Kals sheathed her knife. “If you think they’re going to come back, we need to get my mom and everyone out of here. I just wish I knew where to send them. We don’t have anywhere left that’s more secure than this.”
Taking a breath, Jaclyn said, “Your mom said she would have evacuated to your nearest neighbor if they had the time. Wouldn’t that be better?”
Kals frowned. “Well, it wouldn’t be here, but it wouldn’t be any more secure.” She glanced back at the shelter. “You know what? I think that’s the best we’re going to do. I’ll tell her.”
She walked toward the shelter as Marcus, Tikki, Jaclyn, Cassie and I came together in a circle. Marcus looked over the group. “So what do you think? Are we going with them? I feel like we have to until they’re safe, but at the same time, we’re not fixing anything, you know? We’re waiting for something bad to happen and hoping we can handle it. This fight could have gone either way. There were a lot more of them than there were of us, but they had no way to expect that Cassie’s sword could cut Kamia’s shield or that Jaclyn would recognize Neves’ powers and have Nick shoot him.
“Now they know, and they’re going to swamp us with numbers or something, right?”
I thought about it. “That’d be one way to do it, but if they caught us while escorting Jadzen’s people, they could ambush us with less people as long as they grabbed a few hostages.”
Glancing my direction, Jaclyn shook her head. “That’s an awful thought and God, you’re right. Hostages would throw us off, and guess what? We’re about to escort them through the forest.”
I turned that around in my head, wondering how we’d get them to the next shelter safely and realizing I didn’t even know where the next one was. As I began to think about good tactics for walking through the forest with civilians, Cassie said, “Do you see something over there?”
We all looked. I took a quick mental inventory of my options for a fight, not liking them much. It wasn’t as if I was out of everything, but if it was Neves and Kamia leading the Ascendancy’s main force to us, I’d have to activate the disc and call in my one and only favor from the Waroo.
Scanning around us though, I didn’t see any sign of the Ascendancy and after the last fight, I knew what to look for. Adjusting the suit’s options—sonic, radar, and infrared—I didn’t see anything at first. A few adjustments in, I caught images in the trees. Even though a combination of my options plus computer generated speculation gave me transparent shapes, I recognized them. Shorter than human, but with larger heads and skinnier arms and legs, they walked between the trees in groups of six.
As they came closer to us, their forms became clearer. They were Xiniti—which didn’t surprise me. I’d known that when I saw the shape of their bodies.
One group walked up to us and stopped. One of the Xiniti stepped up to us, his body hidden inside his sleek, silver armor. “Congratulations, young soldiers. You’ve successfully completed your mission and more. You escorted the ship back and have successfully protected the colony’s leadership even in the face of an Ascendancy invasion. Consider this mission a success and yourselves full members of the Xiniti nation. We suggest you take your starship and remove yourselves from the planet. We are anticipating a larger battle for control of this system than you’re currently seeing and don’t wish to lose promising young soldiers.”
Another of the Xiniti asked, “Where is Katuk?”
I answered, “We escorted different groups away from their last hideout. He went with a different one. We can’t leave without letting him know.”
“Appropriate,” the two Xiniti said in unison. “Find him. Notify him, but then leave him at our K’Tepolu embassy. Given the current situation, we can’t tell you to leave him with our battleships here.”
“I have an idea of where he might be,” said a voice from behind us. I checked my helmet’s peripheral vision to find that Jadzen Akri, Kals, and much of the surviving council.
Jadzen stepped up to the group. “After you asked me if I’d seen him, I told you I didn’t know where he was, but later, one of our people told me that she had seen him as well as the plant and that dog. They were with a group that was supposed to go to a shelter ten miles north of here.”
Jaclyn looked over at the rest of us. “I’d like to go. Things got busy and I left Tiger with him.”
I turned to the Xiniti. “We’ll go get Katuk. And thanks for letting us do it.”
Looking at me with his wide, unblinking eyes, the Xiniti said, “Requesting to collect a member of your unit rather than leaving him is an appropriate attitude.”
Then the Xiniti stepped up to Jadzen Akri and started talking to her. I caught a few words, but not enough. Kals stepped up to me as they talked. “So, you’re going to leave?”
I struggled to find words for my reply. I didn’t want to say so in front of the Xiniti, but I didn’t want to leave before this was over.