Johns had discarded his armour, swapping the suit for a worn green uniform. His men moved their volunteers on board, a mixture of green troops and veterans. He had chosen his people personally, no mistakes would be forgiven on this voyage. The second most powerful man on Macaulay breathed in deeply, slapped his Sargeant on the shoulder and laughed loudly. This was more like it. Viker could stay here with his new-found pleasure and sycophants, Johns craved war. A growl bubbled at the back of his throat, a familiar sound he thought gone forever. Perhaps things were finally beginning to look up. As he heard the ramp lifting , he wondered where Alana was, and what she was doing. He could have done with her by his side.
Flagship Unknown Location
“So, how does this work?”
Shan looked puzzled. Each of the screens was extremely complex, a mix of virtual holographic technology, hard screen and table-top map-ware. The planet was divided into zones which contained their own habitat and microclimate. Troops were highlighted in one colour, non-combatants in another. Information scrolled on disposition, weapons, life signs, aptitude, power bonuses and risk.
“Games begin simply, usually in one zone. Players then can draft in further troops depending upon strict rules. You can see here how a game develops.”
The Ori flicked his fingers over a virtual keyboard, setting in motion a simulation of a Game.
“This is one of the most famous of Games. It decimated a world, causing the financial ruin of two houses and the virtual annihilation of breeding stock. It is how my family ultimately decided that they were the only true exponents and deserved to own and run the Game as they wished to do so.”
"You lost then,” laughed Shan, “how appropriate.” He waved his hand around the Control Room,
“Now, show me how...”
“We’ve already stated...aargh!”
“Not listening. This is now my Game. I want to play right now.”
His finger hovered over a rune, “What does this one do?”
“No!” screamed the Ori as the signal was sent.
Within the bowels of the Flagship, relays clicked and whined as nine non-descript pods began a short journey. Fluid was drained in the process, electronic stimuli shuddering through eight slumbering bodies. The ninth held a being who merely smiled, flexing wrinkled appendages and baring teeth in anticipation. Soon, it would be time to live again.
Alana stirred, chemicals rapidly being evacuated from her body as her enhanced metabolism kicked in. As she woke, so too did her suit, her HUD flickering into solidity and feeding data directly to her starved senses. Before she could formulate a plan the pods rocked to a stop, energy build-up causing them to oscillate in anticipation. With a huge surge they were expelled from the ship, curving away slightly, before heading for the planet’s surface.
Fold Space Unknown Location
Johns checked the read out again, they had been travelling for what seemed an eternity, but time was deceptive within the vortex of folded space. He knew where they were going, his senses still attuned to his ex-squad member. Whatever Viker had conjured, Alana somehow called to him. His initial thought was to follow the Construct’s destructive trail, but deep down he knew it was wrong. Those on board with him believed more in Johns than they did in their once angelic Lord. He trusted them to do the right thing and he knew that following Alana and her people was important.
“How much longer, Sir?”
It was a valid question and he knew one all shared.
Mechanical interlocking transit ways moved the drop pods along. They snaked their way to the allocated bay, set aside for them. Above each of the reserved slots a rune flashed brightly in a pale green light, until the pod docked. With an escape of steam and a resounding clunk, each individual pod bedded into its receiver, actuating relays which initiated the stasis rods waiting calmly for their charges. Thin sleeves of metal moved smoothly out, mating with the recessed plugs in the outer shell of the pod’s casing. Fluid hissed through the new couplings, filling an inner series of veins and maintaining the pod’s charges at an optimum level.
Seven of the eight pods acted as expected, the eighth waited a moment, gurgling in protest before it too showed green lights across the board. Inside the eighth pod Alana dreamed, her body jerking in feverish activity.
Red eyes glinted from the shadows near to the new arrivals. A wrinkled hand reached out and caressed Alana’s pod, soon it was followed by a hunched figure who withdrew a tool from inside its outer garment. Shrill, warbling sound broke into the monotone repetition of functioning equipment. One more pod moved into place, making the group nine, yet not registering as such on the main console. With a chuckle the tool was replaced and the figure climbed inside his own temporary tomb, calm in the knowledge that he would be accompanying the new arrivals on their next journey. That, or his alarms would be triggered and he would be shunted aside, to waken once more. He had done this many times before.
Kermadec Island Macaulay Disputed Zone
Viker yawned. He changed his mind like the wind, and had decided that it was necessary to stay a little longer. More people had flocked in from outlying regions and he ruthlessly culled them; the young and virile were segregated, mostly, and indoctrinated into his army of followers. Others were used as target practice or to satisfy the burgeoning excesses of chosen officers. Only Johns remained aloof, working hard to mould the new soldiery into an effective fighting force. At times, Viker wondered who he was doing it for, but his old mentor showed nothing but faith and belief in his Lord. More fool him.
Languidly, Viker rose from his makeshift throne, stretching his wings and scratching his crotch. He spat, ignoring where his spittle would land. No-one would raise a voice in protest. A line of stone-faced guards waited for him outside the room, falling in behind as he sauntered in search of some amusement.
“What now, Johns?” he asked.
“We have word of the Beast.”
For a moment, the only beast that Viker could think about was that which curled hidden within him, but then he remembered having coined the name for the possessed Construct.
“What of it?”
“It has halted. Spindle appears to be its destination.”
“Asmode’s Lair? How trite,” said Viker dismissively, “we received information on that location before our failed attempt to destroy it last time. What could it possibly want there?”
“I believe that we need to go and find out,” suggested Johns, awaiting his Lord’s displeasure.
“You go,” said Viker, “take some troops with you and find out what’s going on. I have work still to do here.”
“Yes, My Lord,” said Johns, “at once.”
With a wave of his hands, Viker quickly forgot about Johns; there were some new arrivals from the country and he was sure to find at least one buxom wench to satisfy him.