For a window six inches thick, it gave a surprisingly good view with the room lights off. The lampblack soil gave pride of place to the ringed planet rising above, for all its size seeming almost ethereal in the starry predawn sky. Not many Earthlings then living had ever seen such a sight, or would, and it was at the moment wasted on the man who sat looking out the window.

Sheets rustled. “Bill?” Connie knew turning on the bedside light would annoy him, and eventually decided not to do it anyway. He got out of bed instead, and walked over in the dim Saturnlight to rest a hand on each of Bill’s broad shoulders and give him a gentle shake. “William?” Another shake. “Hello! Colonel Tasker!”

Bill started. “Mm? I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No, Colonel. But you did disappoint me, leaving me to wake up in an empty bed.”

“Ah, well.” Bill didn’t look away from the window, and after a moment Connie sat down next to him on the divan.

“Okay, Bill.” The teasing lilt was gone from Connie’s voice now. “We came here to enjoy ourselves, but you’ve been like this since I got here and I’m tired of it. Whatever’s on your mind, if talking about it will help get it off your mind so we can have fun with each other, I’ll listen. So do you want to tell me what the hell’s going on with you right now?”

“No, not really.” Bill waited for Connie to take a breath. “I was thinking about my wife.”

“Bill! Really? Here? She doesn’t - you haven’t told her anything?”

“Of course not, and you know that. Would you be here if you thought I was a fool?”

“I might not be here anyway, in a minute. Where are you going with this?”

“I don’t know! It seems like such a waste. Her, me, all of it. It gets to me, and that there’s nothing to do about any of it bothers me more. And hell, you were supposed to be too asleep to care about me sitting here in a brown study.”

“Oh, I see,” Connie said. “Wing Colonel Willam Tasker, soon to be vice-commander of the Ganymede Garrison. Paragon of the Earth System Navy, husband of Susan, father of six. Secretly a Romantic poet at heart, longing for nothing more than to - I don’t know. Sit under a goddamned willow tree smoking opium and writing about the soul of love, or something.” He dug a knuckle, not gently, into Bill’s bare ribs. “Is that about right?”

Bill turned, laughing, and fell atop Connie, pinning the smaller man to the couch. “You are such an asshole, Koenraad!” What followed was something like a kiss, in the way an arm-wrestling match is something like a handshake. “Lucky for you,” Bill added after a moment, “I like that sort of thing.”

“Of course you do, Colonel. What would you be doing here if you didn’t?”

“Oh, for -“ Bill abruptly sat up again, half turning away. “I really can’t stand you sometimes, you know that?”

“Yes, and it’s adorable. You know what we’re worth to each other. You’re not going to throw that away because I made a joke you didn’t like. You really aren’t a fool, even if you behave like one sometimes.”

“Well, thank you very much for that generous evaluation, Mister Gertodtenhaupt.”

“It’s a professional opinion, William. I’m surrounded by fools every day. It is nice every so often to deal with someone who mostly isn’t one.”

“‘Mostly.’ Are you going to keep running your mouth like this all week?”

“The way I see it, Colonel, that’s entirely up to you. Would you like to suggest a better way for me to spend my time?”

“Well, you could go down to the bar. Plenty of people there who’ll put up with your bullshit. Don’t forget your wallet - they’ll be wanting a bonus after. Maybe before, if you start talking first.”

Connie laughed. “As if I’d dress to go down to the bar. Where would I carry a wallet? But, no, you don’t get away from me that easily. If you want to leave, leave. I’m staying here.”

“Are you asking me to shut you up, Connie?”

“All I’m doing is airing my thoughts as they come to me. If you don’t care for them, I think you know what you can do about it.”

If the last kiss was an arm-wrestling match, this one was a fistfight, and that was just for a start. By the time both men sprawled exhausted, bruised, and content across a bed mostly denuded of covers, Euphemus crater was deep in shadow and the soft glow of local sunset shone on the resort hotel perched at its rim.

“You know that’s illegal.”

Bill set the lighter aside, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and handed Connie the cigarette. “I know you don’t care. Do you really think it’s going to work out?”

“Think what’s going to work out?”

“The project.”

“Shop talk, Bill? Now?

“Come on, Connie. You can’t seriously buy this nonsense.”

“Don’t you like the idea, though? A brand-new planet, all your own.”

“Sounds like a lot of work. Give me that.”

Connie blew smoke in his face. “No. Some of the candidates seem like they might be viable, but the funding is so good that it works out for both of us either way.”

“Both of us?”

“Of course! How selfish do you think I am?”

“Do you want a real answer to that question? I’m too worn out for any more games, Connie. Tell me what you’re getting at.”

“You’re no fun at all. Have you heard who’s going to be assigned to lead the FTL project?”

Bill snatched back the cigarette and dragged hard on it. “No. What, do you know something?”

“Massive military spending in support of an extrasolar colonization project headed up by the corporation whose board I recently joined as a majority shareholder. What about this do you imagine that I don’t know?”

“Oh, come on, you can’t be -“

“You’ll have to promise to pretend to be surprised at the promotion ceremony, General Tasker.”

“Connie!” This time, the kiss is almost tender.

“Ugh, Bill, you taste like smoke…”

(1049 words)

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