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page eighteen

'And now we must part, Dorothy McShane,' said Smokey, and I know it is so. I watch him trudge away. He turns once, sorrowfully, when I call to him.

'Smokey! Don't be a berk! You did it! You made out okay!' He bows, but I think he's smiling, and he sinks into the mountaintop.

I look to the three other radiant beings and see the black rectangle has settled in the snow. It resolves into solidity and I laugh and clap. Her stars and flags have been removed, but the clear, glowing saucer still crowns Gamma's top. I run a wondering hand over her gleaming bonnet and smile at my three old friends, 'She's gorgeous!'

Gladys beams. 'I'm sorry we could not be better acquainted, dear. But I hope you get on well. Be careful going down the mountain, now!'

Below my feet the mountain rumbles as ancient, monstrous gears struggle to turn. The mountain begins to iris open.

'What's happening?' I ask.

'The Zillotti are going home, dear. What did that Smokey say? 'Back to the cradle, back to the flesh,' or something like that.'

'You guys are going with them?'

'Oh, heavens, no.' 

She points at the sky and the emerging stars.

'Not with all that to see.'

Jack helps Gladys into the car and catches me in a hug. I laugh. 

'Jack, you're almost solid!'

'Yeah, I'm getting good at these stunts, right? Smokey says I'm his best pupil. Listen, girlie – thanks for everything. Keep watching the skies, maybe you'll see us looking back at you.' He kisses my cheek and enters Gamma. She purrs to life.

He leans out the window. 'Look at that, will you!'

Two by two, in an ever-widening V, the saucers abandon Shasta. I watch them a moment, impossibly huge, impossibly silent, something magical going out from the world.

I turn, feeling sadness, and the third figure stands there, arms open. She is insubstantial, like a faded memory.

'Didn't we just do this?,' Sally asks, 'or are we about to?'

We were standing on the edge of a straight mountain road, the Doctor and I by the Tardis doors and Peace a few paces away, studying the horizon. 

'Didn't we just do this?' Peace asked, 'or are we about to?'

I wasn't sure. 

'I don't know... I still don't understand why you have to do this!'

'Because I already have, Ace. If I don't, there won't be an anomaly and we'll never stop Luuna. It''s what happened, it's what will happen, and it's what's happening now.'

'Doctor! Didn't you say you can never meet yourself?'

The Doctor put his arm around my shoulder. 'There are certain circumstances...'

Peace laughed. 'And, really now, giving birth to yourself has to count as a certain circumstance!'

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

'But what do I call you? Are you Sally or are you still Peace?'

'Oh, Ace! I'm Sally and I'm Peace. I'm everything I am and everything I'll be. But really I'm just me.'

Far to the south a triangle of lights mounts the horizon. Sally squares her shoulders.

'Well, that's my cue! You guys had better get going, and I'll see you in a few years!'

She begins to lightly tread along the road, humming softly.

'Be careful!' I call out.

She stops and I hear her laugh, 'Stop worrying, Ace! I was a fun kid, it'll be fun to raise me! Besides, you know what? Just between me, you, him and the trees? Some of mom's girlfriends were pretty hot!' 

The Professor chuckled at my stunned expression and pulled me inside, patting my shoulder. 

'Huh! Live and learn! Right, Professor?'

'Speaking of learning, Ace, I seem to recall a deal involving three answers...'

'Did you ever tell him?' Peace asks, as we watch the last of the fleet vanish among the twinkling stars. The gears grind again and the mountain is silent. 

'Yeah, eventually. Made him stew in his own water first.'

(All locked up! Time to go!)

'You're taking him with you?'

'Yeah. Zillotti's not his home. Earth was, but not anymore. Where else would he go?'

'Just don't let him drive, okay?'

Peace laughs and gives me a ghostly peck on my cheek.

'Same old Ace.'

The Cadillac's engine races. 

'Jack and Gladys are ready to hit the high way,' says Peace, 'so I guess this is good-bye for real, now. Thanks for everything, Ace. I love you.'

If I cry now my tears will freeze. It's going to be a long walk down in the dark. Don't need my eyes frozen shut.

'You'd better get going, then. Love you, too, Peace. I'm really glad Smokey saved you guys.' I step away and she enters the Caddy. The saucer atop glows and spins and lifts the car into the sky. They wave from their open windows, Jack honks the horn twice, and she shoots into the heavens. I wave until they disappear.

I haven't taken twenty paces down when the Space Cadillac swoops and lands in front of me. The window rolls down and Jack says, 'Where are my manners, kid? Need a lift?'

I'm not tempted for a second.

'Thanks, guys, but I walked up and I'll walk down. Quit wasting time here, you sods. You got places to go, and so do I.'

As Gamma lifts slowly into the air, I hear Peace say, 'See? I told you she wouldn't.'

An alien bazaar, one week later.

'Doctor... Look. It worked, but it's corny.'

'Ace, you promised. There might be something in it for you.'

He jingles a little pouch. 

'See? I brought money!'

'Oh, all right. I'd better tell you now, because it's getting sort of dim.'

'Yes, the time anomaly is affecting your memory. Perfectly natural.'

Already my memory was breaking down. For decades I would have only the vaguest, puzzling recollections of my time in Shasta; only climbing the mountain brought them back. 

'All right, then. You were yelling, "Use your anger, Ace" or some shite like that. Thing is, that monster was taking that anger from me and that other girl and adding it to his powers. I wasn't hurting him, I was helping him.'

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