They probably had views of sunlight and other false things. The slaves who lived here would never guess what the outside really looked like. The Torth were all about customized luxuries and illusions. Nothing was ever quite what it seemed.

"Oh my God," Margo said in a tone of awe.

She gazed far ahead, and at first, Alex couldn't process what his eyes saw there. It looked like a dark, baroque wall of ancient mechanisms, but it filled the whole horizon, and the sky as well. It extended into gloom and clouds. Distant transports flew in front of it, as tiny in comparison as fireflies trying to light up a field. Skyscrapers looked like tiny heaps collected at its base. Windows marched up its surface, millions of black points, only a handful glowing like distant stars.

"That's just the Stratower," Thomas said. "Alex, pay attention."

Alex forced his attention back to the onslaught of flaming missiles. His human self could not hear them, but his giant self sensed subtle changes in air pressure and shrieking wind. He caught each missile before it could crater his hull.

Explosives began to shoot from below.

As Alex added things to his self-awareness ... humid air and sticky raindrops, structures made of alien materials, neon, illusions, bridges, chasms, transports, and explosive missiles ... he began to lose track of his human body in the complexity.

He desperately tried to keep one part of himself inside the ship, to remain present with the people he cared about. But there was too much to keep track of. All he could do was ensure that his body remained upright.

"Can't you dodge them?" someone familiar said.

"This is a streamship, not a transport." Another familiar voice; the boy. "It's not exactly maneuverable in air. And we're on our last dregs of fuel."

"Well, try!"

"What if you go into the Megacosm? Could you see where each shooter is?"

"If you want me to, I will." The distant reply sounded strained and eager. "But it's a trade-off. If I get to see through their eyes, they get to see through mine. They'll know where I'm going and what condition we're in."

"It might be worth it."

Their ship flipped sideways and careened through the narrow passage between two skyscrapers, then flipped the other way to speed along a curved wall. They slid through a neon-pink advertisement.

Missiles slammed into the tower behind them a split second later, sending chunks tumbling.

"I trust my brain," Thomas was saying in a dark voice, while ummins slid across the floor. "I'm just not sure we can trust my reflexes. I can't work these controls as fast as an able-bodied Torth."

His hands danced across the console, but they looked fragile, and he trembled every time he had to reach far.

There was no time to train a second pilot, of course. They should have used their relaxation time more wisely. Alex made a mental note about putting a high priority on preparedness for battle, for everyone, if they managed to survive today.

A large vessel roared up out of the depths to block their path. Thomas jerked their ship sideways to avoid it, and they ended up in a volley of missiles.

Alex threw himself into that barrage. He was explosive, fiery shock waves. He was a giant of thunder, and when he crashed into transports, he knocked them down.

When they broke apart, he sensed nothing alive, only the buzzing currents of machinery.

Alex struggled to think through his bogged-down concentration. The cowardly Torth were hanging back, but their drones and missiles were on target. And the more awareness he poured into self-defense, the less awareness he had of himself.

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