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They trooped down to their favorite observation lounge and took places along the windows, Park floating in the middle. Everyone found a spot and then they all looked at her.

“So, questions?” asked Park.

“Bad about Agneska, and Gil,” said Celeste Bouvier.

“It could have been any of us,” said Park. “But we were clever and we got help and we prevailed. Any other questions?”

“What’s the organization?” asked Bouvier. “Do we divvy up Bain and Li, or make a new Beta Wing, or what?”

“Don’t sit us down,” said Bonnie Bain.

“Don’t what?” asked Park.

“Don’t sit us down. Don’t make us sit out.” She looked at Li Zan, who nodded, looking as if she was walking away from a grave.

“Commander,” said Padfoot, who had come in with Gene Bell and Poto Wall, all mechanics. “I recall you saying that you want us to make you a couple of new Ghosts.”

“Is that actually a thing?” asked Rachel. “Making new Ghosts? Of course we want you to do that. What the hell.”

“Clarify, Padfoot,” said Park.

“We think,” said Padfoot, “that we can build you a new one in a month. It would be done by the time we came in from the next trip. Maybe before we even made the next trip.”

“Commander,” said Bonnie Bain, “why don’t we requisition a couple of the colony ship fighters, you know, the best ones, obviously—?”

“They could replace those fighters with the new ones as they came online,” said Rachel. “Well. I wonder how many fighters we could actually reasonably manage? I mean, the sky would be the limit. You make fighters from stuff you find in every asteroid belt we’ve looked at.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Jane Tremblay. “What about the alien fighters? What are they going to be like next time?”

“Better, for certain,” said Natasha. “These are not dumb brutes. I don’t get much of a feel for them, they’re not exactly extroverted, but they clearly have brains. They’ll have sized us up totally.”

“I’m for sizing them up totally,” said Bouvier, “before we get in too deep here. What is the relationship between the Sister Shia Tang-blasting aliens on the ground and the ones we’ve been fighting in space?”

“Well, you can’t know for sure,” replied Natasha, “but the sense is that the ones on the ground are rebels and the ones in space are the evil empire coming after them. And now the sense is that they’re going to figure out a way to come after us. We’re a threat to them.”

“I don’t think we can go far wrong,” said Clay, “assuming they’re going to choose the optimal strategy, whether or not they have ‘nouns’ or ‘adjectives’ or even ‘brains’. And that’s going to be true of the so-called rebels on the ground as well as the so-called bad aliens in space.”

“And if these guys on the ground are their enemies,” said Vera, “those guys are going to really want us out of the way. Their optimal strategy will be to prevent their rebels from getting help. What do you think those three were here to do, anyway? They can’t have known we’d be here. Do we have any idea where they came from?”

“Navigation strongly suggests,” said Rachel, “that they came directly from a small orange star about 32 light years away. We’ve been able to determine that the star has several planets, though we don’t know anything about them. So they would have set out 32 or more years ago. Their thrust system seemed pretty much like ours.” She looked at Padfoot, who looked at Poto Wall.

“We think they’re a different kind of the same thing as us,” said Poto. “We think they use a kind of ion drive. Listen, Tasmania’s thinking of making a rubble picking expedition. This could help us find out about the enemy, but it could also further our fighter building efforts.

“We’re still trying to persuade Kalkar,” said Padfoot.

“A rubble picking expedition,” said Park. “I think we will want to go on this. Won’t we, ladies and gents?” The pilots all smirked. “And Li Zan, I need to talk to you.”

“Commander?” And that was the first time Clay remembered hearing her speak.

“You’re commander of Beta Wing, Bonnie Bain is your second, pick out two more from among the colony ships but don’t take them both from the same ship. Are we done here?”