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the ivory tower

1. Melt Down

The troop of soldiers continued their relentless journey over the pitted, rutted and dead land. Every man was tired, dirty and a long way from home - a long way from civilisation - a long way from the places where men don't need gas-diffusion masks, identical uniforms and twenty rounds a second rifles.

The Commander gave a signal for the soldiers to rest. Thankfully, they dropped under a high ridge of earth that formed a crumbling barrier in the wasteland. The soldiers were able to relax a little, but remained alert, rifles within easy retrievable distance and ready to sight up a shot on an enemy trooper of Skim-craft.

Silence reigned in the wilderness, nothing was to be heard. The second-in-command, a bearded stocky man called Hite moved over to his commander, Captain Mok. He settled himself and spoke. 'How much further, sir? The water's all gone and Rittle is still getting the cramping in his sides. We need food and shelter soon...' He was cut off by a small bleeping on the black communicator tucked away in the side pouch of his Chief.

Mok activated his clearance signal and asked 'Yes?'

The tinny, static riddled sound of Haft control rattled off casualty figures to the soldier, followed by the rendezvous date and time. The next piece of information was lost in a smash of static and then silence. Mok smiled to Hite. 'Satisfied? Tell the men that we've only two days until rendezvous!'

Hite jumped to his feet and passed the message along the rank of soldiers. A shrill whistle hit the air - the signal to get going again. Their brief phase of recuperation over, the soldiers slowly staggered to their feet, reloading kitbags onto their backs once more. The snake of humans began its winding, twisting route again as they continued their staggered walk over the ruins.

~~~

The control was alive with activity, the control consoles were all manned by men in identical clothing and identical expressions. Their hands moved with deft speed over the buttons and switches and hum of power flooded the room as huge generators were forced, coerced into action. A lower hum flowed around the control chamber and every man turned to the white large door, every man with his hand in salute - every man ready...

The man that entered was nearly seven feet tall, and his long blonde hair was raked across his scalp into a long, twisting ponytail that terminated at his waist. He had a patch over his left eye and a jagged scar raced across his face to finish at the base of his neck. The long black cloak finished the picture as the man stood still, soaking up the salutes and admiration as a sponge does water.

Commander Kayj glanced at the assembled group and bellowed, 'Get back to work! There is a war going on if you hadn't noticed!' The men scurried like sewer rats to their consoles.

A small man called Gaust walked up to Kayj and gave a sharp salute. Kayj swung round on him, as though pestered by an insistent fly. 'What is it, soldier?' he asked, a sigh lingering around his lips as he spoke. Gaust handed him a sheet of green plastic with various figures punched in it.

'We have located Mok's platoon, sir.' Gaust waited for a reply from his leader.

Kayj looked slowly skywards and shouted 'Excellent! The ones who have evaded us for so long have met their terminus!' He stared at Gaust. 'Give the order, soldier. Give the order to melt them.'

Gaust turned to the nearest console and activated the communications link. 'Attention - top priority one from Commander Kayj - prime and activate the MP's ' The order echoed and hung in the air - Kayj stood and smiled. The Melt Pods had been the embryo that he spawned - they were his infant, his child. Yes, Mok and his scum were in for a shock...

~~~

Mok urged his men on, bellowing at them, making them stand straight, marching them at a seemingly break-neck speed for ones so weary. Hite implored his Chief for another brief rest to allow the men, Rittle in particular, the chance to recuperate. Mok turned deaf and barked even louder. They would get to that rendezvous point, even if the men died in the attempt.

~~~

Kayj sat in his tall white command chair. 'Are the Spreaders ready?' he queried, fingers drumming restlessly on the arm of the chair.

Gaust looked up. 'Yes, nearly, sir.' His fingers danced over the controls once more.

The Command centre in which Kayj was waiting was a tall imposing tower of white. You could be forgiven for mistaking it for marble as the surface and textures were similar. But no, it was Coarn, a reinforced, laminated shell, totally and utterly impregnable - but then, as no-one had ever bothered to attack the place, no-one was really too sure on that last statement.

The Spreaders were situated on top of the obelisk. They were two enormous tubes of corrugated metal of some kind, with a mass of snaking cables emerging and vanishing into and out from within them. A hum of power drifted skywards as the tubes lowered to a flatter angle. When they were virtually horizontal, they halted and an even louder hum filled the air.

Kayj's drumming fingers filled the control centre as he waited. Gaust glanced to him. 'Ready, sir. All it needs is your command.'

Kayj stood up, a grin spreading like treacle across his mask-like face. 'Melt them..' he said and sat down.

Out from the Spreaders shot a long legion of spheres, each the size of a cricket ball. They smashed their way through the air, sphere after sphere, nose-diving into the soil of the battle-field. As the spheres struck land, they violently spun, burying themselves, covering all signs of them ever being there. They were gone - the wasteland looked exactly like it had done five minutes before hand...

~~~

Mok saw it first - towering on the horizon, looking like a stick of rock. It looked small from where they stood, but they were still a far distance from it. Hite smiled.

'So, that's it - Kayj's stronghold. The Ivory Tower...' Mok nodded and touched his communicator.

'That,' he said, ' must have been what Haft control had tried to tell us before we lost communications...'

Hite nodded and asked the question that sat poised on everyone's lips - 'Do we attack, sir?' Mok stood still, not saying a word. He turned to the troops.

'We will approach the Tower and attack...but only if we are attacked first...'

Mok's words resounded around Kayj's control room and smiled. 'Oh, you'll be attacked first...once the MP's have done their task, you won't be able to do a thing - ever again.'

~~~

It happened fast - very fast.

Mok led his men on and the looming Tower seemed to dry out their dampened spirits. As they got nearer, the MP's activated themselves. Whirring, buzzing, they flew upwards and stuck themselves on the uniforms of the men. They didn't have time to brush them off, smash them, shot at them - the speed of the spheres caught them unaware. Once attached, the spheres fell apart and smothered its prey with a think yellow gas. Screams emitted from the swirling clouds as the men struggled...and died.

The clouds dispersed themselves and the empty uniforms of the soldiers fell to the ground. They had just discovered the power of Commander Kayj's Melt Pods, and the meaning of his chilling command of 'Melt Them' ...

~~~

Kayj's laugh bounced from white wall to white wall, computer bank to computer bank. 'Gaust!' he shouted, 'We have done it! Mok and his men - melted!' he laughed again and strode out of the command nest. Gaust walked over to the wall panel, picked up a thick, black pen and scrawled over the word "Mok" that was embossed into the plastic panel on the far wall. The only platoon left on the sheet was "Tecain". They would be next for the melting pot...He turned to the communications desk and rapped out his message to the young Communications Officer.

'Inform Millioz control that Mok platoon has been...dealt with...'