“So we aren’t any safer going back,” Rachel summarized, “and we don’t see a lot here we can work with. We really don’t have much else we can do but go on.” She was floating out about three meters above what was generally thought of as the floor and the same distance below what would then be considered the ceiling. People were listening to her, talking amongst themselves in low voices, nodding. Rachel looked like she was talking to just a few friends, not an initially hostile crowd of hundreds. “We can’t guarantee anything, but that’s just the way it’s always been, right? But the only ships they’ve actually attacked have been little ones, so it may be that they don’t go for larger food. And we may have a way of deflecting their interest in us. So.”
“So you suggest we go on,” said a mustachioed man who stood, or floated touching the floor, not far in front of her. “I can’t see any other way myself,” he added, looking around. People, old ladies and young hotheads alike, nodded.
“Mind you,” said Rachel, “we also figure there must be other aliens around because these things are eating something and as far as we know, Jana Bluehorse is the first H. sapiens they’ve gotten a taste of. So we just have to go on expecting the unexpected.” Clay smirked: the official expression of Alpha Wing.
“Can’t you all fly on ahead to the next place and report back?” asked an older woman.
“Look,” said Rachel, “if it’s thirty light years, we would make the round trip in sixty years. Due to the amazing magic of time dilation, we wouldn’t experience that as more than a few months, but to you it would be sixty long years. If you’re going to wait here that long, you might as well just put down roots and live here.”
“And the only way we can share in the amazing magic of time dilation is to go to light speed ourselves,” said a middle aged woman named Olivia who was a medical doctor. She was a sort of voice of reason and could only be heard because almost everyone else had lost their voices. “And that carries risks, obviously.”
“But it’s better than staying here,” said the man with the mustache, “so we may as well get with the program. Where is the next place anyhow?”
Rachel shrugged, looked at Clay, who shrugged, and then everyone looked at Ally Schwinn, who looked at her navigator, Tony Han, who looked very shy. “Mr Han,” said Schwinn, “oh, Tony, don’t be bashful, we’re all friends here.”
“Now we are,” muttered Rachel.
“Thanks to you, Rache,” said Clay.
“They just needed to get their anxieties out in the open,” she replied.
Tony Han got unstuck from his seat, cleared his throat and said, “We have a candidate picked out.” Schwinn handed him a little remote control, and he used it to wake the big screen at the front of the room. They could see the Earth and the Sun, and then they swept off along the dark road to 55 Cancri, and then they turned about ninety degrees and headed for blasted Gliese 163. And from there, the projected road showed in blue dashes: to a little yellow star, smaller than the Sun, with at least three planets. “It was not on the Gliese or Kepler charts,” said Han. “It was not known to have planets until observations we just made here. It lies about thirty light years away, in the direction away from Earth. As you can see,” and he did something to make a faint green zone glow around the star, “two planets at least orbit in the habitable zone.”
“Does it have water?” asked a young man, one of the hotheads, now just curious. “I would kill for a dip in a pond.”
“Well, of course we can’t tell,” said Han. “But it has signatures that might be water, or ice perhaps, or vapor. There could well be water.”
“This became the leading candidate,” said Schwinn, “when we considered the spectroscopic data. It was clearly the most likely to have what we need.”
“What’s it called?” asked a man.
“Uh, we call it Candidate One,” said Schwinn.
“Candidate One?!” several people called out, as everyone had a small laugh.
“We can have a naming contest later,” suggested Olivia the doctor. “If we like it.”
“Okay,” said Alice Grohl, “I’m sold. Are you all sold? At least a little?”
There was not a chorus of argument. Several people said they were sold, and then there was a light rain of applause.
“All right then,” said Schwinn. “We will make arrangements. It should be a couple of weeks before we are ready to leave Gliese 163 behind. Thank you for letting this happen, and I want to say that in the future I promise we will consult more effectively. Thank you, Alice. Thank you, Miss Andros, Mr Gilbert.”
“Yes,” said an older woman, “thank you kindly, Miss Andros.” There was another rain of applause. Rachel raised her hands to wave it off, but she was smiling, not smirking.
“This went well,” said Schwinn to Alice Grohl and Rachel and Clay as the colonists were starting to empty from the room. “And you know what that means.”
“It means we’re off to Candidate One,” said Rachel.
“It means,” said Grohl, “that you two are going to do this same thing on the other three colony ships.”