Alara clutched the radio tight in one hand. “He will pay if he hurts her.”
Telloc gently pulled the radio from her and tossed it aside. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close. “We’ll get her, I promise. Look at me.”
Alara lifted her gaze to meet his just as Telloc kissed her. Though rushed and tense, the gesture sent a wave of calm over her. She laid her head against his shoulder for a moment before pushing out of his arms. “Let’s end this.”
Telloc nodded and slipped his hand in hers, holding a scrambler in the other. “Together.”
Marna rolled her eyes. “Lover birds, could you get off your high cloud for two seconds to follow the damn plan?”
“I’ve missed you too, Marna.”
Telloc and two other soldiers took point as they headed for the central staircase. Emergency power lights cast long, eerie shadows as they flickered on and off. They traveled the ten flights of stairs in silence, finding no traces of aliens. Alara kept a tight grip on her scrambler, sensing many were close.
They emerged from the staircase and disposed of two patrols at the expense of the remainder of their squad. As Telloc and Marna were discussing whether to regroup, Alara suddenly felt Chloe at the edge of her mind. She looked down one of the more well-lit hallways and called for Telloc. She pointed down the hallway, “Third door on the left.”
Telloc and Marna peaked around the corner and were met with a barrage of gunshots. Alara stood back, feeling for a control panel. She found one buried beneath debris and pulled it open to find the emergency shut off for the locks. The shock from the wiring barely phased her as she yanked out the connections. Telloc and Marna used the confusion of the alarm to drop the rest of the guards. A loud hiss signaled the locks on the half-dozen doors opening. Telloc burst through the door Alara had indicated.
The room appeared to be some sort of laboratory for live experiments. He quickly scanned the bodies lying on the tables and found one with a surgeon leaning over it. He steadied his scrambler, set the intensity to fatal and pulled the trigger.
The hum of the laser suddenly died, replaced by metal clanging on the floor. From the corner of Chloe’s vision, she saw the surgeon collapse to the ground in a fit of tremors. Saliva foamed around the creature’s mouth as the life drained from his eyes. She tried jerking once more against her bonds, but found her arms and legs wouldn’t respond. A low moan escaped her throat when she tried to scream.
Through the haze of the anesthesia, she saw a face lean over her. The bright laboratory lights acted like a halo, swimming around the woman’s stern face. The mask tied to her face was ripped away and a voice kept yelling at her, though she could not understand the words.
Feeling slowly crept back into her arms and shoulders, which was when the pain hit her. Something warm and sticky was sliding down her left shoulder. Rough hands gripped her shoulder, keeping it in place while another set of hands pressed a sort of bandage against her neck and wrapped it in gauze.
Alara’s face swam into focus above her. She was mouthing something but it was hard to make out. Was it her name? A sharp slap yanked her from her thoughts.
“Wake up, human!” Chloe blinked and Alara’s face was replaced with Marna’s. “Come on, get up.”
Chloe took in a deep breath, feeling control returning to her fingers and legs. Marna pulled an arm over her shoulder and helped Chloe to stand.
“M-mayor,” she managed to sputter out. Chloe glanced over her shoulder but the other operating table was empty.
Marna swore. “Hey guys! We got a runner.”
Chloe managed to keep pace with Marna even though her knees wobbled. Alara fell in place on Chloe’s other side and helped Marna share Chloe’s weight.
Alara’s voice barely made it over all the shouting and the gun shots. “…alright…will still work…need to get her to control room…”
Telloc glanced at Chloe. Before he could ask, Chloe nodded. “I can walk, I… I think. My head’s a little fuzzy, but I… c-can walk.”
Telloc nodded. “Marna, guard her. Alara and I will take point. Most of their patrols have been neutralized.” He checked the ship’s schematics.
“There are maybe fifty of us left. Enough to hold this place for fifteen minutes before reinforcements get here.”
“Mayor…” Chloe began coughing. “Mayor…”
Marna looked over both shoulders. “I think she means their leader. Gone as far as I can tell.”
“Dead,” Telloc asked.
Alara shook her head. “He is still here somewhere. Likely on his way to the generator room.”
As they navigated the twisting, half-rusted passageways, Chloe began to notice the piles of bodies from both sides pushed aside like common rats.
She tried not to look at their eyes, knowing they weren’t human but looked enough like humans to still make her sick. They came across one or two survivors, which Telloc and the others took care of. They met up with two of the remaining Taren patrols and headed for the central elevator.
“The generator is in the lowest level,” Alara explained. “We’ll need you to disable the safety mechanisms surrounding the machine. Only then can my program modifications take effect.”
Chloe nodded. “Just tell me what to do.”
Alara’s smile never reached her eyes. “You take orders well. Remember that, Chloe.”
Before she could ask, the elevator doors dinged open. The hallway was filled with aliens who all had weapons locked on them. Telloc threw an arm out, knocking Alara and Chloe to the ground. “Run,” he yelled. “Take her, Alara. Do what must be done.”
A mix of gun shots, scrambler beams and cries of death filled the air. Telloc and Marna pushed forward to give Alara room to half-drag, half-guide
Chloe to safety. They ducked through a side passageway and caught their breath. Alara helped Chloe stand before they both took off down the darkened tunnel. The path took them around the fighting and soon they came face to face with a set of ominous looking doors, which were already cracked open.
“Almost too easy.”
“I’ll take it,” Chloe said before slipping into the room. The loud hum of the generator drowned out much of the fighting, but Chloe still knew many were dying. If she wasn’t afraid for her life, Chloe would have marveled at the generator room. Two of its four walls were covered with computers with one wall dedicated to the massive generator and another was floor to ceiling windows. Outside the thick clouds were sparking with lighting. The spike she had seen earlier had moved considerably closer and now filled the sky with a fiery glow. If she looked closer, Chloe could see flashes of blue and gold lightning flash within the rift itself.
Her father’s face flashed within her mind. She remembered the plane crash, his screams and the creaking metal as the plane was torn apart in the explosion. She should have died that day and many days she thought she would die in this world. Well, not today. For her father’s sake, she would at least save this world from humanity. When she turned around, she found Alara busy at the computer controls.
“What do you need me to do?”
Without looking up, Alara pointed to the monstrous generator. “There’s a panel on the other side of the generator marked with a red lightning bolt.
Open it and tell me which switches are in the off position.”
Chloe stepped over the mess of exposed cables and navigated her way to the back of the generator. Throwing open the panel, she noticed all but the primary command functions were off.
“Good,” Alara shouted. “Now throw them all back on. That should reboot the system with my program in its command module.”
The switches themselves were more like levers, ten in total with the bottom three already in their on position. The first two switched on with no problems. As she went to push the third, Chloe noticed a much higher resistance. Cursing violently under her breath, she threw all her weight against the switch and still it would not budge. She gave up and moved on to the others. Sparks flew as she maneuvered each into position. Even with the others in place, that third switch would not budge. Sweat covered her body with whole drops sliding down the bridge of her nose. Cursing loudly, she gripped the lever with both hands and pushed once more. The lever creaked forward an inch or two before suddenly giving way, securing itself in the on position. The humming from the generator changed, increasing in pitch until it was a sharp whine like two rocks being scraped together.
“Alara, I got it. What should I do now?” No response. “Alara?”
Chloe rushed out from behind the generator to find Alara collapsed in a heap on the ground. “Alara!” She rushed to the woman’s side and thankfully found no blood. Chloe looked up just in time to see the pipe coming straight for her face. Her hands rushed up to defend her face and managed to partially deflect the blow. She fell backwards onto her back, one hand nursing her throbbing temples.
“Hello, child. Thank you for setting up the generator. If you would be so kind now to put this on.” The Mayor was standing over her, bloody pipe in one hand and a strange looking helmet in the other. “The rift will be directly overhead soon and the window of opportunity is quite small.”
Chloe spat at his feet. “I’d rather die.”
“You will no matter what you do, but wouldn’t you rather die serving your own kind? Like it or not, you are human just like me. The Taren are nothing to you as they are to me. All other life exists for us to enslave. Deep in your heart, you know this.”
Chloe shook her head, which earned her another blow to her head. “No,” she screamed. “I won’t help you.”
“Then what happens is your own fault.” Before Chloe could move, the Mayor turned, unhooked a knife from his belt, raised it above Alara’s still body. Before he could drive it down, another blade went soaring through the air and caught the Mayor square in the stomach. Marna was slumped against the door frame, grabbing her stomach with one hand. She took a couple shaky breaths before falling to her knees.
Alara moaned as she swam back into consciousness. “Chloe,” Alara said while pointing to the computer where a loading bar was flashing full on the screen. She turned back and scooped the helmet off the ground, securing it to the unconscious Mayor’s head. Just as she made the final connections, a flash of brilliant red light filled the room. Thunder rumbled through the room, followed by flashes of more blue and gold lightening. The lightening struck the windows, shattering them to pieces. A powerful gust swept through the room, knocking Chloe onto her side. The Mayor’s eyes flew open and as he felt the helmet on his head, he had the gall to smile.
“Even if I die child,” he looked at her with crazed eyes. “All the universe will be controlled by my children.” He winced in pain as he yanked the blade from his stomach. “Death is but permanent darkness and in darkness, destinies are realized.”
Suddenly another flash of lightening filled the room. It entered through the broken window and locked onto the Mayor’s helmet. The glow of the light burned an angry red as it burned fiercely above the ship. The generator’s hum grew louder and higher in pitch. The satisfied grin on the
Mayor’s face abruptly disappeared.
“My children,” he cried. “Not my children.”
Chloe heard the horrified screeches of pain echo from outside the control room. From her vantage point she could see those who were infected clutching their heads for a moment before collapsing and becoming still forever.
The Mayor’s screams were half cries of pain and half crazed laughter. He turned his furious gaze on Chloe. “You.” He staggered towards her.
“You’ve killed your own kind. Genocide! Traitor!”
Chloe picked up the scrambler Alara had dropped. “This is for all the planets and innocent people you enslaved,” she squeezed the trigger. The
Mayor howled in pain but remained standing. “This is for Alara.” She squeezed the trigger again. The Mayor dropped to his knees. She took a steady breath and pulled the trigger a third time with the setting on fatal. “And that was for my father.”
Telloc burst into the room, running to Alara. He collected her in his arms, placing a shaking hand to her throat. “Alive but barely,” he said.
Telloc’s eyes darkened as he interrupted her. “All dead.”
Alarms started blaring once more. All the lights started flashing red as sirens wailed throughout the room.
Self-Destruct in ten minutes.
“As we will be if we don’t get out of here now.” Marna struggled to her feet. Dried blood caked the left side of her face and the stomach wound appeared to be the worst of her injuries. They pushed past the piles of bodies, including those who were too injured to walk. There was simply no time to get them all. Thirty survived enough to escape the ship with minutes before the explosion. Chloe remembered seeing the ship and the surrounding compound crumble to the ground before passing out.
She faded in and out of consciousness as they carried the injured back to the headquarters of the resistance. When she finally woke up for more than a few seconds, Chloe found herself in some sort of tent with a dozen other cots. Alara was seated in a folding chair next to the cot Chloe was laid out on. Chloe groaned as a throbbing pain filled her muscles.
Alara jerked awake. She scooted closer, pushing her back down. “Easy, Chloe.”
Telloc entered the tent. Bags hung deep and heavy under his eyes. She wondered if he’d ever gotten any sleep.
She rubbed at the dull ache in between her eyes. “How long was I out?”
Telloc pushed a hand through his hair, trying to smooth it back. “A week, maybe two.”
The flap to the tent opened as a messenger came for Telloc. Out of the open flap, Chloe could see the sky had returned to a normal gray from the thick clouds and there was no sign of the rift. Alara followed Chloe’s line of sight.
“The rift closed with the power surge. I’m afraid you won’t be able to go back home.”
Only then did Chloe allow herself to cry. “What am I going to do?”
From on an adjacent cot, Marna’s laughter cut through Chloe like a knife. “Stay here, hu – er, Chloe.”
Chloe turned and saw the hint of a smile on Marna’s face. “There’s only a few thousand on us left on the whole planet. Only a handful of engineers.” Her smile faded. “No where else you really could go anyway.”
Chloe looked at Alara and Telloc. “You promised.”
Alara looked down at her hands covered in bandages. “We know and we’re sorry. I’m so sorry. None of us anticipated that, but I am asking you in your father’s memory for you to help us rebuild.”
“For my father,” Chloe agreed reluctantly. As if they were giving her a choice.
Her mind wandered to her family and friends trapped on the other side of the rift with their fate sealed. She thought of all the other worlds with her only consolation that humanity had only devoured one world at a time and now they were all dead except for her. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep. Tomorrow was to be the start of her longest days.
Telloc and Alara walked out of the tent. From its place atop the peak of a hill, they looked down on the colony. Telloc sighed. “So many are dead, Alara. So quiet.”
“But we are free and many planets are now safe.” Alara laid her head against Telloc’s shoulder. “Home is ours again. No more running. I was getting so tired.”
“Me as well,” Telloc said, wrapping his arms around Alara. He placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “Rest now, my love.”