Chapter 17: Closing In

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As we entered the mainframe room, I stopped and turned for one last look. To my disbelief, there was still nobody on our tails. I did some mental maths – we had left the shuttle bay about five minutes ago, and it had taken us the same length of time to get there from the cells. If the Iyr were following in our footsteps, then they were arriving at the shuttle bay at that moment. We didn’t have long.

I rushed to the nearest security terminal, and tapped to bring up the live feeds once again. I was right – the Iyr were in the shuttle bay already. The Head of Guard pointed at their own security terminal, images of Te’rnu and I on their screens. We couldn’t count on having more than a couple of minutes to finish up in here.

‘Te’rnu, they’re coming.’

Te’rnu whipped his head around to look at me, face going white. ‘How long?’

‘Maybe a hundred seconds.’

Te’rnu nodded. ‘I will speak as quickly as I can.’

I rushed to the main terminal, bluffing my way through the user interface until I found the network communications package. As I worked, Te’rnu sat on his shaking hands.

‘Do we have time? To decode Leya’s journal?’

I glanced at the security terminal. The Iyr were close already, wasting no time in getting here.

I shook my head. ‘No. I don’t think we do.’

Te’rnu sat aside. ‘Go ahead.’

I turned to face him, brow furrowed. ‘But if we get caught, your people… they might never learn the truth.’

Te’rnu took my hand, and looked into my eyes.

‘Syl, if it were not for you, I would never have gotten this far. I would never have learned the truth. You deserve this.’

‘No, I-’

‘Decode the journal. Then we run. And-’

I interrupted my friend’s honourable rambling, exasperated in tone. ‘No, stop! Listen! We both saw that statue of Leya. We both heard about what she did for Nu’r’ka. She recognised the brilliance, the greatness of your people, Te’rnu. And so do I. Get ready to speak.’

I set the screen ready to record Te’rnu.

‘On my mark.’

‘On your what?’

‘When I say “go”, you speak. Tell your whole world the truth. Got it?’

Te’rnu nodded.

I got ready to press the broadcast button, but Te’rnu’s hand shot out to stop me.

‘Are you sure about this? What if you never find your sister because of this?’

I forced a smile, and it came out sadder than I had intended. ‘If we’re gonna find her, we’re gonna find her. We have a saying on Terra: whatever will be, will be.’

Te’rnu returned my smile. His was more sincere than mine was. ‘We have that expression here too.’

‘Ready?’

He pulled the head off his mechsuit, turned to me, and nodded. ‘Thanks, Syl.’

‘Go.’

I hurried to the door as Te’rnu began to speak.

‘Arellians. Please, listen to me, I don’t have much time.’

I poked my head outside, and was answered by a wave of phaser fire. I pulled my head quickly back inside, shutting the door firmly behind me.

They were at the end of the corridor already. It was a long way off, but still they would arrive before Te’rnu had a chance to explain himself.

‘My name is Te’rnu. I lived in Te’r’ok, just outside the Iyr capital, and I have dedicated my whole life to learning the truth that the Iyr have kept from us for millenia.’

A glowing light appear in my peripheral vision. I turned to the right. The ends of my hair, down by my shoulders, was burning – caught by the phasers. I patted it out as quickly as I could, before any serious harm could come to myself. Unfortunately, serious harm had already come to my haircut.

This one’s gonna be hard to explain at the hairdresser’s.

‘I was exiled from my own village for seeking the truth, but now, finally-’

‘Hey, Te’rnu?’ I called out. ‘Might wanna get to the point, buddy!’

My friend turned in his chair to face me. ‘Oh! Right! Yes!’

He whizzed back around.

I looked around the room, trying to find some way of getting an advantage over the approaching Iyr. In the corner, I noticed a gun rack – holding only one rifle for the two of us.

‘The truth is: the Iyr are not some other species! They are us!’

I picked the phaser up, held it in my hands… and accidentally fired a beam into the wall.

God, I hate phasers.

Te’rnu instinctively ducked in his chair, and turned again to shoot me a confused expression.

I pulled a face in response – and he turned back to the console.

‘The Mutation is not the end! It is only the beginning! Have you not wondered why the Iyr have always been so keen to help us with it? It is because it marks the beginning of us turning into them!’

I hurried for the door, and, having learned my lesson, did not peek out for a look. Instead, I held only the phaser outside, shooting beams around the corner – and almost certainly into the wall. I prayed that I didn’t hit anyone – killing someone would not go over well with my radical Terran conscience.

‘They are using us for their own personal gain! Our tributes to them are the basis for their entire economy! I implore you, all of you, please: stop giving the Iyr anything. They are doing us no favours. Arellians: stand up to them!’

Te’rnu slammed the broadcast button to end the recording, and rushed over to help me.

‘Quick!’ he shouted to me, at a volume I could just about hear over the sound of phaser fire. ‘Decode the journal! I will do my best to hold them off.’

Not needing to be convinced, I shoved the phaser into Te’rnu’s hands and rushed over to the console, plugging my diary in.

Behind me, the sound of phaser fire quickly faded.

‘Err… Syl?’ Te’rnu asked. ‘I think I have done something wrong.’

I turned to look at my friend to see him pulling the trigger with no effect.

‘You’ve put the safety on! Turn it-’

But it was too late. Te’rnu backed up slowly as a crowd of Iyr entered the room, the Head of Guard at the helm.

Te’rnu and I stepped backwards, away from the Iyr, slowly and cautiously. When my Arellian friend saw that I had raised my hands into the air, he followed suit.

The group stopped a few metres in front of the door, and a silence swept over the room for a few seconds. Tens of red eyes glowed in the dim light, like something out of an old Terran horror movie.

It was the Head of Guard who spoke first, voice swimming with rage, and punctuating each word with a pause.

‘You… are… wearing… my… suit!’ they roared.

Te’rnu gulped.

‘Only most of it,’ I mumbled, under my breath. Any louder and someone might have heard me.

‘What was that?’ the Head of Guard snarled at me.

Oops. They still heard me.

‘Nothing,’ I answered.

The Head of Guard nodded. ‘I thought as much.’

At a menacingly slow pace, they approached Te’rnu and I.

‘Do you know what you have done?’

I shook my head. Te’rnu nodded.

The intimidating Iyr stopped in front of Te’rnu and held their helmeted face with in front of Te’rnu’s.

‘You have doomed your own planet. Do you realise this?’

‘I…,’ Te’rnu began to murmur, ‘I haven’t doomed us. I have told the truth, that is all. We deserve to know.’

‘Why? Why on Z’h’ar do you believe that to be the case?’ the Head of Guard snapped back at him. ‘I was pre-Mutation, once, too, remember. I did my time. Every Iyr in this room did their time. And now that we are old enough to reap the spoils, you do this? You cannot possibly imagine the implications this will have.’

The Head of Guard stopped staring Te’rnu down, and moved on to me.

‘And you,’ they growled at me. ‘I knew from the moment I saw you in that bar that you were nothing but trouble. This is typical of a Terran. You have been brainwashed by your own people. You subscribe to your own sense of ethics, with no room for any other ideas to be considered.’

They chuckled a resigned laugh. I chose an ashamed grin as an appropriate response.

‘No!’ the Head of Guard continued, ‘Do not smile! Do not think you have done good here. I will not have you thinking this!’

They turned to the group of armed Iyr behind them.

‘Guards, ready your weapons.’

I put my arms out in front of me, pleading for them to back off.

‘Wait! No! You’re really going to kill a tourist?’

I didn’t wait for a response; the number of guns pointed towards my face suggested that it wasn’t going to be a good one. Instead, I grabbed at my right wrist, and activated that ever-trustworthy EMP.

Who needs phasers, anyway?

The whoomph echoed around the room as the lights, computer systems, and mechsuits all simultaneously went offline. We were enveloped in almost total darkness – the only source of light being the small window at the end of the corridor.

Without wasting a second, I sprinted towards the door, through the group of frozen Iyr.

‘Syl!’ a voice called out behind me.

Oops – Te’rnu.

I looked back, over my shoulder, but couldn’t make him out in the darkness.

With a sigh, I turned on my heel and rushed back towards him.

‘Ah,’ I said when I saw him. ‘Sorry. Forgot you’d be stuck.’

Te’rnu, like the rest of the Iyr in the room, was wrestling with the hydraulics in his suit – but getting nowhere.

I pulled at the clips around his limbs, one by one, releasing them.

Some of the Iyr guards had managed to move their arms to aim at us, but the click-click-click of the triggers suggested that the rifles hadn’t rebooted just yet. I knew, at least, that we didn’t have long; the phaser in the outpost hadn’t taken too long to re-start, and waiting around here for a more precise estimate was perhaps not a great idea.

My friend wriggled free of the last limb – a leg frozen in place on the ground.

‘The suits are beginning to reboot already,’ Te’rnu told me, voice anxious, ‘We don’t have long.’

‘We don’t need long,’ I assured him.

Te’rnu now free of his suit, we bolted for the door, weaving through the Iyr who were slowly moving to block our exit. We sprinted down the corridor, echoes at our rear of mechsuit feet occasionally hitting the floor as the Iyr trudged on.

We turned the corner at the end of the corridor, heading back the way we’d come – from the shuttle bay. I crashed into an Iyr, who was frozen in place by the rebooting mechsuit.

‘There!’ they called at another Iyr, standing nearby, equally stuck in their place.

They growled as I picked myself back up to my feet, and joined Te’rnu in continuing our escape.

A phaser beam shot over our heads. The phasers were on back online, then – but at least the Iyr were still struggling to aim.

Another shot came – closer this time.

‘Te’rnu!’ I called out, signalling for him to make a turn.

We shot down another corridor, off to our left.

‘We did not come this way?’ Te’rnu asked through heavy breaths.

‘No,’ I replied, equally out of breath. ‘But I didn’t fancy risking a third shot. I know the way.’

We turned another corner – bringing us back on route to the shuttle bay. In this corridor, fortunately, there were no Iyr to speak of. Perhaps because they were retracing our steps – and we hadn’t come this way before.

Soon, the doors to the shuttle bay were back in front of us. Our escape was in sight.

All we needed to do was get in there, barricade the door, and call a shuttle… and then I could get off this damned planet.

We burst through the shuttle bay doors – straight into a squad of armed Iyr guards.

‘We thought you would come back this way,’ one of them gloated.

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