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2.

“You and your movie quotes,” said Rachel, as she relaxed, naked, in Clay’s arms. “I’m going to have to watch that one again.”

“I can’t explain,” replied Clay. “They killed 205 million people so they would have a free hand to ransack my home planet for iron. There’s just no rational way to answer that.”

They lay cuddling for a little, accelerating at full past the orbit of Neptune, and then Rachel said, “Bitch about Miranda.”

“Yeah.”

“I had some hope about that place. I don’t know why, though. It couldn’t have had more than a few hundred people. Vesta, Mathilde, Mars, even Callisto and Ganymede, you’d have regular business with Earth, with the mining going on in the main belt. Miranda had, I don’t know, some science stuff, it was sort of a way station on the way out to Alpha C and so on, but how often do you need that?”

“But there it was,” said Clay. “There they were. All five hundred or a thousand of them. Why did they deserve to be blown up?”

“Why did anyone deserve anything,” said Rachel flatly.

“Sorry. Mood killer.”

“Big time,” said Rachel. But she stretched and relaxed and rearranged herself in his arms, and her arms around him. They kissed. “So according to the folks at Mathilde,” she said, “Alpha C was a going thing, but didn’t have any actual farming or anything, just hydro. Can’t be very big. You know what it makes me think of.”

“You’re going to say, 581, aren’t you?” said Clay. “But it might be more like Mathilde, just without the security issue.”

“Well, we’re going there, right? I mean, we might as well. We’re in the neighborhood.”

Rachel snickered. She shifted against Clay. “We are such fighter pilots,” she said. “We pull on our vac suits to clean up. We poo in our vac suits. We reprocess it and eat it. We wave at neutrinos as we fly alongside them. The photons stop to fuel up and change to virtual positrons and back, and we wave at them as we fly by. We zip over to the Alpha C on the way home from Earth because, you know, we’re in the neighborhood.” She giggled. “Kinda cool, right?”

“Yeah, I think about that sometimes.” They cuddled and kissed for a minute, and then Clay said, “We meet people and hug them goodbye and we don’t say ‘see you later’ because next time we’re in the neighborhood, they’ll be two hundred years old. We get back to visit the old stomping grounds and find that the whole human race has died horribly. We have dogfights with aliens in space. We blast aliens in space because they’re trying to blast us. It’s different.”

Rachel pulled back as far as she could in their closet, just to get a good look at Clay. He met her eyes. “Was that too serious?” he asked.

“No, it’s not that,” said Rachel. After a moment she said, “No, I think you hit the nail on the head.” She cuddled against him, the top of her black-haired head against his ear, her breast in his belly hair, and said, “And we think other people have meaningless lives.”

“I don’t,” said Clay. “Well, okay, I do, but no more than I do.” They lay a moment longer and he said, “Okay, actually, I guess we all have the feeling that we’re the only thing that’s real.”

“You, me and Vera and Tasha and Su Park.”

“And Timmis, don’t forget Timmis,” said Clay. “And Li and Jane and Bonnie Frickin’ Bain.”

“Oh, don’t remind me. That strumpet.”

He smirked. “Just us and the photons and neutrinos.” He kissed Rachel’s head. He reached out his right hand and slid a spot on her screen, magnifying. He poked and frowned. She turned half around in his arms to look. “Hmm.”

“Hmm?”

“Just us and the neutrinos,” he said. “And two more Ngugma cruisers.”

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