Hand moving an inch closer to the gun on her hip, Cassie said, “You’re a secret agent now? How do we know that?”
My implant created a translucent square above Crawls-Through-Desert. In appeared the words, “Sending ID. Accept and verify?”
I thought back, Yes.
More words appeared on the screen, “ID verified as special agent for Alliance Consolidated Defense Force. Species: Emperor’s Walking Blade (sapient subtype). Cooperation with Alliance agents is recommended where appropriate for the mission.”
We all looked at each other. From Cassie’s narrowed eyes and Jaclyn’s nod, it was obvious we’d all gotten it.
Katuk inlined his head toward the plant. “Our orders encourage us to render Alliance agents assistance when appropriate for the mission.”
Crawls-Through-Desert’s branches bent toward Katuk and then straightened. “Good. I’m glad you’re willing to assist. I think you’ll find that we have the same mission. I was ordered to step in at K’Tepolu when it became clear that the assigned agent would not be able to reach the system before the colonists left. I had a verifiable cover identity and was on site and was therefore reassigned. My mission is to keep the colonists safe and to discover if there is any kind of mole in the colony.”
I looked at the plant, trying to figure out if there was any spot that could double as a face. My implant assured me that there wasn’t. The plant sensed sound vibrations all across its body and limited light sensing by means of its leaves. Asking, “Do you think Maru’s the mole?”
The plant’s leaves rustled. “Eh. Don’t know. He’s in the running. Like you, I realized he was in the best position to be a mole of anybody, but I’m still not sure I believe it. Sure, he’s a motivator who’s the chief assistant to one of the leaders of the resistance. He’d have an excuse to meet with anybody and mess with their heads. On the other hand, I haven’t seen any sign that he hates his boss or the colony. He seems loyal to me, kids. So if you’re going to accuse him, run your evidence by me when you’ve got it.”
I thought about that. “Who do you think the mole is?”
A pause. Then Crawls-Through-Desert’s leaves rustled again. “Can’t say, but I have a suspect or two. I’ll tell you when I’ve got something. I don’t want it getting out.”
His pot began to float. “That reminds me. I’ve got a couple things to check on. I’ll be back later tonight. You can call me with my ID code. You’ve all got it now.”
I looked the plant up and down. Between his green leaves, branches, and pot, I wondered where his implant was. Overall, I felt like the pot was the best bet, but drilling a hole in the trunk or attaching a fake branch might also work. “We’ll keep you informed,” I told him as he floated toward the door.
It pulled the door open with a frond and floated down the street. I reflected that my threshold for normal was expanding during this trip. Floating plants with guns in their pots? Basically, Crawls-Through-Desert was James Bond as a fern. Well, why not? I supposed that plants needed heroes too.
Kals stood next to me and watched him go. “They’re immune to motivators. Their brains, their sense of hearing, their physiology… None of it maps to ours. They’re not the only aliens like that, but you can see why the Alliance sent it. On the other hand, they stand out a lot.”
Behind me, Marcus talked to Tikki. “No wonder it stepped in to protect you from the hrrrnna and waroo when we met. It all makes sense. It seemed a little weird for this sketchy plant to play hero without some kind of angle where he tried to blackmail you or something.”
Tikki said, “I never thought that was so strange. Even criminals aren’t all bad. When you’re in the resistance, you have plenty of opportunities to see monsters show kindness. And sometimes, you also see good people act in monstrous ways, but I’ve seen more good than bad. We live in a universe full of wonders.”
Crawls-Through-Desert disappeared and Jaclyn turned to Tikki. “If you can create a coating that hides his bots from super-advanced spy technology just from natural materials, I’ll believe this universe is full of wonders.”
Tikki shook her head, smiling. “It’s not all from here. We’ve got a coating to use as a base. We’re just going to collect a couple things and add them to the coating.”
That’s what we did for the next couple of hours. Tikki showed us some silvery leaves, and we gathered them. I can only guess what the other colonists thought. Marcus suggested that we tell them that it was for an art project, but no one did ask. We boiled them and mashed them and worked out a process that would mix them with the coating.
By the time we were finished, the room stank and my bots had a dull silver coat that the eye slid off. Even before supper came, I’d loosed the bots to find Maru.