“Da'an, what happened on Jaridia?”
“I do not want to be reminded of that, Zo'or. Do not ask me again about it.”
Da'an shivered at the memory of his experiences on the Jaridian homeworld. The captivity, the torture, he wanted to forget all of that as soon as possible.
And how should he explain the circumstances of his escape to Zo'or? If Zo'or found out about the successful escape of the Jaridian captive Ter'kozz he would accuse Liam and Lili of betrayal. They had reported to him that the Jaridian had died on the exploding Kimeran vessel. Lili was already considerd a traitor and Zo'or belived her to be dead. But Liam was still in Zo'or's confidence and that was something Da'an did not want to destroy.
Even to Liam he had not been able to talk about his captivity. Lili had briefed him about what she knew; he could see it in Liam's eyes. The pity and fury at the Jaridian leaders he had not been able to hide. But he had not spoken to him about it and he was grateful to Liam for that. But even Lili did not knew all that had happened.
How should he explain to Zo'or that Ter'kozz had saved his, the enemy's life? That he had welcomed him into his family? Whether he spoke to him or not, Zo'or would accuse him of betrayal to his own species.
Lili's involvement in this thing must not, under any circumstances become known to Zo'or. He would try immediately to find, question and then kill her. What T'than would do with her Da'an did not dare to picture.
Da'an noticed Sandoval watching him from his workstation on the other side of the bridge. Did he suspect Da'an of having met Lili? What had he intended with sending Lili to Jaridia?
Da'an had no answers to these questions. Sandoval was pursuing his own agenda. Lili had reported that Sandoval's CVI was malfunctioning. Da'an had come to that conclusion, too. Even though Zo'or had to know of that, too, he let Sandoval have his way.
“Da'an? Are you listening to me?”
“I said, if you do not tell me what happened to you I will have to remove you from the synod.”
“I cannot and will not answer your question, Zo'or. Do what you have to do.”
With a resigned expression Da'an turned around to leave the bridge.
“Zo'or! We are receiving strange singnals from outside the solar system.” Sandoval interrupted.
“What kind of signals?” Zo'or asked, annoyed by the interruption.
“I can't identify them. But whatever it is, it is _big_”
Da'an stopped. Zo'or rose and walked over to Sandoval.
“Let me see.” He looked at the display. “Where did this... Object came from, Agent?”
“I don't know, Zo'or- It suddenly appeared on our scanners. It doesn't seem to come nearer, though. It just materialized near Pluto.”
“I expect more from you, Agent Sandoval. ‘I do not know’ is not a sufficint answer.” Zo'or rebuked his implant.
“What is going on here, Zo'or?” T'than entered the bridge.
“An unidentified object appeared outside the solar system, T'than.” Zo'or sounded annoyed. He and T'than couldn't stand each other and he tried to avoid the other Taelon as far as possible, while T'than seemed to enjoy irritating Zo'or.
“Agent Sandoval, send some shuttles to examine that object immediately.”
Da'an could tell by Zo'or's expression that he was annoyed at T'than's taking control.
Only minutes later four armed shuttles were approaching the edge of the solar system.
“Continue examining the object on all wavelengths and keep me updated on any change, Agent Sandoval.” Zo'or instructed his implant. With an angry look at T'than he turned around to return to his seat when the ship rocked hardly. Alarms went off and an energy drop darkened the bridge.
“Report!” T'than and Zo'or called at the same time.
We are under attack! Five Jaridian battleships have jumped out of interdimensional and we ae cought in the crossfire!”
“Return fire!” ordered Zo'or. “Send all available shuttles out!”
Sandoval worked feverishly at his control panel.
“Sir, the object out there, it just vanished! The shuttles can't find anything! It looks like it was just an echo to lure some shuttles away from the mothership!”
A new wave of attack shook the ship and forced Sandoval to cling to his panels. “The lauching pads have been severely damaged! The shuttles can't start! We have an intruder alert. The four shuttles we sent out were shot down. We...”
Suddenly a loud voice roared through the speakers of the communication systems. “Surrender, Taelons! Resistance is futile!”
Da'an turned pale. “Fa'loth! Not Fa'loth!” he whispered. Trying to fight his rising panic he turned around and stumbled of the bridge.
“Da'an!” Zo'or had noticed his flight. “He has betrayed us. Sandoval, prepare the self-destruction of the ship. I will not allow the ship to fall into enemy hands!”
Before Sandoval could react to Zo'ors orders a strange sound rung out behind him, then a shrill whistle.
He felt how his Skrill, panicking, tried to protect itself from the sound. Raven seemed to writhe with pain. Then the agony washed over Sandovals brain, too, and and all went black around him.
Zo'or had turned around with the first sounds and saw Sandoval break down. Behind the Agent stood five Jaridian soldiers with activated weapons.
“Give up, Taelon. The ship is in our hands.”
With helpless rage Zo'or had to witness the enemy taking over the ship.
* * *
Da'an sneaked through the normally deserted corridors of the mothership. Time and again he crouched down in dark corners. The Jaridians had made short work with most of the volunteers. In many corridors lied bodies. Da'an had watched how Zo'or and T'than had been marched off to the security cells of the ship. All Taelons who had stayed on the ship had been captivated. Da'an knew that many of them would try to kill themselves. He knew, too, that Zo'or would fight. The Ship was in the hands of the enemy. He would try to destroy it. The stored data and the technology were too dangerous to be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.
Among one of the enemy groups Da'an had recognized Ter'kozz. So there was hope that the Jaridian resistance would try to sabotage the plans of the military government. The members of the resistance hoped as Da'anhimself did, for a peaceful solution to the longstanding war between their peoples. The military wanted to eliminate the Taelons, no matter how. It looked like General Fa'loth was leading this attack. Da'an had to avoid him at all cost. Fa'loth had tortured and questioned him back then. He would not cease until he had found out how Da'an had escaped and who had helped him.
Silently he sneaked on. If he could make it to the portal he could possibly escape again. He knew his chances were nil; the portal would be guarded heavily, but his fear of Fa'loth helped him to keep his hope.
The portalroom was only a few meters away, when Da'an was spotted.
That was it. If he would try to escape now they would possibly kill him quickly. With the power of despair he struggled against his guards.
“Look who we have here. I think we know each other, don't we?” a smug voice spoke behind him. A voice Da'an recognized all too well.
The Jaridians who held him forced Da'an to face Fa'loth. The General seemed to take great pleasure in Da'an's panicked expression.
“You recovered well, Taelon. How pleasant! The more you will able to stand. It will be fun to talk to you again. You do remember our conversations, don't you? DON'T YOU?” he bawled at Da'an when he didn't answer.
He slapped him hard across the face.
“I remember...” Da'an whispered.
“Good boy! Take him to my ship and guard him well. Don't give him the opportunity to kill himself or you will pay for it.” Fa'loth smiled benevolently at his soldiers. “I'm sure we understand each other, don't we?.”
Resigned Da'an submitted to his fate.
* * *
“...lost contact to the mothership. In Earth's orbit five alien vessels have been sighted, who have attacked the Taelon mothership. The Taelons who are staying on Earth have entrenched themselves in their embassies. By statements of the Companion Agents the attackers have been identified as Jaridians. Da'an, the North American Companion and Zo'or, the synod leader were aboard the mothership during the attack. Nothing is known about their current whereabouts. The aliens haven't attacked any facilities on Earth so far. The population has not burst into panic. We'll keep you updated on any changes. Syfyman for News Broadcast.”
Augur turned off the television.
“My computers show that the mothership has been severely damaged. Looks like the Jaridians have taken over the ship. I can tap the mothership's systems only to a certain extent. They are partly offline.
“What about Da'an?” Lili restlessly walked up and down. “Do you know something about him? Is he alive?” She shot Augur a begging look.
“I'm sorry, Lili. I don't know.”
“We have to do something!”
“I have no idea, what. We don't know about the intentions of the Jaridians. Perhaps they just grab the Taelons and vanish. Then we would have killed two birds with one stone. I'm sorry, Lili. Even if Da'an is still alive, I have no idea how we can contact him.
* * *
In the Washington embassy hell had broken loose. Liam and the remaining personnel tried all ways to contact the mothership. The portals stood under strict guarding. But until now nothing had come up.
“Do we have contact to the other embassies?” Liam asked Gaeriel, one of the technicians.
“Yes, Sir. Everything is quiet there, too. Companions who have remained on Earth report about a major wave of deaths aboard the mothership. It looks like the Taelons who hadn't died during the attack are killing themselves now. They can't say who is alive and who isn't. The commonality seems to be totally messed up.”
Liam was very worried about Da'an. With his own weak connection to the commonality he was not able to locate individual beings.
The only thing he could do was to hope and pray that his friend and mentor was still alive.
* * *
Da'an was accommodated in a well-secured cell aboard the Jaridian flagship. Every 30 minutes a soldier controlled him. Fa'loth hadn't had the time to concern himself with Da'an, yet. Again a guard entered the cellblock.
Wearily Da'an looked up. “I am awake.” The guard pushed back his hood.
“Not so loud! I want to help you to escape. If Fa'loth can lay his hands on you the resistance would be in danger!”
Ter'kozz put up a small device on the force field generator. “With this thing enough energy will be drawn off to make the other devices think the field is still intact. I have prepared a shuttle that will take me back to your mothership in about one hour. You know the controls. Good luck! And give Lilimy best.!”
Da'an's relief was plainly visible on his face. “I do not know how to thank you, Ter'kozz. Try to get a global. By 555-24675 you can contact Lili.”
“Good. Down the corridor is a uniform closet. Take one of the capes. Perhaps you won't be recognized immediately with it. And now hurry!”
Da'an stepped out of his cell and thanked his friend with one last handshake before running down the corridor and disappearing in the closet.
In his disguise Da'an forced himself to walk with firm steps and self-confidently to the shuttle hangar. Behind he could hear Ter'kozz ordering soldiers around. Actually he made his way to Ter'kozz shuttle without being noticed. But then one of the maintenance personnel sound the alarm.
With the shuttles weaponry Da'an blasted a hole into the hangar's hull, then raced into space at full speed.
The pursuers weren't far behind. Da'an's shuttle wasn't equipped with an ID-drive and the strange controls did their share to let the other ship catch up.
Near the American East Coast they opened fire. With a loud bang and a rain of sparks the helm controls said goodbye. The ship pancaked and started spinning. After another direct hit the small vessel caught fire. Shortly before it crashed to the sea Da'an managed to bail out. He hit the surface hardly. The cold water immediately started to paralyze him. Behind him the shuttle sank into the waters. Desperately Da'an tried to orientate himself and surface. Gasping for air he emerged from the sea. The same second the shuttle's engines exploded. The shock wave pulled him down again and he lost his last bearings before he lost consciousness.
* * *
“General Fa'loth... we weren't able to find a trace of the fugitive. The shuttle exploded. He couldn't have survived that.”
With eyes wide with fear the soldier waited for impeding doom.
“Well, well. You've lost him.”
Fa'loth darted a long look at the soldier standing in front of him.
“I told you that I wanted him alive. Is this your way to follow my orders, Soldier...?”
“Soldier Sephy'ros it is.”
Fa'loth's voice had turned dangerously low.
“This will have consequences. Get out of my sight immediately, before I forget myself!” The last was bawled.
There was nothing the now visibly shaking Sephy'ros liked better than that.
Fa'loth trembled with rage. He would find the one responsible for this. Impossible that that Taelon could have escaped without help, neither here nor on Jaridia. Whoever was behind this, he had to be one of Fa'loth's personnel. But Fa'loth did not tolerate betrayal. He would find the traitor. He would win. He always won.
* * *
Lili and Augur were busy deciphering the messages that were exchanged between the Jaridian ships when Lili's global beeped.
“Liam, do you...”
The tiny screen remained dark.
“This isn't Liam, Lili.”
“Lili paled. “T...”
“Shhh. I don't want to be recognized, in case this transmission is being tapped. Listen. I don't have much time. Da'an was able to escape.”
“Thank God! Where is he now?”
“Lili... I think he's dead. His shuttle was shot down over the Atlantic. The soldiers haven't found him.
Lili felt herself freeze inside and her legs turning to jelly. Augur, who was standing behind her supported her and lead her to a seat.
“I'm sorry... I have sent you the data about the crash to your global.” Ter'kozz’ voice became hectic.
“I have to stop now. I'll be in touch.”
The transmission ended.
“Lili, who was that?” Augur demanded.
“That was the Jaridian who helped Da'an and me to escape. Ter'kozz. Augur, I can't believe that Da'an is dead.
“I'll go there. I will find him.”
“Lili, those are false hopes. If the Soldiers weren't able to find him, he's dead.” Lili silenced him with a cold glare.
“Okay, okay. You won. I'll call Liam.”
* * *
Aboard the mothership the rumours of Da'an's failed escape had spread, too.
“I haven't sensed Da'an's passing into the void.”
Zo'or walked up and down in his cell.
“He has betrayed his own species. He has collaborated with the enemy. Why else had they brought him aboard the flagship?”
T'than was sure of his ground.
But Zo'or was doubtful, even if he could not admit that to T'than. He could not believe his parent should have betrayed his people. He hadn't shared Da'an's opinion on many subjects, but the concern about their species had urged on both of them. Zo'or thought Da'an capable of many things, but to doom his people... Although, he had been involved with the human resistance. That came close to a betrayal. Perhaps he _was_ capable of defecting to the enemy?
But if Da'an had done that, why had the enemy spread the rumor of his death? That didn't make sense.
And if Da'an _was_ dead? The commonality was in such turmoil that it would have been possible that Zo'or had missed Da'an's death.
The thought on this possibility scared Zo'or more that he would have thought possible. He had wished Da'an's death more than once but to lose him that way hurt. It had been a challenge to work with or against him. Should Da'an actually be dead...
Zo'or pulled himself together. He couldn't allow himself to be affected by his feelings. It would take all his strength to stay alive.
Reluctantly he admitted to himself that T'than had to be right. There was no other way to explain Da'an's actions. He had betrayed his people.
* * *
Liam was shocked by Ter'kozz’ message. He didn't believe his friend was still alive like Lili did. The hatred between Jaridians and Taelons was too strong. The soldiers would never allow a captive as important as Da'an to escape.
But he knew he would never find any peace until he had convinced himself of Da'an's death. He would never sleep peacefully if he hadn't taken the minimal chance of Da'an being alive to search for him.
He knew about the unique bond between Lili and Da'an, a bond that had visibly deepened after their return from Jaridia. And if Lili believed that Da'an was still alive he would help her to search for him.
With a black van they had driven to the coast. Lili had showed them the recordings of the crash. Liam had nearly gotten sick by the sight of the shuttle exploding in an enormous cloud of steam and fire. With Augur's help and last weather reports they had managed to find the site where the shuttle had to be washed ashore by the current.
The place was hard to miss. The explosion had been so strong that the Jaridian equivalent of the virtual glass had shattered into tiniest pieces. The beach glittered in breathtaking colors in the sunlight. Bigger and smaller parts of the wreckage were spread over the sand, all bended and melted to unrecognizableness
Augur shot Lili a worried look. Every being aboard of his had to be shred to pieces by the explosion and the flying wreckage.
Lili had turned very pale when she saw the wreckage. Tears streamed down her face. Slowly she sank down on a rock and buried her face in her hands. Both men could hear her cry for Da'an. Liam turned around and walked a few meters along the beach. A long time they all remained silent.
The sun sank into the sea when Lili suddenly lifted her head. With wide eyes she stared at Augur.
“Lili? What's wrong?”
“Cold, wet and dark. Dark. Weak. Augur, Da'an's around here. I can hear him!”
“Lili, you're fantasizing. Lili!”
Augur darted her a perplexed look when she started running down the beach as fast as she could.
“Hey Liam! I think Lili has found something!” he shouted in the other direction.
Dark. Lili had heard that there were some caves at this part of the coast. In her mind she called Da'an again and again. There. A cave with a branch of seawater slopped into.
Without hesitating Lili jumped into the ice-cold water. It reached up to her hips. A strong current pulled her into the cave. At the back she noticed a weak blue light.
The Taelon clinged to a rock with his last ounce of strength. The walls were too slippery to climb out of the water. The coldness of the sea had paralyzed Da'an's strength, too. Lili could see some cuts and gashes where energy left his body.
“I'm here Da'an. You'll be safe in a minute.”
Lili took her friend in a lifeguard grip and tried to swim against the current and out of the cave. The icy water sapped her strength quickly. When she thought she would never manage it she and Da'an were grasped by strong hands and dragged ashore.
“I don't believe this.”
Augur stared at the two dripping wet creatures in front of him for a moment, then he ran back to the van to get some blankets.
“We have to take Da'an to the embassy as quickly as possible.”
Liam had pulled out his global and started calling Dr Belman.
Da'an started squirming in his arms.
“Oh my God!”
Lili knocked the global from his hand.
“The Jaridians must under no circumstances find out Da'an's alive! And in the embassy they would certainly do. We have to take him to another place!”
“Why? Only at the embassy we can help him to regain his strength.”
Liam shot Lili a confused look.
“Liam, don't you understand? Fa'loth is the Jaridian who tortured Da'an back then. And Ter'kozz helped him to escape then and now. What do you think will happen if Fa'loth can lay his hands on Da'an again?”
Liam had paled.
“You're right. Augur, you have the resources to build an energy stream for Da'an, haven't you?”
“Well, I don't know....”
“Have you, or haven't you?”
“Okay! But I'm getting fed up with this! I'm not running an asylum for the hunted, you know.”
“Thank you, Augur! But we have to hurry, Da'an isn't very well.”
“I can help him” Lili announced and climbed to Da'an in the van's loading space.
Moments later a silent glow filled the car. When Liam and Augur turned around they saw Lili, holding Da'an in her arms. They held hands. Da'an's palms glowed in an eerie light and some kind of energy beam seemed to transmit form Lili to him.
When they arrived at Augur's the beam had stabilized itself and both looked like sleeping.
Liam and Augur just barely managed to put Lili and Da'an on a bed without disconnecting them. Da'an's wounds looked like they were starting to heal.
Augur only shook his head before he started to work on the energy shower.
“I still don't belive it.”
* * *
About two hours later Augur had managed to build a provisional energy stream for Da'an. The Taelon had recovered a bit and managed to stagger to the device and sit down in it without help.
Lili looked exhausted. She was half asleep but emanated a satisfied calmness.
Liam never thought it possible that Lili would trust a Taelon far enough to share her life energy with him but he had to believe his eyes. This closeness between Lili and Da'an made him envious.
After Da'an had recharged he reported in detail about what had happened aboard the mothership.
“I am concerned about Zo'or. As the leader of the synod he may be in grave danger. And if Fa'loth finds out he is my child... I am expecting the worst.”
“Da'an, do you know what has happened to Sandoval?”
Liam had learned from one of the volunteers of the embassy that Sandoval had been on the mothership during the attack.
“The Jaridians have managed to stun the Agents’ skrills, which had affected their hosts, too. Unfortunately I do not know what happened to them afterwards.”
Da'an looked at Liam, depressed.
“I hope that all humans aboard are well. I do not think the Jaridians have hurt them if they have not attacked first. They are fighting the Taelons, not the humans. If want support from Earth they have do leave the volunteers alive. Liam, you father is very clever. He will certainly have found a way to survive.”
Liam looked a bit comforted but not convinced.
* * *
Fa'loth had insisted on questioning his two most important prisoners in person.
“So you call yourself “leader” of the Taelons? Half a child! Let's see, what we'll do with you. And you are the... how do you call it... war minister? Oh my, how impressive! I think... yes I think I'll just have to kill you. Without you your people will run around leader- and ministerless. I understood most members of your synod have killed themselves? How weakly you are. I wonder how you could resist so long against us. Ah, I forgot, the other species you've encountered. What would they think of you when they notice how much of a coward you really are!”
T'than puffed himself up. “Don't you dare calling me a coward, Jaridian!”
Fa'loth smiled at him, then grabbed his neck and shortly activated his shaquarava. T'than slumped down breathing strenuously.
“Take him to a cell and this time guard him around the clock! He can be useful to us. As the war minister he knows things that could help us finally destroying our enemy.”
He turned to Zo'or.
“What do we do with you, hmm? An infant as a leader! The Taelons indeed have to be very desperate. By the way, my people have cracked the data banks of your ship. That means we know about your secrets, your ‘little projects’. I have actually no idea what to do with you now. Think about it for a while. Perhaps you have an idea of how you can possibly be of value to us. If not I will kill you tomorrow in person. March him off!”
Zo'or had paled. He had to stay alive. There had to be a way to help his people, to free them from the Jaridians. If he had to play a double game, that was all right with him. But what would be valuable enough to offer this general? Zo'or started musing.
* * *
The resistance fighters who had managed to escape the encroachments of the Taelons were gathering again, this time in groups with very different goals. Some wanted to back up the Jaridians to finally drive away the Taelons from Earth. Only a small group considered the Jaridians as equally threatening as the Taelons. Liam now contacted this group.
From a variety of states he had convened he leaders of liberation cells to discuss with them.
Liam briefed them shortly about what Da'an and Lili had reported about the Jaridians.
“Did I get this right? There are members of the Jaridian resistance aboard the Mothership?” Carillion wanted to know.
“That's right. Ter'kozz has helped Da'an to escape. He is now in contact with Captain Marquette.”
“Marquette? I thought she had been killed during the attack on the Mothership a few weeks ago?” Martinez threw in. Sarah, Beth and Rilei nodded in agreement.
“Uff, that's a long story. Agent Sandoval, Zo'or's implant, had sent her to Jaridia. There she got in contact with the local resistance.”
“Can we trust this Terk... whatever, can we really trust him?”
Shadow Walker wasn't sure of his ground.
“We can't be sure what game he plays. After all, we know how much the Taelons and Jaridians hate each other.”
“He has saved Da'an's life more than once and mine, too. Lili trusts him, and I trust Lili.” Liam threw a grave look at the skeptic.
“He's right. If we don't take this chance 'cause we mistrust our allies we might have lost all we have.”
Fear placed herself next to Liam.
“Who else is for trusting Terk... whatever for now?”
Smiley and Dani stood up and went to her. Morwen and Mirager exchanged doubting looks but then agreed, too. Shadow Walker saw himself outvoted. “Okay, I'm in, too.”
“That is decided, then.”
“Where is Da'an now? If he ran away to Earth he isn't safe in his embassy. And what is it with Da'an being involved with the resistance?” Fear wanted to know.
“If he wasn't actively with the resistance, he is now. He knew about some of our members and kept silence on it. He's here at the headquarters at the moment.” Liam explained.
“Besides we know of other Taelons who are hiding on Earth. Here in North America it's only the Canadian Companion, Li'zel, but in Europe there are more. Our people have contact to the French Companion, Je'en, the Belgian, Ja'ain, the British Companion Qua'or, the Austrian, Tra'el and the German, Ten'ra. Their respective implants are safe, too. I have discovered some resistance members in Europe who agreed helping their Taelons. The Companion Agents were not very pleased about it, but they had to admit that if _they_ weren't able to find the resistance, the Jaridians won't either.”
Lili and Da'an chose this moment to enter the room. Da'an looked shaken, but he stopped and greeted the persons present with the Taelon greeting.
With mixed emotions the resistance members returned the gesture.
“Liam... Ter'kozz has reported again.”
“What's wrong, Da'an?”
“Zo'or... He will be executed in about six hours.”
Silence spread out in the room.
“Uhm, Yippee ay aeh?” tried Mirager.
Lili shot him an angry look.
“Liam, we have to help him!”
“And how will we do that?
“Hey stop! Help him? He wanted to enslave us and now we should rescue him?” Martinez looked unbelieving at Liam.
“He is my child...” Da'an whispered.
Liam didn't have to think for long. “I will help you, Da'an.”
Carillion looked around, then rose from her seat. “I'm in. Who else?”
Fear looked admiringly at Liam. “Of course I'm in, too.”
Dani and Morwen agreed, too.
Martinez looked at the others, shaking her head. “That's much too dangerous. I'm staying.”
Sarah and Beth looked at Da'an, feeling sorry for him. “It's really too risky. But if you need support down here we'll help you. We know some computer specialists who may help you, too,” said Beth.
“Augur will thank you. I think.”
Fear looked at Liam.
“What is your plan?”
* * *
“The shuttles are ready, Liam” Skrill reported, one of the technicians, Beth had mentioned.
“Good. I'll call the European and Canadian shuttle pilots then. I hope the diversion will be successful.”
Liam opened his global for a collect conference system.
“We have built a provisional cloaking device. It will last long enough to fool the Jaridians. Are you all ready to attack the mothership? France?
“Syd is ready for takeoff.”
“Hecate, Raissa, Dreamer and Loui are ready to go, Sir!”
“Dave is ready.”
“Tag and Sandoval are ready.”
“No relations, Sir!”
“Oh. I see. Then we have only Germany and Austria missing.”
“Foxfeather and Morrigan report all systems ready, Liam.”
“Then let's go.”
Liam turned around to his shuttle. In front of him stood Da'an.
“I will join you, Liam.”
“No way! Da'an it's better if you stay here. If one of the soldiers up there recognizes you, than Fa'loth will not give up searching until he has found you. And you're still too weak now. The saltwater has taken it out of you really hard.”
Lili came running over to them.
“Da'an! Augur, David Cryzec and BoredTech are searching for you. You should help them to crack the codes for the monitoring devices aboard.
“You see, you're more helpful down here, Da'an.”
Crestfallen Da'an turned around to Liam
“You are right but I do not like it. Zo'or...”
For a brief moment he blushed blue.
“All will go well, Da'an”
* * *
Zo'or crouched down in his cell and racked his brains how he could convince Fa'loth to keep him alive. He had some offers taken to the general by his guards but without success. Slowly he felt panic rising in his chest. He had to find a way to stay alive
Suddenly he heard orders being shouted outside. The ship rocked hard. An attack?
“Get the Taelon out of here!” a voice boomed outside of his cell.
“What do you have in mind with me?”
Ter'kozz threw a long look at Zo'or. Then he turned around and gave more orders.
Two soldiers dragged Zo'or roughly out of his cell and into the corridor. Zo'or tried to defend himself against their grip. He feared to be marched to his execution. In the corridor in front of him masked figures appeared and opened fire at his guards. Without hesitating they grabbed him and lead him away. After some more corridors the met some other masked people.
“Where is Sandoval?” one of them asked.
“I do not know...”
“Take him to the shuttle!”
* * *
Liam ran on through the corridors of the ship, ever searching for his father. In the astern cellblock he finally discovered some volunteers.
“Where is Sandoval?”
“No idea, Sir.” Dru answered. She was one of the volunteers Liam knew from bridge duty. Besides her Seven, Karone and Leigh were gathered in the small cell.
“Many of us have tried to protect the Taelons and were killed.” Seven reported. “If Agent Sandoval was among them I don't know.”
“Liam's hopes vanished. Then he pulled himself together.
“Come on, we have to leave. The Jaridians have all hands full with chasing our pilots, but I don't think we can detain them much longer. Soon they will notice us. Our hackers down on Earth will have their difficulties to fool the ships systems much longer.”
“In the next room there are more volunteers, Sir!”
“Get them and then go as quickly as possible to the shuttle hangar. Do you know where the other Taelons are being held captive?”
“Yes, near the bridge, but they're severely guarded after Da'an's escape.”
“To free them is too risky. We have to leave them here. Now hurry!”
About five minutes later all were gathered at the shuttles.
“Scatter on the shuttles and go down to Earth. Try to hide the shuttles somewhere and report at the embassies in Germany, France or the UK. Good luck!”
Liam looked desperately for Sandoval but couldn't spot him among the humans who were now hurrying towards the shuttles and starting to Earth.
* * *
Back on firm ground Liam lead Zo'or and two of the volunteers who had accompanied them in the shuttle to the resistance headquarters.
Zo'or darted a suspicious look at Liam.
“How did you know I was going to be executed? I am grateful that you saved me but I do not understand why you risked your life to do so.”
Liam looked at Zo'or.
“We have a source aboard the mothership.” Zo'or's head jerked up. That could only be a Jaridian. In what hands had he fallen?
Liam continued. “Your rescue you have to thank...”
“Zo'or!” Beaming with joy Da'an hurried over to his child. “They have made it!”
Zo'or's face darkened. This had to be a trap. He still was in the hand of the enemy.
Da'an stopped dead in his tracks. An disbelieving expression crossed his face.
“You have extradited us to the enemy! You have led us into doom!”
Zo'or's rage grew.
Da'an started to lose his facade. Refusingly shaking his head he moved backwards.
“Zo'or I have not...”
Lili ran over to Da'an and supported him.
“Zo'or! Da'an has not betrayed the Taelons!”
“Marquette? Your presence proves it! He has protected you even though you have tried to blow up the mothership.”
Da'an had now completely lost his human facade and had sunken down on a chair.
Dani and Trinity, one of Augur's assistants exchanged a look.
“He doesn't deserve this. Zo'or really is a bitch. We should have let him croak up there!”
Liam had watched the quarrel openmouthed. Now he blew his top. He grabbed Zo'or's shoulder and whirled him around.
“Come off it, Zo'or! Da'an didn't know that Lili was still alive. There Sandoval has lied to you. And only Da'an's support has made us take the risk and get your butt out of the mothership!”
Zo'or laughed. It sounded like a bark.
“You have not rescued me. I am still in the hands of the Jaridians. Da'an is collaborating with the enemy. You just want to make me think I am safe to get more information out of me!”
Liam gasped for air and set in for a new torrent of words when Da'an interrupted him. He looked relaxed as if a heavy burden had been taken off of his shoulders.
“Stop, Major. He will not believe you. Zo'or, General Fa'loth would never use such subtle methods to gather information. He would use other ways. Ways like this...”
He grabbed Zo'or's hands and forced a sharing with him.
Zo'or tried to say something, but couldn't get it out. With his eyes wide with shock he stared at Da'an before he lighted up with a glaring flash and then broke down.
Dru and Seven, the two volunteers tried to get to Zo'or to help him but were stopped by Liam.
“What's he doing?” Fear wanted to know.
“He forces Zo'or to witness what he has gone through on Jaridia.”
Lili looked sick. With horror she remembered how she and Ter'kozz had found Da'an in Fa'loth's dungeon. How Da'an gained the strength to go through all that again was beyond her knowledge.
After apparently endless seconds Da'an let go of Zo'or's hands. He barely regained his human appearance. He looked pale and haggard. Lili backed him up and nearly carried him out of the room into an empty one.
Zo'or was sitting heavily shaking on the floor.
“He is in shock. I will take care of him.” Dru knelt down beside him “Where can I...”
Liam helped her to get him up to his own feet and lead the two out of the room.
A shocked silence sank down on the other present persons like a blanket.
“Let's get to work. We can't help them with sitting around and staring holes into the sky.” Augur broke the silence
“You there, volunteer!”
“My name is Seven O'Nine.”
“Okay, Seven. What can you tell us about the situation aboard the mothership?”
* * *
Lili had seated the Companion on a sofa and wrapped him into a blanket. ‘If he was human I would pour him a big drink now.’ she thought. ‘But what do I do with a Taelon?’
Da'an again started trembling and lost his facade.
“Lili... help me...”
He leaned heavily against her.
Lili held him tight like a small child, rocked him back and forth and whispered meaningless words to him. She leaned her chin upon his head and started humming. Da'an held on to her arms as if she were the only anchor in his life.
Lili sensed him relaxing slowly. With her free hand she stroke his head.
‘It's strange” she thought. ‘He is an energy being but when I close my eyes he feels so normal, as if he would belong here.’
She kissed his forehead.
Surprised Da'an looked up.
“I will stay with you, I won't allow anybody to hurt you again,” she whispered.
Slowly she traced the energy paths on his face.
“I love you, Da'an.”
This time she kissed his mouth.
To her surprise Da'an kissed her back.
*I love you, too, Lili. * she heard him in her mind.
She opened her thoughts to him and wrapped him in her thoughts as if they were a blanket.
With a feeling of completion she sensed their thoughts merging.
* * *
Dru was worried about Zo'or. He had woken up from his paralysis and was now muttering something in Eunoia. Her attempts to talk to him had failed. Whatever this strange sharing between him and Da'an had been, it had confused Zo'or a lot.
But now he seemed to come to his senses again.
He didn't respond. Carefully Dru dared to touch his hand.
Zo'or lifted his head and looked a long time into her face.
Dru started feeling very uneasy. What would come next?
“I never truly understood him.”
“Whom are you talking about?”
“Da'an. His views about humanity. I considered him to be weak, but that is not true. I have made so many mistakes. What shall I do now?”
Dru looked at him in amazement. She had never seen the synod leader in such a state. Zo'or was still looking at her as if he was asking her to help him.
“Uhm, well, when I did something wrong I went to the person concerned and apologized. After that I always felt much better.”
“Da'an will never forgive me.”
“Nonsense, Zo'or. Da'an wanted to go back to the mothership to free you. He loves you. Of course he will forgive you. Now don't you dare towallow in self-pity! We have no use for something like that now!”
‘Oops. That wasn't a good idea. Now he will tear off my head’ Dru thought and crouched down. To her surprise Zo'or just looked at her with a hopeful expression.
“I will try.”
“Uhm, shall I accompany you?”
Zo'or blushed blue. “Yes, that would be... helpful.”
With an ‘oh, my, what have I gotten myself into now?’ Dru pulled up Zo'or from the floor.
Zo'or winced when suddenly the door opened. He still held Dru's hand.
Da'an and Lili entered.
Without thinking Zo'or started to talk.
“Da'an! I want to apologize.”
“Zo'or! I see you are doing better. I am sorry. I had not had the right to do that.”
Both talked at the same time.
“Da'an. Please listen to me. I don't know if I am able to do this again. I am sorry for what I have said to you. I should have known you would never betray our people I... I do not know if I... no. I am sure I would not have resisted Fa'loth's questionings. I have done so many things wrong and I want to apologize to you.”
Zo'or bowed his head and stared at the floor. Lili noticed with amusement that he still held Dru's hand. Dru had tried to pull her hand away but Zo'or's grip had turned into something vise-like. Blushing she squinted towards Lili.
Da'an had calmly listened to Zo'or's word. Now he placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I am not angry at you, Zo'or. I know you always just wanted the best for our people. How could I not forgive my child?”
Zo'or lifted his head and held his free hand out to Da'an. Da'an took it and drew Zo'or into a hug.
Dru gasped for air when she sensed the Taelons emotions. Zo'or had apparently totally forgotten her presence. Only when he stepped back he noticed her again and quickly let go of her hand. He looked at her in embarrassment and for a moment it looked like he wanted to say something to her, then he regained his composure.
“We should go back to work and try to get back our ship.”
“I am agreeing to that Zo'or. But remember: This fight is led by Liam, not by you. Most of these humans are resistance. They will not listen to you.”
One moment Zo'or looked at Da'an with puzzlement. Instinctively he wanted to order these humans to be arrested before he remembered the changed conditions.
“I will try to remember it.”
The two Taelons left the room in peace and harmony.
Lili turned around to Dru, who stood like frozen in the middle of the room and watched her hand.
“Are you all right?”
“What... what was that?”
“Taelons are able to share her feelings and her...'self’ to another being with a touch of their hands. The sharing with you seems to have happened unintentionally. The first time I was as puzzled as you are now. Are you sure you are well?”
“Yes, With Da'an.”
“You and Da'an are close, aren't you? I have seen his face when he heard about the Bliss-incident. And about your death...”
Lili's face turned dreamy. “Yes, we are very close.” She straightened herself.
“What have you received from Zo'or? If you want to talk about it..:”
“He is... confused. His whole view of the world has been shaken. It looks like he has never learned that between black and white there are shades of gray. He won't admit it, but Da'an's opinion means a lot to him. His duty as the synod leader is a heavy burden, sometimes too heavy. He yearns for somebody to stand by his side. But there is so much more, about humanity and about Da'an. I have to digest all that first.”
Lili placed her hand on Dru's shoulder.
“Rest. I bet, Zo'or has a lot to think about, too.”
* * *
Zo'or had his difficulties to cope with his new surroundings. Rarely he had been in direct contact to Norman, non-implant humans. For Da'an's sake he tried to put down his arrogant behavior but failed sometimes.
Time and again he caught himself watching Da'an. How was he able to trust these humans? That computer hacker, Augur, had been the one who had caused Da'an's transformation into an atavus, that Zo'or had found out accidentally during an overheard discussion. And Da'an knew about it. Nevertheless he seemed to enjoy the presence of the eccentric human.
Da'an's relationship to Marquette looked even more obscure. She was a loyal member of the resistance and had tried to kill Da'an and the other Taelons by blowing up the mothership. During the sharing with Da'an he had learned that Marquette had been playing a decisive role in Da'an's escape on Jaridia. But that did not explain the closeness they shared. They exchanged looks and touches time and again, smiled at each other over the room and where seen together most of the time.
Zo'or really tried to understand his parent but this attraction to humanity was still an insoluble mystery.
Humans. What had been the cause for that volunteer, Dru, to help him? Embarrassed and annoyed about himself he wondered why he had trusted her. He had touched her and clung to her hand like a baby. He had pulled her along into the sharing before he became aware of what he was doing. The thoughts and emotions he had received from her had been extremely puzzling. He had tried to repress them but every now and then he had to pull himself out of a train of thought about her. In her thoughts he had sensed fear and the urge to run away but something else as well. Something he couldn't quite define.
Zo'or had noticed that Dru was getting out of his way but also watched him whenever it was possible. What had she received from him? The whole thing was embarrassing and awkward for him. But there was something pulling him towards her.
Da'an had noticed Zo'or's inner fight and kept an eye on his child. He was proud of him. Zo'or tried to change himself and to understand and that was a very hard task to do. To deal with humans scared him. Although there was war the humans were able to crack jokes and be cheerful. They were figuratively brimming over with strength and thirst for action.
Da'an remembered how this tremendous will to live and to enjoy this life had amazed him when he had come to Earth. By his time with Boone this way of life had rubbed off on him. He had felt like born again, young and full of energy. Zo'or had tried to kill this energy, had tried to enslave humanity. But even Zo'or seemed to sense this energy now.
Lili had briefed him about Dru. She had watched the volunteer and Zo'or and told him every new incident in the odd relationship the two shared. They seemed to like each other but none of them wanted to admit it to the other let alone to themselves. Any of the people present had noticed their relationship and Da'an had overheard how bets on the progress of the story had been made. He only hoped Zo'or would receive any matchmaking attempt with humor.
The changes in his own relationship with Lili had been noticed very quickly, too, and had been accepted be most of the humans. Da'an still worried about how Zo'or would react to it but Lili said that their bond was none of his business.
* * *
Fa'loth was frothing with rage about the fact that once more a prisoner had escaped from him. Something was fishy about this.
“Find out how these humans had discovered what we had in mind with the Taelon. leader.” He turned around to the person who was standing behind him.
“I want to know who they are and what they're going to do and that as soon as possible! I'm sure you had nothing to do with that... incident, or had you, Agent?”
Sandoval shook his head.
“No general. I knew nothing about it. There has to be a leak aboard the ship. I will find out who that is, take my word for it.”
“It's good to know you're cooperating with us, Sandoval.
Sandoval didn't answer. Inwardly he cursed Fa'loth. He had contacted the Jaridians to help him getting rid of the Taelons. He had transmitted the necessary information the Jaridians needed to come to Earth. He had sabotaged the mothership's systems so they would notice the approaching ships much too late. His had been an alliance between humans and Jaridians against the Taelons. But with Fa'loth he had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. This Jaridian was clearly insane. And power-hungry. Fa'loth wanted to subjugate Earth as well as the Taelons. And he had the power to do it. Sandoval had to continue pretending he was siding with Fa'loth. He had seen how the General was treating things and beings that did not suit him.
Sandoval was glad Zo'or had managed to escape. He didn't like this Taelon much but the kind of death Fa'loth had planned for him would have been too cruel, even for Zo'or. Da'an's death had had shaken Sandoval more than he would admit. Da'an had been... different. He had been pretty much the only Taelon whom he had liked, even without the MI. After Da'an's escape Fa'loth had suspected Sandoval of having helped him. Then he remembered that Sandoval had been still unconscious when the Taelon got away, as had the other Companion Agents. With a shiver, he remembered Fa'loth's almost disappointed expression when he realized Sandoval wasn't the traitor.
Next on Fa'loth's list of suspects was Ter'kozz, one of his high-ranked soldiers. Sandoval remembered him well. Some months ago he had been held captive aboard the mothership. He had escaped and been declared dead by Marquette and Kincaid. Why was back alive and healthy was beyond his understanding. He had tried to contact Marquette but had not succeeded. He had sent her to Jaridia to make first contacts. She had done so but then her CVI had failed and he had lost contact to her. Da'an, who had been on Jaridia hadn't mentioned her.
Ter'kozz had been in contact to Da'an when the Taelon had managed to escape and now he had been one of the last persons to see Da'an alive. But firstly he had an alibi from some of his soldiers who had seen him the time in question and secondly Sandoval could not imagine that he would help a being that had held him in captivity for such a long time.
But whoever had helped Zo'or to escape, he was siding with Sandoval. He only had to find these people, then he could start playing his double game.
* * *
On Earth the resistance had decided tot take a break. Augur had birthday and they had decided between ‘big party’ and ‘pub-crawling’ to spend the evening with watching videos.
Molly and Kathryn set all wheels in motion to get the latest Star Wars movie. With zeal they now tried to explain the events of the first seven episodes to Da'an and Zo'or.
After Da'an had made sure Zo'or was in good hands with the two he slipped away to the kitchen. He had become acquainted with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda together with Boone. From the kitchen door he glanced back at Zo'or who was listening wide-eyed to Kathryn who was describing her favorite heroes as if she knew them in person.
The kitchen was in a hopeless mess. Lili, Liam, Augur and some other members of the liberation were trying to reach an agreement about which toppings were necessary for a good pizza and which weren't. J and Jade looked like they had fallen into a barrel of flour. Apparently they were responsible for the dough. Mithril and Jazia were fighting against the already finished dough, who were resisting successfully to be rolled out to an even nearly round form. Everywhere were standing open cans, bowls and dishes, filled with a variety of pizza toppings. Behind Da'an Crystal forced her way into the kitchen and cleared herself some space to put down her bags.
Lili immediately started examining their contents.
“More tomatoes, mushrooms, ham, salami. Spaghetti? Well who likes something like that... Anchovies and tuna. Bah. And... strawberry jam?!?”
“Jep! That's mine!” Trinity grabbed the glass and danced through the kitchen.
“You put strawberry jam on your pizza?” Fear looked at her dumbfolded. Okay, Trinity was...unusual but this was new.
Lili shuddered. “Where is the cheese?”
“Oh sh#t! Back soon!” Crystal whirled around and rushed out, this time knocking down Da'an. “Sorry!” and she was gone.
Now Lili had spotted the Taelon, too. With sticky hands she walked over to him to kiss him.
“Can you please open that can for me, Da'an?”
She pointed to a can with fruit salad. Da'an walked over to the table and looked around searchingly. In passing Mithril put a can opener in Da'an's hand. Da'an looked at it critically for some seconds then he tried to open the can. After some unsuccessful attempts he presented Lili the open can.
“Hm? Oh, thank you, Da'an. There are some more cans.” Fully concentrated she covered her pizza in artistical patters with mushrooms, ham, salami and fruit.
While Da'an was fighting with various other cans J and Jade started a flour fight behind him that soon spread. Minutes later nobody knew what had caused it but all persons present could have been send to the local army of ghosts without any problems.
When the pizzas were finally in the oven and the kitchen halfway looking like one again the kitchen crew marched like a parade of desert convicts through the living area to spread to their rooms and change clothes. Only Crystal who came back later with the cheese looked halfway normal.
Then they all made themselves comfortable in front of the TV with their pizzas. Trinity and her Strawberry jam pizza where in the center of attention. She enjoyed it and refused to let anybody try her creation.
“About trying...” Lili remembered.
“Da'an and Zo'or, you get nothing out of our pizzas. It's really a pity that Taelons don't eat.”
“But I can try it anyway.” Da'an said with a grin and offered her his hand.
Lili looked at the hand for a second in puzzlement, then she saw daylight. She touched Da'an's palm and then took a big bit off her pizza.
Da'an's face lightened up.
“That is... most interesting. I think I like pizza.” He said then.
Lili looked directly at Dru and then shook her head in Zo'or's direction.
Shyly she offered him her hand.
Zo'or darted Da'an a funny-horrified look but Da'an only nodded approvingly.
“Try it, Zo'or. It... tastes... very well.”
He turned around to Lili.
“Do I get another bite?”
Zo'or and noticed the amused looks of the others and glanced undecided at Dru's hand.
‘I just won't get myself down by a bunch of humans,’ he thought. Without hesitating much further he grabbed Dru's hand.
She looked up with surprise. Then she relaxed, grinned and too a bite. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the taste of tomatoes, cheese and pineapple. When she opened her eyes again she saw Zo'or smiling at her.
You were right. This... tastes like more.”
It was far beyond midnight when Augur switched off the TV. He looked around. Everywhere ere used plates and glasses. Lili had fallen asleep on the couch and Dru had leaned herself against Zo'or's shoulder and had disappeared into dreamland, too.
Zo'or sat stiffly and kept his eyes on her. Sleeping humans were creepy. Taelons could go into a sleeplike state during the samhaad (sp) or lose consciousness, but they didn't dream. But Dru did and by her touch he could sense snatches of her dreams. And what was even creepier: she was dreaming about _him_.
He looked at Da'an who was crouching on the floor in front of the couch with closed eyes and held Lili's hand. He looked peaceful and satisfied, as if he had reached a long searched treasure. Zo'or wasn't sure, but it looked to him as if they were wrapped into a faint light.
Augur smiled at Zo'or while he picked up a blanket and covered Lili with it. Then he went for another one and wrapped it around Dru and Zo'or before leaving the room and turning off the lights.
The next morning all were busy cleaning up the headquarters after the party when Lili's global beeped. The screen stayed dark and the voice that spoke sounded distorted.
“Hello Earthlings. This is E.T. speaking.” Ter'kozz named the prearranged password.
“I've got good news for you. My sister and her friends have told me that the Jaridian people are ready to revolt. Now that Fa'loth has left the planet the people dare to reflect his reign. The resistance is close to making the people overthrow him. But they still fear his power. If we can eliminate him a new government will take over. This government will possibly start negotiations with you. And perhaps with the Taelons, too.”
“These are great news! Why don't you attack him now? Apart from you there are other members of your resistance on the ship, aren't they? You can beat him!” Lili suggested.
“We will never attack and kill one of our own species. That is below our honor. Not only the honor of the assassin would be violated but the honor of our whole people. The last time one Jaridian harmed another was a long time ago.”
“But the way Fa'loth acts he _is_ violating you codex of honor. He...”
“He still is a Jaridian,” Ter'kozz interrupted. “I don't expect you to understand this. It is known to me that your people don't act on a codex of honor as we do. We will not attack him. If you want to be accepted by our people you'd better act the same way.”
“This causes major problems.”
“It conflicts my people, too. But honor is our highest law. And we are not going to break it.”
“Then we will have to find another way,” Lili promised.
* * *
Lili had just closed her global when Augur rushed in.
“Lili! Have you heard the latest news?”
Lili followed him into the next room, where the TV showed the news at full blast.
“...the Jaridians had delivered an ultimatum. If all Taelons who are still an Earth haven't returned to their mothership within 24 hours the Jaridians will attack the embassies in all countries. The governments concerned are very worried about the safety of their people. Nobody knows if civilians may be injured. We haven't succeeded in contacting the Taelons at the embassies. There are rumors that the Companions have found refuge with some resistance cells. The governments appeal to these groups: extradite the Taelons to the Jaridians before humanity will be involved in an intergalactic war! I repeat: ...”
“What do they think? We are already involved in this war. Do they really believe that if we are well-behaved and crouch before them the Jaridians will leave us alone? I've never seen such naivety.”
Lili foamed with anger.
“If we give in to Fa'loth's demands only once he will have the upper hand.” Liam said. He and some of the others had watched the news, too.
“We have to do something!” Lili agreed and reported about what Ter'kozz had told her.
Liam walked up and down the room for some minutes, then he turned to Augur.
“Contact the Canadian and European resistance. Tell them to prepare the Taelons to return to the mothership. I have an idea how to trick Fa'loth.”
* * *
Sandoval was on duty on the bridge. He was still searching for the traitor and the possibility to compensate for the harm he had done to humanity. A blinking display near his left hand told him that his search routines had found something unusual. Quickly he placed his hand on the display. Fa'loth didn't need to know anything of this find.
A closer analysis of the signal showed that an unauthorized transmission to Earth had taken place. The exact source was not to be discovered. The signal looked like a global transmission. But who aboard had a working global? With special algorithms Sandoval was able to decipher the called number. It was not to be found in the logs. So it had to be an unregistered device. Whoever this contact on Earth was, he could only find out by calling him.
* * *
Liam gave last orders to his friends when he heard Lili's global beep.
“Ter'kozz again?” he wondered.
Lili opened her global and froze when she recognized Sandoval. Her global was still set to distortion mode so he wasn't able to recognize her by sight or voice. She beckoned Lim to come over.
“I don't know who you are,” Sandoval started. “And I don’ want to know it. I don't want to endanger you. I know you have contact to a Jaridian double agent. I'm to blame for the arrival of the Jaridians. I've made a terrible mistake and now I want to make up for it. Fa'loth plans to subjugate Earth and annex it to the Jaridian Empire. Just in case you don't believe me I'll send you Fa'loth's secret data as far as I can access it.”
Shocked Liam and Lili listened to Sandoval's words. So that had been his agenda.
Although Liam was furious about Sandoval's betrayal the relief that his father was still alive was plainly visible in his face.
“I start the transmission.” Liam saw his father tapping some buttons at his global's display and then tuning around with a shocked expression. Sandoval's global clattered to the ground and showed how Jaridian soldiers arrested Sandoval before the screen went black.
* * *
When Sandoval woke up he found himself in one of the mothership's labs, tied to an examination table. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see Fa'loth entering the room with a happy smile on his face. A soldier who was carrying a small box followed him.
With a glint of anticipation in his eyes Fa'loth looked down at Sandoval.
“Did you really think I won't have an eye on you, human? I do know that the humans are a race without honor. But this signal you've found: good work! I will find out who has sent it, believe me. You have a talent for working with the ships systems. Unfortunately this war minister was not as talented as you are. He was useful to us as long as we needed to discover the plans the Taelons had in store for us and the other species they encountered. I have questioned him a bit but he wasn't that tough, unfortunately. The Taelon our people accidentally shot was much more amusing. Bad luck he's dead now. So what. I'm curious about how much you humans can bare.”
Fa'loth opened the box the soldier had carried and took out a strangely formed device.
* * *
“Damn! We have to do something immediately!”
Liam again walked up and down.
“We have to follow my old plan. But all has to work much more quickly now.”
“What is your plan, Liam?” Da'an wanted to know. He and Zo'or had entered the room just in time to catch the last pictures of Sandoval's arresting.
“If Ter'kozz is able to distract Fa'loth and to change the duty roster of his men to meet the returning Taelons they can walk around unhindered. They know the controls much better than we do and may be able to put the soldiers out of action if the resistance backs them up. If we are able to transmit the ship's controls down to Earth we have the Jaridians in our hands. And without his soldiers it shouldn't be too difficult to catch Fa'loth. With his threads to humanity and the fearful responses of the media we have an even bigger chance. Fa'loth will think we are too cowardly to pick a quarrel with him. He will not expect to be attacked by a handful of humans. The plan is risky but it's our only chance. We have no time.”
Liam turned to Zo'or.
“Please tell this to the other Companions. Think about a way to take over the mothership. Augur and his friends will help you.”
Zo'or nodded and went over to the next room with Da'an and Augur to tackle his task.
Liam divided up his team to put the things they would need together. Then he called the other resistance cells. Lili called Ter'kozz.
Two hours before the ultimatum expired all were ready to go The Taelon embassies had spread the message that the Taelons would surrender and the media had spread the news all over the world.
Lili entered the room.
“Ter'kozz has reported that his team is ready. We can go.”
“Fine. All go to their shuttles now. Da'an?”
“This time I will accompany you, Liam. Aboard the mothership you will need all Taelons you can get.”
“Okay. You're in. But be careful.”
Liam placed a hand on Da'an's shoulder, then he turned around to give last orders. Besides a human pilot one member of the resistance was aboard of a shuttle. Not much, but more humans would have drawn suspicion.
Augur and his technicians had equipped them all with small transmitters, which were connected so that all action could be coordinated from Earth.
“Let's go then,” Liam said after he had strapped himself to the pilot's seat of Zo'or's shuttle. “Let's fight.”
The shuttles started.
* * *
First all went well. The shuttles were welcomed by Ter'kozz’ men. Augur managed with Ter'kozz’ help to jam the mothership's communication channels so that the soldiers weren't able to report anything to Fa'loth. Two members of the Jaridian resistance escorted every Taelon to his control panel. For an explanation they would tell that the Taelons were explaining the panel's systems to the soldiers. Whenever another soldier would appear the Jaridian allies would threaten their Taelon with activated shaquarava.
With wrong reports they managed to round up most of the soldiers who were still loyal to Fa'loth in one part of the ship that they sealed afterwards. Only then the humans who stayed hidden in the shuttles appeared on the scene. With Da'an's help they forced their way through seldom used corridors and, if necessary, through the walls of virtual glass towards the bridge, where they expected to meet Fa'loth.
“We are now that near that we cannot go further through side corridors,” Da'an whispered. “We have to split up.”
“Augur! Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, Liam.”
“Try to get the soldiers off the bridge with some faked reports. We are nearly there. Is Fa'loth still where we want him to be?”
“Yes. Ter'kozz’ global is still online. I can trace him. He said he would stay near Fa'loth at all cost.”
“Okay. Liam out. The let's go, spread out!”
Da'an peered around a corner of the corridor. All was clear. He could work his way to the next room unhindered. Carefully he treaded along the corridor when he heard voices approaching.
“Sir we should stay at the bridge.”
“No way. These soldiers had to report five minutes ago and didn't do it. I will go and look for myself what's going on out there. I will not allow conditions like that, Ter'kozz!”
Da'an tried to hide as quickly as possible but it was too late. Fa'loth had already spotted him.
“Taelon! Freeze! Ter'kozz, bring him to me.”
With activated shaquarava Ter'kozz approached Da'an, who had stood frozen in the middle of the corridor. When he turned him around to face Fa'loth, an unbelieving grin washed over the general's features.
“What a surprise! You're alive! Lucky for me! I wanted to talk to you, remember? How nice we now have another opportunity to do that. Ter'kozz, take him to the bridge.”
Da'an tried to stay calm. Ter'kozz was there and his friends were on their way. He tried to repress the rising panic but wasn't successful
In another part of the ship Zo'or perked up. Something was wrong.
*Da'an? * he asked in his mind.
As an answer he only received unclear emotions. Emotions like...panic?
Without hesitation Zo'or whirled around and ran in direction of the bridge.
“Augur! Fa'loth has Da'an!” he passed on. He hoped he wouldn't be too late.
On the bridge Fa'loth watched his captive with pleasure from top to bottom.
“Do you remember the last time we talked? I think that topic is now checked off. What do you thing of this topic: Who has helped you to escape? I'm really interested in that.”
He placed himself close to Da'an and passed his fingers tenderly over Da'an's chest.
“Come on, please answer.”
At this moment a soldier entered the bridge. Annoyed about the interruption Fa'loth looked up.
“Yes!” he barked.
“Sir we have traced the location of the signal that human Sandoval has spotted. The message has been transmitted from Ter'kozz’ quarters. Even now we can locate the signal, but it is much weaker now. This time the source is on the bridge.”
Fa'loth turned to Ter'kozz.
“Well, well. On the bridge. Search him!”
It didn't take long for the soldiers to find the global.
“Looks like we have found our traitor, doesn't it?”
Fa'loth returned to Da'an.
“Tough luck, Taelon. I think you're no longer useful for me.”
He activated his shaquarava and placed his hand on Da'an's chest.
Zo'or and the others reached the bridge soon enough to witness Fa'loth activating his shaquarava. Da'an was being catapulted like a doll through the room, hit the wall hard and slumped down.
Zo'or flashed in a blinding white, grabbed Liam's weapon and fired the whole magazine at Fa'loth. He stared wide-eyed at the dead Jaridian. Exhausted he let the weapon clatter to the floor and slowly walked over to Da'an's slumped body. Lili awakened from her paralysis and ran over to Da'an. With tears in her eyes she knelt down beside him and cradled his lifeless body in her arms. Now Zo'or knelt down, too. He took Da'an's hand and held it tight.
The others now reacted, too, and covered the present soldiers with their weapons. Liam looked pleadingly at Ter'kozz.
“Can't you help him?”
“I... I'll try.”
Ter'kozz knelt down next to Lili and placed his hands on Da'an's body. Zo'or froze when the Jaridian touched his parent but Lili calmed him down. A soft light was playing around Da'an's body when the Jaridian activated his healing abilities.
Outside voices became audible.
Ter'kozz tiredly backed up.
“He will survive, but you'll have to leave this ship as soon as possible. Now Fa'loth is dead chaos will burst out here.
Lili looked thankfully at Ter'kozz.
“Thank you, my friend! I wish you good luck!”
She helped Zo'or to his feet. Liam lifted up Da'an and turned around.
“Come on, let's go. Augur?”
“I'm here, Liam. The other teams have found Sandoval and the other Taelons and brought them to the shuttles. We can control the ship now from Earth. I keep one corridor clear for you. Get out of there!”
“There's nothing I like better!”
* * *
The rescued Taelons were put up and attended to at the embassies. Da'an and Sandoval were taken to the Washington embassy, where Dr Belman tended to their wounds.
“Yes, Agent Sandoval? How are you?”
“Better. Have you taken me out of there?”
“How did you now... Were you the contact of the Jaridian spy here on Earth?”
“No, Sandoval, But I was with him, when you called.”
“I'm not sure, but was that Da'an they are treating in the next room?”
“Yes. We were able to save him. That's an awfully long story. I will tell you, when you're okay again.”
Sandoval closed his eyes. Liam sat a long time at his side.
Sandoval seemed to be asleep when Fear entered the room.
“Thought you'd be here, Liam. How is your father?”
“He's better. He must have gone through hell.”
Sandoval opened his eyes a bit.
“You're dreaming. Sleep on!” Liam ordered, frightened. Fear closed her mouth with her hands and darted Liam a guilty look.
Sandoval turned to the other side and slept on.
Liam sighed. “That was close!”
* * *
Three days later Ter'kozz called again.
“You've made it! The old government has been overthrown. A new one has been elected just now. The new Jaridian Leader, Fe'lazz, cooperates with the resistance and has promoted me the commander-in-chief of the whole fleet.”
“Congrats!” Lili beamed.
“The government has decided to start negotiations for peace with the Taelons. My duty is to prepare an agreement of truce with representatives of the Taelon synod which will be signed by the leader of the synod and by Fe'lazz. He has already started to come here. The humans shall take the part of mediator and judge.”
“This is getting better with the minute! I will tell the others immediately!”
“As the commander-in-chief and the Jaridian ambassador on Earth I suggest that Da'an will act as the Taelon ambassador in these negotiations. He has sympathy for our people but is also stands behind his own people. He has lived among the Jaridians and will be able to suppress any prejudices easier than any other Taelon. By the way, how is he?”
“He has recovered well. I'm sure he'll agree to your suggestion.”
“Zo'or is pretty much confused. But he has help. Will the Jaridian species accept him? After all he has killed Fa'loth.”
“There had been surprising reactions to Zo'or's deed. Many admire him; he has shown a sense of family. That's something my people hadn't expected of a Taelon. He has acted in self-defense to protect his parent. Some consider him to be a hero!”
“I'm sure he will be glad about that.”
“My people have contacted your government. The delegations that will lead the negotiations will meet on Earth, on comparatively neutral ground. I'm sure we'll meet there. See you then, Lili!”
“Until then, my friend.”
Two weeks later the basic negotiations for the truce had been finished and were signed by Zo'or, Fe'lazz and a representative of the Earth governments in a splendid ceremony.
The first step to peace had been gone.