I rolled that around in my mind for a moment. “Let me get this straight. The Hrnnna we talked to earlier were pretty clearly freaked out by how Haley looked or smelled or something-”
[Unsurprising. Her transformed self is nearly identical to the troops the Abominators used for hand to hand combat.]
We’d suspected based on the Hrnnna’s reaction to her, but I felt my jaw drop at the jet’s confirmation.
Since hearing the story of how she broke up with Sean, I’d suspected that the biggest part of her unhappiness about her change came from the fear surrounding the police investigation that followed the breakup. That and the fact that she didn’t feel like she could control her transformation.
Confirmation that she was so close to one of the Abominators’ slave races wouldn’t help.
Deciding to follow up on that later, I went back to my earlier thought. “Okay,” I typed. “My point wasn’t about Haley. My point was that the Hrnnna I met seemed like traditionalists while the Hrnnna with The Collective sounded like the space alien equivalent of the political left–”
[I’d caution against mapping your national politics onto the politics of the Reclamation Alliance.]
I stared at the screen. Getting interrupted was getting really annoying. It didn’t mean that he was wrong, but still…
“Anyway,” I wrote. “Here’s my question. Who’s winning? The Collective or the Hrnnna traditionalists?”
The Jet’s reply appeared. [Most Hrnnna and most of the Reclamation Alliance remain suspicious of humanity, modified or not. According to news reports I accessed while on the Xiniti space station, however, a member of the Hrnnna Council of Elders sounded sympathetic to Earth’s situation last year. A few members of the Alliance government agreed with him.]
That was it. I had a motive I could believe the Hrnnna might kill over. Not all of the details fit, but the overall picture did. The Hrnnna we’d met hadn’t come to Earth to immigrate. They were the ones who’d provided True Humanity with the designs that nearly annihilated St. Louis. They’d killed their own people because we had Citizen Fire checking them out, and they were afraid that the other Hrnnna would cast suspicion on them, or guess what they were up to.
I still didn’t know how the machine races fit in, but maybe they were acting as mercenaries. Besides, the idea that a species that did a lot of mining and exploring might have a relationship with one or more machine races made a lot of sense.
Alright, I had an idea. Now I had to prove it. I’d taken step one and asked Citizen Fire who exactly had died. If it turned out to be all the Hrnnna in The Collective and only a few others, it fit.
Unfortunately, Citizen Fire hadn’t called back yet.
I took a breath, considering what else I might check. Then I thought of another possibility. If the Hrnnna I’d spoken to earlier were responsible, they wouldn’t stay where I’d talked to them, they’d run for it. I’d taken GPS coordinates when I’d spoken to them. I could check on that.
I typed a command to the Jet. “Get ready for take off.”
Then I ran for my lab, leaving the tools, the dead robots, and my computer. I could deal with all that later.
In the lab, I stepped onto the Rocket suit’s block of ceramic, and let the suit form around me. As the powered systems turned on, and the HUD glowed inside the helmet, I realized I probably ought to let people know I was going. Ideally, I’d take someone along. Lee generally advised using the buddy system for hostile situations, and if I somehow caught the Hrnnna while they were leaving, they’d likely be extremely hostile.
I decided to go alone anyway. It would be so much faster to go on my own. I didn’t want to call around to find someone. Besides, the League Jet’s AI was sentient. It ought to count as a buddy.
We went through the pre-flight checklist quickly, floated the jet into the airlock, and out into Lake Michigan. Completely surrounded by dark water, I used the sonar to guide me out into the lake, breaking through to the air far enough from the shore that it shouldn’t be visible.
Even though we were within the atmosphere, I turned on the shields, knowing that a thin layer would confuse radar. Then I took the jet to 30,000 feet, and opened up, hitting several times the speed of sound. Relying on the jet to warn me of collisions, I concentrated on the route, aiming for the coordinates I’d saved.
I hadn’t ever flown this quickly within Earth’s atmosphere without heading into space. The nearest clouds passed below me before I could notice them. The landscape turned from lake to city to green plains within seconds.
On the screen, the AI informed me that:
[People are noticing the flight. The shields are confusing radar, but people can see us.]
Too true. The shields would absorb light, but people might see a jet shaped dark spot in the sky.
I checked our radar. No one was near us in the air. “Are they sending out fighters? Or heroes?”
[I don’t believe they have anything that can catch us, but that won’t stop them from sending people when we touch down.]
That wasn’t all bad. If we had to land, we might need the help. I thought about calling and explaining what I was doing, but I was already there before I’d decided who to call.
I began the descent, not bothering to slow down the normal way. I used the inertial dampers, staying at high speed as long as I could, and then feeling the hum as the dampers reduced us to a speed slightly below the speed of sound.
The landscape changed from a blur to a blur I almost recognized. I made a quick loop around the spot where we’d met the Hrnnna, telling the AI to search for life signs.
There weren’t any that weren’t human.
I made another loop, asking, “Do you see signs of alien technology?”
I took the jet higher, and accelerated, making a wide loop over the Gulf of Mexico that probably violated the sovereign airspace of both Mexico and Cuba. Hopefully no one would notice.
I continued north, aiming for Chicago, specifically for the offices of “Chancy Connections.” We hovered over the city as the jet scanned the offices for life.
They were empty.
I took the jet up again, flying across Lake Michigan until we were near Grand Lake. Twenty miles away, I slowed the jet to nothing with the inertial dampers and submerged it with practically the same motion.
Alone, surrounded by dark water, I thought about what I’d just learned. It wasn’t definitive. The Hrnnna and Chancy might be hiding because Hrnnna had been killed in Kiev. That would be as reasonable as believing the Hrnnna were behind it all. It did point toward the possibility though.
We weren’t so deep that we couldn’t receive communications though, and they started to come in.
The first ones were from Defenders units. Had it really been the League Jet that they’d seen in the air over Kansas/Missouri/Texas/Illinois/Mexico/Cuba? Wasn’t that incredibly irresponsible? Did I realize I could start an international incident? No, no one had complained, but if I kept this up, they would.
I let those calls go to voice mail, missing a call from Citizen Fire. He had a strong accent–possibly Russian. “I am sorry. I write English better than I speak English. You asked who the robots kill? They killed all the Hrnnna but one, and now he is gone. No one finds him.”
I listened to the message, watching the instrument panel’s glow. That was not good news. It supported my theory, but I wondered where the survivor had gone–into hiding presumably.
Another message blinked in the queue. I stared at it. This one had come through at the frequency used to contact the Xiniti space station next to the jump gate.
With some hesitation, I clicked on it.
A picture of one of the Xiniti appeared on the screen, all grey skin, big head, and solid black eyes. “Heroes League, this message is to inform you that the spaceships you designate the Jay and Kay have been recalled for their annual refitting. We are told to inform Earth’s authorities that this will be accomplished swiftly. We are also told to inform Earth’s authorities that all Xiniti personnel will be leaving the space station shortly for a previously unscheduled inspection. We are told that we will be able to return to our post shortly.”
It paused significantly before delivering the final sentence in the communication.
“Earth will be responsible for its own security during this period.”
Then the screen turned black. I continued to stare at it. You’d have to have an enormous amount of influence to pull the ships the Xiniti loaned us away as well as leaving the space station unmanned.
I decided to call Isaac Lim.