Chapter Ten

Proto Zoa searched for around thirty minutes before finding the ladder to the roof pulled down in the middle of the hallway. He climbed it and took a seat on the roof, next to Zenon.

"There's a star missing," Zenon whispered.

"I know, love. I know," he replied, unable to hide the pain he felt at seeing Zenon that way.

She continued to stare at the horizon, and Zoa noticed it. There was a larger than normal patch of darkness there, where the space station used to be. This blotch seemed almost ringed by stars and was quite small, amid similar blotches and numerous, numerous stars, but it seemed the most noticeable, the only blotch that mattered.

"Zee," he whispered, "I'm sorry. I should've done more."

"You couldn't. I couldn't disarm the bomb."

"I don't want you to blame yourself, Zee. I know you and Margie and Dasha did what you could, what you knew how to do, but I'm the one you should blame, for separating a man who might've had a laser from something that needed a laser to stop functioning. It's my fault."

"No. It's not your fault, Zoa."

"So, if it's not your fault, and it's not mine, than whose is it? Or is it a horrendous accident?"

"It's not an accident. Numbar got what he wanted."

"So that's why you blame yourself. You feel like he won."

"He did win, Zoa. He got what he wanted. He blew up the spay-stay, and now he can do whatever he wants with the space. He can piggy-back to Mars in that space if he wants to. He. Won."

"One battle," a strangely familiar voice said from behind them. Zenon and Zoa turned to face Mars, who was squatted farther up the roof, watching them patiently. "Numbar only won once. There's another battle coming, and if it's the one that ends the war before it even starts, then it should be you planting the flag, not him, and yes, I'm being hypothetical. He still has to open his colony to hopeful, oblivious Earthlings, and so help them if they're there when I destroy that establishment." He stood and dissolved into streams of red ribbon, shooting upward.

"Oh, Zoa," Zenon whispered, leaning into him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, his cheek resting against the top of her head, content merely to hold her silently.