by John Dodd

It is cold here, cold and dark, perhaps it is fitting that I die here, perhaps this is what life has prepared me for. I can move no longer, the wound in my chest is now a dull ache, the blood soaking my armour seems so far away, as if it is not mine, I wait now, in the darkness.

Perhaps I should relate how I came to be here…

My name is Lucian Durant; I am an Interceptor in the employ of the company known as Darknight, I fight against the tyranny that is SLA industries. It is how I was raised; it is all I have ever known. I have learned through bitter experience that we are no match for the sheer power of SLA, we have to be content with undermining their power, till one day, we find ourselves where they are.

The last mission was a simple one, we were to go the Tannhauser moon, there to secure the fold gate that SLA use for most of their Dante supply routes, we had secured a small SLA shuttle and bribed one of their officials for the passcodes. Taking captured armour and SCL badges, we took the shuttle to the gate, I had selected my own team, Thor, Jorgensen, from the new parisian underground, a heavy weapons and demolitions specialist, from the same cell, Karen Dieudonne, one of our best jammers. Finally, from the central Mort Hub, Genevieve Artanis, the missions designated converter.

We approached as SLA protocols dictate, maintaining steady drive and not deviating from the heading. As we near the main gate, the computers begin their dialogue, we are accepted, so it appears, as nothing stops us and we make the gate with no incident. We disembark from the ship, presenting our credentials to the main guard post. Tension is in the air as he pauses over my ID, we remain quiet, trying to make it seem as if nothing could possibly be wrong, it is the way we are taught. People only notice something when it is out of place, if you seem like you belong, people will believe that, it is the way of all cattle.

The Guard looks up at me.

"Your SCL for this area is insufficient."

I raise an eyebrow at that, our SCL levels are higher than the levels that this facility requires. Genevieve steps forwards, her voice cold and commanding "It is not your concern as to the level of my subordinates, guardsman" she emphasises the last word, scorn dripping from her lips "I am the leader of this mission, and my SCL is far in excess of anything that you may question, you will return the pass to my man, and we will proceed with no further delay."

She holds out her hand for the card, a picture of authority. The guard tries to seem unfazed by her words, but fails quite miserably, he hands back the cards and waves us through the door.

As we pass through, I hear Genevieve murmur under her breath, something in a language I don't quite understand. She notices that I am watching, and turns her head slightly back "Just a vow to get my money back." She smiles a little self-consciously.

The Gate is not well defended, and the number of personnel is limited at best. We start our operation, the first step is to take the base personnel and convert them, to this end, we split up into two teams, Thor and Karen will take the command bay, neutralising the headquarters and then setting charges to make sure that the gate stays down. Genevieve and I go to the living quarters, the shift changes in two hours, most of the personnel will be asleep, perfect for what we have to do.

The Sleeping quarters have six personnel in them, I lock and jam the door behind us as Genevieve unlimbers her conversion kit. I have heard of the duties that the convertors do, but I have never seen them at work. Genevieve takes the syringe and a bottle of clear fluid, fixing the two together and moving to the bunks.

She places one finger to her lips and motions for me to follow her. As we reach the door, she turns to me and signs for me to keep things silent. This is a euphemism, it means that if any of these people wake up during conversion, I am to make certain that they do not make any noise, killing them should it be required. Genevieve moves to the first one, the injection is painless, and carries a good dose of sedative with it to help in the conversion process. In a few seconds, all the people within the bunks are injected.

We wait in silence as the conversion process takes hold, one of the people shudders and begins to stir, I move to them, staying low so as not to alarm them. It is a young man, younger than most, a new recruit I would guess. It is said that the young have more resistance to the conversion process, this could be what is happening here.

Perhaps I should explain a little about the process, the first stage is an injection of Mnemos IV, a chemical that damages the part of the brain that houses memories, the result of this is a programmable body, undamaged, and still possessing of basic motor skills. The second part of the conversion is a helmet which has an encoded set of images built into the visor, these images re-write the brain with instructions and skills that the high command feels are necessary for them. Typically, these skills are whatever we are short of at the time. Not the most efficient way of doing things, but certainly one that works. The resultant workers are good only for the task that they have been programmed, but they are cheaper than wasting a trained operative on such a task.

The young man goes into spasm, I move quickly, straddling his body and keeping it still, preventing all movement. His eyes flare wide as his mouth opens in a silent scream, I put one hand over his mouth, and look down at him, willing him not to make a sound, I have never had a problem with following orders, but killing people who did not deserve it, who did nothing other than serve their company loyally, that is something I do not want to do.

His eyes lock to mine, he knows what is happening to him, I can see it deep in his eyes, he feels all his memories vanishing and he doesn't know why. He looks to me in a silent plea, his eyes widening as the terror becomes the only thing that he knows. We stay locked together for long minutes, his eyes looking deep into mine, pleading for help that will never come, and all the time, I want to tell him that it's nothing to fear, that the pain will pass, that the fear will go away. But I cannot, all I can do is watch as his life disappears before him.

I look across to Genevieve, her face is in rapture, I can see her tongue flicking between her lips like a snakes, and I realise that this is what she lives for, and with it, a memory long buried surfaces for a brief instant. A young girl, a view of Lake Atin on New Paris, she turns and smiles at me, but I can't make out her face, it's as if something took away that memory. As quickly as it came, it is gone, Genevieve moves amongst the people, fitting each of them with the visor that will reprogram them to our cause.

I leave the person I was restraining, he lays motionless on the bed, his eyes staring vacantly into space. I cannot look at any of the people here any longer, what we are doing suddenly seems wrong. Genevieve senses that something is wrong, she moves to my side and rests one hand on my shoulder.

"What's wrong?" She whispers to me.
"I, nothing, I just……." I trail off, not knowing what to say.
"There's nothing wrong with what we're doing here" She says "What we do here is part of the crusade".
"What Crusade?" The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them "What are we doing here, that man there never harmed any of us, but we just took everything from him, and for what? So we could have one more street sweeper?"
I can feel Genevieve's contempt radiate down at me "You have to understand, Lucian." She is speaking slowly , as if to a child "We were cast down into the darkness, there is no light for us as long as we are in the shadow of SLA. Only by destroying them can we come back into the light"
"What light?" I realise that I am saying too much even as the words leave me "there is no light in what we're doing here, we're destroying innocence in everything that we do."
Her hand leaves me, and she crouches down beside me "We must leave." She says quietly, the air of command back in her voice "we have more to do before we leave."

Genevieve raises her comm unit to her ear, sub vocalising her words "Thor and Karen have secured the main compound, we move in twenty."

We move from the quarters, heading for the main deck. The sound of gunfire filters down towards us from the upper decks. I start running, the sounds becoming louder as we near the command deck. I round the corner as automatic fire strafes across where I am running. I dive to the floor, heart racing as I skid to a halt. I risk a glance around the corner, Thor has gone berserk, in the tradition of DarkNight, leave nothing standing, not even your team-mates. There must be more than this, is this what we are doomed to live for, is there nothing for us to look forwards to, is there no light in our existence? I glance around the corner again, Karen lies in a pool of blood at thors feet, gunned down in his rage. I step out into the corridor as he tracks the cannon towards me.

"DOWN!" A voice yells from behind me, I don't think about it, I obey. A single crack like thunder breaks the air, and Thor goes down, a single round between his eyes. I look back, a single SLA operative, a woman, is standing behind me, a small rifle in her hands. She smiles wearily and gives me the thumbs up. I smile back without thinking, then feel the smile slip as Genevieve steps up behind her, smashing her over the head with her rifle. The young woman goes down, poleaxed, and Genevieve fixes the syringe, ready to convert her. I clear the distance between us in a few steps, laying one hand on Genevieve.

"No" My voice is steady "She deserves to live."

Genevieve looks up at me, and nods "Very well, I'll let her live."

I stand, shouldering my equipment and putting my gun back in its holster. A searing pain erupts in my back, and as the shock registers, I turn to see Genevieve standing behind me with her pistol still smoking. I stagger towards her, pulling her gun away and throwing her to the ground. I hammer my fist into the side of her head and she goes limp. I fumble at the conversion kit, finding the needle and liquid, injecting the remaining doses into her neck. She moans softly and begins to stir, her hand grazes her neck and she suddenly understands what I've done. I watch again as a persons life is erased with their full knowledge of it, but this time it seems right, this time, no innocents are being harmed.

It seems dark and warm suddenly, and I realise that for a brief moment, I must have passed out. I look down at Genevieve, her eyes are vacant and staring, nothing remains of the person that was. I crawl over to the young woman who saved me, she is stirring from the floor. I glance at my watch, the timer is almost out. I prop myself up against the wall as the woman stands unsteadily. She staggers over to me, trying to raise me up. I shake my head, knowing it is far too late, I raise one hand to her, she takes it and looks down at me

"Tell.." I cough, bringing up blood and something more in it, "Tell your masters."

"What?" She whispers, crouching down beside me.

"Tell them….tell them that all we want is to live in the light."

Something in her eyes changes as she realises that I'm not with her company "You're one of them?"

"I think I was once one of you, I can't remember, they take that from you, I don't know." another coughing spasm and I can taste something in the blood, the end is near for me, I can feel my life slipping from me.

"But you're the enemy."

She is afraid now, afraid of what her masters will do if they find that she has helped one of us, even if it was a mistake. I see now how hopeless it is for any of us, neither side understands that they are fighting for the same thing. Somewhere, something drew a line and put us on either side, one in the light, one in the dark, each one never to stray into the others domain.

I shake my head "Go, go now, the shuttle in bay three is fuelled, you must go."

She nods and stands, I grip her hand convulsively "Never leave the light." I whisper hoarsely, "Don't walk in the dark." I think she understands, I don't have the strength to lift my head any longer, I can hear her running down the corridor.

A soft rumble from the other end of the base and the roof falls in, the lights fail, I can hear the generators failing. It is cold here, cold and dark, perhaps it is fitting that I die here, perhaps this is what life has prepared me for. I can move no longer, the wound in my chest is now a dull ache, the blood soaking my armour seems so far away, as if it is not mine, I wait now, in the darkness……….