The call came to abandon the Earth. By ones and twos, by scores and hundreds, individual and families and communities launched into space in their various civilian craft to muster in Laplace 2. The Noös armada would enter Solar Space in less than a day, and although the Fleet was preparing a last stand to defend the home planet there was no hope in any of the admirals’ hearts. ‘We must not be unrealistic,’ said Admiral Marie Laplace de Chardin. ‘Either we should muster our ships in a battle formation in Earth orbit, or else we should flee before the superior firepower of the Noös and accompany the civilian exodus.’
‘Cowardice,’ grunted Admiral Zen Sang. He was a traditionalist. He would genuinely have preferred death to dishonour.
‘I too want to fight,’ said Admiral Paterson. ‘If you could obtain for me only half a dozen of those Noö-built furnace-cannons with which to do so….’
‘Clearly they outgun us,’ agreed Admiral Laplace. ‘Clearly their craft can outmanoeuvre ours. We could not defeat them; the most we could do is inflict percentage damage upon some of their attack cruisers. But I doing so we would be annihilated.’
‘We are soldiers,’ said Admiral Zen, fiercely.
‘There is another way,’ said Admiral Laplace. ‘We could accompany the civilian exodus not as an escort, but as a spearhead. Set co-ordinates on the Impstar System with our laser-cannon primed.’
‘Impstar. Why there?’ queried Admiral Pavel.
‘To colonise it.’
‘I’m not sure of the wisdom of this,’ said Admiral Paterson, ‘The Impstarers may be primitive by our standards—but they are fierce nevertheless. Those scales of theirs can withstand more punishment than our more permeable skin. Their craft though cumbersome, and though only armed with projectile-launchers, are still not to be trifled with.’
‘We would defeat them!’ insisted Zen.
‘Of course we would,’ agreed Laplace. ‘We would suffer some casualties, but would eventually annihilate their fleet. That would leave the way open to cleanse their two habitable worlds and make way for our displaced populations.’
‘Impstar Prime,’ said Pavel, meditatively. ‘I have seen documentaries … it is not as beautiful as Earth, but it is fertile and warm.’
‘However,’ said Zen, with a certain distaste, ‘to exterminate an entire population …’
‘An alien population,’ Paterson reminded them.
The military men were silent for a little while.
‘There is another way,’ said Admiral Laplace. ‘We announce to the Impstars that we are coming. We tell them that our plans require us to destroy them utterly within three days. Not to enslave them, but to wipe them out. They will weigh the options, and leave—abandon their worlds and fly elsewhere. They will do this because the alternative is suicide.’
‘Fly elsewhere,’ mused Pavel. ‘To where, I wonder?’
‘That is not our concern,’ said Laplace. ‘There are many other systems…’
‘… all already inhabited …’ put in Paterson.
‘…yes,’ said Laplace, becoming a little angry. ‘All inhabited. But they will surely find amongst the cosmos a system at an inferior level of technical development into which they can move. Some system with only chemical rockets, perhaps; or a system as yet incapable of sustained spaceflight of any kind. That is not our concern. Our concern is our people. We must prepare for our necessary invasion. We must frame a warning message.’ She stood, and the rest of the Admirals also came to their feet.
‘A warning message,’ suggested Pavel, ‘such as the one the Noös broadcast to us two days ago?’
‘I wonder,’ Pavel mused ‘who it is that is displacing the Noös? They must be frighteningly advanced, if they can outgun so terrifying a race.’
‘We do not know for certain,’ growled Zen, ‘that the Noös are being displaced. Perhaps they are merely belligerent.’
‘Perhaps,’ conceded Pavel. ‘But I do not think so.’
They went about their business; reported to the flight decks of their various space destroyers, calculated their orbits about Earth. When I say ‘Earth’ of course I am translating their term into our tongue. Their Earth was not our planet, not yours and mine; just as they were not ‘Admirals’ and their names were not Earth names. This is the nature of translation. None of the speakers in this exchange were human beings. Humanity was not so highly placed in the cosmic technological hierarchy as were these peoples. We, alas, are somewhere lower. Indeed I find myself wondering where, exactly, are we placed in the domino-sequence of disaster, destruction and exile of which these individuals are a part. I find myself wondering where we would go, or whether we could, when the chain of cause-and-effect reaches our system.