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Excerpts from the Staggering Stories Blog:


Staggering Stories Podcast #302: A Villain Conundrum?
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 18 Nov 2018 08:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Fake Keith and the Real Keith Dunn discuss two Doctor Who stories: The Tsuranga Conundrum and Demons of the Punjab, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 00:39 — Welcome! 01:50 – News: 01:59 — Doctor Who: Paternoster Gang to be […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #217: Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell to Earth
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 11 Nov 2018 08:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, regenerated, in front of the 2018 Doctor Who premiere episode, ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’, and spout our usual nonsense! The Doctor cannot remember her own name, Ryan launches a bike and Tim Shaw gets a faceful of salad. But enough of their […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #301: A Whittaker Triple
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 04 Nov 2018 08:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Jean Riddler and Keith Dunn discuss three Doctor Who stories: The Ghost Monument, Rosa and Arachnids in the UK, play a game, give a 30 Second Recommendation, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:09 — Welcome! 02:31 – […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #300: The Podcasters Who Fell to Earth
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 21 Oct 2018 08:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Crumbly, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler and the Real Keith Dunn discuss Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth, play a game, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:50 — Welcome! 02:53 – News: 03:06 — Doctor […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #299: Every Doctor has a First Time
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 07 Oct 2018 08:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler and the Real Keith Dunn discuss Doctor Who’s first stories of each Doctor, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:14 — Welcome! 02:00 – News: 02:10 — Doctor Who: Broadcast time confirmed. 03:37 — In defence […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #298: Maximum Power!
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 23 Sep 2018 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler and the Real Keith Dunn discuss the life and times of Jacqueline Pearce, compare our sonic screwdrivers, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:02 — Welcome! 01:37 – News: 01:43 — Doctor Who: New […]

The Triangle: Eternity War Logo

The Triangle, Memoirs of a Mechanoid: One of Those Days

Leaking from the mind of Adam J Purcell


 

Hmm, writer's block, yes? Where to begin, huh? Memoir's of a Mechanoid. Sounds like a best seller to me. Doubt the Klingons would appreciate my thoughts on them, right? Good place to start! All began after a particularly unsuccessful mission for those do gooders, the Alliance to Restore the Republic, or Rebel Alliance to you and me, huh? Never could understand their motives, not in it for the money, not even in it for the glory (not that there is much in the dingy cesspits they hide in). No, in it for some political or moral thing. Could make good money some of them, got real talent, could go far in the Boun… er, Freelance Peacekeeping circles, yes?

 

“Hey, Death Bringer?” called the young idealistic rebel trainee.

* What now, huh?! * said Death Bringer as he walked onto the Prestinium’s flight deck. He’d agreed somewhat begrudgingly to allow this kid to accompany him on his mission. His father was some kind of commander or general or something. Didn’t matter who he was to Death Bringer, the kid, Dilon, just got in the way.

“Do you think this will damage my chances? Messing up, I mean?” asked Dilon, for the first time sounding concerned about the consequences of his mistake.

* Frankly don’t care. I’m on retainer, get paid either way, yes? * Death Bringer was damned if he was going to sound even slightly sorry for him.

“It’s just… Well I’m real sorry, DB - ” Dilon was interrupted.

* ‘Death Bringer’, right? *

“Er, yeah, sorry. Erm, well you know how it is? I didn’t know you wanted me to keep quiet and all that…”

* In the middle of an Imperial Garrison?! *

“Yeah, well hey - who would have guessed those stormtroopers could hear anything through those helmets? Especially when there is a whole squad of them marching along like that?” Dilon sounded more and more pathetic as he continued. Death Bringer just sighed and rolled his eyes, or rather the little red dots that served as his pupils decided to take an interest in the ceiling. A habit retained from his days as a fully-fledged human before his transformation into a mechanoid.

* Know better next time, yes? *

“Oh, I will, I will! Do you really think they will let me go on another mission? Even after crashing the ship through those closing bay doors?” Dilon added and completely failed to notice Death Bringer wince.

* Sure ‘daddy’ will fix it up for you, huh? *

At that moment, before Dilon had decided if he should be annoyed by Death Bringer’s remark or not, a dual tone siren went off from speakers hidden all about the flight deck. Death Bringer sprang across the room to the pilots seat and began jabbing buttons.

* Strap in! Unexpected Gravity Well on our flight path! * shouted Death Bringer over the sirens, not taking his own advice. He continued jabbing buttons, standing in front of the pilot’s seat, as Dilon tried to make his way to the co-pilot seat despite the sudden instability of the ship. One moment the floor would feel like it had disappeared below his feet the next it felt like he had just landed on it after a considerable fall. Suddenly it was on a forty-five degree slope one way, then the other. He wasn’t sure if it was hyperspace causing the problem or the gravity generators, he just hoped the whole thing wouldn’t be flipped upside down. Lunch left his body, from both ends.

 

Dangerous place, hyperspace. Having just escaped, barely, from an Imperial Garrison, didn’t really find myself in the mood to follow the well plied hyperspace routes to get back to ‘Homebase’ (a major Rebel base that I worked from. Hmm, would make a good name for a retail outlet, yes?) Still, route I took was well charted, no possibility of anything greater than a comet getting in the way - minor gravity well, easily avoided by the computer automatically. So I thought, right? Blamed the kid at first, assumed he must have damaged something major in our escape. Should never have let him pilot, better that than let him shoot our pursuers, hmm? Odd thing was it turns out that we were on the right course but somehow a new planet had appeared from nowhere, huh? Just my luck, in the vastness of space a planet just happens to materialise in front of me, yes?

No doubt a lesser mechanoid could never have saved us from being torn apart atom by atom, yes? Managed to pull us out of hyperspace in time but, of course, ended up on a collision course for the mass creating the gravity well. Clearly was going to be one of those days, yes? Almost made me wish I were still a disembodied brain in a bacta tank, huh? No chance of missing the planet at our speed, with the planet’s pull and the ships somewhat, er, ‘worse for ware’ normal-space engines. Time for a controlled emergency landing, or a crash as most people would put it, right?

 

The Prestinium had stopped lurching about from the occupier’s point of view and now shuddered violently with subtle vibrating harmonics. Dilon had gone a very peculiar shade of pale green and appeared to be trying to put his head between his legs, though the restraint harness prevented his back from leaving contact with the seat. Death Bringer now sat in the pilot seat wrestling with the control joystick which seemed to have a mind of its own. He hadn’t had time to worry about messing around with restraint harnesses.

The planet more than filled the great window (a very sturdy transparisteel) that dominated the flight deck, giving at least 120 degrees viewing area out of the front of the ship, and the area that was filling it was decreasing rapidly as they approached. One minute it was an entire continent, the next only a quarter of it, less and less. Death Bringer saw what looked like a city in the middle of the large forest that now filled his view. He still continued his desperate battle with the ship to bring the nose up, not having any wish to hit the planet like a dart. The planet’s atmosphere was helping his whining thrusters slowly counteract their speed. Time was running out, the sky was running out - soon to be solid ground. The Prestinium, finally, started to ease up. The nose began to move towards the horizon but the downward momentum was still dragging the ship more down than forward. As the nose came up the forest that filled the viewport was joined by the sight of buildings above the treetops ahead and a blue sky coming into view above that. The ship was heading, virtually out of control, towards the city that Death Bringer glimpsed only a handful of seconds before. As if sensing it was about the worst possible time suddenly a dull thud was felt, rather than heard, go through the flight deck and the desperate screams of the thrusters abruptly halted.

 

Bad enough we were heading straight towards a rather hard looking city, losing height rapidly, then the retro thrusters decide to give out, yes? Didn’t even ask for a pay rise before quitting, right? That’s gratitude for you! Now would be a good time to lighten the load, jettison cargo and non-essentials, I thought. Sadly wasn’t carrying any cargo. Nearly asked Dilon to jump out, though, huh? At least would have saved me having to put up with him vomiting at the first sign of trouble! Twice in one day, where do these kids store all those old carrots, huh? Surprised those Imperials, yes?! Don’t suppose they meet many saboteurs that do that!

 

Anyway, trees coming up to meet us below and a city ready to greet us with open arms in front, yes? No thrusters to slow us down but at least the anti-gravity system was slowing our descent, right? Why do ships always crash in forests, huh? Must be some unwritten law of physics. This mechanoid has a tendency to lightly interpret laws, yes! Trees would have made a lighter landing but speed was still too high, would have been shredded. Better to lose speed, gain height and overshoot city, try and put down in a lightly wooded area or clearing the other side. Nice idea, yes?

 

Just as the Prestinium approached the edge of the forest some of the taller treetops started to skim the bottom of the ship. The next thing Death Bringer knew, Dilon had passed out by this time, the green trees were yet again filling the viewport but this time with a side on view. Not much height had been lost and thanks to the ships momentum they glided through the, relatively flexible, tops of the trees fairly easily. There was now no choice, they would have to crash into the city, any attempt to turn and avoid it would certainly cause a total loss of control and they would end up barrelling into it anyway.

Without warning the trees disappeared. The nose jerked downwards as it became free of them before the back of the ship did. Death Bringer put every ounce of strength into pulling the nose back up but it just didn’t respond. The nose was only about ten degrees below the horizon line (which wasn’t directly visible due to the city sky line) but it was enough to mean they would hit ground in twenty or thirty seconds at this height. Unfortunately buildings were likely to hit them before the ground got its chance.

 

Typical city structure, sparse smaller buildings around edges becoming denser and taller towards city centre, yes? Very inconsiderate place to build a city, I thought. No consideration some people, huh? Remember first crashing through some kind of flimsy shack, barn perhaps? Hope the owner had good insurance or an interest in matchsticks, right? Don’t remember anything else about the landing but must have skidded across at least a mile of soft arable land. Ended up, conveniently, in the middle of a large out of town shopping centre speeder park, right? Helped them reduce the amount of traffic on the roads, yes?!

 

Dilon was the first to come around, still firmly strapped in his harness, the chair being exactly where he remembered it always being. It was dark and eerily silent. A small amount of light managed to force its way through the viewport, though not as much as he would have expected. The flight deck wasn’t all that large, primarily designed for a single pilot and an occasional co-pilot. Already the cabin was uncomfortably warm and stuffy. Otherwise, as far as Dilon could make out, everything looked okay. He looked about to see where Death Bringer was. No sign. He unfastened his restraints and tried to stand. He ached, he ached all over and for a second wasn’t sure if it was just him or if the floor really was sloping down towards the back of the room slightly.

“Death Bringer?” he called out, little louder than he would normally speak. “You okay?”

It was then that he noticed the viewport. The transparisteel was buckled inwards. Where once it had curved around, across the entire front of the flight deck and down behind the curved control panel, even underneath the metal deck panels, now it was anything but gracefully curved. The gap between the viewport and control panel used to be a good half metre but now, at the major impact point, it was little more than a few centimetres. Dilon thought he saw something move down there.

“DB?” he said sounding more than a little alarmed. Yes, he could just about make out a hand. It was twitching slightly. “You okay?” he repeated feeling a sudden surge of panic begin to take hold. He clambered onto the dead console, trying to look down the gap. Dilon could just about make out the form of Death Bringer jammed between the viewport, panel and whatever lay beneath it. There were no signs of consciousness. He reached down and grabbed the still twitching hand, then reached a bit further and grabbed the wrist. He pulled as hard as he could but didn’t manage to do more than pull the arm straight, there was no appreciable shoulder or body movement. “Look, er, hold on there… I’ll get help. Don’t, er, never mind. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He blurted out before sliding back off the console and heading for the single door at the rear of the cabin.

Dilon ripped open an emergency panel next to the door, grabbed the manual release lever and pulled it with all his strength. He needn’t have as it gave easily, almost making him lose balance, and the door sprang halfway open. A thick blue/grey smoke began to drift through the opening causing Dilon to retreat away, covering his mouth and nose with his right hand. Fortunately he quickly located a breath mask in a storage locker to the right of the door and pulled it on. It was a full-face variety that also protected the eyes and went around and covered the ears. Dilon returned to the sliding door and eased it open the rest of the way. He ventured through into the smoky gloom, trying desperately to remember where he had been shown the top emergency exit to be.

****

Death Bringer came around with a start. He had a massive headache and that was always a bad sign since he gave up drinking. He was rather forced to give up drinking, or more specifically, forced to give up getting drunk. Even slightly tipsy was now impossible for him thanks to the way all sustenance he poured through his mouth grill was now fed directly into the fusion generator in his lower abdomen. He didn’t have a hang over, so something hit him, something hit him hard. He felt no pain, had no sense of any major damage but was immediately on alert for more of the same. It was then he realised he was trapped.

* Days like this I can do without, yes? * he said to no one in particular.

 

Internal systems suggested I was out for several hours, yes? Had no idea where Dilon was, not even sure if he survived, huh? Sadly pinned in and couldn’t reach the fusion cutter on my belt. Wasn’t long after this that I heard someone cutting the transparisteel viewport open from the outside. Assumed it was Dilon and a rescue team, yes? Trapped looking away from viewport so couldn’t see who it was, right? Almost ready to forgive the kid, began to think he might eventually learn this business after all. Wasn’t until I tumbled out of the opened viewport and saw my rescuers that I realised my reputation had just nose-dived with the ship, yes?

 

* Tight spot, yes? * Death Bringer said, trying and failing to hide his embarrassment as, sprawled on the floor, he looked up at the none too pleasant features of his rescuers. Death Bringer was beginning to stand up, simultaneously brushing himself off with great exaggeration, when a human looking man joined the party.

“Oh well then, don’t mention it will you?” the newcomer said. He exuded an air of supreme arrogance, the type that Death Bringer loved to face, to see their faces as he dealt the death blow, that look of unrivalled surprise as they realise they have been beaten in the most important conflict of their lives. This type also comprised the majority of Death Bringer’s clients in the private sector. He always found himself having to suppress his natural instincts with them - it just wouldn’t be good for business and there is no profit in taking them down a peg or two. He had a feeling this person would be more a client than an adversary so turned his embarrassment on the men who cut him out.

* Something died, huh? * Death Bringer said, after an exaggerated sniff. It was true that these aliens either had an extremely strong and unpleasant odour or just had very little regard for personal hygiene. The apparent leader snarled, the sight of the teeth lead Death Bringer to the quick conclusion that it was, mainly at least, a hygiene problem. The leader, a Klingon by the name of Kronos, added weight to his snarl by levelling a rather crude looking gun at Death Bringer.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Kronos demanded.

“Better answer them, old chap, they seem to like saying that. It must be some kind of greeting ritual.” The newcomer, a Gallifreyan Time Lord that had assumed the moniker of ‘The Buccaneer’, offered. Death Bringer looked at the Time Lord, largely ignoring the imposing Klingon figure and the immediate threat to his life.

* Friendly bunch, yes? Names Death Bringer, Freelance Peacekeeping Agent. * he replied to The Buccaneer, deliberately not answering directly to the Klingon.

“Bah, he is nothing more than bounty hunting scum. How did you come to be between ship and road?” gruffed Kronos who was trying very hard to gain some kind of command position within the situation. Death Bringer wasn’t about to let what he considered an ill educated local law enforcement bullyboy gain any standing. Normally he would take great offence to being called a ‘bounty hunter’ but he decided to largely let it slide with this one, for now.

* Didn’t Klunk-Click, yes? Like you, or is that face natural, huh? * Death Bringer retorted, clearly not interested in answering questions from Kronos seriously, especially when he still had a gun pointed at him. Kronos’ eyes flared as he slammed his gun back in its holster and brought his body into an unarmed combat stance.

“You’ll pay for that insult!” spitted Kronos, barely keeping his urge to fight in check.

* No, first one free, yes? Pays to advertise! * Death Bringer said in an even tone, making no apparent moves to bring his body into a defensive pose.

“Now, now gentlemen. No need to trade insults, neither of you are as handsome as I, unfortunately. Are you also here to rescue someone from these second rate Cybermen?” The Buccaneer quickly interjected hoping to diffuse the situation before it got out of hand. He obviously had some control over the Klingon as Kronos quickly reigned his temper in, helped by Death Bringer obviously failing to be intimidated.

* Unscheduled visit, yes? Need to get off this… Hmm, seen an annoying kid about, huh? * asked Death Bringer, again directing his attention solely to the Buccaneer. The Buccaneer cocked an eyebrow, clearly slightly appalled and yet concerned.

“You mean that you’ve let a child run around this place? Do your know what sort of creatures there are infesting this once proud, noble, yet obviously primitive city?” asked The Buccaneer, trying to give the impression of wisdom but instead coming across slightly phoney. Death Bringer just wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.

* Can smell them, yes? * he replied, his attention still on the Time Lord but his gaze firmly locked on the small group of Klingons, four of which were now making their way away from the Prestinium. Kronos took this as an opportunity to yet again try and stamp his authority on the proceedings.

“There are more of you? How many?” Kronos said, either ignoring or more likely completely missing the insult just thrown his way.

* Two at last count, if you can do that, yes? Four, count that four, of you have gone into the infestation, huh? * Death Bringer directed at Kronos. The Klingon leader just snarled and turned away, hoping to be more successful by emulating Death Bringer’s exclusion techniques. Silently, and without warning, a hovering robot drifted around the side of the Prestinium’s nose cone to join the remains of the group.

* THE SHIP IS UNSPACEWORTHY * intoned a tinny, bland mechanical voice coming from the robotic life form. Death Bringer had never encountered a Sot’m before but was very familiar with droids and just assumed Cre’at was just a form of droid he had never encountered, nothing more than a mechanical servant. Death Bringer took a look at the small part of the ship he could see, rubbed what served as his chin and estimated the damage to be relatively minor, considering.

“Just how were you expecting to get off planet now that your ships kablooey? In fact I, a being of extreme good sense and a person of many, many wonderful ideas have a solution. Now you say that you’re a bounty hunter?” said The Buccaneer, clearly having bought into his own bluster, probably many years ago. Death Bringer fixed The Buccaneer in a glare, the type his face was well designed for. A glare that had many a time broken the resolve of his quarry.

* Prefer the term Freelance Peacekeeping Agent, yes? * Death Bringer carefully and firmly stated.

“Yes, yes, yes. Like I said, a bounty hunter. We should like to engage your services.” The Buccaneer replied, completely missing Death Bringer’s insistence and instead just continuing to use his own vision of how things are, regardless.

“WHAT?????” Kronos virtually shouted, spinning around to stare at the Time Lord, completely destroying his pretence of ignoring the foolish aliens, without even thinking.

“Well Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Bepo have all decided to go off on their own, we could use him. Plus we can all keep an eye on each other.” suggested The Buccaneer in such a way as to give the Klingon no choice. The Klingon made a face like he had just eaten the most fowl tasting thing he had ever come across.

* Need to find Dilon, yes? * Death Bringer said simply, not wishing to get involved in anybody else’s problems but hoping they might agree to help him.

“Well if you see Mr Rusty you can ask him. Look, all we need is a diversion. Are you up for it? And if we see your friend we can make sure that he gets to you.” replied The Buccaneer. Finding Dilon seemed to Death Bringer to be the least of his problems as he surveyed the area, no sign of life anywhere. In fact he wondered if the whole area had been evacuated due to his arrival. The twisted remains of personal vehicles were all around the ship and back along its course. Nearer the large shopping mall hundreds more vehicles sat neatly parked in rows but there were no signs of people, either on the ground, in the mall windows or any aircraft in the sky. Now he thought about it, there was silence. Except for the others around him he could hear nothing. No animals, birds for example, no sound of distant traffic or industry. He could see he was still on the edge of the city but was nonetheless slightly spooked by it. Still, it was probably for the best as far as he was concerned, Dilon was probably unconscious on the ship so he can just get out quietly. Except that the Prestinium looked in the need of some minor running repairs before he could even consider taking off, the rest will wait until the return to Homebase.

* Hmm, doesn’t look many roadside repairs companies operating in this area, right? * said Death Bringer indicating the wreckage around him and hoping the rescuers might agree to help repair the Prestinium in exchange for a more concrete assurance from him.

 

Problem was The Buccaneer was too wrapped up in his own sense of destiny to take my hint of mutual co-operation, yes? Wanted me to play willing target and take his bullet, right? All for helping to find Dilon. Was sure the kid was still on the ship, making offer rather meaningless, huh? Didn’t take into consideration the kid’s annoying habit of making a bad situation worse! Quick check of the ship proved he had left, probably gone to find me. No sense some people, yes? Agreed to help the Time Lord who introduced himself as The Buccaneer, along with his companions Cre’at and the foul smelling Kronos. Had little interest in doing too much for them so asked no questions, right. Had no idea what I was getting myself into, yes? Split company, they said something about a strange spire structure at the centre of the city, I went to the most likely place Dilon would have gone - the retail centre.

 

The twilight that Death Bringer had awoken to was now in the beginnings of night proper. Floodlights lit the giant car park and lights could also now be seen emanating from the mall, yet there was still no sign of people or any other animal life. Death Bringer, now alone again, ventured towards a set of large transparent doors, the main entrance into the mall. The doors he approached opened as he came within a few metres of them, sliding quietly to the sides. He cautiously entered the building, hoping to avoid any further surprises - he’d had more than his fair share of those today already. It was a truly massive building, more shops than he had ever seen together in his life. There were four floors visible above, tiered around the edges of the interior with a complex set of lifts and escalators to move between them. All appeared functional but there was still no sign of life, Dilon included.

The doors slide shut behind Death Bringer as he moved further into the mall, slowly looking all around himself as he went. He reached behind around to his back, over his right shoulder, and unclipped his Titanium Shott Blaster which, along with most of his arsenal, was secured beneath a round shield. He brought the weapon around in front of himself, holding it in his right hand and lightly resting the barrel in his left. Something wasn’t right here. He’d been out for several hours, he knew that, so if the area had been evacuated there was plenty of time for the authorities to have moved police or troops in. It was more like everyone had simply vanished.

* Anybody home, huh? Suddenly feel very unpopular, yes? * he called not really expecting any reply and indeed not getting one.

Death Bringer continued his way into the mall, ignoring the upper levels and instead moving towards what looked like a circular information desk in the middle. It was then that he noticed the occasional discarded bag, some of them with their contents strewn out on the floor. One of the shop windows was smashed. A lone shoe could be seen left laying on the concourse. The suggestion was that people were involved in scuffles or panic, perhaps both. He could see no bodies or blood stains but it was clear there was a none too orderly departure from the building for some.

Reaching the information desk Death Bringer took a quick look over the masses of leaflets on offer, placed his gun on the counter and picked one up that appeared to be a map of the complex. Most of the symbols, presumably much of it some form of written language, made no sense to him but the general look of the diagram was simple and easily decipherable. The flat roof, given the tree like symbols, was apparently some form of park or recreation area, perhaps with refreshment facilities. Most of the outlines on the other floors appeared to be of shops, the escalators and lifts were easily discernible and he noticed what he assumed to be toilet facilities at strategic positions. There were also clearly gaps in the map that presumably omitted office and storage areas. All in all nothing unexpected or helpful. Death Bringer folded the map, jammed it behind his belt for later use and picked his gun back up.

There was a noise. He could only just detect it, so faint was it that it registered more as a subconscious alert than anything else. He quickly scanned all around but saw no movement. He couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. He froze and cocked his head slightly as he listened as hard as he could for a repeat. There it was again. It came from what appeared to be a supermarket not far from his position, on the ground floor. Death Bringer’s hunter instincts kicked in and he swiftly strode up to the left edge of the shop façade, making virtually no sound as he did so despite his size and weight. He peered through the open front, seeing a long row of checkouts going away from him across the shop front and an open entry area to the right. Beyond were isles of goods in packages of all shapes and sizes but no signs of any people.

Death Bringer quickly darted down behind the nearest checkout and reassessed the situation. He saw a brief glimpse of movement at the very far end of the shop but it disappeared behind the row of isles to his right that blocked his view of the far right end of the shop. Each isle was a good two and a half metres tall and had a solid centre divider panel between the two sides of each unit. Intending to make use of this for cover he vaulted over the one way barrier at the end of the checkout he was hiding behind. His landing wasn’t nearly as quiet as he had intended and he froze in a prone position. There was a crash of what sounded like a small display of cans at the other end of the shop and Death Bringer cursed himself.

* Damn. Sloppy, yes? * he whispered under his breath and edged slightly back to gain some cover from the front of the checkout to his right. There was silence from the other end, his opponent, if that is what it was, was likely frozen into a similar defensive position. He considered who it might be. It could be Dilon, it could be one, or more, of the Klingons (though they didn’t strike him as the subtle creep about type), a native of some description or who knows what. It wasn’t his style to go guns blazing into an unknown situation but he was ready to defend himself. He waited about ten seconds, hoping the other will relax slightly, and silently stood up and moved to the start of the isle directly in front of himself. All was quiet at the other end still. He quickly moved along the isle until he reached a gap about halfway down the shop. There was a barely audible shuffling coming his way, down the central gap all the isles shared. Death Bringer kept out of sight of the on comer and grabbed an item from a shelf next to him, a nice sized bottle of gloopy looking liquid. He quickly estimated the strength of the isle and its shelves, judging by its contents it should serve his purpose. Death Bringer threw the bottle across the shop, many isles down and towards the checkouts hoping the other wouldn’t see it in flight and determine a point of origin. The instant it smashed he made a move to scale the isle with extreme care. The shelves creaked a little but held and he managed to avoid knocking over any goods. At the very top of the unit was another, empty, thin shelf that was mainly for visual effect. Carefully balancing on this shelf, no wider than the length of his shoe, Death Bringer crouched down and with a very slow movement looked down at the central gap.

Death Bringer caught a glimpse of a humanoid with a backpack and what looked like a handgun as he scurried from isle end to isle end. The man hadn’t seen Death Bringer but nor had he been fooled by the bottle. Death Bringer hadn’t expected him to be, its purpose was a mask for his initial move onto the isle shelving. From that point of view it appeared to have worked, the man was obviously expecting to find someone either standing or crouching on the floor given his search pattern. Death Bringer was careful not to make any sudden moves that might be caught by the man’s peripheral vision.

As the man approached the last isle, the one Death Bringer was perched atop, the mechanoid pounced. Gun in his right hand, held against his chest, with his left ready to grab the stranger’s gun wrist Death Bringer sailed down, his red cloak billowed out behind him. The man’s head snapped up as he sensed the movement, his face a picture of abstract terror as he caught a glimpse of the mechanoid’s evil glare. Before the man could even think about moving his gun arm he was pinned to the ground, the wind literally being knocked out of him. Death Bringer had easily grabbed the man’s gun arm on his way down and it took no effort to smash the arm to the ground and send the gun skating across the floor. Death Bringer stopped himself from bringing his own gun up, smacking the man’s head back from under his chin - it was clear the other wasn’t about to put up much of a fight.

“Wha, wha, I…” the man tried to say something but couldn’t get the breath to form the words. Death Bringer eased his weight off his captive’s torso seeing the man beginning to turn blue. Waiting a few moments to further gauge the threat level Death Bringer stood up and took a couple of steps away from the man who appeared to be fighting back hyperventilation. Death Bringer took the pause to look about himself just to completely satisfy his assumption that he was dealing with a lone man. Sitting up the prisoner almost went into a foetal position as he tried to regain composure. He was clearly about to try and speak.

“You from the government? Thought everyone was gone…” he barely got out but was obviously cautious rather than afraid for his life now.

* Really did evacuate area, huh? Hope it was nothing I said, yes? *

“Evacuate?! No. Don’t you know?” talking was helping the man regain control of his respiration.

* Know what? * Death Bringer asked with a hint of concern.

“They’re all dead. No, worse. They’re all Borg” the man said with almost melodramatic overtones.

 

Never heard of these Borg, yes? Teach me to ask more questions in the future. Time Lord had a tendency not to explain things, either assumed everybody could read his mind or would promise to explain later but never did. Klingons no better, not much of a conversationalist race. Can’t imagine what their popular entertainment is like, huh? Turns out these Borg are even worse, right? Mindless drones, no conversation at all, no emotion and certainly no sense of humour, yes?!

 

Death Bringer thought about the stranger’s, who had introduced himself as Furman, description of the Borg. He wondered why all of a sudden the universe seemed larger than he had previously perceived. Why had he never heard of these Borg? Who were these others, Kronos and The Buccaneer? It was a time of great trouble and rediscovery but this was becoming incredible.

“We were a peaceful people before the Borg came here. It all happened so fast, like a plague. A group of scientists, of whom I was one, were doing experiments deep underground. We had to be totally cut off from civilisation and contact with the outside world. We had to be entirely self sufficient, we were planning to set up a small scientific and manufacturing colony on our largest moon. We’ve been visited by off-worlders before, many many years ago, but don’t yet have anything that goes out of system ourselves. I assume you are an off-worlder?”

* Could say that, yes? Not a social call, some kind of navigational problem I think, right? *

“Er, yes. Any idea if the whole planet has succumb to the Borg or is it localised, this continent, perhaps?”

* Sorry, no idea. Bit busy trying not to hit your planet at hypersonic speeds, yes? There were no communications to the ship or defence systems that I saw. Did leave hyperspace rather close to the planet, though, huh? *

“I might be the only one left then, the last of my race. My family, friends, everyone gone. And I didn’t know anything about it for, well probably weeks after it happened. When we realised something had happened we continued to use the underground labs as a base. We were able to detect this weird transmission, a constant thing, looks rather like a complex brain wave pattern. Two of my colleagues tracked the major source back to a giant spire in the centre of the city, the location of the regional government buildings. I assume the Borg created this massive stone-like building, maybe they didn’t like the old buildings! Not grand enough, perhaps. This spire has some very strange markings on it. Apparently they glow an eerie, slightly pulsating, colour. I haven’t seen it myself and unfortunately my colleagues didn’t make it back, only managing to radio through to us before the Borg discovered them. That left five of us. The Borg must have tracked us somehow, I’ve never seen them patrol, but suddenly three of these creatures just appeared in front of us. I’d been experimenting with the Borg signals and managed to blanket out the frequencies they use but not before the others were converted. The Borg just touched them and right before my eyes they became Borg too. I can’t even begin to explain how it works.”

* Thank you Mr. Exposition, huh?! *

“Furman.”

* Indeed, yes? What happened when you blocked the signal, huh? *

“They became disorientated, as if they’d forgotten who they were and why they’d gone to the kitchen. My first theory was that they were being controlled by that signal but each of them also seem to transmit back along it, as if together they all build up this signal. I think the spire is just a relay point. Whatever, I was able to get away and either they can’t track me or just aren’t interested in me.”

* Perhaps they know all they need to from your group, yes? *

“Could be.”

* Where do they all go when they are converted? Millions must have lived in this city, right? *

“Yes. I don’t know. Everywhere I’ve seen is deserted. I haven’t ventured into the city centre, though. I feel a bit safer on the outskirts and in the forest. I’ve got a portable jammer here should I need it, just in case.” Furman said indicating his backpack.

Death Bringer pondered the situation for a second. If the Borg had found Dilon then he is almost certainly one of them now. It may be that he could be converted back but maybe not, probably not judging from Furman’s descriptions. The Buccaneer and his group had headed off to the spire to rescue some crinkled nosed woman. If they’re not captured and converted she surely already has been. If Dilon had been captured then the spire is next best place to look.

* Seen a kid about, huh? *

 

Furman had detected some Borg activity around the area in the past couple of hours, right. Apparently unusual. Concluded that Dilon had been captured. No direct profit in a rescue mission, especially one almost certainly doomed to failure, but losing the kid wouldn’t do my reputation any good in Alliance circles, right? Besides, needed to locate the Buccaneer to have any realistic chance of getting off the rock before I’m old and, er, less shiny, yes? Managed to persuade Furman to help penetrate spire, right. Sadly wasn’t to be, his help that is, yes?

 

* Okay, willing to take time out of my busy schedule to help you destroy spire, right? *

“Er, right. Yeah, thanks. Pass that by me again, could you?”

* No time to waste, huh? Want my help or not? *

“Well, er, yes I suppose so. Destroy the spire? Yes I want to do that, I guess.”

Death Bringer thanked the universe that the man hadn’t had any company in several weeks, at least, and so easily fell for his ploy. It was a lot less messy than having to threaten him. Before either of them could continue the conversation they saw a lone figure materialise out of thin air, just outside the supermarket they still inhabited. Death Bringer was already standing, next to the checkout that Furman was perched upon. They both looked at each other, the silent conversation was obvious. Is that a Borg? Yes, that’s a Borg - let’s get the hell out of here!

The Borg was about two metres tall and of indeterminate sex. It’s skin was white with a strange mottling effect, looking as if the flesh had been dead for several weeks, which to Death Bringer’s mind it probably had. Not much of the flesh was visible, however, as much of the body was covered with metallic implants and devices almost creating an exoskeleton. Even the Borg had modesty it appeared. Almost the entire side of the face was covered with a complex metallic plate and the eye was either hidden or entirely replaced by a robotic red glowing eye. The left hand was still humanoid but a vicious looking device of unknown purpose had replaced the right one. The creature slowly, with no apparent concern that it was a sitting target, surveyed the area.

Death Bringer put a finger to his mouth, indicating silence and caution, and then pointed it down behind the checkout Furman was sitting on. The scientist nodded and gingerly eased himself off onto the floor, moving to crouch behind the checkout. Death Bringer reached around to retrieve his Titanium Shott Blaster from his back. Before either or them could complete their actions the Borg detected their movement and turned to face them. It was completely expressionless, giving no hint that the Borg collective mind was momentarily surprised at the sight of the mechanoid. The collective wanted to know more so the Borg drone moved in.

Death Bringer was himself surprised by the way the Borg just walked towards them but he was taking no chances after what he’d been told.

* Stay here. * Death Bringer told Furman who was now hiding and fumbling with something in his backpack.

“Wait, I’ll jam those signals. Damn! It’s damaged, must have been when you landed on me.”

Death Bringer ignored him and walked out of the shop towards the Borg, levelling his weapon on it as he did so. The drone appeared to be scanning the mechanoid as they approached one another. Neither was sure if the confrontation should be escalated. The drone made the first move by bringing its right ‘hand’ up towards Death Bringer. The device on the end of it started to whirr. Death Bringer took exception to this.

* Look like I need the use of a food blender, huh? * he said as he grabbed where the Borg’s wrist should be with his free left hand. The creature was stronger than Death Bringer expected and he strained to keep the appendage away. The drone then brought up it’s humanoid left hand. Death Bringer wasn’t too concerned by this and couldn’t counter with his right hand as he was holding his gun. The humanoid hand looked harmless enough. It was then that the mechanoid noticed that the backs of two of the fingers had opened up each revealing a tube jutting out. Before he could react the tubes shot out and connected with his right upper arm but there was no pain. The tubes shot back in and the Borg made to back away from the mechanoid, clearly expecting him to stop fighting back, one way or the other. Death Bringer looked down at his arm and saw some clear fluid dripping down his metal skin.

* Reproductive fluid?! And on our first date, huh? Better hope my father doesn’t hear about this, yes? * Death Bringer quipped as he moved his, now free, left hand to hover over the area, careful not to touch it. From the palm of his right hand came a jet of hydrogen cyanide, which engulfed the Borg liquid. Highly toxic cyanide fumes resulted by neither combatant was phased.

* Had better hope that doesn’t stain or you’ll be hearing from my lawyers, yes? * Death Bringer said with total malice as he blew a hole through the drone’s stomach at point blank range with his blaster. The Borg was literally taken of its feet by the blast, almost doubling up as it flew back nearly two metres to land flat on its back. Death Bringer went back to resting the barrel of his gun in his left hand and looked down at his wet arm.

* If I start growing organic parts I’ll be most upset, right? * he said to no one in particular. It was then the Borg began to sit up, daylight clearly visible through it’s torso. Death Bringer’s eyebrows raised in a look of complete incredulity.

* Don’t tell me, you’re hungry, right? * He strode over to the Borg just as it was standing up from a prone position and aimed his gun at its mouth.

* Here, have some of this, full of titanium goodness, yes? * he said as he pulled the trigger. The jaw went one way, the head another and the decapitated body fell before the mechanoid’s feet. Death Bringer rarely took pleasure in this kind of work, he was a businessman pure and simple not a psychotic. This time he his reaction was clearly in the ‘that was far too easy’ category.

Death Bringer was about to call out to Furman when two more Borg materialised, right next to the mechanoid. Death Bringer went to swing his gun around on the closest but the Borg whipped its prosthetic arm up, as a club, and knocked Death Bringer’s gun clean out of his hand.

 

Thought it was too easy, yes? After hearing about the Borg, after seeing the deserted city, instincts told me that the first Borg was too easy by far. Furman couldn’t have helped, only hindered, had to get the Borg away from him until he could repair his jammer, yes? These Borg weren’t equipped with projectile weapons so it was an easy task to lure them into a department store to make things interesting, right?

 

Death Bringer stood in the sports department in the most casual pose the mechanoid could muster. His Titanium Shott blaster remained out on the concourse after being trampled by one of the Borg, though didn’t look badly damaged. He still had his Vibroaxe, Vibromace, wrist knives, a short profile spear and a heat signature missile (about the size of a fold up umbrella, which fitted into the stump left by his removable right hand). He didn’t want to use these, at least not yet. It was time for a bit of fun.

* Ah, been wondering where you had got to, huh? * Death Bringer called out to the two Borg as they lurched into view.

* Take your time. Need to occupy you until Furman fixes his jammer, yes? * the mechanoid added as his foes slowly approached him. He reached down and picked up a device that appear to be some kind of projectile shooter, designed to be tripod mounted. On the top was a cone shaped basket filled with fist sized silver globes. He pressed a button on the side of the machine and suddenly it was shooting out the contents of the basket directly at the lead Borg. As the first connected with its target it exploded into a mass of red and orange energy tendrils that engulfed the Borg. Death Bringer looked even more surprised than his opponents did.

* Hmm, could get to like these natives, yes? Interesting pastimes they have, huh? * Death Bringer said as the salvo knocked the now trailing Borg to the floor. He swung the launcher around to aim at the second creature for the last few globes. The instant before the first hit a translucent panel appeared before the Borg, shielding it from the impact and resultant energy release. Death Bringer scowled.

* Personal energy shield, huh? High tech, not many battledroids even have one of those, yes? * The mechanoid threw the now empty launcher across the room in disgust, aimed directly at the first Borg who was now making to stand up again. The unfortunate drone just watched the launcher fly towards its head, unable to bring its arms up to protect itself without falling back to the floor. The hefty piece of sporting equipment slammed home and again the Borg was sprawled out on its back.

Death Bringer ran past a couple of displays and stopped at an archery section, picking up a solid traditional looking bow and then a hefty modern looking arrow. The arrow looked more like a rocket in many respects, with a thick tubular construction, four small triangular fins at the back and a lethal looking long thin coned spike on the front. Death Bringer carefully positioned the heavy arrow in the bow and gently drew it back. There was a bleep. It came from the arrow that now felt like it was buzzing with energy. Death Bringer suddenly looked very happy indeed.

The arrow sprung from the bow on a true course for the Borg that was approaching on Death Bringer. The fallen Borg was again trying to stand up but despite all the mechanical implants was looking a little shaky. Death Bringer frowned as the arrow suddenly swerved off the heading he gave it. His frown turned into another scowl as the missile did a complete 180° turn, heading his way with intent.

At the last second before impact the mechanoid side stepped and the kamikaze arrow shoot past him. Death Bringer looked over his shoulder and saw what he knew would happen – the arrow was already swinging around to lock back onto him.

* World of the sporting masochists, huh? * Death Bringer commented to himself, promising not to mess with any of the other fun looking equipment. He again waited until the last moment before diving forwards towards the base of a display and the arrow whooshed past, narrowly missing the rapidly approaching Borg drone. The mechanoid eased himself up from his push-up position into a prone one and prepared to sprint to the next display, a few metres away, back the way he had come. With his usual impeccable timing Death Bringer pounced forward into a sprint just as the arrow came in to hit him from behind at a forty-five degree angle. It sailed past and skimmed the edge of the display, knocking over a mannequin holding a stuffed animal of some description.

As Death Bringer ran full throttle towards the perceived cover of the next display something lurched in front of him. The first Borg had picked itself up and, still slightly unsteadily, moved in to intercept the mechanoid. Before either could react Death Bringer had unintentionally rugby tackled the luckless creature and it tumbled forward, landing full force on its face. Death Bringer was sent into a head over heals roll and smashed unceremoniously into the display of sporting attire which buried him.

* No more Mister nice mechanoid, yes? * he whispered under his breath. Death Bringer had had enough. His sense of humour was rapidly evaporating, almost as quickly as his desire to toy with these creatures. Still hidden under the various multicoloured garments he reached around and retrieved his shield and vibromace from his back. Within seconds he had removed his right hand and snapped in the mace. Knowing timing for this was more critical than ever he eased himself up out of the destroyed display and hoped for the best. The arrow was heading straight for him, he pulled his round shield up over most of his face and peered over the top. Going on instinct alone Death Bringer waited for the arrow to be just in front of him and brought his readied right arm, with mace, smack into the side of the tubular arrow. It went off in a wild spin, missing his shield by the smallest of margins.

The downed Borg had used the intervening time to stand again. It looked around to find the unknown element, Death Bringer, and saw him a few metres away just as he batted the arrow. The drone felt an odd sense of confusion and then outright panic as, without warning, the Collective went silent. Before it could even begin to understand what had happened the arrow had spun its way and the long pointed front had embedded itself in the right of the drone’s chest.

Death Bringer looked on, feeling his luck begin to return, as the stricken Borg went to grab the now beeping arrow. The beeping was speeding up rapidly. There was a dull thud as the arrow exploded. Bits of Borg and arrow spread around the vicinity. The drone managed to look down upon its shattered body as it fell to its knees. It registered that its left forearm, right shoulder and arm, along with a sizeable portion of the right of its torso was gone. The lonely drone did all it knew how to, it expired.

* Damn, wanted to keep you alive, prevent more reinforcements coming, yes? * Death Bringer called out to the corpse. He resigned himself to having to battle a small army of Borg and wondered if they might be open to bribes.

“I got it working!” shouted Furman as he finally located Death Bringer. The mechanoid looked up from the newly terminated Borg and saw the funny little scientist approach. Hot on the heels of Furman was the other Borg. Death Bringer was beginning to wonder what had happened to it. It too looked disorientated but it was managing to stretch its arm out towards its victim.

* Fur- * Death Bringer began to shout a warning to Furman but it was too late. The Borg’s humanoid hand had already touched Furman’s neck and the mechanoid could see the tubes had already done their job. Furman turned with a fright and knew he was already dead.

“Darn! Darn the luck! Darn…” he tailed off as he mind began to cloud. His skin began to pale and metallic implants began to burst out. The device that Furman had been carrying in his hands fell to the ground but didn’t seem to be damaged. Furman twisted as he let out a cry of pain. The remnants of his mind calmly analysed its predicament and surmised something was wrong with the conversion. Part of him expected to hear voices, to become something greater. His developing systems called out for commands, for directions. There was only silence. The conversion accelerated out of control. Systems conflicted. Chaos was let loose. Then there was nothing.

Death Bringer watched as the drone’s, Furman’s, head hit the floor before the body even registered the loss. It rolled across the shinny floor for a way and the body finally fell beside it. Death Bringer raised his right arm, now sporting a vibroaxe instead of its earlier vibromace, and readied it to decapitate the remaining Borg.

* Look a little out of sorts there, huh? Doctor’s prescription? Surgery, yes? * he joked as he brought the axe clean through the drone’s neck. It was reaching out with its humanoid hand, obviously intending to convert Death Bringer. The body fell forwards and Death Bringer had to step back to avoid being hit.

* That’s it, get plenty of rest, right? * he said as he went over to retrieve the jammer and make his way out of the centre, not forgetting to pick up the weapons he had strewn across the place.

 

Had some more information now, yes? Still no sign of Dilon but at this stage was sure he’d been captured. Either way, next destination was the central spire, at least there was a chance of meeting The Buccaneer and getting off this world, huh? Didn’t rate their chances against these Borg, single touch and they would be another drone, right?

 

Made my way out to the speeder park and, er, requisitioned a vehicle. Didn’t take too long to get one going, controls were simple enough. Encountered no further resistance on the way to the spire, yes? Roads were empty of active traffic. No sign of any other survivors. Made sure I kept the jammer with me, yes?

 

Death Bringer double-checked the jammer before closing it into the backpack he had retrieved from Furman’s body and gently slung it over his right shoulder. He looked back at the sleek hover vehicle he had just left and took in the rest of the surrounding area. Finally, his gaze settled on the giant beige rock spire with its eerie glowing symbols. Standing at the foot of the structure he was struck by the sheer size of it, each symbol alone must have been at least twice his height, probably more like three of four times. Over a thousand metres tall in all, he couldn’t really make out the top this close to it. It didn’t fit in with any of the surrounding buildings but if he hadn’t known better he would have sworn it predated the rest of the city with its timeless aura. There were absolutely no signs of disturbance to the surrounding buildings, roads, or anything. No indication of construction work. The thing that most disturbed Death Bringer, however, was the silence. The whole world, or what he had seen of it, had this unnerving silence to it but here it was almost tangible. The silence enveloped him, and everything else around the spire, like a choking fog. It was as if time itself was afraid to make its presence felt.

There was also no indication that The Buccaneer, his Klingon friends or Dilon had ever been out here, nor anyone else for that matter. Death Bringer found himself feeling more than a little apprehensive, a feeling he was less than accustomed to having. There were no guards, no indications of life, only a single large door. It was clearly hewn from the same rock as the rest of the spire. It was the only evident join in the rock, the rest of the spire appearing to be cut from one, very very large, piece of stone. It was a massive door, on a grand scale in keeping with the rest of the spire. There was no obvious mechanism for opening the door, it was just a plain slab of rock slightly recessed from the face of the spire. Death Bringer took one last look around before venturing towards the door.

There was the sound of rock against rock as the door slowing drew up of its own accord. Beyond was a brightly-lit corridor made of the same material that curved off to the left in the far distance. There was no discernible source for the light inside - no windows, glowing patches, just an even omnipresent natural light. Death Bringer cautiously entered the corridor into the massive building. There was no resistance, no alarms, nothing. Under normal circumstances Death Bringer would suspect a trap. Very little of this ‘mission’ could have been considered normal, even for the mechanoid.

Several minutes passed as Death Bringer followed the corridor around, deeper and deeper into the structure. Occasionally he would pass a door. They were all flush to the wall and made of the same material. Again, they had no features and appeared to have been created by simply cutting a door shape into the stone. None opened as he approached. He tried to apply pressure to the first few but no matter what he tried they wouldn’t open. The floor had a very slight gradient, almost unnoticeable, but Death Bringer was in no doubt that he was moving up the spire.

He came to a large square room. It was no taller than the corridors, only about five metres, which for its size made the ceiling look quite low and claustrophobic. There were three other exits, one directly opposite the one Death Bringer entered through plus one on the middle of the wall to his left and another to the right. The most striking feature of the room was the large solid wooden table. It too was square. There were three simple wooden chairs around each side. The presence of the furniture surprised the mechanoid. They were the first items he had seen inside the spire besides the corridor and odd door. They also felt completely out of place. Not so much out of place for the surroundings but out of place for the Borg, not that he had actually seen one in the spire. The more he thought about it the more he realised that the whole spire just didn’t seem to reflect the Borg in any way, at least not the few drones he had met. The spire had an ancient quality, almost mythic. What he had heard and seen of the Borg suggested constant change and a constant striving to conquer and assimilate. Something just didn’t ring true for him.

The mechanoid decided to take a quick look through the exits to his left and right before continuing back on his original course. Death Bringer chose the left-hand passage first. From the passage three figures rushed towards Death Bringer wielding large deadly looking blades. As the lead figure swooped in bringing its crescent shaped blade down onto Death Bringer from above the mechanoid quickly changed tack. The smell identified his attackers even before his visual system had a chance. From his usual defensive/offensive reaction he shifted to purely defensive, hoping they had just mistaken him instead of being genuine in their assault. Having to kill them would very likely damage his chances of easily getting off this strange world. The blade savagely flew down towards the top of his skull. A powerful blow if it hit but it was a poorly executed move, opportunistic rather than considered, and Death Bringer had no trouble bringing his arms up between the two his opponent was using to hold the Bat’telh. Before the Klingon knew what was happening his arms were wrenched apart, his left hand losing grip of the weapon and his right only just managing to retain hold of it. The Bat’telh harmlessly came down to Death Bringer’s left and the end impacted the stone floor. The mechanoid’s left foot lashed out at the alien sword, hitting it directly half way up its length, below where the Klingon’s right hand still gripped it. The force of the kick was enough to dislodge the alien’s unsteady grip on the weapon and the Bat’telh crashed to the ground with Death Bringer’s left foot firmly planted on top of it.

The other two Klingons stopped their intended attacks before they began. The next move was up to their comrade who had been disarmed, even dishonoured if he so chose. The Klingon’s eyes flared at Death Bringer. The mechanoid returned the favour with the best glare he could muster and if there was a facial expression he was good at it was glaring (and, perhaps, looking surprised). He didn’t know much about these Klingons but he suspected that they would prefer someone that went toe to toe with them, which was just as well as he always had trouble pretending to be intimidated. He wasn’t disappointed - the Klingon’s snarl turned into an only slightly less unpleasant smile. The other two took their cue from this and yelled some form of guttural growl that Death Bringer took to be their variety of cheer.

“You fight well, my friend!” the lead Klingon enthused at Death Bringer whilst thumping the mechanoid’s arm repeatedly with his open hand. In the small backpack Death Bringer wore something clicked out of place on Furman’s jammer. The blinking lights it maintained died.

* Get a bit of practice every now and then, yes? * Death Bringer said whilst reaching down to pick up the Bat’telh he had just removed his foot from.

* Very quiet around here, er… * the mechanoid added as he passed back the weapon to his new comrade.

“K’pree, son of K’orteena! Yes, very quiet. Much disappointed no chance to kill anything yet. You dispatched any Borg, er…” the Klingon added, hoping he had understood how to ask for someone’s name.

* Death Bringer, son of * he paused for a second considering if the names of his parents were at all relevant to who he was today and even if they were if he should say them anyway, * a bitch. * he said deciding upon discretion.

 

The scriptwriters of these Klingon’s wouldn’t win any awards for their dialogue, yes? Wasn’t too long before we ran into the Borg. Row upon row of them lining the sides of the corridor, right? Strange thing was they didn’t seem to notice us. Not the most gracious of hosts but I’ve known far worse, yes?!

 

“Why don’t they attack?” K’pree called out, sounding both nervous and disappointed at the same time. The other two Klingons made an odd grunting noise. Death Bringer took this to either be their version of a shrug or an attempt to dislodge some kind of mucus from their throats, perhaps trying to improve the oxygen flow to their clearly starved brains.

The original stone of the corridor could just about be made out in places, the ceiling and floor were visible but the rest was covered in Borg equipment and odd little alcoves where a Borg could be seen standing statue-like. So far they had already passed about two hundred of the creatures since they first entered this section of the spire. Each and every one of them had remained motionless as they passed. Death Bringer was beginning to feel his guard go down after initially expecting an immediate fight when he first saw them in the distance. He didn’t feel in the least bit comfortable but he couldn’t help feeling they might not now attack at all. Part of his mind rebelled in disgust at his building confidence. It was too easy. The Borg could be waiting for them to get too far in to be able to battle their way out. His instincts began to ring alarm bells somewhere deep in his psyche.

“Should I kill one? Make me nervous these things…” K’pree growled to Death Bringer who appeared to be ignoring him, instead wondering if he could trust the jammer not knowing it had stopped working.

* Can see the headline now: ‘Honourable Klingon Warrior Kills Undefending Borg’, yes? Not to mention the political fallout ‘Evil Klingon state kills one of our innocent civilians, says Borg Foreign Minister.’ * mocked Death Bringer.

“Would you mock me, scum!?” roared the vocal Klingon, the surrounding Borg not even displaying the slightest hint of a smile, or any other reaction, they just stood there trance-like.

* Wouldn’t dream of it, right? Want to get yourself killed go right ahead but I’ll be on their side, yes? No point getting slaughtered to calm your nerves - no profit in it. * Death Bringer said evenly. K’pree relented as the small rational part of his mind got the rare chance to be dominant.

They continued in further. Ahead the corridor opened out into another chamber. It was different to the previous one, about the same size but there were no other corridor exits, only doors, six on the three other walls. The lined up Borg stopped at the edge of the corridor and the chamber itself had no hints of Borg technology. As they entered all four of them turned around to face the Borged corridor and slowly backed deeper into the room. Each was expected some kind of reaction. No reaction or attack came from the Borg.

“Keep eye on them!” K’pree ordered the other two Klingons as he joined Death Bringer in examining one of the featureless doors. The two Klingons readied their Bat’telhs and stood side by side in front of the corridor opening looking at the mannequinesque Borg.

“Stand back! Knock it down I will!” K’pree said triumphantly indicating the door, as if he had already accomplished his task. Death Bringer rolled his eyes again knowing full well that even he couldn’t budge a slab of stone like that, let alone this smelly organic having a chance. The Klingon passed the mechanoid his Bat’telh and took a very theatrical run up to the door. Death Bringer put a hand to his face in despair as the Klingon slammed into the rock. Instead of rebounding as the mechanoid had expected K’pree just stayed there for a second plastered against the wall. The Klingon’s knees began to buckle beneath him and he slowly slid down the door into a heap. Death Bringer began to wonder if he somehow attracted the universe’s fools or if everyone was now like that. As the other two Klingons, now looking at their comrade, performed their guttural growl cheer he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t him. Probably something to do with the population explosion.

Before he had formulated a working theory as to how there is a finite amount of intelligence to go around all the beings in the universe there was a cry. A very muffled but nonetheless distinct humanoid cry for help. He couldn’t make out the word or words but the tone was obvious and it also sounded as if it could possibly be female or young male. He looked back at the two Klingons by the entrance but they had gone back to their guard duties not having heard anything. It repeated and Death Bringer was able to guess which door was hiding the prisoner. In that instant he felt a renewed hope that Dilon might indeed still be alive and himself, he might even be within a few metres. Suddenly his day was beginning to get a little better. If he could save Dilon and bring back valuable information about the Borg then his lucrative deal with the Rebels may yet be saved.

 

By this time was beginning to feel tricked into coming here, yes? No sign of the Timelord, the Sot’m or the chief Klingon. Other Klingons knew nothing of their whereabouts, either. Gut feeling was that something was very wrong. Instincts that are rarely wrong told me to get out now before whatever was going to happen did happen. Several hundred Borg drones between the dead-end chamber and the exit to the spire. Several hundred Borg that could turn any second, yes? If I were a gambling mechanoid I would already have left, right? Gambling is a loser’s game but I have been known to take a few risks for the chance of profit!

 

“It moved…” K’pree said as he struggled to stand. “No door withstand the might…” the Klingon staggered violently to his side, “of K’pree twice hitting…” he staggered again, this time ending up leaning on the door in question, “er, me mighty Klingon warrior you…” he trailed off waving his finger at the door.

Death Bringer, now over the other side of the chamber, tried his hardest to ignore the concussed Klingon and concentrate on the door hiding the now silent cry. He was careful not to touch it or the surrounding wall. For now he was content to try and see through the tiny crack that was all that signified a door was there at all. No light could be seen, no smells or airflow could be detected by him, going just on his own senses. Without special equipment he could determine nothing of what was beyond or even if there was anything beyond at all.

There was a thump from behind him and another chorus of approval from the two guarding Klingons. Death Bringer couldn’t stop himself glancing over to see K’pree again sliding down the unyielding door.

On an impulse Death Bringer pressed his right palm against the door in front of himself. He didn’t expect it to open but did hope to sense movement, heat or something. He was, therefore, mildly surprised when the door did indeed swing open and presented to him a small room with a single, female, occupant.

“Well about bloody time!” the woman said in a less than friendly manner whilst blinking against the sudden bright light pouring into her cell. “I was beginning to think you pathetic federation types would never turn up…” the end of her sentence began to sound more like a question than the angry statement it began as. She squinted at the large silvery figure in the doorway. “Who are you? You’re not Federation or Klingon?”

Death Bringer looked about the small room. A mattress on the floor and a stone plate with remnants of a meal were the only items in the room. This struck him as a little odd. He had seen many types of cells in various prisons, penal colonies, dungeons, the lot. He had almost lost count of the number of people he had rescued from such places (almost always for a handsome fee) but this, like the rest of this planet, was wrong. He’d seen cells with fewer amenities before but never looking so unlived in. Never without that characteristic organic ‘fingerprint’. The woman may as well have been put in there a couple of hours ago.

* Federation? Name’s Death Bringer. Freelance Peace Keeping Agent, yes? * Death Bringer announced in his usual even tone.

“‘Death Bringer’? Now there’s a name to reassure someone needing rescuing. Freelance? I assume you’re not working for them?” she looked up and around herself, rising from her siting position on the mattress. Rising a little too quickly to Death Bringer’s mind.

* No, working for myself, yes? Lending a hand to those Klingon’s you mentioned - purely for personal gain I assure you. Don’t mind me mentioning, you look in good health for a prisoner? Recently captured, huh? * It was then, as she stopped squinting, that he noticed the bridge of her nose didn’t uncrumple with the rest of the skin around her eyes. * You must be that Bajoran I heard mention of, right? * The Bajoran who must have been a prisoner for several days, at least, Death Bringer thought to himself.

“You mean you aren’t here to rescue me? I don’t believe it! Those damn fools, were they just going to let me rot in here. Let the Borg do what they will with me?” she said furiously.

Before Death Bringer could reply to the fuming Bajoran he was buffeted aside by the now even more concussed K’pree.

“Out of K’pree’s way you son of a silver worm!” he growled at Death Bringer, sounding for all the world like a drunkard.

“Oh my god. This is my rescue team? A man in a silver spandex costume calling himself ‘Death Bringer’ and a washed up smelly old Klingon warrior… Good to see only finest people are sent to… get us all killed!” she said again raising her voice, just in case the rest of the spire’s inhabitants didn’t already know something was happening.

Death Bringer again cursed his luck and considered relaxing his rule on never killing for pleasure.

* Shut up, yes! Seen a kid, about seventeen, looks young for his age, short, blond mop of hair, goes by the name of Dilon, huh? * Death Bringer was beginning to get angry and decided to stop messing about with the fools he had been subjected to.

“Woah! Keep your horns on handsome! No I haven’t seen any kid, does it look like I’ve had many visitors? Why don’t you just get me outta here and get your reward money. I’m sure it’ll be more than enough to keep you in polish for the rest of your loathsome life.” The Bajoran said pointedly to Death Bringer. He just returned the best glare he could muster.

“Forget kid, Borgy… Borgy…” K’pree was still having more than his usual trouble with words, “Borgy… Fied!”.

“No you ugly ape, Borg do not assimilate individuals. That’s probably why I’m still me - ” she was interrupted by a mechanoid snide remark.

* Borg have more sense that I gave them credit for, can just imagine you arguing in their collective, huh? Not sure about the ‘not assimilating individuals’, though. Have seen them try it once already, yes? *

Torell Jarnn, the Bajoran woman, strolled out of the cell, past Death Bringer and K’pree, to stand in the centre of the chamber. She spun around, giving an air of owning the place, and sized up the mechanoid and lead Klingon from her new vantagepoint. “Look, they might, er convert the occasional individual who gets in the way but they knew I was someone important. They kidnapped me specifically, which just shows you how important I really am. They don’t go around kidnapping people for the fun of it. Anyone would think they were a bunch of Romulans grabbing everyone who ever attempted to visit Risa! No, they wanted me for a special reason and no I don’t know what that is. Just get me safely away from here.” Torell promptly strutted past the two guarding Klingons and into the Borg lined corridor.

Death Bringer turned his glare on K’pree who just looked back, cross-eyed.

Taking a final look around the chamber Death Bringer moved to the next nearest door and pressed his palm against it in the same way as before. Nothing happened. K’pree mimicked him with the next door along, still there was no reaction.

“Get a move on then, these things give me the creeps!” shouted Torell from somewhere down the corridor. Death Bringer decided that Dilon or no Dilon it was probably a good time to leave. He’d found the woman The Buccaneer was after and that should be enough to get him off the planet. There was no real indication Dilon had ever gone anywhere near the spire, anyway. He hoped he would find him back at the Prestinium should he get the chance to pick it up. Having made his decision he followed the grating Bajoran back into the corridor that would eventually lead them all out. K’pree followed, somewhat unsteadily, and his two colleagues joined them as they passed.

The group continued for several minutes in silence. A silence that Death Bringer was now beginning to appreciate. It was still unnerving seeing the Borg drones lined up along the walls, perfectly still, perfectly silent. It was as if they were all dead. He also had the strangest feeling about the Bajoran. He couldn’t pin down what the feeling was but whenever he got close to her he felt a chill yet he was sure the temperature was constant. He assumed it must be the building. The ancient, mysterious place was filling his imagination with timeless creatures, a god-like civilisation hiding from the gaze or mere mortals, waiting patiently to reinherit the universe and return to their rightful place in it. Like ghosts they were watching his every move, silently following, hiding in the shadows. If they chose to attack he would have as much chance of harming them as he would were they really dark spirits. His cries would echo through the unwelcoming corridors for eternity. He shook his head trying to clear his mind of such thoughts. He was determined to focus and stay alert. It was no time to submit to childish fears.

Torell lead the team, striding confidently a couple of metres ahead of Death Bringer. behind him K’pree and his two colleagues. The three of them were more subdued than ever before, noticeably more so than their first walk along this stretch of corridor. Something was wrong, unnatural and they could all sense it. All but Torell who continued as if she didn’t have a care in the world. They approached the end of the Borg infestation, beyond was clear stone walls of the corridor that would lead to the tabled chamber in which Death Bringer and the Klingons had met.

The four warriors all tensed as they came up towards the last few Borg, all anticipating a surprise assault. They were not disappointed. For the first time since their arrival the Borg drones began to show signs of life, or functioning. All the Borg in the corridor jerked. Whirring noises came from their mechanical appendages and they, as one, took a single step from their respective alcoves. The three Klingons bellowed a war cry and raised their savage weapons. Torell in an instant was sprinting down the corridor away from the cyborged creatures and Death Bringer didn’t waste time in deciding to join her. He had no intention of facing several hundred of the undead.

“Today is a good day to die!” shouted one of the Klingons as he somehow managed to cut the legs out from underneath an approaching drone.

* Right now is a good time to exercise those leg muscles, yes?! * Death Bringer called out as he continued after Torell but he doubted they had the intelligence to understand the concept of overwhelming odds. Sure enough they ignored him and continued their futile resistance. Death Bringer briefly wondered why the jammer wasn’t having any noticeable effect but put the thought to the back of his mind - better to just get out.

It wasn’t long before Torell came to an abrupt halt and Death Bringer skidded to a stop nearly on top of her. He immediately and completely automatically stepped back from her when he had that sudden sensation of danger again.

“Any of that fancy equipment on your back any good for getting through rock doors?” she wheezed, her face practically the same shade as her red hair.

Death Bringer studied the obstruction. It looked like every other door he had seen in the building but this one had somehow appeared since they last passed the area, cutting off the corridor. They were trapped. Judging from how far they had run Death Bringer guessed that the first chamber was directly behind the door. He touched a round pouch on his belt and considered the effects of using an explosive charge in such an environment. He didn’t like the idea one little bit.

“Well? We are all going to die here - do something! Are you always such scintillating company?” regaining her breath brought about the return of her bad temper.

* Not my usual cheery self, yes? Had rather a bad day. Tends to affect one’s sense of humour, yes? *

“You’ve had a bad day?!” she exclaimed, moving aside to let Death Bringer approach the rock barrier.

Minutes later a large thud shook the entire area and echoed off down the corridor as Death Bringer remote detonated the explosive charge he had placed on the offending door. A thick cloud of smoke and dust swept towards them, engulfing them. Death Bringer and Torell lay on the floor quite some way back from the door with their arms covering their heads. The mechanoid was the first to move as he pulled himself up into a crouching position. For an instant he thought he saw shapes moving in the dust cloud but dismissed it as an effect of the blast. The major part of the dust cloud settled within seconds as a fine beige blanket. Death Bringer prodded Torell with his finger but there was no reaction. It was clear the shock wave had knocked her out. He prayed it was nothing serious, this was clearly not one of those cases where ‘wanted dead or alive’ applied.

Death Bringer turned Torell over and saw she was still breathing, though not as easily as he would like thanks to the dust. He hoisted her up over his shoulder, careful not to injure her on any of his weapons. Holding her in place with his left arm he readied his Titanium Shott Blaster in his right hand. From down the corridor he heard the scuffled footsteps of a single individual running towards him. It was K’pree.

“They’ve adapted!” K’pree roared as he rushed towards them.

* Seen sense at last, huh? Not such a good day to die? *

“The others died honourably but nobody left to kill me before me turned to Borg! It would also be great dishonour to fail my mission, especially if dead and unable to regain honour later.” K’pree was clearly starting to regain his senses thanks to his adrenaline laced blood. Death Bringer considered how such an ‘honourable’ person could so casually twist the concepts of honour and dishonour to suit his circumstances. He couldn’t but help to think of politicians.

Death Bringer led the way towards the blown out door and, hopefully, freedom. Most of the smoke and dust had cleared and there was relatively little rubble, on their side at least. As they approached the door it was clear the explosive had done its job. The lower third remained intact and roughly in the same place as before but the rest was gone. The stone was about fifteen centimetres thick and large pieces of it were piled up at the foot of the door. Beyond was the first chamber with the big wooden table. Besides chunks of rock it looked identical to the last time Death Bringer had seen it, with one exception. The room was filled with Borg.

* Just gets better and better, yes? * Death Bringer said to nobody in particular. He paused for a second, deep in thought. The single ‘safety grenade’ he had on him might kill one or two Borg and knock a few more over for a few seconds but wasn’t up to the task of dealing with a couple of dozen. He also had two Thermal Detonators on him. These were the kind of devices used to bring down heavily armoured combat vehicles. Without a doubt the entire chamber would be vaporised and he wouldn’t fair much better in the corridor.

* Maybe it isn’t such a bad day to die, after all, huh? How fast can you run? * the mechanoid asked K’pree.

“Fast enough.” K’pree replied as Death Bringer handed him his blaster and produced a small black and silver sphere from somewhere on his belt. The sphere began to bleep rhythmically as Death Bringer slid some kind of switch on the device. Putting as much force into the throw as he could he released the explosive device through the shattered doorway and on into the Borg riddled chamber. None of the drones took the slightest interest as the Thermal Detonator sailed over their heads and landed near to the opposite wall.

Death Bringer was already turning to run when he noticed they were not alone. The Borg from the corridor had all but caught up with them and blocked their way back into the depths of the spire. The Thermal Detonator continued bleeping its stark warning that everyone in the vicinity was about to die.

* Perfect end to a perfect day, yes? * Death Bringer concluded as he realised he now had no chance of getting far enough away to survive the blast.

The seconds ticked away, each lasting longer than he had known for a long time. The Borg on both sides, in perspective slow motion, advanced on the three of them. Torell, still over his left shoulder quietly moaned but wasn’t quite yet ready to return to full consciousness. K’pree passed Death Bringer’s blaster back and readied his Bat’leh in both hands. The two warriors accepted their fate.

 

Funny how impending death can sometimes prompt feats completely beyond you the rest of the time, yes? Funnier still how sometimes it doesn’t. This was such a time. Resigned to die on an unknown planet, working with unknown (and rather foul smelling in the Klingon’s case) people for no clear profit. Never again to experience the fun of the chase, yes? Sometimes you just feel grateful to see the end, a release from the petty annoyances, right? No more worrying about the state of one’s cloak! Having prepared for the inevitable it came as another irritation that someone should take it upon themselves to snatch us from the jaws of death, yes? Not that I really minded being saved but they would leave it to the last second, that second in life that is reserved for making trousers proverbially brown, right?

 

Just as the Thermal Detonator bleeped off its last tick and began the massive chain reaction it had been designed for something happened that left Death Bringer feeling more than a little surprised. The air around him, he couldn’t tell for how far, began to shimmer and electrify. Red vertical streaks appeared and expanded before him. An odd whining noise filled his ears. The corridor faded behind the strangest sparkling shimmering silver substance he had and would ever again encounter. In the last few milliseconds of being able to make out the inside of the spire he saw, and almost felt, the most intense orange pass right through him. Before he could contemplate if he was experiencing death the shimmering faded back out, the red streaks thinned back down to nothingness and normality returned. Except that he was now somewhere completely different.

“Captain, I have them, ” the Klingon transporter chief announced over the intercomm. “I detected some strange readings in the matter stream, however.”

* THAT IS LIKELY DUE TO THE EXPLOSION JUST DETECTED * Cre’at interjected, standing, or rather hovering, to the side of the transporter chief. Death Bringer remained absolutely motionless on the large cargo transporter, trying to take in what just happened.

“DB? You okay?” asked Dilon from the corner of the large room. Death Bringer turned his head to see his young colleague. He also took in the fact that all three of them had apparently been saved from the Thermal Detonator blast. Torell was still on his shoulder and K’pree was standing in the exact same relative position he was moments ago. Besides them he saw another Klingon, behind some kind of console, Cre’at to his side and Dilon cowering in the corner.

“Captain, this K’pree, have rescued Bajoran female from Borg” K’pree called out, appearing to address the room rather than any individual. He walked towards the edge of the large raised platform the three of them occupied.

* If this is the afterlife I want my money back, yes? * Death Bringer said looking at Dilon.

“No, don’t be silly, you’re not dead. These people have the technology to transport things from one place to another, even through solid walls!” Dilon said enthusiastically.

* IT IS A PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY. NEARLY INCAPABLE OF TELEPORTING YOU THROUGH SPIRE WALLS, EVEN WITH THEIR DEFENCES DOWN. THEY HAD TO INDESCRIMINATELY TAKE EVERYTHING FROM YOUR AREA. * said Cre’at in his usual mechanical monotone. Death Bringer looked about him and noticed the rubble still about his feet and stretching a few metres all around. Some of the dust layer accompanied them, as did the some of the remnants of the dust cloud. Judging by the smell and architecture Death Bringer surmised he was on some kind of Klingon spacecraft.

* I take it that it is too much to hope for decent washing machine around here, yes? * Death Bringer asked, looking down at the sorry state of his red cloak.

 

******************

 

The Collective continued, unfazed by the loses. The voices were diminished but the lost minds, somehow, remained. Each mind playing in tune. Harmonies within harmonies. Except one. A single mind whose influence was disproportionate. Influencing. Chanting its own unique thoughts.

We must serve the machine. We must serve the machine that is the universe.