Knowing that people sometimes noticed when the implant threw me a lot of information, I steeled myself for the onslaught and did my best to keep my face neutral.
The implant informed me that I had more than 30 messages to download. The majority were from the Xiniti High Command, informing me of military actions that the Xiniti had taken part in and how monitoring the Human Quarantine was going. According to Xiniti intelligence, the loss of a noticeable percentage of their fleet had caused the Human Ascendancy to withdraw from a number of worlds they’d been threatening to occupy.
In addition, the Ascendancy’s internal resistance had been gathering steam.
Bearing in mind that the Human Ascendancy was an interstellar dictatorship that manipulated its citizens with mind control and genetic manipulation, this was good news.
Katuk, a Xiniti I knew through our trip to the stars, left me a message informing me of the military actions he’d been in since we’d last seen each other and about the other Xiniti in his unit. It was hard to read him, but he sounded happy.
Taking my mind off the ansible for a second, I glanced at Victor and Stephanie. Neither one appeared to have noticed anything. At any rate, they’d both turned away from the ansible and weren’t staring at me.
Stephanie pointed toward the next group of desks and artifact holding cases. “Let’s go over there.”
I followed them over. Since they’d failed to notice me going through the previous messages, I took a look at the one I hadn’t opened.
A picture of a woman’s face appeared. Black haired with light brown skin and full lips, Kals wore an emerald green jumpsuit with silver and white accents. Standing in front of a window that showed the gray blur of jump space, she smiled at the camera.
In the language of the Abominators’ human servants, she spoke my name—the name I’d used when I visited her colony anyway. My implant translated it.
“Nick, I’m sending this message through the Xiniti embassy on K’Tepolu. If you ever get it, it means it passed their encryption requirements.
“In case you’re wondering, my background means what you think it means. I got off Hideaway—which is now officially protected by the Alliance. I’m traveling from one planet to another, meeting with members of the resistance—which includes the four handers now. Thanks for that. I know it wasn’t all you, but you listened to Four Hands. Not everyone would have. You have no idea how much we needed them without knowing it.”
She turned to stare out the window and back at the camera. “I wanted to call you, but the Xiniti wouldn’t let me. It’s a security thing for both you and me. Anyway, I’m not just calling to tell you how I’m doing. I’m calling because there’s something you ought to know. You know Tikki? Of course, you know her. Tikki or Kee left around the same time you did, but you know what? She came back and she didn’t come back alone. She came back as Kee, but she came back with a guy who called himself Lee.
“I know you mentioned a Lee. Watching them was… weird. I’m not sure what they were together. Friends? Lovers? Siblings? But they were something. Anyway, I thought you’d find it interesting.”
She closed her eyes and then opened them. “I just got a message. We’re docking, so I’ve got to end this. Wish you were here. You’ll forever be the one who got away, you know.”
She smiled once more and the picture faded to black.
I wished she hadn’t said that. We’d spent a lot of time together, but we hadn’t done anything. We’d never had any relationship beyond friendship–along with a hint or two of mutual attraction, but we’d both known nothing could happen.
I supposed that being thousands of light-years away on a starship and maybe a little lonely made saying it aloud easier.
Letting go of the image, I found myself walking behind Victor and Stephanie and coming to a stop in front of the cubicles next to the birthing chamber platform.
Stephanie and Victor introduced me to the team—whose names I forgot even as they said them. I don’t think I was rude to anyone, but after the introductions, I found myself standing in front of the platform. The team told me that it was more than ten thousand years old. Though they couldn’t date it, they’d used carbon dating on other objects near it in the excavation.
They weren’t wrong. My Xiniti implant tagged it as ten thousand years in addition to giving me the model and the manufacturer—more or less. The Abominators had weird names and translated from the original Abominator, this birthing chamber came from the workshops of Artaxus the Unhallowed, scion of the eighth lineage of someone called Magnetus the Purifier.
Whatever that meant.
Ignoring the explanation, I examined the material. I’d never have guessed it was ten thousand years old. The ceramic’s surface was smooth and unpitted. The birthing tubes were clear.
The implant informed me that the birthing chamber was on standby, but operational. Running my finger down the side of one of the tubes, I asked how it knew that, getting in return information about the systems that the Xiniti used to query Abominator technology. It had multiple methods for gaining control. Did I wish to start? I did not. Later would be better.
Victor stood next to me. “That’s the motherlode right there. It’s in perfect condition and the last lab that had it were close to communicating with it. They even had a backup plan that might allow us to workaround the AI. Sandy hired a few of them in. They should arrive next week.”
I felt sick. “What lab?”
“Some lab in New York. Medford, I think? When the Hrrnna’s mercs hit New York, the mercs told everyone the old lab’s location so the government had to move the device. They want to keep working on it though, so I guess we’ve got a few new co-workers, right? And maybe a better chance to figure this stuff out.”