Rough Draft: “Orbis Solaris”

Orbis Solaris: Book 1: Dominion

Steven Gamella

Appendix I: Toni-Medici Fecchiera

She is 10 feet, 5 inches tall, but looks a good bit taller than she actually is because of her outfit. Her face is chalk-white because of 4 layers of makeup, as well as thick black eyeshadow that forms the Eye of Ra symbol around her eyes, one is green, the other is blue; she has her pupils dilated specifically to look like mako shark eyes, like blue and green iridescent lumps of coal. The blank, empty expression on her face never changes, no matter what her mood is when she was in combat form, the Mithras Energy coursing through her veins. Her hair is brown, but styled like a Qing Dynasty empress, with diamond, platinum and gold-encrusted hairpieces that kept her hair in 6 pigtails, three on each side of her head, each covered in diamond, platinum and gold-encrusted armor that also kept the braid from becoming frizzy; the adornments made her hair look like insect legs, especially when she walked, causing the 6 pigtails to move like insect legs. She also had a crown made out of solid crystal, in shape of a three-headed crane with six wings on her head, adding 2 feet to her height, and behind that, a huge, peacock-fan headdress that changed color based on her mood, it was the only way to tell her emotions, as she had become so powerful with the ancient magic of Mithras that she was able to disable her physical reactions to emotion if she so desired. The peacock feather eyes changed expression and color in place of her real ones; she had a huge feather ruff around her neck made of Count Raggi’s Bird of Paradise plumes as a scarf, with pennants and silky cloth scarves that resembled the Standard Winged and Twelve-Wired Birds of Paradise plumage at the same time, and a train-like veil and cape made of Chinese silk dyed with human blood. Her dress was woven from spider silk infused with silkworm fibers, and woven on a microscopic level so that every hem of the dress was in the shape of an organism, every known organism on Earth. Covering the dress were hundreds of iridescent precious stones, each one reflecting light in such a way that viewed from a certain angle, it made her look almost invisible, just a shimmering outline of her figure was barely seen. The dress itself was red and black, with huge, yellow eyespots in the black parts of the dress and black eyespots in the red parts of the dress that seemed to blink when sunlight hit it at certain angles or shine with an ethereal, calming glow when the moonlight hit it at night. The whole dress shined an eerie, fluorescent purple in ultraviolet light, and had large roaring dragon designs embroidered on it, each with a microscopic picture of an organism consisting of each individual hem. The dress was enormous and supported by the bones of her Mithras ritual sacrifice victims, much like whalebones were used to make a corset. The part of the dress that covered her torso and chest was the most heavily decorated, with huge dragonfly wings made of woven yarn and glittered with sea salt dust and sand coming out of her back, these were folded under her cape and veil and could be spread at will, even though Toni can’t fly. Her necklace was more like an Egyptian queen’s brooch, made of solid gold with a huge sapphire in the center, just visible under the bird-of-paradise feather scarves. Her gloves, lacy white dress gloves that were veiled by delicate, red silken sleeves from her dress, each had a 56-karat gemstone covering each one of her fingernails; sharpened into a dagger-like claw, these gemstone gauntlet gloves were used to carve enemies like a tiger slashing its prey, and the rest of the glove surface were covered in razor-sharp, solid diamond blades that could slice through almost any surface. She also wore a tiara of autumn leaves on her head, on the crown of the three-headed crane helmet, whose three heads are arranged in such a way that they defy the Euclidean geometric form, therefore making her dress impossible to create without immense, physics-bending telekinetic attacks. Her shoes were huge black-velvet Gothic Lolita platform shoes, with razor-sharp dagger-high heels, but these were not visible under her huge dress. She had various dresses, and each one was an equally-elaborate Elegant Gothic Aristocracy dress, so elaborate that Toni needed to use her physics-bending powers to make them appear just right. She shows no empathy at all to her opponents, and takes pleasure in making her victims suffer as much as possible before they die…painfully.

The Italian Peninsula was considered to be cradle of Western civilization, and therefore, has a very large population of Mithras practitioners, often called “vampires” by the uninitiated, they are far more sophisticated and cultured than most typical people, and are far from mindless monsters. To call a Mithras Sage a “vampire” is taken as the same thing as calling a black man a “nigger.” One of the most attractive and colorful members of the global Mithras Order, a secret cult of sorcerers that worship the ancient sun-god Mithras, and gain their magic and immortality through consuming, bathing in and channeling energies found in human blood to harness the power of the universe itself, is an Italian socialite named Toni Medici-Fecchiera. To the untrained eye, she looks like a typical, modern, high-class beauty on the old streets of Tuscany; she has long, silky black hair, stunning green eyes, pale blue eyes and a long, skin-tight black dress with a diamond necklace and two curious-looking earrings that resemble solar helixes, she often has elegantly-styled black eye makeup and a gentle, soft, warm, sweet gaze, and beautiful, crimson-red lipstick. Her voice is sweet and relaxing to hear, however, she is best known for her unusually large breasts, which she claims are real, but most people doubt it. She has a 6’3” figure that could not look more perfect. Outwardly, she seemed to have everything to offer, money, beauty, intelligence and creativity, as well as independence and determination and was an inspiration to everyone who met her. This, however, was just what the Mithras sages referred to as the “public shape,” to conceal their true identity. Nobody, save other Mithras sages, will know that “Toni” is really Countess Toni de Medici-Fecchiera, the Arch-Sage of Tuscany and the 5th Line of the Phantasmagoria-Haidnur Hird, one of the most revered and feared Mithras Sage hirds, or clans, in the world. Her ritual gown is so elaborate and complicated that it seems to defy the laws of Euclidean geometry, only possible because of Toni’s immense, physics-bending telekinesis that is constantly radiating electromagnetic pulse signals from her brain, whose activity reaches close to 320,000 units; she cannot be around anything electronic without it frying completely. Her psychic attacks are so powerful that they can level a city with a minimum of effort. Toni is perhaps the most terrifying thing on the face of the Earth, and a good reason why you should never go into a tavern on the wrong side of a town you’ve never been to, especially if a stunning young Italian woman approaches you and tries to flirt. People say if you want to find her, look for the nearest tavern or lying topless on a white-sand beach in the Mediterranean, with the crowd of young men bringing her everything she wants like a bunch of brainwashed toadies. Rather than going over the top, she takes a carefree, laid-back, lap-of-luxury approach to everything she does, but at the same time, coldly, calmly, coolly and emotionlessly, methodically and diabolically plots her enemies’ demise. She had a particular penchant for taking women’s unborn babies, she’ll often disguise herself as a lost young woman whose vehicle breaks down, and comes into the house of a pregnant woman to “use the phone,” or some other form of communication, to call authorities. Needless to say, she does not need to use the phone, and she keeps calmly engineering situations where she can stay at the house for longer…until she gets the mother and her unborn baby. She wants that baby, she really, really does. She does not let her Mithras sorcery powers, irrational thought or desire get in the way of what needs to be done to get the baby. She wants it, she feels it belongs to her, so she takes it, and she truly believes that the baby is hers, like a sick motherly instinct taken to the extreme, for her own childhood was so wracked with horror and torment before she became an immortal sorceress with horrific body and mental distortion powers, known as Phantasmagoria, that she only wants to give the baby a loving, motherly caring home…unfortunately, her own duties to Mithraism and the need to kill and consume infant blood prevents her from ever being a safe mother, so therefore her insanity perpetuates as a result of her own power and desire. But still, she never lets this tortured psyche get in the way of her goals in government or in finding her victims…until she gets her victim right where she wants it, that is.

Countess Medici, is in one word, insane. Toni is not content with rival Germanic Wewelsburg Hird Grand Master Eisner von Richtofen’s vision of a German-Mithras Europe and has repeatedly stated that she wanted a complete, pan-European empire on the scale of Rome, but Richtofen could not see beyond the Germanic/Magyar lands of Austria, Germany and Hungary-Slovakia. Medici, despite her elegance and beauty; she was 6 feet, 3 inches tall, wore stunning outfits and had long, silky black hair, pale, alabaster skin and haunting green eyes, was one of the most feared individuals in Europe. Most other Mithras sages who knew her personally were in conclusion that she was gizquya, or very “gifted,” to say the least, she knew things that no living person could possibly know, such as exactly how many cabbages were stolen from gardens in Berlin in 1754 A.D, and doctors who measured her brainwave scans found that her REM sleep activity was near 190,000 units, while her active function was close to 320,000 units. Leonardo Da Vinci’s activity was only at 765 units, and a level of 400 units was considered “genius.” Even in the modern era, doctors were still clueless as to how Toni wasn’t killed by her own brain function levels or even managed to communicate and think in ways that typical human beings could even remotely comprehend. Unfortunately for those who had to deal with her, she appeared to have a severe form of psychosis that caused her to fit every level of insanity imaginable, artistic insanity, because her 3-story, 25,000-square foot penthouse apartment in Rome, was decorated with her own original bizarre, abstract, surrealist, often volkisch art that looked like what would result from Salvador Dali or Freda Kahlo taking a hit of acid and trying to mix a Picasso painting and one of their works together while high. They had a common theme, either depicting a form of macabre liberation, ancient European paganism that overlapped with Nazi symbolism in many cases a bittersweet message about the brevity and fleetingness of life or some sort of tormented scene, such as the picture of two murdered lovers lying on the streets of a city with a crowd of faceless people walking past, each with their shadows standing above their bloodied corpses, with the woman’s shadow in a contorted yet seemingly liberated, but disturbingly unnatural pose, and the young man’s shadow cruelly rejecting the tormented shadow’s pleas for acceptance; the blood on their bodies was arranged into words written in Latin: “Where is my love? Where is my hope? Where is my reason to live?!” Another painting showed a little girl clenching her face in her hands while riding a lonely swing set in the middle of an abandoned city, with a shadowy stranger standing behind her, another showed a young man walking along railroad tracks in autumn, surrounded by the reds, browns, oranges and yellows of the countless autumn leaves falling around him, he walks alone, not knowing where he is headed, symbolizing that the only certainties in life are death, loneliness and uncertainty, therefore, life is completely meaningless, you’re going to die anyway, so what does it matter? Like the autumn leaves that blanket the tracks, people are shining bright one day, and decrepit and old the next…Life is a beautiful lie, death is an ugly truth. One other painting shows a screaming young woman with scars on her bare legs reading a book, but the words on the book fall off the pages like a shower of black ashes, and these ashes transform into lice and ticks, which crawl up her legs in their thousands. Also, pictures of a woman carving an image of birds flying out of a cage onto her arms with a knife, as well as some pictures that had no meaning at all, such as headless chicken being chased by a tailless rat, as well as some original Picasso, Kahlo and Dali paintings, plus several volkicsh paintings by the artists Hipper and Jung, late 19th century German and Austrian painters who focused on art that reflected ancient, pre-Christian European culture as an expression of nationalism and pride, as well as a collection of weapons, specifically ones that were used to torture and kill children throughout history, old dictatorial flags, statues of sinister, robed figures and a gigantic Mithras rug and Solar Helix coat of arms on the wall, plus the lighting in the house that made the place appear as if it were in perpetual dusk, would only appeal to someone who is completely insane. She was also intellectually insane, given that her IQ and brain function levels are so high, that a lot of her psychotic actions may seem abrupt and without any rhyme or reason, much like someone with schizophrenia, but some doctors who studied her case suggested that due to brainwave scans and flash-cloning samples, the very height of her IQ scores make her appear to the layman as insane, simply because the rest of the world is too simple, judgmental and narrow-minded to understand just how fast and how advanced her brain is. She is only “crazy” because of society’s judgmental stupidity and the filthy, pop-culture Fascist dregs such as the rich girls living in places like Miami and New York City trying to set an unrealistic standard for “prosperity” and “beauty.” She uses her intellect and her own fortune to directly oppose that culture through the power of science and intellectual pursuits, as well as incorporating her obsession with macabre, distorted art into her scientific pursuits as well; she’d pay people in Europe to kidnap young, rich women travelling abroad and kill them, and bring their corpses back to her penthouse apartment for experimentation. As a Mithras Sage, Toni had a religious fascination with blood, not just for the DNA and sampling properties of it, but also in a much more metaphysical sense and as the source of her power. One of her greatest projects includes being able to cheat death by using computers; this is possible, but illegal under most circumstances, Toni creates backups of her mind on computer disks, so that even if she can no longer maintain the body she’ s lived in for 800 years, she will simply be “reborn” in an AI hologram body, with her mind and personality as a digitized set of data, but also uses bizarre ways of justifying her acts on an intellectual level, such as using mathematical puzzles to fool police forces, and using math to lead detectives to conclusions that will inevitably get them killed, just because Toni thinks that it’s a joke. The third domain of insanity, humorous insanity, is represented here. Many of Toni’s attacks on people in Europe are so twisted and sinister because she sees it as a joke, a gigantic game where she and the police are opponents trying to outplay each other, not enemies, and this type of crime is nothing but a game, a trick, and a joke in “good fun;” the drive behind this mentality is the horrific torment Toni suffered as a little girl in the 1380s, with her abusive oligarch father in Italy selling her into prostitution as a teenager to cover a bad deal as collateral with another noble family, not to mention beating her and locking her in a dark, dank closet full of weapons at age 6 for 3 days. She later escaped from slavery and brutally slaughtered her abusive masters, as well as her horrendous father and mother, who lived in a dungeon for the mentally ill. Since her escape, she has committed crimes ranging from killing people and turning their bodies into marionettes, using them as a puppet show, torturing and cannibalizing little girls and young women, turning their blood into wine and using her huge master bathroom on the third floor of her apartment as a makeshift torture chamber, holding fake T.V. show competitions just to kill the contestants one by one, the “prize,” for the winner is that they are allowed to go free, only to have Toni kill them anyway because she was “just kidding, as usual.” The fourth domain of insanity, verbal insanity, is also very much apparent here, every single word that comes out of her mouth seems to have some kind of dual meaning to it, in one particular speech to the citizens of Times Square in August of 2013 A.D:

“So simple, yet so complicated, so everlasting, yet so fragile, so easily broken, but so easily built, and so easy to speak, yet so easy to misrepresent…anyone who has lived on this planet, young or old, whether they know it or not, is aware, however subconsciously, of the four properties of which I speak. The first of which, life, in the Earthly definition, consists of amino acids, deoxyribonucleic acid and counts the cell as its basic unit of organization. Therefore, in the purest, biological sense, life is a simple affair, as soon as an organism is born, it is alone, it is small, it is feeble, unless it can adapt, it will die out. Darwin’s theorem of evolution, the first word “theorem” intentionally changed to state that Darwinian logic is proven, it is only because the individuals who are told by the Gestalt that their outdated traditional Christian dogmas are the only, absolute truth. Life is simple, yes, but it is not that simple. What if I were to tell you people that everything you know is wrong? Everything, right down to the very Platonic and Aristotelian logic that the Gestalt has been drilling into your heads from the first breath you take when you slither from your mother’s gaping cervix, is distorted by the Gestalt Field, the displaced, churned, distorted, chaotic and tormented storm of ideologies created by the development of society over the millennia of human existence, displaced by the same methodology as Einstein’s theory of relativity or a ship at sea, is a cyclical, self-destructive byproduct of societal advancement. Every society in history, from the Mayans, to the Romans, to the Soviet Union and the United States, creates its own Gestalt Field, directly proportionate to the weight the society occupies on the global stage. As the society grows, so does the Gestalt Field around it, until the society begins to corrode from prolonged exposure to the ideology that created it, much analogous to the way a ship will rust and rot away in water, even though ships are built for open sea. This eventual corrosion is what the layman would call death and me likewise. Death is nothing supernatural. There is no holy paradise for the good, and dark, hellish underworld for the evil. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are points of view, there is no set definition. The same goes with ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ That is the Gestalt. The Gestalt is society and all the contagion that develops around it, the distortions of truth and space, time and lies, science and metaphysics. There is no God, there is no Devil, there is only Man, and Man, if you haven’t realized already, is capable of far more evil and judgment than any God or Devil, and it happens on a regular basis. Society rots from a plague that will never truly be cured; society seeks salvation when it will never be saved from itself. It is this never-ending Universal Cycle of Existence, a cycle of birth, suffering, death, and the temporary happiness and liberation that result, and repeating the process ad infinitum until the human extinction eventually, inevitably comes, that defines the human race. Humanity is destroyed by the very forces that create it; hence the symbol of my Order, a dragon consuming its own tail, circling the sun. That is life, simple, yet complicated. That other force, love, so everlasting, yet so temporary, has often been described as like magic, but, like any true magic, it is just as often simply an illusion of desire, and the root of that is suffering, the desire to find some kernel of happiness in this horrid, decrepit world before the calm of leaden, everlasting sleep. Love may feel as if it lasts forever, but in reality, when the brain is distorted by the Gestalt Field, time and lies become synonymous. Love feels longer and more meaningful that it actually is when reality sets in; it hurts more than anything else, so love is not an exception to suffering, and it is the epitome of human suffering and misery. There is no love; there is only malice and hate. Human beings cannot love; they cannot feel compassion or care for anyone, because of the Gestalt. The reason love cannot stand is that the foundation of which it stands consists of pillars of sand: trust. Trust is so easy to build, yet is also so easy to destroy. One day you can be best friends with someone, and the next day, you can find out that your best friend was a murderer, and you were on his or her next hit list…a fickle species, humanity is, that is why a dog or cat is more trustworthy than a person. Human beings lie, they cheat, they steal and they have no redeeming qualities. Even the kindest person could commit a triple homicide if they were convinced enough of the benefits of doing so. The truth is kindness is not a human trait. It is the superego, the Freudian depiction of societal conditioning versus the id and the ego that is created by the Gestalt Field. Kindness is a perspective, an ideal that the Gestalt uses to keep its constituent parts together, like a machine, and like any machine, the Gestalt only functions if all of its parts are working the way they should. Thus, the final property, truth, is the most difficult to find. The powers that be, namely the mass media, are so powerful that no government on Earth has any power over them; even the unfortunately deceased Attorney General stated that these companies are breaking laws, but are so powerful and so rich that to prosecute them would be economic suicide. The truth is that there is no ‘truth’ anymore. ‘Truth’ consists of whatever the multinational ultra-rich mega-conglomerates proclaim to be true, and in the words of a certain Serb nationalist and political scientist, have turned the West into an inverted totalitarian state, a form of illiberal democracy where the 0.01% control everyone else, even the elected officials are puppets. The Republican and Democratic Parties are both the right and left arm of the Gestalt, and the corporations, mass-media; popular culture, celebrities, Hollywood, social-injustice engine is the head, brain, eyes, ears, nose and mouth of this horrid entity. The legs, the ones that prop the system up and unknowingly support this murder machine, are people like you. The 99.9%, the doctors, farmers, workers, clerks, chefs, anything that is not one of the 0.01% of society is immobilized, with no way of escaping the Gestalt corpse. You don’t have to be. I am the virus, the pox that infects the Gestalt’s body and amplifies within its cells, its police and bureaucracy, the minds of its concentration camps and indoctrination centers that pass as schools, and eventually place the Gestalt at a day of reckoning. Either it wakes up and sees the magnitude of its crimes, or it faces the wrath of those it oppresses for so long. Stand by me and reject your own government and you will achieve a power greater than any University degree or Gestalt-imposed merit badge could ever grant you, one that would assure you a place in my new Empire, the Paganblut-Hexe Imperium. There is no God. There is no Devil. There is only Man, and I am His bane. Good day to you all, Carpe Diem.”

This one speech, vague and twisted, shows the extent of verbal insanity, which is an offshoot of the larger issue of intellectual insanity. The fifth domain of insanity, sadistic insanity, is the most pronounced in Toni. She takes great, almost orgasmic pleasure in other people’s pain, reveling in semi-masturbatory bliss of other’s screams and spilled blood and gore. Most of the torture methods she uses on her victims are indicative of extreme sadism, such as:

Straightforward forced sex, nice and easy, I would recommend drugging the victim with date-rape drugs first. (Not very creative…)

2. Lock victim in a cage and place spikes around his or her genitalia. They have to let you violate them to remove them, lest they impale themselves on the iron blades in the pubic area. (Original idea by author)

3. Slice their lips off with a blunt knife and sew them to the genitalia, as to make it look like “art,” this is only doable to someone who dresses in very revealing outfits, they let their sexuality do the talking, so why not make them look the part? (Original idea by author)

4. S&M fetish rape with actual medieval torture instruments, this is one of the Aryan Terrorism Klan’s favorite terror tactics, as well as a bizarre method of sick satisfaction used by the Grand Master. (Fuck Nigger Blood…) (Original Idea by Author)

5. Human meat shredder barrel, roll the naked victim down a slope in a barrel full of razor sharp spikes after violating them 88 times, 88=HH=Heil Hitler (Original Idea by Author)

6. Human puppet master, the victim is injected with a CPU microchip that turn them into a puppet, forcing them to rip themselves apart with a meat cleaver or chainsaw, after a ceremonial series of rapes in a cult ritual, surrounded by candles and swastika posters in a basement. (Original Idea by Author)

7. Suffocating a woman or man by gagging them to death with a gigantic plastic dildo is sometimes preferable to bloodshed rape-torture. (Original Idea by Author)

8. Hot candle-wax cocoon, where the victim is naked, still alive and baked in a cocoon of hot candle wax alive like a toaster pastry. (Original Idea by Author)

9. Rotary Rape, the victim is placed on a spinning wheel, and willing volunteers take turns raping the victim until she bleeds to death. (Original Idea by Author)

10. BTK rape, Bind, Torture, Rape, Kill. (Frowned upon because of lack of creativity. Will not earn many prestige points and rank may not increase as quickly as one would like.)

11. Shark-skin genitalia cover: This device looks like a condom and functions as one, but has an entire interior lining made of shark denticles, which hold the skin in place like 10,000 tiny fishhooks. The victim must perform self-castration to remove the device. (Original idea by author)

12. Extreme psychological distress and ironic, bizarre humiliation: such as having a group of gay prisoners engage in forced sex with another heterosexual Christian homophobe prisoner, only to kill all of them at the end of the act and pickle their body parts, and preserve their blood as wine by adding an oxidizer chemical that allows it to ferment. (Original idea by author)

13. Using a homemade sickle-claw finger-glove that fits over her index finger, the Grand Master punctures the jugular vein of her victims to sample their blood and body fluids. (Creepy, but has been done a few times before in history)

14. Using a machine that simulates labor pains in childbirth, the leaders use this to torture men with nearly 15 times the pain of actual labor, however. (Original idea by author)

15. Cooking a pregnant woman by burning her at the stake with a late-term baby, only to bake the woman like a fresh-caught pig and then cutting her womb open, and removing the perfectly-cooked fetus to be eaten by Countess Toni during her ancient Mithras sorcery spells; Toni abducted a North African immigrant mother, 9 months pregnant, and impaled her on a spit, slowly roasting her over a fire like a rotisserie cooker while she slowly died, her womb acted as a natural oven for the baby, cooked to a golden-brown perfection.

16. Nymphomania, but in a very sadistic, pain-inducing way. For example, she’ll take a heavy sledgehammer to a victim’s penis and masturbate the mangled, crushed genitalia until it ejaculates blood and semen in her face, which she enjoys like a warm, summer rain. She also engages in self-pleasuring behaviors that include shoving a crucifix from a Southern, Bible-Belt American church into her clitoris like a vibrator and breaking it in half with her own hands, just to show how much she despises traditional, conservative, American Christianity as well as to satiate her own “sexual interpretation” of Mithraism and blood sorcery, she gloats about how she “fucked Jesus so hard it broke his cock in half” after this episode.

17. Extreme hatred of “backward religion,” namely Christianity. She targets American and European Christians with a horrific ferocity, burning churches, defacing Christian symbolism and Nativity scenes on Christmas, and saving her worst torments for people like American “televangelists,” pro-lifers, creationists, whom she calls “Holocaust-deniers,” because denying something like evolution is akin to denying the Holocaust; the evidence saying that it does exist is so overwhelming that the Christians who deny it are “invalid lunatics without excuse;” and anyone who calls themselves “born-again.”

These 16 extreme sadistic behaviors, often combined with near-masochist tendencies, she sometimes likes to feel pain as well, are indicative of all serial killers, but the most extreme killers are usually sadistic to match. This individual, however, is beyond any and every line imaginable. She takes a nuclear-powered bulldozer to sanity and the very mention of her name is enough to give people the chills.

The sixth domain of insanity, insanity in dress, is very much a factor here as well. Toni is often seen in the most bizarre and symbolically-weird dresses imaginable, one is pink and red with hearts on it and a silky, lace, pink veil and scarf over it, as well as a gigantic, pink, fuzzy hat, one outfit is a long black dress with black high-heeled boots, black lacy dress gloves with a black and white fur coat over the whole thing and a white, fur Caucasian Cossack hat with a metal spike on top of it, like that of a German pickelhaube helmet, another is a seductive, black, strapless ballroom dress with red carnations around her waist, another being a burgundy and red 16th-century Eastern European gown and headdress, and another outfit that looks somewhat like a Ming Chinese Empress’ outfit, with a ton of eye makeup and lipstick for each outfit as well, and quite often, that makeup is made from congealed human blood or body fluids.

Finally, the seventh domain of insanity, religious insanity, is very much present as well. Her “religion,” if you can call it that, is a twisted form of European-Vedic-Indo-Aryan paganism that tries to pass itself off as Christianity, which is symbolized by the dragon consuming its own tail, and the Mithras wheel, society is so flawed that each one eventually destroys itself, and only a higher force which she calls “Gestalt,” can keep it in order, however, this force is what also destroys society by the very fact that it exists…in her mantra, it is said that there is no God, there is no Devil, there is only Mankind…and she is His bane…as the storm grows in Europe, Toni has used her position as the Supreme Praetor, the absolute authority on law enforcement in the Mithras Order, to protect Mithras sages everywhere, but she approaches this protection with the philosophy that she keeps everyone safe, as long as nobody questions or challenges her for any reason. Her biggest rival is Wotankult Hird Emperor Gustavus Adolphus von Nordheim, who is the Emperor of the Scandinavian Wotankult Hird and is a polar opposite from Toni on how the Mithras Codex is interpreted, Toni focuses more on the sexual, pleasure-seeking aspect of the religion, given her personality and tendency to just enjoy every second of the A-list lifestyle that she’s lived in for 800 years, whereas Nordheim focuses more on the conservative, militaristic, racial interpretation of the Codex; Toni is extreme left, Nordheim is extreme right, to place it in political context. Much like the rivalry between Hitler and Stalin leading up to WWII, Toni stands as the de facto leader of the Leftist factions, and Nordheim stands as the unquestioned voice and authoritarian presence on the right-wing, or Volkisch factions. The majority of Mithras Sages reject the racial interpretations, but a strong portion of them see Nordheim and his ally, as well as Toni’s other rival Eisner von Richtofen of the Wewelsburg Hird’s message of a Mithras-dominated human race, and that Mithras Sages are naturally superior to non-initiated “invalid” humans, in Nordheim’s racial lexicon, as inspiring. Most of the traditional Mithras Sages, most notably the Slovak-Hungarian Bathory-Kozak Hird and the Romanian Draculesti-Branu Hird, led by Andreii Bathory-Groznyy and Alin Draculesti-Cesucescu, respectively, see Nordheim and Richtofen as rogues and their ideology as certain to bring a three-way war between Leftists, Volkisch, and normal, un-initiated human militaries, which would, even in the case of victory by Toni’s Leftist Coalition, spell the undoubted end of the success and grand culture that the Mithras Order had built in secret for thousands of years. There hadn’t been a need for Mithras Sages to get involved in any war or interaction with the non-Mithras world for more than 400 years, not since the 30 Years’ War, which ended in 1648, did any Mithras Sages fight in any typical human war. Even during the darkest hours of WWI and WWII, Mithras actions were minimal. The previous, full-scale mobilization of Mithras Sages for war was during the Crusades, when legendary Mithras Sage Vidiun Lusankara led his army to its final sacrifice at the Battle of Manzikert, in 1076. Vidiun’s entire Hird was killed in the battle, when Vidiun was forced to detonate a “nightmare bomb” underneath the main fortress to bring the aggressive Byzantine Empire to its knees. The bomb was triggered by implanting a telekinetic charge into a sleeping person’s brain, in this case the Byzantine Emperor, the detonation causes colossal destruction that quite often kills the Sage who planted it, because of the effort needed to maintain the charge, the caster usually dies of sheer exhaustion. It is seen as the equivalent of a kamikaze attack and is the most powerful attack that any Sage can perform, but it is usually their final act. Toni, however, is so powerful that she is only mildly fatigued by the attack. With her leading the Leftists, most Mithras Sages believe that Leftist victory is certain in the event of war, but everyone hopes that war is avoided. After the Orbis Solaris’ arrival, however, the Mithraic Order went public with the rise of the Golden Age, and Toni made her presence known as the Lord Protector of the City Of Rome…she lives in the luxury of the Midnight Sun Resort Spa, commanding her minions and manipulating galactic events with her phenomenal Sunslinger abilities.

Prologue: The Golden Age

By the close of the 21st century, humanity was at a crossroads. The Old Order, which had stood since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was collapsing. As technology had grown stronger, our political systems grew weaker. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in the United States. Nanotechnology changed everything, the STEM initiates set in motion during the second decade of the 21st century, set in motion by then-President Barack Obama had triggered a true Century of Wonders. By 2095, the United States generated all of its energy from limitless sources. Cars hovered on room-temperature superconductors with no fuel, and vehicles were powered by zero-point energy. Nanotechnology had allowed humans to augment their own evolution, becoming transcendent Gods of Mythology, the Hyperboreans. These people stood more than 12 feet tall, with long, flowing hair and ethereal, radiant bodies. They wore beautiful, cosmic outfits custom-made for each one of them, and carried lethal weaponry, such as the charismatic Hallucination Nano-Sword, a weapon that could become whatever its wielder wanted it to be, thanks to the wonders of the Nanotech Revolution, which originated in America and swept the world in the mid-2050s. The advent of commercial spaceflight had made voyages to Mars and the Moon commonplace…but even this bonanza was just the beginning…for on September 18, 2096, a discovery was made that changed the face of humanity forever. A group of tourists on a sightseeing tour of Gale Crater encountered a wondrous object floating above the surface of Mars…a gigantic, glowing, golden orb as bright as the Sun itself. The tourists, donning their space suits and investigating the unknown object, found that the orb was sentient…it could speak and think, as if it were human. “Do not fear, my children…” it said. “For fear of the future is exactly what prevents it from happening.”

When the Orbis Solaris appeared in the sky over Earth, the world changed forever. In the following centuries, massive cities were built on Mars and Venus, and Mercury became a paradise world, with a thick atmosphere, oceans and lush, tropical gardens. Earth became the center of a united human government, one that believed it shared a true Manifest Destiny: to walk under the light of other stars. Within 400 years of the Orbis’ discovery, the entire Solar System, from Mercury to Pluto, had been colonized and settled, with massive colony ships, equipped with warp drives provided by the Orbis’ guidance, looking to push even farther beyond…and at the helm of this grand vision were the Hyperboreans…an elite class of iron-willed, democratic rulers charged by the Orbis with guiding the human race into the vast abyss of space. As the first colony ships prepared to leave into the unexplored, the entire human race looked to the infinite abyss with hopeful eyes, knowing that whatever they found beyond the Solar System, they would be prepared…for the Orbis and the Hyperboreans would guarantee their safety, whatever happened…

                    1. A Night in Paris

“All rise for the entrance of Marie De La Croix, Hyperborean fashion designer and Lord Protector of Paris, By the Grace of the Orbis Solaris.” The MC announced as the 12-foot tall, imposing, elegantly-dressed woman of art and style entered the dining hall in the Palace of the Stars, a massive engagement hall build directly behind the ancient Palace at Versailles. The Hyperboreans were truly at the pinnacle of society in this Golden Age, and of them, few possessed more class, elegance and style than Mademoiselle De La Croix, who had made her living designing unique styles for her Hyperborean clients. Her outfits were legendary from Mercury to Pluto and everywhere in between, and this was an extraordinarily special night for her. She had just been selected to board a colony ship, bound for a newly-discovered planet only four light-years from Earth. Called Aurelia, it was a world that glowed like an oasis in the vast emptiness of space, cloaked in oceans and continents, and identical to Earth in atmospheric composition, size and gravitational pull…it was to be the first permanently-inhabited planet outside the Solar System…and what a perfect planet for life. Atmospheric oxygen levels were at 30%, with the same level of carbon dioxide as Earth…which meant that any animal life was likely to be very, very large indeed. This did not concern Marie, however. She was traveling there for business. She had a vision for Aurelia…transforming the planet into a paradise world for human leisure and habitation, much like Mercury had become…where she controlled the planetary economy with her vast fashion empire. As the Lord Protector of Paris, she was an iron-willed leader with deep democratic principles, but like all individuals in positions of power, sought to expand her power base further.

Taking the podium from the MC, the dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty stood radiantly in the lights of the Palace of the Stars, her augmentations affording her eternal youth and beauty. “Thank you very much, citizens of Paris.” Marie greeted, with her strong French accent. “What a year it has been for me. With the opening of my new boutiques in the Martian city of New Moscow, and the expansion of my brand to every outlet store on the paradise worlds of Mercury and Venus, I can say that I have finally reached the apex of my existence…but there’s always room to grow. In the next few weeks, I will be traveling to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Earth’s largest spaceport, to board one of 15 colony ships, headed for the newly-discovered planet of Aurelia. I am deeply grateful for the United Earth government for allowing me to travel with this expedition, and like everything in my life, I will take this new challenge head-on. I will not flinch from danger, just as I have not flinched in my protection of Paris, the city I live in and love. I shall emerge from this journey a stronger and even richer person because of it…and nothing shall stop me in that aim. This I promise you, Citizens of Paris…together, we shall bring the Golden Age of Humanity to the light of other stars!”

The crowd reacted with thunderous applause, whistling and cheering. Marie was a true hero of the French people, and they would all be watching as she arrived at the vast city of Baikonur in Old Russia, which had grown to more than 50 million people because of the spaceport. More starships came and went from the Russian steppes than anywhere else on Earth, and the spaceport had more than 27 launch towers, 45 massive airfields crowded to the brim with enormous cargo ships, capable of taking off and landing like an airplane and equipped with warp drives, passenger air and spacecraft, and handled more than a billion people passing through its doors every year…a fitting place to begin this new chapter in human history. That spaceport was the pride of the Russian people, their true heart and soul, other than Moscow. Similar spaceports existed in other locations, such as the Great Plains Space Center in central North America and Chengdu Starport in China, but none equaled the size and majesty of Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s Gateway to the Stars…all made possible by the protection of the Orbis Solaris, shining high in the sky over Earth, much like a second Sun.

Marie stepped off the podium after her speech and shook hands with various other Frenchmen in attendance, namely her employees and Board of Directors for her company, Cosmic Illusions Design. Standing near the stage exit was one of Marie’s colleagues, Shen Ryujin, Warrior of Light and Darkness and Lord Protector of Tokyo, Japan. He stood 12 feet tall, with long, shoulder-length, crimson-red hair and wore a black outfit recalling the ornate robes worn by medieval samurai lords, with a tremendous black cape adorned with the eerie Staghorn Rune, a white deer’s skull with huge, curving antlers, symbolizing Izanami-Sama and the Shinigami, the Japanese gods of death, and the Queen of the Underworld. “Oh, hello Master Ryujin…what brings you here to Paris?” “I was selected by the Orbis for the mission to Aurelia as well…it looks like we’ll be traveling to Baikonur together.” “Charming…I always thought you were incapable of compassion for others, Ryujin, but I guess I was wrong.” Marie teased. “I have a very strong sense of honor and justice, and show no mercy to whoever threatens the sanctity of my city and my nation…that does not mean I possess no compassion. Surely you can understand the value of iron-willed determination and democratic principles…as well as showing no mercy to those who wish to harm your society.” “I can…however, I prefer to avoid conflict whenever possible. What more to you want from me, I’m French. When’s the last time we ever won a war?” Marie joked. “A very, very long time. There hasn’t been a war since the Orbis arrived, through its guidance, humanity has become a truly galactic civilization. Our military is nonexistent, because there is no need for one any longer, the Orbis Solaris protects each and every one of us, and has endowed the Hyperboreans with truly incredible abilities, such as Voidbending and Sunstriding.” “As a Voidbender myself, I concur. Wars are a thing of our very distant past. Our future is unified and infinite, and this journey will be a growing experience for both of us. I look forward to seeing you aboard the colony ships, Master Ryujin.” “Likewise.”

Master Ryujin turned and walked away, his massive form melding into the background behind the stage, headed for the reception room for the afterparty. This celebration was to commemorate the colony ships’ departure the following week, and every major city on Earth was preparing their own celebration, especially Baikonur, the city which the colonists would leave from. Marie could bet that the Russians living there were celebrating with parties, parades and literally thousands of gallons of vodka…even during the Golden Age, Russia still had an enormous drinking problem. Times changed, but people certainly didn’t. Most of the Russian colonists living on Mars had similar vices, the city of New Moscow near Gale Crater had one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the Solar System, and bootlegging was common amongst the citizens, mostly Russian colonists who had arrived from Baikonur in an effort to create a “Novo Rossija,” or “New Russia,” an endeavor that had been extraordinarily successful. New Moscow was now 150 miles across, and contained more than 120 million people of all nationalities, but maintained a distinctly Russian flair. Mars, Venus and Mercury had been terraformed during the Golden Age, and now supported life of all sorts, introduced from Earth; Mars was much like Siberia in climate and types of wildlife that thrived there, whereas Venus and Mercury were much like Brazil or Hawaii, warm, wet and tropical, with rainforests and beautiful gardens covering their entire land surface…now, the human race was setting out for worlds unknown, beyond our Solar System, to a world only four light-years from Earth.

Marie continued to meet and greet her constituency, the people of Paris who had all flocked to watch her departure speech. They would not see their Lord Protector for several months, for she would be spending considerable time on Aurelia to see that the planet was effectively developed and built up to her liking. She and several other Hyperboreans would act on behalf of the Orbis Solaris to make the planet suitable for human habitation, survey the world and catalog its many unique life forms which doubtlessly called it home. This would be the first time humanity ever directly encountered life on an alien planet, life that humanity had no contact with, a perfectly unspoiled world, just waiting to be explored and harvested for the greater good of Mankind. The colony ships, powered by massive plasma engines and the size of small cities, were already assembling in orbit, fresh from their construction in the Kraid Drive Yards’ shipyards around Mars; Kraid was a descendant of the mighty Antonov Aircraft Corporation, based in Ukraine, and had now become the premier builder of starships for the United Earth government. The ships could carry more than 2 million people each, equipped with warp drives, they could go anywhere in the Universe in just 6 hours time. These drives functioned by “warping” the starship to an exit point after accelerating for three hours to more than 90% the speed of light. Once warp speed had been achieved, the drive enveloped the ship in a cocoon of quantum energy, teleporting the ship through a wormhole and emerging seconds later at the exit point; from there, it was another three hours of deceleration as the ship approached its destination. In total, 30 million people would be making the journey to Aurelia, becoming the first permanent human inhabitants of a planet outside the Solar System.

It was a wondrous night for the human race indeed, Marie thought back on the past few centuries since the Orbis Solaris first appeared in the skies over Earth, shining like a second Sun, and had continued to do so ever since, shining like a second Sun by day and a second Moon by night, and casting a warm, protecting Light upon humanity, wherever it went in the Universe. Scholars had debated for centuries about the origins of the Orbis Solaris, and what its ultimate purpose for the human race was, but everyone was in agreement about one thing: The Orbis’ arrival was the greatest thing that had ever happened to humanity, and whoever had sent it was clearly very fond of the human race, and wished to see it succeed in whatever goal it wished to attain. Marie had stood in the presence of the Orbis several times, and felt truly empowered by its presence. She had heard its words for her, speaking in proverbial, one-line sentences that often required a bit of thought to decipher, but always had profound implications for whoever heard it speak. “Dear woman of art and edifice…for as great as your life has been, your real journey is just beginning.” And it was…it really was. Marie stepped off the stage and walked down the aisle into the audience, towering high above the other, non-augmented humans as she strode forward, her long, floor-length black hair training elegantly behind her back, wearing a massive, French eagle headcrest on her head, mimicking the Napoleonic heritage of French glory and pride. Her formal outfit shined like the stars high above in the night sky, and radiated the light of the Orbis Solaris wherever she went. At her side lay her Hallucination Nano-Sword, folded neatly, but always ready to defend the people of Paris from any threat…as it would be to defend the new citizens of Aurelia from danger as well. She knew nothing of what the human race would encounter on this new world, and what challenges the new environment would pose for the arrival of the human race…all she knew was that the planet was identical to Earth, just with much higher levels of atmospheric oxygen…which would have certain implications for the life found on the planet, for sure. Marie remembered that Earth too once possessed similarly high levels of oxygen, during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras, animals and plants regularly grew to absolutely gigantic sizes, a world where any human, even Hyperborean, would find it difficult to survive. If Aurelia was anything like Earth during the Cretaceous period, the colonists would be in for a very rude awakening when they found themselves near the bottom of the food chain…in just two short weeks, Marie would see Aurelia for herself…but for these next two weeks, it was business as usual on Earth.

Marie looked out the enormous bay windows at the Paris megalopolis, spreading over 200 square miles in all directions, with massive skyscrapers more than a kilometer tall. The ancient city landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysses, Versailles and the Louvre, were all still very much a part of Paris’s heart and soul, but new landmarks, such as the Palace of the Stars, the Pont du Extraterre, and the Imperial Pinnacle, now dominated the Parisian skyline, clearly visible from space. Huge space liners and freighters landed at Paris Aerospaceport, nowhere near the size of Baikonur Cosmodrome or the Midwestern Space Center in Russia and America, respectively, but large enough to accommodate colony ships and hundreds of SSTO spaceliners and freighters, massive, swept-wing starships that took off and landed like aircraft, firing scramjets to reach orbit, and then plasma engines to accelerate to warp speed. The only complaint by Parisian residents was the unimaginable amount of noise these ships generated upon takeoff, prompting strict NIMBY laws with spaceports all around the Solar System. As Marie looked to make her exit for the party room, she was suddenly stopped by a loud crowd of Parisian press, all congregating around the door…standing in the doorway was an image that made Marie cringe. She stood 12 feet tall, like all Hyperboreans, but wore an outfit so elaborate, excessive and non-Euclidean that it looked like the very embodiment of insanity. A gigantic, crystal headdress in the shape of a three-headed silver crane adorned her head, and she wore so much makeup that she looked almost clownish. The headdress encapsulated her long hair in a shimmering blanket of stardust, which glinted whenever she took a step forward. She carried a long metallic prod, used for forcing other into her compliance…this was Countess Toni-Medici Fecchiera, Lord Protector of Rome, Italy and head of the Solar Empire Design Company, the only true rival that Marie had anywhere…and she was dressed to the nines, intent on crashing Marie’s sendoff party. “Fancy meeting you here…here to crash my sendoff party and steal my business, are you?” Marie taunted, arrogantly. “Oh, why would I do that? What kind of woman do you take me for?” Toni replied, sarcastically. “Oh, I don’t know, a ruthless, sociopathic business tycoon who is the living embodiment of INSANITY?!” “Still gnawing away at that bone, are we? I thought I told you, my leadership in the Ordo Rosarius Cult of Love and Mithraic Mysteries has NOTHING to do with the way I run my business or govern my people and my company!” The crowd of press grew silent as the two women’s rhetoric grew more violent. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t have you arrested for harassment right now!” Marie screamed. “Hahahahaha…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!” Countess Toni laughed derisively. “Arrest me? Is that the best you can do? Pitiful. That is why your company will never equal mine…because when the chips are down, you ALWAYS back away from a fight. But, how could I expect anything less from someone from France? You never fight for anything, you just turn and run like little cowards whenever someone else threatens you. I am not afraid to say whatever I want, and will fight to defend it until the bitter end. A true leader must know how to fight for his or her people, and his or her own beliefs. Until you learn that vital lesson, you will always be an inferior being. Now, where’s the alcohol, I’m dying for a mimosa.” Toni lectured, much to the horror of every Frenchman in the room. She not only insulted the guest of honor, but the entire French people, in Paris, on Versailles’ front doorstep! Shen Ryujin, a friend and colleague of Marie, simply couldn’t take any more of the abuse. He stepped forward, his Hallucination Nano-Sword drawn. “Only a truly dishonorable monster deals an absolute like that. If you wish to fight, you’ll have to go through me.” Ryujin threatened, reminding everyone why his nickname was “Shinigami-Kai” in Japanese. Toni just smiled derisively, with a very demented look on her face. “Dearest Ryujin, this was NOT your conversation! I was not speaking to you, that’s extremely rude to interrupt like that! You’re a long way from your homeland of Japan, things work differently here in Europe. I suggest you back off, if you know what’s good for you, you degenerate Jap.” “Toni, that is enough!! Leave! NOW!!” “Make me.” Toni taunted, with a psychotic tone to her voice, still unwilling to back down. Unwilling to fight, Marie and Ryujin simply ignored Toni and walked away. “Cowards…looks like I was right…you don’t have the guts to make me leave, so allow me to help myself to the food and alcohol here, for I am far more deserving of the spoils than any of you.”

Toni rudely pushed three Frenchmen aside as she made her way to the afterparty room…she was going to get what she wanted, and there was not a force in the Solar System that could stop her, as much as it boiled Marie and Ryujin’s blood. That was the mark of a true sociopath, being able to do anything and not feel guilty about it…as long as she got what she wanted in the end, it didn’t matter what she had to do, and given her psychosis and extreme mental instability, nobody wanted to test her in actual sword combat. Many Hyperboreans could not understand why such a benevolent protector as the Orbis Solaris would choose her to govern one of the most ancient cities on Earth, and one of such immense prestige as Rome. There were some things the Orbis did that nobody understood, but everything always seemed to work in the end.

Marie, Ryujin and the other French citizens watched as Toni walked calmly down the hallway, her ridiculously-elaborate outfit unmistakable as she did so. No other Hyperborean wore such a gaudy outfit, much like a Qing Dynasty empress’ regalia crossed with an Elizabethan-era formal gown, only even more elaborate. She just liked to be the center of attention wherever she went, and loved to fight and argue with everyone…it was her way of probing people for any signs of weakness, any indication that they might be easy to exploit for her own personal gain. It was how she had attained such a prestigious position in society, and how she continued to grow her own company and business. Marie knew that she was going to have to join the afterparty as well, and was dreading dealing with Countess Toni in there, for fear of what she might do to upstage her or make a scene…at least she wouldn’t be on the colony ships to Aurelia in two weeks. Marie and the other French citizens calmed their collective anger at Toni’s comments and continued with their formalities, commenting on how horrible Toni was as a person, and what made her think that she could just invite herself to this night in Paris and make life miserable for everyone. “She really is that full of herself. She thinks that we are all lucky to have her grace the Palace of the Stars with her presence, and that we should be kneeling at her feet for all her success and power.” Marie responded, regaining her composure. “Had she not left when she did, I might have drawn my blade to hers…I try to be the bigger person and not give in to her manipulation, but she makes it very, very difficult. I firmly believe she has committed murder in the past, and will do so again. She is just that type of person.” No one was arguing with Marie on that point. Countess Toni’s membership to the ancient Mithraic Order and leadership in the Ordo Rosarius Cult of Love, a pagan cult which focused on sexual liberation as a form of prayer seemed to indicate that she was certainly capable of committing ghastly acts of depravity, and although she did not speak of her actions, she was doubtlessly guilty of them, this everyone in the room knew in their bones. However, no one would ever catch her in the act, for the ancient Orders that she pledged membership to were extraordinarily secretive. In both cases, she was the only known member.

Marie and the others gradually let the anger from their encounter with Countess Toni subside, before following her to the vast Grand Ballroom, the setting of Mademoiselle Marie’s sendoff afterparty, under the lights of glorious crystal chandeliers, shining with brilliant Immersion energy, generated from zero-point power sources, a limitless supply of energy generated by plasma. A map of the night sky adorned the cathedral-like ceiling, the stars shining as if there were no ceiling at all. On either side of the massive reception hall, marble Doric columns supported the huge overhead ceiling, with statues of famous French figures placed between them. On the far end of the room were dinner tables, elegantly set for the elite-class of French culture, and the seat of honor for Marie and her companions, Shen Ryujin and her company’s Board of Directors. As the party filed into the Grand Ballroom, they saw Countess Toni already sitting at a table, sipping a glass of red wine like a demented porcelain doll, sitting perfectly still and pretty, as if on a display shelf for all to see. The French simply ignored her, and tried to sit as far away from that madwoman as possible, however, eventually, some had to sit at the same table as her, simply because there were not enough seats elsewhere. Marie felt pity for those forced to sit at her table, for she would try her best to make their lives miserable. In this regard, Toni was like a schoolyard bully, who deliberately acted out just to draw attention to herself, something that the mature, erudite and refined Marie shunned like the plague. Toni called it cowardice, but Marie knew it to be maturity.

Ryujin took his seat next to Marie and placed his glass of sake on the table in front of him, looking across the room at everyone settling in. “So, what do you think Aurelia will be like?” Shen asked Marie, his voice wavering with anticipation. “I have as little idea as you. From what the Planetary Science Commission says, the planet is identical to Earth, just with a much higher oxygen content and a warmer climate. There are no ice caps, and oxygen levels are at 30%. This probably means that any life we encounter will not just be larger than anything we’re used to, but much larger, with far more muscle mass and power, much like Earth during the Cretaceous period…if Aurelia is anything like that, we’ll be in for a rude awakening when we find ourselves at the bottom of the food chain.” Marie warned, taking a sip from her wine glass. “Are you looking forward to the voyage as well?” Marie asked Ryujin. “Absolutely yes. I am like a small child awaiting Christmas two weeks before our journey to this new world. I’m excited about visiting Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s largest spaceport, more than anything else. I’ve always been partial to machines; I loved to take them apart when I was a young child and figure out how they worked, and now that I have received my augmentations, I am myself a superhuman machine, a blend of humanity and nanotechnology. Just the sheer size of the Cosmodrome is mind-boggling, and the megalopolis of Baikonur is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Solar System, thanks to the presence of the spaceport. Baikonur and Moscow are the two crown jewels of Old Russia, the territory that includes all of Eastern Europe and Eurasia, represented by Minister Adreii Groznyy in the United Earth government. If Moscow is the heart and soul of the Russian people, then Baikonur represents the sheer power, size and scale of the Russian Motherland. More than a billion people pass through the Cosmodrome every year, and more than 50 million people live behind the massive steel walls of Baikonur, one of the largest cities in the Solar System, in the heart of the Russian steppes, connected to the rest of Eurasia and Europe by massive, 12-lane highways and high-speed rail lines. Such a colossal human achievement is every bit as magnificent as an unspoiled, wild, alien planet.” “Perhaps, though I’ve always enjoyed the natural world more than anything else. The French orchards and vineyards, and the paradises of Tuscany and Florence are without parallel, as is Ishtar Terra on Venus and the colossal Valles Marineris on Mars, which now contains the largest river in the Solar System, with the city of Pontifex built along its banks. Pontifex is settled by mainly French colonists, and is a place where I am a known commodity. My clothing designs sell very well there…but nothing compares with the natural beauty of the Universe. You can have your machines all you want, Shen, but I prefer the peace and quiet of a warm summer night.” “That is where you and I differ, Marie. I’ve always been one for the city, art and culture. You are a more naturalistic person, who appreciates the cultural heritage of her people, but prefers a wild, open space above all else. As a Japanese, I can certainly sympathize with that, our people have always possessed a deep, spiritual connection with nature, and even in the era of the United Earth government, we maintain our national identity, as do the Russians and majority of Europeans. Our governments are run by Hyperborean Ministers, like us, who govern on behalf of the Orbis Solaris, the Guiding Light of humanity. It has been this way for centuries, and it shall always be, ad infinitum. It is simply the way of things now, and looking back on the tumultuous history of humanity until the arrival of the Orbis in Earth’s skies, we wonder how our species ever survived without its guidance. Wars have been cast to the wastebasket of history, political differences between nations all but nonexistent. Crime is near zero throughout the Solar System, as technology and progress has made any sort of illegal activity pointless. The Hyperboreans, and the Voidbending powers that the Orbis provides us, are the only protection the human race needs. Our systems of law and politics do the rest…yet my question is, where is everyone else?” “What do you mean?” Marie asked, curiously. “With all of our progress, you’d think that we’d have encountered another alien species by now, having been in space for centuries, albeit never leaving our own Solar System, or they would have found us. Apparently not.” “Well, have you ever considered the fact that perhaps the Orbis Solaris is intelligent life? Granted, it behaves more like a machine than an organism, but someone had to have built it and sent it here…who knows where they are, and why they just didn’t come themselves.” “Who knows…perhaps they could not survive on this planet, and needed to send a probe capable of representing them and acting on their behalf…as to why they sent the Orbis to Earth, it appears that they wanted to trade with us, share their vast knowledge of the Universe with a smaller, more insignificant species, in hopes of ushering in a new Golden Age of universal brotherhood and cooperation.” “I think I might have to agree with you on that…and what an Age it is.” Marie replied, just as the first toasts were being given. Marie and Shen raised their glasses to acknowledge the toast, and took great sips from their glasses afterward. Countess Toni merely sat amongst the crowd of subdued Frenchmen at her table, all 5 of them extraordinarily uncomfortable sitting at the same table as her. She had already consumed two glasses of liquor, and was beginning to show the effects of the high alcohol content…however, she maintained her poise and preeminence despite being a bit inebriated. “So, any of you men like to drink?” Toni asked, the 5 men nervous to say anything after Toni’s outburst in the reception hall. None of them said anything, irking the degenerate Countess with their silence. They all knew what a lunatic she was, and they had all heard the rumors surrounding her, rumors of immense depravity, sex dungeons, torture and blood-ritual surrounding her and the Mithraic Mysteries, Ordo Rosarius and various other occult organizations that she was rumored to be involved with, such as the Society of Ur, a sinister group dating back to the 20th Century, with the aim of creating a New Rome, a future Empire built around the principles of self-sufficiency and opposing decadence, something that directly contradicted the United Earth government and the Orbis Solaris. Some even believed she was a member of the lordly Illuminati, thanks to her usage of Masonic heraldry in her personal coat of arms, namely the Pyramid of Light and the All-Seeing Eye. There was much unknown about Countess Toni, the Lord Protector of Rome…and much that should remain unknown. “What’s the matter with you all…Cat got your tongues?” Toni said, visibly annoyed. “We want nothing to do with you…Why are you even here?!” One man boldly said what was on everyone’s mind, despite Toni’s brutal reputation. “Ha. Why else would I be here, other than to wish a fellow fashion designer well on her voyage to the stars?” Toni scoffed, maintaining her composure, as always. “You filthy liar…We know all about you and your activities outside the public eye. The Mithraic Mysteries, the Masonic heraldry, the Ordo Rosarius, the Society of Ur…you are not what you say you are. It is more than just an isolated incident…it is a conspiracy.” One of the Frenchmen said, making very bold accusations to a Lord Protector of a city. Toni looked up and stared at the man, with her huge, piercing, blue eyes, as if burning a hole into his very soul with her gaze. Clearly he had hit a nerve with her, which indicated that at least some of what he had said was true. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that…” Toni said, with a very disturbing tone to her voice. Her reaction spoke volumes about the man’s suspicions. Judging by how defensive she became, there was at least some truth to the conspiracy theories surrounding Countess Toni, and something that the United Earth police forces should pay more attention to, though they would never believe something so radical unless they caught her in the act. It just didn’t seem plausible. How could the Orbis Solaris not know these details about Countess Toni and appoint her to the position of Lord Protector anyway? It didn’t make sense to most people who met her…but then again, she had never done anything to harm Rome or its people directly. The Orbis didn’t care about its Lord Protectors’ personalities, as long as they could protect humanity’s cities, they would maintain their positions forever, their augmentations made them immune to the effects of aging. Perhaps Countess Toni was just some really weird tyrant of a woman who meant well for her people, but just hated anyone else who got in her way…still, however, it was impossible to banish the dark rumors about her from the back of their minds…Toni just fit the profile too perfectly.

Marie and Shen stood up from their seats on the podium and walked towards the other tables to meet and greet the guests seeing her off, most of them figures in the Parisian fashion or art industry, there were several other aspiring fashion designers sitting at one table, models, actors, actresses and famous authors sitting at others, and a few painters and sculptors mixed in. They were all at the top of their field, and they had all come to wish Marie and Shen well on their journey to Aurelia, set to depart in two weeks time. Perhaps even Countess Toni wished her business rival well…for her rivalry with Marie made her life interesting and meaningful. Marie knew exactly how Toni’s mind worked. Without Marie, she was nothing more than a fashion designer and business tycoon. With Marie, she was a warrior, deftly outplaying and outwitting her rivals to maintain her lordly preeminence, unafraid to fight or spill blood over what she truly believed in. Without Marie De La Croix, Countess Toni-Medici Fecchiera could not exist…she would be just another member of the European elite-class, decadent, wealthy, and unwilling to fight for anything except to save her own skin. However, Marie refused to play into Toni’s dark fantasies, preferring to keep it real, down to earth and with a certain sense of normalcy. Marie kept her eyes on Toni the entire time, with Toni doing the same to Marie. “She is nothing without me…yet I can continue to exist without her presence just fine…I am the stronger person, not dependent on anyone else to sustain a fantasy made real…and I am not interested in seeing the depths of her depravity if the fantasy is taken away from her…” Marie thought, her gaze fixed squarely on Toni as she walked about introducing herself to her fans and colleagues. Toni, however, was the type of person that you couldn’t simply ignore if you wanted her to stop bothering you. She was more than a bully, for she would not harass you only because she sought attention. She bullied people because she felt that she had a sovereign duty to the world to weed out the weak and perpetuate the existence of the strong, as per her alleged membership to the Mithraic Order and the Society of Ur, and would only see someone ignoring her as a sign of weakness, which would only encourage her to increase the level at which she attacked someone…and there was very little anyone could do to stop her once she had it in for someone and given her status as a Lord Protector, she answered to no one but the Orbis Solaris. Her behavior was predatory, and like any predator, she would not stop until she got her prey. If she decided she wanted to attack you, there was nothing you could do to stop her…and there was no limit as to how extreme she would become if sufficiently pressed. This Marie knew, and she knew that the best defense against someone like that was to avoid contact with her whenever possible…however, her contributions to the fashion and art industries could not be denied.

Marie and Ryujin approached a small group of young women sitting at a table, some of the models that had worn Marie’s latest outfits at the Paris Imperial Fashion Show just a week before, and they had nothing but praise for Marie and the entire industry. “Madame De La Croix, about Countess Toni…her designs are truly staggering in scope and vision, as are yours, but I do share your concerns about the quality of her character.” one of the models, a tall, slender brunette named Samantha St. Jean, whispered to Marie. “I’ve modeled both her outfits and yours, and working with you is eminently more enjoyable. Countess Toni…she has this vibe about her, you can sense it the moment she walks into a room, without her even saying anything to you, it is just that strong…and that discomforting. Just the way she watches us as we walk the runway, it’s not an expression of pride…it’s an expression of lust…dark, festering passion that makes us feel very uncomfortable…like the kind of expression a murderer has when he sets eyes on his next victim. There are really no words to describe it…” Samantha said, quietly so that Toni wouldn’t hear her across the room. “I recommend you look into Countess Toni’s activity, just to make your clients and colleagues feel safer. Call me paranoid, but I think Toni intends to kill me.” A very bold accusation to make against a Lord Protector…but Marie could easily understand why Samantha would think this. “I assure you, Countess Toni means you no harm…she’s just a very bizarre, odd person who does have serious character flaws, no one denies that, but I doubt she’s actually capable of killing anyone. She has a persona of a merciless businesswoman with a dark, esoteric flair, but it’s all an act. The Orbis Solaris wouldn’t have made her Lord Protector of Rome if it didn’t trust her. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.” “Well, she could have fooled me…” Samantha said, getting back to her drink.

Ryujin leaned over to Marie and whispered something in her ear. “Madamoiselle De La Croix, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I share Miss St. Jean’s concerns. I know you don’t like to make accusations without proof, and I know you are not one to start drama, but just look at that woman! Seldom does anyone present such a classic case of insanity and does not immediately get whisked away to a psychiatric ward. Her outfits, her personality, her interests, her bizarre homoerotic attraction to her own models, her affiliations and absolutely every aspect of her existence is nothing close to what anyone would consider ‘normal.’ I have no proof that she has killed anyone either or intends to in the future, but can you really risk it with someone like her?” Shen cautioned. “She is an immensely successful businesswoman who has built the only fashion empire capable of rivaling mine; whatever ‘issue’ she has, it certainly doesn’t impede her from living a successful life.” “That’s not the issue, Marie. There is a certain level of decency expected from everyone by virtue of being a member of society, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, or how successful you are at it, the issue is not whether or not she can live a successful life, the issue is that Toni clearly does not fulfill her obligations to the rest of society to make everyone feel comfortable and at ease. She is a mortal threat to society’s peace of mind, and maybe even more than that. You can’t give people like her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her. You are far more forgiving than I am, Marie.” Shen lectured. “I think you’re being too judgmental, Shen. We need to stop this conversation now, because it is very clear we cannot agree on this issue.” “I’m not being judgmental, I’m being sensible and sane, something that witch Toni clearly is not. A toddler could probably tell that woman’s crazy.” Ryujin had to have the last word in that matter. He had made up his mind about Toni and was not changing it for any reason…despite Marie’s best efforts to convince him otherwise. She saw Toni as more of a rival than someone to be feared, though many of Marie’s colleagues were very much disturbed by her behavior. “There is still evil in this world, despite the Orbis Solaris’ best efforts to extinguish it…what the Orbis misses, I deal with…” Shen was known to say. He would know, as well. He was a member of the Legion of The Abyssal Sun, a culture of Japanese warriors that followed the dark god Izanami-Sama and her Shinigami demons, wearing the mark of the Staghorn Rune and using its blessing to strike down evil, as offerings to the Dark Queen of the Abyssal Sun. Most of the members were Hyperborean, and Shen was the senior member of the Tokyo Legion, deployed by the Orbis Solaris to protect the city from harm and those who planned to do it harm…if Toni ever set foot in Tokyo, Shen would have her apprehended at once. The human race would just have to trust his judgment in that case. However, as Toni said, he was a long way from his homeland here in Paris. He had difficulty learning the European customs, so tried to stay as far away from other people’s issues as he could…Marie felt as if he was an outsider looking in, and he knew it. However, he was a good, honest man, and one whom Marie could trust.

At that moment, the main course dinner was being served, a high-quality London broil with vegetables and fresh fruits, prompting Shen and Marie to return to their seats for the meal. The food was prepared by some of the finest chefs in Paris, a city long known for its wonderful food and culture, and this was no different during the Golden Age. Some of the highest quality restaurants in Paris catered to people from all over the Solar System, earning truly legendary reputations and catapulting their chefs to interplanetary fame…some of the chefs here in Paris were known from Mercury to Pluto for their food, and people came from all over the Solar System to sample it. Marie and Shen enjoyed the food while they could, out on Aurelia, they would be a long way from the comforts of home. These two weeks would be their farewell tour of their home, before setting out into the unexplored. For now, however, they just wanted to enjoy their lives amongst the high society of Europe. Suddenly, Shen stood up with an announcement to make. “Ladies and gentlemen of Paris, I bring the tidings of peace and prosperity from the city of Tokyo and the Japanese people to you on this night, the night we celebrate our departure to points unknown. These next two weeks will be an adjustment period for us, so we will spend them traveling the world, visiting as many cities as we can on Earth and the Moon, before our departure, starting with my home city of Tokyo. Marie was kind enough to introduce me to the Parisian high life, and I shall return the favor by showing her Tokyo, and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun which protects it.”

The dinner guests cheered at Shen’s announcement; they all wished Marie and Shen well as they prepared to take a trip of a lifetime together, visiting several major cities on Earth and spending time in each one before their departure to Baikonur, to board the colony ships at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the largest spaceport in the Solar System. Tokyo was different than anything in Europe, despite being on the same planet and under the same Orbis Solaris, the Japanese capital city was a place of honor, justice and morality under the protection of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, whereas Paris hadn’t changed much from the 21st century, at least as far as culture and the legal system were concerned. The entire nation of Japan had, under the Orbis Solaris and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, become a modern equivalent of the Tokugawa Era, each city ruled by a Lord Protector from the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, who enforced a strict code of ethics, conduct and manners reminiscent of the Age of Samurai. Marie was in for a very stark contrast to the lights and glory of Paris…the major cities of Japan were far larger and far grittier, with seedy underbellies and red-light districts interspersed between the densely-populated, over-developed commercial and industrial districts, which stretched for hundreds of square miles…and Shen was in charge of the largest of these, the Tokyo Megalopolis, a concentration of nearly 120 million people in a 200-square mile area…all those people crammed into one area led to all sorts of malcontent, something that Shen and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun stood permanently on watch for. Japan had regained its warrior code of honor and military tradition in the Golden Age, and had openly embraced the wondrous technology brought by the Orbis Solaris to become a truly transcendent people, a nation whose traditions and technology stretched across time and space, a place where the ancient, glorious past blended with the Golden Age of the present, and created a truly magnificent nation of honorable, moral and sane people who did their best to contribute as much to the Golden Age of humanity as they possibly could. All that and more awaited Marie and Shen when they departed for Tokyo the following morning.

“Marie, I know you’ve probably been asked this many, many times, so forgive me if you grow weary of hearing this, but, what convinced you to choose this path, what made you want to go into the fashion design business?” Shen asked, his crimson-red hair covering his left eye slightly. “No worries. I never grow weary of explaining that. From a very young age I always had an eye for the unusual, the bizarre, the unique and the otherworldly…one of the first signs of a budding creative or artist. I loved to draw pictures of things that I saw, things like birds, people, animals, plants, anything I could find, I would sketch. Eventually, that passion for art and drawing led me to the field of design, and, fast-forward 25 years and 35 nanoscale augmentations later, here I am, an immortal, transcendent God of Mythology, forever drawing and designing outfits for people and other Hyperboreans, and keeping the city I love safe from harm…it is the lifeblood of my existence, I cannot exist without my designs, and they cannot exist without me. It is what I do, and what I will always do.” Marie explained, her eyes lighting up as she described her work with the usual passion that only she could bring to the field. “I must admit, that is quite impressive…the outfit designs worn by Hyperboreans in Japan differ from the ones in Europe, they are far more practical than ornamental, and are made to reflect the medieval garb worn by samurai lords, shoguns and Japanese emperors, with the exception of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, who all wear uniforms identical to mine, emblazoned proudly with the Staghorn Rune, to show our devotion to the dark Queen of Justice, Izanami-Sama and the Shinigami gods, passing judgment upon the evil in their name. The war we fight is with the evils that the Orbis Solaris failed to extinguish, the evils of crime, exploitation, corruption and hatred, hatred born of jealousy, anger and fear, and we take great honor and pride in what we do. We do not fight our battles alone, however, we have the Japanese Home Guard Forces to reinforce us. These are state-of-the-art super-soldiers, armed with the latest in Golden-Age weaponry and clad in Class-XII combat exoskeleton suits, they are some of the most formidable soldiers in human history, tasked with keeping the peace in our nation’s cities and towns on our behalf. Their weapons include everything you can think of, pulse rifles, plasma throwers, blaster rifles, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, shotguns, shrapnel launchers, homing blasters, any form of weaponry used by the human race, both projectile and energy-based. Drawing their power from the Orbis Solaris, as well as their training and technology, the Guard Forces maintain order through organized patrols and the placement of strategic military installations; though war is generally believed to be a thing of the past in the Golden Age, we still maintain a sizable military for peacekeeping purposes in Japan. Unlike Europe, where the force of law and knowledge keeps the peace, we in Japan still believe in the force of armies to protect our people.” “Interesting, Shen. Most in Europe and America would think that maintaining a standing army in this day and age is unnecessary and barbaric, when the force of law and reason in the Golden Age is so strong. Nobody wants war, and everyone wants peace. That is the very basis of the United Earth government, under the Orbis Solaris. Only the Russians, the Japanese and the Chinese seem the think that maintaining a large, organized military is still a necessity, but that may be more about national heritage than anything else…the Russians, Chinese and Japanese have always had very strong military traditions, after all, it was a Chinese man, Sun Tzu, who wrote the seminal treatise on war and warfare, The Art of War. Outside of that, no nation maintains a standing army anymore, relying on the Orbis Solaris and the Hyperboreans to keep everyone safe. However, the Russian, Chinese and Japanese militaries are so large and so advanced that they provide formidable backup for the Orbis Solaris and the Hyperboreans, as we are merely keepers of the peace, not soldiers. The United Earth Space Corps’ massive warships all all constructed in Russian, Chinese or Japanese shipyards.” “Indeed, some of those ships are truly mind-boggling. The Perun-class capital ships are the size of entire continents, carrying more than 800 million people…under the Orbis Solaris, humanity has accomplished the impossible…we have built a truly successful spacefaring society, one with the capacity to go anywhere in the Universe in just 6 hours, one with the capability to wage war and colonize on a truly trans-galactic scale…and we are just getting started…Shen, have you ever wondered what lies beyond our Solar System?” “I can’t say that I haven’t.” “Perhaps there’s someone out there wondering what it’s like here, just as curious to meet us as we are to meet them, but isolated by the vast expanses of space and time, they have been unable to cross that distance, as humanity was for millennia prior to the arrival of the Orbis Solaris…and now look at us. We stand on the precipice of a new dawn, a truly trans-galactic future as a Type-III society, as of now, we are currently a Type-II with our technological advancement, and are on the verge of making the jump to Type-III, with our impending voyage to Aurelia. We will doubtlessly encounter life forms outside of our own Solar System, and when we do, it will change our lives forever. Just think, that first moment of contact with an intelligent alien life form; who knows, we might find them on Aurelia, or we might find them on some other world, much like Earth, but isolated from the rest of the Universe, only to see our colony ships arrive in orbit one day…there is a profound sense of romanticism about all this, much like the European explorers encountering new lands and peoples during the Age of Exploration on Earth, we are about to embark on our own Age of Exploration, a new dawn for the spirit of human adventure…and I am honored to be the envoy of my people to this new world, much as Monsieur Bougainville was for the people of French Polynesia and New Caledonia on Earth, back in the 18th century.” “Indeed, Marie. However, I do have some concerns on that particular point you made. If you do not recall, the European explorers and colonists caused great harm to the native peoples they encountered, often committing mass genocide of the aboriginal inhabitants of lands they colonized, and tried to homogenize the native culture and suppress it as inferior as much as possible. What makes you think that the Golden Age colonists of these new worlds wouldn’t do the same thing to any other intelligent forms of life they encountered, especially, if that life tried to stop the colonists from colonizing their planet?” “I doubt that would happen. The Orbis Solaris wouldn’t allow for a genocide of the native peoples of any world. It is too benevolent, and too universal to condone such an act. I believe humanity has passed the point of its barbaric infancy and has learned to think as a species, not as individual nations or peoples. The Orbis and humanity would do what was best for it as a species, not as individuals. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Marie replied, taking another sip from her wine glass. “You certainly have more trust in the Orbis than I do…” Shen replied. “I beg to differ when you say that humanity is not capable of horrid acts anymore…I have seen them myself.”

The dessert carts began rolling into the room as everyone finished their meals, consisting of cakes, ice cream and various types of gourmet pies, something that the guests were gleefully helping themselves to. Marie and Shen selected individual pies from the cart as it passed by; with Marie keeping a close eye on Toni, who had now begun a lively conversation with a group of Italians that had joined the dinner party, after arriving late to the ceremony. There was something about the Italians that the French didn’t quite understand, they had a tendency to be loud, overzealous and pushy, something that Countess Toni epitomized about the Italian people. She was busy entertaining her fellow countrymen, doubtlessly making fun of the French and their incredible aloofness and meticulous attention to manners and culture, whereas the Italians just wanted to have a good time. “At least she’s found someone she can get along with…” Marie whispered to herself, smiling. She enjoyed her rivalry with Toni, and she knew very well that Toni did too, the rivalry was more than just a feud, it was an integral part of who they were, and influenced their designs greatly, always trying to outdo each other. “How’s the pie, Shen?” Marie asked, looking over at Shen, who was busy eating. “Lemon…tastes sweet, but not too sour. I like it.” “I can see that…” Marie said, a bit off-put by Shen’s overzealous eating. He didn’t care though. The Japanese loved their food, and lemon pie was a huge treat for someone who ate nothing but fish, vegetables and rice at nearly every meal. He could get used to this. However, the following morning, it was back to Tokyo, for he had some unfinished business to accomplish with the Legion, something he and Marie would take care of before their departure for Aurelia in two weeks time. The war against crime in the Tokyo Red Light District had taken a sudden turn for the worst, various United Earth news networks were reporting that an individual calling himself “Kalki” had seized control of various neighborhoods, and had the entire area cordoned off by heavily-armed militia, in the employ of Kalki and his Aokigahara Consortium. The Japanese military was preparing a strike into the Red Light district to apprehend Kalki, but they required Shen’s presence to carry out the mission. If “Kalki” could secure the Red Light Districts, he could potentially come to dominate the entire criminal underworld of Tokyo, something that the Legion of the Abyssal Sun would not allow. It was their duty to maintain not just order in the streets, but a balance of power in the Red Light Districts, preventing one criminal mastermind from dominating the underworld…and this “Kalki,” named after a Hindu god of destruction, was priority number one. The military and the Legion knew that crime could never be stopped in the Red Light Districts, but it could be controlled and managed, just as any other aspect of the United Earth economy could…this was the bread and butter of Shen’s existence, maintaining a balance of power in the Tokyo streets, as a silent, watchful knight, only taking direct action when the situation required it. Marie was going to be in for the shock of her life when she found herself traveling through Tokyo’s Red Light Districts with Shen, on a mission to remove a powerful crime lord. That was for tomorrow, however, that night, the two of them only focused on enjoying each other’s company, in the lights and atmosphere that only Paris could provide.

As Marie started to eat her dessert, she looked over at Shen, who had already finished his, and had a look of calm satisfaction on his face. She remembered when she first met him, at a session of United Earth Congress in Manhattan, at the former United Nations building, now the headquarters for the United Earth government, and how he tantalized her with stories of the Far East, of a country where crime, to some extent, was legal and accepted as part of the economy, where the cities were so vast that the military was needed to keep the peace throughout, and where the customs were so different than Europe and America that one could feel like they were on another planet…this was China, Japan and Korea…home to the Solar System’s largest and most diverse cities, with the most advanced infrastructure and technology of all…these cities epitomized humanity, for all its negatives and positives, and they were headed to the largest one the following morning, the Tokyo Megalopolis. Since they had met, Shen had been her erstwhile companion and protector, and would continue to be for as long as he could…as would the entire Legion of the Abyssal Sun. Marie quietly finished her dessert, as she prepared to give the closing remarks on the dinner ceremony. Waiting for everyone else to finish their dessert, Marie stood up from her seat on the podium, and captured everyone’s attention with a tap on her glass. “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you all for coming out to wish me and Shen Ryujin well on our upcoming voyage to Aurelia, and starting this exciting new Age of Exploration for humanity. Following in the footsteps of men like Columbus, Bougainville, Cook, Rothschild, Darwin, Magellan and Wallace, we will make our claim on this new world, colonize it and bring it into the Golden Age of the Orbis Solaris, our one and only protector and bringer of Light. Our lives and existences owe their prosperity to its radiance, and we, as the Hyperborean Protectors, do its work on Earth and places beyond. Tomorrow, Shen and I shall leave for Tokyo, to accomplish a very important task. As many of you probably know, a foul miscreant invoking the name of a Hindu god of destruction has taken control of vast sectors of the Tokyo Red Light Districts, and Shen has been summoned by the Orbis Solaris back to Tokyo to serve his people and his city. I shall accompany him on this journey, as we remove this powerful crime lord from his throne, and restore balance and order to the Tokyo streets. The Orbis’ will be done. Tomorrow, we leave from Paris Aerospaceport via hypersonic transport for the three-hour journey to Tokyo, a crossroads of human culture and life of all kinds. Wish us luck on our mission, and may the Orbis Solaris forever shine in your favor.”

The entire crowd gave a rousing round of applause for Marie’s closing remarks, as people began getting up from their seats, and headed for the exits. However, Marie had a few final words for her business rival, Toni-Medici Fecchiera. “Countess Toni, I’m terribly sorry about mine and Shen’s outburst earlier…you know I get very defensive about people showing up unannounced.” “Oh, where’s the fun in that?” Toni said, with her usual sarcastic tone. “All I’m trying to say is that I do respect you and your contributions to the industry. Solar Empire Designs is every bit a masterpiece as my company is, but I would appreciate it if you kept it more civil at formal gatherings, primarily because my French colleagues are…easily offended by your personality.” Marie whispered. “Understood, though I still think the French just need to grow a spine every once in a while…but what are the chances of that happening, right? You are the only person in this room that I have any respect for, other than myself, and I appreciate your input, but I don’t need you, Marie.” “Oh, you do, Toni…more than you know.” Before Toni could respond, Marie had already turned and walked out the door with Shen, leaving her alone to seethe over Marie’s words to her. “That’s what you think…just wait, Marie…Just wait.” Toni whispered to herself, as she was the last to exit the dining hall.

                    1. No One Sleeps In Tokyo

The following morning dawned bright and sunny over Paris, with the Orbis Solaris shining like a second Sun as the true Sun rose higher in the morning light. Marie and Shen had been awake since before dawn, gathering their things and preparing for the flight to Tokyo, which was scheduled to leave Paris Aerospaceport by noon sharp. It was already 9:00 A.M., and they stood in Marie’s penthouse apartment, waiting for the limousine to take them to their hypersonic jet. This was Marie’s private plane, and she used it liberally to meet her contacts in various cities on Earth. The plane was a well-used Hellespont Corporation TX-997 jump-jet, manufactured in Hellespont Airplane Company’s St. Lo aircraft yards, your standard, no-frills, hypersonic executive transport, the standard in luxury and practicality during the Golden Age. The jet had served Marie well for the three years she had owned it, and this trip to Tokyo would be no different than the ones she had taken before, for her fashion shows in Tokyo’s Shinjuku District, the heart of Tokyo’s art and culture. However, in many ways, this trip to Tokyo was unlike any before for Marie. Usually, when Marie traveled to this city, she stayed in the highest luxury imaginable, a rarified world of art and edifice that catered to the absolute highest authorities in the Solar System…where she was headed was very different. It had long been held that “Tokyo” was in fact two cities, the upper-class “overcity,” and the seedy, unseen “undercity,” which had developed out of the city’s runaway growth during the Golden Age and the civil police department’s inability to police the entirety of it…this was an unforeseen consequence of cities becoming as large as Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul. Tokyo was a place where anything or anyone, legal or illegal, could be had for a price. This was the Tokyo that Marie was about to visit, a world seldom seen by the upper classes, and a world known to the Legion of the Abyssal Sun as “The Void,” for it swallowed people alive and never let them out. Marie, however, had no reason to fear anything in The Void…she was fully trained with a Hallucination Nano-Sword and had the full protection of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. This was going to be no more dangerous than an trip to the Shinjuku district to advertise her new designs.

Suddenly, Marie’s smartphone beeped, alerting her that the limousine had arrived outside the high-priced apartment complex, a luxurious, 8-wheeled, silver, plasma-powered car, bearing the insignia of Pantheon Corporation, a producer of fine vehicles for more than 200 years. This car was one of the most deluxe models yet, shimmering sleek and silver in the morning sunlight. The car’s 8 wheels, arranged in four pairs in the front and rear of the vehicle, could drive for more than 100,000 miles before the tires needed to be changed, and the vehicle’s zero-point, plasma-powered engine produced a limitless supply of energy to power the vehicle forward. It was a true marvel of automobile engineering, something Marie would miss once she traveled to Aurelia in two weeks time. Marie and Shen grabbed their things and walked down the hallway out of Marie’s gorgeous penthouse apartment, decorated with many famous works of art and other very expensive decorations, a place she would not see for a considerable amount of time, now that she was leaving. The two Hyperboreans stepped into the elevator to the ground floor, looking at each other as they stood in the elevator. “You seem nervous…why?” Shen asked Marie, a bit of anxiety seeping into her ethereal blue eyes. “From what I’ve heard about this part of Tokyo…some people refer to the Tokyo undercity as ‘The Void…’ I don’t think I’ve ever encountered something like this even once in my life thus far. I’m not sure how my presence will be received by the locals.” “They generally will not harass Hyperboreans. They know that we are trained with Nano-Swords and many other weapons, and have deep connections with the Orbis Solaris. They know better than to start fights with us, the residents of the undercity would be best served finding easier targets.” “Very well then.” Marie responded.

The elevator pinged as the car reached the ground floor, and Marie and Shen stepped forward into the foyer, as the doormen opened the doors for them. The limousine was waiting outside for them, its engine making the distinctive whine of a zero-point energy drive. Placing their luggage in the car’s trunk, the two of them stepped into the back seat of the car and shut the doors. The chauffeur, already knowing their intended destination, pushed the car’s throttle forward, and promptly headed off in the direction of Paris Aerospaceport, through the heart of the Golden Age Parisian megalopolis. As the car left the high-priced residential areas near the Seine River, it merged onto one of the massive, 10-lane highways that meandered through the city, leading directly through Paris’ miles-wide commercial district, complete with kilometer-high skyscrapers, owned by corporations such as ImperialCorp, Kaiserkrone Syndicate and Riyadh Heavy Engineering, the latter company based in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and a primary manufacturer of warp drives, allowing ships to travel anywhere in the Universe in just 6 hours. The limousine winded through the vast urban canyons of Paris, on the elevated highways passing by the individual buildings, containing tens of thousands of employees working for the major corporations that comprised the vast majority of Paris’ commercial districts. Marie looked out the window at the skyscrapers passing by, and tried to take it all in. This would be the last time she saw Paris for a while, a city she truly loved with all her heart. However, Tokyo awaited her, and she was about to see a side of Tokyo that few people from the upper classes ever got to see…aside from the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. It was a dangerous, sinful, cutthroat world where law enforcement couldn’t reach, far from the orderly customs of Europe and the democratic traditions of America, Tokyo’s undercity, much like Seoul’s, Beijing’s and Shanghai’s, was based on a simple Darwinian principle: The strong would always prevail over the weak, and the strongest would come to dominate the entire underworld…something the Legion of the Abyssal Sun and the Japanese military stood on guard to prevent. The money generated by the black market activities provided more an 35% of Tokyo’s annual revenue, and like any aspect of the economy, it was regulated and regulated brutally by those in power…and right now, “Kalki” had officially overstepped his boundaries. This was a problem in need of a solution, and Marie and Shen were en route to preside over this planned “black market correction.”

As the limousine wound its way through Paris’ commercial district, it followed signs for Paris Aerospaceport, located directly on the outskirts of the commercial district and near the border with the massive industrial district. Already, space and aircraft were visible rising high over the skyline as they took off from the port, bound mostly for Mars and Venus, planets in the Solar System that had cities rivaling those built on Earth in size and scope, such as New Moscow on Mars and Ishtar Metropolis on Venus, which had become a jungle world awash with life after the terraforming that had taken place throughout the Golden Age. Mars was much like Siberia, which may have explained the unusually high number of Russian colonists living in the Martian cities, for the climate of Mars during the Golden Age was much like the climate of Russia, hot and sunny during the summer, and frigidly cold during the winter. Fewer ships departed for the Outer Solar System, the cities on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn tended to be smaller, and mostly huge freighters went out that far, to mine gases from the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The majority of human habitation was on the first four planets from the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars…however, all of that was about to change with Marie and Shen’s upcoming voyage to colonize Aurelia, more than 4 light-years from Earth, orbiting a red-dwarf star.

As the limousine approached the exit for the Aerospaceport terminal, Marie and Shen prepared themselves for a three-hour flight to Tokyo, flying at Mach 25 in Marie’s hypersonic transport. Upon arrival, they would meet up with the remainder of the Tokyo Legion, and from there, they would get to the business of dealing with Kalki, who was rapidly consolidating his hold on the Tokyo undercity, through acts of violence and terror. The gangs that controlled the flow of money through the undercity also acted the the undercity’s enforcers, using shows of force, violence and acts of terrorism to keep the gang’s employees in line, and made sure that order and peace was maintained where the civil law enforcement or military could not reach, on account of Tokyo’s vast size during the Golden Age. Howerver, the Legion of the Abyssal Sun made sure that no one gang became too powerful, they did not try to stop the crime from happening, they merely acted as the gangs’ enforcers, making sure that the gangs followed the United Earth government’s laws. As bizarre as it may have seemed, street gangs were legal organizations in Golden Age East Asian cities, organizations that played a vital role in maintaining their cities’ economies, diversity and vibrancy despite limited police and military presence in many areas of cities like Tokyo. In this case, the definition of “crime” was all relative.

The limousine pulled off the highway at the Aerospaceport exit, and immediately saw the colossal terminal building directly in front of them, with many, many other cars and public transportation pulling into the receiving area. Marie’s limousine proceeded past the masses of passengers filing into the terminal to the VIP reception area, for those boarding private transports, to both points on and off-world. However, on this particular day, even that part of the terminal was crowded, apparently even the Paris elite had more places to go than usual. Marie and Shen stepped out of the limousine and walked into the terminal, through the revolving doors and past hundreds of LED screens, each showing departures and arrivals from all over the Solar System. They, however, were headed to Marie’s private hangar, where her plane was stored when not in use. Immediately, an attendant was there to greet them, the same technician that had always serviced Marie’s plane, Pierre, was waiting for them. “Welcome, Mademoiselle De La Croix, your plane has been fully inspected and is ready to go. Follow me to the hangar, where you will be underway shortly.” Marie and Shen followed Pierre through the terminal, not nearly as packed as the public one, but still somewhat crowded nonetheless. Even amongst the Paris wealthy, Marie and Shen stood out, thanks to their unique outfits and immense height from their augmentations. Shen was immediately recognizable as a leader of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, thanks to his regalia, and several travelers from Japan in the terminal recognized him, and were wary…he was someone you did not want to cross paths with when he was in a foul mood. Chances are, they knew it was Ryujin as well, for the Japanese news stations kept citizens in the loop about their leaders’ travels, so many knew he was in France to be honored for his upcoming voyage to Aurelia…and they doubtlessly knew his purpose for returning on such short notice…the issues in the Tokyo undercity couldn’t be ignored any longer. Shen paid them no mind as he and Marie walked to the shuttle, taking them to their plane’s hangar. This was going to be a very exciting trip for Marie, though a routine operation for Shen.

The terminal shuttle reached Marie’s hangar in short order, on the far end of the VIP launch pads and runways, opposite the much larger public terminals. Several space launch towers loomed high in the foreground, used for launching huge payloads into geo-synch orbit, one launch tower had a massive rocket with three cargo shuttles riding piggyback on it, marked with the insignia of EuroCorp, an enormous pharmaceutical chain that conducted most of its research in zero-gravity environments, operating several factories in geo-synch orbit, more than 22,000 miles above the Earth. “That shuttle is being launched later today, I’ve heard the techs buzzing about it all morning. Some kind of breakthrough drug that can reverse the aging process in ordinary humans, without having to go through the process of nanoscale augmentation. It’s a major breakthrough.” “Indeed…” Marie said, checking her plane out to make sure everything was in working order. Satisfied with the technicians’ job, she called for the pilots to board the medium-sized plane, being prepped for takeoff on the tarmac, in the shadow of the enormous EuroCorp cargo shuttle. The EuroCorp insignia was also present on many hangars, terminals and other equipment; EuroCorp had a major hub of operations at Paris Aerospaceport, as well as the Frankfurt Air and Space Center, an even larger port than the one in Paris, but still nowhere near the size of America’s Midwestern Space Center and Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. Marie and Shen, however, had no time for sightseeing. They had a schedule to keep, and one that they could not afford to be late for.

As the hypersonic plane fired its engines up, Marie and Shen took their seats in the spacious passenger compartment to begin their three-hour flight eastward, which would take them high over the steppes of central Asia and China to reach Tokyo Starport, where they would meet the remainder of the Tokyo Legion and prepare for their peacekeeping mission in the undercity. The plane slowly began to taxi down the runway into takeoff position, passing many other parked air and spacecraft on the tarmac, all in the shadow of the massive launch towers just behind the private terminal, separated from the passengers by a 20-meter high titanium wall, which stretched for more than two miles. This was the safety wall, meant to separate the massive cargo rocket launches from the passenger transports, though many claimed the wall only amplified the noise of the launch by ricocheting the sound waves off of it. The wall was marked with EuroCorp insignias every 300 meters, a gigantic advertisement for their company and their research in medicine and pharmaceuticals. Marie’s plane passed the length of this wall on its taxi run, reached the end of the tarmac and began to rev its engines in preparation for takeoff. Marie and Shen strapped themselves in for the 3-hour flight to Tokyo. The plane, engines blasting at full throttle, roared down the runway, lifting into the clear, early-afternoon sky, just as the Sun was reaching its apex over Paris. The plane quickly ascended to its cruising altitude of 75,000 feet, and then fired its scramjet engines, jolting the plane’s cabin as it did so, accelerating to Mach 25 for the remainder of the journey. “Shen, Marie, you may unfasten your seatbelts, we have reached our cruising altitude, just sit back and enjoy the flight.” the pilot announced, as Shen and Marie unfastened their belts and started to move about the cabin, with Marie proceeding to the minibar for a few drinks. Pouring two glasses of red wine, Marie and Shen enjoyed a class of French chardonnay at 75,000 feet, looking out the transparisteel windows at the curvature of the Earth far below. This high up the Earth’s spherical shape became noticeable, as did the massive silhouettes of the Perun, Ookami and Li Clow-class warships used by the United Earth government, and manufactured in the massive Russian, Japanese and Chinese shipyards on the Moon, Mars and the Jovian Moons. The Perun-class, shaped like a gigantic ginkgo leaf, was the largest artificial object ever built by the hands of Man, nearly the size of Asia, and capable of carrying more than 800 million people. These ships were just as much flying space colonies as they were warships, with many military personnel and their families living full time aboard the massive capital ships, which carried a full contingent of 100 city-sized Svarog-class assault ships, armed to the teeth with heavy weapons and starfighters. The capital ships themselves were armed with turbolasers, cyclonic torpedoes, molecular bond breakers and a massive, planet-destroying weapon called a “Siege Engine,” which could decimate the entire surface of a planet when fired. The Ookami-class dreadnaughts were the battleships of the United Earth Space Corps’ fleet, not as massive as the Perun-class but more heavily armed, with more heavy cannons, torpedo launchers, plasma weapons and two molecular bond breakers, these weapons were the nastiest guns in the UESC Navy’s arsenal. They functioned by firing two highly-concentrated beams of energy, upon hitting their targets, they destroyed the molecular bonds holding them together, and would trigger a chain reaction that would destroy the entire fleet as the plasma jumped from one target to another. All the ships had to do was fire into an enemy formation, and the entire fleet would be vaporized. The Li Clow-class ships were the supercarriers, lightly armed and requiring other ships to protect them, but truly enormous and loaded to the brim with fighters, troops and ground vehicles, meant for deployment on planetary surfaces or in space. Marie had always questioned why the United Earth government needed such a large military when it had no enemies…perhaps it was a simply matter of preparedness, the fact that no one knew exactly what existed beyond the Solar System, and the possibility that any alien life forms humanity might meet might not be friendly. Therefore, such an enormous space presence was deemed necessary by the Hyperboreans and the Orbis Solaris. It was better to be prepared than sorry. Also, the enormous military presence would be a deterrent to any hostile civilizations intent on plundering the Solar System’s vast natural resources, liquid water, organic life and rich mineral deposits in the Asteroid Belt and on the moons of the Outer Solar System. The Hyperboreans had spared no expense in safeguarding the future of the Golden Age, ensuring theirs and humanity’s immortality.

Marie looked up at the starships high above and sipped her glass of wine, relaxing in the comfort of her private transport. The hum of the scramjet engines droned in the background as the plane passed over the steppes of central Asia en route to Tokyo, staying well north of the Baikonur Cosmodrome approach vector to avoid any air and space-traffic entanglements. They were flying directly over Moscow, a gigantic megalopolis covering more than 100 square miles, the largest city in Europe, and would fly on a southeasterly route to reach Tokyo on schedule; the cockpit transponders were picking up Russian FM radio signals coming up from the ground, forcing the pilots to switch their channels to avoid interference from nonessential sources. Marie chuckled humorously as a commercial for sexual lubricant came in as interference over the cockpit channel, forcing the pilot to recalibrate the station. “It seems that Russians have lost none of their luster during the Golden Age…sexually-explicit commercials in the middle of the day…never gets old.” Shen said, sarcastically. “They have always been like that…compared to Europe, the Russians have absolutely no manners whatsoever, and certainly not compared with the Japanese. Positively barbaric.” Marie affirmed, listening to the garbled transmissions as the pilot finally succeeded in canceling them out. Marie and Shen finished their glasses of wine and activated their seats’ holoscreens, tapping the HUDs to activate the panels. Instantly, a full, holographic screen appeared directly in front of both Shen and Marie, tuned to the United Earth News Network, or UENN for short. As luck would have it, the newscasters were covering an update on the situation in Tokyo’s undercity, and the reports were not pleasant. Three more neighborhoods had pledged their allegiance to Kalki in the past 2 hours, expanding his control to nearly half of the Northeast Under, the section of Tokyo just outside the industrial district. The situation was deteriorating almost faster than the Legion of The Abyssal Sun could react to it; though the plane was traveling at Mach 25, even that may have been too slow to stop the spread of Kalki’s influence in the Tokyo underworld. The newscasters then announced that Shen Ryujin, leader of the Tokyo Legion of the Abyssal Sun was currently en route from Paris to assess the situation, and would arrive within the next hour and a half. Both Shen and Marie switched off their monitors and sighed.

“Wow…Shen, the situation is worsening by the minute, do you really think that this can be pacified by a simple extraction mission?” “Absolutely. We have been watching Kalki for a very long time, and the Japanese Home Guard has moles in his inner circle. We know where he meets, we know where he goes, and we know how he operates. One of these agents told us that Kalki is meeting in a high-rise building with his top officials at 1:05 A.M. Local time, which gives us about 2 hours to get into position once we land. The moment we enter that terminal, we’re headed straight for the Tokyo Legion base near Kansai Spaceport on the southwest end of the Tokyo Megalopolis. From there, it’s a 45 minute dropship flight into the hostile zone. We move in, arrest Kalki and his senior gang members and restore order to the Undercity. The entire operation should take less than an hour to complete. There will likely be some resistance to our advance, but the armed militia are no match for our heavy vehicles and Class-XII exoskeleton suits worn by the Japanese Home Guard. I’ll give a full briefing once we arrive.” “Somehow that does not assuage my fears of what may happen to us in there…I know nothing of this city or the nature of its inhabitants. This ‘Kalki’ character, who is he? What does he want? Why does he operate the way he does?” “He is a criminal, and like all criminals, he operates on a very simple logic. The crime he engages in is merely consumptive and distributive, he steals vast amounts of goods and money from legitimate sources and distributes the spoils amongst his gang members, and engages in various activities to keep the money flowing, both legal and illegal. This type of organized crime is so prevalent in Golden-Age East Asian cities that it has become incorporated into the local economy, the cities could not be nearly as rich and prosperous as they are without the presence of the highly-regulated black market and the gangs who run it…our job is just to keep the peace between the gangs, we act as diplomats to settle disputes before they boil over into a gang war, we broker large deals and supervise the transactions, and we make sure that no one gang becomes too powerful…and Kalki’s gang has officially crossed that Rubicon. He seeks to be the only gang in Tokyo, and it is our duty as the Legion of the Abyssal Sun to make sure that does not happen. We are not police, far from it, we, by the very definition of the word, are criminals ourselves, because we engage in the same illegal activities that the gangs involve themselves in; we are a gang that enforces order amongst all the other gangs…all of our members are Hyperborean, and all are trained in the esoteric art of Voidbending, and masters of Nano-Sword combat. No gang dares cross us, for we quickly set them straight if they do.” “Understood…so you know those streets better than anyone, because to catch a criminal, you have to think like one.” “Precisely. I was always a troublemaker growing up in Tokyo, from a very young age, I realized that the Golden Age legal system was full of holes, there were so many ways to get away with so much and not get in trouble for it…I formed the Legion of the Abyssal Sun more than 20 years ago on the principles of honor, power, pride and integrity, found through the worship of Izanami-Sama and the Shinigami, for death is the ultimate form of justice. The Great Equalizer doesn’t care who you are, what you do or how powerful you are…it always finds you…unless you are Hyperborean, that is, or lucky enough to receive the new drugs that EuroCorp is designing, allowing ordinary human beings immunity to aging without the extremely expensive Hyperborean augmentations. I believe the drug is called Regenera, because it uses a T-cell virus engineered to restore cells damaged by aging, rather than destroy them. If taken once a year, the aging process is completely stopped by purposely infecting oneself with this virus, it is the next evolution of the ancient vaccine technology, using genetically-modified microorganisms to enhance human performance.” “There is always a technological solution to every problem…the impossible merely takes a bit longer to accomplish.” Marie replied.

The plane made a slight turn toward the southeast, now on a direct heading towards Tokyo Aerospaceport, due to arrive in an hour and a half. Aboard the comfort of the plane, Marie and Shen prepared themselves for what they might encounter in the Tokyo undercity, between the gang dens, brothels, black-market shops and massive apartment blocks to house the millions of impoverished, underprivileged inhabitants, it was a dark, dangerous world…however, it was of no concern to the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. They knew this world better than anyone, and they were the only allies that the undercity residents had in their chaotic, dangerous lives. They were the silent watchmen, the dark warriors of the Underworld, worshiping the altar of death itself…and Marie was about to witness their true brutality and insanity firsthand. Marie had heard rumors about Shen, rumors that he and his Legion were just as insane as the gang leaders they policed, for they themselves were considered a gang by the United Earth government, albeit a vigilante one that served as a police force in the Tokyo underworld. There were similar Hyperborean gangs maintaining order in Chinese and Korean cities, such as the Hibiscus Knights in China and the Taoist League in Korea, but the Legion of the Abyssal Sun in Japan had the most formidable reputation, though the other two were no slouches, either. Such was life in Golden-Age East Asia, massive cities patrolled by Guard Forces and legions of Hyperborean knights, serving the Orbis Solaris with pride.

The plane continued on its new route for more than an hour, until the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “Marie, Shen, we are approaching our destination, please fasten your seatbelts for descent. We hoped you enjoyed your flight today, and good luck with your mission in Tokyo…you might need it.” “Thank you, Captain, but I think I can manage this.” Shen responded, confidently. “Best of luck regardless.” the pilot said as the plane slowly began to decelerate and descend from its cruising altitude. It was already dark here in East Asia, local time was just before 11:00 P.M., and already the blazing lights of the Tokyo Megalopolis were visible far below. Even from that height, the city seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon, just an infinite sea of buildings and massive, standing structures that contained more than 120 million people, more than half the population of Japan lived in this one, 200-square mile area. The plane was headed for Kansai Aerospaceport, on the Southeast End of the Tokyo Megalopolis, seperate from Tokyo Aerospaceport, the main air and spaceport in Japan and the largest one in East Asia, with more than 15 launch towers and capacity for handling more than 15,000 air and space departures and arrivals daily. Kansai was smaller, but still large by any standard…this port was only a 45 minute dropship flight away from the heart of Tokyo’s Northeast Under, the epicenter of Kalki’s power base. Kansai was also significant because it was the home of Kansai Base, a massive military complex that contained very large contingents of both United Earth Space Corps Marines and Japanese Home Guard, a separate military force from the UESC Marine Corps tasked with protecting Japan, the only other nations to have a Home Guard were China and Russia, respectively…every other country relied on the overwhelming might of the UESC Armed Forces, possessing the most powerful warships ever built by human hands, including the Perun-class capital ships, the Ookami-class dreadnaughts and the Li Clow-class supercarriers, all armed to the teeth with weapons and massive squadrons of Shinigami-class drone fighters; all flown by extremely sophisticated robot brains. Various other ships made up the UESC Fleet, such as the Odin-class heavy cruisers, the Amane-class destroyers, the Edea-class frigates and the Thor-class corvettes, and Kansai Base was to be the launch point into the hostile zone, the Home Guard and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun would move in on the ground and in the air, quickly surround the building where Kalki was to meet, arrest everyone inside, and get out. It sounded simple enough, but the Guard was always prepared for surprises and challenges. The Marines would not take part in this operation, as it was considered civilian police work, not a military operation.

Marie’s plane continued to descend towards the city, with Kansai’s massive runway becoming visible in the foreground. Parked on the tarmac were massive squadrons of UESC F-6 Wulfhund gunships, huge, 12-engine, VTOL gunships armed with howitzers, heavy laser cannons, missiles, bombs and many other weapons, their hull design was based off of a 21st-century ultra-heavy Russian cargo plane, with 6 massive engines hung under the wings and 6 more positioned on the dorsal and ventral surfaces, as well as thrusters allowing the plane to take off vertically and maneuver on a dime. Crewed by 55 highly-trained airmen, these planes were the ultimate heavy-weapons platform for use in atmospheric conditions. Also present were hoards of Shinigami-class starfighters and atmospheric Swallow-class jump-fighters, capable of operating in any atmospheric condition. Huge, beetle-like Kabuto-class main battle tanks, hovering Okha-class Self Propelled Heavy Artillery tanks, and swift, silent Kamakiri-class APCs rounded out an impressive arsenal at Kansai Base, prepared to defend the Golden Age from any threat, human or otherwise…and this wasn’t even counting the UESC’s massive spaceborne weaponry. Marie’s plane came down, closer and closer to the runway, until the medium-sized jet hit the ground with a jolt, revving its engines to brake as it zoomed down the runway, deploying drag chutes to assist in its braking. As the plane came to a stop on the end of the runway, it turned and slowly began to taxi towards the main military base, away from the main commercial hub and just beyond the massive, miles-long safety wall, separating Kansai’s 6 launch towers from the commercial and military terminals. There were three massive cargo rockets on three of the launch towers, set to launch the following day, the skies were crystal-clear over Tokyo, with the Moon and the Orbis Solaris shining brilliantly in the skies high above. The lights of thousands of starships and aircraft looked like artificial stars as they flew high in the air and in space, interspersed with the light of the true stars, distant Suns burning billions of miles away…but one of them would soon be visited by Mankind, and Marie and Shen were to be two of the envoys to this new world, Aurelia. For now, however, there was no time to lose. They had a mission to accomplish.

As Marie’s plane taxied into Kansai Base’s massive hangars, they were greeted by a very distinctive camaraderie. Seven Hyperboreans, all wearing the same sinister uniform that Shen wore, emblazoned with the eerie Staghorn Rune and the silver leaflets, stood in the hangar, along with a large contingent of Japanese Home Guard troops, clad in their distinctive exoskeleton armor and armed with PS-1 Umbra Pulse Rifles, weapons that fired a lethal three-round burst of plasma, though one of them carried an AL-779 Overwatch rifle, a fully-automatic assault weapon that could fire a continuous stream of plasma without overheating. The Hyperboreans were all armed with their Nano-Swords, as well as huge, two handed weapons with a pulsing, static-purple energy core: these were the massively powerful DN-25 Lightning Guns, capable of firing a sustained beam of 750,000 volts of electricity at a target. There were five men and two twin sisters standing there, waiting for Shen’s arrival. These were Shen’s chief advisers in the Tokyo Legion…and they would accompany him and Marie into the combat zone. Marie and Shen stepped out of the Marie’s plane, as the Guard troops saluted them. Shen’s comrades bowed with respect to their leader. “My friends…it’s great to be back. A truly lovely night it is, isn’t it?” “Indeed, Shen. Indeed.” The two twin sisters said in unison, with very sinister, seductive looks on their faces. “Ah yes, Ai and Tsuruka Takada, everyone’s favorite little schoolgirls all grown up…Girls, this is Marie De La Croix, she will be accompanying us on our mission into the hostile zone.” “Oh Shen, this pampered brat? She’s a long way from the comforts of Paris, these streets will eat her alive…” Tsuruka said, taunting both Shen and Marie in a very playful manner. “If she’s any good with a weapon, she should hold her own.” Ai added. “For your information, I am perfectly competent with a Hallucination Nano-Sword, and various types of firearms…and I do not need your condescending remarks.” “Oh lighten up! We’re just fooling around with you, we do it to Shen all the time…” Tsuruka snapped, a bit off-put by Marie’s lack of humor. “Never mind the formalities, come, all of you. We haven’t any time to lose.” Shen led Marie and the rest of the Tokyo Legion into the hangar’s main briefing room for the mission outline…they had less than two hours to accomplish their objective… and the clock was now officially ticking. The Guard troops were already preparing to depart, with the UESC Mjolnir-class heavy gunships being prepped for departure and the Marines’ Kamakiri-class APCs preparing for the ground insertion, with the heavy armor, the massive, 200-ton, Hercules-beetle shaped Kabuto-class heavy tanks preparing to deploy if necessary. These vehicles were the heaviest armored vehicles ever built, and if all else failed, they would be at the ready to roll in and get the job done. These vehicles were with the UESC’s 115th Armored Division “Ostrogoth,” one of the most decorated divisions in the UESC’s Armed Forces, having been deployed in many peacekeeping and disaster relief operations, earning many medals in the process.

As the Hyperboreans entered the dimly-lit briefing room, the air was stifling, lit only by a single halogen bulb. Taking their seats at the table, the Legion of the Abyssal Sun gathered around their leader and his French companion as he laid out the battle plan for the imminent operation in the heart of the Northeast Under. “Alright, we don’t have much time, so I’m going to make this quick. Intel shows that Kalki is preparing to meet with his top associates in a building near the Tokugawa Market, a large outdoor marketplace in the heart of the Northeast Under at precisely 1:05 A.M. We currently have a scout on the ground outside the building, and are awaiting his signal to move in. Here’s the short and sweet. Three platoons of Guard forces will enter the Market area in their APCs, and create a perimeter around the building, preventing Kalki’s escape, while we enter in a small fleet of gunships, land in the Tokugawa Market and break into the building, apprehending Kalki and his affiliates and bringing them to trial in Tokyo City Court for violating the balance of power in the Undercity. This entire operation should take less than 25 minutes. Keep in mind, there will be some shooting, that place is like the Wild West in there, but they should be easily overmatched by our superior weapons and armor. You have your orders…now let’s go.” Without a word, the Tokyo Legion stood up, shouldered their DN-25 Lightning Guns and prepared their Nano-Swords for combat. “Hey, Marie…ever used a Lightning Gun before?” Tsuruka handed Marie the same huge weapon she was carrying. “It’s very simple, point, wait 5 seconds for it to charge, and shoot. It works best when you spray the arc from side to side.” Marie shouldered her new weapon, as did Shen. “Are you ready, Marie?” “Yes, Shen. I am.” “Then let’s go.”

The three platoons of Guard troops were already boarding their APCs, marked with the Japanese Rising Sun insignia and the word “MARINES” written on the sides of the vehicle, and the callsign for the 115th Armored Division, based in Japan at Kansai Base. The vehicles’ zero-point energy drives whined to life, causing the vehicles to hover effortlessly above the ground on a limitless source of energy, held in the air by powerful room-temperature superconductors. On the tarmac outside, 5 heavily-armed Mjolnir-class gunships, marked with the 115th Division’s callsign as well as colorful fuselage art were loaded up with the Hyperborean members of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, as well as several Guard troops and their heavy weapons. All they awaited was the signal from their agent, already on the ground, just outside the building where Kalki was scheduled to meet at 1:05 A.M. The time was 11:25 P.M…to keep pace with Kalki and the opposition, the ground forces in their APCs got a head start, their vehicles lifting into the air and zooming off at breakneck speed, the Kamakiri-class APCs were the fastest, stealthiest airspeeders in the UESC’s arsenal. The Guard forces were off, preparing to set up a perimeter around the building once the signal was given. The gunships awaited on the tarmac for the code word to attack: “Bingo.” As Shen and Marie got comfortable in the gunship, the doors slammed shut, as the interior cabin lights flickered on. “Attention all passengers, there is no smoking inside this attraction, please keep your hands, arms, legs and feet inside the vehicle at all times, and enjoy the ride!” the pilot joked as the gunship’s engines roared to life. Just then, a voice came in over the SATCOM channel: “This is Dark Wing, Bingo, I repeat, Bingo!” the agent said, repeatedly. “Alright everyone, you heard the man, codeword is Bingo…everyone hold on, here we go!” The entire cabin lurched as the gunship lifted into the air and armed its weapons, followed by the other 4 gunships and two Swallow-class fighters. “And we’re off!” The pilot announced as the squadron zoomed forward, powered by the limitless source of energy afforded by the zero-point energy drives in the gunships and fighters. The passenger cabin rumbled as the gunship accelerated high into the night sky, just as the pilots opened the gunship’s side doors, letting in the roar of the wind. “Enjoy the view, guys!” Outside the gunship windows was a breathtaking panoramic view of Tokyo, stretching for miles and miles in all directions with kilometer-high skyscrapers and other standing structures everywhere. Massive lines of traffic clogged the streets far below, as millions of people moved through a city that never slept. Logos of massive, multi-national and multi-planet corporations adorned the massive skyscrapers, shining brightly in the crystal-clear night sky, all under the shining light of the Moon and the Orbis Solaris, shining like a second Moon in the sky. “That’s some view…” Ai Takada said, her long black hair blowing elegantly in the wind. “Enjoy it while you can, Ai. As soon as we land, we’re right to it. Prepare yourself for combat, it’s time to restore order to the Northeast Under and prevent Kalki from expanding his power base any further.” The Takada sisters locked their DN-25’s power cores in place as a show of preparedness. They were 15 minutes from their target. “Look, the APCs are flying alongside us.” Marie pointed out the port side window at the squadron of armored personnel carriers zooming high above the city, flying in an echelon formation. “This is APC Echelon 15, we have you on visual, over.” “Roger that, 15. Moving to engage the target in 12, form up in front of us and move to the target when spotted on waypoint marker.” “Roger that, moving to formation.” The APCs moved directly in front of the gunships, with the gunships trailing about 500 yards behind the APC formation. The Takada sisters noticed that the buildings beneath the formations were getting smaller and less affluent…they were entering the airspace over the Northeast Under. Few large vehicles moved through the streets, and most traffic was on foot on by motorcycle, travel in the Undercity was often restricted by the gangs who organized it, and Kalki was no exception. His gang had no tolerance for outsiders and would even shoot unarmed civilians who wandered into his territory without a second thought, as well as kidnap any young women he found and force them to work in the black-market sex industry, which was tremendous business in various parts of the Undercity. Gangs would patrol the streets looking for drowsy, drunk women, preferably young, very attractive, Western girls, and literally kidnap them right off the street, forcing them into sexual slavery, where they faced a lifetime of torment, humiliation and degredation…and there was not a thing anyone could or was willing to do about it, because the money from the operations benefited the upper city so much. This phenomenon was absolutely unique to the East Asian megalopolises, but not unknown in history, in previous eras, both Russia and Mexico had allowed gangs to become an informal part of government affairs, and their black markets made untold billions for their respective countries…however, in the Golden Age, both Mexico and Russia were state-of-the-art, first-rate economies with nearly zero crime rate…it was now East Asia that was ruled by gangs…even the Hyperboreans in charge of China, Japan and Korea, the Hibiscus Knights, the Taoist League and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun operated with a gang mentality, engaging in legal as well as illegal activities to govern their respective countries and cities. Such a dynamic created an immensely prosperous, but immensely sinful, dangerous society…one that the Tokyo Legion and the Japanese Home Guard were about to plunge into, feet-first. For Shen, however, this was a routine operation, though operations this deep into the Undercity were anything but routine. This was to be a surgical strike, precise, powerful and lethally accurate…there was no room for error. “Ok guys, we’re 3 minutes out, prepare for insertion.” The gunship pilot announced, beginning his descent into the urban canyons of the Tokyo Undercity. Just then, loud, metallic pinging sounds echoed through the gunships as the doors suddenly slammed shut…enemy bullets were hitting the gunships as they descended below the tops of the skyscrapers. The gunships promptly returned fire, their plasma beams and rockets utterly annihilating entire bastions of militia as they sought a suitable LZ, one free of enemies and obstacles to landing. The APCs had already landed, and the Japanese Home Guard were already heavily engaged with militia fighters on the ground and firing out of rooftops. The APCs quickly lifted off the ground and swooped away, their plasma guns firing at hostile gun positions on rooftops and in windows. The sound of shattering glass and concrete was deafening as more and more militia began pouring out of nearby buildings, firing at the Guardsmen from behind cover, forcing the Guard to turn to their grenade arsenal to flush them out, causing yet more building collapses and shattered windows. “The area outside the target building is too hot! Clearing a path!” The gunships took offensive formation in the wide, canyon-like streets of Tokyo, firing rockets and heavy plasma cannons at the buildings where the militia were firing from, destroying two ramshackle apartment buildings and killing hundreds of militia in the process. “Hostiles neutralized, moving to land. Welcome to Tokyo Undercity, guys. Prepare to engage!” the pilot announced as the gunships came to land directly in front of the target building, where Kalki and his gang members were trapped. With the perimeter erected, it was going to be a simple arrest now, and the DN-25 Lightning Guns were absolutely devastating in close quarters, as were the Hallucination Nano-Swords and Voidbending techniques used by the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. It was time to restore order to the Northeast Under…just in time. 1:05 A.M. The Legion quickly dismounted their gunships along with their Japanese Guard escorts. Their DN-25 Lightning Guns drawn, they opened fire directly into the remaining militia, utterly annihilating them and the buildings they were occupying with a sustained beam of 750,000 volts each…one of those firing their weapon was Marie, who gawked at the destruction she had just wrought. “You’re a quick study, Marie. Now, let’s go in.” the Takada sisters said, congratulating Marie on her first cluster of kills. The 7 Hyperboreans forced their way into the building where Kalki waited, upon entry, the Japanese Guard forces waxed three tangos with their Umbra pulse rifles, much quicker than the targets could react. “Tangos down. Move up.” One of the Guardsmen said, waving the squad forward. The squad moved down a narrow corridor, Guardsmen in front, Hyperboreans in back. “Watch those corners, last thing we want is to face some guy with a blast cannon in these close confines.” Shen cautioned, his Lightning Gun at the ready, though Voidbending would be preferable indoors to a DN-25 discharge…the weapon was far too powerful to use in such close quarters. Sure enough as the Guardsmen rounded a corner, a door swung open, and a man rushed out, screaming in Japanese, carrying a L-99 Minister blast cannon. Shen quickly jumped forward with a phenomenal burst of speed, the palm of his hand extended, sending the shotgun-wielding militia soldier hurtling into a wall, shattering his body with the force of a massive explosion. “Hostile neutralized.” Shen announced, rejoining the formation. Shen had killed the enemy with a Void Push before he could even react. “Move up…lots of motion ahead. I’ve got a very bad feeling about this…” one of the Japanese Guard announced. “Soldier…look…” Shen pointed and noticed something about the door…the edges around the doorframe were glowing an eerie white color…as if illuminated from behind. “There’s something behind this door…prepare for breach insertion in 5…” The Guardsmen took up position on either side of the door as one of them quickly swung it open…but rather than more militia, defense turrets or some other tactical hazard, there was quite a different scene, one that made the lead soldier trip and fall backwards. Beyond the door was a vast canyon scene, it was as if the door opened up over a sheer cliff face with nothing but a thousand-foot drop on the other side of it. A huge canyon stretched out in front of them, complete with birds soaring high above it and a river running in the gorge far below.

“What the…wait a minute.” Shen said, picking a piece of concrete off the floor and throwing it into the room. Rather than falling to the bottom of the gorge, the rock came to land less than 4 feet away…the entire scene was a cleverly-placed illusion, meant to confuse enemies.” “Clever…very, very clever…we might have to remember this tactic for our base, comrades.” Shen said to his fellow Legionnaires. Stepping into the room, the squad walked across the illusory dreamscape, looking as if they were literally walking on air. Just then, a door opened on the far side of the room, and three more militia stormed across the “canyon,” only to be shot dead by the Japanese Guard’s pulse rifles. “Wow…this is certainly trippy…” Tsuruka Takada said, holding her DN-25 Lightning Gun over her shoulder. “You said it…do you think Kalki’s on drugs?” Ai asked. “Hey, I wouldn’t doubt it.” “Cut the chatter you two, stay focused, what do you think this is, some kind of funhouse?” “Why, are you having fun?” Ai japed, poking fun at Shen’s seriousness. “Just keep moving…” Shen groaned. The squad continued across the illusion room and through the door on the other side, finding themselves in a room filled with computer terminals, with only a few of them actually functioning. “Comrades, access those computer terminals, download any data you find on them to your datapads…we can use it to find our target in this maze of a building…” Shen said, annoyed. The Takada sisters and some of the other Hyperboreans got to work hacking the computer terminals, downloading the system’s contents onto their personal datapads, small, palm-sized computers with the same capacity as a full-sized supercomputer.

The Legionnaires had the data downloaded in short order, with Ai Takada revealing what was contained on the computer terminals. “Good news, those terminals contained a complete readout of this building and all of Kalki’s neighborhoods that he controls. We know everything about his operations now, including the purpose of this particular facility. Kalki’s gang is running a genetic engineering operation…for the purpose of repopulating the Earth with an explosion of life to match the Cambrian Age…and this facility contains some of the cloning vats…” Suddenly, the Legion of the Abyssal Sun didn’t know what to think. Though Kalki was in violation of the balance of power in the Undercity, his intentions were good, and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun couldn’t simply let his project go to waste. “When we apprehend Kalki, we will take over this project and ensure its completion. His ideas are too good to let go to waste.” Shen said, moving forward through the computer room. The rest of the Legionnaires and the Japanese Guard troops followed him into the next room, which contained a staircase leading up to a doorway. The room was eerily quiet, with several sparking, flickering overhead lights. “Fan out…cover all doorways, lock down the positions. The data recovered from the computer terminals indicates that one of the research labs is behind that door…get ready for hard contact.” Tsuruka Takada ordered, as the Japanese Guard troops took offensive formations, covering all angles with their fields of fire. “Prepare for breach insertion. You men, cover the door. Ai and Tsuruka, as soon as Kizu and Hamada open the door, clear out the room with a Void Wave.” “Understood.” Two Hyperboreans, Aoki Kizu and Ryu Hamada moved to either side of the door, their DN-25 Lightning Guns armed and ready to fire. The Takada sisters approached the door, with Ai placing her hand on the knob, waiting for the signal from Shen to enter. Shen hung back and raised his DN-25 to fire if necessary, but he had firm faith that the Takada sisters knew what they were doing. “On my mark…ENTER!” The Takada sisters kicked the doors down and unleashed a massive wave of purple static plasma from their hands, sending everything in the room flying backwards and shattering glass everywhere. The crowd of armed guards didn’t even know what hit them. They were sent careening into the rear wall, shattering every bone in their body and killing them instantly, as well as completely destroying the room where they were standing. When the dust, static and smoke cleared, the targets were utterly annihilated, as was everything else in the room. “I think you used a bit too much force, girls.” Kizu said, shouldering his DN-25 Lightning Gun. “Kizu, there’s no such thing as too much force. You really need to tap into your own powers more and stop being such a nerd all the time.” “Search the room, comrades, Guardsmen, guard the doors, make sure no one else comes in here, the intruder alarms are sounding loud and clear throughout the facility.” Shen remarked at the loud klaxon that started blaring the moment the Takada sisters unleashed their devastating Void Wave attack. Kizu, Hamada, the Takada sisters and the other Hyperboreans began downloading the contents from the wrecked computers’ hard drives and searching specimen cabinets for DNA samples, specimen jars and many other tangible pieces of evidence to show Kalki’s plan to genetically engineer new species to the Tokyo City Court. “Data downloaded, securing files…done. Let’s move.” Ai Takada said, ushering her comrades along. “Same here. Let’s move.” Tsuruka added. “Wow…there’s just a goldmine of data in here, everything that Kalki’s gang had been up to is recorded on these computer terminals, here we have the genetic blueprints for the new species Kalki was going to create…some of these are truly enormous, check this out, he was trying to revive the Megalodon shark and the Giant Raptorial Sperm Whale, as well as create a new super-predator in the oceans, the “Leviadragon” a 120-foot long sea serpent that would prey upon anything it could catch…unbelievable…Boss, there’s no what we can let these go to waste. We have to finish this project ourselves.” Tsuruka told Shen. “And so we shall. Just keep that data safe. We’ll plug it into our own computers when we get back to base.”

The squad continued through the ruined laboratory and through another steel door, this one a heavy bulkhead door, like the kind you’d find on a starship. “Hostiles!” the Japanese Guard troops yelled, drawing their Umbra pulse rifles and terminating the three militia men waiting for them just beyond the door…suddenly Marie, who had been awfully quiet the whole time that the squad had been inside the facility, suddenly blurted something out upon seeing a curious rune plastered on the walls. “That’s a Black Sun Rune…evidence of the Mithraic Mysteries cult…and look at those symbols as well…the Society of Ur, as well as Masonic heraldry. There are Eurocentric pagan symbols, what are they doing in Japan?” Marie wondered, instantly recognizing the symbols all over the room. In the center of the room, a curious design was etched into the floor, with what looked like a fire pit in the center of it…but indoors. The Legion of the Abyssal Sun was clueless. They had never seen anything like this before, the symbolism used by whoever built this room bore no resemblance to any of the Japanese esoteric symbols used in their worship of Izanami-Sama and the Shinigami gods, and Marie only had a vague idea of what actually went on in a Mithraic ritual…but she knew of another that would. Suddenly, it hit Marie like a ton of bricks, yet the realization was extraordinarily disturbing. The only person who Marie knew of that could have this much influence and know what these symbols meant was Countess Toni-Medici Fecchiera, her chief business rival and complete sociopath…but how? How could she have possibly known where Marie and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun were at any time and in any place, as this scene seemed to indicate? It was deeply frightening, the realization that Marie could never escape her arch-rival’s omnipotent, watchful eye, and neither could anyone else that stood in her way. Toni was extremely dangerous and everyone who met her knew it, they just didn’t know exactly what she was capable of, but if this room was any indication, it was truly horrifying…which meant that Kalki was working with Countess Toni all along. “Keep your eyes peeled…I recognize these symbols…I have a distinct feeling that things are about to get far worse in here.” Marie cautioned, raising her DN-25 Lightning Gun to fire at any time. The Legion was baffled as well; they didn’t recognize any of the symbolism, but instinctively knew it possessed a dark, esoteric meaning similar to the symbols used in their own worship of the dark, Japanese pagan gods. Something wasn’t right, and everyone in the room could feel it. Suddenly, a chill reverberated through the room, and the temperature began dropping precipitously. The windows began to rattle, and a bizarre static purple plasma began coating the doors, sealing them shut. “It’s Voidbending…someone’s trying to trap us in here!” Shen yelled, raising his DN-25 into the ready position. “It’s no use…she has us right where she wants us…” Marie hissed. “Who?” The Takada sisters asked. “Countess Toni-Medici Fecchiera.” “What?!” Shen roared, just as an ethereal being entered the room. It looked like a shining archangel, with six massive wings and a brilliant blue royal robe the color of the clearest blue sky in the summertime, it had long, silky blonde hair and elaborate tattoos all over its face. Around its neck hung a swastika pendant, and it cradled an orb of pure light in its hands. “It’s just an illusion…Toni’s using it to speak to us.” “Well, well, well…what do we have here? I told you I wasn’t done with our conversation back in Paris, but you rudely left before I could finish!” Toni said, angrily through her illusion, its haunting blue eyes exhibiting an expression of anger. “So, we are going to finish it here. Marie, dear, do you know why I go through all the trouble to pursue you wherever you go? Simple. You are correct. I cannot exist without you. Without you and your business, I am just Toni-Medici Fecchiera, an elite-class, decadent snob who would be unwilling to fight for anything except to save her own skin…because of you, I am Countess Toni, Mithraic warrior, Master Mason and Grand Marshal of the Society of Ur, opposing decadence through reason, and priding myself on my abilities and intellect to constantly match wits with and outduel you, my greatest rival, and I will destroy anyone who stands in my way of that goal…It’s funny, actually. All I do is convince one man, this Kalki character, that he deserves to rule the entire Tokyo undercity and look! All this chaos and international tension happens, forcing the Orbis Solaris to dispatch Hyperborean warriors to restore peace…just a few words to this man did all that…so, do you see now? I live off of chaos, because it presents opportunities for me to increase my own power base, so that I can eventually catch up with you. I’m like a dog chasing its own tail, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught it. I know you will always be one step ahead of me, Marie, you are by far the better businesswoman…but where’s the fun in me simply accepting that I will never be you or match your level of success and popularity? Like two rival schoolgirls in a high school, we cannot exist without each other, what one does, the other will immediately try to outdo, and we feed off of the drama we create…as much as you try to deny it, I know you get the same twisted sense of satisfaction that I get from our rivalry…and a time will come when you cannot deny it any longer. Our purpose in existing is to compete with each other…it is the law of nature. It is destiny. This exchange is now over.”

The archangel Mithras illusion vanished, as the Voidbending aura around the room dissipated. Marie was left stammering in place, blankly staring at the wall on the opposite end of the room…as was Shen. Toni’s words had really hit a nerve with them, she wasn’t trying to stop them, no, she only liked to toy with them, play mind games with them, and exist only as a constant, crafty, ever-changing adversary that had no solution and no weakness…without her, Marie would be nothing, and without Marie, Toni would be nothing…all they would have is money. A creeping insanity began to fill Marie’s face, as her usual stoic, peaceful expression began to warp and shift as the existential crisis took hold in her mind like a parasite, driving her thoughts to ever more twisted machinations. “So…it’s come to this, Countess Toni. If that’s they way you want to play, that’s fine with me…I can play your dark little game too. To you, this is all just a game, like two schoolgirls fighting over a teenage heartthrob for the upcoming prom…well, guess what, Toni. You just lost.” Marie’s hands began pulsing with static Void energy, generating a massive whirlwind in the Mithras ritual room, ripping the posters off the walls and crumpling the metal chairs sitting in the room with the force of Marie’s rage alone. The intruder sirens still blaring, more of Kalki’s militia stormed into the room, only to be mangled by the colossal tornado whirling around Marie, pummeling them with debris, broken glass and pieces of metal. After the tornado calmed down, Marie continued to glow with eerie purple Void energy, her eyes shined an eerie blue. “Follow me, comrades. Nothing will stand in our way now.” Marie said, an eerie echo to her usually calm voice. Shen, Kizu, Hamada, the Takada sisters and the other squad members formed up behind Marie, who had now drawn her lethal Hallucination Nano-Sword, with her DN-25 Lightning Gun lashed across her back. Her elegant outfit billowed behind her as she hovered using the powers of the Void, the Hyperborean term for the universal energy that existed throughout the Universe, and that the Orbis Solaris gave them the knowledge and ability to manipulate. She was in control now, and had taken the lead of the operation decisively from Shen. This was no longer a routine peacekeeping operation. This was revenge, a women hell-bent on crushing her rival before she made her next move, and one that would do anything in her vast power to achieve that end. Down the corridor the squad advanced, with Marie’s frightening visage leading the way. Four more militia men attempted to attack the squad, but Marie’s vicious Voidbending powers flattened them before they could even react. All four of them were crushed by a devastating Void Wave, their bodies making sickening crunching noises as every bone in their bodies snapped like twigs. A door opened in front of them, and a massive squad of militia men, more than 30 of them filed into the room, guns blazing. They were armed with the same sorts of weapons that the Japanese Guard troops were armed with, and they knew how to use them well. “These must be Kalki’s personal guards, we must be close.” “No problem, Shen. Allow me to handle this…” Before Shen could say anything, Marie lunged forward, her massive blade raised to strike as she leaped high into the air, performed a midair corkscrew flip and came down with tremendous force in the center of the militia mob, sending them all flying backwards and killing 12 of them outright. In the blink of an eye, she swung her massive sword, utterly lethal in such close quarters, impaling multiple enemies on its huge blade and casually casting their limp, mangled bodies aside. Another Void Wave crushed the remaining militia in one fell swoop…Marie had killed 30 enemies in less than 3 seconds as if they weren’t even there, leaving her comrades stunned…and amazed at what their new companion could do. “Enemies neutralized. Let us continue.” Marie said, coyly.

As the squad proceeded into the next room, the found themselves in Kalki’s planned meeting room, but it was empty. “This is Ryujin to Perimeter Defense, we’re in Kalki’s meeting room, but it is empty! Did you see anyone leaving the building, over?!” “Negative, Ryujin. No one has entered or exited since you’ve been in there, but the militia is keeping us busy out here, and their numbers are increasing by the minute! Hurry up in there, we can’t hold them back for much longer!” “Understood. All right squad, the Undercity’s making it a little dicey for our perimeter defenses out there, let’s hurry it up! Kalki’s probably in one of his safe rooms somewhere in the building, let’s find it, apprehend him and his officers and get the hell out of here!” The squad fanned out across the room, searching for any entrances, doorways or locks that could indicate a concealed safe room. Suddenly, Marie called out, pointing at a barely-visible outline on the wall…a concealed doorway, meant to look like just another part of the wall. Marie didn’t need a breach insertion. She hit the door with a massive Void Wave, knocking the heavy steel door clean off its hinges as if it was nothing…revealing Kalki, his affiliates and several armed guards that, upon seeing Marie’s glowing form and her massive sword and DN-25, surrendered without a fight. They filed neatly out of the safe room with their hands on their heads and were quickly apprehended by the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. “We’ve got our guys, let’s go!” Shen ordered as the squad made double-time back down the corridors and passageways out of the building. As they descended the staircase leading up to the meeting room, they were confronted by more militia, which Marie promptly flattened…they were starting to get past the perimeter defenses, which meant that there might now be more militia attacking than the perimeter could hold back. “This is Perimeter Defense Unit 4! We have 2 KIA and damage to our APC! They’re using anti-armor weaponry! Where the hell are you!?” “We are en route out of the building, just hang tight a little longer!” This was bad. If the perimeter defenses failed, there was nothing stopping the entire Northeast Under from descending on their position, something that not even Marie and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun would be able to fend off. “This is Gunship Wing Delta Four-Two! Ryujin, there is a large mob of militia heading down one of the side streets leading to your position, it looks as if the entire city is coming to Kalki’s aid! We’ve already lost a few men and we don’t want to lose any more! We’re considering bringing in the armored brigades of the 115th Ostrogoth Division at this point! Any longer and we won’t be able to pick you up from the extraction point!!” “Roger that! Bring in the heavy armor! I want every mobilized division here within the hour!” “Understood, putting the word out now! Tanks en route!” It was official. The shit had officially hit the fan with this operation. All Ryujin’s squad could do now was stay alive as the entire Northeast Under converged on their position…they were all rushing to the aid of their gang leader, who had mobilized his entire militia force while he was in his safe room…fortunately, the DN-25 Lightning Gun was the perfect weapon for crowd control. If they had to kill thousands of people to maintain order in the city of Tokyo, so be it. The Legion did not care for the lives of individuals, only for the good of the city as a whole. This was now far more than a peacekeeping operation. This was a total gang war, and a war that Shen would win by any means necessary. The squad continued towards the exit, under his and Marie’s leadership, as bullets, plasma rounds and large, heavy objects thrown by passing militia members began pelting the building. “As soon as we exit, open fire with your DN-25s, and don’t let up until every last one of these vermin is dead!” Shen rallied his squad as they approached the exit onto the city streets, drawing their DN-25 Lightning Guns and preparing to engage…Marie would exit first and flatten the forward line with a Void Wave, and then the rest of the squad would open fire with their Lightning Guns, clearing out the crowd. The squad prepared to engage as Marie went to open the door, with Kalki and his associates hanging back, inside the building’s inner doorway. Marie swung the front doors open and let loose with a massive Void Wave, followed by a truly colossal combined burst stream of destruction from the 7 Lightning Guns going off at once. Millions and millions of volts arced, sparked and shattered everything they came into contact with, the light from the explosions was so bright that the squad fired with their eyes closed to shield them from the blazing electricity. Windows exploded, metal melted and twisted, and entire buildings collapsed from the sustained bombardment, the squad did not lift their fingers from the triggers on their DN-25s, pushing the guns to their absolute limit…until the weapons’ fail-safes kicked in to prevent overheating… What remained of the city block was utter devastation. Where just moments before thousands of militia once stood, only small piles of charred ashes and tattered remnants of clothing remained. Any metal objects within 500 yards of the attack were reduced to molten slag, and no fewer than 7 buildings were reduced to burning rubble. “Let this be a lesson to all those who would dare upset the balance in the Undercity. This is OUR kingdom, and we shall see that order is maintained…do I make myself clear?!” Shen announced triumphantly on the ruins of the city block that he had just vaporized…just as the 115th Armored Division Ostrogoth made its entrance, crushing the rubble under their massive tank treads. One of the UESC Marines piloting the tank poked his head out of the top upon seeing Ryujin and his massacre of the militia men. “Boy, you really gave them hell, Ryujin.” “Always do…I have zero tolerance for vermin such as them. They are all filthy criminals, every last one of them, and they all deserve to die for their actions. We did not lose human beings today, I cleansed more than 2,000 cockroaches from the Tokyo streets…the world is a safer place because of it, and the Golden Age will thank me. I am not called Shinigami-Kai for nothing.” “Well, you certainly got the job done, despite 13 Japanese Guard troops getting waxed in the process. I assume the main targets are already apprehended.” “They are, and they’re already being loaded into the APCs…however, it turns out that Kalki’s operations ran much deeper than we anticipated. He was receiving assistance from the Hyperborean Lord Protector of Rome in his conquest of the Tokyo undercity, with the additional intent of repopulating the Earth’s biosphere via extensive genetic manipulation and engineering…what we did not realize was just how deep Countess Toni’s involvement in this project ran, which probably contributed to the rate at which the situation spiraled out of control, forcing us to terminate this entire city block to accomplish our objectives. Countess Toni’s motives are unknown.” Ryujin explained. “She does have a motive…she has a motive for every psychotic thing she does…and that motive is me.” Marie added. “She only exists to oppose me as my polar opposite, and the world could burn for all she cares, as long as it poses a threat to me and my own success…our destinies are entwined like serpents, where I go, she goes, and what I do, she will oppose…it is that simple. There is nothing we can do to stop her, and I fear her mind-games will only get worse as time goes by…some people have no motive…some just want to see the world burn.” Marie said, ominously. “Whatever her motive is, we certainly kicked her ass today. Great job, as usual, Shen. I guess it’s time to head back to base for you, we’ll stay in here to mop up any holdouts, but I doubt we’ll ever have to deal with an uprising like this again.” the Marine said, descending back into the massive hull of the tank. Thanks to Countess Toni, this was the largest gang uprising in Tokyo Undercity history, one which cost the lives of more than 2,000 people and 13 Japanese Home Guard troops…all in the name of a rivalry between two business tycoons. If Toni was capable of this much chaos, then who knew what else she was capable of doing…perhaps she was just getting started. Marie had a very bad feeling about this, for deep down inside, she knew that Toni was capable of immense harm and destruction, and very, very little could stop her from doing whatever she pleased. The Hyperboreans answered only to the Orbis Solaris, and it seemed to let the Hyperboreans do whatever they pleased, as long as they kept the peace in society…however, siding with a criminal and enticing a riot just to oppose a rival was not exactly “keeping the peace.” Perhaps the Orbis Solaris would hear about this? Maybe so, but Marie and Shen didn’t think there was a force in the Solar System that could stop Toni from doing whatever she wanted to anyone or anything…no matter what the cost. Marie and Shen stood with the rest of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun and awaited the return of the gunships, while the surviving Japanese Home Guard boarded their APCs, preparing to leave the killing fields of the Northeast Under behind. The 115th Armored Division would keep a battalion of heavy tanks in the city to prevent any further uprisings, but the Legion’s work was done. They were headed back to their base of operations near Kansai, in the Southeast Sector of the Tokyo Megalopolis, near the Aerospaceport where Marie’s plane had landed.

The gunships swooped in over the ruined, smoldering buildings and landed in the canyon-like streets, more than 250 yards wide, as per the Tokyo city standards. The Guard forces and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun boarded their respective gunships, satisfied by a job well done, though disappointed that so many lives had to be lost to accomplish the objective. Such was the awful truth of keeping peace in a city that could never be truly saved from crime and corruption…and Shen knew very well that his battle with crime in Tokyo would never end. He simply felt it was his duty to protect as many innocent lives as possible, by any means necessary. Immortalized by his augmentations, he existed only to fight a never-ending struggle with crime in Tokyo, a hero fighting a battle no less desperate with his own sense of purpose and pride, one that acted as a silent guardian for those who could not defend themselves…and one no less of a criminal that the men and women he hunted. However, Shen operated in a “gray area” between legal and illegal, as did the rest of his Legion, scattered in small pockets across Japan, silently keeping the peace on behalf of the Orbis Solaris, and maintaining Japan’s position as one of the preeminent economies in the Golden Age of humanity.

As the gunships lifted off into the air, Shen looked over at Marie, who had shown her true power during the operation, and a side of her rarely seen by anyone…a ruthless machine hell-bent on achieving her own goals and utterly destroying her rivals…she preferred to keep a straight, orderly poise, but when the gloves came off, nothing stood in her way, not even 30 rifle-wielding militia men, and certainly not Countess Toni. “Marie, you fight very well…I am grateful to finally see the side of you that I knew was always there…if you would allow me to do so, I can help you harness that power better, and make you utterly invincible in combat, allowing you to crush any opponent or rival that stands in your way, even Countess Toni.” “Shen, I would be honored to become your pupil…these next two weeks before our departure will be a growing experience for both of us. You shall see other cities vastly different from Tokyo, and I shall learn the finer arts of warfare, something that will give me an edge over any rivals that I may face. Together, we will overcome anything.” “Very well then. When we return to Kansai, I shall introduce you to the home base of the Tokyo Legion, where we train for our combat missions, as well as worship the Queen of Death, Izanami-Sama, and the Shinigami. Death is the ultimate form of justice, Marie. It doesn’t care who you are, what you do or what you’ve done, it will find you eventually, and if you seek to upset the balance of power in Tokyo in any way, we will find you, and will will show you why our Legion is so feared.” “Indeed, Shen. Tell me a bit about this pantheon you worship, I am not familiar with any of those gods you mentioned.” “I’m glad you asked. Long ago, when the world was still very young, Izanami-Sama was known as Izanami-no-Mikoto the Goddess of Creation and Life, and wife of Izanagi-no-Mikoto, the Creator God. For thousands of years, this lordly couple reigned supreme over all creation, with the two of them creating the Islands of Japan from smoke and fire, the volcanoes and earthquakes that continue to shake these islands to this day, Wielding the Ame-no-nuboko, or Spear of Heaven, they created the islands and all creatures, great and small, living in Japan, while standing on the Ame-no-ukihashi, the Floating Bridge of Heaven. They made their homes in a vast palace, Yahiro-dono, around the Pillar of Creation, or Ama-no-mihashira…eventually, they bore two children, “Leech-Child,” or Hiruko, and “Awashima,” or Faint Island, however, they were both born hideously deformed and considered not deities, but demons. The children were place in a boat and cast to sea, and the Lordly Couple asked the other gods what they had done wrong. They were told that the male deity must speak first at the wedding ceremony, so the Lordly Couple renewed their vows around the Pillar of Creation once again, and this time, the eight Great Islands of Japan were born from their sacred union…but this harmony was not to last. Izanami died in childbirth giving birth to the child Kagu-Tsuchi, the Incarnate of Fire, and the child Ho-Masubi, the Causer of Fire, the last two deities born of Izanami in a long series of creations from her sacred womb…she was buried at the foot of Mt. Hiba, near the modern-day borders of Yasugi of Shimane Prefecture, where a shrine to her still stands…however, this was not the end for Izanami. Far from it. So angry was Izanagi with the death of his wife that he killed the newborn children, and from their blood and bones arose the Shinigami, the Embodiments of Death, born from the Embodiments of Fire and the Bringer of Flame…and thus banished to Yomi, the Land of the Dead. Izanagi traveled to Yomi and found his decrepit, deformed wife, a seething mass of rotting flesh with maggots and foul creatures swarming all over her remains, and surrounded by the ghosts of her murdered children, the Shinigami, harvesting the souls of the living to appease their dire mother. Horrified to see his wife in this state, Izanagi fled Yomi through the Yomotsuhirasaka, the Cave-Entrance to the Underworld, only to have Izanami-Sama, now the Queen of Death, chase after him, shrieking and indignant, with the Shinigami following their mother right to the very edge of the living world. Izanagi pushed a gigantic boulder into the mouth of the cavern, sealing the Shinigami and Izanami-Sama in the Underworld for all time, but not before the Queen of Death gave her final ultimatum: If Izanagi did not become the King of Death along with her, Izanami would kill 1,000 innocent people every day. Izanagi angrily replied that he would give life to 1,500 more per day…thus maintaining an eternal balance between life and death. Such is our mission in Golden-Age Tokyo. We maintain the balance of power through the application of force, as death is the ultimate equalizer and the purest expression of justice. We worship the Gods of Death, because their philosophies empower us.”

Shen gave a lengthy explanation of his Legion’s religious practices to Marie, being from Europe, was unfamiliar with the Japanese Shinto lore. “Very, very interesting, Shen. In Europe, such paganism is long-extinct, and any Christians would view you all as heathens in need of Christ’s guidance…especially the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, worshiping death and chaos. People in Europe and America would equate you with Satanists.” “Accusing us of worshiping Satan is like accusing an atheist of worshiping God.” “Understood, but you must understand, even in this Golden Age, most people are too ignorant to understand your belief system. If it isn’t explainable by an Abrahamic religion or science, people don’t understand it, and they probably never will.” “That is understandable. I would not expect Westerners to understand our beliefs and our systems of justice. The Orbis Solaris is the only entity that can truly understand the dynamic in East Asia and how the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, the Hibiscus Knights and the Taoist League govern Japan, China and Korea, respectively.” Marie said nothing. She didn’t understand it either, but it was not for her to understand…however, that wouldn’t stop Shen from attempting to show her the majesty of the Tokyo Legion’s Imperial Temple near Kansai, in Nara Prefecture, on the Southeast End of the Tokyo Megalopolis, and near the border with the Kyoto Urban Area. This Temple, built on the ruins of the ancient Temple of Nara, was dedicated to the Legion of the Abyssal Sun and a Golden Age Japanese landmark. The area had seen thousands of years of history, from the sacking of the Temple of Nara during the Genpei Wars to the suicide of Taira-no-Tomomori at Dan-no-Ura near Kyoto, the region was rich in Japanese art and culture, and centered around Tokyo, Kyoto and the Legion’s Imperial Temple of the Sun. Once they landed at Kansai Base, they would take a hovertrain from Kansai Base to the Temple of the Sun, where they would spend a few days recollecting themselves before Marie and Shen set off for their next destination. Living with the Legion of the Abyssal Sun was going to be an experience that Marie wouldn’t soon forget. These were unrelentingly vicious warriors who cared nothing for the lives of individuals, as long as their city was safe. The Kyoto Legion, led by Legion High Captain Kira Odokai, would be at the Temple of the Sun to meet with Shen to give a status report on the situation in Kyoto, the second-largest city in Japan. Kyoto’s main underground activity was the black-market sex trade, and the Kyoto Legion made sure that the vast sums of money coming in from these activities were appropriated accordingly, with the Kyoto city government receiving a vast majority of these profits…though individual traders became immensely wealthy off of exploiting young womens’ bodies for profit. Shen had deep connections in this industry, though he did not keep any women of his own. Kira, however was not above engaging in this business himself and had become extraordinarily wealthy off of it.

As the gunships began their descent towards Kansai Base, Marie could see the hovering train tracks, suspended in the air by levitating superconductors, powered by enormous magnetic towers. Earth was the most heavily built-up planet in the entire Solar System, followed by Mars and Venus, and enormous machines, infrastructure and buildings were a fact of life in the Golden Age. These tracks led directly to Kyoto, making several stops along the way, one of them being Nara, the site of the Legion’s Temple of the Sun. The train ride would take less than 30 minutes, where the Legion would finally return to their Temple for some well-deserved sleep. The jet lag was really wearing thin on Marie, who was struggling to stay awake as the gunships landed at Kansai Base. Shen shook Marie awake as the gunships touched down on the tarmac; with the Japanese Home Guard and the UESC Marines saluting the Legion of the Abyssal Sun as they disembarked, walking across the tarmac to the base hovertrain station, at the top of a small tower stretching over the base. Stepping into the station elevator, they took the car up to the station platform, which was completely empty at this time of night…all personnel were asleep in their bunk rooms, except for the men of the 115th Ostrogoth Division, tasked with keeping peace in the Northeast Under for the time being. The Legionnaires stood quietly on the platform, listening to the sounds of the vast city all around them…there was not a natural sound for miles, other than the sound of scuttling rats or crickets inhabiting the cracks in the cement walls. Earth was now a completely developed planet, with almost zero wild places left. Mars and Venus, terraformed and colonized, were rapidly being built up as well. During the Golden Age, human population had expanded so exponentially that the inner Solar System was becoming too crowded, even four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, failed to provide enough resources for humanity’s growing interplanetary Empire. The Outer moons of Titan, Enceladus, Europa, Io, Ganymede and Umbriel were now being settled by enormous colony ships, and terraforming had begun on each of those moons…but humans were rapidly running out of space in their home system…the new world of Aurelia offered just as many resources as Earth, and would establish the first permanent human settlement outside the Solar System. The interplanetary Golden Age was about to become an interstellar one…and from there, no one had any idea what lay ahead of them. So far, other than the Orbis Solaris, no evidence had been found of life beyond Earth, with the exception of life that humans brought with them to other planets and moons in the Solar System. No one knew where the Orbis had come from or who its architects were, what they were like, or what its ultimate purpose was for contacting the human race, but one thing was certain: Ever since it arrived centuries before, humanity had flourished. Most of what could be harvested in the Solar System was already being used for space, food, energy, natural resources and water, everything human society needed. More resources were needed to sustain humanity’s exponential growth, and Aurelia provided those resources. The colony ships were set to depart for that distant world in less than two weeks…Marie and Shen were just tying up loose ends on Earth before they departed. As the 2:00 A.M train to Kyoto arrived on its hover-track, the engineer stopped and looked out the train’s cockpit windows at his passengers…he knew precisely where they were headed, and what they had just done in the Tokyo Undercity. He opened the train doors, as the seven Legionnaires and Marie stepped onto the train, bristling with LED lights and advertisements in the main passenger cars. The lights irritated Marie’s tired eyes as she took her seat right next to Shen, who stared blankly forward as the train began moving. No one said a word to each other, for they were too weary from the stress of the day, and the deeds of their combat operation to have much conversation. No one liked when that much blood was spilled in a peacekeeping operation, but Countess Toni’s unwanted intervention made such death and destruction necessary to keep the peace…all for the sake of “keeping things interesting” between Toni and Marie…2,000 people had to die. Such was the hidden fact of life in this Golden Age. Though humanity had reached a zenith many in earlier times would have thought impossible, the Hyperboreans were given the authority by the Orbis Solaris to govern however they pleased, as long as they maintained order and peace…though most Hyperboreans attempted to maintain some semblance of democracy, others did not. Toni and Shen were two that didn’t, but Shen had a profound sense of honor and pride. Toni was nothing more than a deranged, megalomaniac psychopath, intent on doing anything she could to hurt Marie and anyone who cared about her in any form. Maybe the Golden Age wasn’t so gilded after all, and maybe, despite the Orbis’ best efforts, humanity was still the humanity of old, simply pacified by the level of success their cooperation had allowed them…Shen had not forgotten that there was another time when war was seen as impossible and cast to the wastebasket of history, the decade and a half from 1900-1914…which led directly into the First World War. Shen was determined to avoid a similar historical train wreck with the Golden Age, though people like Countess Toni made that extraordinarily difficult. Could such a thing really happen? Could the centuries of peace and prosperity of the United Earth government really shatter into a Great Interplanetary War? Perhaps, but no one wanted to think about that. No one wanted war. No one wanted an end to the prosperity and peace of the Golden Age. Shen just had to hope that this desire was enough to avert catastrophe.

As the train continued along its track, the Hyperboreans looked out the windows at the ground far below, massive 15-lane highways gave way to roundabouts and overpasses, connecting the Tokyo Megalopolis with the Kyoto Urban Area through the Kansai Region, the ancient city of Nara was directly between the two massive cities; Nara hadn’t changed much over the millennia, and was now home to the Temple of the Sun, the greatest center of life for the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, and a temple of worship for the Dark Queen, Izanami-Sama, and her dire children, the Shinigami.

The train made a sharp turn and passed directly over one of the many multi-lane, multi-story highways running between Tokyo and Kyoto through the Kansai Region and Nara Prefecture, with the lights from the city of Nara visible just in the distance. At the center of the city, small compared to Tokyo and Kyoto but large by any standard was a mile-high tower, called the Nuzak Spire, named after the American architect who designed it. This tower was built to commemorate more than four thousand years of Japanese history, and thousands more to be made as well as a centerpiece of the United Earth government. John Nuzak was one of the greatest architects who had ever lived, and designed many buildings on every human-controlled world. He was a Hyperborean, and so was immortal, living in San Diego, California, he was the Lord Protector of the State of California and one of the most renowned artists and architects in the Solar System. The Spire was, in his opinion, his crowning achievement, one of the tallest free-standing buildings on Earth and home to more than 175,000 residents living in high, high luxury. Nara didn’t have the seedy undercity elements that Kyoto and Tokyo possessed, and every single one of its citizens lived in immense prosperity, though many had ties to the Undercity and the vast black markets that kept the economy running. As the train steadily approached Nara Station, another structure became visible, rising high on a hill overlooking the main city…a gigantic, medieval Japanese-style pagoda mansion marked with various Shinto runes flying on flags, and the unmistakable presence of the Staghorn Rune, flying high above it all on a black flag, with the words “Dengen Oyobi Meiyo: Ajia no Oo” written on the flag underneath the eerie rune…this was the Legion’s Temple of the Sun, and that flag was their Death’s Head, worn proudly on each and every one of their uniforms. The flag waved briskly in the night sky as the wind carried it through the air, casting its sinister shadow on the land below…much like Izanami-Sama herself, the Death’s Head cast a shadow over all who stared upon its empty gaze.

The train came to a stop at Nara Station in the shadow of the Temple of the Sun, allowing the Legion to disembark and begin their short trek up the hill to the entrance to the Temple. The time: 2:36 A.M. It had been an extraordinarily long, harrowing day for Marie and the entire Legion, and they were all preparing for some much-needed rest. The following day, High Captain Kira and the Kyoto Legion would arrive to give a report on the sex-trade operation earnings for that quarter, and where the money was coming from. This information was vital to Shen, so he could properly appropriate the funds to the United Earth government treasury as accorded. For now, however, the weary would finally sleep in Tokyo, a long way removed from the chaos of the Undercity, in the peace and sanctity of an elegant, dark Temple of the Gods. Entering the darkened temple, the Legion slunk away to their bedrooms like shadows creeping back to the grave, without even turning on the lights, they proceeded to their quarters, and promptly fell asleep. Marie lay down to rest in a comfortable guest room, and Shen retired to the master suite on the second floor…Marie would have to wait until morning to see the full size and scale of the Temple of the Sun, but after the day she had, she could afford to wait. Marie closed her eyes, knowing that she was safe here for the time being, safe from all those who sought to harm her, and with the one man that she knew truly cared about her.

3. Ordo ab Chao

It was almost 11:00 by the time the Legion awoke the following morning, but Marie had been awake for hours already, the jet lag was still present. She was visibly tired, but it didn’t bother her much. She had been awake before dawn exploring the silence of the Temple, and was astounded by its beauty, art and sheer macabre darkness. Statues of the Shinigami gods lined the various hallways, as did paintings of the Dark Queen and her shadowy children, born from the tattered remnants of Izanagi’s infanticide following Izanami’s death in childbirth. The Shinigami had taken various forms, one looked like a gigantic, cloaked scarecrow with wings and a Jack-O-Lantern-like face, another took the appearance of a three-masked, sickle-clawed monster with a ring of talismans around its neck and a giant headcrest. One looked like a giant white skeleton with crooked claws and a deer’s skull, and another looked like a giant, long-limbed demon with black wings and a dagger in his mouth. Another one looked like a giant black shadow with glowing yellow eyes and a crooked, demented smile…each one of these beings was a soldier of death itself, tasked with harvesting the souls of living beings and feeding them to their Queen, in return, the Queen granted them eternal life and power…they were as eternal as death itself. Koi ponds decorated the interior meditation and prayer rooms, as did the sinister Staghorn Rune adorning the black flag, as well as many other Shinto talismans and symbols. A dojo for practicing combat skills occupied the North Wing of the temple, with quarterstaffs used for practicing Nano-Sword combat and a firing range for honing marksmanship. As Marie slowly walked back to her guest room, she encountered Shen standing at the foot of the staircase leading to the master suite, clad in his jet-black and crimson-red robe, tied neatly with an obi sash on his back. “Are you getting to know your surroundings, Marie?” Shen asked, curiously. “I must admit, this place is quite impressive, though the décor in most of the rooms is a bit macabre for my preferences, though I have no say in the matter. I just felt I’d share my opinion of this building’s interior desigh.” “Feel free to comment on the accomodations, though be mindful that nothing here can be changed. Our Legion values tradition above all else. Everything is set up the way it is for a reason.” “Understood. I just thought I’d offer some input, after all, it is what I do for a living.” Marie joked. Shen smiled quaintly and continued his morning duties of waking his Legionnaires. He ascended a staircase adjacent to the one leading to the master suite and opened a door leading up to a rooftop deck, letting in the late-morning air, and the sounds of Nara’s daily activities into the sanctity of the Temple. Shen approached a large, conical horn on the rooftop deck and blew into it, emitting a loud, booming, echoing reveille across Nara and throughout the Temple.

Slowly but surely, the groggy Legionnaires began emerging from their bedrooms, Kizu, Hamada, the Takada sisters and various other Hyperboreans shook off their late-morning sleepiness and proceeded to the elaborate dining hall for breakfast, decorated in traditional Japanese style with cushions arranged on the floor around small tables, rather than a Western-style dining room. Each of the Legionnaires took their seats at an individual cushion, with the Takada sisters careful not to sit on their floor-length black hair, let down to its full length to sleep at night, but would be arranged neatly for the coming day. “Hey, Shen, what’s for breakfast?” Ai asked, twirling her chopsticks anxiously. “Same thing as usual.” Shen said, handing them all rice cakes and fresh fruit, today a large honeydew melon, chopped into small squares for ease of picking with chopsticks. Marie had only used chopsticks twice before, and struggled a bit to hold them properly for a few minutes, much to the amusement of her Japanese companions, who found it humorous to see a Westerner attempt to use chopsticks to eat. “I love you always prepare food for everyone in your charge, Shen.” Marie said, picking up a square of melon with her chopsticks and placing it in her mouth. “A good commander looks upon his soldiers as if they were his own children, look after them, and they will follow you even unto death.” Shen replied, eating his rice cake before the fruit. The Legion quickly ate their rice cakes, and then got started on the fruit, it was a meager meal by Western standards, but the Japanese were used to smaller portions. However, for Marie, this would likely not be enough. “So, Marie, what is it like in Europe? We’ve never left Japan.” Ai and Tsuruka Takada asked, finishing their melons.” “That is a difficult question to answer when phrased in that manner, but what I can tell you is that the culture is vastly different. For one, we eat with a knife and fork, but I’m sure you already knew that, judging by my unfamiliarity with the chopsticks. I guess you could say that the culture is far more progressive and far, far less focused on tradition. Europe and North America are the strongholds of technology, democracy and progress, whereas East Asia is a bastion of tradition, power and honor, utterly opposite to the Western world, even during the age of the United Earth government. From what I hear, China and Korea are quite similar to Japan, ruled by the Hibiscus Knights and Taoist League, respectively, though the Koreans and Chinese are far less militaristic than you are.” “Indeed…that is why we will always be superior, the true Kings of Asia.” Shen added, regarding his Japanese military forces and Hyperborean knights. “Our Death’s Head is more than a symbol of our pride, it is a symbol of our utter superiority over all other Asian peoples, though we work with them to maintain the global peace, we will always be at the top of the heap. We have the best military, best training, purest ethics and mightiest gods, and we wield our power and honor with pride. Our culture is something a Westerner will never truly understand, for the reasons you just described, Marie. Whereas the West is founded on ideas of justice and democracy, East Asia is founded on ideas of community, power, honor and responsibility to society…why else do you think Asian society is one of the oldest societies in human history? The Hyperboreans who rule the United Earth government all work together to maintain order and peace, but we couldn’t be more different in our backgrounds. Many voices, many homelands, but one purpose, one race, one soul…that is the creed of the United Earth government…and so it shall always be. Our story has no ending, and will continue to unfold ad infinitum, as the story of humanity expands beyond our Solar System and under the light of other stars. We are the greatest story ever told, Marie, each of us an individual author, contributing something to the greater story with our actions, lives and accomplishments. It is a story that will never end, and we, the Hyperboreans, are the greatest of the authors, the maintainers and the enforcers…we must live like we mean it, for no one else can live for us. This ideology of the Brave New World is what sustains our global human union, the desire to further human society for the greater good, a world where war is no longer a threat, a world where every child has enough to eat and clean water to drink, fed by the vast bread basket of Sub-Saharan Africa and granted clean water by the Nanotech Revolution, a world where humanity possesses a limitless supply of pure energy, where vehicles can travel anywhere in the universe on little to no fuel, and a world where justice and freedom are truly for all who seek them…this is our world. This is our Universe! I suggest we start embracing that ourselves.” Shen rallied as his Legion cheered at the breakfast tables.

As the Legion finished eating, they got to work in their daily duties around the Temple, but today was different, in the fact that they were expecting the High Captain of the Kyoto Legion to arrive from the South at 1:00 P.M., and thus had two hours to prepare for the arrival of their guests. The Legion got to work with their domestic chores, scrubbing the floors, making the beds, dusting the furniture and maintaining the Temple, such as taking inventory in the weapons’ lockers and making sure the main sanctuary was free of contaminating objects: items that could dilute the room’s spiritual sanctity. Throughout this frenetic procedure, Marie simply remained in the guest room as Shen ordered his Legion around the Temple in rotating stations, each Legionnaire spent 25 minutes doing one thing before being ordered onto the next one. “Beds are made, moving into the weapons’ lockers.” the Takada sisters announced running down the stairs to tally the weapons in the lockers. “Floors clean, moving to next station.” Kizu announced, moving on to clean the furniture off, keeping the place spotless for the arrival of their guests. Marie had already tidied up the guest room, as had Shen with his bedroom. “Headed for the Temple Sanctuary.” Hamada said, running in his bare feet to the Sanctuary to make sure everything was in order there. As the Legionnaires ran around the Temple making sure the place was in tip-top shape, Marie thought about what Shen had said…even though the Hyperboreans were immortalized by their augmentations, he was right. No one could live their lives for them…and Marie knew she existed for more than to oppose her arch-rival, Countess Toni. Unlike her, her life did not revolve around the actions of another…it revolved around the actions of herself, which made Marie the stronger person…and she sought someone just as strong as her to help her in her own goals. By all indications, Shen appeared to be that person, a true anti-hero, one which stood on the side of justice, but was willing to go to any length to achieve that end, even if it meant engaging in crime himself. He was not a hero, but he was precisely the kind of man a city like Tokyo needed to prosper…one who would put the good of the city and his Legions above anyone and anything else…and for that, Marie greatly admired him. He was moody, depressive and in many ways just as insane as the criminals he pursued, but he was a good man, a man who would never harm an innocent person, and would always lend a hand to those who could not defend themselves. His life must have been extraordinarily futile in his eyes, immortal, but forced to spend an eternity fighting to save a city that could never be truly saved, fighting a war against crime that could never be truly won…and still he continued, for he had realized his own purpose. For now, however, Marie was only content to travel with him, perhaps she was not ready for where this could lead…she would take it slowly, and approach Shen with caution, for he looked like an incredibly complex man to understand.

Marie stood up from her bed and walked out into the main hallway towards where the rest of the Legionnaires were assembling after their chores were complete. “Shen, I had a question to ask you.” “Go ahead and ask, Marie.” “That speech you gave at breakfast, it was…very inspiring, to say the least, I must admit, you certainly know how to inspire your Legionnaires as if you were their own father.” “I feel in order to have a truly devoted Legion, you must look upon your soldiers as if they were your own children. Do that, and they will follow you even unto death. I know very well that my Legions would gladly die for me in combat, just as I would them. ‘Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.’ Sun Tzu wrote those words in his book The Art of War, and I try to command by those principles as much as possible, as do the Hibiscus Knights and the Taoist League. His book has become a standard of Asian warfare in the Golden Age, even in space, and the United Earth government applies his tactics to every one of its battles. One of the lead Ookami-class Dreadnaughts in the 18th Fleet based around Mars is called the UESC Sun Tzu, and is considered the pride of the fleet. It is modified Dreadnaught to carry twice the standard amount of Shinigami-class drone fighters as a normal Ookami-class ship does, and possesses four molecular bond breakers, as opposed to two, allowing it to take on an enemy fleet essentially by itself, as well as reduce an entire planet to molten slag. The UESC Navy is the greatest fighting force ever built by human hands…and we will use it to achieve any means necessary. I had a hand in designing that ship, in the Kraid Drive Yards in lunar orbit…she’s my pride and joy.” Shen gloated. “Yes, that may be true, but I was thinking…Shen, have you ever thought that there was more to life than war and fighting?” Shen raised his eyebrows, his crimson-red hair ruffling a bit. “What do you mean?” “Well, to me, there’s far more to life than simply fighting for everything. You see your entire life as a battle against forces that can never be truly stopped, and you take great pride in it…though war is not the only answer…there are…peaceful solutions to your problems, Shen, and I believe that I can help you solve some of those.” “Wait. I know what you’re doing, Marie. No need to explain, and let me just tell you, there are much, MUCH better options for a woman of your caliber than me. I’m just a mercenary with issues. Lots and lots of issues. You don’t want to deal with that. Now I suggest you busy yourself with something else, because this conversation will get you and I nowhere.” “Whatever you say, Shen.” Marie said, walking calmly away. “Sir, what was that about?” Kizu asked, approaching his commander. “It’s nothing, Kizu. Return to your duties.” “Yes sir.” Kizu returned to his morning chores, just as the clock struck noon. The chores were promptly finished as the strike of 12:00; like a well-oiled machine, the Legion worked in perfect harmony with even the most mundane tasks. Shen wouldn’t have it any other way. Order must be maintained at all costs…at that point, however, the entire Legion stood to, and proceeded to march slowly into the Sanctuary, chanting slowly and ominously in Japanese as the clock struck noon. Shen followed his seven Legionnaires as they marched slowly into the Sanctuary and assembled in front of the Death’s Head, surrounded by statues of the Shinigami and Izanami-Sama. Shen proceeded to stand upon the altar of Death, directly in front of the Staghorn Rune, and placed an actual deer’s skull with its antlers on the altar before him. The seven Legionnaires sat on the floor in a circle, surrounding a curious rune on the floor, looking a bit like a Japanese equivalent of a Black Sun rune from Germanic mythology. Shen took his stand on the altar, clad in his Legion uniform, and began his daily sermon to his Legion. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Fools! Fools!! Only fools would underestimate the pure justice and sheer finality of death! Children of Izanami-Sama, take your decrepit wings and fly through the sky, harvesting the souls of those you find suitable for purging, and let us, the Legion of the Abyssal Sun do thy will in Heaven and Earth, and points beyond! For justice knows no border, and neither does death, the ultimate expression of justice in this Universe! Your Children, O Queen of the Underworld, shall pursue those who commit evil to the end of existence, now stand with me, O Mighty Queen, for the forces that lurk at the threshold of our world are ever-vigilant, and when the planes are crossed, we shall all see your might and splendor, just as the world did in the very beginning! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Now, as we light this effigy in your holiest of names, let it be known that your justice was served last night, upon those vermin who would destroy the peace of the Northeast Under, let your children forever torment them in Yomi, the Land of the Dead! All rise for the burning of the effigy, my children and Legionnaires, the Sacrifice to the Gods!” Shen parted a curtain and revealed a huge, wooden owl, carved from dried wood and drenched in flammable liquids. Grabbing a torch a stand, he set the owl ablaze as an offering to Izanami-Sama and the Shinigami, as the Legion’s chanting became louder and louder. The effigy burned brighter and brighter, as Shen continued the dark chant to the Underworld. For Marie, this was all very, very odd, foreign and just plain creepy, for Shen was indeed correct when he said that Westerners could never understand this religion and culture, simply because they weren’t born into it. Most residents of America and Europe would equate Shen’s death-worship with Satanism, when in fact Shen and his Legionnaires didn’t even acknowledge Satan’s existence…and judging by the messages posted on the prayer tags around the room, the Legion of the Abyssal Sun had an immense disdain for Christianity, Judaism and Islam, with many caricatures equating Jesus to a mental patient claiming he was the “Son of God,” of Mohammed as a pedophile and his wives as lecherous whores, and the Jews in classic, anti-Semitic fashion, with big noses, huge, grubby hands and fang-like teeth. The Legion and all of the Japanese took their mythos to a completely different level, not just as a tradition, but as a history of humanity, a “Religion of the Blood,” utterly superior to the monotheistic religions practiced by the West and the Near East, based around the belief that the godly essence was to be defended through the blood of the believers and bloodshed if need be, a philosophy that the Legion incorporated into every facet of their daily lives and how they governed Japan. They strongly opposed any Western religion, and publicly condemned Christians, Muslims and Jews for their “backward” belief systems. Needless to say, Japan was not a very popular place for the more conservative members of American, Middle Eastern and European society. Even in an age of unified government, there were still national differences and rivalries, as this dark ritual clearly demonstrated. As the effigy burned, the smoke filled the Sanctuary, exiting through a specially-designed chimney just for this purpose. The Legion’s ritual reached its zenith as the effigy was slowly reduced to ashes, the pungent smell of the burning cedar wood filling the air…it was like perfume to the Legions’ nostrils. Marie stared in awe of this macabre scene, she had never seen this side of Shen before, just the passion with which he conducted his rituals, the roar of his maniacal laughter, and the pure expression of his thoughts through his ritual…it truly captivated Marie to see the amount of passion he put into his faith, albeit in a religion Marie had no knowledge of.

As the ritual came to an end, the ashes from the burnt effigy were carefully collected and placed in an elaborate urn, which would be sprinkled over the ocean at a later date. For now, however, the Legion had official business to conduct. High Captain Kira would be at the Temple in twenty minutes, and the Legion was ready to receive him and his Kyoto Legionnaires in the main foyer. All they waited for now was the 1:00 hovertrain from Kyoto Urban Center, containing the Kyoto Legion. They did not have to wait long. Pulling into the station more than 15 minutes ahead of schedule was the Kyoto Legion’s train, and stepping onto the platform was the unmistakable visage of High Captain Kira Odokai, in his full Abyssal Sun regalia, with his sinister group of Legionnaires, four male, and four female, surrounding him. They wore identical uniforms to the Tokyo Legion, except with a large, black hibiscus flower emblazoned proudly on the front of their uniforms. High Captain Odokai’s Hallucination Nano-Sword, Ira, was clearly visible hanging folded at his left side. Shen, Marie and the Tokyo Legion stepped out the front door to welcome the Kyoto Legion to the Temple of the Sun, with Kira and Shen exchanging reverent bows for each other as a gesture of respect. “Welcome, brethren, to the Temple of the Sun, the most sacred place of our Order and the center of Japan.” “It is a pleasure to be back, Ryujin. I see you have a foreigner with you, I’d have to say she’s French by the looks of her…” Kira said in his sinister voice, peering intently into Marie’s eyes with his frightening gaze. “Marie is a guest here. I expect you to treat her with the utmost respect, as you would any of your fellow countrymen.” “Forgive me, Master Ryujin, I just don’t like the idea of foreign peoples treading on such a sacred location…” Kira grumbled.

The Kyoto Legion filed into the Temple of the Sun and sat down in the Sanctuary with the Tokyo Legion, and promptly began the discussion. “Lord Ryujin, I am happy to report that productivity in the black market trade is exceeding expectations for the thirteenth month in a row. More than two thousand first-quality merchandise came into the system last week, of those individuals, more than 98% of them were sold to the brothels and bars as forms of commerce for the median price of 198,000 credits per individual, the total profit for this month being sent to the United Earth treasury as a part of government GDP totals more than one billion credits for Kyoto alone…the sex trade is big, big business here, and as usual, I maintain the order and flow of things in that business with my Legion, based in Kyoto city proper. Though the majority of profits go toward government GDP, I am not above taking my due collateral…30% of the profits goes to the Kyoto Legion, and we have become immensely wealthy off of the exploitation of underprivileged young Japanese women and naïve, stupid foreign girls that wander into our territory. We are nationalists, with firm belief that all other races are meant to be our slaves and satisfy our desires. There can be no purer race than the Japanese Hyperborean.” “With all respect to patriotism, Lord Kira, don’t you think you’re being a bit overzealous in your activities? Some of these women are not specimens of note at all, you have to at least give a quality product if you want profit.” “That’s what marketing was invented for, however. The Japanese men go absolutely wild for the tall, blond foreign girls we like to take, the ones too naïve to realize that they’re wandering into nationalist territory. We make most of our money from them alone, so we do find the top quality products, if that’s what you’re wondering.” To Marie, this was truly horrifying. Here, she was witnessing the mass enslavement of thousands of young women for work in the sex trade, and two men becoming the wealthiest people in Japan over it. Worse yet, women were taking part in these activities as if it were nothing, the Takada sisters, the four female Legionnaires in the Kyoto Legion, everything…Marie simply couldn’t comprehend how a woman would be able to do something that inhumane to another woman. The depravity of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun was truly nauseating. Marie felt sick just thinking about it. In her eyes, the human race had failed each and every one of those women held against their will in the black market sex trade, and the legitimate government did nothing about it, because it was profiting off of it. Marie started to think that this “Golden Age” was anything but. Marie couldn’t remain silent about this any longer. “How…how can you do this to people? Do you have no sense of humanity at all? Why do you harm people like that?” Marie blurted out, almost instinctively. High Captain Odakai smiled with a crooked, twisted grin. “Marie, our motive is simple. It is our philosophy, drawn from the Shinto pantheon; the Tokyo Legion worships death as the ultimate form of justice, the Kyoto Legion follows the Shattered-World Complex, an interpretation of the story of Amaterasu, Susanoo and Tsukuyomi, the gods of the Sun, Storms and Moon. It was said that these three kami were born of Izanagi washing himself of the darkness in Yomi after failing to save Izanami-Sama from her own corruption, Amaterasu was born from washing Izanagi’s left eye, Susanoo from washing his nose, and Tsukuyomi from washing his right eye. These three deities formed an integral part of the Japanese myth cycle, After their birth, Amaterasu became the goddess of the Sun, ruling alongside her husband and brother Tsukuyomi, the God of the Moon and Master of the Night. Originally, Amaterasu shared the sky with Tsukuyomi, until, out of disgust, Tsukuyomi killed the Goddess of Food, Uke Mochi, after she pulled food from her rectum, nose and mouth. This killing upset Amaterasu, labeling her husband and brother as an evil god and separating night from day. Amaterasu also had a long-standing rivalry with her brother Susanoo, and when Susanoo was ordered by Izanagi to leave Heaven, Susanoo was told to bid his sister farewell. Amaterasu, however, was suspicious, so Susanoo posed a challenge to prove his sincerity, and Amaterasu accepted. Each of the them took an object from the other and from those objects, they birthed gods and goddesses; from Susanoo’s sword Amaterasu birthed three women, and from Amaterasu’s necklace Susanoo birthed five men. Claiming that the gods were hers because they had been born of her necklace, Amaterasu decided that Susanoo had won the challenge, as his item had produced women. The two were content for a time, but Susanoo grew restless and eventually went on a rampage, destroying Amaterasu’s rice fields, hurling a flayed pony at her loom and killing one of her attendants in a fit of rage, as well as shattering the world with his mighty storms, generated when his fists struck the ground. Volcanoes erupted, earthquakes shook the land, tsunamis ravaged the coast for weeks on end, and the springs in which the virgins bathed turned to molten fire. A vast cloud of soot and ash cloaked the land, incinerating all before it in a hurricane of fire, and starvation, cold and death stalked Japan for years. Amaterasu, in fury and grief, hid in the Ama-no-Iwato, or Heavenly Rock Cave, effectively hiding the Sun for an extended period of time, after a tremendous cataclysm wrought by her brother’s violent rage. For this time, death, darkness, pestilence, fire and ash stalked the lands of the Earth, and no sun was seen for year after year, until Amaterasu could finally be persuaded to leave the cave. Susanoo was punished with eternal banishment from Heaven, but granted Amaterasu his sword, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, as a reconciliation gift. Eventually, Amaterasu bequeathed three sacred items to her descendants, the mirror Yata-no-Kagami, the jewel, Yasakani-no-Magatama, and the sword, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi…these descendants were the ancient Emperors of Japan, and these three treasures are now safely kept in the Kyoto Legion’s Temple, the Temple of the Moon, less than 50 miles south of our location. We watch over the treasures of Amaterasu and her renegade brother as the guardians of our land, protecting it from all harm. That is one half of the Shattered-World Complex.

The other half, answering your question about why we trade living, breathing human beings for profit, has to do with the challenge that Susanoo imposed on Amaterasu, and the results of that challenge. Susanoo’s sword created women from its blade, and thus could control whatever it created. We have the Holy Blade, Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Sword of the Sun, in our possession, giving us command over all it had created, yes, all women. The Solar Radiance of Amaterasu gives us the authority to enslave and dominate these women, for we can only control what we created. The Sword of the Sun created all womankind, thus the bearer of the Sword controls all womankind. Just as Izanami-Sama and the Shinigami give Shen’s Legion the right to pass judgment on all those they see fit, the Sword gives us the right to command an entire gender of humanity for our own purposes. The end justifies the means, Marie. It is something a Westerner will never understand. It is a purely Japanese concept, just as the Hibiscus Knights in China are uniquely Chinese, and the Taoist League in Korea is uniquely Korean. The three East Asian mega-powers, despite being part of a United Earth government, are each a nation unto themselves, independent, and free of all weakness. You, as a European, cannot even begin to grasp the concepts that our people follow, and that creates an immense source of national pride for us, China and Korea. These are our concepts, wholly different from yours. Your apprehension is simply a result of cross-cultural differences. No one in Europe or America would dare think in this manner, but to us in Asia, it is the only way we know.”

Somehow, this did not assuage Marie’s anxiety over this whole business. To her, it was far more than just “cross-cultural misunderstanding.” It was morally wrong and a horrid crime on the highest level, perhaps the greatest injustice committed against another group of human beings since the Holocaust, this “Rape-Holocaust” needed to stop, but nothing could stop it…it was simply a fact of life in Japan, China and Korea, as the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, the Taoist League and the Hibiscus Knights all engaged in it, using their religions to justify their exploitation of those they saw as weaker than them…such was the harsh reality of life in Golden-Age East Asia. “This Shattered-World Complex also mandates that we take total control over Kyoto city life. The Kyoto undercity has none of the rampant gang activity that the Tokyo undercity possesses, for we are the only legal organization. When I first formed the Kyoto Legion, I looked at the chaos and disorder of undercity life in Kyoto with disgust. Rather than incorporate my chapter as part of the undercity landscape, I sought to dominate the entire city as my own. My Legion and I cleaned up the streets, imprisoning every last foul parasite that infested the Kyoto underworld…and then…I liquidated the prisons. The prisons I had built to house the criminals were, in reality, gigantic gas chambers, which could be remotely sealed off via satellite communications, and purged of all life by lethal clouds of nerve toxin. Just before I released the gas, I broadcast the image of Izanami’s Death Head on every digital screen in the prison, so, as the life left the filthy vermin’s eyes, the last thing they’d look upon was the very symbol of death, the ultimate expression of justice…isn’t that right, Shen?” “Yes indeed, Captain Odokai.” “Master Ryujin, I am also aware of the difficulties you have been having with the Lord Protector of Rome…however, I am fascinated by her ideology, the Mithraic Mysteries and the Society of Ur, is it?” Kira hissed. “Yes, Captain, I confess the ideology is foreign to me as well as you, but I believe Marie has a better idea of what it means and how it operates.” “Yes, Lord Kira, allow me to explain. The Mithraic Mysteries is a mystery religion dating back literally to the beginning of human civilization, records of Mithraic symbols are seen on European cave paintings. It appears to have a Vedic origin, with many symbols overlapping with Indo-Aryan societies. We know the primary practitioners of this religion were the Assyrians, worshiping a deity they called “Mithras,” which was represented by the Sun, and symbolized by a Sunwheel, or swastika. This religion was discovered by the ancient Romans when they conquered Mesopotamia, and it quickly took hold in Ancient Rome, with hundreds of Mithraic temples being erected all over the Empire, the rituals included human sacrifice, bathing in virgin girls’ blood, as well as near-masturbatory torture and orgasmic ritual in a subdivision of the faith, known as the Ordo Rosarius. I believe Countess Toni engages in all of these activities, though no one has ever caught her in the act. The Society of Ur is tied in with the Mithraic Mysteries, founded by one Julius Evola in the early 20th century, it intended to use the Mithraic Mysteries as the foundation for a future world Empire, one that shunned decadence and “revolted” against the vices of the modern world through exercise of what was called the “inner God,” that is, free will and reason. Toni is also the head of this organization in the Golden Age, though she is the only known member. They use various symbols to emphasize their “solar regality,” such as the swastika, the Black Sun Rune, the Sunwheel and the Uraeus. Many of these symbols overlap with the 20th-century dictatorships in Germany and Italy, and Toni shares much of their ideology. That’s all I know on that subject.”

Marie finished her explanation as Kira and Shen listened attentively. “Very interesting. It seems that this god ‘Mithras’ shares much in common with Amaterasu, who was often represented by a Sunwheel, the Rising Sun found on the Japanese flag. However, the interpretation appears quite different, though the Shinto pantheon is always inclusive…perhaps Mithras can find a purpose in our lives as well…it sounds nationalist enough…” High Captain Odokai thought. “Indeed it is, Captain. The Mithraic ideology is steeped in European nationalist lore, and perhaps the Japanese mythos could accommodate certain aspects of the Mithraic Mysteries into its pantheon…” Shen pondered, listening to his High Captain’s comparisons of Mithras to Amaterasu. Marie said nothing on this subject, for she wanted nothing to do with it. The dark pagan ideology practiced by the Mithraic cults and the Society of Ur were completely insane to Marie…that was Countess Toni’s domain. “So, Master Ryujin, I expect that the upward momentum for the Japanese GDP will continue, thanks to the presence of the black market and our expansion of legitimate commerce, under the recent economic expansion plans put in place by the Sapporo Legion and my Kyoto Legion.” “Yes, I have been reviewing the economic data, and it appears that our trajectory is going nowhere but up. You have done a very good job, Captain. I will instruct you to keep up the good work, and continue to make Kyoto the safest place for Japanese civilians to live…your zero-tolerance policies against crime are novel, but they appear to be working just fine for the residents of Kyoto. They are the most well-behaved people in Japan, and the only black market activity is controlled directly by you and your Legion.” “That is how we make sure no one is ever too powerful, eliminating the need for military action in the Undercity, unlike your Legion, however, Master Ryujin, you relish battle and conquest. War is the byword of your existence. Now, let us get to more urgent business. Kyoto is dealing with a certain problem, one that can only be solved by the combined force of the Tokyo and Kyoto Legions. There is a supercomputer in the heart of Kyoto that is…somehow stealing the Legion’s classified information from our mainframes. No one knows how this computer was able to gain access to our system, but it has, and we’ve been trying to fend its cyberattacks off for weeks now. The good news is that we know precisely where this computer is, and we are launching an investigation into this computer’s recent activity, namely who programmed it to slice our systems and what is has been doing with our classified data. We need the both the Kyoto and Tokyo Legions to partake in this…Marie is welcome to come along as well.”

Shen’s eyes widened. “Hmmm…that is rather disturbing. Why would someone program a computer to steal our classified force deployment, surveillance data, and every protocol in our mandate?” “We believe they are attempting to undermine our authority over the Japanese homeland, which is why we must strike quickly. We depart in an hour. Prepare your Legions for insertion.” High Captain Kira gave his orders. “Order granted.” Shen responded as the Tokyo Legion prepared for battle once again. “Marie, you might want to put those Voidbending skills to good use again. We’re going back out there, and this time, we don’t know who the enemy is.” “I will be worthy of my post, Shen.” Marie said, confidently. The two Legions and Marie prepared for deployment, taking their weapons, AL-779 Burst Rifles, Umbra-88 Pulse Rifles and DN-17 Concussion Rifles, each one specially-designed to handle a certain variety of enemy…there were no DN-25 Lightning Guns for this operation. Smaller weapons would certainly suffice, in addition to precision X-17 Hand Cannons, for precise, covert shots on enemy targets. Those weapons, and the Hyperboreans’ phenomenal Voidbending abilities would be more than enough to stop any target in Kyoto. This was a busy time for the Kyoto Legion, as they had just returned from a liaison mission to a beach resort town in the South, investigating the goings-on at an ancient, supposedly haunted bathhouse at Dan-No-Ura Strait. The story went that during the Gempei Wars, the bathhouse was staffed by more than 500 young women who worked as maids and attendants to the customers, but unfortunately, they found themselves in a strategic location relished by both the warring Minamoto and Taira samurai clans. One night, as the Summer’s End festival approached, the parade that marked the festival’s opening marched across the Dan-No-Ura strait, a narrow strip of sea bridged by a stone walkway, on its usual route to the bathhouse, where the 500 young women awaited their arrival…as the parade neared the bathhouse’s front door, the true horror of the war unfolded right then and there, the parade revealed itself to be a group of Minamoto warriors in disguise, and, in bloody episode rarely seen in human history, the soldiers slaughtered every single woman in the bathhouse like squealing hogs. It was said that there was so much blood in the basement that the floor looked like a lake, with body parts and human innards floating around in the seething mass of effluence…the Kyoto Legion was there investigating a very strong “spiritual energy” emanating from the building, which had since closed down and became a museum of Japanese history. This would be yet another mission for the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, one with a far more pragmatic purpose. There was a supercomputer hacking and stealing the Legion’s secrets…and they were going to find out why.

The Legions grabbed their weapons from the ammunition lockers, taking their rifles and shouldering them for transport to the center of Kyoto aboard a specially-designed Mjolnir-class gunship, modified to suit the Legions’ use. They would fly into the heart of Kyoto, locate the supercomputer, deactivate it and trace the source of the hack back to the perpetrator, a relatively simple operation, but as the peacekeeping mission in Tokyo proved, even a simple mission could go awry very easily. However, unlike in Tokyo, where the black market had become a part of the city’s economy, in Kyoto, the only legal organization was the Legion of the Abyssal Sun…and they controlled everything. No one would dare oppose Lord Kira Odokai, Shen Ryujin and their respective Legions in a direct confrontation, especially with Marie present as well. This was going to be simple.

The Legions, carrying their weapons and sheathed Nano-Swords, boarded the two gunships parked outside the Temple of the Sun, always ready for takeoff at a moment’s notice. The pilots, members of the Japanese Home Guard, were trained especially to fly these modified gunships; they were the Legion’s personal couriers around Japan for whatever purpose they desired. As both the Tokyo and Kyoto Legions stepped into their gunships, Marie followed close behind Shen. Somehow, she knew that this operation was going to get more complicated than the Legions anticipated; she was prepared for the worst, but hoped for the best. The gunships slowly lifted into the air and turned towards the Kyoto Urban Area, visible on the horizon beyond the Nuzak Spire in Nara, towering high over the Kansai Region as one of the tallest free-standing structures in the Solar System. Upon takeoff, the gunships made a long, sweeping pass around the colossal Spire, with the Legions peering into the thousands of warmly-lit windows, the windows of lavish apartments, home to some of Japan’s wealthiest residents. “John Nuzak is an engineering genius…” Marie said, watching in awe of the Spire as the gunships circled it. “Yes he is…for a Westerner.” Captain Odokai sneered. “We could have designed something twice as spectacular for ourselves, but the Orbis Solaris gives the Hyperboreans complete control over the human race…we are all one government.” Captain Odokai said, with reservations. Odokai was one of the few individuals in the Golden Age that believed that a United Earth government was the worst possible thing to happen to humanity, for by blending all cultures and all races, the Orbis Solaris had destroyed any sense of national identity or patriotism whatsoever, which was painful for certain countries like Japan, with a very strong sense of cultural and national pride, history and mythos. As such, pockets of nationalism still existed, though they were by far the minority in Golden Age politics. As the gunships pulled away from the Nuzak Spire, they turned towards the brilliant lights of Kyoto, with the high mountains of the South surrounding the mega-city. Their destination was a power station in the Northwest Grid sector of the city, home to a battery of supercomputers being used for alleged illegal purposes, namely spying on the activities of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. The Legion would effect entry into the power station, arrest those responsible and put an end to the operation. Thy Orbis’ will be done.

                  1. Kagaribi: The Shattered-World Complex

“Operation Kagaribi has officially commenced…” High Captain Odokai announced over the gunships’ intercom for all to hear. The gunships were flying over the massive superhighways leading to and from the Kyoto Urban Area, as the first magnetic power stations on the outskirts of the city, each more than a kilometer high, towered high above the highway. “Watch those magnet coils…they’ll interfere with the electronics if you get too close.” Shen cautioned the pilots. The two gunships flew past the magnet towers and over the 30-meter bulwark surrounding the city of Kyoto on all sides; erected by the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, the Outer and Inner Bulwarks essentially turned the Kyoto Urban Area into a massive fortress, free of all crime, corruption and those that would cause it harm. The Takada sisters watched wistfully out the open gunship side doors as the massive city passed thousands of feet below them. The legions of Japanese Home Guard troops and UESC Marines standing on the bulwarks with massive armored vehicles and marching columns of infantry parading in and out of the city made sure the will of the Hyperborean United Earth government was upheld, with enormous groves of cherry trees planted just behind the inner city wall. Kyoto had always been famous for its sakura blossoms, and this was no different in the Golden Age. Vast groves of cherry trees were planted around the city and on the famous hillsides, interspersed with the colossal city architecture. Everything about Kyoto was enormous and orderly, by the order of High Captain Odokai himself. His city was the perfect model of order, progress and peace. Surrounding the city’s outer walls were enormous, 1,000-ton statues of Japanese pagan gods, watching endlessly over the city as its silent protectors, Izanami, Izanagi, Amaterasu, Tsukyomi and Susanoo were all represented amongst the leviathan statues, they were truly awe-inspiring sights to behold. In the center of the Kyoto Urban Area was an enormous, ultra-modern pagoda castle, the headquarters of the Kyoto Legion, and surrounded on all sides by the city’s massive architecture. From here, the Kyoto Legion controlled the city. Using a series of android AI programs numbered 1-40, these programs inhabited the city’s supercomputer network and could also enter android bodies, identical to humans and indistinguishable from the real thing. The programs acted as cyber-soldiers for the Legion, capable of infiltrating any computer system in the Solar System through the system-wide HoloNet, the Legion used them to wage war without ever leaving the comforts of their temple, as well as keeping the masses in line. “We must subordinate ourselves for the boldness of national interest…otherwise, anarchy and indecency will reign over our society, under the false mask of freedom.” High Captain Odokai mumbled to himself, as the gunships landed in front of Sakura Fortress, the Kyoto Legion’s main headquarters. Stepping out of the gunships, the Tokyo and Kyoto Legions filed into the fortress, surrounded by groves of cherry trees as well as massive skyscrapers, a perfect blend of urban and natural features. The Fortress was the very symbol of Japanese might and power in the Golden Age, and was a state-of-the-art military installation. The Legions passed through checkpoints near the entrance, guarded by Japanese Home Guard troops and UESC Marines, armed with the latest in Golden Age weaponry. Tanks and gunships were parked outside, with heavy-lift Kansai Aircraft Corporation KA-9000 gyrodynes parked on an airfield directly behind the Fortress, capable of lifting more than 5 million pounds of cargo and flying faster than the speed of sound; these were the heaviest aircraft ever built by human hands, in addition to the Kraid Drive Yards KD-279, a massive, 6-engine cargo plane used by the Russians, with hundreds of these parked at Baikonur Cosmodrome. This was the heart of Japanese military power in the Golden Age, invincible, legendary, and the forward arm of the United Earth Space Corps in Asia. High Captain Odokai was saluted by the Marines as he walked into the Fortress’ main perimeter, as did Shen, Marie and the other Legionnaires. On the tarmac, a massive gyrodyne was being loaded with Kabuto-class main battle tanks, each one weighing in at 200 tons…and the gyrodyne could carry more than 10 of these vehicles. “Loadmaster, where are these tanks headed?” Odokai asked the grounds crew loading the tanks onto the aircraft. “They’re needed in Beijing, the 185th Armored Division based there just ordered 5 additional units from the assembly plants here in Kyoto, and we’re making the delivery, as ordered by the Hibiscus Knights, based out of the Forbidden City. “Very well then, carry on. Make sure that General Li Bao Tzu receives his tanks in a timely fashion, he does not appreciate tardiness.” “Yes My Lord.” The Loadmaster continued moving the brand-new tanks onto the gyro, in preparation for their delivery to the Grand General of the Hibiscus Knights, Li Bao Tzu, a Hyperborean warrior ruling China on behalf of the Orbis Solaris. “Just business as usual…” Odokai said, walking towards the main officer’s barracks of Sakura Fortress. High Captain Odokai scanned his retinas with the security system, unlocking the barracks door, granting the Legions entry. Inside lay a network of supercomputers, fiber-optic, carbon-nanotube cables, and AI computer docks for the Kyoto Legion’s 40 elite android AI programs, which inhabited the Fortress’ computer systems. “This is our cyber warfare room. It is linked to that enormous satellite array behind the Fortress, which links us to every computer system in the Solar System. There is not a single computer in the United Earth government borders that we cannot access from this room. Program Twenty, please explain today’s mission.” High Captain Odokai instructed. “Well, how are you, Captain Odokai, while you were out there gallivanting around, I was busy infiltrating the computer that had been slicing into our databases! Happy, Happy times!” “That’s wonderful, Twenty, can you just reveal the files that were stolen?!” Odokai yelled, though somewhat amused at Twenty’s sense of humor. “Oh, silly me, sorry, I just get so hyped up when you ask me to do something…yes…here…OK! Here they are!” Just then, a huge file folder full of classified documents appeared on the main computer monitor, pages and pages of recovered documentation were there, for all to see. High Captain Odokai scrolled through the hundreds of documents, looking for any sort of pattern, a consistency that might give the perpetrator away…this would be yet another facet in Odokai’s valiant, meteoric rise through the Legion of the Abyssal Sun. Kira Odokai was the Hyperborean, Japanese equivalent of Reinhardt Heydrich, fearless, diabolical and at times truly demented, and had worked very hard as Ryujin’s direct second in command to transform the Legion of the Abyssal Sun into an instrument of terror against those that would disturb the peace of Japanese life, yet was a connoisseur of the finer things in life, such as music, literature, fine wine and other luxuries that made Odokai one of the most feared individuals in Japan. He was also an aspiring family man, in a committed relationship with a Hyperborean woman named Aria Murakami, who lived in Kyoto and shared Odokai’s same passions for luxury…and violence. Just then, Odokai spotted something that likely gave the identity of the perpetrator away…a small coded signature on one of the documents that indicated an anarchist group, called “M-15.” “M-15 has been causing problems in the Tokyo Undercity for years…my Legion has dealt with them many times…I understand Kyoto does not allow for any other organizations other than the Legion of the Abyssal Sun.” “Indeed, Master Ryujin. We will do what must be done. I’m curious, however, as to why they would be stealing classified Abyssal Sun documents…they must be working in the employ of another. For that reason, they are wanted alive.” “Understood.”

The Legionnaires quickly stood up from their seats and walked out of Sakura Fortress’ main barracks, towards the hangar containing the base’s Swallow-class fighters and Ares-class jump-ships, small, single-person starships equipped with warp drives, allowing them to travel quickly and clandestinely anywhere in the Universe. Though no planets outside the Solar System had been permanently settled, the UESC had explored thousands of habitable planets within 1,000 light-years of Earth, and the Ares-class jump-ships were the craft of choice for UESC planetary surveyors on scouting missions from the Solar System. What these surveyors had found were worlds beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Any planet one could conceive of that was possible under the laws of chemistry and physics had been located and visited by the UESC government, and on these planets were life forms just as diverse. Any life form that anyone could conceive of that was permissible under the laws of physics, chemistry and evolution had been found and cataloged in the Hyperborean databases, and these planets mapped on star charts across the UESC. Aurelia was just the first planet truly identical to Earth that had ever been found. However, this mission did not require the Legion of the Abyssal Sun to leave Earth. They knew precisely where the M-15 anarchists were hiding, and they knew what they needed to do. The UESC Marines and Japanese Home Guard forces saluted the Legionnaires as they walked underneath the cherry trees towards the main hangar bay on the far side of the base, past the huge tarmac where hundreds of gigantic gyrodynes were parked; the one headed to China with the 5 tanks was just getting ready to leave, its massive engines and rotors roaring to life. The enormous statues of Izanami and Izanagi cast their lordly shadows over the base, built on the 180 meter high wall that surrounded the entire Kyoto Urban Area. As the gyrodine lifted into the air, High Captain Odokai watched as it lifted high above the city walls, patrolled by legions of UESC Marines and Japanese Home Guard troops, watching the highways and air lanes that led into the city walls. “Legionnaires, prepare to engage. The anarchist hideout is on the North End of Kyoto, just inside the North Wall. They seldom stray from their bunkers, but thanks the the documents we recovered, we now know their location. Master Ryujin and I will enter the bunkers with a contingent of UESC Marines and Home Guard troops, arrest everyone inside, and find out why they were stealing our secrets…by any means necessary.”

The Legions of the Abyssal Sun walked across the tarmac towards the Mjolnir-class gunships, which would take them directly to the anarchist hideout. As they walked past the gyrodines, they passed by a huge array of radio telescopes, listening for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe and communicating with the other Colonies in the Solar System. Hundreds of outposts had been built on other planets outside the Solar System by the United Earth government jump-ships; the UESC Planetary Survey Corps had stations on hundreds of inhabitable worlds, but there were no cities or infrastructure besides the outposts; the vast majority of humanity still lived within the boundaries of their Solar System. However, the radio telescopes throughout the Solar System served a more interesting purpose as well…they were tuned in to listen for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. So far, the UESC Survey Corps had not encountered any other civilizations, but the radio telescopes had detected various signals that indicated that other intelligent life may have been present somewhere in the Sagittarius Constellation, more than 3,000 light-years from Earth, and much further than humanity had ventured as of that point. The Hyperboreans took the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence very seriously indeed, and were prepared for any eventuality involving contact with any other civilization. Most during the Golden Age believed that contact was only a matter of time, and that it would bring even greater prosperity for the human race. For now, however, the Legion of the Abyssal Sun was focused on a very earthly threat…an anarchist group bent on undermining Legion secrecy. The Legions boarded the gunships parked in a neat row on the tarmac, located between two massive gyrodines near the radio telescope arrays. “Everyone pile in. Take your weapons, Ai Takada, you take the SRS-500, Tsuruka, you take the Umbra. Hamada, Kizu, you take the Ministers, you’re on CQB duty. Marie and I will focus on Voidbending techniques, whereas Odokai’s Legion will fan out when we arrive at the target. They will surround the building, and we will affect entry. This should be very simple.” “That’s what you said last time before the entire Undercity converged on us.” Marie remarked, snidely. “I said it should be simple, not it will be simple. Let’s move.” Shen responded. As the pilots activated the mercury-gyroscope power source aboard the gunships, they quickly lifted into the air with the wonder of antigravity energy technology. Their weapons armed, the three gunships rose above the 180-meter high city wall and flew off to the southwest, joining hundreds of other aircraft flying over the enormous Kyoto Urban Area, completely walled in by the massive, twin-layered city wall that separated the city from the rest of the world. Massive highway lanes went through the city’s gatehouses, allowing millions of vehicles to enter and exit daily. Such was life during the Golden Age in Kyoto, a truly ancient city that had become a modern fortress of technology, military power and human civilization. The Legions looked out the gunship’s open door as the wind blew through the cabin. It was a warm summer day in southern Japan, with temperatures in the mid 20 degree Celsius range, according to the atmospheric monitors aboard the gunships. The gigantic statues of the Japanese pagan gods occasionally blocked out the Sun’s rays, but the Orbis Solaris shined higher in the sky than the Sun did, never moving from its position, a constant fixture of the Golden Age world. “Captain Odokai, what will become of the criminals we find?” Marie asked, as Captain Odokai quietly smoked a cigar. “The same thing that happens to all the Golden Age criminals. They will be sent to Onan I, Onan II or Onan II, three gigantic space prisons; huge space stations designed to be completely escape-proof at the LaGrange points between Earth and the Moon. They will be held there until the Hyperborean UESC decides what to do with them, either place them on trial for their crimes, or simply execute them, ridding the Golden Age of their presence and conserving financial resources, without convening a court for a trial. I personally hope they go straight to the gas chamber. That’s the only thing any criminal deserves, no matter how minor their offense.” Odokai was not bluffing. He was known to administer the death penalty for offenses as minor as traffic violations, simply because he enjoyed watching people die and was extraordinarily high-ranked in the United Earth government structure, often representing Japan in the Hyperborean United Earth Congress in Manhattan in North America. He was also known for his devout worship of Izanami-Sama and her dire children in Yomi, taking the persona of “Father Moonrise” during ritual conjurings, in which many members of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun would congregate in their vast Temples for “nightly sessions” in which Odokai would engage in what was known as “transmortification.” The rumors were that Odokai could use his Voidbending abilities to kill others, and use what life span they had left to extend his own life by as many years as the person he killed had left to live…through his constant executions, he maintained eternal youth and power…however, this was only rumor, as he had already become immune to aging from the Hyperborean augmentations. This was just one of the many stories that was told about High Captain Kira Odokai, Shen’s second in command and a true soldiers’ soldier. He stood more than 12 feet tall like all Hyperboreans, and kept his brown hair combed nicely to one side of his head, with some of it always covering his left eye. He was feared by millions for his brutality, but admired by all who met him. As a Hyperborean, he believed that the strong would always dominate the weak, and those that were considered inferior were destined for destruction…and these anarchists fit that bill nicely.

The gunships flew over various buildings, built with central pillars to avoid earthquake damage, but using the same architecture seen in Tokyo and throughout the Golden Age. Passing below them was the Arch of Solitude, a huge, arch-shaped building occupied by offices and various corporations, but unique because of its unusual shape. This building was also designed by legendary architect John Nuzak, the Hyperborean from North America who also designed the Nuzak Spire. Also present in Kyoto was the Hirotomi Design Bureau headquarters, a massive shipbuilding corporation that was responsible for designing the Ookami-class dreadnaughts and many other starships used by the UESC Navy. Their current project involved working with Kolovrat Drive Yards, the manufacturer of the enormous Perun-class capital ship to design a new class of starship just as large as the Perun-class, but built not to wage war. The planned Chernobog-class research vessel was to use the same hull design as the Perun-class warship and be of the same size, but be built solely for the purpose of research, for the greater good of humanity. Once a fleet of these were constructed, humanity could begin to colonize the thousands of planets scouted and settled by the Survey Corps as easily as the Solar System. Civilization would expand further and further into the Universe, never stopping its inexorable push to the stars. Several prototypes were already on the drawing board, with construction on the first hull beginning in Kolovrat’s gigantic orbital shipyards around Earth’s Moon, just above the Ocean of Storms. The Moon was essentially owned by KDY, most of the land surface on Earth’s Moon had been built up with factories, assembly plants and testing facilities for the starships being built for the UESC; a large portion of Mars was used by Hirotomi Design Bureau as well…one thing that space had a lot of was space. The might of the Hyperborean Race was about to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting Universe…starting with Aurelia, the Earth-analog about 6 light-years from Earth…and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun was to play a large part in leading the charge.

The gunships flew past many other small aircraft, powered by the same antigravity lift technology that powered all aircraft during the Golden Age, via mercury spinning in a gyroscope, generating a lift and an endless, free source of energy. Most electricity was generated via gyroscopic or magnetic technology, either by using mercury or superconductors to generate massive amounts of power at little to no cost. The massive starships used zero-point energy, generated by nanoscale harvesting of gamma radiation and other high-frequency sources already present in space. Their warp drives functioned by accelerating the ships to near the speed of light, and then warping space and time in such a way that the laws of time and space were negated. This was accomplished by simply accelerating to near light speed, and taking advantage of the relativistic loopholes created by a large mass traveling at that speed, which was only possible following the invention of mercury power and nanoscale energy sources. Such technology was made possible by the same Nanoscale Revolution that had allowed humanity to augment their own evolution, creating the Hyperborean Race, as well as many other technologies. The invention of nanoscale technology was the most monumental invention since the Industrial Revolution, and had now become part of every aspect of human society, along with computers, mercury power and superconductors. Marie stared out the open door at the cityscape passing far below her. As the other vehicles zoomed past the gunships, she thought about what the Legion of the Abyssal Sun was truly doing to Japan and the human race, and just how different their outlook on life was compared to Europe’s and North America’s. Even in an era of united Earth government, national identities were as different as night and day, even though everyone answered to the same authority in Manhattan…all except the M-15 anarchist group, who were hell-bent on disrupting the order and peace of the Golden Age. Somehow, Marie knew that there was far more to this anarchist group than was immediately apparent, especially with the way Countess Toni had appeared to them in Tokyo through her Hyperspace Meditation, an extraordinarily complex Voidbending technique that only a few Hyperboreans were able to perform. The technique involved distorting the atoms around a given area on the quantum level, creating illusions, wormholes and other relativistic anomalies that gave the conjurer physics-defying powers, such as the ability to appear through an illusion from across the Universe, as Toni had done in the Tokyo Undercity. Masters of Hyperspace Meditation could teleport anywhere in the Universe, traverse Quantum Space without a starship or warp drive, and manipulate space and time as freely as God Himself. Toni had also mastered the esoteric art of Sunslinging, using the energy contained within stars to conjure immense rays of cosmic radiation, another very rare Voidbending technique…Marie did not doubt that Countess Toni was somehow involved with the M-15 as well…but why? What was she planning? She was Marie’s chief rival, but even this behavior from her was unusual and very intense. She had definitely upped the ante since their last meeting in Paris, and the reason for this was unknown and deeply troubling for Marie. She knew very well what Countess Toni was capable of, and did not want to test her in any way, shape or form. However, it appeared that she did have an agenda in all of this besides her rivalry with Marie…Marie was just going to have to find out what that agenda was.

The gunships made a hard turn around a spire from one of the many skyscrapers in the Kyoto Urban Area and headed for the less-developed part of the city, near the Southwest Bulwark, on the inner wall. This area housed the less-wealthy of Kyoto’s residents, though the accommodations were still clean and sanitary. The Golden Age health codes demanded it. Somewhere down below lay the M-15 base of operations, and the Legion of the Abyssal Sun prepared for engagement, loading their weapons and preparing for combat. Marie, Shen and Odokai focused their Voidbending abilities and readied their Hallucination Nano-Swords, preparing for any eventuality once they reached the enemy stronghold. Perhaps Marie would finally get to see if the transmortification rumors surrounding Odokai were true or not…if he really did kill his enemies and use their remaining life span to feed his own energy. Such techniques were theoretically possible with Voidbending, but had never been reliably demonstrated by any Hyperborean. If the rumors were true, High Captain Kira Odokai was the only individual known to have mastered Voidbending transmortification…Marie would soon see for herself. “All right everyone, we’re approaching the target in 15 seconds. Upon disembarkation, we stick to the plan. Move out, keep your weapons and wits about you, and we shall quell this rabble without incident.” Shen Ryujin instructed, drawing his Nano-Sword into the ready position. Ai Takada loaded her SRS-500 high-powered assassin rifle; this weapon fired a brutally powerful iridium-potassium sabot that reacted chemically with its target’s flesh, often spontaneously combusting its target upon impact. The round was instantly lethal, no matter where it hit the target. Kizu and Hamada’s Minister-class scatter-shot guns were the ultimate close-quarters plasma weapons, reducing targets to cinders instantaneously, and the standard Umbra pulse rifles and AL-779 plasma rifles were their usual effective selves. Several of the Legionnaires from Odokai’s platoon carried Grinder-class homing rocket launchers, one of the most powerful man-portable weapons in the UESC arsenal. The Legions disembarked directly outside the target building, a run-down satellite uplink station in the Southwest Sector of the Kyoto Urban Area. The massive city wall loomed high overhead, casting an enormous shadow over the city in the afternoon sun. Birds circled overhead, calling to each other searching for rubbish and food scraps on the city streets as the Legions made their way towards the building. The gunships rapidly sped off, leaving the Legions about 150 yards from the building’s entrance…the place was eerily deserted. There were no guards opening fire on them, no hostile defenses to contend with…perhaps the intelligence that Program Forty gave back at Sakura Fortress was incorrect? “I don’t like this…this place is deserted. If they were here, they must have packed up and left in a hurry…but how would they know that we were coming?” Captain Odokai wondered. “Well, Captain, if they hacked our systems, then they might have been aware of our movements. They’re using our own technology against us.” Ryujin responded. “So, what do we do? It’s your call, Shen.” Marie asked, standing beside Master Ryujin. “We continue with our objective. Something tells me that they are here…someone has beaten us to them.” Shen’s hunch led to the ugly realization that they might be walking into a mercenary deal gone bad, with another criminal group moving in and slaughtering the M-15 anarchists for an unknown reason. If Shen’s scenario was correct, the Legions were walking into a huge firefight. There was only one way to find out.

The Legions moved with the swiftness of a hurricane, quickly surrounding the building and breaching the doors with their weapons. “STAND DOWN!! EVERYONE OUT WITH YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!!” High Captain Odokai stormed in holding his Nano-Sword, his hands crackling with Voidbending energy…he was met with a deafening chorus of eerie, desolate silence. Something had clearly happened here…the building was completely trashed. Doors were ripped off their hinges, couches flipped end over end, papers shredded and scattered about haphazardly on the floor, all discombobulated and destroyed as if struck by an extraordinary force…the building looked as if it had been subjected to an explosion. It looked like Shen’s hunch was right. Someone had already put this bunker through the meat grinder…and the evidence was all over the place. The bodies of the M-15 anarchists lay strewn about the satellite uplink room, their limbs torn from their torsos, their heads mangled and bloodied…more evidence of an explosion…but what caused the blast? Bizarrely, despite the obvious signs of an explosion, there was no fire damage. No scoring, no burn marks, nothing. It was as if a gigantic airburst had annihilated the interior of the bunker…without disturbing the exterior of the building. “Marie…there is only one force in the known Universe that can produce an effect such as this…a Sunslinging technique called a Heat Burst. The caster, by heating the atmosphere around a given point of space and time to a very high temperature for only a millisecond. This creates an enormous, localized airburst explosion that leaves no heat damage, because the extreme heat doesn’t last long enough to burn anything.” “There is only one individual that I know of that could create such an effect…but why? Why only now is she doing all of this? Her actions make no sense, Countess Toni is following our every move. “Can you think of no reason?” Shen asked Marie. “There is one…but it’s just too horrifying to think about her actually attempting. It involves Countess Toni’s own interperetation of the Mithraic texts…let me explain this to you in the best way I can. Countess Toni is a monster, a hideous beast worse than any dream. Her ideology is one of power, depravity, desperation and hate, one that craves bloodshed, violence and chaos. She once wrote a treatise on the Mithraic Mysteries called the “Grand Papers of Eternal Mysteries,” in which she described society as a Gestalt, a living, breathing entity that suffers tremendously under the weight of humanity. Our society, she claims, is masochistic, it seeks pain because it needs someone or something to vilify. Humans are an extraordinarily violent species. The Gestalt condemns violence, but secretly worships it, because it needs someone to blame for all of its pain. It needs the pain, and craves it to satiate the droning masses, uneducated and chomping at the teeth for revenge against those that cause harm to others…this principle of Societal Self-Mutliation explains crime and punishment in Toni’s eyes, and she fervently feeds off of this bloodshed, growing in power as she manipulates those around her, like pawns in a gigantic chess game, murdering hundreds and preserving the lives of those she sees as worthy of life. She claims she is only acting within the laws of nature, and fulfilling her duties as Lord Protector of the City of Rome by conducting vicious human sacrifices, mass-murder and hideous torture, both psychological and physical. She has a particularly nasty habit of mutilating women’s bodies, often rendering them infertile, raping them or performing hysterectomies on them with horrendously gory, brutal acts of violence. She claims these women deserve it, for they have proven by their actions that they are unworthy of the right to reproduce or even live as free citizens. Many are enslaved in black-market sex shops or sentenced to a life of humiliation and psychological torment. These women are not prostitutes, they are slaves in the same sense that black people and Native Americans were once slaves…except their only task is to entertain wealthy male guests with sexual acts.

The second aspect of Countess Toni’s philosophy involves the Mithraic energies themselves, Voidbending and Sunslinging. This is the so-called “Seven Doctrines of Insanity,” these represent the different parts of the Gestalt’s body, the Head, Arms, Legs, Nose, Ears, Eyes and Voice. She sees the Universe on less of a universal scale and more of a personal, deep psychological one, represented by the Phantasmagoria Grimoire, an impossibly-complex drawing of a crucified human figure representing the Gestalt impaled on an elaborate seven-pointed Sunwheel, each with a European pagan rune emblazoned at each point. There is no way to describe the Sunwheel as anything except evil. It is horrifying, it has an effect on you that cannot be described…it can only be felt, and once you feel it, it scars you forever. There is something so terrifying about Mithraism that it can literally scare people to death…I would not be surprised if these men perished from fright as well as the explosion caused by Toni’s Voidbending. Her interpretations of the religion are that the only thing that drives humanity to do anything is passion…pure, raw, savage, unmitigated passion. Unrestricted and unbound, our passions empower us, they empower us to break the bounds of the physical and create masterpieces…That is Countess Toni. I hope you Legionnaires understand what you are up against. She is far more powerful than any of you, and she’s just toying with us now…I grow concerned that her ‘games’ might grow more dangerous.”

“Well, with all due respect, Marie, I fear no one, especially not someone who could never understand the power that we channel through our worship of Izanami-Sama and her dire children. Toni’s Mithraic sun-worship cannot hope to equal the power created by our rituals. Come, let us continue onward.” High Captain Odokai said. “We need to find out what Countess Toni was looking for.” Suddenly, Shen Ryujin spotted a digital document on a flickering computer screen with a long list of names and contact signatures…however, these names and descriptions were all very unfamiliar: “Dorzet: grows to a maximum height of 0.5 meters, has visited Earth more than 250 times to meet with Hyperborean Congress. They come from Cassiopeia, where they have two home-planets. They are predatory and warlike, have threatened the Hyperborean United Earth government many times should they ever expand into their territory. Their species is 4 billion years old. They are violent because it is a matter of survival for them, they have been in a constant state of war for nearly 2 billion years.” Another entry read as follows: “Dreyes: Their height is around 2.5 meters with a very complex skull structure. They have met with the Hyperborean Congress more than 20 times, often carrying out human abductions which they use for breeding slaves, having abducted at least 500 males and females of the human race. They come from a planet orbiting the third star in the constellation Cetus. They have two home-planets and have colonized 40 more with the help of their slaves, and ten of those planets were taken with the use of force. They lead a sort of covenant with three other races, and eat mostly animal protein derived products. According to Hyperborean intelligence, they are not mentally or spiritually prepared to interact with other races, and thus treat them very harshly. The Hyperboreans imposed massive restictions on their aggression towards other races and demanded that the human breeders be returned, but to little success. Their home planet’s composition is similar to Earth. They are said to be preparing to reveal themselves to humanity at large in just a few short years.” Still another entry described something different: “Elohim: They come from the constellation Grus, near the star Alnair, and one of the most peaceful races known to the Hyperboreans. They co-created the Alliance of Five, which works with the Hyperborean United Earth government in protecting the human race from any threat, natural or artificial. Five races make up this Alliance, meeting with Hyperborean leaders in secret locations throughout the Solar System to discuss issues in various sectors of the galaxy and the Universe at large. The Council of Five and the Hyperboreans are represented by the phrase: ‘Five Universes, Many Species, One Race.” The Council’s last meeting with Countess Toni was to discuss the Dreyes’ purchasing more than 55 slave-girls from Toni’s operations.” As the Legion of the Abyssal Sun continued to read through the document, a startling picture emerged with every new entry and image uncovered: “Afflaf: They come from the constellation Bootes, near Asellus Primus. They resemble the “Greys,” but are not genetically related. This species has 4 different sexes, and they are known to be benevolent. They have visited Earth several times, but their purpose in doing so is not fully understood by the United Earth government and the Intelligence Directory. They seem to have a special interest in raw materials from Earth and Mars, prompting the Hyperboreans to set up trade agreements with them on an annual basis.” Still another entry described a different race: “The Alliance of the Five: It is composed of the following races: Aurena, Esarion, Givu, Reidun, Elohim. Very little is known about these enigmatic protectors of the Universe outside of a few senior members of the Hyperborean government, including Countess Toni. It is generally agreed that the tall, blonde, human-like Elohim is the most important race, not only to the Council but to all known nonhuman races in the Universe. The Felis of the star Aandor and the Dreyes are in agreement that the Elohim are the only race in the Universe that they truly fear, and thus would not declare war on the human race and the Council of Five. The Solipsi Rai, or “Greys,” worship the Elohim as gods, and are terrified of the human race’s war machines, acting as the muscle behind the Council’s will. The Council has been protecting Earth for millions of years, long before humans had even evolved. They monitored human evolution since primordial times, when humanity was nothing more than a single-celled marine organism, and throughout all natural evolution, when humans became primate-like and beyond, but only after the Anunakene, or Annunaki interference did the Council take a genuine interest in forging alliances with Earth and the human species.” After that entry, there were pages and pages of hacked documents describing hundreds of other alien races, from all corners of the Universe. What the M-15 anarchists had found, and what Countess Toni was desperate to protect, was knowledge that the United Earth government was actually part of a thriving intergalactic community, but one that was largely kept secret from the public and everyone except the senior members of the Hyperborean government. What the M-15 Anarchists planned to do with this knowledge was unknown, but perhaps they were planning a strike against the so-called “Alliance of Five” and the United Earth government, the “Sixth Race” within the Alliance. At this moment, both Shen Ryujin and High Captain Odokai looked at each other and nodded their heads. “This is just as I feared…” Ryujin said, turning to the rest of the Hyperboreans behind him. “Captain Odokai and I had strict orders from the Hyperborean Council in Manhattan not to tell any of you about this, but it appears that the M-15 anarchists were trying to instigate a war between the Alliance and the Dreyes race. For many hundreds of years, the Dreyes have been a military force to reckon with, building a military on par with that of the Alliance of Five and the United Earth government. However, the Dreyes, despite their military force, are extraordinarily paranoid. Their aggression towards other races is based in fear, fear that if they do not pacify the other races first, those races will rise to squash their society later. They are constantly issuing threats against the Alliance and the United Earth government but never make good on any of them, simply because they fear the consequences of starting an interstellar war, which could completely engulf the entire galaxy. The Dreyes do, however, purchase human slaves from various sources, namely Countess Toni in her ‘cleansing’ efforts from Rome…something the Orbis Solaris allows but the Elohim and the rest of the Alliance find troubling. Based on these documents that we recovered, it appears that the M-15 anarchists were planning to launch a wave of violent terrorism on various planets throughout the Solar System and outposts on many extrasolar worlds, all of which would be blamed on the Dreyes to justify a war with their civilization. Looks like Countess Toni foiled that plan for us.” Shen explained. “Shen, does this ‘Alliance of Five’ ever come to Earth?” “Yes, many times a year. I have met the Emperor of the Elohim Imperium many times in the Congress Hall of Manhattan, he stands as tall as a Hyperborean, with long, willowy blonde hair and shining blue-green eyes, with various tattoos on his face arranged in an elaborate design. His outfits are equally elaborate, but practical all the same. The Elohim have three home planets in Orion’s Belt, Elyndir, Torna and Matoi. Their society is extraordinarily conservative, and they demand to be treated as gods by all those they see as inferior. The other four races are just as imperious; the Aurena look like giant, bipedal crayfish wearing elaborate robes and uniforms, they speak in a garbling, gurgling language and are master mechanics and weaponsmiths, designing many weapons and starships often seen by United Earth Space Corps vessels in deep space transit. They originate from a planet called Traxus, near the star Antares. The Esarion come from a very dark, shadowy world, and thus lack pigment in their skin. They stand about 9 feet tall, with bald heads and cat-like, unblinking eyes. They wear very luxurious outfits made from a type of silken wool from an animal native to their home planet of Umbra in the constellation Vega, and communicate telepathically, as their vocal chords are extraordinarily underdeveloped. The Esarion are masters of manipulation and diplomacy, serving as the diplomatic arm of the Alliance and some of the most skillful negotiators in the Universe. Their starships look like angular black pyramids flying through space. The Givu are tall, lordly, slender beings with gray skin and reddish-brown outfits, often using walking sticks or canes to support their slender frames in Earth’s stronger gravitational pull. Their planet, called Orsod, is smaller than Earth but very similar in chemical composition, and located in the Cygnus Constellation. Lastly, the Reidun are roughly human sized, but vaguely resemble the Esarion, only their skin contains pigment and their eyes can be many different colors. Their home planet, Callian, is in the constellation Orion, near the third star in Orion’s Belt. Combined with the overwhelming might of the Elohim and the United Earth government, this ‘Alliance of Six,’ as it is sometimes referred to when including the United Earth government, is the most powerful force in the known Universe. The Dreyes would be very rash indeed to attack us.” “What should be our next course of action, Master Ryujin?” Captain Odokai asked. “We must contact the rest of the Alliance, and tell them that there has been a breach of security. This, according to UESC protocol, can only be done from Manhattan, the capital of the United Earth government. I believe that the current issue the Alliance is facing is the recent renewal of hostilities between the Dorzet and their ancient rivals, the Evosii. Their wars have never reached beyond the constellation Cassiopeia, but without constant Alliance monitoring, conflicts involving the Dorzet could easily spiral out of control. The UESC and Alliance fleets are prepared to intervene if necessary, but we’d rather not get involved. The Dorzet do not like outsiders and, unlike the Dreyes, are not afraid to declare all-out war on other civilizations. Intervening militarily would ignite a full-fledged interstellar conflict. We must contact Manhattan as soon as possible, but the satellite array in this bunker has been damaged beyond repair. We will have to return to Sakura Fortress and use the arrays there.” “Very well then, Master Ryujin. Come, Legionnaires, our work here has already been done for us. Marie, you have your rival to thank for that.” “Thanks, but I could have handled this rabble by myself, thank you.” Marie remarked, snidely.

The Legions walked back outside the silent bunker, leaving the shattered corpses of the M-15 anarchists where they lay. Suddenly, the stakes had grown much, much higher. Humanity was far from being alone in the Universe, and played a vital role in exopolitics as a member of the Alliance of Six, the guardians of peace and justice in the Universe…and the M-15 anarchist hack attacks represented a serious breach of Alliance security. “This is Captain Odokai to Gunship Wing Delta-Four-Two…we’ve got a problem. Return to the extraction point and bring us back to Sakura Fortress, we must contact the Hyperborean Congress in Manhattan.” “Understood. Returning to exfil point.” The gunship pilots made their way back to the bunker…just as a platoon of M-15 reinforcements arrived on the scene. “Weapons free!” Shen Ryujin ordered, as the Legions of the Abyssal Sun opened fire on the enemy contacts in a blazing torrent of plasma fire. Ryujin, Marie and Odokai cast a gigantic pulse of static-purple Void energy directly at the M-15 anarchists, vaporizing them immediately and generating multiple orbs of light where the enemies once stood, their bodies reduced to pure energy. In only a few seconds, the M-15 anarchists were completely annihilated. “Hostiles neutralized. We won’t be seeing much of them anymore.” As the Legions’ weapons cooled, the two gunships swooped in again and made a low pass over the bunker, in the shadow of the massive retaining wall that surrounded Kyoto. “Get aboard, guys. We’re back to Sakura Fortress in ten.” The Legions boarded the gunships as they lifted high into the air, bound for Sakura Fortress. No one said anything about the Alliance of Six, for that was on a need-to-know basis. The information regarding the situation between the Dorzet and Evosii, as well as the breach of secrecy surrounding humanity’s membership to the Alliance was too sensitive for the UESC gunship pilots to know about…unless they were deployed on a hostile world for peacekeeping operations. The Hyperborean Congress in Manhattan would be informed of the breach, and then they would contact the rest of the Alliance regarding the issue. For now, however, everyone was silent on the issue as the gunship raced back to Sakura Fortress, past the massive skyscrapers and other structures that populated the Kyoto Urban Area. As the towering structure of Sakura Fortress rose high in the Legions’ field of vision, they were anxious to contact Manhattan about the issues in Kyoto. The fortress’ massive satellite arrays were armed and ready to send messages anywhere in the Universe, on the far end of the enormous airfield, past the hundreds of massive gyrodines and fixed-wing aircraft that sat parked on the tarmac.

The gunships landed right next to the satellite bunkers; the Legions promptly disembarked and swiftly entered the bunker, activating the array’s communication systems. “This is Master Shen Ryujin of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun to the Mahanttan Hyperborean Congress. There has been a breach of confidentiality and security regarding the United Earth government’s membership to the Alliance of Six, the breach was considerable, but the data has been recovered and the offenders dispatched. We recommend informing the rest of the Alliance under Protocol 12 immediately. I’m sure Emperor Elyndir would want to hear about this.” “Understood, Master Ryujin. We will inform the remainder of the Alliance homeworlds of this breach, and we will act accordingly. The situation with the Dorzet and Evosii is deteriorating by the day, and the Alliance is considering military action to pacify the warring factions in Cassiopeia. This conflict was started by a rogue Dorzet faction on one of their home planets who believed that their ancient enemies, the Evosii, were planning to annihilate their planet. They engineered a wave of violent terrorism against their own population, various Evosii leaders were framed for attacks they did not commit, and all of this was blamed on the Evosii leadership by the Dorzet to justify a renewal of hostilities. The Alliance’s mission would be to locate the rogue Dorzet faction and eliminate them, therefore exposing the plot and negotiating an end to the conflict before it expands beyond the constellation Cassiopeia. Keep in mind that many UESC Marines, Home Guard troops and Hyperboreans would need to be deployed to that location in the event the Alliance approves of military action. Be prepared for the call, Master Ryujin.” “Understood.” Marie turned to Shen and looked at him with a serene, concerned gaze. “Shen, did they just imply that you might be deployed to intervene in the Cassiopeia conflict?” “The UESC as of now is not taking any official action, but if the Alliance of Six decides that military intervention is required, yes, I will be joining the UESC task force, along with the rest of the Alliance, dispatched to Cassiopeia to quell the ongoing war between the Dorzet and the Evosii. We cannot risk that conflict spreading to other corners of the Universe, especially involving other, benevolent races, such as the Aflaff and Solipsi Rai, who have very few means of defending themselves, despite their technology. The Alliance is their defense. Manhattan, what is the position of the Dreyes Covenant on this issue?” “The position of the Dreyes is unchanging from every other conflict that the Alliance has sought to mediate. They will not commit any resources or military forces to assist us, and remain deeply mistrusting of the Alliance’s intentions. It seems the Dreyes would rather watch the Universe burn than assist anyone with anything, let alone the Alliance of Six. We are the greatest authority in the known Universe. That level of power comes with some imposing clout. I believe the Dreyes Covenant fears us greatly, but is too afraid to admit it.” “I agree. They will act only when they feel the time is right. Hopefully, they will take the side of peace and not further instigate the Cassiopeia conflict. Ryujin out.” Shen Ryujin disconnected the communications suite with Manhattan. “Alright everyone…this is major. The Alliance of Six is considering military action against the Cassiopeia Conflict, whether or not we go to war depends on the position of the Dreyes Covenant. If they agree to keep their noses out of the Dorzet and Evosii’s business, our involvement is all but assured…and as the top military commander in the Hyperborean ranks, I will likely be asked to lead the Alliance of Six task force into battle. This means that I will not be able to accompany you to Aurelia, Marie. Duty must come before companionship. My UESC Marines and Japanese Home Guard troops, outfitted with their combat exoskeleton armor and the run of Golden-Age weaponry will not fail me in this mission. The enemies will know the taste of defeat at the hands of the Alliance of Six. We are the most powerful authority in the Universe. It’s high time we use that authority to our advantage.” Marie couldn’t believe it. The United Earth government and its Alliance of Six allies were preparing to intervene in a conflict light-years away, and Ryujin was being tasked with leading the charge. “Well, if that is your duty, I shall miss you on my voyage to Aurelia, Shen.” Marie said, trying to remain professional. “Our Marines will join the Alliance of Six military forces on the battlefields of Cassiopeia, and when they do, their enemies will know the taste of defeat.” Shen said, drawing his Nano-Sword and placing it back in its scabbard. “Master Ryujin speaks very highly of the UESC Marine Corps, an evolution of the United States Marine Corps after the creation of the United Earth government. They are the Iron of the Spear, the brute force of the Alliance of Six, the other five races focus more on diplomacy than military might, but the Elohim and the Esarion, the master diplomats and negotiators, see our military might as immensely valuable. Between the Elohim’s technological wonders and the United Earth government’s military power, as well as the other four races’ unique strengths and abilities, the Alliance of Six is a truly Universal authority, challenged only by the Dreyes Covenant.” High Captain Odokai explained. “The UESC Marines and the various Home Guard forces operated by various nations within the United Earth government all wear top of the line exoskeleton combat suits, as you have seen all over Sakura Fortress. These suits give ordinary soldiers extraordinary abilities, such as the ability to run faster, jump higher, lift heavier objects and move quicker than any other soldiers before them. Their exo suits are equipped with many features, such as jump packs, maneuvering thrusters, active camouflage, stim-packs and noise-cancelling software, allowing them to move silently and nearly invisibly across the battlefield. Our soldiers are like walking tanks, only more lethal, and are armed with all the latest Golden Age weaponry the UESC has to offer. The Russian, Chinese and Japanese outfit their Home Guard forces with even more armor variants than the standard UESC exo suit has, often deploying them alongside regular UESC forces for peacekeeping operations. I guarantee various units of the Russian, Chinese and Japanese Home Guard will accompany us to Cassiopeia to act as special forces units.” Odokai said, briefing the Legions on the next course of action. “In preparation for the potential military action on behalf of the Alliance of Six, I believe our next course of action would be to travel to Manhattan in North America and meet with the Alliance leaders, I’m sure Emperor Annon Erlismord of the Elohim Imperium will be waiting to brief us on the plan of action.” “Then I suggest we leave at once. The United Earth Congress in Manhattan does not appreciate tardiness.” Shen warned. Marie couldn’t believe it. She had traveled from Paris to Tokyo, fought alongside the Legion of the Abyssal Sun against criminals in the Tokyo undercity, and was now about to go to Manhattan to meet with the Alliance of Six leadership to discuss possible military action against an interstellar conflict taking place in the constellation Cassiopeia. It was all part of being Hyperborean, especially one with such a high rank as Marie De La Croix. The Hyperboreans were and entirely separate race of humanity, born from nanoscale and genetic modifications to the human genome, they were Homo cosmicus, the Cosmic Man, infinitely superior to Homo sapiens in every way possible, and the rulers of the United Earth government, under the light of the Orbis Solaris, a gift from the Cosmos itself. There was no need to return to Kansai Aerospaceport; the Legions of the Abyssal Sun would depart for Manhattan directly from Sakura Fortress, Marie’s hypersonic transport plane could remain docked at Kansai for as long as she needed it there. “I’ll request a hypersonic transport be prepared for our departure to New York Metropolitan Spaceport at once. Our ultimate destination is the United Earth Congress Hall, near the site of the old United Nations building. However, we can take a Hover Train directly across the Hudson River from the NYMS in Newark, New Jersey. You think Tokyo is enormous? Wait until you see the New York Metropolitan Area, it covers an area of nearly 500 miles in each direction…all centered around Manhattan. This city is practically a nation in itself, and the only place where the Alliance of Six meets to discuss intergalactic politics, and we are going to the very heart of the human race. Manhattan, the City of Emperors.” “I have only been to Manhattan three times in my career as Lord Protector of Paris, but I am awestruck by the city every time I visit. Even I have never met with the Alliance of Six, this will be a first for me.” “Well, we’ll discuss the formalities of meeting with other five races when we arrive. For now, let us prepare for our trip.” Shen reassured.

High Captain Odokai gave the order for an Atlas-class hypersonic aircraft to be prepared for immediate departure, this vehicle could take off and land vertically and accelerate to hypersonic speeds, though it was not capable of flying in space. The huge aircraft was parked on the tarmac in front of its hangar, with its tail marked with the sinister Japanese Staghorn Rune, with the prayers of Izanami-Sama emblazoned upon its fuselage. This plane was an official transport of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, painted steel gray with a black stripe along its fuselage. Inside, the plane contained everything necessary for the Legion of the Abyssal Sun to conduct its operations from the air. There were at least 6 of these aircraft in use by the Legion, the exact number was classified by the UESC Intelligence Bureau; the planes had AWACS capabilities, life support systems, radiation shielding and even their own weapons systems, capable of waging cyber and conventional warfare on a Solar System-wide scale from the skies of Earth. However, cyber warfare would be of little use against the enemies in Cassiopeia, at least until their computer codes could be cracked. This plane was only to be used as a transport to Manhattan. Shen and Odokai led Marie and the Legions of the Abyssal Sun past a group of UESC Marines and Japanese Home Guard troops, clad in their exo suits and holding their Umbra pulse rifles and AL-779 static plasma rifles at attention. “At ease, men. We are taking a leave of absence from the base, for the duration of that absence, General Matsumuri is in charge of Sakura Fortress.” “SIR, YES SIR!” The Marines responded. The Legion of the Abyssal Sun proceeded to their transport jet parked at the end of the tarmac at a brisk pace, walking in unison as one unit, it was part of their training to consider themselves one entity, and that sacrificing oneself was expected if it benefited the good of the whole. The enormous aircraft was parked on the tarmac between a row of blooming cherry trees, their petals slowly falling in the wind’s gentle caress. Kyoto was still Kyoto, even during the Golden Age. As the Legion marched up the gangplank, Marie took one last look at the vast Kyoto Urban Area and thought about all those people that the Legion of the Abyssal Sun had killed, simply because they did not conform to the accepted ways of Golden-Age Japanese society. Were they all criminals? Doubtful, given Kira Odokai’s brutality and habit of enslaving non-Japanese women on the black market. Still, it was a valuable experience for Marie to come to Japan with Shen, for she now knew that he was far, far more complicated a person than she had ever thought. On the one hand, he acted as the guiding light for an entire nation of people, on the other hand, he was a bloodthirsty murderer, and his government had committed nothing short of a genocide against those it considered to be criminal. Yet, he had never let so much as a hand on Marie, and had protected her from her own enemies, namely Countess Toni…He had been her only companion for much of her career, as, outside of the spotlight for her fashion design empire, Marie preferred to keep to herself, keeping only a very small group of close associates around her at all times, and Shen had become one of them. However, he had his own agenda and his own duties, and Marie couldn’t get in his way when it came to accomplishing them. Marie took one last look at Kyoto as the gangplank retracted and the doors sealed behind them, with the Legionnaires taking their seats in the Atlas-class hypersonic aircraft’s windowless, LCD-display cabin, displaying crystal-clear images of the scene outside the aircraft. The UESC crew tasked with flying the plane made sure everything was set for takeoff; for all the advanced technology in the Golden Age, the instruments the plane used were surprisingly low-tech, and this was not without purpose. Low-tech was less likely to fail in an emergency, and the primary purpose of the Legion’s Atlas-class fleet was to give them a place to safely operate during times of emergency and crisis. For such an aircraft as this, this was a surprisingly mundane mission. The Atlas jet’s engines roared to life on the tarmac, the plane’s VTOL thursters pivoting into position as the sleek, steel-gray aircraft performed its final checks before lifting off. As the plane slowly lifted into the air with the help of scramjets and mercury-gyroscope levitation, the Legions buckled themselves into their seats for takeoff. The enormous jet reached an altitude of 4,000 feet, high above Sakura Fortress and the massive statues of the Japanese pagan gods surrounding Kyoto’s Outer Walls before firing its scramjet engines, rocketing away from Kyoto at blistering speed, its mercury-gyroscope and scramjet power sources firing on all cylinders. As the Legions left Japan behind, New York, the Capital of the United Earth government beckoned them…as did the Alliance of Six. Nobody knew what to expect from the Alliance meeting in Manhattan, but Shen believed that the Legion of the Abyssal Sun would be called to war against the Dorzet and Evosii in the Cassiopeia conflict. He could feel it in his bones that the Elohim thirsted for bloodshed against the troublemaking races in the Cassiopeia constellation, and that the entire Alliance would likely be called to arms against the Dorzet and Evosii. Such a mass-mobilization of Alliance forces would doubtlessly unnerve the Dreyes Covenant, perhaps even drawing them into the conflict, although that was highly unlikely. Still, the prospect of an interstellar war loomed large in everyone aboard the transport’s minds. They would just have to wait and see when they arrived.

                    1. Alliance at War

“Shen, do you ever worry about the fate of the Alliance? Of Earth and all its allies? I mean, the Alliance is the greatest force in the known Universe, that’s not counting what we don’t know about.” Marie asked Shen as the Atlas-class hypersonic jet streaked across the Pacific Ocean. “Sometimes. However, I believe that the Alliance is strong enough to withstand any threat, known or unknown. Our technology is the most advanced in the known Universe, and we use it to great effect. There is nothing that our Alliance cannot accomplish.” “But, don’t you ever worry about the Cornucopia Effect?” “The belief that technology can solve all problems is a dangerous pitfall for less-developed societies, however the Alliance has long since matured past that stage. We know how to solve our problems, even ones that technology alone cannot solve.” Shen and Marie discussed the purpose of technology while the rest of the Legion busied itself with activities to pass the time on the plane. Staring at the LCD screens depicting the skies outside, Marie thought to herself about what Shen had just said. The Alliance of Six was clearly a highly sophisticated alliance of six separate societies working together as one, but even it was subjected to the same pitfalls that less-developed societies often encountered, such as technological hubris and the belief that no matter what problems the society faced, technology would always provide a solution, even a temporary one. The Alliance’s reliance on its extraordinarily sophisticated technology was likely its biggest weakness, though according to the Alliance Intelligence Department, headquartered in Manhattan but with field offices in Sakura Fortress in Kyoto and the Temple of the Sun in Kansai, the Alliance had no record of any spacefaring civilization that did not use technology similar to that used by the Alliance. The M-15 anarchists had apparently hacked into the Alliance database of nonhuman sentient species and attempted to disclose to the general public the fact that the United Earth government was just one part of a much grander civilization spread out across the known Universe and consisting of six separate races, however, Countess Toni had put an end to those ambitions. The knowledge of the Alliance’s existence was on a need-to-know basis, though the frequency of UFO sightings around UESC ships in deep space made it very obvious to most observers that the human race was not alone. From this perspective, the M-15 anarchists were not so much criminals, but truth-seekers attempting to reveal a truly incredible truth to the general public. However, the United Earth government was having none of it. There would be no disclosure to the general public. Ever.

Marie sat back in her seat and perused through a digital magazine on a small hologram datapad, She saw several of her company’s latest designs featured in the advertisements, along with Countess Toni’s wild, bizarre and stunning designs that rivaled even the greatest 16th-century formal outfit. “I guess it takes a true psychopath to design something like that…” Marie said to herself, looking at Countess Toni’s new fashion line. Just then, the PA system aboard the plane beeped. “Attention passengers, we are approximately halfway across the Pacific Ocean, it will be another three hours before we arrive in New York.” Such was the wonder of hypersonic travel; the Atlas-class hypersonic jet could cross the Pacific Ocean in just two hours flying at Mach 22. The flight from Kyoto to New York would take just a little more than three hours at that speed, something that Marie and the Legions of the Abyssal Sun were very glad to be able to enjoy. The plane was flying at more than 150,000 feet above the ocean, so high that the curvature of the Earth was easily noticeable. “Shen, do you fear what awaits you if you are deployed to Cassiopeia?” Marie asked, quietly. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. However, I have been in combat so many times that it’s more of a nervous feeling now than genuine fear. You eventually get used to it.” Shen remarked, dryly. “However, those were all human enemies here in our Solar System. You’d be up against enemies that neither understand you or care a thing about the human race in general. They are not of the same species.” “All the easier to kill them then. It’s easier to kill something when you don’t think of it as human.” Shen responded. “I know for a fact that the Dorzet stand only half a meter tall, and are green, six-legged and scaly with oddly-shaped reptilian-insectoid skulls. Their main strategy is to attack in numbers with high-powered plasma weaponry. Alone, they are defenseless. Their social structure resembles that of an ant colony, which explains their extreme aggressive behavior towards other species, namely their chief rivals, the moth-like Evosii. The Evosii also have six legs but are much larger, are power-white with six eyes and huge moth-like wings. They travel in huge interstellar spacecraft and also have a eusocial caste system, much like the Dorzet. If the Dorzet are like army ants, then the Evosii are like bogong moths, they swarm in massive numbers, relying on the sheer size of their fleets to overwhelm their enemies. These two alien Empires have been in a constant state of war for nearly two billion years, and their technology is focused solely on making war with each other. The latest Alliance intel suggests that they have some weapons that can scarcely be believed, and if they are given a chance to deploy these weapons against each other, this conflict could cost trillions of lives across the Universe, something that the Alliance of Six desperately wants to prevent. That is our job in being sent to Cassiopeia, to negotiate an end to the fighting for now, so no, I am not fearful of the outcome.” Shen responded to Marie’s question of fear. “These weapons that the Dorzet and Evosii possess, what is the nature of their technology?” “According to the Elohim scout ships currently patrolling the outskirts of the Cassiopeia constellation, their weapons are far more powerful than anything the Alliance is authorized to use under various interstellar treaties. The Evosii seem to be constructing a mechanism that can collapse a star, creating a neutron star that sends out colossal gamma ray bursts that can be directed via a Dyson sphere around the neutron star. Such a weapon could literally wipe the Universe clean of life if fired carelessly. The Dorzet have countered by using a similar mechanism to annihilate massive quantities of matter with antimatter, allowing them to open black holes by firing these highly volatile beams of energy at stars to obliterate them. Our mission will likely be to convince both sides of the conflict to discontinue the development of these horrendous weapons of mass destruction, and the Alliance will use military force to affect that end. The Dorzet and Evosii will see things our way…the Elohim will make sure of that.” Shen explained. “But, if the Dorzet and Evosii have those weapons, who is to say they won’t simply use them against the Alliance?” Marie asked, somewhat worried. “They wouldn’t dare go that far. If they truly believe that they can get away with that, then war is unavoidable. We will have to destroy their mechanisms by ourselves. We not only have the UESC Marine Corps to rely on, we have the various military organizations that individual nations still maintain, such as the Japanese Home Guard, and many private militaries, such as those used by the major defense contractors such as Zeus Corporation, the Russian firm that designs much of the UESC and all of the Russian Guard Forces’ weapons, spacecraft and equipment. The Russian Zeus Corporation, the Japanese Kimagure Conglomerate, the Chinese Moonthrone Syndicate, the North American Centurion firm and the British Ares Corporation are the five largest defense contractors in the United Earth government’s ranks, designing most, if not all of the UESC’s weapons. They outfit their private militaries with weapons and gear not used by the regular UESC Marines, Army and Navy, and they build in a few years what it takes the United Earth government decades to construct. They are superpowers for hire, and I guarantee they will be sending some of their troops with the Alliance task force, for a fee, of course.” Shen explained. “So all hands are on deck for this mission, it seems. I wonder what Countess Toni and her Solar Empire Design corporation thinks of all this. She did terminate the M-15 anarchists for us, so she definitely made our lives easier there…however, I know she was not doing it to help us. She was simply trying to take the credit for stopping them, for she is in connection with the Alliance of Six as well, and one of the few Hyperboreans that the Dreyes Covenant will actually speak to. From her private spire in the Obsidian Tower of Rome, many horrid, depraved acts occur in the name of Mithraism that could never see the light of day. Rome is an ancient city of might and glory, but also one of many dark secrets…and Countess Toni is one of the darkest of them all. I feel that we may have to deal with her sooner or later, depending on the Alliance of Six’s decision regarding the Cassiopeia Conflict. I dread visiting her in Rome. She has a profound effect on the citizens of Rome and they all have begun to share her opinions. She is a master at inciting group-think amongst those under her control, using propaganda messages, high-sounding slogans and lavish promises to the public even though they cannot be kept, and reducing employees of Solar Empire Design and the citizens of Rome’s civil and human rights to a bare minimum. Rome is one of the most totalitarian places in Europe because of Countess Toni, even more so that Japan under your Legion of the Abyssal Sun.” “I would disagree with you on that. I would not consider my Legion totalitarian at all. We fight for freedom and justice for all law-abiding Japanese citizens, but maintain the black market as a part of the Japanese economy. There is nothing totalitarian about that.” Shen responded to Marie’s comment. “I suppose it is only totalitarian from a French point of view. Still, I agree that Countess Toni, however repulsive a monster she may be, may be of use to us if this conflict boils over into all-out war.”

As the plane continued its journey across the Pacific, some of the UESC crew members brought the Legion refreshments on a snack cart; they were less than two hours from their destination now. “Marie…what convinced you to enter the fashion industry. I don’t believe I’ve ever asked you that before, but, now that we have the time to discuss it, I’d like to know.” Shen asked. “Well, I was very young when I realized I had a certain talent for drawing characters, and the one thing about my characters was that they always wore extraordinary outfits, my work appeared in various art shows in Paris from a very young age. As I grew older, I gradually broke into the fashion industry by actually designing the outfits that my characters wore, and I became a near-overnight success. With the money I made from my designs, I underwent the Hyperborean augmentations, and was appointed by the Orbis Solaris to become the new Lord Protector of Paris shortly afterward…and thus I will remain until the end of time.” Marie explained. “Your meteoric rise speaks for itself, Marie.” Shen replied. “Shen, there is something I must ask you, as well. It is a simple question that I expect you to answer me honestly about. Shen, have you ever been in love?” Shen’s eyes widened. It was a strange question coming from a woman as powerful and prideful as Marie, but the question appeared harmless. “I can’t say that I have. A man of my stature needs to focus on his own life and career, and has no time for pleasures of the flesh. That is more the realm of High Captain Odokai’s expertise…he is the one with a fiancee and plans to start a family. That is my honest answer.” Shen responded. “You mean to say that you’ve never had time for love and relationships?” “Yes, in a manner of speaking. Also, because most women are not worth my time. As a follower of the Shattered-World Complex, I believe that women are inferior to our Legion and our beliefs, and that everything our Legion does to women is perfectly justified. Though we do have female members of our Legion, they have proven themselves worthy of being counted amongst our ranks through trial by combat. The Takada sisters, for example, have no parallel on the battlefield and have no regrets about slaughtering anyone the Legion considers unworthy of life, male or female. My religious and political views prevent me from falling in love, for I would be violating my own creeds and beliefs. I must respect the hierarchy of life and being.” Shen responded. Marie didn’t know what to say. Here was a man who was so high-bound in his own opinions, creeds and religious views that he had no heart. He was completely cold and calculating, and showed absolutely no mercy or compassion to those he saw as inferior…which included millions of women. This raised a very disturbing question in Marie’s mind…did Shen view her as inferior? What was this man capable of doing to her that he wasn’t capable of doing to other women? Still, Shen had never shown any hostility to Marie, but with his ruthless reputation, it was a difficult thought to purge from the back of her mind. However, she couldn’t worry about that now. The plane had just crossed into North American airspace, far below was the desert Southwest of North America, and the vast cities and high-speed rail lines that crisscrossed the continent. These trains could cross the continent in hours; they were essentially a high-speed train traveling through an underground vacuum tube; upon leaving the station, the train would accelerate to 300 miles per hour inside the underground tube, upon reaching that velocity, the train fired asynchronous linear-induction motors, firing the train through the vacuum tube at more than 900 miles per hour, hovering on magnetic superconductors. As the train neared its destination, it used the same principles of acceleration in reverse, slowing to human walking speed as it gradually approached its destination platform. Thousands of miles of these underground rail lines crisscrossed the entire North American continent, they were as numerous as the massive superhighways that linked the mega-cities that populated the continent, the source of more than 50% of the United Earth government’s GDP. The North American continent was the center of human civilization during the Golden Age, with the largest population in the Solar System and the second-largest spaceport, the Midwestern Space Center. Most of the United Earth government’s food production came from the vast bread basket of sub-Saharan Africa, which had become immensely wealthy off of this food production industry, though large farming colonies also existed on the terraformed Mars, Mercury and Venus. The former fields of the Midwest were now home to vast spaceports and cities like Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Dallas, home to most of Centurion Corporation’s manufacturing for the UESC, as well as many other smaller companies, many of them subsidiaries of Centurion. Vast fusion and antimatter/plasma hybrid power plants provided a limitless source of energy for all this industry and machinery, with manufacturing revolutionized by the invention of nanoscale replicators. The cost of manufacturing a product was now only determined by the cost of downloading the blueprints. In the Golden Age, capitalism had shifted to a more intellectual model, where what a person could invent counted more towards success than whether they had a good business plan, thanks to the Technological Singularity, which had occurred very early on in the Golden Age, allowing for the birth of the Hyperborean Race, as well as various human-replica androids and computer augmentations to non-Hyperborean humans. Androids had become as ubiquitous as electricity during the Golden Age, and were often pressed into military service to bolster UESC military forces for large-scale operations. The majority of the combat androids were produced by Centurion, which had its headquarters in Seattle.

As the Atlas-class transport continued its path across North America, the pilot deviated a bit off of his eastward trajectory to avoid encounters with any air and space traffic clustered around the Midwestern Space Center. They were now just a half-hour from their destination. Thanks to the time difference, the time in New York upon their arrival would be 3:15 A.M. When humans began colonizing other planets centuries earlier, the time zones used on Earth were further standardized into one Universal Time Zone, with whatever time it was in Manhattan being the official time throughout the Solar System. However, on Earth, the old system was still used in regards to on-planet air departures. Furthermore, the entire Gregorian calendar was replaced with the Standard Calendar, which added an additional 49 days to the year by adding another week onto 7 of the 31-day months, so that 7 months out of the year were 38 days long. This was to compensate for the different year lengths on different inhabited planets throughout the Solar System. Already, the it was night above the central plains of North America, with the untold millions of people sleeping in their beds far below. For the Legion of the Abyssal Sun, however, the work was just beginning. Once their plane landed in New York City, they would board an executive transport to the Alliance meeting room in the United Earth Capitol Building, at the site of the old United Nations building. The other representatives from the Elohim, Givu, Esarion, Reidun and Aurena homeworlds will already be in attendance, led by none other than Elohim Emperor Annon Orlismord, the Grand Leader of the Alliance of Six. It was always a major occasion whenever he went anywhere, as one of the most powerful beings in the known Universe, he never traveled without his entire entourage. Everyone aboard the plane knew that dealing with the Elohim was like walking on eggshells. They were immensely critical of other species’ mannerisms and generally looked down upon other species. Their society was harshly conservative, drawing a broad parallel with some of the more radical Islamic sects that still existed within some parts of the UESC’s territory, though the Elohim had long progressed past the need for any organized religion. They were just extraordinarily high-bound, and demanded to be worshiped as gods by all species they saw as inferior. The only races they did not demand this of, or even acted amicably towards, were humans, Givu, Esarion, Reidun and Aurena, the other members of the Alliance of Six. All other societies were beneath their contempt, including the Dreyes Covenant. To the Elohim, these Evosii and Dorzet were mere insects, spiteful galactic infants who could not come to an agreement upon anything…and yet their societies were billions of years old. Though their technology was up to standard, their manners certainly weren’t. According to the Elohim, these two misbehaving races were in need of a “sharp correction.” This would most likely involve military intervention to remove the Dorzet and Evosii leaders responsible for starting this latest conflict and building these weapons of mass destruction, with the UESC task force linking up with the remainder of the Alliance of Six fleet in the Asteroid Colonies, the vast belt of cities and colonies stretching for over a billion miles through the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, the most densely-populated area in the Solar System. These asteroids were vital to the Golden Age economy, providing the human race and many other races within the Alliance of Six with valuable metals needed to construct spacecraft and other objects. In addition to colossal orbiting space colonies around the gas giants and permanent settlements on many of Jupiter and Saturn’s moons, the Outer Solar System was almost as densely populated as the Inner, though the majority of people living there lived in space, rather than on a planet’s surface. The Solar System was a hub of interstellar commerce, as well as the home of the United Earth government.

As the Atlas-class jet began to descend towards New York City’s Metropolitan Spaceport, Marie and Shen thought about what the Elohim had in mind when it came to “disciplining” the misbehaving Dorzet and Evosii. Clearly, this was going to be a very large military operation in which many divisions of UESC Marines, Home Guard forces and private sector military forces would be required. The six major defense contractors were already preparing their forces for deployment, alongside the regular UESC forces and various Home Guard troops. In most operations, the UESC regulars were the main force, with the Home Guard troops and private-sector forces comprising the special operations teams. The other races within the Alliance of Six would also join in, contributing vast amounts of weapons and vehicles to any Alliance military operation. Some of the Elohim weapons were literally beyond human understanding, but one thing was certain: they worked and worked well. The Elohim were fiercely protective of their technological secrets and did not disclose them to even the Alliance leaders, it was simply something that everyone respected when working with the Elohim civilization, centered around the constellation Orion. Their three home planets were rarely seen by anyone outside of the top Alliance leaders, but the descriptions of the three Elohim worlds, Matoi, Elyndir and Torna were achingly beautiful, unlike any other planets in the Universe; their civilization was light-years beyond anything else in the Cosmos, and for those invited to an audience amongst the Elohim, it was an experience no one ever forgot. Compared to the Elohim civilization, the Solar System was puny and dull. “We’ll be landing in 25 minutes. Prepare for disembarkation.” The jet’s pilots announced to the Legion of the Abyssal Sun as the vast megalopolis of New York sprawled out below them, the tops of the highest skyscrapers reaching up to greet their aircraft as it gradually descended towards New York Metropolitan Spaceport, which was actually on the other side of the Hudson River from Manhattan itself. Marie and Shen looked out the windows at the bustling city far below. Here it was, the capital of the human race, the center of the Solar System, and home to nearly 300 million people over a 600 cubic mile area, New York was so vast and so densely populated that people would occasionally be put in cryonic stasis and stored in secure facilities for years at a time, just to combat the problem of overpopulation. And for every person in the New York Megalopolis, there were more than 35 rats or cockroaches, though Golden-Age sanitation systems kept the vermin and pollution to manageable levels. However, there were many more pleasant places to live for the average person in the Solar System than Manhattan. Most people during the Golden Age actually lived in the Asteroid Belt, in cities and colonies built inside vast asteroids such as Ceres, Vesta, Eros and many other huge lumps of water-rich iron and nickel. There were more than 35,000 individual cities built across a billion miles of space within the Asteroid Belt, between the terraformed fields and cities of Mars and the vast orbiting space colonies around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, as well as the settlements on the many moons of those planets. Humans had traveled to the farthest corners of the Milky Way Galaxy from these places, and the first extrasolar planet would soon be colonized on Aurelia, an event that the entire Alliance of Six would be involved in, lest the colonization efforts disrupt the flow of interstellar politics. What was intriguing to Marie about these voyages by Hyperborean explorers was Countess Toni’s interest in the dying star Eta Carinae; she had visited the star on multiple occasions, and had staked out claims on multiple planets orbiting the star, however lifeless they may have been. The purpose of Toni’s forays to this star were unknown to Marie, but she believed that it had something to do with Toni’s fanatical devotion to Mithraism and the Mithraic arts. She had long wanted to investigate this for herself, for the purpose of better understanding her arch rival…however, that concern was for another time. The Atlas-class jet was approaching the enormous spaceport, on the banks of the Hudson River, immediately adjacent to a colossal 24-lane, multi-level highway. Four launch towers sat occupied with massive rockets loaded down with cargo bound for the Asteroid Belt colonies, and the 100-meter high safety walls cordoned the launch areas off from the rest of the Spaceport. The jet slowly came to rest on a landing pad near one of the massive departure terminals, the one closest to the hover train station to Manhattan. Immediately, the sinister-looking jet attracted attention from the people waiting in the terminal, its evil-looking Staghorn Rune illuminated by the lights from the terminal gates, with the ancient Japanese inscriptions written onto the fuselage…it was very clear that this flight was carrying some extraordinary individuals: The Legion of the Abyssal Sun.

Back on board the aircraft, Marie and the Legion stood up and filed towards the skybridge, which had docked with the plane as it landed in its parking slip. As the small army of Hyperboreans marched in unison into the terminal, the passersby could only stop and stare. Few outside of Japan had ever seen the Legion of the Abyssal Sun up close, and the fact that Marie De La Croix was with them as well must have meant that something very important was about to happen within the United Earth government. The passersby wisely gave Shen and Odokai’s Legions a wide berth. These were not people you want to get in the way of. The Legions walked like a silent shadow towards the hovertrain to the United Earth Congress Hall, a short, 25-minute ride across the Hudson onto Manhattan itself. Stepping into the maglev train car; the Legions were the only ones on this particular train…few people were traveling to the Congress Hall at 3:15 A.M…except the Alliance of Six representatives. After a few short seconds, the train sped out of the terminal station, bound directly for the Congress Hall, hovering on a maglev track suspended above the Hudson River, as were hundreds of other bridges, tracks, roadways and tunnels. Crossing the river gave a breathtaking view of the New York Megalopolis, which stretched from horizon to horizon, and endless sea of buildings and skyscrapers centered around Manhattan…even during the Golden Age, New York was still the city that never slept. As Marie sat in her seat, Shen turned to her and began discussing guidelines for meeting with the Alliance of Six. “Marie, when you walk into the Council Chamber, you will be greeted by Emperor Annon of the Elohim empire in Orion’s Belt. Appear modest, always give a respectful bow, and do not speak to him unless he speaks to you. Always face him and make consistent eye contact with him, and do not turn away from him. The Elohim are easily insulted and will not forgive even the slightest offense towards them. In order to accomplish anything during this meeting, all protocols must be upheld, and priority number one is to not upset the Elohim. They are the masters of this Universe, and the overarching hand that keeps our Alliance together. Without them, the Alliance would not exist. Always respect that, and there will be no problems involving you in the Alliance discussions.” Marie nodded, a bit shocked to hear these words coming from Shen. She could only imagine what the Elohim would actually be like, and what they would think of her, someone who had never been in contact with them before. Marie was extraordinarily conscious with her image towards others, but would the Elohim approve of her habits? She was about to find out.

The hover train zoomed up a small incline onto one of the many spans stretching across the Hudson River, this one leading directly towards the massive United Earth Congress complex, clearly visible from the hover train. An array of artificial islands had been constructed over time, greatly increasing the size of Manhattan Island and physically connecting the island with the borough of Staten Island and Long Island as well…and no building loomed larger than the United Earth Congress building, combined with the UESC’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, this complex was the nerve center for humanity across the Universe. As the train approached the other side of the span, a message suddenly appeared on the broadcast screens inside the empty train car: “Welcome delegates of the Abyssal Sun…Proceed to the Second Room on the Right upon arrival.” “Second room on the right? What is that referring to?” Marie asked. “The Second Room on the Right refers to the Alliance meeting room on Earth…it is the second room down from the train terminal at the Congress Hall. There’s no smoke and mirrors, nothing fancy, and nothing spectacular about the room at all…it’s small and nondescript, as to not attract attention from the public. Our Alliance is not public knowledge, and it could never be…the average person simply couldn’t handle the truth about aliens. I suspect that Emperor Annon Orlismord is already there, along with Mistress Gwenlynn Stormweaver of the Germanic countries, as well as the other Alliance leaders…they are merely waiting for us, and we have arrived.” Shen concluded his explanation as the train moved through its magnetic arrestor coils, slowing it to a dead stop in the Congress Hall’s massive train station, now far larger than Grand Central or Penn Station ever was. “Let’s move, we mustn’t keep Emperor Annon waiting, he despises tardiness.” The Legion of the Abyssal Sun disembarked the train and proceeded towards the entrance to the main hall inside the Congress building. The Second Room on the Right was the second door down from the entrance to the main assembly hall for congressional meetings, in a smaller, auxiliary room behind a simple, sliding double-door. Hundreds of tourists were shown this room every day during tours of the Capitol, but were never told of the room’s true purpose. As the Legions entered the vast Congress chamber, several Congressmen and women, all Hyperborean, sat in their seats working on legislation in an early-morning session as various representatives debated over points of contention within the bill being drafted. Several of the Hyperborean congressmen looked up and watched as the Legion of the Abyssal Sun proceeded into the Second Room on the Right. They all knew what was going on in there, and that the Alliance of Six was currently meeting on Earth to discuss the looming interstellar conflict within the constellation Cassiopeia.

As Marie walked into the Second Room on the Right, she was greeted by six faces looking back at her, one Hyperborean, five others alien. The Hyperborean representative was none other than Mistress Gwenlynn Stormweaver, a tall, lordly blonde-haired woman that rivaled the Elohim in power, beauty and prestige, she wore an elaborate Wintermaid outfit designed by Marie’s fashion empire, and had her hair in a quirky Solipsis hair style, complementing her turquoise eyes and diamond Black Sun earrings very well. Her outfit was marked with various Germanic and Nordic pagan runes and symbols of natural energy, complete with a black hood and cape over her main outfit, marked with the powerful Ragnarok Rune on the front of her hood, and the Mjolnir rune on the back of her cape. In her hand, she carried a special Nano-Sword called “The Bane of All Fools,” shaped like a jagged chainsaw blade and capable of inflicting horrendous wounds upon its enemies. Sitting beside her was a slender being about half the height of the Elohim and the Hyperboreans, and looking far more like a department store mannequin than something alive. This creature wore an elaborate uniform as well, and possessed a glowing sequence of energy flowing across its skin. It had no visible eyes, and a barely-visible mouth and nose. It was jet-black, and looked to be the consistency of liquid oil, shimmering in the light of the room. This was Countess Ielin Wex of the Reidun civilization, from the constellation Pisces. In a chair opposite Countess Wex, a colossal crayfish-like being sat on his four massive legs, he walked with a hunchback, covered in a rug-like robe as an outfit. His eyes glowed an ominous orange, with small tentacles protruding from in front of his beak-like mouth. He stood nearly 10 feet tall. This was Emperor Ishten Paath of the Aurena people from the planet Traxus, one of the founding members of the Alliance of Six. Standing near Gwenlynn was a shadowy, 9-foot tall, bald-headed humanoid with pale, purplish skin, and expressionless stare on its face, sallow, eerie reptilian eyes, and a warm-looking, feathery, furry robe over its body. This was Queen Inga Vuruk of the Esarion people, from the shadowy world of Umbra, deep within the Eagle Nebula. Standing beside her was another tall, gray-skinned humanoid, this one with small, black, beady eyes and fang-like teeth, wearing a crimson red outfit with black cape over a long, lanky body. This was Lord Argivu Pressh of the Givu people, from deep within the Hourglass Nebula…and towering over all the others was Emperor Annon Orlismord of the Elohim Empire, based in the Orion Constellation and in complete control of the Orion Arm Nebula. He was an awesome sight, radiating a soothing, divine aura from his pale skin and blonde hair, his black face tattoos contrasted greatly with the rest of his form. His outfit resembled that worn by various angels in the Bible, long, bluish-white and ethereal looking, and he carried a gilded scepter in his hand with a miniature Universe contained within an orb atop the scepter. He stood nearly 13 feet tall. “Welcome, Legion of the Abyssal Sun…and this newcomer to our Council. State your name and purpose, please.” Emperor Annon said in a lordly, echoing voice. Marie bowed honorably and introduced herself. “My name is Marie De La Croix, Lord Protector of Paris, France, and owner of Starlight Art and Design Corporation. I am one of the envoys to the new UESC world of Aurelia, the voyage is set to depart in two weeks. I am accompanying the Legion of the Abyssal Sun on personal matters.” Emperor Annon stared intently at Marie for a few seconds, unsure of what to make of this woman in his presence. She seemed very proud, and very powerful, though perhaps overconfident and even arrogant, the Elohim looked at everyone with immense scrutiny, the fact that she was with the Legion for ‘personal matters’ of which she was unwilling to share was a bit suspicious in Emperor Annon’s eyes…however, he let it pass. “Very well then…Have your seat with the rest of the Legion. This Council is officially called to order.” “I take it that everyone is prepared to face the obstacles before us, comrades.” Gwenlynn said, with her strong German accent. Standing up from the table, she activated a holographic projector, depicting the constellation Cassiopeia, and zoomed in on two particular planets. “Most of the fighting is contained on these two worlds for now, but if the Evosii or Dorzet activate their superweapons, this conflict is going to go interstellar instantaneously. As of now, the Alliance is electing to stand pat, but monitor the situation closely from the various Alliance homeworlds. Emperor Annon already has stealth ships within the Constellation itself, keeping a close eye on the developing situation on the two worlds embroiled in conflict. The death toll is already catastrophic, and both Dorzet and Evosii fleets have been heavily engaged for the past 48 standard hours. If the superweapons are deployed, or one of Annon’s ships are discovered and attacked, the Alliance will intervene militarily. Until that time comes, we will continue to monitor the situation. Meanwhile, the UESC HIGHCOM is on high alert in Arlington, I am feeding them up-to-the-minute data on the situation in Cassiopeia, and the 18th Fleet is preparing to deploy from its belay around Mars, led by the UESC Sun Tzu. In the event of a conflict, this fleet will join Elohim, Esarion, Givu, Reidun and Aurena fleets as part of the Alliance task force to restore peace to Cassiopeia, and end the threats that the superweapons pose to life in the Universe.” Gwenlynn finished her briefing as she sat down in her seat. “And what of the security breach by the M-15 anarchists that we discovered in Kyoto?” Shen asked, getting the Council’s attention. “That is of no consequence. It appears Countess Medici-Fecchiera has already dealt with those troublemaking vermin.” Emperor Annon said. “However, Mistress Stormweaver’s assessment of the situation is sound, for the moment. There is no need to squander resources and soldiers’ lives in a conflict that does not require our assistance. The Alliance will not intervene unless the superweapons are deployed, at which point we will ascertain the position of the Dreyes Covenant on the issue. If they support Alliance military involvement, we will proceed with the operation. If we are silent and swift, we shall quell this conflict without incident. Until such time comes, no one in this room is to leave this city. This session of the Council is adjourned.” Emperor Annon gave the final directive for everyone involved to remain in Manhattan until further notice. “Hmm…remaining in Manhattan until further notice…I don’t mind that. I have a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side, we can just stay there for the night, Shen.” Marie said, smiling at Shen. “Well, I guess I have no choice in this matter. I can’t stay here now, can I?” “Well, you could, though I wouldn’t know how well I’d sleep with those hideous alien monsters around…though Emperor Annon I don’t mind that much.” “Marie, those are the Alliance of Six leaders! Be careful who you say that around.” “Sorry, I’m just saying they aren’t the most attractive species in the Universe, that’s all.” “Well, I guess you do have a point there…” Shen said. This conversation was eliciting some grumpy facial expressions from Lord Ishten Paath, whose species’ acute hearing had detected Marie’s comments from across the room. “They’re a bunch of old curmudgeons on Traxus anyway. Just ignore him.” Shen said of Lord Paath’s disgruntled facial expressions. “Though the Aurena are members of the Council of Six, they don’t necessarily like humans that much. They think that we are the strangest-looking creatures in the Universe, go figure.” Shen said, walking out of the Council room with Marie, followed by the other members of the Alliance of Six. The rest of the Hyperborean Congressmen paid them no notice, they were so used to seeing Alliance races filing through the halls of Congress that they didn’t even raise their eyebrows at them anymore…once you came to work at the United Earth Congress building, you got used to seeing aliens. Three more Reidun females gathered around Countess Wex and began conversing with her in their strange, whistling, humming, twittering language. Four more Elohim, two females and two males, stood around Emperor Annon, who casually approached Shen. “Master Ryujin…” “Oh, yes My Lord? To what do I owe the honor of speaking with you?” Ryujin said, careful to follow all formalities when speaking to the Elohim. “Do you care to explain why your female companion seemed so…awkward in the meeting? I believe she mentioned something about…ugly alien monsters? I hope I did not offend her with my presence…” “Oh, no, My Lord. She was not referring to you or your companions. She was referring to Lord Paath.” “I see…so her judgment only runs skin-deep…if that is the case, this does not reflect well on the Council’s image.” “Emperor Annon, she is a fashion designer. To her, looks are everything, all she cares about is what she can see on the outside…that is her major character flaw. She cannot see past the exterior.” “Hmmm…how trite. The Elohim are excellent judges of character, and there was nothing you explained that we didn’t already know the moment she walked through the doors…women like her are incapable of understanding anything about this universe other than distribution and consumption…they make things and sell them for profit. Countess Medici-Fecchiera is the same way, just much darker in her mode of operation. When your society exists for as long as ours has, you learn a few things about life in general…it can only come with time. No other species in the known Universe has reached the level we have, and that is thanks to our insight and ability to see beyond what is immediately obvious…something you will soon learn with time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be returning home. I have other matters to attend to. Carry on.” Emperor Annon and his companions walked calmly away from Shen, just as Marie came walking over to where Shen was standing. “What was that about?” Marie asked, walking towards the exits to the shuttle into Manhattan itself. “It was nothing…Emperor Annon was being very critical of everyone in attendance, as usual. The Elohim are known for being like that, so I wasn’t insulted at all.” “Very well then, I am willing to let that pass. Come, Shen, I’d like to show you around Manhattan, the center of humanity’s Empire.”

Marie and Shen walked towards the shuttle bay, towards a small aerial vehicle that would take them to Marie’s Upper East Side penthouse, one of the highest-priced addresses in the Solar System. The two of them would stay there until Emperor Annon called them to Council again, or until the situation in Cassiopeia changed. As Marie and Shen walked through the halls of Congress, they passed many other Hyperboreans working all-night shifts on various pieces of legislation, as well as more than a few aliens of all five nonhuman Alliance races. Marie and Shen walked down a large hallway with directions towards the main shuttle bay, which allowed access to Manhattan’s many skylanes; in the Golden Age, every personal vehicle was powered by a mercury-gyroscope, allowing it to fly effortlessly above the ground. As Marie and Shen turned the corner, they encountered the rest of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun speaking with Gwenlynn Stormweaver near the shuttle hangar. “Oh, hello Master Ryujin, and Mistress De La Croix…I don’t believe we were properly introduced. I am Gwenlynn Stormweaver, Lord Protector of the Germanic lands, based out of Berlin. My dominion includes Denmark, Norway, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the former East Prussian territory in Poland, and I am the Hyperborean representative on the Alliance of Six Council. Your compatriot Kira Odokai is also quite the nationalist, though the German culture is doubtlessly superior to the Japanese one.” “That’s what you think, Miss Stormweaver. It can be argued.” Gwenlynn simply looked at Odokai with a crooked gaze. “Oh please, you Japanese people are a horde of ugly dwarves compared to the Germanic peoples. Your dark hair, dark eyes and stunted physical stature speaks volumes about your genetic flaws. Let us just end this conversation now.” Gwenlynn responded, condescendingly. Shen realized that Gwenlynn was not going to be convinced otherwise, so Odokai decided not to press further. “Well, we’re headed to the executive quarters for the remainder of our time here in Manhattan, I hope you two have fun with whatever it is you have planned.” Gwenlynn said to Marie and Shen. “Thank you, we will.” Marie said, politely. She had met Gwenlynn several times at United Earth Congress meetings, and, along with Countess Toni, was one of the most powerful leaders in Europe. She and Countess Toni shared many political philosophies, though Gwenlynn was far more of a traditional nationalist that Toni was. She oversaw a vast section of the European continent, and ruled it on behalf of the Orbis Solaris as a sort of enlightened despot, much like Kaiser Wilhelm II once did for Imperial Germany. The Germanic peoples of Earth took great pride in their technology production and the amount of soldiers they had serving the UESC Marine Corps, more than 900,000 men in all, thoughout the Solar System, as well as containing most of the antimatter factories needed to produce propellant for the vast UESC starships. However, they lacked the esotericism of Countess Toni’s Mithraic temples or the sophistication of Marie’s France…however, Countess Toni was well known in the Germanic lands, for Mithraic cults and the German paganism overlapped in many ways, thanks to ancient ties between the Germans and Lombard Italians, of which Countess Toni was a member of, albeit augmented with Hyperborean attributes by technology. Certain places in both Berlin and Rome depicted images of Countess Toni as Mithras slaying a bull, with the bull representing the constellation Taurus, and the scorpion attached to the dying beast’s testicles representing the constellation Scorpio…she was an incredibly well-known figure in Europe, and the only true rival that Marie had. Perhaps Mistress Gwenlynn could allow Marie to better keep tabs on her arch rival, namely Countess Toni’s fixation on the star Eta Carinae, widely interpreted to be the the “Black Sun” mentioned in Germanic esotericism. Surely, being a Germanic nationalist, Gwenlynn would know something about this, namely why Toni had taken so many clandestine forays in her Ares-class jump-ship to the Eta Carinae system, more than 6,000 light-years from Earth. Also, Marie was very interested in knowing the extent of the Legion of the Abyssal Sun’s human trafficking operations, something that Japan had a long, dark history of. Suddenly, Gwenlynn approached Marie, her black hood over her pale, Aryan face. “Marie, dear, there is something I need to discuss with you.” “What might that be?” Marie asked, rhetorically, for she already knew the answer. “Do you know where I had this outfit made? Solar Empire Designs, I am a close confidant of Countess Toni…though I am not here to antagonize you. I am here to disclose information to you…do you understand the cult Countess Toni leads?” “The Cult of Mithras…I cannot say that I do. I choose to avoid such dark esotericism, paganism and sorcery. I think it to be archaic and barbaric, especially in this Golden Age of humanity.” “Oh Marie…silly, silly Marie…you have absolutely no idea the powers that lurk just below the surface. Eta Carinae, the Black Sun of Germanic lore, has drawn us for millennia, it guides us, empowers us and provides us with unfathomable abilities neither you nor the Alliance of Six can ever hope to equal…it is more powerful than any technology, stronger than any ship. It cannot be taken or destroyed…this is something you will never understand…unless you join us. Only through the Cult can you achieve a power greater than anything else in the Universe. You have proven yourself worthy of our initiation. Countess Toni may be your business rival, but she could be your greatest ally in whatever the Universe throws your way. I invite you to think about this for a time…contact me when you are ready to make your decision. Until we meet again, Marie.” Gwenlynn turned and walked calmly away, towards one of the transport shuttles. Gwenlynn’s offer rang echoes in Marie’s mind as she and Shen boarded the transport to Marie’s penthouse on the Upper East Side. Common sense was obvious: this was clearly another trick by Countess Toni to interfere with Marie’s goals. Toni was a psychopath and everyone knew it…but, what if Gwenlynn was telling the truth? Perhaps Toni was not the single-minded sociopath she appeared to be, and was capable of working with Marie for once? If Toni could assist the Alliance of Six with the operation in Cassiopeia, then having someone as powerful and as merciless as she was assisting the Alliance would only aid in the Elohim’s ultimate goal of maintaining peace in the Universe. As Marie stepped into the shuttle, she placed these thoughts safely in the back of her mind…it was definitely something worth considering. For the moment, however, Marie just wanted to settle down after a whirlwind few days traveling. Stepping into the transport, Shen sat down in the pilot’s seat while Marie took her seat in the passenger compartment. Shen activated the ship’s engines and lifted off the ground, flying out of the hangar and joining the hundreds of other aircraft flying high above Manhattan’s bustling city streets, bound for the penthouse apartments of Central Park East, overlooking the famous park of the same name. “So, what did Gwenlynn want to discuss with you?” “It seems that Countess Toni is not the psychopath she appears to be…I’m a bit skeptical of this; however, she seems to genuinely want to help the Alliance of Six maintain peace in the Universe. Gwenlynn encouraged me to learn more about the Mithraic Order and the Society of Ur, which both Gwenlynn and Toni are parts of…they told me that it could only help us and the Alliance.” Marie said. “I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her.” Shen responded. “Gwenlynn is the physical embodiment of the Germanic countries, she styles herself after the personification of Germany from the 19th century. She is vicious, nationalistic and cruel, and I’ve always opposed the Alliance of Six making her the Hyperborean representative on the Council…it was at the Elohim’s insistence, they adore her narcissism and sense of racial superiority…she reminds them of one of their own.” “It sounds like the Elohim really aren’t too amicable to most species…” “No, they are not. The Alliance of Six is the only organization that the Elohim involve themselves in, and the only force in the known Universe that rivals our might is the Dreyes Covenant, and they’re kept in line by extraordinarily restrictive treaties imposed upon them by the Elohim…the Elohim have an iron grip over most of the known Universe, and have seen more galaxies, planets and places in the Universe than any other race. They are the greatest civilization in the Universe’s history and they know it, and they think that the Universe belongs to them. What they say in that Council goes. They weren’t too fond of you sitting in our meeting tonight, so I suggest you don’t come back to the Council chamber again.” “Why? Did I do anything that offended them?” “No, you did not, Marie. It’s just that they did not send you an invitation. They thought it was rude that I brought you in there for a meeting unannounced.” “Alright then…” Marie groaned, a bit annoyed at the Elohim’s arrogance. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Elohim have already ordered UESC forces to Cassiopeia already.” “Me neither…and the public will never know a thing.” Marie said, as the shuttle craft approached Marie’s penthouse apartment, landing on the rooftop landing pad, overlooking the grandeur of the Golden-Age capital city. Marie and Shen stepped out of the shuttle craft and entered Marie’s luxurious apartment, adorned with fine art, sculptures and many other luxurious, Golden-Age amenities that even Shen wasn’t used to. “This place is incredible…” Shen said, gawking at Marie’s beautiful apartment. “Thank you…I spent a lot of time decorating this place, it’s one of my favorite places to live out of all the homes I own. The view is incredible.” Marie and Shen looked out the windows at the air traffic and Hover Trains whizzing by, overlooking Central Park and the entire East Side of Manhattan. “Well, you certainly know how to live well, Marie. I commend you for that.” Shen said, pouring himself a glass of wine. “Thank you very much. This is certainly an improvement over the Temple of the Sun in Japan, wouldn’t you agree?” “I refuse to take a stand on that point.” Shen responded, rather curtly. The Temple was Shen’s home. Surely, Marie’s apartment was amazing, but it bore no resemblance to the ancient glory that was the Japanese Legion of the Abyssal Sun’s places of worship. However, he could understand Marie’s level of apprehension about being inside the Temple, surrounded by a foreign culture and worship to gods unknown in any European pantheon. Far from being an age of science, religious belief was alive and well during the Golden Age. Many citizens of North America, even Hyperboreans, still called themselves Christian and attended church services regularly, even though science had largely explained most mysteries in the Universe that were hitherto attributed to divine creation. People always found a reason to believe in something, it was simple human nature. However, Marie was quite agnostic when it came to religious faith, and therefore found the Legion of the Abyssal Sun’s worship of Izanami, the Shinigami gods and Izanagi backward, archaic and downright creepy at times. Not to mention, the whole ideology of “male superiority” over women, justified through an interpretation of a Japanese creation myth was diametrically opposed to the Western ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…in an earlier era, the Japanese Legion of the Abyssal Sun would have been seen as a mortal enemy of the West, but in this era of unified government, they were viewed by the West as an example of what NOT to do in government…they were tolerated, but not liked by any stretch of the imagination. Shen couldn’t blame Marie for being taken aback by his and High Captain Odokai’s beliefs. “I’m terribly sorry for the awkward silence in here, let’s put on some music, shall we?” Marie tapped a panel on the wall, activating the home-AI system hidden within the walls. “Good evening, Marie. What music shall I play?” The AI’s voice cooed through the apartment’s sound system. “Play Mussorgsky’s ‘The Great Gates of Kiev,’ please.” “Right away, miss.” The AI did as it was told, and soon the violins of Mussorgsky’s great work began filling the apartment. “Even your home AI is immaculately polite…I’ve been in homes where the AI cursed and made animal noises at family members. It’s actually considered a crime to program an AI to be abusive to anyone in Japan.” “Really?” Marie said, listening to the music while drinking her glass of wine. “Yes, when home AI systems were first invented, everyone thought they were the greatest things in the world…until criminals started using them as a cheap, easy way to commit crimes by programming them to perform illegal acts and making it impossible to trace who programmed it. Eventually, AI systems were programmed with imprinting software, allowing them to immediately identify their owners when asked by anyone…that sent a lot of criminals in Kyoto to the execution chambers, that’s for sure. Justice always prevails.” Shen lectured. “But does it really, Shen?” Marie objected. “Everywhere you look, throughout the Solar System, there is injustice. It could be something as small as a bully harassing a smaller child in a schoolyard and going unpunished, or it could be as large as the trillionaire real estate moguls on Mars and Venus making millions of UESC credits in bonuses by allowing land-development banks to issue subprime mortgages to homebuyers, only to collect even bigger profits when the markets crash and the banks foreclose on the house. These things happen all the time, and they happen without anyone scarcely lifting a finger, seeing it all as “part of life” during the Golden Age. However, it doesn’t have to be.” Marie responded. “Marie, I believe that our definitions of ‘justice’ are very different.” “I would have to agree with you on that…” Marie said, looking at Shen sideways. Suddenly, however, a ghoulish presence was felt coming from the kitchen…one that Marie knew all too well. “Toni! What are you doing in my house!!?” Stepping through the hallway, the fearsome, living embodiment of insanity, clad in her full Mithraic Master regalia, Countess Toni-Medici Fecchiera strode into full view…and her eyes…her eyes. They had been reduced to coal-black orbs, like that of a great white shark, with a truly deranged smile on her face, just barely visible beneath her makeup and headdresses, her crown being a gigantic three-headed crane statue on her cap. Her dress’ veil was stained red with what looked like human blood, her makeup giving her a frightening facial expression, her fingernails like diamond-hard daggers, decorated with diamond blades, with her extraordinarily elaborate dress billowing outward, sewn in the pattern of the DNA code of every living creature on Earth…some were haunted by the tolling bells of the Mithraic ceremonies…some were haunted by the horrid rumors of depraved torture and human sacrifice, but Marie and Shen could scarcely imagine a more terrifying sight than seeing what they were seeing at that moment in that location. “It’s called Hyperspace Meditation…I can go wherever I want at any time.” Toni snapped, her head twitching awkwardly to one side as she did so. “I assume you heard directly from Gwenlynn Stormweaver about the Mithraic Order.” Toni said, slowly walking towards Shen, her hands extended towards him. “Stay back, you animal!!” Shen screamed. “Now…that’s not very nice…” Countess Toni said, a decidedly psychotic, disturbed tone to her voice. She was clearly in a very different state of mind from when they had seen her in Paris. There, she was the epitome of class and elegance, here, she was a terrifying monster, worse than any dream. “Why did you come to my house? What do you want to discuss?” Marie asked the depraved Countess, still looking at Shen like she wanted to eat him. “The Mithraic Order hides great secrets, powers beyond any in the known Universe…Gwenlynn was right…I can be either your greatest ally or your worst enemy, depending on how polite you are to me. I am here to offer you a proposition before you leave for Aurelia, nothing more. War is coming, Marie. War unlike any before seen in human history. This conflict in Cassiopeia is just the beginning…and if you want any chance of surviving what is to come, you need someone like me as your ally. I know what is required to survive the coming fire! Only the flesh and blood of Man can satiate the Solar God! If you do not act now, all you love shall perish. This is the only warning you will get…of this I speak the truth.” Countess Toni finished her lecture, her eyes shining like coal-black orbs. “Now, Master Ryujin…tell me, dear. What do you think of me thus far?” Toni asked. “Just the very sight of you is enough to make one want to kill themselves.” Shen said, sternly. “Oh, about suicide, do you know what crosses a person’s mind the day they decide to leave this world, because I certainly do…I have entered the minds of those contemplating suicide, and found that the moment to commit the act is made, there is an immense rush of calming, liberation, the most cathartic energy imaginable floods every recess of the person’s psyche and consciousness…until the final act is committed. Then all goes to black…” “Stop it, you maniac!” Shen yelled, clearly feeling violated by Toni’s very presence. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Toni cackled. “You’re funny, you are.” Toni smirked, with the same inhuman expression in her eyes. “Do you have any idea what the Mithraic rituals entail? It demands a supreme mastery of the Universe…and human sacrifice. These victims are brutalized by unique instruments prior to their deliverance to the Solar God, after which our Cult consumes the flesh of the offering.” “What you speak of is murder! Depraved, violent murder! You are the Sawney Bean legend made real!” “Hahahaha…again, you are hilarious. I am not and will never be a part of a group of inbred, watered-down cannibal-murderer barbarians such as Sawney Bean and his cannibal clan. What my Order performs is a high art, the epitome of existence and power, and the Society of Ur attempts to interpret these mysteries for bettering the human cause. Far from criminals, we are the supreme masters of our dominion. We live in houses of gods, not decrepit caves by the Scottish coast. We cleanse humanity of its impurities, we do not rob unsuspecting travelers and feast on their battered corpses like animals. That is not what I do. Please, do not insult me or my faith again, OK? Freedom of religion, I don’t judge you for your Japanese Shinto worship, please don’t judge me.” “Excuse me, what my faith entails does not involve murder.” “Oh, and enslaving women as inferior is any better? I scarcely think not. There are fates worse than death, Shen, in case you haven’t already noticed, and it is better to live one day a lion than a thousand years a sheep. This I hold very dear to my heart…my upbringing was not a pleasant one. I was born in Rome to abusive, horrid parents, they tortured me and locked me in dark, dank closets, so I learned to appreciate the darkness that permeated my everyday life…eventually, by the time the child protective services took me away, I no longer minded the abuse…however, I was adopted by a woman who only wanted to adopt children so that she could kill them…however, I was not having any of that. I killed her and skinned her corpse in retaliation at age 15, and underwent the Hyperborean Augmentations at age 20, steadily building my design empire while worshiping the Solar God, as well as achieving membership to the Society of Ur shortly after the augmentations were complete…since then, I have become an omnipotent master of my dominion, living my life as a god in the flesh, and I demand to be treated as such. We oppose the weak ideologies of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, socialism and decadence while promoting strength, enlightenment and justice. There is no other way to live one’s life other than as a dominant, supreme being…and for that, I do agree with your philosophy, Shen. We really aren’t so different, and your taste in women reflects your similarities with me…you are drawn to me through Marie, her personality reflects mine, just in a more mild form.” “Toni, you are the sickest, most twisted individual in the known Universe, do you hear yourself right now? What you are saying makes no sense and has no bearing on reality whatsoever.” Marie snapped. “Oh…I believe it does, Marie. I truly believe it does…you just haven’t realized it yet. If you want to know what this is all about, I suggest you meet me at New York Metropolitan Space Center two days from now…your curiosity will be rewarded.” Toni quickly vanished as suddenly as she appeared, warping into a flurry of quantum particles…she had reactivated her Hyperspace Meditation. “So, this is who you’ve been dealing with…” Shen said, still gawking at Toni’s brutality. “Yes Shen, that is Countess Toni for you. If you meet her on a good day, she’ll be a pleasure to speak with, but if you meet her on a bad day, she’ll be like this.” Marie groaned. “That woman Gwenlynn on the Alliance of Six Council is her deputy, I guarantee it. She’s secretly controlling the Alliance…do you realize this?! The Elohim must be made aware of this at once!” Shen said, upon realizing what Marie already knew. “Shen, there is nothing you can do. Whatever she is doing, there is not a force in this Universe that can stop her now. The Elohim have no idea who they are dealing with. Toni would bring ruin to their Empire if they tried to interfere with her plans. I can only hope that what she has planned is in the United Earth government’s best interests. The Orbis Solaris would not lead us wrong.” “What you speak may be true…whatever our golden guardian has planned for the human race, it has never been bad thus far…and if Toni is correct, we may be in for far greater perils in the near future…”

In the darkness of deep space, a mighty fleet of UESC warships, led by the Ookami-class dreadnaught UESC Sun Tzu blazed a path out of the Solar System, passing the orbit of Neptune and the vast space colonies orbiting the gas giant with their antimatter/plasma hybrid engines blazing a path towards the heliopause, the threshold of human-inhabited space. Aside from a few interstellar monitoring stations and telescopes, this was the dominion of deep space. However, the Sun Tzu, the pride of the UESC’s 18th Fleet, stationed around Mars, was well-prepared for the mission ahead of it. The 18th Fleet was to serve as humanity’s advance force in the growing Cassiopeia Conflict, and would link up with the Elohim scout ships and Esarion battleships already in the target system. Standing on the bridge of the mighty warship was Admiral Preston Giles, born in San Francisco on Earth and educated at the United Earth Space Corps Officer Academy in San Diego, under Professor Artemis Rayne, a Hyperborean and UESC military strategist. He was the commanding officer of the 18th Fleet, which was composed of the Sun Tzu, three Li Clow-class supercarriers, four Amane-class destroyers and two Odin-class heavy cruisers, and as he watched the blackness of space unfold before his fleet, he paced the bridge floor anxiously. This was a very risky operation and everyone aboard the ship knew it…if the order came to attack, they would be ordered to destroy weapons of mass-destruction on a scale far, far larger than anything that humanity had ever encountered. However, like any competent commander, he believed that his fleet was up to the task. “Admiral, we’re approaching the heliopause in 5 minutes, preparing to engage warp on your mark.” “Also, prepare the troops in the main hangar bay. Make sure they know what their objectives are in the case that we are called into battle. Get them all kitted up and ready, I want the Paladins ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Make sure all weapons systems are kept ready around the clock as soon as we arrive in Cassiopeia. This is to be treated as a combat mission.” “Yes sir.” The crewman walked away to accomplish his tasks as the 18th Fleet neared the heliopause, or the limit of the solar wind and considered the outer boundary of the Solar System. From there, it was a 3-minute warp transit to Cassiopeia, more than 2,500 light-years from Earth. According to the Alliance of Six High Council, the situation between the Dorzet and Evosii was deteriorating by the hour, and more likely than not, military intervention would be necessary. The fleet was maintaining a steady heading, directly towards the arrangement of stars known to humans as Cassiopeia. This deep in space, the UESC fleet risked encountering Afflaf mining vessels, that peaceful, industrious race that busied itself with interstellar trade and resource extraction, and the sight of an entire fleet of Alliance warships headed directly for one of their massive mining vessels might elicit panic from the peaceful yet paranoid Afflaf. Add this to the fact that the Afflaf liked to mine the same asteroids that humans did, and there were occasional claim disputes between Afflaf prospectors and human settlements on asteroids, leading to all sorts of headaches for the Elohim lawmakers which drew up the various interstellar treaties keeping peace in the Universe from their three home planets in the Orion Constellation. However, since the Afflaf possessed no weapons, any conflict with the Alliance of Six or Dreyes Covenant was decidedly one-sided, and thus the Afflaf preferred to avoid conflict whenever possible. The last thing the 18th Fleet wanted to do was create yet another problem for the Alliance by upsetting the Afflaf, so Admiral Giles hoped that their passage into warp space was uneventful. “Warp engaging in sixty seconds…prepare to jump on my mark!” The navigator announced from his station. “Good…so far, no Afflaf.” Admiral Giles said, lighting his tobacco pipe and taking a few puffs from it, despite that it was a violation of three UESC codes to ignite a combustable aboard any UESC starship. “What about them, sir?” “They complain too much…the last thing we need is some Afflaf mining vessel encountering our fleet in deep space and running scared to the Elohim, claiming that the Alliance was ‘menacing’ them with military force. This is the area of space that they usually operate in.” “Warp engaging in 30 seconds, stand by.” The ship’s engines began to hum a bit louder as the fleet began to accelerate to warp speed. “Well, here we go. We’d best get the troops ready for action…because as soon as we get there, we’re on the clock.” Thirty seconds later, the fleet’s warp drives engaged, instantly warping the fleet into the realm of Quantum Space with a jolt as the space-time continuum parted, allowing the fleet to fly through a wormhole to the Cassiopeia Constellation. The jolt came from the antimatter annihilation that occurred when the warp drive activated, propelling the ship through the wormhole and directly towards its destination at near light speed. Thanks to the effect of the warp drive, the ship never actually traveled faster than the speed of light, but merely bended space-time to allow quick passage across the Cosmos. This innovation, made possible by the Orbis Solaris’ arrival on Earth centuries earlier, is what made the Golden Age possible. Below decks, however, in the Sun Tzu’s massive hangar bays, an entirely different camaraderie was preparing for duty.

“Good evening gentlemen, you are now 2,500 light-years from home. Let that sink in for a moment. The Alliance of Six has called us here for a very important task. Once we arrive in Cassiopeia, we will link up with the Elohim and Esarion fleets already here, patrolling the constellation. Our targets are two planets, one held by the Dorzet, and the other held by the Evosii. The Elohim scout ships have identified these two worlds as the staging areas for a massive invasion of each other’s homeworlds, and our intelligence indicates that there are literally millions of alien bugs just chomping at the bit to kill each other…in the case of war between these two armies, our job is to make sure they can’t use their weapons of mass destruction. Marines, what do you say to that?!” “OORAH!” “Yes sir! On that field today, you will be ready for everything and anything, but just know this. Your deeds are written in the stars and in stone!” “OORAH!!” The legions of UESC Marines, clad in their powered exo suits and carrying all the latest in Golden-Age weaponry stood at attention in the hangar, ready for anything, but for most of them, this was not just a mission, it was an initiation rite. Most of these Marines had never been this far from home, and had never faced a non-human enemy before. Some veterans of previous Alliance of Six interventions said that killing an alien was easier than killing a human, because it was easier to kill something when you didn’t think of it as human…however, that also held true for the aliens trying to kill you. As such, conflicts between species tended to be spectacularly bloody and brutal…no one said anything, but everyone knew that the only way some of these men were getting off those planets was in a body bag, and that was only if they were lucky. However, clad in their exo suits and armed with a plethora of weapons, each Marine knew that they had a fighting chance of getting out of this alive. The Sun Tzu shuddered as it exited Quantum Space and appeared in the Cassiopeia Constellation, looking to link up with the rest of the Alliance forces already present. Just then, a message blared over the ship’s intercom system: “All combat personnel, proceed to Paladin boarding docks at once. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill.” The Marines grabbed their weapons, placed their helmets’ respirators over their mouths, and proceeded towards the enormous Paladin-class assault barges, large, atmosphere-capable capital ships that served as flying command centers during ground operations, each one was armed to the teeth with heavy laser cannons and contained 35 orbital drop pods, for deploying ground troops into the heat of battle. As the soldiers boarded the Paladin capital ships for launch, one of them pulled out a small, archaic device from his exo suit’s gear pack. “Hey, what have you got there, soldier?” “It’s an antique smartphone, belonged to my great ancestor…it’s a family heirloom.” “Are you sure you want to carry that thing into a combat zone? That’s probably worth a lot of money.” “Yeah, but I wouldn’t sell it for a million credits if someone offered it to me. I come from a twentieth-generation military family, and we pass our stuff on from generation to generation. Family tradition. I keep it with me for good luck.” The Marine placed the antique phone back in his exo suit.” “Yeah, I can’t claim to have your pedigree, but my old man served in the UESC, so I guess I kind of had no choice but to sign up. When I got assigned to the Sun Tzu, I knew they’d have me doing some crazy stuff…but seriously, this is intense…I mean, we could literally get killed out there.” “Relax, Marine. We’re just here to maintain order, nothing more. Our orders are to engage only if the weapons of mass-destruction come online. My name’s Scott. Scott Anderson.” “Lucian. Lucian Moonraiser.” “Interesting name…hey, wait a minute, Moonraiser? As in, Moonraiser Industries?” “Yes, he’s my father. Started his company after he finished his tour of duty. We’re a superpower for hire, the fastest-growing infrastructure corporation in the Solar System. We do in a few years what it takes the UESC decades to accomplish…and we’re rivaling the major defense contractors already and in some way even surpassing them.” “Holy shit…you’re the heir to that company! What are you doing all the way out here?!” Scott joked. “Like I said…my father served. I had no choice.” Lucian responded. “Well, then again, neither did I. Twenty generations of Marines and I wasn’t going to break that family tradition…I guess this is an initiation rite for both of us. Welcome to manhood, I guess.” Both soldiers talked through their helmets’ respirators as they waited aboard the Paladins, standing at their station, waiting for launch from the Sun Tzu’s hangar bays. For them, this was far more than just a mission, it was an opportunity to prove themselves in combat against a truly alien enemy, one that lurked on the planets far below. As the Marines waited aboard the Paladins, they heard the ship’s intercom come through the SATCOM system aboard the Paladin’s bridge: “This is Admiral Giles to all combat personnel, stand by for deployment.” “Well, this is it…here we go.” Lucian said as the massive hangar bay doors began to open. A klaxon blared throughout the hangar, warning all shipboard personnel that the hangar bay doors were opening. Once the bay doors were fully opened into the vastness of space, the Paladins’ docking clamps released, allowing the smaller capital ships to drop through the open hangar doors. The Marines called this free-fall out of the ship the “Belly Buster,” and it was perhaps the most intense part of leaving the hangar aboard any UESC capital ship. As Scott and Lucian’s ship fell through the Sun Tzu, they looked around at the other Marines, who had taken their seats on benches mounted on either side of the Paladin’s interior. Each bench surrounded doors leading to the deployment pods, which would allow the Marines to drop directly into combat zones through the planet’s atmosphere. Once the Paladins were out of the Sun Tzu, projection screens activated, showing the exterior of the ship in perfect LCD clarity…and the view was truly breathtaking. Above the Paladins was the immense bulk of the Sun Tzu and the rest of the 18th Fleet, and stretched out before them was the vastness of the Cassiopeia Constellation. Several stars shined brilliantly in the vastness of space, including a binary star system directly in front of them. Orbiting one of the stars were two planets, each of which had a massive, alien-looking structure surrounding it. “Those must be the weapons of mass-destruction…God, they’re enormous structures…” Lucian mumbled, looking at the screens. Approaching the UESC 18th Fleet were three elegant, silver-chrome, glowing starships that shined like stars in the blackness of space, and they were truly enormous, even larger than the Sun Tzu, and clearly far more advanced in technology. These were the Elohim scout ships, a fleet of three capital ships sent from Elyndir, Torna and Matoi to keep watch over the situation developing on the planets far below. Also present were the black, triangular, wedge-shaped Esarion capital ships, flying in formation and approaching on a similar vector as the Elohim ships…half of the Alliance of Six was on hand to prevent war in the Cassiopeia Constellation and to intervene if war did commence. “Wow, the gang’s all here, I guess. A full half of the Alliance turned out for this, humans, Elohim and Esarion. They must be expecting something huge to happen for the Alliance to bring this much firepower.” Scott mumbled as the Paladins moved through space to link up with the Elohim scout ships. “This is Elohim capital ship Lordly Iron Hand, we have you on our scope.” The Elohim commanding officer said aboard his massive capital ship. These weren’t even the largest ships in the Elohim armada, as a matter of fact, this ship was small by Elohim standards. This was just a scout ship, the truly massive warships dwarfed anything else in the known Universe ever constructed. “Rodger that, Iron Hand. Are the Esarion fleets accounted for and ready?” “Affirmative. All Alliance fleets are in position. We are ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Our ground and undersea forces are prepared to deploy to the surface when ready.” “Esarion fleets accounted for and ready. Let us transform this world into a wasteland.” The Esarion commander hissed. “And so it begins…” The Paladin bridge crews said as Scott and Lucian listened to their conversations. This was it. They were going to war.

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