“Come on Isolde, I know you know who she is. Just tell me and I’ll let you go.”
Isolde looked up at Vasag, blood running down her cheek. “I’m not telling you anything, traitor. You might as well kill me now and have done with it.”
Vasag sighed in exasperation. He’d brought Isolde in straight from the Disciples’hideout, and for the last two hours she’d stubbornly refused to tell him anything he didn’t already know. “You’re going to tell me eventually. You might as well save yourself a lot of pain and misery by telling me now, rather than later. Who is the Thirteenth Kat?”
Isolde spat in Vasag’s face. He wiped it away and raised his knife again. “Very well. Have it your way,” he said, slashing her face again.
After another hour, Isolde had kept her silence, and received several wounds doing so. She had been dragged out of the interrogation chamber by two guards and thrown into a cell, where she lay on the floor in silence for several minutes before hearing a voice in the shadows.
“Locations or names?” the voice asked.
“What?” she asked shakily.
“Were they trying to get locations out of you, or names? It’s usually one or the other.” A tall, slim feline crept forwards. “I’ve been here for a while now. They tend to leave me alone now, but they did all this to me months back. I’m Tsoline, by the way.”
Isolde sat up and introduced herself. “They wanted me to tell them who the Thirteenth Kat is. I’m with the Disciples of the Silver X, you see, and we’re working with her and another group.”
“You know who she is?” Tsoline asked.
“Not exactly. I know a bit more about her than most people, but probably nothing Vasag hasn’t told them already,” Isolde said. “He’s part of our group, but he’s been working with Saphrax too. I don’t know how long for.”
Tsoline was quiet for a moment. “Saphrax isn’t the only one with double agents. I’m assuming you can keep a secret,” she said, deciding to tell Isolde about Mari and Nyneve’s plan.
“Right, we’re off to meet the other two. We shouldn’t be long,” Levon told his brother as he and Drystan got ready to meet Loras and Eznik. “Parvona and Antrias are coming with us, they’re going to head for Saphrax’s base.”
Nazar nodded. “See you in a bit then, and good luck. I’ll probably be down in the caves, I want to check over those weapons before we use them, make sure they’re in working order.”
Nadalia and Ovsanna were still eating breakfast. “I’ll head down with you Naz, I want to have a look around the disc cave for an access device,” Nadalia said around a mouthful of eggs.
“Nads, don’t talk with your mouth full, it’s disgusting,” Ovsanna said as Levon and Drystan closed the door. “Anyway, I think I’ll stay up here and study the books I brought up. I’ll see if I can work out how the words might have sounded.”
Nadalia and Nazar nodded in acknowledgement. Once the girls had finished eating Nadalia and Nazar headed down to the caves. Ovsanna began poring through the ancient books she had brought upstairs the day before, and trying out sounds to see if they fitted the writing.
Nazar began opening crates and dismantling weapons as soon as he reached the cave. He was looking forward to the challenge of deciphering the inner workings of so many different artefacts, and figuring out how to use them.
Nadalia, meanwhile, was searching the disc cave for something that could access them. She had been through most of the boxes when she found a large flat box near the back of the cave. She opened it up and found a plastic device. It looked a bit like the old visual receiver she had seen her dad working on several months ago, and for a moment she wondered what it was doing there. Then she remembered Nazar telling her that the discs were mostly used to store visual recordings, so it made sense. She couldn’t work out how to operate it though, so she looked in the box again and found a smaller plastic device with lots of buttons on it. Examining the larger device more closely, she noticed a slot in the side and a wire coming out of the back of it. She decided to take both bits upstairs and see if Ovsanna would be able to ask the hemsepans about it.
Drystan and Levon had reached the meeting point and found Loras and Eznik. They were catching up on the latest gossip, and Loras had something quite surprising to tell them all.
“Have you heard the latest? Apparently Saphrax and his girlfriend have had a baby! I feel sorry for the kid, considering what happened to his other children.”
Levon wasn’t sure how to respond. “Really? I erm… no, I hadn’t heard about that.”
Drystan cut in. “Never mind that, we’ve got something really amazing to show you. You’ll love it, come on, let’s get back!”
“So I’ll set up a distraction by setting off the fire alarms, while you open the cell doors and get the rebels into the transport that should be waiting by the back gates,” Nyneve told Mari. They were going over the plan one last time before putting it into action. “Only half an hour before the guards change shifts, nobody will be very alert. You know which cells to open, yes?”
Mari nodded. “Let Katayun out, those three unchipped primates, and Tsoline’s cell. Hey, I heard Tsoline got a new cellmate this morning, are we letting her out too?” she asked.
Nyneve thought for a second. “Yes, we might as well. Ready to go?”
“Yep.” They set off in opposite directions, Mari taking the cell keys with her. She waited at the end of the first corridor until she heard the fire bells ring, then she dashed to the first cell door she had to open. “Come on, we haven’t got much time,” she called to the three young primates huddled in the corner. They followed her out of the cell and down the next corridor to let Katayun out.
“Yuni, time to go,” Mari said as she opened the door. “What…?”
Katayun looked over at Mari. “I think I’d better stay here. Someone needs to look after him,” she said. She was kneeling on the floor next to Alaric, trying to get him to drink some water. “He’s not well. I think Saphrax has done something to him, but he won’t tell me anything. You go, get the others out.”
Mari looked down at Alaric, who was getting very thin, and his fur very scraggy. “Alright. See if you can find out what happened, maybe I can help when I’ve got this lot out.”
Katayun nodded as Mari left the cell. “Just Tsoline and her friend to pick up then,” she said to the nearest of the three primates, who didn’t respond. Mari shrugged and led them back up the corridor. She reached Tsoline’s door and heard two people arguing about something, though she couldn’t make out what it was about over the racket the alarms were now making.
“What is going on in here?!” she shouted as she opened the door.
Tsoline span round. “Mari, there you are! Please tell this religious nutcase that I have no desire whatsoever to be converted!”
“I wasn’t trying to convert you, you asked about my beliefs and I was trying to explain them to you!” Isolde yelled back.
Mari shook her head. “Listen you two, you can argue over religion all you like once you get out of here. But first you need to get away, because…” the alarms suddenly cut out, leaving a ringing noise in everyone’s ears. “Because we’ve got less than five minutes to get you into the transport and away before someone notices that prisoners have gone missing. Now follow me, quickly and quietly.”
They crept out of the cell complex and towards the back gates, where they could see a small non-descript transport waiting. Nyneve joined them at the edge of the building. “Okay, is everyone here? No, where’s Katayun?”
“She decided to stay and look after Alaric, he’s ill,” Mari said. “What now? There’s a guard watching the gates.”
Nyneve stepped out of the shadows. “Leave him to me,” she whispered to Mari. “Hey, what was that over there?” she called to the guard, pointing over to the other side of the yard. As he turned to see what she meant, Nyneve hit him in the head with her shocker pistol.
Mari and the five escaped prisoners ran over to the gate. “Nice one,” Mari said as Nyneve opened the gates. The rebels jumped into the transport and drove off.
“You’d best get out of here Mari,” Nyneve said. “You’re supposed to be doing some research into the rebel alliance, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Can you try and help Alaric, see if you can find out what’s happened to him?” Mari asked.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“So the wire goes into a socket in the wall, which supplies the device with electricity?” Nadalia asked Ryan, through Ovsanna’s writing skills. Ryan nodded after reading the translated message. Ovsanna hadn’t been confident enough to try verbal communication with them, so they were back to writing messages to each other. David and Chris had come back up, bringing Ryan. They had been trying to teach Ovsanna how to speak their language, and Ryan had explained how to use the device Nadalia had found.
“What’s this big surprise then, Drystan?” they heard an unfamiliar voice ask as the front door opened.
“You’ll see,” Drystan responded cryptically. “They’ll probably be up by now.”
Levon entered the room first, followed by Eznik and a long-tailed, very furry primate, who Nadalia presumed was Loras. “Here they are,” said Levon. “Naz still down in the caves?” he asked the two girls, who nodded.
Eznik stared at the three hemsepans, caught between apprehension and disbelief. Loras, however, seemed to know no fear, and walked straight over to Chris.
“This is absolutely incredible!” Loras stared at Chris in amazement. “When did you find them? And where?”
“Nazar and me found them in the caves. We saw one a couple of days ago, then we went back down and found this lot yesterday,” Nadalia said, watching David write something down and hand the paper to Ovsanna.
“He’s asked if you two are scientists,” she told Eznik and Loras. “Eznik, relax, they’re not going to eat you.”
Eznik approached the hemsepans slowly and sat down facing them. “Tell them that we’re not exactly scientists, but we have both spent a lot of time studying what is known about their culture,” he said. “And that we’re very interested to learn more.” Ovsanna translated quickly, and Chris began to write a reply.
Just then, the radio crackled. “I’ll take that in the other room,” Nadalia said quietly, taking the receiver into the next room.
“Naddy, its dad. How are you doing?” said the voice on the radio. “Everything’s fine here. I just thought I’d tune in and wish you a happy birthday. I managed to get hold of an old transmitter, it’s not as good as the one you have, but I managed to fix it up so I could get in touch with you as well, rather than just listening out for your messages. Have a good day, anyway, and we’ll talk soon.”
Nadalia was about to reply when Drystan came in. “Hey Nads, the twins and me are going outside to see what those ’fire works’things do, you want to come and see?”
“Sure, it could be interesting,” she answered. “I’ll be out in a second, just let me send a reply to dad.”
Out in the garden behind the house, Nazar had brought up a couple of objects from the crates. “So what do you think ’fire works’means?” Nazar asked.
After a few minutes thought, Levon replied. “It doesn’t make any sense in normal language. Maybe it’s some sort of code, like ‘these things work when you apply fire’, so ‘fire works’.”
Drystan shrugged. “Seems a little far-fetched, but I can’t think of anything better.”
They were just deliberating where exactly they should apply fire when Nadalia came out. “Have you tested them yet?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Drystan said. “Levon thinks ’fire works’might be a sort of code, so we’re trying to decide where to put the fire to make them work. Any ideas?”
Nadalia looked at the strange objects. “How about the string coming out of the end?” she suggested. “It seems the most obvious place to start.”
Nazar nodded. “Okay. I’ll light the string, then I think we should leave it on the ground, since we don’t know what’s going to happen.” He picked up one of the cylinders and lit the string, then put it back on the ground. The string burned down to the edge of the cylinder, then there was a split second pause. Suddenly, the cylinder shot off into a bush whistling, then exploded with a very loud bang, setting the shrubbery on fire.
“What the…?!” Levon exclaimed. “It blew up!”
“The hedge is on fire!” Drystan cried.
Nazar was jumping up and down. “Put it out, put it out!” he shrieked.
Nadalia ran inside to get a bowl of water, then threw it over the burning bush. “Is that all of it? Did it light anything else?” she asked.
Drystan shook his head. “I don’t think anything else caught. They must be bombs or something,” he said.
“Must be. They’ll be very useful when we move against Saphrax,” Levon replied.
The six that were still indoors came rushing outside. “What’s going on? We heard an explosion,” Eznik asked.
Nazar responded. “We were testing those ’fire works’ things. We think they’re bombs of some kind, we lit one and it blew up the bushes over there,” he said, indicating the smouldering greenery.
Ryan had walked over to the bush and picked up the blackened tube. He looked at it for a moment and then turned to the other two hemsepans with a smile.
“Looks like they’ve found the fireworks, David,” said Ryan with a smile.
David and Chris looked at each other in concern. “It looks like they’re serious about taking this dictator down.”