Standing in front of me, phase rifle armed and ready to fire, was the Head of Guard. The red stripe on their helmet glistened under the neon lights.
‘I know you!’ the Iyr declared.
‘Yeah? I know me too, so what?’ I replied.
The Iyr paused. I couldn’t see under their helmet, of course, but they almost seemed taken aback. After all, taking people aback was a speciality of mine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see an alarmed Te’rnu sneaking away. I did my best not to glance at him, so I wouldn’t give his position away.
‘What are you doing in here?’ the Iyr demanded.
‘I came to report a crime,’ I replied.
‘A crime. I’ve come to report one.’
‘You came… here for this?’
I feigned confusion. ‘Well, you are the city’s guards are you not?’
Another pause; longer, this time.
‘Do you take pleasure in irritating me?’ the Head of Guard asked. ‘You disturb on our first meeting, and then you break in to my place of work? Is it me that you are after?’
I forced a giggle, flashed the Iyr a smile, and did my best to gaze longingly at them. ‘Do you want it to be?’
‘No! Stop this!’ the Iyr demanded, getting increasingly frustrated. ‘I demand that you tell me why you are here.’
‘You’re all business, aren’t you? I quite like that in a-’
‘Tell me why you are here!’ The Iyr aimed down the scope of their phaser.
‘OK!’ I replied, putting my hands up in the air to express my defeat. ‘OK. I’ll tell you.’
I took a breath.
‘Do I need to have my hands up in the air? It’s just I get pins and needles if I leave them up too long, and that’s uncomfortable, and-’
The Iyr guard bashed me in the face with the butt of their rifle.
I fell to the floor, and tried to catch myself. My right hand slipping on the fresh patch of blood that my now-broken nose had so recently created. In a daze, I tried to blink my vision back into focus.
‘I will not take any more of this from you. Tell me why you are here!’ the Iyr screamed.
‘I’m here to cast more of those pesky doubts, I guess,’ I muttered, blood splattering from my mouth.
Now that my arms were no longer held in the air to signal my innocence, I as subtly as I could pulled back my right sleeve and prepared to activate my EMP.
‘You think you’re going to convince me that we, the Iyr are in the wrong, here?’
‘Wait, what? What are you talking about? What might you be in the-’ I began, only to be interrupted by a roar erupting from the next room.
Te’rnu jumped out at the Head of Guard, swinging a long, metal pipe above his head.
Te’rnu brought his weapon crashing down with a crack into the Head of Guard’s head. Sparks flew from the damaged helmet, causing the Iyr to cry with pain, before dropping to the floor.
‘That’s OK,’ he replied, ‘Are you OK?’
‘Yeah,’ I told him, trying to sound convincing, ‘Just a broken nose. Nothing a med-sonar can’t fix in two minutes.’
Te’rnu looked on at me as I held my jacket against my nose, trying to stop the bleeding.
‘You are sure?’ he asked.
I nodded, and Te’rnu instead turned his attention to the guard, nudging them. ‘Do you think they are alive?’
‘I don’t know if we should stick around to find out.’
Te’rnu nodded, and we hurried up the hallway in search of the armoury – and the prized mechsuits.
‘You can be very annoying when you want to be,’ Te’rnu commented as we searched.
‘Thanks,’ I replied, voice muffled by the cloth across my face, ‘I pride myself on it.’
We soon came across a room that housed three of the suits. It didn’t feel like an armoury, in fact – between the desk and chair – it actually felt more like an office. I noticed an electronic frame on the desk and picked it up.
In the display was a family photo; two Iyr with their arms around one another, gazing at the camera. The couple each wore a mechsuit, so it was hard to tell exactly what was going on in the pictures, but it felt to me like a tender moment. The Iyr on the left, I noticed, had that same red stripe on their helmet – it was the Head of Guard.
I prayed that we hadn’t killed them, that we hadn’t deprived someone of their partner. I couldn’t handle that kind of guilt.
I put the frame back down on the desk and turned to face Te’rnu. He had wasted no time in getting into one of the suits. Each mechanical limb hung loosely around his body, like a kid in their father’s top.
‘Doesn’t look like it’s fitting you very well, huh?’
Te’rnu frowned, looked down at the suit, and tried to move his legs. He had no such luck.
‘I believe it is switched off,’ he clarified, before pressing the very obvious red rectangular button on the chest area – one that I had been itching to press since the moment I saw it, all of half a second ago.
The suit jumped into life, adapting in size to fit Te’rnu’s form with all the wondrous whizzes and whooshes that you would expect from a powered mechsuit. Once the helmet attached itself to Te’rnu’s head, I could see that same red stripe marking this suit too. Either this was one of the Head of Guard’s spares, or that decoration wasn’t so rare as I had initially thought.
‘How is it?’ I asked Te’rnu.
He wiggled his limbs about, trying to get a better feel for the suit.
‘Surprisingly comfortable,’ he replied.
‘Can it do anything fun?’ I asked, remembering that the guidebook had told me that these suits were often upgraded with interesting features.
‘There is a button on the viewscreen called “instant kill”. Should I activate it?’
‘No!’ I replied instantly. ‘At least… definitely while I’m not standing in front of you, thank you very much.’
‘What about “incapacitate”?’
‘Are you serious?’ I asked. ‘Are you trying to hurt me, Te’rnu?’
I heard a snickering from inside the suit. ‘I am joking, Syl. I have noticed you like jokes. Was I wrong?’
I smiled, shook my head. ‘No… you’re not wrong. But maybe we need to work on your sense of humour. Is there a button for that in there?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
A longer pause.
‘Oh, that was a joke, too, wasn’t it?’ Te’rnu asked..
I flashed him a grin, nodded, and then tried to get into one of the mechsuits myself.
Instant kill? Incapacitate? This was going to be bloody amazing.
I slipped into the suit as Te’rnu had, and keenly pressed at the button.
‘What’s going on?’ Te’rnu asked. ‘Is it broken?’
‘I don’t know.’
I pressed the button again.
A voice from inside the suit announced, ‘Incompatible biology detected.’
‘I guess it doesn’t take Terrans,’ I said, after a deep sigh.
‘What are we going to do? Our plan was dependent on us having disguises. If you still look Terran…’
I flattened my lips. ‘I know. Erm…’
I paused for a moment. My now-suited Arellian friend stared silently at me, mechanical red eyes glowing at me in the dim light.
‘I could be your prisoner?’ I suggested.
‘How would that work?’
‘You grab a phaser – must be one around here somewhere – and-’
‘I could take the one from the Iyr we knocked unconscious.’
‘Perfect. And then you lead me back to Central Command?’
After a moment of contemplation for the Arellian, he nodded. ‘And if anyone asks… I have been ordered to bring you in.’
I bit my lip. ‘Think it’ll work?’
‘I think it is the only plan we have,’ he grumbled.
With the possibility that more guards could return to the barracks at any moment, we wasted little more time; stopping only to stuff the Head of Guard’s body in the corner of a store room.
‘Think we should…,’ I began to ask, gesturing at the Iyr’s helmet.
Te’rnu shook his head. ‘The more time we spend here, the greater our chances of being caught. If everything goes to plan, then…’
‘…Then we’ll know everything anyway,’ I finished for him. ‘Fine. Let’s go.’
We slipped out the back door of the guard barracks, and made our way towards our final destination: Central Command.
The impressive cubic building soon loomed over us – as, indeed, it did most things in the Iyr capital. Te’rnu stopped for a moment, stunned, when he first noticed it.
‘You can’t be stopping to admire the view now that you’re an Iyr,’ I told him. ‘They see this every day.’
‘It’s bigger than it looks from the Wastelands.’
‘Yep, that’s generally how perspective works. Come on – we should hurry.’
Te’rnu and I assumed the “law enforcement and prisoner” formation – me walking in front, Te’rnu walking behind, phase rifle pointed in my direction.
‘Just make sure you leave the safety on, eh?’ I asked Te’rnu, and then realised that I would do well to actually explain the concept of a “safety” to him, before he accidentally shot me.
We approached the main entrance to see that it was being guarded by two armed Iyr. I could feel Te’rnu’s pace slow behind me, the reality of the danger he was putting himself in now being realised.
As we reached the main door, Te’rnu prepared to tout his reason for bringing me in.
‘I am here to-’
The Iyr guard waved us through.
‘Oh,’ Te’rnu whispered. ‘I see.’
‘Rifle on the rack there,’ the guard reminded him. Te’rnu responded with a curt nod, placed the phaser down by the Iyr, and turned to me.
He paused for a moment before grabbing me by the wrists and twisting them behind my back.
I played along – put up a little struggle, but essentially let him do it.
‘Sorry,’ Te’rnu whispered in my ear.
‘Don’t be,’ I replied, ‘At least, not so audibly.’
Te’rnu pretended to force me up the stairs in the main atrium, which led to a series of long, narrow hallways. We proceeded onwards, Te’rnu acting as confidently as he could in the direction he was taking me, until I saw a small maintenance room coming off the corridor to our left. I signalled to Te’rnu, and we crept inside.
‘Alright, keep watch,’ I told my friend. He manned his post, peering through a small gap in the door.
I looked around the room for the inevitable control panel. On one side, behind the cleaning equipment, I found one.
‘Pfft, easy,’ I muttered, and then hoped I hadn’t just jinxed it.
I plugged my console into the panel, and ran a scan for accessible systems.
There was only one: emergency exit procedures. A diagram of the building filled the screen, arrows suggesting the fastest way to exit Central Command.
‘Shit,’ I murmured, and then, realising that maybe I was getting a little carried away with this whole swearing thing, added, ‘Excuse my French.’
‘What is that?’ Te’rnu whispered. ‘This… “French”?’
Alright, fair enough, this time, Te’rnu. That’s a Terran thing, after all.
‘It’s a dead language, back where I’m from. On Terra.’
‘So you were speaking French?’
‘Well… no, that’s just an expression. It means I said a rude word.’
‘Oh,’ Te’rnu replied in a hushed voice, ‘So the French were a rude people, then?’
I thought about it for a moment; this conversation was going on far too long considering what we were doing, and so an easy answer was required.
‘Yes. Very rude.’
I played about with my console some more, hoping I was going to suddenly find some advanced hacking abilities that I never knew I possessed. I had no such luck.
‘All I have is emergency exit systems,’ I told Te’rnu – and saying this out loud made me realise something. ‘But that means I do have the building’s schematics…’
Te’rnu remained quiet, letting me continue with my train of thought in peace. I tapped frantically at the screen, looking for our destinations.
‘…which means that I can figure out where the core mainframe servers are… And, look! I mean, no, don’t look, stay over there keeping watch. But, if you were to look, you’d see: there’s a room marked ‘cells’. Not far from here, either.’
‘OK. How far to the mainframe?’
I furrowed my brow. ‘Mainframe? Don’t you think the prisoner is the first priority here?’
Te’rnu whipped his head around to face me. ‘Yes. I am sorry. I apologise. I have been searching for the truth for so long… I forget what my priorities should be. We go now and save Melonaitopila, and then we can find out the truth.’
I touched Te’rnu’s arm. ‘We’ll find it. Soon. I promise.’
We proceeded through the corridors and trans mats of Central Command through the route I had memorised, me signalling directions to Te’rnu with the smallest of nods. Without running into trouble of any kind, we arrived at the entrance to the cells.
As we walked into the room, a guard, who had been standing almost invisibly still, suddenly stood to attention and saluted Te’rnu.
Te’rnu was taken aback. ‘Oh! Good! I look as though I am in charge! We don’t need to knock you out, then!’
Both the guard and I turned to Te’rnu, a look of incredulity on my face (and presumably on the guard’s too).
Te’rnu, realising what he had just said, rushed his hand to a button by his visor.
‘Incapacitate,’ I could just about hear the suit’s in-built voice announce.
A wave of electricity shot out of the helmet and into the guard, rendering him unconscious.
‘Sorry,’ Te’rnu mumbled.
I said nothing, only shook my head in exasperation.
‘At least we know now why those sparks came out of the Head of Guard’s helmet earlier. Back when I stopped you being killed.’
I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t help myself from smiling. ‘OK, yes, you saved me back there. Point well made. Let’s just not give the game away again, huh?’
I thought that Te’rnu was going to question the phrase “give the game away”, but he let it slide this time.
In front of us, next to where the Iyr guard had been standing was a translucent door, an electronic panel to one side. This could only be it – where the prisoner was being kept. I pounded on the glass-like material.
‘Hello? Anyone in there? Melonaitopila?’ I asked.
‘If there is… I’m not an Iyr! I’m here to save you! Your dad hired me!’ I pleaded.
‘…he did?’ a voice asked from behind the door. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Syl Raynor. I’m an investigator. We’re-’
‘Oh!’ Te’rnu said, suddenly, ‘Why don’t we just press this?’
I had only just enough time to shout, ‘No!’ before Te’rnu selected the “Open Cell Door” option.
‘Oh,’ Te’rnu replied, ‘Why not?’
His question was answered by the alarm springing into life.
Both Te’rnu and I turned to face the door to the corridor, from which direction a stampede of footsteps fast approached.
We glanced at one another, and Te’rnu’s hand once again returned to the buttons on his suit’s visor.
‘Activated: instant kill.’
A Note From The Author: A Galaxy, Alive now publishes twice a week – on Thursdays and Sundays!
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