Whatever my reservations, it didn’t matter. The bubble expanded to cover the entire battlefield and that included all the troops that had been waiting in the wings and beginning to charge.
Connected to Kee’s not-quite-telepathy, I could sense how far it went—more than one hundred yards away in every direction.
Past the edge, the Xiniti that had promised to show up and help stood, staring at the bubble.
Inside the Ascendancy forces stood still, unable to move at all.
Kee, as I’d started to think of her again, said, “Do you want any of them to survive?”
I couldn’t read her mind, but I could feel her focus. I said, “I’d like them all to survive, but I don’t have any specific use for any of them.”
“I can’t hold them this way forever. The moment I step away, they’ll start trying to kill you again. I’ll end them now.”
Before I could say anything more, she pulled in more energy from each of the many sources she’d opened up. I could feel her pulling it in, allowing it to build up, and then she released it into the bubble, all of it directed into individual Ascendancy soldiers.
I knew somehow that she wasn’t aging them. She wasn’t using Tikki’s powers at all. She disintegrated them, absorbing the heat as the bonds that held their bodies together dissolved, leaving dust and bits of bone.
Then the bubble faded away and the skies became bright once again. I wasn’t sure why being within the bubble dimmed the light. I had theories but hadn’t had time to devote more than an instant’s thought to them.
Now it looked as though I might have more time. The small piles of dust all over and the complete lack of fighting told me what I already knew—no Ascendancy soldiers survived.
The Xiniti I’d seen through Kee’s eyes walked toward us slowly, looking from one side to another as if they expected creatures to appear out of thin air, burst out of the ground, or attack with no reason and no warning.
It wasn’t unreasonable given that the Ascendancy soldiers had just disappeared for no reason they knew of and no warning.
I considered using my implant to contact them but figured they’d contact us if they wanted us. It would be better to determine who’d survived all this. I asked the implant for a status update on all of us and it replied. Jaclyn was alive but hurt, Cassie alive and already healed, Katuk was alive, and Marcus was alive.
I looked around the camp for the others. Kals was alive and walking toward the shelter. She had to be looking for her mom.
Jaclyn’s dog stood over the piles of dust, sniffing them. Then he raised his leg and peed on one. Meanwhile, Rachel was solid and walking across the ground toward me.
I waited for her, planning to tell her that I was going to follow Kals and find out what had happened to Jadzen, but then I heard Marcus’ voice.
“Where’s Tikki and what are you doing here?” He faced Kee. His rifle lay on the ground.
Kee stood next to him where Tikki had been. When I thought about it, Kee and Tikki weren’t so very different. The body she wore as Kee appeared to be in its thirties and Tikki appeared to be in her early twenties or late teens. “Kee” had fuller lips and a squarer face, but they both had the same shades of dark hair and light brown skin.
If I’d seen them at the same time, I might have guessed they were sisters or maybe mother and daughter. They were variations on the same face and body.
“I’m sorry for the deception,” Kee said, “but I couldn’t leave K’Tepolu with you in this form. It would have raised too many questions and gotten too much attention. I really did like you as Tikki. I still like you, but if you think about what I did, you’ll know what I am. You already know one of my people and you know why this can’t work.”
Marcus’ eyes widened. “Oh, god.”
It wasn’t a completely inappropriate line under the circumstances.
Now standing next to me, Rachel said, “This isn’t going to be pretty. Take it from someone who been there.”
“I know your breakup with Travis was bad, but I really don’t think it’s the same.“
Still staring at Kee, Marcus said, “We had sex.”
I don’t know that I would have gone there next, but it did raise some interesting questions.