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The Insurgency: S4 #4 Lonely at the Top (FB)
Part 4 in Season 4 of my Insurgency series! A freebuild for the Marauders. Please comment, rate and enjoy!
About this creation
Corresponding text underneath each picture.


28th November 2097: Present Day


The icy-cold winds whipped up a flurry a white snow that hammered itself against the only black spot in the landscape.



Darkblade grunted with excursion as he heaved open the rusted-up metal door, wedged into the hillside, which he knew concealed the entrance to a secret, underground laboratory.


The door open, he stepped inside and was thankful that he was finally out of that God-forsaken wind. For a moment he stood still and stared along the dark, burnt-out corridor. The walls, once clean and white, were now black and ashen from where an explosion had ripped through the base. No doubt the rest of the facility looked just the same.



It was dark, not that that bothered Darkblade, as he switched his visor to night-vision mode, but it would make searching slightly harder. He was about to take a step forwards when he noticed a blood stain on the floor and nearby, a defunct silver droid. This was where Tank had nearly died and Darkblade had carried him to safety.


His lip curled as he wished that he hadn't.


With a stride, he moved along the corridor, deeper into the laboratory. Every door that he came to, Darkblade took the time to go inside and take a look around. Any one of these rooms could hold the answers he sought.
But after a good ten minutes of searching every room, he'd so far found nothing.


He reached another door, deep inside the underground base, and paused. He recognised this room. Pushing the door, he forced it open and stepped into the rock-walled chamber beyond.



This was where his life had changed. This is where that crazy scientist had injected him with whatever drug he had used and made him stronger. As Darkblade stood just inside the doorway, he looked around, taking in the scene. Memories flooding back to him. It felt like only yesterday. There, against the far wall, were the gurneys he and Tank had been strapped to. It was there that he had told Tank all about his past. His training - and his daughter. As he thought of her, his heart panged with longing, as it always did. It was also here, that Tank had revealed his true identity to him. This was where he realised he'd been living with the son of a couple he had killed.


Darkblade took a deep breath to steady himself, his chest aching as he did. He was sure that this room didn't contain the information he was after and so without a second glance, he turned and left again.


Darkblade spent the next half an hour checking every room in the base until he finally reached what appeared to be a central control centre; a main base of operations.



Moving inside, he began methodically examining everything he could find. Hoping upon all hope that he would find something, anything that he could use. But after spending a good, long time exploring, it was beginning to look hopeless.


One cabinet left. Darkblade pulled the drawers open and one by one sifted through whatever paperwork he could find that hadn't been destroyed in the blast, until he reached the end.


Nothing.


There was nothing at all. Nothing anywhere in the base that hinted at where the mad doctor had gone. Darkblade knew that he was alive; he'd had run-ins with some of his other creations and had heard talk of him on the black network, but nothing here hinted to where he may have run to. Darkblade had hoped for the start of a breadcrumb trail, which he could follow to find the Doctor himself, but it seemed his search was doomed to fail.



With a roar of anger, Darkblade swiped a hand across the nearest worktop and sent everything flying. Standing there, slightly out of breath from the sudden exertion, Darkblade didn't notice one of the clipboards he'd swiped from the desk had collided with a small switch, and now, a tiny green light began to blink.


Unaware, Darkblade took a moment to plan his next move. He needed to find Dr. Lobotomy. He had to. He needed the Doctor to recreate whatever serum he'd injected him with and give it to him again. Darkblade had no doubts in his mind that another dose would cure him. Without it, he would have died when that train struck him, so another injection should be plenty enough to heal his injuries and make him strong again. He couldn't bare being this pathetic. When his daughter had been killed, he'd sworn to never be defenceless again, but at the minute, he was a weakling. He would never be able to best Tank in this state. So he needed to find the Doctor. Urgently.



Clearly though, there was nothing here to help guide him, so it would probably be best to return to his own base and start the hunt again from scratch.


But, Darkblade decided, before he did that, while he was here; he did have some unfinished business elsewhere on this wretched planet...




As Darkblade left the destroyed facility, making his way back outside into the desolate, snowy wasteland, elsewhere in the base, a hidden door slid slowly open...



Tank’s Apartment



Tank: "Okay, thanks. Just let me know."
Derek: "No worries. Will do. Bye for now."



The hologram in my palm receded back into the comlink and with a sigh, I gently tossed the device aside.


Cat: "Who was that?" Cat asked, wandering into the room behind me.
Tank: “Derek." I replied.
Cat: "Any luck?" She questioned as she plonked herself down on the couch.
Tank: “He says he’ll think about it. He’s still got a lot going on at the minute though, so he couldn’t guarantee anything.”


Ever since Eris had ordered the confiscation of Tracks, I had been contacting my friends, anyone I knew basically, to see if they could help me get him back. My plan was simply, to put together a team, sneak into The Spire and steal Tracks back. Eris had no right to him and thankfully several friends had already agreed with me and promised they'd be there to help.


I’d just finished speaking to legendary marauder Derek Collins. His name held fear across the galaxy, but whenever I’d met him, he’d been a genuinely nice guy. Not that we’d ever met under the best of circumstances before!


Cat: "Okay, so who does that leave us with? Who's agreed to come along?"



Tank: "Well, so far, it’s just Dustin and Risa and Jakor and his gang.”


Cat: "Well that's not too bad. I still think it's a bad idea, but at least it won't just be the two of us. The two of us against Eris and her forces would not go well." She joked and I smiled at the idea.
Tank: "Actually, I'm hoping it'll be easier than that. Eris is still away in Sector Nine, so hopefully we won't have to go toe to toe with her. And anyway, I don't plan on fighting anyone. If everything goes according to plan, we'll sneak in, get Tracks and sneak out again. No fighting required."


Cat nodded in understanding.
Cat: "Sneaking aboard the Collective headquarters is going to be no easy matter though." She warned.



Tank: "I'm well aware of that." I retorted, sounding harsher than I had intended. "That's why I'm looking into getting some Ossillium to take with us."


Cat's jaw dropped and my already guilty conscience doubled.
Cat: "You're joking?! You know what that stuff does to the Collective!"
Tank: "I know! But if it does come to fighting, without it, we wouldn't stand a chance!" I snapped back. I wasn't proud of the fact I was trying to buy some of one of the most dangerous substances in the galaxy, but it was a necessity. "If Eris wanted, she could blink us out of existence. Every single one of us."
Cat: "But do you really think she'd do that? Tank, she's your friend." Cat chided and I turned away, before muttering,
Tank: "Was."



Elsewhere…



Derek had gotten off the comlink with Tank not more than half an hour ago. He knew Tank was a good guy, but what he was asking was not only ridiculous, but treasonous as well.



Derek had no love for the Galactic Imperium, that much was no secret. But he had no qualms with The Collective, and breaking into their headquarters was out of the question entirely. And all for the sake of a droid?! No, sorry Tank, but it just wasn’t going to happen. And in fact, Derek thought, if he alerted The Spire to what was being planned, it may get him a favour somewhere along the line.


Derek didn’t trust this information with anyone but the Archmage herself, or maybe one of her ‘Vindicators’, so after a few minutes browsing on the Dark Holonet, Derek had their com number.
He pulled out his comlink and dialled.
Several seconds later, one of the Vindicators, the elder man, whom he had met once before, during the battle for Old Qoter, picked up the call.



Caesar: "How did you get this number?" He asked gruffly. "Who are you?"
Derek: "My name is Derek Collins and I need to speak to the Archmage."
Caesar: "Collins?” he responded, trying to place the name and face in his memory. “That's out of the question, and you didn't answer my first question."
Derek: "It's urgent." Derek replied, still avoiding Caesar's initial query.
Caesar: "I don't care. And anyway, her Grace is not here right now."
Derek: "Well she needs to be."


That got the elder man's attention.
Caesar: "I'm listening."
Derek: "There's going to be an attack on the Spire..."



Etrion…



Imperium Cadet Ari' Odanna had expected Etrion to be hot, but she hadn't prepared herself for just how hot it would be! The air was stifling and the thin atmosphere on the war-ravaged moon made it difficult for her to catch her breath, to the point where she felt as if she were stood on a high mountaintop.



Sweat dripping from her brow, Ari' wiped her face clean, trying hard not to grumble aloud. Her amour, although white, was not helping the situation and as she trudged across the dusty terrain, she found herself longing for the cleanliness and regulated air of an Imperium cruiser.


Captain Lya Drayson on the other hand, despite her dark uniform, was showing no such signs of frustration. Walking with hands clasped behind her back, as always, she walked several steps ahead of Cadet Odanna, head held high and posture impeccable.


Ari': "I hate to be clichéd, but... are we nearly there yet?" She asked and Drayson smiled to herself.
Drayson: "Patience, Ari'." She cautioned. "And surely you know better than I how much farther we have to go?" The Captain reminded and Ari' once again checked the map, currently displayed on the datapad in her hand.


Their shuttle had landed further from their destination than Ari' would have liked, and they'd been trekking for the past half an hour. Ari' went to zoom in on their shuttle on her map, in order to judge the distance they'd already travelled, when she realised she could no longer see it. Frowning, she zoomed out and visually explored the local area until she eventually found the shuttle again. And her frown deepened.



Ari': "Wait! Stop!" She commanded.
Drayson: "That would not be wise."
Ari': "But we're going the wrong way!" She insisted, jogging a few paces to walk beside her superior. "Look!" Ari' pointed to the map. "We've travelled three clicks in the opposite direction to where we were supposed to!"
For just a second, Drayson glanced at the map, her pace not slowing, before she stated,
Drayson: "Good."


It took Ari' a moment to realise what the Captain had said.
Ari': "Wait, what? We need to turn around!"



Drayson: "By all means, please do." She replied, still walking and confusing the Cadet. Ari' kept walking too, but looked back over her shoulder and as she did, caught a flicker of movement.
With a quiet gasp, she turned to face forwards again.
Drayson: "Captain, I think we're being followed." She informed Drayson.


Drayson: "And have been from the moment we stepped off of the shuttle." She confirmed.


Ari': "Wait... you knew?"
Drayson: "I saw them before we'd even touched down. Don't look at them again." She warned, as Ari' began to look over her shoulder once more.
Ari's head snapped forwards again, now scared.



Ari': "Why haven't they attacked us?"
Drayson: "Because they are curious. Did you by chance catch what species our followers are?"
Ari': "There's more than one?" She queried, resisting the urge to turn around again.
Drayson: "Two. And they're Surions. Surions are a highly honourable race. Their culture would frown deeply upon any who attacked anyone who has not attacked first and culture is everything to the Surions."
Ari': "Hence they haven't attacked yet." She concluded, nodding in understanding.


Ari': "So if they're not attacking, what do they want?"
Drayson: "Have a guess." She prompted and the Cadet thought for a second.
Ari': "Scouts? Sentries, maybe?"
Drayson: "Very good. On our way down, the shuttle passed right over our intended target, their base, but it appeared to be in disuse. However, the outpost one click ahead of us showed signs of more recent use."



Ari': "And that's where we're heading." She understood.
Drayson: "Indeed."


Ari': "But why are we letting them follow us?"
Drayson: "As we are doing our job, so too are they. Any minute now, we will be 'captured' and taken to see whomever is in charge around here. The Surions have been most useful thus far."
Ari': "Useful? How?"
Drayson: "By not attacking and simply following, they've allowed me to keep track of our distance from their base. I wasn't entirely certain of its position, only that it lay to the North, but thanks to our friends back there, I've managed to pinpoint its location."


Ari' didn't quite follow, but didn't want to seem stupid in front of her mentor, so she stayed quiet and waited to see if what the Captain had predicted would come to pass.



Sure enough, barely a minute later, several thugs emerged, seemingly from the landscape itself and halted the duo's progression.
Thug #1: "Don't move." He instructed as the group all raised weapons. "Good job, Selly." He nodded past the Imperium agents. Drayson knew he was addressing one of the Surions, but Ari' had to turn and look.


Thug #1: "Now what would two Imperium women be doing all the way out here? You're trespassing." He informed. "The boss don't take too kindly to trespassers."


Drayson: "We come seeking an audience with the great Nart-eha Vahroos." The Imperial Captain told the thug, with everything clearly under control, despite the weapons aimed at her. "And you must be the famous Hetua Fondo? I've heard many great things about you."


Ari' wasn't entirely sure what the Captain was up to, but then again, she never was and she was smart enough to recognise flattery when she heard it. And so too, it seemed was the lead thug.
Hetua: "Yeah, tha's me." He growled, raising the visor on his helmet. "What exactly have you heard?" He grinned, clearly proud that his reputation preceded him.



Drayson: "Oh, only that you have helped the great Vahroos almost single-handedly hold together what remains of the famed Claws of Etrion." She smiled seductively.
Hetua: "Yeah! Yeah, you heard right." He nodded, his grin spreading. Ari' had to resist the urge to roll her eyes.
Drayson: "We have come to pay our respects to Vahroos also. May we enter?"


Hetua: "The boss don't normally take visitors, but I'm sure he can make an exception." The thug winked at the Captain. "Lead on boys!" He called and with a wave of his arm, they were off.



Twenty minutes later and the duo of Imperium soldiers were led into a small, underground room. Once, it had probably been a store room. Now, it served as an office. Scarcely furnished, its main features were the large desk and chair, which appeared to have been scavenged from a ship’s cockpit, in the centre of the room. The being seated in the chair frowned deeply as Drayson and Ari' were led towards him. His posture, slouched back in the chair, didn't change though. He was tired, that much Ari' could tell already. Worn out, he looked like a man at the end of his patience, almost ready to give up hope. And his men were in no better state. Every person Ari' passed bore a bandage or wound of one description or another. The famous Claws of Etrion had fallen a long way.


Vahroos: "Well, well, two ladies of the Imperium." He greeted, finally sitting upright in his chair.
Hetua: "They said they wanted to speak to you." He explained and his boss sent him a withering look.
Vahroos: "And of course, you brought them straight in. Yes, thank you so much Hetua."
Hetua nodded before leaving the room, sneaking a glance back at Captain Drayson before he closed the door, leaving the leader of the Claws of Etrion alone with the Imperium Captain and Cadet.



Vahroos: "I'd offer you a drink, but..." he gestured broadly to the almost empty room. "So to what do I owe the pleasure?"
There were no other chairs in the room, so Drayson stood opposite Vahroos, Ari' falling into step beside her.
For a moment, Drayson said nothing, instead opting to have a good look around the room. As she did, Ari' kept a close eye on Vahroos and saw his eyes narrow.
Drayson: "You have done a fine job of holding together what remains of your army." The Captain congratulated, finally meeting the gang boss's gaze.
Vahroos: "Why thank you." He replied, clearly suspicious.
Drayson: "Were you at the final battle?"
Vahroos: "I was." He confirmed, his face stony.
Drayson: "My condolences." In response, Vahroos nodded gravely. "I have studied the reports - a very bloody battle indeed. A lot of lives wasted."



Vahroos: "Same as every battle ever." He remarked.
Drayson: "Maybe." The Captain responded. "And now... now you are but a few."
Vahroos: "A few just trying to get by in the galaxy. Which brings me back to you. Surely the presence of agents of the Galactic Imperium here is not good news. And, a Captain, am I correct?"
Captain Drayson nodded in confirmation.
Vahroos: "So not even a lowly soldier. An Imperium Captain, here in my stronghold." He sighed. "Are you here to arrest us all? Or destroy us?"


Drayson: "That remains to be seen."
Vahroos: "Depending on the outcome of this conversation." The gang boss guessed and the Imperium Captain nodded. "What the hell happened?" Vahroos asked with a sad shake of his head.


Drayson: "The Claws have fallen a long way." She agreed. "It was foolish to wage war against the Marauder Council."
Vahroos: "You think I don't know that know? It was Ashworth. She knew what she was doing - or, at least we thought she did."



Drayson: "And she did. To begin with. When the Claws first began to gain prominence, they helped people. You were there when the Ambassador crashed his fortress here and terrorised the area. You provided relief and supported those in need. And there were other, similar occasions. Yes, so you were working beyond the law, but your work was appreciated. You helped where the Imperium could not. Then you turned your backs on those who needed you - and look what happened. Look what has become of you."
Vahroos: "Where once stood proud Bilow Trees, now grows barely a sap." Vahroos recited a line from a famous Soaterian play.
Drayson: "You are a man of culture." approved the Captain.
Vahroos: "Rather apt." He shrugged, acknowledging the analogy.
Drayson: "Tho' saps may in time, grow and bear revival of their forefather’s strength." Drayson continued, reciting the next line of the play.


Throughout the exchange, Ari' stood silently and observed everything that passed between the two others and now she watched as a smile played across the leader of the Claws of Etrion's face.



Vahroos: "It is rare to find such a cultured woman among the Imperium."


In reply, Drayson merely bowed her head, a thin smile on her lips.


Vahroos: "I suppose it is true though." Vahroos agreed almost unwillingly, shifting in his seat. "There's nothing stopping us from re-building. It'll take time and a lot of manpower, but we could do it. Nothing stopping us apart from the damned Marauder Council. And of course, the Imperium." He added, with a pointed look between the two women. "Which brings me once again back to the pair of you. Why are you here? No - let me guess." He decided and his eyes narrowed in thought. "Not to destroy us, or you would have brought an attack force - unless this is a scouting party, but that gives us plenty of time to move base, so that's not it. To arrest us? Maybe; but if so, why this talk? No; I'm afraid you have me stumped, Captain. You'll have to explain."


Drayson: "What if the Imperium were to no longer be an issue?" She began, as she started to pace. There was a momentary pause as Vahroos realised she was waiting for an answer.



Vahroos: "Go on..." he encouraged, intrigued already. Ari' watched as her mentor paced slowly, methodically, back and forth in front of the desk.


Drayson: "Or the Marauder 'Council' for that matter. No, what if I could offer you the space to re-grow as an organisation? What if I could do more than that? If I could provide you with the resources you need, as well? You would no longer be an enemy of the Galactic Imperium and would as such receive our full backing in any military operations."


Ari' knew that the plan was to try and recruit as many of the Imperium's enemies as possible; to get them to turn ally and join them, but even she hadn't realised the extent to which the Captain was willing to go to do so!


Vahroos was eyeing Drayson suspiciously, clearly waiting for something. When she said no more, he asked in all seriousness,
Vahroos: "What's the catch?”



Drayson: "No catch." She clarified, still calmly pacing, hands clasped behind her back.
Vahroos raised a hand to his face and began stroking his straggly beard, thinking so hard that Ari' could almost see the cogs in his brain turning. He remained like that for a good couple of minutes and in that time, the only sound was of Captain Drayson's soft footsteps padding back and forth. Then, Vahroos's eyes widened slightly as a thought came to him.
Vahroos: "And if I refuse?"



Drayson stopped pacing dead centre in front of Vahroos and looked him in the eye.
Drayson: "Then you and what remains of your operation will be totally and entirely obliterated."


A small smile played across Vahroos's lips, knowing full well that the Captain was completely serious.
Drayson: "I have a Dreaddown-class Destroyer in orbit, with its entire array of turbolaser batteries aimed at this location and a dropship just waiting for my signal to extract us." She continued, indicating to Cadet Odanna.
Vahroos: "You wouldn't get past the guards." He threatened, but from his tone of voice, Ari' guessed that it was more a test than a genuine threat.
Drayson: "Would I have walked in here with my Cadet if I didn't believe that I could get out again?"



Vahroos: "How do I know you're not bluffing?"
Another test, Ari' guessed.
Drayson: "You'll find that during this conversation, your communications have been jammed." She announced, pressing a small switch on her wrist pad. Ari' had no idea that a jamming device that small even existed and Vahroos seemed equally as impressed. With the jamming gone, a comlink built somewhere into the desk began to crackle with wild static. Vahroos reached out, tapped a button and a voice finally broke through.



Voice: "... eing targeted by a Dreaddown-class Destroyer! Sir! Wha... ...o we do?! Sir?!" Vahroos tapped the button again and silenced the communication, that same, thin smile, albeit larger this time, returning to his lips.


Vahroos: "I'll consider it." He smirked.



Qoter – The Grand Citadel…



Tank: "Wow..." I muttered aloud as I walked through the small personnel door, set within the enormous, ceremonial, wooden double doors, that marked the entrance to the Grand Citadel.



Inside was a cavern of a cathedral. It's ceiling was so high up that it hurt to crane my neck back to try and view it. The entrance doors were situated roughly halfway along one side of the building and the path leading in from them led to almost a crossroads with the central aisle in the centre of the space. On both sides of the walkway was a low, stone wall and beyond the wall were wooden pews. Lots and lots of pews! Row upon row of them. You could even call it a sea of pews! (Geddit? Row upon row? Sea? Never mind... bad joke.) I smirked to myself as I wandered into the space, making my way slowly towards the central aisle.


The Grand Citadel was the new home, headquarters and main focal point for the Followers of the Universe. There were worshippers dotted here and there. Some walking along, some praying, some engaged in conversation with others.
Whilst open to the public, as I looked around, I did notice a distinct lack in the variety of species. Almost every Follower was a Hasat, who were widely known to have almost entirely adopted the religion.



As I reached the centre aisle, I noticed that one of the pillars marking the end of one of the sections of stone wall had been damaged, recently it seemed and absent-mindedly I wondered what he caused it. I looked down the aisle towards the alter at the front of the Citadel and gazed in awe at the enormous, golden rood screen that separated the chancel from the nave.


As I stood there, I let out a quiet sigh. What was I doing here? Did I really want to do this? I hadn't told Cat where I was going when I'd left the apartment. Truth be told, I hadn't even been sure myself where I was going.


But I'd ended up here. In the home of the religion who hated The Collective. Was this the right move? A million questions with no real answers zoomed around in my mind. Struggling to focus, I had very nearly decided to leave and come back when I was more sure of why I was there when a female voice from beside me made me jump.



Hruuk-Te: "You seek enlightenment?" In my daydream, I hadn't even heard the woman approach me. As I looked to see who it was, I found a red-skinned Hasat in fancy robes and big shoulder pads stood there. I wasn't sure why, but I felt like I recognised her from somewhere.
Tank: "I don't know what I seek." I replied honestly, looking back to the chancel.


Hruuk-Te: "The universe is infinite, both in its size and its wisdom." Said the Hasat. "You may not yet know why, but it has drawn you here today. Maybe I can help you understand why."
Tank: "If you can, I'd be very surprised."
Hruuk-Te: "The Universe is full of surprises." She explained knowingly. "I am Hhruuk-Te. Vice Revered of The Followers of the Universe." The woman introduced herself with a smile and suddenly I realised why she seemed familiar.
Tank: "You were on the TV, weren't you? You were debating the Collective Registration Act."
Hruuk-Te bowed her head.
Hruuk-Te: "I was indeed."


Tank: "You made some very good points. Things I'd never thought of before." I admitted and as I did so, thoughts and feelings in the back of my mind slowly began to start falling into place. Maybe I did know the reason I was here after all.
Hruuk-Te: "Thank you. Before we continue, you know me, but I do not know you." She prompted with a smile.



I hesitated for a moment. I wasn't sure why; I just didn't feel comfortable. But, I still introduced myself in return anyway.
Tank: "I'm Chain Rockwell. Most people call me Tank."
Hruuk-Te smiled in appreciation.
Hruuk-Te: "It is a pleasure to meet you. So, Tank; where so you stand on the matter? Should the Collective register their powers or do you believe they are trust-worthy enough to roam freely among the cosmos?"


Until recently I would have jumped at the chance to defend Eris and her kind, but now... now I truly wasn't so sure.
Tank: "It's an interesting point. A challenging one."
Hruuk-Te: "Tell me." Hruuk-Te encouraged with a warm smile.
Before I answered, I spent a few seconds collecting my thoughts.


Tank: "On the one hand; The Collective have done more good than they have bad. Yes, they started off at war with us, but since Azgoth's death, they've been invaluable to the rebuilding efforts. My own life has been saved on multiple occasions by... a member of their race." I almost said Eris' name, but changed my mind at the last second. I didn't want the Vice Reverend's opinion of me tarnished by my relationship with the Archmage.



Tank: "But." I continued. "On the other hand; we've seen what they can do. What they're capable of."
Hruuk-Te: "How many innocents have suffered because of them?" She agreed and I nodded along.


I watched a couple of Followers walk by and wondered if all of their religion felt as strongly as their Vice Reverend, or if she had something personal against the Collective.


Tank: "But, without the help of the Archmage," I continued. "We wouldn't have managed to rebuild half as much as we have done since the war. It's the same with every war in history. Two opposing sided, whether they be countries or races or planets, fight it out, get nowhere, it's eventually settled one way or another and then they both move on and achieve great things together."
Hruuk-Te: "This may be true, but no other war in history has had normal people on one side and powerful, magic-wielding beings on the other. The Collective vastly out-power the rest of us and they need to be held in check."


Tank: "With this 'Act'?"
Hruuk-Te: "With this act." The Vice Reverend confirmed. "Tank," She began, "What this act proposes is simple monitoring. Monitoring of only the highest-powered of the Collective."
Tank: "Like the Archmage?"
Hruuk-Te: "Like the Archmage." Hruuk-Te nodded. "It would only be used to keep an eye on high-powered beings to ensure that they're not up to anything bad. Normal members of the Collective will not be effected."



Just as I had when I'd watched the interview on TV, I found myself agreeing with the Vice Reverend. Yes, it was a bit of an invasion of privacy, but with everything balanced out, wasn't it the right move? If keeping an eye on the handful of most powerful members of the race meant the safety of the countless billions of others in the galaxy, then surely it was worth it? And after all, if they had nothing to hide, they would have nothing to worry about!


Hruuk-Te: "You seem conflicted." She observed.
Tank: "In fact," I replied, turning to face the Vice Reverend. "I think just decided where I stand."
Hruuk-Te: "It is for the safety of everyone in the Universe." She smiled. "Tell me, Tank, are you a religious person?"
Tank: "Not really. I'd like to believe that there's someone up there; something bigger than us. But I've seen too much and lost too many to believe that any God up there is any good."
Hruuk-Te: "The Universe is no God." The Vice Reverend explained. "It is all encompassing. Ever expanding, it creates us all - gives us life. This is why we worship it. The Universe is life itself."



Tank: "Then surely it created The Collective too?" I challenged.
Hruuk-Te took a moment to collect her thoughts before replying.
Hruuk-Te: "It is true. But we have never claimed that the Universe is all good. There is much evil out there. The Collective is but the start."


In my heart, I instantly took offense to the claim. The Collective certainly weren't that bad, but I decided not to say anything aloud.


Hruuk-Te: "You seem like a man who has experience of such evil?" Hruuk-Te asked with a frown.
Tank: "I wouldn't call them evil." I began. "But... I have had some bad experiences with the Collective recently." I admitted.
Hruuk-Te: "Tell me?"


At first I was reluctant to open up about everything that had happened of late, but as soon as I began explaining what had gone on, I found myself ranting about everything that Eris had ever done to me. Every time she'd shot down my ideas, every time she'd refused to let me help, just every time that she'd pissed me off.


Throughout it all, the Vice Reverend listened patiently, intently, nodding every now and then as I vented my pent up frustrations.



When I'd finally finished, I stood there grinding my teeth, silently fuming. I hadn't realised just how angry I was at Eris.
Hruuk-Te: "That's dreadful. A prime example of the Collective ordering us 'normal' folk around. And coming from the Archmage herself, no less!" Hruuk-Te exclaimed with a shake of her red head. "You say that she confiscated your droid?"


Tank: "Yeah. She gave the order to anyway. She obviously didn't have the courage to face me herself." I replied, still so angry that I couldn't look at the Vice Reverend, but even so, I saw her shaking her head in the corner of my eye.


Hruuk-Te: "Yet another display of The Collective demanding their own way." For a moment, there was silence between us, but then an idea clearly struck Hruuk-Te.
Hruuk-Te: "Hmm... how would you feel about going public with your story?"
Tank: "What do you mean?"
Hruuk-Te: "Tank," She began, placing her hand on my shoulder, so I turned to face her. "Your story could sway a lot of people's opinions. When the Registration act goes out for the vote, your story could convince countless voters to vote for the act!"



Tank: "I'm not sure..." I replied warily.
Hruuk-Te: "A simple interview. That's all it would take. A simple interview and the system will know of your plight. They'll understand just how manipulative and controlling The Collective can be. And hopefully, you can convince them to vote for the Registration act." She smiled.


I spent a few seconds thinking about it, unsure about the idea, but...
Tank: "You know what?" I began, nodding. "You're right. I've had enough of being pushed around by Eris. I'll do it."




That Evening…



The studio audience roared with laughter and my stomach did another somersault. Stood, waiting in the wings of the TV stage, my foot tapped away nervously as I await my turn to go on.



In contradiction to my own nerves, Hruuk-Te was stood behind me as calm and as still as anything.
Hruuk-Te: "Slow your breathing." She encouraged. "The Universe brought you to us and I have in turn brought you here, so as you can again, in turn, help the people of the system make a difficult decision."
I heard the words and maybe, subconsciously, took them in, but they made no difference. My foot still tapped and my heart still pounded in my chest.
Hruuk-Te: "Remember: just be honest. The presenter will do all of the work, you just answer her questions and tell your story."



I nodded without turning around and then there was an assistant beside me.
Assistant: "Okay, you're up next. You ready?"
I nodded faster than I meant to, my nerves kicking it up a notch. On stage, I heard the presenter, Jayn, beginning the introduction to my section.
Assistant: "Okay, you're on in 3, 2, 1..." the assistant placed a firm hand on my back and guided me through an entranceway.


I had to squint slightly in the blinding lights of the stage, but I could still see Jayn as she held a welcoming arm out to me. I risked a glance in the audience's direction, but thankfully could see precious little due to the bright lights. That helped me to focus and I managed a small smile as I reached the centre of the stage and awkwardly embraced Jayn. Jayn gestured to a comfy looking chair and as I sat, she too sat in an opposite seat.



Jayn: "So, Chain." She began with a concerned expression, presumably for dramatic effect. "Tell us about your experiences with the Collective."


Tank: "Well," I began in a quiet voice, before clearing my throat. "I've been, what I thought was a friend, a good friend, to a member of the Collective for some time now." I continued, speaking normally now.
Jayn: "Okay." She prompted, nodding enthusiastically.
Tank: "But, it turns out that I'm just a play thing to her."
Jayn: "Oh Chain, I'm so sorry."
Tank: "I've known her since the Collective war was happening and I thought I could trust her. But, recently, I discovered that she'd been keeping a pretty big secret from me. One she knew would mean a lot to me." I explained, referring to the fact that Eris had never told me about the Collective's ability to raise the dead.
Jayn: "Ooh - that could never be good."
Tank: "Yeah. Not only that, but she broke my trust by stealing from me."
Jayn: "She stole from you?" She asked incredulously. All of Jayn's reactions had been totally over the top, but I just accepted them as part of 'show business.'



Tank: "Yeah." I nodded sadly, making a conscious effort to look miserable.
Jayn: "Would you mind me asking what she stole?"
I opened my mouth to reply, but in the corner of my eye I suddenly spotted the audience. Having been watching Jayn, I'd not realised that my eyes had adjusted to the bright lights and I could now see every single person in the studio audience.


At least, I would have been able to if my mind hadn't replaced all of their faces with that of Eris. That's all I could see. Eris. Staring disapprovingly at me.


I already felt guilty at doing this interview and at exaggerating my story such as I had, but I couldn't back out now.



So with visible effort, I turned back to Jayn and replied;
Tank: "She stole my droid. That might not sound like much, but he was more than just a droid. He was my best friend."
Jayn: "Oh my! That's dreadful! Is... is there no way you can get your droid back?"
Tank: "I... I doubt it." I responded, not wanting to admit on TV that I was planning on breaking into the Collective's headquarters and stealing Tracks back.


Jayn: "Wow. I'm sorry to hear that." The presenter replied solemnly. "So, of course, The Collective Registration Act is a big thing at the minute;" She continued, moving the story on to its inevitable next point. "Where do you stand on that? With all your recent experiences, it must be hard for you to be against it, surely?"


I nodded.



Tank: "Yeah. At first, I thought it was too much an invasion of privacy. I thought it was a stupid idea. But then... then all of this happened and I realised that The Collective are becoming too big for their boots. They can be dangerous - we all know that. They demand their way and what happens if we don't give it to them? I tried to stop them from taking my droid and I was thrown across the room thanks to their 'magic'." Okay; so I'd only been knocked back. I was embellishing the story slightly, but only a little. "Surely some simple monitoring would be for the better? It wouldn't get in their way, it would just be the authorities keeping an eye on them. That's how I understand it anyway."


Jayn: "That's how I understand it too." The Presenter nodded. "I think that that is indeed what the Government is proposing. Everybody registers and then the authorities keep watch on the most highly-powered."


Then, out of nowhere, a voice shouted,
Voice: "How would you feel?!"



Both Jayn and I looked around, surprised. The shout had clearly come from somewhere in the audience and as we visually scanned the crowd, one woman stood up.
Woman: "How would you feel if you were forced to be on a register? If you had to tell some Imperium pad-pusher every detail about yourself and leave nothing out for fear of reprisals?!" The woman shouted, clearly very emotional.


Suddenly I began to feel very uneasy about the whole situation. It was all well and good pushing for Collective Registration to a room full of non-Collective. But to actually try and convince The Collective themselves it was a good idea....


Woman: "Every species has terrorists! Why should the innocents be punished for the deeds of the bad few?"
Jayn: "I wouldn't call it punishment." The presenter interjected, trying to retake control of the situation. "It's simply a way to keep an eye on certain individuals."



The woman in the audience just nodded, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. For several long seconds all was silent, then, her lip visibly trembling, she spoke again;
Woman: "You are all the same. Unseeing and unwilling to change in your ways."


Jayn: "Okay, can security please remove this woman from the audience." Jayn prompted, having had enough of being insulted and not really knowing how to deal with the situation any more. As everything unfolded, I just sat there in awkward silence, wishing I was literally anywhere else.


As security guards closed in on the woman, advancing through the rows of seating, she continued to hurl insults, no longer just at myself and Jayn, but at the other audience members as well. In response, they began to boo and hiss at her, which only succeeded in aggravating the Collective woman more and finally, with a scream;



Woman: "An'kl!!"


Flames burst forth from her outstretched hand and the entire audience screamed in terror. The flames engulfed one guard before she turned her attention to the auditorium itself. Fire leapt up the decorative stage curtains and all hell broke loose.


Both Jayn and I leapt to our feet, Jayn being ushered offstage by one assistant and myself in the opposite direction by another.



The last thing I saw before I vanished back into the wings of the stage was Eris' disappointed face filling the hall, floating in my mind.


This was on me.





BONUS PICTURES



The set for Dr. Lobotomy's lab on Iapra. Now, the idea for Dr. Lobotomy having multiple clones of himself was actually created by Kermunklin himself a long time ago. It was originally going to be a big part of his series, but he never got around to it unfortunately. So I decided to include it here as a little nod to him.



The set for the meeting with Vahroos.



When I create my characters, I go through a fairly lengthy design process and this design for Vahroos very nearly came out on top. As you can see, the set was already built by this point, so this was pretty close to being included. In the end though, I decided to change the hair. I'm still not 100% sure I made the right decision but hey ho. Vahroos was actually originally intended to be an alien with a really straggly beard, a little like Taserface from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but somewhere along the lines, he changed in my mind and ended up like this!



There was going to be another short scene set in the Claws' base, with Drayson and Ari' on their way to the meeting, but the episode was already long and it didn't add anything, so I cut it pretty late on. I had already created the wounded soldiers for the scene though.



The set for the ambush in the wasteland.



An alternative picture of Drayson and Ari' talking to Hetua.



As my series is going to be jumping around though time, I will include a date on each episode and add it to the timeline at the end of each episode so that you can follow it.



TIMELINE




Comments

 I like it 
  December 3, 2017
Okay.
 I made it 
  December 3, 2017
Quoting The Supreme Soggy Overlord of Moles and Moist Melons NOICE! So, when can we start doing the GC?
You can upload your entry any time this month, althoigh later into the month would be better. --Blast--
 I like it 
  December 2, 2017
Once again, a fantastic episode my friend! Great work building up the Crossover, and the sets here were particularly well done, especially the TV Show. Ok also liking the idea of seeing more of Lobotomy. It's all brilliant, like always, and I eagerly await the next one!
 I like it 
  December 2, 2017
NOICE! So, when can we start doing the GC?
 I like it 
  December 2, 2017
Amazing episode as always R.K! I love your build up to the crossover, especially referencing the Followers of the Universe. Can't wait for it!
 I like it 
  December 2, 2017
Always enjoy seeing your amazing builds and photos! Definitely getting closer to the cross-over now, cool to see Tank getting ready but I also like seeing Drayson and Ari and their adventures
 I like it 
  December 2, 2017
As we said on Flickr, we will say here; always an amazing job Blast! Literally every scene and dialog was perfect and shaped very nicely for the Cross-Over. If we could speak for everyone else here that we are all super eager and excited for the "Civil War" theme battle to begin soon. Again, fantastic job good sir!
 
By --R.K. Blast--
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