Avalon:Volume 1 Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 - Birth of a Nation, Sins of a Lifetime

107 T-years ago...

"---And so I present to you, the Constitution of the Star Republic of Avalon!"

The standing ovation that followed washed through the Grand Chamber of Representatives like a tidal wave, drowning out even the celebratory calls from those less sophisticated.

It was hard to imagine that this massive chamber was built almost overnight, courtesy of modern nanite construction technology. It was like an enclosed circular amphitheater, with suites of clustered seating forming concentric rings. Their heights dropped sharply as it neared the center, where an elevated podium seated the Speaker of the Floor and other dignitaries. Each suite was built like a balcony, with at least half dozen seats and designed to hold multiple representatives from a single sector. Spanning several hundred meters from one side to the other, the colossal chamber held hundreds of suites and could accommodate thousands of politicians.

Right now, less than a quarter of those seats were filled, and no more than a third of those present were legally elected representatives. The rest were simply 'trusted' individuals hand-picked by whatever temporary civilian governance still available in each sector.

It couldn't be helped. After all, the bloody war that lasted five whole years only ended a week ago when the last of the Magelords fell. Even now, isolated pockets of resistance under the old Avalonian Dominion continued to hold out against the rebellion.

...No, it was a rebellion no longer. The glory of victory has guaranteed a new role in which history would remember them --- not as felons committing high treason, but as martyrs and revolutionaries.

Five years ago, seven generals had coordinated a coup de'tat against the Dominion over the unjust and inhumane policies it took to sequester the deadly Great Eldritch Plague --- or at least, deadly to those of magical power, while the untalented folks could remain as unaffected carriers for life. Today, only three of these generals remained, proudly bearing the single-starburst rank insignias of Marshal as they graciously shook hands with one another on the podium. They then turned towards the battle-hardened admirals and Centurion aces that surrounded them, their words lost in midst of the continued thunderous applause as they shook hands with each and every one.

They were all heroes. They all fought for this day with their very lives. Therefore it was only right that they be here to bless the birth of a new nation.

So the explanation went...

Yet to those who kept their wits, who counted off each person without being swept away by the mood, it was obvious that several individuals who made decisive contributions to the war were missing.

(Roomful of civilian sheep being led by military wolves... some Republic.)

Vice-Admiral Leslie Manhattan stood up in a guest suite and left the Grand Chamber of Representatives in a dour mood, stepping into one of the diamondweave-glass-covered corridors that weaved across the building's exterior.

She looked out of the glass walls and her gaze swept across central Rennes. The once largest metropolis on the planet of Brocéliande had been torn apart by brutal street-to-street fighting. Yet in just a few months, it was rebuilt as though nothing had happened. But a careful look told her that the buildings were too new, their interiors still too empty, and nano-lathing construction machines continued to prowl the streets and its airways.

Civilizations could be rebuilt in the blink of an eye, but its people could not be replaced so easily.

Her heart ached with guilt as she saw the brilliant hue of the new constructor model's ether core, but it soon disappeared behind an empty building.

(Some superficial patches and they're already greedily dividing the spoils.)

Leslie had seen the new Constitution. She had tried her best to put a stop to it. But too few had remained her allies after her fall from grace.

The founding articles of this nation laid its path to decline before it could even be born. The Republic may be electoral, but with its actual power divided amongst a tricameral legislature plus an executive without sufficient power, it was guaranteed to bury any undesirable topic under mountains of red tape.

Then who would decide what was undesirable?

The Shadow Kings --- the Marshals, of course.

It was a magnificent plan. Instead of fighting over power in a war that no longer had justification, why not work together to rule over the foolish masses that saw only the boons they were promised?

Longevity treatments for all would more than double the human lifespan, much of it spent with the vitality and youth of the twenties. Implants and public networks guaranteed free healthcare for life and entertainment over the virtual reality channels. Basic stipends ensured that none will ever starve as long as the system stayed. Even their need to voice opinions was covered under the universal right to vote for Representatives, Counselors, and Senators.

It seemed like utopia.

But its true goal was appeasement.

How many people would remain brave enough to risk their lives in defiance under such conditions? To challenge modern security and military efficiency when they had nearly two centuries of healthy, gratifying lives, be it in reality or in virtual. Even if they had grievances, even if the system frustrated them, they could reconcile themselves with the notion that they had tried through the electoral system. They would be forced to accept that there were simply not enough dissidents like them to enforce change.

Would there still be challengers to the system? Always, but not enough.

Not as long as the Marshals kept just enough people satisfied, with just the right people in power at the right places.

After all, Democracy was a matter of wealth and manipulation like any other program of public relations and propaganda. Enough money and influence exerted in the right direction will always sink popularity into a sea of rumors, accusations, and misleading reports.

The Oligarchy of the Dominion was indeed replaced by a Representative Republic, but one with its leash held in the hands of a Stratocracy of three warlords.

The reign of the three military districts has begun.

(And I helped them do it.)

Vice-Admiral Leslie Manhattan, Commander of the Office of Research and Development, foremost expert in the field of life sciences and magic across humanity.

Yet behind her back, people have already began calling her the Soul Binder --- one who turned the tide of the war by enslaving an entire population for eternity.

(...Only because I wanted to save my comrades, save the man I once loved and admired.)

She could still remember the forced smile on Marshal, no, General Kai Mannerheim during those hopeless days.

By inventing the Soul Binding spellword, she had brought the light of hope to the rebels during their darkest hour. Combined with the ancient Crystal Prison spell and cast upon a modern genetically-enhanced mage, or 'Genie' as popular terms went, it produced a crystal that refined natural mana to malleable ether and allowed even those without the gift of magic to harness the powers of mystical tools.

They were called 'Arvitor Crystals', as 'Arvitor' was quickly being adopted as the new, politically correct term for 'Genie'. The alien word sounded even more disconnected from humanity, as it stood for 'Arcane Servitor'. It was a phrase first discovered when they broke through the Dominion central research database and uncovered files labeled 'The Imperium Project'.

Leslie was often called a genius, but she wasn't blind to common sense. She knew the dangers the moment she looked into the first crystal and saw the tiny 1/25th girl within, suspended in an awakened form of stasis, her eyes wide with terror.

But she had been too naive and too desperate back then. The Dominion's magical arsenal had crushing superiority over the rebels in every engagement, and she thought her invention could save the cause before it was locked away forever.

After all --- who would allow something as barbaric and wretched as slavery to persist in this day and age?

But her mistakes didn't stop there.

Like a fool, she continued to develop EtherTech (magical technology) adaptable for everyday use, be it the restoration modules that allowed man to benefit from eight hours of rest in only two, or the immunity bio-implants that would prevent almost any illness. Time and health were top priorities during any war, after all.

Worse yet, she encouraged the same of everyone who worked under her. Not only would their development lead to a faster end to the war, but also improve the quality of life afterwards; two birds with one stone, who could ask for anything better?

Five years later, it had been written into law: all Arvitors were stripped of their rights of man and hunted down for 'Crystallization', all Arvitor Crystals henceforth classified as properties of the State.

The edict met overwhelming approval, and not just because the Genies and the Magelords have thoroughly ruined public goodwill towards them due to their social policies. Policies that steadily grew more prejudiced against non-magical people over the course of over three hundred years until it treated them, nearly half the populace, as blatant inferiors.

Leslie had underestimated just how much society was willing to lie to itself, to turn a blind eye when their quality of life was at stake. With magical ethertech supplementing technology at every level within the Avalonian society, the only way the those very promises that everyone wished for could be kept, was by continuing the practice of utilizing Arvitor Crystals. Unless magic and ether remained in abundant supply, the State simply could not uphold their production gains and economic development.

With growth they would demand more ether. With demand they would need more crystals. Human souls remained the only medium capable of converting mana into ether, the fuel of all magic.

When the supply of Arvitor Crystals became a limiting factor of social growth decades down the road, what then?

Leslie didn't even want to think about it. She already knew the terrifying answer.

It was a cycle that spun out of control, and she had done her hardest to push civilization into it.

(What will history books remember me as?)

The Soul Binder who became the role model for an entire generation of immoral engineers; who innovated with no regard for ethics; who ruined an entire people and helped establish a government that would rule with a new form of tyranny for centuries to come.

As she stepped onto a glass elevator, Leslie let go of another sigh, one that expressed not mere depression or resignation, but the very last vestiges of a will that was being eaten away by guilt with every passing day.


...


A week later, Vice-Admiral Leslie Manhattan, one of the greatest engineers that would grace the history of humankind, was found dead in her cabin, her skull shattered and a needler pistol in hand.

Autopsy claimed that she had committed suicide, but more than a few officers questioned whether it was an assassination ordered by Marshal Mannerheim to silence the admiral, protégée, and ex-lover who once sat in his inner circle and knew simply far too much.



Present day...

Kannon's eyes sprang open as she suddenly woke up from her dream. She felt sticky all over; her entire body covered in sweat under the thin sheets of her sleep module. She dragged her hands up to wipe the sweat off her forehead, realizing that for a second time in her life, her body was sore and aching all over. It was probably the same feel experienced by those who just finished a triathlon.

(So this is the power of Eternal Chronicle... what an exhausting one.)

If she was interpreting these symptoms correctly, her body was screaming out in complaint of its magical exhaustion. Her ether supply was drained far beyond the norm, and her magic-conductive nerves were badly strained. If she was a power plant (which all mages were, in a sense), her supply grid would be in a state of 'brownout' right now.

Thankfully, she had no intention to do anything physical or magical for some time. Instead, it was her mind that was going into overdrive now.

(Vice-Admiral Leslie Manhattan...)

It had taken her some time (and some drama) to accept it, but Kannon was an Arvitor too. Yet despite the nightmarish reality suffered by Arvitors due to Leslie's actions, she could not bring herself to hate or even dislike the genius admiral that lived a century ago.

The story was just too sad...

It also explained why the 3rd District was willing to ally with the Moonlit Eclipse, whose operational purpose was to bring eventual freedom to the Arvitors.

Kannon looked at the translucent windows displayed around her, virtual figments of augmented reality (AR) that displayed to her senses directly through her neural-interfacing implants. She had been reading information from Marshal Sidika's crystal chip before falling into a drowsy daze and activating her power.

The still-active windows mostly told of the life of one man --- Marshal Kai Mannerheim.

Ambition and cunning, General Mannerheim had been one of the original seven who began the coup. He lead the fringe systems' resistance through the war, surviving to become the Marshal of the 3rd Military District --- the shadow ruler of the Avalonian Republic's outer planetary systems. He then spent decades solidifying his rule on the outer systems. He was a ruthless tyrant, but not an incompetent one. The economic and social reforms he enacted propelled the fringe systems from rural, backwater societies into industrial and commercial powerhouses, capable of matching against even the 1st and 2nd Districts where mankind first settled in this sector of space.

Then, after over a century of struggles, Marshal Kai Mannerheim, one of the three most powerful men on this side of the galaxy, discovered a fact that countless men of ambition did before him: he was lonely.

He had two wives, dozens of protégés, numerous old veterans whom he could call upon to chat, and untold numbers of subordinates and retainers. Yet, there was not one who understood him, understood the worries, insecurities, and pains that accumulated in him after nearly two centuries of life.

Reflecting upon the past, he realized that there was once a person that did. But for the sake of his ambition, he had brought her life to a premature end with his own actions, with his own hands.

In his final years, Marshal Mannerheim tracked down Leslie's wartime diary. Reading through with teary eyes, he once again remembered the love and understanding she had for him and his dreams, as well as the overwhelming guilt that forced her away and eventually took her life --- a guilt he had propelled without any consideration.

Kai Mannerheim had been a staunch realist for most of his adult life. But in the nostalgia of old age, he began to reminiscence about romanticism once more --- romanticism that spoke of the perfect partner in the world for every being; an ideal soulmate, one he could truly open his heart to, discovered only once in many lives.

He had found his in this lottery of life. But instead of cherishing her, he had used her like a stepping stone before tossing her aside.

He had sought redemption, not only for his own sins, but for hers as well. However, he had started too late.

Kayeten's mother, Marshal Sidika Krivoshein, had been Marshal Kai Mannerheim's protégée. He had taken an interest in the enticing and cool beauty ever since she walked in the doors of the 3rd District officers school as the first female entrant from the conservative Islamist planet of Aaru.

It was on Marshal Mannerheim's deathbed that he officially passed her the baton, both proverbially and literally. He told her of his life's greatest regret, hoping that she would not make the same mistakes he once did. With the future of the 3rd Military District entrusted to her hands, he also passed her the still-growing seedlings of his final years' efforts, the final legacy of his life.

The top-secret Bolthole project would take decades to bear fruit. But through it came strength, power enough to grant an opportunity to change the world.

Kannon's eye unfocused from the AR window and stared at the ceiling.

Hours ago, she wondered why Sidika was willing to give entries of her personal diary and 1st level confidential information from the 3rd District merely to satisfy the curiosity of a young girl in the new alliance.

Now, as Kannon wiped the tears from her left eye, she understood. For idealists like Shirayuki and her Moonlit Eclipse revolutionaries, people who valued dreams more than realpolitik, there was no better information to solidify the bonds of trust, loyalty, and dedication in the new alliance between the Eclipse and the 3rd Military District.



----- * * * -----



At breakfast next morning, Kayeten found Kannon tired and sluggish, with a red-eye and dark-shadows underneath, all signs of a sleepless night. That was rather hard to achieve given the magical bio-technology of the age which allowed the human body to recover fully from merely two hours of sleep. With yesterday in consideration, he had no doubt what the culprit was, and it unsettled Kayeten that he was the one who delivered it.

"Mother," he said in a noncommittal voice as he closed the door behind him. "Just what did you do to that girl this time?"

Marshal Sidika sat in a large, fancy, and very comfortable-looking office chair/recliner. Her appearance was well into her thirties, which meant she was probably over a hundred years of actual age. She had a firm, well-endowed figure that would easily pass for a model was she somewhat taller. Her deep eyes, soft nose, and fair lips formed a perfect mixture between Northern European and Middle-Eastern traits, and the large red garnet that decorated her elegant hair bun accentuated her grace and beauty, as though a dark red rose in full bloom.

For a moment, Sidika's eyes continued to dart back and forth, all around the room. It was a sign of someone who was multitasking with augment-reality projection windows opened all around them. But because AR windows only appeared for the one accessing them by default, it always looked weird to anyone else watching the user --- especially in an empty room like this one where the only noticeable objects were Sidika's chair and the plain table before her where a tray of half-finished breakfast laid.

Kayeten continued to wait patiently by the door. He went into a formal military standing posture out of pure habit, even though Sidika never cared for formalities outside official events.

It was one of the reasons why many subordinates were so close to her... Marshal Sidika welcomed opinions and proximity even when they disagreed. Such a web of familiar relationships offered great advantages, but it also took one of true charisma to command when circumstances got tough.

A few minutes later, Sidika finally turned around, her natural expression graced by her almost perpetual devilish smile.

"I just gave her some motivators, that's all."

Kayeten raised his eyebrows in doubt.

"Oh trust me. They're factual. There's little point trying to lie to Eternal Chronicle, regardless of her naivety. I just... embellished and dramatized it, a little," Sidika finished with a wink.

"What are you trying to play at now?" Kayeten asked with his best uncaring voice. He was almost afraid of the answer. He knew his mother far too well.

"Ever heard of that pop culture expression... He has now become your friend! He will now die for you!"

"Ehhh... I think that started from a popular net-game not-so-long ago."

"Well, a little manipulation on the side to start making it a reality then~" Sidika grinned.

Whatever she might have thought of its ethics, she did not hesitate to answer Kayeten for the slightest second. That was the strength of their mother-son bond.

Sighing, Kayeten turned and strode towards the door, muttering under his breath: "evil."

"Thank you~!" the Marshal graciously called out as Kayeten left.

Turning back around in her chair, Sidika sighed deeply and muttered quietly to herself:

"Treasure that youthful naivety; you can still do great things with it."

Then the military dictator of the 3rd District returned to her work.



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