Praetorian Guard Research and Development department. 0200 hours. Estimated time time to reality collapse: 5 days.
Howling winds battered the building, rattling the windows in their panes and freezing the water in the pipes. It tore wit a savage violence, almost lifting the building off its foundations.
General Cross sighed. Just another average day, really…
The longing to feel the warm breeze of Fastoon again was all that kept him going these days. He barely ate, barely slept. He knew the others worried about him, but he didn't care, focused only on the Project, terrified that one little detail they missed could destroy the entire thing. The thought haunted him, driving out all others.
His fingers flew over the main keyboard, running yet another calculation. It would be just like Ginger to forget to carry the Y again…
He heard the distinctive clatter of Bryant's leg brace behind him.
"Can it wait, Bryant? I'm busy"
"Oh I'm sure you can find time, General"
General Cross nearly swallowed his tongue. He leapt up from his chair, knocking it over in the process.
"C-councillor Silk! What are you doing here?"
Unheard by him, the Elder council had entered the room, six Lombaxes weighted with years and knowledge. At the forefront…General Cross swallowed. At the forefront was Karin Silk, head of the Council and possibly the most powerful Lombax alive. the overhead lights shone on Tabby coloured fur as she looked around with interest. Like the previous General, Alister Azimuth, she carried the Persian gene, giving her face a distinctive flat, narrow appearance.
"Just looking around. The Project goes well, I see"
"Oh yes, Councillor, the volunteer we sent through has made great strides"
"Ah yes, about that volunteer. I had a look at her file"
She held out a hand. One of the other Councillors gave her a brick thick folder.
"She has quite a record, it seems. Do you mind me asking why you sent through someone so… where's the quote? It's in here somewhere…"
She leafed through the file.
"Ah, yes, here we are. 'Juvenile'?"
"She won the trial by combat, councillor. And she may be childish, but she's still a damn good Guard when all is said and done"
Councillor Silk's face was unreadable.
"Of course. Another problem, General. Your power consumption. This Project is draining power reserves as fast as we can replenish them. The civilians will notice, and start asking questions. You must either tell them, or cut the Project short"
"We can't tell them, councillor! If it turns out the Exodus Project is doomed to fail, just imagine the effects that would have of the peoples moral! Its low enough already, but to raise their hopes and then dash them like that-"
"Then that leaves only one option. We can spare enough power for 5 days, General. After that, we will have no choice but to pull the plug"
General Cross nodded miserably. Councillor Silks word was law. If she asked you to set your tail alight, you said "Lighter or matches?"
Councillor silk gave the General a searching look. He looked drawn and haggard, and she took a small amount of pity on him.
"General" she said gently. "You're pushing yourself too hard. I have heard good things about the engineer in charge. A sharp young mind, by all accounts. There's no need to kill yourself over this, take a rest"
The General sat down, legs shaking. He hadn't realised how tired he was.
"I know, but we've put too much effort into this to have it fail now. We're so close. I-"
A scream interrupted him. Not a scream of terror or pain, but a scream of shock, of frustration, of anger.
Councillor Silk was impressed at the speed the seemingly shattered General left the room. She barely saw him move.
He burst into the room housing the jump gate, the Elder council hot on his heels.
The source of the scream turned out to be Ginger, who was now swearing a blue streak. The General was quite surprised. Ginger was a very gentle, soft-spoken person, and hearing her swearing like a trooper was quite shocking.
"Ginger! What is the meaning of this? What's going on?"
She growled and pointed.
He gasped. The jump-gate had been torn open, wires spilling like entrails from a hole crudely slashed in the side.Ginger threw her wrench at the wall in a rage.
"It's busted! Half the wires'll need replacing, there's a damn great hole in the side, and the complexity resonator's shot! I'll need to replace it completely!"
There was shocked murmurings from the Elder council as they beheld the damage.
Councillor Silk shook her head in disbelief.
"Who could have done this? Weren't there cameras operating?"
Ginger hissed in fury.
The security cameras had been torn off the wall, tossed in a heap of twisted plastic and glass. Another councillor, an old, black-furred male, spoke up.
"What's the motivation? Why would someone sabotage our only hope of leaving here? It just makes no sense!"
Councillor Silk shook her head.
"We are dealing with a sick mind here. Do you think you can repair it, young lady?"
Ginger scratched her head.
"I suppose I could scrounge up some replacement parts, but it won't be easy. I can get it fixed in about a day or so"
General Cross growled, slamming his fist against a table.
"Dammit, we don't have time for this! Get it fixed as soon as possible! Bryant!"
The young Lombax visibly flinched.
"How long will it take you to get it back online once the repairs are done?"
"N-not long, s-sir. It's a r-relatively s-s-simple code, s-s-shouldn't take m-more than h-half an hour"
"What's going on in here?"
Bryant flinched again as the impetuous voice of Fenris echoed through the room.
Ginger scowled. Oh great, the last thing she needed…
He did, in Gingers mind, a suspiciously over-theatrical double take.
"No! How could they?"
He shoved Bryant out of the way for a closer look.
"That's a lot of damage. Post some guards around it, that's my advice. I'd be glad to volunteer for first watch"
All eyes turned to Bryant, who blushed. Some deep, faint suspicion had prompted his outburst, but he wasn't even sure what he was suspicious of.
"I m-mean, we n-need y-your p-p-programming s-skills. I th-think y-you s-should s-s-stick with t-the c-c-computers and l-let l-l-less i-important g-guards w-watch it"
It was an outright lie, a shameless piece of flattery, but right now Bryant would do anything to keep Fenris away from the jump-gate. Fenris bared his fangs.
"No one cares what you think, weakling! Go limp back to your-"
"He's right" interrupted Ginger. "Your help has been invaluable. We don't want to lose that. You should stick with programming"
She had caught Bryant's desperate wink, and understood. She just hoped Fenris wouldn't take it as an invitation to start hitting on her again. Last time she'd been forced to hit him with a wrench.
Fenris looked like he was about to argue, then noticed the odd look the General gave him and shrugged.
He slunk out, casting angry glances back at Ginger and Bryant.
"What an unpleasant person" said Councillor Silk. "I barely know him and yet I have this burning desire to kick him in the backside"
General Cross nodded.
"He has that effect on people, I've noticed. Some people have charisma, Fenris has charisn'tma. No one likes him. Complete strangers don't like him. Heck, his own mother probably doesn't like him. For all that, he's an OK guard. You just put up with it"
"Fenris…Fenris…Isn't he the one pushing for Generalship after you retire?"
"That's the one"
"Good lord, no wonder you block him! He's an insufferable little twit! The sooner we're out of here, the sooner we can transfer him to some far away outpost"
General Cross chuckled.
"I like the sound off that! We'd better get moving to bring the jump-gate back online in that case"
He nodded to Ginger and Bryant.
"You two know what to do, get on with it"
They set to work without a word. They had worked together for a long time, movements synchronised with practice. They were a perfect team, one feverishly reconnecting wires, the other running speedy diagnostics. The General left them to it, knowing they wouldn't stop till they were finished. He made a mental note to have some food sent down. He had to keep them going. Those two were worth their weight in raritanium…
Councillor Silk threw on her cloak, preparing to leave.
"This is bad. That saboteur needs to be caught before the deadline, otherwise all is lost. I leave things in your capable hands, David. Don't disappoint"
Swirling snow whirled through the door as the Elder Council left. David. She only called him by his first name when she was very worried, and Councillor Silk was the calmest Lombax he had ever known. It took a lot to worry her. He looked out the frost rimed window into the freezing night, trying to stay positive against the slow tide of fear rising up within him.
Look on the bright side, he told himself, things can only get better, right?
He was wrong.
Things were going to get a whole lot worse.