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Atop a hill on Centuris, a girl and a boy eyed each other warily. He'd come prepared, a blanket rolled under his arm and binoculars dangling from his neck. The binoculars were still swaying with the force of his stop after he'd dashed up the hill and saw her at the same moment she'd spotted him.
Shayalin had run here, too, knowing her mother wouldn't approve but unable to stay away. This was the best hill from which to see ships descend to the spaceport, and they came to the colony only once a year.
"I'm watching the supply ships from here," she said, waiting for his reaction. The boys of her acquaintance liked ships, but when they played with their models they crashed them into each other in mock space battles. They never listened when she pointed out that ships used long-range weapons instead of brute collisions.
He fingered the strap of his binoculars. "So'm I."
Return to impasse. She knew the shadows were creeping longer and arrival was approaching.
"I guess we can both watch," he said, sounding resigned in the face of time slipping away.
She sat down on the grass and hugged her knees.
"You're going to stain your skirt."
She turned to stare at him, wondering if her mother had suddenly appeared in his place. But standing there still was the same boy with freckles and ruddy hair and no business telling her about the state of her clothes.
He looked abashed. "That's all the girls in school care about, not getting dirty."
"All the boys care about is fighting."
"I want to fight," he said. "But in a ship."
"My dad fought in a ship," she said.
He was suitably impressed. "A pilot?"
But now he grew skeptical. "Of a scout ship?"
"Cargo," she admitted.
"And he fought?"
"Pirates attacked his ship. He died. Before I was born."
He was quiet.
She looked resolutely upward, although the stars were blurred through her tears. Shayalin had never known her father, but how many times had her mother said in exasperation that she took after him? He would have understood her and her longing to get off-planet, she was sure.
There was a soft rustle and then, "You can sit on it too." He'd spread out the blanket and sat on one side, leaving enough room for her.
She accepted his peace offering, scooting onto the nearest corner. "I had to come out when my mom wasn't looking. So I didn't have time to change."
"She doesn't like ships?"
"She doesn't like that I want to be on one. She wants me to stay on Centuris and take up her hearth and help the colony grow. But I want to go up there, just like my dad."
"Yeah, when I grow up I'm joining the Corps. I'm going to be a fighter pilot! I'll take care of those pirates." He aimed an imaginary blaster and pretended to blow pirates out of the air.
"I'll take care of them myself," she said.
"Not if I get to them first!"
They glared at each other.
She was wondering if she should get off the blanket when his gaze shifted and he threw an arm upward to point. "Look!"
It was a bright star at first, flaring against Centuris's atmosphere, but it grew swiftly to dwarf everything else in the evening sky. She knew it was headed for the spaceport, but for a moment she imagined it was coming toward her. It was a supply ship, all bulk and blank metal, but to her it couldn't have been more beautiful.
"Horizon-class," the boy said, binoculars glued to his face.
She ached to ask but bit her tongue. He sensed the question anyway. To her surprise, he lowered the binoculars and said diffidently, "Want to see?"