Tisa ran away, crying. Sila stood near the window, looking at the two buildings that Raldir looked at all those times. She didn't make the faintest noise, sobbed endlessly.
Ecthellis left the main control room. He walked towards the elevator and pressed the button that would bring him to their apartment. When he arrived, he immediately continued to Tisa's room. The door was left open.
Ecthellis did not know what to say, buy luckily Tisa already spoke: "He said he had a plan to save the node. Now he's dead."
"Father's gone crazy..." Ecthellis said
"We've got to put an end to it!"
"Yeah, but how? I can't kill him like he killed his own son."
"For him, we're no children! For me, he's no father!"
"I..." Ecthellis started, but he had no words.
"Ecthellis, we've got to do something. If it goes on like this, [/i]he will kill anyone who disagrees with him. He's turned into a tyrant."
"I know that the node is in peril because of his mistakes, even though his plan was actually great. He should've thought of the consequences though. I'll talk to him and try to persuade him to start a second settlement. There's a great group of islands, some nine thousand kilometres away.
The radiation is almost completely nullified at that distance. We can grow food there and transport it back here. The right crops can be harvested within three months. Father will have to inform the people about the food situation. That will cause issues. The people won't be happy. If I can tell him about my plan and mention that we can solve these issues before anyone will notice them, then he'll automatically comply." Ecthellis concluded.
"That won't be enough just for now," Tisa said, "we've got to get rid of him. He may not control this node, this prison for much longer."
"How do you plan to 'get rid' of him? You can't just kill him!"
"I don't know." Tisa said. Ecthellis suddenly noticed that her desperate tone had returned in her voice.
Tisa was changing, psychically. She changed faster than other girls and differently too. It rally started when they went to this planet, when Bidard took his 'family' without asking their opinions.
It infuriated Tisa because made her feel worthless. She almost got into a depression. When she met her boyfriend, she came alive again. She knew she meant something, that there were others, apart from her family, who loved her. Her boyfriend had supported her and she learned to be determined.
She still had trouble with that, but was improving. Raldir's death had apparently given her the motivation to do something about the man who was supposed to be their father.
Only, she didn't yet know how...
"What have you done?! What have you done?!"
"I had no choice, Sila. I really had no choice."
"You did have a choice and you know it. You could've kept him here, then he didn't have to go in his ACU. Then you didn't have to irritate him so much.
If you didn't have to irritate him so much, he wouldn't have turned off the transmission. But why, why did you kill him?!"
"Sila, he was a threat to us. He could've attacked the node!"
"He would never do that! All he wanted was the node's welfare. He was a better man than you!"
"Sila, please, we've got work to do, ensure that the node will now fare well, despite for this sudden treachery. I've got things to take care of, business to attend to." Bidard tried to evade the matter, but he was too obvious and Sila cried in agony: "Yeah, right, you don't even think about us, about what else is in your life! I should've stopped you from the beginning. Then we'd still have our family in the Hexaplain node!"
Sila ran out of Sung's personal office room, angry and determined that she would never say a word to him again. But even she could not know that it would turn out that way...
"Father." Ecthellis said.
"Ecthellis, what is it? Are you going to blame me for Raldir's death? Are you going say that I should calm down with my experiments again? Or are you going to tell me that we mustn't put the people on a one third ration but have to get food in another way?
Whatever it is... I'm not in the mood, I need to think."
"Why do you want to think by yourself, father? It's a sign of strength if you know what you are and what you aren't capable of, if you accept other people to share ideas."
"What do you want to say with that?!" Bidard said angrily.
"I'm saying that it might be wise to ask others if they've got a plan." Ecthellis answered.
"Oh really? Then I'll get started immediately: do you have a plan?" Bidard asked.
"Yes, I do. In fact, I already started it. No, please listen!" Ecthellis said when he saw that his father wanted to cut him off. "I sent special scouting planes to a group of islands, nine thousand kilometres away. The ground there is useful to grow food. The right crops allow us to harvest a new batch before we run out of food here. The people don't have to know anything about the problem we face now. We will make tell the public of this new settlement of course, so that half of this node will go with me to this other group of islands. Two settlements are better than one."
"What if the crops are ruined?" Bidard asked.
"We've got three months to think about that, assuming that they are going to get ruined." Echtellis simply answered.
"We could raid UEF or Aeon settlements, but we can't attack with more than two ACUs. A strike team would be required as well, so an assault on the enemy, just for food, is too much work." Bidard said.
"Then we've got to fall back on the quickly processed... 'food'." Echtellis said, with the emphasis on the last word.
"No!" Bidard said loudly. "That won't happen! That stuff is just revolting!"
"Several nodes, if not most by now, seem to be fine with it."
"But I am not! One of my key points in the elections, was to reserve the properly grown crops, that almost made me win the last one in the Hexaplain node. If it seems that we won't get a nice batch of food from the harvest on those new islands, we'll have to act immediately. We might be able to raid a settlement after all, but that requires time to plan, so we must know what we're up to as soon as possible."
"What if we tell the people of the issues, so that they know something may be up ahead?" Echtellis asked.
"I'll make a speech, I'll explain it as a plan instead of a problem, then the people won't get... nervous." Bidard said, knowing that nervous would be a serious understatement.
"I will need people. Engineers, farmers, etcetera." Ecthellis told his father.
"You will have them. They will help the node immediately. They feel the same ambition and loyalty for the node as I do. If the plan works, the first expansion of our node is a fact."
Three months later...
"A batch of food is coming from the Vast Ocean settlement. The fifth batch today, sir."
"Our plan worked without a hitch, perfect. I will contact Ecthellis and tell him to give the final report." Bidard said and he closed the transmission with the newly appointed food coordinator. He immediately contacted his son:
"Don't talk to me like that, will you?" Ecthellis answered.
"Just tell me what happened this week."
"Nothing special. Anyway, we've got enough food. This region can support all three hundred thousand of us with ease. I think that we can eventually support more than a million, just here."
"That's good. Now, I need you here again." Bidard said, seeming to have forgotten that he and his son were talking about the food status.
"Science projects, Ecthellis."
"What's the plan now? Don't come up with something totally ridiculous."
"The QLD wasn't ridiculous."
"It seemed ridiculous in the first place, but please don't tell me you're trying to build walking ships or something like that, just to get rid of the days of work to get ship wrecks on the beach."
"No," Bidard answered, "that be stupid. I expect you to be here in two days."
The next day...
"No! Tell me it's not true." Sila cried.
"Yes, it is. I just found it out while I was checking the quantum network." The hacker answered.
"No, my family..." Sila said in desperation, and she walked out of the hacker's room.
In the main control room, Sila walked towards the windows where Raldir stood so many times. Her life had changed so much in so little time. Too much, too soon.
"Where is Bidard?!" Sila's loud words broke the room's relative silence.
"Mister Sung is currently unavailable. Can I take a message?" One of the officers said while he stood up from his chair.
"I have to talk to my husband! He is the only one who might[i] understand!" Sila said.
"He is currently unavailable, please calm down, it can't be that important, can it?"
Sila screamed in anger, did she have to tell these people? The ones who didn't really care about what would happen outside of the node? The ones who still had their family, here? She didn't have a choice however:
"The Hexaplain node has been attacked by the Aeon. It's completely destroyed. I must speak to Bidard, as he must know of this and inform the node of our loss!"
"I'll get him immediately madam." The officer said, who finally seemed to understand the importance of the matter.
For ten awkward and agonizing minutes, Sila paced up and down in the main control room. Of all those things that could happen, this was what she had to hear from a hacker who managed to break through the Phantom node's firewall.
How could it happen that the technical staff restricted this piece of information?
The Cybrans were all brothers and sisters. They shared the freedom, they fought for the enslaved, together. But they also shared the happiness and sadness. Then why was the destruction, the cleansing of the Hexaplain node, the loss of all those people, who were family of the civilians here, why was that held back? It happened a week ago already.
"What, how does she know?" Bidard asked angrily.
"You know of it too?!" The officer asked, shocked by the fact that Sung had apparently held back this crucial piece of information.
"Seven days ago, doctor Brackman informed me. I ordered the tech team not to let any of the news about the Hexaplain node to get through. If the people would know about this, the morale would plummet. We couldn't allow that to happen, just after we sorted out all of the issues with our food supply. Now, tell me, how could this have happened?"
"I think that it's a either a hacker who managed to evade the firewall, or one of the tech team got disloyal and told your wife." The officer said.
"Find this man, contact the tech team and ask for all information you might need. But first, go back to Sila and tell her that I am busy and I'll speak to her this evening." Bidard said firmly.
"Sir, she sounded desperate, perhaps it's a better idea to—"
"You heard me, I will speak to her this evening."
"What did you just say?!" Sila said, not believing the officer.
"He had no time." The man answered. He didn't dare to look straight in Sila's face.
"Where is he, where is he?" Sila demanded, her voice grew louder and louder with every word.
"Madam, I'm not allowed to tell you where he is at the moment."
Then, it happened. Sila flew into a rage. One that was worse than anyone had ever witnessed. Anything that stood in the room would be thrown across. Sila seemed stronger than any time before. She had a strength that wasn't hers, but caused by the fury that controlled her.
"Tisa Sung? Come to the main control room immediately! Your mother's gone mad!" The officer yelled while he knocked on Tisa's door.
"What?! What happened?"
"I just heard it too and please don't get angry with me, the Hexaplain node has been attacked by the Aeon. They cleansed it."
"No, it can't be..." Tisa said. Her uncles, aunts, nephews... All were gone.
The only family she still had, were Ecthellis, her boyfriend Lars and his family, who had lost half of his family too, so it seemed now.
"Yes, I'm sorry. At least I still have my family here." The man said, while he took her towards the elevator. "What's worse, it happened a week ago and your father tried to cover it up so that he would keep the morale at a high level, because we had just heard that the food production at the Vast Ocean has become a good success."
"Yeah, why would he ruin the happy moment with really important news? " Tisa said sarcastically.
"We're here, perhaps you can calm her down." The officer said when they arrived at the control room.
"Are you going to get him already?"
"Madam he still doesn't want to—"
Sila cried again. It was too much for her, it all went too fast. Her husband had left her to die alone. He never thought of her anymore. She was alone. There was nothing left.
Her life was ruined as much as the tables, chairs and consoles in this control room. The charming boy that Bidard Sung was, ceased to exist a long time ago. She should've known it and stopped the nightmare far before he even planned to colonize this planet. The more time that passed, the more relatives had passed away. Her mother, five years ago. Her father, two years later. Three months ago, Raldir. Now, everyone that stayed behind in the Hexaplain node. But she lived on to suffer more and more of this misery. It had to end. All of it.
Sila saw that the officers all stood together, unable to think of a way to stop her. Whatever she would do now, they wouldn't stand in her way. She had to do it. There was no other way out of this.
Before anyone could respond, Sila jumped upon an officer and took his gun. While running towards the windows, she fired at one of them. The window she hit didn't seem to budge, but she fired again, again. Again and again. The officers lost count while yelling her to stop, not to do it, as they already knew what was going to happen. But just as they expected, Sila didn't hear anything of what they said.
Finally, the window shattered. The glass mostly fell outside of the building, falling down hundreds of metres. Sila stepped forward, ready to jump, wishing that everything could end. Knowing that everything would end.
This time Sila did hear someone. Her own daughter. Could she do this, jump? While Tisa was watching it happen. Sila didn't wish anything but the best for her, yet she wanted nothing but to end it for herself.
She turned around, looking at Tisa. An eternity, a terribly agonizing eternity seemed to pass before she said something to her:
"I can't go on like this... You must bring him down, I can't do it." Sila turned around again, looking at the ground far below her.
"Mum! No! Don't do it!" Tisa screamed.
Again, Sila turned around.
"You have grown so strong in the last time. You have the strength to live though this misery. You can bring him down. You still have a brother. You still have the love of a nice and kind boy. You are able to overthrow Bidard, to lead this node out of this hell. The people will accept you as they have accepted him, but they know that you won't become such a tyrant. When you lead the node, it'll be in peace. Do it for everyone, Tisa, do it for Raldir. Do it for me..."
Tisa screamed again. Louder than she could even imagine, now that her mother had let herself fall down from the building. While falling down, Sila embraced her last moments of her life, knowing it would all end...
Saturday, the twenty fifth of March, 3020
"Milady Marxon, are you certain of your victory?"
"Yes, I may be on my own, but I leaked intel to the UEF, that the Cybrans are planning to assassinate the Federation president. That they are planning the attempt from here.
They will come here and distract the abominations while I will build my base of operations at my leisure. The fact that the Cybrans have got a base on this island already before I arrived, will be no advantage for the them.
Ah- my sensors indicate that they have just arrived. I will continue my work. Be in harmony, evaluator Ashira."
"Good luck, may you be blessed by The Way."
"Ok, we can get information by use of the quantum device. that part works, father." Ecthellis said.
"This avatar is fast, she already reclaimed the second wreck and has found the reclaimables to her east." Bidard answered.
"Let's get the drain of mass started immediately."
"The two UEF pilots have arrived, this will help us... just as to be expected, my plan works perfectly."
"What!? Ecthellis yelled, stunned by what he heard all of a sudden.
"I leaked fake intel to the Aeon, that we'd plan to kill the UEF president. As was to be expected, the UEF came and this third faction will turn the balance in our favour."
"Are you out of your mind?" Ecthellis said. Whatever Bidard's reasoning was, it put the node's citizens at a huge risk.
"Not at all." Bidard answered calmly. "I have planned this, that not only the Aeon will fear this place as soon as the Avatar-of-War is dead, but the UEF will fear us as well. Additionally, they will slow down the Avatar."
"But they will slow us down too." Ecthellis retorted. "If we want to protect our node, we've got to hurry up and build defences there. Your plan has backfired on us as much as it helped us."
"We will both survive and the QLD won't be lost. What do you worry about?"
"The node! The damn node! If the Avatar-of-War finds it, she'll decimate it immediately. They are more important than the success of the QLD."
"Ecthellis, you worry too much."
"Earth's Headquarters? Colonel Dilter here, I'm having an issue with my resource management. Colonel Remen is suffering from the same mass and energy deficit."
"How much do you suffer from the issue?"
"My mass income is hampered by eighteen per cent and my energy production's efficiency is down to about eighty three per cent."
"Sung didn't win because of tactical skills, but by the numbers he had due to the device and the fact that the Avatar-of-War wanted to kill Remen first." Leython summarised the battle in a single sentence.
"I thought that they employed a good strategy. As good as what I did when I fought against you."
"Moving forwards, backwards and forwards again? No, they weren't determined although they knew everything and could easily plan their strategy." Leython answered.
"I remember that I had difficulties when I was working with John, we didn't agree. That caused those funny moves. Bidard and Ecthellis were bickering all the time too, so that would indeed explain why they weren't fighting as well as they could." Shilon said, now noticing why his, and the Sung's battle was going so badly.
"Yes. the reason why you won against us, two weeks ago, was because we couldn't agree either."
"I was also fighting very well when I was on my own, better than I usually do. Finally, I used spy planes frequently. The real thing I excel at is unit management though."
"I realised that, you used strategic bombers to have four shield generators collapse by dropping bombs on a single spot. "
"Yeah, I did that again, four days ago, but I was sloppy with intel though..." Shilon said, recalling his inconsistent job with air scouting.
"I'm much better with intel. I know how to get the whole field on screen and how to counter my enemies. Managing single units in huge armies however, is not something I can do."
"Hmm, we could work together on the field then. Me on the front, giving you the required time to build up your intelligence field." Shilon offered.
"That'd be great, but first, we've got to find out what happened after the battle ended. We have seen why the Aeon would never return. The Avatar-of-War died an agonizing death. She knew it was coming, knew she'd be surrounded by tanks that literally formed a death squad." Leython said.
"George Dilter saw his beloved girl die in front of his eyes. He flew into a rage, attacked the Avatar with everything he had, including his ACU. The Avatar lost too much in that assault." He continued.
"I wonder who the next Avatar-of-War was." Shilon said.
"We might never know."
"True, but it won't be important for Sung's history."
Leython hardly heard Shilon while he walked to another console. He accessed it and made the system search for the folder 'speeches' again. Looking for the speeches with the same date mark as the first battle, he found one named 'first QLD test – victory!'.
"Ladies and gentlemen. The first battle has been brought to an end. We are victorious! The Avatar-of-War, Lisana, is dead! The UEF commanders are dead! But what's more important, the QLD works perfectly as planned! The device can be used to defend our node. Anyone who attacks us will be killed. Our node will, from this day forward, be known as the 'Phantom node'! The Avatar-of-War mentioned the word 'phantom' when she noticed her resources deficit. Both UEF, Aeon and Cybran commanders have feared the Avatar, now they will fear us, as we have defeated her.
The name of 'Phantom' will imbue our enemies with fear, we can now enjoy a calm and peaceful life. This island houses enough resources for all of us. This day's victory will mark history as the success of the Quantum Leeching Device, as the first victory of the Phantom node, as the beginning of the glorious era of Bidard 'Phantom' Sung!"
"Well, that certainly shows he values himself more than anything else." Leython said.
"Yes," Shilon answered, not even looking up from the console he had accessed in the meantime, "I've got a series of recordings here, notes that are made every day. Do you remember at what date Raldir Sung died?"
"Twenty sixth of March, same year. So that's the day after the first battle, why?"
"There must be a reason why this is now a tomb, even though it had the potential to flourish at its very foundation. It had the resources to support its people. The planet at their full disposal to expand, even though the nearest land is more than nine thousand kilometres away. They also have the best technology to protect themselves. The Aeon Avatar-of-War died and the Aeon never returned here. The UEF tried to assault this place for numerous times, but always failed. There is no strategic reason for how or why this node has been deserted, abandoned. The reason why the society here collapsed, must've come from the inside. Mutiny, or betrayal. Either one. Of course, odds that the Sung family is personally involved in that, are high." Shilon concluded.
"So you're trying to find out how it happened, by taking a look at what made Raldir Sung die? That makes sense." Leython said.
"Yes, I've managed to get every recording from the twenty fifth. It are quite a few. It looks like that every thirty minutes is saved with a different timestamp. This can become a long day."
"Not really, you've got to take a look at the recordings' names. Most are nameless apart from the date and time, but here are three that bear a special name." Leython said after he took a look from over Shilon's shoulder.
"I guess we'll start with the first one and then see if we've got to listen to the other two as well." Shilon said and he ordered the first recording, named 'Raldir Sung's deceit' to be played.
"Father, what, in the name of all that's free, have you done? Why did you lead the UEF in here?!" Raldir yelled. They were in the main control room at the top of the Central Tower, the node's most important building, where Bidard 'Phantom' Sung had housed the major governing body and where more than fifty thousand lived.
"Simply to make them fear us as much as the Aeon will do now."
"Don't you understand? The Aeon may fear us because you and Ecthellis managed to kill the Avatar-of-War, who is said to be the greatest Aeon strategic mastermind of our generation. Because that happened, you imbued the Aeon people with fear. However, the UEF is not like the Illuminate. They don't fear us because we've killed two colonels. Two good commanders, but nothing more."
"Yeah, and?" Raldir's father said with his famous demanding tone, which several political opponents had feared, when he still lived in the Hexaplain node.
"They will attack again, ultimately win."
"No they won't. We've got four command units. One will constantly patrol with a base it his side. Any incoming army will be decimated. If they reclaim a ship, the QLD will assist us, so don't talk such nonsense!"
"That's not the worst father!" Raldir said angrily. "The commanders lost mostly because they didn't fight with each other, against us. They were divided, which is obvious because they were Aeon and UEF, those don't fight so nicely alongside each other. However, when four UEF pilots will arrive, they will fight alongside and it'll be only a matter of time before they have found and transmitted the cause of their resources deficit and then they won't reclaim anymore!"
"Why do you worry so much? We've got a base at the beach and here around the node, around the crater."
"That won't be enough, four UEF commanders will kill us. Not only have you jeopardized the node already by gaining attention, you also risk all of our lives because the UEF will continue to attack us!"
"That's enough, you don't understand what I know!" Sung said, being as angry as his youngest son, nothing in his voice still resembled his tone of his famous political speeches. He almost seemed afraid of what his son told him. As if he knew that he was correct, from a certain point of view, but he didn't want to admit it.
"Of course you don't understand, you're not a very good commander, as you're not able to do much more but resource management, but this, what I'm going to tell you, is of the utmost importance!
We also need the UEF to continuously attack us. We must be able to test our weapons we will develop."
Raldir roared in anger: "What?! Do you want them to attack us, risk the lives of everyone in this node?"
"War requires us to sacrifice something to free gain something else, like freeing enslaved Symbionts. We need to test weapons against our enemies and we need to do so in our own territory, so that we can easily check our progress while we can still call upon our safety."
"If you free someone, but have lost the node because of your stupid tests, you have killed hundreds of thousands. That one person you freed is not really good if you have killed countless of others."
"Don't you dare to speak to me like that!" Bellowed Bidard. "I lead the node, I am the master scientists, I am the best strategist –"
"As the best, you should know better than to jeopardize all these lives." And Raldir pointed at the people working in the main control room, he pointed at the floor; underneath were one hundred and forty six stories. He then pointed out of the largest window, where he stood many times, to look at two other buildings that each supported life for more than another fifty thousand.
"You.. You don't understand anything. The QLD is our defence weapon that protects the node. We will not be destroyed."
"There's no one who can be absolutely sure of that..." A pause fell before Raldir spoke again, no one knew what the small note was that he had been given.
"You have already destroyed the node." Raldir said, in a tone that was engulfed in sadness. An angry Raldir never touched Bidard in the least, but now he seemed a bit surprised for a moment, but he quickly recovered.
"No way!" He said in denial.
"Yes! The UEF ACUs that exploded, caused radiation. Not as much as a nuclear explosion back in the twentieth century would cause, but still enough to contaminate the ground. The food we're growing can't be harvested. The crops that were spared in the battle are wasted because of the explosions. We can't support ourselves for longer than three months while we've got to wait for eight months before we can harvest a new, fresh and uncontaminated batch of food. Oh and you know that we can't fish, because the fish that do live here, are poisonous."
"Then we've got to put the people on a one third ration for the time being. We'll hold out. As I said, we've got to sacrifice something."
"I can't believe you! You seriously plan to sacrifice everything to reach your own plans, don't you?
Are you insane?"
The whole discussion was working on Bidard's nerves, but this was the limit. Although he didn't think so by himself, Raldir was right about one thing, anything that would stand in between him and his plans would be sacrificed remorselessly.
"Raldir Sung, you are banished. Your attempts to interfere with me have gone too far. You had finally gained my thrust when the first harvesting of crops brought a good result, but that you think that you know how to wage war better than me is the limit. Before noon tomorrow, you will no longer be on our planet."
"What is this?" Shilon was stunned.
"He banished his own son?" Leython asked, although he already knew the answer. Leython had heard and read of stories in which great leaders were the worst leaders. Those people had been corrputed by their own ingenuity, they were arrogant and couldn't be reasoned with. Anyone who was critical would be removed, mercilessly.
Others would probably have noticed Sung's wickedness even before he left to colonize this planet. It had become worse, Leython thought and Shilon agreed when he heard his former enemy's thoughts. Bidard Sung had become a bit too crazy since his plans seemed to work.
He could've become 'dangerous' even before the first successful test of the QLD. The people would have feared him when he noticed that he was almost always right. The victory made him think he was invincible, that was the reason for him to proclaim himself phantom. Anyone who stood up against him, disagreed with him, even thought ill of him, would have to leave. Raldir was the first one but didn't even make it off planet alive... Yet why?
"I found something else." Shilon said and Leython woke up from his thoughts.
"What is it?"
"A passage from a conversation in Tisa's room." Shilon said.
"Were they doing that to everyone? Listening? Taking away their privacy?"
"Pretty much anti-Cybran, don't you think? No, I think that she recorded her own conversations, perhaps as some sort of a diary." The Symbiont mentioned.
"Then what is it doing there? Isn't a diary supposed to be private?" Leython asked.
"I'm not sure about that. Regardless, this title implicates a conversation of Tisa and Raldir. It might explain what Raldir planned, but went wrong."
"Tisa, don't cry. You'll see me again. I'll make sure of that. It won't take long before you can make your way out of here as well."
"It's not like I'm gone for the rest of my life. Father will know that he needs me. If I am gone, things will go downhill with the food management. He wants to put the entire node on a one third ration. People will revolt, that's for sure and then you can easily persuade father to get me back." Raldir said
"I can't persuade father, you know that. What if he banishes me too, or worse?"
"He won't, I'm sure of that. If the whole node is in crisis, then the people will stand up. When that happens, you can persuade him."
"What if he doesn't listen. He doesn't listen to us at all, did you know that?" Tisa asked desperately.
"For our entire life, mother always took care of us, it was always her. Did he ever play a game with us? It was always about his career. I'm fifteen now and I even know my boyfriend's father better than Bidard. You know I have only met mister Vedder three months ago, two weeks after I met Lars. Whenever Lars wanted to play a game of chess with his father, he always made some time.
Not with him," Tisa glanced upwards; five stories higher, their father was at work, "he always sacrifices everything for his job. In the last eighteen years, he had participated in the elections for presidency in the Hexaplain node and he always lost. However, he was always appointed to secretary again and he tried again and again. The losses made him more and more frustrated and eager to finally win. He came back home late, after working at office and then planning his political agenda. He left before we were even awake. Sometimes, I didn't see him for more than a week.
You know it, he doesn't listen to us. The only time he even talked with you or Ecthellis, is when he had to discuss the progress in food management or the development of technology. Even then, he always did everything within his reach to make you agree with his plans. It is ridiculous, to find out that he never spoke with us to ask if we had a nice day. When I told him I had a boyfriend, he only said 'great' without even looking up from his console!"
"Tisa, don't forget one thing, he still is our father and –" Tisa cut her older brother off immediately.
"Our father? He doesn't seem to realise that. He doesn't seem to realise that we're relatives, he doesn't seem to realise that I am his own daughter! He doesn't treat us like children, so he isn't a father for me in any way. You are so naïve Raldir, believing he recognizes us as our children!"
Silence. Raldir didn't know anything to say. Tisa was right. Never had their father played hide-and-seek with them, back in the Hexaplain node. Never had they played a game of chess. Or Monopoly. Never had he even told them a little story before bedtime.
"Perhaps we can't persuade him." He finally admitted. "But the people have to know that he may be able to protect them, but they won't like to live here for very long."
"But how, how can we tell the truth without getting into trouble."
"I don't know, don't forget that I can't work from the inside anymore. I have to be gone within eighteen hours."
"I can't do it without you Raldir." Tisa squealed.
"You won't be doing it without me, I'll speak to you every day if need be." Her brother tried to reassure her.
"I.. I don't know. Can't I leave too?"
"No, of course not, you have to help the people. That's what you're so good at. Help them by any means possible. Ecthellis has got a creative mind, albeit not too creative to be good for him. He still understands the reality, unlike father. Ask him to help you. You can do it, I'm sure of that."
"When are you going to leave? Right now, or will you wait for the final moment?"
"I'm going to take my ACU tomorrow morning and then I'll build a base, a quantum gate and then I'm going back to the Hexaplain node."
"Are you sure you can take your ACU? Is that safe to do? Wouldn't he want to keep it with him?"
"When I'm in my ACU, there's nothing he can do against it."
"That would answer the question." Leython said.
"How Raldir tried to make it off planet and how that ended in failure. He stepped into his ACU, but the person who was on the field, patrolling, would probably have been given the orders to kill him."
"What?! Would Bidard Sung, his own father, kill him?" Shilon asked, unable to grasp the truth.
"Oh yes, don't forget that he is not their father, as Tisa said." Leython answered with a grim face. "He is not the one who spent time with his family. He only thought of his career and his sons as a tool in his plans. Now that the tool named 'Raldir' has broken, he wants to get rid of it. He probably thought that of Raldir as a thread when he stepped in his ACU and then ordered him to be killed."
"This is so wicked. It's sick and wrong." Shilon said.
"I know." Leython replied at the moment he saw that the recording's ending started a new recording:
Sunday morning, the twenty sixth of March, 3020...
"Sir, you are not authorised to be here. Please leave immediately."
"What? Why am I not authorised to be here?"
"Phantom Bidard Sung's orders. We are supposed to keep you away from here. I must add to it that you're supposed to be away from this planet before noon."
"I very well know that I've got to get out of here. Now just let me pass so that I can."
"Sir, we can't let you leave with your ACU." The officer said, immediately understanding how Raldir wanted to leave. "You are to leave by personal quantum travel. You are allowed to enter the coordinates of destination, but that's how you've got to leave."
"I will go with my ACU. It is my ACU after all, not the node's one."
"Sir, we can't allow you to go there." Another officer said, but Raldir was prepared for the resistance. He quickly took his gun and fired twice, the blue lasers stunned the officers, who wanted to stop him, before they could react.
Engineers and other officers saw what happened and they stood still, watching as Raldir stormed towards his ACU. He still had to go up the hangar's stairs to reach the cockpit, more than twenty metres higher, while some officers grouped together and fired stunning shots at him. The shots hit the metal stairs however and Raldir made it safely into his command unit.
"What?! He's in his ACU?" Sung said angrily, while patrolling around the island. He already expected that Raldir planned to leave the planet by command unit. He therefore warned the guards at the hangar and ordered them not to let him through. To make sure that nothing would go wrong, he also mentioned that he would take patrol duty for Sunday morning, just in case that Raldir actually made it in his ACU. The fact that it happened was surprising nonetheless.
"Yes sir. He is now moving out of the hangar and making his way towards the outside of the island. I think he's going to build a base."
"Leave it to me."
"I said, leave it to me! I'll deal with him!"
"Raldir Sung, leave your ACU immediately! You are banished and you should leave by personal quantum travel."
"Why? Why am I not allowed to take my ACU with me?"
"The ACU has been confiscated by the Phantom node. Leave it immediately."
"No, you've given this ACU to me some months ago, I'm not going to give it back. I'm going to build a quantum gateway, the liquid ion reactors for the energy to leave the planet, then I'm out of here. You should agree with that!"
"I don't agree with it, leave your ACU now or I'll take you out!"
"If you do that, you'll contaminate the ground with radiation even more. Then you've got to do it without fresh food for two extra months."
"There will be other opportunities to get food and we can ration it. We will not have this discussion again, Raldir. Leave your ACU immediately."
But Bidard's youngest son didn't leave his ACU. He moved on and built several mass extractors. Then he constructed power generators and started to upgrade his ACU with the engineering suite for advanced structures. All the time, Bidard warned him more and more, but when the upgrade was completed halfway, Raldir had enough of it and switched off his transmission.
If he hadn't done that, he could have managed to leave the planet with his ACU.
"No! Officer, contact my husband, he must call off that attack!" Sila yelled.
"He's not responding. The Phantom is ignoring all transmissions. We can't do anything." An officer answered.
"Isn't there any sort of emergency code to contact him?" Tisa asked.
"I'm sorry." The officer said.
Both mother and daughter saw how Bidard Sung continued the attack with the Silvano type two bombers. They continued to bomb Raldirs ACU, which couldn't bear all the damage. It kept moving towards the water, but the Silvano bombers' speciality was that it could drop both normal bombs as well as torpedoes.
When the ACU was just meters underwater, everyone witnessed how the father of no one let the bombers make their final run and so how he murdered his own son he didn't recognize...
"Shilon, my boy, are you listening?"
"Oh, yes doctor, I'm sorry." The Symbiont answered.
"You seem distracted."
"Yeah, well, I've got a question."
"What is it?"
"Could I speak to the man I rescued?"
A silence fell. Brackman had expected the question, but it didn't make the situation any easier. Leython Dygonn was at the Three-Rivers node and intel suggested that the Aeon were planning an assault on the node.
Any quantum travel might put the node at an enormous risk.
There was another problem. Shilon was a honest man and his first words would be apologizing ones, for the two comrades he had killed.
Brackman couldn't predict how Leython would be in such a case. Would he still be the calm person he was when the doctor talked with him about the battle? When Brackman tried to say that he was sorry for Leython's loss of his comrades, the UEF pilot told him not to be, apparent to know how 'unfair' live and war could be. Yet, how would Leython react when the killer himself showed up?
"I'm sorry Shilon, I don't know if Dygonn would remain calm if you introduced yourself to him. Perhaps the wound would heal better if he doesn't know who the killer of his former comrades is."
"Wounds will never heal if the matter is not dealt with." Shilon answered and doctor Brackman was thrown more than eight hundred years back in history.
Saturday, the ninth of January 3019...
"Doctor Brackman, doctor Brackman!" Tisa cried. She was desperate.
"What is it, my dear?" Brackman answered the incoming channel immediately, knowing it came from the newly discovered planet. Secretary Bidard Sung had left his node to colonize the new planet. He had taken his family and a vast group of acquaintances with him.
Sung was a scientific mastermind. His experience matched Brackman's. However, his political abilities were just as good, but with that came a bad trait of overconfidence. Sung tolerated no people who spoke against him.
Sungs political efforts made him powerful nonetheless. He gained much support, yet never made it to president.
When the planet was discovered only six months ago, Sung wanted to colonize it.
Still upset about the lost election, three months before the discovery, hundreds of thousands of supporters went with him. His wife and three children had no choice but to go as well.
As good as Sung's business went in science and politics, as bad as it went in his family. constant arguments between father Bidard and sons Raldir and Ecthellis had nerved mother Sila and daughter Tisa more than anything else. The three men only bickered.
Now, Tisa called Brackman, desperate for help: "They're going on again. Father has given the food management to be overseen by Raldir, but he's telling him that he's doing everything wrong, while it goes on nicely.
Father is also discussing the latest improvements in quantum physics with Ecthellis and they just can't agree on what technical devices can be made now. Ecthellis is telling father not to be so hasty with new technology but he, in turn, tells my brother to accept technological change for once. I must say, a device to drain mass from a distant place is very farfetched, especially with using only quantum technology.
The arguments are getting worse now. I hate it to be here. I want to get out! Help me doctor!"
The desperate call for help left Brackman stunned. One of the few positive things in the last decades for the Cybran nation and Sung's personal affairs were about to ruin it. Of course, Brackman didn't know that things would spin out of control so badly.
"All the time. When Vedder fought against the UEF. When Redain died, while you suffered from the weak mass field. When you fought on Sung island. When I talked with Dygonn. When I spoke with him about all three battles. All the time I thought about the successful Sung and his quantum leeching device. I thought about how powerful the Cybrans could become and that we finally could free all Symbionts in a short time span.
Now you said this, I finally know what the device has brought. Nothing but death, grief and perhaps even hate. Your words bring back memories, how a girl and two boys are imprisoned in their father's affairs and how I was unable to do anything.
Your words have opened an old wound and imbued it with poison. I have not yet ended a matter that should have been closed eight hundred years ago.
I will contact the Three-Rivers node and arrange a meeting with Dygonn for you.
After you have settled everything with him, you and he will go to Sung island. You will find out what technology is there. That will be the key to closing the matter. I will note down everything I remember that Tisa Sung has said to me. Perhaps, I can find locations where the two Sung brothers went to.
I don't have the intention to use technology to free more Symbionts faster, only to close this chapter in the infinite war for everyone involved."
"Mister Dygonn? Are you awake?" Torino asked. He had received disturbing news: the man who had killed his comrades two weeks ago, was going to take him on an excursion. Leython seemed calm for all the time, but had not been confronted with this man directly.
The other problem was the Aeon threat.
"Yeah, I'm awake, what is it?"
"A person will come to see you and plans to go back to sung island with you. He is your former enemy."
"Ok, can we talk before he's coming over here?"
"Of course. What do you want to ask to me?"
"No, not the two of us, but me and my... 'enemy'?"
"You want to talk with him via the quantum network?"
"Yes." Leython answered from behind the still closed door.
"I'm sorry, but we have to keep transmissions very limited because of the recent Aeon threat."
"How does he plan to get over here then? By foot? Quantum travel is detected more easily than just some conversation over the network."
"That's true, but Brackman came up with a plan. When he will arrive here, in his ACU, other Cybrans will initiate an assault on the Aeon, keeping them at bay for the small time span that we need to get you out of here and relocate our cities."
Leython had experienced the secret technology a week ago: intel started suggesting an Aeon assault. The cities were on the move at any time. He had an idea of the issues with a conversation through the quantum network.
Small 'notes' would mark the point of origin and the receiving end for less than a second, making it nearly impossible to calculate the coordinates of the both ends. A conversation would take long enough for others to pinpoint the target.
The quantum travel of an ACU gave such a high signature that one could decipher the gating coordinates on a planet without too much issues.
Apparently, the Cybran wanted to go to sung island and prioritized it so much that Brackman arranged the meeting. The Aeon would surely use the situation to their advantage and attempt to cleanse the Three-rivers node. To prevent that, the Cybrans would keep their enemy busy at their own planets, long enough to get the capital city away from the gating coordinates, both the coordinates of both the gating in and gating out points. After a couple of hours, the city would be away too far for the Aeon to catch up. Additionally, the gating of the other ACUs would relatively hide the signature of the commander who would go to take Leython on a small expedition.
"Mister Dygonn, is something wrong?" Leython woke up from his thoughts.
"No... yes. I want to see the face of the one who killed my friends but saved me. I remained calm because I wanted to have questions answered. I'm sure that, when speaking with this person, my question s will be answered, but I don't know what I will do next.
I guess I just have to await the confrontation. I just want to ask, can you have two strong guys at my side to keep me under control in case I flip?"
"There isn't time for that. Shilon will come, take his ACU to the city and leave immediately. He can do so because the quantum wake when gating in won't reach to the city's gate. As soon as he arrives, you'll have to hop in and then it's 'good luck' to both of you."
"Quantum gate online, the ACU can leave the planet." Ibann said. "Then we can get on the move again. I'm glad that Dygonn's away now. The fact that he knows about the moving city technology is bad. If he tells the UEF..."
"If he goes back to the UEF, he won't tell. He can't betray us just like he can't betray his old friends."
"I hope you're right about that, Torino."
"Don't worry, you'll never despise him, perhaps you'll even thank him someday."
"You're comfortable? Good. I'm moving towards the gate. We'll be back on Sung Island in twenty seconds."
Until they arrived at their destination, neither Leython nor Shilon said a word. The silence was the most awkward moment in Leython's life so far: he was alone with the man who killed two comrades, almost killed him too, but rescued him at the final moment, by Brackman's orders. In turn, Leython had attacked the other Cybran with his fleet, knowing that the ACU was underwater. This had led to the death of Shilon's friend.
"So your name is Shilon, right?" Leython asked when they had finally arrived.
"I heard of your name only two hours ago, when the assistant of president Ibann, Torino had told me what the plan was."
Shilon didn't reply to what Leython sad.
"What exactly are we going to do here?" Leython asked.
"We're going to settle things." Shilon answered, while constructing his base, he gated in at Shaldon's former base, that now displayed the huge black scorch marks created by the Cybran nukes.
"And to do so, we've got to go back here? I wouldn't have minded to talk at the Three-Rivers' capital. Then we could've been kept under control in case we'd get into a brutal fight."
"We won't get in a fight. I'm too calm and rational for that, you're too smart for it. Additionally, I'd lose because you know how to fight when not in an ACU." Shilon answered calmly.
"Well, I might be able to fight better, but I've got no chance with my bare hands, you've got a gun."
"You're a bit paranoid. That's very good as long as it doesn't get much worse." Shilon said and he pulled his gun.
Shilon stood up, climbed to the top hatch of hic cockpit, opened it and threw the gun out. It fell in the burned sand.
"Now," Shilon said after he sat again, "that makes us even. Let me explain what we're going to do here."
"We're going to settle things, you said." Leython said while he watched how the engineers were reclaiming the last remains of Shaldon's base.
"Yes, but I haven't said what we're going to settle. Of course, this battle could give use hours to talk. There is more though, something that'll take us days, if not weeks."
"What is that?" Leython asked..
"Sung. Warlord Sung. The great Sung, or secretary Sung, if you want to name him by the title he had in his old node, the Hexaplain node."
The node doesn't exist anymore. Doctor Brackman had given me the information he could find or remember in the last hour before I gated to the Three-Rivers node. I know that Sung had two sons and one daughter, he was an excellent quantum physics scientist and a good politician, but a horrible father or husband."
"You couldn't wait for a bit longer because of everyone's safety?"
"Exactly, and sending the information now would be too dangerous for us. The Aeon are under attack by a small group of excellent commanders, but afterwards, they'll spare no effort in tracking us down. We've got to make it hard for them. Very hard."
"So we're here to find some clues on what Sung did here?"
"Yes, then we'll find out how much of this myth about the device we fought for, the QLD, is true."
"Nothing of it, my general said it to me just before I 'died'."
"Hehe," Shilon chuckled, " no trace of it exists right now, but what about the history? We might find that, and more, out by going to the node on this island, in the middle of the crater."
"There's a node in here? I didn't see it in my UEF ACU."
"It's stealthed and automated defences give some protection, so you have to want to go to there to find it in the first place. You must know about it beforehand. Vedder, who you and your comrade killed, knew about it. I don't know how, but that's not important now. There are some mass spots, there, which are hidden from normal sensors too. You can see them if you go there with some units though."
"Enemy coming in!" Leython yelled. Shilon had just built his radar tower and a gray dot already appeared on the intelligence screen.
Shilon responded faster than Leython had seen anyone doing in years. He added five hunter light assault bots together, ordered them to move towards the enemy while he sent an air scout as well.
"It's a Cybran engineer, with white stripes. The same stripes as the Cybran defences have, over there in and around the crater."
"I know about abandoned cities that still have active defences, but this is highly advanced. That engineer has got the same looks as yours."
"I'll move in and examine it more closely...."
Several seconds passed before ACU and engineer had met.
"It is the same. This can't be, a city is all that's there, how can it control more than basic defences?"
"I can think of only one explanation: It's got an ACU control unit, that is automated with some orders."
"Perhaps, but how is everything kept up to date?"
"There's only one way to find out. We have to go in there and check out the buildings."
"Let's go then." Shilon said and he ordered his air factory to upgrade and construct a tier two air transport.
"I'm glad that those defences don't fire at Cybran units." Leython said while Shilon walked his ACU towards the centre building.
"Yeah. Otherwise, Sung island would now have killed two more pilots, bringing the total of this year to five."
Leython felt that neither of the two wanted to directly talk about the way they had lost their friends, thanks to each other. However, they could never freely talk and work together if they couldn't resolve this matter.
Either of them had to start. Leython decided to cut to the case now...
"Do you resent me for what I have done?"
Shilon understood what Leython wanted to talk about, but the sudden direct question caught him off guard. He still spoke with his usual calm voice.
"No, do you hate me for killing your friends?"
"No, why do you not hate me?" Leython asked.
"Why should I hate you? The war claims victims every day. We are both very aware of the risks and dangers in battle. We accept the facts. I am emotionless and doctor Brackman said that you are without real feelings, although he admitted that he didn't know how you would react if you'd see the killer in front of you all of a sudden."
"How does he know that? I have never said that directly to him. I only spoke of my sword mastering study I had in Japan, on Earth."
"Brackman 'lives' for more than a millennium by now. He knows a lot, an incredible lot. Including Japanese culture and common human knowledge. From what you told to him, he knows that you're emotionless. From –" Shilon wanted to continue, but Leython cut him off:
"Of course, I forget how good I am at that by myself. Know how someone talks and walks and you know how he fights in battle. It works the other way around too. I learned about it in Japan and I may be incredibly thankful for learning it there at all. Never had a person who isn't born in Japan, been trained in their art of sword fighting.
I was special. A perfect successor, Lyndis thought. She was emotionless, but she did have some feelings, yet purely practical. To know how someone else was. Her personal self was not so important. I am a perfect successor. I'm exactly the same. Only I do care about myself and my own comfort.
We had trouble with that difference, but respected each other nevertheless.
Who I am is thanks to her. I am so in battle and you're right, we're too calm and emotionless to get angry at each other."
Leython paused for a moment before continuing.
"We accept the fact that we're enemies."
"Or were." Shilon said.
"But, can we be friends?" Leython asked.
"Oh yes, of course. The two of us together would make the best friends, if we'd just not feel guilty and get onwards with life."
"So, it'll just take time, eh?"
"Nah, more than that, time will never heal wounds or make you leave the past completely. The battles on Sung island prove that to Brackman. Now, we're going to find out how this place turns people's lives into a hell."
Shilon and Leython walked into the centre building. They had access thanks to Shilon's implant. Security cameras that still worked recognized his Cybran implant and the doors opened. They both felt like they were entering a tomb.
They were right.
It didn't take long for Leython to see a holographic image of a UEF, Cybran and Aeon icon.
A list was placed below each icon. The Cybran list was much shorter than the UEF one, but the Aeon list had only one name.
"List of casualties in the Sung Island battles." Shaldon said, pointing to the words on the large table which was placed below the hologram.
"The hologram is rendered from this table. It's a console, this whole thing. The UEF list, Shaldon and Simon Beck, the ones you killed, are all down below, look at the date. The second of August, that was two weeks ago." Leython said
"John Vedder, was my comrade, you killed him with... Simon, right? The first one I finished was the one who sent the strategic bombers, wasn't he?"
"Yes, but look at the Aeon name."
"Lisana Marxon?" Shilon asked.
"The current Avatar-of-War is named Marxon. I heard it when I finished off an Aeon commander, the transmission was still open and this girl begged him for help. More than that, we don't know about the mysterious guy..."
"This Marxon's got to be a predecessor. She died later than these two UEF colonels. George Dilter and Stephanie Remen, but they died all on the same day."
"Look at the first casualty on the Cybran side." Leython said.
"Raldir Sung? He is one of the sons."
"What's the father's name?" Leython asked.
"Bidard Sung." Shilon answered. "Brackman gave me all the names. The mother's called Sila, the daughter is named Tisa, the eldest brother is Ecthellis and the youngest is Raldir."
"Ok, it looks like Raldir is the only Sung who died in battle in here. Others could've been killed in a different way, I think that this is just the list of people who died in the ACU, on or around this island." Leython said.
"Yeah. Now, we've got to find something that tells us what happened in this building, within these walls. What made that this place brought more than four times the UEF casualties than Cybran deaths?"
"And did that same thing keep the Aeon away since the death of Lisana Marxon?"
"And what killed Raldir Sung?" Shilon said, knowing that answering these questions could very well raise even more questions.
Perhaps he and Leython could find a bathroom and somewhere to sleep. It was technically not necessary, but no bad luxury.
It was not so late however and Leython had already moved on to a console close to a wall.
"I found something!" He said. The console contained a series of files, when Leython accessed it, it displayed a folder named 'speeches'.
"You don't need brains to tell what files those are." Shilon said, when he took a look at the screen. "Let's hear one of those recordings."
"Take a look at this!" Leython said excitedly.
"Quantum Leeching Device introduction. That's interesting!" Shaldon said, being as excited as the former UEF pilot.
Thursday, the twenty third of March, 3020...
"Ladies and gentlemen, today, I bring you the Quantum Leeching Device. An incredible weapon in battle. Intelligence suggests that the Aeon Avatar-of-War, the infamous Lisana Marxon, wants to cleanse our node, as she recognizes our technical mastermind. She wants to... 'kill two birds with one stone'.
Thanks to the Quantum Leeching Device, the Avatar-of-War will not succeed. She will fall into a trap and be defeated, by me and my oldest son Echtellis."
Bidard Sung paused for a moment to impress the crowd...
"One may wonder, why using only two ACUs if the island holds place and resources for five and we have four excellent commanders? The device will give enough of an advantage for two commanders versus three, so it will definitely be enough to take out one enemy. How? To answer that question, I will explain what power is housed in the Quantum Leeching Device. The device creates a quantum channel between its point of origin and its destination. It is, in fact, an interplanetary gateway, on a scale to be used with the ACUs range. The effect is the same as the quantum network that humanity uses for so long already.
Information, energy and mass can be transported via the small-scale channel.
If the device is placed in an enemy engineer, it can hack in the enemy's building blueprints and be built in those structures while the enemy builds them.
If that happens, we know where the building is, we can see what it registers. The enemy power generators can be disrupted, reducing the capacity with twenty per cent. We can do that, but we can also drain their mass from the mass extractors. Since we can store mass, but no energy, we won't have a direct advantage with disrupting their energy flow, but we will have an increased mass income by draining their's. In both cases, the enemy's a income will decreased by twenty per cent.
The device has got two drawbacks, but they will be taken care of.
The first is to get it into the enemy system. It has to be brought there first. It will happen by shipwrecks that are be placed on the beach. Enemy engineers will most probably reclaim them as soon as possible, for their personal gain. The ships won't give much mass, but a virus will be transported into the enemy's system and then the draining will begin.
The other drawback is the maintenance cost. To drain twenty tons of mass per second, we require a fully operational ion reactor to work at its full potential. Expensive indeed, but because we have built those in the crater and stealth fields are active, our income is certain, our advantage is a fact and the defeat of the Avatar-of-War will be inevitable. All thanks to our latest weapon, the Quantum Leeching Device. This weapon will bring victory!"
"So the device existed and perhaps still exists..." Leython said.
"Yes, if we find it, we'll report to Brackman and ask what to do next. Perhaps we've got to destroy it."
"Because it will be desired too much?"
"Yes. Now, what do we have more?"
"The only interesting thing I see, is 'arrival – first speech', want to hear it?" Leython asked.
"Actually, I wanted to know how the battle exactly ended. Marxon did die, but what was the sudden UEF appearance?"
"Let's go and try to find a central control room. If we can find something, we'll find it there."
Tenminste, voor zover ik het weet. Dan moet ik wel zeggen dat ik niet weet hoe veel effect het heeft gehad, gezien ik ook niemand zich heb horen ergeren over het feit dat ze ze wéér gebeld zijn door iemand die wil weten hoe het afwasmachinetablettenverbruik in de Nederlandse huishoudens is.
Ik heb zelf nog nooit een telefonische enquête geweigerd: mijn ouders namen altijd op, ik niet.
Vandaag heb ik echter kennis mogen maken met wat ik zie als directe telefoonspam. We kennen het op internet. Via mail, flitsende advertenties op websites en XKCD. Maar nu is het bij mij ook aangekomen op de telefoon.
Iemand belt op, vraagt nogmaals hoe ik heet (een van de weinige zinnen die ik van hem verstond) en begint vervolgens als een idioot te praten. Hij vraagt of ik mijn post regelmatig open, waarop ik direct vraag of dit een telefonische enquête is.
Hij valt voor een paar seconden stil en gaat niet op de vraag in, maar hij zegt dat ik in de eindronde zit.
"Waarvan?" Het enige waarvan ik ooit in een eindronde heb gezeten waren de laatste speelronden van bordspelen en Turn based games, alvorens de winnaar het spel beëindigde.
Ik vraag hem dat niet maar ik vraag waar het over gaat. Daar krijg ik wel een half antwoord van maar dat is, zoals ik al zei, half. Enerzijds omdat het slecht te verstaan is, anderzijds omdat het alleen gaat over de prijzen die ik kan winnen...
Ik vraag hem nogmaals waar het over gaat maar dit keer raast hij maar door, zonder dat er één zinnig woord uitkomt, tenzij je nu wel doorhebt dat het spam is.
En dat had ik door, maar omdat ik niet onbeleefd wil zijn, vertel ik dat ik wil weten waar het over gaat, anders hang ik op. Opnieuw krijg ik niets nuttigs te horen. Dan maar onbeleefd zijn. Het laatste wat ik hoor is dat ik ergens een voorschot van ¤50,-- voor moet betalen.
Ik vraag me af of iemand nog wel met een zin van een voorschot kan wegkomen. Het lijkt me dat bij wedstrijden of prijsvragen het inschrijfgeld of voorschot altijd wordt betaald voordat er überhaupt wat begonnen wordt (en ik zat al in de eindronde).
Dat verhaal klopte dus van geen kant, iets wat mij al wel duidelijk was.
De nieuwe trend van spam is bij mij aangekomen. Ik hoop dat het me niet nog een keer gebeurt want het was hoogst irritant om een potje Tetris te moeten pauzeren.
Toch vraag ik me af of hij nu zelf maar op vakantie gaat omdat ik er niet op inging.
"Do not brand him as 'our prisoner', he is merely 'our guest'." Brackman answered.
"In my vocabulary, a guest is someone who is free to leave. This one is not and is therefore a prisoner: someone who is not free to leave and is subjected to the ones that have taken him."
"QAI, you don't have the ability to feel. You branded him prisoner by statistics. Emotion is part of what you think of someone and therefore you cannot understand this situation completely. He is not our prisoner, please adjust."
"Affirmative." The quantum AI said indifferently.
"Good, now please don't say anything while I talk with our guest. Act like you're not here."
"Affirmative." Sounded from QAI's audio boxes again.
"What is this place? heaven or hell? Does the afterlife look like this?"
"I must say, mister Dygonn, that this place is neither heaven nor hell. I must also say that I do not know what the afterlife looks like, although I am fairly sure that my workspace does not look like it."
"So... what does that mean? Am I not dead?"
"I'm afraid not. Although, afraid? I'm actually happy that a twenty two year old boy is still alive."
"Boy? Boy? I've grown up, you know?" Leython said, while still laying on the bed. "And I've got another question. Who are you? You must not be from the UEF, this place doesn't remotely look like anything made by the UEF, or the architect must've had the same idiotic taste for design as Jeff has for fashion."
"No, you are not in UEF territory." the voice sounded and Leython gasped as he saw a holographic image appear in his sight. He was talking with the same man that was seen on the quantum broadcasting network so many times on Earth.
"I am Gustav Brackman and I must say, my taste for fashion is not the best either. Who is this... Jeff you speak of?" The Cybran leader asked.
"Jeff is one of my friends on Earth. He must think I'm dead by now. Anyway, why am I still alive?"
"Mister Dygonn, why do you fight? Why did you join the UEF military?"
"Excuse me?" Leython asked, clearly caught off guard by the sudden change of subject.
"Please answer my questions. Then your own question will be answered." Brackman simply said.
Leython wondered, what was he fighting for? A simple question but so hard to answer.
The words Eric said to him once, came back in his head:
"You’re just arrogant, not a good commander, but an arrogant commander who thinks he’s good. I at least know what it takes to be a good commander. Firepower, and the will to serve the UEF!"
He said it when they had an argument of what was more important: intel or large unit swarms. It later appeared that both aspects were important in a battle, but they did not know that back in those days. But the word 'firepower' didn't make such of an impression on Leython four years ago. No 'the will to serve the UEF'. Leython didn't have that when he joined the academy, he remembered.
He joined because he didn't have anything better to do in his life.
After school he could have subscribed to a university, but what would that be for use? He would get a job, become a rich person and live happily ever after. Besides, he was bored of learning one physical formula after another. He didn't want to get on for another five years with that.
Afterwards, he would get nothing but research projects to work on. A desk job. He joined the military for that. He wanted some real change in his life.
So he joined the academy without a doubt, but also without a feeling of pride for the UEF. It didn't mean much to him. He never asked himself what he was fighting for.
"I don't know. I have no idea what I'm fighting for." But suddenly he thought of his work at the Aeon front. He saved thousands, if not millions of lives by protecting the UEF border against the Illuminate's constant assault.
"Wait, I fight for the lives of the people. Or at least I did before I was sent to Sung island. I fight for their lives and their freedom to live how they want." Leython concluded.
"Fighting for the lives of others, fighting for freedom, oh yes. That is courageous. I am not much different than you are. I fight for freedom as well. Not just for the freedom for people to live how they want, but to live in the first place."
"What do you mean?"
"In the universe, there are many enslaved people. You may not have noticed. I have ordered you not to be killed in the hope that you might join me in my... 'quest' to free the many millions that are enslaved. I'll not evade the crucial words: I hope that you would join the Cybrans to free the Symbionts in the UEF." Brackman said.
"What?" Leython was baffled. He had not been killed for only one purpose? To join the Cybrans? To abandon the UEF? To betray his own friends?
Now Brackman had said the words, Leython suddenly realised that he fought for a lot more than just the freedom for people to live. He fought for his friends, for and with his comrades. How could he abandon them and turn against them?
On the other side... Brackman said that he fought for freedom too. The freedom of millions of Symbionts. He fought for the freedom of those who Leython helped to keep enslaved.
If he, by some miracle, would make it back into UEF territory, he now couldn't just join the fight again. Not with what he had just been told. If he did, he would fight for slavery known as the Symbiont program. Not knowing what he fought for was a thought of a couple of minutes ago, yet it seemed to come from a different life.
Joining the Cybrans? Trying to return to the UEF? Both options opposed each other like slavery and freedom. Now Brackman had talked about what he did, Leython felt ignorant. He was as ignorant as a fly. He had a feeling like that his ignorance was the reason why he didn't know what to do.
"I..." He started, not knowing what to say.
"It's all right, don't worry. I am far too hasty to hope that you'll join immediately. Far too naive to hope that you'd be joining anyway. By explaining you why you're still alive, by answering that question, I invoked a lot of other questions. Questions that can't be answered just by words, I know. You need some time to rest and to think. I know of a Cybran node that will accept you. Not every node would do that, oh no. If you would step on the wrong planet, you'd be killed before you could even say a single word."
"A node? Is that what you call your cities?"
"Not exactly. The Cybrans are, like the UEF people, all different. People with the same culture live with each other. The word 'culture' has got a wide definition here. Each node has got his own... expression. One would try to end a conflict only with words, while the members of another node would solve an argument by assassinating the opposing persons."
"I guess that the latter node would not be pleased if someone in a UEF suit would pay a visit."
"Oh no, absolutely not, my friend." The doctor said, and a smile appeared on his voice.
"I would like to send you to the Three-Rivers node. The node would be safe for a person like you, I am sure of that."
"I've got another question, what if I want to go back to the UEF?" Leython asked.
"Then I will not stop you. I, as a person of freedom, cannot force you to go there and turn you into someone who would completely sever the ties with his former society, only to join the Cybrans and become one by himself. I can only ask you to stay here for a while." The doctor answered.
"Ok then. I'll stay, I'm actually interested in how things look like. However, if I want to go back, can I contact you and say so immediately?"
"Yes, you can."
"A UEF officer?" Ibann asked.
The Cybran was the Three-Rivers' president and was stunned by the words he heard.
The Cybran nation was quite different from the UEF, knowing of no money, no properly old-fashioned grown food and there was no democracy.
Brackman had explained this to Leython and also that the Three-rivers node was different from that picture: it was closer to the UEF than any other Cybran node. In this node, there was democracy and food was an exported product. Money did not exist nonetheless but that was no problem for commerce. The 'product' that was imported was the protection from the other nodes, that they lacked.
The Three-Rivers node wasn't assaulted too regularly, but frequently enough for the node's citizens to realise that they had to think of a proper countermeasure even without the ACUs. After years of research, the Three-Rivers node managed to construct mobile cities. In the event of an assault, cities were already moving when enemy ACUs arrived. This bought them enough time for the other nodes' commanders to come to their aid.
The last assault on the Three-Rivers node issued, was ordered by the UEF. That was the reason why Ibann was infuriated by the notification that his assistant had given to him.
The UEF assault wasn't relentless and no Cybran commanders were killed in action. After they realised that there were no military bases on the planet, the enemy pilots retreated and it even might seem that they felt sorry for attacking civilians, if it were not for this loose cannon. One UEF commander assaulted a city that was unfortunate to be close to one of the gating locations.
He burned it to the ground, killing more than three hundred thousand people. The pilot escaped, but everyone knew who he was. He almost seemed an Aeon commander by the way he attacked.
"Yes sir," Ibann's assistant said, "a UEF officer, Brackman had seized him and now he sent him here. To take a look around."
"I know that the doctor is full of surprises, but this goes really far."Ibann was baffled. How could Brackman just do this? If the officer escaped, he could inform the enemy of every secret that the Cybran nation hid. Especially this node's secrets.
"What should I do, sir?"
"Did Brackman ask for anything in particular?"
"No... Well, only that we had to introduce him to the Cybran's customs."
"Our node is unique, how can we introduce him to the entire nation? An Assumpta assassin would just plant a plasma blade in his head and be done with it, so that node would be worse than ours. Yet, there are other places."
"I believe that we had to tell him about us. How we have come into existence, how we fight..." The assistant said, not sure of what they had to do.
"He already experienced how Cybrans fight, he lost that encounter. And can't the old doc just tell him how we came into existence?"
"I don't know what our use is either."
"Oh well, give him a fancy apartment, then he'll make it in here. Just ensure he won't make it out of here."
"Quantum travel is successful. He is here, mister Torino." The engineer said.
"Very well. I'll see how much I can do. Has everyone been informed that this person may not know anything about our arsenal or technology?" Torino asked.
"Yes sir." The engineer replied. "I have received the message, just like anyone else."
Leython stepped out of the personal transport and was amazed by the difference he saw. No time was spent on the Cybran gating room. Consoles were properly placed nonetheless. It was looking more efficient than the UEF work, but less time had been spent on it and no time was spent on anything useless or redundant.
The UEF rooms and offices looked perfectly organized, but the looks that Leython liked before seemed so unimpressive now.
Leython wondered if the reality was what it looked like here, while a man approached him.
"Mister Dygonn? Welcome. I am Torino, the president's personal assistant. Doctor Brackman had informed me of the situation, that you'd come. The president wanted me to assist you with anything necessary."
"What about your work for the president?"
"It is not too much work and I can easily leave the less important tasks to others.
Don't you worry about the pressure of my job." Torino said friendly.
He and Leython walked through the node's capital city while he explained to the UEF officer how the Cybran society worked. Brackman had not lied about the different nodes. For every Symbiont, there was a culture in which they fit in.
Torino didn't mention the word culture once, but Leython couldn't think of a better definition.
"This will be your apartment, mister Dygonn." The president's assistant said when they arrived. They went to the highest floor of the tallest building.
"As opposed to some other nodes, we do have windows. We spend some more time to aspects such as a proper view of the area, despite for the fact that..." Torino suddenly stopped.
"What is it, sir?" Leython asked.
"I don't know if I can tell you. What I wanted to mention is involved with our technology, which is supposed to be classified to outsiders, you know?"
"That's pretty obvious isn't it?" Leython said, understanding that whatever the secret was that involved a nice view of some area, he might find out eventually. Torino seemed to know that as well.
"This node houses some secrets that are key to our survival. We want to hide every secret from you. I am sorry, but I doubt we can fully thrust you."
"Well, that's good," Leython said. "I can't thrust myself either. You know, I'm in a terrible dilemma now. I'm fighting for the UEF people, having been on the Aeon front since I officially made it to commander in the military, I have always done so, though I may not have realised it. Now I have talked to doctor Brackman, he told me what he fought for and he..." Leython didn't exactly know how to put it. Was this what the doctor stumbled across too? Brackman decided to say it directly, maybe he had to do so too.
"... to make a short story even shorter, he asked me to join him. To join the Cybrans and fight for freedom."
"Yes... now, the dilemma part comes?" Torino asked, already suspecting what would come.
"I now know what I have fought for, apart from the citizen's lives. The Symbiont's slavery. I don't think I can fight in the UEF military with a clear conscience, not now I know this. However, if I fight for the Cybrans, I fight against the UEF. I will turn against my friends and eventually fight them. It could go so far that I'll have to kill one in order to survive."
"Just what I thought. Now, first of all, you mustn't think in such an absolute way. It's not all black and white. Secondly, I'd advise you to take your time. In order to have a clear conscience, you must be honest with yourself and you must be able to be objective if you make your decision."
"How can I be objective?" Leython asked desperately. "How can I be so if I hear the story only from your side? How can I tell lies from the truth? How can I be sure that none of you will make a story up? How can I be calm and objective if you're going to claim how sad it all is that many Symbionts are enslaved? I don't know if that is true. Now I also don't know if it would be true if UEF officers claim that the Symbionts are not enslaved. To put it plainly: I don't know if anything is true!"
"Well..." Torino hesitated, not knowing how to help. "I must say, you've heard the story from the UEF side for your entire life. That was a lie..."
"I don't know if it was a lie. The core planets are engulfed in lies, but the people are so ignorant by what happens at the Aeon or Cybran front, they simply don't care. I was ignorant too. Why would I spend my time in searching for the troubles that the UEF faces? Why would I take a look at the possibility of enslavement of people if I hear that they do a very good job in every administrative segment of the society?"
"The Symbionts are not doing anything but desk jobs?"
"No, but that is now actually the only thing that I'm certain of that it is true."
"Anyway, you said that you were ignorant, what changed that?"
"The moment that I had my first battle at the Aeon front. Those freaks were going to cleanse an entire planet. We stopped them however, without too much civilian casualties but it left a mark on me. For days, I remembered the panic in the people's voices as soon as an Aeon experimental weapon came closer. The Aeon weapons are powerful. They can level entire bases in a minute. Don't even think about what they do to a city.
Anyway, since that first battle, I knew what I was fighting for but I didn't realize it. I assumed that it was just the story of my life and I didn't think about it. Every time that someone else asked me what I fought for, I couldn't answer him."
"So, despite for the fact that you knew what you were fighting for, you didn't realise it."
"No, but I did realise it at the moment I returned on the battlefield. Fighting off enemy forces in order that other people could survive and be free from oppression."
"Which is what Brackman does as well. And he realises it all the time."
"Here we go again." Leython sighed. "What the doctor claims to do. That is what I think of it at the moment. That won't change until I've got actual proof that he is right. Then, there is another problem. Say, if it were true, I don't want to fight my former comrades. But I want to do something on the field. My intelligence work is perfect and using Cybran mobile stealth generators would be something in which I'd excel. I can really help and want to do so."
"Mister Dygonn, you go from one subject to the other. You seem impatient and restless. Of course, I would be restless too in your situation. You have travelled over thirty per cent of the known universe's distance without remembering it, then you spoke with the person who is said to be the biggest pirate and rebel in human history and now you are going to spend some time in a Cybran node. Would you have thought, twelve hours ago, that you'd be here now?"
"No, I wouldn't." Leython answered.
"Just take your time. No one can change sides without properly knowing what's going on. Until you think you know enough to make your decision, keep looking for more information."
"You know, I wonder if everyone would be ignorant. No one of the UEF has taken a look at what the Cybrans want to say. No one has tried to negotiate with the Aeon. In turn, the Aeon just wage war and try to cleanse the UEF and the Cybran nation. The Cybrans also don't want to talk with the UEF about a solution. It is all just war. That heathens things up and wastes the last chance to settle things by negotiations."
"It's sad but true." Torino couldn't think of something else to say.
"To think of it, I only came to this conclusion because I am here. If I would have won that battle, then I wouldn't think of how this war came to be and how we could solve it without fighting. I think of it because I now want to tell truth from lies."