On the Crossroads of Past and Future
December 12, 2081
Berlin, Germany, United Nations of Earth
The Tiergarten was jam-packed with tens of thousands of people. It was a wide-open public park that occupied the space between the Reichstag and UN Headquarters. These two buildings made up the core of a government that ruled over not just Earth, but the entire solar system and over a hundred of the surrounding star systems.
Naturally, when the time came for that government to select a new leader, vast crowds of citizens and visitors would show up in the capitol city to witness the great day. Here in the park were far more than just Humans. Lionlike Levakians and their cubs scampered around in the grass. Reptilian Kelt stretched themselves out in the sun while Micore androids stood guard nearby, making sure the little reptiles weren’t accidentally stepped on. Partogans would have been mistaken for Humans if not for their silver hair and purple eyes. Muscular and toughened Assurians flexed their muscles to impress one another while they waited for the main event to begin.
And that event was being covered by news reporters from all over the Galaxy. At the front steps of the UN capital building, a veritable wall of lifeforms with cameras and microphones focused their attention on two groups of people who were climbing the steps of the Reichstag. A Levakian producer touched his earpiece, tapped his Assurian camera operator on the shoulder, then gave the go signal to the Partogan correspondent, who launched into her report:
“We’re here in Berlin, capitol of the United Nations of Earth, where the next round of the Secretary General selection is about to begin. Coming our way now is the current leader of the UN, Secretary General Pascal Etienne, who is running for his third term. He is being escorted by two of his closest advisors, the husband-and-wife team of Doctor Emmanuel Espinosa and Scarlett Freeman, who was recently appointed Director of the Internal Security Office, which is the premier spy agency on Earth.”
Secretary-General Etienne knew the way up the Reichstag steps, and his seemingly casual movement allowed the casual observer to forget that he was quite noticeably blind. Doctor Espinosa occasionally brushed the Secretary-General's hand with his own, stopping the UN leader from going astray. Pascal Etienne was a man in his late seventies, with short white hair and deep sunken eyes that were permanently clouded over. His companions were much younger. Doctor Espinosa was a handsome man with wavy blonde hair, while Scarlett Freeman possessed straight black hair and vivid blue eyes.
“Mister Secretary General!” The reporter cried out. “How do you feel about your chances today? Do you think you’ll get five more years?”
“Very confident!” The UN leader replied in a French accent. “Humanity is far better off now than it was ten years ago. I will make sure our rise to greatness continues into the new decade!”
The Secretary General and his entourage vanished into the Reichstag. Meanwhile, a second group of people coming up the stairway caught the reporter’s attention.
“Now here’s the man of the hour.” the reporter said. “The man who is challenging the incumbent Secretary General: former Stormbreaker, veteran of the War in Heaven, the last man to see Jericho alive... Captain Blake Robinson!”
The old war veteran was not alone. A large group of friends and family surrounded Blake as he went up the stairs, moving without any kind of assistance. He wore a heavy leather jacket adorned with Second Hyperspace War-era mission patches, as did his wife, a Japanese woman with vivid blue eyes, nearly identical to Scarlett’s. Blake’s children and grandchildren surrounded him, as did his closest allies and political supporters. The reporter waved to get his attention:
“Captain Robinson!” She shouted. “Do you think you can unseat the Secretary General?”
“Absolutely.” Blake replied with a smile, “But we won’t know for sure until it happens.”
Inside the Reichstag, both the Secretary General and his challenger moved to the second floor where they came upon the chambers of the UN Security Council. Here, the leaders of fifteen nations were gathered for yet another round of debate and voting on a single topic: Who will be the next leader of Earth?
Secretary General Etienne and Blake both went around the room, shaking hands and greeting the world leaders. Their families and supporters milled about, chatting and conversing with others for about ten minutes before the President of the Security Council gaveled the meeting into session.
“This tradition has been part of the United Nations since 1945.” The President began. “It is the duty of the Security Council to select a single candidate for Secretary General and pass them along to the General Assembly, who elects the leader of our government. Today, there are two remaining candidates. Incumbent Secretary General Pascal Etienne, who seeks a third five-year term, and retired AFUNE Captain Blake Robinson, who aims to unseat him. Each member-state will be allowed two minutes to speak. Once all fifteen members of the council have said their piece, we shall call the question. At this time, the President recognizes the Taoiseach of Ireland for two minutes.”
One by one, the world leaders began to speak about the merits and accomplishments of the two men who sought to assume leadership over the UN. While they spoke, Blake’s oldest child, a fully grown woman with luxurious hair and alluring eyes, leaned over and began moving her hands rapidly in front of her chest.
A few world leaders did a double-take before they realized Himawari was using Sign Language to communicate. Blake was so well-versed with this means of talking that his hands and face expressed themselves almost reflexively. While the Security Council began to argue and debate, Blake and his daughter held a silent conversation:
“I feel sick.” Himawari signed to her father. “I’m nervous. I’m scared.”
“That’s normal.” Blake replied silently. “It’s perfectly normal to be afraid.”
“But you know you’re going to win.” She replied.
“No, I don’t.” Blake smiled a little. “These things are never certain.”
“So what will you do if you lose?”
“I’ll shake Etienne’s hand.” Blake answered.
“Why?” Himawari asked. “I thought he was your opponent. Doesn’t he hate you?”
“He probably does,” Blake admitted. He was so accustomed to signing that his arms weren’t tired yet. “But we treat one another with respect, so our relationship never really gets that bad.”
“I don’t think I could ever shake hands with a man who beat me in an election.” Himawari confessed voicelessly. “I’d probably cry and smack him. I’m a sore loser and I know it. What about you?”
“I used to be a sore loser.” Blake replied to his daughter. “But then I had a chat with my dad...”
June 26, 2006
Camp David, Maryland, United States of America
It was a little less than five months before the Soviet Union invaded Japan. My dad was in his second year as President of the United States and he was already neck deep in the second crisis of his Administration. My dad’s Vice President was being impeached by Congress, and the trial was taking up all of his time. Dad just couldn’t deal with any of my antics at the time, so he insisted my sister and I spend the summer on vacation at Camp David, the official countryside retreat of American Presidents.
We weren’t alone out there. Secret Service Agent Kathleen Walsh was released from the hospital just a few weeks before. The doctor told us she still had a twenty-two caliber bullet lodged in her left lung, and once she fully recovered, Agent Walsh would carry the bullet in her body for the rest of her life. She couldn’t run or do anything that made her heart race, at least for a few months.
Naturally, Jackie and I decided to take it easy on Walsh for a while. We stayed inside one of the vacation homes built by President Ronald Reagan and played a lot of videogames. We’d play so much that our eyes would hurt by the time the sun went down, but Agent Walsh was deeply grateful for the reprieve. Not having to chase around either of the First Children was exactly the break Walsh needed.
About four days before my thirteenth birthday, my girlfriend came to visit. Back then, Chihiro Tachibana used a different name. She called herself Princess Asami of Chiyako. Both she and her siblings showed up for a visit, partially because tensions between Japan and the USSR were at an all-time high, and partly because my dad wanted to draw public attention to the US-Japanese alliance instead of the impeachment trial. News reporters waited at the entrance to Camp David and took a lot of pictures when I ran out to greet Asami. We hadn’t seen one another in months, and by then, I was getting really frightened every time I heard about the escalating conflict between Japan and the Soviet Union.
Asami’s older sister, Akeno, and my little sister, Jackie, decided to spend the day in another part of the house watching Disney movies. Akio, the middle child and only boy, wasn’t much of an indoor kind of person. In fact, by this point, Akio was already planning out his military career. He knew full-well that Japan was about to get into a fight, and by mid-2006, Akio was already starting to talk and walk like a soldier. Somebody was training him. So when Akio found out that Camp David was technically a military base, he went out in search of soldiers to talk shop with.
Asami and I? We played video games. We plugged in a Japanese gaming console she brought from home and set about exploring a handful of games that only existed in Asami’s home country. I was amazed repeatedly, having never stopped to consider that video games in Asia could be different than here in America. Towards the end of the day, Asami pulled from her bag a military strategy game, the title was World War Three.
“Oh, a game about the future?” I asked.
“Kinda.” Asami replied. “Everybody back home is really scared about getting into a world war, so we made a game out of it.”
She slid the disk into the console’s drive and the screen lit up. A map of the world appeared and a deep male voice said:
“Choose your nation!”
Asami and I each picked up a controller.
“Wait a minute.” I said. “We’re going to be playing against each other?”
“Yeah!” Asami said. “What? You scared of losing to a girl?”
“I don’t lose to girls.” I replied through gritted teeth and then selected the United States.
Asami stuck her tongue out at me and then selected Japan. I remember feeling incredibly determined. Now keep in mind that the only people in the room were myself, Asami, and Agent Walsh, who was barely awake, sprawled on the couch. I’ll admit, I was determined to beat Asami because I was scared of losing to her. Of course, I only say this with about fifty years of hindsight.
The game started. Asami and I were put in control of the military forces of our respective countries. Flitting our fingers over the controllers, we maneuvered our armies, navies, and air forces into battle against each other. Walsh even looked up to watch as I directed a force of American warships across the Pacific, only to meet a wall of Japanese bombers and get sunk!
“Hey!” I shouted. “That’s not fair!”
“Who said war is fair?” Asami snarked. Then she launched ballistic missiles from a submarine along the West Coast. All three of my navy bases in California vanished before Japanese soldiers landed on the shore and started marching East.
“No!” I shouted as Asami continued to wreck my armies. “What’s wrong with you!?”
Finally, a unit of Japanese infantry reached my capitol. The red and white flag of the rising sun rose above the city of Washington, and the announcer’s voice declared:
“Game over! The USA has been destroyed! Japan rules the world!”
I lost my temper. I’m not proud to admit it.
I threw my controller across the room and stormed out, shouting:
“That was stupid, this is stupid!”
Behind me, I could hear Asami starting to cry while Agent Walsh yelled:
“Quit yer givin’ out and apologize to the little lass, Robinson!”
But I was gone. Out the building and down the road, I power walked down the hiking trail, trying and failing to calm down. I’d just lost a one-versus-one match to a girl, and I felt really embarrassed. Finally, I sat down on a bench next to a statue of George H. W. Bush. He had one leg crossed over the other and looked like he was frozen in a friendly greeting.
I huddled up next to the metal cast of Bush and drew my knees up to cry. I was already starting to regret making Asami cry.
“Yeah,” I said to myself. “But did she really win fair and square?”
A voice directly behind me made itself known.
“She probably did.”
I jumped. Somehow, my Dad made it all the way here without getting my attention. President Robinson looked very tired and worn out. I remember a streak of grey hair along the left side of his head. The President sat down at the bench with me and sighed.
“Agent Walsh told me the whole thing.” My dad began. “She’s making the Princess a mug of hot cider right now. I think you hurt her feelings.”
“How?” I grumbled. “She won, didn’t she? But there’s no way I could’ve lost. She probably cheated, too. I’ll bet she cheated.”
“Now hold on a moment.” Dad said. “How do you know she cheated?”
“Well, she… uh… um.” I stammered, drawing a total blank. “Uh… I guess… uh….”
“So if she didn’t cheat, then she won fair and square.” Dad replied. “Did you congratulate her?”
I felt my face and the back of my neck getting very hot.
“Wait, was I supposed to?” I was mumbling now. The feeling of shame was starting to creep up my spine, and I didn’t want to confront it.
“Well, no.” Dad said. “But it is the honorable thing to do. If someone wins without cheating, it’s an accomplishment to be celebrated. Congratulate whoever beat you. It’ll make you look good, no matter how badly you lost. That’s what President White did when I beat him in the election.”
“Wait, he actually congratulated you?” I said. “Even though you beat him and took his job!?”
“He sure did.” Dad answered. “And now, here in a day or two, I’ll have to congratulate my new political opponents for scoring a point on me.”
Dad put his head in his hands.
“My people in Congress say Vice President MacDonald is going to be convicted at the impeachment trial tomorrow. At some point, I’ll have to meet with Senators Obama and McCain and admit they were right all along. But if I can be graceful in defeat, it might just work to our advantage in the long run.”
Dad put a hand on my shoulder.
“Try being a graceful loser sometime, Blake. Tell Asami she played well. Ask her to tell you how she won, then invite her to do something that doesn’t involve competition. Maybe she wants to watch TV with you or something.”
Dad patted me on the back, stood up, and put his coat back on.
“Listen, son.” He said. “There’s one lesson videogames teach kids that I absolutely hate. It’s that if you lose even once, all is lost and you might as well start over. That’s just plain ridiculous. If you lose a fight, Blake, there’s always the next one. If you lose a battle, the war isn’t over until you lay down your arms. One loss isn’t the end of the world, Blake. Don’t dwell on it longer than you need to.”
He gave me a hug so tight I felt the air squeezing out of my lungs.
“I’ll see you on Friday, alright.” Dad finished. “I won’t miss my son becoming a teenager for the world.”
After a while, I went back to the vacation house. Jackie, Akeno, Akio, and Asami were all there, drinking some hot cider. Agent Walsh had an extra mug ready for me when I arrived, which actually made me feel even worse than before. When she saw me come in the dining room, Asami folded her arms and turned away from me, pouting. So I pushed my mug towards her and said:
“I wanna say sorry.”
“Hmph.” Asami grumbled.
“Look,” I went on. “You… you did win fair and square. So I just wanted to say… uh… you know… congrats. You played well.”
Asami gave me the smallest side-eye and mumbled:
“Played alright yourself. You want some cider?”
December 12, 2081
Berlin, Germany, United Nations of Earth
Himawari payed attention to her father’s story. All the while, the leaders of Humankind continued to debate.
“Captain Robinson travelled the Galaxy in his youth.” Said the President of France. “He made inroads with many of the alien species out there. Those connections can be put to good use advancing our diplomatic agenda.”
“I respectfully disagree.” Argued the Premier of China. “Secretary General Etienne’s military expansion program already serves this purpose. Our world has great diplomatic weight because of our firepower, not how many friends one soldier made during a war almost fifty years ago.”
Himawari nudged her father and signed.
“You and mom must have been really cute kids.”
“Chihiro was cute. I wasn’t.” Blake replied with a chuckle. “I’m very happy you take after her.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got your brain.” Himawari teased. “And your spaceship.”
“Hopefully…” Blake sighed. “…I won’t need the Ark Angel after today. Let’s find out what the Security Council says.”
The President of Hawaii had stood up.
“My friends, I think we’ve heard enough.” He said. “The Republic of Hawaii moves to conduct a straw poll to determine the level of support for each candidate before we move forward.”
“Understood.” Replied the Security Council President.
Excited chatter ran all around the room as world leaders and spectators alike gossiped excitedly about the upcoming decision. Secretary General Etienne stepped away from his advisors and approached Blake. Himawari and her mother, Chihiro Tachibana, both gave the UN leader a disapproving look, but they allowed him to speak with the Robinson patriarch.
Secretary General Etienne extended one hand towards Blake and said:
“I am glad that you are my opponent.” He said. “You, a veteran of the War in Heaven, understand better than anyone else what kind of world we are leaving behind. We stand now upon the crossroads of past and future. I hope we can work together to reconcile the two rather than pitting them against one another.”
“As do I.” Blake responded.
Meanwhile, the proceedings were going ahead. The President of the Security Council said:
“The Republic of Hawaii has moved to conduct a straw poll on the two remaining candidates, Blake Robinson and Pascal Etienne. In accordance with Article 97 of the United Nations charter, the straw poll will be conducted via secret ballot. Permanent members of the Security Council will vote on red paper, rotating members on white paper. All other details of the ballot shall be kept secret. Members of the Security Council, come with me.”
All fifteen members of the UN Security Council stood up and left the room. As they passed through the exit, each world leader took two slips of paper from the President. Chihiro hugged one of her grandchildren tightly, betraying how nervous she felt. Meanwhile, two of Blake’s supporters broke from his group and walked over toward Etienne’s advisors. Forty-five years ago, these two women were Stormbreakers. Like Blake and Chihiro, the couple had multiple war-era mission patches adorning their jackets.
Sophie Ackermann and her wife, Sophia, both introduced themselves to Doctor Espinosa.
“So your wife got the ISO job.” Sophie began. “Aren’t you worried she’ll become married to the job?”
Director Freeman wrapped her arms around her husband’s arm and smiled.
“Scar’s been devoted to the intelligence service for her entire adult life.” Doctor Espinosa said. “If anything, she’s cheating on the spy agency with me.”
“Don’t say that too loudly now, honey.” Scarlett added with a noticeably fake giggle.
“That’s right.” Sophia said, “If your man gets voted out of office today, you’ll have more time to look after your kid. What’s her name again? Inez? I haven’t seen her in about… oh, I dunno… six years or something like that.”
A dark look flashed across Scarlett’s face for the shortest possible moment. Doctor Espinosa missed it, but both of the former Stormbreakers noticed.
“Oh, Nezzie’s not the sort of child to follow her parents to work.” Scarlett replied in a dismissive tone. “She’s seventeen years old now. She’s starting her own life.”
Keeping their faces passive, Sophie and Sophia restated their well-wishes before moving away. Around the same moment, the far doors swung open. The Security Council was returning.
The fifteen members of the council took their seats once more, while Blake and Secretary General Etienne rejoined their respective supporters. The moment of truth was here. The President of the Security Council held up two slips of paper.
“I have the results of today’s straw poll.” He began. “Like always, I asked this question: Would you encourage or discourage this person from seeking the office of Secretary General?”
The President held up one slip of paper.
“Secretary General Etienne, among the rotating members, you revived five ‘Encourage’ votes and five ‘Discourage’ votes. Amongst the Permanent Five, you received four ‘Encourage’ votes. The United States of America chose to abstain.”
A smattering of applause went up around the room. Chihiro did the math in her head and whispered to her husband:
“He got nine out of fifteen votes. I wonder which of the rotating members voted against Etienne?”
“Secret ballot.” Blake said with a shrug. “We’ll never know.”
The applause died down, and then the President spoke again.
“Next, we conducted a straw poll to gauge the level of support for the challenger, Blake Robinson. Here are the results.”
Sophie, Sophia, and the little group of Blake’s supporters all clasped hands and held their breath. The President of the Security Council unfolded his paper and read aloud:
“Captain Robinson, you received ten ‘Encourage’ votes from the rotating members.”
Chihiro cheered aloud as Blake’s supporters erupted into celebration. Blake had already surpassed Etienne’s vote count! After a moment, the hubbub died down and the President was able to continue.
“You also received three ‘Encourage’ votes and one ‘discourage’ vote from the Permanent Five. Again, the United States did not vote.”
Once again, Blake’s family and supporters broke out in cheers, but Blake himself did not join in. An unpleasant look took over his face, as though he realized some dark truth that escaped the others.
“I’ll address the Permanent Five.” Blake raised his voice just enough to draw everybody’s attention. “One of you has cast a vote against me, so I’ll just come out and ask now. Is one of the Permanent members planning to Veto my candidacy?”
A pregnant silence filled the room. Blake’s family and supporters looked back and forth between him and the Security Council, their smiles fading. A satisfied grin was spreading over Scarlett Freeman’s face. Finally, the President of the Russian Federation stood up.
“Moscow has no interest in continuing to entertain the possibility of a Robinson Administration. My colleagues have agreed to use Russia’s Veto against any resolution recommending Captain Robinson to the General Assembly.”
For almost a whole minute, the Security Council chamber was filled with shocked silence. It seemed as though everyone needed a moment to process what had just happened. Finally, Himawari signed what everyone else was thinking.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”
When it became clear that Russia had just destroyed any chance Blake had at becoming Secretary General, an uproar commenced immediately. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom cursed out the Russian President with every word in the English language while Sophie and Sophia directed their fury toward the President of the Security Council. Just when it seemed like the meeting was going to devolve into complete chaos, Blake Robinson raised his voice:
“Wait a moment!”
Everybody looked at him. Moving deliberately, Blake crossed the distance between himself and Pascal Etienne, and then offered his hand.
“I can see when I’ve been beaten, Secretary General. Congratulations on your re-election.”
The whole time, Blake kept his voice calm and level. One of Blake’s grandchildren tried to raise an objection, but Chihiro grabbed the teenager and held them steady. Secretary General Etienne grasped Blake’s hand and shook it kindly.
“It was a race well run.” Etienne replied. “You are a credit to the Human race, Captain Robinson.”
“Thank you, sir.”
As Blake Robinson and his family left UN Headquarters in defeat, Scarlett Freeman watched them go from an upper floor window of the Reichstag. In her hand, the UN Spymaster held a tablet computer, and the screen showed a materials list for something called “Operation Prometheus.”
Scarlett heard the door close gently behind her and looked around. Four ISO agents, dressed in black business suits and sunglasses, stood side by side, awaiting new orders.
“He knows something.” Scarlett said to them. “I want the entire Robinson family under observation. Tap their comms, stakeout every building associated with them, place a tracking device on the Ark Angel, and put a tail on the oldest daughter, Himawari. Don’t underestimate her. She’s deaf, not dumb.”
“Yes, Director.” The agents replied, then left the room in silence.
Scarlett turned to look out the window again. She spotted the war-era spaceplane Ark Angel coming in to land at Berlin-Tegel Airport. Soon enough, it would pick up the Robinson family and they would be gone, presumably back to Hawaii.
Scarlett tapped her foot in mild annoyance. She knew that Blake had something on her. He must have shown herculean levels of self-restraint by choosing not to act against Scarlett today. She just didn’t know what it was or how much he knew, but Scarlett resolved to find out everything and then take serious action against Blake and the Robinson family before they got a second chance to strike her down.
TO BE CONCLUDED...
Hello all, Macavity116 here.
I hope everyone's new year is off to a good start. I have been participating in a COVID response mission with the US military since mid-December. My time on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic won't be ending anytime soon, but there is a spark of good news to share. I am still writing, and I fully intend to complete the Stormbreaker Spinoff Series.
I am currently writing three new stories set in the Stormbreakers Universe: My Father's War, All Our Sins Remembered, and The Last Heroes. Owing to the fact that I have little to no time to write these days, it will be a long time before any of them are ready. But they will be ready.
At the very bottom of this post you will find three spoiler buttons. Each contains one chapter from each of the upcoming stories. Please enjoy these sneak peeks at my future stories, and know that I'm very much looking forward to my true return to the forums.
I will return,
Climb Mount Narodnaya
“There is no morality in warfare. There never was. During those six years in Japan, I killed men, women, and children alike. I didn’t want to, it just happened. That’s war. It is blind and senseless violence without meaning or purpose.”
-Alexei Volobyov, XCOM soldier, 2015 to 2049
Climb Mount Narodnaya
“There is no morality in warfare. There never was. During those six years in Japan, I killed men, women, and children alike. I didn’t want to, it just happened. That’s war. It is blind and senseless violence without meaning or purpose.”
-Alexei Volobyov, XCOM soldier, 2015 to 2049
In my first book, The Stormbreakers, I complained about how history seems to have forgotten the finer details of the story surrounding Jericho and her companions. This forgetfulness extends multiple generations back in time, and the greatest victim of this collective memory lapse is in my opinion, one of the most important people in my generation.
Kotori Sato has been reduced to a footnote in history. A trivia question, something for students to regurgitate on some exam and then quickly forget about. The mother of Humanity’s Savior has been so effectively forgotten that when I stopped random people on the street to ask, no single person could tell me what Kotori Sato looked like or what kind of person she was. She was simply Jericho’s mother and nothing else.
To say I am offended is an understatement. I hope, in the second act of this book, to restore some knowledge of Kotori and the fully fleshed out person she was before becoming a one-dimensional bit of encyclopedia knowledge. Not just because she was a personal friend of mine for a few years in my youth, and not just because her role in the founding of the Stormbreakers has been forgotten.
Out of the six men and women who would go on to found the Stormbreakers, Kotori was the first to see action. She wasn’t a soldier at the time. When it happened, she wasn’t even old enough to drink or vote or get married. But nonetheless, she was the first member of our team to experience war.
Kotori was there, in the snow-covered fields of Hokkaido, when everything broke down. When the Soviets and Japanese were left with no further options. She witnessed the opening moments of My Father’s War. Now, using a combination of declassified documents and testimonials from people who were there, I can re-create the events of that fateful day…
December 9, 2006
Nishinosato Junior High School, Sapporo, Hokkaido Island, Japan
Like the vast majority of thirteen year olds in the year 2006, Kotori Sato was not paying attention in class. She was doodling in her notebook, crafting with care an image she’d spent the better part of the day working on. Every once in a while, she’d look up to snatch a furtive glance at her two best friends.
Chihiro Iwasaki was a scrawny kid with long dark hair. Secluded in a corner seat at the back of the classroom, Chihiro kept her bangs over her eyes, so that nobody could notice her checking out cute boys instead of following the teacher’s lecture. Kotori’s other friend, Asuna Tachibana, was seated directly in front of her.
If there were two people who could look less like one another, it was these two. Kotori was, if my sources are accurate, quite the stereotypical “girly girl” who modeled her appearance after tv stars and fashion icons. Kotori wore plenty of makeup and spent a lot of time and effort to make her hair look pretty. Then there was Asuna; everything about her screamed “tomboy.” Asuna kept her messy brown hair cut short, wore athletic clothing, and always seemed to have at least one cut or scrape on her hands. Like her friends, Asuna was also failing to pay any heed to the teacher’s mind-numbing drone. She had her flip-phone underneath the desk, and was surreptitiously sending messages whenever the teacher turned his back.
Up at the front of the classroom, Nazako Sawano continued his history lesson. Mr. Sawano is certainly among one of the luckiest Humans to have ever lived. He survived all of the great wars and disasters of the past fifty years and lived long enough to see the War in Heaven, which he also survived. Most of this account comes from him. He tells us that roughly halfway through his presentation on the history of feudal Japan, he looked back at the class and spotted Kotori, Chihiro, and Asuna slacking off. Mr. Sawano had already disciplined Chihiro and Asuna earlier in the day, and when he looked back, these two students saw him, stopped what they were doing and made some attempt to pretend they were paying attention. Kotori did not. She continued sketching in her book. The teacher decided to make an example of her.
He crossed the room in a stealthy way, continuing to read aloud from the textbook while rapidly closing the distance between himself and Kotori, who was seated near the center of the room. Several students snickered and giggled when they realized what was about to happen. Asuna turned her head to one side and whispered:
“Tori-chan! Look out!”
Too late. Mr. Sawano grabbed Kotori’s notebook in one hand and raised it high into the air while the girl let out a frustrated groan.
“Welcome back to Earth, Miss Sato.” Sawano said. “While you were gone, we were discussing the 1904 war with Russia. Did any of that reach you?”
He raised Kotori’s notebook higher and showed it to the class. On the page, Kotori had drawn three American-style superheroes. Each character bore a striking resemblance to herself, Asuna, and Chihiro. Underneath the image was a caption that read:
“Go! Storm Riders! Go!”
“I suppose not.” Sawano grumbled. “Well, Miss Sato, I hope you’re not going anywhere over Christmas vacation, because I expect from you a ten-thousand word essay about the 1904 War with Russia, delivered to my desk on the first day of class after the new year. That should keep you busy.”
An hour later, classes let out for lunch. The number of students at this school who lived beyond 2036 can be counted on just one hand, so verifiable first-hand accounts are few and far in between, but I do have an accurate picture of what came next.
Grumbling and complaining about Mr. Sawano, Kotori and her friends went off to have lunch on their own. Witnesses said they were gossiping about some boy Chihiro Iwasaki took a liking to. About halfway through the lunch hour, the trio arrived in the art classroom, where several other students were spending their free time. Kotori pinned up her drawing on an easel and the trio set to work completing it. Asuna gave the two-dimensional copies of herself and her friends a set of flowing capes to improve their superhero costumes.
“Your hair is so long, Iwasaki, you don’t need a cape.” Asuna teased.
“Oh, yeah? Well… uh… well…” Chihiro trailed off as she failed to think of a clever comeback.
“Hey Asuna,” Kotori said as she grabbed more colored pencils. “Isn’t your dad, like, a cop or something? Wouldn’t he get weirded out if he found out you were a superhero?”
“You watch way too much TV.” Asuna laughed. “My dad’s cool. And speaking of TV, did you see that news story about the Princess? She just got back from America last night.”
“If I could date a rich American, I’d be so happy.”
“Why?” Asuna said. “’Cause he’d shower you with gifts or because you’d get to move into a house that’s not close enough for the Russians to spit on?”
All three girls fell silent at the reminder of how close their country was to the brink of war. None of them wanted to think about it, but soon, they would have no choice. Kotori tried to break the uncomfortable silence by saying:
“You won’t catch me dead dating an American. I heard that Blake kid doesn’t even speak our language! Even after the Princess spent, like, two years learning English! What a dolt!”
Chihiro, Asuna, and Kotori spent the rest of their lunch break completing their indulgent self-portrait and badmouthing me. I wouldn’t have cared. I was on the other side of the planet at the time and it’s quite true that I wouldn’t have understood a word of their conversation anyway.
Sometime around one in the afternoon. Kotori and her friends started making their way towards their next class. They were just rounding a hall corner when a commotion started to run through the school like an electric charge. Students began flocking towards any window that faced north while repeating the rumor that a hot-air balloon had crashed on school grounds. Curiosity got the better of the trio, and they started to make their way towards a window.
“A hot-air balloon?” Kotori repeated. “Who flies one in the middle of winter?”
“Doesn’t make any sense.” Asuna added. “There’s, like, two feet of snow outside. How’d they even take off?”
Now, as far as I can tell, there was only about six inches of snow on the ground in Sapporo that day. I got this number not from any Japanese source, but a Russian one. The Soviet Red Army preserved most of their records from this event.
Finally, Kotori and her friends crammed themselves into a classroom with a window large enough to give them a good view of the football pitch located just north of the school. There was already some sixty or seventy children in the room, so the trio had to push and elbow their way into a good viewing position. It would have been apparent right away why the rumor was of a “hot air balloon.” Huge sheets of canvas were billowing in the wind as they came to rest on the frozen ground. Men wearing heavy coats and carrying lots of equipment on their backs gathered around, calling to one another in a language Kotori would not have recognized.
Meanwhile, one of the gymnasium doors opened. The school principal and the guidance counselor advanced onto the football pitch at a fast clip. The principal waved his arms and tried to get the attention of the men on the field. One of the men who landed on the grounds of Nishinosato Junior High School that day was Alexei Volobyov. During the Battle for Earth, he fought alongside me and is now one of the most celebrated soldiers in the United Nations Army. But on December 9th, 2006, he was quite possibly the first soldier of the Soviet Red Army to set foot on the Japanese home islands.
He was also the first Soviet soldier to kill someone.
Alexei told me that he was frightened of the principal. He was certain that an authority figure like this man would be armed with some kind of weapon. So, when Alexei’s commanding officer told him to open fire, he did not hesitate.
Kotori and her friends had never heard gunfire before in their lives. Sure, they’d heard the fake noises you may know from movies and television, but any war veteran, myself included, can tell you that no amount of fiction can ever prepare you for the real thing. The sound of it cracked and snapped through the air and made the ears of all who heard it throb. Kotori screamed and covered her eyes as both the principal and guidance counselor collapsed to the ground, unmoving.
Chaos reigned in the school. Teachers tried to guide the students toward the far exits, but children fled in whatever direction came to mind. Doors slammed open, windows were smashed, and youngsters fled to the four corners of the compass. Plenty of them, quite without meaning to, ran directly into the arms of the invading Soviet troops. Fortunately, these men did not have the stomach for shooting children that day. Alexei said that came much later in the war.
Kotori, Chihiro, and Asuna fled together. They ran out of the school and into the snow, racing towards the main road that connected the school to the rest of town. High above, they could see dozens, if not hundreds of parachutes descending towards the earth. Each one carried a man armed with a rifle. The girls screamed in panic and started running towards east, towards downtown Sapporo, but they didn’t get very far before a black and white car with flashing red lights pulled up alongside them and rolled its window down.
Asuna’s father was in the driver’s seat of the police car.
“Get in!” He yelled. “Now!”
Chihiro, Kotori, and Asuna all flung themselves into the police car as quickly as they could and Mr. Tachibana floored it. They careened away from the school at high speed while behind them, Alexei stood in front the school entrance with a Soviet political officer and a government-appointed photographer. They posed him for a photograph, and by the next morning, the image of a Soviet soldier brandishing his nation’s flag on Japanese soil would galvanize the entire world into action.
Stream of Consciousness
Stream of Consciousness
November 9, 2062
Honolulu, Oahu Island, Republic of Hawaii
There was nothing to smell.
Nothing to taste.
Nothing to feel.
The physical universe was extinguished. Akira was floating in an empty void.
In those first few moments, Akira’s mind was filled with so many stray thoughts and memories that she perceived the mental chaos as actual noise. This did not help her acclimate to this new environment. It also didn’t help that she wasn’t stationary. After the first few minutes, Akira slowly drifted to one side and her arm bumped into the side of the isolation tank.
If anything, this caused Akira to start feeling the instinct to panic. Unable to perceive even the warm saltwater she was floating on, Akira reached out for any kind of stimulus to bring her back to reality. She could feel the smallest, dullest stinging sensation on her face, marking the spot where her father had struck her over a month ago. Her knees ached, and Akira thought she could feel her lungs inflate and deflate in rhythm.
Once the urge to panic died away, Akira started to think. She was alone in a sensory deprivation chamber. Somehow, according to her mother and that strange scientist, this was supposed to be some kind of test. What was it he’d said?
“This simple test will determine if you have the Gift.”
Okay, Akira thought to herself. This was all well and good, but nobody had told her what she was supposed to be doing. The only thing her mother said was:
“Stay in the tank until you’re ready to come out.”
Akira’s mind now had something to focus on. The mental noise lessened. She reorganized her thoughts as she’d done hundreds of times before. Akira knew that she would have to do something in here… but what?
She thought back on her history. The most famous Gifted people in history had all done incredible things with their minds. Ignatius Petoskey turned back an angry mob with just a wave of his hand. Cory Tucker brought a notorious crime boss to his knees with a simple stare. Akira’s own mother could stop bullets in their path… and then there was Jericho. The girl who killed a god, who saved all of Humankind… only to leave the world a shattered, irradiated, barely livable hellscape.
What would I do with the Gift?
Akira thought about the way her mother described the Gift… the ability to do fantastic things using only willpower. Well, Akira was a pretty willful person. Teachers and cops alike could attest to that. She could twist minds, warp reality, reshape the universe, perhaps.
None of this mattered if Akira didn’t have the Gift.
But she did have it, didn’t she? She’d knocked over the grandfather clock, didn’t she? Alex, James, and Josiah were nowhere near the thing when it toppled, and didn’t that guy say that telekinesis was part of the Gift? Yeah! Akira felt confidence beginning to well up inside her. She must have the Gift, she’d moved something with her mind… but…
Her mother’s voice flitted through her memory…
“The Gift always starts with mind reading, it’s not normal to skip straight to telekinesis. Moving objects takes practice.”
Akira felt herself deflating.
Was her Gift abnormal? Was she going to end up like one of those victims of the Old Regime? Burned out and exhausted after just a few months? The sense of fear caused Akira’s heart to race, and in this silent place, each beat sounded like a gunshot.
Now, subsumed by fear, something finally happened to Akira. She could see something… but could she? Everybody in this facility told her that she would lose all of her senses in here, yet Akira was faintly aware of something on the outer peripheries of her vision. Waves, or perhaps ripples, silently moved away from the darkest corners where Akira could just barely see them.
Now the tiniest, most infinitesimal points of light were starting to appear. At least, Akira thought they were lights. By now, she had completely forgotten the many warnings about visual or auditory hallucinations. If anyone had asked in that moment, Akira would have answered, without hesitation, that she was drifting alone in a silent galaxy.
Akira saw herself, as though her soul had somehow left her body and was staring down at it from on high. Suspended in infinite creation, Akira could appreciate every inch of herself, and found her mind going down an old familiar path:
“I’m a product of my parents, and their parents before them.”
Akira could see through time as though it was a series of mirrors reflecting a different part of the history that made up her body. The history and actions of her forebears fell into place like building blocks, showing exactly how Akira was forged from her family’s past.
She saw the Irish immigrants who made up the paternal side of her father’s bloodline. They starved as a blight wiped out their homeland’s crops, ultimately fleeing to better lands. Blake’s maternal blood came from the French resistance fighters, who fought from the shadows in a desperate battle to save their homeland.
Akira’s mother, Chihiro, came from a family that underwent great strife and change in the past two centuries. Akira’s Great-Great-Grandfather stood before an audience of defeated and downtrodden Japanese people, and as American soldiers looked on, declared that he was in fact, not a living god. While Chihiro hailed from royalty on her father’s side, her mother was born into a family that lost everything in a war that happened over a hundred years ago. Elevated from poverty to wealth by a single marriage, Chihiro’s mother was no stranger to rapid changes of fortune.
Akira desperately wanted to know the exact circumstances, decisions, and random occurrences in the lives of these people had caused her to be here. Akira struggled against authority figures regularly. Could this be some aspect of her French ancestors? She was intelligent and quick witted, traits shared with her grandfather, who once ruled America.
Akira’s mind seemed to be going down dozens of different paths at once, all starting from a common point but rapidly shooting away from each other. It was like she was racing up the trunk of a tree, only to split apart and travel to different branches. Just before her stream of consciousness broke up into countless little tributaries, Akira caught herself.
I’m getting off track. She told herself. I need to focus.
Summoning up her willpower, Akira refocused her thoughts on a single question, one that she could direct all of her mind upon…
How did I get here?
She didn’t mean How did I get from my house to a sensory deprivation chamber? No, Akira wanted to know exactly how the world she lived in got to be the way it is now. Why were the fields fallow? Why was the sky permanently cloudy? Why was all of the water foul? Why were her neighbors dying so quickly? And above all, What happened to make things so bad?
Akira repeated her question again and again in her mind.
Akira held perfectly still and locked her gaze upon a single nondescript point in the darkness.
Akira’s mind, body, and soul were now acing in perfect lock-step, channeling all of her energy through some metaphorical lens. A point of dull purple light appeared in front of Akira. It was like the single star she’d seen on the one and only night of her life when the cloud cover broke and the cosmos beyond became visible, if only for a moment. She tried to reach out and seize the little light, but her body would not obey.
Akira wanted that light, to take it and hold it in the palm of her hand. It was right there, but her arms and legs seemed to be paralyzed. Frustrated, Akira tried to speak to the light, to command it to come closer, but her mouth did not move and instead, the command echoed and changed about inside her head like a loud noise in a small room.
Later, Akira would not be able to explain how she did it, but this is what happened: Akira turned her mind, much as one would turn a mirror to reflect light. Akira’s willpower, which up until was issuing forth in all directions, finally concentrated upon that distant purple light. Once again, Akira commanded that distant light to come to her. At once, the light grew bigger and brighter, like a speeding car barreling towards a person on a highway. Akira tensed herself, ready for what came next, but then-
The sensory deprivation chamber opened with a great whoosh!
Light, sound, and smells bombarded Akira to the point she was nearly overwhelmed! Voices clapped in her ears like thunder and she jammed her eyes shut because even the diameter light blared forth like the sun!
“Wonderful!” Chihiro cried. “I… I’m speechless!”
“We must schedule a follow-up appointment immediately.” Said Cory Tucker. “You may also want to contact your husband, Corporal Tachibana.”
“What happened?” Akira choked, coughing up a little water. “What’s going on?”
Chihiro wrapped a towel around her daughter, smiled warmly, and aid:
“Open your palm, Akira. Before you burn your hand.”
For the first time, Akira became aware of the fact that there was something very hot clenched in her left hand. She looked down, and nearly had a heart attack.
Little purple arcs zapped like lightning up and down her arm, while shafts of brilliant light escaped between her clenched fingers. It was like Akira caught a falling star and now had it in her grasp. She raised her hand to chest height and opened her fingers.
A magnificent orb of purple light hung in the air an inch above Akira's palm, swirling and rushing as though Akira had captured a psionic storm and imprisoned it inside of the little sphere.
“Congratulations are in order, Tachibana.” Said Cory. “Your daughter is most certainly Gifted.”
The Girl and the Letter
The Girl and the Letter
March 1, 2086
When Inez returned to her apartment building, she noticed something that seemed to be off right away. An unmarked boxtruck was parked across the street from the building. A city police officer was standing in front of it, talking into his cell phone and looking very confused.
Paying the strange sight no mind, Inez took the stairwell two at a time. Arriving on her floor, Inez spotted two people standing outside of her apartment door.
The first person was the middle-aged black man who had been Inez’ neighbor for years. Based on the text message she received earlier, Inez assumed that this was Lawrence Ridge. He kept his back to the wall and looked left to right, looking very nervous. But the individual standing next to him caught Inez’ gaze and held it.
At first, Inez felt the instinct to say “Aww.”
The person standing directly in front of Inez’ apartment door was a young girl, probably about ten or eleven years old. She wore a heavy winter jacket, its green and black colors complimented her eyes, which were a similar shade of light green. The girl seemed to be even more nervous than Lawrence Ridge. She looked from side to side, her hands trembling with unease. There was a slip of yellow paper clenched tightly in her fist.
“Uh, hi Mister Ridge.” Inez blurted out, unsure how to address a man she hadn’t spoken to before. “I’m guessing this is what you called me about?”
Lawrence nodded, then seeing how the girl was trembling, put a hand on her shoulder.
“She showed up about an hour ago.” He said. “Knocked on every door in the building looking for you by name. Do you know her?”
The strange girl looked up at Inez.
“Are you Inez Espinosa?” She asked.
Inez hesitated. She had no idea who this person was, and couldn’t remember if any of her coworkers at Binary Fusion had children who might have learned her name. So, because she was feeling suspicious, Inez responded with a question:
“Why are you trying to find me?”
The mysterious girl immediately stuck out her hand and offered the crumpled slip of paper to her.
“The Professor said I had to give this to you. He said everything depends on you getting it.”
Inez took a step back and put one hand into her purse, searching for her stun baton.
“What professor?” She asked quickly.
The girl tilted her head and bit her tongue.
“I can’t pronounce his first name, but he’s got the same last name as you. Espinosa. Actually, he’s got blonde hair just like you too. Are you related?”
Inez’ hand fell out of her purse in shock. She felt her mouth go dry as the realization hit her.
“You mean Professor Emanuel Espinosa… my dad!?”
The strange girl jumped with recognition and smiled.
“Yeah!” she said. “That’s him!”
Inez looked back and forth between Lawrence and the strange girl. Then she pointed to her apartment door.
“Maybe you should come inside.”
In the apartment, Inez didn’t do more than drop her purse on the kitchen counter. Lawrence closed the door behind him and stood near it. The strange girl didn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. She plopped down on the loveseat with a satisfied “Aahh.”
“So, what’s your name and where’d you come from?” Inez asked while she took the slip of paper from the stranger.
The young girl brushed her long black hair out of her eyes and looked up.
“M-my name’s Cassandra.” She said. “I’m from Bannack.”
“Where the hell is Bannack?” Lawrence sounded quite puzzled.
“Uuuhhhh….” Cassandra let out a long drone as she tried to think of an answer, but drew a blank instead. Meanwhile, Inez held up the piece of paper for Lawrence to see.
“I’m guessing it’s from here.” Inez pointed and Lawrence leaned in for a better look.
Cassandra had handed over an envelope. Inez knew that before the days of Hyperlines, people communicated with letters like this one. The only sealed enveloped Inez had seen before today was in a museum. People just didn’t use paper letters anymore.
Written in the center of the envelope were the words that made up something called a “return address.” Inez remembered that from the museum.
“Professor Emanuel Espinosa, PhD
Fort Weaver Military Research Facility
Bannack, Montana (UN Control Zone)”
Fort Weaver Military Research Facility
Bannack, Montana (UN Control Zone)”
Cassandra and Lawrence fell silent as Inez slid the envelope open and read the letter aloud:
“To my beloved daughter, Inez,
There is no doubt in my mind that you will feel some great anger at my willful neglect towards you. You are owed a heartfelt apology and a detailed explanation about our absence. Unfortunately, time is against us. Please know that I regret my actions, deeply and wholly. I have done wrong by you and have now lost my chance to seek or earn your forgiveness.
A great disaster is unfolding around me, and soon it will envelop you as well. I realize that you probably feel no compulsion to do anything I request, but I must make said request nonetheless. I ask you to read this letter in its entirety before deciding what to do.
The girl who delivered this letter to you is named Cassandra. She was at the very center of the disaster I’ve mentioned, she has witnessed terrible things and terrible things have been done to her. She needs to be kept safe, and until recently, I was providing for her safety. However, this is no longer possible. Enemies are coming for me, they seek to take Cassandra.
Inez, my daughter, I beg you… please take charge of Cassandra. Care for her and keep her safe until I can come to retrieve her. By the time this letter reaches you, I will already be on my way, so you will not have to wait long.
DO NOT talk to her about what she witnessed. DO NOT do anything to make her think she is being threatened, kidnapped, or held hostage. Most importantly of all, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES allow anyone to take Cassandra from you, ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE FROM THE UNITED NATIONS GOVERNMENT.
While there are many people who could be a danger to you, there are a select few you can trust. Should you ever feel in danger, seek out a man named Lawrence Ridge and give him the codeword Wolverines. If you do this, he will take you to Robert Lansing, a longtime friend and ally of mine.
I beg you to do this, and I swear I will give you a full explanation of my transgressions against you when I return. You do not need to forgive me, I know I’ve done nothing to earn it. But please, do not vent your fury at me upon the child. Cassandra is innocent and a victim. Help me save her, please.
Always your father,
Professor Emanuel Luis Espinosa Peres
Director, UN Science Directorate, Physics Division
Inez looked up at Cassandra. The little girl gave her a weak smile. Lawrence furrowed his brow in deep thought, no doubt he was wondering if he should act on the codeword Inez had just read out loud.
“So,” Inez started to say. “My dad wanted-”
But before she could say another word, there were three loud knocks on the door. Bam! Bam! Bam! Inez, Cassandra, and Lawrence all jumped with surprise.
“You expecting someone?” Lawrence asked.
“No.” Inez replied. “Did you call the cops?”
A voice came through the door. It spoke like a man who was all-business.
“Excuse me, we’re searching for a missing student from Greenfield-Union Elementary School. Answers to the name Cassandra, about ten years old. We have search authorization from the city police, and we’re going to force the door if no one answers. I say again, we’re going to force the door!”
“What the hell did I just get into!?” she gasped.
“A little bit of my world, I guess.” Lawrence grumbled as he pulled up his sweater and retrieved an object hidden in his waistband.
“What do you mean your worl-HOLY JERICHO, IS THAT A GUN!?”
Lawrence shot an angry look at Inez, as though trying to tell her to shut up. But it was far too late. On the other side of the door, the man’s voice yelled:
“Gun! Gun! Gun!”
And then two loud cracks rent the air! The middle section of the door blew apart with incredible violence. Then Lawrence raised a Gauss pistol and fired five times in rapid succession, tearing what remained of the door to bits. Gunfire passed through the little room in both directions as Inez and Cassandra held their hands to their ears and screamed in terror. Somehow, Cassandra’s scream echoed painfully off the walls and ceiling, and a moment later, all of the lights went out, plunging the apartment into darkness!
“Good enough for me!” Lawrence’s voice called out from the dark.
A moment later, Inez felt a big hand close on her wrist. She was being pulled from the room in a very forceful way. A clatter of footsteps and crying behind her suggested that Cassandra was going through something identical. Towed through the darkness behind Lawrence, Inez heard the voice of the man who had fired his gun through the door:
“I’m hit! Suspect in motion with an accomplice. Send backup!”
“Don’t stop, go!” Lawrence yelled.
Suddenly, Inez, Cassandra, and Lawrence were out in the street. The dying light of the late-winter sun was just starting to vanish behind the buildings, and street lamps were just starting to light up.
“Nezzie, you got a car?” Lawrence asked.
“No, I don’t.” Inez said, then she added, “And don’t call me Nezzie!”
“Mine’s over here.” Lawrence began tugging both Inez and Cassandra behind him. “Get in the back and we’ll head for Lansing’s place in Alpena.”
“Alpena!?” Inez gasped. “But that’s like, really far up north! We might as well be going to the Upper Peninsula!”
Manhandling the two young women rather roughly, Lawrence threw his new companions into the backseats of a large heavy-duty pickup truck.
“Don’t give me any ideas.” Lawrence snapped as he clambered into the driver’s seat. “If it means keeping you alive until the Prof gets back, I’ll take you up to Sault Sainte Marie and we’ll cross the Blue Line!”
Without another word, Lawrence fired up his truck and pushed it into gear. Inez and Cassandra screamed as the truck mounted the curb, taking the most direct path out of the parking lot possible. As the apartment complex was left behind at high speed, a man wearing a black business suit and sunglasses ran into the street, holding a small camera in one hand and a cell phone in the other. The rear passenger window was down, so Inez could just barely hear the man’s voice over the hum of the truck’s electric engine:
“Silver electric truck with an open bed, license plate number is six-three-zero-nine-zero-one!”
Lawrence floored the accelerator, and in mere minutes, he, Inez, and Cassandra left the City of Detroit very far behind. Underneath the light of the final full moon of winter, the truck carrying the three fugitives vanished into the wilderness of northern Michigan.