"I wonder what is keeping Thebes? They should be back by now."
"I know Harp. Maybe we should try telepathic contact?"
"No, Paschal. Broad-band would give our location and attract to us unwanted visitors..."
"Harp is right, and we are vulnerable with a single Legion. And we lack mobility," added Sitar.
"The best is to continue what we are doing so everything is ready for flash transport into stasis bubbles, prior to preparing the final locations for this planet's ecosystem transplant, and the recovery of the Sedecimus here and on their colony Planet and Home World."
"We still do not have a decision from them," reminded Thorsten.
"Her. The others are in hibernation, therefore unable to contribute to the decision process," Enron corrected.
"How long before we are done with what we need to do and can do?"
"Why the time-table worry, Sitar?"
"Legions are not designed for inaction."
"Then, if the Sedecimus has not decided, we put them on mining. There is enough Mithril and Orichalque to keep them busy for years. I know Thebes' mining and extraction machinery is far more efficient then Legionnaires, even if they are helped by the FSS, but they will be kept busy!"
"And how long will it take to recover the Sedecimus sites, should she decide it is a go?"
"A week each. We want to recover the entire set-up, not only what is mobile. The whole thing will be cut out of the rock face in a single block, but that requires careful surveying, and the deactivation of the explosive protections set up by the Sedecimus to stop the Lobsters from invading their last-ditch nests."
"With our current forces, yes. Should Thebes be back before then, a Legion by nest cuts the work to a week."
"Paschal, you know that putting a Legion on a nest will have them step on each other. There is such a thing as over-flow of workers."
"I know Harp. That is why, as soon as we get her approval, I want the protections deactivated, and the surveys to begin. Even if this means delaying other aspects of the recovery. Their nesting structures are too packed to be butchered by miscalculated haste."
Thebes was busy, both inside and out. Outside, the recovery of the lump of Ianium was nearing completion, but several billion tons of Orichalque still needed harvesting and fusing with the outer shell of the Atlantean ship.
"How long?" asked Harold to a pair of Artificial Intelligences, mimicking, unwittingly, the preoccupation of his Sons on Solarius.
"A week for the last of the Ianium. It is a difficult thing to manipulate."
"And the Orichalque?"
"We are recovering one hundred million tons a day, so, if our estimates are correct, another 30 days..."
"Send a fast Scout ship to Solarius to inform them of the additional delay. We are well past our estimated return date."
"Releasing a Scout. Crew activated. Destination set, course plotted. It is time-travelling and should reach Solarius within the next six hours."
"We are that far?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"What about the clean-up of the Galaxy?"
"Going on schedule, added six days to transit of the recovery capsules. The fleets are halfway to the galactic periphery as of last report. The further they progress the slower it gets, in conformity to King Enron's life-density map. The first to finish the cleanup will be the one tackling the arm we entered. The next one is the one following us to this point. Fourteen days for this last one, a month for the previous one. The others are longer because the Fleet need travel further. Time-tracking civilisations for recovery is about uniform. The Slavers combed the galaxy with a fine brush."
At the other end of the table set in the Imperial Ready Room located off the Bridge, Annabelle was handing internal situations in Thebes.
"What is the situation with the Mandarins?"
"Bloody. We also added the Bonzes: religious nose-pickers Prince Colibri called them."
"How is it affecting administration?"
"So far, the issue is the apprehended rebellion is no longer apprehended: It is active, and we have two Hordes cleaning up after the mess. They have learned, way late, not to use portals to move, but they seem to have yet to notice that doors are simply portals as well. We clean them up when they go somewhere and no one is watching them. The suddenly vacated seats of power are filled in by the Legionnaires, whom are devoted to the Imperial family Soul and Body. Once a Legionnaire has a grip on a situation, with our help, the overall administrative process improves one-hundred-fold."
"And the integration of recovered civilisations?"
"That is a sore spot. It is way slower than anticipated. It does not suffice to recover an entire planetary ecosystem and put the recovered Slaves back in their natural environment for things to be solved. They need reconditioning from their Slave mental set, and their family rarely believe they were rescued from imminent destruction by the Erasers. We have barely begun processing them as we give priority to the backlog due to volume from the Milky Way. We need Paschal to streamline the process."
"What has been the tactic for the ex-Slaves?"
"We display the recording of the Erasers at work, show them the events that occurred after they were 'technically' erased. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not."
"And when it does not?"
"We do a total wipe and reprogram them. It is a last-ditch effort, because this is time-consuming and resource-consuming as well. Strangely, the issues we face in Andromeda have similar origins to those we are facing in the Milky Way rescued population. The Soul Eaters probably used similar tactics and produced the same mental set as the Slavers in Andromeda: an unwillingness to fight for one's survival, and suffer martyrdom rather than put up a stand."
"And it succeeds?"
"Around 99% of the time."
"And for the 1% that are recalcitrant to treatment?"
"They are put in stasis until King Enron is back to check on the biology of the species, and Prince Paschal is able to design an adapted mind cleanser."
"Have you been able to find a pattern that would allow us to predict potential problem species?"
"Prince Colibri is working on the issue. So far, all his hypotheses have been proven false."
"How many species are currently 1- fully integrated; 2- are in wait to begin the integration path; 3- in the primary phase of integration; 4- in the secondary, so called last-ditch integration phase and 5- in stasis due to resistance? And finally, just for curiosity, are we still receiving civilisations from the Milky Way and if not, why?"
A few minutes passed while Annabelle waited, an eternity for the omniscient Artificial Intelligences to reply. Finally, AI-1 replied:
"Question 1: 2,433,999,692 civilisations have fully integrated into the functioning tapestry of Thebes. Question 2: 9,533,321,121 civilisations are waiting to begin the integration path and are therefore in full stasis mode, either because their environment has yet to be recreated, stabilised, or even assigned a Tessaract. That number is in constant progression. Question 3: 322,300,101 civilisations are in the primary integration cycle. Question 4: 3,223,001 civilisations are in the last-ditch phase, of which 322,300 are expected to fail and end up in stasis until a solution is found. Question 5: 1,433,331,200 civilisations are in wait for a solution to their mental barriers are found. Finally, we are still receiving transfers from the Milky Way, about a thousand civilisations a month, as the time-capsules are nearing the beginning of the galaxy. We expect things to taper down within a few more months and the last civilisation to be recovered within six months. Prior intergalactic cannibalism has prevented the development of civilisations on Planets due to excess radiation as each Black Hole merged, creating radiation pulses that roasted anything."
"Understood. What portion in percent, of the fully integrated civilisations are from the Milky Way?"
Currently, 99,2% but dropping very slowly. The majority of in-process civilisations are still from the Milky Way, but more and more are taken from the incoming of Andromeda."
"And finally, to close this meeting, a more personal question: how is Daniel handling things?"
"He is out of the Imperial stasis pod section, fully rewired, and is now discovering the benefits of telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation under the guidance of Colibri. His latent diabetes was removed. He is currently sitting his first Mage exam, and succeeding nicely. The next step, according to him, is to get some fine engraving tools, better than what he called his toothpick for Tyrannosaurs he used to build the Seal he used for the demonstration."
"Is he happy?"
"Has his mother caused trouble?"
"She is not even looking for him. He delivered a dozen Crowns to her, and left before she began spending them on legal poisons. His comment to us is to the effect that it was ironic she was paying him taxes to poison herself."
"The little bugger."
"But how true, since, like any good government, we tax vice to the hilt. Including, if he gave it some thought, her job as prostitute."
"Has he begun his work as official... counterfeiter, so to speak?"
"He is collecting tools, and is diving his nose into the Ancients' work on the task. I wonder why he ordered an atomic balance?"
"What does it do?"
"It measures the weight of a piece to the nearest atomic weight. He is studying the composition of the coinage in use: copper, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. He is swearing a lot, so there must be something wrong."
"I will ask tonight, as we are having a family dinner rather than the daily Court evening meal. But fill in the order. He gets what he asks. If he is interested, I do need a Minister of Finance or a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Given his propensity at defrauding the State, he would fit perfectly in that role!"
"Hey guys! Mail from home!" said Harp as he spotted, in the dark skies, the streak of a Scout ship inserting itself in orbit.
"Are you sure you are not expecting males from home?"
"If it had been a Cargo ship, I would have welcomed a fresh Legion."
"Look who is speaking! Anyway, I have established mental contact with the crew. I told them it was not necessary to land. Listen in on the report, and we will inform the Legion of the news."
Several minutes passed as the Imperial family members and the Mages listened in on the report. Finally it concluded, and the command staff began asking for clarifications on certain points. To conclude reports, the Mages forwarded questions by Legionnaires, most of which were tooth-picking on details that had escaped the family.
«Our turn to report. Start the automatic recorder,» ordered Harp.
«Biology report, Enron!"
Enron covered the recovery efforts, their progress, the discovery of deep-sea life, the construction of stasis chambers and the mapping of the environments sustained. He then added the discovery of the Sedecimus, and their role in installing the planetary-wide protection for their own need and, accessorily for the benefit of the species they had called the Proglocks. They also expressed the hope that the name did not mean they are adverse to progress, locked in their habits. Finally, he told the future listeners of their hope that the Sedecimus representative would decide to come with them.
"Sitar: military situation."
Sitar exposed the current situation, the eradication of a religious faction, and that the planetary defences had been deactivated but could be reinstated with a flip of a switch should their bases and the Planet come under threat. He expressed the need for fresh troops as fatigue was setting in.
Paschal exposed the repairs done to the Proglocks launch sites and the construction of additional sites to accommodate the recovery of the deep-sea life. He exposed his plans to take the Sedecimus nests out of the planetary bedrock, and bring them on-board Thebes.
Thorsten explained the mineral richness of the Planet, the rather high concentration of Orichalque and Mithril, and his plan to extract it to the Core. He also expounded on the other riches found within the bedrock, the old oceanic beds and other aspects of mineralogy that would probably make hisDad salivate.
Finally, Harp exposed the situation for the Mages, and he too expressed the need for five Centuries of Mages to replace the deeply fatigued Centuries currently running the show. He then expanded on the time-table and the need for Thebes to come back shortly.
«We are done. Return to base.»
«Okay. We are leaving a narrow-beam relay embedded in a meteorite, should you need emergency help. Frequency 69 terahertz.»
«Thank you. What happens on trigger?»
"A wide-band emergency recall for Thebes, under protocol Alpha-Omega.»
«Dad did not mince the recall priority!»
«The Emperor has nothing to do with it. It is the AI as a group that insisted before departure, your Highness. The Emperor does not even know of it. Should it be triggered, all outside activity will cease, crews and material ported on-board, and the ASS Thebes will port to this location in a single quantum jump. That is what the AI representative explained and we agree it is a good safety measure. The Galaxy is far from safe.»
«Are there things you are hiding to us?»
«We have been asking ourselves the same question since the AI collective imposed the recall protocol. I suspect their probability index for imminent trouble has suddenly taken to high altitude.»
«Anyway, as a preventive measure, we will prop the readiness from level 4 to level 3 on the two basses. The silos will be moved from 'ready to launch' to 'lock-down',» decided Sitar. «Harp, Paschal, speed up the construction of the additional silos. Lock down the Sedecimus nests, and inform her of the developments. Tell her the moment Thebes ports in the star system, her decision time will be shortened to a few minutes, if that, as things will, not could, degenerate and turn ugly. Order the transport of a Horde, with full-blown fire-power to the system, and a complete complement of space-ships. I am not for passive waiting games given the requests the AI collective placed on you.»
Paschal took over. «Tell Thebes to activate protocol Omega. That will release a series of production chains for massive transport ships, much larger than the Whales, and containing enough time capsules to empty the planet in the blink of an eye. But producing them takes a day each, so put it on fire! I hope we can get a dozen before things degrade.»
«Return to Mother ship,» ordered Harp, finally concluding the exchange.
The Scout Ship blinked out of existence, bent on reaching Thebes as quickly as possible.
"Legionnaires! You either heard directly, or through the repeat of the Mages, the situation. We are now on Ready State Three! Three out of four go to lock down the silos, the others speed up the construction of the supplementary launching silos. Harp, visit the Sedecimus and inform her of the brewing situation. Paschal, Thorsten, lock down the other nests. Replace the Sedecimus security by suicide approach with our own security by offensive approach before locking them down. We are now under martial law. Proceed with diligence but with security in mind. Once this stage is complete, do not wait for further orders: recover everything alive at the sea bottom and activate our own stasis protocols. Thorsten, you are in charge of cutting out the 52 nests, ready for emergency porting, the moment Thebes shows up. Mining the planet takes second seat. If we can not mine it safely because of trouble, we will simply swallow it whole on board Thebes, if that is an option, Paschal?"
"Yes, but that would add a lot of dead weight to Thebes."
"Better that than leave resources behind to be used by anything warranting an Omega evacuation protocol ordered by the Artificial Intelligence Collective. Once the Planet is eaten up, nothing stops us from leaving behind the shit as obstacles for the creeps."
"I informed the Sedecimus of the situation and your orders, God of War. She asks to be included, but to be taken out last, after the others of her species."
"We will set the order of evacuation according to our priorities, Harp, not hers, and as an intelligent life-form, she has Alpha priority, like all members of her species and the Proglocks. But no need to tell her, right, Harp? There is such a thing as operational security." as Harp pulled a tongue out to the face of Sitar.
"What about those to be recovered through time?" Thorsten asked.
"They can wait until we deal with what troubles the Artificial Intelligences. They are protected by Time itself."
Six hours later, the Scout ship popped in view of Thebes.
"Scout Ship SS-490900-3000-2S reporting materialisation 50,000 miles off port," informed the Bridge radio station. "Transfers of data in progress. Priority calls sent to AI collective. Incoming visual for the Bridge Commander."
"Bring it to view."
The face of a Wolf appeared on the front screen. A click later, his mental pattern locked with the Bridge Universal Telepathic Exchanger, and his mental voice could be heard.
"Scout Commander Wolf Grey Eyes of the Tenth Lair here. The Legions on Solarius have progressed considerably. Incoming telepathic reports by the Princes and King Enron. Orders to Thebes by the God of War to send out a Horde to their location as quickly as possible. Orders to Thebes by Prince Architect Imhophet to activate production lines to output Omega ships, notwithstanding other needs, Priority Alpha-zero. Boarding protocol engaged."
"Report to Bridge as soon as the ship is secured."
The communication was cut and Harold looked at Annabelle and Samson.
"If things are supposedly well, why is Sitar acting like his ass is on fire?"
"Good question, Harold, very good question," said Annabelle.
"Your Highness, the martial law decree that came in through the under-current communications exchange while you were talking to the Wolves has Horde Six called to action, Troop Transports of Home Fleet 21 are currently loading and porting out of Thebes, amassing for teleport to Solarius at our left rear. ETP fifteen minutes."
"ETP?" asked Samson, not familiar with the developing military mumbo-jumbo.
"Estimated Time to Porting, your Highness," clarified a young Bridge Officer, whose uniform was so stiff with starch he had to work to bend the tissue. His blindingly shiny metal clips on the collar marked him as a fresh from the Military School Decurion.
"Thank you, Decurion."
The Royals watched the fleet assemble, in perfect arrow formation, then port with a flash of light that the Thebes light shields had problem absorbing as it almost blinded the Bridge crew.
"What the fuck?" asked Samson, rubbing his eyes that still showed spots.
"Emergency long-range porting, Your Highness. They ported half-way to their destination and then right to target."
"The Omega call included in the direct exchange between the Scout computer and the Artificial Intelligences."
"How long before we are done here?" asked Annabelle.
"Twenty-nine days. We could cut it down to a day by putting all our resources out."
"Do it!" ordered Annabelle, worried about her children. "If things turn bad, leave what has not been harvested behind. We need to be ready to port in five minutes flat. Bring out the telepathic report to our secure desk! Samson, can you take in Grey Eyes Wolf's report while Harold and I listen to that telepathic report from the Princes and Enron?"
The Wolf made his way to the Command chair to be escorted by Samson to the Ready Room to do his report. Once he had left, Harold and Annabelle merged with the telepathic reporter and listened to the exchange and the unsaid thoughts of Sitar, Harp, Paschal, Thorsten and Enron, which had been recorded by the telepathic machine of the Scout as by order of Sitar.
As they listened to the report, they saw nothing that would bring Sitar to the brink of war... until they listened again and Colibri, who had been invited to the second listen-in, whispered to their ears: "The cause is an Artificial Intelligence Collective report about imminent threat to their location with a high probability index, and the AI Collective telling them of the AI activating the Ready for Omega Recall Protocol. You just made it official and public, Mom. I suggest you request the report from the AI."
After Colibri sat down in a quickly materialised chair, the Empress and Harold exchanged comments pertaining to the explicit part of the report, waiting on Samson to join them. Samson made it out from the Ready Room shortly after, and Grey Eyed Wolf left to return to his den.
"So?" asked Samson.
"Let us go in the Ready Room, Samson. It will be long. Who left with the Horde called up by Sitar?"
"Timor, Tom and Jerry, the Princes' and King's bonded Dragons, Cleopatra and Caesar and the First Dog Army, the Second Armoured Army."
"We are talking about how many?" Samson asked as AI-1 finished.
"Under the reformed structure instituted by Sitar, a Horde is composed of 12,221,111 members, or one hundred armies. It does not even create a dent in our resident forces. He could have called upon a Swarm, or ten Hordes. He could call in a hundred thousand Swarms and it would not even show as a dip in the Active, or ordered the general mobilisation, which would bring our military to full power overnight, as every member of society undergoes intense military training and is available for recall at any moment after their stay in the Active. You do not want to know how many Swarms that means. Oh no, you really do not want to know."
"Our Son does not do in lace-work, does he?" said Annabelle.
"And I thought I married a military maniac in you, Annabelle."
"Harold! You know I never went up past Centurion grade, and our Son IS the God of War."
"Do you wish to?"
"Raise above Centurion?"
"Certainly not! It is already a pain to keep an eye on my personal Centurie, Harold! If you think I am interested in more of the same!"
"Okay, okay! I know what you mean. I just wanted to get rid of my own."
"Clean your own shit."
Colibri smirked, and Harold eyed him with narrow eyes.
"Come to think of it, young Prince Colibri, you never got above Scout Leader if I remember."
Colibri tried to back away but found the door locked.
"Time to invest in your future, Colibri. You are going to military school... and I want a Centurion out of you within the month!"
"Please! We have thousands of species in wait for their dedicated living quarters!"
"Billions is more like it," said AI-1.
"You heard! Billions!"
"So your absence will not markedly delay their integration. Off to the barracks with you, young one. And pick up Daniel. He is getting enrolled too!" declared Harold. "Being a Prince is not all fun and games."
"As if I acted that way..."
"Maybe not, but military experience is never a lost experience, if only to discipline your body and mind."
"Are you telling me my mind lacks organisation?"
"No, definitely not, but you do need to train more physically."
"My little baby fat bothers you, oh unwrapped Mummy?"
"AI-1, port Colibri and Daniel to the registrar of the First Legion, nude... and without any identification papers. I do not want them to have favoured treatments."
"At your command, your Highness."
A very shocked and sobbing Colibri made a sudden appearance at the desk of the Registrar, to be followed by an as shocked Daniel.
"What? Where am I?" asked Daniel.
"I was with Dad, the Emperor, and he got pissed at a comment. He has me enrolled for military training. Unfortunately, he also added you in the boatload of shit."
"So, you tried to escape military service and got caught?"
"I did not! I simply was enrolled as Biologist when my family was rescued Earth-side. I was already in the local Militia. I thought it was counted as service!" exclaimed Colibri.
"It does not!"
"Who says? I can read, and what Colibri said is true."
The Registrar tried to slap Daniel, but Colibri took his small finger and snapped it right then and there. "Try that again, bastard, and it is your neck I snap!"
"Little toughies, eh? We redress them," said the Registrar, cringing from the pain.
"Make up your mind, we just got stripped!" said Daniel, watching the military bully carefully.
"Radius Breaker! Two to redress on the double!" yelled the Registrar through the door behind his desk.
In walked a huge Man who eyed the diminutive figures made by Colibri and Daniel.
"Why all the noise? You want me to break the two birdies' wings? Oh... I see, they broke yours. No right hand to jack off for a week? Your balls will blow off?"
"Get to it, asshole."
"Okay. Kids, follow me," said Radius Breaker, smirking at the Registrar's red face. As they passed near them, the Registrar tried to slap Colibri behind the head only to go flying right over Radius Breaker as the Prince used a powerful judo move compounded with a pulse of Magic.
"I thought you were to be at the desk?" asked Radius Breaker at the collapsed form of the Registrar. "Dereliction of duty to eye cute asses? I doubt the Emperor would appreciate that on your report card. I heard he is pretty pissed as it is nowadays."
"Do we not know it..." muttered Daniel, barely loud enough to be heard by the Trainer, who blinked at them.
Taking care to walk right over the Registrar, Radius Breaker told them "Beware of the carpet, it is bumpy. Too much garbage got pushed under it."
The kids followed suit, imitating Radius Breaker in wiping their feet on the Registrar.
"You made yourself an enemy, Boys," he said, as the door slammed shut, breaking the Registrar's hand that had been gripping the door jamb as he tried to get up, eliciting a cry muffled by the closed door.
"He made an enemy," Colibri replied, "and it never a good idea to have me on the wrong side."
"What just happened?"
"A crushed hand. It will require a stay at the Hospital while they have him in stasis and the hand is rebuilt."
"I see..." Radius Breaker walked deeper in the Legion training quarters. He listened as the two Boys exchanged comments on the events of the day.
"What brought the Emperor's ire, Colibri?"
"Dad did not take well at my smirk after Mom, Empress Annabelle, told him to clean up his own shit, meaning the troubles he might have within his Legions..."
Radius Breaker ticked... He knew of trouble within the Legions, and it seemed that the Emperor did too. This required careful handling!
"But I do not get why I got involved..."
"Daniel, you do need training. You got incorporated in the Royal Family less than 24 hours ago. That implies a considerable change of status, a lot of responsibilities... and a will to command and deal with problems. Come to think of it, I do not get why he had me sent... I have proven over and over I know how to command, face a military situation, and deal with the unexpected. As for you, Danny, my friend, you need to prove yourself valuable in more than simply deal with the counterfeiters. Who knows? You might well lead a Centurie by the end of the month, in battle at that. Things are not rosy outside. We are under Omega Recall Protocol, and, as you probably do not know what that means, our Brother, Sitar, can call Thebes to battle instantly. I know they are speeding up the Orichalque and Ianium collecting process, and have put on hold the integration protocol so as to focus production for the Omega Recovery Ships, which I have only a vague idea of. The only thing I know is that, from the telepathic report, our Brother Sitar is considering swallowing an entire Planet into Thebes. This must be critical."
"I feel over my head..."
Radius Breaker realised he was too. First, he had recognised Colibri from having seen him do television conferences about different ecosystems, and then he had learned that Daniel, Danny, had been added to the Royal family. He was therefore dealing with two Princes, something that had clearly escaped that dirty belly-button focussed on his ass hole Registrar. Then the Omega Protocol was known by the military Officers above Centurion, and Radius Breaker, having freshly graduated from that station, had just been reading the new information released to him because of his new station, and it matched what Colibri said. Something was not said, but he decided to wait and listen. The kids seemed to totally ignore his presence, so why remind them of it, as it let his ears listen to information he might not gain otherwise. Information is the nerve of War, he had heard his Training Officers say repeatedly.
"But I thought Harold was known for his even temper?"
"He is, Daniel... until someone betrays his trust."
"No. That is why I am surprised at his reaction... unless... That is it! I should have understood right away and offered my services!"
"What did you understand?"
That is the question! thought Radius Breaker, as he opened his ears wide for the answer Colibri was bound to give his friend.
"Yesterday. Remember how Harold looked?"
"All bloody, foul-smelling and a temper to shrink-wrap a Dragon in a steel plate?"
"Yes. What you do not know is he found that the public administration has been carving mini-empires in the Empire, each one trying to get as much power, influence, and richness for themselves as they could grab. It even reached the Alpha Security Station, right under his nose. He was furious and paid them a bloody visit, Mitsuko ablaze with his fury. And now..."
"Remember our last exchange. No, you can not, you were not there, come to think of it. Dad said that... Oh shit!"
"He wants me to look at the Legion, bottom up, and clean up their own propensity at creating little empires within the Empire each with their own Mandarins."
"A Mandarin is a person that receives a mandate from the Emperor to administer a certain aspect of the Empire. It may be a territory, a trade, a city, a route or a Bridge... Anyway, Mandarins were first instituted by the Chinese Emperors to handle the management of the Middle Empire as they called their lands. It dates from Earth, Daniel, and way before the Cataclysm. I know, it is not widespread knowledge, but history tends to repeat itself, and we talked about the Mandarin epoch yesterday after he came back from the cleanup. You were there, but I gather you were in shock and did not really pay attention."
"I fainted. I was sure my last hour had come."
"Fainting would not have resolved the issue had it been the case, would it?"
"No, come to think of it. But where does that lead?"
"It is now clear to me: he made this entire big temper show down to get me to clean up the Legions. He could have simply asked."
Things clarified themselves for Radius Breaker and Daniel. Radius Breaker would do his best to help in maintaining the cover for the Boys and help them in their task. He knew of quite a few 'Mandarins' in the Academy itself, and his experience outside had shown him the reality of the Imperial analysis.
"How did you get the oaf to fly?"
"Judo. I used his inertia against him. You noticed he was rotating quickly to hit me; I just accentuated the movement and used the inertia to get him flying. It can be useful. I learned that from Spare Ribs."
"The Marshall of one of the Feline Hordes. He and his Brother are friends of mine and good Teachers. They taught me valuable lessons: do not underestimate your opponent; hit where it matters; hit with all you have; turn your enemy's strength against him; out-smart your opponent; out-speed him if you can or stay out of reach, and so much more."
"Anticipate his actions; look for repeated moves; check if he has a weak side; and go for the kill as soon as an opportunity arises. Fighting is not playing with your food. Given they are Sabre-tooth Tigers, that comment takes its full sense."
"Were you playing with your food when you sent the Registrar flying?"
"Yes and no... Yes because I could have killed him when I broke his finger. No, because I was protecting you, not hunting. The day I go Registrar-hunting, he will not know who killed him."
Radius Breaker realised it was he who would benefit from Colibri's protection, not he other way around.
"This place is huge!" said Daniel as they kept following Radius Breaker along long halls, moving ever deeper in the Academy.
"Yes. This is the First Imperial Military Academy, where our Brothers Sitar, Harp, and others teach occasionally, or act as proctors for the exams. Paschal showed me the outside, and the plans some years ago, and, if my memory is correct, we are headed for the Grading dorms."
"Each individual is graded to establish where he stands on arrival; then, from there, they are trained to their potential, if they have the will to stand to the training. That includes all sorts of things, from weapons to hand-to-hand fighting; command and obedience, strategy, planning, getting out of trouble and getting others in them without getting caught."
"There, I can give lessons!" said Daniel.
"I know. I think that is why Dad wants you involved. He did not need to add you to this, but I think he wants us to find out for real if the training is up to his expectations."
"And if the Registrar, which is a graduate, is any indication, some butts need kicking."
"Yes Daniel, definitely."
"How do you plan to tackle the issues? We might as well start planning while we can."
"Good point for you, Daniel. Strategy sessions can be held anywhere, anytime."
"First, I will see who we are dealing with. Mandarin mentality sets itself up early. It can be seen in dorms, with bullies carving their own little bed-empires with their fists, their big dirty tongues, or by using proxies."
"Bullies paid by smarter bullies to take the heat."
"Then we go to do the sorting; I will act like a powerless weakling so you and I share the same classes. It will also bring out the bullies of all levels, from the weaklings to the big white Sharks. We then will be sent to classes. We will act below my level, while I train you to catch up with me... When I feel secure that you can follow, we move. That means we clear up the school bullies, the school Mandarins, and proceed with a serious, and if necessary, bloody cleanup. Teachers are also liable to forming cliques, and the bigger the professorial body, the more likely this is to happen."
"Are you not afraid that the Registrar will talk?"
"No. He is too ashamed to expose to others he got beaten by a potential trainee. But he will try to get me from behind. I am sure of it. I just hope they have his genetic map somewhere because his face will have lost human form. What am I saying? We are in a military society. They have a genetic map for everything alive; they can track you with your piss on the walls!"
"I can help you," decided to say Radius Breaker. "I am the proctor for the sorting. I will have you sorted to the lowest grade, both of you. I can also point out some of the most subtle Mandarins, you called them? Of this school, those that act so double-faced they probably do not need a mirror to shave."
The voice of Radius Breaker brought his presence back to the attention of the Princes.
"Do not worry, I will not say a word about your task. I am so glad you dealt the doormat his comeuppance. He had it coming, being a prick to everyone because he did not ever get a promotion even if his dad tried again and again to get him promoted beyond doormat. And you are right to beware of him; he is known to get even at the least expected moment, in the most humiliating fashion he can imagine."
"Too bad for his ego."
"He will get to you by Daniel if he can not get you directly, Colibri."
"Are you interested in a Human skin coat?"
"No, mine's warm enough."
"We are at the dorm room used before new recruits are sorted. I suggest you put yourself at the furthest bed, Colibri on the top bunk and Daniel at the lower bunk." Bullies collect themselves at the front bunks for some reasons."
"To block escape; to post watch and get warnings should a proctor or other authority make its way to the dorm."
"Good analysis, Colibri. You do show your experience. I will be proud to work with you."
"If they go after someone?" asked a scared Daniel.
"Your pick... Send the bully to the hospital, or ignore the event. But knowing you, I suspect some broken bones and black and blue skin will be visible. By the way, this is a mixed-species dorm. So do not be surprised to see a variety of life-forms."
"That is acceptable to us."
"Dinner is in an hour. It is just down that hall, and turn left at the end. Good luck."
"Dinner? I just had breakfast?"
"Daniel, Thebes is a sphere. It is divided in 24 slices. And we have moved forward by almost 10 hours."
"There is more, Daniel, but I do not want to burden you with details. Let me just say we stayed at the lower mantle level of Thebes, not the nucleus or inner nucleus, but neither have we moved out to the median or outer mantle, or to the lower, median or outer crust or skin of Thebes. This too affects how time is dealt with and split. And let us ignore completely the pockets of virtual reality, compressed space, time, stopped time, or accelerated time found sprinkled everywhere and regrouped under the common name of Tessaracts. Harp went overboard with all these time wraps. Thebes reminds me of a Swiss cheese with all its holes in reality, time, and folded space. The primary Bridge is near the nucleus, but not in it. The emergency Bridge is in the inner nucleus, and is considerably more compact and has access to far more dangerous weapons than the primary Bridge. I talked with Paschal about the overall structure of the ship, which he knows inside out since he designed it, and he explained the existence of a variety of Bridges, adapted to specific needs of different species. That goes from temperature to atmosphere, to culminate in controls. The Primary Bridge is where you met Harold. Should thing degenerate to the point we needed to move into the Emergency Bridge, we would find ourselves packed like sardines; there is an Imperial suite there, but it is basic accommodations only with pre-stored emergency rations... We would hot-bed with our Brothers, according to him."
"A bed never gets cold because it is always occupied; one goes out, another comes in."
"And hope to never live it. Except during exercises. This happens at random."
"How do we get there?"
"The emergency portal network is spread around Thebes. You get ported by a port-key that got implemented in you during your genetic upgrade. When the portal activates, you find yourself in a long-range portal with a countdown of 3 seconds. By reflex, you will fold into a ball, and that is counted on or more probably hard-wired to be activated by the port-key. The emergency portal then ports you to the Emergency Bridge, where you are ejected into the reception hall to allow the next incoming to land where you were. That is why being in a ball is so useful: no broken bones. You receive bed assignment on arrival, and find it; read the bed sheet list and hit the bed if your name is red, meaning you are to be asleep."
"What if I don't feel like sleeping?"
"The moment you hit the mattress, you will sleep, want or not, need or not, for 8 hours. The other cycles are 4 hours on the Bridge, 4 hours rest and other activities repeated twice. You may find you are assigned to Bridge or off duty. Read the scroll found near your bed. It details your time-table. It is something like this: S(for sleep) B(ridge) R(est) B(ridge) R(est). On the Bridge you will be assigned a station. Initially, it is Internal Security. Since we are all supposed to be military; then it changes, I have been told. I would be assigned medical because I am biologist; you... probably something in the line of tracking and interference if I understand what you are really capable of. Alexander always seems to land the Helm and Samson navigation during the simulations. There are probably good reasons for that. Sitar ends up with the bloody end of things, internal and external, backed up by Harp."
"What if this call happens while we are here?"
"They will not notice. Time changes on the Emergency Bridge. A whole simulation, lasting weeks, takes a few milliseconds relative time. I suspect Harp had a heavy hand in designing the Emergency Bridge structure. It may even exist between time frames... I heard that time is a quantum quantity, but Harp went over my head when he began explaining the relation between time, matter, energy, space, and probability. According to him, we exist only as instances of probability in a quantum universe. He lost me. I invite you to ask him if you want a headache. He showed me drawings that moved on the computer screen supposed to represent the interference pattern of probability waves at different frequencies to mimic the quantum nature of energy, matter, space, and time. Everything is a wave on a poly-dimensional string according to him, even Magic. He says the best Mages play the strings of the Magic Harp. I suspect he was playing with his name."
Radius Breaker had stayed close enough to hear but out of sight. He was impressed by Colibri's simple images to explain mysteries that had baffled him ever since he had become a foot soldier in Samson's army, so long ago. He remembered fondly the companionship that enveloped Enron's Army as it crushed betrayers, conquered the world, and set about saving the Human race and Life in general. He missed that feeling, and realised it was in part due to the emergence, within the army itself, of what the Princes had come to eradicate: the Mandarins.
"Let us go out in an empty training hall for half an hour. I need to get you trained and some of that training is best done in peace... and in secret."
The two Boys, having claimed the furthest bunks as their own, moved out and quickly walked off, Colibri leading them down five sets of stairs to the lower basement of the Academy.
"If you look around, you will notice this area is unused. Sit down."
"It is dusty."
"That is the first task you will learn, the first real mental training of your life. I wish Harp was here, he probably would explain better. For now, trust me. The first objective is finding your Core. For that you need to focus on your inner feelings. When you feel a pulse of energy, try to visualise it. Gradually, you will be able to sustain its presence. Relax, focus, and do not fight. It is not a battle with yourself. Your Core is you, and you do not want an inner war."
Radius Breaker listened but did not understand the exercise's goal. However, he was very disciplined. If the Prince attached value to that exercise, there must be one. So, he too sat on the cold dusty floor of the hallway and began looking for what the Prince called his inner Core.
"Finding my Core? What Core?" asked Daniel.
"Your magical Core. Everyone has one, but only a few manage to find it and utilise it properly... they are Mages."
"But I am not a Mage!"
"So you think, but you are. You always have been, but it was not developed. The fact that you can do perfect, and I mean perfect, facsimiles of the Imperial and Royal Seals is proof enough. It takes Magic to do them in the first place, and, had Harp been present when you did your demonstration to the Emperor, he would have seen the Magic at work. Unfortunately, Harp, the Prince of Magic, is the only Mage able to see Magic in action."
So, that was what it was all about?! Radius Breaker realised. The exercise was about gaining access to Magic... his dream! He refocussed on the exercise guided by the gentle prompting of Daniel by Colibri. Daniel seemed to have trouble finding his Core, but, gradually, he found its first sparks.
"Is Magic these sparks I see in myself?"
"Yes. The sparks, colours, or other manifestations of the outer reach of an untrained Core can guide you to finding your Core. Feel around, and try to find where the highest density of sparks is. For me it was finding the most saturated colour. For Ian, who has a musical ear, it was where the harmony was perfect, and Alexander was the source of the drumming march he kept hearing. Harp told me for him it was the whole orchestra with a symphony of fireworks. Probably the more powerful you are, the richer the show. I had a good laugh when Greywolf told me his guide was the smell of a fresh kill. He was not the only one with that guide to his Core: so did Spare Ribs. I did not ask his Brother."
That is the path to the Core? Radius Breaker thought, And I thought I was getting ill! Had I known! Radius Breaker worked double-hard to recover the feeling he had experienced during these brief glimpses of his own Core.
Colibri resumed his guidance to Daniel, and after fifteen minutes, the Prince could see-feel his Core. So could Radius Breaker.
"Okay. We have been at it for half an hour. Take a deep breath and dive into it." said Colibri. "Do not feel afraid. You need to embrace your Core, not fight it. The feeling, for me, is like taking flight; for Greywolf, it is like a relaxing run; and for others, like taking a swim... You will not fall, you will not cramp, you will not drown, whatever the medium your Core gives you the feeling of. I suspect the feel is intimately connected to your elemental force... Harp is primarily Fire, and the only one that is also Water, Air, and Earth. I dared not ask Harp what it feels like in the Fire or Earth elemental state, as I am deeply afraid of getting burned or of closed spaces. We seem to each have our weaknesses... except Harp. And I never met another Fire or Earth elemental either. Most are Air and Water."
"Does it go with his temper?"
"Maybe. I never thought of it that way."
"And you? Are you multiple?"
"I am Air with a dash of Water. I think, but I never verified, that Sitar is Earth and Water. Earth because of his propensity to spread out rust, aka blood, everywhere. All Royals are at least bimodal."
"So, I could be... bimodal... too?"
"You will be bimodal. You have been incorporated in the Royal family, Daniel. It is not a choice. But further elementals could be shown."
Radius Breaker had taken the dive into his Core as soon as Colibri had suggested it and found himself flying over a vast forest, interspersed by meadows and small prairies, hunting for something. So he was Air. That did not surprise him as is fascination with birds had driven him to falconry. Now he would have a better understanding of the needs of his Falcons. He relaxed, enjoyed the updrafts, the spiralling dives, the silent glides to catch an appetising morsel, the life of a Falcon. But he kept an ear on Colibri.
Silence on the other side of the door did not indicate any change of status. Daniel finally emerged to talk to Colibri.
"Wow! I was flying and then I took a dive into a river to catch a fish and changed into a trout or something... Then I sort of jumped out of the water with my catch and flew off to eat it."
"So Air and Water, like me. One thing more before we continue. I dared not disturb you while you were in your Core for the first time, but you will be living in it more and more. This means that your senses will be affined, your reflexes improved, and that your telepathy will become a permanent state of affairs. Be aware that there are some good ways to handle telepathy, and there are bad ways. Telepathy can lead to a lot of trouble if it is misused. Nosey for the sake of curiosity is bad form. On the other hand, when you need to say something to one person either a Royal or anyone else for that matter, but do not wish others to hear it, or for some reason you request privacy, it can be damn useful. Especially when the other person is a light-year away! And please, do not yell! The biggest mistake of first-timers is to yell their thoughts. Distance is of no importance in telepathy. Telepathy has its uses in a fight, Daniel. Once it becomes second nature, you can read someone's intentions before he sets them in motion and you can ready yourself for counter-measures. At some point, body language reading will become so ingrained you will be able to see a lie a mile away, anticipate action and counter-actions even before the opponent has the time for form a plan, and so forth. Did you ever see Harp and Sitar train in combat?"
"You missed quite a show. They anticipate each other so well it becomes a dance, not a battle. You will also need to learn to filter out thoughts. Believe me, the background din of uncontrolled thoughts leaking out of brains can give you a major headache. And do you really need to know what are the perversions of everyone that crosses your path? You would probably render your non-existent dinner before eating it if you did not block these thoughts. You need only focus on thoughts that concern you, or one of your family. That will be enough to keep a part of your brain busy. But fair warning: keep a close ear to what happens in the vicinity. We are targets on legs. And there are always idiots that think they can out-do us. The best way to put a stop to that idea is to act before they do or on instinct. We will have to do that often. Consider this a part of your Royal training."
"Now... Radius! I felt you near all the time. Do you really think you could get away unnoticed? Get in here!"
Radius Breaker walked in, looking like a kicked Puppy caught with his nose in the garbage bin recovering tissues.
"So, Radius, did you enjoy your first lesson in Magic?"
"I am Royal, Radius. I survive by being aware of my environment, even invisible, all the time. So, Magic?"
"I am an Air Elemental. I always wanted to be a bird, envying their freedom of the air. A Falcon, from how I flew."
"Good. So, let us go have dinner. It is about time I think, or so says my inner clock."
"Daniel, do you have that feeling of 'it is time to eat'? Even if it is less than an hour since you had your breakfast?"
"Royals have that inner clock that allows us to know the local time to the nearest microsecond, once we are trained. It is vital in some circumstances. When I helped Paschal set up an additional engine drive set for Thebes in the outer rings, that proved essential to time things perfectly with him. We will get to it later. I doubt Paschal will need you for that task... until he returns. Thebes has added several miles of Orichalque to its outer Core, and that will eventually require additional drives, but not for a while."
The three made their way to the dining hall, Radius separating from them before they reached the more commonly frequented halls.
"No need to give the others the impression of favouritism..."
"Agreed, Radius. See you later. Train in your Core while you are not with us. Telepathy will open up some time soon. When it does, I will train you."