Cassie walked next to him. “How many of you are there?”
His mouth twisted and he cocked his head. “About… five or six thousand. We’ve got three different colonies on this world, all pretty close. I can’t say exact numbers for all of them, but that’s about right. We’ve been sneaking people out for about a decade now.”
Raising my voice since I was behind him, I said, “I’d heard you only needed about two hundred people to get almost all of humanity’s genetic diversity, and you’ve got that.”
Geman turned to stare at me. “Where are you people from?”
Bearing in mind Lee’s personal mission to distract his people from looking for Earth, he’d told us we’d need to lie about that. He’d told us to say we came from M8749. According to our implants, some Abominator had secreted off a few thousand humans to the world as a backup unmodified population it could use for future research. Located in the middle of a galactic rift, it was so isolated that only the most powerful drives could cross the emptiness, using one system after another.
Without hesitating, Jaclyn said, “M8749. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it.”
His eyes widened as his implant fed him the information. He looked around at us. “You’re all fallow, unmodified humans. Well, you’re lucky. The Abominators changed us so that we can mate within our own gene lines, but it’s impossible to mate outside them without medication. It keeps us pure so that the Abominators and now the Ascendency government can breed what they need.”
Cassie glanced back at Jaclyn and I. “Why would they do that? Wouldn’t they use the Abominators’ birthing chambers and pop out a bunch instead of waiting for someone to get pregnant?”
Geman shrugged. “The Abominators did that, sure, but the birthing chambers don’t work anymore. So the Human Ascendancy has to use the Abominators’ backup plan—creating people the slow way—the one where they take the baby away the moment the kid’s born.”
It surprised me that the Human Ascendancy hadn’t reverse engineered the originals to create their own birthing chambers, but maybe it was harder than I knew.
Geman added, “But I think many of us have seen too much of that.”
“Are you saying that’s normal?” Cassie asked.
Geman shook his head. “It isn’t where you come from?” Then he said, “Well, I guess it wouldn’t be. You weren’t modified by them. Well, normal for us is to be born into one of thousands of gene lines created to help them rule the universe. So why shouldn’t they steal a few kids?”
As he’d been talking, the path widened and we entered the village. It looked much like it had from the air—a collection of egg shaped buildings, their long ends pointing into the air. Children played in the streets, sometimes stopping to tap bracelets on their wrists. Depending on the moment, the children then concentrated on nothing I could see or watched a hologram generated by their devices.
In more than one case, the hologram showed a picture of us.
Children weren’t the only ones in the streets. Much like K’Tepolu, driverless floating cargo platforms carried boxes and sometimes people.
“Jadzen Akri doesn’t want us here,” Jaclyn said. “Do you know why?”
Geman watched one of the cargo platforms go by. “That’s hard to say. Not everybody likes the Xiniti, but that’s not all of it. Jadzen was, no is, one of the great leaders of our people. She spoke up when no one else would, saying that we were worth more than being pawns in the Ascendancy’s war effort. I’m sure that she was one of the only people in her social position to do it.”
“Social position?” I asked.
“She’s a motivator. When people hear her voice, they do what she wants. The Abominators and the Ascendancy used them to control us. She’s used her ability to smuggle us out to the Alliance. I can’t speak for her, but sending a Xiniti group that’s mostly human is unusual. It seems like an obvious way to ingratiate yourselves with us. It makes her wonder what you want.”
Pushing toward the front, Katuk said, “They were chosen only so that the people we were escorting would be more likely to listen to our advice.”
Shrugging Geman said, “I’m not the one you need to convince. I heard all of it, including that they were followed. We need your help defending this place right now, so I’m getting you a place to sleep. I’m going to leave politics to the Council.”
Tapping his fingers against each other and then pulling them apart, Katuk said, “Humans are not well-ordered beings. Accepting help from trained fighters for your defense is simply rational. Being forced to go against the rule of your leaders to do something that will keep all of you safe weakens the group.”
Geman smiled at that. “I can’t argue with you, but Jadzen doesn’t speak for the Council. Until the Council rules you have to go, you’re staying.”