Cassie and I both looked at him, but I spoke first. “Your entire stock? I’m hoping it’s gone in the multitudes of happy customers sense and not in the swarms of unhappy villagers with pitchforks chasing us sense.”
It drew its branches upright and spoke with the air of someone whose pride had been touched. “I’m a respectable businessman. I only deliver the best service and this sort of place is the exact sort of client I specialize in.”
“Captive?” Cassie grinned, winking at me.
“I prefer to think of them as underserved,” it said.
“I hope that you’re not taking advantage of them,” I said, “because we will have a problem with that.”
“Far from it,” its leaves adjusted to catch the sun. “I’ve been discovering areas in which they desperately need my services—particularly financially. They have accounts that they have no access to because they didn’t have time to move them. I know beings that can—for a suitable, but not inappropriate fee. And that’s far from the only issue that I can handle. They have property and possessions that haven’t been confiscated by the government, but that they can’t in any way maintain or sell. That’s only few of the things that they need fixed, but I can fix them. Fixing is what I do. I’m afraid, though, that I need to be there in person to get things started and that’s where you come in. When can we leave?”
Hadn’t it been listening? I was almost sure we’d talked about it while it was around. Caught in my memories, I delayed long enough that Cassie replied before I did.
Stepping closer to it and the ship, Cassie looked down. “We’re stuck here until the Xiniti arrive. We can’t leave at all. If we do and the Human Ascendancy shows up, we’re useless as protectors, right?”
The plant’s leaves rustled. “I have friends that I might be able to get protection through, but I don’t know our coordinates. If you wanted to leave the planet, it’s possible I could arrange something.”
Cassie laughed. “What kind of friends? Are you talking about pirates? Organized crime? Because that wouldn’t be better. Look, you’re stuck here until we can leave. After that, we can drop you off anywhere on our way, but if you find out where we are, I’m pretty sure we have to leave you here for the Xiniti. Okay?”
Some of its leaves twisted toward her. Making a noise that our implants translated as a grunt, it said, “You’re making this difficult, but I accept. I’ll wait for you to leave. Please let me into your spaceship.”
“Sorry, no,” I told it. “We’re not letting anyone in there right now. If you want shelter, you can stay with the rest of us in the council building.”
It floated upward. “I find your lack of faith in me disturbing. I’ve done nothing but help. Still, to win your trust, I’ll go back to your rooms. I may be dormant when you return, but should something change, speaking to me will eventually get my attention.”
We watched as it floated away.
Cassie shook her head. “That thing’s a piece of work. I’m halfway between thinking that it was trying to trick us into giving it the location of this place and thinking it is what it seems—a borderline criminal with connections to the space mafia or something.”
I glanced over to follow its progress toward the village and then back toward Cassie. “I don’t know. I never seriously considered that it might be a spy. It’s never given off a hint that it’s trying to dig for information—though I suppose a good spy never does. I’m running with small-time criminal as my model to explain what it does. That said, that’s bad enough. If we told it where we were and it called in its ‘friends…’ I mean, what would we get? A bunch of thugs? We’d get in trouble, and bearing in mind what Kals said about the colonists—that they were basically the rebels to the Human Ascendancy’s empire? I wouldn’t be surprised if the thugs tried to take something and the colonists simply killed them.”
Cassie raised an eyebrow. “You think they’re that dangerous?”
“I don’t know, but the way Kals described them, it made them sound like they experienced bad things and did bad things before coming here.”
Her expression didn’t change. “Well, if you say so. Either way, we’re here to talk to Geman.”
I nodded. “I guess we’d better do that. Maybe if we’re lucky the other guy will be here too.”
“Dalat?” Cassie glanced over at the three egg shaped buildings in the middle of the field. “Let’s see who’s there.”
We started walking. As we did, Cassie tapped her costume in its pseudo Xiniti armor mode. “I’m sick of wearing this crap. I think the last time we wore anything like normal clothes was the party and sure, that was only last night, but we’ve worn them since we left home. I mean, no offense, you designed them and they’re comfortable, but it gets old.”
“I know. I’d prefer to be in t-shirt and jeans.” Looking ahead, I noticed that the door to the three egg building cluster had an open door and a figure standing in it with his back to us. Bearing in mind that Geman was tall, dark-skinned and muscular whereas the figure in the doorway was light skinned with blond hair, short, and skinny, I guessed he might be Dalat.
For all that wearing a mask on my face got uncomfortable, the newest version of my suit gave me much better hearing.
The man in the doorway was saying, “—said we shouldn’t say anything—“ but then he turned around, seeing us. “Hey there!”