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XI. Chasing and Chaste

1.

“I cannot believe you, Clay Gilbert,” Rachel was saying as they took off to an altitude of a meter and floated out a side door and over the polar desert of Gliese 667 Cc. She had been saying things more or less like that for the past several hours. Supposedly they had gotten some sleep, but it was hard to doze off with a pissed off Rachel within strangling distance of his neck.

Now they hovered out across the highlands under low clouds of thin vapor, headed for their staging spot on the night side of the planet. Above them, the invading Primoid fleet closed in on orbit, while the rebels, reinforced to numerical equality, began to get into space. They had waited as long as they could to defer the moment when the invaders knew they didn’t have a numerical advantage, and now took off just in time to have space rather than atmosphere around them for the fight.

Meanwhile, Clay had plenty of time to think about the situation, and the situation did not involve Primoids. It involved human females, three of them.

Clay didn’t get it. He knew better than to argue, but he didn’t get it.

Of course Karen and Angelica were anxious to leave Gliese 667. Angelica was right when she pointed out that their situation was way different from that of Rachel and Clay, or than that of the Mathildeans or the Centaurians or the 581-ers. They hadn’t even seen another living human in sixteen years, and they knew already by now that the entire human population of Earth was horribly dead. What would Clay have been like if he’d been stuck on a desert island somewhere, or a planet somewhere, with only his mother and a bunch of, say, Koreans? Or giant insects?

Karen had flirted with Clay. So had Angelica. Again, why was this a surprise? They were both, evidently, heterosexual females, and they had spent a long time without contact with the opposite sex. Angelica had practically grown up with only her mom and the Primoids for social contact. It was great that she knew so much about how to communicate with them; Clay didn’t think that Rachel had sufficient sympathy for the girl, or gave sufficient credit to her. Angelica was clearly quite intelligent. But communicating with Primoids, interesting and useful as it was, was not the same as having someone to talk to.

As for Karen, she had even less social contact, and she remembered having more. She had lost whoever Angelica’s father was, probably in the attack on the human base. He wondered what her life had been like back then, before the attack, when the humans and the Primoids had coexisted in their separate bases. He wondered what the human colony had been like. He wondered what Karen had been like. He wondered what she looked like naked. He wondered what Karen’s husband, or lover, had been like. He wondered just what she was like when she was making love. He wondered about that intensely. She had been very close to him. She could have kissed him. She could have done much more than that, except that people were watching. She could have done so many things so many ways…

Clay snapped to attention. Rachel was frustrating and Karen was fascinating. But he knew Rachel and he didn’t know Karen. Karen wanted him, but Karen wanted other things too, like getting away from 667. Rachel was only frustrating because he knew her so well. No doubt Karen was frustrating too, if he got to know her well. Rachel was wonderful to kiss, wonderful to make love to, he really did appreciate her.

But oh, he could appreciate the heck out of Karen. He could thoroughly appreciate her.

He shook his head as if to shake the thoughts out of his brain, but it didn’t work.

“Clay Gilbert,” Rachel was saying, “are you prepared for this? Are you ready?”

“Yes,” he said, and his voice sounded strange. “I have the plan down.”

“Well, I hope so. You need to get your head into it, hubby dear. Honestly, why is this happening? What is going on here? The first live woman you see other than me—no, you didn’t make moves on Court or Avery, or did you?”

“Rachel. I didn’t make moves on anybody.” He didn’t say “Karen,” because he suspected he might inflect in a suspicious way.

“I just—oh, forget it. Clay Gilbert, you think about this at some point, okay? But not now, not now. You need your head straight.”

“I have my head on straight.”

“Well, that’s great. Keep it there. You have about ten minutes till they make contact.” She shut off their communication, leaving him stewing in the cold soup of her scorn.

And there he was, nine minutes and forty seconds later, still stewing, when Rachel alerted him to get into space. They zipped out of the lee of a shallow rock cave and rose up, still mostly concealed by cloud cover at four different levels of the atmosphere. In four minutes they had passed those four levels of cloud and the curiously purple sky gave way to blue-black.

Clay was leaving those planet problems on the planet. He was escaping to the cold shelter of space.

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