A tall, muscular, dark-haired figure made his way down the brightly lit corridor. The nods of approval from his colleagues were a visible reminder of what he had just achieved: capturing the one person he had considered not only a best friend, but the brother they weren’t ever meant to have.
“Twenty-Three Eleven!” a fellow guard called out.
He turned slowly, still aching from the fight that had taken place just hours earlier. “What?”
“The Warden wants to see you in his office, now.”
“Fine.” He sighed, changing direction. As he approached the young guard, he could see the spark of speculation in his eyes. “I know my way,” he said dryly, in an attempt to deter any attempt at conversation, hoping the guard was too shy to start the ‘Tell me all about your escapades’ quiz and clever enough to realise he was bruised and weary, with neither time nor patience for frivolous questions.
The inquisitive young guard’s eyes sparkled. “Is it true you just captured Twelve and the Princess of the Ranswars?”
So he wasn’t as shy, or as clever, as Eleven would have liked. “Yes, but everyone is innocent until proven guilty, so your opinion on these prisoners should stay in your head.” He gave the guard a stern scowl. The young guard took the hint, shifting direction and kicking his boots together in annoyance before heading back to his quarters.
As Eleven passed the teleportation bay a petite woman in a black suit exited. Held captive by her tiny hand was a colossal creature, deep green in colour, with three bony arms on each side, each covered in talon-like claws. Its fur standing on end, it grappled with thin air, roaring and spitting deep blue mucus that the woman deflected with her free hand, holding it, he noted with the same ease as he would hold a plasma ball.
“Ah, Eleven, have you made your paperwork available to me?” She enquired. “You know how I like to keep your workload up to date.”
His expression changed to one of affection. “Yes Collector, I wouldn’t want to get into any trouble.”
“Good,” she replied a twinkle in her eye. Nodding farewell, she continued on her journey, whilst the creature continued to fruitlessly howl, writhing and struggling in its attempts to escape. When Eleven arrived outside the Warden’s office, he could clearly hear angry sounds, loud enough to carry through not one, but two walls. Making his way in, he found the Warden’s assistant sitting at her desk looking at a screen, apparently completely oblivious to the ranting.
“I’m here to see the Warden,” Eleven informed her.
She looked up at him. “Bracelet?” she demanded.
He lifted his sleeve to reveal his bracelet. Its metal worn and battle scarred from too many arrests. It always served as a reminder to him of how long he’d been a guard.
She scanned it. “You can wait over there. He will want to see you next,” she instructed, then looked back down at her screen.
While Eleven stood waiting by the wall, the roar from the Warden’s office gradually became a muffled rumble, then slowly petered out. At last the door opened and out came a shocked looking extractor, her eyes searching the room for the exit, and the fastest route to it.
“Eleven!” the Warden’s voice called out.
He strode into the office. He’d been here many times due his successful career as a guard. However today wasn’t a day when he felt any sense of achievement or pride in his work. “Warden,” he greeted him, bowing his head in respect.
“I would like to congratulate you on your successful arrest of the traitors, Twelve and the Princess Lailah…” The Warden scratched his beard in agitation.
“Thank you.” Eleven made his response, feeling numb.
“However, I have bad news.” He stood, his thickset shoulders looked stiff with stress and Eleven could see that his hands were still unsteady from his earlier outburst.
He slammed his fist down on the desk, which groaned under his strength. “Twelve has escaped!”
“But how? We only got here a few hours ago!” Deep furrows of confusion dug into Eleven’s forehead.
“The extractor reported that he just wasn’t there. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?” The Warden sat back down and started to move his hands over the desk, causing charts to appear on screens on the desks top. “An informant seems to think he’s here.” The Warden touched a dot on the screen, enlarging it. “They call it Earth.” He glanced up. “This is classified information.”
Eleven nodded. “Yes, Warden.” He knew his job; he’d been a guard for over four hundred years.
“There’s another issue with this situation. We sent one of the Old Ones there; if Twelve finds him we could have a serious problem.”
“What are the chances? And what’s our next move?” he asked, knowing in his heart he wasn’t going to get time to have that rest he’d been planning.
“You’re going to Earth; you’re going to get Twelve back again. And this time I will extract him myself,” he growled.
“Should I take Boden and Hadwyn with me?” He really could do with the backup; Twelve hadn’t been an easy arrest the first time.
“No, this isn’t a job for the Magrafe. However, I will make them available to you if you feel you can't cope.”
“Who will be my contact?”
“There will be none. We’ve no trustworthy contacts on Earth so this will be a solo mission. A judge and his companion are due to investigate, although after previous visits to the planet, he has informed us it’s too primitive to be of any danger.” The Warden’s hands shifted over the desk with ease, opening new screens faster now. Finally he stopped. “Memorise these co-ordinates.”
Eleven inspected the images carefully. “Yes, I have them stored.”
“If you have any problems, use them to get back here. You will also need a human name.” He pushed more screens to the side. His hand hovered over an image of a man with wings. “You will be called Gabriel. To the humans he’s a messenger from their God. They are more likely to trust a man with such a name. Now go, don’t waste another minute.”
Eleven knew you were only given a name when it was totally necessary. His companion, Hadwyn, would be disappointed - he took great pleasure in mocking Eleven because he had never been given a name. The High Judges believed that it made you more of an individual, and the prison worked hard to maintain the ethos of the collective.
“Yes Warden.” He bowed once more in respect and turned to leave the office. “Gabriel.” The Warden stopped him. “Bring him to justice or leave him where he dies.” His tone was bitter. It must have been a hard blow. Twelve had been one of the best guards on the prison. Losing a guard was never easy. This would cause a ripple of questions through the others, and that was not good.
“As you order.” The new name would take a while to get used to and as he left, he felt the weight that had been temporarily removed, descend once more upon his shoulders.
He made his way to the Distribution office to collect his equipment. Showing his bracelet to the mechanic, he was informed that he would require no extra equipment to go to Earth, that on Earth their technology was so basic that they were of no danger to him, his usual weapons would be enough. His biggest concern on Earth would be disease, so he was given a vaccination. The mechanic also gave him enough nutritional supplements to last him for the next cycle.
As he walked back to the very portal at which he had arrived earlier that day, he wondered how Twelve had escaped so quickly? And why Earth? He also thought it odd that Twelve had left Lailah behind, knowing how much he was under her control. That vile Ranswar. He’d known there was something suspicious going on from the minute he laid eyes on her.
His collector was standing by her portal; she must have been informed he was leaving. She’d been his collector since his first journey. She was stern and liked to do things correctly, but he knew she had a soft spot for him and he could trust her to make sure he arrived at the correct coordinates. “Seems I’m going away again.” He shrugged his shoulders as he reached her.
“It’s not right, you have just arrived back.” She shook her head in annoyance. “Luckily Earth’s a very basic planet. You will make an arrest in no time I’m sure. Have you been to the mechanics?” she chuntered as she opened the shimmering portal in front of him.
“Yes, no need to worry.” His lips rose into a crooked smile. “Anything else I need to know?”
“No…” she stood to one side, then held him on the spot with a light touch of her tiny hand, as if in thought, “…well yes...” Their eyes met. “I like the name you have been assigned.”
“Thank you. Maybe one day you’ll get one.” He patted her arm and she let him go. He never ceased to be amazed at the power of the Collectors. They could control beasts far bigger than themselves with no apparent effort. They crafted portals all over the galaxy and yet they remained suppressed by the Prison. He looked back one more time to see her watching him make his way through the portal.
His landing was silent; hundreds of arrests had made him skilled in all his actions. It was night-time here and he could see lights up ahead. Lights created by a fire. He moved through the trees towards the populated area. As he came close, the sounds of chanting rang out into the woods. Voices seemed to bounce off the trees, echoing back and forth. As he reached the edge, he saw people in a clearing, all standing around a large fire. They seemed so happy; clearly Twelve hadn’t reached them yet. Then he saw a young woman. She was dancing around, the reflection of the fire skipping burnt oranges and golds across her face and body. He held his breath, watching her spinning, the others clapping their hands to keep her going, the volume and energy rising and rising as they seemed to reach fever pitch. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
Suddenly, and without warning, she stopped. Gabriel realised he wasn’t breathing and took a breath that reached deep into his chest. She was staring straight into the woods where he was. This was impossible, he was trained, there was no way she could see him. She must have spotted something else. He froze, holding his breath once more. She was walking towards him now. He pulled out his Dellatrax searching for another life form. Nothing was showing on the screen.
She reached the edge of the trees and Gabriel wasn’t sure if he should stun her before she came any closer. He had been trained to deal with prisoners and had no problem with that, but this was an innocent woman.
“Welcome,” she called out into the darkness. Gabriel nearly choked, surely she couldn’t see him. “I hope you can hear me.” Her voice rang out. “You’re safe here.” She reassured him.
Gabriel felt ridiculous. This woman knew he was there and he was still hiding. He needed to find out how she’d spotted him. Was he more visible on this planet? Was it like the time he and Twelve had been on Braltar and the occupants had smelt them from three sectors away? Her face was in shadow and he couldn’t see her expression. He needed to make eye contact. What was the worst she could do? He knew they were primitive. He had his weapons; he could take out the whole village if he wanted to. He was the more advanced being.
“Well, you can stay in there all night, but it’s going to get cold.” She took another step closer to him.
“Stop where you are,” Gabriel warned her.
She tensed up. “Very well, but I am offering a hand of friendship. Your presence does not feel threatening to me. We saw your arrival in the flames of the Goddess Hecate.”
“If you saw my arrival, then you will know I’m not here to hurt you. If you leave now everything will be fine.” He leaned forward still unable to make out her face clearly.
“Let’s think about this, you’re hiding in the woods on my land. These people are my family and the goddess has told me to come and get you. So I don’t feel like leaving you there. I will give you a choice. You come out and prove you’re not a threat to us, or I’ll send the spirit of my dead grandmother in there, to drag you out screaming and kicking.” She placed her hands on her hips.
Dead grandmother? Gabriel tapped on his Dellatrax. Death on Earth was the same as everywhere else. This was a threat he could not comprehend, and he was wasting valuable time with this woman. He stood up and walked slowly towards the clearing. “Fine.” He stepped out towards her.
She stepped back. A flicker of fear that surfaced briefly was hidden with the same speed. The light of the fire now reached her profile and Gabriel was aware of her beauty. Her round eyes, petite nose and full lips, framed by waves of dark brown hair that cascaded down her shoulders. He took a deep breath; never had he been so close to someone so beautiful, and so stupidly brave.
“Who are you? And what do you want?” she asked.
“I am Gabriel and I have come from the stars.” He pointed towards the sky. His words made no sense, and he had never introduced himself in such a way before.
“From the stars?” she almost laughed. They were just feet apart now. “Well Gabriel from the Stars, my name is Wyetta and this is the village of Mistley. I think you need to come with me.” She reached her hand out towards him. He looked at it warily. On the prison physical contact was frowned upon. She was waiting for him to take it and he felt strangely compelled to do so. As they touched, he felt a bolt shoot through his body, like someone had just made his heart beat for the first time. He followed her, powerless, and she led him back to the gathering and the others, who greeted him with a depth of warmth and trust that he had never received before. They seemed to want to befriend him, without the slightest knowledge of his intentions. This was going to be more complicated than he had expected.