Avalon:Volume 1 Prologue 1
Prologue I - Birth of a Nation - The Fracturing Emergence of Three
(One hundred and seven 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 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 had 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 admired, even loved.)
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', 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 EtherTech 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 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, with blatant inferiority.
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, for 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.
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