The cheers reach fever pitch.
"We deserve a world where both those things are possible— and it's our job to help make that world."
* * *
Meanwhile, excitement is also building at the Dunfee ranch. The buzz of conversations around the garden grows to a roar as more and more people connect. Emby shares his experiences with a girl who has the left match to his right lung. A woman talks about a movie she never saw, with a man who remembers the friends he never saw it with. And as the Admiral and his wife watch, something amazing happens.
The conversations begin to converge!
Like water vapor crystallizing into the magnificent, unique form of a snowflake, the babble of voices coalesces into a single conversation.
"Look over there! He fell off that wall when he was—"
"—six! Yes—I remember!"
"He had to wear a wrist brace for months."
"The wrist still hurts when it rains."
"He shouldn't have climbed the wall."
"I had to—I was being chased by a bull."
"I was so scared!"
"The flowers in that field—do you smell them?"
"They remind me of that one summer—"
"—when my asthma wasn't so bad—"
"—and I felt like I could do anything."
"And the world was just waiting for me!"
The Admiral grips his wife's arm. Neither can hold back their tears—not tears of sorrow but of awe. If the rest of his heart were to stop now, in this moment, the Admiral would die more content than any man on Earth.
He looks at the crowd and says weakly, "H-Harlan?"
Every eye in the garden turns toward him. A man raises his hand to his throat, touching it gently, and says in a voice that is most definitely Harlan Dunfee's, just a bit older, "Dad?"
The Admiral is so overwhelmed by emotion he cannot speak, and so his wife looks at the man before her, at the people beside her, at the crowd all around her, and she says:
* * *
Six hundred miles away, in the airplane graveyard, a girl plays a grand piano sheltered beneath the wing of a battered jet that was once Air Force One. She plays with a rare sort of joy in defiance of her wheelchair, and her sonata lifts the spirits of all the new arrivals. She smiles at them as they go by and continues to play, making it clear that this furnace of a place, full of planes that cannot fly, is more than it seems. It is a womb of redemption for every Unwind, and for all those who fought the Heartland War and lost—which was everybody.
Connor lets Risa's music fill him as he watches the new arrivals being greeted by the thousands of kids already here. The sun has begun to set, taking the edge off the heat, and the rows of jets at this time of day create pleasing patterns of shadow on the hard earth. Connor has to smile. Even a place as harsh as this can be beautiful in a certain light.
Connor takes it all in—the music, the voices, the desert, and the sky. He has his work cut out for him, changing the world and all, but things are already in motion; all he has to do is keep up the momentum. And he doesn't have to do it alone. He has Risa, Hayden, and every Unwind here. Connor takes a deep breath and releases it along with his tension. At last, he allows himself the wonderful luxury of hope.