For sixty years since the boycott, various gangs had waged a brutal war on Tessalis, before one finally emerged victorious. One could think of these gangs as governments of Earth in the twentieth century, fighting the second world war, but without the genocide of unarmed people.
The war did cost millions of lives though. Tessalis had grown much in its first two centuries of peace, but when the government of Earth failed, the government of the planet was taken over by gangsters and pirates, for which Zhan, Hanna, Jonas and John fled.
The Earth Empire wouldn’t even think about saving the planet, rescuing the innocents; they were too busy. Or perhaps they did think about it, but concluded that the people had sided too much with the criminals that took over and no longer cared. Either way, the result was that Tessalis had been ignored for sixty years to begin with. Then eventually, one gang had won that war and turned into some sort of government on its own.
By smuggling, it kept the economy of Tessalis alive, albeit barely. It happened many times. Rebels find support from the majority of the people, overthrow the government but ignore their people’s needs afterwards. Exactly that happened here.
In the four hundred years that passed, it went from bad to worse. At first, the only problem the citizens faced, was neglect. The money made by taxes and smuggling, made the pirate clan rich, but nothing was spent on the maintenance of infrastructure, education or health. In this period, the only place where the government was apparent, was its military and police power. The prospect of violent actions from both army and police kept the people under control easily.
At first, they were too frightened to try anything against the pirate scum. As always however, this seemingly stable government would face such problems eventually.
It didn’t take too long before the first people thought of overthrowing the gang, despite for their fears. Finally after twenty years of control, the first assassination was finally a fact. The tyrants hit back by executing every man, woman and child in the village the assassin came from.
It was meant as a deterrent, so it was announced in the public all across the planet, but instead of frightening the people enough so that they’d calmly do what the gang wanted, they enraged everyone.
Gone were the days of relative peace on a planet ruled by tyrants. Many families managed to escape as soon as some quantum gates fell in the civilians’ hands, but not for long. With brutal tactics employed, the cities that fell worst victims to the riots were burned down, including large parts of Rendas. It, again, killed millions but that finally restored order in favour of the tyrants.
The Earth Empire descended into chaos but my predecessors on Capella felt almost nothing. Perhaps a criminal or two that showed up in their city, but nothing big happened on that planet. They heard about criminals, pirates and even the Tessalis riots every day though.
“There’s a quotation of the news in his journal,” Marisa said, “but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s of the date of 3389.”
“I know you’d expect something closer to the beginning of the fourth millennium but this doesn’t have to mean that it makes no sense. Perhaps he’ll explain what happened before that broadcast, after writing it down.”
“The UEF will attempt to make contact with the planet of Tessalis again.” Marisa said, reading the newscast’s quotation. “As the longest war in human history is causing more casualties on all fronts, the Federation decided to investigate the so-called forgotten planets, which are found mostly on the Aeon front.
A successful mission on Tessalis, which is under control of a tyranny due to criminal gangs that took control in the thirtieth century, will create a tight border allowing a quarantine zone, that was lost in the war, to re-establish.”
That newscast is the reason for me being here. There was no need for attempting to contact Tessalis as we all knew that we had contact with the tyrants anyway, the only problem was taking back control. However, the UEF had made a very sound strategy. Back in those days, war was by far not as violent as it is at the time of my writing. With a couple of ACUs, the Symbionts fled.
The Aeon were harder to contain and so the UEF needed a large portion of its army to support the war on its other front. However, the Illuminate fanatics shared the same goal as the UEF. They too wanted to claim the forgotten planets, especially since converting every human soul on every planet could lead to a fifty per cent increase of the Aeon population at that time.
That they wanted the same as we, was both an advantage as well as a setback. We didn’t have to concentrate on holding the front lines so much as when they would’ve attacked us constantly. On the other hand. Every planet we didn’t get to immediately, was another opportunity for them to be ahead of us.
When Tessalis heard of this, its people sought for a new way to overthrow their government. For more than three hundred and fifty years, they did nothing, probably out of fear for a new massacre that had cost them so many lives.
But this time, new clans were formed. Gangs that trained themselves in particular jobs. Several clans concentrated on smuggling goods for their own cities, so that finally, the citizens could live a fairly normal life. Other clans tried to blackmail or assassinate important officers in the military force, slowing the tyrannical government down in their retribution.
The tyrants tried to hide the news about all of the assassinations but it of course didn’t work. Slowly, the military force crumbled, the police departments became uncontrollable while the citizens became safer and finally left the days of poverty behind them.
But the hardest blow came when one clan managed to break through a quantum gate and made a journey to the core planets. Until that moment, the tyrants had managed to keep the UEF out, but no longer.
The Federation responded to the citizens’ plea for help immediately, sending in several ACUs to deal with their enemies. The first few days were the most successful ones. In the first week, most of the major cities were liberated, but then came the issues of the guerrilla war and the ACU’s limited active range.
Of course, not every UEF commander could be sent to Tessalis, the fronts would crumble if that were to happen, so only a small team was dispatched. The major cities were liberated, but the commanders couldn’t move on to pursue the fleeing pirates. They went into the mountains or hid as honest civilians in the city. Searching for criminals in the mountains was hard, but not impossible as the command unit was virtually indestructible against the small arms that these rebels had.
But a commander could not just blow an entire city to pieces if just a few criminals were hiding there and not a single pirate was stupid enough to publicly stand up against any of those, so the ACUs were rendered useless.
The new UEF’s plan of action was to build a command centre on Tessalis. The command centre would control dozens, if not hundreds of squads that patrolled the city and searched for any criminal still on the loose.
However, it didn’t go very well. The ACUs had everything perfectly under control, or so it seemed, but in fact the UEF force on the planet was infiltrated very soon. The ACU’s warfare was over in several months, but the bombings and assassinations against the UEF continued for years. The result was the twenty-seven years of fighting a guerrilla war.
During the first decade, the UEF didn’t make any progress and if it wasn’t for the citizen’s support to the Federation, we’d never be able to do what we’ve achieved now. It is where I came in, fifteen years ago, with the plan that, at first, no one thought would work.
Not even I thought it’d become reality as I reckoned that the citizens, despite for their hatred to the planet’s rulers over the past four centuries, would resist against my plan.
However, they were all to happy to leave Tessalis. When I proposed it to the commanding officer at that time, colonel Ivarov, he said that he deemed it very unlikely that the civilians would leave this place, but he was ready to give it a try nonetheless.
And so we started our operation. Every family was allowed to leave if it wanted to. Within a day, we had more families on the list than our personnel could handle. Entire Rendas had turned into a ghost town within three weeks. To find out which person was a criminal, we let the people do a simple test with a high tech lie detector. These sorts of polygraphs had improved over the last millennium, especially on the part where paper had been replaced by a computer screen and where the sensors had been improved in their effectiveness.
We can now be sure of one hundred per cent that the subject is speaking the truth when he or she tells us about her life and plans for the future. Its successfulness has been proven in the fifteen years that we had to use it. The number of criminals that we picked out of the population of Tessalis, is not much different from what we had expected.
Rendas was cleared within a month, after ten years of meagre results, but then we had to do the same with every other city. Each major city we tried to clear took more time, as it was infested with more and more pirates.
Eventually though, the job was finally done. It took us twenty-seven years but Tessalis is cleared.
The new problem we face, is increased Aeon activity. The UEF council has opted against colonizing the planet again. The planet lies close to the new quarantine zone, but might get in it because the Aeon slowly push us back.
A new war strategy is coming, but it might be too late for Tessalis, because the Aeons are getting very close. To ensure the safety of our people, the UEF will decide, probably already this year, not to send colonists to this beautiful planet.
I hope that this journal will be read someday, not just because it tells the story of me and my predecessors, but also because it tells the story of a part of this war that might endure for an infinitely. Those who read it, please think carefully about what is more important. Waging war here or infesting this place with pirates and criminals, or establishing a good society so its people can enjoy life on Tessalis, a planet more beautiful than I have ever seen.
“That is the end of this chapter.” Marisa said and she turned the page. Erik Grinal’s story was over, but the journal was not. “The last part goes on about the environment here. A couple of statistics, such as that the seasons are not as noticeable as on Earth or Seraphim Two, a day and a year take as long as on Earth... Etcetera.”
“Nothing we don’t know about.” Leython said. “Let’s go back home.”
“Yes,” Marisa replied. Leython got used to the softness in her voice, but it never bored him. The gentle answers sounded... perfect.
Minutes later, they stepped in Leython’s Cybran ACU and he teleported away from Rendas. The sun was already setting and that meant it was dark at their home.
“It is new year’s eve.” Marisa said, remembering that fact all of a sudden. “Tomorrow will be the first of 3843.”
“You’re right,” Leython replied at the moment they appeared at home, “and I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“What is it?”
“You know the definition of a surprise, don’t you?” Leython asked.
“Yes I know, if you answer my question it is no surprise anymore, but everyone would ask you that question.”
“True, but I’m not answering it.”
Marisa was eager to find out what this surprise was, but she had to wait until midnight and so they played a couple of games of chess. Leython had returned to the Cybran nation twice, for updates on his ACU. He asked for the implementation of a chess game in the ACU’s system and the engineers told him that it was very easy to do by hand, even though it was not intentionally made possible.
When he returned, they searched for the method to do so, in both of the ACUs. After little more than ten minutes of searching, they were ready to play chess on a virtual board. It was easier and faster done than having to build up the whole army in reality.
After just a couple of hours of playing games and talking about everyday subjects, Leython noticed that it was almost midnight.
“Let’s go.” He said and they both stepped out of their ACUs.
“You will surely tell me where you have got this surprise?”
“In my new Corsair plane.”
“Then it cannot be too big, I assume, you cannot fit something very large in that.”
“It is too big, actually, but if you’ve been in the UEF army and used Mavor artilleries, then you know that everything else can’t ever be too big or too much.”
When Leython showed it to Marisa, the first thing that she noticed was that it had an extra seat.
“You want me to step in?” She asked when Leython looked at her, revealing nothing with his sinister smile.
“Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked doctor Brackman to make a plane with an extra seat and some very special missiles.” With those last words, Leython knew he said to much and Marisa’s reaction confirmed that.
“You have got fireworks?” She asked happily.
“Yes I have.” Leython answered and he too stepped in the plane.
Marisa took the most comfortable position possible after Leython had stepped in.
“Looks like Brackman really spent little effort in making a spacious place for a second person.” Leython said as he saw his girlfriends lower legs and bare feet at the sides of his chair.
“It is no problem, although it must seem idiotic for anyone who walks by.” Marisa said.
“Do you expect anyone to pass by right now?” Leython asked sarcastically, turning his head around with a big smile on his face.
The plane was ready to take flight and Leython took off. Marisa never experienced flight before and was amazed by the smoothness of it.
“Incredible. It’s awesome.” She said.
“That’s what I thought when I first really flew this thing, but Brackman has given me something better than just a plane for a couple to use.” Her boyfriend replied.
They waited some minutes, flew smoothly through the air while they watched the seconds tick away. Both knew about the tradition of counting down at the last ten seconds, that even the long time of Aeon influence couldn’t make Marisa’s generation forget.
“Happy new year!” They both said when the clock displayed the midnight time of zero hours. At exactly that moment, Leython fired all missiles away, as Brackman told him that that would give the best result.
“Happy new year, both of you.” Brackman’s recorded voice said.
The missiles made a turn and flew higher and higher.
“How much fuel do those things have?” Marisa asked.
“I have no idea, but I don’t care as long as they give a nice show.” Leython answered as he too turned to ascend.
And they did. The entire sky was illuminated for almost half a minute by the missiles that exploded, one after another.
“Happy new year Marisa.” Leython said, when they stepped in their beds, only ten minutes later.
“Yes, happy new year, Leython.”
“While more and more people are openly siding with the criminals of Tessalis, Earth has decided to boycott any trade from or to the planet. This will likely hit Tessalis’ economy very badly, critics claim that the unemployment rate will increase to twenty five per cent and that the criminals will gain an even better hold over the planet.”
“This is very, very bad news.” Zhan Grinal said. He and his wife had watched the news about their planet carefully. What was colonized to be a beacon of freedom and peace, two centuries ago, turned into a pirate’s nest within the last twenty years. The decline in the Earth Empire’s control was to blame. Corruption spread everywhere while criminals could do whatever they wanted. Without the control of the weakening government, Tessalis became one of the worst victims.
Eight years ago, the gangs had made it to the capital city, Rendas. They were not really apparent at first, but during the next few years, the city’s government and so also the planet’s government became infested. Police control slowly disappeared.
“What do we have to do now?” Zhan’s wife, Hanna asked.
“We have to get out of here as soon as possible. We’ll return to one of the core planets. Earth, if possible, but otherwise we’re going to Matar or Capella. That would be the best.”
“But we don’t have a single chance of escaping. The criminal organisations only let merchants leave , on the condition that one of their henchmen can go with them, to ensure they go back. They also know which person is a merchant and which one isn’t. So we can’t just pretend.”
“I know, we’ll have to think of a way to deal with that but there is a worse problem. Trade is going to be boycotted now those gangs have literally taken over half of the planet, you heard it on the news. The government can’t do a single thing about it. I’ll take a look at the city’s quantum gate and see if we can’t just sneak through their nets.” Zhan said.
“Be careful Zhan, if I lose you, I’m done for and that’s not only because I can’t live without you.”
“I know and I won’t let you down.”
Zhan searched for options every day. It meant that, more than once, he left early in the morning and he was lucky if he returned before midnight. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months while he contacted all sorts of people, from the government’s officials he knew because of his job at the largest trade centre of the planet, to beggars on the street who lost their jobs due to the crisis on Tessalis.
How much those unemployed knew was staggering. It quickly became apparent that they had been contacted by the low-life criminals that seemed to control Rendas to join one gang or another. They knew about every missing person, every murder case and even who controlled the drugs smuggling from the core planets.
Zhan realized that he had to be careful with his search for a way out. His company’s superior watched him closely now he was using the afternoon breaks to talk with people on the street. He had been warned to keep his contacts with criminals to a minimum, in order to ensure the company’s safety.
“I know sir, I know, but isn’t it useful to know what they’re up to. We are a dominating company and even though we may not like it, we’ll have to cooperate with them when they really take over. It isn’t that bad yet, but I fear that worse is to come.” Zhan said as an excuse. He didn’t want anyone else to know that he was planning to flee the planet, otherwise he might be fired.
For his company, things were going from bad to worse, so he might be fired anyway. Because of the boycott, the commerce had gone down by seventy five per cent. However, that was only via the official routes. The black market seemed to flourish but his company didn’t want to have to do anything with that, seemingly exactly like the competition.
But it couldn’t go on endlessly. The newsreader who reported that about a quarter of the employees across the planet would lose their job, was right. At this moment, the unemployment rate had increased up to twenty per cent but it was still rising. Yet again, this didn’t seem to be much of a problem as many people collaborated with the criminals and made their living that way.
The official trade companies were the worst victims. Zhan counted himself lucky that he was in a fairly high position but he was so unfortunate that he had to cut in his staff. More than eighty per cent of his men had to leave and when he told them about it, they looked like they were about to kill him.
He survived without any issues though, but still felt bad for what he had to do. A crisis like this was unheard of. The Earth Empire’s golden age had ended some centuries ago, because it grew so big that it couldn’t manage its own colonies anymore, but since the rebellion of those accursed Symbionts and brainwashed Aeons had turned into a real war, things had gone downwards very quickly.
At home, Hanna told him more bad news. It became evident how much grip the criminal scum had gained on the city and even the planet: a large part of the police force had been dissolved and even though almost the entire police force was a fake, this meant that the criminals could go rampant. Not only the gangs, but also the people who did some petty crimes, like a break-in.
“Time is running out. It will take no longer than a year before the whole of Tessalis turns into a nest infested with these criminals. I’m certain that the different gangs will fight a war on their own. This is going to get nasty.”
“Have you found a way to get out of here yet?”
“No, I haven’t, Hanna. I think that I should contact some low-life thugs and see if we can go with them.”
“That won’t help us, those people would never make it to a core planet. Perhaps to a Cybran planet, but then what?”
“I don’t know, but as long as we get out of here, we’ll be fine.”
But no matter what Zhan tried, he couldn’t make contact with the crucial person to leave the planet. Years ago, the criminal gangs realized how useful the gateways were. Living mostly on the commerce with the core planets, Tessalis couldn’t bloom without the quantum gates. The pirates controlled those and so they controlled the entire planet.
Now, two years after the boycott by the Earth Empire had begun, the final blow for his company arrived.
The trade company had already shrunk to ten per cent of the size it was at its best years, but now it ended completely.
Unaware of the oncoming news, Zhan went to his weekly meeting with all the other top managers of the company. The CFO, Jonas Quinn, notified them of the bad news immediately and said that there wasn’t much to do. Even though he saw the company’s worth at the stock exchange dwindle almost every day, Zhan didn’t expect this. Now he was unemployed too. In times like these, he wouldn’t have a chance to get another job, not through the official channels.
“Filing for bankruptcy today means that we’ll not have to come back within a week. All we can do is grab as much money as we can, right now, and find a way to survive on Tessalis for the time being.” The CFO said.
“What about our staff? Can we do something for them?” Zhan said.
“Zhan, you’re all nice and friendly,” the CFO answered, “but we can’t help everyone. Let’s just help ourselves.”
The words were infuriating. It had been like this all the time, thanks to capitalism. If it came down to this, Zhan couldn’t tell the difference between the top managers’ theft from a dead company and the criminal activities that were going on here on Tessalis.
He couldn’t say anything about it though. All he wanted was to get out of here with Hanna, he didn’t care about anything else. “Ok, is there something though. Does anyone have an idea of how to get out of here and make a living on one of the core planets?”
“Why didn’t you ask us before, we could’ve managed to get out if we worked together. We had the company back then.” One of Zhan’s colleagues said.
“If anyone would know, I was going to get myself fired.” He answered.
“Exactly. We have no use of someone who can be gone all of a sudden.” Zhan’s superior said. “So that’s what you’ve been doing all the time. Haven’t you succeeded yet?”
“No, I can’t contact the people I need. Everyone I speak, tells me something useful about what’s happening all the time, but no one appears to know about how to leave.”
“You just don’t dare to get involved and therefore you only speak to outsiders.” The CFO said. “I’ll see if I can find a way. Perhaps we should try to keep this company alive just a little longer. At our next meeting, I’ll tell you when we’re going to file for bankruptcy.”
When he came back home, Zhan told Hanna of their problems immediately.
“Then time has ran out.” She simply said. “We’ll need all of our money to see if we can buy ourselves a way out.”
“Yes, we don’t have a choice. Jonas will try to contact a gang or so, to get us smuggled out.”
“But how? The gang that controls the city’s gates, will never let us go. All they do is using it to control the trade from and to the planet. They don’t care about us.”
“There’s more than one gang, I’m sure of that.”
“But what would they have to gain with smuggling us away?” Hanna asked.
“Money, they’ll let us pay for it. A lot.” Zhan answered.
“Do you think we have enough?”
“I earned quite a lot and we’ve never spent too much, but if it isn’t enough, we could sell the house.”
“To who? No one wants a house in these days and those criminals won’t be interested at all.”
“I’ll think of a way.” Zhan said. “But I really hope that Jonas finds a way of leaving, I’ve tried all I could.”
The next day, Jonas told Zhan some good news. He had contacted a ‘guy’ who could smuggle them, but he had only place for three men and it had to be done quickly.
“He said that he was going to Sethis tomorrow. I was careful enough not to ask why, but I asked him about the price instead. He said that, if we arrive on Sethis, he wants us to pay for the trip to Capella, his final destination.” Jonas said, he spoke with Zhan at his office, alone and secure that no one was eavesdropping.
“Can’t he go to Capella immediately?” Zhan asked.
“No, he can’t. His gang’s got connections with another gang on Sethis and that’s as far as he may go. Why he wants to get to Capella, I don’t know because I didn’t ask him.”
“Very well, is it hard to get to Capella, from Sethis?”
“Only if we go via New Venice, Tharod or London Sethii, because that’s where that other gang is. The problem we have though, is that we [b]are going there[/b] for the business that this ‘guy’ has to do. Now, all you have to do is get as much money as you can and pack for a day’s work. Instead of taking all of your notes with you, get one set of clothes and some food. If those thugs see us packed for a holiday, we’re bust.”
“It sounds risky. I hope we can afford it too. We have no idea how much it will costs us to get from Sethis to Capella with two others.” Hanna said when Zhan told her of the plan.
“That’s true, but we have to take the risk. If we don’t go now, we might be stuck in this city for our entire lives and in two weeks, I’m unemployed for sure.”
“Let’s do it.” Hanna replied and the next day, in the afternoon, they left for their journey. First, they went to meet Jonas and to their surprise, the ‘guy’ was already there.
“You’ve got all of your money and stuff for one day’s work?” The stranger asked.
“Yes, we have.” Hanna answered.
“Ok. Now, if you have questions, ask them now because as soon as we’re going out there, you must make the impression of that you’re sure of what you’re going to do and that means you can’t ask me a single thing.”
“Ok,” Zhan replied, “who are you?”
“You can call me Jet. That’s how I’m known with my gang and I can’t be called differently. I don’t have any family and they know it, so you must look like you’re part of my group.”
“Will they fall for that ruse?” Hanna asked.
“I think they will. I take groups of two or three others with me to do my business on Sethis. So we’ll get to there with ease, my friends at the gate never know what I’m going to do and how much people I’m taking with me. An example of bad communication there, but that’s because my boss wants to keep my job a secret. The question is, what will happen if we’ve arrived? I’m going to have to talk with my contacts on Sethis, but we all have to get out of there. So I say that you’re going to some hotel while you wait for me. That will take two or three days. If it takes longer, you’re going to have to go on your own.”
“If you come back, how are we going to Capella?” Jonas asked Jet.
“We’re going to make our way to Little Berlin. That city is under control by the Sethis government. They are actually doing a fine job on keeping gangs at bay, ensuring they don’t get the upper hand and become the government instead. There, we will get ourselves to Capella. Quantum travel is not dirt cheap anymore, in case you didn’t notice. This has been done to fund the fledging Earth Empire and that works pretty well, the core planets are still under control.” Jet answered.
“Ok, no questions anymore?” He asked after a few seconds of silence. He allowed them to ask more questions, if anything was unclear, but they didn’t seem to have any.
“Ok then, we can go, but I’ll give you a blaster gun first.” He said and reached in his bag. “Everyone of us has got one of these and so will you. If we’re discovered, fire away. They’ll kill us anyway so we might just as well take a few of them with us and if we’re close to the gate some of us would make it.”
“What’s on the other side?” Zhan asked. If they were detected on one end, what would wait for them at the other.
“People with more guns, but if we’re standing in front of the gate and we’re detected, we’ll blast everyone before they can tell the gang at Sethis.”
“I hope that that works.” Zhan said. “Or that we’ll never have to use these.”
“Yep, anyway, you’ll turn the safety lock off by pressing this button.” Jet replied and he showed them how to get rid of the safety lock.
“I never used a gun.” Hanna said.
“Don’t worry, just aim at someone else and fire. These guns are pretty accurate.”
“Ok.” Hanna said, hoping that aiming in the real world went the same way as it happened in movies.
“Keep looking forward, don’t look aside and just follow me.” Jet said as they walked into the terminal. “I’ve got a VIP status, so I can just go on and you too because you’re with me.
And indeed, people looked at Jet and his three companions but they didn’t approach them. Zhan thought that Jet must’ve risen to a high rank in his gang, but he stopped thinking immediately, as he remembered that he must look like he knew what he was doing. Dreaming away would not help.
By the time they arrived at the personal gate itself, Jet was finally approached.
“Sethis?” An unknown man asked. Jet answered with a simple ‘yes’.
“Those three are with you?” The other man asked and again, Jet answered with the same word again.
“Ok, which town?”
“You all can sit in the gate’s transport chamber now. We’ll be preparing it for four men.”
When they stepped inside and closed the door, Hanna wanted to speak, but Jet silenced her with an almost inaudible ‘sssshh’.
Ten minutes later, they stepped out of the gate at Tharod. Jonas’ first impression of the place was that the city looked nice. It was clean and well maintained. However, there were lots of people who seemed to be watching them, as if they were unwanted strangers.
Jet knew where he had to go to, so the other three just followed and after another ten minutes, they arrived at a hotel.
“This is where I’m going to every time I’ve got business to attend to in Tharod. I’ve already reserved two rooms for two. So Jonas, you’ll have to share a room with me, if I’m here by the evening already.” Jet said while they walked into the hall.
They were approached by the hotel manager immediately and apparently he and Jet were friends:
“Good morning Jet. The rooms are prepared for you and your friends. If there’s anything you need...”
“...Then I’ll let you know.” Jet finished. “But I don’t think that I’ll need anything you haven’t prepared already.”
As they walked up the stairs, the two lowered their voice as much as they could.
“I’ve got enough information for you to do your things, but you might want to go to Sparaza’s tomorrow, the second and third bakery are closer from there.”
“Ok, then I’ll go there by tomorrow. I’ll take my friends with me for that job. I’ll not need them for my first meeting.”
“Are they new guys? I haven’t seen them before.” The hotel manager whispered.
“Yes, don’t ask them any questions though. You know how it goes.” Jet answered.
“No questions, no trouble. I’m happy that the only thing I’ll ever have to do, is providing you with the desired information.”
“Exactly. As for Sparaza, he mustn’t know anything about the fact that I’m going to take my men on the second and third job. Tell him that when we arrive, they will stay at their rooms for the oncoming two days. If he asks why, tell him that I’ve had them for the first job, but want them at my call at a moment’s notice.” Jet said, barely audible, but very clear.
“Understood. I’ll inform him right away.” The hotel manager answered. He raised his voice again and spoke to Jonas, Zhan and Hanna: “Lady, gentlemen. Here are your rooms. These are the keys and as I have told your companion, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to make a call to my employees.”
“Thanks.” Zhan answered and he took the keys, gave one to Jet and the hotel manager left immediately.
“It’s not very much, but enough for today. They’ll bring dinner for us soon, as they know it is almost evening in Rendas. After we’ve had diner, it’s best for you to get some sleep but I’m going to leave immediately and do my job. By the time it is tomorrow on this planet, here in Tharod, we will leave this hotel and go to Sparaza’s. We’ll repeat the procedure, sleep in the afternoon and wait for the next morning and we’ll do that twice. Then, we’ll leave for Little Berlin, which is a two days journey from here.”
“Two days?” Hanna asked, stunned by this new information.
“Yes, we can’t just travel there by quantum gate because they’ll capture us and lock us up when we arrive. They’re doing that with anyone coming from either of the criminals-infested cities. Going by either of the major roads is impossible too because of this issue. They’d know where we came from. This means that the only way to get to Little Berlin, is by the mountain passages, of which most are unfit for cars.”
Zhan feared that everything would go wrong while they stayed at either of their hotels, but luckily, Jet returned without a hitch in the plan, at least for the first two days. They were less fortunate on the third.
“I’ve just been told by a friend that we’re being watched.” He said after returning from the third ‘bakery’. “All we can do now is leave as soon as we can.”
“Isn’t that suspicious?” Jonas asked. “And why are we being watched?”
“Whatever job I normally do, the companions I take with me always work with me on at least one of the three days. I fear that Julian, our host on the first day, has seen through my lies. I told him that Sparaza had to think that you’ve worked with my one day one, while it should be day two, as I lied to him. He probably told that to the guys of the gang and they don’t know anything about hiring more than one person.”
“Is it that bad?” Hanna asked.
“Yes it is, in this criminal circuit, all has to go perfectly according to plan and now it didn’t. That means that we’re either spies for the government, or we’ve turned on them. They don’t care and want us dead if we can’t come up with a very good excuse. The problem is, the excuse of a two-day camping event in the mountains is good at all so we’d better leave right now and hope we make it to Little Berlin. That means we’re not going to stop during the night. Let’s go.”
Terrified, Hanna, Zhan and Jonas followed Jet. He had told them not to look nervous as things might go wrong sooner. Miraculously, nothing special happened when they ordered a taxi. Perhaps this gang in Tharod had decided to leave them alone for a while or thought that they’d take the gate back to Tessalis, from this city.
“I’ve got a new destination for you, sir.” Jet said when they had driven for a couple of minutes.
“You name it, sir. No longer the Beckerstreet twenty nine?”
“No, you’re going to drive us trough the Silva mountains as far as you can.”
“Why would you want to go there?” The taxi driver asked.
“No questions, just drive.” Jet said. “I hope that I don’t have to persuade you any more than just this.”
“No sir, but I must say that it’s a little bit suspicious and you know it, everyone’s watching everyone here.”
“No questions, no trouble.” Zhan said in a mildly threatening tone. Apparently, the taxi driver expected that to be said because he focussed on the road ahead of him without another word. Jet didn’t say a word either but from the back, Zhan could tell he was nodding in appreciation.
“This is as far as I can get you to go.” The taxi driver said, three hours later. The road had been bumpy at best during the most of the trip, but it was really impassable for cars here.”
“Hanna, Jonas, Zhan, you can go out now. I’ve got a new destination for you sir.”
“Where would you like to go to now.”
“Beckerstreet twenty nine.”
“Of course sir. Just wanted to make sure your companions made it here safely?” The taxi driver asked kindly, but carefully.
“You know it.” Jet answered while the three others stepped out of the taxi, confused by Jet’s sudden change in plans.
“Just continue, you can’t miss it. Don’t walk too fast or you’ll be exhausted in no time. One of my friends will wait for you.”
Barely comforted, they walked and the taxi drove away.
“What have we done? We’d better meet that friend or get to Little Berlin by ourselves, or we’ll die.” Jonas said. “We don’t know if there’s anything eatable in this remote region.”
“What? You don’t know what you want, do you? Where do you want to go now?” The driver asked, irritated.
“Just stop.” Jet said and the taxi driver finally understood and stopped.
“Good.” Jet said and he took his gun. The taxi driver only had the time to look shocked by what Jet was going to do before he was killed.
Jet stepped out, and placed an incendiary grenade in the taxi before he ran away. The grenade exploded and turned the car aflame. By the time anyone would be here, it’d be completely unrecognizable.
Jet ran for the next ten minutes before he arrived at the place where Hanna, Zhan and Jonas stepped out. Another couple of minutes later, he finally saw them.
“Wait!” Hanna turned around immediately, closely followed by Zhan and Jonas. They stopped and let Jet join them and catch some breath.
“Why did you do that?” Jonas asked.
“I let him drive back to the first junction which was luckily only about three or four minutes driving from where we stepped out. If he’d die there, whoever is going to follow us, has got two options. One goes to Little Berlin, the other deeper into the mountains, before that path splits and brings you to any of the cities nearby.”
“You killed him?” Zhan asked.
“Yes, I didn’t really have a choice. He’d give our deceit away when he arrived back in Tharod. When someone else arrives here and comes for us immediately, he’s with four others at most but we’d still have a six hour head start I think. We can deal with that. If that taxi driver would’ve arrived at Tharod, we’d be followed by ten, at least.”
“They want us dead pretty much, don’t they?” Jonas said.
“Yes they do. Let’s move on.”
And they moved on and on. Zhan didn’t know what to expect but he reckoned that they wouldn’t stop for the night.
“When will we arrive in Little Berlin?” He asked after an hour of walking in silence.
“Tomorrow evening I think. We should be happy with the time lag. When it’s evening here, it’s just morning in Rendas on Tessalis so then we’re fully awake.”
“Aren’t you tired?” Hanna asked. “I mean, we’ve had a couple of hours of sleep in the hotel and I think I’ve had a nap in the taxi, but what about you?”
“I’ve slept for two hours in the taxi, but that’s not a problem. I can manage.”
Jonas expected bad things to happen while they crossed the mountainous region, but there was nothing special. They even walked alongside a river with clean water so they could drink whenever they wanted. He started to get a bit hungry eventually and ended up very hungry as they had taken almost no food with them and there were little fruits in the bushes they dared to try.
However, they arrived in Little Berlin without any issues and they found a restaurant where they could eat a proper meal.
“Now the hardest part comes. How much money do we have?” Jet asked.
“I’ve taken one hundred and ten thousand credits with me. My entire bank account.” Zhan answered immediately.
“I’ve got sixty five thousand.” Jonas said.
“That should work for getting us to Capella, but we’ve got to buy a house there too. I have no idea what the costs are there.”
“If necessary, we can buy something small for four persons, get ourselves a living and work hard so we can live on our own within a couple of years.” Zhan said.
“That’s what I’ve been thinking of too. I’ve got twenty thousand so we’ve got to work together now.” Jet said as they walked into the Little Berlin’s gate terminal.
“How much for a ticket to Capella?” He asked one of the employees.
“Fifteen thousand for one person.” The employee answered nicely. “That will bring you to one of the more remote cities in Capella. Going to a capital city will cost you up to thirty or fifty thousand.”
“Ok, what about Matar?”
“That would be the same price. If you’re wondering for the price of going to Earth: that’s going to run you up to the double.”
“Ok then, sound’s like we’re going to Capella.” Jet said to the other three.
“Which city would you prefer to go to?” The employee asked.
“I have no idea of where to go to. Do you have a list, so we can take a look at the options?” We’re going there for the rest of our lives, so a city with good options for a job is a priority.”
“We’ve got Quantum Network consoles over there.” The employee replied and she pointed at the other end of the terminal. “You’re free to take a look.”
“Ok, thanks.” Zhan answered and they left to do some searching.
“By the way. You won’t be allowed to travel while armed. Actually I should be informing the police now but if you report yourselves and hand your guns over to them, you’ll only be fined and I’ll give you that chance now.”
“How much will that run us?” Jet asked. He had to think about this, the government didn’t manage to keep the Sethis gang at bay in three cities without any form of legislation.
Shooting the employee right here would get them in big trouble, so that was no option at all, but it irritated him that they weren’t able to hide their guns. Then again, he should be happy with the fact that illegal gun ownership was only fined if they turned themselves in.
“It depends on what sort of guns you’ve got. The one I think I saw will not be find by more than fifteen hundred credits.”
An hour later, with six thousand credits less and four formal warnings more, they returned to the terminal, after eating some more.
“Let’s go and take a look at those cities.” Jet said and they started to search for remote cities that with a good potential to find a job and a house that wouldn’t cost them too much.
For half an hour, they searched and found some nice and inexpensive places to live. Finding a job was harder though. As successful men in the trade company, that missed the CFO now, they searched for something that had to do with commerce and trade. However, such companies were nowhere to be found in cities with twenty to sixty thousand citizens and even if they found one, it didn’t need a new employee.
“A school here still needs a teacher in economics. That’s a problem solved for me at least. I’ve got a degree on economics and I’m allowed to teach.” Zhan said.
“That solves it for us. I’ll work at a grocery store or something.” Jonas replied while he saw Jet looking at the local gun owners club. “You’ve got anything interesting for yourself?”
“Yes.” Replied Jet. “They’re searching for someone who’s got experience in security. Well, I’ve got experience in sneaking through it, but I think they’ll take me. They let me pass or fail on a test, not my background or curriculum vitae.”
“Then we’ve made up our mind. You’re happy with it Hanna?”
“I would’ve preferred a bigger house.” She joked. “But that problem will be resolved eventually.”
“Exactly.” Jet said and they approached the employee they talked with earlier.
“Three months later, all was going nicely. Without a single word from either the Sethis or Tessalis gangs, Jet, who was actually named John Edward Turing, finally told them what his real life was and how he became a criminal.
He told them all about his criminal life, how the word ‘bakery’ meant assassination and that he had killed more than hundred men in two years. The most dangerous thing he had to do the last months, was approaching people in the club house who were drunk.
John took found his place in the classroom and the last thing he heard about his company was that Jonas told him it went bankrupt three days after they left Rendas. Jonas was a bakery’s courier. This bakery was genuine though, and not some sort of murderer’s guild.” Leython said and he closed the journal.
So he and Marisa stood in Rendas, the former capital city of Tessalis. A place of inexplicable evil. A pit of corruption, murder and theft.
“Quite different from the lives we’re having here, isn’t it?” Marisa said.
“Yes. There’s more about it, we’re only halfway, but let’s have some sleep first. I’m tired.”
“You know, would this be the bed Zhan and Hanna shared?” Marisa asked and she looked at the bed, obviously unused for years but well contained for some reason.
“Don’t know, but it’s ours now.” Leython said.
“Very well, thank you. What about you though?”
“Probably better than you. I have had a proper bed. After we have had breakfast...” Marisa said and she looked politely away as Leython stood up to pull his clothes on “...we will walk to my ACU to make a second bed for you.”
“Ah, that’s great. For sleeping, nothing’s better than a proper bed. Especially after an exhausting week like I’ve had.” Leython said.
They had breakfast in silence but when they finished Marisa spoke again:
“Let us go immediately. It is a two hour’s walk.”
“Ok, I’m with you.”
“Then I’m sure we have nothing to worry about.” Marisa laughed.
While they walked, they talked about everything that they could think of. Yet again, there was not enough time. Marisa talked about her years with Toth and the other girls that could have become princess, she had spent a lot of time with Rhianne Burke in particular.
“I must say, Rhianne is a better princess than I would ever be. She realizes more about The Way and its purpose in the Aeon community than I do and my opinion about war is much more violent than hers. Not in a bad way though. If you were to meet her on the battlefield, she had tried to persuade to stop fighting with words, while not protecting herself with devastating weapons.” She said.
“You use those weapons though. That does make sense, fight if you’re going to die otherwise.”
“Exactly. It does not mean, though, that I cannot talk on the battlefield. If my enemy understands me, I will talk, as you have found out on Sinivar.”
“Not talking with words, but with guns. Know how the enemy fights and you know how he is, how he talks, how he walks. In your case, gentle, welcoming.”
“And in your case, uncompromising, rigid, cold, but only if your enemy is like that.”
“Yes, when an enemy fights against me, this enemy fights against himself or herself, but I’m better, for most of the time. If you can’t beat yourself in a mirrored battle, you can’t beat me.”
“Can you defeat yourself when you look in a mirror?”
“No. When I fought against you, I saw myself in that mirror. What you did was what I would do. How I fought then, was how I want to fight. Perfectly according to plan, but I didn’t finish you.”
“Neither did I finish you.”
“Exactly. When you are in such a dual against your worst enemy, or best friend, then you’ll enter a stage of learning the game you play, in the best way ever. You will never stop learning, always discover new things...” Leython didn’t know what to say more to explain it.
“Where did you get that wisdom from?”
“My sword mastery teacher. I never managed to beat her. Also in those days, I fought against myself, I saw myself in a mirror and I tried to beat myself, but the mirror was faster. I found out new styles of fighting, time after time, when I became really good at it. Lyndis though, learned the new style as she saw me performing it and while we duelled, she was ahead of me every time again.”
“She seems to be a smart person.” Marisa said.
“I have heard about people who are excellent martial arts fighters. Some of them are violent and have a thirst to kill for pleasure. One of the most violent people was close to killing us all when we were on Luthien once.”
“That would be Redfog.”
“Have you heard of him?”
“I have worked with him, when we attacked Matar three days ago. He indeed is very violent. His wish is law, but he can control himself very well. He’s not so much unlike us. He knows what he wants, what is necessary to do and what is useless and will therefore not be done.
When I worked with him, Brackman probably kept him in check even more though.”
“I see.” Marisa answered. It took her time to realize that the violent assassin she saw when she was nine years old, was not as relentless and unforgiving as she had always thought. Leython recognized her look and spoke again:
“Don’t worry, what you thought about him, is not incorrect. He is ruthless, but only when he has to be. Unlike us, he finds it much more often necessary to be ruthless.”
“Why did he turn up that day, do you know? I have never found an answer to that question.” Marisa asked.
“He wanted to stop the Illuminate’s progress, I reckon. He failed though.”
“Rhianne did something there, something that gave her an extra boost of experience and more admiration from Toth. That was one of the things that made her princess. I am sure that if I had to do it, I would have become the princess of the Illuminate.”
“Don’t be too sure of that, you know that you’re more of a military mind.” Leython said “Your tutor, Toth, could have seen that as the potential danger of you becoming the Avatar-of-War’s personal assistant.”
“Marxon already had a personal assistant under tutelage, but yes, he could have had use of a second one, especially as a princess. I do not know what Toth thought when she heard I joined the military, but I am sure that she was not happy with it.”
“After all, it’s better that you ended up here and didn’t stay on Seraphim Two. For obvious reasons.” Leython told her.
“That is true, but I was asking about this... Lyndis, is she called?” The Twilight princess returned to the actual matter.
“Well, ask whatever you want.”
“Is she like that assassin? Or is she respecting all forms of life? Because you also know that smart people can be brute murders, like that Cybran man named Redfog.”
“I know and all I can say is that she made most of who I am now.”
“Then she is friendly and kind, she respects life and sees the sword mastery as an art instead of as a fighting style. She also only kills when there is no other option.”
“Then she would fit right in our community, as would you for instance. Well, you do not know all the details, but that will not be necessary.”
“Details such as?” Leython asked, while they walked towards a lake.
“We usually only wear robes, no clothes such as the jeans and the top I wear now. More like what you have got.”
“Well, this has become usual in sword mastery.”
“And there are more things, like that we do not eat meat.”
“You told me that before and I don’t know if I’d like that.”
“Well, here I would not object to see you eat a fish or a fox.”
“A fox? That’s ridiculous, I never ate foxes. But I have eaten salmon and that tastes perfect.”
“I do not know if I want to try, but I will see eventually. My own interpretation of The Way is that you must respect all different forms of life, but also that you find your own Way, instead of blindly following the leader. The latter is something our people have done and are still doing now. You can think of how Marxon has control over the military.” Marisa explained while they still walked alongside the river. A cliff, that was several metres high, prevented them from stepping in the water right there, but it wasn’t their plan to do so, they still had Marisa’s ACU as destination.
“Follow your own way. Of course, completely making your own life, from the beginning, is impossible. We though, have succeeded very well to make our own way under the guidance of our tutors.” Leython said.
“Yes, we have.”
Two hours after they left for Marisa’s ACU, they finally arrived.
“I am always stunned by the sheer size.” Leython said. “But this one’s looking more natural with respect to its environment. Of course, the UEF ACU would look good in cities on Earth and the Cybran always fits nicely anywhere, if it’s cloaked.”
“I will lead the way, you just have to follow.” Marisa said and she walked towards one of the ACU’s legs, pressed several buttons and a ladder appeared.
“Normally, we can just step in the cockpit right away, but I do not have a hangar here, so that will not work.” She said and she climbed up the forty metres tall unit.
“I understand that. How’s the maintenance going on here?”
“Not, but it is not really necessary, I have not had a hard battle, nor a problematic arrival since the last maintenance check, which was before I left for Sinivar.”
“Ok, so this thing’s actually in perfect shape, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely, unlike your Armored Command Unit.”
“Yes,” Leython said as they climbed higher and higher. “I’m surprised it hasn’t blown up. I turned all of its components off. It looked like it was going to explode on the slightest touch or spark. Even a basic repair job by an engineer might do that.”
“I am sure we can think of a way. Let us take a look at that while we are in my command unit. If we could repair it, we would be able to play chess with this.”
“You mean, using light assault bots as pawns, gunships as knights, etcetera?”
“Yes, why not? We distract ourselves too much if we can look at each other and a game of chess has to be done seriously, so I think it is a good idea. I know it scars the environment a bit, but if we clean everything up nicely, then it would all be fine.”
“Ok, but even if we manage to do some basic repairs on my ACU, we’ll have to get it back to the Cybran nation first, because it misses several key components we cannot replace.”
“You are absolutely right. All we can do here is repair its gun, armour and basic electronics.” Marisa said while she climbed up the ACU’s head. She finally made it again and several seconds later, Leython did as well.
“Now that I have a look from here, wasn’t it very dangerous to climb up here? What if either of us slipped and fell?” Leython asked. He couldn’t hide a smile because they did something they didn’t think through.
“We have got a precaution for that, so that we don’t have to climb up here with a safety belt. I never had to try it out, luckily, but do not worry, you will be fine even if you fall. Now, hop in, but let me sit behind the controls ok?” Marisa answered.
“Ok.” Leython said and he jumped in the cockpit. The room was as small as the other ACUs’ cockpits he saw, but that wasn’t a problem. Two people fit right in, albeit with a little bit of fiddling about.
“So, what are we going to do now?” Leython asked.
“Have you forgotten? We are going to make you a bed.” Marisa said while she jumped in the cockpit as well and began with the ACU’s starting sequence.
“Yes, of course, but I wondered if we’d do that, or try to repair my ACU first.”
“Well, I was planning to make that bed, and then build some shield generators around the house. If your ACU explodes, the generators can block most of the radiance. Then we would not get a nasty form of cancer.”
“I really hope that the ACU doesn’t explode. We’d ruin the countryside with it.”
“Yes, but we have to take the bet, otherwise you will not be able to do anything anytime soon. I also trust your command unit. If it is in a really bad shape, it would have exploded already and if not, I doubt it ever would.”
“You’ve got a point there and I hope that, by shutting it down, I averted a disaster.”
The walk from Marisa’s, no, their house, took two hours, remembered Leython. Within a couple of minutes, they were back, but it was a bit of a shame to knock several trees over and spook dozens of animals.
Marisa’s database comprised all kinds of things, such as furniture and electronic devices like washing machines and that meant that the ACU spent only ten seconds in making the bed, most of that time was to configure the construction arm in the right position so that the construction laser, whose intensity could be turned lower for special jobs, wouldn’t direct the materials to the wrong place. It would be no use if the laser dropped a bed at the outside of the house’s wall.
When they were finished, Marisa walked away and constructed several power generators, built a mass extractor and upgraded it, so she could make the upgrade for a resource allocation system a lot faster than with her basic ACU’s income. It still took more than half an hour though, because the Aeon pilot didn’t want to build any other buildings that’d ruin the beautiful look of the countryside as long as it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
“I agree with you on that.” Leython said. “Now we’ve got the time, we can just take an hour for some ACU upgrades. In a battlefield, it’s an eternity, but here it means nothing.”
“Exactly. But I still have to build that land factory. It looks like I cannot get around that fact, where would it stand nicely.”
“Find a piece of land that is as flat as possible. Reclaim as few trees as possible and then build the factory there. Reclaim the factory when you’ve built your mobile shield generators and you’re done.”
“That is a very good idea Leython, but I already searched for that nice spot.”
Two hours later, more than fifty shield generators stood in the area Marisa spent most of her time and where Leython would spend most of his. It included the house, the bath and the road in between. Another thirty shields stood near the ACU. The total was so much that Marisa was forced to build two tier three power generators but she rather did that than risking the nuclear radiance that emitted from an ACU explosion.
Her Aeon ACU didn’t pose such an environmental problem in case of a meltdown and even the Cybran was a lot cleaner than the nuclear plants humanity knew during the twentieth and twenty first centuries, but the radiation could still cause health issues to either of them at a later age and the planet would also suffer.
With the vast abundance of Asylums in place, the possible explosion itself would barely damage anything and the radiance could be contained as well.
“Now we will see.” Leython said. He had left the ACU at the house and then stepped into his fighter, which still stood nearby. Picking up the controls again, he sent his engineer back towards his badly damaged ACU.
The plane stood underneath some shields at their house, far away from his command unit, so no matter what happened, he was safe. Marisa provided him with very little resources per second, so the engineer could not apply too much pressure in patching the core. Leython added another precaution to it, forcing the engineer to use even less resources than it received.
It went excruciatingly slow, but it seemed to work. Metal returned, one bolt after another, the core, that had cooled down in the past day, had a proper casing again.
“The core’s cooling elements seem to have been damaged as well, Leython.” Marisa said. Half an hour after they started, most of the casing was completed and the damaged core didn’t seem to breach.
“Yes and those can’t be replaced by the mechanical engineers, just like the logic array and other things. But if we get all armour back on and repair the basic things, we can send this ACU back to Minerva and they’ll be able to repair it there.”
“We will just let this engineer go on then. It will take more than a full day at this rate though.” Marisa replied.
“I know, but it appears that the core can take the sparks the engineer gives it, that would mean that it is stable, wouldn’t it?”
“Probably, I do not think that there is a danger of meltdown.”
“In that case, I’ll let my engineer work on its full power, with the resources it gets.” Leython said and he let the engineer use all available resources, making it work twice as fast.
After an hour, the ACU became recognizable again, albeit very slowly. Some of the most elementary armoured plates returned so that the unit could travel through the quantum network without stretching the vital components to its limit. However, Leython didn’t take the time to restore the ornamental spikes. At a moment such as this, it was useless and the less weight the ACU had, the easier and the safer it was to transport.
“It looks like it doesn’t need our watchful eyes anymore, Marisa. You were right about what you said, it would go well.” Leython said.
“Yes, I am going back home but I will leave the shield generators online though. Just in case.” Marisa answered softly and she walked her ACU back home.
That night, Leython had one of the best nights of sleep ever. His bed was perfect for him and he had fallen asleep within five minutes.
“I am glad that you were not snoring.” Marisa said that morning, as they ate breakfast.
“Good, I can never tell such things of myself.”
“I believe no one can. Let us go and take a look at your armoured command unit when we have finished breakfast.”
Thirty minutes later, they watched how the engineer reconstructed the last vital components of the ACU’s armour.
“Now we just have to send it towards Minerva, or another planet where they can repair it.” Leython said. They both sat in Marisa’s ACU.
Marisa immediately searched for a clear spot to build a quantum gateway. When she had built that, a second problem emerged.
“How are we going to get the ACU in? Starting it up will not work. Then the core may overheat in minutes.” She said.
“We’ll just drop it inside the gateway.” Leython replied.
“A good idea, how do you want to do that? With an air transport?” Marisa asked.
“Yes, the air transport will grab it very gently, put it inside the gateway, we will activate it, enter the coordinates and let the gate do its work. Is there any way to send a message with it, a message that will not broadcast until it arrived?”
“There is, I will make it now. What has got to be in it?”
“Something like ‘repair this and return it please.’ Signed by my name.” Leython said.
“Then they will know? Marisa asked. “Have you told them were you would go?”
“Yes I have. I worked with doctor Brackman a lot and he will for sure be notified about this message. Also, the most famous people on Minerva will probably learn about this when it is broadcast.”
“Ok, we will do that.”
Four weeks later...
Marisa had learned Leython how to use her ACU. It was, like the Cybran and the UEF version, easy for him to get familiar with it. The controls were different though and more than once, he made mistakes, causing the ACU to almost lose its balance for a tiny moment, but luckily, Marisa had programmed it so that that would never happen.
It meant that Leython walked around in an unit that was more limited in its moves, but he didn’t mind. For several hours, he would carefully walk around, hoping not to knock over any trees.
Since the Cybran counterpart, Leython’s ACU, had left, they kept watch in turns, for several hours during the day. They didn’t let their schedule of eating, sleeping and bathing get in the way. Marisa returned from the river, her hair still wet.
Leython contemplated the thought he could’ve taken a look and admire her body while she bathed, but such a move was inappropriate to say the least. They had talked about their lives a lot, sat at the river’s bank for hours now, kissed...
But they weren’t up for more, yet. Neither of them minded the state of their current relationship. No reason to rush things on a planet where they seemed to have more than enough time.
The Cybran’s did move on though, so it appeared. Leython saw a quantum wake eruption on his sensors and immediately thought that his ACU had returned. The spy planes he sent towards it confirmed that, as did the message that was broadcast upon arrival. Leython checked it:
“Hey there Dygonn, thanks for the package, would you next time not put it in the middle of my bar?” Bagby’s happy voice sounded. “Just kidding, but it was quite close to us, frankly. I don’t know if you wanted that, but D was pretty alarmed until we decrypted your message. Shilon’s still worried about you, but I told him you got a girlfriend now, who’s got a nice and cosy warm house to share with you and I got him drunk again, so he’s all right now.” Leython heard someone vomiting and Bagby quickly corrected himself: “He’s more than all right!
But what else would she do if she’s got that ACU? Yes I know she’s got an ACU, otherwise you would never be able to do basic repairs on your command unit and build a gateway to send it home. The quantum wake we found had a partial Aeon signature as well, so that was another clue.
Now have fun with her, if you know what I mean, but don’t fall in love too much. You’d be the first commander to be beaten by an Aeon chick because of real love and we’d really like to have you back eventually. Now, see ya, I’m going to get some more booze.”
“Who in the world was that?” Marisa thought and Leython remembered that they always left the transmission open, with all possible vocal notifications from the ACU available, so they could monitor their surroundings the best way, in case of another possible Aeon investigation. Now, she heard the most crazy guy in the universe asking if they had shared a bed yet.
“That? That was an idiot.” Leython simply answered.
It took Leython a full day to explain most of Bagby’s traits, but eventually, Marisa understood who or what Bagby was. Still, no Aeon commander had arrived and Marisa thought that they were either too busy or that the Avatar-of-War wasn’t interested anymore, even though a command unit had left from and returned to Tessalis.
Now, they were doing what they initially wanted, they played chess with their ACUs. Using the Aurora’s and Mantii as pawns, the mobile missile launchers as bishops, the Obsidian and Rhino tanks as rooks, their gunships as knights and the Loyalist and Harbinger as queen, while their own ACUs represented the kings. With real units on a real area of land, but a virtual chessboard that they placed over their intelligence screens, they had more fun than they could imagine.
It was a bit odd. Several weeks ago, they didn’t want to ruin Tessalis’ beautiful nature. But now, an Aeon base stood ten kilometres away from their house, they left their ACUs at a five minute’s walk from home and played chess with actual units. Now, they had turned the planet in their personal playground.
Leython didn’t seem to have improved since their first game though. He lost a lot, Marisa thought when she sent her Harbinger forward.
“Hey, did you know they have updated my ACU completely? I just found that out. My schematics have been updated as well, the Trebuchet artillery is stronger.” Leython said to his girlfriend.
“That is useful, now you can go back in the battle if you want to.” Marisa replied.
“Nah, I’d rather stay on our playground.”
“I think that I will need an update as well. This ACU has not been in the warzone for thirty one months. I am quite sure that several units can be constructed cheaper now. Do you have any idea how we can retrieve the new schematics and updates for my ACU?” Marisa asked.
“Without getting noticed you mean? Well, if we make it to Seraphim Two, it’d be a miracle, so perhaps we should go somewhere more quiet.” Her boyfriend answered.
“You are correct about that, but how can we ever hope to enter an enemy base while we are only with two?”
“With the right timing, our signature may be relatively weak, as opposed to a full fledged army of pilots that leave Seraphim Two for some crazy cleansing to do. That buys us time because they might not recognize it as an ACU or two arriving on planet. By the time they realise it, they might need to get some pilots from far away, because those are all fighting on the front line. That takes long, because they don’t have any return gates yet.”
“And how would we know when they’re not on Seraphim Two and when they are, if they even leave all at the same time?” Marisa asked Leython. It would be an attack based on luck completely.
“I have some ideas of how to distract them.” Leython said while he moved a mantis forward, threatening to shoot a mobile missile launcher. Marisa pulled her Evensong back immediately.
“The assault on the Matar Fortress was successful because we managed to send a lot of... ‘noise’ through the network, which distracted and confused them.”
“Yes, but where are we going to get enough faked ACUs from to distract everyone in the Aeon territory.”
“Not, but we don’t necessarily need the noise to arrive at Seraphim Two, it can leave from there as well. That will already hide our signatures, relatively and so it will buy us enough time. Don’t forget that all we have to do, is arrive, build a base while we use my fighter to enter the actual data centre, download the data, get out, in our ACUs and be gone again by the quantum gate that we’ll have built.”
“Would that work? I doubt it, the Aeon facilities are very well protected.”
“With a bit of help from my Cybran and UEF friends, we could distract them enough in order to pierce their defence and get what we want.”
“That would be an idea. Would you think that we could pierce their defences all the way towards Seraphim Two?” Marisa aksed.
“Yes, possibly. Why?”
“I was thinking. You know, people that love each other usually marry.” Marisa said, blushing while she informed Leython of this crazy idea.
“Are you suggesting to search for a priest on Seraphim Two to get us married? That’s crazy. Also, don’t you think it’s a bit soon to talk about that while we’ve met only four weeks ago?”
“Two and a half years ago, that’s closer to the truth.” Marisa answered with a smile.
“Yeah ok, but we’ve known each other for only four weeks now. We’ve been in really in love for just four weeks now. So why would you think about that already? Perhaps wait half a year or...”
Leython was lost. Why would she not mention it. There was no reason not to prepare for the future.
“Anyway. Why not a priest in a community on a planet that is close to the Aeon’s borders. That will not be quite as dangerous as going to Seraphim Two.”
“Priest are allowed to marry two people, but so is the princess of the Illuminate.” Marisa said carefully, blushing even more.
Leython was stunned. This was a crazy idea, crazier than Josh Funky who once used an air transport as a personal escape craft, by sitting on it, not hanging underneath it with his ACU. Crazier than attacking the impenetrable fortress of Matar.
“Think about it at a later time. Let us complete the game of chess and then have dinner. You have almost been defeated and I think I would try the salmon.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Sure of trying the salmon, even though The Way states that I should not eat animals?”
“No, I don’t really care about that, as long as you’re healthy, I don’t mind what you eat. I was asking if you’re sure of the fact that I’m almost defeated.” Leython said.
“Well, you can see it by yourself. It seems like the first victory between the two of us is mine.” Marisa said.
“Not really. Like I said, with distractions, you can win a lot of time and thus win the battle, or the game. This is much like it. I distracted you by all of the losses and now...” Leython said while he ordered his tier three siege assault bot to move. His Loyalist, or queen, moved from the lower-left corner toward the upper right. It stopped in front of Marisa’s ACU, which she had castled with her Obsidian tank somewhere at the start of the game.
The ACU had nowhere to go as the Loyalist reached there from where it stood. Taking the Loyalist out could only be done with Marisa’s command unit itself but that was not an option because it was protected by Leython’s black bishop, the only mobile missile launcher he had left.
After half an hour, Marisa finally spoke again:
“I think we should go back. By the time we will finally arrive, it is time for tea.”
“Ok, let’s get up then.” Leython said and he jumped on his feet.
“Whoah, are you always that energetic?” Marisa asked, surprised by the sudden action.
“Usually I am, only for the last hours not, when I met you. You could’ve known it though.” Leython said happily. “You fought against me once.”
“That is true.” Marisa admitted, smiling, while Leython helped her to get up.
“So how’s the life here on this planet?” Leython asked.
“It is not much different from another green planet. There’s some nice wildlife, birds, foxes, squirrels and fish. Take a proper look around... Over there!” Marisa said and Leython saw a fox running away. Their talk had probably spooked it off.
Leython and Marisa walked in silence for some minutes, both listened to the forest’s sounds. On the walk to the river, neither minded those, for then they were the only ones that truly existed. Now, all they noticed everything around them, as the perfect surroundings for a young couple in love.
Eventually, Marisa spoke again:
“Because I live alone, I have to take care of my own food. That takes up most of my time. I cannot just go to a grocery store and buy something. However, the time I have got left, I spent on searching for the planet’s history. The animals originally came from Earth, so humans have to visited this place.”
“Yes, that has actually been a lot of time ago. Humanity had expanded since the beginning of the quantum network’s development, but that has stopped since the beginning of the war.”
“We have been too busy killing each other, instead of focussing on expanding. Not that my predecessors would need to do that, the Aeon Illuminate’s population was small.”
“The Earth Empire was crowded though, with Symbionts rioting, many people returned to the core worlds. The result was what it still is. Overcrowded planets. Because of the riots, the Cybrans were too busy to expand their borders properly.”
“Yes and then the UEF put up that quarantine zone. It allowed us to flourish, to bloom. Our golden age pushed the back the zone, closer to Earth. Eventually, this planet was in it as well. That probably made the people evacuate this area.”
“Have you found any evidence yet?” Leython asked.
“No, unfortunately not. I never learned anything about planet terra forming, or importing animals to it. I really hope that we will find something.”
“I’m sure of it, if humans have been here, they’ll have left traces.”
“That is true. I have just not taken enough time for it. My only means of real transport is my ACU, but leaving this place is not really what I like to do.”
“I can understand that. This place is beautiful.” Leython said. “Not unlike yourself.”
“Yes, we have established that.” Marisa answered, smiling again.
“Anyway. What you do here, is painting, enjoying the countryside and searching for human traces?”
“And I am of course eating, drinking and sleeping here. I also take that walk we just did, at least once every three days.”
“It must be lovely to have such a life. I’ve had a tight schedule all my life. You can do whatever you want.”
“I agree, but if I had the chance, I would like to go back to Seraphim Two. Not that that would be possible as long as Avatar-of-War Marxon is leading the army of the Aeon Illuminate.”
“What is he like?”
“He is smart, I must admit that. The problem is, is that he is using his experience in the Way to attack, to cleanse, to murder. Two opposite things. If he tried to defend his citizens only, not to commit genocide, I would have served him without a question. Now, I cannot.” Marisa said. The sounds in the forest were still there, but not so loud anymore. Their chatter seemed to draw every animal’s attention.
“We should understand each other, no matter how much your opinion differs from mine. We are taught to respect every living being, so why do we still kill? Marxon claims that the more the UEF is compromised, the more UEF citizens are killed, the sooner their reserve forces are exhausted and the sooner the war is over. That means that less Aeon people will be killed at a later time.” Marisa told Leython.
“Technically, there’s some truth in it, but there must be a much easier way to deal with this war.”
“There is.” The Illuminate pilot said. “The current princess of the Aeon Illuminate, Rhianne Burke, knows this and is possibly, if not probably working on a plan to keep the Avatar at bay, or even end the war. I thought I could do the same, but by joining the military and rising through the ranks, hoping to slow him down by slowly getting the military under my own control.”
“That would have been great. If you and Rhianne Burke share the same ideals, which you undoubtedly do, the Aeon could control its own borders for the time needed to come to peace with the UEF and the Cybran Nation.” Leython said.
They continued walking in silence now. Both were thinking about the same idea. What if, what if they could break into the Aeon territory and make a coup? The plan was ludicrous. Marisa was experienced in the Way, but so was Marxon. He could be incorrect about his ideals, but was a formidable foe on the battlefield. He did not make it to Avatar-of-War for nothing, the princess of Tessalis thought.
“We should abandon that plan” Marisa said.
“Yes, I don’t know of what reason you think that, but I think it’s a bad idea because two commanders will not make it against dozens, especially not on Seraphim Two.”
“If we go there, we will face the Avatar-of-War personally. That comes close to committing suicide. He may be wrong in his plans, but is an excellent commander nonetheless.”
“Ok, what will we do then?”
“Have our tea. We are almost back.” Marisa said and Leython could indeed see the cliff Marisa had built part of her house in.
“Erm... It may be stupid question, but... Do you have a second bed?”
“No.” Marisa laughed cheekily. “And I have no intent on sharing my only one just yet.”
“I thought you’d say that and I agree.” Leython said, unable to hide a cheeky smile. They both had fantasies that went further than the relationship either wanted now.
“We will have to think of something. I do have some extra blankets, so you might want to sleep on the couch?”
“I’d rather not do that. I would like to have a proper bed, but I don’t want to steal away yours.”
“Thank you for that.” Marisa answered. They arrived at her house again and Leython pushed away the bushes. He opened the door and let Marisa through.
The house was as welcoming as it was ninety minutes ago. The bright but soft colours surrounded and penetrated both Leython and Marisa at the moment they entered.
“How did you get everything of this? You surely made it all with your ACU, designing whatever you wanted, but did you really design everything? I mean, all electronics are hard to design if you’re no expert, and even though you could’ve become the princess, I doubt you can do everything.” Leython said carefully.
Marisa knew that it was no bad remark that her boyfriend made, he was interested in how she managed to accomplish such a feat.
“During my work as a Knight, I gathered as much data as possible. I got my hands on blueprints of washing machines, tumble dryers and many other things.”
“Why did you do that, and how?” Leython asked, stunned by what she did. That someone very experienced in her people’s philosophy, that was meant to lead to one’s enlightenment, was a ‘criminal’ at some moments.
“I did it because I thought I could be expelled. It was a precaution that might be unnecessary, but just in case...” Marisa started. It turned out to be a good idea, now she had a life as luxurious as on Seraphim Two.
“I was able to get my hands of those things, simply because I had my contacts at several companies. You can think of it as corruption, but I only did that for my own well-being, not to eliminate a company out of the market.”
“You’ve been busy arranging all sorts of things. You were very prepared. I don’t think I’d do it the same way in your case. Now I think of it, I haven’t even thought of it when I went here.”
“But you knew you would find me and you could go back to the Cybran territory to refill your rations. I could not. If I returned to Seraphim Two, I would leave without my ACU.”
“That’s true.” Leython said, while Marisa poured them the hot water for their tea.
“Now, we should get you a bed.” Marisa said and she sipped some tea, dropped down on a sofa and looked at Leython.
“Where’s your ACU? Then we can build another bed.” Leython said.
“Unfortunately, that is not an option just today. My ACU is a two hour walk from here and I have to get in my unit, turn it on, walk towards here again, make the bed and then turn around in my command unit, walk it to its place and then I have to make the trip back here, by foot. I reckon that I need five hours then.”
“Why have you put your ACU so far away?” Leython asked and he sipped his tea. There wasn’t any use to do it, it made no sense.
“I wanted to have it away from my house. I didn’t want to be thrown into the war every morning I woke up and stepped out of the bushes. This planet is calm and lovely, not a place for devastating war machines.”
“That is true, I can’t bring anything against it, but why put it at a two-hour’s walk from here? Why not one?”
“The words thinking and walking go along nicely.” Marisa said and a serene smile appeared on her face.
“I could fly you there.” Leython said after thinking for half a minute.
“Is your plane suitable for two people to carry?” Marisa asked him, sipping some more tea.
“Not exactly, but I’m sure we could find something on that.” He answered.
“I do not know if I would like that so much. I have got the feeling It will not go well.” Marisa laughed.
“Yeah, you’re right.” Leython admitted.
“Do you have another idea?” Marisa asked, still looking at Leython. It seemed impossible to peel her eyes of him. Judging by Leython’s serene look at her, it was the same case for him.
“And since you are not intending to sleep on the couch...” She started, her cheeky face turning back.
“You’re offering me to share the only bed you’ve got?” Leython didn’t even dare to ask.
“Not to, well... You know.” Marisa said, blushing a bit.
“I can’t accept that Marisa, I really can’t.” Leython answered, looking very serious now, despite for the urge to laugh. “I mean, we’ve just seen each other for how long? Three, four hours? When we’re going to sleep, we’ll still not have talked for a day. We agreed on it, so let’s keep to that agreement. I am also not going to steal away your proper place to sleep.”
“Then we have a problem.” Marisa said serenely. It was a simple fact.
“Perhaps we can take the couch apart?” Leython offered.
“That would be a good idea.” She answered and they both stood up, trying to find out how something worked, that Marisa should’ve known because she made it. It seemed a bit ridiculous, two young people apparently trying to tear some furniture apart, but because both wanted to respect each other’s privacy.
For reasons they already knew, they seemed to fit together perfectly, filling each other in nicely, agreeing with one another for most of the time. Although it could mean that their relationship would become boring, they knew better. They understood they could surprise each other, despite for the fact that they were able to tell a person’s character with a conversation of only ten minutes.
“Ok, that works.” Leython said when they finished. He picked his glass of tea from the table and drank the rest of. Marisa followed his example.
“Now, we just have to make dinner.” She said.
“Oh, we’ve got another problem.” Leython said while he looked at his girlfriend with a quasi-serious look. She recognized such a look and stepped very close to him. Being a bit taller, Leython tried to look as intimidating as he could, but she didn’t stop smiling, knowing it was all false.
“You destroyed the most beautiful roller coaster in the UEF. I don’t know if I’m going to forgive you that.” He said.
“You’ve got a plane now. You can fly your roller coaster’s track with it.”
“To be honest, I didn’t think of that at all.” Leython said, looking away, ashamed because he didn’t think of that while he was test-flying the corsair. He couldn’t fly according to the Black Hawk’s track perfectly, but the automatic pilot could and the data of his the roller coaster’s track was most certainly available on the quantum network, which was unavailable here.
“Do you want to play a game of chess?” Marisa asked, switching to a different subject.
“You’ve got a chessboard here?”
“No, but with some paper and a pencil, which I do have...” Marisa said and she winced at one of her paintings. “...I can draw a board and the chess pieces.”
“Strange, chess is a war game, but you put your ACU at a two-hour’s walk from here because you don’t want to think of war when you take a look outside, yet still you like to play chess.” Leython said, with a quasi-stern look at his girlfriend.
Marisa grinned and spoke again: “Do you like to make false impressions? Surely you know the difference between a war and a game two good friends or, in our case, a couple of lovers like to play?”
“The answer on both questions is ‘yes’, Marisa.” Leython answered calmly.
Marisa started to draw, she had clearly not lost the technique to do so. With seemingly just a couple of lines, the kings, queens and rooks appeared.
“I am not so very good at drawing horses though, as the icon for the knights. Perhaps I should think of something else that can make such adept moves.”
“ A gunship, you still know what that is, don’t you? I used the UEF heavy version of it numerous times, also on Sinivar.”
“I do not know very well to draw those either, you must not forget that I have not seen a single Aeon gunship in more than two years.”
“Ok, then I’ll try to draw horses, although...” Leython started. He didn’t use a pencil to draw something, he almost never did. Perhaps he should do that once. “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea, it’ll take me more than three hours and still look worse than what you can perform in just two minutes.”
Marisa started again and within a couple of minutes, Leython saw what he expected, Marisa drew a horse’s head that looked almost as good as a the schematic in a top-down view of a chessboard on a computer.
“You know, for some reason, when I used to play one or two games of chess against an artificial intelligence, I always liked such a top-down view more than anything else.”
“You are not the only one. I like that more too, as well as several friends I knew. It gives you a better view of the total field and allows you to see a pattern.” Marisa said and Leython nodded.
“Now, do you want to play with white, or with...” She started.
“Yeah, which other colour should we take?” Her boyfriend asked. She had thought of several colours, as black was a bad idea. It’d take away all of the lines in the piece itself, leaving nothing but the contours of it. While Leython thought which colour would look best, she drew the bishops and the pawns.
“Make them red.”
“Ok, red it is. Is that not a bit odd? Red is the colour of blind fury, or deep love. That is a paradox.”
“The most opposite emotions can go hand in hand. That’s strange, but true. Actually, one emotion cannot exist without its personal opposite, did you know that?”
“Yes, I know. How can you know what peace is, if there is no war? What is a calm sea, if you have never learned to know about a tempest?”
“Exactly, I’ll play with red.”
After several moves, Leython was already in deep trouble. He made various mistakes but couldn’t tell why. Was he not concentrating enough? Was it that Marisa’s moves bedazzled him?
But then Marisa made an awful error, literally sacrificing her queen and when she wanted to make up for that, hoping to re-establish the threat her queen posed with a rook, Leython suddenly saw an opportunity and pinned her rook with a bishop.
Now she was wondering the same thing. How could she have missed the knight that eliminated her queen and why did she allow Leython’s bishop to stand in one line with both her rook and king, forcing the rook to stand still in order to keep the king safe?
Both players were smart and excelled in the intelligence warfare. Both knew how to move their units in order to keep themselves safe and inflict as much damage upon their opponent as possible. Yet still...
Still neither of them seemed to perform well. They played as two kids who barely knew the rules. Leython couldn’t come up with a strategy, Marisa didn’t recognize the opportunities or threats.
“This is not going to work.” Marisa said, looking at Leython . Leython looked up from the sheet of paper, unable to plan his next moves. Marisa seemed to dream away and judging by a proper look at her eyes, Leython realised she was and also he felt that he lost his ability to concentrate, for as far as he still had it.
Marisa’s look was answered, she realised that. Their affection for each other seemed to become even better, or worse. While they had all the time for themselves on this planet, other people were dying because of the war around them.
Leython and Marisa were both prepared to work as much as possible to accomplish something in this war, saving people they didn’t know and haven’t met, or by trying to become a powerful coordinator in the faction they fought for, hoping to make the warring parties talk together, to end the war.
Yet now here they were, looking at each other, bedazzled by each other. It happened some hours ago, but then they could still think and liked not to speak for a while. Now, it had gotten worse. They both seemed to have left the world they stood on, they both had forgotten what they were doing and they both liked it.
After some minutes which were, again, eternal, Marisa finally spoke again:
“Shall we forget this game and make ourselves dinner?” She asked.
“So soon already, it’s just... What time is it? I don’t know how long a day takes here.” Leython replied.
“Exactly twenty four hours. Just like on your home planet and now it is four o’clock in the afternoon. I want to make a dish that takes an hour to prepare.”
Leython could hardly believe all the things he did in the past forty eight hours. He had attacked Matar with Shilon, teleported in the middle of the enemy base, so a submarine could launch a devastating missile. He made a quick jump to Luthien to help his old comrades Josh Funky and Jeff Lancet in protecting the civilians that were under attack by the Aeon forces, using more Plan B submarines.
Then, after a night of bad sleep, he and Brackman discussed the progress on their Corsair escape craft, while QAI searched for where the mysterious Aeon commander went to, finding the destination on a planet named ‘Tessalis’. Immediately after that, Leython jumped in his ACU, gated to the planet QAI found for him, directly into an Aeon pilot’s hands, whose fury raised more than Leython could imagine, when she learned that the enemy she faced, had killed her sister before.
After taking her out, barely saving his own ACU, Leython flew in search for the Aeon commander he didn’t kill, falling in love when he saw her and contemplating the very unavoidable fact that she fell in love with him as much as he with her.
They lunched together, walked to a river Marisa turned into her personal bath, sat at the river’s bank for some time, to walk back, drink tea, solve the bed problem, make a weak attempt to play chess, prepare dinner and eat it and then talk for some hours, before they finally decided it was time to sleep.
“It is almost midnight now, Leython.” Marisa said and she realised that it was the first time she called her boyfriend by his name. “I am tired and we have more than enough time to talk tomorrow. We should go to sleep now.”
“I agree.” Leython said and he yawned. The past two days had been some of the most intensive in his life.
When Marisa stepped in her bed ten minutes later, she too, couldn’t believe what had happened. What she took for granted, that Leython would eventually search for her, find her and that they would spend the rest of their lives together, was very possible, but unbelievable that it happened so fast.
She knew that there was a chance that Leython had died on the battlefield and it was even very realistic, as he was piloting a Cybran ACU, which, as he explained in the last hour they spoke, was because he switched sides after he was defeated on Sung Island. Yet he still survived, as was to be expected though, despite for the dangers in his daily life.
He worked non-stop for the Cybrans’ safety and freedom for eighteen months, but it could’ve been even more and it was a miracle that he showed up so soon, that he even found her on the planet within half an hour seemed an impossible feat.
All in all, the chance that they met at the best moment, the perfect hour, was negligible, but it happened.
Marisa closed her eyes. The last thoughts she had, was the conclusion that, like during the battle of Sinivar, all would go according to plan if both she and Leython were involved.
He apparently didn’t care to pilot an ACU or a plane in an appropriate suit. Wearing a set of robes that could represent an Evaluator, Marisa knew that he spent his live on more than the UEF military alone. So another question entered her mind, she wanted to ask Leython about his life, where he got his clothing from.
The seconds passed while neither Marisa nor Leython said anything but enjoyed the eternity of silence. Both bedazzled by the other one’s appearance, reluctant to do anything but to look and smile at one another.
Eventually, either of them had to speak. They couldn’t keep looking or smiling indefinitely.
“I wonder how Leython is doing now.” Shilon asked, drunk for the first time in his life.
“Don’t worry about it, boy.” Bagby said. “You’ll get used to it.”
“What? Not having him around here?”
“Nah, getting drunk and worrying about people who can fend for themselves.”
“What did you say Bagby? Does Shilon miss Dygonn?” Dostya said, who just entered the bar.
“Hey D, how’re you doing? Bagby said happily.
“Hello Dostya.” Shilon said, hardly audible.
“Funny. I don’t miss him. I’m happy he left for a moment, although I was cross with him for leaving so abruptly, without telling me a single word about it.”
“I’m still cross with him. I could’ve made fun of him. I’ve been able to make fun of him all the time and he still was honest.” The Cybran SCU pilot said.
“That’s because he’s always polite when he speaks to friends, Bagby. You also didn’t get very hard on him.” The Elite-Commander replied.
“I couldn’t get hard on him. I didn’t know how he would act. He’s some sort of a mystery.”
“Oh come on.” Shilon managed to say. “Is it that hard for you to find out who someone is?”
“Yeah, might be because I’m not drunk though.” Chuckled Bagby. “But you know him better, Shilon. Tell me how he is.”
“He thinks before he acts. He’s always got an answer to everything.”
“I bet he doesn’t have an answer to what’s happening to him now. Don’t ask me why, but I think he’ll be really surprised for the first time in his live.”
“And that’s why I’m worried about him.” Shilon said.
“No,” Bagby smiled, “you’re worried about him because you’re drunk. Anyway, D. Tell me why you’re not worried.”
“I’m not drunk.”
“Let’s get at it then. We’ve got to be worried about someone.” The SCU pilot laughed.
Leython had gotten used to silences, but not one like this. The excruciating moments he shared with Clarke sometimes, at a debriefing after a mission. The times he faced a standoff, which happened so many times during a battle. It even happened on Sinivar, but then it wasn’t excruciating, but it resembled the combination of war and peace. An argument and an agreement. Hatred and love.
A war coordinated by their superiors, an argument caused by their predecessors, hatred fed by their war. But peace thanks to the respect one person had for the thousands of lives that could then be saved. An agreement thanks to the cunningness of both commanders and love thanks to the slumbering feelings they had for each other, without having met.
Feelings that Leython thought he was unsure of at the beginning , but were confirmed soon enough. The opponent he faced at Sinivar, was the only one, apart from Lyndis, that could ever make him think and that opponent stood directly in front of him.
And suddenly, Leython remembered what Michelle Aiko said several years ago:
“Well, my conclusion is that such a girl is just not the one for you. There must be one somewhere on this world, or at least on the core worlds, that ‘suits’ you, that is just as emotionless as you are. To be honest however, I must agree that she was quite a whining girl.”
But this girl wasn’t from the core worlds. This girl was not as emotionless as he was, but she also wouldn’t whine about a minor imperfection.
The silence endured. Curious about him, Marisa thought what Leython would exactly be like. Marisa knew that her old enemy was smart and would have gotten an answer to everything. He was calm yet he was caught off guard so much by her, just one eternal minute ago, that he really didn’t have any words, for this was possibly, or probably, only the first time in his life.
She was caught off guard too, just that second later, when the boy regained his… conscience. Now they had both remembered how to speak for several eternal moments already, but they preferred to keep the blissful silence and think. Or not think at all.
Judging by his stance, Marisa thought that Leython was very calm and friendly to his friends, but only at the times that he was allowed to do so. On the battlefields, he was probably a master in self-control and swiftness and Marisa knew that the commander who could control himself, had a far greater chance of winning than a pilot who was all too eager to fight.
She could tell it from the most zealous, fanatic Aeon Knights. The ones that were anxious to cleanse, to commit genocide, were the ones who usually didn’t return from their mission.
The word other people would describe Leython with, was ‘emotionless’ and yes there could be something uncompromising in his expression, but unlike the Avatar-of-War, he would reserve that cold look for his enemies only. Now, it was nowhere to be found.
No shoes. No boots. It took Leython until now to notice how much Marisa had apparently spend on her appearance. So much time, but no time at all. Any other person would say that this girl, this lady looked good anyway, whatever she wore. Yet, Leython knew better. Everything Marisa had on, or not, was a choice she made without a second thought, a choice that was always the right one.
Simplicity. No makeup to make her look better or any cosmetic ‘magic’ to make her look different than she was. Who Marisa was, seemed a task easily done. She looked healthy, seemed to have taken care of herself perfectly, for all that time she was alone. How she looked like, right there where she stood, was how she was. Pure, natural.
Someone had to break the silence, Leython thought while he still couldn’t avert his gaze. He tried to think of some words, but he couldn’t find any. He wasn’t stunned by her beauty, but calmly acknowledged the fact that saying nothing was still the best option by far, but only for the moment. If he were to know her better, and he was, then he’d better speak.
But which words were the correct ones to start with? What was the best thing to say, apart from nothing at all? How should he introduce himself, if he already had?
Marisa had the same issue. What could she say? How should she speak? Within the Aeon community, there was a special etiquette for conversations, how to express oneself, but she knew that she had no use of that etiquette. She and Leython had to find their own way of talking, preferably before sunset, which was only seven hours away.
She saw Leython opening his mouth, but he didn’t speak, seemed to realize that and he closed his mouth again. One way or another, the silence had to be dealt with. Leython tried to speak again, this time hoping he could find his words:
“Would you like to stand there and look at me, smiling yet not speaking? Or is it a better idea to…” Leython was at a loss of words again and Marisa couldn’t blame him. He broke the beautiful moment they both wanted to cherish, but Marisa laughed. A calm, warm and welcoming grin.
“to talk about ourselves?” She finished what Leython wanted to say. “Since the silence is already broken, I would propose to come with me. Let’s get in—” Leython cut her off. The warm ice, the pleasant anxiety, had broken. Both knew that the only way they could come any further than the eternal silent bliss, was to get going with it, but what Marisa seemed to suggest, went too far for Leython right now:
“That’s inappropriate to say!” The intelligence expert said, although he didn’t know if the Aeon girl knew how suggestive the words ‘in the bushes’ were. Marisa laughed again, gentle and soft, but clear and loud. A Sympathetic laughter, it was and Leython calmed down again, realizing that Marisa wanted to talk first, for a long time.
“I’ve built a small house in and around this small cliff.” Marisa said in the most welcoming tone Leython ever heard. “The entrance is behind the bushes, please follow me and do your boots off. For one reason or another, I stopped wearing shoes outside the house two years ago and I dislike to have those inside.”
“Ok.” Leython said, remembering that he wasn’t talking to a UEF superior, he forced himself to speak again: “I take it that it’s just something you grew accustomed to?”
“Yes, it is.” Marisa said, clearing the bushes’ branches for Leython and letting him continue, like a man kept de door open for his girlfriend at a restaurant’s entrance. But the man was a woman, for sure to become the girlfriend soon enough though.
When Leython heard the word ‘house’, he thought of a furnished cave or a tent for Marisa to meet her primary needs, perhaps something better, but not what he saw. She had used the cliff and its rocks to build a real house, with real rooms, windows and doors. The living room was bright and comfortable, with sofas, plants and paintings of the planet’s environment.
Seeing this, while noticing the kitchen was joined with the living room, Leython assumed she had a bedroom and bathroom as well. The thought occurred, of how she could possibly do this by hand, but she answered it already, though Leython expected it at the same time: she didn’t do this by hand at all.
“I used my ACU to build this. We can design our own things with command units, you know? I have made the entire house with it. The only thing that it lacks, is a bath, but I use the calm river outside.”
Leython hardly listened, yet still the words penetrated his brains and he would never forget those.
Marisa had made something truly enthralling here, Leython felt at him instantly and every moment he looked somewhere, he found something new. Something special…
Time seemed to go even slower than before. More and more moments came to be cherished and he and Marisa hadn’t even talked yet, they didn’t share a single secret yet. They hadn’t lived together, they hadn’t laughed, only smiled. They hadn’t danced…
So many things to do, Marisa thought. There was so much to talk about, so much to share and all they needed to do it, was each other.
But where to start, Leython thought. Where to start? The love they had already shared, was more than he could contemplate. They could spend weeks on talking about Marisa’s living room alone. Where to start?
Finally, Leython’s mind returned to reality, as he grew hungry.
“I’m sorry that I’ve got to ask, but do you have something to eat?”
“Yes, I have.” Marisa answered friendly. “I was about to make lunch. I am afraid I have got no meat though.”
“That’s no problem, I can do without it for some days and what you’ve got is probably better than the Cybran’s recycled stuff.”
“Yes, it’s a gray goo with every nutrition you need, but it tastes awful. I lived at a node which grew real food, but sometimes we couldn’t grow enough crops, so we had to revert to that industrial awfulness.”
“Ok, I get it.” Marisa laughed, the thought of having to eat something that wasn’t natural, seemed ridiculous, not to mention the fact that it tasted horrible. “Anyway, I will get something you might like, compared to that gray goo.” She said and she walked to her kitchen.
“Shall I help?” Leython asked, following her steps closely. “I’ll gladly do.”
“If you like to, of course. I have got some plates in that cupboard.” She said, pointing at a cabinet. Cups are over there.”
“Ok.” Leython said, opening the cabinet’s door.
“Well, that tasted delicious. It’s excellent.” Leython said. They spent half an hour to eat, much longer than Leython usually needed for lunch.
“Thank you.” Marisa answered. “Now, there is something I have been meaning to ask, since…” She couldn’t continue. Once again, she fell silent. She wanted to ask if Leython felt the same for her as she did for him, but didn’t dare to. Although his answer would obviously be ‘yes’, she was too afraid to hear the opposite word.
“Since when?” Leython encouraged her. He already knew what Marisa wanted to explain and he thought he knew since when she sought to be with him.
“Since our battle at Sinivar.” She said and Leython’s idea was correct. “The battle we fought there… It was not really a battle, was it?”
“No, it wasn’t, it was more of a game between two opponents, who can fill each other in perfectly. Like we can now.”
“Then you must also know what I want to talk about.”
“Yes, I do.” Leython said, hiding every trace of emotion. He let her ask the question, before answering it.
“Are you up to another game?” She asked and for a moment, Leython was caught off guard. Another game?
“Ah, yes. I am.” He finally said, realizing she played with him just like he did with her. She had realised that he wanted her to ask the question literally, but for the tiniest moment, he didn’t understand that she joined him in the subtle art of rhetoric.
“Got you there, did I not?” Marisa laughed, still evading the crucial matter. Leython couldn’t deny it, was that a reason for him to confirm he shared the feelings for her she already suspected.
“All right, get it over with.” Leython said, although both persons knew very well what was going on here.
“I learned that you are a very special person, already on Sinivar. You let me live even though you could have killed me at the moment I teleported in your base. I realised that you were interested in me, something I could also tell from your moves, but do you still want to learn who I am?”
“More than ever, Marisa.” For the first time now, he called her by her name, it sounded as beautiful as the name’s rightful owner was.
“On the battlefield, you made me think, think like my sword mastery teacher did. You also didn’t give me any time to think, again just like my teacher Lyndis. Who I am, is thanks to her and who I want to live me, will be much like me.
You’re as intelligent and as smart as I am. The battle the two of us created, was much like one of the many times I duelled with Lyndis. Without speaking to each other, we could create a fight that was so well coordinated, it seemed surreal. Just like our battle on Sinivar. That’s what makes you so special. You are cunning like Lyndis, but spiritually you’re so close to me, that’s what I thought two and a half years ago.”
“And what do you think now?” Marisa aksed, Leython said that he was ‘more than ever’ interested in her, but why would that be?
“Now, I think you’re the same as my teacher in sword mastery, but better and I also think that you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. Although…” Leython said, pausing for a moment. Marisa felt that what he was going to say, would be another compliment to her, not a memory of a girl on Earth, that was possibly more attractive than she was.
“… Although I don’t think you are, I’m sure you are.”
Silenced again, Marisa couldn’t do anything but smile at Leython in appreciation.
“Now, since you shared your feelings with me, I am inclined to tell you about mine.”
“Oh dear, here it comes.” Leython said, sarcastically rolling his eyes.
“Don’t worry.” Marisa said, smiling.
At home, Jeff searched for a new job, perhaps one as a teacher in maths. He was good at maths, although he had educate himself first, to become qualified as teacher.
The door bell rang. Jeff went to open it and saw Harm Dygonn. He had returned to the USA seven months ago and he had tried to contact Jeff numerous times. Jeff had always managed to evade him, as he didn’t want to talk about his son. But now, he didn’t have a chance. When he opened the door, Harm already entered.
“I’m here to get the sword.” He said immediately.
“What?! No! Leython gave it to me.” Jeff answered ferociously.
“Leython was my son, so I am to get the sword.”
“You don’t understand much of what a will means, do you? Why do you want to have it? Is it that special to you? Do you know what it is all about?”
Harm couldn’t answer that. Instead, he searched for Jeff’s living room. A relic like a Samurai sword would probably be put on a shelf there.
“You’re going to give it to me.” He said.
“No way.” Jeff answered. Both could feel the tension between them. “You don’t get it, what the culture is about, that made this sword.”
“I do, in the Japanese culture, you are to work, work more and work even more than that.” Harm said angrily.
“There’s more about it, things you don’t understand.”
“Do you understand those things?” Harm demanded.
“Of all the persons Leython knew, I come the closest to understanding, except for his teacher in sword mastery. Since she’s nowhere to be found, I’m the next one in the line.”
Harm couldn’t answer that either, but he found the sword took it off the shelf and walked away. Jeff couldn’t do anything, since he didn’t have a weapon.
“I can find the exit by myself.” Harm said, sparking the tension, and he stepped in the entrance hallway, closing the door behind him.
When Jeff heard the front door slamming shut, he dropped in his sofa: “How am I going to tell Leython about this?”
A whole different sort of tension sparked elsewhere. Marisa and Leython had started to walk, they hadn’t pulled on their shoes, as Marisa told the ground was soft enough to walk on with bare feet. The princess of Tessalis decided to show the strategic expert the river she bathed in. In the meanwhile, she talked.
“When I arrived on the battlefield, I resented the work I had to do. Luckily, I never had to cleanse a settlement before, but due to my flawless record, which includes assisting other commanders to the best and almost succeeding to the Aeon throne, as the next princess, the Avatar-of-War thought that I was ready to become a mindless killing machine.
I did not want to cleanse the Sinivar settlement and I stalled a bit, hopefully long enough for the newly arrived commander to stand up against me.”
“That’s what I succeeded in. I saved every citizen.” Leython answered calmly, Marisa found a secure tone in his voice, making her feel everything was all right and nothing would ever go wrong.
“Yes, you have and I would gladly be expelled, just for the citizens and you to be safe. However, I hoped that you would be intelligent enough to stop me, so that I could act like I was having a hard time in just keeping up with you, then I might have had the chance to return to Seraphim Two and slow down the Avatar-of-War. The answer came soon.
You were more, you stopped every single move without a problem.” Marisa said, while they walked along the riverside. “But then you made a move that any other commander would have dubbed the most stupid one ever. You evacuated the civilians by air even though I had air superiority. I knew better though, as I realised that you were very cunning. It was a trap, laid there for me. I just had to try it out.”
“It took me three minutes to arrange all my units perfectly, I was glad that it paid off, but not much later, I found out that you knew it was a trap, that you attacked with that knowledge in the back of your mind.” Leython replied friendly.
“Yes, I realised it was a trap but I wanted to find out how smart you were. I found out that you used everything at your disposal to make it impossible for me to go beyond a certain point, but you also did not mean to kill me.” Marisa said. They were halfway on their route to the river, which would take twenty five minutes. It was hard to believe that they had talked so little, but considering the pauses which could take more than a minute, it was understandable.
“That’s correct, like I said, I soon found out that you’re as smart as I am, that people like you are very, very special and I’d not soon walk into another pilot like you. So I wanted to find out more, I wanted to see if you had built a trap as well and apparently, you did.”
“That is correct,” Marisa said softly, “so all in all, the battle was arranged between the two of us. Something I found out again, when you let me leave through your quantum gate.”
Leython did not speak. Yes, the battle had been arranged, both knew it. Walking amongst the trees, the river was still out of sight. After some minutes, Marisa continued:
“You are special. Not just smart, intelligent or cunning. You are more. You know the correct response to everything and your urge to know everything has made you to who you are now.”
Leython didn’t answer. Marisa was right about what she said, but by hearing it from her, meant more than just some reassuring words.
“Everything of you, your body language, your clothes, your tone…” Marisa said, while they finally arrived at the river. “All is imbued with confidence, strength, skill, awareness. You are exactly what I imagined. I already knew that when I left Sinivar, thanks to you. But just one hour ago, when I really saw you for the first time… I was sure of it.” Marisa said serenely and once again, Leython couldn’t answer, he just looked at the water, slowly streaming onward. For the first time in many, many years, he met someone who truly loved him.
For Marisa, it was not a different matter. Since the loss of her parents, she did not have a real family. Toth was kind and helped her with everything she needed, but Leython was different. Exiled by Marxon, she moved to a forgotten place in the universe, waiting for Leython’s arrival. It took him longer than she expected, but here he was at last.