Sian and Asan looked at each other. Asan said, “We need to go downstairs. It sounds like the Guard just showed up.”
“Showed up?” I kept on talking as they turned toward the stairs and motioned us to follow. “I wasn’t aware they’d gone missing.”
Sian turned to look at me. “We’ve been watching them since they left or we’ve been trying to. The Guard have chameleon tech. It doesn’t make them invisible to the eye if you know what to look for, but they’re invisible to sensors. After they left the tunnels, they disappeared. We’ve got visual sensors on the outside, but the better they are, the bigger they are, and the easier they are to detect. So we’ve got other sensors for longer distances, but chameleon tech can fool those.”
We all walked down the stairs.
Kals talked over my shoulder at them. “Wait, when I called you guys for a report earlier, you didn’t say anything about chameleon tech. You said that you’d seen them heading toward the shuttles.”
“Exactly,” Asan shouted back, “We watched them until they disappeared from visuals.”
Sian added, “Maru knew about the chameleon tech.”
Keeping her voice close to level, Kals told them, “Maru’s dead and he didn’t pass that on. You can’t assume I know everything he did.”
Maybe there would have been more to that conversation if we hadn’t made it to the second floor by then. In the second floor lab, techs crowded in one corner where pictures from different cameras showed Neves (big, dark-skinned man in black armor), and Kamia (a pale woman in red armor with at least three guns). It also showed one of four handed techies, but this one was bigger than any of the others and wore armor.
None of them wore the Human Ascendancy military’s logo—a human outline, head upraised to the sky. All three wore what my implant identified as the Ascendant Guard’s symbol—a human outline with a rifle held across its chest.
Along with them in the tunnel were more of the Ascendancy soldiers with claws and teeth that resembled Haley and Travis. A smaller number of the four-handed techs stood in the hall near them, aiming devices up and down the walls. They were the size I expected them to be.
A fourth person stood near the clawed soldiers. Wearing blue armor that doubled as a space suit, he paced up and down the cavern next to the troops, stood behind the techs as they analyzed their surroundings, and turned his helmet toward the Guard members and watched them, turning away before they looked in his direction.
The symbol on his armor was the Human Ascendancy’s man with his head upraised to the sky, but in this case, a DNA strand had been shaped to fill the human figure’s body. My implant identified it as the symbol of the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office.
This was Agent 957, the guy who had followed us across space and used Alanna to find the colony.
It was almost disappointing. When someone does something like that, you expect them to be bigger than life and this guy, well, he wasn’t.
From what little I’d seen of him, I got the impression that he was nervous and maybe afraid of the Guard members.
That all passed through my mind in a moment. In the next moment, I knew that we needed to know more.
“Where are they? Is that a tunnel that might lead them here?”
The techs turned around to look at me. One guy shrugged. “Uh… Yeah. That one’s a real way in. It’s defended, but I suppose someone might be capable of getting past it, but we watched these guys try this morning. They didn’t get anywhere. Can’t say I see any reason to believe they’ll do better tonight.”
Another tech, one with blue-tinged hair, shook his head. “I don’t know. This time they’ve got a bunch of handsies to help.”
The first tech said, “I’ve never believed those guys were much better than any other techie. It’s not like hands make you smarter.”
“They don’t,” blue hair said, “but I worked with those guys back when I was on a ship and some of them were far past normal—“
All the screens went black, or at least all the screens that showed Ascendancy troops.
Crawls-Through-Desert spoke, “We need an estimate of the best time they could realistically make it here from the point that they were at. We’ll need to know both the speed if they knew how to disable all the traps and if they don’t.”
The blue haired tech said, “With traps disarmed is easy. It’s about 30 minutes. Assuming that they can disarm the traps and break through the force field, but don’t know how? My guess is about an hour or two. If they’re lucky, 45 minutes.”