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X. 667

1.

Some hours later, Clay and Rachel were accelerating out of the Alpha Centauri system, still discussing that question.

“On the one hand,” said Rachel, floating beside Clay naked in their joined fighters, “humans are known survivors. On the other hand, oh, somewhere around, what is that, 1% of 1% of the species survived the attack on Earth, and we’re not exactly in a defensible mode. Still, I have to give us the nod. 99.99% is not good enough. Sorry, Ngugma. I used to weed my aunt and uncle’s garden when I was like five, eight. You get 99% of the weeds, they come back.”

“I did that too, as a kid,” said Clay. “You get 100% and they come back.”

“Well, they’re blowing in from outside the garden. Like we could blow back in from outside the Solar System. That’s really possible, right? I mean, get back to Earth after a hundred years, there’s already no chance of infection, by then it’ll all be washed clean. We could totally resettle.”

They flew along, side by side, Rachel’s naked right side against Clay’s naked left side, thinking their own thoughts. Presently Clay said, “It’s just, you know, I think of the platinum disk people, whatever they were. I mean, the mouthholes abide, right? But nothing else seems to. The Ngugma, the Primoids, they don’t seem any more permanent that we are.”

“Well, what matters is, we’re a going concern right now. We’re still breathing.”

“That’s something, anyway,” said Clay. “It’s better than the alternative. But don’t you wonder sometimes what the average life expectancy of a species is? Of a sentient, space-faring species? I give us ten thousand years at the upper end. Maybe five hundred at the lower end.”

“Oh, that’s not depressing,” said Rachel. “Our five hundred years are about up. Wait, what year is this supposedly? 2588 or something?”

“2586, when we were at Alpha C.”

“Yeah. We first space-fared about 1960, 1970.” She glared at the screen. “So, great. Thanks.”

“Look,” said Clay. “I admit I have no data. I admit it’s not the happiest subject ever. But I think it’s true, I think it’s really hard to last as a civilization. There’s just too many things.”

“But the mouthholes survive,” said Rachel. “Because they’re adaptable, simple, and just not all that caught up in how frickin’ brilliant they are. Unlike, say, us.” They flew along for a while, accelerating by a further hundred or two hundred kilometers per second. “So Clay.”

“Yes, Rache?”

“I’m just curious. While you’re prognosticating.”

“Okay.”

“What do you think Alpha C’s chances are? Or Mathilde? Or 581?”

“Or Bluehorse?”

She got a look on her face, then said, “No, let’s leave them off the table for now.”

“Fair enough,” said Clay. “We will know soon enough. Rank them? I would rank them, on sheer survival, oh, Alpha C, then 581, then Mathilde. I think the Centaurians have it together. They have problems, but their population is pretty solid, they have good, um, leadership, they’ve developed their tech pretty well, they had real problems from the start but they’ve made it work, and they have no, and I emphasize this because I think it’s a real advantage, they have no resource base in the system worth plundering.”

“Ha. Well,” said Rachel, “that’s actually very astute. Um, funny, ironic even, all us colony projects, we all looked for places with lots of metals, lots of resources, and the Centaur Program was the only one that had no real choice where it was going, had to settle where it first went, and they’re the one that’s strongest. Granted, they have a cryo section full of 200-year-old corpses, but I guess they can regard it as historical or something. Alpha C still has a certain amount of gumption you don’t see elsewhere. I mean, I could argue for 581, they have some arable land even if they’re not capable of using it, but I didn’t think much of them.”

“No, me either. But sad to say, I just think Mathilde is in too much danger, there’s just too high a probability that they’ll get found and blasted. I think 581 can sort of muddle through.”

“If the Ngugma want to mine there,” said Rachel, “they are toast, you know that. Anyway, I’m rooting for Mathilde to outlast the mining operation. Maybe they can then move back to Earth, like I said.”

“Oh, I’m rooting for them too,” said Clay. “Totally. Do you think there’s anything we can do to help? Help the Mathildeans and the Centaurians to work together? Maybe even with the, uh, 581eans or whatever?”

“Well,” said Rachel, “considering it’ll be 180 years at the earliest before we’re back at good ol’ Mother Earth, I think the most we can hope for is that we encourage whoever might be surviving at Gliese 667 to check them out. Maybe they can share patrols or something. Gosh knows they need to share technology.” They cruised along another two hundred thousand kilometers. She smiled at him and said, “But we’ll soon see what 667 is all about. Want to make a prediction?”

Clay laughed. “No, no,” he said, “considering that I have yet to see what I expected to see at any system we’ve ever arrived at. What do you predict?”

She turned to face him, and her look made him turn to face her. “I can’t predict what we’ll see when we get to 667,” she said. “I can totally predict what’s going to happen in the next hour or two inside these two fighters.”

And so their predictable light speed lives spun out, and a week and a half later, in their biuological chronologies, they were lying in each other’s arms gazing at the unpredictable nature of the situation at Gliese 667.

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