Whatever Clay had done and forgotten with Miss Jana Bluehorse, there was no tearful parting as he and the rest of Alpha and Gamma departed. Ally Schwinn and Alice Grohl, who seemed to be seeing eye to eye these days, had ordained that there should be a departure event, and hundreds of colonists along with scores of big ship crew. Schwinn and the other three colony ship captains shook hands with each of the pilots, and Kalkar shook Park’s hand for a good minute while they conferred and joked in low voices, and Grohl hugged Park, then Rachel, and then apparently decided that all eight needed to be hugged. Meanwhile Clay and Natasha found themselves making faces at a trio of children among the colonists.
“That’s what it’s all about, right there,” said Natasha. “Finding them a place to grow up.”
“That isn’t powered by giant engines and giant batteries,” said Rachel.
So they all waved, climbed into their fighters and pulled their hatches shut. Clay cast a glance at Gamma Wing, but Vera wasn’t looking at him at that moment: she was joking with Timmis, then saying something to Bouvier. Clay couldn’t help smirk—the official facial expression of Alpha Wing. Then he was hatched up, then he was sending a “ready” signal to Park, then with a bump they were dropped, thrown really, into space.
Alpha Wing formed up and attached by conduit. “Engage nav program Gliese 163,” came Park’s voice. And there it was, a cozy little system as imagined by the computers, a ruddy little star and its family of five little gas giants, the innermost one scarlet and practically grazing the outer veils of the red dwarf, the outermost one blue and chilly and looking like an outcast from the family.
“Pretty,” came Natasha’s comment.
“Full of possibilities,” said Rachel.
“A long way to go before we find out,” said Park. “Forty-two light years. We will still be only forty-nine light years from home. A colony there would be easily serviceable. But I think the sentiment among the captaincy is to go further afield if this doesn’t pan out.”
“The captaincy?” replied Natasha.
“There is disagreement,” said Park.
“Commander,” said Clay, “if I may be so bold, I know I’m just the Tail of this wing, but if you would open the door just a smidge to the counsels of the Wise, what exactly do you mean by, there is disagreement?”
Park did not answer immediately. Clay was just bracing for sarcasm when she said, “Well, as you must have noticed, Captain Schwinn and Captain Trein were not exactly on the same page during our Grand Meeting. She was one of the main reasons we even had the Grand Meeting, which I certainly had my doubts about—!”
“You won that meeting,” said Natasha. “You totally did.”
“One does not win a meeting, Miss Kleiner.”
“Well, maybe not,” said Rachel, “but if one did, one would have knocked that one right out of the ballpark, if one had been you.”
“And if one had been inclined to use ball game metaphors,” said Clay.
“In any case,” said Park, “Captain Trein and Captain Mark were not so inclined to submit the whole thing to discussions among the stake holders. Thus the, uh, attempt to steer the discussion to choosing a provisional leadership. You noticed how well that went.”
“We noticed,” said Rachel, “how you steered it right back to reality.”
“I do not have an opinion,” said Park. “I simply wanted to be sure we did what we needed to.”
“Commander,” said Clay, “I won’t ask you whether you think Admiral Georges is ever going to reappear. I’m going to ask how the leadership issue is going to be resolved.”
Again there was a brief pause. Then Park said, “Whatever happens amongst the big ships, Alpha Wing answers to Commander Su Park.”
“We knew that already,” said Rachel.
“And you will notice that Park and Bouvier and Vilya do not have public disagreements, as do Schwinn and Trein and Garant and Mark.”
“And we noticed,” said Rachel, “that Kalkar seems to be in our camp. Does he think the Tasmania is a gigantic fighter?”
“We’ll see,” replied Park. “Are you ready to explore a new system?”
“We’re ready,” said Rachel, and a few seconds later the private comm light showed a message from her to Clay. He touched the screen over his head and heard her voice saying, “Are you ready to get trounced in chess, or would you prefer to be trounced on the simulator?”