Here, a panoramic curved window afforded a spectacular view of the gently glowing geodesic sphere. “All you have to do is put the black vial into your staff, and insert it here” he explained. In the control console there was an alcove for my staff, like the alcove in the saucer, sockets at either end ready to secure it in place.
Just then we heard fast approaching footsteps. I fled, ducking behind a storage canister. “No you idiot!” Tlalo snapped. “We’re so close!” but with the footsteps nearly upon us, he had no choice but to hide as well. Tlalo managed to duck inside of a locker and shut the door just as our unwanted guest arrived.
Shkinta’s father. In full regalia too, complete with officer’s cap. I held my breath. He scanned the room, oversized blue eyes studying every detail for any sign of the intruders. I tried to vaporize him with my staff only to discover he’d pre-emptively neutralized it. “Show yourself!” he barked. “I know it’s you.”
He couldn’t. How would he have found out? “I’ve orchestrated everything which has happened to you since the time you were recovered, following your incompetent attack on this facility. Do you think it was by coincidence you were placed with such an influential family?”
I didn’t think anything right then, my heart was pounding so hard that it drowned out anything resembling a thought. “I did it hoping my daughter would persuade you that you’ve been fighting for the wrong side. That our principles are just and true. Hoping you might reveal details of your ancestry to a child that you wouldn’t to the doctor, or to an interrogator.”
I had no way of knowing how much or little of it was true, so I just sat and waited, hoping it was all a bluff. Hoping he’d conclude we weren’t hiding in this room after all, and be on his way. Of course we were not to be so lucky.
In a flash, he knocked aside the canister I was huddled behind, grabbed me by the hair and lifted me off my feet. My staff clattered to the floor and rolled a few feet to one side. The pain was blinding but I could not make myself scream, all that came out of my mouth was gasping and gurgling as his terrible blue eyes pierced my soul.
That’s when Tlalo burst forth from the locker. Before the eleven foot monstrosity holding me aloft could react, he reduced its head to a charred, bubbling mess. He collapsed, and I fell with him, his hand still somehow gripping my hair as if in defiance of his death.
Tlalo helped me pry it open. “There’s no more time! If he knew where to find us, there will be plenty more close behind him.” As if in confirmation, another uniformed figure entered the room. Only it wasn’t a Nordic. It was Drena, disguised as one in the same fashion as Tlalo.
I blinked. “D…Drena? How can you be here? I heard you die over the radio.” She froze up and looked to Tlalo for guidance. “Everything will be explained soon!” Tlalo urged, sweat beginning to drip from his hairline. “Just put the vial into the staff!”
I pointed to it in my forearm. Without hesitation, he shot out the nearest window. Then he grabbed one of the shards of glass on the floor and before I could object, he seized my arm and carved the black vial out of it as I screamed and thrashed in his grip.
I stared up at him, tears in my eyes. At last, his mask had fallen away entirely. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry” he pleaded. “There’s just no time! We’re so close! All you have to do is perform the last step! It has to be you, the staff won’t be accepted if the nordic genetic signature isn’t present. Please, I beg you! Against the odds, we actually made it here! We’re still alive, but there’s no telling how long-”
Glaring at him, eyes now red and puffy, I snatched the black vial from his hand. I then retrieved my staff from the floor, opened the vial chamber at the top, discarded the inert vial of Vril within, and replaced it with the vial of black syrup. I felt an immediate difference.
I’d become so accustomed to the nurturing, soothing feeling of Vril that it became part of the background noise of everyday life. But with the black vial inserted, I felt an altogether different energy radiating from the staff.
Bitter. Sour. Intense, sinister and powerful. Tlalo and Drena both stared expectantly. So many doubts swirled around in my mind. I looked at the still bleeding gash in my forearm. Then back at the two fellow impostors, desperation on their faces.
Over Drena’s shoulder, I noticed a contingent of uniformed Nordics heading towards us on the walkway which encircled the core chamber. I didn’t know what to do, but there seemed to be only one direction left to go. So, I inserted the staff.
A hiss and several clicks followed as the alcove locked it into place. Then the transparent tube, emitting the warm glow of Vril which traveled from the control room to the core, turned progressively black. It spread as we watched, surging down that channel until it reached the core.
The ground shuddered violently beneath me. Metal panels from the inner surface of the core chamber came loose, but did not fall in the direction I currently associated with “down”. Instead they floated freely as if in microgravity.
The cloudy blackness spread from that point on the core outward, annihilating the Vril as it went. The lights flickered, and the ground shook beneath us once again. Tlalo and Drena were laughing tearfully, holding onto each other. When I looked back, Tlalo was using his silver staff to heal his scar. I now noticed Drena no longer had hers, either.
“What’s happening!?” I demanded. The Nordics which had been heading for us now staggered, then collapsed. “What is this? What’s happened to them??” They put their lasers away and stowed their staffs in sheaths strapped to their thighs.
Without uttering so much as one word in reply, they left the control room and began to make their way back along the walkway. I followed close behind. “Why won’t you answer me?” They didn’t even look, just kept walking.
They soon arrived at what must have been their point of entry, what looked like an exposed elevator shaft. “Say something!” I cried. The label over the shaft read “gravity operated escape pod. Safe for four occupants, do not overload.”
They climbed inside, then began to ascend a maintenance ladder on the inner wall. The shaking returned, but did not knock them loose. The lights flickered, then little by little began to go out. The warm golden glow from the core was now completely absent.
It was just a featureless black sphere, dimly revealed by the few lights not yet disabled. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Instead I followed Tlalo and Drena up the ladder until I saw the bottom of what must be the escape pod above us.
He forced open the door on this level. As we made our way from this floor to the one just above, we passed countless uniformed Nordics lying motionless on the floor. Knocked unconscious, I assumed.
When we arrived at the door to the escape pod on the next floor, all lighting was out except for red backup lights. Tlalo again forced the door. He did not beckon for me to join them in the pod, but neither did he prevent me from doing so.
On backup power, the pod doors slid shut. Then the door to the vertical escape channel. Tlalo strapped himself in, as did I, though the harness was worryingly oversized for my frame. I could hear distant explosions now.
He looked at Drena, who nodded, then pulled the lever by the door. My stomach dropped out from under me and I nearly passed out from light headedness as the pod abruptly began to plummet down this dedicated chute, inside the tether I’d ascended by train only hours earlier.
Our descent began to decelerate with an accompanying hiss. Air compression building up beneath us by the sound of it. At last the pod came to a gentle stop and the doors opened. We emerged into the ascent compound where Shkinta and I boarded the train so recently.
There it was, having apparently returned before the catastrophic failure of the black sun. I moved to approach it. Drena held me back by the shoulder. “Don’t” she whispered. “There is nothing in there that you want to see.”
Stay Tuned for Part 49!