Exile: Uprising – Chapter 5

The next few days fell into an invigorating rhythm. Tathek’s idea to raid the refuse piles for crystals during the midday rest quickly proved untenable. Too many PODs patrolled nearby, too many scans that could uncover them and strip away their newfound dreams. However, he and Sarath began to pay close attention to the ore deposits they uncovered. Any crystals they found were separated from the bin-bound ore chunks, then hidden in hastily mined alcoves. At the close of the day, they slipped back into the mines to retrieve their concealed contraband.

They continued to visit Shuldin during the rest period and in the evenings before curfew. Sarath had conducted a clandestine raid on one of the Facility’s old storage areas and located a small frequency gauge to assist them in redesigning the crystal array. Tathek was amazed at the progress the two engineers made in such a short time and listened with growing impatience as Shuldin described the dwindling repairs that were needed before his vessel was once again ready to return to the stars.

Though the meetings at the ship were exciting, it was the nights after curfew that Tathek anticipated most. Expecting that his combat skills would be needed after they located Shuldin’s ancient weapon, he had renewed his Singh-Rak practices with fervor. Sarath became his sparring partner again, and together they honed the skills that for too long had been naught but meaningless tradition. The rush of battle, even if only in practice, filled them both and set their passions ablaze, until they retreated to the darkness of their sleeping quarters—not to rest, but to reintroduce themselves to one another.

For Tathek, it almost felt like the days leading up to his maiden voyage into space. The thrill of unknowable discovery, the hope for a new frontier to traverse, it swirled together into the wild rush that had been his existence before the Arrival. The Vekara had taken all meaning from the lives of his people. Tathek was going to instruct them in the folly of trying to control a Teksar.

***

Tathek laughed as Shuldin’s translator lapsed into incoherence over another of Sarath’s dishes. She had made enough to feed an entire research team, but the ecstatic Vanneth could make a feast vanish in minutes, then spend several more waxing almost poetic about the wonders he had just consumed.

“For a people so focused on food,” Sarath commented as she cleared away the remains of another culinary triumph, “the Vanneth don’t seem to have put much thought into flavor.”

Shuldin licked at his nimble figures with a happy burble. “A tragic shortcoming we shall have to rectify, once we have won back our world. These… these spices are a revelation! How clever a race the Teksar must be to have first thought of them.”

Tathek was brushing his fingertips across the hull of Shuldin’s ship, still finding the sensation fascinating. “I would not say we are clever so much as… passionate.”

“We experiment,” Sarath added. “Our impulses lead us to try almost anything, just to see what will happen.”

Shuldin rose to his feet and ambled over to the crystal array that Sarath had been inspecting. “Passionate then. But bold and brave, I would add as well. We will need all those things if we are to succeed in this endeavor.”

“You finished rebuilding this very quickly,” Sarath told him, gesturing to the new lattice of freshly polished minerals.

“I have had much time to work, very few distractions, and ample, tasty fuel for my mind. A fine dish can be made that way. We are close.”

Shuldin ran his fingertips across the surface of his broad nose, something Tathek had seen him do often when he was thinking very hard about something. “But not there yet?” he asked.

Seconds passed before Shuldin pulled himself away from staring at the ship to respond. “The new array is generating the power needed to charge the capacitors, but the channel-drive is another matter. I had not expected the impurities within the crystals to impact the system so greatly.”

Sarath frowned, and her gaze bored deeply into the jumble of coils and wires that Tathek had come to view as the entrails of the ship. “They shouldn’t be, unless my understanding of the gravitational conversion process was wrong.” She stuck her hand deep into the hull cavity, and her tongue poked out between pondering lips.

Tathek leaned back against the stone wall of the cavern and lost himself in the play of expressions on her face. The words she spoke faded away until all he could hear were the vibrant, shifting tones of her voice. Shuldin said something, and she answered, and the expressions continued to change until Tathek almost thought he could read her mind. Sarath was remembering something… he recognized the widening of her sunset-colored eyes, the barest hint of an excited smile on her full lips…

Shuldin trilled and squeaked, startling Tathek out of the flow. “But how much of a charge can it withstand?” the translator asked.

“At least double the power flow under standard load.” Sarath’s voice soared with triumph. “There’s still time before curfew. If Tathek and I can find them, we could be finished tonight!”

“Wait, I think I missed something,” Tathek said. “Find what?”

Sarath rounded on him. “The converter cables! Weren’t you listening?”

Tathek glanced away sheepishly.

“The new array isn’t supplying adequate power to the channel-drive because we didn’t account for the fluctuations from the power conduits,” Sarath explained. “Shuldin can’t synthesize an upgrade, but we have the materials to do so!”

Shuldin was bouncing up and down, mirroring Sarath’s excitement. “The rest of the components are all functional and stable. The channel-drive is the last ingredient we need to complete this meal.”

Tathek’s heart drummed louder. He stole a glance into the interior of the ship, at the darkened control panel. Shuldin had already explained to him how the controls worked, and he had been itching for a chance to reawaken the pilot hibernating within. He locked gazes with Sarath. “The cables would be in the lab sector at the Facility?”

“If the Vekara haven’t moved them,” she replied.

Curfew wasn’t for another hour. Tathek snatched up her hand. “Let’s go.”

***

No one had been to this wing of the complex in years. The Vekara had declared it off-limits shortly after the subjugation began, and he barely remembered his way around. Sarath took the lead, weaving between the tightly packed buildings and watching cautiously for any sign of patrols. Tathek kept a constant catalogue of their escape routes and hiding places, and several times he pulled Sarath back into the shadows with him as a POD passed by.

She led them to one of the larger hangars, and with a pang, Tathek realized it was the same hangar that had once housed his ship. The entrance was across a stretch of open pavement, and the light of the two greater moons shone brilliantly tonight. Sarath checked that the yard was empty of PODs, then sprinted across the way and into the waiting darkness as fast as her thin sandals would allow. Tathek followed a moment later and took up a watchful post just inside.

“Hurry, Sarath!” he whispered fiercely, pressing himself as far into the doorway as possible, but the shadows were fretfully thin. He heard Sarath opening cabinets and rummaging through the dusty shelves.

Suddenly, a blue light appeared from around a corner. Tathek squeezed his frame as far into the darkness as it would go. “POD,” he hissed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sarath freeze, then crouch behind a large cabinet.

The POD entered the hangar through a side entrance, its azure gaze roving across the interior, impassively scanning section by section. Tathek’s heart hammered in his chest. If it continued this pattern, it would find Sarath’s hiding place.

Tathek leapt from the shadows with a roar, drawing the POD’s attention with the sudden noise. He turned and ran out of the main entrance. The lights of the complex flared to life, and an alarm tone sounded through the implant in his skull.

“Unauthorized Teksar. You are in a restricted area. Halt and submit.”

Tathek sucked in a deep breath and sprinted, his arms and legs pumping. The servos of the pursuing POD sounded behind, first close, then closer…

“Unauthorized Teksar. You are in a restricted area. Halt and submit.”

No… he would not submit. He rounded a corner and dashed across the moon-seared yard. More PODs had joined the chase, and they were faster than he was. But he would run, draw them away from Sarath—

He rounded another corner and clanged against a waiting POD, falling painfully to the ground. He was surrounded.

“Unauthorized Teksar apprehended,” a mechanical voice intoned. “Prepare for transport and deep scan.”