‘So, what was the body count in the end?’ Raoul stood in a large parkland within the settlement of Camelot. Before him was a scene of carnage, smashed holographic projectors, pieces of Synthetic strewn everywhere, along with bloodied and battered people. Several large Diorama sections had collapsed, and his small team of Mechanics were systematically searching the area for any still active Synthetics.
‘Twenty seven dead and a further hundred or so with various degrees of injury.’
‘And you say this, Maeldune, was responsible?’
‘Definitely! All the technologists whose Synthetics turned violent say that Maeldune made final adjustments to their projects.’
‘What kind of small brained whore beast would be so lacking in subtlety? He should at least have done it when they weren’t looking.’
‘If you want my opinion-‘
‘Of course I don’t want your opinion you ridiculous jackass. What use was your opinion when the screaming started? You can’t comprehend the ways of aberrant personalities and Mechanics, for you, that way madness lies. You do your job, I’ll do mine.’
The Chronicler blinked. ‘Sorry.’
Despite his enthusiasm to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Camelot disaster, Maeldune and his protege Eris, had avoided all the maglev routes to leave the island. They had travelled in Maeldune’s personal transport for the first two days of their flight. Then, inexplicably, the battery had died. Upon examining the spares, they discovered them all to be expired.
‘How is this even possible? I always keep the spares charged.’
‘Perhaps there is some sort of conspiracy against you.’
Maeldune stared in dismay at his vehicle.
‘I don’t want to alarm you, Eris, but I think this is proof of a carefully orchestrated plot to discredit and harm me.’
‘Really? Goodness, that’s terrifying.’
‘Indeed! Don’t be alarmed though, young Eris, I have a plan to get away, to give things a chance to calm down.’
‘That’s reassuring, where are we headed?’
‘There’s a much older way of crossing the Channel, constructed during the twentieth century. It’s relatively unknown, no Settlements nearby. It’s an underwater tunnel. I think it will still be intact, though obviously we’ll have to walk it. I think its about thirty miles long.’
‘Sounds like an experience! I applaud your wisdom and cunning.’
Maeldune and Eris spent several laborious days trekking across the North Downs, their progress slowed dramatically by the extensive reforestation of the area at the hands of the Geo Engineers. The route they were travelling, paralleled a southward flowing river. Maeldune paused at a small pool, to gather his breath and fill their water flasks.
‘This river will lead us to the Settlement of Dubras, which is one of the departure points for the maglev to the continent. We will avoid the Settlement and instead turn west. If we follow the coast, we should arrive at the tunnel after a day or two.’
‘That should confuse your enemies,’ agreed Eris, ‘they’ve obviously underestimated you.’
‘I just cannot comprehend of who would initiate such a terrible process against me.’
Eris narrowed her eyes slightly.
‘Perhaps, you have a rival within your group? Perhaps the fiendish Herodotus is responsible?’
Maeldune seemed lost in thought. Sudden realisation dawned in his eyes.
‘I have it! It’s bound to be that ethanol swilling lout, Herodotus. He’s always been jealous of my achievements.’
‘As always, your grasp of the here and now is masterful. Only a fool would challenge your awesome intellect.’
Two days west of the Settlement of Dubras, the pair came upon something both alarming and unexpected. They stood at the edge of the woodland, looking down into the valley they had been searching for. There, gleaming in a myriad of shades and colours, was a Settlement. Maeldune’s jaw dropped.
‘I thought there were no Settlements here.’ said Eris.
‘So did I,’ replied Maeldune, ‘It’s not on the register, it must have appeared since we’ve been travelling.’
Eris scrutinised the Settlement.
‘I can’t actually see any people.’
‘We may be able to sneak past. We’ll wait here till it’s dark, then try to find the tunnel.’
The two travellers retreated to eaves of the woodland and settled down to wait for the sunset. Once the shadows began to lengthen, they descended into the vale, moving cautiously, and keeping to what cover was available. As they approached the area of the settlement, it became obvious that there were no people in the settlement.
‘It’s very still, isn’t it?’ said Eris.
‘Actually, it’s very strange. The Community doesn’t abandon Settlements, if they are no longer required they are dismantled so the materials can be used again. Maybe we should have a quick look.’
Changing course slightly, the pair approached the silent Settlement. By the time they reached it, the Settlement was illuminated only by the light automatically generated by the buildings themselves. What they saw stopped Maeldune in his tracks. Everywhere they looked, there were signs of violent conflict. Many of the buildings were soot blackened and sported holes obviously caused by explosions. Of more interest to Maeldune were the construction robots that also littered the streets. None were intact. They were strewn in various states of disrepair around the central avenues. Most of them seemed to be lacking their tracked locomotive section.
‘Something deeply strange is going on here.’
‘What happened to these robots?’ asked Eris.
‘It looks like they’ve been salvaged for parts. In fact it looks like some kind of battle took place here.’
‘I thought the Community didn’t have warfare.’
‘It doesn’t, that’s what’s so strange about this. It’s not a new settlement either, look how overgrown these parts are. I don’t understand, why I’ve never heard of this place.’
‘Should we try and find this tunnel, then?’
‘I think that would be best.’
It was almost midnight when Maeldune and Eris finally located the heavily overgrown entrance to the tunnel. A vast opening, with the skeletal remnants of an archaic rail system visible at the entrance, yawned before them. Maeldune lit his small powerful torch, and the two entered the tunnel, stepping carefully round the twisted and ruptured lengths of rail. After walking about a mile into the tunnel, they found it to be illuminated with a dull yellowish glow from numerous overhead lights.
‘This isn’t right,’ said Maeldune, unable to hide the note of concern in his voice.
‘What’s powering those lights?’
‘I have absolutely no idea, there must be a generator somewhere that’s somehow still working.’
‘Is that good or bad?’
‘Let’s assume for now that it’s good, it means we can save the torch if nothing else.’
Raoul reached the abandoned Settlement just as the sun rose behind him. He surveyed the partial destruction, his face expressionless. He established mental contact with the telepath operating from Dubras.
Why the hell is Folcanstan still here?
No idea, never heard of it.
Raoul scowled ferociously and broke contact. Arming his dart thrower, he strode into the Settlement. His eyes fastened on the damaged construction robots. That would explain why the Settlement still stood. To Raoul’s thinking, it could mean only one thing. There had been survivors. Someone had escaped the purge.
‘Shit,’ he muttered, ‘that’s really not good.’
Maeldune and Eris walked down the massive tunnel, skirting the large puddles formed by the drips from the high ceiling. They entered a section where the lighting was patchy, some of the lights flickering on and off, some of them not functioning at all. Behind them, as they walked down the tunnel, a concealed door opened and a half dozen hooded figures stepped carefully out. Without a sound they began to follow the pair, keeping to the shadows as they did so.
They heard the noise first, a terrible grinding, clanking sound accompanied by a bass rumbling and thumping. It took mere moments to establish that the source of the sound was approaching them from the direction they were travelling in.
‘Any idea what that might be?’ said Eris.
‘No, and I don’t think we should linger to find out. We’ll go back a bit and try and find somewhere to hide.’
‘Let’s do that.’
The pair turned and found themselves facing a line of six hooded people, wielding an assortment of metal piping and long ragged knives. Maeldune tensed visibly, while Eris seemed content to smile slightly.
‘You didn’t say the tunnel was inhabited,’ she said.
‘I didn’t think it was,’ said Maeldune weakly.
The line of hooded people stood in menacing silence, as the volume of rattling and clanking continued to increase. As the the noise reached a crescendo, they were bathed in yellowish light from behind. Reluctant to take his eyes from the line of people, Maeldune shot a quick glance over his shoulder. Not quite believing what he saw, Maeldune took a risk and took a longer look at the source of the noise. Before him was a hulking monstrosity of a vehicle, constructed entirely with parts cannibalized from a myriad of sources. It’s tracks were clearly taken from the construction robots, as were some of the crudely attached plate sections which formed the shell of the front and sides of the machine. Towards the rear of the vehicle were a mass of batteries which had all been connected in an arcane manner to provide impetus to the thing. The vehicle was dominated by a large throne like chair, raised on a platform so that the feet of the occupant were at roughly head level with the others standing on the vehicles’ barge like main deck. In addition to the dozen or more people on the deck, there were perhaps twice that number clinging on to the sides of the vehicle. All were armed with weapons of one type or another.
‘Oh crap,’ muttered Maeldune. Eris maintained her smile but said nothing.
The man on the throne stared at them from under a thatch of reddish hair.
‘This place is ours,’ he stated, ‘why are you here?’
‘My apologies for our intrusion,’ said Maeldune, ‘in truth, I had no idea this was anyone’s territory, or I would most assuredly have taken an alternate route.’
The red haired man considered this, then spoke ‘I am Alexander Beane, leader of this clan. You will join us for a feast.’
‘I am Maeldune the Chronicler and this is my apprentice, Eris.’
‘Welcome Maeldune and Eris, we shall take you to our holdings, and you shall be treated with the honour accorded to all our guests.’
With that, the throne slowly turned in a half circle to face the direction the vehicle had come from and the vehicle began to clank away from Maeldune and Eris. The hooded people on foot, crowded around the pair and herded them after the vehicle.
Two hours of walking found Maeldune, Eris and the Beane clan in a well lit section of the huge tunnel. Overhead the air replacement system rumbled loudly, but still performed its function. Also present were six antiquated rail carriages lining either side of the tunnel, it was clear that these served as accomodation and storage facilities for the tunnel dwelling clan. Underneath one of the ventilation openings, a large fire flickered orange and red causing the shadows on the wall to dance eerily. As the clan members climbed down from the vehicle and removed their hoods, it was plain that three generations of the clan were present. Maeldune noted in discomfort the strong resemblance they bore to each other and the distinctively feral cast to their countenance.
‘You carry the weight of the road,’ announced Beane, ‘in the carriage there, you will find clothing and water for washing.’
The pair entered the carriage, and stood for a moment, adjusting to the dim light. As they did so, they both became aware of a terrible, clinging stench. As they became more able to see, their eyes picked out the details of the blood soaked interior, the hanging slabs of meat and the great piles of gleaming white bones. They took in the scene in horror and turned to leave just as a mob of Beane clansfolk swarmed in through the door. It took them mere moments to render Maeldune unconscious, then, they moved towards Eris. She held up one hand.
‘You might want to reconsider this, before you do something you may not get a chance to regret.’
The group advanced. Eris shrugged, her golden eye gleaming dangerously.
‘Oh, well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…’
Despite being quite accustomed to the odd scream from the carriage, most members of the Beane clan started visibly when the chorus of abruptly ended screams started. They stared, dumbfounded, when the door end of the carriage exploded outwards to reveal the slender form of Eris.
‘Big mistake,’ she announced, ‘a word in your ear.’ This was directed at the red haired man. The young woman gestured and Beane floated out of his throne and through the air towards her. The clan shrank back in fear. Eris waited until the clan leader was suspended in front of her.
‘I’m very disappointed with your attitude, this is no way to welcome guests. As such, I will provide your clan members with an object lesson which I hope will help them mend their ways. Now, before the lesson, what’s the quickest way put of here? Don’t want to speak? Alright then, let’s see if I can persuade you.’
Eris made a small movement with her other hand. A fountain of blood accompanied the slow severance of one of Beanes arms at the shoulder. He gave a roar of pain and fear.
‘Am I getting through to you? Shall I remove the other?’
‘Side tunnel,’ he gasped through the pain, ‘has a working vehicle.’
Eris looked at the nearest clansman. ‘That true?’ He nodded, face rigid in fear.
‘Good, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?’ With a gesture, she removed the head of Alexander Beane. It rolled to the feet on a clan member.
‘Right then, troglodytes, listen carefully,’ her golden eye glowed brightly, ‘Maeldune is your leader now, we will leave the tunnel for a time, keep it secure in our absence. You two, carry your new leader to this side tunnel and it’s vehicle. It’s time we were getting on.’
Raoul brushed himself down and glanced round the opening of the tunnel. There were two broken, hooded forms prone on the ground. The third, Raoul held by the throat with his other hand.
‘Who’s in charge here?’
‘Our leader is the glorious Maeldune,’ replied the clansman through broken teeth.
‘Is he here?’
‘Our leader is beyond your grasp, filthy topworlder.’
‘You degenerate morlock, I’m going to make you all kinds of dead.’
Raoul hurled the bloodied clansman into the tunnel. He then levelled his dart thrower at the upper tunnel mouth. Six darts struck the tunnel entrance and exploded with massive force, collapsing it and sealing the tunnel from that end.
‘I find myself wondering how Maeldune escaped our notice,’ Raoul shrugged, ‘run while you can, I’ll find you soon enough…’