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II. Fyatskaab



“I won’t say she looks as good as new,” said Clay, as he and Rachel and Padfoot stood around his Ghost, in the bay of the Tasmania. “She always looks better than new.”

“Don’t get her banged up just so I can fix her,” said Padfoot, “but yes, we took the opportunity to rebuild your engine and your combat systems. You have fourteen hundred some missiles now. Your comm has backup. I know that’s gone on the fritz on you twice.”

“Did you reinforce that nose cone?” asked Rachel. “He likes that ramming maneuver.”

“Now, now,” said Clay.

“And when did you start calling your fighter ‘she’?”

“I’ve always called her ‘she.’ Haven’t I?”

“We did not reinforce the nose cone,” said Padfoot, “though Gene suggested it. I’d say, get in that situation again, try back left or back right, it’s wider than just a nose, it’s got the main guts right under your seat, so that’s weight, and it’s pretty solid. Or just do what everyone else does and stay fifty kilometers away from your enemy. Makes it easier on me.”

“It was not something I spent a lot of time thinking about, actually. I sort of saw red.”

“I thought it was clever, actually,” said Rachel. “So the orders are set.”

“We’re all going with,” said Padfoot, a little defensively.

“What? Why wouldn’t you?” said Rachel. “Alpha and Beta are just going on ahead, just like coming here. The Primoids are sending a force, Honshu and Tasmania are going, everyone’s going. Just we,” and she smiled smugly at Clay, “are going on ahead, as usual.”

“How far is it?” asked Clay. “We’re twelve light years from Bluehorse.”

“It’s 31 to the Fyaa home world,” said Padfoot.

“Yes. So if you were sent back to Bluehorse, which they might have done for all sorts of reasons, you would return to find the people who live there 24 years older. That would have been weird. But you know we’re going further. You knew all along Alpha and Beta, at the very least, were going a lot further than twelve out and twelve back.”

“Honestly,” said Padfoot, “I would never see you again. Any of you. They’d tie Tasmania down to Bluehorse and we’d all raise our kids and hope you remembered us when you came back five hundred years later.” They stared up at her: she was, among other things, twelve centimeters taller than either of them. She smiled, though she had tears in her eyes.

“So instead,” said Clay, “you’re coming with us, and you’re going to be all alone in our own little chronology.”

“Till we part, I guess,” said Padfoot. “Don’t forget to love your new fighter. Care for her.” She gave Clay a shoulder push and stalked out.

Clay and Rachel looked at each other. “Well, it’s emotional,” said Rachel. “I understand that.”

“So do I,” said Clay, thinking of his niece Yvette. “But there’s only one person I know I’m never going to leave behind in my stardust, and that’s Rachel Frickin’ Andros.” They grinned, then kissed quick and went back inside.