In the hologram beside Alara appeared one of the creatures she had dreamed about. It looked like it was in a room similar to the one she was in. It had the same bleak black walls and a single light hanging overhead. The table and chairs were toppled over and only barely visible at the edge of the hologram. The thing itself was curled into a ball on the ground, staring intently at the ground.
“The Taren people call them the Invaders, but we call them the parasites. The true creature requires a host to survive.” The image faded from the room to a small container, which looked kind of like a transparent gas can, filled with bubbling water. Chloe blinked slowly. Unlike the room and Alara, this image looked real, as if she could touch it. She leaned forward with outstretched fingers and was about to touch the hologram when her eye caught something moving in the water. Slithering through the container, the worm-like creature raced toward her hand, smashing into the glass of the container.
“What the hell? Help, someone help.” Chloe jumped from her chair. She watched as the worm’s beady red bulbs she assumed were eyes looked her over from head to toe. It opened its small mouth to reveal rows upon rows of sharp teeth, snarling and almost laughing at her. Down its front, Chloe noticed thousands of tiny tentacles.
Alara materialized standing next to her, looking down at the parasite. “This my masters’ true form. Centuries of genetic manipulation have reduced the human race to parasites, destroyers of worlds.”
Chloe clutched her chest, hardly able to breathe. She thought about the lottery and the rocket back home. Is this what the mayor and the Foreman were doing to all those people? She grasped her stomach, fighting the urge to vomit.
“You’re lying. This can’t be real.” She turned toward the red blinking light in the corner of the room. “You’re lying! Let me out. Let me out, I said!” Alara had gone silent behind her.
Marna and Telloc sighed as they watched Chloe bang her fists against the door. “Alara must be crazy if she thinks this plan is actually going to work. The girl is no soldier.”
Telloc kept his face neutral. “Do not forget who resurrected this resistance. If Alara believes this girl is the key, then you will protect her with your life and that goes for everyone here.” He stood from his chair, towering over Marna. “Anyone who has a different opinion answers to me. Is that understood?”
“Let’s meet this glorious savior then, shall we?” Marna gestured for Telloc to proceed to the isolation room Chloe was in.
Telloc walked in silence until he reached the door. For the first time, he wondered what would happen if Chloe refused to help. On their own, they’d be able to rescue Alara, but the other part of the mission would fall apart if they didn’t have her and Chloe. Telloc punched in the code on a keypad next to the door and watched as the door opened to a room full of nothing. He stepped into the room only to be met with the legs of a metal chair smashed against his face. He went down quickly, clutching his bleeding nose.
“Not so fast, girl.” Marna caught the chair by its legs as Chloe tried to swing at her and pushed the girl to the ground. One zap with the disruptor and Chloe’s limbs locked up. Only her eyes were able to move, darting between Telloc and the maniac woman standing over her.
“See, Telloc?” She pushed a chunk of hair back from her face and hauled Chloe’s rigid body into another chair, keeping her disruptor locked on the filthy creature. “Humans can never be trusted, even when they look like us.”
Chloe stared at the scars lining the woman’s neck and jaw. Even her large, black eyes and the way they stared through Chloe told her this woman was no stranger to battle. She heard Telloc groan as he pushed himself to his feet. “Alara did mention humans of Chloe’s age are unpredictable.”
He grabbed the chair Chloe had whacked him with, set it in front of Chloe and sat. He felt Marna send a warning into his mind. He nodded, acknowledging the warning. “This can happen one of two ways, Chloe. Either you help us willingly or… well, you wouldn’t like the other option. I don’t want to threaten you. The more you cooperate, the sooner we’ll be able to send you to a better place back on Earth. Now, what do you say?”
Chloe felt her jaw and tongue loosen. “You’re alien, right?”
Telloc paused. “We are not from Earth, correct.”
“And this isn’t a dream?” Telloc didn’t have to answer. “I don’t know what Alara has told you, but Earth isn’t much better than here.”
“Your colony was the only one to escape. The rest continued living and eventually returned to live on the surface.”
“Did you really think you were alone?”
“It’s what we’re taught. How many more are there?”
Telloc smiled. “Quite a bit. Now, Chloe, if you help us, I promise you will be returned to Earth in one of the colonies that does survive. What do you say?”
Marna watched the human’s gaze drop to the floor. She seemed more like a lost child in a cage rather than the monster she knew lurked within. Still, Marna could not help but pity the thing. She would be scared too. Finally the human looked up and nodded with resolve burning in her eyes. “I don’t see how useful I’m going to be but I’ll do what I can.”
A schematic appeared between Telloc and Chloe. Alara stood close to Telloc. “This is one of the original rockets that left Earth. My masters have become suspicious of me and so have blocked off any sort of access to the core of the ship. Inside the core is a giant transmitter, which allows the parasites to maintain a low level telepathic field between them. If we take out this transmitter, not only will they lose contact with each other, it will make them lose control of their host. The Taren consciousness will rise and the parasite will be trapped until we can safely remove them.”
Telloc disconnected the hologram. His shoulders were pulled back and his jaw was clenched.
Chloe’s jaw went slack. “You’re asking me to murder them.”
Marna crossed her arms. “They’re the ones who took our bodies for their sick pleasure. Better be sure whose side you’re on.”
“Marna, behave yourself.” Telloc turned back to Chloe. “I’m not saying this is perfect, but it’s the best plan we’ve got.”
“I don’t understand. I’m sure Alara can do what you need. Why do you need me?”
“Alara is just an AI. She understands the software but not the hardware. We need someone good with machinery. Someone who knows how to take things apart quickly and quietly.” Telloc rose, checking the device on his wrist. “It’s getting late. Let me show you to your room. You’re going to have a big couple of weeks ahead of you.”
“Couple of weeks? What for?”
“We need to train you, of course.”
“M-marna. The guest’s room is… is… r-ready.”
Chloe looked up at the man standing in the doorway. His head twitched to the side, fingers twisting over themselves.
“Thank you, Garren. You are dismissed.”
Garren continued to stare directly at Chloe. Shadows played in the wrinkles under his eyes. The guy looked a lot older than he sounded. His lips twitched into a half-smile. Chloe felt trapped and a heaviness pressed against her chest. Her breath became shallow.
“Garren. That will be all.”
The strange man turned his gaze away and disappeared from the doorway. The weight on Chloe’s chest lightened and her heart eased its pounding in her ears. Marna on one side, Telloc on the other, they led Chloe down the twisting hallways past curious eyes and hushed whispers. Telloc made a couple jokes, one of which made Marna smile, which Chloe thought was pretty for an alien. The room they stopped at looked no different than the one she had just been in except for the addition of a plain looking cot stashed in one corner. Three candles and some matches were placed on top of a few blankets and a pillow. Chloe stepped inside and was glad the lighting was just as dim, although she scowled when she noticed another security camera. Before she could make any remarks, the door behind her closed shut and a soft click assured her of what she already knew.
“I suppose we would have done the same to an alien back home.”