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6.

Everyone seemed to agree, including those who had no idea what a Crack of Doom was.

“So we know what we need to do,” said Kalkar. “We just need to figure out what to do. So I propose a drink: the Bluehorse highland malt I put away in 2555.”

This was also generally agreed on. In a few minutes, care of Captain Kalkar and Jack Dott, everyone who wanted (meaning the humans and the Tskelly) had a small glass of amber liquid; the others had something else, the Primoids favoring a sort of chocolate shake they’d met in the human nutritional database, the Kaahriig and the Errhatzky preferring cappuccino. Toasts were made all around.

“That is dang good,” said Skzyyn, after a searing sip of Kalkar’s scotch.

“It is,” said Rachel, “and it’s not reprocessed pee,” at which Skzyyn and Dzvezyets both made snorting Tskelly laughs.

“Now,” said Park, once they had all had two sips of their preferred tipple, “what to actually do.”

“Clearly,” said Root, “we will have to fact find.”

“And,” said Fvaerch, “some accction versus the Ngugggmahhh is calllled for. No?”

“I would say so,” said Kalkar. “Just, we need to calibrate it so as to make sure to get their attention, and we know they’re very stubborn, as you would expect a five hundred million year civilization to be, and yet not make it so ghastly as to diminish their ability to resist the invasion.”

“Commander, uh, Captain,” said Padfoot, “I think I have something on that. You know, we were thinking about crashing the freighter into the depot. But that wouldn’t help us anywhere else. But what if we could find a vulnerability in this freighter, that other freighters would also have? I actually think I have some ideas, relating to the huge amounts of molten rock each freighter carries. It’s not a design flaw, it’s a way in which any freighter this size might be vulnerable. We don’t have anything for sure, but we have an idea, and we wouldn’t mind experimenting. It’s possible we could destroy any freighter they have. If they knew we could do that—!”

“If we showed them we could do that,” said Kalkar. “See, this is why I like having you around, Padfoot. It’s not the only reason. What if you did your experiment—at this Pentestella place, or somewhere the Ngugma would get a really good look at it?”

“We could actually do that,” said Padfoot.

“It would make them think,” said Skzyyn. “And we, we could, I mean Honored Captain Fvaerch and Captain Sheaeek could take the secret back to Fyatskaab.”

“Now thaaattt,” said Fvaerch, “isss brillllianttt.

“All right, certainly,” said Park. “We have an idea of what to do with the Ngugma. Once again, my friends, we have met an enemy we thought we could never defeat, and we have their number.”

“As for instance,” said Skzyyn, “with the Fyaa?”

“We are at peace,” said Park. “In any case, we have a new enemy. How shall we come to terms with them, and how long will it take?”

“Well, as to the second one,” said Rachel, “I just have to remind everyone that we’ve come 89 light years in 89 years, and it’ll be at least another 46 before even the Fyaa could be back in their own home system. Whereas—!”

“The bottom end of the Orion Arm,” said Clay, “is eleven thousand light years away.”

There was silence.

After a time, Park said, “Someone will have to go all that way. But someone will have to go home and pass on what we know and what we’ve accomplished, and defend our home systems. And whoever does go on, all the way to where the Ngugma war is actually being fought, where we might make a difference? They will never be home again. They will be traveling not hundreds but tens of thousands of years into the future.”

“My ancestors,” said Kalkar, “they set off from their villages on raids, they might be away all summer. This—!”

“This,” said Park, “is not like that.” She looked around. “Everyone understands that, right? This is the Long War.”

“It certainly is,” said Rachel. “The Ngugma have been fighting this war for 210 million years.”

Again, silence. Then Clay said, “Okay. I’m ready to go.”

“You are?” said Rachel.

“If you are. And I know you are.”

“Then we all are,” said Vera. “I have nothing better to do.”

“All right,” said Park, “before anyone else volunteers, I think we’ve talked enough for now. I would not send anyone on the long leg of this expedition without your wishing to go. But we still have to do this in an orderly manner. And I believe we will all go on together for at least the next leg of the journey, if that’s acceptable to our allies. So—?”

“So Alpha Wing is going all the way,” said Clay.

“That’s what I heard,” said Natasha, as Park rolled her eyes.

 

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