The new free city of Hallogen can be found in the centre of the land mass that had once been known as Europe. Its geographical location was not really chosen as such. The American, African, and Asian continents, as well as the oceans and seas, had been left irradiated and largely uninhabitable. A direct super-atom blast at the end of what was known as the 21stcentury had obliterated the Australasian continent and led to nuclear powered states and former allies turning on one another. That series of retaliatory strikes almost consumed the whole planet, and the remaining habitable area was limited to a strip of land in Central Europe, which had, rather fortuitously, been spared. What was left of Earth’s population somehow made it there, as the once mighty towers of their civilization crumbled into radioactive dust.
The militaristic regime that emerged in the following years gathered the last remnants of the human race, about a million lost souls, and concentrated them into work camps. It relentlessly and ruthlessly shaped them into a force of worker bees to assist in humanity’s survival. As the regime, The Company- as it became known, approached its centenary, it had developed into a fully functioning autocratic society run by a fearsome General and his elite class of bureaucrats. They placed the survival of the species above all else, and there weren’t many to disagree. Discord was usually met with an unceremonious and untimely death. Their system allowed no room for disobedience and disservice to the cause of saving the species. Thanks to rigidly enforced selective breeding programs, the population increased tenfold over the decades, and just as our remaining technological resources appeared to have been exhausted, and the human race was on the verge of sliding back into anarchy, first contact came from above, and a workforce of ten million eager souls joined the greatest search the galaxy had ever known.
Lieutenant Commander Nic Horshmire hurried along the dimly lit corridor towards the elevator and caught sight of himself in the reflective metal that lined the walls. His recently coiffed hair was all over the place and the merit badges on his uniform askew. In his hurry, the polished appearance he had carefully crafted in his habitation unit had been left wanting. He stopped to carefully realign the medals on his right breast pocket. He was unashamedly proud of his achievements in rising through the ranks from a lowly pick-swinging private to the position of Lieutenant Commander in the first regiment of the new drilling core. He now had 250 hard-working cogs in the machine under his authority.
As he patted his hair down into a tidy side parting, and in spite of his faith in the new world order, he found himself pondering an unusual thought. It had been four years, almost to the day, since first contact with Earth’s most benevolent intergalactic comrades. It had been almost four years since they bestowed upon the once blue planet their wondrous knowledge and technology. And it had been just about four years since what remained of humanity had gathered in the new free city of Hallogen and agreed to join them on their worthiest of causes. However, a lingering thought nagged in the back of his mind; ‘if we need to assist our allies in their search for the supreme alien race, creators of all life in the galaxy, why on Earth are we digging?’ Nic quickly shook the notion out of his head and carried on his way. It wasn’t the job of officers to go questioning the will of our most gracious and wise leaders. That kind of talk can get you fried. The truth chamber was not a place he planned on visiting any time soon.
Inside the elevator, Nic looked up and down the numbers and punched in floor 87, and the new anti-grav elevator fired him up in a matter of miliseconds while the inertial dampeners ensured he wasn’t reduced to a splattered mess on the floor. He wondered how the humans on Earth could have continued if they hadn’t received such considerable gifts of technology from their cosmic counterparts. This very building had been built three and half years prior and completed within a month. It had 100 floors above ground and twice as many under. It was the tallest structure in the new free city of Hallogen and was the nerve centre for the entire operation to reach the earth’s core. Nic had never been past the tenth floor and was deeply honored to get the opportunity to mingle with his superiors, and potentially, he dared not say it aloud, perhaps catch a glimpse of one of the exulted representatives of Earth’s intergalactic patrons.
Meeting room 78242 was abuzz with activity as Nic entered. Loyal officers wearing the same beige uniforms as him rushed between desks and low ranking bureaucrats scrupulously checked forms and papers to make sure everything was filled out in triplicate and all the correct stamps had been collected from the correct departments. The din of the room almost made Nic fail to spot the three bureaucrats, who could only be described as obese, sitting behind a grand oak desk wearing business suits and smoking on cigars as they shuffled papers and muttered commands to a slew of officers. Nic had never seen anyone who looked even slightly overweight before. Malnutrition was a much more usual concern of the citizens of The Company. His stare was interrupted by a voice chirping up from beside him;
‘Name, Officer.’ The bureaucrat at the desk looked up at him with a vacant expression. Again. ‘NAME, please.’
‘Lieutenant Commander Nic Horshmire’ he said gathering his composure ‘reporting as requested.’
‘Sit over there and wait to be summoned.’ The attendant waved his arm in an indifferent manner behind himself, where Nic could see about 20 or 30 other officers all waiting patiently for their turn. ‘The wait will be approximately 3 hours, so make yourself comfortable.’ As he hurriedly motioned for Nic to follow his instruction.
Nic knew better than to argue with a bureaucrat and strode towards the waiting area. He was glad he hadn’t been handed the usual seven or eight forms to fill in, but it did raise the question of why standard procedure wasn’t being followed. He sat bolt upright with his arms in his lap and waited. It only took a few minutes before, rather surprisingly, his name was announced over the p.a system, and he was summoned to the desk. He jumped from his seat and marched towards the desk, ignoring the huffs and puffs of the disgruntled officers whom he had leapfrogged. He approached the desk and gave the customary salute and greeting;
‘Lieutenant Commander Nic Horshmire reporting as ordered. It is my great hon…’ Before he could finish he was abruptly cut off by the fat bureaucrat in the middle. The other two failed to even acknowledge his presence and remained engrossed in whatever was written on the papers in front of them.
‘No need soldier.’ His tone was curt. ‘We have a lot to get through and no time to go through the usual pleasantries. I understand you have recently been promoted due to your excellent work in the drilling core getting that unorderly rabble in section 72182 under control.’
‘Yes Sir. It is with great honour that I accep…’
‘Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re very proud. We are always grateful to find soldiers who understand the importance our goals. We must reach the core at our earliest opportunity. The General insists on nothing less!’ He tapped the ash from the end of his cigar and inhaled deeply before continuing; ‘The speed with which you located the rabble rousers and delivered them for reconditioning was extraordinary. However did you manage it, Lieutenant?’
‘I located the head of the snake and lopped it off, Sir. He was easy enough to find - the Privates working in the lower levels can be quite garrulous when they think they are in the company of their own ilk.’ He stood tall and thrust out his chest as he spoke, beaming with pride at his own efficacy. ‘After a day or two in the truth chamber, he gave us the rest of his co-conspirators.’
‘Well, well, as I have already said Lieutenant, great work!’ The fat bureaucrat’s ruddy face lolled from side to side; ‘the leader and three of his closest associates were fried immediately, and most of their lot have already been reconditioned and are back swinging their picks in the lower levels. The delay has been, at most, minimal.’ As he spoke, the rolls of fat under his chin wobbled like a freshly made trifle and did little to conceal his giddiness. ‘Now your skills are needed elsewhere.’
‘Anything for the company, Sir.’
‘Good.’ The bureaucrat rose and waddled towards an open doorway behind the desk. ‘Follow me… …And close the door behind you. This is a matter which requires the utmost attention.’ His face became hard, then he muttered; ‘…and away from prying ears.’ With that they both disappeared into the darkness and the lock clicked automatically as Nic closed the door.