Retreat: Part 9

It took time to fly through the tunnels, trailing Jaclyn and Katuk. The sheer size of the tunnels made it easier even if it made me think again about the tunnels’ origins. The planet had megafauna everywhere and while the creatures that created the tunnels might be long dead, they could easily be used by something big on and off—possibly even descendants of the original creators.

All the same, we didn’t see any evidence of anything like that on the way out.

We exited the tunnels some fifty miles to the north of the colony. I shot out of the tunnel over Jaclyn and Katuk’s heads before starting the landing routine, which involved aiming the Rocket suit upward and cutting almost all of the power, allowing me to hover and then drop to the ground.

We’d come out of the rock next to a forest. Trees with wide trunks and odd, bulbous leaves that stuck out of the trunks most densely near the top of the tree, but appeared all the way down the trunk. They reminded me a little bit of upside-down pine trees and a little bit of palm trees.

Either way, I saw them through my HUD, interpreted by the software using sonar, thermal, and night vision techniques to give me near normal vision at night—which it still was. I’d been woken up after midnight by the invasion, packed and evacuated to the tunnels with everyone else, witnesses to Alanna’s suicide, and now we were going out to gather information without a decent night’s sleep. I wasn’t feeling it yet but I knew I would be. Maybe we’d be able to sleep after we got back to the tunnels.

Looking south, I couldn’t see much from where the colony ought to be, but my HUD’s enhanced vision showed me flame in the sky. I hoped it wasn’t the entire colony. Clearly, they were prepared, but if the Human Ascendancy destroyed everything, it would be a lot to rebuild. On the other hand, they might have resources that I was completely unaware of.

Jaclyn broke the silence. “That doesn’t look good.”

Katuk, who was fully covered in silver armor, said, “My sensors are detecting particles in the air that are byproducts of the destruction of a fusion drive. It seems likely that we’re seeing the results of the destruction of the ships at the starport.”

I wondered how our ship was doing, deciding to wait on contacting it until I knew a little bit more about what we were facing. “So the way I understand this is that we’ll have to go to one of the colony’s villages to contact the ansible.”

I glanced over at Katuk for his response. He paused for a moment, but then started talking.

“The colony’s villages receive the ansible’s signal and then broadcast the signal across the village. We have to go within range of the signal, assuming they don’t destroy the antenna.”

Jaclyn frowned. “And we do this without anyone detecting us long enough to target us. Great. I’d say we should see how close we can get a signal without going into a village and being seen.”

I thought about that. “If we get an ansible signal, does the ansible instantly get our location?”

The implant answered me before Katuk replied and the reply wasn’t too complicated. Once the technical specs were removed, it amounted to, “Yes, it does detect that you’ve connected,” but “No, it doesn’t know precisely where.” It knew loosely where and on a planet with only three spots where you could connect to the ansible, there weren’t many places to hide once you connected.

In short, it wouldn’t know where we were, but there were bombs that could hit all the possibilities at once if they wanted to.

“Never mind,” I said, answering my own question. “Did everyone else just get the answer too?”

Jaclyn nodded and Katuk muttered something that sounded like a yes.

“OK then,” Jaclyn stared out into the dark world in front of us. “There’s not much to do more than run south. Rocket, you’ll have an aerial view, so warn us if you see something you think we’ll need to know.”

Neither Katuk nor I had anything to add to that and so we started south. Jaclyn and Katuk followed the edge where the rock met the forest. I flew above them. As we grew closer, I confirmed Katuk’s guess. It was the starport burning. They’d destroyed every ship on the field—both of the old fighters and the old colony ship.

It seemed like a waste of effort. None of them offered a threat to the ship that could destroy them from orbit.

The village stood. I didn’t see any occupiers on the ground—so far.

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