The Ballard of Cairo
Part fifty: In retrospect

DropShip Wataru
Outbound, Solaris VII
Lyran Alliance

O'Brien stood looking out of the observation bay at the receding Game World. She heard the door behind her opening and a shadow fell over her. She looked at the new reflection in the window. "Feeling better now?"

"Better than I have in a long time." Lt. Steven Clark of the Los Alamos Defence Force smiled.

"It's going to be weird, seeing you with that uniform," O'Brien turned and smiled, tracing his name badge with her finger, "getting used to calling you Clark rather than Cairo."

"Cairo served his purpose." Clark smiled, "He's not needed anymore"

O'Brien kissed him, "Well, Lt. Clark, sir, be in the mess hall in ten minutes. Dress uniform. You have an obligation to live up to."

"One of the happiest duties a ship's captain is allowed to do is to perform marriage ceremonies." Jackson smiled at the DropShip crew. "This is only the second time I've been asked to do this, so I hope you'll bear with me." He turned to Clark, "Do you, Steven Patrick Clark, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?"

"I do." Clark smiled.

Jackson turned to O'Brien. "Do you, Sinead Elizabeth O'Brien, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?"

"Of course I do." She laughed,

Jackson grinned from ear to ear. "Then by the power invested in me as master of this vessel, I pronounce you man and wife." Clark and Sinead kissed and the assembled crew cheered.

A pounding on the cabin hatch Clark early next morning. Sinead stirred as he got out of bed and, pulling a robe around himself, floated across the room. Jackson was outside, a note-puter in his hand and a grim look on his face. Clark took the note-puter and closed the hatch without a word.

Sinead was sitting up in bed by the time he had read the message for the second time. "What is it Steven?" she asked sleepily.

Clark tossed the note-puter to his wife. "Word of Blake has attacked Outreach. The Dragoons are all but destroyed. There are reports of fighting across the entire Chaos March. It's the start of a war." Sinead caught the slowly spinning note-puter and read it for herself as Clark pushed himself off of the hatch and to the closet. He slowly pulled out the uniform with Cairo still printed on the left chest. 'Some things never change', he thought silently to himself.

End of Book 1