I

The General's protégé.

General Ivor Nox sat in his deep, soft leather chair and listened to the sounds of muffled screaming that drifted through the walls from one of the rooms across the corridor.

He was impressed. It had been a long time since one of the recruits had managed to put up such a fight, and never had he heard one making such noise.

As a result, a little smile spread across his handsome face. He was pleased with his choice this time.

This boy was agile, strong and quick witted, with good sense and an aim to die for, literally. He already showed a great aptitude for physical combat, and had managed to show off a kind of resilient determination the likes of which the general had seen only once before.

He was as good a blank canvas and Nox was sure that the Mechanist would enjoy transforming him.

But the boy was also volatile and insolent. He didn't hesitate in making his thoughts known; especially his more crude ones, and he had no respect for anyone who wore the Uniform of the Empire what so ever. In fact, the boy seemed to hate anyone wearing it.

Yes. It was evident that his newest recruit would need a lot more time and effort before his lively spirit broke. But the General had no doubt that it could be done; every man has a weakness after all. Besides, pain had always been a hugely helpful tool of persuasion.

And once that was done, General Nox was sure, Cole Liron would prove to be a formidable force, a very key component in many of the plans he had made for the future.

There had been silence for a few minutes now and Nox had started to think that the boy had been brought under sufficient control. But now, suddenly, a new bout of screaming stuck up and underneath it Nox could hear the smashing and crashing of equipment being thrown about the room.

The smile quickly disappeared from his face because this new voice did not belong to Cole Liron and now he could also hear a struggle and the gruff shouting of the two soldiers inside the room.

"Get away from me!" Cole Liron's deep, but still slightly adolescent voice reverberated though the walls, sounding slightly strained, followed by the unmistakable sound of three gun shots. This wasn't good.

Nox usually trusted his men to get on with what ever orders he gave them and usually they delivered satisfactory, even excellent, results. But now he had the bad feeling that his men did not have this particular situation as much under control as he would have liked them to have.

He got up from his chair and swiftly flung his office door open. He took a few strides across the dark corridor outside, towards another door in the opposite wall and produced a small metal card from his pocket which he swiped through a groove that sat in the door handle.

He heard a series of clicking sounds as the intricate lock mechanism unlocked, and turned the door handle when they were silent again. Quietly he edged the door open and peered into the room.

Before his eyes a scene of total destruction stood unfolded. The huge room was more of a laboratory with a smaller glass-enclosed area in the middle of it which served as a sterile operating theatre. But in the glass room, no operation was being carried out.

Instead Nox could see the Mechanist writhing around on the floor holding his stomach with a large needle and syringe stuck in his chest and another in his forearm. He had been the source of the second bout of screaming, obviously, but was now reduced to whimpering and groaning as he lay there.

Nox frowned. The Mechanist may have a brilliant mind, but he had always been a bit of a wimp.

In the one corner of the lab, the fight was still going on. The two soldiers the General had assigned as guards were trying to get at their captive, one from the right and the other from the left. But Cole Liron was pointing two low calibre pistols, which he must have managed to grab off the two soldiers, at anyone who came near him. Nox could see a growing, glistening red blood stain on the left soldier's uniform where Liron had shot him.

"Just put down the pistols and everything will be fine-" the soldier was saying in a calm, steady voice.

The General glanced around the rest of the room, looking for the two surgeons who were supposed to be there and soon spotted them. One was hiding underneath a table, trying to assemble some sort of gadget or another and the other was nervously searching through a drawer behind a large wooden desk, probably for a sedation gun, beads of sweat rolling down his red face.

Softly, so as not to attract attention, the General closed the door behind him and made his way across the room until he stood parallel to Cole Liron, a few paces behind the two soldiers.

Cole was the first to spot him coming across the room and he snarled in anger like a cornered tiger before shifting aim from the injured soldier to the General and pulling the trigger.

The bullet struck the General and embedded itself neatly into chest. A dull sort of pain shot through his torso but he felt his mouth form a triumphant smile as he saw the look of confusion on the boy's face.

Coolly, with one sweep of his hand he pulled a revolver from its holster permanently secured to his waist, aimed the weapon at Cole Liron's bare chest, within a second pulled back on the hammer and pulled the trigger, sending a small bronze bullet towards his lates project.

As it travelled, it's smooth, aerodynamic shape flicked open with an almost inaudible clicking sound and then it had five little but severely sharp legs, poised as it continued to sail through the air at its target, and each filled with a drop of very concentrated, silvery-green coloured liquid sedative.

General Ivor Nox watched as the bullet struck true and rooted itself in the middle of the young man's flawless chest.

He watched as Cole Liron slowly looked down at his newly acquired wound and then back up with a glazed expression in his blue eyes.

It was barley a millisecond after the bullet struck him before Cole's normally perfect vision blurred, and he felt his knees buckle beneath him.

He hit his head hard on the floor and tried in to get up, but his head was now spinning sickeningly and all he managed to do was roll onto his back, on the cold stone floor.

He was conscious long enough to see the large black army boots of the General walking up to him and give him a hard kick in the ribs before feeling a hefty, hand grab hold of his lower jaw, pulling his head up roughly. He felt a face coming closer to his.

"Bullet proofing, my dear boy, is the secret to staying alive in a game such as this." The General breathed in his ear but by this time Cole was on the brink of complete unconsciousness.

The last thing he remembered was his head falling back onto the stone floor with a smack. Then everything was gloriously dark and quiet dark for a long time.