Coloured graphics whirl across my screen far too quickly for me to assimilate. Attack plans and codenames and screeches flood my ears. Mad acceleration pulls me in every direction. Are we dead? Are we going to be?
"Sam, this is Tyro," says an unfamiliar, measured voice, relegating all the other chatter to the background. "Don't panic. Everything is under control. Sorry for the bumpy ride, but you'll be thanking us later."
"Somebody just shot our wormhole to pieces!"
With infinite calm: "Yes. High-energy railgun slugs from somewhere behind the Moon. A squad of mechs is currently in pursuit, but it'll be over half an hour before they arrive. Fortunately, transit time for a slug at that speed is less than two subjective milliseconds, meaning they basically cannot be steered, so as long as we keep moving unpredictably we can keep you alive. We have a contingency plan regarding the destroyed wormhole. Ed began construction on a third one after finishing the second."
"A third wormhole?"
"A spare. It seemed a prudent move. Ed's given me access to its liftweave control circuits which means I can steer and control it much more skillfully than the mechs. Currently it's a growing two-kilometre tower over Jacksonville. In a few seconds' time I'm going to drop the entire thing vertically through the green ring. That will take less than thirty seconds. After that I'll use the liftweave in the wormhole to loop it into position and connect it up. That part should also take less than thirty seconds."
I glance at the clock. Time is flying. The constantly changing direction of flight is seriously making me ill; I try to tell myself the alternative is worse. "When are we planning to do all this? We have barely two minutes."
"We want to keep it as small a target as possible for as short a time as possible to minimise the risk - that means we begin the feed at seventy seconds. Even so there is still a risk."
Tyro's voice fades out and mech chatter fades back in. It sounds like everybody is simultaneously having his own conversation with Tyro.
"Sam?" says Ed in my ear.
"Still here," I gurgle, barely able to avoid throwing up.
"I'm reactivating the Ed Rocks."
"You know why," he says, and signs off as suddenly as he signed on.
Grim fear grips me. I see an instantaneous flash of a handful of equally undesirable possible futures. Ed is planning for damage control. Ed "never beaten" MacPherson.
"Okay, everybody, this is it," says Tyro. I notice dimly that my mech has once again taken the red ring off its finger - then the third and final wormhole explodes out of it, slowly at first but accelerating under unguessable gravitational forces, as my mech jolts and whirls safely away from it.
There's a ping as an unidentified object springs into existence in nearby space. It's the enemy, though the fifteen-millisecond battle is long over by the time I figure that out. I don't get a chance to see what the enemy ship looks like before it's blasted to shreds from a dozen different directions by the remaining defending mechs. But it apparently has enough time to loose a single shot.
"We have a confirmed kill," reports Tyro as my mech ceases to manoeuvre madly. "The enemy has been neutralised. However the red ring has been destroyed, leaving us with only three hundred metres of wormhole tubing. I'm forming what we have into as big a ring as possible. Ed, is there any way to expand the wormhole diameter wider than the rim itself?"
Ed responds with a string of syllables which would be incomprehensible even if I could hear them clearly. "But if that works it'll be a miracle," he adds. It sounds like there are people around him. He could be anywhere.
The coil of incomplete wormhole ahead of me flexes and writhes and curls into a circle as it floats towards the white line which marks the predicted centre of the asteroid's path. From my vantage point it looks like a pitiful effort. Tyro announces a test power-up. My mech's sensors pick up the building energy inside the wormhole. There's a flash of ultra-violet. Then it falls apart, split finely into two separate rings, both also rapidly fragmenting into pieces.
I've seen too many movies to give up now. I can hardly hear myself shouting at Ed for ideas, guidance, inspiration. It's some time before I realise that what he's shouting back at me is "There's no time, Sam, we're out of time! For heaven's sake, look down!"
"We still have—" and I glance at the clock again just at the instant it ticks to zero.
The noise of the asteroid hammering past me - seventeen hundred metres wide, mere kilometres away from me but still moving far too fast to even be seen - is deafening. I automatically rotate my mech's field of vision to follow its trail downwards, expecting to see a devastatingly bright light and an expanding ring of devastation.
Several seconds elapse.
"I don't see anything."