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In Starlight

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Europa had been waiting for this day for so long, watching the broadcasts - to follow the progress of all the Earth's space exploration, watching Starfarer grow in orbit - and soon it would come. Everything was ready for them at Tau Ceti, where the string would bring them, welcoming them to Civilisation. She walked around the museum, looking at the objects she had gathered from the different cultures in the Civilisation, wanting to show the best to her own people - to show how much they had to gain from cooperation, from trading.

She reviewed her plan. First the signal, the maze representing the path they had travelled through the string to reach the new world and the paths onwards to the Four Worlds - a spinning of the idea of an old symbol that had come to represent the connectedness of Civilisation to her. Then let these explorers come here and see the museum while she and Androgeos waited on their ship. Then talk to them. It was past time for Earth to be a part of Civilisation, to gain the joys of becoming a part of a society of equals with so much for everyone.

 

She remembered - it had been the last day of the spring festival and thus the whole household had scattered - to the bull dancing, if they could get in, or to the other celebrations. Europa had remained behind to perform the rituals over the shrine of the goddess. She would have gone down to the labyrinth for the mysteries, later.

 

The sky darkened, but the day was not yet past noon. She had been busy with her weaving by daylight and now the room was dark. Another earthquake hit, she muttered a prayer as she scrambled to her feet and ran from the house. She glanced towards the sea, but it was gone - farther than she had even seen it go before. The ground still shook. Europa turned towards the hills, as the only defence from the wave that would come. She started to run, knowing time would be short. Glancing behind her she could see the wave already on the horizon.

 

One of the servant boys, Androgeos, was crouched at the corner of the house shaking. Europa glanced towards him, then knelt, putting her arms around him - it was too late to escape anyway.

 

"Courage, the goddess may yet spare us," she said softly.

 

She slipped into darkness and awoke in another world, or rather as she learnt later on a ship.

 

The ship, she was told, was small. She floated in air, as in water, disconcerted. Her many layers skirts flow out around her with every movement, tangling, obstructing her. Then the people appeared - her first thought was of the Egyptian Gods - humans merged with animals. Yet they spoke to her and she understood - understood that they had rescued the two of them, and only the two if them, on purpose. She was to live and guide her people to be a part of Civilisation.

 

It was time for humans to meet them - Europa looked forward to showing off the joys of Civilisation to her people, and taking her place as a full citizen. She wanted to see her people respected; she wanted be accepted. Now, in a few months, her long wait would be over.

 

She returned to her ship, where Androgeos paced around.

 

"Are we ready? Will we get to return to the Four Worlds soon?"

 

She swallowed, accepting his different point of view.

 

"We are ready. Now we just have to wait. The reports predicted the expedition would leave in the next few months."

 

"I know, and now we wait, again. Really, why do they have to tarry so much?"

 

"We will be needed here when they arrive, and then we can take them to the Four Worlds, and thus to their future." She smiled, thinking forwards. "It will be good to visit Crete again. I have often dreamt of it."

 

"Why go back to such an uncivilised world," He said bruskly, turning aside, returning to whatever he was busy with. Europa shrugged her shoulders - he was so young in so many ways. She had grown up on Crete, been a woman and a Priestess when the world died, while he had been just a boy. In all she shouldn't be surprised that he was different from her in outlook.

 

"I wonder how much people will have changed. It would be good to have human friends again," She said softly, not wanting his answer.

 

***

 

And then it all went wrong. She stared at the data in total disbelief - not only was the expedition months early, but setting off a nuclear bomb. She reached out with her link and turned off the signal.

 

"Androgeos, we should go, now."

 

He turned towards her. "Yes, indeed. Why stay to welcome savages, or rather to not welcome them."

 

"The quickest way away for us is to Sirius. Let us take that, then onwards."

 

***

 

They emerged from transition into the Sirius system and just ahead of them was the Earth ship.

 

"But we left that behind in Tau Ceti. How did it get ahead of us?" Androgeos sounded as shocked as she felt.

 

Europa reached out at once to slowly move their ship - it had enough gravity to pull Starfarer into orbit.

 

"Well, now we are doing to have to talk to them. Did they chase us here? It would seem a remarkable coincidence otherwise." She said slowly.

 

"That is of less matter. Think - if they have found a better algorithm for transition - think of what it is worth to us all." Androgeos stared at the ship. "I do not understand how they did it, but if they can explain. Then…"

 

She could see the possibilities behind his eyes.

 

"We get them to come here and explain, if we can." She wondered at these people who had somehow managed this leap, but thought using nuclear weapons - for no reason, even - was a good idea.

 

"Let us be prepared."

 

***

 

They returned in silence from their failure. Europa was so torn, she had found them all appealing in their own ways, and there were the fossils. Imagine, if they did answer the question - if they could find out what had happened to the Other Ones - think how high Earth's status would rise - there would then be enough credit in their account for almost anything. She dreamt of returning, of guiding aliens to see her own world - to settle in one place, by the sea, to return home even. Although who knew exactly what that area would be like now - she had never dared to look, afraid to see disasters.

 

How was it that her world had two such important assets - the fossils and the algorithm. It was rare for a world to attain anything that important, and they had managed two. It was beyond her wildest dreams for her people, but the situation was beyond her nightmares - they would not give up and were pulling the string aways from worlds.

 

Europa paced, ignoring Androgeos's suggestions of how to steal the algorithm, while he ran tests on the fossil - although every time it passed easily. She had to think of where they were going to go next.

 

"Should we return to the Four Worlds? They need to hear about what is going on and we could do with their advice."

 

"If this fossil is genuine, we need to give them a chance to look at the rest - the string might not recede if they can persuade the Starfarer to leave soon enough."

 

"It is a great risk, but one we need to take, I think." She wished it wasn't so much of a risk or that they could ask for permission before taking it. It occurred to her that if Victoria was able to find a way of improving the string algorithm so much, she might be able to crack the problem of communication between systems - could she, was it possible to change things so much?

 

She set the ship in motion, and dreamt of all the ways her people could change the universe, if only the string had not made it impossible.