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.”
“I agree, general Clarke.” Answered the doctor. “We must work on our recall technology and we should not send our commanders into a position from which they cannot retreat. If the battle would be occurring at a vast continent, they’d have a bigger chance of survival. Now, with the islands in the middle of an ocean, they had no choice but to fight.”
“Our intel has to be improved.” Said Hall immediately. “Since we have been travelling from one planet to another, we can’t get a single word about the rest of the galaxy. It makes it all the easier for the enemy to lure us into a trap.”
“That’s correct, but how can we do that if we have no firepower to withstand the Seraphim for longer than a couple of hours, if we’re lucky?” Asked Clarke. “Or how can we do that if we don’t have the manpower to create a covert network of spies?”
“QAI, you will analyze the battle at Roanoke Abyss and tell me how the battle ends like this.” Spoke Seth-Iavow furiously. He hadn’t seen a single moment of the battle, he only heard how Usii-Lateh spoke his final words. “Your calculations of ninety-nine per cent odds that the enemy perishes at Roanoke, are incorrect. They still live but warrior Usii-Lateh no longer does. Our disappointment in you is... Unnerving.” War Leader Seth-Iavow spoke with his harshest tone possible to clarify how serious the artificial intelligence’s failure was.
“Affirmative.” Responded QAI. When it mentioned the odds that Leython Dygonn died, QAI explicitly said the words ‘Ninety-nine per cent’. Although the final part of the hundred would be an excuse to the Seraphim War-Leader as to why he had lost one of his commandoes, QAI didn’t mention it. Unknown parameters had told that the enemy could escape, but not that they actually make a stand and even kill the Seraphim pilot.
Every calculation contradicted the outcome of the battle completely. QAI therefore searched for parameters in the battle itself, that weren’t included in its expansive work on Dygonn and the men who fought with him. One particular event sparked QAI’s interest: how was it possible that Usii-Lateh’s shields suddenly lacked the energy to function properly?
Within three milliseconds, QAI analyzed the few minutes of fighting before the Seraphim shield generators collapsed. It searched carefully in the myriad of data, something that would never be done in a normal battle, since normal battles didn’t include unexplainable events. The artificial intelligence searched for the reason of the sudden loss of power and had found it.
“At a certain moment, the enemy reverses the quantum leeching device’s effects.” Said QAI while it showed the video feed for Seth-Iavow, not a second after it complied to the War-Leader’s orders.
“This restores the enemy’s income, while it disrupts commando Usii-Latheh’s mass extractors and power generators. It allows Cybran commander Leython Dygonn and UEF major Josh Funky to teleport to his base and strike at their best moment. Here is Usii-Lateh, he stands in the middle of his strategic missile production facility. His four missile silos are directly next to him, one in each direction. Dygonn uses this to his advantage, destroys the silos and incapacitates Usii-Lateh while major Josh Funky covers for him.
Now, Dygonn takes the closest defence silo out of commission and then they both leave. A nuclear missile from Jeff Lancet can no longer be stopped and that will kill Usii-Lateh.” QAI concluded and it closed the video file, leaving the War-Leader’s screen blank.
“Is that all?”
“Affirmative. Dygonn is known for his teleportation actions. He uses it to deal with strategic missile silos, defence silos, experimental weapons that are still under construction. Anything of such significance that he can destroy before his ACU gives in to his enemy’s fire. Analysis shows that Usii-Lateh’s strategic silos and therefore his ACU are completely safe from harm, until the coalition forces suddenly reverse the quantum leeching device’s effects, which completely shuts down the shield generators.”
“Your information about Dygonn’s teleportation activities is not incorrect. Your reports accumulate up to twelve ACUs that are destroyed, ACUs of you or the Order. Other commanders do the same. We will need protection against that.”
“Your scientists have carefully developed the wake tower that prevents anyone within the vicinity from using a quantum gate. I suggest to upgrade it to teleportation level.” Said QAI.
“We will work on that. QAI, your databases and our technology are both necessary for that. Inform the scientists of the new requirement for the wake generator and assist them.”
“Complying.” The single word sounded from the metallic voice that came from Seraphim ACU’s sound systems.
“I have another task for you.”
“Find out how the coalition forces can reverse the quantum leeching device’s effects. You said there was no defence against it, as soon as it strikes. That is where your calculations fail this time and that is where you need to improve or we have to abandon this useful and powerful weapon.”
At the Coalition’s HQ, the quantum device’s latest performance raised interested but also disturbed questions about its origin and about what Sung still had to offer, even after more than eight hundred years.
“The device’s protocols have adapted as soon as QAI downloaded it into its database. A program has been added that reverses the effects.” Said the Symbiont named Djinn while he looked closely at several details in the vast virus’ software. “QAI could analyze the battle data and compile such a program on its own, but that would only work on the data it has now.”
“On its own data, you mean?” Asked Marisa. “That would make sense. The Quantum AI has got no information about a possible alternate version of this virus and cannot anticipate on that. It has nothing on the reversing program, only that it exists and therefore it has to find a solution stop it. It simply cannot do that.”
“Well, technically, it can.” Answered Djinn. “But since this is a quantum virus, with its own powerful encryption, QAI will have a hard time cracking it. Right now, I’m only talking about getting a reversing program from only the original virus. But it can be done differently. Just wait until the program strikes again or gather the data from the last moments of that Seraphim unit, analyze everything and then create its own answer. Of course, it has to crack some encryption. It’ll be hard for QAI, but it can be done.”
“So, you claim that QAI can compile a resolving program to eliminate the virus’ effects that come against it on the battlefield, even if it lacks fifty per cent of the data?”
“Exactly. The words artificial intelligence are well-put for QAI. It is very close to a human being in the way it ‘thinks’. It’ll be a philosophical question to answer if we could really say it thinks, but from a practical point of view we can say that it does. It cracks codes at an amazing speed. That can’t be done with the brute-force method like normal computers do. The problem is, QAI needs a lot of data from the battlefield. Data it might not be able to access right now. That’s why I said it may require the program to strike again.”
“The harder the code is, the longer the artificial intelligence will take to resolve it.” Said Marisa. Djinn nodded and she went on with her thoughts. “Based on the data it has, it will try to overcome the reversing program and compile a better one by itself. If that happens, we are back to the issues we had before general Clarke went to Sung Island.”
“Yes, that’s our hypothetical situation. If it does happen, we’re going to have to do the same, which is impossible. We’re better than QAI if it comes down to thinking and reasoning, but we don’t have its enormous databases and massive processing arrays. What that computer can do in a few seconds, is something a person needs thousands of years for. Now don’t even think about what it takes to do something QAI might need days for, something as sophisticated and extensive as these viruses.”
“Well, as long as the virus can only multiply itself in our systems by reclamation, we don’t have very much to worry about.” Said officer Jason Tinsen while he stood up from his own chair and looked at Djinn and Marisa. “Just don’t reclaim and you’ll be fine.”
“It does put us in a disadvantage though.” Said Jeff, who just joined the others. “If we can’t reclaim their destroyed tanks, but they can reclaim ours, we’re lacking resources compared to them.”
“It all depends on who has access to the final reversing program. That faction will be able to control the phantom device at the end. Those commanders control the resource flow on the field.” Concluded Marisa.
“We should get back to Sung Island.” Said Djinn after a few seconds of silence. “How can the old node compile a process of reversing the device’s effects even though QAI has improved the basic virus? Should we think this is luck?”
“Impossible.” Said Tinsen while and he turned to the Symbiont. “You told about what you saw on his screen. The console there stated that the program was successfully upgraded to stop QAI.”
“That would mean that the Quantum AI indeed has improved it, otherwise the node’s mainframe did not have to upgrade the reversing program. It also means that mainframe is more than just a mainframe. This could be an artificial intelligence as well.” Said Marisa.
“Yes, how else could it upgrade our program to successfully stop QAI?” Asked Djinn. “Even if you program a computer very well and let it check the upgraded virus, you still face one to a trillion odds that it doesn’t work against the updates QAI has made. There are just too many options. To many possibilities to upgrade that virus.
We’ve got its efficiency, its speed, its ability to propagate and the one thing that’s QAI will most probably take a look at now: its security. But there’s another thing. QAI might need several days to reproduce the reversing program, simply because it lacks an extensive amount of data. How long would Sung’s mainframe have taken to do the same?”
“I’ve got an even more intriguing question.” Said William Doyle and all heads turned in his direction. “How is it possible that the program immediately showed up as soon as we plugged this data chip in?” He asked and he showed the chip Lucia took with her from earth. Her mother had given it to her and that was all they knew about it.
“If that thing was the key to all this, something we can be certain about...” Started Marisa... “This is complicated, even by the standards Leython and I hold. Mister Doyle, you said that plugging the chip in started a procedure that compiled several files together into the reversing program. It means that this chip held the key to creating it. Perhaps its parts were not ready at the moment the chip was made, but this means that the key can be eight hundred years old.”
Doyle made a sceptical noise but Marisa already knew that her theory was far-fetched. However, she also knew that there were a couple of far-fetched facts to the story. Facts that could not be denied.
“Perhaps the Sung node provided shelter to people even after its founders left it, we have to find that out, but we have to admit that this chip has made it to Earth before the Seraphim invaded. How can it be that someone saw this coming, at least one and a half year in advance, made this and created a reversing program, only to put it in such a risk? If commander Temera could not save the girl, what would have happened? What is the answer? Did anyone, human or artificial intelligence, anticipate on this and if so, did that one know Lucia would survive with the chip? What else could it be? Asked Marisa as she looked at the disturbed faces.
They already admitted it could not be luck but when did QAI download and upgrade the original virus? When was the reversing program built? How can a chip with a sole purpose be sent to earth even though it takes time before its purpose was known. Marisa heard that Lucia’s mother told it was important. It meant that she, or anyone before her had to know what it was for. The longer Marisa would think about it, the less plausible her ideas were.
“It’s impossible to answer that at this moment, we’ll have to take a look at it.” Said Tinsen and Marisa suddenly realised she was still in a room with others. “Unfortunately, we can be sure that the Quantum AI will have Sung Island in observation now. It has possibly sent five armoured command units there, so we don’t have a chance of going back.”
“Perhaps not.” Replied the Aeon pilot immediately. “But we do have another location where we could take a look: Betrayal Ocean.”
“Edward? Get here right now!” Sephia had told her son to come with her for dinner some minutes ago and still he didn’t show up. She knew how much he hated the Cybran ‘food’. However, he always showed up when his mother told him to. He always hoped that some commanders would have brought some food from Aeon territories during a raid on the Order.
“Edward!” Anger turned into fear because she knew Edward would come right away if she raised her voice. It could only mean that he wasn’t in his room and a quick look confirmed her thoughts. Sephia didn’t hesitate for a moment and stood outside before she knew what she was doing.
Then she realized that she would be searching for a needle in a haystack and if she was to find her son in the community of more than two hundred thousand people. Only if she was lucky, but she didn’t expect to be, she’d run into Edward by walking down the alley.
Sephia wanted to go back in her apartment but suddenly knew where her son would be, even though they hadn’t seen each other today yet.
Three minutes later, she was welcomed by Harm Dygonn.
“Of course he’s here.” Whispered Harm before Sephia could even ask her. “I already told Lucia that commander Temera didn’t make it and she didn’t take the news well. Edward showed up only moments after I told her. He heard we won the battle, but with losses. He said he checked the list and ran downstairs as soon as he could.”
Sephia saw her eight year old son and his friend playing a game before she looked directly at Harm and whispered back: “Should I get some food for all of us? I wanted to go to the mess hall with him but it might be better for them not to hear the name of commander Temera, which they will undoubtedly do if we go there.”
“Harm, it’s your turn.” Interrupted Edward suddenly.
Harm already turned around before he answered Sephia. “Yeah, you could get some food, we’ll be busy for the next hour.” He said evasively, the children could hear him very well.
“I hope we’ve got some more than the usual.” Said Lucia quickly. “Could you please look for something from home?”
Even before Sephia made it to the mess hall, she heard people mentioning the names of the fallen. However, judging by the tone of the conversations, no one in the hallways and alleys had suffered a personal loss. They were only worried about the protection they still had. Would that be enough?
It wasn’t until she actually made it to one of the lower levels that she heard someone speaking of commander Temera in a personal way.
“Eric saved a little girl on Earth. He risked his life by staying there for just a minute longer and because of that, this girl still lives. Because of that, we were able to eventually stop the quantum device and leave. That means Eric had not only saved a girl, but he saved us as well.”
Sephia moved on without realizing that the one who was speaking was major Josh Funky. He and Selene Elenes were going the other way. The two commanders were off duty, as well as the others who survived the battle, but they actually used their time to get to know each other better.
“So how was it inside Order territory?” Asked Josh suddenly. Caught off guard by the sudden change of subject, Selene spent a minute thinking of how she should explain it.
“It was... bad. To say the least. I wish I could tell you.” She eventually said. Her tone shocked Josh.
“Is it that horrific? That you actually got a trauma from it?” Before he finished his question, Selene already shook her head.
“No, it is not bad in that way. It is complicated to explain. That might also be the reason as to why it is easy for the UEF and the Cybran Nation to form an alliance, but issues arouse when the Loyalists join. The cultures differ too much.”
“Many just don’t trust Aeon pilots simply because we all know that the Order supports the Seraphim. You could do the same.”
“Then we would not be here. If it were to be that, we would have stayed away from coalition HQ. Even worse, if all Loyalists would support the order instead of fighting it, they would have served Avatar-of-War Marxon and helped him win the war.” Said Selene calmly.
“Yes, I understand.” Replied Josh quickly. “That’s not the problem and I don’t think it would be, although several people do. The biggest problem I see is the history.”
“That is indeed the issue for the coalition. Aeon commanders have executed nothing but cleansing operations in the past. It has always to do with the so-called superiority of The Way. Our civilians have never seen so much activity from the Cybrans or the UEF in our territory, but the Aeon military has always searched to cleanse as many souls as possible. With Marxon as Avatar-of-War, that made it to a whole new and terrifying level. It is why the Aeon are feared and deserve to be hated.”
“How do you know so much about it? If it were like that, why did you still work for Marxon such a long time.”
“Because of our society. As children, we are already taught about The Way. Our teachers are specialized and we frequently saw priests. Aside from that, everything in the community is based on harmony, truth, trust and peace.” Selene said and she took a pause.
“That doesn’t sound really bad to begin with. I’d even want to live there if it weren’t for the association with oppression, cleansing and... How did you call it? Superiority of The Way?”
“That is the exact problem. We learn so much from our teachers, priests and family, that we soon think they have an answer for everything. Through the years, the answers always came, but it always referred to The Way.”
“I don’t see that as a big deal to begin with. I mean, it may be a bit narrow-minded but that completely depends on your philosophy of The Way to begin with. Does that make the people narrow-minded or not?” Asked Josh, hoping Selene wouldn’t become angry because he accidentally called The Way narrow-minded.
“It doesn’t.” Answered Selene in the most serene tone possible. “But it does make us naive and easy to manipulate.”
“We both already mentioned it: Superiority. Because the priests, teachers and parents can explain anything to you, you believe them right away when they tell you to live as The Way tells you to. Not a problem on its own, but anything you can explain just by mentioning those two words will be believed right away. Especially by children.
“You can indoctrinate them. Propaganda would work.” Said Josh, remembering the way little boys were mesmerized when they walked in the ACUs hangars in an introduction program.
“Exactly, but that is still no real problem when you are young. By the time that you finish your education, you have seen so many priests and evaluators speaking the truth. Everything they say will turn out to be correct. When you find that out, you will no longer question them. That is when it goes wrong because that is the exact moment joining the Aeon military is an option. If we were not allowed to follow a piloting program before we were twenty-three years old, we might have had so many different experiences that we no longer take anything a superior claims.
But as eighteen-year olds, who have just left the perfectly safe and secure environment, the words of Avatar-of-War Marxon sounded perfect. Sacrificing the lives of every UEF citizen and every abomination, as he always said when he referred to the Symbionts, was the only way to end the Infinite War. Otherwise, the war would go on endlessly and eventually kill more and more Aeon lives.”
“I think that what I’m about to say has been said many times before.” Josh said as he finally understood what Selene was trying to explain. “That technically, he is correct. Sacrificing a hundred people so you are able to save two hundred, perhaps even ten years later, seems to be the best thing to do.”
“Absolutely. But as you mouthed the word ‘seems’, you have already shown that you look further, you are smarter than many of us who when we just joined the Aeon military training. You ask questions.”
“Then I’ve got another one. How can it be that Marxon, who undoubtedly has no superiors in his own army, has not asked these questions by himself?”
“I do not know. I do not know enough about the Avatar-of-War to tell you. However, it is not important. What we do know is how much power he managed to gain. I dare to say that he had more influence than princess Rhianne Burke at the end of the Infinite War. Because he had a voice that is trained in The Way and because he was the best commander in history.”
“Hard to believe that such enlightenment, which it very well may be, can lead to such ignorance.”
“I prefer not to say that word.” Said Selene and for the first time she seemed a little bit irritated. “But it is true. We are enlightened but we forget one thing. No, two actually. The first is that we must never forget to ask questions and the second is that enlightenment does not guarantee you that you are better than anyone else.”
“With the Avatar dead.” Josh said, moving on to the invasion of the Seraphim. “The princess told what we wanted to hear. Peace for the UEF. Freedom for the Cybran Nation. Why has no one picked that up in the Aeon community? I can understand that, after the marks that Marxon left behind on the people, not many citizens will understand the words of the princess immediately. Most will be shocked at first but surely some will understand?”
“I had hoped that the words of the princess would come to the hearts of the best evaluators and that did happen in some occasions. Yet again, it is only the most powerful one who can seize control and Kael was more at the hand of Avatar Marxon than any other evaluator. She ignored it and immediately joined forces with the Seraphim as they arrived.” Said Selene, with her eyes cast down.
“To make matters worse, the princess disappeared. It is said that she perished, rumours that are apparently contradicted by the Loyalists. Marisa Gawain, who could also have become the princess of the Illuminate, could not ascent because Kael was too fast. So you see that the only reasonable voices with influence are unable to do anything, while the founders of The Way have just returned. Given our history, it is absolutely not surprising that it ended like this.”
In just one second, the fragile but highly volatile building exploded and took the three others with it in its blast. The alien ACU stood in the middle of the four explosions that merged in one sudden outburst.
Instantly, the ACU’s legs were blown apart and its torso came crashing to the ground. The Seraphim weapon was powerful and had an incredible regenerative system but that didn’t mean it was invulnerable.
“With all of those advanced systems, you’d expect them to think of a safety mechanism for when those missile silos blow up.” Said Josh while he started building a tier two shield generator at the exact spot where one of the silos first stood. The blast was big enough to tear the whole building apart and not leave any wreckage behind.
The alien command unit was nearly unrecognizable. It had not only lost its legs but most of the armour was blown away as well. All of its upgrades were gone but the core was still unscarred.
“I bet that I’ll still get that laser back if I target it.” Said Leython while he planted an overcharge bolt between the two siege tanks that came rushing to help their master.
“He’s still conscious as well, he’s actively sending units to help himself.” Replied Josh while he constructed another shield generator. “I bet you’ve got a way to kill him?”
“Jeff, launch. We’re going back to base before those destroyers and that battleship tear us down.”
While Josh activated his teleportation module again, he looked at his radar and searched for the Seraphim battleship amongst the destroyers that were already there, until Leython showed him how the slow but devastating Aeon experimental moved towards the Seraphim island.
Leython waited for the alien shield generators to collapse because of the power shortage, then fired the microwave laser once again before he ordered his commander to leave too.
In the meanwhile, Jeff’s strategic missile was airborne and while the Seraphim frantically tried to get its legs back through his basic regenerative systems, Josh left and a few seconds later, Leython followed him.
“The Seraphim commander is the only one with air superiority fighters. Shilon, you’re going to build torpedo bombers, Jeff, you keep concentrating on nuclear missiles and add tier three fighters to your list. Marisa, Selene, continue building your fleet, go south and attack from there. Josh, do the usual, transports with land units. I’ll build strategic bombers.”
By the time Leython had explained everything, Jeff’s strategic missile arrived directly above the Seraphim ACU and turned around. Three seconds later, it exploded and took the commander with it in its blast. The golden flames of the UEF missile met the blue bedazzling arcs Leython recognized as the Seraphim core that exploded. He had seen it at the moment the first UEF , enlightening the whole of Roanoke Abyss.
“HQ, this is Leython Dygonn, Seraphim commander destroyed, we will concentrate on the Order forces now.”
“Commander Dygonn, what will you do if another Seraphim arrives?” asked the HQ officer immediately.
“He won’t.” Answered Leython simply. “That wake generator will have a pretty bad effect for the oncoming ten or twenty minutes, even though it is destroyed. What’s keeping us in here, will keep them out.”
A second strategic missile exploded and filled the sky. It was targeted at Halley’s fleet but she was smart enough to disperse the ships and thanks to her speed, the missile didn’t destroy anything. Moments later, some air superiority fighters arrived and three were shot down immediately by the shard boats and tier two cruisers that had responded at the first sight.
Out of nowhere, five strategic bombers appeared, Halley immediately recognized that they were protected by their own stealth generators. They dropped their payload before the ships could fire again and each bomb sunk one cruiser.
The air units immediately moved on to a second group of ships, this time without decoy. Halley ordered each cruiser to target one and they succeeded, taking them all out, but only shortly after they dropped a new bomb. Halley’s second squad was left with only the shard boats as anti-air support.
She immediately tried to pack all ships together again, before her third and last group could be destroyed, but she was too late.
The traitors had protected their islands carefully and didn’t lose so much in the last assault. As a result, they arrived with a fleet larger than Halley’s and that one wasn’t split up in three parts. The ships charged without even stopping to use range as an advantage. Eight oblivion cannons struck at the same time, instantly sinking a destroyer.
After twenty seconds, the ships were so close that they targeted each other with torpedoes. The enemy destroyers used their decoys well and Halley saw all of her own ships’ torpedoes missing. What she didn’t expect was that her decoys were potent enough to attract the enemy weapons, but then she saw why they changed course. The naval battle took place directly above Diona’s ACU. The stream struck her command unit and the core ruptured immediately.
Due to the pressure at such depth, the explosion didn’t seem to ripple the water surface, leaving all ships completely unharmed. However, that was the least for Halley to worry about.
Out of nowhere, several torpedo bombers appeared and struck at the two groups that were relatively safe from the traitors’ fleet. Without any defence, they were matchless.
Since the torpedo bombers came as a surprise, Halley knew they had lost all intel near the naval battle. A new group of Cybran strategic bombers was probably the cause, she thought.
“Templar!” The sudden cry from knight Ledia made Halley realise that it was going the wrong way even faster than she’d thought at the moment the Seraphim pilot perished. “My island’s defences are compromised. I am being overrun!”
Halley reacted immediately despite of her own problems. “Knight Cera, support with all of your gunships. I will be sending the few ships I have left. We have ten minutes left to hold out, then we are back on Seraphim Two.”
Cera sent the air units she had while the tier one UEF artillery on Ledia’s island systematically took out all of the anti-air towers in range. They completed their task just before the gunships arrived. The few tanks in the group found an omni sensor and destroyed it with a couple of shots, blinding the Order forces at Ledia’s base.
Jeff’s tier three fighters had no stealth generators in their design but since Josh had destroyed the enemy radar, the UEF captain didn’t have to worry about being detected. At the moment the first few Aeon gunships fired, they were intercepted by a dozen Wasp air superiority fighters. The sudden attack didn’t overwhelm the Aeon Spectres but the enemy didn’t have any means of defence and the fighters were left unopposed.
While the squad of gunships quickly lost its firepower, the Lobo artilleries simply destroyed every shield generator on the island and continued on the mass extractors. Within a couple of minutes, Ledia’s base was reduced to a pile of rubble.
Leython sent his new strategic bombers to circumvent the Order frontline that was still relatively intact and ended up at Cera’s island. The bombers found the only two strategic missile defences on the island and dropped their payload. The shields succumbed to the first bombs and let a few through. In an instant, the defence silos were destroyed.
Jeff immediately launched three strategic missiles and as a response, Cera moved away from her base. She left the safety of the shield generators that didn’t collapse and her ACU stepped in the water. At the moment she thought the distance was enough to survive the nukes, a vast number of fresh torpedo bombers appeared and dropped an evenly vast group of torpedoes.
The explosion from Cera’s ACU was nothing compared to the blast from Jeff’s three nukes, that had exploited the weak points on Aldesse’s island. The weapons left a few structures and the command unit intact. The Order commander tried to rebuild her base but was forced to retreat.
Marisa Gawain and Selene Elenes had surrounded her with their fleets. Destroyers charged their guns, fired and Aldesse tried to evade the shots. Plasma bolts exploded everywhere around her and damaged her ACU, but caused no major problem, but then she ran out of luck when several shots hit the command unit directly, causing critical damage to her core. A few more ruptured it and caused it to explode. The third order commander was dead.
In the meanwhile, Ledia had barely escaped the myriad of Josh’s artillery fire and now stood in the water, only to meet the torpedo bombers that had killed Cera. She walked back on the shore again and immediately faced a squad of tier two heavy tanks. She fired an overcharged shot that was blocked by the only shield generator in the middle of her execution squad. A group of tier one bombers only quickened her death. Halley and Taelia were the only ones left.
Taelia tried to make it to safety by retreating to her second base in the outer circle. A moment after she arrived, a Cybran ACU stood behind her. Neither the Order commander nor Leython Dygonn wasted any moment and commenced the one-to-one battle. Taelia had a few tier two point defences that struck the Cybran ACU but it was nothing to the crimson coloured beam that hit hers. She retreated towards her closest shield for a few seconds extra time. Without a personal shield generator though, she had no chance of making it and Leython closed his eyes so he wouldn’t be blinded by the explosion.
Halley was hidden under her own experimental battleship, hoping that the torpedo bombers would target that for the last minute she had to wait before she could leave Roanoke Abyss by the Order’s recall system. Her enemies were too fast though. Strategic bombers were ordered to target the water above the submerged ship and a group of fifteen brought it down in moments.
The battleship sunk slowly and allowed Halley to make a run for it, which was of no use. Another group of torpedo bombers, built by every member of the coalition forces, arrived and destroyed her ACU without any remorse.
As soon as Leython entered the hangar, he heard the cheering and celebrating technicians and officers through the audio channel of his ACU. He wasn’t in the mood for any celebration though. They had lost nine commanders. Nine people fighting for the future of the human race. Nine men, all with their own story. They had lost talented commanders who were recruited only a year ago, but also some experienced pilots and one of the best officers from the UEF Academy of all time.
They emerged victorious and killed nine commanders, just as many as they had lost. One death was the reason for cheering at the six that had made it back: a Seraphim commander was killed. Without even knowing what he did, or noticing the all the people who congratulated with their success, Leython made his way to the generals’ office, closely followed by the three members of the five-man team he left with and the two Illuminate pilots.
Generals Clarke, Hall, brigadier Fletcher, elite-commander Dostya and doctor Brackman expected them there for a debriefing. Leython was sure that they would think of the price of their victory: a dangerous blow to their own coalition.
However, it was not the victory, nor the casualties that Hall spoke of when they had all entered the room: “The mission was to extract the important and rare resources for the cores of our ACUs. You were successful for as long as you were on Swui Four. What normally would take a few weeks for the UEF or a dozen of days for the Cybran Nation, is done much faster by you. The resources are enough to construct two new cores. The common materials such as carbon, iron and aluminium will be used for the ACU’s hull.”
Leython didn’t think about that success at all though and by a glance to his left and right, he saw that no one cared. “We lost nine commanders, sir.” Said Josh, with his eyes cast down. “We have destroyed a Seraphim pilot and eight Order commanders but we lost too much of our own men.”
“Correct, major Funky.” Answered general Clarke. “The losses are high, but the victory is still ours. You destroyed another Seraphim commander. You showed that the first victory we had, twenty-four days ago, isn’t pure luck. This increases our morale, it gives us more hope.”
“General Clarke, our mission may be a success, but we lost more commanders and ACUs than we gained.” Retorted Leython. “In pure numbers, it’s going the wrong way.”
“Leython, my boy.” Interrupted doctor Brackman. “Of course you are right, but who here expected anyone to survive such a trap? We have lost some men, but thwarted their progress. We have seen about a secret weapon at the first day they field tested it. Remember how it took the UEF and the Aeon months, even years to learn about the Monkeylord? To add to it, we thwarted their progress in warfare. We rendered the phantom device useless only moments after they introduced it to the battle. In raw ACU numbers, we lost, but in the total picture, we won.”
“Before we move on.” Said Clarke before anyone could respond. “We have two things to do. We need a new fifth member for Dygonn’s team.”
“Do I have a team all of a sudden?” Asked Leython. He knew that whenever he was on the field, he assumed command and told everyone what they had to do and he was appointed as squad leader on several occasions, but he had never actually been appointed as the commander of his own strike force.
“And we’re going to find a group of commanders you can work with. I assume that you want to meet the loyalist movement first?”
“Actually, general.” Said Leython. “The two problems can solve each other. I know Marisa... quite well. She already told me she worked with Selene a lot and knows her strengths. If I could have them in ‘my’ team, I think we could become a well-organized and powerful squad.”
“A team of six is a good idea.” Answered the general. “Colonel Stirling told me, just when you had left the Academy, that your team was the best he ever trained, Dygonn. He called you ‘his best six’ and thought everyone would make it through a life of battle at the front.”
“He was mistaken.” Said Leython. “Simon Beck is dead. Michelle Aiko died at the final battle of the Infinite War and Eric Temera was killed just an hour ago.”
“Three of you are still alive. In the last decade of the war, at three or four out of the six commanders from the Academy died within two years. You six were really the best we had. Three of you are still left and you work very well with your fourth man. Since you know the two Aeon pilots already, I won’t be surprised if you can not only restore the best six to its former glory, but surpass its qualities. We mustn’t forget the price of victory, you are right about that, but we also mustn’t forget the prize of victory. We lost nine men, but we gained a team.”
“Leython, the general is right.” Said Selene suddenly. “As soon as the Seraphim commander perished, Halley’s team fell faster than anyone could possibly imagine. That is only possible if everyone works in perfect harmony. We did exactly as you ordered, while making the right decisions on our own, and the result of that is a force to be reckoned with.”
“Yes, you’re right.” Answered Leython immediately. He sighed. “I am thinking too much of the men we lost today. It felt like I was getting weak. Some years ago, back in the UEF, I didn’t even think about pilots we lost. I only continued, fighting on more determined than before.”
“You are becoming more human.” Replied Marisa. “And you might not have thought about what you would do after the battle.”
“That must be it. I have been busy lately. Like everyone else.”
“But we don’t have any time to rest,” interrupted general Clarke, “so you’d better get to introduce yourself to each other. Go to the medical centre first, we would’ve gotten you there first if this battle wasn’t so important. Then, you can really form your new team of six.”
As they left the room, major Josh Funky was the first one to regain his confidence and sense of humour, as he briefly forgot about the price they paid for their victory. “You’re going to be our commander now Leython, with your own team. That means that you’d be a major or colonel by the UEF ranking standards.”
Finally, Leython had some words that really cheered him up and made him think of what they had gained by this battle. “Good to see you agree with me being your superior. My first order is to get me some tea as soon as we’re done with this medical check-up.”
“Excuse me.” interrupted Selene and Leython heard a trace of fear in her voice. “Are you two usually like this?”
“Oh yeah.” Said the four men at the same time. “All four of us actually.”
“You’ll love it.” Continued Josh happily. “Welcome to Stirling’s new team of Six.