Planet in the Middle: Part 18

Marcus cocked his head. “You know, I don’t think there is much of a choice here. I’m not sure we have much of a chance to find the plant. I mean, how would we do it? Jaclyn could run around the area looking for it, but she’s not at her best, so they might take her out. The rest of us aren’t really big information gatherers. I mean, Nick can do some of that, but his bots are short range, right?”

“Not exactly. The observation bots and the spybots are longer range, but they’re only useful if I either know where to place them or if I have so many that and I can put them everywhere. Right now, neither of those is true. So, you’re right that I need more time or more bots to be useful.”

Giving a quick nod, Marcus said, “Alright, but I’m at least right that we don’t have much of any way to find the plant, right? Because I can’t see one.”

Jaclyn sighed. “That’s what I was thinking, but I’d hoped that I’d missed something. If Marcus is right, we need to figure out what else we’re going to do. The best idea I’ve had is to go back to Jadzen. That, or leave because if we’re going to stick around, I want to be useful, I don’t want to get drawn into a fight that doesn’t help anybody.”

Cassie spoke before anyone else. “My gun would take any fight over no fight, but it doesn’t worry about the future. If we go into a fight, we could end up like Maru or any of those guys—”

She pointed to the dead people on the ground. “So yeah, let’s make it worth it.”

Kals looked over at Cassie. “Don’t get the idea that I think you’re wrong. I want you to make a difference, but don’t be too choosy. The colony and everyone in it could die—or worse—tonight. You’ll find a fight that’s worth fighting for everywhere.”

Cassie folded her arms over her chest. “I want the fight where we fix the problem and not the one where we win a fight with the Ascendancy, but everyone dies a few hours later when they get reinforcements. I’d rather leave than that.”

Kals’ mouth tightened as if she might want to argue, but she said, “I want to fix the problem too, but I can’t let my people die if I can do something about it. I’m with you because I thought you’d have a better chance of getting into the middle of it. If you’re not going to try, then I should go back to my mom.”

Cassie’s jaw muscle had twitched as Kals spoke. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. I  just don’t know what we should try yet.”

Before she could continue—she looked like she would—I cut in. “I’ve got an idea. It’s not foolproof, but I think we could get some direction. I’m going to ask the ship what it’s been seeing. With all the violence, it’s got to be seeing a pattern, and if it’s seeing a pattern, then it might have some suggestions.”

“Tell you what,” Cassie said, “loop us all in. We’ll leave our helmets open and Tikki, Kals, and Katuk can listen too.”

Rachel smiled at Cassie and Kals. “That sounds better than arguing.”

I wondered if they’d be able to understand anything. Our implants translated anything that we heard, or anything we were about to say, before it came out. With the possible exception of Katuk, I doubted that their implants could translate into English, but I decided not to argue.

I waited until everyone was ready and called Hal. The connection registered and I said, “Hal, what’s your analysis of the situation on the ground?”

Hal’s calm, tenor voice came over the connection, “At present, there are three forces on the ground. The Xiniti force is smallest and is advancing generally in the direction of your position. They appear to be the best armed. The Human Ascendancy’s forces arrived in the forest and the area around it before the Xiniti. They appear to be losing wherever they face the Xiniti directly, but they are only facing the Xiniti in a small number of places. The third force appears to be the largest, but the least well armed and organized. The colonists appears to be gathering into units based on direct word of mouth. They are not presently engaging with any force.”

“I’m not understanding any of this,” Kals told me. She stood next to me, listening. I’d sent the entire conversation to my helmet’s external speakers.

Before I could reply, Hal said, “I’ll repeat and continue the conversation in the Human Quarantine’s common language.”

When he did, Kals said, “Crap, someone’s decided that fighting’s our only chance.”

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