Chapter 29

I led the way up the stairs. Lee followed behind me as Eddie picked up the rear. My eyes remained on constant lookout for HIRCs or Zyken; after Oz’s untimely death, I wasn’t about to be caught unprepared again.

After reaching the top of the stairs, we carefully retraced our original steps back to the brig. Its door remained open and the inside of the room was empty, implying that Rogi had successfully evacuated Danny and Cierra.

Good. I just hoped that whenever Eddie and I returned to normal school life, Danny wouldn’t remember any of this – because if he did, we were screwed.

I stifled a smile and focused my attention coldly and clearly onto remembering the path back to Zyken’s office. Once I had my bearings, we continued on our way.

Moments later we quietly entered the hallway adjacent to Zyken’s office. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d actually remembered the way there. Thank goodness for adrenaline. Without it, I would’ve collapsed from stress, exhaustion, and an ever-growing lack of sleep.

The three of us leaned in for a quick planning session.

“Anyone know how to get into Zyken’s office?”

Lee and Eddie shook their heads.

“Why do you want to return there?” Kyralee asked. “We should be moving toward the portalgate room.”

“Well unless you know how to get there, we’re stuck. I don’t remember how to get anywhere but here. I was hoping we could use Zyken’s computer to get a map.”

Eddie smacked his head.

“As weird as this sounds, we really should have searched Oz’s body before we left. He could have had a map, or keycards, or other useful things. Is it too late to go back and check?”

This was a decent suggestion, but I didn’t like the idea of trekking all the way back to Oz.

If only there were a way to read the hidden markings on the walls – the ones only Zargansk could see.

“Can either of you think of a way to read the ultraviolet text on the walls – the hidden stuff Oz mentioned?”

Eddie and Lee pondered for a moment, and then the door to Zyken’s office slid quietly open. Each of us turned reflexively toward it, but – thankfully – Zyken was facing the other direction and communicating with another Zargansk via his wallscreens.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Phenx? I have the human children in custody. Do not question me again.”

We quickly slithered around the nearest corner. Eddie began searching through his backpack while Lee and I eavesdropped on the conversation drifting out Zyken’s office door.

“I am not questioning your leadership, Master Zyken. I merely want to ensure that the human children who shot me are brought to justice.”

“Do you really think I would allow human children who shot a Zargansk scientist to go unpunished? Do you think me an idiot?”

“No, Master Zyken. Of course not.”

“And need I remind you that you are already under review for your inappropriate and rash behavior against the ambassador’s family?”

“No reminder needed, sir. How is the young girl that was–”

“DO NOT ASK!”

Lee and I flinched at Zyken’s sudden outburst.

“I have had enough, Phenx. Leave me.”

“Yes, sir.”

A short beep sounded and Zyken let out a loud, frustrated-sounding groan. I readied my rifle as Lee tightened a fist around her silex.

Footsteps suddenly pitter-pattered from the unseen side of the hallway and into Zyken’s office.

“Master Zyken, sir!”

Zyken growled before grumbling, “what does it take to get a moment of quiet around here?”

“My apologies, but it is regarding the prisoners.”

“…What.”

“They have escaped, sir. We caught the enemy HIRC – the one named Rogi – escorting some of the human children to the surface.”

Another growl.

“Did you capture him?”

“No, sir. He escaped capture and is currently roaming the tunnels.”

Another growl, this one followed by a loud crash.

“…And what of the other prisoners. Have you captured them?”

“No, sir. Doctor Oz is dead, and all other prisoners are either escaped or unaccounted for.”

A sudden explosion shook the hallway and it sounded like at least one body got blown into pieces. Angry footsteps pounded away from Zyken’s office, and then everything went silent once more.

“A ha! I’m a genius!”

Lee and I both slapped hands over Eddie’s open mouth.

“Quiet!” we whispered in unison.

“Sorry,” he whispered loudly. “But it’s true – I am a genius.”

“Did you find a way to read the Zargansk markings?”

Eddie grinned as he pulled a large, cheap-looking pen out of his backpack.

“This is the secret to our success.”

I raised an eyebrow and Lee giggled.

“What on earth is that?”

“You are looking at a SpyPen 2000, a birthday present I’ve kept in my bag for the last four years.”

“…And that means?”

“A spy pen, Teal! One end writes in fluorescent ink; the other end has a blacklight. Blacklights emit UV light, and that will let us read the Zargansk signs on the walls!”

I felt a smile creep across my face.

“This is totally ridiculous, but I guess it’s worth a try. Let’s see if you’re right.”

Eddie grinned and stood up, then pushed a button on the edge of the pen and placed the lit end of it next to the wall. Nothing happened, but as soon as he walked two steps to the right, a series of odd shapes and symbols glowed in faint shades of violet.

He turned and wagged his finger at me.

“Teach you to doubt me! Now we can head straight to the portalgate! Zyken will never catch us!”

We high-fived, heartily congratulating each other on our collective brilliance. It wasn’t until Kyralee cleared her throat that we stopped cheering and turned to face her.

“What is it, Lee?”

She pointed at the wall behind us, where Eddie’s SpyPen 2000 continued to illuminate the strange series of symbols and shapes. I traded glances with him, then gave Lee a wondering stare.

“…Yeah?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Unless either of you can read Zargansk, those symbols will not be much help.”

It took me a moment to comprehend what she was saying. When I did, it was all I could do to keep from slapping myself.

“I still don’t get it,” Eddie said, scratching his head.

“The writing!” I said, pointing at the symbols beneath the blacklight. “It’s not in English!”

Eddie looked between the wall and I several more times before uttering a single word:

“Oh.”

I scowled and turned to Lee.

“Great. Just great. Do you have any ideas for finding the portalgate room?”

“No,” she whispered, “but I might be able to find one in Zyken’s office.”

She smiled mischievously, then crept around the corner and into Zyken’s still-open office.

Suddenly the hallway flashed a bright, dangerous red – just like the lights in Oz’s office before the HIRCs came after us.

Eddie and I traded knowing glances, then both of us scampered after Lee.

“We gotta go,” I whispered, taking hold of her arm. “We’ll just have to take our best guess with directions.”

She nodded, then slipped her arm out of my grasp and took off running. I followed and with Eddie trailing behind, we began our frantic sprint through the tunnels.

Down every tunnel we entered I searched desperately for something familiar, some kind of landmark we could use to orient ourselves. Each time I found nothing. We had no choice but to choose hallways at random.

As we entered a particularly long hallway with no doors, green bursts of energy suddenly blew past my face. We returned fire, forcing our pursuers to duck into an adjoining hall.

In the second of peace that followed, I again chose randomly and darted right at the end of the tunnel. This led to another T-intersection where we arbitrarily turned left. The tunnel curved around before becoming long and straight again, but this time something felt different.

Far down the hallway, dim white light drifted down an adjoining tunnel.

Dim white light. Not blue or red light. Real, honest-to-goodness white light.

This had to be the hallway at the bottom of the tunnel leading up to the school.

“Quick, guys! We know this tunnel!”

With Lee and Eddie racing beside me, we reached the intersection with the school-leading tunnel and stopped to spare a glance upward.

And what that glance reveal? A huge group of HIRCs racing down the tunnel, bearing straight for us. The lead HIRC made eye contact and yelled out, “that’s them! Fire!”

Eddie raced ahead as Lee and I leapt out of the HIRC-filled tunnel, thirty blasts of energy dissipating into the spot we’d just vacated. With Eddie now leading the way, we moved ever faster through the tunnels.

Lucky for us, Eddie’s memory proved flawless as he darted from intersection to intersection, unhesitatingly leading us deeper into the tunnels and closer to the portalgate room. I picked up the rear while Lee stayed in the middle; I wasn’t about to let her get shot from behind.

But, thankfully, we had thus far moved quickly enough that the HIRCs had been unable to get a clean shot, and Eddie’s unfailing judgment seemed to be moving us closer and closer to our goal.

At a particularly confusing junction – six hallways meeting together – Eddie hesitated in deciding which path to take, inadvertently causing Kyralee and I to crash into him at full-speed.

“Eddie, go!” Lee yelled, as the sounds of pursuing HIRCs crept ever nearer.

He hesitated again, then darted down a hallway I knew wasn’t right.

“No, this way!” I said, taking the next tunnel over.

Just then a tall, lanky figure emerged from a doorway down that tunnel. I raised my rifle to take out this new enemy, but the figure waved his arms and yelled, “stop! It’s me, Rogi!”

I pulled my finger off the trigger and raced toward the lone HIRC. Gun bursts flew through the intersection we’d just left, and with Rogi now leading the way our group moved faster than ever, aided by a hearty dose of fear and adrenaline pumping through each of us.

Moments later, I let out a victory cry as we entered the long, smooth tunnel leading to the portalgate room. We plowed down it rapidly, legs pounding in unison, until at last we found ourselves inside the empty portal room.

Rogi fiddled with a control panel to the side of the entryway, and the door to the room slid shut just as a cluster of green energy smashed down behind it.

We were finally safe.

I leaned against the wall and tried to catch my breath, sweat dripping from every part of my body as my legs remembered how much they hated running. If I had to guess, I’d probably done more running in the last 72 hours than I had in the whole rest of my life, combined.

Then everything changed, starting with Lee belting out a gut-wrenching scream.

I spun around.

Zyken stood before us, half-hidden behind a large pillar in the corner where the portalgate had previously been.

I whipped out my rifle to blast the defiant alien to smithereens, but I was too slow; Zyken snapped out his hand and expelled a blast of lightning at me before I could pull the trigger.

I dove behind a neighboring table just in time, leaving the lightning to disappear harmlessly into the smooth silver walls of the room.

Eddie was already halfway to firing when the Zargansk scientist angrily flicked his other wrist outward, sending a tiny strand of metal soaring from his grip. The strand wrapped itself tightly around Eddie and then, almost magnetically, dragged him violently against the wall. Eddie squirmed and tried to bring his rifle to bear, but the miniature wire had clamped down or immobilized every one of his limbs. All he could do was watch.

I screamed at the other two.

“Lee! Rogi!”

Rogi looked as though he was tempted to join in the fight, but he simply stepped back and leaned lightly against the far wall. Lee looked warily from Zyken to Eddie to me, then slowly and cautiously walked over to Zyken’s side.

Wait – what? What just happened? Did she…?

…My mind drifted to the horrible possibility that I was being betrayed. I tried to force my mind away from this, but the realization did not escape Zyken.

“O ho ho,” he laughed maniacally. “This is a most interesting development! Oz’s creations come over to join me, do they? How fitting!”

I tried to inconspicuously peek from behind my desk, but Zyken whipped out another vicious burst of lightning. The blast came dangerously close to decapitating me, and only by slamming myself back behind the desk did I avoid being hit.

Zyken laughed again.

“Oz thought Kyralee and Rogi would choose to help you humans, but in the end they become just another tool of mine!”

Zyken had to be lying. This was all just part of Kyralee’s plan to free us… wasn’t it?

Another peek, another quiver of Zyken’s hand. This blast of lightning missed my face by mere inches; two more blasts followed it, followed by another bout of psychotic laughter.

“Sweet Kyralee, our grandest experiment! Oh, how you have succeeded! And to think it was the humans who gave us the idea that created you!”

I was truly worried now. Another glance – this one undetected – showed Kyralee with a vacant expression, her shoulder firmly enclosed by Zyken’s large gray hand.

I slipped back behind the desk and suddenly remembered the odd conversation I’d had with Kyralee earlier that night – the conversation where she claimed to not remember how or why she came to earth.

She had to have been lying to me. What other explanation could there be?

Grief and shame washed over me. My gut instinct outside the school had been right. This whole thing was an elaborate trap, and I had walked smack into it. Now Zyken would kill Eddie, then use nanons or some other terrible tool to pull dad’s location out of my brain. Then the psycho alien scientist would kill me.

It was then that I realized I had failed. My mission to save my dad was about to meet its horrible, tragic end.

In desperation, I popped around the opposite side of the desk and fired three quick gun blasts at Zyken – but his reflexes were impossibly fast. Way before the blasts hit him, he threw out his hand and a translucent, shimmering circle materialized in front of him and Kyralee. The circle bowed in as the blasts from my rifle impacted; then it rebounded violently and sent the green balls of energy flying straight back at me.

I yelled and dove back behind the steel desk. This could only end badly.

The weakened desk bore the full brunt of the rebounding blasts’ impacts, disappearing in the monstrous explosion that ensued. I curled into a ball as debris flew across the room, spattering me and everyone else, as my subconscious silently prayed that this wouldn’t be the end.

For better or worse, it wasn’t. There was no bright light, no waking up surrounded by beautiful harp-bearing angels. Just a lot of dust choking every orifice I could identify, and the sound of airborne particles tinkering to the ground.

I stayed curled in my ball until Zyken’s laughter brought me back to the horror of my current situation. I opened my eyes to find the air still thick with dust, but not thick enough – it was obvious that my protective desk had been completely destroyed, leaving me alone and exposed in the middle of a miniature crater.

I was most definitely screwed.

Out of options, I turned to face the alien that had beat me. Our eyes met, and Zyken smiled gleefully as he raised his left hand in my direction.

“Now you will see what happens to humans that defy me,” he muttered, his fingers already tightening around the small black silex in his hand.



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