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6.

Alpha Centauri did have beer, a spicy orange brew that had never been in the same solar system as a barley plant. The galley, in Section B, was undamaged by the attack, and while dozens of Centaurians swarmed over Section C to effect long-term repairs, Court and Renko and three of the gunners and two engineers showed Clay and Rachel the best time the system had to offer. The decoration was eclectic, bare panel in some places, mural in others, posters stuck on the walls at random. The bar was self serve; the beer came out of the tap into what amounted to sippy cups. Smoke tubes hovered near, unused; they’d already been used plenty.

The mouthholes had evaporated by the time Clay and Rachel were back in the station. They left behind them pieces of dozens of their comrades. The humans had lost four of their own in the battle, but the whole 950-hour assault had cost the lives of over two thousand, maybe fifteen percent of the population, and at least fifty percent of the liveable volume of the station.

“We’ll bleepin’ fix it,” Court said for the sixth time, over her sixth beer. “What the bleep. We got nothing better to do.”

“We’ll fix it up like it was,” said Renko.

“Maybe it’s time,” said a young man with a ponytail, “to think about moving those dead bodies?”

Renko turned and gave him a long look, then a vigorous shove. The young man lost his hold on a handle on the bar and hurtled backward ten meters into a wall and a poster of a naked man and woman in a jungle. Renko watched him glide away, as if he was watching a golf ball fly.

“Maybe he’s right,” said Renko. He tossed back the second half of his nth beer, tossed it behind him and headed for the door. “G’night, all,” he said.

“There’s a lot we need to fix,” said Court, sipping another quarter of her glass.

“This stuff isn’t bad, actually,” said Clay, sipping his fifth or sixth.

“Yeah it is,” said Rachel. She punched him fondly in the shoulder.

“I think it bleepin’ woke us up,” said Court. “This place was zombie land the last, oh, since we saw the video from Earth. Then the attack by those mouthholes. Bleepin’ A, what are you supposed to think about that? This could so easily have ended in us all floating dead and cold.”

Clay met her eyes, then looked away and said, “I’m not gonna say you’re wrong.”

“But you think you guys will wake back up,” said Rachel.

“We have to,” said Court, suddenly glum. “We have to.” She took a drink. “I say that’s just what we needed. I say we were in a dead end. Now we know we have to do something new. And it starts with rebuilding.”

“We need some fighters,” said a young woman, looking up from a doze against the bar, her nth beer in her hand. “Defend ourselves.”

“No bleep,” said another young woman. “I volunteer.”

“We’ll share the design specs,” said Rachel. “I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t be able to build one here. What did you have with the Centaur Project?”

“Stinkin’ exploration pods,” said the first young woman. “They suck.”

“Have you thought of colonizing one of the asteroids?” asked Clay. “Just a thought.”

Court turned around to the other crew. Several dozen were in the room, and three were tuning up electric instruments. “Colonize an asteroid!” she shouted. “Build some fighters! Can we do that?”

“Yeah,” said some of the crowd.

“Louder!”

“Yes we can,” came back in a good hearty roar from at least half the people in the room.

“We’ll call the council,” said an older man. “Hey, yeah, I think they’re all here.”

“Hey yeah,” said an older woman. “But we’re all stinko.”

“It’s a good thing this place is on a military footing,” said Clay to Rachel. She smirked.

“It’s funny about that,” said a woman next to Rachel, who turned out to be Avery. “We’ve always been like this military place, everyone wears badges. I mean, I know Earth isn’t like that. Wasn’t. But it’s sort of normal, it’s the Alpha C way, you know?” She drank. “Wasn’t,” she said, letting a little sob through in her voice. “Wasn’t, not isn’t, not anymore.” She took one more drink, then put her head down and whimpered. In a few seconds, she was snoring.

“Glad they don’t let the pressure get to them,” said Rachel.

“Glad you don’t,” said Clay.

“I bleeping do, Clay Gilbert. You know the pressure gets to me. Well, not the pressure—!”

“You’re lying! You’re always so cool.”

“Not pressure,” said Rachel precisely, “no, more like fear.” She took a drink. “Like just this constant dread. I don’t like it.” She laughed.

“No, I know what you mean,” said Clay. “I don’t like it either. I don’t bleeping like it. I don’t like having it occur to me that if I don’t kill this alien, it is going to chew me up and I am going to be dead in the cold of space. What did Court say? Cold and dead. Dead and cold.”

They looked at each other. “And it’s so bleeping close,” Rachel said at last, in a low voice. “Cold dead space. It’s just millimeters away. I hate that. I do not like that at all.” She took a drink. “Mister God, Missus Goddess, I do not like space at all. Could you put me somewhere else?”

“Now you’re lying.”

She looked at him. “No, Clay,” she said. “I’m a bleeping addict. I couldn’t not do space. Could you?” She finished the glass, and, finding herself floating next to the spigot, poured herself one more. “How about a smoke?”

“Okey dokey, Rachel,” said Clay. He took a sip. “Goddess. PTSD much?”

“Only all the time.”

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