“What did you do for them?” He asked as I put the disc into a pouch on my belt.
I looked up. “We fought, but I paid for the medical bills of one of their people. I didn’t know that they knew. If anything I was expecting them to want to hunt me down.”
He gave a quick nod. “Why did you help them?”
Shrugging, I said, “I don’t know. I didn’t see any reason to let one of them die because they couldn’t pay when I had the money to help. It seemed better than letting someone die pointlessly.”
He watched me for a little while then, not saying anything. “That’s not how the Ascendancy would have handled it. Your treatment of your enemies is unusual and I’m sure some would say it’s naive. It’s helped you here, though.”
I thought about that and the fact that I’d given him my last two killbots out of the five that I’d brought. I couldn’t argue that people accusing me of naiveté were wrong. Four Hands had enough power to prevent the Ascendancy from chasing us for now, but not if their fleet arrived.
I looked out at the tents again. A few spacers and soldiers talked in the rows between the tents. Others moved from one tent to another, looking inside and then sometimes opening the door.
Our meeting was basically over-which led to another thought. “What are you going to tell your men?”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. They’ve been manipulated for so long that they’ll believe anything anyone in authority tells them. The ones I have to worry about are Neves and Kamia and for now they’re willing to let me talk to you. They’re willing to put off hunting you if I can convince you to hand over your killbots. They don’t know who the bots will actually help, and I have many ways to make sure they get to my people and not the Ascendancy.”
“Okay. I should probably get out of here then.” I gave the camp 360 degree check with my HUD. People weren’t arming themselves and rushing in. Nothing had changed from the last time I’d looked.
He gave me a small bow. “Though you’re not truly one of us, it’s my hope that you and your friends survive whatever comes next. As for myself, I’ll be doing everything I can to free my people. May you stay clear of gravity wells and stay clear of the Artificers in your explorations.”
The implant pegged that last sentence as a reference to a formal blessing the four-handed used among each other.
Not knowing what else to say, I told him, “Good luck. If you’re against the Ascendancy, I hope whatever it is you’re planning to do succeeds. Please don’t take this wrong, but it’s always a danger for revolutionaries to turn into the people they revolted against. At least that happens on our world. I hope it doesn’t happen on yours.”
Then I activated the rockets and took off, passing above the camp and the rows upon rows of tents. Anything he said in reply was lost to the sound of wind and the roar of rockets.
I aimed myself toward the forest north of the camp and the settlement. My HUD showed that Jaclyn, Cassie, and Marcus were there. I deliberately flew past them, staying low and landing alongside the forest. Assuming they only had visuals, it wouldn’t be precisely obvious where I was going.
The walk gave me time to consider whether or not I’d done something stupid. In some ways, I was tempted to answer yes to that question. I’d traded my bots for peace with the small, damaged remains of what was left of the Ascendancy’s forces on the planet. It wasn’t a terrible trade assuming Four Hands stuck to it, but there wasn’t anything forcing him to.
On the other hand, based on the Ascendancy history that the implant gave me and what I’d seen of Four Hands, I was willing to believe he might be a revolutionary waiting for his moment. Tikki’s support of him gave me a little more confidence in that direction too. I could only hope that Tikki had been speaking as Kee then and not as Tikki, life support specialist, Marcus’ girlfriend, and figment of Kee’s imagination.
I ventured deeper into the forest, disappearing from the sight of the camp. The underbrush crackled and cracked under my feet as I aimed toward the signal in my HUD.
Only five minutes into the walk, I noticed a group of bushes next to a tree. By itself that wasn’t unusual, but the HUD’s thermal imaging showed a human-shaped heat signature behind them. Before I decided on a plan, a voice said, “Don’t shoot. It’s me, Kals.”
She stepped out from behind the bushes. “I caught up with the rest of your group. We’re going to join up with my mom. We’ve got scattered above ground hideyholes that we can use for a little while. If we play it right, we can stay out of the Ascendancy’s sight until they starve or leave.”
I found myself smiling at the sight of her. It was good to know she’d survived. I hoped the same could be said of Katuk and Crawls-Through-Desert.
Before I could say anything though, HAL’s icon glowed green in my HUD. “With the destruction of the Ascendancy’s ships, I’ve spent time off-planet using the system’s ansible. Data I’ve gathered indicates that we can expect at least two fleets to be entering the system in minutes if they aren’t here already.”