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XI. Spiral Arch
The Alliance of the Fyaa peoples, the Kleegrg, otherwise known as the Primoids (here, the Ngugma term for a number with exactly two divisors was adapted) and the Humans of Earth, with this message declare our intentions.
- We mean no harm to the Ngugma people or to peoples subject to the Ngugma. We have demonstrated a certain technique, and we are preparing to dispatch messages carrying the details of this technique to all populated or recently depopulated systems in which the Ngugma currently have mining operations. These operations will stop as soon as possible, either one way or another.
- We have also demonstrated the value of our space forces. We request safe passage across Ngugma space, cooperation with Ngugma forces and a stated agreement with Ngugma leadership, so that we may take up our responsibility for the defense of this region of the Galaxy.
“I can help,” said Flaayy, reading the statement on a screen, in capital Roman letters, after hearing it read aloud by Clay in English. Flaayy was sitting in its room aboard the commandeered Ngugma cruiser; Clay, Rachel and Skzyyn floated in front of a big screen in the Tasmania’s commissary. “I can help make the translation better. But what is it you will do at the end of the Arm?”
“We can’t know till we get there,” said Clay.
“And yet it is very, very far away.”
“We’re very, very aware of that,” said Rachel. “Not all of us are going.” She looked at Clay and Skzyyn, who looked at each other.
“Well, I’m going,” said Clay. “Skz, I don’t expect you to go.”
“In fact,” said the octopod, “it’s likely that we will not go. We have much to do to rebuild, and we do not trust these—you will excuse me, Flaayy.”
“I do not trust these either,” said Flaayy in its mournful voice. “But if I may speak, ah, advice, your answer for this statement will not be here at Dhaara Vohnni Vul. Your answer will be nearby, however. Your answer will be at Zzodhohhor Kazzhonn, at the Spiral Arch.”
“The Spiral Arch?” Rachel repeated. “This is a star system?”
“It is not far from here,” said Flaayy. “It is a military center, a, an intelligence center. It is somewhat sort of secret.”
“Flaayy,” said Rachel, “we were talking about where we wanted to go. Where do you want to go?”
Flaayy half flopped on the console again. It was a different sort of console from the one in the depot, on which Flaayy spent so much time consoling itself: for one thing, there was no gravity. But Flaayy used it the same way. Rachel looked at Clay and Skzyyn, then started to apologize to the Ngugma. But Flaayy looked up and said, from that big round mouth, “I would stay here, it is good enough here. But you will want Flaayy if you go to Spiral Arch. And Flaayy does not want to live at Spiral Arch. So I will say, perhaps, Pentestella, if you are going that far.”
The response to the statement from the local Ngugma authorities was positive. They felt, too, that a trip to Spiral Arch, seventeen light years from Grand Transfer Vul, was what was called for, and they were most happy to see the little fleet of indefatigable invaders decamp for somewhere else.
The local authorities were so happy to see them go that they sent a cruiser off toward Spiral Arch to let the military authorities know. Park, Kalkar, Root and the Primoid and Kaahriig captains were vexed at this, and had a couple of tense meetings, but in the end they decided that a trip to Spiral Arch was indeed called for, but that the crews would need to set foot on some sort of firm ground for a few days, in the best approximation to R&R available. To that end, Tasmania put down on the fifteenth planet, a ball of cold rock the size of Mercury, a tent was set up and a general party declared.
Clay, Rachel, Vera and Natasha had a few beers and some smoke and, without verbal decision, suited up, and wandered out the airlock and off up a chunky hill under the black sky. The almost Venus-bright star above the black horizon was the nearby sun. Much brighter than that, shedding a faint silvery light on the ground, the Milky Way arced overhead. They came to a stop, the four of them in a line, and gazed up.
Rachel reached up, and pointed high and then back behind them down the sky. “So we came from there,” she said, and she brought her pointing hand up and over and down toward the other horizon, a little to the left of GTV’s sun, “and we’re going there.”
“Eleven thousand light years away,” said Clay.
“I don’t see any way we can comprehend it,” said Natasha. “But I’m ready to go right now.”
“Even if it was just us four?”
“Vera would say, ‘damn right.’ So I’ll just say, hell yeah. Is that right, Vera darling?”
“Damn right,” said Vera. “But first, we have to deal with these Ngugma guys. I guess it’s too much trouble blowing up all their spaceships.”
“Yeah,” said Rachel, “and besides, then we’d have to fight off whatever they’re fighting off.” The gazed up for some time. Rachel added, “This sure would be easier with, you know, warp drive or worm holes or something. But as it is.”
“As it is,” said Clay, “we’re just going to have to go see.”
“Think anyone is going with us?” asked Vera. “Or is it just us?”
“I don’t care if it is just us,” said Natasha. “I’m going.”
“Then I’m going.”
“I think,” said Rachel, “at least Apple and Izawa will go with us. Maybe some of the others. I doubt any of the Primoids or the Fyaa will go.”
“Park?” asked Clay.
“Hmm.” They gazed some more. “Park,” said Rachel. “I don’t know which way to call that one. Even with Li and Timmis, you know they want to have kids. Eleven thousand years is a long way to go.”
“We could have kids,” said Vera, “we just couldn’t send them to college at Bluehorse.”
“You want kids?” said Natasha. They grinned at each other, and Clay and Rachel watched them, then grinned at each other.
Rachel put a gloved finger on Clay’s vac-suited chest. “So we’re all sure we’re going eleven thousand light years to see what’s going down at the end of the Orion Arm. Are we ready to face whatever that is, when we get there?”
They looked into each other’s faces, and then all four of them looked up at the galactic center looming high over their heads. Finally, Natasha said, “We can’t really prepare. But we have to be ready.” Her hand took Vera’s. “So we’ll be ready.”
The four of them gazed up at the sky. Finally, Rachel said, “We’d better get back to the party. We may not be seeing some of these people much longer.”
But they turned and there came two more people in vac suits: Maria Apple and Gemma Izawa. “Hey,” said Apple, “you old timers out here philosophizing?”
“You got here just in time,” said Clay. “We ran out of philosophy. The hill is all yours.”