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IX. What to do

 

1.

Arguing about the Ngugma was the next item on the informal agenda. While most of the Honshu bridge crew (Root, pilot Brigid Farmer, navigator Chandra Das and some guy who looked about twelve years old and was clearly busy doing something), Alpha Wing and Park and Kalkar and Fvaerch and Skzyyn stood in the middle, talking at each other.

“So?” asked Park.

“I don’t know,” said Clay and Rachel, almost together.

“God damn it, you guys,” said Vera. “I can’t even start to credit that you’re even thinking of trusting them.”

“I don’t see it as trusting them,” said Rachel. “I mean, what part of ‘I don’t know’ is confusing you?”

“I definitely don’t trust them,” said Natasha.

“Well, I don’t trust them,” said Clay, “but no one seems to think they’re lying in their archives or annals or whatever. No one thinks the whole thing about the galactic center is made up.”

“Clay,” said Vera, “they lied to Earth and all 205 million Earth residents died horribly. They lied to the Fyaa and killed off basically the entire biosphere of both planets of Fyatskaab. And now we know they’ve done the same thing a bunch of other times. They are liars who kill people for profit. They don’t deserve anything from us. They definitely don’t deserve our trust.”

Clay looked at Skzyyn, who was exchanging gestures with Fvaerch. “What do you guys think?”

Skzyyn made another gesture Clay hadn’t figured out yet. The Kaahriig captain said, “We wisssh to lisssten some morrre. Then deccciiide.”

“Look,” Rachel was saying, “it’s a given that the Ngugma are assholes. They—!”

“They’re not exactly assholes,” said Natasha. “I don’t think it’s helpful to think of them that way. They’re not, you know, Voldemort, or Duke Prendergast from the Tales of Paula. They have reasons.”

“That doesn’t—!” Vera started.

“It doesn’t mean they get a pass. Look, let me say what I’m saying. I know the Ngugma pretty well by now.”

“Do not say that you understand them and it’s all okay,” said Vera. “Do not say you understand them and so we should trust them.”

“Vera,” said Rachel, “it’s not about trust. We don’t trust them. No one trusts them. Do you guys trust them?”

Skzyyn gave Clay a look that, for an alien being, clearly said: Why me? It said, “No, Scary Rachel, we do not trust them.” The Kaahriig captain made an emphatic gesture with its beak and shook its wings a bit.

“Just let me finish, dang it,” said Natasha. “The Ngugma—they have reasons for everything. They think it’s all justified. The trouble is, that calculation of theirs is based on the assumption that they’re the only species that really matters. So to ensure their survival, they think they have every right to lie to anyone and everyone who isn’t Ngugma, lie and murder and the whole thing. They no doubt see our little uprising as a terribly unfortunate obstacle to their all-important goal. But whatever else they’re doing, they’re definitely fighting this war against something or someone at the center of the galaxy. That’s not a lie. Or if it is, it’s a lie to cover the fact that they’re fighting some other war some other place. I think we can take it as given that they’re not using all that iron and manganese to build themselves a string of shiny new planets.”

“So,” said Vera, “you figure we should just pitch in and help them. Let bygones be bygones. No harm done.”

“No, Vera, I don’t think that. Okay? My goddess.”

“Okay, okay,” said Clay, “it’s not like that. It’s a given we don’t trust them. I’m pissed off, okay, Vera? We are all substantially pissed at these hairy assholes about how rude they were in destroying the human race. And, yeah, all life on Fyatskaab 1 and 2. We know. Jeez, it’s hard to say this so it’s loud and clear enough. I hate these guys. But. But but but.”

“But we have to make peace with them?” said Vera.

“No.”

“No,” said Rachel, “we have to talk to them.”

“We have to talk to them? I like the way Park talked to them. Here’s how it’s gonna be. You’re going to give us everything we want and then maybe—!”

“Vera,” said Rachel.

“Vera,” said Natasha. “If you don’t believe there’s something transcendently weird about the core of the Galaxy, if you’re willing to take that bet, then, even then, there’s what, 28 fighters on our side still operating? Plus three whole cruisers and two armed freighters. Yeah, we’ll go a long way in destroying the Ngugma Empire with that. And just suppose there is something weird and inexplicable and dangerous in the galactic core.”

“We have to talk to them,” said Clay. “We have to get their testimony.”

“But we cannot forgive and forget,” said Vera. “And we can’t even think about trusting them.”

“All right,” Park cut in. “”I think you just stated, between you, what our position has to be. You see, Captains, how we make decisions?”

“Your system is impressive,” said Kalkar. “I just talk to myself. It’s not as entertaining.”

“But we arrre going to meeett, allll togetherrr,” said Fvaerch.

“Oh, yes. But first we have to interrogate a few Ngugma.”

 

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