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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.
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Veil of Shadow - 17. Eternal Division

One of my enduring memories of my mother was of her tendency to compare me to herself, especially when it came to parts of my personality she considered virtuous. There was a pride that she had when it came to her one and only son, and she was never hesitant about telling everyone about how intelligent and well-mannered and 'good' I was. Naturally, I never really thought of myself as inherently valuable, and had never understood why she loved to talk about me so much, beyond the simple parental love that any mother would have. One thing was for sure: she was, for the greatest part, truthful and accurate in her judgements.

Politeness? From her. Good graces? Her also. Kindness, respectfulness and empathy? All her. Left out were the deficient parts; my chronic shyness, lack of confidence and ease to embarrass. All of that was conveniently swept aside.

Then, there was my father. He used this tendency of my mother's as a comedic excuse to mention, whenever there was the chance, that any random positive was solely due to him. Everything from good marks on a school project, to accidentally solving an extra-hard gameshow trivia question was clear evidence of the Andersen family's genetic beneficence at work.

Of course, it was all him.

He talked very little about his courtship of my mother; those events that occurred well before I was born. What I did know was relatively straightforward. They had dated for a while before becoming seriously involved. She knew earlier on that she wanted a lasting relationship with him, but dad was the reluctant one. As always, he was logical, reasonable and careful about making decisions, and this included affairs of the heart. Yet, there was a point where he knew that she was 'the one'. I remembered once when he told me about the strange web of feelings and expectation that was life pre-marriage, when I was twelve. He said to me: "There were a lot of scary and weird moments with your mother, but once I became comfortable with her? It was right for me. She was right for me. Once I knew that, the serious-scary part stopped being so scary and it was just exciting, and fun."

Fun.

My relationship with Mira had gone through several phases since we'd met. There had been the confusion of his creation, adjustment to his personality and our friendship, as incomprehensible as it was at first. Then, feelings. Romantic feelings. An introduction to physical attraction, love and sex. Following that, it was trying to understand what our relationship was. What did it mean to be with him? What were we? Then a separation and a reunion that renewed my feelings, and advanced them in other ways.

Now, Samed.

It was whilst naked, on a pile of our clothes, wrapped around each other and sprinkled with extraterrestrial dust under the cooling light of a sunset, that I came to this same epiphany about my own life.

I was lying on top of Mira, arms around his neck, face nuzzled in the crook of his shoulder, using his body as a mattress. He was on his back, willfully obliging his role as my futon, while both hands were possessively glued to my bare butt, cupping as much of it as he could touch. Occasionally, he would deviate to run his fingers down, over the thighs and then along the sensitive skin as it narrowed up towards the cleft, and then back again. It was intimate, on the border between sensual and outright foreplay, and his gentle caressing touches made me very emotionally mushy. I wanted to kiss him, and touch him and do all the things my hormones told me were required, but we had just finished some really amazing sex and all I needed at that moment was to bask on top of my beautiful lithe miracle, and cuddle with him.

Instead, we had a conversation in our own way, carried out through snatches of telepathy and glances laden with private expression and thought. During it, I came to that realisation.

I knew exactly who I was.

Emotionally, I wanted Mira to protect me. I craved the 'knight in shining armour' that he had embodied from the beginning. He was gallant and noble as ever, welcoming the opportunity to tangle with anything that could hurt me. Beyond that, he was tender, loving and a total gentleman.

Sexually, I wanted him to be 'the man.' I knew that sometimes I would prefer it the other way, but mostly? I desired a lot more sex like what we'd just had; the catalyst for how I was feeling. Mira, on top, hips on mine, arms encircling, breath tickling my neck and shoulders. Me, underneath, moving with his rhythm, yielding and pushing back, to make him completely exhausted and totally satisfied, because he deserved nothing less.

I wanted more.

In return, he revealed something simple, but amazing: he fantasised about it.

As we lay, Mira told me that he thought about sex with me nearly constantly. While it wasn't that unusual for a teenaged boy to be so interested, he actually meant 'constantly', whenever we weren't physically together. He dreamed to the point where it was obsessive; every kind of position, every sort of place, there wasn't somewhere and somehow he hadn't imagined fucking me. Though, typically, 'fucking' wasn't a word in his vocabulary, and the mental approximation was a meaning much closer to enthusiastic lovemaking. Nevertheless, I wasn't sure whether it was the magical sentimental poetry of his voice echoing in my mind, or the revelation that I was a top-grade sex symbol in his eyes, but the cuddling rapidly morphed to not-so-innocent touching and the caressing became squeezing. His tongue was hot, his grip needy, skin soft and mood eager. Without thinking, we swapped positions, and Mira laid me gently down on our bedding, our lips still locked together in a glorious make-out.

And that was how 'round two' started.

I was more alike my father than I thought. I had reached the point of feeling very comfortable with Mira, and clearly the last of any subconscious doubts were vanishing too, because the sex had become fun.

A lot of fun.

Even right after we were finished, with Mira's post-orgasmic breathing washing over my neck and shoulder, our bodies still practically melded together, my first thought was: 'I want to do that again. I want him to fuck me again.'

We took our time getting dressed, and then wandered leisurely back to Liberty to grab a few things, Mira's arm around my waist while we walked. A minute or two was spent just leaning against the ship's hull to make out some more before the dark began to set in. Then, back to the other two in the node chamber. Though I was tidied up, Mira still had sandy ruffled hair and dust all over his clothes, and even minutes later he was openly smiling, that same natural beautiful expression of total happiness that seemed to make him glow from within. Subtle it was not, and Ayize knew from the moment we returned what was up. The next half an hour, he was quietly sniggering whenever he looked my way.

Time passed, and after a full week of refining the data, we had narrowed the potential location of Elkos to around twenty candidates. My recollection of the stars was detailed, but still imperfect; none of the best estimates had the same feeling of certainty that I knew the first time I saw Samed. It didn't seem like we were going to get any closer than we already were to finding it, so that meant only one thing: we would have to go to these places and see for ourselves.

In the meanwhile, the others were patient as the search continued. Rashid had taken to training with Mira, who for some reason humoured him, wordless as he always was with other people. I wasn't sure what happened with those two, but some kind of agreement had been reached that changed how they interacted. Watching them, it was clear that Mira's reflexes and technique were far too much for the soldier to handle or emulate, but he was learning and bettering himself in the process. Long swords like the katana were not Rashid's style either, so the melee weapon of choice was one of his own; a pair of curved knives.

Though Rashid also carried the modern tactical knife, which was common in military forces all over Earth, these other knives were personalised and culturally significant. Both blades were identical; around a foot long, composed of intricately-engraved gilded steel. Wider at the hilt, they tapered to a reinforced needle-like triangular tip. The handles were ivory, narrowing from full-tang width at the hilt, then flaring again to a hooked butt. All Rashid said when he noticed my attention was that they were 'pesh', designed and used in Safavid Persia by his ancestors, and that his had already seen blood.

He did not elaborate further and I did not ask.

My miracle spent the rest of his time either paying attention to me, working with Rashid, or occasionally going on solo exploration of the desert surroundings. It was Ayize that I was most involved with during our search. By his own admission, he was no expert in the sort of thing we were attempting, but the technology we had available was flexible and powerful, and his interest in astronomy did not hurt. The node itself could not offer any more than what it had initially, being little more than a waypoint that connected Lucere to Elkos. We made our camp there temporarily, but the time came for us to depart when the search was as accurate as we could make it.

Some of the stars were not ones that Liberty knew, and there was a period of negotiation where the ship and I learned more about to how to synchronise our knowledge. For Liberty, this was so it knew where to go, and for me, it was to expand the catalogue of the ship's navigational library. We jumped multiple times over the course of several hours, Samed now left well behind, and it was on the fourteenth attempt that we struck gold.

"Alright, so what about this one?" Ayize was rebooting the holo-screen, weary of the repeated jumps. We were all around the central console, expecting another failed guess. "Dud, or something good?"

The star was visible for all of two seconds and I knew right away that we had the right place, the recognition kicking in immediately.

"This is it!" My response was louder than I intended, and both men jumped slightly in surprise. "Sorry. Just excited."

"Don't apologise! I'm glad we've got it. All this leaping around was doing a number on my head." He summoned the system scan, and the screen began to fill with data. "Okay, so we have a M4sd star. That's an orange sub-dwarf." From where we were, it appeared larger than Earth's sun, maybe double the size, but less intense, cooler. "Next, our target world, the only one in the system."

The image changed abruptly to a broad curve, the planet near and large enough to be truly startling. The massive portrait of Elkos' boreal hemisphere filled the view. Encased in brilliant yellow clouds, the surface was aswirl with chartreuse, with underlying splotches of lime and deeper greens mixed in. Starlight brushed the horizon's edge, giving it a halo of warm coral.

Wow.

"It weighs in at 2.4 Earth masses, with a surface gravity of 1.38g. Atmosphere has nitrogen and oxygen, but most obviously sulfur, as you can see, and to a lesser extent chlorine. Also sulfur compounds, including sulfuric acid, and carbon dioxide in lower amounts. Bearable surface pressure, and average temperature of 73 Celsius."

"Rebreather and outer protection won't be enough. We'll need full environment suits for this one," Rashid commented. "Too hot, too poisonous, too acidic."

"You said it, brother. No camping on the ground this time," Ayize agreed. He glanced at me. "Your alien buddies sure picked fun places to stop over."

"You didn't think it was going to be easy, did you?" I shrugged at him, then looked back at the churning yellow of Elkos. "Uninhabitable, sure, but it looks cool from space."

"Heh." The African chuckled. "Won't argue that."

Liberty, take us into low orbit and begin a circuit of the planet until I tell you to stop. If you begin to take damage that you cannot repair, take us out again and tell me immediately. Do you understand?

Yes lord.

The view began to magnify and change angle as we entered the upper atmosphere, the ship seamlessly reorienting itself so that we were cruising several kilometres over the surface. Below was an endless procession of cloud and barren ground, peppered with innumerable volcanic vents and acidic lakes. All of it was yellow, the sulfurous content having stained every part. It was amazing to me that alien worlds could be so naturally colourful, a variety that extended past the dull browns and greys that were so common.

"Anything, Shay?"

I shook my head. "Not yet. I'm still waiting to catch a glimpse of something." The Disciple's speed was on display again, the surface flitting by quicker than seemed reasonable or possible. There was almost a hint of satisfaction from the ship, like it was actually enjoying the opportunity to go joyriding through the sky of a new world, but before I could examine that sentiment any more, I saw what I was looking for. There! Make for that location and take us down to it. "Ah! Found the node."

"Good." Ayize was taking an environment suit from Rashid, who handed another one to me and one to Mira. "We're all eager to find out what's next, so let's get the basics out of the way." He was pulling it on feet first, so we imitated him, donning the suit a limb at a time. "It looks like just a thick material, but these suits are very resilient. Temperature resistant, damage resistant and radiation resistant; you'll be just fine so long as you don't take off the hood, otherwise you'll choke and die in short order. So unless you can breathe sulfur dioxide, keep it on."

"It's all anti-grav assisted." Rashid's voice became slightly muted, and then filtered through internal comms as his suit's helmet automatically sealed and became fully enclosed. "Movement might be weird to start with. You'll get used to it."

Lord, we have landed.

Thank you, Liberty.

Before I could give it another command, it spoke again. You can exit when you are prepared, lord. The outside will not be allowed in. All is safe.

The egress ramp lowered onto the planet's surface, a misty-grey semi-transparent membranous substance covering where the floor had been seconds earlier. It was keeping Elkos' atmosphere out, and Mira, never one to stand on ceremony, stepped through it and walked straight down the ramp with not a second thought. I wasn't sure whether it was some kind of energy projection or if it was purely physical, but the membrane 'floor' stayed horizontal and flat. It slid precisely and easily around Mira's body as he descended, allowing no gaps and sealing after he passed through it.

Well, that's ... new.

The ship had just taken the initiative and promised me that we would be safe, without needing any orders. Impressed and surprised, I was stumped for a good few seconds about how to react, but then Ayize snapped me out of it. "Huh. That's how it emulates an airlock? Clever. So, I'm ready to check out this node. Shay?"

"Uh, yeah." I cleared my throat. "Let's go."

We followed my miracle out from under Liberty's belly and got our first visual of Elkos from the ground. The surrounding area was rocky flats and small hills to the horizon in every direction. Plumes of geothermal ejecta rose across the landscape, with little lakes scattered throughout and the occasional geyser vomiting more up from the interior. Clouds drifted and moved slowly in random directions through the sky, a constant light spray of acidic rain following them, the wind either largely absent or non-existent. The yellow tint was everywhere, from the more intense jaundiced brown of Elkos 'water', to the muddled yellow-green intervals of chlorinated tarnish.

"Nice neighbourhood. Love to settle down here someday, maybe raise some chickens."

I could practically hear Rashid rolling his eyes when he retorted. "You've got some weird ideas, boss."

"You don't know the half of it, brother. Shay!" He called to me, then waved at the environment. "Where are we headed?"

"There." I pointed to Mira and we made our way to where he was, a few dozen metres away. He was standing directly beneath the node, which was about twice my height off the ground, over a completely ordinary stretch of rock. "It's right here." I reached him and looked up at it, the invisible beacon as radiant as all the others had been.

Okay, so let's find out the next step on this road. I stared at it, compelling it to respond. Come on, tell me. Give me knowledge.

Immediately, it did so.

Unlike the other nodes, no visible display formed first. Instead, a little ball of light blossomed. With a flash, it expanded out to encompass the four of us, then stopped still. It was a radiated dome of protection, an aqumi barrier that forced all the toxic atmospheric gas out so the inside was clear. It was maybe even safe to remove the environmental protection, though I wasn't about to risk it, not knowing what was to happen next.

However, Elkos was still quite similar to Samed.

An interface spawned in the air, the same as previous times. The node's calibration to my human brain and perceptions was followed by an instant recognition of my identity as Sulin. The 'welcome message' that came next was paired with an assessment; the node delivering an automatic string of activity and responses that knew why I was there and what to do before I could communicate anything.

----- Planetary Network Regulator -----
----- Welcome: Master Sulin -----

Connectivity protocol accepted.
Acquiring systemic quantum-gravity basis.
Resuming meta-space network function.

A gravitational ripple followed from the dwarf star of Elkos, with an answering ping from Samed's unimaginably distant location flaring in the strange sense I had gained over gravity's medium. The sensation made my breath catch, the scale of it causing a second's pause.

Stellar meta-spatial connection active.
Extra-solar resources accessible.

This was followed by something new.

Archival content initiating.

The display vanished. In its place, a new image appeared.

As with previous aqumi projections, this picture was somehow more defined, more real in appearance than the best human-generated holography I had seen. The image was a being, a creature whose head was higher than the node itself. I guessed it was to scale, standing nearly thirteen feet tall, bipedal, with four arms; broad, solid and powerful.

"That's what they look like?" Ayize was whispering. "Fuck."

It began to speak, in the exact same language I had used when possessed, and in my vision; the tone low, heavy and strong.

"Greetings, Shay Andersen. I am Dagen."

-o-0-O-0-o-

"We still need a flashpoint." Admiral Lugor nodded at the fleet dispersal schema that occupied the main holo-screen. "I'm not convinced a random target will be enough to act as bait."

They were gathered in Konstantin's office in the orbital space command; four admirals and the commander himself. There was Lugor, a Sudanese captain who had recently ascended to the admiralty. Next was Jean-Claude Beaumont, a greying French stalwart with a long service record. Third, Daiyu Jiang, a Chinese woman who was the youngest flag officer. Last was Kerensky.

"There is no assessment of their numbers, their disposition." Beaumont stated it, his disdain steely and unchanging. The man clearly did not approve of the idea of offensive operations and took every chance to express this to Konstantin. "This would be the minimum required to even think about what you are proposing."

"I am thinking it nonetheless." Konstantin gestured to Jiang. "What about you? What do you make of our capacity to mount an attack?"

"The others are both right. A viable target and a numerical probability are needed." She sat for a second, thoughtfully considering, then she switched the holo-screen to a new view. Technical specifications for a variety of ships and defences began to fill it. "However, our ability to wage war in space has dramatically increased since our first encounter with them. Hyper-kinetic weaponry, militarised gravitational buffers, integrated armour repair and self-reactivity; we have the best applied technology available. The problem is they still have both strategic and tactical advantages on their side; invisibility and superior mobility."

"There you have it." Beaumont shrugged. "Why we are still discussing this is beyond me."

"Admiral Beaumont, I believe that-"

"Commander." The Frenchman interrupted him deliberately; forceful and with a touch of bitter resentment. Standing, he continued his commentary. "It is my duty to inform you that this idea is foolhardy and dangerous. It is a risky departure from established doctrine, which prioritises defence of Earth. I will not consider this further."

Beaumont turned and walked out of the room, prideful and unrepentant. Jiang was expressionless over Beaumont's reaction and Lugor rolled his eyes at the performance. Sighing, Konstantin sat back. "Well, the rest of you may leave too. I doubt we will accomplish anything with this concept. At least, not today."

Jiang stood, giving a brief nod to Konstantin before following Beaumont out. Lugor did the same, though he lingered for a moment before he left. "It isn't completely a bad idea, commander. We just need the right circumstances, and then? Maybe." He smiled, briefly, and then was on his way too.

The meeting was not a success.

"I imagined that going differently," he admitted to Kerensky, who had been silent for most of it, preferring to listen. "You did warn me though."

"Our flag officers all have hard heads, and none more so than Jean-Claude. I wouldn't take it too personally." Kerensky pointed to the technical specs still showing on the holo-screen. "You were about to say something when he made his exit?"

"Yes. I was approached by the head of CorpSec-Space."

"Accioli? What did he want? I assume this was more than a mere business meeting. MFM's executives aren't the type to do lackey work."

"Yes. He told me that they may have a way to detect cloaked enemy ships beyond our fixed defences. There weren't many details but he said a few weeks ago they did a live test and it was 'highly promising' I believe the term was. He also expressed some ... interest, in the idea of an attack."

"Really now?" Kerensky gave an odd look. "They've actually cracked it? It's been rumoured that they were close the last decade or two."

"I do not know how reliable his word is. The man was difficult to read. Reminded me of Quân, only not quite so ... "

"-so much of an arrogant egotistical bastard?" Kerensky delivered the line with a straight face, meaning every word. "All those corporatist shits are cut from the same cloth. You are right, Accioli is more tolerable, but only in the same way being shot is more pleasant than being eaten by a bear. I can handle CS-Space's officers, just not for more than a couple of minutes without a desire to test how long they can survive unaided on the other side of the airlock. Still a bunch of pricks at the end of it." Konstantin blinked at the admiral's conversational tirade, which was delivered with an amused charm and without a change of inflexion. "Anyway, our defence screen has been adequate for protecting Earth and the Mars colony. What we haven't been able to figure out is how to equip ships with the same technology, because the detection method breaks down when mobilised. There is a very long scientific explanation that the research division can give you pages of mathematics about, if you are really interested."

"This is the basis of why we were unwilling to leave our solar system before now?"

"A big part of it," agreed Kerensky, "but also their ability to show up, no matter where we go, and attack us first. There have been only a handful of attempts since the beginning of this whole thing, and each time it's the same. They show up, like clockwork, and that's it."

Just as Jiang had said.

Invisibility and mobility.

"Perhaps Admiral Beaumont is correct." Konstantin frowned. "This might be too rash. I had this idea to set a trap for them, as they have done for us. I wished to at least persuade him and the others that it was worth considering."

Kerensky stood, offering his hand to Konstantin and the two men shook. "Well, I will be interested to hear when CS-Space wants to give proper details. We all will be very interested, Beaumont included. I think a strike back at our enemy is overdue, but we just need to pick the right time and place. Until then, I need a few hours off-duty time with my bed."

"Rest well, my friend. We will speak again soon."

He watched the admiral depart, sinking back into his desk chair, momentarily contemplative, and then in a fit of boredom, Konstantin switched the holo-screen away from the clutter of work-related information to the world news. The display began to fill with recent headlines and associated content. The Russian had already adjusted to the sensationalised language and different rhetorical style of modern journalism and had no real care for it. He was ready to change to something entertainment-related as distraction, but the top mention on the listing stood out straight away, the headline demanding his attention: "The senate's closed deliberations over yesterday's historic speech by Guiterrez are finished. Results are expected very shortly."

Historic speech? Deliberations?

Curious, Konstantin opened the reference link to the highlights of 'yesterday's historic speech', and it enlarged into a video feed. Though he did not know the city's skyline, subtitling identified it as Paris, at a square called the Place de la République. There was a small stage, with the premier standing on it as he spoke. A bronze monument dominated the centre, the style reminiscent of a miniaturised Statue of Liberty. The rest of the square was packed full of people; there had to be hundreds of thousands gathered, perhaps more than a million.

Guiterrez was animated as he delivered his speech, and much more lively and passionate than Konstantin remembered. This wasn't quite so much the retiring soft-spoken wonk, but instead a political warrior answering a call to arms. Gesticulating, emphatic, he was ready to deliver the hard truth to his opponents.

"Where are the pillars of our noble governance now? Does a legislature function when it makes the rules about its own selection? Is the judicial interpretation fair when it freezes indefinitely the investigations seeking to clarify those same broken and unethical laws?" The premier was railing against the corporatists, hands waving, face red, voice raised even through the audio's digital amplification for the crowd. "No! A self-justified body is not a democratic instrument! This chamber is NOT a voice of the people! It became illegitimate the moment it subverted our process through self-appointment. So, it is with sadness that I declare, officially, that the federal senate must be dissolved through the Concordat's integrity clause. An election is to be held at the soonest convenience, so that a new quorum, a truly popular one, may be put in place to restore our government's democratic principles and the rule of law."

The Russian stared at the screen, dumbfounded. Guiterrez had dissolved the senate?! Before another thought came, the video closed and a new one opened, a fresh headline attached.

BREAKING NEWS: Senate corporatist majority leaders respond to executive dissolution.

"Good evening viewers." An attractive young brunette reporter was addressing the camera, on the steps of the senate building. "I come to you live from Brussels, in an exclusive report on a developing situation. After a private session, the senate has just voted on a response to Premier Guiterrez's extraordinary speech from yesterday. Though the leadership from all the major parties have dodged media attention and departed the chamber, an official statement was just released from MFM's majority leader. The statement says they wish to inform the public that there was an official debate and a vote on the limits of executive authority. This debate was given emergency priority in the senatorial agenda, due to the premier's unprecedented actions. By the mandate of the Concordat, articles of impeachment were summarily drafted and delivered to vote.

"Due to the unification of MFM and the Duynhoven corporatist voting bloc behind this issue, all corporatist senators and a small pool of disaffected independents and loyalists are believed to have supported the adoption of the articles. While the precise breakdown of votes will stay anonymous, the tally is completed and a result determined. The 'aye' vote reached the exact number required for a supermajority, and so the articles were accepted by the chamber. This is why the announcement must be made that, effective immediately, Anton Guiterrez is impeached. By law he is removed from the premiership, and now he must face justice."

-o-0-O-0-o-

Lucas Thessaloniki stepped into his quarters, the door sealing shut behind him. Removing his uniform jacket, he attached it to a virtual hanger. The wardrobe drew the garment in as he let go, and it settled into place. Crossing his modest slice of living space, he sat down in front of the holo-terminal and brought it out of hibernation. It had been another predictably boring day and Lucas was glad to be done with Containment and Suppression's mile-long list of potential troublemakers.

The view of Earth out his window made up for it. North America lay directly below, and with that sight came thoughts of New York and his recent time there. More importantly, thoughts of what had occurred there. The events at the Vanderbilt Complex were still hard to wrap his mind around, even after nearly two weeks of adjusting. Konstantin Andropov had, without doubt, turned the process on its head. He had thrown a very large wrench into the gears of the political world.

Supreme commander.

The paranoia Lucas experienced in the aftermath had been palpable. For the first couple of days, he was terrified that his digital trail was not well enough isolated. Though he had been very clever and very careful about his interactions with Konstantin and the Brotherhood, there was still a powerful latent fear that it was not enough. Maybe someone, somewhere, was suspicious and had decided to dig a little. What if that someone discovered his identity and linked him to the 'realist terrorists'? What if they saw he had violated the very serious apolitical nature of his military oath, regardless that he believed he was acting in an altruistic humanist way against corporatist manipulation? What if they connected those interactions with the fact that he had gone outside legal bounds in his aid to the Brotherhood, and consequently influenced the military's leadership selection?

There was a lot to worry about and it definitely ate at him.

Slowly, those fears were cooling. Nothing had yet come of it, and by the current stage, Lucas was not expecting anything to surface. If he was going to be found it, it almost certainly would have occurred already. There had been only a single discreet inbox message from Kerensky after the succession's conclusion. It told him that, firstly, he was taking a huge risk even unintentionally interfering with global politics, and secondly, Kerensky was certain the anonymity would hold, so long as Lucas kept his head down and mouth firmly shut.

That was exactly what Lucas did. The idea of a court-martial was very unpleasant and best kept at bay. No, he was keeping out of it. He hated corporatism, but he wasn't about to endanger what had been achieved by getting himself caught.

No more being a rebel. No more subversion and counteraction.

The sports news was calling to him. He wasn't sure if PAOK was up to besting Olympiacos after the recent grueling draw with AEK Athens. He was ready to delve further into the punditry and raucous commentary of Greek football's superleague, when a new holo-window appeared, accompanied by a ringtone.

An outside call?

Approved by the network's censorial watchdogs, Lucas accepted it, puzzled by who would be calling. He was surprised to find it was his mother, sitting at the desk in the study, at home. Her face lit up when she saw him, the call connected. "Oh, Lucas, agoraki mou, darling! It's good to see your face."

"Mama! It's good to see you too." Confused, he went on. "Why do you call so soon after I'm back? And why are we speaking English? Is something going on? Are you okay?"

"Oh, no no. Everything is okay. Your sisters are fine. I am good." She nodded at him, a veritable wellspring of Greek pride and motherly adoration bubbling out through her image. "Do not worry yourself with us, my son. I call because your ... cousin ... is visiting and you have not seen him in a long time."

Cousin? He had seen Giannis and Petros six months ago, and Uncle Kyriakos with the twins last year. What other cousin did she mean? All the rest were girls. There was something strange about how Charissa said the word, too. Before he could respond though, the viewed panned to the right, and sitting next to her was someone he was not altogether happy to see.

Kenji Shimizu.

"Hello, cousin." The Brotherhood agent's words and mere presence at his mother's residence were a sudden blast of adrenaline that sent his mind spinning and his heart pumping madly in shock and dismay. This was not what Lucas wanted. It was the very opposite. Yet, the look on Kenji's face was half performing-for-Big-Brother and half total seriousness. Though Lucas was so wound-up it was hard to enunciate properly, a part of him was curious as to why Kenji was there.

"Hello, cousin." He emphasised the word heavily, making sure Kenji knew just how much he did not appreciate this incursion. "Didn't know the Asian branch of the Thessalonikis were in town. What are you doing here?"

"I do love keeping in touch with my family." Kenji's smirk was almost imperceptible, but his eyes were telling a different story. This look had business to conduct, and it was whispering to Lucas something apart from the largely meaningless spoken pleasantries: Kenji needed to talk and it was important.

Was it important enough to risk arrest and possible death?

"I know it's been a while so I should remind you, dear cousin, that there are limits to what I can discuss when I am in active service." He drilled this fact into the other man with his stare alone, hoping that the sentiment was understood.

If you speak unartfully, the system will notice and I will be ruined both professionally and personally. Choose your words very carefully.

"I know." Kenji had perfected the art of the totally fake smile, a skilled replica of actual happiness, and he had it fully deployed. "Just wanted to tell you about my vacation to Europe. I've been having the best time."

Vacation to Europe? "Don't keep me in suspense." Sardonic and dry, Lucas raised a cautious eyebrow. "What did you get up to?"

"Well, we were in Tuscany for a while. Plenty of sightseeing. Beautiful countryside. Then some old friends showed up." Kenji's own gaze was intense, delivering another message behind the words. "You remember Martin, right?"

Tuscany and old friends? Martin?

Then he had it.

That 'friend' was Martin Quân. Kenji was talking about CorpSec. Lucas heard about MFM's raid against realist groups on the cusp of the military succession, but he had not thought much more of it at the time. However, he did remember that the Brotherhood's operational activities were then centred in Florence, the Tuscan metropolis, so they presumably lost that base in Italy during the raid.

"Yeah," he murmured, slow, "I remember Martin. So where did you go next?"

"Black Sea. There are some awesome resorts on the Bessarabian coast. All of us went, but my friend Danny didn't. You remember him too, right?"

Danny?

They had no mutual acquaintance with that name ... unless the name was wordplay. Perhaps it was Kenji's team mate, Lindani.

"Do you mean, uh, African Danny?"

"That's him. Good old African Danny! Hahaha!" Kenji's grin brightened, gaining a few watts of artificial luminosity. "He met Martin in Poland, and they went off on a trip together."

So, Lindani met Quân in Poland. Then Lindani went on a 'trip' with Quân.

The implication was clear. The CorpSec raid happened. They hit Poland and captured the younger Mthembu. More than this, there was another realisation, one that was a lot more unsettling: Lindani knew about Lucas' involvement with all of this, and if MFM had him in custody ...

"A trip, huh?" He swallowed nervously. "Where to?"

"Russia, the European part. Took a pulsicopter east." Kenji's stare seemed to intensify further, though his smile stayed just as blinding. "Haven't heard from him since then. Been hoping to get in touch. I miss him."

That moment, Lucas got it.

He understood why.

The Brotherhood was trying to get Lindani back. They didn't know exactly where he was. Kenji needed his help to find Lindani, so they could perform some kind of extraction or rescue. The resources available to the Brotherhood weren't enough to locate him, for whatever reasons. However, Lucas and his military connection? Kenji knew he could leverage that; doubly so because Lucas would be in plenty of trouble if Lindani's captors were able to break him. The soldier's eyes narrowed, teeth gritting, as he came to the very frustrating conclusion that aiding the Brotherhood was the better option for self-preservation than inaction. Kenji caught his expression change and gave a tiny nod of agreement.

They were now on the same page.

"Any idea where they went?"

"Not really," shrugged Kenji, nonchalant, though his casual reply stood in contrast to the gleam in his eyes that promised a little more information now that their understanding was aligned. "Though I heard there's a lot to do around ... Bryansk. Saratov too. Izhevsk is lovely during winter, and so is Kirov. That's all I can think of though. Who knows what that crazy Danny is up to! You never know where he'll be next! Him and his adventures, you know? Haha!"

Bryansk, Saratov, Izhevsk, Kirov.

Possible locations. A date, when CorpSec attacked. A travel vector, from Poland to western Russia. A specific type of transporation, the Xiang-Mueller.

Yes, he could work with this, but this already-risky call had gone on for far too long.

"I should end this here. Don't want to screw up my time allotment." He nodded to Charissa. "Mama, I love you and we'll speak later okay?"

"Theos elogei, my darling. You be good. I love you too."

Then to Kenji: "Good luck with contacting Danny. Maybe you'll get lucky?"

"Maybe I will." The other man's lip twitched, a knowing look flitting behind the false veneer for just a moment. "Or ... maybe I won't have to. Take care, cousin. Always a pleasure to catch up. Hopefully we can speak again soon."

The call ended, the window dropping away and Lucas let out a long shuddering breath that he felt like he'd been holding for the entire conversation.

Speak again soon?

Hopefully not.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Dagen.

Oh my god.

The mysterious creature who was the architect of so much of what had happened.

It was him.

The alien language, spoken now through an actual alien voice, was heavy with sobriety, dignity and an emotive tinge that was otherworldy, lingering and vigilant.

"You stand here after many trials, with many yet to come. It is answers you seek, and you may think that I see the future, to reveal now everything you require. Yet, I cannot. Some things can be seen and told, but more must remain hidden. It is only probability of future events that I know, and only of what is tied to you and I. We have within the unifying laws of creation; this you have learned. For you, they are a blade of power and a terrible wrath. For my purpose, those laws are more than a simple rendering of nature. They are the story of everything that has existed, and to know that story is to know fates beyond count; each one changing as the eye sees it. If I was to speak so plainly of what is to come, then no more is such speech true. Touching the future twists what it becomes, and nothing remains certain, even as we take action by our own will.

"All that I have done is to lay the path for those to follow; for Sulin, for you, and for the one to become me. What I see, another now sees, for he is me and I am him. I am long dead, but I live again in him, by the unity of spirit and through time unreckoning. The others are awake and whole, and it is your doing, my brother. The war returned as I foretold, and you arose once more to redeem us and to fight the Enemy. You left the ethereal infinite for a dangerous housing within new blood.

"The war! Now, you are Shay Andersen, master and general, and you must know what you face. The Enemy is old. It is older than your kind and older than my blood and my stone. Maybe it recalls the birth of all things, when light and dark were undivided and but a single point, in the very beginning. Now, in the days you walk, it has the smallest part of the potency it knew in this time. What it seeks is unchanged immemorial; it desires a way to follow the servants and warriors that have already crossed, to at last fully open the barrier that separates our existence from the nothingness of its own. This barrier is named the Veil of Shadow."

I drew in a sharp breath, of surprise and astonishment. Finally, the mystery would be finished with, and I would know what this elusive thing was.

The Veil of Shadow.

"The Veil lies at the very bottom of creation, and is both everywhere and nowhere all at once. Where our unity meets, the harmony of matter in the most elemental way; the Veil lies beyond, the layer beneath matter. It is the foundation of reality and we pierced it, believing with reckless pride that our dominion was uncontested and utterly secure. We did not know what was on the other side. The Enemy reached a hand through the Veil's wound, and we sacrificed everything to cut that hand off and seal the rift forever.

"It was never going to be the end. The power we made remains, and in all futures, your kind would discover it, covet it, and blindly repeat our folly, and so the Enemy is here once more. It is a fraction of what it was, just a talon of that terrible grasp. Yet in turn, my kind is even lesser and yours is treacherous and divided. This is the grave peril we face. If unopposed, it will tear a hole through the wall that cannot be mended.

"This must never happen. If it does, our Enemy will become free of any restraint, and then it will consume all."

From the words, the tone and timbre, I knew the last statement was not meant as an exaggeration.

Our foe would literally consume everything.

The figure moved for the first time, raising his arms, his head dipping slightly.

"We cannot do this alone. Seek the farseer, Shay Andersen. Seek me reborn, my brother. Find him, and find the Truth."

The image vanished immediately after it finished, and before my senses could catch up, my vision was changing straight away. For a few moments, I was Sulin again, and I was looking at the sky of the next world in the chain. Dominated by thick icy clouds, there were only glimpses of the stars, half-hidden and obscured by the atmosphere.

"I remember Yahet."

It was my voice, Sulin's language. Then as quickly as it had arrived, the vision was gone.

So, Konstantin is making plans, Kenji is making things happen, Shay is making progress and Mira is making it a home run. :blushing: Again. Seriously, that boy knows how to Sex and is getting plenty of opportunity to show off his very impressive ... talents.
Ahem.
Lucky Shay. ^_^
In other news, I am looking for a new beta for the final chapters of this book. A forum thread about it is here.
Please let me know if you're enjoying the story. Commentary, likes and reviews are all welcome!
Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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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. 

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Loving the story. Sometimes difficult to follow (my feeble-mindedness, not your writing), but a story that truly expands the imagination and thoughts about what might really exist beyond our limited planet. Keep up the good work!

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On 09/26/2016 10:39 AM, GWood said:

Loving the story. Sometimes difficult to follow (my feeble-mindedness, not your writing), but a story that truly expands the imagination and thoughts about what might really exist beyond our limited planet. Keep up the good work!

Thank you! It's a complex tale, I'd be the first to admit. Though I'm happy it is doing what good science-fiction should -- challenge the mind and imagination with possibility!

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Hey,
its awesome to read another update of this beautiful story, though i have to agree with GWood, it IS sometimes hard to follow. Nevertheless, I am enjoying the challenge.
Anyway, so Shay will finally meet the "farseer" soon? Sounds great, can't wait! :)
Keep writing!
Love
Sammy

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I'm always happy to see another chapter of this story, -I've been thinking about
it lately and here you are. This time we meet the image of Dagen himself, giving
some crucial direction to Shay. Will he finally meet Yugan next? That'll be quite
interesting, -and am I wrong or is he not the 'farseer' that Dagen mentions?
The Dagenish are big people, aren't they? That makes them even more impressive
and Yugan's deadly planet even scarier. Will he fit into the space Aphid?

 

I love this story. Where else will I see phrases like 'geothermal ejecta'?

 

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On 09/26/2016 11:18 PM, Sammy Blue said:

Hey,

its awesome to read another update of this beautiful story, though i have to agree with GWood, it IS sometimes hard to follow. Nevertheless, I am enjoying the challenge.

Anyway, so Shay will finally meet the "farseer" soon? Sounds great, can't wait! :)

Keep writing!

Love

Sammy

At this point, Shay's entire purpose is to find and meet his reincarnated 'sibling'. In that vein, just where do you suppose this pathway of networked worlds is leading? ;)

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On 09/27/2016 08:29 AM, Stephen said:

I'm always happy to see another chapter of this story, -I've been thinking about

it lately and here you are. This time we meet the image of Dagen himself, giving

some crucial direction to Shay. Will he finally meet Yugan next? That'll be quite

interesting, -and am I wrong or is he not the 'farseer' that Dagen mentions?

The Dagenish are big people, aren't they? That makes them even more impressive

and Yugan's deadly planet even scarier. Will he fit into the space Aphid?

 

I love this story. Where else will I see phrases like 'geothermal ejecta'?

 

You are quite right, Yugan is the host for his ancestor's essence, just as Shay is Sulin. In much earlier chapters, Yugan has already demonstrated the ability to see possible futures, just as Dagen was able to in the very distant past.

 

You are also correct that Mishith/Dagenith are not small creatures, although it's worth remembering that Dagen was *not* Sundered like the rest of the Dagenith. I have no intention to elaborate on the specifics of why and how Dagen is different physically because of this fact, because such precise detail would be a spoiler.

 

However, in chapter 15, Mikom tells Yugan about ancient eye-witness accounts of Dagen's appearance in the neighbouring settlement of Gerik, not long before he left the planet. A description is given of his appearance: "Alike us in form, but more. Greater than our greatest guardian, and so hardy as to withstand a mighty foe. He was half again our height, built of Mishith muscle and power, yet with a tremendous defence; a part through and upon him was strange, essence likened to hewn metal and glittering rock."

 

Simply put, the non-Sundered Dagen was half again as tall as the Sundered, and proportionally more massive. From this information, you can approximate the size of the Sundered, and so should have some idea of how big Yugan, Ralot and their kindred are.

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Just recently started reading this story. Figured it was time to let you know how much I'm enjoying it. Lots of interesting ideas, politics, characters! Thank you for writing and sharing your work. Look forward to finishing this tale. :2thumbs:

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On 11/04/2017 at 11:35 AM, Meghan E said:

Just recently started reading this story. Figured it was time to let you know how much I'm enjoying it. Lots of interesting ideas, politics, characters! Thank you for writing and sharing your work. Look forward to finishing this tale. :2thumbs:

 

I still miss some comments on here with the new GA system, so apologies for taking so long to reply since I didn't realise you had commented!

 

Thanks so much for letting me know you're enjoying it! I hope I've crafted a book that will stand the test of time. There's a lot left to come, so I hope you'll stick around for that.

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True Mira knows how to sex but u have left most to our imagination don’t rike it but cool 😎 part to is a bit of a snooze fest but ok still keeping on

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At last we meet Dagen and much is revealed for us to see. Earth was good thing could be said not much. I still have hope that some of this Ugliness will change before the Aliens decide to visit! We will have to see fingers crossed! 

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I'm starting to fear for Lucas. He is really getting into danger. It shouldn't be too hard for the CS to uncover his actions once they start digging. Politics on Earth is slowly spiraling out of control with the impeachment of Guiterrez. That said, I don't understand the institutions of the military and the CS. How are they legally anchored in the political system? Who controls whom? It is clear that the CS is run by the corporatists. But is that democratically established? Or are CS more like paramilitaries? But which political force can actually use the military?

Mira continues to be obsessed with Shay. Good for Shay...

 

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10 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

I'm starting to fear for Lucas. He is really getting into danger. It shouldn't be too hard for the CS to uncover his actions once they start digging. Politics on Earth is slowly spiraling out of control with the impeachment of Guiterrez. That said, I don't understand the institutions of the military and the CS. How are they legally anchored in the political system? Who controls whom? It is clear that the CS is run by the corporatists. But is that democratically established? Or are CS more like paramilitaries? But which political force can actually use the military?

The danger for Lucas is not from CorpSec but from the military hierarchy itself. He would be in a world of trouble if they knew he was undertaking political fraternisation and breaking rules.

As for CorpSec's legal standing, it is has no legitimate authority beyond what exists de-facto through MFM's position. That is to say: CorpSec has no lawful mandate but functions as both a paramilitary and a police force (to some degree) because the monolithic corporation that controls it is a vested and irreplaceable part of the world system -- as was stated in an earlier chapter, it's like a parasite that would kill the host if removed. Thus, MFM shields CorpSec (again, in a limited fashion, not everything can be excused) from certain consequences.

If MFM managed to gain full control of the federal government, CorpSec would be free from legal checks restricting its behaviour. Think of some combination of state security and secret police -- that is what they would become.

So, no, CorpSec has absolutely no democratic input, and is literally commanded at the whims of MFM's directorate.

On the other hand, the federal military functions something like those that exist in certain first world countries today. It is deliberately and outwardly non-partisan and both servicemen and the upper command are expressly forbidden from civilian political affairs. This is strictly enforced and taken quite seriously, to minimise the temptation for some ambitious ruthless admiral or general attempting to seize power. The strategic management, in normal circumstances, is done by an administrator appointed by the legislature and executive -- chapter 10 was all about how that happens.

In the case of external threats, the premier is able to order limited operations, with broader actions requiring the senate's approval or emergency dispensation. For internal issues, the federal police or other state security forces must deal with any problems, and the military would not be involved out of constitutional principle. It would take a extraordinary threat to the government's basic integrity on a major scale for the army or fleet to be called in, and the requirements for this are so steep that it has never happened since the global union was formed.

I hope this lengthy comment makes sense to you and clears any misunderstandings.

A big theme of the plot as it progresses on 24th century Earth is about how the democratic system is functional but flawed, and heavily abused by competing interests that have nothing to do with social progress and the common good.

10 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

Mira continues to be obsessed with Shay. Good for Shay...

I hope that's not cynicism in your comment? I can't tell. :)

To be honest, if I were that age, I would find that kind of attention from someone like him very heart-pounding.

Edited by Stellar
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Thank you so much,Stellar, for going to so much trouble to respond to my questions and comments. It really helped me to broaden my understanding. :read:🤗

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If I understood this correctly, the Enemy comes from that space/plane that existed/still exists before the Big Bang. A state of being where all the laws of the universe, as we understand them, break down.

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