Landing smoothly in the open-air courtyard of the psigate compound, Ash gently set his passengers down. Ahliss rushed forwards, checking Jhim’s pulse as a medical team moved up to look after Lezslie. “Is he…?”
“Both of them will recover, but I imagine they will not be conscious for some time.” The tree looked down at his roots. “I am sorry. Converting the drones took longer than expected, and I was not able to arrive before Kyall began his assault. I was forced to wait for a quiet moment to intervene.”
Outside, the flurry of violence had died down, and only three drones had made it to the sheltered compound under heavy fire. The Adari guards looked them over wonderingly. Ahliss turned her attention to Ash, with a sad smile. “There is nothing to apologize for, Sir Ash. You were wonderful.”
“Thank you, Matron. You honour me.” Ash returned the bow fluidly, then turned his attention to Lucky. “How is Amber?”
“The medical team’s looking at her now. She should be alright.” Lucky shook his head bitterly. “I, of course, am fine.”
“That is good.” Ash chose to miss the emotion. He turned his attention to Ahliss. “And the gate?”
“Intact. They’re sending the first batch through in a moment. It’s going to take several portals, though, and the last few groups are going to be in trouble.”
“I may be able to help there, as well. I notice that Adar has very commendable views on decorative foliage in its public buildings. I could convert them into weaponry.”
Ahliss nodded briskly. “Talk to Captain Makar. He’s handling outer defenses.”
Ash nodded, and leapt away to speak with the captain, leaving Ahliss with Lucky. The medical teams were carefully lifting Jhim and Leszlie onto stretchers, carrying them to join the other wounded being evacuated. She looked over to Lucky. “Thank you for your help. I know that it has cost you dearly.”
“I wish I could say it was deliberate. I still don’t know how we got here.” Lucky smiled sadly. “But it’s what we do.”
“I know. That is one of the reasons I was always opposed to Jhim’s time on Earth – it seemed so dangerous, compared to the peace and tranquility of Sayleen. But it is here that he was struck down.” She swallowed heavily, sitting on a bench provided for passersby. Above them, energy rays lanced out to ward off a Yocanu patrol that was getting too close.
“You heard Ash. Jim’s going to be fine.” Lucky consoled her.
Ahliss straightened, and nodded solemnly. “I know. My apologies, I should not impose.” She stood slowly, nodding to Lucky. “I must check on my other retainers. Many were injured in the retreat.”
Lucky nodded, glancing up at the increasingly energy-filled sky. “Probably the guards would be along in a moment to make us go inside anyway, to be honest. I’ll join you in a minute.” He bowed to Ahliss, who inclined her head before walking after the medical teams. Then, standing, he headed over to where Ash and Captain Makar were engaged in serious discussion in Sayleen.
As Lucky arrived, Makar seemed to be caught between hope, confusion, and frustration as he spoke to Ash. “We have the systems that you want, but we’ll have to take apart one of our backup mainframes. I don’t see why you need anything like that!”
“I thought I was clear. If this unit takes damage, all of my drones will cease to function. Normally, I retain several backup units, with exceptional range. Exceptional, however, amounts to roughly one light-second. Sayleen is rather farther away than that.” Ash shrugged eloquently. “I have left other drones in the city to continue scavenging and spreading to fight the Varrn, but it will all be for nothing if I am unable to coordinate myself.}}” He turned to Lucky, shifting into English. “Ah, Lucky. Could you kindly explain to this individual that I am a benign entity? I showed him my card, but I do not think it had the desired effect.”
Lucky raised an eyebrow. “Um. What’s the problem?”
“He is want to take apart computers.” The captain spoke in a sour, broken English. “He says spread thousands of him around city, fight Varrn. I say that is many unknown mechanisms in city.” He frowned suspiciously at the tree. “I say he is strange and not-known. Wanting to take things we need for his plan is not good.”
Lucky winced. “Look, I can vouch for Ash. He’s one of the Patchwork Champions – he’s registered as a hero on Earth. They trust him.”
“They have trusted many who were not worth trusting.” Captain Makar’s expression didn’t change.
Lucky’s jaw clenched. “Okay, fine. Think of it this way. How many soldiers are you willing to have die because you were busy being suspicious of a tree?” When Makar’s jaw dropped, he pressed on relentlessly. “You’re outnumbered. You’re outpowered. Ash is offering you a free army, no conditions, no strings attached. And you’re worried that a computer might be more valuable?!”
“Um.” Makar considered for a moment, and then sighed, switching into Sayleen as he addressed Ash. “Very well, you will have your parts. Don’t let us down.”
“I promise you, I will not.” Ash nodded respectfully to the soldier, who grunted something unintelligible and turned to give the orders, then returned his attention to Lucky. “Thank you for the help.”
“Ah, he would have gotten there eventually. I was just saving some time.” Lucky paused. “Ash, how many drones can you actually manage at once?”
“No more than a thousand without additional nodes. That is one of the reasons I find it critical to create them.”
“I didn’t know you could make other nodes.” Lucky considered. “Couldn’t you just take over every plant on the plant.”
“Certainly, I could.” Ash shrugged cheerfully, moving off to start work on the interior plants. “Potentially, given some time, I could end all life by removing plants from the cycle. You are simply fortunate that my robot nature overrides my zombie nature.”
Lucky winced. “So the world’s safety hinged on Doctor Ecchs’s programming?”
Ash nodded. “I know. I worry about that often as well.”