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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Veil of Shadow - 10. Res Publica

Chapter 10! We are now entering double digits. Excitement abounds!

Stifling a yawn, Kenji leaned against the machine's frame as the drink vendor brewed him a coffee. It hummed and whirred, the glossy metal surface vibrating slightly as it went through the ministrations. Bleary, dressed only in his civvies, he waited somewhat impatiently for the cup to drop neatly into the receptacle. When it did, he plucked it from its holder, and walked through into the command centre. There were plenty of other Brotherhood tech ops busy in their varied tasks, but his corner of 'office space' was quiet and unlit.

"System on."

The overhead lights activated, the PDN and network interfaces coming out of hibernation at the sound of his voice. Dumping the paper bag filled with pastries onto the desk, Kenji eased himself into the chair and sat back, taking a sip of the steaming-hot cup as he did so.

Delicious.

He rubbed his eyes as he tried to wake up fully. It was a Monday, and he wasn't much in the mood for desk-work. Ayize and Rashid hadn't been in contact. Not that they were expecting to hear from Ayize very soon, or even on any particular schedule given the sort of mission they were on. Kenji wasn't anticipating a fast turnaround on that one, and was prepared for it to be quite a while more before they knew anything.

Then there was what Lindani had to deal with.

There was a group called Liberté Égalité Fraternité, named for France's old national motto and formed in the French territories in west Africa. Commonly abbreviated to LEF, they were a militant realist force who epitomised all of the 'terrorist' labeling the other ideologies could pin on them. Though the Brotherhood was the originator and standard-bearer of realism, the LEF believed the Brotherhood did not go far enough and often promoted the use of radical action to achieve results.

Recently, the LEF had been moving resources from anti-government and anti-corporatist activity in India and east Asia back westward. The Brotherhood had established that the Transcaucasus, specifically Georgia and Armenia, was the linking corridor for this clandestine transfer into Ukraine and Poland, and onward into western Europe.

Lindani had gone to Poland, to arrange a meeting with one of their field commanders in Wroclaw and find out the reason for funneling efforts into Europe. While it seemed the LEF often clung to the Brotherhood's coat-tails politically and militarily because of their shared principles, they were an unpredictable, secretive and troublesome ally. Getting them to co-operate was like trying to make an unruly younger sibling behave, only involving weapons and global politics instead of fraternal bickering. It was a tricky and occasionally contentious affair, even with the shared interests.

Everyone was out doing field work. Exciting, dangerous and gritty things.

For Kenji, however?

It was just another Monday morning.

He glanced at the time. 11.46 am. Just about afternoon and a late start, though he deserved the rest and had needed to catch up on his sleep after yesterday's late finish. With a gesture, Kenji pulled the mail to the front of the holo-screen and glanced over the inbox contents, taking another sip of his coffee. Maybe Konstantin or Lucas would be in touch today. He was certainly interested to see how things had progressed with them. The PDN browser autonomously opened in the adjacent space, and began to populate itself with relevant scripted information. He was hardly paying attention to it as he skimmed the work messages, until a headline caught his eye.

What?!

The danish he was about to bite into dropped to the desk, the coffee cup poised in mid-air as he stared at the text.

BREAKING NEWS: Federal resolution deemed 'impassable' clears senate with strong majority vote, becomes law.

Surprised, Kenji opened the attached live-video feed. A pretty young brunette reporter was in mid-speech in front of the camera, standing on the steps of the federal senate's European seat in Brussels. Other media were also assembled, visible in the background, while a constant stream of public foot traffic flowed by.

"-is an unexpected outcome, and the motivations over the unusual factional divides for this resolution are not properly understood. The vote was not close nor split along the typical lines of political ideology. The approval came from the joining of mainstream corporatist senators and the loyalist SDCP, with majorities from both blocs in support of F.S.R.2410. The minority Duynhoven corporatists abstained, signalling a rare divergence from MFM's coordination with likeminded policymakers. In opposition was approximately one fifth of SDCP, comprising their more liberal members, while the realist bloc unconditionally refused to support the resolution's passage. The cited reasons include the corrosion of democratic principles by a heavy-handed alteration of the legislative process.

"Premier Lebaredian did not attempt to block the resolution's passage at any point during the process, and has actively encouraged its implementation. As a law, the Legislative Ethical Review Act of 2318 came into effect immediately as dictated by its own provisions, and will enable her to hold lawmakers accountable through more direct means than the system has so far allowed. There is already talk of a repeal movement and questions over the new law's procedural and constitutional legality. Expanding executive authority requires navigating several pitfalls put in place by the Concordat, although analysts are saying it will be a minimum of weeks before any counter-action appeals to rescind or redraft will be possible.

"In just a few minutes, the premier and vice-premier are to address the chamber. It is believed the premier's remarks will cover the tragedy of Yakutsk, in her first major speech since the devastating terrorist strike one week ago. She is expected to announce 7th October as an annual day of memoriam, and also use the opportunity to condemn the steady increase in violence and polarisation over the last two decades since the 24th century's onset. It is not known what the vice-premier will touch on with his comments, though with his recent focus on Asia and the Pacific, it is likely to include the Chinese construction industry's regulatory troubles, and the ongoing-"

At that point, Kenji closed the video-feed, cutting off the woman's voice, having heard enough.

He was stunned.

The ethics bill was now an act of the federal senate.

The corporatists had joined with the loyalists and helped it become law.

What the fuck was going on?

Why would they risk their own political skins by giving the loyalist premier more power? The moment that bill became law, Lebaredian would be using it to fire as many corrupt MFM proxies as the attorney-general's office could reasonably accept. They would never vote for something that could only serve to gut their own political faction, but there it was, staring him in the face.

They just had.

There wasn't a reason for the corporatists to want it to pass into law, unless ... unless they knew before-hand that the premier would not lift a finger to exercise this act against them.

They had given her the power, but if she wasn't going to use it on them, then it had to be for another purpose, which could only be-

BRRMP! BRRMP! BRRMP!

The deep thunder of the warning klaxons erupted throughout the command centre. Without even thinking, Kenji stood, took a swig of unpleasantly hot coffee, crammed the entire danish into his mouth, and ran for the door. The other tech ops and the remaining command centre staff were doing the same, a sudden exodus that split in all directions as men and women moved hurriedly to do their various duties.

BRRMP! BRRMP! BRRMP!

Kenji raced along the passage, skidding to a halt next to his locker. Punching the code in, he wrenched it open and began to pull out and don his equipment. He didn't know how much time he had, or when 'it' would get here. All he knew was that he didn't want to stay around to find out, because the warning klaxons meant only one thing.

Imminent attack.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Konstantin stood, stretching his shoulders as he pushed the chair back from the desk. He had been involved in his research all morning, using both the information provided him from the Brotherhood and the PDN itself as a reference tool. The previous day had seen most of the hard work, but today, it had all come together. More than that though, he had discovered something else above what he was expecting and searching for, something more incredible that had big implications.

Knowledge that could change the world.

He wasn't quite sure how much he should tell Lucas, especially at this still premature stage. There was a danger in knowing too much about certain things, although the soldier was already quite well informed. Konstantin did not know his rank or his exact role in the federal military, but he was beginning to suspect it was something more specialised than a gun-toting serviceman. Lucas clearly wasn't a desk-bound paper pusher either, so it was probably more clandestine. His mind mulled over the possibilities as he wandered down the hall and into the lounge.

Lucas was standing in front of the holo-screen. He was tense, his hands balled into fists and his jaw clenched; a stance reminiscent of when he learned of MFM's unrepentant lawbreaking. On the screen was a video feed showing the interior of a large building. Tiers of seats rose in the background, like a large indoor stadium or amphitheatre, while a reporter was conducting an interview in the foreground. Konstantin looked cautiously at the screen, then to Lucas.

"What's going on? Has something happened?"

"The premier has betrayed us." The soldier turned fully to face Konstantin. "She has betrayed everyone."

"What?" The Russian's voice was soft, and he glanced at the screen again in confusion and doubt. "How?"

"She colluded with the corporatists to pass a law expanding executive power. Then she used that same law to fire dozens of loyalist senators from her own party. Her own colleagues! " His tone was deadpan, though his eyes radiated a tremendous fury. "They were replaced with corporatists, appointed to fill the vacant seats. MFM now has a majority in the federal senate."

Konstantin felt his blood run cold. A majority?! Lucas wasn't done, however, and he continued.

"She then immediately resubmitted the Military Succession Protocol of 2257, the same one that has been held in suspension for decades. Her proposal was accepted by the corporatist majority and a date has been set."

"What?" Konstantin repeated it, his voice now a shocked whisper.

"On that day, a new Defence Committee will convene, one that is appointed by the new senate majority. They will carry out the protocol and the succession will be decided. A new leader for the federal military will be chosen ... and it will be whomever MFM wants. " Lucas was still talking in a monotone, but Konstantin had never seen anyone so utterly serious. "I don't know if you realise the importance of what's happening here today, but it is the beginning of the end. We are witnessing the death of our democracy, and it may yet go down in a bloodless coup d'état. Your Brotherhood friends could not have been more correct."

For Konstantin, it was all thrown into sudden contrast and several things that did not have obvious explanations now did. The attack that took place on the road to Yakutsk had to be staged. How could the premier's security fail to hide their location from 'terrorists' when their job was to keep safe the leader of Earth? Then, the apparent ease with which Shay and Mira were 'kidnapped' whilst in federal custody; the hesitation of Konstantin's Georgian bodyguard, Andrei, when asked of their whereabouts. It was not a sophisticated and savvy play by any kidnappers. It all added up to a simple thing: the premier was letting them do it.

"Lebaredian." The Russian murmured her name. "When we arrived on Earth, I thought we would be the safest we could hope for, in the custody of the government. I never gave much thought to how ... easily ... we were all taken from Yakutsk under the state's 'protection.' We weren't protected." Konstantin felt anger himself now, the familiar twinge of betrayal growing, the iron of his inner resolve heating from the flame of this treachery. "She knew. She knew that CorpSec were going to use a nuclear weapon. She was not just leaving for business, she knew the city would be reduced to ash. She knew I was intended to die in the blast. All of this she knew. My boys, she let them be taken!"

"Konstantin." Lucas snapped him out of it, the younger man's own incisive anger more disciplined, more intensely driven. "We need to stay focused here. We need to not slip up. The best thing right now is to contact your realist friends and gather more intelligence. Then we can figure out what next."

The Russian nodded, and Lucas gestured to the holo-screen and spoke a command. The news feed terminated, and a communications window initialised. After a few seconds, it stopped and words popped onto the screen.

Connection unavailable. Please try again later.

"Unavailable?" The younger man was indignant. "Not just 'busy, call later' but unavailable? I know they're close by in Italy and on a secure connection. How can it be down?"

Konstantin stared at the screen. "We can't reach them?"

"Yeah." The soldier was staring too. "I don't like this. I can't help thinking it's somehow related to what our bitch of a leader has done." He rubbed his forehead, and motioned for Konstantin to sit, and they both did. "We need another outlet, someone that is trustworthy, but ... there isn't anyone."

"If it helps, I have all the information I need and I am ready to present it."

"You are?" Lucas looked momentarily surprised, but then he smiled. "Okay, that's something, but, still ..."

"Is there no-one from the military that you can trust to speak with? A superior, perhaps?"

"No." He shook his head. "They are all bound by the law, and they all follow it. Although, maybe-" Lucas paused, cutting himself off, lost in thought. "There is someone that might be willing to help. Even if he refuses, he would not divulge our secrets to the corporatists and government, which is what's important here."

"Then let's try." Konstantin shrugged.

It was Lucas' turn to nod in agreement. Konstantin stood, moving out of the video frame so he was not visible, and Lucas sent another command to the projector. A fresh communications window opened, and no more than five seconds later, the feed connected. A middle-aged woman was sitting in front of the screen, and she smiled and began to speak.

"Good day, Mr Thessaloniki. What can I help you with?"

"Hello, Maria. Could I speak with the admiral? It is an important private matter and it is urgent."

Admiral?! The Russian blinked in surprise as he watched the exchange. This young man knows an admiral and is on first name terms with the staff? His curiosity about what position Lucas held in the military was beginning to grow.

"I am sorry," she stated, her demeanour full of secretarial politeness. "He has urgent business of his own and will be unavailable until at least the 18th of this month."

"This is very important," Lucas insisted. "I need to talk with him. Can you not send the request?"

"Lucas." The secretary frowned. "You must have seen the news. He was asked to participate in the process. All prior engagements have been postponed."

The process?

"Maria, please." He was persistent, not prepared to let it slide. "Believe me, this is as important."

She did not reply for a moment, still unwilling, but then she sighed and shook her head. "I will ask, but only because it is you. One moment."

The communications window went blank, the call on hold. They sat in tense silence in the lounge, waiting, and then a minute later the feed resumed, Maria reappearing.

"He is not available to talk right now." Lucas' expression immediately soured, but she continued. "However, he does want to speak with you and has extended an invitation to join him while he is there. Will you be able to attend?"

"Yes!" Lucas was quick to agree. "Definitely. I can attend, and I will be bringing a guest."

"Very good. I will transfer the details to you." She smiled again. "Take care Lucas, and have a safe trip."

"Thank you, Maria. I appreciate your help."

The call finished, and the younger man sat back, then glanced across to Konstantin, who gave him a pointed look. "Who is 'the admiral' and what 'process' were you talking about?"

"The admiral." His lips twisted into an amused smirk. "In some ways he is a lot like you, but that could just be my perception because you are both Russian. His name is Maxim Kerensky, and he was my- ... well, I don't know what you'd call him. Mentor? I guess that would be it. From when I was younger, still in training, he took a liking to me and gave me special attention. He would call me his 'star pupil' and so forth. I did not know he was a part of the process, but it makes sense he was chosen. There are only a handful of high-ranking officers that are suitable."

What is this process? Konstantin still did not realise what Lucas was referring to and then it clicked. "You are talking about the military succession, aren't you?"

"I am." He glanced to the holo-screen, where the details Maria had promised had arrived directly. "It seems Admiral Kerensky and General Venkatesan are the representatives for the fleet and army, respectively. Their presence is mostly to provide some moderation for the politicians conducting the selection, though under certain circumstances they have a limited influence on the outcome."

"Very well. I am the guest and we will go to meet the admiral and ask his help. As good a plan as any." The Russian was half talking to himself, though he directed the next statement to Lucas again. "So ... when?"

"Two days from now, on the 16th."

"And where?"

"Well," murmured Lucas, relaxing back on the couch, "that's the thing. You've had a little taste of Russia, Asia and Europe. The next stop will be different again."

Different?

"Tell me Konstantin, how would you like to see the New World?"

The New World? "You mean ... America?"

"America." Lucas agreed. "We are going to New York."

-o-0-O-0-o-

The car was pulling away from the curb at an anonymous rear exit of the senate building as Tamara Lebaredian, premier of Earth's federal government, settled into her seat. With a gentle sigh, she sat back, allowing herself to relax into the luxurious comfort of the executive's chauffeur service.

It had been a long day.

One for the history books, certainly.

She glanced out the tinted windows at the city as the vehicle cruised inconspicuously through the late afternoon traffic in the Belgian capital. At last alone, she watched the streets glide by, reflecting on the nature of what she was doing.

She would be hated for it, she had no doubt.

Yet, she wondered too how many would understand the necessity.

Earth could not become so debased.

So weak.

Most would not know, nor understand, the sacrifices that had been made.

Perhaps it was better this way. Vilification and making pacts with the devil were preferable to extinction, after all.

Oh yes, the devil.

The thought served as a reminder. The premier tapped her comm link and let it interface with the car's interior compartment display. The holo-screen flickered on, and she spoke. "Connect me to contact number six, maximum security."

The seconds drifted by as she waited, and when she was about to assume no response, the call went through and the video feed switched on. The figure displayed was the same as always; a taller well-dressed older man, reclining in a high-back seat, his face and shoulders wreathed in shadows. It would not take much technical know-how to clarify his identity, but equally, at any time he could have chosen to remain so far removed that she would never have caught a glimpse of him at all. There was no question he had the means for complete anonymity, but this casual version of things had the right level of convenience to suit both of them. It was in the mutual interest for things to stay this way, and so, no further questions were asked.

Plausible deniability was always important.

"Madame Premier." His voice was mellow and pleasant, a warm tenor. "I was meaning to speak with you."

"Director," she acknowledged. "It's been a busy day."

"I know. Congratulations are in order." There was a touch of amusement in his voice but only a touch. It was as much overt emotion as he would ever display. "You make it seem so easy."

"Never as it appears." She clasped her hands in front of her. "What of your own efforts?"

"See for yourself." An auxiliary feed opened next to the communications window, data rapidly filling it. "Having live test subjects has been very beneficial."

Lebaredian skimmed over the information. "The blonde boy has exceptional physical resilience," she remarked drily.

"His body can heal from almost any kind of injury, including severe blood loss." The voice was thoroughly business-like, to the edge of sounding bored with the whole affair, though she knew that wasn't the case. "I am told they made a terrible mess during the experimentation." Then a tiny hint of diversion, as if making a mildly humorous witticism. "There was even a pending request to remove fingers or a hand, just to test the limits. It's a shame we couldn't secure that data first."

Ah, right. The interruption.

"And the other?"

"He possesses extra-physical faculties." The figure moved his hands in a lazy conversational manner. "Unfortunately there wasn't anything conclusive until it was a bit late."

She shook her head, exasperated. "It's a setback to have both facilities neutralised. There was plenty more to be learned. No breakthroughs will happen like this."

"Not quite, Madame Premier." Calm, assured, rational; he continued on. "The staff is dead, the buildings and equipment destroyed, and the realist terrorists happy with their righteous humanist victory over the soulless corporate overlords ... but," he paused a moment, the suggestion of a satisfied smile lurking just out of view in the darkened recess, "the boy did what we wanted. Psychology always wins. The embedded sensors caught it all and passed on their recordings before the coup de grace."

Before it? Really?

"You have answers then?"

"Not yet. It is raw data, but once it is analysed? Yes."

So, the whole messy ordeal had yielded something of value after all. "Then it seems everything is well in hand."

"For the moment." The Director gestured toward the screen with his left hand. "Call me again after CorpSec has been given the mantle, Madame Premier. By then we will have a lot more to discuss."

Without a word more, the video link cut, the transmission ending.

Well, that was that.

She picked up a water bottle from the holder, removed the cap and took a sip. The holo-screen went into hibernation, and the premier gazed out the window once more. There was still plenty of daily paperwork to take care of back at the official residence, but Tamara was feeling tired, in need of a break. Maybe she would request some byorek from the chef when she got back. Perhaps with a salad and some extra onion.

Yes, that would be welcome. It would be nice to think of home.

Unexpectedly, the car slowed in the traffic, coming to a halt. Curious, they were not at an intersection. After a few moments, the faint hum of the deflection buffer fields stopped as they deactivated. The premier frowned. Why was security messing around in the middle of the city? There was no need for this.

It wasn't professional.

She tapped the intercom to the front of the car.

"Driver, resume your duty. I do not wish to t-"

CLICK.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The speed and efficiency of air travel was still very much a novelty for Konstantin. Though he knew that this was Earth and the immobility of Lucere's destroyed civilisation could not really be compared, it was still a marvel to cross large swathes of the planet in hours, or even minutes. The surface of the Atlantic whisked by as they blitzed from Europe towards North America, a grand expanse of blue far beneath. It was such an odd thing to think that once this journey would have taken days, weeks or even months, depending on how far back one might consider. All corners of the Earth had never been so accessible to humanity.

Nor so vulnerable.

It was the following evening after the momentous events in the senate, that they were on the flight. The military succession and their meeting with Admiral Kerensky were due to happen the next day. All of it, however, was overshadowed by what happened the previous afternoon.

Not long after the executive delegation had left the senate building, a bomb had gone off on a street in downtown Brussels. Nearly a dozen motorists and bystanders were killed, and the premier's vehicle was turned into shredded metal.

Tamara Lebaredian was dead.

The leader of Earth had been assassinated.

Lucas was just as shocked as Konstantin was over it. Everything was happening so quickly. The normal pace of global events wasn't anything close to this, as the planet-wide bureaucracy never acted fast. Yet so much had occurred in the couple of weeks since they had arrived, that it was practically a whirlwind of drama. Konstantin knew that a lot of it had been brewing under the surface for a very long time and it was now hitting breaking point, but some superstitious part of him kept coming back to Shay.

Wherever Shay went, things seemed to happen around him, and to him.

He was a cosmic catalyst, a miracle that changed everything he touched, even if sometimes he didn't realise it.

He was also Konstantin's son.

Not by blood, but in the other ways that mattered.

"Konstantin, look."

He followed where Lucas was pointing, roused from his contemplation. Their altitude was decreasing as they made the approach to the American coast, and although they were still some distance, plainly visible out the aircraft's windows was the majestic outline of The City That Never Sleeps.

Though America had gone through periods of decline and recession in the 21st and 22nd centuries, at times struggling to find direction in the economic and political tumult, it had never lost its status. Even after the global federation formed, many of the deepest fears over the changing of national sovereignty never happened. It had maintained its importance and there was an inbuilt pride that went with that. Over the approximate two dozen decades since artificial gravity had come into play, many of the world's more affluent cities had allowed construction using this technology. Though any larger-scale gravity manipulation on the Earth's surface was carefully monitored, some truly monumental and impressive pieces of architecture were able to be created.

Nowhere was this more apparent than New York City.

The Russian gaped at the immensity as they cruised in, the cloud cover dispersing in the early evening sky while they descended. Aspira might have been a rival to this place in 2104, the ruins on Lucere an example of what once was, but the New York of 2318 was another step up altogether. In the intervening time, the metropolis had grown vertically as much as outward. The boroughs were not immune, the highrise having spawned there too, but Manhattan was where the attention was drawn.

Like the home of some titanic godly being, it defied logic and was stupefying in its grandeur. Sky-bridges connected colossal towers, improbable shapes supported by or entirely suspended through the magic of anti-gravity. Some were glimmering spires of glass and metal; some were contorted organic offerings that existed purely because they could. Mass-transit lines weaved between the man-made forest of colour and shape, a snake through the trees. All over, lights were beginning to come on, bright dots that mingled with the natural light in a pattern of illumination.

"Incredible."

"As they are fond of saying here: everything is bigger in America." Lucas shrugged, indifferent. "You should see Hong Kong and Tokyo. Rio is something as well, and Moscow too. One day we'll take you there."

Moscow.

He wanted to see it. Some day when it was safe and the world was not such a violent place, he would.

Not long after, they landed, and taking advantage of Lucas' military privilege, were able to fast-track through the customs screening and out of the airport with the minimum of hassle. They caught a taxi into the city, having the misfortune to hit the latter end of the rush-hour, and sitting in wait for some time in traffic. Then they reached the hotel, checked in, went for a meal before an uneventful evening and sleep.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Even though Lebaredian's death was splashed everywhere in the news and across the PDN, as it was the first time a premier had been assassinated, Konstantin and Lucas were talking about it again over breakfast. Most of the conversation was because they could not guess who was responsible and precisely why it had happened. No-one had come forward, and though she had undoubtedly made a lot of enemies on the very same day she was killed, that was barely hours before the assassination itself. Whomever committed the act had planned it well in advance. A spur of the moment attempt on someone so important was guaranteed to be unsuccessful. Theories ranged from some part of the corporatist hierarchy, to the government itself, to the Brotherhood or one of its realist extremist allies. Both men were also concerned because Lindani and Kenji were still out of contact, and it did not appear that this was going to change any time soon.

New York's traffic worked against them again as they were trying to reach the Vanderbilt Complex, the venue for the event. It was a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan that had been chosen as the host location, organised on short notice from the federal government. Much to Lucas' dismay they were nearly 45 minutes late when they entered hastily into the building's extensive and ornate lobby, Konstantin wondering all the while if it would have been faster walking from the hotel. The reception admitted them, noting that due to their tardy arrival the proceedings were already well underway, and also their luck at being able to personally attend such an historic moment.

They moved to the elevator, though the Russian paused a moment. On the marble facade above the door was the emblem of the federal government; two hands clasped in solidarity superimposed across the globe and encircled by twin olive branches. Beneath was the motto in Latin: In unitate constamus pro omnibus hominibus. Then again, below that, in English.

United we stand, for all mankind.

He stopped, gazing at the symbol, lost for a moment in the words, recalling the promises of the Concordat. The vision of a free world, of what it had been, what it had become.

What it could still be.

"Konstantin!" Lucas was holding the elevator door open. "Come on, we're already late."

"Yeah," he replied, slowly dragging his eyes away from the image. He entered the elevator and Lucas looked at him curiously as he punched the button for floor 142, their destination. The younger man was in his dress uniform, having already explained there would be a few other military personnel there as spectators, and he had no intention to stand out by not turning up in the correct style.

"You okay? This isn't going to be much fun to watch, but the sooner it's done, the sooner we can speak with Kerensky to get a bit of counterbalance to all this shit."

"I'm okay," he murmured, "though it all sits as badly with me as it does with you. I just- ... I have this strange feeling about today. I don't know what it is."

"I hear you. It probably won't take long to finish up, so we just need to grin and bear it."

Konstantin didn't reply, and moments later, the elevator came smoothly to a halt and the door slid open again. It was the correct floor, the entrance deserted, and they strode briskly across to push through the double doors. Inside, the audience was hushed as the deliberations were taking place, but there were two spare seats in the back row, right by the entrance. The seats were the only ones remaining, and the men sat, taking care to make as little noise as possible.

Outside of the elevators and stairwells to adjacent floors, the room was an auditorium that took up most of the groundspace on that level. Vertically, it extended an extra floor above, the ceiling twice the height it would normally be. The audience seating filled one half of the room, an arc that was no more than a quarter circle at most. It was tiered, graduating in a shallow descent down to the centre of the room, and cut into segmented thirds by two aisles for accessibility.

The other half was the stage. A higher raised bench was near the rear wall but facing the audience, small rectangular windows above it opening to a view of Manhattan's neighbouring real estate. A number of men and women, almost a dozen, were sitting behind this bench, all formally dressed, and easily recognisable as politicians.

The federal senators.

In front of that bench was another, lower and not as wide. There were only two people behind this one, both in uniform. One was an Indian woman, a formidable no-nonsense expression on her face. General Venkatesan. The other could only have been Kerensky himself, and when Konstantin saw him, he very nearly burst into laughter.

The admiral was, at a guess, ten or fifteen years older than Konstantin. Tall, bulky, he was built much the same as Konstantin also, though a slight bit heavier around his chest and stomach. The man was clean-shaved, with lighter ruddy brown-red hair worn long and tied behind his head in a pony-tail. Kerensky had an open friendly face and kindly eyes, though it was obvious to anyone that there was a shrewdness lurking beneath the jolly-old-man veneer, and that the admiral was sharp as a whip.

Lucas was right. They did seem alike.

Finally, there were two tables facing the benches, one on the centre-left and one centre-right. The right one was empty, while the left had two aides sitting at it. A third person was standing and speaking, having taken the floor.

The candidate.

"That's their guy," whispered Lucas. "His name is Martin Quân, and he's the head of CorpSec."

He shot Lucas a surprised look and the younger man shook his head. "What were you expecting?" He whispered again. "If they've got the guts to break the system, of course they'll nominate someone like this."

The same person that runs CorpSec was also going to be in charge of the armed forces of Earth?

It had not sunk in yet just how desperate things were, just how far gone everything was.

But, he was beginning to see.

What in God's name was wrong with this place?

Horrified and amazed, the Russian watched the man on stage talking, though he was not listening to the words themselves. He glanced across the audience, to see how everyone else was reacting. Quiet, maybe a little apathetic and resigned. It was a mixture of civilians, in suits and smart casual clothes, with a few military types thrown in who had managed to secure spots to witness this event.

Everyone seemed subdued by it, almost as if it were a social charade. This man, Martin Quân, would say his piece. The politicians would nod, throw a few questions at him, and make their vote. He would be chosen, anointed into the role, and it would be finished with.

Just like that, MFM would get what it wanted.

Still a legitimate vote, a real thing, but now, seemingly, no more than a rubber stamp upon a predestined page.

On stage, Quân finished speaking, and a polite round of applause went through the onlookers. He nodded respectfully to the bench, turning to do the same to the audience, then he returned to his table and sat. Once silence had resumed, the general began to speak.

"Thank you for your testimony, Mr Quân. As the SDCP candidate, Joseph Cantrell, is not able to be here today due to short notice and a prior conflicting schedule, he sends apology and a formal statement of candidacy and qualification. This statement will be taken under consideration by the Defence Committee." She paused and looked around the room, her gaze sweeping the audience, severe and strict. Her voice raised a notch, clearly addressing everyone present. "It is pursuant to the protocol of succession that I invite public submission to be made. The floor is now open."

After Venkatesan finished, the room fell into silence once more.

No-one spoke.

Konstantin skimmed over the crowd. Everyone was waiting patiently. At first he thought it was because they were expecting someone to step up, but then he realised it was the exact opposite.

This was lip service.

They were not expecting anything.

It was happening because it had to happen. Allowing actual public input on something of global importance was impractical and ridiculous. Yet, it was more than just how unworkable it would be to let everyone interfere. It was simply because this was required to get to the end; a de-facto cog in the clockwork. No-one was going to say anything because everyone knew the outcome was basically decided. Even Lucas seemed to have accepted this as a foregone conclusion, although his words from two days ago echoed through Konstantin's mind.

It is the beginning of the end. We are witnessing the death of our democracy.

He was right.

The corporatists were dismantling it right in front of their eyes.

But ... it couldn't finish this way.

Konstantin thought of what he knew, the true value of that information, and into his mind came Kenji's level-headed thoughts on the matter. It was a counter to the crushing defeat that seemed to be ingrained into everyone, to the apathy at the broken system of Earth's governance.

This leaves one final problem: delivering the evidence to the public. We need a platform to do it, one that can reach a lot of people.

If no-one else would speak up, then he had to do it.

He had to try.

He felt strange, almost as if the world had narrowed, slowed to this single moment. It was being put in front of him, and in Konstantin's mind, he had never felt more sure that it was providence itself made bare. Here was an instance of potential, a magnificent sliver of possibility, and he needed to seize it. If he did not, it would slip away and his heart would forever bear the weight of regret because he had not acted, had not done anything when the chance was given.

Here is your choice.

Make it.

Stay silent or ... speak.

That was why Konstantin Andropov rose from his seat and stepped into the aisle.

He could hear Lucas whispering in anger and surprise, asking him 'what the fuck are you doing?' in a barely audible query.

He did not reply.

Instead, he spoke, his voice carrying clearly to the front of the auditorium, to those sitting in judgement of the assembly.

"General, I wish to make a submission."

Then, he walked down the aisle to the stage, and the eyes of the world.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Federal police officers on the safety detail were moving to intercept the Russian as he approached. No audience participation was expected; the offer for submissions was ceremonial more than anything. Before they could reach him, however, a voice cut through.

"Wait! Let him approach." Surprisingly, it was Quân himself. The man was standing, wearing an expression of mystified curiosity, and as the officers let Konstantin through, he was walking across to get a closer look. "You are ... Konstantin Andropov, aren't you? The Lucere refugee?"

Konstantin swallowed, finding his voice. He had to talk, to not be intimidated by anyone here. This was his chance.

He was not going to screw it up.

"Rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated." He gave a genuine friendly smile, extending his hand to Quân.

The man who was in charge of CorpSec.

The same organisation that had destroyed Yakutsk.

Quân took his hand and they shook. Konstantin did not break his eye contact for a fraction of a second. He wanted to look this man in the face. He did not know all of Earth's ethnicities properly yet, though he knew at least that Quân was Asian, echoing the physical appearance of what he had glimpsed in Yangon. He guessed one of the nationalities from that region; Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian. Average height, 5'9 or so, and dressed smartly. Lean, with a handsome face and high cheekbones, a smoothly plastic crowd-pleasing smile and slicked back hair, Quân was every bit the executive decision-maker and backroom politico. Konstantin was never a fool though, and he knew a shark when he saw one.

Any sign of blood and this whole gambit would be for nothing.

No-one got to be in charge of an organisation like CorpSec without being ruthless.

"We are all pleased, and ... shocked," intoned Quân, his voice like honey, "to see you standing here."

Yes, very shocked.

"As I said," Konstantin turned to address the bench, "General Venkatesan, I am here to make a submission, with your blessing."

Quân was already strolling amiably back to his seat, leaving Konstantin in the floor's centre. As he sat, he spoke first, beating the general to the punch. "While I am sure Mr Andropov's input is worth consideration, may I suggest this take place afterward? I will be perfectly happy to deal with any issues once the confirmation is done."

Konstantin gritted his teeth. This man would not push him aside so easily, and he cut back in with a counter of his own, yet again pre-empting anyone else. "With apology to Mr Quân, I do intend to speak now , not later. I would like to be heard."

For the first time since their entrance to the auditorium, Kerensky spoke, and he sounded very moderate, temperate. "I'd like to hear him out. What do you say, Siddhi?"

"I, too, would like to see where this goes. Senator Hammond?"

One of the men on the bench behind spoke in reply to her. "The Committee will leave the floor to the military representatives. It's at your discretion, general."

Kerensky looked at Konstantin casually. "What type of submission would you like to make?"

"Just to speak with Mr Quân, to ask some questions and share some information with everyone here." He was as genial as he could manage, despite the intense scrutiny he was feeling. "Actually, there is a lot I would like to say, though I fear I will take too much time."

"If what you intend to say is relevant here, then you should take as long as you need." Kerensky gestured merrily to the floating PDN video cameras. "The broadcasters won't care. They'll probably be pleased. Your impromptu presence alone is likely to boost ratings. The media loves a bit of spice."

A thrill of laughter went through the audience, and Konstantin joined in. "Thank you admiral. I want to assure you that what I know is relevant, though it may take some explaining to make it clear why."

As soon as he finished that sentence, he heard Lucas' voice, inaudible to everyone else, speaking in a personalised whisper. The soldier had asked him to get a simple dermal implant in his outer ear for emergencies, and now Lucas was making use of it. "Konstantin," the faint sound came, "I hope you know what you're doing. You should also know that there are a lot of people watching you right now through the 'net. Be careful."

"Whenever you are ready to begin, Mr Andropov." Venkatesan nodded neutrally at him, signaling the go-ahead.

God give me strength.

"Thank you once again, admiral, general, senators. Before I do anything more, I would like to take a moment to speak in my mother tongue." Switching to Russian, he looked directly at the nearest camera. "I was not raised on Earth, but my mother and father taught me to love Russia as though it were my home. I saw Yakutsk razed in flames with my own eyes, and it brought a pain to my soul. My brothers and sisters, I grieve with you for the dead, and promise that I, too, will seek justice for this crime."

Then he turned, and addressed the candidate in English. "Now, Mr Quân, you and many others may be surprised to learn that I already know a few things about Earth."

"Your knowledge will be well tested, Mr Andropov. After all, you survived Lucere. I cannot imagine life was easy."

"On the contrary, I would not be alive at all today were it not for you," he stated, "or what you represent, should I say."

"Forgive my confusion." Quân gave a bemused melodic laugh, tailored to the charming. "If I had gone to the colonies to help anyone, I think I would remember." The audience followed suit, a refrain of amusement sweeping through it.

Konstantin was not laughing. "Where should we begin with this?" His tone was quite serious. "I guess from the start."

"Take your time." The CorpSec head was still smiling, a patronising gleam to his eyes and lips curved into a condescending masquerade. "I'll be happy to answer."

"Very well. Why do you think you should be given this ... significant role?"

Quân laughed again, not bothering to hide how trivial he believed this was, so Konstantin pressed it.

"Please, humour me, if you could."

"If I must," he chuckled. "Perhaps you are a sceptic. Many are, and that is well in line with our democratic way of life ... but I mean to prove the sceptics misguided. The short version, Mr Andropov, is that MFM is a successful political and social force that has done so much good for our planet, our prosperity and our shared health. It is a stable and powerful means for social enlightenment, and welcomes freedom from the bureaucratic incompetence of other principles. Why would you not want to include legal governance of our esteemed armed forces in this mix? History has proved our legacy is one that transcends boundaries and can achieve nearly anything. It is only sensible and reasonable to integrate that brand of management into the official government operation." He spread his hands wide. "What's not to like, Mr Andropov?"

As he finished speaking, the audience broke into enthusiastic applause. Despite himself, Konstantin could see why they had chosen him as their candidate.

He is a clever orator.

But ... still not intimidated.

"The success of MFM seems pervasive. Very impressive." Konstantin nodded, not openly disagreeing. "I am told that the founders of your current employer did well on my birth-world, Lucere."

Quân shrugged. "I am sure, Mr Andropov. The colonies all partook in the economic and social union of mankind. Capitalism and the collected power of human effort in industry can drive the entrepreneur a long way."

He did not respond to the rhetoric. Instead: "Did you know, Mr Quân, that the very reason my family was on Lucere to begin with was money? My ancestor, Fyodor Andropov, was in partnership with a family friend, Mikhail Volkov. The business Mikhail owned was the Volkov Research Foundation, and they were given millions in grants through a generous science-based fund. It was called Aurum Venture Co-operative, and it was a side project of the Meyer-Gould-Johnson Investment Bank. They were one of MFM's founders. Amazing coincidence, don't you think?"

Quân glanced to the bench and two military representatives. He looked mildly exasperated, like he was a patient adult listening to a student chatter on about some half-baked hypothesis. "As fascinating as this slice of history is, I'm sure the business at hand is of primary importance. Unless our guest has a particular thing we need to know, could we continue to the next stage?"

"Oh I disagree, Mr Quân." Kerensky was quite pleasant, a benign sort of understated charm. "Mr Andropov clearly has something in mind. I am even more curious now to see where this 'slice of history' is leading, and I'm sure our viewers will not object. He is also legally entitled to a public hearing, and as these are extraordinary circumstances and he is a unique individual, I see no reason to stop him." Then to Konstantin: "Proceed again at your leisure."

Konstantin nodded politely, and spoke to Quân once more. "There were others given money on Lucere too. They were researching all sorts of things. Like, for example, investigations into the magnetic and chemical properties of Lucere's soil were being funded by PM&IS, another of your founders. Then there was ParaTech, who donated to at least half a dozen academic institutions and laboratories, as well as commercial interests. They supported The Mersenne Centre for Robotics and Technology, the Gillespie-Salford Physics Institute, the Alcubierre Bio-Diversity Project. The list goes on and on." He gave a small smile, silently begging the pardon of his viewers for any technical naivete. "Forgive my ineptitude with modern computers. They are still a bit new to me, but I have planted a global share on the PDN, and the full list of assets owned by the founders is viewable there. The location is available on this network, so the media is welcome to share it with everyone watching from home."

Quân shrugged again, clearly unimpressed and unconcerned. "So MFM's founders were savvy, forward thinking and socially conscious?" Again, polite laughter rippled through the audience, and the Asian gave a lopsided boyish grin. "I hope I am not going to be indicted merely for their proficiency?"

The Russian chuckled. "Not at all, Mr Quân. I wish to illustrate that they were involved on Lucere. It is noteworthy, to say the least. Now, let me ask you this instead: when we arrived, did you see the footage of our touchdown in Siberia? I am sure it was broadcast everywhere. After all, we were interstellar refugees! I am told our faces were seen around the world." He inclined his head to Quân questioningly. "Two handsome strapping teenage boys. They are kind-hearted and honest, and I could not be more proud of them. You know, they are the dearest thing I have left. Neither are my true flesh or blood, but I protect them as if they were."

Quân nodded. "Yes, I saw them on the news. I am so sorry for your loss. Yakutsk and the deaths of your children are a ... terrible tragedy."

"Thank you for your condolences," Konstantin's voice was a monotone, and he was staring directly at Quân, keeping the man pinned by it. "However, I choose the present tense when I speak of them because they are very much alive," and there he gave a good long pause, "but I think you already know that."

The man across from him, no more than two bodylengths from where he stood, was now no longer smiling, nor laughing. Gone was the slightly trivialised attitude and Quân stared back at this phrase, just as hard. In an instant, the air between them had grown tense, and both knew it. The next speech was a little softer and much more serious. "You should choose your words more carefully, Mr Andropov. I would hate to think you are suggesting anything untoward."

Konstantin disregarded the remark, ignoring the implicit threat, and continued where he was going. He was determined to not be waylaid. "One of those boys is Shay. Brown hair, around average height, slim build. You saw him, yes? Millions of others also did." He forged on, still watching his opponent. "You see, this part needs explaining. Shay is from Earth-"

"From Earth?" The interruption was swift and came with renewed laughter. Now, the other man was pulling no punches, Konstantin's intent already understood. "Mr Andropov, this is nonsense. You have a right to speak due to your exceptional circumstances, but this preposterous rubbish is wasting the Defence Commission's time and cannot stand. How can he be from Earth?" Quân snorted and gestured hands-up to the audience, a comically-clueless shrug. "Why would he be from Earth? No-one has come from Lucere for two centuries. You, of all people, must be well aware of that. The idea itself is too ridiculous to entertain and flies in the face of your very own story. It is unsubstantiated, impossible and quite frankly, irrelevant to what's happening here today. There is no evidence."

Konstantin steeled himself.

He was not deterred.

Show everyone how wrong he is.

You must hold him accountable.

"You are right," he admitted, "there is none. No record of such a thing. No trace of public information anywhere in Earth's system. It is clean as snow. I have looked myself. It must be as you say: a bizarre notion that has no proof. Yet, there is a small issue with this idea, I must confess to you." He rubbed his hands together absently, his gaze flicking inattentively across the stage. "You see, I am Shay's legal guardian, a position it was only natural I be given when we arrived here. As such, I am allowed sole access to any of his privately held official data." He gave a small demure grin, dimples showing. "I requested the transfer of all documentation, and it was delivered to me without question. The federal registrar did not seem to think I was lying when it produced what I asked for. Strange that all trace of his public identity on Earth vanished, but the totally inaccessible private information remained untouched. Almost like someone was trying to cover up the fact that he ever lived here. Just to prove that I am telling the truth, I have put this on the PDN too. It is stamped with the digital seal of the federal registrar and can serve as official proof of Shay's identity as a citizen of the planet Earth in a court of law." His smile widened a little. "I made sure to double-check the last part, just in case."

There was a pause.

No-one spoke.

Then, Konstantin took a steadying breath.

"Now ... I invite everyone to look at his birth year."

The silence that followed was densely still.

Believe me. Believe my words.

In the few moments of interlude, Thessaloniki's voice whispered into his ear through the comms, breathless, awe-struck. "Don't you dare stop talking. The primary PDN feed is going crazy. You have a fucking huge audience -- ten-digits-huge! "

Do not falter now.

Tell them.

"You can see his picture. The same boy who stepped off that shuttle a few days ago, is it not? Where he is from, his school, his family's insurance provider, his place of birth, his age, and more. All of it is real. These numbers are real. He was born in the 21st century. He is chronologically 229 years old."

"This is official documentation." Kerensky's eyes darted from his desk terminal where he was examining the presented evidence, back to Konstantin, and they narrowed. "Can you explain how it is possible?"

"Yes, admiral, I can." He took another deep breath. "Shay was on Lucere in 2104 for an experimental medical procedure to cure a genetic defect in his body. That procedure was conducted by the Volkov Research Foundation, at a medical facility close to the city of Palatus. Coincidence that MFM's founders are involved, right, Mr Quân?"

The man started to answer but Konstantin cut him off sharply. "I am not done yet. Why were they funding experimental medicine? Why were all of MFM's parent corporations working to research geology, genetics, biology, all these scientific disciplines, on Lucere? Why there and not on Earth or any other world? Economic reasons? Political? For labour, or expertise? The answer to all of that is: no. It was actually cheaper, more efficient, faster and simpler to set up major research projects on Earth than any colony. Again, I looked into these figures, just to be sure. The bulk of population, money and infrastructure was still located here.

"No, Mr Quân, the reason is that MFM's founders knew a secret that everyone else did not. Only a very few were aware of this secret's existence, nevermind any detail of it. Some in Earth's government, the political elite. Some in Lucere's government. Jan Dekraker was the premier when the discovery was made, and the only people who were let in on it were those that were needed to study it. So, what is it, this thing of which I speak, this closely guarded enigma? Well, the only word for it is ... power."

Here it is.

The moment of truth.

Konstantin could feel it; the attention of countless millions, of billions of people, who were witness to what he said.

"Covering the planet, across the entire surface, was - and is - a field of energy. Over ocean and land, through the ground and into the air; it is everywhere. It causes the electromagnetic interference that Lucere was named for, the famous glowing sky. It causes the anomalies in the rocks and plants and wildlife all across the globe, and was the reason for all the research being conducted. This energy field is power. It combines control of all the fundamental laws of our physical universe into one single force. I believe science would describe this as 'quantum unification.' It is artificial and alien; an advanced technology left behind on this world a very long time ago."

"This is a mockery!" Quân was openly derisive, the veneer discarded entirely. His voice was rising in pitch as he too stood from behind his desk. The aides were frozen in place, probably terrified to so much as move a muscle and incur his wrath. "Experimentation! Alien technology! What lunacy are we going to hear next? Another conspiracy theory about the evil of corporatism, more 'evidence' that proves nothing! If spurious defamation is your best course of action, then you haven't anything to say worth hearing. Senator Hammond, Senator Albrecht, Senator Inoyo; I appeal to you to move the proceedings to finish with this farce."

The lawmakers were expressionless, unresponsive, unwilling to involve themselves. There were ten sitting on the bench. The Committee was stacked in proportion to the new senate balance; six were corporatists and four loyalists, but all ten were politicians. They valued their own skins first, and they knew when to speak and when not. All were aware of just how many people were watching these events as they unfolded.

None spoke.

Venkatesan responded, rigidly cool and authoritative, yet still fully neutral. "The military maintains the control of the floor, and Mr Quân would do well to remember that he has no prerogative that transcends this." She paused for a second, then looked back to Konstantin. "On the matter of allegations surrounding supposedly alien technology on the ex-colonial world of Lucere, all service branches of the federal military maintain our official neutrality in accordance with long-established ordinance. In this capacity, the stipulation is that we cannot begin a discussion on a topic as sensitive as this."

The Russian's heart dropped, a plummeting feeling of defeat, but then ...

"However, since you have already introduced the subject, I can confirm that the armed forces are aware of the existence of the quantum-unified field." Kerensky's interjection was charitably civil, releasing the explosive tidbit of information into the mix as if it were nothing major. "Continue, Mr Andropov. I take it you have more to say?"

What?!

A burble of shocked gasps broke out in the audience, rapidly hushing again as the audience waited to hear Konstantin's response.

"Yes, admiral," he managed. Swiftly he drew together his thoughts, not losing the initiative, not letting himself be diverted. His voice picked up again, and his confidence did not waver. "All the experimentation conducted was to harness this alien technology, to unlock a means to control it and the immense potential it has to change reality. Shay, my boy, was the first successful test subject. The energy was embedded into his body, and the power of it is ... magical in how it works. It stopped him from ageing, has kept him in perfect health and most importantly of all, he is completely immune to all disease." He repeated this, making sure to emphasise it. "All disease. When we arrived on Earth, we did not think any knew of his secret and we were going to choose the right opportunity, the right people, to speak to. But then, Shay and his brother Mira were kidnapped and Yakutsk was nuked."

He looked back to Quân, still standing in stony silence beside his desk.

"By CorpSec."

The man's face twisted in anger. "How dare you-"

"NO!" Konstantin thundered, his voice echoing through the chamber, his long-buried anger at last out in the open. "How dare YOU! You will listen, Mr Quân, to the crimes you have committed!"

"Do not presume t-"

"You. Will. Listen. " The statement was a booming resounding clap of pure clout, and Konstantin could see real fear in Quân's eyes behind the mask, shutting down his ability to speak. "MFM knew. CorpSec knew. They acted on this information. You acted on this information, but ... there is one more thing MFM bears responsibility for." His tone softened, but none of the fury left it. Instead, it intensified, the words thick with it, his accent heavy with stress. "Something that is more important than anything else. Mikhail Volkov had a second company on Lucere, one that I have learned a great deal about very recently. Like his medical research foundation, this company operated close to Palatus, about four kilometres east of the city. My ancestor Fyodor wrote about it a couple of times, in his memoirs, and I was able to discover that unlike the research foundation, it was dedicated to making weaponry from attempts to decode the extremely advanced properties of the alien energy field. This laboratory was operating under Mikhail's nominal leadership, but it was actually directly funded and staffed by AMSCOR, the primary founder of MFM.

"Fyodor wrote that Mikhail told him about a weapons test involving something called a 'quantum disruptor'; supposedly able to instantly break atomic bonds and shred matter to nothing at the smallest scale. It was highly experimental, and he was very worried that something might go wrong. It did. On an early morning, during the first test phase, there was an accident. No-one died, but two lab workers went home with minor injuries, while a third was transferred to a local hospital, Highland Park Clinic, for observation. He wasn't badly hurt, but he reported to the doctor that he was feeling unwell.

"The doctor was Daniel Sharpe. The day was 13 February, 2104. The following day, people with the same symptoms began to check in to the hospital, all from the eastern approach of the city. From citizens in the city itself, living on Vienna Boulevard, the same road that led out of Palatus to AMSCOR's weapon lab.

"So, Mr Quân," the words feather gentle but utterly deadly, "this is why I am here to make my submission. This is why I stand before you. I do this because I wish the people of Earth to know the truth. That what you represent, who you are , is willing to destroy cities and kidnap children to control the most powerful technology we have ever seen. That your masters are responsible for the Sharpe virus!" His voice began to rise. "That their greed caused the eradication of 2.4 billion people , destroyed our colonies and brought an alien enemy to our gates! An enemy that will return , that wants nothing more than to enslave and kill every man, woman and child that remains free ... and you ... YOU ... wish to accuse me of playing politics, of lies and defamation?

"I have lived my whole life before this on a world that was destroyed because of people like you. I do not care for politics, for playing sides, for the weakness of the government and the fake sincerity and corruption of the corporations. I care for the future of our species, for our unity, strength and survival. That is what matters. That is why I am here before you now." He turned to the bench, addressing those above. "General, admiral, senators, I have finished my submission. Thank you for listening."

The room around him was completely utterly silent.

Then, Venkatesan cleared her throat, and replied. "Your testimony will be taken into account. Thank you, Mr Andropov." She nodded to the empty desk to his right. "Please have a seat here." Then, to everyone, without even so much as a glance at Quân: "The Defence Committee will now retire to deliberate and finish the confirmation process. Please remain seated until we are finished."

With that, Konstantin walked over to the empty chair, and sat down.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The deliberations took around half an hour. Opaque sound-screens slid up from the desks, shielding the ten senators and the two military representatives from sight and hearing. The PDN camera feeds were deactivated too, and although the audience was fairly quiet, there was still a hum of muted conversation. Konstantin felt drained from the ordeal, and he could feel Quân's eyes fixed on him constantly. It seemed like the man had hit some kind of critical error, that this situation sat outside his experience and understanding.

Doubtless, Konstantin knew he had made a powerful enemy.

A tone like a bell rang out through the room, and the audience fell silent. The partitions slid back down. The admiral glanced at Venkatesan, who nodded once in affirmation. He inclined his head, as if agreeing to something, then he addressed everyone.

"It is my duty to announce that the Military Succession Protocol of 2318 has reached completion and a decision made. Before the results are announced, let me say that this was a difficult choice under unprecedented circumstances. On acceptance, the office will be binding until the tenure expires. This is a historic moment and should not be entered into lightly.

"Without further ado, on the matter of the candidacy of Joseph Cantrell, sponsored by the Society for Democratic Cultural Preservation, the Defence Committee has decided to decline his application by a margin of seven to three."

Konstantin could not believe what he was hearing.

After all he had said, they were still going to hand the military straight to CorpSec?

How could this be possible?!

"On the matter of the candidacy of Martin Quân, sponsored by Manufacturing Finance and Mercantile Citizen's Conglomerate, the Defence Committee has divided five to five."

Five to five?

A chorus of gasps rose from the audience.

One of MFM's senators had abandoned their own candidate.

It was a tie.

"In the event of a hung vote, the military may accept or reject the candidacy based on the merits of their application. Therefore, we have decided that Martin Quân's application is also to be declined."

What?!

Then ... who?

"Ultimately," declared Kerensky, "the times that we live in require extraordinary individuals, men and women of the finest calibre to lead and inspire us. Neither of the candidates under formal application meet the criteria we require. This is why, by a margin of six to four, the Defence Committee agreed to offer the position to a third party."

Serene and with genuine warmth, Kerensky turned his head to look directly at Konstantin.

"Mr Andropov, it is my honour and privilege to formally offer you the position of supreme commander of the armed forces of Earth."

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you: Konstantin Andropov.
Never underestimate the Russian.
If you're enjoying the story, please let me know! Likes, reviews and comments all welcome.
Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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While I'm not the big review-writer, just one word Wow. While I had hoped for some more juicy stuff on the alien ship, the proceedings (and also its wording) in this chapter blew me away.

So I'm really looking forward to the next chapter - hoping it won't be as far away as number 10 from number 9 :-)

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Awesome chapter, I really like where this is going and can't wait to get back to mira and shay to see what they are going to do next.

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On 11/04/2014 09:29 PM, philliph said:
Wow! What a chapter. I hope that you will post the next chapter soon? Please.
hey! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) Chapter 11 won't take quite as long to get done, thank goodness.
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On 11/05/2014 09:06 AM, MMind said:
While I'm not the big review-writer, just one word Wow. While I had hoped for some more juicy stuff on the alien ship, the proceedings (and also its wording) in this chapter blew me away.

So I'm really looking forward to the next chapter - hoping it won't be as far away as number 10 from number 9 :-)

You will definitely find out more about the alien ship next chapter; there will be plenty of Shay and Mira, as well as revisiting Yugan, Elia and Nyx. It should also be faster too! I'm so sorry about the big wait :(
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On 11/06/2014 09:38 AM, poet2dagger said:
Awesome chapter, I really like where this is going and can't wait to get back to mira and shay to see what they are going to do next.
Thank you :) You will see plenty more of our boys the next chapter, so stay tuned!
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I absolutely loved the first book! This book definitely rocks just as much, if not more! The twists and turns just don't end in this one and this chapter! WOW!!!

This story is so amazing and I cannot wait for the next chapter!

Konstantin! You can do it! :)

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A whole gamut of intrigue and lies is exposed, along with so many aspects of

base human nature. Then Konstantin comes into world focus and sets it all into

place. I wonder how he'll react to this situation? At the very least, I'm sure he'll

see humor in it somewhere, -I certainly do!

 

Thank you for another fabulous chapter.

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On 11/11/2014 12:13 AM, TheDomSong said:
I absolutely loved the first book! This book definitely rocks just as much, if not more! The twists and turns just don't end in this one and this chapter! WOW!!!

This story is so amazing and I cannot wait for the next chapter!

Konstantin! You can do it! :)

Thank you so much! Veil of Shadow is a bigger undertaking than Hidden Sunlight, so I hope you won't be disappointed with how it goes.

 

Konstantin is a hell of a guy! If anyone can do it, he can.

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On 11/11/2014 06:55 PM, Stephen said:
A whole gamut of intrigue and lies is exposed, along with so many aspects of

base human nature. Then Konstantin comes into world focus and sets it all into

place. I wonder how he'll react to this situation? At the very least, I'm sure he'll

see humor in it somewhere, -I certainly do!

 

Thank you for another fabulous chapter.

One should *never* underestimate the Russian and his ability to make history. He has lived for decades on Lucere, so he is largely immune to the pettiness of Earth's political infighting given the chaotic survive-or-die of his upbringing. Even with the Brotherhood giving him the aid needed to stick a knife into MFM, he is still a figure willingly set apart from the maelstrom of human nature he has become involved in. No wish to take sides and fight with other people, even as inevitable as that might be.

 

So indeed, how will Konstantin react to this?

 

Do you really think he could say 'no'?

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Nice chapter. But as some very important things happened and Konstantin's storyline was pursued, I am eager to hear about the others. Give me a new chapter please, maybe as a christmas present? :D

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On 12/21/2014 09:00 AM, Scary said:
Nice chapter. But as some very important things happened and Konstantin's storyline was pursued, I am eager to hear about the others. Give me a new chapter please, maybe as a christmas present? :D
The next chapter or two will be almost totally absent Konstantin and Earth. Shay's arc will be heavily involved, but also Yugan and others are not to be forgotten.

 

I don't know about a Christmas present but I will be trying for some time before New Year is all wrapped up.

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This was awesome! This chapter is really upping the pace, things are picking up now.

Earlier today I was discussing how realistic this actually is.

Konstantin being offered this high a position does seem very unrealistic at first glance. Then again, you're really not the guy to do something just because 'it's cool' without considering stuff like being realistic and so on.

 

So I concluded that you were probably thinking something when doing that and that got me thinking.

First of all, Konstantin's speech was pretty devestating, and they had more than a billion (perhaps even several billion) people watching. The number probably increased after that info was given through his ear thingy. With the things he said, it would be pretty hard to convince everyone he was wrong. If they'd just voted that other guy in, chances are a lot of people would be joining the brotherhood. Or maybe they'd even have a full revolution?

Offering Konstantin that job would serve best to get in favor with the masses. The loyalists don't have much to lose and the corporalists, well, two of the six are enough to get a majority, so possibly two of them thought they'd rather gain favor with the masses than with their superior, or possibly didn't even know just what was going on and believed what he said.

It's likely that he will do something with that position. The people who made this decision are only a few among the full senate (or whatever they have), soooo if those particular few have something to gain from what he will do, hope to get him on their side with their voting for him...

 

Then again, maybe they were just afraid of a revolution and voted him in, only to have him assassinated, just like the premier, a week later. Though that sounds like making things unecessarily difficult. Another factor, although I'm not sure about this one, is that with the premier dead, the position they're offering him should be even more powerful, at least for the time being.

---

 

Now on to a different topic: With them being to blame for the Sharpe Virus... is it just me or doesn't that make much sense? I feel like I am forgetting something that was said in earlier chapters.

 

Okay, I'm done rambling. It's been an awesome read, I can't wait for more.

And also looking forward what you have to say to my rambling

xoxo

Sammy

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On 01/15/2015 08:53 AM, Sammy Blue said:
This was awesome! This chapter is really upping the pace, things are picking up now.

Earlier today I was discussing how realistic this actually is.

Konstantin being offered this high a position does seem very unrealistic at first glance. Then again, you're really not the guy to do something just because 'it's cool' without considering stuff like being realistic and so on.

 

So I concluded that you were probably thinking something when doing that and that got me thinking.

First of all, Konstantin's speech was pretty devestating, and they had more than a billion (perhaps even several billion) people watching. The number probably increased after that info was given through his ear thingy. With the things he said, it would be pretty hard to convince everyone he was wrong. If they'd just voted that other guy in, chances are a lot of people would be joining the brotherhood. Or maybe they'd even have a full revolution?

Offering Konstantin that job would serve best to get in favor with the masses. The loyalists don't have much to lose and the corporalists, well, two of the six are enough to get a majority, so possibly two of them thought they'd rather gain favor with the masses than with their superior, or possibly didn't even know just what was going on and believed what he said.

It's likely that he will do something with that position. The people who made this decision are only a few among the full senate (or whatever they have), soooo if those particular few have something to gain from what he will do, hope to get him on their side with their voting for him...

 

Then again, maybe they were just afraid of a revolution and voted him in, only to have him assassinated, just like the premier, a week later. Though that sounds like making things unecessarily difficult. Another factor, although I'm not sure about this one, is that with the premier dead, the position they're offering him should be even more powerful, at least for the time being.

---

 

Now on to a different topic: With them being to blame for the Sharpe Virus... is it just me or doesn't that make much sense? I feel like I am forgetting something that was said in earlier chapters.

 

Okay, I'm done rambling. It's been an awesome read, I can't wait for more.

And also looking forward what you have to say to my rambling

xoxo

Sammy

For Konstantin, the events of chapter 10 are more about being in the right place at the exact right time. The information he had secreted away was world-changing, but it needed the perfect conditions to exert the full pressure of that information. It needed the right people present, a large enough audience and conferred legitimacy from authority figures.

 

The Military Succession was everything required, and he used those circumstances to perfectly defame the enemy.

 

The offering of this position to Konstantin should not be a big surprise, in some ways, either. For the loyalist senators, having someone like Konstantin in command would be infinitely preferable to Quân. Anyone who is NOT a corporatist would be saving the situation from their worst nightmare. Similarly, even some of the corporatists figured out that, as politicians, they could be finished if they supported Quân's cause. Given he had just been explicitly linked to both genocide and terrorism against the federal government, publicly endorsing him by vote would be very uncertain.

 

Yet, the very biggest part of this has been missed entirely. While it was Konstantin himself who took the fight to the corporatists, it was the military leadership who thrust it home. As has been stated in a few places, the military tends to favour the realist ideology; the philosophy that 'the alien enemy is the most danger and we must be united against it.' To this end, though still officially neutral, the armed forces support realism in spirit. And what did they get to do here? They got to reject the two establishment candidates and force the senators to give them an independent realist-aligned person, a free-thinking individual instead of a factional puppet, as their head officer. What's more, he is someone that appears to have a moral centre and the will to act.

 

Kerensky is just as much an opportunist in this situation, and when the narrative returns to Earth again you may get some insight into the actions of others in this scenario as the aftermath unfolds.

 

NB: no-one is getting blame for the Sharpe virus itself. What Konstantin is saying is: you (MFM) are responsible for setting this into motion. You may not have created the virus, but you were too greedy created the conditions for these aliens to do what they do. Your greed led to all this death and destruction.

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haha! I knew the Russian was going to somehow manage to become supreme commander... lol.... either him or Shay

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On 04/15/2015 04:09 PM, Celethiel said:
haha! I knew the Russian was going to somehow manage to become supreme commander... lol.... either him or Shay
Shay?! Supreme Commander? I don't think they make uniforms for teenage boys ;)
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I think I spent 33 mins just laughing my head off at the ending. Brilliant.

But, I think they made a good decision. Although I wonder how many assassination attempts he will experience.

Hopefully with Konstantin as the head of the military Shay and Mira should be able to be able to breath.

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9 hours ago, Forevermotion said:

I think I spent 33 mins just laughing my head off at the ending. Brilliant.

I don't know why but the ending of the chapter came across as amusing to a few readers. Perhaps it's the subversion of expectations, which is a foundation of joketelling and comedy. The incongruity of that against Konstantin defaming MFM for genocidal negligence seems strange to me. 

9 hours ago, Forevermotion said:

But, I think they made a good decision. Although I wonder how many assassination attempts he will experience.

He's a capable person and will do well in the role. As for assassinations? Well, it's certainly possible.

9 hours ago, Forevermotion said:

Hopefully with Konstantin as the head of the military Shay and Mira should be able to be able to breath.

Hopefully. Though they are on very divergent paths at this point. 

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Wow what a chapter it just blows me away OMG. Just a great and powerful chapter I loved it:yes:

Thanks for sharing this amazing chapter:thankyou::worship::worship::worship::worship:

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You get a triple-wow from my side for this chapter, just awesome!

The turning point was as admiral Karensky interjected: "However, since you have already introduced the subject, I can confirm that the armed forces are aware of the existence of the quantum-unified field." Kerensky's interjection was...

Now the path was set for Konstantin. He could strike out for the final blow and he did. And then what a brilliant finish: 

Serene and with genuine warmth, Kerensky turned his head to look directly at Konstantin. "Mr Andropov, it is my honour and privilege to formally offer you the position of supreme commander of the armed forces of Earth."

Stellar, I applaude you. :worship::2thumbs::great:

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Wonderful chapter!

A pure and unfettered capitalism is every bit as bad as a pure Democracy.

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