Chapter 25

We couldn’t wait any longer. Someone had to take charge, and since no one else was volunteering, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

“Oz, we need to get you out of here! Eddie, Rogi, hold the door for another ten seconds!”

They nodded as I ran over to Kyralee.

“Help me lift him.”

She put his left arm around her shoulders as I braced myself under his right. We pushed upward simultaneously – yikes, the old Zargansk was heavy – but we managed to get him to his feet. It took us another ten seconds to drag him through the nanon-created hole and into the hallway, ten seconds we really couldn’t afford.

Oz knew it too.

“Teal,” he grunted, “thank you, but you must help Eddie and Rogi. Kyralee and I will keep moving. You must find a way to stop those HIRCs.”

I nodded as the two of them resumed scooting down the hallway.

Now for the HIRCs.

As if on cue, the office door suddenly crashed open as green balls of energy exploded across the room. Eddie and Rogi ducked behind an overturned table and began returning fire, Eddie with his Zargansk rifle and Rogi with a pistol like the two I had acquired earlier. The HIRCs focused all their attention into diving for cover and assaulting these two visible threats.

Time to add a little Teal to the mix.

Each hand drew a pistol and leveled it at the open doorway. I picked my target carefully – the biggest HIRC, who also happened to be on the far right.

Both fingers squeezed and the HIRC dropped. The next guy in line couldn’t so much as flinch before my blasting found him, and two more were down before the rest of the HIRCs had any idea that these shots weren’t coming from the two guys they had trapped behind the table.

As soon as they realized this, their attention divided and chaos ensued.

We finished them off quickly.

As the last intruding HIRC collapsed, I couldn’t help but give the general door area a hand gesture that seemed particularly fitting. Eddie saw this and joined in, and even ol’ Rogi couldn’t help but add his fingers to the mix.

That was a beautiful moment, six fingers saluting the latest batch of HIRCs to face my wrath. I wish I’d had a camera.

Eventually Eddie giggled and stumbled over to me.

“Nice work,” he said as we exchanged high-fives. “I didn’t think we’d survive that one, but somehow we did.”

“HIRCs don’t stand a chance against us, Eddie. Not a chance.”

“So how many is that?”

“I don’t know. More than I can count.”

“Man, we’re good.”

“SO good.”

“Please,” Rogi said, giving us a sarcastic look. “Are the two of you finished? We need to get moving. Reinforcements will be here soon.”

“Chill, man. Our greatness deserves a moment of recognition.”

Rogi’s face remained impassive as he pointed at the pile of HIRCs strewn across the doorway.

“That was nothing. Child’s play. Wait until you meet Zyken. He could destroy all of us without so much as a second thought.”

“I doubt it,” Eddie said, puffing out his chest. “We’re unstoppable.”

“We shall see,” Rogi replied, walking past us and stepping through the hole created by Oz’s nanons. “And watch your contractions around Doctor Oz. It is a sign of great disrespect to use contractions around a scientist of his rank.”

“Contractions?”

“Yes, contractions – like c’mon, you’ve, we’re. Have you not noticed that Kyralee never uses such terms?”

He was right. This explained why she always sounded so formal.

Eddie began questioning Rogi about the whole contractions thing, but the rogue HIRC ignored him as he jogged down the hallway in the same direction Oz and Kyralee had gone.

Speaking of which, the two of them were nowhere to be seen. Hopefully they’d made it somewhere safe.

Eddie and I jogged after Rogi.

“So what now?” Eddie asked between heavy breaths. “Shouldn’t we head for the portalgate?”

“Absolutely. Once we catch up to Oz and Kyralee, we’ll head there.”

A sudden green blast soared past Eddie’s face, narrowly missing his nose and dissipating just inches from Rogi’s feet.

Apparently the HIRC reinforcements had arrived.

Eddie and I returned fire as we tried to keep pace with Rogi. We couldn’t see the HIRCs behind us, which obviously worried me. How many would there be in this group?

The tunnel branched and Rogi unhesitatingly drifted right.

“How does he know where he’s going?” Eddie grunted as he popped off another spattering of rifle blasts.

I shrugged and added a couple blasts of my own before darting down the same right branch.

“Makes you wonder,” I replied. “Maybe he–”

Suddenly I crashed into something tall, black and solid. It took me a moment to realize it was Rogi. He’d stopped running.

“Hey, why are you stop–”

Rogi placed a firm hand over my mouth and shoved me against the wall. Before I knew what has happening, his other hand grabbed my arm.

My heart lurched. Had the rogue HIRC betrayed us?

“Quiet!” Rogi whispered as he let go of my mouth. “Oz and Kyralee are not this way and more HIRCs are at the end of this tunnel. We must go back.”

My heart rate slowed. Rogi was still on our side.

Phew.

“But HIRCs are that way too,” Eddie whispered. “We’re surrounded!”

Rogi released his grip on me and winked.

“Time to show you the real meaning of unstoppable,” he said, darting back into the hallway from which we had just come. Eddie and I glanced around the corner as green blasts lit up the walls around us.

What happened next is difficult to describe.

Deadly green blasts poured down the hallway, splashing the walls of the silver tunnel with stroboscopic verdancy.

But somehow the blasts did nothing to slow Rogi, who moved swiftly between the oncoming balls of energy, darting and flitting like some kind of dancer. He accelerated as he slipped down the hallway, and with unbelievable speed he collided with the HIRCs pursuing us.

A swift clothesline brought the first two to the ground, then a solid punch into the two men following behind brought those to their knees. In an ensuing five-second whir of fists and kicks, Rogi rendered each HIRC unarmed and incapacitated.

This left me speechless. Rogi was obviously no ordinary HIRC. His warning that the previous gunfight was just ‘child’s play’ suddenly seemed very accurate.

“I’m just glad he’s on our side,” Eddie whispered as Rogi sprinted back toward us.

“Save your questions and follow me,” the super-HIRC commanded as he darted past us and down the left fork of the hallway.

Eddie and I wasted no time in obeying.

Two turnoffs later, we found Oz and Kyralee. Oz leaned heavily against a wall while Kyralee tightened the makeshift bandage around his bleeding leg.

Rogi reached them first and immediately quizzed Oz on his condition.

“My time has arrived,” the Zargansk replied, his voice barely audible. “I just pray these final moments atone for what I have done to Kyralee and the HIRCs.”

“And Rogi,” Oz whispered, pointing to me. “You must keep him safe.”

Rogi nodded and reached for my arm.

“Wait!” I yelled, recoiling from Rogi’s outstretched hand. “I’m not leaving. We have to find the room with the portalgate! We’re going after Kepik!”

Rogi looked back at Oz, his expression uncertain.

“You intend to free Kepik from prison?” Oz asked. “Oh, Teal. You cannot possibly accomplish that.”

Nice. Way to be supportive, Oz.

“Maybe not, but I’m going to try anyway. If I don’t find Kepik and get an antidote to my dad, he’s gonna die. I can’t let that happen.”

“If all you seek is an antidote,” Oz replied, his voice weakening, “you need not go to Orionis. There are plenty of antidotes here, in this facility. Simply visit to the storage rooms on level 12 – the level beneath us.”

My mind stopped.

Antidotes?

Plenty of them?

This changed everything.

“Oz, that’s great! Can you take us there? Please?”

Oz began to reply when a quiet, ominous voice filled the hallway.

“Are you sure you want to do that, Oz?”

Everyone froze as eerie laughter washed down the tunnel.

I slowly turned to look at the end of the hall, where another Zargansk suddenly stood – this one a foot taller than Oz, but with dark gray skin and brilliant silver hair. The creature’s mouth was stuck in a crooked, mocking smile, its arms folded in a gesture of supreme arrogance.

Oz let out a heavy sigh before whispering a single word, the word my own mind had already stumbled upon.

“Zyken.”

The Zargansk at the end of the hall nodded.

“Of course it is me, Oz. Did you honestly think you could escape undetected?”

Oz’s pale gray skin turned even paler.

“Did you also think I would overlook your long track record of treasonous behavior? And what of Kyralee – did you think I was unaware of all she represents? Oz, my once friend – you are so brilliant and yet so naïve. I pity you.”

My anger began to rise. Who was this Zyken guy, and what made him think he was so tough?

I whipped out both pistols and pointed them directly at the cocky alien s.o.b. Eddie followed suit and – to my surprise – so did Rogi.

But Zyken only laughed.

“Ah, amusing! Do you all wish to shoot me? Please do. I would welcome the challenge.”

Though deeply tempted by the offer, I refrained.

For now.

“Zyken, eh? You’d better choose your words carefully, because tell you what – I’d love to add your name to the growing list of idiots I’ve blasted today.”

Rogi winced as the massive Zargansk let out another loud laugh.

“Bold, boy,” he replied. “Bold and ignorant. I see why Oz likes you.”

Oz coughed and slipped further down the wall, his skin nearly white. His time was running out.

“And Teal,” Zyken continued, his voice daring. “Do you have any idea as to who Oz actually is?”

My eyes darted from Zyken to Oz and back again.

“Oh. I see. Oz has not told you the real reason he brought you here, has he?”

My silence seemed answer enough for Zyken, whose smile broadened as he continued.

“…Interesting. And he most certainly has not explained Kyralee to you, I presume?”

What? Now what was he trying to imply?

“No. Do not… listen…”

Everyone’s eyes – including mine – turned to Oz, who had slid so far down the wall he was nearly lying down. Zyken laughed another harsh, sarcastic laugh.

“Ah, but Oz is afraid of what you will do once you know the truth about him and the truth about Kyralee!”

Zyken stared at her.

“Even you do not know the manner of your own creation, do you, child?”

Oz grunted.

“She does not, and it is certainly not your responsibility to tell her. Do not interfere with things you do not understand.”

My eyes flickered between everyone present. What were the aliens talking about? Who was Kyralee? Was she an alien too?

What the hell was going on?

“STOP!” I yelled, finally unable to contain myself.

Everyone looked at me.

“Will someone explain what’s going on? All I want is an antidote for my father! Give us that and we’ll be on our way.”

Zyken smiled and bowed in my direction.

“Young man, I will happily honor your request. If you wait here but five minutes, I will bring you an entire box of antidotes – more than enough for your father to live out the rest of his mortal life.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“…And why should I believe that?”

The huge alien smiled.

“Because unlike Oz, I am very interested in your father remaining out of Zargansk custody. His return would upset years of carefully laid plans.”

Zyken gestured at Oz, who now lay silent and unmoving.

“If you doubt me, ask Oz. He knows why I am so interested in keeping your father out of Zargansk hands.”

Oz stirred and shook his head.

“But… not for good reasons… Zyken…”

Zyken frowned.

“You are weak, Oz, and I cannot have you dying on me.”

He snapped his fingers, and a dozen HIRCs emerged from the tunnel behind him.

Crap. Zyken had come prepared.

The enormous Zargansk turned to one of his HIRCs and requested his pack. Upon receiving it, he ripped it open, found a vial of emnons, and walked over to Oz. Eddie and Kyralee stepped aside as he pried open Oz’s eye and poured the entire vial into it.

Time seemed to crawl as Oz’s skin gradually turned from white to gray, and once healed, the elderly Zargansk scientist crawled slowly to his feet. He turned to face Zyken, his expression strangely mournful considering he had just been rescued from certain death.

“Zyken, the human children deserve an explanation.”

Zyken nodded.

“For once I agree. Please, all of you, come to my office.”

I glanced over at Eddie, who looked every bit as confused as me. Next my eyes drifted to Kyralee, who looked thoroughly troubled, and then to Rogi, who remained completely impassive.

Zyken gestured for us to follow, then he and Oz turned and began walking down the tunnel.

Out of any better options, I followed, my mind swimming with all the questions I wanted to ask the two Zargansk once we were able to talk.

Questions like – what did Zyken mean by the manner of Kyralee’s creation? Were he and Oz friends? Were they good guys, or bad guys, or neither? What did they want with my dad, and why would Zyken want him free? Had Oz been lying to me all along?

As I continued sifting through my scattered mind, one thought persistently rose above the rest:

What on earth had I gotten myself into?



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