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The propellers roared and the airship tore away from the Skylifter's base. Bright white light hit the airship as it came out from the shadow. Clair clipped herself tightly into the seat next to Jesse.

"That laser or whatever it is-it's not coming from another airship," she said, peering through narrowed eyelids out the automatically darkened windscreen. "It's coming from above."

I explained the full gravity of the situation to her.

"Someone's trying to make this look like an accident," she said. "Funny how things like this happen around people in WHOLE."

"Yeah," Jesse said, "real hilarious."

I flew the airship up along the tapering tip of the Skylifter's teardrop and out around its fat middle. The dirigible was leaning drunkenly and rotating once every ten seconds or so. The window of the room in which Clair and Jesse had been imprisoned came into view. I saw no other survivors.

"Higher." Clair leaned forward as the airship neared the uppermost deck. It was hard to discern anything through the blinding light, even for me. At first I saw no one, but then, around a central spar that had once held the graceful curve of glass safely over the heads of the Skylifter's inhabitants-

"There!" Clair pointed at a huddle of people in the scant shade provided by the spar. They were waving desperately to attract the airship's attention. "Take us closer!"

"I see them," I said. A new wash of static was making it hard to control the airship. It rocked on its roaring fan engines through the full effect of the powersat beam.

To Jesse, Clair said, "Get ready with the door."

The air was turbulent and hot above the observation deck. Shards of plastic dome stabbed at the airship's vulnerable underbelly. Twice, despite my best efforts, I caught the tip of a propeller on something I shouldn't have, provoking outraged shrieks of metal and carbon fibre.

"This is as close as we get," I told them. "I can't hold this position long."

Jesse opened the door and shouted something into the wind. The survivors emerged from their meagre hiding place, lurching across the windswept surface in a series of staggering steps. There was nothing for them to hang onto but each other.

Then there was a flurry of shouting and movement-bodies falling en masse through the open hatch, propellers screaming, white-flaring wreckage suddenly rising up to meet the airship-and then I had them rising, pulling away from the doomed Skylifter, out of the beam from the powersat, and the light was fading and the door was shut.

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