The entire chamber was shrouded in darkness. Long, irregular shadows spread across the dull blue floor plating like the tendrils of some living thing. The low humming sounds of massive orbital engines coupled with the barely audible whirring of a dozen computer banks almost sounded like the blood and breath of some unseen creature, lying in wait to pounce on anyone foolish enough to venture into the shadows. What little light that managed to penetrate the gloom came from the massive bay windows that formed the far wall of the chamber... or more precisely, from the myriad of stars that lay beyond. A million points of light, shining with a steady glow... one that, in the context of this place, was decidedly eerie.

The apeman was understandably nervous as he stepped into the control room from the relatively well-lit corridors of the fortress. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as his simian survival instincts clawed at the edge of his consciousness, begging him to be somewhere else... anywhere else. As he crossed the floor towards the center of the room, he tried to shake the feeling that there were unseen somethings moving at the edge of his vision. After all, he was going to have enough trouble dealing with the far more dangerous creature that occupied the central pedestal.

From his position at the foot of the stairs, just within the narrow frame of light that spilled through the still-open doorway, he could barely make out the vaguely humanoid figure seated in the single chair atop the pedestal, which towered nearly a dozen feet above the rest of the floor. Apparently, his master did not wish to be disturbed, as the overhead lamps that usually provided light for the control consoles had been shut off. Aside from a faint pumping sound coming from one of the consoles beyond the chair, there was no sound from above; the figure seemed lost in thought.

Nervously, the apeman cleared his throat and began to speak, a slight tremor creeping into his voice.

"Uh... sir?"

There was no response.

More than just a little frightened by his master's silent treatment, the apeman mustered his courage and spoke again.

"Uh... M-m-master? You, ah... you s-sent for me?"

After what seemed like an eternity, the figure spoke. The apeman had conversed with his master countless times, yet he was still chilled by the deep, almost growling tones of the partially synthesized voice.

"It's time."

"T-time, sir? You mean, the p-plan?"

Almost immediately, the apeman realized the stupidity of what he'd said. Of course it was the plan; it was the only thing his master had spoken of for months. He reflexively cringed, expecting the flash of pain that usually accompanied such a lapse in judgment, but it never came. Instead, the figure continued to sit in silence. Apparently, his master was in an unusually good mood.

Once again, the apeman haltingly broke the silence.

"Uh, yes, the p-plan... we're, ah, we're ready for execution, Master. W-we can leave anytime you w-wish."

After a pause of several seconds (during which the apeman became even more uncomfortable), the figure spoke again.

"You've located him, then."

"Y-yes, sir. Our agents have confirmed him as having been reassigned to one of Xenon's orbital stations."

The apeman could almost feel his master tense with anger as he mentioned that name. He wisely decided not to speak further.

"Xenon... "

Had the lights not been turned off, the figure might have been seen to clench a bloated fist. "Those ignorant plebeians... they did this to me. They stole my creation and exiled me from my own homeworld. But now... now they will pay... "

The apeman heard a faint sound that could be likened to the gnashing of teeth.

"... HE will pay... "

The apeman wisely waited for his master to regain his composure before continuing.

"We've p-prepped the stolen shuttlecraft for departure. We can leave as soon as we have the required security clearance codes to approach Xe-uh, the planet. The crew in the shuttle bay should be s-sending the information to you now."

He watched as his master slowly swiveled in his chair to face the consoles. With a few keystrokes, a lengthy report appeared on a nearby screen, the green letters adding to the eerie atmosphere of the room.

The figure studied the screen intently for a minute or two, then began typing with a quickness that seemed out of place for the bulky silhouette. Strings of numbers filled the screen; incomprehensible gibberish to anyone else, but a wealth of information for those who knew how to read it.

With a final keystroke, the figure leaned back in his chair, his posture unmistakably indicating self-satisfaction.

"The codes have been transmitted into the shuttle's computer. Tell your men to make ready. They will leave within the hour."

Realizing from his master's tone that the conversation was over, the apeman responded almost gratefully.

"Y-yes, Master. I will do as you command."

He quickly wheeled about and began the agonizingly long walk back towards the relative safety of the corridor. Just as he reached the threshold, however, he heard his master's voice once more.

"You are aware of the consequences of failure... ?"

The apeman gulped audibly. He lowered his head in deference.

"... Y-yes, Master."


The apeman practically ran the remaining few feet to the door, which almost noiselessly closed behind him.

Free of further distraction, the figure once more turned to face the panorama of stars he'd been contemplating before. His eyes focused on one star in particular... a star orbited by a planet heavily populated with beings such as him.

A star that, until recently, hadn't been a star at all.

"Yes... they will pay... "

He closed his eyes and leaned his eternally weary body back in his chair as an image began to form in his mind... the same image that had occupied his thoughts for over a year.

He'd seen it on the news broadcasts shortly after he'd reawakened. He'd seen the reports on the creation of Xenon's new sun... a feat only possible by the use of his creation. These had been followed by stories on the destruction of the "vessel that blew up the Arcada" and the recovery of the technical schematics for the "Star Generator" (pah!) by the Arcada's sole surviving crewmember.

A janitor.

The word kept spinning endlessly through his mind, seeming to mock him. His foolproof plan to recover his creation, and to wreak his vengeance on Xenon, had been foiled by a mere janitor!

As the familiar anger boiled up inside him, the image came into clearer focus. It was an image of a somewhat skinny man with dirty blond hair, clad in a janitor's uniform, and holding aloft what appeared to be a gold-plated mop. Surrounding him was a crowd of cheering onlookers, hooting and hollering as they applauded the new "Hero of Xenon"...

His mind's eye seemed to zoom in on the man's face. He was grinning like an idiot, holding the mop as though it actually meant something other than being a token trophy. He seemed genuinely proud of what he'd inexplicably managed to pull off.

As the figure's anger reached its peak, it gave way to a different emotion... glee. The figure began to chuckle... slowly at first, then with more gusto. It soon became a maniacal cackle that echoed through the corridors of the fortress.

He'd waited for over a year, but soon he'd finally have his revenge. His former comrades in the scientific community, Xenon, the galaxy; they'd all pay.

And Wilco would pay most of all.

Coming in Summer 2004

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