There was an unnatural and generally disapproving silence in the Aphorora while Biggs slammed a fist down on the bar and ordered two shots of Sylkis -- one for himself, and one for Wedge.

Wedge took a seat, took a careful sip of his drink -- it tasted vaguely like something a Grat had spit up -- then put the glass down.

Biggs lifted his glass enthusiastically, about half the drink sloshing over the side, and crowed, "We're free! From this point on, Wedge, we go where the wind blows, we're free agents! Permanently AWOL! Drink up!"

Permanently AWOL. With no further prompting, Wedge braced himself, downed his drink, and tried not to gag. Biggs went through the exact same procedure, then ordered two more shots.

"My girlfriend isn't going to like this, sir," Wedge sighed.

"Forget her, Wedge! Women. Who needs 'em? Women are like..." He lifted his glass to eye level so that he could peer at it properly through the helmet-view, "Women are like the army! They demand more loyalty than any man can give, and they don't recognize your genius, and they only pay you a lousy few thousand Gil a month, and they make you fight SeeD twerps and then demote you and cut your pay and steal your APR designs to build inferior models and then they make you take orders from some punk kid, and on top of that they don't recognize your genius! Good riddance!"

Wedge felt sick, and was fairly certain it wasn't the Sylkis.

Biggs raised his glass again, spilling it on -- well, on everything. "Come on, Wedge! A toast! TO FREEDOM!"

Wedge started to lift his glass, but stopped when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He and Biggs turned on their barstools to see a very large bald man -- with a prominent Forest Funguars tattoo on his neck -- glowering down at them. "It's not polite to wear your hat indoors," the man rumbled.

3.5 seconds later, Biggs and Wedge were in a heap on the cobblestones outside the pub. It was starting to rain, Wedge noted absently, as the pub doors slammed closed on an "An' don't come back!"

"You wish, MISTER!" Biggs retorted, shaking a fist and managing to thump Wedge's helmet with said fist. "Those drinks were TERRIBLE! And the atmosphere was MEDIOCRE!" He extricated himself and got to his feet. "What was that all about!" he demanded of no-one in particular, dusting off the front of his uniform.

"Do you think it had to do with all that talk about freedom, sir? And the fact that we're in Timber? And we're still in our uniforms?"

Biggs waved a hand dismissively at that, heading off in the direction of the nearest train station. "Enough of your babbling, Wedge! We have to focus on the future. From here, we'll catch a train! Destination: anywhere!"

"Can I go visit my girlfriend, sir?"

"Forget her, Wedge! She'll only cause you trouble."

"Elenor isn't the army, sir."

"That reminds me!" Biggs whipped a crumpled paper out of his pocket. "This came for you a week ago, I've been meaning to hand it over." Before Wedge could get it uncrumpled, Biggs summarized, "She left you when your third paycheck was docked. See? Nothing but trouble. Good riddance!"

The handwriting -- what he could see of it where the ink hadn't been smeared and where pocket lint wasn't clinging to the paper -- was hers. Wedge never imagined that the sound of his heart breaking would be exactly like the sound of crumpling already-crumpled paper.

"Wedge! Do you see what I see?"

What he saw, through the enhanced vision the helmet gave him, was Biggs standing in front of a run-down, empty storefront with a "FOR SALE" sign in the window. Hyne only knew what Biggs saw.

Wedge opened his mouth to say as much, and was cut off when Biggs threw an arm around his neck, and threw the other arm out to indicate the store. "Biggs & Wedge Electronics & Repair," he said, reverently. "It's beautiful."

Wedge stared. He didn't see anything of the sort, but gradually, as the oxygen deprivation courtesy of Biggs' grip began to settle in, it came a little clearer. Biggs & Wedge Electronics & Repair. A partnership. A nice, quiet store. Wedge had never been cut out for the army anyway, all that fighting and running around and getting demoted. He could see it now: no more SeeDs, no more drills, no more guard duty. No more Elenor.

A little sunlight seemed to filter through the clouds, highlighting the FOR SALE sign.

"Now let's go pawn your engagement ring."