“There is more than just that, we were one step ahead of him, two ahead of ourselves, which means that we were three steps ahead of him.”
“Ok, explain it to me, I love it if it all goes according to plan, but I have to know about it first. That’s what made me so irritated when you urged me to wait for fifteen minutes.”
“When we arrived on Seraphim Two, we quickly learned how this was all a trap, then I realised that Marxon wanted us dead, or our ACUs taken. Possibly both.”
“And yet you still wanted to continue our mission in the same way. It meant we played along with him.”
“No matter what we would do, we would be playing along with his plans. He is smarter than we are.”
“Then why do we still live?”
“As you have already told, you have to outwit yourself sometimes to win, or make it out of there alive. Marxon based his strategy on what he knew about us, so we only had to come up with something he does not know about us, while just not showing that element.”
“I get it, I think. You hid your final action, that had probably saved us, even from me. Then I’d be fighting as I always do, hiding nothing from Marxon. I’d like to know though, how can you explain the fact that your ACU was not moving?”
“Marxon knows that I’d rather use my ACU to assist my economy and my engineering efforts. I do not use it on the battlefield, especially not at such a late moment. Not using the ACU at all meant that I would have to use five tier three engineers to make up for it, or a lot of tier two engineers.”
“Marxon probably didn’t expect us to have any trouble with assault like our enemy put at us just before we left.”
“No, he did not, that is why my lack of any help, except for the Oblivion cannons, was not strange at all.”
“Ok, that’s why he didn’t put more effort into it. Now, he must’ve had a backup plan if we were gone, so all of a sudden.”
“Yes, I think he has, I will take a look at my ACU tomorrow, to see if he did exactly what I, like him, would have done if I ran away from my trap.”
That next morning, Marisa took a look at her ACU even before they had breakfast. When she came back, Leyton waited for her before he started eating.
“Yes, the Avatar-of-War did exactly what I expected from him. He entered my ACU’s self-destruct code, or at least what it was before I altered it again.”
“You lost me there, what did you do.”
“When I first arrived here, I expected that the Avatar-of-War would enter my self-destruct codes so that I would be destroyed, with my ACU. I changed the codes and when I first checked my command unit again, to build this house, then I saw the message that Marxon certainly received as well.”
“What message was that? That the self-destruction sequence had failed?”
“Exactly, I saw it on one of my screens, Marxon should have seen it as well, because any order he gives to my ACU, can be seen, with the result, on his consoles.”
“So he prepared for your return, knowing that you’d not be sitting here just to be exiled.”
“You understand the matter completely. I expected a trap, we found our counter to it but there was just this one backup we had to take care of.”
“How did you do it?”
“The solution is simple, altered the codes, but I also wrote a small script, which would send a message to Marxon, that he thought he was successful.”
“Would he not search the Choir’s database for your ID-code? If he’d find it, he can still remove it manually from the system. And here’s another thing, how can you be certain that the message ‘successful’ doesn’t remove the code from the database again?”
“I will answer the hardest question first.” Marisa said. “The Choir’s database checks in with the ACU at any moment that a remote order is given. This was done to monitor a possible hijack. It stays in touch with the ACU for some minutes after the latest command has been issued. If the database does not register an explosion, then the unit identification code is not removed.”
“Ok and now the easy question. What about Marxon? Surely a genius like him would double-check the result of his actions? Or would he fall victim to his own experience?”
“Yes, he knows that he is so smart and cunning, he knows that his plans cannot fail and as soon as it goes all perfect, he is only more convinced about his own work.”
“But it didn’t go well. He didn’t get a hold on our ACUs.” Leython said.
“He expected that that could happen. He and we all know how smart he is, but he also does not underestimate our smart minds. He knows that we want to be a step ahead of him, that is why he might think that capturing the ACUs does not work, so he comes with his second plan. Two steps ahead, we would never think of it.”
“Ok, that clarifies it, he thinks that his second plan will succeed anyway, so that’s why he wouldn’t be worried.”
“Exactly. His own confidence is his weakness, he is so sure about our death now, that he would never think about double-checking it. For him, it still went well, there still is no one who has beaten him.”
“We should also not think that we have beaten him, to be honest.” Leython suggested. The idea alone was at least dangerous. It would made them overconfident.
“No, we should not be so arrogant. We may have won one game, but it certainly is too dangerous for us to show up near him, he will then triple-check everything and make sure we are done for. We now have won the round because I knew the terrain, which is my own ACU. Next time, he will be in control, that is certain.”
Later, at Seton’s clutch, two commanders fought a more intense one versus one battle than either of them had seen before...
Three Harbingers moved across the field, followed by twenty more. They were too close to each other. One of them could be hit by an overcharge bolt and then those three would be destroyed.
Barely had the thought formed in the Illuminate commander’s mind and the overcharged shot hit the central siege assault bot and instantly destroyed the other two.
Half a second later, a group of thirty spy planes surged over the Harbinger force, that moved towards the place where the bolt had appeared out of nowhere. It instantly detected a signature, carefully protected by a cloaking generator.
The harbingers moved on and the first ones charged their cannons already, but they would be too late as the enemy unit would surely be submerged in the lake by the time that the siege assault bots could deal some proper damage, but the Aeon knight was ahead of that reality already.
Twenty torpedo bombers had followed the spy planes and were ready to drop their payload as soon as the enemy hit the water. With the tier two and tier three aircraft circling over it, the ACU had nowhere to go.
Out of nowhere, a group of enemy strategic bombers suddenly appeared, escorted by a squad of air superiority fighters. The torpedo bombers stood no chance and were shot down in a matter of ten seconds, at best. It took longer before the Harbingers were destroyed, but those bots had become a waste of mass nonetheless.
She had not expected this, not that this air force had come to destroy her assault force. The bombers continued their flight towards the Illuminate knight’s main base, where she did expect the assault. The enemy had not seen her pre-emptive countermeasure though and moved on anyway.
The bombers came closer and prepared to bomb their payload, but this time they were the ones to be trapped as more than fifty air superiority fighters suddenly appeared in front of them and fired.
The enemy bombing force was decimated before they could do anything. The enemy superiority fighters fought back, but stood no chance either. The Cybran had just wasted as much mass with his assault as she had done with her assassination attempt.
While she had blunted the enemy spearhead, she continued with her standard strategy, before she noticed the cloaked ACU standing behind her own lines. Her navy moved closer to her enemy’s cliffs, destroying his fleet on the way.
The problem was, half of her fleet was gone. While she was distracted by the tier three Cybran air force and gave the single order for her air superiority fighters to attack, another air force made it to her fleet and took fifty per cent of it out of commission, including all of her cruisers. Now, because those torpedo and strategic bombers still lived and was quickly supported by a secret fleet he held back, the Cybran commander was back in the race at the western front!
With the land battle stuck at the battlefield’s bottleneck, the loss of her western fleet and a Cybran ACU behind enemy lines, there was only one positive thing left: her eastern fleet.
The plan had worked. Sending his ACU behind enemy lines had distracted the enemy commander enough to make her send fifty per cent of her torpedo bombers in the hope of destroying his command unit. Even though he didn’t know that the ACU would be useful in that way at first, it was an excellent idea now.
Sending his own air force further allowed him to sneak by with his second group of bombers. It decimated the enemy’s anti-air capabilities in the western sea and now the entire fleet was destroyed.
It all came with a price though. The Illuminate pilot now knew where his ACU was and would certainly send new spy planes soon and find the exact location of the command unit little moments later.
He had to move on again and that left him with two options. He could go back, but the enemy fleet of submarines had spread out over the whole eastern sea. With the spy planes coming soon, it was a bad idea.
The Aeon commander also knew the alternative route by now. With her fleet lost at the western sea, the Cybran ACU would be safe there. The problem via that path was that he had to walk across the land. He needed another distraction, preferably the destruction of all enemy omni sensors, so he could walk in a straight line. It still dangerous, but he had to do it.
While the Cybran moved on, he thought about the good news of the current situation. The land bridge was blocked, he had the western sea under control and was about to destroy the enemy shore’s base. Additionally, the only important enemy zone for now, was occupied by submarines, which could do no harm, while the front was protected by experimental spiderbots.
And there, he was wrong. Two massive plasma bolts suddenly destroyed a Monkeylord’s legs, causing the experimental unit to crash in the grass. She had submersible battleships! Her air superiority fighters had moved towards the shore, blocking the only possible way to destroy those experimental units.
She would have lost her shoreline while he evacuated his ACU, but the Aeon pilot made very clear that she was one step ahead and not planning to let anything go without a price.
Instead of sending all of his remaining air superiority fighters to the place where he needed them, the Cybran commander had spread them out behind enemy lines. It took the Aeon knight a couple of seconds before she understood. They were to take down any spy plane so that the ACU could escape via the western shore.
She already admitted that she had lost that place and her assault on her enemy’s counterpart could not come at a better time. The battle was balanced and would definitely be for the next minutes.
It could be that the Cybran commander used his Air superiority fighters to take down any air transport with engineers, that hoped to reach the enemy shore. It was not necessary though. The Tempest battleships had their own factory and they could not only build the cruisers and destroyers to support themselves, but engineers were an option too.
Now she did not only destroy the enemy base, she could also build one on her own.
But so could the Cybran commander. He had the ability to send engineers in air transports and according to the Aeon tier three omni sensor at the frontline, he was doing that right now.
Both bases were neatly being crushed like a light assault bot under a Colossus’ leg. The battle was balanced very well, but it could all be over soon.
Thinking about a Colossus’ leg, she noticed how her Sacred Assault Bot stood in the enemy’s ACU direct path from the lake to her shore. It was bound to go wrong, because he did not have intel about that unit.
He knew it, a Galactic Colossus blocked his path, so he saw with that single air unit that was left. He had to go around its omni sensor’s range in order to survive. It was doable, but took some precious time he could better spend on a useful action.
Which is what he did. On the other side of the field, he had built tactical missile launchers in the hills so that they could reach the shoreline he just lost. As soon as an engineer would build only one single factory, it would go down.
Additionally, he had his first strategic missile launcher built, which was working on a nuke.
The wreckages at the middle of the battlefield were still intact. All engineers that either the Cybran or the Aeon commander had send towards it, were destroyed. At first, they were taken out of commission by a light assault bot or a tank, but now, some powerful tier two artillery from both parties were covering the land bridge’s valuables. If either of them would win that battle and destroy that front line, it would be over for the other one, since recovering would be hard.
He could have used the mass of that missile silo to strengthen the front line, or an assault, but that was risky as well. What if that assault failed or if the defensive lines were destroyed? No, a nuke would be a much better way to defend that zone.
Meanwhile, the Aeon commander moved her experimental bot forward, apparently she knew that his ACU had circumvented the Colossus’ sensor range. The Cybran command unit was ready to assist the engineers in building a base at the enemy shoreline, but there were no engineers left.
While he had worked on all counter measures that he could think of, to protect his own base and his command unit, the enemy had used tactical missiles and artillery fire to deal with his engineers. Staying here with his ACU was too dangerous, so he had to retreat with that unit and move ahead with his destroyers instead. Their ability of walking shouldn’t be wasted.
While the destroyers hit the shore, it seemed trivial for the Cybran that the Aeon commander would use more tactical missiles. Destroyers were slow as they moved over land and that made them an easy target.
He sent a couple of spy planes, backed up with strategic bombers, to deal with the threat. It didn’t take long before he found the missile launchers and destroyed them, only to see that his enemy had done exactly the same at his side.
The best they could do, was exchanging land to each other. A better result could not be made yet, but it would be over soon. The Galactic Colossus moved towards the front line and it would soon be backed up with a decent force of torpedo bombers to deal with any enemy ships. It could not be stopped and when it had broken the enemy defensive positions, the Colossus would be able to move on.
Even if it were to be destroyed, the reclaimables in the middle of the field would be hers. She had her strategic missile ready to destroy the Colossus’ wreckage if she could not reach that at the location where the behemoth went down. The balance would be broken in her favour. Or perhaps not...
Out of nowhere, a group of strategic bombers appeared and dropped their payload on the giant assault bot. It did not do all too much damage compared to the unit’s massive hull integrity, but if she allowed this to happen, the unit would barely be able to destroy the enemy front line.
The Aeon knight was also notified of a strategic launch, but that did not worry her. All of her bases were protected.
She sent most of her air superiority fighters away from the Tempests, to assist the Colossus. Barely had they left, or the enemy’s complete torpedo bomber armada appeared to take the experimental battleships out. It was a simple manoeuvre, but it was effective. The first battleship’s hull was compromised by more than seventy per cent on the first run.
She now would have had to make the choice between sacrificing the Colossus or the Tempests, if it were not for the cruisers and tier one Shard boats she had built. She expected that her enemy would force her tier three fighters away from the fleet and then attack with his air force, but the pre-emptive countermeasure was ready once again.
One after another, the torpedo bombers fell down like leafs. It was not good enough for the first battleship, which sank on the second run, but the second battleship was completely safe from the enemy threat. She still had the covering fire to keep the opposing shore under control.
The Colossus had, with the subsequent bombing runs and the added firepower of several artilleries, lost fifty per cent of its integrity before the Corona fighters had taken out all of the bombers. Nevertheless, fifty per cent left was enough to destroy the enemy firebase and take control of the land bridge.
Suddenly, the strategic missile arrived at its destination. It exploded directly in front of the Colossus, blasting away another section of armour, instantly setting the land bridge aflame and also destroying all of the wreckages that stood there. A crude method, but effective nonetheless.
She was about to win the battle for the land bridge, that lasted for three hours now, but the enemy commander not only taken her chance of victory but also blown away the reward. Not that he had a chance of winning that area either, but the fact that he kept the battle in balance was annoying to say the very least.
While the Colossus continued, having only a fraction of its armour left, armour that would most certainly be blown away by the artillery, the Illuminate commander saw how the colossus’ very appearance had cast a shadow over the battlefield.
The blinding light of the nuke’s explosion had instantly burned the grass around the ground zero, but the Sacred Assault bot stood in the way in one direction. The grass that did not directly see the explosion, had burned slower and at a lower temperature. It had created a colossus-shaped shadow over the battlefield.
This was not the time to look at shadows though. She needed a new plan of action, a new strategy.
It was another three hours later and the battlefield was completely different. Whereas he was controlling the south first, his ACU now stood in the middle of his main base at the upper north. They had exchanged their positions completely. The last original outposts that were destroyed, were the ones at the front.
It took them both a long time before they finally made it across the entire enemy zone, since they only could advance via the shores. It was their only possible approach back then. Eventually though, they made it through and they could attack the frontline firebases from the back.
It all went with one brilliant tactical manoeuvre after another, several times, they both fought at one side of the battlefield only to make it through at the other side.
The result of this was that they didn’t come any closer to victory. If it was going like this for six hours already, how long would it be before one had won?
Neither of them could call for reinforcements though. The other Cybrans were probably too busy with their own business and didn’t have time to come to such a remote and forgotten place.
As for the Aeon commander, she couldn’t do anything at all. If she contacted the Avatar-of-War, he would immediately know that she wasn’t dead and then he’d come for her personally.
This was no use. Neither of them could finish the battle, they could better call it a draw and quit, before they were continuing this single campaign for weeks. However, friendly asking for a draw was no fun. It had to end with some fireworks.
Hundreds of spy planes suddenly moved in on her newly acquired land. There were too much to be shot down and within a minute, all of her secrets were known facts, including the location of her ACU.
Thanks to her abilities of The Way, she knew that this was wrong, very wrong. She knew it was wrong before the spy planes had even spotted her. There was nothing she could even do about it to survive, but she knew that she could at least take down the Cybran commander.
She ordered the launch of the new strategic missile she had built. By the time that the launcher managed to send the nuke into the air, the Cybran ACU had teleported towards in her own base. His old one.
In an instant, the strategic missile silo exploded on her orders, the explosion rupturing the missile’s shell while it was launched. Half a second later, the payload exploded and took both the Aeon and the Cybran commander out.
“That was a sudden end, were you out of ideas, Leython?” Marisa asked, smiling because she knew what this was about. She had to agree with him. It was already past dinner time.
“I’m hungry.” Leython said, confirming Marisa’s thoughts. “And instead of just asking to stop with this simulation, I decided I wanted to do some final trick.”
“We seem to be quite even if it comes to strategy, something we already knew of course. We both plan ahead quite a lot. You a bit more than me, but I can back the latest developments up, thanks to my talents with The Way. Certain disturbances in my confidence tell me that I should be careful for walking into a trap. With you though, it is too late most of the time.”
“I guess we stand a chance against Marxon after all, if we want to bring him down. We just have to face him when he doesn’t join after his knights have done all of the hard work for him. We must get him when he starts on the battlefield with nothing but his ACU.”
“If I look at our six hour battle, I cannot help but think about that. If the war would come at an uncertain end, an end that all factions can still claim in their advantage, then we must be there and play our part in it. Whatever the end will be, it cannot be good if it is Marxon’s.”
“I am quite certain that we will be able to do something good in the war, soon enough. We’ll surprise everyone. What strategy is better than appearing on the battlefield when everyone thinks you’re dead?” Leython said happily.
“Let us go and eat. I am hungry too.” Marisa said and they climbed out of their ACUs that stood without any damage on the Tessalis soil. Marisa and Leython even took the time to make them stand close to each other, as if they were hugging.
“Awww.” Leython said when he stood on the ground and Marisa walked towards him. “They’re in love.”
“So are their owners.” Marisa said and she kissed Leython.
The result was most satisfying. He had already expected this to happen, as he had planned it all along. It was unfortunate that he could not retrieve his ACU from Marisa Gawain, but now she and her companion were neutralized.
It all started almost four years ago, when Gawain deserted from the Illuminate’s military. He realised how dangerous she was. She had the knowledge about The Way and the military mind to thwart his plans. He immediately sought to destroy her ACU by entering its self-destruction codes.
The only message he got back, was that the sequence had failed. It could only mean one thing. Marisa Gawian had used her technical brilliance in combination with her talents of The Way to alter her command unit’s most elementary preferences, including the self-destruction codes. Having tried all sequences that were remotely connected with the Illuminate pilot’s life, such as the birth dates of her and her parents, the ACU still stood.
Unable to do anything, because he didn’t know where Gawain fled to and he didn’t have the men to find out, Marxon waited. Gawain knew that she had the ability and the wish to return to the battlefield and fight the war in her own way. For her, the problem was that the longer it took, the more outdated her ACU was, because he had succeeded in removing her ACU from the registry and she knew that.
It was not hard to conclude that she would return to the Aeon to try and update her command unit’s software and protocols. When that happened, he would have his trap set.
Three months after Gawain’s desertion, Marxon had finished his plan. Then, it was time to complete the physical needs of it. The city, or more aptly said, the city’s radar signature, had to be developed first. Never before had one wanted to build a fake that only existed on the radar, but wasn’t there when human eyes looked at it.
He could have built a real city, but Gawain had to find out it was a trap when her first plane flew by. If she found out that she was trapped when she walked in the streets, noting the lack of other people, she was bound to return to her ACU, fearing for its safety.
Now, in his actual plan, she realised that she fell into a trap before she even left her command unit. It was to make her think that the real threat came in the form of raw firepower, capable of vaporizing a human being in a single shot. It was imperative that she never contemplated the possibility of someone stealing her unit, she was only allowed to fear its destruction.
Only thinking of that, Gawain would be certain that she was able to evade the commanders hunting for her for the time that she was in her command unit. Determined to succeed, she’d go for the real capital and there she’d leave her ACU, going to the Choir’s headquarters, or the military headquarters, where his own office was situated, search for the means to update her weapons and then leave the planet.
Marxon allowed her to do so, while he would ensure that his Knights didn’t interfere. They were to stay alert and find out when she left her ACU to walk to the city alone. When she did, it was time to come into action:
“Search for her ACU, it is probably in her base she had equipped with stealth generators. When you have found it, seize it.”
[color=#55bbff][i]That was what he would’ve said, three years ago, he had thought of exactly that line to say to Rhiza. It all went a little bit different, she had a companion. This companion was none other than Leython Dygonn. Supposedly, he perished at Sung Island, the place of the so-called phantom and his devilish work.
But Dygonn survived. He had joined the Cybrans. Marxon recognized his work during the abominations’ defence at the Three-Rivers node. Nothing about the UEF that the Avatar-of-War knew, connected the people of the Federation with The Way, but still, he recognized Dygonn’s behaviour as... ‘familiar’. It was coincidence but became very handy now. It made the commander unique, very unique.
When he sent Felicity Thazin to Tessalis, he did so to kill Dygonn. With the Cybrans’ Artificial Intelligence’s help, although QAI did not know it, Marxon had found out that Gawain went to that planet and it was not hard to realise that Dygonn wanted to go there as well.
If Thazin could defeat Dygonn, Gawain would be alone in her quest, as Marxon initially assumed. Thazin could perhaps seize Gawain’s ACU while she was there, so that this whole trap was unnecessary.
Unfortunately, Thazin perished and now Marxon had to cope with two enemy commanders, one exiled, one turned into a Cybran abomination and if it weren’t enough, he faced a new weapon as well. Tier two stage, by the looks of Thazin’s last images.[i][/color]
It all mattered not, his plan was secure. Two commanders or one, it didn’t make any difference in the effectiveness of his trap. The two of them would certainly come to the capital together, people like Dygonn and Gawain worked together under all circumstances.
The one thing he had to consider though, was their ability to check in on their command units at all time. If the Aeon pilots turned to their targets too fast, the enemies would return to their ACUs and leave, evading the trap. Additionally, they already fell into a trap and knew it, they would surely expect another one and watch their intelligence screen at all times.
Luckily, he could rely on Gawain’s knowledge about The Way. She would realise what was going to happen, but not before she was near her target. It offered him the slow approach that was required to make Dygonn and Gawain think they didn’t have to rush back to their ACUs. When they finally realised their mistake, it was too late.
It was all planned well, except for one thing. The confidence in Choir member Elenes was too much to ask for. She had to delay them more than a few minutes. Before his knights could make up for that mistake, the two enemies returned to their ACUs, although it took them slightly longer than Elenes had expected.
The small delay couldn’t make up for Elenes’ failure though. Gawain and Dygonn returned before Rhiza and her assistant, knight Halley, could adapt and make a proper assault on the enemy base they had finally found.
Still, there was his second plan that couldn’t fail. The reason why he was all too eager to let Gawain reach the Choir’s headquarters and update her ACU again. It had reset all of the elementary preferences she had wisely altered, almost four years ago.
Marxon waited, until he was certain that both Dygonn and Gawain had stepped out of their ACUs, then the Aeon command unit would start its self-destruction sequence. It immediately gave him the advantage that there were no ACU explosions on Seraphim Two, preserving the nature and, more importantly, avoiding any questions entailed to the matter.
The possibility that they had escaped this certain death, was less than zero. It was time to contact the princess. She had been interested in the issue, now it was time to let her know that he, Avatar-of-War Marxon, had managed to end it for the best of the Aeon Illuminate.
“Avatar-of-War, what news do you bring?” Toth asked. She had come for the message that the Illuminate’s military supreme leader had reserved for princess Burke, as she was meditating now.
“Princess Burke informed me last night, she was woken by visions concerning certain intruders.”
“The princess has spoken with me about that. She said that they would be taken care of by your forces and she needed not to worry about her or anyone else’s safety.”
“I am here to report that I have succeeded in my work, both pilots are destroyed.”
“Are you certain?” Toth asked, unable to hide every last trace of shock for Marxon. He noticed it: “Why are you so worried, evaluator Toth? I thought that I brought good news by reporting the death of Gawain and Dygonn?”
“Gawain was one of my students, I am saddened by the fact that it came to this.”
“Will you relay the information to the princess?” Marxon asked. “She contacted me in the night to ask me.”
“I shall do that. Good evening.” Toth said.
“Good night.” The Avatar-of-War said and he closed the channel.
Toth immediately left to inform Rhianne of this tragedy. While she questioned Marisa’s rigid behaviour at first, fearing the possibility that she’d be consumed by the military powers like Jaran Marxon, she was now certain that the girl she had found years and years ago wished nothing but peace in a non-violent way.
“Princess,” The evaluator said, as she walked into her meditation room, “I bring ill news from Marxon.”
“Has he succeeded in his work?” Rhianne asked.
“He claims to have succeeded, yes. This is a tragic event. Marisa Gawain lost. I cannot help but think about the day I chose you as princess instead of her. I still feel like I have insulted her.”
“But how is this possible? They were one step ahead of Marxon, they left the planet, did they not? I have got information from one of the Choir’s members, although indirectly, but it cannot be denied that Leython and Marisa managed to get away alive and that no Aeon knights followed them. We can only conclude that they were one step ahead.”
“Then we also have to conclude that the Avatar-of-War was two steps ahead, princess.”
“This is very sad news,” Rhianne said, her eyes cast down, “ but do not feel guilty of your decision, evaluator Toth. It was based on your best judgement of then, I am certain of that. I will also promise that I will honour Marisa Gawain in my actions that have yet to come.”
“Don’t you find it strange that those Aeon commanders suddenly left and didn’t return?” Josh Funky asked. He and Eric Temera both had, thankfully, a off, therefore Josh had come to visit his old friend he hadn’t seen in several years, until the long battle that started two days ago.
“I don’t know what was going on there, but it’s never happened before.”
“It has happened before, when either we or the Aeon make a breakthrough in the war, the Cybrans hit that party with a swift assault, to break the momentum and re-stabilise the front, although that usually results in the whole Aeon or UEF army hastily retreating and turning back to their own territory, hoping to safe what’s not yet destroyed by the Symbionts.”
“What does that mean, you think? Would those Cybran rebels have made it through with a small force, doing only half of the job they usually do? That’d only take a few experienced commanders with their trainees and then they’ll deal with the threat.” Eric said.
“Possibly, but why didn’t they return a few hours later?” Josh asked. “What took them so long? We’ve been fighting for a day before that battle was finally over, a sudden strike by Cybrans never takes that long for as far as I know.”
“You’ve got a point there. If it took them so long, they didn’t have enough men out there but surely you’d do something about that problem, being their general. If you’ve got enough commanders at the front and you’re suddenly attacked in the middle of your own territory, you’d get there first.”
“Perhaps that Aeon leader in their war council or whatever it is made a mistake.”
“I don’t believe that, all of the Aeon assaults have been successful lately, even though Riley states otherwise, I know better. We’re going to need a proper plan.”
“I can’t help but wonder, if Leython was still here –” Josh started and Eric immediately opened his mouth, but his friend raised his hand to silence him. “— I know how you think about him, but try to get along with those ‘slow’ people for once. You’re going to have to work together with others, whether you like it or not. Did you still not get over it?”
“I guess you’re right, I should work with people who don’t like my way of fighting and believe it or not, but I’ve gotten better at that.” Eric suddenly said, happy that he could bring some good news about his behaviour, even though it wasn’t all that bad in the first place.
“Oh yeah? How? Have you let them do the planning while you do the fighting? Or have you been adapting, trying to properly learn about the intelligence war?”
“Well, you’ve seen me on battle, I’ve done what you wanted me to do and it worked well, I suppose.”
“That’s because I’m the one who mostly thinks of sudden strikes in an enemy base, not of the strategy as a whole. I take a look at the enemy base and then take out the most important stuff moving on to the matter immediately, but people like Leython take some more time to work things out. You know that and you don’t like the latter and prefer the first stile of waging war.”
“So you’re saying that I was willing to listen to your advice because you’re faster but a bit less cautious than Leython or his sort of commanders? The answer to that is no. I don’t have any issues with the slow-paced work of others, as long as we can get the job done together, which we can. The thing I hate about Dygonn is how he always acts like he’s always right.”
“Well, the problem with you is that he always is right, just not fast enough for you.”
“No, my problem with him was that I didn’t respect his way of working, but he also didn’t respect me. I guess I learned from it, I just hope he has as well.”
“Yes, me too. I can understand both of you, it’s just for the best if both of you can understand each other.” Josh said. “I don’t think we’ll ever know though. He left. The last time I saw him was on my battle at Matar, I fought against him, but later on, I think I fought with him on Luthien.”
“Last thing I heard was that he got killed on Sung Island, until you came up with some news.”
“He’s never seen again. I just hope we’ll be able to talk with him again, without guns blazing.”
“I’ll not talk with him until he’s apologized for his behaviour though. But then I’ll apologize for mine.”
“How sweet.” Josh joked.
“Don’t say that!”
They were one step ahead, thanks to a new gadget that Dygonn and Gawain had. It was too bad, for them, that they did not take the Avatar’s brilliance into mind. Marisa was one step ahead of him, but somehow he expected nothing but that from the girl. All he had to do was taking the right countermeasure and that is what he did. He was two steps ahead of himself, which Gawain and Dygonn had paid for.
With their lives.
“As you have found out, the situation is a lot more complicated than anyone could originally think.” Marisa said. “It already goes wrong with the first goal the Illuminate has set out for itself, spreading The Way and cleansing every nonbeliever. Since spreading The Way will not allow us to take over the entire galaxy, Marxon had decided to cleanse everyone. He claims that it will, eventually, save lifes.”
“But he is right about that, is he not?” Selene asked. “If this war continues like this, it will take another thousand years, possibly ten thousand before it is finally over. That will kill more people than currently live in the UEF and Cybran territory. I know it is not right, but...”
“Then why do we not all urge Marxon to seek another way? I ask you, how can we call ourselves follower of The Way if we kill our brothers and sisters? We stray from the path and refuse the alternative.”
“The alternative? Being what?” Selene asked. “The Way is the ultimate goal for all of us.”
“No, that is the worst thing you could think.” Marisa answered. “Have I taught you nothing before I left?”
“Apparently not.” Selene admitted.
“We should respect and cherish every life form in the universe, that means that we must be able to live with people who disagree with us, no matter what is stated otherwise. If people do not agree with The Way, so be it. They will eventually learn, or live without it.”
“But that means those others will never reach enlightenment, we have to help them, do we not?”
“Help them, yes. Force them to follow a path we set out for them? No, absolutely not. If we do not respect their opinion, we do not respect their way of life and therefore we do not respect their life in the first place.”
“You said that our philosophy of The Way and the war must be seen as one, not as two opposing factors. Why?” Selene asked.
“That is to keep the Aeon society united. It is unnoticeable for most of the people, but the spiritual and military wings of our community are not on good terms at the moment and that is to say the least.” Marisa answered, while she looked at Leython.
“I have indeed noticed that the society lacks harmony but most people, including me, cannot tell exactly why. It is why I am so confused.” Selene said. She was almost done with her job.
“I noticed it from the beginning, you must be able to see how Marxon and Toth cannot get along with each other anymore. If Marxon would understand Toth’s and the princess’s goal to achieve peace, while they understand the military needs to accomplish that mission, then the war would have ended a year ago. Then I would still be living in the Aeon community.”
“Then somehow, I am glad that the Illuminate’s politics are not working very well nowadays.” Leython interrupted. “We’ve been able to meet thanks to that.”
“We would have met eventually, Leython. I am sure of it. Just like few people understand the unity that the Aeon need now, very few understand your characteristics. That would eventually lead you to me.” Marisa replied truthfully.
“I can’t disagree with that, but now we have little time to talk about it. Selene, have you completed the registration?”
“Yes I have, but Marisa, I need more help. Do you expect me to be able to fight now? The reason why I am no pilot anymore is because I admired the Cybrans’ tactics when I was ordered to cleanse a city. I wondered if they could be in harmony too and Marxon did not take that lightly. Your explanation does not help me with that.”
“If that is true, you have again not learned anything.” Marisa answered in a disappointed tone. “I cannot help you any further if you forget to respect others by Marxon’s bidding. If you ask me how you must fight, I will tell you that you must not fight for as long as he is the Avatar-of-War.”
“Marisa, we must go now, we’re not done yet.” Leython interrupted, hoping to get her with him.
“I know Leython.”
The dream she had was disturbing, to say the least. Two promising persons were obliterated, two who had a great deal in the future. That nightmare should not become reality.
Rhianne stood up. They were here, on Seraphim Two, she knew it. She felt that she was paralyzed in that all to realistic dream, but now she could walk again. Knowing that she now was able to prevent a disaster from happening, Rhianne pulled on her robes and left her bedroom.
The question was, where would the two be. Unless they would both enter her palace, here in the capital, she stood no chance of contacting them. Or perhaps...
Five minutes later, Rhianne stood in her communications room. It was a dangerous plan, contacting Marxon and asking about the two intruders. Perhaps that would sign their death warrant...
No, of course not, Marxon would no doubt know about them. A careful approach would immediately tell if he was working on that ‘problem’ or not.
Rhianne decided that it would be best if she used her direct line with the Avatar-of-War. The sooner she knew all about the situation, the more she could do.
“Avatar, I have received a rumour about certain... issues. Initially, I thought that your military could handle it, but the rumours are becoming quite strong. I would like to know more about it.”
“Two commanders have slipped through our sensors while we initiated an assault on the UEF front.” Marxon immediately answered her directly, Rhianne found it most disturbing. “At first, I wanted them to be destroyed on this planet, but I quickly learned that one of the commanders uses an Aeon ACU. I suspect that it is Gawain, who suddenly left the Illuminate community, not before taking one of my command units away.”
“What do you plan now?” The princess asked, having noticed the two critical words.
“Because of their behaviour, I soon understood that they meant no harm to the citizens. Therefore I thought of a plan to retrieve my command unit and if possible, take the other ACU as well.”
“What if you do not succeed in claiming both of the units?” Rhianne asked, doing her best in hiding any trace of emotion. She already feared Marxon would go after them and destroy them, which could not be allowed.”
“If that happens, I have my backup plan. They may not be allowed to survive their mission, otherwise they might inform our enemies about the weakness in the quantum network that allows our planet to be attacked without immediate notice.” Marxon answered.
“A backup plan? Inform me about this, Avatar.”
“I have a strategy that does not fail, they do not have a chance of surviving my secondary approach, princess. Do not worry about it, sleep well.” Marxon said and he wanted to close the channel, but Rhianne had another question: “Where are they now? I ask you directly, Avatar, please give me a direct answer.”
“At the moment, they are lost in the capital, but they are not in their ACUs, so rest assured that we will find their units before they return, so we can find them too, but even if they get away, I will be able to stop them.”
“You know my opinion about your usual approaches, Avatar, so I assume that you need no further explanation. Good night.” Rhianne replied, not knowing what was left to ask.
“Good night, princess.” Marxon said, cold as ever. Rhianne realized, again, that he had no intention to show compassion with the two lives that would soon cease to exist. He did not listen to the princess’ objections to his ‘usual approach’.
“Ok, this is it. This is the princess’ palace.” Marisa said. Leython had been flying on her directions, luckily she remembered where the palace was.
“This palace is more than just the princess’ residence. It has been our home for the time Toth searched for a successor to Miranda Burke. I have lived there for a great part of my life.”
“So it’s been your home, right?”
“As much as Tessalis, with you, is now.”
“Ok, so can you now tell me how we are going to find the princess and whether we can disturb her in her sleep?” Leython asked while he searched for a place to land.
“Rhianne and I are good friends, she might not be all to happy with the fact that we disturb her, but she will not hate us for it. In fact, I believe she sees this as an opportunity to show that we can live in harmony with people who do not live in the Aeon community.”
“But I understand The Way and I even live by its rules.”
“Not completely, you eat meat. Then again, I have strayed from the correct path as well because I sometimes join you in eating salmon or something like that, but there are more things that you do not know about yet. Perhaps you will never fully live according to The Way, because of your training on Earth. I teach you The Way, but will never allow you to let your own philosophy be taken over by it, whether you want to know more or not.”
“I wouldn’t want to have to forget Lyndis’ teachings either. She taught me more than just how to handle a sword. On the whole, it may seem familiar with The Way but I cannot help but notice the differences when you explain it to me.” Leython said. He found a place to land in the garden.
“And those differences should be cherished.” Marisa replied.
“Anyway, we’ve got to find the princess. Why did you manage to get me with you on this utterly stupid plan?” Leython asked while they stepped out.
“Well, we do have a habit of doing insane things. My escape from Sinivar Island, your way of taking out our experimental assault bots and then there is this. I do not see how stupid it is, if you take our behaviour as the norm.” Marisa simply answered.
“But why would I want to take our behaviour as the norm? We are not the average people.” Leython said while they walked to the palace.
“That is true.” Marisa said. “It is great to be back here, it brings back good memories.”
“Are there no guards here? I imagine that such an important member of your society should be guarded well.”
“There are and they will be upon us shortly.”
“No. They will not.” A distant voice said. In the darkness, Leython noticed someone walking to them.
Marisa recognized that voice though: “Rhianne, it is good to see you again.”
“I would hope that I could say the same, Marisa. It is not good that you are still here. You should leave immediately. You are in grave danger.” The princess replied.
“We are? Oh, I didn’t know that.” Leython interrupted. “Since when is a portion of the Aeon military hunting me known as a grave danger?”
“The danger does not come from Marxon’s commanders. I have seen a series of visions, telling me that you will survive the battle, but when you think you are safe...” Rhianne couldn’t continue, looking away. Leython therefore finished her sentence: “then the Avatar backstabs us?”
“Yes, it comes down to that.” The princess answered, looking directly at Leython again. “You should leave while you still can. Perhaps you can still be ahead of the trap he sets out for you.”
“I am certain that we are already too late for that, but do not worry Rhianne. I am also certain that we can prevent your visions from becoming reality. I have had my own share of dreams too, princess, none of them involved my or Leython’s death.”
“I am not so sure about it, as I am still afraid that time is very short, we cannot talk about this indefinitely, Marisa.” Rhianne said, turning to the Illuminate pilot.
“You’re right about that, princess, but I’ve got a question though. How did you know we were coming?”
“The Avatar-of-War told me you were ‘lost’ in the city. Marisa, “the princess said, “you know the city all too well and it has not changed much since you have left. You are still here because you have a goal. A goal that I assumed it would involve me or Toth. Who else do you want to visit if you are here? I mean no offence to your history.”
“None taken, but we indeed came for you.” Marisa said. “Could you help us with a small ceremony?”
“At this time? And do you still not think that you should get out of here while you still can. Marxon wishes to take your ACUs from both of you. It would be very bad if he succeeds in taking an UEF ACU, would it not?” Rhianne asked.
“You’ve got a point there, princess. The ACU is Cybran, but your point still stands.” Leython said. “Marisa, we should indeed get out of here as soon as we can. If he takes both command units, we can still make our way out somehow, but all of Brackman’s military inventions will no longer be secret.”
“I do not like to admit it, but you are right. It looks like we have to postpone our marriage then.” Marisa said, unable to hide the trace of disappointment.
“So that is what your ceremony is about?” Rhianne said. “You can wait for that. Wait until you can reach an Aeon settlement somewhere at the borders with the quarantine zone. A priest will be more than happy to help you. As would I, but why did you not go somewhere else first?”
“Oh, we were here already.” Leython said.
“If you could marry Leython and me, then I would have had at least one friend at my marriage.”
“We will find another opportunity Marisa, I am sure of that. The war cannot prevent us. Leython, you would of course have to inform your family and friends in time, do not forget that.”
“If my friends of the academy are still alive. I think they are though.” Leython said and he walked back to his plane. However, Marisa didn’t.
“Marisa, go. Time is of the essence now. What I have seen is not nice. Prevent it so you can at least marry eventually.”
“Yes.” Marisa said, still disappointed by the sudden change of events. “I will go. Be in harmony, Rhianne.”
“You too, Marisa, you too.”
As they, one minute later, took off and flew into the dark, the princess noticed that someone else walking in the garden.
“Good night, princess, I was woken by a guard. He told me that you ordered them to ‘allow so-called intruders’ in.”
“They have left again. I hope they survive Marxon’s plans.”
“If Marxon is hunting them, I fear for their lives. Who were they?”
“I fear for their lives as well. You remember Marisa Gawain? She is one of them.”
“She can become what the Avatar is now. She is as talented in The Way as I am, as you are and as Marxon is. However, she is a danger to us all, again like Marxon. She could have brought us the troubles the Avatar-of-War is bringing with him now. Her ideas about the military is what made me decide against her. She is too violent, what if she had joined forces with the Avatar? Then all of the Aeon community would be committing genocide against the UEF and Cybran Nation now.”
“She had been exiled, Toth, there is –” Rhianne started, but the evaluator cut her off.
“A reason for that, I know that, princess. Perhaps it had been a better choice to give her the powerful position of princess of the Illuminate, but I did not know well how she could handle that power. Apparently, she only seeks to use the military force as a police force, only to support the people, not to oppress the UEF or Cybrans. Otherwise, she would still have been in Marxon’s army.”
“The other intruder was a man, named Leython.” The princess said.
“Did he say where he came from?”
“ The only clues I have are that he has no AI implant, suggesting that he comes from the UEF, but he pilots a Cybran ACU.”
“That is very strange. I will see if I can find something in the public records. Let us go to sleep first.”
Marxon had ordered his forces to take their time destroying the enemy units, as well as he ordered Rhiza and Halley not to rush to their target, when they returned to the field. Gawain and Dygonn were smart pilots, they sent their army somewhere to distract the Aeon military, expecting to lose it soon, but hiding their ACU’s true location.
If he played along, Marxon was certain that the two enemies wouldn’t grow suspicious and return before they had completed their objective at the Choir’s headquarters. That opened the path for his secondary approach. It was all too easy, it only required some attention to his enemies’ characteristics, which he took from the military files that the Aeon intelligence had made.
It meant that this whole operation took more than a day and eight hours of it took place near the capital, but then, Marisa Gawain and Leython Dygonn would not pose a threat to his plans anymore and they were capable of ruining it, despite for the fact that they were only with two and didn’t have a vast army at their command.
“Avatar, crusader Rhiza and knight Halley have found the enemy base, but they have also noticed a plane returning to that base.” Selene Elenes said.
“Can they shoot the plane down? Will their fighters arrive in time to do that?”
“No, I think they will be too late.” Selene said, shocked by Marxon’s plan. “Avatar, do you wish to have them destroyed?”
“Naturally. I care only for their ACUs’ welfare, the pilots are the real threat to our ultimate goal. I thought that you could hold them here for longer, so Rhiza and Halley would be able to take control over the command units. Now that has not happened, so they have to be taken care of in another way. Their lives have come at an end.”
“Gawain has said things to me when she was here. I do not know if—” The Choir member started, but Marxon had expected this and cut her off.
“Gawain is wrong, she is blind. I know that she believes that we can make it to peace without cleansing the UEF and the abominations that the Symbionts are.” Marxon said coldly. “I can assure you, it is not possible.”
“Excuse me for questioning you, Avatar, but Marisa also wondered if we can still live by The Way if it comes down to the cleansing of the other people. She said it is genocide.”
“Allowing the war to continue is genocide as well. The UEF and Cybran Nation will keep fighting us, ultimately destroying more lives, valuable lives of the Illuminate, than we can cleanse now. Do not forget, our cleansing quest affects no one but those who do not recognize The Way, their relentless and careless way of life alone will eventually destroy everything. Cleansing them is closer to a mere sacrifice for a better future, than it is genocide.”
“I hoped that your explanation could take away my doubts, but I am still uncertain.”
“That is why you were not in harmony when you fought against the abominations. That is also why I cannot allow you to fight in an Armored Command Unit anymore. Now, I also see that I am mistaken by thrusting this matter to you, but I am to blame partially in it as well. I allowed such a slow approach, which now means that Gawain and Dygonn will leave the planet.”
Selene did not know what to say. It was proof however, that Marxon wanted nothing but the destruction of everything that stood in between him and his ultimate victory over humanity.
After a short pause, Marxon spoke again: “You will still be a Choir member though, do not fear. I will keep you here, so you can continue to coordinate the planet’s protection. Order Rhiza and Halley to attack the enemy base, destroy everything, but leave the ACUs intact. The quantum gates are a priority. If they press on now, we might be able to keep the enemy command units here and seize them after all. Report to me if Rhiza and Halley have succeeded, but also report if the enemies have managed to get away.”
And on those words, Marxon closed the channel. Selene wanted to feel lucky about the fact that she still was allowed in the Choir, but she couldn’t. Marisa’s and Marxon’s words were complete opposites. She could not disagree with Marisa in any way, but for as far as she knew, Marxon was right. The war had already lasted for over a thousand years, a subtle approach that Marisa wanted was probably impossible.
The princess shared Marisa’s opinion, which was not surprising because they had both lived under the tutelage of the same evaluator. What Marisa had told Selene, was the same as what the princess tried to tell the Aeon community. Yet Marxon had one advantage, the commoners did not understand The Way as well as the high spiritual members, so the rigid and ruthless approach of cleansing the UEF and Cybran Nation found its support easily.
One thing was clear though. The Aeon society was torn in two parts, one that supported the princess, one that supported Marxon. Now Selene had to choose which side she’d join...
“Leython, give me fifteen minutes to sort something out.” Marisa said while she walked to her ACU. Before they left Seraphim Two, she still had some arrangements to make.
“What? We don’t have time for that. Remember that we’ve left this place far too early. Our units are destroyed a long time ago and the spy planes are already flying over our heads.” Leython said. “We’ve got to get out of here now. Before we can even flinch, we can have a Galactic Colossus in our base.”
“You know that that is not true,” Marisa replied while she started climbing up her command unit, “we still have our sensors and your ACU forwarded the images to the Corsair. I must get to work first. You will have all of my resources to rebuild an army that can protect us.”
“Ok, but you’d better hurry up.” Leython said while also he started climbing.
While Leython took place in his seat, Marisa already spoke to him: “My resources will automatically be transferred to you. Do not waste any time and pump out as many units as you can.”
“And you’re saying that I mustn’t waste any time?” Leython asked in an irritated tone. “More spy planes are flying over and you still want to sit here.”
“I will work as hard as I can, but I cannot take this lightly.”
“The first enemy units are entering the radars’ range, my artillery are going to target them, but it won’t be enough. I’m doing my best but I really hope it is enough.”
“Are the outside sensors still online?” Marisa asked without looking up.
“They are, the stealth generators have done their job well and I reckon that those spy planes didn’t get close enough to reveal them.”
“Good, I still think that I do not need more than fifteen minutes, so that still is the time you have to protect me.”
Leython didn’t respond, he was now too busy managing the first units that walked out of his factories. A group of four Loyalists meant nothing if the enemies had taken their time to build a fully fledged tier three army, so he kept his units at bay. He sent his spy planes, of which he also had four, to scout the forces marching towards them.
The enemy thought they had found a weak spot in their base. They indeed attacked at the side with the fewest point defences, which were of Cybran design as well, but it was a trap Marisa and Leython had set up together.
“Marisa, order your engineers to execute their program!”
“I will, one second...” She answered. “...There you are.”
More than thirty Aeon tier three engineers moved forward, towards Leython’s line of turrets. He had ordered his own engineers to assist Marisa’s at all time and so another sixty of Leython’s tier three engineers followed their Aeon counterparts to build Oblivion cannons.
Not much longer, the first thirty cannons stood, followed by four static shield generators. The engineers moved away, colliding with each other as they did so. Their enemy had a choice now: continue the assault and risk losing the majority of their army, or back off and attack via another entrance.
For a large group of Harbingers that was supported by Asylums, thirty Oblivion cannons weren’t that much though and Leython had closely followed the enemy’s force’s footsteps. A new batch of spy planes confirmed what he thought he had seen before. Although the Harbingers were supported by shields and mobile flak, but no experimental assault bot was in sight. This meant that he could use his cloak upgrade.
Having expected the possibility of this enemy move already, sending no Galactic Colossus with the Harbingers, he already walked to his defence line while the new defences were still going to be built. The range upgrade allowed his Microwave Laser to fire at a greater range as well, so if a spy plane suddenly scouted his location, he was closer to Oblivion’s protection.
As usual though, reality didn’t work as he planned. The assault force was sent mindlessly to its doom, with a constantly shrieking air, a couple of overcharged bolts and lots of the Oblivions’ and Cerebus’ fire, the shields went off and the Harbingers were destroyed.
It was a distraction, Leython knew it immediately. No one would allow such a thing to happen and he appeared to be right.
“Yes, what is it now? I am busy for just three minutes, you will have to keep them at bay for some longer.” The Illuminate pilot couldn’t hide her irritated tone.
“Do you know what that is?” Leython asked and he forwarded an image of the thing he saw coming very close to his base. The distraction had allowed that to go unnoticed. “It’s huge, it flies and... It’s huge!”
“I have never seen it before,” Marisa answered, “it is experimental for sure, but it is also very slow. Find out how strong it is and take it down as soon as you can.”
A couple of spy planes flew by and Leython was immediately certain that this thing would not come far: “It’s not so strong, a couple of SAM sites will take it down and we’ve got enough of those. I’ll build air superiority fighters now though, I guess that the first strategic bombers will be here soon.”
“Be careful for that flying saucer too, if it goes down, it will take a lot with it.”
As soon as the enemy experimental weapon came in range, the SAM sites commenced firing. Each missile tore a big hole in its armour, but the unit kept on moving for as long as it could.
“It doesn’t slow down while it’s being damaged, that’s interesting, but it goes down now.”
The unknown and fragile unit dropped like a leaf when the last vital components were destroyed, causing a massive explosion and instantly burning the nearby grass and trees.
“Not worth notifying the Cybrans or the UEF?” Marisa asked.
“Not really, for now, it’s not so strong. It’ll probably take Marxon years to perfect it. Brackman and Clarke are bound to know about this sooner, so we don’t have to worry.”
“I am still busy for the next ten minutes, do not forget.”
“I’m already working on it. My new group of spy planes suggests that I my next job is another group of Harbingers. I’m already moving towards them but our defences give some proper protection too.”
A few minutes later, also this group of units was destroyed. This time, Leython continuously monitored the intelligence screen and he saw that these Harbingers were a distraction as well: two Galactic Colossi slowly walked to purge his base.
“Can’t they send something better?” Leython asked rhetorically. The Colossi were slow and already a target for his three Disruptor Heavy Artillery and Marisa’s Serenities assisted as well. The artilleries’ shelling was accurate enough to soften the enemy armour a bit up.
Three minutes later, they were coming close to the range of several tactical missile launchers he had constructed, but after almost four years, the eye’s weak spot would surely be taken care of. Either way, he could launch several missiles to give it a try and that is what he did.
“The eye’s bug has been dealt with, Marisa, I can’t make the weapon’s core explode by sending several missiles at it. I’ll be all right though. My Loyalists will deal with it.”
The Colossi charged their weapons now, sounding like they wanted to tear the air apart. Their tractor beams pulled the first siege assault bots, causing them to trigger their EMP. Unable to pull any other bots for some seconds, the units used their phason beam instead.
One after another, the Loyalists died. This was about to go wrong, Leython didn’t have enough to take down both weapons. Instead of letting them just stand there and do a frail attempt of shooting the Colossi down, he sent the bots straight towards their doom. When the first bot reached the Colossus’ legs, it self-destructed, causing the enemy units to stop in their tracks.
Now, he could turn the tide again. The Disruptor artillery fired a direct hit, tearing away some more armour, while the missile launchers fired some more of their ammunition and the Loyalists moved around the Colossi, safe from the eyes devastating beams.
The enemy units moved on, coming dangerously close to the base now. The point defences that stood there, assisting in the experimentals’ destruction, were fried in mere seconds. It was no use though. The first enemy unit took three consecutive hits from their respective tier three artilleries and fell to the ground. Ten seconds later, while taking down only some economical buildings, the other was destroyed too.
“It looks like that is all for now.” Leython said. “You’re still working on it?”
“Yes, I am progressing nicely though, I do not expect that it will take longer than fifteen minutes.”
“Avatar, they have escaped.” Selene informed Marxon as soon as possible, just like he wanted.
“Ok, I have asked the knights and crusader Rhiza to work too slow, but your assistance has not gone unnoticed, Elenes. Now that Gawain’s ACU is in the register again, my secondary approach cannot fail.”
Ten minutes later, Marisa and Leython were almost ready for their jump from Sethis to Tessalis. They had taken a detour so that Marxon would hardly see them arrive on their new home planet. The UEF would also be virtually unable to detect something. As they had arrived on Sinivar Island, while they were detectable, no extra pilot could soon arrive close enough to them in order to fight another battle here.
It allowed them to go to Tessalis unnoticed. Only from Sethis itself, from Matar and somewhere in the Cybran regions, they could be traced to their destination. Marxon couldn’t do a thing and Clarke wasn’t interested.
As they, another five minutes later, had arrived on Tessalis, turned their ACUs in the stand-by mode and stepped out of the tall weapons, Marisa spoke again: “I am sorry that I took so long, but I had to work thoroughly, otherwise we could not be sure of our safety.”
“What did you do then? And are we absolutely safe now?” Leython asked while he climbed down.
“Yes, we are completely safe from any sort of trick. What I did? How do I phrase that correctly? I ensured that we were one step ahead of Marxon.” Marisa replied with a smile on her face, also climbing down.
Neither of them could possibly hear the message that the automated voice in the Aeon ACU gave: “Self-destruct sequence initiated.”
The two enemies were nowhere to be found though, how could this be?
Why did Marxon not call back all pilots to find them? The enemies were a threat to the society on the planet. The longer they ran loose, the more dangerous the situation became. The civilians were bound to know what was happening, especially on the most important planet in the Illuminate territory.
Well, it was not her problem right now, she had done her best and even Marxon had no reservations. Selene was glad she could finally serve the Aeon community with her full conscience, she noticed that she could put more effort in this than the battle she had fought against the Cybrans. Perhaps it was because she was now protecting people, instead of trying to kill them.
The Way, perhaps she was understanding its meaning after all. Cherishing all life, respecting all that lived. She finally understood that relentless killing could not bring one in harmony with anything. That was why they lost the battle about three years ago.
She now knew the reason for her failure, but still didn’t understand the problem that Marxon had. Surely he would understand? And that other question was still left unanswered. Why did the Avatar-of-War allow Dygonn and Gawain to be on the loose for so long?
A black night, danger lurked near, but the visitors paid no heed. It was too dangerous. It had to be called off. The risks were too high and the danger could not be averted, as it was lurking in the shadows. The visitors had to leave.
“What is it? We have to go to that town, remember?”
“Yes, but if we enter that place with our ACUs, no matter how gently we do it, we’ll have the Aeon knights on our heels in ten seconds.”
“What do you propose then? The Corsair? I do not know if you noticed, but the people will be alarmed by a Cybran plane’s appearance just like they will be by the ACUs.”
“My plane can come closer while remaining unnoticed. We have to walk for at least a little bit, but since it is getting dark already, we have a good chance of making it into town with the fighter.”
Several minutes later, they surged through the sky. The greatest gambit they ever faced: they had no proper idea where they were, let alone where their enemies were. Leython constantly watched his intelligence screen, which his ACU forwarded for him. For now, nothing went wrong, but they needed some time to find out where they were and which way they had to go.
She couldn’t call out for them. They continued down the wrong path. It was a good way to try to make life better, easier, but a trap at the end blocked it. It was to end their existence, end their life so all they worked for was for naught but she couldn’t reach out to them.
Jerod was late. The party had already started, but he was lucky to go at all. His parents were strict and that had almost ruined his plans to go out. It was late in the evening, which was a reason for his parents to tell him to be back in two hours.
It was infuriating to know that all of his friends could stay until the end, but his parents didn’t allow it because they were in such an important position in Aldor’s community, they had to give an even better example than normal adults.
Jerod could live with it though. The two hours he had were going to be good after all. He was not worried.
Until he crossed the road.
Two persons, out of the ten were still outside too, looked directly at him. He immediately knew they wanted to know something. Of course, he would answer politely, as he and anyone else in the Aeon society was taught to do, but he also knew that such conversations could take half an hour and he really didn’t have time for that.
“Good evening, sir, madam.” Jerod said, hoping he could end this matter as soon as possible. The female seemed to understand that, perhaps she heard his pressing tone. It was not important how she knew it, Jerod was just glad with the fact that she cut to the case immediately:
“Good evening, we are travellers and we are completely lost. We want to go to the capital of Serphim Two, but we do not even have an idea where we are now.”
A bit sidetracked, as he was now more interested in hearing the strangers’ story than he was in dancing with the girls from his class, he spoke again: “It is a bit strange that you would not even know where you are, is it not? Would you not wish find out how to travel before you go?”
This time, the man answered. Jerod could not help but notice that red robes weren’t common in the Aeon community. This was a strange couple to say the least.
“I would not.” He said politely. “I would love to be in for a surprise and that is why we asked, at our home planet, to send us to any gate on Seraphim Two they liked.”
“But the gate is that way.” Jerod said while he pointed somewhere behind him. “You just came from the other side of the town. Surely you would know where you were by now?”
This time, neither of the two answered, revealing no emotion. Not a problem, Jerod thought, he might just as well tell him the name of this town: “This city here is named Aldor.”
“Thank you, can you also give us the direction to the capital? We would like to go without quantum travel.”
“Then you will be in for a long trip. It is exactly to the west, almost on the other side of the planet. How do you plan on going there actually? Surely you cannot go there all by yourself?”
“Even if it takes several years. That is what we have come for. We will make it to the capital by any means.” The man said.
“Ok, good luck then. I hope you have enough information for your journey.”
“We have,” The lady replied kindly, “I hope we have not taken too much of your time.”
“It is no problem. Good luck, be in harmony with nature and then you will make it there without too much trouble.”
“Thank you.” The man said and the two continued along their journey.
So did Jerod, he was almost there. This conversation was more interesting than any other he had before. That couple was strange to say the least but they seemed to be honest in their goal.
The darkness clouded their vision and told them of the uncertainty that lay ahead of them. They deemed themselves secure nonetheless, as they thought they had already devised a countermeasure. They were wrong. She had to call for them!
Honest? Not really. Leython and Marisa had something more important on their mind, something that kept them from a honeymoon that could last for more than a year. Nonetheless, they spoke the truth when they said that they’d not travel by a quantum gate. They had a slower method in mind, although not as slow as walking.
“I think that he is out of sight, Leython.” Marisa said after a minute of walking.
“He will be, you noticed that he was in a hurry, didn’t you?”
“Yes, he actually was, whatever the reason is does not matter.”
“I have no idea why, but it was obvious, you could hear it.” Leython said.
“Good, I see that my lessons pay off well.” Marisa replied truthfully. While Leython had shown her his fighting style, she had shared her knowledge about The Way. Leython understood all of it pretty well, while she talked about it, but Marisa didn’t expect otherwise from him as his sword mastery lessons represented part of it.
“Let’s not turn around right here. We’d better take a whole different road back. People might be watching and notice our odd behaviour.” Leython said.
“Yes, the fact that you are wearing crimson coloured robes is not helping much either. It is still better than a piloting suit, but this will still make people look at us.”
“We should have thought about it before.”
“There is nothing we can do about it now, let us just move on.” Marisa concluded.
Continuing down the street, both Marisa and Leython got lost in their own thoughts. They didn’t speak until they returned at the plane. Leython had managed to land it in an alley’s dead end.
“Nothing’s better than vertical landing. It works.”
“It is even darker now. We managed to get in without being noticed. If we are lucky, we will make it to the capital without any other trouble.”
Their plan seemed to be working, the dreaded night faded away. Light had returned and allowed them to see how their plan would work. They kept moving but in the shadows, the danger was still present. How could they make such a mistake like this?
Jerod’s evening was brilliant. The party was going along smoothly and the two hours here would be the best that he spent this week. Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t notice that the dance had almost ended. It was only a few seconds later, when his partner woke him up:
“The music has ended. You may let go now.” Lilia said.
“Oh, I am sorry, I am a bit distracted.” Jerod replied kindly. He walked to the nearest window to take a look at the city. He always found the streets’ and houses’ lights look beautiful, as they seemed to be etched in the darkness around it.
“What is that?” Lilia had followed him and seen the same disturbing thing as he did. A plane flew over the city. Barely audible because of the music, although not loud, in the room. However, they both clearly saw the plane’s thrusters.
“It is probably nothing, is it?” Lilia asked, sounding reassured. Surely nothing dangerous, such as Cybrans or UEF commanders, would ever make it here? The thought alone was ridiculous.
Jerod was not so sure though: “Those thrusters are not of Illuminate design. That is no Aeon ship! I will alarm my parents. Even if it is not worth it, it would be careless not to do something.”
Five minutes later, commanders Rhiza and Halley teleported just five kilometres away from Aldor.
“They have been spotted here. The city’s high priestess’ son has seen a plane of Cybran design fly over the town.” Rhiza said, repeating the Avatar’s words. It was a miracle that they were on their enemies’ tails again, so all of a sudden. The last hour had brought nothing, so this worked well on their morale.
So well, that Halley even took the disadvantage of five minutes, which made an eternity in ACU terms, as nothing. “Five minutes is no problem.” She said. “With a couple of spy planes and frequent teleporting, we can find them, I am sure of that.”
“Be careful with that assumption, we have to rebuild our entire economy to make it for a teleportation. We also need something to build our spy planes.” Rhiza answered, hoping that she’d not kill the mood too much. “These five minutes will quickly be more than fifteen.”
“Crusader Rhiza? This is Choir member Liandri. I have more information for you. The person who saw the plane flying, remembers two strangers who asked for directions. We think that they are Dygonn and Gawain. They behaved odd, as they wanted to know which way the capital was.”
“Good,” Rhiza answered. “Ensure that the knights at the capital protect the eastern zone extra well, as our enemies have now left for the west. They are bound to arrive in eighty hours if they go by air transports. We will teleport to locations of which we think they might pass there. They can just as well attempt to teleport, so tell the other knights to be careful.”
The person who devised the trap had followed them closely. His first plan did not work but his second certainly would. His victims were not going to notice and by the time they realised the trap they fell for, it was too late. Was there no way of informing them?
“Tell me again, Leython, why are we doing this?” Marisa asked.
“I could just answer you that we’ve got to update your ACU, but you’re asking me why we won’t just teleport towards there, isn’t it?”
“Yes, since Seraphim Two has got an equatorial radius that is five times as large as Earth, we will take five times longer to cross the planet’s surface. I just calculated it and we will take about seventy-five to eighty hours.”
“Ok, let’s find a nice city again, this time we’ll take a proper map of the planet’s surface and search for a proper spot to teleport to, so we only have to travel the last hour by air transports.”
“Good idea.” Leython said, but... “Do you have any idea for where another city is? I mean, we still have to start somewhere.”
“No, I don’t.” Marisa replied. “That means we will have to search for one, which can take as much time as just flying towards the capital just now. We have no choice but to fly.”
“Oh damn.” Leython groaned. “Let’s use spy planes to cover a large area around our ACUs, we might be lucky and find a town where we can get a detailed chart of the planet.”
“No, let us use the final option. Since we consider teleporting, we will already have nothing when we arrive, but they will have lost us completely after they had initially traced us.”
“What are you planning? Connecting to the quantum network?” Leython asked, interested by the new method.
“Yes, I will attempt to contact an Aeon satellite with my ACU. Then we will find the coordinates of our ACUs and of the capital. We will also know where in the city the Choir is situated, so we can fly as soon as we are ready for that.”
“Good idea, we’ll drop here, this spot looks good enough for it. Transfer all of the units to me, I’ll start reclaiming them. Our enemy may not have the slightest clue of us having been here.”
“We cannot remove every trace. As soon as I contact the satellite, we are traced. The Avatar-of-War is bound to know and then they will come for us.” Marisa said.
“Yes, I know, but that’s not a problem if we can remove every physical trace of our presence here.”
“Ok, we can reclaim all of our units, but if we want to teleport out of here, we need some energy.”
“If we place those power generators at a secluded place, we might have several more minutes. Let’s get started right away. We’ll not contact the quantum network before we can teleport to our destination. As soon as we have it, we activate our module right away. Ten seconds later, we’re gone.”
They had taken another route but that couldn’t stop the oncoming danger. It was hunting them as the master who set it had expected. Nothing could be done to stop him, it was no use. Was there really no way out?
“Crusader Rhiza, we will be relieved soon.” Knight Halley said. “Shall we make one final attempt to find them?”
“I would like to, but I think that it will be of no use. They can have teleported towards a region close to the capital, but still away from our sensors. This time we are slowed down by our own wish to preserve nature. Of course, I do not regret that, but I would like to find them already.” Rhiza replied, a bit frustrated.
“Perhaps they stopped somewhere.” Halley suggested, unable to think of anything better and not sure of the idea itself.
“For what? They have had a break so that would—oh! I understand.”
“You understand what, Crusader?” Halley asked.
“One of them is piloting an Aeon command unit. Despite for the fact that it’s identification code has been removed from the Choir’s database, it can still access the quantum network by contacting one satellite or another. As soon as contact has been made, the command unit is traceable.” Rhiza answered.
“Are our engineers able to keep contact even if the pilot wants to break? If that is the case then we can find out where they are going and finally defeat them in combat. We have five knights protecting the capital, if not more by now.”
“They are very capable of doing that, I presume. I will contact the Choir and tell them. Continue with the last power generator’s construction, we will have to teleport at a moment’s notice so we can assist our fellow pilots on the field.”
“Are we not going to be relieved soon?”
“I do not worry about our time in the ACU. I can continue for a while and it will not take more than just ‘a while’ to stop our enemies with seven commanders.”
“Crusader Rhiza, you will be relieved.” The Avatar-of-War interrupted. “Your time on this theatre has ended. We will need you soon for a renewed assault on the UEF. Our last assault failed after you left, also due to the arrival of two veteran UEF commanders. You and knight Halley will have your rest so that you can both fight soon again.”
“Yes, Avatar, I would like to suggest to monitor the satellites well. They will link up with the quantum network to get a definite location of the planet’s capital. If you can ensure that the satellite system will maintain contact even after they have teleported, then we can attack them as soon as possible.”
“It will not be necessary. They will fall into my trap nonetheless.” Marxon disregarded the crusader’s advice, not without being questioned.
“I am sorry Avatar, but how can we be certain that that will work definitively, I suggest to take as many precautions as possible.” Halley said. Rhiza kept her mouth shut though, revealing no approval nor disproval of Halley’s words.
“Knight Halley, thrust me on this one.” The avatar replied, in a mildly pressing tone. “I have it under control. Do not worry about the lives of our citizens, nor about the pilots. I know all about Dygonn and Gawain, they will fall into my trap, no matter how easily discovered.”
Before Halley could say another word, Rhiza replied: “We understand, Avatar, thank you. We will return to the hangar and then we will rest.”
“Your teams are ready for the maintenance of your command units. Rest assured, I will not allow Dygonn and Gawain to come far.”
His own force didn’t know what he was up to, how he was going to stop them. It did not matter, he did not need his army. His army would be a ruse, a distraction. They would think they were safe after they had defeated that army but they were wrong.
Marisa and Leython had arrived. More than a hundred kilometres away from their destination, yet they could make the rest of it with their special designed fighter.
“Let’s build a proper base immediately, including the best defences such as SMDs and tier three artillery.”
“That will take three hours at least. Are you sure that will be effective? Perhaps they will be protecting the Choir as well by now.” Marisa said.
“That protection is nothing compared to the danger our ACUs are in when we leave them. We can control mine in the corsair but not yours. This means that we have only one command unit compared to the three they will have to attack us and that is the best scenario. We can also not do as much at the same time in the plane as in an ACU. So we need the proper protection to make it back before either of the units is destroyed, then we can flee, even if we cannot make it to the Choir and enter your ACU’s ID-code.”
“I assume that you are right about that. We will have to reclaim everything though, I mean after we have made it here.”
“You want to preserve the nature, don’t you? We might have little time for that.”
“I don’t think we have a choice. We took our time of building the structures on Tessalis so we would not damage the environment so much, but here we are in a rush. The difference is that we will not return here. We should remove as much of our pollution as possible before we go.”
“Very well, but we must just be sure we can leave through the two quantum gates at a moment’s notice, we need power supply for that and our ACUs will have to stand very near to it.”
“That is no problem. I assume you will build the necessary stealth generators to protect our bases?”
“I can do that, but I think that it is better to have your base build your own stealth generators. If the Aeon knights are going to place their sensors close, they might detect the trouble my buildings are having with your power supply. That will be a bad mark on our records: not hiding the base well because the Cybran stealth generators could not cope with the Aeon power grid.”
“In that case, it is best if you build your own shield generators as well, even though they are not so powerful as mine.”
“I’ll do that.”
Two minutes passed before Marisa spoke again: “A bad mark on our records? What do we need that for?”
“Well I can’t boast on this to my general in the UEF army. She’ll kill me if I make it to Seraphim Two, but get detected because of wrong placement of structures.” Leython answered simply, but unable to hide a smile.
It eventually took them more than three hours but then they were ready to go. Having spotted no enemy forces so far, Marisa grew more suspicious about their mission and Leython couldn’t disagree. It was odd, to say the least, to have encountered no enemy commanders yet. The only moment they saw them, was two hours after they arrived.
“Surely they will be hunting on us?” Marisa asked.
“I’m not sure if they’re even doing their best. As soon as you contacted the satellite, you are traceable, if the satellite network then continues to keep contact with you, you are even detected after you teleported, at least you would be if the satellite network around this planet is designed well.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that as soon as the first satellite loses connection because you’ve teleported away, other satellites will search for you. With the current technology, finding a lost ACU back with some signals is easier than eating a pie.”
“I guess you are right, especially since eating a pie can be quite difficult.”
They suspected the trap, but moved on as they couldn’t reveal it. Then again, it was a genius plan. Inexplicably evil, but genius nonetheless. Yet still, she couldn’t reach out to them. A clear sky allowed them to see but they were blind to the fact that Death was hidden amongst their tools.
Marisa and Dygonn flew, for the second time now. They couldn’t tell whether they were on their second day of this mission now, but it felt like that since they had waited until far after sunset.
“I hope that this works.” Leython said. They had arrived close to the capital of the planet, but still had to make it in. They were bound to be detected by the city’s sensors, if not by a sensor of one of the enemy knights.
“Fly as low as possible, the vegetation might block their sensors, albeit not much.” Marisa replied. “The feat we have to accomplish here is almost impossible, how can we expect this to work?”
“Well, Marxon doesn’t know about this, that’s how. Are the units about to arrive near their sensors too?” Leython asked.
“Yes, they will surely respond to that threat, but will it be enough? If they see a small gray dot, somewhere, then they will immediately respond to that.”
“We can always turn around. Don’t forget that this plane is mainly built for speed. The missiles aren’t replaced as soon as I fire them and we have little use of our shields but our speed is incredibly high. We may not make it to the Choir, but we have a good chance of getting out of here alive.”
They were about to arrive in the heart of the enemy’s citadel .They expected a trap, the trap she had seen all along. Its jaws could close any moment, the more time that passed... But even she, who couldn’t call out to them, did not know how exactly the trap would spring.
Selene’s new shift had started. She was contacted by the Avatar-of-War immediately: “The pilots are currently destroying the enemy forces, but they are now completely occupied by doing so. Crusader Rhiza will return to the battlefield shortly, with knight Halley. Instead of fighting on the UEF front again, they will together search for the enemy bases, destroy them and capture the two ACUs.”
“Ok, have you been monitoring this all along Avatar? I took over from member Shilia but she did not inform me about this strategy.”
“I decided that you should be the first one to hear about this, because you are going to be closely involved with my plans too.”
“How so, Avatar?” Selene asked. Marxon had surely come up with an incredible plan, but Selene immediately realised that her friendship with Marisa could put that in danger. This meant that Marxon would probably not tell the entire story.
“Dygonn and Gawain will come to the Choir’s headquarters, not the military headquarters, to re-enter the Aeon ACU’s identification code. They think that that will let the command unit automatically update as time progresses. You must allow them to do so, but delay them as much as possible so that crusader Rhiza and Knight Halley will be able to find the ACUs and secure them.”
“Letting them in here so they can do what they want, I assume that that is the best way of delaying them?” Selene asked.
“Yes, your job is to find out when they will arrive, so gather all data of the Capital’s sensors and watch the eastern side closely, our knights that are to protect that region have already engaged the enemy forces but Dygonn and Marisa are obviously not with those war machines. No, they seek a backdoor attack.”
“When have they engaged the enemy? How long ago was that?”
“That is a long time, I suspect that they are in the city already? Have our knights not yet been able to deal with the threat?”
“No, they are progressing slowly since I ordered them not to hurry up.” Marxon simply answered.
Their target was in sight, but the enemy was gone. The trap was no longer in the vicinity, but the two expected it to happen any moment now. Well prepared, they continued, but they would not have to be worried... Yet. However, when they made it safely out of here, they would fail to notice that the thread was still present. When they thought they had made it, then they would die, as a surprise to both of them.
“Why did you want to wait for so long Marisa?” Asked Leython as they both entered the Choir’s headquarters. They had been in a hotel for more than four hours, after miraculously making it into the capital city without being noticed. They had, again, landed the plane in a secluded spot, without a single streetlight to reveal it.
“Something tells me that I will meet an old friend now, who can help us.” Marisa simply replied.
“That ‘something’ didn’t tell me to be honest.”
“Do not worry, it came from my ability as seer, to unravel the secrets that help me in battle. I also used that to...”
“To do what?”
“Various other things that helped me achieve my goals. I learned to prepare myself for the possible exile. If I had not done that, I would not be as fortunate as I am now.” Said Marisa as they walked into the Choir’s building.
“Good night. I am sorry to have to inform you that the Choir’s headquarter is off limits for civilians, especially during the night.” A choir member said as she approached the two. Leython remembered how Marisa said that she’d find a way to get deeper in the headquarters, but he was not so sure about it. The Choir member was very clear about the regulations.
“My name is Marisa Gawain.” The exiled Illuminate pilot said.
“Something is brewing in the Aeon military. Not noticed by outsiders, but clearly apparent to those who take a closer look. I fell victim to it and instead of a knight, this is what I am nowadays, Marisa.” Replied the unknown Choir member, her voice darkening with every word.
“I have noticed the troubles a long time before you have. What we are doing now, the game we are playing, the odd behaviour of Marxon and his troops, represent it, seemingly as an opposite. In the Illuminate, we may think that he has got everything under control, but he has not. Today, fighting us, he seems to have no control at all, but I know that we are here because he has let us to come.”
“You already know that Marxon is planning all of this, that it is not because of incompetence of our troops or so?”
“Of course I do, this is why you have such a hard time understanding what the way shows you. You are not in harmony because you do not understand the Avatar’s motives, or the Princess’, or mine. You are as much in harmony with everything that happens, as Marxon is with Rhianne Burke.”
Leython got lost completely there. What Marisa didn’t reveal, was that she already knew what was going on. He should have realised all of that nonetheless. Marxon had not allowed them to be here if it was not part of some plan. Leython would have done the same thing, he would have ensured that all went according to his plan too.
What he didn’t understand, was that Marisa took her time to talk with a Choir member about the harmony of them and the Aeon society. Surely that didn’t matter now? All that mattered now, was how soon they could be out of here. Their units were most definitely destroyed after five hours, the knights were about to find their ACUs and then all would be for nothing.
“Then please tell me how I can improve, Marisa. I am desperate, having talked to both priests and military assistants. I have talked to candidate-princesses and crusaders, even to the Avatar-of-War but no one has been able to take my doubts away.”
“That is because you are speaking with two different parties, two opposites who cannot agree. What you should understand, is that to end this war and save humanity from its own downfall, the Aeon have to work as one, not as these two opposites. You need advice from someone who still understands both the military needs as well as the philosophical.
Years ago, Marxon could have made it to the perfect person to consult, but now I am because I understand the connection between The Way and The Infinite War. I will tell you as much as possible in the oncoming ten minutes, while you must allow my ACU to be registered in the Illuminate’s military again. Then not only you, but also I can do good in this war again.”
“You know that I violate Avatar-of-War’s wishes and that he is bound to realise that, do you not?”
“What is better, acting by Marxon’s command, or helping to save humanity from its doom? You know the answer, Selene Elenes.”
On Earth, it would be the hours for the youth. The seventeen year olds, told to be home at a certain time, not showing up until two hours later. The twenty year old students, who didn’t return before five in the morning, waking up with a hangover at eleven and so having missed their first class, deciding to skip the whole day.
On Seraphim Two, the home planet of the only sentient alien species humans ever encountered, night-time was a time of total silence. The few people that were on the streets, had their night shifts in either a hospital or the Aeon military force.
Selene Elenes was one of them. She was on her way to her job, as member of the Choir. Her piloting privileges had been stripped off after her mission, destroying a Cybran node’s capital city, failed.
Her mission was easy, she was with two others, both who had experience with previous cleansing missions.
However, two Cybran pilots had appeared and blocked their land path. Her superior didn’t order to build any air transports and she didn’t think of it by herself, so that didn’t help them in their job either. By the time they sent tier three units in, the enemy had dug in too much. Their shields were breakable and even one of the Cybran ACUs seemed to be hit sporadically, but it wasn’t of any use.
She realised that, even though they were told to be abominations, the Cybrans smart and cunning. How else could they have survived for so long? The Aeon Illuminate had tried, more than once, to cleanse them completely, but their assault was always stopped quickly.
How smart the Symbionts were, became apparent when they sent their Colossi in.
Three in total, all stopped, all destroyed. She had launched a nuke, but the crafty enemy had taken that out with a bunch of planes that collided with it.
These actions and the following assault that killed her two colleagues and would’ve killed her if she didn’t leave. To her allies, she showed her interest in the Cybrans and wondered if they were more in harmony with themselves and their surroundings, to the disappointment of the Avatar-of-War.
When she openly discussed the matter, Marxon decided to revoke her piloting privileges. Having showed no emotion whatsoever, the Avatar explained why, but Selene sensed that he was furious. His words and stress he put on the matter, clarifying that she’d not return before all of her doubts had left, made apparent that he was very disappointed.
She still had doubts though and therefore she consulted several people. Marisa Gawain would be the first, but she had disappeared. Marxon didn’t tell her explicitly, but she was sure that the Avatar had banished her from the Aeon territory. How she had disappeared, no one told. Of other exiles, she had been able to find their last journey via the quantum network, to a planet in the quarantine zone.
Marisa had just... disappeared. The last official trip away from Seraphim Two was to the planet of her last mission: Sethis. What happened afterwards, remained unknown. The result was, that she missed her best friend now. Well, Marisa was her closest friend, but of course, the would-be princess had closer ones from her time with evaluator Toth.
There were others though, apart from the officials at the military force, where she was advised to go to. The others were candidate-princesses too, as told by Marisa. They weren’t as understanding in The Way as Selene’s closest friend, never mind Rhianne Burke, but nonetheless had a better knowledge than she had and she knew that.
What she also realized, was that the candidate-princesses she spoke to gave her better advice than the officials at the army. She understood that Marxon had the entire army under control, while Toth did everything to keep her power over those she knew.
This subtle competition of control couldn’t be noticed by an outsider, but seeing what both parties had become, Selene was certain that something brew in the Aeon community.
The result of all of her conversations was that she returned to the army, half a year later, with even greater doubts. She returned to Marxon, asking what to do now. She couldn’t, despite for all she tried, understand the reality that she faced.
It was harmony. The Aeon community lacked it.
She fell victim to the contradicting advices she got and now really didn’t know what to do next. She wanted to be helpful to the Aeon Illuminate, no, to humanity, but couldn’t get rid of her doubts.
Marxon therefore decided what to do best with her. That decision brought her this new job.
As a night-time member of the Choir, she was to assist commanders in protecting the Aeon territory.
Lately though, due to Marxon aggressive assaults on both UEF and Cybran zones, protection of the home planets was rarely required. The enemies had their hands full at their own sides of the front.
Yet, so agreed Selene, it was a good idea to defend the home planets, just in case. Still, it would become a quiet night once again.
What to do? What options were left?
Todd almost said out loud as he looked at the enemy forces that slowly but surely took control of the field. He had contacted EarthCom, but it was going to take time before he received reinforcements. The problem was that the more time that passed, the more reinforcements he was going to need.
Of course, he was confident that his superiors would be in time to save the civilians Todd had to protect, but perhaps he had to sacrifice his own life. A plan he’d rather not think of.
All of a sudden, he saw two wake eruptions in the middle of the enemy bases.
“EarthCom? This is captain Todd, what happened in those Aeon bases, did your reinforcements appear in the middle of their forces?”
“No captain.” The EarthCm officer answered. “Two enemy pilots have left the warzone. They transferred their weaponry to their allies though, so there’s nothing useful in it for you. Reinforcements will arrive in two minutes.”
“Those will be the longest minutes in my life. Do me a favour and send me someone good.”
“Commanders Temera and Funky are going to join you. EarthCom out.”
“Well, that’s one positive thing of today.”
The past two hours on Seraphim Two had shown Selene how naive it was not to think about the defences on the Aeon home planets. Two enemy commanders, yet unknown, had been able to arrive on Seraphim Two, close to the capital city. Selene had warned the Avatar-of-War immediately but he was not alarmed.
“We will learn from this, but I do not think that they are here to kill.” Marxon said. “I will have the technicians find out how they managed to break through. At the moment, I unfortunately have more pressing matters, so commander Rhiza will return to our planet, with the assistance of knight Halley.”
Whatever the reason was, Selene had the important job of assisting crusader Rhiza and her knight. They had to stop the two intruders before any civilians were hurt. Selene sighed. This night was not going to be smooth. If Marxon had decided not to attack the UEF just now, hoping to cleanse as many people as possible, then he’d have several ACUs combat-ready on Seraphim Two, at this moment.
“How’s it going Marisa? We’re on schedule and I haven’t seen a single enemy just yet.” Leython said.
“I did not detect a quantum wake eruption, yet. It should be soon though. This is the right time to go for it but still, time will be limited.” Marisa replied.
They had been working for two hours now and it was incredible how lucky they were. Leython knew that whenever the UEF had tried an assault, it always ended in a failure, no matter how hard they had tried. Whenever they attacked, the Aeon commanders were on their heels within fifteen seconds.
This time though, they weren’t. Leython and Marisa had used the best moment that was available. At the moment that a vast group of Aeon commanders left the Illuminate territory, they went to Seraphim Two. In the sudden spikes of energy transfer through the network, due to the ACUs that left the planet for an attack on the UEF, their signatures were barely readable, allowing Marisa and Leython to arrive near the capital city some minutes after noon.
Arriving on planet still gave a wake though, but so did the knights that had just left. Before the Aeon analysts finally realised that two pilots did make their way to Seraphim Two, about five minutes would have passed. Before an Aeon commander had arrived, five more minutes. Before they found out where Marisa’s and her UEF boyfriend’s bases were, their ACUs had left already, under protection of Stealth.
They had two hours though. Something went wrong on the Illuminate’s side, but neither Leython nor Marisa knew what it was. Not that they’d care. If it was a trap, it’d be too late as they were already on planet. If not, they’d have all of their time to devise a strategy in order to get what they wanted.
Of course, two persons who planned ahead, made a concept of their plans, but that was all they could do as the only information they had, was what Marisa knew of three years ago.
The military headquarters was their goal. Marisa thought she knew a way in, but only to a certain level and that might not be enough. The whole military headquarters could’ve been redesigned as well.
“I found a quantum wake Leython!” Marisa suddenly said. She almost missed it on her screens, but was just in time.
“Time to put our plan to action then. Send all of the forces anywhere.”
Moments later, dozens of transports, hundreds of units moved towards the city.
“How is it possible, how can it be that we have come this far? Why are allowed to go here? Has the avatar trapped us? Are we working exactly as he plans?” Leython asked. The army was capable of devastating the entire city, but...
“Where’s the city, Leython?” Marisa asked him as an answer. The first units had made visual contact with empty shells that had to represent the buildings. They were doing what Marxon wanted.
“Oh yes, we have been trapped.” Leython said fiercely.
“Are we going back?” The next question sounded.
“No, then he can find out on which planet we live. We’re going to fight against our enemy. That’ll at least slow them down.”
“Perhaps...” Marisa said. “No, that would not work at all.”
“What is it?”
“I thought for a moment about updating my ACU by using our enemy’s ones, but that is not possible. Our ACUs are updated by the use of a general database. No ACU can send such data to another. We can receive weapon blueprints while we are fighting, but only from the Choir members.”
“So since they took your ACU identification out of the database, we still have to continue here and download the data manually.”
“Yes, they remove an identification code as soon as the command unit is lost in combat. I have heard that.”
“If your unit would fall in the wrong hands, it’s already a disaster, having it updated at your enemy’s wishes is even worse.”
Marisa and Leython had been talking about this for months, all possibilities, all options, all scenarios, preparing for everything.
Yet, they didn’t prepare for this one. Being left alone for two hours, then finding out that they weren’t close to their goal at all. However, it was too good to be true, they couldn’t just be allowed to do what they wanted, only fifty kilometres from the capital city.
“Time to retreat, to somewhere. I don’t know exactly how good we can go to a remote place on Seraphim Two and try to sneak in via a better way.” Leython said.
“We simply do not know what Marxon is expecting from us. How long ago did he plan this?” Marisa asked. “We’ve got two good minds versus one good mind that is as experienced as the other two.”
“I know Marisa, but we can’t do much about that. You’re right though when you say we’ve got to anticipate on Marxon’s brilliance. There’s one ‘but’...
“He doesn’t know a single thing about me. He thinks that you failed on Sinivar because of your unwillingness to cleanse people, but –” Leython started, but Marisa cut him off.
“That does not mean he knows nothing about you. You have fought in more battles. He probably analysed all of them and knows what you planned.”
“Ok, good point. There’s something else. You said that we don’t know about Marxon’s plans for us, what he is expecting from us. But we don’t have to know. We will fight our own war. We’ll not listen to his rules, to his laws. His laws don’t make physics. They only make the outcome of the battlefield if he has enough intel about it.”
“Which he has Leython.” Marisa retorted, a bit irritated. “He knows everything about me because I have been in his army. He knows all about you because he has seen you fight. What can we do against that?”
“Play a game of chess.”
“In our battles against each other, we fought against ourselves. Why? Because we know each other almost perfectly and we are much alike, we then deduct our knowledge about one another by analysing every single move. Every single step. Literally.”
Marisa understood now and while they both scrambled all of their units to move away, she spoke once again: “Of course. He did the same thing and based his strategy on that. Every time we base our strategy on each other...” She said.
“We go one step further and device a whole new idea. We come up with a new element in the game.”
“Marxon will do that too though.” Marisa said, realising their adventure might still end right here and now.”
“So we will go two steps further. We will come up with something ancient in our tactics. Something he saw at the beginning of our strategies’ evolution and therefore won’t expect it to happen again.”
“That would not work. He will still prepare for that.”
“Doesn’t mean he can counter it. That’s the difference. You can prepare for everything, but not counter all strategies beforehand. Just like we couldn’t counter the possibility of this scenario, although we have prepared for traps.”
“You are right. Let us see how we can beat Marxon.”
“Well, of course, we can’t do exactly that, but we can show him that we’ll not be beaten by him either.”
Knight Halley and crusader Rhiza had both arrived. Near the capital city that didn’t really exist there, they were briefed by Selene.
“We are searching for two commanders who have slipped through our nets. They are on planet and we expect them to be Leython Dygonn and Marisa Zelda Gawain. They are to be destroyed or forced out of the Aeon territory.”
“Where are they now?” Rhiza asked.
“We lost them from our sensors several minutes ago, when they left by air transport. They have mobile stealth generators and use them in their transports. This means that you will have to find them first. As you know, crusader, you have the full access to our arsenal. I will grant knight Halley full access as well. Good luck. Choir member Elenes out.”
Selene knew that she could be contacted at any time again, if Rhiza and Halley needed assistance, but instead, she decided to contact Marxon again.
“I am sorry to bother you, Avatar-of-War. I know that you need your night of rest as well, but –”
“Do not worry about my rest, Elenes.” Marxon cut her off. “I have anticipated to this and had some sleep in the evening. You must have hailed me for information or assistance. Please come up with it immediately, as I still have my other work to attend to.”
“We lost both of the enemy commanders. They left our fake city’s sensor range and we possibly cannot find them with two commanders.”
“I have not expected them to find out so soon, even though they had two hours.” The Avatar-of-War replied. “I will get several reserves to work. Two will link up with crusader Rhiza and knight Halley. Five more will protect the capital. That still is Dygonn’s and Gawain’s ultimate goal.”
“Understood, Avatar. I will be ready to advice them. Selene out.” The Choir member answered.
The Avatar-of-War gave her one bit of information after another. Why was he doing that? Was he testing her, his military force and himself at the same time? Did he not thrust her, giving away only that what was urgent.
He had not immediately given away that the two enemies were Leython Dygonn and Marisa Gawain, of whom she knew. He had also told her only an hour ago that the city the enemy forces were about to attack, was a fake. It was just now that he informed her about the available resources.
Yet he didn’t lie, nor contradict. He just didn’t show the complete and absolute truth. So that’s how Marxon was able to hide secrets. Selene thought highly of him at first, but not so much longer. Why didn’t he inform her of this situation immediately? Couldn’t he just trust her?
No, of course not. She had contact with people outside. People that he couldn’t trust and therefore he couldn’t trust her either. To gain his trust, for as far as that was possible, Selene thought it was best to do her job as good as possible.
She contacted Rhiza again: “Crusader, how are you faring?”
“I am fine, but there is no sign of the enemy. As you said, they are not nearby anymore.”
“I suspect that they are fleeing from us but still plan to go to Seraphim Two’s capital city. Five knights will be in that area but we would of course like it more if our enemies will not make it there at all. Ever.”
“That is very clear, Choir member.” Rhiza said. She knew what he’d expect from her. With ‘he’ being the Avatar-of-War, obviously. Rhiza doubted if the Choir member herself cared so much. She had heard about Marxon’s reservations of Selene Elenes.
Elenes had not only failed to cleanse a city, but also seemed to admire the abominations that were the Cybrans. Yet she didn’t seem to have learned from the Avatar’s lessons. It didn’t matter though. The only thing that mattered, was how soon the enemies could be vanquished.
“Crusader Rhiza. Crusader?” Rhiza woke up from her thoughts, she realized that it was the Choir member who still spoke to her.
“I will repeat myself, crusader. The Avatar-of-War is certain that the two commanders are Leyton Dygonn and Marisa Gawain. As you know, Gawain is from the Illuminate and it is quite certain that she pilots an Aeon command unit. Marxon wishes to retrieve this ACU, so that means that you must not destroy it if possible. However, we cannot allow either of them to leave the planet. They must be stopped.”
“I understand... Knight Halley, do you copy? We will stop both of them and, preferably, we will not destroy the Aeon command unit.”
“I copy, crusader.” Halley answered.
Three hours later, Marisa and Leython were still undetected. Both of them were still trying to find out where they actually were.
Marisa knew the location of the capital city and they had programmed their gateways to get exactly there, but something prevented them from doing that.
What exactly prevented them from gating exactly where they wanted, was not important. The only thing that mattered was finding out where on the planet they were, so they could make it to the city.
“I know of a way to get in.” Marisa suddenly said. Leython gasped in surprise and of course his girlfriend noticed that.
“Sorry, but I just thought of it. We can use your plane. Both of us get in and then we fly to the capital city, land just outside the military headquarters so we can download the data to update my ACU.”
“Marisa, we still didn’t solve our first problem.” Leython said, mentioning an issue that they had to get rid of since they started working on this crazy plan.
“Oh yes, if we can download the updates now, we will never be able to come even close at a second time and who knows what incredibly powerful weapon the Aeon pilots will receive tomorrow.”
Despite for this problem, that would make them unable to update a second time, Marisa was not worried. She had, in her visions, understood that the war was about to end.
How? She couldn’t answer.
Where? She didn’t know.
Who would be victorious? Again, no answer.
The only thing she knew, was that at the moments where she needed her ACU the most, it would still be fairly up to date and afterwards the war would be over.
“Can you think of a way Marisa? I know that you’re not worried, but it would still be better if your ACU can be assisted even more.”
“Yes. Well, for that we would have to enter my ACU’s identification code in the general database.”
“That means we still have to get to the headquarters and force some administrator there to do it, right?”
“No, Choir members can do that too. They are the staff and not everyone is at the headquarters. I just do not know if we can ensure that they’d not remove the identification code from the database as soon as we have left.”
“Is there anyone we can trust?”
“In there? I know of no one who works there, so I doubt that we would meet anyone friendly.”
“But we can at least let a member enter your ACU’s ID-code so we can have it updated to the software and blueprints of today, right?”
“Yes, a good idea Leython. Infiltrating the Choir would by far not be as hard as infiltrating the headquarters.”
A gray dot appeared on their radar screen, immediately followed by more.
“They found us. I’m going to send in spy planes, Marisa, you’d better prepare every unit for evacuation.”
“Those enemy units are going fast. I think it are all spy planes as well.”
“In that case. I’m preparing the fighters. Consider them destroyed in a minute.”
“You found them, knight Halley?” Rhiza asked.
“Yes, I have. They are probably leaving again. We took three hours to find them after they left, so I would not be surprised if they are moving again.”
“Then we continue hunting them down. We cannot allow them to go near a village.”
“Understood. We are lucky that this is such a remote region on the planet.”
“You should know that you cannot rely on luck, Halley.”
“Leython, we have to land here.” Marisa said.
“I’ve seen it, water, we’re reaching a shoreline.” Leython answered. Their approach to go somewhere blindly in the hope to find a calm place so they could find out where they were, had proven to be a bad idea. They had no choice though, because despite for the three hour advantage they couldn’t scout the vast planet at their leisure. The ACU’s limitations made that the spy planes they had built, couldn’t reach further away than eighty kilometres.
As they landed, Marisa spoke again: “I think I can tell you where we are, but I am not certain.”
“Go ahead and tell me.”
“I think we should go to the south now. If I am right, we should find a small town in two hours. There we can access a console to connect with satellites and then I can show you the exact route to the capital.”
“Good, we should really get to work now, it’s getting dark and that is the perfect moment to get in, upload the ID-code and leave.”
“There is one problem. If I am right, it is about the time of sunrise at the capital now.” Marisa said.
“We are on the wrong side of the planet?” Leython asked, stunned by this new information.
“Marxon has tricked us well. Very well.”