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The Devil's Dragon

 

 

THE DEVIL’S DRAGON

 

 

 

 

A novel by Jason F. Boggs Copyright 2016

Book 1 of the Dragon Trilogy

 

 

Chapter 1. The Valley Deep.

 

Nelson was suffering, wet through and freezing. He looked up from his position under an alcove protruding from the river bank and saw only the thick foliage of the jungle surrounding him and the starry night sky between bleak clouds. He heard only the rushing sound of the stinking polluted river which permeated the air and slightly stung his nostrils and the sounds of a myriad of wildlife that seemed to envelop him, the sound obscured slightly by the gentle breeze through the leaves above him. Survival and ambush training was definitely not his thing. But he knew how to hide; as a child, he recalled long ago hiding in all kinds of cupboards and boxes whilst his dad’s looked for him, sometimes pretending not to know where he was, much to his amusement, but most of the time genuinely looking for him with increasing concern in their voices as they were calling out for him. “Nelsie, where are you sweetie”? Hank was definitely the more effeminate of his two dads and often played the good cop and the voice of reason and compromise. Hank was a little younger and a fair bit thinner than Dave and sported thinning blond hair which he meticulously combed to one side “Come on sweetie, dinners almost ready and it’s your favourite, Tex Mex”. Dave was the sterner of the two and often played the bad cop role, balancing out the couple. His voice was rough and gravelly and he was a heavy set man with thick black hair and a beard. “Nelson, enough is enough, if you don’t come out this instant we are not going to Disney World for your birthday”! Nelson was hiding in the toy box under the bed; his Dads would not think to look there as it was small and would require a gifted midget contortionist to fit inside. Fortunately, that’s what he was. He had emptied out all the toys from the box and had hid them in the attic prior to the hide and seek game, he liked to plan ahead. He took great delight in outsmarting his parents as they always thought they were cleverer than him, not so much he thought. He could contain his stifled giggling no longer and let out a yelp of laughter as Hank sounded like he was staring to cry when he said “should we call the police?, it’s been hours” Dave came running into Nelson’s bedroom and aggressively began opening and closing drawers, the wardrobe door slammed open and closed and he looked under the bed. “I know it came from here but I’ve looked everywhere”, Nelson screamed with laughter which led a bewildered Dave directly to the toy box. “I don’t believe it”. He opened the toy chest and like a jack in the box, out jumped Nelson to the astonishment of his fathers. He still got to eat Tex Mex and he still got to go to Disney world. He knew from experience that most threats were all bark, little bite.

 

Then the wars came which were akin to a horrific accident which, like most human made disasters were preventable. When an object collides with another at high velocity, all that remains is the twisted, unrecognisable wreckage of what once was and shall never be again. Yet some believe that amongst the remnants of such disaster lie salvage, that if enough of these parts are reconstructed, then perhaps something can be made of value. This is what has become of the world. With imperturbable assurances, the few that decide the fate of the many have resolved that we languish in this hell; Not for our own benefit but so that they can declare an experiment a success, but salvage is not the same as salvation, we cannot be restrained from who we truly are for long, there comes a time when we must be set free, either by ourselves or with the help of others.

To Nelson’s frustration, the time before the wars is something he can only vaguely recall, he was only four or five when they started, he knows that it changed his life forever, he still hears the echoes of that time, however indistinguishable they are, like trying to see underwater, he senses the fleeting, shadowy objects of his life past but cannot focus on them.

Somehow, he does remember how freedom felt though and it felt good, stronger than youth, more liberating than the last day of school, more enlightening than a piercing epiphany, a feeling that he longed for, he knew that when he felt it, he was in his element, like the conductor of an orchestra in flawless harmony, no, it was more primal than that, like a thirst that could only be quenched by…what?

He shuddered in the cold night air deep in the valley that separated the training area from the base. He was almost home, just over the valley wall and he was home, to pass this test, he had to be in the last ten to either sneak past or “kill” the sentries posted throughout the jungle, this would not only pass him, but it will ensure he finished first overall and clinch the academy record and he was leaving nothing to chance. A kill consisted of a bullet or a knife inflicted in a fatal area marked as white on the sentries. Of course, the bullets were a type of red coloured paintball and the knife was a red inked blade that was blunted but still had a serrated edge, you’d have to saw someone for a few minutes before it would seriously hurt them. Thankfully, the vial of red ink safely concealed in his vest was still air tight and full. Although he was a soldier, he chose at all times to avoid violence whenever possible. He believed stealth and hit and fade tactics were more effective than grunt rushing into close combat battle. As his C.O once said at a briefing “that’s a good way to get yourself killed”. His best friend, Jessie, mocked him once for this conviction. “Dude, you know that the job of a soldier is to kill the enemy right?” He said one night during dinner in the mess hall. Nelson looked back at him “in nature, the best predators are silent and use their cunning”. Jessie rebutted “yeah, but they still hunt and eat their prey” Nelson looked down at his meal; a thick salty gelatinous goo the menu suggests is soup of the day. Nelson had just turned twenty one, despite being tall, his physical presence was not intimidating, in fact, he looked more like the type of technology geeks who were teased at school than a well trained soldier and had short but thick blond hair which had a tendency to frizz out into what resembled hair with electrical current flowing through it, his parents poured all their money into his education as an officer as this was his dream since being a little boy playing with toy soldiers. Reality, he had come to learn, was very different to his dreams. His parents could not afford costly corrective eye surgery, so he wore a pair of round tortoise shell glasses that were reinforced with thick steel due to the rigors of his training. He peered up from the rim of his spectacles “I only tell you this as your best friend and you must never, ever say this to anyone” this piqued Jessie’s interest “what man?” “no, you must promise”. Jessie capitulated to his sense of obligation and honour “You have my word as an officer and a friend”. Nelson looked at him with a severe expression on his face, like he was about to reveal the greatest secret in the universe. “I hope that I never have to kill anyone or anything” Jessie leaned back in his chair and slapped his chest with effect pretending to be choking on his food. “What?!” “Shhhh, don’t bring attention to us”

“So, you’re actually a coward”.

Nelson held out his hand in a gesture of correction “No! I mean what’s the chance that we’ll actually see any combat? Most fighting these days is done by A.I drones, missiles, the air force and artillery; boots on the ground only happens at the end and by then it’s pretty much all over”. Jessie crossed his arms “don’t worry, your secrets safe with me yellow belly”. Nelson continued “I want HQ or admin Jess, my grades are the best ever, even better than yours but my physical and practical subjects suck through the roof” Jessie shook his head and raised his arms, “if you wanted an office job, you shouldn’t have joined the army”. The sarcastic tone was not lost on Nelson; he suddenly thought that his friend was right. “See, this is why I don’t tell you shit, you make me doubt things”. He put the spoon in his mouth, by then the insipid dish was cold as well as terrible and he pushed the bowl aside in disgust.

After a long moment of silence, Jessie conceded “you are a good soldier; I hope you never have to, but what if you have to, you know”? Nelson stared into the distance, over his friends head as if looking into the future “When that time comes, I won’t hesitate”. Jessie looked at him and seemed convinced “Do you believe we should spare a beaten enemy”? Wow, this was really going into the realms of direct, uncomfortable questions now. Nelson’s answer was simple “No”. Jessie looked excited and surprised by this unexpected answer “Why”? “If we allow surrender, conditional or otherwise, then there will always be an element of the defeated seeking revenge, surrender isn’t enough; we must destroy the enemy’s capacity to wage war by utterly destroying them, not genocide, that’s unforgivable, but by reducing them to a small manageable population that can be controlled and by re-wiring their brains to change what they think about us and themselves, to integrate our culture into theirs for mutual benefit, they must never again be allowed to believe they are dominant or superior” he continued “this can only be achieved by relentless propaganda through multiple generations that their predecessors were the bad guys and deserved to lose, the Romans did this quite well, demonising their enemies”. Jessie’s smile was uncontained now and he leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head “I think I’ve found a common soul” Nelson, nodding in agreement, only added a simple, dogmatic belief that he held “History is written by the victors, the strong must rule the weak”.

Jessie looked at the menu on the wall and shook his head in dismay. “Where can I get a decent coffee and a burger”?

Suddenly, he snapped out of this recollection, he heard a crack, it wasn’t a twig or an animal, it was the familiar sound of a rifle being fired, one of the sentries was firing on him! He saw the flare of another shot being fired. These soldiers were also largely made up of cadets in training and were assessed by their skills in stopping the others from reaching the base, but also had experienced regulars as well with night vision goggles. “Fuck” he said out loud, big mistake as the shooter called out to another “over here, I think it’s Jones.” Another crack and a bullet whizzed past his face and impacted with a “gish” sound on the alcove above his head. He panicked and for irrational reasons that were beyond him, he thought they were live rounds, real bullets. They wanted to kill him! The C.O hates him and now they wanted him dead, out of the picture, they are jealous of me, he thought, because I’m not going to be a wash out like they expected. He acted on instinct, not thought and was now shuddering from fear, not the cold. He took in a gasp of breath and submerged himself completely into the water, letting go of the walls around him and submitting to the invisible force of the current, more cracking sounds as he was pummelled against the underwater rocks by the relentless torrent of the rapids and he actually hoped they were his bones instead of more bullets. The water was increasingly rapid and he knew he was nearing the falls, this was not good, either way he was dead.

Occasionally, by sheer chance, his head burst through the surface of the water and he was able to take a quick breath before being plunged again into what felt like a washing machine on the spin cycle. Oblivious to what was happening on the surface world and interested only in survival, just to live, just to wait for the next breath. The sentries had called off their pursuit and the operation became rescue and then, recovery. “He’s gone over, repeat, he’s gone over” one of the sentries radioed in this update. A voice came over the two way which was calm in contrast to the catastrophe that was developing “Get a search team at the base of the falls and I want a chopper down there with a body bag, mission is on” The sentries looked at each other “copy that” Despite a likely death in the training field, the other cadets and sentries were still engaged in the exercise, the mission was still on. The LT would be dammed if he was going to let an incident like this interrupt an exercise three days in that took weeks to plan.

 

Jessie was back at the base dressed in casual gear, one of a few who had made it. In fact, he was the first and had “killed” several sentries to get there. Unlike his mate, he had no aversion to violence; in fact, he relished the opportunity to show off his skills and carried out his attacks with a cool detached efficiency. He overheard the radio chatter from a nearby cabin as he was listening in to see who else would make it and who would fail. He was pleased that he had not heard anything about Nelson, which was a good sign. Until now. He quickly jumped out of his chair “oh my God” and ran to the C.O’s field tent “no, fuck no” he stumbled into the makeshift HQ and forgot to salute “I wanna be on that chopper” he said to the Lieutenant in charge. The C.O looked up from his desk which was festooned with display terminals and yelled red faced at Jessie “stand down you piece of shit and get back to your post, you are not going on that chopper, do not disturb me again and do not impede this operation with your bullshit attachment to that weakling Jones”! The C.O had warned against close friendships between soldiers. Whilst he conceded that camaraderie was essential, relationships cannot be too close as it adversely affects what he called “fighting focus” “concentrate on the enemy first, then each other” he used to yell. In fact, Jessie cannot recall a time when the LT wasn’t yelling, or at least talking loudly. Nelson typically disagreed with the LT and for being the voice of dissention, was yelled at even more and made to do all sorts of menial, unpleasant tasks.

Jessie had no choice but to leave the tent and as he returned to his chair, could still hear the LT yelling at him “you idiot” and “totally unacceptable!” Came the angry voice from the command tent, he wasn’t sure if this abuse was still being directed at him. Jessie put his head in his hands. Nearby, the search and rescue helicopter slowly took off; it didn’t seem to be in a hurry. The lights of the sentry towers reflected off its white base before it disappeared into the night sky. He could still hear the humming of the chopper’s engines in the distance when he heard an update “Sitrep Kilo one thirty” came the unmistakably calm voice of the Sergeant. “Kilo one thirty actual in place at point six six one, confirmed chip is Jones but no sign of him, on foot with search lights, will advise” Came the reply. Jessie’s heart sank. The “chip” referred to the micro chip that all soldiers in the academy were required to have surgically inserted into their wrist as a tracking device showing their precise location, it also read and relayed other data such as heart rate allowing more effective positioning on the battlefield via a link to multi coloured strategic monitors.

Nelson came to accept the inevitable as he tumbled over the edge of the falls and free fell for what seemed like an eternity. In actual fact, it was only about ten metres; maybe he could survive this after all. No. Fate had different plans for him, although he lived through the impact of the fall, narrowly missing the rocks below, like the hand of God, he was held underwater by the waterfall, he swam in one direction, still held, then another, still held, tried a third time in another direction but still held down, hopeless and now out of breath. In his final thoughts, he recalled the last time he felt breathless, in a much better way. He thought of Meaghan Williams, his on and off girlfriend who was in some of his classes, her beautiful black braided hair seemed to be a living organism in its own right, a symbiotic extension of her head, it moved elegantly and subtly whenever she did, her white smile through her thick lips seemed to personify joy and her perfume set him on fire with desire whenever she was near. He was always picturing her naked but to this day, had only been close enough to see her magnificent breasts and had been permitted to feel her delightful vagina, so he’d been to third base but she hadn’t let him hit a home run yet. The fling was secret and against regulation but the forbidden fruit made it all the sweeter. As he began to blackout, flailing in one last, futile attempt to break free of the watery grave that he was to be buried in, he thought not of his parents, or his friends, nor did his life flash before his eyes as is often thought of in near death experiences, he only thought of Meghan and the regret that he would now never be able to consummate his love for her. A great beam of light shone down on him and he knew that this was how it ends and now he would ascend into the light and up into heaven, maybe he would see his biological father and mother there who were killed in the 70’s in one of the wars of interdependence. He was too young to even remember times with them and only had photos. He hoped that his old boyhood companion Max would be there, a loyal Labrador who rarely left his side. His last thought before he ascended into the light was a vision of him being warmly greeted on a field of green grass by Meghan she said “you’ve come over, you’re saved”.

“This is Kilo one thirty actual”, came the excited voice over the radio, “search lights have found him floating face down at the base of the waterfall, engaging in recovery” The high beam light that shone on him like a biblical beacon showed a still body, one of the personnel, tethered to a cable leapt from the helicopter into the water near. He immediately turned the body over and tied a harness onto it, he gestured to the other occupant of the deck of the chopper and Nelson was winched into the relative safety of the chopper’s interior. The rescue team on board immediately began CPR on Nelson, several attempts of this did not seem to have an effect, a defibrillator was applied and sensors hooked up to him, all whist the chopper was now flying hurriedly back to base. Nelson gagged, one of the rescuers turned him on his side and hit his back. Nelson’s body heaved as if it was fighting against life, not for it and he began to violently vomit a large volume of brown water. The monitors hooked up to him now pinged with signs of life “this is actual, Private Nelson Jones is alive but vitals are weak, stand by for delivery of patient to med bay” Nelson slowly regained consciousness but was disorientated and did not understand what was going on.

Jessie punched his fist into the air and ran over to the landing pad as the chopper appeared over the walls of the base.

 

As daylight now streamed through the windows of the medical facility, Nelson sat up in bed and was watching TV whilst enjoying a lunch consisting of mixed sandwiches. A heavenly luxury considering what he’d endured over the last few nights and days. He reflected on his various hiding spots, in the thick tree canopy covered in palm fronds by day, in crudely dug holes covered by leafs by night, one time he even covered himself in mud and blended into a swamp, indistinguishable from the surrounds until he opened his eyes. He was proud of this achievement and had he not panicked like he did, he undoubtedly would have made it back to base. He considered that technically, he has succeeded as he was not actually killed or captured by the sentries, o.k., maybe captured if you want to split hairs. So, mission accomplished, he sat back against the hospital bed head and grinning triumphantly put his hands behind his head as Jessie walked into the room. “Hey fall guy, glad to see you’ve finally woken up, it was touch and go for a while there but the doc says you’ll be o.k. which is too bad”. “Too bad”? “Yeh because the LT is going to kill you, he’s thinking about making you pay for your rescue, and get this, I hear through the scuttlebutt that you have to start all over again next semester.” Nelson’s smile quickly dissipated, “that’s against the rules, he can’t make me go back and the next semesters not till next year for Christ sake, were just about to graduate”. Jessie shrugged “Jesus man, I don’t know what to say, your lucky you’ve been allowed to repeat, it took the higher ups to order him into letting you thanks to your grades, I mean what did you expect? You royally fucked up”. Nelson let out a sigh of resignation and nodded slowly “what about you?” how’d you go?” Jessie looked proud of himself and showed a faint smile “thanks to your barrel over Niagara Falls stunt, I’m gonna finish top of the academy instead of ya” he leant over and rubbed his hair, “thanks pal”. “I’m jealous” Nelson smiled and shook his head, “story of my life, always shitted on by bad luck and overtaken by my lessers” “Luck had nothing to do with it Nelson, but whatever helps you sleep at night huh?” Nelson chose to ignore the truth and its consequences, instead focusing on his friend. “So, what’s your assignment”? Jessie’s eyes sparkled betraying his genuine attempt not to smile even more. “I’ve been posted to HQ Strategic, get this, they reckon I understand how the enemy thinks and they want me to scenario build against, get this, I’m not allowed to tell but this will blow your mind, ETs”! “ETs?, you mean, like aliens”? “I know right? Macarthur’s prophecy coming true ya think”? He was referring of course, to the great mid twentieth century US General Douglass Macarthur who believed that one day mankind must prepare to fight beings from another world. Nelson shook his head doubtfully “they have to plan for all possible contingencies, no matter how implausible, aliens ride unicorns with the Lockness monster and vampires and ghosts on the planet ridiculous”. Jessie leant forward and whispered in his ear “that’s not what I hear”.

The next day Nelson was discharged from hospital and ordered immediately to report to the C.O. The lieutenant started out calmly enough but quickly flew into one of his “totally unacceptable” rants, Nelson was bemused, the LT showed absolutely no concern about his well being or his recovery or how he very nearly got back to base, unlike most of the class or how he would have finished with the all time greatest grades if the LT was only willing to overlook this transgression and let him progress. He stood at attention the whole time, expressionless, never taking his eyes off the LT. He did not want to give him the satisfaction of showing any kind of emotion or remorse, especially the outrage that he was suppressing at the over the top dressing down that he was receiving. He could not legally be made to pay back the cost of his recue, however, it was implied that should he be willing to donate a portion of his salary as a gesture, this would be looked upon favourably. There was no way in hell he was going to pay them back, not after this. It was confirmed that not only would he be held back as punishment that he was to repeat the entire last year of his three year training, without Jessie or Meghan, every subject, every goddam mission, obstacle course, drill, every parade and physical and pain endurance trials that he especially hated, every single humiliating thing that was euphemistically called “leadership and character building”. Of course, as this is an officer college, it is therefore private and his parents will have to pay for it again, no small fortune, he knew that this goes beyond disappointment; but they will insist that he persevere. Having long since being cut off from the Jones family’s fortune for his lifestyle “choice”, His adoptive working dad Hank could not rely on any other source of income and the fact that Nelson was not a blood heir set in stone that assistance was out of the question. This will ruin them. Nelson’s eye twitched, finally the breakthrough of emotion that the LT was looking for and he smiled menacingly, smug in his victory. “Make no mistake Jones, your ass now belongs to me and I will make you a real soldier if it kills you, I’m told that you’re the best they’ve seen come through our hollowed gates but they don’t know you like I do, they don’t know that you’re just a maggot with a brain, a washout, they don’t know that you’re a nerd who had the audacity to imagine that you could become a warrior!” “You’re a sad joke Jones, a farce that insults me to the core with your very presence, there is no discernable way that I can measure how much I don’t give a shit about your opinion, disappear and get out of my sight”! “Yes Sir”. Nelson about faced and counting his march steps out loud, marched out the door, now with his back against the door as it closed, his face red with emotion contorted into anger, he was seething. He had never felt hatred like this and it was not directed at the LT per se, it was at everyone and everything, he found the one thing that could make him hate his enemy enough to kill, the one thing that made him sick with anger, like the taste of bile in his mouth, this feeling was sick and bitter, the one thing that could make him a monster out of murderous rage and destroy all in his path, injustice. Injustice is what would make Nelson Jones a super soldier.

 

“Revenge. Revenge is the catalyst of the forces of darkness, the motivator of so many crimes, the cause of so much suffering, the Devil’s tool. It is often spoken that it is a dish best served cold, but no matter how it is served, or what justification it is garnished with, it is poisonous”. The Pope was standing on the balcony of the Vatican preaching to the tens of thousands of faithful pilgrims below. An old man, even by papal standards, he was in his late nineties and his voice was weak, his complexion bleak and wrinkled beyond recognition of the man he once was. Pope Pius XIV, a popular leader of the faithful and unlike many of the popes of the twentieth and early twenty first centuries; he was very much a multimedia product and was often in the news. His hands shook as he held onto the podium for support and looked up over the balcony and onto the crowd below who cheered in unison as he gazed upon them with a benevolent smile as he read passages from the bible at length including from the book of Romans “…wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil mindedness; they are whisperers, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”. He returned to his own words “But, we can only defeat evil when we recognise it. We must learn to recognise that it is often disguised as good, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, fools gold, a lie in the guise of a promise” he coughed and wheezed “It can be recognised by the fact that it seeks revenge but calls it justice, it can be recognised by it’s inability to forgive and calls it vigilance, it can be recognised by it’s desire for power and calls it peace, by its desire for control but calls it law and order, by its oppression which it calls enforcement, it can be recognised by it’s greed which it calls return on investment”. He read another excerpt, this time from the book of James “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” He took a deep breath and after a long pause “for too long this world has been fragmented by those who seek power and revenge, for those who put themselves above others, for those who engage in the seven deadly sins with impunity, who think that our differences are more important than our similarities, that what separates us is more powerful than what binds us together, that who carries the biggest stick wins, not who has the purest heart”. “We must finally accept that we are destroying ourselves and the world around us, God has directed us to repent for our sins and join together in a single world so that all men and women of all faiths and race can share a common goal, the most holy goal of all, our salvation”. “We shall have because we ask”. He took a step back and blinked; the crowd erupted into a rapturous roar of approval

“We’ll there you have it, in a highly controversial move, the Pope has thrown the church into the single world government debate”. Robert valentine was at the desk in the news room, behind him was the large curved screen that still showed the Pope speaking in silence and the crowd clapping as the speech continued. The logo of the world news network emblazoned on the desk with the motto “the source you can trust” was illuminated in red, white and blue. He had a slight European accent, perhaps German? Nelson thought as he sat back on the sofa. Robert turned to his co-anchor, the stunning looking blond Sarah Close and Nelson admitted to himself that he mainly watched the news to gaze into her beautiful big blue eyes and listen to her calm, soothing voice which he always imagined was that of his mother’s. Sarah read the autocue with the usual precision “in other breaking news, the world council has convened to vote in a new Secretary-General, the main front runners are Kim Song Un from the Asia block, Mohammed Asrif from the Islamic states and the American Jacob Freeman. Preliminary campaigning begins tomorrow in was is expected to be a tight contest.`” The news program went on to interview a series of political and economic professors and observers, their point of view and counter points from a panel from yet more experts and Nelson thought to himself that he could be doing so much more with his day off than sit and watch Holographic TV and worry about this so called impending war, which, by the way, as pointed out by Sarah “hasn’t this war been predicted since even before the second world war ended”? He thought to himself that it’s no use worrying about things of which he had absolutely no control or influence over which made him feel gratified but also frustrated. Nelson flicked up a main menu and looked at about fifty channels on screen at the same time; He was about to flick up and point to the off button on the screen as the network was crossing to a science story, oh well, I might as well learn something, it might impress girls at parties he thought, oh lord but I’m shallow, he chuckled to himself. The story was on the cosmos and how evidence is building that certain celestial bodies such as comets, asteroids, meteors and even travelling planetoids are carrying micro-organisms across the vastness of space and crashing or re-crashing into worlds starting the building blocks of life. This “Panspermia” theory is what some scientists are calling the eggs of the universe and to Nelson’s surprise; some of the trajectories of these interstellar baby carrying storks do not seem to be random. One of the eggheads explained “We have observed for about eighty years now a phenomenon that we call directed panspermia, whereby what appears to be very large meteors breaking up in the atmospheres of earth-like planets, now this can’t just be a coincidence because it seems to be only these planets in a particular star system, Sirius A and Sirius B. Robert, the funnier of the two anchors picked up on the absurdity of this theory and piped in “you can’t be Sirius Doctor”, Sarah stifled a laugh. The doctor either did not get the joke or ignored it “the empirical evidence is there and the data suggests that some of these earth like planets have developed a thicker atmosphere since the impacts were recorded. Sarah, who once studied science at university, countered “isn’t that consistent with a meteor strike? That the atmosphere can cloud over for years causing the conditions similar to a nuclear winter, isn’t that what wiped out the dinosaurs?” The doctor looked thoughtful and furrowed his brow “in answer to your first question, yes, one can expect a thicker atmosphere of dust, carbon dioxide and other trace elements that are toxic and harmful to life, however, the data received from our long range scanners detect atmospheres developing that are rich in Nitrogen, oxygen, argon and gasses that have formed a protective layer around these planets, most exciting of all, there is also evidence of water vapour. What we cannot understand is how or why it is happening so quickly, something that should take millennia is happening in mere decades”. The doctor looked down in an unseen area below the screen as if he was reading notes or perhaps messages relayed to him and paused while he seemed to be quickly scanning something. “In answer to your second question Sarah, the dinosaurs were a spectacular success on this planet and ruled the earth for hundreds of millions of years; it was only by severe climate change that they declined so rapidly, perhaps brought about by an asteroid, directed or otherwise. By a unique set of circumstances in exactly the right order, at the right time, in a lighting fast evolutionary process compared to the other animals, we came about as a species in this Garden of Eden we call Earth.” Robert interjected, “Doctor, are you using a biblical reference with irony or conviction? Do you believe in God”? Nelson leant forward in his lounge subconsciously as if to get a better view from the large screen, this’ll be good; the ol’ science vs. religion argument, the meaning of life answered which, like all people he often wondered about. The answer disappointed him however, “As a scientist I can only validate theories based on facts and science has neither proven or conclusively disproven the existence of intelligent design but as a human being who is always wondering I would like to suggest that the miracle of life on our planet is not an entirely random event.” Sarah spoke this time “So, artificial selection is alive and well?” The doctor leant back in his chair, perhaps impressed that a news caster could also be learned or perplexed that this question was not altogether related to their original discussion. “Certain domesticated animals such as dogs have been bred by us for thousands of years which has led to variations of species that look and behave in such a way that they would not normally do, I think that this is a kind of natural selection too as the strong survive and the weak perish in those critical times of life or death outcomes”. “The dinosaurs didn’t see their end coming, their brains didn’t evolve like ours, we can see the end coming, we can blow up stellar missiles and we can still prevent catastrophic climate change before it kills us all”. “We can protect and nourish the weak, not at the cost of our own lives”.

“Not this again” Nelson sighed, he knew that the climate change debate had gone on for over a hundred years now, whilst the overall temperature has increased and the extinction of species has been devastating, the air is still breathable thanks to breakthroughs in science and the retention of natural land and water reserves. “Technology is a wonderful thing, until it isn’t”. Sarah interjected.

Robert looked at the monitor “just before you go doctor, can science and religion co-exist”? The scientist gave a simplistic answer “only if you can believe in fact and faith, fiction is only a story until it becomes fact, if you want to believe that God has helped the evolutionary process then go ahead if you want to believe that, beliefs are fine as long as they don’t hurt us in the form of actions and the reconciliation between faith and fact is part of what defines our existence, even old ideas were considered new once, laws of today could be tomorrow’s crimes and vice versa.”.

“O.K well, that’s all we’ve got time for and thank you for your time” “Thanks again” came from Sarah, the Doctor simply gave a quick tap on his head with a smile before the screen changed to advertisements.

One of the ads for yet another social media toy came on, the “e-motion implant” which is a chip linked to the brain that tells your friends and family, or whoever you want on your list via their own link to get a sense of what you are experiencing and feeling. Nelson thought the applications of this are limitless, especially for perverts and drunks he laughed. But in all seriousness, is this good or bad for empathy? Can we learn to fake our emotions for real? Will it be misused? Of course it will. In any case, he wouldn’t be getting one, the only chip in him belongs to the army and only then because he has no choice. He’s quite content at old fashioned video links to talk to his dads and friends.

 

Ah, speaking of which it’s time to call his parents. The screen changed to a different menu with the flick of his finger and he scrolled down a quick dial menu, instantly Hank came on the screen “your late sweetie we were worried sick, are you o.k., is everything alright?” Nelson smiled “Hi mum, is dad there?” he liked to tease Hank with the mum title as he fusses and frets all the time, he knew that Hank hated this, Dave came on screen “don’t make fun of your mother like that” a rare bit of humour from him and Nelson laughed mainly out of surprise as it was so uncommon and the fact that Hank gave his partner a death stare, he’ll be in a lot of trouble later. “I’m fine, watching the graduation ceremony was tough, all my friends leaving and knowing I should’ve been up there too but I’ve found this inner strength y’know something I didn’t think I had in me, it’s determination, no, more than that its like I want to, have to, fulfil my destiny”. Hank and Dave nodded with understanding and looked compassionate but Nelson kept what it was that was really motivating him, driving him with focus and gave him a purpose, direction. It was rage, concealed and only let out when it needed to be let out, this feeling was an indoors cat. “I know you’ve made sacrifices guys and it kills me that you had to mortgage the house to pay for my do-over” “Pffft”, Hank said and waved his hand across the screen “it’s o.k. Nelsie we would do anything for you” Dave pipped in “We still live here y’know, the new owners let us stay and the rent’s cheap for this area”. Nelson looked sad “well, anyway, thank you again and I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me” “well we certainly weren’t going to let you leave the academy, besides, we want to see you in that snappy formal wear” said Dave “Oh, an officer and a gentleman” Hank sighed. “Anyway, I start the new year next week and I’m fine, because I’ve done this before, I’ll coast through don’t worry” “Don’t you dare just ride the wave in mister.” Dave wagged his finger at the screen. “You show them that lightning strikes twice in the same spot, you be the thunder as well.” Nelsons heart soared at this advice, this motivated him, as if he needed further encouragement. “I will guys, love you”. “We love you too, talk again tomorrow”. The screen went dark and the words “end transmission” appeared before him, hanging there for a long time whilst he was deep in thought, eventually, without even thinking, he flicked the TV off and got up to get a beer out of the fridge. “Well I’ve got a few days off, I don’t need the e-motion to feel good” he smiled as he opened and drunk the beer and stepped out onto the back balcony of his barracks, below were the empty parade grounds where only a week ago he saw his friends and lover leave him, in the distance he saw the valley were his life changed forever, and he thought to himself that maybe that this has all happened for a reason, as the scientist on the TV said, maybe not everything is a random event, philosophy is an interesting thing in itself he supposed. “I think, therefore I am” he said out loud and he remembered another piece of advice his fathers told him, that the most important word in the word is attitude. He sat on the balcony in a fold out chair for many hours and drank a whole lot of beer and eventually watched the sun go down whilst he listened to some music from the room behind him, one of the retro stations on the TV, it was playing the song “War”, he forgot who the artist was but it made him move in his chair to the beats. Of course the sun doesn’t actually go down, he knew that as any dummy knew that the Earth revolved around the sun making it look like it went down, but once upon a time, the world view was that the sun actually went down, people believed this because they didn’t know better. Hm, they didn’t know better, just like they don’t know better about me. Clearly drunk by now, he slurred out loud in a loud voice “I will have my revenge!” “Shut the fuck up” came a voice from another room nearby. He momentarily forgot that he wasn’t the only wash out willing to pay for another semester; a few others were also joining in his misery. He hoped that they would also join him in his triumph. He also forgot that he was a slurring jerk when he was intoxicated. “Fear not my noble brethren, I shall avenge you too”! More voices from the darkness “Will you be quiet?” came an Indian accent “put a sock in it” came another “Jesus I’m trying to sleep, use headgear” came a third and the original guy was much louder now as he too stepped out on the balcony next door “Jones, shut your hole or we’ll shut it for you”. Nelson put his finger to his mouth and made the zip up gesture, then the button up gesture as the other cadet crossed his arms in anger, but he also nodded with understanding, “I know, it’s bullshit what they did”, they were all hurting. Nelson put his finger to his mouth in yet another hush gesture and tip toed comically back inside his room and shut the door much louder than he should have, or indeed intended to.

Hey, the party doesn’t need to end now, he turned off the lights, flicked on the TV, checked the apartment once again all over so that there were no hidden cameras, he put on some headgear consisting of 3D reality goggles and decided to watch some porn, he selected one of his favourite scenes but to his frustration, he couldn’t get exited like normal, too drunk? Is it because it’s not real? Meghan suddenly entered into his mind and the vision he had when he almost drowned to death came cack to him. He was walking in an open field of grass, he could feel the breeze somehow in the vision and got up to check the windows, he quickly realised that his pants were still down around his ankles from when he tried to masturbate and tripped over smashing the glass table in front of him with a loud shattering crash. “For fucks sake!” came a voice nearby “I‘ve had enough of this shit, crazy washout” came the Indian voice. Nelson spat out bits of glass from his mouth his face was cut and bleeding, he began to yell out in pain, the embarrassment was unbearable, realising his shame and that he had hit the lowest point of his life so far, rock bottom, he passed out without thinking about the fact the porno was still on but the fall rendered the sound options to change from his remote headgear to the TV on high volume so that everyone in the entire complex heard the moans and dirty talk that was happening on screen. His dick was still in his hand when security came in through his door. God does have a sense of humour.

Strangely, this time he felt at peace, he knew that only he was to blame, that no punishment was too harsh, his life was over, he knew that and was surprised at how quickly and serenely he came to terms with this. Maybe the simple things in life are what he needs to cherish, water tastes good when you’re hot, food tastes even better when your hungry, I’ll enjoy the simple things more he pledged as he sat up in the med bay bed, coincidentally, the same one he recovered in when he almost drowned. This time he would not get a visit from Jessie, or Meghan, this time his parents could not bail him out, this time he knew that his time was up. Maybe he could get an office job in the corporate sector after all, maybe he could work for the CTC and become a thief, anything’s possible for an educated young man. No one visited him in fact, only the duty nurse checked his charts and attended to his bandages, fortunately, they were only small lacerations and there would be no obvious scarring. He imagined a grandson sitting on his knee one day and asking him how he got his scars on his face and Nelson’s response being anything but the truth. Feeling awkward, he squirmed in the bed. “Why has no one visited me? Its been a few days” he enquired to the nurse who smiled back at him “I dare say someone will when they stop laughing.” She then left the room laughing. So this is what I’ve become, a joke just like the LT said. To his surprise, he was not summoned to the LT, a lucky break that he was on leave. Instead, Sergeant Horx visited him whilst he was still in bed. “How are you feeling son?” “I am fine, physically, but…” he trailed off. The Sergeant looked at him, not with amusement as the nurse so cruelly admonished him with but with concern, was he faking it? why? “I’m sending you for psyc assessment and rehab; we can’t have our cadets troubled mentally”. Wait a minute, what’s this? When I don’t deserve punishment I get it and when I do I get kindness? What’s going on here? “Um, Sergeant”. “Yes son?” “You know what happened right?” “Yes, I think we all do, what’s important now is that you get better”. Hang on, this is a trick, this is like a last meal request before the execution on death row he didn’t believe his ears, are they really going to kill him now? He felt a primal fear rise in him that made him shake and panic crept into his voice “Sergeant”. “Yes” “what’s really going to happen to me?” The Sergeant looked at him. “Exactly what I said, we did the wrong thing, then you did the wrong thing, I’d say were pretty even now”. “So, you’re not going to kill me?” “Of course were going to kill you Jones, just not today.” The Sergeant did an about face and marched out of the hospital.

The “rehab” as it turns out was just the rest of his leave time spent living in the hospital and sleeping in the same bed, long after his wounds healed. The duty nurses didn’t even visit him anymore, there was no need. Nelson guessed that it was better that he stay here as going back to the dorm would likely cause a stir and by stir he meant they would gang up on him and beat him up, the Sergeant didn’t want to report any further incidents regarding Jones, he believed in the kid and wanted him to prove the LT wrong too. It seems that the LT was universally despised. Hell, he even watered down the incident report to make it look like it was an episode of depression and that the TV system had malfunctioned. Both technically true. The psyc test was a formality for the records and he satisfied the Psychiatrist that he was no crazier than the rest of the world.

He didn’t have the balls to tell his parents what really happened, he convinced himself it was more to protect their feelings than his own, he explained it away by saying that he slipped over after a few beers and had to spend a bit of time in hospital, no big deal.

The opening day of the semester finally came around and to his surprise, the LT did not give him a hard time, in fact, he pretty much left him alone for the rest of the year, but only because he was the model student. Nelson still held on to the inner rage he discovered that day, even though he had no choice but to admit that he was now even as the Sergeant said. It was like a precious gem that he must not lose, it helped through some tough times during the semester and he held it in him and knew they could not touch it; they could only make it stronger.

The year went quickly and once again, he proved that he was not a washout, as if they needed confirmation. His grades were even better than last year and with a feverish determination, he once again entered the final test. Once more finding himself concealed in the deep valley at night, camouflaged, part of the natural world around him but instead of hiding for the purpose of not getting caught, he was hiding for the purpose of hunting, so that his prey would not know where he was until it was too late. He had learned how to think like a predator, to call only upon the vision of the attack just before it’s carried out, nothing else and to instinctively enjoy it.

 

Or so he thought, but thinking is easier than doing and wishing for something does not make it so, he knew he had to “execute” at least one of the guards to overcome his aversion to violence. He doesn’t mind violence per se, as long as he’s not directly involved in it, even with the anger he summoned which came easy to him, it was not enough to carry out what he so desperately wanted to do. He ably climbed a tree and slid down a branch so that he blended into the canopy, he heard movement down below and saw one of the sentries move below him, the small white sections of his uniform glimmering slightly in the moonlight, the guard was now right underneath him, all he had to do was shoot, or draw the knife and drop on him, non lethal injuries were acceptable in this mission. He hesitated, why couldn’t he do this? Why, why why!? He’s right there, do it! Do it now! He didn’t want to hurt him and firing on him would bring the other guard and God knows what else on him. What else could he do? His mind raced, what else could I do? I can’t wait because this guard is static, he’s been stalking him and another nearby guard for an hour and they only move around at a few dozen metres at a time. If I time out in this tree I fail, I cannot fail, and it’ll give the LT an excuse to finally show me the exit.

He looked above as if for inspiration, for a source of courage, something to stop his nerves, all that thinking about being the predator was gone and he suddenly felt like prey again. Then, he saw it; the tree he was in was a fruit tree, big fruit, were they mangoes? It doesn’t matter. He could see them swaying in the breeze and he had an idea. Slowly and silently, like a tree snake, he slithered up to one of the higher braches and using his knife, carefully cut off two of the fruit and placed them between his legs. He smiled to himself; it looked like he had a giant pair of balls. Shut up, focus. He heard a Chittering noise and saw a pair of tiny eyes looking at him, it was some kind of monkey, he couldn’t make it out properly in the darkness, only the eyes. He had been caught. He put his finger up to his mouth and quietly “shhh”, the creature seemed to understand and sat down cocking its head like it wanted to see what would happen next. He holstered his knife and picked up one of the fruits and threw it as far as he could, it made loud a “thwump” sound which instantly got the guards attention, the guard turned off and on his night vision goggles with an electronic hum and moved to intercept the source of the noise, Nelson now threw the second fruit again in another direction and timed his jump out of the tree to be about the same time as when the fruit hit the ground. The creature chirped excitedly as Nelson hit the ground and rolled. It worked! The guard was confused and looking around in different directions, Nelson moved in on him with his knife. Kill or be killed. The sentry was quicker than anticipated; he whirled around to see Nelson crouched down right in front of him. Dammit, looks like I’ll have to do this the hard way, he lunged at the guard at the same moment the guard opened fire. Real bullets? He remembered the Sergeant “Of course were going to kill you, just not today” Adrenalin took over, whether he was shot or not he didn’t care, whether they were live rounds or paintballs he didn’t care, the anger in him just came, he didn’t summon it, it controlled him and he was exhilarated by it. He rolled in the grass struggling to find his bearings and could feel the other body on him but could not see him, suddenly, he saw the goggles and Nelson instinctively ripped them off, now they were both in the same boat. The guard yelled out and pulled out his cuffs as he tried to restrain Nelson. Not today, he saw the fruit that he had thrown earlier lying on the ground beside him and grabbed it desperately with a free hand and swang it against the guards head and with an oomph, the sentry fell backwards and lay silent, motionless. Nelson pulled out his knife again and tagged the guard on the chest “NJ” in red ink so there was no confusion, this was his kill. Crack, crack, crack, from on the side and in front he heard shouting and saw muzzle flares, nothing to do now but press the attack, running and hiding would be futile at this point. He lost his rifle in the fight with the guard but used the one still wrapped around the guards arm. He began firing in the direction of one of the voices and the voice fell silent. He ran full throttle at the same direction, he had either shot him or made him take cover, so he was going to rush him, he just kept sprinting in that direction and heard his tree friend scream out “oo oo oo” just then a sentry’s head appeared above a fern bush and without even thinking Nelson dived right at him, the guard drew his rifle quickly but could not anticipate the speed and ferocity of the attack as Nelson knocked him down, obviously without thought of consequences, repercussions or doubt, just action, just instinct. He found it not because he wanted to, because he had to, because he had no choice. He wrenched the rifle out of the hands of the hapless sentry and proceeded to pound him with it, knocking him unconscious. Another “NJ” on his chest, he tagged him too and now armed with two guns and night vision goggles ran in the direction toward the gate of the base which was only a couple of hundred metres away. He was tempted to turn around and go back the other way, not out of fear, but to continue the carnage, He so wanted to take out the others who were in pursuit of him now openly taunting him by calling out to him that they were going to fuck him up when they caught him. The mission comes first, he reminded himself as he kept running toward the finish line he could feel jubilation, elation creeping into his mind, not yet, nearly. Suddenly two massive searchlights shone right on him, it would stun anyone without night vision goggles but as he had the goggles on full it threw him off his feet in blinding pain. He could see nothing but white light with his eyes open or closed and on his knees he was digging around for one of his rifles, he found one but instead of firing blindly, literally, he rolled and kept rolling for a few metres to one side, hoping to get out of the spot light he didn’t know whether he did or not, he couldn’t see a damn thing, he heard radio chatter nearby “Find him and bring him here” it was the familiar yelling of the LT “copy that, engaging in perimeter search of zone one one three”. One one three? He doesn’t remember much about the section names on the map but he does recall….holy shit, that’s near the Western Wall, he was running towards the hospital where he lived for a week earlier in the year, he remembers taking walks along the hospital complex and remembers seeing that there was a laundry chute that extended out from the loading dock, obviously to prevent the contractor truck having to come through the gates every time. Some vision was returning to his eyes now, just enough to make out the rough shape of the hospital complex and he crawled along the ground towards it. “When we find you Jones, were going to throw you off that waterfall and this time, no rescue chopper” he heard laughter, it was close, real close. He turned to look behind him and with slowly returning vision saw from the tall grass two sentries only a few metres away, one on the radio and the other sneaking a cigarette, both with their back to him. The one on the radio reported that they had conducted a full sweep with no sighting. No they hadn’t, they were taking an unauthorised break, now they were both smoking. Nelson considered firing on them, but so close to the gate would bring the entire base on him, not to mention those spotlights again, he instead crawled ever closer to the hospital eventually reaching the laundry chute which was locked, of course it was. “To get this far and lady luck yet again takes a giant dump on me” he whispered to himself, his options were running out, he could make a dash to the entrance, too risky, they were expecting that, he could disappear back into the jungle and try again later, no, he had to get through before daybreak when the exercise ends and he could already see the night sky starting to get lighter and the birds in the trees were coming to life. The lazy guards he knew he should’ve dealt with before were starting to come over in his direction. His eyes still blurry from the spotlights he sat down and leant up against the chute door and just at that time heard something coming down the chute, the locked door suddenly opened due to an internal sensor that triggered when the laundry was coming out. Why? There was no truck; the laundry was just hitting the ground, was it a malfunction? no way, what are the chances that someone was helping him but who? “Opportunity” he whispered to himself as he held the door ajar with the butt of his rifle and as the mechanical door was trying to close it made a Ker-chunking sound as it tried to close over and over again. Nelson managed to crawl between the small gap between the gun and the door and slithered again like a snake up the chute. Just as his feet were clear the gun broke with a crack and the door snapped closed like a hungry guillotine. Nelson thanked his lucky stars that he was not there; he checked his feet just to make sure. Wow, finally a catching a lucky break. He crawled out of the entry of the chute, through the hospital loading dock emergency exit and casually walked into the parade grounds unhindered near the Southern gate to the finishing area, home free but only now did he reflect on what he did to his fellow cadets and he felt a tremendous pang of guilt, those guys were just doing their job, I didn’t have to, oh shit, I hit them pretty hard, are they O.K?

At dawn, he heard the full briefing, who made it, who didn’t, he was the last who made it in, only nine this year. There were several injuries reported including some concussions but no casualties, Nelson breathed a sigh of relief. But who helped him? Laundry just doesn’t deliver itself, who knew he was going to be there just at that time, a minute later and he would’ve been caught. Who ever did it he knew it was at great risk. If he or she was caught, then it would be worse than bad. He searched his memory for anyone this semester that he was close enough to who would do that for him, nothing, in fact the other students wouldn’t lift a finger for him considering his reputation and the fact that he studied so hard that there was no time to make new friends of any great significance only added to the mystery. The briefing was over and Nelson headed back to his quarters for a well earned shower and sleep but he couldn’t feel good about this, in fact, he couldn’t feel anything except the exhaustion that was overwhelming him, as he slowly staggered to the dormitory, the Sergeant came into focus, Nelson saluted and Sergeant Horx said “those clothes look filthy son, you know where the laundry is?” “Yes sir”, the Sergeants expression was stern but his eyes sparkled as he walked away. Nelson froze in his tracks. Holy shit, it was the Sergeant! He smiled and shook his head chuckling to himself. Of course, the Sergeant had access to the tracking monitors that only he and the LT could observe and broke one of the biggest rules, he cheated to not only help him, but to get under the LT’s skin, it was risky but it paid off. He called out to the Sergeant, “right away sir! Thank you sir”. As the Sergeant began to disappear from sight, he heard him shout “good guys have a duty to look out for each other”.

 

As he walked down the corridor of the dorm to his room, he received congratulations and slaps on the back from the other cadets. The whole purpose of war is that you have to cheat and lie, he considered. He was no longer afraid because he knew this was after all just a game. Back at the South gate one of the others who made it back had said “The more you play this game, the better you are in a real life situation”. True he thought, that’s why predators like lions play fight with their siblings from the time they first open their eyes. Argh, he chastised himself “I wished I’d said that at the time”. He whispered to himself as he lay on top of his bed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter two. The Great Tribe.

 

“There was a time, still remembered by the oldest records of our Great Tribe when we were blessed with the multitude of stars and the Gods still sat among us; These are legends but not myth”. The elder known as Chief Naid sat back and stroked his long braids of light green hair in serene contemplation. Naid’s tribe, one of the oldest tribes called the Keerof belonged to the throne world known as Aescalon. Behind him, festooned on the wall was his tribe’s flag. The flag is dark blue with a red shield on the centre. The ancient words on the red shield, written in gold read in ancient text “today belongs to us”. In front of him, the Keerof local council sat around the wooden banquet table. All in attendance waited patiently for his next words. Once known as Naid youngblood, he was the youngest ever chief appointed by the council at just eleven years old. This honour was given to him when his father died at an unexpectedly young age. He was the only surviving child of the last Chief, known as Lensorof. Most of his tribe’s ancient ancestors were killed in the murderous war of attrition when there were more than seven hundred tribes, Seven twelve in fact. Since those dark times, war had been condemned by the Gods who had left because of it and all murder has become an offence punishable by banishment. There is no greater dishonour than to live as an outcast, shunned by all including the Gods, as if you never existed.

 

Alene, the Chieftain’s daughter is by default on the council and she knew well what her father was referring to. The “Great Tribe” is a singular term of reference for the Aesini people, whom the Gods placed on Aescalon many thousands of years ago in the hope that one day they would become Gods themselves. The Gods, they say, cannot reproduce as they lost the physicality of their existence long ago evolving into luminous beings of light and energy, before this transition, the scriptures of their one and only religion states that the Gods created beings in their own early images, we are these chosen beings and arrogantly, we believe, the only ones in the universe. The great tribe is in effect twenty eight massive tribes united in a network spanning dozens of worlds throughout the Great Tribe’s space. These are all headed by their revered Chieftains who represent their tribes at a conference on Aescalon every five years. This conference typically goes on for three to six months, depending on how long debates continue until they are resolved, far too long in Alene’s opinion. The conference of elders covers all areas of governance, policy making, resource allocation, trade, labour allocation, creature output, rewards, the military forces called the “protective military”, tribute and most importantly, to elect or re-elect the monarch for the next 5 years. Most of the time, it is the incumbent unless he or she is too old to maintain their duties or way too unpopular amongst the people. The King or Queen usually stems not from the Chiefs, but from the top echelon of society, in fact, Chiefs are not permitted to be considered. The highest level of society can be academics, traders, workers, celebrities, sports stars, priests, actors, mothers, fathers, creature breeders, scientists, well just about anyone really, as long as their contribution has been great and their value is extraordinary. The King or Queen is a popularist figure head, it is the chieftans and the Aescalon parliament who are the lawmakers headed by the Prime Minister who wield the true power of the great tribe. This is a power that they fought for during the terrible civil war so long ago when one war lord attempted to unite all the Aesini under one banner but then lead them down a dark apocalyptic parth that wiped out billions and very nearly destroyed everything. The handful that survived consolidated into the twenty eight tribes we have today and formed the first democratic monarchy. It is the chieftans who ultimately vote on and approve all policy, ratified by the parliament headed by the Prime Minister. The King or Queen will almost always approve of the decisions put forward by the parliament, or risk being voted off the throne; it is in the monarch’s best interest to follow the popular consensus of the people, the very same consensus that put them on the throne.

Each tribe, regardless of the size of the area in their jurisdiction, or the population of their area is allowed only one vote for every proposition. In the event of a deadlock, the Prime Minister has the deciding vote. To preserve the integrity of the system, no new tribes are allowed to be formed and no tribes are permitted to consolidate; this means that no matter how large in area, planets, or people a tribe becomes, they still only get one vote. Any individuals found to be actively against the status quo risk becoming an outcast in permanent exile. Genius really, because there is no need for the empire building that lead to the terrible civil war. The next convention on the Throne world city of Aescalon, the same name as the world which bears its name, is scheduled for next week and Alene, her father and a contingent of dignitaries from the Keerof are preparing to leave. This will be her first journey to the great capital that she has heard so much about, it’s beautiful waterways, the creature works that take up more than a quarter of the city and the 28 massive flags, one for each tribe, that line the main boulevard outside the huge entrance of the building known as the hall of chiefs, the biggest building in the known universe where the parliament, ambassadors, embassies, ministries and the Kings palace are all part of the same enormous structure. The Kings Palace however, is at the top and apparently from there, you can see the whole city, Alene is hoping that she gets to see this.

Naid continued “We must honour the Gods so that they come back to us by offering tribute to them” a collective moan went around the table. By “tribute” Alene reminded herself that he meant whatever gold could be rounded up over the last five years to give to the King and in return, bonus allocations are given to the tribe. Gold used to be in the form of coins which was used as currency in the old times, the greed for these coins, indeed for gold itself, became one of the triggers for the civil war. So now they are banned and all gold found must be handed in to the palace. One of the reasons why gold is regarded as so precious, besides its scarcity, is that it is coveted by the Gods for reasons unknown, although it is believed that it comes from the old sun Gods that the Aesini used to worship before the civil war. “What does he do with it all anyway”? Said one of the council members “I hear that the reason the palace is so big is because that’s where tons of gold is stored” said another, there was a murmuring between them as they discussed this. Eventually, Naid put up his hand in a stop gesture and they immediately fell silent. “The King requires it because it is the will of the God’s, when we have enough then the Gods will return and claim it as their tribute, then the God’s will help us to the next step of our evolution, our enlightenment, they will light the path to the universe, don’t you people read the holy books?” A council member spoke “but when do we know there is enough”? A good question thought Alene. “The prophecy says when we have proven ourselves worthy and by living a humble, simple existence according to our traditions”. This was met by silence, a few shook their heads. “Because they work, so, I have read your reports and we do not have enough gold this time to get the bonuses we want, I know there’s more out there, we need at least another five percent by next week to make the quota”. The council erupted with voices of dissent “fiver percent?! There isn’t enough” and “We already double checked” were heard. The Chief became agitated “I’m not asking, and this is not a discussion, you will get that gold before the conference starts” Alene spoke “Father, may I be the one who bears the gold to the King?”

“We have so many items on the agenda including the vote” Naid shook his head wearily “I’m sorry Alene but it looks like it could go for more than the three months this time, you should not come and focus on your studies”. She protested “but father, If I am to become the Keerof Chief tress, I must at least observe what you do” “And in another five years, you shall” he said sternly “No! That’s what you said five years ago, is it because I’m female? Do you still have that stupid old warrior mentality”? “Enough”! Naid slammed his hand down on the table.

She stood up now “my studies include leading this tribe in the new way and you have a problem with that”! All around the banquet table became silent; some looked on but most bowed their heads out of respect for the Chief, long had they known of the tension between him and his daughter, his only surviving child. Many agree that he blames her for the death of his son. Both Alene and Naid’s son Tomiyos went to the trials when they came of age, but only she returned. Now it was Naid’s turn to stand up “You will not talk of the new way and you will do what I tell you!” he bashed his fist on the table repeatedly for effect which startled some of the others around the table. Alene crossed her arms; she has inherited her father’s pig headed determination “I thought that you might say that so I already made other arrangements” “what do you mean”? “I have been invited by the Pulic ambassador to be his guest, so I’m going with or without you”. Check. “You cannot go as his guest without my permission; I am the chief of this tribe”!

“According to Great tribe law, each ambassador is allowed to invite a guest, any guest, it doesn’t require your permission”. Checkmate. The chief flew into a rage, he didn’t care that the banquet table was full of his own council, ambassadors, not to mention visiting dignitaries, he did not concern himself with such trivial matters such as how awkward they were feeling at this point. He began smashing plates and glasses “you think you can make me look like a fool”?! She stood firm “You don’t need my help for that”, too far, she thought. She loved and respected her father but he put far too many restrictions on her, he was too careful that his last child be protected from the outside world, from the new way and she knew her father was not a fool, far from it. He looked at her and trembled, suddenly his fur began to stand on end and ripple, not a good sign, especially from an old man. She started walking backwards towards the door, she knew what this meant, her father was evoking the death hiss which was against the law. The death hiss is an extreme measure when an Aesini wants another one dead, either by their own hand or by the hand of another; they ripple their fur, stand it up on end and point to their victim before letting out a primal hiss which harkens back to their ancestral past as more primitive beings. “Don’t do it dad, I’m sorry” she began to cry as she walked away. Immediately, the other Aesini closest to Naid grabbed him and attempted to hold him down, when the death hiss is initiated, an Aesini’s body becomes super strong, using all the energy in their system to prepare them for the battle, despite his age, those surrounding him struggled to hold him down on the ground. The last thing Alene saw as she backed out of the door was her father pointing to her, as she ran out she could hear the scuffling sounds of his restrainers and the blood curdling sound of his hiss. Surely he didn’t really want her dead; this was just his emotions out of control at such an old age. She ran back to their home where her mother was waiting for her.

“Mum!” she cried as she crashed through the door “what is it princess”? “He death hissed me!” “what? who?” “Dad, it was dad”. “what!? Are you sure it was against you dear?”. She cried uncontrollably, inconsolably “there holding him down, he won’t be able to move for a couple of days after this, the hiss might even kill him, what do we do”? Alene’s mother Arinda held her tightly “We shall do what we always do, what is best for the tribe”.

They sat together in silence for what seemed like an eternity, finally, there was a knock on the front door, Alene stood up and began walking to the door, her mother stopped her. “I’ll get it” Arinda opened the door to see two police officers and a detective who was wearing a revered class 5 badge on his lapel, a very senior officer. The detective looked sombre “good evening citizen, Designer Arinda Class 8 honoured I presume?” “Yes, I, please come in and take a seat, may I serve you a cup of broth?” “I am detective Kulpic class 5 revered and this is officer Sendic class 4 honoured and Ruful class 3 honoured. “No, that won’t be necessary; we appreciate the offer though” one of the police officers looked at the detective pleadingly and Kulpic shrugged “We do hear that your broth is amongst the best in the tribe however, perhaps just a quick one”. The officers and the detective stepped in. Alene introduced herself and at her invitation; they sat around an ornate table carved out of rare wood with the tribe’s flag stained into it. Arinda dashed into the kitchen to arrange the broth. He was right, their broth had won many awards and not because Arinda was the wife of the Chief. Poor dad, Alene lowered her head. “First of all, you need to know that our exalted Chief Naid is in the North East district medical facility and apart from exhaustion, he’ll be O.K. He was stopped before he, uh, followed through the ancient ritual of the hiss”. Alene shook her head in disagreement “I heard it”. “Yes but, uh, you had left just before the completion of the ritual, for it to be valid, the, uh, recipient must be present” “You are protecting my father on a technicality detective, for that I am very grateful” “No, not at all, he uh, he’s our leader and I’m not making an exception to the law, let me be clear on that, it’s my job to enforce the law but your father did not actually commit a crime, as such.” Arinda ran out from the kitchen in tears and hugged an embarrassed looking Kulpic and then the two other police who smiled politely. “Thankyou detective, I shall not forget this kindness”. “It’s not a kindness Designer Arinda honoured class 8, we are merely following the law with, uh, the best interests of the Keerof tribe in mind”. “Please, just call me Arinda, there’s no need for titles amongst friends”. “Well, thank you, I appreciate that”.

Thank the Gods, titles are so long and boring Alene thought; the titles her mother were referring to is the rank and file system of Aesini society, it is the fabric that holds us together and goes to the very core of what they claim has kept the peace for a thousand years. Aesini are paid not in money, which was banned after the civil war, they are paid in rankings and points to be spent, the higher the rank, the more respect and privileges you receive and “gifts” allocated. When someone is first introduced, it is tradition to call them by their job title first, then their name and finally their rank, their clothing, made up of layers of folded sheets often shows the colours and patterns of rank. Every one has a rank depending on how long they have been doing their job and how good they have become at it; this is assessed by a very complex system of their peers both higher and lower, area leaders, council leaders and finally, the Chieftain who has the ultimate say. Of course there is some corruption, but, if the corruption is obvious, such as a lower rank living in the same luxury as a higher one, it is eventually found out and the criminals become outcasts. Also, because of biometric sensors and scanners in just about every building, shop and street corner, you can’t fake who you are or your rank because these things read your actual DNA.

She reminded herself – The ranks work like this, when you are born up until the age of 15, you are called a new born which does not carry any rank and is therefore exempt from most things, then you attend college for 10 years as a class one or two initiate. The class twos are the higher ranked and have different teachers which depends on how well they performed as new borns at school. It doesn’t really matter though because when you eventually finish college, you choose what you want your job to be, Alene chose to become a creature maker, like the Gods who made us, we make animals from DNA strands and accelerate their growth into many things, transport, service animals, food, weapons, companions, you name it. It’s a very honourable field to go into, her older brother also decided on this career choice until he would become chief of course. They both went to the trials and, well, that’s not something she wanted to think about right now. After the trials are successfully completed you are given the title of honoured one class one and you start your life long career in your chosen field. This is a big deal, like a coming of age there are parties and gifts and you even get to formally marry now if you like. The Honoured one classes go up to ten, and most of us get to at least 8 or 9 by the time we die, however, for the exceptional performers in their chosen field, they can go to advanced college and enter the revered classes which go from one to five. The detective is one of those. Then there are the elites, there are not many of those about, they go from one to three, the Chiefs have to be elite. Her father wasn’t an elite when he first became chief, but the title automatically made him one out of respect….the respect that she failed to give him she thought as she sighed. Finally, there is the illuminate, they live in the Kings Palace and they are the best of the best. They take the roles of the ministers and the Kings advisers in all things and many of them are members of the parliament. Needless to say, these are very old Aesini and despite their experience, they do not always act in the best interest of the people, they are not interested in the new way because they cling on to old antiquated ideas and ridiculous traditions like rank titles. Her father wants to become an illuminate one day when she becomes chief tress. Still plenty of time for that, he’s only 125 and he should live to about 160 as long as he doesn’t hiss again, that’s only designed for the young of us. That reminded her “How is he, really”?

The detective frowned “I’ve been told he is very tired, he will probably wake up soon if you want to be there for that, I’ll make sure that there are officers present in case, y’know” Alene cut him off “thankyou, but that won’t be necessary”. Arinda and Alene patiently waited for the officers to finish their broths and when they left Arinda looked at Alene “your father loves you very much, he wants to protect you from the rigors of being a Chief by easing you into it”. “Mum, remember when you bought me my first strider when I was just seven”? “Yes, he was in our family until only last year, now with the Gods” “Then, you remember that when you bought it for me, you didn’t include the training harness”? “Yes”. “I was jealous of the other kids because they all had training harnesses and they teased me for it, it made riding my strider so much more difficult but soon, I began to master it because I had to, because I had no choice, even though I fell off many times, I became the best rider in our village, I won races and you know how I became so good”? “Because you had no training harness”? Alene crossed her arms “you see my point”.

“Let’s go see your father, the Chief and please, try to be patient with him; he wants what ever is the best for you”.

Alene chose not to respond but thought in silence “does he though?”

 

At the hospital, they went into his room, on his bed, the flag of the Keerof was draped over his bed sheets like it was a funeral and Arinda admonished one of the chief’s aids who was present “is that really necessary”? “It’s for the media”, he replied “the Chief must always be filmed with the flag present”. “We’ll, he won’t be filmed in here, take it off”. “Right away”.

“Please leave us”. With her command, they left. Arinda and Alene both sat around the chief’s hospital bed and Arinda lovingly patted her husband’s hair with a wet towel, Naid’s eyes slowly flicked open and looked at his wife and daughter. “Please forgive me, I’m so sorry, I lost control of my emotions, I , you are not ready to be Chief tress Alene, I hope they do not treat you too harshly for my crime”. Arinda kept mopping Naids head hair, light green and brown with age and thinning in parts “There was no crime, thanks to a loophole, you are still chief”. Naid looked up at the ceiling and Alene was not sure if he looked relieved or burdened by this news. “Daughter” he said dryly. Alene looked up. “I don’t blame you for Tomiyos, he, he made his own choice and you must make yours” Tears welled up in Alene’s eyes, she felt the pangs of guilt and loss in her heart and she was reminded of her trials expedition with her brother. As they both decided to become creature makers, they were in the same trials together, tasked to make and ride animals which would make effective mobile weapons platforms. “As the Gods created us, we too must create” is the Mantra of the creature makers. Alene decided to make hers an eight legged, slow moving lizard tank like weapon she called the “Shellka” with extremely thick boned exoskeleton armoured plates which would rapidly shoot fire projectiles from the front from two turrets. Alene perfected the growth acceleration process and had her animal ready in just one week, two days ahead of schedule, for this she earned a credit. The protective military was also interested in her creation and said that they may consider it in the future. Alene also made her creature docile enough that it would follow the commands of it’s riders without question, even under the duress of battle conditions in which it was tested in a simulated environment, this brain development portion of the building process was as essential as it was tricky, to make them just smart enough to follow commands, but not so smart as to become sentient and desire independence. Tomiyos worked on a variant of the classic bipedal lizard strider, these animals are built for speed to merely carry a warrior into battle, that’s it, nothing else. However, Tomiyos thought he could make these things smarter so that they would be able to actively flank the enemy and gave them razor sharp teeth so they could also engage and fight the enemy, so, not just the riders would fight. A noble and cunning idea and it all seemed to be going well, until in testing, it soon became apparent that the brain of the subject was not able to differentiate between friend and foe. As it ran into the testing facility, it began to bite at all the warriors, not just the opposing ones, Tomiyos tried to keep it under control and Alene watched on in horror from on top of her Shellka on the other side of the huge testing facility. The Strider was gnashing it’s sharp teeth underneath its protective muzzle and it bucked and threw Tomiyos from its back, as he fell he clung on desperately to the reins and this pulled the muzzle off the snarling creature. At great risk to herself, she jumped off her mount and ran to Tomiyos’s aide but she was not quick enough, something that she still blames herself for. As she was only metres away, the strider gored her brother to death before the surrounding soldiers managed to kill it. The last thing she remembers before passing out in grief was sinking to her knees and screaming. She was emotionally very close to her brother, more than most siblings and the fact that he was older and therefore heir to being Chief made her content. She thought she could relax and focus on her studies, on her own life away from politics and administration, on having children, on cooking broth like her mother and attending state functions as the Chief’s sister dressed in wonderful dresses; this was not to be, her mother said that the Gods had different plans for her. As if the Gods had anything to do with this, as if the Gods controlled the destiny of things, she did not believe in this. She did believe in the Gods however, as part of the new way her philosophy is different from the main stream and to call it controversial is an understatement. Whist the great tribe were free to believe in what ever they wanted, the active political participation in undermining the current system is considered a banishment offence. The last thing she wanted to do was break her father’s heart by being an outcast so she kept a lid on her activities with this sect, for now.

Alene now also looked at the ceiling “if I was a little quicker, I would’ve saved him” her father turned to her “if you were a little quicker, it would’ve killed you too and I would have no heir”. “Alene, I want you to come with me to the conference, in the great hall, please respectfully decline the Pulic ambassadors invitation”. “I don’t like him anyway”. She added. He thought for a while and added “my only condition is that you refrain from arguing with me or anyone for that matter and do not speak of the new way” “I promise father”. She hugged him and he now had tears in his eyes “I’m sorry daughter, forgive, forgive me”.

 

The time came and they gathered together atop a group of massive brown furred transport beasts and began the long ceremonial journey to Aescalon City. At the head, adorned with the Keerof flag, the Chief’s entourage sat astride the beast which let out a massive cry, this was taken as a good sign by the Chief, he turned to those gathered on the saddles behind him “this is an omen, we will distinguish ourselves at the conference”. His daughter beamed at him and shared the same confidence that he had, not only because of the beasts rare cry, but also she knew that he and the King were childhood friends who grew up together and although the parliament does not consider any one Chief a favourite, it is widely known that the King endorses most, if not all reasonable propositions that Naid puts forth. She is hoping that on this occasion, as the last, that her father has an open invitation to all areas of the great hall including the palace and that this invitation may extend to her. The King trusts him and with good reason, her father is a man of sincerity and integrity, just old and set in his ways, she felt a pang of frustration that he would not even listen to her whenever she spoke of the new way to him. He once said “the new way is just a fashion for the young, the very thought that the Gods are still with us is absurd, they left a thousand years ago and will not return until such time that we are worthy of it, when we have enough tribute and have evolved naturally enough”. Alene believed in the new way, that the Gods are both nowhere and everywhere, that they see all and hear all, that they hope for us but do not direct us and that they do not wish for any of the Great Tribe to be outcasts. “To outcast anyone is a crime against the Gods”, the new way states. Her sect was radical enough, but the public protest rallies when she was a little younger was embarrassing for the Chief. At one of the rallies a riot broke out when she publically suggested that the Gods can indeed be seen, she said that when you look up into the daylight sky and see the sun, that is one of the Gods, her suggestion that the sun is a God was paganism from the early ancestral days and this new way of thinking publically revealed as a dressed up very old religious philosophy was too much to bear for many who were present, it took hundreds of police officers to bring it under control and the media attention that it attracted was not good for Naid’s tenacious hold on leadership. Fortunately, for the Keerof tribe, Naid had since censured his daughter and managed to convince the media that it was a phase of youth his daughter was going through. He knew all to well that this was a temporary truce however and that after the conference, there was a real risk of her rabble rousing again and causing disharmony amongst his people. He sighed as he sat on top of his beast and thought if only Tomiyos were here, he did not believe in the new way, he would’ve been so much easier to control. As the great beasts were ridden though the Keerof townships over the next few days, tens of thousands lined the streets and cheered and waved, many had small flags that they waved as well. The Chief and his daughter dutifully waved back and the Keerof national anthem played from speakers everywhere, there was a lot of ceremony to the conference as it only happened every five years, a lot of importance was placed on it and the Chief knew that he had to ensure other Chiefs and ultimately the parliament voted on propositions that were in the Keerof’s best interests.

It took another few days of riding by day and sleeping by night until they finally entered the great city of Aescalon. A bejewelled masterpiece of Aesini ingenuity, consolidating the natural and unnatural worlds into a unique amalgamation of harmonious living. Everywhere there were new beasts that Alene had only heard about, huge buildings that put her local village to shame. The roads were wide to accommodate the traffic which was always flowing, the marketplaces sold all manner of exotic items from all twenty eight tribes, perfume, the latest in fashion, food, all kinds of animals and Alene was tempted to flee the entourage just to explore the city until her sense of duty barely constrained her.

Chief Naid held up his hand and the convoy under his command immediately stopped, Alene looked up from her wonderment at was going on around her and her eyes widened even more when she saw the grand entrance to the great hall. As the stories she had heard suggested, the entrance was miles long and wide, like a forum where all people gathered. Like parting grains of sand, the people moved hurriedly and stood to one side as the Chief gave his hand gesture command to proceed and the massive beasts lumbered on. On each side she saw the enormous flags of each of the 28 tribes, people were again cheering and waving but, as Aescalon city was not aligned to any one tribe, they merely cheered to join in on the spectacle of the occasion. Naid turned to his daughter and with a grand sweep of his arm as if to take it all in he shouted to her above the commotion “Don’t you wonder why they Gods have not yet returned? What a civilization we are”! Alene merely smiled back at him “they never left us dad, I told you that” He rolled is eyes in frustration and turned back to the entrance of the great hall. The cheering crowds got the attention of the King, his high priest the Prime Minister and a few ministers who came out onto the ceremonial balcony high above the entrance. Only the King was smiling however as he saw his old friend approaching. Naid saluted and they returned his salute, the king held it longer than the rest and they retreated from the balcony back inside, undoubtedly for more urgent business that they needed to attend to. All of the other tribes had already arrived via transport ships that carried them through the gateways to the Aescalon system, the Keerof were over a day late due to Naids recovery and the others were eager for more formal proceedings to commence.

After they had dismounted, porters gathered up their luggage and took it on elaborately carved wooden trolleys to their quarters. There were animals which could do this of course, but a great source of pride and a savvy source of labour for the Aescalon people was to work in the great hall, no matter how menial the task, it was considered an honour. The King himself unexpectedly attended to Naids luggage, much to her father’s protests. “Your majesty, you are not a porter, you are the leader, don’t carry my bags, let me” but the King slapped him aside, “please Naid, it fills me with joy that you are here, you would offend me if you did not let me”. The King enjoyed opportunities for him to be seen as a common man, especially when the media were present, he knew that these self deprecating gestures only served to ingratiate him further with the Great Tribe so Naid allowed him to carry on. The King looked at his old friend “I heard of your recent….illness; don’t you know we’re getting to old to behave like that”? Naid looked embarrassed “I do now, old friend”. They shook hands warmly as they headed inside the great hall, the guards gathered out the front snapped to attention as Naid, his daughter whose mouth was as wide as her eyes followed, with the entourage and the porters. Alene noticed the guards were dressed resplendent in lavender armour which glistened under the bright luminescent lights of the building; the King himself wore a purple robe which was symbiotic with the monarch. She had been told that the robe is a living organism matched by DNA which will only adorn the king in case of any imposters.

As they ascended the polished marble stairs into the chambers, portraits of the 53 previous Kings and Queens of the last thousand years adorned the walls and she felt pride in the achievements of her people.

The massive monolithic stones that lined the walls in perfect symmetry were from all the planets of the Great Tribe, many were different colours as they were assorted stones from different quarries.

The whole extravaganza was more magnificent than even her creative mind could imagine and she was simply overwhelmed. Her father was right in a sense. What more of a magnificent species could exist in the universe other than the Great Tribe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three: Know your enemy.

 

There was definitely the proverbial elephant in the room, Nelson sat on the couch looking at what was transpiring between the Sergeant and the LT in the office. The report of the deep valley training mission was out and the Sergeant was being questioned, grilled more like it, about his sudden absence around about the time of Nelson’s victory. “It’s not adding up Sergeant, tell me again why you left the command tent at such a critical time”. The Sergeant was unflinching and standing at full attention calmly stated “sir, is this to be a formal investigation? I have already stated on my report that I went to the latrines…” The interrogator cut him off. “..and yet the guard posted at the latrines never saw you there, don’t tell me it was dark because I will get up off this chair and claw at you like a mammal if you bullshit me with that!” The Elephant sounded, Nelson was there to witness that the LT had an inkling that the Sergeant had a hand in his success, they both despised the LT and he knew it. “There is not going to be an investigation, I just need to know off the record, where did you go?” The Sergeant, to his credit, did not even take his eyes away from the LT, he knew that no one saw them at the laundry facility and a formal inquiry would at best be inconclusive and show the LT for what he was, an administrator, not a leader, someone who couldn’t run a bath let alone an academy without the help of the excellent officers that he relied upon. “My statement stands Lieutenant, I went to the latrines”. A look of satisfaction flashed on the LT’s face “The CCTV proves that you were on the other side of the parade grounds, near the laundry facility at this time” gotcha. “I gave you an opportunity to be honest with me, why did you lie to me Sergeant Horx”? The Sergeant maintained his composure; However, beads of sweat were now obvious on his forehead and began to trickle down his face. He knew he could not insult the inquisitor’s intelligence, limited as that may be with the implausibility that he was lost, he had been there many years so what the hell could he say to this? Nelson considered. All of a sudden, his suppressed fears came to life, if the Sergeant caved, they would likely both be court martialled and the consequences of that would probably be years in a cell and careers over. His world was unravelling and he too felt the sweat on his face. The Sergeant calmly spoke “I was on the way back from the latrines when I heard a sound from the laundry building and went to investigate, the conveyer belt was on after hours, I turned it off and returned to the Command tent”. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me this before?!” the LT was incredulous. Nelson stood to attention “Sir, I turned on the conveyor belt to attract his attention sir”. The reason was obvious to all of them; to attract the Sergeant’s attention away from the parade grounds meant that Nelson would be able to reach the end zone without incident, which is exactly what happened. The LT fell back into his chair “Well, isn’t that just convenient”?

Nelson’s quick thinking exonerated both of them instantaneously with a logical explanation for everything, except that the LT wasn’t buying it, not for a second. The LT now stood to attention “Sergeant Horx, you are to be disciplined for omitting this in your report, your place was in the command tent and you deviated from this I mean, who gives a shit if the laundry was on and even if it was, you should’ve sent a grunt to check it out; Jones, you now as always, make me physically ill, I know you are lying and if graduation was not tomorrow I would kick your ass right now for lying to me maggot! Get out both of you before I vomit all over my very expensive Cedar desk that neither of you will ever be able to afford!” They saluted, about turned and counted off as they left the office; Nelson caught the Sergeants face in the corner of his eye and the Sergeant mouthed the words “thank you”. Really? Thank you? Nelson had just made Horx look like a fool and he was getting thanked for it? Nelson learned the next day on the grapevine day that Horx was to be busted down to Lance Corporal and transferred to another training facility as a specialist in computer and robotic engineering, totally non combat. Nelson felt remorse for the fact that his actions let down someone whom he now considered a friend.

 

The parade ground shimmered in the sunlight and heat, flags representing each squad seemed to salute in unison fluttering in the warm breeze. Nelson took an active part in this one, arranging the pre-recorded music and helping to set up the stage and chairs, it was not out of pride, he felt if he could set up for the graduation ceremony, somehow it would be over sooner, he was keen to get on with the next phase of his career, whatever that may be. Of course, he wouldn’t learn this until he actually got his orders at the end of the day. He was hoping that he would be posted in strategic command; working with Jessie would be fantastic. Nelson’s grades, all distinctions or higher would surely not put him in harms way, any war theatre or battle ground, his mind was too good to be dodging bullets. His girlfriend, Meghan was posted in Europe at a ready base and was now a Corporal, he was so proud of her and was looking forward to some well earned leave post grad to visit her, he began thinking of her and the awesome sex they were going to have when the gather up music and announcements came over the P.A.

The military band headed the formations and he went through the motions of parade, wearing his formals was always a pain in the ass, sure they looked good in all their navy blue, white capped splendour but they were about as comfortable as ant infested hessian underpants and today being particularly humid made them almost unbearable. Almost, for he had to get through this, one final loop to jump through, one final hurdle and he would be able to end this. The military drum beats coming from the band were hypnotic and he felt a sense of pride for the first time today, not for himself, but for being part of something more than him, a great thing, he always wanted to be a soldier and now this was really happening, the lunch later was also something he looked forward to, of course, he was not able to indulge in this last year with his friends Jessie and Meghan but he had heard that it was legendary and far superior to the slop served in the mess hall.

His squad did a flawless march past of the command podium and all those assembled standing returned the salutes of him and his classmates, except one, an unusual looking woman who seemed apart from all the politicians, dignitaries and commanders, this was a strikingly beautiful, no, beautiful wasn’t quite the right word, handsome, yes, handsome young woman dressed in a uniform he had never seen before, a uniform he didn’t understand. It was vaguely early to mid twentieth century fascist in its aesthetic and looked out of place with everyone else. She wore shinny black jackboots, grey trousers with black stripes down the pleats and shirt and he could not help but noticing that she carried in her black gloved hands what he interpreted was a horse whip. Was she a jockey? She certainly was small enough to be one. The only item he recognised on her uniform was the command pin; it was that of a Major. Her short Jet black hair moved slightly in the breeze and a little bit of her hair fell over one of her large, expressive eyes. As the rest of his squad mates snapped their heads forward after the salute, Nelson absent minded and in a trance, could not help but to keep staring at her. She noticed this and brushed the hair away from her eye and smiled lasciviously showing her bright red lipstick to be a prominent feature on her face. She leaned to one side and put a hand on her hip, a look of inquisitive amusement on her face as she raised an eyebrow. This all seemed to be happening in slow motion from Nelson’s perspective. The LT, who was still saluting followed Nelsons stare and wide eyed, glanced at the woman before looking back at him. Nelson forced himself to snap out of this untimely distraction and joined his squad mates in unison once more, startled by his sudden inability to exert self discipline.

The inevitable speeches came, the strange woman did not speak at all during this time, instead glancing at and interacting with a mobile electronic device on her lap as she sat. She only occasionally looked up more out of obligation than interest and went along mindlessly with the applause. It didn’t occur to Nelson that during the whole ceremony, he couldn’t take his eyes off her; he didn’t even look in the audience to see where his parents were seated.

He knew they were there as he saw them and waved earlier at the start of proceedings.

The LT was introduced by General Eisen and slowly walked up to the lectern to make his address. “Ladies and gentlemen, General, Minister of defence and all our esteemed visitors, I am proud today, proud to be once again looking at the faces of the young men and women who will one day make me even more proud, men and women who will make sacrifices and work hard so that we might be free, because there is no price too high to be paid for freedom, there is no sacrifice too great, no act too noble to achieve this”. He made a sweeping hand gesture “These brave men and women assembled here in their prime have made my pride justified and I have no doubt that my faith in them will not be misplaced, that our investment in them and in themselves will not go unrewarded”. He looked up at the sky and then the crowd in the stadium made up of friends and family. “These fine young soldiers that you see before you are the result of the fine discipline, fine training and fine education that this college is world famous for, this is the big leagues, the elite, the best of the best, the cream and make no mistake, when they are called to duty, they will not flinch, they will not hesitate or question, they will do what must be done, they will fight and they will win”! The stadium erupted with cheering and applause. Nelson yawned, same deal as last year he thought. The LT looked out at the cadets seemingly with love “sure, I’ve been tough on them, but you can’t make good bread without kneading the dough, you can’t make an omelette without…”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night mate” came an interrupting cry from one of the audience members assembled which caused a stir from the rest of the stadium and a short laugh from many of the cadets who shared the sentiment, but Nelson was not included in the joviality, he knew who sang out in that unmistakably Australian Accent, it was his dad Dave and his heart leapt in his chest, this was more than inappropriate, it was disrespectful and he knew the LT would not stand for it. It happened so suddenly, the LT nodded to an officer who pointed to another, this one ran up into the audience and stood menacingly at the edge of the row where Hank and Dave were seated, unclipped his side arm and glared at them before, finally, standing at ease. It was a show of strength for the benefit of all that no more outbursts were going to be tolerated. Despite his fear, he felt nothing but pride for his dad “standing up to the man” as he used to put it.

The moment was over and the speech continued “I say with conviction, not irony that I do sleep well at night, because I do what needs to be done, we cannot fight with weaklings and we cannot fight with bookworms who don’t like holding guns”. This was a deliberate allusion to Nelson, intended to offend his parents, the LT knew who they were, part of his responsibility which the LT took very seriously was to know the cadets files back to front, which included family history. This caused murmuring from the crowd and some of the cadets and for the first time, the unusual woman seemed interested in proceedings. She looked up away from her pad and waited intently for the next words to come out, she was disappointed however, more inspiring rhetoric was all that she heard as he continued “we can only fight to win, and fighting to win means knowing your enemy, knowing them better than your best friend, your lover, your own hands”. Some less mature cadets snorted with giggles and looked over at Nelson. He too knew that lover and hands were linked into the same sentence as some kind of obscure masturbatory reference. Oh my God, now he got the joke, the events of exactly a year ago, the LT was cleverer then he had given him credit for. Nelson also smiled, not because it was funny, but because ultimately it backfired and made the LT look stupid. “Know your enemy, give and follow orders well, maintain your discipline, remember your training and you will all make us proud”. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the graduating class of 2094”. Nelson stood up with all and threw his cap in the air with rapturous applause coming from the stand.

All the graduates lined up to get their diplomas from the General, when it was Nelson’s turn, there was only a smattering of applause as his last name started with a J, some were clapped out already by this point. It was not announced as it should’ve been that contained with his diploma by means of sticky tape crudely fastening it to the paper, was a medal for outstanding academic performance, in fact, the highest grades ever achieved in the history of the college. Undoubtedly, an intentional omission from proceedings. He did not look at the LT when collecting his diploma, he didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging that the special award was not announced, he knew however that the LT must be smiling ear to ear at this moment. He was tempted to look at his latest fascination, obsession almost, but he did not want to distract himself by looking at her either, he wanted to share the moment with his dads and looked in their direction, they were clapping enthusiastically and he doffed his cap to them and to the General who shook his hand warmly “I expect great things of you” he whispered in Nelson’s ear, this surprised him, surely the LT would’ve down played his achievements to the General and perhaps even dissuaded the General from considering him at all, for anything.

The afternoon lunch that followed was sumptuous by military standards, no more slop from the mess hall, this was the good stuff, the beer and wine flowed freely, the table d’hôte menu resembled something more akin to a fine dinning restaurant than to this kind of occasion. The “cream” it seemed, had indeed risen to the top and he especially enjoyed feasting with his parents and laughing about old memories. He looked around for the woman, but she was not to be seen. He couldn’t help himself, he got drunk, not the kind of drunk when you don’t remember anything and stumble around making an ass of yourself, but the kind which makes good times even better so not too bad he thought.

A tap came on his shoulder, it was Sergeant Evan Horx who was now sporting a Lance Corporal badge, the rumours were true. Nelson said with noticeably slurred speech “Look man, I’m so sorry I got you busted down, it, it was the only way to save both our asses y’know?” He said this a little too loud and a few of the patrons stopped to listen in. Horx pulled him away from the table and from those gathering around and nodded to Hank and Dave “May I borrow him”? They both nodded in unison. Horx put his arm around Nelson “It was so worth it, besides, it was probably the only way out, we’re o.k.”. Nelson kissed him on the cheek and Horx looked at little worried and glanced over to Nelson’s dads “Still I owe you one Horx, y, you are a good guy y’know that?” Horx walked him away further from the table “Yea, well maybe you can pay me back someday, listen, snap out of it and get your shit together, your orders are about to be given”. “What”? Nelson was genuinely surprised “That’s not supposed to be until later tonight and by innerlink mail, who cares how I look”? Nelson laughed drunkenly. “No soldier, it’s the here and now”. The Sergeant couldn’t help still being a Sergeant.

Nelson couldn’t read Horx’s eyes as they were concealed behind a pair of sunglasses.

“Why the sunnies Horx”?

“People tell lies all the time, this is how I get nuggets of truth”. He smiled and pointed to the rim of the glasses, Nelson couldn’t understand what he meant by that.

“I said snap out of it! Stand to attention when I’m talking to you!” Despite the distance they now were from the banquet table, many were watching this apparent act of discipline “Sir, yes sir” Nelson snapped to attention and saluted the man who returned the salute. “March!, left right left right” this is what Nelson needed, he didn’t now it now but sobering focus is what was required for the next moment, a moment that would change his life forever.

 

He was marched into the LT’s office. The LT was sitting down but standing not far from him peering out of the window to the parade grounds below was the mysterious woman! “Thank you Lance Corporal, that will be all for now” the emphasis the LT put on the rank title was unnecessary but the LT obviously derived some satisfaction from it. “Please Nelson, take a seat”. It was the first time that this psychopath had ever called him Nelson and probably the first time he was polite, ever, obviously for the benefit of the woman though he didn’t know why. This mysterious figure was finally about to be revealed to him and he sat without hesitation. She was still looking out of the window when Nelson heard from his nemeses’ mouth “Nelson, allow me to present Major Ira Bilis”. She slowly turned around and although small in stature, she seemed to be taking up the whole office, more strikingly handsome close up than she seemed earlier; she clutched the riding crop in her hands and bent it between them. Far from a smile, she was all business this time; her pale white skinned face did not reveal any kind of readable emotion at all as she addressed Nelson in a vaguely English accent. “I am here today because two people find you interesting…” “Yea, who”? Nelson cut her off with alcohol affected impertinence and in an instant, the major’s eyes lit on fire with rage and she bared her teeth as an attacking animal would, she stepped over to him and open hand slapped him on the face, despite her only being about 5.2” it was like being hit by a heavyweight boxer, such was the intensity and suddenness of the violence, he reeled in his chair and his vision became fuzzy, the beers weren’t helping as she mercilessly beat him on the top of his head with the riding crop. Unlike the hand slap, this did not hurt; maybe the beers were helping after all. “Did I give you permission to ask me a question”? She screeched. The LT was so surprised that he jumped in his chair and looked, for the first time Nelson had ever remembered, afraid. This made Nelson afraid too; a man who never showed fear before was scared stiff of this small thing, that’s something to take notice of. “No Ma’am, sorry ma’am”. She relented at this and calmly resumed her previous position by the window. “Unlike this piece of shit here”, she gestured toward the LT, “Commander Jessie Kearn holds you in very high regard, I believe him and so does Secretary General Freeman who sent me here”. Oh, there were so many questions he wanted to ask but he didn’t want another round in the ring with this vicious creature who, by the way, he decided he was no longer attracted to emotionally, physically however, he most certainly was. Questions like how the hell did Jessie get to Commander in just one year? He was good but not that good and why didn’t he tell me in the weekly communications they’d had? Since when did Jacob Freeman begin calling himself the Secretary General? The long publicised election was not for another month or so. He bit his tongue and the LT looked relieved. “You are immediately promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant and your orders are contained here” she looked over at the desk whilst the LT nervously pushed a dark brown envelope towards Nelson, no doubt his officer pins were also contained inside. The cedar desk resembled a highly polished turd and the irony of her calling the LT what he is was not lost on him. He took the envelope and placed it on his lap, not daring to open it without her consent. She looked him in the eye for the first time and assessed him by looking up and down like he was being measured for a coffin and he felt a chill run down his spine.

“Welcome to the Paladins, you may ask me one question, I know what it’ll be” she sat casually now on the window ledge. Despite probably a dozen very valid and infinitely more important questions dancing around in his head, he asked the most obvious one, the one that she set up and predicted “Thank you ma’am, ah, who are the Paladins, exactly”? Perched on the window sill, she radiated malevolence as she glared out to the parade grounds toward the graduation lunch still underway beneath them. The Major turned and again looked him in the eye and, it seemed beyond that, into his soul. “The Paladins are a secret first to fight rapid assault group, though secrets always get out and so shall we soon enough, we are the personal guard of Secretary General Freeman and as such follow his orders directly, we do not answer to any other arm of the military”. She continued as if reciting a credo as she bent the riding crop on the window ledge “The elite Paladins, or black shirts, are fast tracked to high command status due to their performance, diligence and values; you, Nelson Jones, share the same world view as us according to Commander Kearn”. Nelson remembered the conversation he had with Jessie in the mess hall so long ago about going beyond surrender, about destroying the enemy, whist he still believed this, he felt that a car bumper sticker slogan approach to life was not the answer either. History is written by the victors, but should it be? His intellect was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was questioning everything; the curse was often getting answers he didn’t like.

She got up off the window ledge and stretched as if she had been a cat getting some afternoon sun, as she walked toward the door she motioned for him to tag along “come with me”.

He left with her, the look of astonishment on the LT’s face still on his mind as the door closed and they walked down the hallway together in silence and out of the building. She led him to a waiting vehicle, a gleaming black chauffer driven armoured Jeep that looked like it was brand new, probably was. She ordered the driver, who wore large sunglasses to take the back seat with an “I’ll do the driving” gesture. He immediately got out saluted and closed the door on her as she climbed into the driver’s seat. The driver opened up the door for him and saluted Nelson with a “sir!” before Nelson sat on the passenger side. Sir, the first time I’ve been saluted, wow, so cool, he thought. The dash of the Jeep looked like the bridge of last seasons Starship Enterprise, there were hologram readouts, map displays and a female voice over that simply said “destination”. Major Bilis answered “manual” and the centre console slowly rose up revealing a gear stick. “You like the twentieth century?” he asked. He completely forgot the protocol of not asking a question unless allowed, thank God, so did she, or she ignored it “so much better than this one” she replied as she took off so fast all four tires screeched on the pavement outside the academy he hoped he would never see again.

As they drove she looked in the rear vision camera, was she checking to see if they were being followed? before glancing over to him “Don’t worry, your parents have already been told about what’s happened, they are staying as our guests in the capital and living it up for the next few weeks, five star all the way, we believe in looking after our own and by extension their immediate families, their debts for your…tuition have been paid off by us as well, they, like you, will never have to worry about money again.” Actually, this was not the prominent question on his mind “Ma’am, if I may ask a question?” he dared. He was sobering up now so the beers would afford him no protection “Anytime, that display back there, that’s me showing off, I do that sometimes, I also put that fuckwit in his place so don’t worry about it”. “We are the leaders now; doesn’t that make you feel so good”? She added. How the hell could he not worry about that and what she just said was even more unsettling, could anything send her off? “Erm, where are we going exactly?” “Ever been to Greece”? This day was getting stranger by the minute “no”. “I know you haven’t, we’re going to Athens, to our HQ, the first of many great structures built by a great man and a great leader, Jacob Freeman”. “Why Athens?” “Why not?” she toyed with him. “It’s going to be the new capital of world democracy, where it was founded so long ago and we are going to bask in its magnificent glory!” her eyes were wide open fanatically and he turned to look behind him to gauge the drivers reaction to her little speech but his expressionless face was still wearing the overly large sunglasses so Nelson couldn’t see if he was the only one who thought this woman was crazy. “It will come to be known as a huge complex of the Central Government of the world”. Central government of the world? There’s no such thing. “What’s this complex called”? He dared another question. “Central” came the short answer. The Jeep now cleared the jungle and hurried down the tarmac toward a waiting jet, jet black with a strange symbol on the tail wing, no surprises on the colour exactly, consistent with everything so far, what was surprising however was that it was like no other jet he had seen, it was as large as a troop carrier, larger than the average bomber and, were they propellers at the front? It’s 2094, and we’re going for a ride in a museum exhibit?! His speculation that this bird was a remnant from another time soon ended when they entered via an escalator. Inside the plane looked like a billionaire’s private jet, all the latest technology everywhere, the latest holographic TV screens, plush leather chairs, rare food from all over the world spread out in a ridiculously large buffet that made the lunch back at the academy look like leftovers in comparison, too bad he had already eaten. The rest of the world is brawling over scraps of food and here they were living like kings. In the liquor cabinet contained vintage everything, wines, scotch, vodka, some of it from the twentieth century, most of it either banned or simply unobtainable. Major Bilis pulled out a cigar and the driver who, by now it became clear, was also her personal aide ran over to light it. Judging from the odour, this was no ordinary cigar, it smelled like some kind of marijuana blend that the filters in the ceiling were busily dissipating. She gestured for Nelson to sit in one of the oversized seats. No argument there. “Can Botany get you anything?” The aide was called Botany? Weird. “Er, yes, Botany please get me a small sample plate from the buffet and I’ll try some of that 1999 single Malt” “Good choice” she said as Botany quickly attended to these duties. “You wanna get higher than our altitude”? She was, of course, referring to her cigar and a panel opened out from the wall revealing dozens of cigars of every shape and colour. “We also have just the regular ones too, if you want”. “Thank you yes, Botany, I’ll have a Cuban please”. Nelson was shocked, shocked at so many things right now but nothing more than how easily and quickly he was adapting to this luxury. The Major seemed to be reading his mind “it’s better to sleep in a bed than in the gutter eh”? He got up off his chair and explored the cabin which was bigger than most apartments he had been in, the master bedroom had a king size bed, the cover had a symbol on it the same as he had noticed earlier on the tail wing which he assumed was that of the Paladins, black background with a large Roman numeric V emblazoned in red in the middle, rising up from the middle of the “V” was a lower case p in silver, the bottom end of the sheet had silver tassles on it. He inspected the en suite bathroom which had its own marble walled hot tub, although it was not currently filled with water. Such opulence was characteristic of their benefactor, Jacob Freeman who was well known for his extravagance. Being the richest man in the world had its perks it seemed, including buying votes for power and building his own private army…for what exactly? He wondered. The Secretary General of what was once the United Nations has never needed more than a security detail, let alone a fighting force. The plane began to take off, not by taxiing down the runway as a 20th century plane would, it began lifting off vertically. Nelson looked out of one of the floor to ceiling windows and discovered to his amazement that the propellers had transformed into downward jets propelling them into the air, these were no ordinary jets, the smoke was barely there and the take off seemed smooth. She seemed to be reading his mind again, was he that obvious? He thought. “They’re the latest magni-gravs, using opposing magnetic fields and atoms or some such science into moving us fast, I like to go fast”. He’d noticed that. Before long, the plane burst through the first sound barrier and into the second, yet everything on board was smooth sailing. As he puffed away on his cigar, he noticed Botany was perched in a peculiar, very uncomfortable looking wall mounted plastic chair. The Major followed his eyes over to Botany and explained “he’s recharging, he’s a robot, didn’t you know that?” Nelson shook his head and for the first time, he heard her laugh “hee hee hee hee hee” as she took another drag on her cigar. How is that possible? Botany looked so…real. Despite her clearly being about the same young age as him, perhaps a few years older, she sounded like a cackling old witch and it instantly got on his nerves. Unlike the laughter of Meghan which was music to his soul. Meghan! Germany! She was stationed in Germany and he’ll be in Greece, not too far away, this is great. “Um, ma’am”? “Uh-huh” “When we get to Central, may I take my entitled leave”? “That entitlement was given to you by the Americas army, you have been discharged from that rag tag excuse for a force and have had the privilege of joining the black shirts and you want to take a holiday”?! Her eyes became enraged and he suddenly felt uneasy, Botany would not intervene if another beating were to start and he could not fight back, how could he? There were several cameras on them he knew and even resisting her, especially while she was high might lead to his death, such was the severity of the expression on her face, he had no doubt of it. “I respectfully ask that you forgive my question ma’am, I withdraw”. She casually waved her hand and took another puff “You’ll get leave soon enough to visit your squeeze, but first you will need to be….indoctrinated”.

He had a bad feeling that this was true indoctrination in every sense of the word, not just orientation, not just a tour and more classes, judging by her fanaticism clearly on display, this was to be brainwashing. Strangely, he looked forward to it, all his life he has had an overwhelming need to be part of something vitally important “All I’ve ever wanted is something to believe in”. He said quietly. “I know”. Bilis whispered with a twinkle of amusement in her eye. They sat together in silence for what seemed like an eternity but was actually only about twenty minutes, occasionally he risked admiring her as she sat silently in her chair reading from her pad and she seemed uncharacteristically serene, when she was like this she oozed cat like sensuality. He began to think of his girlfriend. Dammit, he wouldn’t get to see Meghan after all; he might as well be on another planet, not just a few hundred kilometres away. “Lt” He realised that she was referring to him and this felt strange. “If you ever go against me or piss me off in general, I will wear your balls as a trophy on my belt, understood”? “As your C.O, It’s only fair to warn you that every action has its consequences”. “Ma’am, yes ma’am”, he decided to stand up and salute her. She did not return it and ignored him. Despite the fact that he feared her and increasingly despised her, he found that his penis was growing hard in his pants as he sat back down and felt ashamed that his irrational primate body was not convinced of his rational brain. This crazy bitch totally turned him on and he caught himself hoping that she would fuck him on the bed before the flight was over. This was not to be which he was ultimately relieved about, more than disappointed as Botany began to emerge from his chair and announced in a calm male voice that sounded like an old butler “plane is descending, we will be in Athens in ten minutes, local temperature is thirty degrees Celsius, have a nice day”. Nelson sadly considered that Botany was a kindred spirit to his, she owned him too, also a machine designed to do her bidding and he had the feeling that the only reason Nelson was permitted to indulge in the luxuries around him was that he was human and Botany was not.

 

The plane slowly, methodically descended towards what he assumed was the Central, as he peered out of the window, through the heat haze and pollution smog, he saw a seven storey building that took up an entire city block, it looked like an office building, tanned coloured brick and concrete, the windows however, were tinted black. “Excuse me ma’am, what is that building?” Without even looking she replied “that’s administration, you’ll be spending a little time there during your training, it’s the first of many buildings”. She extinguished her cigar and joined him at the window pointing out towards the early stages of construction of another building “that’s going to be the ministry of world order, in effect, a media centre.” “Calling it the ministry of propaganda would send out the wrong connotations would it not”? “It will soon be joined by the ministry of food and water, ministry of resources, ministry of data which will be larger than the rest, and finally, the ministry of world defence, ultimately shaping a massive V”. She drew the letter in the air to illustrate the point. “What’s that”? He pointed over towards a nearby train yard being converted into what looked like a huge terminal. “That’s Central station, the Secretary General prefers train travel to air and the latest trains are very fast so why not?” He looked out and saw tracks for the new high speed rail he’d heard about on the news stretching out in all directions as far as the eye could see. He was awestruck by this alone. “So, no airport”? He asked. “Not in the conventional sense, but then, we are an unconventional lot”. This was not said as a joke, the look on her face was serious as the plane met a rising platform that protruded out from the ground. “As large as our above ground facilities will be, we are bigger under ground; this was built a couple of years ago and houses the Paladins and the arsenal that we bear”. Her eyes were glistening with pride, was she crying? The plane landed gently on the platform and it immediately began lowering into the ground away from view. The platform sank another eight stories counting from ground to eight before finally coming to a halt. A massive facility eight stories underground, which is a huge feat even by today’s engineering and architectural standards, Nelson was impressed to say the least. The engines whined down and Botany was furiously interfacing with a holographic panel. “Was Botany the Pilot too?” “He is my personal assistant and is a great asset to our cause, but a pilot he is not”. “No, we still have pilots up front, although I’m sure Botany would do a good job, there is no substitute for humans is there?” Nelson nodded his head in agreement. She seemed to move from casual, almost friendly banter to erratic outbursts of dogma, this appeared to be an ingrained component of her personality; she was definitely not quite right in the head he decided. “The black shirts put humanity first, before everything; we humans are the ultimate beings in the universe, better than robots, better than the Aesini; it is our destiny to conquer and rule the stars!” As if to emphasize the statement, wild eyed, she made a fist in one of her black leather gloves and pounded it on the wall of the plane for effect. Wow, what the hell kind of rant was that? “Ma’am, um, who or what are the Aesini?” This question startled the Major, as if she was caught revealing a secret too soon, she looked embarrassed for this apparent flaw. “Never mind, you will learn soon enough”. She said dismissively as she waved her hand casually to one side.

A platform bridge slowly ejected from the wall to meet the door where they were waiting whilst Botany retrieved the Jeep from a ramp at the rear of the aircraft, as he drove around up an incline to intercept them, the Major turned to Nelson “I expect great things from you” echoing the words of General Eisen earlier that day which now seemed like a week ago. A sense of pride swelled within him, finally, he was getting the respect he deserved and perhaps he really was with his own kind here, with his people. “Your faith in me is well placed Major, How may I serve you next?” Was his response, an affirmation that he was not only good and he knew it but also that he was willing to be commanded by her, more than willing, desperate. It may lead to other, better things. She smiled slightly. “All in good time, for the next few weeks your indoctrination will turn you from a mere soldier into a warrior, you will be reborn as a black shirt; your former life will be insignificant, barely remembered”. The Jeep arrived but instead of her self indulgently driving manual, she allowed Botany the duty of being the chauffer. The Jeep slowly moved in the great empty space of the underground landing area, lit by a series of spotlights that shone down above the Paladin banners that lined the bay. The few personnel that were about saluted her and she returned some of them by raising her riding crop and nodding. Up another incline they proceeded into a hallway, this time hundreds of personnel scurried about on both sides of the Jeep, attending to duties or going to wherever they were supposed to be, Botany had to beep the horn to disperse the crowed a couple of times as Ira Bilis glowered at them for their insolence at being in the way, intentionally or not. Eventually, they reached another bay area and were met by an officer who saluted them as he opened the door. As they got out of the vehicle, the Major voiced a command to Botany and he drove off. The major shook hands warmly with the officer, clearly she knew him and they all walked towards a door, he saluted them as he opened this door for them, only Nelson returned the salute. They walked into a boardroom; on the wall were three dimensional images of maps, schematics and blueprints that were being read by those in attendance, a gathering of about ten senior officers around the table who barely noticed the arrival of the Major and himself. At the head of the table was a tall man with black hair with their back to them studying a map of stars with blinking red and green lights. He was unmistakably dashing in his long light grey overcoat which had thick animal fur lined sleeves and lapels. He obviously heard the door close because he turned to see who the new arrivals were and his face changed from that of concern to a joyful smile “Nelson”! He exalted. Oh my God, it’s Jessie, Commander Jessie now. Jesus. Nelson shared Jessie’s enthusiasm but stuck to protocol and fought against the urge to ask what he was thinking which was how the hell did Jessie get to Commander? He didn’t want his first impression in this room to be one of an excited boy running towards and hugging his friend even though that is what he impulsively wanted to do. He stood to attention and saluted “Lieutenant Nelson Jones reporting for duty sir”. Jessie returned the salute casually “at ease trooper” he gestured towards one of the chairs “take a seat, I want you to meet the Central behind Central” The Major during this whole time respectfully stood at attention saluting. “You are dismissed Major”. Jessie ordered without even looking at her. She smiled ever so slightly at him, an unmistakable sparkle in her eyes, about faced and left the room without even glancing at Nelson. He felt a flash of jealousy, even though he wasn’t romantically interested in the Major, just sexually, he instinctively detected that there was something between Jessie and her.

Nelson sat down and returned Jessie’s infectious broad smile. Jessie was always on, full on, full of fist pumping optimism, motivation and enthusiasm and rarely not smiling, perhaps this charisma and attitude contributed to his apparent success, he thought.

“This is the guy I’ve been telling you about, ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Nelson Jones, He’s much smarter than he looks and could teach you all a thing or two about military strategy”. “I would not be here today as your Commander if it wasn’t for his inspirational words, his take no prisoners philosophy is at the core of what we believe, what we know to be true; back at the academy he told me that we must take the fight to the Aesini and decimate them, fuck the Geneva conventions, it doesn’t apply here”. Of course, Nelson never actually said that. He chuckled with embarrassment and wondered again who or what this Aesini thing was about. Jessie introduced him to all the young officers in attendance. Shit, everyone was young here, even the brass were under thirty, most of them to his astonishment had doctorates of this and that, one was even a professor, a meeting of the minds indeed, they shook his hand and explained their areas of expertise and all of them made him feel very welcome. He was with his people and the positivity of the room empowered him, electrified him with the current of being accepted and respected, a feeling he had never really felt before and despite his fatigue it invigorated him. For the next hour he sat silently and listened to proceedings, mainly talk of supplies, situation updates and progress reports on construction but occasionally, the talk of the “Aesini menace” came up in relation to time schedules and “readiness”. Jessie apologised “We’ve put the cart before the horse here Nelson, you’ll learn all about the Aesini during your orientation, suffice it to say, they’re bad news”. This was met by all gathered knocking on the boardroom table in a sign of agreement. Interesting that Jessie used this word instead of indoctrination, as the leader of this group of people he was obviously proficient at using euphemisms.

The reason that he included Nelson, a relatively low ranking officer in this high level meeting was lost on him, but he felt honoured that he was part of it. A question was raised about the increasing demand and difficulty in the procurement of food and weapon supplies from one of the senior officers and Jessie looked at Nelson “Let’s get Lieutenant Jones’s perspective on this shall we”? Nelson, unexpectedly thrust into this debate, responded honestly, albeit hesitantly.

“If we are to become the central government of the world, then a crisis, invented or otherwise needs to be communicated effectively and often to the people, exaggerated to the nth degree if need be to get consensus, followed by the necessary temporary nationalisation of agriculture and industry until the crisis passes”. All in attendance sat back in their chairs in thoughtful pause. Jessie shrugged and held out his arms “What did I tell you”? Jessie said happily “Just like good old Cincinnatus of Rome we’ll be the reluctant heroes” He continued. “Simple, simple simple, we have to keep things simple, you eggheads over think, overcomplicate, Freemans money’s gonna run out someday, we can’t just keep buying what we need, we have to consolidate our power base through vertical integration of industry and infrastructure, from the farm to our bellies”. Jessie held out his palm in a reasoning gesture. “As Napoleon once said, an army runs on its stomach, the unbroken chain of supply is more important than even the chain of command”. “Thank you Nelson”. After the meeting had concluded, Jessie warmly put his arm around Nelson’s neck and wrestled him to the ground, all in front of the others, some laughed, others rolled their eyes. It was difficult sometimes not to act their age, play fighting and mucking about was part of being young and Nelson put up some resistance but let the Commander win out of respect, even though he knew he could beat him as he had another year of intensive physical training up on him and he noticed that Jessie had lost some fitness, even developing a paunch. Someone acted out being a wresting referee and lay down slapping his hand on the ground counting up to three “winner and still champion, Jessie Kearn everybody” those still in the room let out a round of sarcastic applause as Jessie and Nelson laughed. They walked out together, Jessie’s arm still around Nelson’s shoulders “I cant believe you’re here Nelson, It’s so fucking awesome that you’re here, I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to tell you what I’ve really been up to and how much I looked forward to you being here, I…”. Nelson felt the warm affection of his friend and it felt like they were just a couple of young guys hanging out. “Dude, today’s gotta be the weirdest of my life, sorry, but I gotta say what the fuck.” Nelson interjected. “I know right? I was wierded out at first but trust me, this shit is for real, it’s so great and we are the leaders now, doesn’t that make you feel good”? Nelson caught his words and stopped in his tracks with surprise, the same words that the Major used a few hours ago, no doubt part of their indoctrination philosophy. “Yes, yes it does.” He answered honestly; it did feel good, damn good. “It’s so cool to see you again man” Jessie added, they walked towards what looked like a shopping mall. My God, it was a shopping mall. In here? Complete with a sprawling food court that contained all of the major franchises and of course, a sizable bar and casino. “This place is amazing, like an underground town” Nelson said. “You have no idea, tonight is Irish night in the bar and we are going to get off our tits!” Jessie laughed, Nelson joined in the laughter, at the absurdity of it all, it was like he was in a dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four: Disorientation

 

After he endured the dull routine of a physical examination, complete with what he was assured were “routine” inoculations, Nelson was once again back in the familiarity of the classroom setting, the first of a series of orientation videos now started in the classroom. Nelson, now in casual fatigue gear which consisted of grey blacked stripped trousers and a black shirt with a faded small “P” on the front sat at his desk and watched with only a hint of interest. He was nursing a sore head from the night before, he remembered some of the conversation he’d had with Jessie and dancing to some music, he never danced so therefore he must’ve been pretty drunk he thought. Jessie tried to stop him drinking at about 22:30 “Hey, I’ve started on the waters man, you should do the same, big day tomorrow” but Nelson kept drinking, much to his mate’s dismay “what are you running from”? “It’s more what I’m running to” replied Nelson. Oh, how his head throbbed, should’ve started on the waters as Jessie suggested. He recalled asking Jessie about Ira Bilis and was embarrassed about how he conducted himself “So, what’s the deal between you and Ira?” “You mean Major Bilis, what do you mean”? “I mean, I saw how she looked at you, did you tap that?” Nelson expected a laugh, a high five, a victory dance but instead saw an uncharacteristic sheepish expression on Jessie’s face “Only once, never again” a look of regret “please, please keep that between you and me o.k.?” “Sure, but er, how was it?” Nelson asked with a big grin “I really don’t want to talk about it”. Of course, Nelson was interested and pushed the issue “did she get all b and d on your ass”? “Did she use that horse whip on ya?” he giggled. “Look, leave it alone”! Nelson could see that his friend was increasingly agitated over the topic of conversation and decided to leave it, except. “What’s the deal with the riding crop anyway”? Jessie’s answer came quickly and easily “Her great great grandfather, I think was a Colonel in WW one, cavalry, it’s a family Heirloom from, like, two hundred years ago or something, she carries it around to remind her of the sacrifices he made for his country, the crop was found next to his body at the Somme”. An uncomfortable silence grew between them, even though only a year had passed since they were together, Nelson had a sense that whether by circumstance, or just how they thought and felt, they had grown apart, that they had become dissimilar and he felt a tinge of regret in his heart.

He woke up this morning purely by accident or perhaps because of years of getting up early had conditioned his body. Thank God, in his drunken stupor, he had forgotten to set his alarm, would’ve been a bad first impression to sleep in on his first day of orientation. How the hell did he get to his bed? Then he remembered, the envelope that the LT had given him the day before had his welcome letter, contract of employment, his command pins and an electronic key, which is a little silver cylinder that apparently has multiple uses as not only an access key, also a data storage stick, a data projector, computer and even a flashlight, neat. The same stick was sitting in a compartment on his t-shirt sleeve. Some memories were now coming back to him, after he’d left the mall bar, he had enquired to some duty officers “where the Fuck do I sleep?” and after they read his data stick on their pads, he was respectfully escorted to his quarters by them and saluted, he did not deserve their respect or salutes, he was downright rude, one of the more unfortunate side effects of whenever he drank too much. “Instant jerk, just add booze” he regretfully whispered to himself with his head in his hands. When he got up in the morning, after only sleeping an hour or so, still drunk, he went to the wardrobe and guessed that his fatigues were the most appropriate dress of choice for today, his assumption was correct. Also in his wardrobe was a battle uniform complete with an odd looking helmet and some sweet looking Kevlar armour, all black of course. His formal dress uniform was also there but he did not pay much attention to this, what he did notice was that each item of clothing, right down to socks and underwear had his name, serial number and bar code tagged on them, very well organised.

He admonished himself for not paying attention, the occupants of the classroom were all dutifully engaged in watching the video and here he was with his head in his hands in a moment of self indulgence, pathetic he thought and he made a secret oath to never go nuts like that again, especially not in front of his peers. He fought against the urge to either throw up or fall asleep and watched the projected 3D video; it was of their benefactor and founder, Jacob Freeman. He watched the video absent minded, however, his life story he already knew, most people did as he is, after all, the richest man in the world. Jacob Freeman was born to poverty in a small farming village in Nebraska and had a life long yearning to unite the world into a single government, such was the obsession of his mission that he wrote a manifesto when he was just sixteen, which has since become a best seller and compulsory reading for all Paladins. Instead of going to high school, Freeman began a career in sales, knocking door to door around his state at the age of fifteen selling bonds, investment deals and financial advice, crazy for someone young and relatively uneducated but such was his drive, enthusiasm and determination that he was a legendary salesperson becoming quite wealthy by the time he was eighteen. For the next fifteen years he worked tirelessly to expand his financial empire by buying into new markets and recruiting the best, most talented sales prodigies he could find. Like a giant pyramid scheme he taught them all he knew as his reputation for success continued to grow, he mentored them and grew very rich from their forwarding commissions. Then, the wars of interdependence started and he saw this as an opportunity, making lemonade from lemons he invented a single currency and floated it on the internet calling it the Universal Credit, or UC, that anyone could buy and trade and aggressively marketed this to all opposing sides, trading shamelessly by investing in the sides who were making the victories on the battlefield and selling the inflated gains to the losing side as the pendulum of war swung back and forth, like he had a crystal ball, he could sense the outcome of these wars and the business juggernaught turned into monster proportions when he consolidated all the space exploration and mining companies using the genius of his long standing business partner, Thomas Wong, another brilliant mind equal to Freemans to handle this arm. He relentlessly mined the moons in our solar system for valuable resources which he then sold to all the sides in the wars at high prices, as well as weapons to opposing sides, making sure that the side he had invested in had slightly more advanced weaponry than the other. Well, as you can guess, he became absurdly wealthy. The UC is now the preferred currency around the world so, in a sense, he had already united the world in a financial way. Nelson’s own pay was in UC’s and when he read his contract wide eyed this morning, he couldn’t believe how much he was getting paid, generous was an understatement. Long term loyalty cannot be bought he knew but he felt he had already committed himself to the Paladins, he was excited by them, aroused even, they triggered something dormant in his soul that he was only now aware he was always yearning for, something that was black and white of it’s definition of itself and single minded in it’s goal. The 3D projection he was watching showed the grey bearded Jacob Freeman, in his usual light grey business suit walking around the classroom, peering into the eyes of all the students, it wasn’t live of course, it was pre-recorded but it seemed that Freeman was there, with them, amongst them like a father figure making sure they were all sitting up straight and paying attention and then he spoke in his distinctive calm yet forceful, determined voice of his. “My black knights, you are here today because I have taken a personal interest in you, I have read your files and I know that you really are the best that humanity has to offer, you are in your prime and I am already so proud of you”. “My warriors, I have worked hard to unite the world, our world, with a single vision, a single mind, a single purpose, to rule the universe” this was met by an enthusiastic “Ho!” by all gathered and Nelson joined in so as not to be left out. “But to fulfil our destiny as the masters of the cosmos, we must first take that giant first step, to have a single world government with its base right here”. Freeman opened his arms in a gesture like he was waiting for a hug “at the Central” “All races, all religions, all people of the world are welcome, no exceptions, one world, one people, one world, one people, one world, one people”! This was repeated over and over again and everyone in the lecture hall stood up from their chairs and chanted this and Nelson felt himself doing the same subconsciously, not only to fit in but because he felt the energy and optimism in the room. He was chanting just as loudly and punching the air with the others and felt the elation, like he was falling in love for the first time. Eventually, they all sat back down waiting for a few stragglers to finish before the pre-recorded message spoke again and Nelson realised that Freeman was not on pause, the pre-recorded image was waiting patiently, blinking, as if Freeman knew exactly when his audience would settle down. Amazing the power this man had, he thought. “We must fight for this first step, it will not come easy, there will be a great deal of resistance from our opposes, those who seek chaos over order, those who want lawlessness, those who want the old world instead of the new era, war over peace, those who want regression instead of evolution, those who want us to fail” a cry of “No!” came from the auditorium. “That’s right my Paladins, hell no, we won’t go quietly, no apologies, no regrets, we will start a revolution, not because we want to, but because we have to, because if we are not one world, one people, we will all be wiped out by the Aesini, this alien race aims to destroy us without a doubt, make no mistake”. “You have already learned that I can predict the future, this is how I became rich and how I have chosen to lead you but it is not because I am mystical or psychic, It’s because of information, I learnt long ago with the help of a friend how to analyse data, algorithms, likely projected outcomes and every single scenario, every single simulation that I have run with my counsel, mathematicians and scientists, every single time shows one outcome, our annihilation. “Unless!” “Unless we all join together, one world under one banner, we must build ships, arsenal and a large enough military force that can stand up to these animals and even then, even then our victory is not guaranteed”. “Join me on this great crusade to become the dominant species in our galaxy, join me in this noblest of all quests in our planets history, this is the moment in time, our time, we are the leaders, doesn’t it feel good”? “Yes”! Came the cry and a smiling Freeman faded into a view of the world as seen from space with the words “one world, one people” displayed lingering there like a sacred biblical text. The camera angle then turned away from Earth and sped through the stars before slowing and eventually settling on a distant planet that looked very similar to ours except for a faint green tinge around its atmosphere. Freeman’s voice over continued. “This is Aescalon, the home world of the Aesini, our enemy, your enemy”. “This introductory program is first in a series of instructional videos entitled knowing your enemy”. Nelson felt a chill go up his spine; know your enemy was the theme of the LT’s speech and a philosophy that he particularly identified with intrinsically. He had always felt that wars are won by intimately learning about your enemy right down to their culture, never underestimating them and beating them at their own game.

The video continued by zooming in onto the planet’s surface, moving along its landscapes and villages and eventually showing the central city of the same name, showing the dwellings and the Aesini. Nelson was astonished by the fact that they looked very similar to Humans; do we share a common link? He wondered. Their full grown adults were taller than us however, about two meters tall in fact, bipedal mammals with hair that were subtle variations of green and brown, the young seemed to have darker green and less brown hair whilst the older had increasingly brown and grey hair with only a hint of the light green remnants of their youth. Some had long facial hair, often braided and they walked on muscular looking hind legs, their arms were short by comparison, much shorter than ours, kind of like a Kangaroo he thought. Nelson was instantly fascinated by these strange creatures which seemed to talk, walk, shop, trade and interact with each other much like us. Their language was played through the audio and it sounded like a perverse version of English accentuated with strong sounding vowels and guttural, growling hissing noises. Totally non sensical and terrifying to hear. The clothing they wore was simply various folds of material of various colours that resembled Roman togas and tunics.

The video continued as the 3D camera journeyed through the streets of Aescalon and Nelson could not tell whether or not it was computer generated or real as the graphic detail was phenomenal, probably computer generated he concluded, the creatures surely would’ve seen the camera moving about. “A sentient and intelligent race of bipedal green furred mammals from the Sirius A star system. They have a well ordered society that has existed for many generations; however, there is a developing philosophy perpetuated by a rebellious element that threatens this existence, this is a weakness that we can exploit”. “This species is lead by their King but is actually controlled by their Prime Minister who is also their high priest called Principal Seghol, their DNA is incompatible with ours, any attempt of cross breeding or manufacturing a hybrid is futile”. “How do we know so much about them”? “Since the nineteen forties there has been almost constant top secret communications between our leaders and theirs at the highest levels”. “The ordinary populations of each world have been purposefully unaware of each others existence for obvious reasons”. “Although there has been cooperation in terms of trading limited scientific and technological discoveries, the diplomacy has ended there as distrust, xenophobia and reluctance to progress relations further have been the prevailing policy of both sides”. “The Aesini are a fast and agile species and use bio-technology to fast track the evolutionary process of the natural world around them into very effective weapons and transport”. “Their greatest invention before the wheel or the number zero has been what is called the “gateway” which uses the principles of quantum mechanics and bio-technology to create an enormous entity that simply cannot be properly understood by our, or their limited intellect, these gateways are simultaneously both alive and dead, both learned and vapid”. “No one knows who invented these gateways as they are many thousands of years old and none have been built since”. A picture of one of the gateways appeared on the screen, a gigantic ring that looked like it was made out of rocks or coral, it looked dead until it glowed suddenly and a bell shaped spaceship appeared to come through it, before reverting back to its lifeless form. “Despite the apparent intelligence of the Aesini, they have lost the knowledge of how to build these things, only how to transport and use them, thus seeding various planets and systems around Aescalon”. “All attempts at reverse engineering have failed”. “This living machine links to other gateways placed by these aliens over the last thousand years or so near suns which they draw vast amounts of energy from and via what is called entanglement fields, can transport ships instantaneously across huge distances of space”. Nelson sat forward in his chair, hanging off every word and he forgot about his hangover. A different male voice over now, sounding rough compared to the soothing tones of their leader “Our great leader Jacob Freeman has recently learned of a planned pre-emptive strike against our world, using the weaknesses of our constant waring and disunity against us, they plan to tow one of these gateways to our sun to launch a massive invasion force with the ultimate aim of extinguishing the light of Humanity from the universe.” cries of “no” and “we wont let them” and “we won’t go quietly” rang out from the classmates around him and he shushed them, he did not want to miss anything. “They have observed us for so long and have concluded, perhaps with some degree of truth, that we are primates unworthy of our advanced technology and space exploration, they find it unsavoury that we have more than one religion with only one God in most faiths, more than one government, so many differences and opinions amongst ourselves and it is ultimately our greed and narcissism, putting our individual needs above those of the many which has led them to believe that we must be dealt with before we become too much of a threat to their lifestyle.” “It is, of course, with some degree of irony that only by becoming more like them, by unifying our world that we can hope to defeat them”. The camera panned toward a massive monolithic structure the like of which Nelson could never have imagined. It had huge stones of different colour placed in perfect alignment in top of each other and the enormous building itself vaguely resembled the step pyramids of the ancient Mayan civilization of Earth, only there were no obvious steps that Nelson could see. “This is the Palace of the King, the leader of the Aesini or the “Great Tribe” as they refer to themselves, the King, or sometimes a Queen is elected and re-elected every five years; it is usually the incumbent unless he or she becomes immensely unpopular or too old to carry out their duties”. The camera showed a facsimile of the interior of the Palace and the council meeting “Right now, the council of their Chiefs from their twenty eight tribes are convening in this palace to discuss and vote on their next move against us” “Boo!” came the cries, followed by more shushing. “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to launch a strike, pre-emptive or otherwise against them yet, they are simply too far away and too strong and even our fastest spacecraft would take decades to reach their domain”. “Our only hope is to await the delivery of their gateway and launch an overwhelming counter-strike through this gateway to ambush them, beat them at their own game, take the fight to them and eradicate their ability to wage war against us by whatever means necessary, whatever it takes”. The graphics simplistically showed how this would be achieved and Nelson was quite rightly alarmed by this incredible revelation, the entire human race faced a real and present threat and the fire in his belly, the rage that he had only recently learned to summon and control let loose, maybe it was because he was still a little intoxicated from the night before or it was his sense of outrage that we had not yet done enough to stop this, even though we’d known about the threat for ages, that we were the underdog in this fight facing extinction that made him so angry he stood up and pounded the desk with his fist exclaiming loudly “I want to kill as many of these green alien fucks as I can, who’s with me?” All heads turned on Nelson and a roar of approval erupted amongst those around him, even the instructor at the front of the auditorium clapped in support, someone started singing the Paladins song and all joined in solemnly singing along, the video still showing in the background the various creatures of war the Aesini have created to use against us which only fuelled Nelson’s hatred and anger more as he joined along although he did not yet know the lyrics he identified with the chorus “We are the strong who look after the weak, we are victory, we are the leaders and nothing can stop us, nothing!” His heart as full as his head from a gruelling day filled with more instructional videos, Nelson returned to his barracks. Despite his pay and rank, his room was a simple affair of a Spartan looking studio flat, sure, it had all the modern appliances you would expect including a wall mounted monitor similar to the one he was used to, but this room had no balcony, only a porthole window that looked out to another wall, pointless. A hard looking single bed, not a queen or King, featureless steel walls like he was on a ship and an opaque ceiling which he had no doubt concealed cameras watching his every move. He had learned only from being part of this for a couple of days that these guys were big on information, data collection and analysis and would leave nothing to chance about Nelson Jones. Despite their apparent faith in him, or perhaps because of it; they would watch him, it wasn’t a leap of faith recruiting him; they knew that he would be one of them but they wanted to be absolutely sure. Written in his contract which he had signed and finger printed he noted was a clause that he be “terminated” if they felt at any time that he did not adequately follow the cause and their “new era”. The choice of words was ominous, terminated probably meant death he thought, but they need not be concerned, he was the epitome of a faithful black shirt and for the next few weeks of his orientation he attended all the seminars and training drills he possibly could, in his spare time he decided that he wanted to be an expert on the Aesini and read up as much information as he could about them. He was interested particularly in their one and only religion and how it defined them as a species. They believed that their Gods had abandoned them due to a civil war long ago; a show of disunity was enough to make the Gods disown them and that they believed the only way the Gods would come back to them and “light the path to the universe” as their scriptures say is when they “prove worthy” by such virtues as foregoing greed and “vanquishing a great enemy”, Nelson decided this great enemy was humanity and he seethed on this notion. He also learned of “the new way” that was increasing in popularity amongst the youth of these beings which reinterprets the scriptures and philosophises that the Gods had not abandoned them as first thought and were indeed hidden amongst them, watching them, judging them and even taking their form or shinning upon them as their suns. Suns are Gods? Nelson thought and giggled at the naivety of such a notion, it wasn’t so long ago that the ancient civilisations of the earth worshipped the sun as a deity, how can this “new way” be so antiquated? So old? He thought. The law defines what is and what is not a crime on our world as well as theirs and Nelson learned that the one thing that the Aesini feared more than death was the dishonour of banishment, to be an exiled “outcast” meant that the Gods would never accept these individual Aesini into the afterlife, what they thought of as heaven. Nelson learned from further seminars that Jacob Freeman believed that this was a potential weakness in the enemy, as we would become increasingly united in our cause, by simultaneously causing disharmony through fifth column agents and encouraging the new way in the enemy’s culture would distract them enough that they may even again start a civil war amongst themselves or at least slow them down. The laws of today become tomorrow’s crimes. Brilliant strategy he thought, it has worked to varying degrees so often in our own history. This only added to the aura of genius that surrounded Freeman which made Nelson admire him even more, hell, he revered the man by now. Freeman believes in befriending these outcasts and perhaps allying with them against the King and the Principal, Freeman also knew that these criminal outcasts had no love for their former masters and knew their secrets, valuable information for us to mine like gold.

Speaking of which, he thought, Nelson was curious about the Aesini’s infatuation with gold, how it changed from a symbol of individual wealth before their civil war to a symbol of sacrifice to their Gods, a display of their devotion and hope and read in their scriptures that they believed if they had acquired enough “tribute”, as they called it, that this would encourage the Gods to return. Fascinating how what is essentially a chemical element can have a religious value, not just an economic one, we have much to learn from these animals.

Like before, Nelson was the model student during the three weeks of intense orientation, applying himself like never before, knowledge had always aroused his mind joyfully but he was motivated even more than usual as this knowledge had real practical value that he knew would be invaluable in the future, the big question of course is whether this would be the near or distant future, how soon would he find out?

Yet another graduation ceremony and unlike the previous one, he was acknowledged for his grades and beaming with pride, happily accepted a medal to much fanfare, Jessie was there clapping and cheering with the rest of the Paladins and Nelson felt like the wheel had turned full circle and that he really was fulfilling his destiny, doing what he was born to do, to save the world. Ira Bilis was right when she told him that his previous life would lose its significance, he only occasionally transmitted to his parents now who were increasingly worried about his lack of contact, which they of course reminded him about whenever he spoke with them. At first it was daily, then weekly contact and he brushed their fears aside by lying to them about exercises he was on that kept him away from his room and he lied to them that the Paladins were restricting his down time. The only person still constantly on his mind and in his heart was his girlfriend Meaghan Williams and he still talked to her on a daily basis, if only for a few minutes. After the graduation he went back to his dorm and still in his rather splendid looking black officer formal dress with yellow epaulettes and a black officer’s cap with a yellow band, he proudly showed off this uniform to her on the screen. Instead of admiring him, she unexpectedly had a look of disdain on her face “you look ridiculous” she said in a tone of ridicule. “You’re jealous corporal” he reminded her mockingly out of fun, her relatively low rank to his. She shrugged “it’s better to be a Corporal in a real army, this Central building your in is a whim of Freeman’s, Nelson, what’s really going on there”? Nelson took his cap off, showing a shaved head, mandatory for all Paladins except for the high ranks and although this was first revealed to her weeks ago, she still looked alarmed by it “I still can’t get used to that head of yours” Nelson ignored this criticism, he hated the shave at first but now he felt it was part of what defined him, what identified him as a black shirt, even out of uniform. He was initially dubious about many of his alterations, not just his hair being removed; these included the modification of his micro chip so that he would only be picked up by Paladin frequencies and, he had learnt by talking frankly with Jessie during their meetings over the last few weeks, that whilst they did this, they had also inserted, without his knowledge or consent a variant of the e-motion chip. He presumed they did this so that they could monitor not only his status, and his location, but also how he was feeling, how loyal he was. He now felt happy about these modifications, these necessary changes. The central is investing heavily in him and he should not doubt or question their motives, he consciously decided instead to embrace them, for the benefit of their shared mission. “I’ve told you before Meaghan, Our mission is classified and you will know when every one else does, don’t worry about it”. “But I am worried, you look like a friggin Nazi, what ideas is Freeman putting into that head of yours”? Nelson looked hurt; she wasn’t taking his triumph seriously, and calling him something that he certainly was not offended him to the core. Referring to the Nazis “They believed in segregation, injustice, we believe in unity, no human is better or worse than another, except by their actions, I finished on top of my class, again, they gave me this badge, I thought you’d be happy for me!” “How can I be? I don’t know what your up to, you keep saying it’s a secret and you can’t tell me, what kind of relationship is this where we can’t be honest with each other, are you seeing that Ira woman you keep talking about”? Nelson scowled and became dark “How could you even think…” She cut him off “Nelson, I haven’t seen you for over a year, they won’t let any outsiders any where near your compound, you need to come and see me if you want us to continue, I can’t wait forever, I’m worried about you, there’s a look in your eyes lately that I don’t like, don’t trust, whatever their brainwashing you with, its not good”. “You can’t talk me out of this Meaghan, this is greater than us, its greater than anything, this” he gestured toward himself “this is what I am now, love it or shove it!” a flash of anger raced across Meaghan’s face and her beautiful long black braided hair moved about in a flurry as she became animated and shouted “That’s a choice I can easily make right now, what’s happened to you!?” It was Nelson’s turn to shout, the rage swelling within him, dangerous, be careful he thought but his emotions took over “What’s happened to me? Have you even considered that a change can be for the better? You don’t understand, I am better than you, I am so much above you that I can barely see you, you don’t respect that, you don’t get it, that’s why you’ll always be just an idiot grunt, I’m on the fast track here Meaghan, a success and you’re either with me or not, what’s it gonna be”? The sadness in her eyes betrayed the anger she was displaying and she simply said “against you”. Gambled and lost, his heart sank and it felt like she had reached through the screen and stabbed him in the guts, he sank down onto the chair in front of the TV and the familiar “end transmission” words hung on the screen mockingly; she’d hung up on him. He regretted what he said and attempted contact again, he was going to salvage this, fix it, apologise, beg her forgiveness but the screen kept saying “link unavailable” the words piercing his heart and he began crying uncontrollably, bitterly like a little boy. He tried in vain constantly, desperately, obsessively for the next hour, nothing. He tried e-link as well, even her phone number but it always went straight to messages, he did not want to message her, he wanted to see her, he kept crying, so much that it was giving him a headache and for the first time in weeks, he felt like he wasn’t in control and he thought about drinking. Maybe it will stop the pain he was feeling, at least temporarily. Then the speaker in his room played the fanfare of the Paladins, music only and it stirred his heart to hear it, but why was it playing? Were they trying to calm him? No. It quickly became apparent that it was playing everywhere as he heard it echoing throughout the entire underground complex, it was the herald of a major announcement. His TV screen came to life, even though he had not turned it on recently and he watched intently to a breaking news story. The familiar faces of the newscasters Robert Valentine and Sarah Close came on screen and the yellow and black ticker displaying below their news desk read “Breaking news: Jacob Freeman elected Secretary General of the world Council”. There were cheers everywhere he could hear and Nelson smiled gladly, He could hear the other troops running about outside his room singing, chanting and yelling with joy, car horns from vehicles nearby were beeping repeatedly and Nelson felt tears returning to his cheeks, this time not out of remorse, but out of sheer happiness, their great leader had become the leader of the World Council, the first step of their journey had been taken and Nelson joined in on the celebrations by opening his door and yelling into the hallway several times in increasing volume “nothing can stop us now!” met with “Ho”! And “yeah”! From others nearby. He gleefully watched the screen again as the newscasters reported “By the narrowest of margins, just one vote, the single world government advocate Jacob Freeman has been elected the third Secretary General of the World Council by the assembly.” Sarah Close looked worried, nervous, with good reason, she had long been a critic of Freemans, often attending and speaking at rallies against a world government; she looked glassy eyed into the camera adding “Mr Freeman joins us now in the studio with a major announcement”. The camera swung to a tired looking Jacob Freeman standing at a podium with the symbol of the world council carved and painted into the wood, a golden laurel wreath wrapped around the blue and green earth and outside Nelson heard a re-eruption of cheers. Before him a small contingent of photographers flashing his face with the clicking of cameras; Not smiling, Freeman looked intensely thoughtful and spoke in the familiar, calm and measured tone that he was renowned for “My fellow men and women of the world, I am greatly humbled by this elected post during these difficult and challenging times and I will take this responsibility with the respect it deserves, we have always cherished the gift and right of democracy and through democracy, I have been thrust into this role”. “Which I do not take lightly, a burden during these times maybe, but also an opportunity, an opportunity to help make all of our lives better and I will work day and night, tirelessly, I will make it my mission in life as it has always been, to bring about equity and peace and hope to this world, a new era has started, an era by which all of us shall be united, not a pipe dream, a reality in progress”. “Even though every time I have proposed a world government in the past, I have been shouted down and knocked down, but I have got up again and again and again every time not because I had not yet won, but because I had not yet failed”. “Because I do not compromise in what I believe, what I know to be the truth and I will continue to do so until I cannot”. He paused, a small smile caressed the corners of his mouth, he looked a little proud of what he had just said as if he had been waiting years to say it and took a deep breath “In my new role as Secretary General, my first course of action is to bring about, through democracy, necessary change, to finally end war, hunger, thirst, to end racism, inequity, poverty, unfairness, one world, one people”. “One world, one people, these are not empty words, this is more than a philosophy, it is our future, it makes sense”. “I have always been straight with you” He turned to the newscaster desk with purpose and smiled gently at Sarah “I have never deviated from or hidden my agenda, you all know my views and despite opposition from the media and others, I have been given a mandate through the will of the people, a mandate that I intend to fulfil, to cultivate like a delicate flower, it will be nurtured so that it will grow and grow and blossom into the world we all want, a world we can all share, a world that we all deserve!”. With that, the Secretary General left the studio with a familiar looking aide, shit, it was Botany! Nelson recognised. Was Ira’s aide also Freeman’s? The studio was left stunned, something monumentally historic had just occurred, Nelson knew it and the silence on the screen lasted for at least ten seconds after Freeman had left and Sarah looked at her co-anchor with apparent disbelief at what she had just witnessed, she looked terrified. The cheers and beeps continued outside as Nelson continued to watch the news cast, all over the world there were reactions from world leaders, presidents, prime ministers, commentators and experts, interestingly, some who had previously criticised the theory of a single government were now throwing their weight behind it, pragmatically siding with the winning team. Using the logical argument of dividing the world into agricultural segments where crops grow the best, secondary and manufacturing industry states, fishing areas where fish could be maintained, corporate sectors, a meticulously well planned, self sustaining world that guaranteed full employment, zero population growth and a glorious, enlightened future. There were, of course major player detractors including the Americas President who were totally against the idea declaring that there would never be a single world government and using such alarmist words as “totalitarianism” and “regime” as warnings against Freeman, such comments would only exacerbate the social upheaval that was being reported all over the world as pro and anti Freeman demonstrations had quickly descended into violent clashes that various police forces and militia were futilely trying to bring under control. It looked, by all accounts, that the various “unity movement” parties in each country were winning most of the street battles, the tide was turning. The critics against inevitable change were Liberals, pseudo intellectuals and moderates pretending to be the voice of reason, Nelson decided, they don’t know what I know he thought, if they only knew, they would soon change their views.

The fanfare again played on the speakers and he felt the pride swelling to bursting point within him, a voice this time came over the speakers, it was unmistakably that of Jessie “This is commander Kearn, we have a very special guest on his way to see us tonight, none other than our great leader Secretary General Jacob Freeman!” The announcement sounded like a “lets get ready to rumble” cry before a wresting match and Nelson heard the loudest of all cheers that he had ever heard in his life ring in his ears and he realised to his surprise that it was coming from his own mouth. He had become an unrestrained, unwavering disciple of this new messiah and he loved every minute of it.

 

It was late in the afternoon; the troops were ordered to put on their battle uniforms, line up in rank and file for the arrival of the Secretary General, there was a party atmosphere like it was New Years Eve and the air felt electric. Only the senior command headed by Jessie remained in their dress uniforms, Jessie’s characteristic grey fur lined overcoat added to his large presence as he moved up to the microphone and held his hands up for silence. Such was the training and discipline of the troops, they immediately stopped talking. Jessie cleared his throat, Ira Bilis stood next to him and smiled menacingly to all those gathered below, bending the riding crop between her black gloved hands, the look on her face daring any of them to step out of line, her reputation for strict punishment, usually involving pain was well known to everyone and she relished the chance to remind them of it. Jessie spoke with his usual optimism. “Well, what a day right?” cheers and whistles “Our leader has so many things to do right now, shaping the new era, but he has chosen above all other priorities to talk to us, a great honour.” This was met by a cheer and Jessie patiently waited for it to die down but someone in the crowd began chanting “Freeman, Freeman, Freeman” and this was joined by everyone, there must be a least two thousand troops in battle dress in the main hanger bay, the same one that Nelson had arrived in so many weeks ago, the only place in the underground structure that could accommodate everyone in one place. The troops in their war gear complete with unloaded attack rifles were indistinguishable from each other, except for some, like Nelson which had the subtle silver on black command bars on their front collar and on the rear of their helmets, not the front as was conventional military dress throughout history. Nelson’s was a single silver bar denoting his rank as First Lieutenant. The symbolism was that officers lead from the front, so that the others following knew who was leading them and the enemy did not. Simple, obvious, brilliant. Jessie continued “Get it out of your system now because when the leader arrives, I want to hear a pin drop here, we respect our leader by remaining silent and in formation, do you get me”? The response was loud “Sir, we get you sir!” Whistles blew and they lined up in formation, Nelson stood proudly at the front of his unit which consisted of a hundred fine men and women, his junior officer, Sergeant Nash was standing behind him and to the right holding the banner of the Paladins with small silver writing, barely visible in the bottom right corner the name of his unit called “the Horde” a name Nelson had thought up as throughout history, the connotation of this name had always stirred fear in the enemy.

He looked around at the impressive array of the other units, all carrying the same banner with other names he knew well, usually dangerous and feisty creatures such as eagles, lions, vipers, but also other names such as giants and red blades, tough names that sounded like football teams he thought with some amusement. It suddenly occurred to him that the scene in the bay reminded him of an old Star Wars movie and he whispered to the flag bearer behind him “like the Storm Troopers awaiting their Emperor” and he was gratified that the reference was not lost on his adjutant as he smiled broadly and nodded back to Nelson. “Eyes front”! Screeched Major Bilis, as the ceiling bay door slowly opened, but there was no plane on the descending platform as they expected, instead, there was an open topped stretched black jeep. That’s right, Nelson reminded himself; Freeman hated flying, preferring to arrive by train no doubt. He knew that Freeman had his own private armoured, weaponised train that had a single engine train always a few clicks or so in front of it for protection. This train had purpose built carriages for communication, media, accommodation, strategy, meeting room carriages and, of course his personal quarters which he had heard beat even the luxury he had encountered aboard the jet. As the jeep slowly descended on the platform toward the hanger bay floor, Nelson began to shake with emotion and he disciplined himself “control, control” he cautiously whispered to himself. The jeep came to a halt and instead of driving forward, the occupants, he noticed, got out of the vehicle; the doors opened by Botany, Freeman had an entourage of eleven high ranks and a camera man filming the group. Generals, Admirals, Field Marshals and the like, all wearing the uniforms not of the Paladins, but normal military uniforms of various colours, whites, tans, greens. Nelson recognised the uniforms; they were of the Americas forces, the European Union, the People’s Republic of Asia, the Islamic Republic states, some pretty high powered military reps, not one of them a politician. Nelson recognised General Eisen, the gruff old man who was at his graduation ceremony so long ago now, apparently he’d joined forces with Freeman, probably always was with him, Nelson concluded and it made sense now what the General whispered in his ear as he recalled “I expect great things of you”. Freeman, dressed in his modest grey business suit walked and talked with his entourage, barely noticing the gathered masses around him, Jessie and his officers including Ira joined this group and introductions were made as they all stood for about five minutes talking amongst themselves in the middle of the hanger bay, the troops, to their credit maintained formation and remained silent. Jessie pointed to Nelson’s unit and Freeman nodded. Major Bilis walked over to him and said “join us Lieutenant, the leader wants to meet you”. Nelson could not believe his ears, he saluted her and for the first time ever, she returned his salute, doubtless for the benefit of the Secretary General and they both marched toward the awaiting group, General Eisen regarded Nelson with a nod “good to have you with us son” and Freeman himself reached forward to shake Nelson’s hand. By what honour did he deserve this? “Commander Kearn here says that you’d take a bullet for me, is that true”? “I think anyone here would sir” Nelson said convincingly. Freeman looked around the bay at last and seemed, for the first time, impressed with the military show of strength before him, he nodded slowly “everyone would say it, but not everyone would do it.” “Lets go” and the entire entourage which now included Nelson casually walked toward the exit, all still engaged in various conversations, mostly small talk. Jessie leaned over and whispered to Nelson “Remove your helmet”. He did so. They took a lift to the surface and Nelson realised that he had not seen or felt the sun for a month; he missed it. The sun shone upon him warmly as the heat of the day was now cooling into the dusk. Jessie quick step walked up to Freeman “everything is prepared sir, just as ordered.” Freeman nodded; the camera man followed them as they walked slowly to a large stage with chairs set up for them to sit on. On each side of the stage were the large banners of the Paladins and down lights set up for effect, there were film crews set up to record the occasion, mounted cameras and mobile, close up, far away they moved about determined to document every detail. Nelson soon understood why he was told to remove his helmet; he was to be one of the faces of the Black shirts, why? Freeman, who on more than one occasion looking at his watch lead the party up the stairs to the stage and as everyone took seats that had their names on it in the form of place cards including Nelson; the leader took a sip of water from the bottle sitting atop a lectern and referred to his notes, speed reading through each page before flipping it over, sometimes writing on them with his pen. The leader now looked out toward the administration building, a large sliding door opened and slowly, silently, the Paladins still in formation marched in perfect unison toward the podium, the drills and training had paid off, they looked impeccable and flawless, awesome really, their black armour gleaming, glistening in the late afternoon sun as they moved as one. Freeman looked upon them with a severe expression on his face, looked at his watch again and referred to his notes whist the troops continued to march in. Next to Nelson, Major Bilis stirred in her seat and leaned over to him, almost touching his ear with her bright red lips “you’d think the chairs would be more comfortable” she said casually, as if they were in a café. Nelson simply nodded, not daring to say anything in the event that this was a set up by her to invite his own demise should he laugh at what at least gave the appearance of a sombre occasion. He smelt her perfume and saw her flick her hair to one side, her long eyelashes blinking and he felt the familiar, uncomfortable tightness in his pants, just being near her sexually aroused him, if she only knew, she would probably hate him for it, a sign of weakness, he thought as he tried in vain to be distracted by the spectacle in front of him. Freeman again looked at his watch and then behind him to look at two other buildings currently under construction, the stage they were on was set up in front and between these buildings. Freeman nodded to Botany who spoke into a mouthpiece and the Fanfare sounded on the speakers as the troops came to a halt with an audible stomp, the mobile camera crews moved about the ranks, filming every thing they could. Nelson suspected that this pomp and ceremony video would be used as propaganda for future recruits, it was, he admitted, an impressive sight to behold. The reason Freeman was looking at his watch soon became clear, at the end of the fanfare, Freeman held up his head and closed his eyes intently as the sun shone brilliantly between the two buildings behind him and he glowed on stage, basking in the beam of sunlight that suddenly enveloped him, calculated to be just at the right place, just at the right time and Nelson knew now without a doubt that this video was going to be for propaganda, he couldn’t wait to see it and couldn’t wait for the speech. He knew it was going to be special.

Freeman didn’t disappoint as he began in his soft voice “My comrades, we stand here as the sun sets on the old world, today I have been voted the leader of the new world, the new era”. He looked humble and he stood with his head bowed reverently, his hands crossed at the front of his body “Since the beginning of time, we have lived in a world divided by hate, greed, false beliefs, a never ending cycle of violence and injustice, this sunset is the beginning of the end of this old world, a new dawn bears on us tomorrow, the start of something wonderful”. “We have worked hard and come far, but our journey is only just beginning and we are a fledgling movement, so many want to see us fall because they know we are on the razor’s edge of both greatness and of failure”. “We are at a tenuous point, to fall one way is oblivion, the other way is infinity, It is your duty to carry the banner of the black shirts and to carry out orders that only you can do, you are the strong shoulders by which the empire of Earth will rest upon, there is not enough of you yet, in the coming times, your number will double and double again, I have sacrificed everything for you, all I ask is that you sacrifice everything for me”. He looked into the ranks and breathed deeply “My vision is that humanity becomes the dominant, chosen beings in the galaxy, chosen by destiny, providence, the Aesini want to wipe us out and it is up to us, all of us, not to let that happen”. Applause “To succeed in this divine mission, we must do things, war time things that I would not normally ask of anyone but these extreme times call for extreme measures and to win, we must out savage the savage, we must be relentless, merciless, all the while we shall maintain our dignity and our culture”. “I trust you completely and I know that you will carry out these great tasks with the devotion, energy, efficiency and the necessary discretion that I expect”. “Remember, the mission that will be revealed to you when the time comes will always be classified, some of the greatest work we do will not be remembered, must not be remembered”.

He referred to his notes “My task is to unite this world on the brink of self destruction and raise it to prominence as a major power in the universe, not an easy job, I cannot do it without you my black knights and your unity and single minded determination is an inspiration to me, a reminder of what can be achieved”. “We are here together; a legion of the finest elite foot soldiers the world has ever seen, a sight the Romans themselves would be proud of and you will get the opportunity to test your skills on the Aesini I promise you that”! A cheer went up from the troops and “Freeman” was chanted several times before he raised his arms and the noise immediately stopped. “The sun has now disappeared from view and the old world grows dark on its last night, for tomorrow the new era begins and the new world must be built, the Central World Order will stand here for eternity!” he gesticulated wildly and pointed down aggressively to the ground “In order to build anew, we must first tear down the old, destruction before construction” a stir began from the ranks below, some of the older troops gathered below began to talk excitedly to the others, they knew what was about to happen as they had obviously experienced this before. Botany walked up the stairs to the stage carrying a sledge hammer and walked over extending it out to Freeman whilst bowing. Freeman held the sledge hammer aloft triumphantly and proclaimed with a laugh and a smile “Demolition Party!” All those on the stage and below responded in kind “Demolition party!” Suddenly, flood lights turned on, clicking in sequence behind the troops illuminating a path to an old warehouse that was scheduled for demolition to make way for the ministry of food and water. Lined along the path were large plastic buckets filled with sledge hammers, fire axes, flares, chainsaws, all manner of instruments to use against this once great building. The cheering Paladins let out a primal yelp as they ran towards the buckets. Intentionally, there was not enough to go around and inevitably, some fought each other over ownership, The strong dominated over the weak and Nelson looked over to Freeman who was happily smashing up the wooden lectern that only moments before he was speaking from, the water bottle he took a sip from earlier went flying off the stage and a pumping dance and rock music soundtrack blared from the speakers all around the Central. Trucks came out of the nearby garages, atop these trucks were flashing multi coloured party lights and laser beams that poured onto the warehouse and manning these moveable lights were beautiful, muscular, scantily dressed young men and women who took alternating turns from dancing and moving the lights. The doors at the rear of the trucks flipped open, as if in unison to reveal fully stocked bars, this was going to be an epic party. Night fell quickly, his heart pumping excitedly, Nelson looked at Ira Bilis who, now standing smiled as she looked at the chaos below and licked her lips, her eyes seemed to be on fire before turning to him “Go ahead Jones, join them” Freeman stopped his destruction of the lectern and wiped sweat off his brow, he must’ve heard Bilis over the commotion and he walked over to Nelson with the sledge hammer and handed it to him with the words “wreck as much as you can Nelson, that’s an order” “Yes sir”! Nelson saluted and not bothering to walk down the stairs, let out a blood curdling scream as he leapt off the stage to join the carnage. Laughing, Freeman turned toward Bilis and said “Y’know what this feels like”? She shook her head and guessed “sex?” “Better, this feels like victory, a feeling we’ll come to know well” they both looked out cross armed as the soldiers had already taken to their destructive task.

 

The ground heaved, glass shattered and smoke billowed from the fires that were already taking hold, Nelson was amongst it, in the thick of it, intoxicated by the atmosphere, entranced by the music and he understood why they were in battle dress, it suited the occasion psychologically but on a practical level, it afforded them protection, from each other, as glass and debris flew about as if in slow motion tearing into his Kevlar armour. He used Freeman’s sledge hammer on a desk that had a “Managing Director” sign on it and it filled him with a primitive, furious sense of satisfaction for reasons that he didn’t understand, it was a stress relief he supposed, a build up of testosterone and anxiety, all released in a brilliant flash of violence. There was yelling, singing, some were still chanting “demolition party”, he saw a thin man thrown through a glass window with little effort by a large, muscular woman covered in sweat with striking red hair, she smiled at him briefly and said in a distinctive Russian accent “Who’s next?” before bringing her fire axe down on an unfortunate photocopier instantly smashing the cover, causing sparks to fly out from the electric circuitry. Like the others, Nelson made more than a few trips to one of the truck bars and after drinking, threw the empty glass bottle smashing it into the mix. An hour or two into the party, someone had built a bonfire on the bottom floor of the warehouse and this was hastening its fall from grace as the fire licked the crumbling walls the soldiers who were now in various states of undress and intoxication danced around the fire in time to the music, some holding hands. Nelson climbed on top of one of the trucks and began gyrating against one of the dancing girls. She didn’t object and let out a “woo!” The party was peaking and the building was still standing, as soon as Nelson thought this, coincidentally, the speakers sounded with the voice of Jessie “You call this a demolition party? The buildings still there! Kill it, kill it now! Bring it down!” With renewed vigour, many of the troops put their helmets and armour back on and went rampaging again into the flames and open door ways swinging their hammers, rifles and axes much to the delight of the dancers and the bonfire singers. Finally, the support beams collapsed bringing down two of the walls, many were caught in the downfall and many were injured as a consequence. Fortunately, there were ambulances and medical teams on hand to rescue and treat these poor souls, if it wasn’t for their battle dress, they might have perished, some of them may well have. As the dust cleared into the still night air and the shell of the building glowed in the light of the bonfire, someone brought out a gagged and blindfolded, lifelike looking effigy of an Aesini, “kill, kill, kill!” came the tribal chant from the bonfire dancers as the Aesini effigy was carried up to an awaiting broken support beam that was still protruding out from the wall where someone was busily making and tying up a noose, for some reason the effigy had its hands tied behind its back, Nelson guessed it was to make it look more realistic. The mobile film crews were still moving about the crowd, ensuring nothing was left out, the heat of the flames causing them to remove their shirts and sweat was visible on them as they shimmered in the flickering light like ghosts.

The speakers changed from dance music to a drum roll whilst the effigy was carried up to the noose and a chair was put underneath it. The drum roll stopped and the chair was kicked away to an enormous eruption of cheering and applause. Nelson happily joined in but soon stopped, he noticed that the effigy was twitching, its legs kicking as it was fighting against death. Oh my God, it wasn’t an effigy; it was a real Aesini prisoner! They were real, it was taking ages for it to die, why was no one helping it? Nelson sat on the edge of the truck roof and was stunned by what he saw, appalled, it made him feel sick in the stomach and he threw up over the edge. “Hey man!” he heard from the darkness below “Jesus!” he exclaimed as he continued to dry retch and he turned to look back at the stage to see if the Command were still there, they were not, Freeman was long gone. He saw atop a nearby grassy mound, concealed in the darkness, His friend Jessie and Ira bilis standing there, Jessie looked panicked and went to run down the hill to stop this terrible thing from happening but Major Bilis put her arm out to stop him, met Jessie’s eyes and slowly shook her head. There was a rumble overhead and Nelson saw that rain was starting to fall, as the wind picked up it made Jessie’s overcoat flutter like a flag in the breeze as Ira Bilis crossed her arms, taking in the awful scene, the look on her face was serene. The body was now finally still and the music started again, the dancing started again but Nelson did not dance, he felt ill as he walked back to the barracks and returned to his room. Although he was shocked by what he saw, he reminded himself, it’s either them or us. Them or us.

 

Chapter Five: Us or them

Alene and her father hastily walked toward the meeting hall where all the assembled Chiefs were waiting. Although they all knew the reason for Naid’s tardiness, they applauded his arrival into the massive chamber with genuine warmth, Naid’s sin had been forgiven it seemed. I have come to the point of hissing many times, Alene thought, it is only by the thinnest threads of self control that she had been able to contain the primitive urges that she had felt, that they had all felt at some point undoubtedly. She knew from the lessons of the priests that the measure of a culture’s greatness is not by it’s submission to aggression, but by its restraint from it. They took their seats with their entourage underneath the Keerof banner; all about the circular hall were not only the Chiefs, but also their staff, personal assistants, invitees, the parliamentarians and diplomats, as well as dozens of Manks flying around. Alene saw the Pulic ambassador, called Grendic. She had respectfully withdrawn from his prior invitation that she accompany him as a special envoy guest at the conference. She had only spoken to him via courier manks, she had never seen him close up before and she was delightfully surprised that he was incredibly good looking, Gods, she had never before seen such a splendid male, so dark green and muscular. He nodded to her and smiled, her heart skipped a beat as she nervously waved back to him. Manks hovered about the hall above her head. These large creatures displayed an image on their stretched flesh, the Aesini by whom each other are speaking to. These clever, large bat-like animals watch their subject and transmit to other manks what they had seen to approximate, fairly accurately, how the Aesini looked and projected the image in colour on their large bellies. Like the Earth’s Cuttlefish, they had almost an infinite array of colour and light by which to project. This was the closest thing they had to what Humans call monitors; the obvious benefit was that unlike Earth screens, these things moved any where and everywhere through flight, and fast, they have ear implants and relay conversations via a separate mouthpiece to their own what the other was saying, close to instantly. They were also very handy in communicating data and of course, there were various models and applications. These TV screens of the Aesini were invaluable for short to medium range communication and incidentally, they also made great pets. Each household usually had a brood of at least three manks.

The hall was in a flurry of activity, formal proceedings had not yet commenced. The Principal appeared from a rear entrance barely noticed and moved with purpose onto a central, slowly rotating stage. His arrival brought about a whistling sound and slowly, the manks retreated to their masters and a gradual silence fell as the Principal held out his arms. “Let the conference begin”. At this announcement, the lighting changed to semi-darkness and music started from a nearby pit, a large band played a medley of all the anthems of the tribes, when the Keerof song was played, Naid leant over and held his daughters hand. Alene looked over to Grendic during the Pulic overture and saw his beautiful head rise up as his fur rippled with pride; for good reason she thought, the Pulic tune was by far the best and she felt jealous about how modern and stirring it was compared to the relative honking sounds of the rest of the tribes. The Pulic were the last to be founded after the civil war, the most outlying planetary system of the great tribe, they were by necessity at the forefront of space travel technology and also, by virtue of their distance to Aescalon, the tribe with the most different, creative and forward thinkers, many of which, including Grendic, believed in the new way. Of course, out of respect to the law, the King and the Principal, any talk of the new way was knowingly forbidden in the great hall and the palace, punishable by banishment. The fur of the Pulic were also several times thicker and darker green than the other Aesini, most likely because they lived in a much cooler climate and had evolved, either naturally or by forbidden artificial means over a relatively short period of time; this speculation led some to distrust the Pulic as it was against the laws and scripture that the great tribe use their creative evolutionary skills on themselves.

The music ceased and Seghol held out his right hand in a religious gesture of blessing over the ceremony, accompanied by a platoon of chanting priests, Seghol seemed to enjoy his dual role as high Priest and Prime Minister of the Aesini, he commanded respect in this role and had achieved the ultimate status of illuminate some time ago, if there was a higher rank than this, he would have accomplished it, such was his well known ambition. He cleared his throat “Chiefs of the great tribe, we have come together on this fifth year to continue our journey as those chosen by the Gods to become like the Gods”. “As your esteemed link to the Gods, I have not yet heard their cry, the cry that we have fulfilled our great destiny to take their place”. This announcement was to be expected, nothing spectacular had happened over the last five years to bring this about, Alene knew the prophecies back to front, the Gods would return only when the great tribe had proved themselves worthy by foregoing greed, sacrificing enough tribute, ending violence and defeating a common enemy. Seghol continued “When the path to the universe is alight, when we have sacrificed and done enough, the Gods will visit me and then, through me, visit you all”. “Alas, they have not yet visited me directly, but they have given me signs, many signs”. He paused and drew a breath, what he was to say next was unexpected and had not been said for a thousand years “The signs tell me that the time is near, very near!” This drew an audible gasp from everyone in the hall, the stage continued to rotate slowly, silently as Seghol allowed this revelation to be absorbed. “The Gods have shown me that there is a growing threat to our very existence and I am not talking about the so called new way, although this blasphemy too is a threat to our unity”. This caused Alene’s fur to ripple with anger, much to the displeasure of her father who gave her a stern look of warning. How could someone who purports to be the high priest get the will of the Gods so wrong? And the audacity of Seghol to think that they would only visit him?! She wasn’t the only one to display dissent as a few others nearby and across the chamber murmured and looked visibly outraged by this sentiment, including Grendic. This pleased her, she wasn’t the only one who felt this way, even at these high levels, it convinced her all the more that change was coming, inevitable. The fact that Seghol referred to it instead of ignoring it or denying its existence gave it life and solidified her fortitude.

Seghol held his arms out to quell the noise which died down eventually. “We will discuss tribute, trade, policy and law as we have for generations, as long as we have remembered, but this time, a momentous time in our history, we will talk of the Gods returning at last”! This caused another pause, then an uncertain, unconvinced but nonetheless enthusiastic round of applause from the gathering, Alene wondered, what did he mean exactly? When and how would the details of this great reunification be revealed?

The band played the royal tune of the King and Seghol awaited the end before announcing “Chiefs, illuminated and others, May I present to you his majesty the King”. A beam of golden light shone upon the King as he appeared from the same entrance that Seghol appeared from earlier and this time, all clapped without hesitation as the King strided confidently, smiling and waving to stand next to Seghol. Seghol spoke a few; inaudible words to the King and the King nodded. The body language of the King looked subtly submissive towards Seghol, obedient even, thought Alene. The King then stepped up to the high point on the stage. The King held up his hands for silence and achieved it much more effectively than Seghol did earlier. “My subjects, I love you almost as much as the Gods, for no one can love you quite as much as them”. This amused all in the hall, including the Chiefs as the King had referenced a famous old children’s book called “Do I love you as much as the Gods?” a rather simple but wonderful story about a fictional Queen who tried to prove through the best of intentions that she loved her subjects more than the Gods, but ended up looking the fool. As the story goes, she had, out of love, given them lots of gold and food and an end to work, the subjects grew lazy, sedentary and greedy for more, nothing got done and consequently, their houses fell down, plants and creatures overtook the villages, they all began to catch diseases, starve and die. That is, until the Gods swooped down and saved every one by burning the Queen to death. A gruesome end, but many old Aesini children’s stories ended this way. A reminder that no one is more powerful or wiser than the Gods. Alene remembered that Naid used to read her this story when she was tiny. When the laughter ended, the King continued “Principal Seghol is right of course, we are at a point where we must make a crucial decision, this decision cannot be made without your counsel and approval, I’m afraid that this conference could be in session for a long time, perhaps indefinitely as we face a crisis that my Prime Minister says is either the beginning of our true ascension or of our own decline”. Again the murmuring started and the King, his brilliant purple robe moving slightly with a life of its own, spoke above this “Our first point of order however is the most important matter of tribute”. Boring speeches followed from secretaries of the Chiefs as they read out how much gold they had managed to scrounge over the last five years, and how they had conducted their affairs, only a few tribes this time had reached their quotas. Those who did not read out seemingly endlessly the reasons of why they had failed, made various excuses and pointed out either directly or through thinly veiled aspersions that the quotas, in their opinion, were much too unreasonable. Alene felt fatigue set in and wanted to sleep as Principal Seghol expressed his dismay as the first day of session drew to a close well into the night. “I can’t believe my ears!” He clutched his fists and what little grey and brown fur he had left from his old age, rippled in annoyance “This is the worse result ever in our history, and at the most important point, you have put at risk what I spoke of before, the Gods will not return after all I fear”. “Only the tribes of the Ambikle, Longstraff and Keerof have managed their affairs as the King commands and have fulfilled their quotas, only these tribes will receive the bonuses”. “A terrible result that has brought great shame to us all”! Naid smiled at Alene and squeezed her arm, his relative success filling him with satisfaction and Alene felt awake again and happy for her dad, the past few hours hearing tedious speeches from accountants made her feel that coming to this was an unexciting affair after all, but this moment that she joyously shared with her father made the arduous journey and proceedings worthwhile. Seghol looked angrily at the Chiefs as the central stage rotated “I am forced by this gross inability, incompetence and inaction to look for alternative means of acquiring what the Gods demand of us” he said with a resigned sigh, as if he had planned for this contingency, what was he referring to? Alene thought. Just at this time, the bell sounded signifying the end of the first day, so many were to follow and the thought of this made her muscles ache with tension.

More days passed and more speeches droned on that sounded a lot more important than they really were. Alene was now beginning to regret her decision to attend, the condensed media reports she had seen and read about five years ago made the meeting of the council of Chiefs seem much more dramatic and fun than they were in actuality. Only occasionally, animated disagreements from the Chiefs seemed to throw a spark into the kindling that ultimately proved to be wet. After the first week and three days, finally, her dad stood up to propose a motion “I direct a question to the Prime Minister”. Seghol calmly stepped up to the centre of the stage to accept the inquiry with his head down, looking at notes and the King, who was also busily looking over some notes, looked up and smiled at his old friend Naid.

“As one of the few tribal Chiefs who have fulfilled the will of his majesty, I have the right to respectfully insist that the Prime Minister clarify by what circumstance, or circumstances, specifically, will the Gods return according to the signs he claims to have received”? Alene looked interested, finally, someone had the courage to ask the question directly and only a Chief from a successful tribe could get away with it. Only dad had the guts. Unperturbed, Seghol looked at some notes again, turning some pages, before responding calmly without looking up “I call for a closed combined session of the Parliament and the Chiefs to answer this question”. A closed session? Everyone looked at each other in astonishment; No one had called for a closed session for hundreds of years. Naid looked alarmed and whistles blew to call to an end of the meeting, only half way through the day. Alene looked at her father. “What does this mean”? “Nothing good” Naid said with concern in his voice.

As the Chiefs left the hall to attend the meeting, Alene felt like she was uncomfortably alone, for the first time with out the company of her father and his advisors, not knowing what to do or where to go, she began to walk back to the quarters of the Keerof. She knew that she could not be with her father this time, as much as she would like to. As she walked slowly back to her section of the massive building, she refused offers of quick rides back by officials on striders and others. She might as well get some exercise in, the journey on foot would take over an hour, but she thought she could use this time to clear her head. Someone walked beside her and said in a deep voice “Finally, you’re alone” she turned to see a smiling Grendic walking beside her and she smiled, overcoming her sudden trepidation, he doesn’t need to know that I like him, that I really like him, she thought. “Oh, hey, I was just going to take the long way home, alone.” She declared casually, deciding that she act as if his company was no big deal, even though her heart was beating furiously. Grendic walked along side her in silence for a little while and she feared that her brush off would discourage him, thank the Gods, he didn’t give up so easily. “Alene, we are of the same mind in matters, brethren even, we are the voices of the new way in this chamber of silence”. He put his hands behind his back and joined them in a display that he could do it, rare for their species, obviously trying to impress her, it worked as she noticed from the corner of her eye that his considerable arm and shoulder muscles where bulging from the effort.

“What do you mean”? She knew exactly what he meant but she said this to continue the dialogue. “Well, o.k., I’ll get to the point, I think during this conference, we find the others like us and conduct our own meetings, especially since the Chiefs seem to be going off to do their own thing anyway, Agreed”? Alene stopped, causing someone walking not far behind them to walk into her and with a “sorry”, this Aesini moved awkwardly to one side and kept walking past them, as did many others as they partially blocked the thoroughfare. Grendic observed her questioningly. “Are you crazy?” she said. “Were not kids at some grown ups party forming a secret club, what your talking about is treason, do you want to be an outcast?”

He shushed her and then regarded her with a smile “We already are”. He said softly. “No” she disagreed, “that sounds simple, neat and tidy but you don’t know what an outcast is, it means never again being part of our society, ever, to never have existed, our records erased, to be unborn”. He seemed slightly annoyed now and his playful smile dropped “little female, I know very much and despite my physique, I am educated as well as strong, I know what it means to be an outcast, banishment in every sense, but the new way Gods do not banish us, am I to believe that you think they do?” She knew he was smart; the official tunic he was wearing displayed the patterns and colour of an honoured class nine, high up for someone as young as he was. “Of course not, but what your suggesting is too risky, we mustn’t meet as a resistance group in the Palace of all places, that’s insane and by the way, you don’t need to tell me that your hot!”. An uncomfortable silence grew between them, her mouth open, she blinked in surprise that she unwittingly allowed the compliment to slip out. His shoulders starting shaking with amusement and he burst out laughing, she joined in on this and the tension of their conversation melted away as they walked again, the attraction between them had finally been addressed and she held out her hand for him to hold, he did so willingly.

 

On an upper level of the palace, servants were hurriedly preparing the seating into a circular formation in yet another meeting hall, about half as large as the one they were used to, which meant that it was still huge. This area of the palace had not been used for years so cleaners were also tasking themselves with wiping down surfaces, polishing and vacuuming up dust. The Chiefs were outside in the ornate polished stone and wood lobby awaiting the entrance announcement, patiently waiting for the cleaners to finish inside. As Naid expected, there was constant chatter, arguing, speculation and some pretty wild theories about why a closed session had been called. Manks were forbidden at this location so none were in the air and Naid felt that the intimacy of having just the twenty eight Chiefs together was strange. Although he had never before been to this section of the enormous palace, he had been up about as high as this before, five years ago. He walked toward one of the openings and peered out at the magnificent view towards the city below and considered that he must be up as high as he had ever been, the Kings personal quarters at the very top would perhaps only be a few levels above this. He took in the sight, Aescalon city never slept and the lights and activity brought the metropolis to life in the dark night sky. He could barely make out some of the familiar lights and sounds of traffic, the hammering of industry and bleating animals below. Finally, the large double doors swang open with a creak, it was evident that they had also not been in use for some time and the Chiefs, still talking and arguing amongst themselves filled in. The carpet and interior were dark green in colour and the massive walls were panelled with a light wood coloured fresco of the history of the civil war, a fascinating story told in immaculately detailed carvings. Naid looked along the walls and saw pictures of Aesini fighting each other with spears, swords, arrows and other ancient weaponry, saw the images of death and on the other side of the chamber saw the faceless gods with luminous rays carved around their bodies leaving the Great Tribe on ships of light. This was literally a visual translation of the scriptures in every detail and Naid was not the only one here to be impressed with it, all the Chiefs walked around the large, high ceilinged chamber, studying it and taking it in with silent awe.

The illuminate of the parliament were already seated at a long, beautifully carved and polished wooden table in the centre of the hall, twelve of them male and female seated in silence patiently waiting for the Chiefs to be seated, some sipping from crystal goblets that were placed in front of them by servants. At the head of this table seated in a throne of plush green material was the King who looked upon Naid with a tired, worried expression on his face, his purple robe lay limp around his shoulders. Pacing back and forth along side his fellow illuminate was an agitated Seghol, his chair empty on the opposite side of the table to the King’s. “Please, our time is limited” Seghol reminded the Chiefs that included only one Chief tress. Naid had noticed her earlier in the conference as someone new and had he not already been married to Arinda, he would pursue her romantically. Her looks were strikingly handsome. She was the leader of the successful Longstraff and was obviously good at her job as they had managed to obtain more tribute than any of the others, due in no small part to a large mining operation on one of their moons. A bell sounded and the servants were ordered to leave the chamber. A silence enveloped the room as the Chiefs took their seats and soon all that Naid heard was the erratic footsteps of Seghol pacing up and down around the table. Seghol finally spoke in a purposefully loud, commanding tone. “I have brought you here in this closed session as the time has come to be honest with you”. He hasn’t been honest before? Naid thought with cynical amusement. Seghol found Naid’s eyes as he continued “To answer your question Chief Naid of the Keerof, I must first tell you all what I know”. “As you are all aware, twenty five years ago, five councils before this one, the Chiefs voted to tow one of our gateways to a distant system so that we may share the resources of a life bearing planet”. “What you don’t know is that the illuminate and his majesty the King have known about this planet much longer than has been told to the Chiefs”. A gasp was heard “We have also known much more about this planet than we have been willing to tell you, for your own protection”. “We were honest in our true intentions however, to tow the gateway so as to acquire resources including gold, lots of gold”. “What we did not disclose to you is that there are intelligent life forms on this planet who call themselves Humans.” “These Humans number in the billions, are highly advanced, in some ways more than us and they plan to attack us”. This news shook the chamber; the Chiefs erupted in outrage and yelled at Seghol and the King “Why didn’t you tell us!” “What are these humans?!” “How dare you!?” “We’re not prepared for this”! This went on for minutes and the illuminate at the table looked upon the Chiefs with a sad, disappointed expression on their faces. Naid concluded their disappointment stemmed not from the reaction of the Chiefs, but by the fact that events had taken an unexpected turn that necessitated them to be informed. Why had his old friend the King kept him from this? This fact especially upset Naid. The King stood up and yelled above the commotion “Quiet, let my Principal speak”. The Chiefs respectfully sat back down and Seghol shook his head in disgust “Just listen, listen to what I have to say first and watch what I show you first, then, carry on as much as you like”.

The atmosphere was so tense that Naid felt that all he had to do to start a riot was to make a sudden sound or movement like knocking over a chair, he looked around him and the faces of the Chiefs were contorted in anger and fear. The fear he felt was palpable and his fur rippled over and over a gain with emotion as he breathed heavily. Seghol stroked his thin strands of facial fur, he walked over to a panel on the table and pressed a button, with a click, a screen lowered over one end of the room and some of the Chiefs had to turn their chairs around to afford a view. “As no manks are permitted here, I am using this old technology to show you what we know” Seghol explained. A projector illuminated the screen and a picture of a planet appeared, it looked almost just like Aescalon. “This is Earth, the home planet of the Humans, much like Aescalon, this planet is full of resources, food, life and yes, there is gold”. Seghol took a deep breath, knowing what the reaction would be next as the screen showed the image of a Human male and female naked on the screen. Naid recoiled in disgust, these creatures resembled them in some ways but their virtually hairless, short bodies were hideous to behold. “I know, they are ugly, but do not underestimate their intellect, they are as smart and cunning as us and have evolved from ape animals into dangerous primates who have not yet come to understand harmony amongst themselves as we have”. Sure, there’s a lot of trust and harmony in this room right now, for example, Naid considered sarcastically. “Over a thousand years ago we laid the first bricks in the path to our enlightenment, but these Humans have been cutting each others throats in almost constant wars for millennia”. “Theirs is a segregated world filled with multiple distrusting governments, hundreds of different religions, many of the main ones only having one God, injustice, greed, and all manner of disrespect and destruction of their environment”. “Instead of using their animals and life around them as we do, they farm it, manipulate it in obscene ways and often destroy it beyond recovery for short term gain”. “They use machines and electronics for everything”. The screen showed cars, planes, computers, TV screens, cities, sports events, space ships and sophisticated weapons engaged in mass destruction and explosions including a nuclear warhead. If the intention was to instil fear into the Chiefs, it was working, Naid was watching in horror and disbelief at what he was seeing. “As you can see, these Humans are much more technologically advanced then us in terms of machines and potentially pose a great threat, but”. He paused. “But, we have the one thing they do not, the gateways gifted to us by the Gods”. “Without the gateways, they are impotent, bereft of strength, as they simply cannot get to us”. “Our isolation is our greatest protection against them”. “The reason we have engaged with them for over a hundred and fifty years now” this drew another shocked gasp from the Chiefs “…is that we wish to learn from them, scientific curiosity, but as you can see, they are not to be trusted”. “We have also traded knowledge with them and we have traded some knowledge for gold that they have kept in storage for us in good faith”. “Long ago we have cured all diseases including what they call cancer which kills many millions of them every year.” “The arrival of the gateway was to bring forth an era by which we could transport ambassadors back and forth carrying valuable knowledge of our DNA manufacturing and creature making so that they could cure their cancers in exchange for gold”. “Agreements were signed up with their governments and the trade was scheduled to start later this year, we were even considering leaving the gateway behind to foster a better relationship with these creatures”.

The Prime Minister bowed his head and clasped his hands together; he looked hopeful, hopeful that the Chiefs were thinking as he did. “But, they have a new government now and this is how they recently received one of our ambassadors….”

The images on screen were confronting and alarming; it was of the Paladins demolition party, the edited pictures they were all watching with concern on their faces showed the Paladins fighting each other, knocking down walls, drinking and dancing around a fire. The Chiefs watched as the fires burned and to their horror, they saw their ambassador being carried out and murdered slowly by barbaric hanging, all to the cheers and laughter of the Humans around him, just as Nelson had witnessed it.

“Gods!” “Turn it off!” “War!” “Sick animals, put them down”! “Destroy them!” “Take the gateway now!” Seghol walked around the chamber as this video was shown again and again in loops; he looked over to the King with an “I told you so” looking smile but the King looked displeased with how his Principal had conducted himself, how he had manipulated the emotions of the Chiefs for his own purposes. Seghol pushed the advantage, hoping to get his war as he continued. “The prophecy in the scriptures demands that we must face and defeat a great enemy before the Gods light the path to the universe, this is the enemy! It’s us or them!” He pointed to the screen and it showed coincidentally at that time a bald headed Nelson dancing on one of the truck top roofs, gyrating against one of their females before cutting to the sickening assassination once again. “So, to answer your question Chief Naid of the Keerof, these are the signs I have been given and as your Principal and high priest I state that it is the will of the Gods that we declare war on these Humans”. “As you can see, they have already declared war on us”. “I now propose that we vote on the motion that total, universal war be declared on Earth!” There was uproar in the room, even the docile illuminate were animated, banging their fists on the table, some were chanting for war but to Naid’s surprise, cooler heads were prevailing including the King’s who was still seated in his throne, rubbing his hand on his chin, looking as though his mind was somewhere else, somewhere pleasant. The King stood up slowly and walked with wobbling legs, not from age, he was not quite old enough, but from what? Naid wondered. His old friend moved to where Seghol was standing, the Principal folded his arms defensively and declared “The King is not permitted to speak on voting matters before the vote is cast” and whispered to the King “don’t you wreck this, I made you, I can destroy you.” The King eyed him and whispered back “on such an occasion, the King must be permitted to speak, if they see you block me, they will vote against your war”. Actually, the King really wanted to say something else and pictured himself saying it “The Gods made me with the help of my mother and father, not you, but it is the Gods who will destroy you, you tyrant”. The King’s fantasy over, Seghol reluctantly pushed his arms aside and gestured to the King “Be silent for your King”.

The King, for effect flapped out his purple robe and as it twitched back to life, he stood on top of the table, accidentally knocking over and smashing one of the goblets. He held out his hands for calm “Prime Minister, turn off the screen”. Seghol turned it off. The king spoke “I’m sorry, I never wanted you to know about the Humans, once we had collected the gold, the gateway would’ve been towed back and we would’ve told you that the planet was not worth bothering about”. “Everything that is learned in this room stays in this room, if any of this got out to the common folk, there would be uncontrollable bedlam and much of them I fear would flock to the new way out of comfort”. Seghol nodded in agreement. Pleased so far with the King, thank the Gods he thought. “I am not only your King, I am one of you, a simple Aesini called Reposten of the tribe Juriculite.” “I speak to you now as another being of the Great Tribe, not as your King”. “How wise are we to declare war when we are uncertain of the outcome?” Seghol turned to glare at the King and said disrespectfully “Your Majesty, I remind you that it is against protocol to offer your opinion before a vote is cast, where are you going with this?” The king motioned toward the fresco adorning the walls “You see around you the terrible civil war that we endured and its consequences, our Gods abhor violence, they have evolved beyond the need for it, do we risk angering them further by fighting with these Humans?” “As your King I do not carry a vote and I am not supposed to give you my opinion on matters of state but I speak to you as just an Aesini, no war”. “If this means relinquishing my responsibilities as King, so be it”. This caused the Chiefs and the Illuminate to stir and murmur. Seghol scratched his head with irritation as the King stepped down, foolishly knocking over yet another goblet, smashing it to the ground. “Sorry”. Idiot, drug addled idiot, Seghol thought and said to him in an angry whisper “fool, I’ll deal with you later”. The King stumbled over his robe and sat back down on the throne, looking and no doubt feeling pleased with himself. Seghol knew an awful secret that would bring down “His Majesty”, the fact that the King was addicted to the banned powdered substance known as Pure. Pure was the drug of choice for the illuminate and elite in the old times but was banned a hundred years ago as its euphoric effects impeded judgement, as was just evidenced, he thought. Seghol considered announcing the King’s drug habit to the assembled to instantly discredit his little speech, but decided against it, if he were to do this, he must first cover up the fact that he was supplying the King with pure so that he could control him. The theory that has worked for twenty five years, up until now, was that the King agreed with and was actively seen to support Seghol in all matters in return for Pure. Why didn’t it work this time? Seghol considered, it’s because he’s high right now dammit, he must’ve taken a hit just before this meeting so he doesn’t feel threatened by me. Wait until his supply dries up he thought and then his majesty will be begging him for more and declare to the whole of the Great Tribe that we go to war. All he had to do was wait for the Kings blessing, this was merely a temporary set back.

 

Alene sat on a chair in a restaurant within the ground floor gallery of the Palace, a place open to the public too which was risky as being a Chieftain’s daughter dinning with a relative stranger would be cause for tongues to wag and paparazzi manks to flutter around them, however, this was not the case, much to their mutual relief, at least, if it was occurring, it wasn’t obvious. They drank some broth and Alene winced “What’s wrong?” Grendic looked a little worried “It’s just that my mother makes broth so much better than this, you’ll have to come over some time to try it”. “I’d like that”. She looked sad “I don’t know if my father would approve of you, he keeps telling me to only date Keerof”. “I’m sure once he gets to know me he’ll be o.k.” Was this going too fast? She wondered how fast should it go, were they a couple now? Both her father and mother never really sat her down to explain the protocols of dating and mating, they always casually explained it away with such words as “you’ll know it when it happens” or “I know you’ll do the right thing dear”, without actually specifically explaining what the right thing was. If the marriage of her parents was anything to go by, then she had little to fear, they were a loving, mostly happy family, even though they hardly ever saw their father as he was always busy with official matters, was that the secret of a happy marriage? To be apart? The irony of the thought made her giggle. “What’s funny?” “It’s nothing, I was just thinking I should’ve taken up the offer to come here with you, I just wasted the first ten days snoring next to my dad”. He let out a chuckle. “I know, we all catch up on sleep here, the debates are pretty dry, full of long winded speeches about laws that contradict each other and votes that go on for ever”.

She took another sip from the broth “what would you like to order?” the waiter was standing there and neither Alene nor her companion where even aware that he was standing next to them “er, can you give us a few more minutes”? “Sure”. Grendic rolled his eyes “What”? “Do you know that’s the second time we’ve sent him away tonight”? “Really? Well, it’s your turn next time” “Hey! At least I know what to order” he teased. “Alright, is this our first tiff?” He let out a short laugh “the first of many I hope” “Lets see, I think I’ll go with the grilled marmule” an imported fish and priced accordingly “Okay”. He called the waiter over and ordered for both of them, he’d love to have the marmule too but decided to order the ligs, which is an assortment of spicy fried local grubs, a cheaper option, he knew that he had to pick up the tab to make a good impression and even this would break his daily allowance, especially after what she had ordered. “Grendic, I’m paying, you don’t have to order the cheapest thing on the menu”. He looked embarrassed and looked up at the waiter who shrugged “No, I, ah, I like ligs” Alene smiled at him and said to the waiter “two marmules please”. When the waiter walked away, Alene leaned over “We have a philosophy in my family, live simply but when it comes to food and drink, live large”. “The money we save on other luxuries, we like to spend on this, please, don’t insult me by saying no”. “How can I refuse?” Alene knew that the Pulic were not rich, not many of them attained the highest ranks and the fact that they’d missed the quota yet again at the conference made her aware that Grendic would have to be counting his funds. Their conversation turned back to their mutual interest in the new way. “I saw you last year on the news speaking at a rally, boy that caused a stir amongst my people, that’s when I first found out about you, a future Chief tress talking to a crowd about the new way”. She nodded “Yeah, it caused a real stir at home too, I wasn’t just speaking there, I was the organiser, my dad forbade me from even being at any more rallies, he said it was unbecoming for the daughter of a Chief to be with rabble rousers”. “But you have to stand up again Alene, some of us are calling you the warrior princess, you’re a hero”. She looked embarrassed “Hardly, voicing what you believe in is not heroic”. “Are you kidding? When it risks banishment”? “It is when you’re in such a position, getting on the news and making a difference that’s heroic”. “Yeah, here we are sitting around in a café about to dine on marmules whilst the Chiefs are making the real decisions; they’re the ones making the difference”. “Yes and no, they vote on agendas but they don’t have their finger on the pulse of sentiment” He continued “It’s not just the youth anymore, my parents are behind the new way, half the people on my street are, our meetings are not raided by the police anymore, one of them is even at the meetings, things are changing Alene, you could be instrumental to the cause”. “As the daughter of a Chief”? She said with a tone of sarcasm. “Come back to us Alene, I know in your heart you never left us but you could end up leading us.” “Change must come without violence, any talk of me being a warrior princess ends now”. “Sure, you got it, no revolution, but how else are we…” she cut him off “maybe instead of holding meetings in secret, celebrating the fact that a cop comes along, probably to spy on us, we should hold them in town squares and put them on speakers and screens, let manks in, let everyone in”. He laughed with incredulity “Are you serious?” “Oh Gods, you are serious, I love it!” “But, won’t that make it easier for the establishment to make us outcasts?” “I expect some examples will be made, but they can’t do it to all of us, there are already too many and many more who sympathise with us”. “How do you know?” She sighed “When Seghol made that anti new way speech on day one; I looked around and saw not only you, but maybe a dozen others, that’s just in the great hall alone, imagine what portion of the population is out there that sympathise too”. “You already knew that I was in the movement, how did you know about the others?” “Call it a hunch”. “C’mon, how?” “O.k., my dad, the Chief, like all the Chiefs I’m sure keep a file on all the delegates here, maybe I wasn’t supposed to peek at the files but I did, maybe I read up on who’s who in the zoo and maybe I also looked around during Seghol’s rant and gauged the reactions. “Wow, I definitely want you to be our leader now”. It was her turn to roll her eyes “It’s not like I’m a master spy, that ugly old Seghol’s got listening bugs everywhere, If dad knows you’re a new wayer, trust me, everyone does”. He pondered on this for a little while before finally adding “I liked it better when I thought we were a secret”. The waiter brought our their meals and this was a welcoming distraction for both of them, as they were both ravenously hungry, passion, it seems, can easily be transferred to appetite. Whilst they were eating, without either of them noticing, a tiny listening bug lifted off from the top edge of the chair Alene was sitting on and made its way through the restaurant kitchen, the gallery, into the great hall then out of one of the windows before flying up towards the palace levels, flying in and out of windows and rooms, dodging furniture, Aesini and occasionally another bug before finally coming to rest on the tip of Principal Seghol’s ear. The tiny insect, about the size of a thumb nail rubbed its legs together, relaying a message in code and Seghols face grew from a frown into a slowly increasing smile and his eyes sparkled. He looked down at his wrist and turned a small knob on something that looked like a sundial. He was in recess, in the quarters of the King sitting on a carved wooden five seater sofa, the large cushions looked soft and inviting. The King, still in his formal wear and purple robe sat on the other end of the sofa. “Happy news”? Seghol suddenly remembered the King was there and replied without hesitation. “Good news is a rare commodity in these times, it’s important to enjoy it when it comes”. “For the sake of sanity I suppose” the King agreed. Seghol stiffened “Speaking of sanity, what were you thinking back there? We had an agreement!” “The agreement’s still on” the King said with a hint of panic in his voice. Ah, the pure must be wearing off already, Seghol thought. “I’m still on your side Seghol; it’s just that we have to find an alternative to war, as the high priest you have to know that the Gods won’t tolerate us being the aggressors”. The King held out one his hands in a gesture of reasoning “I mean, what if we’ve already defeated the enemy in the scriptures when the tyrant was killed at the end of the civil war, doesn’t that qualify?” Seghol now had to act in the role of the high priest and shook his head “Has the pure made you forget? The scriptures were written by the priests at the end of the civil war, after his death”. The King decided to ignore this insult; they both knew that if it was anyone else, then the punishment for such insolence would not be pleasant. The King knows that he has plausible deniability for his habit with everyone but Seghol. “Nonetheless, there is nothing in the scriptures that says that it’s the Humans that are this enemy”. “That’s where we come in, your majesty, I was pretty convincing out there and you got up on that table like a fool and pulled everything down that I built up, again, we had a deal!” The King brought his hands up in a prayer like gesture in front of his face “Please Seghol, I, it’s just that I’m not sure that were doing the right thing here”. The high Priest got up and walked over to the King and sat right next to him and brought his arm up. The King flinched and looked frightened but Seghol simply brought his arm over the Kings shoulder, causing the living robe to slither about like a reptile, slightly agitated by this unexpected invasion of an unauthorised DNA strand coming into contact with it. “Your majesty” he said softly, kindly “We are doing the right thing, and you know how I know?” “No”. “I know because Earth has thousands of bars of gold just waiting for us to collect and the only way we are going to get them, the only way, is if we do the universe a favour and end the disease of humanity, take the gold, the Gods come back; we live in ecstasy with them forever, the end”. Seghol made grandiose sweeping gestures with his free arm “When this happens, you won’t need pure any more to feel good, you won’t need me, you’ll never see me again, you’ll retire as the King who brought peace and happiness not just to the Great Tribe, but to the entire galaxy, there will be statues of you in every town, how’s that sound?” The King, probably still intoxicated and easily influenced looked like he was having a day dream “That sounds great” He turned to his Prime Minister and their noses were almost touching” “I especially liked the part about never seeing you again”. Seghol stood up with an audible harrumph. The king pushed the counter attack “and what will become of you when we are all dancing and singing with the Gods on the grave of Humanity?” “I will become the caretaker of the Great Tribe in your stead, continuing your legacy”. Seghol was not going to loose his cool, he maintained composure and kept the appearance of being the better one, so he thought. “Your majesty, if you wish for us to break our alliance, don’t simply mince words, let me know”. “I can do without sneaking your drugs into the palace and listening to your addresses to your subjects which always contain bad jokes”. “Guess what, everyone laughs only because of your position, they’re bad jokes”. “I can do without making excuses for your behaviour, oh, he has a medical condition, oh he’s not feeling well today, oh the burden of being the King is a weary one, he’s just a little tired, he’s getting older, etcetera infinitum”. He waved his wrist casually and glared at the King daring him to say it, just say it and its over, but the King knew what this meant, Seghol would uncover the Kings dirty little secrets to the entire Great Tribe, not just the drugs but the mistresses, the forbidden gambling, his perversions, unusual sexual desires that involved violence and the hiss, all recorded, including recordings of his declarations of renouncement of the Gods and his people, all mindless rants in the embraces of Pure. But what a drug! Not only does he rely solely on his Prime Minister for his addiction, but Seghol had so much on him that Exile just wouldn’t be enough, he would be the focus of ridicule, the subject of fun for eternity, just the mention of his name would evoke laughter and pity and stories of his life would be written as an example to children of what not to do. “I know what you’re thinking, you can’t kill me, much as you’d like to I’m sure, my watchful bugs are never far away”. He turned the dial on his wrist again and two bugs as well as a single mank flew in through a window and hovered above their heads. “I wasn’t thinking that actually, please send them away, they’re annoying”. The King returned the hateful eyes of his Prime Minister, this tango has been danced on and off for twenty five years and he was tired of it, sometimes he just wanted to end his life, maybe that was the only honourable way out, but then Seghol, he knew, would expose the suicide as a cowardly act, not a noble one, he couldn’t win, checkmate, he was a prisoner in his own palace. The veil over the charade that is his life could be lifted at any time, he needed something to defeat Seghol so that he could have a dignified legacy, a miracle, but what? He wondered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter six: Trans Intercontinental

 

The breaking news of the WNN – the World News Network was solemn. Sarah Close, the co-anchor for ten years had died in a tragic accident. The helicopter that she was travelling in just an hour ago to cover the Americas election campaign of Presidential candidate Henry Worthington in Chicago, suffered a catastrophic engine failure and crashed onto a paddock killing the Pilot, Sarah and a cameraman. The Pilot was regarded as a hero for his efforts in guiding the chopper away from the nearby residential area in the last seconds of his life. Witnesses reported a fire erupting in the rotary blades and the aircraft then spiralling out of control. Nelson watched on in a resigned melancholy as he watched a series of emotional tributes of one of his favourite TV personalities. Many in the entertainment industry were posting messages of condolences and grief at her passing. The Presidential candidate himself said that she was a “shinning light of truth and a beacon of integrity”, he went on to say at a press conference that Sarah never compromised in her beliefs and was a strong advocate of modern democracy, a vocal critic of the concept of a single world Government. Her anti-Freeman views may indeed cause a backlash against his leader, Nelson considered. Preliminary investigations that were already under way but by no means conclusive alluded to the cause being mechanical in nature. It was suggested that the engine failure was likely due to an error in routine maintenance and that foul play was being ruled out. Foul play? Nelson was outraged, how could anyone think that this was anything but an accident. He shrugged as he thought, the tragic death will only gain her beliefs sympathy and his leader surely could not, would not, did not have had a hand in this; it’s beneath him. Robert Valentine was struggling to maintain composure and his usual jovial and enthusiastic demeanour was noticeably absent as he continued to accept the well intentioned wishes of those contributing to the special edition broadcast, A-list celebrities, politicians from all over the world, fellow journalists, family and friends. Nelson could bear the pseudo compassion no longer, especially from those who had only been interviewed by Sarah in the past, those who didn’t really know her. For Christ’s sake, he thought cynically, are people so desperate to get air time that they use this terrible thing just to get their faces on the screen? He had to stop himself, so often he thought the worst of people; he forced himself to consider the possibility that they really were as upset about this as he was. His father Hank once told him that his cynicism and misanthropic views was a contradiction to what should be youthful optimism which made him difficult to live with at times. Tears welled up in his eyes and he felt a sense of hopelessness, last night he witnessed a murder and today a life cut short. He turned his thoughts to the events of last night, the demolition party; it was fun, a rush. He had felt so alive but the memory of the Aesini hanging there as the rain fell dousing the flames of the bonfire, he knew it was wrong, why was it that no one else did? Or if they did, they simply carried on as if it were no big deal. He was taught in orientation that to be an elite soldier, he must condition his mind as well as his body, he must become desensitised to violence. Yet, he pondered, this very thing is something he had always had a problem with. Just about every thing on TV and at the movies shows gruesome acts of violence and even though it’s usually fake, it rested uncomfortably on his conscience. The fact that the masses consider this entertainment, they clap and cheer when the good guys get revenge, hell, they’re even amused by the gratuity of it and they justify it by saying “it’s o.k., it’s only a movie”. Is this so far removed from saying “it’s o.k because it’s not happening to me? It’s happening to someone who deserves it?” which, Nelson imagined is what the audience told themselves in Ancient Rome as they saw bloody death only metres from them in the spectacle of the Coliseum. He sat back on the hard mattress of his single bed and turned off the screen with the flick of his finger and clenched it in a fist, lingering in silence he resolved that the only way he could beat this internal problem that he had with violence was to confront it, then and only then will he be able to overcome this awkward aversion and be like everyone else. His only experience with it so far had been the guards that he’d “neutralised”, as the results report had called it, in the deep valley training mission. An interesting euphemism he thought, he’d knocked them out cold, injured them and yet, this didn’t change him as he thought it would, he still hated the aggression that he’d put into action, he had hoped that the act would make him a killer, but he was still terrified of killing, could barely stand the mere thought of it and pledged to himself now, as in the past that he would never willingly volunteer to injure or kill anyone unarmed. He could not confide his inner most thought about this to anyone, he thought sadly, any of his transmissions would, of course, be monitored and he couldn’t tell Jessie. His once best friend had changed; Jessie would probably send him for psychiatric assessment, ironically for not wanting to kill, not out of cowardice, just didn’t want to; like that’s a disease for a soldier?! Now both fists were clenched, enraged now he thought that the aggression he was feeling could perhaps be channelled; he just needed suitable motivation, an unquestioning belief, not God, Freeman. His TV came on without his instruction and he was glad he was dressed in his fatigues, even though he was shirtless. The face of Ira Bilis, enlarged on the big screen illuminated the dark room and her eyes flickered over his physique, she smiled briefly and raised an eyebrow, obviously pleased with what she saw. Why wouldn’t she be? Nelson sported a great shape, six pack abdominal muscles and fine pectoral proportions, the results of three years of intense physical training. He wasn’t in the habit of showing this off to people but was happy that this came about as the unexpected, unannounced transmission did not make him look like he was conceited or looking for attention, nonetheless, he got it.

She cleared her throat and he took this as a sign to put a shirt on and he quickly did so and saluted the Major, however, she seemed disappointed by this act and this made Nelson feel even more proud of himself. As usual, she didn’t return the salute. “Jones, now that you are graduated I can give you an assignment”. She paused and her eyes glistened with amusement. “You are to replace Botany as Freeman’s travelling assistant for the next few months, people are put off that he moves about with a robot. He want’s someone who, as he puts it, is loyal, versatile and human, congratulations Jones, you qualify for at least one of those conditions”. Unlike the Major, the sarcasm did not amuse him. “What, uh exactly is the nature of the mission Major?” “You are to accompany our leader as he campaigns for support, y’know, despite that victory speech last night, he’s not yet the leader of the free world, as he said, the journey is just beginning”. “Yes but, I mean, what is the specific purpose of my proximity to the leader”? She peered at him; the 3D aspect made it look like her massive head was coming through the screen “you are to be a security detail”. “A body guard”? “If you want to call it that”. He considered this for a moment “As much as I am flattered to be part of his entourage, a security guard? Really”? Her face contorted with anger “You have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity that others would kill and die for and you dare to question it”?! Nelson had forgotten about the Major’s quick temper and immediately went about placating her, her large head looked like it was about to burst through the screen and eat him alive. “Ma’am, forgive my insolence, I was just expressing my, er” “I don’t want to hear it”! She abruptly cut him off “Prepare yourself, I wan’t you in my office at oh seven hundred, wear the new suit in your wardrobe”. The end transmission words hung on the screen and he looked in the wardrobe, a black business suit overlapping some body armour and a gold tie was awaiting him, the lapel of the wool blend suit had a silver pin of the Paladin symbol on it. Nelson glanced at the time index on the top right hand corner of the screen behind him, it was 05:02. Don’t these people ever sleep? Then he thought, shit, I haven’t slept. He forced himself to shallow sleep for the next hour and a half and woke up with what felt like a hangover, even though he had only a few beers the night before.

He went to the mall’s food court on the way to the Major’s office, he hated bieng late but decided he must eat something so ordered a fast food “breakfast burger” from one of the outlets using his silver coloured i.d cylinder in a swiping motion on a terminal for payment , he began to eat it ravenously as he walked away and it tasted good, so good that he ran back and ordered another, this one he ate on the run, literally, as he knew he would be at least a few minutes late now, would the Major beat on him for it? Oh, well, at least he had those delicious breakfast burgers, damn they were good.

He knocked on the door of the office and glanced nervously at his cylinder, the time index on it read 07:04. The door opened and the first thing he saw was Botany, the robot he was replacing was opening the door for him, apt he thought. The Major was sitting behind the desk, her riding crop sitting next to her name plate on the desk. On the walls were various screens showing the results of performance reports of the troops and he scanned one of them looking for his name but did not have time to locate it as she spoke “Jones, take a seat.” “As you can see, Botany is here”. Strange that a human is making a robot obsolete, Nelson thought, this bucks the trend of the last hundred years.

“He’s here to brief you on our leader’s requirements, his favourite drinks, his favourite foods, what he likes to do, listen to, watch, as our leaders companion, you need to know these things” Botany now spoke in his soothing old butler voice “Sir, your prime objective is to not only defend Secretary General Freeman, but to also anticipate and fulfil his needs, his time is precious and he likes to devote what little spare time he has to thinking” Nelson cocked an eyebrow “thinking”? Botany, without missing a beat added “yes sir, your new master is a genius, he needs many hours per day to sit in quiet contemplation” Bilis pipped in “He doesn’t merely think like you and I do Jones, he composes things in his mind, masterpieces like Mozart or Einstein, but it’s not an orchestral movement or the theory of general relativity, its the future of the world, he described it to me in this way once so that I may understand with my limited intellect”. Botany turned to Nelson “Be not alarmed by his trances, he is in union with something that is beyond logic”. “That’s very obtuse for a robot” Nelson observed with a hint of bemusement. “I am not a robot lieutenant Jones, I am an android and as such, I am manufactured to mimic a middle aged human male, whilst I am incapable of independent thought or sentience, I have been programmed to learn and adapt and one thing I have definitely learned is that the leader’s programming is very unique and must be respected.” Did that just sound like he was pissed off at bieng called a robot? Nelson thought. Botany now sat down, his servo motors barely audible, who ever built this thing did a great job, he looks like a man and despite some obvious signs that he is a machine like the sounds of his mechanics and his occasional jerking motions, he was uncanny. “If you would be so kind as to listen to my advice, sir, I think you will find it invaluable”. For the next two hours, he dutifully listened and took notes about everything Botany felt was important about Freeman, right down to the type of toilet paper he liked to wipe his arse with, 4 ply with no pictures on it and Nelson knew that he was more than a security guard for Freeman, or perhaps less than one, he was a goddamned butler. He was dismayed at this thought; did they think he was too soft for combat, that he was only good at bieng a lackey for the old man? Was this to be his fate? He imagined himself as older like Botany and bieng yelled at by a very old Freeman for not getting the right brand of sanitary underwear for his master’s incontinence, this made him shudder but he felt it wise not to protest again, the wrath of Bilis he knew full well, is unmerciful. “What’s going to happen to Botany”?

***

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The Devil's Dragon

An epic Sci Fi/fantasy drama set eighty years in the future, told surrounding the development and ultimately the outcome of the Aesini war as seen intimately through the eyes of Nelson Jones, a young and gifted military cadet whose rise through the ranks in the fascist new world order known as the "New Era" reveals to him through his experiences the true nature of humanity, both good and evil. Nelson is on a journey of self discovery and is forced to confront his values and his world view to make difficult choices. The story is also intimately told from the perspective of multiple players on both sides of the conflict. This is the first book of a story driven trilogy in a universe that's as rich and compelling as other major franchises.

  • Author: Jason F Boggs
  • Published: 2017-07-22 01:05:12
  • Words: 197149
The Devil's Dragon The Devil's Dragon