TEAL: Chapter 3

Teal is available as a free CC-licensed science fiction novel. You can read more about the project here.


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From: kEpik
To: cRonus
Subj: Still here

Do not ask how I am able to write this. I would rather not say anything specific, as I am in violation of more laws than I would like to consider at the moment. Thanks to my exploitation of several unforeseen technicalities in the tRansLucian cHarter, I have managed to get myself moved from the prison on eNsis to a minimum-security facility back on oRionis. Here I am at least allowed access to a terminal, and over the course of the last 12 hours I have been able to write an encryption protocol that should allow me to send you short messages without being caught.

Or at least that is my hope. If you do not hear from me again, assume the encryption protocol was not as good as I thought.

Roughly 36 hours have passed since my last message, putting us at just over 130 hours until my, shall we say, “termination.” 130 – that sounds like a long time, does it not? I like the sound of it much better than “five-and-a-half days.”

Or maybe I am just deluding myself. Oh well.

I have been wanting to apologize for how cryptic and mysterious my last message must have sounded. I had written parts of the letter previously, but I was forced to finish it prematurely when I found out just how imminent my capture was. Fortunately, since I have now managed to secure another method of contacting you, I can clarify several things.

First, you are probably starting to feel the full effect of your poison by now. I hope you are well enough to remain at home. I must advise against seeking any medical help from your human “doctors.” They will not be able to do anything for you, and their intervention will probably do more harm than good. Please, cRonus, trust me – I think there is a way to help you. I will talk about this more in my next letter since I am still working out specifics.

(Although now that you have heard about my dream, perhaps you can anticipate the gist of it…)

Second, I hope you have not forgotten that the date of tHe cLosing quickly approaches. Time is short, and if you are able you must make sure everything is in place. We cannot afford to make any mistakes this close to the deadline. Please, double-check with each of your contacts and reassure them that the plan will work. They need to have faith.

Lastly, I have more to say about your son – the child in the dream. I have reason to believe-

Someone is coming. I must go. I will write again.

-kEpik


“I think I’ve found something!”

We’d been googling for nearly three hours, wildly combing the internet for anything related to sudden green explosions. Everything from spontaneous human combustion to UFOs to crop circles had turned up, none of it particularly useful, and I found myself becoming frustrated. You’d think it would be easy to isolate legitimate information on green explosive blasts, but apparently not.

Stupid internet.

“What, Eddie? Please say it’s not another story about little green aliens.”

“Nope. This is way better. You won’t believe what I’ve found.”

I set down Eddie’s laptop then climbed to my feet and stretched. The moogle clock on the wall (a gift from Eddie – he loved everything Final Fantasy) pointed at VII and XII, meaning mom would be home any minute.

And just as well, because I was starving. Mom had left a note on the fridge telling us not to eat because she’d be cooking chicken enchiladas for dinner.

I couldn’t wait, and neither could Eddie – after all, the only home-cooked meals he’d ever had were the ones he ate at my house.

“Okay,” I replied, turning down the stereo. “What am I never going to believe?”

He gestured at the desktop monitor, where an overhead image – probably from satellite – lay across the screen. It took me a moment to place the location.

“That’s the high school.”

“Yep. Notice anything strange?”

“…No. It looks normal to me.”

Eddie pointed in turn at the five buildings that comprised the school.

“Look closer. These look like anything to you? Any kind of symbol?”

I squinted.

“…Nope, still nothing.”

Eddie smiled and cracked his knuckles. I hated this gesture, since it meant he discovered something he considered obvious. Next he would act amazed that I had yet to figure it out.

“Cheer up,” he replied, “and check this out.”

He pointed at the left-most building in the image.

“See this big tree next to the west building? The one you tied Dexter Johnston to last year?”

I smiled and nodded. That was a fond memory.

“Four of the school’s buildings have big trees like this around them. Count them.”

“Let’s see… 1… 3… 7… 2… and 0. The last building doesn’t have any.”

Eddie grinned and held out his hands, as if this was supposed to mean something. I remained completely lost.

“Eddie, I don’t understand.”

“What’s the address of the school?”

“I don’t kn–”

“13720 Franklin Drive. 1-3-7-2-0.”

“Okay, so the number of trees match the address. Who cares?”

“I thought the same thing,” Eddie said, “until I found this article.”

He switched to another window on the computer. This one appeared to be a scan of an old Franklin Daily article – that’s the local newspaper – and the headline read Biology Lab Coming to Franklin Drive.

I began to read.


Biology Lab Coming to Franklin Drive
Thursday, 3 May 1979

On Wednesday, Genetitech Inc. broke ground on their new 90,000 sq. foot facility on Franklin Drive. This state-of-the-art five building complex is expected to take 9 months to build and will employ nearly 150 people.

“This will be a one-of-a-kind structure,” Dr. Augustus Beck, president of Genetitech, commented during an exclusive Franklin Daily phone interview. “The central laboratory alone will have more computing power than the entire U.S. Department of Defense currently possesses, and we hope to use that computing power to unravel the mystery of DNA sequencing.”

DNA sequencing, for those who don’t know, is a proposed method for determining the exact series of molecules that comprise a strand of DNA. (DNA has recently been shown to be a sort of blueprint for the human body.)

“DNA sequencing is about decoding what makes humans human,” Dr. Beck explained to us. “If we could sequence the actual molecules that comprise human DNA, we’d be able to fix every genetic disorder, every weakness, every problem mankind has ever faced. We’d know as much about ourselves as God does.”

While this may sound amazing, not everyone is excited about the prospect of a DNA sequencing lab coming to Franklin.

“If Mr. Beck thinks he can decode the mind of God, he’s just plain wrong,” one Franklin resident told us.

“As sure as I’m sitting here, that building will be struck by lightning,” commented another.

When we relayed these comments to Dr. Beck, he laughed. “People have always feared science,” he told us. “This is no different. Thirty years from now, when DNA sequencing has solved every human ailment, people will look back on this laboratory as the legitimate start of mankind’s quest for immortality. We’ll be seen as heroes.”

Questions and comments regarding Genetitech Inc. and the new complex can be sent to 135 N 127 W, New York, New York 10027.


I snickered.

“Well here we are thirty years later and still no immortality. I guess this Dr. Beck guy was wrong.”

“Not necessarily wrong,” Eddie replied. “Just overly optimistic. We weren’t able to decode the entire human genome until 2003, and there are still some DNA mysteries we need to solve. But that’s beside the point.”

“So wait – you’re saying that our high school building started out as a biology lab? That explains some of the weird architectural features.”

“It does. Getting back to my original point: do you now get why the numbers 1-3-7-2-0 were used?”

I shook my head.

“It took me awhile to crack it,” Eddie said, eyes glowing, “but those numbers exactly correspond to the four letters – the four molecules, or nucleotides – that comprise DNA: A, C, G, and T. 1st letter of the alphabet, 3rd letter, 7th letter, and 20th.”

I took a moment to count out each letter on my fingers…

…and it looked like he was right.

“Cool discovery,” I replied. “So it’s not a coincidence that those numbers are also the school’s address?”

“Well, it wasn’t originally that way. Back in 1979, when Genetitech started work on those five buildings, that part of town was at the distant end of Franklin Drive – almost outside the city limits. Technically the street number is closer to 11000, but Beck insisted on the address 13720. He seems to have been a nut for symbolism.”

“So what does this have to do with the explosions at the school?”

“Hold on, Teal – I’m getting there. As it turns out, the buildings were finished according to schedule, but they were never actually used by Genetitech.”

“Never used?”

“Never. See, this is where things get weird. Nine months after groundbreaking, Genetitech held a big ceremony announcing the opening of the lab… but no one in town was ever hired by the company, and it doesn’t look like anyone ever moved to Franklin as an employee of Genetitech. Four years passed without any news or job postings or anything, and then bam – in February 1984 Genetitech suddenly announces bankruptcy. As far as I can tell, the buildings were never used for actual lab work.”

“But why would Genetitech spend all that time and money on five huge buildings if they weren’t intending to use them?”

“Who knows? Some suspected that Dr. Beck over-stretched his financial bounds, others thought angry townspeople might have sabotaged something. But the story gets weirder.”

I was a little bored, but this was the best lead we’d had all day. I motioned for Eddie to continue.

He grinned and started typing madly on the computer.

“It’ll take me a minute to find it again… but from what I’ve pieced together, during the four years between the lab’s opening ceremony and Genetitech’s bankruptcy, a number of people reported seeing lights on at the buildings during the night, and an occasional flash of energy or loud sound during the day.”

Now we were getting somewhere.

“A number of people? How many?”

“Not a lot, but enough to lend credibility to their stories. Like I said, back then no one actually lived out by these buildings – remember, too far away from the city – but occasionally someone would drive past and later report a strange ‘boom’ or flash of light.”

“But I thought no one actually worked there…?”

“Well, no one was ever employed there – not even on Genetitech’s official paperwork, which was released as part of the bankruptcy. But that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that construction workers, or under-the-table employees – or this Dr. Beck guy himself – made use of the buildings.”

“When you say ‘made use of the buildings’, what exactly do you mean?”

“Who knows?” Eddie replied, the pace of his pitter-pattering fingers escalating. “All we have is scattered rumors from various people, since there’s obviously no official information on – wait! A-ha!”

He raised his fist triumphantly as a new window flashed onto his screen. It looked like another Franklin Daily article.

Eddie turned to face me.

“Two days before Genetitech formally declared bankruptcy, a group of residents living near the edge of Franklin Drive reported a minor earthquake. Thing is, there’s no major fault line for a hundred miles in any direction. The odds of a real earthquake occurring on that day in that exact place are pretty much impossible.”

He gestured at the article on his screen.

“For some reason, this article – originally published in Franklin Daily – doesn’t exist on their site anymore, and I was only able to find it by hacking a series of emergency backup databases at the local library.”

We grinned simultaneously.

“Anyway, I don’t know if the article just got lost or if someone is trying to hide it, but I think you’ll find this one especially interesting.”

I leaned in and began to read.


Citizens Disagree about Possible Earthquake
Saturday, 14 May 1983

At approximately 5:13 a.m. Friday morning, at least 10 Franklin residents reported feeling two minor vibrations of some sort.

“It was absolutely an earthquake,” 64-year-old Saffron Millard told us. “I had just woken up when the entire house started to shake. It even knocked two dishes off my table.”

Other residents shared similar stories, but perhaps none is as strange as Michael Olsen’s, a farmer who claimed to be driving at the time of the incident.

“It was almost quarter-past-five Friday mornin’ and I was driving past those empty Geneti-whatever buildings looking for a steer that had gotten lose durin’ the night. Just as I passed the buildings, a monster green explosion shook me half to death. I thought for sure somethin’ had blown up.

“So I stopped the car and jumped out, tryin’ to get a better look at the buildings – you know, see if anythin’ had happened – when another explosion shook me to my knees. Green balls of light – there must’ve been fifty of ’em – came flying out of the middle buildin’ and disappeared into the sky. I ain’t never seen anythin’ like it.”

Though interesting, no others reported any kind of green lights or explosions from the Genetitech complex. In an exclusive phone call with Genetitech, the company’s spokesman noted that such comments were “preposterous” and “totally unfounded.”


My eyes drifted off the end of the article.

“Eddie… green balls of light? This can’t be a coincidence.”

“I agree. And check it out – that farmer said the green balls of light came from the central building.”

“In other words, the same building that got hit today.”

“Yep. And check the time and date of the earthquake. See anything strange?”

My eyes floated back onto the article. 5:13 a.m. on May 14th.

“5:13 on May 14th? What’s strange about that?”

“Actually, the article was published on Saturday, May 14th. But it said the earthquake occurred on Friday, May 13th. 5:13 am, on a Friday the 13th – the 13th day of the 5th month.”

Downstairs, the front door opened and closed. Mom was home.

“So 5:13 on 5-13? That’s an odd coincidence.”

“Teal, think about it! What’s today’s date?”

My eyes drifted to the bottom corner of the computer screen.

“…Holy crap. Friday the 13th.”

Eddie nodded solemnly.

“Friday May 13th, just like the day of that supposed earthquake. I’m not much for superstition, but the odds of that being a coincidence are–”

My bedroom door suddenly banged open and mom plowed in, her hand clutching something rolled up and shiny.

“Hey mom, how’s – uh, are you okay?”

She looked terrified. Her face was ashen, her lips smashed into a tight red line.

“No, I am not okay. Have you seen your father?”

I shook my head.

“Isn’t he on his business trip until next week?”

“That’s what I need to find out. Did he call?”

“No, he–”

“God! I don’t need this today!”

She spun around and flew from the room. Moments later we heard her feet pound down the stairs as she screamed for my younger siblings.

“What was that about?” Eddie asked. “I’ve never seen your mom act weird like that.”

I didn’t have a response, but something inside felt deeply wrong. I didn’t know if it was the bizarre day at school, or encounters with two different creepy men, or this stuff we’d been reading on the internet, or maybe seeing mom so nervous.

“Listen, Eddie. Chill here a minute. I’m going to see what this is about.”

He nodded and I turned to leave the room.

But as I turned, the ringing of the house phone interrupted everything. I quickly searched for the cordless phone I knew lay hidden somewhere in my sheets, but by the time I’d found it the ringing had stopped. Mom must have gotten to it first.

“Who was it?” Eddie asked.

I fished through the caller ID menu.

“…University Hospital.”

“University Hospital? That’s 80, maybe 90 miles away. Who do you know there?”

“No one I can think of.”

We waited, neither of us speaking, until a blood-curdling scream echoed from downstairs.

“WHAT?” The voice was mom’s. “No! I’m leaving immediately!”

I ran out the bedroom door and half leapt, half fell down the stairs. Limping slightly, I spun around the banister then sprinted to the kitchen.

Mom stood there, her face white, tears beading at the corners of her eyes.

“Teal, please send Eddie home. We’re going to the hospital.”

“What? Who? Is it dad?”

She slid into a jacket as her teardrops turned to streams.

Then she softly nodded.


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TEAL: Chapter 2

Teal is available as a free CC-licensed science fiction novel. You can read more about the project here.


Click here to download this chapter as a PDF (123kb)


“Oh, my baby! Are you okay?”

I stepped out from behind the paramedic inspecting me and waved for mom to slow down.

“I’m fine, mom. Don’t worry about–”

Whatever else I was going to say got crushed from my lungs as she embraced me, her squeezing more painful than anything that’d happened in the school.

“Oh, Teal! They said something happened, there was an explosion, I didn’t know if you were okay, you look okay, are you okay?”

I smiled and nodded as I pried myself free of her iron grasp. My mom’s a small woman, but she’s strong. Really strong.

Especially when her kids are involved.

“What on earth happened?”

“I’m not sure. They haven’t told us anything.”

“Was it a…you know, a…”

I shook my head.

“It wasn’t a shooting. I think it might have been some sort of electrical malfunction.”

Relief swept over mom’s face and she hugged me again, mumbling a surplus of thanks to every deity in the book.

I hugged her back, but inside I hated my lie. I’ve told my share of fabrications, exaggerations, and half-truths, but something about lying to mom always makes me feel especially guilty. I think it’s because she has a sixth sense and can always tell when I’m not being honest.

Thing is, it could have been an electrical malfunction.

…Maybe.

Yeah, yeah, I know – there was no way those green blasts were a simple electrical problem. But they weren’t a shooting either, since who owns a gun that shoots green laser blasts?

Frankly, I was at a total loss as to what had happened inside the school. There was no good explanation for it.

Mom let me go, wiping budding tears from her eyes as she gestured back at the school.

“Well now I’m embarrassed,” she said, sniffling. “So what’s the plan for the rest of the day? Are they canceling classes?”

I smiled again, still hating how fake it felt.

“I hope so. I can’t imagine they’ll hold afternoon classes with everything covered in dust.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” she replied, again wiping her eyes before glancing at her watch. “I’m so glad you’re safe, Teal. So glad. Now, unfortunately, I probably need to get back to work. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving and when my boss realizes I’m gone he won’t be happy.”

She laughed.

“Do you want me to take you home? It’s on the way.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” I replied with a shrug. “I can stay here and wait for an official announcement. If they do cancel classes I can just walk home.”

Then I smiled, as much for me as for her.

“And thanks for coming to check on me, mom.”

“Of course I came to check on you,” she replied, hugging me again. “What mother wouldn’t?”

As if on cue, Eddie suddenly materialized next to us. I knew Eddie’s parents hadn’t shown up.

I hoped he hadn’t overheard mom’s comment. If he had, it was gonna be awkward. That was one area of our friendship we rarely delved into – talking about “family” things.

Mom let go of me, then put a hand on Eddie’s shoulder and asked if he was okay. He smiled and nodded politely. Then she departed.

As soon as she was out of earshot, Eddie’s mouth flew open.

“Okay, dude. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

“First things first. We need to get our stories straight about why we didn’t evacuate the school.”

“What do you mean, stories? You wanted to stay, I tagged along. That’s my story.”

“What? We can’t tell the police that!”

“Why not? It’s the truth!”

“Eddie, listen to me,” I said, pulling him in close. “You know as well as I do that if we don’t have a good reason for staying inside the school, they’re going to pin us with some kind of blame.”

Hey – I said I felt sorry about lying to my mom. Hiding incriminating details from people that wouldn’t understand is totally different as far as I’m concerned.

“But we didn’t do anything wrong!”

“I know that. But the police won’t know it and we don’t have a way to prove it.”

“The school has security cameras, Teal. Watching those will make it obvious we had no good reason to stay behind. Unless…”

He paused dramatically.

“…Unless, of course, I hack the system and ‘accidentally’ erase that chunk of tape.”

And that’s why I keep Eddie around. He may be odd, but he’s the smartest kid I’ve ever known. Computers, electronics, mechanics, physics – I swear Eddie knows everything there is to know about that kind of stuff. He’s a genius.

I pondered his suggestion when a sturdy finger tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me. Are you Teal Garrison?”

I turned to find a tall, thin man in a jacket staring down at me. He stood slightly hunched over, and he wore his jacket collar popped, hiding his nose and mouth. Black hair swarmed in chunks around the rest of his face, leaving only his eyes uncovered.

Oh, wait – those were concealed by dark sunglasses. If you looked up “suspicious” in Wikipedia, this guy would likely show up. (And not just because Eddie and I wrote him in.)

“I’m Teal.”

“And you, I assume, are Eddie Singh?”

Eddie cast me a sideways glance.

“…Yes.”

The man slipped a notebook out of his pocket and, despite his eyes being hidden, seemed to stare authoritatively down at us.

“I am Detective Hirck, boys, and the fire chief told me the two of you remained inside the school after the explosions.”

“Yes sir, that’s correct.”

He nodded unnaturally slowly.

“…I see. While you were in the school, were you aware of anyone else in the building?”

“Um, no sir. Well – we did see Mr. Torvald, the computer teacher, leave the school after the explosions.”

“Mm hmm,” he mumbled, writing something in his notebook. “Anyone else?”

I had a sudden epiphany.

“Yeah. There was another person. That’s the reason we stayed behind after the explosions. I thought I saw a man at the end of the hallway – the end where the explosions happened.”

“A man.”

It was a statement, not a question. He was expecting it.

“Um… yeah, a man. We were worried he was hurt, maybe he couldn’t evacuate.”

The lies were coming quickly now.

“So we decided to go check on him.”

“And this man was in the room at the end of the hallway?”

Eddie elbowed me.

“Ow. Um, yeah.”

Eddie elbowed me again.

“Stop it, man,” I mumbled. “Why are you–”

“Excuse me,” Eddie interjected, holding up a hand. “Do you have a badge, detective…?”

“…Hirck. Detective Hirck. And no, son, I do not have a badge. I was off-duty when they called me down to investigate this situation. Now go on, tell me about the man you saw inside the school.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to tell you anything, pal. Not without an attorney present.”

It wasn’t at all like Eddie to be so bold. The detective raised an eyebrow and I gave Eddie a warning glare. This guy – though hunched over and slow-moving – was still a half foot taller than either of us, and I’m almost 5’10”. I didn’t think it’d be wise to anger him, especially with the likes of Eddie as my backup.

“…Is that so,” the detective said, slowly pocketing his notebook. “Then let me make this easy on you, kid. As a detective in service of the Federal Bureau of Interrogation–”

“Whoa whoa whoa. It’s Investigation, not Interrogation,” I interrupted, suddenly grateful for Eddie’s boldness. How had he guessed this guy was a fraud? “And hey, man – Eddie’s right. We’re not answering another word, and I think we’re going to go get the real police now.”

The detective, if he even was a detective, didn’t so much as budge.

“Very well,” he said, his voice suddenly dropping deeper and taking on a dark, hissing quality. “But let me warn you of this, Teal – I know the man in the hallway spoke with you. I do not know what he said, but whatever it is, be advised that he is not what you think.”

He pointed at me in a manner eerily reminiscent of how the man in the hallway had also pointed at me.

“And you must be especially careful, given your father’s condition. It would be a shame if… well, you will see.”

My heart plummeted as the man turned to leave.

“Wait. What do you mean, my father’s condition?”

He turned back, a smile creeping across his lips.

“Like I said, Teal Garrison. You will see.”

Then he walked away.

It’s difficult to describe the feelings that overwhelmed me at that moment. Part of me wanted to chase down the jacketed man – whoever he was – and beat the crap out of him. Another part of me wanted to race after my mom and warn her of what just happened. Another part of me wanted to hide somewhere and never return.

Eddie seemed to sense my complicated emotions, but as he began to console me, a loud whistle echoed across the schoolyard, followed by the mechanical drone of a megaphone-enhanced voice.

“May I have your attention, please.”

We swiveled to find the principal standing atop a plastic folding-table, megaphone firmly in hand.

“Due to today’s circumstances and the current state of the school, we are canceling classes for the rest of the day.” A weak cheer went up from the crowd, followed by several yells of “what happened?”

“We’re still uncertain as to the cause of the explosions, although we expect it was some kind of electrical problem.”

I rolled my eyes and Eddie snorted.

“That said, we are happy to report that no one was seriously injured, and unless notified otherwise, you can all plan on a normal day of school come Monday.”

The crowd groaned, after which the principal finished by saying the administration was planning a formal press conference in thirty minutes where they hoped to announce more information regarding the exact cause of the explosions.

“Well,” Eddie said as the crowd started to disperse, parents and children piling into their hastily parked cars. “What’s our plan? Wanna head back to your place?”

Plan? I had no plan. My mind was still racing with possible explanations of the detective-man’s cryptic comments. So far I had only arrived at one obvious conclusion – I should probably talk to the police about this.

But that had it’s own problems. How could I explain the detective-man’s questions to a cop without implicating myself? I was pretty certain that admitting Eddie and I stayed in the school after the explosions would result in trouble.

And if I let the police know that the strange man had made threatening comments about my dad, the police would probably want to interview dad too. That could only be bad. I definitely didn’t want my parents involved.

From there, it was a simple series of steps to realize that a) the strange detective-man was a liar about who he was, so why should I believe what he said about my family? And b) getting authority figures involved would only complicate things. After all, we had nothing to worry about. We didn’t do anything bad, and since no one that mattered knew about the strange man inside the school, I decided to drop the matter entirely.

I turned to Eddie.

“Plan? Here’s the plan: we’ve got a major project to work on the rest of the afternoon.”

“What? You can’t be serious! No way am I working on Torvald’s research paper after all this!”

I punched him in the arm.

“I’m not talking about Torvy’s research paper. Our project is to figure out what went down here, including what was up with that fake detective. Speaking of which, how did you know he was a fake?”
Eddie smiled and cracked his knuckles.

“Teal, Teal, Teal – think about it! It was totally obvious!”

“Totally obvious? The FBI slip was totally obvious, Eddie. Whatever you noticed before that wasn’t totally obvious, or I would have figured it out.”

Eddie smirked.

“Well if you can’t figure out, I’m not going to tell you. This should be a good puzzle for you to solve – punishment for making me be a troll in today’s game.”

I rolled my eyes and started walking toward home. Sometimes Eddie was invaluable, and sometimes he drove me insane.

As my short little friend ran to catch up, I started forming a mental list of all the questions we needed to answer.

What really caused the green explosions?

Who was the man in the hallway, and why did he know me?

Who was the fake FBI detective, why didn’t he know something as simple as what ‘FBI’ stands for, and why was he asking about the man in the hallway?

And the last question – the one that bothered me most:

Did he really mean something by ‘my father’s condition’…?


Next Chapter (Chapter 3) >>

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TEAL: Chapter 1

Teal is available as a free CC-licensed science fiction novel. You can read more about the project here.


Click here to download this chapter as a PDF (123kb)


FRIDAY, MAY 13th

“Teal! Behind you!”

I whipped around, but it was already too late. The creature’s hand clamped around my throat, crushing my trachea and squeezing tears from my eyes.

“Eddie,” I gasped, my vision already blurring. “The girl! Save the girl!”

(Any normal guy would have known this, but Eddie could be a bit slow on the uptake.)

Across the cavern, a diminutive troll nodded before stumbling toward a slender female at the far edge of the room.

“Nooo,” my captor screamed, its hand further tightening around my throat. “The girl is mine!”

Then – with one of its four hands still firmly around my neck – the monster used its other three to whip out a trio of blasters. Silently and patiently, the angle of the three blasters aligned on the troll’s poor little head.

I realized too late what was about to happen. Panic set in, and I clawed frantically against my captor’s grasp.

“No…don’t kill him…”

I’m not sure why I chose to say that. Maybe I held some vain hope the monster would turn to me and say, “you know, you’re right. I won’t kill him.”

But alas, it either didn’t hear or didn’t care. Before I could sputter another useless plea, the creature clamped down three trigger fingers.

A triad of blue energy beams streaked toward Eddie’s hapless troll. Two of the three blasts connected, severing the troll’s legs from its body as the rest of its mangled torso collapsed into a motionless heap.

I had no time to think as the same three blasters swiveled around, allineating on my panicked face.

“Good-bye, boy.”

Three fingers again compressed three triggers.

But before the fateful blast connected, I smashed down the Alt and F4 keys and killed the program. Then a mumbled a word I really shouldn’t have, and I mumbled it a lot louder than I’d intended.

“…Excuse me, Teal? Do you have a problem with my lecture?”

I looked up from my screen to find an entire Basic Computer Skills class staring at me – including a particularly nasty glare from Mr. Torvald, the teacher.

This wasn’t going to be good.

“No sir, no problem. Your lecture is great.”

I realized too late how sarcastic that sounded. The class snickered, and Mr. Torvald smiled that cruel, mocking smile reserved for high school teachers who have just placed a student in an awkward situation.

“I see,” he said, turning off his projector. “Then could you please repeat the last bullet point of today’s lesson for us? It should be easy for you, since I repeated such an important statement at least three times.”

I didn’t doubt that. Torvald was famous for repeating pretty much everything. This made his request all the more ridiculous, and more than one student snickered again.

“Um, you said…”

I couldn’t even remember the topic of today’s lesson, let alone a specific bullet point.

“…you said something about…”

Just then, the grating buzz of the class-ending bell echoed across the room. I let out a sigh of relief and hoped that bell wouldn’t be my only good luck for the day.

After all, I had big plans.

(More on that in a moment.)

Students began filing out of the room while Mr. Torvald sat with his arms folded, a frustrated expression smeared across his face.

“You’re lucky today, Teal – but don’t even think about playing games in my class again.”

I forced a smile, wondering if he knew I’d played games every class period since the start of the semester.

And who could blame me? Torvy’s lectures weren’t just boring. They were insipid. Every kid in that class would play the same game if they too knew how to circumvent the school’s anti-game filter.

“Sorry, Mr. Torvald,” I said, this time remembering to make it sound sincere. “It won’t happen again.”

Try as I might, I could barely contain my smirk and Torvald seemed to sense it, so I collected my things as quickly as possible, logged out of the computer, then made a beeline for the hallway.

I hadn’t made it two steps out of the classroom when Eddie – a short Indian boy and my best friend – grabbed me by the arm.

“Dude, you blew it!”

At least half of Eddie’s observations begin with ‘dude.’

I blew it? You were the one who didn’t make it to the girl in time.”

“Only because you made me a troll! What kind of plan was that? An elf or knight would’ve been way faster!”

This was where my nerd-ness started to falter. I was all for playing video games in a boring computer class, but the thought of talking to Eddie about it in public was more than I could bear. In typical 10th grade fashion, people would already be spreading rumors about “the kid Torvald caught playing computer games.” The potential for that nasty rumor made it all the more pressing that I get moving on my big plans for the day.

So I just shook my head as Eddie continued berating my poor choice of video game characters.

And really, the truth of the matter was that we’d tried both the elf and the knight yesterday, and we’d still lost. I didn’t think the troll was going to work, but I secretly enjoyed talking Eddie into doing stupid things.

By the time we reached my locker, Eddie had launched into his favorite part of video game conversations: rhetorical questions.

“Seriously, Teal – why didn’t you try to escape from the monster? You just sat there!”

“Enough already! I couldn’t escape! You think I sat there, being strangled, for the fun of it?”

“No, but you should have–”

If I hadn’t already stopped listening, this would have been the perfect cue. Once Eddie started talking about what someone ‘should have’ done in a particular situation, he was hard to stop.

I dialed in my locker combination and began the tedious process of loading up next period’s books. Our high school runs on an A-B day schedule, so I had four of my classes on A-days and the other four classes on B-days. Torvald’s Basic Computer Skills class was the first period of A-days, followed by World History, lunch, Algebra II, and Band.

Yes, Band. I know what that makes you think, and I don’t want to hear it. Hopefully I’ll have time later to explain how that happened.

Anyway, somewhere between loading up my history binder and Eddie explaining how the level 19 mage would surely defeat the alien, my target stepped into sight.

I hadn’t planned on acting so soon – between 3rd and 4th periods would have been better – but the thought of my long-awaited plans falling apart over an exaggerated geekiness rumor left me no choice.

I smashed a hand over Eddie’s mouth and simultaneously swept him out of sight. Then I shook my head (to get my hair in place), licked my lips (they were dry), and rapidly formulated an updated version of my plan.

Thirty feet away, Cierra Russell – easily the most beautiful creature in the history of Franklin High School – had just arrived at her locker. Her long auburn hair fell in gentle curls around her perfect face: two dark brown eyes nestled above a pixie nose and full red lips. The gentle sway of her hips accentuated her long, slender legs, and I had to fight to keep from drooling all over myself.

“Mmph grmbl hmph,” Eddie mumbled.

“Shhh,” I replied, slowly removing my hand from his mouth. “Now’s my chance. It’s Friday, she’ll be relaxed, and if I don’t do it today then someone else will ask her over the weekend.”

“Dude. You can’t be serious.”

“I am. I’m gonna ask her to the homecoming dance.”

Eddie’s eyes ballooned.

“Teal, you are completely–”

But I was already gone, slithering through mulling throngs of students toward Cierra.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as my plan went. I had no idea how to ask someone of Cierra’s status out, but hopefully that wouldn’t be a problem. I learned a long time ago that fortune favored the bold.
And this was looking to be one of the boldest things I’d ever done.

I smiled at the thought and slipped around another group of students. Cierra was less then ten feet away and I was as ready as I’d ever be.

That’s when total chaos erupted.

It started with a burst of green light somewhere above my head. A loud crash exploded from the ceiling, followed by an immediate rain of dust, Fiberboard and glass. Somewhere down the hallway a girl screamed, followed by another loud crash – this one more like a smashing sound, less like an explosion.

The screaming spread, and within seconds every student in the packed hallway lost control, the lot of them coalescing into a frantic stampede.

I lost sight of Cierra as a river of panicked students plowed past me. I tried moving against the current, desperately trying to lunge across those last ten feet to reach her, but the movement of the crowd was just too strong. Instead I found myself carried into the flow of students, and it took concentrated effort and several bad bruises to work my way back toward the lockers, where I was momentarily out of the herd’s way.

Eddie materialized beside me, his smaller body much better at navigating crowds.

“Dude! What was that?”

I shook my head, sending clouds of dust flying from my hair.

“I have no idea. I was just about to reach Cierra when the ceiling above me exploded.”

As if on cue, another explosion of green light ripped across the ceiling, dumping more dust and debris into the now-delirious crowd. The screaming grew to a roar and we were forced to slide halfway into my open locker to keep from being swept away.

It took several seconds for the bulk of the crowd to pass, and when it had, an eerie quiet engulfed the hallway. I slowly stepped out of the locker and wondered for a moment why I hadn’t left the school with the rest of the student body.

Apparently Eddie reached the same conclusion, because he grabbed my arm and started dragging me down the hallway.

“Eddie, wait!”

“Wait for what? We have to get out of here!”

“Stop,” I said, yanking my arm away. “I think the explosions are over. We should investigate.”

“What? No! Don’t be an idiot.”

“You worry too much. Those green blasts of light…what could have caused them? Let’s see where they came from.”

Eddie shook his head and rolled his eyes, which usually meant that he disagreed with my judgment but would tag along anyway. In fact, that’s the same look he’d given me when I’d suggested he try saving the cyber-princess with a troll.

I smiled and began creeping down the dusty hallway.

A door behind us suddenly slammed open and I instinctively threw myself to the ground. A pitter-patter of feet ran away from us; I peeked behind to see Mr. Torvald sprinting awkwardly out of his classroom, both hands clasping a keyboard over his head.

…And if I’m not mistaken, it sounded like he was crying.

Embarrassing.

We waited for Torvy to exit the school before climbing to our feet and continuing down the hallway. A fine layer of dust coated everything – the floor, the lockers, me – and the air remained plugged with clouds of dust and soot.

As we crept along, I took a moment to replay the events of the last minute in my head. The green blasts had undoubtedly come from this direction, but it was impossible to see a cause through the thick dust. I fought to remember what lay down the hall…a couple classroom doors, the school trophy case, an unmarked door – probably a janitor’s closet…?

Was there anything else? If so, I couldn’t remember it. My mind raced as we stepped up the half-flight of stairs leading further down the hallway.

Behind me, Eddie coughed.

“Teal, this is stupid. Why are we here?”

That’s the thing with Eddie – he’ll always tag along, but only on the condition that he’s allowed to second-guess everything we do. I’m of the belief that if you have problems with a decision, voice them before you act on it. Eddie is more of the “tag-along-then-gripe-the-whole-way-just-in-case-this-idea-was-stupid” type of person.

I held up my hand in a clear gesture of ‘shut up,’ then leaned toward him.

“Quiet. Can you hear that?”

Eddie paused, his face blank in concentration.

Somewhere further down the hallway, a soft scuttling sound drifted through the dust.

“That!”

“Yeah, I hear it,” he replied. “What do you think it is?”

Again I shook my head.

We continued down the hallway.

Suddenly I felt something wasn’t right. You know the feeling – that flickering moment of doubt at the very back of your mind, subtle enough to barely notice it at first, and yet within moments it’s all you can think about.

For reasons I can’t really isolate, I made the decision to repress that instance of doubt. Truthfully, I was dying to know what was going on (I mean really dying to know – otherwise I would have been outside tracking down Cierra), and I had a sinking suspicion that if I stopped long enough to think about what on earth we were doing, I’d have no good reason to continue forward.

So we kept moving, and I sincerely hoped we could reach something definitive before my sense of rationale kicked back in.

By now we had nearly reached the end of the hall. The corridor down which we walked met up with a perpendicular hallway, forming a t-intersection. Along the far wall sat the school’s disappointingly empty trophy case – three trophies for the debate team, one for the FBLA club, zero for any kind of sport – and next to it, the unmarked door I suspected was some kind of utility or janitor’s closet. Something about the door looked awry, so I motioned to Eddie and we moved in for a better look.

Upon closer inspection, it was clear that somewhere beyond this door was where the green blasts had originated. Two holes, each one big enough to stick a hand through, had been blown in the wooden door; the holes sat several inches apart, and – weird – they were perfectly circular. Perfectly circular. There was no sign of shattering or burning or melting or anything of the sort.

I raised an eyebrow and leaned in to inspect the holes when a colossal crash sounded on the other side of the door. I leaped backward just as the door swung open, barely missing my face.

A tall, rugged figure emerged from the doorway, caked from head to foot in dust. Two piercing black eyes scanned the hallway, immediately honing in on mine and Eddie’s faces. I had the sudden urge to run for my life (and judging by the strange squeals coming from Eddie, he felt similarly).

But instead we remained frozen in place as the dusty figure looked us up and down, deep black eyes clearly searching for something. My legs tensed; I suddenly realized my heart had at some point began pounding with audible strength, and then I wondered why I was still inside the school. That sense of rationale I’d tried so hard to suppress was rising and it was definitely telling me to run for my life.

Then the dust-encrusted figure – a man, I realized – raised a finger, pointing it straight at my chest.

“You,” he croaked, his voice as dust-encrusted as his body. “You’re Teal. Teal Garrison.”

My heart dropped into my stomach. How did he know who I was?

I traded startled glances with Eddie, then nodded.

“…Yes.”

“We need to talk,” he continued, eyes boring into me. “When can you meet me?”

“I, uh, what?”

I hate being caught off guard. Surprise always makes me feel so… vulnerable.

“What do you mean, meet you?”

Somewhere behind us, the sound of sirens echoed down the hallway. The firemen had arrived.

Mystery man grunted.

“Dammit, boy – don’t play dumb at a time like this! We ain’t got time for games! Meet me here on,” he paused, “…Monday morning, 6:00 am.”

He raised a menacing finger.

“And don’t even think about bein’ late. Your life may depend on it.”

And without so much as a second glance, he turned and walked back into the closet, closing the damaged door behind him.

The ridiculousness of the situation was difficult to reconcile. Dust thick as cotton candy still choked the air, I’d just watched parts of my school explode in mysterious bursts of colored light, and some crazy old man had just crawled from a closet and announced we needed to talk about something life-threateningly important.

This couldn’t possibly be real.

But as I turned to find firemen running toward us, grabbing us, dragging us out of the school, it set in that – however unbelievable – it was real. All of it.

And there was no Alt+F4 to get me out of this one.


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TEAL: Prologue

Teal is available as a free CC-licensed science fiction novel.  You can read more about the project here.


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THURSDAY, MAY 12th

From: kEpik
To: cRonus
Subj: Do not forget me

There is no easy way to put this, so I am just going to say it.

I have seven days to live.

In your time, that works out to 168 hours.  It seems longer when I write it like that.

I am not as sad as I thought I might be.  Maybe it is because I knew this was coming.  Maybe the shock has not fully set in.  Either way, I plan on spending these last 168 hours well.

I am starting by writing you this message.  I will be hauled off to the prison on eNsis in a matter of minutes, but before that happens I have important things to tell you…things you should have been told a long time ago.

In case you have yet to figure it out, you are not sick.  You have been poisoned.  The poison is lethal and only I have the antidote.  Unfortunately, once I am on eNsis I will have no way to get you the antidote like I have for the last 10 years.

(Yes, you know what I am talking about.  The drink I periodically share with you is more than just an attempt at hospitality.  It is an antidote, and it has been keeping you alive.)

I do not have time to explain how and why the poisoning occurred, but I imagine you will be able to figure it out.  Just know this: it was not my idea.  I had no choice in the matter.

I suppose the good news is that while I have seven days to live, you could have as many as 30.  Spend your time wisely.

And cRonus – I am sorry.

Truly sorry.

Unfortunately, time is flying – now only 167.9 hours to live – and I have much more to say.  Apologies must wait for another time.

First, you must take careful note of the items I included with this message.  You should be familiar with most of these things, particularly the silexes and remeter.  Use these wisely.  This particular remeter is a new prototype that can open or close a portalgate anywhere.  (Yes, I really mean anywhere.)  I have not tested it thoroughly so do not push your luck – but it could prove useful in an emergency.

The last item in the package will not be recognizable, and just as well.  The only advice I can give you is to save this item for a time of great need.  I cannot say more, since even I am not sure of how it works.

With that out of the way, it is now time for the most significant and important part of this message.  (Yes, information even more important than the fact that you are poisoned and dying.)  The reason this is so important is that if it is true, we may yet be able to save both our lives.

So do not take this lightly.

What I am about to tell you will seem strange.  It may even seem inconsequential.

But do not be fooled, cRonus.  I have precious little time left, and I would not waste it on this message if the information were anything less than vitally important.

I just pray I am doing the right thing by sharing this.  Please take my words seriously.

Two days ago, after we last spoke, I spent an evening pondering the nature of human dreaming.  As you know, we zArgansk do not dream.  This has always puzzled me since practically everything your kind experiences we also experience, yet dreaming remains unique to just humans.

I spent several hours trying to track down information on zArgansk dreaming but was unable to locate anything useful in my database.

After another hour of pondering the matter, I gave up and went to sleep.  It was then that I experienced what no other zArgansk ever has:

I dreamed.

It was a miracle.  I still do not know how or why it happened, but I believe it happened for a reason.

Let me explain.

(I just glanced at the monitor, and it seems I chose a fortunate time to write this all down.  The screen is warning me to remain in my quarters.  Soldiers are coming to collect me.  167.7 hours left, cRonus – and on eNsis I will not have access to a human computer.  I must hurry.)

My dream began with me standing alone on a small hill in the middle of an endless field.  This was the only hill for miles, and it seemed like I was not standing or sitting on the hill; I was just there, and I was clearly waiting for something.

Feeling that it must be coming soon, I searched the vast horizon around my hill until I found what I then realized I was looking for: two armies amassing themselves on opposite sides of the field.  On one side were the humans, gathering tanks and missiles and lining up massive armies of men in camouflaged uniforms.  On the other side were the armies of the zArgansk.  I have never seen a zArgansk army in real life, but if one exists, it would have to look something like this: huge ranks of warriors, massive portalgates ready to summon fire, water, whatever was necessary.  It was breathtaking, cRonus.  Absolutely breathtaking.

As I watched, I was struck by the sudden thought that the armies were going to collide around my hill, and when they did I would be caught in the middle.

I had to find a way out.  For some reason I believed I would be more safe with your people – perhaps indicative of my current state of mind – so I quickly sprinted down the hill and toward their army.

(As I glance over what I have written so far, I realize I must sound ridiculous – but believe me when I say that while inside the dream these events seemed completely real.  Are human dreams like this?  Do you also have no realization that you are inside a fantasy?  It was most strange, cRonus.  I cannot believe your kind does this every night.)

Time is running short.  Back to the dream.

Panicked, I ran as fast as I could toward the human camp, but something was not right.  Regardless of how quickly I ran, your people remained equally far away.

This made me angry, so I ran faster.

It made no difference.

I turned back to see how far I had come from the hill, but I was unable to locate it.  It seemed to have disappeared.

Suddenly the ground beneath me began to shake.  I realized the zArgansk army was charging and I found myself terrified.

I tried to run faster, but it still made no difference.  I glanced behind again; the army moved faster and faster toward me.  I could not run away.  My legs were useless.

Tired and frightened and out of options, I fell to the ground and watched as – on the opposite side of the field – the army of your people began their counter-charge.  I saw familiar faces on both sides of the war; you were there with your wife and children.  Many of my zArgansk friends were on the other side.

I could not believe this was happening, that my work had failed and that the war was finally here.  I screamed at both sides to stop, to reconcile, to end the senseless violence.

No one listened.

The armies neared.

Suddenly – am I saying ‘suddenly’ too much?  I cannot help it, everything in the dream seemed so sudden – suddenly I turned and realized one of your children was standing next to me.

Do not ask how I knew it, cRonus.  Somehow it was obvious the child was yours.

By now I had begun to panic.  I told your child to run before the armies collided, but he just smiled and shook his head.

I grabbed him and commanded that he leave – but he just laughed before saying, “kEpik, don’t worry.  Everything will be okay.”

“How is this okay?” I screamed, pointing at the armies racing toward us.

But he ignored me.  Were it my own child, I would have punished him severely.

You will be glad to know I refrained.

As the armies neared, I sank to the ground and told your child to do the same.  But he just smiled, shook his head, and reached into a sheath hanging from his waist (I swear it had not been there before) and pulled out…

…are you ready?

He pulled out a sword.  A massive, gleaming, immaculate sword.  I asked him what he intended to do with it, and he said this:

“I believe the truth will set us free.”

Those were his exact words.  I am sure of it.

After saying this, your child raised the sword and smashed it into the ground.

A massive rift ripped apart the earth.  It was like an enormous knife had been dragged across the line separating the two armies, beginning at your child and extending beyond my range of vision.  I watched as both armies sprinted toward the rift, neither slowing, racing toward their inevitable doom as the emerging chasm opened to swallow them.

And then I awoke.

Dear gOds, the soldiers are banging on my door.  I must go.

I do not know what this dream means.  I hope you can draw some truth from it – something that will save us both.

And, perhaps by saving us, save our races too.

Farewell, my cRonus.

My son.

-kEpik aRist


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