2179 ACE, in ORD/City One


There must be a faster way to exterminate MystiK brats.

SEOH ANASKO stepped away from his floor-to-ceiling window view of Lake Michigan, a swatch of blue a hundred and seventy floors below his penthouse office in ANASKO Central Tower. His image reflected back from the glass–his face cosmetically altered to allow little room for emotions to show, his hair surgically implanted and a bull of a body even if he wasn’t tall–all tools to rule the furkken unwashed masses.

He turned to face Vice Rustaad, his second in command and most trusted confidant...who was pissing him off right now.

Rustaad watched him through the icy gaze of a forty-six-year-old man with the soul of an AI. He wore his short, sealskin-brown hair slicked back in a take-no-prisoners look. A mimic of SEOH’s own head of thick, dark hair. A former competitive swimmer, Rustaad’s discipline was evident in the way he maintained muscle definition at his age, and a competitive edge second only to SEOH’s. “I understand your frustration, SEOH, but the fact remains that we have a potential problem.”

SEOH had chosen Rustaad years ago because nothing stood in Rustaad’s way once he was committed to a goal...such as winning a gold medal in the International Alliance Games that had replaced the Olympics after the K’ryan Syndrome. SEOH would love to know if Rustaad really had anything to do with the “accidental” death of his closest friend–another gifted swimmer–as the rumors suggested. According to the media, Rustaad’s childhood friend had posed the only threat to Rustaad’s winning his last two titanium medals in swimming.

My kind of man.

Undeterred by SEOH’s foul mood, Rustaad went on to say, “With the threat against TecKnati children–”

“I still don’t totally accept that our children died from some power woven into the treaty. ” SEOH could only admit that brutal truth within the soundproof walls of his private sanctum, and even here he resented the need to speak of the unspeakable.

“But the evidence shows–”

SEOH held up his hand, cutting off Rustaad. “That our three TecKnati children died as a result of vengeance and a traitor inside our group. Has to be someone who alerted the MystiKs of our complicity in the deaths of their three children, then assassinated ours.”

SEOH’s opinion hadn’t changed in the past thirteen months that Rustaad had wisely not brought up the topic again, until now. Damn him for his persistence. SEOH understood collateral damage in any war–and make no mistake about it, he was at war with MystiKs–but he hated losing those three TecKnati teens who’d shown such brilliant potential.

No loss being greater than the death of his oldest son, one of his three most prized possessions. SEOH still couldn’t believe his perfectly healthy seventeen-year-old boy had clutched his throat, gasping for air as he’d played his holo games. The security vids in SEOH’s home had recorded the entire event.

Screw the furkken treaty.

If not for Furk, the decrepit TecKnati who’d been the tiebreaker on the board of twelve before he’d finally died, there wouldn’t have been a treaty. Furk had wanted to leave a legacy, and he had, in a way. His name had morphed into a curse used by TecKnati and MystiKs. Fitting.

Rustaad still had the stubborn jut to his chin he’d walked in with this morning and continued. “My investigation has been thorough and the results speak for themselves, SEOH. There’s no way the MystiKs could have known fast enough about the deaths of their children–that I personally eliminated–for them to retaliate so quickly. Each of our three teens collapsed in identical manners. Asphyxiated. No weapons involved, as stated in the penalty clause the MystiKs added to the treaty.”

“Words on a vid screen.”

“Words written by the hand of a Hy’bridt, initially on lambskin that was blessed by the rulers of all seven Houses and ratified by you,” Rustaad amended, bowing his head to remove some of the sting of his words. He added, “Your media campaign was exceptionally successful, but some MystiKs continue to circulate word that they warned us this was how the Damian Prophecy would come to pass. They claim the prophecy begins with the deaths of three children on each side of a battle line.”

Prophecy garbage.

But after losing his oldest son, SEOH had taken measures to protect his youngest, the fourteen-year-old future TecKnati prodigy who would follow in SEOH’s footsteps. Until the BIRG Con meeting with the MystiKs, Bernardo would be kept under heavy guard with a medical team on hand. His son might be unhappy, but no one, not even a prophecy, was touching one of his only two remaining male children.

As for his middle son, well, the less thought about him, the better.

Rustaad pressed on. “Much as I hate to give them credit, the MystiKs can stand in the way of our future.” He clasped his hands behind his back, tone even and dry as old bones, an influence of being raised in a TecKnati boarding school with AI instructors. “Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought the MystiKs could become this dangerous, but I have disturbing reports that confirm what we only suspected months ago.”

“Go on.”

“The young MystiK G’ortians, some of whom are in line to be the next leaders, intend to unite the Houses and, when they do, the MystiK power is purported to become ten times stronger when joined together against one target.”

“Damned new generation.” Accepting that supernatural abilities could interfere with science went against everything SEOH believed, everything he’d been taught.

He grunted, glancing again out the window at the crisp sky, one that was pollution free, thanks to ANASKO. How could intelligent humans believe in the ‘abilities’ of these MystiK wackos?

Easily.  Most of mankind were lemmings, willing to follow anyone even if they were being led off a cliff. “Have people forgotten that technology rebuilt civilization from the K’ryan devastation and has handed them a world they enjoy today where the climate no longer destroys the earth? Where hunger is a choice?”

Before Rustaad could respond, SEOH corrected himself.

“No, not technology. TecKnatis.” He thumped his chest with his thumb. “We created this ideal environment that the MystiKs benefit from as well. We have placed the protection of the laser curtains around the Ten Cities. We prevent the rabid humans from entering our cities. The MystiKs should be on their knees thanking us for dealing with the feral C’raydonians.”

But SEOH would never admit some things that had happened to the C’raydonians, not even to Rustaad. No shared secret was safe and this could not be found out.

“Quite true,” Rustaad agreed, his nod from across the room reflected in the window facing SEOH. “And all of this progress has come about due to your recruiting the most brilliant TecKnatis to work here at ANASKO, because ... you set the bar for thinking beyond the box.”

SEOH looked over his shoulder, eyeing Rustaad who didn’t have the genetic makeup to suck up. Still, a wary man was a wise one. SEOH understood the point Rustaad made, that ANASKO had attained this pinnacle of success because SEOH not only pushed the greatest minds to reach new heights, but also because he considered the impossible to be possible.

That, in fact, had been a direct quote from the media about his HERMES space program after ANASKO transported plants and animal life from Jupiter’s second Galilean moon back to earth. SEOH missed the days of unrestricted development. But the weak stomachs of today’s world had outlawed so much, even importing or building sentient predator guardians that could morph from shape to shape as needed. Manufacturing one now would land him in prison, a cage the most hardened criminals feared. Gone were the glory days where he could take whatever action needed to protect what remained of the world.

Guard and preserve the TecKnatis.

He turned all the way around, ready to solve the problem digging under Rustaad’s skin and move forward. “If the G’ortians are the issue then we simply capture the rest of them. That will clear the way for the return to unfettered domination of technology in this world.” My domination.

“I agree, but we’re running short on time with the MystiK’s BIRG Con coming up. If plan B has a hitch–”

“It won’t.” SEOH let Rustaad see the truth in his eyes. “Neither of us can afford to allow Plan B to fail under any circumstances. Even if I would consider signing the Amity Treaty again at this BIRG Con, the minute the reclusive MystiK leaders walk into the same room with each other they’ll realize they’re all missing children of their ruling families. That would be enough for them to join forces and turn their powers on us ... if they really can do what your reports claim.”

Holding his thoughts silent for a long moment, though a deep furrow formed between his eyebrows, Rustaad calmly said, “You’ve never allowed arrogance to influence strategic planning. Why now?”

“A warning, Rustaad–take care how you choose your words.”

“I’m the last person who wants to be on the receiving end of your wrath, but you brought me on twenty-four years ago with the specific orders to watch your back. I intend to fulfill my duty even at the risk to my person.” Not missing a beat, he continued. “Our analysts have not come up with a viable scientific explanation for the interference with our last two HERMES shuttle launches. Have they?”

SEOH ground his back teeth, sure that there was a scientific answer, but since none had been discovered he had to admit, “No, they haven’t.”

“Then you must consider my intel that the leader of the Governing House did in fact combine powers within his house to interfere with those two launches to show us he was serious about stopping our space program and he isn’t even G’ortian. Can you only imagine what might be possible if the G’ortians succeed in uniting the Houses?”

If not for losing his son, SEOH would be glad he’d had the next in line for the Warrior House eliminated. “I’m not convinced they’re capable of the damage incurred in those two aborted launches. Not without help. Logic says we have a traitor, which is why I retaliated.” He paused, giving that statement weight. “Someone inside our program who sabotaged the HERMES system only to give substance to the MystiK claims of power.”

Rustaad pressed his opinion in a stronger voice. “We erred once in underestimating the MystiK abilities and lost three geniuses–future TecKnati leaders–as a result.”

Rage bunched in SEOH’s chest and rolled down to his fingers that fisted, searching for a target to crush. “Do you think I need to constantly be reminded of their deaths?”

“Of course not, and I don’t like bringing up the subject. But–”

“That’s why we’re capturing their prodigies instead of killing them, so what’s your point?”

The dark silk suit covering Rustaad’s chest rose and fell with a soft sigh, the most reaction anyone would see from the man. The gunmetal greenish-gray uniform appeared at first glance to be the same all TecKnatis wore, but was very, very different. The color a shade darker, the texture richer, the construction handmade. Plus Rustaad wore the ANASKO tri-circle insignia, awarded to only the most deserving, the most loyal of TecKnatis.

Rustaad cleared his throat and continued. “My point is this. In spite of our captives being no older than seventeen, and many much younger, they’re proving exceptional at surviving in the deadliest part of the Sphere.”

That did give SEOH pause, but as long as the brats were isolated from this world and their families they were not a problem. He couldn’t expend energy on something that didn’t deserve his time. Especially not right this minute. He had an impending meeting with his damn board of twelve. They were waiting to be updated on the Sphere.

Eleven now, he corrected himself. “I know you’re not here just to debate the power of the MystiKs again, Rustaad. What is it you want?”

“I want you to put aside your prejudice against the supernatural and open your mind to the possibility that if we underestimate MystiKs we risk making a major mistake, one that may end with them ruling this world if they unite.”

Rustaad had a way of presenting the inconceivable in a deadly tone that warranted credibility. SEOH tossed back, “I think spending ten million credits out of my own pocket to build a laser grid says I’m giving serious consideration to their power potential.”

“I’m not discounting what you’ve invested in this project, but your primary reason for building that grid originally was to allow you control over all Ten Cities. Control over TecKnati and MystiKs that depended upon TecKnati resources. Finding out the laser grid harmed MystiK powers was a bonus.”

“Point taken.” In the interest of getting this behind them, SEOH finally let go of his irritation long enough to give Rustaad’s point the respect that his second in command was asking for and deserved. In a more thoughtful tone, SEOH said, “I don’t see how MystiKs can join together if they’re as untrusting of each other as we’ve been informed. Their lack of unity is one of our best weapons against them. Seems like that alone should be enough to undermine the prophecy you keep nattering about.”

“We have to expect the unexpected. You taught me that.”

“I’ve allowed you resources to analyze that furkken prophecy, and for what? You said we only needed to grab those two G’ortians...”

“Callan and V’ru.”

“Right. Now you say we need more. We can’t succeed by chasing invisible threats.”

“I understand, but the prophecy is written as a puzzle we’re using Cyberprossessing and scientific expertise to unravel. Based on what I learned this morning, I now believe we should locate and confine the five remaining G’ortians we know of.”

SEOH missed the days when technology ruled and the MystiKs were nothing more than a group of harmless spiritualists. How had things gotten so out of control? But Rustaad was a brilliant strategist whom SEOH trusted, an allowance he rarely granted anyone. “Why?”

“Because at first we believed the prophecy meant the final step would require the G’ortians to join as one. But as we’re unraveling the meaning, we now believe that one specific G’ortian will unite all, and we have no way of knowing which one.”

SEOH raised a hand in deference. “Then do it. Grab them.”

“We will, but we can’t move too quickly. G’ortians disappearing draws more attention than losing the other MystiK adolescents. And still, capturing those other five may not be enough.”

SEOH breathed through clenched teeth for a moment, determined not to lose his patience. “Now what do you want?”

“To prevent the MystiKs any chance of outplaying us. I’m concerned about the unknown element in all of this that could jeopardize everything we’ve worked toward. To win this war for domination, I believe we must strike from all sides at once.”

Now Rustaad was talking SEOH’s language. “I’m listening.”

“First we capture the other five G’ortians, all of whom are future MystiK rulers, and take them out of play, which will prevent their prophecy from coming to fruition.”

“You’re sure.”

“As sure as I can be. We interpret the prophecy to mean that a specific G’ortian will guide the future of the world.”

I hate that mumbo jumbo crap. But SEOH believed in TecKnati analysts, the ones he’d hand selected from the best to work on his secret project. “Go on.”

Rustaad lifted his hand, two fingers unfolded as he counted. “Next, we need a successful activation on time of the laser grid to neutralize all MystiK power before the leaders meet. But to insure our final step in this plan, we must have number three–to locate the sentient computer before the MystiKs do and perfect time travel in both directions, not just into the past.”

“I do want that computer for many reasons, starting with keeping those crazy MystiKs from destroying it. But even if we don’t get our hands on it before the BIRG Con, we have confirmation that our people in the past are on track with DNA testing and inoculations. As long as we can travel back in time, we’re still good.”

Rustaad stared unfocused for a moment then said, “True. But gaining that computer would be a game changer, even more so than the grid system.”

SEOH sighed, wishing he could just blast the MystiKs to hell and back with a T-970 missile. “Speaking of the laser grid, is everything still on schedule?”

“Yes, but I’d prefer another test before the BIRG Con–”

“No. We can’t risk the MystiKs figuring out what we’re doing. If we didn’t have that idiot Troade in our pocket, the head of his House would have found out about the test we ran in City Three that caused their MystiKs to get sick.” SEOH would never allow someone with so little loyalty and backbone to remain in his camp, but MystiKs obviously didn’t demand the level of loyalty that TecKnati expected. Creature comforts were Troade’s addiction and SEOH made sure the weasel MystiK got everything he wanted.

For now.

Rustaad shifted his pose, slightly, not enough to indicate any change in his non-existent emotion. “We’ve taken some large risks over the years, but this one is huge. With such a tiny window of time to activate the grid before the MystiK leaders meet the first day of the BIRG Con, we should have a contingency plan.”

“No. You’ve convinced me to treat their powers like any other dangerous weapon. That damn grid has to work, and when I want it to work, so we can shut down these invisible powers for-ever. Our engineers have confirmed the grid will function exactly as intended. All you have to do is make sure the final grid connections between cities are completed during the twenty-four hours the leaders are between cities traveling, when they are unable to communicate with anyone from a distance. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no contingency plan that will save us from the fallout.”

Rustaad’s chest hardly moved with his shallow breaths as if he wasn’t alive. “You’re right.”

“Of course, I am. And I’ll remove any obstacle, human or otherwise, that gets in my way.”

Inclining his head in agreement, Rustaad spoke with the quiet strength of an eagle in flight. Silent, but deadly. “We will be prepared for anything and everything.”

Scratching his neck, SEOH slowed his pacing, a new idea forming. He’d never been half in on anything and certainly not now. “We need to combat the prophecy crap they’re spewing with a counter-campaign that sways public opinion, even for those of the MystiKs like Troade who enjoy life through technological advantages. That way, when we take control through the grid and/or the computer, the majority will not buck us. Lemmings do not fight.”

“What are you thinking?”

“We launch a massive campaign to remind the world that it’s TecKnati scientific and technological advances that brought us back to a civilized existence after the K’ryan Syndrome. Get a marketing team working on feel-good initiatives. I want to see a presentation by tomorrow.”

A musical hum turned SEOH’s attention to a holographic image of his AI female assistant. He said, “Yes, Leesa?”

Her soft voice floated into the room. “The ANASKO Board is assembled for your meeting.”

“Thank you.” When the image disappeared, SEOH pinched the bridge of his nose. “I wish I knew who was stirring up the board this time.” SEOH would eliminate that headache just as he had Komaen and Furk. A fitting end for Komaen, a man whose name translated as “being sent to eternal sleep.”

“They are old, SEOH. With Komaen himself gone, the rest are more cranky than actually problematic as long as–”

“I keep them content about the Sphere?” SEOH finished.


“Let’s go.” SEOH led the way to his private interoffice shuttle. It whisked him and Rustaad away at a speed that would blur the eyes, but which the human body hardly felt. Another technological breakthrough thanks to ANASKO’s efforts.

ANASKO headquarters had been built as an octopus-like structure, with arms spreading from the main building that supported entire divisions and landing pads, the interoffice transport shuttle capable of moving in any direction.

They stepped out of the shuttle into a circular conference room protected by hyper-glass that only a quad-laser could penetrate. Turbo-projectiles were mounted within the infrastructure of the compound that could be launched within two seconds if the ANASKO defense system picked up an approaching threat that could not be otherwise contained.

A paranoid man worried about threats.

A powerful man prepared for an attack.

Once inside the spacious room, Rustaad marched to a titanium antigravity podium positioned the side of the massive circular table where he would perform vid relays as SEOH directed him.

SEOH sauntered to his spot at the table where he stood between AB One, or ANASKO Board member One, and AB Twelve. The seat for AB Seven remained empty, waiting for the board to replace Komaen. The board would make a decision soon, once the four most qualified candidates completed the complex steps of high-level clearance. It had already been over a year and a half since Komaen met his demise, but one could not rush some procedures, especially those written by his own father.

Names were not used in meetings to limit any social intrusion on business. SEOH had no choice but to use Komaen’s now after SEOH had awarded a special tribute to show his deepest respect for the man he’d quietly eliminated. “Good morning, ANASKO Board. I have the quarterly progress report on the newly christened Komaen Sphere that you requested.”

He nodded at Rustaad who moved his fingers silently at the podium control panel. Individual holo-vid screens appeared immediately in front of each seated board member.

SEOH continued. “This is a short vid showing the adaptability of the MystiK children in the current trial Sphere.” He waited as several scenes scrolled by with images of happy children living in stylized cabins built from natural sphere materials. Next to the lush setting landscaped with exotic plants and welcoming grass, some of the children splashed in a man-made lake while others played games. All were dressed in simple, but colorful, tunics also made of natural materials that looked as though they were found within the Sphere.

Well, materials found within one part of the Sphere.

AB Five lifted his wrinkled gaze to SEOH. “I see only one who could be close to maturity age. Your original report indicated a number of sixteen and seventeen-year-old MystiKs captured.”

SEOH had no intention of telling this bunch just how many kids, or which ones, he’d captured. The board of twelve only needed enough information to keep them content that the children were safe and happy.

All eyes lifted to SEOH when he opened his arms, palm out, the expression of an indulgent father on his face. “As many of you pointed out when we first discussed this, the MystiK teens are no different from our own and had to be given the same consideration as our children in this situation. Because certain children are not in view does not mean they’re not within the Sphere. When have we ever been able to control youth when they were out of our sight?”

Most of the men chuckled agreeably with knowing looks, having dealt with errant teens in their own lives, even if the experience was decades ago and more memory than reality.

SEOH gave them a smile in commiseration. “We do have Mathias of the Governing House and Callan of the Warrior House. In fact, we even have V’ru of the Records House.”

That snagged their attention. Approval murmured through the room.

Capturing V’ru had been an accident, but a providential one since the boy rarely left his family home. V’ru had been near Callan, an unexpected double trophy that SEOH had no problem taking credit for capturing.

AB Five thumped the table, shoving his frown at SEOH. “But where are Callan, Zilya, V’ru and Mathias? Are they adjusting well or not?”

Once the room quieted again, SEOH explained in a patient voice he had to dig deep for. “All the children are doing fine, better than fine. Our scouts informed each of the captives that they would only be in the Sphere while the MystiKs and TecKnatis work out our differences for the joint benefits of our children. Mathias and Callan are future leaders of their respective Houses, headstrong teens. I doubt any of you will be surprised to learn that those two took a few of the more adventurous children with them and went exploring. I find that to be a positive sign.”

“How so?” AB One asked from his left.

“The Sphere was originally created to test the adaptability of plants and animals,” SEOH said, just getting warmed up for his speech. Discovering life on a planet previously thought of as only a subsidiary moon had been significant and eye-opening. And the timing could not have been better as he’d already envisioned a way to use the fact that life could exist elsewhere as a strong reason to eliminate the MystiK vermin once and for all, without damage to TecKnatis.

MystiKs should jump at the chance to rule their own planet once he took away their power in this world.

He could feel the anticipation in the room and launched into his presentation. “When we faced the possibility that the next transfer of MystiK power to the new rulers coming of age might interfere with our HERMES Intraspace plans. . .” He paused for effect, adding, “The greatest program in the history of mankind,” then continued.

“The Komaen Sphere offered a second value for our investment by becoming a holding facility for these teens while we negotiate with the MystiKs. Their families must meet us halfway and agree that the only way we will continue to survive and thrive as a civilization is through a joint effort.”

Wrinkled necks wobbled with heads nodding. Thumps from fisted hands on the table drummed three times around the room, the premier sign of agreement.

He had them. “The exciting thing about how these children are adapting so quickly and clearly enjoying the Sphere is that first of all they’re secure and content. Number two is that this is a longer-term peaceful option for the MystiKs who do not want with us.”

AB Five had taken Komaen’s place as SEOH’s most annoying board member. He sat back, fingers tapping silently on the table. “Are you suggesting that all of the MystiKs would consider living in the Sphere? It’s only slightly larger than the ten cities.”

So AB Five believed.

“Putting them in the Sphere would be better than what happened to the C’raydonians when they refused to cooperate and threatened the TecKnatis,” AB Four muttered.

SEOH withheld a smile at the single board member he could always count on. One of the TecKnati children who’d died of asphyxiation on the heels of the first MystiK child Rustaad eliminated had been AB Four’s only son. That board member would enjoy seeing where Callan and Mathias were really living in the Sphere.

But no one other than SEOH and Rustaad could be privy to all the activities that went on in the Komaen Sphere.

Rumbling conversation swept around the table until SEOH answered AB Five. “The entire MystiK population would clearly not fit in the Sphere. But if we can’t come to an agreement with them before the MystiKs hand over power to their next generation of leaders, who are consistently showing more abilities and less willingness to work with TecKnatis, we have to accept the possibility of significant technological and scientific destruction at their hands.”

The room erupted with a clash of opinions, arguing with each other whether this level of power was even possible and, if so, would the MystiKs risk destroying their own world?

The majority feared MystiKs. Which worked in SEOH’s favor.

SEOH might not believe the MystiK power to be indefensible, but many of these old bastards had lived during the first effects of the fallout from the K’ryan Syndrome and still shuddered over several unexplained phenomenon that had occurred since then.

Catching Rustaad’s eye, SEOH nodded, ready to add fuel to SEOH’s self-made fire.

Screams spewed from the vids, drawing silence in the room when every set of eyes watched in horror as the last space launch ended in disaster with flaming metal debris slicing through people racing from the observation stands. TecKnati friends and family were lost that day.

The downside of living to an old age, as these board members had, was that every one of them had been affected by disasters such as this one.

And every board member believed the MystiKs had been behind the destruction. SEOH had made sure they believed.

“Gentlemen,” he said softly this time, addressing them as human beings instead of numbers. “We owe it to the future of this world to stop the insanity. What I’m suggesting is that if the MystiKs refuse to join us in developing and protecting this fragile world we call home, that we protect our future by gifting them with a planet to make their own. We start by taking their next most powerful generation of leaders and sending them to the planetary outpost first.”

That is, if we don’t manage to eradicate the entire bunch by sending the K-virus back into the past once the inoculations for the chosen few to survive are completed at the Institutes.



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