I leaned back against the shed’s cool, smooth surface. “Wouldn’t your mom notice that you’re gone?”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. She notices everything, but if we were home, I’d be living on my own, so she’s got no right to stop me. Besides, we do it all the time after parties. Sure, we’ve got the force fields, but some of the small animals that sneak in are as bad as the big ones. Walking home in the dark isn’t safe, so no one complains.”
I thought about it. “I don’t see a problem then. I know we’ve got more beds than we’re using, but you’ll have to talk to Jaclyn and Cassie to know for sure if they’re okay with it. The thing is, it’s not going to be a party. You know about Katuk. So that’s going to be going on in the background. Also, if you want to help me make our suits mute commands, well, that’s not going to be fun, but we could work on it tonight.”
Her eyes flicked between the shed, the cluster of egg shapes that was the farmhouse, and field around us. “We should start back. The underweasels live out here around the edges. They’re not very big, but they come out after dark.”
“Then we’d better go.” I’d let my stealth suit absorb my helmet while we talked, but I reformed my glasses out of the helmet mass around my collar. When I put them on, I didn’t see anything like a pack of weasels hiding in the soil around us, but I did see a number of warm bodies hanging in the trees off to the side of the field. None of them were larger than a small dog, but there were too many to count.
We started walking back toward the main road. I set my glasses to give me a 360 degree view of my surroundings, noting that Kals continued to check around herself in a way that gave her 360 degree awareness as well. She did it subtly too, not turning completely around to look, but instead turning to talk to me and then glancing behind her.
I didn’t see it as ominous. I’d been taught to do the same thing by Lee. It just meant that the Human Ascendancy taught their motivators basic martial art skills. Given that the Human Ascendancy appeared to use them as leaders, soldiers, and secret agents, I’d have been more surprised if they hadn’t.
We managed to avoid getting attacked before reaching the main street. As we walked, she said, “I might be able to help you with Katuk.”
I turned my head toward her. “Does your voice work on Xiniti too?”
Her eyes darted from one side of the street to another before she said anything. “I’m not sure. We learned techniques for different aliens, but I never got to try it on any of them.”
I searched my implant. The Xiniti didn’t have any recorded incidents where the Ascendancy’s motivators had been controlled, but they also recorded mysterious incidents where units of Xiniti had disappeared. So maybe it did work. Paying attention to Kals again, I nodded. “Okay. They’re not saying he’s gone crazy, but if that does happen, do what you can.”
When we did walk through the door at the Council’s building, we found Cassie, Jaclyn, Marcus, and Tikki eating some kind of meat and vegetables. The meat had the redness of a steak, but a texture that looked a lot like sushi. Crawls-Through-Desert sat next to a window, unmoving, leaves pointing toward where the sun would rise in the morning.
I glanced toward our room. The air on Katuk’s side of the room was warmer than the other side. Alright, Katuk was there. Maybe I’d be able to talk to him when I went to bed? Then the smell of the food hit me, a mixture of cooked meat, spices, and vegetables. I decided that Katuk ranked lower than supper and sat down at the table along with everyone else. Kals sat down along with me. It didn’t matter. The heaping bowls meant that there was more than enough.
Eating meant that I didn’t say anything for a couple minutes. Kals recovered sooner than I did, stopping to ask, “Did he say anything more before disappearing into his room?”
Cassie shook her head. “Nope. It’s all still the same as ever.”
Marcus stopped eating long enough to add, “But I learned something interesting. If you go through the Xiniti files in your head, you’ll find out that the mission groups that the Xiniti form every fighting force around? They use the same word for them as they do marriages.”
I blinked. “That makes a lot of sense. If the Xiniti spend most of their lives in an asexual state, marriages wouldn’t quite mean the same thing. I could see how they might be the same thing as a military unit in that situation.”
Cassie used her implant and I could feel Jaclyn, Marcus, and even the more distant presences of Kals and Tikki. “What I don’t get is why he’s freaking out now. He’s been with us for a week now. And sure we ignored him a little today, but was that more clueless than the rest of the stuff we’ve said? We’ve got a Xiniti implant sure, but we know almost nothing about Xiniti really.”
Jaclyn thought at us, “I know. I’ve been looking through his personnel files, trying to find out if there’s anything there we need to know. There’s something encrypted in them and the implant won’t decrypt it.”
“No kidding?” I opened the files myself, ignoring everything until I found the encrypted information.
Then I passed it over to Hal.