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Clay and Rachel smiled, then looked at each other and kissed. Natasha came over and they all turned away to look out and down over the view below: the broad valley where Rachel and Clay had walked, and the expanse of the little parallelogram ocean. There they stood, three little people on the edge of a party full of big people.

“Best. Wing. Ever,” said Rachel.

“Best ever,” said Natasha. “Yep,” said Clay.

“Ron’s okay with it, you know,” quoted Rachel. “As long as we keep the snogging to a minimum.”

“Which we won’t,” said Clay.

“What now?” asked Natasha.

“Never mind,” said Clay. “Harry Potter,” said Rachel. “Is it true that you’re having a thing with Vera?”

“Mmm, that’s a secret, that is,” said Natasha, but Vera came over just then and the two women kissed. So did Rachel and Clay. When they stopped, Park was with them.

“As you were,” she said, as if any of the four had been in the least embarrassed.

“You realize,” said Rachel, “you’re the only surviving original Commander?”

“It’s a shock,” said Park. “Agneska Vilya flew to Alpha C with me, and Celeste, well, she was an excellent pilot and an excellent wing commander and the easiest person to work with, and I don’t even know what to think about why she’s gone, why they’re gone, and I’m still here. How do you think about it?”

“I don’t know,” said Rachel.

“She was everything a commander should be,” said Vera. I learned a lot from her, and also from you, Commander.”

“I couldn’t believe we lost Bluehorse,” said Clay. “And then, you know, Rojette and Vilya and Celeste. I don’t know.”

“Not gonna forget them,” said Natasha, and she turned to look at Vera, who had pulled Natasha against her side by side. They kissed. “Not gonna forget,” Vera murmured.

“So, Andros,” said Park, “not to change the subject, but do you realize you’re the only original Wing Second who hasn’t been promoted to Commander?”

“I like second,” said Rachel. “I still have a capable Wing Tail under me.” The women all snickered and smirked upon Clay, who did not blush.

“Well then,” said Park. “I do have, as you know, serious duties for all four of you. We can rest for some number of weeks, one does not need to get serious right away, but then we need to get back into space. Jane and Li and Captains Kalkar and Nilsstrom and I have discussed—!”

“Oh, the real Captaincy?” said Clay.

Park gave him a tiny smile. “We have discussed sending Miss Andros and Mr Gilbert back to Earth to report, and Misses Kleiner and Santos with the Greenland to attempt to contact the so-called Primoid rebels at Candy One, and then possibly to attempt to meet with the, er, Primoid government, or whatever they have on that line. The rest of the wings would explore with the Tasmania. We would meet back here; for all of us, if we arrange it right, only a year or so would pass.”

“But what, a couple of hundred years for Earth?” asked Rachel.

“That sounds right.”

“I can’t wait to drop by and see what’s happening at the Pub St-Alexandre,” said Clay.

“Bring back some croissants,” said Vera. “If you’re stopping by Ville de Quebec. It’ll also be a couple of hundred years for the colonists, of course. Man, it’s like time traveling into the future.”

“I wonder how they’ll govern themselves?” asked Rachel.

“It will be interesting to see,” replied Park. “I think they will make mistakes. I think they will do fine. How about you? Do you think you will have governance issues without me to keep Mr Gilbert in line?”

Rachel turned to Clay. She was smiling. He had not thought she could look more beautiful, but she did. She kissed him and laughed and kissed him again. “No,” she said, “I don’t anticipate any governance problems.” They laughed and kissed again, lingering, as the wind blew their hair and carried the sounds of their laughter off over a new world

THE   END

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