I’d be lying if I didn’t say that seeing people there ready to fight gave me some hope. My mind noted that hope or not, the Ascendancy troops almost had to outnumber them.
We crossed the clearing, walking instead of running, giving them time to recognize us even though it was still dark. A few of them pointed at the dog, but no one shot at us.
Outside along with them stood Jadzen Akri, some members of the Council and more colonists I didn’t recognize, all of them watching us as we came closer.
As we came near, Kals said, “Mom, I didn’t know you were coming here.”
Jadzen nodded. “We weren’t, but then we met a runner from Crawls-Through-Desert. The runner said that he’d been told to get people to gather there. The plant wanted to set up a big target, one that would draw the Ascendancy in because it was too big to pass up.”
Kals frowned. “Mom, you don’t have to be here.”
Unblinking, Jadzen said, “I do. That’s the one thing I have to do. I’m good at inspiring people and encouraging them to come up with their own ideas about how to resist the Ascendancy. I’m not good at running a war. But I know that the plant’s better at it. Somehow, he found out about our last contingency plan, the one where the best fighters take their chance, and he decided to use it early—when there’s still a chance to save something. Those who can’t fight are hidden and most of the Council with them.
“I’m here because if I’m here, they’ll come for me. We have many more people coming, I hope, but if it turns out not to be enough, I have my backup plan.”
Kals expression flattened. At that Jadzen held her hand to Kals’ cheek.
“I’d like you to go with the Council if you can find it in yourself that you can. They’ll need a replacement for me. You won’t have to lead—just be there, remind them of me, and give them hope. The Council will do the work.”
Kals shook her head. “I’m staying.”
Nodding, Jadzen said, “I wish you weren’t, but I’m glad you’re here.”
Then she pulled Kals in and hugged her. They held each other for a moment. As they pulled away, I noticed a glistening under their eyes.
I couldn’t blame them. They were facing death or being re-educated into a puppet. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t feel the same, but I supposed I might feel differently if I were staring my mom in the eye right now.
I glanced over at Rachel. She had a good chance to live even if I didn’t.
Catching my look, Rachel said, “Don’t worry. We’ll survive.”
“I know,” I said. “We’ll do our best.”
Behind me, Marcus grinned. “Exactly. Remember the team motto, ‘Try not to die’.”
Kals whipped around to stare at him, “Is that really your team motto?”
Glaring at Marcus, Jaclyn said, “It’s not.”
Tikki bit her lip as Katuk turned his head toward Marcus. “While a sensible sentiment, it sounds defeatist.”
Cassie folded her arms across her chest. “He ripped it off from a comic book team.”
Marcus sighed. “It was a joke.”
Shrugging, Cassie said, “Yeah, well, use it back home and Marvel’s going to sue.”
With a hint of a smile, Jadzen gestured toward the soldiers and a few council members. “Come and join us as we plan our defense.”
A big, scarred man in form-fitting armor explained their plans. “We know they’re coming from the other side of the clearing, but it’s not impossible they’ll come around behind us. It’s the smart choice. We’re going to watch from all directions, and station people with guns behind trees. Those of you who can beat Ascendancy soldiers hand to hand should initially stay behind the people with guns until there’s a hole in the line. When they try to break through, fill the hole, but don’t get too far out. You don’t want to be surrounded on their side of the line.
“Be aware, everyone, that their motivators will likely try to overwhelm our voice countermeasures. We’ve done what we can to amplify your defenses and our own motivators will be doing what they can to keep you safe. In the end, some may get through anyway. Remember your training and you should be able to resist.”
That was training we didn’t have. I hoped that our suits’ defenses worked. While I thought about that, the man continued.
“The Xiniti that escorted Jadzen here are hiding in the forest, waiting for the right moment to attack as will more of our troops and the Xiniti main force. So all we have to do is survive until they arrive and we’ll have help and a real chance to live. Watch for them and try not to shoot them. Remember, we’re not here to be heroes. We’re here to last. We’ll have force fields too. Our people are setting them up now.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them put up the poles, followed by the creation of a blue shimmer than spanned the distance between them. They had holes for guns. Also, they didn’t go all the way around. There were gaps, but there were trees in the gaps and soldiers standing behind them.
It made me feel a little better. The meeting went on longer than that, but that was the gist of it. When it was over, we got into position and waited.
I hoped the shields lasted. Without them, it would be harder.