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3.

Li Zan’s wing returned to Bluehorse the next 32-hour Bluehorse day, and she and Timmis Green walked the streets of Canada Town with Rachel and Clay for hours, recalling the Earth that they had left and this planet, with a population on a par with 21st Century Chicago, that they had come home to. They held hands: two old couples, Rachel and Clay, Li and Timmis. Their repeated joke was: “That café over there—didn’t there used to be a tree there? And over here, isn’t this where that one boulder used to be?”

“Funny to think,” said Timmis, “this could have been Candy One, or Candywan.”

“Is that like a Primoid metropolis now?” asked Clay.

“The rebels have like thousands, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a million. They’re still all underground.”

“They find it more secure,” said Rachel. “The Primoids are all about security. They’re a lot like humans, but they’re also a lot like cats.” The others nodded sagely. “So,” she asked, “you were here more recently than us, right?”

“We were here 24 years ago, local,” said Li Zan. “Before that, we were back here—what?” She turned her slightly smiling round face to Timmis Green’s always smiling round face. “Another 24 years, correct? That was when we went to bolster the rebels.”

“Exciting times,” said Rachel. “Fighting off the Primoid Center, helping out the rebels. We thought that was what it was all about out here. That was before we knew of the Ngugma.”

“What do you think Park will say about the Ngugma?” asked Clay.

“I want to know what anyone can figure to do about them. Well, Tasmania has been in flight all this time just like us and Park, right? That means Gene Bell and Padfoot ought to be still going. I can’t wait to put that little problem before them.”

“Did you shoot at any of their fighters?” asked Timmis.

“Oh, we blew up a bunch of them,” said Clay. “And one of their little cruisers, it was almost as small as one of the Primoid cruisers. They blow up just like anything else.”

“Why does everyone else in the galaxy build things so darn big?” asked Timmis.

“I don’t know,” said Rachel. “I kind of like it.” They strolled a bit more. “So anyone know anything about these Vyai? Daria mentioned them.”

“I don’t,” said Li. “We’ve been operating on the Candywan side of Bluehorse. I had never heard the name until this morning’s briefing, and that was less than informative, I thought. I expect Park will know more.”

What Park knew, as it turned out, extended beyond the existence of yet one more star-faring species. The Vyai were indeed crawly things, snakes with tentacles, or possibly those were just the space crews for a more diverse population: Daria seemed inclined to think there were other species among the Vyai who did not fly starships.

Park, Kleiner and Santos traded places with Li Zan’s wing the next day. Gamma Wing went on patrol, and the Tasmania and the Greenland and their fighters landed for repairs and software updates. Then while Captain Kalkar got together with his descendant Admiral Kalkar for further briefings, and the Tasmania and Greenland mechanics started to work on new challenges, Su Park, Natasha Kleiner, Vera Santos, Rachel Andros and Clay Gilbert hiked up the side of the rift and onto the low corner of the headland overlooking the Parallelogram Sea.

“We had heard of the Vyai,” said Park. “First, from seeing them across systems we explored. Their fighters are, well, different, you wouldn’t confuse them with human or Primoid. They’re, I would describe them as—!”

“Snaky,” said Vera. “Tricky,” said Natasha. “Fragile,” said Vera. “Vera killed a couple, when we saw them,” said Natasha.

“We were supposed to be doing diplomacy with Tasmania,” Vera explained. “Of course we couldn’t actually communicate with the Primoids, but we did run into a system where the Primoids had a colony but it was sort of under siege by these little fighters. I think we got on the Primoids’ good side when the Vyai attacked us and we turned them away. Actually, I killed four, Tasha killed three, so don’t let her be all self-effacing. Tasmania took down a couple as well. Yeah. Bold, but fragile.”

“Yes,” said Park. “This accords with my experience: the Vyai are very willing to throw away lives, which the Primoids are not. Then, from Miss Acevedo and other local fighter pilots, afterward, I and my people heard what they call themselves, and apparently somehow Acevedo and Captain Zender of the Antioch managed to capture a couple of them. They’re growing, and they seem to be putting pressure on the Primoids from the other side, and one is fairly sure one would prefer the Primoids as neighbors. In any case, this was the news I sent to the rebels to transmit to the other Primoids, and it just possibly may have swayed them: we had come from what we call PSB3, Primoid System B3: the B indicates the second rank of Primoid colonies, so that would be a system of some tens or hundreds of thousands of Primoid colonists, and the Vyai were clearly making a push there.”

“And the news?” asked Rachel.

Park did not answer as they clambered up a slanted rock face. She climbed up and helped the others up, and then she said, “The Vyai were in the process of overwhelming the Primoid fleet there. It was somewhat of a mismatch.”

“And then?” asked Clay.

“We did not stay to see. One assumes they will attempt to wipe out the colony.”

“They would have done the same to us, these Primoids,” said Rachel.

“Yes,” said Su Park. “Welcome to the galaxy.” She looked up at the sky. “We had no idea, back on old Earth, did we? We had no idea, when Agneska and I flew to Alpha Centauri, how many people are out here with sharp knives. And for all we know, the Vyai and the Primoids and the Earthlings, or the Bluehorseans, will need to ally just to keep us all from being mined out of existence by your discovery, Miss Andros, Mister Gilbert.”

“Yeah,” said Clay. “Here’s to the Ngugma. They might create peace in the galaxy one way or the other.”

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