The windows in the tower offer a commanding view of the sprawling city, the likes of which we have never seen before; it is an upside-down city whose spires extend into the thick atmosphere of the gas giant below, which is riddled with millions of gently floating lifeforms that vary in size from microscopic to no larger than our fists. They are all luminescent and light up the city’s ever-night with every color known in the Spine.

Our enjoyment of the serene outside beauty is disturbed by Speakers Tanna: they raise their hand and loudly demand the attention of Chairmen Erroo, who stand at the center of the Committee’s circular table. One of Chairmen Erroo’s heads turns to face Speakers Tanna; there is annoyance in its multi-pupiled eye. Chairmen Erroo’s hands motion for silence to the other Speakers.

‘Yes, Speakers?’ The Chairmen’s voices speak in unison.

‘The Committee should return to the subject of the migratory patterns of the local microbes, there is a desire--’

The Chairmen sigh. ‘We agree with you that the matter of the microbes is most pressing, but we feel that the Committee’s time should be spent in a different way at this time.’

Most meetings of the Committee are like this. The Sentients in the city above--varied as those of any trading hub in the Spine--see all-of-us and believe all-of-us are mysterious and powerful; they believe that the Committees, hidden in their enigmatic towers of metal and glass, determine the fate of the universe. Unfortunately, it is a common misperception: Committees spend most of their time discussing the migratory habits of local microbes. . .

The Chairmen’s heads wrap around each other again to form a single head, and the Chairmen continue speaking, both mouths moving at the exact same time. ‘The threat of the Mass shoal at the edge of our star system is a significant one: we all know that the Mass are quite capable of violence. And while the High Committee may not believe that they are here to conquer or--as they might perceive it--liberate, all-of-us should be mindful that they may be here to plunder and pillage.’

We nod our head in agreement. ‘All-of-us must prepare for war,’ we say. Most of the other members of the Committee mutter agreement.

Speakers Tanna flutter their lips in perfect synchrony. ‘Madness! The Mass shoal at the system’s edge is far too small to pose a significant threat to all-of-us, and they know it. They would never attack.’

‘Well then, Speakers Tanna, what do you suggest?’ The Chairmen make no effort to hide their annoyance.

‘We suggest that they are here for the outer worlds of the system: they're here to refuel, and they will leave once they have what they want. They are no threat to the city or its traders.

One of Speakers Tanna’s eyes rests on us; the pupils slowly and independently look us over. ‘And all-of-us,’ Speakers Tanna say, ‘should return to discussing the microbes. . .’

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