Borrowed Time

Leaflets bearing The Ultimatum danced in the wind, hundreds of them dropped by the Union of Six all over the devastated city of Harthul. Roya choked on the dust from the dead city as it swirled around her, and she was barely able to breath. The dust clung to her, like a painful memory which refused to be forgotten. The whole city, once a proud bastion of the Purists, became a flattened hiding hole for the few that survived the Overseer’s terrible bombing.

Coughing and wheezing, Roya returned to the grey skeleton of a home-that-was. Inside, around a small plastic table sat the most important men of the Pure Army. What remained of the higher-ups was the Prime Commander, a former planetary architect close to the Overseer of Planet Torohol, a liaison for the Union of Six, and the Ambassador to the Overseer, Roya.

The Union of Six flagships roared in the distance, drowning all who can hear them with The Ultimatum.

“In 72 hours, this planet will be cleansed.
All life will be erased if your civil war does not stop.
The Union of Six repeats, in 72 hours, this planet will be cleansed—”

…And so on. Ambassador Roya was nauseous, both by the sound and by the uncertain future. She realized how short life on Torohol has been threatened to become, with only two utterly final rotations of the planet until the end of The Ultimatum. The time pressure was ridiculous to Roya and to all those who sat around the table; it was almost as if the Union didn’t care whether they wiped out the warring parties, or brokered a peace.

From the actions of the Overseer, and from the Union, all Roya could think about was how their lives simply didn’t matter. She only wished the Overseer of Torohol could feel her fear in its metal skull. Metal versus flesh, that’s all this war was about. She spat out some dust at the thought of once respecting the Overseer.

She stepped outside to have a better look at the massive flagships. They were almost over the horizon, but Roya could still make out some of their features. The hull was made of something other-worldly, baring no resemblance to steel or aluminum. The weapons looked like something ripped from fantasy movies shown before the civil war; strange, mysterious, but promising a great display of power to the audience. Try as she might, she couldn’t believe the Union of Six and Torohol traced their ancestors back to a single home planet; how far they’ve gone their separate ways. This was a meeting between an emotionally distant parent and two warring siblings, and Roya was supposed to step in between them all.

“The Overseer will be back for a second strike soon. My sources give us about thirty minutes before what remains of Harthul will be less than dust,” said Pure Army Commander Norik.

The PA was an enemy you could always defeat on the battlefield or in sieges, but one you could never wipe out completely. There were always more, somewhere.

“I don’t know how you all managed to sleep last night, you military folk. The screams of the dying are hard to get rid of once they find a home in your mind,” said Vollor, the ex-planetary architect.

He had been doing so well until he was given a choice, something all people of planet Torohol were given at some point: replace your physical body, piece by piece, to be more machine-like, and be stronger, faster, smarter, or choose to slowly have all opportunities taken away from you. Jobs, homes, even basic goods became only catered to the new generation of cyborgs and androids. For all those who chose not to, they were left behind. And when everything was taken away from them, all that remained was anger. Regardless of how much power each of the men at the table had, only Roya could speak to the Overseer. She had something special, something which would make him listen.

“We need to leave, now!” she suddenly shouted.

The table flipped as the men jumped and sprinted outside, and to the entrance of a collapsed tunnel. A low rumble could be heard in the distance, and then the awful sound of gravity bombs echoed through the air. The sound was unmistakable: they shook the air like a wave, but when they hit the ground there was no explosion. Only the crumbling of walls and roads. Only the sound of the world being torn apart around you. It was the final nail in the coffin of Harthul, once home to a quarter-million people, now buried under the weight of war.

***

In the entrance of a collapsed tunnel, the group sat completely covered in dust, hoping there wouldn’t be a direct hit against their position. Norik and Toz left the tunnel to get above ground and talk.

Norik tried to clear his throat, but only managed to cough as if his lungs were on fire. “I’ve got an anti-air group coming from the nearby city of Oppolin, and they’re well-equipped to strike the bombers. If they get here fast enough, they’ll bring all the planes down,” he closed his medium-range message transmitter. It was only the size of a briefcase, but it was an invaluable window to the world outside Harthul.

“The Union of Six will be displeased, Norik,” said Toz, the liaison to the Union.

“Toz, if we keep fighting the Overseer, the Union will strike. If we don’t keep fighting the Overseer, then he will wipe us out, one way or another. A year from now, or five years, it doesn’t matter when, but I know he will. The PA is going to take down those bombers so more Purist cities won’t be destroyed,” Norik stood up and went for a look outside the tunnel entrance.

“If you keep fighting,” yelled Toz from the tunnel, “the Union will destroy you all. Everyone will die. Every Purist man, woman, child, every cyborg and machine, and all traces of civilization on this fringe colony world will be erased. That’s what you’re heading towards with your damned civil war.”

“We’ll have a better position in the negotiations if we put pressure on the Overseer,” Norik said, his voice cold.

“If you don’t stop this madness, two days from now nothing will remain. You’re on the edge of oblivion, and I pray to the gods you understand this and will reconsider.”

 

Roya left the tunnel to join Norik. All around them was a sea of grey; it seemed to be endlessly flat in all directions. The dust had almost settled, but it was still difficult to breathe, and Roya started to cough violently before covering her mouth with her sleeve. Roya took out a holomap cube from her pocket, and a holographic map of the region floated in front of her.

“Harthul has been completely wiped out—our maps will need to be updated. The new trend of mass killings of civilians had caused rebellions in two of the Overseer’s cities, and we need to find out about their status. Now he’s trying to kill the leadership of the PA. He knew we were in Harthul, away from the front lines in the south, and he destroyed this entire city just to get us. It’s now obvious someone in the PA is informing the Overseer on our moves,” Roya said.

“Perhaps, but Harthul has always been a city the Overseer hated, if he has any emotion at all. It was one of the most heavily populated Purist areas in the entire colony,” Vollor said.

“If we die, there won’t be any negotiations with the Union, and then all of those lives will be lost in vain. Your words trouble me, Roya. I’ll need to discuss it with the other commanders when we regroup,” said Norik.

Roya looked towards the horizon. The dust had settled, and it was midday with clear, blue skies.

“He won’t let you regroup,” she said, and patted Norik’s back. “This is the end of the line.”

Everyone turned their gaze to Roya. Toz raised an eyebrow.

“No it’s not. I can get us out of this mess. Just get me to a comms station, and I can contact the Union, and then we can get negotiations for the ceasefire underway,” said Toz.

A squadron of gunships appeared in the distance, headed towards the group.

“Th-those are the Overseer’s attack ships,” said Vollor, and quickly stumbled back to the underground tunnel entrance.

Toz and Norik almost joined him, but they saw how Roya stood still, and watched the gunships come closer. Toz eventually went down as well, while Norik stayed.

“You two make pretty good targets out there among the flat ruins of the city!” shouted Toz.

The gunships were only a minute’s flight away from them now. Silent like black daggers, fifteen of them cut through the sky,

“Hey Toz, where are those big Union flagships which flew around here before the gravity bombs? We could use them right about now,” yelled Norik.

“They won’t intervene, not until we either start negotiations with them or until their damned ultimatum ends,” Toz replied.

The gunships hovered high above in front of them, and begun their descent. Each one of them had sophisticated long-range weapons, and could have obliterated the group before they even knew they were under attack. And yet, for Roya, the sight of the gargantuan Union flagships erased any fear for the Overseer. They were something else entirely.

“When they ask if you’re the leader, tell them that PA leadership has been passed on to me,” said Roya and kept her gaze at the gunships.

“And why would I do that?” said Norik.

“I need it so I can end this war. The Overseer won’t speak with you, but he will with me.”

Norik made a sharp glance at Roya. “You will not negotiate with them.” He cut his whispers short as a gunship hatch opened in front of them. “Stall them.”

The hatches of other gunships all opened, and 15 to 20 enhanced soldiers neatly marched out, their clean metal limbs shone in the sun. One of them fired a plasma bolt at Norik’s message transmitter, turning it into a useless soup of molten rare-metals and aluminum.

They quickly surrounded the resistance group. Two unarmed, well-dressed men stepped closer to talk to them. The older of the two cleared his throat.

“You know, Norik, the Overseer wished nothing more than to have you dead under the rubble of Harthul,” said one of them, a silver-haired man with countless stress lines, as if his forehead bore the contour lines of the planet.

“But here you are, standing unharmed. Perhaps this is a greater prize for His Excellency,” the other one said. He was young, clad in a rich black vest spangled with several medals. His bald head had two long pieces of metal running along the side, a clear sign of memory enhancement.

“Sorry to break it to you fellas, but I’m not the leader of the PA,” Norik said, surprising the two. “She is,” and pointed at Roya.

The silver-haired man didn’t speak a word, and narrowed his eyes at Roya. The bald headed man looked at Norik, trying to guess if this was some kind of trick. A short moment later, they glanced at each other and shrugged, with their eyes full of confusion.

“Well—“

“I’m Roya, leader of the Pure Army and previous Ambassador to the Overseer of Torohol,” she interrupted, “We have less than two days before this entire planet is wiped clean by the Union of Six. That’s only if we don’t come to an agreement.”

“Indeed. That gives you plenty of time to write your letter of surrender to the Union. Just for good measure, we would be more than welcome if you joined us for the trip back to the Overseer’s residence. The gunships are more comfortable than you imagine,” said the bald man.

“That’s a lie. The gunships are absolutely terrible for your spine, unless you’ve got titanium ones like these fellows,” the other man said, pointing his head to the soldiers.

Vollor looked around in panic. “I used to work for the Overseer, and I’m not staying behind to count Harthul’s grains of dust. What are your names?” he said.

“Oh, we’re not that important. You can just call me Friendly, and my colleague here is Cheery,” said the silver-haired man.

Toz stepped forward, “If other sections of the PA think we’re missing, hostilities will continue. And if that happens, not even your precious Overseer will be able to stop the Union from—“

“Then don’t delay in drafting that letter, and we’ll have it broadcast to the entire planet as soon as it’s ready. Now hop on in. As Roya said, we don’t have a lot of time,” said Cheery.

The four resistance members made their way towards the gunship, but before they entered, they heard a dull rumble in the distance. They stood still for a moment, and the sound grew louder, until the words became clear.

“In 68 hours, this planet will be cleansed. All life will be erased if your civil war does not stop. The Union of Six repeats…”

“By the gods, that’s incredibly annoying. I fear I’ll lose my mind before that time is up,” said Vollor.

Friendly patted Roya on the shoulder. “Come on now. The Union’s not your savior, never has been, and never will be. They think all of us are dirt, that we can’t solve our own affairs. Let’s show them we’re “civilized” enough to end this civil war ourselves. All the Overseer wants is for all of us to be strong and united. That’s the only way to challenge the Union itself,” he said, and glared at Toz as he entered the gunship.

 

As soon as everyone boarded the gunships, they lifted off smoothly and commenced their flight back to where they came. It was cramped for the group. Through the small porthole, they saw the grey flatness that was once a proud city, surrounded by green plains.

Suddenly, red flashes lit up the interior of the gunship. A high-pitched alarm wailed, and panic erupted in the small cabin. It was all short-lived. A powerful explosion roared outside the gunship, and shrapnel ripped apart its walls, instantly killing Toz, Cheery, and the pilot.

Several more explosions burst nearby as the gunship fell from the sky. As if it were routine, Friendly ejected from the doomed aircraft, and Roya searched along the walls in the dark for her own ejector button. The sound of the ejection beside her disoriented her for a brief moment. In that tiny moment, she could feel how close the ship was to the ground, and she could picture the flash of the fireball that would consume her. Two smaller explosions erupted inside the gunship. In a short moment, it hit the ground, ending in a symphony of bright orange flames and a deathly blast that rolled across the plains of the crash site, as if the ship itself cried out its dreadful death rattle as it burned and melted away.

***

Every single gunship was destroyed. Their smouldering wreckage was strewn across the green plains, and several groups of PA soldiers searched through the rubble. They found Roya, Norik and Friendly after they ejected themselves from their gunship. All three of them were in reasonable condition. After shaking off their landing, they stood up while two soldiers body-searched Friendly behind them.

“Prime Commander Norik, I am Commander Zavo of the Third Anti-Aircraft Group. I am very pleased to know you have survived unharmed. Believe me when I say that we did not know you were inside the gunships. We received your transmission on targeting the bombers which hit Harthul, but we couldn’t move forward without engaging the gunships. We destroyed fifteen of them, though they managed to kill a number of our men before falling. I only have about a hundred men remaining, and they await your orders, sir.”

“If you’re going to debrief your commander, which I now presume isn’t the lady over there, perhaps you should move me away from earshot,” said Friendly. “This kind of incompetence doesn’t exist in the Overseer’s army. Damn it all to the three hells, we’re all going to die soon regardless. You didn’t even realize Vollor was one of our men. How many more are there like him, willing to betray you all for the Overseer? Just surrender, so we may all engage with the Union together. We have more cities, warplanes, money, and soldiers than you ever will. Just join us. Plus, this dying thing really doesn’t suit me, and I don’t think any of you would find it appealing either.”

Norik, massaging his sore neck after the violent ejection from the gunship, walked over to Friendly. He smacked the side of his face with an open palm, sending his long silver hair flying to the right side of his head.

“That ejector almost broke my neck. What were you trying to do, kill me?” he said. Friendly rolled his eyes.

“Tie his arms and legs. He’s not going anywhere,” said Norik.

 

A few hours passed. Roya approached Norik, and requested to speak with Friendly, alone.

“Commander Zavo told me the cities that rebelled against the Overseer are now under PA control. This means a third of the entire colony is now under our control. It probably won’t get any better than this, as most of the other cities won’t be welcoming us in open arms. It’s a stalemate,” said Norik. “It’s time for you to shine, Roya.”

“I’ll need a long-range transmitter,” she said.

Norik stared into Roya’s eyes for a moment. There was something different about them, something mysterious and powerful. He remembered how the Overseer rejected every single communication attempt from the PA in the past, but he trusted her as soon as he took a deep look into her eyes.

He started to nod his head, “It’s all yours.”

 

Norik and Zavo sat on two boulders next to each other. The sky was wine red on the fringe planet, and soon the long night would be upon the makeshift camp. Aside from a few sentries, most of the group was already sleeping. The portable anti-aircraft missile launchers were stacked in the middle of the camp, ready for use should they be needed.

The two men were drinking water, and exchanged stories of their personal wars, of families lost, the unknown fates of so many good friends, and of the brave, young soldiers who died in front of their eyes almost every day. The Ultimatum was heavy on their minds.

“Why? This war, at worst many millions will die. But their message keeps repeating that they’ll cleanse the entire planet if our war doesn’t stop. That’s what, 1.2 billion people, 1.3? Whatever the number is now after the mass bombings. If the Union keeps their promise tomorrow, no trace of anyone will be left. They say they want us to stop our fighting, but they won’t be saving anyone if we don’t!” said Zavo.

Norik inhaled sharply, “They think of us as cancer.” Zavo shook his head.

“When you destroy cancer in your body,” Norik continued, “you know the harm it’ll do. It’ll kill you eventually. You don’t sympathize with cancer cells, even though they were once healthy and part of you. And so they will destroy us, unless we can stop the war.”

“With all due respect, Commander, that doesn’t make any damned sense. Have you seen the size of their flagships? What threat could we possibly even begin to offer them?”

“That’s my best explanation, Zavo. I never met anyone from the Union of Six. I don’t even know what they look like,” said Norik.

A soldier approached the two men, fiercely rubbing his tired face with his palms.

“Prime Commander Norik, I must inform you that Grid Energy Storage B has been successfully sabotaged by the PA, just a few hours ago from a recent transmission. A quarter of the Capital City’s batteries have been destroyed in a spectacular blaze. What’s more, our saboteurs have survived and escaped unharmed.”

An expression of shock and disbelief overtook Norik, which cracked the moment he laughed.

“I’m at a loss for words. This is huge. We hit the Overseer right in his home. And Tiris is home to how many people now, 20 million? That’s a lot of angry people without electricity,” said Norik.

At that moment, Roya appeared from under the cloak of darkness.

“The Overseer will come here tomorrow,” she said.

***

A powerful sound rolled through the plains, waking everyone in the camp. The ground shook, and tents vibrated by its deep rumble. To the people in the camp, it seemed as if the sound echoed in their skulls, preventing them from doing anything but listen.

“In 22 hours, this planet will be cleansed. All life will be erased if your civil war does not stop…”

Roya covered her ears with her hands to no effect. She gazed upon the Union flagship; it was close enough that it seemingly stretched without end, and blocked the sun, covering the entire camp in its shadow. Marked across the hull was the name of the flagship, Arbiter’s Hope, glowing white for all to see. After a few repetitions, it stopped roaring The Ultimatum. It didn’t move, and simply hovered where it was, dominating the sky with its presence and emitting a low energy hum. Roya saw Norik stumble out of his tent.

“Well, would you look at that…” he said.

“With the size of that thing, it’s hard to look at anything else,” said Zavo, approaching behind Norik.

“Once you two are done comparing sizes of ships in your minds, we need to try and contact it, if we can,” Roya said.

Friendly, with his arms and legs tied, shouted from afar, “You are all pathetic! A Union flagship snuck up on you, which by definition does not ‘sneak’. Simply pathetic!”

Zavo whispered to a soldier nearby, who fetched something from a tent. In no time, Friendly was gagged with a piece of cloth. Roya shook her head in protest.

“He might be angry that he couldn’t take us to the Overseer himself, but he helped me persuade him to come here today. I think he genuinely wants us to negotiate,” she said.

“And where is that metal abomination? They just want us to surrender, don’t they? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Overseer and the Union are working together on that. We can’t contact that flagship, but I’m certain they’re trying to pressure us by hovering so closely to our camp. It won’t work on me,” said Norik.

Roya gave him a thoughtful look, her eyes picking up something different about him. A shift in his behavior. She kept this to herself.

 

Zavo kept the hours of the Ultimatum ticking in his mind. “Fifteen hours left,” he declared. His voice was cold and low, and his words did not reach far before being washed away by the gentle winds. In a few hours, the sun would set again, and the last night of Torohol would begin. All was silent in the camp, except for the hum of Arbiter’s Hope nearby.

Black dots appeared from the horizon. With each passing minute, more seemed to emerge, and covered the red sky with their relentless advance.

“He’s here,” Roya said, and the shapes of large, hovering warships could be made out as they neared the camp. Zavo shouted orders at the soldiers, and they scrambled to pick up the missile launchers.

“Stand down. Let them come,” said Norik.

Soon there was more black than red when she looked at the sky, and hundreds of ships flew over them and around Arbiter’s Hope. The sound of all their engines was like a disorienting and unceasing roar of thousands of beasts rolling over their heads. One ship, no different than the rest, slowly descended down next to the camp. Roya could feel her skin and hair vibrate from the sound of all the ships around her.

Abruptly, the sound stopped, and all the ships simply hovered in the air, motionless. The ship that descended next to the camp slid open its metal doors, and two short rows of enhanced soldiers assembled to guard the entrance.

Norik started to walk towards the ship, with his right hand held up, and his left on his chest to signal peace. He walked slowly, with a half-smile that made him look like a victorious warrior before a crowd. The enhanced soldiers raised their weapons at Norik, and one of them shot high in the air, like a lightning bolt followed by muffled thunder. Startled, and his confidence shaken momentarily, he looked back at Roya.

“What are they doing?”

Roya walked up to Norik, and passed him without stopping. She did not hold up her hands in peace, rather, she walked normally and the soldiers lowered their weapons as she approached. Everyone in the camp stared at her, confused. The two rows parted for her entry into the ship, and the doors closed silently, with the soldiers standing guard outside.

Roya kept walking, and a small metallic echo bounced around her path as her boots hit the metal floor like a war drum with each step. Before long, after a series of automatic doors, she reached the center of the ship, a large open conference-like room with several guards standing by the doors. She saw a pale, silver figure in front of her, watching a holomap as it updated in real-time. It turned around to face her once it heard her stop.

“Roya.”

“Overseer,” she replied.

The room was dimly lit by small lights along the walls. The figure had a clean pentagonal metallic frame, with a curved monitor on top. It had no limbs, and hovered silently above the grey floor. A face lit up the monitor, but it was hard to say whether it represented a man or woman.

“It was over twenty years ago, wasn’t it? The Red Sickness,” the Overseer said, its voice warm and illusory like a cold flame, “your eyes failed you, and you went blind. Your parents brought you to me. They begged me to save you, promising to do anything for me if I could push death away from your sickly body. The whole colony was at risk of dying, victims of our own biology. So it was time to reject our biology, and usher in a new era for this planet.”

Roya shook her head. “And in a few short hours, there will be nothing left. Your divisive actions will kill us all.”

“Not true. You’re still standing here, proof of my promise. How are your eyes doing? Both were quite advanced parts when we had them installed on you. And your lungs? No one can see them, but you can feel them–you know they aren’t your own. You can’t even say you have “Pure blood”, without a single biological blood cell in your body.”

“Have you forgotten what happened to my parents after you did this to me? They were diagnosed with Red Sickness shortly afterwards, but their bodies fiercely rejected their new artificial organs and metal parts,” she lowered her head, trying to hold in her emotions. “They died before I could see them with my new eyes.”

“As did many. And no, to answer your question, I do not forget. It took time before we could master our new bodies. Look how far you’ve progressed since. The Pure Army Commander is standing outside, useless, while you’re here talking to me. They don’t even know about you, do they? You’re only standing here because you’re not Pure. Would they even accept you if you confessed to them now?”

A deep sigh escaped from Roya. She clutched her sides as a painful squeeze brought her to her knees. Her breaths were difficult, like a fish out of water. Finally, after a series of deep breaths, the pain subsided, and she could breathe normally again.

“Your lungs must be due for maintenance. Nothing is forever, Roya. You’re living on borrowed time.”

“So is this entire planet, with the Union threatening to kill everything and everyone.”

The Overseer hovered closer to her. “Why don’t we fix you up? It wouldn’t be correct if the negotiations failed because you died a few hours before everyone else,” he said.

A sense of light-headedness overcame Roya, and she sat down on the floor in a daze. Her breathing was slow and difficult, and she held her head as if it suffered a terrible headache. Then she collapsed.

***

Roya awoke in a pitch dark room, but almost immediately it was flooded with light. Her enhanced eyes adjusted quickly, and the room was all white around her as she lay on some sort of table or rough bed. She stood up, her lungs feeling young and hungry for air. She breathed with utmost ease. Each breath was more potent than the previous one, and she soon learned to slow down her breathing and adjust to the new rhythm. She was still wearing the same clothes, which she found to be odd. In front of her, the door opened, and a guard escorted her back to the conference room in the center of the ship, where the Overseer hovered as if nothing happened.

“You gave me new lungs, didn’t you?”

“I wasn’t going to let you die,” the Overseer replied.

“Is that so? Harthul sends its regards,” she swiftly replied. “How many hours do we have left?”

“Oh no, Roya. We’re now down to minutes. Thirteen to be exact. I have the nearby Union flagship, Arbiter’s Hope, on a special transmission line here. Do not underestimate time, it can flow rather quickly in these situations.”

“Then we’re going to need more time. Ask the Union–”

“The Union isn’t going to accept that.”

“Then tell them we have a ceasefire, you and I can discuss it later after they accept.”

The Overseer paused for a moment, “You have no control over the Pure Army’s actions. They will refuse the terms if Norik disagrees with you.”

“Yes, but I have a feeling that being alive is more important than the terms of a ceasefire. They will come to accept it. Now, make the Union accept, or this will be our final conversation.”

Behind the Overseer, the holomap display shifted and showed a group of people inside a smooth room. They looked like people, but something was strange about them. Their faces were emotionless, and their clothes obviously signaled some kind of affluence or power, but the style was completely foreign. They all seemed to be mid-aged.

“The Ultimatum will be ending shortly. Have you come to an agreement?” said a dark-haired woman in front of the group.

“We have. We are now under a ceasefire, and we are in the process of spreading the updated news to all of our forces, as is the Pure Army, correct?”

Roya narrowed her eyes on the Overseer, trying to figure out what scheme it could possibly be creating in that instance. The representatives of the Union were in front of them, and after several years of war and millions of deaths later, it simply agrees with Roya. She broke her line of thought when she remembered how little time they had left.

“Yes, the Pure Army will first make contact with the front lines to make sure they cease hostilities, and then proceed with the rest of our forces. Due to our means of communication, this may take a while.”

The Union representatives didn’t skip a beat in their reply, “We will globally broadcast this update, there is no need to take matters into your own hands. We will stay and monitor the planet for another three months, with severe consequences if war resumes.” Their transmission went black as soon as they were finished speaking. The live-updating holomap display resumed.

“So then, explain to me how we shall all live happily on this planet, great Ambassador.”

“We won’t.”

She could sense confusion from the Overseer. Or perhaps her eyes were deceiving her, but there seemed to be emotion in that hard shell, thought Roya. “The Pure Army will surrender.”

Seconds of silence went by and made the air feel much heavier, and the two simply looked at each other, stretching the silence between them. Both were trying to figure out what the other was thinking of, but try as they might, they had neither the intuition nor the technology to do so. Then Roya cut the stretched silence with her words.

“And the Union will provide transport ships to another planetary colony, which will become a new home to every single Purist who volunteers to leave. Half of this planet is a useless sand dune anyways. If the Union doesn’t agree, then hostilities will resume, and you and I and everyone else shall perish.”

The face on the monitor of the Overseer smiled, the first visible display of emotion she’d seen on it.

“Quite clever, I’ll admit. You’ve made it in my interests to further your interests. But let’s dive deeper from there. The Pure Army has already helped me achieve what I wanted. The Union is here, and they will be here for some time. Have you any idea how much data we are collecting on their ships? We already know their weapons systems and are in the process of recreating them ourselves. We have identified how their engines work, though their fuel is still a mystery to us. Within three months, however, we’ll know how the Union flagships work better than they do. Our ceasefire will force them to stay for enough time for us to find their weaknesses, and recreate their ships from scratch without them.

“I bid the Purists a peaceful journey to their new planet of refuge, for I cannot wish it upon you to witness the violent events that will transpire here in the future. Someday, the Union shall be no more, and that path begins today with our ceasefire.”

Roya rubbed her face with her hands, and finally realized the purpose of the civil war. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“We were all your pawns from the very beginning, weren’t we? You planned this war just so that you could lure the Union to this planet. You crushed Harthul into dust with gravity bombs and killed millions of people throughout the colony, just as another step in your hellish plan? Millions of lives–gone–just so you could analyze a few damned ships?”

“If you could only picture the end result of my process, hundreds of years from now, only then you’ll understand. But you cannot even begin to imagine, Roya, so do not try. The lives of millions will mean nothing once the process is complete.”

“Fuck you, and fuck your damned process!” she screamed. “You are worse than I could have ever imagined. I hope the Union destroys you and your forsaken colony just like you did to Harthul. You will never experience the profound sorrow when you see someone die–when you see so many die around you…” she started to walk back towards the metal entrance doors. The guards did not move.

“Roya, I mean you no ill will, but you cannot leave this ship until the Purists and the Union are gone. The privilege of knowledge comes with sacrifice,” said the Overseer. “Besides, you are not Pure, so you cannot join them.”

Roya glared at the cold face of the Overseer, collapsed on her knees, and slammed the metal floor with her fist, hot tears streaming down her face.

***

After three months, the Union flagships concluded their monitoring of the planet, and were satisfied that peace had been obtained. They agreed to provide gargantuan colony transport ships, which arrived to carry millions of Purists off Torohol. Nearly their entire population boarded the ships, and former Commander Norik, along with several other influential Purist members, chose a new, suitable home planet. Their eventual journey was peaceful, and the colonization process was successful, though incredibly challenging for all those involved. Norik was lied to by the Overseer, and was told Roya wanted to stay on Torohol to build peace between fractured communities.

Roya remained on planet Torohol, captive on the Overseer’s ship until every Union ship and transport left. She was then given back her freedom, though under heavy surveillance, and lived in the sole remaining Purist-hybrid city of Oppolin. Her hatred for the Overseer never cooled, and she promised to herself that she will stop the Overseer and bring him and his process to ruin. Time can flow rather quickly in these situations.

 


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