We did finish the game. Jaclyn won. The gun was disappointed to learn that you couldn’t raid other players’ property and burn down their buildings. To be fair, there wasn’t anything specifically forbidding that in the rules, but there also weren’t any rules for how you’d do it.
Cassie talked him down by volunteering to play a game with him that did involve weapons. With some grumbling, the gun quieted down.
As we sat at the table afterward, Jaclyn raised an eyebrow as she looked at Cassie. “I have no idea how you can live with that thing.”
Cassie shook her head. “It’s not that bad. I’ve got total control. I can turn it off or on, prevent it from listening to our conversation, whatever. Right now, it’s drilling itself in fighting simulations, something it honestly likes.”
Jaclyn laughed. “So, what? It’s basically playing video games.”
Shrugging, Cassie said, “I’m just glad, I’ve got something that I send it to do that it genuinely likes. It’s like babysitting a murderous two-year old that likes arson.”
Shaking her head, Jaclyn said, “Yeah. You know that’s just not a thing I’d put up with. That thing keeps going on about whatever comes into its head, mostly about killing people. I’m pretty sure, I’d smash it after one too many suggestions.”
Glancing down toward the gun on her thigh, Cassie took a deep breath. “Believe me, I get it, but sometimes there’s something endearing about its bloody single-mindedness.”
Jaclyn frowned. “Better you than me then.”
With that, we drifted into talking about other things—not least among them what we’d done that night. I didn’t say so, but the way the shields had failed (shortly after we’d shown up and started trying to rescue the workers) bugged me.
If someone wanted to know what we could do and how we handled problems, it wasn’t a bad way to find out if you were willing to risk killing people.
So that’s what I was thinking about as I lay in the bed they’d set up. Marcus snored softly while Katuk barely breathed. Over in the next room, Jaclyn and Tikki talked while Cassie slept. Tikki had stayed overnight rather than walk back after the game.
The next morning we woke up and had breakfast (meat inside some kind of pastry. Marcus named them Space Pasties). As we finished, a voice I didn’t recognize (as in, not Geman) told us that we’d be having visitors this morning—the colony’s ruling council.
It didn’t take us long to finish breakfast and clean it up, getting into our uniforms and generally being ready receive them.
They all came in as a group. Jadzen and a man (her assistant?) lead them in. While Jadzen was tall, even regal with long hair and dark eyes that moved to take in every detail, the assistant held some kind of tablet. Short and dark-haired, he only seemed to look at something before typing into or tapping the screen. He looked familiar somehow and then I placed him. After Jadzen had tried to tell us to go home, he’d been the one who looked embarrassed about it.
Following him came a group of five people—two men and three women, all of them with white hair.
We met them in the common room between the two bedrooms. Jadzen’s assistant stepped up to the front, standing between us and the council. In a quavering tenor voice, he said, “Hello… ah… Xiniti citizens. I’m Maru, assistant to the Hideaway Council. The council wanted to come here to thank you for your actions last night. We’ve been told that every one of you were quite impressive… and powerful.”
He swallowed and glanced behind him toward Jadzen Akri who was frowning. As he hesitated, one of the other two men stepped forward. This one appeared to be in his mid-fifties, and while he had a head of white hair, he moved without any weakness. Nearly seven feet tall and with a thin, but muscular build, he might have been related to the workers we’d saved.
“I’m Iolan Mekus, the colony’s medic and genetic counselor. I’d like to personally thank you as the workers you saved were cousins of mine, distant cousins, but still family with all the obligations that entails. I’m grateful that they’re alive, but that’s not all. I need to talk to you about a suspicion I’ve had even back home before emigrating here—“
One or more of the other council members said, “Iolan,” in a tone that I recognized as irritation, but he continued, ignoring them, his voice growing louder as he talked.
“—I believe that there is a spy or spies within our midst and this latest incident confirms it. When my cousins examined the shield poles, they found that the poles had received a command to turn off. It was no coincidence. Someone had attempted to kill them. Except there’s no reason to kill them, but there are plenty of reasons for a spy to want Xiniti or Xiniti aligned humans to die.”