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New York Underground

Avis landed in the arms of the heavy-set bouncer. His golden eyes seemed to glow in the darkness of the water tunnel. The others jumped down one by one, each landing with a small splash from the water below them. Rhel was the last one down, he pulled the grate above them closed and floated down to land with more tact than any of the others.

“Brutus, lead the way.” Rhel’s voice echoed. Brutus kept Avis in his arms as they traversed the underground maze of tunnels, some water, some swear, and others forgotten by time. Avis wasn’t exactly sure if this would be considered a kidnapping, or running away. There was a curiosity in her that wanted to know who they all were, especially Rhel Valentine, but she also knew she was very much alone in this situation. She had no idea where they were going, and knew she wouldn’t be able to find her way back on her own, making her very vulnerable and dependent on the aliens around her.

They must have been walking for over an hour, maybe two before they stopped next to this large, circular metal door. It was hard to know for sure what it was, or what it was to be used for, but as it opened, one of the group stepped in and connected two wires together, small, emergency orange lights lit up around the walls, finally giving Avis something to see. They definitely weren’t in a swear, there was no foul stench she could smell, and the water had all vanished. The walls seemed more brick and stone made instead of reinforced cement and metal. Brutus the bouncer set Avis down inside the dry place as everyone else filed in after her.

“Where are we?” She asked.

“Under New York.” Rhel said. The others looked at Rhel, clearly still wanting answers from the fight. The walk had been silent, nobody had said anything, asked any further questions, not while she was around.  There were a line of iron doors on either side of the room they now stood, Rhel gave each a hard look and they split up, grumbling and dissatisfied at how they were being treated. Eventually only Rhel and the one that hissed when he talked remained. In the soft orange light, Avis could make out a greenish, scaly look on the guy. He reminded her of the lizard monsters from the movies back in the early forties, or fifties. The three continued to move down the length of the room until Avis saw a second circular door on the opposite end of them. Wyess, the lizard-man, opened it for her, and with a small push from Rhel, toppled into the opening.

The size of the room was massive, with high cathedral-like ceilings, with arches and domes. The stone and brick work continued on in here, cement covered the ground, that was covered with decorated rugs, sofas, armchairs, tables and in one nook of the place a massive computer system. There were half a dozen different size screens, a number of towers stacked up and around a desk, servers, keyboards and mice. Electrical wires crisscrossed in and out of the desk, ran along the floor towards the nearest outlet and even more wires spread out across the space.

There was a functional, if small kitchen set up inside another nook, complete with espresso maker, microwave, kettle and fridge. There even seemed to be a sink, hidden under a pile of dirty dishes. For an underground headquarters, it looked comfortable and livable, though Avis wasn’t sure if she was ready to make such a decision and move down here.

What really stood out was the amount of art hanging off the brick walls. Paintings from all different artists, and periods. There were renaissance paintings, mixed in with the modern almost graffiti style art displayed today. It felt like a poor mash-up, and Avis couldn’t tell if they were just prints or the real things… or how Rhel would even be able to get his hands on the real things. Avis stomach turned, realizing that Rhel could get anything he wanted to… with his power, who could stop him?

“What is this place?” Avis asked.

“It’s an abandoned train station.” Wyess spoke up, but quickly turned away when Rhel glared at him.

“It was bricked up over a century ago, the tracks have all been removed, and the city of New York seemed to forgotten about it.” Rhel continued, “with some modifications, I’ve managed to make it into a relative safe haven.” There was a grumble from the lizard who turned his attention towards his computer station. “Impressive, yes?” Rhel had a snarky smile on his face. He stood in the centre of the room, next to a set of leather sofas, watching her, and her expression as she moved around the circular room.

“How did you do all of this?” She asked after a moment to take it all in.

“This? Most of it was already set up when I arrived. The old subways and railways under the city have been claimed by many homeless people, and those who are not accepted above ground. I paid a rather pitiful price to move in here, add my own touches, turned out well didn’t it?”

“But, the electricity?”

“The city above uses enough electricity, they wouldn’t notice the amount we take, besides we have our own energy source to work with, and with the generators we’re able to get by at a good pace.”

“Energy soruce?” Avis asked and turned her attention back to the computer set up Wyess had. Sure enough below the desk there was a soft glow of green, yellow and red lights. “Crystals?”

“Yes, these aren’t regular crystals that you can find on this planet.” Rhel said, coming up from behind Avis and placing a hand on her shoulder.

“You’re not from earth… like my mom.” Avis said. Her heart began to pound, there were others out there, aliens from other planets, with their own technology. This was part of it, those crystals that could be used for energy and electricity… there must be more, a ship, someone to take her to her mother’s home world. She turned around to face Rhel. The question on the tip of her tongue, but as he stared at her with those red eyes, Avis faltered. Could she trust him? Half if not all of what was inside this place was most likely stolen, he somehow got in to working with her dad in the labs, he also set up a fight tournament for money. How reliable was this guy?

“Your mother was from off world?” He asked, his voice soft, yet curious. Avis hesitated, and stepped back out of his reach. Why show her all this if he didn’t already know? She already let loose her secrets against that pirate alien, he must know, he may even know her mother. But, despite knowing that, her mother always told her to keep it secret, for their own protection. Can she break the rule now?

“Yes, from a planet named Afgadu. Have you heard of it?” Avis asked, a hopeful look on her face. Wyess twirled around in his chair at the mention of the planet, Avis glanced from him to Rhel, as if trying to eavesdrop on some telepathic conversation that was going on between them. He gave her an alarmed look, then turned his attention to Rhel, hissed something and turned back to his screens.

“I have, it is my home world too.” Rhel said, “I thought we had something in common this afternoon when I bumped into you at Locklear Enterprises. It’s said that when two Airgryd’s meet, a spark is sensed between them. Did you feel anything?”

“I… well… not really.” Avis said, never hearing that phrase before from her mother.

“No… perhaps not, you are only half Airgryd after all.” Rhel said with a soft sigh and wave of his hand. “Some traits would be lacking in that regard. Still, that energy punch was impressive. Who taught you how to harness your inner power?”

“My mother… mostly… there was a mentor in Japan that also taught me.” Avis said, though careful not to us Xau’s name. “Do… do you know why those aliens were after me?”

“He was a Lykon, the other two seemed to be Quanti. Mixed blood though, still quite a power behind them.” Rhel corrected Avis. His red eyes were focused on her again, and she shifted uneasily under it’s gaze. It felt like he was trying to unravel her, get inside her head while at the same time figure out what exactly she was capable of. “If I recall correctly, he said to be after a star chart?”

“Yeah… they said something about that back in Glasgow.” Avis said, her voice low and soft, as the memory of that night returned. Her hands clasped into fists as a hard, angry expression filled her face. “They killed my mother, I’m sure of it.”

“You’re mother’s dead?” Rhel’s voice was high, and as Avis looked at him and realized he was surprised by the news, not a fake voice like much of how he’d been talking to her before. It was a genuine shock that went through his facial features. It puzzled her, why he would react in such a way.  “Wyess, find everything about Nyria Rision’s death. Dammit, I should have followed her more closely.”

“Nyria… how did you… did you know her?” Avis asked, her body straightening. Could it be that this was someone whom her mother was working with to try to get back to her home world?

“Easy there kid, we’re two Airgryds stuck on the same hunk of rock, how could we not know of each others existence.” Rhel said, his voice back to ti’s smooth and charming tone. “We may not have been friends, but we knew about each other. I was sent to help her when her ship broke through the TSInc line. Unfortunately my ship was blown apart by the military here, and we were separated.”

“I… don’t understand, TSInc what?” Avis sat on the couch, her mind whirling around everything that had happened to her that day. Her body was in pain still, and learning that Rhel was also an Airgyd, knew her mother, and had alien tech… it was a bit too much for her to process.

“It’s a company, they designed and developed interstellar travel through their technology, much like a worm hole. But that is not of any concern now.” Rhel said. “Like I said, I was only sent to retrieve your mother, but this country had other plans and destroyed much of our ships during the process. In the chaos that came afterwards, we were separated.”

Avis frowned. Something didn’t feel right. Why would her mother not tell her of another Airgyd on Earth? If he was on the level as he claimed to be, why didn’t Rhel and he mom become better acquaintances? It always felt like they were on the run growing up. Avis seemed to associate it with the earth military and scientists, and that her mother only changed jobs to avoid any suspicion with their neighbours and such. Was there someone else she was running from?

“The star chart… what’s that?” Avis asked. Her face hard. She wanted answers, and so far Rhel was giving her some, maybe she can get a bit more before making a run for it. There must be an exit to the surface somewhere close… there was a flashlight on one of the tables where they entered she remembered. If she grabbed that on her way out she could make it back to the penthouse before midnight.

“The star chart is what navigates a ship through space. It’s the once device that earthlings have not managed to create, then again, they only have this solar system to map. The idea of more solar systems, and different star clusters and space navigation haven’t crossed their mind yet.” He sounded unimpressed with the way the earth people have advanced, it sounded similar to the way her mother described the technology of this planet when she was in a bad mood. A mug was shoved into Avis’s hands, she didn’t know when it was made, but it was warm and it smelled like cinnamon. She gave Rhel a suspicious look as he sat down across from her with a similar mug of the same fragrance. The warmth was comforting, a sip wouldn’t hurt either.

“Why do they think I have it? Why do they even want it? Is their’s broken or something?” Avis asked.

“I doubt it. No… they believe your mother was in possession of a particular star chart of legend.” Rhel said, giving a pause that caused Avis to look once more into his face, it was as if he was trying to lure her into some sort of trap. unconsciously she sipped from the mug again.

“Legend?” Avis asked.

“Myth, legend, fairy tale. It happened centuries ago, when Afgadu was just starting their own space exploration. A planet full of crystals that they managed to harness for energy, they progressed much faster then these apes have… but it is said that the Ruler of the planet, found a rare, and powerful crystal. He had the crystal broken into five equal pieces, and a personal, portable star chart created for each of his five children. Heirlooms of monarchy really… but the crystals were still extremely powerful as themselves.”

“But, they aren’t Airgryds… how would they know of the story, or of the crystal powering it?”

“Because as with the stories of different cultures here are spread across the planet, similar stories are spread across galaxies that are connected and dependent on each other. Those star charts are now a treasure hunter’s dream. Wave a few leads under a pirate’s nose and they’ll take off to the ends of the galaxy to find their fortune.”

“So.. They’re just overzealous treasure hunters?” Avis asked, she knew it shouldn’t make them sound less dangerous but it was a far cry from Indiana Jones.

“Yes, we’ve been tracking their ship. They’ve been hiding behind the moon for the past month. I hoped they would lend a helping hand to those trapped here, but it seems they are here for another reason and won’t reply to any of our communications.” Rhel added, leaning back on the sofa.

“You can communicate with them? And are finding a way off this planet too?” Avis asked, curious and surprised to hear that this man had the same goals as her.

“You won’t find an alien here who wouldn’t want to return to their home world. Some have managed to make a living off this planet, why do you think their technology had advanced so much in the most recent history? But, appearances have to be hidden, some like us have a similar anatomy and appearance and can blend right in. Others like Wyess over there are not so lucky and must hide under ground or in other safe houses.” Rhel said with a smile. “I’ve been working on gathering up as much extra-terrestrial tech as I can, we managed to make our own communication system to try to signal other ships, though many either ignore our requests or our signal isn’t strong enough. I’ve also been working on getting off this planet, and am coming close to a solution.”

He leaned forward and Avis pushed herself back. “Is that why you’re at Locklear’s Enterprises? Working with the military? They have something, don’t they?”

“Smart girl…” He mused.

“Hey, give me some credit. I’ve been watching all of you on the security feed, but it doesn’t look like you’ve been able to do much down there. You’re all there for the Anti-Grve device, aren’t you. How can you perform long distance space travel without something like that. Does that mean there’s a ship somewhere?”

“Well, given that you live in the building, I expected you to have already managed to find a way in….”

“What does that mean?” Avis said, growing defensive. “I’m not a spy, unlike you.”

“Spy?”

“Isn’t that what you are? You’re just trying to get the information you need. No wonder my father has kept you lot at a distance. Are you double-crossing the military too?”

“What if I am? They were the ones who destroyed my ship, remember? They shot down a number of others too. Heard of Roswell? I don’t think you want to side with the American Air Force. But, what do you care? You’ve got a home, money, even a potential life here on earth…”

“This isn’t my home!” Avis said quickly. “My mom has told me stories about Afgadu, the Airgryds and other planets and species out there… I… I can’t stand how isolated this place is. There is so much out there and…. At times I feel that I’m missing out.” Avis blinked, where did all that come from? So much for keeping her mouth shut.

“Well, if we don’t give these apes a push, we may both be stuck on here for the rest of our lives.” Rhel said, his voice low. Avis lowered her gaze. He did have a point, if she just sat back and watched, a lifetime could pass and they wouldn’t be any further ahead.

“Would you… take me with you?” Avis asked, afraid of asking the question. Her tea was half empty, she didn’t remember drinking it but she must have, her eye lids were growing heavy, but she gave Rhel a look of hope.

“If you like. But first we need to discover how much of the ship the military has is complete. I’m sure your father would have the files by now, if we can get a larger picture of what is still required, we may be able to speed things along.” Rhel said. “If you help us, I can help you.”

This was it, Avis thought. They seemed to have a plan, they weren’t just waiting as her mother seemed to be. They were actively finding a way off the planet. There was a ship somewhere. Would it be her mothers? Wouldn’t it be awesome to take her mother’s ship back home for her? The idea appealed to Avis as she set her mug down, feeling exhausted, drained and tired. She almost forgot about the cuts she had gathered earlier, and the dried blood around her arms.

“I’ll help…” Avis said, but she couldn’t get another word out as she fell back, passing out on the couch in a sound sleep.

***

“That took longer than I thought.” Wyess said, still by his computer desk.

“She’s strong.” Rhel said with a nod of his head. He placed Avis’s feet up on the couch and covered her with a blanket. “With her connection inside Locklear’s labs. We’re one step closer.”

“That story you told her about the star chart… I thought the crystal was a weapon?” Wyess asked.

“It was, before they broke it apart.” Rhel said with a sigh as he stepped over to Wyess’s screens. He had brought up several files of a mystery women found dead in London. Tortured, and decapitated, whomever killed Nyria wanted to make sure she remained dead. Rhel frowned. Nyria had been his last resort if all of his other plans panned out. He knew she had the star chart, it was the reason he came to this planet in the first place. His client wanted the star chart, and messed up with is previous hired goons. He had almost retrieved it too, had it not been for those missiles, he could have had Nyria and the star chart and be back in familiar space in months instead of sixteen years.

There was some resentment towards the red-headed Airgryd, but now that she was out of the picture, it meant he had to befriend the girl asleep on the sofa.

“So, do you think she has it?” Wyess asked. “The star chart? We need it for the ship, hell that crystal could even be the core power required too. Once we get the new anti-gravity device off Locklear, we could possibly be off this planet in a week.”

“We’ve still got to figure out where Nyria hid it. She obviously hid it from her daughter.” Rhel pointed out. “Then there are the pirates.”

“Want to make a deal with them?” Wyess asked. It was an honest question, it wasn’t as if Rhel wasn’t used to dealing with similar minded people on earth. Rhel even considered it as they were walking back to headquarters. The girl did have value, but it all depended on the star chart location. If he could get to it without her, her value would be lost.

“Not yet. If I can get away without their help, I would prefer it. Let’s see what she can offer us first.” Rhel looked back to the sleeping girl.

“What are we going to do with her?”

“I’ll take her back to her penthouse in an hour or so. Now… show me more about Nyria’s death… she must have left a clue for her daughter somewhere.”

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