Les and Ema are standing side by side in front of one of Orbital 9’s big picture windows. The sky before them is black, not navy blue as it appears on Earth, and the stars gleam resolutely in their places, unaffected by the millions of years of change that they have seen pass before them. Les wishes that he could be as unimpeded as those clusters of gas and hot air. Maybe then, he wouldn’t feel so despondent about the fact that Ema is leaving.
“Are you sure you have to go?” he finally asks, unable to make eye contact with her.
She nods remorsefully. “Yes, I’m sure. We all have our places, and mine isn’t here. I’m not cut out for work with the Uniters…or the ILG now, I suppose. No matter. I never wanted to be a soldier.”
Neither did I,he almost points out, but thinks better of it.
“Les?” she says quietly after a while. “Do you remember the day when I broke up with you?”
“I’ve been trying not to.”
“You told me then that you thought you’d always be in love with me.” Her eyes, lovely even in their somberness, turn towards him shyly. “Do you still think that’s true?”
“Of course it is,” he answers immediately. “I still love you more than anything, and I know I always will. But if you’re happier without me, and if leaving is something that you really want to do, then I’ll support you all the way.”
In an instant, he feels her arms around his neck and her full lips pressed up against his mouth. It’s so sudden that he doesn’t even see her move. He stands there in rigid shock, absolutely frozen, not kissing her back because he can’t seem to process the fact that this is happening at all.
She pulls away from him, her face surrounded by swirling eddies of golden hair that have escaped from her ponytail. She looks so angelically lovely that he feels just as awestruck as he did the first time he ever saw her. Even though her eyes are desperate and her skin is paler than normal, he can hardly recall a time when she looked more beautiful than she does now.
“I’mnothappier without you,” she whispers, and then, in the same breath, “Come with me.”
“Wh…what?” he stammers.
“Come back to Earth with me,” she repeats insistently. “I don’t want to leave without you. We can see the world together. We’ll stay with each other, maybe forever. And nothing will be able to tear us apart ever again.”
He exhales slowly. Her proposition does sound wonderful beyond belief, but at the same time… “I…I don’t know if I can do that. I already said that I’d help the ILG with their cause, and I’m supposed to go back to Settlement 209 with Lai and Mr. Amity…”
“Tell them that you’ve changed your mind. They’ll understand. They know that the only reason you became a Uniter in the first place was because of me – we all know that. Please, Les…Cade. I need you.”
The combination of hearing his old name and seeing her horribly pleading eyes is what gets him. He draws her towards him, and they come together in a passionate kiss that lasts for quite some time. When they finally pull apart, both of them breathing heavily, he murmurs, “You said that you’re planning to travel a lot?”
“Yes. We’d be obvious targets if we went home, so I figured we should use the opportunity to see the world. We can check out all of the settlements on other continents and learn about what countries they used to be in, see the ancient landmarks, visit historical districts, things like that. I figure that once we get back, maybe things will have cooled down a bit.”
She has effortlessly switched from saying “I” to “we,” but then again, she probably always knew that he would be powerless to resist her request.
“We’ll do whatever you want to do,” he promises her. “I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
They make their exit quietly and without fanfare, but to them it seems like a perfect ending to a modern day fairy tale. They can just imagine how Lai might write the final chapter of this story:
In the end, the queen discovered that her old best friend, the guard, had been living in the palace the entire time, but no one had recognized him because of his clever disguise. He had never told her who he really was, and when she finally found out, she was furious.
But she had bigger problems to deal with. Because you see, the kingdom that she and her husband ruled over was being torn apart by a civil war. The queen didn’t know what to do. She was only just discovering that governing takes more skills than simply being able to solve other people’s emotional problems. Fortunately, her former best friend stepped in to try and abate the conflict. He seemed to be doing a pretty good job of it, too, better than she or the king ever could.
In the end, the queen decided to give up her throne. She became nothing more than a young woman, and the king nothing more than a young man. They put on disguises of their own and slipped out of the kingdom under the cover of night. They eloped together, deciding to go to a mystical place that they had heard of, where beautiful castles towered over crystal lakes and the flowers would whisper and tickle your cheeks when you picked them. It would be a perfect place, they imagined. Once they were there, they would never have to worry about anything ever again.
And they both lived happily ever after.