Rouhr: Chapter Two

Vidia

Between wrangling minor disputes between refugees, assigning quarters and attempting to help locate missing family members from the Xathi attacks, lately I’d spent every moment of spare time in the labs with Evie.

General Rouhr had said he’d give us as much time as possible to find a cure for the hybrids, but we all knew the clock was ticking.

Medical science and chemistry weren’t my strong suits, so I’d enlisted Leena to assist Evie. With both of their capable hands, it was easier to run tests and analyze data, and I could wash bottles, carry and fetch.

Anything to help.

Already, Leena had a few ideas. I didn’t understand much of the technical talk, but essentially, Leena had a list of adjustments she could make to the synthetic chemicals she’d created to make them more efficient and effective than the naturally occurring brain chemicals Evie was experimenting with.

Evie and Leena made a fantastic team. They’d shared a lab on the Vengeance and were already accustomed to working with each other.

On Fen’s recommendation, I’d brought in a Urai scientist named Glint who had conducted several in-depth studies on the Xathi before landing on our planet.

Glint wasn’t one for conversation, but from the excited chatter of Evie and Leena, she knew what she was doing and had filled in a missing piece of the puzzle.

At the moment, she was creating simulations on what a hybrid’s brain chemistry looked like in various stages of infection. Once those simulations were complete, Leena and Evie could test their work.

The trio worked in harmony while I sat off to the side fidgeting, wishing there was more I could do.

“So, how long until we have a cure?” It’d been hours at least since I’d asked.

Evie sighed heavily and glared at me.

“If you ask me that one more time, I’m banning you from the lab. You know full well that this sort of thing doesn’t run on a schedule. I could have a breakthrough in five minutes or five months.”

I understood her testiness. There was a lot resting on her shoulders now.

“I know, I know.” I put my hands up in surrender.

“It’s actually not a bad thing that the hybrids keep flinging themselves at the sonic barrier, you know,” Leen commented mildy. “Certainly doesn’t hurt that we have a steady supply of samples for testing.”

“Leena,” Evie gasped.

The chemist just shrugged. “You know I’m right. We can’t work blind, and being soft-hearted isn’t going to solve anything.”

I could see that Evie didn’t like it, but we all knew the truth. We needed every advantage we could possibly get, even if it was a tad… grisly.

“I don’t understand why they’re doing it, though,” Leena added. “You’d think after they saw one die, they’d stop.”

“I don’t think they can control it.” Evie would know better than any of us. Not long ago, she nearly lost her mind to the Xathi queen.

It still boggled my mind.“Then why would the Xathi queen force them into a barrier that would kill them? She must have realized she can’t get to us.”

“Maybe they’re a distraction? She could be planning something bigger.”

I agreed. “Still doesn’t seem very logical.”

“They’re giant crystal bugs hell bent on wiping out our population. Why are you looking for logic?” Leena gave a dry laugh.

“Because they’re supposed to be military geniuses too,” I replied.

Evie amended that it could be a psychological thing. “She tried to manipulate me when she was in my head. She knows we know that the hybrids were once humans. Maybe she’s just being spiteful by forcing so many to die in front of us.”

“That’s horrible.” I shuddered.

“Hey, Leena! Come look at this.” Evie was peering through a microscope.

Despite the topic of conversation, a smile bloomed over her features.

I took that as a good sign. Leena abandoned her work and peered through the microscope.

“That’s great!” A smile appeared on her face as well.

“What’s great?” I didn’t want to look through the microscope. I wouldn’t understand what I was seeing.

“Hold on.” Evie’s excitement was growing by the second.

She gestured to Glint, who wasn’t fond of using the speech pad to talk, and asked her to look into the microscope too. Glint silently analyzed whatever she was seeing. When she pulled away after a few minutes, she nodded at Leena and Evie with approval.

If she had a mouth, I guessed she’d be smiling.

“What is it?” I couldn’t contain my curiosity. “Did you find a cure?”

“Not yet,” Evie cautioned me. “But we’re finally seeing the reaction we’ve been looking for. I think we’ve found the right combination of chemicals.”

“So, what does that mean?” I asked.

Leena chimed in to explain that we needed to find the correct proportions. “We believe the Xathi queen alters the brain chemistry of a subject until it’s shifted to a state that’s compatible with hers. Once it’s compatible, somehow, she’s able to take control, not only mentally, but by changing the body’s physiology.” She drummed her fingers on the workbench. “I’m not sure if we’ll ever know exactly how she does that. But now, we have the correct mixture of natural and synthetic chemicals, so it could be possible for us to reverse the queen’s damage.”

“And that all means…” I prompted.

“We can potentially kick the Xathi queen out of someone’s brain,” Evie clarified.

“Incredible!” I clapped my hands together. “And you’re sure?”

Leena opened her mouth, no doubt to launch into another lengthy and technical explanation, but Evie cut her in.

“Yes, we’re sure.” She grinned.

I couldn’t wait to inform General Rouhr. I hoped he’d be so pleased. Like everyone else, I heard the swirl of rumor and worry that floated through the ship. I knew that soon he’d have to make some decisions. Hard ones.

Hopefully, this bit of good news would be enough to buy us more time, maybe give him some leverage. “Excellent work, ladies. I’ll check in later.”

I rushed out of the lab, excitement bubbling under my skin. Evie was so close. A cure could be days, maybe even hours, away.

Rouhr’s office was empty when I checked for him, so I asked one of the guards stationed nearby. He wasn’t on the Aurora at all, but on the ground outside. I thought that was strange, but I needed to speak with him immediately.

I took the elevator down to what we’d all started calling the ground floor. It wasn’t the main hub of the Aurora, but it was where the tear in the hull lead right out to the ground.

I stepped back in surprise when I stepped out of the elevator. More than half of the rip in the hull was sealed up and in its final stages of repair.

At this rate, we’d need a new name for the level. I figured it wouldn’t be long until the hull was completely finished and they could move on to repairing the engines and thrusts.

“General?” There were several soldiers stationed in front of the tear in the hull. They’d brought out storage crates to use as barricades, though they weren’t taking any fire. Their guns and blasters, on the other hand, were aimed at the invisible wall that was the sonic barrier.

On the other side, I could see a small horde of Xathi and hybrids. The Xathi still held back while the hybrids charged right into the barrier. The frequency of the sonic barrier was calibrated to deter full Xathi.

I could only imagine what it was doing to the weaker hybrids, day after day. The sonic barrier didn’t kill them right away, but that didn’t stop the hybrids from running into it over and over.

Occasionally, one was strong enough to fight through the disruptive wavelengths. The soldiers immediately shot it down.

General Rouhr stood behind his men, surveying the damage.

“Wouldn’t it be kinder to shoot them before they enter the sonic barrier?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“Kinder, perhaps,” he nodded, eyes still fixed on the attackers. “But I’d rather watch and see if they learn to stop trying. Besides,” his lips twisted into a half-smile, “we need to conserve ammo.”

My shoulders slumped. “Evie thinks they don’t have any control over their bodies.”

“I’m inclined to agree with her. When they’re exposed to those sonic wavelengths, they’re essentially rattling their own brains.”

I could’ve been mistaken, but I thought I detected pity in his voice.

“I’ve got some news that might cheer you up.” I smiled. “Evie, Leena, and Glint have made an astounding breakthrough. A cure isn’t far off.”

“That’s terrific.” Rouhr’s dark eyes glinted. “How long?”

“Evie almost threw me out for asking that question,” I playfully warned Rouhr. “She can’t give a timeline. It doesn’t work that way. But it’s only a matter of time.”

The warmth drained from Rouhr’s eyes. “Everything is a matter of time.” There was a barrage of blaster fire as another hybrid managed to get past the barrier, though it was already falling before the first blaster struck it. “I’ve made a decision.”

“What’s that?” Dread was pooling in my stomach.

“As soon as the Aurora is flight ready, my men and I are leaving.” At least Rouhr had the courage to look me in the eyes when he told me. I’d give him that, but that’s all I was going to give him.

“You can’t be serious.” I laughed, though nothing was funny. “I’ve just told you how close we are to finding a cure, and you tell me you’re abandoning us?” Rage shot through my veins, white-hot and searing.

“I have to start thinking realistically.” Rouhr’s voice was infuriatingly calm and even. “I want to give you as much time as I can. But you said so yourself, Evie can’t tell us when she’ll have a cure. Thribb has told me when the Aurora’s repairs will be complete, and I know how long we can sustain ourselves this way. We can’t wait indefinitely for a cure that might not come in time.”

“I’m not asking for you to wait indefinitely.” My voice was rising. “I’m asking you to think about what your decision means for us.”

“Night after night, it’s kept me awake.”

“Poor thing, I’ve been awake night after night too because the fate of my race was in the hands of someone else.”

Rouhr opened his mouth to speak, but I cut in anyway, too angry to care about interrupting a general. An alien. Whatever.

“Do you know what happens when you leave? Evie loses her lab. She loses every chance of finding a cure. Hundreds of people lose their food, shelter, and protection.”

“I’ve offered the shelter of the Aurora indefinitely. That includes when we leave this planet.”

“So that’s the only choice we get? Abandon our home or die? And what of the thousands that aren’t on the Aurora? Don’t they matter?”

“I have to think about my men.” Rouhr’s calm tone was cracking. “My men are trapped here while the Xathi are ravaging their homeworlds too. Don’t you think they deserve a say in where they go?”

That did it. I snapped.

“You’re paying for your worlds with mine. There’s a chance to save thousands and thousands of lives, and you’re choosing not to take it. Justify it however you want, but that’s the truth of the matter. Now, please excuse me.”

I stormed away, leaving Rouhr standing among his soldiers with a scowl on his mouth and sadness in his eyes.

Rouhr is available now!

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