Chapter 30

I closed my eyes and hoped Zyken’s lightning would kill me quickly. He at least owed me that.

After all, I was completely revealed, completely alone. Eddie was trapped, Rogi had turned indifferent to my plight, and Kyralee – beautiful Kyralee – had betrayed us all.

But why? How could she…?

No. I couldn’t bear to waste another thought on her. I didn’t want my last moments to be wasted on the person that had left me to die.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get her out of my head.

I squeezed open an eye to take a final look at the alien girl that had saved my life more than once in the past 24 hours. She looked tired, worn, and extremely pained.

I wondered why she looked so upset. Was she sad that I was about to die – sad because she had betrayed me to the same creature that, for all intents and purposes, had also killed my dad?

I hoped that was the case, but suddenly Lee’s expression shifted from seeming pain to a visage of supreme calm.

Any last remnants of hope fell from my mind. This was it.

As total resignation took over, I spared a final glance at her.

…She really was beautiful.

Then something strange happened. Kyralee’s eyes suddenly focused and she spared a momentary glance back at me.

Our eyes met.

And then she winked.

Zyken’s fist closed around the lightning silex in his grip. Cobalt sparks coiled around his forearm.

My heart pounded.

In a sudden burst of motion, Kyralee screamed, swung out her arms, and clenched down her fists. A giant plume of water burst from her grasp and I realized she was also holding a silex – a water one.

The sudden cloud of moisture poured directly into Zyken. The water reached him just as a streak of lightning burst from his hands, and instead of sparking toward me it poured into the liquid now surrounding his trapped body. Azure coils of blazing electricity streamed through the water, flying around Zyken and pouring into the burst of water streaming from Kyralee’s hands.

It was working – the water was diverting the electricity. It was the same trick that had saved me at the hospital.

I was saved.

Suddenly Lee tried to pull her hands away, but she couldn’t move fast enough. The lightning arced into the water flowing smoothly from her grasp.

She was unable to stop it and she knew it. I watched as she closed her eyes, her expression far too calm for a girl who had just sacrificed her own life to save mine.

And then time stopped.

My finger slid off the Zargansk watch in my fist as its needle began rotating clockwise around the six-etched face.

I burst to my feet and sprinted toward her. Even with time slowed to a crawl, Zyken’s lightning moved fast enough that I could see its crackling blue tentacles reaching through the water and clawing at her hands.

The last green light on the Zargansk device faded to black as the needle rounded the halfway mark.

In a single deft motion I swept Lee away from the water. Wrapping my arms tightly around her, I bent low and slid, recklessly, for the far corner of the room.

A glance backwards revealed Rogi halfway to throwing his own body in front of Eddie’s, shielding him from whatever was about to happen.

I sucked in a breath and turned my eyes to Zyken as the watch’s needle snapped back into the midnight position.

Time resumed, and lightning swarmed through the cloud of water and onto Zyken’s body, climbing across him like a super-charged disease. The electrified water surrounded him, engulfed him.

Loud, angry crackling smeared into his terrified screams, but there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. The energy storm around him swirled and tightened until it erupted into a final furious burst of light.

Zyken’s screaming ceased, and as the light dimmed, his wet, silent body collapsed to the ground.

On the opposite side of the room, Eddie whooped loudly.

“DUDE! We kicked that alien’s ass!”

I should have smiled, but my attention was somewhere else. Somewhere much, much better.

Nestled quietly in my shaking arms, Kyralee had also wrapped her arms around me. I glanced down to find her clear brown eyes staring directly at me, her deep, penetrating gaze filling me with a weird new sensation.

It felt… nice.

But what was I supposed to do now? Was this the time I…

…I should…

…kiss…?

Not fully aware of what I was doing, I leaned in toward Kyralee.

Her eyes closed. So did mine.

And then it all fell apart. Just before I could complete the deal, I felt Eddie’s stubby hands grabbing my shoulders, pulling me up and away and shattering my moment of perfection.

“Teal! Dude! How did you do that?”

Lee giggled and slipped out of my grasp, leaving me no choice but to shake my head and succumb to Eddie’s insistent dragging.

Had we not just destroyed a maniacal alien bent on killing me, I think I would have murdered my best friend.

Maybe I’d do it anyway.

“Seriously,” he continued, shaking me. “How did you reach Lee so quickly? Like, one second you were on the ground, the next second you were across the room saving her! How’d you do it?!”

I sighed and opened my clenched fist, where the alien watch now lay silent and chargeless.

“What’s that?”

I pressed the object into Eddie’s hand and forced a smile.

“I’ll tell you later.”

He began studying the now-silent watch as Lee and I walked over to the lanky HIRC inspecting the device that had bound Eddie.

“It is a carbon-cobalt wire,” Rogi said as we approached. “A certain kind of silex can imbue the wire with a powerful magnetic field, and if fired properly, the wire’s innate attractive properties wrap it firmly around a victim and pull them to the nearest metal object.”

He inclined his head, nodding thoughtfully.

“Clever. I will hang onto this.”

He began winding up the wire, and I took the moment to place a hand on Kyralee’s shoulder.

“So tell me, Lee – how did you get a water silex? I thought you only had that fire one.”

“I did,” she replied with a smile. “But Rogi was carrying unassociated water and light silexes. When Zyken attacked you, Rogi passed me his unassociated water silex. I pretended to be loyal to Zyken, and while he was speaking to you I associated the silex.”

“Uh, associated? What does that mean?”

“Before a silex has been used, it is ‘unassociated.’ The first time a person closes their fist firmly over it, the silex ‘associates.’”

I thought back to my parent’s bedroom.

“Does this silex-association thing hurt?”

She nodded.

“Yes, and if done incorrectly it can result in a terrible discharge that harms both the user of the silex and any surrounding people.”

This explained the terrible pain that had attacked me the first time I’d used dad’s silexes.

“So Rogi passed you the silexes, and while you stood next to Zyken…”

“I associated the silex. It hurt, but once it was done I was able to use the silex to turn Zyken’s own magic against himself.”

Brave, beautiful, and totally brilliant. She really was too good to be true.

Rogi suddenly motioned toward the small device Eddie held in his hands.

“Tell me, Teal – how did you come into possession of Kepik Arist’s time-dragger?”

Time-dragger, eh? A fitting name.

“It was my dad’s. He gave me a box of Zargansk stuff, and the box held that watch-thing, another metal-pole-remeter-thing, some silexes that don’t work anymore, and a note.”

Rogi raised an eyebrow.

“What do you mean, silexes that don’t work?”

“I used all three of them at the same time to burn through the janitor’s closet door. That broke ’em.”

Rogi and Kyralee traded glances.

“You merged silex powers?” she asked. “Just as you did with the wind and light silexes when you saved Eddie from the HIRCs?”

I nodded.

“Wow,” said Rogi, shaking his head. “Impressive work, Teal.”

It hadn’t seemed that impressive or difficult, but when a failed cyborg experiment pays you a compliment, it’s probably best to just smile and nod.

So I did just that.

Rogi placed a hand on my shoulder and asked, “so where is Oz? Is he coming to join us?”

Kyralee inhaled sharply and raised a hand to her mouth.

“Rogi,” I said, staring at my feet. “…Oz didn’t make it. While you were moving Danny and Cierra out of the tunnels, we went with Oz down to the room full of antidotes. We found it destroyed, and then we were ambushed by HIRCs. They… they killed him, Rogi. There was nothing we could do.”

The HIRC’s expression was bare, emotionless.

“Look – I’m so sorry. I know Oz meant a lot to you.”

He stared ahead for a moment longer, then shrugged.

“It is odd. I still feel no emotion. I am not sad, though I know I should be.”

He looked directly at me.

“I don’t know if my emotions will ever return, but I would like to continue with you and your friends. I owe it to Doctor Oz to see you through to your mission’s end.”

I looked into the HIRC’s eyes and found them completely serious.

“I appreciate that, Rogi – but what we’re about to try is insane. I have to get antidotes for my father, which most likely means we’ll also have to take a crack at freeing Kepik Arist. The odds of us succeeding aren’t good.”

“I believe I understand the danger of what you’re trying,” he replied. “But don’t worry about my safety – I think you’ll find me to be a useful travel companion.”

How could I argue with that?

I extended my hand, which Rogi shook firmly.

Next I turned to Lee, who laughed and waved her hand dismissively.

“Of course I am coming. I want to save Kepik too, especially since he may now be the only one who can tell me who I am and what has happened to me.”

I nodded and tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress my beaming grin. Let’s just say that I was REALLY looking forward to spending more time with my mysterious alien love, er, ‘friend.’

Finally I turned toward Eddie, who had apparently decided to shake the crap out of the Zargansk time-stopping watch.

“Teal! How do you make this work?”

I made a squeezing motion with my fist. Eddie copied me, and the watch slowly opened.

“Cool! Thanks, man!”

He pored over the machine as Lee giggled.

“I think it is safe to assume he is coming as well,” she said.

I smiled and nodded, then reached into my back pocket and removed the metal remeter I’d been carrying since closing the portalgate earlier that morning.

Or yesterday morning, I guess, since it was well after midnight.

I stared at the metal pole for a moment, then extended it toward Kyralee and Rogi.

“Say – do either of you know how to get the portalgate out of this?”

“Yes,” replied Rogi. “Throw it at the area of the room where you originally found the orb. The remeter will take care of the rest.”

Easy enough.

I wound up my arm as Rogi dragged Eddie – still engrossed with Kepik’s time-dragger – out of the way. Once the path was clear, I launched the remeter at the corner of the room with all the strength I could muster.

As before, the small metal pole flew through the air, slowing as it moved. Its rotation gradually stopped, and in moments it was hovering patiently above the clear, unmarked floor beneath it.

The remeter began to vibrate. Thin, black wisps of something began drifting out both sides, coalescing as they emerged. A small orb began to build, smoky and hazy at first but growing ever more corporeal as it vibrated more and more quickly.

The growth of orb continued exponentially until, in a burst of light, it stood full and complete before us, leaving the remeter to fall to the ground with a dull clink.

I picked up the small metal pole and pocketed it, then turned to face my tired group of friends.

“So who wants to go first?”

“I will,” said Rogi. “I have always wanted to try this.”

He stepped quietly toward the orb. I moved between Kyralee and Eddie and silently hoped this would work.

Without so much as a backward glance, Rogi stepped into the portalgate.

The orb reached out and surrounded him, seductively sucking the HIRC’s lanky form into its expanding breadth. Ripples spread across the portalgate’s surface as cycling shades of color reflected from the room’s silver walls.

Suddenly the same green field the janitor had traveled to flashed onto the surface of the orb. As before, it showed Rogi standing in the center of the green expanse. He seemed to be inspecting himself, perhaps to see if he lost any body parts during the transfer.

The image shook, then slowly faded to black.

A wide-eyed Eddie volunteered next. He wasted no time plowing through the portalgate.

As vivid colors danced across the walls of the room, I turned slowly toward Kyralee. In what was becoming a rather ridiculous habit, I found myself struck, yet again, by how much I cared for her, and she blushed slightly at my blatantly admiring stare.

“I guess I will go next,” she said quietly.

As she walked toward the orb I seriously debated offering her a good luck kiss (since this time there would be no Eddie to interrupt), but before the thought traveled from my mind to my mouth, she was gone. The orb again flashed white before showing her standing shakily in the middle of the field, laughing with Eddie and Rogi.

Then the orb returned to black, and I found myself suddenly alone.

This called for a deep breath – and for once it would be a deep breath of relief, not one of regret, or fear, or impending doom.

I took my breath and enjoyed it. Then I took another.

Who could have guessed we’d make it this far? Certainly not me. If someone had told me five days ago that I’d be spending my next Tuesday morning traveling across the galaxy to some crazy alien world, I would have told them to lay off the weed.

But here I stood, moments away from stepping into a real-life portalgate. If I ever tried to discuss this with someone other than Eddie, they’d tell me to lay off the weed.

If only that was all I needed to return my life to normal.

I mean, a week ago I’d been a normal Franklin High School sophomore. All I cared about was not making a fool of myself in front of anyone cool, and finding ways to kill time in Torvald’s stupid computer class. The most thought I’d given to extra-terrestrials was scaring my little sister with stories of E.T. abducting children while they slept. (And man, was mom mad when she found out why Emmary kept having nightmares about “phone home monster.”) I’d never fired a handgun before – let alone a laser gun – and I’d certainly never made fire or wind or light appear from a marble-sized stone.

That part of my life seemed impossibly distant. It felt like years had passed between my “normal life” and whatever bizarre reality I was currently part of.

And yet there were certainly some cool aspects to my new, surreal existence. I was about to become one of a handful of humans to ever leave planet Earth, and possibly the first to do it through a stolen alien portalgate. I’d used a magic watch to actually stop time, and man did I have some good ideas for how to put that little toy to use once we got back to Earth. I’d fought off dozens of mutant-zombie-Frankenstein HIRCs, and I’d played a role in bringing down a megalomanic Zargansk scientist.

Meh, normal life wasn’t that great anyway.

Especially since normal life didn’t have Kyralee.

It’s funny – five days earlier I had been completely enamored with Cierra, enamored to the point that I’d been livid over not asking her to Homecoming. And now she didn’t even interest me.

It’s just, Cierra was pretty and all, but how could that compare with Kyralee? Lee was so smart, so brave, so mysterious. She had saved my life more than once, and she was completely willing to risk her own life to try and find my old man an antidote.

Which reminded me: she was missing her dad too… only she hadn’t brought that up after our initial conversation, not even in passing. Here I had been constantly whining about my dad and how sick he was, but Kyralee didn’t even know where her dad was. For all she knew, he could be dead.

But she never complained, never even discussed it.

I resolved then and there to quit whining about my dad’s sickness. It was time for me to step up and be a man, and instead of constantly worrying about how crappy my life was, I needed to focus on protecting my friends. They’d certainly done their part to protect me – and now I needed to return the favor.

Speaking of which, they were probably wondering what was taking me so long. I needed to get moving.

I took a final look around the small room, my eyes eventually settling on Zyken’s placid form still sprawled out in a puddle on the ground. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen now that he was dead – would his successor also hate humans, or would the new guy be more like Kepik? Zyken’s death would definitely affect the future of any potential human-Zargansk conflict…

Hopefully for the better.

I added that discussion to my list of things to bring up with Kepik Arist once we met him. I hoped he’d be able to tie together a bunch of the loose ends left in my understanding of the whole Zargansk-human situation.

And with that, I stepped toward the portalgate.

I quickly double-checked Eddie’s backpack, tightening the straps around my shoulders after ensuring all the zippers were secure. Then I reaffirmed my grip on the alien rifle in my hands and took a deep breath.

I was as ready as I’d ever be.

I lifted my left foot into the air when a sudden burst of green energy flew past my head, narrowly missing the portalgate before dissipating into the back wall.

I spun around to find Zyken lying weakly on the floor – but this time, his eyes were open and he had a Zargansk pistol clutched tightly in his grasp.

“Foolish human,” he muttered. “You will not esca–”

But he didn’t finish that sentence. While he monologued, I leveled out my Zargansk rifle and blasted his hand cleanly away.

Zyken screamed horribly, and without a further thought I leapt into the orb.

It was an odd sensation that followed, one difficult to describe. It was somewhat like falling off a building and being sucked through a hole too small for your body, only both happening at once. Combine that with the feeling that you’ve been spinning in circles after eating Thanksgiving dinner, and that’s kind of what my trip through the portalgate felt like.

Before I could register how terrible everything felt, I found myself on my knees in a field of silky green grass.

I blinked once, then twice. Eventually my eyes focused and I was able to make out Eddie offering me a hand.

Then my thoughts realigned and I remembered what I had to do. I threw the backpack off my shoulders and frantically searched through it.

“What are you doing?” asked Eddie, but I didn’t have time to respond. If I didn’t find and use that special remeter right away, Zyken could come through the portalgate after us – and he had to be pissed after what I’d just done to his hand.

My fingers closed around the smooth metal of the spare remeter, and without hesitation I whipped it out and launched it at the still-vibrating orb.

The metal pole again floated toward the orb, and seconds later it fell cleanly to the ground, the orb safely enclosed inside it.

Phew.

“Uh, why the rush to close the gate?” asked Eddie. “Is everything alright?”

“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “It’s Zyken – he’s still alive. He almost killed me.”

My three friends traded nervous glances.

“Did you finish him off?” Rogi asked.

“No, but I think I blew his right hand into pieces. He’s really gonna hate us now.”

I tried to explain further, but Eddie interrupted with a typical bout of overly excited yelling.

“Hey man, who cares? Check it out! We made it through the portalgate!”

Kyralee laughed, and for once I actually took Eddie’s comment to heart.

Because he was right – we had made it safely through the portalgate. Against all odds, we had done exactly what dad had asked. Who cared what Zyken wanted to do to us? Without the portalgate, it would be a long time before we saw him again.

I smiled, then set one hand on Eddie’s shoulder as I slid my other around Kyralee’s waist.

“You’re right,” I replied, taking another moment to enjoy the quiet peace of victory. “We did make it.”

Across from us, Rogi watched impassively as Kyralee squeezed closer to me and Eddie whooped loudly.

“So I guess we’ve got some antidotes to find and a Zargansk scientist to free. Shall we be on our way?”

Everyone but Rogi smiled. I pulled my arms from around my friends, and with the lanky HIRC leading the way, we began our tired trek across the green alien field.


From: cMdr zYken

To: all@hIghcOuncil

Subj: EMERGENCY

CODE RED X.<break>

Three human children – one from oRionis, two from eArth – and a rogue HIRC have passed through the 1-1 eArth pOrtalgate.<break>

After-image confirms their arrival at default location of lAncaster’s fIeld, oRionis.<break>

All targets must be assumed armed and extremely dangerous.<break>

Targets must be apprehended immediately and returned to the 1-1 eArth lab for termination.<break>

As pRoject eArth cOmmander, I request entire oRionis security team be put on high alert.<break>

zYken out.<break>

<end>


THE END OF BOOK ONE



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