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It was all but inevitable.

Sparta Command is a stronghold, but your western front is falling. Her mindworm broods are immense and her locust swarms are tearing your soldiers apart. And Yang...

"I dislike fighting a war on two fronts," she says, gaze steady. "What can you offer me, Colonel Santiago?"

"Cease fire," you say, "and I will swear a pact to serve you."

Negotiations won't be simple. But she meets your eyes and perhaps she remembers kisses shared in the Unity bulkhead, debates in her ecological preserve. Perhaps she sees your conviction as you've realised her strength.

"I accept."

 

Your people are celebrating, feasting and playing and living to welcome your new dawn.

Here in your chambers, Deirdre passes you a book.

You haven't seen one in millennia. But here one is: pulp from Earth trees pressed into paper, the closest Planet-equivalents to leather and fresh ink. You open it, run your fingers down the pages, press your nose to the bindings to breathe it in.

You say, "You didn't come here just to give me this."

Deirdre smiles. Tomorrow you'll lose these trappings for a new existence, but today you touch for the last time, skin to skin.

 

(And what is it, but a step toward humanity's future? Eternity lies ahead of you, and behind; her touch alights goosebumps on your skin, this long-preserved relic of yourself in blood and nerves and flesh, but once you're more -

"We already live forever," you say, "immortality is simple enough."

"But why stay content when we could be more?"

Together in the planetmind, who will you be, who will she? To exist beyond this brane-world and in the unexplored dimensions of reality, your human mind, your life, your being -

She looks toward it with a steady anticipation. You're not so sure.)