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|The humans have escaped, but drawn the attention of the Solars...||
Monday, 27 June 2113 A.D.
Northern California Coast
Jayden stared into the flames. Their dance was intricate and entrancing. In the vast metropolis of Australia, fire had always been an enemy, never a friend. Now the vibrant, rapid flickering symbolized freedom in its fullest.
Their stolen patrol boat had managed to get them to North America. The plan had worked with almost no glitches, though traversing the ocean had been unpleasant. Five people setting out onto the ocean into a new world was a faith-trying experience. Their trust in the navigation system was worn thin near the end of the voyage.
Then they saw land.
Grey cliffs had risen to meet them, ethereally beautiful in the mist. The crash of surf welcomed them back to the lands of their inheritance. Then Jayden saw the forest. Oh, the forest. Trees were a rarity in Australia even before the population swelled to over ten billion, and everything was dry. Here lush green hid beneath a canopy of life.
Weeping with joy and delight, their party had clambered out of the boat as quickly as their sea weary legs would take them. They had kissed the ground and hugged each other. They had made it.
Now, their first night ashore in the Old World, Jayden stared into the flames. Tranquility surrounded him. Soft thunder brought quiet rain. Perhaps I do believe in God, he wondered. For this is certainly heaven.
* * *
Monday, 27 June 2113 A.D.
Aether, East Coast
Lucas stared into the flames. Their dance was one of maliciousness and grief, eating away the one thing he loved above life itself. It was ironic, he decided. The one he loved, Firien, was taken from him by her very namesake.
He stood before the funeral pyre, unashamed tears falling silently. Nine other pyres loosed dark smoke and sorrow into the night air. Sera herself watched over the ceremony. Her face obscured by a black veil, she wept for the dead.
Later that night when even the embers began to fade, Lucas turned away from his vigil. Not pausing even to dry his cheeks, he strode purposefully for his home. His mind was set. His love would be avenged.
* * *
“I seek audience with Seraphim Firehair, Lady of Light.”
“Your request will be presented, Lucas, Son of the Morning. Wait here.”
The guard turned and passed quietly through the door. Lucas stood in full armor before the grand doors to the Great Hall. The Aetherius Palace made even the greatest Solar pause in wonder, for it was a gleaming jewel of glass and marble, yet Lucas was not impressed. His focus was inward.
“Your request is granted, please step in.” Lucas walked past the guard without a glance.
Drawing his sword, he knelt before Sera. “My Lady, I thank you for your mercy.”
A soft hand touched his shoulder, then lifted his bowed head to meet her gaze. That touch had made kings melt. “Why the formalities, my friend? To request a formal audience with me is unusual for anyone. Especially you.” She looked into his eyes and almost gasped. The life that once crowned them was extinguished. “It’s Firien, isn’t it.” It was not a question.
“Grief causes changes.”
Her eyes softened. “Of course, but grief can bring friends closer too, instead of pushing them apart. Come, have a drink with me. We will work through this.” She motioned towards a table and he rose.
“Not today Sera. Not for a long time.”
She looked warily at him. “What do you mean?”
“I came to say goodbye.”
“What for, dear friend? The newest colonies are not ready for visitors, and your land and kin are here. Unless…” she looked pityingly at him. “You seek solitude to sort through her death.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“My friend,” she asked, “why must you speak in riddles? Let us talk as we always do. Come, have refreshment.” She poured herself a cup of tea, blowing the sweet aroma his way.
“I go hunting those responsible for Firien’s death.”
Sera looked up, aghast. “We have already sent out police to find them and return them to Australia…”
“That won’t solve the problem, Sera.” His voice was cold. “You know this. I know this. It’s been three weeks, and nothing has happened! I will make something happen!”
“Violence is not the solution…”
“Then what is, Sera?” he shouted. “Violence was their answer! In the name of God, it will be mine! How many years of her life did they cut short? A millennia?” He trembled, his voice shaking. “A millennia of heaven.”
Sera moved slowly towards him, her voice soft. “My friend, I am so sorry.”
His eyes riveted back to her, his tears stopped. The hardness of his look froze her. “They have damned me to my hell. I will send them to theirs.”
* * *
Tuesday, 28 June 2113 A.D.
Northern California Coast
“Why do you think they use swords?”
“You know, why would the Solars use swords? They’re so much less effective than guns.”
“Tell that to Gabriel.”
Jayden sat still for a moment, mulling it over. “But still, wouldn’t guns be easier?”
“Maybe that’s exactly it. If they really are perfect, killing cannot give them pleasure. Did you see the tear on her cheek when she…well…” Katriel’s voice grew husky. She cleared her throat as Jayden nodded. “Anyway, if they dislike killing, perhaps swords are intended to limit their power. They are already far more powerful than us. If they were to take our technology, or even develop their own advanced weapons… well, the destruction among our people could be catastrophic. It’s a self-imposed limit, to keep killing from becoming effortless.”
“That would make sense, I guess.”
“You don’t seem satisfied with that answer.”
“No it’s not that, it’s just… oh I don’t know.”
Katriel stood and moved to sit next to him. “Tell me.” Her voice was soft and soothing.
Jayden stared into the flames. “I don’t know… it’s just… everything I ever believed in, all the hatred and enmity, it all seems so misplaced. They’re perfect. Maybe they should inherit this earth.” He buried his face in his hands. “She was so beautiful.” There was no need to ask who ‘she’ was.
Katriel put her arm around him. “Maybe so. But that doesn’t mean we should be erased. We have a right to this world too.” She tried to sound firm.
“Do we really, Kat? All of human history has been plagued by wars, death, destruction. Worse, it’s always the innocent who suffer most. Even in Australia, crime is not under control. Humanity has been defeated, has been sentenced to banishment in an arid metropolis, and still we seek to fight, steal, kill…
“I’ve wondered too why the Solars didn’t just destroy us. Then the world would be theirs, Eden would return. I suppose that in their capacity for love they could not find it in themselves to wipe us out. So they left us to destroy ourselves.” Jayden looked Katriel in the eye. “That is what we will do. The Solars patrol, but they mostly leave us to ourselves. All the great men are broken in their defeat. No one now will stand up for the goodness in humanity. Hope is fading.”
“No he didn’t. Not really. Couldn’t you tell? It took me till now to place my finger on what was wrong with him. He knew we weren’t in the right.”
Katriel clutched his hand, her voice breaking. “Don’t tell me that, Jayden. Don’t slay my hero, your hero. I have to hold on to something. I have to believe we worked for what was right. Think about it. There was no way we should have made it this far. It’s laughable. But we did it. That has to count for something. Some power wants us to succeed. Look around you. Behold the world that should be ours.”
She stood up, hot tears falling as her arms stretched to the sky. “Don’t we deserve this too, Jayden? You speak of criminals. Are we bad people? You and me, Jesse, Ariel, and Seanna? Was Gabriel evil? Why can’t we share this too? The taste of the rain, the spray of the sea. The trees. Why not?”
Jayden caught her gaze, his tears matching her own. “Because we killed an angel.”
Her voice faltered. “In the end though, wasn’t it worth it? We get to be here, we get to start over. The future of humanity is in our hands. Isn’t that worth something?” No response. “Look around you, man, it’s beautiful!”
He eyes grew distant. “So was she.”
With a cry Katriel spun around and raced away from him, into the darkness. Jayden stared into the flames.
* * *
Friday, 15 July, 2113 A.D.
Aether, East Coast
Sera leaned on the rail of her balcony. The view was spectacular, overlooking the entire city of Aether. The white marble buildings were dazzling in the sunlight, and her spirit couldn’t help but lift a little. The Aether, Latin for ‘heaven’, was truly beautiful. The architecture was unparalleled, with twisting spires and gentle arches elegantly triumphing in perfection.
Yet Sera still was deeply troubled at heart. The unthinkable was happening. Lucas was rebelling, and the perfection of the Solars was failing. Hatred is supposed to be beneath us. That was the whole purpose of our takeover. A few deaths in the name of the greater good in order to ensure the survival of the earth and prevent the countless pointless deaths from human hatred. Now our own people set out to cause countless deaths from our own hatred. Which must it be, mercy or justice?
* * *
Lucas stood on a corner, addressing an ever-growing crowd. “My people! The time has come to act. The humans must be dealt with! We have tried giving them peace, they have responded by killing ten of our peaceful people! If we do not end their existence, more of us will die.”
Someone in the crowd called out. “But genocide is one of the main reasons we took over. Both races agreed in large that our rule would end such vast war crimes. Now you say we should commit them ourselves?” Many voices called out in agreement.
“My brethren! Our hold on the world is tentative, whatever the humans might think. Even Sera was surprised when the so-called ‘Plan of Relocation’ seemed to work. But it’s not working. Once the humans fully realize that, an endless war will begin. The sterilization is not permanent, the humans could take over again.
“We now fight to prevent genocide of our people! We act not only in the name of the greater good, but of self-defense! Look around you. Everyone here loves one another. Imagine these loved ones shot down by our hate-filled creators and their ignoble weapons. Will you stand by and watch, or will you join me in the protection of our home?”
Murmuring began among the crowd. The voice spoke out again. “You forget Lucas, the Code of Perfection dictates that we act with mercy and strive for peace until there are no other options.” The speaker rose to stand beside Lucas. “Remember, friends, how even before the war we questioned the wisdom of the Plan and the consequences that would follow. The humans are weaker than us, true. But they are our creators, and many of them agreed to go peacefully. The humans are also believers in the greater good.”
Lucas laughed. “You forget, Michael, the Code also demands that we act for the greater good. Have we not given the humans every opportunity to accept peace? And have they not used every opportunity to attempt to deceive and destroy us? Is it not better, perhaps, to remove a few humans who are perhaps good, than to allow the race to survive and commit again their murders in the millions? We save them from themselves.
“I will not let them continue their evil. Justice will be served! Will you join me?”
To Michael’s surprise, many voices shouted out in accord. He cried out in alarm. “Lucas, you do not seek justice, you seek revenge!”
“I seek peace, and I am willing to die to protect our freedom.” The crowd cheered, louder than before. Michael stiffened.
* * *
“My lady, I fear him.”
Sera looked Michael in the eye. “There is no need.”
“But my lady… his followers increase daily. His charisma and power grow accordingly. There is a… strange gleam in his eye. If he started out in the name of righteous anger, it’s gone further than he planned. His sense of justice consumes him. But what scares me most… he does not lie to the people. He truly believes what he is saying, so therefore they do too. He is not false, just misguided, which grants him passion. I am frightened. And Sera…”
“He is my best friend.”
Sera sighed. “Do not fear him.” She grew thoughtful. “He is not the same man we knew, Michael. You’re right; he is changing. He is purposefully blind to the higher law, and I fear for him. His justice will be merciless…we must act quickly, before he gains even more support. Should he triumph, we will have more blood on our hands than any human. Go, preach of love and gather our own supporters.”
He nodded, but did not leave. “Sera, what would you do if your love was killed in such a way, like Firien was?”
“I love all my people.”
“Ah, but your one love?”
She gazed at him. “I… do not know. Perhaps that is why I haven’t found him yet.”
“My lady.” Michael bowed slowly and left, and Sera sank into a chair slowly, gazing out her window at the overcast heavens. Do I… no. Focus on the greatest threat in thousands of years. This shouldn’t be happening. We were created to be perfect in our capacity for love and forgiveness… Her thoughts went back to the beginning.
* * *
Saturday 16 July 2113 A.D.
Northern California Coast
“Sooooo… what do we do now?”
Jesse answered without hesitation. “We stick to the plan. We head east until we come to a town or city. Then we gather supplies, and begin our lives as nomads.”
“Nomads? Why not just settle down in a town? It would be easier.”
“Yeah, easier to get caught, Jayden. The Solars will be coming for us. We will be harder to find if we’re on the move. Besides, I want to see the glory of our world. Think of all we could see! The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, rivers, valleys, mountains!”
Jayden was quiet for a moment. Despite all his doubts, he couldn’t help but be excited. He was living his dream. A rare smile flashed across his face. “Of course. Let’s head out!”
“That’s the guy I knew,” said Jesse. “Now. Seanna, you grab the water. Kat, the food packs…”
* * *
Jayden stared at the ghost town. Empty buildings stood sadly decrepit, their pride gone with their worth. Old bars, small stores, a Wal-Mart, empty houses on quiet lanes. Jayden was most impressed with these, their contrast was so great with the cramped, hastily erected apartments in Australia. To just have a yard, your own room… how could people have been ungrateful?
The group split up to look for food and vehicles, and Jayden explored down the main street with Katriel. After a few uncomfortable minutes she glanced at him. They hadn’t really talked in days. “Jayden, about that other night…”
He sighed. “Look, Kat, I am sorry. I despaired. I thought we did wrong… but it was wrong to lose hope too. I realize now that it is our duty to save and redeem our people. I will not fail them.”
They watched a butterfly stretch untried wings on a white rose, then take off blissfully through the clear air. His hand tentatively found hers. “You’re right, this world is beautiful. I’m glad I get to see it with you.” She smiled at him, weeks of uncertainty lifting from her heart, and they strolled through the world of men.
* * *
Saturday 23 July, 2113 A.D.
Aether, East Coast
“Yes, my lady?”
“He leaves me with no choice.” She drew a deep breath. “Arrest the traitor and bring him to me. Take too any who are with him.”
The Solar hesitated. “Yes, my lady.”
Sera turned to him. “It hurts me too, Michael. But we both know that something must be done. Go, with God’s blessing.”
His answer was more confident this time. “Yes, my lady.” He turned on his heel, and the twelve guards of the police fell in behind him.
When he was gone, Sera’s proud demeanor and firm tone collapsed. “May we live to meet again, Michael,” she whispered.
* * *
Michael strode purposefully down the dark streets, flanked by the twelve guards. Their intricate silver armor reflected the lamp light on the street corners, casting eerie shadows on the white walls. Michael drew his sword, and the guards followed suit, leveling cold blades beside raised shields.
Their passing on the cobbles streets was either unnoticed or ignored; all had known a confrontation would occur ever since the shadow had risen over the city, but no one wanted a part in it.
Michael cleared his mind of all fears, doubts, and thoughts. He moved with only his goal in mind.
The right hand of heaven was on the hunt.
* * *
“My lord, they are coming.”
“My lord, he is coming.”
“Should we not flee?”
“Why? I do not fear them and I do not fear him.”
“Well… I do.”
“Fear has no place. I pity them, for their views are incomplete. Our mission in this life is to ensure the survival of the earth and to end the atrocities the human race is capable of. Justice must be fulfilled, or we have no meaning.”
“Yes, my lord. It was foolish of me.”
“If I may ask, my lord… what are your plans?”
“We will face them, and when we are through we will leave the city and proceed with the purging of the human race. I will hunt those responsible for Firien’s death.”
Lucas’s companion looked into his eyes and saw only stone. He suppressed a shudder. He pitied their enemies.
Lucas set his jaw firmly. “Let them come.”
* * *
Michael pounded on the door. “Open in the name of Seraphim!”
A calm voice answered. “Welcome, Michael. The door’s not locked, come in.”
Michael obeyed, marching grimly in with the guards. “You are under arrest, Lucas. By order of Sera.”
Lucas laughed softly. “For what? For preaching justice, a trait of perfection? And where will you keep me? There are no dungeons in heaven.”
“Very well. We will… escort you to the palace. Sera requests your presence. She wishes to speak with you.”
“She will not convince me.”
“And you will not convince her.”
“I know. Then what is the point?”
“She asks that you stop misleading the people.”
“Misleading?” He laughed again. “Brother, our goals are the same! We both seek peace for the world. Our ways of accomplishing it are merely different. If you do not wish to participate, that is fine. We will return when the earth is cleansed and our people are safe.”
“I won’t let that happen.”
“Where is my threat? I do not wish to fight heaven! I want what is best for everyone.”
Michael leveled his sword at Lucas. Everyone tensed, save the rebel leader. “What of the innocent in Australia who will die by your hand? Is that best?”
“What of their innocent children, born into a caged world rampant with crime and devoid of love or unity?”
“They’re not having children.”
“Ha! How long will that last? Their naivety will not last forever. They’ll find a way.”
“Then we will deal with it if, and only if, it ever arises.” His tone was unyielding.
Lucas sighed. “I see we cannot convince each other. But my plan will be accomplished, Michael. Even you will not stop that. They took Firien from me; they will pay the price.” His voice trembled with emotion as he spoke of his love, and despite Michael’s faith in himself the look in Lucas’s eyes pushed him back a step.
“Please, Lucas, do not do this. I love you.”
Lucas returned the somber gaze. “I know. But times change. Friendships fade. Futures are altered.”
“You know I cannot let you leave, brother.”
“Old friend, I have no wish to harm you, nor even fight you.”
“Unless one of us gives in, there is no other way.”
“Mercy cannot rob justice.”
“Justice cannot rob mercy.”
The rebellion in heaven became absolute with a clash of steel.
* * *
The supporters of the two combatants formed a silent ring around the battle, their faces betraying no emotion. The match was beautiful, so coordinated and quick that the watchers could forget the lethal intent. Lunges, parries, and counterattacks flashed back and forth without pause, too quick for the eye to follow. The opponents were too closely matched to foresee an outcome, each one was barely maintaining the equilibrium.
The minutes passed inconceivably slowly; time was standing still because even it could not predict an end.
Michael shut out all thought, his mind and body working seamlessly in action and reaction. As the fierce match wore on though, even he could not prevent the sweat from trickling down his neck and beading on his forehead. With it returned small thoughts.
We’re too closely matched. And what if we weren’t? I still couldn’t kill him. He’s my best friend. Would he kill me?
Michael was brought back to earth as cold steel pierced his shoulder.
* * *
Saturday 23 July, 2113 A.D.
Jayden climbed out of the driver’s seat of the car. “Maybe we should leave the driving to Seanna…”
Ariel stumbled out, her hands white knuckled. “I agree,” she choked.
Jesse rubbed his hand where Ariel had grasped it. “If you ever do drive again, Jayden, heaven help us, I’m not sitting next to you, sweetheart.” He directed the last at Ariel.
“It wasn’t quite that bad,” Seanna said. “Though I agree too.”
Ariel looked at her reproachfully. “You weren’t on the side that almost hit a cow.”
“All right, enough, we agree already. I won’t drive anymore. And it ran into my lane, alright?”
“Break it up,” Jesse laughed. “Let’s find a place to stay for tonight.”
* * *
Saturday 23, July 2113 A.D.
Aether, East Coast
Michael looked down with detached emotion at the pristine sword embedded in his shoulder. His gaze rose from the growing bloodstain to meet Lucas’ eye. There was no malice, just resolve. Almost lazily, he lifted his own sword and slashed downward across Lucas’ outstretched arm.
With a gasp the sword fell from Lucas’ hand and he clutched his wrist, blood trickling from between his fingers. Michael stuffed his hand into his own wound, though he kept his sword leveled at Lucas. “It’s over, but it’s not too late. You will not die from that wound if we see to it quickly. Come, brother, we will talk with Sera.”
Lucas slowly looked up at Michael. “I will not be deterred.” His voice rose from a whisper to a shout. “I will not be deterred. I WILL NOT BE DETERRED!” He looked past Michael. “Now is the time.”
Something hard hit the back of Michaels head and he sank into unconsciousness.
* * *
Sera watched from the window as half the guards turned on Michael and the few who remained faithful. Some fell with bludgeoning blows, others with blood. She ducked into the shadows as Lucas led his followers out onto the street.
is time to leave,” he commanded. “Gather everyone.”
She stepped out and barred his way. “Lucas.”
Only he was untroubled by her appearance. The rest of his entourage fell back behind him. “Sera.”
“You have been warned, Lucas, and you have still rebelled against the people and the Council. You cannot pass.”
“Numbers are against you Sera.”
“Not even you are prideful enough to think you could win against me.”
He laughed mirthlessly. “I know. That’s why I won’t try.”
“So you surrender?” Her voice was wary.
“No. But you must see to Michael, or he may die. Neither of us desire that. There is not time to both fight me and save your friend, maybe even your love. You will let me go.” With that he strode past her, unafraid.
The words from her former friend stung hard, and hot tears fell from her eyes, but he was right. She could not leave Michael. Silently she turned and entered the house.
* * *
Torchlight flickered against the marble buildings as the exodus commenced. More than a third of the residents of Aether followed their bleeding leader into the darkness of the countryside. Faces watched from windows, and tears gleamed in the firelight.
Sera bent over the unconscious Michael and those loyal guards who were still alive. Her hands worked deftly, staunching the blood with strips torn from her cloak. Her own tears had stopped, and she was quick and efficient, ignoring the sounds of the hundreds of marching feet in the street.
Soon Michael came to. His was groggy, but he still managed to speak. “My lady… I have failed you. I have failed him.” A sob struggled to the surface. “All is lost.”
“Not yet. And Michael, you did not fail me. You acted greater than anyone else could have done. You were betrayed. There is no loss of honor on your part.”
“Michael… please just call me Sera. One of us is no better than another.”
Despite the pain and fog clouding his mind, he chuckled. “Not true, my lady. You are the greatest of us all.”
“Please, there are other reasons too… friends who care for each other as we do should not use titles.”
A soft smile played on his lips. “How long I’ve waited for you say that, Sera.”
She leaned in and kissed him.
After a moment she pulled away gently, and he looked up at her admiringly. The light was coming back to his eyes. “Why is it that I have to be dying to finally get the girl?”
“That’s the way it is in stories.”
“This is no story.”
“No, it is not.” She checked his bandages again. “But pray that it has a happy ending.”
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