Chapter 21

Research Log 87.9
Scientist: Dr.oZ
Dated: 22:475/16 E.T.

<begin>

Subject acquired successfully (retrieval by nanon sedation).

Present cause of error 0x5465616C unknown. Symptoms appear to include fainting and slight nausea.

No permanent damage detected. Cognitive and emotional function is sound; physiological data implies no lasting effects.

While a clear cause remains undetermined, microanalysis implies a causative role upon access of memories immediately following subject’s fOrming. This is entirely unexpected; simulations did not suggest this possibility, and I am at a loss to explain it. However, data indicates that interaction between subject and other humans caused a substantial rise in numerous factors, including heart rate, hormone displacement, and short-term energy synthesis. Closer inspection revealed these factors to be closely linked to interaction with a single human.

Further analysis recommended.

Disorientation nanons should wear off within ten to fifteen minutes, at which point subject will be returned to field. Additional diagnostic tests show subject to be healthy and properly functioning in every predictable way.

Personal note: reminder to get rOgi something special for his work today. He may well have saved said subject’s life.

<end>


The fight wasn’t going well.

In our defense, Eddie and I were trying our best. I sent gust after gust of flame down both sides of the hall as he fired his rifle rapidly and indiscriminately in every possible direction, but our opponents were just too fast and well-trained. They stayed perfectly hidden behind walls and lockers, never giving us a clean shot.

My new goal was trying to edge myself toward the gym doors. If I could somehow reach them, I could duck into the alcove between lockers and hopefully find some cover. Eddie had already taken advantage of this back at the janitor’s doorway – he had his back firmly against the door and was peeking out from behind the surrounding lockers to shoot whenever the opportunity arose.

But the agents firing the rifle blasts from both ends of the hallway refused to relent. Yellow-green energy poured down the hall in droves, decimating lockers, exploding ceiling tiles, and leaving impressive craters all over Franklin High School’s putrid brown carpet. If the janitors were unhappy after last weekend’s mess, they were gonna die when they saw this.

I waited for a momentary pause in my opponent’s firing, then seized the opportunity to scurry between craters and blast holes until I reached the gym doors. I dove awkwardly between the lockers surrounding the entrance and immediately pocketed my silexes. It was getting way too dangerous to stick my hands out into the crossfire.

Instead, I whipped out the Zargansk pistol I’d collected earlier and began firing toward the agent nearest me – the one that had first started shooting at us. Our attackers’ accuracy meant that I didn’t dare risk peeking out from behind the lockers, which unfortunately left me no choice but to fire blindly and erratically.

As usual, I really needed to come up with a better plan.

So I quickly considered all the tools at my disposal. There were four – no, three silexes – fire, wind, and light, plus a Zargansk pistol and Eddie’s survival backpack. Could there be anything useful in there?

I continued firing errant shots down the hall while trying to strip off the pack. I’d been wearing it for so long that it almost felt a part of me; taking it off left me feeling vulnerable and out-of-place, but I think my shoulders welcomed the break.

Once the pack was off, I went through the ordeal of one-handedly opening it and searching its contents.

Eddie had packed it well – there were two flashlights, some candy bars, a full water bottle. Another pocket had backup underwear and socks, while another had a poncho and matches. There were several more bags of stuff I couldn’t make out in the dark, and then – ah, interesting.

I popped off a burst of shots before taking out dad’s secret box. I had forgotten about it since my near-death experience at home, but maybe something inside it could help me now.

I sifted through the golden note, the metal pole Kyralee had referred to as a remeter (which reminded me – I still had another one of those in my back pocket), the now-empty bag of silexes, the small key, and then I saw the final object: a thick metal disk that looked suspiciously like a pocketwatch.

I gave this object a closer look. It was made of gunmetal silver and the surface looked rough and scarred.

The disk was only two or three inches across and less than half an inch thick, and I realized it was the only thing in that box that seemed old. I flipped it over several times but couldn’t locate any kind of latch or way to open it.

So I tried the first trick that came to mind – the maneuver that had unlocked the power of the silexes.

I squeezed it.

Sure enough it worked, and the disk flipped open to reveal a hollow interior with a small needle in its center and six notches etched around the outside edge. The needle pointed toward the top of the disk – where the hinge that opened the device also sat – and both lay silent and unmoving. Three small, green-glowing circles sat beneath the base of the needle but above the notches.

I fired two more shots down each path of the hallway then returned to examining the strange watch-like object. The glowing circles implied that the thing still worked, but the stationary needle seemed suspect.

Had dad left me a broken Zargansk watch?

I squeezed the watch again and it began to vibrate – slowly at first, but gradually picking up speed until it shook like a miniature massager. It felt nice in my hand, which had cramped from constantly squeezing strange powers out of the silexes.

Once the device reached maximum vibratorness, the metal on its right-hand side suddenly squirmed and rose up until a small, cylindrical knob the size of a pencil eraser emerged from the disk’s scratched surface.

Weird.

I pondered the purpose of this newfound button when an errant burst of green energy exploded next to my leg. My enemies’ aim was getting better. I replied with a barrage of blasts from my own gun (hoping to hit something but knowing I wouldn’t) before returning to the strange vibrating device in my hand.

If dad had gone to the trouble of locking away this watch thing, it must do something important. But what?

Was it even safe to push the button?

Another blast exploded just inches from my head and I decided that whatever the strange device did, it couldn’t possibly be more dangerous than sitting in the gym door alcove while HIRCs used me as target practice. I fired more blasts down both sides of the hallway, then clicked down on the button with my right thumb.

Sudden silence – surreal and eerie – engulfed the hallway.

I glanced down at the alien device in my palm and found its needle rotating clockwise from the 12-o’clock position. Also, one of the green circles at the bottom of the device had faded from green to black. I assumed that whatever this thing did, the two green circles still remaining meant I would only be able to use it two more times.

As the needle rounded the etching at the 6-o’clock position, I looked away from it and out to the hallway. A bright green blast drifted gracefully past my head as another burst, several feet away, impacted in impossibly slow-motion with the lockers. I could see the surface of the locker boiling from the heat of the explosion as a mass of tiny metal particles gravitated away from the point of impact. The clouds of dust engulfing the hallway seemed frozen in time.

…What the hell?

I did a double-take before returning my gaze to the strange device in my hand. The needle was almost back to the 12-o’clock position. Was I just imagining all this, or had this Zargansk watch just done the impossible?

The needle hit its original position and ceased moving. Explosions again rocked the hallway and I watched as, across from me, the green burst I had seen in slow-motion just moments before returned to full-speed, demolishing another row of unlucky lockers.

I sent more gun bursts down the hallway then returned my full attention to the alien pocketwatch. It had become warm to the touch and the knob had retracted itself back into the interior of the contraption.

I squeezed it again and the knob began cranking out while another enemy blast – this one the closest yet – exploded to my left, showering me in sharp chunks of brick and metal.

The HIRCs were getting way too precise. I needed to get out of there now.

Out of options, I sucked in my breath and hoped the device in my hand was capable of repeating what it had done just moments ago. The six etchings around the outside of the watch had to mean six seconds. I’d need to make every one of them count.

I smashed down the small button and dove out from the protection of my little alcove. I landed on my feet and sprinted, full-speed, for the end of the hallway from which Eddie and I had first come.

Green blasts of energy floated dream-like past me, gliding peacefully toward the spot I had just burst from. Had I remained in the doorway, those blasts would have blown me apart.

I spared a quick glance at the magic watch. Three seconds left.

Another glance ahead showed the HIRC agent hiding around the corner – but his arm lay plainly exposed and still in the midst of firing. I’d have to move faster to reach it before another deadly blast burst from its barrel.

Two seconds left.

I suddenly realized that if I didn’t reach the agent by the time the magic watch’s effect wore off, the burst from the HIRC’s gun would be aimed directly at me. There would be no time to dodge it. I’d be screwed.

So I leapt from my left foot and launched myself into the air.

One second left.

The needle snapped back into position as my airborne body smashed into the HIRC’s outstretched arm. Time resumed, and the alien gun fell from the agent’s fingers as I hung onto his arm in an attempt to keep from falling on my face. This caught the agent totally unprepared; he was dragged forward by my momentum, and both of us went flying onto the floor.

I used the agent’s upper body to break my fall, and as soon as I landed I whipped out the Zargansk pistol and planted it in the agent’s chest. Three bursts of energy later, the HIRC lay silent on the floor.

I stood up slowly, scared and shaking but alive and thankful for it. A glance at the alien machine still tightly clutched in my right hand showed it again silent and button-less, and now only one circle glowed green. I shouldn’t have wasted the first charge of this brilliant little time-stopping device.

Oh well. Nothing I could do about it now.

I nodded thankfully at the alien device that had just saved my life, then gently closed it and planted it safely in my pocket. Eddie would go crazy when I told him what Zargansk pocketwatches did.

Speaking of which – another onslaught of exploding laser blasts reminded me that Eddie was still trapped by the janitor’s door, cornered by the frenetic firing of the one agent left.

At least I finally had a solution. Time to end this fight once and for all.

I grabbed the pistol of the agent I had just finished off, then – with a Zargansk gun in each hand – I rounded the corner and unleashed a barrage of ionic firepower down the hallway. Explosions burst from the distant corner hiding the second HIRC agent, and I didn’t let up until debris consumed the entire visible breadth of the hallway.

Dust and smoke choked the air from my lungs, but I managed to make my way down the hallway to Eddie. He was still crouched next to the janitor’s door, coughing and sweaty but otherwise intact. I pulled him to his feet, and we stumbled to the end of the hallway where the final HIRC had been crushed by a collapsed wall of lockers and brick. We spent several moments coughing before Eddie spoke.

“Teal, this is getting totally out of control. These HIRCs are insane. I don’t think they’re interested in taking us alive.”

More coughing.

“I agree. Maybe they’ve finally realized that the two of us have taken down more than twenty of them. That can’t make ’em happy.”

Spurts of laughter squirted out between Eddie’s hacking coughs.

“Maybe. I’m just worried that next time we won’t be so lucky.”

“…Yeah.”

Eddie continued choking down air as the dust began to settle. I wiped my eyes, then took another glance at the HIRC agent lying at our feet. This one’s face was obscured by a cloth mask of some sort; I debated, then reached down and pulled off the mask.

That was a mistake. The gruesome sight that followed was unlike anything I’d ever seen, movies and video games included.

Half of the HIRC’s face was encased in rough metal plating marked with wires and bolts; the other half was a bizarre mix of mottled, half-rotting flesh and exposed bone.

I stared in shock for several moments more, then bent over and stuck my head between my legs. Suddenly I didn’t feel so good.

Eddie turned to look, then somehow gasped and coughed at the same time. One thing led to another, and before I knew it he was doubled over and vomiting all over the deceased agent.

I spun around and fought to keep my own stomach calm, but it wasn’t easy with that horrible retching sound echoing behind me, weird smells filling every corner of my nose, and visions of some Frankenstein look-alike burning themselves into my mind.

Eventually Eddie stopped heaving, and after another minute’s worth of spitting and groaning, he stumbled over to me.

“Dude, honestly! Why’d you have to pull off his mask? What were you thinking? Ugh! That agent’s some kind of fricking zombie!”

I closed my eyes and took another deep breath. How was I supposed to know that HIRCs could be crazy half-rotted monsters? The men in suits we’d seen so far looked human enough – but was that just a façade? Were all the HIRCs a bunch of corpse-robot-hybrids?

This would’ve been a good time to wake up warm and comfortable in my bed, laughing about how all this was just a dream.

If only.

“Urgh, I still feel sick,” Eddie muttered. I didn’t doubt it, judging by the smell lingering in the air.

I didn’t feel so great myself, and for more reasons then just the terrible smell in the air. In the back of my mind, a series of previously unrelated thoughts had begun to coalesce.

Dad had called the HIRCs “Augustus Beck’s creations.”

The HIRCs were using Zargansk weapons.

This meant Augustus Beck was working for/with the Zargansk, which finally explained this comment of dad’s:

“Teal, your janitor friend was one of these ambassadors. So was Augustus Beck, before he turned.”

And suddenly my mind pieced this together with the last words from the janitor before his closet started shaking:

“That’s right. Thing is, it was never meant to be a lab. Genetitech’s never been anything more than a front for something way creepier than DNA sequencing and all this ‘cure mankind’s problems’ crap. Beck just said things like that to distract people from looking too closely into the real reason for building this huge complex.”

“…Which was?”

“A front for Zargansk study and experimentation. You guys ever heard the word Zargansk?”

Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?

Zargansk study and experimentation. An expert in DNA, who was also referred to as a traitor. A race of mindless HIRC soldiers, at least some of whom looked like zombie robots.

Augustus Beck must still be around, and he was “making” these HIRCs for the Zargansk. He was using his knowledge of DNA to help the Zargansk screw with humans. What other explanation could there be?

I thought through everything again, and now it made perfect sense. This explained why the HIRCs were so weird. They had to be brainwashed or programmed despite the fact that some seemed fairly normal. Maybe the normal ones were reserved for direct contact with humans, while the less-perfect ones – the ones that looked like failed experiments – were reserved for secret situations, situations that normal humans were never meant to see.

Situations like this.

These guys were actually trying to kill me. No more ‘take Teal alive.’

Only one thing remained – to run my theories past my most trusted advisor. If Eddie agreed with my assessment, it had to be right. I motioned him over and explained everything.

He wholeheartedly agreed with me.

“Teal, you’re totally brilliant. This explains SO much.”

“I know! I can’t believe we didn’t put this together sooner.”

“So Augustus Beck was behind this after all.”

“Maybe he still is behind it.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

Neither did I.

“But here’s the thing, Eddie – does this change anything?”

He thought for a moment.

“Not really. We still have your dad’s orders to head through the portalgate. Lee is still gone, along with Cierra and Danny. All this means is that we need to be more careful.”

“I agree. From now on we don’t let them separate us, and we keep our weapons constantly armed and ready.”

Eddie nodded.

The acidic stench of vomit suddenly floated back into my nose, reminding me that we really needed to get moving. I retrieved my backpack, then approached the smooth metal of the janitor’s door. I was certain Kyralee – and Cierra and Danny – were imprisoned somewhere inside the tunnels on the other side of this door, but how could we get to them?

There had to be a way.

I started thinking.



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