“I…” I thought about it. Did I trust some random plant I’d just met? I didn’t know him. On the other hand, he’d taken Tikki’s side.
Tikki’s eyes widened. “Of course you can come with us. You helped me. It’s the least we can do.”
Thinking about it, I knew that we had at least three jumps before we got to the their colony. Maybe he’d be willing to get off earlier?
“Just to warn you,” I said, “we’re non-Xiniti members of the Xiniti nation, and we’re escorting her people to a place I’m not even allowed to name that’s out in the middle of nowhere. So you may not want to go the whole way and you’ll want to keep it quiet.”
The plant made a humming noise that the implant translated as a grunt. “That’s something to remember. The Xiniti have a hell of a reputation and I don’t want to be on their bad side, but I’m still coming with you. A business deal went bad and my customer put up a bounty. I’ve got no chance to survive here. Somewhere else? Maybe.”
Tikki frowned. “He won’t get you in trouble, will he?”
I said, “I hope not.”
Marcus shook his head. “I doubt it. The way I understand it, we can get things done however we want as long as we get them done.”
Tikki sighed. “Good,” and then she smiled at the plant. “I know everyone else’s name, but not yours. “What should I call you?”
The plant’s branches rustled, giving a fleeting impression of the sound of wind. “My name is Crawls-Through-Desert.”
She cocked her head. “That’s… an interesting name for a plant.”
It’s branches hummed again. “It means that I go places where no plant should go. Knowing where I am right now, I can’t say my people named me wrong. By the way, what’s your ship’s berth? I should have my things delivered.”
I thought about that for a second. “We don’t have any cargo space, so I hope you don’t have that much stuff.”
The plant’s branches rustled again. “Don’t worry about it.”
About that time, the train glided to a stop in front of us. After it disgorged its passengers, we stepped inside and found seats.
As we were settled into our seats, Crawls-Through-Desert stuck its pot to the wall with some kind of adhesive. I missed exactly where it came from.
Tikki looked between Marcus and me. “How do humans join the Xiniti? I thought they hated us.”
Marcus shrugged. “I’m just here with my cousin.”
“They don’t hate us,” I said, keeping my voice low. “From what I’ve seen, I think they might like us a little. Anyway, it’s a simple thing. We killed a Xiniti outlaw and they made us citizens.”
“Damn,” Crawls-Through-Desert said, angling his leaves in my direction, “you’re very dangerous or very lucky.”
Tikki shook her head. “They’re strange. I don’t think any of us in the Human Ascendency ever have understood what they wanted. They destroyed the Masters, but they never destroyed us—and they could have. They’ve destroyed whole star systems when our people attacked them and when one group found ancient technology…”
She lapsed into silence, leaning back into her seat.
“So what’s your power?” Marcus asked. “It looked like you were controlling time.”
She pursed her lips. “I think that’s what it is. We have active powers, but the Abominators viewed my gene line as a failure because we can only use our abilities a few times a day. The only reason they didn’t destroy us is because they get speedsters when they breed us with the right lines.”
Marcus asked her something else, but Jaclyn called my implant. I answered the call.
Jaclyn’s voice appeared in my head. “How are things going? Are you going to be back soon?”
“About thirty minutes. We’ve got Tikki.”
“Thank God,” she said. “The colonists aren’t waiting. They’re still freaking out about being chased and they want to go the moment we’re ready. So don’t drop Tikki off with them. She’ll ride with us. Anything else I should know?”
I didn’t want to tell her, but I had to. “We’re bringing along a plant.”
“You bought a plant?” I could hear disbelief in her voice.
“No, Tikki got attacked by some hrrnna. A sentient plant helped defend her, and when it asked to hitch a ride, she said ‘yes’.”
Jaclyn’s voice rose. “Why didn’t you say ‘no’?”
“It’s in trouble. People want to kill it here, and she’d already said it could. I’m thinking we’ve got a couple stops before we get to the colony. We’ll drop it off at one of them. My implant says they’ve got decent populations and a lot of through traffic at their gates. He should be fine. Better, we’ll be using gates, so he won’t see our drive or anything else he shouldn’t.”
“If you’re sure,” Jaclyn said, “but this better not blow up in our faces.”
Half an hour later, we were on the ship. Crawls-Through-Desert’s cargo had been delivered. It was the size of a large refrigerator. Jaclyn shook her head as I stared at it, but there was nothing to be done. We all strapped in and I floated the ship out of of our berth and the landing bay.
Soon we could see stars again as we got into line with the colonists’ ship, a long oval shaped ship with stubby wings. None of the other ships registered to use the gate were obviously from the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office. We went through the gate with the colonists’ ship following us. The world outside turned white and our ships flew toward Alliance space.
We didn’t arrive there alone.