Whatever I might think about this universe, though, I had a duty. I kept walking. As I walked away from the caverns the icons showing Cassie’s, Jaclyn’s, and Marcus’ presence turned inactive. They were going deeper in and meeting up to follow a tunnel that opened up out of sight on the other side of the field.
I’d run calculations with assistance from the implant and given the distance and probable speed, they ought to get there the same time I reached Four Hands and company. I’d have to stall for them to make it the rest of the way, but who knew? Maybe Four Hands wanted to surrender for real. It wasn’t likely, but it was possible.
Reminding myself that picking up the pace was a bad idea, I ran through the plans we’d decided as I walked. In truth, they weren’t plans as much as a series of conditionals along the lines of, “If a group breaks off and begins running away while the rest charge, we’ll use that maneuver Lee taught us this spring…”
I kept them in mind, putting one foot ahead of the other, stepping or jumping over puddles and mud. It would have made for a more exciting story if at some point I stepped into a puddle and the claws or mandibles of something below tried to pull me under, but nothing did.
Safe from exciting cliches, I made it to their camp.
I couldn’t help but note that their force field generators had a different design than the colonists’. Black half-globes on flat bases gave off a blue glow similar to the colonists’ generators. Off top of my head, it struck me as a bluer blue even though it was still transparent, and I also noted that the wall only extended a good twenty feet in the air. The colonists’ generators created a field that reached about one hundred feet if I remembered correctly.
I wondered if the spacers’ force field generators were adjustable. It could easily be that their default settings were for worlds where the potential attackers were smaller, but they were in for an unpleasant surprise here.
As I came closer, it became obvious that they’d noticed me. Most of them were watching in my direction. The ones that weren’t were scanning the skies and checking other directions. I couldn’t know exactly why, but it was amusing that they thought an attack could come from any direction now that I was here.
Maybe that should have given me pause given our plans, but it didn’t.
As I walked up to the force field, an opening formed in the blue, shimmering field ahead of me. I walked through it, finding myself surrounded by Human Ascendancy soldiers, spacers, and their four handed techs. The soldiers trained guns on me.
One of them pointed deeper into the camp, saying, “This way. Follow me.”
There wasn’t much of a choice. I followed him, walking between what looked like inflatable, plastic containers that the implant identified as multi-use shelters used both on and off-planet. Most of them were green with a few blues, and a smattering of brighter colors—red, yellow, and orange.
According to the implant, the shelters were supposed to adjust color to blend into the environment when on planets, but might default to louder colors designed to stick out when rescue was required.
From what could see through the open doors, most of the shelters held wounded people, almost all of them likely hurt in our attack on the battleship or in the stampede. However they were hurt, the Ascendancy soldiers didn’t appear to feel the need to pretend to be friendly. Never dropping their guns, they scowled at me the entire way.
After a minute of pushing through the small streets between the lines of shelters, we came to a clearing. There were no buildings or shelters. There was a firepit that was filled with wood and the burned remains of past fires.
To the side of the fire stood Four Hands. He wore gray, powered armor. The helmet hung from his belt next to two guns. His face remained expressionless as he saw me enter, but when the Ascendancy soldier said, “He’s here,” Four Hands watched me, waving the soldier away.
“Welcome, adopted Xiniti. I’d expected that there would be more of you.”
I nodded, wondering how his implant would interpret the gesture, but saying, “We thought sending one would be enough. If that changes, we’ll let you know.”
He chuckled. “I’m sure you will. You’re a puzzle, you know. The Xiniti rarely induct humans into their ranks. I can’t tell you how rare because they don’t publish their statistics anywhere, much less send them to the Human Ascendancy, but I don’t have records of human adopted Xiniti in the past ten years. Beyond that, I don’t have record of the precise technology that your suits appear to be made of at all.”
He looked at me, moving his eyes up and down my suit. “In fact, from what I’ve collected from our people’s suit cameras, all of you are wearing the same technology, but yours appears to be more extensive than anyone else’s. I’ve begun to suspect you might be the inventor.”