“Watch the left side!” Fetu shouted, shifting around and leveling its rifle at the hills to the south. It fired three shots and ducked back into the trench. “Watch the left!” Something flew past its head and exploded behind the squad.
Dactyl shook as he tried to peer over the hill. Smoke and noise was everywhere. He glanced at his rifle. White, compact, with the black Wandjina logo on the side. He looked down at his armor; white panels of paper-thin metal latticed around his body. He looked at Fetu, firing at the enemy, then at Khopesh and Chirwa, further away. They all know what they’re doing, he thought. I shouldn’t even be here. He took a breath, raised the weapon, and fired wildly toward the enemy line.
Fetu whacked him in the arm. “Be careful,” it said. “This isn’t some make-believe entertainment.” It stared with angry eyes at Dactyl, who averted his gaze.
“Sorry,” Dactyl mumbled. “I’ve never done this before.”
“It’s okay,” Chirwa said, appearing beside him. He placed the weapon firmly against Dac’s shoulder and placed his hands into position. “Use your torso to absorb the recoil.” He whipped his own rifle around and demonstrated. Dac nodded and Chirwa popped his head up. He took a quick breath, fired one shot, and said: “Blood down.”
“Why are they called ‘bloods’?” Khopesh asked, reloading her weapon.
“It’s a good general-purpose — ” Chirwa began, then dove into the dirt. “Down!” he screamed. They ducked into the purple soil and clutched their helmets. Something exploded just beyond their position, and someone in a nearby unit screamed.
“Medic!” Fetu cried. He ran to the wounded soldier, followed by Khopesh and the others.
They froze when they reached him; he was a humanoid, young. His left arm was gone, blood spewing across the ditch. Dactyl bent over and retched. Chirwa grabbed the ragged sleeve from the dismembered limb and ripped it down the middle. He tied it up and wound it around the stump. The bleeding slowed, but not by much.
“Where did you learn to dress a wound?” a voice behind him asked. They turned to see a gangly grey creature with three arms and a crisp black uniform scurry into position beside the body. It pulled off the tourniquet and produced a syringe from one of many bags draped across its body. It pushed a button and three robotic tendrils slithered from the tip of the needle. The medic maneuvered them into place across the wound and began sewing it up.
“Sorry,” Chirwa said. “It’s been a while.” He watched the medic work, and pointed suddenly. “What if you — ”
The medic froze and glared at Fetu. “Is there perhaps something you could find for our … friends to do?”
Fetu ruffled its antennae and nodded. “C’mon,” it said, scampering back to their post.
“Just trying to help,” Chirwa said.
“Of course,” Fetu said. “The kanfose are skilled but …” It made a whisper-word and rotated a hand. “Proud.”
“Full of themselves,” Khopesh said. She sat down beside Dactyl, who was staring into the dirt.
Fetu nodded. “Indeed,” it said, looking toward the enemy line. A spray of bullets whipped past and it ducked down. It let out a hot breath and looked at Chirwa. “So where did you train?”
Chirwa shrugged. “Here and there,” he said, removing his rifle’s clip and peering at the contents. “Back on the Czolgosz we saw some combat.” He swapped out the clip with a fresh one from his hip and locked it into place.
“Is that guy gonna make it?” Dactyl asked, still staring at the dirt.
“Probably not,” Fetu said. It withdrew a set of trinoculars and slowly poked its head up to scan the horizon.
Khopesh scowled. “Why don’t we have any of those fancy medical droids out here?” she asked.
“For the same reason we don’t have reconnaissance drones or laser weapons,” Fetu said. It paused on a spot to the north. “‘Nimbus Honor’,” it said, the words curdling in its mouth.
Dactyl looked up. “The hell is that?” he asked. Someone in the distance screamed in fury and there was a volley of gunfire and the screaming turned into pain and slowly trailed into nothing.
Fetu sighed and dropped its trinoculars. “The coteries of Nimbus X,” it said, “have a ‘Code of Honor’ governing terrestrial combat.” It held up a finger for each point. “No robotics, no energy weapons, no teleportation.”
“They have teleportation?” Khopesh asked. Her eyes were arguing between wonder and outrage.
“Limited versions,” Fetu said. It paused and returned its gaze to the north. “The research is in its infancy.”
“He’s picking his words real careful,” Chirwa whispered, leaning toward Khopesh and Dactyl.
Dac stared into the dirt. “I wanna go home,” he said.
Khopesh stared at him and her eyes softened. “Soon,” she said. She reached a hand out but froze over his replacement left. “We’re gonna deal with this last nightmare and get the hell out of here.” Chirwa nodded.
Dactyl looked up. “Thanks.” he said. “Do you think Hess is okay?”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Chirwa said. “Gorf is keeping him company.”
Dactyl chuckled. “I hope he didn’t get into the Cherry Nitrous.”
Khopesh laughed despite herself. “He’s probably swimming in it by now,” she said. Dactyl smiled for the first time in days.
“Cup!” Chirwa said.
Dactyl laughed and shook his head and held his right hand to his eyes and sobbed.
“Okay,” Fetu said, kneeling beside them. “We have a new operation.” They faced it. Dactyl wiped at his eyes. Fetu drew in the dirt with its finger. “Three squads stationed around a central point suggests an officer to the north. We take him out, this flank collapses.” It moved to the other side of the sketch and drew an arrow. “That allows these units to attack from our left, decimating their rear.”
“Sounds too simple to be true,” Chirwa said.
“It won’t be easy,” Fetu said. “We need to employ a decoy here.” It looked at Dactyl.
Dac shook his head. “I’m coming with you.”
“Are you sure?” Khopesh asked. “This sounds extra dangerous.”
Dactyl nodded. “I want to do whatever I — ”
“Less skilled infantry units,” Fetu said slowly, “can transcend inutility and become liabilities.”
“I can fight,” Dactyl said, glaring at Fetu.
Chirwa sighed. “Dac,” he said.
Dactyl looked at him with hollow eyes. “Please don’t leave me here,” he said, and looked at the ground.
A slow, hot moment sifted through the air.
“I’ll stay,” Chirwa said.
“Not an option,” Fetu said, shaking its head. “I recommend — ”
Chirwa whipped a knife from his vest and held it to Fetu’s throat. “You can leave me, or we can do this mission with two instead of three.”
Fetu’s eyes were blank. “Threatening an employee of the Wandjina Coterie is punishable by — ”
Chirwa pushed the knife into the leathery green flesh. He expected a small cut, but it resisted. “Ask me if I care.”
Fetu shook its head and glared into the distance. “As you wish,” it said. It gestured to Khopesh and Dactyl, who followed it, hunched over, along the trench to the north.
“Okay, you scum-drinking encephalopods,” Chirwa hollered. He hoisted his rifle with his right hand and grabbed a pair of grenades with his left. “I got something for ya!” He pulled the pins from the grenades and flung them toward the enemy line. He screamed and posted up and fired hot blasts of death into the hazy distance.
“No!” Fetu yelled. “Wait!”
But it was too late. Dactyl screamed and leapt into the enemy trench. He shot one of the kanfose mercs point-blank in the face. Its brain splattered onto its shocked companions, one of whom got slammed in the head with Dactyl’s rifle butt. He kicked the other in the kneecap as it pulled a pistol; it screamed as it went down, and Khopesh riddled it with bullets, sending blood flying around the pit.
“Please!” the remaining merc cried, holding its three hands over its head. “I have two children!” Khopesh stopped, her rifle aimed at it. She dropped the weapon and let out a hot breath.
Fetu shot it four times and it collapsed into the dirt, its eyes staring at nothing.
“Fecal fornication,” Khopesh yelled at him. “Why did you do that?”
“We have no time for minding prisoners,” Fetu said.
“Yeah,” Khopesh tried, “but — ”
Fetu turned and glared at her. “Your compassion is a weakness in wartime,” it said. “I won’t be wounded or worse because of your false empathy.”
Her eyes widened. “False!?” she trilled. “What the hell does that mean?”
“C’mon,” Dactyl said, touching her arm lightly. “Let’s just keep moving.”
Fetu pointed at him. “This one finally makes sense.”
Dactyl swatted its hand away. “Don’t talk to me,” he said, and began trudging toward the next position. To the south they could hear Chirwa taunting the enemy. Things exploded in the west and people yelled violent obscenities.
They cleared out the second squad with even less trouble; Khopesh wondered if perhaps they gave themselves up to death. Where are these mercs from? she wondered. They’re obviously hired, like us. Do their families —
“Hey!” Dactyl said, snapping loudly near her eyes. “Focus up.”
She blinked and saw Fetu in the distance, waving at them. “Sorry,” she said, and they hustled over to it.
“Okay,” Fetu said when they were in their final position. “The third blood must be ducked back over here.” It gestured to their right. “I’ll take that one.” It pointed to Khopesh and Dactyl. “You two — ”
“Sick of this,” Dactyl said, and bounded across the expanse into the enemy trench. He screamed as he shot and swung out at the kanfose mercs. Khopesh raced to join him but missed her left side; something metal collided with her jaw and she went down.
Fetu crested the hill and held its arms aloft. “Easy,” it said, glaring at the kanfose officer holding a pistol to Dactyl’s temple. Its uniform was cleaner and sharper than the rags worn by the grunts around it. It held a third beefy arm around Dactyl’s throat. He struggled briefly, then went limp.
“I don’t even care,” Dactyl said, nodding to Khopesh on the ground. “Just get her out of here.” Tears fell onto the officer’s arm.
“We’re not leaving you,” Fetu said, and turned its eyes to the officer. “We can arrange a prisoner exchange.”
“I’m listening,” the officer said. Suddenly Khopesh was up, yanking on the pistol. Dactyl screeched as he sunk his teeth into the officer’s arm, shredding the flesh and tendons. The officer screamed and tried to pull free, but Dactyl grasped the wrist and elbow with desperation and slammed them onto his knee and there was a horrifying snap and he yelled something in between pain and sadness and kicked at the officer’s face over and over as the blood flung itself into Dactyl’s face and he kept kicking and screaming and crying until Khopesh dragged him out of the trench. They collapsed onto the purple dirt and Dactyl cried into her and she tried to hug him but the smell of blood and death was everywhere and she retched to the side and wiped at her mouth.
“I’m sorry,” she said, holding back her own tears. “I’m so sorry, Dac.”
He sobbed with fury. “God,” he said. “I wanna go home.”
“I think that might be on the horizon,” Fetu said, rejoining them. “Let us return to your friend.”
“Excellent work!” Leon chirped, his pale green skin shining in the afternoon haze. He shook Fetu’s hand vigorously while clapping him on the upper left shoulder. “We’re decimating their entire north flank.” He pointed to a hologram of troop movements; a herd of blue dots swarmed across the red positions.
“Thank you,” Fetu said with a grunt. He drew in Leon’s crisp uniform. “Nice gear.”
“Oh thanks,” Leon said, looking down. He was clad in an officer’s suit, five gold stars shining on the lapel. Cords and medals were slathered across his torso. He saluted at Khopesh and the others. “Well done, soldiers.”
Dactyl glared at him. Chirwa gave a small nod as Khopesh shook her head slightly. Leon waved Dactyl toward a table near a central seating area.
“This is nuts,” Khopesh said, looking around. The Mobile Command Post was a huge structure that could generously be described as a tent. Fans and cooling stations circled the perimeter, with plush gold-laced chairs surrounding digital holographic map displays. A small swarm of kanfose soldiers and attendants scuttled around, mostly focused on plying a few Wandjinans with food and drink.
Fetu nodded. “An unparalleled waste of resources,” it said. “Just like everything else on this planet.” It gestured toward Leon in the distance. “His costume, needless to say, is mere pretense.”
Chirwa raised an eyebrow. “I’m surprised to hear you talk that way,” he said.
Fetu shook its head slowly. “When I think of what this technology could do for my family back home…”
“Fortunato?” Khopesh asked.
Fetu shook its head quickly. “No,” it said. “Never mind.” It sat in one of the absurd chairs and adjusted the map to provide a larger view of the battlefield. Khopesh wandered toward Dactyl and Leon.
“Go on,” Leon was saying, holding out a huge stein of Cherry Nitrous. “You’ve earned it.”
Dactyl shook his head. His eyes were locked on the ground. “No,” he said. “Thank you.”
Leon looked to Khopesh with sorrow and offered her the mug. She refused silently with pinched eyes and a contemptuous half-smile. He set it down and waved them back toward Fetu and Chirwa. “Come with me,” he said. He pushed some buttons on a wrist unit and Qin appeared.
“Welcome back,” she said, bowing to Khopesh and Dactyl.
Khopesh nodded to the white steel case chained to her arm. “Everything good?” she asked.
Qin nodded. “Your ingots are secure and unaltered,” she said.
Leon led them to the front of the post. He touched more wrist buttons and a fanfare rang out around them.
“Your attention, please,” he said. The workers stopped and all eyes turned toward him. A few soldiers from outside the tent moved into earshot. Leon gestured to Fetu and the others. “These brave soldiers have struck a mighty blow for our proud organization.” A smattering of applause broke out. The black-haired Wandjinan from the torture chamber, Rick, slapped Dactyl on the back. Dac scowled, pulled away, and stood on the other side of Khopesh. She glared at Rick and he backed away.
Leon approached each of them and fastened gold medals to their torsos. “Your courage and valor — ”
Chirwa took a step back. “Not me,” he said. “I was not part of this skirmish.”
Leon smiled and stepped forward. He resumed the attachment process. “Your diversionary tactics — ”
Chirwa grabbed his hand and glared at him. “Do not put that thing on me.”
Leon paused for a moment and shrugged. “Fine,” he said, and returned to Fetu. “Our esteemed squad leader shall receive two commendations.”
Fetu nodded and gave a short salute. “Thank you,” it said.
“We appreciate your service to …” He trailed off as he watched Dactyl remove his medal, then pin it to Fetu.
“Three,” he said, turning to Leon with cold eyes.
“Four,” Khopesh said, attaching hers beside the others.
Fetu glanced at them and nodded to her. “Thank you,” it said again.
Leon blinked and snapped his fingers. Qin nodded and scurried away, then returned a moment later with three kanfose mercenaries. They were haggard, with hollow eyes and wounds of various types. Leon saluted to them, and they returned the gesture. “At ease,” he said. They remained standing.
Leon turned to Dactyl. “These soldiers were in the line of attack from the squad you took out,” he said. “If not for you, they would be dead.”
Dactyl froze and stared at them. One nodded with a smile. “Thank you,” she said with some trouble.
Dactyl gulped and took a breath. “I … you’re welcome.” He looked at Khopesh, who shrugged.
“What are your names?” Chirwa asked.
“I am Sree-Ki,” the woman said, and gestured to her companions. “He is Mon-Fa, and they are Krid-Wik.”
“How long have you been fighting here?” Khopesh asked.
Sree-Ki looked at Leon with anxious eyes. He made an oblique gesture with his chin. “A short time,” she said finally. “We are glad to have strong forces like you at our side.”
Leon nodded, staring pointedly at Dactyl. “I know this is all very difficult,” he said. “But you’re doing good things for us.”
Dactyl sat in a chair with a sigh. He looked up hesitantly at Sree-Ki. “Are you from Nimbus?” he asked.
“Yes,” Qin said into the air, moving between them. “Right away.” She turned to Dactyl. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “But I just got word from another command post. These soldiers are needed to the north.” They saluted Dactyl, and he weakly returned the gesture. Qin escorted them out of the tent.
Dactyl took a deep breath. “I’m glad we were able to help someone,” he said, and glanced at Leon. “What’s our next mission?”
“You seem distraught,” Leon said with a frown. “I think perhaps you could use a few days of down time to gather your strength.”
“I’m fine,” he said, his face blank. “What are we doing next?”
Leon blinked at him. “I sense that you’re not interested in working with me right now,” he said. “Perhaps I could speak with Fetu. He will inform you soon.” He glanced around. “Please remain here.” He caught Qin’s eye from a distance and waved her over, then gestured for Fetu to follow him. They went to a ring of chairs on the other side of the post. Rick joined them after a moment. They gestured with gusto as they talked.
Qin returned to Dactyl and the others with a smile. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Not good,” Dactyl said. He stared at the purple dirt. It was coarse and dry, littered with frail orange weeds here and there.
Qin nodded and dropped her voice to a whisper. “I can get you out of here but we must leave right now and you must take me.”
Dactyl froze. He looked at Khopesh and Chirwa; they stared at each other with urgent hesitant tension.
Chirwa finally spoke. “Off the planet?” he asked.
“Yes,” Qin said. “I have prepared a transport and hacked Menonton.”
Khopesh blinked. “But — ”
“There is no time,” Qin said, cutting her off. She watched Leon talking with Fetu across the post. “Yes or no?”
“Yes,” Dactyl said, standing up. “Let’s go.”
Qin nodded. “Two minutes,” she said, and stuffed a slip of paper into Chirwa’s hand. She raced toward Leon’s conference with Fetu.
“What are we doing?” Khopesh asked.
Chirwa unfolded the paper to find a crude map. An X to the west was marked in red. “We’re getting — ” Something exploded near Leon and Fetu. Soldiers and aides scrambled in the chaos as gunfire erupted. “C’mon,” Chirwa said. They began running away from the tent but froze as Sree-Ki appeared with a pistol in each hand.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “If they find out I let you go …” Her eyes were wet.
“Please,” Dactyl said, and glanced behind him. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
She swallowed and shook her head slightly. “I can’t,” she said.
Chirwa pulled the ingot from his vest and held it toward Sree-Ki. “Please,” he said.
Her eyes ballooned. She dropped one of the pistols and took the tiny glimmering plate. She held it with gentle fingers. “How did you — ”
“We don’t have time,” Khopesh said. “We’re sorry.”
Sree-Ki stashed the ingot in a pocket and took Khopesh’s rifle and shot herself in the foot. She grunted a muffled scream and collapsed to the ground, dropping the rifle, and clenched her teeth and gestured with her head. “Go,” she said.
“What was that?” Dactyl asked as they took off to the west.
“She needed a story,” Chirwa said, glancing at the map and the hills around them. “If they check the ballistics — ”
“They can’t blame her,” Khopesh said.
“Yeah,” Chirwa said.
They rounded a rocky outcrop and stopped when they saw a dark green oblong metallic pod. A door in the back was raised; Qin stood beside it. “Inside,” she said, waving with the case. Chirwa and the others stepped into the pod, bare except for a few white steel cabinets on the far wall. A series of open slots near the ceiling ringed the cabin.
Qin turned Chirwa around and pushed him against the wall. She fidgeted with her free hand and used it to fire a rivet into the wall over his shoulder. A glowing orange streamer crossed his body and she secured it on the other side. She repeated the motion to produce an X, then did the same with Khopesh and Dactyl. Something exploded nearby and she cursed.
“Hang on,” she said, tapping buttons on her wrist.
“Do we have a choice?” Dactyl asked, pulling at the cords and wriggling his torso in a futile gesture. “What if — ” He broke off as the pod door sealed itself and Qin fell to the ground. She tapped more buttons. Something metallic clanked and the pod rose into the air and tore off. Through the air vents they could see things racing past, but they had no idea what they were or how quickly they were moving.
Dactyl made an odd whimpering noise. “It’s gonna be okay,” Khopesh said. “We’re almost out of here.”
“Try to let it all go,” Chirwa said. “Breathe and just be in this moment.”
Dactyl was crying. “I bit someone’s arm apart,” he shouted. “And then I snapped it in half.”
“I know,” Chirwa said. “We’ve all been through some horrible stuff.” He took a deep breath. “But there’s nothing we can do about that right now.” He left the breath out. “So just be here now.”
The pod kept flying. Dactyl’s breath slowed a little.
“Is this the same material that’s got our ship trapped?” Chirwa asked, trying to examine the glowing orange ropes.
“Had it trapped,” Qin said. “Yes.”
“Xenon?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said again.
“And you?” Khopesh asked.
“Magnetic floor,” she said.
“Forty-three seconds,” Qin said. They heard fighting in the distance. Explosions were followed by screams of pain.
The pod landed and Qin rose. She undid their bindings and nodded to their weapons. “Prepare yourselves,” she said. “Menonton should have secured your ship, but we cannot take anything for granted.” They nodded and gripped their rifles. Qin tapped buttons and the door opened.
The Visitors’ Hangar was deserted. The Obsidian sat in the same spot on the north side; it was unchanged except for the missing xenon ropes. Dactyl moved to leave the pod, but Qin held him back. “Hold on,” she said. “Something is not right.”
Suddenly a deafening blare of trumpets sounded. A huge colorful banner appeared over the Obsidian reading CONGRATULATIONS. Fireworks exploded in the sky. Dactyl and the others exchanged confused glances and Qin made a sound of shock and disgust.
“What?” Chirwa asked. She shook her head with sad eyes and gestured for them to leave the pod.
As they emerged, Fetu and Leon and Rick and dozens of other Nimbans walked around from the back of the pod. Some wore outfits with different colors, logos with an A or an L. Servants began setting up tables with food and drink. Festive music played from speakers in the portable serving stations.
“What is happening?” Khopesh asked.
Leon approached her with a huge grin. “You made it!” he said, and shook her hand with glee. He pointed to a cluster of Nimbans in the distance. “They’re from Antaboga. You just cost them a lot of money.”
Dactyl looked from the banner to the servants gathering tiny sliced meats onto serving trays. “I don’t understand,” he said.
Fetu stood near them. “This has been an elaborate … fiction,” he said. Dactyl looked at Leon, who grinned with juvenile mirth.
Chirwa squinted. “The war …”
Leon shrugged. “It was more of a test,” he said.
Dactyl scowled. “Those soldiers we met.”
Leon raised his hands. “Oh that was real.” He waved to the distance and the kanfose mercenaries came into view. Sree-Ki limped; her foot was bandaged. “I had this one watching you the whole time.” He gestured to Sree-Ki and laughed. “I didn’t think you’d have the nerve to shoot her. Not after everything they told you.”
“Are you … okay?” Dactyl asked. He raised an eyebrow slightly.
Sree-Ki smiled. “Yes,” she said with a hint of inflection. “I’m fine. Everything is okay.”
Khopesh turned to Leon. “So,” she said, “you were just trying to see … what?”
“If you could make it back,” Rick said, clapping her on the shoulder. “The Antaboga and Lemminkäinen Coteries didn’t think you could return here alive.” He grinned at Qin. “This one surprised us all.”
Qin’s head was bowed. “I apologize for my deception,” she said.
“We’ll address that later,” Rick said with a glare.
Dactyl let out a breath. “So this was all some kind of game? For your clubhouse?” His eyes were burning.
Leon sighed. “I know it sounds horrible,” he said. “But I knew you’d be okay.” He gestured and a servant headed toward the Obsidian. “And here’s someone who’s especially glad to see you.”
“Ee an oo!” Hess cried as he bounded onto the surface of the landing pad. He ran to Dactyl and jumped into his arms. Dac said something quiet and let a few tears fall away as they hugged.
“So,” Chirwa said, his head tilted. “Were we in actual danger?”
“Oh yes,” Fetu said. “Live ammunition across the board.”
Khopesh pointed to it. “Did you know?”
Fetu nodded. “This sort of … simulation was implemented once before,” it said. “But the Wandjina compact with the Zonite Products Corporation specifies non-disclosure on all related matters.”
Khopesh scratched her chin. “And the fighting on Fortunato?”
Fetu shook its head. “That was authentic corporate warfare.”
“I’m so confused,” Chirwa said. He gestured to the kanfose. “And these soldiers …”
“They are retained for — ”
“They have very good lives here,” Rick said, cutting Fetu off. He looked at the soldiers. “Right?” They nodded quickly, looking down. Chirwa narrowed his eyes.
Qin approached Khopesh and removed the chain to the white steel case. “Here is your payment,” she said. “The Wandjina Coterie thanks you for your service.”
Khopesh took the case and lowered her voice. “So you can’t come with us?”
Qin shook her head. Her eyes were filled with despair.
“Cup!” Hess said suddenly. Dactyl smiled.
“Yes, dude,” he said. “We’re gonna have the biggest cup you’ve ever cupped.” He grabbed Hess’s bulbous head with both hands and massaged it. Hess laughed and headed toward the ship. Dactyl looked from Khopesh to Chirwa. “Ready?”
“Beyond ready,” Chirwa said. He headed for the Obsidian. Khopesh faced Fetu and gave an odd salute with her free hand.
“Thanks for everything,” she said. “I guess.”
He saluted her and nodded. “I wish you good fortune in your travels,” it said.
Leon touched Dactyl’s shoulder. “I really am sorry,” he said. “I wish things had not been … so painful.”
Dactyl stared at him. He took two slow breaths.
“You’re a good guy,” Leon said. “I hope we see each other again.” He held his hand out.
Dactyl turned and began walking away.
“Hang on,” Leon said loudly. “Wait.”
The music stopped. People stopped talking.
Khopesh and Chirwa stopped near the ship and turned. Chirwa walked back to Dactyl. Hess started to follow but Fetu stepped in the way and he scampered to Khopesh.
Leon grinned. “You’ve been through so much,” he said to Dactyl. “But we had fun when you first got here.” He chuckled. “Right?”
Dactyl glared at him and glanced at Chirwa beside him. “What do you want?” he asked Leon.
“Careful,” Chirwa said quietly. “Let it go.”
“Stay here,” Leon said. He waved a huge muscular arm to the horizon. “We’ve got so much cool stuff that you haven’t even seen yet.” He leaned in. “These people are freaking weird, man,” he said. Something desperate appeared in his eyes. “I finally found someone I can relate to.”
Dactyl shook his head with an odd smile. “We have nothing in common,” he said, and turned. “Goodbye.”
Leon clutched his arm. “Please,” he said.
Dactyl gave a weak chuckle and shook his head slightly. He spat in Leon’s face.
Leon stared at him for a moment. He blinked and produced a knife and stabbed it deep into Dactyl’s eye.
Hess froze. “EE AN OO!” he screamed.