Rachel and Clay, not terribly drunk, wandered through the halls of the Tasmania, then floated across, or down, or up, a straight gangway tube to the colony ship Canada, and then through the spacious hallways of the Canada to the fighter bay. They saw a couple of colony ship crew, who nodded and smiled, but no one else.
“Okay,” said Rachel as they entered the bay, “bear in mind I don’t have any assurance my brilliant idea will work.”
“Can you tell me what your brilliant idea is?”
“Well, where’s the fun in that?”
“Let’s just put it this way,” said Rachel. “I came at the problem from a conflict-averse standpoint. Get in your fighter. We’re a wing of two.”
“Okey dokey,” he said, getting into his Ghost. In a minute they were flying through a simulated universe. There was the dim gleam of colony ships just dropping to a speed at which they could meaningfully reflect photons. Then there was a speck of blackness blacker than the blackness of the heavens. Then there were three of them, shooting toward Rachel and Clay, zigging and zagging like bugs while accelerating like subatomic particles.
“Engage your ECM,” said Rachel.
“Electronic countermeasures? Really?”
“I’m your commanding officer and if you don’t engage your ECM in the next 2.2 seconds, buster, you are going on report. And dying.”
“Okay, okay.” He said to his Ghost, “Engage ECM.”
“Give it zeroes across the board, and a ten in each of places 22, 23 and 26. Got that?”
“Got that,” said Clay, fingering the dials. “So with all those zeroes,” he said, “we’re not actually masking anything to do with the power system. What are we masking or whatever?”
“Graviton signatures from the engines,” said Rachel. “Now let’s fly up and see if they’ll talk to us.”
The two fighters shot across space, and the three black things shot toward them. And then past. The middle one went overhead, from Clay’s point of view, at a distance of a few thousand kilometers. They dwindled into the distance, then turned and began to chaotically search the region they had just crossed. Clay and Rachel flew around the same region, approaching each of the three at one point or another, but they didn’t seem to notice. Finally Rachel sent a new maneuver to Clay, and they both turned tail and fled at maximum acceleration.
This time the three things came after them. “It’s like I thought,” said Rachel. “You accelerate to hard and you can be heard.”
“What shall we do now? End the simulation?”
“Nah,” said Rachel, “why not see if anything else we’ve done makes a difference?”
As it turned out, only their cumulative experience seemed to have made a difference. The two of them lasted a lot longer than they had the first time they had faced numbers, but at some point two of them managed to snag Clay and eat him, and then Rachel was toast as well. She climbed out and found Clay waiting for her.
“So we can probably hide,” said Clay. “Can you hide a colony ship?”
“I really doubt it,” said Rachel. “I’m not sure about anything bigger than us. Their ECM systems work differently from ours. They’re definitely not as good.”
“It’s more of a struggle to manage the signals a big ship emits,” said Clay. “So how realistic is this anyway? What were your assumptions?”
“Oh, I’m totally guessing about what they detect. It stands to reason, that’s all: they move super fast, but they chase a prey that’s super fast. Anything they want to eat is accelerating hard.”
“You know what that means, though, right?”
Rachel looked mystified. “I don’t know, I think it means that anything they want to eat is accelerating hard.”
“It means, my dear Rachel, that there is something for them to eat out here.”
Rachel came around Clay’s fighter and floated up to look him in the face. “It means there’s an ecosystem,” she said, “consisting of things that go to light speed.”
“It means,” said Clay, “that there are more aliens out here than just these guys. And they frequent Earth’s neighborhood.”