Then, in the same queer tone of voice, she said, “I release you.”
My muscles released and took a step forward. “I’m a little surprised that you’d tell me all of this. Some people would keep it secret so that they had a little bit of insurance against us.”
She smiled. “Whoops. I’ve ruined our plans for galactic domination.” Then she turned to look down the hill again—all of it still blazing in the light of the red sunset.
She looked away from me to stare down the hill. “Not for normal people, no, but for us? After being caught here? Hideaway’s the last place humans from the Ascendancy are free. It’s the last safe refuge for resistance members who can’t live in the Ascendancy. If they find us, they’ll work on us and by the end we’ll be empty shells whose only purpose is to trap resistance members. And if we resist reprogramming, I’m sure we’ll be killed.”
Worse, I knew that if we were still here when the Human Ascendancy came, we might end up empty shells along with them. I had a hard time imagining leaving the colony to that. We ought to be able to do something. We’d managed to survive impossible situations before.
Imagining what I’d have to do to make the “motivator-mutes” in our costumes work, I said, “You’ll have to help. I think I’ve got some ideas as to how to change the ‘mute,’ but I won’t be able to test or fine tune it without you. Maybe you could drop by tomorrow?”
Kals touched her bracelet with her right hand’s index finger. “I’ll check my social calendar… What do you know? It says, ‘Still stuck on this rock.’ Looks like I’m open.”
“You were sounding almost inspirational about the colony a second ago.”
She laughed. “Inspirational? Where was I inspirational? Before or after I told you our personalities would be gutted and replaced with something that’s not really us.”
“A little before? The bit where you said it was the last safe refuge and everything…”
Looking out across the town below us, she grinned for a second. “Blame the sunset. It’s one of the few things I like about this place. Besides, it’s not as if this can’t both be humanity’s last free place and also an isolated rock in the middle of nowhere. The last I heard being both is pretty much a requirement.”
For the next hour, we walked around the edges of town, checking out the egg-shaped farmhouses and outbuildings. As the twilight turned to outright night, I got a call from Cassie. “Found him. Jaclyn jumped the force field and saw him standing on top of one of the barricades. I think she’s managed to convince him to come back to the Council building. He won’t say why he left or what he’s been doing. When Jaclyn asked what was going on, he said we should know—which makes no sense. He sounds like a high school girl. God, I remember saying that to a boyfriend once, and the only way the poor guy could have known is if he were a telepath.”
I had no idea which high school boyfriend Cassie meant. This had to have been before senior year when we reconnected—during the period before that where the most we ever did was say, “hi,” to each other while walking to class.
“And you weren’t dating Daniel,” I said.
Cassie laughed for a while. “As if that would ever happen. Besides, Daniel would have caught it without telepathy. You too. You both knew about my dad. Anyway, meet us back in the suite.”
Stopping next to a farm’s egg-shaped outbuilding, I told Kals that they’d found Katuk. Leaning with her back against one of the floating platforms, she said, “Where’d they find him?”
I shrugged. “Top of a barricade somewhere? I don’t know the exact location, but where Jaclyn and Cassie were looking.”
Kals eyed me. “Are you kidding? He’s crazy. I can think of half a dozen things that might give a Xiniti trouble out there.”
“None of us know this place,” I began, but she waved her hand as if brushing what I’d said out of the air.
“You’ve seen our wildlife. So has he. He’s nuts.” She stopped talking, starting again only after scowling for a moment. “I need to ask you a favor. Do you mind if I sleep over at your place? And I don’t mean it in the way you’re obviously taking it–“
My eyes had widened, but I hadn’t seriously thought she was proposing sleeping with me in the room I shared with Marcus and Katuk. I was going to say so, but couldn’t get a word in as she continued.
“Maru, the Council, and more than a dozen other people will be over at my Mom’s tonight. They’re plotting against the Ascendancy, so it’s going to go late and most of them are going to stay overnight. The way I feel about Maru right now, I want to tell him to choke on his own tongue and I know that you have space.”