Marcus looked toward the cavern’s opening. “That’s loud. I can hear it through your bot feed, but I don’t need to. It’s just as loud in here.”
I hadn’t noticed, but when I thought about it, he was right.
“We can hear it too,” Jacklyn said. “Does he seriously think he’s fooling anybody?”
“You could make the case that they’ve lost,” I said. “If no one shows up and they actually have to live here without any help from the colonists, they probably will die. But yeah, it is a little early for them to give up, we know they summoned help, and it looks like they’re trying to exterminate the colonists. I’d say he’s probably figuring that if he kills us, he can hunt down everyone else—which is what we were kind of saying earlier. We’ve got to take out Four Hands’ people. They’ve got to take us out. Meeting with them is probably our best chance.”
I sent a ping out for HAL again, getting no reply. It was worth a shot.
“I think you’re right,” Cassie said, “but we’d better be careful about it.”
Jaclyn grunted what we were all thinking in that moment, “Huh.”
“I know that’s not what you’re expecting me to say, but what I’d do is give you a meeting spot and then bomb it or set up a bunch of snipers.” Cassie paused, “Right?”
I checked with the observation bots, focusing them on the camp. While I couldn’t identify individuals, there were four handers, more typical human spacers, and a few Ascendancy soldiers, most of them wounded. That was just on the outside edges of the camp. I couldn’t see into the middle of the camp. All the same, it didn’t seem likely that he’d destroy his own people to take us out.
On the other hand, I didn’t know him, but it seemed over the top. He’d have to view his own people as disposable to be willing to do that, and members of the military that I’d known tried to avoid shooting their own people.
Answering Cassie, Marcus said, “Remind me never to negotiate with you.”
“Tikki,” I turned to look at her, “would it be unusual or normal for a Human Ascendancy soldier to kill his own people to get a target?”
Tikki frowned, “Unusual? Yes. It would be very unusual, but they’ve done it. I think their motivator made them.”
With Agent 957 gone, they didn’t have a motivator or at least they didn’t have one outside the normal military structure, meaning they’d be less likely to sacrifice fellow soldiers in theory. The Xiniti implant confirmed that. Xiniti records showed that motivators who were within the military used their powers in support of the military’s goals. It was outside motivators that sent them on suicide missions.
“We shouldn’t all go,” I said. “I’ll go and then the rest of you should be ready to come in to help me if things go wrong or if we decide we have to attack.”
Jaclyn spoke before anyone else could. “No. You shouldn’t be alone. You should have backup right there with you.”
“I don’t think so. I think it makes sense to only send me because that way you only lose one person if things go horribly wrong. That one person should be me because Cassie’s gun is vulnerable to Kamia, you’re hurt, Marcus can’t do area of effect attacks, and Tikki’s powers are too limited.”
Even as I said the last part, I thought about what Tikki really was. If we could be sure Kee would use Tikki’s powers as effectively as Lee used his different identities, Four Hands and the others might as well give up.
Before anyone else could interrupt, I added, “Besides, I’ve got a good chance of escaping if I have to. If I use the rocketpack, I can fly away. I don’t intend to be caught or killed, but better one of us than all of us.”
After a moment, Jaclyn said, “Okay. I don’t like it, but it makes sense. But if we’re going to do it, we’re going to have a plan. You’re going to keep in touch and we’ll keep on listening. If we decide we need to move in, we’ll do it. If you get in trouble, we’ll get you out.”
We talked through our plans and options for the next half hour, talking on our comms and sitting in our tunnels. When the glowing figure began to repeat itself for the tenth time, we stopped.
“No matter how tempted you are to fly,” Jaclyn said, “walk toward them. We’ll need the time to get into position. Talk to them. Get them going. Talk tech with Four Hands if you have to.”
“It might be worth a shot.” I summoned the observation bots back into my suit and began to walk across the field. I wanted to run, but that wouldn’t give them time either.
Taking a breath, I decided to enjoy the walk, looking at the waist-high grass, the flowers, and small animals that bounded away through the grass. Grey furred, long-eared, and long-tailed, I couldn’t decide whether they reminded me more of rats or rabbits.
In a better universe, I’d have been taking biological samples so I could pass them off to scientists back home.