Mark awoke feeling tired and depressed the next morning. He had slept heavily, but had been plagued by upsetting dreams about Trelaina. The dreams started out happily enough, but then something always went wrong. Sometimes a bomb exploded and took her from him; other times she was pulled away, out of his reach, and he knew he would never touch her again. But the worst dream, the one that made him wake up with tears flowing down his cheeks more than once, was the one in which she deliberately left him. He would tell her that he loved her, or lean in to kiss her, and she would laugh at him and walk away.
He was staring out the window at the grey December sky when Nova came in with his meds. He was glad his friend was the on-duty nurse this morning – he wasn’t at all in the mood to deal with a stranger. She spoke gently. “How are you feeling this morning, Mark?”
He shrugged. “My head’s a little clearer. It aches, though.”
As she raised the head of his bed, she felt his forehead. “You have a fever. The pills should help. Did you sleep all right?” She checked his pulse and took his temperature, recording the results.
“Sure.” She didn’t need to know about his nightmares. Nova looked at him doubtfully but decided not to press the issue. He turned back to face the window.
“Is it OK with you if Derek comes to see you after breakfast?”
“It’s fine, Nova.” He could sense that she wanted to say more, but after a few seconds she left him alone, promising to come back later in the morning. He didn’t like being rude to her, but he just didn’t feel like talking. She would understand.
After swallowing a few spoons of the breakfast they brought him (mushy hot cereal: flavorless, which was fine since he had no appetite,) Mark dozed off. He began to dream almost immediately and was relieved to be awakened by Dr. Sane entering the room.
“How are you feeling today, Venture? Any better?” he asked as he consulted Mark’s chart.
“Doc. I told Nova that my head’s a little clearer today. It still hurts, but the medicine she gave me seems to be helping a little. Other than that, the same.”
The doctor nodded. “You’ve had a tough time, and this fever’s hanging on,” he said as he looked in Mark’s ears and eyes. “We’re doing what we can to bring it down, but you’ve got to put some effort into it, too. I see you didn’t eat much of your breakfast.”
Mark glanced at the nearly-full bowl of slop on his table and shook his head. “I’m not hungry. I’ll try again later.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” Dr. Sane listened to his chest and tested his legs, which were still completely numb. He then called Nova in to draw a vial of blood and went on his way, muttering that Sandor was being much more cooperative than Mark was.
Nova inserted the needle into his arm, which he noticed was already bruised, as though he’d been stuck with needles several times. He thought about asking Nova about it, but didn’t really have the energy.
“Derek just came in,” she told him. “Do you feel like talking to him?”
“Sure, Nova. Thank you.” He met her gaze and tried to smile at her to make up for the way he’d treated her this morning. She nodded as she left the room.
Wildstar looked as though he’d had a rough few days, too. “Venture. How are you feeling?”
“Tired of that question,” Mark answered, attempting a chuckle. “How about you? You look tired.”
Wildstar nodded. “The council is up to their old tricks, burying their heads in the sand. They won’t accept any responsibility for what happened at Saturn, and they’re keeping what happened with Desslok secret from the public. They think if the people know the Gamilons are still out there, they’ll panic. I don’t think it’s smart to keep the public in the dark, but if word leaks out, heads are going to roll.”
Desslok. “Wildstar, what did happen with Desslok? The last I knew, you were boarding his ship to fight him. Tell me about those last few days.”
Pulling a chair beside the bed, Wildstar ran a hand through his unruly hair. “Leader Desslok and I came face-to-face for an old-fashioned gun fight, and I almost lost. My arm was badly wounded and I had lost a lot of blood. I guess I blacked out… the next thing I knew, Nova was with me. She had followed me onto Desslok’s ship trying to help. I don’t remember much of what happened after that – Nova can give you the details better than I can – but the end result was that Desslok ended his war with us. He saw how much Nova and I love the Earth, and how much we love each other, and I think it suddenly occurred to him that we have more in common than he ever realized – that our fight to save Earth was just like his fight to save Gamilon. I guess he had never put himself in our place before. He saw that the Comet Empire’s battle, fighting only for the purpose of conquest, wasn’t a noble one.”
“So Desslok is now… our ally?” It was going to take some time for that to sink in.
Wildstar nodded. “Or at least no longer our enemy. I know. I still have a hard time believing it, too. But he gave us valuable information to defeat the Comet Empire. Desslok told us the same thing that Captain Gideon said before he was killed: to attack the Comet Empire from the bottom. The gun turrets and the wave motion gun were badly damaged when we rammed Desslok’s ship, and we only had missiles left to attack with. Since the comet was positioned in the ocean waiting for Earth to surrender, we submerged and hit its bottom half with torpedoes while the Black Tigers attacked the city on the upper half. When the comet took off, the shield around its upper half was activated, and we lost some pilots.” He hung his head and sat in silence for a moment, then continued haltingly.
“The Argo was heavily damaged by hidden gun turrets in the
bottom half of the comet’s fortress, but Sandor found
a spot where we could enter, and we infiltrated the
“I was infuriated by our losses, and I ordered a full-out attack on the fortress. We destroyed its shell, but Zordar emerged from the wreckage in a giant battleship. He attacked the Argo, and we lost most of the remaining crew in the engine room and the computer room.
“When Zordar turned his weapons on the Earth, I knew what I had to do. I had Dr. Sane evacuate the crew while I remained behind. My plan was to ram his ship, using the Argo as a missile, and to try to escape before the ships collided. But once again Nova stayed on board to fight beside me…” He smiled faintly at the memory, and Mark’s stomach twisted. “I knew then that I needed her by my side for the rest of my life. We were preparing our final attack when Trelaina appeared on the bridge with you. You know the rest.”
Mark had listened in silence while Derek told his story, and his cheeks were wet with tears. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I might have been able to help in some way. So many lives lost, Wildstar.” It was going to take time to digest all of it.
“I know.” Wildstar sighed. “I doubt that there was much anyone could have done to help, but I wish you had been there, too. You have no idea how we felt when Trelaina appeared with you in her arms. I can’t imagine leading the Star Force without you there. It was a miracle that she was able to find you.”
Mark snorted. “I’m not sure why she bothered. I’m glad to be alive, believe me,” he added when he saw Wildstar’s expression, “but I don’t know why she did it, if she was just going to leave me behind, alone.”
Wildstar put his hand on Mark’s arm. “She brought you back because she couldn’t bear to see you die, Mark. She told us that her love for you was what made it so important for her to save Earth. And Mark, you know you’re not alone.”
Derek was right, of course – he wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t fair for him to say such a thing. He was less convinced that Wildstar was right about Trelaina, but he didn’t want to argue about it. “I know, Wildstar. Thanks.” Sensing his discomfort, Wildstar dropped the subject and instead filled him in on the meetings he’d been attending at Earth Defense since their return. When a service robot brought Mark’s lunch tray, Wildstar took his cue and left. He had given Mark a lot to think about; he tried to sort it out as he poked at the bland soup and pudding the cafeteria had sent him, leaving most of it uneaten on his tray.
Carina awoke early that morning. It took her a minute to realize why, but then she remembered that today she was working at Earth Defense Forces Headquarters for the first time in more than a week. She sighed in relief. Working at the hospital was rewarding, but she preferred dealing with data to dealing with people. She was naturally shy and found it extremely stressful trying to be cheerful and friendly with the patients. Her run-in with Cdr. Venture had made her feel like an insecure little girl – she was glad she wouldn’t have to face him today.
The men she worked with at HQ, on the other hand, were even more socially awkward than she was, which made them easy for her to talk to. While the work didn’t provide the instant gratification that nursing often did, she loved brainstorming solutions to problems and working out the logic that could be used to rectify the issues. And she was eager to see what information they had gathered since the Comet Empire had attacked. She knew that salvage missions had gone out to Saturn after the battle, collecting data from the Earth Defense fleet wreckage and looking to capture enemy vessels to reverse-engineer their technology.
Since she was wide awake, she decided to get up early and walk to work. She could stop at the hospital on her way and visit Stephen. She hadn’t had much of a chance to chat with him yesterday, with the drama surrounding Cdr. Venture.
She considered Venture’s case as she got dressed. His blood tests yesterday had yielded results slightly different from those when he was first admitted to the hospital. His red blood cell count had increased and his white blood cell count had decreased, but the luminescent alien cells had not dropped in number. In fact, they appeared to be somehow fusing with the patient’s healthy red blood cells. The doctor, fascinated, wanted to continue running daily tests but was intent on keeping the information secret from his superiors, increasing Carina’s respect and admiration for him. Dr. Sane drank like a fish, but he was a loyal friend and a dedicated doctor.
The hospital was generally quiet early in the morning. Although visiting hours officially began at 0800, as a staff member Carina could get away with bringing a meal to a patient. She stopped at the cafeteria to pick up the breakfast prepared for Stephen and rode the elevator to the top floor. When she got to his door, she saw that he was engrossed in the day’s news feed. Knowing how he hated the overly-cheerful attitudes of the young nurses, she grinned and affected her best “silly girl” voice. “And how are we today, Mr. Sandor?”
It didn’t escape her notice that he cringed before he turned and saw that it was her. “Carina,” he said, smiling. “’We’ are still sore, but getting a little better every day. If Doctor Sane didn’t have such a stronghold over me, I’d be trying to get some work done.”
“Hmmm. I’m working over at HQ today. I’ll swing by your office and see if I can sneak some paperwork out. Don’t tell the doctor. Oh! Breakfast.” She swung the tray table around to his bed and set the breakfast tray on it. “Do you need help?”
“Actually, I do, although mainly just with drinking,” he said regretfully. “I guess I was more badly injured than I thought. It’s taking a while to adjust to the new limbs.”
She nodded. “Not a problem. Just let me know what you need.”
They sat in companionable silence as he began to eat the lumpy looking oatmeal the hospital had provided. He grimaced. “You’d think they could come up with a better menu.”
“High turnover,” she said. “It’s hard to find help who will work in the kitchen long enough to become master chefs, especially during war time.” She watched the morning sun rise over the city through his window. “It looks so peaceful now. Hard to believe just a few days ago we were ready to give up and enslave ourselves to an alien overlord. People forget so easily. After you returned from Iscandar, it was only a few short months before people became complacent again. No one was prepared for another enemy attack.” She paused, then asked him the question that had been bothering her. “Stephen, why didn’t you tell me you were taking off in the Argo? I would have joined you in a second.” He’d brought Neville Royster on the mission, after all.
He looked at her, his strangely protuberant, browless eyes measuring her reaction. “You know I’d like to have you on my team on the Star Force, but this wasn’t the right mission for you. We didn’t have any idea where we were going or what we were doing, really, and it had the potential to be extremely dangerous. Wildstar didn’t even invite Nova to come with us – she had to sneak aboard. And also I would never have asked you to commit treason.”
Fair enough. Treason aside, the thought of being the only woman on the ship, while it had its appeal, was a bit daunting. She helped him take a sip of coffee and asked whether he’d had the chance to talk to the other Star Force members who were in the hospital.
He’d spoken to Yamazaki yesterday, he said, and he seemed to be doing fairly well. Carina confirmed that he had been cleared for release later that day. Homer was still in pretty bad shape, not ready for visitors yet, Stephen reported, and Venture had slept solidly through the night, although Stephen had heard that he was awake this morning.
He considered Carina thoughtfully for a moment, then spoke. “You know, it might be a good idea for you to talk to Mark Venture, outside of your capacity as his nurse. Wildstar and Nova stopped in last night and told me how unhappy he was. The two of you could help each other.”
Seriously? She smiled. “Maybe, Stephen, but I’m not sure he’d agree. I don’t think I made a very good impression on the commander yesterday. He was pretty snippy with me.”
“Were you doing your chipper nurse act?” He asked. When she made a face, he said, “That’s why. Just be yourself, and I know the two of you will become good friends. You’re a lot alike.”
She sighed. “You know I have no interest in dating, right, Stephen? You’re not trying to set me up again?”
“No, I promise,” he laughed. “I have no ulterior motive. You’re my friend, and he’s my friend. You’re both lonesome and could use someone to talk to. That’s all. Give it a shot? For me?”
She sighed again. He must be serious, or he wouldn’t push it. “OK, Stephen, for you. But if he yells at me again, that’s it. And I’m not lonesome, by the way.”
Carina had interned as an analyst for Earth Defense before the Star Force had left for Iscandar. In those days, they had mostly tracked the level of damage from the radioactive planet bombs in the underground cities around the world, and how it affected living conditions. When the retrofit of the Argo, originally planned as an “ark” to transport humans away from the poisoned Earth, was nearing completion, she had been assigned to work with Lt. Stephen Sandor, recording the data he gave her regarding the ship and its components and running test scenarios to determine usability and efficiency. She had raised questions about safety and comfort, adding a human dimension to Stephen’s focus on functionality. They had proven to be a strong team, and when the plans for the Wave Motion Engine had materialized, he had requested that she remain with him as his junior assistant.
It was shortly after they first began working together that Stephen introduced her to Daniel. She and Daniel had immediately begun spending most of their time together, and by the time the message from Iscandar had been received, they were engaged to be married. Stephen had offered Carina a position serving under him on the Star Force, but Daniel had insisted on remaining on Earth to prepare for the Star Force’s return, and Carina opted to stay with him. It wasn’t a decision she was especially proud of, but when Daniel had contracted the radiation sickness a few months later and his health had gotten progressively worse, she was glad she had remained behind. Stephen had recommended her for a new position, and she’d been with the office ever since.
Her stop at the hospital made Carina a little late arriving at EDHQ, and when she walked in, she was greeted by a shout from the young men she worked with. “Hello, boys!” She smiled broadly at them. Her boys. She loved working with them, in all their awkward brilliance. Knowing that some of them rarely spoke to women other than her, she made it her private mission to be extra nice to them, helping them to understand that girls weren’t so scary, after all.
“Clarkie! Welcome back!” Her boss, Colonel Okajima, approached her. Tall and thin, with thick glasses, the colonel had the stereotypical look of a “computer geek.” She clenched her jaw at the nickname he had given her, which had unfortunately caught on with the team. The colonel thought it was funny; she did not.
Although it was a small enough group that they ignored most of the formalities, she saluted the ranking officer. “Glad to be back, Colonel. I trust things are running smoothly here?”
“Well, as smoothly as we could expect, since we were short-handed,” he teased before his face became serious. “Word is coming down from the brass about new projects they want us to take on. After you’ve settled in, come by my office and we’ll review the situation.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. At least work wouldn’t be dull today. As she settled at her desk to read her messages, one of the “boys,” a hulking, goofy analyst who always had a smile on his face, walked in.
“Hey Clarkie, you’ll never guess what I’ve got hidden in the freezer,” he said with a grin.
She smiled back at him. “What’s that, Paulie?” She had decided long ago that if they were going to give her a ridiculous nickname, she would respond in kind.
“Ice cream.” She looked at him blankly. “REAL ice cream. My brother’s dairy farm is finally producing enough milk that he was able to churn a few gallons. Grab some at lunch time if you want it.”
“Wow,” she said. Ice cream made from cow’s milk really was a big deal. After the Cosmo DNA had cleaned the radiation poisoning from the Earth, re-establishing working farms had been an important priority. But until the bovine population had recovered enough, the farms specializing in dairy products had been limited to producing what were considered “necessities” – milk, butter and cheese. It was a good sign that there was enough of a surplus to produce something strictly for fun, even if it was only a small amount. She couldn’t remember the last time she had tasted real ice cream. Maybe she could bring some to Stephen. “Paul, would it be OK if I put a couple of dishes aside and brought it to the hospital after work? Stephen Sandor is in intensive care over there, and I bet he’d love to have a bowl.”
“For Sandor? Sure! It’s vanilla, nothing fancy, but it’s good. Wish him well for me. I’d like to visit him when he’s out of ICU.”
“He’d like that, Paul. Listen, I need to get to work, OK? Thanks so much.” She gave him another smile.
The day passed quickly amid meetings, returned calls, and piles of grids and charts that needed to be reviewed. Carina had closed her office door after lunch for privacy, and was surprised when she looked at the clock and saw that the end of the work day had come and gone. She leaned back from the report she was reading and stretched, considering her options for the evening, and remembered the ice cream for Stephen. After finding bowls and spoons in the department’s coffee station, she loaded a bag to carry to the hospital.
On the way there, she thought about the new project the colonel had told her about. An automated defense fleet… Part of her supposed it was a sensible idea, considering the loss in numbers Earth Defense had just experienced. But she was among those who believed that some of those losses would have been avoided if the Andromeda-class cruisers had relied more on human decision-making and less on their automated artillery, and she was leery. Machines shouldn’t make life-or-death decisions. The idea was still in the initial talking phase – maybe she’d mention it to Stephen and get his thoughts.
But Stephen looked a little green when she got to his room. He’d had a bad reaction to a painkiller they’d given him and didn’t dare eat anything, although he eyed the bag containing the ice cream jealously. “Tell Paul to bring more when I’m feeling better.” She promised him she would, but she wasn’t sure what to do now. She didn’t feel like taking it home and eating it by herself, and she hated to waste it. “Carina,” Stephen said, “take it over to Venture.”
She groaned inwardly. “Really, Stephen? I don’t think he wants to see me.”
“Please, Carina. Wildstar came to see me after he talked to Venture today, and it sounds like he’s pretty unhappy. He could use some cheering up.”
“I don’t understand why you think I’m the one to do the cheering. I’m really not comfortable with the whole idea.”
“Trust my judgment, OK? You’ll love each other, and you’ll both feel better.”
This time she groaned out loud. “I feel fine now!” It was an argument they’d had frequently after Daniel had died. Stephen – Stephen Sandor, of all people – was constantly after her to get out and socialize, when really all she wanted was to be alone. But when he glared at her, she gave in. “OK, OK, if you say so. One time only.”
“Sure.” She sighed and looked back at him as she left the room, and he smiled at her encouragingly. “Trust me.” She rolled her eyes and groaned again, and headed down the hall.
She hesitated outside Venture’s door, delaying long enough to take the ice cream out of the bag. The room was not exactly dark, but his bed was in shadow – the sun was setting and he hadn’t turned on his light. The head of the bed was raised, and the commander sat with his head turned toward the window, unmoving, staring at the hospital grounds. The crisp white sheets were folded over his lap, and the pale blue walls appeared a gloomy grey in the dim light. His attitude didn’t make her less uncomfortable, but she took a deep breath to calm the butterflies in her stomach and stepped through the door.
“Commander Venture?” She chided herself for the quaver in her voice, and cleared her throat foolishly to cover it. He turned his head and looked at her politely but with a blank, closed-off expression. She wasn’t sure he recognized her in her EDF greens. She indicated herself. “Lieutenant Clark. The nurse?” When he nodded at her without speaking, she cleared her throat again. Stephen would pay for this. “I was bringing some ice cream to Stephen, but he’s not feeling well. Would you like it?”
He blinked at her, as though it took time for the meaning of her words to sink in. “Sandor?”
“Yes.” She stood awkwardly for another moment, then decided she was being ridiculous. He was sick, weak. It was her job to help him feel better. Stephen had told her to be herself, so… She waggled the two bowls in the air and grinned weakly. “Yum, yum! Delicious ice cream!”
She thought she saw the slightest glint of amusement in his dark eyes. He opened his mouth and hesitated, then sighed resignedly. “I – sure. Why not?”
Carina relaxed a bit and moved around to perch on the end of his bed. She handed him a bowl and watched as he put the first spoonful in his mouth. He looked at her in surprise. “This is real ice cream, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve had real ice cream since I was about twelve years old.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “The cows have had a couple of birthing seasons since the Gamilon war ended, and they’re producing enough milk that we’re able to make items that we couldn’t just a few months ago. Thanks to you and the rest of the Star Force, life on Earth gets better every day.” As she began to eat, she leaned back against the bed’s metal frame and looked out the window at the setting sun. It was a lovely view – the window overlooked the newly completed hospital garden. Manicured paths wound through a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees, with occasional benches overlooking scenic areas. Patients and their visitors were encouraged to stroll and relax in the area, and even more than a year after the people’s return to the surface from the underground cities, the sun, greenery and fresh air had a wonderful therapeutic effect. At the moment, the winter-bare branches of the trees stood in stark black contrast against the pink and grey of the evening sky. If she were hospitalized, Carina would likely spend a lot of time staring out this window, too. Knowing the conversation Stephen wanted her to have with the commander, she decided this was a good starting point.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
She didn’t look at him, but kept watching the sunset. “A lot of people believed we’d never see the
Earth green again, but most of us had faith in the Star Force. So many people worked so hard to make sure
that life continued underground. My
fiancée devoted years to cultivating as many plant species as possible. If it weren’t for him, most of
After a pause, Cdr. Venture said, “You must be very proud of him.” His voice was flat – he clearly didn’t want to hear about her love life.
“I was.” She took a deep breath. “I am. He died from the radiation sickness shortly after you got back from Iscandar. He delayed getting treatment so he could continue his work, and then it was too late.”
“Oh… I’m so sorry.” She glanced at him briefly and saw that he was looking at her differently than he had earlier.
“Thanks.” Talking about it brought tears to her eyes, even after all this time, but she looked at him again to make her point and tried to keep her voice steady. “It was – it is – hard, but he gave his life so that everyone left on Earth would have a future. I’ve learned to accept that he did the right thing. No matter how much it hurts me, the choice he made improved life for millions.”
As she spoke, Carina watched Cdr. Venture’s face. It was obvious that he got the message; his eyes filled with tears, and she turned to face the window again to give him some privacy. After a long moment, he spoke softly. “Does it – does facing the world ever get easy again?”
“Easier, yes. If it ever gets easy, I’ll let you know.” She sighed. “People are always telling me to get out there and date, but I don’t know that I’ll ever open myself up to those feelings again. It’s too painful. I’m contented enough by myself.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in thought. Suddenly he spoke again. “Lt. Clark, I’m sorry that I snapped at you last night. It was very rude.”
She blushed and smiled softly, putting her hand on his leg. “It’s fine. You were distressed, and I try too hard to make conversation. I’m not very good at it. The other nurses do it much better.”
“You’re not a nurse full-time.” It wasn’t exactly a question – he was eying her olive EDF uniform. Not the most attractive thing, but at least she didn’t have to worry about flashing people when she wore it.
“No. You know, after the radiation sickness became a real problem, all the girls at the academy were ‘encouraged’ to go into nursing and required to take classes, and female graduates were automatically assigned hospital shifts. The hospital has been short-handed lately, and we’ve all been called in to cover extra hours. Its good work, but I’m always happy to go back to my office at Earth Defense. I don’t have to talk to anyone there all day if I don’t want to.” She felt like she was talking a lot, but if he noticed, he didn’t seem to mind.
“I can understand that. On a ship, it’s almost impossible to find time to yourself when you need it, and you have to be careful that your mood doesn’t affect the rest of the crew.” He changed the subject. “What else did you study at the academy?”
Maybe he found her rambling a distraction. OK, then. “Analysis and development. It’s where I met Stephen Sandor – I did an internship under him. He actually recruited me for the Star Force, but I was young and at that point I wasn’t willing to leave Daniel behind for a year.” Embarrassed, she went on before Cdr. Venture could comment. “Stephen recommended me to Colonel Okajima when he left.”
“It must have been fascinating to work with Sandor,” he said. “He’s the smartest man I’ve ever known.”
“He’s brilliant. I learned a tremendous amount from him,” she agreed, and then cocked her head at him and changed the subject again in an attempt to draw him out. “Your accent, Commander. You’re from the northeast US, aren’t you?”
After what seemed like only a few minutes, they were interrupted by a young nurse who entered and flipped the light switch. Carina hadn’t realized that the sun had set and the room was almost completely dark, and the sudden change made them both jump. “Excuse me,” the girl said as she turned around. When she saw Carina, her posture straightened. “Oh, I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t realize that was you. I’m afraid visiting hours are over. It’s time for Cdr. Venture to take his meds.”
“Of course, Cindy. I lost track of time.” Carina stood regretfully and collected the dishes from their ice cream. “Well, Commander, have a good night. I’m working at EDF until Thursday, but I’ll see you on my Friday shift.” She smiled at him and turned to go, and was almost out the door when he spoke again.”
“Lt. Clark?” She turned to see him looking at her almost shyly. “Would you… come and visit me again?”
The request surprised and pleased her. “Of course I will. I’ll try to come back in the next couple of days with more contraband goods, if that’s all right with you.” She winked at him when she saw Cindy tense at the word “contraband,” said good night and headed out, smiling to herself. Commander Venture had been very kind and polite, and after they had gotten past the initial awkwardness of the situation, she had found him surprisingly easy to talk to. He hadn’t smiled once that she had seen, but he seemed to enjoy her company well enough. OK, Stephen, you win.