Six of the Iyr guards came into the room, all armed with those horrible phasers. I was beginning to see why Syl did not like them.
The guards, upon seeing Syl, aimed the rifles at her, completely ignoring me.
‘Alright, don’t shoot, I surrender!’ she cried out. ‘We don’t want an intergalactic incident on our hands, do we?’
At this point, I remembered that I was in disguise. Disguises were good, I decided. I would have to do disguises more often.
When the Iyr did finally see me, they stood up straight, put their hands to their faces, and shouted, in unison, ‘Sir!’
I knew from earlier that this was a sign of respect, that they thought themselves somehow inferior to me (or, at least, to the Iyr that I was disguised as).
Oh! No need for the instant kill, then.
Part of me was disappointed; I wanted to see what it did. The other, much larger part of me, knew that I didn’t want to have to live with killing anyone, even an Iyr. I pulled my hand away from the buttons on the suit’s visor.
I stood up straight, hoping that this was how the Iyr – the so-called “Head of Guard” – would have acted.
‘Thank you, soldiers, for the reinforcement,’ I told the Iyr, putting on my deepest voice – a mark of authority, I reckoned. And then, realising that I would need to explain this situation in order to keep my cover intact, added, ‘I was just in the process of arresting this… intruder.’
The Iyr nodded, and remained silent.
Great! I am a convincing Head of Guard! I would never have known.
‘She…,’ I started, pointing at Syl, and then realised that the Iyr did not use that word. ‘They already knocked out one of the guards.’
I pointed at two of the Iyr.
‘You! Take this one to the medical bay.’
That got rid of two of them. Maybe I should have ordered more away.
‘Yes, sir!’ the Iyr replied, and picked up the guard I had assaulted by their limbs.
‘That looks comfy,’ Syl muttered. I tried to shoot her a disapproving look, but it was hard to get the meaning across from under this helmet.
The four remaining Iyr, angered by Syl’s characteristically irritating throwaway comments, aimed their rifles at her once again.
I watched in horror, frozen, as one of the guard moved their hand to the buttons in their visor.
Please not Instant Kill!
‘Wait,’ Syl began, ‘What are you-’
When the button was pressed, a huge wave of light came forth from the helmet and shot into Syl, who screamed and collapsed to the floor.
Oops. I should have acted sooner there. You need to be better at this, Te’rnu. Oh well. She is still alive. If a little hurt…
‘…not a fun feature,’ Syl muttered to herself.
The guards picked her up and threw her into the cell, closing the door behind her. I just had a chance to glimpse another occupant, looking tired, dirty, and sad, sat in the corner of that room.
This must be who Syl was looking for.
‘Sir, what should we do with the prisoner?’ an Iyr asked me.
Think, Te’rnu, think!
‘I… I will deal with them later.’
I was going to come back for her later, then. Perhaps in the meanwhile, I could use this disguise to gain access to the central terminal.
But without Syl’s technological knowledge…
‘Of course,’ a guard interrupted my train of thought. They looked at a display of some kind on their right arm. ‘It started a few moments ago, but I am sure they will understand your delay… given the circumstances.’
Meeting? What sort of meeting? Food, I hoped.
‘I… err…,’ I started, and then forced my mouth closed until I could formulate my response properly. ‘Yes!’
I pointed to one of the Iyr.
‘You. Keep guard here. You three: please escort me to the meeting.’
That should make it easier to break Syl out on my return.
One of the Iyr turned to me, grabbed me gently by the upper arm. I hoped my biology was not so different from the Iyr that they would notice the difference through the suit.
‘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?’
I shook my head. ‘It is all resolved now. The damage has been contained.’
There was a short pause.
Had my disguise been seen through?
The Iyr nodded. ‘Of course, sir.’
One of the other guards opened the door, and gestured for me to follow. When it shut once again behind me, it dawned on me that I was alone. I did not have Syl to back me up. I was alone; a Guran amongst the Truvets, prey in the land of predators.
My newly-formed troupe of guardsman escorted me through the building, along the winding corridors and into the still mind-blowing transmats. In silence we walked, until finally we arrived at a large room.
This atrium was host to a large, long table, at which a number of Iyr sat, each with their suits decorated in their own unique way. If my suit belonged to an important Iyr, then these suits did too. Above them was a large, complex metallic web of glass, refracting the light in every which direction. This was art unlike I had ever seen before.
I tried my best not to be distracted by this complicated lighting mechanism – I knew that the real Head of Guard would have seen it many times before – but still it drew my eye. The table turned to watch as I approached the table, and took the last remaining available seat.
As I did so, the Iyr at the very end of the table announced, ‘I am glad that we could all make it.’
The table’s occupants all looked at me as the room fell silent.
The Iyr across from me but one, with a green upper-half of their helmet, coughed, and then told me, ‘That, I believe, was a cue for your to explain the reason for your late arrival.’
‘Yes, thank you, Ve’nua,’ came a voice from the end of the table.
‘Oh!’ I said, possibly in a more upbeat manner than was appropriate, ‘Yes! There was an intrusion. An off-worlder in the Central Command. It has since been dealt with.’
Many Iyr around the table nodded their agreement. The one at the end of the table, sporting an entirely purple helmet, asked, ‘We are not expecting any more intrusion, then, I trust?’
I nodded. ‘That is correct.’ A pause. I added, ‘…sir.’ It seemed to be the thing to do around here.
‘Well, then, as we are not going to be disturbed, may I suggest that we remove our helmets so that we may be comfortable?’
‘What?’ I found myself asking.
All heads turned to look at me.
‘I mean… I am afraid that I cannot… sir.’
‘And why not?’ the purple-helmeted Iyr asked.
I paused for a moment. It was better to gather my thoughts than to say something that wasn’t foolproof. If I got caught, an Arellian, here… then I might not be so lucky as to be let go.
‘Because I am the Head of Guard, sir. It is my duty to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. If that means I must be less comfortable, then that is a price I willingly pay.’
Good. That felt good. Very smart thinking, Te’rnu.
A pause. The apparent leader nodded. ‘Very honorable.’
Ve’nua continued to stare, even once others had looked away.
Did they see through my disguise?
I felt my forehead begin to sweat, my heart rate start to raise. Was there a mechsuit in this room which could see such things?
I cast my doubts aside; there was something bigger at hand. I was about to see it: the face of the Iyr. Perhaps this would reveal the truth that I had spent my whole life searching for.
I stared at the Iyr leader, whose hands had risen to their helmet, fingers detaching it from the rest of the suit…
My own hands gripped the bottom of my seat in anticipation.
This was it! It was finally happening! It-
My heart dropped when the first head was revealed. I thought I was imagining what I saw. I blinked over and over as if to wash this hallucination from my sight. But it did not work.
How could this be?
Ve’nua spoke at me. But I could not listen. I could not make out the words.
They paused for a moment, and then repeated themselves. This time I could hear them, but as though they were at the end of a long tunnel – only an echo of their voice.
‘Are you feeling alright?’ they asked. ‘You are acting odd. And your voice…’
‘I… I am fine,’ I said back to them, with a dismissive motion. They did not seem convinced, but left it at that for now.
As I looked around the room, Arellian after Arellian revealed themselves. I could hear nothing of the debate at the table, only of my own heart beat. It pounded. Louder and louder it pounded, until my head was filled with nothing but the drums.
How could this be?
I looked again. They were Arellian… but not. Hair sprouted where it should not have. Wrinkles in the skin – like the sort Syl had a few of on her forehead – were pervasive on some of the faces. What had happened to these Arellians to make them this way?
How could this be?!
I clenched my hands on my chair. I breathed deeply.
It was almost as though these Arellians were… older.
Ur’tnu had been correct.
He had been correct; we could live on. We could live on past the Mutation. We could live on… here, in the strongholds.
But what would possess these Arellians to abandon their younger selves?
My hearing was beginning to return to me.
‘-must be released soon or else we risk war. Is that a policy which will aid our economic growth? I think not.’
I looked down the table. An Iyr at the leader’s right hand was speaking.
Another interrupted. ‘Then what do you suggest? You forget that they are an important person. They are related to the Itagurinatipilazutinafi – the one responsible for our GMU exit deal. If news travels that we have them, here, then what sort of trade deal can we expect in the future?’
They pounded their fist on the table.
‘None! We can expect no exit deal. All our work over the past three rotations will have been for nothing!’
They look like Arellians, but they do not speak as us. Their nature is that of paranoia, of harm. Who are these Iyr to rule over us?!
The original Iyr countered, ‘I see that we have two real options. Either we release the prisoner, and suffer the consequences, or we keep them where they are until the deal is finalised. As Head of Intergalactic Policy, I favour the former, but-’
‘We release them? Do you truly understand the implications of this? Not only will there be no deal to speak of, but the truth will be revealed to the Arellians. You are talking about the end of a several thousand year tradition!’
I noticed Ve’nua still staring at me, seemingly paying less attention to the debate.
A new Iyr spoke up. ‘Agreed! The Tradition must be preserved at all costs. Our economy depends on it. If we have no intergalactic trade deal as well as no willing manual labour, then we can forget about growth for ten – maybe even hundreds – of rotations!’
Ve’nua, only now looking away from me, spoke up. ‘There is… a third option.’
All heads turned to them. There was a silence, even from the leader and their enraged right hand Iyr.
‘They could be disposed of. Quietly. Nobody would ever know that we were involved.’
What? How dare they speak this way – deciding who lives and who dies.
I could feel my heart beat surging again.
Even the rest of the Iyr remained silent. Equally, however, none immediately voiced an opposition to this idea.
Ve’nua continued, ‘What is one life versus the quality of life of our whole civilisation? It is nothing.’
Some of the Iyr began to murmur an agreement.
I tried to keep my breathing consistent, but the anger was limiting my ability to do so.
‘You are correct,’ another spoke. ‘We should dispose of her.’
Someone thumped the table.
I looked around to which attendee had done it.
Strangely, however, everyone was now looking at me.
It was… me, who did that.
‘Do you have something to add?’ the leader asked.
I paused. Even I knew that my pause was for a moment too long. The stare from the suspicious Iyr across the table only confirmed this.
‘We are a proud species!’ I gambled. ‘We have evolved! We no longer need rely on the… pathetic Arellians.’
Was I overdoing it?
With the drums reverberating around my mind, it was hard to sound these sentences out before I committed them to speech.
Soon, the leader spoke once more, this time with a tone of resignation. ‘Perhaps you are right.’
Still there was silence.
‘We shall return to this conversation tomorrow. I think there is value in each of us spending the night pondering this issue.’
As they rose, the rest of the table did too. The meeting was over. I had survived it.
I headed for the door – with as much speed as my cover would grant me – and felt Ve’nua’s stare follow me as I went.
A clear vision of the next hour formed in my mind. I would break Syl and the prisoner free. We would then, together, broadcast the truth to the world. I would do this no matter the cost.
A Note From The Author
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