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cursed!

PART THREE

Making their way, with a feverous haste, towards a predetermined location upon the moorland, the bulk of the Justices were hauling along a large pyramid-like shape on tiny wheels. It gave out a constant pulsating bleep.

'It's tracking, Quinn. Tractor's fixed onto the co-ordinates.' Marlok breathed hoarsely and coughed. 'Damn, I'm getting too old for this sort of thing...'

'Ah, you're just scared witless over last night. Quebus made a mistake and paid for it. He got caught in the tractor field, when the cruiser came down. He was flung clear and they caught up with him.' Quinn slapped a huge hand across Marlok's broad shoulders. 'Don't worry, them wolves will be occupied for a while...with that Doctor fellow, and I'm sure his companion won't be bored either.'

Again, Quinn laughed his sadistic laugh and began to tend to the controls set into the base to one side of the tractor. He punched up a sequence of codes on a tiny computer graphic screen. With a satisfied grunt, he stood up and brushed himself down. 'Alright people, scatter. You've got a minute before the field activates.

No one was waiting around, neither was Quinn for that matter. He made no clumsy steps as he moved across the swaying moorland which bounced him with every step, like an astronaut upon the moon's surface. 'Make sure you've got your stungers primed.' He screeched after the fleeing Justices. 'I want a clean round up tonight, with any luck we'll reach our quota, if they've filled the flight!'

Suddenly, a roaring vortex began to edge its way outwards and upwards from the pyramid tractor device, as its sides began to split off from each other and open like some delicate flower to reveal a rising, up turned, telescope-like rod that etched a dark silhouette against the blue glow of the evening sky. Slowly it began its graceful arc, scanning the stars...

Quinn experienced the dragging sensation of the tractor event field just as he leapt to roll down the mossy mud bank that bordered the small copse near the village. Slimy leaves gurgled through the oozing ground and attached themselves to Quinn's clothing as he slid ungracefully downwards. He had just made his escape; a few seconds later and he would have been another Quebus Monkin...

~~~

Across the space, which the tractor was not pointing to, sat or rather hung the dim shape of the overpopulated industrial planet, Homeworld.

Many in the crowded, grimy cities wanted to get off the hell hole of a planet but never achieved their goal. Only a few colonists had left, but they had never been heard of since that day; either they were lost in the vast Universe or landed on the nearest habitable asteroid, Vrus which was millions of miles away or dead.

No one cared, except the one person who knew everything about the colonists' plight and their activities on Vrus and, except his closest aide and immediate assistants, no one was breathing a word about it. Too much was at stake for this man; an unblemished political career, an unblemished record on the Security Corps files ( the S.C. kept files on everyone on the planet ), and above all, money.

Money was the key to all his dreams ( though most of those had been fulfilled because he was now at the pinnacle of the industrial power ); all the dreams he had had as the Supremident of Homeworld. All was in his hands and he intended to keep it that way, as long as the Justices of Vrus did their duty he would be proclaimed saviour of the world, having solved both the massive glut and burden on the state of retrogrades and unemployment, and the food problem in one fell swoop.

As long as no one came close to discovering how his position was secured; but already he flet the tension rising. He knew his industrial political opponents were breathing down his neck, dogging his tail waiting for any opportunity to pounce and topple him. Now all they needed was a mistake but he did not tolerate failure. In any eventuality he could cover his trail with a hidden fission bomb in one of the pleasure craft that passed Vrus when the tractor was operative.

'Oh, I hate the needless loss of life,' murmured Supremident Egost as these horrible thoughts washed over him. He rubbed his face in his hands and slowly pulled them down his face taking the sweat with them. It had been a boringly, sticky hot day in the old office.

Outside, the claxons were sounding the end of the first twelve hour shift and his day was over. Above all, the Supremident believed in working as much as making money. He had clawed his way to the top by working; even if it was pleasurable, having to step on other people's toes or even stab his closest friends in the back. But was that not what politics was all about?

It had been for centuries; places and situations change but human nature never did. That was why Quinn and the other Justices worked for him, they enjoyed the authority they could exercise - and they were rewarded handsomely for their work but they knew if he was not Supremident they would lose everything they had.

Suddenly, there was a quiet 'tap' at the door. Egost looked around the cold grey sparse metallic walls and centred on the door. 'Come!' He ordered wearily, suppressing the desire to yawn.

A weasel faced man entered in a tight fitting dulse brown tunic. He handed over a clip board to the Supremident and stepped back. He waited, unsmiling and unfussed.

'Oh, don't be such a bore, Wells. Sit down,' said Egost sounding tired rather than impatient.

The man took a seat in the tiny swivel chair before the Supremident's desk, trying vainly to look relaxed. He failed. 'Thank you, sir. May I say...'

Egost cut him off. 'It's a pleasure etcetera, etcetera...yes, yes, Wells. I'm at the end of my shift, you don't need to put on the formalities...and anyway, I'm in no mood to tolerate this bureaucratic bungling I have to sit through all day.'

Wells frowned. 'What do you mean, sir?'

Egost flicked through the papers on the clip board and read from them a few, very low sounding figures. 'There's got to have been a drafting error here. Our quota's aren't this low surely? We're at least fifty eight percent down on last months shipments...'

Wells coughed. 'Well, sir, I'm afraid the figures are correct and right up to date. They include this morning's cargo too.'

Egost was suddenly stern. 'What's wrong with you, Wells? I lay on two free pleasure cruises around the system per month, can't you pack 'em?'

'The fact is, Supremident we can't give away the tickets to anyone anymore. I even stopped so low as to attempt to spread them amongst the work force...'

'You did what?!' blustered Egost anxiously, almost chocking with astonishment.

'There's no unemployed, needy or retrograde left on Homeworld who'd go on a free cruise that has a ninety-nine percent chance of having a fatal accident on the return journey. I'm surprised nobody has tried to shut our little tours down before now.'

Wells leaned forward, whispering urgently at the Supremident's face. 'Many of your staff want to blow this whole thing into the open; and many in the Parlcon are ready to unite in a coalition to overthrow the present administration. They don't care about your precious percentage or the fact that you're being hailed by Homeworld as the "feeder of the hungry".'

Viciously, Egost spat the words out. 'But my name or company has never been implicated with the tours. It's not my head on the block. All I do is bring in the food shipments from Vrus...but the masses and the Parlcon don't know that it comes form there. they think it comes from one of the cattle farms on the Eastern plain..only you, me and three on your staff know it's the butchered remains of the passengers on my free tours - after those damn Werewolf colonists have killed for them for us. My hands are clean.'

As if to emphasise the last sentence, Egost washed his hands in a small sink behind his desk. 'If anyone talks or thinks of talking, send them on a little spying mission to Vrus...just tell them it's a routine check on the efficiency of production there. That should satisfy their administrative ego.' He waved his hands dismissively. 'That'll be all!'

Wells rose and as he opened the door to leave he added, 'The cruiser should be nearly at Vrus now...'

As he tidied the papers away on his glass desk, Egost, having said his piece, shook his head solemnly. 'Those poor devils.'

'Must be terrible for the families they've left behind, sir, especially if they buy your meat.' Wells sniffed and pretended to wipe a tear from his eye.

'Not the passengers, those feeble colonists. What an existence. I wonder what it's really like for them? I do.' Little did Egost know, but he would eventually discover the answer.

~~~

It hit them like a tidal wave, which in fact was what it was akin to. The dragging sensation caught them all unaware and Captain Devane was left with one hundred very frightened, panicking passengers on his hands as he fought for control of his Astral grade cruiser.

One thing was certain though, all aboard felt the crash landing on what was supposed to be a barren desolate asteroid which unusually had a breathable atmosphere.

As seats erupted and split from the floor of the passenger sections, bewildered and disorieonated passengers were trapped in a coffin thay had so gladly accepted seats upon a few weeks earlier. Through the entanglement of jagged metal girders, twisted and crumpled, blood, saliva and vomit and mingled attracting those that could sense these things. Most of the passengers has expected to be killed in the crash, some were believing that amidst the moans, anguished cries and feeble attempts to free themselves they were going to be left here to die a lingering death in utter torment.

None had expected they were to end up as a wild animal's dinner. But as vicious claws scrabbled their way into the stricken cruiser and gnashing jaws snapped, severing veins, tendons and sinew and even snapping bones; some realised that death can come in varied forms when you least expect it and when you don't expect it to be a happy release...they, were the lucky ones.

Devane had been bodily thrown through the plastic-rein-forced wind shield of the cruiser. Bruised, lacerated and weakened he painfully dragged himself to his feet and gazed pitifully at the wreckage of is pride and joy. Then when the howling began, started limping pathetically across the moorland in a hope of salvation. There was to be little.

Suddenly, something 'thudded' onto his back and floored him. He felt his scalp burning, his hair being wrenched savagely from his skin, felt his bones snap and heard them crunch as needle like pains shot through his head he felt no more. His brain had gone. He was quite dead. Somehow he was to be in good company.

~~~

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