Chapter 16: The Truth Is In Here

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‘Leave,’ Te’rnu’s voice announced from the other side of the cell door. There was a strength in his voice, a determination that I’d never heard from him before.

More importantly: he had survived.

Come to save my life yet again, you brilliant Arellian!

And then my heart dropped. Once he broke us free, I would be the one who would have to tell him the truth. A knot formed in my stomach as I imagined breaking the news to him.

‘But-,’ the guard started.

‘Leave. Now.

There was an anger to his voice – one that I’d never heard before.

‘Yes sir.’

The guard stood to attention so hard that I could hear their foot collide with the floor from the next room.

There was a whoosh as the outer door opened, the guard leaving Te’rnu alone in the room.

It was our door, next, that opened.

‘I… Mel told me the truth,’ I told Te’rnu. ‘I know what the Iyr have been hiding. It’s… big. I don’t really know how to…’

The Arellian remained silent, the mechanic red eyes of the suit bearing into me.

‘Do you know already?’ I asked.

Te’rnu nodded.

‘How? Did you get to the mainframe?’

‘I was roped into a meeting.’

‘Been there,’ I muttered, meaning this throwaway comment to lighten the mood – but my heart wasn’t in it.

‘We should move. I think one of them is suspicious of me. I know not how much time we have. And there are thoughts of…’

He turned to Mel.

‘There are thoughts of killing you.’

Mel gulped. ‘Well I’m keen to get a move on! Shall we go? Let’s go. Which way? Left?’

‘I know the way,’ I told her. ‘Follow me.’

We stormed out of the cell block, Mel and I in front, and Te’rnu holding up the rear, so as to maintain our whole detainer-detainee dynamics. As we left the room, we turned right… straight into an Iyr.

This Iyr remained quiet for a moment, and looked Mel and I up and down. Their helmet, half the usual dark grey and half green, glistened in the Central Command’s neon lighting.

‘You,’ the strange Iyr commented when they saw Te’rnu. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Prisoner transfer,’ Te’rnu replied, this strange strength still underlining the tone of his voice. Whatever had happened in the past half hour had changed something inside of him. ‘We are taking them to a more secure location.’

‘We?’ the Iyr asked. ‘It looks as though there is only… one of you. This is, perhaps, not enough for two prisoners, would you not say?’

‘Maybe if it were anyone else, Ve’nua,’ Te’rnu responded, and I noted that he was calling them by name – this wasn’t their first run-in.

They went quiet; both Iyr staring the other down.

Mel inched closer to me. I felt her gently place something in my hand behind my back. The object felt hard, solid, like some sort of pipe.

What was it with all the pipes on this planet?

Ve’nua, currently distracted by Te’rnu, did not seem to notice Mel handing my the object.

Smarter than you look, Mel, I’ll give you that.

Ve’nua approached Te’rnu, and stood uncomfortably close to him. They stared into the mechsuit’s eyes.

‘Is it really you in there?’ they asked.

Te’rnu paused for a moment – just a very briefly, almost imperceptible to anyone that didn’t know him. ‘Of course it is.’

Another small silence as the Iyr tried to size Te’rnu up. ‘I would like you to prove it.’

‘How?’ Te’rnu asked.

‘Can you two hurry it up?’ I interjected, hoping to dissolve the tension. I tapped at my wrist, at an imaginary watch. ‘I have a prison to get to.’

Ve’nua turned to me, snarled viciously, and then whipped their head back around to Te’rnu.

‘Prove you are who you say you are. Remove your helmet.’

‘Ooh, yes please!’ I interrupted again. ‘I would just love to see what kind of body you’ve got hidden under there.’

Our accoster turned to me once again, and spat their response, ‘If you do not keep quiet, I have a function in this suit which will make it impossible for you to be anything but.’

This tactic isn’t working. Why do these Iyr have to have absolutely no sense of humour?

I gripped the object in my hand tightly and prepared myself to use it.

‘I- I cannot remove my helmet in front of the prisoners,’ Te’rnu responded, voice beginning to crack. ‘You know this.’

‘It is simple: you lock them back up, then you remove your helmet. If you are who you say you are, you then put the helmet back on, and continue on your way. If you are not who you say you are, then I kill the three of you where you stand.’

‘I- I-,’ Te’rnu began, turning to face me, clearing struggling. ‘I-’

I pulled the heavy pipe around in a flash, and rammed it towards the back of the Iyr’s helmet – just as Te’rnu had done to the real Head of Guard earlier. It careered into the small metal box at the bottom of the suit’s skull, but – whereas earlier it had caused electricity to envelope the user – nothing happened.

Oh. Not good.

The Iyr froze for a moment, and then, slowly, turned their head to look at me. I didn’t need to see a face to know that they were thinking: “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

‘Syl…,’ Mel started, slowly pulling me backwards away from the presumably enraged Iyr.

Te’rnu, in response to my failed attempt to resolve the situation, shot his hand to his helmet, pressing one of those handy function buttons.

An arc of electricity came forth from his suit, and encompassed our troublesome foe. As always, they froze for a moment, their muscles contracting with the voltage shooting through them, and then fell, with a thud to the floor.

‘You’re getting good at that,’ I told Te’rnu.

He didn’t reply, merely stood staring at the body on the ground in front of him.

‘You OK, bud?’ I followed up. 

‘Are they dead?’ Mel asked. ‘’Cos I would be totally cool with that if he was. I won’t tell anyone.’

‘No. Just unconscious. Right, Te’rnu?’

There was no immediate answer from him.

‘They’re just unconscious,’ I assured Mel.

I grabbed Ve’nua by the arms, and Te’rnu, without needing instruction, grabbed the legs. We heaved them towards the open cell door.

‘Do you always go around knocking people out?’ Mel asked.

‘Honestly?’ I replied. ‘More than we should.’

‘Cool! Cool energy. Like it! Really like it.’

I raised an eyebrow. Was this woman OK?

‘Thanks.’

I slammed the ‘close door’ button on the console and sealed the unconscious Iyr inside.

‘OK,’ I announced. ‘This time, for real: let’s get out of here.’

We wasted no more time. I, for one, had no idea how long these Iyr would remain unconscious. Glancing at the time on my console, I could see it had been a good few hours since Te’rnu had defused the situation in the barracks. For all I knew, the real Head of Guard was waking up at this very moment, rushing to the barracks terminal, letting the whole stronghold know what we had done.

We strode with purpose towards the shuttle bay; Mel and I leading the way, Te’rnu at our rear acting as though he was transporting us. We walked down countless long corridors, bare in decoration but for the screens every few metres and the small crevices that marked the doorways. As we marched, I noticed more and more Iyr glancing our way – but without being able to see their faces, it was impossible to know for sure what they were thinking.

‘Am I being paranoid, or are we getting more and more looks?’ I whispered over my shoulder to Te’rnu, while there was no hostile company in our immediate vicinity.

‘I have noticed this too,’ he replied, his voice strained, as though speaking through a clenched jaw. ‘Do they know?’

I shook my head; the smallest of movements, so nobody else would see that we were communicating. ‘If they knew, they would stop us; that suit wouldn’t mean shit.’

Mel, in spite of the situation, smiled a little at my response.

‘Still laughing at the Terran who swears?’ I asked, allowing myself to grin too. If we were about to get caught, there was no point Mel dying miserable.

‘A little,’ she replied.

As we approached the bay, the screens buzzed into life. I allowed myself a quick glance at them as we strode, and when I saw what they were displaying, I halted instantly. Te’rnu crashed into me from behind, and Mel stopped too, to see what all the commotion was about.

‘Oh, my…,’ Te’rnu mumbled.

‘Understatement of the cycle,’ I replied, equally hushed in voice.

On the screen, the Head of Guard – now risen from his enforced power-nap – shouted angrily and impassionately.

We didn’t waste any time listening to what he had to say. The jig was up.

‘Come on,’ I told Te’rnu. ‘We’re sitting ducks out here.’

‘Sitting-’ Te’rnu began to ask.

‘Come on!’ I repeated, moving now towards the shuttle bay with a sprint.

Mel and Te’rnu also picked up the pace, and we charged down the final corridor and into the shuttle bay. We were fortunate, really, that this building was as large as it was – the few Iyr inside could not hope to cover every room.

When Te’rnu, the last to enter, was safely inside the shuttle bay, I closed the door behind him and locked it from the inside – just as a precaution.

I rushed to a nearby docking terminal.

‘OK, Mel,’ I instructed, trying to make my voice sound as assertive as possible. ‘I’m pulling an empty shuttle in for you now. Get on it. It’ll take you to the nearest GMU station, and-’

‘You aren’t coming?’ Mel asked, her mouth open with disbelief.

‘We’re not done here.’

‘You’ve learned the truth! Your job is done! Your debt is paid! They could kill you if you stay here!’

I shook my head.

‘No.’

‘We need to tell my people,’ Te’rnu interrupted, talkative again for the first time since he return to us. ‘We can’t let them live on like this.’

‘You can message them from the station!’ Mel pleaded.

‘No. The settlement screens are wired in to Central Command only. We can’t do it off planet.’

‘Te’rnu,’ Mel continued to beg, ‘Tell her, please. This is your fight, not her’s!’

‘There’s more,’ I continued, ‘There’s more I need to do here.’

The shuttle docked and the doors opened behind her.

‘What do you need to do? What’s so important that’s worth risking your life for?’

I shook my head. ‘There’s no time. Get on the shuttle. With any luck… I’ll catch up with you.’

Mel went silent, shot me another perplexed face. As she entered the shuttle, I closed the door, but she shot her hand out to stop it.

‘Come with,’ she said, one last time.

I shook my head, and Mel removed her hand, allowing the door to close. The shuttle undocked and I wondered, for the briefest of moments, whether I would live to see her again.

‘Are they outside?’ I asked Te’rnu. He looked at me blankly in response.

I rushed over to the security terminal, and tapped to bring up the closed circuit monitoring system.

‘They’re not. Not yet.’

‘OK,’ Te’rnu replied. ‘Let us take a moment, gather our-’

‘No,’ I interrupted.

‘No?’

‘At the moment, they only know that we’re in the building. Soon as they see a shuttle leaving the atmosphere, they’ll know what room we’re in. We need to be as far away from here as possible.’

Te’rnu nodded. ‘I understand.’

I tapped at the terminal once more, bringing up live feeds to the screens. Tens of Iyr guards filled the images.

Hm. Just how much did I really want this journal decoded?

‘It looks as though our path to the mainframe room is clear for now – most the Iyr are at the cells still, retracing our steps. For now.’

‘I shall keep my hand on the Incapacitate function.’

We nodded to one another. This was it, then: our big shot.

Te’rnu and I rushed for the doors, sprinting down the corridors that were, according to the screens a few moments earlier, devoid of any enemy presence.

On we ran, fighting our breath as we ploughed down corridors, and praying with every corner that we turned that we weren’t about to run into an Iyr – and our almost-certain deaths.

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