After my chat with General Hawkins I went out to a bar with a couple of the other Captains in the Pentagon to blow off some steam. This was a regular thing for us, and we usually got rollicking drunk in a way you couldn't safely do on a base. Out here in DC, Captains were bag carriers not commanders, so we'd nothing to lose.

Mary was a very junior member of the Secretary of Defense's outer office, and had all the gossip we ever needed, she almost never had to buy herself a beer. It helped that she had a fantastic wide smile that lit up her whole face. She traded us info that we'd find useful in our day jobs and we gratefully bought her beer in return.

John was in the procurement arm of the Pentagon, buying stuff for Space Force, which is how I got to meet him. In contrast he was dark and dour, but with a wicked sense of humour he'd contracted when on secondment with the Brits. He was a harder drinker than I was, and it never seemed to have any effect on him.

The three of us met just inside the security barrier at the main entrance, and we went off to our favourite bar. It was almost nine when we got the first beer on board. After about four more beers it was apparent that dinner wasn't going to appear.

Mary and I had both had unsettling days, and she seemed as intent on getting as drunk as I was. John bailed on us at midnight claiming that he had an early start in the morning. By that time I'd lost count of the number of beers we'd put by, not that I'd really been counting anyway.

The barman was making signs that he wanted to close up, which was a little early for us. Looking around I couldn't see more than two other customers, and I suppose that was pretty good for gone midnight on a Tuesday. I returned to Mary empty handed.

'Hey Mike, where are the beers?'

'No more beer here, they want to go home.'

'I want another beer!'

'Me too, let's go get some.'

We wandered out onto the street, there were a number of other bars, restaurants and other late night places to get a coffee or food. However most of those selling alcohol looked like they were also closing.

'I got some beers at my place, if you still want some?' Mary said to me, leaning on my arm.

'I want some, let's go to your place!' I replied, giving Mary my best astronaut smile. She grabbed my hand and towed me to the curb and started waving at the traffic with her other arm. Almost immediately a cab stopped, even though it was past midnight there was still a fair amount of traffic and we both looked pretty respectable.

The cab ride was short, we could probably have walked to Mary's place in about twenty minutes. It was a fancy apartment block, one of the newer ones.

'Nice place you've got'

'Work covers it, they need me to be in walking distance in case of emergencies.'

'You're on call?'

'Not tonight, but a couple of times a week, every other weekend.'

'They call you out often?'

'Only when something big is on, so maybe once a month someone gets called out.'

The doors were on a combination of face recognition and a smart card, so they just opened as we walked in. The lift doors were already open when we reached them and it took us straight up to Mary's floor. She had to pull out the smart card and stick it in a slot to open the apartment door, along with a quick fingerprint scan. A little more secure than usual. We carried on talking while we walked.

'So what made you enlist?' Mary asked me as we walked along the corridor.

'I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a boy, and it seemed the best way in.'

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