A steady downpour drenched Telloc, Marna and the ten men huddled behind them. Telloc told himself it was rain, even though rain had scarcely touched their world’s surface in twenty years. Real rain wouldn’t have smelled like sulfur or stung like a low dose scrambler beam. Telloc held up a hand, commanding a halt. He could feel the men’s relief at being able to stop their trek through the muck even if the pungent scent of decay steaming up from the ground made their heads spin. Telloc pulled the hood of his jacket tight over his head, wiping away the liquid obscuring his watch. Eleven thirty was flashing a bright, neon red.
He closed the latch over the time, checking the two scramblers attached to each hip and the three daggers strapped to his thighs. Beside him Marna was giving last minute instructions to their team. Telloc pulled out a small metal sphere and twisted the top open, releasing a wavering hologram of the enemy ship’s schematics. As his eyes adjusted to the pale blue light of the hologram, Telloc settled his back against the trench wall and tapped the lowest level visible on the schematic, buried nearly fifty feet underground. Tucked away in the center of a twisted maze of frozen host bodies from dozens of species was where Alara was being kept according to their latest intel. His hands curled into fists. He should never have gone along with this idiotic plan, but with Alara on the pulse of the ship’s primary functions this idiotic plan just might work.
He flipped open the latch on his watch, eleven thirty-eight. Telloc threw one last look at the enemy’s ship. Over the years the ship had slowly sunk in the damp, blood-soaked soil. One side had sunk faster than the other, resulting in a slight lean. Torn flags of the alien’s conquered worlds flapped lazily in the small breeze. He forced his gaze away and stood to face the group behind him.
“Alright, listen up. In two minutes we’re going to receive the signal.” He gestured for the group to join him at the edge of the trench. He indicated the fence a few hundred yards away. “All the guards are going to be called to the main command ship. Take out as many as you can without being noticed, the less we face inside the better. Once we overload the generator, you all have ten minutes to get out. Understood?”
Ten faces, fearful but resolute, nodded in unison. Marna dared to smile. Telloc smiled too, puling out a scrambler and closing his eyes. “All units,” he whispered. “We are a go.” A moment of pause and he opened his eyes. “All units are in position. It’s time.”
The group crawled from the trench, crouching as they moved quick and silent towards the guard towers. A half dozen or so alien guards were in the immediate area. Telloc and the others calibrated the scrambler for the extended range and waited. Suddenly alarms began blaring and the lights on the guard stations flickered out. Even though it was almost mid-day, the pollution floating in the air covered most of the sun, making it look like just after dusk. The group of guards died with the looks of confusion still on their faces.
The steady hum from the guard fence silenced. Telloc pointed to three of the men and started forward. The three followed him to the base of the fence and went to work cutting out a section. Once Telloc was sure the area was secure, he waived the others through. They ran for the shelter of one of the hangers from the ship. Using a card key taken from one of the guards, they pushed through the hanger. Occasionally groups of guards would run past but they would shrink into the shadows and let them pass by. Telloc led the way through the maze he had memorized from the schematics. Just when he thought they might have gotten lucky, a scream erupted from behind them. He turned just in time to see two of his men fall into a pool of their own blood. Two alien creatures stood behind them, wrenching their blades from the fallen.
Without a word, they rushed the alien guards. Luckily their cries of pain were masked by the blaring alarms. After the two lay dead, they dragged the bodies aside and continued through the never-ending corridors. Eventually they came around a corner to find the door they were looking for. Telloc, breathless from the running, held his scrambler tight in one hand and in the other held a keycard taken from the parasite they had interrogated almost a year ago. He held his breath as the red light switched to green and the door hissed as it slid open.
Telloc’s smile dropped when he realized the room was filled with fifty aliens. They all looked up from their stations and laughed as they drew their weapons. The resulting bloodbath left five more of their team dead. Just as he finished the last alien, Marna called out. Telloc turned, following Marna’s gaze to a coffin-sized chamber. He ran over the bodies to stand beside Marna and looked down into the fog-covered glass. He inserted the key card and entered the alien’s pass code. After a moment of nothing, the machines connected via wires into the box began beeping. The glass lid slid open, allowing the cold vapor to spill out over the edges of the box. As the vapor cleared, Telloc was able to get a clear view of Alara. Her face was smooth and relaxed, like she was asleep. He turned to the adjoining monitor and entered in a few commands. A loud humming erupted from the machines followed by a few sparks. The box began to heat up, condensing the vapor. Alara’s skin filled with color and the ice melted into water.
He placed a hand to her face and wiped away the water pooling on her upper lip. Suddenly her eyes flew open and she bolted upright, screaming.
“Alara, Alara, wake up. It’s me. It’s me, Telloc.” He held her arms as she thrashed. “Marna, secure the door.”
As the tremors passed, Alara’s breathing began to steady. “Woke me….too fast….I told you, Telloc…” She turned her head from side to side, gripping Telloc’s hand as tight as she could. “Telloc,” her gaze looked relieved and happy when her eyes met his. The moment went as fast as it came as her eyes searched for someone else. “Chloe,” she asked.
Telloc’s grip loosened as he looked back at Marna and the remaining members of his team. “She was taken last night by Garren we believe. We had to move ahead in the schedule.”
“Taken?” Alara’s eyes darkened with anger. She sat up and with Telloc’s help removed the wires connecting her to the computers. She sighed.
“Where is she now?”
Telloc wanted to look away again. He’d forgotten how human she could sometimes be even if she was an AI. “We don’t know.”
“But we will find her. The plan will continue, assuming you’ve done your part?”
Alara nodded. “The routine is in place. All we need to do is get to the generator room. We’ll need Chloe’s help…” She began coughing as her lungs adjusted to the warm air of the ship. “Telloc, bring me to that control board.”
Telloc scooped her in his arms and brought her to the other side of the secondary control room. Alara was busy running through the security feed when Marna came up behind them. “You guys might want to hear this.”
She held up a bloody radio. Between blasts of static Telloc thought he could hear a voice. “Can you clean up the signal?”
“Yes, sir.” Marna fiddled with the settings until the voice was clear enough for the three to recognize its owner.
Alara frowned at hearing her master’s voice. What’s going on down there?
“Are we ready to move out?”
Telloc and Marna nodded. Telloc pulled up a different set of schematics. Twenty sections of red dots were positioned all over the ship. “All units are
in position and awaiting orders.”
“Then give them.” She reached out for the radio. Uncertain as she was, Marna handed over the radio. Alara took in a deep breath. “Hello, Masters. We’re coming for her and then for you.”
“You’re crazy if you think I’m going to help you.”
The Mayor began to laugh. “Don’t you see what I’m offering to you, child? What I’ve always offered my children?” The Mayor’s smile was soft like her father’s but there was a look in his eyes that twisted Chloe’s stomach. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a human host. I’ve almost forgotten the rush of inhabiting a different species. With your body and my mind, we shall become the purest specimen.” His eyes remained on hers but somehow looked straight through to her soul. Her skin went cold as ice. “In darkness, destinies are realized.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “I suppose I should thank you. After you and your father escaped into the wilderness, more started asking questions. So many curious people, not enough lottery spots. Most “disappeared” after being drunk and wandering into the caves. Of course they all came to me and the experiments. When we launched fifty years later, the first stage of our evolution had begun. The first world was easy enough to conquer but rapid progress makes one hunger for more. The resistance here satisfies the craving.”
“Your ship is dead. You can’t leave this place.”
“True but I can use the rift. Because you’ve traveled through it, you must be strong. With your body as the transmitter, I can spread the telepathic field we produce and claim the soul of every living being through space and time. My empire will never die.
Suddenly every light flickered and blew out all at once. Emergency lights cast long eerie shadows through the laboratory room. The Mayor growled before grabbing the radio on a nearby table. “Secondary Control, report.” Static filled the silence. “Report I said,” he grumbled.
We’re ok here, sir.
“The generator? What about the generator?”
Fine sir. The shields are down but…
Static flared over the voice but Chloe could still hear the poor thing’s screams. “What’s going on down there?”After a moment, a new voice came over the radio.
Hello, Masters. We’re coming for her and then for you.
“Alara,” she whispered.
Hold on, Chloe. We’re coming.
The Mayor threw down the radio and crushed it under his heavy steel toed boots. He yelled for more guards before lying on the operating table and nodding towards the surgeon. “Proceed and be quick about it.”
Chloe struggled but the surgeon’s grip on her was too tight. He forced her face towards his as he strapped a mask over her face. Within seconds her fingers and toes began tingling and by the time she had taken a breath, the room swirled into blackness. Through the haze of consciousness she last remembered the hum of a laser.