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I took it. "Wow," I said, and admired it. I was careful not to touch the actual blade; I'd already seen how sharp it was. I tried to return it but he held up his hand or claw or whatever you want to call it, in a mirror of what I did for him. He was giving it to me.
"Thank you," I said again. He chirped, and with that he returned to his friends. The one holding Magdy's rifle dropped it, and then without looking back they walked to the nearest trees, scaled them at an unbelievable speed and were gone almost instantly.
"Holy c.r.a.p," I said, after a minute. "I can't believe that actually worked. worked."
"You can't believe it," Gretchen said. She came out of hiding and stalked right up to me. "What the h.e.l.l is wrong with you? We come out all this way and you can't believe it," Gretchen said. She came out of hiding and stalked right up to me. "What the h.e.l.l is wrong with you? We come out all this way and you sing sing at them. at them. Sing. Sing. Like you're at a hootenanny. We are not doing this again. Ever." Like you're at a hootenanny. We are not doing this again. Ever."
"Thank you for following my lead," I said. "And for trusting me. I love you."
"I love you too," Gretchen said. "It still doesn't mean this is ever ever going to happen again." going to happen again."
"Fair enough," I said.
"It was almost worth it to see you beat the c.r.a.p out of Magdy, though," Gretchen said.
"G.o.d, I feel horrible about that," I said.
"Really?" Gretchen said. "It wasn't just a little bit of fun?"
"Oh, all right," I said. "Maybe a little."
"I'm right here, here," Magdy said, from the ground.
"And you need to thank Zoe you are," Gretchen said, and bent down to kiss him. "You stupid, exasperating person. I am so so happy you are still alive. And if you happy you are still alive. And if you ever ever do anything like this again, I will kill you myself. And you know I can." do anything like this again, I will kill you myself. And you know I can."
"I know," he said, and pointed to me. "And if you can't, she will. I get it."
"Good," Gretchen said. She stood up and then held out her hand to Magdy. "Now get up. We've got a long way to go to get home, and I think we just blew all our dumb luck for the year."
"What are you going to tell your parents?" Enzo asked me, as we walked home.
"Tonight? Not a thing," I said. "Both of them have enough to worry about tonight. They don't need me coming in and saying that while they were out I faced down four werewolves who were about to kill two more colonists, and defeated them using only the power of song. song. I think I might wait a day or two to drop I think I might wait a day or two to drop that that one. That's a hint, by the way." one. That's a hint, by the way."
"Hint taken," Enzo said. "Although you are going to tell them something."
"Yes," I said. "We have to. If these werewolves are following the fantie herds then we're going to have problems like this every year, and every time they come back. I think we need to let people know they're not actually murdering savages, but we're all still better off if we just leave them alone."
"How did you know?" Enzo asked me, a minute later.
"Know what?" I said.
"That those werewolf thingies weren't just murdering savages," Enzo said. "You held Magdy and let that werewolf take a shot at him. You thought he wouldn't stab Magdy to death. I heard you, you know. After it did it, you said 'I knew it.' So how did you know?"
"I didn't," I said. "But I hoped. He had just spent G.o.d knows how long keeping his friends from killing the two of you. I don't think he was just doing it because he was a nice guy."
"Nice werewolf," Enzo said.
"Nice whatever he is," I said. "Thing is, the werewolves have killed some of us. I know John and Jane killed some of them trying to get our people back. Both of us-the colonists and the werewolves-showed we were perfectly able to kill each other. I think we needed to show that we were capable of not not killing each other, too. We let them know that when we sang at them instead of shooting them. I think my werewolf got that. So when I offered him a chance to get back at Magdy, I guessed he wouldn't really hurt him. Because I think he wanted us to know he was smart enough to know what would happen if he did." killing each other, too. We let them know that when we sang at them instead of shooting them. I think my werewolf got that. So when I offered him a chance to get back at Magdy, I guessed he wouldn't really hurt him. Because I think he wanted us to know he was smart enough to know what would happen if he did."
"You still took a big risk," Enzo said.
"Yeah, I did," I said. "But the only other alternative was to kill him and his friends, or have them kill all of us. Or all of us kill each other. I guess I hoped I could do something better. Besides, I didn't think it was too big a risk. What he was doing when he was keeping the others away from you two reminded me of someone I knew."
"Who?" Enzo asked.
"You," I said.
"Yes, well," Enzo said. "I think tonight marks the official last time I tag along with Magdy to keep him out of trouble. After this he's on his own."
"I have nothing bad to say about this idea," I said.
"I didn't think you would," Enzo said. "I know Magdy gets on your last nerve sometimes."
"He does," I said. "He really, really does. But what can I do? He's my friend."
"He belongs to you," Enzo said. "And so do I."
I looked over at him. "You heard that part, too," I said.
"Trust me, Zoe," Enzo said. "Once you showed up, I never stopped listening to you. I'll be able to recite everything you said for the rest of my life. Which I now have, thanks to you."
"And Gretchen and Hickory and d.i.c.kory," I said.
"And I will thank them all, too," Enzo said. "But right now I want to focus on you. Thank you, Zoe Boutin-Perry. Thank you for saving my life."
"You're welcome," I said. "And stop it. You're making me blush."
"I don't believe it," Enzo said. "And now it's too dark to see."
"Feel my cheeks," I said.
He did. "You don't feel especially blushy," he said.
"You're not doing it right," I said.
"I'm out of practice," he said.
"Well, fix that," I said.
"All right," Enzo said, and kissed me.
"That was supposed to make you blush, not cry," he said, after we stopped.
"Sorry," I said, and tried to get myself back together. "I've just really missed it. That. Us."
"It's my fault," Enzo started.
I put a hand up to his lips. "I don't care about any of that," I said. "I really don't, Enzo. None of that matters to me. I just don't want to miss you anymore."
"Zoe," Enzo said. He took my hands. "You saved me. You have me. You own own me. I belong to you. You said it yourself." me. I belong to you. You said it yourself."
"I did," I admitted.
"So that's settled," Enzo said.
"Okay," I said, and smiled.
We kissed some more, in the night, outside Enzo's front gate.
The conversation Hickory was having with Dad about the Conclave and the Colonial Union was really interesting, right up until the point where Hickory said it and d.i.c.kory were planning to kill my parents. Then, well. I sort of lost it.
To be fair, it had been a really long long day. day.
I had said good night to Enzo, dragged my b.u.t.t home, and could barely think straight enough to hide the stone knife in my dresser and fend off Babar's lick attack on my face before I collapsed onto my cot and pa.s.sed out without even bothering to get all the way undressed. At some point after I lay down, Jane came home from the medical bay, kissed me on the forehead and slipped off my boots, but I barely remember that other than murmuring something to her about how happy I was she was better. At least, that's what I was saying inside my head; I don't know if my mouth formed the actual words. I think it did. I was very tired at the time.
Not too much after that, though, Dad came in and gently nudged me awake. "Come on, hon," he said. "I need you to do something for me."
"I'll do it in the morning," I mumbled. "I swear. swear."
"No, sweetheart," he said. "I need you to do it now." The tone of his voice, gentle but insistent, told me he really did need me to get up. I did, but with enough grumbling to maintain my honor. We went to the living room of our bungalow; Dad steered me to the couch, which I sat on and tried to maintain a semiconscious state that would allow me to go back to sleep when we were done with whatever it was we were doing. Dad sat down at his desk; Mom stood next to him. I smiled sleepily at her but she seemed not to notice. Between me and my parents were Hickory and d.i.c.kory.
Dad spoke to Hickory. "Can you two lie?" he asked it.
"We have not yet lied to you," Hickory said. Which even in my sleepy state I recognized as not being an actual answer to the question that was asked. Dad and Hickory bantered back and forth a little about what being able to lie brings to a conversation (in my opinion, mostly the ability to not have to argue about stupid things it's just better to lie about, but no one asked me), and then Dad asked me to tell Hickory and d.i.c.kory to answer all his questions without any lies or evasions.
This finally woke me all the way up. "Why?" I asked. "What's going on?"
"Please do it," Dad said.
"All right," I said, and then turned to Hickory. "Hickory, please answer my dad without lying to him or evading his questions. All right?"
"As you wish, Zoe," Hickory said.
"d.i.c.kory too," I said.
"We will both answer truthfully," Hickory said.
"Thank you," Dad said, and then turned back to me. "You can go back to bed now, sweetie."
This annoyed me. I was a human being, not a truth serum. "I want to know what's going on," I said.
"It's not something you need to worry about," Dad said.
"You order me to have these two tell you the truth, and you want me to believe it's not something I need to worry about?" I asked. The sleep toxins were taking their time leaving my system, because even as I was saying this I realized it came out showing a little more att.i.tude to my parents than was entirely warranted at the moment.
As if to confirm this, Jane straightened herself up a bit. "Zoe," she said.
I recalibrated. "Besides, if I leave there's no guarantee they won't lie to you," I said, trying to sound a bit more reasonable. "They're emotionally equipped to lie to you, because they don't care about disappointing you. But they don't want to disappoint me. me." I didn't know if this was actually true or not. But I was guessing it was.
Dad turned to Hickory. "Is this true?"
"We would lie to you if we felt it was necessary," Hickory said. "We would not lie to Zoe."
There was a really interesting question here of whether Hickory was saying this because it was actually true, or whether it was saying it in order to back me up on what I said, and if the latter, what the actual truth value of the statement was. If I were more awake, I think I would have thought about it more at the time. But as it was, I just nodded and said, "There you go," to my dad.
"Breathe a word of this to anyone and you're spending the next year in the horse stall," Dad said.
"My lips are sealed," I said, and almost made a lip-locking motion, but thought better of it at the last second.
And a good thing, too, because suddenly Jane came up and loomed over me, bearing her I am as serious as death I am as serious as death expression. "No," she said. "I need you to understand that what you're hearing here you absolutely cannot share with anyone else. Not Gretchen. Not any of your other friends. Not anyone. It's not a game and it's not a fun secret. This is dead serious business, Zoe. If you're not ready to accept that, you need to leave this room right now. I'll take my chances with Hickory and d.i.c.kory lying to us, but not you. So do you understand that when we tell you not to share this with anyone, that you cannot share it with anyone else? Yes or no." expression. "No," she said. "I need you to understand that what you're hearing here you absolutely cannot share with anyone else. Not Gretchen. Not any of your other friends. Not anyone. It's not a game and it's not a fun secret. This is dead serious business, Zoe. If you're not ready to accept that, you need to leave this room right now. I'll take my chances with Hickory and d.i.c.kory lying to us, but not you. So do you understand that when we tell you not to share this with anyone, that you cannot share it with anyone else? Yes or no."
Several thoughts entered my mind at that moment.
The first is that it was times like this when I had the smallest inkling of how terrifying terrifying Jane must have been as a soldier. She was the best mom a girl could ever have, make no mistake about it, but when she got like this, she was as hard and cold and direct as any person could be. She was, to use a word, intimidating. And this was just with words. I tried to imagine her stalking across a battlefield with the same expression on her face she had now, and standard-issue Defense Forces rifle. I think I actually felt at least three of my internal organs contract at the thought. Jane must have been as a soldier. She was the best mom a girl could ever have, make no mistake about it, but when she got like this, she was as hard and cold and direct as any person could be. She was, to use a word, intimidating. And this was just with words. I tried to imagine her stalking across a battlefield with the same expression on her face she had now, and standard-issue Defense Forces rifle. I think I actually felt at least three of my internal organs contract at the thought.
The second is I wondered what she would think of my ability to keep a secret if she had known what I had just done with my evening.
The third was maybe she did, did, and that was what this was about. and that was what this was about.
I felt several other of my internal organs contract at that that thought. thought.
Jane was still looking at me, cold like stone, waiting for my answer.
"Yes," I said. "I understand, Jane. Not a word."
"Thank you, Zoe," Jane said. Then she bent down and kissed the top of my head. Just like that, she was my mom again. Which in its way made her even more terrifying, if you ask me.
That settled, Dad started asking Hickory about the Conclave and what it and d.i.c.kory knew about that group. Since we had made the jump to Roanoke, we had been waiting for the Conclave to find us, and when they found us, to destroy us, like they had destroyed the Whaid colony in the video the Colonial Union had given us. Dad wanted to know if what Hickory knew about the Conclave was different than what we knew.
Hickory said yes, basically. They knew quite a bit about the Conclave, based on the Obin government's own files on them-and that their own files, contrary to what we had been told by the Colonial Union, showed that when it came to colonies, the Conclave much preferred to evacuate the colonies they confronted, rather than destroying them.
Dad asked Hickory why, if they had different information, they had not shared it earlier. Hickory said because they had been ordered not to by their government; neither Hickory nor d.i.c.kory would have lied about having the information if Dad had asked them, but he had never asked them about it before. I think this struck Dad as a bit weaselly on the part of Hickory and d.i.c.kory, but he let it go.
Dad asked Hickory if it'd seen the video the Colonial Union had given us, of the Conclave destroying the Whaid colony. Hickory said that it and d.i.c.kory had their own version. Dad asked if their version was different; Hickory said it was-it was longer and showed General Gau, who had ordered the destruction of the Whaid colony, trying to convince the Whaidi colony leader to let the Conclave evacuate the colonists, only to have the Whaid refuse to leave before the destruction of their colony. Hickory said that other times, on other colony worlds, colonists did did ask to be evacuated, and the Conclave carried them off the planet, and sent them back to their homeworlds or allowed them to join the Conclave as citizens. ask to be evacuated, and the Conclave carried them off the planet, and sent them back to their homeworlds or allowed them to join the Conclave as citizens.
Jane asked for numbers. Hickory said they knew of seventeen colony removals by the Conclave. Ten of those had the Conclave returning colonists to their former homes. Four of those had the colonists joining the Conclave. Only three involved the destruction of the colonies, after the colonists refused to move. The Conclave was dead serious about not allowing anyone else to start new colonies, but-unlike what we were told by the Colonial Union-didn't insist on killing everyone on those new colonies to make the point.
This was fascinating stuff-and disturbing. Because if what Hickory was saying was true-and it was, because Hickory would not lie to me, or to my parents against my will-then it meant that either the Colonial Union had been wildly wrong about the Conclave, and its leader General Gau, or that the CU had lied to us when it told us what would happen if the Conclave found us. The first of these was certainly possible, I suppose; the Colonial Union was in a state of active hostility with almost every other alien race that we knew about, which I would guess would make intelligence gathering harder than it might be if we had more friends. But it was really more likely that the second of these was the truth: Our government lied to us.
But if the Colonial Union lied to us, why did it do it? What did it get from lying to us, punting us to who knows where in the universe, and making us live in fear of being discovered-and putting all of us in danger?