Six Iyr guardsmen stormed the room, all armed with phase rifles – which they promptly pointed at me.
I threw my hands up in the air. ‘Alright, don’t shoot, I surrender! We don’t want an intergalactic incident on our hands, do we?’
The guards suddenly noticed Te’rnu, and all stood to attention. My friend, realising quickly that his cover was still – at the moment, at least – intact, pulled his hand back away from the buttons on his visor.
Quite handy, this disguise.
Te’rnu stood up straight, assuming the role of Iyr Head of Guard. ‘Thank you, soldiers, for the reinforcement. I was just in the process of arresting this… intruder.’
He was putting on a lower, deeper tone, pretending as though he had a voice to match his high rank.
‘She-,’ he began, and then restarted his sentence. ‘They already knocked out one of the guards. You!’
Te’rnu pointed at two of the Iyr.
‘Take this one to the medical bay.’
‘Yes, sir!’ the pair responded, and then picked the unconscious Iyr up by their arms and legs.
‘That looks comfy,’ I murmured, not quite being able to help myself. The remaining guards, enraged, picked their phasers up and pointed them at me once again. I was really starting to get used to looking down the barrel of an Iyr phase rifle.
One of the guards slowly moved their hands up to their visor.
‘Wait, what are you-’ I began to ask.
With the press of a button, bolts of electricity shot out of the Iyr’s helmet and into my body, enflaming every nerve in my body, and putting me in excruciating pain.
I screamed like a young child and fell to the floor, barely able to move. The guards approached and grabbed me in much the same way as they had their colleague.
‘That’s not a fun feature…,’ I mumbled.
Before I knew it, I was thrown into the cell, and the door closed firmly behind me. In one corner of the white, agonizingly bright room, sat a young Itagurinatipilazutinafi woman – Melonaitopila. I forced a reassuring smile in her direction, but in my pain, it came out instead as a distressed snarl.
‘Sir, what should we do with the prisoner?’ I heard one of the guards ask outside the room.
‘I…,’ Te’rnu began to reply, ‘I will deal with them later.’
Good thinking, Te’rnu. Use your disguise while you still have it.
‘Of course, your meeting,’ another guard responded. ‘It started a few moments ago but I am sure they will understand your delay… given the circumstances.’
‘I… err…,’ Te’rnu started, stumbling over his response. ‘Yes! You: keep guard here. You three, please escort me to the meeting.’
‘I do not mean to question your orders, sir, but should we not keep more than one guard on this post, given the security breach?’
‘It is all resolved now,’ Te’rnu replied. ‘The damage has been contained.’
‘Of course, sir.’
I heard the whoosh of a door opening and closing, and Te’rnu was gone.
I didn’t like that he was out there alone; his cover could get blown at any moment, and I had a feeling I knew what the Iyr would do to him when they found out…
And if he got caught, what hope did I have of escaping?
I turned to the cell’s other occupant, and flashed another smile at her – much more successfully, this time.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked Melonaitopila.
She looked at me with incredulity, put her hands up in the air as if to say “what the hell do you think?”
‘Sorry, stupid question,’ I followed up.
Melonaitopila shook her head. ‘No. It’s not. I’m sorry. It’s not been a good few days. Or weeks. Hard to tell, from in here.’
‘Week and a half, yeah,’ I clarified. ‘You’ve been in here all this time?’
She shrugged. ‘Pretty much. Since the evening after I saw it.’
‘Since you saw the face of an Iyr, you mean?’ I asked.
Melonaitopila nodded. ‘How did you know?’
‘I told you – I’ve been investigating,’ I replied, and, then, filling the silence that followed, I tried to ask, ‘What did you see, Melona- Melonat-,’
‘“Mel” is fine,’ she offered. ‘Any name would be fine, now, to be honest.’
I flashed her a smile. ‘Thanks. Oh! I’m Syl. Guess I should have said that earlier. Getting into bad habits what with never introducing myself properly.’
‘Thanks for trying to rescue me, Syl. I’m sorry you got caught.’
‘It’s OK,’ I replied. ‘I have a friend. He’s… out there, somewhere.’
‘Your friend? You think he’ll be able to come back for us?’
‘I fucking hope so!’ I replied – the stigma of swearing be damned.
Fuck! Shit! Crap!
Mel’s face twisted into the smallest of smiles. ‘You’re not like any Terran I’ve ever met.’
‘What? Why? Cos I swear?’
‘That… and I heard you and your friend assault that guard out there.’
I nodded, pulled an expression that said “I guess you’re right about that.”
‘Seeing as we might be here a while before Te’rnu comes back…’
‘You’re sure he will?’
Why did she keep asking that?
‘I’m keeping positive,’ I answered. Mel raised an eyebrow; she was less convinced, it seemed. ‘As we might be here a while, now might be a good time to tell me what got you into this mess.’
Mel took a breath and a moment to collected her thoughts. ‘I guess there’s no harm in it. Not most of it, at least. I tried not telling anyone and they still locked me up for what I’d seen.’
I held my tongue, resisting the urge to make any facetious comments that might put Mel off confiding in me.
Mel, now beginning to loosen up, began to ramble. ‘It started when my father invited me along on his business trip…’
He never invites me to come along with him, you see. But recently, I’ve noticed he’s started trying to be more involved in my life. I think it’s because he’s spent most of my life working, and we never really got to be that close. Now he’s realised he missed out on my whole childhood, and he’s trying to make up for it. I like that he’s making an effort, at least.
So, he invites me to come along to Z’h’ar with him. He’s got a lot of meetings to go to, because obviously he’s so involved with the GMU council and all.
Maybe I should have started with that bit. For context.
Yeah, let’s rewind.
So my dad, he wasn’t involved much during my childhood because his work at the Galactic Monetary Union Council took up all his time. I don’t blame him, really, it’s not like it isn’t important work. My other dad always called it the “G-MUC” growing up, I remember. Well, no, he called it “that bloody G-MUC”, but that’s a whole other thing.
In his position, he’s involved in negotiating trade deals between planets in the GMU and those outside it. It’s a careful balance, he said: you want the trading to be mutually beneficial for all involved, but not so much that these external trade deals are actually better than between GMU members.
He was on your planet, actually, recently. What’s it called? Terra? Yeah, when your lot came out of the GMU there was all this stuff to sort out. I didn’t see him for a few months during that whole thing. But he did a good job, according to his superiors, and – as is always the case when you do a good job on something – he was given an even more difficult task: Z’h’ar.
Z’h’ar have been talking about leaving the GMU for a few cycles now, especially since Terra came out OK. So there’s been a lot of renegotiations going on, the GMU trying to propose new things to keep the Iyr on board. But it wasn’t going well, so, lo and behold, Dad gets roped in.
So we travel over, halfway across the galaxy to come here, and Dad is hoping we will get a little down time. You know, see the sights, spend some time together.
But… no. It’s the same old story as it always was: work needs him, he hopes he’ll see me later. I know that that means he will not see me later. So I have to go out and make my own fun.
I don’t know about for you, but for me, a good night out involves plenty of alcohol and some partying. Oh, right, good, I can see you smiling at that so I know you’re the same. You know how it is, then. You get to a new place, you try the local bars, you try the local spirits, you try the… locals.
I was at this bar, and I’m thinking: this isn’t quite the scene I was looking for. It’s cold, awkward, and a little bit hostile, even. But I make conversation with this local anyway – he’s drinking by himself, so I figure he might want some company. This Iyr, they tell me that these bars are where the Central Command drink, so it’s always gonna be not much fun. I ask them to take me somewhere that would be fun, and they do just that.
My date takes me to this underground place, no Central Command, just locals having a good time. I’ll tell you what, them having a good time is still quite a quiet night back on Itagurinatipilazutinafi, but at this point, I’m thinking, I’ll take what I can get.
I keep drinking, try some of the local Oy’ta – did you try that at all, by the way? No? You haven’t missed much. Fairly average. Gave me a nosebleed.
Anyway, all in all, I’m having an OK time, so I invite the Iyr to invite me back to their place. More trouble than it was worth, if I’m honest. We get back there, they take me to bed. I still have no idea what I’m dealing with in the groin area, cos of the mechsuits, you know? But I’m not fussy, I’m happy with anything, so I’m going with the flow.
And I expect my date to actually take the suit off… but they don’t. Or, at least, they don’t take most of it off. Just the crotch area.
I’m a bit annoyed, but don’t want to spoil the mood, so… you know. That.
But then immediately after, the Iyr gets up, and heads into their bathroom. I call after them, like, hey, wait, are we gonna, like, cuddle, or what? But they just shake their head and say they need to get my fluids off of them.
Bit rude, I think, but maybe that’s just a cultural thing, so I try not to take it to heart.
Anyway, I hear them in the shower and I think: this was all kind of underwhelming, maybe I can get them going again in the shower? Always sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it, doing it in the shower, but then you get there and you’re doing it, and you’re slipping, and…
Doesn’t matter, I’m getting distracted.
So I sneak in. And I’m kinda drunk so I’d forgotten the whole “no foreigner has ever seen a naked Iyr” thing. And then, with the door now open, the steam in the bathroom slowly clears… and I see them.
…And that’s where this story gets hard to talk about.
What if they’re listening?
What if they’re just waiting for me to slip up, and tell someone the truth?
What if they’ll punish me for it?
And I these same questions ran through my mind at the time. When I saw the truth, so much I knew about Z’h’ar suddenly made so much sense… It changed everything.
I ran. I was scared what the Iyr would do to me, if it meant they could maintain their rule on this planet. If I told anyone, you see, it could all come crashing down…
I couldn’t stay in the stronghold, not any more, so I ran off into the wastelands, to see the only people I thought might understand: the Arellians.
They aren’t how the Iyr describe them at all. They’re gentle, kind. About as far from “barbarians” as you can imagine. It all makes sense to me now, of course, but…
Anyway. I ran out. Found myself in a village called Te’r’ok, surrounded by these Arellians. And I wanted to tell them the truth, I really did! But… what would I do next? At some point, I had to return to the city – that was the only way home – and if I told the Arellians, I was only damaging my relationship with the Iyr…
I didn’t have any option, you see? There was no good choice.
Mel, tired, fed up, and despairing, put her head in her hands.
‘What did you see, Mel?’ I asked.
‘I told you; I don’t think I should say.’ She nodded to the ceiling. ‘Not when they might be watching… listening.’
‘We’re going to get you out of here, Mel. Te’rnu is gonna come back for us. But we need to know what we’re not seeing. We need to know what we’re missing.’
‘Why do you care so much?’ Mel replied. ‘Why endanger your own life with the truth?’
I paused for a moment; was that really what had happened here? Was I risking my life for his truth? Or was I just trying to solve the case? If the two hadn’t been so inextricably linked, would I be fighting so hard to learn the secrets of the Iyr?
‘My friend… the Arellian, he’s spent his whole life searching for this truth. And he doesn’t have long left now, he’s almost at the age of Mutation.’
Mel shot me a look which I didn’t quite understand – perhaps confusion at the concept? – but I continued anyway.
‘And he’s saved me a couple of times now, at great cost to himself. He doesn’t have a home any more, he doesn’t have a family, he doesn’t even have a friend in the galaxy other than me. And, to an extent, I caused all of that. By roping him into some stupid scheme. I think I… owe him this.’
My fellow prisoner looked down at the floor, picked at the skin on her fingers.
‘He’ll come back for us,’ I repeated. ‘He’s resourceful like that. He’ll come back, and we’ll get out of here.’
As I said the words, I had less and less faith in them. Te’rnu didn’t know the way of the galaxy, so how could he hope to blend in with them? And to get back to us, in the middle of perhaps the most defended building on Z’h’ar… it didn’t seem likely.
But I kept this to myself, not wanting to put Mel off telling me the truth. While there was any hope at all that Te’rnu was able to come back for us, I wanted to be able to give him the answers he’d spent his whole life searching for.
‘OK,’ Mel said suddenly. ‘I’ll tell you. But not because I think he’ll come back. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. They’re paranoid, the Iyr; his disguise won’t last long.’
Mel sighed to herself.
‘No. I’ll tell you, because, with every hours that passes, I feel less and less confident that I’ll ever be free.’
‘He’ll- he’ll come back,’ I repeated, voice cracking with the realisation that I might now share the same fate as Mel. This time, I said it only to convince myself.
Mel shot me a sad look.
‘The truth is…,’ Mel started, eyes glancing towards the door, as though someone was about to burst in and stop her. ‘The truth that you’ve been searching for is… You’ve seen an Iyr.’
I pulled a face. ‘I have?’
‘Yes,’ Mel replied. ‘Anyone who has been out into the Wastelands, or read about Z’h’ar, even, has seen them.’
‘What does that…,’ I began to ask, and then the truth dawned on me.
‘The Iyr – they’re no mysterious species, no great benefactors to the lowly Arellians. They are the Arellians.’
‘Wh- How?’ I asked. ‘Why?’
‘The Arellians don’t die when they go through the Mutation. That’s not the end of their lives. The Mutation, it’s little more than…’ Mel paused, to find the right word. ‘The closest word we would have for it is… puberty.’
‘I don’t… I don’t understand. Why would they do this? The Iyr – why would they keep the Arellians in the dark about this?’
Mel shrugged. ‘It was tradition, probably, to start. All these things start with traditions, don’t they? And then you have this society, built up, so reliant on the resources farmed and mined for them by their youth… why would they ever want to change this set up? So they control them. They keep the fear of death hanging over the youths’ heads. The Iyr act as though they’re doing some great favour when they take a maturing Arellian away – but all they’re really doing is adding to their own population.’
I found my mouth hanging agape. ‘But that’s… that’s…’
Mel nodded. ‘Maybe now you understand what the Iyr would do to keep this a secret, then. How far they would go. What they would do to anyone who sticks their nose in.’
‘But- Te’rnu. He’s out there… If he gets found out…’
She nodded again. ‘They’ll kill him.’
A Note From The Author
Thanks for reading this chapter of A Galaxy, Alive – I hope you enjoyed it!
Or, if you’d like to sign up receive the latest chapters straight to your inbox, please use the form below.