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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 - 3. Conflicting Colour

The atomic fireball flowered over Siberia, a deadly artificial bloom in the frigid darkness of the Russian night. It was far away, maybe dozens of kilometres from where they were. It seemed to Konstantin that it was close enough to touch, a giant symbol of invasive destruction. He stood staring, unable to process the sight. There was only a cruel knowledge that he had just witnessed a city of more than half a million people turned to dust.

Yakutsk was no more.

He could not comprehend it.

All he could do was remember. It was an afternoon years ago on Lucere when he and Lily had discussed advanced physics. It was a conversational avenue that took place in one of their many idle wonderings about science and the natural world. She was describing to him the process and effect of a nuclear detonation. How massive amounts of electromagnetic radiation were released in the first moments of the reaction. How that radiation was absorbed by the atmosphere, forming a sphere of superheated air and gas. How that brilliant hot sphere, the 'fireball', would expand with such speed that it compressed the air around it, producing an immensely forceful shockwave. How the combination of light, heat and kinetic energy was so potent that anyone within the nearest couple of kilometres would be instantly vapourised, pulverised or burned to death in seconds.

Exactly as everyone in Yakutsk just was.

Konstantin also knew that the mercifully quick deaths were the lucky ones, that there was a counterbalance. Everyone else further out would die a slower more painful death, in the following minutes, hours, days, months ... and years.

Tears were dripping down his face, the persistent cold and the throbbing in his temples forgotten. The initial light was dying away, a rising column of cloud coalescing into a heated toroidal statue of glowing ash. It pushed up into the sky in that horrific shape, so well known in fiction and scientific document, an icon of the nuclear age. It was Yakutsk's tombstone, and Konstantin's sadness turned to anger in that same instant. A monumental fury brewed as he gazed upon the mushroom cloud rising above the site of a Russian city. Ripping his eyes away, he turned to the man next to him, the first one who spoke, the same one who demanded he bear witness to this tragedy.

"You drag me out here to watch the death of thousands of Russians, thousands of people," his voice came out in a rage-ridden yell, the words rent with so much anger that the man started back in surprise;"but you should mark your next words very well, because if- ... IF ... you say to me, that my boys were in that place, then you will have to KILL me to escape alive!"

A second man grabbed Konstantin's shoulder from behind to restrain him and without thinking, Konstantin let out an enraged shout. Berserk, his left arm smashed the man to the ground with enormous speed, without looking at him. Konstantin shoved the first man over with the same motion right-handed, quick and hard enough that he too sprawled backwards. Two more men, a third and fourth, had been standing clear and through his rage, he could identify they had guns drawn, clearly aimed at him.

"All of you! Fucking cowardly svoloch!" He shouted it, not caring any longer, spreading his arms wide. "What are you waiting for?! Shoot me!"

One of the gun-wielders began speaking in a foreign language, but the first man, the one on the ground, cut him off as he climbed back to his feet. He spoke himself a moment later, in English. Strongly accented, maybe Asian or African, though Konstantin was not sure and in that moment did not care, nor could see the man's face. They were all still dressed in camo head-gear from when they had plucked him out of the Grand Sterkh apartments in the city. "No one is going to shoot you. We stopped here so you could see what nearly happened to you ... and ... your boys."

Nearly happened?

Shay and Mira were not there?

"Are you trying to tell me you saved me?" Konstantin was not close to showing any forgiveness and his anger at everything right then would not relent.

"Yes." The statement was simple, to the point. "If we didn't pick you up, you would still be there, right now. A bunch of atoms floating through the air, nothing more. So, you can either get into the vehicle this time as a guest under our protection and we can get well away from what is left of Yakutsk," he continued, speaking calmly, "or you can stay here by yourself on this roadside in the cold and dark, waiting for the poison snow to fall from the sky."

The wind had picked up, a buffeting of air that ripped mercilessly through the darkening sky, a testament to the blast's turbulent power even from this distance. It was a precursor to the death that would come floating down in a million soft pieces. Konstantin looked at the cloud on the horizon, a thousand emotions within, and then again to this man in front of him.

"Either way, we aren't staying. I'd much prefer you be alive, given the trouble we went through to get you out of there." He shrugged. "If you want answers, you won't find them here. Just death."

Whatever else was going on, this man was right. There was nothing left here, no reason to stay. If he wanted to see Shay and Mira again after their separation just before leaving orbit, then he had to take a risk. This was the only person so far who had offered any kind of answer.

Maybe these men were 'terrorists' or maybe they were something else. Konstantin did not know for good or bad. There was no trust to be had anywhere and the image of a civilised unified world, that Earth was a haven, was as fragile as glass.

"I will go with you, to find my boys."

The man nodded slowly and indicated to the vehicle, the door still open and cautiously Konstantin moved to it. The Almighty had given him a path through these Hadean circumstances. No matter how dangerous it was, he would have to walk it. It was more important than anything that he find his boys, that their safety be assured.

A future without them in it was one without hope.

-o-0-O-0-o-

The night-vision had become such a part of Yugan's life that he had grown accustomed to it. He had adjusted to the mental change as surely as a dagenithi could, and thus it stayed for so long, but now? Now, once more, there was a fresh shift.

It was only three turns of the daily cycle since the featureless darkness of the night-vision had become something more. It had filled his mind with such conflicting impossibility that, finally, he could no longer think in Otsin. Yugan's instincts told him to take leave, to walk for some time and so he took his hunting gear and a small amount of wrapped foodstuffs and made for the rainforest. Not explaining himself to any dagenith he met, Yugan left quickly and moved with stealth, pathfinding swiftly through the local growth. Before he knew it, he had moved beyond the closer bounds, entering the darker thick foliage of the wild forest. The massive extended carpet of sprouting vines, giant wetwoods and clinging ferns spread everywhere and it was full of many small hazards, both flora and fauna.

Not to mention, there were the more aggressive larger creatures that roamed further out.

Though Yugan had not deliberately chosen a direction, he soon realised he was heading towards Kerelom. The Mishith were quite capable of enduring the cold as much as the tropical heat, but the mountain was not somewhere often chosen as a destination. He was focused on his movement, on keeping a quick pace and not letting the fruit flies nor the lower-tier predators bother him. He could tell there were several chitok following, keeping pace on the edge of his vision; the little dog-sized omnivorous climbers would trail a bigger creature like a dagenithi. Any mistakes would be taken advantage of to his detriment. They were common in Otsin's wilds and could be the end of any unwary traveller, but he was young, strong, in his prime.

He would not make mistakes. If they tried him, it would be their deaths, not his.

The inferior hands held the spear as he moved, dancing swiftly through the vinelets, the quivering ends twisting from his footfalls, groping blindly in his wake. Yugan's superior arms brushed foliage aside as he ran. The atmosphere was richer on the deep floor, the dense flora saturating his lungs with a headiness that was absent in the lighter forest. He kept up the pace for some time until he felt the rise of ground on the lower slopes, the jungle turning to subalpine growth. The muted drier evergreens took over from the lush humidity, the undergrowth sparser, and the air thinned, cool and breezy.

Finally alone, he reached a basaltic scree, the chitok having given up their clandestine vigil many minutes ago. A rough rocky outcrop jutted above the treeline and Yugan decided it would make a suitable stopping point. He had begun to tire after the run; scaling the slope and the igneous extrusion took the remainder of his current energy, his claws making short work of the climb. Sitting in the open, he laid the spear next to him and relaxed onto his haunches, letting himself rest and take in the view.

Punctuated by old volcanic hilltops, worn flat peaks and mesas, the awning of primeval rainforest stretched unbroken as far as his eagle eyes could see, in all directions. It varied from density to density, but was consistent and without end. In the distance were other lone mountains, sentinels amid the ocean of torrid plant life. Some plumed smoke, the forges of their creation still running, though most were still and whitecap dusted. The sky of Dagen's Grace was cloudless today, tinted a vibrant green in the harsh white light of the sun; the crescent of the moon was also visible, painted with that same solar heat, small and faint.

It was his home. The land of Yugan's birth, the world of his waking self.

What then, was this place he saw in his sleep?

Open space, open air, a flawlessly blue sky. Trees and grass and animals and sounds and smells, all unlike anything he had ever known. In many ways the same as his home, yet so very different. It was amazing and beautiful and undoubtedly alien. So contrary to the perfect pristine glory the Dagenith knew. Yugan had felt and known this new place as if he stood there himself, the vividness of his night-vision being unforgettable. Only there was a crucial difference. He had seen it through the eyes of someone else.

Someone who was not Mishith.

It was another world, inhabited by another race. An unfamiliar deeper-yellow sun was in the sky, a strange taste on the wind. Their senses were all askew to him, for in the night-vision he observed that new world through the physical lens of another. He walked the soil in the feet of another. He touched the grass with the hand of another.

Yugan had lived in an alien skin. He had felt the workings of the mind and heart of this outsider, the beat of the body, the pulse of the neural tide. Their minds were a bizarre mixture of intense emotion and confusion; a caldera that seemed to have no clarity and no clear start nor finish. The psyche was a tangle of so many conflicting sentiments that he did not know how this creature's race could function, let alone survive.

Survival.

More than that, this world he had seen was at war. He understood nothing of the fray, nothing of what the causes were that drove this destruction. Just the terrible ruin it brought and the pain of loss, something that was constant no matter where the war took place and whom it involved. The effect of hardship was always visible, both in this creature and also in the others he saw, by proxy. The weight of conflict was never far beneath the messy conflagration of emotions these creatures possessed.

Yet, despite the size and scope of difference between them, Yugan could not deny the truth. He was connected to this alien. Connected, inexplicably, but also inextricably. There was no why or how to inform him.

It was simply self-evident.

More than this, in the short time he had watched this creature's reality and seen the world it lived in, Yugan had begun to care about it. Only a couple of daily cycles had gone by, but after the passage of each, he could only sympathise. As his knowledge expanded, so did his empathy. Feeling what the other felt, seeing what it saw; to Yugan, understanding that plight was natural. The Mishith were once victims of war themselves, as the Tale of Sundering taught, and they were not heartless. Even without knowing the bigger story, he found himself caring about the welfare of the one to which he was linked.

Unwrapping his fare, he ate a portion of the fruit and dried meat and squeezed some liquid from the sponge-gourd, quenching his thirst. It was refreshing, and Yugan found the mountain air pleasant. Kerelom seemed to have a calming effect on him and spontaneously, he wondered if perhaps his coming to this place was not mere coincidence at all.

Maybe the night-vision was influencing him yet further.

He looked behind, away from the rainforest vista and up the slope, towards the ever-bare soil before it became rock and then snow and ice alone.

Why ... here? Why Kerelom?

It was like a message. Like he was being told to seek. Encouraged to look.

To do something. To do ... what?

There was nobody else here to provide literal answers, but Yugan knew there was another thing he could try. Perhaps that was the purpose of this journey, after all.

Clarity.

There was something he thought worth attempting. Yugan settled down properly, moving into a much more comfortable sitting position. He folded all four arms together across the front of his body, imitating an easier meditative pose. He closed his eyes and the muscles in his upper body slackened, his jaw loosening and ears lying flat. Fighting off his natural daytime instinctual awareness, he persuaded his body to completely and thoroughly relax, to give up that wariness. Quietened, his mind followed and he sank into silence. For minutes, nothing changed, his consciousness drifting in the preservation of a trance. Then like a flare in the night, Yugan's perceptions twisted and he was awakening.

The world of the night-vision arrived, opening to him and ... he was there.

He was a pair of eyes, a set of feelings, a mind hidden within another alien mind from some impossible distance.

This time the connection felt clearer, more conscious and affected. Yugan was much more aware of what he was experiencing than any single night in Otsin. It was a crystal lucidity that felt perfectly attuned. As the alien climate and alien custom revealed themselves to him once more, from nowhere came a new experience, drawn out by the circumstance.

A new experience that was much bigger.

It was as if he stood upon the bank of a mighty river that flowed down a mountainside; an imagined conceptual mentality that was overlaid upon what he was seeing, a metaphor of feeling. The river was the march of time, the ongoing movement of events. It was the future, and he could see the broadest outline as it rolled implacably into the distance. Nearly inscrutable, but still visible. Still viewable and detectable.

The path of fate.

Yugan's senses stretched into those branchings of the future, the thousand ways this creature's life might play out. There were so many possibilities, so many tributaries that it was hard to tell where things might lead. Though with utter certainty he could see a time when all the effort and luck would run dry. It was a conclave of lines, a very definite point where the paths converged. They narrowed until every plausible chance, every smallest possibility, had to pass through this single point. Even with the greatest strength and the best fortune, the wayward strands of this creature's life always ran through that place, that same bottleneck in the future.

It was a point beyond which nothing was visible.

Past that mark was blackness. The link would finish and there would be no more night-vision. No more anything.

Death.

He could see the situation, the way in which it took place. The specifics would flicker between a hundred little variable scenarios, a million iterations of similarity with only small differences. One thing was constant, though. The surge of danger always came. It was always unanticipated. It was always sudden and it was always ... always ... fatal.

The movement of the temporal waters was unchanged. He watched this creature make its way through that world, innocent and unaware of where progression would take it, of what lay downstream. Yugan knew. He knew with a crisp undeniable sense of immersion that this being was as real as his own flesh and blood. Just as he knew that the figurative river, that flow of happenstance, was immutable and the course it took was inevitable. The future was set.

All the roads led to death.

Or did they?

The dagenithi stood in a subconscious purgatory, in that strange wordless place between waking and asleep. A place that lay between Dagen's Grace and this other planet. He existed between probability and reality; between the life and death of a living breathing being, an alien creature on an alien world.

Why was he here?

Why was he seeing this?

Why was all of this happening?

Think more, think deep.

If he was seeing when the Mishith did not see, if he was knowing aforetime when none could predict, then he was not totally outside this vision. Not completely an observer nor merely a passive party, relegated to the side. He was connected to this creature across a vast space, without cause or motive, but still able to perceive.

There had to be a reason.

Connection.

What if being connected was it? What if the simple fact that a link existed was enough? An ancient Mishith truth was present and he recognised it in this conundrum: the hunted marks the hunter just as he is marked.

If one could change the other, the other could change the one.

Their fate was shared because they were connected.

He would share his knowledge.

Yugan wished to change that fate.

The scene of death. An image of the harbinger, the terminal threat.

He took that image, broadened it, detailed it. With all the will and conscious activity he could maintain, Yugan sent it forth. The construct he built to guide his ward, to warn the creature, wavered and slipped away into nothingness. He did not know what effect it had. It seemed like nothing had happened, that his effort was no more useful than throwing rocks at the moon.

Then, just like that, he was conscious, his eyes open upon the green of the sky.

A breeze blew down from Kerelom, the scent of minerals and snowmelt mingling with the sound of clattering rock. Dagen's star beat down unchecked, lower now on the horizon, his body warmed to a nearly unpleasant degree by the unmitigated sunshine. As he reawakened fully, the respiratory ventilation sped up and Yugan began to cool. He could not help looking down at himself, at his hands, his arms, the movement of his joints and his muscles and how his skeleton pivoted and bent with motion.

They were so different.

The enormity of his experience was taking hold. The Tale had given hints of alien races in the Empire's glory day. Now here he was, a conduit between a living alien spirit and the Mishith, the children of the Great Circle.

They were not alone.

Not any more.

Maybe the Age of Silence was finally over.

-o-0-O-0-o-

While Konstantin could hardly say he trusted the men whose company he had been forced into, they had at least saved him from the nuclear annihilation of Yakutsk. There were four and they functioned as some sort of mercenary unit. The leader identified himself only as Ayize, and was the same who had spoken to Konstantin when he had witnessed the explosion. The others were obediently silent, letting their officer do all the talking and it seemed that Ayize would not answer his questions straight away.

The man promised instead to talk once they reached a safe spot in southeast Asia. He assured Konstantin this was not to forestall any questions, it was simply because he did not wish to get into a detailed discussion of what he poetically termed 'a big shit-storm of bad.' Their unit was in quite a precarious location and distractions were not only unwanted but potentially hazardous. What he did tell Konstantin was that the greater Sakha region had just become the focus of some very powerful groups because of the incident at Yakutsk. Some of them were legitimate authorities, some were the not-so-legal kind.

All of them Ayize wished to avoid.

After driving on for a time, they reached a site during the night where a VTOL anti-gravity thrust-vectored aircraft was secreted. The craft in question was a low-altitude high-speed utility transport, similar in design to a tiltrotor. It had quad engines suspended on nacelles, which would stay vertical for takeoff and landing, then transition to give forward thrust during flight. There were additional boosters for added speed hidden closer in on the fuselage, less obviously visible. The craft was a design adapted for travel under the radar and two of the men referred to it as a 'Xiang-Mueller' and a 'hop-raven' respectively. The other two, Ayize and his closest offsider, affectionately spoke of the craft as a 'pulsicopter', a portmanteau of several words that became the name that stuck in Konstantin's head.

The next day and a half was a metaphorical and sometimes literal blur. It was full of imagery viewed at a constant rush. Hills, mountains, tundra, steppes, lakes and deserts. The landscape changed as they headed south by air, keeping to the most remote flightpath. The pilot managed to avoid the attention of anyone that would ask questions, both through a minimal digital 'signal' and also by holding to the least inhabited areas. All Konstantin knew was that they were covering a large number of kilometres very quickly, and though he was glad to have escaped the death that awaited him in Siberia, he had very mixed feelings as they continued south out of Russia.

When he awoke late during the next day, managing to steal a few hours of sleep as they flew, Ayize informed him that they had been skirting with danger and were very nearly 'found out' crossing through western China, but were now a lot safer. He did not explain the details, just that it involved a 'fake registry signal' and a little clever software wrangling. The pulsicopter was now accepted as a Thai commercial lifter by the regional aerospace and left largely unbothered by the few craft who were able to track them.

It was late during the evening that Konstantin finally began to get his head around what was happening and it all seemed to come together at once.

He had fled Russia after an entire city was destroyed by a nuclear weapon.

Shay and Mira were somewhere else, apparently 'safe', though this was yet to be confirmed by anyone.

He was now thousands of kilometres away, being led into a safe-spot in an industrial park somewhere on the outskirts of a city in southeast Asia.

What in heaven's name was going on?

How had everything changed so fast?

They had been dropped off, and it was just him and Ayize, the rest of the team having left for somewhere else. He did not seem concerned that Konstantin would try to run or anything of the sort and the Russian decided that made perfect sense. He had no idea where he would run to, or what he would do if he did escape.

Nor even where he was, right then.

Konstantin just wanted answers.

They settled into the warehouse's interior, Ayize indicating for him to sit on one of several foldout chairs. There were signs that the place had been used as a temporary base before by the same people. There were bedrolls, a few small packing crates and miscellaneous gear lying about on the makeshift benches in one corner of the building, and a couple more doubling as table-space. Some of the gear were electronics, some were weaponry parts, some were just tools or even cooking implements. This only took up a corner, the rest of the interior being bare and empty. The remaining space was dotted with column supports and electrical cabling, hanging uselessly from the ceiling. It had probably been abandoned for a couple of decades, though Konstantin imagined this suited the current occupiers quite well.

Ayize dumped what he was carrying on the floor near some crates then plonked a parcel on the bench between them. He began to unwrap it to reveal several containers filled with food and spread them over the surface.

"Lindani was good enough to grab takeaways before he and the others left. Eat to your heart's content. I am certainly going to." Ayize sat opposite, removing his headgear fully for the first time since their meeting, throwing it casually on the floor as he reached for the nearest container. "Hope you'll enjoy lahpet thohk and mohinga. Might be a little strange tasting for a first-timer on this rock."

The man was a middle-aged black African, with a scarred face that looked like it had seen the wrong end of a knife a few too many times. Once, he might have been handsome, but the disfiguring lines running across his face, the bridge of his nose, above his eyebrows, along his lower lip and chin, ruined what was left of any youthful attraction. His nose, which was just slightly crooked from being broken and reset incorrectly, bore the worst of it. He was a little shorter than Konstantin when standing and though he appeared battle-worn and wiry, his round dark face did not seem threatening. A permanent cheery smile kept up no matter what he did, tempering the tough image with a very easy-going country-bumpkin expression.

"Not to your liking?" Ayize's English was as practiced as any natural speaker, addressing him as the man plowed through his meal. The speech had a sort of rhythmic roundedness on the vowels and a slight flip of the r which fascinated Konstantin, sounding very exotic. Of course, he knew Earth had all of humanity's ethnic divisions, but he had never encountered any black Africans on Lucere. They had been uncommon on Aurum even before everything fell apart, preferring other colonies more culturally aligned with their own.

Konstantin had been eating his food slowly, trying to adjust to the style. "It's good," he told Ayize, truthfully, "but very different. I don't have much appetite right now. Not after ... after Yakutsk." He set the bowl down, the mohinga not enough to hold his attention, and frowned.

The other man did not address the comments he made, instead electing to change the topic. "Looks like you got an education on Lucere. You are quite well informed for someone who has lived in a place without modern luxuries."

"I had the best one could hope for." It was the truth, as few survivors got anything comparable.

Ayize shovelled a little more egg and fish into his mouth, chewed and then swallowed. For the first time he made direct prolonged eye contact as he lowered his own bowl onto the table, the same cheery grin present.

"Then you know about the Milanese Concordat?"

Oh! The Concordat!

"Yes, I know what it is. What it means."

The Milanese Concordat was the most significant legal document in human history. It dwarfed everything that came before, being the instrument by which the world's major powers had formed the global federation. It was a sacred artifact of democratic power and the cornerstone of governance, an inviolable foundation upon which everything rested.

Sitting back, Ayize wiped his hands. "There are three groups that are big in Earth's politics today. Three ideologies that bind many into three groups. One is powerless incompetence and stagnation. The second is greed and corruption. The last is a voice for freedom and security."

"Let me guess," Konstantin deadpanned, "you must be the third. Somehow I don't think this is the full truth."

"There is no truth, not in this world, inkosi. Just different versions of a lie." He smiled even more broadly, his eyes twinkling. "Mine is simply a more accurate falsehood than theirs."

"Then what is your version?"

Ayize extracted a toothpick and began to clean his teeth as he went on. "You want Earth in black-and-white pieces? Easy to digest?" He saw the ironic contrast to their exact present situation and snorted in amusement. "Well, this is what I'd say: the government is controlled by number one - loyalists. Loyal to liberal democracy. Loyal to the institutions of society. Loyal to the naive belief that if we all trust in the system and talk it out, the Earth will be a bed of roses."

"Wait," the Russian interjected. "What's so bad about that? Democratic government is what the Concordat is all about. It worked on Lucere. It worked on every other colony. It was working on Earth. What happened?!"

"Ah, come on inkosi." Low and goading. "You know what it was."

"What do y-"

"The Sharpe virus happened."

Oh.

Konstantin shook his head. "I cannot understand how this world survived. For so long there was the fear that nowhere was left outside of Lucere, including Earth. That all hope was gone."

"They tried once, and only once, in 2104. We blew the scout away as soon as it appeared in orbit, trying to sneak in. They never sent anything more. No one knows why."

An alien ship?!

Ayize went on. "After that, people were afraid. Very afraid, because hearing reports of this disease on every other world is one thing, but having malicious evidence of it here, so close to home? Nothing was the same. Laws were changed. There was turmoil for years after that. It was a crisis threatening everyone and when there is that much fear, those in charge will do anything to ensure survival. Out of desperation and fearing economic collapse, emergency powers granted the giant companies of the private sector a stake in the democratic process. This was permitted even after the Concordat's promise of individual integrity, of electoral purity. They never gave that stake up, and now they have tied themselves to it. Their share has grown and it's wedged into the hierarchy. It cannot be removed. They bought into so much of the political system that they are now relied upon, like a parasite that will kill the host if it is removed."

"The ... private sector?"

"Yes." He placed the toothpick on the table. "That's where the greed and corruption comes from. Corporatists. Money matters. The corporate body matters, because it will provide. Venerate them, honour them. Let the bosses speak for you. Let them vote for you." Ayize stopped talking and for the first time his happy visage paused and a contemptuous one stepped in as he picked up again. "They are a viper poisoning the government to death, pulling it apart piece by piece. Yes, if you want black-and-white, Mr Konstantin, it is the loyalists doing nothing but keeping things the same and the corporatists doing everything to undermine the Concordat. This is Earth as it has been for a long time. This is Earth as it is today."

The information was depressing. If Ayize was to be believed, the ideological struggle was a long slow process. The subversion of Earth's democracy that was taking place even as they talked had apparently begun as a direct result of the virus itself, in the wake of the events of 2104.

"Then who are you?"

"The third party." Ayize grinned again. "We are realists. The ones who believe we can have the free world that the Concordat imagined; one that is not paralysed by manipulative laws and indecision or enslaved to merchant princes. This will not happen though, not until the fear is gone. It is the pragmatic side of things. The enemy out there in the stars has to be found and defeated first ... through force." He nodded his head to Konstantin. "So you see, inkosi, that is my version of the universal falsehood."

"And what would the others say of you?"

"The government loyalists, the Society, would call us separatist agitators and extremists. The corporatists would label us dangerous rogues and terrorists. They both do it constantly through all the media they control. Propaganda. Minimise the enemy. Make him a foe of the common people. Make him nothing."

"Are you?" Konstantin asked. "Terrorists and extremists?"

"The Brotherhood of Man is committed and strong-willed, but we aren't terrorists. Some very hardline groups identify with us, seeing realism as a revolutionary ideal, but they are not us. The propaganda does its best to lump us all together, including the worst elements. Right now, we are being blamed explicitly for Yakutsk by every mainstream politician. There are plenty of different organisations, parties, pointing fingers but you can guarantee all of them will be joined to one of the two other camps privately if not publicly. Less than ten percent of politics is not following a bigger cause. " Ayize's next look was almost sympathetic. "I am sorry, but this is how the world is. Nine tenths segregated."

The Russian took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. There was so much to consider, so much to believe. The federal government of Earth could not really be so riddled with internal problems, so fractured by opposing views that this was how things were? The Sharpe aliens were out there, Shay and Mira were unaccounted for and all that was happening here and now was because of ... fucking politics.

It was insane.

God's plan would have to be an impressive one to get them all out of this.

"Okay," he said softly, "so this is not as good as I had hoped. You speak of solutions through force. Tell me then, what of Earth's military? Why has nothing happened for so long?"

The African looked surprised. "The military? That's a topic of its own."

Before Konstantin could think any more, from right next to them came the sound of someone clearing their throat.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Apparently it was unseasonably warm this time of year, though Lucas wouldn't have known. There had been no rain in a full three days, which was supposed to be rare even during October. Still, despite the humidity, he had taken the opportunity to explore Kandawgyi, both the lake and park, and to enjoy the aquarium and amusement park in the zoo gardens.

As he disembarked the commuter train and began to wander through Pazundaung to his hotel, Lucas admitted to himself that he quite liked Yangon. Though the city was underdeveloped by international standards, it still had plenty of modernity. Yet, there were a lot of parts where time seemed to have passed things by, relics from the centuries-gone British colonialism and older Burmese culture. It was charming and very appealing, and it definitely made him want to explore this part of Asia more.

Stopping to watch the lights on the Maha Bandula for a minute, his appreciation was interrupted by a commotion up the street. Lucas stared, his eyes narrowing. A holding van had pulled up opposite a house and a number of uniformed security were in action, hustling the inhabitants out to the front. The captives were being interrogated in the open and the security did not even hesitate when they didn't get answers they liked, beginning to beat them. All of this was directly in his path, though Lucas did not deviate as he strolled onwards, hands in pockets, bag slung over his shoulder.

The men wore the distinctive dark blue and cream-trimmed livery of CorpSec agents. If Lucas had allowed himself to ignore his training and show his complete disdain for them as he passed, he would have. He was far better than that though, even as the nearest two agents started watching him approach along the sidewalk. They had seen his own off-duty dress and did not dare to stop him or say a word as he passed.

Lucas walked on, not tempting anything by looking at the scene. Behind him he could hear the CS agents dragging their captives into the van, the doors slamming shut. Part of him had wanted them to try something, yearned for them to make an issue out of the fact he just happened to be walking by. Sadly, he knew they wouldn't. Just as he wouldn't do anything either, because ... he couldn't.

The rules were still the rules, and CS were still fucking corporatist assholes.

Some things didn't change.

He really hated them. He didn't know what they were doing here, though. It was very odd to see them in Yangon now. It could have been something to do with the shit-storm that had erupted over the Yakutsk affair. Lucas had half-expected his leave to be cancelled because of it, but nothing had come through. Still, he hadn't thought this place was known for any real criminal Brotherhood or LEF elements. What the hell did CS want in Myanmar? Granted, it wasn't particularly corp-happy, that was true, but that was hardly enough for them to do their usual raiding bullshit. Just that he thought they'd always been hitting places across Indonesia and in Vietnam. Not here.

Lucas only realised he was heading along the wrong road when he saw the empty estate to his left. Swearing, he glanced around, making sure no one was watching and vaulted over the low fence. He wasn't walking all the way around this damn place, as the grounds were huge and he would practically triple the distance back. A shortcut would have to do it.

The streetlights began to fade out as he wandered between the old factory buildings, the abandoned shapes being all the more forbidding in the dark. A sheen of sweat dried on his face as his skin cooled a little, and he continued to wonder about those CS bastards. Come to think of it, he had seen more of them than expected in the downtown earlier during the day. He paid no attention to them at the time. It was just one of those things, no matter what part of the world you were in. Lucas couldn't help thinking that something was going on. Maybe it was-

Voices?!

He froze.

There were people here?

For a second he thought it was Burmese squatters or delinquent kids messing around after hours, but then he realised: they were speaking English. It was coming from inside the nearby building, faint but audible.

What?!

Lucas sidled cautiously up to the warehouse secondary entrance. The door was slightly ajar, and he pushed it carefully open, enough to admit him, and slipped inside. The voices were louder now and he could make out conversation down the other end of the building. Approaching along the blind area, shielded by the column supports, he came to within view of the participants.

Once more, he froze.

On one side of the table was Ayize Mthembu, a Brotherhood perpetrator and leading suspect in the destruction of Yakutsk, and on the other was ... a man who was meant to be dead, that all the news said was murdered along with half a million Yakutian Russians.

A man who was not born on Earth.

Mother of mercy ...

Without thinking, Lucas drew his sidearm and stepped forward, clearing his throat.

-o-0-O-0-o-

"Show your hands!"

The moment he heard the voice, Ayize snatched up the TMP next to his camo, and was pointing it right at the other man. Konstantin was motionless, the interloper with his gun aimed squarely at the African.

"Sorry." Ayize was still unfailingly cheerful even as he and the other man pointed guns at each other. The aggressor wore what looked like to Konstantin a variation on the federal military uniform, though he did not know for sure what service it was from. "Got to keep myself armed. Never know who might point a barrel at you these days, right?"

"You are Mthembu," the man spat, "and now I know what they're all after. Holy shit, you're hiding in an empty warehouse in fuckin' Yangon, of all places ... with him!" He paused gripping the gun tighter as he pointed it at Ayize, shaking his head in disbelief. "Just about everyone has implicated you, or Monsanto or Bashir in blowing up an entire goddamn city. I should shoot you right now."

"Wrong again, inkosi." Ayize did a little headshake of his own. "You have your own rules and I know them. Don't get excited either, because the Brotherhood didn't use any nukes. Someone is setting us up. Some loyalist scumbag who wants to stop all the dissent against Society. Russia never was the friendliest place for them."

"No." The other gave a vehement response, his gaze hard. "No, don't even try that deceptive shit. The exec. doesn't have anything in that whole region, and they can't arm them anyway. I would know. It's part of my job," he sneered. "It's not Society, nor any fuckin' committee nor the senate. It's nothing to do with the government. That bomb was at least 100 kilotons. It has to be people who are organised."

Ayize glanced at Konstantin, his dark eyes focusing, trying to figure this out. Then back to the other man. "Then tell me why I would rescue him if I were responsible? Tell me why the other two from Lucere were moved from Yakutsk hours before the blast? Why would I want to kill him but keep two children alive, if I were doing this?"

On those questions, something in Konstantin's mind suddenly clicked into place. Why keep them alive? It was obvious. Someone else knew about the quantum technology in their bodies. Someone wanted that tech. It was too valuable to simply vapourise.

Aqumi.

No one was going to kill Shay or Mira.

The nuke had been meant for him.

"Because they were trying to kill me." Both of them looked to him in surprise, not expecting him to join this exchange. "Because that ... bomb ... was meant to destroy any trace of my existence. Because I am expendable and I know too much about those boys, too much about everything else."

"Then who destroyed Yakutsk?"

Konstantin spoke again. "It can't be anything to do with the military or the government. Both had plenty of chances to get rid of me before I even reached Earth. Ayize saved me from that place, so it isn't his lot. It looks to me like one of your, uh - corporatist was it? Yes, corporatist friends decided to just wipe out an unfriendly city with me inside it and make it look like the nearest 'terrorist' group did it. At the same time they kidnap my sons and take them ... wherever they are now. Kill several birds with one stone."

Both continued to stare at him.

Neither said a word.

"Please," Konstantin continued, addressing the military officer, "you need to let Ayize go. He's the only one who has told me anything about finding those two boys. I can't speak for his past, but he hasn't committed a crime here. Not today. No one needs to be shot."

There was a long, intense moment as neither seemed willing to back down, and then grudgingly, the man lowered his pistol and holstered it. Ayize did the same a second later, placing the TMP back where he retrieved it from.

"Do you know where they are?"

Ayize nodded. "We had contacts who smuggled trackers onto them while they were still in Siberia. We just weren't expecting them to be snatched before everything went to hell." He looked at Konstantin. "What makes them so much more important than you?"

The Russian drew in a big breath and for the first time in a while, smiled broadly. This whole place was as full of lunacy as Lucere had been. He couldn't let it beat him down for long, so the only option was to smile and take what came as best he could. "If you knew what they experienced on Lucere ... there's too much to say. Believe me when I say they are important. Both of them, but especially the smaller dark-haired one. His name is Shay. He is priceless."

The military officer spoke up again. "If you're going to retrieve them, then I'm imposing conditions on this. You can't take him," he nodded to Konstantin, "with you. You get caught by CorpSec or the federal police or even the regional cops, it's game up. There are a lot of them about, because the hornet's nest was kicked."

Ayize looked at him, grinning once more but with a very forceful stare that meant business. Then he softened. "That's a fair price for not shooting each other, and he will be much safer. I'm not completely happy, but better that we walk out of this not-enemies, eh, inkosi? He's all yours now, Mr. ...?"

"Thessaloniki. Call me Nikko. Everyone does."

"Right. Nikko." He said it slowly, but the grin grew even wider. "Well, my unit went ahead to set things up before I arrived. I owed Konstantin an explanation for Yakutsk, that is why we are here alone. Now you both know. I am no saint and I've done dirty things for my noble cause, but I'm not the kind of crazy to blow up thousands of people in one go."

The last statement made Konstantin wonder what kind of crazy Ayize professed to be, if not the genocidal kind. It probably was best not to ask, so instead, he offered the man a piece of advice.

"When you find Shay and the other boy, Mira, please remember this: do NOT come between them. I cannot tell you how important this is. Whatever you do, don't try to keep them apart. At all."

"Really?" The African looked at him curiously. "Why is that? Aren't they children?"

"They are fifteen years old, but please ... trust me. You don't want to do that."

"Where were they abducted to anyway?" Nikko asked.

"The last tracker reading was in a little place in the Outback," Ayize replied. "They were taken to Australia."

Just whose eyes is Yugan looking through ... and where? Could that be Earth? Another human colony? A completely new alien world?!?
There are many possibilities!
So, for this chapter, I have a random(ish) non-sequitur question for you, the readers, and I am dead serious when I ask this:
How tall do you think Mira is?
Yes, this is completely serious ^_^ Think on it, then let me know! If someone would also like to help knotme out and join the discussion with an opinion, that would be great. Please don't leave him hanging.
If you loved this chapter, please give me a review or a like ... or even both! Also, if you're a regular reader, don't forget to follow.
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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Damned Earth politics! Money and power. Of course people haven't changed a bit.

Konstantin must feel like he's just been tossed into a mosh pit. At least he's alive

and the boys are safe. Now to get them back together.

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Reading this I couldn't help making some comparisons to the TV show "Continuum", corporations take of the world and no one seems to care, except for a "radical" group. I am really waiting for Shay and Mira to return and see where all this alien dream stuff is heading.

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Well there is hope at last... that I will read about Shay and Mira in the next chapter. :D Great chapter though! I am also really looking forward to Yugan... Hey, will he also end up in a romantical relationship? That gives the inter-racial a whole new meaning. :D

 

Anyway, I really hope that we will finally read about Mira and Shay in the next chapter, and I hope that nothing bad will happen to them. :S You're a great writer! :)

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On 12/16/2013 02:09 AM, Stephen said:
Damned Earth politics! Money and power. Of course people haven't changed a bit.

Konstantin must feel like he's just been tossed into a mosh pit. At least he's alive

and the boys are safe. Now to get them back together.

Politics never really changes, does it? Just like human nature. That same old crap.

 

Bare in mind, he is taking Ayize at face value. The man could be trouble as far as Konstantin is aware, though at this point he has no clearer option and is willing to just go with it if there is a chance.

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On 12/16/2013 06:56 AM, codeman6100 said:
Reading this I couldn't help making some comparisons to the TV show "Continuum", corporations take of the world and no one seems to care, except for a "radical" group. I am really waiting for Shay and Mira to return and see where all this alien dream stuff is heading.
Haha! Continuum! I know of it, but I haven't really watched it. Well, in this scenario there aren't really any innocent parties out of the three major ideological forces. Everyone is pushing in different directions.

 

Shay and Mira are getting closer to appearing. I know readers are getting antsy about it, but I still caution patience. You'll see them at the right time, I promise you!

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On 12/16/2013 10:02 AM, Sammy Blue said:
Well there is hope at last... that I will read about Shay and Mira in the next chapter. :D Great chapter though! I am also really looking forward to Yugan... Hey, will he also end up in a romantical relationship? That gives the inter-racial a whole new meaning. :D

 

Anyway, I really hope that we will finally read about Mira and Shay in the next chapter, and I hope that nothing bad will happen to them. :S You're a great writer! :)

While I can't promise any interspecies loving going on (the Mishith really do NOT swing that way), what I can promise is that you are going to see them *soon*. Will that mean the very next chapter? Maybe, maybe not! The plot needs to reach the correct point before they can appear, but I do believe you will enjoy the results ^_^
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So much information, new characters and still no boys!!! awwww come on!!!!

Politics..the bane of human existence. If only we could find a way to get rid of it. Such an evil institution. and if you think corporate greed isn't political well I've got the Hope diamond to sell for $1.00

I think that Yugan is seeing through Mira's eyes. Or Shay's. Or.... who knows..you'll tell us...eventually. right?? haha. So Konstantin is going with the new guy? Who's going to find the boys? Australia?.... ok.

Mira's 6 ft. Shay's shorter. Why'd you want us to guess? You told us in Hidden Sunlight that he was hung like a porn star. Didn't you? So I figure he needs to of be a proportional height. Just saying.

On to Chapter 4.....

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On 12/18/2013 01:52 PM, LadyDe said:
So much information, new characters and still no boys!!! awwww come on!!!!

Politics..the bane of human existence. If only we could find a way to get rid of it. Such an evil institution. and if you think corporate greed isn't political well I've got the Hope diamond to sell for $1.00

I think that Yugan is seeing through Mira's eyes. Or Shay's. Or.... who knows..you'll tell us...eventually. right?? haha. So Konstantin is going with the new guy? Who's going to find the boys? Australia?.... ok.

Mira's 6 ft. Shay's shorter. Why'd you want us to guess? You told us in Hidden Sunlight that he was hung like a porn star. Didn't you? So I figure he needs to of be a proportional height. Just saying.

On to Chapter 4.....

Everyone wants to know about our beloved young heroes and all I can do is repeat the mantra: patience! You'll be rewarded! I cannot jump to their circumstances early or the buildup will be ruined :)

 

I imagine Konstantin feels like a football that's being kicked around the pitch right about now. He's living in the moment until he can find some stable ground. Lucas 'Nikko' Thessaloniki rightly views him as a valuable person because he is one of only THREE people in recorded history to have returned from a ruined infested world only for the Yakutsk incident to happen. Nikko doesn't want to place all the eggs in one basket by letting Konstantin travel with Ayize and his merry men who are pursuing Shay and Mira's abductors.

 

All I will say at this point about Yugan's role is that it will be *much* better understood after chapter 4.

 

Uh, and, as for Mira's height! :lol: Check out my response to the Veil of Shadow thread (the link is in the end notes for chapter 3) where I have elaborated a little on my reasons for the question. While I did say that Mira was uh, "Significantly-Larger-Than-Average but slightly less than Porn-Star-Ridiculous" I believe the phrase was, it's been my (somewhat limited) experience that tall skinny guys are often built that way! So maybe there's some truth to your speculation ;)

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Yay, politics! :P with some geo-strategic elements. That is a good recipe for me.

And I love the way you're slowly defining Yugan's character too.

How do you enjoy writing from a non-Shay/Mira perspective?

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On 12/31/2013 04:42 AM, Bleu said:
Yay, politics! :P with some geo-strategic elements. That is a good recipe for me.

And I love the way you're slowly defining Yugan's character too.

How do you enjoy writing from a non-Shay/Mira perspective?

Certain areas of Earth are definitely pre-disposed to supporting a particular ideology. It won't just be the same approximate population-split in views wherever you go!

 

Yugan is plenty important, though the progression of a non-human alien personality is interesting to write. As an author and a human, there are some elements of our perception that are difficult to jump beyond when embracing that character development. Seeing from the POV of someone who is physically and culturally different from us involves some changing of the mindframe.

 

I do enjoy writing the other characters, but I am very much missing Shay's first person at this stage. Everyone is asking for it too! So I guess we are all a little eager for it at this point.

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Hmmm, you tried to kill him, Last chapter I'm not talking to you know. ;). I'll let you off though. Konstantin has his work cut out, it's a big world and the boys are in it. It's not friendly, it's not pleasant. So like present day.

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On 01/15/2014 10:19 AM, Kiltie69 said:
Hmmm, you tried to kill him, Last chapter I'm not talking to you know. ;). I'll let you off though. Konstantin has his work cut out, it's a big world and the boys are in it. It's not friendly, it's not pleasant. So like present day.
I don't 'kill' my characters. They simply die if it happens and live if they live. Though, certain individuals are protected due to my own personal Law of Awesome.
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Politics and power? This is rather hard to follow sometimes as I am still inthe FIRST story mindset. :)
Don't keep us in suspence for TOO long, I want the 3 musketeers to be back together. :)

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On 11/30/2015 12:42 AM, Ashdaw said:

Politics and power? This is rather hard to follow sometimes as I am still inthe FIRST story mindset. :)

Don't keep us in suspence for TOO long, I want the 3 musketeers to be back together. :)

I am sorry to say that the second book has a heavy dose of politics in certain parts of it, so there is unfortunately not much avoiding it. Hopefully it will not spoil your understanding and enjoyment of the story, but it is wound together tightly with the plot and cannot be removed.

 

However! There are multiple plot arcs taking place, so there is more to learn about that just the machinations happening on Earth. Shay and Mira will make an appearance, but not straight away.

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I love how you presented the political climate. Made it more realistic. Lots of questions so far, but I know it'll get answered eventually.

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On 07/08/2016 03:07 AM, Shaylan said:

I love how you presented the political climate. Made it more realistic. Lots of questions so far, but I know it'll get answered eventually.

The representation of politics is something of a work in progress.

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Such a dark world so much pain and well there was the nuke. To kill one man and that was so darn sloppy and but there was a great goal and I feel we have only seen a bit of it. Konstantin a pawn in a much larger game, a game of life and death! Earth politics at its finest so ugly, and me just hope to catch up to the boys!

Great store!:thankyou:

 

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Phantastin thought of doom: "It was a conclave of lines, a very definite point where the paths converged. They narrowed until every plausible chance, every smallest possibility, had to pass through this single point. Even with the greatest strength and the best fortune, the wayward strands of this creature's life always ran through that place, that same bottleneck in the future." That is so scary. What every you do, what ever route you take, despite of all endeavours, all paths lead through that one bottleneck: death.

Congratulations, great plot!

Again a breathtaking chapter. Can't stop reading...

 

 

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9 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

Phantastin thought of doom: "It was a conclave of lines, a very definite point where the paths converged. They narrowed until every plausible chance, every smallest possibility, had to pass through this single point. Even with the greatest strength and the best fortune, the wayward strands of this creature's life always ran through that place, that same bottleneck in the future." That is so scary. What every you do, what ever route you take, despite of all endeavours, all paths lead through that one bottleneck: death.

Congratulations, great plot!

Again a breathtaking chapter. Can't stop reading..

Ah yes -- Yugan is seeing something very dire in the future of this alien he's connected to. The question is if he's done anything to avert or warn about that bottleneck.

Thanks for reading! I love that you're enjoying it.

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