Raphael sensed the uneasiness of his companions like electricity in the air. The red-masked turtle scowled at the Ruairi and the two elohim. "If you guys wanna bolt, be my guest. I'm waiting for the others."
"Would it not serve both your preservation and your brother's for us to start moving again?" Akeem suggested.
"If you wanna take care of yourself, Ruairi, then do it," the turtle replied shortly.
"You do not know what the Overlords will do if they catch me," Akeem said defensively. "The elohim hate the Ruairi, and do not hesitate to make it known to their prisoners."
"And what do you think they'd do with me?" Raphael snorted. "Can you say 'dissection?'" He glanced down at his youngest brother who seemed to be asleep with his eyes open and then shot Akeem another look. "But I'm still gonna stay here and wait for my other brothers – period."
"But do you not see—" Akeem started.
"Stop trying to argue with him," Ghyath ordered. "Be silent. We need to pay attention. Enemies could be anywhere. Bahri said that they were coming, and I have faith in my 'brother' too."
Raphael gave the elohim a half smile for backing him up, and resumed staring at the transporter that the other team was supposed to be using. Shell, what I want to know is how the Ruairi got out with their guy so fast. They must have broken some speed rescue record or something.
Every creak and sound of the building made Raphael feel more defensive. He stayed within range of his prone brother, so that even if something erupted, he would be able to protect him. His heart rate felt like it was increasing with passing minutes, but his resolve was undeterred.
Maybe these Ruairi can run without looking back, but I can't, he thought darkly. I wouldn't be surprised if they were the ones to set off the alarm to begin with. We shouldn't have let those punks out of our sight.
Raphael fell into a "ready" stance as the doors to the transporter slid open, and drew his dirk just in case the figures were enemies. He didn't release the breath he'd been holding until he saw Bahri emerging, followed immediately by his older brother. The sight of Leonardo carrying Donatello was a distressing one.
"How is he, Leo? What's wrong with him?"
"He's all right," the blue-masked turtle said tightly. "From what I can tell, he isn't seriously hurt."
"Then why's he out, Fearless?"
"That story has to wait," Leonardo hissed, but Raphael didn't miss the angry look his brother gave to Bahri. Leo took a deep breath and glanced back at him. "How's Mike?"
"I think he'll be okay too, at least, that's what they said."
Leonardo bent down over their youngest brother, his brow creasing over Michelangelo's strange condition.
"They were drugging him, Leo. The Chucklehead is in there, and we'll get him out one way or another."
"First we have to get out of here," Leonardo said pointedly.
"I second that," Ghyath added swiftly. "Bahri, send the transporter back down, but first set it to make a few random stops on other levels. We need to find ourselves another to take us to the upper deck."
"Why don't we just use that one?" Raphael pointed to the perfectly good transporter.
"The point is to confuse those who are trying to find us, Raphael," Ghyath replied. "To force them to scatter in all directions, because they do not know where we actually are.
"It's a good thought." Leo nodded appreciatively at Ghyath.
Khalil held up a hand in the air. "I just spoke with one of our own inside the communications networks. He managed to create a small delay with the reboot to gain us a little more time. We need to make good use of it!"
Ghyath threw his shoulders back as his features hardened. "We move now."
The guides took their places at the front of the group to show them through another level that appeared to have more of an industrial use. The grey walls were set off by glowing numbers and characters that appeared luminous in the low overhead lighting.
"What's up with this place?" Raphael directed toward Bahri, since Ghyath seemed to be taking the larger role of leading.
"Every level of Central has a different purpose; no two are the same," Bahri told him. "Whatever you do, do not touch the walls." The elohim raised his voice for the benefit of everyone else. "If any of the numerals are accidentally activated, it could alert those who are seeking us to our position."
"What kind of ships do they keep around here?" Leonardo was already thinking ahead.
"There will be several options, but the Interceptors are the fastest," Ghyath answered. "They may be exactly what we need."
"I don't understand what happened to the other Ruairi," Raphael said bluntly. "Where are they?"
"I only spoke with Achaz briefly," Ghyath said. "He told me that they had no choice except to flee the building. I do not know what mode of vehicle they are using, but they could not return to our original pilot either."
"I hope they know what they're doing," Raphael muttered. "I wish I knew what we're doing."
Khalil stopped at the head of the team, and opened another transporter hatch. "You dare not waste any time," he said. "If the plan is to take a ship, then I say steal and it and begone before what luck we have runs out."
The transporter shot up through the building, sending a familiar weightless sensation through Raphael's stomach. He glanced at Mike, but saw no reaction in his youngest brother's face. He would probably love these things if he really knew what was going on. He looked back at Leonardo, who had such a tight grip on Donatello that it seemed he believed someone was going to steal him.
When the panel opened on the chosen level, Raphael detected rapid footsteps on the other side. From the way Akeem stiffened, it was obvious the Ruairi had heard them too. Without a word, the alien shoved past Khalil to get out into the hall.
"Ruairi, wait—" Ghyath didn't have time to finish the statement before a laser blast rang out.
Raphael swore as he heard someone fall, and hurriedly passed Michelangelo off to Bahri.
"Terrapin, if you—"
The red-masked turtle didn't let Ghyath complete the sentence either, somersaulting low across the hallway to avoid laser-fire. He drew his dirk as he gained his feet, and the weapon shot from his hand like lightning, striking the attacker between the eyes.
Raphael looked right and left without seeing anyone else, but he was certain that he heard more footsteps close by. "You guys, we gotta get outta here; we gotta get out!" He dashed to the fallen Overlord to retrieve his dirk, and saw Lajos bending over his fallen comrade.
"He is dead," the Ruairi said flatly.
"They're playing for keeps," Leonardo declared. "Show us where to go, quickly!"
Khalil needed no further encouragement. Raphael opted to allow Bahri to continue handling Mike so that he would have his hands free, despite his protective instincts over his brother. Leonardo still didn't seem inclined to part with Donny, and his face was a mask of barely contained emotions.
Khalil led them in the opposite direction of the approaching figures, making two quick turns before heading straight for a door like it had been his goal all along. The adjoining room was pitch-black at once, but as soon as they spilled inside the space, low lighting instantly responded.
The enormous room looked like a graveyard for every piece of technology that the elohim must have ever abandoned. There were so many remnants and pieces of machines that he nearly smiled as he considered what Donny might have thought of it. Dust hung in the air and coated nearly every visible surface.
"Guess they don't use this place much," Raphael murmured to Leonardo.
Khalil left the room in its dim state, not daring to turn on any more lights. "Follow me," he urged.
Raphael was mystified by what the room had to do with the air ships, but had to trust that the elohim knew what they were doing. Khalil led them silently through the space that felt cavernous, even though it was full of contraptions. They came to a length of narrow metal stairs, and climbed quietly in a line to get to the second level.
At the top, the red-masked turtle saw Khalil having a discussion with Kenric and Ghyath over a key pad. He watched as Kenric tried a couple of variations that had no effect on the display, but on the third try the screen finally lit up. The elohim crossed through the open hatch, warning for absolute silence from everyone else.
Raphael was one of the last ones through with Leonardo, and felt coolness the moment he emerged into a massive room that was completely open on the west end to the night air.
"This is one of the launch strips," Bahri told the turtle. "Khalil thought this entrance would be abandoned, because the room has been ignored ever since—"
"The entrance may be abandoned, but the strip isn't," Leonardo cut him off, peering over a railing to the floor below. "Look."
Raphael really didn't want to, but curiosity forced him to crouch down by the railing so he could see further below. The sight of at least fifteen sentries made his heart skip. He and Leonardo could probably handle a lot of them on their own, but the aliens were armed, and one wrong move could be the last one someone ever made.
"Shell," he whispered. "How do we get through that, Fearless? How do we get out of here?"
The blue-masked turtle backed away from the railing and motioned for Raphael to follow him. "Ghyath," Leo called softly. "What does it take to fly one of those Interceptors?"
The golden-eyed elohim shook his head. "The computer alone can do most of the flying if it needs to, but as far as escaping unseen…this is a problem, Leonardo. Even if we can get to a ship, there are too many that can chase us. We could easily be shot down."
Leonardo gazed in the direction of the launch strip, a familiar glint entering his eyes.
"I wanna hear it, Leo," Raphael said instantly.
"If they want to chase someone, I say we give them something to chase."
"What do you mean?" Ghyath asked.
Leonardo folded his arms. "What's the best way to get them off our tails, Ghyath?"
The alien's brow furrowed. "A decoy? That…it might work. It might. But controlling an Interceptor by the computer would require certain technology."
Khalil pressed in closer to them from the fringe of the group. "Leave it to me. There is probably an older wireless unit intact inside the room behind me."
"Are you certain that it would work without the crystal network?" Bahri asked.
"It has to," Khalil returned. "It was invented before the network was even in use. This may take a little digging, but I will find it. Be safe, janfryls." (friends)
Khalil met Kenric a couple of feet away and both elohim went back into the room.
Bahri nodded their direction gratefully. "Khalil's father was a long-time leader and inventor, one of the top minds where it concerns the old technology. When the crystal network was erected a century ago, many of the old pieces were abandoned. But because the elohim are generally not hasty—"
"You didn't bother throwing any of it away," Leonardo filled in impatiently. "So let's say that they can pull this off and get the sentries to chase an Interceptor. What kind of ship are we looking for?"
Ghyath exhaled. "The Interceptors are the fastest, but they also burn through energy cells quickly. There could be a couple more options that would serve to help us blend in, but they would not be the best choice to outrun something."
"How much time do we have before our clock runs out on communications?" Leo asked.
"Kenric said that we have maybe another thirty minutes before the crystal network is engaged once more," Bahri answered.
"Is that enough time for them to work their magic?" Raphael hated to ask.
"Khalil will do it," Ghyath said confidently. "In the meantime, I think we should head below."
"Where all of the Overlords are?" Raphael was incredulous.
"We have to be prepared to react in an instant," Ghyath insisted. "We need to pick a ship – something from the reserves that would be more related to long distance travel than a mission."
"You don't think fast is the way to go?" Raphael persisted.
"I think it is more important to have something that will slip under the radar," Ghyath replied. "You want to see everyone escape, do you not?"
Leonardo cast another glance over the ledge at the Overlords who were congregating in the center of the room. "They look like they're waiting on orders. If we can find something near the back of the room, I'd be willing to chance going down there. Are you able to stay in contact with Khalil?"
Ghyath nodded. "He has a link, and he will alert us when an Interceptor is ready to go."
Raphael's eye-ridges rose. "They're not coming with us, are they?"
"No," the elohim replied. "Their entire purpose is to make certain that we escape."
The red-masked turtle swallowed at the news and glanced around for Lajos. The Ruairi hadn't said a word since discovering his dead comrade. "You okay?" He gave the alien a bleak look.
"Sometimes sacrifices are made," Lajos said numbly. "I do not know why Akeem panicked that way, but it is very unfortunate."
Raphael nodded. "I'm sorry.
The Ruairi shook his head. "It is not what I would have chosen, but right now we must focus on getting out."
Ghyath took the head of the group with Leonardo, who was still carrying Donatello. Raphael let Bahri and Lajos take the middle with Mike and the dead Ruairi, bringing up the rear with his dirk drawn for protection. His grip on the weapon only tightened as they quietly descended the back staircase, and laid eyes on a dozen non-descript ships that looked dark and cold in the shadows.
"I am sure one of these could serve us," Ghyath whispered. "We must choose and be ready to fly when the opportunity presents itself."
Raphael growled inwardly. These elohim still don't get it. Sometimes you gotta make an opportunity appear, whether it's there or not. Here's hoping that their guys upstairs are as good as they said they are.