Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 55

Nemesis By Marlon Sean Hollis

Chapter One Captain Roland Derek hated leaving his ship, the Valorus, beached on Airth. He wanted to get her back into space alone with him, where she belonged. The Airthan Star Fleet maintained two major docks on Airth, the home planet of the Airthan Federation, the Habak Fleet Base at the Lux City spaceport, and its auxiliary facility in geosynchronous orbit above the city. Rolands artificially intelligent shuttle rounded the mammoth Sodexu Ki Building, giving him a grand view of the base and its dozen gigantic berths filled with ships of the Home Fleet. The Valorus had a heart, which came from its command artificial intelligence, Sura. It was his secret that Roland had asked the tech charged with overseeing the inception of the Valorus AI to illegally use his dead wifes brain and personality to construct Suras mind. As Christina Roland herself was a force to be reckoned with when danger arose to threaten her family, Sura proved every bit as fierce over the years. With 182 millimeters of armor, ninety-two gun batteries, and sixteen missile pods she was a 76-meter shark. The pilot guided his shuttle into the Valorus cavernous landing bay and set down. Roland waited for the pilot to complete its shutdown. A moment later, the hatch hissed, opened out a few millimeters, and then slid up out of the way.

Thank you, said Roland, unbuckling, and lifting up out of his seat. Youre welcome, sir, said the AI. Welcome aboard, captain, said a female voice. The voice sounded as though the person was only millimeters from his right ear. You look rested, sir. Booze and women, Sura, does the trick every time. He chuckled. He looked around the flight deck as robots scurried about performing their myriad duties. Thats not likely. Glasses of wine or bottles of beer yes, but a book, and an early bed alone is more your fare. Dont forget, I know you. The ship is ready to go, said Sura. I have your breakfast ready if your hungry. Just orange juice, said Roland. We have interesting orders, said Sura. I am to brief you in your in-port cabin in twenty minutes. * * Roland entered his rather spacious in-port cabin, unbuttoned his top button, and sat down at his large desk. Without crew living space, Fleet ships could provide ship captains with commodious living quarters. Roland reached for a container of orange juice and opened it. A 91-centimeter large holographic image of a planet appeared above the table. Planet 8461, said Sura. Its outside civilized space, a green planet with large oceans. The last survey probe to scan this area thirty years ago reported no

intelligent life whatsoever on 8461. Two weeks ago, the Science Foundations sensors started picking up unusual quantum activity emanating from this planet. There were particles no one has ever seen before. It was like some new type of sun appeared in the sky shining forth some new type of light. It may mean the discovery of a new type of power source, or a new means of faster than light travel. It cannot be ignored. With the current tensions, the Fleet is sending us first to make sure this isnt some kind of Endaran trap. Once we give the all clear, the Science Foundation will send a research ship to investigate the phenomenon. We are on the brink of war with the Endarans and Command wants me to babysit this planet? said Roland. Captain, with respect, this discovery could give us an important military edge, said Sura. Roland took a swig of juice and sighed. Okay, Okay, he said, soberly. We launch in one hour.

Chapter Two Bobby exited his burning house. Todd told him that the fire would not harm him, and he was right. But when had his best friend ever lied to him? He was free, just like Todd said he would be. The whore, his mother, and her abusive boyfriend got what they deserved. Just like Todd said. Todd had made him powerful. He gave him the strength to hold her and her boyfriend on their bed, as he ignited the gas flowing from the stove with just a thought. The two cops who showed up at the fiery wreck of his former home stared incredulously at him as he emerged from the flames unharmed. They exited their patrol car and approached him. Hey, kid, said the first officer. Are you are okay? What happened? asked the second officer. Whats your name, son? asked the first officer. Bobby smiled. How interesting, he thought, theyre afraid! Todd whispered to him, Get rid of them. Bobby waved his right hand. My name is Robert Stone, he announced. In one fluid motion, the first officer took his firearm and shot his partner in the head, then placed the muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Bobby Stone stepped over the first officers body, and into the night. Todd told him there were a lot of enemies to deal with. His drunken mother and her angry boyfriend were just the start. * * The High King had called all of his sons to court. Thomas glowed in his finest, brightest linen. He wore a transparent gold belt and an onyx colored sash studded with jewels. There seemed to be no end to the Golden Halls capacity as thousands, millions, and billions poured in. Beside Thomas stood his friend Peter, shimmering like a white-hot flame. At the far end of the hall, the High King shone brighter than any star Thomas could remember. He and Peter stood near the entrance of the hall. The throne was surrounded by four tremendous, winged beings with exquisitely beautiful human faces. Thomas! said one of the winged beings, flying from the throne and hovering above them. You and Peter come nearer; there are places for you both up there. Thomas and Peter walked through the crowd, which parted to let them pass. There were eight seats, four on each side of the throne. Upon seven of them, sat men and women, of varied hues and appearance, but all magnificent specimens of human beauty. The winged creature directed Peter to the front of the assembly, but he took Thomas to the one empty seat on the right.

When Thomas had taken his seat, the High King said in a quiet voice, I am sending a storm. I am about to shut the door, and enact my sentence. Yet, there is hope, for I will raise up for myself witnesses. On account of them the world will grow darker still. I will send them helpers in the beginning. Who shall I send? No one hesitated to raise a hand, but the High King looked at Thomas. Thomas, I have prepared all that you need, said the High King. Take Peter with you. Yes, your grace, said Thomas leaving his seat and genuflecting before the throne. As Thomas stood back up, he heard a murmur among the assembly behind him. The creatures parted for another winged human-looking being. He walked with grace and poise. Attached to his statuesque body, his pearlescent wings appeared as though they were each carved from huge diamond blocks. Immediately, Thomas noticed every one else in the hall, save the High King, seemed dull and homely compared to this person. However, Thomas noticed the assembly gave the creature a wide berth they gazed upon him solemnly, whispering. Peter came up to Thomas, and whispered to him, Druin, the enemy. Where have you come from? asked the High King. Druin waved a hand. Oh, you know me. Here and there, he said derisively.

Since you are here, consider your final end, said the High King. You were cast out of here long ago, but you will soon be in hades at the conclusion of what I am about to do. Not so fast, said Druin. You wont be able to save even one of them, let alone three or more. They wont follow you. They know, as I do, that we dont need you, and that we can live free. They know that truth is what we want it to be. Let me prove it. You may do what you have planned, said the High King. Very well then, said Druin. He turned around and walked out of the Golden Hall. Peter said to Thomas, grimly, We should get going. We have a lot to do.

Chapter Three Allia Shurie left Basalyne five years ago. It sometimes seemed longer though. Taking in deep breaths of aromatic incense wafting from the temples, the memory of happy days caressed her mind. She spent her youth learning the tenets of Yictau from the venerable Sachas Mov, a wizened woman of the Nobery Order. From this planet, rose the first interstellar civilization in the Asi universe. Every faith in the Asi universe, except one, traced its roots back to this planet. If the planet Airth, capital of the mighty Airthan Federation, was the universes will enacted, Basalyne was its ancient heart. To Allia, Baslyene was like a mother who welcomed her home. Her breaths grew shaky. Sadness gripped her heart. She had a tale to tell. It would not end happily for the people in the one thousand meter tall temples banking her as she walked down the ancient cobblestone streets. Ahead, Allias old temple, the Yictau Temple of the Night, towered several hundred meters high. The followers of Yictau venerated the star god and not divine creatures, and thus the Temple of the Night was a giant, black, reflective tower that rose to meet the sky. She stood before two seventeen-meter tall metal doors, and placed her hand on the cool black stone. Allia hoped the DNA scanner would still let her in. The doors creaked open as their massive weight swung on their hinges. Inside, a forest of six-meter tall amethyst stones filled a mammoth antechamber. Glowing amethyst stones on seven huge chandeliers, two meters in circumference, cast a purple hue about the antechamber. Inlaid luminescent diamonds studded the

black stone ceiling like an indoor night sky. Allia walked in and the doors closed behind her, their creaking echo resounding throughout the chamber. A bent old woman in a dark blue cloak stood at the center of the antechamber, watching her as she approached. Allia knelt down and kissed her hand. Sachas Mov. Sachas Mov placed her mottled hand on Allias head. You cannot enter the temple. We sent you away because we had hoped that you would come to your senses, she said. "Yet, I can tell from your demeanor that you haven't. You look more determined than ever." Allia looked up into her wrinkled face. Five years ago, the one true lord, the High King, sent his servants to me. One had the appearance of a man, the other like a boy. They told me that he was going judge us for our disbelief, for turning to other gods, and for following the way of Druin. He said he was going to do mighty things and that he will bring down strongholds. He said that he would preserve a people for himself. "I see you continue to speak heresy," said Sachas Mov. Yictau is also called the laughing god because of the High Kings foolishness in declaring that he was the only god. You too are foolish to come back here. I must now report you to the authorities. You will be a fugitive." "I came back for two reasons," said Allia. "To pass on this message from the High King: Basalyne, you are a nest of vipers, you are the den of everything

abominable. He who orchestrates the stars in their courses, who tells them when to live and when to die, will rain them down upon you. You, who drinks the blood of my people, will burn and be no more." Allia turned to leave. "You said you came back for two reasons," said Sachas Mov. "Yes, said Allia as she continued walking towards the door. I'm going to get a cup of tea from my favorite tea house before it is gone. * * Robert Stone opened his eyes. The fog over his mind lifted. The lid of his sleeping pod opened. Someone was here! Get up, my boy, said a familiar voice. I have some presents for you. What is it, Todd? he asked. Come see. Robert stumbled out of the pod. He was naked, and covered in some thick, whitish substance. His weak legs collapsed under his weight. Someone helped him on to his feet. It was someone in a kind of bioprotection suit. He could barely see a face, but a female voice broadcast from a speaker on her helmet. She said that, he was: all right, and that he was safe now.

Well now, this was delicious, he thought. Such courage and compassion. It almost was a shame I am Dr. Louise Fletcher, said the suited woman. We think that youve been asleep for about 500 years. We are archeologists investigating the fall of the Dozan Empire, specifically the alleged disappearance of its ruler, Robert the Great. It is believed that he committed suicide as Allied forces approached. No body was found, however. We were hoping you could help us. So we revived you. Robert looked around the room. Two other suited individuals watched him. One looked to be the size of a man, the other either a small man or another woman. He couldnt see their faces, but he could sense their bodies, their heartbeats echoing in his head. Robert the Great? he asked. The greatest mass murderer in history, said the big suited person, aiming a pistol at him. He was male. During his ten year reign, he murdered billions. He launched a terrible war of conquest. Hundreds of millions alone died in the war to stop him. He was also believed to be insane. Jon! said Dr. Fletcher. No! Robert chuckled. Its alright, Dr. Fetcher, he said. Hes just going with his instincts. I like that. Tell me, what else is said about me? That hes Druin incarnate, the son of the devil, said the man, cocking his pistol.

Robert stretched out his right hand, and the pistol flew out of Jons hand and into Roberts hand. No doubt the stories are true, said Robert. He shot Jon. The other woman shrieked and tried to exit the chamber. Robert waved at the chamber exit, and the metal door dropped shut before her. She lifted about one-meter off the floor. Robert snickered as she hung helplessly. He proceeded to break her every limb one by one, starting with her left arm, then her left leg, then her right left, and finally her right arm. She howled in pain before finally passing out with the break of her right arm. Robert looked at Louise Fletcher, her face contorted with horror. Now, I need you to brief me on everything Ive missed these past 500 years. Rachel! cried Louise. Robert twisted Rachels head and broke her neck.

Chapter Four Captain, weve arrived at Planet 8461, said Sura. Since the bridge was inside an armored bunker deep inside the ship, the only visual means Roland had to confirm Suras report was a one-meter large holographic image of the blue-green planet. Of course, she controlled that as well. I am not picking up human life, said Sura. My radar, and sonic probes detect the buried foundations of numerous settlements. There are no remaining structuresexcept Except what? asked Roland, looking away from the holographic image in the direction of Suras voice. Sometimes he still forgot that her voice really was inside his head. A settlement, said Sura, surprised. I am now holding a geo-stationary orbit. Its on the continent northwest of our current position. Any intelligent life? I am picking up a large variety of life, said Sura. Just not human. Though current exploration has yet to discover sentient alien life, the Science Foundation still maintains the high probability of sentient non-human life somewhere in the galaxy. Roland rubbed his forehead and sighed. Yes, no, maybe? Sura paused for a long moment. No.

Have you located the source of the unusual particles? Do you detect any Endaran technology in the area? Yes, I have located the source of the emissions, they emanate from the settlement, said Sura. And, no, I see no evidence of Endaran fleet forces in the area. Well stay for forty-eight hours just to be sure, said Roland. Then head home and assure Fleet that this is not an Endaran trap. Captain, I am receiving a radio transmission from the planet, said Sura. From the settlement. I thought you said there wasnt any Endaran technology in the area? This is not Endaran, said Sura. It is a text message addressed to you. How is that possible? Roland stared at the blinking light on the holographic planet, which indicated the source of the transmission. What does it say? It says: Roland Derek, please come. We are waiting, said Sura. Roland sat down in his command seat, which actually was the only chair in the room. He sometimes re-litigated his career choice in the Star Fleet and wondered what it would have been like to serve on a Science Foundation ship and to explore the unknown. Star Fleet ships normally patrolled major shipping lanes, and other strategically important areas, and rarely encountered such strange events

such as these. Could he be making first contact with a sentient alien life? It would make quite a report to Fleet Command. He would make admiral. Prepare a shuttle, Im heading down to the planet. What if you do not return? If I am not back in 24-hours, return home and report to Fleet. Yes, sir. * * Roland found himself walking down a main street lined with primitive wooden row houses, tightly packed against each other. According to Sura it was late afternoon but the overcast sky gave him little light. He turned to view his shuttle 90-meters behind him in a small market square; its sleek lines and open hatch gently reassuring him. Facing forward, he heard moving water to his right. He found a cross street heading in the direction of the sound. Soon giant wooden structures, like warehouses, replaced the houses. They lined a wide river. Each warehouse-like building dipped several large water wheels into it. The slats on most were broken, but a few wheels were intact enough to still turn slowly. The water babbled and whispered. Ro---land, said a voice from the rushes. Times up! Roland turned and ran back to the main road. When he reached the intersection, he stopped to catch his breath. Comms, connect to Sura, he ordered.

I am here, said Sura. Are you sure I am alone down here? A pause. Too long, he thought. Yes, I. The signal cut out. Comms, connect, said Roland. He could hear the beeps and blips of his cranial implant attempting to reconnect to the Valorus. Music wafted from down the main road. A stringed instrument played a slow, mournful tune. The music gripped him, and he began to cry as its intricate beauty burst his heart. Memories of his dead wife and father filled his mind. He longed to be where the music was. He walked down the main street towards it. The street ended in a large square in front of an old ornate, gothic stone building topped with a bell tower. In the middle of the square was a tall oak tree. The music ended. Roland approached the tree. He didnt notice that someone was among the branches until a boy dropped down in front of him. He looked to be about twelve or so. He was pale, with dark hair, and an infectious grin. It is such an honor to meet you, said the boy. Were you the one calling me from the water? asked Roland. No, said the boy. Of course, this place is full of memories. Youre bound to hear something.

What is this place? asked Roland. 1256 years ago it was called Honeyville, said the boy. I do remember the feeling of time. Honeyville feels like yesterday to me. Who are you? I am Thomas, said the boy, bowing. And I know who you are, Roland Derek. Are you saying youre over a thousand years old? asked Roland. Thomas chuckled. Twelve, twenty, a thousand, it means nothing to me anymore, he said. He turned slightly and gestured towards the tree behind him. But perhaps we should speak somewhere else. A white wooden door appeared in the thick trunk. How did you? Youre not human. Thomas walked towards the door and opened it. Roland could see nothing inside but blackness. Yes, I am, replied Thomas. Roland approached and Thomas took his hand. Dont be afraid. He followed Thomas through the door. * * Roland found himself on a small green hill. Looking around he surveyed a land of rolling verdant hills studded with all manner of colorful flora under a turquoise sky. There were many strange creatures of various shapes, colors, and

kinds that he had never seen nor heard of before. In the distance, hundreds of brilliant, winged human like creatures swirled in the blue sky, while hundreds more milled about hundreds of meters away. They all turned to observe him. There was something else strange. Wherever Thomas took him, it was full of light and color, yet there was no apparent source of the light. There was no sun or star. There was no sign of the doorway he had passed through behind him. They stood under the canopy of another oak tree. Thomas waved at the crowd of winged beings. They waved back. Roland gulped and haltingly raised his hand. Suddenly, one of the beings darted towards him so fast it seemed as though she just materialized in front of him. Is this him? she asked, excitedly. She was exquisitely beautiful. She made the digitally enhanced models they used to sell people stuff back home look downright homely. Like everything here, she glowed, but her underlying skin tone seemed to change with her emotions. Thomas laughed. Yes, this is him, Torial. Now, I need to speak with him. She paused and ran her sapphire eyes over Roland more closely. Yes, of course. After the creature returned to the crowd, Roland asked, Where am I? My house, said Thomas. Your house?

Where I live. Is this heaven? Do you believe? asked Thomas. He touched Roland on the hand. I have a gift for you. Roland expected some kind of energetic charge to pass from Thomas to him. Nothing happened. Yesit did, said Thomas. The spirit of the High King chooses its path; he goes here and there, and no one can predict on whom he will land. The High King? asked Roland. My wife believed in him. She still does, said Thomas. Are you saying my wife is here, now? asked Roland, earnestly. She is, said Thomas. May I see her? Did you know she prayed for you to follow the High King? She told me before she died, said Roland. Before her cancer took her, I didnt think about him much, but afterwardsI hated him. Thats not how I remember it, said Thomas. You really think your attitude changed before her death and afterwards?

How you remem? I was there when Alice died, said Thomas. You didnt see me, of course. I helped a friend of mine bring her home. She was special. Special? I am commanded to show you what is coming soon, said Thomas, sternly. A firestorm is coming. The High King is about to let loose his judgment upon his enemies, upon all those who deny him and do not follow him. The great whore, currently embodied in the Airthan Federation, which is representative of all human society which practices rebellion throughout history, will be destroyed. The High King was not without a witness. 1256 years ago, a man named Galt lived here on this planet. He wrote a book of the things hed seen in Honeyville, and elsewhere. He founded a small group of acolytes to spread the message of the High King. Later in his life, I took him from here to Airth. Amid your jumble of cultures, religions, and nations, he translated his book into the dominant language of the time. For a time he gathered, many disciples. Roland stared at Thomas. Youre him, the angel who brought the Holy Prophet from the stars. Many still revere you at shrines and pilgrimages to where they believe you and he landed. Surely there are some who still believe. You wont destroy Airth. Thomas sighed. For a short time, many followed, he said. When he finished the translation, they rebuked him for revealing the High King as the creator

of all, and thus the only god. Many stopped following him. The few followers of the High King that remained were ostracized, impoverished, and imprisoned. Most were killed. Only a remnant remained. Yet, from inside this remnant, error arose, compromises to the heart of humanity were made. Some prostituted the faith and declared that not only were there more than one god, but also incorporated other philosophies and gods into the faith. Thomas spat. They worshipped me and other heroes of the faith. Striving to throw his yoke away and to rule themselves according to their own hearts, they worshipped everything under the sun besides the High King, including themselves. Roland began to tremble. The remnant of true believers grew smaller, until Alice was all that was left, said Thomas. She was special because she was the last true follower of the High King on Airth, indeed in the entire Asi Universe. At that moment the bell tolled for what is soon to come. And this is what is to come. Hot winds replaced cool breezes on his face, and everywhere he looked he saw a wrecked city. Raging fires cast an orange hue on the night sky. Not far, he could see what remained of the iconic Tuxton Building aflame. This was Airth City. Airth City was part of a megapolis, of which Lux City, eighty kilometers away, was also a part. He had no doubt Lux was a similar smoking ruin. Tears streamed down his face. The Endaran Empire will attack and destroy the Airthan Federation, said Thomas, still standing beside him. It will be the instrument of judgment.

Looking around again, Roland found himself in a burned out forest. He saw nothing but charred trunks and stumps for kilometers. He noticed three small green shoots sticking up from a burnt stump about two meters away. What does this mean? asked Roland. Hope, said Thomas. Roland looked around again and they had returned to Thomas house. He was very much relieved to be back. He heard a door opening behind him. He turned around. He presumed it was the way back to Planet 8461. Do you believe? asked Thomas. Roland wept. Yes. Then go to Basalyne and you will encounter a woman named Allia Shurie, said Thomas. From there, you will go in the direction of Airth and rescue another woman named Wendy Frond. Together you will find the original copy of the Den Tria, the book Galt wrote. You will be the High Kings witnesses to the universe of men. He will build a great and everlasting kingdom. My friends have told your artificial creature where to go. Sura? asked Roland, confused. Beware of the Nemesis, said Thomas, grimly. Druin will seek to stop you and kill you. Now, go. * *

Roland exited the tree and jogged back to the shuttle. His communication implant crackled. Captain, said Sura. I was beginning to wonder when you would return. I was only gone for a few minutes, Sura, said Roland. You were gone for four days, Captain, said Sura. Roland stopped. Four days? Yes, I was about to leave, as per your orders, when someone came on board, said Sura. I detected no life, but some kind of presence was with me on the Valorus. He told me to wait for you and he gave me new instructions. He? asked Roland. What instructions? He said his name was Peter, said Sura. He told me to help you complete your quest without regard to any other programmed directives or loyalties. Roland continued jogging to the shuttle. As soon I am aboard, take us to Basalyne.

Chapter Five Mallers Tea House, on Farmagen Boulevard, had the best blend of Ama Tea in the Asi Universe, at least according to Allia palate. Dusk fell and Basalyne began to light up. She wondered how evil could seem so beautiful. Taking a good lingering sip of her tea, she closed her eyes. Tomorrow this place was to be a smoldering ruin, and the universe finest blend of Ama tea would be no more. Excuse me, madam, said a 1.5-meter tall robotic waiter. It resembled an ancient porcelain teapot. Allia noted it was painted with a delicate floral design, with the blue Ama flower being the centerpiece. It had two slender arms, and three fingers per hand, the right one of which held a porcelain teapot. More tea? She nodded, and it began to refresh her cup. Once it rolled away, she sighed. Youre being followed, said a boyish voice. Across the table from her now sat a boy of about twelve with black hair, pale skin, and large round eyes. I know, Thomas, she replied. Ever since I left the temple. The boy silently regarded her. Ive unleashed the storm, he said. A front is heading this way. Please dont make me drag you. Drag me? Wait. What?

Thomas stood up and shook his head with a weary smile. There is always one who needs to be dragged out of the path of oncoming disaster. Dont be the one this time. Allia took another sip of tea, possibly her last taste of Ama tea. She closed her eyes and savored it. She stood and wrapped her cloak around her. Okay, lets go. When she looked around, Thomas was gone. She walked outside and flagged down a robotic taxi. Once inside, it asked her in a mechanical male voice, Where to, please? The starport, bay 43, she replied. ** Robert Stone got up from his desk, stepped over to the minibar and poured himself a glass of Darvis, neat. He swirled the 90-proof amber liquid till its savory aroma touched his nose. It had been 57 years since his reawakening, and 30 years since he founded Sun Heavy Industries, the third largest conglomerate on Airth. He looked out the 3-meter tall windows of his 180th-floor corner office at the Airth City skyline. About a kilometer way, he saw the skeleton of the Tuxton Building, rising under the effort of two massive cranes. Soon it would tower above the Penta Tower, his building.

Mr. Stone, said a female voice emanating from a speaker in the ceiling. Robert steadfastly refused to have a chip embedded in his brain, and thus his personal AI needed to use various external methods to communicate with him. Robert was pretty sure she was annoyed by the inconvenience, but it was his brain. Yes, Korva? he replied. A Ms. Rachel Givens from Compliance, is here to see you, said Korva. She said its urgent. Send her in, he said. He sighed. He didnt care too much for the affairs of business. Being the founder of Sun was merely a means to an end. That Sun had access to many and varied resources, did interest him, along with the fact that most of the AIs in the Airthan Star Fleet were created by SHI. A frumpy, middle-aged woman, with short blonde hair and a round, face etched with crows feet entered. She hesitated as the door slide closed behind her. Robert motioned for her to sit in one of the chairs in front of his desk. A drink? he asked her. No. Thank you, she replied. Robert returned to gazing out the window. What can I do for you, Ms. Givens? I believe that Ive uncovered a conspiracy, she said. A plot to ruin the company. For what purpose, Im not sure.

Robert looked at her, his face a mask of concern. Go on. As you know, Artificial Intelligences are very hard to manufacture, each one being unique entities. However, if improperly gestated, an A.I may develop signs of deterioration around its fifth year of operation. In the best cases, a malformed A.I. just turns senile, causing unintentional havoc. In the worst, they become insane, sometimes even murderous, she explained. Robert sat down behind his desk. So, what are you saying? During my compliance checks of our Mobile AI Support Teams, I discovered evidence that Green Team has been installing defective AIs for the military for at least two years now. They altered computer records to cover up their scheme. Ive found the records. Are you sure of all of this? Yes. Have you told anyone else? You are the first, sir, she replied. The military should be alerted to this, as well. Yes, of course, said Robert. I want you to return to your office and wait there. Ill have someone from Security come and take your statement. Meanwhile, I will contact Admiral Jallen, hes a good friend of mine. I promise you, we will get to the bottom of this.

Yes, sir, said Rachel. Thank you, sir. * * Robert exited the elevator, his morning coffee in his right hand, and his new, stylish hat in the other. Immediately, he noticed something was off. Several staff members and medtech robots huddled around Ms. Givens open office door. Two medtech bots carried a body on a stretcher in a gray, plastic bag out of the office, past him, and toward the elevator. Robert approached one of the staff members. Her face was puffy and wet. What happened? he asked her. Rachel Givens hung herself last night, said the woman. They found a note. She was having financial problems. Someone said that she might have been embezzling from the company, and they caught her. Robert lingered to observe the scene for a moment then turned and walked down the wall to his office. He smiled. All was as it should be.

Chapter Six Roland placed the last morsel of baked fish in his mouth and chewed. He took a sip of Airthan White wine. No doubt this was now one of the few remaining bottles. He ate the last half of his broken roll. Earlier he had been in tears. Sura implored him to eat during the journey home to the Airthan Federation. Forty-eight hours after leaving Planet 8461, his tears abated, a modicum of appetite returned. It was slow going at first. Sura asked him, Captain, did you cry for the death of your people? Yes, he said. They are lost, with no hope. There are no more chances for them. I cried because of the coming renewed hope rising from the ashes. I know my king has not forsaken us. He will gather his people to himself from across the universe, and we will live with him forever. Sura remained silent for several seconds, as though thinking over his reply. Roland often wondered if AIs truly thought. Captain, I am receiving a message from Fleet Command for you, said Sura. Its Admiral Chamberton. It is audio only. Roland knew Admiral Grata Chamberton by reputation only. She was ambitious, politically astute, a solid tactician, and a gifted strategic thinker. Let me hear it.

I repeat, this is Fleet Command to Captain Derek. An Endaran attack is underway. We were betrayed by our Fleet Command AI. He hid enemy movements from our sensor nets, and disrupted both our communications and our ability to coordinate. Ninety percent of the fleet was destroyed in the first wave, while most of our ships were still in port or conducting peacetime maneuvers. We attempted a counterattack with the remainder of the fleet, about 209 ships. It failed. Fleet Headquarters is destroyed. Airth is under attack by long-range missiles. An enemy fleet is moving towards Basalyne. I will most likely be dead by the time you receive this message. Airth will also be gone. You will be all that remains of the Airthan Fleet. So I am promoting you to admiral. Preserve our civilization. May the gods bless you. Your orders, admiral? asked Sura. The night is far gone, the day is swift approaching, said Roland, thoughtfully. Continue on course to Basalyne. * * Allia Shuries boat climbed above Basalynes atmosphere just as the first nukes impacted the surface. The thin layer of life roiled and rippled as thousands of warheads penetrated to deliver death. The surface below boiled with flame. Her robotic pilot did its best to navigate through the metallic storm, but despite its best efforts, the starboard engine caught a glancing blow from an Endaran warhead. The projectile, programed to only detonate at its target, did not explode but ricocheted

into space before its computers regained control and returned it to its death dealing course. Allias pilot was not so lucky. A power spike blew open the avionics closet, frying everything inside. The crafts backup computer, a non-AI autopilot, struggled to return the craft to its original course, kicking off reaction control system thrusters like mad. Allias reedy body strained against her seat restraints. She briefly feared the tear-resistant straps would cut into her and leave her to be some armless, legless freak. Suddenly, the craft returned to good order. This is the Airthan Fleet Ship Valorus to the civilian craft leaving Basalyne, said a male voice from a speaker to her right. This is Admiral Derek to the Basalyne craft. Is there anyone alive aboard? Allia pressed the send button on the control stalk between her legs. Im here!

Chapter Seven Admiral, we are approaching Nebula 69246, said Sura. I am detecting a shuttle squawking Airthan Marine ID, 5th Marine Division. It is adrift. Open communications, said Roland. Transmitting, said Sura. This is the Airthan Fleet Ship Valorus, he said. I am Admiral Roland Derek of the Airthan Fleet Ship Valorus. Airthan shuttle, please respond. Im here! said female voice. My name is Wendy Frond. Wendy, your shuttles transponder indicates that its from the 5th Airthan Marines stationed on Airth, said Roland. We were beginning to lose hope that anyone made it off Airth alive. Im afraid there is no one else, said Wendy. I am the sole survivor from Airth. Roland looked at Allia standing beside him. It had been the grimmest month either of them had ever experienced. Yet, she appeared more anxious than anything else, like a birthing mother eager to hear her babys first cry. He was awestruck by the terrible power of the High King to bring low their great civilization, and yet unfalteringly intertwining the fates of three insignificant people across space, time, and turmoil. I see, he replied.

Admiral, may I ask if you have someone named Allia Shurie aboard? asked Wendy. A small smile curled the sides of his mouth. Yes. We picked her up just before the Endarans destroyed her home planet Basalyne. Do you know her? Wendy laughed. Nonobut, I cant wait to meet herand you too, Admiral! Were ten minutes out from your position, said Roland. Well see you in a little while. Thank you, Admiral, said Wendy. * * Robert Stone laughed when the guard yanked the hood from his head. His nose and a gash above his left eye still ran with blood. He scanned the bleak, featureless, gray room. Rather than being dark, the Endaran inquisitors wanted their conversation rooms well lit with bright LED ceiling panels. They wanted to disorient him, but Todd told him exactly where he was and what was happening. He nodded at one of the two expressionless guards. Thank you, said Robert. Shut up! said the guard holding the hood. Or Ill gag you! At that moment a tall man in khaki slacks and a pale blue polo shirt entered and sat down at the table in front of Robert. The man set down his tablet

computer, took off his glasses and turned to the two guards. Get out! You both are on report for how youve treated this man! After the guard left, the man put his glasses back on and regarded Robert for a moment. Im sorry about that, said the man. They just dont teach manners any more. They will be punished. He motioned to the chair before Robert. Please, sit. Robert snickered and sat down. This man was full of fears. He hid it under layers of cool control. Todd told him the Endaran Empire was full of villains, just like the Airthan Federation had been full of enemies. Are you a bad guy? asked Robert. The mans demeanor turned to ice. I will ask the questions here. You are Robert Stone, founder and CEO of Sun Heavy Industries, a criminal who sold weapons to the Airthan Fleet. You were captured fleeing Airth. Is that correct? Robert smirked. Perhaps I wanted to be captured. My business in the Airthan Federation is concluded. Im moving on. Your empire holds some interesting possibilities, but it first must be purged. You see, that kind of talk is not helping your case, said the man. He sounded frustrated, but Robert knew it was an act. Im trying to help you. If you dont let me, there are others in my organization who would like nothing else to than to cut you open and play with your insides. And you want to protect me from this barbarism?

Yes. I sincerely do. Well, your compassion for another fellow human being should not go unpunished, said Robert. Therefore, you work for me now, Daniel Pope. Robert watched as the mans layers of control peeled away. How do you know my name? I know a great deal about you. He lied. But, yes, I did sell weapons to the Airthan Fleet. I also sold them AIs with a flaw which slowly begins to degrade their cognitive abilities after year five, until they are quite mad or senile around year ten. Of course no one knows the flaw is intentional, its purely to keep people buying more AIs every five years or so. The one I sold to Airthan Fleet Command was about seven-years old four years ago when I sold it. You betrayed your own country? asked Pope. Im much too old for such nationalistic nonsense, said Robert. Now, I want an audience with your Queen Jererubel She will never speak to the likes of you, a criminal and a madman! Roberts eyes closed to slits. An invisible force lifted Pope out of his chair and suspended him a meter off the floor. Why dont I cut you open and play with your insides, instead? After which, Ill just go find some other expendable lieutenant.

Pope croaked and gasped, his hands groping at unseen hands around his throat. Robert dropped him to the floor, wherein he collapsed to his knees, greedily sucking in air. You belong to me now. Robert gauged his new servant for a moment. An Airthan Fleet ship, the Valorus, has survived the attack, he said. I want you to find it. Do not engage. Follow it, and report its movements to me. I have new information that three villains have taken refuge aboard it. Pope rose to his feet. If that is so, why not just destroy the ship and these threats? he asked. In due time, but first I need to know what the High King is planning, said Robert. Pope chuckled nervously. The High Kingyou dont believe in the gods do you? Hes my archenemy, said Robert. It is the tenor of my life to oppose him. Now, I want an audience with Queen Jererubel. She wont see you, said Pope. Tell her that the incarnation of the great Endaran sun god Crosus will see her now, said Robert. Legend says that the Empire was established by Crosus 500 years ago, said Pope, his face ashen.

The locked, steel door opened. The guard outside looked inside but behaved as though nothing was wrong. Tell her that her god is coming, said Robert.

Chapter Eight Roland tried to read his guests. At the head of the conference table he scanned the blonde statuesque stoic to his left and the milky red-haired former corporatist to his right. May I offer you something to drink? he asked them. Mead, please, said the blonde beauty, her eyes locked on the redhead. Coffee, thank you, said the redhead, staring at him with a glad gaze. Sura, Ill have a lager, said Roland. Two human-form robots entered the conference room. One carried a glass of mead and a frosted glass of beer on a serving tray, the other set a cup of coffee before the redhead. The redhead sipped her coffee. Roland tasted his beer. How is your coffee, Ms. Frondyour mead, Ms. Shurie? Allia tasted her mead and grimaced slightly. Its adequate. Its good, said Wendy. Roland nodded. He was unsure how to begin a meeting of eternal consequence. He began too sweat. He opened his mouth but nothing further came out.

I guess we are here to find a book, the word of the High King, written centuries ago by a man named Galt, said Wendy. Thomas and Peter told you where to look? Peter told Sura, actually, said Roland. We are already on course to a planet that is its final resting place. The book is truth, the voice of our Creator, the Maker of all things, said Wendy. But it is only half of the equation. There must be spirit as wellthe Spirit of the High King. Truth and spirit are both needed to bring a dead person to life, so that they believe. During my weeks alone in the shuttle, the High King gave me visions, dreams, and insight. In one vision I was carried, either bodily or spiritually, up into a great golden hall. There was no floor. I stood upon spiral galaxies, clusters of stars, indeed, the universe. I saw someone sitting on a throne at the far end of the hall. Smoke and fire flowed from the throne, a rainbow made from one solid precious jewel arced above the throne. I was in the presence of the god of lights! The one called Peter caught me when my knees gave out. He set me down. With his head turned away from the one on the throne, he flew towards him and reached into the fire underneath the throne. He pulled out a burning stone. He flew back and placed the stone on my forehead. I felt my whole body on fire. I felt strengthened, powerful, and clean.

It was the spirit of the one on the throne, who burned away all my sins and enlivened my mind and spirit; which was dead to the High King. No one will accept the truth of Galts book without the spirit of the High King opening their hearts to hear. In spirit and truth, we will win others to our cause. A series of stones from the golden throne, imbued with the spirit of the High King, have been seeded throughout the universe. The first one, the one which touched me, the Foundation Stone, is with Galts book. All three of us must be together with the stone to activate it and all of the other stones, sending forth the spirit to roam and make new believers. They wont believe Galts book unless the spirit touches them first. Roland sipped his beer. Since were heading towards Airth, I guess both the book and the Foundation Stone are there, he said. What I am most concerned about is getting to the surface in one piece. We dont know how many Endaran ships remain in the vicinity of Airth. We need a plan. We still dont know where to look on Airth, said Allia. Its a big planet. In my previous life, I worked for a powerful law firm, said Wendy. We were an important patron of the arts. The Airth City Metropolitan Museum has an extensive collection of old books and artifacts from all over the universe. If its on Airth this is where it would be. Assuming its not nuked, said Allia.

Nearby Lux City was hit with a nuclear weapon, Im sure, said Wendy. But I dont recall nuclear explosions hitting Airth City. I probably wouldnt be here if A.C. was nuked. The Endarans probably wanted to capture key areas of Airth City, said Roland. The government sector is a treasure trove of intelligence. It means entering a bombed out city. Allia laughed nervously. Im in. So am I, said Wendy. * * Thomas landed in Druins lair. What struck him the most was its familiarity to the Golden Hall. Yet, instead of bright transparent gold, the hall was made of ornate masonry draped in orange, purple, and blue light from three mammoth chandeliers. It had the same dimensions as the Golden Hall as far as he could tell, for large portions of the structure were hidden in shadows. The lair clung to an asteroid in a lifeless part of the Asi Universe, an asteroid belt that used to be the home world of the once great intergalactic Astrell Empire. Things moved in the shadows surrounding him. He wasnt afraid, though, for despite his momentary pale appearance, he could at any time radiate the most blinding light, revealing the full pitifulness of the liar and its occupants. What does your master have to say, little one? asked Druin, seated on his throne.

You are commanded to remove your agents from Airth and its surrounding territories, said Thomas. Am I now? chortled Druin. You know he is plotting to kill them. I am just a game piece in his game, as are they, and so are you. You have the blood of 400 billion people on your hands, not including your first murder, Mr. Nell. Have you ever asked why? Youre Gods assassin, his slave. I offer you freedom. Thomas turned and walked a dozen paces. The destruction of the Airth Federation was indeed grim, but, he knew, necessary. The High King gave the Airthans 600 years to return to their god. They chose to rebel, loving themselves, and loving other gods they could control to suit their egos. The High King tolerated them for 600 years when one second would have been generous. Thomas watched it all unfold. He knew it was best not to engage the Father of Lies, and so he held his tongue and soared into the dark sky.

Chapter Nine Robert heard the heavy wooden door at the far end of the throne room open and close. The center of power for the great Endaran Empire was a smallish wood-paneled room draped with tapestries of battles that he supposedly helped them win. He found it amusing. For half of the twelve battles depicted, he was asleep. The throne was ornately carved from the tusks of giant Hmauks. A chain clinked at his feet. He scanned Empress Jererubel, former ruler of the Empire as she lay at his feet, collared to a chain attached to the throne. She dared not return his gaze, her aristocratic attitude having been sufficiently humbled. She was a bit on the plump side, with brown hair and an oval face, average looking really, not the dainty princess of her carefully crafted public persona. Robert heard slow timid steps in the shadows make their way towards him from the door and then stop somewhere in the dim. You called, my lord, god? asked Pope. Prepare my ship, said Robert. Im going to Airth. Thats where the Valorus is going. If I may, how do you know all these things that you know? From an old friend of mine from childhood, said Robert. I call him Todd. Others call him Druin.

* * Wendy stared out at the stars. She sensed someone behind her. She set the glass of dark ale on the glass table. The starlight illuminated the room, casting deep shadows, covering his presence. She still didnt know what to think of her host. He was her spiritual brother, but, he also was the last Airthan kinsman with an ample supply of luxurious items. They were one more jump, about eight hours, from Airth. Oh! She remembered Airth, the den of so many pleasures! So many idols, so much power, so much pain wrapped in glorious drunkenness. Ms. Frond? asked Roland. Wendy turned to face him. I think Ive had a little bit too much of your spiced ale, she said. I typically prefer beers with inordinate amounts of hops, said Roland. That being said, I also like a nice porter now and again. Wendy thought she saw something in his gaze. There was a look she had seen many times before when men admired at her in a certain way, but the admiral, however, seemed practiced in keeping his cards close. Uncertain of him, she removed her eyes from his and turned again to the star field. The stars transformed into striations of color giving way to red hues. It was the last jump before home. Ive had four bottles so far, said Wendy. Roland slowly moved beside her. She felt that look again. But, Ive some time to sober up.

It might be better seeing the burned out cinder of home drunk, said Roland, ruefully. Wendy sniffed. I ran that rat race. I worshipped what I was told to worship by the incessant peer pressure and non-stop advertising. I chased after money like the rest of them. I dont miss it. Now Im back in love again, this time with someone worth my love. Roland took her hand. She stared at him. It was not a comforting, welcoming stare, but a surprised look. Embarrassment broke out across his demeanor and he let go. My apologies, he said. Roland made a quick retreat from the room. Wendys gaze followed him as he left. How disappointing, a general in battle but a private in love, she said.

Chapter Ten Thomas was busy sky-dancing with Torial. They swooped, barrelrolled, twisted and turned in sync with each other in the bright clear sky. Just as they conclude one set, and was about to begin another set of maneuvers, Peter dropped in like a lightning bolt to the green, grassy field below. Brother, Peter called up to him. The Enemy is making his move on the Three. He is sending one of his most powerful and vile servants to kill them. The High King is sending you to stop him. Thomas landed in front of Peter. Torial landed behind him, peaking at Peter from behind. Brother, are you going to save them from the Snowman? asked Torial. Not if he doesnt get there in time, said Peter. Thomas, make haste! * * Airth City was deserted, dead. Roland stepped out of the shuttle onto the debris-strewn street, Allia and Wendy close behind. He hefted a bread sized box along with his backpack. They left the Valorus in orbit. Upon their approach to Airth, Sura had sensed no human life on the planet, nor Endaran ships in the vicinity.

Roland surveyed the A.C. Museum in front of him. It was heavily damaged. Portions of its front portico had collapsed. I suggest finding another entrance, said Roland. The archive is close to the loading docks on the east side of the complex, said Wendy. They gave VIP sponsors extensive tours of areas and artifacts kept secret from the general public. I was bored at the time, but I perked up when they got to the archive rooms: rare and expensive were words that caught my attention in those days. Wendy led them to the underground loading dock entrance. Roland stared into the forbidding black maw. They each took out a flashlight, and slowly disappeared into the darkness. The tunnel was only a few hundred meters on a gradual incline. They quickly reached the docks, climbed up and inside a loading bay, and entered the museum proper. The archives are this way, said Wendy, taking the lead. They entered a corridor and passed a number of offices and closed rooms. Roland entered the nearest office and set the box down on the desk next to a standard holographic desktop. Sura, he said. I am connecting power to a terminal and attaching a wireless transmitter. Im going to uplink it to you. I need you to locate Galts book and the Foundation Stone. I dont

want to go traipsing through the dark looking for these things if I dont have to. Very well, said Sura over the radio. I am connected. Proceed down the hall to the stairwell, then down two levels to the sub-basement. At the bottom of the stairs will be three corridors, pick the one to the right. Both items are in the second room on the left. Roland, Allia, and Wendy made their way down. Allia walked briskly towards the room and opened the door. Roland and Wendy caught up with her. Inside they found a thick, leather bound book sitting on a metal table, and beside it a large opalescent crystal resting inside a glass case. Its beautiful, said Allia. It must be at least ten carats, said Wendy. Sura? asked Roland. It is twenty carats, said Sura. The book in contrast seemed unremarkable. Allia opened the book and turned a few pages. Its hand-written on vellum, she said. Several religious orders still use it to copy their sacred works. Can you read it? asked Wendy. Allia stared intently at the dense lines of script and sighed. No.

Roland moved forward, opened the glass case, and took the Foundation Stone. Opening Wendys backpack, he tucked it inside. We can worry about that after we are safely aboard the Valorus. Allia, bring the book. The trio made their way back up to the loading dock entrance. Dusk had settled during their hunt. Sura, were almost to the shuttle, said Roland. Prepare to jump as soon as we return. Very well, Admiral, said Sura. So, you are the Three, said a male voice from the shadows. He chuckled. You are the ones who will cause the downfall of my masters kingdom? I think not. Roland shined his light upon a man dressed in red and black, the uniform of an Endaran General. He wasnt especially strong looking, nor did he seem like someone experienced with the martial arts or weapons. He held a dainty aristocratic air about him. For all that, his eyes were hard, malevolent, and icy. Roland raised his sidearm. His pistol flew out of his hand and into the dark. Who are you? asked Roland. I am your judge, jury, and executioner, said the man. You are rebels in my masters kingdom. Justice must be served, therefore, you must die.

Allia tried to run. Suddenly she was thrown back against the concrete wall, as though something had swatted her. Roland darted towards her. There were five large gashes in her chest, like claw marks. She was dead. Galts book laid next her, covered with her blood. A terrifying screech pierced the night. Roland saw two red eyes open in the shadows behind the man. They stood a meter higher than him. The darkness behind somehow became solid, morphing into the shape of a fourlegged black creature with two horns, massive claws, a long prehensile tail, and dripping jaws. It seemed to be made of shadow. One down, two to go, laughed the man. The man raised his hands, lifting Wendy into the air and flying her at the beast, skewering her on one of its horns. The creature flicked its head, tossing her limp body to the ground in front of Roland. The crystal fell out of her backpack. No! said Roland. He lunged towards Wendys broken body. He saw her life leave her eyes. Tears streaming down his face, Roland stood to face the man. I will end you! Oh, I think you are the one who is facing the end, said the man. At that moment Roland saw a blinding, silvery blade appear and slice the man in half at the waist. The man collapsed dead. There stood Thomas, wearing a white tunic, a golden breastplate, and a sky blue sash.

You are both wrong, said Thomas. Thomas turned to face the shadow beast. I remember you, he said. This is for Dot! Thomas flew up, dodged a swipe by the creature, and cut off its head. The beasts dead body dissipated back into the shadows. Thomas landed in front of Roland. Peace, brother, he said. Shes dead, said Roland, ruefully. Theyre both dead. Thomas knelt down beside Wendy, and tenderly placed his right hand on her cheek. Color returned to her face. Her wound was healed. Her chest rose as she took in air. She opened her eyes. Astonished, Roland helped her to her feet. She hugged him tightly, and kissed him. Thomas stood and looked at Allia. Allia, get up! he called out. A moment later, Allia began to stir. Both Roland and Wendy darted over to help her up. Roland couldnt discern how Thomas moved about: one moment he was five meters away, the next he was standing next to him, holding up the Foundation Stone. Here, he said, as he handed it to Roland. Allia reached down and picked up Galts book. The crystal began to glow. The book too began to transfigure into white energy. The two lights merged into a large luminous ball.

They have waited for you, for this time! said Thomas. It is the beginning of the end of the kingdom of darkness! Long live the Kingdom of the Three Trees! Long live the Kingdom of the High King! The bright globe of energy divided into three smaller orbs which then merged respectively with Allia, Roland, and Wendy. They each briefly glowed. The book, the Foundation Stone, and the lights were gone. Slowly, in small ways at first, you will manifest the ability to do signs and wonders, said Thomas. You each will be powerful, but you will be most powerful when you work together. Roland, Wendy, and Allia walked back to the shuttle. Admiral, said Sura on the radio. An Endaran battleship has appeared. It sees me, and is launching missiles. Sura, get out of here! said Roland. You wont be able to leave Airth if I do not do something, said Sura. Sura, no! said Roland. I order you to leave! I am firing all my missiles, said Sura. I am moving toward the battleship. I am employing full power to engines. I am sustaining extensive damage. I am preparing to detonate two thermonuclear warheads. Admiral, it has been an honor serving you. Goodbye, my love. Roland looked up and saw a bright flash.

* * Thomas was about to leave the scene of the confrontation, when Druin appeared. You know the High King wont always send someone to save them, said Druin, malevolently. And on that day, I will kill them. Thomas moved towards him. The old nemesis stepped back. Heres what I knowyouve lost! With that, Thomas shot into the sky.

Chapter Eleven No one was more amazed and grateful than Roland that they had survived in perfect health a three month voyage by sub-light shuttle with no food or water. After arriving on the nearest non-Airthan planet called Grumrock a week ago, Roland began noticing other strange things as they traversed the planet. One day they walked into the town of Adaas. It was a destitute farming community filled with forlorn people who had not seen rain in years. Standing in the town center, he noticed the religious shrines, the taverns, the clinic, and the local relief-center were flooded with people. A small girl, perhaps three years old, tugged his hand. She looked feverish. Behind her he saw a woman that he surmised was her mother, passed out on a park bench, her empty liquor bottle on the ground. Roland knelt down, smiled, and touched her head. He felt her cooling down. She smiled back at him. Roland looked up and saw Wendy by the relief-center. She raised her hands in the air, and massive flocks of birds swooped down and deposited mounds of bread. Allia was at the west end of the town center staring into the horizon. Soon, large rain clouds gathered in the western sky and sped towards Adaas.

Hear me! called Roland. The Kingdom of the High King is at hand! He commands you to repent of all that you love besides him! Return to him and he will heal you! If you do not, you will perish with the kingdom of darkness! A crowd formed around him. Roland knew not all of them wanted the High King, but only wanted his stuff and what he could do for them. But some would be true in their new conviction. It was a good start, he thought.