Look for my photography in Mandriva 2010.2

Thanks to the Mandriva team for naming one of my photos a winner in their “community background contest.” For those interested, the following photo will be available as a background in the mandriva-theme-extra package of Mandriva 2010.2:

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to one of the best Linux distros (even if it’s in an inconsequential way).

I strongly recommend checking out the other contest winners at the official Mandriva blog. OStatic also provides a list of the photos, with commentary.

If you haven’t tried Mandriva, you’re missing out. Give it a whirl at mandriva.com.

Teal is finished (and still CC-licensed!)

A decision has been made. After much deliberation, I have decided to keep Teal, my first novel, free and CC-licensed. Thank you to everyone who shared their input with me. I definitely think this is the right choice for both me and the book.

If you’d like to read Teal, you have a couple options:

  • Visit tealnovel.com and read the book online
  • Similarly, you can visit tealnovel.com/download and download the book as a PDF
  • If you prefer your books in physical, dead tree form, head to either amazon.com or CreateSpace to purchase a paperback copy – and support this site in the process!

I’m still working on an ePub version of the book, so check back in a couple weeks if that’s your preferred method of reading.

It’s very, very nice to finally have Teal wrapped up. Hopefully this means I have more time for updating this site…haha, right? A couple loose ends still need to be tied up (the aforementioned ePub version, for example), but for the most part, I am ready to call the project “done.” Woohoo!

If you have any interest in reading quality fiction, please take some time to try Teal – it was a Breakthrough New Author Finalist for a reason! :)

Teal is Momentarily “On Hold”

Hello All,

I apologize for not posting another chapter of Teal on Sunday. As it turns out, there was a (fairly) legitimate reason for doing so.

I have recently received an unexpected offer in regards to Teal. This offer has provided me a chance to take Teal down one of two paths – one is the present path of CC-licensing and free availability for all, while the other could be called a “traditional publishing” path.

Full details on this offer weren’t available until this week, which is why the latest chapter (chapter 21) hasn’t been posted online. Again, I apologize to anyone currently waiting for it.

This decision is causing me more consternation than I anticipated. My feelings on traditional publishing are fairly well-established at this point, but I have recently been reminded that industries and people are very different things.  The publishing industry has much that is wrong with it, but that doesn’t change the fact that many wonderful people count on that industry for their livelihoods.  It is good to be reminded of that.

As much as I dread it, I am eventually going to have to make a firm choice with regards to Teal.  Both paths offer benefits (some intangible, some very tangible).  Both paths require compromises.  Unfortunately, the two paths are entirely incompatible, which means a clear choice must be made.

If you have input for me, I’d love to hear it, especially if you’ve ever faced a similar decision.  At present, I am certainly leaning toward one path, but I want to make sure I allow ample time to make the best decision for me and for Teal.

Out of fairness to those currently reading Teal, I will try to reach a firm decision before the end of this month.  If you have already read through the 20 chapters currently available, please send me your feedback.  If you haven’t read that far – what are you waiting for?  :)

TEAL: Chapter 20

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 (124kb)


Eddie reached the roof first. I took his extended hand and pulled myself up.

“So, Eddie – why are we on the roof? Is there really a way into the school from here?”

He shrugged.

“Probably not.”

“What? Probably not? Why did you suggest climbing up here?”

“I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I groaned and looked around. Swamp coolers, stack pipes, and a handful of lost balls and Frisbees were the only things visible in the dim evening light. The pipes were all too small to climb through (not that I really wanted to try that), and there were definitely no doors.

“Eddie, this is–”

“Wait!” he interrupted. “I have an idea! Do your wind magic on a swamp cooler! If you can blow one off, we’ll have a perfect way into the school!”

“Will that work? Can we fit through a swamp cooler hole?”

“Oh yeah – they’re like a foot or two around. C’mon, Teal! Do your magic!”

As much as I felt ridiculous hearing Eddie say “do your magic,” I didn’t have any other ideas and we had been gone much longer than the two or three minutes we’d promised Lee and Danny. Why not give it a try?

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the three silexes resting there. I glanced at each, but in the dim evening light it was awfully hard to tell which stone was which.

So I picked a random one and squeezed it.

A blast of fire scorched from my hand, catching Eddie in the leg. He screamed and leaped around the roof.

“AHHH! I’m on fire!”

“Eddie, it’s–”

“Stay away from me! My leg! It’s burning! Someone help!”

“Eddie, listen to–”

“I’m gonna die up here! You killed me, Teal! I–”

“EDDIE!”

He stopped leaping.

“You’re not on fire, so quiet down! Do you want the HIRCs to find us?”

He looked down at his pant leg, which was – indeed – not burned at all.

“Oh. No. Sorry, dude.”

Seriously, that kid…

With an angry groan, I placed that silex back in my pocket and squeezed one of the two remaining ones. Bright, pure white light erupted from beneath my clenched fingers. I set that silex in my other pocket.

Fire and light could only mean one thing.

“Okay, Eddie, this last one must be connected to wind. Stand back.”

Eddie complied as I leveled my arm at the nearest cooler. I took a deep breath, then slowly squished the remaining stone.

Wind burst from my fist, making my eyes water and sending my hair squirming all over the place – but the swamp cooler didn’t budge.

I squeezed harder. The gravel beneath me started to drift away in cloudy packs, and I had to squint to keep my eyes from burning.

Still the swamp cooler didn’t move.

I squeezed harder, the gravel beneath me now gusting away in droves. I closed my eyes and dragged a foot back for balance, then I brought my other hand over the first and squeezed the small silex with both of them.

A massive rush of wind bore into the swamp cooler, pulling its front two supports away from the roof and bending the entire housing away from the hole over which it stood.

I squeezed open an eye to make sure the gust had worked, then released my deathgrip on the silex.

Eddie and I forced the swamp cooler’s heavy box a little further back. The hole beneath it was indeed big enough for each of us to fit through.

My next concern was where the hole led. I really hoped it wasn’t into the waiting arms of an agent…

…But there was only one way to find out.

I assumed a serious expression and turned to face Eddie.

“Okay, pal. You first.”

“What? Why should I go first?”

“Uh, because you’re the better climber, of course!”

Yes, that was a bald-faced lie. What can I say? I really didn’t want to jump down first.

“Anyway, you’d better hurry – Lee and Danny must think we’ve died.”

Eddie eyed me suspiciously.

“Whatever.”

He hunched down and gingerly slid himself over the edge of the swamp cooler hole.

“How big a drop do you think this is?”

“Not too big. Now hurry! We gotta get that door open!”

Eddie looked concerned, but he shrugged and completely let go of the roof, disappearing through the hole faster than I could register what had happened.

“Eddie?”

A loud crash and lengthy string of bad words answered me back.

“OW THE PAIN WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME I WAS FIFTY FEET OFF THE GROUND I COULD’VE DIED TEAL YOU STUPID PIECE–”

Eddie kept yelling as I peered into the hole and pulled out my light silex. I gently squeezed it, sending pale light drifting down the hole and into what appeared to be a normal classroom.

Eddie lay sprawled across several desks and his face looked murderous. I thought it served him right.

“Fifty feet off the ground? Eddie, it’s like ten feet. Why did you let go of the roof?”

He said more words not worth repeating, which only made me smile more. I gently climbed over the edge of the hole, then lowered myself down until my arms were fully extended. From there it was a soft drop onto a desk below, and after sliding gracefully onto the floor, I turned to Eddie with a smug grin plastered across my face.

“That wasn’t so hard.”

“Not so hard, I’ll show you not so hard, can’t believe I had to go first, fricking unbelievable…”

I was about to tease him further when a light drifted past the window in the classroom door. I shoved Eddie off the desks and quickly threw myself onto the floor. He hit the ground with a solid thunk, but wisely kept from yelling anything.

The classroom door creaked open.

A bright beam of light flickered over the top of the desks. I held my breath and tried to hold perfectly still. The beam swiveled around the room several times, then a voice further down the hallway yelled something.

“What was that noise, 16?”

“I dunno. Doesn’t look like it came from here. Try the next room.”

The beam slid out the doorway as the classroom door swung closed. Eddie and I exhaled in unison, my mind already racing to form a new plan of attack.

“We gotta get that outside door open,” I whispered. “Kyralee’s way better than I am at this magic stuff, and who knows – maybe Danny’s muscles could come in handy.”

Eddie nodded his assent.

“So here’s what I say we do: let’s wait until the two goons in the hallway leave, then we’ll head for the outside doors. I’ll keep my magic ready in case we run into an agent. Once we get Lee and Danny inside, we’ll go hunting for Cierra, then once she’s safe we’ll head for the portalgate. Sound good?”

Eddie nodded again.

We crawled around desks and chairs until we reached the classroom door. From there I carefully stood up and peered out the steel-gridded window inset in the door, and after searching and finding nothing, I gently turned the doorknob.

With a gentle click, the door slipped open.

I peered both ways down the hallway. The two men we’d heard earlier were nowhere to be found. I motioned to Eddie, and the two of us slid silently out into the moonlit corridor. We quickly tip-toed toward the far entrance, keeping our backs tightly against the lockers and our eyes peeled for any sign of movement.

It didn’t take us long to reach the end of the hallway. I pushed open the interior set of doors, then had Eddie hold them while I edged open the outside doors.

But Danny and Lee weren’t there.

“Hey!” I whispered. “Lee? Danny? Hello?”

No one replied.

I kept one hand on the door as I cautiously stepped outside. A quick scan of the surrounding grounds revealed nothing, except that Lee and Danny were definitely gone.

“Teal! Duck!”

I spun around just in time to see a burst of green energy soar into the door on my left. The blast exploded the glass into a cloud of dust, sending Eddie screaming and diving out the still open door.

I did my best to use the door for cover without letting it close. I considered running for my life, but as the dust settled I was struck by the thought of Kyralee being somehow captured by the agents, and it filled me with a maniacal fury unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

So I whipped out two silexes and, yelling madly, charged back into the school.

A lone HIRC stood some fifteen feet inside. He leveled his alien rifle and prepared to fire off another burst of energy, but I smashed down on both silexes before he could do anything.

Red-blue balls of fire soared down the hallway and exploded against the unprepared agent. I pressed down harder, and larger clusters of flame burst from my hands. The agent disappeared in a massive pyre of smoke and light.

That was somewhat unexpected. I looked into my hands and realized I grabbed the fire and wind silexes – hence the wind-like bursts of flames.

This made me wonder whether the magic stones were meant to be mixed like this. It seemed to be working, but were there side-effects I didn’t realize? I hoped not.

After ensuring the HIRC was truly taken care of (I didn’t need more surprise attacks), I ran back to the outside doors. I burst through them and found Eddie still outside, hiding behind the wall and breathing heavily.

“Hey! C’mon!”

He cleared his throat and shook his head.

“No way, Teal. No way. You’ve got magic to protect you, but I’ve got nothing! Every time we get into these fights, I’m just a sitting duck.”

I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. Now was not the time.

“And besides, man,” he panted, “you don’t really need me.”

I shook my head angrily.

“Eddie, enough! Danny and Lee are gone! We have to help them! Of course I need you!”

“No you don’t. I’m not good for anything. This whole time it’s been you doing all the dangerous stuff. I’m just a tag-a-long. Leave me out here.”

There’s nothing worse than having an argument with someone that’s mostly right.

“Shut up, Ed. You know that’s not true. It was your idea to race through the store on our bikes. You saved us there.”

Eddie laughed, but it wasn’t a happy laugh.

“And then what happened? I tried to run away and almost died when those agents hit me with their car. I’m just a liability, Teal.”

I clenched my teeth. Tempting as it was to say “know what, you’re right,” I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Kyralee was in danger, Cierra was in danger, and we still needed to find a way back to the portalgate.

And as much as I wanted to punch Eddie, I knew things would be way worse if I were alone.

“Listen to me. You can think whatever you want, but we don’t have time to argue about this. If you’re too chicken to help me save Lee and Cierra, I’ll do it myself. Then I’ll go through the portalgate alone and save mankind myself too. I don’t want to, but I will.”

Eddie said nothing.

“So that’s it? Not even a response?”

Apparently not. I turned and walked back into the school.

“Teal, wait.”

Eddie stepped out from behind the outside wall, then through the broken glass and into the hallway.

“Do you really think I can be useful?”

“Of course! But we don’t have time to fight about it. If you come with me, I need you to be serious about it. There’s no turning back from here.”

He thought about it for a moment.

“…Okay. I’m in. But do you think we could find me a weapon? I’m tired of sitting around and watching everyone else fight.”

I smiled and walked down the hallway to the unmoving HIRC I’d fried moments earlier. The agent was little more than a pile of dust, but his rifle was still there, a little blackened but otherwise intact. It looked just like the ones the janitor had given us beneath the school.

Which finally confirmed one thing – the HIRCs either worked for the Zargansk or had some kind of access to Zargansk weapons. The former seemed most reasonable.

I picked the weapon up and handed it to Eddie.

“Will this do?”

“Oh, yeah! I’ve missed these babies.”

Then he grinned.

“Now let’s fry some agents!”

I forced another smile, hoping it would hide how sick I was of playing psychologist. Every second we wasted talking was another second Kyralee and Cierra stayed in potential danger.

“So, Eddie – any ideas on where our missing friends went?”

He thought for a moment.

“I’m guessing the agents are somehow connected to the silver tunnels beneath the school. Let’s head to the janitor’s closet first.”

“I agree. You’ve got the big gun, so why don’t you lead the way.”

Eddie smiled and struck out opposite the blown-up doors, his newfound rifle held out stiff and cautious. I kept the fire silex firmly enclosed in my left fist and the wind silex similarly tight in my right. I quite liked the fireball thing I’d busted out on the last HIRC. If more agents decided to stir up trouble, I was looking forward to blasting every last one of them.

Eddie led us midway down the hallway before veering down another hall on the right. The only light came from the ends of each corridor, where dull beams of moonlight shone around the opaque braces of the exterior doors. I considered getting out my light silex, but worried that would make us visible from too far a distance. We were probably safer in the dark.

But the eerieness of the dim, silent hallways made me nervous. Every shadow seemed a potential HIRC, every locker a hidden enemy waiting for us to pass before blasting us apart. My eyes had started to adjust to the darkness, but it would still be all-too-easy for something to catch us unaware.

I wiped the beading sweat from my forehead and moved closer to Eddie.

We traveled three-fourths of the way down the hall before turning left onto another lengthy corridor of lockers and classroom doors. I recognized this as the hallway leading to the locker rooms and gymnasium. The janitor’s closet was down the next hallway on the right.

I swallowed heavily and continued following Eddie as he crept forward. Both our heads flicked about nervously, checking every direction in an attempt to prevent HIRCs from surprising us.

At last we reached the turn-off to the hallway containing the janitor’s closet. Eddie watched behind us as I cautiously peered around the corner.

The door to the janitor’s closet remained closed, but two muscular-looking HIRCs paced methodically in front of it. The girls had to be in there.

I slipped back behind the corner and consulted with my nervous friend.

“Any ideas on how to get past two goons guarding the janitor’s door?”

Eddie shook his head.

“Short of the old create-a-distraction-then-blow-them-all-up routine, I’ve got nothing. What if we–”

But he was interrupted by a sudden buzzing and mechanical beeping coming from somewhere on his body. Eddie frantically searched his pockets for the culprit – his cellphone – which was steadily crescendoing to maximum volume.

Just when you think things can’t get worse, right? And who would be calling Eddie at this time of night?

It took him several seconds to find his phone and silence it, seconds I spent creeping away from the HIRC’s hallway and readying my silexes.

Heavy footsteps bounded down the hallway toward us, and once Eddie slammed the silenced phone back in his pocket (while whispering curses at his parents for calling so late), he quickly backed away from the hallway while simultaneously raising the Zargansk rifle and tightening his trigger finger.

The footsteps coming down the hallway slowed as they approached. Unfortunately, it seemed these agents weren’t as dumb as I had hoped – they weren’t going to wander blindly into our firing path.

Too bad.

The footsteps stopped inches from the corner. A deep bass voice growled out, “who’s there?”

I deepened my own voice as much as I could and replied.

“Who’s here? I’m, uh, Number 16. Who’s there?”

“HIRC Number 4. What’s the passcode, Number 16?”

“Er,” I fumbled. “Why don’t you tell me the passcode, Number 4?”

“Because I’m higher-ranking than you, Number 16, if that is your real ID. Step around the corner to verify.”

I swallowed my sudden mouthful of nervous drool.

“Not unless you put down your weapons, Number 4. I don’t want you shooting me just because you’re suspicious.”

“Very well,” the deep voice growled. “Our weapons are lowered. Now step around the corner. That’s an order.”

I doubted very much that the HIRCs had lowered their weapons, but maybe this meant they wouldn’t shoot me on sight. I stretched out my arms, readied my fists, and walked to the edge of the hallway.

“Okay, Number 4. I’m coming out now.”

I swung around the edge of the hallway and clamped down on the silexes.

Monstrous fireballs erupted from my grasp, swallowing the two unprepared agents and sending waves of heat and light in every direction. Each HIRC screamed; one fell to the ground as the other whipped out a rifle and fired back at me. I dove around the corner as a green burst of energy smashed against the lockers to my left, decimating them.

Eddie and I popped back around the corner, him firing his rifle madly as I unleashed more fiery missiles. It didn’t take long for us to reduce the two HIRCs into nothingness.

I waited for the flames to disappear, then stepped over the agents’ lifeless forms and quickly searched for anything useful. Each carried a Zargansk handgun similar to what the agent outside had pulled on Danny and his friends. I took one and handed Eddie the other. Each agent also carried several silexes, but since they were unusable to us, we left them behind. Anything else the HIRCs might have been carrying had been destroyed by our attack.

After quickly checking to make sure no other agents had appeared, we sprinted down the hallway. I reached the door to the janitor’s closet first and found it still securely locked. Eddie muttered something angry about forgetting the keys.

Fortunately, I had an idea for getting around the whole no-key problem.

I extended my arms and flames erupted from my fists, engulfing the door and the surrounding walls with explosive, burning claws. I had to take several steps back; the heat streaming from the blaze was painfully thick and intense.

After several seconds of this inferno action, I released the silexes and lowered my fists.

The janitor’s door was no longer a drab gray color. Instead, it was a bright, shiny silver – the same brilliant silver that lined the secret hallways beneath the school. The paint on the door had apparently been designed to obscure this little secret.

Unfortunately, was still locked up tight.

On to plan B.

I whipped out my Zargansk pistol, eager for a chance to try out its firepower. Eddie joined in and we blasted the door over and over and over again.

But the blasts did nothing. As had happened with the janitor in the tunnels, the bursts of energy simply dissipated upon hitting the smooth metal of the door.

I stuffed the fire silex back into my pocket and pulled out the light one. I placed it and the wind silex into my right fist and clamped down on both stones. The tornado of gossamer light reappeared, but it was also unable to do anything to the door.

My jaw clenched as I tried to refrain from saying all the angry words passing through my mind.

I absent-mindedly returned the light silex back to my pocket when a new burst of green energy soared past my head. I dove to the ground as a second blast narrowly missed my chest. Three more blasts echoed down the hallway, sending Eddie and I scampering backwards.

Eventually I was able to find and wield the fire silex, which I combined with the wind one to send gusts of fire back down the hallway at whoever was attacking us.

Another green blast came dangerously close to my head, and I replied with more eruptions of flaming missiles. Eddie fired back madly with his own rifle, and after several more blasts from both of us the shooting from down the hall ceased.

I climbed to my feet and held the silexes firmly in front of me. Step by step, I inched down the hallway toward the side the blasts had come from.

Suddenly another blast – this one from behind – blew apart the lockers next to me. I dove wildly away as the blasts continued from behind and, even worse, resumed from in front. Green balls of energy exploded all around.

I realized that we were surrounded, and if we didn’t move quickly we would certainly be caught.

Or worse. These green blasts didn’t seem the “take Teal alive” variety. These were meant to kill.

I searched frantically for an escape.


Next Chapter (Chapter 21) – Available 29 August 2010 >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 19)


TEAL: Chapter 19

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 (92kb)


Seconds later, Lee and I reached the school doors. The agent had locked the doors behind him, and a glance inside revealed nothing.

I pressed my face against the glass and searched for the door to the janitor’s closet. It took me a moment to realize that the door lay down another hallway. Could that be where the HIRC had gone?

Suddenly I found myself swinging through the air before being violently smashed against the glass.

“Where is she, kid?! Where is she?”

I clawed at Danny Jackson’s massive paws.

“Lemme go, Danny! I’m here to help!”

Danny hit me against the wall again and brought his face painfully close. I was struck by how bushy his eyebrows were, but I wisely kept that to myself as he plastered me with damp, heavy breathing.

“Don’t screw with me! Where is she? Where did he take Cierra?”

Wait – did he just say what I thought he said?

“Cierra? That was Cierra Russell?”

“Of course it was! Where is she?”

I was struck momentarily speechless.

“Danny, put him down.”

He spared a sideways glance at Kyralee.

“Who’re you? You with this kid?”

She nodded.

“We want to help your girlfriend.”

Danny snorted out a laugh.

“She ain’t my girlfriend, too bad for her.”

Too bad for her? Grrr…

Lee reached out a hand and set it gently on the gorilla’s arm.

“Danny, please. Let us help.”

He eyed her suspiciously, his grip on me loosening ever so slightly.

“Okay, chick. Can you get me into the school?”

“No, but Teal can. Right, Teal?”

They both turned to face me, and I suddenly wished Danny had killed me a moment ago.

“Uh, sure I can, but only if this goon lets me go.”

Danny’a grip on my arms tightened.

“First tell me how you’re getting us into the school.”

I fumbled for a moment, then glanced over his shoulder to find Eddie stumbling toward us.

“Eddie! Are you okay?”

He collapsed against the wall.

“<huff> …no… <puff> …I’m… <gasp> …not…”

I took this opportunity to wrestle myself out of Danny’s grasp.

“Hurry it up,” he grumbled, scowling at me. “Cierra’s in trouble!”

If only he knew how much interest I had in saving Cierra Russell. She’d have to go to Homecoming with me if I saved her from a HIRC!

“Wait here. Eddie and I will get inside, then let you two in. Give us two or three minutes.”

Lee nodded as Danny continued glaring. I grabbed Eddie’s arm and dragged him around to the back of the school.

“Teal <gasp> no more running. Please <wheeze> no more running.”

“Listen, Eddie – we gotta get into the school, and we gotta do it fast. How can we do it without setting off alarms?”

Eddie panted for a moment longer before squeaking out, “roof. Try the roof.”

The roof? How were we going to get onto the roof?

I dragged Eddie several more steps to a small, wheeled dumpster sitting comfortably against the curb.

“Help me push this next to the school. Maybe we can use it to climb onto the roof.”

Eddie held up his hand.

“Gimme another minute–”

But he was cut off by the sudden appearance of another agent – another God-forsaken HIRC, who darted from behind the dumpster and grabbed Eddie before either of us could so much as blink.

The HIRC motioned at me.

“Yooouuu. Baaack aaawaaayyy.”

His voice was slippery and snake-like. I reached into my pocket and closed a hand around a single small stone.

“Drop him, HIRCky. Otherwise I’ll blast you like you’ve never been blasted before.”

The agent didn’t smile.

“Nooo maaagic foor yooouu, boooy.”

He shifted himself directly behind Eddie, who was trying everything he could to free himself from the agent’s firm grasp.

“Argh, lemme go!”

The agent’s arm clamped down harder around Eddie’s neck.

“Teal…help…”

What could I do? I wanted to use magic, but Lee’s warning hung thick in my mind:

You’ll kill them both.

But if I did nothing, who knew what the HIRC would do to Eddie?

So I advanced on them, my right hand held out straight with the silex firmly in its grasp.

“Let him go,” I growled.

The agent ignored me and began drifting toward the side of the school from which Eddie and I had come – the side where Danny and Lee still awaited our return. I continued advancing, pushing the agent closer to the edge of the school. Perhaps if he crossed the corner, Lee would be able to bust out magic from that side.

I hoped she would be able to do something, because as usual I had no plan.

By now I was walking quickly and steadily toward the HIRC; he couldn’t be more than ten feet away, and Eddie was being quite successful in slowing his retreat. Those flailing arms and legs were enough to drive anyone crazy.

The agent seemed worried.

“Staaay aawaaay, boooy.”

His oily voice sounded panicked. I darted toward him, and Eddie took the opportunity to clamp down his teeth on the agent’s arm. The HIRC screamed a terrible, slimy scream and reached for his own pocket.

But I was ready. My right hand clamped down on the silex and a massive gust of wind burst away from me. The force of it blew the HIRC off his feet and onto his back.

I screamed at Eddie to get out of the way as I kept my right hand extended. I reached my left hand into my other pocket, closed it around another silex, then ripped it out and squeezed. As before, light soared out of my left hand, merging with the wind still gusting from my right. The two forces twined into a stream of writhing power, soaring toward the agent still fumbling on the ground and smashing him so hard into the concrete that he was unable to counterattack.

I advanced on the agent as the lightwind continued to gust from my grasp.

Eventually he stopped moving, allowing me to release my iron grip on the small stones in each hand. I kept my arms outstretched as I slowly approached the HIRC’s unmoving body.

When I reached it, I stuck out my left foot and lightly tapped the body. It didn’t respond. I pressed harder and the agent suddenly grabbed my leg, flipping me onto my side. I reflexively stuck out my hands to catch the fall and the silexes fell from my grasp.

Not again, dammit.

I hit the ground awkwardly and tried to roll away from the agent, but not before he landed a solid foot in my side. I grunted in pain and reached into my pocket for the last silex. The agent prepared to kick me again when Eddie suddenly blindsided him with something blunt and heavy. The agent stumbled; my hand fumbled into another silex.

I ripped it out and reached for the agent.

Tawny flames bridged the three-foot gap between us, engulfing the HIRC in an angry pyre. He hit the ground and tried to roll away, but Eddie whacked him again. I yelled for Eddie to keep hitting, and Eddie happily complied.

The agent stopped moving as the flames continued to flicker. I used this light to round up the two silexes I dropped – I wasn’t about to lose those again – then I turned to Eddie, who still clutched the bent metal pole he had used on the agent.

“Where did you get that pole?”

“I noticed it sticking out of the dumpster right before this clown grabbed me. When you started using magic on him, I ran and grabbed it.”

“Good idea. Thanks.”

Eddie shook his head.

“No, dude – thank you. I thought that guy was gonna kill me.”

Then he burst into an enormous grin.

“And whoa, can you do magic or what? That was frigging awesome!”

I smiled.

“Yeah. It’s pretty cool, I guess.”

“Pretty cool? Dude – it’s AMAZING! I wish I had magic powers. Are you sure those stones only work for one person?”

I shrugged and held out the silex. Eddie picked it up so gingerly you’d have thought it was made of smoke.

“How does it work?”

“I’m not sure. I just squeeze ‘em and crazy stuff comes flying out.”

Eddie squished the silex – sending my heart rate through the roof – but thankfully, nothing happened.

“Eddie, I’d be careful squeezing that…”

But he was too busy crushing, shaking, and clamping down on it with both fists to listen. Thankfully, all he did was work up a sweat. Nothing he tried brought anything out of the small, black, innocent-looking stone.

He sighed and handed the silex back to me.

“Maybe I can get one on the other side of the portalgate. I guess you’re not afraid of using them now?”

“Nope. I don’t know why, but they haven’t been hurting me like they did the first time. Maybe that pain happens to everyone when they first try magic.”

Eddie shrugged.

“As long as they keep taking out agents, I wouldn’t worry about it. Now weren’t we supposed to find a way into the school?”

My stomach dropped. I had totally forgotten about that. Lee and Danny must be pissed. I debated going back and telling them the truth – that I had no idea how to get into the school – then decided against it. Eddie and I would just have to hurry.

“Where were we? Oh yeah – let’s push the dumpster up against the wall. We can use that to climb onto the roof.”

We walked over to the foul-smelling container when I was struck by a sudden urge to return to Lee and Danny.

I stopped in my tracks.

“Teal, c’mon! We gotta hurry!”

“Wait…” I said. “Maybe we should check on Lee and Danny. What if they’ve been attacked too?”

Eddie considered this for a moment.

“I’m sure they’re fine. I guess we can go back if you really want to.”

I thought about this, then shook my head. Lee was perfectly capable of protecting herself. I had no reason to worry about her

“No, it’s okay. Let’s keep moving.”

It took several minutes of ridiculous effort, but eventually we got the dumpster next to the school building. I just hoped the smell on my hands would dissipate before I saw Lee again.

Or Cierra.

Speaking of which, what on earth was she was doing at the school building, this late, with the likes of Danny Jackson and his hoodlum friends? That made no sense.

Oh well. Add it to my ever-growing list of ‘things I didn’t get.’

I began climbing onto the dumpster when I was struck by another strong impression to go check on Lee. I wish I could describe the sensation – it was sort of like remembering the location of something I’d lost, only more blurry. I once again considered acting on the impression, but then Eddie prodded me from behind, telling me to hurry up.

What did I have to worry about? Danny wouldn’t touch Lee, and even if he did, Lee would just give him a nice dose of fire magic.

And like that the nagging feeling left.

I climbed onto the dumpster.


Next Chapter (Chapter 20) >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 18)


TEAL: Chapter 18

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 (107kb)


We moved quickly and quietly across the field. The night sky glowed with spattered stars, and except for the occasional misstep on a branch or twig, the evening remained eerily quiet.

From this distance, the school grounds looked deserted. I wondered how long that would last.

Assuming we didn’t encounter any HIRCs, our first hurdle would be finding a discreet way in. There were multiple entrances on the ground level, but none were ideal. Doors would obviously be locked. Windows were a possibility, but they might be alarmed and even if they weren’t, breaking them would be noisy.

I debated trying to climb onto the roof but – for the second time that day – there was no ladder, and I didn’t have any trampoline springs on hand.

Behind me, Eddie peppered Lee with questions.

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“What magic can you do?”

“Eddie, now is not the time. We must move quietly.”

“What do the Zargansk look like? Teal and I kinda saw one, but it happened so fast. He looked huge. Are they huge?”

“Eddie, please. No more questions!”

He continued pestering Lee until they caught up to me, neither of them realizing I had stopped walking.

“Is everything okay?”

I shook my head. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, Eddie’s assumptions about Lee really bothered me.

Because the truth was that things didn’t feel right at all, and they hadn’t felt right for awhile. So far, Eddie and I had only escaped capture because of dumb luck and quick thinking (mostly the former), and I was extremely worried about what would happen if we had to fight more men in black suits. This was especially problematic if Eddie’s theory was correct, and the HIRCs were expecting us.

I sighed heavily for what seemed like the millionth time. Even now, as we approached the school, everything seemed way too calm, way too quiet, way too suspicious. I didn’t want to say anything, but I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that we were being watched.

Or worse, set up.

I glanced over at Kyralee, who looked deep in thought herself. I wanted nothing more than to know I could trust her and count on her help – because, truthfully, she really had saved our butts back at Megamart. I thought back to the panic that had gripped me as I stood, surrounded, in those racks of clothing, before she came and saved me. Lee and her amazing fire magic had gotten me out of that mess, then saved me again behind the store. I owed her my life at least twice.

But like it or not, there was definitely something “too good to be true” with the way everything turned out. I mean, even the fact that I was the son of Cronus – what were the odds of that? What were the odds of the son of the only human ambassador to ever escape Zargansk service finding out about the Zargansk completely on his own? My entire situation seemed awfully contrived.

I debated bringing this up with Eddie, but my thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a startled yell from somewhere across the field. I ducked beneath the weeds; Eddie and Lee quickly followed.

“Hey! Who do you think you are?”

For a second I thought the voice was directed at me. Had we been spotted?

“That’s right – I’m talking to you, bub! You want a piece of me?”

The voice was unmistakably angry, and it seemed to be coming from the school grounds.

I ducked lower.

“Are you threatening me? Are you threatening me?”

Something about the voice struck me as familiar. Where had I heard it before?

Following a gut instinct, I took a chance and started creeping through the weeds, hoping to get a closer look at whoever was yelling.

“Teal,” Eddie whispered from behind. “Hey, Teal!”

“What? Do you recognize that voice?”

“Yeah! Look!”

I peeked over the tops of the weeds. Fifty feet in front of me, a group of high school kids – several with flashlights, maybe six in all – were confronting a man in a black suit.

I dropped back below the weeds.

“Oh great,” I whispered back to Eddie. “Do you know who they are?”

Behind us, one of the high school kids began to laugh. It was a mocking, sarcastic laugh.

I suddenly realized where I’d heard it before.

“Eddie, that’s–”

“Yup! It’s Danny Jackson! Looks like he’s got a girl and some football buddies with him.”

Great. Just frigging great.

“Who is Danny Jackson?” Lee whispered. “Is he dangerous?”

I tried to think up a fitting response, but nothing came to mind. There just wasn’t a good way to explain Danny Jackson.

I suppose the simplest description would be jock, but such a title didn’t do Danny justice. Eddie once described him as “the platypus of evil” – a hodgepodge collection of everything bad – and that was probably going easy on him.

Danny stood just over 5 feet tall – 5’2”, to be precise – and he weighed well over 250 pounds. Some people with those dimensions cope with their size by developing admirable characteristics: a great sense of humor, a talent for music or art, extra compassion and kindness.

Danny possessed none of these. His temper was legendary; he once ripped a locker door off its hinges when he found an unflattering picture of himself on it. On another occasion, he threw an unlucky freshman out a closed window because the cafeteria ran out of brownies.

Yes, brownies.

Ironically, the worst thing Danny ever did wasn’t actually something evil… it was something normally considered awesome. Last year, the high school football coach decided that Danny’s weight and demeanor made him a prime candidate for the varsity football team, despite Danny being a junior with no prior sports experience. Danny spent most of the season on the bench (where he belonged), which had the added benefit of reducing the number of fights he started with fans of opposing teams.

This continued until the state championship game, when – as fate would have it – our center tore his ACL late in the 4th quarter. Danny was brought in as the replacement, and thanks to a ridiculously lucky trick play involving a center hand-off, Danny won the game.

Why was this the worst thing he’d ever done? Because, for reasons I still didn’t comprehend, most of Franklin High thought this meant the kid deserved respect and friendship – a kid with an uncanny resemblance to Mighty Joe Young (the gorilla, not the musician).

Since the start of this school year, Danny had become worse than ever. The only thing worse than an angry, ignorant thug, is an angry, ignorant thug with an ego.

“Teal!” Lee said, shaking my arm. “Answer me! Is this Danny Jackson man dangerous?”

I again tried to think up a fitting explanation, but more of Danny’s sarcastic laughter rolled across the field, interrupting my thinking.

“Ha ha! This tough guy is gonna take us away! Hey man, why don’t you try it? Why don’t you make us go with you?”

I peeked back up over the weeds. The kids were closing in around the lone agent – all but the girl, anyway. She stood ten feet from the group, begging Danny to leave the man alone.

But Danny ignored her. Waving his friends onward, they continued moving toward the man in a black suit. My eyes drifted over to the man – undoubtedly a HIRC – who looked far too calm for how significantly he was outnumbered.

Suddenly one of the boys pushed the agent. He stumbled and warned them not to touch him again. Another boy reached out; the HIRC knocked down his outstretched arm and drew some kind of pistol. It didn’t look human-made.

“Whoa whoa whoa, man. Not cool. Put that thing away.”

“I warned you, kid. Now who’s the tough guy?”

The agent’s voice sounded tinny and mechanical. Who were these HIRCs? Were they even…human?

Danny began rolling up his sleeves.

“Not a chance, pal. You want a fight, you got a fight. Bring it.”

The girl started crying, eliciting a growl from both Eddie and I. What was Danny thinking?

The HIRC smiled.

“You want a fight, boy? You got it.”

The agent smiled again, then threw back his head and let out a terrible mechanical roar. My hands flew to cover my ears as the group of boys around the agent jumped backward in alarm.

Danny, however, yelled at the top of his lungs and charged the black-suited man.

Without hesitation, the agent lashed out his arm. It caught Danny square in the chest and sent him flying through the air. Another boy near the agent met the same fate.

Behind me, Lee gasped.

“Teal! This is terrible! We must help these people!”

I turned to respond but was promptly interrupted by Eddie’s loud whispering and frenetically shaking head.

“No! We can’t help them! This could be our chance! While these guys fight, let’s use it as a distraction to sneak into the school!”

I looked from Lee to Eddie to the group of kids attempting to engage the agent. The HIRC was throwing them around with inhuman strength. It was almost funny…in a frightening sort of way.

Part of me considered going to help them, but another part of me thought it served Danny and his punk friends right to get thrown around by someone stronger. Danny wouldn’t help Eddie and I if we were in trouble.

We watched the HIRC dispose of the final boy, who also went flying through the air before colliding with the ground some fifteen feet away.

The agent laughed, shook out his arms, then smiled evilly at the girl. She screamed and turned to run but the agent was too fast. He dashed after her, seized her arms, then began dragging her toward the school. She thrashed against his grasp and continued screaming desperately for help.

That was the deciding factor for me.

I shot after the agent, sprinting so fast the weeds slapped painfully against my legs. I ignored Eddie’s frantic yells for me to wait – that girl was in trouble, and if no one else was gonna do something about it, I was.

For what seemed like the tenth time that day, I took a flying leap at the chain link fence separating the green grass of the schoolyard from the browned field of weeds. The adrenaline must have helped, because I cleared the fence on my first try.

The agent was rapidly nearing the school, and with each step the captive girl’s screaming grew louder and more frantic.

As my legs thumped and heart pounded, I noticed my breathing felt more labored then usual. I was tempted to leave behind my backpack, but the metal pole containing the portalgate was still inside it. We had no reason to be at the school without that pole.

So I kept running, forced to helplessly watch as the agent and the girl arrived at the doors of the school. I knew we needed to stop the HIRC before he brought his prisoner into the school; I’m not sure how I knew it, but the thought wouldn’t leave my mind. I just wished I knew what he was up to.

Behind me, I could hear Lee and Eddie racing to catch up. I also heard Eddie using every bad word he knew to describe having to run again. He’d never been a big fan of running.

Oh well. A little exercise never hurt anyone, and Eddie probably needed it.

My legs pounded away as I rapidly scanned the school, watching for any sign of movement. If I didn’t know better, it looked like the HIRC holding the unnamed girl was the only one of his kind at the school. I doubted that, but I allowed the thought of it to plant some small seed of hope in my otherwise gloomy anticipation of what lay ahead.

I spared a glance behind to see Kyralee almost caught up; she was surprisingly fast, and the sight of her long black hair waving in the wind…

…er, never mind. Let’s just say I cranked up my speed a bit. She’d have to work harder than that to catch up to ol’ Teal.

Then a sudden piercing scream burst from behind me. I spun around, worried that something terrible had happened to Lee.

But it wasn’t Lee’s voice at all. It was Eddie’s.

“Teal!” he screamed, arms waving around like the world was coming to an end. “He’s after us!”

I was tempted to yell my own brand of obscenities back, but then I saw it – Danny Jackson was up, and he was running straight for us.

With a newfound reason to run my heart out, I resumed a blistering pace for the school. And just as well – the agent had paused at the doors of the school as he reached into his pocket for, presumably, a key. I didn’t think there was any chance we’d reach them in time, so I weighed the odds and risked a yell at him.

“Hey HIRC! Stop right there or I’ll bust my magic all over your sorry–”

My yell was interrupted by a burst of lightning streaming from the agent’s outstretched hand – a burst heading straight for me. I leapt to the side, barely escaping being turned to human toast.

Time to show this guy how a real man used magic rocks.

I reached into my pocket and found the two stones I’d used at Megamart. I pulled them out and, while still sprinting, held them in front of me. I had just begun to clamp down my hand when I heard Lee yell, “Teal! No!!”

I slowed slightly as she caught up.

“You cannot use that while he has the girl! You will kill them both!”

“But we don’t have a choice! They’re getting away!”

“Then we will follow them into the school and catch them there! They cannot escape through a portalgate – right? You still have the remeter?”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Ugh, Teal – the metal bar you used to close the portalgate? You still have it?”

Ah, that. I nodded.

“Then they cannot escape! Let us hurry and free the girl. Then we can use magic to defeat him.”

I nodded again and picked up the pace. Morbid curiosity led me to turn and check the scene behind us one last time, and I was unpleasantly surprised to find that Danny had passed Eddie and was now less than twenty feet from Lee and I.

I tried to pick up the pace but my legs refused. They’d had enough of my unreasonable demands.

Apparently the agent found the key he was looking for because he suddenly plowed through the school doors, the girl still firmly in his grasp and screaming frantically for help.

Somewhere behind me, Danny yelled something unintelligible.

Everyone kept running.


Next Chapter (Chapter 19) >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 17)


TEAL: Chapter 17

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 (103kb)


Lee didn’t indicate whether she agreed or disagreed with my decision. If anything, she just looked nervous.

I turned off the car and pocketed the key, then walked around to her door and opened it. She climbed out, and after a deep breath I slowly opened the sedan’s back door.

Eddie was still there, lying awkwardly on his back. After his groan moments ago he had returned to unconsciousness.

“Should we wake him up before giving him your robot things?”

Lee shook her head.

“Let him sleep. Emnons work more quickly when the subject is sedated.”

“More quickly? How long will this take?”

“It depends on how much damage they find. Emnons typically finish their work in less than 30 seconds.”

Whoa.

“What happens when they finish?”

Kyralee opened the vial and swirled it several times.

“They shut themselves down. Eddie’s blood will naturally filter them out and dispose of them when he next urinates.”

Lee suddenly looked up at me.

“Teal…are you certain you want to try this?”

“Certain? I’m definitely not certain. But what other choice do we have?”

Kyralee shook her head.

“I do not disagree with your decision. I just want to make certain that you are prepared for the consequences if something goes wrong.”

I sighed.

“Well… what’s the worst-case scenario? What happens if Eddie is allergic to those things?”

She looked down at Eddie.

“If he is part of that 10%, the reaction will occur almost immediately. Within minutes, his vital organs will start shutting down. Death typically occurs in less than hour.”

She looked back at me. Something behind her eyes implied a strong sense of warning.

“And Teal… it is said to be a very painful way to die. I thought you should know.”

“Seriously? You thought I should know THAT? Thanks a lot, Kyralee. Thanks a friggin lot.”

I shook my head and took another deep breath. Was I sure about this? Was it really the best thing to do? If Eddie were conscious, would he give the go-ahead?

A-ha! There was my answer! If Eddie was awake, he would definitely give his assent. He loved machines and computers and high-tech stuff. He would love the idea of tiny alien robots saving his life.

I looked Kyralee and nodded.

“I’m sure. Let’s do it.”

Without hesitation, she gently tipped Eddie’s head back, then pried open his left eye and poured in the entire vial.

I suddenly felt a little woozy.

“Uh, his eye? Was that really necessary?”

“Administering emnons into the eye provides the fastest and safest route to the brain. The emnons will begin their work there.”

I watched Eddie closely, but nothing seemed to happen. I turned to ask Lee for details, but she only raised a finger to her lips.

“Watch,” she whispered.

Suddenly Eddie groaned and arched his back violently, sending me cursing and jumping back in surprise.

Was he allergic? Was he dying?

The wooziness got stronger.

Eddie moaned again, then sat up straight as a rod and shook his arms violently.

“Ahh! What’s happening to me?”

Lee placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down.

“You are okay. The itching will pass in a moment.”

“Eddie,” I exclaimed. “You’re alive! How do you feel?”

He looked up at me and raised an eyebrow.

“I got hit by a car, dude. How would you feel?”

At least his sense of humor still worked.

“Gah,” he gasped. “Everything itches! What did you do to me?”

“Lee here gave you a potion made of tiny robots. They’re supposed to help you heal.”

His eyes went wide.

“Seriously? Nanorobots? Cooool,” he exclaimed, turning to look at Lee. “So you’re Lee, huh? Isn’t that a guy’s name? And why are you here? Are you an alien?”

Lee giggled as I rolled my eyes in total disbelief. I had secretly hoped Eddie’s fall would knock some social skills into him.

Guess not.

“I am fairly certain Kyralee is a female name,” she replied, “and though I do not consider myself an alien, I am not from earth.”

Even though this was implied by our earlier conversation, hearing her come right out and say it raised goosebumps on my arms.

“Not from earth?” Eddie asked, looking equally dumbfounded. “Where are you from?”

“A planet called Orionis. I live there with my mother.”

“And,” I added, “you’re never gonna believe who her dad is.”

“What? Is your dad a Zargansk?!”

Lee giggled again.

“No, he is not a Zargansk. My father – Joseph – works at your school. I believe you met him yesterday morning.”

“NO WAY!” he yelled, his jaw dropping open in shock. “Your old man is the janitor? Ha ha! This just gets weirder and weirder!”

“So I’ve got a question,” I said, ignoring Eddie’s ongoing laughter. “How exactly did you get here to earth? Did you use a portalgate?”

Lee’s face suddenly went white.

“I…”

Her expression turned foggy, and she suddenly swayed backward.

I lunged toward her, seizing her shoulders.

“Kyralee? Are you okay?”

She brought a hand to her head.

“Teal. I…”

She swayed again. Eddie leapt out of his seat to help, but I was already lowering her to the ground.

“Lee, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. What’s wrong?”

She shook her head.

“I… I don’t know.”

She looked straight at me.

“Help.”

And then she slumped quietly to the ground.


From: oZ

To: rOgi

Subj: CODE X DIRECTIVE

Unexpected error in subject KYRL.<break>

Request immediate extraction. Loc confirmed @ 33.931192,-118.396252.<break>

As CODE X this supersedes all previous directives.<break>

<end>


“Lee! Please! Wake up!!”

I felt frantically for a pulse; she had one, and it was even fairly strong.

So why wasn’t she awake?

I racked my brain for ideas when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eddie leaning in toward Kyralee’s face.

I was struck by the sudden horrifying realization that he was going to give her mouth-to-mouth.

An unexplainable anger shot into my chest and I shoved him with so much force that both of us went flying. Eddie smashed against the ground, cursing as he fell.

“Teal! What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“She doesn’t need mouth-to-mouth, you freak! You just wanted to kiss her!”

“Are you insane? I was listening for breathing! I wasn’t trying to kiss her!”

I glanced embarrassedly down at Eddie, who looked genuinely shocked and confused.

“Uh, right. Sorry. I was just trying to keep her safe.”

“Safe? Whatever. You attacked me!”

“I did not. And why didn’t you say something about listening for breathing? What was I supposed to think, with you darting in like that?”

“Are you insane? Why on earth would I kiss a random unconscious alien, Teal?”

…He had a point.

“And even if I did want to kiss her – which I don’t – what gives you the right to stop me? She’s not your alien.”

“She’s not an alien, Eddie.”

“She’s not from earth. That makes her an alien.”

“Don’t be stupid. She’s a human, just like you and me.”

“But she isn’t from earth, Teal! By definition, that makes her—”

Somewhere behind us, almost inaudibly, a soft voice whispered, “…Teal.”

I barely it over Eddie’s angry ranting. I flew around and ran back to Kyralee.

“Lee! Are you okay?”

She nodded, and I exhaled a heavy sigh of relief.

“I, I think I am okay,” she muttered as she slowly sat up. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. One second we were talking, the next you were passing out.”

She shook her head.

“So… nothing happened to me?”

“Nothing at all. I asked how you got to earth, and bam – you were gone. Are you sure you’re okay?”

She paused, then gently nodded.

I extended a hand and helped her to her feet. She took a moment to catch her breath, then gently dusted herself off and smiled nervously at me.

“Thank you for taking care of me. I am sorry for—”

I cut her off with a wave of my hand.

“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

She smiled as Eddie looked on, scowling.

“So,” I said, eager for a change of subject. “Should we head toward the school?”

Kyralee nodded.

“Yes, we should. Time is of the essence.”

I avoided making eye contact with Eddie as I glanced across the field at the high school. It looked quiet and abandoned, but I was certain HIRCs were there, guarding it. The odds of us getting into the school unnoticed were slim.

But what other options did we have? If we wanted to reach the portalgate, we had no choice but to break into the high school and head back to the secret tunnels.

And – I reminded myself – every second we wasted out here was another second my dad got closer to dying.

“Hold on,” interrupted Eddie, finally breaking his angry silence. “Shouldn’t we make a plan before we go?”

I nodded before turning toward Lee.

“Have you been in the tunnels beneath the school?”

She thought for a moment.

“I…I am not sure. I seem to remember tunnels. What do they look like?”

“Long, silver, shiny.”

She thought for another moment.

“This must sound so strange, but I cannot remember how I arrived on earth. It may have been through the same portalgate my father used, but maybe it was something else. I do not know if I have been in the tunnels beneath your school.”

Eddie and I traded wary glances.

“Um, okay,” I said, trying hard to remain tactful. “That’s cool. I guess this means Eddie and I will lead the way.”

I turned to confirm this with Eddie, and instead found him gesturing frantically over his shoulder.

“Eddie, what?”

He pointed backward and raised his eyebrows.

“We need to talk!” he yell-whispered. “Just you and me!”

I glanced over to find Kyralee’s expression somewhere between confused and hurt. Was it possible for Eddie to make this more awkward?

“Uh, okay. Just a sec, Kyralee.”

I followed Eddie a ways into the field before he whirled around, an expression of obvious skepticism on his face.

“We need to get moving,” I preempted. “What on earth do you want?”

“What do you mean, what do I want?” he whispered. “Lee is nuts! She can’t remember how she got to earth? How suspicious is that? I don’t think she came through the portalgate at all. I bet she’s a spy or something for the men in black suits.”

“No way, Eddie. No way. She’s not a spy. She saved your life! How could you think she’s working for them?”

Eddie looked straight at me.

“Listen, Teal – I know she’s hot and all, but isn’t it obvious? How did she get Zargansk magic stones? How did she get those crazy healing robots? How did she know to look for us at Megamart?”

“How am I supposed to know? Maybe she came out of the tunnels beneath the school and overheard the HIRCs talking about us. She could have easily followed them to the store.”

“Followed them how? By running after their cars?”

I didn’t have an answer for that.

“Eddie, this is stupid. Lee’s not a spy.”

I almost added and you’re just jealous that she likes me more, but that seemed a bit much, even for Eddie.

“Teal – dude – I’m telling you, something about her isn’t right. Doesn’t she just seem too…too…”

“Too good to be true?” I asked, half-joking.

“Exactly! It’s all too good to be true! Doesn’t it seem overly convenient that she saved us at the store, she saved my life now, she wants to come with us into—”

Eddie stopped. His sudden epiphany was so obvious, I almost expected a lightbulb to appear over his head.

“I’ve got it.”

“Got what?” I replied with barely masked sarcasm.

“I know what Lee’s after. She must be working for the Zargansk! I’d bet my life on it! She’s trying to get us into the school building alive, which is exactly what they want. They want her to lead us straight to them!”

It took me a moment to process all the pronouns he’d just used.

“Eddie, that’s—”

“No!” he interrupted. “Work with me here! The Zargansk want nothing more than to find Cronus, right? If what you’ve told me is true and the human ambassadors really did close their portalgates today, the Zargansk must know something’s up. Naturally, they would assume the escaped human ambassador had something to do with it.”

Although that made perfect sense, I couldn’t bring myself to give Eddie the glee of knowing I agreed.

Not that it mattered, because he continued without so much as a breath.

“Now combine this with the janitor ordering us to find Cronus – which the aliens could have easily overheard, they probably have surveillance down there – and they could totally suspect that we have access to Cronus. Teal, don’t you see? It all fits!”

“Let me get this straight,” I said, trying hard to keep my temper level. “You think the Zargansk overheard our conversation with the janitor?”

“Or that Phenx – the alien you shot – reported us. It wouldn’t be hard for the aliens to figure out we’re involved, which is why the men in black suits are after us.”

“Stop calling them aliens.”

“But that’s what they are! They’re aliens!”

“I prefer Zargansk.”

“What? You don’t think they’re aliens?”

“No, I just…”

Argh.

“Whatever. Forget I said anything. So you think the Zargansk know about our mission to find Cronus, and because they want that information they sent Kyralee to find us and lead us into a trap?”

Eddie nodded.

“But that doesn’t explain why they came after me way before I knew about Cronus. Your theory doesn’t explain why they attacked my mom and I last weekend.”

“Don’t you see?” Eddie replied, his eyes gleaming. “Cronus is your old man, and we’re probably the only people still on Earth who know that. Obviously the Zargansk realize where your dad is – hence their attack on the hospital last Friday – but for some reason they can’t get to him.”

Eddie’s smile remained, though his tone shifted from excited to worried.

“And since they can’t get to Cronus, doesn’t it make sense that they’d try and make him come to them? What’s the one thing that would make your dad leave the hospital?”

…Saving his family.

If true, this would explain every HIRC attack so far – the hospital, the minivan, the house.

Holy crap. Eddie might actually be right.

“Eddie, this is, seriously,” I sputtered. “…C’mon, man! I mean, yeah that makes sense, but what does it have to do with Kyralee?”

A sudden, fleetingly hopeful thought entered my mind.

“And hey – if Lee’s working for the Zargansk, why did she take out those agents at the MegaMart?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Maybe to make us trust her? Maybe it was all rigged?”

I groaned. We were wasting precious time.

“Okay fine, say you’re right – what do you think we should do about it?”

“We can keep her around. I just think we should be cautious.”

“What? That’s it? After everything you’ve said, your grand summary is let’s keep her around? Eddie, sometimes I just don’t get you.”

He smiled and shrugged.

“Hey – at least now if she betrays us, don’t blame me. Consider yourself warned.”

But I was already walking back toward Kyralee and muttering all kinds of angry comments about Eddie and his crazy ideas. Why had I brought him along originally? He was clearly intelligent, but sometimes that was more burden then help. I almost wished I’d left him in the back of the stolen sedan.

I forced a smile and tried to suppress my frustration as I caught up to Kyralee.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, everything’s fine. Eddie just thinks you’re a Zargansk spy.”

I forced a laugh.

“But you’re obviously not, right?”

Lee paused, and I wondered what that implied.

“Teal,” she said, shaking her head. “I must be honest with you.”

Uh oh. Nothing good ever comes from I must be honest with you.

“What is it, Lee?”

“I… I cannot remember anything from before I rescued you from the HIRC agents. The last thing I remember is…well, I don’t know. I have no memory of why I was at the same place as you, or why I knew I had to save you.”

I really didn’t know what to make of these ever-weirder developments. I had to admit that Eddie was right about one thing: Lee was suspicious, but somehow I still doubted she was anything but good. If it weren’t for her, both Eddie and I would have been captured – or dead – after what happened at Megamart. If she came here to hurt us, she certainly could have made her move by now.

Eddie trudged back and I turned to face him, hoping that if I didn’t respond to Lee, somehow the whole amnesia thing would stop freaking me out so much.

“How do you feel, Eddie? Did the emnons heal you?”

Eddie shook out his arms and legs then felt his head. The goosebump had shrunk considerably, leaving what just looked like a nasty bruise.

“Actually, I feel great! The robots must have worked!”

“Can you run? Is your ankle all better?”

He jogged in place, then did a little dance.

“Yeah! I’m good to go!”

I turned to Kyralee.

“Thanks for helping him.”

“It was your decision to use the emnons, Teal. Not mine. It appears you chose wisely.”

I smiled at the movie reference, but Lee’s serious face seemed to imply she had no idea what she’d just said.

Man. Why couldn’t I make friends with normal people?

Eddie proceeded to rip the tape off his ankle as he sang, “I got fixed by alien robots! I got fixed by alien robots!” to a tune I didn’t recognize.

I was tempted to laugh until a sudden burst of panic hit me – what if HIRCs were hiding somewhere nearby?

“Quiet!” I said. “Someone might hear you!”

Eddie stopped yelling, instead transforming his face into a mock scowl.

“Well excyuuuse me. Are we finally ready to head to the portalgate?”

“I think so. We don’t have many supplies, but I did manage to grab both our backpacks before leaving Megamart.”

I reached into the car and pulled them out, handing Eddie his and shouldering mine.

“I’m starving,” Eddie groaned. “Do we have time to grab something to eat?”

“Not really,” I replied. “Lee, are you hungry?”

“Yes, but I agree with you. Getting to the portalgate must be our first priority.”

She placed a gentle hand on my arm and looked directly into my eyes.

“I assume you have a plan for getting us inside?”

A plan? Ha ha! Lee obviously didn’t know me very well.

Of course I had no plan for getting into the school, let alone down to the portalgate. I still had a strong suspicion the entire building was guarded by black-suited men. Also, the school’s doors and windows were certain to be locked and alarmed, and – assuming we found a way past that – the janitor’s door was still locked tight, and we didn’t have a key.

As I thought about it more, the whole idea of getting into the school was completely ridiculous. But something about the way Lee looked at me with those big brown eyes made me not really care.

And, since things with Cierra hadn’t exactly panned out, this was proving to be a much-needed infusion of femininity into my otherwise testosterone-filled life.

I forced a tenuous smile.

“Of course I have a plan. Let’s go.”

I shouldered my backpack and started trekking across the weed-covered field, my mind still racing.

I had to come up with a way into the school, and I had to do it quick.


Next Chapter (Chapter 18) >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 16)


TEAL: Chapter 16

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 (95kb)


I hurried after the mysterious girl as we moved swiftly through the warehouse. Startled employees watched as our odd trio ran toward the door at the very back of the store. The girl burst through it first, followed by me.

Eddie exited last, his hands still clutched tightly around his bike handlebars.

I glanced around, wiping at my eyes to try and stop the smoke-induced tears, but Eddie spotted them first: two more black sedans swerving into the rear parking lot.

Would the chasing ever stop?

Eddie jumped onto his bike and yelled, “C’mon! Let’s go!”

“No,” I yelled back. “I don’t have my bike. You go! And take this girl with you!”

The girl laughed.

“Take me? Ha! You cannot survive without me! I will take care of the black ships. You must focus on finding transportation.”

Uh, black ships? Had she never seen a car before?

Great. Just what I needed – another weirdo in my life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask the girl about her strange comment. The black sedans slammed to a stop and two men piled out of one, four out of the other.

Six of them against three of us.

I yelled for Eddie to run away and man, he didn’t hesitate. He sped off on his bike, and two of the men jumped back into their car and sped after him. The other four advanced on the girl and I.

“Don’t try anything stupid, kids. If you come peacefully, we’ll try not to hurt you.”

The man in front smiled sarcastically.

“And if you resist, we’ll hurt you a lot.”

The mysterious girl laughed.

Try and hurt me, HIRC. I dare you.”

I raised an eyebrow for two reasons. One, the girl knew that these men were HIRCs. That was an interesting development.

And two, she was clearly insane. A teenage girl against four guys with laser guns – and she was calling them on?

Suddenly the nearest man darted for her.

The girl extended both arms.

Just as the agent was about to reach her, fire exploded from the girl’s hands. Huge plumes of vivid orange flame poured from an imaginary point just beyond her grasp, surrounding and swallowing the unsuspecting man.

He screamed and fell to the ground in a burning, writhing heap.

I barely had time to register what happened next. The girl – with one hand still delivering fire to the man curled on the ground – extended her other hand toward one of the men still by the car. Fire shot out in a long, spiraling streak, forcing that man to dive behind the man next to him.

Both burst into flames.

The fourth man took this opportunity to make a grab for me.

I darted out of his grasp and began running in the opposite direction, fumbling in my pocket for the small black stone that had saved me once before. The thought of using it again was terrifying, but I had no other weapon and these men were way too big for me to fight physically. The magic – as much as I hated even calling it that – would have to save me again.

My hand found the stone. I closed a fist around it when I was suddenly hit from behind. I wrenched my hand out of my pocket and barely got it in front of me before falling onto the asphalt, my hands smashed violently beneath me.

The stone went flying.

The HIRC behind me grabbed at my legs and I instinctively kicked back, landing a foot in the agent’s face. He grunted and I kicked again, slithering away as my legs continued pounding at his grasp.

Once free, I jumped to my feet and looked around frantically for the stone…but it was nowhere to be seen.

The HIRC again reached for my legs. I stomped on his outstretched hands then took off running, madly searching for the small black stone. How could I possibly find it on a huge black pad of asphalt?

Then I wondered what had happened to Eddie. I guess running away had been a dumb idea. He should have stayed with us.

I hoped he was okay.

As for my pursuer, he was now back on his feet and madder than ever. I wanted to run back to the mysterious girl – who seemed to be holding her own against the other three agents – but that would require getting past the goon marching steadily toward me. To make matters worse, my legs were wobbly from overexertion and adrenaline, and the palms of my hands still burned from the HIRC’s tackle.

I tried to clear my mind and form some sort of plan, but it was hard to concentrate with a furious enemy staring me down.

Out of options, I started backing away. My eyes darted from the girl to the goon to the asphalt as I hoped desperately for an epiphany.

I yelled to the mysterious girl for help and she turned to look, but one of the burning men lunged for her and she had to fight back.

Apparently I was on my own.

The large HIRC directly in front of me leapt forward and I darted to the left, barely escaping capture. I seized the sudden opportunity to dash past him, running for all I was worth back to the mysterious girl. The man behind me pursued, moving much faster than I had expected.

This was gonna be close.

The mysterious girl delivered a final torrent of flame at the three men attacking her, which seemed to take care of them. She turned and yelled at me to run faster.

I didn’t need the advice.

I was less than twenty feet from her and I could hear the last HIRC breathing heavily behind me. “Do something!” I screamed.

She started running, but there was no way she’d reach me in time.

The man behind me reached out and brushed my shoulder.

Seizing a spontaneous instinct, I shifted direction. The HIRC reacted too slowly; I was no longer between him and the girl, and she seized the opportunity.

I glanced behind to see another column of red-orange fire bursting from her hands and into my pursuer. His suit coat burst into flames first, followed quickly by his shirt, tie, and pants. The man dropped to the ground and tried to roll away, but the girl closed her eyes and the size of the flame doubled. I watched, mesmerized, as the flames danced and swirled in complex rhythms.

Was there a way to make my little lightning stone work like that? I certainly hoped so – the girl seemed to be in total control of the fire, and with power like that the HIRCs didn’t stand a chance.

The man on the ground finally stopped moving. The girl opened her eyes as the fire disappeared. She shook out her hands then sank to the ground, breathing heavily.

I began walking over to her when, for the first time, I realized the sickening smell of burnt cloth and – I stifled a gag – burnt flesh. A glance at the four men’s crinkled bodies showed smoke and steam still drifting from each.

I covered my nose with my shirt and tried to calm my gag reflex.

When I reached the girl, I gently crouched down beside her.

“Er…thanks for your help.”

She smiled and looked up at me, giving me my first chance to really examine her closely.

She couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen herself, and wow – she was shockingly good-looking. Her face was small and pale and dominated by a pair of giant brown eyes. Her lips were thin and her nose small and pointy.

Eddie would have said she looked like a fairy. The only things missing were pointy ears (which I, in my recent state of paranoia, checked – they were normal). I guess fairies typically had blonde hair, too. The girl’s was the exact opposite: so jet-black it made the surrounding asphalt look faded.

She cleared her throat, and I suddenly realized I’d been staring way too deeply at her.

I laughed nervously and extended my hand, which she took and pulled herself up. Her hand was surprisingly soft and gentle, especially considering that I’d just watched her turn four grown men into toast.

“You are welcome…”

“Teal,” I replied, still grinning a little too excitedly. “My name is Teal.”

“You are welcome, Teal. My name is Kyralee, but everyone calls me Lee.”

Kyralee. Pretty name. I started to ask where on earth she got her magic, but she interrupted me.

“Where is your friend?”

“My friend? What fr—”

Aw, crap. I was so relieved with my own survival that I’d completely forgotten about Eddie.

“We need to find him! C’mon!”

I started running toward the front of the store when I was struck by a much better idea. I turned and ran back to the HIRC’s black sedan. Sure enough, the keys were still in the ignition.

Hehe.

“Kyralee!” I yelled, motioning towards the car. “Get in!”

She suddenly looked very apprehensive.

“…Is that thing safe?”

“Uh, sure. It’s just a car.”

I decided against mentioning my age – after all, I didn’t want her to worry more than she already did. And, if she didn’t know what a car was, she probably didn’t know about licenses either.

Just as well. This could be a perfect chance to restore some manhood points, since my fight against the HIRCs had been… well, “less than ideal.”

Kyralee frowned and climbed into the passenger seat as I turned the key. The engine roared to life, and I didn’t need much driving experience to realize that this was a very nice, very powerful car.

Which made me wonder – who was funding these HIRCs? The Zargansk? Some evil madman bent on destroying mankind, a.k.a. Augustus Beck? I was at a point where I’d believe pretty much anything.

I added that to my list of “things to find out” as I quickly surveyed the car’s controls. I’d never actually been driving – driver’s ed wasn’t until next semester – but I’d played enough video games with Eddie to know the basics. I took the control stick and shifted roughly into drive. Then I floored the gas pedal.

The sedan rocketed down the asphalt. I was so startled at its swift acceleration that I reflexively slammed on the brakes, sending both Kyralee and I crashing into the front dash.

Even worse, it was hard to say who screamed louder.

This was just not my week.

I slid back into my seat and buckled my seatbelt. Kyralee followed suit. I tried to ease the tension with a forced laugh – it didn’t help – then I gently let off the brake.

“Have you controlled one of these before?” she asked.

“Nope.”

She cringed as I gently depressed the gas pedal. It was time to find Eddie before this conversation went any further.

Thirty seconds later, our black sedan pulled around to the front of Megamart. So far we hadn’t seen Eddie anywhere and this made me nervous: if he had tried to outrun the other black car, the results couldn’t possibly be good. I just hoped he hadn’t been captured.

“Teal, look!”

Kyralee pointed to the left, where – in front of the store – a large crowd of people had gathered around something. I slammed the car into park; Lee had already jumped out and was running toward the crowd. I ripped the key out of the ignition and followed.

It was immediately obvious that the HIRC’s other black sedan was somehow involved. It was parked diagonally across multiple handicapped spots and both its front doors had been left wide open. Lee and I forced our way through the crowd until we reached the center of all the attention.

As we pressed through the front row of frightened bystanders, Kyralee suddenly gasped, both hands flying to her mouth in terror as icy chills crawled down my spine.

Eddie lay in the center of the crowd. One of the two suited men from the car spoke quietly into a phone while the other checked Eddie’s pulse. Both were facing away from us.

I glanced sideways at the fender of the black sedan. It had a basketball-sized dent in the hood, and a bent bike lay under its front tire. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to fill in the rest.

My jaw involuntarily clenched.

I couldn’t believe the HIRCs had tried to kill Eddie – and yet, it had a certain cold logic to it. They were obviously after me, and for some reason they needed me alive. But Eddie meant nothing to them. He was just a blip, a tiny inconvenience on their way to acquiring me.

My fists tightened. They might have been able to hurt Eddie this time, but never again. Apparently they had forgotten who Eddie’s best friend was – and what that friend did to people who messed with his friends and family.

It was time to remind them.

I slipped quietly out of the crowd and ran to the bike rack at the front of the store. Thankfully, our backpacks were still there. I grabbed both of them and sprinted back to the stolen sedan. I threw Eddie’s bag inside, then ripped open the one I’d been carrying. Once I found what I needed, I threw that bag inside and walked, grimly, back to the crowd of people.

I plowed through person after person, not giving a damn what any of them thought. I didn’t care what they said to me or what they thought of me. I only had one thing on my mind.

I was going to show those HIRCs what happened when people mess with someone Teal Garrison cares about.

I was going to make them pay.

Once I reached the center of the crowd, I reached into my pockets and removed my weapons. I held out both hands like I had seen Kyralee do, then – with a wince – I clamped down tightly on the two small black stones I held.

I had no idea what these stones were linked to or what would happen if I used them together. I really didn’t care. I just wanted the two men in black suits to pay for what they’d done.

As soon as my hands closed, furious beams of light exploded from between my fingers. The light spiraled around me, engulfing my body in a matrix of white wisps of energy. The wisps began coalescing into larger strands, dancing and twisting around me as they grew.

I closed my eyes and focused all my thoughts, all my energy into directing this new power at the two men in black suits.

The energy around me suddenly burst upwards into a towering tornado of light. It soared above the parking lot, expanding and branching out as it climbed, metamorphosing into a monstrous tree made from blazing shards of light. The branches soared outward before slowly dipping back toward the ground. Like hundreds of miniature funnel clouds, each branch began spiraling and accelerating toward the asphalt, rotating faster and faster as it approached.

By now people were screaming and running, but I didn’t care. Nothing mattered now but saving Eddie. I would do anything to save him from the HIRCs.

I spared a sideways glance at Lee. She stared upwards, her face aglow with childlike awe.

I don’t think she’d ever seen something quite like this. I knew I had never seen anything like it.

Then my gaze fell upon the two men in suits, who had just realized that I was the one commanding the expanding energy storm. They wasted no time turning and running for their lives.

I tightened my grasp and smiled. They weren’t getting away that easily.

The falling branches of light suddenly shot after the HIRCs, fusing into two explosive braids of energy as they surged across the parking lot. The beams caught both men simultaneously, surrounding them and bringing down the canopy of light hovering over the parking lot. All the energy emanating from my hands converged into those two beams as power poured from the stones, the entire parking lot ablaze with white light so bright I had to squint.

The two men dissolved into nothingness.

I released my grip on the stones, and the beams of energy collapsed upon themselves.

I took a deep breath and glanced around. The crowd had dispersed. Some people were pointing at the sky and shaking their heads. Others were running. Some were screaming.

Kyralee, meanwhile, stared unashamedly at me. I stared back, then let my eyes drift to Eddie.

He still wasn’t moving.

We ran over to him. Together, we lifted him to his feet and dragged him to the black sedan. We set him as gently as we could into the backseat before climbing into our respective doors. After a quick check to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, I started the car and sped out of the parking lot, my mind much too calm considering what had just happened.

No one said anything as I drove back toward the high school. My driving wasn’t great, but it did its job of getting us away from Megamart and closer to the school and the portalgate room. At this point, there was no reason to go anywhere else. Every minute we spent in the open was another minute the HIRCs would hunt us. Once we made it through the portalgate I hoped this would change.

And even if it didn’t, it’s not like they could hate me more.

I spent most of the drive on panicked lookout for more black sedans, and while I spotted several possibilities, no one pursued us.

I also tried to tally how many agents we’d taken out. I hoped that might provide some scope of what exactly we were up against.

Friday night at the hospital I could only estimate, but seemed like there were at least three or four. That seemed to be the common group size when they attacked. There were four HIRCs in the car I sabotaged during the minivan chase, then another three from the lightning incident in my parent’s room. Lee had fried four inside Megamart, then four more behind Megamart, and then there were the last two I had just wiped with my lightning storm.

That put the total number at… wow. Over twenty.

Who knew how many of these guys had been dispatched to take care of me, but twenty was a lot to have fought and beaten.

This realization calmed me down, but several things still troubled me. Eddie lay silently in the back seat, wounded and unconscious. He was still breathing and his pulse remained steady (I had Lee check), but he didn’t look well. His ankle had swollen even larger and a nasty goose egg swelled from the side of his head. His left side was covered in impact wounds from what – I assumed – was a bad crash onto asphalt.

On top of that, I had lost my lightning stone. I didn’t know how hard it was to get “magic” stones, but the thought of losing one made me angry and frustrated. I debated going back to look for it, but heading to the portalgate seemed more important. Maybe I could look for it after we returned from our trip through the portalgate…

…whenever that happened.

As I continued pondering our situation, I realized that, perhaps worst of all, I was now going to be traveling through the portalgate with one seriously injured person and no supplies. We didn’t even have bikes. I wished I could drive the HIRC’s black sedan to Orionis, but that wasn’t a possibility.

All this thinking could be summed up in one response: a very, very heavy sigh.

And it got worse. As soon as I stopped thinking, I realized how much I hurt. My hands and arms were still raw from the tackle I’d taken. My legs felt shaky, most likely from the all the running and biking I’d been forced to do in the last 24 hours. On top of all that, I was beginning to develop a nasty headache.

So much for this mission being something glamorous.

Sick of thinking about my crappy life, I took a moment to glance over at Kyralee. She looked absorbed in her own batch of deep thinking. I wanted badly to talk to her, the thought of it scared me. I’m not sure why.

So I found myself grateful when she cleared her throat and spoke first.

“Teal, where did you get silexes?”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Silexes?”

“The small stones you used to save your friend – those are silexes. Where did you get them?”

I debated telling her the truth. I’d been forced to lie a lot lately, and frankly I was growing sick of it. (That, and I was having trouble remembering who I’d told what.) Then there was the small matter of saving my life back at Megamart.

…And it didn’t hurt that she was ridiculously hot.

“They were my father’s. He worked as an ambassador for the Zargansk before escaping.”

So much for subtlety. Lee gasped upon hearing this.

“Your father – he is the one that escaped? Your father is Cronus?”

How famous was my old man?

“Yup, he’s Cronus. How do you know that name?”

“Teal, everyone on Orionis knows of Cronus. He is the reason Kepik Arist was captured! Where is he? I must visit him and convince him to return to service! If he remains in hiding, Dr. Arist will die!”

“Whoa now – slow down, Kyralee. My father is dying from poison the Zargansk gave him. I don’t know who Dr. Arist is, but my father asked me to find him. He thought Dr. Arist could give me an antidote.”

Lee took a deep breath.

“Teal,” she replied, her voice suddenly soft and serious. “I know you love your father, but you must understand something: Kepik Arist is the only hope for humans. He is one of the few Zargansk that believes in human rights, and he has studied our kind for many years. He was taken prisoner by his own people because of your father’s escape, and if your father doesn’t return, Kepik will certainly be executed.”

She looked directly at me.

“Without Dr. Kepik Arist, it is only a matter of time before the Zargansk declare war on humans everywhere. We will not survive.”

Boy, did this sound familiar. Only a matter of time, Zargansk killing everything, blah blah blah. I’d already heard that crap once today and I still wasn’t sure I believed the Zargansk existed at all.

“So let me get this straight,” I said, my headache intensifying. “The Zargansk want to destroy humans, right?”

Lee nodded.

“And this Dr. Kepik Arist guy is a Zargansk, but he likes humans.”

More nods.

“And my dad’s escape has gotten this guy in trouble? He’s going to be executed because of my dad?”

Nod nod nod.

I frowned. Dad had neglected to mention that little detail.

“And – according to you – saving this Dr. Arist guy is more important than saving my father?”

Lee didn’t respond.

I let out another heavy sigh. This was the last thing I needed – some hot but bizarre chick arguing with me about my mission.

“Lee, listen to me: I have only one thing on my mind, and that’s getting an antidote to my dad. I don’t care about aliens, I don’t care about scientists, I don’t care about portalgates or HIRCs or saving the universe. Even if my dad wasn’t the leader of the human rebellion here on earth, I’d still go anywhere to get him an antidote.”

My eyes started to water. I really wished they wouldn’t.

“So either you can come with me and Eddie through the portalgate and help us find an antidote – which means finding this Dr. Arist guy – or we can leave you here to do whatever you came to do. Speaking of which – why are you here?”

Again, Kyralee didn’t respond. Her shoulders were trembling.

“Hey… are you okay?”

I could hear her sniffling. I nervously pulled a hand off the steering wheel and set it on her arm. She pulled away.

Sigh. Women.

The rest of our drive to the high school was spent in silence.

Once we arrived, I parked in the cul-de-sac next to the field behind the school – the field that Eddie and I used to escape earlier that day. That seemed to be the safest way to return the school. It seemed inevitable that more HIRCs would be guarding the building tonight – especially since I’d heard the agent at my house discussing that – and I figured they were more likely to congregate around the front of the building.

I was suddenly struck by how dumb it was that I still didn’t know who these HIRCs were or who they worked for. Lee had to know more about them.

I turned to talk to her, then hesitated. She still wasn’t looking at me.

But I had to talk to her. I needed to know why she was here, who she was, how she knew about “magic.” I needed to know if she would come with me into the portalgate, since I wasn’t real keen on going alone and who knew if Eddie could make it.

I placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Kyralee, listen – I’ve got to get into that school tonight, and I could really use your help.”

She slowly turned to face me. Her eyes were red and puffy.

“Do you know a man named Joseph Denaye?”

That came outta nowhere.

“Um, no. Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Are you sure? He worked at this school. He was forty years old, graying hair, tall and strong.”

I shook my head again. The only school employee who fit that description was the crazy old janitor.

…Wait a sec.

“Did this man know about the portalgate?”

Lee nodded.

I burst out laughing, then stopped when she shot me a withering glare.

“Sorry, it’s just – the only man I know who looks like that and works at the school is this crazy old janitor. He’s the main reason Eddie and I got involved in this, and he’s not here anymore. He disappeared into the portalgate this morning.”

“He WHAT?”

Lee sat up straight and grabbed my shirt. She was surprisingly strong.

“He went into the portalgate? You must be lying!”

I tried to pull her hands off my shirt, but she wouldn’t let me.

“I’m not lying. Do you know the janitor?”

“Know him? He is my father!”

I blinked.

“…He what?”

“My father, Teal! That man is my father! Why did he go through the portalgate?”

Suddenly it all came together.

“He was hunting an alien named Phenx. Phenx had threatened to harm his family, and the janitor said he had to go save them. He said his family was in danger.”

I looked into Lee’s frightened brown eyes, and suddenly I realized why she looked vaguely familiar.

“Holy crap. You are his daughter.”

She nodded.

“Unbelievable. He went through the portalgate to save you, only you’re not there.”

We stared at each other for several moments, and I was once again struck by how pretty she looked, even despite her red eyes and grim expression. It was a small miracle that someone so beautiful could share genes with that crazy old janitor.

An unexpected moan rose from the rear of the car. I reluctantly pulled my eyes from Kyralee and looked into the back seat. Eddie was stirring.

“Teal, listen to me.”

I turned back to her. She looked desperate as she took my hands in hers. I felt my heart beat faster, and for the first time in several days I didn’t try to calm it.

“I will come with you into the portalgate. I must find my father, and we must find Dr. Arist. I am sorry for implying your father is not important. If he is truly leading a human rebellion here on earth, he must be very important, just like his son.”

A sudden warmth slipped into my cheeks.

“Uh, really Lee, it’s nothing, I just—”

She cut me off.

“I also think I can help your friend, but there is a risk involved.”

I stopped thinking about how soft her hands were and tried to focus on what she was saying.

“…How can you help him?”

Lee let go of my hands and reached into her pocket. She removed a small vial with a dark, sandy-looking liquid inside.

“Do you know what nanons are?”

“Nope.”

“Nanons are robots – very, very small robots. Each one is hundreds of times smaller than a grain of sand, which makes them useful in situations where space is limited.”

“Situations like inside a human body,” I realized out loud.

Lee nodded.

“Yes. Nanons are able to accomplish things in spaces too small or too dangerous for humans. They can be programmed to perform many tasks, including helping a body repair from terrible wounds.”

I eyed the vial suspiciously.

“So that stuff can heal Eddie?”

“I believe so. This is a vial of emnons, or ‘emergency medical nanons’, and I would be happy to give them to your friend.”

I reached for the vial, but Lee pulled it away.

“However, Teal, you must know something. Some ten percent of humans experience a severe reaction to nanons. On Orionis they can test for such a condition, but I have no way of doing that here.”

There was that Orionis name again. Why did she keep bringing it up? Was she from the Zargansk planet?

I tucked that question away for later.

“So you’re saying–”

“I am saying that if Eddie is part of that ten percent category, his body could experience a terrible reaction to the nanons…and if that happens, he will almost certainly die.”

I exhaled. Loudly.

“…You say the odds are one-in-ten?”

She nodded.

I glanced back at Eddie; he had shifted slightly but looked otherwise asleep. The bleeding on his legs and arms had stopped, but his ankle still looked terrible. There was no way he could run or even walk with it like that.

Which meant I couldn’t take him through the portalgate with me.

“Arrrgh,” I groaned. “I shouldn’t have make a choice like this!”

Lee placed a hand on my leg. My cheeks began self-heating.

“Whatever you decide, Teal – do it quickly. We must act soon.”

Easy for her to say. What if Eddie did experience a reaction? What if I made the decision that killed him?

“Teal…”

I mean, I was the one that got him into this. If it weren’t for me, he would never have been attacked by those HIRCs…

“Teal.”

Maybe I could go through the portalgate without him… but he could die if I left him, especially if the HIRCs found him, and we definitely didn’t have time to go to the hospital…

“Teal, listen to me.”

Ten percent, that wasn’t too high.

…But it was certainly higher than I liked.

“Teal, please!”

I made my decision. If we wanted to travel through the portalgate tonight, there was only one real option.

I looked up at Kyralee.

“Okay, I’ve decided. Let’s try your emnon things.”


Next Chapter (Chapter 17) >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 15)


TEAL: Chapter 15

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 (86kb)


Thanks for your patience! As my apology for not getting this chapter up on time, I have included a bonus chapter this week – bringing the total number of available chapters to 17. Enjoy!

“And where do you think you’re going?”

I gulped and tried to squirm out of the HIRC’s grasp, but it was hopeless. The man smiled evilly and dragged me back into the bedroom.

How could I have been so stupid?

“Hey!” he yelled. “I got the kid!”

Stomping came from the stairs and hallway, then two more suit-clad men appeared in the doorway. One of them looked extremely relieved. The other looked wary. I recognized the second one as the man I had seen outside.

The one holding me laughed.

“I caught this one trying to sneak in the window. Nice try, kid.”

He laughed again, and my temper started to displace my fear.

“Good work, Number 5,” the wary-looking one said. “Let’s tie him up and take him back to the boss.”

The large man standing over me reached for my arm. It was all over now: Eddie and I would go to jail – no, probably somewhere way worse – and I wouldn’t be able to find dad an antidote. My father was going to die.

I wanted to scream. Looking up at the smug man hovering over me only made things worse.

But what else could I do? I had no choice but to obey. I couldn’t fight three grown men.

I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists, and then something extraordinary happened.

My right hand burst open in an explosion of electric energy. Sapphire torrents of lightning blasted from the small sphere smashed in my grip, engulfing the bedroom in a sudden burst of light.

The three HIRCs had no time to react. The lightning rapidly extended from my hand and wrapped snakelike around each of them. One of them screamed; all three writhed and tried to escape, but the lightning held them in place as it tightened its grip around their struggling bodies.

I tried to look away, but my own body wasn’t responding. It felt anchored in space – anchored in time. The lightning seemed locked in the palm of my hand.

Its intensity continued to grow.

My eyes watered from the pain. I tried to pull away, but my body didn’t respond – it felt like it couldn’t respond.

Oh God, it burned. I’d never felt such pain.

I pulled away from it with all my might. Slowly, eternally slowly, I slid away from the sphere still emanating with deadly energy.

By now the room was drenched in writhing spokes of lightning, all of it pouring from the electric marble clenched in my hand. The three men had stopped moving.

I pulled harder. The pain was growing, moving into my arm. I had to get away from the sphere before it killed me.

I yelled and poured my whole nerve into unclutching my fist.

And, miraculously, it worked.

As quickly as it had appeared, the lightning curled upon itself and retreated into the small sphere. I dropped the death-marble as if it were burning – even though I don’t recall it being hot – and instinctively gripped my forearm.

I was panting, disoriented, scared…so it took me a second to realize that the pain had stopped. I wasn’t hurting anywhere. My arm, my hand, none of it hurt.

I raised an eyebrow.

A glance at my palm revealed no mark, no imprint, no scar. Nothing.

This didn’t make any sense. Just moments before, the pain had been excruciating. I thought my arm would be permanently paralyzed.

But now it looked fine, and nothing hurt.

Then I remembered the others.

My eyes flew to the three HIRCs, each curled into an awkward, unmoving clump. I didn’t know if they were dead or alive – but one thing was for certain. I wasn’t about to stick around and find out.

On a whim, I grabbed a nearby phone and dialed 9-1-1. I told the operator there had been a robbery but I’d managed to stop it. Then I hung up. I hoped the police could stop these guys before they hurt anyone else.

My presence of mind fully returned, I finally remembered the small lock box. I definitely didn’t want that sitting out when the police arrived. I retrieved it, closed it, then carefully fetched the small black lightning marble and very cautiously pocketed it. After a final glance around the room, I darted quickly downstairs.

As I ran out the front door I was suddenly struck by a sharp hunger pain. In all my excitement, I had once again forgotten to eat. I really needed to quit doing that.

I debated running back to grab food, but there just wasn’t time. The police would be there within minutes and I wanted to be far, far away by the time that happened.

So I left at a full sprint. My mind felt unnaturally calm as my legs pumped me smoothly and swiftly down the street and away from my latest nightmare.

Eddie was waiting at the corner with both bikes ready. I threw the alien box into his spare backpack – which I had wisely left behind – then jumped onto a bike.

“Do you need to go to your house?” I asked.

He paused midway through the question he was trying to ask, then shook his head.

“I guess I don’t need–”

I didn’t wait for him to finish. I swung my feet onto the bike’s pedals and rode away from my street as fast as my legs could move. Eddie stared for several seconds before realizing I wasn’t slowing down, then he quickly pedaled after me.

At this point I didn’t care where I was going – just that I was leaving my house. The adrenaline had started to wear off and panic was creeping into the void it left behind. Glad as I was to escape capture again, the look on those three HIRC’s faces haunted me. I couldn’t get their terrified, frantic eyes out of my mind.

I rode faster. Now it was Eddie’s turn to struggle to keep up.

After almost a mile of frantic riding, I pulled my bike off the sidewalk and into a field of scattered trees. I pedaled until we were hidden from the road, then leaped off my bike and collapsed into an exhausted heap.

Eddie eventually caught up. He quickly parked his bike before limping toward me.

“Teal,” he gasped between heavy breaths. “Dude. That was some crazy pedaling. Are you okay? What happened at your house?”

I ignored the growing lump in my throat and tried to steady my breathing.

“Sorry for not explaining. I just…I just had to get out of there.”

I forced out an awkward laugh.

“But what happened at your house? Did something freak you out?”

I knew Eddie well enough to know he wouldn’t leave things alone until I answered his questions.

But how was I supposed to answer? I wasn’t even sure I knew what happened in my parent’s bedroom.

“Well? C’mon! Tell me!”

I forced another laugh. Eddie was so frigging persistent.

“Wait, let me guess – you found something crazy in your dad’s box, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“So what did you find? Did you find any little black stones?”

I swerved to face him, my eyes involuntarily narrowing.

“What do you mean, little black stones?”

“You did!” he exclaimed with a grin. “I knew it! What did they do? Were they magic?”

“Are you kidding me? What’s going on? How do you know about the stones?”

“It was all in the research from Friday, Teal – all in the stuff I found on the internet! Remember the black orb the janitor disappeared through?”

“C’mon, man – of course I remember.”

Eddie smiled.

“Good point. Like you’ll ever forget that. Anyway, there’s these little black stones that supposedly act like miniature versions of that orb the janitor disappeared through! I guess they act as transporters too, but only for special things.”

I thought about this for a moment. The little sphere that had almost killed me was a transporter? A lightning transporter? That seemed weird.

“Listen, Eddie – I’ll tell you what happened. Maybe you’ll be able to explain it.”

So I recounted the entire ordeal. Eddie, surprisingly, didn’t interrupt once. He looked like he wanted to, but instead he waited politely until I finished.

Then he burst out with his usual frenzied response.

“Oh, DUDE! I wish I could’ve been there! Do you still have the stones?”

“Yeah… but you don’t want to mess with them. Trust me. What if you got zapped like those HIRCs did?”

“No, it’s okay. Just don’t squeeze them!”

I forced another laugh. I really didn’t want to touch that stone again, and the thought of Eddie touching it was even worse.

Time for an abrupt change of subject.

“Why do you think lightning came out? Why not something else?”

Eddie smiled.

“Actually, you’re lucky you picked the lightning one. A typical Zargansk carries four stones: one each for fire, wind, light, and electricity. There are a lot of other types, but those four are the basics.”

“And these stones – they each transport a specific element? Where do they transport it from?”

“Each one transports from a different location. I read that the Zargansk have giant farms set up for fire, lightning, and all kinds of other substances. Any time someone uses one of those little stones, they’re just transporting its associated substance from a farm on Orionis to their current location.”

I wasn’t sure this explanation was accurate, especially since Eddie had pulled it from who-knew-where on the internet. I was having a hard time envisioning what a lightning farm might look like.

He continued with his explanation.

“Another thing I read is that these ‘magic stones,’ if you will, are unique to a particular person. For example, I can’t use stones made for you, and you can’t use stones made for me. They’re made that way to prevent people from stealing them and doing bad things.”

“But how was I able to use the stone I found? It certainly wasn’t made for me.”

“Maybe you could use it because it belonged to your dad. Maybe family members can use each other’s stones.”

Even though that made sense, I found myself growing increasingly irritated at the weirdness of our conversation. Magic? As if. Laser guns and alien Zargansk were bad enough. I didn’t want to talk about this fantasy crap any more.

I rolled my eyes, then realized the sun had begun to dip deep into the western sky. Eddie and I needed to get going before we got caught in the dark.

“Okay Eddie, tell you what – if all the…” I considered using several obscene terms. “…stuff…you’ve said is true, then you should be able to touch these ‘magic stones’ without hurting anything – right?”

He nodded despite my emphatic sarcasm on magic.

“Then as soon as we’ve finished shopping for supplies, I’ll let you take them.”

“Aw, sweet! It’s a deal! I can’t wait to go buy stuff for our trip into the portalgate!”

I was also looking forward to this even though I didn’t know what to purchase. Who knew what supplies we’d need on the other side of the portalgate?

I made a mental note to figure that out on the way to the store.

“So where do you want to go, Ed? Where’s the nearest store?”

“It depends on what you want. Are we shopping for groceries or supplies?”

“Probably both. Are there any malls nearby?”

“I know somewhere even better than a mall. Follow me!”

We threw our backpacks back over our shoulders, jumped onto our bikes, and hurried out of the trees.

Fifteen minutes later, we turned into the enormous parking lot of a Megamart store.

“This has everything we could ever want,” Eddie yelled back to me.

We wove our way through row after row of parked cars as we approached the front doors. I still couldn’t believe I was riding a $3,000 bike, except that it rode more smoothly than anything I’d ever been in – including mom’s minivan. This was especially true after what the minivan had been through the previous weekend, which brought up another question:

Had mom taken that car when she left with Emmary and Jackson…? I had serious doubts as to how road-worthy the Odyssey was after being rear-ended.

I still hadn’t arrived at an answer by the time we reached the front of the store.

“We don’t have any bike locks,” I observed, turning to Eddie. “Why don’t you buy two? I’ll stay out here and keep an eye on the bikes, and after we lock ‘em up we can go shopping for supplies.”

Eddie nodded and handed me his backpack. He then dashed inside, leaving me to drag the bikes and backpacks over to the bike rack. I leaned the bikes against the rack, dropped the backpacks beside them, then slumped over and let out a heavy sigh.

When I paused long enough to really think about the last four days, the weight of it was staggering. I counted the main points on my fingers as I considered them.

We were just hours away from traveling into an alien world. My dad had been an ambassador for the…(I still didn’t want to say it)…“aliens” – the Zargansk – and unless he got an antidote, he was going to die from their poison. Eddie and I were being chased by a group of men called HIRCs, and they had to be unhappy about the way I kept slipping from their grasp.

And now, to top off the weirdness, I had almost killed three of those same HIRCs – and maybe myself – by mistakenly using a Zargansk “magic stone,” as Eddie had called it.

I stopped counting there. Thinking about those three guys still made me feel a little sick. I wondered if they’d woken up before the police arrived.

Tired of thinking and wondering, I ignored my thoughts for a moment and glanced around the Megamart parking lot. The sun had finally dipped below the western horizon, leaving the sky a smooth red-violet gradient. Streetlamps slowly popped on throughout the parking lot, shading everything in sterile, creamy light.

After ten minutes of patient waiting and people-watching, I started wondering why Eddie hadn’t returned. How long did it take it to find and buy two bike locks? Could something have happened to him?

I debated leaving the bikes and trying to find him, but that seemed too risky. What if the bikes got stolen? No way did I want to be responsible for abandoning bikes that cost almost as much as my parents’ minivan.

I tried to think of a better plan when I suddenly noticed the distant drone of police sirens.

I don’t know why, but I stiffened. It sounded like multiple sirens were going off – and they sounded close. Really close.

Eddie suddenly burst out the store’s front door.

“Teal! Teal!! We gotta go!”

I started to ask ‘why?’ but Eddie cut me off.

“My credit card was reported stolen and the cops are coming! I barely escaped the cashier! We have to go!”

Eddie leapt onto his bike. I swung mine around and took a quick glance around the parking lot. I couldn’t see any flashing lights, but the sirens were definitely getting closer.

Legs pumping, we braided in and out of empty parking stalls in a frantic race back to the main road. I really hoped we could get out of the parking lot before the police – or more of those HIRCs – arrived.

Eddie, who was now far ahead of me, slammed on his brakes at the edge of the parking lot. He glanced both ways down the adjoining street, then spun around and screamed madly as he pedaled back toward the store.

“Ride, Teal! Ride away!!”

I’d never seen a human being pedal so fast.

Eddie blurred past me, his face a mess of wild excitement as he yelled, “the cops! They’re here! We gotta go another way!”

I whipped my bike around as two black cars pulled into the parking lot, horns blaring and headlights flashing.

Ahead of me, Eddie yelled a string of curses. I joined in after taking a glance backward and realizing we weren’t being followed by police cars.

We were being followed by black cars full of men in black suits.

Those cars belonged to the HIRCs – HIRCs pretending to be police officers.

These guys were smarter than I thought. If they posed as policemen, no one would help us escape. Who would believe two high school kids claiming a group of adult men trying to “arrest them” were actually alien henchmen?

Yeah, this definitely wasn’t good.

I pedaled faster.

Ahead of me, Eddie veered toward the store’s front doors.

“Eddie! Where are you going?!”

He replied, but I couldn’t make out what he said.

The flashing lights seemed right behind me.

Eddie reached the front of the store, jumped his bike onto the front sidewalk, and then I realized what he was about to try.

“Eddie, no! You’re insane!!”

This time he said nothing in return. He simply grinned and pedaled faster.

I gritted my teeth and followed close behind.

Eddie swerved around an elderly couple then slipped between the slowly opening automatic doors.

The black cars reached the front door. Four men jumped out.

This was completely nuts.

We zoomed past the elderly greeter, her hand clutching frantically at her chest as she yelled something about “damn kids.” I hoped we didn’t give her a heart attack.

We had entered on the grocery side of the store, and Eddie wasted no time using this to our advantage. We swerved through the front racks of fruit before turning right and speeding through the deli. The HIRCs screamed at us to stop – as if that ever worked – and I couldn’t make out the rest of their yells over the alarmed cries of shoppers and employees.

I glanced back to see one of them drawing a gun while two others ran toward the back of the store.

And deep inside, I knew this would be a bad day for Megamart.

Hehe.

We reached the end of the deli, then turned left and raced down the frozen meat aisle. Eddie rode quickly and dangerously and I was starting to fall behind.

Shoppers all down the aisle screamed and scattered.

Eddie reached the end of that aisle and swerved left. He was now riding down the back edge of the store.

Several seconds later I followed suit.

Two of the HIRCs reached the back edge of the store right as Eddie passed. One chased after Eddie, the other turned to face me.

“Move!” I yelled. The HIRC gave me the finger, then wrenched open a freezer door and started smashing gallons of milk on the floor.

I grimaced, slammed on my brakes, and spun the bike around.

The HIRC stopped throwing milk and started running toward me.

I turned back down the long meat aisle I had just traversed. The two men originally following from the front of the store were now running directly toward me. The man behind was getting closer.

I was surrounded.

I cursed and accelerated toward the men in front of me. One of them drew a gun – a silver one – and yelled at me to stop.

I swerved down the canned food aisle as a writhing ball of green energy whistled past my left ear. The HIRC had fired at me, and he’d used an alien gun.

I pedaled faster.

At the end of the aisle I turned right, which again pointed me toward the back of the store. I hoped to plow through the employee doors into the warehouse at the rear of the building. There had to be an exit back there.

I accelerated toward the employee-only doors.

Suddenly an employee emerged from the swinging doors with a full shopping cart in tow. I swerved left at the last possible instant, grazing the corner of the cart. Boxes went flying and I fought to keep my bike from tipping over.

Once I regained control, I found myself somewhere inside the women’s clothing section. Hangars scraped my elbows as I pushed forward, desperately hoping to circle around and make another go at the warehouse entrance.

More men in suits ran parallel to me on the left.

I heard a sudden yell from behind. Eddie had somehow arrived at the employee doors, and he was wildly yelling for me to “come back!”

I slammed on my brakes and swerved the bike around. The HIRCs realized what I was doing and darted into the clothing section.

I accelerated as best I could, but the clothing racks were placed asymmetrically and there was no straight path through them.

I pedaled faster.

Suddenly an elderly lady, completely oblivious to the chase transpiring around her, wheeled her motorized shopping cart directly in front of my bike. I barely had time to react; I swerved right and missed her, but plowed straight into a rack of clothes.

I jumped to my feet and frantically tried to pull the bike out from beneath the clothes rack. The HIRCs were almost on top of me.

No time. I would have to run.

I darted away from the bike as a HIRC suddenly reached for my right arm. I swiveled away and accelerated but another man stepped in front of me; I darted left, only to be met by another one. I tried spinning around again, but the last man was closing in from that side.

I was surrounded, and the men in suits were swiftly advancing. I had to do something, and I had to do it quick.

My hand reached into my right pocket, but before it could close on the small black stone still hiding there, I caught the eye of a pretty teenage girl standing fifteen feet in front of me. Something about her looked vaguely familiar.

I stared at her, and then she winked at me.

In any other situation I would’ve responded with my most charming grin, but now I could only raise an eyebrow as she clearly motioned for me to duck. I don’t know why, but I obeyed and instinctively dropped to my knees.

As soon as I hit the ground, the air around me exploded.

Huge claws of flame grabbed everything in sight; the clothes-laden racks incinerated, the men in suits screamed as they burst into fire. Smoke poured over everything.

And wow, did my eyes burn. I couldn’t see anything through the smoke, but I knew I had to get out of there. I crawled as quickly as I could but at every turn the flames seemed to surround me.

I was struck by the panicked thought that I might die.

Suddenly a thin hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me to my feet. I stumbled as my captor dragged me out of the flames, and once free I dropped to my knees, coughing.

I was immediately dragged back to my feet. I rubbed my eyes but could only make out a small, female face yelling something.

“No! We have to go!”

I tried to blink my eyes clear as I stumbled behind the girl still holding my wrist. She led us back to an impatient Eddie, then darted through the employee doors into the back of the store.

I saw Eddie watch, almost in a daze, as the girl and I ran past. He blinked curiously, then jumped on his bike and pedaled after us.


Next Chapter (Chapter 16) >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 14)


TEAL: Chapter 14

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 (138kb)


“No way! You’re kidding! It can’t be that easy! Your dad is really Cronus?! Dude! Is he an alien?”

Eddie was hopping up and down on his uninjured leg and spewing out questions as fast as he could think ’em up.

“Eddie, c’mon – he’s my old man. He’s not an alien.”

After leaving my father’s room, I had returned to the front entrance of the hospital. Eddie was already there, waiting impatiently. I quickly related the details of my conversation with dad – a task that had proven difficult with Eddie interrupting every other word – and when I finished, he had unloaded a list of frantic questions on me.

Thing is, this wasn’t the best time or place for conversing. Maybe I had inherited mom’s paranoia, or maybe I just figured we’d have plenty of time for talking later.

I quickly asked Eddie about his experience at the hospital.

“Did you get your ankle fixed?”

“Not really. Apparently hospitals can’t do anything – even a stupid x-ray – without parental permission. All they could do is tape it up.”

“Does it hurt?”

“It’s swollen, but it doesn’t hurt too bad. The nurse thought it was just a sprain. It should go away in a couple days.”

He shook his head and massaged his bandaged ankle.

“So tell me more! Did your dad say anything about what Orionis is like? Does he really want us to go through the portal like the janitor did?”

“No, he didn’t describe Orionis, and yes, he does want us to go through the portalgate.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow.

Portalgate – I guess that’s what the Zargansk call those magic orbs. Now stop asking questions! I’ll tell you more once we’re somewhere safe.”

“What could be safer than a hospital?”

“In case you forgot, those weird guys in suits – they’re called HIRCs, by the way – are still after us. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out where we are. As soon as they discover that, they’ll be all over this place. I’m hoping my dad and his ambassador buddies will keep them so busy they forget about us – but Eddie, let’s face it: we’re fugitives.”

“Fugitives.”

He spoke it almost reverently.

“We’re fugitives. How cool is that?”

He said that now, but next time we ran into HIRCs you could bet he’d be wetting himself.

“Whatever. Now help me think. We’ve got to find a way to my house, but I’m broke. Do you have any money?”

Eddie grinned and nodded.

“Have you forgotten how loaded my parents are? I have more money than you can possibly imagine!”

He fished through his pockets and emerged with a shiny plastic credit card.

“This thing has thousands of dollars on it. Hey – are we going shopping for supplies? We should, since we’ll need stuff to take with us into the portalgate.”

I hadn’t considered shopping for supplies, but it would definitely be a good idea to bring some fresh food and survival gear with us.

“Yeah, let’s go shopping later tonight. First, though, we have to head to my house and get whatever’s in dad’s box.”

Eddie’s eyes took on a childlike glow.

“Dude, I wonder what’s in it. Maybe it’s more alien weapons, like the rifles we used in the tunnels!”

I remembered dad saying something about a gold note inside the box. I hadn’t told Eddie about that. Honestly, I still wasn’t sure how much to reveal to him. Though I definitely knew I could trust my best friend, I worried about HIRCs capturing him and torturing him for information. Because of this, I made the decision (with a twinge of guilt) to not tell him anything more about the box until I’d had a chance to look inside it.

I turned back to Eddie and held up a hand.

“Stop changing the subject. How can we get to my house?”

“We could take a bus back, or we could catch a cab.”

I shook my head.

“Those are too dangerous now. The HIRCs could have alerted the police, and since we’re not old enough to drive, it would make sense to warn all the bus and cab services. They could easily send out our descriptions over the radio.”

I paused.

“We might even be on TV!”

At this, we both glanced at the lobby’s TV. Thankfully, our faces weren’t on it…

…yet.

“Wait, Teal – don’t your parents have a car here? Can we take it?”

I shook my head.

“Besides the fact that we’re only fifteen, the minivan isn’t here. Mom took it wherever she went.”

My spirits lifted every time I thought of her getting out safely. That was the best news I’d had in days.

Eddie sighed.

“If we can’t use cars, buses, or taxis, we’re out of luck. Walking is the only other option.”

I folded my arms and tried to think of another method of transportation. Nothing came to mind.

“Well,” I sighed, “we’re not getting anywhere by standing around. Better start walking.”

Eddie didn’t look happy about this, but he closed his mouth and hobbled over to the hospital’s revolving doors. I followed him out.

The afternoon sun was already well on its way into the western sky. It was a beautiful day out; the temperature was warm and the streets bustled with energy. I actually felt much safer out in public. Two teenage kids could disappear in a city this big.

This was the first time in a long time that I’d been downtown, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure which direction led home.

Eddie sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Guess I’m leading the way,” he muttered, limping to the nearest crosswalk and motioning for me to follow.

We traveled slowly. Eddie complained about his ankle every few seconds, but I was getting good at ignoring him, especially since I was preoccupied with thinking about a fast, safe way to get back to my house. I couldn’t wait to get there and see what was inside dad’s box. I just hoped men in suits wouldn’t be there waiting for us.

After several blocks of walking, Eddie slammed himself onto a bench.

“This is idiotic. What are we doing? We’re never going to make it home by walking!”

“Do you have a better idea? Maybe you should think of a way home instead of wasting all your energy whining about your stupid ankle.”

As soon as I said this I wished I hadn’t.

“Whining?” he yelled, his face contorting into a huffy scowl. “What do you mean, whining?!”

But I ignored him. A large store window across the street had caught my attention, and I deliberately peered around Eddie’s outraged face.

My eyes drifted to the sign above the window. I read it twice as a grin broke out on my face.

“What’s so funny? Hey Teal! Listen to me!”

I shifted my eyes back to Eddie, who still looked furious.

“Calm down and turn around.”

He glared, but obeyed.

His glare faded.

“Hmph. Not a bad idea…”

I glanced both ways then hurried across the street, pausing as I approached the large glass window that had caught my attention moments before.

Inside it were two of the most beautiful, amazing, gloriously expensive mountain bikes I had ever seen. Both were painted in wavy camouflage colors, and an extravagant sign above the display read: “The New WindSpectre X-3: The World’s Most Advanced Bike.”

Impressive claim.

I turned to look at Eddie, who appeared to be wiping drool onto his sleeve. He was whispering the specs listed at the base of the bike.

“Wow. Aluminum frame, full-suspension,” several other things I didn’t understand, “built-in GPS… and all under 25 pounds.”

Eddie’s eyes were wide as GameCube discs.

“Dude, I haven’t been this excited since I bought my Segway.”

If you knew Eddie, you’d know that was no small claim.

“I didn’t know you were into bikes.”

“I’m not real serious about them, but when my parents dragged me on their bike tour of Honduras last summer they made me take a mountain biking course. As part of the class I had to read a book on mountain biking, and from what I know, this is a dream bike in every possible way.”

“What? You never told me that!”

Eddie just shrugged. I wondered how many other secret talents he was hiding.

I stared at the bike for several moments more before raising the question on both our minds.

“So, uh, what would you think of biking back to my house?”

Eddie grinned mischievously and we hurried into the store.

Thirty minutes later, the two of us walked out of Jeffy’s Bike Emporium with two brand-new WindSpectre X-3 mountain bikes. The only person more surprised than I was the speechless store clerk. He asked Eddie for ID no less than four times before running his credit card. I couldn’t blame the clerk – the bikes had totaled to almost $3,000 each. Eddie hadn’t blinked an eye as the clerk reluctantly swiped his card.

“Mom and dad will just be glad I’m getting some exercise,” he had said.

“Won’t they be angry about you buying two bikes?”

“Nah – I’ll just tell them one is for here, and the other is for our cabin in Colorado.”

I could only shake my head in disbelief. I still had trouble comprehending just how loaded Eddie’s parents were. I had almost felt guilty as I watched him sign the credit card receipt – but the more I learned about the Singh family’s wealth, the more I realized that $6000 worth of bikes meant nothing to them.

And while I’m being honest…you might have guessed it, but money was one of the reasons I kept Eddie around despite his bad attitude and gimp foot.

Don’t judge me too harshly.

As expected, the bikes were every rider’s dream and we made our way home quickly. Traffic had reached at its full rush hour peak, leaving most of downtown totally gridlocked. Taking a bus or cab home would have taken hours.

Eddie swiftly led the way as we wove first through downtown, then down suburban street after suburban street. He was a surprisingly good rider (especially considering his bad ankle) and I had to work hard to keep pace with him.

Fifty-two minutes later we arrived at the end of my street. We had taken the long way around to avoid any agents lingering near the field, arriving on the side of the street furthest from both downtown and the high school.

And wow, was it nice to be done riding. I held up one hand to block the setting sun while the other clutched at my burning chest. Beside me, Eddie was also breathing heavily, his face a grimace as he slowly massaged his injured ankle.

After I caught my breath, I took a moment to squint down the street at my home. My worst fears were confirmed – three black sedans still sat out front. They looked unoccupied.

But this didn’t make me feel any better, because empty black cars could mean only one thing: the suit-clad men were inside my house. One of them was probably the same guy I had narrowly escaped earlier that morning. I wondered if he’d gotten in all kinds of trouble for letting me get away.

That made me smile.

Eddie’s shrill voice shook me back to reality.

“Well? What now?”

I thought for a moment as Eddie idly stroked his new bike.

“I don’t know. We need to get into my house and find dad’s box. Any ideas on how to do it without getting caught?”

“Not exactly, but I sure don’t like sitting out in the open. Let’s leave the bikes and try to get closer.”

We leaned the bikes against a nearby fence before warily approaching my house. Eddie and I took turns hiding behind fences, trees, mailboxes or any other cover we could find before darting one at a time to closer hiding spots.

Eventually we reached the small picket fence on the north side of my home. I crept along it until I reached the corner where this fence intersected the fence to the backyard. After a quick glance to make sure no one noticed our approach, I carefully leapt onto the corner where all the fences met, then dropped gently into my backyard.

“Hey!” Eddie whispered angrily. “I can’t jump over a fence! What are you thinking? My ankle’s still screwed up!”

“Quiet,” I whispered back. “I’ll take care of this. Go watch the bikes while I find a way inside.”

Eddie cursed but headed back toward the bikes. I bet he grumbled the entire way.

I, on the other hand, quietly slunk up to the massive rosebushes below my bedroom window. I placed my back as close to them as I dared, then started creeping toward the back corner of the house. Because I had approached on the side where my bedroom sat, that was the only window from which I could be seen. I figured it still smelled like sleep-inducing stench, meaning I would most likely be safe unless the agents decided to actually walk out into the backyard.

And we’d just have to hope that didn’t happen.

Once I reached the back corner, I peeked out and surveyed the backyard. It was empty except for some rakes, two shovels, and a big box of trampoline parts. (Mom made us dismember the trampoline after Emmary hurt herself on an accidental backflip.)

I stepped out a little further and glanced up at the window to my parent’s room. It was at least thirty feet away and another ten feet off the ground. To get to the bedroom I would have no choice but to go through the house, unless I could somehow find a ladder or rope.

How ironic. Just this morning I had been forced to find a way out of a second-story window, and now I had to find a way into one. On a better day this might have seemed funny.

But nothing about the current situation brought a smile to my face. I knew darn well that we didn’t have any ropes or ladders in the backyard. I thought briefly about using the hose as a makeshift rope, but there would be no way to attach it to the window.

If only I had some kind of ladder…

…or maybe…

My eyes drifted back to the box of trampoline parts.

I raised an eyebrow as my mind sorted out the logistics. It was a crazy idea, but it just might work.

But I’d need to move quickly.

I dashed over to the box of trampoline parts, grabbed it, then dragged it over to the side of the house. As quietly as possible, I tipped the box over and began sliding out bunches of trampoline springs. Once I’d gathered about twenty, I began hooking them into two long chains.

When I had two strands built – each about six feet long – I took the remaining springs and hooked them in place between the two long rows, forming a makeshift ladder.

Then I grinned. This was a freakishly brilliant idea.

Or at least I hoped it would be brilliant. The hardest part was still to come.

I gingerly grabbed the top rung of my trampoline-spring ladder and inched back around the corner of the house. The coast remained clear, so I tightened my grip on the “ladder” and made a beeline for the small pile of rakes and shovels in the center of the yard.

(I’ll have you know that dragging a ladder made of trampoline springs across grass isn’t easy. More than once I had to crawl back and unhook a spring caught on the ground, making the entire experience ridiculously stressful and tiring.)

It took an entire nerve-wracking minute, but eventually I reached the yard tools. I grabbed the longest tool – a big rake – and, holding it in one hand and my ladder in the other, I began slowly crawling toward my parent’s bedroom window.

Something I hadn’t planned for was the fact that the yard was clearly visible through the kitchen’s large sliding glass door. There were no agents in the kitchen now, but if one wandered into it he would have a perfect view of my equipment entourage.

And me.

I really needed to move faster.

Every movement brought me closer to my parent’s bedroom window. My palms were still raw from jumping over the school fence during our school escape, and crawling across the ground wasn’t helping. Plus, the trampoline spring ladder was so damn heavy. I prayed it wouldn’t catch again.

I continued crawling as quickly as I could, trying hard to be discreet even though the large rake was impossible to drag gracefully.

The kitchen’s glass doors were so dangerously clear.

10 more feet…9 more feet…8 more feet…

Sweat dripped down my forehead; my arms and legs burned from the exertion.

But I gritted my teeth and continued crawling, my eyes darting between my parent’s window and the kitchen doors.

5 more feet…4 more feet…

Something moved into the kitchen and I leaped for the back wall of the house, landing flat on my stomach. It hurt.

To make matters worse, this cost me my grip on the rake. It clattered against the house before falling squarely on top of my head.

Yikes – it hurt – but I held my breath and carefully watched the kitchen door.

Ten seconds passed. I could hear someone inside the kitchen, but whoever it was must not have seen me. I slid out from underneath the rake and began inching the spring ladder toward me.

Now I really had to hurry.

Once I had the ladder gathered at my feet, I reassembled the springs that had disconnected, then softly placed the top rung in-between the prongs of the rake. I took a deep breath, then lifted the rake into the air, slowly dragging the ladder up with it.

More than once the rake swayed dangerously and I had to use my entire body to pull the ridiculous assembly back toward the house. By the time I got the head of the rake level with the bedroom window, the sweat poured freely and my arms burned like you wouldn’t believe.

I wiggled the rake back and forth until the top springs caught hold of the window frame’s bottom lip. Lifting the rake out from under the springs proved impossible to do without making the whole contraption fall, so I left it hanging awkwardly as I prepared to climb up the springs.

Somehow I knew this wouldn’t be pleasant.

As quietly as I could, I grabbed hold of the highest ladder rung I could reach, then pulled myself up with all my might. The trampoline springs groaned under my weight – but they held.

I continued pulling. My arms may have been aching before, but now they were sizzling. I tried to ignore them.

Once I pulled myself up as far as I could, I tried to squirm a leg onto the bottom rung of the spring ladder. It wasn’t easy, and my legs scraped painfully along the stucco wall of the house.

This was taking way too long.

I scrambled one hand onto a higher rung.

Whoever was in the kitchen was now walking around.

I climbed another rung.

It sounded like someone was trying to unlock the sliding glass door. I panicked and a foot slid off the ladder. My arms ached, my fingers screamed. I started climbing using only my hands but my grip was quickly weakening.

The glass door began to slide open.

I reached the bottom ledge of the open window and with one final, terrible lurch I plunged headfirst into my parent’s room. I landed awkwardly on my shoulder but was otherwise quiet.

As quickly as I could, I whirled around and peeked out the window. I couldn’t see anyone, but I also hadn’t heard the sliding glass door close.

Regardless, there was no time to waste. I darted to the TV and gently lifted it with one hand as my other swept beneath it.

A small, dusty key fell to the floor. I let down the TV, pocketed the key, then started ripping stuff out from under my parent’s bed.

I quickly found the unmarked steel box dad had described. I set it aside and started stuffing everything else back under the bed.

Outside, someone began talking.

“Yes, I understand that…No, I’m not questioning the boss. I just want to know why there are three of us here, wasting our afternoons, just to wait for two dumb kids…”

I stopped pushing stuff under the bed. This sounded interesting.

I slowly crept over to the window and peeked outside. A short, solid man in a suit was standing just outside the sliding glass door and facing away from the house. He held something to his ear while nodding absent-mindedly.

My heart rate – which had almost returned to a semi-normal state – skyrocketed. If the man turned around, he would find my trampoline spring ladder and a rake hanging from the window.

Meaning I had to escape, and I had to do it now.

But I couldn’t pull myself away from the window. I desperately wanted to know what the HIRC was saying.

“Yeah, I know…yes, I realize that. But what makes you think these kids would break into the school to search for the portalgate?”

My stomach plummeted. The HIRCs knew we were going after the portalgate? How could they know that?

“So Phenx claims these kids are gonna break into the school sometime soon because they already know where the portalgate is? That’s a lie and you know it!”

Well, this established one thing. These guys knew bits and pieces of the truth – certainly not the whole story, but enough to be dangerous. This significantly complicated tonight’s plan to sneak back into the school. Eddie and I would have to be extremely careful.

“I understand that,” the man continued, “but why are there three of us waiting here at the house? …What? The kids might be armed? With Zargansk weapons?”

This was not good. I really needed to get out of there.

The HIRC began to pace.

Any second he could turn around.

“Okay, I understand…yeah…yes…okay.”

He lowered his head, pocketed his phone and walked quickly back inside, his gaze never leaving the ground. I waited for the sliding glass door to shut…

…and when it did I breathed out a panicked sigh of relief. Guess I still had some luck left.

I crawled away from the window and finished putting everything back under my parents’ bed. Once everything looked exactly how I found it, I picked up the small steel box that had motivated this entire suicidal mission.

It was surprisingly light. I shook it and an uneven rattle replied. There were no markings on the box – including no visible lines or hinges – and there didn’t appear to be any place for a key. Maybe it was some kind of safe…?

I debated using the key I found under the TV. I really needed to escape, but I really wanted to know what was inside the strange box.

Either way, I needed to make a decision quickly.

I finally convinced myself that carrying the box would complicate my escape. I needed both hands free if I was going to make it back down the spring ladder without killing myself.

So I swiftly pulled the tiny key from my pocket and placed it against the small metal box.

The front of the key glowed bright blue as a thin black line appeared around the middle of the box. A gentle click echoed and the lid slowly opened, revealing a haphazard collection of items within. I quickly inventoried each thing as I stuffed it in my pocket.

Another black key, a small pocket watch (maybe?), something golden and rolled up – probably the note dad talked about, another remeter-silver-pole-thing like the one the janitor’s portalgate disappeared into, and…a bag?

I picked up the last object – a small leather bag – and hefted it several times. It seemed to be holding something like…marbles?

I tipped the bag over, and – sure enough – a small sphere fell into my palm.

This called for a closer look.

At first glance, the small black sphere really didn’t look like anything more than a marble. I inspected it for several seconds – when suddenly something inside it caught my attention.

I looked closer to find…

Whoa!

Something inside the sphere was moving. I squinted and noticed faint blue lightning bolts dancing across the interior of the sphere. The sparks looked almost like cracks, except that they moved rapidly and randomly. The effect was mesmerizing.

I tried shaking the sphere, but nothing happened. I tried the opposite – holding it perfectly still – but still the cobalt bolts rolled around the interior of the small ball. Finally I tried squeezing the sphere, and it zapped me.

“Yow!” I gasped.

The accidental yell slipped out much louder than I would’ve liked. My electrocuted hand flew to cover my mouth – but it was too late. Somewhere downstairs a man’s voice yelled something illegible, followed by pounding footsteps up the stairs.

I panicked and ran for the back window, completely forgetting about the small metal box still open and exposed on the floor.

As quickly as I could, I threw a leg out onto the spring ladder. It slipped off; I barely caught the windowsill with my free hand, but my concentration was scrambled. All I knew was that I needed to get the stupid electric marble out of my hand before it zapped me again – but how could I do that when my other hand was busy hanging on for dear life?

Then an iron clamp seized my wrist.

I looked up to find the smug smile of a tall, suit-clad man staring back at me.


Next Chapter (Chapter 15) >>

<< Previous Chapter (Chapter 13)