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2.

There wasn’t anything more to do for old Earth. Rachel and Clay walked along the cliff naked, smooched a little in the stiff breeze, held hands and gazed out over the blue distance, wasted a few more fractions of an hour, and then they found themselves standing there fidgeting.

“We better go,” said Rachel.

“Yeah,” said Clay, turning to head back toward the Ghosts. “I don’t know anyone here anymore.”

“Well,” said Rachel, falling in beside him, walking along looking down to find smooth rock for their feet, “not trying to be funny at a funeral, let’s just say the fight has moved elsewhere. Possibly to Bluehorse.”

“Possibly to Alpha C,” said Clay. “Possibly to 667, did you think of that? Gliese 667. 581’s sister colony in the Venture Program.”

“Clay,” said Rachel, “we had three colony attempts before Human Horizon: 581, Alpha C and 667. What do you think the odds are that all three of them worked out? What do you think the odds are that 581 is the worst of the three? What do you think the odds are that 581 is the best of the three?”

“Besides,” said Clay, “I mean, I would feel bad if, say, Gliese 667 had a lovely colony but it got ruined by a mining invasion. But that would just mean half the Venture program down the drain. It’s not exactly to compare with losing Earth.” He stopped and looked around, and she stopped, and the two of them stood there, the tallest and second tallest humans on Earth, naked as the day they were born, glowing in the sunlight, looking out with their eagle eyes over the cliff and out across the North Atlantic.

“Sucks,” said Rachel.

“And so we proceed from where we are,” said Clay. “What say, Commander? Check the mining ships? Have a look at our old digs on the Moon? Head for Mathilde?”

Rachel kept looking out, then raised her eyebrows and said, “I don’t know. Is it my call?”

“I say so.”

“Okay. Okey dokey, like you say, Clay babe, husband hunk-alicious. Let’s take our little Ghosts out and see if we can’t execute a little fun maneuver and learn something.”

“Okey doke, commander wifey, I go where you go.”

She smirked at him, and then looked serious, her green-blue eyes piercing his blues. “Clay,” she said. “Extra careful. Kay?”

“You too,” he said quietly.

A few minutes later, vac suited up, they were in their Ghosts and rising off of Greenland. Probably, almost certainly, thought Clay, never to return. But now Rachel was pulling out and Clay had to hustle to keep up, which he didn’t mind since it sucked his mind away from the sentimental doldrum dragging at him. Earth. Not his planet anymore. Important, meaningful, nostalgic, but not his planet anymore.

They dropped down off the cliff and then sloped outward over the sea. The waves were rather towering, twenty meters between crests and troughs, so Rachel set a course five meters above the crests, doing a mere soccer field per second. They made for the central Atlantic operation, and within a few minutes, ahead of them, they saw a freight shuttle emerge.

“Catch that one, or wait for the next?” asked Rachel.

“Catch that one,” said Clay. Half a second later, Rachel was shooting away from him, approaching a kilometer a second, and just as he caught up with her, she was slamming on the metaphorical brakes. The shuttle was still laboring upward through its first kilometer of altitude, and the two little fighters easily got close.

The thing was boxy: the miners clearly shared the human preference for rectangles. It was alien in an indefinable way, in something about the design and the ratios and the color of the material, but it was also familiar. Even its size, its unprecedented size, seemed like something humans might conceive of, even though, even star fighter pilots like Clay and Rachel had never seen anything that size take off from a planet. It had plenty of widgets and gizmos attached to its flanks, plenty of braces and ladders and linkages and tracks and trusses, but it was so huge that it seemed almost as smooth as a Platonic solid. They followed it, both in awe of it, both scorning it, both wondering what the hell to make of this thing which seemed so banal, so impossibly crude and clumsy, which was taking part in the taking apart of the home planet of their species.

The trio, one huge and two tiny, came up out of Earth’s atmosphere and headed for one of the vast mining vessels. The fighters were tooling along in the immediate wake of the shuttle, when suddenly Clay saw Rachel’s Ghost topple backward and float off, dead in space. His heart raced, but he mastered himself and flipped his craft into the same behavior. Seconds later, both Ghosts were tumbling along with the rubble of many satellites in Earth’s upper orbits.

Above them, the shuttle maneuvered ponderously to rendezvous with the mining vessel, while eight tiny ships, slightly smaller even than Ghost 201s, raced around the shuttle as if checking it for ticks. They didn’t find any.

A few minutes later, two small black objects quietly accelerated in the opposite direction and then curved upward, taking the most covert route they could find into the sky.

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