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3.

The only people with them in the Honshu’s bay as Clay and his seven best friends set off from PSB6 to Fyatskaab, the Fyaa home world, were Park, Padfoot and Jack Dott, the utility officer who considered himself the little fleet’s concierge.

“We have no idea what you’re going to see,” Park told them. “The Fyaa fighter pilots and mechanics may still be holding out, but, given the thoroughness with which the Ngugma typically approach their chosen tasks, I imagine any resisters will be well-hidden and well-armed. The Ngugma, conceivably, might be done with what they’re doing, but we think they won’t be. Either way, we will have a warm trail to follow, because we are not out to stop the Ngugma from ravaging the Fyaa home world, or ravaging earth. We’re out to stop them ravaging anything.”

“Their ravaging days are over,” said Natasha.

“Let’s hope so, but you eight are not expected to do it by yourself. You know that, right?”

“Yes, we know that,” said Rachel. She turned her smirk on Apple and Izawa. “You two know that?”

“We know it,” said Izawa, and Apple said, “We made the Unbreakable Vow.”

“So about the fighters,” said Li Zan. “I understand they’ve been improved again.”

“They’re looking good, guys,” was Jack Dott’s verdict.

“I’d have to agree,” said Padfoot, running her hands along the outside of Clay’s ghost. “If you needed to, you could travel fifty, maybe a hundred light years at a jump, and if you find enough starlight for your battery, you could make a dozen jumps, a hundred. It was a good ship, it’s now a great ship, an amazing ship. You’re sure you’ll still need us?”

“Don’t joke about that,” said Vera. “Of course we need you. It scares the crap out of me, going just the eight of us somewhere like this. Before we left Bluehorse, we hardly knew what a Fyaa looked like, and none of us had seen a Ngugma except on video, much less had any idea how to defeat them. Now we’re going to Fyatskaab, to confront a whole Ngugma mining fleet. I won’t lie. It scares me crapless.”

The other pilots all glanced at her, a little startled still, except for Natasha, who smirked. The official facial expression of Alpha Wing. “I get it,” she said. “I really do.”

“You?” said Clay. “You two are the killers. I’m just a shuttle jockey.”

“I completely get it,” said Su Park. “You all do, I know you do. You, for certain, Mr. Shuttle Jockey. Who flew all the way back to Earth, fought Ngugma cruisers and came all the way back with the news. I hope you never overcome your fear. You are going far away, and you’re going by yourselves. Just you, and your ship, and your fellow pilots, and your skills, and your fear.”

“It’s what we have,” said Rachel. “It’s plenty.”

“All right, then,” said Park. “No need to prolong the farewells.” She then hugged each of the eight, which would only seem un-Park-like to someone who had not been around her long. They muttered words of good will to one another, while Padfoot and Dott looked on.

“Safe travels,” said Dott. “Call me if you need anything. See you in what, three weeks? Or is it thirty-one years?”

“It’s both, Jack,” said Clay, shaking Dott’s hand. Then he grabbed Padfoot in a hug. “Thanks, Padfoot,” he said, letting her go. “See you all later.”

He smirked around at the others, including Izawa and Apple, who then smirked at one another. They kissed, then got in their Ghosts and sealed up. The other couples all did basically the same. Then they were dropping out of the Honshu bay, moving off a few hundred kilometers, hitting maximum thrust and speeding out of the PSB6 system, never to return.

 

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