CHAPTER 1 - OVERCHARGE
A single explosion in the air scout’s engines caused it to crash directly to the ground, but it was already too late for its enemy: Leython Dygonn had seen the base’s lay-out and he devised an attack plan within seconds.
“Leave the anti-air at home, Josh.” He said with a trace of boredom in his voice. The mission was one of the easiest he had seen in his entire career. The Aeon commanders weren’t even trying to do anything. “This reminds me of our Sinivar battle, Marisa. I’m sure there’s something more in it, they can send substitutes at any minute.”
“Seraphim unit detected.” Replied Marisa just as Leython finished. “There is your ‘something’. “What do we do now?”
“Command has to decide on the next step. Until then, I’ll monitor their progress while you destroy all --” He was interrupted by the massive explosion caused by Josh Funky. “-- Aeon commanders. If I see that they become too strong, we’ll switch immediately. Then we’re going to have to kill the Aeon with assassination attempts rather than our full power.”
Ten of Leython’s air scouts had already taken off and all left in a different direction. At the front, with the city behind him and the Aeon pilots to his east, he was sure the aliens had lost seventy per cent of their possible construction yards.
Half a minute later, he had his answer: “Six bases in total. The weakest one at the back. He’s slow in his initial building. All firepower on him right now, use every air unit and Josh,” he said and he turned to the UEF major, “distribute some air transports.”
Bombers above a second Aeon base had almost destroyed the commander and Leython noticed how soon the ACU would explode, just three bombing runs would be enough: “Shilon, get four bombers back! Jeff, air transport with engineers down there!”
Another explosion filled up the sky within moments and the second Aeon base self-destructed another few later. Meanwhile, the first Seraphim bombers attacked Shilon’s base, but the newly improved anti-air managed to destroy them with a just a few losses in the Symbiont’s base. Shilon reclaimed them immediately and nothing happened: the Seraphim didn’t have a quantum leeching device installed yet.
In one simple motion, all of Josh Funky’s air transports converged on the sixth Seraphim base while Shilon’s bombers had just overtaken them and the first bombs already fell. All of the alien’s structures were still stronger than the coalition’s counterparts but the many tier one power generators and the few tech two mass extractors couldn’t stand the overwhelming force that descended upon the base.
Lobo artillery, Mantis assault bots and Aurora light tanks were dropped and their respective owners immediately broke the groups apart while giving them targets to attack. The Seraphim commander fired its first shots while the artillery decimated the structures the bombers had left standing.
One of Josh’s air transports crashed themselves in the delicate radar tower, blinding the Seraph. No one had time for a backup or an advanced version to support their comrade. Major Funky saw the alien interceptors sent by an ally were about to find him, regardless of the lack of intel. He ordered the other transports to fly into the ACU.
Before he managed to do so, the land units had suffered some casualties. The first overcharged shot had decimated the Mantii, effectively eliminating half of the direct assault force. The Lobo artillery were of no concern to the pilot, their shots could be dodged with ease, if necessary.
But the UEF artillery didn’t even bother the command unit. Instead, they showed how human technology was slowly but surely catching up with the Seraphim. Throughout the two years, their production facilities succumbed sooner and sooner to the violent fragmentation shells.
“Shilon, turn the bombers around, attack the Seraphim base to the west. Their backup is disrupted, it’s time to move on to the next one.”
Shilon didn’t even answer but the Zeus type planes immediately turned for their new target. In the meanwhile, Selene had advanced to the tier two level and five engineers had managed to sneak through a backdoor in the Aeon front, they were preparing Leython’s secret attack.
Even for the Seraphim, retaliation came surprisingly quick. Air transports performing a kamikaze strike on the sixth commander didn’t make the pilot flinch. A couple of swift moves and all the transports could do before they crashed was scratching an arm or leg. Thee overcharged bolts destroyed the Auroras and Mantii that were left, while the first Seraphim air transport arrived. Eight tanks to assist the commander in the destruction of the final group of units, Josh’s Lobos.
“I’m in trouble guys.” Said Jeff suddenly. “Seraphim units are preparing to attack my outposts. If I lose that, they win the battle.” Before he finished, the new groups of units already moved to organize better. Leython issued his orders for a proper defensive line. “Josh, Shilon, we’re going to have to go there with our ACUs. Selene, how long?”
“One minute.” Answered the Aeon knight. “They still do not suspect anything.”
“Leython.” Interrupted Marisa suddenly. “HQ confirms that this is the only front, but they are sending additional commanders for support.”
“Understood. The city is forty kilometres behind us. How is it going there?”
“They are preparing to leave but a successful evacuation will take time.”
“Understood. We’re going to have to retreat eventually. They’ll be too strong when they expand properly.” Said Leython while his ACU was pulled into the first tier two transport he built.
While he set of for Jeff’s expansion zone, three consecutive nuclear explosions told him Selene was successful. Her tactical missile strikes had been successful and the unprepared Order knights didn’t stand a chance.
The Seraphim responded immediately and sent a group of units in the direction of the open space. Engineers unloaded and reclaimed immediately, while building a couple of factories and power generators.
“More missiles Selene! Hit everything, especially engineers that will stand still for a longer time.” Said Marisa quickly while Shilon and Josh moved in their air transports as well.
“HQ. This is Dygonn, where are the reinforcements? We need them right now to make a difference on the field. If it takes more time, we’re going to have to hide and fight in the city.”
“Commander Dygonn, we will relay your advice to the commanders. They are unable to join you in the next three minutes.”
“Great.” Said Leython angrily. “We’re going to need battle upgrades, nothing but those. We’ll be forced in the defensive within moments”.
“Leython, if we are going to have a battle in the city, resource allocation systems may be useful.” Said Jeff.
“No, we can drain energy from the city itself, range upgrades, shield generators and cloaking generators will probably do more than point defences.”
Leython’s ACU was dropped at the new front between the coalition forces and the Seraphim. Three scout units arrived and he destroyed them all with ease, but not before they had seen that there were no tanks to back him up.
“Any bomber should assist us. Since they have only one shot at it, thanks to their fighters, we have to send the bombers towards their new expansion after their first run, they might make that because it’s an unexpected move.”
Josh and Shilon joined Leython half a minute later, shortly before the Seraphim army moved out. It consisted of nothing but medium tanks and anti-air vehicles. Selene had upgraded her land factory to tier two and the first mobile shield generators loaded into the transports to be shipped to the three commanders that guarded the frontline.
The first of Jeff’s Riptide tanks arrived as well and as soon as the first enemy tanks moved into range, they were destroyed by the overcharged bolts from any of the three ACUs, or damaged by the tier two hover tanks that had joined the fray, to be destroyed by an ACU’s ordinary shot.
Those few UEF tanks and three command units wouldn’t be enough on their own though, so the commanders ignored the anti-air vehicles, which calmly moved forward, to create a perimeter around them as if they were protecting one of their own at all costs.
Selene reacted accordingly and she ordered the air transport to drop the shield generators before they got too close, but that wasn’t the worst problem the Seraphim’s odd defences had created.
Out of nowhere, five tier one transports from alien origin arrived and they were about to drop forty artillery units among the commanders.
Leython, Josh and Shilon turned their attention to the closest three, picked their target and fired an overloaded shot. Leython remembered the effects on a heavily damaged experimental bomber: one shot like this tore it apart with ease, so the effects on a minor transport, even though it was much stronger than the UEF version, would be satisfying.
As he expected, he now had to care about sixteen hover units instead of forty. The two last transports couldn’t be stopped but as soon as one of them touched down, it exploded in an instant. The shot came from an ACU standing incredibly far away.
“I have arrived just in time, it seems.” Said Marisa with a serene smile on her face. The enemy she targeted was too far for her ACU’s effective range, even with the upgrade she had constructed on its arm, but her knowledge in The Way with her incredible experience with her machine had allowed her to perform extraordinarily.
“Time to wrap this up.” Said Leython and he targeted one of the eight artillery that was still intact. It was gone two seconds later, along with two others. Marisa had turned her attention to the anti-air units.
Five UEF fragmentation artillery would pose little to no threat to an ACU, due to the low rate of fire that made the shots easily avoidable. The Seraphim equivalent was different though.
Nicknamed Fobo, both for the fact that they were floating Lobo artillery and because of the fear they spread amongst the coalition commanders, these weapons did a little bit less damage per shot but had a much higher rate of fire in combination with a firing randomness that was exactly right for a pilot to make a bad guess as to plot a new course. It had served its name well.
As it turned out, the eight that had been destroyed in less time than for a man to think of the reason for a nickname, didn’t do any harm at all. While the pilots destroyed the artillery, they moved towards these units and away from the tanks, to join Marisa. A new series of overloaded shots tore holes in the frontline moments later and the advantage was back in the hands of the coalition pilots.
Shield generators had finally arrived to take the beating that would certainly come again. Selene had sent a new batch already, strengthening the coalition forces in the heart of the firestorm.
Meanwhile, Selene’s tactical missiles continuously hit their targets. The Seraphim had sent engineers to reclaim the bases of the three Order pilots who had survived the longest, but the Aeon templar had given them no chance to do so. One fell after another and after all construction units had been destroyed, the missile silos turned their attention to the wreckage itself. Strong tier two factories housed a large amount of valuable resources, resources the coalition could never get their hands on.
The only two that were left in their base, were captain Lancet and templar Elenes. They rushed on with their economy, to produce as many tier three units as soon as possible, while they also prepared their own command units with the powerful enhancements they had available.
“Leython, we are going to lose the battle here anyway, we will be pushed into the city. Can we drain the city’s power grid for our own energy? It would be useless to construct a shield generator if we cannot power it.”
“No problem, just do it. The city’s power grid will be all ours when we have to retreat.” Answered Leython quickly while he planted another overcharged bolt into the mass of tanks. While those exploded, three additional air scouts flew by to assess the remainder of the Seraphim’s strike force.
“It’s endless!” He said after a few seconds. “Even the Seraphim can’t construct so many tanks in so little time with only five bases.” The air scouts continued to the base they had just destroyed, at the cost of their entire strike force. Leython saw a fully reconstructed base, with the first tech two land factory.
He immediately sent the three planes in three separate directions, but one was already damaged and a group of interceptors had suddenly appeared.
“I’m at tech three now.” Said Jeff before Leython could say they were going to have to hurry up. “Thanks for the support, I’m fortifying my front line so you can upgrade your ACUs.”
“Reinforcements have arrived. They are close to the city, so they will hook into that power grid for a jumpstart in their economy.” Said Marisa while she targeted a new Seraphim transport, tier two this time. “They are too fast, is this a new upgrade in their arsenal?” She asked at the moment the transport was torn in pieces.
“No, QAI is involved. He gated in at the same moment as the five order forces to conceal the quantum wake and while we were concentrating on them, the other ACUs could work unnoticed. It explains why those order pilots carefully took out one air scout after another, but weren’t fit for a simple battle.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Jeff, Selene, you will fortify the front line and prepare a proper economy while Shilon will continue with bombers. I’ll pay my attention to fighters and additional economy. Josh, air transports and economy. Marisa, oblivion cannons.”
Everyone knew that the Seraphim units, especially their fighters and bombers, still had a powerful advantage and that six aliens could outnumber Shilon and Leython with ease if it came down to raw numbers. However, Leython had still not drained his tactical plans and he might be able to keep up to six air armadas busy with just a few fighters and bombers.
“Jeff, Selene, you’ll also have to build tier three land units, mobile shield generators and flak tanks. We’re going to be forced into the city and we need units to stay alive. You’ll have the toughest job now, I’ll need you to help the others with economy as well.”
The task didn’t daunt either of them and Jeff even seemed delighted to work on it. Many of the tanks the four at the front destroyed, could safely be reclaimed. Even though they were outnumbered, the commanders could make a step forward every ten seconds. A large part of the junk was already secured and UEF engineers were now reclaiming one unit after another.
Forty minutes later, the sun had risen but looking down from one of the many passage ways high in the city barely gave anything but fog.
The battlefield had radically changed, faster than Leython had seen any time before. He counted himself lucky that this was the first time he faced multiple Seraphim commanders with a strong economy. Their initial bases were gone after twenty minutes, which would take more than an hour to do during the Infinite War.
While the coalition regrouped in the massive city, the Seraphim did the same at the edge. The central pathways were the most important and because of that, they were protected by one of the best commanders.
Leython’s team was far away from the city’s centre, preparing a distraction in order to get as many of the Seraphim tanks and assault bots away from where the aliens actually wanted them.
It did work, but it had a drawback. The team of six had been able to construct a small strike force to dig in, trap the enemy and hold out for as long as possible, but they couldn’t endlessly hold against the enemy. The reality was even harsher, their problems started before they retreated.
Selene had been trapped in her base due to the sudden rush from the Seraphim. Air superiority fighters had appeared out of nowhere and transported tier two assault bots were about to follow. Selene had nowhere to go and she immediately responded, swapping her advanced shield generator for a teleporting module. Unfortunately it meant that she lost three quarters of her ACUs possible protection.
To make up for it, she chose to ditch the enhanced quantum disruptor upgrade, halving her effective firing range. In return, she now had a tier three upgrade which came the ability to construct defence towers and additional strength.
Building oblivion cannons in the middle of the pathways hundreds of metres above the ground gave the team an edge, but it wasn’t nearly enough because they were low on their mass income. The only advantage they had with the city was that the alien most powerful air unit, the experimental bomber, was almost useless.
The assault bots did not meet such restrictions though and seven groups of eight were now closing in on Leython and Josh, both were standing at a cross junction six hundred metres above the ground, their only safe way of retreat was south of them. With their own combat upgrades still available, both commanders fired two overcharged bolts directly ahead and they destroyed one group before the bots could fire.
Leython’s ACU turned to the right and activated its microwave laser. The units were destroyed within twenty seconds without returning fire since they couldn’t detect the cloaked ACU. Josh had retreated after he fired his shot, with the only purpose that the Seraphim assault units followed him.
Both ACUs fired another overcharged shot to their north, ending another group’s existence and leaving only three squads alive. The remaining tier two assault bots didn’t pose a threat anymore, but a substitute closed in already.
“Josh, you still have time to move to the west.” Said Leython. “If we make it to the city’s centre, we might be able to assist there.”
“Roger that. Just destroy all bots and keep the commander busy.”
“He’ll be too late.” Replied Leython calmly and the microwave laser fired again, decimating the last of the Seraphim units within moments, before he followed Josh in his footsteps, unnoticed by the Serahpim.
A couple of blocks to the south, the other four did the same and they were about to cross the same street shortly after each other, while they were separated by only a few blocks. They moved with their own groups of units, or what was left of it from the past battles. Marisa was the first one to cross one of the many deserted roads.
“Enemy bomber incoming.” She said and she turned her ACU’s gun towards it. “It is heading for me and I cannot make it across the road in time.”
Before she was able to say all of it, Josh fired an overcharged shot in the experimental plane’s hull at the moment that it passed the last obstructing building. Leython fired at same moment and his shot hit the bomber a millisecond later. Two brilliant flashes lit up the entire plane’s hull and it destabilized for a moment, but it didn’t crash.
Moments later, Shilon added another shot, but the Seraphim only saw a sudden bolt surging for the bomber without noticing where it came from. Selene and Jeff used their overcharge ability as well and a total of three consecutive blasts did its fair share of damage. The bomber destabilized again as it lost several chunks of its sleek wings. The powerful engine lost a portion of its power and caused the experimental weapon to slow down.
Marisa had continued down the road and at the moment she had almost crossed the junction, she turned her ACU around, aimed at the bomber’s nose and fired an overloaded shot. The sixth was too much for the unit: a gigantic green flash surged through the middle of the bomber and tore it in two perfect pieces.
One part crashed through the passageway and into the city’s depths. The other met its end in one of the gigantic skyscrapers and exploded. The tower ignited in an instant.
“That’s one enemy down.” Said Leython to his team members before he contacted HQ. “Command, we’re moving to the centre, our diversion isn’t working anymore. We’re losing so many units to the Seraphim that they don’t think we need much more attention than one commander.”
“Hurry up then, things are looking risky downtown.” Answered the officer and the team had finally been given access to the status of the centre and they immediately understood how serious the situation was and why they had to pick up the pace.
Three air transports dropped a full load of tier two assault bots and a fourth one had already left. It’s package, six bots and three Fobos, was moving in on the spaceship that was supposed to be protected. Three quick shots destroyed two hovering artillery and one assault unit. They came from an ACU that rushed to meet the enemy and protect the ship that was still between the two groups. Six Titan assault bots followed her in her footsteps but those were not good enough against the sheer power that still awaited on the other side of the crossroad.
“Multiple hostiles closing in on this location!” Said Samantha Clarke, the general who was at the head of the small UEF strike force. “Get that ship out of here.”
“Engines coming online, just need a couple of more minutes.” Replied the ship’s pilot calmly.
The ships engines fired up and the craft itself was released from its dock but it didn’t leave yet. Clarke didn’t hesitate for a moment and she sent the Titans forward while she opened fire again, destroying the last artillery unit and several assault bots.
The first Titans used their weapons too and scored their share of kills before they suffered the first casualties to their enemy equivalents. For the general it meant that she had lost a third of her units.
Static on the audio feed took the General’s words away for a moment but it was obvious that she demanded reinforcements.
Without knowing it, Dostya had already obliged but it was not until now that she had made it close enough to the cross junction. A few shots relieved the Titans for a moment.
While Dostya and Clarke were frantically trying to hold the Seraphim at their front, they didn’t have time to take a look at what was coming from behind. Leython wanted to warn them, but he was suddenly caught off guard by the units that were threatening some of his own team members.
“Selene, Jeff! Units are heading your way.” The two commanders looked around immediately, they had both taken separate ways after they helped to take care of the enemy bomber. Jeff could escape because he had some units left to fight with and he was close to Shilon. Selene was not so fortunate but she had a plan.
“HQ, what region of this planet is still free from the Seraphim but abundant in resources? I still have a teleportation device on my unit and that is my only chance.” She said before she fired a shot at a lone unit that prowled too close.
“We’re giving you some coordinates. We are absolutely certain that the Seraphim are not there, they seemed to have come for this city alone. Good luck.” The energy supply instantly failed for several blocks around Selene’s ACU as she drained a major portion of the city’s power grid. It took her ten seconds to disappear and leave a disappointed Seraphim pilot with a legion of units at the wrong location.
“We’ll worry about her later. How are Clarke and Dostya?” Asked Leython as he rushed further towards the spaceship. At the moment he turned back to the screen that forwarded the situation, he saw that everything went wrong.
An overcharged bolt from a Seraphim ACU pierced through the spacecraft’s hull and it caused a chain reaction. Fire burst from one side over the full length of the ship as it crashed downward in the foggy depths of the city. Dostya had left a few moments earlier and all Titans were destroyed.
Clarke’s ACU was the only thing left and that made it the direct target of the relentless assault bots. Static returned into the life feed and Leython couldn’t hear whether the general was frantically requesting to be recalled or if she informed Coalition HQ that her ability to be gated away from Capella was blocked.
The Seraphim ACU that had fired an overloaded shot at the spacecraft now turned its weapon at its UEF equivalent and fired. The overcharged bolt hit the command unit straight in its chest, causing it to explode in an instant.
A few seconds later but light-years away, general Hall made another note in the HQ’s logbook.
“X-day+716: General Samantha Clarke is killed in battle.”
As soon as the program reverted the leeching device’s effects, the device would blow itself up, only to be replaced by another. Since QAI had turned them into unique structures, the reversing program had to repeat itself every time and because neither the artificial intelligence nor Djinn and Tinsen had any idea to improve the masterpiece of software and engineering, both parties were stuck at an endless cycle of reclaiming, draining, reversing and self-destructing.
It all made no difference in the coalition’s morale. The fact that they had thwarted part of the Seraphim’s progress in battle didn’t cheer anyone up. The same as the case on the enemy’s side. The War-Leader felt frustration at the thought that the humans were still able to put up a fight and were adapting to the Seraphim’s superior technology.
QAI had reported that the virus from Nethirstanaii had been stopped, but nothing more than that, and Seth-Iavow wondered how a human from more than eight hundred years ago was potent enough to create a weapon that was effective even today. At this rate, he expected that the ACUs they had at this moment would be completely obsolete in a mere decade.
The command units had continuously evolved to the next level, but the so-called ‘Phantom program’ had not done so in eight centuries, which meant that it was ahead of its time by at least that much.
“QAI, report.” Seth-Iavow said after he pondered on his thoughts for a while. “I will speak to Gialumeth immediately.”
Without a word, the Seraphim commander appeared and he greeted the War-Leader. “What will you ask of me?”
“You will go to Nethirstanaii as soon as possible. You will search the whole planet with QAI, for any trace of Human and Seraphim technology.”
“We are not ready yet. The planet here still houses humans.”
“QAI will take over with two of my lieutenants. Wait for them and give them the most valuable parts of your forces and then leave for Nethirstanaii as soon as possible. I wish to know more about the Cybran man named Phantom Sung.”
“We understand, War-Leader. We will await the arrival of your lieutenants.”
A group of technicians stood at the feet of an almost forty metres tall command unit. The Cybran weapon didn’t look damaged at all but the tech team prepared to clean all dust from its armour while updating its software. The pilot had spent six hours with it in the desert heat, patrolling with an abundance of radar towers and spy planes.
The members of the team seemed impatient. They were waiting for one final man, who happened to be the most important one. John Miller arrived after half a minute later and he quickly apologized for being late before he said what he expected everyone to do.
“Ok, you all know what we’re up to. Just the regular work with a software update. This is Dygonn’s ACU so don’t expect the pilot to be around all the time. He’s not good at maintenance of stuff this size, unlike some of the other pilots, but he’s excellent at pointing out what we forgot.”
The other men immediately stepped in and started to work, but one woman didn’t. She walked to Miller and explained herself. “I’m new here, but I’ve worked with the software of equipment like this before. Just tell me what to do.”
John thought the woman was about thirty five years old, even though she looked incredibly attractive. Her face betrayed she was from Asian descent and her clothing, which made her look like an army lieutenant from old war movies, told she lived in UEF territory.
“You can get into the cockpit with me, the software update gets done much faster with two people. What’s your name by the way?”
“Jessica Simpsons, I’ll follow you right away.”
The two went to the upper level of the hangar and John entered the cockpit. Jessica followed him and found herself in a cramped room. She was used to standing so close to people before but not with a man she only met a few minutes ago.
“Don’t worry about the cramped space. You’ll get used to it. Activate those relays while I get to work. Watch closely, so you can take over any time in the future.” Said John without looking at her. Had he done that, then he would have seen that Jessica wasn’t daunted by the small room.
“Yes sir.” Jessica said simply and she pressed three buttons while she carefully looked around. The room was perfectly maintained and lacked junk. The perfect example of a well-organized and efficient commander.
“Who is this Leython Dygonn anyway? I’ve heard of him, that he’s a good commander, but I’ve never found information about him.”
“He’s a good commander. He was from the UEF but turned to the Cybrans eventually. He’s been pretty successful but wasn’t widely known amongst the UEF members of the coalition until a few days ago. He lead the battle, which resulted in the death of a Seraphim commander. You’ve seen all of it happen, right?”
“No, I arrived here yesterday and news was very hard to come by.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that anyone from the UEF got here yesterday. It were all Aeon citizens.”
“That’s true.” Said an all too familiar voice suddenly.
“Commander Dygonn, we already started.”
“I’ve been captured by the Aeon a couple of weeks ago.” Said Jessica in a tone Leython recognized as perfectly honest, but he knew better.
“Didn’t they kill you as soon as you were at their mercy?” Asked John Miller, who was as suspicious about Jessica’s history as Leython.
“They found out I had a good deal of information about the UEF military and technology. Information that was mostly false. I managed to escape thanks to the excellent work of an Aeon priestess.”
Under the watchful eye of the former UEF commander, Jessica and John continued their work and finished half a minute later.
“Right, that should do it, I take it you run some diagnostics while we’re here?” Asked John and Leython nodded. “You’re going to have to get out of the cockpit so I can do that.”
The two technicians obliged and John realized that Jessica didn’t have to do anything he couldn’t do by himself in the same time.
With a couple of buttons, Leython saw that the whole update was a success and, without even looking, he told John he could go on with the next ACU.
“Hey, did you see where Simpsons went?” Asked John, with a sudden trace of panic in his voice.
“No, I was looking at my screens so she could leave unnoticed.” Answered Leython impassively.
“You know it’s no good to have situations like that. You don’t want to think of what happens to you if one of your commanders runs out on you and flees.”
“Your assistant leaving you now is like a stupid trainee letting me down on the field. She’s not important.”
“What do you mean with that?” Shot John at him. “She was good, didn’t do much but at least she knew what she was talking about.”
“Oh yes.” Leython said and he finally turned around. “She knew perfectly what she was talking about. She knew that she knew nothing about it and that she was useless in this.”
“But how... How did you see that?”
“She’s not a UEF citizen. She’s the Aeon priestess she mentioned.”
“I thought they couldn’t lie? All about their own culture, this ‘don’t lie policy’ might actually be the only good thing from it.” Said John harshly.
“There are more good things from it, but I’ll put that discussion aside for now. She’s not an Aeon priestess either. Not at this moment. She infiltrated in the society and doesn’t particularly show any disrespect to The Way, but she has rather left that behind her for some time.”
“I don’t get it, why would she do that?”
“It’s impossible to explain if you don’t understand it’s a challenge.” Said Leython and he was sure it wouldn’t help John in any way.
“Never mind then.” Said John in disappointment before he left. Out of sight of everyone, Leython opened a small storage box and took an ancient weapon out of it.
The night always drew solitude. The most people awake at this moment were the ones charged with the HQ’s security. Apart from them, few walked in the corridors or streets of the massive complex.
One of them was a woman. Still wearing the same clothes that represented her as today’s most popular first person shooter’s female sniper, she would’ve drawn the attention of many teenage boys, if it weren’t for the late hour.
Jessica Simpsons seemed to know what she was doing, as she walked along with a determined pace. She quickly climbed the ladders in the hangar that would take her forty metres higher and while she did so, she carefully looked around for the few bystanders in the hangar, as if she was about to steal the ACU she was planning to enter.
The bystanders didn’t even notice her though, unable to hear the steps that were softer than a predator’s crawl to his pray. Despite of her success to be sneaky, she knew that she couldn’t even hope to make it into the ACU. Surely it would be tightly locked, keeping outsiders like her where they belonged.
Jessica wasn’t surprised at all to find out that she could open the cockpit’s top hatch and peek inside and even if she was, what she saw made it any surprise go away. “I still know you well, Leython.” She said in an inaudible whisper. “Leaving a supply box open is the only sign you gave me to tell you know about my presence here.”
Jessica closed the top hatch as quietly as she could and she grabbed an extended hand and stood directly front of the man who helped her get up.
“Then why did you anxiously look around just a minute ago, hoping to find if I was looking for you?” Asked Leython.
“You know the answer to that already.” Said Lyndis with a serene smile on her face.
“Yes, I do.” Said Leython simply. “I bet you were looking for this?” He asked and he showed his former mentor the ancient sword. “Trying to best me again?”
“I would rather phrase it as... Finding out if you are still as good as you once were. The answer to would be no, since you have improved well.”
“You are a priestess now, are you not?”
“Yes, I am. The philosophy I have been taught on Earth helped me very well. Along with our other skills, The Way is easily understood, but I am not sure if anyone will understand it being abused at every opportunity. Not as long as it preaches harmony.” Said Lyndis.
“Idle phrases said by hypocrites. You were not like that. Our harmony with battle was not concealed behind a curtain of lies.” Said Leython bitterly. “It is the one thing Marisa hates about the Aeon community, a society that claims to live on truth like that is downright hypocritical.”
“I have found out how easily they are deluded by the so-called enlightened priests and evaluators. I see no problem with The Way as it is, but they refuse to embrace the truth that is directly in front of them.”
“What did you do in the past year?” Asked Leython. “Josh Funky told me you caused some issues in the Order?”
“Yes, but it is nothing that makes a mark. I hacked in an ACU or destroyed an Evaluator’s complete archive. Things like that.” Said Lyndis with a casual tone. She could have mentioned her daily life as a priestess. It cost Leython all of his concentration to look natural, because this was one of the most surprising things he heard in his whole life.
“Every little bit helps. The Seraphim are the ones with the extreme power and technological advantage, but it is QAI and the Order that are looking for us. The more they are hindered, the less probable it is that the Seraphim will ever attack us.”
“Either way, if I am to contribute more to the coalition, I could better work with the technology we now have. I took my time to understand software of command units and command centres. That is also how I learned to exploit the flaws in the Aeon’s security system.”
“Why did you return? Why did you allow me to find you?”
“I have heard rumours. Rumours about Marisa Gawain. Shortly after I arrived in the Aeon community, I heard about who she was. If you still remember the moment I left Earth, then you should also know that I somehow found a connection between you and Gawain.”
“There is a connection, yes. We battled on Sinivar Island and met again on Tessalis, more than a year before the Seraphim invasion. We planned to marry but it hasn’t come to that point yet. The war has prevented that.” Said Leython. “Now you are here, that may be different.”
“More priests have left the Order and joined the coalition. Why have you not approached them yet?”
“Marisa had the plan to be married by the princess’ blessing. She urged us to leave as soon as we approached her, for our own safety. Marisa has now let go of the wish to be married by Rhianne Burke but she still wants some relatives or friends at her side at this moment. She has long ago accepted the fact that the wedding is not going to be the best day of her life, not if she has to do this in secret. To add to it, she has no family left. Only some friends and Burke was her best one.”
“I understand. Her life has not been so very nice. To compare, it was worse than yours.”
“In a way. The death of my mother, no matter how dreadful it was, is nothing compared to what she has been through. She was in training of Abigail Toth, who has been accepted as the best evaluator of all time by many, so she learnt to carry the burden well but that does not change anything about the way her youth has been messed up.” Said Leython and Lyndis noticed the bitterness in his voice.
“You have told her about me?” She asked.
“Of course I have. That is why I have the feeling she already suspects your true identity when I avoided her question as to why it had to be you to marry us.” Answered Leython and he looked directly at his former master. She understood his statement as a request immediately but she didn’t answer it directly.
“As well-taught as us, of course she is. How else would she notice your enigmatic behaviour of the past few days?”
“She knows more about interpreting other people’s expressions and noticing their true meanings of a conversation than either of us. Still, I think I have managed to keep her puzzled, which is something we both like. We enjoy much of our time together like that.”
“So she suspects, but cannot tell for sure? I bet she will be able to after I tell you I would be delighted to arrange a marriage. Gather all of your friends, I think we will need them to cheer this place up for a moment.”
“I will do so, Wayu Lyndis.” Said Leython and he bowed slightly. “I will meet you tomorrow and give a date.” Then walked away without even turning around to look at each other for the last time that night. Lyndis slipped out as easily as she came in, as did Leython. Before they left, his ACU had locked itself tightly without either of them noticing
With eleven in total, the attendance to the wedding was at a minimum. Wayu Lyndis knew of the reason: the history of both Marisa and Leython seemed too dreadful to bear. Neither of them had much of a choice to live a perfect life but both had chosen the worst possible option.
“You know Shilon, I have seen more cheerful marriages. I bet that’s because those were on Earth, with no one worried about the War.” Said Jeff Lancet.
“That’s also because the families were a lot bigger, I think. These two don’t have any friends or relatives apart from us.” Answered Shilon. “I mean, they are on good terms with the superiors, but they’re too busy managing everything. It’s also a miracle we have had this moment for all of us at the same time.”
“Now we’re talking about that, I’ve got to go back to guard again in an hour. I’d better go already.” Josh had suddenly appeared behind them. “I’m going to tell Selene, we’re supposed to work together.” He said cheerfully.
“You’ve spent some time with her already, haven’t you?” Asked Jeff but Josh had already turned around and ignored him. A few moments later, he and Selene left the bright but undecorated room.
“I still remember our first day on Tessalis.” Said Marisa, looking directly in her husband’s eyes. She finally had the time to do so, since the last time they stood on the planet she just mentioned. “I must say I had not expected that our marriage would ever be attended by so many people.”
“You accepted the fact that you would only have two people attending, at most. One of them would be your friend, it is unfortunate that you have to miss her.”
“The members of your team make up for that. Your father too, as well as the others we have met.”
Without any warning, red lights started flashing and one of the security officers stated the worst fear of all members of the coalition: “Enemy commanders detected. Evacuate immediately.”
“Great.” Said Leython with irritation in his voice. “The Seraphim don’t like to see us married.”
“Our marriage can be very helpful for the Coalition. They can obviously not accept that.” Replied Marisa simply while they quickly walked away. “If it goes on like this, we will have to postpone our honeymoon.”
“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.”