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Prologue
  • Macavity116

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    This is the story of something that happened outside of our own time. It occurred before the creation of our own Universe, and before the Universe that preceded it, and the one that preceded it, and so on. These events took place long before the Paradox caused time to bend backwards upon itself, forcing the lifespan of creation to repeat without rest.

    In fact, this is the story of how a troubled young girl became that very Paradox...

    The Second Hyperspace War lasted exactly 21 years. When the storm cleared, over 15,000 inhabited worlds had been burned, crushed, exploded, silenced, pulverized, shattered, or otherwise annihilated. There was no possible way to count the dead.

    During the final battle, fought both on the ground and in the skies above Earth, 15 Stormbreakers, each one the hero of other stories I don’t have time to tell you, rose from the island of Kyushu and led the combined forces of every galactic civilization in a colossal offensive against Agamemnon itself.

    10 Stormbreakers fell to the Invaders.

    4 Stormbreakers vanished and were never seen nor heard from again.

    And Jericho stood alone against Agamemnon.

    The storm became more intense and vicious than ever before. Their battle shattered planets, killed millions, and caused permanent damage to the Hyperspace Network across the entire galaxy.

    And then it was over. Neither Jericho nor Agamemnon remained. The Invaders, having lost their nerve center, became lethargic and vulnerable. All across the galaxy, Invader fleets were outmaneuvered and crushed by forces less than half their size. Within a year, the Invaders were completely purged from all creation.

    The war was over, but the damage was still done. The Invaders destroyed three quarters of all populated places in the galaxy, while Jericho and Agamemnon disabled every Hyperspace Gate in the galaxy. Without the Network, great star nations like the Kingdom of Partoga, the Levakian Confederation, Amadiio, Vania, the Micore Empire, Kelta, and the United States of Assuria simply ceased to exist.

    While the political powers of the galaxy died, tens of millions of tons of battle debris rained down on the Earth. The impacts thrust clouds of dust into the air. Shrouded in clouds, the Earth fell into a long winter, returning humankind to its isolation from the rest of the galaxy. Unable to call upon their new extraterrestrial allies for help, the people of Earth vanished into silence, and soon, the Sol Star itself became lost.

    Which brings us here:


    y4mzodf_LT1vHEgp6UzIGxUico1TWk2UzMmvy2GSuOeJHHOAsS0484CRKtOM8FKxtuSTAIkVPjfV4RPVossPnP6ra5FBRG2z0XktWiHz8yb51DkGdHGIRPRMYhy3Ft0_DpZoLImZdzP9MqPEKy3fNybJyCSgtAz3eE798q3t178_N8ROYASx6dlNI-qk8W_PUtw


    This desolate world is Earth. Once, it was the home of legendary heroes, the site of epic battles and adventures, haven for a wide and diverse array of life. Now this world is on the brink of death. The skies are choked with ash, the soil and water fouled by radiation. The stench of death is everywhere, and a horrible silence hangs over the ruins of once-grand cities.

    To think this husk of a planet is where the savior of all creation was born.

    But this is not the story of Jericho. That tale has already been told. Between these pages you shall find a much different kind of narrative. This book does not seek to entertain you or teach you a lesson.

    If you press on, continue into the dark chapters beyond this warning, you will not find an uplifting tale of heroes triumphing over evil. There is no joyful story of a young girl learning to love her family. You will not witness a legend of creation, nor a moral lesson shrouded in entertaining antics.

    This book will serve only one purpose, to answer the following questions:

    Who is the Paradox and where did she come from?

    The answer to this question is dark and tragic. Finding it will bring both enlightenment, sorrow, and some frustration at what could have been. But this is a question that must be answered, and it will be answered.

    Twenty-four years after Jericho gave herself to the final victory, someone else’s story is about to begin...


    y4mv0fXbaNoBJ0QdnEFtVa5jN0ciIodnnNEcZLH85tgh_S1fTFU4m9GsjVPiW5H_uBlYQhfBO18H3z4slYdm1Xtsa27Cs0igs2C7QtBehLUzhmKg5v_byl3WKTvWWAB2O-RZMk8tl6ekIU1jXWGnbMpWLkiYeuxqE-afpKE8EKCUKI-VqUvGsFi_3gMq88kqAxm

     
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    Chapter 1: The Fifth Child
  • Macavity116

    One of the 29
    17 Badges
    Mar 1, 2018
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    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
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    • Crusader Kings III
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    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    Happy Birthday to the very first reader of these stories: @RedMotorCycle!

    y4m2iu8qgKpR3MxUwp9BLobfbXajJ92IRYoWL2IFyccuc86xJEYSfyLjQW6lHeb286hGTX42pEyP9wSWns6l4notb-90tDQnAAqzwYrwzPVDOOotOl5t1U1jBSCbmvPbtP3GDBm-ozNwwqxPD6KdQYAiFD2pjULvOmxxJS_VnC6kiBvH30oQzDMknnHQjpGU-nz



    Chapter 1
    The Fifth Child

    Two decades after the War in Heaven, the Earth was a dying world. As the dust settled from the epic battle, thousands of disabled starships fell from orbit and crashed. The violence of these impacts were similar to meteor strikes and nuclear weapon blasts. Fires broke out in cities and wilderness alike. Before a few months passed, the skies were choked with ash and soot.

    At first, people were too busy celebrating the great triumph to notice the damage, but it soon became apparent. Fields were beginning to wither away. The sunlight was cold. Whole forests turned brown... and then the death began.

    Oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and all other kinds of waterways were suddenly choked with dead fish. Herbivorous animals starved to death in search of green leaves and grass. The horrible truth was now clear. The Earth had been thrown into nuclear winter. The layer of smoke in the air was just thick enough to block out the light of the sun. It was the largest mass death in the history of the world. Farmers struggled to salvage their crops, to save their livestock, but there was almost nothing to be done.

    Then came the famines. And the cold. A dark silence fell over the Earth as untold millions of lives were extinguished across the globe. What cities remained standing fell dark as their inhabitants fled to the countryside, looking for new sources of food and water.

    But the mass extinction was not total.

    Scattered across the world, some one billion Humans survived, along with a sizable fraction of Earth’s flora and fauna. Yet the world was nowhere near recovery. The air was still full of soot. Dry fog hugged the landscape and was not dispersed by the rising of the sun. Daylight itself was cold and gave little energy, and sometimes, the winter snow would fall as far south as the Sahara and would not melt until May. Meanwhile, whole layers of the atmosphere were damaged or destroyed, leaving anything and everything on the ground vulnerable to the sun’s dangerous radiation. Life became difficult and miserable.

    Eventually, after about ten years, the nuclear winter came to an end. It was followed by nuclear summer. Heat from the sun became trapped beneath the cloud layer, warming up the world year after year. The snowfall stopped, what little moisture remained in the air dried out, and wildfire raged across the landscape. Now the people of Earth were faced with death by fire and famine instead of the usual freezing and famine.

    But there were plenty of people who refused to simply wait for the end. Many of the soldiers, scientists, and engineers who once made up the military force behind the Liberation of Earth were still active. XCOM lived, if only just barely. The heroes who saved the world from the Elders and then from the Beast were still hard at work, now trying to stop an ecological disaster from finishing what their enemies had started.

    Leading this effort were two people, a man and women who called themselves “Stormbreakers” two decades ago. Blake Robinson and Chihiro Tachibana were friends of Jericho when she was alive, and great heroes in their own time. Now, they spent their time cleaning up the mess of their own battles, so that their children could inherit a good world from them.

    Blake, Chihiro, and their children lived, travelled, and worked together. They were a very close-knit family. They did have a place they called home, but they spent so much time together aboard their spaceship that the title easily applied to this vessel as well. It is this ship where we find the Robinson family and the subject of our story, flying east on a sweltering June morning...



    June 27, 2060
    Manhattan, Kansas



    The JSDF Ark Angel throttled down her engines and began to glide over the American Great Plains. The spaceplane was about twenty-five years old, her white hull streaked and stained by the weather. Inside the ship, the entire Robinson family prepared for landing.

    Blake, the family patriarch, occupied the engineer’s chair in the back of the cockpit. A veteran of three major wars, the forty-seven-year-old warrior was not the man he once was. His right arm was burned and desiccated to the point where it was clearly useless, and he kept it pressed against his chest in a tight sling. His hair was grey and wrinkles gave the middle-aged soldier a premature grandfatherly look.

    In the right-hand pilot’s seat, Blake’s wife was flying the spaceplane. Like her husband, Chihiro Tachibana also bore multiple scars from old war wounds, most noticeably on her neck and hands. Her long black hair was streaked with grey, but her blue eyes still contained just a little bit of that intense energy she was known for in her youth. Next to her, two weapons rested against the pilot seat: An ancient pistol that resembled an Old World flintlock, known as the Shadow Keeper. The other weapon was a black and silver sword with a secondary blade concealed in the handle. This Katana had once belonged to the Elder’s Chosen Assassin, and now stayed with the one who killed its previous owner.

    The left-hand pilot seat was filled by a twenty-one-year-old man. Alexander Robinson took after his mother. He had her pale skin, small size, straight hair, and rounded face; but his dark eyes could only have come from his father. Alexander, sometimes called Alex, was close upon the prime of his life. He looked strong enough to fistfight a Muton, and the way he handled the ship’s controls with ease and confidence showed that he was the best pilot in the family.

    In the crew compartment, the four remaining Robinson children had nothing to do but wait for the landing. This room was still built for war. Computer workstations were installed in the walls of the fuselage on either side, and would have allowed the users to operate the spaceplane’s many sensors and weapons, but none of them were powered on today.

    Sitting at the defunct weapons control station, Asuna Robinson was about to fall asleep. She was the eldest of the five children, at twenty-three years old. She inherited many traits from her father, including dark skin and curly hair. When one of her brothers walked down the aisle and passed by her, Asuna opened her eyes, raised her hands to chest height and made a series of gestures that her brother understood.

    Unlike all four of her siblings, Asuna Robinson was completely deaf. She was born during the War in Heaven itself, and spent the first four hours of her life being carried across a live battlefield. The near constant sound of explosions, gunfire, and shouting had caused permanent damage to Asuna’s ears. For as long as she lived, the only sound she would ever hear was a high-pitched whine. Thus, Asuna relied on hand signals, body language, and facial expressions to communicate, since the spoken word meant nothing to her.

    James Robinson and his twin brother, Josiah, spotted Asuna’s gesture as they went by. They looked their older sister in the eye and nonverbally promised to behave themselves. Asuna gave them a suspicious glare, watching them until they were out of sight.

    The twins might have been born at the same time, but they didn’t really resemble one another. James and Josiah were fraternal twins and mercifully easy to tell apart. James had dark skin while Josiah was pale. Josiah had curly hair while James’ hair was straight. James was tall and his brother was... well, okay. They were both tall.

    Another trait they had in common was troublemaking. James and Josiah were a mischievous pair and they were each other’s lifelong partner-in-crime. The twins slowly and quietly made their way toward the back of the spaceplane, where their younger sister was alone.



    Halfway along the fuselage, a bulkhead door separates the crew compartment from the living quarters. Here, the left and right sides of the fuselage were lined with bunk beds, separated from one another by a dark curtain that divided the sleeping area into the men’s and women’s section. The bunk beds themselves were more like nooks, with sleeping bags held in place by straps to allow a person to be comfortable in zero gravity.

    In the back of the living quarters was a small dining area: a simple table surrounded by stools bolted onto the floor. Behind it was a kitchen, but most of the equipment was packed away in a series of locked drawers, due to the fact that cooking wasn’t really feasible in low gravity.

    Sitting at the table alone was a young girl, the very one whose story we are here to learn. Fourteen-year-old Akira Robinson didn’t just take after her mother; she was the spitting image of a young Chihiro Tachibana. Akira had the same pale skin, round face, straight black hair, and vivid blue eyes as her mother. She was also just as short and scrawny now as her mother was at this age.

    On the hazy morning when Akira’s story began, she was in a good mood. She had two things to look forward to, and they made her feel excited. Just three days from now, on June 30th, Akira would be celebrating her fifteenth birthday. Both of her parents had promised that once Akira turned fifteen, they would start teaching her to fly the Ark Angel. But that wasn’t the only piece of good news. In fact, there was something far more wonderful to look forward to... someone she desperately wanted to meet was down on the ground, waiting for her.

    Keeping her back turned to the only door, Akira reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out her most prized possession. It was a photograph of a man, dressed in a flightsuit emblazoned with the insignia of XCOM and a mission patch on his chest that read HMAS Bushranger – Australian Defense Force. The man in the picture was a Caucasian fellow with friendly hazel eyes, a strong chin, and wavy blonde hair. Most ordinary people would see this individual and declare him to be “good-looking.”

    Akira, however, believed this man to be nothing short of hypnotizing. The longer she looked at his handsome visage, the faster her own heart thumped. Finally, Akira turned the picture over to read the handwritten scribble on the back. It was a message from the man in the image:


    Dear Akira,
    Thank you for the thoughtful birthday present. I hope to someday return the favor.
    Keep learning to fly and aim ever higher, future pilot of the Ark Angel!

    Signed,
    Emanuel Luis Espinosa Peres
    Mission Specialist – HMAS Bushranger, XCOM
    “Mutare ad Custodiam”



    Even though Emanuel Espinosa had never actually swept her off her feet, she felt like this was happening every time she looked at this picture. Perhaps this was how her parents felt for one another when they were young. The girl pressed the picture into her chest and lost herself in romantic fantasies for a few moments until the sound of a door closing caught her attention. Gasping, Akira stuffed the picture back into her pocket and looked around just in time to see her twin brothers enter the living space. James grinned at Akira in a mischievous way while Josiah shut the door behind him.

    “Hey, Kira!” James said. “What’cha’dooin?”

    Akira drew her knees up to her chest and looked away from her brothers. She’d been putting up with these two for almost fifteen years, but some days were worse than others. She got the feeling that today was going to be one of those bad days.

    “Leave me alone.” Akira mumbled. “I don’t wanna talk to you.”

    “Aww, not feeling friendly today?” Josiah said. “Come on, Kira. We just wanted to share the good news. Some friends are meeting us in town this week.”

    Akira looked up and then rearranged her hair with one hand so that her bangs fell down to cover one of her eyes.

    “Friends? Like who?”

    James and Josiah rattled off names while counting on their fingers.

    “Well, Asu’s boyfriend will be there for starters.” Josiah said, referring to Asuna by a nickname.

    “Nezzie’s coming too.” James added. “And the Emo.”

    “So many familiar faces.” Josiah’s voice drifted in a nostalgic way. “I guess they’re coming for dad’s birthday. Also, I heard that a certain blonde guy’s gonna be there.”

    “Some unimportant guy whose picture you’d had under your pillow for the past six months.” James added with a sneer.

    Akira felt her heart drop into her stomach.

    “What!?” She gasped. “How’d you know?”

    “Doesn’t matter how we know.” Josiah looked it his fingernails in a nonchalant way. “Fact is we know that you’re like, head over heels in love with a man twelve years older than you.”

    Then Josiah clutched his hands to his chest, pretending to be scandalized.

    “Oh, what will Mom and Dad say when they find out?”

    James followed his brother’s lead, clapping his hands to his face.

    “Our sweet little sister, bewitched and led astray by a strange man with irresistible golden locks!” James put on an expression of fake shock. “We really should tell Dad before something happens.”

    Akira shuddered at the thought. Her mind’s eye was suddenly full of scenarios in which her parents, in one way or another, prevented her from seeing Emanuel again. Instinctively, Akira blurted out:

    “No, don’t! Come on!”

    James and Josiah fell silent. They looked at one another, grinning.

    “You’re right, Kira.” James said. “Telling Mom and Dad won’t do any good. We need to go to the source.”

    “Yeah, we are your big brothers, after all.” Josiah piled on, cracking his knuckles. “We should go straight to the source. What do you think, bro? Can we take that Espinosa guy in a fight?”

    “Oh, stop!” Akira pleaded. “Don’t tell anyone, and leave Emanuel alone, can’t you? Please please please don’t tell anyone! I mean it!”

    Josiah rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Or at least, he was pretending to be thoughtful. Then, Akira’s brothers finally revealed their true intentions:

    “So you don’t want us blurting your secret all over, huh?” James’ voice took on a tone Akira knew meant only bad things for her. “Okay, Kira. You can buy our silence... for a price.”

    “You’re horrible!” Akira whined. “That’s blackmail!”

    Josiah put one arm around Akira’s shoulder and held her close, ignoring her vigorous resistance to his embrace.

    “Oh, what’s a little blackmail between siblings?” Josiah replied in a casual tone. “We’ve got something you want: Our silence and discretion, and you’ve got something we want. Specifically, we want that big bag of candy you got from the Ackermanns.”

    Akira felt herself deflating in her brother’s grip.

    “Well, I guess I can give you a few pieces.”

    “Nuh-uh.” James vetoed. “We want the whole thing.”

    At that moment, the spaceplane nosed down in a gentle dive. Blake’s voice sounded over the intercom.

    “Alright, kids. We’re in final descent now. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for landing.”

    “Last chance, Kira.” Josiah said. “What’s it gonna be?”

    Cursing under her breath, Akira broke free of her brother’s grip and moved towards her bunk bed. She stuffed her hand inside of the pillowcase and retrieved a small plastic bag filled with brightly colored sweets.

    “Just so you both know, I totally hate you.” Akira snarled at her brothers. “What kind of jerks blackmail their own sister? You’re big, stupid bullies.”

    James snatched the bag from her and said:

    “Good doing business with you, little sis.”

    The twins turned to leave, but before they could put one hand on the handle, the hatchway swung open! The two young men took a step backwards as their father entered the dining area, a deep scowl on his face.

    “Oh, hey dad.” James quickly hid the bag of candy behind his back. “I thought we were preparing to land.”

    “So did I.” Blake replied, blocking the only exit with his own body. “But then my most responsible child told me to check on you. Said you looked like you were up to something.”

    “Azzie.” Josiah muttered under his breath.

    Blake’s eyes quickly flickered to Akira. She saw his expression change right away, he must have figured out what was going on by reading her own face.

    “Boys, whatever you just stole from your sister, give it back.” Blake said, sounding annoyed.

    Josiah put a hand to his mouth, acting scandalized again.

    “Why would we ever dream of robbing our own sister?” he replied. “We would never!”

    “If that’s true, then let me see what your brother’s holding.” Blake said, pointing to James with his good hand.

    When James hesitated, Akira piped up.

    “Dad, they’ve got the candy Sophie and Sophia gave me!”

    Blake narrowed his eyes at the twins and they both took a half step back. When he spoke, he did not raise his voice:

    “Boys, you’re almost eighteen years old. I would have expected you to grow out of this childish behavior by now. But seeing as you haven’t, you’ll be re-packing the parachutes after we land. Alone.”

    Both of the twins dropped their jaws.

    “But dad!” Josiah protested. “The weather forecast said it’s going to be over eighty degrees outside tonight!”

    “Give Akira’s candy back now, and I’ll send an android to give you water every few minutes.” Blake said. “Otherwise, you’ll have to carry the water yourselves and repack the chutes.”

    A moment later, Akira had her candy back and the twins left the room, grumbling. Blake watched them go until his youngest daughter suddenly flung her arms around him in a great big hug.

    “Thank you dad! Thank you!” Akira half cried.

    Blake patted her on the top of her head and reassured her:

    “You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’d never let anything happen bad to you. I love you.”

    “Love you too.”



    The Ark Angel swooped low over the southern shore of Lake Milford and came in to land at a ramshackle airport. Hitting the tarmac at high speed, the spaceplane’s brakes struggled to slow the massive craft and would have set the wheels on fire if not for two large parachutes deployed from the tail, slowing the vessel to a halt. The spaceplane touched down on a massive slab of flat ground that would have been an airport runway about fifty years ago. In fact, very little of what was once the City of Manhattan was still standing.

    Located in the very heart of Kansas, this region used to be the home of a military base that was nearly three times the size of the city that hosted it. While Manhattan fell to ruin, Fort Riley was annihilated, the only reminder of its presence being the airport runway, an impact crater about a mile to the northwest, and a perfectly round hill sticking out of the otherwise flat terrain roughly ten miles due north.

    In between the wreckage of Fort Riley and the ruins of Manhattan, a new settlement had sprung up. Some five hundred ramshackle buildings stood on what used to be the main road, all built from reclaimed canvas, corrugated metal, and timber. A high wall surrounded the town, defenders armed with rifles stood underneath canopies, allowing huge fans to keep them somewhat cool. The only entrance or exit to the place was a single gate built into the wall.

    This place was the Colony. For the Robinson family and many former members of XCOM, this was home.

    Curious children braved the overpowering heat of the early morning to stand on the outer perimeter of the town and watch the landing. Men carried large tarps and poles onto the tarmac, quickly erecting a covered lane between the taxiway and the Gate.

    In a matter of minutes, a series of long canopies were raised between the motionless Ark Angel and the Colony, allowing people to move and work away from the dangerous light of the sun. One of the locals rapped his knuckles on the hatch and stepped back. The Ark Angel’s boarding ramp lowered to the ground and the Robinson family disembarked.

    The spaceplane had a powerful air conditioning system in the cabin, so Akira and her family were buffeted by a blast of hot air as they exited the ship. Akira reached up and felt her hair starting to get frizzy. While Asuna, Alexander, James, and Josiah disembarked ahead of the family, Akira stayed with her parents. Not out of choice. Chihiro wrapped on hand around her daughter’s shoulders and was holding her very close. Her father descended the boarding ramp and shook hands with the man who’d come out to greet them.

    “Tucker!” Blake shook hands with the man. “When did you guys get in?”

    Former XCOM soldier Cory Tucker was a black American, completely bald and looking to be in a state of perpetual exhaustion. He was wearing a flightsuit, similar to the kind worn by the crew of Battlemaster-class gunships such as the Ark Angel. Tucker’s flightsuit was unzipped, and the upper half of the uniform was wrapped around his waist, leaving the old man wearing just a tank top over his torso. Even so, the heat of the day was clearly getting to him.

    “We landed about three hours before you did.” Cory Tucker replied. “Before the sun came up. Do you have anything you need to unload?”

    “We’ve got an atmosphere generator in the hold.” Alex chimed in. “Salvaged it from a Vanian shipwreck in western Africa.”

    Cory Tucker looked astounded.

    “An atmogen!” he gasped. “Oh, man! That’s a lucky break.”

    Then Cory turned around and called out to his own crew.

    “Guys, get over here and lend a hand!”

    The Robinsons stood to one side as two more people approached. They were members of the same starship crew as Cory himself. Alexei Volobyov and Duane Gardner greeted their friends warmly.

    “We’ll take care of this, Tachibana.” Duane said to Chihiro. “Why don’t you take your kids and get outta the heat? Weather forecast says it’s gonna be triple digits all day.”

    The Robinson women didn’t need to be asked twice. The morning sun had just barely risen, but the local temperature was already exceeding a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Before the men set to work unloading the spaceplane, they all took off their shirts and passed around bottles of water. Chihiro, Asuna, and Akira left at a brisk pace, following the shadow of the covered walkway into the Colony.

    The Colony of Myron was built on the Kansas River, which was far smaller and narrower than it was fifty years ago. The biggest structures were repurposed shipping containers, stacked on top of one another and connected to form more complex buildings. The vast majority of structures were constructs of corrugated metal and improvised concrete, thrown together by survivalists who flocked to the site after it was established. Finally, there was a smattering of simple tents all over the place. Varying in size, shape, and color, they were sometimes found in clusters, but more often than not, just scattered all over the place.

    If one was to look at the Colony from above, they would be forgiven for thinking that the entire settlement was a single solid object. There were no roads or streets, no avenues or alleyways to be seen. In fact, such things did exist in the Colony. They were just hidden. Every possible open space between the buildings was covered by awnings, solid panels, metal rooftops, canvas sheets, or some other kind of overhead cover that sheltered pedestrians from the dangerous sunlight.

    In the center of the Colony was the Kansas River, and along its northern shores were a complex of large buildings, leftover military installations from the Second Hyperspace War. Surrounded by a smaller wall of its own, this military base was somewhat like the Keep in the center of a medieval castle. Chihiro guided her daughters toward this facility with great care, holding Akira by the hand and keeping a tight grip on Asuna’s shoulder.

    Each time the trio crossed a roadway, Chihiro would put both hands out to stop her children from crossing until she was sure it was safe. Whenever a man turned his gaze onto the girls, Chihiro would put one hand on the scabbard tied to her waist, making sure the stranger got a good long look at the Katana. And all the time, Chihiro would constantly warn her daughters to “be careful, keep your heads on a swivel, and let me do the talking if it comes to that.”

    Asuna and Akira may have been young, but they were not stupid. Chihiro was being protective of her children, as any parent should. But both girls were aware of the fact that their mother was going slightly overboard, doing too much. Asuna, for her part, was very annoyed at her parent’s overprotective tendencies. Throughout the trip, she would constantly try to break free of her mother’s grip and remind Chihiro that she was twenty-three years old and no longer needed a chaperone. This touched off the same argument that Chihiro and Asuna had been having for years. Akira could practically predict the words:

    “Mom, I am an adult. You do not need to baby me anymore.” Asuna signed with her hands. “I can take care of myself.”

    Chihiro replied in sign language as well.

    “You cannot go out alone, not even here. People might take advantage of you.”

    “I’m deaf, not dumb!” Asuna spelled out each letter with her hand to emphasize her point.

    Akira, for her part, actually liked it when her parents put in too much effort to keep her safe. It was, by far and away, the most attention they paid directly to her. Blake and Chihiro were so busy with their work on the “Project” and raising four other children that Akira sometimes felt neglected or forgotten. So when Chihiro pulled Akira close to her while waiting for a caravan of traders to pass by, Akira put one arm around her mother and turned the protective hold into an affectionate hug. She loved the reassurance that her parents were looking out for her.



    Finally, Chihiro, Akira, and Asuna reached the inner gate in the center of the Colony. Two soldiers recognized Chihiro on sight and said:

    “Welcome home, Corporal Tachibana.”

    The Inner Gate opened and five people came out to greet the Robinsons. Or rather… four people and an android.

    Asuna squealed and jumped for joy before her boyfriend grabbed her around the middle and lifted her into the air kissing her passionately. Christopher Wright, a sandy-haired man with green eyes, pulled away from Asuna and saw the expression on Chihiro’s face. He put Asuna down, and trying to hide how much he was blushing, he started to greet Chihiro respectfully, but his voice cracked. Akira felt her face getting hot and red. She turned to look away, only for another familiar person to grab her.

    “Oh, la niña sagrada, you’re getting big!” Said a woman’s voice.

    Inez Vasquez was a friend of the Robinson family, and she was just as dirty and messy as Akira had always known her to be. The red-haired Venezuelan was dressed in mechanic’s coveralls that were stained with motor oil. She had no doubt spent the morning arms-deep inside of an engine. Inez ruffled Akira’s hair and smiled at her before going to speak with Chihiro.

    When Inez stepped away, an android with a rectangular head and a single red eye looked at Akira, then tilted its head to one side.

    “I don’t know what she’s talking about.” The android spoke in a voice that was extremely sassy, snarky, and full of suppressed malice. “You’ve only grown a centimeter since you were last here. But then again, my sensor hasn’t been cleaned in a while, so I might be mistaken.”

    “Good to see you too, Julian.” Akira mumbled.

    Julian the android started to say something in reply, but he was abruptly pushed out of the way by a small person, who was so eager to see Akira that she bowled over a machine twice her own size. Akira grabbed and tightly hugged her one and only friend in the world.

    “Scar!’ Akira cried.

    “Kira!” The girl replied.

    Scarlett Freeman was a Caucasian girl, roughly the same age as Akira. She had platinum-blonde hair, green eyes, and the cutest, most harmless face you can possibly imagine on a teenage girl. Scarlett and Akira held one another and jumped around for a few seconds, squealing so loudly that even Asuna seemed to be aware of the racket they were making. After a moment, the joyful reunion was cut short by the final friend of the Robinsons making his appearance.

    “Let’s save the happy reunions for when we get out of the sun!” Declared a man’s voice. “Girls, you must be cooking alive out here. Come inside and cool off!”

    Akira looked away from Scarlett and felt as though she’d been struck dumb.

    Emanuel Espinosa looked even dreamier than in his picture. He was a full twelve years older than Akira, standing tall and proud with lean but noticeable muscles and a smile that made Akira’s heart flutter. Wavy blonde hair framed his face in a way Akira thought was perfect.

    When Emanuel turned around to lead everyone inside the building, Akira and Scarlett both followed him closely. Keeping their eyes locked on him, both girls wore a blissful, dreamy expression on their faces as though they were being lured away by the mythical pied piper. Akira was vaguely aware of the fact that she must have looked like a zombie as she shuffled along after Emanuel, leaned forward, panting a little as she kept pace.

    Emanuel was right. Akira desperately needed to cool off. As she, her family, and her friend followed him into the building that now served as XCOM headquarters, she felt as though her body was superheating beyond all reason.

    <=== Previous Chapter (Prologue)


    Author's Note: Special thanks to Reddit user "u/ace_pade" for the artwork of Mira Mihaka!
     
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    Chapter 2: An Old Family Friend
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 2
    An Old Family Friend

    June 27, 2060
    The Colony, Kansas, North America



    It was the hottest time of the year, so most people did their work and activities at night. Once the sun went down, the temperatures outside of XCOM HQ fell to a chilly ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. It was safe to step out from underneath the protective awnings and rooftops, although the ground would remain hot enough to burn feet until very late at night.

    Akira’s parents were, as always, busy. They separated from the main group and joined a gathering of men and women in a meeting hall near the center of the headquarters. Since Asuna and Alexander were adults, they were free to do what they wanted, and they did just that. Asuna took Chris by the hand and they slipped off to a different building in the complex. Akira knew she wouldn’t see them again until the following night. Alexander joined his parents at the big important meeting, carrying a floppy manila folder stuffed with paperwork under his arm.

    As for the younger Robinson children, Akira found herself in a situation that had one very bad side and one very good side. Before leaving for their meeting, Blake and Chihiro entrusted Akira to the care of Inez Vasquez. This was good because Inez was close friends with Emanuel Espinosa. Akira’s imagination ramped into overdrive as she mentally planned out all of the ways she could remove Inez from the equation and be alone with Emanuel. But then there was the bad side: James and Josiah were also going to be there, and no amount of planning could work on them.

    Inez lived in a tenement house with nearly two dozen other people. The building itself used to be a barracks from the Second Hyperspace War, but in the intervening years, someone built walls to separate the many beds from one another, creating over two dozen small cell-like rooms. A central hallway ran the length of the barracks, connecting all of the rooms to the public bathrooms and communal shower.

    The twins barreled into the tenement with the force of a tornado, almost crashing into an old man who was on his way out. He waved a bottle of beer angrily at the twins, cursing.

    “Sorry, Bradford!” Inez gasped as she followed the twins inside.

    “The Robinsons are back, huh?” grumbled John Bradford, the former Central Officer of XCOM. “Guess I should go see how long we’ve delayed the inevitable this time. And hey, Nezzie, keep those two cretins on a leash, won’t you?”

    As Bradford left, Inez and Akira looked around to see that the twins were barely inside of the tenement and already causing chaos. The doorway to the communal showers had just swung open and Scarlett Freeman walked directly into the ambush. Dressed in a pair of bath towels, one wrapped around her body and one around her head, Scarlett recoiled at the sight of the twins.

    “Oh, no. Not you again!” She moaned.

    Sniggering and laughing, the twins descended on Scarlett, teasing and bullying her with not a breath of remorse. The older twin grabbed Scarlett’s hair and pulled so hard she shrieked.

    “Hey, it’s Rope Girl!” Josiah teased. “Where’s the rope!? What did you do with it?”

    He grabbed a handful of Scarlett’s hair and tugged, searching for the braids Scarlett used to be known for, causing her to scream and sob.

    “I don’t braid my hair anymore!” Scarlett cried. “Leave me alone!”

    Akira ran forward and put her shoulder into Josiah’s side, shoving him to the floor.

    “You heard her! Leave her alone!” Akira barked at Josiah.

    Scarlett scampered into her room and slammed the door while the twins stared slack-jawed at their sister.

    “You’d better apologize for that, Kira.” James growled.

    Akira simply flipped a very rude hand gesture at James before walking back to Inez.

    “Can we go somewhere before I kill those two, Nezzie? Anywhere’s fine.”



    And that was how, ten minutes later, Akira and Inez found themselves outside, making their way up to the roof. The sun went down several hours ago, and the ground was finally cool enough to walk on with bare feet. Inez and Akira wandered around the flat rooftop, overlooking the town, and played catchup.

    “So, I heard your familia was in Africa.” Inez said. “What was that thing your dad said he found?”

    “An atmosphere generator.” Akira replied. “We found it in a Vanian starship that crashed near Lagos. That’s in Nigeria.”

    Inez pulled the power cord on one of the industrial fans, letting cool air wash over them both..

    “Oh, that’s so exciting!” She declared.

    “Don’t see how.” Akira snorted. “Hell, I don’t even know what an atmosphere generator is supposed to do.”

    Inez put her hands on her hips and looked down at Akira.

    “Wait, they haven’t told you?”

    Akira laughed.

    “My parents haven’t told me a lot of things, Nezzie. They’re too busy with that stupid project, whatever it is. You know they never told me where babies come from? I learned it from the twins!”

    Even in the darkness, Akira could see that Inez was looking scandalized.

    Oh, la niña sagrada,” Inez cursed. “That’s muy malo.”

    “It’s okay.” Akira shrugged. “Mom and Dad are making up for it. Dad promised I’d get to fly the Angel when I turned fifteen, and I’ve been reminding him on and off for months now. He won’t forget that.”

    Inez shook her head.

    “It’s not that, little niña. The Project is so important to your padre and mamá. It’s... well, how do I explain it? It’s their legacy. Their legacy and their gift to you and your siblings. It’s the Terraforming Engine.”

    “Terraforming Engine?” Akira repeated. “I’ve heard of something like that before, but... why? Why would mom and dad build one?”

    “Not just your parents. XCOM.” Inez clarified. “They think it’s their last best hope for fixing the world. If they can get this thing running, the world will cool off, the Ozone layer will come back, and none of us will have to live in a scorching hellhole anymore. That’s what they’re helping XCOM build inside the headquarters.”

    Inez gestured to the silhouette of XCOM HQ in the darkness.

    “If this works, you’ll get to grow up in a temperate world, and you can go out in the daylight instead of skulking about in the dark like this.”

    Akira scoffed.

    “You might like it, but I’ve never been cold before. I’d totally freak out if the world cools off. And what about heavy clothes? Do they really slow you down?”

    Akira had seen plenty of pictures of people wearing winter gear, and it simply didn’t make sense to her. The heaviest article of clothing she’d worn in her whole life was a rain jacket, and Akira could count on one hand the number of times she’d actually put it on. Unlike Inez, or any of her siblings for that matter, Akira was not old enough to remember what the world was like before the beginning of Nuclear Summer.

    “You’ll be fine.” Inez laughed. “You’ll really freak out when you see it's possible to be cold in the daylight, too.

    Then, Inez put a friendly had on Akira’s shoulder.

    “This might just be the last birthday you have in the dark, Akira. Cross you believe it? Are you ready for the day when you can walk around in the sunlight without being killed by it?”

    Akira leaned back and looked up at the night sky. The combined layer of haze and dry fog in the air obscured all but the brightest stars.

    “I’ll believe it when I see the heavens for real.”



    June 28, 2060


    “What!? Just a small party!? But, but, but... you’re turning fifteen!”

    “Yeah, I know.”

    Akira and Scarlett were sitting inside the dining hall at XCOM HQ, about thirty feet below ground level, where it was cooler. They weren’t alone. Scarlett’s parents were at the next table, chatting with Blake and Chihiro. Julian the android was sitting at Akira’s table, just a short distance away from her. Scarlett, who had just asked Akira about her birthday plans, didn’t notice as her spoon tipped sideways and some cucumber soup dribbled down her front.

    “I thought, like, all girls threw these big huge celebrations when they turned fifteen.” Scarlett stammered. “Isn’t it, like, tradition or something?”

    Julian leaned over to interrupt.

    “It is a tradition in certain Human cultures.” The android said. “If Miss Robinson was of Latin American descent, she might have considered throwing a fiesta de quinceañera, a mass celebration with hundreds of guests. The option is still available, as my personality database suggests Tech Sergeant Inez Vasquez would be open to the idea, and is willing to assist.”

    “Shut up.” Akira said to Julian. “Look, Scar. I don’t want a big birthday party. I just want... uh... you know... I just want one or two specific people to come and hang out with me for a few hours.”

    This did not produce the reaction Akira was expecting. The smile on Scarlett’s face suddenly flickered, and it seemed to be very forced. Her left eyelid twitched a miniscule amount. Akira locked eyes with her friend.

    “Hey, something wrong?”

    Scarlett overacted, pretending to choke on a nonexistent bite of food.

    “No, I’m okay! It... It’s nothing.”

    At that moment, Julian stood up and approached Scarlett, metal arms outstretched.

    “As much as I find your suffering mildly entertaining, my programming compels me to intervene against my own will.” The android declared.

    It was Akira’s turn to fake an emotion. While she struggled to stop Julian from giving Scarlett an unnecessary Heimlich maneuver, she wondered exactly what part of her statement had caused Scarlett to shut down.

    Akira found herself wishing she could read minds.



    Later in the evening, as the sun was starting to go down, the whole Robinson family gathered together for a short meeting. Standing in main entrance hall, Chihiro said:

    “So, Blake and Akira. Both of you are having your birthdays on Wednesday. Have you picked a place for the party?”

    Blake took a step back and pointed to his daughter.

    “You know me, Chi. Akira gets first pick.”

    Akira’s face got red. It was a tradition as old as she was. Ever since she was born on her father’s birthday, Blake had always chosen to give up his own celebration to make Akira’s big day even better. She hugged him and said:

    “I wanna have a picnic in the river park.”

    Alexander clapped his hands excitedly.

    “Good idea!” He said. “I saw a merchant caravan go through the Gate this morning. There’s probably a lot of cool foreign food in the Trade Center right now.”

    “And how many people do you want to invite?” Chihiro asked, pulling a notepad out of her pocket.

    “Just two.” Akira replied. “Chris Wright and Emanuel Espinosa.”

    Blake and Chihiro both stiffened. Alex was confused, while Asuna gave a wide smile at the mention of her boyfriend’s name. James and Josiah looked at one another and raised their eyebrows. Finally, the parents, in a concerned tone of voice, replied:

    “Um, Akira. Chris and Emanuel are... uh, they’re fully grown men.” Blake said. “Don’t you want to invite someone your own age?”

    “Someone like that lovely Freeman girl?” Chihiro suggested.

    Sensing she was pushing her luck too far, Akira quickly tried to offer a compromise. She wasn’t willing to give up on having Emanuel at the party, but she was ready to give a little ground.

    “Okay, sure. Scar can come, and maybe Nezzie, too, if she brings Julian.”

    Chihiro gave Akira a very quizzical look.

    “Is that it? No one else? This is your fifteenth we’re talking about, Akira. It should be a special occasion.”

    Akira put on the biggest, cheeriest smile she could muster.

    “And it will be.” She replied. “That’s why I invited people who are special to me.”

    In reality, Akira wanted a single moment with just one person. But if that meant putting up with a slightly larger crowd, then so be it. She would just play the cards she was dealt.

    Meanwhile, Blake and Chihiro were looking at one another as though they were having a silent conversation. Finally, Blake relented. He turned to speak to Asuna, making sure to spell out his next request with his hands,

    “Alright. It’s your birthday, and you’ll get the party you wanted. Chi? Asuna? Can you take Akira to the Trade Center? Get enough food for a nightlong party.”

    He passed a large pouch to his wife. It jingled with the sound of many coins rattling together.



    Once the sun went down and the heat of the day broke, the Colony’s Trade Center came to life. It was a large plaza, covered in awnings as usual, surrounded on three sides by storefronts where merchants and traders peddled their goods. When Chihiro, Asuna, and Akira arrived, the plaza was already brimming with people. Some five hundred men and women bustled about, shopping and bartering and trading.

    Chihiro opened up the bag her husband gave her and distributed its contents to Akira and Asuna. Each girl received fifty United Nations Credits. The Credits themselves were in the shape of coins made from a bronze-aluminum alloy. The heads side depicted a profile of Jericho while the tails side contained the insignia of the United Nations: a map of the Earth encircled by twin olive branches and the words: EST. 2035.

    “I know we’re supposed to be buying food and party supplies,” Chihiro said. “But I’m not going ask you to give back the leftover money when we’re done.”

    It was a pre-birthday shopping spree worthy of the Old World. Akira and Asuna went from one food vendor to the next, stocking up on salted meats for what was rapidly starting to look like a birthday cookout. Once they did a lap around the storefronts, Akira, Asuna, and Chihiro turned their attention to the central plaza.

    Just as Alex had mentioned, a merchant caravan had pulled into the Trade Center. Eight vehicles (mostly trucks) had parked in the middle of the plaza and merchants were selling their goods directly off the backs of their vehicles. Some food items were strangely shaped. Others strangely colored. And a few were just plain weird.

    “What the hell is that thing!?” Akira squealed, pointing towards a strange batch of fruits one man was selling.

    “Oh! Pomegranates!” Chihiro gasped in delight. “I haven’t eaten one of those in about twenty years!”

    And she proceeded to buy a dozen of them.

    All was going well as the night wore on and the trio continued their shopping. But about an hour before midnight, right when the Trade Center was about to hit peak activity, a voice called out that made Chihiro halt in her tracks, and by extension, so did Akira. When Asuna realized her family wasn’t pulling up the rear anymore, she stopped and looked around.

    “Tachibana?” someone called to the Robinsons. “Corporal Tachibana of the Avenger?”

    A tall, bony man with a gaunt face pushed through the crowd and greeted Chihiro. For a moment, Akira’s mother stared directly into the man’s skull-like features before a smile of recognition dawned on her own face.

    “Von Unfal!?” Chihiro breathed. “Bernard von Unfal!? No way! I thought you were dead!”

    “And I you.” The man replied in a German accent.

    As Chihiro and the stranger hugged, Akira and Asuna hung back, looking at one another nervously.

    “Did you know mom had another friend?” Akira signed to her sister. “He seems creepy.”

    Asuna replied silently, hiding her hand behind her bag of groceries and hand-spelling a quick reply:

    “I think he is creepy too.”

    At that moment, Chihiro introduced Bernard to her children.

    “These are my daughters, Asuna and Akira.”

    Bernard took Asuna’s hand in his own, and with his super-creepy bony face, he kissed the top of Asuna’s knuckles. Then he looked up and spoke in elaborate German:

    “Es ist mir eine Freude, Sie kennenzulernen, junge Dame.”

    Asuna let out a weak giggle before she opened her mouth and spoke in very poor, halting English:

    “I am named, Ah-soo-nuh. I’m deaf.”

    She covered her ear with one hand and shook her head to get her point across. Bernard raised an eyebrow before he nodded in understanding. Then the strange man looked at Akira. She looked straight into his face and did not like what she saw.

    Bernard von Unfal’s face was already sunken and sallow, but his ghoulish appearance was magnified a hundredfold by the fact that his eyes were grey. Not that kind of faded blue some people had. These eyes were nearly devoid of all color. Akira knew this was not a natural eye color for Humans. The color of Bernard's eyes signified something important, but in that moment, she couldn’t remember what it was or why. All Akira knew was that when she looked into those seemingly dead eyes, her mind was filled with all kinds of dark and disturbing thoughts.

    However, there was one more thing Akira found alarming about this guy. Even though she was facing him head-on, she could see some kind of technologically sophisticated device attached to the back of his head. Two metal arms snaked around Bernard’s skull and rested atop his ears in much the same way as the arms on a pair of glasses do. Akira found the sight to be very unnerving.

    “And what is your name, young lady?” He asked.

    Akira felt a chill running up her spine, and it came with a very powerful impulse to run away. Fighting down her reflexes, Akira managed to choke out her own name. Unlike Asuna, Bernard held his grip on Akira’s hand far longer, staring into her eyes the entire time. Ultimately, Chihiro had to make him let go.

    “Blake will be happy to see you too.” She said. “How long will you be here? Maybe we can have a proper reunion.”

    To Akira and Asuna’s dismay, Bernard said he would be in the Colony all week, and that he would be most happy to visit the Robinsons at XCOM HQ. When the girls finally parted ways with Bernard, Akira grabbed her mother by the hand and forcefully pulled Chihiro away from the Trade Center.

    Akira looked back only once as she left the scene, and what she saw nearly made her heart stop. As she, Chihiro, and Asuna were walking away, Bernard pulled some kind of device out of his pocket. It was a small handheld computer, connected via electrical cable to a handheld contraption that resembled an Old World microphone. Bernard was pointing this device directly at the Robinsons while looking down at his screen.

    Akira was so frightened she couldn’t speak.





    Akira ended up going to bed just before the sun rose. She had nothing else to do because her mother insisted on “letting the birthday girl relax while her parents set up the party.” So Akira went back to the tenement. When she arrived, she could hear Inez Vasquez gossiping with somebody through the walls, so Akira just went into her own room and flopped down on the little bed.

    Sometime later, the sound of conversation stopped, and Akira could feel sleep closing in on her. She tried to think about the strange encounter with Bernard von Unfal in the Trade Center again. Something about this guy just seemed wrong to her, but she couldn’t pin it down exactly. Akira punched her pillow and tried to get comfortable, but as she settled into bed, a new sound reached her ears.

    Footsteps in the hallway.

    This was normal, as some two dozen other people lived in the tenement building. Akira could hear voices talking, and she tried to ignore them, but her interest was piqued when somebody mentioned her name.

    “And what about the younger one? I think her name was Akira?”

    Akira felt her skin crawling. That was the voice of Bernard Von Unfal. What was he doing here?

    “Oh, I've known her since she was very small.” The second voice belonged to Emanuel Espinosa. Akira’s heartbeat quickened and she felt herself getting very hot all of a sudden.

    “She takes after her mother a lot.” Emanuel went on. “She even has Chihiro’s eyes.”

    “Yes.” Bernard sounded like he was feigning interest. “You may be too young to remember, Espinosa, but I fought alongside Tachibana during the war. I was part of the squad that silenced the Chosen Warlock once and for all.”

    “I know.” Emanuel’s voice said through the walls. “What’s your point?”

    “My point is this, I learned enough about the universe during the war to know that young Akira is the kind of person I’m interested in. I want to get closer to her, to learn more. You’re a friend of the Robinson family. Can you help me, Espinosa?”

    Akira heard all of this through the wall and suddenly started feeling very sick. She wondered if she could get out of bed and hold her door shut without being heard. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Emanuel’s response was just forceful enough that she could hear every single word:

    “Not a snowflake’s chance on Earth, von Unfal. Chihiro might not know what kind of man you became after the war, but I can see the truth in your eyes. The work you do leaves marks on your soul. Don’t go anywhere near that girl, and if I find out you did, I won’t be very civil with you.”

    A single set of footsteps retreated towards the door and were gone. From the sound of it, Emanuel lurked in the hallway outside of Akira’s door for a few minutes... minutes that felt like centuries while Akira wrestled with the urge to burst out of her room and kiss Emanuel right then and there. By the time Akira found the willpower to act on her impulses, it was too late. The sound of a door being opened and closed reached her ears just as she stepped out of her room and into the hallway.

    Emanuel was gone again, leaving Akira so deep in love that she might just drown in her own passion.



     
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    Chapter 3: All Gone Wrong
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 3
    All Gone Wrong

    June 29, 2060
    The Colony, Kansas, North America



    Akira couldn’t contain her excitement the next morning. Tomorrow was her birthday! She would be fifteen years old, and it felt like she had life completely figured out. Tomorrow, she would finally get her moment with Emanuel, get her first flying lesson, and basically spend the whole day being the center of attention.

    When she arrived in the cafeteria at XCOM HQ, Akira found her first birthday present waiting for her. Inez Vasquez stood on top of a table and made sure everyone in the room could see it.

    “Hey hombres, thanks for helping me make this thing!” Inez told the surrounding XCOM personnel while they clapped and cheered.

    Akira went red when she saw that it was a flightsuit, of the exact same type worn by spaceplane crew such as her parents, Emanuel, or Inez. On the right shoulder was the American flag, fifty-one stars on a blue field with thirteen red and white stripes. The name “Robinson” was sewn on to the chest above the heart. Finally, the original Ark Angel mission patch was affixed to the left shoulder: A stylized Japanese Torii Gate on a blue field encircled by the names of the Angel’s war-era command crew.


    y4mUowqATiPwaMHa_ZZQZYAuaaUMPS23vVQfBuYdMmFlrDrk0PrF7FNKqJlNEYO3LSDMlZBFsjLRPljKH_fdVmCLPE9wDsx_F0kTkezcRha7Zr_Q7gQy9JlwSnzv6ux0GNV1qggU9XzRKrSTaPYdeqmaIzrQNbtdrPBJ007sSm6ArwAhSv8F9Kt4dvKyAC3Rhde

    Inez tried to give the flightsuit to Akira, but found the teenager was more interested in hugging her and squealing out her thanks. Inez pressed the suit into Akira’s hands and said:

    “Try it on already, we’ve gotta see how you look all grown up!”

    Because this was shaping up to be a very hot day, Akira wasn’t wearing much clothing to start with, just a tanktop and shorts. She stepped into the flightsuit and pulled it over her outfit, zipping up the suit while several XCOM personnel around her clapped and voiced their approval.

    “One of us! One of us!” A Canadian engineer chanted.

    Several members of XCOM gave Akira high-fives and wished her a happy birthday before moving on. As she finally got around to getting breakfast from the serving line, Akira noticed Scarlett Freeman arriving. Sitting down with her best friend, Akira quickly brought Scarlett up to speed on her encounter with Bernard von Unfal in the Trade Center yesterday.

    “Oh, that guy sounds like a total creep.” Scarlett said with a shudder. “Good thing he’ll be gone soon. Those merchant caravans don’t really hang out all that long.”

    “I’m still kinda freaked out that my Mom gets along with the guy.” Akira remarked. “Everything about him is wrong. Did I tell you he’s got, like, a metal spider on the back of his head?”

    Scarlett spat out her food in shock.

    “What!?”

    Akira quickly described the spindly metal thing she’d seen latched to the back of his head. Scarlett’s eyes widened and she laughed.

    “Kira, that wasn’t a spider, that was a Mindshield.”

    “Mindshield?” Akira repeated.

    “Yeah,” Scarlett replied. “Normal people like you and me wear those things to stop mind-readers from getting in our heads. Makes sense for a merchant to wear a Mindshield, though. If a telepath could get in his mind, he’d be out of business in ten seconds flat!”

    Akira thought this was interesting, but before she had the chance to reply, two flurries of movement occurred on either side of her.

    James and Josiah both sat down at the same table as Akira and Scarlett. They put down their trays rather forcefully, sending little bits of food flying into the air. Both twins pressed themselves into Akira’s sides, holding her in place.

    “Hey, it’s just the little sister that we wanted to talk to.” James said.

    “We wanted to clear some things up with you,” Josiah continued, “So we can all have a fun day tomorrow.”

    Scarlett lowered her head and tried to make herself seem invisible. James put an arm around Akira’s shoulder, saying:

    “You still owe my brother an apology for shoving him yesterday.”

    “In your dreams.” Akira snapped. “You were bullying Scar.”

    “She got rid of her braids without asking us first.” Josiah said. “How else were we supposed to react?”

    “You self-centered moronic as-”

    But before Akira could finish her profanity, Josiah shook her into silence.

    “Apologize.” He said. “Or else.”

    Now Akira was getting angry. She grabbed James’ arm and dug her fingernails into him, trying to draw blood. James seethed.

    “Do it.” He said. “Or you and Scar won’t be friends anymore.”

    Josiah leaned across the table at Scarlett and said to her:

    “Seriously, though. We liked those braids. You gonna get them back or what?”

    Akira lost her temper.

    She raked her fingernails up and down James’ arm, staining her own hand with his blood. James gasped and let go of Akira. The twins stood up, looking down on the girls with real fury. Then James turned to Scarlett and said:

    “See this, Scar? You don’t wanna be friends with this bully. She’s gonna hurt you and then steal Espinosa right out from under you!”

    The words hung in the air for a few seconds. Akira was too stunned to do or say anything. Scarlett looked back and forth from the twins to her friend. Josiah scoffed.

    “So yeah. You’ve both got the hots for the same guy. Kira’s been drooling over Espinosa for just as long as you, Scar. And last time I checked; Espinosa’s pretty monogamous. He not the type of guy who shares... so have fun, ladies. Let us know who wins.”

    And the twins left.

    Akira’s brain seemed to have locked up. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t even process sights and sounds correctly. Scarlett was just staring at her, dumbfounded. Finally, Akira tried to speak.

    “Scar... I...”

    Scarlett got to her feet and ran from the cafeteria, sobbing.



    Akira couldn’t decide how to feel.

    She wanted to pound James and Josiah into dust for bullying Scarlett and herself, but then again... Scarlett was also in love with Emanuel. Akira had read enough books in the Colony’s library to know this wasn’t going to end well.

    There were stories from the Old World about a Chinese man who was desired by two women. The two women threw themselves into a river, calling for him to choose which one to save. There was also a tale of three Greek gods, whose unresolved love triangle caused a war. And of course, everybody on Earth knew about the drama surrounding the Savior herself. Jericho had been entangled with two people who wanted her at the same time. Tragically, Duane Gardner and Sophie Ackermann both outlived the woman they desired.

    Akira was very frightened she would end up in a similar situation, but she didn’t know how to escape it. Walking underneath the awnings and rooftops to keep out of the sun, Akira absentmindedly headed back towards the tenement building. She needed to think, to brainstorm, to come up with something she could say to Scarlett.

    Scarlett was Akira’s best friend, but at the end of the day, Akira knew that Emanuel was hers, and that Scarlett had no business being anywhere near him. What could Akira say that would get Scarlett to back down without sacrificing their friendship?

    Akira was lost in her own thoughts as she passed the gate in the inner wall. To her left, a covered pathway led to the airport where the Ark Angel was parked. She walked right past it, intending to continue on to the tenement, but a loud voice caused Akira to do a double-take and return to the gate.

    Outside the walls, in the main town, several people were having a very loud and intense argument.

    “Aw come on, lady!” A man was pleading. “Everything’s for sale! How about two thousand Credits?”

    “Go away!” Barked a slightly high-pitched voice. “Leave us alone before I decide to hurt you!”

    Akira recognized that voice at once. Plenty of people said that Akira's voice was similar to the voice Chihiro Tachibana had when she was a teenager. She ran up to the gate and saw her own mother was quickly walking away from Bernard von Unfal. Chihiro was visibly angry, to the point where Akira knew to give her a wide berth.

    “How about a trade, then?” Bernard sounded as though he was getting desperate. “I’ve got a very nice starship parked on the runway. It’s a Levakian Silvestris-Class, very new, top of the line. How about it?”

    “You dare!? I should kill you!” Chihiro threatened.

    Akira was now very alarmed. Just yesterday, Chihiro and Bernard had been as friendly as can be. What was going on here?

    Chihiro reached to her belt and pulled the Chosen Assassin’s Katana halfway into view, letting Bernard know that she was armed and serious. The German veteran took a half-step backward.

    “Now, now, Tachibana. Let’s not lose our heads. I’m offering you a very generous deal.”

    There was a commotion behind Akira, she looked around and saw three more people running towards the scene. Blake and Alexander Robinson, as well as Emanuel Espinosa were racing toward Chihiro. They were all armed with Gauss pistols.

    “Von Unfal!” Blake yelled. “If even half of what I heard is true, I swear to Jericho I’ll put a bullet in your skull!”

    Bernard von Unfal kept his hands raised, but did not back away.

    “I have many connections and friends.” Von Unfal insisted. “When I made them aware of the value at stake, they authorized me to pay any cost, no matter how steep. You just have to name your price!”

    Blake raised a Gauss pistol with his one good hand took aim directly at Bernard’s face.

    “My daughter is not for sale!” Blake yelled. “Now I'm giving you until the count of ten to clear out of here before I pump your guts full of copper! One!”

    The bottom fell out of Akira’s stomach. What did her father just say!? What was going on here!? Bernard, keeping his hands raised, persisted.

    “Oh, come on, Robinson! Everything’s for sale!” von Unfal gestured to the airport. “How about a trade? Do you need a new starship?”

    “Two!” Blake shouted, “Three!”

    Emanuel stepped to the side, placing himself directly between Akira and Bernard, but the gaunt-faced German had already spotted her. Akira was rooted in the spot by fear as the full implications of the situation started to hit her.

    “Come on, Robinson, she’s right there! I know how difficult it is to raise children, you must be exhausted after the first four. Let me take the young one off your hands, I’m doing you a favor!” Von Unfal was pleading.

    “Four!” Emanuel counted off. “Five!”

    Chihiro reached down to her waist and tugged on a long, thin object. The Katana of the Chosen Assassin flashed in the evening light, its blade glittering in a dangerous way. She pointed the sword at von Unfal, who refused to back down.

    “Robinson!” von Unfal pleaded. “I showed your wife my readings, that girl is more special than any of us can comprehend. My clients need her! How about ten thousand credits?”

    “Six!” Blake took a step closer to von Unfal and flipped the safety switch on his pistol. “Seven!”

    Von Unfal threw his head back and let out a growl of frustration. But just as Chihiro said “Eight,” von Unfal’s eyes lit up as though he had an idea.

    “Wait! I have a proposal!” He said quickly.

    “Nine!” Emanuel chambered a round in his own weapon. Von Unfal blurted out his final offer.

    “My people will help build the Terraforming Engine!” Von Unfal yelled. “We’ll give you equipment, technology, personnel, and funding!”

    “T...”

    The word died in Blake’s throat. He, Chihiro, and Emanuel all paused. For a quarter of a second, a terrible silence hung in the air. The hesitation was palpable. Akira could see, for the shortest of moments, that both of her parents were stunned into silence. And then, the terrible, horrible truth sank in.

    Blake and Chihiro were seriously considering the offer.

    Akira’s blood ran cold as she fully understood that her parents had, if only for a moment, given very real thought to selling her as though she was a caged animal in a shop. After a full second of silence, Blake and Chihiro both raised their weapons and took aim at von Unfal.

    “Here’s my offer.” Blake replied: “You get a bullet in your skull, and I get the satisfaction of watching the blood leak out of your twitching corpse. Does that sound like a deal, you disgusting slave driver!?”

    Realizing he wasn’t going to make any more headway, Bernard von Unfal finally backed down. He withdrew, slinking away and back into the market.



    Akira was left numb by the whole experience. She vaguely knew that her family steered her back into XCOM HQ. Blake and Chihiro both spoke to her, telling their daughter how much she meant to them and that they would never allow anybody to take her away. Alexander kept one arm around her shoulder the entire time, until they were all back in the tenement house.

    Both of Akira’s parents escorted her to her room, and Chihiro promised to bring Akira some food from the cafeteria. Before he left, Blake put his good hand on his daughter’s shoulder and said:

    “I’m sorry, Akira. Sorry for the world you have to grow up in. I never wanted you to inherit a broken world from me. Your mother and I are working as hard as we can to make things right, to give you and your siblings the best chance for a better life. I know we can’t make everything perfect for you, but I swear to Jericho, we’re going to try.”

    Akira didn’t say anything, and her parents left her alone, tucked into bed. Yesterday, she would have trusted her father’s words without a moment’s hesitation or doubt. But everything was different now. All Akira could think about was the moment when her parents hesitated. She felt betrayed, and began to wonder if her life meant far less to her family than what she’d been raised to believe.

    A little after sundown, Chihiro returned with a platter of warm food for Akira and the promise of a quiet, restful birthday picnic tomorrow. Kissing Akira’s forehead, Chihiro asked Akira if she wanted her bedroom door locked. Akira said yes, and as she departed, Chihiro made sure to lock Akira’s door from the inside before stepping out and closing it silently.

    Akira was ready for this hellish day to be over. Having finished her dinner, she set the platter on her nightstand and picked up the analog alarm clock. She twisted the dial and set the alarm to wake her very late tomorrow morning. Akira was about to finally go to sleep when a gentle knock sounded on her door.

    “Hello? Akira? Are you in there?”

    Scarlett’s voice came softly through the door. Akira slipped out of bed and put her back to the door, holding it closed. Clutching the clock in one hand, Akira wasn’t sure what to say, so she just replied:

    “Hi, Scar.”

    Scarlett’s voice sounded equally as unsure and uncomfortable.

    “So, uh... I guess you and I are in a bind, huh?”

    “Straight to the point, but yeah.” Akira let out a weak chuckle. “Scar... why didn’t you tell me about Emanuel?”

    “I was scared.” Scarlett confessed. “I thought you liked him too. I didn’t, I was... I couldn’t...”

    Scarlett trailed off, unable to find the words.

    “Have you talked to him?” Akira asked. She was dreading the answer.

    “Kinda.” Scarlett’s voice sounded very small. “Just a couple of hellos and good mornings.”

    “Did you do anything... like, flirty?”

    Scarlett paused for way too long.

    “I mean, I like, uh, a little, I guess.”

    Akira was so happy that there was a door between herself and Scarlett. In the span of a single day, she’d been betrayed by her parents and now her best friend as well. Could this day get any worse?

    “Akira, I’m sorry.” Scarlett sounded like she was sobbing. “I didn’t know! I didn’t mean to hurt you, you’re my best friend.”

    Somehow, those words felt like a knife to Akira’s heart.

    “Scar...” Now Akira couldn’t find the words, but Scarlett had more to say.

    “Kira, I... I respect you and our friendship, and since it’s your birthday... I think it’s only fair.”

    Scarlett paused, waiting for Akria to reply. When she didn’t, Scarlett went on:

    “You’ve known Emanuel longer than me. My family came here only a couple years ago, but you’ve lived here all your life. I’ll back off and give you a chance, okay? And if it doesn’t work out between you and him, then I’ll come back and try again. Is that okay, Kira?”

    Akira was still silent. She couldn’t think of anything to say. After a few moments, Scarlett sighed.

    “Alright, Kira. I’ll see you tomorrow.”



    Akira couldn’t sleep. She watched the hours tick past on the face of her alarm clock, laying on top of her bedsheets. As time went by, she felt more and more sick. After everything that happened today, the sense of being overwhelmed was starting to creep up on her like a hideous insect.

    The second hand seemed to taunt Akira as it made yet another journey around the clock face. It was one minute to midnight. In just a matter of seconds, she would be fifteen years old. Akira had pictured this moment before, but now that she was here, it was feeling both disappointing and anticlimactic.

    Fifteen seconds to go. Akira wished she could have just skipped over the entire day.

    Ten seconds to go. Akira fantasized about a perfect world where all of her friends and loved ones could be perfectly happy without stepping on Akira’s hopes and dreams.

    Five seconds to go. In this world, the twins didn’t exist. The thought made Akira smile.

    Three.

    Two.

    One.

    BOOM!

    A loud blast shook the entire building! Brilliant light danced into the bedroom window for just a moment before disappearing. The tenement house filled with the voices of people screaming and crying out in confusion.

    “What the hell was that!?” Somebody shouted from the second floor.

    “Was that a cannon?” Asked a voice from down the hall.

    Akira sprang out of bed and peered out of the window, trying to see what was going on. In the courtyard between buildings, some kind of altercation was going on. At least six men were approaching the building, and three or four people raced out to confront them. A fight broke out, and the sounds of shouting echoed off the low cloud cover that obscured the moon from view.

    Behind Akira, there was a sudden violent banging on her own door.

    “Akira!” shouted the voice of Blake Robinson. “We’ve gotta go! Come on!”

    Akira raced across the room and swung it open. Her father was there, alongside several men and women who Akira recognized as veterans of the Second Hyperspace War. Duane Gardner, one of Jericho’s lovers, kept his back to the group, aiming a Beam Rifle down the darkened hallway while Cory Tucker, an XCOM squad leader, covered the area Duane couldn’t see. Alexei Volobyov, a Russian soldier with something of a checkered past, grabbed Akira and pulled her into the middle of the group.

    “Follow me.” Blake told his daughter, “And keep your head low!”

    As Akira’s father started guiding her to the nearest exit, the air lit up again and a second loud crack echoed through the walls.

    “What’s going on!?” Akira screamed.

    “Stay quiet.” Duane hissed. “Don’t give us away.”

    Down the steps and out the front door, the group was soon dashing across open ground. Akira had not been given time to put on a change of clothes, and was walking barefoot across the hot ground. Each footstep brought searing pain and forced Akira to step as lightly as possible. Akira saw an armored truck parked about fifty yards down the road. There was a stylized hexagonal eye painted on the side in red, with the words “Scientia Potentia Est” underneath of it. Blake took one look at this and said:

    “I knew it. I knew it!”

    As they passed the armored truck, Duane Gardner pulled a small circular object from his pocket and reached underneath the vehicle, attaching it to a spot inside of the wheel well, just out of sight. Blake put one hand on Akira’s shoulder to make her continue on. The inner gate and the path to the airport were just coming into sight through the darkness when Alexei shouted:

    “Jig’s up, here they come!”

    Blake, Duane, Cory, and Alexei all spun around to look behind them. Akira tried to turn as well, but Duane seized her around the middle and threw her behind a low concrete wall.

    “Stay in cover!”

    Akira curled up into the fetal position and pressed her hands to her ears. Gunfire rent the air like a terrible thunderstorm for a few seconds before somebody yelled above the noise!

    “Stop!”

    The gunfire died away as Bernard von Unfal made himself heard. Akira dared to peek her head above the low wall. The perfidious German stood out in the open, his arms extended.

    “This fight isn’t necessary.” Von Unfal called out. “My men have left two hundred kilograms of Elerium outside of your headquarters. We’ve also given you food, supplies and all of the tools and equipment you need to finish your Terraforming Engine. Your great project will be completed in a matter of weeks! Just give us the girl as we agreed!”

    “Agreed!?” Akira screamed.

    But Blake’s voice was louder than her own.

    “Von Unfal, I’ll kill you where you stand!”

    Blake rose up from behind cover, aiming his pistol directly at von Unfal’s head! Behind von Unfal, two shadowy figures took aim with weapons of their own.

    Not a moment later, the earth shook and the whole place was lit up as though it were daytime. Akira screamed as blast after blast split the night as though the whole world was going to end right then and there. The flashing lights were so intense that Akira jammed her eyes shut. She silently prayed to Jericho for the whole ordeal to end, but then somebody grabbed Akira by the shoulder and pulled her upright.

    “I’ve got her!” a strange voice called out.

    Realizing that she was being held by someone who was not friendly, Akira opened her eyes and started flailing about, screaming and punching and kicking at whatever part of this guy she could reach. The strange man tried to redouble his grip on Akira, and in the confusion, she saw something that made her heart freeze.

    Blake, Duane, Alexei, and Cory were all lying on the ground, their bodies twitching and convulsing. Bernard von Unfal, the gaunt-faced German, was standing over Blake’s body, holding a boxy-looking sidearm with a computer screen and a keypad in the spot where one would expect to find a gunsight.

    Akira had no idea whether her father was alive.

    Her screams seemed to overpower all other noises. Akira struggled against her captor with all of her strength, kicking his stomach and biting his arm. The man dropped his rifle and seized Akira with both hands, snaking his right arm around her neck and squeezing until she choked. Desperate, panicking, Akira kicked again, this time connecting the back of her foot to the man’s kneecap, forcing him to buckle.

    “Boss!” The man cried out. “Need some help here!”

    Von Unfal looked up at Akira, then gave her the most unpleasant smile she’d ever seen. He strode over to Akira and her captor, keying some command into the computer attached to his sidearm.

    “A soft hit should do the trick.” Von Unfal said. “We don’t want to damage that wonderful brain of yours.”

    Von Unfal raised his weapon and held it less than an inch away from Akira’s chest. What can only be described as a bolt of lightning jumped from the weapon and hit Akira, as bright as the sun and loud as a cannon. Every muscle in Akira’s body seized up, and she immediately lost consciousness...


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 4: Spirited Away
  • Macavity116

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    Hello all, Macavity116 here.

    Real Life, being the terrible, horrible, no-good very bad monster that it is, has thrown me an unexpected curveball to the effect that I will not be able to post a new chapter on Saturday as planned. Therefore, Chapter Four will be posted early. (As in, right now!)

    Thankfully, this disruption in my personal life promises to be only a week long. Chapter 5 is still going to be posted on-schedule. Expect to see it on Saturday, July 3.




    Chapter 4
    Spirited Away

    June 30, 2060
    Somewhere in the American Wastes



    Very slowly, Akira regained consciousness. Every inch of her body hurt. When she opened her eyes, there was nothing to see. Akira then found out that her hands were tied behind her back, and she was blindfolded. To make matters even worse, Akira could distinctly feel a cold metal object affixed to the back of her own head. Two prongs pressed into her temples painfully, adding to her distress. After another moment, Akira realized something else: She was in a moving vehicle. Judging from the deep rumble of the engine and the warm air moving around her, Akira was sitting the bed of an open-top truck, one that was traveling across rough terrain.

    Instinctively, she raised her voice and cried out:

    “Hello? Can someone help me?”

    There was a flurry of movement to Akira’s left, and a moment later, something very hard hit her in the head and she recoiled, screaming.

    “Shut up, girl!” A harsh voice snapped. “Now!”

    Akira whimpered, and she was struck again, this time across the face. She bit her tongue, literally, and held her breath. Whoever was beating her finally backed off.

    “Keep it quiet.” The man’s voice grumbled.

    A moment later, the sound of the truck engine and the wind was all Akira could hear again. Reeling in pain, Akira sobbed silently for a few minutes until she felt a stranger lean on her left shoulder.

    “Are you okay, young child?” A female voice spoke with a French accent, just barely loud enough to be heard over the truck engine. “At least, I think you sound like a child.”

    “I think I’m okay.” Akira whispered. “Who are you? What’s going on?”

    “I’m called Tsiajotso.” Replied the woman’s voice. “I was trying to return to my home when they took me.”

    “Where’s home for you?” Akira asked. “I’m from Myron, a little town in Kansas.”

    The woman named Tsiajotso chuckled.

    “I lived in California for most of my life. I was traveling alone when these thugs took me.”

    “So we’ve been kidnapped?”

    Akira could just barely sense the movement as Tsiajotso nodded her head.

    “Yes. And there’s two more us here. Pascal’s on my right, and I think Dave is on your other side.”

    Akira flexed her shoulder, trying to get a reaction from whoever was on her left.

    “Leave me alone.” Said the voice of a teenage boy. He sounded to be roughly the same age as Akira.

    As quietly as they could without incurring the wrath of whoever was guarding them, the other three prisoners introduced themselves to Akira.

    Ingrid Tsiajotso was a fifty-year-old Malagasy person who had been kidnapped while trying to return to Madagascar, her homeland. David Sepulveda was a fifteen-year-old Mexican-American boy who lived in a small community on the Rio Grande River, and he’d been snatched from his bed in the middle of the night. Pascal Etienne was a blind man, native to French Canada. He was travelling to XCOM Headquarters in Myron, pursuing a rumor that someone there would be able to restore his eyesight. Instead, the people who offered to give him a ride had kidnapped him instead.

    All four victims, Akira included, were blindfolded and tied up. But from the information they were able to share, it was apparent there were just three kidnappers: Bernard von Unfal, a second German man, and a woman from New Zealand. Akira was glad to know all of this, but she still didn’t have the answer to the question that was bugging her the most.

    “Why, though? Why are they doing this?”

    “No idea.” Pascal admitted.

    “You got me.” David replied.

    “Who knows?” Ingrid said.

    Thinking hard, Akira asked if anyone had seen von Unfal pointing a strange device at them, taking great care to describe the thing he used in Myron. Obviously, Pascal Etienne never saw such a thing; but David and Ingrid did.

    “I thought it looked like a Geiger counter.” Ingrid whispered. “You know, the thing they use to measure radiation.”

    “So they kidnap radioactive people?” David snarked, then he spoke loudly enough for the kidnapper to hear. “Wow, you guys really are morons!”

    Immediately, there was a shuffling sound from the other side of the truck bed as Kidnapper Number Two stood up and bashed David’s head with... something. The boy cried out in pain while the kidnapper yelled:

    “Shut up! Keep quiet!”

    Akira and the others fell silent. No matter what she thought about all this, Akira realized that she was in a completely hopeless situation. She was blindfolded, tied up, and had some device strapped to the back of her head that did Jericho-knows-what. She was screwed. The kidnappers would just keep driving until sunrise, take shelter in the daytime, and carry on until...

    Until what?

    Until rescue came? Was that even possible? The last Akira had seen of her father, he was lying flat on the ground. She didn’t even know if he was alive. And as for her mother... Akira didn’t know what happened to her, and that was somehow even worse than the sight of Blake lifeless on the ground.

    Full of fear, Akira tried to speak to her captor again:

    “Where are you taking us? What are you going to do to us?”

    The answer came in the form of something solid striking her in the face.



    The kidnappers drove on for a few more hours. Eventually, Akira felt an oppressive heat that suggested the sun was rising. As soon as dawn broke, the kidnappers pulled off the road and forced all four of their victims to disembark. Still blindfolded, Akira felt someone grab her by the arm and force her to walk for a short while. She was brought inside of a building and made to sit down in what felt like a dusty corner. Kidnapper Number 2 again demanded the prisoners be silent. It was around then when Akira finally heard the voice of the third kidnapper for the first time.

    “How old are you, girl?”

    She spoke in a thick New Zealand accent. Akira couldn’t help but imagine this woman as one of those Partogans she read about in stories of the Second Hyperspace War. She didn’t reply.

    “Girl, your age!” The Kiwi Kidnapper snapped.

    “You told me to be quiet.” Akira mumbled.

    Once again, Akira was hit in the head, but this time, she was expecting the blow and figured out exactly what she was being beaten with. It was the stock of a gun! She was dreading the confirmation, but now she had a much better appreciation for the situation she was in. Reluctantly, Akira said:

    “Fifteen. I’m fifteen.”

    The Kiwi Kidnapper let out a gasp.

    “Fifteen? You’re bloody kidding. Rider, are you seeing these numbers?”

    The voice of Bernard von Unfal replied, sounding stunned.

    “I see them, not sure I believe them. Is that even possible for one so young?”

    “Scan her again.” said the voice of Kidnapper Number 2.

    Even though she had some fabric over her eyes, Akira got the sense that she knew what was going on. The kidnappers were scanning their victims with the same device Akira saw von Unfal using in Myron’s Trade Center. The one Ingrid compared to a Geiger counter. In her mind’s eye, Akira could just see the handheld sensor being passed over her body while the kidnappers looked at the little screen.

    “Unbelievable.” Said Kidnapper Number 2. “The numbers go right off the edge of the screen.”

    “In terms of energy output, she’s just below Jericho on the scale.” von Unfal breathed. “If my math is right, that comes out to around one-hundred-fifty Petajoules.”

    There was an audible shuffle as all three kidnappers backed away from Akira. To her shock, she also felt a subtle reaction from Ingrid. The Malagasy woman inched away from her, just a little, but enough to notice. Akira, for her part, was confused. She knew that Joules were used to measure energy, but she couldn’t comprehend a Petajoule. It was beyond her. Akira’s ignorance of the situation was partially lifted when the Kiwi Kidnapper said in a terrified whisper:

    “This girl’s a freaking’ nuke. A big one, too. A hydrogen bomb that walks and talks.”

    Akira’s breath caught in her throat. She was simultaneously confused and terrified by having the label “walking and talking bomb” attached to her.

    “She’s worth more than the other three combined.” Kidnapper Number 2 said.

    “I’m going to call Boston.” Said von Unfal. “We’re not delivering her to anyone until we get paid the right amount.”



    Akira, David, Ingrid, and Pascal were all forced to their feet and made to walk into a place that felt dark and chilly. Still blindfolded, they were all forced to eat a foul-smelling paste and then, one by one, the victims were allowed to visit and make use of a bathroom that smelled even worse. It was the first time all day that Akira had her blindfold removed and hands untied, but in that brief moment, all she could figure out was that they were inside of an Old World restaurant. Which could be anywhere.

    During the few minutes she had alone in the bathroom, Akira used her fingernails to hastily carve the XCOM insignia into the backside of a stall door: the letter “X” with three stars above it. Then she added her own initials: “AJR.”



    In the dark, cold room, Akira and the others were finally left alone and they could talk freely. The first words out of her mouth were:

    “Okay, what the hell is going on here? Who are these people? Where are they taking us?”

    Pascal and David both shook their heads.

    “None of this makes any sense to me.” David said. “I just wanna go home.”

    Ingrid, however, was totally silent. Unable to see, Akira had to call out to check if Ingrid was still in the room.

    “I’m here.” she said. “I’m just... I’m in shock.”

    “Why?” Asked Pascal. “You figure out what’s happening here?”

    “I think I did.” Ingrid replied. “I just don’t want it to be true.”

    Akira leaned forward, the better to hear Ingrid’s theory.

    “Has anyone here ever, uh... have any of you ever... heard things? Like... voices?”

    “No.” Akira and David said together.

    “Occasionally, I think I heard someone speak to me.” Pascal said. “But when I reply, they claim they haven’t said anything.”

    Ingrid let out a sharp gasp.

    “And have any of you seen something really weird happen, something you couldn’t explain?”

    Pause.

    “I once had a premonition that came true.” David said. “I dreaded an earthquake, and it happened the next day. Wrecked the town.”

    “Oh, la sainte fille, veuillez nous protéger.” Ingrid said something in French that sounded like a prayer, invoking the name of “the sacred girl.”

    “What?” Pascal and Akira gasped. “What is it?”

    Ingrid’s voice shook as she voiced her realization.

    “It’s the Gift. I think we’re all Gifted. That would explain why they took us.”

    “What?” Pascal breathed.

    “Impossible.” David muttered.

    “Are you sure?” Akira whispered.

    “Very.” Ingrid replied. “I remember when I was young, someone once told me that Psionic energy is measured in Joules, and during the war, special sensors and scanners could detect it. That thing there were using must be one.”

    Akira was locked in a daze, barely able to comprehend the weight of what she’d just heard.

    The Gift.

    From a young age, Akira heard all about it. Her parents would often discuss it in their weekly history lessons. “The Gift” is a catchall term used to describe Psionic powers. Telepathy, Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, any supernatural ability fueled by mental willpower. She remembered what she knew about other famous Gifted people:

    Cory Tucker, an XCOM operative who served as the commander of the Bushranger. Hadn’t he once beaten someone in a fight without lifting a finger? All it took was a stare, and the opposing man had fallen to his knees, cowed. Then there was Cory’s shipmate, Duane Gardner. Akira had actually seen him reading the minds of his friends. Once, Duane humiliated Akira’s sister by looking into her mind, seeing her crush on a certain someone, and revealing her secret feelings to everybody in the room.

    Her own mother, Chihiro, had used her own Gift during the War. Whenever Akira talked to veterans, she would hear the stories of how her mother deflected bullets and forced powerful aliens to submit to her will.

    And of course, there was Jericho. The girl who killed the gods, the woman who saved the Galaxy. Every time Akira and her family ventured into one of the few Megacities that were still standing, they would see the famous photographs and videos of Jericho, filling digital screens and hologram projectors everywhere. Akira’s favorite image of Jericho was a four-second video her fighting in battle. In the clip, Jericho put one hand to her own chest and seemed to pull a flickering blue flame right out of her own heart, before throwing the Soulfire towards the enemy.

    Akira, Pascal, Ingrid, and David were all in the same boat. None of them knew they were Gifted until they were kidnapped, and it was becoming increasingly clear that wherever they were going, they would be exploited upon arrival. The foursome agreed to an escape pact. The instant an opportunity arose, they would try to get away. Taking their chances in the wastes was far more preferable than whatever fate was waiting at the end of this journey.

    Akira wasn’t sure how long she and her companions were left alone in the room that felt like a cellar, but eventually she did fall asleep, dreaming of escape plans …



    July 1, 2060
    Somewhere in the American Wastes



    Sometime later, Akira was violently shaken awake. One of the kidnappers seized her by the arm and forced her to her feet. There was a deep thudding sound coming through the walls. An aircraft was parked outside of the building, its engine running. The Kiwi Kidnapper told Akira to be quiet and walk. She, Ingrid, Pascal, and David were made to walk out of the building and into the overpowering heat of the early morning.

    Still blindfolded, Akira and company were brought aboard and made to sit down in some uncomfortable seats. Each person was belted in place with a five-point harness and ordered to remain still for the entire journey.

    For several hours, Akira didn’t perceive anything besides the noise of engines. There was no way to know what direction they were flying, and the interior of the craft was air-conditioned, making it impossible to know if it was day or night. There was nothing she could do but wait…



    After what felt like five or six hours, the aircraft nosed down and started to descend. Akira felt the gentle thump of tires on a runway, and before she could get her bearings again, Akira was forced to her feet and made to disembark.

    The very first thing she noticed when she stepped outside was the air. Ever since Akira was a small child, she knew nothing but hot and dry air. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d felt the ambient temperature fall below eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. So when Akira stepped into this new location, she immediately began to shiver violently and think: I’m gonna freeze!

    Wherever Akira had just arrived, it was cold. Very cold. In fact, the temperature here was about seventy degrees, the coldest Akira had ever been in her life. Her whole body began to quiver and shake uncontrollably. Pascal, Ingrid, and David couldn’t stop their teeth from chattering loudly. As the engines spooled down, von Unfal’s voice could be heard again.

    “We’ve got four more for you, Sally Ann!”

    A woman’s voice, full of friendliness and joy, replied.

    “Oh, thank you Bernard! And welcome back, Klaus and Sarah! The Boss insists you guys stay a while and recover. It must have been rough out there in America.”

    Then the woman named Sally Ann turned her attention to the captives.

    “Oh, Bernard. Those aren’t necessary anymore. They’re safe here.”

    “Have it your way.” Bernard replied. “They’re all yours. We’re going to talk to the Boss and get our payment.”

    Akira felt a woman’s hand grab her arm and she was steered away from the group. After walking for a few minutes, the woman made Akira stop. Then the blindfold finally came off.

    Akira’s eyes were assaulted by light and color. There was so much green in her field of vision that she thought she’d gone blind. Sally Ann quickly stepped in front of Akira and gently took her by the shoulders. Akira found Sally Ann’s appearance to be extremely off-putting. Sally Ann was an American woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, she was also obscenely beautiful, the point where Akira wondered if this was her natural appearance. However, Sally Ann did have one feature that definitely wasn’t natural.

    Her smile.

    There was something horribly wrong with the big, toothy grin plastered across the strange woman’s face. There was nothing genuine about it. No, this smile wasn’t being forced, Akira could see that. It was a hollow kind of smile, as though there was nothing behind it. There were no lights in Sally Ann’s eyes, instead, her eyes seemed to be glossed over and glassy. Akira’s mother once said that the eyes were the window to the soul. Well, Akira could see straight through Sally Ann’s window, and on the other side, there was no soul to be found. Sally Ann might be walking and talking and smiling, but her eyes gave away the fact that she might as well be dead on the inside.

    “Calm down, girl.” Sally Ann said in a gentle voice. “It’s okay. You’re safe now. Nobody is going to hurt you.”

    “But your friends kidnapped me!” Akira’s voice cracked. She was on the verge of sobbing. “They stole me.”

    “Don’t be silly.” Sally Ann admonished Akira in a friendly voice. “You’ve been rescued. Those horrible people aren’t going to hurt you anymore.”

    “What!?” Akira was incredulous. “You’re out of your mind! I was kidnapped, they stole me!”

    “You’re still being silly.” Sally Ann countered in a cheerful, singsong voice. “Von Unfal told us about the people holding you. About how horrible they were, parading you around a trade center at sword-point, offering your body to older men for a price. You don’t have to defend them anymore, they’re never going to catch you again. That cruel, disgusting Robinson man can’t hurt you anymore. You’re safe.”

    Akira took a step back. Did Sally Ann really think she was going to buy any of this!?

    “You’re horrible, you’re talking about my family!”

    “Oh, do try to think, Akira.” Sally Ann replied, her voice even and cool. “How could they be your family? Did they ever care for you? Were you ever happy?”

    Akira tried to speak, but found she was having trouble getting words from her brain to her mouth. She knew what she wanted to say. She wanted to rage and curse at Sally Ann for trying to brainwash her into thinking the kidnapping was something else… anything else… but for some reason, Akira’s anger and rage was being sapped away as soon as it came to her. She just couldn’t sustain her own fury. Finally, Akira found a tiny speck of rage in the back of her mind. Mentally, she seized onto it and held tight!

    “You people abducted me!” Akira shouted as Sally Ann. “You hurt my family, and… and… and…”

    It was gone as quickly as it came. Now, Akira just felt tired and sick. She didn’t have the strength to stand, let alone fight. Sally Ann, for her part, never stopped smiling. As Akira’s legs buckled, she collapsed into Sally Ann’s outstretched arms. She stroked Akira’s hair with a reassuring hand and said:

    “Just take a deep breath and try to think of all the stuff in the past as a nightmare, as a bad dream. You don’t have to think about those terrible people anymore. Breathe with me. Deep breath.”

    Akira complied, taking a deep breath of air through her nose. Not only was the air cooler here than in Kansas, it smelled differently, too. The air of this place was pleasant and sweet, and it reminded Akira of the quaint little candy shop run by Sophie and Sophia Ackermann in Brazil. For reasons Akira didn’t know, each time she took a breath of the sweet air, she felt a little more relaxed. Her heart rate and breathing slowed, and her mind no longer racing. She was finally able to look around and properly process what she was seeing.

    Akira and Sally Ann were standing outside the entrance of an airport, built on the shores of a tropical island. Akira knew such places used to exist in the past, but she had no idea any of these islands were still around in her own lifetime. To her left, Akira spotted a small town nestled between two ridges that were covered in lush, green trees. A mountain, also covered in forest, rose up in the distance. To her right, an ocean of crashing waves loomed large, going on as far as Akira could see. A large complex of hypermodern buildings occupied the space between the airport and the town.

    There was one other thing. For the very first time in her life, Akira was standing in direct sunlight! Without any kind of protection, Akira could feel the light hitting her skin, but was perplexed to see that she wasn’t being burned.

    In any other situation, she would have screamed and then run for overhead cover in a panic. But there was some strange property about this place, about the sweet air, that suppressed Akira’s fight-or-flight response. Instead, she calmly looked at Sally Ann and asked:

    “How come we aren’t getting burned by the sun?”

    Akira’s voice was softer and weaker now.

    “We’re protected here.” Sally Ann replied calmly. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

    Sally Ann and Akira both took another great big lungful of that wonderful sweet air. Akira tried to think of her family, wondering what they must be thinking right now. But no matter how hard she focused her mind, Akira found that she was drawing a great big blank. The thoughts just weren’t coming to her.



    About five miles away, Bernard von Unfal and his two accomplices were welcomed inside of a grand-looking office building in the downtown area. Klaus Eberhardt, who was the other German, was very anxious and kept close to his comrades. Sarah Harris, the New Zealander, shared his concerns.

    “I don’t like this place.” Klaus told his friends. “We should leave.”

    “I agree.” Bernard replied. “We’ll get our payment and be off as quick as we can.”

    Two armed guards waved Bernard’s team through a door, giving the trio a pair of off-putting smiles that caused Sarah to get goosebumps.

    On the other side, they found an opulent office. Red and gold carpets matched the drapes on the windows, while elaborate oil paintings adorned the walls. A throne-like chair sat behind a magnificent wooden desk. The desk and chair behind it were adorned with the same symbol, a red hexagonal eye. However, the man who occupied that chair spoiled the imposing look of the place by grinning and laughing like a schoolchild when the trio came into the room.

    “Von Unfal! You did it!”

    A man in his late middle ages rose from the desk and threw his arms around Bernard. If the trio did not already know this man’s identity, they would have been very hard-pressed to believe that this was Shaojie Zhang, who had once been a notorious member of the Chinese criminal underworld.

    “Well done, von Unfal, getting the Robinson girl.” Zhang continued. “I’ve been wanting her ever since the first scouts detected her potential, but you pulled it off. I can’t tell you how happy you’ve made me! And I daresay a payment is in order!”

    Zhang reached into the pocket of his business suit and produced three slips of paper. He passed them out to each member of von Unfal’s crew.

    “Give these to the bank teller across the street.” Zhang said. “And after that, why not stay a while? You’ve earned some relaxing time in the sun, after all. Enjoy yourselves while you’re here.”



    Bernard, Sarah, and Klaus left Zhang’s office and quickly made their way to the bank. They had absolutely no intention of staying. As they left the building, they all got another whiff of that sweet air.

    “Ugh, why does this place smell so off?” Sarah grumbled.

    “And why are those people just smiling at us like that?” Klaus added.

    Everywhere they looked, people were staring at the trio with those dead, soulless smiles. It seemed as though the city was populated by androids or mannequins. Bernard, Klaus, and Sarah decided to fast-walk to their destination. As they moved, they took faster and deeper breaths, inhaling more and more of the strange sweet air.

    After about thirty seconds, all three people started to get the sensation of brain fog. Their thoughts were just a little clouded, a little muddled. When they got into the bank, Klaus Eberhardt was embarrassed as he handed the receipt to a teller and completely forgot the name of the person who gave it to him. Sarah thought this was so funny that she laughed uncontrollably for a good five minutes, only stopping when her sides began to hurt.

    Eventually, all three of the kidnappers got their reward money and left the bank. Instead of making a beeline for the airport, they just stood there on the city street, looking lost. Finally, Bernard asked the others:

    “Uh, isn’t there something we were supposed to be doing?”

    “Weren’t we going somewhere?” Sarah added.

    “Not sure. I think we got distracted by how beautiful this place is.” Klaus finished.

    The trio started to wander aimlessly through the coastal town, moving slowly away from the airport. They took long, relaxing breaths, enjoying the sweet air. And slowly, their faces were overtaken by a great big smile; full of contentment, void of life.

    <=== Previous Chapter (All Gone Wrong)

     
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    War of the Paradox: Issue #0
  • Macavity116

    One of the 29
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    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
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    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    Longtime readers might remember that during my Stellaris Stories, there is a second related tale that plays out in the form of interludes.

    The Legend of Whetu Kealoha and My Father's War both played hosts to the Overture of The Last Heroes.

    The Stormbreakers
    contained the Stories from the Front.

    And Faith in Chaos had the Battle at the End of Time.

    All Our Sins Remembered
    is no exception, of course. There will be a second story playing out alongside the main one as usual. This time however, is different. Instead of placing Interludes at regular intervals between chapters, the secondary story of All Our Sins Remembered will play out in REAL TIME. Updates will vary between frequent and infrequent. Some will be long and others short.

    Oh, and one more thing: All Our Sins Remembered takes place in the 1st Cycle, at the very beginning of the Stormbreaker Universe. This secondary story will take place in the 116th Cycle, at the very end of the Universe. In fact, this secondary tale takes place roughly 48 years after the events of The Stormbreakers.

    So, I hope you enjoy this extra tale from the Stormbreaker Universe: The War of the Paradox



    Stormbreakers: War of the Paradox
    Issue Number Zero
    “Dark Portents”


    COMMAND CENTER: GALACTIC EARLY WARNING SYSTEM – HIGH ORBIT ABOVE AORAKI
    [VOICE RECORDING (transcript)]

    27 PIPIRI 589 (June 27, 2084)

    [11:07 HOURS]

    Aoraki: Hokianga, this is Aoraki. Early Warning Sensors indicate some six hundred Hyperspace signatures in your vicinity. Please verify, over.

    Hokianga: You’re gripped, Aoraki. There’s nothing out here. Over.

    Aoraki: Understood Hokianga. Aoraki Out.


    [11:16 HOURS]
    Aoraki: Aoraki calling Micanawn. Early Warning Sensors are picking up several hundred Hyperspace exits near the Micore Homeworld. Please identify, over.

    Micanawn: Response from the Central AI Core of the Micore Empire. Negative. No unusual Hyperspace activity in our region of space. Communications terminated.


    [11:22 HOURS]
    Aoraki: This is Aoraki calling all stations on this net. Aoraki calling all stations on this net. Be advised. We believe the Galactic Early Warning System has suffered a large-scale malfunction. We are running diagnostics at this time. Please standby. Aoraki out.


    [11:29 HOURS]
    Nynrah: Aoraki, Nynrah here. We’ve just done a sensor sweep of the Great Wastelands. There's nothing out there. You're seeing phantoms. Nynrah out.


    [11:33 HOURS]
    Aoraki: Uhh, Amadiio, this is Aoraki. We may be experiencing a widespread failure of the Galactic Early Warning System. Do you have any incoming bogeys on your scopes? Because we just saw nearly eight-hundred Hyperspace exits in your vicinity. Over.

    Amadiio: What!? No. There's nobody here. I don’t know what to tell you, Partogans. We’ll keep our eyes peeled until the system’s back online. Over.

    Aoraki: Much obliged, Aoraki out.
     
    War of the Paradox: Issue #1
  • Macavity116

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    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
    • Stellaris: Lithoids
    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
    • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition

    Stormbreakers: War of the Paradox
    Issue Number One
    “The Day of Infamy”


    From: Your Benefactor
    To: Varian Robinson, Cetla Shu’naan, Maui Ririnui, Inez Espinosa, Kingi Mihaka, Ninu Dokunle, Corder Leang
    Subject: Hostilities have begun
    Date:
    28 June 2084

    My agents have intercepted a series of distressing voice communications from the Great Wastelands. It would appear that open hostilities between the United Nations of Earth and the Partogan-Levakian Commonwealth have officially begun. The first action occurred only a few hours ago. Please read the attached transcript.




    VOICE RECORDING (transcript)
    28 PIPIRI 589 Partogan Dating System (28 June 2084, Earth Gregorian Calendar)

    06:15 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Nynrah Control: Attention incoming vessel. This is Nynrah Control, transmit today’s recognition codes and state your business.

    Nynrah Control: Incoming vessel. This is Nynrah. Transmit recognition codes and ident.

    Nynrah Control: Incoming vessel. Ident immediately.

    HMS Tahu: Control this is the Cruiser Tahu, Commonwealth Royal Navy. Are you trying to talk to that ship beyond the fifth planet?

    Nynrah Control: Cruiser Tahu, this is Nynrah Control. Uh, yeah. We are. He’s not talking and he’s got no transponder. He’s totally NORDO.

    [NORDO: shorthand for “No Radio” - military terminology for a vehicle that does not have radio communications with anyone]

    HMS Tahu:
    Is he running without a transponder? Screw up or something else?

    Nynrah Control: It sure looks that way.

    HMS Tahu: Okay. I’m gonna talk to the captain, see if we can do anything to help.

    Nynrah Control: Understood, thank you. Nynrah Control out.



    Time Unknown

    Beznar Security Agency Emergency Line: Beznar Security, my name is Hotu. What is your emergency?

    Stuntship: Uh, hi. My name is Aroha Taimana, I wanna report a bunch of reckless flyboys.

    BSAEL: Reckless flyboys?

    Stuntship: Yeah. I’m a flight instructor and I’m in the cockpit now. My student and I were doing a slingshot maneuver around Beznar 7a. You know, the big moon? The one that’s tidal-locked? Anyway, we just got buzzed by a squadron of Starfighters. Some of them got within half a Bio of us, they nearly hit us!

    BSAEL: Describe the Starfighters for us. Did you get any insignia or tail numbers?

    Stuntship: No tail numbers, but I did see they were single-seat fighter craft, delta-wing fighters with dual cycle engines. Painted blue and grey, so I guess they were either Humans or Hiigarans.

    BSAEL: I’m sorry, what was your name again? And what are you flying?

    Stuntship: Aroha Taimana. A-R-O-H-A break T-A-I-M-A-N-A. I’m flying a twin-seat racing ship, Moana Nui-class. I’m the instructor.

    BSAEL: Okay, Miss Taimana. We’re going to look into this. I’m gonna pass you to our complaints department and I want you to give them a full account of the incident. Also, be sure to give them your home address and spaceport of origin so that we can follow up with you when we contact that squadron leader and get his side of the story. Did you copy that?

    Stuntship: Understood, I copy all.

    BSAEL: Very good. And what is your Hyperline Contact number?

    Stuntship: My number is (REDACTED)

    BSAEL: Please change your radio to channel twelve point six-six-five at this time.

    Stuntship: Roger, changing channel to twelve point six-six-five.

    BSAEL: Have a good day, Beznar Security out.



    07:07 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    (Indistinct. Microphone keyed three times, no spoken words)

    Nynrah Control: Is that the NORDO ship trying to call?

    Rafi Bakir: (Indistinct) Tahya 'ariha!

    Nynrah Control: Who was that? Who’s trying to call me?

    Ingrid Tsiajotso: (Indistinct) Tora tora tora! Tora tora tora! Tora tora tora!



    07:08 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Yeah, we saw him on primary radar. Sensor suite’s still looking.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Hey, Iruni?

    HMS Iruni:
    Here.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Did you just hear a transmission from that NORDO ship?

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Yeah, we definitely heard a transmission coming from that thing. He’s got radio, he’s just not talking to us.

    HMS Iruni: Copy all. Iruni out.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Yeah, we need to (indistinct)

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Call the supervisor, please.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Already done.



    Time Unknown

    *Hyperwave connection established. Faster-Than-Light communications enabled.*

    (Indistinct)


    Unknown Voice (Partogan Female): Yeah, the NORDO spacecraft by Beznar 5. Heading remains unchanged, at 225. Acceleration is nil, speed relative to Shipyard Nynrah is seventeen-thousand-eight-hundred Kios per second and holding steady. Nobody’s talking to him. We’re broadcasting on all frequencies and a Navy cruiser’s trying to raise him on guard now.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Copy all, thanks.



    Time Unknown

    Unknown Voice (Partogan Female): The NORDO spacecraft has turned sharply and is no longer heading for the shipyard.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer: Signal 85 Nynrah.

    Unknown Nynrah Officer #2: Yeah, go ahead.

    Unknown Voice (Partogan Female): Put the NORDO spacecraft on your sensor manager and keep a close watch on him. He’s got radio comms with somebody and it sure as hell ain’t us.



    07:21 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Nithascal Control: Well Beznar says they never had radio contact with him in the first place.

    Unknown: The guy doesn’t have a transponder of any kind.

    Nithascal Control: They’re tracking him with primary radar, he’s not showing up anywhere else.

    Unknown: Uh huh…

    Nithascal Control: The NORDO guy is talking to someone. There was a broadcast, he said something in a Human language, and then someone replied speaking another Human language.

    Unknown: Two languages?

    Nithascal Control: Yeah, we think the NORDO spacecraft said something in Arabic, and whoever replied said something in either Korean or Japanese. I dunno, man. None of this makes sense.

    Unknown: Alright, lemme call the manager. Hey Patariki, where can I call you back?

    Nithascal Control: Our Hyperline is (REDACTED)

    Unknown: Okay. I’ll call you back.



    Time unknown

    Hohepa: (Indistinct) Tipene Hoepa.

    Waaka: This is Ngaire Waaka from Shipyard Nynrah.

    Hohepa: Okay.

    Waaka: I’m on the line with Aroha Taimana, she’s in a personal Stuntship in the outer Beznar Star System and she says she’s following the strike craft that buzzed her.

    Hohepa: Do you have her on the line?

    Waaka: Yeah, she’s in the instructor seat. Her student is flying the ship.

    Hohepa: Can you conference her in with us?

    Waaka: No can do. Her ship doesn’t have a Hyperwave Relay. Too small.

    Hohepa: Shit.

    Waaka: I’m reading back what she just wrote to me. She says it’s a group of five, I say again five, F-I-V-E strike craft. She describes them as Raven-Class interceptors, with the United Nations of Earth insignia painted under their wings. I say again, Raven-Class interceptors from Earth.

    Hohepa: Call that Taimana girl back and ask her if she can raise the squadron leader. Tell her to call them on the guard frequency first, then the emergency channel if that doesn’t work.

    Hohepa: Nynrah says they got that civilian pilot on the radio.

    Waaka: Something’s wrong. Taimana’s screaming.

    Hohepa: Screaming?

    Waaka: She started screaming and said something we couldn’t catch.

    Hohepa: Alright.

    Waaka: (Indistinct) says we’ve got LOS.

    Waaka: LOS, yeah. We’ve got Loss of Signal on our end. Taimana’s not transmitting anymore.

    Hohepa: Connection’s gone?

    Waaka: Yup. I think we lost her.

    Hohepa: Oh, no.

    Hohepa: Call up the boys in the Sensor Suite, ask them to calculate every possible destination along the last known trajectory of those Starfighters.

    Hohepa: We may have a situation on our hands.



    07:30 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Beznar 6 Mining Station: Hey Teuterangi?

    Beznar 4b Mining Station: Teuterangi here.

    B6: Got a head’s up warning for you.

    B6: We’ve got a NORDO spacecraft in-system, and we’ve got foreign Starfighters in the area. None of these guys are talking to anyone.

    B4b: You have recognition codes on any of them?

    B6: Negative. Something’s going on. Pass on the message to all the other stations. Might be an unscheduled military exercise. I’ll call you back if anyone heads in your direction.



    07:36 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Nynrah Control: Nynrah Control here, can I get a patch-through to Sector Command?

    Nithascal Control: You bet. Is this about the NORDO guy or those Starfighters?

    Nynrah Control: The NORDO guy.

    Nithascal Control: Have you had any contact yet?

    Nynrah Control: Nothing so far. He is a confirmed alien spacecraft, though. Possibly a Human ship.

    Papua Sector: Papua.

    Nynrah Control: Ok, Papua. Good morning. We’ve got a Human spacecraft flying NORDO in our system. We’re not sure if he’s in trouble or he is the trouble.

    Papua: Roger that. What’s his destination? Where’s he landing?

    Nynrah Control: We have no idea. He just flew past Beznar 5 and he’s on a direct route for Beznar 3. We think he’s going for a slingshot trajectory to the Shipyard itself.

    Papua: Understood. What’s his transponder signal?

    Nynrah Control: There is no transponder signal. He doesn’t have one.

    Papua: Copy all. I’m going to contact the Transportation Agency; see if we can get an enforcement ship out your way. Has the NORDO ship put out any kind of distress signal?

    Nynrah Control: Negative. He did send a brief voice message, but we’re very confident it was not meant for us.

    Papua: Copy all. Stay on this frequency, we’ll call you back. Papua Sector out.



    07:47 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    HMS Tahu: Contact report! Contact report! This is the Commonwealth warship Tahu. We have engaged and destroyed the NORDO spacecraft. I say again! NORDO spacecraft destroyed. Contact report to follow:

    HMS Tahu: On approach, we identified the NORDO spacecraft via visual and holographic sensors. It was a Cloaked Frigate of the Armed Forces of the United Nations of Earth, positively identified as the UNS Nico da Silva. Upon being counter-detected, the Nico da Silva opened fire with Mass Drivers and Ion Cannons. Enemy fire was inaccurate. We returned fire with Ion Cannons and high-yield nuclear missiles. The Human warship sustained severe damage and became inert. Enemy crew is believed to be deceased at this time. Report ends.

    Nynrah Control: Copy all, Tahu. Hold position and wait for further instructions.



    07:50 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Papua Sector: Everybody copy?

    Nithascal Control: Say that again, please?

    Nynrah Control: A navy cruiser has engaged and killed the NORDO guy. At this time, we believe the NORDO guy was an armed warship and that he may have opened fire. Information is still coming in.

    Papua Sector: What type of craft was NORDO guy?

    Nynrah Control: Looks like he was a Frigate-class. Tahu says he was running with a cloaking device.

    Papua Sector: Uh, Nynrah, can you say again when this engagement occurred?

    Papua Sector: Nynrah Control, when did the engagement happen?

    Papua Sector: Papua Sector calling Nynrah Control.

    Papua Sector: Nynrah Control, please respond.

    Nithascal Control: Nynrah Control, this is Nithascal Control. Please respond.

    Nithascal Control: Perimeter Station Kahu, this is Nithascal Control. We’re having trouble raising your buddies at Nynrah. Can you give us an update?

    (Indistinct)

    Nithascal Control: Kahu Base reports, (Indistinct) are you serious!? Kahu Base reports they are under attack. They are taking heavy weapons fire from strike craft, corvettes, frigates, and capitol ships.



    07:50 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME
    (Simultaneous with previous entry)

    Perimeter Station Kahu: Attention Nynrah Control. This is Perimeter Station Kahu. We have multiple unidentified units detected.

    Perimeter Station Kahu: Signal indicates Human bomber strike force.

    Perimeter Station Kahu: This is a scramble alert! All pilots to their stations!

    Green Squadron Leader: Kahu Base, this is Green Leader. Enemy units locked in. Awaiting orders.

    Nynrah Control: Nynrah is under attack! All forces to combat alert. This is not a test. All strike craft, intercept and destroy the incoming bombers.

    Green Squadron Leader: Acknowledged. Moving to intercept.

    Perimeter Station Kahu: We have additional Hyperspace signatures. A Carrier Strike Group is moving against Shipyard Nynrah. Distance, four thousand Mios.

    Nynrah Control: Human warships have breached the Nynrah perimeter. The shipyard is under attack!



    Time Unknown

    Unknown Nithascal Officer: This is (Indistinct) getting out of hand. Can someone call the military already?

    Unknown Nithascal Officer #2: Shouldn’t the military already know about this sort of thing?

    Unknown Nithascal Officer: And what if they don’t? Does anyone have a Hyperline number that leads to a military base?



    07:53 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Akarana: Daxia Approach.

    Wihone: Hey, Daxia. This is uh, Maro Wihone from Nithascal Control. We’ve got a situation out here in the Papua Sector. Nynrah says they’re under attack, could you scramble a QRF to go out there?

    Akarana: Under attack? Okay, we’ll talk to the commander.

    Wihone: (Indistinct)

    Akarana: Okay.

    Wihone: I’ll talk to them now. And who is this?

    Akarana: I’m Sergeant Akarana, Commonwealth Royal Army.



    07:57 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Patariki: Taihara, Sergeant Patariki

    Nopera: Hi, I’m a traffic controller at Nithascal Starbase. We’ve, uh, we’ve got a problem here. There’s a situation in Beznar, the next system over. It sounds like they’re being raided by alien ships. We need you guys to send someone to scramble some frigates or cruisers or something to help us out.

    Patariki: Is this, wait a minute, is this real-world or a drill?

    Nopera: No. Not an exercise, no test, no drill. This is the real deal. Shipyard Nynrah is under attack, alien ships running all over Beznar.

    Patariki: Okay. Hey, hold on a second, alright?

    (Sergeant Patariki has stood up from his desk. His voice gets quiet as he runs down the hall to catch an officer)

    Patariki: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! Seriously! (Indistinct) Big time. (Indistinct)



    07:58 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME
    Patariki: Sir? Sir? Are you there?

    Nopera: I’m still here.

    Patariki: I’ve got an officer coming right now to talk to you. Stay on the line.

    Nopera: Yes sir. I’m not going anywhere.

    Wirihana: Hi, this is Colonel Wirihana.

    Nopera: Kiwi Nopera, from Nithascal Control. We’ve got some kind of military operation happening in Beznar. Shipyard Nynrah said they were under attack, and then we lost contact with them. We’re wondering if you can scramble a Carrier or a Battlecruiser, maybe out of Daxia?

    Wirihana: Do you have transponder data on the alien ships? Communications? Recognition codes?

    Nopera: Negative, nothing of the kind. Nynrah was tracking a NORDO target for about half an hour before everything went crazy, and the only solid data we have comes from primary radar. So when your ships get here, we’d have to vector them towards the aliens.

    Wirihana: So hold on, lemme get this straight: You, a civilian starbase, want to control a military interception?

    Nopera: We have to, yeah. Primary radar data only.

    Wirihana: Okay, so do you have a general location of these alien ships?

    Nopera: Nynrah picked up the first NORDO target near the fifth planet in the Beznar system.

    Wirihana: Are you still tracking the target now?

    Nopera: Negative. We’ve lost all contact with Nynrah Control.

    Wirihana: Can you give me astrodynamics data? Relative speeds? Orbital characteristics?

    Nopera: Yeah, hold on a second.



    07:59 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Weapons Controller: This is real world?

    Wirihana: (Indistinct)

    Weapons Controller: Daxia on battle stations.

    Weapons Controller: Putting Daxia on battle stations right now.



    Time Unknown

    Partogan Trainee #1: What!?

    Partogan Trainee #2: What was that?

    Levakian Trainee: Is this real? Is this really happening?

    Partogan Officer: Real world.

    Partogan Trainee #1: Wow… cool! (Humming)

    *Hyperwave connection established. Faster-Than-Light communications enabled.*


    Unknown: Nithascal, military desk.

    Partogan Trainee #1: Yeah, Kavinika calling in reference to the raid at Nynrah.

    Unknown: Yes.

    Partogan Trainee #1: We need some information: Number of starships, type, and weapons in use. Also, we need location data.

    Unknown: No, we don’t have any of that information.

    Partogan Trainee #1: None?

    Unknown: We were getting all of our data from Nynrah, and we haven’t heard from them in a while. We’ll call you back as soon as we have more information.



    08:00 PARTOGAN STANDARD TIME

    Daxia Control: Tower is on.

    Akarana: Daxia Approach is on.

    Patariki: Kavinika?

    Kavinika: Kavinika here.

    Patariki: This is Taihara placing Fort Daxia on battle stations. I repeat: BATTLE STATIONS. Day word: Aoraki. Action word: Rangi. Command word: Kealoha. All parties acknowledge.

    Daxia Control: This is Control. Weapons powering up and we are now polarizing armor.

    Akarana: Gravity well generators online, awaiting command.

    Kavinika: Ready to scramble.

    Patariki: Copy all. All parties are cleared to drop.



    08:14 PST

    Command Post: Command Post up.

    Kavinika: Kavinika’s on.

    Patariki: Approach?

    Akarana: Approach is on.

    Patariki: This is Taihara with an active space defense scramble for Task Force Kavinika. Day word: Aoraki. Action word: Rangi. Command word: Kealoha. Kavinika, you are to undock from Daxia and proceed to Nynrah at best possible speed. Put all of your crews on General Quarters and contact Taihara on Hyperwave frequency [REDACTED] backup frequency is [REDACTED] All parties acknowledge.

    Command Post: Ack.

    Tower: (Indistinct)

    Akarana: We’re ready.

    Kavinika: We’re go for launch.

    Patariki: Tower you’re clear to drop. Kavinika, clear to drop. Command Post, clear to drop. Taihara out.



    08:17 PST

    Command Post: What’s all this about strike craft?

    Unknown: Strike craft, sir?

    Command Post: I just saw a report about a civilian ship being shot down by unknown fighter craft. Where did that happen?

    Unknown: Uh, I wanna say that was in Nithascal, sir. I heard Nithascal Control say something about it.

    Command Post: Dispatch probes and recons to that system immediately. I wanna know exactly where those fighters are. Contact Nithascal now.

    Nithascal Control: Nithascal here.

    Command Post: This is Fort Daxia, Commonwealth Royal Navy. We need you to send all data relating to the squadron of alien fighters seen earlier in the day by the civilian pilot.

    Nithascal Control: Understood. We got all of that data from Nynrah, so we’ll call you back in a minute.

    *One minute ten seconds of silence removed for clarity.*

    Command Post: Nithascal Control, Command Post.

    Command Post: Nithascal Control, Command Post.

    Command Post: Nithascal Control, do you read Command Post?

    Command Post: Nithascal Control, can you hear me? Come in, please.

    Command Post: Gargantua Research, can you hear me?

    Gargantua Research Station: Affirmative, we read you five-by-five.

    Command Post: Okay, thanks. I’m trying to reach Nithascal Control. They just kinda dropped off; wanted to make sure the problem wasn’t on my end.



    08:22 PST

    *Hyperwave connection established. Faster-Than-Light communications enabled.*

    Herangi: Timoti?

    Daxia Control: Hello?

    Herangi: Have, uh, have you heard anything from Nithascal? They just dropped off the Hyperline for everyone here.

    Daxia Control: Nithascal? I thought it was Nynrah that was under attack.

    Herangi: Yeah, Nynrah’s under attack, but now Nithascal’s gone too. Can’t raise them on any frequency. They’re just gone.

    Daxia Control: Okay, I’ll pass it along and see what we can do.



    08:28 PST

    Daxia Control: Kavinika.

    Kavinika: Here.

    Daxia Control: We’re getting recon reports saying that hostile starships have entered the following star systems: Wendel, Lythorius, Cajubus, Nithascal, and Tediss. Proceed with caution.

    Kavinika: What is the nature of the enemy force? Numbers? Types?

    Daxia Control: Unknown at this time. Reports are scattered and mostly coming from civilians. Like I said, stay cautious. Clear to drop.

    Daxia Control: All stations on this net, I can see you calling me. Please know that we have several serious situations going on here and they are escalating quickly. If your situation is not a life-threatening emergency, I need you to clear the net. This frequency must be kept clear for military use at this time.



    08:33 PST

    Daxia Control: Hey Koro, are you tracking those Hyperspace signatures near Tediss?

    Koro Mihaka: Hang on…

    Daxia Control: Okay, now we’re seeing the signature of a Super-Capitol ship.

    Koro Mihaka: Negative. Still don’t see anything.

    Daxia Control: It’s a Mothership-class vessel. Near the Trecta Hyperlane.

    Koro Mihaka: Okay, I’ve got eyes on it now. Holy mother of Jericho, that’s a big ship!



    08:34 PST

    Daxia Control: Koro, can you look out your window right now?

    Koro Mihaka: Yeah.

    Daxia Control: Do you see that point of light, left side of Whiro, about four degrees above the plane?

    Koro Mihaka: Aw, shit, that’s new. Someone just Hyperspaced into our system.

    Sensors Manager: Control, sensors. New contact bearing one-eight-zero minus eleven degrees. Distance, ninety-thousand Kios and closing. Tentatively identified as the Human Battlecruiser Kim Il-Sung.

    Daxia Control: Make sure the armor is still polarized.

    Weapons Controller: Control, weapons. We’ve been spiked! That ship is target-locking us.

    Daxia Control: (Indistinct)

    Koro Mihaka: Oh, holy Jericho! Those are missiles!

    Daxia Control: Sound general quarters and scramble fighters.

    Chief of the Watch: Understood. Dropping the airtight doors. Armor polarized.

    Weapons Controller: Weapon systems fully charged.

    Daxia Control: Incoming missiles. Brace for impact, brace! Brace! Brace!

    Chief of the Watch: We’ve been hit!

    Sensors Manager: Multiple impacts confirmed.

    Daxia Control: Return fire! Get me a damage report!

    Weapons Controller: Weapons hot, missiles away.

    Comms Officer: Mayday, mayday mayday. This is Fort Daxia calling all Commonwealth military units on this net. We are under attack by a Human battlecruiser and need immediate assistance.

    Chief of the Watch: Sir, we’ve taken critical damage to our Sensors Array and Life Support Systems.

    Daxia Control: Concentrate fire on the enemy’s bridge!

    Weapons Controller: Ion Cannons spooling up now.

    Sensors Manager: They’re maneuvering again! They’re going high!

    Daxia Control: They’re after the radio! Stop’em!



    09:00 PST

    HMS Mahuika: Attention Fort Daxia, this is the Triple Alliance flagship Mahuika. We have answered your distress call.

    HMS Mahuika: Fort Daxia, this is the Mothership-class vessel Mahuika. We have arrived in sector one-one-six and request targeting data.

    HMS Mahuika: Is anybody there?

    HMS Mahuika: Is anyone out there?

    HMS Mahuika: Anyone?

    *The record of events ends here*


    As you can see, a wider war between Earth and the Galactic Community is now imminent, if it is not already in progress. We are very confident that one of Akira Robinson’s new allies participated in today’s action: Major Rafi Bakir, who is now Field Commander of the UN Space Rangers.

    The situation has transformed. The Partogans, unwitting as they may be, are now our allies in the war against Akira Robinson. Any spacefaring civilization that stands beside them will be the same. I shall use all of my available contacts and influence within the Galactic Council to bring these allies to your side at best possible speed.

    Your orders remain unchanged.

    Seek out and kill Akira Jaqueline Robinson.

    Eliminate anyone who stands in your way.

    Good luck, Stormbreakers.


    <== War of the Paradox, Issue #0
     
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    Chapter 6: Deluge
  • Macavity116

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    Author's note: If you are that one individual who is watching All Our Sins Remembered on YouTube, please allow me to apologize for the sound of my voice in this chapter. I was sick on recording day, and in hindsight, I definitely should have waited until I got better.





    Chapter 6
    Deluge


    When Akira woke up, she felt vaguely… off. Something about her just didn’t feel right and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Opening her eyes, she noticed that she was lying in a medical bed in a very sterile-looking room. Two people were occupying comfy chairs nearby, but only one of them was awake. Rafi Bakir startled when he realized Akira was conscious, and he sprang out of his chair to take her hand.

    “How are you?” He asked. “Are you okay? Still hearing voices?”

    “Whoa, hold on.” Akira mumbled. “One question at a time, I’m still waking up.”

    “Well, wake up faster.” Grumbled another voice. “Before he decides to do the Sleeping Beauty thing and kiss you.”

    Akira didn’t recognize the second person with Rafi. It was someone she’d never met before. When Rafi stepped aside to let the stranger talk to Akira, she recoiled in horror at the sight of him, jerking her body so much that an IV line broke free of her arm, spraying fluid all over the place.

    “What the hell!?” Akira gasped.

    The second person in the room was Human-shaped, in that they had arms, legs, and a head, but this individual’s face was very far from Human. He was completely bald, and the skin of his face was rough and leathery. But his most striking feature was his eyes. The man had huge, bulbous eyes with massive pink irises. When he stood up and approached Akira, she saw that his fingernails were so long and thick they may as well have been claws.

    “Calm down, girl.” The creature said. “You have nothing to fear. My name is Dyeunda Zeil, I am a Hybrid, created by the old ADVENT regime long before you were born.”

    This wasn’t the sort of statement that would have calmed Akira. Thankfully, the Sweet Air did what Zeil’s words couldn’t. After a moment, the sudden burst of anger was gone, and Akira’s voice leveled out.

    “I know who you are.” She spoke calmly. “My parents fought your kind in the war.”

    Zeil and Rafi both gave Akira a very stern look, silently scolding her. Sheepishly, she looked at the floor and said.

    “Well, the abusers who pretended to be my parents said that, anyway.”

    “You must learn to think and seriously consider your own past before saying something so offensive.” Zeil reprimanded Akira. “You hold prejudices based on lies. They will sabotage your own happiness, as well as the happiness of the community residents around you. Understand?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Zeil clapped his hands together and assumed a much more friendly expression.

    “Good. Now that’s out of the way, let me explain myself. Akira Jaqueline Robinson, you are Gifted. That means you have the ability to manipulate the natural Psionic energy contained in the deepest recesses of your conscious mind. My job is to teach you how to use this ability and then help you put it to good use for our wonderful community.”

    “Wait, put it to use?” Akira repeated. “How?”

    While the Hybrid named Zeil spoke, he carefully reattached Akira’s IV line.

    “Well you see, our perfect community is dependent on Psionics to maintain the peace and prosperity you’ve grown so accustomed to here.” Zeil explained. “We have several Psions and Telepaths who do various jobs to keep the island running smoothly. Some people are maintaining a Psionic shield that protects our island from the dangerous weather the rest of the world is experiencing. Others are augmenting the effects of the Sweet Air. Some people work in a similar profession as mister Bakir, helping seek out Gifted people and rescuing them from the outside world. Also, every member of our Security Force is Gifted, using their powers to keep anyone who wishes to harm or steal from our island at a great distance. There are plenty of other lines of work for a Gifted person, too. If you go downtown, you’ll find the entertainment and service sectors are always looking for a skilled mind-reader. If you become good at telekinesis, you may have a future in construction or demolition.”

    Zeil paused, then leaned in close to Akira.

    “However, Mister Bakir told me that when your Gift activated, you showed an aptitude for telekinesis almost immediately. I cannot stress how rare it is for anyone to do that. I hope you recover from your surgery soon, as I’m very eager to start your training.”

    Zeil shook Akira’s hand and turned to leave, but he paused when Akira asked:

    “Hey, wait a minute. What did they do to me anyway? How come I can’t hear voices anymore, and why does my head hurt so much?”

    “It’s a standard procedure for everyone who becomes Gifted.” Zeil replied, waving his hand casually. “We have embedded several cybernetic implants in your brain. These implants will give much more refined control over your powers. With a little training, you’ll find you can use the implants to turn your telepathy on or off at will.”

    “It’s great for when you have to go visit the outside world.” Rafi chimed in. “If you turn off your telepathy, you can trick outsiders into thinking you’re not Gifted. That’s how Bernard was able to get so close to you before your abusers caught on.”

    Impressed, Akira let out a low whistle. Then an idea came into her mind. She decided to try it out on impulse, without really thinking about it. Just as Zeil left the room and stepped into the hospital hallway, Akira looked at Rafi and locked her gaze onto his eyes. She focused her mind on one thing, a question she wanted to ask:

    “How long were you here?”

    And to her surprise, it worked. She couldn’t actually see Psionic energy, but Akira felt an invisible force move from her own body, into Rafi, and then return. A collage of images and sounds flickered past the forefront of Akira’s consciousness. Rafi’s mind surrendered the answer to her question before he ever had the chance to say it aloud, and Akira was left stunned by it.

    Huh. She thought to herself. He really cares about me.

    After that, Akira wondered to herself whether Rafi knew she was starting to care about him in return.

    “Yes.” Rafi said out loud. “Yes I do.”



    The next day, Akira was released from the Mahelona Medical Center with a clean bill of health, aside from the fact that she now had a bald spot shaved into the left side of her head, marking the spot where the cybernetic implants had been installed in her cerebral cortex. Rafi escorted her to a quiet place outside of town where her Psionic training would begin.

    Neither of the teenagers said a word to one another the whole trek, but their minds were open to one another, and psionic energy flowed freely between them. They shared their memories and thoughts, and Akira grew comfortable with the sensation of Rafi’s presence inside of her own consciousness. It wasn’t long before the mental images and concepts passing between them grew more… intimate in nature.

    After a while, Rafi led Akira out of the city entirely and along one of the many footpaths that meandered through the forests of Kauai. They eventually came into a clearing. About one hundred square feet of jungle had been clear-cut, leaving behind a great patch of open ground. The place was set up like a training field. Sparring dummies, set up like scarecrows, were standing in a row. Many were burned and charred while others were missing limbs. The ground was trampled and beaten down. Many patches of dirt and mud were left behind by great numbers of moving people.

    Dyeunda Zeil was already there, waiting with another person. David Sepulveda looked different from the last time Akira had seen him. The Mexican-American boy seemed to have taken to Kauai well. He was grinning from ear to ear and it looked like he’d put on a little weight. David and Akira hugged in greeting while Zeil started the proceedings.

    “Now that we’re all here, it’s time to begin. Mister Bakir has been though my classes once before and has volunteered to assist.” Zeil began. “Today, you will learn to understand your Gift, and in doing so, master these new powers of yours.”

    David raised his hand.

    “Sir, are we going to learn how to make Soulfire and put people under Mind Control?”

    Akira was not the least bit surprised to see the image of a handsome boy flash in the depths of David’s mind as soon as he said the words “Mind Control.”

    “Obviously, you will not.” Zeil narrowed his eyes at David. “Remember, you must put your abilities to use for the betterment of the Community. That is how it has always been here. We will be starting with a very useful, but tragically near-forgotten aspect of Psionics: empathy.”

    David and Akira looked at one another, confused. Rafi gave them a knowing smile.

    “History only remembers the Psions who were great warriors.” Zeil explained. “Jericho, William Carter, Tantomile, the Partogan Queen Miranda, Riesstiu, and so on. Sure, all of those people could sweep armies aside with but a wave of their hands, but there is so much more to the Gift than that! This is why we’re going to start with empathy, the perception and understanding of another’s thoughts and feelings.”

    Akira, David, and Rafi were made to sit on the ground, facing one another. Then Zeil told everyone to close their eyes.

    “You must listen.” He said. “Open your minds to the outside as though you were opening the front door of your own home.”

    The trio sat in the training field for so long that Akira started to wonder if she was going to get a suntan. As soon as she had this thought, an idea drifted through the forefront of her mind, suggesting that Rafi would find Akira to be attractive if she was tanned.

    Wait a minute! Akira felt a rush as she realized that this final thought wasn’t her own. She didn’t actually read Rafi’s mind. She’d picked up a subconscious impulse. Rafi himself wasn’t fully aware of it. Excited, Akira reached out mentally and picked up even more. She could sense a layer of insecurities around David, and a growing bubble of joy within Zeil, who was fully aware of the fact that Akira was very quickly mastering this basic technique.

    Akira could sense Zeil’s pride in her, Rafi’s affection for her, and even a hint of respect from David. All in all, she couldn’t be happier.



    As the days went on, Akira fell into a rhythm. Each morning, she and David would join Zeil and sometimes Rafi on the training grounds. On average, it took Akira five days to learn and master a new technique. Just as Zeil predicted, Akira seemed to have a knack for telekinesis. It wasn’t long before Akira was casually moving things around with sheer willpower alone, and after two weeks, Akira felt ready to try some more advanced Psionics.

    And she wasn’t just learning new things in class. In the afternoons and evenings, Akira would hang out with David and Rafi in town, where Rafi taught them how to empathically read emotions and how to notice when someone was wearing a Mindshield. While David would often strike out on his own after a while, Akira and Rafi would spend the evenings together. Sometimes they would part ways late at night, other times the sunrise would find them both in the same house.

    One morning, Akira showed up to class full of energy and excitement. She had learned to do something she thought was very cool, and couldn’t wait to show off. Zeil sensed Akira’s excitement when she arrived and quickly put his own lesson plan on hold.

    “Alright, young lady.” The Hybrid said. “Why don’t you demonstrate your new skill for us?”

    Akira asked the trio to follow her to the edge of the training ground, where a gentle and shallow stream of water widened into a pool. The pond was small, no more than twenty feet across, and in the early morning, the water was calm and flat. Akira pointed to the pond and said:

    “I was watching TV last night and there was a movie from the Old World. Some Chinese martial arts masters were having an epic battle. They flew through the air, leapt between trees, and walked on water, all while they were fighting. So I decided I wanted to try it for myself, and I realized I can use Telekinesis to do… well… just watch!”

    As she turned around, Akira could sense apprehension coming from David, while Zeil and Rafi seemed to know what she was about to attempt and silently wished her luck. Facing the pond, Akira concentrated all of her telekinetic energies into a space roughly six feet in front of her. Akira took a deep breath and broke into a run.

    Akira hit the water at a brisk pace. Her foot sank about half an inch into the water before hitting something solid. She didn’t pause to think about the fact that this pond was roughly two feet deep. Instead, she continued commanding the water to support her own weight. Stepping lightly, Akira sprinted across the water, never so much as getting her ankles wet. At the water’s edge, she leapt into the air and, with precise application of telekinesis, ran straight up the side of a large tree before coming to rest on a branch about thirty feet off the ground. David and Rafi burst into applause. Zeil smiled so much that his large alien eyes seemed to light up.

    “Well done, Akira!” Zeil congratulated her. “It’s been a long time since I saw somebody master Telekinesis as you’ve done. Tell me, in all of your experimenting, did you ever discover your own unique power?”

    “Uh... well, no.”

    By this point, Akira knew all about unique powers. Every Gifted person had that one thing they could do with Psionics without fear of being copied or replicated. And Zeil wasn’t taking a shot in the dark here. Akira had also expected her unique power to be based in Telekinesis because that was what she was good at. Rafi folded his arms and said:

    “Well, perhaps we should consider the fact that Akira’s unique power is a combat ability.” Then he spoke directly to Akira. “Have you ever been in a fight?”

    “No.” Akira let go of her tree branch and floated gently to the ground. Then she walked across the pond again to rejoin her friends. “I’ve never hurt anyone before.”

    Zeil put a reassuring hand on Akira’s shoulder.

    “I know what you’re thinking.” He said. “You believe that if your unique power is indeed meant for fighting, then you won’t want to learn it. I applaud your idea. This is a peaceful island, after all. But listen to me, if your special power is indeed one meant for violence or destruction, we cannot have you discover it by accident or happenstance where some innocent may get hurt. Bakir, Sepulveda, go back into town for now. Robinson, follow me.”

    And then, Zeil jumped into the air, leaping from treetop to treetop in exactly the same way Akira had just seen in last night’s movie. Hearth thudding with excitement, Akira launched herself into the forest, following Zeil to the west. Right away, Akira realized that Zeil was moving with incredible speed, and she could also see a short distance into his mind. Zeil had an ulterior motive. He was testing Akira, right now. He wanted to know just how much she had mastered Telekinesis.

    Well, Akira felt up to the challenge.

    Zeil broadened his stride, leaping and bounding across the jungle canopy at high speed. Akira used her own powers, not just to continue jumping from treetop to treetop, but to give herself a push as well. Soon, she was sailing hundreds of feet through the air with each bound. The teacher and student rounded the southern slopes of Kauaikini as Akira called out:

    “Where are we going?”

    Zeil replied with telepathy. Akira saw in her mind’s eye an island, not too far from here. The security troops who guarded Kauai used it as a training ground. Today was Sunday, and this nearby island was deserted.

    Akira suddenly jolted back to reality as the ground beneath her feet suddenly vanished! Zeil and Akira had shot straight off the westernmost tip of Kauai and were now over the Pacific Ocean itself. In the distance, about sixteen or seventeen miles away, Akira could see the shores of another island. Zeil’s voice filled Akira’s mind:

    Here is the next stage of your test! Both our island and the next one have Psionic protection from the elements and clean air that is not toxic like the air of the outside world. But, there is a space, a corridor between these islands, where neither of those protections exist. You must divide your attentions! Follow me to safety, and at the same time, guard your mind and body from the outside world. Now follow!

    Zeil hit the choppy waters of the Pacific at a run, jogging across the sea as though the water was nothing more than a sand dune. A moment later, Akira joined him. She ran up the sides of great crashing waves, raced between valleys of torrential water, and jumped across roiling chasms of foam. Surrounded with the Psionic energy that made all of this possible, Akira lost herself in euphoria. This was wonderful, this was incredible!

    Then, she crossed some invisible boundary, and it was like stepping into a completely different world. Everything changed, and for the worse. Suddenly, the air became so hot that the sweat on Akira’s face and arms evaporated instantly, and her skin started to burn within seconds. Akira panicked, acting on the very first thought that came into her mind. All of her telekinetic efforts stopped, and she leapt from the crest of a wave, diving headfirst into the ocean below.

    The shock of hitting cool water nearly paralyzed Akira, and the pain of her near-instantaneous sunburn reverberated throughout her body, making her convulse. After a moment, she got her bearings again and surfaced. The extreme heat above the water’s surface seemed to press down on Akira, forcing her head down below the waterline again. She took a deep breath and submerged.

    Hanging there beneath the surface, a new reason to panic hit Akira like a wall of water. She’d lost track of Zeil! How was she supposed to find her way to the other island, or back to Kauai for that matter? She was lost in the Pacific, trapped beneath the surface by the oppressive heat above. The more Akira thought about her situation, the more she freaked out as she realized just how screwed she was.

    Relax Akira. Zeil’s voice drifted through the forefront of her mind. Fear and panic will get you nowhere. You have the rest of your life to solve this problem. Take a moment to think.

    A pulse of anger rippled through Akira. She was probably going to drown and now she had Zeil’s telepathic taunting to put up with!

    Rest of my life, yeah, all two minutes of it. Akira thought to herself.

    That was when an idea came to her. In fact, it was such a powerful train of thought that Akira opened up her mouth to gasp, only to take in a mouthful of seawater. Coughing and spluttering, Akira sprang to the surface. She only kept her head above water long enough to refill her lungs before diving again, cursing herself for not thinking of this sooner. Telekinesis worked above the water, didn’t it? Why shouldn’t it work below?

    Reaching out with her mind, Akira found Zeil’s consciousness. It was far away and getting farther still, but she knew where it was relative to her own. Akira started to kick her feet and propel herself in the right direction. Then she applied the smallest bit of Telekinesis.



    About two hundred yards ahead, Zeil was still above the surface, running on the waves. A Psionic shield over his head was making a near-constant pinging noise, like raindrops falling on metal, as it protected him from the sun’s harmful radiation. The Human-alien Hybrid looked over his shoulder just long enough to see a Human shape rocketing through the water like a torpedo. He laughed out loud as Akira breached the surface in a dolphin-ish way, taking a short breath before retreating beneath the waves again. It wasn’t the solution he was expecting, but he was still very impressed.



    Finally, they reached their destination. Akira felt a great sense of relief as she and Zeil came under the protective umbrella of the Psionically-enhanced Sweet Air once more. The new island, meanwhile, was a different sort of place from the one Akira had just left. Kauai was rocky and mountainous, whereas this place contained many gentle sloping hills. The ground, as far as the eye could see, was pockmarked with craters and trenches.

    “What happened here?” Akira asked, looking around the blasted shoreline. “Looks like there was a battle.”

    “There may as well have been.” Zeil admitted. “Like I said. This is where the security forces come to train, but we have the island to ourselves today. This place is called Ni’ihau.”

    Akira shook the seawater out of her shoes and looked around.

    “Ni’ihau?” She repeated.

    “Before the war, this island was the final refuge of the native Hawaiians.” Zeil explained. “Now that they’re gone, it’s a firing range. Look up there.”

    Zeil pointed to a distant grove of trees.

    “We want to discover your special power.” He said. “Therefore, we need to keep things simple and give you the chance to experiment. Akira, do you see that forest on the hill? I want you to destroy it by whatever means you can muster.”

    Akira’s jaw dropped. She was struggling to comprehend the magnitude of Zeil’s request.

    “Wait a minute, destroy it?”

    “Correct.” Zeil said. “Wipe it out. Burn it, vaporize it. Use your Gift to make it cease to be. If your unique power is combat-oriented, as we think it is, then we should discover it here.”

    Akira looked away from Zeil’s gigantic eyes and towards the distant forest. Destroy it, huh?

    “It’s just a clump of trees, right?” Akira asked. “Nobody’s in there?”

    “No one at all.” Zeil reassured her. “But if it helps, try to imagine one of your abusers in there. One of the monsters we saved you from.”

    Akira took a deep breath and refocused on the distant treeline. She had no idea how she was supposed to destroy a whole forest, but she might as well start with what she knew. First, Akira held up her dominant hand and closed her fist, all the while focusing her gaze on a very tall-looking tree.

    Even though she was over a mile away from her target, Telekinetic energies moved at the speed of light. Akira mentally seized hold of the tallest tree and tore it out of the ground by the roots. With sheer force of will, Akira threw the tree some fifty feet, where it crashed into the hillside with tremendous violence.

    Akira scowled, disappointed with herself. Tearing up trees one at a time was definitely not what Zeil had in mind. She looked over her shoulder to see that her teacher was giving her an expression that was very difficult to read. Zeil’s mind was also closed off, so she had no idea what he was thinking. Looking back towards her objective, Akira decided to try something else. Taking Zeil’s advice, Akira tried to imagine someone from her old life underneath those distant trees…

    What if it was Blake?

    Akira tried to picture her “father” standing beneath that distant grove. The man who’d kept her in that hellhole of a village in Kansas; the man who only paid attention to her when it suited his own interests. The man who never really cared for Akira. What would she do if he was out there?

    She would tear him apart.

    Akira knew what she wanted to do, but she’d never attempted it. Zeil had never taught her how to do it, either. But she did understand the theory. Akira closed her eyes and pressed both of her hands to the side of her head, just as she did whenever using Telekinesis to move something big and heavy. Focusing all of her energies on the distant treeline, Akira could sense all of the energy produced and spent by the living flora. The whole environment was laid out before her, distant yet tangible. She reached out with her right hand and grabbed a fistful of the air in front of her. Telekinetically, she seized the very fabric of the world and tore it with all her mental strength.

    Before she opened her eyes, Akira knew it had worked. A loud, chaotic roar filled the air as Zeil cheered:

    “A Void Rift! Impressive.”

    The scene was very different when Akira opened her eyes. A swirling, roiling, angry vortex was tearing the forested hilltop to shreds. Her jaw dropped at the sight before her. The Void Rift is a highly destructive tear in the fabric of reality. Akira had just torn a small hole in the Universe itself. Trees were shredded, sending splinters and sawdust in all directions while dirt and leaves tumbled through the air. Akira put her hands to her mouth and gasped:

    “Did I really do that!?”

    “You did.” Zeil said, gesturing to the destruction.

    After a moment, the Void Rift expired. As the Psionic Storm died down, Zeil turned to Akira and said:

    “Again.”

    Akira stared at him, dumbfounded.

    “I can still see plenty of trees up there.” Zeil told her. “Wipe them all out at once. I know you can.”

    Akira wrung out her hands, getting ready to try again. Now that she understood how to make a Void Rift, she decided to add her own twist to the concept. After all, they were here to experiment, weren’t they?

    So Akira went through the same moves, preparing to open another Void Rift. But this time, she decided to try something different. She was used to her perceptions of the distant world now, and she could feel exactly how her Void Rift had damaged the area. But now she wondered, could she do more than just tearing a hole in the fabric of reality? Perhaps she could destroy the fabric itself? That might satisfy Zeil.

    Akira opened her right hand, reached forward and then pulled backwards. In perfect concert with that movement, Akira focused all of her telekinetic powers on a single spot. Destroy, not tear. Destroy, not tear. Destroy.

    A tiny sphere of darkness appeared in the air in front of Akira. Despite its small size, it pulled everything in the area inexorably towards itself, like a miniscule black hole. Instinctively, Akira knew that she could not keep this thing anywhere near herself, so she pushed against the dark orb with all of her willpower and sent it flying away, towards the now doomed forest.

    As for what happened next, Akira wasn’t too sure. Only a moment after she summoned the dark orb, Akira felt an overwhelming sensation of fatigue and exhaustion wash over her body. Suddenly, and without warning, Akira was completely and totally spent. Akira tried to remain standing, to keep her eyes open, but she no longer had the strength to do either. She fell backwards, and was only vaguely aware of hitting the ground.

    All around her, Akira could hear a terrible crashing sound, accompanied by racing wind, rushing water, and Zeil’s excited yelling. Slipping into an out of consciousness, Akira tried to speak, to scream, but the effort alone caused her to pass out.


     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 7: Wrath of the Blue Dragon
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 7
    Wrath of the Blue Dragon


    When Akira woke up, she felt very groggy, as though she’d slept for over twelve hours and still felt tired. A dull aching and soreness seemed to reverberate throughout every bone in her body, and it took a tremendous effort just to sit up and open her eyes. She wished she hadn’t.

    Akira was laying on the rocky beach at Mānā Point, on Kauai Island, directly across from Ni’ihau Island. The early morning sun was gone, obscured behind a dense layer of white clouds that seemed to roll across the sky as though they needed to go somewhere in a hurry. A little ways down the shoreline, six men and women were gathered together, all focusing their attention on the western horizon. The newcomers were wearing the heavy black coats used by the island’s Security Forces. Akira followed their gaze and saw something absolutely horrid.

    The island of Ni’ihau was gone. In its place, a cyclone, wider and taller than Akira could comprehend, roared and raged across the ocean. It was like someone had taken all the destructive energies of a hurricane and compressed them all into one place. Chunks of land sailed through the air while a steady rain of rocks stirred up the ocean until it was frothing from the chaos above.

    Among the six people on the shoreline, Zeil stood out as the only non-Human. He gestured to the nightmarish scene and told the others:

    “As soon as she passed out, it began to grow out of control. We must seal the Rift now or we’ll be next!”

    The other five people nodded and pulled a series of strange devices from their coats. Akira gasped and quickly tried to stand up as she realized these people were brandishing Psionic Amplifiers. Zeil pulled out one of his own. A swirling orb of purple light illuminated the empty space between the prongs of his amplifier, and then Zeil pointed it towards the maelstrom.

    “On my mark!” Zeil shouted as the others followed suit. “Three, two, one, mark!”

    The group of six aimed their amplifiers towards the raging storm. Each amplifier emitted such a powerful light that Akira had to shield her eyes. She couldn’t see what they were doing to the maelstrom, but she could feel it. The air around her suddenly got very hot, and there was a great rushing as though a powerful wind was racing from east to west.

    “Almost there!” A man’s voice called out above the crashing noise of wind and waves. “A little more, just a little more!”

    The terrible vortex heaved as though it might leap out of the sea and slam into Kauai. But then, with a final rumbling sigh, the maelstrom dissipated. The winds fell silent and the sea calmed, if only for a moment. As the chaos began to subside, all of the seawater, wreckage, and debris from the island of Ni’ihau started falling back to the ground. Akira, Zeil, and the others suddenly found themselves caught in a heavy downpour of rain, accompanied by loud slapping sounds, caused by clods of dirt and rock falling from the sky.

    Zeil pointed his amplifier to the sky and raised a telekinetic shield above himself and the others. Akira put her hands over her head and ran underneath the invisible protection as well. As the group huddled together, someone finally acknowledged Akira’s presence.

    “This is her?” A man’s voice said above the noise. “This is the girl who did it?”

    Akira wrapped her arms around herself and looked down. Now that the immediate danger had passed, she was starting to remember and realized the full nature of what she’d just done. A quick glance out to sea confirmed everything. Where there should have been a neighboring island, there was now nothing but ocean.

    A creeping sense of dread came over Akira. She was going to be in so much trouble! She’d just sunk a whole island to the bottom of the sea. What was Zeil going to say? Would they kick her out of the community, force her to live in the outside world again? Akira seemed to be filling up with fear and anxiety, at least she was until one of the security guys put his hand on Akira’s shoulder and said:

    “I’m impressed, girl. Hat’s off to you.”

    Another man added,

    “I like your spark kid. You got talent.”

    One by one, all of the security guys complimented Akira on her Gift. Confused, she looked at Zeil, who smiled and said:

    “I know what you’re thinking, Akira. You’re not going to get in trouble for sinking that island.”

    “But… but,” Akira started to protest, but Zeil cut her off.

    “We wanted to know what your unique power was, and now we know. Young girl, you have the potential to destroy all that lays before you. And you have every right to be scared of that power, as I feel you are now.”

    The hybrid put a reassuring hand on Akira’s arm and continued:

    “But that is why we brought you here, to Kauai and our community. So that you may learn to harness and control that great power, and then to use it for the benefit of your friends and neighbors, and the community as a whole.”

    As the rain of water and debris finally came to a stop, a rainbow appeared in the western skies, opposite the morning sun.

    “But how can I do any of that?” she asked



    Much later, Rafi heard a loud knocking on his door. The sun had just gone down, and he still hadn’t heard anything about Akira or Zeil following the abrupt destruction of Ni’ihau Island. Like the other inhabitants of Kauai, Rafi had been told that he needed to go home and wait for tomorrow morning. So he was quite surprised that anyone would break curfew to visit his little bungalow.

    Opening the door, Rafi was stunned for a moment by the sight of the person on his doorstep. It was Akira, but she looked very different from when Rafi had seen her last. She was wearing the uniform of the island security team. A gleaming silver badge adorned her chest, and two weapons hung from her belt: a stun baton and a Psionic Amplifier. Akira was full of smiles and joy as she told Rafi the story of her adventure with Zeil and its aftermath.

    “I’m officially part of the Security Team now.” Akira explained. “I’ve got a badge and everything. They said my powers were perfect for keeping all of us safe! Isn’t this great!”

    Rafi pulled Akira into his house and embraced her in a warm and loving hug.

    “I’m so happy for you!” Rafi declared. “Congratulations, you’ve really come into your own destiny, Akira.”

    Akira couldn’t help but return the affection.

    “I never would have got away from Kansas without you, Rafi. I owe you everything.” She told him.

    “I’m glad I found you there.” He said. “You’ve brightened my life.”

    The two stopped talking. Both teens had the Gift. They could read one another’s minds as though they were skimming the pages of a book. At a single glance, a flicker of eye movement, they understood how each felt for the other. Akira felt a wave of emotions crashing over her soul, and not all of them were her own.

    There was no need to say the words aloud, the young lovers understood one another perfectly, and as the night went on, no further words were spoken; even though the two did not fall asleep until well past midnight.



    The next morning, Akira reported for duty looking disheveled, her clothes and hair rumpled up and unkempt, but she was still full of energy and ready to do her duty for the community. The Kauai Security Force was based out of the airport near Lihue, and had a twofold mission as Akira found out.

    “Protecting the island is only half of our work.” Said the Commandant, a big man named Wolfe. “There are some materials and consumable resources our people need to survive that don’t occur naturally here. It’s also our job to acquire those things as necessary.”

    “How?” Akira asked.



    In reply, one of the Security agents guided Akira to a nearby locker where a suit of power armor was waiting for her.

    “The people of the outside world don’t understand the perfect world we’ve built.” Wolfe explained. “They are afraid of us, so they push us away, sometimes with force. A few have even tried to destroy our community, so now we take special actions to both defend ourselves and keep our would-be enemies as weak as possible. Don the armor and follow us.”

    Akira did as she was told. The power armor was heavy, but once it was on, Akira felt the internal motors, hydraulics, and pneumatics go to work immediately. The suit not only protected Akira from the elements and weapons, but it gave her increased strength and endurance. It was technology straight out of the Second Hyperspace War. Next, she donned a helmet that completely sealed her suit, giving Akira a constant supply of cool Sweet Air.

    “The air of the outside world isn’t treated like it is here.” Wolfe said. “To keep our heads clear, we always take some of Kauai’s air with us. Now, this may be a live mission for us, but for you it is training. Stay close to me and observe very closely.”



    Akira’s first mission was unremarkable, but that was by design. Late that night, after the sun went down, she boarded a transport helicopter with eleven other Security Force members, including Wolfe. The helicopter took off and flew out into the Pacific Ocean for a couple of hours before crossing paths with a large cargo ship. The vessel was moving through the sea at a constant pace, its lights the only illumination in the endless ocean besides the moon and stars.

    Because it was dark out, the crew of the ship didn’t realize a helicopter was approaching until it was far too late. Rappelling ropes fell from the sides of the chopper and Akira followed her compatriots down to the deck of the ship. At Wolfe’s command, Psionic Amplifiers were drawn and the team got to work.

    Akira was quite grateful she was only expected to watch and learn, because she was left dumbfounded by the way the ships’ crew was incapacitated. Not a single person was harmed, let alone killed. Wolfe’s team had landed near the ships’ bridge, and in mere seconds, the Captain and nine of his subordinates were placed under Mind Control. Those who remained weren’t mentally strong enough to resist the next wave of telepathic attacks. Wolfe put any non-essential crew member into a deep, dreamless sleep, while the other members of the team quickly fanned out across the ship, incapacitating anybody they found.

    After just ten minutes, the cargo ship was under the control of Wolfe’s team, and not a single drop of blood was spilled. The entire crew was subdued beneath an overpowering telepathic field, too impaired to do anything else but stand at their posts and carry out whatever tasks the hijackers demanded of them. It was as though Wolfe had transformed everyone aboard the vessel into mindless, obedient zombies.

    The action was over in a matter of minutes, and all twelve members of the Security team settled in for the trip back to Kauai with their stolen ship. Akira stayed with Wolfe on the bridge, watching as he manipulated the crew into turning the ship towards Kauai Island.

    “I don’t understand.” Akira said. “Why not just kill these people? You said they might be dangerous to the island, or they might be our enemies, right?”

    “Once they stop being a threat, there’s no point in hurting them anymore.” Wolfe explained. “Besides, they can be brought around. Each person here will go through the same experience as you, Akira. They will breathe the Sweet Air and experience the perfection of our island. Eventually, they’ll find a way to contribute to the community and become a part of it. Everybody can be made to understand perfection, and once they do, they’ll want to join our Utopia. And we will take them in.”



    The trip back to Kauai was much longer than the flight to the ship. To pass the time, Wolfe, Akira, and the rest of the team took inventory of the cargo in the hold. It was a mixed array of food, construction materials, and household appliances. Wolfe declared it wasn’t the best haul of the day, but that scrapping the ship for parts would yield additional rewards as well.

    The stolen vessel docked in Nawiliwili Harbor, just south of Wailua and Lihue, and the Security Force’s job was pretty much done. Wolfe dismissed the group and told everyone to report back to the airport later that evening. Akira had just barely disembarked when Rafi swept her off her feet. It was a very happy reunion on the shore. While cargo was being unloaded and the crew passed off into the care of Sally Ann, Rafi and Akira got to spend a little time alone on the nearby Kalapaki Beach. They kissed and took in the morning sun together. Rafi complimented Akira’s power armor and said it looked good on her, and she lost herself in a fit of giggling.

    In that moment, Akira realized just how happy she was. Since coming to Kauai, she had found her own Gift and started learning to harness and control it. She had a cool new job that suited her powers, and she had a boyfriend who adored her and celebrated her accomplishments. Akira knew that right now was the happiest, most joyful and satisfying moment of her entire life. Could things get better than they were right now?

    Maybe she would get married to Rafi. Akira Bakir sounded like a nice name.

    Perhaps she would someday become the Commandant of the Security Forces. Why not? Zeil and Wolfe had acknowledged her potential.

    Or perhaps she could join Rafi on his own missions, finding Gifted people and bringing them back to the safety of Kauai?

    No matter how her life ended up going from here, Akira knew that she never wanted to leave the beautiful, perfect world that was that of Kauai Island and the people who lived there.

    Akira was pulled out of her wistful daydream when Rafi looked up into the morning sky and said:

    “Hey, what’s that sound?”

    He pointed up. In the middle of the blue sky, two black dots were flying side-by-side, accompanied by a high pitched whistling sound that grew louder and louder with each passing second, louder and louder, until all of a sudden… there was silence.

    It lasted only for a moment.

    A terribly loud CRACK rent the air, followed by a huge rushing noise and a furious hot wind. Leaves were blown from the trees and sand flew up into the air. Then, an orange glow caught Akira’s attention, and she screamed.

    “The mountain!”

    In the distance, along the horizon, smoke and flames were rising from the summit of Kawaikini, while a third black shape flew in ominous circles above Lihue Airport. White streaks of light launched from the shape and raced to the ground, where there were even more blasts, fires, and smoke.

    “What’s happening!?” Akira gasped.

    “I, I think we’re under attack!” Rafi breathed.

    He was right. The trio of fast-moving shapes finally drew close enough to resolve themselves into recognizable shapes. Akira felt her heart sink as she recognized them.

    A squadron of Battlemaster-class Gunships were circling lower and lower, firing their weapons into the island as they went. Missiles and mass driver rounds rained down on Kauai, slamming into the Sweet Air dispenser at Kawaikini, smashing into the Security Force building at Lihue, and leveling the community leadership’s office building in downtown Wailua.

    Akira and Rafi sprang to their feet and ran back to the harbor, where Wolfe and several members of the Security Force were hastily trying to regroup.

    “I don’t understand!” One of the Security guys was saying. “How did they get through the Psionic shield!?”

    “No time to wonder about that.” Wolfe replied. “Everyone fan out, get the residents to safety, and if those invaders come down here, use lethals! Bakir! Robinson! Stay with me, and put your heads down!”

    At that moment, one of the Battlemasters sailed low over their heads, just above the treetops. Akira looked up just in time to see the words JSDF Ark Angel painted on the underside of its wings. Where had she seen that name before?

    “Something fell out of it!” Wolfe shouted. “It’s in the trees just ahead.”

    On the far side of the harbor, the sound of grinding metal and servomotors was louder than the distant explosions. Akira’s memory was jarred at once, and she raised her voice.

    “Android! It’s an android!”

    Wolfe’s eyes went wide.

    “Everyone, find cover!”

    But it was too late. A hulking mass of metal lunged forward out of the nearby grove of trees. The android stood nearly seven feet tall and carried a machine gun that was roughly the same size as Akira herself. Its armor plating looked to be almost four centimeters thick, and the android’s feet were sinking into the sand.

    The machine looked around at the gathered Security team and then said out loud:

    “Ah. Well, so much for my little stealth adventure.”

    “Soulfire!” Wolfe shouted to his teammates. “Now!”

    Akira and Rafi watched in amazement as Wolfe and his team raised their Amplifiers and fired jets of brilliant blue and purple fire towards the android, which tilted its head to one side and quite literally shrugged off the inferno of supernatural fire.

    “You do realize I’m a robot, right?” the android spoke in a very calm, nonchalant voice. “Anyway, Corporal Tachibana, this is Julian here. I’d like to request a kill order on the ten people presently shooting at me.”

    A woman’s voice, quiet but still audible, replied.

    “Waste ‘em.”

    Julian the android raised its machine gun in one hand and said:

    “Oh, yes. I’ve always wanted to do this… MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE!”

    Akira screamed and recoiled backwards as Julian tore into the Security team. The sound of his machine gun was like thunder. Men and women screamed as they were cut down by the first onslaught, but Wolfe and a few others survived by conjuring a telekinetic shield. Akira and Rafi threw themselves to the ground and took cover behind a shipping container, looking around just in time to see Wolfe’s last stand.

    Julian emptied his colossal magazine into Wolfe’s shield, while grumbling:

    “Please stand in front of the projectile, Human. You’re making this harder than it needs to be.”

    Wolfe used telekinesis to reflect all of Julian’s weapon fire and send it back the way it came. The android was peppered with its own bullets and took a step back.

    “I cannot believe I’m saying this.” Julian growled. “But I believe you are actually starting to piss me off. The sensation is quite pleasing, thank you. You are all still going to die, of course.”

    Then Julian threw aside his machine gun and ran full tilt towards the remaining Security team. Before anybody could do anything, Julian raised one metal fist and brought it crashing down on Wolfe’s head. The security chief was killed instantly and Akira screamed in horror!

    The android paused in its attack and looked in her direction. The robot’s optical sensors made contact with Akira’s eyes.

    “Julian to Tachibana. I have eyes on your daughter. Repeat: Contact with HVI.”

    Rafi grabbed Akira by the shoulders and pushed her away from the scene.

    “Run!” He cried out. “Get outta here!”

    A thunderous stomping sound told Akira that Julian was giving chase, and that he was gaining on her in a hurry. Behind her, the sounds of screaming and gunfire and explosions only got louder and louder.

    “Little girl, don’t run away from me!” Julian called to Akira. “I may be as fast as a gazelle but that doesn’t mean I’m graceful like one!”

    Akira darted around containers and machinery as she fled through the heart of the shipyard. She had no idea where she was going, only that there was a massive robot chasing her. She pulled out her Psionic Amplifier and tried to launch Soulfire against Julian, but all she could do was send sparks flying backwards towards the oncoming machine. Julian ignored this attack outright and sprang forward, grabbing Akira’s arm with one metal hand. She screamed and writhed and squirmed, trying to break free of Julian’s grip, but the android held her fast and said:

    “Akira Jaqueline Robinson. You are being rescued. Resistance is useless.”

    Julian grabbed the Psionic Amplifier and crushed it in one hand, then he grabbed Akira around the middle and lifted her into the air. Kicking and screaming, Akira was carried back the way Julian had come.



    The scene was one of devastation. The harbor was wrecked, and the stolen cargo ship was on fire. Burned out and smoldering vehicles littered the road to Lihue. Bodies and blood were all over the place, and as Julian dragged Akira onto the scene, several people shouted her name at once.

    The heavily armed intruders glared at Rafi and Sally Ann. The two people who meant so much to Akira were kneeling on the pavement, their wrists tied behind their backs. Akira struggled even harder against the massive android and screamed at the men and women who carried guns.

    “Please, leave them alone! They’re my friends!”

    Two of the armed intruders stepped forward. Like the others, they were both wearing suits of power armor and helmets that obscured their faces. The warriors looked at one another for a moment before pulling their helmets off and revealing themselves.

    Akira took a step back as Christopher Wright and Inez Vasquez looked at her with a mournful expression.

    “La niña, don’t you remember?” Inez said. “We’re you’re friends.”

    Chris looked over his shoulder and yelled at someone in the distance.

    “She’s over here, she safe!”

    Three more of the armored soldiers broke away from the group and approached. Blake Robinson, his wife Chihiro, and their eldest son Alexander cheered at the sight of Akira. Chihiro dropped her rifle on the ground and wrapped her arms around Akira in a motherly embrace. Julian finally relinquished Akira into the hold of her parents.

    Akira felt a building wave of fear and panic inside herself, and she pushed, struggled, and strained to get away from her old family. Whatever joyful reunion the Robinsons were trying to initiate was cut short when Akira desperately sank her teeth into Chihiro’s hand. Akira’s mother screamed and let go, giving just enough time for Akira to run back to Rafi and throw her arms around him.

    “Rafi, are you okay?” She asked. “What’s happening? What’s going on?”

    A pair of hands grabbed Akira by the shoulders and started pulling her away from Rafi.

    “Come back here!” Blake roared. “Get away from him!”

    Off to Akira’s right, there was a scuffle and three more people, all with their hands tied, were dragged into view. Bernard von Unfal, Klaus Eberhardt, and Sarah Harris all looked frightened and worse for wear. The XCOM soldier who brought them to the scene raised his arm in salute to Blake before saying:

    “Their boss got away, sir. And you were right. We found EXALT iconography all over that office as well as the spire on the mountain.”

    Blake let out a curse word, then he passed his daughter into the grip of her eldest brother.

    Alexander tried to hug and embrace Akira, but she pushed against him, gasping:

    “No, let me go back! Let me stay with my friends!”

    “Those aren’t your friends, they kidnapped you!” Alex burst out.

    The Robinson family looked at Julian. The android shook its head and spoke to the group:

    “Stockholm Syndrome. A common psychological paradox that can sometimes affect the victims of kidnapping or sustained abuse.”

    These final words had a profound impact on Akira’s parents. Akira herself began struggling and fighting against her brother even harder now. Akira tried to say she did not have Stockholm Syndrome, but her family was now ignoring her. The trio of Robinsons looked down at Rafi, Sally Ann, Bernard, Klaus, and Sarah with extremely dark expressions. Finally, Klaus Eberhardt dared to speak:

    “We never harmed the girl! She’s been a welcome member of our community, she’s among friends who love and care for her!”

    Blake Robinson looked from Akira to Klaus and back again. Akira flashed a smile at Klaus and whispered:

    “Thank you.”

    Blake saw this, and the expression on his face became grotesque, as though he had seen something absolutely horrible. Then, in a swift series of movements, Blake unholstered a Gauss pistol and shot Klaus in the head! Blood and bone sprayed through the air while Akira screamed until her throat hurt! Sally Ann and Sarah Harris both burst into tears and started begging for their lives.

    “Please, sir!” Sarah sobbed. “Please don’t! We never meant to hurt anyone!”

    Blake was seething. His fury was so great that his hands shook as he pointed the pistol between Sarah’s eyes. The young woman recoiled and shrieked:

    “Please! Please no! I don’t wanna die!”

    Two more gunshots, and Sarah keeled over backwards. This time, Akira didn’t just break free of her family. She managed to turn herself around and punched Alexander in the face. She hit him so hard that one of his teeth fell to the ground, and then Akira ran back to her bloody and battered friends. She throw both arms around Rafi, who was shaking, and held him tightly.

    “Stop!” Akira screamed. “Please don’t!”

    Blake, Chihiro, Alexander, Inez, and Chris were all staring at Akira as though they had never seen her properly before.

    “Get away from him!” Alexander spat through a mouthful of blood.

    “No!” Akira cried. “Please, I love him!”

    Rafi leaned into Akira and gently kissed her lips.

    “I love you.” He whispered. “No matter what happens, remember that.”

    Chihiro seized her daughter and forcibly turned her face up.

    “Look at me.” Chihiro’s voice wavered. “Look into my eyes.”

    The experience was completely different from the first time. Now it was a true, genuine violation. Chihiro’s telepathic assault broke down every mental barrier in Akira’s mind with the force and violence of a conquering army. All of Akira’s most intimate thoughts and memories were forcibly opened and laid bare for her mother to see. There was nowhere in her own mind or soul where Akira was safe from Chihiro’s invasion. Nowhere for her most private memories to be preserved in secrecy. And then, Akira found herself plunged into those memories!

    The long nights she had spent alone with Rafi replayed from a new perspective. Chihiro watched, like a silent specter, as all of her daughter’s private encounters with Rafi played out before her. Then, a burning wave of anger and rage seemed to ignite. A wildfire of fury burned a trail of destruction through Akira’s mind as Chihiro withdrew from it.

    Screaming from the agony of it all, Akira lost her grip on Rafi and she was pulled away from him by unknown hands. Blake grabbed his wife by the shoulders and said:

    “What is it? What did you see?”

    Chihiro locked eyes with her husband, and the briefest of telepathic pulses moved between them. Blake’s eyes widened into an expression of horrible understanding, and no more words were spoken. Blake and Chihiro both raised their weapons.

    “NO!” Akira screamed. “STOP!!”

    Blake raised his pistol and shot Sally Ann in the face, then he finished off Bernard von Unfal. Chihiro, meanwhile, drew the Katana of the Chosen Assassin and held it above her head in both hands. Akira begged her mother to show mercy. In those final seconds, Rafi pledged his love and loyalty to Akira…

    And then Chihiro brought the Katana down; with two graphic and bloody strikes, she severed Rafi’s head from his body.

    Akira screamed until she couldn’t scream anymore, and then she fought against everyone around her. She had forgotten about the Gift. She forgot that she was short and skinny and fifteen. Akira punched and kicked and bit anyone she could reach. Without a weapon, it was a hopeless fight. The Robinson family and their friends fell upon Akira in one last attempt to subdue her. Their efforts would succeed; but just before the last of her strength left her, Akira raked her fingernails across somebody’s face. She didn’t know who it was, but she felt the warm flow of blood and heard a scream of anguish.

    Then, it was over. Too weak to carry on, Akira had no choice but to allow the family she hated so much to carry her away.



     
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    Chapter 8: The Broken Bird
  • Macavity116

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    Halfway there! We are now closer to the end of this story than the beginning!




    Chapter 8
    The Broken Bird

    September 12, 2060
    San Diego, California, North America



    “I want to go back.”

    “Out of the question.”

    “Let me go back to the island, please.”

    “Do you even hear what you’re saying?”

    “Do you even care?”

    Akira stared at her father with newfound hatred. Blake tried to convey how much she was hurting him, but Akira ignored him.

    The Ark Angel had landed in the ruins of San Diego, on the Pacific Coastline. Two more ships, the Hyuuga and the Crusader, were nearby. All three crews were trying to celebrate their victory over a bonfire after the sun went down, but the sense of triumph was ruined by Akira’s contempt towards her rescuers. Not to mention what she’d done to her eldest brother.

    Alexander had just barely survived his fight with Akira. During those frantic, bloody moments on Kauai, Akira managed to gouge his right eye out with her bare hands. Her older brother nearly bled to death, and was saved only by a transfusion from Chris Wright, who had compatible blood. Both men were completely exhausted and were passed out by the fire. Alexander’s face was caked in dried blood and a hasty eyepatch was covering up the wound.

    Chihiro and Blake tried to speak to their daughter, but she was completely closed to them. Following her mother’s telepathic assault, Akira created new mental barriers in her mind, determined to shut out everybody around her. She could feel her mother constantly trying to probe her mind, but Akira was having none of it. Psionic feedback jumped from Akira to Chihiro, and her mother would recoil from the shock.

    “Akira, I know you might have grown to think better of those people,” Chihiro started to say, but Akira cut her off.

    “Shut up! Shut up! You don’t know anything!” Akira screamed at the top of her lungs. “You just murdered all of my friends and blew up the only place where I was ever happy, I hate you! I fucking hate you so much!”

    Chihiro looked like she was going to burst into tears.

    “But, honey. Those people, they were-”

    Again, Akira cut off her mother.

    “No. Don’t you dare. Don’t you fucking dare.”

    Sobbing, Akira ran away from the group and boarded the Ark Angel. She locked herself in the living quarters and threw herself onto the bunk bed still marked as hers. She wanted to cry, to mourn Rafi and Sally Ann and the others. She wanted to see them smiling and happy again, and felt so terrible that the last time she saw the wonderful men and women who loved her so much, they were begging for mercy, just before they were executed in cold blood.

    Akira could hear her parent’s voices outside as they talked to their friends and family. She overheard Julian the android suggesting Akira be made to see a therapist.

    “The girl is clearly traumatized and suffering the continued effects of Stockholm Syndrome.” Julian explained. “She needs multiple sessions of therapy.”

    “What about me?” Alexander said. “She put my eye out. Can’t I sock her in the face, dad? Just once?”

    “No.” Blake responded. “Doctor Tygan can make you a new eye when we get back to Kansas, but what I really think Akira needs now is time to reconnect with her friends and family… her real ones.”

    At this, Akira put her face in her pillow and screamed.



    The next day, the Ark Angel returned to Manhattan. Autumn was arriving early in Kansas this year. What few trees still stood were now adorned in colors of red and orange, while the surrounding fields were muddy and waterlogged. The days were still lethally hot, so Akira once again found herself made to walk underneath canvas canopies and awnings, at least for the first few hundred feet.

    Once Akira was back inside the walls of Myron, she started pulling herself away from her parents, who instinctively let go when Akira stepped into the deadly sunlight. With a click of her fingers, Akira summoned a telekinetic shield and positioned it above her head, keeping her safe from the sun’s deadly rays. Blake, Chihiro, and Alexander all looked at her, visibly confused.

    “What’s wrong with you?” Alexander said. “Aren’t you happy to be home again?”

    Akira scoffed and walked away, taking a shortcut through the sun-bleached square to get away from her family. She wanted nothing to do with them anymore.

    The tenement house was exactly as Akira left it back in June, overcrowded and noisy. She was planning to lock herself in her old room until she decided what to do next, but she never got the chance. A flurry of platinum blonde hair swept across Akira’s field of vision before she found herself on the receiving end of a dive-tackle hug.

    Scarlett Freeman squealed with delight, seemingly oblivious to Akira’s passive reaction.

    “You’re back! I’m so happy to see you!” Scarlett jumped for joy and hugged Akira once more, then launched into a barrage of questions. “Where did they take you? Did they hurt you? Are you okay? What happened, tell me?”

    Akira remembered Scarlett, and wondered just how she had ever been friends with her. But she found that just couldn’t be angry with Scarlett, no matter how much she wanted to be. After all, if Scarlett had not stolen Emanuel Espinosa from Akira, then she might never have fallen for Rafi. Her voice dripping with contempt, Akira asked:

    “How’s Espinosa?”

    Scarlett’s face fell. Akira felt a building sense of triumph as her former friend replied in a weak tone:

    “I, uh… well. He told me…” Scarlett trailed off.

    Akira wanted to know the answer. She had already guessed the outcome, but she wanted the satisfaction, she wanted to hear the words herself. Using telepathy, Akira broke into Scarlett’s undefended mind. The young girl’s mind was seemingly transparent, and Akira could read all of her thoughts and memories with very little effort. Very quickly, Akira found what she was looking for.

    The memory was only a few weeks old, so it was still fresh. Akira could feel the mental and physical anguish emanating from it. She saw Scarlett and Emanuel wandering around the Trade Center together at midnight. Scarlett revealed her secret feelings for him, ready for him to reciprocate. But instead, Emanuel gave a nervous laugh before asking Scarlett to sit on a bench with him.

    It was then and there that Emanuel said:

    “I’m flattered, Scarlett, I really am. But I’m too old for you. You do know that, right?”

    Akira felt a deadened recreation of the emotions that rocked Scarlett as she realized she was being rejected. Overtop of Scarlett’s anguish and misery, Akira felt her own satisfaction. So, Scarlett had failed to steal Espinosa from her. Well, at least one good thing came from all this.

    Akira turned away from Scarlett, who was still recovering from the mental invasion, and started wandering towards her own room.

    “What the? Akira? What was that!?” Scarlett called to her. “What did you just do to me?”

    Akira didn’t reply. Instead, she began to laugh. She laughed at how the events of the past two months played out. She laughed at the conclusion of her love triangle with Espinosa and Freeman. She laughed at how all of her family and friends expected her to just carry on with her old life as though nothing had happened at all.

    As she stepped into her old bedroom and locked the door behind her, Akira pressed her back to the wall and sank to the floor, still laughing, because she had finally accepted a horrible truth. It was something she had been suspecting ever since she returned from Kauai, ever since her mother’s telepathic assault left a trail of devastation through Akira’s consciousness. This truth explained her newfound contempt for the people she should have loved, and it revealed how she was able to mentally assault her former best friend without an instant of hesitation or remorse.

    Akira’s mind was broken.

    How exactly, she didn’t know. But nonetheless, her conscious mind was somehow damaged to the point where it had been changed, and Akira suspected there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. Slowly, Akria’s laughing turned into tearful sobs. She threw herself onto her bed and wept until she fell asleep.



    Meanwhile, on the other side of the colony, Blake Robinson and Chihiro Tachibana were about to enter the XCOM building when a man caught up to them and delivered a message.

    “Your daughter is in her room in the tenement. Locked herself inside, and we think she cried herself to sleep.”

    Chihiro sighed and gave her husband a worried look. Blake nodded and then replied to him.

    “Thank you, Mister Freeman. You should go check on your daughter.”

    As Scarlett’s father left, Blake and Chihiro maintained a worried expression all the way to their destination, a conference room where several other veterans of the Second Hyperspace War were gathered. The former Commander of XCOM was seated at the head of the table, and she gestured to a pair of free chairs as the Robinsons entered the room.

    Laura Harper was an old woman now, nearing the end of her life. A pair of armrests on her seat gave away the fact that she was occupying a wheelchair. The elderly leader continued where she left off.

    “The Terraforming Engine completed a static test today.” She informed the group. “I’m told by Doctor Tygan that he has high hopes for our next test, and that he will require additional raw materials for the next run. I’ll pass around that list shortly, but first, we need to discuss the raid on the EXALT facility on Kauai island. Lieutenant Robinson, Corporal Tachibana, is your daughter well?”

    “No ma’am.” Blake and Chihiro replied together.

    “Akira has gone through extreme mental trauma.” Chihiro explained, “Including Psionic assault.”

    “Her behavior matches that of someone with Stockholm Syndrome.” Blake added. “She’s tricked herself into thinking she was in a romantic relationship with one of the EXALT operatives.”

    “How?” Asked a voice from down the table.

    Holly Smith, former leader of the Stormbreakers, looked alarmed.

    “How the bloody hell could EXALT do something like that?”

    Someone else raised their hand. Chris Wright stood up and spoke.

    “When we arrived, we noticed a device on the mountaintop that was dispersing a psychoactive gas across the whole island.” Chris explained. “I think it’s safe to say that everybody on the island, even the EXALT leadership, was under the influence of this drug. It would explain why the people there were so passive and willing to accept whatever they were told.”

    “They called it ‘Sweet Air’.” Inez Vasquez chimed in. “We heard three of the rescued victims tell us it was the best air they ever smelled.”

    “Which victims?” inquired Central Officer Bradford.

    “Sepulveda, Tsiajotso, and Etienne.” Inez replied. “They’re all here in Myron now, but we don’t know how to rehabilitate them. They’re brainwashed very badly, just like the Robinson’s kid. They all wanna go back and live on the island again. Tsiajotso said it was like living in a perfect utopia.”

    “Sure, a utopia kept alive by raiding nearby shipping lanes and kidnapping people.” Bradford scoffed. “Sounds more like a Bandit Kingdom to me. So, how do we deprogram these people? Anyone have any ideas?”

    The leaders of XCOM collectively scratched their heads for a few minutes before someone had an idea. Lily Shen, the chief engineer, held a tablet computer above her head and spoke up:

    “So I was looking through some of my dad’s old files, and in one of them, he mentions that XCOM experimented with waking up Humans afflicted with the Sleepwalker virus in 1962. Maybe our science team knows how to do it?”

    Doctor Tygan, the chief scientist, folded his arms in thought.

    “Hmm. I strongly doubt my predecessor could shed any light on the matter.” Tygan replied. “The atmospheric device on Kauai bears her fingerprints, both metaphorically and literally. However, I think that we might cast our attention onto the first chief scientists of XCOM. I am talking, of course, about Doctor Heinrich Dresner and his compatriot, Doctor Alan Weir. Their work with Zudjari technology and the Sleepwalker virus were groundbreaking. I believe I share my companion’s convictions. We should consult the oldest of XCOM databanks.”

    Blake stood up.

    “I know where they are. Site X.”

    Bradford cocked his head to one side and gave Blake a quizzitive stare.

    “Robinson, Site X is, a: buried underground, and b: literally a hundred years old. There’s no way any data down there has survived this long.”

    “Remember the technology of the times.” Blake replied. “Back in the 1960’s XCOM didn’t have high volume data disks or portable hard drives. They would have kept all of their information on paper, and in a dry environment like the Nevada desert, that paper might still be salvageable. Commander, with your permission, I’d like to take the Angel out to Site X and try to recover the Sleepwalker data.”

    A murmur of assent went around the conference room. In general, people seemed to like Blake’s idea, but Laura had one more thing to say. As she addressed Blake, everybody could feel a gentle Psionic pulse emanating from the elderly commander, as though the Ethereal being inside of her was stirring restlessly.

    “I can see your hopes, Robinson.” She said. “I know you think this knowledge will help your daughter, and there’s no harm or shame in that. I ask only that you keep in mind that Akira is not the only one who is suffering. We must help the other victims we found on that island. Find whatever information you can about curing the Sleepwalkers. If any of that data can be used to help the victims of the Sweet Air, bring it back to us as quickly as you can. Understood?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”



    The next morning, Akira was woken by loud knocks on her door.

    “Go away!” She cried out. “Leave me alone.”

    “Akira, we’re leaving.” Blake called through the door. “It’s a short mission to Nevada. Pack a few days’ worth of clothes and meet us on the runway. Wheels up in one hour. Don’t make us come looking for you.”

    For a few minutes, Akira wondered what would happen if she simply refused to leave her room, but her question was answered by a noise coming from her bedroom window. Servomotors and the clunking of heavy metal told her that Julian was lurking outside, and that he would probably just reach in the window and grab her if she refused to budge. So Akira reluctantly packed a backpack and stepped out the door.

    As she departed the tenement, Scarlett Freeman did not speak to her former friend. In fact, the young blonde withdrew into the safety of her room and held the door shut until Akira was gone.

    Out on the airport runway, the Ark Angel was being loaded up with fuel and cargo when Akira arrived. All of her siblings gave her a wide berth as she approached. Even the twins, James and Josiah, seemed to regard Akira with newfound apprehension. Only Asuna attempted to say hello: The eldest Robinson child placed one hand on her forehead and then moved it forward as though she were making a salute. It was the same gesture Asuna used to say hello. Akira barely acknowledged the greeting, simply nodding her head. Then she boarded the spaceplane.

    To her surprise, there were two more people on board. Chris Wright and Emanuel Espinosa were both in the crew quarters, strapping themselves in for takeoff.

    “Asuna loves these sorts of missions.” Chris said. “So I thought I’d tag along.”

    Akira tried to move on and find a seat when Emanuel gently grabbed her wrist.

    “Hey, Akira.” He said quietly. “I know you’ve just been through hell, and if you need to talk to someone, I’m here for you.”

    Akira didn’t know why this made her feel so angry. It just did. She wrenched her arm free and moved on, pretending she didn’t hear Emanuel’s words. Akira didn’t get to sit down for long though, as Blake spotted her when he boarded the ship and said:

    “Hey, why not come up to the cockpit with me, Akira?”

    It was the last thing she could have wanted. To spend time with the people who had murdered her friends and lover? She was so full of anger and hate that when Akira arrived in the cockpit, she didn’t even look at her mother. Blake, who had been planning to offer Akira her first flying lesson, seemed to realize the moment wasn’t right and he settled for the next best thing. He asked Akira to strap herself into the engineer seat at the back of the cockpit and watch as he flew the spaceplane.

    “Someday, you’ll have to fly this thing yourself.” He said.



    The flight was painfully awkward, but mercifully short. The flight took just two hours, and the whole time, Akira just sat quietly in the back of the cockpit while her parents took turns trying to engage her in conversation. But Akira had nothing to say to them. Nothing would ever make up for what Blake did to Sally Ann, or how Chihiro had butchered the only person who truly loved Akira.

    She wasn’t really paying attention to where the spaceplane was going. Akira was vaguely aware of the grassy plains giving way to rocky and mountainous desert below, but when the Ark Angel flew low over the ruins of Las Vegas, she sat up and took note.

    The city itself was wrecked during the war and no one ever returned to it. Over the past fifty years, the Nevada Desert slowly reclaimed the city. Most of the high-rise buildings had collapsed, and a layer of dirt and sand covered the rest. None of the streets were visible, and vegetation grew out of control elsewhere.

    After circling around, looking for a place to land, Blake and Chihiro pointed out and agreed on a space of flat desert about sixty miles north of the Las Vegas ruins. Akira had no idea why her parents wanted to land so far away from the city, but she would soon find out. To the north of Las Vegas was a stretch of desert that looked far different from the rest. Hundreds of craters pockmarked the ground, making the region resemble the surface of the Moon. Some craters were small while others were hundreds of feet across.

    In the midst of these massive craters, a small complex of buildings could be seen. The Ark Angel touched down just five thousand feet sort of these structures and used her parachutes to slow down and stop. Once the spaceplane came to a halt, Chihiro declared:

    “We’re here!”

    Where exactly was “here?”

    Akira’s curiosity grew so great that her anger was momentarily forgotten. Nobody asked her to follow them and yet she followed all the same. Blake, Chihiro, Asuna, Alexander, James, Josiah, Chris, and Emanuel all walked towards a seemingly unremarkable shack. There were no windows, only a single heavy-looking door. Plastered across the front of this door were big block letters that spelled out the words:


    Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command – Authorized Personnel Only

    And underneath of it was an insignia: a white five-pointed star rising above the continental United States, along with the words: “Vigilo Confido”.

    Blake pushed the door open, revealing a set of stairs that led underground.

    “Welcome to the original XCOM headquarters.” He said. “What’s left of it, anyway.”


     
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    Chapter 9: The Good Doctor
  • Macavity116

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    Chapter 9
    The Good Doctor

    September 13, 2060
    Site X, Area 51



    The Robinson family and their companions descended the stairway for several minutes before emerging in a pitch dark cavern. Emanuel passed around flashlights and soon enough the whole place was illuminated.

    “Oh wow.” Chihiro breathed. “This is where XCOM was founded?”

    “Right over there.” Blake said, pointed to a stage on the far side of the mission control room. “That’s where Myron Faulke gave his speech, almost a hundred years ago.”

    The original XCOM headquarters was a very small and cramped place in comparison to the roomy facility in Kansas. A full century of neglect gave the place a haunting atmosphere. As everyone’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, Josiah said:

    “Watch your step. There’s bones on the ground.”

    Akira looked at her feet. Just a few feet in front of her were the skeletal remains of a Human. Gazing around, the group saw many other bones scattered about the place.

    “Back in ’62, the Zudjari ransacked this place.” Blake explained. “So this is going to be a bit of a challenge. Everybody huddle up.”

    The group came together in the middle of what used to be the Mission Control center. Akira hung back, shooting suspicious glances at her parents. She didn’t want to be a part of their little “mission” but she still wanted to know what was going on.

    “We’re looking for any information about the Sleepwalker Virus the old XCOM might have had.” Blake explained. “Don’t bother trying the computers down here. Technology in the 1960’s is very primitive compared to nowadays, plus the aliens probably smashed all of the computers down here. Search for anything written on paper. If the names ‘Dresner’ or ‘Weir’ come up, that’s important. We’re going to break into small teams so we can search faster. Asuna and Chi will go together. James and Josiah, you’ll be a pair. Chris and… uh.”

    Blake looked around the group and then towards Akira. She could sense a little bit of desperation coming from her father and it made her feel just a little better. Finally, Blake accepted the arrangement that would lead to the least conflict.

    “Chris, you’ll go with me. Emanuel, you and Akira will be a pair. Is that okay with everyone?”

    While murmurs of assent rounded the group, Akira picked up on the rising sense of apprehension from everybody in the group. She could also sense that some kind of argument had preceded this mission and some people were still harboring resentments. As best she could tell, several members of her family, namely Alexander and Chihiro, were deeply opposed to bringing Akira on this trip. Others had apparently argued that including her was the only way to help Akira recover from her experiences on Kauai.

    Reluctantly, Blake allowed Akira and Emanuel to move out as a pair. As the group split up and started searching, Akira aimlessly wandered into a nearby office and leaned against the wall, arms folded. Emanuel grabbed a stack of crumbling papers from a desk and gave her a stern look.

    “No. I’m not going to help.” Akira cut him off before he could speak. “Just leave me alone.”

    Emanuel shrugged and replied:

    “Suit yourself.”

    He sat down on the remains of a wooden desk. The name “William Carter” was just barely visible on a rusted nameplate. Akira scoffed. She could see into Emanuel’s mind; and it was obvious to her that he was pretending to be aloof, so that she might be interested in talking to him again.

    Well, fine. She wasn’t going to play this game.

    Akira stuffed her hands in her pockets and left the room. She guessed that her father was hoping she might still have feelings for Emanuel, but that ship sailed months ago. Keeping her flashlight over her head, Akira wandered further into the ruins of XCOM HQ. She didn’t really have a destination in mind, she just wanted to get away from her family, if only for a little while.

    Of course, the only way to leave this place was the way she’d come in. All other entrances or exits had long ago been caved in or demolished by the aliens. But if getting lost in the interior of this place could separate Akira from the others for a while, then so be it. Pointing her flashlight down each corridor, Akira chose a path at random. As she went along, she noticed that several colored lines were painted on the floor. They were barely visible and had faded over the past century, but she could still make out a red, blue, and yellow line running parallel. She had a hunch why these were here, so she looked around in the darkness for anything on the walls.

    About twenty feet on, she found what she was looking for. A map of the facility was beaten down and barely legible, but enough of it remained to tell Akira that if she followed these lines on the floor, she would end up in either the armory, the Skyranger bay, or in the Research and Development labs. On a whim, Akira picked the R&D lab. There wasn’t any particular reason, she just had a feeling that going down that way might be interesting.

    So for another two minutes or so, Akira fumbled around in the dark corridor, pointing her flashlight at anything that wasn’t rocks or bones. She could tell the defenders of the base had put up a furious fight near the R&D lab, because the sheer volume of bones in the area was accompanied by the blackened marks of fire damage. Also, Akira found the skulls of two Sectoids in the wreckage, along with the skeleton of a single Zudjari warrior, easily recognizable because Zudjari mouths opened sideways. (in relation to a human mouth)

    Just when things looked like they might actually get interesting, a voice echoed through the passageway, behind Akira.

    “Hey! Where are you?”

    Emanuel’s voice bounced off the many walls and corners, eventually finding its way to Akira, who groaned loudly. She just wanted to be left alone. Was that too much to ask? Just when Akira opened her mouth to reply to Emanuel, she was stopped cold by the sudden sounding of a second voice.

    “Oi, Sheila, is that you?” The voice of a strange man, speaking with an Australian accent, echoed out of the darkness. “You should have sent the signal, ya know. I would’ve turned on the lights for ya. Hold on.”

    And with three very loud clicks, a series of florescent lights flickered and powered on, illuminating the hallway as clear as day. Akira instinctively crouched down behind some rubble and looked around for the new speaker.

    “Kira!” Emanuel yelled. “What’s going on? Where are you?”

    “Come on, Sheila.” Said the Australian voice. “You remember the way, right? Follow the blue line. Or the light, whichever you want, as long as you… ya know… get here.”

    Heart racing, Akira had a quick thought. She reached out with telepathy, trying to sense anyone and anything around her. In mere moments, a field of Psionic energy permeated all of the abandoned base. Akira detected eight people: Blake, Chihiro, her four siblings, Emanuel, and Chris. There was nobody else in the ruins… which means that voice was not coming from a living Human.

    Feeling confident in her powers, Akira turned her back to Emanuel’s inquisitive voice and followed the blue line, moving toward the source of the mysterious new voice…



    About fifty feet in front of Akira, there was a set of double doors. She supposed that this must have been a decontamination chamber once. On the far side, an overhead light revealed the next room. This large chamber had once been the Research and Development labs of the original XCOM.

    And it was here that the great surprise was waiting.

    The laboratory was fully powered. An air conditioner made gurgling sounds as it pumped a cool breeze into the lab while on the far wall, about three hundred feet away, a huge cylindrical machine rose from floor to ceiling. The outer casing of the device was transparent, allowing Akira to see a swirling green orb suspended in midair between two large apparatus. Her jaw fell open at the sight.

    “Is that…” Akira gasped. “Is that an Elerium reactor!?”

    Almost immediately, the Australian voice replied.

    “Aw bloody hell, Moria. Ya got amnesia or something? Can’t you go bush just once without something awful happening to ya?”

    Akira jumped. One more time, she reached out with telepathy, checking to see if there was anybody in the lab with her. One more time, her senses told her the place was deserted.

    “Hello?” Akira called out into the room. “Who’s there?”

    There was a pause before the voice said to itself.

    “Aw, crikey, that’s not Moria.” Then the voice spoke up. “Oi, Sheila? Whoever you are, don’t touch anything? Alright? Ya leave all the computers alone, turn around, walk out, and tell Moria to hurry up and get back here with my new processor already. Now scram!”

    Akira did not scram. For the first time, she took note of what was occupying the three hundred feet of floor space between herself and the Elerium reactor. It was a huge array of computers, all networked together with a series of thick electrical cables strewn all over the floor. The computers themselves were as diverse as they were numerous. Some were huge machines with spools of tape mounted on their sides, chugging along slowly in comparison to the boxy and noisy computers of the late 1990’s just a few paces away. Several modern and early modern computers were present as well, including a single model Akira recognized. Near the center of the hodgepodge computer bank was a sleek black box that was nearly identical to a computer she’d seen at XCOM headquarters just over a year ago.

    Looking at the floor, Akira saw thousands of electrical cables all heaped in a mess, but some of the largest cables snaked their way back to the Elerium reactor, and were no doubt providing power for the whole system.

    Something very strange was going on here.

    “Who’s there?” Akira called into the rows upon rows of computer banks.

    The Australian voice sounded very annoyed.

    “Are you kidding? You’re still here? Piss off, girlie. Can’t you see I’m working?”

    “No, I can’t.” Akira retorted. “I can’t see you at all.”

    “Well according to my motion sensors, you’re standing inside my brain.” Said the voice. “And I’d prefer if you didn’t.”

    Akira froze in her tracks, not sure about what she just heard. She looked around one more time at the hundreds of computer banks all networked together, at the motion sensors and microphones scattered around the place. Finally, she spotted a single camera sitting atop of an Old World CRT monitor. Akira slowly walked over to the terminal and stared into the camera.

    “Are you an artificial intelligence?” She asked.

    The Australian voice scoffed, sounding offended.

    “Girlie, there’s nothing artificial about me. Don’t you know who I am? I’m guessing you’re Moria’s kid or something.”

    “I uh, I’m not sure who Moria is.” Akira replied, not sure whether she should talk to the camera or the microphone. “My parents are Stormbreakers. Lieutenant Robinson and Corporal Tachibana.”

    There was a whirring sound nearby as one of the computers suddenly powered up a large fan.

    “Robinson, huh?” Said the voice. “So you’re XCOM. That’s good, I guess. Anyway, you can call me Doctor Weir.”

    Akira turned all the way around, expecting to see a man somewhere waiting for a handshake. Still there was no one.

    “I can hear you, doctor.” Akira said, “But I can’t see you. Where are you?”

    “I said it before and I’ll say it again. You’re standing in me.”

    And then the CRT screen lit up. A grainy black and white image appeared on the monitor. A man with a long face, strong chin, and half-moon glasses peered out of the screen, looking at Akira. On top of the monitor, a small servomotor caused the camera to reposition itself, focusing the lens on Akira’s face.

    “Ya know, when you said the name ‘Robinson,’ I thought you were talking about George Robinson. He was a good agent, one of the Bureau’s best, after Carter, of course. George was good to me. But you don’t look a damn think like him. You look more like a chink.”

    Akira flinched at the Doctor’s choice of words. It had been a long while since the last time somebody had been openly racist towards her.

    “George Robinson was my great-grandfather.” Akira said. “What do you know about him?”

    “I don’t kiss and tell, girlie.” Said the computer. “If you’re really a Robinson, what’s your name?”

    “Akira.”

    The image of the doctor’s face assumed a disgusted expression.

    “You’re a jap.” He said. “I fought your kind in Borneo, back in ’45. I’m guessing they’re letting your kind into XCOM now, huh?”

    Akira’s mind seemed to overload. There was a lot here to process and her mind seemed to be breaking down under the strain. What was he talking about? Borneo, along with the rest of the world, was liberated in 2035, not 2045. And there were very few if any Japanese people there at the time. After trying to wrap her mind around all of this for a few seconds, Akira ended up spitting out the first thing that popped into her head:

    “I’m American!” she snapped. “And you’re just a racist computer. What the hell are you doing here!?”

    The digital image of Doctor Weir frowned at her.

    “I’m calculating.” He said. “Ever since I went through the dimensional gate in Arizona, I just… I just needed to know.”

    Doctor Weir’s voice trailed off, as though he were reminiscing about something. At the mention of dimensional gates and Arizona, something seemed to click in Akira’s mind. She suddenly understood everything, well, almost everything. She remembered hushed conversations between XCOM’s leaders back in the Colony. How all of Earth’s misfortunes with alien invaders had started in the year 1962, when an enemy called Origin opened up series of dimensional gates all over the planet, allowing his armies to swarm across the world. She remembered how Doctor Tygan was consistently in awe of his predecessors, and how someone named Alan Weir had figured out how to send an Elerium Bomb through those gates to destroy the Zudjari Homeworld.

    Akira gasped.

    “It was you! You’re Alan Weir! Who went through the crack in the world!”

    “Yeah, that was me.” Weir’s voice sounded downright nostalgic. “Ever since that night, I’ve been trying to understand, to make sense of what we did that day. The creature Carter brought back with him opened up so much potential, too. I had the whole universe at my fingertips.”

    There was a pause. Akira wondered for a second if the computer had locked up, and that was when the full realization abruptly hit her.

    “Wait a minute!” She said. “Wait just a minute! You… you put yourself in a computer!”

    “Not as bright as George, are ya?” Doctor Weir muttered. “Yes. I did.”

    “But why?”

    “Short answer, I ran out of time.” Weir explained. “After Faulke took down the Outsider Mothership and lost Asaru, I was pretty much back to square one for understanding the Venn Gates. So I started over... Kiddo… you’ve got no idea. I worked and calculated and studied for almost forty years, tryin’ to crack the secret of the Venn Gates. Eventually, I started seeing the signs that my body wasn’t going to hold up for much longer. But I wasn’t ready to quit. I told myself I wouldn’t stop until I found the answer… but there was just one variable that eluded me. One little piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t find a place for. So I contacted a friend of mine, my successor, actually. And she helped me arrange and execute this plan. Every once in a while she checks in on me to make sure all of my systems are running smoothly and that I haven’t been disturbed… which is exactly what you’re doing.”

    Akira’s jaw dropped. She looked around the place once again and let out a low whistle.

    “All of this, just to solve one problem?” She said.

    “Not just any problem, girlie.” Weir replied. “The problem. The greatest problem.”

    On the screen, the image of Doctor Weir’s face was replaced with a mathematical formula. Akira leaned in close to the screen, trying to understand what she was seeing.

    “What is it?” she asked.

    “The Cosmic Speed Limit.” Weir said. “And the biggest obstacle in my research. You see, girlie, nothing in this universe can travel faster than light, because it would require infinite energy… and yet… Somehow, these Venn Gates allowed the Outsiders to reach our world so quickly. They clearly got here faster than light could travel here from their own world... and yet, they are not travelling faster than light. You see the paradox?”

    Akira put her hands on her hips and said.

    “Hyperspace.” She said. “They just jumped-”

    Doctor Weir interrupted.

    “No, no, no. Moria and I thought of that after the Elders showed up in ’15. Look here, at these schematics.”

    The math equation on the screen was replaced with a cutaway diagram of an alien spacecraft. Akira noticed a date in the corner: June 28, 1963.

    “See here.” Weir said. “This is a transport vessel clearly designed for flight in deep space. Yet there is no Hyperspace module, nor is there any recognizable component of a Hyperspace system.”

    Akira had to agree. She’d spent enough time on board the Ark Angel to know what a Hyperspace module looked like. She could recognize a Quantum Waveform generator on sight, and this alien vessel didn’t have one. Weir replaced the image with another. This time it was a city-sized mothership. The caption underneath said: The Day the Sky Fell, June 1963. Once again, no matter how hard Akira squinted at the schematic, there was no sign of a Hyperspace system, nor of the components for one.

    “So if they didn’t have a Hyperspace system, then how did they aliens get here?” Akira asked. “How do the Venn Gates work?”

    “I’ve been trying to solve that problem for almost a hundred years.” The doctor said. “And I’m still hung up on that one Paradox. But ya know what the worst part of it all is, Sheila?”

    “The worst part?” Akira repeated. “What could be worse?”

    “Well, I think I know the answer.” Weir admitted. “I think I know, but I’ve got no way to prove it. Not without the solution to this problem. Until I can solve for the speed of light, it’s just an unsubstantiated guess.”

    Akira was hooked. This conundrum was probably beyond her, and she knew it. But focusing on Doctor Weir’s problem allowed Akira to think about something other than what her parents had done to her and her friends. She was actually starting to enjoy this little escape from reality, and wanted to dive even further into hypotheticals about dimensional gates. So she asked Doctor Weir to share his guess.

    “Time.” The virtual doctor said. “I think the key to everything lies in time… specifically in one aspect of it. I think… I theorize that Venn Gates allow a starship to displace its own position within space-time. It remains in the same physical location, yet by side-stepping into some other dimension and waiting there, its relationship to time is somehow altered when the vessel comes back to normal space. How? Why? I haven’t the faintest idea. I need more information, I need the solution to the speed of light.”

    A new sound reached Akira’s ears. A machine somewhere was running.

    “What’s that noise?” she asked.

    “Just the printer.” Weir replied. “I always print off my latest calculations and research for Moria to review when she visits. She restocks any consumables I need and keeps the place functioning. She wants to know the answer too, just like me.”

    Akira wanted a few answers as well. She didn’t fully understand the nature of the problem. Even though Akira knew Hyperspace systems very well, the concept of dimensional gates was new to her. She started to ask another question when a voice echoed out of the decon chamber she entered through.

    “Kira? Are you down here?”

    “Aw, bloody hell. Now what!?” Weir groaned.

    Four people appeared on the far side of the room. Blake Robinson, James, and Josiah were led into the room by Emanuel, who was saying:

    “She went down this way.”

    Akira swore quietly, then, moving as softly and quietly as she could, she dashed over to a large tray where a printer was depositing sheets of paper on a huge stack. Akira scooped up about three hundred pages in her arms and then sat down on top of one of the computers, pretending to read. A moment later, her father called out.

    “There she is! Akira! Don’t just run away like that.”

    “What!?” Akira snarked. “You wanted me to find some ratty old papers to read, so I did. Now leave me alone!”

    The twins shrugged their shoulders and then took an interest in the massive server bank in the middle of the room. As soon as they approached, Doctor Weir’s voice shouted:

    “This is not a bloody meeting place! Important scientific research is being done here! Please leave!”

    Akira couldn’t help but feel sorry for the computerized doctor, as the outburst only served to draw more attention to him. Before long, all of the Robinson family was in the room, along with Chris. Doctor Weir was forced to reintroduce himself and tell his story to the others, and once again he uttered some anti-Asian racist slang after he saw Chihiro. Eventually, after a conversation that Akira mostly ignored, Blake brought the subject around the Sleepwalker Virus.

    “Crikey, is that what you’re here for?” Weir said to Akira’s father. “Look, mate. You might’ve wasted your time. The Sleepwalker treatment wasn’t our best work.”

    “How so?” Chris said. “All of XCOM’s records say you and your comrades developed a treatment.”

    “Yer deadset.” Weir replied. “We did develop a treatment, but we never used it. Director Faulke decided to let all of the Sleepwalkers die of natural causes.”

    Akira noticed out the corner of her eye that all of her family members looked crestfallen. Blake’s eyes flickered to his daughter as he asked:

    “But the treatment works, right? You were able to wake up some people, weren’t you?”

    “One.” Weir said in a deadpan tone. “Agent Carter woke up one Sleepwalker. I would hardly call that proof the treatment works.”

    Akira was still looking down at the stack of paper she’d taken from Weir’s printer, but using her power of telepathy, she could detect a building sense of despair in her family members, and she finally understood why. The Sleepwalker treatment they were after had been their last best hope in a plan to “deprogram” Akira, to restore her to the way she’d been before setting foot on Kauai. Deep inside her own soul, Akira felt satisfied.

    She didn’t want to go back.

    While her family continued their vain efforts to get information out of the supercomputer holding Doctor Weir’s consciousness, Akira looked down and finally started to read the book’s worth of research she had taken. She spotted a note on the top page, the one printed most recently. The typed letters spelled out the following message:

    Strange jap girl visited today. Tried to reconcile Hyperspace theory with Venn Gate problem. Gave me an idea: reconfigure one of those Progenitor Hyperspace Cores to open Venn Gates instead of Quantum Wavefront. Plausible idea: Enter Hyperspace via dimensional gate, find a plane where time and space are desynchronized, and loiter there. Time travel in a sense, but this just re-opens the issue with circular time again. Utility limited, theory is untestable without an accompanying Progenitor Hyperspace Gate. Would also need a starship, unlikely to get one anytime soon. Idea shelved.

    Akira could still hear her parents talking to Doctor Weir, but she had completely lost interest. Each page of the good Doctor’s research was more interesting than the last. She skimmed, taking in whatever she could. Akira didn’t understand much of the doctor’s writing. There were some very advanced aspects of physics and atomic theory in there, but Akira did understand the concept of Hyperspace and faster-than-light travel. Every time the doctor’s writing turned to the subject, Akira sat up and paid attention.

    Differential geometry, Electrodynamic theory, four-vector mathematics. So much of Doctor Weir’s findings went directly over Akira’s head… but she did understand the general concept. Doctor Weir theorized that if a spacecraft entered Hyperspace with a heavily modified Hyperspace Core, then a highly specific type of time travel would become possible. So highly specific, in fact, that the concept as a whole ran into a serious problem that limited its overall usefulness.

    All in all, it was a fun thought experiment. Akira knew that time travel couldn’t be possible, but she did enjoy fantasizing about the possibility. If she could remake the past, she would change the whole world and live out her days on some tropical island with Rafi Bakir, and nobody would ever so much as threaten to dismantle her perfect paradise ever again.

    It was pipe dream, and she knew it… but for some reason, when the time came to leave Site X and return to the Ark Angel, Akira found she just couldn’t let the idea go. She brought her backpack down the lab and collected nearly five hundred sheets of Doctor Weir’s research. At the last second, before she departed, Akira spotted a curious-looking device hanging from a hook on the wall: it was some kind of technologically sophisticated backpack, with wires and cables connected to some kind of cuff meant to be worn on the right arm. Feeling curious, Akira grabbed the whole package and took it with her.

    During the flight back to Kansas, Akira barely even noticed her parent’s disappointment in the way the expedition turned out. She was all too eager to continue studying the stack of papers in her backpack. Akira could think of nothing else but the research she’d taken from the site with her.

    And in her dreams that night, Akira envisioned herself building the modified Hyperspace Core, she saw herself building that perfect paradise.

    And she wished there was some way to make that dream a reality.


     
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    Chapter 10: Crack in the World
  • Macavity116

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    <=== Previous Chapter (The Good Doctor)
    Next Chapter (Chaos Theory) ===>


    Chapter 10
    Crack in the World


    It started as a wishful dream. Something she knew would never come to pass. Then, as time went on, Akira noticed that she just couldn’t get the idea out of her head. She vaguely remembered having an experience like this before. It felt like centuries ago, but she had obsessed over a man once, her thoughts consumed just like they were now. And it was happening again. No matter how hard she tried, Akira’s mind kept drifting back to the massive stack of scientific papers in her bedroom, and the incredible implications of their contents.

    Every night, before she went to sleep, Akira flipped through several pages of Doctor Weir’s research. By day, she reluctantly engaged with her family, withdrawn and silent. She barely paid attention to their efforts to help XCOM build the Terraforming Engine. It just wasn’t important anymore. The smallest seed of an idea was planted somewhere deep in Akira’s mind, and given time, it grew into a plan. At first, this plan was nothing more than an impossible pipe dream, but with each page Akira read, her crazy idea seemed more and more plausible.

    But then she discovered Chaos Theory.

    That was when everything changed.



    September 27, 2060

    The Colony, Kansas




    Two weeks after the expedition to Site X, Akira was deep into her crash course in time travel theory. She was spending her morning at the cafeteria in XCOM HQ, but her food was getting cold. Akira was engrossed in one of Doctor Weir’s papers about Chaos Theory, and was just barely starting to understand the concept of the Butterfly Effect when a commotion reached her ears. Large numbers of people were getting up to leave all at the same time, murmuring and muttering to one another as a rumor spread through the room like a wildfire.

    Scarlett Freeman passed by at a brisk pace, but then paused and doubled back.

    “Hey, Kira.” She spoke cautiously, keeping herself at arm’s length. “Aren’t you coming with us?”

    “Whatever it is, I’m not interested.” Akira replied without looking up from a description of strange attractors.

    Scarlett looked down at Akira’s research and let out a weak chuckle.

    “It looks like you’re going to be reading until lunchtime.” Scarlett said. “Are you sure you don’t wanna take a break?”

    “Time is an illusion.” Akira quipped. “Lunchtime is doubly so.”

    Scarlett shrugged.

    “Okay, fine then.” She said. “I mean, I don’t know when’s the next time any of us will get to see a real living alien. I’ll take a picture for you.”

    Akira’s head snapped up. Looking at her former friend she repeated:

    “Wait! A real alien!?”

    Scarlett took a step back at Akira’s sudden reaction, but she did not disengage.

    “Two of them!” Scarlett declared. “A Vanian and a Partogan! Come and see.”



    Outside, Akira and Scarlett saw a commotion near the spaceport. A very old and battered starship had just landed on the runway, and people were busily rolling out canvas awnings to protect the newcomers from the deadly sunlight. The ship itself was a Partogan frigate of some kind. Akira recognized the red and green insignia painted on the hull. The frigate was disarmed. Her gun ports empty and her sensor array stripped down to the bare essentials.

    A large number of Humans disembarked from the craft, followed by a single Partogan and a lone Vanian. The Partogan was easy enough to recognize. It was common knowledge that Partogans were not truly aliens, but the descendants of Humans who were abducted and transported across the Galaxy by powers unknown. This particular Partogan was an elderly man, with a bald head and messy white beard. At his side was a decrepit-looking Vanian.

    Vanians were avians, meaning they evolved from birds. Akira learned from her parents that Vanians, while alien, were comparable to Indian peacocks. Vanians were supposedly so beautiful they were desired by all other species, and according to rumor, their whole civilization was born when one of them discovered his own reflection. The Vanian who now arrived in Myron was not beautiful, at least as far as Akira was concerned. The bird was very old. Her plumage faded and drooping.

    Scarlett was rooted to the spot, staring in awe at the first two aliens she’d ever seen. Akira, however, found herself quickly moving to follow several other members of XCOM who were making their way towards the airport. She’d picked up on something Scarlett could never have noticed.



    Underneath the main gate into town, Blake Robinson and a few others were greeting the new arrivals. Several members of the starship crew were already acquainted with Blake and smiled at the sight if a familiar face. However, when the two aliens reached him, they gave a cry of delight and embraced him.

    “Ranginui! Divakar! I don’t believe it!” Blake cheered. “I thought we were never going to see you again.”

    The two aliens regarded Blake with a mournful expression.

    “We were faced with reality, and we decided to return.” The old Partogan said. “Perhaps we should discuss things inside. Who is this?”

    Blake looked in the direction the Partogan was pointing, and saw Akira, standing in the shadow if the Gate and watching the reunion with rapt attention. When she realized she was spotted, Akira cast her eyes down to the dirt, but it was too late. Blake was so happy to see his daughter out and about that he never stopped to ask why. Instead, he called her over and introduced her to his companions.

    “This is my daughter. Akira, I’d like you to meet Manako Ranginui and Kanti Divakar, of the Partogan warship Kakama.”

    Both of the aliens smiled politely at Akira, but an unspoken understanding quickly passed between herself, Manako, and Kanti: all three of them were Gifted.



    After many more introductions and offloading of cargo, Akira found herself back in the cafeteria, where dozens of people were offering food to Kanti and Manako, practically begging them to recount their adventures to them. Manako and Kanti spoke aloud to the gathered audience, but at the same time, they engaged Akira with telepathy. Apparently, she was the first Psion they had encountered since leaving Earth and were very happy for the chance to commute with one again.

    So while Manako and Kanti took turns telling their tale to Blake and Chihiro and Bradford and Harper, Akira was treated to far more than a story. She got to relive the memory itself. She leaned in a wall in the Far corner and allowed Manako to draw her into the depths of his own memories:

    The War in Heaven was a catastrophe. Jericho and the Stormbreakers succeeded in killing the Beast but their victory came at a terrible cost. Most allied warships were damaged or destroyed, the Hyperspace network was shut down, and tens of millions of aliens were stranded on Earth with no way home. Manako took charge of the Partogan survivors, since Queen Miranda the Third was killed in the battle. A small flotilla of warships set out for home, followed after a while by the Vanian fleet. Kanti and the other Vanians knew their Homeworld was destroyed, and were hoping they might come across a habitable world between Earth and Partoga.

    So the journey began, and it was quickly beset by hardship. With the Hyperspace network destroyed, Manako and Kanti's people could only travel by short-range Hyperspace Jumps, and then on slower-than-light engines while the Hyperdrives recharged. Distances that once took days to cross now required months. The slow travel time meant that by the time the fleet arrived back in the Hiigaran Empire, the great star nation had already collapsed. Fuel depots were empty and abandoned. Colonies and outposts were looted for what little supplies remained, while orbital stations were derelict, their crews dead from either a lack of food or breathable air. Without the Hyperspace network, all of the supply chains that sustained great interstellar empires were severed. The collapse of spaceborne civilization was quick and brutal.

    Without any place to refuel or refit their ships, the convoy fell victim to attrition. One by one starships failed. Sometimes, it was possible to evacuate the crew and passengers to another vessel. Other times, the failure was sudden and lethal. The convoy of survivors was whittled down, one or two ships at a time, for years. Manako and Kanti recounted many escapes from stricken ships just before the power failed. Weapons and ammunition were abandoned to reduce weight, while Phased Disassembler systems ground up any organic matter available to make into a paste that sustained life, but was otherwise repulsive. Eventually, neither alien remembered when, all hope of reaching Partoga was lost. With survival on the line, the survivors of the War in Heaven started seeking out any planet at all.

    But things only got worse.

    Planets that once themed with life were cold and lifeless. Vania was fully subverted by the Beast, and the planet died with Agamemnon. The survivors had no choice but to move on. Micanawn was bombed into glass, the great cities reduced to silent wastes. All that remained of Hokianga was a crater.

    The remaining leaders gathered to try and come up with a plan. The fleet was a small fraction of its original size. Most ships were damaged or breaking down, and only the hardiest of survivors were still alive. Someone floated the idea to dock all of the remaining ships together to make a ramshackle Habitat Station. Others argued the fleet should press on to Partoga. A few wanted to change course and try to reach Hiigara and the Angel Moon.

    In the end, the schism was too great. The fleet broke up and the few remaining survivors went their own ways, attempting to do whatever they though had the best chance of success. Reluctantly, Manako, Kanti, and a few others resigned themselves to the increasingly likely chance that Partoga did not survive the war. They turned back and returned to Earth, arriving in Kansas over two decades after their departure.

    When Kanti and Manako finished their tale, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Doctor Tygan offered his shoulder for Manako to rest on, and then asked:

    “What will you do now? Do you intend to make your lives here?”

    “If you’ll permit us.” Kanti replied.

    All at once, dozens of people spoke up at once, offering to make room for the new arrivals and give them a proper living space. In the midst of all this, Akira absentmindedly wondered what Manako and Kanti were going to do with their old starship.

    To her surprise, the answer came almost immediately.

    “What? Do you want it?”

    Despite being mobbed by Humans, Kanti had somehow spotted Akira and was keeping one of her beady red eyes locked on her. The telepathic question was asked again:

    “My companion and I don’t plan on leaving.” Kanti’s voice played out in Akira’s head. “You are welcome to take the Kakama off our hands if you desire.”

    It was like an explosion took place in Akira’s head. Ideas upon ideas flowed from a wellspring of inspiration. Perhaps, a long time ago, a younger Akira would have followed her parent’s advice to never accept gifts from strangers; but today, for the first time, Akira got a glimpse of her longshot pipedream as a reality, and she refused to pass up the chance. Navigating the crowd like a serpent, Akira made her way to Manako. The old Partogan nodded to her and pressed a heavy metal object into her palm, roughly the size and shape of a playing card. Partogan words were etched into the surface, revealing the device to be a Green Guard command card.

    Heart thudding excitedly, Akira left the cafeteria at a run.

    She knew this crazy plan had no chance of actually working.

    She was expecting something to go wrong.

    But she knew she had to try.

    Time travel was supposed to be impossible, but if it was…

    If it was…



    After about two hours of searching, Julian and Scarlett found Akira.

    She was alone inside of the barely functional Partogan starship on the airport runway. The interior of the Kakama was not only decayed and neglected, but dirtied and stained by two decades’ worth of life. Scarlett could hear a voice coming from much further inside of the ship, and she called out to Akira. When there was no answer, Julian took point. The android shone a light into the darkened corridor and stepped lightly on the aging metal. Scarlett followed behind.

    They found Akira standing by herself in a reinforced chamber, deep within the old frigate. A machine, unlike anything Scarlett had ever seen before, occupied the center of the room. A metal sphere, roughly the size of an average kitchen sink, was suspended in the center of the contraption by scaffolding. A vast multicolor array of electrical cables were wrapped around these supports before snaking off to the surrounding computer banks. A Partogan command card was sticking out of one of these terminals, which was lit up and running.

    Akira herself was studying the contraption. She had a notepad tucked under her arm, a pencil behind her ear, and a tape measure in both hands. But this wasn’t what Scarlett took notice of straight away. What really got her attention was a stack of paper, several hundred pages thick, resting on the floor beside Akira. Seeming to ignore the presence of Julian and Scarlett, Akira continued to record the dimensions of the contraption, all the while muttering to herself.

    “This is why Weir needed one of the Cores. These short jump systems don’t generate enough power.”

    These words must have made sense to Julian, because he immediately spoke up.

    “Akira, we’ve been searching for you. Your parents are worried.”

    Akira looked up from her work, and Scarlett took a step back.

    Her old friend had changed.

    For the first time since she returned from Kauai, Akira seemed to be genuinely animated. There was a kind of manic energy about her as though the youngest Robinson was on a roll and had no intention of stopping. Scarlett put one hand on Julian to steady herself.

    “I’m worried too.” She said. “You’re not yourself. You were different when those EXALT guys took you, but now you’re even stranger. Please, leave all this here and come with us. Your parents are outside, and we’ve all decided that we’re going to help you.”

    “Your mental health is clearly compromised.” Julian added. “And since I prefer to see you in physical agony rather than mental anguish, I suggest you come with us.”

    Akira shook her head so vigorously her pencil fell to the floor.

    “What? Oh no, no.” She said. “I can’t stop here, the math checks out. The hypothesis makes sense, everything adds up. I just, I need to make some modifications to this Hyperspace module and…”

    “You’ll modify nothing!” Julian stepped forward and grabbed Akira by the arm. “Hyperspace modules are dangerous, they generate Gamma radiation. Come with me before you injure yourself.”

    Akira started to struggle and resist right away, straining against the android. But this wasn’t going to be like on Kauai. Worried something like this might happen again, Akira had made a simple preparation. With her free hand, she tossed her notebook on the floor, where it opened to a highly specific page. As the telekinetic energy faded away, Akira twisted around to face the android and said:

    “You’re not going to drag me around again!”

    “And what makes you think that?” Julian laughed in her face.

    “Because I know the truth!” Akira responded in a confident voice. “This statement is false!”

    Julian’s grip on her slackened.

    “Wait… what?” Julian stammered. “Hold on a moment, Akira. My CPU is running hot. I… I… I need to reboot.”

    The android suddenly became very still and its eyes darkened. A loud whirring sound came from deep within its body and then Julian’s chest panel opened up, exposing a handprint reader. Julian’s voice, devoid of personality, spoke in a monotone voice:

    “Identity: Robinson, Akira. Awaiting impression.”

    Scarlett was now genuinely frightened. She tried to back out of the room, to get away, but Akira wasn’t finished. She sprang away from Julian and blocked the door. Scarlett tried to push her way past, but Akira held her ground and kept her former best friend trapped in the Hyperspace module.

    “Wait a minute.” Akira said. “I can’t do this alone, I need another pair of hands. You and Julian-”

    “No!” Scarlett cried, trying to push her way past Akira one more time. “Please let me go, I don’t know what’s going on, and I think you’re going crazy!”

    Scarlett was starting to panic. She could feel strange things creeping into the peripheries of her consciousness. Something was wrong. Horribly wrong. There was a look in Akira’s eyes that pressed poor Scarlett right to the edge.

    “You don’t understand, that’s okay.” Akira said. “I can fix that. I can make you understand. I figured out how to do something incredible that can help.”

    Scarlett had run out of room. She’d backed all the way into a corner and Akira now had her trapped. The darkness and the very walls themselves seemed to be creeping in from all sides as Scarlett felt Akira’s hands touching the sides of her head. The last thing Scarlett thought of was just how cold Akira’s fingertips felt. At the last moment, before her mind went blank, Scarlett screamed:

    “HELP! HELP ME!”



    Outside, on the runway, no screams were heard. The starship was too big and Scarlett was too deep into the interior. Underneath an awning, Blake, Chihiro, and Asuna all looked at their watches expectantly. Finally, Chihiro groaned.

    “It’s been too long. I’m going in there.”

    Asuna stepped in the way, shaking her head.

    “This was your idea.” Asuna relayed her words in sign language. “We need to give my sister’s friend more time.”

    Blake was skeptical.

    “Chi, are you sure Akira’s really closed off her mind? There’s no way in?”

    Chihiro nodded.

    “She’s locked her mind up more securely than the Chosen Strongholds. I can’t get in.”

    Blake sighed.

    “Then we wait.” He said. “Akira’s friends will have a better chance at figuring out if she’s okay than any of us.”

    So the trio waited outside of the ruined starship for a few more minutes. Finally, one of the hatches swung open and three people descended the boarding ramp. Akira and Scarlett were chatting with one another excitedly while Julian brought up the rear. Blake and Chihiro both let out little cries of joy when they saw their daughter talking to her old friend in a cordial way. It made them feel just a little better about the situation. The pair of teenagers waved to the Robinson parents and Scarlett jogged over to them, smiling in a strange way no one had ever seen before.

    “Akira was so happy to see me!” Scarlett declared in a floaty, dreamlike-voice. “I think things are finally going back to the way they were.”

    “Mom, Dad. Scarlett and I are working on a project in there.” Akira launched into an explanation without preamble. “Is it okay if I invite a few other people to help? As long as we don’t get in the way of the Terraforming Project, you know?”

    The Robinson parents hesitated for a moment, looked at one another, and then finally said:

    “Well, okay. We’re happy to see you’re working with friends again, on something… productive.”

    As Akira and Scarlett departed, heading for the tenement building, Blake pulled Asuna and Chihiro aside. He waited until Akira was far away, beyond earshot, and then he said:

    “Hold on, ladies. Now it’s been a long time since the war, so I might be mistaken. But… did that feel like Psionic Manipulation to either of you?”

    Their faces grim, Chihiro and Asuna both nodded.



    October 26, 2060

    Ruins of XCOM Headquarters (2015-era), Manhattan, Kansas


    Autumn was arriving, and so was the date for Akira’s first experiment. For the past month she had aggressively mined the wellspring of ideas that plagued her dreams. Doctor Weir’s research was now pinned and pasted all over Akira’s bedroom, but she wasn’t there tonight.

    After a stressful flight in which Akira feared the Kakama would come apart at any second, Akira, Julian, and Scarlett had succeeded in moving the rickety old starship to a new location. Here in what was once Fort Riley is a round hill with a concrete bunker embedded in one side. The hill itself was unremarkable, but the grounds around it were flat and devoid of any plants larger than a weed. The perfect place to observe an experiment.

    Or perhaps observe some people.

    Nearly a lifetime of warfare had taught Blake and Chihiro how to move undetected at night. So, despite their advancing years, they were still able to use the night to their advantage. Their daughter was expecting them to be at another XCOM meeting tonight. With a pair of binoculars, a telescope, and a parabolic listening device, the couple settled in for an activity they never thought they would have to do.

    They were going to spy on their own daughter.

    The past month was, to put it bluntly, alarming. Not only was Akira’s behavior starting to become suspicious, but the behavior of people around her was putting most of XCOM on edge. Anybody who spent long amounts of time with Akira became deeply invested in Akira’s secret project. When questioned or pressed, no information was divulged, and always for the same reason:

    “There’s a high chance that all of this will come to nothing. So there’s no point in getting people’s hopes up unless this actually works.”

    Perhaps it was their experience with the ADVENT Coalition, but something was causing Blake and Chihiro to be highly suspicious. Something was wrong, and they just couldn’t put their fingers on it.

    As the clock ticked past midnight, the boarding ramp extended to the ground and five people descended. Blake and Chihiro recognized Akira, Scarlett, and Julian on sight. There were three others with them: Inez Vasquez, as well as two of the former prisoners who were rescued from Kauai Island. Ingrid Tsiajotso took Pascal Etienne by the hand and led him off the ship. Akira and her friends conversed for several minutes. From their safe distance, Blake and Chihiro eavesdropped on them with the parabolic sensor. They picked up a few words and phrases, but no complete sentences… that was until Akira declared:

    “It’s time, everyone synchronize watches!”

    And then, to Blake and Chihiro’s confusion, Akira and her Human companions started walking towards the bunker while Julian the android turned around and re-boarded the ship. The very last thing Blake heard his daughter say before she disappeared into the bunker was:

    “I think we’ve worked out all the kinks this time. When that reactor hits eighty-eight cycles per second… we’re gonna see some serious shit.”

    Then they were gone. The bunker door closed. Blake could only assume they were watching the “test” from some kind of safe location. Chihiro kept her eyes on the elderly starship. For about fifteen minutes, absolutely nothing happened. Chihiro relaxed and started to say the words:

    “Maybe it’s a dud.”

    When the whole world seemed to turn upside down and all order was abolished!

    A crack split the earth, filled with yellow light so brilliant that it danced into the night sky as though the Northern Lights had just crashed down to Earth. The crack in the world grew wide and chaotic as something hot and furious rose up and enveloped the Kakama. The aging warship tumbled and fell into the golden crevasse, vanishing from the Earth entirely.

    Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the crack in the world fell dark and closed itself. The whole occurrence took less than a second.

    And the Kakama was gone.

    As soon as this chaotic anomaly started, Blake and Chihiro both felt their parental instincts kick in. They wanted nothing but to make sure their daughter was okay. Leaving their eavesdropping equipment behind, the couple ran towards the bunker, crying out Akira’s name.

    The door swung open before they got to it. Akira and her companions emerged, their emotions ranging from joyful to ecstatic.

    “It worked!” Pascal Etienne cheered. “It’s finally worked!”

    “I still can’t believe it.” Inez Vasquez panted. “Doctor Tygan’s going to go loco when we tell him.”

    “Hey Kira, are those your parents?” Scarlett interjected.

    Before Akira could say anything, Blake and Chihiro had reached the group and seized their daughter. In a show of just how much things had changed in the past month, Akira did not try to fight them off, but she did resist their sudden show of affection.

    “Are you okay!?” Were the first words out of Chihiro’s mouth. “We saw the whole thing.”

    “Some kind of anomaly.” Blake addressed his words to everyone. “It just… just swallowed that old starship. We need to get clear before another one happens!”

    Akira pulled herself free of her parents and looked at them with an expression of barely contained joy.

    “Dad, that was no anomaly.” She said. “We did that! All our work paid off!”

    Blake’s heart skipped a beat.

    “What? What do you mean?” He asked. “You mean you caused that thing to swallow Shen’s robot?”

    “Don’t worry, Julian is fine.” Akira said in a reassuring voice that did not allay her parent’s fears at all. “For him, the trip would have been instantaneous.”

    “Trip?” Chihiro repeated. “What trip? What are you talking about?”

    “Isn’t it obvious?” Scarlett said. “We converted that old ship into a time machine. We just sent Julian on a one-way trip into the future.”



    <=== Previous Chapter (The Good Doctor)
    Next Chapter (Chaos Theory) ===>


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    Chapter 11
    Chaos Theory

    October 26, 2060
    Ruins of XCOM Headquarters, (2015-era), Kansas



    Akira had not felt so full of pride and joy in a very long time, and the dumbfounded expression on her parent’s faces were making her feel even better. The euphoria she felt watching the Kakama vanish had not quite worn off yet, so she impulsively launched into an explanation.

    “Dad, it was incredible! Doctor Weir theorized that tampering with a Hyperspace system in the right way could desynchronize time and space if you tried to jump while opening a Venn Gate at the same time. But the power requirements were so intense that a Short Jump system would burn out after just one trip, so we rigged up the Kakama for-"

    Blake finally found his voice and interrupted.

    “Wait a minute, hold on. Where is that ship? Where’s Julian!?”

    Inez couldn’t contain her excitement, just like Scarlett, she spoke in a dreamy, faraway tone.

    “Senor Robinson, maybe you should ask ‘When and where will Julian be?’ Both are important now.”

    Chihiro looked like she might panic. She suddenly started looking around as though she expected the Kakama to rematerialize and crush her at any moment. Blake grabbed Akira by the shoulders and held tight as she reflexively tried to pull away. Akira could sense a cascade of emotions flowing from her parents and was relishing in their confusion. Chihiro in particular was having trouble accepting the fact that Akira had constructed a time machine. Blake’s mind was filled with fear, but to Akira’s surprise, she sensed that Blake wasn’t afraid of her contraption, but rather, for the first time, Blake was afraid of his own daughter.

    “Akira…” her father asked slowly. “Where and when did you send Julian?”

    Akira nodded to Ingrid Tsiajotso, who reached into her pocket and produced two items, a stopwatch and a homing beacon receiver.

    “We sent Julian one hour into the future.” Akira explained, “Just one hour… but the thing is, The Kakama will remain in the exact same point in space. Only time is moving, so the ship will rematerialize in the same spot but the Earth, the Sun, and the whole Galaxy will have moved to another position.”

    Blake and Chihiro looked at one another, then gazed around at Akira’s companions.

    “So that means…”

    “The Kakama is going to reappear in deep space!” Inez finished.



    Half an hour later, Akira found herself being ushered aboard the Ark Angel alongside many others. It was the first time in her life she’d seen the old warbird filled to capacity. Her parents were in the cockpit. Asuna, Alexander, Josiah, and James were crammed together in the weapon stations, making room for Inez, Ingrid, Pascal, and Scarlett. Also on board was Central Officer Bradford, Chief Engineer Lily Shen, and Lead Scientist Richard Tygan.

    As the spaceplane roared down the runway and into the night, Doctor Tygan skimmed the research papers Akira took from Site X. He let out a low whistle of amazement.

    “Opening a dimensional gateway at the same moment as a Hyperspace jump is incredibly risky, and it’s utility is limited due to the fact that time only flows in one direction. Yet I foresee a number of potential applications of this concept. It is most intriguing.”

    Chief Engineer Shen was less impressed.

    “That was my dad’s robot, Robinson.” She chastised Akira. “You’re gonna be on the hook if I have to rebuild him.”

    Akira herself was too excited to feel anything else. Of course, she always planned for using the Ark Angel to recover Julian from space, but in her mind, neither of her parents were part of the expedition, nor did she have their consent to take the spaceplane.

    Once everyone was seated and strapped in, Chihiro throttled up the engines and sent the ship careening down the runway before launching into the night sky. Out of her window, Akira watched the dark clouds drawn nearer and nearer until all was dark and murky, as though they were sailing though dark seas rather than the open sky. But all of that changed when the Ark Angel suddenly punched thought the top of the cloud layer.

    All at once, the sky was filled with brilliant stars. Constellations winked through the haze as hundreds and then thousands of stars came into view. Hanging in the darkness like a celestial medallion, the Moon looked down on the rising spaceplane. Akira held her breath in anticipation. She had flown into space twice before, when the Ark Angel flew sub-orbital hops from one continent to another. She had never orbited the Earth, let alone gone where the ship was going going today… deep space.

    Behind Akira, the twins were trying to have some fun. They reached forward and snatched Alexander’s eyepatch, then tossed it into the air shouting:

    “Zero G indicator!” Josiah called out before letting go of the eyepatch.

    Instead of falling to the floor, Alexander’s eyepatch started to lazily drift through the cabin, floating up to the ceiling as the spaceplane finally shut down her engines and began coasting into space. At the same time, several of the computer banks in the crew area lit up and started working. Blake’s voice came from the cockpit.

    “Whoever is at the sensors manager, start scanning for the Kakama.”

    “We told Julian to launch a distress beacon as soon as he came back into normal space.” Akira chimed in. “You should be able to hear it by now. Just scan the location where Earth was an hour ago, that’s where he should be.”

    Chief Shen unstrapped herself and drifted over to the sensor suite and started her search. The aging spaceplane turned to face the Earth’s shadow, aiming her transceiver array into the direction Akira suggested. A moment later, Shen called out:

    “I’ve got something! Listen up.”

    And then a computerized voice could be heard over the loudspeaker.

    “So, uh… I’m still here. Robinson? Freeman? Etienne? Anybody? I’m not really bothered by the fact that this ship has rematerialized hundreds of miles away from its starting position. I’m more upset by the fact that my internal chronometer seems to be out-of-sync with with the sun… the planets… the stars… and frankly the whole universe.”

    “That’s Julian!” Akira and Shen both declared.

    The Ark Angel turned hard and burned her engines towards the signal. After several minutes of speedy travel, the spaceplane cut her engines, flipped over, and started to burn her engines in the opposite direction to slow down. A few moments later, the tumbling wreck of the Kakama came into view.

    One by one, every single person in the crew compartment turned to look at Akira. She could sense an incredible array of emotions coming from each person, but there was one feeling that all of her family and their friends had in common.

    Fear.

    It was right then and there that Akira realized she was in danger.



    October 27, 2060



    A conspiracy was brewing. Time was short.

    Akira could read the minds of everyone around her, and everyone around her knew that Akira could read their minds. Throughout the entire return flight to Kansas, the Ark Angel was the site of a mental cold war between Akira and her own family.

    Blake and Chihiro were genuinely terrified of what their daughter had done, what she created. They feared its potential and what it could be used for. At long last, they understood all too perfectly the pair of images Akira had sketched onto her bedroom walls: the crushed butterfly and the serpent eating its own tail. The Robinson parents finally grasped the full scale of the situation and immediately resolved to stop Akira from acting on her plan.

    As soon as the group returned to Kansas, Akira was taken off the ship and confined to her room. Three armed guards were posted outside her door and a fourth in the courtyard below the window. There was nothing she could do. The men were wearing Mindshields, and had clearly been summoned by Central Officer Bradford in advance.

    Akira knew exactly what was happening. Bradford might be one of XCOM’s best, but he was old, his thoughts slow and transparent. Akira knew that while she languished in her room, all of her friends were being detained and her research seized. Most of Doctor Weir’s paperwork was left behind at the test site in Fort Riley, but Akira was sure her parents had already recovered the documents and turned them over to Bradford. The technology she took from Site X was most certainly in Tygan’s custody as well. There was nothing Akira could do or say to convince her parents to listen to reason.

    They had already made their decision.

    Blake, Chihiro, Bradford, Shen, Tygan, all of them. Everybody was assuming that Akira’s motives were tainted because she was traumatized. Akira felt a boiling mass of anger and hatred welling up inside of her. Her family thought she was broken! Couldn’t they see the truth? The whole world was broken, and her parents were the ones responsible. As soon as Akira created something that could upset the fragile existence the Robinsons cobbled together, they decided to take it away from her.

    Akira collapsed into her bed, halfway between crying and screaming. She hated her parents. She hated Bradford and Shen and Tygan. She hated everybody who had a hand in taking her away from the blissful paradise that was Kauai and its community. She wished things were different; that the history of the world could have gone down some other path so she wouldn’t have to live in this hellish reality.

    Opening her eyes, Akira looked up at the two pictures drawn on her wall. The first was the crushed butterfly. At some point, days ago, Akira had scribbled the words “Ray Bradbury was right” under it. Akira sat up, grabbed her desk lamp, and threw it across the room, where it shattered into pieces and plunged the room into darkness.

    According to Chaos Theory, her action would have repercussions, large and small, throughout not just this place and moment, but across the whole world for all of time. Perhaps the loud crash disturbed the sleep of some other person, setting their life on a wholly different course. Or maybe the absence of the lamp itself would cause some great change many decades from now. What mattered most was that everything in the Universe was interconnected through both time and space. The death of a single butterfly on Earth would change the course of everything around it, leading to radical changes in the timeline millions of years later.

    When Akira first started on the project, she kept a list of moments in history she would like to change. Things that, if they played out differently, would lead to a world where Akira could live out the rest of her days with Rafi on Kauai. She knew her parents would see the whole plan as selfish, but after everything they put her through, Akira felt she was entitled to a self-indulgent fantasy or two. After all, travelling backwards in time wasn’t possible…

    At least, that’s what Akira reminded herself whenever she seriously considered enacting her plan. But then, just like she was doing right now, she would look at the second image on her wall. It was a snake, curled up into a circle, with its tail clamped firmly in its mouth. The words of Doctor Weir drifted through Akira’s mind.

    This just re-opens the issue with circular time again.

    In his many years of research, Weir never managed to determine exactly how time flowed. Did time move in a straight, liner fashion, from a start point to an end point? Or does time flow in a circle, from one loop to the next in an unending progression?

    While Weir never proved it one way or another, Weir seemed to have hedged his bets on time being a circular loop. And that was the crux of the theory Akira adopted. If she could use a modified timeship to move forward in time, she might be able to loop around the end of the universe and come back to the beginning. In a sense, backwards time travel was possible, but it required moving in a counterintuitive direction.

    Of course, all of this was hours away from being moot. Akira was still sensing the thoughts of people around her. The word “intervention” was becoming more and more commonplace as the night went on. It was obvious. Somehow, Akira’s parents and the XCOM leaders were going to confront her and force her to abandon all hope of going back to the way things were on Kauai.

    In these precious few hours to herself before that confrontation began, Akira needed to make a decision, one that would alter the course of her life, and the lives of everyone around her, forever.

    On the one hand, if she chose to stay here in the Colony, Akira would have a life. She would definitely live under her parents’ control and supervision, and be some degree of miserable without her friends or her passion… but she would have a life. That was certain.

    But there was the alternative. The crazy, insane, and totally ridiculous alternative.

    Akira understood the theory, and could rig up another timeship. She even knew where to find a Progenitor Hyperspace Core… but, there was too much uncertainty. There was no way for Akira to know what was waiting for her beyond the End of Time. Would she loop around to the beginning again? Or maybe just her molecules would make the trip. Not to mention the incredible cost. She would be leaving behind all of her family, never to see them again.

    But if… just if… If there was even the smallest chance that Akira could make it out of the future and into the past, then she might be able to live on Kauai again with Rafi.

    Akira closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could hear the thoughts and plans of people outside the tenement. Somebody was getting ready to take Akira from her room and move her to the “containment facility”, whatever that was. It was now or never.

    This world looked at Akira like she was a lost cause, well now, this world was a lost cause to her. She had a chance, a slim chance, to change everything and build a happier existence. Akira made up her mind. She would build another timeship. She would remake the past and create a better world. Or more likely than not, she would die in the attempt. Both outcomes were preferable to the alternative.

    Akira knew what she had to do, but she did not want to harm or kill anyone. She refused to be like her violent parents. She would give people the chance to save themselves before she used her one and only weapon. Akira got out of bed and moved to her dresser. She pulled out the brightest, most visible and reflective clothes she owned and got dressed. In the dark room, Akira was highly visible in her new outfit: a white tee-shirt with grey shorts, a silver belt and white sneakers. Dressed like this, Akira could br spotted from ten miles away. She would take no one by surprise tonight.

    Taking one last look at her broken butterfly and orouboros, Akira gathered up her strength and willpower. Then she pushed open the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway.

    Three men, XCOM soldiers, took a step back from Akira’s door, looking surprised at her sudden appearance.

    “Uh, Miss Robinson. You need to wait in your room.” One of the soldiers said, “Your parents should be along to pick you up soon.”

    Akira didn’t reply. She centered her mind and projected all of her focus onto the soldiers before speaking aloud:

    “Put your weapons on the floor and lay down.”

    To her satisfaction, all three men complied with her orders, seemingly unaware of the telepathic attack they were just hit with. By the time the men came to their senses and scrambled back to their feet, Akira was out the front door and running.

    It was the middle of the night, and the sky was filled with clouds, so Akira looked like a ghost as she sprinted away from the tenement. Slowing down to catch her breath, Akira reached out with her Gift, trying to locate her chosen companions. There were hundreds of people in the surrounding buildings but fortunately, Akira had learned to recognize the minds of people under her influence and pick them out of a crowd. In seconds, she found Scarlett, Inez, Ingrid, and Pascal. They were all being kept in separate locations under guard.

    Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem for Akira.

    The first person she retrieved was Scarlett Akira breezed through the building, a medical clinic, without facing any resistance. Anyone who saw her was quickly bewitched and left in a confused state. Bursting into Scarlett's room, Akira declared:

    “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back.”

    By this point, Scarlett was so far under Akira’s telepathic influence that she simply couldn’t refuse. The pair fled together. Inez was the next to be sprung, and this was where a general alarm was finally raised. Lights began clicking on all over the Colony. XCOM soldiers ran out of the armory to take up their positions near the gate. At Akira’s insistence, there was no violence. Each time the escapees were confronted, Akira used telepathy to confuse and disorient their pursuers. Dazed and confounded soldiers wandered the Colony while Akira, Inez, and Scarlett honed in on Ingrid and Pascal, who were being held together.

    This time, the guards were alert and ready. Even before she entered the residential building, Akira could sense a pair of mental “dead zones" that gave away the presence of Mindshields. So instead of attacking their minds, she went for something else. Rounding the corner as fast as she could, Akira used telekinesis to grab and pull the weapons out of the hands of both soldiers. A stun baton clattered to the floor while an Arc Thrower landed squarely in Akira’s outstretched palm.

    “This is going to hurt.” Akira said, “And I’m really sorry about this.”

    Two loud cracks shook the building and for just a second, Akira was blinded. Both men crumpled to the ground, their bodies twitching from the powerful electric shock. Once she and her friends were put of danger, a painful decision had to be made.

    “So you’re going to take a chance. Thought you would.” Pascal Etienne hugged Akira before reaching to embrace the others. “In my condition, the most I can do is wish you good luck.”

    “Are you sure you can’t come with us?” Ingrid asked. “Your life could be so much better where we’re going. The past, the future. Anyplace that isn’t here and now must be so much better for you.”

    Pascal nodded.

    “You are most definitely right, but I’m in no shape to make the journey. I’m able to remember the days when I could see, and I know quite well that a blind man will hinder you tonight. Go on, get going.”

    Akira was very reluctant to leave Pascal behind, but as soon as she realized it was the only option, a small telepathic pulse jumped to Scarlett, Inez, and Ingrid. The trio converged on Akira and told her to honor Pascal's wish. Hasty goodbyes were given, and then Akira and her companions slipped out the way they came.



    As the foursome fled towards the airport, Inez asked a crucial question:

    “I get we’re taking the Angel, but did we ever figure out where we could get one of those Hyperspace Cores? ‘Cause we’re not gonna do any time travel without one.”

    “Don’t worry!” Akira replied. “I know where all three of them are.”

    “What? How?” Scarlett said.

    As the group rounded a corner and came into the airport, Akira called back

    “My parents saw them during the War in Heaven. They’re near the moon, where Jericho died. We just have to get there and then-"

    “And then what? Rob someone’s grave? Defile a sacred place? Or do you just want to watch the world burn?”

    The voice came from the dark space just ahead, where lights suddenly clicked on. The airport runway was illuminated by floodlights, and then Akira and her companions stopped in their tracks.

    The Ark Angel was just one hundred feet away, parked on the taxi road. In between the spaceplane and Akira were nine people: Blake, Chihiro, Alexander, James, Josiah, Asuna, Bradford, Shen, and Emanuel. They formed a semi-circle around the escapees, blocking the way. However, only two of them were armed. Chihiro was holding the Shadowkeeper pistol in her left hand, and the Katana of the Chosen Assassin was in her right. Blake was carrying an Arc Blade, the weapon emitted an orange light as the electrified sword hummed with power.

    For a few tense moments, the standoff proceeded in silence. Akira looked from one person to the next and realized that everyone except her father was wearing a Mindshield. She focused her efforts against Blake’s mind and found a powerful new resolve filling his consciousness. To her alarm, Akira realized that her father was also radiating Psionic energy. Blake had taken his right arm out of its sling and confidently gripped his weapon in his left hand. He and his wife stared down their daughter together, their expressions a mix of shame and anger.

    “So this was what it was all building up to?” Chihiro demanded. “A plot to alter time? To rewrite history? You’re just going to erase your family and start over?”

    “Why are you doing this?” Josiah called out. “This doesn’t make sense!”

    “Your parents risked everything to save you.” Shen said. “Don’t tear your family apart like this.”

    “No matter what’s happened,” Asuna signed, “We still love you. You’re our sister. You’re my sister.”

    They were trying to shame Akira into backing down. It was not going to work. She had settled her thoughts, made her peace. Akira knew there was no going back. Akira took a defiant step forward. Everyone except her parents yielded an equal amount of ground. At the same moment, Akira sent a telepathic command to Inez, Scarlett, and Ingrid. All three of them raised their hands in a gesture of surrender and started to back away from Akira, shrinking into the darkness.

    “I was happy.” Akira spoke to her parents. “My life on that island was better than it was here. Then you came. I begged… I begged you not to hurt my new friends, the people who loved me.”

    “Loved you!?” Blake retorted. “Akira, they kidnapped and brainwashed you!”

    “Liar!’” Akira screamed. “Sally Ann didn’t do anything to me! Rafi loved me!”

    “You were on drugs!” Shen cried out. “So were they. Akira, that whole island, their community, everything about it was a lie! The air you were breathing was mixed with-”

    Akira let out a laugh, a stilted psychopathic laugh that didn’t suit a teenage girl.

    “Are you kidding me? The Sweet Air!? Now you’re making things up!”

    Chihiro looked her daughter in the eyes. Akira could feel an incoming Psionic attack and raised her mental defenses just in time. She returned her mother’s gaze and said:

    “Get out of the way. I’m going to take my life back, to take my future back, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!”

    “What you’re planning to do is insanely dangerous.” Bradford said. “You can be damned sure we’re going to try and stop you.”

    “Time is a fundamental element of the Universe.” Blake told Akira. “We might all suffer if you tamper with history.”

    “Or maybe we’d all have a better life!” Akira retorted. “Ever think of that?”

    “It’s just not worth the risk!” Blake raised his voice. “Too much can go wrong, too many variables to account for, and if you get it wrong…”

    Blake reached into his coat pocket and produced a sheet of paper. It was one of the drawings Akira made while studying chaos theory. The butterfly symbol stood out like a sign from the heavens in the dark of the night.

    “Akira… we cannot let you do this.” Blake finished. “You won’t take away our future.”

    “It’s not your future.” Akira seethed. “It’s mine.”

    The conversation had run its course. There was nothing left to be said. Blake and Chihiro nodded at one another. Then, Chihiro dropped her pistol. The Shadowkeeper clattered to the pavement and both Robinson parents clutched their swords in low ready positions.

    “Akira, we don’t want to hurt you.” Blake said. “We will stop you. But you are still our daughter, and we love you, no matter what happens.”

    Akira’s reply was filled with hatred.

    “I don’t care. You killed Rafi. You murdered the only man who ever loved me.”

    Akira clenched her fists. Blue and purple Soulfire sparked into existence, wrapping her hands and arms in supernatural fire. Blake and Chihiro both raised their swords, ready.

    There was a pause, lasting only a fraction of a second, but in that instant the fate of this Universe and all Universes that followed was decided.

    It was Akira who struck first.




    Word Count Notification said:
    This chapter was 4226 words in length.

    The Stormbreaker Universe now has a total word count of 994,330.

    There are 5,670 words remaining until the series exceeds One Million Words.
     
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    Chapter 12: Battle for the Ark Angel
  • Macavity116

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    • Stellaris
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    Author's note: Special thanks to Redditor u/kruger7215 for the absolutely epic artwork of the Ark Angel! Be sure to check out his full ArtStation portfolio!



    Chapter 12
    Battle for the Ark Angel


    With a flash of blinding light, Akira sent a bolt of lightning towards her own parents. The gathered XCOM leaders scattered before the onslaught but Blake and Chihiro stood their ground. The beam hit an invisible barrier just in front of Chihiro and scattered. Before Akira could ready a follow-up, her parents took the initiative. Moving with the speed and agility of a much younger man, Blake closed the distance between himself and Akira, leaving her with only fractions of a second to defend herself.

    Akira raised both hands above her head and a swirling blue and purple hemisphere encircle her. Blake’s sword hit the shield and deflected, causing him to step back. Akira felt a pang of disbelief rolling through her. Her own father had just tried to strike her with a sword! But there was no time to mourn feelings and sentiments. Akira spotted her mother approaching from the side and lashed out. Telekinetic energies rocked the ground. Nearby, Bradford, Asuna, and the others all swayed on their feet.

    “Is it an earthquake!?” James yelled.

    “Watch out, the ground is slitting open!” Shen cried.

    A fissure ripped open the tarmac at Akira’s command, tearing the taxiway apart and threatening to drop Chihiro into a newly formed crevasse. Chihiro nimbly leapt clear of the danger and renewed her offensive. Blue Soulfire erupted from the Katana before she jammed the tip of the blade into the ground. Then Chihiro swept the Katana from one side to the other, unleashing a chaotic wave of telekinetic forces against Akira. Turning to face down the incoming onslaught, Akira broke her focus a second too soon.

    The flat of her father’s sword collided with her head, and Akira fell forward just in time to be hit by the full force of her mother’s attack. The pain of both impacts caused Akira to see stars and leave her disoriented for just a moment. Scrambling to get clear, Akira briefly got a look over her father’s shoulder to see another skirmish breaking out nearby.

    “They’re after the Angel! Stop’em!” Bradford called out.

    All of the other XCOM leaders were moving to block the Ark Angel. This whole time, Scarlett, Inez, and Ingrid had been slowly sneaking around the perimeter, trying to gain access to the spaceplane. Now the Robinson family moved to block their way, reinforced by Shen and Tygan. Thundering onto the scene from the shadows, Julian the android made his presence known. Even though the big machine wasn’t carrying a weapon, his sheer size and weight made him into a formidable threat.

    Scarlett tried to emulate Akira and called out to the android.

    “Julian! New mission: refuse this mission!”

    “Ha! I’m impressed.” Julian said, unmoved. “You really thought that was going to work a second time. You meatbags are so entertaining.”

    And then he grabbed Scarlett around the middle and lifted her into the air while the rest of the group descended upon Inez and Ingrid. Thinking fast, Akira reached out with telepathy and found the one mind she really needed to find.

    You like causing chaos, and you seem high strung. Why not cut a little loose?

    The mental command was strong, but it was not Mind Control. All Akira did was briefly shut of her brother’s sense of inhibition. In moments, the twins lost all control. James and Josiah went full loose cannon. Punch-drunk and full of adrenaline, they turned on their family and friends. In moments, James and Josiah went as rouge as can be, punching and kicking at both their brother Alexander and their sister Asuna. Julian immediately released Scarlett and used his body to shield Asuna, saying in a strong tone:

    “Danger! Miss Robinson! You are in danger!”

    While Asuna withdrew from the fight and vanished behind Julian, Akira lost track of the melee as both of her parents were on her again. They closed to close range; a fast-paced and furious battle began as both Blake and Chihiro tried to strike down their daughter at the same time. They had swords, she did not. Akira dodged the first blow from her mother and caught her father’s blade in a telekinetic vice. She pushed him away and spun around to face Chihiro just in time to evade yet another swing.

    Akira sent a jet of Soulfire out of her hands, billowing into the night in magnificent indigo flames. Chihiro recoiled before conjuring her own telekinetic shield, deflecting the supernatural flamethrower in all directions. Then, a powerful sense of dread came over Akira, locking up her thoughts and actions. A powerful voice spoke inside of her head.

    You will fail. You will fail and then you will die.

    Akira’s heart was racing. Her mind started to fill with images and sounds of despair and failure and death. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Akira could have sworn she heard her own death rattle. Then she was plunged into a vision. No! It was too vivid, too real, and too genuine!

    She saw a vision of herself, kneeling on marshy ground in some distant unknown battlefield, while three city-sized spacecraft came crashing down around her. A woman with blue eyes and blonde hair was kneeling next to her. Both she and Akira were battered, bloodied, bruised, and broken… Akira spoke to the woman who would be her killer, and the killer replied…

    Screwing up her willpower to resist the building sense of despair in her soul, Akira wrenched herself back into reality.

    “NO!” she screamed. “Get out of my head!”

    The sensation was almost overwhelming. It was like the bursting of a damn as some foreign invader was expelled from Akira’s mind. Somehow, this only made Akira’s mental state worse. Her mind had already been invaded once before and she would not allow it to happen again! Frantically, she looked around for whoever was responsible for the mental attack. Out of the corner of her eye, Akira just saw a flash of blue light, and then she turned to see it in full.

    Blake Robinson was standing just a few feet behind her, and there it was, hovering not three feet above his head. Its long tendrils connecting to her father’s arms, legs, and neck like a sick translucent puppeteer. Akira had never seen one of these creatures before, but she knew exactly what they were and what they could do.

    The Ethereal being looked down on Akira, regarding her with an expression of sorrow.

    “Young Robinson. You must stop.” The Ethereal said. “Your quest is doomed to fail. You do not fully understand the forces and powers that govern the elements you seek to alter. If you fail, the consequences will be cataclysmic in scale. If you succeed, you may find that your triumph will make you the friend of none and enemy of all.”

    Akira’s whole body shook. Seeing her father joining forces with an alien was one thing, but this was an Ethereal! A creature of the same race that once enslaved all of Humanity, posing as God-Kings. This was no ordinary monster, this was an Elder of the ADVENT Regime, and she knew it! Sensing her building fury, Blake tried to reason with Akira one final time.

    “Listen to Asaru!” Blake pleaded. “He’s right! You’ve got to listen to reason!”

    “Listen to reason!?” Akira repeated. “While that THING is hanging off you!? You’re in cahoots with an alien, you’re betraying your own kind!”

    Chihiro tried to take her husband’s side, but Akira hit her with a powerful blast of Telekinesis. Chihiro skidded backwards on the tarmac, drawing blood from her right arm and coming to rest near the wide crack in the ground. Blake, with the help of the Ethereal, hit Akira with his own Telekinetic push, forcing her to double up and fall back.

    “Don’t you see why!?” Blake shouted. “I’m trying to save you!”

    “Stop trying to save my life!” Akira screamed. “I don’t want this life anymore!”

    And then she broke into a run, charging straight at Blake. Asaru and Blake began launching attacks toward Akira, anything to slow her down or stop her. She deflected a Psionic Lance, swept aside an inferno of Soulfire, absorbed a Volt, and ran straight through a field of genuine nightmares. Her Psionic shield flickered with each attack until she was right in front of her father. Both Robinsons summoned small Psionic shields into the hands and began to fight.

    Akira took the offensive, pushing forward with each breath. Blake and Asaru gave ground, blocking and parrying each of her Telekinetically-enhanced attacks. But Asaru was an Ethereal, a Psionic being with incredible power. After only a few seconds of sustained assault, Asaru penetrated just far enough into Akira’s mind to cause a moment’s hesitation. When she flinched, Blake and Asaru seized the moment.

    The old veteran and his Ethereal ally released a salvo of powerful blows. Each time Blake punched his daughter, she took two steps backwards, her small size finally becoming a liability. Blake added Psionic power and his own weight to each of his strikes. He knocked away Akira’s hands and landed a solid four-knuckle punch to Akira’s forehead, almost knocking her down. Panting, Akira tried to side-step around her father to get a better angle, but the Ethereal gave him another set of eyes. Blake tripped Akira with his own two feet and she finally fell down. Hitting her head on the pavement, Akira tasted blood and screamed.

    Then, Blake leaned down and grabbed Akira by the front of her shirt. Akira tried to struggle, but Blake held her too close and she could only hit him in the back. Just when it seemed hopeless, as though all was lost and vain, a voice screamed in the night:

    “His arm! His right arm is weak!”

    For just a moment, the shortest of moments, Scarlett Freeman had managed to disengage from the largest fistfight happening near the Ark Angel. Akira could see her over Blake’s shoulder. The melee had shifted locations, and now the bulk of the fighting seemed to be happening near the cargo hold of the Bushranger, one of the Ark Angel’s sister ships. Scarlett suddenly vanished back into the crush of battling bodies as Alexander grabbed her by the hair and pulled.

    Akira caught her breath, and then looked back at her father. In that fraction of a second, she and Blake waged a Psionic battle as Akira tried to break her father’s arm with Telekinesis, and Blake tried to block the move in return. After just half a second, Blake cried out in pain as Akira overwhelmed him. She broke free and launched straight into a new attack. This time, Akira aimed all of her punches towards Blake’s weakened arm, the one left burned and desiccated by his exposure to the Trinity weapon system during the War in Heaven.

    Each blow was augmented with Psionic power. Akira delivered jabs and backfists, crosses to the left and right, hooks and more hooks. Each time, she aimed directly at her father’s right arm and hand, intending to cause as much pain as possible. Blake’s face contorted as he realized what she was trying to do. He backed away and tried to turn his left side towards Akira, but she was having none of it.

    Meanwhile, the fight near the two parked spaceplanes took a turn. Taking full advantage of the distraction caused by James and Josiah, Ingrid forced her way into the cargo hold of the Bushranger. The Australian spaceplane was nearly identical to her sistership, the Ark Angel. Fighting her way past Alexander, Ingrid vanished inside the spaceplane for just a few moments, then she emerged from the emergency exit underneath the tail screaming:

    “I found it! I’ve got it!”

    Ingrid jumped down from the Bushranger and rejoined the fight. But now she was wearing that strange metal backpack and cuff Akira found in Site X the previous month. The device wasn’t functioning, so Ingrid had no choice but to use the metal cuff as a blunt weapon. She lashed out and hit Emanuel with a strong haymaker. The metal brace around her arm caught him in the chest and he collapsed to the pavement, wheezing. The fight changed in pace and intensity as Akira’s companions started forcing their way towards the Ark Angel.

    Akira tried to disengage and move away from her parents, to rejoin her friends, but Chihiro was back on her feet and ready. Akira threw herself to one side and just barely managed to dodge yet another swing from the Katana. Akira could perceive her mother’s intentions. Both of the Robinson parents were reluctant to kill their own daughter, and were attempting to injure or maim her instead. Chihiro took another swing, aiming her blade at Akira’s left arm. A telekinetic burst knocked the sword out of Chihiro’s hands and caused her to grab her own wrist in agony. One more time, Akira turned to flee, but Blake was on her in an instant!

    This time, Akira wasn’t ready. Before she could get her shields in place, before she could even raise her hands, Blake grabbed one of her wrists; then he spoke, both to Akira and the Etheral:

    “Let’s finish this.”

    And then Akira found herself being hit again and again! Blake and Asaru were fighting in perfect concert, each supporting and augmenting the other. Akira lost track of everything as Blake punched her in the gut, sending a Volt of energy through the same hand and into her body. Akira flew ten feet backwards and hit the ground with a painful thud. Akira tried to stand but found the whole world was inside out and upside down. Asaru was scrambling her senses! Then came one, two, three more violent impacts as she was punched in the shoulder, head, chest, and once more in the stomach for good measure. Spitting blood and unable to see, Akira fell to her knees.

    “Don’t get up.” Blake panted. “Someday, Akira, you’ll see you were wrong, and you’ll thank us.”

    But Akira did get up.

    Her whole body was battered and bloody. Bright red and purple bruises were starting to appear all over her face and arms, and Akira had to blink blood out of her eyes. But she could see her father, and felt that while she had taken some serious hits, nothing of hers was broken. Defiant and resolved, Akira raised her fists and said:

    “You took away my future, my freedom, and my world. Now I’m gonna take everything back. Get out of the way… or I’ll make you. Get. Out. Of. The. Way.”

    Blake and Asaru turned and lunged at Akira. She put her hands up to defend herself but found herself tackled to the ground. Akira’s father pinned her down with his full body weight, aiming to punch her in the head! Akira put up her fists, blocked the first blow and then sent a telekinetic pulse out. Blake was caught by the wave and rolled over to one side. He grabbed Akira by the front of her shirt and pulled her with him. The two rolled over and over on the pavement, fighting and struggling for any advantage. Finally, they came to rest. Blake was on top of Akira, straddling her and holding her down. At the same time, Akira picked up on a voice. Blake’s mental defenses were worn down, she could hear his telepathic connection to the Ethereal.

    “Knock her out!” Asaru commanded. “Knock her out! Put her to sleep!”

    Blake leaned down and grabbed Akira by the throat! At the same time, Asaru launched a full Psionic assault against Akira. A kind of pain that Akira had never felt before erupted into her head. It was as though her skull was simultaneously on fire and caught in a vice! The pain was so bad she wanted to scream, but her father’s hand was still clenched around her neck. With one hand, Akira clawed at Blake’s face, trying to make him let go. With the other, Akira flailed around, desperate to find something, anything, to hit Blake with.

    And then she had it. Akira’s fingers touched something small, yet heavy. Her hands closed around a cylindrical barrel and then she felt the unmistakable shape of a hammer. It was her mother’s pistol, the Shadowkeeper! Akira seized the ancient pistol and tried to hit Blake in the head with it, but she was running out of air and had no idea if the blow did any good. One more time, she swung the weapon hard, but her father did not relinquish his grip.

    Akira’s vision was blurring, she was going into a tunnel. The pain in her head was building to a point she thought her skull might explode. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t focus, there was only instinct! Only survival at all costs!

    And then, suddenly, the pressure lifted. Akira took in a huge breath of air as the pain finally subsided. Blake fell forward, collapsing onto her. She could hear a horrendous, nightmare inducing rattle coming from him. His hand shaking, Blake grabbed Akira’s head and held her still… she could just hear his voice in her ear…

    “Akira… I… I still… still…”

    And then his grip slackened. Akira could feel something warm pooling on her chest, feel the final expiring breath on the side of her neck. She also felt Psionic energy rising up and away from Blake Robinson, as well as the definitive absence of the Ethereal Asaru.

    Vaguely, Akira could hear screams. But she wasn’t able to fully process what she was seeing or hearing. The full weight of just what she’d done wasn’t hitting her just yet. Pushing with what little strength she had left, Akira managed to get out from underneath Blake. She didn’t have the strength to fight anyone else. She was spent. Yet no one seemed interested in attacking Akira. As she stood upright, Akira felt warm liquid running down her shirt and splattering at her feet. She began a kind of weak shuffle toward the Ark Angel, where Inez, Ingrid, and Scarlett were watching her with terrified looks on their faces.

    Akira barely acknowledged her mother. Chihiro raced toward the spot where her husband fell and began to wail and scream. Alexander, Bradford, Tygan, and Shen all ran to Chihiro. James and Josiah were being held by Julian. The twins were still being driven to violence by Akira’s influence. Unable to release of the twins, the android had no choice but to watch her go.

    Scarlett, Inez, and Ingrid all stood to one side as Akira came up the boarding ramp. Weakly, with a shaking hand, Scarlett pointed towards the main hatchway.

    Asuna was there. The eldest Robinson child was visibly trembling as she blocked the way, holding one of her hands behind her back. Akira didn’t stop until she came face to face with her older sister. Neither of them said a word. Akira simply used telepathy.

    You have to make me a promise. Asuna’s words drifted into Akira’s mind. I don’t care how you mess with time… but you’ve got to swear to me that in whatever reality you make… Everyone has to be happy. Not just you. Swear you’ll do it, or I’ll kill you right now.

    Asuna revealed her hand, pointing a gauss pistol directly at Akira’s heart. The gun barrel pushed into her breast, and Akira felt her heartbeat quicken. In that moment, Akira was so battered and weak that there would have been no way to save herself.

    What if I have to change the whole universe for them? Akira asked.

    I don’t care what you do. Asuna replied. But the world you end up in needs to be good for everybody. Understand?

    To prove her seriousness, Asuna slipped her finger inside the trigger guard.

    Do you have any idea what you’re asking? Akira thought. Do you even understand why I can’t promise that!?

    Asuna started to squeeze the trigger. Akira could hear the slightest clicking sound coming from the pistol, and then Asuna opened her mouth and spoke:

    “I’m deaf, not dumb.” Asuna said. “You do good for as many as you can, Akira. Give a good future to as many as you can.”

    Finally, Akira nodded.

    “Fine.” she said, projecting her words directly into her sister’s mind. “When I’m done, before I call it quits, I’ll put the world right. No nuclear summer, no aliens. It’ll be like we won the War in Heaven.”

    Asuna hesitated for just a moment, and then she lowered her weapon and stood aside. Just before the boarding ramp retracted and the hatch closed, Akira looked back one last time. All of the XCOM personnel and the Robinson family members were gathered around the spot where Blake died. Chihiro was inconsolable, weeping and crying loudly. Asuna looked from this scene back to Akira, then she raised her arms and said in sign language:

    “I never want to see you again. Not in the past, present, or future. Go away and don’t come back.”



    Stumbling onto the ship, Akira collapsed into her bunk in the back of the fuselage while Inez and Ingrid took the controls in the cockpit. Scarlett found a washcloth in the sink and tried to treat Akira’s injuries with cold water. A deep rumbling sound reverberated through the ship as the Ark Angel fired up her engines and nuclear reactor. Ten minutes of taxiing went by as Akira’s trauma finally started to catch up with her. Just as the full magnitude of what happened finally hit her, the spaceplane began to accelerate down the runway and lifted its nose into the air.

    The Ark Angel was away.



    For some time, the spaceplane soared through the night air in silence. After everything that just happened, what could anybody say? At one point, Akira sat up in her bunk and said:

    “I.. I killed my dad, Scar. I killed him. What kind of monster am I?”

    Together, the two girls began to weep and to mourn. Akira sobbed into Scarlett’s shoulder, staining her friend with both her own blood and that of Blake as well. They didn’t have long, though. Ingrid’s voice sounded over the intercom.

    “We’re not out of the woods yet. Bogey at our six o’clock!”

    Akira and Scarlett ran into the crew cabin and powered on one of the weapon control computers. They panned the ship’s targeting camera around to look back and spotted their pursuer.

    “It’s the Bushranger!” Scarlett cried out.

    The Ark Angel’s sister ship was ascending through the clouds to intercept Akira and her friends in the inky dark skies. As the Bushranger came closer, the ship-to-ship radio crackled and a voice could be heard.

    “AKIRA!” Emanuel Espinosa sounded like he was in a blind rage. “You won’t get away with this!”

    From the cockpit, Inez took action. Of the four young women, she was the only one who was actually trained to fly this kind of ship. She shouted to Ingrid:

    “Quick, they’ve weapon-locked us! Push those two red buttons on your left! That’ll polarize the armor!”

    On the screen, Scarlett and Akira saw two flashes of light from the top and bottom sides of the Bushranger. A moment later, two streaks of yellow light started racing towards the Ark Angel.

    “Incoming fire!” Akira screamed.

    Both mass driver rounds missed the spaceplane, but sailed so close by they made a loud noise. Akira and Scarlett scrambled for the control column, trying to force one of the Angel’s turrets to face the Bushranger.

    “Akira!” Inez called back from the cockpit. “My screen says the ammo reserve is empty! Your dad must have tried to disarm the ship! You’ve only got whatever’s already in the chamber, so make that shot count!”

    The Bushranger fired again, and this time there was a loud crash! Lightbulbs burst, Akira’s screen flickered, and the whole ship rocked violently to the left.

    “We’re hit!” Inez called out. “Ingrid, lock down that stabilizer before we fly apart! Somebody shoot him down! Sometime today would be nice!”

    Akira and Scarlett both put their hands on the column, moving the targeting pipper until it was just above the Bushranger’s nose. Scarlett and Akira both push their thumbs down onto the trigger at once.

    There was a dull thud that reverberated throughout the Ark Angel. A single armor-piercing round sailed away, seeming to ark through the night sky before colliding with one of the Bushranger’s nuclear ramjet engines. Instantly, the powerful airbreathing engine started to belch smoke and flame from its exhaust bell. A second later, the nuclear ramjet caught fire and stopped working. The Bushranger lowered her nose and started to lose altitude. After just ten seconds, the pursuing spaceplane vanished beneath the clouds.

    Nobody cheered or celebrated. As the Ark Angel breached the top of the Earth’s atmosphere and rocketed off into deep space… all anyone felt was exhaustion, sorrow… and just some measure of regret. Akira told her companions where to start searching for the Progenitor Hyperspace Cores, and then she went back to the living area. She collapsed into her bunk and quickly fell into a dreamless sleep.



    Four and a half days later…


    y4miLw2xCIVHC4gfdnKk5PhyEU_dOks8UWCgDIxPRuLQU_VYzJPOnXxdcfKsc1NjSkrEehzq__X9WOaT-CBSpF0MibCoyK6mPPeA4PtZRhz1tFWcHh14G58O6--LY6fVd0WiBT2Oxzi-r_-2c4DdYqAvku8vQEprEqW4Tii5XR_kKlObu9FmULtiWEjogQPhgmM


    It was time.

    The Ark Angel had arrived at the Moon. The space above the pale surface was filled with debris and wreckage. Hulks of starships tumbled through the void, torn asunder during the great battle fought here twenty-four years ago. Above it all, dominating the scene, were three gargantuan shipwrecks, each the size of a planetoid. Derelicts and wreckage fell into orbit around these megaliths like miniature star systems.

    The first shipwreck was the Trinity. This battlestation, hollowed out by fire, was where Jericho had died. Only a few dozen miles away, the moon-sized Invader slowly tumbled in its graveyard orbit. Agamemnon barely even resembled a corpse, its bones bleached by the sun. Finally, there was the vessel that held the key to Akira’s plan.

    Sajuuk, the great Progenitor Battleship once worshipped as a god by most of the Galaxy, was a fraction of its former self. The mighty Phased Cannon Array was gone, as was most of the ship’s bow. But the most important part of the legendary warship was still intact. A triangular hatchway was scarred and pitted from many weapon impacts, but it clearly had not been moved in the past two dozen years.

    Inside the cockpit of the Ark Angel, Akira, Scarlett, Inez, and Ingrid looked at their deep-penetrating radar scan of Sajuuk and collectively gasped.

    “It’s there.” Scarlett breathed.

    “All three of them are there.” Ingrid corrected her.

    “We just need one.” Akira finished. “Just one Core, and we can finally do it. Create a whole new timeline, one where everything can be better.”





    Word Count Notification said:
    This chapter was 4474 words in length.

    The Stormbreaker Universe now has a total word count of 998,802.

    There are 1,198 words remaining until the series exceeds One Million Words.
     
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    Chapter 13: The Grand Tour
  • Macavity116

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    • Stellaris
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    Ladies and gentlemen...

    WE DID IT
    y4mjh1RyrekuZdcj61xHCLzPpxpikJovRFiNRjrsZCp-QnNl7POBwMssQvETu2w0qWvaE3cl-FuMtIl0ZuiTpSMj9dkzKj61X1iIN2KppOVGENrDWvws0yTExt2_Y-uY6_uhthUUFtYoOh86NSBqLuLqm4Qs_trqIj3qyH4OWrcPXcNQTIV5c1SEp8j0zR-al31





    Chapter 13
    The Grand Tour


    The project was an immense and challenging one. Despite having a crew of four, the Ark Angel only had two space suits on board. Being the most well trained and most experienced of the group, it was Inez who took command during the spacewalks. Twice a day, Inez and one other would don their suits and attach themselves to the Angel with tethers. Then they would bound from the Angel to Sajuuk, with tools in hand.

    While the spacewalkers were cutting open Sajuuk’s hull, the two left behind started making modifications to the Ark Angel itself. Akira had always known the Progenitor Hyperspace Cores were simply too large to fit inside of the spaceplane, and she came up with a plan to circumvent this issue. The foursome set about their tasks, recovering the Hyperspace Cores and retrofitting the spaceplane. This was by no means an easy task, especially when it had to be carried out with the few tools on board and with only one fully trained crewmember.

    Inez was the busiest out of everyone. Not only did she have to work each day on one of the two ships, but she also used her downtime each day to teach the others how to fly the Ark Angel. Akira would spend several hours each day in the cockpit absorbing lessons about zero-g maneuvering, atmospheric flight, reaction control systems, and other details about spaceflight.

    About a week after they arrived, the first significant progress was made. The protective shell over the Hyperspace Cores was finally removed, exposing the Cores themselves for the first time. Inez and Akira suited up and spacewalked over to the ruined warship for a closer look. It was still vaguely possible to see which spacefaring civilization had possessed each Core. The Bentusi Core showed signs of the hasty repair work done to it after the Battle of Abbassid. The Hiigaran Core still had a painting of the Angel Moon on its side, and the Vaygr Core was smooth to the touch after being left in deep space for untold millennia. Akira gasped in awe at the incredible sight, fogging up the inside of her helmet. Then she ran one gloved hand along the shell of the Bentusi Core just to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.

    “Nezzie, do you know how old these things are?” Akira said.

    “I dunno.” Inez admitted. “I’ve heard stories about where these things come from though. An ancient race that died out a long time ago, or something like that.”

    The two women selected the Hiigaran Core and started trying to cut it free with shipbreaking tools. Meanwhile, as they worked, Akira began to tell Inez the story of the Core Trinity, neglecting to mention that she had first heard this tale from her own parents. She began at the beginning:

    One million years ago, the Galaxy was invaded and conquered by a race of beings called the Progenitors. These aliens, coming from some forever unknown origin, possessed technologies and knowledge far beyond what anybody could comprehend. The Progenitor Empire controlled the entire Galaxy, building great cities on seemingly inhospitable worlds and dispatching armadas of starships that were so vast they blotted out all light.

    So great was their knowledge and power, that the Progenitors were supposedly able to create intelligent life. Many spacefaring civilizations, such as the Hiigarans, Taiidani, Bentusi, Assurians, Kelt, and the Micore owed their existence to the Progenitors. But there was one other marvel of technology the Progenitors created.

    Not too far from the center of the Galaxy, the Progenitors constructed a gargantuan structure. This megalith was the size of a gas giant like Saturn, and it was the centerpiece of the Progenitor’s greatest creation: The Hyperspace Network. Scattered all across the cosmos were millions of gateways, interconnecting the Galaxy and cutting interstellar travel times to the point where moving between the stars was but a trivial matter. In the middle of it all was the Eye of Aarran, this one gateway linked everything together as the beating heart of both the Galaxy and the Progenitor Empire.

    And it was all thanks to just one member of their race… or at least, that’s how the story goes.

    According to myth and legend, a Progenitor named Sajuuk built a great stellar forge in the Karos region, and there he forged the Core Trinity, the same set of Hyperspace Cores now in front of Akira and Inez. With these cores, Sajuuk unlocked the final mysteries of Hyperspace, although what those mysteries were, Akira could only guess. With these cores Sajuuk could travel to any point in the Galaxy instantaneously. The sheer distance between stars was meaningless to the Progenitors. Sajuuk could fly from Hiigara to Kharak to Partoga, Assuria, Kelta, Micanawn, to Taiidan, and to the Angel Moon in less time than it takes to read these very words. With these three Cores, there was no limit to the reach and power of the Progenitor Empire.

    And then, just ten thousand years ago… it all ended.

    Without any fanfare or warning, the Progenitor Empire simply vanished, seemingly overnight. Their cities crumbled to ruin, while all that remained of their great starships and fleets was a glittering infinity of wire, mysteries, and microcircuits. A small number of Progenitor starships survived the cataclysm. Automated warships controlled by artificial intelligence continued patrolling the Galaxy as though their masters were still alive, but the Progenitors themselves left no clue to their fate.

    With their makers gone, the Core Trinity were scattered. Eventually, the First Core was recovered by the Bentusi, who used it to set up the Outer Limb Trade Routes. The Second Core was recovered by the Hiigarans, who weaponized the Core in not one, but three major wars that changed the course of Galactic history. The Third Core was found by the Vaygr Warlord Makaan, who was a worshipper of Sajuuk. Makaan and the Vaygr started a holy war for the other two Cores, but the conflict did not turn in his favor. Makaan faced off against Karan S’jet for control of the Progenitor warship Sajuuk and lost both his life and his Core.

    The Hiigarans only held onto the Core Trinity for a few decades. The Second Hyperspace War started in 2015 and the Hyperspace Cores, along with the Progenitor Warship Sajuuk, eventually found themselves at their final resting place, just twenty-five miles above the Moon.



    As Akira finished the story, the Hiigaran Hyperspace Core finally came loose. Inez used a tether and a winch to hold the Core steady, and then she and Akira started to cut away the outer casing.

    “It feels like there’s something inside.” Inez commented. “It weighs a little more than what I was expecting.”

    Making sure to keep ahold of the Core, Akira maneuvered around to the side and found a hatch. The mechanism was jammed after being held shut for two decades, so Akira used her diamond-tipped cutter to force the door open. She gasped and nearly let go of the Core when she realized what exactly was inside.

    “Hiigarans.” Akira called out. “They’re all dead.”

    There were six bodies inside of the Core, left as they were when they perished during the War in Heaven. With great care, she extracted the remains of the Hiigaran crew. Keeping her eyes down, Akira tried her best to avoid looking at their faces, many of which were frozen in their final expressions. One by one, Akira let the five bodies drift away, until there was just one corpse remaining. Deep within the Core, Akira could see the figure of a woman who seemed to be entangled in wire and cables. She tugged on her tether to make sure it was still attached to the Ark Angel, then Akira ventured into the Hyperspace Core.

    Karan S’jet died at her post. The Hiigaran leader’s eyes were open and glassy, and she had been pulled partway out of her integration assembly by whatever force had destroyed Sajuuk. Akira cut the last remaining wires attached to the top of Karan’s head and the back of her neck and set her loose. The former Sajuuk-Khar drifted away into the darkness of space and was lost. Inez watched the bodies drift away, before waving at Akira and pressing the talk button on her radio:

    “Okay, Scarlett, we’re clear. Reel us in.”

    All of the tether cables tensed up, and the Hiigaran Hyperspace Core started moving towards the Ark Angel with its two living riders in tow. The spaceplane opened up her cargo bay doors, while Scarlett and Ingrid waved from the cockpit.

    Everything was ready.



    November 9, 2060
    High Orbit above the Moon



    A soft knocking caught Akira’s attention.

    She was sitting at the dining table, a half-eaten packet of space rations drifted lazily through the air by her head. In front of her, six tablet computers were stuck to the metal tabletop by magnets, and each screen was filled with mathematical formulas, historical research, and diagrams of timelines warped by the Butterfly Effect. Whoever was on the other side of the door knocked again, this time a little more forcefully; Akira reluctantly looked up from her work and said:

    “This better be important!”

    “I just shut down the nuclear reactor.” Inez called through the door. “Do you still have power in there?”

    Akira startled and looked around quickly. The lights were still on, and the air recycler was running perfectly. For the first time in almost two weeks, Akira’s heart started racing.

    “Internal power!?” She gasped, springing to her feet and making her way to the door. “We’re really running off the core!?”

    Akira unlocked and opened the door to find a very excited-looking Inez on the other side.

    “It’s just like Weir said in his notes.” She said. “The Progenitors clearly designed their tech to play nice with anyone who came after them. The Core just barely fits inside the cargo bay, but Scarlett was able to wire it into our grid.”

    “How do we control it?” Akira asked.

    “Interface in the cockpit.” Inez replied. “Once the core is fully charged, the sky’s the limit.”



    On Akira’s command, all loose equipment was stowed away. The cargo hold was sealed, then everybody put on their flightsuits and helmets. Once preparations were complete, the foursome gathered in the cockpit. Inez took the pilot seat. Akira filled the copilot position. Scarlett took the engineer’s station on the left, behind Akira, while Ingrid filled the right-hand engineer’s chair.

    “We’ve got to do some tests first.” Akira told the others. “To make sure the Core is working right. Scarlett, did you replace the Aetherium core with the Elerium one we took from that ADVENT ship?”

    “It fit like a glove.” Scarlett reported. “And the Navigation Computer accepted the new parameters without messing with the old ones.”

    “So that means…” Ingrid started to say.

    “It means we have the ability to Far Jump and Time Jump now.” Inez finished.

    The trio sounded eager to begin, but Akira urged caution.

    “We should test the Hyperspace function first, before we start jumping through time. Nezzie, how long would it take us to get to… uh, I dunno. The furthest, most distant place in the Solar System from here?”

    Inez screwed up her face as she thought, then she leaned forward and started to punch a command into the Navigation Computer. A moment later, she read off the results:

    “Okay, so the furthest point of interest from here is Pluto-Charon. It’s a pair of dwarf planets about forty Astronomical Units from here.”

    “How long would it take to get there on our conventional drive?” Scarlett asked.

    “If we were cruising thirty-six thousand miles per hour,” Inez replied. “It would take about ten years to reach Pluto from the Moon.”

    Akira tugged on her helmet to make sure it was secure.

    “Nezzie,” she commanded, “Do a Short Jump, put us over Pluto.”

    Everybody held their breath nervously as the Hyperspace Core spooled up.

    “Just think.” Ingrid said. “There’s only two and a half feet of solid lead protecting us from the Gamma radiation that core is putting out.”

    “Actually, let’s not think about it.” Scarlett snapped.

    The Ark Angel turned to face a distant, very dim point of light. Her engines throttled down to idle. In the cockpit, there was silence for a moment, and then Inez declared:

    “Hyperspace module fully charged!”

    Akira gave the word.

    “Engage!”

    A semitransparent wall of purple light materialized in front of the spaceplane. For a brief moment, it hung there, mesmerizing Akira with its beauty. Then, the Quantum Wavefront swept backwards, enveloping the Ark Angel. When the whole vessel was swallowed, the Wavefront dissipated and was gone. The Ark Angel, had entered Hyperspace.



    Inside the ship, Akira cried out:

    “Draw the blast curtains!”

    A dazzling white light was shining straight into the cockpit, blinding everyone. Finally, Inez managed to reach up and grab a tattered blackout curtain and pulled it across the windscreen. As the overpowering light was shut out of the cockpit, things started to get really weird.

    Right away, all of the controls stopped working, and Akira lost her sense of balance. She had no idea which way up or down or left or right. She had to jam her eyes shut because it felt like the whole of the universe was folded in half. Space and time as she perceived them suddenly stopped adding up. But closing her eyes wasn’t enough.

    Through her gift, through telekinesis, Akira could actually feel the warping of spacetime around her, as though the ship was nothing more than a flat reflection on a pool of water. Alarms began sounding in the cockpit. Akira opened her eyes to see that all of the controls were frozen now. No thrusters, no stabilizers, no reaction control of any kind. The vessel began to shake and shudder, but just as Akira was starting to worry…



    It was over.

    The Quantum Waveform appeared once more and deposited the Ark Angel in a very dark and very cold region of space. After a moment’s pause, the blackout curtain came down, and all four women gasped.

    Down below was a very small icy world. A dusty ring around the planetoid was all that remained of Charon, Pluto’s largest satellite. A horrible gash ran across Pluto’s surface, carving a path of destruction hundreds of miles long, slicing right through the center of a heart-shaped basin. The sun itself was hard to discern at this distance. From here, it seemed like just any other star. The stunned disbelief wore off after just a few moments, and Akira, full of joy, took the controls, which had started to work again.

    While her friends cheered and celebrated, Akira took the spaceplane down for a close encounter with the rings of Pluto. Akira skimmed the rings, kicking up dust and debris with the back-blast from the engines.

    “Okay, so that was a Short Jump.” Inez cried and laughed at the same time. “It’s time to try a Far Jump.”

    “Yeah, let’s see if the Progenitors really ‘solved the mysteries of Hyperspace.’” Scarlett added.

    Akira pulled up on the control column and picked a portion of the star field at random. She took one hand off the controls and pointed towards the constellation known as Leo, the lion.

    “What’s the brightest star up there?” Akira said. “Let’s see the brightest star in Leo!”

    Inez typed out a command in the Navigation Computer.

    “That’s Regulus.” Inez said. “It’s a quadruple star system. Four stars all hanging out together about seventy-nine light years from here.”

    “Four stars together?” Ingrid sounded intrigued. “I’m game. Let’s go take a look.

    “Far Jump ready?” Akira called out from the copilot seat. “Call it, Nezzie!”

    One more time, the Quantum Wavefront appeared, but this time, it was different. There was no bright light, no chaotic noise or control failure. The instant the shimmering wall of purple light washed over the ship, Akira and her companions found themselves staring at an incredible sight.

    The Regulus star system seemed to just appear out of nowhere! Akira and the others had to blink their eyes several times to fully comprehend what they were seeing. Four stars, each one a different size and shape, were dancing around one another, filling the whole system with magnificent blue and red lights. The biggest star was spinning so fast that it was bulging at the middle, something that Scarlett found to be nothing short of hilarious.

    It was her laughter that caused Akira, Ingrid, and Inez to realize the full scale of what had just happened. Very slowly, Ingrid turned to face Inez.

    “Did… did we really just go… how many light-years?”

    “Seventy-Nine.” Inez breathed. “And we did it in less than a second. That was… we just did a Far Jump.”

    Akira and Scarlett punched the air with their fists and cried out:

    “YES!”



    Now they had one half of the puzzle piece. It was time to see if they had the other.

    Less than one second after departing the Regulus system, the Ark Angel rematerialized in orbit over Earth. On board, her crew started to make preparations for their first attempt at a Time Jump. Akira and Scarlett found a spare digital clock in the living quarters and sealed it inside of a distress beacon. Then they launched the beacon into space. Scarlett got on the radio and listened to it until it was out of range. The modified distress beacon repeated the current date over and over again:

    “Today is Tuesday, November ninth, in the year 2060.”

    In the crew compartment, Ingrid used the targeting computer to take pictures of points of interest on the ground. She spotted a live volcano in Iceland, a hurricane bearing down on the American coastline, and a forest fire making its way through southern China. She made a note of these three points. Finally, Inez synchronized her analog wristwatch to the ship’s digital computer.

    “The computer should account for our movement in time.” Inez told the others. “If this works, the two won’t match up afterward. So, how far are we going for our test?”

    Akira folded her arms in thought for a moment, then said:

    “Let’s go forward one week. Today’s the ninth, so let’s go to the sixteenth.”

    This time, Akira and Inez drew the blackout curtains before engaging the Hyperspace Core. But things weren’t going to be so simple now. Time Jumping was going to require a little more work. Akira gave up the copilot seat and moved into the engineer’s station, allowing Scarlett to take her place.

    “This is where that Elerium Core is going to come in handy.” Akira told the others. “Inez, you need to program the computer for a Far Jump, but set the destination coordinates for exactly the same spot as our departure point. I’m going to use the modified Core to open a Venn Gate.”

    Scarlett, who was feeling nervous, tried to say something humorous:

    “Dimensional Gate, do you take Quantum Waveform as your lawfully wedded wife?”

    Akira used a little telepathy to ease Scarlett’s fears. The trio were so far under Akira’s power and influence now that it took very little effort for her to make them go along with what she wanted. Akira took a deep, steadying breath, and everyone else did the same.

    “This is it.” Akira breathed. “Engage.”

    A Quantum Wavefront opened up in front of the spaceplane, but this time, instead of the familiar translucent purple light, this one was bright yellow. The Wavefront swept backwards, and in less than two seconds, it was over. Everyone looked around expectantly, and a little confused.

    “Wait, that’s it?” Scarlett said. “I don’t think we even moved.”

    Akira felt her heart drop into her stomach. For just a moment, she wondered if the modified core had failed. But then she looked down at the sensors and instruments on the dashboard.

    “We moved!” Akira gasped.

    “No we didn’t.” Inez corrected her. “The universe is what moved. I think we did it!”

    Inez stood up and pulled the blackout curtains back and all four women cheered at what they saw.

    The Earth was gone. There was nothing but stars. Akira quickly looked down and pulled up the ship’s digital clock.

    “Today date is Tuesday, November 16th, 2060!” Akira cried out. “And the clock is still ticking!”

    Inez swung the nose around to face Earth. The brown and grey planet had made seven days’ worth of progress in its journey around the sun, and it was quite small in the window.

    One Far Jump later, and the Angel was over the Earth again. All four of the crew ran to find a camera to look down on the surface. Akira’s heart rose as she spotted the remnants of the Atlantic hurricane dissipating in the American northeast. Then Inez laid eyes on the wildfire in China, which had grown out of control and was making its way towards northern Vietnam. Scarlett and Ingrid had trouble finding the Iceland volcano, only to realize that it was no longer active. The cheering and clapping that rang through the ship was only amplified when someone picked up on the week-old distress beacon that repeated again and again:

    “Today is Tuesday, November 16th, in the year 2060.”

    Too excited to hold still, Akira unstrapped herself and moved to the back of the fuselage, emerging a moment later with one of her tablet computers. Her whole body was trembling with the realization that her longshot plan was just one obstacle away from being possible!

    “This, this is it!” she told the others. “I, I’ve made a list! These are all the moments in the past we would have to change in order to make our time a better one. It’s all got to do with the Butterfly Effect, see?”

    Each of Akira’s companions had seen bits and pieces of her plan before, but never the whole thing. Scarlett marveled at the list of events and asked when Akira had time to study so much history. Inez, being the least-up-to-speed on the concept of the Butterfly Effect, had to be given a quick lesson in Chaos Theory. Finally, Ingrid was the only one with a skeptical idea.

    “And you’re sure that when we reach the end of time, we’ll just loop around to the beginning? There’s no chance our atoms will be scattered to eternal nonexistence?”

    Silence fell in the spacecraft as everyone remember that this was indeed a possible outcome. Finally, Akira sighed and said:

    “It’s possible. Yes. Doctor Weir never proved if time is a line or a circle or something else, but he did theorize that there’s a chance. I have to take that chance, Ingrid. If it’s really possible to go around the end of time and back to the beginning, then I’ve gotta try. No matter what, it’ll be better than what we’re leaving behind.”

    Everyone nodded in assent. It was time to go.

    One last time, everyone strapped themselves into their seats in the cockpit. Then Akira programmed the Time Core, setting things up so that the Ark Angel would not rematerialize until after the expected lifespan of the universe itself was over. With any luck, if Doctor Weir’s predictions were correct, the ship would emerge on the far side of a second Big Bang, and the dawning of a whole new timeline. If she could get past this one final obstacle, Akira would be able to set the whole world right, build a better past, and find a Perfect Future to live in.

    “Engage Hyperspace.”

    The Quantum Wavefront and the Venn Gate opened at the same time, the Ark Angel was swallowed by a wall of shimmering yellow light…

    And then everything went wrong.




    Word Count Notification said:
    This chapter was 3970 words in length.

    The Stormbreaker Universe now has a total word count of
    1,002,766.

    I can't thank you all enough for choosing to read my story, especially those select few of you who have been here since the beginning. It's been one million words and I'm still having an absolute blast creating this epic tale. I'm looking forward to the final two chapters of this story, as well as the true grand finale of the Stormbreaker Universe.

    What a ride this as been. I'll see you on Monday for the beginning of the One Million Word Celebration. :D
     
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    The 1M Celebration, Part one
  • Macavity116

    One of the 29
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    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
    • Stellaris: Lithoids
    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
    • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    So here we are.

    The Stormbreaker Universe, a collection of childish stories I first made up out of boredom in class nearly two decades ago, has grown and expanded beyond all reason. There were dozens of disparate and disconnected tales, each one linked together and interconnected by only a single detail: a nameless evil time-traveler, motivated by selfishness and greed.

    Then I started writing things down in early 2018. I wrote three epic stories that merged my own imaginary universe with the worlds of XCOM, Homeworld, and Stellaris. If you removed all aspects of these three games, you would be left with The Legend of Whetu Kealoha, My Father’s War, Childhood Memory, and scattered bits and pieces of Faith in Chaos. That’s the world of Macavity116.

    I really thought I could end this series at The Stormbreakers. But users like @HistoryDude and my friends from the battalion couldn’t let things die there. When I completed The Stormbreakers, roughly 40% of my universe had been preserved in writing. Now we are in the final act of All Our Sins Remembered, and nearly 70% of the story and worlds I’ve invented has been posted to the internet. This week, I’ve reached a milestone I never would have thought possible just one year ago…

    The Stormbreaker Universe has officially exceeded an overall word count of…

    One.

    Million.

    To give you an idea of how utterly massive the Stormbreaker Series has become, I looked up the longest pieces of literature in Human history. Did you know somebody has written a Lord of the Rings fanfiction that is over five million words long? People are capable of writing some utterly massive stories, and now I can count myself among those people. As you can tell, I’m feeling very proud right now.

    For reference, the Stormbreaker Universe as a whole is now longer than the following published book series:
    • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy plus The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
    • The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer
    • The Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card
    • The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
    • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise by Douglas Adams
    • The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
    And by the time All Our Sins Remembered comes to an end, just a few weeks from now, this series will come within spitting distance of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise. (she wrote 1,084,170 words about a certain boy wizard) Right now, I predict I will fall short of Rowling’s benchmark by a matter of about 30,000 words, and then immediately blow past her number when I start writing The Last Heroes, the next and true final installment in the Stormbreaker Universe.

    Numbers alone do not make a book series great. Narnia, Lemony Snicket, and Anthony Horowitz’s Power of Five come to mind as examples of excellent series with shorter installments. (If you’re willing to briefly ignore the legendary, yet massive, final book in the Power of Five) Since The Legend of Whetu Kealoha, I have been attempting to make the individual chapters of my stories shorter. Have you noticed how long it’s been since I’ve made you sit through 20,000 words at once?

    But enough about numbers. It’s time to celebrate! Here’s my agenda for the festivities:
    • The Origins of the Stormbreaker Universe, plus the original version of the Akira/Jericho conflict.
    • The original ending of After Everything (As requested by @HistoryDude almost a year ago)
    • Character trivia, cool details about the characters that didn't make the final cut
    • FANART!
    • Preview: The Last Heroes
    Because I’ve got so much planned, I’m going to break up the celebration across multiple posts. We’re going to have ourselves a small party in this thread because I feel like I’ve done something awesome and I want to share my happiness and joy with you. Let’s get started!
     
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    The 1M Celebration, Part two
  • Macavity116

    One of the 29
    17 Badges
    Mar 1, 2018
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    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
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    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
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    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    The origins of the Stormbreaker Universe and some earlier versions of the story​


    So, let me tell you a little about how these stories got from my head to these forums, also what the earlier version of this universe looked like:

    As I’ve said a few times before, my little sister and I made up the majority of my characters and the base storyline for the SU roughly between 15 to 17 years ago. Back when I was young, I spent so much time daydreaming in class or drawing maps of Trecta (my fantasy world that eventually became Partoga) that a few officials at my school were worried that I might be suffering from a learning disability. Before I was ten years old, I remember being screened for ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and some kind of personality disorder by the school’s councilor. Once the term “Maladaptive Daydreaming” was coined, people started throwing that one at me too. But I was never diagnosed with anything. I just had a hyperactive imagination and was generally an out-of-control child.

    When I was in First Grade, I was the first student in the class to learn how to read fluently. All of the other kids struggled with pronunciations and syllables and context clues, unable to get through picture books without help. Meanwhile, I was in the back of the room blazing my way through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, having the time of my life. I loved reading so much that my parents built me a small library in our house.

    There were two books in particular that are directly responsible for the creation of the Stormbreaker Universe. I read them dozens (and possibly hundreds) of times and still have the badly battered copies on my shelf today: The Kid Who Ran For President and its sequel, The Kid Who Became President, both by Dan Gutman. I absolutely loved those books and constantly daydreamed about being in those stories. Over a couple of years, the fantasy changed. I imagined my dad being elected President, and I pictured myself going to the White House and having similar adventures to the eponymous kid in Gutman’s books. Those fantasies were the earliest iteration of My Father’s War.

    Back in 2006, only about twenty of the core characters existed: Blake Robinson, Princess Asami (who later became Chihiro Tachibana) and their core families existed in the “World of World War Three”. Only a select few of the incidental characters existed. These characters predate just about the entire Stormbreaker Universe. For the most part, the earliest version of My Father’s War was populated with characters from The Kid Who Became President.

    It was around the same time that I started creating the fantasy world that would eventually become Partoga. Back then, my sister and I were both intensely loyal fans of BIONICLE, a story-driven toyline produced by the LEGO Company. Over the ten years the series ran, Bionicle developed such a massive and complex story that its lore could be considered a mythology nowadays. A key aspect of Bionicle is that the story took place on an island, and the story was filled with references to the culture of the Maori people. Many of the characters in the Bionicle story were named after words in the Maori language, as were locations and certain titles.

    Starting in 2005, the LEGO Company started encouraging fans and amateur builders like myself to start creating our own Bionicle legends. My sister and I set to work right away. We built over fifty of our own custom Bionicle characters and drew up maps of our own islands. One such island I created was called “Trecta”. About three years later, I redesigned Trecta Island and made it into the world of Partoga. (Or more specifically, the Western Continent of Partoga) Here is the very first map of Trecta I ever made, all the way back in 2005:

    y4myCQOIJKca3c3FHta8E3eWlJbHTJX1ISd9D4g-vYaLati4T84PNb81hRP3jQvktSegZSji5VNoHydsjhO8D8MNJdAgrzgKMfSlGk4ILSvMpuOMqVIrjnLgR35SJ-kyPCeyYTF3eiIrtf9uxsWJJCko4uF_Xw2MYnNfY3ApUXDdY8xMZUlCpanazWFuOol5aAE

    I’ve been holding onto this map and its companions for 16 years now. Quite happy I finally get to share them. Trecta was the world I loved and enjoyed creating. I created Levakia around roughly the same time, but that island never really held my interest, and I abandoned its map without ever finishing it.

    y4mNpWlJcngVFrGGWCdlyX_kmyU5TWa4t8Y1_T_86jOHvDbLqPwVB4SzGGvVR5BSxtHzPKmMfgXDNmNyvgWZ4jcnYs1WtKBKtYtjl_rZJz1fxwiF-oOZm71rBj8k-Ea7VapOeru7NmkO4g_raEgc_0jzlHxEcl-XFQ7-QDaV5hZ3TLjZo0TvMMEfJH_g_30CnY7

    Eventually, though, I did marry the two maps and create the greater world of Partoga in the spring of 2010. If you’ve read Faith in Chaos, then you’ve already seen this map:

    y4m5R8pl1KdeNiBxHE0fQtDDDFDSwMNBV2pBNWvwPQ9o8SOhdAkeyri5VwI4bt_W5SxKfWRtnzR94HJKnZYpbMjF_JaLzHTflQAZP5vqMvMUNajbORU8ZgpnT-haOb8kXXyI05qgYx6vglEtUdIXFj3ojF30I9cJOK0xUCT2br8WfH8fxINHOEIhTkDW8Y8RZMU

    For years, I would just keep adding to the world of Trecta/Partoga, creating characters and places, but not writing any stories in the sense you and I would think of. I created a history of the world, to explain why certain places were where they were, or how certain characters came to live in which town or whatever. Out of fealty to the Bionicle mythology, I preserved the tradition of basing the culture of my island people off that of the Maori. Sometime around 2015 is when I stopped modeling the Partogans after the Maori and decided that they just were Maori after all.

    It wasn’t until 2008 when I started creating “Partoga stories” in earnest. About a year after I started creating the islands of Levakia and Trecta/Partoga, I joined my school’s concert band as a trombonist. We participated in a sight-reading competition in the spring of 2008 and we were given “Straight 1’s” by the judges. (the highest possible score)

    For those of you who don’t know, a Sight-Reading contest is when musicians are challenged to perform a piece of music they have never seen, read, nor heard before. During this competition, the song we played was a concert piece called “Regenesis: Song of the Planet” by John Higgins.

    I absolutely fell in love with the song, not just because of the melody and tone, but because of the movie that is supposed to accompany the music. As we performed the song, a video played for the audience, showing a slideshow of images of Mount St. Helens National Park. The pictures were taken before, during, and after the volcanic eruption of 1980. The music started out happy and cheerful before growing ominous and dark. Then the "cataclysm" occurred. The song ended on a theme of hope and rebirth.

    I was especially enamored with the final two sections of the song, "Void" and "Renewal," which depict the devastation and eventual restoration of Mt. St. Helens National Park. I remember that I wanted to see some kind of story that took place during this kind of event. I wasn't interested in seeing the actual disaster. I wanted a story set during the aftermath. That's how I got the general idea for The Legend of Whetu Kealoha, the first of many stories set in the world of Partoga. But the story wouldn’t come together in a way that I can recognize for another three years or so.

    And in a nutshell, that’s really how the seeds Stormbreaker Universe were sown. I just kept adding things on top of what was already there. I got into videogames at the age of six, and I was playing Homeworld by age 8, so I don’t remember exactly when the Partogans and Levakians became spacefaring Homeworld factions, but it was definitely before I turned twelve.

    XCOM and Stellaris came much later. Around 2017.

    I also want to shed some light what I consider to be the central three elements of the Stormbreaker Universe.

    All three elements kinda happened at once, but I can’t tell you when they were added because they were kinda always there. In fact, one of the centermost elements of the Stormbreaker Universe predates the SU itself:

    The three elements are:
    • Time Travel
    • Jericho
    • The Paradox
    When I was young, I grew up with a lot of science fiction, and Time Travel was a constant feature in the media I was consuming. I watched every episode of Star Trek: Enterprise as the show aired, and I loved the concept of a Temporal Cold War, with sci-fi warriors using history itself as a battlefield and the future up for grabs. In my own stories, I imagined a very lopsided Temporal Cold War, where only the evil side had access to a time machine and the heroes had to play a really long game against them. That’s kind of where the Paradox came from. She started out as a nebulous enemy with no face or voice, acting from the shadows to change history until one of my heroes noticed she was active and took action.

    In each and every story I made up, there was always a moment of interference, where the Paradox would somehow show up and cause the plot to take a turn. The first thing she ever did in one of my stories was interfere with a love triangle. She intercepted and got rid of a boy who was rivalling Blake Robinson for Asuna/Chihiro’s affections. Sometimes the Paradox would be present for only a short while, making her changes and then disappearing. On other occasions, she would be present from beginning to end.

    The Paradox got her face and personality before she was ever named, and for that, you can blame my dad. When I was in elementary school, he bought me an educational computer game called “Jump Start Adventures Third Grade”. All you need to know about this point-and-click adventure for children is that it contains the character who directly inspired the Paradox and her modus operandi:

    y4m7tx46-7FLFKmudGPpBO7fu_whK-8vQt4fXHk3IapCRLOgJ3GmwVK0MW-Aql6xGVjnTHKEuvkec6NiDrSEbpns_7S8viyJE1Uc7WVj03O2bOCFhohWE41sxWFrVu_4wZst0g4GYICi8DLcp6FABqc-9RCrQinZTDL_dFaW_mJ96-movvp28JwU16O-81c5YUw

    This is Polly Spark. She was the game’s main antagonist. Of course, this was an educational game for kids, so she’s nowhere near as bad as Akira. However, she does use a stolen time machine to re-write the past so she could get a passing grade on a history quiz, which is pretty awesome and instantly qualifies her for the role of “supervillain” in my mind. And who doesn’t love an eight-year-old supervillain!?

    Selfish, kinda petty, prone to snide insults, and harboring a complete disregard for everyone except herself, this was the innermost core of Akira Robinson’s character. Everything else about her was built on this template. When I first created the Paradox, she was a middle-aged woman, but I eventually reduced her age to make her more similar to Polly, taking the Paradox all the way down to her teenage years.

    Akira got her name from the 1988 anime movie of the same name. In fact, a very large number of Japanese characters who appear in my stories are named after anime characters. I’m just a fan of the art form.

    As for Jericho herself?

    She was added to the story around the same time as the Paradox, and I always intended for her to be the messianic savior of mankind; kinda like a futuristic female Christ-like figure. To that end, I wanted to give her a very meaningful name, so I looked up a list of the oldest cities on Earth. Eventually, Jericho was named after a town in the West Bank of Palestine that is allegedly 11,000 years old.

    The earliest version of Jericho was radically different from where she is now, but there is one detail that is more important than all others:

    Jericho and Akira were supposed to be sisters.

    Yup. Let that sink in.

    Jericho was going to be Blake and Chihiro’s daughter.

    The dual characters of Asuna/Himawari were created explicitly to replace Jericho after I removed her from the Robinson family. That’s also why the Ray and Robinson families have an identical makeup. (African-American man marries a Japanese woman, has a daughter who goes on to do incredible things) I built Jericho’s new parents to match her own ethnicity; which in hindsight may have been a bad idea, because two of the central families in the story are now indistinguishable.

    Jericho and Akira were originally going to be twins, and Jericho’s name was going to be Asuna. I originally planned for them to be the “Great Nemesis” pair, with their battles against one another being a main part of my own Temporal War. Ever noticed that on the rare occasion I describe Akira’s outfit, she always seems to be wearing white? The twins were supposed to be color-coded:

    Akira, thinking herself to be a hero, always wore white and acted as though she was the most morally upright person in the room.

    Asuna (Proto-Jericho) would dress in black and behaved like an anti-hero. Some small vestiges of this early version of the character can be seen in The Stormbreakers if you know where to look. (Doesn’t the final version of Jericho seem slightly anti-social to you?)

    The characters of Jericho and Asuna were separated from each other when I decided to change Jericho’s lifespan. Originally, Jericho and Akira were supposed to be born during the final minutes of the War in Heaven, and then meet their destiny during the Rescue at Cape Canaveral 50 years later. (This is the only major battle of the SU that has not been shown in one of my stories yet)

    After I decided Jericho and Akira weren’t going to be twins anymore, Jericho’s youth and messianic adventure were moved to the Second Hyperspace War (2015 to 2036) instead of the War of the Paradox. (2084 to 2086) And don’t worry dear readers, you’ll get to see the War of the Paradox and its epic final battle, the Rescue at Cape Canaveral, during the tenth and final installment of the Stormbreaker Universe: “The Last Heroes

    Oh, and I know that there’s a very high chance @HistoryDude might ask this question, so I’m going to head him off at the pass:

    How was this early version of the Stormbreaker conflict supposed to end?

    I was planning for the tale to end with an epic Star Wars style showdown in which Akira and Asuna/Jericho fought in a massive Psionic battle that destroys everything around them. Finally, with the fate of the Galaxy in the balance, both women would simultaneously strike and kill each other to end the war.

    I think it goes without saying, but the less I say about the movie Batman v Superman, the better.

    Thank you for joining my discussion of the origins of the Stormbreaker Universe, and I hope you enjoyed this look at what could have been.

    See you tomorrow for the original ending of After Everything!
     
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    The 1M Celebration, Part three
  • Macavity116

    One of the 29
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    Mar 1, 2018
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    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
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    So here's an offering with a story behind it. When I first wrote After Everything, it took approximately two months for me to write the final chapter. This is because I threw out the half of the chapter and re-wrote it from scratch. Occasionally, I made reference to the lost ending in comments, and once The Stormbreakers wrapped, a user named @HistoryDude asked to see the original ending. Sadly, by this time, the ending was lost to time. So, to celebrate one million words, I sat down and attempted to recreate the original ending of After Everything completely from memory.

    This recreation is far from perfect and is about 5,000 words shorter than the lost ending. The plot is compressed and some of the finer details are probably gone forever, but I think this captures all of the important parts of what could have been.

    Dear Readers, please consider the following:


    After Everything – A Stellaris Story

    An attempted recreation of the original ending



    “Long live Emily! Long live the Queen!”

    The celebratory chant was taken up by all of the surrounding soldiers. Their voices, their chants of “Long live the Queen!” echoed powerfully off the walls of Archer’s Canyon, rebounded across the pulverized slopes of the Unnamed Mountain, deflected off the dense ceiling of smoke and ash before returning to the blackened ground that had once been Fort Miranda.

    Amidst the celebrations, Mira felt her strength waning again. She knew that she was probably going to collapse in a few minutes. Mira wasn’t sure if she’d ever wake up again, and there was just one thing left to do before then.

    While Maki started organizing messengers to spread word of the armistice, Mira slipped away from the group and climbed into the wreckage of the old chapel. Despite the loss of her powers, she seemed to know what was waiting for her inside.

    The End of the Cycle was curled up on the floor near the altar like a hibernating beast. It stirred as Mira approached. She was expecting whatever had happened to Manaaki to happen to her as well. When the seconds ticked by with no Void Rift appearing, Mira felt confused.

    THE END IS ALREADY HERE.

    The monster rose to its feet and regarded Mira one last time.

    THIS IS YOUR RECKONING.

    And then it was gone, leaving Mira filled with a rapidly growing sense of paranoia.



    A loud noise and some yelling outside the chapel caught Mira’s attention. She looked away for a brief moment to see what was going on, but when she looked back, the Whisperers in the Void had disappeared.

    “Mira! Mira, where’d you go?”

    Maki burst into the ruined chapel, two of her bodyguards behind her.

    “There you are!” said Maki, clutching her chest and panting, “Don’t run away like that. What are you doing?”

    Mira instinctively padded down her pockets. She was getting the strong sense that she’d lost something important but couldn’t remember what it was.

    “Don’t worry about me. I’m just looking for a ride back to the Midak. I, uh… I think I left something on board.”

    Before Maki could inquire further, Mira stumbled out of the ruins and started making her way back to the Monarchist base.



    The next day, after the Unnamed Mountain woke up, the remaining members of the crew of the Midak gathered together outside the spaceport in Wanaka District, a region of urban landscape on the southern side of Partoga City, where the mega-metropolis bordered the toxic jungles of Rahkshian. Of course, the one thing the crew really wanted to do was sleep and rest following their harrowing ordeal. After the twin battles of Nithascal and Archer’s Canyon, most of the Midak crew just wanted to sleep for days on end.

    But the military crew still had military obligations. Now that the mission was over, Captain Rangi insisted everybody report to the spaceport for a final debriefing. Perhaps out of mercy, Rangi did allow the men and women of the Midak to sit down in the grassy lawn in front of the terminal. Moana Ranginui and Tai Whiu arrived separately, both looking upset. The duo pushed past several of their crewmates to reach the captain.

    “Rangi!” Moana called out. “Have you seen Mihaka?”

    “No, afraid I haven’t.” Rangi said. “She must be running late.”

    “No way she’s late.” Tai said. “Last night, Mira said she had a nagging feeling she left something important on the Midak, and that she was going to talk to you about going up to the ship in the morning. We thought she was already here, talking to you.”

    The Captain was dumbfounded.

    “No, she definitely wasn’t here.” He said. “Are you sure she left before you?”

    Moana, Tai, and the Captain had themselves a back and forth for several minutes, trying to figure out where their friend had gone, but their conversation was abruptly cut short by the wail of sirens coming from the spaceport behind them. The officers and their crew looked around to see what was going on, just in time to hear the roar of engines. A Corvette-class starship rose up and away from the spaceport while two uniformed men carrying assault rifles yelled into their radios:

    “Call headquarters! Code red! A starship was just stolen from Wanaka Spaceport. Suspect is a middle-aged woman with grey hair and an eyepatch.”

    “Grey hair?” Moana repeated.

    “Eyepatch?” Tai breathed.

    Moana reacted first. She sprinted away from the group and grabbed one of the soldiers.

    “Sir! That suspect, who stole the spaceship, was that Mira Mihaka!?”



    About fifty Kios above the ground, and getting higher with every second, Mira pushed the control column up, nosing her stolen ship towards the orbit where the Midak had been abandoned. She had to blink her one remaining eye a lot because she was feeling dangerously exhausted, and it took all of her concentration just to stay awake. Even so, she mumbled and whispered to herself as she piloted the ship.

    “Doesn’t make any sense. Can’t add up. Need more data.”

    There was a crackle of static as the radio console came to life, and the voice of Moana Ranginui came out of the receiver.

    “Mira? Mira are you there? Answer me!”



    Down on the ground, Moana, Tai, and Captain Rangi were standing on the bridge of the HMS Dervish, where a communications officer was helping them call Mira. The man twisted a dial and pressed his headset into his ears, focusing intensely.

    “Got her.” He said. “She’s got a hot mic... either that or she’s just holding down the talk button... but, this is weird. I think she’s talking to herself. Listen.”

    The officer flipped a speaker switch. Mira’s voice was piped onto the bridge for everyone to hear.

    “Call’em back later.” Said Mira’s voice. It was soft and quiet, barely more than a mumble. “When I’ve got the answer.”

    “Answer?” Moana repeated. “What answer?”

    “The answer.” Mira muttered to herself again. “I just gotta know. The answer. Answers. Gotta know.”

    Moana moved away from the comms station.

    “And just what are you doing?” Captain Rangi asked.

    “What does it look like?” Moana said. “I’m going after her. Are you gonna help, or do I have to commandeer this ship!?”

    Minutes later, the HMS Dervish leapt off the launchpad and screamed into space, chasing down Mira’s stolen ship.



    Racing away from Partoga, the battered Assault Frigate couldn’t accelerate as quickly as Mira’s little Corvette. No matter how hard Captain Rangi burned the engines, there was no way to beat Mira to her destination. All the while, Mira continued muttering and murmuring into her microphone, seemingly unaware of the fact that it was transmitting.

    “Answer’s out there... gotta find the answer. Need to find the answer.”

    Tai got on the radio and called out:

    “Mira! It’s Tai. What’s this answer you’re looking for? Tell us the question, and maybe we can help you!”

    “The only answer...” Mira wasn’t really talking. Each word she spoke came out as a sigh. “There’s only one question... just one answer. Gotta find it... answer’s out there somewhere...”

    “She’s lost her mind.” Moana breathed.

    “I don’t think she’s totally insane yet.” Rangi replied. “Would a person with a broken brain be able to dock a starship?”

    He pointed to the sensors manager. Mira had reached the Midak. The science vessel was badly damaged from its run-in with the Green Guard, but was still intact. Mira’s corvette rotated along its longitudinal axis and smoothly connected to the Midak’s ventral docking port.

    “There’s a second docking port on the port side!” Captain Rangi said. “It lets out on Deck One, so we’ll catch her as she goes for the power plant.”

    The Dervish maneuvered around to the Midak’s port side and docked on the first try. Because the Midak was powered down, the airlock doors had to be forced open, which took a few extra minutes, but Moana, Tai, and Rangi finally forced their way aboard the science vessel. The Midak’s bridge was dark and cold.

    “Power’s still out!” Tai said, teeth chattering.

    “Good!” said Rangi. “That means we can stop her from spooling up the ship!”

    The trio raced down four decks to the power plant. Mira wasn’t there, and Rangi theorized she was still trying to force the airlock on Deck Four. Tai and Moana posted themselves by the door, ready to catch Mira and try to talk to her, but the opportunity didn’t come.

    Lights started clicking on all over the ship. Air cycled through the vents, and a gentle hum-hum-hum started to sound from the engine room one deck above. The ship was powering up! Behind Moana, Tai, and Rangi, the Midak’s power plant (a pressurized water nuclear reactor) began to make a very loud noise as it ramped up to full steam.

    “What the!?” Rangi gasped. “How did she start the reactor without touching it!?”

    “Telepathy.” Moana groaned. “She must be using those Human gauntlets.”

    Then there was an absolutely massive crash, followed by the ship jolting violently from side to side. Everyone screamed:

    “What’s happening!?”

    What happened was this: the Midak fired up her engines and accelerated to flank speed. The Assault Frigate Dervish wasn’t ready for the sudden maneuver, and the stresses of the sudden acceleration caused the Midak’s docking port to fail. The Dervish broke free of the stricken science vessel and tumbled away while the Midak made her escape with Tai, Moana, and Rangi still on board.

    Further compounding the problem, the damaged docking port caused part of Deck One to depressurize. Emergency bulkheads slammed down and locked, shutting everybody into whatever room they were already in. Moana, Rangi, and Tai were suddenly trapped in the same room as the power plant, and Mira was presumably locked in whatever part of the ship she ended up in.

    Yelling in fury, Captain Rangi ran for the nearest computer console and started trying to override the bulkhead door controls. Meanwhile Moana grabbed Tai by the shoulder and said:

    “Hang on, if Mira’s using her powers again, that means she can hear our thoughts.”

    Moana closed her eyes and focused her mind.

    “Mira.” She said to herself. “We don’t know what’s wrong or what’s happening, but we’re your friends, and we wanna help you. Please... is there anything we can do?”

    A few moments later, the emergency bulkhead door unlatched and opened, allowing the trio to leave the power plant.

    “Nice one, Captain!” Tai said.

    Captain Rangi looked up from the computer console.

    “That wasn’t me, Whiu. Mihaka opened the door.”

    In fact, Mira had opened two bulkhead doors. She allowed her comrades to leave the power plant, and she’d also given them access to...

    “That’s Radiation Shelter number three!” Tai said, pointing to one of the doors in the next room.

    “It’s the only door that's open.” Moana said. “I think that’s Mira’s way of saying she’s going to do a Hyperspace jump. We should get in.”

    Moana was right. As soon as all three crewmates clambered into the shelter with lead-lined walls, the doorways slammed shut behind them and the Hyperspace alarm started to sound.

    “You know what this means.” Moana breathed. “She’s inside the Hyperspace module again.”

    Tai and Rangi both shuddered.

    “What the hell happened to her in there?” Rangi wondered.

    “The Hyperspace module must have scrambled her brains.” Tai said. “She was different after touching it the first time.”

    “I guess there’s nothing to do but wait.” Moana concluded. “Settle in, everyone.”



    Using her powers, Mira induced the Midak to perform a Hyperspace jump. Moana, Tai, and Rangi saw the wall of purple light pass through them as the Midak was swallowed and then released by the Quantum Wavefront. Strangely, though, the shelter doors didn’t open. Tai almost panicked. Slamming his fists against the lead-lined door, Tai yelled:

    “Hey Mira! Are you gonna let us out!?”

    The answer, apparently, was no.

    Tai, Moana, and Rangi had no choice but to wait inside of the Radiation Shelter for something to happen. And after nearly half an hour of waiting, something did indeed happen. There were many loud groans and creaks of metal, as though the ship was being pulled apart by a pair of giant hands. Rangi cursed.

    “Is this really how we’re going to die? I thought we were past this!”

    Then, just as suddenly as it started, the groaning stopped. The shelter door finally unlocked and opened, while at the same time, Mira’s voice spoke up in the minds of all three of her crewmates:

    “I’m on the bridge. Come to me.”

    The trio moved cautiously up the ladders, returning to Deck One. Mira was indeed on the bridge, but there was more to see than just her.

    The viewscreen was lit up, showing a view from one of the cameras mounted on the Midak’s nose. The ship was in a region of space filled with light, so much light in fact, that most of the stars were obscured and hidden from view. A massive ring-shaped object hung in the sky some distance ahead of the Midak.

    Mira herself was standing in front of the viewscreen, and she looked even worse than she had during the aftermath of her fight with Manaaki. Her grey hair was now so frizzy, it looked as though she’d been electrified. Mira’s one remaining eye was very bloodshot. She hadn’t been sleeping. Mira was also swaying on her feet in a very unsteady fashion, like a sailor on the ocean who doesn’t have their sea legs.

    Moana quickly raced across the bridge and hugged Mira. Tai hung back to look at the strange ring in space, while Captain Rangi brought up a sensors manager and tried to figure out where the Midak even was.

    “Mira!” Moana cried. “What’s happening? What’s going on? Why are you doing this!?”

    Mira’s one eye was glassed over and unfocused, when she spoke, it was in a far-off, dreamy kind of way. She wasn’t fully present in the moment.

    “There’s an answer I need to find.” Mira breathed. “It’s out there somewhere.”

    She raised a finger and pointed to the screen. Thousands of Kios away, the gargantuan ring loomed in space, just hovering there, motionless.

    “It’s there. I have to go.” Mira mumbled, “Find the answer.”

    “The answer to what?” Moana asked. “What’s the question?”

    “Not a question you can understand.” Mira muttered. “I barely understand. Might be beyond me, but I need to know. I’ve gotta find the answer.”

    “Where’s the answer?” Moana pressed. “Where are you trying to go?”

    Mira pointed at the ring on the screen. Meanwhile, Captain Rangi had figured something out:

    “Uh, Ranginui. I think I know what that thing is.”

    He tapped the screen of the sensors manager.

    “It’s a Hyperspace Gate.” Rangi explained. “Built by the old Progenitor Empire, roughly fifty-thousand years ago.”

    Moana and Tai both looked at one another in shock. They remembered their history lessons from childhood. The Progenitors were a powerful race who invaded, conquered, and then ruled over the entire Galaxy roughly one million years ago. Then, a mere ten thousand years ago, the entire Progenitor species died out in a very sudden fashion. All of their ships and technology were left behind, and Progenitor ruins were scattered across all of creation.

    “This gate...” Mira muttered. “Progenitors made it. It goes to Balcora. The answer is in Balcora.”

    Captain Rangi clicked a few buttons on the console and brought up a star chart on the screen.

    Balcora was a cluster of supermassive black holes, located near the very center of the Galaxy. This particular star chart contained a two-hundred-year-old note that said the region of space surrounding Balcora was totally uninhabitable. Moana took one look at this note and then grabbed Mira by the shoulders, saying:

    “No! Absolutely not! You can’t go there, you’ll die!”

    “The answer’s in there.” Mira mumbled. “Gotta go. No choice.”

    Mira reached into the pocket of her coat and produced a tablet computer. Then, for the first time since yesterday, she had a moment of genuine lucidity. Mira’s red eye suddenly unglossed and looked directly into Moana’s eyes. Mira spoke in a clear voice:

    “I’m gonna be fine, Moana. I have... something to do with my powers... that’ll keep me safe. I’m gonna go in and come back. Please, please, hold onto this for me until I come back. I swear to you, I will come back.”

    Frightened by Mira’s sudden return to clarity, Moana hesitated, but then she took the tablet and nodded. Mira gazed at Captain Rangi and Tai in turn, then she left the bridge. The trio followed her as she travelled down four decks to the ventral docking port. All the way, Mira started to mutter to herself again, and Moana realized that Mira was losing her mind again:

    “Go in, get the answer, come out. Too easy, should be quick. All I have to do is find the answer. Just gotta do that one thing. In, then out. The answer... that’s all I need. Just have to find then answer.”

    Tai, Moana, and Rangi could only watch in stunned silence as Mira stepped through the airlock and entered her stolen Corvette. She sealed the docking port, powered up her little ship, and then undocked from the Midak. The trio raced back up to the bridge and used the viewscreen to watch Mira’s Corvette fly away. Mira’s ship passed through the ring of the Hyperspace Gate and vanished. She was gone, and knowing Progenitor technology, she had already rematerialized in the Balcora region, surrounded on all sides by some of the largest and most dense black holes in the Galaxy. Moana, Tai, and Rangi could only wonder what kind of answer could be found there... if any at all.

    “Now what?” Moana asked. “Do we wait for her to come back?”

    “I don’t know.” Tai answered. “But I want to wait for her. If you want, we can take this ship back to Partoga, and I can get another vessel.”

    “No.” Said Rangi. “She’s still our crewmate, and our friend. I’m willing to wait right here, if you are too.”

    “I’ll wait.” Said Moana. “I owe her that.”

    “Agreed.” Tai said. “We’ll wait.”

    And so... the trio sat down in the various chairs around the bridge, patiently checking the life support systems and preparing themselves for the long wait. Moana, Tai, and Rangi were determined to stay put and wait for Mira to come back.

    They would wait for their friend to return.


    THE END.
     
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  • Macavity116

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    Mar 1, 2018
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    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
    • Stellaris: Lithoids
    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
    • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    There are literally hundreds of characters in the Stormbreaker Universe; (upwards of 350 at this point) and not all of them get their time in the spotlight. The ones that do take an obvious backseat to the seven main protagonists of the SU, meaning you, the reader, don’t get to learn as many details about the supporting cast. I’d like to take a moment to fix that.

    First off, as I just said, the SU has seven main protagonists (in order of creation):
    • Blake Robinson (2005)
    • Whetu Kealoha (2005)
    • Toa Wahine Mami Tamihana (2006)
    • Inez Espinosa (2011)
    • Jericho (2015)
    • Akira Robinson (2015)
    • Mira Mihaka (2018)
    So I won’t be talking about any of the above characters today. It’s the smaller actors I wanna drum up. So, from the beginning to now:

    • After Everything – A Stellaris Story
      • Commander Anika Aranui was being impersonated by a member of Akira Robinson’s crew. Specifically, it was an alternate version of her from another timeline. Throughout the entire book; you, the reader, never actually met the real Anika. The real Anika Aranui has never appeared in any of these stories. Since I did not start describing people’s physical appearances until Faith in Chaos, there is no way this one was ever going to be discovered.
      • Manaaki Ranginui was originally going to murder his own puppet, the false Queen Aronui, and then try to defect over to the Monarchist faction in order to save his own skin. The Eater of Worlds would have been the one to exact final justice upon him in this scenario.
      • Kaia Patariki was supposed to be the last living member of the Patariki family, one of the three powerful clans who constantly warred with one another for control of the Kingdom of Partoga. (The other two are the Mihaka and Ranginui families) I simply forgot to include this bit of worldbuilding in the book.
    • Faith in Chaos – A Stellaris Story
      • Sebakhira was originally named Bombalurina. All of the references to the Broadway musical “Cats” were getting kinda numerous at the time, so I changed the character’s name about ten hours before her introductory chapter was posted.
      • Queen Marie the Scholar was murdered by Akira Robinson. @Kylia Quilor predicted this one, but she got the perpetrator and means of murder incorrect. The method of Marie’s death wasn’t really important to the story. All that mattered was that she kicked the bucket. The 16-year-old Queen was not poisoned by the Church of the Mountain, she was repeatedly subjected to Psionic Insanity by the Paradox over many months. Eventually, her heart simply gave out.
      • Enutanga is a stage name. The Galaxy’s biggest pop star hasn’t used her real name since becoming a solo act. Her birth name was “Hina Mihaka”. She is named after a goddess in Maori/Partogan mythology who (depending on what source you look at) is either the sister or wife of the demigod Māui.
      • Irirangi Ranginui is the original villain of this story. When I first made up the story of “Extinction” back in the late 2010’s, Irirangi was the central villain, not Akira. She was secretly the architect of the Levakian Uprising, manipulating King Emerdon and other lions. Ultimately, Irirangi would have used the war as a way to dethrone Toa Mami and take her place as Queen.
    • My Sistership – A Short Stellaris Story
      • Ahorangi Mihaka was the mother of Manako and Makara Ranginui, and the youngest child of Toa Mami. She was also the very first member of the Mihaka family to marry into the Ranginui family, creating a bridge between two clans that have been feuding and fighting for over 500 years. I intended her to be a sly reference to Shakespeare’s character Juliet Capulet, who also crossed familial battle-lines for the man she loved. Ahorangi died in childbirth and never met her twin children.
    • Childhood Memory
      • The (Unnamed) US Secretary of War who talks about the fall of Communism in Europe is Donald Rumsfeld. In real-life, Rumsfeld served as Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2006. There is no difference between the fictional Rumsfeld and the real one aside from their job titles and the President they served under.
    • The Stormbreakers – A Stellaris Story
      • Alexis Alexander is a character from the video game Command and Conquer Generals – Zero:Hour She’s not the only C&C character who appears in the Stormbreaker Universe, but she’s definitely the one who gets the most attention.
      • Lee Chong-Il used to be my own alias. In 2013, my school’s Model UN team represented North Korea at a big conference in New York City at the real UN Headquarters. When I attended the conference as a delegate of the DPRK, I created a North Korean persona for myself. Throughout the whole Model UN session, I would only answer to the name Lee Chong-Il and I won an award for staying “in-character” the whole week.
      • Wendy Carter is descended from William Carter. In this universe, we assume the player chose to spare William’s life at the end of the video game The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. Considering that William canonically has a dead wife and son before the events of the game start, I’ll leave the story of how his line continued unsolved. There’s a lot for that man to unpack.
      • Violet was added to the story after it already started. She is a major antagonist from the game XCOM Chimera Squad, which was released three months after The Stormbreakers started. To make matters worse, that game takes place after the events of the book, so Violet is one of the very few characters in this story to have genuine plot armor.
      • Erin Hyatt was meant to be an easter egg for myself. Remember, when I first started writing The Stormbreakers – A Stellaris Story, I wasn’t planning to write The Last Heroes at the time. However, even though I wasn’t planning to actually write the story and post it to these forums, I had already made up the tale of The Last Heroes and I had most of the plot and characters figured out. Hyatt is a major player in that story, and I created the character all the way back in 2011. Truth be told, Hyatt is one of my favorite characters in the SU, and once I started writing The Stormbreakers, I decided to fudge her date-of-birth a little so she could appear in the story. (Originally, she was born after the War in Heaven) I guess the easter egg is a retcon now. :p
      • Duane Gardner and Yutaka Yamamoto were seriously toned down. Like, you have no idea. Occasionally in the past, I’ve made references in the past that I am constantly tempted to take the story in very dark directions, and that I engage in self-censorship on a very frequent basis. These two characters were both, at one point, in a romantic relationship with Jericho. BOTH of them treated her in a very controlling and abusive way. Trust me when I say that behind closed doors, those two men were the worst monsters Jericho ever had to face.
    • The Legend of Whetu Kealoha
      • The Levakian Empress was originally named “Grizabella”. Again, this is a reference to Cats. Just like Faith in Chaos, I was trying to reduce the number of blatant references to one of my favorite musicals.
      • Mamru Kealoha single-handedly assured the continued existence of the Kealoha family line. Whetu Kealoha’s brother used his newfound status as the sibling of royalty to bed many women. Even though the Kealoha family name has since died out, the warrior clan’s bloodline is very prevalent in Partogan society, to the point where a sizable percentage of the Partogan population can trace their lineage back to this guy.
    • On the Crossroads of Past and Future
      • UN Secretary-General Pascal Etienne is based on Andrew Johnson, who was President of the United States from 1865 to 1869. Etienne was not born blind, but rather he lost his eyesight at a young age due to an illness. During his tenure as Earth’s ruler, Etienne oversaw the installation of technologies that made the UN government much more accessible to blind people.
    • My Father’s War
      • Chelsea Daniels, June Syers, and Pete Guerra are all characters from the book The Kid Who Became Presidentby Dan Gutman
        • Chelsea is similar to her book counterpart, but in my story, she is not as self-centered. She does, however, retain her incredibly good looks and her aspirations to become a model.
        • June is also Vice President in Gutman’s book, but in his book, she becomes President upon the resignation of her predecessor.
        • Pete has been promoted in my story relative to Gutman’s. He has a high-profile job as a TV journalist in My Father’s War whereas he struggles to get out of zoo stories while working at a newspaper in The Kid Who Ran for President.
      • Irisha Kimoto is Irina Khakamada. This character is completely identical to the very real woman who is a current member of the Russian government. Kimoto and Khakamada have the same backstory and similar family histories.
      • Christopher Wright is named after the forum user @HistoryDude, who has left more comments on of my stories than any other person. Throughout the story, Wright is referred to by the nickname “The History Dude”.
    • All Our Sins Remembered
      • Rafi Bakir, Emanuel Espinosa, Ingrid Tsiajotso, Pascal Etienne, David Sepulveda, and Scarlett Freeman are all characters from The Last Heroes, a story I’ve been dreaming up for the past ten years. I’m planning to start posting The Last Heroes to this forum within the next five months.
    • The Last Heroes
      • Scarlett Freeman has had her physical appearance changed more than any other character. Her hair, eye, and skin color fluctuates during her time as Director of the Internal Security Office; it should be noted that this is mostly because of her work as a spymaster. Without any makeup or holograms, Scarlett naturally has platinum-blonde hair, green eyes, and white skin.
      • Cassandra Espinosa is the only Gifted character left in my universe who does not follow XCOM rules. After I married XCOM’s version of Psionics to my own, all of the Psionics you see in the Stormbreaker Universe have been modified to follow the rules laid out in those games. Cassandra herself predates the modern XCOM series. When you see her using the Gift, she will be following the rules laid out in the original “Magic System” I made up a decade ago. She will have far less control over her powers than what you’ve seen in previous installments in this series, and her use of Psionics will be far more chaotic than what you, dear readers, are used to.
      • Varian Robinson was supposed to be transgender, but I got cold feet. When I originally created this character, the plan was for Varian to start out as a man and slowly transition to a woman over the course of the story. But then @JackGoose posted a Stellaris story called Trancendental Spaces. That story prominently featured a trans character and did the subject matter true justice. I was worried that if I brought Varian into the story, I might be accused of trying to piggyback off @JackGoose’s hard work. So I decided to drop the trans part of Varian’s character. But I really liked the idea of having Varian struggle with his (or her) gender identity. So Varian remains vaguely androgynous. Also, if Varian was wholly male, his name would be Victor. If Varian was wholly female, her name would be Victoria.
      • Corder Leang is my attempt to include a genuine anime-style catgirl in the series while attempting to avoid making reference to catgirl tropes and stereotypes for as long as humanly possible. Of course, now that I’ve said something, I have to restart the clock.
    This was fun, thanks for joining me.

    Tomorrow should be just as much fun. FANART!
     
    Last edited:
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  • Macavity116

    One of the 29
    17 Badges
    Mar 1, 2018
    1.537
    1.127
    archiveofourown.org
    • Stellaris
    • Stellaris: Nemesis
    • Stellaris: Necroids
    • Crusader Kings III
    • Stellaris: Federations
    • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
    • Stellaris: Apocalypse
    • Stellaris: Distant Stars
    • Stellaris: Megacorp
    • Stellaris: Lithoids
    • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
    • Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn
    • Stellaris: Humanoids Species Pack
    • Stellaris: Ancient Relics
    • Stellaris: Digital Anniversary Edition
    FANART!!
    Okay, this one needs a short explanation:

    So, back in the spring of 2021, I was on active duty with the US military. To summarize, our medical battalion was helping fight the pandemic in the Detroit area. About four months in, the Detroit city government was so happy with our work that each soldier got a signed certificate of appreciation from the city government. Military leadership piled on and started handing out awards and medals to us. I got caught in the shower of appreciation and decided that I wanted to celebrate in my own way.

    So I logged onto my Reddit account and put out my request for fanart. I wanted some cool artwork of characters from the Stormbreaker Universe and I was not disappointed. I got just under a dozen responses. In the end, I commissioned several artists and received a few more artworks at no cost. Some of these artworks have already been retroactively added to previous stories in the series. You can see some new art in The Stormbreakers and The Legend of Whetu Kealoha.

    So dear readers, please enjoy the results of my call for fanart:


    Artwork by u/ace_pade

    "Jericho" by Ace Pade

    y4mw4fXZHcr7oNBw9H-lOIVlemcemuu--mEx2E7_JOYcsNYnXZXrkGH09jKH-3YXGgxXiVmdullTrgCn7z2otH2xBmTlATZqjj0An2oUcoH1EsjRZp4DTeMC4_GWqhA6_DKElHeEfNZFljRDBhW7FehqgpgK27Pk9lP-mCMeo2xPAaG92QjNpOcUjgOxZSRhRXC


    "Blake and Chihiro" by Ace Pade

    y4maJYGcjqQyDDdZBMFRAfA-SN3EO9dTRqRInH6p_5LAX-MzwRwYvQ5DbXI32iDKqcr-9_RGyNUGmY1CHbTziFpBCyw59dX2GvlAoRzZ2Jtd1jd1uNtLA5qCXri9h9pzqdSiTCJha16tTTJKrZxzMtGE19mrXNM6JabVsi5VoxuCluBEbVIWK7mFGQ3R_f7D9gW


    "Mira Mihaka" by Ace Pade

    y4mFTXefWL6h28LGJqXr3LWvZhuFbwxhooHmkunEFTEZ0U2dRoVGQFcrbo7xfp7vhQgipRp1iVJGIfx59EM5DOSqzlYNNW_zLoPNiTKjm9fxbMp9iFm6zFI109GVOrzXIMPsLRv2MZ7SkQ9uv8JZDfDdz6uWmekHRHRvxAOcmjocRRYfOyYMyqSlzj7dHQ-Pt5v


    Artwork by u/eenakulot

    "Akira Robinson" by Eenakulot

    y4ma-oYDjkZVoC9uBnARXWS7XdVSqUXLJ5AOJiPWRIkHHswBfl8fp_QbReHhRi2hjEBz6taLmFFb4DRx_5WPAFeiMQqImzdAUfaQat_h3LacgwPkaP7qe7E_7eNTXtg8hqcGa8ytk8rlwgn37I4uLWVXNlG2-pj5RnxQ6Lbj6BJXTk4SadlGqARQ3yL8Aplau4d




    "Enutanga" by Eenakulot

    y4mzhJ7p5Gfxh53sOiLfNU537HEIGZCvbt6PJzMO2uQiFFAAHmHKCIj3D-MInQR__yU_U7vNhUZsyDMFFpFFRZbK68rcMQ3VOf188rYE2VvcFm-6iofN8ZQtKA6tgEAahXovqbsT849E5NTbsxI4RyM7Fff2dF4loU0_oHic8C_x33axB0LdXbQw1N4xn2NXQQ6



    Artwork by u/espionage_is_whatido

    "Toa Wahine Mami Tamihana" by Espionage_is_whatido

    y4mYwgWQdXc2zmaZtzqEpuLyM6Y58B3QJgXy1izXKXF_scfVbGUv1MoP3cX8albysom8oGOmjOwkArjHAWA2gpoUDgaHG94i5ZaG6Ib4c5Yy-4hkV-tP6Xsuq2kpIWxs4O6SeXEVavL2h6yA9JHddO6Zf3Tcag3IkiA-43yDeQ3BGACTmPvjsOK4PNFF2C0Qwgk



    Artwork by Vitaliy Ostaschenko

    "Battlemaster gunship" by Vitaliy Ostaschenko

    y4mfSjYEPfT98-oVrEUFbzX_j9X84mk9rW5wXq9dvGq472w8XZkYDvpliMS9BOihcJBDTcEy0dPUIdqjRu_DU20aSP4KbGNtxmhJNggVCN8w4wO2MPTY7_1jKnrvjbgQ7FR-QeJPqjkL0I4DFuzNOPA9ughhyuKInP8JluNCgY3JHheh8Bxh7vy1W9NLzV61myM




    Artwork by u/theboltboy

    "Chihiro Tachibana" by theboltboy

    y4mGoN2iNcQMIIi3ItBlGbCiyJT3VOkox0E7eKYaV7yUCuHk7L5_xV0nlqX3QlB-BQZiTFg3neCtWo48yFg8rfO7v8Er-CLj8zGrejtww3vtwIA-celG117E__HrS8sP_IiTiQhCzUBPy-rnIEn84JZ2YLilo2aryqNVDygruAPB4lq0o5SUaiw7DBA_9TZTC8j




    Artwork by u/happy_clover

    "Whetu Kealoha" by Happy Clover

    y4m4PffAb51U8DjvFRnzfCaLc_NDmUgSGJ6cI6xQ8W-G2PXqHmY7lukVpyHTJK4EXeNTrLTgxn6KNUsre3_Td_mtsWXf7aflKQ_qaDnIrSM3Y9NQf_4vWUgbUNvJ-njpzTo4aLa0Sq1UR9ukUn4XIJkaLCxjWy23Sx1_sn5i59oGgaIm5ZdfJ_8J-hiR3ctCjoU




    Artwork by u/reppygoop

    "Akira Robinson" by Reppygoop

    y4mz-vH8YsS6Zt8Drr2lEOawiOdQ69qlRbLOFgradLm87sQt5Cjn3b7fvxruWnsclIAT0s_skidTNhhO_UgqrsENLzTMn2cVCJ2WHxERF_Gl30ifjA96N2d-bABkNjzIpcZPI4kC5TnLOysXYgVyokXMwguuiKnV3Y52J3C63APfkmDtBac7IJ8LfMike_eVgsq




    Artwork by Annie Leon

    "War in Heaven commemorative patch" by Annie Leon
    y4m9WJxFan89ZkKTm3EiYalIBaFbcwZmStV61iZCIXkG87OpXash7pvpzIfVJc_cufm5mIURQyQ8YbTnGqflFvEBRpp9lsN6DjXZdlAGruM-3ql4E0SKmeS3xzEAFSq-jA4h8jTGcguo4jzI29KM9lskI8FSAsrs0zMaMuwfkurAp1dlvsoM7SAcT1AukYd--G-




    Artwork by Carol Studzinski

    "Sophie Ackermann and Sophia Kuznetsova" by Carol Studzinski

    y4mPw3b7FNBzfiX_kceNnC5ygVWwLeFcPxiL51gK7x6438Nm4ilUhN5QA4D-GufHTlw16zuEznmrSW-zdJmsnipr-RDhBxV3IhhVMCtstIAfH82Za7mJ-w-4UsmM_H44Yx52S5eEJl6L5L_A7eRt17ZvnWqWcjaJ_562Yp0w3CwLSZCqyFzYhHA6zBac5g3amqD



    "Jericho (alternate pose)" - ace_pade
    y4md5PyFrCOzyY-RGhx-hS3CTamQ6BqaTw-XtDn1ttqY1C68SiJy5ZXGbW7-HTxfi2Z7-Qb73V7XF2ryqAa8N3Ra2fEl59QHKV1NVsdqpyze8QY55Hnx6Bs8gNfP0eZrYJa6rRqvlDn5h-IHJiiUHOAk-tuLUl0hnZNOYl3XwuYoUpiveUDtvtd_-_X9mBpQfbm


    "Akira Robinson (line art)" - eenakulot
    y4mT0aHr6qq3Y5TrhyjTjYwPQmJeqV140c_MOLfO83uI4qu5qZzjQr5WSbWgufY98XnV2eDefeFeHBUZcxZ5dey5bDIUEBtV_meDk0hWkIsE8vo9aFJrM4ftPiqy3oi-Twz4uNkxbMBHmq5UE7KX-7zOAPqHVi3N680Yuj1GIxthJti1jz5yrdQ8M7sCfOA5Ox1


    "Enutanga (line art)" - eenakulot
    y4mVAXtnI-EhdznyNwZO7v-z4ODUXgWF1B3Df7rSs107ALTd1Uh3zcH8DacAJdbJOkrfVx6yvbS7DQbVAdTVh8EZPjbP5avZAjWOuvUzhbKBde61wOHMebVG6lVxYhDNVyUqtD82qh_tcsuy5RWB3XaJ3wT-R1RhJ8OEnLj1WgtTeatURbYkAGqq5X1Isik8Y1l


    "Enutanga - flat colors" - eenakulot
    y4mU4USTfz_X7X4zJD8uKe4EykyFUJjTQEKby-XRz8vHrgUh6oER6A-OEfE5Hi7sMcNxNaKR3engBvvHzmzVwRDxY7u-WZFfSv-KKIE09VPSGs3384I7Oj9HLSPogFV0sri7P3-baun4CG-CkyCWTrfZuEo6SRvXJU6M8iRb64nCQTDxnXOjYev4lc8uhWUJYAL


    "Battlemaster gunship - frame and chassis" - Vitaliy Ostaschenko
    y4mRqZebxm47nyE9O7CrFs5WXD1qtAs5TZjgPR5p7VUch6QM4ETY5sLA0uERX-Xa7yAlDPS4sr4mbc7tNb_OM_D6xyImVcCmFi7EKcWXND24knReV7PEc9E1SgjyY340VX1h9VIqDNzJclwIJ6bKPJTAm9h1FTTxpIvbV0dlzHbvjbRrQ_v3Jeuy1fdW4_4TejA


    "Chihiro Tachibana (Hand-drawn sketch)" - u/theboltboy
    y4mW4FkugWZDxS2XENqIEkkQs2C7eEi_8YzDOateIIQ1pCcPrf35Z_1aghyGViN_dnbO59cQcgLxQzOOdTvjpVgu1APbnStfag6zrdxBF-CiHqmWu1QEqkLzzgdkCKHF1RzPXAZQ7en7dGB6nqCnSsrJyOWWJ5DpWxbcu3InwRGwHbgM2AvzNgz5r-y4IlABxmZ


    "War in Heaven commemorate patch (alternate designs)" - Annie Leon
    y4mY7XEpnRfhgza9iUIpp8jzCKdQD3ceIas7Fy1Ub3z1D__5LiW_Yea3JQK3jgKIt7-3i8F0mbJTgLqymI9BJHZwJIQk2qOwyWwu1P-FpfVfhgRful_yvg2jpeQ8dvtIIjUXvGlXq2-5OPQluyOkPGd1LB4Xs6I3oND5QFRIuE3Fz-s--Y5MW_f9IbDQNBKNjti
     
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