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IV. Teenagers


Dear Clay,

I can’t wait to see you. It should be less than a week. I’m sure you want to talk. I want to talk too. Do you want to try and communicate this way for now? It seems awkward, with six or eight hours between replies. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot and I’m sure you have too. I’m not sure if thinking is any help.

Damn it, none of this sounds like what I really mean. I guess that may be because I don’t know what I really mean.

Since I can’t seem to think of how to describe what I actually want or feel, I should at least reassure you that I felt the magic that night. That should be obvious, right? And, well, whatever else we may both be thinking, I definitely wouldn’t mind another night of magic.

Can’t wait to see you,

Clay read it and read it again and reread it again. Then he started in trying to form a reply but he wound up deleting hundreds of words and deleting them again and re-deleting them again.

What did she mean? What did she mean by “I don’t know what I really mean?” Was it a good kind of “I don’t know what I really mean” or a bad kind?

But then he knew he didn’t really know what he wanted or meant or remembered, except for one thing. He definitely remembered that kiss. So he finally got himself squared away and wrote:

Dear Vera:

I feel the same way, in the sense that I don’t know what I feel, because I feel so many things. And you’re right, I’ve been thinking a lot and I’m not sure if it’s any help. And you’re right, I definitely wouldn’t mind another night of magic. But there won’t be another night like that.

I fear this system is a bit short on accommodations. I literally have not been out of my vac suit since we left Earth orbit. There are lots of places we can go to be by ourselves but we’d have to keep our helmets sealed. Any suggestions?

I can’t wait to see you either. Clay

Meanwhile, the freighters were busily communicating with Commander Park. “They’ll be slowed down into orbit around A in about ninety hours,” she informed Alpha Wing as they flew a recreational tour over the moon they were calling Algaeville. “Kalkar wants to have a get together on board the Tasmania. The freight hold is big enough for basically everyone. They’ll be linking the three freighters together once they’re in orbit: I think they’re going to settle into the empty planetary slot between g and d. We can talk in there, have it all out.”

“Commander,” said Rachel, “he doesn’t still think he’s over you, does he?”

“I assure you he does not,” said Park. “But the complicating factor is that we have at least a week to show him and his colleagues what we’ve found, and then the colony ships show up and we have to show everyone everything all over again.”

“So we can’t decide anything,” said Rachel.

“No. Well, we can decide whatever we want. But Admiral is going to roll in in about eight days and he’ll re-decide everything.”

“So, we’re just the children waiting for the adults to come home,” said Clay.

“That’s the size of it,” said Park. “Even Kalkar is just a teenager, I guess you’d say. Well, think Mom and Dad will like the algae we discovered?”

Thirty hours later, Alpha Wing got its first communication from Beta Wing, just as light showing Beta Wing leaving the red dwarf reached Alpha Wing. If they had hoped for a decent spot for a colony around 55 Cancri B, they were destined to be disappointed.

“The preliminary word,” Agneska Vilya called ahead from six light days away, “is that they’re not going to want to colonize anywhere around the red dwarf. The inner planet is practically on fire, the outer one is basically covered in an ocean of methane sludge, and the asteroids are all comets. The moons are barren or radioactive or just plain explosive. I got that you found some sort of low level life: we didn’t even see that. Plenty of CO2 ice and water ice and methane ice. The most interesting thing that happened was that Bluehorse almost got blown into space when she set off a patch of methane ice. You’ll get the full story when we reach you, by which time the colonists should be in the system. I fear we are going to have to disappoint them. More later. Vilya out.”

“So,” Clay said to Rachel as they were walking on Algaeville, trying not to step on the algae, “first system, no gold star.”

“Not from the colonists’ point of view,” she replied. “You got a message from Vera. What’d she say? Come on, spill the beans.”