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4.

Rachel and Clay got into space immediately, and while the Ngugma cruisers tried to stop and turn around, the two Ghosts were hitting 110% acceleration out of the system of Sol.

“So why is it 110% acceleration,” asked Clay, “if we can do it without our engines blowing up? Wouldn’t it be 100%?”

“Well,” Rachel replied, “they rated the thrust according to what they thought its maximum sustained capacity was, and that’s what they got as a sort of average. Right?”

“But this is at least the second time we’ve pushed our engines this hard,” said Clay. “And I don’t know about yours, but mine is showing no ill effects whatsoever. I haven’t blown up or had my ship crumble into little pieces and leave me flying through space at relativistic speeds in just my vac suit even once.”

“Well, give it time. Seriously, Clay, another ninety minutes and we’ll be at 35%, and at that point we should cut thrust for rendezvous. You do want to rendezvous, don’t you?”

“Rachel. You know what your clever maneuvers do to me. Of course I want to rendezvous. I always want to rendezvous.”

“Oh, no more than I do, hunkalicious.”

Ninety minutes later, traveling at 35% of the speed of the typical photon, Rachel and Clay again flawlessly took their fighters through the rendezvous maneuver. They got their fighters sealed together, then pushed their engines back up to 100% and took off their vac suits. They had some recycled waste to eat, clicked flasks of recycled liquid with alcohol, and then they made love, and then they were shooting on through space at 45% of the speed of the typical photon, relaxing in each other’s arms.

“Actually,” said Rachel, “I think you need to have over 100% so that you can do exactly that.”

“What?” asked Clay.

“Have a little extra you were pretending you didn’t have. Push your horse all the way to the limit and still be able to push her a little further if you need to.”

“Okay, I buy that.” They kissed. “Mmm, I also like our rendezvous maneuvers.”

“Mmm,” said Rachel. “I love how you follow my orders on our rendezvous maneuvers. I love how you really go to town on our rendezvous maneuvers.”

“So,” he went on, “I notice we are not headed for Alpha C. I take it a course correction is in order, or are we heading home that much faster?”

“It’s only going to slow us down by a year or two,” said Rachel. “Which will mean an extra two weeks for us. Due to the magic of—!”

“Frickin’ time dilation,” said Clay. They kissed. “And hopefully when we get to Bluehorse, one, there will be anyone left there at all and not just a planet full of holes, or blasted by Primoid battleships or something, and two, there will be anyone at all we actually remember.”

“Never fear. Vera and Tasha will be there. They promised.”

“Did you read The Forever War?”

“Yeah,” said Rachel. “You made me read it. Love the bit about the cat.”

They cuddled and smooched some more. Clay asked, “So how close to the speed of light are we pushing it? How many nines after the decimal?”

“Oh, not so many,” said Rachel. “Five maybe. Maybe. We’re only going four light years today, I don’t want to get in trouble on something like that.”

“Any chance those furry bastards will follow us to Alpha C?”

“Oh, who knows. Why would they? But a little bit of me hopes they do.”

“Really?”

“How well do you know me, hubby-licious?”

Clay raised his eyebrows, then kissed her. “I’m just glad I got you out of there without having you go up against one of those mining ships.”

“Oh, I’m not reckless, you know that.”

“No, but you’re stubborn.”

Rachel just smiled. She kissed him again, and they cuddled, and then they kissed a little more, and it wasn’t long before they were practicing their rendezvous just a little more.

They slept. They exercised. They played Set and chess and simulator. And it was only a week or so later, as they experienced the time, that the two Ghosts, flying united, dropped past 30% of the speed of light in the star system of Alpha, Beta and Proxima Centauri, and began to pick up signs of live, noisy human technology blasting away at dive-bombing mouthholes.

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