Steve even not worried for any question. He joined his own sensory isolation caisson, and he locked himself into darkness, alone with his determination.
He did all the meditations explained to him, but this time for himself, without thinking at Liu. He was feeling his presence at times, but this time it was her who was helping him with her sweet company. He also felt another presence, but this is things which often happen into meditation, so Steve paid no attention.
At last the time came, with a soft warning beep.
For some minute, Steve noticed nothing special; he ended to be afraid of staying here, useless, while the others would be already gone.
But he suddenly felt the peace aura of the Cosmic Guardians.
He did again the visualisation, and he abruptly found himself squatted in what he first thought was a tomb, or the underside of a turned down trough. Very quickly the evanescent sensation became a solid material reality. He tried to get up, but this place had a really low ceiling, like an underground gallery. At best he could get on all fours. Around him, he heard shocks and rattling of metal...
The three technicians of Vilayah, safe into their bunker, were watching a Dantesque scene: the eight giant robots were like awakening from some bad sleep, staggering like drunkards in a hustle of mechanical noises and whistling electric jacks. The hall was not high enough to enable them to stand up, and so they were banging their heads on the ceiling, with dull thuds followed by rains of rubble. In his cabin, Nips, shaken like a rag doll, clinging desperately to his seat, was no longer making any victory sign. Of course one of the footbridges snapped, and ran down the floor in a clatter of iron. One of the three technicians noticed a command to retract them, and so he saved the other footbridges.
Then suddenly the hall filled with light, and... everything disappeared, leaving only the empty hall and the noise of the wing, with the wrecked footbridge on the floor.
Steve was now seeing light. He could get up. Then his vision grew accustomed. He needed a moment to understand the scene. He was really standing, together with other human figures beside him. But these figures were made of stout metal trusses, like cranes or power lines pylons. At his feet, there was grass, but a curious grass, resembling broccoli. Further were houses, or rather models. Yes, models, as if he was walking into a miniature electric train system, with small trees and toy houses.
For some time, he remained here, without knowing what all this was meaning, without remembering what he was doing here, with just a feeling of an urgent task to accomplish. As his vision refined, he found this landscape unpleasantly real: the walls were stained with moss, pigs tall as mice were moving in their pens, garbage was littering the muddy yards, and paths were winding into the grass dotted with different colours.
Then he saw them. Small people, tall as mandarins, who were running panic-stricken as if he had opened an ant nest. And now he could hear their little cries, and then the sound of car traffic, curiously muffled.
Then Steve remembered what he was doing here: he was on Ouarkatan. Incarnated into a huge mechanical body. He was in a town, rather ugly, sort of caricature of the ancient Rome, which would also gather all the combined afflictions of Middle Age and modern world: garbage filled yards, narrow streets with puddles in the middle, pigs and manure into sties, filthy cob webs of electric wires, concrete block or raw concrete walls, sounds of engines and metal, and an atrocious cacophony of punk and rap music, which emanated from each of the slums, all identical from one street to the another as if it was the very spirit of this world.
Steve had his feet in what seemed a garden, with trees, flower beds and false ruins, surrounding a white house with columns and red brick linings, small oasis of beauty and safety, which was probably belonging to some rich citizen. Panicked women and children, slaves or family of the master, were running toward the house. This is how things were, on Ouarkatan, a world of ugliness and cruelty, but where beauty was still striving to exist, hidden behind high grey walls like something shameful.
The first feeling of Steve was of being vulnerable and exposed to danger: he was on a planet where all kinds of cruelties were possible at any moment. But in the same time he was perfectly safe, because even if his metal body was destroyed, he would find himself back on Earth into his flesh body.
Apparently, Steve was somewhat mastering the situation; But his companions had not so much luck, and two were gesticulating, trying to get up, crushing the slums as if they were cardboard boxes.
After a few minutes, they could stand and contemplate the place where they were. It was a town, seemingly immense. They were near a large complex of buildings without windows, covered with corrugated iron, surrounded by walls, barbed wire and guard towers, and topped with huge neon signs, demented tags with aggressive points as if they were trying to burst all the eyes. They recognized one of the imperial palaces, probably the largest. But seen with the eye, in colours, it was even much more dreadful than with the quantum telescope, a huge closed box with its walls covered with horrible tags, mixing the hellish black and putrefied brown with the most garish colours in incredible depictions of distorted and grimacing faces. The actual effect was astounding, a true demonic provocation, imposed with all the implacable force of a large state institution. These buildings were touching each other, leaving no streets between them, and the little space between the walls and the barbed wires were encumbered with grotesque objects, rejections of sceneries of a teratology theatre.
Around this nightmarish place, broad avenues were radiating, cut into dull grey districts of slums strewn with long insulae-council flats blocks, of which emerged here and there factories, huge stadiums or arenas. Further, one could easily recognize the cooling towers and reactor blocks of a nuclear power plant, just slightly uglier than on Earth, together with refineries emitting thick black smoke spreading all across the sky in a huge funeral canopy. The horizon was invisible, fading into a yellow haze of pollution, without allowing to see the end of this frightening megalopolis, as if it was a hell occupying the entire universe. The noise of this city was remarkably like that of a big Earth city, made of cars engines, klaxons concerts and the insistent buzz of thousands of mopeds (Slaves had no right to use a car, even for their work). But in this very cacophony, one could have a feeling of a precipitate rhythmic beat, without discernible source, like a huge hidden machine or a heart beating mad, more a confused rumour evoking screams of thousands of terrorized children, muffled and indistinct in the distance. It was as violent and scary as a scene of torture. The deleterious vibration of Ouarkatan, the black terror...
What Steve ignored, was that in the cabin which was his head, Nips, paralyzed and clinging to his seat despite the harness, was receiving this terrifying vision right in his eyes and heart of flesh! If he fell, he would become a prisoner of Ouarkatan, condemned to hide, hungry, enslaved, imprisoned by the demented vivisectors... Add to this that, at every Steve's gesture, his head and his arms were shaking painfully, and he just managed to lock the last straps which would maintain his skull in a somewhat comfortable position. In reality, Nips risked nothing, because of course the Cosmic Guard had noticed his presence, and a sphere of white light was surrounding him without him noticing. But he choose to come here without their permission, so the Guards would leave him assume this strange and terrifying experience until the end...
«Steve?» «Steve?» Steve became aware of an anonymous synthetic voice calling him by his name, into his head, as by telepathy. «Tchögyal to Steve. Steve, if you hear me, please answer, beginning with your name.» The multivators were communicating by radio, but they perceived only synthetic voices, neutral, without personal tone. So they had to start their sentences with their name, as in military training. It was strange, because Steve was trying to speak, but he was not feeling a mouth obeying him, just an unknown voice in his head, expressing what he wanted to say. He needed a minute to realize that it was his own voice, directly translated from thought into sounds by an electronic synthesizer, into the heart of its artificial brain. Two other voices were speaking in the dumrian language of Antüs, but he understood perfectly what they were saying. Ten minutes were still needed, until they were all able to communicate normally.
Suddenly, curious cracking sounds could be heard: soldiers, of the size of toy lead soldiers, were shooting at them with rifles. It was more comic than serious, as the bullets could do nothing against the powerful multivators with reinforced windows, built to break rocks into the appalling tempests of the Thoradra. But a growing roar was announcing a more serious threat: tanks were nearing them. They looked like toy tanks, but their shells were not toys, and they could pierce the multivator's shielding.
«Tchögyal to all. We need to start our work at one, if we do not want to lose our machines. Let us enter into the palace, here they will not dare to shoot, to avoid hitting their masters.» Steve was totally unable to guess which multivator was Tchögyal's. But he was really feeling that one was showing the supple and relaxed assurance of the Lama, the one with blue flowers patterns.
Steve was careful not to damage anything in the garden where he was, the only harmonious place in this world of ugliness and noise. Then he stepped into the hideous concrete slum, with shacks stacked on each other against any common sense, which were housing the lowest slaves. He had little choice, and, in one way or another, he had to walk on houses. And on innocents... Steve fixed his thoughts on the Cosmic Guards, imploring them to guide him at best... The first cabin crashed like a toy, but he heard no cry. He continued, raising his foot as much as possible in the narrow alleys, but there was always a wall to collapse, or gaudy clotheslines getting entangled around his feet. Relieved, Steve suddenly felt like a guidance, which moved his foot away of a peculiar location. So he began to move a little faster, crushing the slums, while a cloud of dust was arising in his wake. With the mass of the huge machine, he had a feeling of moving with slow gestures, as if walking in water, but his steps were powerful enough to jump from one house to another.
March gave Nips the feeling of being into a washing machine. It was properly staggering, with the mighty roar of the mechanics under him, and a concert of whistling jacks. The heavy thud of the huge steel feet on the floor was reverberated in vibrations into his spine. What a terrifying machine, they were really not-clever, these people of G major who used it to work!
Steve did not even bothered to pass over the walls and barbed wire. What do you guess, he had a holly horror of all this stuff, and he was getting seriously angry to see all these surly soldiers screaming and gesticulating as he passed. He lowered his hand, to pick a mirador, as of a weed. But he heard a cry of terror... a woman! Ah yes, the ouarkian army counted as many women as men! No sexist, at least, these people. But in her cruel world, this woman soldier never understood the scruple which stopped Steve's hand.
The palace was built around what was probably its foundation, two millennia ago. Of this far away enlightenment epoch remained a classical building, with rows of double columns and carved friezes. It looked like a Greek temple, but circular, with a central dome and four apses in a cross. It had been elegant, but now its white marble was rotting under the acidic rains, with no attempt to preserve it. Other buildings of stone or brick were around it, of more recent built, style factory of the 19th century, also very worn. At last, huge warehouses with flat roofs of corrugated iron, like a factory or a supermarket, were spreading over several square kilometres, with no door or opening, no streets between, just a trailers station to bring the huge flow of merchandises it was consuming. But for Steve and our friends, it was only fifty centimetres high, and they hardly needed to lift their feet to crush these horribly gaudy hollow structures.
«Tchögyal, from the Guardians, to all. We smash everything.» For once, the advice of the Lama was understandable even to the lesser intellects! Then all the eight began to trample frantically, and each step revealed a strange and grimacing world, encumbered with incredible cardboard sceneries, where creatures with human form, but with demented hairs and clothes, fled with hideous cries, more from rage to see their debauchery interrupted than from terror. Smoke started to rise, but even the flames were unable to stop the powerful dumrian machines. Steve found a power transformer, that he knocked off its frame with a kick. High voltage wire whipped around, exploding electric arcs. Instantly the horrible musical borborygmi stopped, and it was a very real relief to them. One multivator (Steve knew later it was the one of Niels) seemed especially angry after the huge neon tags, even if this was not their primary objective. Another multivator was methodically pounding with a kind of cold fury, it was Mme Eraert, really hard to deal with, when provoked.
Nips, into his robot head, was really scared; the discomfort of walking was nothing compared to the destructive dance of the furious multivator. He was seeing debris of steel beams and plates flying around him, while a fire smell was pervading the cabin despite the shut down ventilation. For a moment, he feared that the electrical circuits of the machinery were burning, but the smell was coming from outside, a fearful mixture of burning PVC and other toxic plastics abounding in the city of madness. The fire was gaining with an incredible rapidity into the theatre decors, and some even were literally exploding while blazing up.
«Ulrike to all. The labs are there. The archives and computer servers are in the basement, we must first clear the buildings above. She stood among towers bearing radio and telecommunications equipment, that she began to throw down with the back of her hand. They all converged toward this location, leaving a wake of shattered plates, and began to push aside the walls and roofs, as if they were made of cardboard and clay. Desks and cabinets were flying, ripped like matchboxes, cathode ray computer screens cracked, and an unbreathable plush of glass wool was floating everywhere. As Steve was bending down to clear the rubble with his hands, Nips had a closer look into the half cut building, filled with offices, corridors, ventilation pipes, furniture and machines, between steel walls crumpled like paper. He could see with his own eyes the faces of the dreadful ouarkian scientists, at only four metres from him. They looked more human than he expected. Unlike their debauched master, they did not expressed some diabolical dementia, they were just deprived of any emotion, any life, as senile, although they were biologically young. All were wearing dark glasses, white blouses and shaved heads, giving them a disturbing look of mad scientists, and this is what they really were. But one of them had lost his glasses, and the sensual beauty of his incredible starry eyes made even more displaced the vision of the laboratories of death. Then, as Steve went up, the building and its occupants disappeared into a huge cloud of dust. At last our friends kicked the roof of the basement, smashing it, and thoroughly stampeded its content. A small explosion warned of the start of a new fire.
«Tchögyal to all. Mission completed. Dangerous to stay here, we degage, keep standing up, the guardians are taking us.»
For a few seconds, Steve contemplated the Apocalypse scene they created. Monstrous plumes of red flames and thick black smoke were now rising from the smashed buildings. Wounded people were screaming, but with so vicious voices that they inspired no compassion. A fighter plane flew over them in a shrill. Tanks and troops were quickly pouring into the imperial compound, but, as Steve could realize just before leaving, the soldiers were slaughtering the imperials who were trying to escape the fire! Oh, those, at least, had no hesitation to seize such an opportunity offered to them!
Steve regretted not to be able to communicate with these women soldiers, to understand their motives and feelings, in this complex world where many unknown things could exist on the hide. Just as blind people develop a powerful sense of touch, the cleverest Ouarkians had to develop a rich culture of the mind, forced to stay hidden into connivances and unspoken words. Did these women soldiers wanted to re-establish freedom, or just take an available power? Did only this question made sense for them, when in their language «freedom» was meaning «to have no mercy»? But the scene suddenly disappeared to Steve's eyes, who found himself floating in a white void, without direction, accompanied with the seven other lokutens. Then a second town appeared, with some ancient buildings of a very different style, but with still the same shanty towns and the same debauchery palaces and supermarkets of nightmare.
There were more than twenty imperial palaces on Ouarkatan, each with laboratories, more six other isolated research facilities belonging exclusively to the scientistist cult. So, predictably, the demolition of these cubic kilometres of blind building became tedious, despite all the anger they felt when discovering the squeaking and disgusting creatures who were hiding in. Anahata once landed near a refinery, she gave a kick in the tangles of pipes, but then she had to retreat because the huge flame that springs out of there was seriously threatening the multivator. She later observed this fire with the quantum telescope; it lasted over a week, feeding from fuel tanks and large propane spheres which were exploding into monstrous plumes of orange fire. The radiated heat was such that the neighbouring slums ignited more than a kilometre away.
They arrived to the buildings of the general direction of the scientistists cast, which were about thirty storeys, two times higher than them, with still higher radio antenna masts bearing clusters of microwave dishes. On the foot of the buildings, on a vast plaza, a kind of ceremony was going on, with a carefully ordered crowd and even tanks in the parade. There was music, which sounded like a military band, but played with completely detuned instruments, in a complete mess, as if each musician was trying to cover all the others. Kurt walked on the plaza without paying attention to the people here, and seized the closest building, shaking the steel structure like a henhouse. All concrete parts crumbled, leaving a truss of twisted metal curiously bent inwards. In the meanwhile, Steve grabbed by their gun the tanks which had the bad idea to show off there at this moment, and flung them on the highest building, in which they sank as if the walls were made of paper. «That's for you, you bunch of cockroaches», he exclaimed with a vengeful joy.
But a stinging guilt feeling took him at once, from being able to utter such heinous words. Compassion Steve, Compassion! said in his head a little voice he knew well... Liu! Eh yes, to demolish everything outside of himself did not allowed him to also destroy inside him! This Ouarkatan affair was basically unfortunate, but if they were acting in this way, it was because any other solution was now impossible. Nips, him, had no questions to ask, contemplating the large bloody gaps the steps of the multivators had opened into the crowd. Nips was still at the human scale, and it was not cockroaches he was seeing, but people. Idiot and evil people, certainly, but people anyway, screaming and running in a havoc, like ants in their ripped off nest. So he prayed, so that some good may result one day out of such horror.
As if his eyes had changed, Steve was no longer seeing cackling creatures, but human beings. Idiots and villains, certainly, but who were moaning and fleeing. At one window, which was starting to emit grey smoke, a woman was looking at him, in the throes of the terror of suffering and death. People were jumping out the windows nearby, to escape the flames, or from sheer panic. Steve very clearly felt an impulse, from the Cosmic Guardians: it was imperative to save her. Why her and not any other? Had she a role to play in the building of a new civilization? Or was she simply one of the few innocents in this place? Steve did not tried to understand, he knew he had to save her. He put his steel hand in front of the window. But his protégée was panicking; Steve had to rip off the wall with a finger, and insert this finger into the office, where other squeaking creatures were massing in the corners. Finally, with infinite care, he managed to place his protégée in one hand, at the level of his face, forming a railing with the other hand. But she was struggling and bouncing like a worm, still frantically trying to go back to her devastated office, at the risk of being thrown into the void. A sudden insight struck Steve: she was a slave, and his master and rapist was still in the office, with in his hand a small object which was looking like a television remote control. With this, he was controlling an RFID chip implanted somewhere into the body of the woman, inflicting her very painful electric shocks. Worse, a deadly poison would automatically diffuse into her blood stream if she walked away out of reach of the tenuous radio signal. Steve ended up tearing the front of the office, and had to accept to crush with his finger the disgusting creature with human form which was clinging to the remote control for torturing his victim, as if this childish gesture was the only thing that mattered yet in front of an inevitable death. Finally the woman could get her remote control, and she returned herself in Steve's steel hand.
Then the building collapsed into an enormous cloud of dust. Steve could hardly see the face of the lady he was protecting, but Nips and her had some minutes to look at each other, into this strange situation, separated only by a dusty window. Nips saw her terror, but also her nice vibration, despite her face wrinkled from old age. Her large star-like irises were fascinating, and the Dumrian could clearly feel their sensual love call. The eyes were the main sexual attributes of the Ouarkians, but they were much more calling for romantic love than for physical sex. For an Earthling or a Dumrian, seeing only three base colours, they were already very nice; but for an Ouarkian with four base colours, they were fascinating and irresistible calls to love, different for each person. Nips never knew who was this lady, and neither why the Guardians wanted her alive (Which, on Ouarkatan, was not the most pleasant option). She, on her side, never understood from where Nips was coming, but his incredible Dumrian beauty, radiant with white psychical light, was for her a splendid revelation, and a strong inspiration source later. Probably she thought that he was the driver of the multivator, but what could she imagine else, in her world where consciousness itself was denied, where the human mind was considered as a mere neural program without any value?
Steve had to walk over a kilometre, until a place where (presumably under the influence of the Guardians) he knew that he had to leave his protégée. He actually found here one of those secret gardens sheltered by walls. He threw a few kicks in a stadium nearby, to hide what he was doing, blurring the view with dust. Then he gently placed his protégée in the garden. She was unable to do anything else than fleeing, still clutching her remote control, still palpitating with fear. She was not yet free, and her situation was even desperate, because, without money and without a master, she was unable to buy a battery for the remote control. Her only choice was to find a less cruel master, or highly unlikely a citizen willing to pay for the surgery to release her of the deadly implant. Steve, nauseated, remembered that such RFID implants were very serious projects on Earth, in the early 21st century, from some scientistist nutters obviously totally ignorant of what a human being is. He then walked into a different direction, waded into a river, and joined his friends just in time for a new transfer.
They were nearby finishing the job, when Kurt's multivator started to gesticulate in an incoherent way.
«Tchögyal to Kurt. What is happening?»
«Tchögyal to Kurt. Please reply».
At first no response came, then a monotone voice declaimed: «Not Kurt not Kurt. Kurt kaput. I am a real German and avenge the REICH from you. I am to fu... » They never heard the end of the sentence (much too predictable anyways) as suddenly Kurt's multivator disappeared into a flash of white light.
«Tchögyal, from the Guardians, to all. This is the concrete illustration of the main problem of the lokouten: we cannot control who rides them. Kurt was apparently dislodged by an idiot who was stuck into some garbage universe since the fall of the third Reich. Imagine what would happen if such an entity was walking freely on Earth, or on Dumria. Fortunately the Guardians brought back Kurt on Earth, and disabled his lokouten. We are only seven now, and we have better to finish our mission quickly before all suffering the same fate.»
Nothing similar happened until the end of the mission, but they had to hurriedly leave the last intervention field, under fire from several fighter aircrafts which were not befriending them! Fortunately their rockets rather completed the destruction of what remained of the last scientistist centre.
Then Steve suddenly found himself into the hall that he first confused with a tomb.
«Disconnect number three» said one of the technicians to his colleague. And the multivator which had contained Steve subsided, inert, with a mechanical weep, taking again automatically its standard squatted posture. The other machines, which reappeared each in their turn, were each commanded to do the same thing.
Steve roughly found himself back into his sensory isolation caisson. He found the water cold, with an unpleasant smell.
Scenario, graphics, sounds, colours, realization: Richard Trigaux (Unless indicated otherwise).
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