You know how important this is to the Emperor Odoursin?
Oh yes, said the man hurriedly. Were close to a breakthrough. Were doing everything we can to make this work.
Well, said Hekken, turning his gaze away from the now lifeless, floating organisms to look at him, youre just going to have to do a bit more.
He paused. How is that lovely wife of yours by the way?
Shes very well, thank you. I
And the children?
There was fear in the mans eyes now. He nodded and looked away. Theyre theyre fine.
Good. Thats very good.
Hekken put his cap back on. Well, you make sure you look after them. After all, it would be terrible if something happened to them. Id never forgive myself.
The man tried to speak, but his voice was shaking and he could only stutter something unintelligible.
I know, I know, said Hekken. Youre quite right. As long as we all try our hardest, then everything will be just fine. Hmm?
The mans face was as white as his coat now. Yes, General Hekken. Well have this fixed in no time. I promise.
Hekken patted his cheek indulgently with a black leather glove. Thats the spirit, he said. Keep up the good work.
Surrounded by the shiny green interior of the express lift, Hekken watched the red light flicker up through the floors and wondered what he was going to say to Odoursin.
Things were not looking good. Only yesterday the western state of Vahlzi had accused Vermia of planning to infect humans with a deadly virus. They were right, of course, but the accusation had been strenuously denied by Vermian officials. They were well aware that if the truth came out, Vahlzi would have an excuse to launch an attack against them. And although Vermias military had been strengthened considerably since the last war, they werent ready for another one just yet.
There was some good news, however. The Dream-walker from the prophecy had been sighted again last night and for the first time they had succeeded in tracking her back to Earth. If they moved quickly, they might just be able to turn things to their advantage.
But Hekken knew it wasnt going to be easy.
The lift whined softly to a halt and the doors slid open to reveal a huge, circular room with a large, round table in the centre. A clinical white light shone from a steel disc overhead, but otherwise the room was in shadow. Outside, dark storm clouds rumbled and a howling wind threw torrents of rain against the windows of the tower.
Eleven members of the Council sat around the table, each staring intently at the tall, hooded figure in the centre. They turned at the sound of Hekkens boots clacking across the hard stone floor and, as he approached, the figure slowly lifted its head. Cruel, red eyes stared out from a face that was hideously twisted, blanched and distorted like a piece of melted wax.
Hekken stood to attention and forced himself to hold Odoursins steely gaze.
General Hekken, said Odoursin in a low, menacing voice, do you bring us good news?
Yes, Your Excellency, Hekken replied, clicking his heels together and bowing slightly. I am pleased to report that, generally speaking, the programme is progressing well. We have finally succeeded in isolating a deadly virus from a rare pitcher plant that grows on Earth, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. It is a virus of such potency that, once released, it cannot be stopped. The problem of its delivery, however, still remains.
Indeed, said Odoursin. Please explain.
Copyright (c) April 2006, Bloomsbury Press (USA). All rights reserved.
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