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|One of my rare forays into science fiction. A wealthy businessman receives a peek into his daughter's future and into his own.||
A little girl with mousy brown hair and sparkling, intelligent eyes ran through one of the gardens on her family’s estate. "Daddy!"
A man’s face appeared from behind a tree after a few more seconds of calling and sprinting. "Well there’s my princess!" He caught the little girl and lifted her into an embrace when she reached him. "I thought it was getting to be around that time! How was your day, sweetie?"
"Fun! We learned how to draw today! The computer has sooo many colors…more than Mom’s irises!"
His eyes were as alive as his daughter’s as he set her down and she proceeded to describe every aspect of drawing with the contact pad. "And did you bring your beautiful picture home to show me?"
"Yeah! It’s in here!" She shrugged off her console bag. "It’s a pretty picture, too, Daddy…it’s blue and purple and red and all sorts of shapes!" she prattled as she pulled out her little computer. She flipped up the screen. "Flowers!" The screen flashed pale blue at the word and then, after a moment, her artwork filled the screen. She held it out to her father. "See, Daddy? It’s flowers! There’s roses, and irises, and three two-lips!"
He took it from her and examined it. He couldn’t have suppressed the smile on his lips if he had tried. "Very pretty, princess! I’ll ask Mrs. Timsen to make a printout of this so that I can hang it in the library! Just beautiful!"
Her eyes sparkled. "On paper?" It was a rare honor indeed. Her excitement overshadowed all else for the next few minutes and echoed through the garden.
He finally picked up her console bag and slipped it back onto her shoulders. "On paper. I’m sure that Mommy wants to see your pretty picture, too, Princess. Run in and say hi, and show it to her!"
"‘Kay!" She took the screen from him and then looked a little hesitant to go inside. "You’ll still make a printout, right Daddy? On paper?"
He smiled. "Of course, Angel! I’ll give it to Mrs. Timsen tomorrow! Just show it to your mother first!"
She displayed as many teeth as her little mouth would allow and, computer in hand, began to run back to the house. After a few steps, she skidded to a stop. "I forgot, Daddy. A lady gave me a letter to give you when I was waiting for Mr. Frederick to pick me up! It’s on paper…" she smiled broadly at the word "…just like my picture is going to be!" She took her console pack off and set it on the ground in front of her. It didn’t take her more than a second or so to find the envelope—there were only a few small, light computer components in her bag and the message was right on top. She pulled it out as though it were a sheet of platinum and presented it proudly to her daddy.
He was perplexed but managed to smile. "Thank you, honey! Run and tell your mother hello now!" He looked at the letter once she had gone. Strange. Why didn’t that woman simply send me an e-mail? He looked at the writing on the front. His name was written in the middle in flowing but very legible script. It was the lower right hand corner of the envelope that caught his attention, though.
"Do not open until your daughter’s twenty-third birthday."
He stared at the sentence. Do not open? Why? He walked over to a favorite bench beside a flawlessly trimmed hedge and sat down, the looked at the letter again. It was the first paper message he had gotten since he had received his brother’s wedding invitation five years ago.
I shouldn’t open it.
But it was sent to you today.
There must be a good reason not to.
There may not be.
Who was that woman, anyway?
Open it to know.
Why does she have anything to do with my daughter?
Open it to know.
The debate continued for the better part of twenty minutes. He ran a hand through his barely-graying hair, a nervous habit that he had had since high school.
Can not opening this hurt my daughter?
Open it to know.
Open it to know.
Open it to know.
I should open it, in case it can.
Yes, you should.
He turned the envelope over in his hands so that the flap faced up and pried up an edge of it open with his fingernails and, as soon as the chasm grew broad enough, slit the entire seal with a finger. He reached into the envelope and then, after retrieving its charge, set it on the bench beside him.
The paper the message had been written on was off-white rather than the shade of pure computer paper. It didn’t look as though it was yellowed with age, though—it was simply meant to be this way. He unfolded it, rotated it when it turned out to be upside-down, and began to read its handwritten message.
I will not bother with a salutation—you know who you are, do you not? I feel as though I also know you, after all that I have studied your affairs, businessman, although you do not know of my existence. This letter, as you have probably already guessed by the envelope, concerns your dear daughter. I suspect that your daughter is not yet twenty-three, or even aged more than a week beyond giving you this letter, but I can certainly not keep you from continuing.
It is obvious that your daughter will not always be a little girl, but her womanhood is still lost in the obscure future. I will tell you something about what she will become. I am not representing any corporation that purports an ability to move your daughter forward through life, claiming to raise her intelligence quotient or to enhance her memory, nor am I a scam artist of any sort who wishes to take money for my services, real and imagined alike. I am not claiming to effect anything, only to tell of what will be. That which is my history is your tomorrow.
I can imagine the skeptical expression on your face at this moment. Do not discredit me so quickly, however. Simply read the remainder of this message—as a fanciful work of fiction, if you will—and wait for tonight’s satellite explosion to validate my claims.
The year 2203 was one of greatest times of unrest and upheaval in the order of this world, because in that year, the elections of the Nine all coincided. The massive instability that resulted from the complete power shift had been anticipated more than twenty years earlier by a calculating general of one of the Lesser Nations, Xanthian.
Xanthian was a genius in the truest sense of the word. Years before any other person had considered the alignment of the power shifts, she had begun planning for it. She spent years mustering support for herself behind her government’s back, winning the hearts of her troops with her eloquence, all without her country’s president—the only person above her in the chain of command—ever suspecting that his dear general/protector/friend was on the verge of usurping him.
Xanthian, by the time that the 2203 election took place, was irrefutably the most influential figure in the region. The day after the last former leader stepped down and allowed his successor to take his place, she acted. Her own nation fell under her control with little ceremony and less difficulty. It had been essentially been hers anyway. Under her guidance, the seven countries bordering her own fell—four willingly, three not—within three short weeks. The world hardly had a chance to draw a breath. There was a slight lull in the action for two weeks while her troops took firm control of all of the newly conquered nations’ weapons and resources. The armies of the fallen countries were shifted immediately and almost completely to her control by a perfect combination of the right words and well-placed coercion.
The Nine, despite watching her actions carefully, had elected to allow the Lesser Nations to resolve their own conflicts. It was a fatal mistake. With her firepower roughly heptupled and her manpower increased by a factor of five, Xanthian targeted the first of the Nine.
The world paled and finally took notice of her when the nation fell to her forces in less than six months. The remaining eight superpowers finally realized their folly when their brother fell but had already sealed their fate. With the firepower that had so recently been in the hands of their allies, two more of the nations—unfortunate enough to make up a free peninsula in Xanthian’s new empire—simultaneously came under attack. The first fell after three months of fighting. Several days after its surrender, Xanthian attacked a fourth nation, yours. This brings us to your daughter’s twenty-third birthday. A mere three days later, you were killed when your house fell victim to a missile, as it had been suspected of housing government files.
Your daughter was devastated by your death. You were very successful in creating a close relationship between the two of you. She was so deeply affected by your demise that, while she had advised the leading generals of your nation before, she suddenly took an active role in the top tiers of the armed forces despite her lack of military rank.
I must imagine that this surprises you somewhat. You daughter seems to be but a rather bright child right now. The extent of her genius is not yet obvious. It seems that the fates, throughout history, have allowed no more than one true genius to exist at any given time. Now is the first instance, to the best of my knowledge, that they have allowed that rule to be broken. Even as you read this, there are two—neither more nor less—brilliant minds on the planet. One is twenty-one years old, and the other is seven. Xanthian and your daughter, by themselves, will form the balance of power in this world.
After several leading generals of your nation were killed by assassination, your daughter—with your death still firmly and vividly burned into her mind—takes complete leadership of the armed forces. Xanthian’s assassins, despite their best efforts, were unable to touch your daughter due to her intricate "counter-espionage" network. The counter-spies, often from Xanthian’s nation, supported a well-organized, perfectly coordinated system of false information. Reports of your daughter’s whereabouts were confirmed and reconfirmed by Xanthian’s forces but they ultimately and unfailingly proved false.
Xanthian and your daughter became bitter rivals. Even when the nations around yours fell, everything that your daughter commanded stood fast. After her country had stood against Xanthian for two years, without losing any territory, the treaties that your daughter had pushed for were finally realized. The remaining three nations of the previously mighty Nine finally united into not only three allied nations but into one country. This drastic step proved to be the perfect one. The new nation, despite the official power belonging to all three leaders of the Old Nations, was commanded entirely by your daughter.
With the new firepower and manpower in her hands, the war stabilized and a more intricate bout began. Like any game, each day, each hour, had its own winner and loser. The two roles were exchanged by Xanthian and your daughter with wearying regularity. Each of the two players, both sensing how perfectly their skills were matched, simply sat and waited. There was a small conflict here, an air strike there, a satellite raid over there. Nothing of substance was accomplished, nor did player try to effect any great upset. Each waited for the other to make a mistake.
It took twelve years for the hope to be realized. Xanthian was the first and last of the two contenders to make a careless move. Her troops spread too thin along one line of her empire’s boundaries. It was a remarkably small matter, really. But your daughter knew better. She acted with dizzying speed. Her air force aided her ground troops in the performance of a perfectly choreographed push to Xanthian’s capital.
Xanthian realized her mistake the instant the first plane crossed her border, but the damage had been done. Exactly one year and seven months after the strike had begun, Xanthian’s power ended. Rather than stand for military execution, she vanished. None of the reports that your daughter received about Xanthian’s location ever matched and, despite diligent searching, the Blood Tyrant, (a title that Xanthian had received only months into her push for domination,) escaped. She has not been discovered even as I write this, although I believe that your daughter’s forces will capture her soon.
The word "Reconstruction" used to refer to the rebuilding of the South after the old United States’ Civil War, but it has taken a new meaning and new intensity in my current time. It takes far more effort to rebuild the entire world order and nearly five percent of Earth’s cities than it took to piece one half of a country back together. Your daughter has settled into her role as the leader of this revival, though. She has restored power to some leaders and has created an intricate yet beautifully simple plan for changing the role of the Nine—virtually eliminating their stranglehold of power, actually—and for keeping a tyrant like Xanthian from ever rising again. The history books will hail her as the young genius to halt the brilliant dictator Xanthian in her tracks.
This is history as I know it. It will no longer progress this way. It seems that every person desires to change the world. You are one of the few to succeed in that goal. I instructed you not to read this letter until days before your death. I did not, however, do so without cause. Knowledge of the future will destroy it. Knowing what your daughter will become—a military genius, to add to the strain—will temper the love that you show to her. The added knowledge that it is ultimately your death, not a direct reaction to your words, that will be her inspiration will be a more daunting parenting dilemma than any ever encountered. The overcompensation that you try to counter my words with will be every bit as damaging. Your daughter, by your grace, will never realize her destiny.
With my sincerest gratitude,
He stared at the last line. His hands shook. Suddenly a loud, scornful laugh joined the birds’ songs, startling them into silence.
A letter from the future…preposterous. It’s incredible, ridiculous! For one thing, they barely even used paper today. It was absurd to think that he would ever receive anything from the future, let alone something that probably wouldn’t even exist!
He crumpled the letter in his hands as his nervous laughter began to abate and stood up. He almost fell once due to his shaking legs, decided that he had simply been sitting still for too long, and walked toward the house. He tossed the letter into the trash incinerator as he walked past.
Letter from the future…heh.
He started a bit at the voice, then, remembering the last paragraph of the letter, picked up the girl and put her on his shoulders. "Hello again, Princess! What do you need?"
Contrary to her usual fast, enthusiastic responses, there was a pause. Something about his exaggerated manner—although she didn’t define it in so many words—made her hesitant to respond. "Mom says the cook has dinner ready," she said finally. She squirmed to get down.
He lifted her from his shoulders and set her gently on the ground. I’m upset. That damn letter has me upset and I’m snapping at my daughter because of it. I’ll calm down soon enough. It’s not as though I’ll stop loving my daughter because of a piece of paper.
He forced a smile. "That’s great, honey! Are you hungry?"
He sat in his study later that night, flipping through the day’s news on the computer in his lap.
Depressing, depressing, heartening, depressing again…all these little wars in the Lesser Nations…God, what’s this world coming to?
A low, melodic tone cause him to absently flip a switch on the computer.
The frantic voice of one of his top underlings poured out of the speakers. "Sir, one of our satellites just collided with a cloaked military one! They both went down in flames…the explosion was so big that it shook Triomsi City…"
|Mercy and Merciless||'Dreamer's Star'|