Chapter 28

The room continued expanding as I nervously held my breath. What was I supposed to do when the door opened? Charge? Scream? Wait for someone else to act?

All my options seemed ludicrous, and then the room stopped expanding as the large metal door slid quietly open.

Two HIRCs stood outside, but before they could utter a word Kyralee unleashed a monstrous gust of fire. The blast caught them completely by surprise, and both silently collapsed beneath the sudden inferno.

As the flames died down, Eddie and I grabbed the HIRCs’ rifles. Rogi took a blaster pistol from each before handing one to Doctor Oz.

We were back in business.

“What should we do with Cierra and Danny?” asked Eddie.

I glanced at Oz for advice, but the old Zargansk just shrugged.

“We need to get them out of here,” I said. “How long until they can walk?”

Oz shook his head.

“The exact duration varies from person to person.”

Back inside the brig, Danny suddenly grumbled and rolled over. It wouldn’t be long before he and Cierra awoke… but we couldn’t afford to sit around and wait for that.

“Say,” I asked, turning to Rogi. “You’re super-strong. Couldn’t you carry Danny and Cierra up to the school? Then, once they wake up, they can take care of the rest.”

“Good idea,” said Oz. “Rogi, please remove the two unconscious children. I will go with these three.”

Rogi nodded, then asked, “where will you go? Where should I look for you once I have safely removed those two?”

Oz placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you still interested in collecting antidotes for your father?”

I began to nod, when suddenly my mind plugged in a memory I had previously forgotten.

When we first met Zyken in the hallway, he said something about wanting to keep my father free, to which Oz replied such a wish was ‘not for the right reasons…’

“Wait, Oz. Why would Zyken want my father to go free? And why did he suggest you want my father captured?”

The old Zargansk scientist paused, and the look on his face meant that Zyken’s claim had at least some merit.

“Teal, you must understand something,” he began to reply, but I shook my head firmly.

“No more stories, please. Give it to me straight.”

“…Very well. Your father does not have much time left. When I reviewed his sensor readouts earlier today, the data indicated that he has only several days to live. Once your father passes away, it will only be a matter of hours before Zyken and his followers in the Council are able to push through Kepik’s execution order.”

My stomach dropped.

“If, however, your father were to return to service as an ambassador, there is a good chance that Kepik would be acquitted…”

“…which would end Zyken’s reign of terror, since Kepik would be back as head of Project Earth,” Eddie finished.

As much as I didn’t want to, I inadvertently thought back to what Lee had told me earlier in the car.

I know you love your father, but you must understand something: Kepik Arist is the only hope for humans… Without him, it is only a matter of time before the Zargansk launch a war on humans everywhere… We will not survive…

Now I had a full understanding of why she’d said that. She was absolutely right.

I involuntarily gulped, and that’s when I noticed the large knot tying itself into the back of my throat, followed seconds later by a sudden burning behind my eyes.

Hold it in, Teal. Hold it in.

Oz placed both hands on my shoulders.

“My boy, you do not have to make this decision. It is your father’s choice to make, and he can only do that if he is well.”

Then he squeezed.

“We will get him an antidote.”

Stupid tears. I wiped my eyes with the back of my arm and tried to put on a brave face.

“Thanks, Oz,” I muttered between awkward breaths. “I just don’t want him to die.”

He nodded.

“He will live, Teal. I will see to it personally.”

I said nothing, instead focusing on getting my emotions under control.

Then I resolved that the first thing I’d do when this was all over was teach myself not to cry. Crying sucked.

Oz lifted his hands from my shoulders and turned to Rogi.

“Quickly, Rogi – get those two humans out of here. I will take Teal, Eddie, and Kyralee to find antidotes for Teal’s father.”

Rogi nodded and rushed back into the brig, throwing Danny over one shoulder and Cierra over the other. Without so much as a pause, he whisked back out the door and sprinted down the hallway.

Oz smiled and shook his head.

“He is amazing, no?”

We all nodded.

“Truly amazing… but now you must follow me. Please stay as quiet as possible.”

He began jogging down the hallway in the opposite direction of where Rogi had taken Danny and Cierra.

In a quiet line, Eddie, Kyralee and I followed close behind.

After several empty hallways, Oz approached a bare patch of wall and placed his hand against it. A soft blue outline appeared around his hand, and beside it a section of wall disappeared to reveal a steeply sloped staircase.

“Unbelievable,” said Eddie. “How do you find your way around this place?”

“Zargansk are able to see higher wavelengths of light than humans,” Oz replied. “These tunnel walls have fluorescent markings that show up only under UV light – markings which no human can read, but we can see just fine. We did this as a precaution in case the ambassador for this location – or any other humans, for that matter – decided to go wandering.”

Eddie grinned at this revelation as Oz quickly led the way down the hidden staircase. It continued on for at least thirty steps (I lost count around fifteen) then terminated in a small, circular landing with three doorways. Oz took the door furthest to the left, and midway down this hallway – another long, straight, unsloped one – he again raised his hand to the wall. As before, a blue outline appeared and a door to the side slid silently open.

“Here we are,” said Oz, motioning for me to enter.

My heart pounded.

This was it. This room held the answer to my father’s sickness.

At long last, we had reached the end of my mission. The prize. We were almost done with this whole stupid alien debacle.

I anxiously stepped through the open doorway… and it was immediately obvious that something wasn’t right.

Charred boxes encompassed most of the small room. Glass vials that once held a chalky green liquid lay shattered, and more of the green stuff covered the walls and ceiling of the room.

It looked as if someone had just been there – and taken a baseball bat to the entire room.

My stomach plummeted, and even Kyralee’s soft arms wrapping themselves around me couldn’t stop the rage building inside me.

“Teal, I am so sorry,” she whispered, hugging me close. Behind me, Eddie softly set a hand onto my shoulder.

“Dude, this ain’t right,” he muttered.

My fists began to shake as I settled on the only viable explanation.

After sending us to the brig, Zyken must have ordered this room destroyed. He had ensured my father wouldn’t get an antidote.

He had lied about everything, and I was going to kill him.

Kyralee pulled away as I turned to face Oz.

“Where can I find Zyken?”

“I do not know,” he said. “But Teal – you must not seek revenge against Zyken, at least not yet.”

“What?” I yelled. “He’s just killed my dad! Don’t lecture me on revenge!”

Oz placed a firm hand on my shoulder.

“Your father is not dead yet. It will be difficult, but we can still get him an antidote.”

“…How?” I asked, my fists still quaking.

“We must travel through a portalgate, as you originally planned. There may not be any antidotes left in this facility, but we can find some elsewhere. Do not give up yet.”

I shut my eyes and tried to calm my ragged breathing. I needed to harness the rage flowing through me. If I could contain it just a little longer, I could use it to help me – not hurt me.

Because Oz was right. We needed to go with the original plan. It was time to head for the room with the portalgate.

“Okay,” I said. “You win. We should head to the portalgate. Since we shut it down this morning, we’ll need to–”

Eddie tapped me on the shoulder.

“What?”

“Well, since it’s after midnight, it would technically have been yesterday morning that we shut down the portalgate.”

My eyes bugged out as I exercised all the self-control I could muster. Eddie was not wise to try my patience now.

“You… unbelievable…”

I took a deep breath and tried clear my mind.

“Anyway, we need to return to the room where the portalgate used to be. I still have the remeter,” I continued, removing the metal pole from my back pocket, “but I suppose we’ll need to get back to that room before we can reopen the portal.”

Oz nodded.

“You are correct. Follow me.”

He turned and begin walking back toward the staircase when a sudden burst of light lit up the hallway. Multiple green blasts of energy soared past us, barely missing Eddie, Kyralee and I.

But they did not miss Oz, and the force of their impact threw the elderly Zargansk scientist to the floor.

Eddie whirled around and sent a horde of energy back down the hallway; Kyralee joined in with blasts of fire, while I sprinted with all my might back to Oz.

Another volley of green energy soared over my head as I reached Oz and rolled him onto his back, but I was too late. The old scientist’s eyes lay open and unmoving, and it was clear he was no longer with us.

The rage inside me boiled over. Without a second thought, I pulled out my Zargansk rifle, clamped down on the trigger, and tore down the hallway, screaming all the way. My green blasts of energy merged with Eddie’s, and between them and Lee’s fire, all shooting from our enemies quickly ceased.

I continued sprinting down the hallway until I reached the lifeless bodies of the HIRCs that had attacked us…

…the HIRCs that had killed Oz.

All conscious thought dissolved as I blasted the HIRCs over and over and over again, swearing vengeance for Oz and dad and everyone else that the stupid aliens and their stupid HIRCs had hurt.

I was so sick of opposition – so sick of unexplained enemies and mind-boggling conspiracies. I didn’t want to fight like this. A week ago I had been a normal high school kid and that was fine with me.

Why me? Why was my dad the one dying? Why was I the one forced to fight off hordes of alien soldiers at every turn?

It was all so completely and unbelievably unfair.

I would give anything to turn back time, to return my life to a point where I didn’t know my dad was dying or that aliens existed. I wanted to purge my mind of every thought of portalgates and HIRCs and laser guns and time-stopping watches.

It wasn’t until Lee placed a soft hand onto my shoulder that I stopped firing and realized I was once again crying. It was harder to stop this time; the emotions were too overwhelming, and rather than try and stop it, I let the tears flow as I collapsed into Kyralee’s outstretched arms.

“Why?” I muttered. “Why is this happening to me? Why do I have to watch all this? Why do I have to fight? Why is my dad the one dying? Why did Oz have to die too?”

She held me tightly as I tried to regain control over my emotions.

“Oz could have helped us – he could have gotten us through the portalgate. He wanted to help us. There was so much more he could have explained, so many more questions he could have answered. But now he’s gone…”

Kyralee said nothing, and eventually I was able to get myself under control. As stupid as I felt for crying yet again, there was no denying how good it felt to rest in her arms. I’d never had a girlfriend before – heck, had I been successful in asking out Cierra that would have been my first real date. I wondered if Kyralee would be down for hanging out once this whole thing got sorted out.

Aw, hell. Who was I kidding? How could I think about dating amidst the horror of what had just happened? Kyralee and I could never be together, and I was stupid for even considering it.

I pulled away and wiped my eyes for what I hoped was the last time. I avoided eye contact with Kyralee, instead just squeezing her arm in thanks before joining Eddie in standing over Oz’s lifeless body.

Eddie reached down and gently closed the Zargansk scientist’s eyes. Kyralee walked over to join us, and after a moment she placed a hand on my shoulder.

It felt nice.

I’m not sure how much time passed before she spoke.

“Well,” she asked, “what is our next move?”

Eddie shrugged.

“Same as always, I guess – take out more HIRCs, save the world, get Teal’s dad fixed up.”

He smiled his cheesiest smile and slapped me on the back.

“Ha ha,” I said, with sarcasm as thick as my grief. “That’s a lot easier said than done. What are we supposed to do now? We’re screwed without Oz.”

Eddie thought for a moment.

“Well, I won’t lie – the odds are definitely against us. We’ll just have to go with our original plan: find the portalgate and go save Kepik.”

“Get real,” I said, scowling. “That plan will never work.”

“Sure it will! But we need to hurry, since more HIRCs are probably on the way.”

“What’s the point?” I yelled, kicking the wall beside us. “No matter what we do, we’ll always be outnumbered. Assuming we can even make it to the portalgate – and really, what are the odds of that? – how could we possibly hope to free this Kepik guy? And, even if we could by some miracle free him from a top-security alien prison, what are the odds he’d be willing to spend time getting us antidotes?

“AND,” I continued, my voice escalating, “even if he DID get us antidotes, what are the chances of us getting back to earth before my dad dies? It’s all impossible! It’ll never work!”

No one responded to me.

“I appreciate all your help Eddie – you too, Kyralee – but let’s face it: we’re screwed. Dad’s screwed. There’s no way three kids can pull this off. We probably won’t even make it out of these tunnels before the HIRCs find us and kill us.”

A humid silence hung in the air. Eddie shifted his weight from foot to foot. Kyralee stared at the ground.

“Well, I guess the silence means I’m right. Let’s–”

“No,” Kyralee interrupted. “No, Teal. You are wrong.”

“Are you kidding me? How can I be wrong?”

“We must not give up.”

“Look, Kyralee – I’m all for bravery and courage and all that, but continuing with this mission is suicide. I value my life – and yours and Eddie’s – enough to know that trying to go through the portalgate is completely insane.”

She shook her head before looking straight at me.

“As much as I disagree, Teal, it sounds like your mind is already made up.”

“Unless you can give me a really good reason to think otherwise, yeah – my mind is made up.”

Suddenly Eddie spoke.

“Say, Teal – I just thought of something. Was there anything in your dad’s secret box besides the magic stones?”

What? Why was he bringing this up now?

“Yeah, there were some other things.”

“Like what?”

I pulled off my backpack, rifled through it, found the silver box and pulled it out.

“There’s not much in here,” I said, opening the box. Kyralee and Eddie gathered around.

“A little key, a silver pole like the one I’m carrying–”

“A remeter,” Kyralee said, pointing.

“Yeah, that. And this golden note thing.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow.

“A golden note? What’s it say? Have you read it?”

“I haven’t.”

“So what are you waiting for? Let’s take a look!”

I really wanted to get out of the alien tunnels, but I knew Eddie wouldn’t leave me alone until I read the note. With a roll of my eyes, I removed the golden sheet and gently unrolled it.

Though gold on the outside, the interior face of the paper was a bright, clear white. Small printed text covered this entire side of the note, and a quick glance at the top and bottom revealed who the note was to and from.

“Whoa. This is–”

“Dude!” Eddie interrupted. “This is a letter from Kepik to your old man!”

Indeed it was. I started to read the note out loud.

“cRonus-

“There is no easy way to put this, so I am just going to say it.

“I have seven days to live.”

“Wait,” Kyralee said. “Is there a date on this message?”

I scanned the note from top to bottom.

“No, I can’t see a date.”

“Then this must not be very old. When could it have been sent?”

I thought for a moment.

“Remember what Oz said just before…” I took a deep breath. “…Just before he got shot? He said my dad only had a couple days left to live, which in turn meant that Kepik only had a couple days left to live as well.”

Eddie spoke next.

“So is that why Kepik says he only has seven days to live? Because he knew your dad didn’t have much time left?”

“I don’t know. Let’s keep reading.

“I have seven days to live.

“In your time, that works out to 168 hours. It seems longer when I write it like that.”

Eddie and I looked at Kyralee.

“Zargansk measure time differently,” she said. “Orionis has 16-hour days, but each hour there is closer to an hour-and-a-half on earth.”

“I’m not as sad as I thought I might be. Maybe it is because I knew this was coming. Maybe the shock has not fully set in. Either way, I plan on spending these last 168 hours well.

I am starting by writing you this message. I will be hauled off to the prison on eNsis in a matter of minutes, but before that happens I have several important things to tell you… things you should have been told a long time ago.

“In case you have yet to figure it out, you are not sick. You have been poisoned. The poison is lethal and only I have the antidote. Unfortunately, once I am on eNsis I will have no way to get you the antidote like I have for the last 10 years.”

That answered one question I had – how long dad had been doing this ambassador thing.

10 years. Wow.

I continued reading until I hit a line that didn’t make sense.

“I suppose the good news is that while I have seven days to live, you could have as many as 30. Spend your time wisely.”

“Wait,” Eddie and Kyralee said in unison.

“I know – it doesn’t make sense. Kepik must not have known that dad was only days from dying.”

“But he had to know,” replied Eddie. “Why else would he say he only had seven days to live?”

“Maybe he knows something we don’t. Maybe his trial has been moved up.”

Kyralee gasped before whispering, “maybe Kepik is already dead.”

One more reason to forget about traveling through that stupid portalgate.

I continued reading the note as Kepik described the contents of the box. Eddie and Kyralee seemed confused when I read the part about the device Kepik didn’t understand – the one to save for ‘a time of great need.’ That had to be the time-stopping watch, which I still hadn’t mentioned to them.

But I didn’t bring it up. Everyone else had their secrets, so why couldn’t I keep one of my own?

Then the note got weird.

Kepik went on to describe a dream he’d had (something that was apparently rare among the aliens). The dream seemed normal enough, but then Kepik wrote something crazy:

“Suddenly I turned and realized one of your children was standing next to me.

“Don’t ask how I knew it, cRonus. Somehow it was obvious the child was yours.”

“Teal,” Kyralee whispered. “Is he speaking of you?”

I shrugged and continued reading.

“I told your child to run before the armies collided, but he just smiled and shook his head.

“I grabbed him and commanded that he leave – but he just laughed before saying, ‘kEpik, don’t worry. Everything will be okay.’

“’How is this okay?’ I screamed, pointing at the armies racing toward us.

“But he ignored me. Were it my own child, I would have punished him severely.”

“Hmm,” Eddie said. “This kid is kind of a smart-ass. Must be Teal.”

I rolled my eyes and continued.

“As the armies neared, I sank to the ground and told your child to do the same. But he just smiled, shook his head, and reached into a sheath hanging from his waist (I swear it had not been there before) and pulled out…

“…are you ready?

“He pulled out a sword, cRonus. A massive, gleaming, immaculate sword. I asked him what he intended to do with it, and he said this—

“’I believe the truth will set them free.’”

A chill ran down my spine.

“Those words,” Eddie said. “Why are they familiar?”

“It’s a Bible verse,” I said. “John 8:32.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“How on earth did you know that? Are you secretly a monk?”

“Eddie c’mon – that verse is my dad’s favorite Bible passage. Haven’t you seen the plaque on our living room wall? The one with those exact words on it?”

He thought for a moment, then grinned and nodded.

“You’re right!”

“Of course I’m right. That’s the only Bible reference I know, and I only know it because of that plaque.”

Dad’s favorite Bible verse… what were the odds of that showing up in Kepik’s dream? Did Kepik know this connection?

Weird, weird, weird.

The note went on.

“After saying this, your child raised the sword and smashed it into the ground.

“A massive rift ripped apart the earth. It was like an enormous knife had been dragged across the line separating the two armies, beginning at your child and extending beyond my range of vision. I watched as both armies sprinted toward the rift, neither slowing, racing toward their inevitable doom as the emerging chasm opened to swallow them.

“And then I awoke.

“Dear gOds, the soldiers are banging on my door. I must go.

“I do not know what this dream means. I hope you can draw some truth from it – something that will save us both.”

“And, perhaps by saving us, save our races too.”

“Farewell, my cRonus.”

“My son.”

“—kEpik aRist”

I immediately knew what Eddie was going to ask, and – sure enough – he didn’t disappoint.

“Teal! Your dad is Kepik’s son!”

“I doubt he means that literally.”

“Teal is right,” Kyralee said. “Zargansk use the term son not only in the biological sense, but also as a title of great honor. Kepik must care very deeply for your father.”

I nodded in agreement. This note made that much clear.

“You know,” Eddie said, “I was almost ready to agree that we just get out of here and forget about the portalgate. But this changes things.”

Much as I didn’t want to admit it, he was right. This dream of Kepik’s had to be important – I mean, it was the last thing he’d told my dad before being hauled off to that Zargansk prison. That alone testified to its seriousness.

This also explained some things that hadn’t made sense before. Now I knew why dad had suggested I go through the portalgate. He must have thought Kepik’s dream was some kind of sign.

And, when mom had barged in on Eddie and I while we were researching Augustus Beck and Genetitech, she had been clutching a shiny rolled up something. A shiny gold note, perhaps? She must have found this letter and panicked, only to be called by the hospital moments later. No wonder she seemed so distraught.

This prompted a new question.

“Hey, Eddie – remember Augustus Beck? You think he’s down here somewhere?”

He shrugged.

“Makes you wonder. Kyralee, have you heard that name?”

“I have not. Is he another human ambassador?”

“Er, not exactly. We just thought he might be connected to everything going on down here.”

A sudden clunk echoed down the hallway. All of us froze, our hands involuntarily clutching our various weapons.

But no sounds followed. Thankfully.

“We should get out of here,” Eddie whispered.

Kyralee nodded her assent. I placed the golden note back in the silver box, then closed it and placed it back in Eddie’s emergency backpack. Once the pack was again on my shoulders, I reaffirmed my grip on the Zargansk pistol and headed for the staircase.

It was time to find ourselves a portalgate.



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