Trees & Shields: Part 35

Four Hands looked into the camera or whatever he was using. It might just as easily have been an image captured from his brain by his implant.

He paused, giving all of us viewing a chance to look at him. Though I’d peg him as being in his late 20s (only a few years older than I was), he had bags under his eyes. I supposed that leading the Ascendancy forces after they’d been destroyed by us, followed by taking over the Ascendancy’s flagship, might be tiring and stressful.

“If any of the Cosmic Ghosts are listening, I ask you to save as many of my people as you can as you destroy the Ascendancy fleet. We’re not in charge, and we’re as susceptible to motivator commands as any human in the Ascendancy.”

He paused again, taking a breath. “We may even be more susceptible. The Abominators made us for repairing ships and creating new devices. They wanted us to be easy to control and not to do what I just did—rebel and take over using the technical access they entrusted us with.

“That’s why I’m asking the Xiniti, the Alliance military, and the Ghosts to be kind to us. I think you’d find us better allies than you can imagine right now.”

I nudged Rachel, asking her if she had access to the public announcement channel and sent a message to Hal not to attack the Ascendancy flagship. If he used near space to attack, he might well destroy the flagship and that would be awkward.

Rachel nodded. “I can hear him. I’m doing what I can to pass his message on to the Ghosts. For all I know, they heard him themselves.”

She closed her eyes, mouth a thin line, hands clenched in fists. “I think I got through… And… They just got back to me. They’ll leave the four handers alone. I don’t think they were trying to destroy whole ships anyway. They’ve destroyed engines and weapons, but they left the rest to the Alliance and the Xiniti.”

“Okay,” I said. “I guess the colony’s safe then. I don’t think there’s anyone else fighting.”

Rachel sighed. “Good. They dragged me halfway across the galaxy to help you. I was supposed to start some kind of internship or something. I only barely got up to speed on that when the Ghosts yanked me out of there—which is annoying because it was looking interesting.”

“Who was it with?”

“Some kind of super covert ops team. I don’t think I can say anything even out here. They sounded like the kind of thing I might protest if I found out about it in the news, but it also sounds like they try to do the right thing… I think I’d enjoy working with them.”

I thought about that. “It shouldn’t take that long to get back if you ride with us—a little over a week. I don’t know if that’s faster or slower than the Ghosts.”

She frowned. “I’m not sure. I think it might have taken longer for us to get here than that, but they were also showing me the ropes for interstellar flight. I haven’t got it all down yet, but when I do, I can cross a galaxy without a spaceship. Of course, I’ll also be part of some kind of interdimensional force for good. So it’s not like I’ll be doing that for fun. Anyway, I’ll probably fly back with all of you. No promises, but the way I understand it, I’ve got a long way to go before I’m even with the least powerful Ghost.”

Around us, the colonists were tending to their wounded and even a few of the Ascendancy wounded, applying goos and sprays that would start whole new industries back home if I got a sample. It was tempting, but medicine wasn’t a major interest. Grabbing one of the Xiniti suits and taking it apart sounded like more fun, but I knew I had to ask permission if I wanted to do that.

Closer to the shelter, a couple colonists appeared to be replanting Crawls-Through-Desert in a big ceramic box. It appeared makeshift. Only two of the sides were the same color (pastel green) and none of the sides were flush. They all stuck out a little further than they needed to—as it might if they were in a hurry because a plant might die.

It didn’t float. A flat, floating platform hung in the air next to it. Too bad they’d filled the box with dirt before putting it on. It wouldn’t be much trouble for the Rocket suit, though.

I told Rachel that I was going to help them and started walking that way, passing Jaclyn who was petting the dog. Cassie, Kee, Marcus, and Katuk were talking with the Xiniti. Rachel joined that conversation.

It didn’t take me much to get Crawls-Through-Desert on the gravity sled. He didn’t say much, but one of the colonists assured me he’d be fine. “Moving from one pot to another is a huge shock to the system for them, but give him a couple of days and he’ll be okay. His wounds aren’t bad, but his pot was unfixable.”

Kals stepped out of the shelter. I began to ask, “How’s your mom,” but stopped halfway through.

The blank look on her face answered my question before she said, “She’s dead. They finished the surgery, but they couldn’t save her.”

She stood there, unmoving either because she didn’t know what to do or maybe because she was waiting for me to do something. I didn’t know. I did set the armor to transform into a block. Wearing it felt wrong.

As it fell away, she said, “I don’t know what to do. I can’t be her. I’m not going to take over for her. I was even thinking of asking if I could leave with all of you… But that doesn’t feel right.”

She looked down at the ground. “I wish we were normal people. Then she’d never have been involved with any of this.”

6 thoughts on “Trees & Shields: Part 35”

  1. Small omission: “I told Rachel that was going to help them”
    Correction: I told Rachel that I was going to help them”

    I can’t say that I ever read a chapter that I didn’t enjoy.
    Thanks Jim!

    1. Thanks for the correction. It’s now fixed.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the chapter. For me, as I evaluate this arc, I’ve decided to try to be a bit tighter in terms of plotting the next section. Some parts of this book went longer than they should have. I’m hoping to avoid that in the future.

  2. Isn’t Nick taking a bunch of spaceship specs and such home in his implant? My impression was that the Xinti were intentionally giving Earth some help under the table by giving an implant to the Rocket, who can actually build the things it tells him about.

    1. Well, that’s the side effect of handing Nick an implant. The Xiniti’s primary intention is that once he gets up to speed, he’ll be able to help them. It does help Earth significantly, though. It kills two birds with one stone in that sense.

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