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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


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EPILOGUE

"So," Robalii Rikka said, "I suppose my carefully rehearsed farewell speech must go to waste. I'll be seeing you again before very long, in the Star Union."

"Yes, Warmaster," Aileen Sommers replied. "The Legislative Assembly's confirmation came through today. There's still some paperwork left to unravel in the Foreign Ministry, of course."

"After which you will resume your position as ambassador from the Terran Federation to the Star Union-this time with proper accreditation," Rikka couldn't resist adding. "I must say it was a remarkably intelligent decision-" the Crucian stopped just short of saying on the standards of your human politicians "-given the unique status you hold among us. You are the logical choice. Oh, by the way, congratulations on your promotion."

"Thank you, Warmaster," she said with a grin . . . after a pause of her own just long enough to confirm that she knew perfectly well what Rikka had left unsaid, even though her agreement must remain equally silent. "They did it just minutes before retiring me. The whole business was a matter of hustling me from one office to another on the same floor. I think their idea was that a retired vice admiral would seem more impressive than a retired rear admiral."

"So you'd think the same logic would apply to her military attach'e, wouldn't you?" Feridoun Hafezi asked rhetorically. "They ought to have made me at least a rear admiral for the job. But no, the best they could do was commodore!"

"You're still on active duty," Sommers reminded him. "So in your case they have to play by the rules."

"Still . . ." Hafezi muttered darkly into his beard, and Rikka gave Sommers his race's smile.

"The esteem in which you're held in the Star Union has nothing to do with courtesy ranks. But if your rulers' belief that it does has caused them to give you a long-overdue promotion, then far be it from me to disillusion them."

"So the right thing gets done for the wrong reasons," Hafezi said, this time with a trace of genuine bitterness.

"In this universe," the Crucian pointed out gently, "the right thing gets done so seldom that it ill behooves us to be overly particular about the reasons when it does." He gave the slight flexing of his folded wings that presaged a return to formality. "I can delay no longer. Farewell for now."

Rikka departed, leaving the two humans alone in the lounge just inside the outer skin of Nova Terra's space station. They stood at the transparency and watched the light of Alpha Centauri A glint off the flanks of the Crucian ships. First Grand Wing, also known as Task Force 86, was preparing to return to the Star Union, where work still remained to be done.

After a moment, Hafezi spoke a little too casually.

"Well . . . have you thought about it?"

"Yes," Sommers said softly.

"And-?"

Sommers turned to face him. She looked the very picture of desire at war with a lifetime's stubborn determination to face the practicalities.

"There are a lot of problems, you know," she said.

"Such as?"

"We don't really have enough time before we leave for the Star Union."

"Yes we do. And even if we didn't, we could do it there. In fact, maybe you could do it yourself. Can't an ambassador perform marriages?"

"Be serious! There's also . . . well, we haven't had a chance to talk to your family. What are they going to think?"

"I believe they'll approve. And even if they don't . . . well, I hope they do, but if they don't it changes nothing."

"And what about you?"

"Me? Haven't I made clear enough that I couldn't care less about-"

She stopped him with the lightest touch of her fingertips to his mouth. She finally smiled.

"Are you sure you've thought everything through? For instance, I outrank you. You'll have to do as you're told."

"Me and a few billion other men," Hafezi remarked, and gathered her into an embrace.



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