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5.

Ngugma space missions at first were purely scientific, purely atomic-powered, and purely within the Bluehorse System. The Young Ngugma only changed the first of the three. After the Young Ngugma collapsed, the survivors immediately dedicated themselves to leaving their home planet completely, a thing they had never done. And in a couple of hundred Earth years, they had a colony in another system, a five-star system they called Five Star. Natasha translated this as Pentestella. Another two colonies came within the next two centuries, and within five hundred years all the Ngugma had left Bluehorse. It was highly polluted, and the highlands were bone-dry deserts, and its resources had been mined out, but they also came to regard their home planet as a sort of monument to shame. Over the millions of years, the Ngugma developed a straightforward taboo about the Bluehorse system: they would never again live there, they would never again exploit its resources, they would forever renounce the world of their birth.

The Second Lesson was that maintaining the Ngugma as a civilization in the very long term was the paramount concern. This made the Ngugma great stewards of the planets where they built their new cities and their new factories and farms. It also made the Ngugma less than kindly to alien species: no one else mattered more than the Ngugma, by axiom. They built far and wide, scattering twenty colonies across a thousand light years’ distance along the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. They quickly met, and quickly eradicated, two other technological, but not space-faring, civilizations. Two others they encountered and subordinated, drawing resource from their planets in return for not wiping them out.

The Third Lesson was that the Ngugma should not put all their eggs in one basket. Four hundred thousand years before the Young Ngugma revolution, a supernova explosion a hundred light years away got them calculating, and they calculated that if it had been twenty light years away, its gamma ray burst would have wiped out all life on Bluehorse. The remote risk of an extremely unfortunate event is a puzzling mathematical concept for any species. The Ngugma reacted conservatively, and required that their population centers never lie within fifty light years of one another, so that a single supernova, according to their calculations, could not wipe out as many as two of them.

They developed a complex network of supply centers and distribution nodes, but they weren’t devastating planets anymore: even the ones they had conquered were treated sustainably. With a realm that stretched its tendrils across thousands of light years, the Ngugma were merely dealing with the long time horizon of their supply chain. Meanwhile, they were scouting the entire arm, evaluating which stars might be future bases, which might have resources for mining or food production, which might be a threat and which ones they ought to just pass on by.

“So they put plaques on them,” said Rachel.

“Oh jeez,” said Clay. “Seriously?”

“That’s what it looks like,” said Natasha. “Those things turn out to be 230 million years old. And that gives you a sense of their time horizon. The expeditions to explore all these systems and mark them with plaques, that took about four thousand years. A flash.”

“A flashhh?” one of the Kaahriig repeated.

“Very fast,” said Skzyyn. “A moment in time. A second to a century.”

“Ah.”

“But they weren’t sucking out whole planets,” said Rachel. “Tell what happened then.”

“What happened,” said Natasha, “is that they found out what was at the center of the galaxy.”

 

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