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2.

“So, Commander,” asked Captain Ted Trein in the inevitable meeting, “you are now confident in your capabilities vis a vis the new aliens?”

“We need to name them something,” said Captain Caterin Mark. “Those aliens, those new aliens. Can we call them Species One and Species Two?”

“We need to know what species is the species on Planet Five,” said Captain Ally Schwinn.

“And whether the new weapons settings will allow us to deal with them too,” said Trein.

“With all due respect,” Su Park cut in, in a voice that said she wasn’t sure if that much respect was due, “we went over this already. The aliens on Planet Five are the same species, well, at least the same culture and technology as the ones we just shot up. They’re also tacitly our allies, since they gave us the means to defeat the ones who killed Vilya and Rojette.”

“With all due respect,” Trein replied in the same tone, “the ones on Planet Five blew up a perfectly good mission admin, and five colonists, even if they were engaged in non-traditional diplomacy. They were clearly peaceful and they got blown up. Now we can’t allow that, can we?”

“We bloody well can,” said Park. “We mourn the loss of Sister Shia and her adepts, but they had already fired warning shots at us, and I’m told they fired warning shots at her as well. To them, Sister’s movements must have seemed suspicious.” Trein was about to rejoin the argument, so Park went on in her special loud voice: “We can’t tell without actually communicating with them, but here is a reasonable hypothesis. The aliens on Planet Five are not an outpost but a hideout. They’re rebels or something, and the three fighters coming in were there to either attack them or just check on them to make sure they weren’t getting uppity. They saw us and they behaved just like the ones on Planet Five: they didn’t respond to contact, except to shoot at us. The aliens on Five have not yet aggressed against us: all their movements have been defensive. The same cannot be said for the new aliens. We don’t know how far away their nearest base is, but presumably it’s some number of light years away and presumably that means it will be two times some number of years before they come back. When they do, they will make sure to outnumber us.”

“Will we even be here at that time?” asked Alfred Kalkar. “We aren’t colonizing here.”

“I don’t see why we would stick around,” said Schwinn.

“Because we’d be leaving an enemy on our flank,” said Trein.

“Captain,” said Park, “we can assume we have enemies all around. Captains, permit me to make a humble suggestion. No, two humble suggestions. One, we begin getting prepared to head off to whatever is Candidate Two. We don’t know if there are more enemies on the way, or if there are mouthholes about who are insufficiently intimidated by us yet, or if Candidate Two, whatever it is, will be defended. It may be that we are now meeting the local space empire. It is somewhat unfortunate that we cannot ask for directions to their frontier. And two, I would suggest that you get Padfoot and her friends and anyone in the colony ships who knows how to smelt, and have them attempt to manufacture a couple more Ghosts. We can hold a selection among the colonists to choose some new pilots. We are now down three, cancel one for Bain, who is working out very nicely. Do you think you can see your way clear to doing that?”

“I think that’s wise,” said Schwinn.

“Well,” said Trein, “how long might it be before these aliens show up again? Ten years minimum, I’d expect.”

“Unless they have a base in Candy One’s Oort cloud,” said Natasha, “which totally could happen.”

“Then how long would it take?”

“Oh, a few weeks, a month.”

“And how many would they send? Three? Six? Nine?”

“Your guess,” said Park. “Would you like to have us with our ten defending you against nine of those? Given that they already have intelligence on us from that escaped missile?”

“Yes, fine,” said Trein. “How exactly did it escape, anyway?”

“One was rather busy,” Park replied, “defeating their fighters and suffering zero losses on our side. Do you think you would have done better?”

“Commander,” said Ally Schwinn.

“Do I have your permission to lead my fighters?” asked Park, with no need to raise her voice. “May I please have a free hand?”

“Commander,” said Ted Trein, “really—!”

“Yes, you do,” said Schwinn. “Actually, you do.” She looked at Alice Grohl and Olivia, the medical doctor. “Oh, definitely,” said Grohl. “Please.”

“Within certain parameters,” Caterin Mark was saying as Park headed out of the meeting, followed by the fighter pilots and a couple of the mechanics.

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