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was seeking to rise through the ranks. What was fortunate, however, was that Thomas didn't give a damn about rank, privilege, or anything aside from getting behind the stick of a Starfury. And once he was there, no one had any problem with the way he handled things.

"Just inside weapons range," Marlette told him.

Thomas was so close in Delta 9 that Marlette could see him shaking his head. "That far and we won't even be able to hurt it, the diffusion..."

"We'll just have to keep hitting it," Marlette cut him off, "and hope a lot of weaker strikes'll have a cumulative effect." There was no further word of protest from Thomas, which was fortunate since Marlette didn't exactly have the time to engage in a lengthy debate. "Deltas Two and Six, you're my wingmen. Nine and Three, hang back with the rest, then hit it in the next wave."

"Roger that," Thomas in Delta 9 came back. He sounded a bit torqued. If there was a scrap, Thomas didn't like to be on the sidelines. He preferred being in the middle of it. But considering the situation they were in, Marlette was confident that Thomas was going to find himself in the midst of more action than he was going to know what to do with.

The Starfuries zoomed down toward the artifact, guns blazing. For a moment, Marlette wondered if the thing would put up some sort of automatic defense. Whether it would have a defensive grid that would blaze into action, or perhaps an impenetrable force field that would snap into existence.

But there was nothing. The artifact simply sat there as the Starfuries unleashed full batteries of weapons at it. This was like using a wadded spitball to try and get the attention of a woolly mammoth. The artifact didn't fire back, didn't even acknowledge their existence in any way. Every single blast
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