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“The first thing to know about the Ngugma,” said Natasha Kleiner to a meeting aboard the Honshu of everyone in the system, human or Primoid or Fyaa, who was not needed on a bridge somewhere, “is where they originated.”

“Where did they originate?” asked Vera. “M31?”

“Nope. Three more guesses.”

Park rolled her eyes. It was not how she would conduct a meeting. Kalkar said, “Galaxy center.”

“No, but it’s interesting you would guess that.”

“I’m going to say somewhere far away,” guessed Clay. “Like, the opposite side of the galaxy. I take it they’re from this galaxy.”

“They are from this galaxy, but not so far away, and I’m counting that as a guess.”

“Earth,” said Timmis Green. “I’m gonna say Sirius,” said Peri Schmitt.

“Nope, nope,” said Natasha. “Ready?” Park sighed. Natasha gave her a glance and said, “Okay. The Ngugma, as we now know, originated on the third planet of the Bluehorse system.” She smiled and looked around. There was silence.

“But really where?” asked Daria Acevedo, who was born on Bluehorse.

“Really Bluehorse,” said Padfoot.

“But how could—?” was the general sentiment. Park looked mildly bored: she had made sure to go through all the surprise beforehand.

“Those plaques,” said Clay. “They made the plaques. Because there isn’t one at Bluehorse.”

“But they’re like billions of years old,” said Vera. “This just doesn’t make sense.”

“Five hundred million, actually,” said Padfoot.

“It makes all kinds of sense,” said Clay. “And remember the very old ruins on Bluehorse?”

“Those aren’t ruins,” said Rachel, “just things that look like roads and—okay. I get it.”

“So this is real,” said Apple.

“Yes, Ms. Apple, this is real,” said Park. “The Ngugma evolved on Bluehorse-3.”

“Then why aren’t they living there now?” was the general response.

“Why aren’t there holes?” asked Apple. “I mean,” she added, but she let it trail off.

“Because,” said Rachel, “they’re a lot like us. They wouldn’t completely wreck their own home planet.”

“How much would they wreck it?” asked Clay. “We wrecked ours a lot.”

“Well, they wrecked it a lot too,” said Natasha. “But yeah, not to the point of digging out the mantle.”

“But—five hundred million years,” said Apple. “I mean, five hundred million?”

“They were sentient that whole time?” said Li Zan.

“We were basically pikaia or whatever,” said Timmis. “Or tube worms. I mean, how much did they evolve in all that time?”

“And what is this to do with those plaques?” asked Apple.

“And,” said Vera, “why the assholes are digging up all these planets and wiping out all these other sentient species. I mean, do they think only they count because they’re so freakin’ old?”

“Well,” said Natasha, “that’s the story we still have to tell. Okay?”