“I don’t need to hear you out. The Human Ascendancy is horrible. They literally mind control their people, implant suggestions in their heads, force them to watch and betray people they care about… I literally saw someone’s head explode because she’d been manipulated by them. I don’t want to help you guys take over all of human space. I mean, honestly, that’s about the last thing I want.”
Even as I said it, I knew that that wasn’t the best answer possible. The best answer possible was one that would keep the conversation going indefinitely while everyone got into position. This answer amounted to shouting, “I’ll never join you!”
Shortly after that line, Darth Vader revealed himself to be Luke’s father and Luke jumped down an air shaft.
Um… Sorry for the really old spoiler?
On the other hand, shortly before that, Vader had cut off Luke’s hand—which wasn’t the best possible lead up to any conversation. I’m not the most persuasive person in the world, but I’d say that almost nobody is more likely to listen to you after you cut off their hand unless maybe you tell them you’re sorry and you’re calling an ambulance.
Even then, I’m not sure I’d trust them.
That tangent aside, Four Hands didn’t tell me that he was my father or cut off my hand. He sighed and said, “I know. I feel the same way. The Human Ascendancy needs my people desperately, but it couldn’t care less what we want. We want to come up with ideas, invent, change things, but the Ascendancy can’t let us do that. It needs us to repair their ships and come up with new ways to get around innovations made by members of our race that other people have enslaved.”
He glanced from one side to another and when he talked, he spoke in a low and distorted voice. “I’m not asking for the Human Ascendancy. I’m asking for my people. If they’re thinking I’m asking for the Ascendancy, I’ll be able to convince them to let you go.”
I looked at his face. He had the faceplate of his helmet off, showing his face. I couldn’t speak to the rest of him, but his face seemed to have barely any fat at all, barely covering the bones. Hairless, like all of the other four-handed we’d seen, his cheekbones and jaw stood out as if they’d been chiseled from rock. At the same time, his eyes darted about, looking at my face most of the time, but darting downward to look at my suit and lingering on the weapons under my arms.
“That still doesn’t sound like a good idea. You might be lying or you might be mind controlled yourself and not know it. Besides, I don’t know much of anything about your people.”
Four Hands nodded. “I understand. My people were genetically engineered by the Abominators to fix and care for their spaceships. After the Xiniti and the Galactic Alliance destroyed the Abominators, my people retreated to the few zero-g habitats, spaceships and low gravity worlds that we controlled, but that wasn’t most of us. Most of us found ourselves working for whoever controlled whatever territory we were in. I grew up in a zero-g habitat controlled by the Human Ascendancy and yes, it was as bad as you probably believe it would be. The motivators told us what to do and we did it. They rooted out any hint of rebellion and we were happy knowing it meant the Ascendancy had become stronger.”
He stopped, taking two heavy breaths, and continuing. “At least we were happy on the outside where they could see. Secretly, we hated them and invented devices that helped us keep our minds clear of their influence. The problem is that we never thought big. We came up with ways to live under them and keep our heads, but never overthrew them.”
Thinking about the direction of the conversation, I said, “And that’s what this is all about? You think that my killbots are the final piece that will allow the four-handed to rise up against their oppressors and become free? That’s a big load to put on a small device. And believe me, there are things it won’t work against. So far, the common theme is magic. They were less effective than I want against an elder dragon and a servant of the Artificers.”
He stared at me. “The Artificers? What servant? What do you know about the Artificers?”
I couldn’t tell him that I now knew two of them personally or about Live or Destroy factions. Telling him that Marcus was dating one was right out. I said, “Just what everyone knows. They left things for future civilizations. Also, we fought one of their creations. It was terrifying and horrible. I’m not going to say more than that.”
“My people don’t worship the Artificers, but they’re impressed with the technology. Anything that can last that long and still function is the work of great genius, something we respect. We don’t have any intention to fight them. As long as your device works against the Ascendancy, we’ll use it.”
The tone of his voice stayed the same—calm and thoughtful—but his brows furrowed as he looked me over again.
As he did, Jaclyn’s voice sounded in my helmet. “We’re in position.”
“Great,” I said. “There’s a problem though. He’s not surrendering, but he might be volunteering to turn on the Ascendancy.”