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Homecoming

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Rael, who was never as old as Tony had thought he was, hugged first one child and then the other, and finally both together. He could not seem to contain his enthusiasm. "Welcome home," he told them, then directed Rana to move the lifeship into the hangar concealed under a boulder bigger than it was. Tony watched it, shimmering lights dimmed, lift off again. He was almost too tired to be amazed, but Tia's fingers locked onto his upper arms told him she certainly was.

He sighed when the ship disappeared from sight, and returned his attention to Rael. Rael was barely taller than Tony, with brown streaks mingled with the blond of his hair, which was as straight and fine as Tia's. He couldn't have been more than a decade older than Tony, and had to have been a child during the great migration. When he smiled his teeth shone brightly in the dusk.

"We're all very proud of you, you know," Rael said. Tony nodded, wondering who else had been involved at the end of their rescue.

Tia didn't restrain herself in the least. "Where is everyone else? And the animals? Where are all the animals?"

"A few people are at my house, and the rest who helped are in the Cooperative offices. You'll see the animals, Tia, don't worry." He held out his hands to the grubby and exhausted teens. "Do you want to meet them now or clean up first?"

"Bath first," Tony said.

"Meet them now," Tia said.

Both children giggled. Tony had trouble stopping.