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to do, and we're going to do it. Coming around for another run."

Automatically the other Starfury pilots followed, and the ships banked around and headed for the target. The alien vessels seemed to register that the Starfuries were heading toward them and angled slightly to face them head on. They did not, however, open fire, and for just a moment Marlette once again questioned what he was doing.

Then he looked straight at the ships, sensed the evil radiating from them, and hesitated no more. "Fire at will, fire at will!" he called, and the Starfuries blasted away.

Not a single shot reached the artifact. Instead every single one dissipated harmlessly against the spiderwebbed energy field that had been strung around it.

Then one of the alien vessels seemed to ... to bristle, like something was undulating under ... not under its hull, but its skin. Something pulsed along its length and was then vomited out from the front. It seemed like a huge glob of lava, but in the form of pure energy, and it expanded as it headed toward the Starfuries, widening to encompass the entire area that they were occupying.

"Break off!" shouted Marlette. "Break..."

They were Marlette's last words as, a split second later, the bursts enveloped all of Delta Squadron. Thomas let out a scream, and Watkins snarled a profanity, and then the Starfuries simply collapsed in on themselves, crumbling like tissue swallowed by water, and the remaining bits of the ships scattered.

Within seconds there was nothing left-the Starfuries were gone as if they'd never been there at all.

Sheila had just finished cleaning off Leo's wounds as, in the dimness of the room, Alex paced nervously. He heard running footsteps pass by outside and wondered if it was security people or the crazies who had
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