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In joyous celebration with another target town, only Gromov stayed unfazed. The disappearance of Q-Field enabled him to reboot systems to advanced mode, getting access to the radar screen.

As expected, the scattered red dots did not waste time and instead of seeking retribution, Plantarians immediately turned their spacecrafts to reach and protect the last carrier.

Whatever had happened until now bore no significant importance. If the last Q-Field generator arrived in the position, the cruisers would face overwhelming strength of remaining fighters with no chance to retaliate.

Similarly to Milano's A-group, even B-group suffered heavy casualties - twelve of green dots showed no sign of being under human control.

To make things worse, from deep space a meteor shower had emerged. Originally, it had been a huge asteroid which Plantarian infected and redirected to act like a missile, gradually shattering the rock into a ball of debris and dust.

With the projectile falling apart, the result would become a deadly cloud when entering the targeted area. The smaller part would burn in the atmosphere, while the bigger ones would turn into biologically active bombs.

"C1 to all A and C units. Follow my lead. We are heading to B-group. Watch your backs and keep proper formation."

Since Space Forces' spacecrafts were faster, Gromov expected to leave Plantarians behind for a moment, having them on their tail. With the most vulnerable part of a fighter being their propulsion systems, the situation turned far from favorable.

"C1 here. B1, report your status. We are coming your way. I repeat, B-group, report your status."

Gromov's constant calling raised no reaction. Finally, Captain Chi's voice had answered...

"B1 here. I am drifting away, my ass completely wrecked. No need to wipe it anymore."

Gromov frowned. Chi's used the notorious joke to describe the desperate circumstances he had been in. In a skirmish, his fighter's rear side had been damaged, so he and his gunner just continued to travel further to outer space, with no means left to steer the vessel.

"C1 here. Understood. What is the status of your group, B1?"

Gromov did not offer any help, leaving poor Chi to drift away. Chi knew very well he had lucked out. Normally, Gromov would send a fighter to change the course of the unmanageable vessel, but right now he could not afford to spare even a single unit.

"B1 here. The antagonists destroyed almost entire B-group while we were engaging. I've lost connection to them recently. The rest stayed under command of B7. Lieutenant Anbi has been leading piercing attacks."

Piercing attacks? Gromov had to acknowledge this was a fitting name for Akane's reckless style of defense penetration.

"I've never encountered a woman like her," continued Chi in a serene, distant voice. "She is the bravest pilot I've ever met. If not for her, we would have long since been annihilated. She attracted over five cockroaches on herself."

Although Gromov found Chi's chattiness more than awkward, especially when taken in the account that Captain Chi had been transmitting over the official communication channel, he did not reprimand him. For the next few minutes, he had nothing better to do since they have successfully detached from Plantarians.

Still, the more Chi praised Akane, the more uncomfortable Gromov felt. He did not appreciate the unfair manner, in which Captain Chi described the battle as one pilot's achievement. Furthermore, the undeniable Akane's prowess was counter-balanced by her individualistic and hard-to-tame personality, which did not play well in a team game.

Nevertheless, with Chi drifting farther and farther away, the signal weakened to the point when Chi's voice dissolved in constant noise.

Gromov marked the vector of the last Chi's course and sent all available information to Space Station. A rescue mission may locate the strayed vessel if organized quickly, given there will remain some Space Forces after this.

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About the author

Pavel Morava

Bio: Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.

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