Grannork glared down at Hayden. The Orcandu’s breath assaulted the human’s nose with the smell of burnt meat. The hulking creature grabbed him by the scruff of his neck until they were eye to eye. The muscular beast snarled, “I should tear your spine from your body.”
“Then who’d do movie night?” Hayden replied with a grin.
“I missed your pizza,” Grannork said, and brought in the scrawny human for a hug that was nearly as life-threatening as the other ways an Orcandu could eviscerate a guy.
The moment was surreal. The soldiers who had held them hostage and even beaten Grannork within an inch of his life were now helping them and under Kal’s command. Makiuarnek had given her a code, and his crew had to listen to her. Another group, the people loyal to Sarge, were led by Tomahawk, who seemed to respect Kal’s authority.
It was a motley throng of mercenaries, ex-IF, and escaped convicts assembled in the hangar of the alien megastructure. They all seemed to be gathering in their respective groups, while Kal had disappeared into the Dervish with Maker. Since Hayden didn’t have a place in any group, he gambled that his former shipmates would take him back.
For the most part, it was true. Now that they knew his reasons for joining the Fenrir, most were eager to accept him back. Cid seemed to be one of the holdouts. He regarded Hayden with a special vehemence reserved for people he despised. Hayden had attempted to apologize, but all Cid could muster was, “We could have been killed,” and he had turned to his bird companion with finality to the conversation.
“Cid will come around,” Grannork offered, following Hayden’s gaze.
“At least he won’t be able to gore me,” Hayden said.
They chitchatted about trivial matters, considering that they were in a hangar hidden on a planet that would be swarming with IF by now. If they attempted to leave, they would be noticed, and the entire might of the Interstellar Forces fleet would descend on the place if they hadn’t already.
From his service days, Hayden wagered that the IF had quickly mobilized orbital superiority and scanned the forests of Nigramoto for the Dervish. Even though their ship was the fastest, there was no way they’d break through the blockade waiting for them. They had been lucky when they escaped Earth. Now, the IF knew they were here and wouldn’t let them disappear again.
Tommy told Hayden that the atomic printers still functioned in the ancient alien megacity, so they probably had an endless supply of fish and other aquatic creatures the beings ate. They wouldn’t starve, but they also wouldn’t be able to stay indefinitely.
The megacity was not visible from the miners’ platforms to haul decrand from the interior. However, with the Dervish disappearing entirely from the planet’s surface and disturbance in the flow of decrand, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that Kal had found another way below the surface. They would send probes to scan the interior of the Dyson sphere and find the megacity.
With limited options for retreat, Hayden hoped Kal and Maker were cooking up a brilliant plan of escape because Hayden was scared for the first time since joining Kal and her crew. However, he didn’t let anyone else see it. He was all smiles and grins, joking with the team and returning to his spot as the guy everyone liked, except Cid, and who knew what the birdman thought about anything.
“The Teristaques will come for us,” Grannork said, as if reading his thoughts.
“Hopefully, Kal will have a plan.”
“She didn’t say anything?”
“No, not much.”
During their ride on a platform back to the surface, Kal had been quiet. She was in one of her moods where Hayden knew it was better not to speak unless spoken to. Whatever happened in the singularity had profoundly affected her. Hayden had never seen her so grim and businesslike. She normally didn’t joke around too much, though Hayden had increased her appreciation of a well-placed one-liner. But now, there was obviously something on her mind. However, the best way to find out would be to wait for her to talk about it. Which, hopefully, wouldn’t be too long because she emerged from the Dervish with Maker.
Grannork’s voice cut through the chatter and echoed in the cavernous blue walls surrounding them. “Everyone, listen up.”
Kal addressed the assembled crews. “It’s time to put aside your differences. I know we were enemies just moments ago, but what is waiting for us on the other side doesn’t care if you are a Human or Shusharhian, IF or independent. We are all in this together, and if we remain divided, we will fall, and if we do not rise to this occasion, every sentient being in the galaxy will be at risk.”
A murmur swept through the crowd. Grannork silenced them. Hayden couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to know what had happened to her on the other side. “What’s inside the singularity?” he asked.
A shadow fell over Kal’s face.
“The death of every sentient species.”