Hello, my name is Malcolm.  Life is about change.  If we never change, we don’t really live.  I’ve been through a lot of change in my life.  Most of it has been painful in one way or another.  But without that change, I would have died a long time ago.  Or turned into the kind of guy I wouldn’t want to be at least.  And that’s the real kicker.  I want to wake up each morning, look in the mirror, and be happy with the man looking back at me.  If I’m not, it’s time for a change.





Malcolm pounded on the punching bag in the empty fitness center.  Twenty-five days had gone by since leaving Sunnydale, far too long as far as he was concerned.  He was bored.  For the first time in years, Director Malcolm McDonnell of the Wolfenheim Project had nothing to do and he hated it.  He’d been so careful to make certain that there were people to do everything that needed doing that he’d organized himself out of a job.  Now he was just a glorified passenger on a starship that didn’t need a word of input from him.

A knee flashed up to strike the bag, followed by a punch, and an elbow that kept the punching bag vibrating in a steady rhythm.  Rivulets of sweat poured down his upper body, soaking his athletic shorts, and he breathed deeply to keep the oxygen flowing through his body.  Normandy’s crew was at their stations, ready to arrive in Independence, which gave him the very rare opportunity to get in a real workout.

There were many things Malcolm liked about his body.  There should be.  He’d spent enough of his life working on it, after all.  He was a naturally small person, which would have made him the brunt of many jokes when he was young if he hadn’t taught the bullies that he was perfectly willing to fight dirty.  They liked easy victories, not real fights, and he’d spent most of his childhood in relative security, training in the martial arts and weight lifting.  For a small guy, he’d built up impressive muscle tone that he took into adulthood.

All that ended when he was thirty-four.  Five of them had plans for a girl and there was only one of him.  He won, for certain values of winning.  They didn’t stand back up.  Of course, neither did he.  Thankfully, the girl carried him to an emergency room where they put all his parts back in the right order.  Even with her quick reaction, he probably would have died.  He didn’t wake up, and the doctors weren’t hopeful.

Then the Peloran made Contact and brought superior medical treatments with them.  The girl made certain he got them, and he woke up.  It was a miracle.  But every miracle came with a cost.  He spent the next few months recovering and adjusting to the new world.  He lost all of his muscle tone in the months of rehabilitation, and when the final Peloran Treatment did whatever it did to the one-in-a-million people like him, his body decided that was how it wanted to look.  Forever.

He was perfectly healthy.  He would be until the day he died.  He was stronger and faster, his senses sharper, and he healed from wounds that would kill a normal human.  But his body rid itself of “unnecessary” muscle tone on a daily basis.  He ran and lifted weights like an Olympic medallist, all to maintain just a little bit of muscle tone.  He liked having muscle tone.  So unlike most Ageless, he exercised every day.  And today was a very special day.  Today he was alone in the fitness center, with the gravity dialed up to twice Earth standard.  It was a very good day to push his body to its limits.

He slammed one final quivering fist into the punching bag to stop it, and sucked air into this lungs.  He blinked sweat out of his eyes and flexed his hands.  His muscles jittered from head to toe, fatigue chemicals filling them to the point that even he could barely stand.  He was done.

He stumbled over to a bench, breaths coming in ragged gasps, and sat down, willing his heartbeat to drop back down to normal.  It seemed like it took forever, but finally the rapid thumping slowed.  His breathing became regular, and sweat began to evaporate into the chill air of the fitness center.

The hatch opened, and fresh air swarmed into the fitness center.  Dawn stepped in from the corridor and wrinkled her nose.  “Are we finally done with this torture?” she asked with a wry smile, holding a tempting beer in each hand.

“Yeah,” Malcolm answered in a breathless hiss.

“Good,” Dawn whispered and strode towards him as light as a feather.  It was like she didn’t even notice the high gravity.

He took one beer from her hand with a muttered “Thanks” as holographic fields came to life in the middle of the fitness center.

“Always,” she answered, her tone betraying amusement.  “Here it comes,” she added as a maelstrom of gravity-generated colors Malcolm didn’t have names for filled the center.  That wasn’t a surprise of course.  He didn’t have names for most colors.  Peach was a fruit after all, not a color.

“There,” Dawn announced, pointing her beer at one display.

Malcolm absentmindedly twisted the top off his beer and tossed it into a nearby trashcan.  He loved watching ships leave hyperspace.  Since he was a child, he’d watched every recording he could find, and made special trips to see fleet maneuvers that involved them.  It was beautiful.  As a child, it had been proof that mankind could go wherever it wanted to go.  To the adult Malcolm, it was a reminder that they were not alone in the galaxy.  To the Malcolm who sat in the chair, it was a promise.  They were coming.  No matter the cost, no matter how hard anybody hit them, the people of Earth would never stop coming.

He would never stop coming.

The displays went blank for an instant, and then came back to life with pinpricks of stars dotting the darkness of normalspace.  Nine more starships and four-dozen fighters appeared over the next few seconds, shedding the colors of their own hyperspace energies into the Independence star system.  Malcolm just smiled as the light pulsed out from them, a message to anyone in system that visitors had arrived, and then faded away.  In seconds, the show was over, but Malcolm remained where he was, letting the feelings it evoked flow through him.

“Beautiful, huh?” Dawn asked, sipping her beer with satisfaction.

“Absolutely,” Malcolm answered and sucked in a long breath before asking the next thought that came to mind.  “Do you think we’re alone?”

Dawn laughed.  “Oh, not a chance.”  She pointed her beer at the gas giant now dominating the view on one display.  Several dozen ships appeared, holding the gas giant’s orbitals against any threat.  Most were frigates or destroyers, but a few cruisers supported them.  It wouldn’t be enough to stop a major invasion, but the planetary defense force was more of a warning against attack than a true defensive fleet.  The actual battle squadrons that orbited distant Independence were the real threat.  Most of the ships flew the flag of Independence, red, white, and blue with a single star.  A few warships flew the Peloran flag as well, proving that they still considered the system important enough to garrison.

“You know what I mean,” Malcolm muttered as he scanned for the navy blue flag of Pennsylvania.

“Every ship I’ve found so far is squawking their codes, and not a one of them is our friend Murphy.” She turned her head and smiled at him.  “I think we’re clear.”

Malcolm nodded in relief.  “Then I suppose we should resupply, huh?”

“Yeah,” Dawn growled.  “You have no idea how peckish I’ve been getting lately.”

Malcolm suppressed a smile at her unconscious adoption of her ship persona again.  It was amusing to watch her shift personalities on a dime.  She caught his motion though and glowered at him.

“You try twenty-five days of eating out of a pack you carried on your back and tell me you like the rations by the time you’re done,” she growled.

“I’ll pass,” Malcolm answered, hands held up in a defensive gesture.

“Thought so.”  She turned back to the bulkhead with a wistful gaze.  “That gas giant looks yummy.”

Most fleet bases orbited gas giants because they were such good refueling depots.  Ships swooped down into the gas giants, sucked in their atmosphere to collect the elements they needed to run, and pulled away again with topped off supplies.  They couldn’t find everything they needed of course.  For the rare elements, they stopped at the depots to load up.  And of course they always needed spare parts too.  And food.  Food for the crew at least.

“We can’t get that far behind the Red Line,” Malcolm cautioned her.

“I know,” she growled back.  “But one of these days, I’m going to find myself a gas giant without a hyperspace jammer.  And then I’m taking a bath in it.”

“Can I watch?” Malcolm asked with a sly look.

She blinked in confusion, and then he saw the Dawn he’d known for years come back up for air.  Dawn raised an eyebrow at him, tilted her head back, and took another long pull from her bottle.  When she finished, she shook her head at him.  “You,” she said, pointing her bottle at him with a threatening motion.

“Hello, Dawn,” he answered without a hint of repentance.  “Nice to have you back.”

“Oh.”  She blushed in the way only a redhead could match.  “Right. Thanks,” she finished and took another long pull from her beer.

“What are friends for?” Malcolm asked and sipped his beer as well.

They shared a smile before turning back to watch the view in the bulkhead.  After so many days in hyperspace, it was a beautiful view.

“Well, what do you know?” she said after a few moments.  “We just got a message from Independence.”

“Good or bad?” he asked.

Dawn chuckled.  “Very good.  They’ve got a supply depot waiting for us too.”

Malcolm snorted.  “I love it when a plan comes together.”

“Even when it’s not yours?”

“Especially when it’s not mine.”  He winked back.  “The surprise makes it better.”

“Ah.  Right.”  She waved her beer at him.  “Everyone loves a good surprise.”

He finished taking another sip of his and waggled his eyebrows at her.  “Yup.”

She aimed a sly expression at him.  “It’s the bad surprises that bring all the screaming and running and gnashing of teeth, right?”

Malcolm shrugged.  “Eh.  I prefer shooting at bad surprises.”

She threw her head back and laughed.  “Oh you have no idea how much joy I’ve gotten out of envisioning you shooting some of the paper pushers I’ve had to deal with over the last few years,” she said after a few seconds.

Malcolm raised an eyebrow at her.  “Point me at ’em,” he only half joked.

She actually giggled at his comeback.  “Oh, I’ve been tempted.”  She nodded towards the outside view of the approaching supply depot.  “We’ll be loading for a while by the way.”  Then she made a show of sniffing and wrinkling her nose.

“Right,” Malcolm said with a nod.  The brief rest and given his body time to recover.  He would need to eat soon to replenish everything he’d burned.  But she was right.  He had a far more important problem that needed taking care of.  “I need to shower,” he muttered, guzzled down the last of the beer, and rolled onto his feet in a graceful motion.

Dawn frowned at him.  “What a waste of a good beer,” she scolded.  “I am going to stay right here and enjoy mine,” she added in a prim tone.

“You do that,” Malcolm noted with a chuckle.  “Don’t forget to tell me if something important happens.”

“Why would I ever forget something like that?” she asked in an innocent tone.

“It’s amazing how much you forget when you think it’s for my own good,” Malcolm answered and stepped into the dressing room.

“Oh,” Dawn said in an unrepentant tone from his earpiece.  “Not that old argument again?”

“No argument,” Malcolm whispered as he walked towards the showers.  “Just an observation.”

“You are a very suspicious person, you know that?”

“I survived growing up with the Hurst family,” he said deadpan.  Suspicion was a survival trait when dealing with them.

“Good point,” Dawn whispered and he could almost see her raising one finger in the air.  The only question he had was which finger she’d be raising in his direction.

“No peeking,” he ordered and stepped into the showers.

“You’re no fun,” she returned in a disappointed tone as he reached up to twist the shower handles.  Water sprayed out over him and he smiled as the warm flow relaxed his exercise-strained muscles.




Five hours later, Malcolm leaned back from the wreckage of his second meal of the day.  Ravaged plates lay scattered across his day cabin’s table, telling the tale of his ravenous hunger.  The remains of a Philly cheesesteak, a giant bowl of clam chowder, an entire pan pizza, and far more dotted the table.  His eyes strayed to the slice of pecan pie before him.  It looked delicious and his stomach rumbled as it caught the hint of fresh sugar on the way.  He smiled and reached for a fork.

“Oh, not again,” Dawn whined.

He froze, one hand on the fork, and turned to aim a baleful gaze at the cyber.  “What?” he growled.

She aimed a disgusted wave of her hand at a display as it came to life with eight starships radiating hyperspatial energy.  “Murphy,” she spat out.

His fingers clenched around the fork, working it like a dog working a bone.  “You sure?”

Dawn snorted.  “Just got the transmission.”

“Bloody hell.”  He felt the fork bend under his assault and looked down at its horridly misshapen hulk.  Well.  That was another fork ruined.

“Why can’t she just wait until we’re done loading supplies for once?” Dawn growled.

Malcolm dropped the ruined fork in disgust.  “We got the important stuff right?”

Dawn’s eyes narrowed.  “That depends on what you call important.  There happens to be a lot of very nice stuff still in that depot that I want,” she finished in a plaintive tone.

“Can we live without it?” he asked in an exasperated tone and came to his feet.  This was getting old.

“Yes,” she growled, looking even unhappier to be admitting that than he expected.

He began to pace across the day cabin, getting some good thinking time in.  Then he jerked his head to the side and laughed.  “Is Olivia asking you the same questions?”

Dawn snorted and turned away.  “You two make a great pair!”

Malcolm chuckled again and waved at Murphy’s squadron.  “Hey, don’t blame us.  She’s the one on our tails.”

“Only because you are a criminal,” Dawn said with crossed arms.

Malcolm aimed a hurt expression at her as he turned around.  “I have not broken a single law during this entire project,” he said in an innocent tone and began walking in her direction.

She raised a single eyebrow at him and he cleared his throat.

“Well, not any important laws at least.”  He shrugged and came to a momentary stop near her.  “Now that we’re out of their jurisdiction.”

Dawn rolled her eyes.  “Right.”

“Blame Chuck!” Malcolm tried with a shrug of both shoulders.  “He’s the one that arranged for all that money to get to us.”

Dawn stepped over, leaned in close, and glared at him.  “And you knew about it the whole time, so that makes you a conspirator.”  She poked him in the chest with an accusing fingertip.

He smiled and poked her back.  “You did too.”

“Oh.”  She pulled back and frowned at him.  “Right.”  She turned to another holofield where shuttles spilled out of the Wolfenheim Project starships.  “Well, we’re almost ready to dive.”

Malcolm waved at the bulkhead showing a massive view of the nearby gas giant.  “So long Independence.  We barely knew yah.”

“That’s Perseverance,” Dawn corrected.

“Whatever,” Malcolm responded with a wry smile.  He strode over to his favorite chair, sat down, and kicked his feet up onto the ottoman.

Dawn sat down in the other chair with a frown, and they waited for the fleet to leave.  Within minutes, the displays flashed and they were back in hyperspace.

“And that’s that,” Dawn reported, shaking her head.

Malcolm let out a long breath, interlaced his fingers behind his head, and watched the ships dive deeper into hyperspace.  “Yup.”  He didn’t have anything else to do.  That thought soured his expression for a moment, but he pulled in a breath and decided that he was going to make the best of a bad situation and enjoy watching the lightshow.  Somehow.

A few minutes later, Dawn shifted and looked at the hatch to the corridor outside the day cabin.

Malcolm aimed a questioning look at her.

“You’ve got company.”  She blinked, and then smiled.  “And I think you’ll want to talk to him.”

“Well then.  Don’t keep him waiting,” Malcolm ordered and turned towards the hatch.  He caught a glimpse of Dawn sticking her tongue out at him, but the hatch opened without further delay.

A brown leather flight jacket moved into the cabin, worn by a young man with dirty brown hair.  The kid swore up and down that John Smith was his real given name.  Of course, the seventeen-year-old baby face could say the sun died while you slept with such guileless sincerity that you’d believe him until you saw the glowing orb for yourself.  The real life Boy Scout, who surely helped old ladies cross the street in his spare time, was also a veteran of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 112, the Cowboys.  He was, in short, one of the cutest little killing machines Malcolm had ever met.

Malcolm smiled and sprang to his feet to welcome the kid as a redheade wearing blue jeans and a matching flight jacket followed the kid in.  Dawn, on her feet even quicker than he, rushed over to welcome the other cyber.  Dawn came from a long family line of administrative cybernetic intelligences, where physical avatars were common.  Anna was a fighter cyber, from a long family of fighter cybers, and military rules limited them to holographic representations.  Avatar and holoform leaned in close to exchange greetings, and Malcolm shook his head.  Anna had the high school student on the run from a truant officer look down perfectly.  She even had freckles on her cheeks.  She looked so bloody cute he felt like a dirty old man every time he looked at her.

“We’ll leave you two boys alone,” Dawn said and led Anna away.  The girl actually giggled as they walked away.  Giggled.

Malcolm turned back to share a bemused look with the young boy in front of him and had to suck in a lungful of air to reengage his brain.  “Welcome to my humble abode,” he finally said, waving towards the chair that Dawn had so recently vacated.

“Thanks,” the kid answered and bounced past him to take his seat.  Bounced.

Suddenly feeling very old, Malcolm followed the kid and relaxed down into his seat again.  After arranging his feet back on the ottoman, he smiled at the pilot.  “So what can I do for you?”

Instead of answering, Smith waved a hand at a part of the bulkhead showing the new Privateer sailing off Normandy’s port side, rivers of gravity parting around her.  “She’s a beautiful ship,” he said in a proud tone.

“Yes, she is,” Malcolm returned, even though he wasn’t sure he really agreed.  She was too blocky for him.  She had too many straight lines and angles and weird things sticking out of her hull.  Give him an old first generation gravtech beauty like Normandy, all curves and smooth lines, and he was much happier.  But, beauty was in the eye of the beholder, and Smith obviously loved that ship.  So to the younger man, she was beautiful.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time on her lately,” Smith said with a smile.

Malcolm nodded.  Smith was an Avenger pilot by training.  It made sense that Charles wanted him to test a ship designed to carry them, especially since thirteen Avengers came with her.  “I know.”

The kid blushed at his wry comment and met his gaze.  Then the boy looked away again, back to admiring the beautiful ship out there.  “I’m really going to have to thank him for her, aren’t I?”

Malcolm chuckled.  “Yes you will.”

Smith nodded at him and smiled.  “You have no idea how much I love being back in an Avenger,” he said.  “Don’t get me wrong.  The Blackhawks are nice birds but…”

He trailed off and Malcolm smiled.  “But nothing holds a candle to the first girl you fly.”

“Yeah,” Smith answered with a smile.  “I just wish I could give an Avenger to each of my pilots.  But that would make us all targets.”

Malcolm nodded in understanding.  The fighter squadrons on Normandy had a single pilot-cyber team controlling twelve fighters.  The beauty of the system was that the enemy didn’t know which of the twelve fighters the pilot flew, making it impossible for them to target him.  Handing out the Avengers to the other pilots would be like waving a giant sign that said “shoot here.”  And while cybers could come back from dying by just loading up a previous backup, death for genetic humans was far more permanent.  Besides, there was another problem.

“And Normandy can’t support Avengers anyways,” Malcolm noted.  Her hangar bays were designed for Blackhawks half the size of those monstrous fighters.

“Too big,” Smith agreed.  Then he sighed and Malcolm knew the kid was ready to say what he came here to say.  “The last problem I have is that now we have five fighter squadrons and four pilots.  Right now we’re using the fourth Blackhawk squadron as a reserve,” Smith continued in explanation.  “Putting broken down birds there while they get repaired, and using it to flesh out our fighter screen.”  He shrugged.  “We could do that on a permanent basis, but that’s not optimal for a lot of reasons I don’t have time to explain.  We just really need another pilot if we want to make full use of them.”

“Right,” Malcolm returned and looked back out at hyperspace.  Good pilots were rare.  He didn’t know how Charles managed to talk four Cowboys into retiring and joining the project, and he wasn’t certain he wanted to ask.  The fact that all four were Ageless, with all the advantages that brought, made him even more unwilling to ask.  There were some secrets he just didn’t need to delve into.  “There’s not one person in the fleet that can fly a starfighter the way you do.”

Smith nodded very slowly, as if in deep thought.  “Well,” he began in a doubtful tone, but he didn’t fool Malcolm at all.  The boy knew exactly what he was going to say next, so Malcolm remained silent and waited for the next words.  “But I can think of one person on this ship I’d trust with a fighter.”

Malcolm raised one eyebrow as he waited, but Smith’s silence finally forced the question out.  “Who?”

“He’s got all the right aptitudes,” Smith answered with a smile.  “Based on the tests I’ve seen, I think he could make our fighters dance.”

Who?” Malcolm repeated, wondering who could actually impress a retired Cowboy.

“His name’s Malcolm McDonnell,” Smith noted without any hesitation at all.

The name didn’t register for a second.  Then Malcolm laughed.  It was just too ridiculous.  “No.”

“Why?”  The kid was still smiling, but Malcolm felt something underneath the childlike skin.  He couldn’t tell what it was, but the kid that looked at him suddenly appeared far older than he looked.

“Well,” Malcolm said with a trace of uncertainty.  “Look, I’ve never flown a starfighter in my life.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Smith smiled.  “I didn’t either when I started.”  He looked to the hatch the girls had disappeared through.  “Honestly, with them, we don’t need to know how to fly.  They do all the hard work.  We’re just there to…add some organic randomization to the mix.”

“You do a lot more than that,” Malcolm said a raised eyebrow, daring the kid who wasn’t quite a kid to correct him.

Smith smiled.  “Well, that’s because I’m in command.  I have to be able to think ahead and strategize.”  Then he aimed very old eyes at Malcolm, laying a hundred years of Marine experience on him at once.  “You’d just have to be willing to follow my orders.”

Malcolm leaned back further in his chair and frowned.  “Well, that’d be a bit of a change.”

Smith shrugged.  “You’d still be Director of course.  But when in flight, you’d need to be willing to accept my commands without reservation.  And at the same time be able to trust your instincts when your subconscious tells you that Something Bad is about to happen,” he noted and tapped his forehead.  “And you’d need to be ready to risk your life to protect a pack of normal humans.”

Malcolm raised one eyebrow at the man.

Smith cleared his throat in the uncomfortable silence, but took the bull by the horns and leaned forward.  “Look.  Many people like us refuse to lift a single finger to protect them,” he spat out.

“Like the Hurst family?” Malcolm asked with a shrug.

Smith nodded and gave him an apologetic look.  “And most of their allies,” he said very slowly.

Malcolm nodded, acknowledging the clean hit.  Then he spread both arms out wide.  “And here I am.”  He smiled, understanding what the man was thinking.  “Directing.”  Not fighting.

“Yes,” Smith responded with care, reluctant to be any more direct.  Malcolm understood that too.  He was about as close to the Hurst family that anybody could get, without actually being blood.  It didn’t matter if they were chasing him.  A man could pick up a serious case of superiority complex by living a life with them.  And people like them looked poorly on direct challenges to their humanity.  Especially when they thought they were the best humans around.  Smith came to his feet and sucked in a deep breath.  “You don’t need to answer now.  Just think about it and get back to me.”  Smith nodded and turned to walk back to the exit hatch.

Malcolm followed his progress to see Anna appearing in the other hatch.  She moved to meet him, her green eyes shining brightly as she studied Malcolm.  The intensity of that gaze did not belong on her high school girl looks.

She reminded him of another girl, long ago.  Back in a time when he thought they were alone in the universe.  For a split second, he remembered the man he’d been back then.  Just a normal human like everyone else, thirty-four years old and willing to face five men for the woman behind him.  He remembered the feeling of dancing through the katas, diving between men, and lashing out with fists, feet, elbows, and more.  That younger version of himself had been willing to die for her.  He almost had.

Malcolm shook his head.  Girls made men do the stupidest things.  But across the gulf of time, he saw that man and sighed.  Some people had the example of parents to live up to.  Some people were moved into action by how they thought other people would be disappointed.  Malcolm had himself.  A stupid, idiotic, stubborn individual who lived a century ago and still demanded that Malcolm rise to his example.  Looking at that person, he didn’t need time to think about it.

“Smith.”  He only said the one word, but the man turned to look at him, one foot in the open hatch, and raised one questioning eyebrow.  “If you really want me, I’ll give it a try,” Malcolm said into the silence.

The old man hiding behind the boy’s face aimed a stern gaze at him.  “There is no try.” He said in a very hard voice.  “There is only do.”  He waved an arm towards the ship around them.  “Trying is dying.”

Malcolm met the challenge in the man’s gaze and felt it settle into his soul.  The stubborn idiot from the past smiled and accepted it without question.  Malcolm sucked in a long breath, let it out, and nodded.  “Then I guess I’ll do,” he answered, and the stubborn, idealistic fool from his past practically bubbled with pride.

The old Marine stared at him for several seconds, measuring him carefully.  Then Smith nodded and the Marine faded away, replaced by a seventeen year old kid with a cocky smile.  “Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” the kid said and stepped out of the day cabin.  Anna took one step into the hatch, paused to aim another examining look at Malcolm, and skipped out after him.  Skipped.  With a dimples, a freckled smile, and everything.

“I like them,” Dawn whispered after the hatch closed behind them, and moved to sit down in the vacated chair again.

“They make me feel old,” Malcolm returned, not wanting to think about the other things they made him feel.  It had been a long time since he met someone that made him want to step up like that.  He ran the fingers of one hand through his hair to cover that realization.

“Well, that’s fair,” Dawn answered with an amused smile and crossed her legs on the shared ottoman between them.  “You are old.”

“Hush you,” Malcolm shot back.

“Baby pictures,” Dawn warned, one raised finger in the air.

Malcolm chuckled and smiled.  She met his gaze and he read the promise in them.  She would help.  No matter what.  “New job?” he whispered, turning the rejoinder into a question.

“Sounds good to me,” she answered with a crooked smile and turned to look out at the multicolored rivers of hyperspaces flowing past them.  “I was getting bored anyways.”

Malcolm examined her profile for a few seconds, and then turned to follow her gaze with a satisfied sigh.  It was a beautiful sight.