The flight into Bluehorse was jarringly familiar from the weeks they had spent there a year ago, or a hundred and eighty-eight years ago. It only made it more jarring to have a small fleet of Primoids appear from the haze of light speed far behind them on the same course they had taken. The small fleet was already communicating with Bluehorse-3 by the time Clay and Rachel put down in a lovely plaza along the shore of Hudson Bay, the gulf of the Parallelogram Sea where the Canada had landed. The old colony ship’s outlines were still clear, surrounded by an administrative building, a few college buildings, a few commercial properties and then an extent of three-story residential.
It was all beautiful. It was all jarring. The nearness of the cold, dark and dead made their guides’ words seem translucent, or like glass where the reflection of what’s behind you half covers the view of what’s in front. The welcome on the plaza was sweet but not overly ceremonial, sincere more than adulatory: a crowd of several thousand applauded and laughed at their initial banter, and then went back to work and play while the two space travelers found themselves in the company of the mayor, Kendra Grohl, a young fighter pilot named Daria Acevedo, and three assorted middle-aged locals. The Mayor was somewhere between fifty and eighty, and was Alice Grohl’s great great granddaughter.
The colony had grown like a weed, or like four weeds, each named for its colony ship: Canada, Argentina, Egypt, India. The largest rift without a colony was called, of course, the France Preserve, for the long-lost fifth colony ship. By now, the population had risen from eight thousand to over three million, but the rate of increase had fallen off sharply (the Mayor said proudly) and they were hoping to settle in between five and ten million. Earth-originated vegetation both tame and wild was filling the rifts, as was Earth fauna up to the size of cats and a few monkeys; the seas were now shared between fish and armored worms, crustaceans and spiny spinners, kelp and bluemoss. Pollution was still negligible; no one was shooting at anyone else, at least not of the same species; corruption was low, as was income inequality; they had come up with a sort of money, called a “share,” but it was still fairly evenly distributed. The four towns, growing into cities by now, were independent and cooperated only on maintaining the fleet and the currency.
All this Rachel and Clay learned during an exhausting tour that covered six hours the first 32-hour day and four hours the second. They also learned, almost by accident, that the system had been invaded by Primoids—ninety years ago. There was an obelisk in another of Canada Town’s many plazas that commemorated the struggle.
“Oh, yes,” said the Mayor, “we barely saw them off that time, they fought to almost the last, um, Primoid. We lost all but one cruiser and four fighters, and they managed to escape with three fighters of their own.”
“Which cruiser?” asked Clay. “Which fighter pilots were killed?” asked Rachel.
“Well,” said the Mayor, “we were up to, I think, eight cruisers and we lost seven of them, and we lost at least twenty fighters, though some of the crews were rescued.”
“You haven’t heard from Su Park?” asked Rachel.
“I’ll get this,” said Daria Acevedo. “None of the original fighters in the three wings were in the second battle of Bluehorse. The surviving cruiser was the Nonesuch. Park and her explorer group, with, um—!”
“Bain, Leith, Ree,” said Rachel. “And the Tasmania. And Santos and Kleiner and the Greenland.”
“Yes, yes,” said Daria impatiently. “Santos and Kleiner and the Greenland have been back and gone again, and actually Park’s group was here about ten years after the battle, which would put it about eighty years ago, but they’re exploring and they’re scheduled back this year so they could rendezvous with you, actually. And the rest, um, there was one other wing—!”
“Li Zan and Timmis Green, who else?” asked Clay. “What about Tremblay?”
“Jane Tremblay was killed in the battle,” said the Mayor. “There is a statue of her in the rotunda of the council hall. I’m surprised you didn’t see it.”
“We lost a number of fighter pilots,” said Daria. “Tremblay was the commander in the field, she and Ena Adwani both sacrificed themselves to save the planet, they’re quite revered. Not that you two aren’t, of course, but—!”
“But they paid the ultimate price,” said Rachel.
“And the Abstraction?” asked Clay.
“It was sent off with Li Zan’s wing,” said Daria. “There was a fight at Candywan.”
“I can see there’s a lot to tell us about,” said Rachel.
There was an awkward pause. “Well,” said the Mayor, “it was somewhat newsworthy, this little item about humanity on Earth being wiped out.”
“About Bluehorse being the most populous human planet,” said one of the other two.
“Okay, okay,” said Rachel, “I can see we have enough for another meeting.”
“Yes, we do,” said the Mayor. She checked her pocket tablet. “And I see that your Primoid friends have made contact and request to land as well. Do they do meetings?”
“Oh, they love them.”
“And what about these other Primoids?” asked the Mayor.
“They probably love them too,” said Clay. “Wait, which other Primoids?”
“The ones,” said the Mayor, with a rueful smile worthy of Alice Grohl, “who have just entered the system from the other direction, with a battlecruiser and nine more cruisers.”