Chapter Two: Sylor

It had been nine days, and slightly more than eleven hours, since the city was entombed by the vines of the ‘Puppet Master.’ It had been eight days, and just under four hours, since General Rouhr tasked Strike Team Two with discovering a way through the vines and back into the ‘outside’ world.

We had made numerous attempts, seventeen to be exact, and thus far, nothing had worked. The frustration upon all of our minds was palpable and a nuisance. The very idea that a mere vegetable had been able to thwart our every attempt, our patently superior technology, was confounding and absurd.

Nothing that we had tried had amounted to anything more than a measly scratch, a scratch that was healed in less than an hour. Whatever this creature was, it was not something that followed the laws and sense of reality. It was my job, by the order of General Rouhr, to do what was necessary in order to find a way through the vines, and I was not about to let seventeen failures deter me.

The typical Valorni warrior was slap-dash and crude. He used his fists if he didn’t have a blaster. He used a blaster and blasted his enemy with wild abandon and bloodlust.

That was not me.

I hated the stereotypical Valorni behavior.

I tried to be as precise as possible. It wasn’t always easy. My speech differed from Axtin, but contact with humans kept me in practice of using some vernacular.

It had become apparent that standard weapons and attacks would not be enough. Even attacks that by all sense and reason should have worked, had failed. So, it was now time to begin the progression from conventional to the unconventional.

It was time for me to speak with the botanist and the chemist. I needed to work with Tella and Leena.

After I arrived at their joint laboratory on the other side of General Rouhr’s building, I implored them to use their abilities and knowledge for any sort of assistance they could give. As I walked into the office they shared, I smiled as genuinely as I could. “Good afternoon, ladies.”

Leena looked up from a small microscope and returned my smile. Hers was genuine and real, even though it had not been in her nature to be kind and affable. “Afternoon, Sylor. Was there anything you needed?”

“They always need something,” Tella snapped from her corner. “They don’t come to see us otherwise.” I knew that she was attempting to make a joke, to be funny, but there seemed to be a bit of an underlying resentment to her words. Perhaps it was that Tella was not the sort to enjoy confinement, and the vines of this creature were doing exactly that.

“Tella,” Leena admonished. Apparently, her statement truly had been an attempt at humor. Leena turned back to me and motioned me to come in. As I did, she left her station and approached me. “So, what can we do for you, Sylor?”

There was a small sense of gratification to hear her say my name. Many of the humans still only knew me as one of ‘those aliens.’

I did not blame them for their reactions to me, I was one of the foreigners that had brought war and destruction to their home.

But still, acknowledgement of my person was appreciated.

“Dr. Dewitt,” I responded. “I have been tasked with finding a way, conventional or not, through the vines. We have made seventeen separate attempts and have failed seventeen times. I come to you seeking advice and a new set of minds to think of ideas.”

“Well, now aren’t you all proper and civilized,” Tella commented, a half-smile twisting her lips. She waved a hand. “I don’t mean anything by it, I’m just not used to it. Takar tries to be all high-and-mighty when he talks to me, but he’s almost as crazy as his brother. It’s a bit odd, hearing it from a Valorni.”

“Tella!” Leena said with a sharp look. “That’s rude!”

I held up my hand to put an end to Leena’s reprimand. “It’s alright. She is entitled to her opinion.” I looked over at Tella. “To answer your question, my mannerisms are my own. There is nothing more to it, nor do I intend any, as you put it ‘high-and-mightiness’. Now, is that enough of an answer for you?”

Tella shrugged, nodded, then returned to what she had been working on when I entered. I turned my attention back to Leena. “Would you be able to assist me?”

Leena stood still for a few breaths before finally answering. “I don’t know.” She reached out and placed her hand on my arm as I started to turn away. “I didn’t say that we won’t. What I meant was that I’m not sure if we’ll be able to help. If everything that you’ve done has failed, I’m not sure what we can do.”

“With your expertise in chemicals,” I nodded at Leena, “and your expertise in plant life,” I added with a nod to Tella, “I hope to gain some additional suggestions as to what we may be able to do.”

Tella gave a sort of half shrug and arched an eyebrow as she sat in her chair. “The only thing that I can think of that had any sort of effect was the toxin.” She looked at Leena, a look of disappointment adorning her face. “But we don’t have enough to use.”

My hopes had been dashed before they had been given a glimmer of life. Leena sighed and walked to a small row of cabinets on a near wall. She unlocked a glass door and retrieved a small vial. “This is all that we have. It’s not enough for what you need, and not enough for us to synthesize.”

“Besides,” Tella cut in, “I’m not sure we want to find more anyway.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

She rose from her chair and looked out the only window in the lab. “Take a look out there,” she instructed me. I stepped over to the window. Her finger pointed to the vines. “Those things came up, out of the ground, and barely caused any damage. I know that a few buildings were destroyed, and a few people died, but Puppet Master went out of its way to make sure that we were closed in, not hurt. What if that changes with the toxin?”

“And what if it does?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes and huffed. “I really wish you overgrown brutes would learn to think things through.” She pointed to one of the massive pillar-like vines a few blocks over. “Think about what damage that one vine there could cause if it fell. Are you willing to risk that?”

“So, you’re afraid of some collateral damage? Is that what you’re saying?” I asked.

“Of course, that’s what I’m saying,” she practically shrieked. “What if some of that ‘collateral damage’ is a life? What if some of that damage is the death of a child, or one of your own? What then?”

Before I had the opportunity to answer, Leena added her own opinion and fear to the argument. “Tella’s right. If the toxin works on the vines the way it worked on some of the other plants, the damage potential would be catastrophic.”

“I understand that, but if it wasn’t,” I countered. “What if we used the toxin upon a small section of the vines, caused it pain, and the vines retreated? We must not allow ourselves to be locked away in a dome like prisoners with no attempt to fight back. This creature must be shown that we will not go lightly.”

“You’re an idiot,” Tella huffed. “I want out.”

“I apologize,” I said. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“What I mean,” Tella said, punctuating each word with a tilt of the head, “is that I’m done with this. I will not participate in this. The potential harm to the city and her people is too big, too much. I won’t be part of it.” With that, she turned away from us and left, Leena trying to call her back.

Leena turned back to me. “She has a point. The damage that could result is…”

“I understand,” I interrupted. “However, to surrender to an enemy, that is something that cannot be permitted. We cannot simply give in to this…this…creature and expect it to simply leave us alone. It is routinely invading everyone’s homes with its tendrils. It has forced us to use auxiliary power sources, and we will soon be out of resources. What are we supposed to do then?”

“I don’t know,” Leena admitted.

“I ask for your help because you are one of the smartest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting, and we need to find a method of escape.” I looked at Leena in earnest. “General Rouhr has tasked me with finding a way through the vines, and I require your intellect to find a way. What do you say? Can we make a more powerful version of the chemical grenade you created?”

She was hesitant, and I could see that she was unwilling to assist, but her sense of duty and understanding won through. She eventually nodded.

We began our work, and after many hours of toil, we finally had a chemical bomb that was, if our calculations were correct, the most powerful that either of us had ever come across.

“Thank you. I mean it,” I said quietly as I gently, ever so gently, laid it into a case that we had created for its transport.

Leena merely nodded, the look on her face telling me everything I needed to know about her feelings. I placed a hand on her shoulder, thanked her for her assistance, and left, carrying the case with the bomb with me. I walked slowly and carefully towards our testing ground, hoping that this would be enough to accomplish the task at hand.

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