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Before Rachel Andros and Clay Gilbert could be allowed to leave Gliese 581, they were subjected to a party that wasn’t all that different from a battle with a relative lack of lethal weapons. They were snuck out of the collection of plazas where they were being feted, and back to the house of the medic, who was named Audra Cole.

Dr Audra Cole sat them down in her kitchen in an apartment in one of the nicer bubbles. She lived with four cats, one of whom sat on the table as Audra and Clay and Rachel had a glass of berry wine.

“So,” said Rachel, “you weren’t born in the 581 system?”

“Actually not,” said Audra. “I’m new here. I was actually born in Vermont.” She looked out the window, over the expanse of purple stone buildings under the bubble. “Been here 47 years, but it still seems weird. Being on a different planet orbiting a different star. Still seems weird.”

“How did you come to be here?”

“I volunteered to help repopulate 581. We heard oh, it would be eighty years ago now in Earth time, that there had been problems here. There used to be Earth ships come and go here, I mean, it’s twenty light years, so you send a fleet and it comes back and the crew are a year older and everyone the knew on Earth is forty years older, but it could be worse. So we put together about 400 scientists and technicians and came here. I’ve been here 47 years, I came here when I was 25, maybe half the group turned around and went home. I mean, it was already the way it is now, it’s hopeless but it’s actually kind of weirdly sustainable.”

“How is it sustainable?” asked Clay. “Because they don’t use live rounds?”

“They do kill each other sometimes, don’t they?” asked Rachel.

“Oh, sure,” said Audra. “I felt probably about the way you do at first. How do they manage? It’s really sort of awe-inspiring. They have no system. They have a bunch of rules—they even have a set of Articles they all supposedly agree with, about fair trials and how the Council is elected, but everyone sort of decides for themselves how to read the rule book.”

“Yeah, I kind of noticed that first,” said Clay. “So why did you stay?”

“I just thought I could do some good here,” said Audra. “Maybe I couldn’t save the world by myself, but I could come here and contribute a little and make just a tiny little difference, you know, like my dad would say, accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, ameliorate everything, make things better, think how much difference a little difference makes after fifty years.” She put her wine down and spread her hands on the table face down, looking from Clay to Rachel and back.

“And has it worked that way?” asked Clay.

“No, not at all,” said Audra. “Not in any way I can see. Except maybe I don’t think they’re really going to blow the place up, I don’t think that’s in their repertoire anymore.” She took a drink. “I think they feel sort of defeated,” she said, holding her glass up. “I think their failure to resolve anything at all by violent means has them in a sort of funk.”

“Yeah,” said Rachel, “you have to be a frickin’ positive thinker to come up with an actual scheme to destroy your planet. We’re worried about things that might come from outside.”

“That space stuff,” said Audra. “Yeah, about that, I don’t think it’s wise to let these people have space fighters. It was good you brought yours in and put them in my living room.” They all looked back toward the doorway into the next room, where the two Ghosts nuzzled. Clay and Rachel sat in kitchen chairs holding hands. “So it looks like we’re going to need some help from Earth. You’re going there next, right?”

“Yeah,” said Rachel. “What can we expect?”

“Well, bear in mind, I left there seventy years ago.” She took a drink, then leveled her brown eyes on Rachel’s blue-green. “Honest, most people aren’t going to give a flying fig. The leadership might or might not, it goes in cycles, it’s just a matter of where they are in the cycle.”

“Well, one thing’s for sure,” said Rachel, “they won’t have blown themselves up, they were over that. Or maybe I shouldn’t say that.”

“Go ahead,” said Audra. “They aren’t going to do that. Question is whether they’re going to care about anything more than a light hour from Earth.”

“I wonder if they have a star fleet,” said Rachel. “That could be exciting, especially if we can talk them into giving us, you know, upgrades. Of course, it could be bad too, if there’s like this big fleet and they’ve built death stars and stuff.”

“Rachel,” said Clay, “why would anyone really build a death star?” He looked back at his Ghost, then took a drink and smiled at Audra. “I wonder if my sister has a bunch of descendants.”