“Watch and learn, Shilon, watch and learn.”
Instantly, so it seemed, Leython’s engineers started building tactical missile launchers. He had very little time, but it was not undoable. If the Aeon hadn’t strengthened the armour around the Galactic Colossus’ eye, because they didn’t learn from their mistakes or couldn’t find a way to protect the eye, then only one missile was able to blow away the Colossus’ focusing lens.
“What are you doing? Those things are useless. I thought that you knew how weapons worked. You’re the intelligence expert after all!” Shilon said angrily.
“Shilon,” Leython answered quickly, “we’ve got no chance but to try this out. There isn’t time to build a proper force to deal with the Colossi or to evacuate ourselves and all the people in the Three-Rivers’ capital. We’ve got to do it this way.”
“Do what? Committing suicide while building TMLs?” The Cybran asked.
“No, finding out if they’ve learned from the weak spot in the Colossus’ design or not.”
“For as far as I know, it doesn’t have a weak spot and three of them are now moving our way. I’d say that we run and build a quantum gate to try to get the citizens off planet, then move into the water. We might just make that!”
“No need to, the spy plane I sent tells me that they haven’t learned from the past.” Leython said calmly, knowing that one missile would be enough to make the almost two hundred metres high unit virtually useless...
Three missiles were launched and they moved in on their targets at high speed, exploding when they collided, but causing little damage and Leython’s second spy plane told why.
“Oh, they did learn from the past, that’s bad.” He said.
“How so and what are we going to do about it?” Shilon was worried, Leython could tell by his voice.
“It’s eye can be shut! That’s unfair, those Aeon are cheaters!” He said.
“Well,” Shilon said, unable not to laugh about Leython’s angry tone, “weren’t you a cheater when you destroyed the eye for the first time?”
“Whatever, but now I’m just going to launch five at them. I actually thought of the time that this could go wrong and they’re coming horribly close now.” The UEF pilot answered and he immediately launched five missiles he had built, just to be sure.
This time, the plan worked. One Colossus’ eye was destroyed, the armour that was supposed to protect it, appeared to be too weak. However, it was only the eye and the rest of the gigantic unit moved forward, along with its two companions, that were still unscarred.
Leython quickly ordered all of his engineers in the area to assist in the construction of more missiles, he needed a total of ten. Within moments, the five launchers had all produced on missile, that were launched immediately, to strike at the enemy. The live feed provided Leython with an all to accurate sound of charging lasers, while the first engineers were grabbed by the gravity claws.
Shilon had moved away in his ACU and Leython decided that it was about time that he’d do the same. While he moved, a massive explosion caused one Colossus to fall down and the others to stop and process what had happened.
The five missiles had made it so close to the eye that the laser hit them and they exploded. The eye wasn’t shut and because of that, the laser’s core engine that was located directly behind the eye, exploded, causing this colossus to blow up and another one seemed to be losing its balance.
However, the only one that was still able to fire its laser ploughed on forward and it charged its laser again. More and more engineers were being taken by the gravity claws, like children’s toys. It was too late though. Another set of missiles flied upwards and went straight for the eye.
Also this eye wasn’t shut because the laser continued firing. It exploded as well.
“You see, Shilon, it’s all right. Now, there’s one which can still move but has lost the firepower of its eye. If we plant an overcharge bolt in the eye, the core engine will still explode, causing the Colossus to fall down.”
“Ok, will you do that please, you’re closer to it than I am.” Shilon said.
“Pfah, you’re just afraid of being crushed.” Leython answered.
“No comment.” Shilon replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Another five minutes later, the situation looked completely different. Leython’s base was blooming because of the three wrecks that had been reclaimed. He had upgraded every mass extractor to the highest level, every radar tower was an omni sensor too and he had also built the eight tier three Ion reactors for the upkeep.
Shilon ordered one spy plane after another to check in on the enemy bases and he waited for Leython to build a suitable force to take them out. Then...
“Leython, they’ve got a strategic missile launcher!” Shilon said.
“Ok, we’re going to build missile defences.” He answered.
“We’ve got to build one at the node’s capital as well.”
“More like four. The city’s huge and we’ve got to tell them to stop moving, otherwise they’ll be out of our protective range in no time.” Leython concluded.
“I’ll contact them right away.” Shilon said and he opened a channel to contact Ibann.
In the meanwhile, Leython sent several transports towards the city, he had to get the engineers there as quickly as possible. Shilon had finally been able to get through the enemy defence line with a spy plane and now it had revealed a strategic missile launcher that was fully operational. There was no clue that could tell them when the first missile would be launched. Leython was almost completely certain that it was going to be too soon.
“Shilon, I think that we’ll never get SMDs everywhere, to protect both the city and our base. I’m still pumping out spy planes though and I’m transferring all of them to you. Keep them outside of the enemies’ omni range and they’ll not be discovered. When you hear a strategic missile launch notification, send all of the spy planes over the missile launcher and they might just hit the missile.”
“Ok, I’ll do that, you’re pretty fond of cheating, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am, but I’d rather give it the name of ‘simple answers to complicated problems’. Of course, that’s just how you’ve got to live. Never make it harder for yourself than absolutely necessary.”
“Strategic launch detected.” Sounded suddenly from the cockpit’s audio boxes.
“Ok that’s it already, send those spy planes!” Leython yelled.
“I’m going to let them fly a bit higher, by the time they arrive, the missile has already gained speed and altitude.”
Shilon ordered the planes to go higher and higher, which was possible, but seriously decreased the sensors’ effectiveness. The sensor waves those planes sent, were too weak when they returned to the spy plane, making them unable to give a signal of the ground below them.
It was no problem though. The units were no longer meant to make a report of what happened at the enemy’s base, but they had to collide with a missile.
Seconds later, they did. The missile was hit by the improvised counter measure and it was taken off its flight path. It was flipped so much around its own axel that it couldn’t go to its original target anymore, but would crash into the ground, some hundreds of metres away from the missile launcher, in the middle of the Aeon base.
For this possible event, of which most commanders thought of as a faulty designated target, every faction had provided the missiles with a counter measure. If one would hit a friendly base, it was going to self destruct high above the ground and so Leython and Shilon were provided with some very impressive fireworks.
“It’s not over yet.” Shilon said, knowing that the explosion managed to vaporize every spy plane but did no damage to the base at all. Years and years of development had provided everyone with powerful missiles that weren’t very expensive, but their effective blast radius was limited and beyond that range, there would never be a sign of damage.
“It’s time to continue on those missile defences. Shilon, we won’t have resources to construct more units. Use what we have instead and target the weakest enemy. When that’s done, protect the wreckages and I’ll send in engineers to reclaim for more mass.”
“Ok, let’s end this party.”
“Knight Elenes, what is the status?” The Avatar-of-War asked.
“They are still alive Avatar, our enemy is proving to be a powerful foe. They’re improvising one counter measure after another. They already destroyed our three experimental bots with a couple of tactical missiles, that were targeted at the Colossus’ eye.”
“ What, is that weak spot still there?” Marxon asked.
“Excuse me avatar?” Elenes asked.
“The colossus’ eye proved to be a weak point about a year ago. Then a UEF commander targeted it with a tactical missile and blew the Colossus up with an overcharge bolt. That is why a counter measure has been installed. You may not have heard of it because you were appointed with the duty of Knight only recently.”
“The same happened here, one colossus was destroyed while its eye was shut, it had been struck with five missiles.” Elenes asked.
“That means that the armour is still weak. The engineers will have to redesign it. Thank you for notifying me, I will pass it along immediately so that this flaw will be removed. Now return your attention to the battle.” Marxon concluded and he closed the channel.
“Well, as if it were not enough, those two Cybrans have just taken out my missile with a swarm of spy planes. They may not be followers of the Way nor they seem to be willing to live by nature’s laws by imbibing them with artificial intelligence, but they certainly are crafty.” Selene Elenes said out loud, though no one could hear her.
“Fellow pilots,” she had opened a channel to her allies, “we must be able to retreat at a moment’s notice. These enemies are dangerous, construct a quantum gate and ensure that you are capable of leaving at any time necessary.”
“Knight Elenes, that were not the orders of Avatar-of-War Marxon.” Her companion Sheila Ido said. “We are to cleanse the city and not leave before that has been done.”
“We are likely to fail and would you not rather fail and live with the possible shame than fail and be unable to tell the story afterwards?”
“I am an Aeon knight, I will not succumb to those abominations.”
“You may want to dub them ‘abominations’, but they are not, I think. They are rather interesting... And dangerous.”
“Elenes!” Nina Quio shot at her with an angry look. “You don’t talk about them like that. You know that they are abominations that will never understand the meaning of The Way. That is why they are still fighting, why they are not united like we are and that is also why we will cleanse them. There is not threat ---” Nina fell silent, an army was moving towards her. It could never have come so close if she had built artillery stations and point defences, but in her urge to cleanse the enemy as soon as possible, she had both of her knights ordered to construct a Galactic Colossus when the ‘normal’ assaults proved to be useless. Now, there was nothing she could do, except for...
“Retreat, Templar Quio!” Selene said, hastily ordering the construction of gunships that might slow the enemy down. She feared that it was useless though. The army moved towards her superior at high speed and first buildings were about to be attacked.
Nina ordered her fighters to take off, making them guard the Aluminar transport she had quickly constructed. She had thought that building defence turrets were a waste of time and resources by her two knights, but now she realized that it had done more damage than she thought. Because of the small firebases that Elenes and Ido had built, her base was the weakest in terms of defences.
She spent her resources in a new Colossus, which was not completed yet. Because of that, she had no other units and her base stood no chance against the Cybran tier three bots and heavy tanks that were now using their weaponry to the fullest.
Feeling that the transports gravity claws had picked her up, she ordered it to move to Ido’s base. When she arrived there, she could assist in the battle again, by the use of the Resource Allocation System she had just built. This was a slowdown in the plan, but nothing more than that.
She would be proven wrong only moments later.
“Shilon, get the fighters flying!” Leython yelled, the enemy commander had built a transport and was no doubt intending to use it to fly away. There was no better chance than this.
“What about the node?” Shilon asked, worried about the air cover that the Three-Rivers’ capital now missed.
“Don’t worry, the commander that built that missile silo has got no units, because she built that silo, the other one hasn’t even got an air factory and the third has just got that transport and a couple of fighters. No bombers whatsoever.” Leython said. The battle was going well because the enemy had wasted an enormous amount of resources and he had all the intel required to find out that the Aeon were at a major disadvantage now.
The air superiority fighters soared in, their stealth systems still protecting them until they flew in the omni sensor’s range. Then, the enemy fighters would attempt to thwart the assault, but they were outnumbered at least three to one. Leython had another idea to deal a devastating blow to the enemy:
“Shilon, order them to stop.” He said.
“Tell me, do you want her dead or what?!” Shilon asked, confused by the sudden order.
“Just do it and give them the order to attack three seconds later.” Leython answered, realizing where the Aeon commander was going to. If that other - unshielded - base was her final destination, then that base was about to be decimated as well.
“Fighters!” Elenes shrieked, seeing gray dots appear at the screen at the moment they entered the Sheila’s omni sensor’s range. It was too late though. They rushed on at full speed and Nina attempted to make an emergency drop, but to no avail. The Aluminar was struck by more than a hundred missiles and exploded above a tier three power generator. The ACU fell down and hit the spiky orb...
It was all too much for the ACU and the quantum reactor. Selene heard Nina screaming so loud that it seemed to tear the air apart. The crash in the power plant caused its core to erupt and destroyed the ACU’s resource allocation system. The ACU exploded and Templar Quio was gone.
“That’s why I wanted to have you wait for three seconds.” Leython said in a simple tone.
“Cool, nice job.” Shilon replied, retreating the air units that had survived the massive explosion. Those could do their former job again: protecting the node from aerial attacks.
“Now, what shall I do first, take out this base where the Loyalists and Rhinos are now, or move them further towards the second base?” Shilon asked, seeing that the buildings still stood and therefore that the Aeon commander was able to transfer the base just before she died.
“Leave them here, I’ll send a new group of units directly towards that other base and then we can calmly prepare our assault upon the last enemy.” Leython answered.
“I’m going to request a retreat, Sheila!” Selene said.
“What?! We still are here, we can still produce units and fight back.” Shiela said angrily.
“But we can’t turn the battle in our favour anymore, no matter how many Colossi or Czars we build. We will be eliminated. Whoever gave the order to attack Quio’s transport at the moment that it was above your base, and not before that time, was smart. We are outwitted by far. They have more experience.”
“No, I’m not giving up because we have suffered some losses. I will cleanse them!”
“Knight Elenes is correct, knight Ido.” Marxon interrupted. He had received word of Quio’s death by the Choir member that supervised the battle. “Build quantum gates and leave. Be sure that you leave at exactly the same time, otherwise one of you will suffer from the quantum wake. Good luck.”
Marxon closed the channel again.
“I’m not going to leave. Transfer your arsenal to me if you want, but you’re not going to get me with you. Tell that to Marxon.” Sheila said.
“That’s madness! Do you want to survive or not?” Selene was stunned, how could someone think like that?
“You’re pretty simple minded for someone who knew a possible princess of the Aeon. There is no such thing as live and death. If my ACU explodes, I will be one with the Way.”
“One with the Way that you misinterpret. It looks like I can’t convince you to leave while you still can. Farewell Sheila.”
One minute later...
“An Aeon commander left the field. One to go!” Shilon said when he noticed the quantum wake eruption.”
“Send in all of the units right away. We must not give her a single chance to escape.” Leython replied, hoping that he would finally get some rest at the Three-Rivers node. Jumping into a battle was exhausting and he had forgotten how exhausting it was, during the three weeks absence of piloting an ACU.
He also wasn’t completely familiarized with the Cybran’s ACU console lay-out, which confused him several times already. There was time to learn to work with the difference though, especially because there were days without an Aeon assault.
While he thought about this battle, Shilon managed to destroy the remaining enemy ACU. The battle had ended, but there was one other thing to do. Leython contacted doctor Brackman:
“What is it, mister Dygonn?”
“The enemy has been taken care of, but—” Leython was cut off.
“Splendid, my friend, splendid. How was the first battle in a Cybran ACU?”
“Not bad, I still have to learn to work with it though. There is only one thing.”
“Tell me, what is it?”
“We have those mobile stealth generators, yes? Well, the tanks we have, have such a low range that there’s only a small margin for them to move while firing, but not being fired at. I never really liked to use mobile missile launchers but I’d really like to have a unit that has got a long range, but fires rockets or missiles that are fast and will go directly at my enemy’s units, instead of flying around and then aligning with a hostile tank. Do you think that we could make such a unit, that would be available at the tier two stage?”
“I’ll take a look at it, we can do it, but it takes time to develop.”
“Thanks, it would be really great if such a unit could fire further than the point defences’ visual range. Then they’re really useful to lay siege upon an enemy base, even if they have radar, because we’ve got the stealth generator’s protection.
In the Three-Rivers capital...
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Ibann speaking, I have good news: the Aeons have been driven away. They’re no longer on planet and we are safe. Thank you for your attention, more information is coming later this evening.”
“President?” Secretary Torino addressed his superior.
“Yes?” Ibann asked.
“Do you remember what I said three or four days ago?”
“You can’t remember when you said it, so why should I remember at all?”
“You’ve got a point there sir, but what I said,” Torino continued, “is that you’ll never despise Dygonn, but you might even thank him. You’ll have to thank him today already. He is one of the two commanders that saved us.”
“Interesting... This has indeed taken away any doubt I had. Thanks for telling, Torino.
Three weeks ago, we have lost John Vedder, the direct descendant of Lars and Tisa Vedder-Sung, who founded the Three-Rivers node with Ecthellis Sung. Now, we have gained a new ally, one who was partially responsible for John’s death. Life can be vile sometimes, but we must realize that life can be just as generous.”
“She did not want to fall back?” Marxon asked.
“No, Avatar, she did not and now she will be destroyed.” The Choir member said.
“Ok, contact knight Elenes and tell her that I want to speak to her.” The Avatar-of-War said, knowing that there was nothing that could change the outcome of the battle.
Fifteen minutes later...
“I am stunned. She did not leave?” Marxon asked calmly.
“No.” Selene answered, her eyes cast down, she couldn’t tell why someone would dare to do a thing so foolish.
“Do not let your emotions gain the upper hand. Acknowledge her death, but do not dwell in the event.”
“I am not saddened by her death.” Selene said and she looked up. “I am baffled by how she died. She refused to retreat and bring herself to safety. Why?”
“She did not understand the Way correctly. Fighting in the name of the Way for as long as possible does not mean the same thing as sacrificing yourself at the moment that your defeat is certain, if you can still retreat.”
“You once said, in one of your speeches, that the ones who are in harmony with themselves and their surroundings, will win the battle. Were the Cybrans more in harmony than we were? Is that why we lost the battle?”
“You ask an interesting question.” The Avatar answered, his face revealing nothing, but he was furious about the fact that Elenes seemed no longer be understanding what the Way meant. The Cybrans are abominations and yet she wondered if they were more advanced in the Way than she.
“They are not more in harmony than you are, you are less in harmony than they are. It would be better for you not to participate on the battlefields just yet.” He said
“Avatar, respectfully, are you saying that I am barely advanced in the Way?” Selene asked cautiously.
“That is correct, but not a shame. Many knights have this issue but most of them will understand eventually.” Marxon answered, still revealing no trace of anger or resentment, though he fully realized his disappointment in Selene because she failed at her duty to assist the Aeon military.
“I do not understand. I have known a good friend, she was advanced in the way and –”
This time, Marxon cut her off and made clear that he would not be negotiated with.
“Knight Marisa Zelda Gawain did not understand either.” He said firmly. “If she did, she would still be here and perhaps be a Crusader. She was a good strategist, but did not understand the Way as well as I did and as you will eventually do. Now go. Within an hour, you must have cleared your ACU from any personal belongings. The ACU will go to another knight while you will take your time to study the Way so that you may become a knight again, one day.”
“Yes, Avatar-of-War Marxon.” Selene admitted her defeat and looked forward to what she was about to learn. She did her utmost best to hide her questions about Marxon’s ideas, but to no success.
“Know that I will be unforgiving were you to fail again.” There was no doubt that the Avatar-of-War was serious, his tone cracking like a whip. “When you think you are ready to serve the Aeon military again, return. However, do not return as long as your doubts are still in your mind.”
“Yes, that story’s worse than what we’re going through. Losing a friend to an enemy. I can count myself relatively lucky that I didn’t have to endure the loss of my brother to my father.”
“You’re right. Unknown enemies can become friends too, but when the hate strives through the family, it will be torn apart.”
Several minutes passed before either of the commanders said something:
“Well, shall we go back?” Shilon asked eventually.
“Yes, but can I try your ACU for a moment?”
“Why?” Shilon asked confused.
“I’d like to test it, find out how it works. The handling of the command unit itself, controlling the units. I might want to fight alongside you guys after all. I’m fine with fighting Aeon fanatics. Brackman will find a way of avoiding the UEF forces for me.”
“Fighting Aeon forces isn’t too hard to do. Just go to the front there and you’ll be waging war frequently.” Shilon answered.
“What about fighting us? When do you do that?” Leython asked.
“Well, we only attack the UEF when we need something from them, such as technology or intel. We also go to the Aeons if we can get technology from them. The UEF have Symbionts to be freed however, so most of our assaults in Federation territory go with that goal.” Shilon said.
“But the Aeons attack you for most of the time, don’t they?”
“Yes, they want us all dead and are pretty restless, now let’s go.” Shilon repeated.
“Wait, I’ve found the last entry in this speeches database. It’s a speech from by Tisa Sung.”
“Ok, but then we really have to go. This place is getting me on my nerves now we’ve been here for three days.”
“I am not so good at speeches as my father is, but... I’m fairly certain that I can get us out of the misery that he brought us in. That will eventually be more important than nice words and promises.”
Tisa said to more than three hundred thousand people who all closely listened to the speech that was announced a week ago.
“I killed my father, because I couldn’t stand this world anymore. What he said to be the perfect place in the universe to live in, had quickly turned into a living hell. A prison. Now that we all know about the tragedy that is the Hexaplain cleanse and now that my father is dead, we can work start anew.
I take it you all wish to have the nightmare here to be ended and to do so, I propose to go back to the place where we came from. To build a new node and honour our old one. To honour the people that have fallen because of my father’s blind stupidity. To honour your families, to honour my brother Raldir and my mother Sila. But most important of all, to honour our perseverance to live on in the way we want.
Our node will bear the name of the three ways that we will remember ourselves: the memories of lost friends, the memories of icons in our life and the will to carry on. Our new node will be named the Three-Rivers node. We will go back to our old planet as soon as possible, to start anew.
Thank you for doing something my father never did, thank you for listening to me.”
“That would explain it all. They’ve just left this place. Apparently, Ecthellis and his scientists have found a way for this system to keep updating itself, so that it’s got the Cybran’s latest defence weapons and it can survive even if the Infinite War pays a visit again.” Leython said.
“Yeah, now let’s go.” Shilon said impatiently.
“You don’t like it here, do you?”Leython asked, while they moved on to the elevator that all of the Sung family members had used numerous times.
“No, didn’t you feel like you were entering a tomb when we stood in the main hall?” The Cybran asked.
“I did and it indeed is a tomb, but a carefully protected one.” Leython answered with a smile. He liked this place.
“That’s what bugs me. I’ve got the feeling of being watched. The feeling that it is hunted here. I’m not in for staying here with Raldir’s ghost.”
“Wait, turn around.” Leython said seriously.
“What?!” Shilon asked, he was scared by the sudden change of tone.
“Look over there,” Leython answered with a smile, “that’s the window where Raldir and Shila always stood to look at the node. So their ghosts must be standing there now too.”
“Not funny, Dygonn.” Shilon said, but he could not hide a smile either.
“On a more serious node though.” The UEF pilot said, while they moved on again. “This place indeed looks and feels like being haunted. Bidard named himself the Phantom because of the Quantum Leeching Device he developed. His legacy still goes on, after more than eight hundred years.”
“True.” The Cybran answered and he pressed the button marked ‘zero’, bringing them back to the main hall.
Ten minutes later, Leython tried a couple of buttons in Shilon’s ACU. It all seemed familiar, but there were a couple of options that were switched, such as the pilot’s overview screen of the battlefield and the ACU upgrades menu. Within a couple of minutes, Leython thought he knew how the ACU worked and he gave the order to have the tier three engineers, that were standing there for about three days now, build a Monkeylord.
“I’ve never seen such a weapon.” He said, stunned by the fact that no UEF commander had ever reported a thing that large.
“No one knows about it, not outside of the Cybran territory. We’re ensuring it’s a secret. We’ll only use it when we’re sure we can kill the enemy commander before he can transmit an image of the unit.” Shilon informed.
“With stealth, it’ll have another great advantage. This is a perfect weapon to end a battle quickly. It’s more useful than what we have at the UEF if it comes to sudden assassinations.” Leython said.
“Yes, but it would be useless against you, since you’ll have omni sensors everywhere.”
“You’d better be happy that you’ll not be seeing me in an UEF ACU for at least a while, now you’ll stand a chance with this experimental.”
Suddenly, a light flashed on the dashboard and a Leython heard a bleeping sound:
“What’s that bleep?” Leython asked.
“Emergency signal, let me sit there!” Shilon answered and Leython quickly stood up.
“Shilon here, what’s the problem doc?”
“The Three-Rivers Node is under attack. Aeon forces are about to cleanse it, they gated in a few seconds ago. I’m so glad that I can contact you right now. The cities are on the move and they’re safe, except for the capital. It’s going to be cornered in about two hours. We are occupied at the full Aeon front and you’re the only Cybran that can go there and make a stand.” Brackman said.
A map appeared on Shilon’s overview screen and it was clear that the moving city was surrounded by three commanders that just gated in and the sea the capital was moving on to now.
“I want you to drop at the sea, build enough air transports to move all civilians away, over the sea. You will be in a transport too, so that you can get out of the enemy’s ACU’s effective range. You will be in need of a large air armada to ensure the safety of everyone.”
“Roger that.” Shilon said.
“Doctor Brackman, can you get me an ACU as well? I’ll help.” Leython asked.
“I thought that you didn’t want to fight for the time being.” Brackman said, surprised by the sudden interruption.
“That was against the UEF, where my friends are. We also have little time to think about that right now, don’t we? Just ensure that there’s an ACU ready for me when we arrive.” Leython simply answered and he changed the subject to the strategic aspect of the oncoming battle:
“The passage you see, that’s where two Aeon commanders have to send their land units through if they can’t do it by air transports. The third commander has got to send her units in by air transports anyway. If we can build up a proper air force and we can close the gap in that passage, the node is safe and we can sit this run out until we’ve got reinforcements.”
“How do we get you with that ACU in time, over there?” Shilon asked.
“No problem, I already sent an ACU to where you are now. Get out of Shilon’s cockpit, Leython. Your new way of transport has arrived.” Shilon looked outside, he saw a command unit walk towards him.
“Do you think you can jump to the other unit?” Shilon asked.
“No, I’ll have to climb down and climb up onto the other cockpit. Why don’t you order your engineers to build a second quantum gate in the meanwhile, we’ve got to leave at the same moment to prevent issues with the quantum wake.”
Just five minutes later...
“Ok Shilon, we’ve got a nice place to start but they’re about six minutes earlier and they’re with three.”
“But like you said, they’ll be sending their units through this only passage.” The Symbiont answered.
“Which will be here shortly, assuming they’ll rush a tier one army. We’ve got too much to do in too little time. Let’s get this work done.” Leython replied.
After building the first economical units and two land factories, the first enemy scouting groups arrived. They were small but showed that Leython was telling the truth about the disadvantage in time. The enemy had now noticed that they were facing resistance and would show no mercy.
“Oh blast, I ruined it already.” He said.
“What is it?” Shilon asked.
“It’s the different button configuration. I started building energy storage with my engineer, instead of a power generator. It’ll slow me down a bit, but that might prove to be a troubling issue later on.”
“Don’t think of it just yet, just think of a strategy that will work.”
Leython had already planned it all since he had seen the battlefield overview in Shilon’s cockpit when they were contacted by Brackman.
“Ok, build your base but don’t build anything else than tier one units. If you’re as fast as during our Sung Island battle, I’ll be able to tech up and protect you in turn. Then we can put up a solid tier two defence system, tier two air transports and drop tanks at the enemy bases.” He said and he moved his ACU forward. A larger group was arriving at the passage and Shilon could better save his units up for the really big waves.
Using the ACU now ensured that they wouldn’t lose any valuable units yet. Having those units later on for support meant that the ACU was well protected and could still fight at that time.
Shilon’s ACU was at the front already and had scored a total of ten kills, but the Light Assault Bots were now supported by the first enemy tanks. Leython could have beaten this wave with ease as if it weren’t for the disadvantage in time. Without a doubt, these enemy commanders were sent to execute orders, they weren’t thinking on their own and they were inexperienced.
The troop movement reflected that. The enemy Aeon tanks were weak and could easily be destroyed, yet they were not moving in a wide formation, but clumped together. Leython knew out of experience that if such groups were close together at one moment of the battle, that they would move so for the rest of the time. This was a major disadvantage for his enemies, as they were going to find out later.
“Shilon, build air factories, we need bombers. Cybran bombers do still drop cluster bombs, don’t they?”
“Yes they do, that’s a good think against Aeon tanks, isn’t it?” Shilon laughed.
“One bomber can take out many tanks.” Leython said, glad that his companion knew that, despite for his limited knowledge about intel. But then he realized that this was such a basic thing that Shilon really had to know it, whatever his good or bad points were.
“I’ll give them something to remember us by.” The Cybran said
“In the meanwhile, I’ll build air factories too. We need to protect the whole place against air transports, which they will use when they suffer massive casualties from the assault via the passage.”
“We’ve got a lot of ground, we’ll never cover that in time by building fighters.” Shilon said, worried about this point of the battle. He had the right to be worried because the city they were protecting, was located in a vast plain. This meant that any unit that slipped through, was free to go anywhere.
However, Shilon didn’t experience Leython’s strategy yet.
While they were both moving up and down on the front, backing up their own units, or taking damage for them in turn, Leython’s first two air transports were constructed. They were filled with tier one engineers immediately. Within three minutes, the whole plain was covered by radar. No air units so far, this meant that the Aeon were playing along the plan Leython had thought of.
No surprises, this was going to get boring. Yet one thing changed that.
“Leython, I just overcharged the first enemy heavy tank, be prepared because I can see another three coming towards us.” Shilon said.
“Radar suggests that they’re coming with more and more tier one units too. It seems like the third enemy commander has joined the fight. I don’t know why, but they seem no longer interested in cleansing the city.”
“Not really, because this means that they’ve got a new plan. Cleansing us.”
Ten minutes had passed. Leython and Shilon were still holding their ground, but they suffered heavy losses. The enemy had already made the way up to tier three units. Before that had happened, the two commanders were able to take out any tier one unit with their bombers.
Aeon tier two units that were left almost unscarred in comparison, were taken out by their own heavy tanks that were covered by mobile stealth generators. Then, suddenly the tier three bots arrived. Leython had made a nice progress in the economy upkeep, but Shilon, being an expert with tier one rushes and micromanagement, was unable to let his speciality go and work with more advanced units.
The result was that Leython was forced to do the economical work on his own and because of that, while he also kept an eye out on the radar overview screen, he couldn’t manage his units anymore.
Now, while they were trying to keep up with the enemy, they were busy dealing with the economy and unit management issues they had.
Leython transferred every combat unit he had, to Shilon and Shilon gave his base to Leython. This allowed both commanders to do the job they were best at but it still didn’t solve the main issue that they were having: enemy siege assault bots.
“We’ve got to find a way to get rid of them. Losing fifty per cent of our ACU’s armour won’t do any good if we can barely overcharge our enemy. Now, we’re just wasting our mass and energy into repairing our ACU so that it can work on the front as soon as possible again.” Shilon said.
“I’m going to build shield generators, you guys have five versions, right?” Leython asked.
“Yes, what is the plan?”
“The enemy is just blindly sending units through to be destroyed. No matter what we put at it. We’ll build a lot of shield generators and place our ACU underneath it. The enemy will fire at the moment that the command unit is detected and we’ll just wait until we can hit them.”
“But our shields aren’t very powerful. They’ll be downed in no time, they’ll still hit our ACU.”
“If we do it right, we can place five layers of shields in between the ACU and the enemy bots, without any space being in between the shields itself. The generators create a layer that varies in size, relative to the generator’s version. We’ll just plant five generators close to each other and we’ll be done.” Leython said.
“Can you place them so well that the shields will all come close together?” Shilon asked.
“I’ve done so with UEF shields and now I’ve got more options, so I think I should be able to do it.”
“Let’s get to work then.” Shilon said, knowing that this was their best shot to keep up.
The next few minutes, Leython did nothing but frantically trying to rebuild every shield that fell and spending the rest of his economy to upgrade to tier three. If they could just build mobile artillery, it’d would help a lot.
The tier one force was gone and the enemy used less tier two heavy tanks as well. The enemy mobile shields were another problem, more were added in the mass and Leython thought he was lucky because the enemy didn’t mix any flak up in the formation. He therefore didn’t dare to build gunships and order them to take flight above the land force, since gunships were a downright provocation for the enemy, to build mobile flak units that they still lacked.
The small amount of tier one bombers Shilon now was forced to use, seemed to do nothing, but the Cybran’s micromanagement did the best work. The bombs fell directly on the shields’ joint sections, massively increasing the effective damage and easing the ground units’, and especially the ACUs’ job.
Suddenly, it stopped. The last enemy units fell and Leython knew that this was no good. He doubled his efforts to build more fighters, preferably the tier three version of them, that he could build for some time now. He feared an enemy air drop and wanted to be ready for it. The first radar towers were upgraded to omni sensors, allowing him to see the wide area around the fleeing capital city.
He dug in even more. Doing everything possible to upgrade his land factories to the tier three level. The enemy could also be preparing an even larger wave of ground units. Siege bots and mobile artillery had to be built to prevent a successful assault.
The two Cybran ACUs and many engineers moved everywhere to reclaim mass and assist Leython’s economy by that way, hoping that it would be enough. The enemy made one stupid move after another, completely ignoring the backyard attack they could do with just a few transports, but they were still with three and their timely advantage was still seen up to now.
Another minute passed without a single hint of the enemy. Shilon was calming down, as if he wasn’t calm already. He was certain that the enemy had retreated, but Leython knew better. He hadn’t detected a single quantum wake eruption, caused by an ACU’s arrival or retreat. This could only mean one thing and that was confirmed two minutes later by a spy plane that he had ordered to investigate the three gray dots, marked as land units, that had come into his sensor’s range.
“Shilon, we’re not done yet. By the looks of it, they’re sending in Galactic Colossi.”
The silence was deafening. No one dared to say a single word. Tisa sat on the floor, her eyes engulfed with tears. In front of her, Sila jumped...
Some minutes later, that felt like an eternity, Tisa stood up, thinking, hoping that it was a nightmare, that she would wake up in her bed, bathing in sweat.
Walking away, she noticed that one man followed her. The same person who had taken her here. She heard him speak but the words didn't make it to her ears.
"Miss Sung, please wait for a moment!"
Tisa finally concentrated to hear him. By doing so, she immediately realised that it all was true what happened just a few minutes ago. She wasn't dreaming, she was awake. It was real that her mother had jumped in front of her eyes...
"Miss Sung, what should I do?" The officer asked her. He apparently assumed that she could make decisions now.
"I don't know," she answered, "I really don't know." And Tisa sat on the floor again. Why? Why had this happened?
"The misery we're in. It certainly wasn't planned by your father. We've got to convince him to step back so that someone who has some experience with humans and their feelings can take over."
"He's not a father for me and he won't step down willingly!" Tisa's sadness and desperation turned into fury. She remembered who was to blame. Who she held responsible for all of this.
The officer almost made a step backwards as she stood up again, but he could refrain himself from it.
He had seen how the situation in the Phantom node deteriorated. Not by enemies from the outside, but Sung himself was responsible for all of the issues they had. Quite a lot of people who openly, or to him in person, critiqued the Phantom's reign, were banished or put in jail already.
It was true, Tisa was right. Sung had turned into a tyrant who cared about nothing but his pretty throne. The ideals he had were not bad initially, but his self absorbed thoughts had turned this perfectly safe place into a secure prison. The citizens hated it to be here. The officer could come to only one conclusion. Bidard Sung had to be taken down with violence.
"What? My brother? What's with him?" Tisa asked.
"Ecthellis is still there at the Vast Ocean, all he's got to do is tell Bidard that he's got to step down and then your father will go there to get rid of your brother. Of course, he can't because Ecthellis is a better commander and will be prepared much better. To speak to your brother in person, Bidard has to come out of his ACU before he'll be allowed to enter the settlement."
"Then Ecthellis can seize him, or better, kill him." Tisa finished sharply.
"Kill him? What do you mean?" The officer asked her.
"Well, unless you can think of more than one meaning for the word 'kill', then by 'kill him', I mean 'take his life'."
"Oh yes I could! I hate him as much as I loved mother. I haven't forgotten how he killed Raldir. I bet that Ecthellis thinks about it just the same. Especially if he hears of what caused mother's death. Don't forget that he doesn't know that yet."
The officer was shocked by what Tisa said and she noticed it: "Know that when I see Bidard, I think of him as a brutal murderer, not my father. I have never known him as a father!"
Now, he understood. It was clear. Tisa wanted to do something about it and it was not his job to stop her if he thought that she would go too far.
"Commander Ecthellis, a message is coming from the Phantom Island."
"Patch my father through." Ecthellis said.
"The thing is, it's not your father, but the message comes from a hacker." The assistant informed him.
"Ok, patch the hacker through." He answered, not know that he was in for a shock:
"Tisa?" He said, seeing her sister and an unknown man. Tisa looked like she had just experienced the worst thing in her life. She seemed unable to speak...
"Tisa, what happened?!" Ecthellis shouted.
Still, Tisa didn't say a word, but her face expressed pure agony yet again. The man next to her sighed, then he took the word.
"Sila Sung, your mother, mister Ecthellis, has taken her own life."
"What?! How... Why did this happen?!" Ecthellis asked, stunned by the sudden news. "This is impossible... Why would she kill herself?!"
This time, Tisa did speak, her fury returned while her sadness seemed to disappear: "It's him! The Hexaplain node has been cleansed a week ago and he's been hiding it! When mom found that piece of information, she flew into a rage, insisting on talking to him. But he didn't want to come and then she jumped out of the window. From the main control room!"
Tears sprung in Tisa's eyes, while Ecthellis had to sit down and needed some time to comprehend what all of this meant. Without the Hexaplain node or his mother, the only family he still had was his sister who he was seeing via the video feed.
Tisa had once again said ‘him’ or ‘he’ when she spoke of her father. With proper reasons, Ecthellis thought, because Bidard Sung had not been kind to his wife or children. Then he had also been responsible for the fact that Sila had to hear the terrible news, of losing all her family safe his son and daughter, in the worst way possible.
Bidard Sung had deliberately kept the cleansing of the Hexaplain Node as a secret. He lied to his people, he brought fear to them. The only thing that might be good was that the node hadn't been attacked by more UEF or Aeon forces yet.
Ecthellis had heard enough. His father had to be brought down. By force, as he was no longer sane.
Tisa spoke again: "We've got to get rid of him! And you know it!" The conclusion Ecthellis made just now was exactly the one thing that his sister was repeating for three months already.
"Mister Sung, a message is coming from the Vast Ocean settlement."
"That must be Ecthellis. What would be so important that he has to tell me now and can't wait for a day?"
"I'll patch him through, sir."
Bidard could have expected the forthcoming rant from his son, only an hour after his wife had committed suicide. Then again, he did not know that his daughter had found the same hacker as Sila, this time not to get information, but to bring it to Ecthellis...
"Father! What have you done?" Ecthellis' words echoed in his room. For a tiny moment, he was left with no words, stunned by the fact that Ecthellis seemed to know what happened. As always, he would find a way to evade the matter, or at least to blame someone else.
"What is it my son? Why are you so angry?" Bidard asked in a polite "I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about" tone.
Echtellis wasn't easily fooled though. Especially not if he knew what happened, if he knew that his sister would never lie, no matter what happened.
"You know very well why I'm angry. You know that I was objecting to the firewall from the beginning. You know that I feared that something would go horribly wrong if our people wouldn't know what was going on in the outside world.
But no, you had to secure everything that even remotely had to do with communication. Even the family members who are divided by my and your settlement aren't allowed to speak. And now look what happened!
The Hexaplain node is destroyed, everyone is dead and we didn't even know up until thirty minutes ago! My mother jumped because YOU didn't want to comfort her! YOU had to work! You're a brilliant scientist, but your work as a father or a husband is just an absolute and complete failure!"
Anyone would have been left completely stunned by Ecthellis' furious words or the snarl on his face and so were all the people in his settlement shocked by what they had heard. Sila Sung, the Phantom's wife had taken her own life.
The Phantom was supposed to be so great and yes, his scientific work was brilliant, as was his strategic performance, but how could someone who was great permit his own wife to kill herself? Wouldn't he do anything to stop her?
Bidard had his answer ready though:
"Who do you think you are to question me?! I'm giving my best to keep this place running, but all you do is rant, moan and whine at me! How would you think that the people will respond if they had gotten to know the about the cleansing of the Hexaplain node, just moments after we're getting the food situation under control again? It would be a ma—"
In a roar, Ecthellis cut his father off. What was he thinking? He was a political mastermind, surely he could've found a better way to deal with such an issue instead of not talking about it, hoping that the people wouldn't notice?
"You're the smart guy here, you're the best in politic affairs. You are the one who can give a proper speech, you are the one who knows how to turn a defeat into a victory, only by words. You have done so at the end of every lost election –"
"Don't talk me of that treachery in the Hexaplain node. If I would've been president, it wouldn't be cleansed at all!"
"You talk nonsense! If you would've spoken to your citizens, you would have comforted them. Their loss would not have been less painful for them, but the node wouldn't suffer from it. You would have persuaded them to keep up and work at their full potential for the node! You would have turned their loss into a reason to keep up!" Ecthellis finished. He wasn't done yet though.
"I'm going to get rid of you. From now on, this settlement will be independent. I'll not listen to your orders. We can still have contact and trade, but I'm not taking orders from you!"
"You, don't you dare to..." Bidard started, but then he noticed that he couldn't do something about it from here. The only way to claim back his settlement, was to do so by force. Then he would do exactly what Ecthellis wanted. In his ACU, he would be at a disadvantage because Echtellis had time to prepare. He was probably doing so already and what was worse, just like Bidard feared, Ecthellis knew that he had an advantage:
"Do what? You can't stop me. Come here with your ACU and I'll kill you if need be!"
"You wouldn't do that! You can't do that!"
"I can, I can end your life just like you have ended Raldir's. My love for him is greater than my loyalty to you!"
"That'll be your last words Ecthellis! That is your last mistake! You may have forgotten that I've got two ACUs, two pilots and you are on your own. I'll be there in twenty minutes! The area is so large that that advantage in time means nothing compared to the two to one odds that I have. If you're smart, then you'll surrender immediately when I've arrived. Don't make the same mistake that Raldir did!" Bidard bellowed.
"Come and get me!" Echtellis snarled. He was ready. He had done some science projects on his own.
"Don't do it! Don't kill the only brother I have left!" Tisa said to her father. They were standing in the main control room, with the officer that had accompanied Tisa since Sila jumped. He didn't seem to be interested in what was going to happen. Bidard didn't know that his daughter told the officer not to say a single word...
"Quiet, Tisa. He made his choice and since you can talk to him, as you have already done, for how can he else know about the Hexaplain cleanse, you are the one who must convince him to stop and surrender. Then I'll not punish him as hard as I have punished others."
"No, you must surrender, can't you see it?! You've destroyed the node!" Tisa said.
Bidard hadn't expected this, but as always, he could retort:
"Ignorant child," he said with a vicious glare on Tisa, his daughter who he did not recognize, "you don't seem to understand anything, do you? I am the one who made this node flourish, anyone who is against me is trying to bring the node down or to, as you phrase it so well... destroy it.
Now, don't even dare to say what I should do."
The words made Tisa step back, terrified that Bidard would hurt her. However, she also knew that Ecthellis would not be frightened, that he would deal with the so called Phantom.
Another officer joined the group, by the looks of him, he had something important to say.
"Sir, we've found the hacker!"
"Great, now bring me to him. I'll deal with that scum. He risked to destroy everything we worked for."
While they walked out of the main control room, the second officer filled Bidard in on the details, Tisa and her assistant quickly followed. They had to find a way to deal prevent a confrontation. Hopefully, the officer was wrong and they went to see the wrong person...
"The hacker is a boy named Lars Vedder. He seems to be quiet. Never had any issues. But you know it, suddenly they change and then there's nothing that can save them."
Tisa suddenly stood still, just like her father.
"Lars Vedder? He's your boyfriend, isn't he?" Bidard snarled. "You should've taught him to respect me, instead of playing chess with him or acting like obvious lovers all the time across the node!"
"How do you know this?!" Tisa said furiously. He was never interested in her life. Why then, did he want to find out how she lived?
"I heard that you had a boyfriend. I wanted to know who that guy was, so I sent someone to follow you and naturally, I would learn who he was."
"You have been spying on me?!" Tisa was baffled. "You don't care about me, you never did for all the time I lived and now you suddenly want to know who my boyfriend is? You're unbelievable!"
"Quiet, it appears to be for the better that I have found out that your boyfriend is the hacker. He jeopardized the node. You may not see him anymore. He might harm you too." Bidard said. His voice had suddenly changed. He seemed afraid of what could happen to his daughter, what a criminal could do to her. Tisa was not fooled easily though. She knew her father better than he knew her. She knew that he was an excellent speaker and therefore she could see through the web of lies he had made by speeches.
"Don't talk to me like that! I know that you lie. You don't say that because you fear for my welfare, but you just want to keep him away from me so you can control me. I'll tell you, it's not going to happen!"
"I'll take care of you later, Tisa. You will obey me, whether you like it or not. And you," Sung turned to the officer who brought him the news. "You will take care of Vedder, no matter how you do it, as long as he won’t be here anymore when I arrive.”
“Consider it done, sir!” The officer answered immediately.
“Good, I’m going to get Shaduga now, he will accompany me with his ACU. I’ll tell the control team that, if this settlement is going to be under attack, to inform me and then Shaduga will be back here in an instant.”
He walked away, leaving Tisa and her assistant behind, astonished because Bidard was once again willing to banish someone who was supposed to be recognized as a family member.
Two ACUs gated in at the Vast Ocean’s southern island. Within minutes, the first buildings stood, ready to produce mass, energy or units in order to deal with the enemy resistance. Twenty minutes after Bidard Sung had announced his arrival, they were here to deal with Ecthellis, one way or another. Bidard thought it was best to contact Ecthellis immediately, so that he might surrender. If the guns blazed , it would be too late for diplomacy.
“Ecthellis, we have arrived. You will have your final chance to surrender now. If you don’t comply, we will start the battle. You only have one choice. If you choose to fight, you will die.”
“I was about to tell you exactly the same thing. Shaduga, are you with me?”
Shaduga was a man of few words, but whenever he said something, he always made his opinion, choice or decision very clear:
“Then we will fight and you will lose.” Ecthellis said and he cut off the channel. It was about to begin. The beginning of the end. For a new beginning. For the node’s citizens.
“Lars Vedder.” The officer had seen him walking along the corridors of the centre building. There was no one else.
“Yes?” Lars answered. “What is it?”
“You have betrayed the node. For that, you will be punished.” The officer said and he took his gun.
“What?! You couldn’t kill me. Don’t you know who I am?” Lars said, stunned to see the man slowly towards him.
“I do. I do know who you are. You are Lars Vedder, son of Richard and Helen. Tisa Sung’s boyfriend, who is the daughter of the Phantom. But all of that doesn’t matter.” the officer said and he aimed at the boy now. He was just three metres away from him. “You are a hacker and your work has crippled the node.
Everyone now knows that the Hexaplain node has been cleansed. Something that we have tried to prevent in order to keep the people calm, to have peace. You dealt a dangerous blow to the node’s welfare. That is treason, Vedder, treason that will be awarded with death.”
“You can’t do that!” Lars answered, while walking backwards. He hoped that he could jump in an elevator and stay away from this man. “You don’t know what all went wrong here. It is Bidard Sung’s fault that we’re in this. He should’ve done his job instead of doing the opposite and even trying to shut the mouths of the people who do the best for the node.”
“How ignorant you are, you should really grow up and learn how things work in the real world.” The officer said. He still pointed his gun at Lars’s head.
“And how can I not be ignorant if you guys keep hiding information? Tell me, how can I grow up if you’re not letting me to?” Lars asked
“Not, but that does not matter,” the officer answered in turn, “because you won’t be anything. Good-bye, I won’t lie, no one will miss you.”
A shot followed.
“Shaduga, what is the status at the larger eastern island?” Bidard asked. With the cost of many units, he had finally managed to take out the enemy at the island on the west. It was not over yet, because Ecthellis was sending in a fleet towards there.
“I have managed to build an outpost, but I doubt that I can keep it up for long. The enemy ships are tearing mine apart. Those advanced frigates can, for some reason, come very close to the shore. Closer than ours can. They’re also very strong and have excellent firepower. I doubt that my base is going to hold on for long.”
“Spare me your excuses. Send in Silvano bombers. That will do the trick, he’s got no anti air units in his fleets.” Bidard snarled.
“Ok, but I’ll have to get Silvanos towards there first.”
“Just do it. With them, you can deal with their fleet and then you’ll be able to take down the base on that island too.”
Bidard just had the time to say his words before he was introduced to Ecthellis’s powerful advanced frigates. They indeed came very close to the beach. He would lose the buildings closest to the shore, but it was no big deal. Engineers were already sent deep into the island to build an air factory that would produce Silvano bombers for himself. It was just a delay of the inevitable.
“So Bidard, you’re retreating towards the island’s middle.” Echtellis said to himself. “That won’t help you! My stupid plan of walking ships wasn’t that stupid at all. Just a small change in the design and they could come close to the shore. Then let the legs come out and those can help the ship to go on land. It is so easy.”
The advanced frigates moved onto the beach, their guns destroying everything in their path. The ships were not so fast though. It would take time before they could take out the base that was now being constructed in the middle of the enemy island. However, that was going to happen eventually, even without any further assistance. His trap was about to work, he would order the ships to self destruct when only a few engineers were left. Those would naturally reconstruct the base, with his ship wrecks...
The Phantom’s Quantum Leeching Device was about to backfire.
In the meanwhile, the same trap was about to spring at the eastern side of the battlefield. Shaduga was less experienced and Ecthellis’s front was much stronger, so the plan was progressing much faster there. Perhaps Shaduga could be taken down much sooner already.
It was time to scout every island he was supposed to control, in search for the ACU. If it was under water though, it was going to take longer to deal with him.
“Those things are moving on land!” Shaduga said furiously.
“I know, I know! Echtellis, you traitor. What you told me not to do is what you’ve done by yourself! What is all of this, were you planning it since yesterday already? Or a week ago?” Bidard asked.
“You’d better ask himself sir, I don’t know the answer.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes, Shaduga, get rid of his units!” Bidard told his assistant, he was getting more and more irritated because he had to hear Shaduga’s answers to any rhetorical question.
“Yes sir.” He answered quickly. Ordering all of the units to take care of the enemy ships, he suddenly noticed that they fell down on the ground and exploded.
“Sir, the enemy ships are destroyed. I don’t know how it happened, but I didn’t do it.” The pilot said.
“It could be that the legs collapsed under the weight of the ship. Those things are heavy. It could also be that the engines overloaded because they had to make the frigates walk and fire continuously and simultaneously.” Bidard mentioned, no longer paying attention to Shaduga.
“But they can move on water, while firing. So that should be no –”
Bidard cut him off: “I’ll do the maths here, thank you! The ship’s engines aren’t designed to make it walk, which costs a lot more work than just sailing. This means that we’ll just have to give them a lot of targets to fire at if we can’t take them down in another way. Still, taking out the enemy vessels with bombers is a better plan.”
“I’m going to reclaim the wrecks and use the mass to take this island.” Shaduga said.
“For the first time today, you’ve said something good.”
“Sir, you are draining twenty five per cent of Shaduga’s mass extractors. His energy income is disrupted by twenty seven per cent.” Ecthellis’s battlefield monitor said.
“Thanks, Dimaro.” Ecthellis answered. He then turned to another channel, where his best scientist was about to inform him about the latest experiment in energy storage.
“Selis, how’s the energy storage going?”
“As you know, we’ve got three different types, or procedures of storing pure energy. The first one, based on quantum dot stabilisation, failed. The device is not stable enough, so I wouldn’t call this type grounded already, because we haven’t had the time to build a decent prototype yet.”
“When you say ‘not stable’, do you mean that it is leaking energy?” Ecthellis asked.
“You could say so, but to be more accurate, it’s better to say that the device has exploded.” The scientist answered.
“That’s not very good, how’s the second prototype doing?” The Cybran commander continued.
“Not very good either. It’s not storing energy, sparks are coming out of the device all of the time. We’re going to shut it down. The energy we’re wasting by not using it would be wasted anyway.”
“Ok, what about the third device?” Ecthellis asked.
“That’s working fairly well. We’re able to store a fifth of the energy we’re producing. This also means that we’re now storing about five per cent of the enemy’s energy that’s being drained. If you are in need of energy all of a sudden, you’ll be able to use that storage device.” Selis answered.
“Good, go back to the drawing table and try to make the first device stable enough and the third to be more effective. Discard the second type if you see no way to improve it. Good luck.” The commander said and he closed the channel.
“Sir! My mass is being drained! I’m losing my energy income too!”
“The bastard! He’s using the QLD technology!” Bidard said.
“Don’t reclaim his ships sir, the virus is in there.”
“You should’ve known it. We use the same strategy at home too! Why did you reclaim the units?” Bidard said, blaming Shaduga for what had happened even though he didn’t expect this by himself either.
“I would have missed him.” Tisa said, looking at the officer’s body. The man who accompanied her still pointed his gun at the point where the officer’s head was. “But no one will miss you, officer.”
“Thanks, sir. You just saved my life.” Lars said, still trembling because of how close he was to death.
“Come on Lars, we’ve got to contact Ecthellis and help him by any means possible.” Tisa said directly.
“Ok, let’s go!”
Five minutes later, he had made contact with the other settlement.
“I’ve got to speak to Echtellis,” Lars said, “we’re going to help him.”
“I doubt he needs any help, he’s perfectly fine, but I’ll patch you through.” The battlefield monitor replied.
A moment passed before...
“Hey guys, how are you doing?” Ecthellis asked.
“We’re fine, but how are you?” Tisa said.
“Perfect, Shaduga is suffering from the QLD and it won’t take long before Bidard is too. He’ll reclaim the ships that I’ll put there for him.”
“Won’t it be a bit obvious? I think that he’ll not reclaim your wreckages because Shaduga will have noticed what trouble you brought for him.” Lars cut in.
“Oops... My bad, I’ll not destroy my special weapons then. He’ll lose in another way. Don’t worry.”
“Those frigates are coming closer to my base, but I’ve got the first Silvano bombers here. They’ll be destroyed.” Bidard said and he sent the bombers to take out the frigates. The ships were equipped with a minor anti air gun, but that couldn’t pose a threat to the most advanced bomber in the universe. Bidard didn’t know however, that the most advanced bomber in the universe posed no threat to a walking frigate either.
The bombers closed in on the enemy ships and dropped their payload. Detecting that it were, they dropped torpedoes, instead of normal bombs. The torpedoes were designed to fall in the water and then make their way towards their target. Since the ground didn’t allow them to move through, the torpedoes blew up on contact.
“Sir, it’s not working,” Shaduga said, he looked at the live feed transmitted to his ACU, “you’ll have to change the Silvanos’s orders. They’ve got to use the bombs.”
“I know, I know and I’m working on it. It’s not that easy though. I’ve got to adjust the schematic. That’s a job supposed to be done behind a desk, not in an ACU. I’ll have to manage my units too.” Bidard replied.
“Transfer the units to me, I’ll take it over.”
“No, then they’ll be struck by the virus. We can’t allow that to happen. Use your units to the fullest and distract the enemy as much as possible.”
Bidard tried frantically to change the Silvano design. They had to detect that the units were on land so that they’d use normal bombs. The air units were powerful and strong, but the anti air guns were taking their toll now. The first bomber crashed down in a massive fireball.
It wasn’t working, the design was secured with powerful encryption software that he couldn’t hack just yet. Perhaps, there was a better way to deal with this. Bidard sent the bombers he had away so that they could not be attacked by the advanced frigates anymore. He tried to code an emergency procedure for all units. That might work. The units were going to have to attack the ground underneath the frigates.
“Look Tisa, it’s going to be all right. Bidard lost his largest island on the west and I’ve got plenty of units at my island to the north. The settlement is protected very well. I can end it now.” Ecthellis said just now the frigates destroyed the enemy air base in the middle of the western island.
Now, he sent more than thirty Silvano bombers to Shaduga’s ACU, he didn’t even search for it because it reported its location, thanks to the virus. The flight was going to take several minutes, but there was nothing that could be done against it. Shaduga didn’t have any anti air equipment. This battle was too easy. Bidard’s QLD had backfired. The Phantom had lost.
Shaduga moved his ACU around, under water, protected by an armada of submarines. The only place where he was really safe though, was at his base at the southern major island. There was Bidard’s base as well. He had ordered his assistant to get back to base, because the seas were not safe, but it was too late.
“Sir, I’m under attack. Dozens of Silvanos are getting at me. I can’t get out of the way.”
“Damn it Shaduga, damn it!”
A second before the ACU exploded, Shaduga managed to transfer his units and structures. At the southern island, Bidard now had two bases, but it wasn’t going to do him any good.
The virus that contaminated Shaduga’s units, now widely spread in Bidard’s base. To make things even worse. Echtellis had another nasty surprise.
“Echtellis! You bastard! What have you done?!”
“Simple, I’ve added something to the QLD’s software, now the units that are struck by it, will self-destruct if the ACU is blown up. It doesn’t matter if the units are transferred. Smart isn’t it?”
“You betrayed me!”
“Yes, I did. This place will now be known as Betrayal Ocean. Just like your island is named Phantom Island.”
“You’ll not get me, Ecthellis. I still have the time to retreat! Which I will do. Then, I’ll be back twice as strong and –” Bidard was cut off by his son:
“You won’t return, idiot. You’ll not even get away!”
The Silvano bombers that had killed Shaduga, now moved towards Bidard’s ACU, but they were too late. Bidard had thought of this situation. If all would go wrong, he had to be able to retreat. He entered his quantum gate and returned to Phantom Island.
Echtellis saw what happened. It appeared that the virus hadn’t infected the quantum gate. Therefore he didn’t know of his father’s escape plans and he was surprised to learn of it. It was important that Tisa knew this. Bidard would have his revenge for his failure here. Tisa was going to get hurt, badly.
“Out of the way! Everyone, get out of the way!” Bidard yelled. This was insane! Echtellis had betrayed him. He lost half of the node in one day and what was worse, that half had turned against him.
The engineers in the hangar looked at him, too afraid to say anything. One had to break the silence though. In the time that Bidard was absent, the people here had learned about the Hexaplain cleanse.
“Sir,” one engineer, who was brave enough to speak up, “something has happened here. Tisa, your daughter has told us of the Hexaplain cleanse. I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your wife’s family.”
“What?! She told... What did she say? Tell me!” Bidard said, walking to the engineer.
“She told us of the Hexaplain cleanse, that it happened a week ago and that you hid it to keep us happy and ignorant.”
The last word infuriated Bidard even more and he roared in anger. Could no one keep his mouth shut in here?! He moved close to the man who told him of this news, he wanted to beat him, throw him around the room. But no, that wouldn’t be a good idea. That engineer didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, he did just what he was supposed to do. Tell him of the real culprit: Tisa Sung.
In an instant, he turned around and stormed out of the hangar.
Three minutes later, he stepped out of the elevator that had brought him to his apartment. Tisa would certainly be there. He entered the room and saw that all the windows were blinded. What was going on here? He turned on the light and saw a determined woman standing in front of him, pointing at him with a gun. He was stunned. Tisa aimed an officer’s gun at his chest.
As calmly as possible, Sung spoke the words that he quickly thought of.
“You can’t betray me. You can’t.”
“You don’t know what I am capable of.” Tisa answered frantically. “You don’t know anything about me. Now don’t tell me that I can’t do something. I’m no longer a scared little girl, you know? When I’ve made a plan, I’m determined to make that happen. I found a way to end this and now I will!”
Unable to believe this, that his own daughter could kill him, he spoke again:
“I’m your father, how could you?”
“Are you my father? Why are you all of a sudden? Never, in my entire life, have you done anything for me. You ignored me, neglected me. You haven’t showed that I am your daughter, never! Now you claim to be my father? I will deny it now. Just like you denied Raldir to be your son when you murdered him!”
Tisa shot. One, two, three shots, straight at Bidard’s chest. She didn’t look away or close her eyes. She witnessed her own deed. Sung’s face still looked confident, just as always, when he had held his speeches, when he said that he would become president of the Hexaplain node next time, after a lost election.
All his life, he showed confidence, all the time. The only difference was, his final moments had really shocked him, for the first and the last time in his life.
Tisa ran away, crying. Sila stood near the window, looking at the two buildings that Raldir looked at all those times. She didn't make the faintest noise, sobbed endlessly.
Ecthellis left the main control room. He walked towards the elevator and pressed the button that would bring him to their apartment. When he arrived, he immediately continued to Tisa's room. The door was left open.
Ecthellis did not know what to say, buy luckily Tisa already spoke: "He said he had a plan to save the node. Now he's dead."
"Father's gone crazy..." Ecthellis said
"We've got to put an end to it!"
"Yeah, but how? I can't kill him like he killed his own son."
"For him, we're no children! For me, he's no father!"
"I..." Ecthellis started, but he had no words.
"Ecthellis, we've got to do something. If it goes on like this, [/i]he will kill anyone who disagrees with him. He's turned into a tyrant."
"I know that the node is in peril because of his mistakes, even though his plan was actually great. He should've thought of the consequences though. I'll talk to him and try to persuade him to start a second settlement. There's a great group of islands, some nine thousand kilometres away.
The radiation is almost completely nullified at that distance. We can grow food there and transport it back here. The right crops can be harvested within three months. Father will have to inform the people about the food situation. That will cause issues. The people won't be happy. If I can tell him about my plan and mention that we can solve these issues before anyone will notice them, then he'll automatically comply." Ecthellis concluded.
"That won't be enough just for now," Tisa said, "we've got to get rid of him. He may not control this node, this prison for much longer."
"How do you plan to 'get rid' of him? You can't just kill him!"
"I don't know." Tisa said. Ecthellis suddenly noticed that her desperate tone had returned in her voice.
Tisa was changing, psychically. She changed faster than other girls and differently too. It rally started when they went to this planet, when Bidard took his 'family' without asking their opinions.
It infuriated Tisa because made her feel worthless. She almost got into a depression. When she met her boyfriend, she came alive again. She knew she meant something, that there were others, apart from her family, who loved her. Her boyfriend had supported her and she learned to be determined.
She still had trouble with that, but was improving. Raldir's death had apparently given her the motivation to do something about the man who was supposed to be their father.
Only, she didn't yet know how...
"What have you done?! What have you done?!"
"I had no choice, Sila. I really had no choice."
"You did have a choice and you know it. You could've kept him here, then he didn't have to go in his ACU. Then you didn't have to irritate him so much.
If you didn't have to irritate him so much, he wouldn't have turned off the transmission. But why, why did you kill him?!"
"Sila, he was a threat to us. He could've attacked the node!"
"He would never do that! All he wanted was the node's welfare. He was a better man than you!"
"Sila, please, we've got work to do, ensure that the node will now fare well, despite for this sudden treachery. I've got things to take care of, business to attend to." Bidard tried to evade the matter, but he was too obvious and Sila cried in agony: "Yeah, right, you don't even think about us, about what else is in your life! I should've stopped you from the beginning. Then we'd still have our family in the Hexaplain node!"
Sila ran out of Sung's personal office room, angry and determined that she would never say a word to him again. But even she could not know that it would turn out that way...
"Father." Ecthellis said.
"Ecthellis, what is it? Are you going to blame me for Raldir's death? Are you going say that I should calm down with my experiments again? Or are you going to tell me that we mustn't put the people on a one third ration but have to get food in another way?
Whatever it is... I'm not in the mood, I need to think."
"Why do you want to think by yourself, father? It's a sign of strength if you know what you are and what you aren't capable of, if you accept other people to share ideas."
"What do you want to say with that?!" Bidard said angrily.
"I'm saying that it might be wise to ask others if they've got a plan." Ecthellis answered.
"Oh really? Then I'll get started immediately: do you have a plan?" Bidard asked.
"Yes, I do. In fact, I already started it. No, please listen!" Ecthellis said when he saw that his father wanted to cut him off. "I sent special scouting planes to a group of islands, nine thousand kilometres away. The ground there is useful to grow food. The right crops allow us to harvest a new batch before we run out of food here. The people don't have to know anything about the problem we face now. We will make tell the public of this new settlement of course, so that half of this node will go with me to this other group of islands. Two settlements are better than one."
"What if the crops are ruined?" Bidard asked.
"We've got three months to think about that, assuming that they are going to get ruined." Echtellis simply answered.
"We could raid UEF or Aeon settlements, but we can't attack with more than two ACUs. A strike team would be required as well, so an assault on the enemy, just for food, is too much work." Bidard said.
"Then we've got to fall back on the quickly processed... 'food'." Echtellis said, with the emphasis on the last word.
"No!" Bidard said loudly. "That won't happen! That stuff is just revolting!"
"Several nodes, if not most by now, seem to be fine with it."
"But I am not! One of my key points in the elections, was to reserve the properly grown crops, that almost made me win the last one in the Hexaplain node. If it seems that we won't get a nice batch of food from the harvest on those new islands, we'll have to act immediately. We might be able to raid a settlement after all, but that requires time to plan, so we must know what we're up to as soon as possible."
"What if we tell the people of the issues, so that they know something may be up ahead?" Echtellis asked.
"I'll make a speech, I'll explain it as a plan instead of a problem, then the people won't get... nervous." Bidard said, knowing that nervous would be a serious understatement.
"I will need people. Engineers, farmers, etcetera." Ecthellis told his father.
"You will have them. They will help the node immediately. They feel the same ambition and loyalty for the node as I do. If the plan works, the first expansion of our node is a fact."
Three months later...
"A batch of food is coming from the Vast Ocean settlement. The fifth batch today, sir."
"Our plan worked without a hitch, perfect. I will contact Ecthellis and tell him to give the final report." Bidard said and he closed the transmission with the newly appointed food coordinator. He immediately contacted his son:
"Don't talk to me like that, will you?" Ecthellis answered.
"Just tell me what happened this week."
"Nothing special. Anyway, we've got enough food. This region can support all three hundred thousand of us with ease. I think that we can eventually support more than a million, just here."
"That's good. Now, I need you here again." Bidard said, seeming to have forgotten that he and his son were talking about the food status.
"Science projects, Ecthellis."
"What's the plan now? Don't come up with something totally ridiculous."
"The QLD wasn't ridiculous."
"It seemed ridiculous in the first place, but please don't tell me you're trying to build walking ships or something like that, just to get rid of the days of work to get ship wrecks on the beach."
"No," Bidard answered, "that be stupid. I expect you to be here in two days."
The next day...
"No! Tell me it's not true." Sila cried.
"Yes, it is. I just found it out while I was checking the quantum network." The hacker answered.
"No, my family..." Sila said in desperation, and she walked out of the hacker's room.
In the main control room, Sila walked towards the windows where Raldir stood so many times. Her life had changed so much in so little time. Too much, too soon.
"Where is Bidard?!" Sila's loud words broke the room's relative silence.
"Mister Sung is currently unavailable. Can I take a message?" One of the officers said while he stood up from his chair.
"I have to talk to my husband! He is the only one who might[i] understand!" Sila said.
"He is currently unavailable, please calm down, it can't be that important, can it?"
Sila screamed in anger, did she have to tell these people? The ones who didn't really care about what would happen outside of the node? The ones who still had their family, here? She didn't have a choice however:
"The Hexaplain node has been attacked by the Aeon. It's completely destroyed. I must speak to Bidard, as he must know of this and inform the node of our loss!"
"I'll get him immediately madam." The officer said, who finally seemed to understand the importance of the matter.
For ten awkward and agonizing minutes, Sila paced up and down in the main control room. Of all those things that could happen, this was what she had to hear from a hacker who managed to break through the Phantom node's firewall.
How could it happen that the technical staff restricted this piece of information?
The Cybrans were all brothers and sisters. They shared the freedom, they fought for the enslaved, together. But they also shared the happiness and sadness. Then why was the destruction, the cleansing of the Hexaplain node, the loss of all those people, who were family of the civilians here, why was that held back? It happened a week ago already.
"What, how does she know?" Bidard asked angrily.
"You know of it too?!" The officer asked, shocked by the fact that Sung had apparently held back this crucial piece of information.
"Seven days ago, doctor Brackman informed me. I ordered the tech team not to let any of the news about the Hexaplain node to get through. If the people would know about this, the morale would plummet. We couldn't allow that to happen, just after we sorted out all of the issues with our food supply. Now, tell me, how could this have happened?"
"I think that it's a either a hacker who managed to evade the firewall, or one of the tech team got disloyal and told your wife." The officer said.
"Find this man, contact the tech team and ask for all information you might need. But first, go back to Sila and tell her that I am busy and I'll speak to her this evening." Bidard said firmly.
"Sir, she sounded desperate, perhaps it's a better idea to—"
"You heard me, I will speak to her this evening."
"What did you just say?!" Sila said, not believing the officer.
"He had no time." The man answered. He didn't dare to look straight in Sila's face.
"Where is he, where is he?" Sila demanded, her voice grew louder and louder with every word.
"Madam, I'm not allowed to tell you where he is at the moment."
Then, it happened. Sila flew into a rage. One that was worse than anyone had ever witnessed. Anything that stood in the room would be thrown across. Sila seemed stronger than any time before. She had a strength that wasn't hers, but caused by the fury that controlled her.
"Tisa Sung? Come to the main control room immediately! Your mother's gone mad!" The officer yelled while he knocked on Tisa's door.
"What?! What happened?"
"I just heard it too and please don't get angry with me, the Hexaplain node has been attacked by the Aeon. They cleansed it."
"No, it can't be..." Tisa said. Her uncles, aunts, nephews... All were gone.
The only family she still had, were Ecthellis, her boyfriend Lars and his family, who had lost half of his family too, so it seemed now.
"Yes, I'm sorry. At least I still have my family here." The man said, while he took her towards the elevator. "What's worse, it happened a week ago and your father tried to cover it up so that he would keep the morale at a high level, because we had just heard that the food production at the Vast Ocean has become a good success."
"Yeah, why would he ruin the happy moment with really important news? " Tisa said sarcastically.
"We're here, perhaps you can calm her down." The officer said when they arrived at the control room.
"Are you going to get him already?"
"Madam he still doesn't want to—"
Sila cried again. It was too much for her, it all went too fast. Her husband had left her to die alone. He never thought of her anymore. She was alone. There was nothing left.
Her life was ruined as much as the tables, chairs and consoles in this control room. The charming boy that Bidard Sung was, ceased to exist a long time ago. She should've known it and stopped the nightmare far before he even planned to colonize this planet. The more time that passed, the more relatives had passed away. Her mother, five years ago. Her father, two years later. Three months ago, Raldir. Now, everyone that stayed behind in the Hexaplain node. But she lived on to suffer more and more of this misery. It had to end. All of it.
Sila saw that the officers all stood together, unable to think of a way to stop her. Whatever she would do now, they wouldn't stand in her way. She had to do it. There was no other way out of this.
Before anyone could respond, Sila jumped upon an officer and took his gun. While running towards the windows, she fired at one of them. The window she hit didn't seem to budge, but she fired again, again. Again and again. The officers lost count while yelling her to stop, not to do it, as they already knew what was going to happen. But just as they expected, Sila didn't hear anything of what they said.
Finally, the window shattered. The glass mostly fell outside of the building, falling down hundreds of metres. Sila stepped forward, ready to jump, wishing that everything could end. Knowing that everything would end.
This time Sila did hear someone. Her own daughter. Could she do this, jump? While Tisa was watching it happen. Sila didn't wish anything but the best for her, yet she wanted nothing but to end it for herself.
She turned around, looking at Tisa. An eternity, a terribly agonizing eternity seemed to pass before she said something to her:
"I can't go on like this... You must bring him down, I can't do it." Sila turned around again, looking at the ground far below her.
"Mum! No! Don't do it!" Tisa screamed.
Again, Sila turned around.
"You have grown so strong in the last time. You have the strength to live though this misery. You can bring him down. You still have a brother. You still have the love of a nice and kind boy. You are able to overthrow Bidard, to lead this node out of this hell. The people will accept you as they have accepted him, but they know that you won't become such a tyrant. When you lead the node, it'll be in peace. Do it for everyone, Tisa, do it for Raldir. Do it for me..."
Tisa screamed again. Louder than she could even imagine, now that her mother had let herself fall down from the building. While falling down, Sila embraced her last moments of her life, knowing it would all end...
Saturday, the twenty fifth of March, 3020
"Milady Marxon, are you certain of your victory?"
"Yes, I may be on my own, but I leaked intel to the UEF, that the Cybrans are planning to assassinate the Federation president. That they are planning the attempt from here.
They will come here and distract the abominations while I will build my base of operations at my leisure. The fact that the Cybrans have got a base on this island already before I arrived, will be no advantage for the them.
Ah- my sensors indicate that they have just arrived. I will continue my work. Be in harmony, evaluator Ashira."
"Good luck, may you be blessed by The Way."
"Ok, we can get information by use of the quantum device. that part works, father." Ecthellis said.
"This avatar is fast, she already reclaimed the second wreck and has found the reclaimables to her east." Bidard answered.
"Let's get the drain of mass started immediately."
"The two UEF pilots have arrived, this will help us... just as to be expected, my plan works perfectly."
"What!? Ecthellis yelled, stunned by what he heard all of a sudden.
"I leaked fake intel to the Aeon, that we'd plan to kill the UEF president. As was to be expected, the UEF came and this third faction will turn the balance in our favour."
"Are you out of your mind?" Ecthellis said. Whatever Bidard's reasoning was, it put the node's citizens at a huge risk.
"Not at all." Bidard answered calmly. "I have planned this, that not only the Aeon will fear this place as soon as the Avatar-of-War is dead, but the UEF will fear us as well. Additionally, they will slow down the Avatar."
"But they will slow us down too." Ecthellis retorted. "If we want to protect our node, we've got to hurry up and build defences there. Your plan has backfired on us as much as it helped us."
"We will both survive and the QLD won't be lost. What do you worry about?"
"The node! The damn node! If the Avatar-of-War finds it, she'll decimate it immediately. They are more important than the success of the QLD."
"Ecthellis, you worry too much."
"Earth's Headquarters? Colonel Dilter here, I'm having an issue with my resource management. Colonel Remen is suffering from the same mass and energy deficit."
"How much do you suffer from the issue?"
"My mass income is hampered by eighteen per cent and my energy production's efficiency is down to about eighty three per cent."
"Sung didn't win because of tactical skills, but by the numbers he had due to the device and the fact that the Avatar-of-War wanted to kill Remen first." Leython summarised the battle in a single sentence.
"I thought that they employed a good strategy. As good as what I did when I fought against you."
"Moving forwards, backwards and forwards again? No, they weren't determined although they knew everything and could easily plan their strategy." Leython answered.
"I remember that I had difficulties when I was working with John, we didn't agree. That caused those funny moves. Bidard and Ecthellis were bickering all the time too, so that would indeed explain why they weren't fighting as well as they could." Shilon said, now noticing why his, and the Sung's battle was going so badly.
"Yes. the reason why you won against us, two weeks ago, was because we couldn't agree either."
"I was also fighting very well when I was on my own, better than I usually do. Finally, I used spy planes frequently. The real thing I excel at is unit management though."
"I realised that, you used strategic bombers to have four shield generators collapse by dropping bombs on a single spot. "
"Yeah, I did that again, four days ago, but I was sloppy with intel though..." Shilon said, recalling his inconsistent job with air scouting.
"I'm much better with intel. I know how to get the whole field on screen and how to counter my enemies. Managing single units in huge armies however, is not something I can do."
"Hmm, we could work together on the field then. Me on the front, giving you the required time to build up your intelligence field." Shilon offered.
"That'd be great, but first, we've got to find out what happened after the battle ended. We have seen why the Aeon would never return. The Avatar-of-War died an agonizing death. She knew it was coming, knew she'd be surrounded by tanks that literally formed a death squad." Leython said.
"George Dilter saw his beloved girl die in front of his eyes. He flew into a rage, attacked the Avatar with everything he had, including his ACU. The Avatar lost too much in that assault." He continued.
"I wonder who the next Avatar-of-War was." Shilon said.
"We might never know."
"True, but it won't be important for Sung's history."
Leython hardly heard Shilon while he walked to another console. He accessed it and made the system search for the folder 'speeches' again. Looking for the speeches with the same date mark as the first battle, he found one named 'first QLD test – victory!'.
"Ladies and gentlemen. The first battle has been brought to an end. We are victorious! The Avatar-of-War, Lisana, is dead! The UEF commanders are dead! But what's more important, the QLD works perfectly as planned! The device can be used to defend our node. Anyone who attacks us will be killed. Our node will, from this day forward, be known as the 'Phantom node'! The Avatar-of-War mentioned the word 'phantom' when she noticed her resources deficit. Both UEF, Aeon and Cybran commanders have feared the Avatar, now they will fear us, as we have defeated her.
The name of 'Phantom' will imbue our enemies with fear, we can now enjoy a calm and peaceful life. This island houses enough resources for all of us. This day's victory will mark history as the success of the Quantum Leeching Device, as the first victory of the Phantom node, as the beginning of the glorious era of Bidard 'Phantom' Sung!"
"Well, that certainly shows he values himself more than anything else." Leython said.
"Yes," Shilon answered, not even looking up from the console he had accessed in the meantime, "I've got a series of recordings here, notes that are made every day. Do you remember at what date Raldir Sung died?"
"Twenty sixth of March, same year. So that's the day after the first battle, why?"
"There must be a reason why this is now a tomb, even though it had the potential to flourish at its very foundation. It had the resources to support its people. The planet at their full disposal to expand, even though the nearest land is more than nine thousand kilometres away. They also have the best technology to protect themselves. The Aeon Avatar-of-War died and the Aeon never returned here. The UEF tried to assault this place for numerous times, but always failed. There is no strategic reason for how or why this node has been deserted, abandoned. The reason why the society here collapsed, must've come from the inside. Mutiny, or betrayal. Either one. Of course, odds that the Sung family is personally involved in that, are high." Shilon concluded.
"So you're trying to find out how it happened, by taking a look at what made Raldir Sung die? That makes sense." Leython said.
"Yes, I've managed to get every recording from the twenty fifth. It are quite a few. It looks like that every thirty minutes is saved with a different timestamp. This can become a long day."
"Not really, you've got to take a look at the recordings' names. Most are nameless apart from the date and time, but here are three that bear a special name." Leython said after he took a look from over Shilon's shoulder.
"I guess we'll start with the first one and then see if we've got to listen to the other two as well." Shilon said and he ordered the first recording, named 'Raldir Sung's deceit' to be played.
"Father, what, in the name of all that's free, have you done? Why did you lead the UEF in here?!" Raldir yelled. They were in the main control room at the top of the Central Tower, the node's most important building, where Bidard 'Phantom' Sung had housed the major governing body and where more than fifty thousand lived.
"Simply to make them fear us as much as the Aeon will do now."
"Don't you understand? The Aeon may fear us because you and Ecthellis managed to kill the Avatar-of-War, who is said to be the greatest Aeon strategic mastermind of our generation. Because that happened, you imbued the Aeon people with fear. However, the UEF is not like the Illuminate. They don't fear us because we've killed two colonels. Two good commanders, but nothing more."
"Yeah, and?" Raldir's father said with his famous demanding tone, which several political opponents had feared, when he still lived in the Hexaplain node.
"They will attack again, ultimately win."
"No they won't. We've got four command units. One will constantly patrol with a base it his side. Any incoming army will be decimated. If they reclaim a ship, the QLD will assist us, so don't talk such nonsense!"
"That's not the worst father!" Raldir said angrily. "The commanders lost mostly because they didn't fight with each other, against us. They were divided, which is obvious because they were Aeon and UEF, those don't fight so nicely alongside each other. However, when four UEF pilots will arrive, they will fight alongside and it'll be only a matter of time before they have found and transmitted the cause of their resources deficit and then they won't reclaim anymore!"
"Why do you worry so much? We've got a base at the beach and here around the node, around the crater."
"That won't be enough, four UEF commanders will kill us. Not only have you jeopardized the node already by gaining attention, you also risk all of our lives because the UEF will continue to attack us!"
"That's enough, you don't understand what I know!" Sung said, being as angry as his youngest son, nothing in his voice still resembled his tone of his famous political speeches. He almost seemed afraid of what his son told him. As if he knew that he was correct, from a certain point of view, but he didn't want to admit it.
"Of course you don't understand, you're not a very good commander, as you're not able to do much more but resource management, but this, what I'm going to tell you, is of the utmost importance!
We also need the UEF to continuously attack us. We must be able to test our weapons we will develop."
Raldir roared in anger: "What?! Do you want them to attack us, risk the lives of everyone in this node?"
"War requires us to sacrifice something to free gain something else, like freeing enslaved Symbionts. We need to test weapons against our enemies and we need to do so in our own territory, so that we can easily check our progress while we can still call upon our safety."
"If you free someone, but have lost the node because of your stupid tests, you have killed hundreds of thousands. That one person you freed is not really good if you have killed countless of others."
"Don't you dare to speak to me like that!" Bellowed Bidard. "I lead the node, I am the master scientists, I am the best strategist –"
"As the best, you should know better than to jeopardize all these lives." And Raldir pointed at the people working in the main control room, he pointed at the floor; underneath were one hundred and forty six stories. He then pointed out of the largest window, where he stood many times, to look at two other buildings that each supported life for more than another fifty thousand.
"You.. You don't understand anything. The QLD is our defence weapon that protects the node. We will not be destroyed."
"There's no one who can be absolutely sure of that..." A pause fell before Raldir spoke again, no one knew what the small note was that he had been given.
"You have already destroyed the node." Raldir said, in a tone that was engulfed in sadness. An angry Raldir never touched Bidard in the least, but now he seemed a bit surprised for a moment, but he quickly recovered.
"No way!" He said in denial.
"Yes! The UEF ACUs that exploded, caused radiation. Not as much as a nuclear explosion back in the twentieth century would cause, but still enough to contaminate the ground. The food we're growing can't be harvested. The crops that were spared in the battle are wasted because of the explosions. We can't support ourselves for longer than three months while we've got to wait for eight months before we can harvest a new, fresh and uncontaminated batch of food. Oh and you know that we can't fish, because the fish that do live here, are poisonous."
"Then we've got to put the people on a one third ration for the time being. We'll hold out. As I said, we've got to sacrifice something."
"I can't believe you! You seriously plan to sacrifice everything to reach your own plans, don't you?
Are you insane?"
The whole discussion was working on Bidard's nerves, but this was the limit. Although he didn't think so by himself, Raldir was right about one thing, anything that would stand in between him and his plans would be sacrificed remorselessly.
"Raldir Sung, you are banished. Your attempts to interfere with me have gone too far. You had finally gained my thrust when the first harvesting of crops brought a good result, but that you think that you know how to wage war better than me is the limit. Before noon tomorrow, you will no longer be on our planet."
"What is this?" Shilon was stunned.
"He banished his own son?" Leython asked, although he already knew the answer. Leython had heard and read of stories in which great leaders were the worst leaders. Those people had been corrputed by their own ingenuity, they were arrogant and couldn't be reasoned with. Anyone who was critical would be removed, mercilessly.
Others would probably have noticed Sung's wickedness even before he left to colonize this planet. It had become worse, Leython thought and Shilon agreed when he heard his former enemy's thoughts. Bidard Sung had become a bit too crazy since his plans seemed to work.
He could've become 'dangerous' even before the first successful test of the QLD. The people would have feared him when he noticed that he was almost always right. The victory made him think he was invincible, that was the reason for him to proclaim himself phantom. Anyone who stood up against him, disagreed with him, even thought ill of him, would have to leave. Raldir was the first one but didn't even make it off planet alive... Yet why?
"I found something else." Shilon said and Leython woke up from his thoughts.
"What is it?"
"A passage from a conversation in Tisa's room." Shilon said.
"Were they doing that to everyone? Listening? Taking away their privacy?"
"Pretty much anti-Cybran, don't you think? No, I think that she recorded her own conversations, perhaps as some sort of a diary." The Symbiont mentioned.
"Then what is it doing there? Isn't a diary supposed to be private?" Leython asked.
"I'm not sure about that. Regardless, this title implicates a conversation of Tisa and Raldir. It might explain what Raldir planned, but went wrong."
"Tisa, don't cry. You'll see me again. I'll make sure of that. It won't take long before you can make your way out of here as well."
"It's not like I'm gone for the rest of my life. Father will know that he needs me. If I am gone, things will go downhill with the food management. He wants to put the entire node on a one third ration. People will revolt, that's for sure and then you can easily persuade father to get me back." Raldir said
"I can't persuade father, you know that. What if he banishes me too, or worse?"
"He won't, I'm sure of that. If the whole node is in crisis, then the people will stand up. When that happens, you can persuade him."
"What if he doesn't listen. He doesn't listen to us at all, did you know that?" Tisa asked desperately.
"For our entire life, mother always took care of us, it was always her. Did he ever play a game with us? It was always about his career. I'm fifteen now and I even know my boyfriend's father better than Bidard. You know I have only met mister Vedder three months ago, two weeks after I met Lars. Whenever Lars wanted to play a game of chess with his father, he always made some time.
Not with him," Tisa glanced upwards; five stories higher, their father was at work, "he always sacrifices everything for his job. In the last eighteen years, he had participated in the elections for presidency in the Hexaplain node and he always lost. However, he was always appointed to secretary again and he tried again and again. The losses made him more and more frustrated and eager to finally win. He came back home late, after working at office and then planning his political agenda. He left before we were even awake. Sometimes, I didn't see him for more than a week.
You know it, he doesn't listen to us. The only time he even talked with you or Ecthellis, is when he had to discuss the progress in food management or the development of technology. Even then, he always did everything within his reach to make you agree with his plans. It is ridiculous, to find out that he never spoke with us to ask if we had a nice day. When I told him I had a boyfriend, he only said 'great' without even looking up from his console!"
"Tisa, don't forget one thing, he still is our father and –" Tisa cut her older brother off immediately.
"Our father? He doesn't seem to realise that. He doesn't seem to realise that we're relatives, he doesn't seem to realise that I am his own daughter! He doesn't treat us like children, so he isn't a father for me in any way. You are so naÔve Raldir, believing he recognizes us as our children!"
Silence. Raldir didn't know anything to say. Tisa was right. Never had their father played hide-and-seek with them, back in the Hexaplain node. Never had they played a game of chess. Or Monopoly. Never had he even told them a little story before bedtime.
"Perhaps we can't persuade him." He finally admitted. "But the people have to know that he may be able to protect them, but they won't like to live here for very long."
"But how, how can we tell the truth without getting into trouble."
"I don't know, don't forget that I can't work from the inside anymore. I have to be gone within eighteen hours."
"I can't do it without you Raldir." Tisa squealed.
"You won't be doing it without me, I'll speak to you every day if need be." Her brother tried to reassure her.
"I.. I don't know. Can't I leave too?"
"No, of course not, you have to help the people. That's what you're so good at. Help them by any means possible. Ecthellis has got a creative mind, albeit not too creative to be good for him. He still understands the reality, unlike father. Ask him to help you. You can do it, I'm sure of that."
"When are you going to leave? Right now, or will you wait for the final moment?"
"I'm going to take my ACU tomorrow morning and then I'll build a base, a quantum gate and then I'm going back to the Hexaplain node."
"Are you sure you can take your ACU? Is that safe to do? Wouldn't he want to keep it with him?"
"When I'm in my ACU, there's nothing he can do against it."
"That would answer the question." Leython said.
"How Raldir tried to make it off planet and how that ended in failure. He stepped into his ACU, but the person who was on the field, patrolling, would probably have been given the orders to kill him."
"What?! Would Bidard Sung, his own father, kill him?" Shilon asked, unable to grasp the truth.
"Oh yes, don't forget that he is not their father, as Tisa said." Leython answered with a grim face. "He is not the one who spent time with his family. He only thought of his career and his sons as a tool in his plans. Now that the tool named 'Raldir' has broken, he wants to get rid of it. He probably thought that of Raldir as a thread when he stepped in his ACU and then ordered him to be killed."
"This is so wicked. It's sick and wrong." Shilon said.
"I know." Leython replied at the moment he saw that the recording's ending started a new recording:
Sunday morning, the twenty sixth of March, 3020...
"Sir, you are not authorised to be here. Please leave immediately."
"What? Why am I not authorised to be here?"
"Phantom Bidard Sung's orders. We are supposed to keep you away from here. I must add to it that you're supposed to be away from this planet before noon."
"I very well know that I've got to get out of here. Now just let me pass so that I can."
"Sir, we can't let you leave with your ACU." The officer said, immediately understanding how Raldir wanted to leave. "You are to leave by personal quantum travel. You are allowed to enter the coordinates of destination, but that's how you've got to leave."
"I will go with my ACU. It is my ACU after all, not the node's one."
"Sir, we can't allow you to go there." Another officer said, but Raldir was prepared for the resistance. He quickly took his gun and fired twice, the blue lasers stunned the officers, who wanted to stop him, before they could react.
Engineers and other officers saw what happened and they stood still, watching as Raldir stormed towards his ACU. He still had to go up the hangar's stairs to reach the cockpit, more than twenty metres higher, while some officers grouped together and fired stunning shots at him. The shots hit the metal stairs however and Raldir made it safely into his command unit.
"What?! He's in his ACU?" Sung said angrily, while patrolling around the island. He already expected that Raldir planned to leave the planet by command unit. He therefore warned the guards at the hangar and ordered them not to let him through. To make sure that nothing would go wrong, he also mentioned that he would take patrol duty for Sunday morning, just in case that Raldir actually made it in his ACU. The fact that it happened was surprising nonetheless.
"Yes sir. He is now moving out of the hangar and making his way towards the outside of the island. I think he's going to build a base."
"Leave it to me."
"I said, leave it to me! I'll deal with him!"
"Raldir Sung, leave your ACU immediately! You are banished and you should leave by personal quantum travel."
"Why? Why am I not allowed to take my ACU with me?"
"The ACU has been confiscated by the Phantom node. Leave it immediately."
"No, you've given this ACU to me some months ago, I'm not going to give it back. I'm going to build a quantum gateway, the liquid ion reactors for the energy to leave the planet, then I'm out of here. You should agree with that!"
"I don't agree with it, leave your ACU now or I'll take you out!"
"If you do that, you'll contaminate the ground with radiation even more. Then you've got to do it without fresh food for two extra months."
"There will be other opportunities to get food and we can ration it. We will not have this discussion again, Raldir. Leave your ACU immediately."
But Bidard's youngest son didn't leave his ACU. He moved on and built several mass extractors. Then he constructed power generators and started to upgrade his ACU with the engineering suite for advanced structures. All the time, Bidard warned him more and more, but when the upgrade was completed halfway, Raldir had enough of it and switched off his transmission.
If he hadn't done that, he could have managed to leave the planet with his ACU.
"No! Officer, contact my husband, he must call off that attack!" Sila yelled.
"He's not responding. The Phantom is ignoring all transmissions. We can't do anything." An officer answered.
"Isn't there any sort of emergency code to contact him?" Tisa asked.
"I'm sorry." The officer said.
Both mother and daughter saw how Bidard Sung continued the attack with the Silvano type two bombers. They continued to bomb Raldirs ACU, which couldn't bear all the damage. It kept moving towards the water, but the Silvano bombers' speciality was that it could drop both normal bombs as well as torpedoes.
When the ACU was just meters underwater, everyone witnessed how the father of no one let the bombers make their final run and so how he murdered his own son he didn't recognize...