They came through in a giant wave. The colonists ran or fell, burned by the Ascendancy’s energy weapons or ripped to pieces by the claws of their soldiers.
It wasn’t as if the colonists left them unopposed, but the sheer numbers of the attackers verses the numbers of the defenders meant that for every beam aimed at the Ascendancy soldiers, the soldiers aimed three or four back.
The colonists weren’t stupid. They retreated to the inner ring as their people fired out at the soldiers.
Anyway, that’s what was happening around me as I stood next to Kamia, having knocked her to the ground. What was happening near me was a little different. The soldiers ran past with barely a look at the two of us. On the one hand, that surprised me, but on the other, I supposed it was possible that they’d been told that Kamia could take care of herself.
Worse, it also struck me as possible that they’d been ordered to leave the Xiniti and us to Kamia and Neves. Whatever the reason, I realized that unless I stopped her now, she’d take down the inner ring too.
She rolled sideways in a move that ended with her standing on her feet. She smiled, her face all sharp features, thin like the rest of her body.
“You should give up,” she pointed her gun at me. “There’s no hope now. They don’t need me to get the inner shields down.”
Keeping my eyes on her, I said, “Really?”
“They’ve got shieldbreakers. I get the shields down faster and easier, but they’ll do it without me eventually. I’m not here to handle the shields. I’m here to handle you—Xiniti born and Xiniti adopted.”
It struck me that if we were talking, she wasn’t fighting, and that I should encourage her to keep that up. I might learn something worth knowing in the process.
“Surely we’re not that big a deal,” I began.
Keeping her gun pointed at me, she said, “You’re enigmas, all of you. When the Xiniti bring in outsiders, they have standards and all of you appear to be keeping up the quality as well as the mystery. Where are you from?”
“Can’t you tell from my accent?” I felt confident she couldn’t.
At that, amid the hiss of energy weapons and screams, she laughed. “It’s such a nice accent. It’s average in every way—the way we all imagine humans speak the Masters’ tongue but no one does. You speak like Xiniti who are completely dependent on their implants to understand the most common human tongue and yet you’re human.
“Not only that, but you’re using technology that’s out of date, strangely sophisticated, and capable of matching or even besting our own. Not only that, but all of you appear to be powered, but none of you appear to be the product of the Masters’ designs.
“One of you even appears to have a Citizen’s Mark. We in the Guard have been talking and the only thing we can think is that you’re the product of some backwater world where a Master was able to do whatever they wanted, unsupervised by their clade. Perhaps you put together your tech with the remains of the Masters’ technology and your own designed brilliance.
“We could use you. I can understand how the Xiniti might impress you if they’re the first advanced society that you’ve encountered, but you have to understand that they’re not human. They don’t truly have your needs in mind. The Human Ascendancy is all about uniting humanity into one unstoppable force like it was in the days of the Masters.
“Now, with the Masters gone, we’re forging our own path and we want all of humanity to benefit. If you were to persuade your people to join us, we could find a place for you near the top of the Ascendancy, possibly even in the Guard if you want that. The Xiniti pick capable people and we respect that, but unlike them, in the end, we’re your people.”
She watched me, waiting for a response, a sign that I was interested. I glanced away from her toward the battle. I didn’t know how long I wanted to pretend to care, but if keeping her out of the battle wasn’t helping I needed to do something else.
The last thing I wanted was to lose the battle because I was worth more to the defense than Kamia was to the offense.
They were holding their own. I didn’t know how long they’d be able to do it, but energy lanced out again and again from behind the shields, burning soldiers to death.
Though the Ascendancy had taken down a section of the outer ring on the other side, they weren’t yet able to overwhelm the inner ring. The colonists’ attacks were keeping them back and the sections of the outer ring that were still standing stopped them from spreading out as much as they ought to.
Plus, there was one side effect of keeping Kamia busy that I hadn’t thought through. Cassie could use her gun. Every time she blasted away, she turned groups of Ascendancy soldiers to ash.
Kamia’s eyes widened as Cassie burned a line of ten soldiers to death.