Praetorian Guard Outpost
Research and Development Department
A busy silence filled the room.
The few trusted technicians and Guards who had been informed about the Exodus Project worked ceaselessly, working on computers, adjusting equipment and checking and double checking tools. Tension practically crystallized out of the air.
The only person not working was General Cross. He sat hunched at a desk, staring into space. Ginger recognized the look on his face as an "I want to be alone" look, and turned to the young computer technician next to her. He was a skinny, pale lombax, with a bad stutter and so many nervous tics they had to queue. A metal brace encased one leg, leftover from some childhood illness.
"Ready, Bryant? It's exiting, huh? Just think! By this time next week we could be back on Fastoon!"
He nodded, eyes still focused on the screen in front of him. Lines of code flowed under his fingers. He might have been small and weak, barely capable of limping ten yards before doubling over and fighting for breath, but he could do things to a computer that even the computer didn't know it could do.
"B-b-but, s-s-shouldn't the v-v-volunteer have s-s-showed up by n-n-now?"
"Yes.." she scowled "the volunteer should be here by now"
Ginger did not trust Jasmine. It wasn't the constant pranks that irritated her (though it didn't help), it was the fact that a Guard, in her opinion, should be more, well, professional. But Jasmine just waltzed around with the kind of grin that suggested she'd just thought up a rather saucy joke and couldn't wait to tell someone. Ginger sighed and shook her head. Oh well, no use dwelling on it. May as well make some last minute adjustments…
She stopped. The word had been so quiet she had nearly missed it. The General was still staring into space, with a sad, longing gaze that hurt her heart to see.
"What if this fails, Ginger?"
"Don't say that, General! This will work, I promise you"
"But Cain hasn't even arrived yet"
Ginger winced. She had never heard that tone of defeat from the General before.
"Don't worry General. The Corporal may be…" She struggled to find a positive word "unorthodox, but she's a good fighter. She should be here…"
"Good evening, Ladies and Germs!"
Her ears drooped
There was this to be said about Jasmine Cain. When she walked into a room, she left no one unaware that she had done so.
"Sorry I'm late! Avalanche closed the road. Had to go over it. Could have gone around but-" she laughed.
"Where's the fun in that?"
The General sighed and got up from the desk.
"Greet your elders with respect, Corporal. We've gone over this a thousand times"
She dropped into a salute, still maintaining her cheerful grin. At the Generals urging, she had finally agreed to bring her weapon, a double headed wrench nearly as tall as she was. The sight of this fragile looking Guard lugging around such an over-sized weapon was almost comical, until you saw her use it. Then it stopped being funny.
The General motioned over a lombax who had been closely examining the Jump-Gate.
"Corporal Cain, may I introduce Myra Stratus, of the Center for Advanced Lombax Research, and our own Ginger Lycos, head of the Exodus Project" Myra gave her a polite smile. Short, plump and with an unmemorable sandy, brown striped coat, few Lombaxes pegged her as the head of one of their most famous organizations.
Jasmine held out a hand.
Ginger, who had some experience with her, hung back, but unfortunately, Myra had never met Jasmine before…
"It's a pleasure to meet y-EEEOOOWWW!"
Jasmine laughed, and displayed the little red button hidden in her palm.
"Joy buzzer! That joke never gets old!"
Not a muscle moved in Myra's face.
"General, can I have a word with you?"
She lead him over to a comparatively quiet corner of the room.
"What are you thinking, General? You're letting that go through the Jump-gate?"
"She won the Trial by Combat, Myra" He said quietly, gazing out the window.
"She's completely unprofessional!"
"Look outside, please"
She looked out. Mile after mile of rock and ice stretched out over the horizon. The few buildings clustered around the safety of the outpost all looked worn, as constant ice storms tore at them. She watched a family of Lombaxes struggle through the waist deep snow, trying to reach their house.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, don't you think, Myra?" He said behind her.
"Alright, General. But she'd better have results!"
An alarm sounded.
"You're about to find out. It's time!"
Chaos erupted as lombaxes scurried to their designated points. Even Jasmine's normally sunny expression looked a little tense.
Ginger took her position at the main computer terminal. Silence fell. She began tapping keys, eyes glued to the screen, glasses reflecting the lines of glowing symbols flashing past.
"Linking data banks!"
Lights flickered on the other computers screens.
"Logging on to Jump-Gate!"
The Jump-Gate began to hum softly.
"Initiating Exodus Project! Everybody stand by!! Jump-Gate opening in 3-2-1!"
She pushed a switch, and the hum of the Jump-Gate grew louder, nearly rattling the windows out of their panes.
Jasmine gave a whoop.
"Oh yeah! Lombaxes for the winnnARRGGGHHH!!"
She slumped to her knees, clutching her head and groaning. The General tried to ask her what was wrong but stopped as a dull, heavy pain bloomed in his head. All of the lombaxes working on the Project were now howling in agony as pain ripped through them, steel vices clamping over their heads. It seemed to go on forever, filling the world, blocking out everything. There was nothing but pain… and then it stopped.
General Cross shakily got to his feet. Around him the others continued to whimper softly
"W-What was that?"
"Pressure change" said Ginger, pushing hair out of her eyes with a shaky hand. "The Jump-Gate opening caused the pressure in the room to undergo a massive drop. I was kind of expecting it, really. It just slipped my mind"
The General opened his mouth to yell, but was interrupted by a gasp from Jasmine.
"Look! Its opening!"
Sure enough, a ball of light was hovering above the Jump-Gate. As they watched it changed colour, glowing a soft purple. The light suddenly flattened and grew, giving off an odd light and creating strange shadows in the corners of the room.
Ginger shook herself out of a daze.
"Come on, Corporal! It won't be open for long!"
Jasmine took a step forward, then paused.
"Wait a minute… I know your reputation. Are you certain you've got your math right? Where am I going to end up?"
"My calculations show you should end up, at the most, a foot above the Fastoon City plaza. And yes, I checked them. You have the equipment you require?"
Jasmine turned to the portal. Swirling in the center she could see a patch of blue.A strange wind had sprung up as if from nowhere, ruffling her fur gently. She took a run up, and just as she leapt through the portal she thought, hang on, she said the Plaza, why am I seeing sky…?
The General winced. Watching her go through had not been pleasant. She had hung, somehow moving yet standing still, twisting in pain. Then she had quite distinctly plummeted out of sight. He had sworn he heard a distant scream. He gave Ginger a Look.
She grinned sheepishly.
"Oops, I forgot to carry the Y"