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Tsl

Project 19

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Tsl

She couldn?t remember her name. The man asked her again, and she only stared at him dumbly, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears. The man grew impatient with her. He was human, what did he care about the troubles of some alien girl? She was holding up his line.

?Look, lady, you can?t board the transport if you can?t give me your name,? the man said. He paused for only a moment, while the girl stared hopelessly at the floor. ?Don?t you speak, girl?? he asked finally.

?I-I?don?t know,? she admitted. She was still studying the floor, determined not to begin sobbing.

?You don?t know if you speak?? the man asked. He stared at her, and though she did not look up at him, she could feel his eyes burning into her.

?I don?t know my name.? She bit her lip. The floor was dirty. She focused on the patterns the edge of a coffee spill made on the cold, white tiles of the spaceport floor.

The man smirked at her, apparently thinking this was some form of stupid alien humor. When it became apparent that the girl was being quite serious, he grew angrier. ?Look, kitten, I haven?t got time for this,? he stamped her ticket and thrust it back at her, ?just get on, and if anyone asks, that?s your name. Kitten.?

She frowned as she took the ticket from him. Kitten. It was a derogatory term, really. She was of a feline species, the name of which she did not know, or at least did not remember. Her body was that of a human female?s, but more slender, leaner and more graceful. Her face was a little wider than a human?s and her eyes larger, but the main features that marked her as an alien were her ears and tail. Her ears were long and tapered like a cat?s ears, though they protruded from the sides of her head rather than the top. Her tail was long and slender with a tufted end, much like the tail of a lion.

Kitten.

She sighed hopelessly and made her way through the throng of people milling about the loading area, saying their goodbyes. She had no one to say goodbye to, so she simply walked up the ramp and made her way to her seat.

The transport was small and already crowded. She had little trouble squeezing her slender form through the narrow aisle, ignoring the glares of various human passengers. Her seat, once she?d finally located it, was back in the cheaper section of the transport. Here the seats were made of some cheap vinyl rather than the fine leathers of the more exclusive seats she?d passed by, but she didn?t care. There would be fewer humans back here to scorn her very existence.

She settled into her seat and sat back, resting her head against the thinly padded headrest and pulling her cloak more tightly around herself to keep out a chill that really felt more internal than from without.

She considered her situation, how she?d ended up here, on this transport. It was such an odd thing, having your life yanked out from under you, having no recollection of who you are. She had simply woken up one morning last week in some darkened alley on some world she didn?t recognize. She had panicked at first, and cried. She?d done a lot of crying since waking up that morning. She had tried desperately to discover some clue, some hint as to who she was, but the only things she had on her were the clothes on her back and a ticket for a transport to Cordoba.

She didn?t even know where Cordoba was. She didn?t recall ever hearing about it, but that meant little, considering, and so here she was on the transport. She could only hope to find some answers at her destination. She imagined meeting someone there who could tell her everything, she hoped and prayed to the gods that she would.

She drifted to sleep, and dreamed of the tall, dark stranger that would reveal her life to her.

Three days later, she sat alone in a small motel room in a fairly decrepit looking part of the main Cordoban city, aptly named Cordoban City.

Perhaps it was luck, or perhaps fate, maybe even a planned event, but a small purse had been waiting for her at the Cordoban spaceport. Apparently she, whoever she was, had checked it in there for safekeeping until she returned. Why, she didn?t know, and could not guess. All she knew was that she?d found enough cash inside to get this room, something to eat, and?finally?a change of clothing.

The only other object in the purse was a small, silver bracelet. She sat upon the bed now, staring down at the thin, tarnished thing. It was nothing to look at really, certainly not worth anything, yet it fascinated her. There, engraved upon the flat inner part of the bracelet was the name Kessia. She could not know, of course, if this was in fact her name. It could have belonged to someone else, or it could even be the name of the company that produced it for all she knew, but it was something.

Kessia?It certainly beats Kitten?

She slept easier that night. Finally she had some kind of identity?if only she could remember?

Kessia woke with a start early the next morning. Outside, the Cordoban sun had not yet risen, and outside all was as quiet and still as it ever gets deep within a bustling city.

Something was not right.

Warily, she sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, readying herself to break for the door if necessary. She carefully observed the room, looking for anything out of place. A human would have had difficulty seeing in the darkened room, but Kessia had no trouble, her feline pupils constricting and elongating to gather what little light there was.

Nothing seemed amiss in the room, so Kessia started to lie back down, but that nagging feeling that something was wrong persisted to the point that she could not rest. Frustrated, she went to the window, hoping a little fresh air would help to calm her.

She unlatched the locks and slid the window open?and then leapt back with a yell of surprise as she found herself staring into the eyes of a human male.

?Shhhh!? He hissed. He held a finger to his lips.

?What do you want?? Kessia had backed up to the other side of the room, eyes wide with fear.

The man motioned for her to keep her volume down. ?I?m not going to hurt you. I just want to talk to you. Okay?? he whispered.

?Why?? she started, and then remembered his request for silence. She lowered her voice to a whisper. ?Why do you need to talk to me?? For all she knew, this guy was someone she knew. Maybe he could even tell her who she was.

The man glanced around as though making sure no one could hear what he had to say. ?I have some information? I think you?ll want to hear this. Can I come in??

Warning bells went off in Kessia?s head. She knew this guy could be bad news, but his offer of information intrigued her. She shook her head at her own foolishness and waved for him to come in through the window.

The man clambered into the room and made himself comfortable on the edge of the bed. He was tall and thin with dark hair and stubbly beard. From his disheveled appearance, Kessia guessed that he had been outside her window for some time. She wasted no time in asking questions.

?Who are you??

?Name?s Micah,? he said. He offered her a handshake, which she took automatically.

?What?s this about? Why do you want to give me information??

?Well, I?ve stumbled across some?interesting?data that happens to involve you. I?ve been tracking you for sometime now, only just caught up with you.?

Kessia decided to ignore the fact that this man had been stalking her for ?some time now?. ?What information??

?Look, I?ll be straight with you. I think your life?s in danger.?

She stared at him in shocked disbelief. ?But?but why??

He gave her a sympathetic look. ?You know something that they don?t want you to know. Something that, if it got out, could destroy them.?

?I know something?.? She echoed.

Well that?s ridiculous, isn?t it? I don?t know anything. I don?t even know who I am!

?I don?t know what it is you know, but it must be one heck of a secret,? he continued. ?I mean, I never got that far into the files before someone detected an intruder on the server and locked me out. All I know is that a Captain Kessia Morgan knows too much about a Project 19 and, as the order stated, ?must be terminated immediately.? So, what is it? What?s Project 19??

Kessia had not yet gotten past the part where she was to be terminated. ?What? Project 13? I?I don?t know.?

?Oh come on, you can tell me! I?m in on this now too. I mean, they?ll have tracked down who it was hacked their system and they?ll be after me too. That?s why I came to find you. I figure we?ll get you in contact with somebody who can get this all cleared up. I never expected to stumble upon something quite so sensitive, if you know what I mean. I was just seeing if I could get in.? He gave her a rakish grin and looking rather pleased with himself.

?No!? she said. She looked at him wild eyed. ?I mean, I don?t remember. Anything. I don?t remember anything!?

?What do you mean??

?I mean I don?t know who I am, where I?m from?. nothing! All I know is my name, because it was on this bracelet,? she held up her arm, ?and because you just told me?. Wait. Did you say Captain??

?Yeah.? He looked terribly disappointed, and maybe a little ill. He was in big trouble here, and the only person that could possibly get him out of it was a complete flake. ?Military, you know. But I guess you can?t remember.?

She shook her head, but something was nagging at her. Something?

?I?ll bet they wiped your memory,? he mused. He scratched absently at the dark stubble covering his chin, and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. ?I?ve heard of it. Never believed it?? He trailed off and shrugged helplessly. He turned to look at her again, and found her staring at the wall. ?Kessia??

She did not respond.

?Kessia?? He waved his hand in front of her face, but she continued to stare, dull-eyed, at the far wall.

She stood in a white room. A room that had that too clean, sterile feeling of a hospital. She was wearing a white coat. The image in her mind began to fade, and then it refocused and she was somewhere else. This room was full of steel. Steel bars. Cages? A prison? She was arguing with someone. Voices were raised. Who was it she was arguing with? A man in a green suit. Military then. She was upset. She knew something. Something bad. She was going to tell someone. The government! She was going to go straight to the Galactic High Regent himself! The man, the one in the green suit, wasn?t happy about this. ?Don?t tell anyone,? he was saying, ?or there will be heavy penalties?. She knew what he meant, knew and didn?t care. This was too important. Adaga?She had to go to Adaga. That?s where she would leave the answers, just in case.

Kessia woke, lying flat on her back, staring up at the motel room ceiling. She slowly became aware of a pair of concerned green eyes hovering a couple feet over her face, and that she was being shaken gently. ?Kessia?Kessia, wake up!?

?I?m up?? Her words were slightly slurred as with heavy sleep. She struggled into a sitting position and rubbed at her eyes.

?What happened??

?Dunno?a dream. I remembered things??

?You remember?? he asked. There was an urgency to his voice. She had to remember. Their very lives depended on it.

?I..I don?t remember what the project is? Steel cages, and something medical. I remember arguing with?with somebody. I was going to go and tell the High Regent something, and he threatened me.?

?But you don?t remember what it was you were going to the High Regent about?? Micah?s rekindled hope had just been deflated.

Kessia suddenly gripped his arm. ?Adaga?. We have to get to Adaga!?

?What? Why??

?We have to!? Kessia grabbed her bag and began rummaging for the little bit of cash she had left. ?There?s something at Adaga. We have to go! That?s where the answers are.?

?Wait, what answers? I thought you didn?t remember anything.? He looked at her with suspicion as he reached into his pocket for his wallet.

?I don?t, but I left something there. Something to help me remember in case something happened to me. That?dream thing I had? I remembered Adaga.?

?Adaga has a huge military presence? It?s probably not the wisest move for us to be going there?? He frowned uncertainly.

?We have to!?

?Are you really sure there?s something there??

?Yes.?

?Absolutely one hundred percent sure??

?Yes!?

?Alright?I think I?ve got enough to book us passage, but we?re going to have to be very careful.?

Micah moved to the door and opened it barely a crack, peering out into the dark side street. The coast was clear, as far as he could tell, so he motioned for Kessia to follow him. They silently slipped out the door and into the cool night, glad for the cover of darkness.

Then the sound of a laser rifle being discharged filled the air and a red bolt hit the side of the motel mere inches from his head even before the door had swung shut behind them.

?sith!? He grabbed Kessia by her upper arm and dived to the ground as another laser bolt cut through the space her throat had occupied moments before. They both hit the ground and shoulder rolled to take the impact of falling before springing to their feet and dashing around the corner of the building.

?You wouldn?t happen to have any weapons on you?? asked Micah. He was panting, but surprisingly calm for someone who had just been shot at.

??Fraid not.? Kessia replied. She pressed herself against the wall, attempting to make herself as small a target as possible.

They caught a glimpse of their attacker as he moved across the alleyway he?d been hiding in. Kessia and Micah fled around the corner to the back of the motel and then down a dark alley leading away from the gunman. Behind them, in the distance, they could hear the sound of feet pounding the pavement as he gave chase.

Micah grabbed hold of Kessia?s arm once again and jerked her with him into another, smaller alleyway to the right. They heard the sound of more shots being fired, and a loud, crackling sound as they hit the corner they had just rounded. Kessia glanced back to see molten bricks drip down to create billowing columns of steam on the cool pavement.

?Don?t look back!? shouted Micah. He still had hold of her arm, forcing her to keep up with him. They both ducked instinctively as a long red laser bolt soared over their heads.

Micah made another abrupt turn, this time into a larger alley that could almost be considered a small road. It was fairly short, and they could see that it led out onto a fairly large boulevard, though it was unfortunately fairly deserted. Thankfully a taxi happened to be parked mere meters away, and the pair sprinted towards it, diving inside just as their attacker exited onto the street.

?Spaceport!? yelled Micah, even as he was slamming the door shut.

The driver seemed to note the urgent tone in Micah?s voice, and practically floored it down the street. As the taxi sped away, Micah and Kessia looked back to see their attacker retreat into the alley.

?Thank goodness he?s not following us,? said Kessia, relieved.

?Yeah, but he knows exactly where we?re headed, and I have a feeling he?s going to bring some of his friends.?

The taxi driver was persuaded to take a rather circuitous route to the Spaceport by the promise of an extra large tip. Micah mentioned to Kessia that he feared the usual routes would be watched, and he wanted to slip in to the spaceport itself through a back entrance. This was, of course, illegal, but they weren?t really worried about that at this point.

Apparently, the sniper was unwilling to fire at a taxi. That, or he had not anticipated them taking such an indirect route. In either case, they reached the spaceport without incident, paid the driver his promised large tip, and carefully made their way to a back door, which read, ?Authorized Personnel Only?.

Inside, they found a large cabinet filled with the sort of gray coveralls techs wear. They each took one and slipped them over their own clothing. Micah looked pretty believable as a spaceport tech, but the coveralls were too big for Kessia, and her delicate features just didn?t sell her as a spaceship mechanic.

She spread her arms wide, and looked down at the baggy, grease-stained work clothes. ?This isn?t going to work, is it??

Micah tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. ?Um, well? Actually, you?re kinda cute, ? he winked.

Kessia merely stared at him in shock. Never before had a human called her anything positive, much less cute. She shook her head and tried to adjust her tail so that it fit more comfortably in the clothing obviously meant for tailless species. When she looked up again, Micah was still grinning at her.

Neither noticed the true technician approaching them. ?Hey,? the man said, ?where are you two supposed to be??

Micah briefly exchanged glances with Kessia. ?We?re with the Adagan ship,? he replied.

?Adagan?? They now saw that the man?s nametag read ?Ernai, Sector Manager?. ?That transport leaves in fifteen minutes, what?re you two doing all the way over here??

?Well, we?um,? started Micah.

?We got a bit lost after breakfast. We were transferred from Cordoba, you see, and don?t know this place so well,? Kessia finished. She feigned embarrassment, and could only hope that it came off as genuine.

?I see.? The Manager studied Kessia for a tense moment and then nodded. ?I didn?t think I?d seen you two before.? He pointed down the corridor. ?Adagan ship is berthed in dock 18. Take this corridor all the way down and hang a right. Third left you come to will take you to dock 18?s tech station.?

?Thank you, sir,? said Micah, ?we?ll be on our way then!?

They headed down the corridor, walking at a fast clip. Kessia was elated at their good fortune. ?He bought it! And a ship leaving for Adaga in fifteen mintues!?

Micah did not reply, but instead gave a sudden low hiss, grabbed her arm and turned her roughly to face the wall.

?What--??

?Shhh?? he hissed, ?military types?? He began talking loudly then with an extremely exaggerated accent. ?Roight, so then yew see, the pow?r couplin?s is attached to the capacit?r housin?.?

Kessia quickly caught on. ?Oh, I see. Yes! Of course.?

?And then the housin? there is attached to the?? He glanced briefly over his shoulder. ?They?ve passed.?

Kessia breathed a sigh of relief. ?You know, you could get away easily with blending into this crowd, but I may not have such an easy time of it?? She gave her tail a little swish to accentuate her point.

?Yes?hmm?? Micah stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment and then nodded to himself. ?It?s not that far. We?re just going to have to do the best we can, and hope no one does notice you. There?s really nothing else for it.?

She nodded. ?Yeah? Say, those technical things you were saying??

?Were they genuine? Nah,? he laughed. ?I was just making stuff up. Sound good??

?I believed it,? she grinned. They continued down the long corridor.

The gods must have been smiling on them, because Kessia and Micah made it all the way to the dock 18 tech station before they ran into any further trouble. As they approached the door leading into the station, both stopped short. Inside, a tall, thin human male clad in a black combat suit was showing something to a group of technicians. A laser rifle was strapped across the man?s back.

Micah and Kessia slipped back into the hall, thankfully unnoticed. ?He?s showing them our mug shots?? asked Kessia.

?Looks that way. How long until that transport takes off??

She glanced at his watch, ?Five minutes.?

?Wait! Look, he?s leaving!? Sure enough, the agent, nodded his thanks to the techs for their cooperation, and then turned and exited out towards the ship. The group of techs dispersed and went about their normal routines, checking power supplies and backup systems before allowing the spacecraft to launch. ?Now?s our chance.?

Kessia and Micah walked confidently, but quietly through the tech station, under the assumption that, if they did not act suspicious, they would not be suspected. Apparently this assumption proved true, for they made it across the room and to the ship itself without anyone sparing them a second glance. After a quick glance around to make sure the coast was clear of agents, the two fugitives located the hatch leading into the ships luggage hold and climbed in. They settled themselves amongst the luggage and waited for the ship to take off.

Hours passed, and Kessia and Micah found that luggage holds aren?t suited for anything but luggage. They shifted and moved around as best they could in the cramped compartment, but found themselves growing claustrophobic after only the first hour.

?I think we should be arriving soon,? said Micah, putting on a fake air of optimism.

?I hope so? I think my tail?s asleep.?

Micah started to laugh, but was cut short by the faint sound of the ship?s PA system. They could barely hear it within the isolated confines of the luggage hold.

?This is Captain Panra. Adagan control has informed me that the spaceport authorities are going to need to inspect our ship. They have assured me that there is nothing at all to worry about, and they apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you.?

Micah and Kessia looked at one another in despair. The agents had found them out somehow. They had alerted the Adagans that two fugitives were on their way and to search any incoming transports for them. There was nowhere to go. They were trapped.

?Maybe they won?t think to search the luggage hold.? The bleakness in Kessia?s eyes was enough to know that she didn?t believe that would be the case.

Micah shook his head. ?We have to get off this transport. Now.?

?How? Just open the door and walk out into deep space??

He shook his head distractedly. His eyes were far away, thinking. ?There?s only one way. It?s a long shot, but it?s better than sitting here and waiting to be shot.?

?I don?t think I?m going to like this??

?Escape pods.?

?Escape pods? Are you insane??

He nodded. ?Quite possibly.? He said this with complete sincerity.

?You realize the entire planet will be crawling with snipers and riflemen?right??

?Yup. We?re going to have to be careful.?

?You?re insane,? she said again. ?But you?re right. I can?t think of any thing better.?

They began searching the hold for some way to get into the main area of the ship. Kessia finally found a hatch on the ceiling, and managed to push it open. They both climbed out and found themselves in a back corridor used by the ship?s staff. By some stroke of luck, the corridor was deserted, and the pair quickly made their way towards the escape pods.

Escape pods are pretty standard on every commercial space transport. They are usually all located along the starboard side of the ship so that people can easily find them in an emergency situation. All pods have rudimentary steering rockets, so that the passengers can point themselves in the right direction, and then the pod?s onboard navigation system takes over once the planet or moon?s gravity catches it and slows it to a survivable descent velocity. It usually made for a pretty rough landing, and it was quite impossible to choose a landing spot, but then escape pods rarely needed to be used.

As they approached the long line of pods, a young Turgian stopped them. The Turgian was small, only four feet in height, and covered in fine, blue fur. His voice was a high pitched whine, ?Excuse me, sirz, but where do you think you are going??

They were still wearing their tech suits, and this made coming up with a good lie easy. ?We?re checking out the pods. With the Adagan authorities coming aboard and everything, the captain thinks it may actually be a surprise inspection.? Micah gestured impatiently at the escape pods. ?Do you think you could let us get to work before it?s too late??

The Turgian shrugged, his blue fur rippling in slight embarrassment. The little alien stepped aside. ?Of course, sir.?

Micah and Kessia brushed past him, putting on a show of annoyance. They stationed themselves at an escape pod and pretended to be inspecting it very intently until the Turgian had disappeared down the corridor, and they were alone.

?Ladies first,? Micah said. He took Kessia?s hand and steadied her as she climbed down into the pod. Then he lowered himself down. ?Alright. This is it. Once we launch this pod, we?re in this for the long run. If you?ve got any better ideas, now?s the time to speak up.? His finger hovered over the launch button.

?Go for it.?

He nodded, and for the barest of seconds, he actually looked frightened, but then he masked it with his usual confident grin. He pressed the bright red button marked ?Launch?.

They were both rocked violently as the escape pod?s rockets ignited and thrust the small, rounded pod away from the ship. Micah cursed as his head bounced off the lightly padded wall.

Kessia rubbed ruefully at her whip lashed neck and studied the pod?s rudimentary navigational computer readout. ?Looks like we?re on course to hit the planet.?

?Good, now we just pray to the gods we manage to survive until we land. I?m hoping they won?t bother to launch any craft to destroy us. They?ll probably just track our descent and pick us up after we land.?

?Something to look forward to then.?

The escape pod fell in a descending arc towards the planet?s surface. The pod began to shudder violently as it hit Adaga?s thick atmosphere. The outer hull of the tiny craft glowed red-hot as the outer layers began to melt in the intense heat generated by the friction of its plunge through the air.

Inside the craft, Kessia and Micah could feel the temperature begin to rise to almost unbearable levels, though the pod?s many layers of insulated and heat resistant metals protected them. Neither fugitive said a word throughout the short journey. Nothing but the sound of the escape pod burning through the atmosphere, and the sound of the steering rockets occasionally firing to keep them upright was to be heard for a long moment. Then the turbulence abruptly ended. They both felt their stomachs get left behind as the craft began slowing itself rapidly for impact.

And then the pod hit the ground.

It was a pretty good landing as far as escape pod landings go. The pod was a little crushed at the bottom, and the street it had landed on had suffered a few minor cracks, but both Kessia and Micah were conscious and unharmed, cushioned by the padding that surrounded the passenger?s compartment. Both sat in stunned silence for a moment, and then Kessia quickly twisted open the topside hatch, peering out carefully.

The area was completely devoid of any curious onlookers, something that made her stomach twist with suspicion. She started to lower the hatch again, and to inform Micah of the situation, when a blood red laser bolt pinged off the hatch, centimeters from her hand. She dropped the hatch with a startled cry, and fell back down into the pod. The hatch fell closed with a loud bang.

?sith!? cried Micah. ?Are you hurt??

?No.? She shook her head breathlessly. ?What do we do??

?We can either wait until they come and get us?.? He trailed off, lost deep in thought.

?Or?? she prompted. She glanced nervously up at the hatch, as though she expected someone to yank it open any second and open fire.

?Or?we open that hatch, jump out, and run like hell.?

Kessia sighed, ?I thought you might say that.? Before he could offer to go first, she pushed the hatch open once more and, ducking beneath two or three laser bots, leapt out onto the street. She crouched behind the pod, attempting to use it as cover, and wincing at the sound of laser bolts pinging off the metal hull. Micah dropped down beside her a fraction of a second later. A pair of red bolts burned a black scar onto the pod?s hull, an inch or so above their heads.

?I know where to go,? said Kessia. She wasn?t quite sure how she knew where to go, she just knew. She sprinted down the empty street, ducking low and weaving erratically to make herself a harder target. Micah followed, desperately hoping that she knew what she was doing, and simultaneously chiding himself for doubting her.

All around them, laser bolts fell like brilliant red, and very deadly, rain. The sound of heavily booted feet pounding the rooftops above them followed them down the street, through a series of turns and out onto a major highway.

A large, wooden barrier had been set up at the entrance to highway, cordoning off the crash site, and explaining why there were no civilians in the area. The highway here was crowded with rush hour traffic, however, and the streets were crowded with people, mostly humans, pushing their way through the throngs of pedestrians on their way to work.

Kessia and Micah leapt over the wooden barrier and were overcome with relief as the laser bolts finally stopped raining down on them. The snipers were, once again, unwilling to fire at them with so many witnesses present. They quickly lost themselves in the crowd. Kessia glanced back over her shoulder and thought she spotted a couple men dressed in dark clothes moving away from the edges of the roofs lining the highway. She was certain they had not given up so easily.

They hailed a taxi, practically jumping into the street in front of it, they were so desperate to reach the safety of the enclosed vehicle.

?Where to?? asked the driver.

Micah glanced at Kessia, wondering if she knew.

She was silent for an uncomfortably long moment. Then, ?We need to get to the Elmhurst Apartment complex?as soon as possible.?

Once again, they coax the driver into taking a very convoluted route to their destination, making sure to keep as low a profile as possible as they slink into the apartment complex.

The Elmhurst was a somewhat shabby looking building that looked as if it had been there since the planet was colonized. A large green awning over the entrance had torn partially free of its metal frame and flapped lazily in the wind, dangling long strings of fabric nearly to the ground.

Kessia stopped under the awning for a long moment, her eyes following one of the strings as it danced just above the street. ?I used to live here.?

Micah watched her closely. Her eyes had a faraway look, and her brow was slightly furrowed as though she were trying to remember some lost detail from her past. Finally he gently took her arm and nudged her towards the door, fearing that the longer they lingered here, the more chance that one of the snipers would find them.

Once inside, Kessia seemed to know exactly where she was going. She crossed the lobby and, bypassing the small elevator, started up the narrow staircase, practically hopping up two steps at a time. Micah was not far behind. Both were eager to learn, finally, what all this was about, why their very lives have been on the line.

Kessia stopped at the third floor and flung open the door leading into the hallway. Micah caught the door as it swung back at him and followed. She was running down the hall now, finally stopping at a green door on the far end of the corridor labeled ?112 C?. She turned the knob and met resistance. She desperately wrenched the knob back and forth, rattling it in her desperation, but it was locked. Micah laid a calming hand on her shoulder.

?Do you remember where you might have kept a key card??

?Key?. key?? She patted at the pockets in her tech?s suit absently.

Micah reached up and brushed his fingertips along the molding across the top of the door, showering them both in a cascade of dust. ?Leave a spare anywhere?? He looked at her anxiously.

?Key!? she exclaimed. She lifted her right arm and fumbled with the clasp to her bracelet. She was in such a rush to remove it that she was having difficulty grasping the small connectors. Micah merely watched with a perplexed expression on his face. ?It?s the key! The key!? With that, she finally managed to unclasp it, and the silver bracelet fell to the ground. She quickly stooped and snatched it up as though she feared someone else might steal it away from her, despite the fact that the corridor?s only other occupant was Micah.

With an unsteady hand, she passed the bracelet over the door?s key reader, a small scanning device mounted to the wall. A solid click was heard. Breathlessly, Kessia placed her hand on the knob and turned it slowly. The door fell open.

Inside, the apartment was in a severe state of disrepair, but she ignored the chaos and rushed across the room, crouching down in the corner of the apartment?s living room. Micah came up behind her and watched bemusedly as she tapped on each square floorboard in that corner, her ears tipped forward listening closely. ?This is it,? she said. She tapped on that particular board again to be sure, and this time the hollow taps were easily distinguishable from the solid sounds of the other boards. She inserted her long, claw-like fingernails around the edges of the board and pulled it easily free of the floor. Underneath was a small recessed space. She reached inside and removed a small data-reader, and then glanced up at Micah. ?This is what we came for. This will tell us everything.

Kessia remembered.

She was a scientist, a military scientist. She was being asked to work on a very important new project, something aliens typically wouldn?t be asked to work on, but she was good at what she did, very good. They would make an exception for her. She was so proud! This would not only develop whatever goal the project was working toward, but it may actually open up new opportunities for aliens. She vowed to do her best.

She was taken into a top-secret facility on Adaga, and sworn to secrecy. Nothing new. This wasn?t the first project she?d worked on, just the most important.

She could never have been prepared for this.

Within the lab were rows upon rows of steel cages, large cages. And in those cages were?people. Aliens. Every one of them, and they did not look well. Most were slumped in the corners of their prisons. Some had patches of missing fur, others had open and seeping wounds, and still others lay rasping out their final breathes in the bottom of their cold, steel cage. Il? But why the cages then? She knew. She knew, but she didn?t want to admit it to herself, couldn?t. It was too awful, too incomprehensible! But there it was?

She was upset. She was hysterical. ?I can?t do this! How can you ask me to do this?? She was pacing now, like a caged animal. ?I have to report this to?to someone! You can?t do this! These are people!?

But they weren?t. Not to the humans running the project. Not to the military High Command.

They were threatening her, vaguely at first, and then openly. She had promised not to leak any information, but she knew that they did not believe her, and with good reason. She fully intended to go to someone in authority as soon as possible, but she knew she would be closely watched. It was all too likely that as soon as she stepped foot outside her apartment, she would be apprehended, her memory erased. She would have to leave herself some way of finding the truth again.

Micah and Kessia sat in the corner for a long moment after having read the information on the data-reader. Tears had formed in the corners of Kessia?s eyes, leaving streaks of damp fur along her cheeks. Micah slipped a comforting arm around her, but found himself almost unable to speak.

?Bio-weapon?? he asked. His voice was strained as he choked out the word.

Kessia nodded bleakly. ?A virus. They feared an alien uprising someday, and this would be the answer. It wasn?t supposed to affect humans.?

?But why ask you to work on it? I mean?? he trailed off.

?Because,? her voice fell to a whisper, ?I was good at what I did. They didn?t think it would matter to me, expected me to be grateful for being given such a rare opportunity.?

He gave her shoulder a little squeeze and tipped her chin up so that he could look her in the eyes. ?Kessia??

He was cut short as the sound of shattering glass filled the room.

They both sprung to their feet and dived out of the corner as the fire of three laser rifles converged upon the spot they had just occupied.

?Door!? yelled Micah. He dived for it and yanked it open, ducking as he found himself staring down the barrel of three more rifles. He swept his leg under the soldier standing directly in front of him, dropping the man to the floor. Micah leapt over his body, snatched up his laser rifle, and sprinted for the stairs, turning to fire at the other two soldiers. Kessia shoulder rolled through the doorway, managing to avoid the laser fire of the three soldiers in their room and evading the dead bodies of the soldiers that had been in the hallway. She leapt to her feet and sprinted after Micah.

He waited until she had passed him and then followed her to the stairs, covering their retreat with his stolen rifle. The pursuing soldiers were forced to hang back, unable to get a clear shot.

?Go up towards the roof!? shouted Micah over the steady stream of rifle fire, ?They?ll have this place surrounded!?

Kessia fled up the staircase, taking the three flights of stairs three steps at a time, leaping with a feline grace. Micah rushed along behind her, slowed by his need to turn and send cover fire down the stairs every few minutes. He could only hope that the charge on his rifle would last them.

Kessia reached the top of the stairs before him, and stood waiting at the door marked ?Roof Access?.

Micah waved her on urgently. ?Go!? At the same time, a red bolt pinged off the door just over her head.

She needed no further encouragement. She wrested the door open and ran out onto the roof, keeping low so any snipers at ground level would hopefully not be able to see her over the roof?s raised edges. Glancing around quickly, she spotted no snipers stationed on the other rooftops, all of which were close enough to leap across to. This gave her an idea.

?Micah!? she shouted. She turned to see him spill out of the door, firing back down the staircase to keep their pursuit at bay. ?Micah, the Governor?s Palace is only about two blocks away! We can cross the roof tops, go down through one of the buildings on the way and we?ll have made it! They wouldn?t dare follow us into the Palace!?

He nodded, distracted by needing to keep up their cover. ?Let?s go for it!?

They ran together, sprinting across the rooftop, Micah occasionally turning to lay down laser fire. Upon reaching the edge of the roof, Kessia sprang into the air, sailing across the chasm between the apartment building and the next. She landed gracefully, not even breaking her stride as she continued sprinting in the direction of the Governor?s Palace. Micah also managed to land upon the next building, though with much less athleticism. He hit the rooftop hard, crouching down into a roll to absorb the impact. He quickly scrambled back to his feet and dashed off after Kessia, who was well ahead.

Behind them, the soldiers were able to gain some ground as Micah was forced to stop firing during his jump. All three made the jump easily, resuming a steady stream of laser fire as they righted themselves after landing.

Kessia and Micah continued running, pushing themselves hard to reach their destination. Once they made it, once they were within the halls of the Palace, they would be safe. It would all be over.

As they neared the Palace, they notice that the surrounding buildings were much smaller, likely a device to make the Governor?s residence that much more imposing. As they approached their final jump to a building directly across from the Palace, they found it to be only two stories in height. They immediately began searching for a way down.

Micah found it. A winding stair lead down from the edge of the roof to a side street six stories below. ?Fire escape!? he called out. He waited for Kessia to lower herself onto the stair, turning to fire at their pursuit. He was rewarded with an anguished cry as he managed to hit one of the snipers in the leg.

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Kessia was already down a full level, and so he quickly leapt on the stairs and began a rapid descent towards the street. The two remaining soldiers gathered at the top of the stair and began firing.

Micah called out a warning to Kessia, but she had already made it down to the street. ?Hurry!? she called up to him.

Micah managed to descend a full three floors, halfway down, before a laser bolt finally caught him. It tore through his left shoulder, leaving a charred and oozing wound. And pain.

With an agonized cry, Micah clasped his right hand over the wound, unconsciously letting go of the stair rails and falling back.

Kessia gasped in horror, watching in a kind of stunned slow motion as he fell the three stories, landing with a sickening crunch not five feet from where she stood. Forgetting the snipers above, she ran to his side. ?Micah!? She laid a hand on his uninjured shoulder. ?Micah, please!?

His eyes fluttered open and he winced sharply as the pain of his fall coupled with the searing pain of his wound assaulted him all at once. ?Go,? he whispered, ?get to the Palace. End this.? Even as he said this, a bright red laser bolt hit the ground centimeters away from Kessia, singing the hair on her arm.

He?s right. If I don?t get out of here, we both die. If I make it, there?s a chance those goons will be too busy chasing me, and leave him alone. Then, if I get everything cleared up, we?ll both make it.

She took his hand in hers and gave it a little, reassuring squeeze. ?We?re going to make it.? With that, she dived into a shoulder roll, allowing her momentum to carry her forward and making herself a more difficult target for the men on the roof. She stopped only long enough to pick up Micah?s dropped weapon before she ran, ducking and weaving around the corner of the building.

She ran for all she was worth, gasping for air. She was so tired, so exhausted. She just wanted to stop running, to rest. She?d been running for so long now, it seemed. The Palace loomed closer and closer. Laser fire rained down around her.

An entire group of pedestrians had gathered now, watching with a mixture of fear and amusement at the violent scene. The snipers, it seemed no longer cared who saw, or who got hurt. Their quarry was too close to her goal.

She managed, somehow, to reach the doors, throwing down her rifle as the Palaces security officers rushed out to meet her, weapons drawn and aimed at her head. She raised her arms up in surrender and collapsed as two of the officers grabbed her arms. They steadied her and half dragged, half helped her into the building.

Outside the laser fire had stopped, and the guards went about dispersing the somewhat disappointed crowd.

Kessia woke sometime later. She was lying on a soft bed, in a finely decorated room. She knew instinctively that she must be within one of the Governor?s many guest rooms. She blinked sleep from her eyes and slowly sat up.

?Hey there.?

She stared in shock for a moment and then grinned, relieved. ?Micah! You?re alright!?

He gave her a little smile and nodded. ?Sure, if you call a fried shoulder and two broken legs ?alright?. I?m glad to see that you made it okay.?

?What happened??

?After you made it to the Palace, the snipers disappeared real quick. Those guards came out to investigate, I guess and found me lying there. They brought me here, fixed me up. I told them what I knew. The Governor himself should be in shortly. He wants to hear what you have to say, seeing as how you know a lot more about it than I do.?

It was not too long thereafter that the Governor did arrive, along with a cadre of security guards and some tea for his guests. He was a tall, regal looking human, with closely cropped blond hair and wearing long, blue, robes of office. He waited until Kessia and Micah had taken their fine porcelain teacups from the silver platter he offered them before seating himself. He took a dainty sip of his tea and studied them for a long moment with dark, gray eyes. ?Kessia, Micah here has told me what he knows of this Project, and it grieves me greatly to learn of its existence. Now I wish for you to tell me what you know.?

Kessia launched into a long explanation of all that she knew about Project 13, the experiments, the secrecy, the cover-up. She even went in detail about her having woken up with no memory and everything that had happened to her up till the moment she had woken up in this room.

The governor had remained silent throughout her exposition, nodding occasionally in agreement, or asking for clarifications and elaborations now and then. When she was finished he stood. ?I need some time to think through all that I have been told. Action must be taken immediately, I agree, but I must carefully weigh my options.?

?We understand,? Kessia nodded. She was just grateful that she had made it. She was free!

?You will remain here meanwhile. You?ll be well taken care of.?

?Thank you, sir,? said Micah.

Down the hall, in one of his most trusted advisor?s offices, the Governor paced restlessly back and forth. ?What do we do, Milton??

?There is only one thing we can do, Governor.?

?Yes, but is it wise? What if word got out? This will be the end of my political career!?

?No, sir, word will not get out. We?ll do it right here, in the Palace.?

?Here? Hmm??

?It has to be done, sir. They know too much.?

?Damn the army. If not for their incompetence, we wouldn?t have to worry about this! First that idiot General Caran asks that alien cat girl to work on the project, then a whole group of assassins can?t manage to kill one scientist with no memory and her idiot hacker friend?? He slammed his fist into the advisor?s desk, enraged. ?Do it,? he grated. The advisor made a call.

In the guest room, Micah and Kessia sat enjoying their tea and an assortment of biscuits. They had just been discussing their plans for their new, free futures. And how they would like to spend there new found freedom together. They had grown quite close during their little adventure, and neither liked the prospect of having to go their separate ways.

The door to the room flew open suddenly, and standing framed in the doorway was a tall, thin human male dressed all in black. He moved forward slightly, allowing the light from the room to play across his shadowed form. He held a laser rifle.

Kessia froze, sitting on the edge of the bed. There was nothing she could do, no way out but through the door the assassin occupied. She knew she couldn?t rush the man, couldn?t overpower him. Couldn?t even make it across the room before he?d shoot her at point blank anyway. Micah could do nothing. He was injured. His legs were both broken, so he was confined to his chair. He sat his teacup down clumsily, his fingers numbed. Kessia had dropped hers on the bed. They looked at one another, reached out for one another?s hands.

The man in the doorway opened fire.

[EDIT: to replace formatting...hope I got it all!]

Edited by Tsl

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Sticks

Very good, Tsl! I especially liked the ending...good plot twist!

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Drake

Awesome story but I didn't like the ending. You need to leave room for a sequel...but I already told you my opinion so this rambling sentence is pointless. :p

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Sticks

Hey, there could be a sequel. Just becuase a guy was shooting at them doesn't mean they're dead...perhaps they survived somehow :p

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Drake

Yeah, that's what I thought. I meant that I didn't like the ending the way it was intended...which was with their deaths.

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Sticks

*shrugs* i'd like it either way...I like tragic endings once in a while

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Radioactive Isotope

it's kindof a Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter ending.

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Tsl

Hey, thanks for all the comments, guys :D

And yes, I did mean for them to die, but as was pointed out, you could interpret it otherwise.

And yay, JM! It was inspired by the end of Shadow Hunter! That was the coolest ending ever in the history of cool endings! I guess it's a bit risky, as a writer, to kill off your good guys. But risk is good, hehe.

Friday I'll find out what my prof and classmates thought of it. I'll have to let you know what they said :)

Edited by Tsl

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Radioactive Isotope

do i get a cookie then? :D

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Tsl

*gives JM a plate of assorted cookies* :D

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Radioactive Isotope

yay! *happily munches on cookies*

*smacks CorSec for stealing a cookie*

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