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XIII. Ngugma Space

 

1.

“Well, hubby-licious. We’re on our way.”

“To the middle of the galaxy,” said Clay. They lay back in each other’s Ghosts, naked and very relaxed. Their combined ship was accelerating past 90% of the speed of light. Around them, a hundred kilometers this side or that, four more pairs of Ghost 204s flew, like barrels full of dwarves bobbing on the river of space: Li and Timmis, Vera and Tasha, Apple and Izawa, Millie and Miz. Behind them somewhere, Tasmania rumbled toward light speed, alongside a cruiser explorer with six Ngugma crew.

“Just us,” said Rachel, leaning toward him for a kiss. “How do you feel?”

“It’s a lot to take in,” said Clay. “Let’s see. My suit chronometer says it’s been 141 days and about 19 hours since I got in the Ghost in the plaza in front of the U of Canada in Bouvier Square. And yet out there where it isn’t all moving at the speed of light, the year is what?” He poked his screen. “It is now the year 2853. And I have it in my log that we left Bluehorse, four and a half months ago in the year 2646. It’s 519 years since we left Earth, what, a year and a half ago, maybe?” He looked at Rachel. “So there’s that.”

“Yeah,” said Rachel. “We literally could be 11,000 years in the future in a matter of months. And the circle of people who have the same chronology as us is getting smaller and smaller.”

“It’s not getting any smaller than it is now,” said Clay. “This is The Fleet. As long as we all keep to the Vow.”

Rachel held him with her blue-green eyes. Such interesting eyes, Clay thought, and breasts. And everything else. She got a little grin, as she read his mind. She gave him a glance down and up, then back to his blue eyes. “We will keep the vow.” They kissed. “But if I were going to fly across the Milky Way with just one other fighter pilot, it would be you. How’s that for a fantasy?”

“I think it’s romantic,” said Clay. “We flew to Earth and back. For our honeymoon. We could see the cities of the Sagittarius Arm for our 20,000th Anniversary.”

“If it hasn’t been conquered by the Planet Fungus from the Core.” They kissed again. “We make a good team.”

“The best,” said Clay. He laughed. “Park’s still in there, in my brain, I can still hear her voice.”

“Mr. Gilbert,” said Rachel in her Park voice, “do I need to use sarcasm on you again?”

“No, no, please. Actually, go ahead. ‘Chide me, dear stone, that I might say again, thou art Hermione.’ Or something like that.”

“Is that Shakespeare? Or J. K. Rowling?” Clay nodded and shrugged. Rachel kissed him again. “The ones we love never really leave us,” she quoted. “Ha! They’re still in there nagging us. How do you think the younglings are handling it?”

“They were obviously thrilled,” said Clay. “Oh to be young again.”

A hundred kilometers away, Apple was saying, “I’m scared crapless, Gemma. Aren’t you?”

“I feel like I just jumped off a cliff,” said Izawa. Their Ghosts were joined and they had stowed their vac suits. They giggled. “Gonna be bad when we hit the bottom, but along the way, it’s kind of a thrill. Just hold my hand.”

“All the way down, babe,” said Apple.

A hundred kilometers in another direction, Vera was napping against Natasha, who was playing chess—with Fonnggark. It had never played chess before, and it was picking it up quickly, but not so quickly that Natasha had anything to worry about. Are you sure you want to do that? was one thing Natasha texted a lot.

I am not sure about any thing, Fonnggark texted back. I had thought the bishop was better than the night. But your two nights are better than my bishop and my rook.

Knights, Natasha sent back. They’re subtle. You’ll learn.

Ah, sent the Ngugma captain. Take the middle is important?

Very.

A long pause. Then: But Natasha. You make it so I cannot move. Nonetheless, Fonnggark made a move. Natasha asked if it really wanted to go there, and it signified that it didn’t have any better idea. Natasha then took its rook. It sent some sort of indecipherable Ngugma emoticon. You have beaten me again. Is chess why you are so very good as pilots?

Oh, sent Natasha, you need to play Set.

A hundred kilometers from Natasha and Vera, Li and Timmis were playing a game that looked like a cartoon about a plumber and a princess fighting an army of evil turtles, laughing and kissing as they captured flowers and mushrooms. A hundred kilometers from there, a passionate interlude was just ending.

“By God, Millicent,” said Mizra Aliya. “By God.”

“Oh, what about him,” said Millie Grohl, still panting. “Or her.”

“We cannot tell my family about this.” They giggled and kissed.

“They wouldn’t approve?”

“Oh, in what would it be, 22,000 years? I think they might have a change of heart.”

Millie thought about it, then said, “Does this bother you?”

“What?”

“The 22,000 year thing. Not the kissing thing.”

Miz thought about that and said, “I was a colony ship fighter pilot. We flew about the Moon, the Moon of Earth, you never visited that, did you? We flew about the Moon, hoping Commander Su Park would think we were just good enough. I believe I was the last on the list.”

“Oh, you were not.”

“No, no, I am quite sure I barely made the cut. Yet I was in the battle when we defended the Canada, I got my first kill defending the landing. I was some short girl in Aghabad, other kids made fun of me. And here I was blowing up enemy fighters. Real enemy fighters. And pretty close to getting blown up myself. Over a brand new planet, eighty light years from Earth. And then they assigned me to go to Tau Ceti, you know, and they gave me this colony ship recruit.”

“Tau Ceti was pretty impressive,” said Millie. “Not that I’d want to live there. It’s not, you know, space. That colony ship recruit. That was me! That was my first mission!”

“That was the best mission ever.”” Miz held Millie with a faint smile. “I suppose it didn’t hurt that I fell in love.”

“No,” said Millie. “No, I don’t think that hurt at all. And this?”

“And to fly all the way to Tau Ceti, that’s 75 light years from Bluehorse, and see a colony there doing pretty well. Well, we’re four times that far from Bluehorse now. And we’re only getting started. We have approximately 10,600 light years to go yet.”

“And we’re,” said Millie Grohl, “99% of light speed.”

Miz took a long breath, fixing Millie with her brown eyes. “I love it,” she said. “I love my life. I love light speed. I know I’m crazy. I love flying ten thousand light years down the Orion Arm. I love everything about this. I love it.” She laughed. “Let’s go all the way to the other end of the Orion Arm. I could not imagine a better crew of people to be doing that with. I could not imagine a better partner to fly across the galaxy with.”

The little fleet flew on across the blackest of seas, further and further from the planets of their birth.

 

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