He had to fight down a completely inappropriate giggle then. He’d had a sudden image of human geeks sallying forth to do combat in ill-fitting spacesuits with pocket protectors.

He was helped in stifling the giggle by the sight of Mallu. Talk about maniacs! The Krant-Captain had launched himself toward the writhing Ekhat with four other Jao.

Was he mad? That pair of claws could cut through Jao battle armor about as easily as it had taken off the head of the slave. The kind of light armor on a spacesuit, anyway.

But there was a method to Mallu’s method, Tully realized, once the Jao struck the Ekhat. Between his mass and that of the other four Jao who hit the huge body a split-second later, they drove the Ekhat against a large nearby vehicle of some kind. If it was a vehicle at all, which wasn’t clear. The design of the thing had a closer resemblance to a jungle gym than any vehicle Tully could think of.

But that design was perfect for Mallu’s purpose. The badly-injured body of the Ekhat, driven into the object by the momentum of five armored Jao warriors, was effectively immobilized. It wasn’t spinning any longer, and while a bit of spin had been imparted to the vehicle-cum-jungle-gym, the object was too massive to be moving much.

Kelly and Greer’s experience had enabled them to counter the recoil of the “recoilless” rifles, unlike what had happened to Urta and Naddo. They pushed off from nearby supports at the same time they fired the weapons. Kelly had used a deck stanchion, both times; Greer had used the bulk of a large wrecked vehicle. That pretty much counter-acted the recoil. So they were both was back already, and got to very close range, just barely out of reach of the remaining limbs.

He fired again. Another knee-equivalent was turned into fleshy ruin and another lower limb was sent flying. Greer fired and the same happened to the limb next to it. The Ekhat’s mouth, clearly visible in the helmet, opened in what looked like a screech. Then, with the one clawed limb remaining to it, the Ekhat began smashing at its helmet.

It was trying to suicide, Tully realized. And while that helmet seemed very sturdy, it wouldn’t stand up for very long. Not given the insane strength with which the Ekhat was beating itself.

No way to shoot the knee joint, either. Or was it the elbow? Tully neither knew nor cared. Not the way it was waving around now.

Mallu must have reached the same conclusion at the same time. Mallu shouted something in Jao that Tully didn’t catch. Then — Jao could be just as crazy as Ekhat, sometimes, he and all four of his soldiers launched themselves at the waving claws.

They caught them — more or less; snagged them, anyway — and for just a moment the limb was immobilized.

Greer had come to literally point-blank range. He couldn’t risk aiming at the knees/elbows, because the Jao were close. So he took off the whole limb, right below what amounted to a shoulder.

A cloud of blood engulfed him. Mallu and the four other Jao, still holding the claws, drifted away. The Ekhat seemed to shrivel, like an insect caught in a flame. Then, its mouth agape in that same screech — what Tully took for a screech, anyway — the monster began beating its head against the object in which it was pinned. Still trying to suicide, even with no limbs left.

But “trying” was the operative term, Tully saw. Even a creature as huge and powerful as an Ekhat couldn’t smash open a helmet designed to withstand combat in space, when it only has its torso muscles to work with and lacked any effective leverage.

And not even an immense and maniacally murderous Ekhat could remain conscious for very long, with all six legs severed. It had to be suffering badly from its own version of shock. Tully could see the mouth grow slack and the eyes turn a dimmer shade of red. A few seconds later, the creature was still.

So much for that. Now. How to keep the damn thing from bleeding to death? The Ekhat’s suit had stopped the ichor-flow from the first five severed limbs. But the blast that took off the last limb, coming right at the shoulder, had created too large a wound for the suit’s own resources. Ichor was spewing out, just like it would from a human or Jao arterial wound.

Mallu came up with the answer to that. A temporary solution, anyway. Whether it would keep the thing alive for very long was hard to say.

Lasers hadn’t been of much use when it came to capturing the Ekhat. But they did just fine at cauterizing the monster’s wound. True, any orthopedic and plastic surgeons assigned the task of restoring the Ekhat to its proper shape and vigor afterward would have cursed Tully and his crew. But Tully could live with that burden for… ever and ever and ever.

Miller came up to him. “They’re all dead, sir. The slaves, I mean. Except for” — she pointed at a cluster of soldiers—”three of them over there. When the last Ekhat went down, they were the only ones left. They quit, then. Sorta turned into pumpkins, in fact. Dropped their weapons, curled into little balls and didn’t do anything. I didn’t see any point in killing them, so we’ve got them captured.”

“Good work, lieutenant,” he said, feeling pompous but not knowing what else to say. There were some definite disadvantages to having the hots for a very capable subordinate officer. You were always a little at a loss for words, for which you compensated by acting middle-aged. Middle-aged and dull-witted.

But this was no time to be thinking about Caewithe Miller’s ready smile and bright blue eyes — much less the small but very feminine body that lay hidden somewhere beneath her spacesuit. So Tully sternly told himself, and turned to address the others present.

“Good work, Kelly and Greer. Mallu, my congratulations.”

Could he possibly sound any more middle-aged and dull-witted? He didn’t think so.