Exile: Uprising – Chapter 2

Tathek’s sandals were ill-suited for hiking. The stinging weeds that grew abundantly in the hills wedged into the thongs, and his exposed toes caught on unseen rocks. What foolishness filled his head? He knew full well what animals prowled the edges of civilization after nightfall. Between testing prototypes and research projects, he had explored every inch of these mountains, and occasionally taken hunting excursions into the deep hills. What he did now was sheer recklessness… and he relished the feeling.

The meager light of Teksaroth’s two smaller moons provided enough illumination to find the foot trail that snaked up the hillside. The scent of burning vegetation drifted on the warm, night air. Jogging the last several paces, Tathek crested the hill and looked down.

The meteor had broken through the surface into a subterranean cavern. Tathek looked at the moonlit landscape and guessed his location. He stood above the old mining tunnels used by the Facility before the arrival of the Vekara. The dry plants near the point of impact still burned, filling the air with a fragrant smoke. The sight of a familiar location beset by unexpected change sent a nervous thrill down his spine. Trying to breathe as little of the smoke as possible, Tathek descended toward the opening.

He stepped over the heated rock, taking delicate steps to avoid breaking through the ground himself. When he reached the lip of the hole, he could make out the floor of the chamber a mere fifteen feet below. With a careful leap, he landed near the glowing meteor. The heat exuding from the stellar stone was still intense. Tathek drank in the warmth and was struck by the parallels between himself and the new arrival. Both had touched the stars, and both were now trapped on a world with no hope of escape.

Tathek looked around for a sharp piece of rock. If he was careful, he could chip a piece of the meteor off without leaving a trace behind to alert the Vekara. He knew that they would never allow anyone to study it, but the idea of defying their wishes, even in secret, sent a wry smile crawling across his face. He would take a keepsake, some small thing to remember this night, to prove that the Vekara were not all-knowing…

A loud crack echoed through the chamber. Tathek crouched, instinctively prepared for danger, and saw a thin line of yellow light carve through the surface of the meteor. His eyes widened as the line grew brighter and the rock split open. Something moved within the bright confines, and Tathek leapt behind a nearby outcropping.

The body that emerged from the open meteor was squat, plump and possessed too many limbs. It shuffled across the ground on four wide feet and reached up with two separate arms to steady itself on the uneven terrain. It was impossible to make out the features of its face, but a deep voice rumbled and clacked with sounds Tathek had never heard before. The figure twisted, as if examining its surroundings, and disappeared back into the meteor.

On hands and knees, Tathek crept a little closer, straining to see inside. He caught the impression of more diffused lights within the meteor’s interior, and then the figure came into view again. Tathek pressed himself to the ground, his mind racing.

This was no Vekara. The single ship he had seen had blotted out the stars, and the PODs had arrived on Teksaroth from beams of blue light, appearing out of empty air like the monsters of a children’s tale. They did not possess ships made of black lumps of rock, nor did they have flesh and blood.

Despite the heat still radiating from the open rock, Tathek began to shiver. A rush of excitement raced through his blood and set his heart hammering. Another alien race, here on Teksaroth. An enemy? An explorer? It was impossible to know… but it was new. Unexpected. Different.

The figure seemed to be examining the outside of its ship, feeling around with its hands and occasionally perching on its hindmost legs and craning its neck as high as possible. Its back was turned to Tathek.

Very slowly, Tathek rose. If he stood at his full height, he would likely tower over the alien, so he remained at a crouch. Then he cleared his throat.

The figure turned around to look behind and caught sight of him. It gave a low whistling noise and shuffled closer. Tathek could make out more of its features, and it left no question that he was standing before an alien. Its skin was ruddy and slightly wrinkled. Large, dark eyes glittered in the glowing cave, and its nose was small but very broad. Fleshy lips parted, and a deep voice issued once again from its throat. Cautiously, Tathek inched a little closer. The being tilted its head on its thick neck and gestured at him with long and well-articulated fingers.

Tathek was at a loss for how to further communicate, and having survived first contact, he rose to his full height and stretched his legs. The alien looked him up and down very intently, but it was impossible to tell if it was afraid or excited.

Without any notion of what sort of words to greet an alien with, Tathek cleared his throat and started with the basics. “What are you?” he asked.

The creature emitted a strange sort of rumble and waddled back to its vessel. Wondering if he had frightened it, Tathek stooped lower and walked toward the ship’s entrance. A brown hand emerged from the light, clutching a device that blipped and trilled at him. Tathek backed away. Was this a weapon of some kind? Was he about to be attacked?

The alien held the machine close to its mouth and issued several vocalizations into it. Then he held it out before him. Tathek stared, unsure of how to proceed. It repeated the gesture.

Did it want him to speak into the device? Tathek drew a little closer. “What are you?” he asked again.

The machine emitted a different sequence of noises. The alien hopped up and down, then spoke more words into it, pausing to stare expectantly at Tathek. “I think I see…”

Tathek found a spot to sit on the ground, and the alien set the device between them. Tathek said his name and the name of his people, his planet. The alien continued to shuffle and bounce, and Tathek continued to speak. He described the city where he had been born, and the thrill of orb-racing across rooftops and up skyscrapers. The device gave another new sequence of beeps, and the alien issued a string of sounds that were low and rumbling yet oddly lyrical.

“I Shuldin of Vanna,” the box spoke in broken Teksar.

Tathek stared in amazement. It had taken scant minutes for the device to translate an entirely new language.

The alien pointed at him and then pointed back to the box.

“I am Tathek of Teksaroth.”

The device emitted a series of growls and rumbles that sounded similar to Shuldin’s form of speech. It looked at him and craned its neck downward in a gesture of recognition.

Tathek extended one arm, fingers splayed with claws retracted in a common Teksar greeting.

“Why did you come here, Shuldin?” Tathek continued.

Another brief pause as it communicated with the device in its own language. The pauses were becoming shorter, and the box spoke Tathek’s language more and more clearly.

“I was looking for something to help my homeworld.”

Tathek leaned forward. “What are you looking for?”

One of the words that Shuldin used did not yet have a translation. He tried several variants before the device beeped, “An ancient machine. It is on planet even farther away from my world than this place.”

More new worlds. The idea made Tathek’s pulse race even faster. “What kind of machine?” he asked.

“A weapon,” Shuldin replied solemnly.

“Why do you need an ancient weapon?”

Shuldin gazed at him quietly for a minute before he settled on a response. “To fight the Vekara.”

Tathek’s breathing stopped. He stared with hungry eyes at Shuldin, as a warmth unfelt in a decade surged through his limbs. “You fight the Vekara?” he asked.

Shuldin nodded.

“Are your people under their rule?”

Again, Shuldin nodded and looked down at the ground, his flabby shoulders now a little slumped. “The Vanneth have been conquered for many years.”

Tathek reached out and very delicately touched the alien’s arm. “The Teksar are as well.”

Shuldin looked at him with a gaze that Tathek assumed was pity. “I know. They wounded my vessel before I could return to drive-space.”

Tathek didn’t recognize the word, but the mere idea of a new form of travel sent his mind into overdrive. The unmistakable metal trod of PODs overhead, and searchlights flashing up above pulled him back into the present.

Shuldin looked back at his ship and pursed his wide lips. “I need somewhere to hide until I can repair my vessel.”

Tathek knew these tunnels. He’d spent many years mining them before the Teksar had been moved to the current dig. He stalked carefully to a darkened shaft and motioned for Shuldin to follow.

Instead, Shuldin pressed a different sequence of buttons on the translator. A faint hum filled the chamber, and the meteor lifted two feet off the ground. The rocky appearance wavered, and Tathek gazed in awe at the second space-faring ship he had seen in his lifetime. Shuldin moved the ship into the tunnel Tathek had indicated, and the two of them crouched as far back as possible as blue beams lanced down from the opening above. Several breathless minutes passed before the sound of the PODs began to move away.

A faint beeping from Tathek’s inner ear alerted him to the fact that curfew was only minutes away. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” he promised. “I want to help you fight the Vekara.” He headed back toward the cavern and paused once more. “I’ll see if I can find some food to bring back as well.”

Shuldin hopped excitedly. “Oh yes! Food! Food!”

Tathek lingered only a moment before leaping up through the hole and dashing back toward the campus. He took in the sight of the darkening hilltop, and the faintest inklings of hope kindled within him.