Death is the state from which there is no recovery. Love is what forever rejects that state.
Forty years passed, and ten fighters and an armored merchant came back to the moon, not the Moon, just the moon, in its azure light. Eighty years the chalet on the plain had waited, and all it took to look good as new was to have the dust swept from the balcony and the windows. They parked their fighters in the bay under the rooftop, while Tasmania sat in the icy front yard.
“Needs a few improvements,” Natasha judged, as she and her wing, and Apple and Izawa and Kalkar, stood in the empty galley. “Working kitchen. Hot tub.”
“Definitely hot tub,” said Apple.
“We need more bedrooms,” said Kalkar. “How much time are we going to spend here?”
“We are going to set up patrols,” said Rachel. “All of us will only be here together every, oh, couple hundred years? Couple thousand, maybe? And either we all go somewhere together, or six go one place and four another, and Tasmania goes with someone. That’s my concept, anyway.”
“It sounds like an excellent concept,” said Kalkar. “Not one my dear Su Park would have come up with, but she’s dealing with her own problems. For all we know, she’s fighting the Ngugma at her end of the Arm.”
“In the year 14,000?” said Clay. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“Still, I stand by what I said. We need more bedrooms.”
“We can do that,” said Rachel. Clay felt her hand in his, taking it, taking him all over again, for the millionth time, as her own. They looked at each other and giggled.
“We know you only need one for the two of you,” said Kalkar.
“It’s not that. It’s just, we’re not used to having such a big bed.”
“I’m sure you’ll find some use for all that room,” said Kalkar.
“Clay,” said Vera, “what did you mean, ‘now we see as through a darkened glass?’ How did you know?”
“Something I figured out about the way we see things when we get that close to the speed of light,” said Clay. “I don’t really get it myself. But I realized, this is how mouthholes operate. You don’t see them, then you do. It’s all to do with that sideways drop we took at light speed.”
“And the France?” she asked. Clay gave her a funny look, but didn’t get the chance to reply.
“So what do we do,” asked Apple, “now we beat the Enemy? I mean, I get that the Enemy will be back and all—!”
“The Enemy never left,” said Vera. “Either they’re still holding out somewhere in the Arm, ready to infect more systems, or they’ll be back across the Empty Straits in a hundred years or so. We just have to keep patrolling.”
“We keep patrolling,” said Rachel. “It’s how we stay young. It’s not magic. We go a hundred years to someplace, and a hundred more somewhere else, and we circle back to Azure every thousand years or so, and it’ll be three months later. Split up—Alpha goes one way, Beta, Millie-Miz and Tasmania go another way, we meet back here in a thousand. Find a spore flower, a bunch of mouthholes, whatever, we blast them. If we find an infestation, we message the Ngugma and they come whip up some astatine.”
“And maybe we get reinforced,” said Clay. “It’s not out of the question. Su Park went a couple hundred light years back; in a thousand years the new recruits might have already found Azure. Skzyyn might have sent some Tskelly. I miss those crazy bastards.”
“I know you do,” said Rachel. “I miss Skippy.”
Kalkar, looking out the window at the big planet on the horizon, laughed. Clay said, “I miss a lot of people. But the thing is.”
“I’m glad it’s you guys,” said Vera. They looked around at each other: Alpha Wing.
“I’m just glad I get to be one of you guys,” said Mizra Aliya. Maria Apple and Gemma Izawa smirked.
Several months later, in their third floor bedroom, overlooking the back yard and a long slope down into a cute little crater, Clay woke hazily of a morning. Several months later: he was not used to being on real time.
He heard Rachel in the bathroom. He was awake, so he got up, pulled on a bathrobe, and wandered out into the middle of the third floor. Five bedrooms adjoined the central room, the apartments of five married couples: the fighter pilots. There were a dozen chairs of various styles, and three tables. In the middle sat a large round bathtub. Li and Timmis sat together at a table, eating some version of French toast; Aliya and Grohl were playing chess, with real pieces; Tasha, Vera, Apple and Izawa were all in the tub, dressed as one dresses for a tub.
“Newlyweds playing chess,” said Clay, looking over Mizra Aliya’s shoulder.
“I can’t let up on her,” said Aliya, “especially now we’re wedded.”
“Oh, you’re not letting up at all,” said Millie Grohl. “I wouldn’t worry about that.”
“Come join us, Clayburger,” said Natasha. “Lose the robe,” said Vera.
“Yeah,” said Apple, “Wifey won’t mind, she can join us too. Where is she?”
“She’s using the bathroom, if you must know,” said Clay. He shrugged and took off his robe, which he tossed over a chair near the tablet on which he was rereading the Witch Tales of some magic chick lit writer of 26th Century Bluehorse.
“Is she?” said Natasha, with a bit more knowingness than Clay knew what to do with.
“Yeah, actually,” said Clay. He began to step in, and something made him turn and look at Timmis and Li, who glanced his way. “How’s the nausea, Commander?” he asked.
“It’s pretty much gone,” said Li. “I think we’ll have smooth sailing for the next six months.” She laughed and looked at Timmis.
“Then all heck breaks loose,” said Timmis.
“Oh, she’ll be a perfect child, just like you and I both were, I am sure,” said Li. They both smiled down on her midsection, which did not show through her loose robe.
“You’re going to beat Padfoot,” said Aliya. “She’s due in seven months, I think. Shelleen’s big as a house. Emily’s pregnant too. Raea’s gonna have twins. Poor Captain Kalkar. That ship’s going to be crawling with babies.” She smiled at Grohl.
“I’m not going to,” said Millie Grohl. “Are you?”
“As if,” said Aliya. “You guys think about it?”
The four women in the tub scoffed as one. “Come on, hunkburger,” said Vera, “stop showing off your ass and grab some suds.”
“Ms. Santos, really,” said Clay in his best Su Park imitation.
He dropped into the tub, as he had done every morning (every thirty hours, that is) for the past three Earth months. They smiled around at each other. The five pilots did not quite have the chance to start into their usual risqué banter: the door to Clay’s bedroom opened and out came Rachel, wearing no bathrobe, her sensor device in her hand. She was grinning.
“Oh, let me guess,” said Vera.
“No, let Clay guess,” said Natasha.
“What?” said Clay. He looked at Rachel, who continued grinning. “Wait,” he said. “What?”
“Is it?” said Natasha. “Are you?”
“That’s what it says,” said Rachel. “Tasha! Oh my goddess!”
“Well, get in here and get your hugs,” said Vera.
“Jeez, Clay, man,” said Apple. “You know what just happened, right?”
“I know nothing,” said Clay, relaxing into the bath, glancing across the unclothed women around him, the smart, talented, clever, formidable, murderous women around him, and out at the azure landscape and the Milky Way rising above it all. “Except my life is never going to be the same.”