'He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you' -- Friedrich Nietzsche

The Hive, MY 2120

A Morgan scout rover sped along the rusty soil. Its occupants, captivated by the enormous mountain of rock in front of them that would soon be labelled Sunny Mesa, were oblivious to the silent moans and groans of an entire base operating beneath their feet. Down in the command centre, breaths were inhaled in taut tension as the rover drove over the external hatch, then exhaled in relief when the rover did not stop to investigate.

General Qui looked at the screens, preying on the unsuspecting Morganites like a lion might a wounded antelope. Any sign, even a seemingly insignificant action, that they had found something amiss and he would fire the blasters.

And then the rover was gone. Swallowed up by an impassive horizon.

"It has left our inner sensors, General." A nervous young functionary whispered behind him. "Should we continue monitoring it"

"Yes. For as long as possible." The general commanded.

A screen of to the right blinked, and on it appeared a pale face- a constraint of all Hive citizens. It looked relieved.

"General Qui?" The stuttering voice stumbled out of the speakers.

The General turned his attention to the screen.

"I am here"

"Sir, you told me to tell you when the mindworm attack on Great Collective had finished. We won, with few casualties and little structural damage"

"Very well. Dismissed"

The aging General rose from his seat slowly, as if an invisible man was pressing down on his shoulders. He swallowed. Beside him, the first functionary noticed his hesitation. He glanced upwards.

The General's head swivelled to face him before he could turn away, and, for one agonizing instant, the functionary felt his own mortality.

To his surprise, the General was smiling. A tight lipped smile that showed his yellow teeth.

"Into the lion's den." He said gruffly.

The Hive, Chairman Yang's personal command chamber

Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang did not stay in one place for long. Even while resting, he would constantly move rooms and never, ever, sat with his back to a door. The reasons for his paranoia should be obvious- he was a hard ruler that had squashed a lot of people from his power struggles in the Hive.

He had several monitoring rooms, a bit like the public command centre but each room was outfitted with more cameras and links with contacts all round the Human Hive.

One such monitoring room was off to the side of The Hive's deep passages, occupying a small space between a lump of impenetrable rock and a disused corridor. Chairman Yang sat hunched in the epicentre of the room, the shadows and light from the many screens both illuminating and concealing his features.

His eyes, those brown mirrors to the soul he did not believe in, were fixed on one screen in particular. A certain General was making the terrifying journey up to Chairman Yang's current location, a slip of paper in hand- that held the data readouts of the battle he thought he was informing Yang on- and a grim face gone pale from too many days under planetsurface and hard decisions.

He approached an unassuming black door, stopped to adjust his uniform, and lifted his right thumb onto a touchpanel. The door hissed open.

In response the Chairman swivelled his chair round. His whole face now covered in dark shadow. Of course, he had been the first to know about the results from the mindworm attack on Great Collective. Yet he wanted the good General to come to him. If he knew exactly why he was supposed to visit Yang, he would have run a mile.

"General Qui, what a pleasure. Do you have something for me?" Yang smiled, but naturally the generous social gesture could not be seen in the dim light.

"Chairman, I have the battle readouts from the mindworm attack on Great Collective. We successfully fended off the attack, with few casualties and little structural damage." General Qui said in one breath. He was by nature a fearless man, but by God, Yang did scare him.

"Very well, leave them by the door on your way out." A deathly pause. "But I have another assignment for you, General"

Qui looked up quickly, dark eyes sparkling with fear and curiosity.

"My agents have apprehended a Hive citizen that is under suspicion of breaking Act. 23. They have reason to believe she has been going on unscheduled trips to planetsurface"

Hive citizens were not generally allowed to go to the surface, for obvious enough reasons: they might get a taste of freedom, and fresh air had the unfortunate ability to open the mind. Occasionally, people were allowed to go there in guarded groups, if they had behaved.

Breaking any one of the sacred Acts was a capital offence.

Yang carried on. "We wish you to interrogate her… to see how many citizens this conspiracy has affected. Then kill her"

Sick to the stomach, General Qui nodded. He thought he knew who the citizen was, not that she was labelled a citizen anymore. "It shall be done, Chairman." He whispered.

"Citizen number ZY487P." At this the General visibly died a little inside. He looked as if he might fall to the floor, as if he had just been punched.

Yang felt little guilt about doing this to the man. He had not known him long. He was not one of the few people Yang considered a friend. The General was just a man, a flawed man that had been suspected of bending and overlooking a few rules broken by desperate Hive citizens. He had a big heart, for a Hive General. Yet he was talented and showed great potential, this was why he was being given a second chance. To show his ultimate loyalty to the Human Hive.

Another pause as Yang waited for a reply. Patiently, as if he was a caring father.

"Yes, Chairman"

Yang nodded. "Good. Don't go looking for a new wife right afterward, the Hive needs your full attention at the moment. Report to me when your assignment is complete. Dismissed"

Trembling, the General walked out. The Chairman turned his attention back to the screens.

For some reason his heart felt unusually heavy. He slipped his hand into his blue tunic, over his chest. He pulled out an amulet attached to a necklace. It was a simple necklace, just leather. The amulet was blue, made out of some of the last Earth sapphire, and was carved into the approximate figure of a dragon.

It glinted in the artificial light, arousing painful memories in the Chairman's mind.

The Hive was built on slavery. Everyday, in underground mines, thousands of people slaved away to maintain and expand this hideous empire. In only twenty years, Chairman Yang and his cronies had turned ambitious, inspired members of humanity into scared, meek moles. Everyone had to work to a schedule. People were assigned jobs and they were expected to complete them. From Commanders, to manufacturers, farmers and miners, each Hive citizen was expected to do his bit for the Hive. Likewise, each Hive citizen was scared that the dreaded secret police might come for them in the middle of the night, not that you could tell precisely what time it was without a watch. Even high ranking officials, and their wives, were not safe.

This terrible system was kept running by the factors of fear, hate, ambition and hope. Most of the day to day lives of most citizens were not bad, quite bearable in fact. Once you had worked your allotted workload, you were relatively free for the rest of the day, to pursue cultural activities, to pursue the opposite gender etc. But it was mainly the fear and the hope that kept this system running. The fear that the secret police might come, the fear that you would get downgraded to a drone and sent to the mines, and the hope that one day in the future your skills may get noticed and you may be promoted, or even just the hope that in the future you and your family will be still alive.

As the might of the Hive increased- or the Sapphire Dragon, as some citizens had nicknamed their empire- so did the cruelty experienced by more and more citizens. And thus did their individual confidence and self respect erode as well. It came to a point that only an external influence would save the Hive citizens from the might of the Sapphire Dragon.