We stepped into the hallway. It was little more than walls of an indeterminate gray material broken up by one door after another, all of them leading to rooms just like mine.
As we walked toward the stairway, I asked Marcus, “What about Sydney? No one ever said anything, but when I’ve seen either of you in the last year, you’ve mostly been together.”
Marcus’ walk slowed for a second. “That’s been complicated. We’ve been interested in each other, but it’s never been the right time. Her dad got shot at her brother’s high school graduation. After that, Sean stopped speaking to her because she admitted that Camille was her half-sister and tried to get to know her. That went on for almost a year and for most of that time Haley, Sydney, Camille, and I were all of the Heroes’ League that was active in Grand Lake. I know you were around, but you were busy with college and Stapledon, you know? Anyway, we didn’t feel comfortable messing with our ‘working’ relationship.”
“Yeah,” I said and we stopped at the bottom of the stairs.
He shook his head. “Her dad cheated on her mom for years, so she doesn’t exactly trust guys, right? She’s dated and then dumped three different guys since I’ve known her. Plus, she knows she’s kind of screwed up and she didn’t want us to hate each other. Anyway, we were both freshly out of relationships this spring and beginning to think that maybe we could try something, but then this trip came up. So that’s where that is.”
I blinked. “Okay. Wow. I had no idea.”
He leaned against the wall, nodding. “We didn’t make a big deal out of it. Right now I’m feeling like it all worked out for the best. Tikki’s so much more relaxed. Her parents are both dead and she lived under a dictatorship, but she’s optimistic and sees life as an adventure. And I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time, you know? It’s fun—well, except that we may all die, but, I’m feeling optimistic about that now that they can’t hit us from orbit with a battleship.”
I looked up the stairway. They had to hear that we were down here even if they didn’t know what we were saying. “Sometimes plans work,” I said.
Marcus grinned. “I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’ve been useful for this whole trip.”
I put my foot on the step. “You were useful when we saved Tikki from those Waroo mercenaries.”
He cocked his head. “You know, that probably helped. There’s nothing like showing up when someone’s getting attacked to establish that you’re one of the good guys. Still, I didn’t do much even then. You and the plant did more fighting.”
We both started walking up the stairs. Almost to himself, Marcus asked, “I wonder where the Waroo are now?”
“No idea,” I said, but by then we were off the stairs and standing in the big room on the second floor.
People filled the space. It felt like the big group scenes just before the final battle of a Star Wars movie—or at least of A New Hope or Return of the Jedi. People stood or sat, wearing colorful clothes from cultures that I didn’t recognize but my implant did, labelling them with notes that I could click on and explore. Some clothes were made of shiny futuristic materials. Others appeared to be leather (some of it scaled), furs, or coarse fibers. Those had been made here.
Despite the resemblance to Star Wars, everyone looked human except for Katuk and the plant. Like everyone else though, they circled around a projection showing the colony and the land around it, featuring the positions of the enemy. Since I’d last been awake, the Human Ascendancy had filled the starport’s landing field with military shuttles. Beyond that, we’d seen that they’d filled the area between Landing and the next town over with camping soldiers and spacers.
Everyone turned to watch us as we joined the group. Then, out of nowhere, people began to shout, hoot, cheer and clap. They backed away, opening up a path so that we could make our way to the middle and stand next to everyone else.
Tikki kissed Marcus and people reached out to clap our shoulders or touch our costumes. It was a strange sensation. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been in the middle of a group of people that I’d helped right after I helped them. Most of the time, we disappeared into the shadows.
As I reached the middle, Kals smiled at me. “You don’t know how much people in the resistance have wanted to do something like that. We’ve had ships, but we’ve never had anything that could take on a battleship. We’ve got a chance to live now.”
Next to me, Cassie leaned toward me, her ponytail swishing behind her head. “Wait till you see the plan we worked out. We’ve also got plenty of chances to die.”
Past Cassie, Jaclyn kept her voice low and arms crossed, “It’s not that bad. We did our best for everyone.”
At the front of the room, standing with the window opening out to the glow of the colony’s buildings and streets behind her, Jadzen raised her arms and said, “Please, we are all thankful for what they’ve done, but we all know that there’s more that we all have to do.”
After a few seconds everyone stopped talking, reminding me of being in elementary school—if Jadzen Akri were a third grade teacher and she was organizing her class to kill the fourth graders.
That, in turn, made me wonder if we were in the middle of a retelling of The Magnificent Seven or, bearing in mind that we were marooned on what was metaphorically a desert island, what if this were a retelling of The Lord of the Flies?