mind. A smile stretched her full lips as she remembered the captain saying: “Sir, the Romans didn’t conquer the world by holding meetings about it, they did it by killing all those who opposed them. I must excuse myself now because it is my duty to prepare my ship to fight the Commonwealth’s enemies and time is growing short.”

Rear Admiral Covil’s mouth was still opening and closing in silent, flummoxed outrage as Knott strode from the meeting room. That Ju remained in his place had done nothing to mollify Covil.

But what else could Knott do? There had been so many useless meetings that the crew of the Invincible had been forced to conclude that the so-called officers on this out-of-the-way little base found some sort of cachet in rubbing elbows with real fighting commanders.

Then, in the middle of Covil’s diatribe the roof fell in.

Fibians, Ju thought. From the cut of their craft. The energy footprints had been quite distinctive—not too different from Commonwealth or Mollie spacecraft, the laws of physics were universal—but distinctive. She found herself intrigued and excited by this exotic enemy. Wary too—they were efficient killers, the Intelligence reports said.

The matter of how they’d managed to get the drop on a military base was a question for another day. Their first pass had done extensive damage, burying a number of the connecting tunnels that honeycombed the mostly underground base.

“Sir!” a young rating had called out to her officer as they’d entered the command center. “Section seven is calling for ammunition.”

“Tell them the tunnels are collapsed in that area,” her commander had answered. “We’ll have to send it overland.”

“You can’t do that,” the rear admiral had spluttered. “It would be suicide! I absolutely forbid it.”

Ju heard the young officer in charge of section seven say: “We’re down to making obscene remarks and antic gestures out here, sir, and it’s not working!”

She doubted that the rear admiral heard her; the commander had spoken over her comment to say, “Sir, section seven is responsible for covering this part of the base. If they don’t get some ammunition we, and they, are going to be easy meat for the bu—enemy.”

Nice save, Ju thought. I’ll bet the rear admiral would have lambasted you for twenty minutes for saying bugs instead of enemy. Not that Covil was a bad man, but he was a civilian administrator, hastily promoted, not a battle leader, and he was out of his depth.

She kept the jouncing train of missiles in the shadow of the crater’s rim as long as possible. The Fibians could see into the ultraviolet range without the need for mechanical aid. So they could see her in the shadow just as well as out of it—better perhaps. But there were Mollie pilots among them, and the rim provided some protection from attack. Besides, it was instinctively the right choice.

Her insides squeezed with a raw terror that her mind kept at bay. Ahead of her was the low dome that marked her destination. There was the occasional burst of laser fire—visible due to the guide-beams, and an occasional flare as dust drifted into the pencil-thin columns of energetic photons—but no missiles launched. Because she had them. She’d make a beautiful explosion if some bug looked down at the wrong moment and targeted her.

“I can’t ask anyone to take that risk!” the rear admiral had insisted.

“That’s what we’re here for, sir,” Ju had said into the silence that greeted that remark. “So civilians won’t have to take those risks. I’ll go.” To the commander she’d said, “Where do I suit up?”

“You can’t!”

“I can, sir. I must.” Then she’d left him.

She was rather proud of that I can and must remark, it would make a great epitaph. Hey, Ju warned herself, no negative thinking.

In any case, she’d rather die trying to save herself than be squashed by the bugs because Covil couldn’t bring himself to order people to risk their lives. If that was negative thinking, so be it.

Ahead something struck, a bomb or a kinetic-energy missile, throwing up a fountain of moondust and rock that fell with eerie, silvery slowness. Coolly she veered around the new crater, hoping it was an accident and not a direct attack on her slow-moving little vehicle. Before her, perhaps five hundred yards away, she could see the jet-black opening that led into section seven. Laser fire cut the ground directly in front of her.

Not a mistake, then, she thought.

Paddy and Cynthia had dug the dirt away from the captain’s chest and shoulders to find his waist pinched by a large slab of masonry. The masonry itself would have been fairly light, being made of foamed syncrete, but it supported tons of earth and only a miracle had kept it from slicing Knott in half. Paddy and Cynthia supported it to either side of the captain with pieces of the same stuff, then dug around him, letting his body down inch by inch with painful slowness. When they pulled on his shoulders Knott cried out.

“I’m stuck!” he said. “And I think whatever it is, it’s lodged in my leg.”

Paddy and Cynthia looked at one another, a silent, Oh, shit, passing between them.

“Which side, sir?” Cynthia asked.

“Right,” Knott said. He closed his eyes.

Cynthia wasn’t sure whether he’d passed out for a moment or was just being incredibly stoic; she redoubled her efforts at digging out his legs. She and Paddy had taken off their shirts to use them as bags for the dirt she dug and passed back to him.

“How long, d’ye think, before they come for us?” Paddy asked her, whispering as though the captain couldn’t hear him.

Knott politely kept silent, but thought: Hopefully before the air goes bad or escapes.

“One thing at a time, Chief,” Cynthia said. “Let’s get the captain free first and do some first aid on his wounds. Then we’ll worry about digging our way out.”

It made Paddy grin. Both the use of his rank before the near-unconscious captain and her assumption that they’d rescue themselves.

“Right you are, Lieutenant.” He packed his answer with all the warmth he felt for her, and in the dark of the tunnel she was digging he thought he saw the twinkle of her smile.

They’d taken their time over uncovering Knott, pausing every now and then to shore up the accidental roof overhead. And also in the hope that they wouldn’t damage him more by moving him too soon. At last Cynthia had reached the place where the captain was caught.

She swallowed hard. A long piece of steel had plunged through the meat of Knott’s calf just behind the bone and into the ground beneath. It was bleeding, but not pulsing, which she took to be a good sign. But she felt utterly helpless. They couldn’t remove it, they couldn’t bandage the wound, a tourniquet would take constant tending.

She crawled out of the hole she’d made.

“We can’t pull him out,” she told Paddy. She put a hand on his arm and squeezed lightly. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

Paddy rubbed the back of his neck and looked around their tiny shelter.

“Which way?” he asked, sweeping his arms around, smacking his hand on the wall. “Ow!”

Her eyes widened and she looked around. Which way had they been heading, how far from the station, how far from the shuttle? With an effort of will she forced herself to remember where she’d been when the captain had turned on his light. From there she could remember how she had been lying before she stood. Had they fallen backward or forward? She glanced at the captain.

Okay, the captain was walking towards us. So, that means that if we dig towards his feet we should reach the station. She suppressed the thought that they might have been thrown around in the blast. It must have been an explosion, at least. Accidental? Some sort of enemy attack?

“That way,” she said. “I’ll keep digging away from the captain’s feet, that should get us to the station.”

“I’ll pack the dirt in there,” Paddy said, indicating the deeper side of their cubby.

He didn’t argue about who should do the excavating. Her small form meant there would be less dirt to move, and given the small space they had for it, that was a factor. Once Cyndy reached help they could pull dirt out the other side. He tried not to think of what would happen to all of them if, beyond the captain’s feet, Cynthia dug her way to the moon’s surface instead of the tunnel.

“Section seven, this is Mai Ling Ju, XO of the Invincible. I’m approximately five hundred yards from you now, towing a shipment of seekers and antimissile missiles. Would you be so good as to lay down some covering fire for me, please?”

A relieved grin split Lieutenant Sese Ortega’s dark face.

“Yes, ma’am,” she said over the com. “I see you, Ms. Ju, we will cov—”

Overhead, something went by fast enough to be a blur against the stars. The beam that struck downward was visible in vacuum, probably a plasma cannon. Rock gouted, and part of the left rear corner of the hindmost cart in her slow-moving train was hit.

“What happened?” Ortega demanded.

“By some miracle, while that hit, it only struck a glancing blow,” Ju answered. “But my helmet readout is showing a big, big jump in radiation. Cracked casing on a warhead, probably. So if you people aren’t already in your suits, get into them now.”

Sese frowned. “Ma’am, I can’t allow a damaged bomb into this facility,” she said.

“I completely understand your position, Lieutenant,” Ju said calmly. “However, while there is a cure for radiation poisoning there is none for being blown to bits. Which you most certainly will be if you don’t get some munitions in there.” The XO felt a sensation of heat coming from behind her, and a prickle on her skin like sunburn. Totally imaginary; it would be hours before the symptoms manifested themselves, protected as she was.

Sensing the lieutenant’s hesitation Ju said, “We can decouple the damaged bomb and shove it back outside, which should mitigate the damage somewhat. But right now, I am ordering you to open that crash door.”

Well, thought Ortega, tapping in the command on her console, it’s a direct order, it’s out of my hands. Which made her feel better. Enough so that she and her team successfully diverted the frantically attacking Fibians.

Finally a call came through from below.

“We’re locked and loaded, Lieutenant.”

A very evil smile came over her face at the news.

“Well, then,” she said, “let’s rock and roll.”

Squadron Leader “Rotten Ronnie” Sutton held his fire. If he hit the low-flying Fibian its crash would damage the base more than the bugs’ bombs were doing. He waited, infinitely patient, or as patient as you could be while moving at interplanetary speeds this close to cold, very hard rock. Very soon now the bug would pull out of his run and then Sutton would have him. He hovered like a hawk; his shadow lay on the tail of the Fibian craft like a warning of doom.The enemy hared off, still low to the surface.

All the better to deny you room to dodge, Sutton thought grimly. His fingertips moved in the couch gloves, and a squeal sounded in his ears as the idiot-savant brain of the seeker missile locked on and launched. The Speed lurched under him; this close, there was a barely perceptible instant before a globe of magenta fire exploded before him. The expanding ball of gases shook the Commonwealth fighter like transit through the outer envelope of an atmosphere. He flipped the Speed end-for-end and spent fuel to kill velocity, then arrowed upward. A giant slow-motion avalanche rolled down the dead canyons of Marjorie as the Fibian craft’s huge kinetic energy was converted into vapor and heat and motion.

They fight as if their lives don’t matter, he thought, with a tinge of disgust. Any species capable of building star-spanning craft should care if they lived or died. The Mollies are fanatics, but they’re human, at least. These Fibians fight like they’re units in a machine. Fungible units, at that, like ammunition. He didn’t think they hated humans so much that killing them was a mania for them. He didn’t believe they were capable of any sort of passion.

So why die doing it?

He fired his coil gun, recoil helping to bring the nose of his Speed on target; he watched a Mollie Speed disintegrate, flaming pieces spinning off like some supersonic fireworks display. That one had at least been trying to dodge. . . . 

There were crisply adjusted plans and wry jokes exchanged between pilots on the com. And it seemed that every second a Mollie or a Fibian died in flames. But there were more of them than there were Welters and large sections of the base were damaged. Balls of flame repeatedly shot up to be quickly extinguished in an area where broken pipes mixed volatile gases. The exposed dome of the main station appeared mostly intact, a vast relief.

His own battle computers shouted warning. Something huge was crawling downward, a fog of energetic particles hiding the details. Then the passionless soprano of the AI spoke: Vessel is carrier.

Shouts of triumph echoed through his headset. The enemy was breaking off. . . . It had been a raid, not an invasion.

“Go get ’em!” he shouted. “Let’s give them a going-away party they’ll remember!”

Pushing his Speed to redline, Sutton pursued a Fibian. It stayed just far enough in front that he sensed the bug had calculated the range of his weapons to a nicety. The squadron leader gritted his teeth and pressed on furiously.

“Warning,” the Speed’s computer said calmly. “Distance from base is about to exceed the amount of fuel available for return to base.”

“Damn!” Sutton bellowed. A disciplined warrior, he peeled off from his chase, his heart bitter at being cheated of his prey.

The mother ship must be lurking out there waiting to pick them up. Though with these creatures, both Fib and Mollie, there could be no certainty of that.

“Damn,” he said again, quietly. Then, “Let’s return to the Invincible, ladies and gentlemen. Nice piece of work.”

He didn’t wax poetic over their victory, for it didn’t feel like one. Most of the damage, and it looked extensive, had been done in the first few moments of the surprise attack. No help for it, but he felt failure in the destruction below.

How had they done it? The squadron leader sighed. Another traitor, he thought wearily. Well, that was Come By Chance Base’s problem. At least Invincible hadn’t taken more damage. That would have been a shame. Poor old girl’s barely gotten her bandages off.

Paddy looked around for someplace to put the new bag full of dirt that Cynthia had passed out to him. He stood with his big feet on either side of Knott’s head, his shoulders brushing the dirt he’d piled up and packed in as much as he could. There was no more room, nowhere to place this new consignment.

He began to feel buried alive. Which he was, but he’d managed not to know it before now.

“My love,” he said. “Ye’ll have to stop, now.”

“Lieutenant,” came the muffled reply.

“Come out of there,” Paddy said, “and look at this place, now.”

“Lieutenant,” she insisted, grunting as she wiggled backwards down the tunnel. “Come . . . out . . . Lieutenant.”

Her feet came out first. They poked around, seeking someplace that didn’t have Paddy or some other blockage in it and found none.

“Oh,” Cynthia said. What do I do now? she wondered. She wanted to ask out loud, but Knott was injured, perhaps unconscious, and Paddy was of a lower rank. Then again, Commander Raeder never seems to feel it’s out of line to ask for advice from Chief arap Moi, or Paddy for that matter. Of course, this was a different situation. Cynthia licked her lips, then spat out the dirt she’d gathered.

“Do you have any ideas?” she asked.

“You’ve found no sign of light or gettin’ through?” Paddy asked, his voice tight with tension.

“No,” she admitted after a long moment.

Cynthia heard him mumble something.

“What?” she called.

“D’ye hear that tappin’?” he asked. “It’s been drivin’ me mad, so it has.”

The lieutenant listened. After a moment, muffled by the dirt around her, she did. That can’t be natural, she thought. It was far too rhythmical.

“It sounds . . . like Morse code,” she said slowly.

“D’ye know what it’s sayin’?” Paddy demanded, hope rising in his voice.

Cynthia shook her head, then answered aloud, “No. I’m sorry to say I don’t. The captain might.”

“The captain is out of it,” Paddy said, sounding more like himself.

He took a small tool out of his pocket and, snaking his hand into a small hole in the packed dirt, drummed it on the pipe that he was certain was feeding them oxygen. There was a pause, then a hammering came back and he joined in with glee.

“They’ve found us,” he cried. “Glory be, acushla, they’ve found us!”

Cynthia laughed along with him.

“I’d hug you if I could,” she said.

“Allow me then to help you, Lieutenant my dearling.”

Paddy reached down and grabbed her slender ankles, pulling her out of the hole in a shower of dirt. She squealed in surprise and found herself doing a handstand before him.

“Now what?” she demanded. It seemed impossible that she could turn herself right side up, or be righted by Paddy. There just wasn’t room.

“Let me help ye, love.” He clasped her about the middle.

“Don’t,” she snapped. “I’ll fall on the captain.”

“Sure, my darling, ye can’t stay like this!” he said. “Not for the hours it might be.” He started to shift her weight.

Cynthia smacked him on the ankle. “No!”

Instinctively he lifted his foot and felt himself overbalancing, which would indeed bring them both down on top of the unconscious captain. With a cry he threw himself backwards and to his shock continued falling. There was a weak wind as air rushed past him, through a hole in the tunnel ceiling. A respirator was thrust over his nose and mouth and hands hauled him backwards.

“The captain,” Cynthia managed, pointing, before her voice was muffled.

“He’s caught on a spike,” Paddy added, removing his rig to do so.

The rescuers were already in the hole.

“Okay, we got him,” a voice said.

They were directed down the tunnel to the shuttle, which sped them back to the Invincible’s luxury berth. The battle had been played out while they were buried and they found that all they had left to do was wait for their Speeds to come home.

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