Trying not to be distracted by my thoughts, I told Kals, “That’s right. I’m Nick.”
She gave a hint of smile and then asked, “What do you do for the group?”
I shrugged. “I pilot our spaceship and keep our stuff working.”
Nodding, she said. “You keep everything working? From the ship’s drives to the computers to your suits and weapons? And you pilot?”
The implant buried me a burst of knowledge about ship staffing. On a ship of any size, those were completely different positions, staffed by different engineers and mechanics. “Pretty much. I’m more knowledgeable about some things than others. Also, it’s a small ship.”
The corner of her mouth twitched. If I didn’t do something the whole conversation could become centered around how unusual we all were, or worse, it might center on me personally. We needed to know who in the colony might be a spy or simply be unhappy enough to bring down the wrath of the Human Ascendancy down on the colony.
Given what she’d said earlier, Kals herself was a candidate. She didn’t seem angry enough, but I didn’t really know her either. “How about you?” I straightened up and stopped leaning on the wall. “What do you do here?”
She took a breath. “Well, I was training to be a motivator. You know about my mom. I was going to do what she did—pretend to serve the Ascendancy while helping the resistance. It didn’t work out. They found out who my mom was and we’ve been running ever since. Now I’m training in biology and agriculture. It’s not all bad, but it’s not as glamorous.”
She smiled at that.
Judging from her reaction, I was supposed to know something about motivators. I searched the implant, learning that the Human Ascendancy’s motivators were everywhere in their society, commanding people directly and more subtly to follow the plan. They couldn’t change what people felt about something, but the Xiniti’s reports suggested that the constant small pushes might make it hard for the Human Ascendancy’s subjects to recognize what their true feelings were.
“How does glamorous fit with that?” I’m sure I sounded as confused as I felt.
In a flatter voice, she said, “You’ve got an implant. Ask it what kind of lives the motivators live.”
I didn’t have to. As I thought in that direction, I saw pictures of motivators in bejeweled clothing, their mansions and vast estates. The backbone of the Human Ascendancy’s empire, they had the best of everything and knew the most powerful and celebrated people on their worlds.
I had a motive for her to be the mole now. It would be hard to go from that to this. Still, wanting that life enough to betray her mother and people she seemed to like? That seemed unlikely.
Coming back to reality, I said, “I see what you mean. That would be a huge change.”
She shook her head. “Don’t judge me from what your implant just showed you. We weren’t hobnobbing with the planetary governor, but we did have more than most.”
I was about to ask if she had an implant when Tikki bumped me. “Sorry,” she said, joining hands with Marcus as they squeezed through the common room and into the main area of the council building.
Except for Kals, no one seemed to notice them go, but Kals more than made up for it. She stared at them until they disappeared, turning to me to say. “They’re holding hands. He’s not from her gene line.”
She turned away to stare at the shut door on the far side of the room.”Does he have Change?”
“Change?” I asked even as my implant defined it as a drug the Human Ascendancy used to create powered individuals. “No,” I said, and maybe I should have said yes because Marcus had done something weird and she’d practically handed me an explanation she could accept.
Brows furrowing, she asked, “Where are you from?”
“M8749.” I managed to say it naturally only because the implant stored it.
“One of the fallow worlds? But he can shapeshift?” Now she was staring at me.
With Lee’s help, we’d planned this answer out. “It was fallow when the Abominators left. Now it’s just unplanned. People come from other planets and leave their genes. So we have powered people, but we don’t have gene lines that we’re required to keep pure.”
She blinked. “You don’t know how it works, do you? The Abominators didn’t require us to keep our genetics pure. They made it impossible for people from different gene lines to breed.”
Geman had said something like that. “How?”
“Most gene lines are infertile, but in case any aren’t they made it so we all get nasty rashes any time we touch the bare skin of any line but our own. Change disables both of them. We’ve been trying to buy it, but it’s closely guarded.”
That explained why everyone’s jumpsuits covered their legs and arms, why no one touched during dancing, and why no one at this party except for Marcus and Tikki had disappeared to make out.
She frowned, looking up at me. “I’d like you to try something. Touch my skin with your finger–just use the tip. If this doesn’t work, you’ll want it to be a small spot, believe me. And don’t touch my face.”
She rolled up her sleeve. I touched her forearm. Nothing happened. She stared at it and then me. “You’re either going to save this colony or destroy it.”