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2.

In the dawn, after drinking and romancing themselves to a decent amount of sleep, Rachel Andros and Clay Gilbert got up, took a final briefing with Su Park and Captain Kalkar and Captain Schwinn and Alice Grohl, each of whom had sent files of instructions but needed to give verbal appendices as well.

“We have a lot to educate them about,” said Schwinn, “so they can go make some more colonies. We may be the first one to succeed.”

“Can we trade with them? That’s what I want to know,” said Kalkar.

“We need to know what Earth thinks our legal and political situation is,” said Grohl. “Do they think we’re a territory or something? Do they imagine they can tell us what to do at a distance of ninety plus light years?”

“Watch for mouthholes,” said Park. “Watch for Primoids. Watch for all the other things we haven’t seen yet.”

Then they got up, shook hands and headed out onto the open plaza before the Canada. A crowd of some hundreds were gathered around, laughing and milling and drinking their morning coffee and gawking at the pint-size celebrity alien killers in front of them. The two pilots, in a small pack of pilots, moved toward the two Ghost-201s sitting open. Tasmania’s chief mechanic, Patricia “Padfoot” Hixon, stood there with her underling Gene Bell, shipbuilder and director of the Canada colony’s high school band.

“We tweaked the tweaks you requested,” said Bell. “Now you’ve tested our improvements and we re-improved the improvements, you should be good for a couple centuries travel.”

“Are we going to see you when we get back?” asked Rachel.

“We should be about your age still,” said Padfoot. “Tasmania’s going traveling too.”

Clay looked into his fighter. “That glare thing’s okay now?” he asked.

“Yeah, we fixed that,” said Bell, leaning in. “I made it so you can dial any level of gleam you like. Heck, you can make everything shades of pink if you want.”

“I made him put in a display reset too, just in case,” said Padfoot.

“And the combat systems?” asked Rachel.

“Can now burn through thirty alien gun emplacements per minute,” said Padfoot.

“And we loaded you with exactly 716 combat missiles,” said Bell. “Doubt you’ll run out.”

“Hope we don’t need them,” said Clay.

“Nice to have them in case,” said Rachel, “because I think we’ll need them.”

Rachel and Clay shook hands with the mechanics. Then they turned and hugged Vera and Natasha. Then they hugged Bonnie Bain and Jamaica Leith, Timmis Green and Li Zan, Jane Tremblay and Maria Apple and Anand Ree. Clay arrived at Su Park, who was somehow glaring primly at him. She stuck out her hand, he took it, and she pulled him close for a hug with some iron in it. She let him go, and everyone laughed, and then she gave Rachel a like hug, and then the two of them waved and went to their fighters. They looked around, then turned to each other and kissed, then climbed in and shut hatches. Their fighters hovered up a meter, waited a second, then rose faster, and at a hundred meters they engaged thrust and accelerated away at 10, then 100, then 1000 meters per second per second.

The two fighters slanted up and out of the atmosphere, their flectors sweeping the air aside, their acceleration buffers keeping them from turning into pancakes. In five minutes, they were in space, moving at twelve kilometers per second. In five more minutes, they were doing three hundred kilometers per second, enough to cross Canada west to east in twenty seconds.

“Chess?” asked Rachel. “Or would you rather hook up?”

“Well, what do you think?”

An hour later, Rachel and Clay were leaving Bluehorse-3 behind, a pocked globe of rock with glints of water, and heading for the orbit of Bluehorse-4. Their ships were one ship, combined along the elongated hatches, and the two little pilots floated together, their vac suits stowed, their legs and hair mingling.

“Mmm, Clay,” Rachel murmured, “I think they improved the erectile supplements in the food processor formulas again.”

“Or it could just be you,” said Clay.

They kissed languidly, then again, and giggled. They kissed again, and let themselves get carried away for a minute.

“Oh,” said Rachel, “well, whichever it is, it seems to be working again.” And so, further entangled, they flew on past the orbits of Bluehorse-4 and Bluehorse-5 and accelerated into the darkness.

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