So far on Alara…
In the mid twenty-second century, Earth suffered a plague as a result of trying to genetically create the perfect super-soldier. Desperate to survive, the remainder of humanity fled to underground caves. One such colony was near an Air Force base where they were constructing a rocket to leave the planet. A lottery system was set up and for years, people gathered with the hope of hearing their name called. One day a mechanic named Chloe, plagued by nightmares of another world under attack by aliens, is exploring the many tunnels when she finds a way to the outside. She finds the Air Force base and learns about the terrible creatures called the Balor. After nearly being killed by one, Chloe returns to the caves and demands the truth from her father. A few days later, Chloe mysteriously wins the lottery. Already suspicious of the mayor, she tries to escape when her brother Oliver captures her and brings her to a secret testing facility. The Mayor has decided all of the lottery winners are to be tested on and will continue to be tested on as humanity reaches for new worlds to conquer.
Chloe, her father, and a family friend try to escape but are attacked by Balor creatures and the Mayor’s goons. Eventually Chloe and her father take off in a plane, flying into a horrific storm. After passing through it, Chloe looks out the window to discover an ocean where there should be land. Just then the plane begins to crash. Right before the crash, a mysterious figure Chloe recognizes from her dreams appears and saves her from the crashing plane. Her father dies in the crash while Chloe appears on an island with this new stranger. His name is Telloc and he is a doctor for the Corronite Resistance that opposes the oppressive rule of the alien invaders. These aliens appear to be parasitic but is revealed to be the result of thousands of years of genetic manipulation on the human race.
Alara is the computer AI Chloe’s great-grandfather constructed for the rocket to take humanity among the stars. As Alara traveled with the humans and watched their form degrade over the centuries, she swore she would find a way to stop them. After rescuing a Taren girl from becoming a host, she finds the girl already brain dead and decides to escape the ship by using the Taren girl’s body. She and Telloc form the Corronite Resistance, developing a plan to destroy the human parasites. Unfortunately, Alara is captured before Chloe arrives.
Chloe spends weeks with the resistance, befriending some of their engineers. They have a plan to overload the generator connecting the human parasites via a telepathic field, destroying the aliens in one fell swoop. Before they can enact their plan, Chloe too is captured and Garren (one of the newest rescues) is also missing.
“…tomorrow night either they die, or we will….” -Telloc
“Chloe dear, where are you?” her mother’s shrill voice rang out.
Chloe adjusted the small candle so she could better see the wires. She bit her bottom lip in concentration as she made the final connections to the battery pack. Just as she secured the pack inside the small robot, the closet door swung open. A blinding light fell over Chloe. Through squinted eyes, Chloe could barely make out the silhouette of her father. As her eyes adjusted, her father bent down and picked her up.
“Whatcha got there, Chloe?” He stooped down and picked up the small robot, blowing out the candle. He turned over the robot and laughed. It looked like a mouse with wheels instead of legs.”Planning on exploring, were we?”
“Banu,” Chloe said, reaching for the barely finished robot. She pressed a small black button on its underside and giggled when the eyes glowed a dim red and the wheels twitched to life. Her father set Chloe and her creation on the floor, watching with amusement as the robot circled around Chloe before heading off out of the small bedroom. Oliver barely looked up from his cot. Banu had barely disappeared through the doorway when there was a shrill shriek from the adjoining room.
Her father shook his head and scooped Chloe into her arms. “Now you’ve done it.” He stepped into their bedroom, trying not to laugh at his wife. She was watching the robot with a leery gaze.
“What is that?” Her mother looked at it closer. “Is that a fork and spoon?”
Her father laughed. “Chloe’s newest invention it looks like. It’s quite an explorer.” The robot tried to turn but the lights in its eyes flickered for a moment and then went out. Chloe squirmed from her father’s arms, crying for Banu. He bent down and handed the robot to Chloe. “Still needs some work though, huh girl?”
Chloe’s mother crossed her arms. “She is not taking that with us.” She walked into the next room and returned with Oliver in her arms. Shifting Oliver to her side, she tried to take Banu. Chloe’s eyes teared up and she began to wail.
Her father would have laughed if not for the frustration etched into his wife’s wrinkles. “Just let her take the damn thing. She’ll be much quieter.”
Banu in hand, the family joined others gathered outside their homes. While her mother pushed through to the front where many of the other mothers had gathered with babies held in pudgy arms, Chloe and her father stayed near the back. He ruffled Chloe’s hair, smiling at the way her brow furrowed. “Don’t worry, you’ll get it working soon.”
“Make way for the mayor. Make way!” The music preceded loud giggles from the mothers in the front row. Chloe looked up and saw the Mayor and a young woman hanging on his arm making their way through the crowded passageway. Her mother pushed back to where they were and pulled her and her father to the front. She pointed to the weird looking man. “Look, that’s the Mayor.”
Chloe raised an eyebrow before returning her attention back to tinkering with Banu. Her mother sighed. “Hunny, can I get some help here?”
Her father smiled and shrugged. “I agree with Chloe.”
Her mother’s face paled like a sheet as she turned and came face to face with the mayor and his new wife. “Mayor, sir.”
The man held out his hand, which Chloe’s mother and father both shook. “Nice to meet both of you. This must be little Oliver. I hope he’s been a good boy.” There was something sickly in his voice.
Her mother nodded. “Yes, he’s been a perfect angel. Thank you for the generous gift.” Almost as an afterthought she gestured to Chloe and Chloe’s father. “This is Chloe.”
Just then Banu sprung to life. Chloe dropped it from surprise and started crying as it hit the floor. The wheels sputtered to life and a low whirring sound came from the motor inside the robot. Chloe’s mother’s face flushed crimson red. “Please excuse her.”
The Mayor’s smile looked forced but amused while his wife barely hid her revulsion for the creature. The Mayor bent down and retrieved the sputtering robot and handed it back to Chloe, wiping away one of the many tears falling down her cheeks. As she stopped crying, she held the robot tight to her chest.
“There now, there’s a good girl.” He turned to her father. “Talk to me in a few years, we could use a mind like hers. One day we’ll need her in the ship to the new world.”
Her mother gave her a loud, wet kiss on her cheek, which she tried to rub away with the back of her hand. “Thank you, Mr. Mayor.”
But the Mayor had already moved on to other families. Her mother rambled on and on about the Mayor’s compliment. She looked up and saw a troubled look cross her father’s features. The wrinkles around his eyes deepened as his eyes slammed shut and his jaw clenched. She felt his arms release her and as she fell, the world around her twisted into fire and metal raining down around her. Looking up, she watched the plane’s cockpit become consumed by flames and explode against a midnight sky while the Mayor and his wives’ mechanical laughter rang in her ears.
Chloe’s screams pulled her from sleep. She tried to wipe away the tears falling from her face but found all four limbs were tied to a table of some sort. A thick leather strap came across her forehead, limiting her vision to a bright overhead light. She squinted and tried turning her head, but it was no use.
“So the child awakens at last.”
Chloe’s voice was shaky at best. “Who’s there?”
The table beneath her trembled for a second before she felt herself moving. The top part of the table rose until it made a forty-five degree angle with the floor, but the damn light was still shining directly into her eyes. “Can’t you turn that thing off,” she grumbled.
When the light flickered out, Chloe wished she hadn’t said anything. The table she was secured to was one of dozens lining the walls of the laboratory. At least, she thought it was a lab. Green slime oozed from cracks in the walls, mixing with dried blood on the floor. Dirt caked what few windows the room had, limiting the lighting to a mere dim. Another light sputtered on, focusing on a figure at the other end of the room. Squishing sounds emanated from the figure, followed by slurping. The figure wiped something away from his mouth with his sleeve before turning to face her.
“You know, you’ve caused me all sorts of trouble.”
Chloe knew that voice, but from where? The figure advanced towards her with hands clasped behind his back. His coat had been white once but was now covered in all manner of grime and other monstrosities. As she studied his face, it suddenly hit her. “Garren?”
Garren curled his lips over sharpened canines. “That was this body’s name until I took it for my own. It belonged to one of my generals until the Taren got to him.”
“Who are you?”
He feigned indignation, placing a hand over his heart. “Why, my dear, I am shocked. To think I once offered you a place on humanity’s future. So long ago for me. Do you remember that?”
The dreaded red envelope flashed in her mind, but she shook away the image. It couldn’t be the Mayor, could it? “But you should be…”
“Dead?” He made a small tsk, tsk, tsk sound. “Hardly. A new mind to feast on every hundred years is all I need to live. Although I tire of this boy’s weak body.” He stepped forward to look her face to face, trailing a finger along her jaw. “Perhaps something stronger. You survived travel through the rift when hundreds of species shriveled and crumbled to dust. Tell me, child, how did you do that?”
Her silence earned her a sharp slap.
“Was it some technology? Did Alara help you?”
Alara’s name unsettled Chloe’s stomach. “What have you done with her?”
Another slap. She bit her tongue against the cry of pain building in her throat.
“The pawns must each be put into place precisely,” his head twitched to the right. “Precisely,” he repeated.
Chloe swallowed uneasily. “What do you need me for?”
The Mayor sighed, pressing a button. He spoke harsh words Chloe didn’t recognize. Then sighing, “For the good of humanity, my child, we all must sacrifice.”
A slight tremor shook the room as a set of doors opened behind her. The Mayor turned Chloe so she could watch as the outside opened up before her. Smoke and ash covered the rubble of mighty cities. The sun was halfway to mid-day, its rays just barely poking through the wall of smog rising from the ground. With the doors fully opened, the putrid odors of decay and burning metal filled the lab. Chloe almost gagged as the scents clawed their way into her nose.
The Mayor took a deep breath, relishing and embracing the feel of death around them. “Look, Chloe.” He pointed out to the ground fifty feet below where row upon row of parasites in Taren hosts stood at attention. Chloe’s gaze flickered again to the horizon where a flash of red spiked and flared like a mushroom.
“The rift,” she whispered.
“No one quite knows where it leads to. Some of my scientists speculate there are an infinite amount of possibilities. If even one percent of those possibilities contain life, the numbers would be…delicious.” The Mayor licked his cracked lips and nibbled at his bottom lip. “With the right bridge and amplifier, yes, yes… their minds and ours as one.”
“Why do you need me?” She tried jerking at the bonds but they were too tight. “Tell me!”
But the Mayor’s eyes had already glazed over. Behind her, Chloe heard a set of doors squeal like metal against metal as they opened. The Mayor regained his composure as he slightly raised his chin and walked out of Chloe’s view. “My generals, prepare the troops. The hour is almost at hand. Send for the Great Surgeon and make sure we are not disturbed.”
Chloe watched as the red spike melted back into the horizon for a moment before flashing once more, brighter as if it were moving closer.
“A few hours more. Just enough time to cleanse myself.” The Mayor paused before smiling with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth. “My empire, spread through all of space and time.” He turned to Chloe with a smirk. “Rejoice now, child of our past, for you and Alara will be the heralds of the Great Human Empire.”