In that moment, I realized that Kals wasn’t speaking whatever they spoke in the Human Ascendancy. She spoke English and her accent sounded like the one out of old movies—somewhere between the US and British. I could only guess that wherever her implant downloaded it from had updated its language files in the 1950s.
I hoped that it automatically adjusted with exposure to new variants in the language. If not, she might be able to pass for someone from India who’d studied in the US and the UK. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.
Katuk wouldn’t be able to pass for a human at all.
Haley, of course, wasn’t troubled by my memories of the group hiding our origins from everyone including the colonists, so she smiled at Kals and said, “Hi Kals, Nick told me all about you. I’d shake your hand, but I’m running this thing.”
She gestured toward the weapons console.
Kals’ eyes widened as she grinned, “That’s right! Everyone can touch each other here. I didn’t know that until I met Nick. In the Human Ascendancy, people bow.”
She gave a small bow to the degree that she could as she sat, “My mom always told me that it wasn’t polite to bow while sitting, but we’re not that formal outside of the Ascendancy. The Ascendancy’s manners are about showing who’s more important—not showing respect.”
Strapping herself in, she added, “I can’t believe we’re going to Earth.”
Haley looked over at me and turned around to her console.
I wasn’t sure I liked how Kals had phrased the bit about touching people, but I had told Haley the whole story. The Ascendancy had kept the Abominators’ methods of breeding humans for specific powers alive. A core aspect was keeping different lines from mixing by an allergic reaction when different lines touched.
It didn’t work with relatively unmodified humans. Thus, Kals and I could have done just about anything, but we didn’t.
“For obvious reasons, it doesn’t seem too weird to us,” I said, turning the jet away from the gate, the Xiniti base, and the gate’s approach area.
“Nor to me,” Katuk said. He’d already strapped himself in behind Haley and to Kals’ right. “We expect to be stationed near the human homeworld at some point in our lives.”
He’d spoken in English as well, but that wasn’t so weird.
Setting the course for Earth, I said, “It does surprise me that you’re here though. I didn’t know that you were coming.”
In a near monotone, Katuk replied, “Based on our past mutual experiences, I was chosen to be her personal bodyguard. Under normal circumstances, there are more of us, but it was deemed that more than one of us would cause too much attention on Earth. It was also believed that you and the others would serve as appropriate substitutes for the rest of my unit.”
I nodded, “That works for me.”
Then I brought the jet into nearspace. The stars turned into lines, crossing much of our solar system in minutes, coming out of nearspace near the moon’s orbit.
Kals looked out at Earth, its blue oceans, green and brown continents, and white clouds hanging against a background of darkness and stars, “The Abominators had our Dominators set up an aversion to visiting Earth in their human servants to prevent them from messing up their breeding project. Our Dominators are still doing it. Mom and I had to remove it in the Hideaway colonists.”
We dove toward reentry above North America, slowing to slip through the ozone layer instead of hitting it at high speed.
As we entered the atmosphere, Kals asked, “I know what you told me through the ansible. Your cousin has been manipulated by the Dominators and you’d like me to free her if I can. But also, you have someone that you think might be a Dominator herself. Is there anything else you think I need to know?”
“Uh… Honestly, I’m not sure whether I can tell you some of what I want to know about,” I said, thinking back in my head to the book we’d looked at. It had shown a drawing that might have been a machine, but not a machine from Earth, a machine that had been created by a race of creatures older than our universe that wanted to kill all sentient beings but themselves. Worse, my teacher Lee had stolen it and might have hidden it on Earth.
I wanted to ask the Amethyst Archer, an associate of Martin Magnus and probable Dominator whether she knew anything about that. The problem was that it had potentially world-ending significance.
Kals stared at me from the back seat, “You know that’s not going to help at all.”
“I know,” I said. “I think we should start with talking to Ana. You remember near the end of when I was on Hideaway and Tikki kind of became Kee. We’re touching that territory now and it’s important not to talk too much about it. If you can get our captured Dominator to answer questions, I’ve got questions for her.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kals take a breath, “I wish I knew how good she is. Back in the Ascendancy, I could guess her skill level from what school she went to. On Earth, I don’t know if your Dominators lost a lot or if they went in new directions. She might be better than I am.”
Below us, the lower section of Lake Michigan came into view, the city of Chicago with its sprawling suburbs at its southern end. Aiming for a shiny complex on the water, I contacted the Midwest Defenders, letting them know that we’d be landing in minutes.