And in 38 more hours, the two fighters slipped below 30% of the speed of light, decelerating at 110 times the surface gravity of the third planet out from the star they were now just beginning to see on their combined screen.
“Sun’s still there,” said Clay, lazing in Rachel’s arms. They had been making love an especially large proportion of the time. This was made possible in part by mild chemical enhancements built into the life support and food processing systems, in part by the biological and psychosocial rhythms of their relationship, in part by the strength of their shared interest and pleasure in the pastime itself as such, and in part by the fact that there wasn’t that much else to do.
“You can’t take the Sun from me,” Rachel sang vaguely.
“It’s ‘You can’t take the sky from me,’ if you’re quoting Firefly,” said Clay.
“How could that video have gotten so many things wrong and still be so darn good?”
“How did they stop making it after fourteen episodes?” asked Clay. “When they went on and on with Moonbase 2100 and remade Battlestar Galactica four times?”
“I have to admit,” said Rachel, “I peed a little when Zoe tells Wash, ‘we live on a spaceship, dear.’ That is you and me.”
“Oh, I’m Wash and you’re Zoe?”
“You thought we were Mal and Inara or whatever her name is?”
“You have the looks,” said Clay, “but you’re not a prostitute.
She smiled patiently at him, then kissed him. “Okay,” she sighed, “here we are. In a few more hours we should be able to get a clear idea of what shape the ol’ Solar System is in. I’m a bit nervous, aren’t you?”
He looked out over the width of the double screen, wrapped all around them, a few stray lights appearing now amongst the noise, in particular the one, now comprising a blob of a dozen pixels, to whose gravitational influence they were willingly committing themselves, the one that had shone down on their baby footsteps, their childhood games, and their skinny dipping way back when Clay had first learned of Rachel’s mole. “Yeah,” he said, checking inside himself. “Yeah, I’m a little nervous. I feel kind of like I’m about to knock on the door of a friend I haven’t seen in twenty years. Does he have kids? Has he turned into a jerk?”
“Probably both,” said Rachel. “So. Let’s say we wake up the close sensor system in two hours. What shall we do with ourselves in the meantime?”
“I don’t know, Rachel,” said Clay, turning to face her, her nipples in his chest hair. “What shall we do with ourselves in the meantime?”
“You’re not too nervous?”
“I am definitely not too nervous,” he murmured.
They kissed, and they kissed some more, and they giggled and whispered sweet nothings, sweet somethings about how lucky they were and how good it all felt, and then they made love again, and they were a little worn out from having made love so much, but that just meant that their love didn’t come to any conclusion, so for many, many minutes they simply enjoyed each other, stopping every so often, still entangled, to giggle and remark on how they could go on forever and how, how amazingly good it felt, and they would pause and whisper and giggle a little, and then they would find themselves resuming, and giggle again and kiss and then one of them would do something that astonished the other one, because they were still totally capable of that, and the fighters somehow, through their cushioned couches, kept cleaning the sweat off them, the air filters kept blowing pleasant cool air on them, and so finally, despite much reluctance on both their parts, Rachel and Clay parted and found that the timer had advanced two hours and a few minutes.
“Oh crap, look,” said Rachel. “Time to check on the system.”
“Okey dokey,” said Clay.
Working together, they pushed and poked and slid and got their combined sensor arrays to concentrate enough on the system before them that small regions they focused on came sharply into focus. And there was Saturn, and there was some part of the asteroid belt, and there was Mars, and there was Earth. And the next eight or ten words either of them spoke were expletives.