The Four Mirrors
Sequel to 'Legacies'
A/N: What's this? A chunk that only took 5 months to write as opposed to a year or more? Why it's almost like AJ's actually getting the spark back and is writing more and more often! Check the thermometers in hell am I right guys? In all seriousness though, it feels like I'm making fantastic headway on regaining my steam. I've noticed a few negative reviews arriving but I'm not even bothered by them anymore. I've gone back to re-read my older fics enough times and hated them (you're your own worst critic and all that jazz), so I can't really blame people for pointing out my flaws. I actually plan to release an edited remaster of Crossing of the Paths at some point in the future with (hopefully) all the grammatical errors removed and the plot holes patched up. I did feel the need to clarify one little tidbit here in the Author's Note though in response to one bit of criticism. One person said that my portrayal of the Hylian Goddesses in the previous chunk runs counter to new Zelda canon in Skyward Sword. My reply to that is that I heavily disliked Skyward Sword and do not regard its retcons to the Hylian Pantheon as valid. My fics generally contain canon solely from Majora's Mask and earlier. As far as this trilogy is concerned, Wind Waker and every game released after it never happened. That's a personal fanon choice and people are free to stop reading if they dislike it. Now then, let's wrap up this gargantuan note and get to the next chunk!
Chapter XXIII - Cygnus 10
December 14th, 2271
Cygnus was sitting alone on a balcony at the top of a huge skyscraper that cold wintery morning, pondering the view and taking a rare break to simply think. His life had been so incredibly busy for so long that it almost seemed like he was barreling through the decades in flight at maximum speed, never pausing to take in the sights. He was 83 years old now, closing in on the even 100 that their grandfather had died at from his old age, but because of a mixture of medical nanite therapy and a little bit of spring water secretly brought from Purity Canyon, he and his brothers still didn't look any older than 40. For so many years he spent every single day jogging around the city, in High Council meetings, doing economic paperwork, and helping direct construction of K'tellian cities that he didn't even realize how advanced his age was getting. Sure Nolus occasionally complained about their youthening treatments being unnatural, but Cygnus was always too busy thinking about his next construction shift or the next tariff he would have to work around that it never truly sank in. Now that he was sitting atop a completed Central Tower in his very own city in K'telle, he finally had no more construction work to oversee that could distract him from thinking about it. His next High Council meeting wasn't until tomorrow, and for once he didn't feel like jogging or playing a Holoball practice match.
The new city had been named Nasca, he had chosen it as an homage to the famed gigantic line drawings in the Nazca desert in Peru as a symbol that their species was beginning to make an indelibly large imprint on the face of the planet now. His city had been the latest one to completion, now K'telle had five huge towering cities full of gorgeous silvery skyscrapers. Teyn was their capital now, and the other four were Belicia ruled by Venius, Nilaya ruled by Opulous, Sativa ruled by Nolus, and here was Cygnus with his city Nasca. Cygnus smirked a bit as he remembered the fact that Nolus had snuck in the name of a certain psychedelic herb to represent his city, it certainly did nothing to dispel the popular cultural perception of Nolus as a crazy tree-hugging hippie.
Cygnus pondered the city below him, it was gorgeous. None of the other skyscrapers were quite as tall as the Central Tower where he was sitting, but several came close. They were marvels of engineering, each one gigantic enough to house tens of thousands of people and countless businesses. Graphene, Silksteel, Tritanium, and other new advanced alloys had allowed these buildings to grow much taller than ever before, all while incorporating gorgeously futuristic architecture and design. The city was laid out in a perfect circle with the central tower in the middle, and main roads subdividing the city like spokes of a wheel, creating separate districts. There was a donut-shaped park surrounding the base of the central tower, filled with trees and beautiful foliage and playgrounds for children to run around in. The city's limits were defined by a thick 30 foot tall wall that Venius had insisted they build around every city for security's sake in case a war broke out. The wall had gates for every major road and its outer surface was covered in a gorgeous reflective mirror that would be able to bounce lasers off in the event of an attack. Cygnus glanced out at that wall and felt a pang of sadness as his gaze lingered on the huge defensive plasma cannon emplacements that had been built periodically around the perimeter facing outward. He hated the fact that they needed those weapons and he wished every day that he didn't have to look at them, but he knew they were necessary. He could link to the Sodalis at any time and look up more fresh news articles filled with doom and gloom about their political situation in the world, but for now he decided not to. All this introspection and pondering about the world left a bad taste in his mouth, so Cygnus decided he needed some company to fill his time. He looked down past the starships docking at the spaceport just a few floors below and locked his gaze on the ground at the tower's base. Maybe if he did something stupid and risky it would take his mind off of everything.
Cygnus smirked a bit, then promptly coiled his legs and leaped from the balcony. He didn't actually intend to strike the ground, his thoughts weren't that dark after all! Sure he could just teleport to the base of the tower and it would be quicker, but this wasn't about convenience, it was about fun. He used a tiny bit of telekinesis to steer his falling trajectory between two huge docked commercial freighters and whooshed right past their hulls, feeling his fur stand up and spark a bit as he grazed the energy shields they used for protection. He grinned as he felt that crackle of electrical charge in combination of the icy cold air blasting past him. His eyes darted to look at the ships as he fell and he saw a huge painted K'tellian flag emblazoned on the hull of the freighter to his left, as well as the ship's name painted directly underneath: "KFS Magcargo". It had been a bit of a silly tradition to christen most of their fleet with names of Pokemon species, he felt it was still more dignified than the hero worship of naming them after Tanis or Shakara or Lightest or any other long dead historical figures. As he passed all the ships he let go and simply plummeted, not even caring as the winter winds bit at him and robbed his body of warmth.
It still didn't take long for Cygnus to reach the bottom, most of the trees here were all brown and stripped of leaves for the winter, but the park was still beautiful. It was an island of nature in a sea of Steel and glass, untouched by any taint of pollution thanks to the alchemical furnace. Cygnus caught himself with telekinesis and landed gently on a footpath leading up to one of the sets of doors at the base of the tower. He looked up and nodded, feeling satisfied he had landed where he had aimed. Here was a set of beautiful, shallow white marble steps that led up to a huge set of swinging double doors made of solid steel. The doors were gigantic, easily two stories tall and 20 feet wide in total. The most prominent feature about them was a gorgeous carving that covered every inch of the surface. Cygnus had commissioned Melicia to carve a scene from history onto the doors, it depicted Lightest on one door and Darkest on the other, and they were locked in eternal combat, crossing energy swords, their wings spread wide. The intent wasn't to idolize either of them, but rather as a reminder of their existence and what they had meant to the species as a whole. Cygnus felt that despite the wretchedness of Darkest's deeds, it was important they never forgot who he was, lest one of them risk falling to insanity and trying to divide themselves into good and evil sides too. Of course, the larger than life carvings of them were suiting too, since these doors opened to the primary Sanctum in Nasca, and the Sanctums had taken on quite a religious significance in the last few years. Cygnus walked up the steps to the doors and used a touch of telekinesis to swing them open.
This Sanctum was designed the same as all the others, it was a U-shaped room similar in structure to a Greek Amphitheater, having rows of tiered seating all around the U-shaped room and a flat stage down in the bottom center. There was seating in the form of purple velvet cushions; there were enough of them to seat 200 'Twos comfortably. The place was decorated with holographic sculptures, again mostly done by Melicia, each depicting historical figures such as Tanis, Mewtwo, Shakara, and Lightest. The Sanctum was about half full that morning, Cygnus didn't bother to count but he was sure it must have been close to about 100 Nascan citizens, mostly 'Twos with one or two humans in the mix. The place was utterly quiet, everyone here was either peacefully meditating or communicating through Sodalis without the need for audible spoken words. The Sodalis signal was extremely strong here, as it was in every Sanctum, and the reason was plainly obvious through a large polyplexiglass window on the far wall behind the stage. That window opened to a large chamber where 20 'Twos were sitting in meditative positions with their bodies wired into the Sodalis systems. These were the volunteers who came to spend time allowing their minds to act as computational cores in the system, they were now reverently called "Devouts" by the followers of that Sodalis Transcendentalist religion that had been surging in numbers over the last few years. Cygnus wasn't a believer himself, but he still found it much easier to call these people Devouts instead of the mouthful that was the official name "Computational Neuronal Volunteers." This was the main hub for all Sodalis transmissions in Nasca, there were huge pylons of Triton I Inductors lining the walls of the room where the Devouts were wired in, each pylon emitting a soft purple glow. Cygnus could practically feel the energy on the air from the proximity to all this, and he actually had to actively shield his mind from Sodalis here to keep his thoughts to himself, so strong was the link. That was why people came here to meditate, one could simply sit down on a cushion, open their mind, and feel the millions of minds swirling all around them. Still, Cygnus didn't plan to shield himself for long. He smiled as he spotted the "Devout" that he had come here to visit, Talas Aurah. Cygnus picked a cushion, sat down, and reached out to him telepathically.
"Dad!" Talas replied happily when he felt Cygnus's mind joining him in the link.
"Hey there big guy. How have you been today?" Cygnus asked, smiling and projecting warmth and pride through the link at him.
"Fantastic! It's been way too long since you last came to see me in a Sanctum. How's life treating you, you still busy as all get out?" Talas asked, mirroring those emotions right back at him.
Cygnus chuckled a bit and said "Well it's finally starting to calm down a little bit. Construction on the city is officially complete now, and what with the giant trade embargoes put on K'telle by the UHN this fall, I don't really have too much economic negotiation to do, so here I am."
Cygnus could feel a pang of worry from Talas when he brought up the topic of the embargo. Talas would have frowned where he sat in the Devout chamber, but his whole body was effectively in stasis so he relied fully on his words and the link to convey his emotions. "Yeah, I've been following all the news articles about that. Pretty damn awful, but not surprising at all. The massive economic collapse in China last year was goddamn scary, it makes sense they would push for a global ban on K'tellian manufactured furnace goods to protect their own cheap labor pool."
Cygnus sighed and replied "I tried to warn Opulous it was coming. I knew that after we bottomed out and wrecked the prices for precious metals with the alchemical furnace by mass producing them that it was only a matter of time before the UHN would economically isolate us to save their own skins. Still doesn't mean we haven't made decent money using the furnace to drive our own local economy, but it's been a miracle from Arceus himself that the UHN hasn't found an excuse to declare a war on us yet. Heaven knows that asshole Genning next door in Hoenn would love to get an excuse to surround us on our shores with his navy and start blasting away."
Talas grunted a little bit and said "No kidding. Still, I admire all the work you've done to try to keep the peace with humanity. Sending all those food donations to starving populations in India and China is probably the big reason we're not at war right now. The overpopulation problems in those places has only gotten much more terrifying now that anti-aging nanites have gotten cheap enough to get common use in the third world."
"Sheesh you got that right. Even with Nolus now giving away all our surplus food for free every month I still wouldn't be surprised if we started to see mass starvation and wars between human nations over food and water soon. But ugh, this is not the topic I wanted to get sidetracked onto when I came down here to chat with you. I wanted to get away from terrifying thoughts about the shitty state of our politics with humans."
"Ah, sorry dad. Given I essentially have a 24/7 live digital feed to every major news outlet on the planet in here now it's kinda tough for me to avoid thinking about this stuff." Talas admitted.
"Nah, it's alright, I understand. I am worried about something else not political though. How long have you been in the link now doing maximum shifts every day?" Cygnus asked.
Talas paused, gathering his thoughts as he tried to spin this in a way that avoided Cygnus coming to the conclusion that he was addicted. He tried to think of the last time he had gone a day without a full 8 hour Sodalis shift, but stammered a little bit and failed. Cygnus frowned a bit and said "I can see you in there through the window. You look really thin, Talas. Unhealthily thin. Have you been taking walks every day like I told you to, and eating lots of protein?"
Talas stammered again, still trying to think up something to say, and Cygnus scowled deeper. "Talas, listen to me. You know there's been medical studies showing some Devouts have had severe muscle atrophy from spending too much time in the link and not enough time in the real world. It's only really severe in those who go home and dive into the link again after their volunteer shifts are over, that can lead to malnutrition and even total bodily atrophy. You're addicted, you need to at the very least not use Sodalis when you're outside of your volunteer shifts. We put a legal limit on the length of those volunteer shifts for a reason, you're letting your body waste away!"
Talas gave a growl in protest and said "Dad, listen, I'm an adult now! I'm 63 years old for Lightest's sake, can you please stop butting into my business and let me live my life how I choose?"
Cygnus clenched his fists in anger and said "Talas, you being 63 and still doing this to yourself is exactly why I'm so worried about you! You should know better than to neglect your health like this! If you keep this up, then eventually you may not even be able to walk out of that room on your own without someone carrying you. I'm doing this because you're my son and I love you, I can't just sit and watch in silence while you let your body rot away into a pile of bones!"
"Dad this isn't just some addiction, I'm not a Nu-head shooting up in some seedy club, my volunteering helps people every day! We wouldn't even have Sodalis at all if the others and I didn't spend this much time in the link helping!" Talas replied in frustration.
"Then listen to me and stop using Sodalis outside of your shifts! Get some exercise, eat some food, build some muscle!" Cygnus paused, then resumed in a sadder voice. "Besides, I want you to come out here and see with your eyes all the beauty I've built. We have an entire nation now, you're not going to see it sitting at home immersed in the link all day."
Talas replied in an equally sad tone, "But Dad, I do see it! I see it all, so much more than you can imagine! I see every single inch if the city through hundreds of thousands of eyes each day. It'd take me a decade to see the entire thing just by walking through the streets with just my own two eyes. In here I can see the sights, hear the sounds, feel it all through everyone in Nasca. I can't tell you how proud I am that you built a city this beautiful! If you really want me to see it best then why not let me see it through this?"
"Because I'm worried if you keep this up you won't be around in a few more years to see what else we might build...and besides, I wanted to see it with you by my side, not walking around by myself alone with nothing but my fears of politics to keep me company."
The emotions in this last impassioned plea seemed to finally strike a proper chord with Talas and he remained silent in the link for several moments as he realized the gravity of what Cygnus said. Then suddenly Cygnus felt Talas disconnect himself from the link entirely. Cygnus opened his eyes and looked through the window, seeing a blinking red light on the neural interface helmet that Talas was wearing. A pair of attendants that watched the Devouts ran up to Talas and helped to safely disconnect him from the helmet, then remove the IV line that gave him a drip of fresh saline water that kept him hydrated. Gradually they woke him from the trancelike state he had been in and got him to his feet, and a few minutes later he came hobbling out of that chamber into the Sanctum proper to walk slowly up to Cygnus.
Talas, despite being 20 years younger than Cygnus, looked far older than him. He walked with an unsteady wobble, the skin hung from his bones, and he had aged far less gracefully. Cygnus reached out to take his hand and stabilize him, then patted him on the back. "Hey, welcome back to meatspace gramps." Cygnus chuckled, smiling happily at Talas.
"Hah, pot calling the kettle black you old geezer!" Talas laughed, then gave Cygnus a tight, warm hug.
That hug lasted for several wonderful seconds, and Talas eventually said "You're right...there is something special about getting to actually feel this in person. I get to do it with my arms, not somebody else's."
Chapter XXIV - Opulous 9
March 23, 2276
Opulous had a sinking feeling about today's High Council meeting. Perhaps it was all the grim news about political strife on the holo-TV networks, or perhaps it was the deep and angry scowl on Venius's face as he sat across the meeting table from Opulous. They were waiting on Nolus, who was late by a good half hour, and Cygnus was tapping softly on the table while thinking. Eventually Venius lashed out in frustration.
"Will you stop that Arceus-damned tapping Cygnus? Every tap is like a hammer blow to my brain."
Cygnus frowned a bit but stopped. "Jeez, who pissed in your coffee today Venius?"
"Once the meeting starts you'll see." Venius grunted.
Cygnus shrugged and then resumed waiting. When Nolus finally arrived Venius shot him a dirty look. "The prodigal brother finally arrives."
"I'm sorry, I've been working on multiple projects, including working on a final draft of a bill I want to propose today. The Sativan Low Councilors are extremely vocal with their criticisms and tend to spend a lot of time talking." Nolus replied, looking genuinely apologetic.
Venius seemed to be verbally winding up to lash out at Nolus, but thankfully Cygnus chimed in and interrupted him. "Let's just call this meeting to order and get started shall we? We're already 38 minutes late and this meeting is looking to be a long one."
When Opulous connected up to Sodalis with the rest of them he could already feel the anger seeping off of Venius like a cloud of toxic gas through the link. He frowned a bit and adjusted his connection slightly to filter out as much as he could, then spoke.
"This K'tellian Council Meeting is now in session, all three Councils are linked via Sodalis. Our first order of business is a matter of espionage that I would like to bring up." Venius replied via pure telepathy, not even bothering to talk out loud.
Venius reached out with his mind and activated the holo-screen in the center of the table, bringing up a large list of text highlighted in red. It zoomed past faster than most people could read it, but Opulous's artificial eye could track and read the text easily. It was a list of internal military documents about security protocols, codes, patrol patterns, and encryption on both Sodalis and Melpomene. A sinking feeling immediately began to form in Opulous's stomach as he connected the dots between the importance of these files and Venius mentioning espionage.
"This is a list of files that have been compromised from my own personal computer systems. Not only were the files copied without needing to break through secure encryption protocols, but I have proof that the guilty party was none other than former-human K'tellian citizen Ayla Lynn, whose group of ex-human cultists has been living in K'telle for decades now. The system recorded these file copies while she operated under her own username login as my secretary, and there are recordings of her leaving Belicia entirely mere hours after the timestamp of the file copies. Additionally, the next day after she was recorded doing this and leaving, the Sodalis suffered a major security compromise wherein several foreign psychic agents, identified as Alakazams working with the UHN, broke into the network, took even more data, and attempted to use Sodalis to insert viruses into Melpomene to sabotage it. Most of these viruses were caught by Sodalis Volunteers who were able to identify the intruders via their brainwave patterns, but significant damage was already done before the intruders could be locked out of Melpomene. A large amount of sensitive K'tellian military secrets have been totally compromised, and I've been forced to work with the leaders of each branch of the armed forces to completely retool several security protocols from scratch."
Gravely serious expressions crossed the faces of Opulous and his brothers. Already Opulous could feel outrage and hatred for Ayla beginning to boil throughout the Sodalis over this betrayal. This wasn't just the baseline anger at the UHN that Opulous was used to sensing from his people, this was an upwelling of the desire for revenge.
"Do you have reason to believe that we might expect an imminent attack from the UHN using this stolen data before we can fully adjust our defensive protocols?" Cygnus asked.
Venius shrugged and shook his head. "In the short term? Absolutely not, they are not militarily prepared for deployment judging by what we have seen from our satellite spy cameras. However, there is some basic tactical data that unfortunately points to longer term plans like that. There are three primary areas of UHN military buildup I am concerned about."
Venius paused and switched the holo-screen over to a flat map of the entire Earth. Three areas were highlighted with clusters of red dots, one in Vladivostok Russia, one Northern Hoenn right across the sea from K'telle, and one along the western coast of the USA covering a large area of California and Washington State. Venius selected Russia first and the screen then showed a huge series of airbases being constructed.
"The first area of concern is on the outskirts of the Vladivostok naval base, Russia is gathering a significant amount of its armada of aerial warships and constructing a large amount of new airbases all around the city to maintain this armada. Judging by satellite images, the majority of this air force consists of small but nimble unarmed troop transports and large, heavily armored carriers. Moreover, this fact paired with the recent buildup of large scale maglev trains leading to Vladivostok leads me to believe that Russia is preparing to act as a major source of ground infantry for a potential mass-invasion of the K'tellian mainland. The Russian army has multiple millions of potential reservist soldiers, the fact that they are building transports heavily implies they are planning to activate these reservist troops at some point in the future and launch a mass invasion."
"Venius, isn't this information a bit too sensitive for a public Sodalis meeting?" Opulous suddenly objected, the pit of fear growing stronger in his stomach.
Venius shook his head and said "No, in fact the UHN has not even bothered to hide this buildup. We all know they have visual cloaking technology on a large enough scale to hide such construction projects, this tech was used to hide the buildup of international human forces from Shakara's Protectorate so they could surprise her and destroy her fleet. They also know we have cameras on satellites, ships, and the Blue River stations that can clearly see this buildup, so the only conclusion we can draw is that the UHN wants us to see what they are doing and they want to intimidate us. They don't care that we know, and the K'tellian public needs to know how dire the threat is becoming."
Cygnus sighed and said "Very well, what are the other problem areas?"
Venius nodded and switched focus to Hoenn now, showing several huge naval ports jam-packed full of oceanic warships under construction. "Kurtis Genning, former Governor of Hoenn, is now a prominent General within the Japanese Navy, and he has been the main driving force of a significantly large buildup of naval forces in Hoenn mere miles away from K'tellian shores. We're already seeing several new classes of naval warships under construction that seem explicitly designed for long range coastal bombardment. Take note of this particular ship here-"
Venius paused and brought up a slide of a battleship-sized vessel with several large, imposing new weapons turrets that looked significantly different from typical lasers, plasma cannons, or old fashioned guns. "This ship under construction is armed with what sensors indicate are extremely high-powered rail guns. We don't know the specifics, but judging by the measurements taken in the photos they are at least 500mm guns. Slugs of this size, made of a sufficiently massive material such as depleted uranium, fired with the supersonic force of a rail gun, could completely devastate any of our heavily fortified defensive emplacements or make a complete ruin out of our fishing towns along the coast. There are 10 of these ships in development and many more, but I do not wish to waste the time of the councils describing them all in detail. Suffice it to say, Genning seems intent to make his Japanese forces into the primary naval arm of this three-pronged UHN buildup."
Even Nolus looked disheartened at this, he sighed and said "And let me guess, the American buildup is even more terrifying?"
Venius gave Nolus a grim look and didn't reply with a yes or no. Rather, he switched focus to a huge cluster of star ports on the American coastline in California where several huge starships were under construction or docked.
"The Americans seem to be content with becoming the UHN's primary wing of orbital forces. Here you see a huge cluster of Battleships capable of both aerial and orbital combat action, armed with numerous ground-facing and side-facing plasma cannons and torpedo bays. The ships are as of yet incomplete, so we are not yet fully aware of their capabilities, but judging by the number of turrets on their hulls so far it's clear they're meant to see air-to-surface bombardment action and air-to-air combat. With the level of versatility to the theaters of combat these ships can engage in, they could be a significant threat to K'tellian holdings both on the ground and in space."
"So...do you have any proposed plans at all for how to respond to these threats?" Opulous asked.
Venius nodded and said "Indeed, I've drafted two major proposals to handle the direct combat threats and the espionage threats. The first proposal is called the "Anti-Psionic Espionage Security Act", or "APESA" for short."
Opulous immediately saw Cygnus and Nolus both very outwardly roll their eyes at this. Venius had clearly pronounced the bill's name as "Ape-Saw", which was a none-too-subtle racist play on words given the fact that a lot of Belicians who hated humans viewed them as apes. This was nasty, partisan, racism-fueled scaremongering from Venius at its worst yet. None of them seemed willing to interrupt him to call him out on it yet though, so he continued.
"The bill simply states thus, all humans who seek to register to become naturalized K'tellian citizens from now on must submit to a compulsory complete mind scan in order to even be eligible as part of the naturalization process. This prevents any traitorous human spies from getting into K'telle in the first place, as a complete mind scan would be able to root out even the best-hidden ill intents from minds of those who wish to migrate here."
Opulous immediately felt and heard vigorous outcry breaking out all across the Sodalis in response to Venius's proposal. In a manner of seconds a political dividing line formed between the more jingoistic war hawk K'tellians of Belicia and the peace-loving folk of Sativa. Nolus immediately chimed in mirroring those Sativan sentiments.
"Now hold on just a minute here Venius. There are thousands of human citizens living in K'telle now, many are Montalbo workers who migrated and became permanent citizens because they loved our culture and technology. Do you know how severely this will alienate them? Or how difficult it's going to be to forcefully subject them all to mandatory mind scans?"
Venius grunted a bit and replied "Well, Ayla Lynn was one of my most trusted friends, I trusted her to be my own personal secretary and handle my most sensitive files, and look what that got us. We didn't mind scan the ex-humans thoroughly enough and it has led to the biggest Melpomene breach in our history."
"Regardless of that, do you really think it will be feasible to track down and force so many thousands of people to submit to such a degrading and insulting scan? We'll make them feel like second class citizens, unwelcome in their own home country. That will make them more likely to want to betray us, and will cost tens of thousands of man hours and Lightest knows how much money!" Cygnus protested.
Several angry Low Councilors from Sativa, Nasca, and Nilaya immediately chimed in mirroring these protests, and all four brothers could feel the angry political arguments between citizens heating up to dangerous pitches on Sodalis. Venius finally relented a bit and said "Fine, then I amend the bill to at least grandfather-in all currently existing human K'tellian citizens. Only humans wishing to register for citizenship after the bill's passage would be required to submit to mind scans."
This seemed to calm down the furor significantly, and the anger at Ayla seemed to now buoy support for the bill among the populace. The Low Councilors stopped protesting, and Venius then said "Holding vote, all in favor?"
Nolus was the only Nay vote, Cygnus and Venius voted yes while Opulous abstained. Op felt like this was a far more partisan than he was willing to support outwardly, but he still felt like the mechanics of the bill were sound and Venius had a good point with his desire for security. He might have even voted yes, had Venius come up with a much less tasteless name for the bill! But as it stood, he didn't want his name penned to something that essentially implied humans were apes in its name. Abstaining allowed the bill to pass without him showing personal support, which ultimately made Venius grin a little and Nolus toss his hands up in frustration. "Fine, fine, the measure passes. What was your other one Venius?"
"I would like to propose expanding the K'tellian military budget by a significant amount in order to answer this new human military threat. I have already developed a number of new military hardware design prototypes, including anti-air heavy laser cannon platforms, aerial drone carrier starships, and a new siege shield dome system designed for protecting K'tellian cities from UHN Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to safeguard us from nuclear strikes in the event of an all out war. Such designs will be extremely expensive to implement, but given the threats we currently face and the fact that there are currently no major projects drawing on K'tellian budgetary surplus funds, I believe we can afford to raise the military budget by as much as 15%." Venius replied boldly.
Cygnus sputtered a bit at that number; if he had been sipping a drink he undoubtedly would have sprayed it all over the table. "15%?! Venius, do you realize how significant a figure that is? I mean sure, we're not exactly building any new major cities or another Alchemical Furnace here at the moment, but that'd essentially annihilate all of our projected fiscal surplus and risk starting to dip into debt. Considering how the UHN has currently made it illegal for any of its member states to offer us any loans, you're asking us to ride a very thin razor's edge!"
"So, then let's offer more trade deals with non-UHN nations. I heard India recently had a significantly major political falling out with the UHN over the UHN's friendly treatment of Pakistan, why don't we offer them a trade partnership? K'tellian psychic labor and cheap goods could significantly aid in the major mining projects they've been considering starting, but have otherwise been unable to afford. Did you hear they were considering drilling the Earth's first Mantle-deep Thermal Borehole?"
Cygnus sighed and tutted a bit at Venius. "Diplomacy's never that simple, Venius. If the UHN sees us buddying up with India they will probably just reverse their Pakistan policies to try to scoot in and push us out." He paused and then scowled at Venius, adding "Don't you suggest we buddy up with Pakistan instead either, their religious theocracy has only been getting more and more terrifying in the last few years, I don't think we want to cozy up to that."
Venius shrugged a bit and said "Well, the people of the Orre region of Japan have been consistently friendly to us since the very beginning, even to the point where Governor Pullano has directly contradicted the Japanese Prime Minister whenever he speaks ill of us. We should cultivate more ties with her too."
"Alright, alright, fair enough. I guess I can agree to some budgetary increase, but no more than 10%! I also want to know what sort of insanity you plan to spend that mountain of money on." Cygnus relented.
"I'll happily take what I can get. As for my projects, well first of all I have something that I think all of you can get behind." Venius replied, then switched his screen over to a diagram of Teyn.
The diagram portrayed a series of large shield barrier projectors installed inside the city's walls. These things were huge, each one 50 feet tall and 25 feet wide, cylindrical in shape. Venius grinned and said "Research in force field technology has advanced enough to the point where I've managed to design these large scale shield projectors specifically for defending our cities. Each one is several times stronger than even the largest shield units aboard a military battleship, and if you agree to increase my funding I'll build 25 of them in a ring pattern around each of our five major cities. These Siege Shield domes are based on the systems currently in use for containing the Blue River, they are designed to capture and absorb energy weapons, and have the potential to reflect the blasts of nuclear warheads if powered sufficiently."
Opulous raised his one organic eyebrow and said "Wait, are you serious? How large of a warhead can it block, and where would it get the power for that?"
Venius grinned and said "From the Blue River itself of course. We increase the bandwidth of the projection systems on Paladin Station even more and continue to tap into the infinite energy of the Interdimensional chaotic space and we won't have to worry about outages. The shields can reflect warheads up to 35 megatons, which should exclude the massive majority of the UHN's old stockpiles of ICBMs, which are usually never more than 5-7 megatons in yield. Such a shield would not protect any K'tellian lands outside of the cities, but the vast majority of our civilian population would survive just fine. Especially since the Siege Shield system is designed to absorb gamma radiation and reflect alpha and beta radiation extremely effectively. In the event of a nuclear strike our people would survive and we could construct more of Nolus's hydroponic farm domes inside the cities to feed our people indefinitely until the fallout can be cleaned up. Ideally, this would prevent the UHN from even considering using nuclear weapons against us in the event of a war and prevent another near-extinction event like the one that killed Tanis and Shakara." Venius said proudly.
Opulous was legitimately impressed at the technological prowess on display here. Venius and his research team were definitely working hard to put Op's team in Nilaya to shame. Even Nolus seemed to be having difficulty coming up with ridicule for this project. Eventually Cygnus asked "Do you think you can accomplish this for all five cities without affecting the nationwide power grid too heavily?"
"Absolutely. Most human military warships use plasma weaponry, and I designed this system to absorb energy from those weapons to counteract them. UHN ships would actually make the shield stronger and feed energy into our grid if they kept shooting it with plasma!" Venius replied with a devilish grin.
"I assume it can also be controlled to allow our own ships to pass through as well, as well as raindrops and wind?" Op asked.
"Indeed. The only real downside is that individual K'tellians flying with telekinesis will need to make a telepathic call through Sodalis for a flight exit aperture to be opened. I assume you have no qualms about this, Nolus?" Venius asked in an amused and slightly pointed matter.
Nolus shrugged and said "Well I do wish we could shield all our land under this, not just the cities, but that's probably wildly impractical. Still, I'll vote for it. Saving people is important.
All four voted unanimously in favor this time, and Venius smiled and said "Thank you everyone. I will discuss the other new military designs with you in a classified meeting to give you the specifics on my ships then. Now then, Councilor Nolus, I believe you had a proposal of your own for us tonight?"
Opulous frowned as he walked downstairs toward his lab after the Council meeting. All the doom and gloom talk about UHN military buildup was enough to make even him start to feel significantly worried. Op had always been confident up until now that the lessons humanity had learned from the war with Shakara's Protectorate would prevent them from repeating that violent mistake, but now finally he wasn't so sure. Those photos Venius had shown them were rather stark and undeniable evidence of UHN military ambition. Opulous had never really disagreed with Venius's principles of preparedness, especially since Opulous himself sported the cybernetic proof that such preparedness was necessary against violent attacks, but he never truly thought they might actually need to use such force. It was a disturbing thought, one that wasn't exactly mollified by the anticipation Opulous felt for having to spend the rest of his evening grading essays.
Op had been teaching advanced courses in plasma physics, theoretical physics, and astrophysics for the better part of the last decade, and the demand for his knowledge was only growing. As K'telle's population continued to expand, so too did the throngs of pupils eager to absorb and propagate as much of his knowledge as they could. He didn't mind the idea per se, in fact Opulous was absolutely proud of his ability to advance K'tellian education and scientific advancement by being a professor. The problem was that he didn't have any proper Teachers' Assistants to help him grade assignments due to how many quickly advanced through their classes to take positions in their chosen fields. He had more than 500 essays to grade before the end of the week, and most were at least 5 pages long or more. He decided to go down to his lab to find his old friend and assistant Lucas to help him grade those papers.
Of course, Opulous still trusted Lucas implicitly even after the news of Ayla's betrayal. But that didn't stop a sudden spike of fear from jumping up Op's spine when he entered his laboratory and found it empty. Lucas was supposed to be here keeping an eye on several nano-synthesizer machines that were working on building some new, highly advanced prototype 3D-layered nanoprocessor chips. There was no sign of Lucas, at least until Opulous found the nanosynthesizers offline with a scrap of paper taped to them. Lucas had left him a note, and Op immediately breathed a sigh of relief. He plucked up the note and read it.
Venius has called me and the rest of the old cultist gang to a meeting in Belicia to discuss the Ayla incident. If you need me, you can come find me in the Belicia Central Tower.
Op sighed and scowled, immediately knowing that Venius was probably excoriating the poor cultists over Ayla's betrayal, or at least subjecting them all to forced full mind scans. Not only would it be extremely unprofessional and insulting for Venius to mistreat one of Op's staff members this way, but it'd be a direct violation of the amendment he agreed upon to his APESA act. Opulous took a deep breath to ensure he had his emotions fully under control and teleported to Belicia to go and interrupt this little meeting.
Opulous arrived in a similar diplomatic meeting chamber to the one in Teyn's Central Tower. Here was Venius standing at one side of the circular table with the entire group of ex-human cultists seated on the other end. There was Lucas, Jeremy, Alan, Rose, and Shara, but Ayla was obviously absent. All five of them had morbidly serious looks on their faces, and Venius looked absolutely livid. He turned to Opulous and growled "Ugh, what is it Op? I'm having a meeting here."
"I'm here, Venius, because you're interrogating one of my staff members. This is very improper and perhaps even unethical. Lucas is under my employ directly, if you have problems with him then you should go through me." Opulous retorted.
The cultists seemed relieved as a group, even if Op was only speaking out on Lucas's behalf specifically. Lucas especially looked relieved, though Venius seemed unfazed by Op's scolding.
"Op, listen, I'm not mad at you. I just think that Ayla's little stunt proves that the partial mind scans we gave these...people were not sufficient. I want to make an exception to APESA specific for them and scan them all right now to make absolutely sure there aren't any other moles in their group. Especially since Rose here has been in the K'tellian Military for several years now trying to train to be a soldier. She has access to military logistical information too, even if it's not quite as sensitive as the data that cunt Ayla stole." Venius grunted, crossing his arms.
"We've wanted nothing more than to further Mewtwokind - Ayla may have been a fuckup but I'm absolutely sure she's the only one of us! And if Rose has been trying to train, wouldn't any of the many security checks that are done before allowing someone access to such information have uncovered something amiss by now?" Lucas, while knowing full well what a full mind scan would do in this case, was able to push it out of his head for now, excluding a faux confidence that might suggest him to be in the right, an all-in bluff so to speak.
Jeremy gave Lucas a worried look that Venius didn't seem to notice, but Op sure did. He tagged that interesting tidbit away as something to think about and perhaps ask about later. Rose quickly chimed in a bit herself.
"Yeah, I mean, Emael's been up my ass with a crow bar for the last 5 years straight making sure I stayed in line. Plus, I work on an actual military base with security protocols, not your cushy office buildings, Venius!"
Op winced a bit, knowing that antagonizing Venius when he was in this state was definitely a bad idea. Venius rounded on her and snarled "You can shut up, you little druggie fuckup. I know how much Nu you snorted in the past, I've seen the medical scans of your brain. The medical nanites you used to transform couldn't even patch all the scars you seared into those neurons of yours!"
All the cultists, especially Rose, winced and scooted back in their seats a bit as Venius shouted at her. Op came up to Venius and put his hand on his shoulder. "Venius, if you yell like that again, I'm taking them all with me to Nilaya right now and this meeting will be over. Calm yourself down. Acting like this is not going to solve anything, especially bringing up things they have worked hard to keep in their past."
Venius let himself be calmed a bit, but he still scowled and threw in a quip. "Yeah, and who else knows what might be in that past. For all we know they might have a swarm of Houndooms waiting to sneak into Belicia as we speak."
With Opulous ready to break up the meeting, Lucas almost knowing that Opulous knew how imperative it was to get them out of this, he at least tried to say something to convince Venius that they were at the very least not traitors like Ayla had been. "I think any of the high councilors know that I would do anything for the safety of K'telle, including giving my own life if needed!"
"Well, then you won't mind if we simply took a check to know for sure." Venius replied, his calmed mind suddenly seeming to grasp something. He eyed the group again for a moment and said "Besides, you know the K'tellian government operates so corruption-free based on psionic oversight. You've all even triumphed that personally, why change your tune now when that oversight is turned toward you? Do you actually have something to hide?"
The cultists were silent here, but Lucas shot Opulous a look that seemed to be a cry for help. Opulous sighed and said "I'll only consent to you scanning them if they will consent to it. K'tellian citizens or not, we don't have any legal grounds to having legal charges filed against them, there is no warrant, and you know that mind scanning non-governmental civilians without consent is illegal unless there is a warrant for their arrest. I don't care how much you distrust them Venius, that is not an excuse to violent laws written to protect K'tellian citizens, and they ARE citizens." He said that last part very sternly for emphasis.
"I can't speak for the others, but I would consent...if Opulous is the one doing the mind scanning." Lucas suddenly volunteered. The other cultists seemed to pale with shock at this interjection, and Op could almost sense them talking telepathically amongst themselves.
Venius just looked outright surprised in general, as if he had expected them to fight this to the end because they really were hiding something. "Well, uh, sure. I don't mind that. It'd be less work for me that way. Not like I distrust Op even if he verbally kicks my ass from time to time."
Opulous shrugged and said "Very well, I will do it. But I will take them to Nilaya for it, you've done enough yelling at them as it is and I'd prefer to do this without you here breathing down their necks and making them uncomfortable. I can contact you later over Sodalis with my findings, and if I do find anything unseemly I will have security on hand to arrest them."
The cultists did seem to finally calm down a bit, and then Jeremy said "If this is the case then I'll volunteer too, fair is fair."
"Alright alright, then you can do this later, but I still want to discuss your little military application, Jeremy." Venius replied, shifting the subject.
Op gave them a confused look. "You're signing onto the K'tellian military now too Jeremy?"
Jeremy nodded and said "Yeah, actually Alan, Shara, and I all are. We wanted to do more for K'telle to try to make up for Ayla's misdeeds."
"Well, your willingness to help doesn't change my skepticism. On one hand I know the rest of you don't have scarred brains from chronic Nu use like our little miss here does, but on the other hand her poor performance and failure to advance past being a basic Corporal in her many years due to mental and psionic disabilities does not bode well for the prospects of the rest of you. If this is a career choice you want to follow, have you considered which branch of the military you want to go into?"
"Well, Jeremy and I wanted to enlist in the Armada, we've always had a thing for airships and starships." Alan said.
"Yeah, and I want to train in espionage to go after those UHN assholes and give them a dose of their own medicine. If Ayla can be a spy, then so can I." Shara added.
"Not the best choice of words given this conversation, Shara...but you do have a point. They shouldn't be the only ones running espionage." Lucas said in a muted tone.
Venius crossed his arms and sighed. "Hmmm, well maybe I have misjudged you then. If you're volunteering to be mind scanned and also enlisting, then maybe I was wrong. Still, I'm not going to go easy on you. You had a spy in your midst all those years, a backstabbing traitorous bitch even, and you never even suspected her. You trusted her implicitly. You're going to need to be smarter than that, and I'm gonna have Emael ride you so hard during basic training that you'll wish you hadn't signed up.
"With all due respect sir, we're ready. If we have to prove ourselves all over again then we'll do it without looking back." Jeremy said firmly.
When Opulous got back to Nilaya with the group of cultists, they still seemed to be a bit antsy and quiet. Op took them to the diplomatic meeting chamber in Nilaya's central tower, this one being fairly similar to the ones in the other cities. He sat down and was about to speak when Jeremy spoke up.
"Umm, Opulous, before you do scan us, there is actually something we've been hiding, but it's nothing like any of us being traitors."
"Oh? I had a feeling you were terrified about being mind scanned for some reason, but I trusted it wasn't anything on par with what Ayla has done. Go ahead and tell me." Op replied calmly.
While Lucas hadn't been the one to pry it from its resting place, it seemed he was the one that would first summon the courage to admit what had been done. "The reason we were able to make ourselves into Mewtwos...we ended up getting DNA from Mewtwo's Amethyst."
Jeremy nodded and said "It was my dad's medical nanites that let us do the actual transformation. We took the genetic code we found on the Amethyst, input it into a nano-controller computer, and put ourselves under for the duration of the transformation. We returned the Amethyst afterward though, we never intended to keep it or harm it."
All of the assembled cultists cringed at this point, as if expecting an angry diatribe from Opulous. Contrary to their expectations, he shrugged and didn't show an ounce of anger.
"That's actually quite clever of you to figure out. I had assumed you had found some sort of lingering DNA records elsewhere, after all I found some on an old abandoned Team Rocket base awhile ago myself, and the Rockets finding old DNA records on computers was how they rediscovered Mewtwo's existence after their mind wipe, leading to the creation of Ares. Still, I am not upset. There was no harm to the Amethyst in the end and you did return it, that counts for a lot in my book."
"So...you're not mad?" Shara asked.
"Of course not. Venius very well might get angry if he found out, but I don't really need to tell him now do I? I can just tell him that I found no ill intent in your minds and that none of you are spies, and that will be that." Op replied with a smile.
Jeremy released a huge sigh of relief and Rose flopped back in her chair as the good news hit them. Shara just beamed with happiness while Alan took a few deep breaths to try and calm himself.
"Man, thanks Op. I can't tell you how much this little secret has been gnawing at us. Are you going to tell Nolus or Cygnus?" Jeremy asked.
Op shook his head and said "Not right away. Maybe if I can sense they're in decent frames of mind for it at some point, but it's really not something that needs to be spread around, especially at this point in time when tensions between humans and K'tellians are at an all-time high. I think there are a lot of Belicians who would get rather testy with your group if this became common knowledge so I think we'll keep this just between us for now."
"Right, that makes sense. Umm, Op, thanks." Alan said.
Suddenly Alan got up to give Op a grateful hug, then Rose followed suit. Soon the whole group was giving him a hug and he chuckled a bit and returned it a bit before gently pulling away.
"You all have been fine K'tellian citizens from the beginning, I am not the type to let one bad apple spoil the entire bushel. Ayla's actions were terrible but they in no way reflect on you all, and I could see by your memories you had no way of knowing she was capable of it. We may never know what drove her to betray us but in the end we can only move forward with our lives, learn from the experience, and make the best of it. Though I do want to ask, Jeremy, Alan, are you sure the military is the right path for you all to take?"
Jeremy nodded dutifully and replied "I'm sure of it. I can't speak to Alan and Shara's motivations too deeply but I have gotten tired of sitting at home or working cushy desk jobs while there are news stories about K'tellians volunteering for the military to prepare to defend their homeland should the worse come to pass. I want to do more, to save lives directly."
Alan nodded and said "Yeah, it's the same with me. That and, well, I admit I have always had a childhood dream of being a crew member on a starship. Even if it means going through all the unglamorous work like scrubbing the ship's latrines before I get to do anything cool like man a station on the bridge or pilot a fighter craft."
Op smiled a bit and said "Well actually, K'telle's military is rapidly moving away from manned fighter craft in favor of remote-piloted drones. The technology exists now to use a Sodalis-style mind to machine interface for drone pilots that vastly reduces command latency. Pairing that with much more advanced control broadcast systems means that we have the potential to outclass even the USA's combat drone systems in both maneuverability and speed, no mean feat considering their military has been using unmanned drones for military purposes for hundreds of years now. Still, I could see you becoming a drone pilot on the large Drone Carrier warships that Venius has been building."
Alan's eyes lit up in excitement and he said "Awesome! I'd love to try my hands at something like that!"
Op nodded and said "Still, I don't think any of you have failed to contribute directly to K'telle. Lucas, for example, has helped in my laboratory for more than a decade now, and a lot of my own breakthroughs, including the Alchemical Furnace, are all there at least partially because of his help. Your work in K'telle, whether it be in alloy smelteries or desk jobs, all drives the economy and keeps us going despite the UHN trade embargo."
All five of the cultists were humbled by the high praise, especially Lucas who almost seemed to blush. Shara did pipe up though while the others struggled to find some words to thank him for his kindness.
"Heh now come on Op, you sound like you're giving us a patriotic film spiel here about how buying shit is patriotic!" She said, her tone light and playful.
"Well when it comes down to it in the end, I'd much rather we all could get by with only needing to buy things to express our patriotism. In a perfect world we wouldn't need to fight and die to show our patriotism, and while we may never reach such a world, we can't ever stop trying to get there."