Chapter 8 - Witchcraft
“Marisa has taught me well as soon as she had the chance to do so. The first time we talked about this matter, was when Leython and Marisa infiltrated on Seraphim Two. I still do not understand why the Avatar-of-War allowed them to make it there, but it is not of any importance to our current situation.” Answered Marisa.
“Before we spoke, I was like any other who now fights for Kael’s ideals – Yes, of course she has ideals. They are wrong, but it are her ideals.” She said when Josh opened his mouth in shock. “Marisa saved me from those ideals just in time though. When Kael assumed power, we both refused to fight at first, but eventually joined the military again because it was the only way we could make it out and reach crusader Rhiza’s Loyalists. Before we were sent to the Roanoke Abyss, we did not have any contact with the outside world because Kael was very cautious. While we were kept at work, Marisa told me as much as she knew, both on the battlefield as well as in The Way.”
“How can this be changed?” Asked Josh, thinking that if this would go on, the Aeon community could never find peace with the UEF and Cybran Nation.
“I am not sure. The problems lie within the heart of our society. If you try to change that too quickly, you will only tear the communities apart. If you are too slow, each generation will continue to resist against the few changes you try.” Selene said and Josh saw her determination fade.
“Unfortunately, that is the least of our problems. This is a war we have to win before we can even think about that.”
“I’m glad you made it here.” Said Josh and he didn’t really know why he was trying to cheer her up.
Josh had known the Aeon as his enemies for his entire life, but that changed with the end of the Infinite War. The Loyalists had become their allies and he even fought alongside some of them, but it never came down to a conversation like this.
“Thank you, but our ordeal is hardly over. We cannot permit ourselves to calm down and think we have made it through the war. We must concentrate on the tasks we have ahead of us, instead of think about each other.”
“Yeah, we must be concentrated, that’s true, but who says we can’t have something to distract ourselves from the hectic battlefield for some moments?”
“But you must not lose yourself in another one, major Funky. Friendship and love are not bad, absolutely not, but if you dwell in your feelings for another, you should be careful, to say the least.”
Selene explained him before his own mind did. He wondered what he showed, how she noticed he felt attracted to her even though he wasn’t sure he was. A short pause and a glance didn’t tell Josh much more about Selene or about his thoughts or feelings about her. He was confused a bit but the fact that he knew he was confused didn’t help him at all.
While Josh thought, Selene suddenly realized what she said. Worried that she had gone too far, she wanted to apologize to Josh for implying he felt attracted to her. She thought he was, at first, but wasn’t so sure anymore. Marisa explained how she’d usually be able to read a UEF citizen’s or a Symbiont’s true intentions from their tone or the way they looked, but Selene had just found out it was a lot harder than she originally thought.
“Anyway, this is the Loyalist’s hangar.” Said Josh and Selene woke up from her thoughts. Before she could say anything about the awkward situation, she stood in front of a couple of refugees who had just arrived. The robes of one of them showed Selene that there was a priest amongst them.
“A priestess!” Said Selene suddenly, seemingly filling the whole hangar with enthusiasm.
“Sorry?” Asked Josh immediately, but then he looked and noticed the difference in behaviour and clothing between the civilians and the woman Selene had been looking at. She made a more solemn appearance than the others, who had been very calm and decent by UEF standards alone.
“Oh, a priestess, I don’t know what the fuss about it is. We’ve got more Aeon priests here, so if you need to speak to someone, you’ll always be able to.” Said Josh.
“I should go back to Marisa.” Said Selene immediately. Before Josh could react, she already set a few steps.
“Are you sure you’ll find the way back?” He asked. Selene looked over her shoulder and told Josh not to worry. She left him in confusion.
The pristine island could have been a beach resort for the many wealthy citizens of the Earth Empire in its golden age. A perfect place to be, the symmetrical isle with its endless white beach, filled with palm trees inland. This miracle of nature was spared the worst natural disasters universe harboured, meteorites or comets were extremely rare, like earthquakes or the strongest hurricanes and the volcano that created the island was asleep for centuries by now.
Humans had made up for the lack of such disasters though. After the first had settled here, it had been a theatre of war for many moments in history. Short but violent battles showed how humanity’s only wish was to fight.
The war was the only reason to wage war on Sung Island. An appropriate name for an island unnamed by the Seraphim because it was the Symbiont called Sung who turned out to be the Seraphim’s rival though, since it had stopped QAI.
It was this quantum AI that had five ACUs moving across the island, each supported by exactly one thousand units and buildings, ready to stop any human commander to gate in at Sung Island. All engineers were slowly being replaced by support commander drones, as it turned out to take longer and longer before QAI would even find a hint of information on Sung Island.
The artificial intelligence noted the lack of Cybran structures on the location within a couple of minutes after its ACUs arrived and it was alarmed immediately. Not only had the phantom virus been stopped by a reversing program but as soon as that happened, the structures had disappeared.
QAI was alarmed by this piece of cunningness, work done by an unknown hand. It had been bested twice. Whatever had left its mark here, it was a step ahead of the quantum AI. Engineers dug deeper in the crater’s centre but found nothing. QAI continuously analyzed Leython Dygonn’s and Shilon’s files. They reported a massive bunker underneath the Sung node, supposedly filled with mainframes.
The sudden disappearance of the node itself was explainable. Cybran drones were able to reclaim the structures in a matter of minutes, but only at the loss of a huge amount of data. Not an issue for the node, since it had reached its goal: passing on the reversing program to see the virus being thwarted as soon as it left Nethirsanaii.
QAI didn’t have enough data to compile a solution for the reversing program at the moment, allowing the coalition’s protection to hold. The Phantom virus was useless and could not be used until the Sung node gave its secrets prize again and after hours, it would finally happen.
All earth above the bunker had been reclaimed and QAI noted the weak efficiency in the process of doing so. The same mass in experimental war machines could be drained ten times faster. However, before the Quantum AI could order its engineers to take the top away, the volcano suddenly seemed to erupt after more than two millennia of utter silence. The explosion instantly decimated the entire automated work force.
“Where did she just go to?” Said Josh out loud. As soon as he noticed the priestess stood next to him and had opened her mouth, the UEF major spoke again. “Please don’t answer that.”
“Do not worry sir, I expect she will be fine. She was confident.”
“Her answer was reassuring, that’s for sure, but I’d like to know what’s going on.” Josh expected the priestess to say not to worry but she understood his tone perfectly: “You are curious, sir.”
She said the blunt statement as politely as she could and it had its effect. Josh didn’t look offended at all. “I cannot deny that. This is part of being a commander.”
“I believe your curiosity comes from more than just being a commander.” The priestess said and the nearby Illuminate refugees immediately noticed the subtle change in his tone. It took Josh half a second to realize it as well but then he spoke again, pretending otherwise.
“What do you mean?” He asked, hoping to maintain a casual tone, but he either failed miserably or the priestess had heard him talk to Selene before she left.
“Your tone betrays that you have feelings for her. You may not think so by yourself, just that she is nice, so to say. But you might find out you feel more for her in the coming days.”
“Does the way I speak really make it that obvious?” Asked Josh, simply stunned by her explanation.
“This is one of my fields of expertise as I have trained myself, forgive me my arrogance, very well. That tends to give me an edge, not only to UEF citizens or Symbionts, who have never even heard about The Way, but to Aeon citizens as well. I... Can find out how commanders lie as well, even when they do everything to hide it.” Josh didn’t notice the brief pause and so he didn’t know that the priestess almost mentioned commander Elenes.
“She’s told me that things are pretty bad in the Illuminate.” He said. “Have you faced the same problems?”
“Whatever she has described, it is worse. No one has seen the horrors evaluator Kael brings down upon us, but the fact that we barely know what is happening tells us enough. Everyone is forced to follow her lead or to disappear. We both know what that means in these times. The disappearance of me and the other refugees is the best that can happen to anyone who opposes her. At least ninety-five per cent of the people who stand up against her dies.”
“How did you get away?”
“By opposing her from the beginning. It is an insecure path but eventually, you get an opportunity to leave. An opportunity you should seize immediately.”
“You’ve opposed Kael since X-day? Why didn’t they catch you?” Asked Josh, once again stunned by the priestess.
“I will not be found if I hide. No one ever managed to do that. No one ever will. I return in public when I see fit to do so, not otherwise.”
“That sounds an awful lot like Leython.” Josh said and the priestess politely mentioned she had to go but she didn’t ask who Leython was.
QAI had lost contact with Sung Island for a brief moment and it knew the nuclear explosion was an attempt to scramble all communications with its ACU drones. However, the vast AI had prepared for such an action years ago and a new channel was established in a fraction of a second.
The island was completely filled in smoke and it could take hours for all the dust to settle. The massive bomb had taken out the complete workforce and factories were already building one new engineer after another, ready to be sent to the heart of the crater to assess the result.
Dozens of mainframes were computing the possible results and the most likely one was that the bunker had been the bomb itself. The last piece of the Phantom node was probably gone, as well as the last chance to turn its virus in the Seraphim’s favour again.
Without any additional information, all mainframes were assigned a new task: to stop the quantum leeching device’s effects altogether as soon as the reversing program struck.
Two seconds later, the new quantum leeching device’s programs were computed and QAI’s solution was much simpler than the one it had sought to find before. Each device had been given a unique signature, much alike the ACU’s serial codes. As soon as one device had been hacked by the reversing program, it would self destruct, without giving it any chance to channel resources and information to the enemy. The Seraphim commander could then build a new one and the whole process would repeat itself as soon as the enemy reclaimed another unit.
The five ACU drones left Sung Island through their quantum gates, ready to serve a new purpose.
“So, what was all the fuss about a priestess being here, Selene?” Asked Josh. They were sitting in one of the mess halls in the headquarters and enjoyed the food they managed to steal from the Order in a raid.
Selene looked to her left for a brief moment and saw Leython and Marisa eating in silence, ten metres away, as if they had an argument. “Perhaps you do not know, but Leython and Marisa have been meaning to get married for a long time. Either by the Aeon standards or with the blessing of a UEF priest, they do not mind. There is little difference between the two cultures if you talk about that particular thing.”
“I see, this is the first time they get the chance?”
“They have actually raided the princess’ palace on Seraphim Two, so that she could marry them.” Selene said, keeping her voice low even thought she didn’t really have to in the noisy hall.
“She didn’t do that?” Asked Josh.
“No, I do not know if it was sheer luck that actually allowed them to talk with Rhianne Burke that night and allowed them to escape Marxon’s grasp less than an hour later, but they left the planet without marrying. Alive, but not married.”
“Don’t they want to marry by the princess’ blessing anymore?”
“One of the reasons for them to do that was to see to it that at least one person either Leython or Marisa knew would be with them at the time. Now Leython’s father is here and a couple of friends can attend the wedding as well. It is not going to be as much of a celebration as the marriages we know, but it is better than nothing.”
“You’ve told them, right?”
“Of course I have,” Selene said politely and she looked at Marisa and Leython again, who still hadn’t said a single word yet, “but I am not sure what they are going to do now. I have said we have more priests here, like you told me. However, like I said, Marisa’s reaction was not very clear.”
“They’ll not let us suffer from this minor problem, they’d never allow that to happen.” Said Josh simply and he looked at Selene. “We shouldn’t worry about them.”
“If we should not worry, why did you ask?”
“I’m curious. I wonder about anything that happens. Leython’s even worse in that though.”
“I see. In the Aeon community we learned not to ask too many questions.”
“You can’t ask too many questions. You just can’t. The more questions you ask, the more intelligent you are.”
“Even if it are questions with obvious answers?” Selene asked.
“Absolutely. There’s no such thing as asking too many questions. The only phrase related to that is ‘too much information’.”
“How so? If one cannot ask too many questions, how can one give too much information?” Selene asked but a disturbing thought already formed in her head.
“The look on your face already tells enough. Everyone is entitled to privacy.” Josh answered, knowing he could tell her an even more disturbing explanation, but he thought it’d be better to wait until Selene had grown a bit accustomed to the UEF.
Selene and Leython stood up and didn’t talk until they had left the mess hall.
“How are we going to find this priestess and why are you so sure it has to be her to marry us?” Marisa asked and Leython suppressed the urge to sigh. She had asked him ten times already and wasn’t going to let it go until he had given a proper explanation.
“I know I should say more, but I would rather not. And I really rather not say any other word about it, not here.”
“I should just follow you blindly?”
“Yes, but keep your eyes open.”
“Are you saying a simple priest is as mysterious as everything that has to do with Sung’s Phantom virus?”
“Oh yes, absolutely. In fact, I am surprised that finding her is as easy as finding the answer to our questions about the virus and its reversing program.”
“You do know what this means, Leython?”
“Yeah, this is witchcraft. A puzzle of logic and knowledge at its best.”
“Witchcraft?” Asked Marisa, clearly confused by Leython’s odd reasoning.
“That’s what we used to name it at school, the logic puzzles we made for each other. One harder than the other. Ours were so incredibly childish compared to what Sung has managed to do.”
“Yes, it is horrible to say, but his quantum leeching device became so famous that it is feared and has killed hundreds. He did manage to accomplish something with it.” Marisa said with a sinister tone.
“Yes, and Lyn’s disappearance has made it on the quantum network. Quite a lot people searched, but no one found her.”
“You too have no idea where she went, do you?”
“Absolutely not.” Leython said and Marisa heard pride in his tone. Not the pride of a teacher who thought about what his best student managed to do, but the pride of a young man who knew he had had the best teacher in the universe.
“You are not going to find her.” Marisa said after a brief moment of silence.
“No, I am not. I wouldn’t even dare to.”
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