The Winter War
been, and look forward to
all that is to come. The Long Dark is gone and we look into the
light. Let this First Day be the first of many where we strive to
be the best we can be and fight to keep the darkness at bay.’
    Aneka finished the little
speech, raised her glass to meet those the others were holding once
more, and then took a drink. There was silence for a long moment
and Aneka looked around at the solemn faces. Somehow they seemed
more subdued than usual, and she noticed tears almost flooding down
Shannon’s face.
    ‘Are you okay, Shannon?’
    ‘It’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve
got my own feelings on top of everyone else’s. The Renewal, and we
were on Old Earth a few weeks ago…’
    ‘Yes,’ Gillian said. ‘That was
what I was thinking.’ There was a murmur of agreement from everyone
else.
    ‘And that’s why I needed last
night to be ready,’ Shannon said.
    ‘Sorry, love,’ Drake said.
‘We’ll try to think of something else.’
    ‘No, it’s okay. It’s like… It’s
kind of solemn, but it’s happy too.’ She laughed, tears still
falling. ‘I guess we found the home of the Human race. That’s bound
to be a mixed emotions sort of thing.’
    Aneka gave her a smile. The girl
from Old Earth was probably the only one not feeling the moment.
The Renewal meant less to her than it did to them. It was a pretty
major part of their culture, an affirmation of the ideals of the
Lorenti Federation. She was not really much of a singer, but she
opened her mouth and sang anyway.
    ‘Should old acquaintance be
forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be
forgot, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne? For Auld Lang Syne, my
dear, for Auld Lang Syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for
Auld Lang Syne.’
    And then she started crying
too.
    23.1.527 FSC.
    The vast bulk of the FNb Admiral Banfry
glided smoothly through the space ahead of them. There were four
frigates escorting her and a couple of destroyers sweeping around
on her flanks. The Navy really did mean business.
    ‘We weren’t expecting you for
another three days, Captain Drake.’ Captain Ape Gibbons sounded a
little accusing, even over the radio.
    ‘Yeah,’ Drake responded, ‘and if
anyone found out we were coming in they’d think we were due
in three days too.’
    ‘Huh. And you didn’t respond to
the broadcasts from Harriamon Control…’
    ‘Because we knew you’d come out
here to investigate an unknown vessel. We’re under orders to report
to the naval base for checking anyway.’
    ‘Underhanded, against
regulations, and a damn good plan. Bring the Hyde in to our hangar.
We’ve got the team of scouts aboard anyway. Winter figured the
belly of this beast was a good place to put you until we’ve got you
cleared. Handing you over to our flight control.’
    ‘Thank you, Captain. Hopefully
we’ll see you soon.’
    FNb Admiral Banfry.
    Soon was relative, but at least they
were not subject to the stringent quarantine provisions or the
security questions which they had been the last time they had come
back from uncharted space. Arriving in the early morning they had
had medical checks, which Aneka had been exempt from, and the
ship’s environment had been cleared for contaminants, and they were
meeting up with Ape and his executive officer, Commander Judith
Leeforth, in the conference room of the Banfry by early
afternoon.
    Ape was a big man. Not
especially tall, no taller than Drake or Bashford anyway, he had a
barrel chest, broad hips, and a body covered in solid muscle. He
would have looked like an older version of his son, Monkey, if it
were not for the latter’s beard and mop of black hair. It was
pretty obvious that Ape’s baldness was a choice since there was
already a hint of stubble on his chin, and his scalp was suggesting
that it would need to be shaved sooner rather than later. When
Aneka had first met him he had been fairly overtly hostile to her,
but his displeasure over what she was had been assuaged by
what

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