Planet in the Middle: Part 15

Rachel looked toward Cassie. “You’ve got a plan? What is it?”

“No,” Cassie shook her head. “We don’t have a plan, but I’m assuming that whatever plan we have will turn out to be more complicated than we expect.”

Shrugging, Rachel said, “That’s how plans go. I don’t want to slow you down. Let’s go find whoever it is you’re going to find. And while we’re at it, I should meet the new people.

Marcus reached back to put his hand around Tikki’s waist. “This is Tikki. She just joined the colony. She’s trained as a life support engineer and she can control time, but not all time—the time in a bubble around her. She’s more powerful than you’d think with that.”

Tikki smiled. “I’m not that powerful, but you must be. I didn’t know the Cosmic Ghosts took new members from the outside.”

Rachel smiled. “I didn’t know they existed until they showed up in my dorm room and told me they needed my help to save my brother. They didn’t explain anything until we got into space. After that, they told me a lot more—including how to speak this language and a lot of things I can’t talk about at all.”

Glancing over at me and then Rachel, Kals said, “I’m Kals. My mom is one of the colony’s leaders. I’m glad you’re here. I don’t know what the Ascendancy is doing now, but they’re probably planning the best way to kill us all. You said you flew in with the fast response team, what are they doing and when are the rest of the Ghosts arriving?”

Turning to meet Kals’ look, Rachel shook her head. “I have no idea. I’ll sense it when the main force comes through and I’ll tell you, but I’m not in on everything. I know they’ve got a plan, but it’s not my plan, so I’ll be waiting along with you.”

“Oh,” Kals looked at her the way the might if she’d been a small child and Rachel had told her that Christmas had been rescheduled.

Nodding, Rachel said, “I know it’s a disappointment, but it’s the best I can do. That’s just the way it works.”

Ten minutes later found the group walking through the woods. Rachel floated next to me as I walked. I did my best to describe what we’d been doing since we left Earth. It wasn’t exactly a short story, and I could only guess what Lee had been doing since he’d left us—though Rachel filled me in on how he’d been fighting some species called the Issakass as well as members of his own kind, destroying some planet’s moon in the process.

“The Ghosts have observers all over and almost no one knows it.” Rachel floated alongside me as the group followed Kals toward the shelter where Katuk had ended up.

She frowned. “I’m a little surprised they didn’t have anyone here. Jadzen Akri and the resistance against the Human Ascendancy are important enough that someone should be here, but maybe they went beneath the Ghosts’ radar too. The Ghosts told me that Akri’s people were good at working around powers.”

Kals turned back to look at her. “We are, but it’s because we use our motivators to keep them underestimating us and never quite sending enough people to the right places. If you get the right motivator into the right place, they’ll never know how badly wrong they are about you. We probably have people on the ships up there, but between Kamia and losing control of the ansible, communicating with them hasn’t been possible.”

The trees thinned and we ran through the woods, using our suits’ sensors to watch for Ascendancy soldiers, animals, and tripping hazards in the dark.

Kals, Cassie, Jaclyn and I ran, easily making twenty miles per hour most of the time. Marcus shapeshifted into a long legged catlike form. Tikki activated a shimmering bubble of time manipulation around herself, accelerating the time flow until she could keep up.

If I didn’t know what she was, I’d have been worried that she might age herself to death, but I knew that wouldn’t happen.

“We’re getting close,” Kals said. “It’s over there.”

She pointed at a small hill. My HUD showed that the hill was a few degrees warmer than the land around it—with a door-sized spot glowing a little warmer than that.

That wasn’t all. A growl from a nearby clump of trees made me notice the shape of Tiger, Jaclyn’s dog, which darted from behind the trees to run toward Jaclyn, barking, jumping and randomly licking her and anyone in reach.

Rachel, still floating, said, “That’s a dog?” as Katuk stepped out from behind the trees as well.

He didn’t try to hug any of us, but my implant helped me interpret the looser, less precise movement as relief.

“I’ve continued to keep my implant’s connection off because of Kamia. What is the news?”

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