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“The Ngugma,” said Natasha, “have been in space for hundreds of millions of years. Can you conceive of that, at all? Of course you can’t. We’ve been in space for, well, as of when the Human Horizon Project left Earth? Three hundred years. Less.” She looked at Fvaerch.

“Innn your yearsss,” said the Kaahriig captain, “ittt would beee one thouuusand, two perhapsss.”

“Yep.” She looked at Skippy and another Primoid, side by side, holding stick-hands. “Skippy and I worked out, I think, that the Primoids began space traveling somewhere around ten thousand years ago. Multiply that by ten thousand, and you start to get in the neighborhood of how long the Ngugma have been space-faring.” Natasha shook her head, then gave a little smile of bewilderment. She clicked to the next slide: after Ngugma artists’ conceptions of the evolution and prehistory of the Ngugma, there were the primitive first Ngugma spacecraft. “They actually started before the Great Backward Revolution, as they called it afterward: they started with nuclear engines, if you can imagine. It was all part of their rebellious resource overuse.”

“Rebellious resource overuse?” Clay repeated.

“Earth’s been through a few periods like that,” said Rachel.

“So has Fyatskaab,” said Skzyyn from Clay’s shoulder. “Kaahriig are where they are now because they knew to stop us wasting our resources.”

“Poisoninggg the lllaand,” said Captain Fvaerch. “We calllculated the rate of spoilinggg.”

“Primoids went through this too?” asked Timmis. They looked at Skippy, who was just enough smaller than the other Primoids that all the humans and Fyaa knew which one it was. Skippy did some wiggles and a sort of shrug.

“No,” said Natasha. “Primoid history is a little different. But that’s not the subject here. The subject is how the Ngugma got in space, and how they moved off Bluehorse, and what they eventually ran into, which is the real subject.”

“How did they get in space?” asked Rachel.

“How long was the Backward Revolution?” asked Park.

“The really backwards part, thirty of their years. A lot less than a lifetime. Before that, they had a regime that sort of tried to fix things and deal with their growing problems, but it didn’t have the stomach or whatever to actually solve anything. It was just enough to piss people off, I mean to piss Ngugma off. So they got overthrown by the so-called Young Ngugma movement. And their answer was to forget about their problems and go on a bender. And that was the Backwards Revolution.”

“A bender,” said Vera. “The Young Ngugma,” said Clay.

“But how many Young Ngugma could there be at a time?” asked Timmis. “They live forever.”

“So it’s true that they live indefinitely long lives, I mean, they don’t automatically grow old and die like we do, like I think the Fyaa species all do. But unlike the Primoids they don’t have a huge issue with dying, their endless lives don’t make them any more conservative about how they live. And that was especially true after they overthrew the, um, we translate it as ‘deconstructionist’ government, but that sounds like they were literary theorists. The deconstructionist government hung on for a good hundred years, trying to deal with increasing scarcity and creeping taints from pollution, and mostly dealing by half-measures. Then the Young Ngugma movement overthrew them and there was a lot of their gooey blood in the streets. Oh, they had hexagonal streets that were like ten centimeters deep water, turns out that was really wasteful since they didn’t have enough water to go around by that time. But these guys, they called them the Young Ngugma, they declared that there were plenty of resources, they even got water ice off one of the Bluehorse-4 moons, that was their first big away project. They built these atomic rockets and flew all over their star system and they started bringing back these cubic kilometer chunks of lunar ice. Didn’t last a whole long time, but it was a start on you know what.”

“Oh jeez,” said Clay. “Oh. I get it.” Skzyyn chittered: it sounded exactly like tsk, tsk.

“From ice to lava,” said Li Zan.

“You have to give the Ngugma this,” said Kalkar. “They think big.”

“But of course they were using everything stupidly,” said Natasha. “They could have been using the water to do fusion or something.”

“One has hhhheard of aaaancient civilizationnns,” said one of the Kaahriig, “which use proton decayyyy. A block of waterrr icccce would be perrrrfect.”

“But they were digging up all the uranium ore they could,” said Natasha, “just to go get ice they could melt and drink. It was almost willful: they liked to say they weren’t going to let anyone tell them what they could and couldn’t do, if the old ones told them it was unwise to do things this way instead of that way, the Young Ngugma wanted to do it this way all the more. And to hell with the next generation. They said that, it was a sort of rallying cry.”

“And then the crunch happened,” said Clay.

“The crunch happened,” said Natasha. “It was a water crunch and a food crunch and a disease crunch, all at once. Everything fell apart. The system basically crashed. Most of the population died out, like 98%. A lot of species disappeared. Bluehorse had become a dry world, over the millions of years, with water only in a few places—just like it is now. And bear in mind, this is after over two hundred million years of civilization. Not existence as a life form, of civilization.”

“They were civilized long enough,” said Rachel, “to have evolved physically while being a civilization.”

“And they got as close as they ever got to self-annihilation,” said Natasha. “And they drew some lessons from that. And as you would expect, some of them were good lessons and some of them were not so good lessons.”