Back in our rooms at the council building half an hour later, we sat across from each other at the table, all of us thinking over what we’d been doing.
I looked over everyone. “I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have less direction than I had before we talked to Iolan. I mean, it sounds like Iolan’s already got the ansible under investigation and he didn’t offer to let me in. Plus, we’ve got a population that’s ready to freak out either because we can breed with anyone or because the Dominators might come for them. Also, I don’t feel like we got much of a direction from that party the other night.”
Cassie shrugged. “I don’t know. We know more than we did when we got here. I see it as long term thing. We get to know people now, keep on talking to them, and in a little while we see the big picture.”
Nodding, I said, “You’re right, but I’m not sure we’ve got a long term. We’ve got a short term and then the Xiniti show up and we go home.”
“Yeah,” she drawled. “If they show up. You’ve been following the news, right? Whoever the Issakass are, they started some kind of major war and the Xiniti are containing the edges of it. I’d say who’s in the middle of it, but that might be a bad idea.”
Marcus bobbed his head in agreement. “It is crazy to follow that whole thing. That whole race went crazy and now they’re fighting a war on five fronts when they aren’t fighting each other. And Cassie’s right about who’s in the middle of it. A major Issakass fleet started attacking itself. You know what that sounds like? The sort of dirty tricks he’s always been pulling.”
Jaclyn leaned across the table. “Nick, where do you think you’ve got the best chance of figuring it out?”
I thought about it. “Geman and the other guy, Dalat? They share admin responsibilities with Iolan. It seems like there’s got to be more there. None of them are ansible administrators or anything like that. I’m not either, but two of them are pilots and the other one’s a doctor. It seems like they could miss something, or that if one of them was hiding something, the others wouldn’t have the skill to figure it out.”
“You’ve got it.” She gave a wave toward the door. “Figure out how you’d get into the relay. We’ll get out and meet people. There’s got to be some way. Marcus? How about you come with me? And let’s go see Tikki. They’ve got to be teaching her a job. We can help and we’ll talk to people along the way.”
Marcus gave her a sideways glance. “I’ve got a feeling this isn’t going to be all that fun.”
Jaclyn gave him a small smile. “I’m sure the two of you can sneak away eventually.”
Cassie looked me in the eye. “Which puts you with me. I’m guessing that sends us to the spaceport.”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I was thinking that I might talk to Hal. He can chew through encryption back home. I’m a little worried that he might not be as good here where he’s not as far ahead technologically. On the other hand, he’s built to assist in making war—which includes breaking encryption, so I’m basically asking him to do one of the jobs he’s designed for.”
Cassie grinned. “Better to use Hal than my gun. It was on ice for so long that it’s not current on anything but killing.”
Not long after that, Cassie and I were walking to the spaceport. I’d spent some time getting our costumes to imitate the clothes we’d seen on other colonists, so we fit in—at least visually. For all I knew, the costumes we wore had religious or cultural significance and simply wearing them delivered an insult that went back generations.
It wasn’t a bad day outside—though it was different taking the same path we’d taken at night back to the “spaceport,” a name that overstated its significance by far. It was a spaceport in the same way that a field next to a shack was an airport.
As we neared the ship, I noticed a few things—first that Bug’s Revenge was gone, presumably on the way back to civilization. Hopefully it wouldn’t get caught. The two fighter ships were out and shiny.
Finally though, Crawls-Through-Desert “sat” next to our ship in his pot. An empty gravity sled lay next to the plant on the ground. The last time I’d seen it, it had been piled high with devices.
“Not to rush you,” it said, “but when are you leaving? I sold my entire stock and I don’t have anything left to do but wait. So how long am I going to wait?”