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3.

The colony ships lumbered in and eventually hooked up to the anchor freighters, vastly increasing the size of the faux planet orbiting 55 Cancri A. Their accompanying freighters, much larger than the three anchor freighters but still dwarfed by the colony ships, hooked in as well, so the faux planet was now eleven ships connected at hatches and by tubes. The four escort ships buzzed about nearby or went on patrol jaunts. The fighters, numbering an unlucky thirteen with the adoption of Bonnie Blain, zipped down to Algaeville to conduct tours or went out on their own patrols. They also found time for a dance party on the Tasmania: Captain Kalkar and Irah Chontz put in an appearance just to show that they were tolerant.

Clay and Vera went on patrols together several times, they ate meals together more often than not, and they visited the school set up on the colony ship India and read to the younger children. They discovered a small observation booth on the India which afforded them sweeping views of black space and white stars. It was possible to lock the door, and this afforded them further opportunities, as well as affording interesting views to any alien who might have been able to look in through the genuine glass dome window.

Meanwhile they confronted their uncertainty about the future, theirs or anyone else’s, by not discussing it. Once, floating naked and drowsy in the observation dome, Clay sighed and said, “Vera,” and Vera immediately said, “Clay, let’s not talk about it.”

So they went on thinking the same things in the same circles of doubt, even as they came in and sat side by side in the big meeting on the Canada.

The room was meant for the purpose of large meetings, unlike their previous meeting room in the Greenland’s freight section. The food was somewhat better: some sort of fried wonton, an array of realistic meats and cheeses, some very nice and quite realistic croissants, a variety of realistic fruit spreads. There was coffee, tea, not terribly realistic juices, and very cold and clean water. The room was built to hold four hundred people, and it was full; there were three panels, arranged along three adjacent sides of the hexagonal room. The left panel hosted all twenty-one fighter, er, SCEP pilots; the right panel was occupied by the anchor freighter captains, navigators and a few others; in the middle, the captains and executive officers of the four remaining colony ships sat, along with a colonist representative from each ship.

The rest of the room was filled with long tables and seats, equipped with seat belts. Whether sitting, in zero gravity, made any actual sense was not the issue: the issue, to the designers of the room, was to allow everyone to see the guy who was doing the talking. A large room full of people floating about at random, like a bunch of air molecules with personality, was not what was wanted. At least that was how the captains of the four colony ships saw it: Caterin Mark of the India, Renaud Garant of the Egypt, Ted Trein of the Argentina and Ally Schwinn of the Canada. It was not how the colonists saw it. In addition to their four recognized representatives, a hundred more had managed to gain entry to the discussion, and these floated freely in the five meters of height while Schwinn and her officers strove to make them take seats.

Meanwhile the pilots chatted, laughed among themselves and did little bits of weightless acrobatics in the vicinity of their panel. Alfred Kalkar, who was feeling rather allied to them, sashayed over, as did Bonnie Bain, who had been assigned to the colony ship panel.

“Quite the display of unity so far, huh?” said Kalkar. “Think we should fire some weapons over their heads? Oh, that’s right. We’re not supposed to have any.”

“The colonists are better armed than we are,” said Natasha. “They’ll have pitchforks.”

“I heard you guys souped up your lasers or something,” Bonnie said to Clay and Vera.

“Do not tell anyone or you are toast,” said Vera.

“If you’re nice to us,” said Clay, “we’ll show you how to fix up your own.”

A series of loud horn calls cut through the noise. Captain Ally Schwinn of the colony ship Canada was holding up a personal comm, and it was emitting sounds far out of proportion to its size.

“I’d like to get started,” she said into the silence, and then noise erupted all over again. She used her horn call once more and people shut up this time to a somewhat greater extent than before. “All right,” she said, standing at her place in the panel, holding onto the table with one hand, “the first thing we need to do is get the facts straight and separated from the rumors and the speculation.”

“Uh, no,” said Captain Ted Trein of the Argentina, “first we need to decide what the chain of command looks like, given that Dr Georges is not with us.”

“I think we need to know what the situation is,” said Captain Renaud Garant of the Egypt, “before we start discussing the succession. Admiral Georges is,” but most people didn’t hear what Admiral Georges was, as Trein objected strenuously to whatever suggestion Garant might be making about his motives, and the colonists’ representatives at the table and in the seats tried to make their objections known, and a number of other issues were raised, loudly.

Su Park sashayed around in front of the fighters’ panel. They all looked at her, including Bonnie Bain and Captain Kalkar. “We’re walking,” said Park. To a woman and man, the pilots all got up and headed after her, sashaying along the wall to the main hatchway. Park did not make them move very fast, and just as she reached the door, Ally Schwinn’s air horn communicator sounded. Park stopped and turned, looking as if she was just curious what the noise was.

“Wing Leader,” called Schwinn in the relative silence, “where are you going?”

“Out for a drink,” Park replied in her loudest voice. “We’ll be in the galley when everyone’s ready to be productive.”

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