“I think we will leave,” I said, “but our obligation to Katuk, Crawls-Through-Desert, and uh… Jaclyn’s dog might mean it’s not instantaneous.”
Looking out of the corner of my eye at the Xiniti, I added, “Of course, we’ll go, but as I said, we can’t just leave people hanging.”
Kals smirked. “Got it.”
I pulled out the disc Four Hands had given me. “Give this to your mom when you have the chance. Even the Xiniti can be outnumbered. This will call mercenaries who owe me a favor to come and help her. Just have her explain that I’ll consider their debt to me canceled if they help her. I’m going to guess she’ll know how to use it.”
Kals looked down at the disc. “That? Everybody knows how to use one. You can give it to her yourself, though, because I’m going with you?”
“Home?” I must have sounded as confused as I felt about that.
She shook her head. “No. To find Katuk and the others.”
We’d all let our suits absorb our helmets by then. So, I didn’t miss Cassie’s snort and found myself wondering what amused her. I hoped Kals wasn’t attracted to me. It didn’t seem likely. In terms of looks, she was out of my league. Besides, she knew about Haley.
“Okay. I’ll give this to your mom then.” I walked over to where Jadzen, Iolan, and other council members talked with the Xiniti who’d been talking with us—the unit leader.
Holding the disc in my hand, I stood next to Jadzen who stopped talking. “I’ve got one more thing to pass on. We won’t be here to help you, but if you find yourselves in a desperate situation, you can use this. Waroo mercenaries feel that they owe me a favor. I won’t need it. You can collect on that debt on my behalf. With everything going on here, you and the rest of the council will need all the help you can get.”
She took the disc and looked at me. “I don’t think that you understand the worth of what you’re giving away, but thank you. From what I’m learning about the current battle, we will need it.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, stepping backward and out of the conversation. “I’ve learned a lot from serving you.” To the Xiniti, I added, “By the way, if you didn’t know already, Kamia is here, so you can expect direct attacks on your mind and any AI in reach.”
The Xiniti nodded at me. “We are aware, but thank you for the warning.”
I murmured a few more words and got away from the group, rejoining Jaclyn, Kals, Cassie, Tikki, and Marcus. “I guess we should go get Katuk.”
Kals nodded. “I know where the nearest shelters are. I’ll show you the way there.”
“Is your mom going to be okay with that?” I asked.
Kals shrugged. “She won’t need me with this many Xiniti and Waroo mercenaries for backup.” Then she smiled. “Trying to get rid of me?”
“No. I’m still surprised you’d go with us instead of staying with your own people.”
Kals looked us over and then glanced over to where the Council and the Xiniti talked. “We should start going if we’re going to get there soon.”
Following her into the forest, we stepped over or around the bodies of Ascendancy troops. I hadn’t been aware of how many we’d killed. Passing one after another made me understand why Kamia and Neves chose to run instead of organizing a final charge. Noting how many lay near the shelter and Marcus and Tikki’s position, I also realized that I’d missed most of their part of the fight.
On one level, I felt like we’d done the right thing in defending them, but when I saw all the bodies, I couldn’t help but think that they’d mattered to somebody, whoever they were. If what Kals had told us about was the norm, they’d been bred from unpowered humans of a particular type and then taken away to be raised as soldiers. It didn’t sound like a great life and we’d provided them an end for it—whether they’d been looking for one or not.
I couldn’t say I was proud of it, but it was closer to the right thing to do than let the colonists get killed.
When we were out of sight of the shelter and couldn’t hear people anymore, Kals slowed, walking next to me. “You’re not going to leave even after you find Katuk, are you?”
I shook my head, “No. I was assuming everyone would want to stay until it’s all over somehow. Plus, if we’re not trying to be the Council’s bodyguards, we might even be able to do something that matters in the big picture.”
Kals nodded. “That’s why I’m here.”