“Jarasax,” I called. “Kat, George! C’mon, we gotta go!”
George stepped out of the shuttle and immediately hit his head on the airlock. “Ow,” he said, rubbing his forehead. He kept his hand out to watch for more dangers. “Why does Lemuria have such low ceilings?”
“Because it was founded by dwarves fleeing persecution by the elves of Rivendell.”
George paused. “Really?”
“Of course not.” I signed the last of the customs forms and nodded in thanks to the clerk. “They just didn’t have giants in mind when they built this place.”
Lemuria was one of the middle-aged colonies, a little over twenty years old. Since Mars still hadn’t been terraformed, there were a lot of domes and tunnels and airlocks, all made of white plastic and metal. The whole thing felt like living in a space station, and the low gravity didn’t help. But at least it was better than being on that cramped shuttle for a month.
I still couldn’t believe we had agreed to this mission in the first place. With everything that had happened, I had mentioned to Medina that we should get away from the city for a while. I meant maybe take a quick tour to one of the space stations, or a working vacation on Luna. I hadn’t expected her to send us to Mars—especially not as a team of ghosts.
I shouldered my bag and glanced around. There was a sign pointing new arrivals down one direction of the T-bone junction, but there was another saying that there was a park in the other direction.
I glanced back at my friends. George was hunched over and had most of our stuff on his back, but there wasn’t really that much. Jarasax had a laptop under one arm and was looking around curiously, while Kat just had a toolbelt and was sniffing the air. I also noticed that the customs clerk was staring at Kat while trying not to be obvious about it. She was probably the first anthro he had ever seen.
They all looked like they needed a chance to unwind just a bit from their long trip.
“Let’s go to the park,” I said. “See how the Martian terraforming is coming along.”
The others grinned, and I smiled as well. Fi hadn’t officially named me her successor or anything like that, but the retinue followed me as long as I gave good orders.
The park was only a few turns from the dock, but it still took about ten minutes to get there, since we had to press through a crowd of people in the corridor who couldn’t stop goggling at George and Kat. I resolved to talk to them about that later. Body shame wasn’t a big deal in Domina, but it might be a serious problem here.
All thoughts fled my mind as we stepped out into the park.
Domina didn’t have many parks. A few small fields of grass where people hadn’t built anything yet, some rooftop or wall gardens and one or two flower displays in some of the weirder domains. I had never been outside Domina before this, so I was expecting something like that. A field of grass, definitely, maybe with some rows of planters and a couple trees.
The Lemurian park was encased in a giant glass dome so that you could see the stars above, but that almost seemed like a waste. Massive, towering trees blocked the view, everything from vine-wrapped jungle trees to sky-scraping redwoods.
Down at ground level, there was thick, soft green grass that came up to my knees in some places, but someone had mowed a winding path through it. There were bushes with berries and bright leaves, sprawling vines and beautiful flowers. It looked like a wild forest from every part of the world combined.
The entire place smelled of plants and loam and life. I could hear distant birds singing, and rustling that might have been larger animals
“I’m not a botanist,” Jarasax said. “But I don’t think this is what a normal park looks like.”
“First time in the arboreum?” someone said.
We all wheeled around to see a man standing next to the door we had just entered through. My hand went to my side, but my dayknives were in my bag. I prepared myself to blast a burst of light into his eyes, but forced myself to remain calm. He was just saying hello.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s… amazing.”
He grinned. “Isn’t it, though? I’m just a gardener, but I still can’t believe how lucky I am to work here. To see it every single day.”
“How is everything so big?” George asked. “It hasn’t been long enough for them to grow, and you can’t have carted everything from Earth.”
The gardener chuckled. “No, of course not. These plants were genetically engineered to grow quickly, with special artificial sunlight and exceptionally rich soil. These all grew from seeds. The oldest is… ten years old, I believe. We tried starting without genetic engineering, but nothing would take to the soil.”
“Interesting,” I said. “It seems dangerous, though. What happens if they get out of control?”
“Well, I’m not a geneticist or a botanist,” he said. “I can’t go into the full details. But as I understand, they were engineered so that they wouldn’t pass on their altered genes to their progeny. That way, we get a head start without having to worry about unanticipated side effects.”
That seemed odd. I knew a bit about genetic engineering, and while what he was saying was possible, it was a little tricky.
“Did you design the seeds?” Jarasax asked.
“No,” the gardener said. “I told you, I’m—”
“I mean you as in Lemuria.”
“Oh.” The gardener smiled. “No, they were bought on Earth.”
“Do you remember from who?” Sax pressed.
I frowned. Where was he going with this?
“From a company called the Viridian Children, I believe,” the gardener said.
We all nodded in understanding. The Children were a changeling clan, known for using the toy maker on plants. They would have been able to do what the gardener was describing very easily.
“Thank you for your time,” I said. “I think we’ll just start walking around.”
Before he could respond, there was a distant dull whumph of an explosion.
The gardener looked in that direction.
“If you want to point us to somewhere we can sit, that would be nice,” I said.
The gardener turned back to me with a frown. “What?”
“We’ve been on a shuttle for a month,” I said. “We just want to stretch our legs a bit.”
“But… didn’t you hear that?”
“Yes. Sounded like an explosion.”
“Might have been a car overloading,” George said.
“Or something getting firebombed,” Sax said.
Kat made a few quick motions with her fingers, and we all nodded in agreement.
The gardener shook his head. “But… there was an explosion?”
“Well, I guess,” I said. “I’m sure the lawmen will handle it. You have pyromachites around here, right?”
He stared. “What?”
“The people who put out fires,” I said, slower. “You live in a station where oxygen is at a premium, please tell me you have someone in charge of getting rid of fires.”
“Y-yes, of course, but—”
“Then it’s fine.” I clapped him on the shoulder. “You can’t worry about every little thing.”
There was another whumph. It was smaller, or perhaps more distant.
The gardener nearly jumped out of his skin. “What that another one?”
“That’s common when fighting a fire,” George said. “Either the fire is uncontrolled or the pyromachites are directing it to something nonessential. Either way, it’s not our problem, so don’t worry about it.”
“Look,” I said, guiding him down the mowed path. “If there was actually something wrong, an alarm would have gone off. Right?” The gardener nodded hurriedly. “Of course. So that means it’s under control. There are a million airlocks around here, so in the worst case they can just seal off the affected sections.”
“I guess…” he muttered.
“And if a bunch of oxygen is lost to the fire, do you know what’s suddenly going to be very important?”
The worried look on his face cleared. “The arboreum?”
“Exactly!” I patted him on the back. “The city might be in a bad situation right now, but don’t feel bad for taking a bit of advantage. You can do the right thing and make a profit at the same time.” There was another explosion, and I frowned. “Or maybe the city’s in a really bad situation. There are alarms that would go off if things went really crazy, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” We were walking further into the forest, and things were getting too dark for me. I doubted the gardener even noticed the difference, but with dayeyes, even normal shadows could be as black as deepest night to me. “I’m not in charge of those, of course. Maybe they’re broken or something?”
I rubbed my forehead. This shouldn’t be our problem. We were supposed to be spies. Emergencies should be left to lawmen and pyromachites and paramedics and whoever else was paid to run towards danger. We had just got off a month-long shuttle ride, we deserved at least a little bit of rest.
“Is there a bench or something?” I asked. “Somewhere we can sit down?”
“Also, do you have the wifi password?” Jarasax asked. I glanced back to see his face illuminated by the light of his tablet. “I’m having trouble hacking in.”
The gardener frowned. “Hacking?”
Kat elbowed Sax in the ribs.
“Getting in,” he said. “That’s what I meant. Just a slip of the tongue.”
“Um… right. Anyway, the password is Kumari Kandam. Two words, spelled like it sounds.”
Sax’s fingers flew over the keyboard in a way that only a changeling’s could. “Hm. That didn’t work. Capitalized?”
“Alright, thank you, that worked.”
“That password will give you access to most public wifi in Lemuria,” the gardener said.
We came out into a small clearing with a few benches. “Well—” I began. I was interrupted by someone crashing out of the bushes behind us.
It was a baseline boy, maybe fifteen or so. He was panting heavily and had a device in his hand. It looked like a pad, though with a bit of extra armor on it, and a glance told me that he was using it to track something.
“Alex Gabriel!” he shouted.
“Yes?” I said. “That’s me.”
The boy took a deep breath. “I need… you need…” He bent over, his hands on his knees. “Whoo…”
“Take your time, boy,” George said. “There’s no rush.”
There was another distant explosion.
The boy stood up straighter, fire in his eyes. “This is important! The para are attacking!”
I glanced at my friends, but they shook their heads. They didn’t know either.
“The who?” I asked.
The boy blinked. “…the para. The aliens?”
I scowled. “I’m not in the mood for practical jokes.”
“How do you not know about the aliens!?” the boy asked, aghast. “It’s been… everywhere the past few weeks! All over the news!”
I raised an eyebrow. “Convenient that this only happened while we were on a shuttle for a month.”
“You didn’t have tv on the shuttle?”
“Couldn’t agree on what to watch,” Jarasax said.
“Yeah, well, there are aliens, and they are attacking Lemuria!”
“Sure.” I patted him on the shoulder and walked past him. “Whatever you say, buddy. Try your prank on someone else.”
“I have orders from Dame Medina to send you into battle!”
I raised an eyebrow. “I highly doubt that.”
He rubbed his forehead. “Telepathy is—look. Just give me one second.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“What’s he doing?” Sax asked after a moment.
“Beats me,” I said.
Kat signed something.
“Only if he’s actually a telepath,” I said. “What’d he do, leave Domina five minutes after the Rampage?”
She shrugged and signed something else.
Before I could respond, the boy opened his eyes. “Okay, got it. Dame Medina says code AG-7248-G-KL. ‘Ilarion Marinov, get off your ass and save that city or I am personally coming over there to smack some sense into you.’”
I blinked. “Wait. Seriously?”
The boy heaved a great sigh. “YES!”
“Um, for what it’s worth,” the gardener said. “The para are real. They were orbiting Earth last I checked, but—”
“Retinue, weapons free,” I said.
We all dropped our bags on the ground and started rifling through them. I took off my shirt to better expose my dayskin, found my dayknives, and even clipped my Shachar-class pistol onto my belt. Fi had insisted I start carrying an actual gun once she left, and I had insisted on something angel-made.
I glanced behind me. George and Kat were finishing reassembling their gatling gun and sniper rifle, respectively, and Sax was checking over his rifle.
“Ready?” They nodded. I turned to the boy. “Show us the way.” He ran off, and we followed. As an afterthought, I shouted over my shoulder at the poor confused gardener. “Keep an eye on our bags!”
The boy led us out of the arboreum and through a maze of twisting passages. There were more explosions now, or perhaps we were just close enough to hear them. It took far longer than I would have liked, but eventually we came upon the battle scene.
The boy had led us to the industrial docks, used for shuttling raw materials and finished products between colonies, unlike the residential docks we had come in on. It was the size of a football field, and made completely out of gray steel and concrete. The entire place had the dirty grime of a place that no one bothered to clean more than was necessary. Giant shutters acted as airlocks big enough to allow entire tons of cargo to be shifted at a time. One of the shutters was open, with a ship attached.
Spilling out of the ship were dozens of people, roughly human-shaped, dressed in some sort of brightly-colored armor. It almost seemed like they had been painted at random, just a brush of color here and there. If there was any pattern or ranking system, I couldn’t see it.
They had guns, or something like them. The number of human corpses in maintenance uniforms were a testament to that. There were only a few defenders left, returning fire with small arms that were probably just personal defense weapons. I didn’t see any of the heavy ordnance that would be required to repel an attack like this. Lemuria was a quiet port, they hadn’t seen the need to keep miniguns stashed nearby.
Thankfully, we had brought our own.
I already had an earpiece on, so I broadcast on all Lemurian channels. “Cavalry incoming!”
George took the hint, planted his feet, and fired.
His minigun roared like a dragon, sending hundreds of bullets towards the invaders. The defenders knew to keep their heads down, but the enemy were not so lucky. Almost a dozen were shredded to pieces before the rest dove behind cover, but that was fine. The point of suppressing fire was not to kill the enemy—that was just a bonus. It was to force them to hide and stop shooting at you.
Kat took advantage, lining up her shots and taking out one, two, three before anyone noticed she was there. I just saw heads exploding around me as I ran.
Because I was taking advantage or George’s distraction too.
I rushed forward, knives at my sides, ducking under the hail of fire. I dodged around a crate, found the enemy soldier hiding behind it, and slashed him across the throat. Warm red blood splattered in the air, but I was already gone, heading for the next one.
This time, my knife hit something metal when I went for the throat.
The alien grinned and threw me aside with the strength of a giant. I hit a stack of boxes and was dazed, but still retained enough awareness to see the alien touch his neck to check the wound there. There was blood, but nowhere near enough for a wound that size, and I thought I saw the glint of metal under the flesh.
He—and I was pretty sure the alien was a he—had lost his gun when I attacked him, but he didn’t seem to mind. He raised his arm, and a long knife snapped out from his wrist, just above the hand.
There was a crackle of ozone as he advanced on me. So it was an electrified knife. Even better.
I flipped out my dayknives and slashed forward. I was still on the ground, so the attack came in low, and the alien was forced to jump backwards to dodge. That gave me time to clamber to my feet and fall into a real fighting stance.
The alien scowled and closed the distance, slashing with his knife from up high. I blocked with one of my blades—they had good thick rubber handles, so I didn’t have to worry about the electricity—and slashed at his chest with the other one. He dodged, but I managed to scratch the garish paint on his armor.
He pulled back for another strike, but I pressed the attack, forcing him on his guard. He parried a few more blows, but then I feinted for his chest and went for his neck again instead. That didn’t do much more than draw some blood, but it did distract him long enough for me to stab him in the eyes with both dayknives.
He instantly fell limp, and something electric popped and sizzled in his skull. I grunted and kicked him off my blades, then glanced around the battlefield.
Kat was still trying to provide supporting fire, but the aliens had closed with George. He had been forced to drop his minigun and engage them in melee, using what appeared to be the ripped-off arm of one of his assailants as a club. I didn’t see Sax anywhere, which I took as a good sign, especially since I could still hear him shooting. He must have hidden, and was now taking shots of opportunity. There were also a few more Lemurian dockworkers than before, trying to retake their home.
“Watch out!” I called. “They’re cyborgs! Don’t know what tricks they’ve got!”
One of the aliens climbed up onto the crate that I was using as cover and leveled his gun at me. I grabbed my knives, but I knew I wasn’t moving fast enough—I’d be dead before I managed to close. Before he was able to fire, bloody holes appeared in his skull, and he collapsed in a heap.
Jarasax slid into place next to me. “Maybe don’t announce your position to the entire battlefield,” he said.
“Sorry,” I said. “Lost my earpiece in the scuffle.” I looked around and found it at the spot where I had first been thrown into the boxes. I put it back on as we spoke. “Have they called in reinforcements yet?”
“There are no more ships coming in, if that’s what you mean,” he said. He checked a small wrist screen. “But there should be more still on that ship. I expect that they’ll be coming out any minute now.”
A stack of crates a few yards away exploded into a million pieces. Sax and I had to duck to avoid getting hit by red-hot shrapnel, but from the screams of pain, some of the dockworkers weren’t so lucky.
“Grenades,” I muttered. “Figures.”
Jarasax shook his head. “That wasn’t a grenade, that was a missile.”
“You mean like from a—” I was interrupted by the sound of something big and heavy coming down the ramp from the enemy ship. I spared a glance, assuming it was a couple big guys carrying a missile launcher, but had to look again when I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
It was a massive metal automaton, easily ten feet tall, with shoulders nearly as wide and two huge arms holding a missile launcher that was bigger than I was. It had four surprisingly small spiked legs that pounded the deck with a rhythmic ringing noise, and no head at all. It had a dozen glowing red lights on its chest, which I had to assume were its optical sensors. The torso swiveled every once in a while, trying to get a better view.
Unlike everything else the aliens used, this thing was not painted in a rainbow of colors. Instead it was simple steel, the dull gray color of metal that had not been polished in months or even years.
Two more of the automatons were coming down the ramp.
“They have robots? I shrieked.
“You’re surprised?” Jarasax said. “It seems to fit with their cybernetics and everything. So I guess I should say no, I don’t think they have robots—that’s probably more similar to an echo.” He smiled. “I’ll bet the pilots have their brains plugged directly into the controls…”
“Admire the enemy when they’re dead!” I snapped. “Kat!”
The rocket launchers were of a design that was unfamiliar to us, but they had what looked like coolant vents all along the sides. I saw a spark from Kat’s bullet when it hit those vents, and then the whole weapon exploded, taking out the robot’s arm with it. The machine screeched in pain and rage, almost like a living thing. That certainly lent credence to Sax’s theory.
“Aim for the guns,” I said on the general channel. “We can handle the bots when they’re disarmed.”
At least a dozen groans were my answer.
I smirked. “Just do it, unless you want more puns.”
I saw a burst of black mist behind me. That would be Kat, shifting to bat form. Good, she’d be in position for another shot in a moment. In the meantime, the others were firing at the missile launchers, but the injured robot was helping shield them. Not to mention that there were still a dozen normal aliens to contend with.
Normal aliens. Was that an oxymoron?
More gunfire hit the box I was hiding behind, and I forced myself to pay attention. There were three aliens spread out in front of me, firing in my direction. I checked for any other enemies in range—none—jumped out from behind the box, and started glowing. It wasn’t a full daybreak, but definitely enough to make the aliens flinch. When they did, I dashed forward and sliced them all to ribbons. The second had the same metal throat as the one I had fought earlier, but I just slashed across his face instead, sending him to the ground screaming.
Another of the robots lost an arm—George’s enhanced bullets had found their mark. I grabbed a grenade from one of the fallen aliens, pulled what looked like a pin, and threw it at the robots.
At first I thought nothing had happened, but then there was the sound of electricity, and all three machines were pulled together by a massive magnetic force. They struggled to break free, but everyone immediately focused fire on them. Thick armor or not, that was the kind of thing that made a dent. After a full minute of the sound of bullets impacting steel like rain on a tin roof, the grenade’s effect ended, and the robots slumped over, dead. Someone had finally hit something important.
I rushed forward, through the burning hulks, in order to prepare to attack whoever came out of the alien ship first. There were a few crates stacked up at the airlock, which would give me more than enough cover for an ambush.
Before I could get into position, the entire city shook. The airlock remained closed.
One of the aliens, wrestling with one of the dockworkers, looked up. He babbled something in his language, then tossed his opponent aside and held up his hands in surrender. The other aliens looked at him in shock before throwing down their own weapons and surrendering as well.
“What happened?” an unfamiliar voice asked over my earpiece. Probably one of the dockworkers.
“The ship left,” I said. “They abandoned their soldiers.” I did a quick count. “I guess they decided saving four men wasn’t worth it.”
“I think one’s a woman,” someone said helpfully.
One of the dockworkers put a gun in the face of one of the aliens. “So what now? We finish them off?”
I rolled my eyes and walked down the ramp. “No. These are prisoners of war, and must be treated with respect.”
He licked his lips. “But they never signed the Geneva Convention, right? So you can’t commit war crimes against them.”
I couldn’t remember what the Geneva Convention was, though it did sound familiar. Geneva was a city in… Italy? “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. We’re still bound to uphold the law even if they are not.”
“And even if you are right, we still have a moral obligation not to slaughter prisoners.”
He still looked hesitant. “But—”
I rolled my eyes. “For crying out loud man, we need them alive for interrogation. What is with you?”
He lowered the gun and pouted. “I didn’t get to shoot anyone.”
I sighed. “I’m sure they’ll invade again at some point.” I glanced around. I still didn’t see any authority figures. There had to be police or something somewhere on this colony, but if so they hadn’t shown up yet. Or maybe they were just out of uniform. Either way, I was the only one taking charge.
One of the dockworkers walked up to me and showed me some handcuffs. “Broke up one of the boxes, sir.”
I nodded. “Good. Secure the prisoners.”
“And mark the box as opened,” someone else said. I was surprised to realize it was George. “We don’t want you to get in trouble with your boss when all this is done.”
The dockworker nodded and went to work. I glanced around at all the destroyed crates, then raised an eyebrow at George. He just shrugged.
“Okay,” I said, clapping my hands once to get everyone’s attention. “Where’s the prison?”
The dockworkers all stared at me.
“C’mon, there has to be one,” I said. “This colony has been here for twenty years. Someone has committed crimes in that time.”
“Criminals get shipped to Phobos,” one of the dockworkers said. “There’s a penal colony there.”
I shook my head. “Okay, sure, whatever. Where’s the nearest bathroom?”
He pointed at a far wall, and I saw the signs.
“Excellent,” I said. “Put them in there, lock the doors, and post guards outside. If you’re not sure how many guards you need, post more.”
Most of the dockworkers still looked confused, but a few started leading the prisoners away—including the blond who had gotten the handcuffs in the first place. I made a mental note to keep an eye on him. Initiative was rare in situations like this.
“Why a bathroom?” one of the other dockworkers asked.
I smiled. “Because it’s a room with only one exit and a toilet. Unless you would rather lock them in a room without a toilet?”
Someone muttered something about the Geneva Convention again. I ignored him. If it was important, he could speak up.
“Sax, Kat, secure those weapons,” I said, pointing to the alien guns. “George, find somewhere to put those robots. A machine shop should do—I’m sure that there’s one around here somewhere.”
“I’ll show you,” one of the dockworkers said. She was a woman, and seemed too eager for my tastes. George liked them bubbly, though, and he was smiling when she led him off.
I nodded as Kat and Sax went to work. “Excellent. Anything else?”
“Yeah,” one of the dockworkers said, frowning. “Who are you?”
My smile fled. “I’m sorry?”
“You don’t look Lemurian,” he said. “And I definitely don’t recognize you.” He looked me up and down. “Are those tattoos Hebrew?”
“It’s more like high-tech ritual scarification,” I said. “And while it’s based on Hebrew, it’s actually a cipher—”
“Alex,” Jarasax said, a warning tone in his voice. “Check them.”
I took a deep breath and, for the first time in well over a month, activated my power.
I still didn’t know exactly what it did. It was some form of mind-reading, that much was clear, but nothing so simple or useful as directly hearing thoughts. At first I thought I could feel emotions, but that wasn’t it either.
I could feel intent, or something like it. Not what someone would do, but what they wanted to do. I had found it less useful than I might have expected. Turned out that most people spent a lot of time wanting to do things and then never acting on that intent.
When I turned on my power and pushed my senses towards the Lemurians, I got a lot of different readings. Some of them wanted to lie down and sleep. Some wanted to eat, or take a shower, or just shoot things. One worker had a surprisingly strong desire to get into his ship, chase after the aliens, and ram them. The desire was so strong I could almost see it, but he just stood there calmly.
Oddly, none of the crowd wanted to kill me, or even attack me. That was what Jarasax had been warning me about, but it turned out he was just being paranoid. That wasn’t uncommon for changelings.
I relaxed. If I hadn’t used my power, I probably would have freaked out and ran. With it, I could tell that we weren’t in any danger, so we could try to talk them down.
“We just got in today,” I said. “Came all the way from Earth, actually.” I shrugged, as if it was no big deal, but I knew that Lemurians rarely saw Earthers. The older colonies didn’t really like outsiders. Not much different from Domina, actually. “We heard what was happening, so we decided to lend a helping hand.”
Most of the dockworkers relaxed, but the leader didn’t relax. “That doesn’t explain your tattoos. Or why people with your kind of training are here in the first place.”
I pursed my lips. ‘We were sent here as spies because we weren’t doing any good in a city of monsters’ probably wasn’t the best tact to take. I was reasonably certain he hadn’t realized we were from Domina, but the second he looked up my tattoos, he’d figure it out. Basic culture information had been shared after the war with America, and Lemuria probably had that information on hand even before that.
Before I was forced to think of something to say, the telepath from before ran up, skidding to a stop in front of me. “Honored Daybreaker! New orders!”
“New orders from who?” the lead dockworker demanded. “No one on Lemuria called for you.”
I decided to go all-out. “Orders from Domina City. He’s a telepath.”
He stared. “A tele-what?”
“We have superpowers, you have aliens. It’s a weird universe.” I turned to the boy. “Spit it out.”
He took a deep breath. “Code AG-7248-G-KL-VC2. ‘Liaise with local authorities to fortify Lemuria. If the para return, stop them.’ That’s all, sir.”
I nodded. “Good. Sax, pay the kid.”
The boy happily accepted a small wad of cash from Jarasax, bowed to us both, and ran off again.
“Liaise with local authorities?” the lead dockworker asked. “What does that mean?”
I smirked. I had been waiting to say this my whole life.
“Take us to your leader.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 325)
Took me a while to figure out who I wanted on Lemuria. I didn’t want to introduce any new characters, especially with the added baggage of being a ghost. Then I remembered that I had been planning on sending them offworld after the whole thing with Fierna, and it all clicked into place.
Just remember that the retinue make absolutely terrible ghosts. Most ghosts have things like “training” and “subtlety.”