This is a future controlled by war. Think we have it bad now...read on.
The War Machine
Helkin sat before the two powerful spotlights and tested the strength of the bonds that held his arms to the chairs arms. His skin cooked under the glare of the lights and his eyes burned even though he had made no attempt to open them since being seated.
‘Council rise.’ said a rapsing, metallic voice to the far left. The young scientist heard the shuffling of feet but still refrained from opening his eyes or attempting to stand. It was pointless. Even if he could somehow wrestle the bonds from his wrists and break towards the door, there was the small matter of the thirty or so armed Zen Marines he’d spotted upon entering who were positioned evenly round the parameter of the oval hall.
‘Lord Admiral Gerald Hickers III’ said the metallic voice and Helkin heard more shuffling as ominous footsteps echoed throughout the chamber in a crescendo that peaked just behind the lights. The silence that followed embraced the room coldly.
‘Lights out.’ A gruff cigar burnt voice commanded. The voice echoed for an age round the machine carved walls.
‘Lights out.’ repeated the metallic voice. The spotlights were turned off and Helkin opened his eyes to be greeted by a wall of furrowed brows. His vision waned for a second before returning, red tracers plaguing his line of sight like midges. He saw a door open.
Across the other side of the immense subterranean meeting hall an odd looking clerk dressed in a threadbare white uniform ran feverishly into the room. The clerk bowed exuberantly and breathing heavily, stood to attention by the side of the rounded Commander whose gruff voice had commenced proceedings. A small E-pad appeared from behind the Clerks back and the knobbly man thrust it formally towards the Command councillor. Hickers looked unimpressed and coughed unhealthily in preparation of the hearing. The numerous cubans had taken their toll.
“Meeting 72659984 – J is in session. Council of Seven and J.F Helkin in attendance, Lord Commander Gerald Hickers residing. Subject, The War Machine. Session in order.” barked the clerk. The council all nodded there agreement and the session was indeed in order. All around the parameter of the hall Helkin heard the sound of rifles being lowered as the Zen-marines who acted as personal guard to the Council of Seven all relaxed their guard, or at least appeared to relax.
“So what business do you bring here today boy?” asked Commander Hickers to the frail looking Scientist. Hellas looked up and down the narrow oblong table at the row of Supreme Councillors that sat behind it. Above their heads ran a slit in the ceiling that provided enough light so that you could see but not examine the Council. This illumination supposedly came from the surface but many had their doubts as to what light still shone above.
Padre Phillips leaned forward and placed both hands cupped upon the table.
“Do you have something to say? Some doubts about the War Machine perhaps, or have you just dropped in to let us know that everything’s alright.’ he finished for the Commander who sat stroking his long curled moustache with experienced tenderness. The shadows ran in streaks down both of them.
Hellas sat silent. He was unsure of his next move. The Group hadn’t warned him of this. But then again no-one connected to the group had ever managed an audience with the Seven before.
“There not doubts, their facts.” Helkin said finally and the panel sat upright, eyes burning holes through the accuser’s skull.
“It’s been a long time since someone had dared to question the War Machines credibility.” said General Olbion solemnly as he scratched his portly stomach. The other councillors mumbled throaty agreements and tapped hands on the table. One of them called for more wine and a small hovering droid appeared with another flask of claret.
“Yes, I believe the last person who came before the Supreme council with accusations of this kind ended up on charges of treason.” said Padre Phillips who grinned as if pleased with the last statement. The Councillor sat next to him and slapped him on the back as if to give support to the Padres insinuations.
“I didn’t realise I was on trial.” said Hellas with a grimness befitting the situation. He had to act the part. That’s what the group had told him, just act the part.
“It’s nothing more than a preliminary hearing.” said the Padre ingenuously but Helkin was wise enough to hear beyond the Padres implied innocence. “Speak your mind.” The Padre finished.
“I will.” said Helkin who tried gathering his thoughts which were racing away from him like scared foul in a pen.
Commander Hickers brought his hands to rest on the table and fixed Hellas in his sights, his lip quivering slightly before he spoke.
The R&D scientist found himself feeling queasy and longing for his safe, quiet lab back in the north wing of the base. He opened his dry mouth and started shakily with his introduction.
“We all know of the origins of the War Machine and therefore its necessity within our forward thinking society.” First the compliments, then the bombshell - He thought
“Yes, yes,” said Commander Ballak who sat to the right of the Hickers. “Every pre-school child in the west knows the tale.” The six other obese military leaders and clerk all hastily nodded and grumbled their agreement again in the hope that this farce would be finished soon. They obviously had no time for this little upstart who was keeping them from their lunch. General Olbion's balloon like stomach rumbled vehemently as if to emphasize the point.
“In the dark times before the War Machine guided our people, we warred erratically in a desperate attempt to find a focus, a meaning to our pathetic existence. We were headless chickens running round in a bloody circle, waiting for the Last Crash to arrive and help us re-build our society.” said Padre Phillips as if he were stood in his pulpit. “So the war machine could be realised and built to guide our savage ways. To predict when Mankind was ready for war as is written in the Book of Jobe.”
“Well, without taking religious bias into account,” said Hellas who thought he saw Padre Phillips baring his teeth as a warning. “We all know that the War Machine’s recommendations are based on facts taken from historical and current day information.”
“Yes, we know.” said Harris, the general who commanded the research and development sectors and so commanded Helkin. “Data concerning the world and its events are fed through the War Machines nexus. It cross references these with historical fact to determine whether or not, war at that time would be beneficial to the race.” The other Council members gave some more supportive grunts and shuffled in their seats impatiently.
“So basically the War Machine looks for the signs or indicators that have prompted the most profitable wars in recorded history and then searches for matching situations here now in the present.” replied Hellas who was happy that Council grasped the more technical points of his case. It had been heard on the upper floors of the base that the Council very rarely had to think about anything anymore.
“Yes, we know, do you have a point or can we sentence you now.” said the Padre, his impatience getting the better of him. Helkin opened his mouth again but the Padre leap back in before he managed a word. “And before you start, we all know War is something that humans have slowly realised to be useful. It drives technological advances and culls the masses. Were once we threatened to overwhelm the world, we know live in balance with it. Our numbers controlled by conflict. The War Machine granted us stability amidst chaos.” said the Padre as if reading Helkin’s mind.
“And what if the war machine was wrong?” said Hellas who quickly skipped the rest of his introduction. The Padres intuitive prediction had unnerved him. It was time to go for the kill.
“Wrong!?” repeated Hickers as the chamber erupted in mock astonishment. The Zen Marines stood around the parameter of the hall all raised their guns at Hellas in one smooth motion and held fast. Helkin’s head became awash with quivering red dots. The enraged Commander called the Clerk over and seized the E-Pad back off the weary looking man as if looking for a prior warning of the treasonous accusations in the details of the hearing. Nothing arose and so Hickers threw the small white pad across the hall and ordered the clerk to check the Truth Machine. The clerk shuffled to a small black box with a tiny blue light on the top by the end of the table and unperturbed by Hickers abuse, confirmed that it appeared that the subject at least believed that he was telling the truth. Helkin watched as confused looks cascaded from one end of the table to the next and Hickers whispered something to Harris.
“Don’t be absurd.” said Padre Phillips bluntly over the chaos.
General Harris who sat to the left of Hickers noticed the mood of the room and placed a hand on Commander Ballak’s arm as she tried to rise from her seat and leave the chambers, the boy would be dead if the meeting was adjourned as such. The courts would rip him apart. He had to keep the Council members in the room until Helkin had finished. It was the boy’s only chance of survival and Harris’s only chance of keeping one of his best men alive.
“Let’s have a little calm please. I’m sure the boy can elaborate on this. Lets hear him out” Harris said banging hard on the table and the commotion died down a little.
All eyes fell back on the twitchy looking Hellas. He nervously grasped the arms of the chair as he realised the mood of his audience and hoped he could do enough to convince them of the truth, even if it meant they missed their lunch.
“Yes, let’s here it boy.” said Hickers. “Lets here what misguided research has led you to dribble this utter bunkum in the council chamber.” The old Commander sat back in his enormous seat and folded his arms tightly across his chest. He struggled to reach round his large frame and to Hellas, almost looked like a caricature of himself.
“Well my job within R and D is to study and monitor the data that is fed into the War Machine. To see if I can pick up on any patterns.” Hellas said.
“And have you?” asked the Padre.
“Well that’s the thing,”
“Common, spit it out boy!” said Hickers.
“I’ve been looking back over old situations in an attempt to gain a larger research base with which to work from. So I’ve spent the best part of two years studying the data and discovered some pretty damning facts.”
“We’ll decide if there damning or not.” said the Padre hastily.
“It appears that from the first War machine influenced conflict up until around two hundred years ago, there were patterns showing similar sociological and environmental elements that needed to have occurred within a set time span before the War Machine would advise us it was time for profitable war.”
“Well we knew the machine wasn’t magic!” said Hickers and the others laughed emptily.
“So in essence, you found certain triggers for profitable war. Something the war Machine obviously picks up on.” said Harris who was intrigued by the words coming from Hellas.
“Yes, each time these triggers occurred within a set period of time, it wasn’t long before we were once again at war with the East.”
“But not now?” asked the Padre. He looked particular perturbed by Hellas’s evidence.
“No. I’ve studied the data and there seems to be no pattern at all to our conflicts. For the just over two hundred years, it seems as if the War Machine has randomly sent us into battle.”
“And you can prove this?” said Harris. The others looked sternly at the General.
“Yes, I have the data here, saved on my Fi-ve.” said Helkin referring to the bio hard drive that had been implanted into his finger.
“Maybe we’ve moved on.” said the Padre. “Maybe the circumstances for profitable war have changed as we have changed.” The others relaxed slightly as the Padre gave them enough reason to doubt Hellas’s accusations. This talk of things not being right had unnerved them. The safety net had been moved.
“But there’s no pattern at all.” said Hellas.
“No pattern that you can see.” replied Hickers. “If you could, then the War Machine would be redundant! We wouldn’t need the most advanced computer that mankind has ever built, we’d have you instead!” The old Commander laughed heartily and the other council members quickly followed suite.
“That’s just it though; it is still just a computer, one that feeds off logic and figures. It looks for patterns that tell when it is a profitable time for war. And there’s no evidence tying the wars we’ve had since the War Machine was activated to the conflicts that have occurred over the last two hundred years. Not one common thread. We’ve been fighting arbitrary wars.”
“And what of now?” asked Ballak. “Are you saying that maybe we should be at war right now?”
“We’ve now been on Peacetime status for the last sixty three years which as we all know is the longest gap between conflicts since the war Machine was built. By my calculations, we’ve missed at least two occasions when conditions were right for profitable war.” said Hellas and watched as his audience erupted again. Voices became raised as the Council members shouted first at Hellas and then amongst themselves. Fists were raised angrily and arguments between members caused E-pads to be thrown violently across the room. Two members stood, waved their arms in the air in anger and set off for the door as Commander Hickers’s grin disappeared from sight and the Clerk started to shuffle back towards the door.
“SILENCE!” Hickers screamed as the noise levels carried on increasing. The two Council members, who were walking towards the door, crept back to their seats like insolent children and were seated in silence. The others calmed their outrage and managed to stay seated although each was simmering away quietly in their gigantic thrones.
“We will adjourn for lunch and discuss these accursed accusations.” said the Commander; more for the comfort of his staff that anything else. He waved his hand in a gesture meant to shoo Hellas away and rubbed the bridge of his large, claret, knobbly nose. Hellas gladly rose from his seat the second the shackles were released. Rubbing his wrists he walked with care towards General Harris and ran his finger the small shiny square on the table in front of his commanding officer.
“3D 2C 7B” he said and a bleep signalled the download. Harris looked cautiously at Helkin’s digit and then to Commander Hickers.
“It’s all there.” said Hellas with a sternness ill befitting his age and walked past the two armed guards out the door.
“Keep him company.” said Hickers to the two guards and they followed Hellas out.
Hellas swilled the bitter Coffomax the pretty Council Aide had brought him half an hour him around in the metal cup and mulled over the Councils reactions. The uproar in there had been a good sign for him as in it indicated that the seven must be taking the evidence seriously but on the flipside a bad one for Helkin should they find the evidence to be lacking in any way.
But it couldn’t be any thing more than convincing, Hellas thought. He’d checked the data thoroughly himself. He just had to hope they didn’t think he was connected to The Group. Treason was the only thing that could blight the evidence now.
“Can I get you some lunch?” the aide asked helpfully from her desk. Helkin looked up lazily and placed his hand under his chin.
“No thanks. Not really in the mood for eating.” She repeated the question to the two guards who nodded hungrily. The aide got up and walked across to a small cabinet across the other side of the reception room. Upon opening it she revealed a selection of black market sandwiches and water.
“Help your selves.” she said and walked back over to her desk. Helkin cast an eye over slim figure as she passed and found his thoughts drifting away from the adjourned hearing and towards her tight…..
“The Council members are still discussing your claims over lunch but should be done soon.” She offered as she sat down behind her desk waking Helkin from his fantasy. “Would you like a Calm?” she asked. Calms were not usually offered to people of Helkins rank but then again, someone of his professional stature was not normally waiting to meet once more with the Seven.
“Thanks.” said Hellas who quickly took the small blue patch from the Aide. Her laminated I.D badge called her Fay Van Tranner and her cool blue eyes had now captured the young scientist. He placed the patch on his arm over a vein and the drug soaked easily into his blood supply. Hellas let out a sight as his shoulders relaxed and the throbbing in his temples subsided to a dull thud.
“Is it true what you say?” the aide whispered to Hellas as the guards sat happily eating the food and chatting. Hellas closed his eyes for a second and let his head rest against the back of the chair. Was she testing him?
“About what?” he asked cautiously.
“About the War Machine being wrong. That it’s not sending us to war when it should do.” She said. Helkin felt nervous, it could be a set up. Pretty girl, a more relaxed environment, bugs under the desk.
“I’m not sure I can say.” said Hellas.
“Well if you were here for that, don’t you think it’s a good thing that we’re not going to War with the East?” Fay asked. “I spend most of my day looking up at the Status boards wondering when they’re going to turn. So do most people. It would be easier if we knew that they never would.” Helkin looked up at the board in the room and thought of the ubiquitous status boards that occupied wall space in every building in the west, all glowing ominously with PEACETIME displayed in green, all waiting eagerly to turn into the fiery red of WAR.
“Wouldn’t that defeat the point of the War Machine? It’s kept us ticking over for the last thousand years.” Hellas sipped the cold Coffomax which didn’t taste so bad now the calm had coursed through his body. He sat up and placed the cup on the floor, carefully looking round at the two guards as he did so.
“Random wars have been proved to be futile gesture. We are a warring species, there’s no getting round that point. But at least through the wisdom of the War Machine we’ve learnt to control it. If we hadn’t, there wouldn’t be a world left for us to inhabit.” He said as if off a script.
“Maybe we’ve evolved past that point.”
“Over a thousand years? I shouldn’t think so. In the grand scheme of things that’s a blip in the lifetime of man.”
“I’m sure the human race has surprised itself before and will again.” Fay said.
“We’re always surprising ourselves, don’t you think?” said Hellas. “
“Exactly.” said Fay. She send a demur wink Hellas’s way before flicking the bio switch behind her ear. Helkin relaxed and knew there to be no bugs hidden round the office.
“Yes sir. Immediately sir.” she said and casually flicked the link off.
“They ready to start the session again” She said loudly enough for the guards to hear. The two baboon like soliders quickly stood and brushed the crumbs from their laps, missing the slight hand signals that were exchanged between Hellas and Fay while they groomed their uniforms.
“If you’ll follow us Corporal Hellas.” The one with the white helmet said and the three of them headed back towards the Council Chamber. Hellas slipped the monitor pen from the side of the desk up his sleeve as he passed and tried to ignore Fay. At least he had a little insurance now.
“Bye Fay.” He said and walked through the door wondering if she would be interested in dinner after he’d ripped the rug out from under their subterranean society.
“Corporal Helkin.” Commander Hickers said from his seat in the middle of the Seven. Helkin noticed they appeared more placid since being fed. “It pains me to say it but you have some pretty convincing evidence according to my fellow councillor General Harris.” Helkin sat quietly, the full effect of the calm lowering his heart rate and steadying his thoughts. He noticed council members were now tinged with the incandescent blue associated with the effects of the drug.
“Not all are believers.” said Padre Phillips before Helkin could muster an answer. “Not all are ready to soil the sanctity that the War Machine has provided for us over the years.” The Padre’s body language reminded Helkin of a coiled snake, like one of the Cobra clones sold on the La Cante trade ships.
“Being as which, we’ve decided that before a full scale investigation is launched, a smaller, less newsworthy check will be carried out by a qualified Technician.” said Commander Hickers who looked exasperated by the Padres constant preaching.
The other council members had started mumbling to each other at this plan of action was put forward. These were worrying times. The War Machine had been build to last forever and as such no-one apart from the Code Keeper had had cause to grace the inner CPU Chamber in over four hundred years. Helkin remembered the Code Keeper was a position traditionally held by the Commanding Padre. That Padre was still glaring at Helkin from the other side of the table.
“I will of course supervise the inspection.” said the Padre.
“And you’ll have full R&D backing for any tech requests.” said General Harris.
“Who?” asked Helkin.
“You.” said Commander Hickers. Helkin started to panic silently under his Calm induced exterior. This was further than he wanted to go. Further than The Group had told him he would have to go.
“But I’m just a Corporal from Research sir, I’m no where near qualified enough to conduct such an important investigation.” argued Helkin in vein. The large commander shook his head slowly.
“You’re more than qualified.’ Commander Hickers said his enormous jowls quivering as he did so.
“You’re the one who found the problem in the first place. It appears that when looking for an expert, there is only you with any experience in the matter.” said the Padre gritting his teeth.
“Anyway it’s Council’s rule.” said the Commander unleashing a killing blow. “Do you now argue councils rule?” Helkin knew the question to be rhetorical and so remained silent. Many a good man had been lost because he’d dared to speak his mind.
“Good.” said the Commander and he ordered Helkin to be freed from his chair. The bonds slipped back into the arms and Helkin stood “Now off you pop.” Hickers said looking rather pleased with himself as two of the guards clamped Helkin by his arms and escorted him from the room. The Padre followed silently, his long red robe slithering silently behind him, a look of utter distaste spread across his face.
The guards let go of Helkin as they passed under the long suspension bridge which ran between the underground base and the War Machine complex. Helkin had never been permitted this far under before, as had anyone except the Padre and the bridge guards and marvelled at the aesthetic ingenuity of the build. Overhead one thousand and seventy eight thousand titanium cables criss-crossed in a perfect arched symmetry connecting the rocky ceiling with the broad metal walkway they now made their way across. It reminded Helkin of the Pre-Crash cathedrals he’d studied in history at the academy, not just in structure but also in presence. Almost spiritual Helkin thought. At the end of the bridge stood an Anti-nuke door covering the tunnel that lead through a gigantic wall of solid rock towards the War Machines CPU. The two guards that stood either side of the door almost growled as the party of four approached the check point but held back as the Padres face crept from the shadows as he reached the shadowy ledge they stood on.
“Authorisation please Sir.” said the thin looking guard to the left who then moved aside to let the Padre swipe his finger down the scanner next to the door. It bleeped and the door spat steam from two gigantic hydraulic arms which then wheezed in pain as the solid metal door slowly began to slide upwards.
“Passage for two.” said the other guard who reminded Helkin of a crow in the way that his long nose curled down at the end. The guards that had escorted Helkin to this point saluted the Padre and turned away to make their way back. The Padre grabbed Helkin by the scruff of his neck and threw him through the door. He turned back towards the guards.
“No other security clearance for this sector has been granted today. Do you understand.” said the Padre as he hesitated by the impenetrable entrance. “I want no unexpected visitors while giving this little shit the full tour.”
“Understood.” said the crow like guard who nodded slightly as he did so.
“Good.” said the Padre who then disappeared into through the door to take a bewildered Helkin once again by the collar. The door closed boisterously behind them and Helkin felt goose bumps rising on his forearms as the Padre dragged him along. A stale breeze emanating from the cooling fans which dominated the War Machines complex whipped past as they followed the long grey oval tunnel towards the next set of anti-nuke doors and the War Machine’s nexus that lay beyond.
“So you think you’re clever then little boy.” snarled the Padre as they sped up. The religious Councillor’s anger was now dictating the pace at which they travelled. “You and that self righteous ‘Group’ you hang around with.” An alarm bell sounded in Helkin’s head and he tried in vein to look round at the Padre but found himself forced forward by the ferocity of the march.
“Oh don’t try and deny the facts Corporal Helkin. I’ve had you under constant surveillance since the day you were assigned the War Machine Pattern project. I’d be a fool not to.” The Padres grip was stronger than his build implied.
“I’m no traitor.” spat Helkin. “Not to the human race anyway.”
“You know that I’m the only person seen to be Godly enough to be allowed into the inner sectors of the War Machine.” said the Padre ignoring Helkin’s protests.
“I’ve held the key to its heart for thirty two years now since the day my dear father handed them to me on his deathbed. In fact you’re the first person to be allowed in here since the Dirty War all those years ago.”
They reached the end of the corridor and stopped. The padre, still keeping hold of Helkin firmly with his left hand of his shoulder, swiped his finger down the scanner to the side and said “There’s no place like home.”
-IDENTIFICATION CONFIRMED, WELLCOME HOME PADRE PHILLIPS- said a rasping metallic voice and the door opened.
“So here we are.” said the Padre. “This is what you wanted isn’t it?” and pushed Helkin onward.
They walked through the door into a vast round cavern covered with flashing boxes and messy wires. All around sat Sync-hubs and transformers half buried in the floor, all happily working away as part of the colossal mind that made up War Machine. The Padre let go of Helkin and stood looking like a proud father reunited with his genius offspring. The bewildered scientist looked on at a strange platform that stood surrounded by a moat of air in the middle of the cavern. In the centre of that stood a small white consol under an arrangement of silicon crystals that hung like diamond stalagmites from the roof..
“The War Machine in all it’s splendour. So what’s the plan?” asked the Padre. The two of them had stopped now and faced each other in the chamber.
“I have the transcripts on E-Pad stating your intentions to bring the War Machine down, I was just wondering how you were planning on doing it?” the Padre said.
“I wasn’t planning on destroying it” protested Helkin. He knew there was no point arguing. It appeared the Padre had all the evidence he needed. “It was agreed by the group that a violent act to stop acts of violence was illogical. Besides once the evidence was gathered with didn’t need to commence militant action to bring about the end of the War Machine. It’s not working anymore.”
“You know nothing.” said the Padre and pulled Helkin towards a small gangway that led to the central platform. They walked across in silence and the Padre positioned himself before the consol, the breeze they had experienced outside now blowing a gale around the rocky platform.
“First.” He started. “I’ll explain the slight blips that you’ve picked up in the War Machines wisdom over the last few years.” The Padre ran his finger over a strip on the sloping front of the panel and a whirring whine erupted from above their heads. Helkin looked up to see a circle of roof begin to slide back, revealing a hollow black circle underneath. The noise increased and Helkin held his hands over his ears. The Padre grinned and ran his finger once more over the panel. This time a long crystal clear cylinder appeared from the gap in the roof and started it’s descent in a slow smooth action. Inside shone little lights flashing and zipping through Bio-loam which acted as a liquid circuit board for the War Machines CPU.
“It’s all so simple really.” He said as the cylinder locked into place and the CPU rotated before clanked into position in front of the Padre.
Helkin found himself hoping his death would be quick and painless as he stood staring at what was the most complicated feat of bio-tronics in the history of human kind and the adaptation which protruded rudely from its side. Helkin now understood why the War Machine no longer worked. It was simple. It was scarily simple.
“My Great Grand father did it apparently.” said the Padre looking blankly at the Bio-brain. “Said that, although he was a man who believed in War, he wasn’t built for War.”
“And the Padre Councillor is the only member of the Seven who must ride out into battle with the troops if I’m not mistaken.” said Helkin as the Padres part in this became clear.
“You’re well educated Corporal Helkin.” said the Padre. “Yes it’s true that in Wartime my place is on the battlefield while the rest of those slovenly pigs carry on slowly eating themselves to death far underground.” The Padre said and placed a hand under the crease in his robe. Helkin stood wondering if he should kill or thank the Padre. Of the last two years, he had only had time for contemplating ways in which to bring the War Machine down. The situation had not been accounted for.
“So you just flick the switch.” Said Helkin and pointed to the short metal pole that stuck out from the War Machine’s CPU.
“That’s it.” said the Padre who now had the small gun that lay concealed in his robes pointed at Helkin. “As you can see from its position at the moment, we’re in Peacetime and that was the way that I wanted it to stay.”
“And why can’t it?” said Helkin who now realised that the Padre was not an enemy but rather someone who in their own twisted, self preservationist way wanted the same thing as him.
“Because you know.” said the Padre pointing at the homemade switch with the words Peacetime and Wartime written crudely above and below.
“But we want the same thing.” said Helkin desperately.
“No we don’t.” said the Padre who chortled. He walked away from the platform and stood at its edge looking back over the ring of air. “The Group are controlled by Hickers you fool. He set them up to find someone suitable to infiltrate the War Machines inner chambers and they did. They found you.” He finished and reached towards the handle.
“What you doing?” said Helkin now terrified.
“I’m turning us to Wartime Corporal. Don’t worry, it’s only for a day or so, any longer than that and I’d be sent out into the field.”
“But you’ve kept it on Peacetime for all those years…” said Helkin
“Treason is punishable by immediate execution in wartime. I’ll tell them that you pulled a gun on me upon entering the inner chambers and that I shot you as a traitor. That’ll keep Hickers off my back for a while.”
“I won’t breathe a word.” said Helkin who was looking down the barrel of the gun. He thought of the scribe and slowly started to slip his hand inside his pocket.
“Just leave it there and I’ll tell the Council it was all a mistake, my mistake.” Helkin said.
“I don’t want to do this but you had to pick at the scab didn’t you.” said the Padre who’s dark eyes became more frenzied with every second he held the gun up to Helkin’s head. “In another few years I’d be dead anyway and with no heir apparent you could have done as you wanted but oh no, you had to push it didn’t you.” The hand which reached for the handle was shaking. Helkin saw his moment and grabbed the pen inside his pocket. Pointing it outwards Helkin pressed the clicker and a small red strip of light flashed through the material of his trousers and into the Padres gut which absorbed the full blast. He fell to the floor with an airless scream and clung to the parts of his stomach which were not now laid melted on the floor. His blood ran around the pair of them and settled as a large claret puddle on the stone floor.
“But you don’t know what he has planned for you.” said the Padre as the last breath left his body and he collapsed limply by the side of Helkin. Helkin closed his eyes a second, all the years of combat training never really touching on what it was like to kill a man. At least it was done; at least he could flick the switch back and reveal the truth. This had to be enough to bring the war Machine down or so he thought.
“Well done solider.” came Commander Hickers’s voice from the doorway. Helkin spun round to see the large Councillor with the two guards who had stood watch over him while he talked to the aide.
“First rate job.” He said and walked towards Helkin who stood stunned.
“Yes it’s true.” said Hickers. “I planted you here to cause this.” The old Commander strode up to Helkin and placed his hand on the young scientists shoulder. “I’d found out long ago that one of the Padre’s predecessors had destroyed the War Machine’s CPU and replaced with what is in essence a big bloody switch! Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had wars since then, not all the clergy are spineless bitches, but during my reign as Western Commander and head of the Council of Seven, I’ve never had the pleasure of sending our glorious troops to war.”
“But……..” asked Helkin.
“Why you?” interrupted the Commander. Helkin’s head nodded in agreement. Right at this moment he needed clarification more than he needed an end to the War Machine. With the Padre holding the gun to his head as he had told him of Hickers plot, Helkin hadn’t absorbed the information fully.
“Well I needed someone from outside the council to provide us with proof of the War Machine’s death. To accuse the Padre in open council would have caused a rift between the State military and the Church. As much as I live for War, civil is not my preference. Doesn’t seem at all profitable.” Hickers stroked his moustache at this point.
“So after the evidence was given to the council, you convinced them to let me check it out.”
“It’s a matter of trust.” said Hickers. “Politics needs its neutrals. You’re a valuable tool.”
“But the War Machine’s dead. In a way the group that you commissioned, whether they realised your input or not, has succeeded.” said Helkin.
“That’s the other reason why you’re here.” said the Commander who turned and stood before the handle. Before Helkin could re-act, the old Commander pulled it down into the Wartime position and a shrill deafening alarm sounded throughout the base.
“What you do that for?” asked Helkin who looked on in horror. The atmosphere in the room changed immediately.
“Hear that?” asked Hickers and Helkin thought he indeed heard what the Commander heard. It was a buzz around the base. Like it had come alive. Helkin imagined the status boards that hung on walls in every room throughout the west suddenly turning to WARTIME and the commotion that now ensued.
“Like you said, we should have had at least a couple of outings to the East over the last sixty years.” Commander Hickers’s eyes looked alive for the first time in years. “I’m just evening the score.”
“And after that?” asked Helkin.
“We carry on as we were.” said Hickers.
“But the War Machine doesn’t work. If the CPU’s been wiped then it’s irreparable.”
“But you work.” Said the Commander. Helkin stopped dead with his pleas.
“As you more than adequately proved in the Chambers, you can read the patterns as the war machine did.” said Hickers. Helkin didn’t bother to argue but instead sat down on the floor in defeat, the blood of the Padre immediately creeping round his leg.
“So I wasn’t just a plant then?” said Helkin.
“Call it more of a job interview.” said Hickers who was now the one to look pleased with himself. “Oh and if you’re thinking of refusing or killing yourself in some act of belated heroism, please think of that poor Council Aide who risked her life to give you the weapon. I wouldn’t want you to be responsible for her death as well. Such a pretty girl and so naive.”
“She was a plant as well?” asked Helkin.
“Not that she knew but yes. The poor thing believes she works for The Group, just as you did. Let’s not crash her party shall we?”
Helkin thought of reaching for the scribe in his pocket but stopped short of going through with it. He should know by now that there were plenty of Hickers’s waiting in the wings to take his place should he die. Just as there were men such as him trying to find a peaceful solution.
“If you’re good, I may even grant you and her some conjugal time together.” said Hickers as he turned to leave. “Oh and I’ll have a bunk and desk sent down here later, I’ll let you settle into your new home first.” said Hickers waving his hand around the chamber. The old solider waddled back across the gangway towards the door. Helkin sat and watched the Padres blood begin to soak into trousers. His fate now sealed with him inside the wiry innards of the War Machine.
“Common boys.” said Hickers to the two guards he had arrived with.
“It’s wartime again!”