So I said, “I didn’t know that you knew that we were the ones who killed him. We didn’t even know that you were his child until we got here.”
Katuk looked between Jaclyn and I. “The Xiniti view it as appropriate that those who freed someone from the shame of their parent’s actions be involved in his passage into adulthood. Do you have different customs?”
Jaclyn blinked. “Yes. Very different.”
Thinking that we shouldn’t wait too long before running back to the caves, I tried to say it in as few words as possible. “In our world, we don’t make our passage into adulthood a mission. Also, many humans who found that we’d killed a member of their family would consider killing us.”
He nodded. “A result of personal attachment from being raised in proximity to your family. We’re raised in clan housing and only get to know our parents as adults. By then they’re back from their tours of duty. I have fond memories of my mother, my other mother and the uncles, but my father brought shame on us all. I have no wish for any revenge.”
Jaclyn glanced back out the end of the alley and then back to us. “We need to go. I think we should talk about this later so everybody knows where you stand.”
Katuk eyed her. “Did everyone expect that I would attack you if I knew?”
Pursing her lips, Jaclyn said, “Not really, but no one wanted to push the issue either. You’re like a human in your overall shape and that makes it easy to forget you’re not.”
Katuk tilted his head back, saying nothing, but then nodded. “I understand the confusion.”
“Yeah,” Jaclyn looked out into the darkness ahead of us, probably using her own HUD. “We should go before they notice us. Are you ready?”
I nodded, checking our surroundings with the bots I’d stationed about;. Katuk said, “Yes.”
She counted down. “Three. Two. One…”
Then she began to run. Katuk followed, leaving at almost the same moment, both of them becoming blurs as they crossed the field and then jumped over the force field at the edge of the settlement. Collecting the bots, I turned on the rockets and flew across the open field and over the force field.
From there, all we could do was travel back to the caves, hoping that the Human Ascendancy forces didn’t detect us. In some ways it didn’t matter if they did. Agent 957’s broadcast had hinted that he knew that we were in the caves. It didn’t take a genius to guess at the caves. They were part of a rocky structure more than fifty miles long with enough tunnels that people without a map would get hopelessly lost.
We had a map in our implants that the colonists (okay, Kals) had shared with us, so we were okay.
Katuk and Jaclyn ran through the night at speeds between 200-300 miles per hour and I flew above them. It took about ten minutes to fly to an entrance in the dark. So far as we could tell, no one followed us. We did fly past megafauna that reminded me more of giant ground hogs than anything else. What they were in reality was anyone’s guess. I didn’t have time to take a DNA sample.
Jaclyn and Katuk passed around them before the giant groundhogs even realized that they’d passed. A few looked up at the sound of my rockets, but giant rodents with stumpy legs can’t be expected to pay a lot of attention to flying armor, so I was safe.
Before long we’d made it down the tunnels, past the force shields, and into the colonists’ underground city—or more accurately, village. By the time we got there, people were standing guard near the entrances to the cave, but not a lot of people were awake.
Cassie greeted us as we walked into the building we now shared with Jazden and Kals. It wasn’t much of a surprise. One of the side effects of Cassie’s powerset was the ability to stay up for days at a time.
“And?” Cassie walked with us into the common area on the second floor. “What’s happening out there?”
“They don’t seem to be coming down into the caves at this exact moment,” I told her. “It looks like they’ve landed about 800 troops on the ground near Landing. They’ve destroyed anything that looks like a starship. Plus, we’ve got a recording where their leader, Agent 957, implies that he knows that we’re down here.”
Jaclyn had been walking ahead of us up the stairs to the common area. She turned back toward us. “There’s no question that they’re coming for us, but they don’t seem to be in a huge hurry. We didn’t see anyone follow us into the caves or anything like that. They’re broadcasting a demand for Jadzen and the Council to surrender by noon tomorrow or they’ll kill everyone but the leadership. My bet is that that’s when they’ll come down here.”
Cassie nodded. “Sounds like it’s time to make a plan.”
I sighed. “I’d been hoping I might get to sleep.”
She laughed. “Yeah, right.”