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if you feel like you deserve a week of sewing with your grandmas. Randell and me are going to Mars. Right, Randell?'

His question was met with silence. When Vance looked up, Randell was digging into what looked like reconstituted trifle. He was conspicuously silent. 'Just me then, I guess,' said Vance, as much to himself as to the trio sitting in front of him.

The four of them ate quickly in silence for several minutes. If you didn't finish by the time the mess officer shouted the dismissal order, that was just tough. A voice suddenly drifted across the canteen. To Vance it was like a zephyr of fragrant air wafted past the stale-smelling food and tickled him in a sensitive spot. 'James Vance, I want a word with you.'

Randell looked up and reddened noticeably. Vance girded himself, taking a quick mouthful of water to ensure no stray corn skins covered his teeth, then he turned smoothly. Jeany had a tall athletic build, but her face was sweeter than a baby's doll. Her yellow hair was tied back in a tight ponytail that bounced as she walked. Despite her cute appearance, Vance knew she was as tough as shoe leather when it came to close-combat fighting, and she fought dirty to boot.

'You were planning to leave all this time, and you never told me?' Jeany sounded hurt, but Vance knew she was only feigning. Nothing had ever happened between them - indeed, there was nothing between Jeany and any guy in the platoon, but it didn't stop them all from wishing.

'Jeany,' said Vance, trying his best not to look flustered, 'do you think I'd leave without saying goodbye to my favourite girl?'

Jeany replied with a playful dig into Vance's shoulder. 'Few drinks in the mess hall tonight? I promise I'll wear that khaki number you go wild for.'

'Wouldn't miss it,' said Vance.
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