Torella glanced around as she slipped her picks into the lock, closing her eyes as she felt for the pin. The soft click came and the cage door swung open.
The chittering of the crystalline creatures grew as she reached in a hand, loading them into a specially-lined sack.
“Shh…” she whispered at them, hurrying back through the building.
Once outside, she reactivated the building’s security and drove her van calmly home, heart finally slowing its heightened patter as she reached her underground parking spot.
Closing her apartment door behind her, she took deep breaths, steadying her post-adrenaline shakes before upending the sack into the specially-built biome that took up the entirety of one of her spare rooms, and had cost no small amount of her fortune to have built – and that was before the cost of the bribes for silence from all involved.
She was exhausted, but now was not the time for sleep. She retied her fair hair into its low ponytail, brown eyes glinting in the glow of the biome’s special lighting, and changed quickly into something more comfortable. A low collar and rolled-up sleeves revealed tattoos, covering her pale skin, and criss-crosses of old scar tissue, the gaining of which still invited occasional nightmares.
Looking into the biome, Torella remembered the day the rip opened and the crystalline balls appeared.
She had been focused on another job, ferrying not-quite-legally-obtained goods from buyer to seller, the sort of job she accepted between more important ones, to stay busy. Money wasn’t the point and hadn’t been for a long time, but she did so hate hanging around doing nothing.
The local radio was playing some 90s tunes, and Torella had been idly singing along, when the dj cut in, breathless with excitement. A tear had opened in the skies above their town, the space beyond a deep black, dotted with points of light that drew closer. With a flash, balls of crystal fell through into the crowd below, disappearing as they landed. After a few hours, the rip had closed, leaving no sign that it had ever existed.
The crystalline balls had been painstakingly gathered, over the weeks following. Wherever they went, they showed an exotic form of radiation, so even invisible they were traceable. So far studies had failed to discover much more. How they functioned, what they wanted, where they came from, and how, and why.
They looked like small balls of crystal, except the crystal was in constant flux, changing colour, flowing around the body, and when handled incorrectly, the crystals could form teeth to bite.
That bite, it had quickly been discovered, was lethal. The smallest nip, and the bitten would die, their blood crystallising in their veins. So far no antidote had been found, and tests on the creatures had been halted.
They also possessed another skill, one Torella was sure only she knew of. They were telepathic.
She had conned her way into the laboratory where the caught creatures were held, and had to fake a faint when their voices sounded in her head.
They spoke like cut-glass, their initial foray into her mind had left her feeling like she was being stabbed, but they quickly modulated their tone – blunted it, until she was able to hear them without pain.
They had been banished from their home, they told her, for raising an insurrection against their cruel rulers. They had been looking for a human who could help them return, or at least escape imprisonment and testing. Would she help? They would tell her everything she needed to do to stay safe and undetected.
Torella had promised to help, her curiosity wouldn’t allow her anything else, and piece by piece she had a biome built, along with a bag, all shielded against detection of their radiation. And now there they were, inside, rolling around, colours flashing, and she heard their thanks in her mind.
For the next few weeks, Torella worked nonstop, following instructions. She had pieces of machinery built, and put them together in her increasingly-crowded apartment. Concerned for her, friends and contacts tried to get in touch, but she turned them all away, promising she would explain soon.
Finally, just as exhaustion began to break her, the creatures told her the machine was ready. On activation, it would open a small tear back to their world, and they would be able to escape there, unnoticed by the tyrannical rulers, and continue the rebellion.
“I wish you the very best of luck, my friends,” Torella told them, opening the biome.
As the crystals rolled out, their colours pulsing strongly, she pulled the lever to activate the machine.
It rumbled, then pulsed with light.
Torella stepped backwards, suddenly afraid as the crystalline balls giggled sharply in her head.
“W-what’s happening?” she asked.
Her question went unanswered, as the rumble of the machine built into something that hurt her ears.
Stumbling back, she was blinded as a thick beam of light strobed up through the ceiling, bursting through the roof of the building in a shower of plaster and brick.
In the sky a rip formed, and grew, and grew, and grew, until the shadow covered the whole town. Pricks of light drew closer, and bigger, much bigger than the balls that rolled around laughing, their voices sending Torella to the ground.
“You are fortunate,” the balls insisted, their voices cutting through her mind, “For helping us, you die in peace, and need not see your world fall.”
The last thing Torella heard was the screech of those voices slicing through her consciousness, before death took her away.
Outside, the pricks of light exploded through the rip. First came more balls, turning invisible as they dropped to the ground.
But they were followed by creatures that grew larger, and larger. All made of the same shifting, pulsating crystal, they fell from the rip and looked down at the humans as they landed, until finally they were too big to fall, simply stepping out and placing their feet on the ground as they towered above.
The population screamed as their heads were filled with cut-glass voices that tore their resistance apart.
“We come,” boomed the largest of the creatures, voice filling the heads of people for miles around. “We come.”
“And so, the world fell, we but one of their many,” the rebel Historian closed the book and looked around her rapt audience.
The Arroqor Multitude demanded much and gave little. Humans lived in broken houses, sewing together rags for clothing. They died in the biting winter frosts, sweltered in the broiling summers. The Multitude bred those who refused to breed themselves, and left to die any who fought back. The Historians, small in number but large in reputation, lived by the grace of their fellow humans. Those not so broken as to betray their own kind would shelter them, feed them, smuggle them around the world, and it was their duty to keep the belief in freedom alive.
“Those who lived through the Conquering, and the Breaking that followed, were enslaved, as we are today. But there has always been a counter-force, always us. Someday, we will take our world back from them, and it will be because each of us did our duty to our species.”
The Historian rose, accepting a helping hand, and smiled at the babble of whispered conversation they left behind them.
Not all would join, but some would, and some was enough. They would bring others, and others, and from generations past, to generations yet to come, they would build, until they were strong enough to take back their world from the invaders. She wouldn’t live to see it, she knew. But one day, because of the work she did, others would. And that was enough.
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