An SUV came soon after that. All black with tinted windows, it was obviously used for carrying people who didn’t care to be seen. To the Rocket suit’s senses, it was also obviously armored, meaning it was just as obviously used by people who expected to be shot at.
We all got in–Rachel, Travis, Sean, Vaughn, Izzy, Jaclyn and I.
Izzy leaned against the wall in the back. When Travis turned back from the second row, and asked how she was doing, she barely opened her eyes, but said, “Fine. I’m tired, but there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Then her eyes shut, and she fell asleep.
Jaclyn shook her head. She’d sat next to Izzy. “They took her vitals, and checked her out as best they could. They didn’t find anything wrong.”
“Good,” Travis said. He watched Izzy for a moment, and turned around. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but suspected it was a lot like what I was thinking–”I hope she doesn’t freak out again when she wakes up.”
It had to be one of the reasons Jaclyn sat next to her. If Izzy did freak out, Jaclyn would be okay. I doubted I could say the same about the wall Izzy leaned on.
In the end, the ride turned out to be less eventful than we feared. We weren’t attacked. Izzy woke up calmly. We found ourselves at the same hangar we’d gathered in before we’d heard about the attack.
It wasn’t quite the same. Costumes had been ripped, burned, or stained by blood. People mostly sat next to their luggage, talking quietly, but not in big groups. I didn’t hear much laughter either.
Even while we never said so, it was obvious that we were missing a quarter of the people in the program. I didn’t think they were dead, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some were being kept alive so Alex or his father could heal them later.
More optimistically, they might be needed where they were for the moment. It wasn’t impossible.
I set the Rocket suit to disassemble, and pushed it next to the wall. Leaning against the block of ceramic it had become, I read, checked my email, and even fell asleep for a little while.
Nearby, Izzy talked quietly with Daniel, and a few more people filtered in. I overheard one of the women from the military academies say to a friend. “I never thought I’d see combat for the first time on a Stapledon weekend.”
I missed her friend’s response, and the conversation trailed off as they walked out of range of my hearing.
I’d turned my head back toward my tablet when I heard a voice say, “Nick?”
Bloodmaiden stood in front of me except not really. She’d shed her magical warrior princess gear to wear normal clothes–jeans, and a white sweater. I think she might have been a foot shorter too, but her hair was still red, and hung past her shoulders.
“Once you got inside, the ship moved too quickly for me to do much good with the Bloodspear. I’m sorry about that. I managed to get a few of them, but not enough.”
The tablet’s screen turned black as I said, “Don’t worry about it. It worked out. Besides, you were in pretty bad shape. Are you okay?”
She shrugged. “Okay enough. Alex patched me up enough to get me past the worst of it. I healed myself the rest of the way off the people I… speared.”
“Oh,” I said. By speared, she meant killed.
She smiled, but it was a tired smile. “It feels like a long time since we left.”
“Hours,” I said. It had been three hours.
She shook her head. “I didn’t mean literally, but I’m sure you knew that and you were making a joke, right?”
“Sure,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I thought I’d introduce myself in case you didn’t know my name. You didn’t, did you?”
“I’m Amy,” she said.
“I’m Nick,” I said, wondering if I should get up and shake her hand.
“I know.” She glanced further back into the hangar. “Everyone knows your name.” She gave me a wave as she walked away. “Talk to you later.”
In a few steps, she stood next to a guy and a couple girls I’d seen her with before.
I turned the tablet back on again, found the book I’d been reading, and started where I’d left off.
My phone rang. I checked the ID, preparing to ignore it.
It was Haley. I took the call, and we talked for the next half hour. She sounded as tired as I felt. By the time we were done, the cargo jet had rolled into the hangar, and people had started to pack their bags and board.
I kept talking as long as possible, but finally had to say good-bye. Daniel grabbed the Rocket suit telekinetically, and floated it inside.
I started to follow Daniel up the ramp and into the plane when he thought, Behind you, at me.
I turned to find Isaac Lim behind me at the bottom of the ramp. His black suit looked the worse for wear. Even though it was dark colored, I could still see mud stains, and four diagonal slices, that might have come from the same claw, ran parallel to each other across his chest.
“Nick, if you’ve got a second, I need to tell you something.”
He sounded calm, and not the least bit scared or apologetic. I hoped that meant that it wasn’t really bad.
“Sure, what’s up?”
He took a breath. Then he let it out. “You and Cassie killed a Xiniti, and we’re required to let the Xiniti know if any come to Earth. If they die here, we’re required to get the body back to the Xiniti at the first opportunity. Well, we haven’t had the chance to get the body back, but we did let them know. They’ve still got a skeleton crew at the gate.”
“Oh.” Thoughts of planet wide genocide flashed through my head.
“Good news,” Lim flashed me a brief grin, “you and Cassie are now members of the Xiniti’s clan.”
I tried to get my head around that, managing only to say, “What?”
Lim shrugged. “The Xiniti have this thing about a hunter and prey. If they can’t get it, and someone else can, it means something to them. I don’t know what. They owe your grandparents because your grandparents caught the last Abominators. This Xiniti you killed? He was a criminal, and he’d escaped. Because you killed him, you’re now recognized as citizens of his clan with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.”
He paused, and said, “I wish I had the faintest clue what they were.”