She took a long breath. “I’m not in the best of shape. Don’t get me wrong, I can still fight, but I’m burned all over. The new costume did some good but it didn’t stop everything. If we’re going to fight these guys more often, I’m going to need better protection against heat and light.”
Marcus cut into the conversation. “Me too. I nearly died a couple minutes ago.”
The volume of Jaclyn’s reply made the speakers crackle. “What? Nick, you need to watch him better.”
Cassie’s voice cut in. “But he’s not dead.”
Marcus’ sigh was audible through the helmet’s internal speakers. “Don’t worry about it, Jacks. I’m fine. Better than you, I bet. Tikki reversed time in her bubble. I’m right back to where I was before I got shot.”
Cassie let out a breath. “Whoa. That’s awesome.”
In a quieter voice than before, Jaclyn asked, “Do you think it would work on me?”
I looked over at Tikki. She didn’t look like she’d heard Jaclyn’s end of the conversation. Kee would have had a way to listen in.
“No,” I said, “it gets more taxing the longer it is from the event. She had Marcus in her time distortion bubble practically the second after he got hurt.”
Jaclyn sighed. “That was too much to hope for. Then, I need you to understand. I’m not at my best. I’m going to do everything I can, but I don’t have much in the tank and almost every part of me hurts.”
“It’s okay,” I told her. “We’ll figure things out. There aren’t many of them left anyway.”
Near me in the cave, Marcus grinned. “That’s right. We’ve got some good news. Agent 957’s dead.”
“Well, that’s one less—“ Cassie began.
Talking over her, Jaclyn asked, “How did that happen?”
Marcus looked over at Tikki and then at me. “I don’t know. I assumed it was Nick, but…”
“It was Tikki.” I looked over at her and she nodded. “She aged him into dust.”
Marcus looked over at me and then at Tikki. “No kidding. Wow.”
Tikki held up her hands. “I didn’t know if you were alive or dead.”
“That’s more than you told us you could do back when we met.” He looked at her.
“I didn’t know. I’d never tried it.” She shrugged.
I knew she wasn’t going to tell him until she thought everything was over, but it still felt like she was ignoring everything that happened and everything that she’d said. I wasn’t going to say anything though. Tikki’s true nature would be a huge distraction for Marcus—even more so than it was for me. Anyway, for the moment, she was all Tikki. Depending on how far into Tikki she was, she might not even know what I meant when I brought it up.
Deciding that dwelling on that couldn’t help, I brought up the most important topic of the moment. “We’ve got to figure out what’s next. The way I understood the plan was that the people we’re escorting are going to go meet up at different rendezvous and we were supposed to do whatever it took to keep Four Hands, Kamia, Neves and Ascendancy forces away from them. The way I see it, at this point we probably have to go find Four Hands and the rest. Otherwise, they can hunt down the different groups whenever they want.”
Cassie grunted. “For a bunch of former terrorists, you’d think they’d get a bunch of people together and give us some backup.”
Jaclyn responded before anyone else. “Oh come on, Cassie. You know they weren’t all terrorists. Plus, they’re middle-aged people with kids now. They were probably terrorists when they were our age.”
I thought back to the evacuation plans the colonists had shared with us. “After they scatter to their other hideouts, it looks like they’re supposed to see how many soldiers they can field for guerrilla warfare. If any come to help, they’ll probably come with Kals—which reminds me. Have any of you seen her, Katuk, or Crawls-Through-Desert?”
Both Jaclyn and Cassie said, “No.”
“But you’re right,” Jaclyn said, “if we’re going to keep them off the colonists, we have to find Four Hands and the leadership immediately. We don’t have time to worry about where everyone else is. Without the leadership, the spacers will only worry about survival.”
“Okay,” I said. “What I’m seeing with the bots is that there are a bunch of them gathered behind a force field next to where we hit them with the herd of um… eleboars? Whatever. I don’t know if Four Hands is there, but going there might help us find him.”
“Right,” Cassie said, “they’ll call on him to deal with us.”
I thought about it. “That’s probably true.”
At that moment, a big glowing light appeared in the streams from the observation bots. I focused on that and saw that a glowing figure had appeared in the sky above the field between the colony and the caverns.
It didn’t take much to recognize the figure. It was a projection of Four Hands. Along with the visuals came booming audio of Four Hands’ voice (or so I assumed).
“Congratulations Xiniti, you’ve bested us. You’ve scattered the colonists so completely we’ll never find them all and only they know how to survive on this hellhole. We’d like to negotiate the terms of our surrender. Come to our camp and we’ll talk.”
On a gut level, I wanted to believe it could be that simple, but I didn’t.