As usual, it was almost too late. The indicators had been there for many, many years and nothing had been done. Now it was even questionable if any action taken would make a difference. 'Do we have reason to doubt what we've been told?' asked CommandoBob. There was a quiet chorus of grunts and groans that sounded mostly like negatives. 'And what are our choices?' he asked, knowing that he had to decide what one of them was the least bad choice. The silence was deafening. No one wanted to speak. 'Fellow leaders of Free,' said the man at the head of the table as he stood up and began to stroll around the room. 'Let me assure you that this latest development is not your responsibility, but mine. It is your duty to advise. It is my duty to seek your advice, even when you do not offer it. I have not sought your input as I hoped, foolish as it now appears, that others would move to benefit us. They did not and that has been evident for some time. Even so, I neglected to ask for help. And now we see how huge a mistake that was. 'I am not looking for scapegoats. The failure is mine and mine alone.' 'That's not entirely correct,' began Empiremaker. He was cut off. 'Correct enough. Sure, later tonight when I'm trying to sleep I'll blame everybody in this room! But that doesn't change the fact that you expected me to lead and my choices have not been good. Remember the nine transports that The Council sunk? That was my fault. And this debacle is mine, too,' he continued bitterly. 'Lately I've been like a hobbit, neatly organizing everything we have into nice, neat little boxes. I should have been like Gandalf, looking into things; poking and prying.' 'What's a Gandalf?' asked Vinnie, seated at the far end of the table. 'He means,' said Mack slowly, 'is that he has been like an ostrich with his head stuck in the sand.' 'Ack-ridge? Huh?' Clearly Vinnie did not get out too much. 'He's been examining the folds to his large intestines from the inside,' supplied Elephantium. 'Do what?' For some reason Vinnie's mind was just not engaged. 'Vinnie,' said the exasperated CommandoBob, 'I've had my head stuck up my butt! Okay? Is that plain enough for you?' 'Oh, uh, yeah, sure, whatever you say, boss.' General Angle caught the eye of his leader. 'Excuse me, sir, but so what if The Council can build six, seven, eight, ten or twenty parts to this rocketity, spacey dohickey. Why do we care? That's just less tanks and planes they can build, right?' The pacing stopped and Old Bob settled onto a nearby piece of furniture. 'I wish it was that easy.' And he sighed. 'When I spent time at The Great Library, I found records of many other worlds, very similar to ours. And they all ended abruptly. Each had good documentation up until the very end. Then it just stopped. Lots of things happened, but the end was always sudden. Usually, one set of people were able to conquer their world, killing off anyone different from them. And in many more cases, someone would become big enough that nobody wanted to compete with them and they just did what they wanted. They didn't kill off everyone; they were just too big to mess with. In some worlds, a nation got the culture bug, like Gong did, only nobody could take them down. In time, they were so stinikng cultured that everyone looked to them for guidance. In a few places, one people were elected by their world to rule over their world. And in a few, more than I want to admit, some folks got smart enough to build a rocket ship and leave their planet. And each time, without fail, when one of these events happened, the story ended. 'So, if The Council does build this rocketity dohickey, life as we know it is over. We're dead. Us, Saber, Babe; we just cease to exist.' The mood in the room was noticeably grimmer, as everyone considered what they had just learnt. CommandoBob stood up again. 'Look, this isn't what we had planned. However, now that we know, what are we going to do?' 'Didn't we send a spy into Council-lands?' queired Empiremaker. 'Yes, we did,' said Mack. 'He was found out and used to test something called 'explosive decompression'. It wasn't very pretty and he did not survive, which was the point of the test.' More silence. Stillness. Elephantium noisely cleared his throat. 'Can we stop them?' 'Possibly. Probably not, but maybe,' replied the somber, walking figure. 'It could happen; somehow they don't build all the parts they need. How it could happen, that part I just don't know.' 'Are we even going to try?' asked General Angle. 'Or are we just going to give up?' 'They've been good friends for many years,' said Empiremaker. 'Good enough to die for?' responded Elephantium. 'Hold on guys,' said General Angle as he looked at the bodyguards. 'Mack, Vinnie; if you hadn't been ordered to protect CommandoBob, what would you have done instead?' The two large men looked at each other. Their eyes darted between them and after a bit Mack sat a bit taller in his chair. 'Truth be told, we would have surrendered. We knew we couldn't win. No sense in dieing for no reason. We would have gone back to farming or woodwork once it was all over. 'But, you, FREE, you have a chance. That's more than what we had. And even if it doesn't change anything, even if they still build it, and the world ends because they do, you will know that you didn't give up.' The pudgy man with glasses walked over to a window and stared outside, hands clasp together behind his back. He stood there for a minute, then another, eyes bleak and hard as he examined the limited options for himself and his people. And was there really a choice? Unbidden, a quote flashed across his mind. Do or Do not. There is no Try. And that calmed him enough to make his decision. Turning slowly, he picked out his top military man. 'General Angle, I want plans on my desk in three hours to change this cold war with The Council into a hot one. Do what we have to do to slow down or stop this thing before it destroys us. The Council has been our friend, a good friend, for a very long time, but if the roles were reversed and their own survival was at stake, they would do the same thing. And we would understand. 'Good day, gentlemen, we have work to do.'