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“Is this the planet we are looking for?” asked Leone, his voice indicated disbelief and disappointment.
“Yes, it is. At last we have reached the planet of Kalid, the Wise One,” answered Aristark.
Leone and Aristark were two Counselors on their home planet, Sakkara. They were desperately looking for the great man called Kalid and were now moving close enough to the planet to be able to watch it through the windows of their “Thot” spaceship. Leone had been placed on this course by what Sybil had told him about Kalid.
“Kalid was my master,” said Sybil, a white witch for many, although she called herself "Priestess of Isis". “He taught me everything I know. He is the Great Master of the Osiris Order.”
“The Osiris Order?” Leone asked. "I thought it was extinct many years ago."
“Yes, for outsiders it seemed to have vanished, but that was an illusion created for security reasons,” Sybil answered. “The Order has been hidden all this time. Kalid is now the Great Master of the Osiris Order, so we must seek his counsel immediately. You must contact Kalid and get him to help us with our mission to defeat Set, but the main problem we have is that we are not sure of his whereabouts. I think he has gone back to his home planet.”
“Which planet is that?” asked Leone.
“The name of the planet is ‘Veritas Flammis’. It is called just Flammis by most of us."
“Flammis?” asked Leone. “I have never heard that name in all my years as an interstellar pilot, and I have traveled to half the planets in the Empire. Maybe it has another name in the planetary records.”
“No. That is its only name. It is a secret planet.”
“Secret? Nothing is secret from the Empire. Do you mean that the Empire did not conquer it?” The Empire was now more than a century past its beginnings. As far as Leone knew, the Empire had decades previously taken control of the last of the hundreds of worlds with human populations.
“Yes. The inhabitants of Flammis hid when the Empire forces were there.”
“That is completely absurd. Are you saying that they hid themselves or that they hid the planet? Either is quite impossible. Nobody can hide from Empire scanners, not even with quantum shields operating on each of the 11-dimensions.”
“What you speak of are limitations of material science, but nothing is impossible by spiritual means. Nevertheless, they did not hide it fully. When the Masters of Flammis detected that Empire spaceships were close, they simply sent false data to those ships. The Empire forces had indeed seen a planet there, but their instruments did not show anything interesting; just void and rock. They could not see any signs of life in Flammis because the Masters created a powerful illusion. The Masters used their mental powers to confound the sophisticated detectors of the Empire ships, and so the Empire never knew about the importance of Flammis...they just moved on.”
“An optical illusion the size of a planet? You are full of amusing gossip! I don’t believe in that...mental powers... it is nonsense. I can sense that you believe it, you think you are telling the truth, but maybe someone invented that story and has tricked you into believing it. The Empire MUST know about them. Nothing and no one escapes the Empire, ever.”
“No, it is not the way you think. The Empire is not infallible. There are stronger forces than physical force in this universe. Particularly, the Masters use Mental Powers which are superior to all the science the Empire could ever have. As long as the Masters remain undetected, they will be able to con... Oh, I am saying too much. The point is that Kalid is there, on Flammis, hidden from the hands of Set.”
“And how will I find this 'secret' planet where these 'Masters' are hidden? Will my navigation devices detect Flammis, will my scanners lead me to the Masters?”
“You will need a special device installed on your spaceship. That way the Masters will think that you are from our Order and thus they will not hide from you. You are not actually from our Order, but you will help us on this mission, so you can carry it for a while. My servants will install the identification beacon on your ship when you are ready to leave for Flammis.”
“A special device? Wow, I am amazed... If the Masters have those superb 'mental powers', they should detect my mind and know you had sent me."
"The powers do not work that way".
"Because they don't work at all! I'm sorry, but everything you say about these mental powers is too strange. It just makes me want to laugh, but I have to trust you, for the moment, and have faith in your claims about the Masters being able to help us." Leone shook his head in wonder at this predicament. How had it come to this, a man of science being forced to listen to "mental powers" nonsense from a "Priestess"?
Of course, Leone knew how this odd state of affairs had come about. Ketar, the head of the Antiquist party, had sent Leone to visit Sybil. Leone had been ordered by Ketar to act on the advice of Sybil. If Leone wanted to remain in good standing with the Party he had to trust Sybil.
For Leone it was hard enough to trust anyone since the recent deaths of so many Antiquist Party members, but it was particularly difficult to swallow this story about a "powerful illusion" that could not be penetrated by the Empire's scanners... "I will go to Flammis because I have no other option, so far. I can only hope that the Masters will help us against the Evil One...”
Approach to FlammisEditar
After remembering the conversation with Sybil, Leone’s mind came back to the present and he began to watch the planet called Flammis through the window. The ship's long-range scan indicated that it was a small terrestrial planet, so theoretically people could survive there, but it was completely green. A green planet! Flammis was not "green" in the sense of "full of life" or endowed with a rich ecosystem and green plants....no, this was a green planet due to an exotic chemical process in the atmosphere. Leone had heard that the reason for this kind of strange color on planets like Flammis was that such worlds had their atmosphere consumed by a green goo, a type of destructive and uncontrolled nanite. Such green planets were generally assumed to be uninhabitable.
So Leone was shocked and disappointed. What kind of crazy mission was this to a dead planet? He was now more surprised than before that he had never heard of Flammis. Apparently this was a world that had "gone green" before ever becoming heavily populated and famous. Still, it was odd that Flammis was not listed in the standard Empire catalog of planets. If nothing else, green planets were notable as something to be avoided.
Leone had never previously visited a green planet and it was hard to guess what conditions might be like on the surface of Flammis, but the ship's instruments were reporting a thick and solid green cloud cover that would seem to mean this world was dead. Flammis appeared to be suffocated under a destructive nanite cloud, contrary to Sybil's belief that it was a great center of learning for students of mental powers. Leone wondered, why hadn't Sybil mentioned that Flammis is a green planet? Was it some "minor detail" that slipped her mind? Leone thought: this bunch of mental psychos (psychos not psychics, according to Leone) would not stand a chance against the mighty Set. Leone cursed himself for being so naive in trusting and following the advice of Sybil. Maybe the destiny of all members of his Antiquist Party was to die from betrayal and misplaced trust.
At the start of this journey Leone had been very suspicious and doubtful of "mental powers", but he had trusted that Kalid could be found. However, it now looked like this visit to Flammis was a complete waste of time! The Thot spaceship was now very close to the green clouds, but had not received any message from the planet. Leone imagined that if the Masters were actually on Flammis and if they were so "advanced", they should have sent a warning message or something, by means of either a conventional signal or, if Sybil was correct, by some sort of telepathic impulse. Maybe they were afraid of being detected by someone else, though. Maybe the Masters were making sure that this first ship, marked as a ship of the Osiris Order, had not been followed.
Leone's hopes of finding Kalid were now quickly evaporating. He had never believe a word of what Sybil had said to him about mental powers, but he had hoped that by meeting Kalid the Master might share what he knew about Set's weaknesses...if there were any. How could Leone, a man of science, trust any of these claims about "mental powers", and if Sybil believed such nonsense, why trust anything she might say?
Leone watched Flammis closely and examined incoming results from the ship's automated scanning routines. Leone wondered if maybe they had already been detected by the Masters and were being allowed to scan the planet. If so, it should be possible to detect human residents on Flammis from this altitude. Nevertheless, he was not too sure what to expect about their “Powers”...who knew what might or might not be possible? If what Sybil had said was true, maybe all the instrument readings were false and being altered by the Masters on Flammis.
Leone was trained in a skeptical manner and relied on the scientific method, therefore he did not believe anything about "psychic powers". Where was the evidence for such things? Leone was an engineer with strong scientific background: mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology..."mental powers" was something beyond the domain of science. However, Leone was willing to admit that science had not discovered everything yet, so such "Powers" could exist.
Someone with scientific skepticism could never be sure that something was impossible...there was really no way to prove the nonexistence of something. Leone did not believe in clairvoyance, remote vision or the divination of the future...there was no evidence for such things. However, the Empire was in a time of decadence, and maybe the poverty, suffering and past wars were the reason why most people turned to belief in those strange arts, Leone thought.
There had also been a renaissance of belief in Ancient Egypt, Hermetics and magic in general. Osiris Order. Priestess of Isis. "What is the popular appeal of Ancient Egypt?" Leone asked himself. Egypt was not even a common history subject in schools. Concerning one's self with Egypt was like talking about Australopithecus, too far in the human past to be of any practical importance.
Aristark had heard Leone's muttered question about Egypt. He was also analyzing the incoming data from Flammis. "Not looking too promising down there, is it? If the Osiris Order does exist, surely they could find a more hospitable world!"
"Well, a green planet might be a sensible hiding place, I guess." Briefly, Leone's attention was brought back to the scan results, but they continued to show no signs of any human presence on the planet. His thoughts kept drifting towards what little he knew about mysticism and "ancient Orders". After meeting Sybil, Leone had done some reading about Egypt legends. Maybe the fabled Egyptian civilization had never even existed. Leone was no historian, but his reading on the topic had exposed Leone to the work of some historians who claimed the whole idea of Egypt was only a myth, an invented civilization, like Atlantis, a myth that was only used to revive magic and useless mysticism. In Leone's opinion, the greatest part of the Egypt story was the pyramids... but Earth had been carefully searched and the pyramids could not be found.
Of course, Earth was not easy to search! Like Flammis, Earth was now a green planet, lost to the scourge of uncontrolled nanites. So even if evidence for Egypt did remain on Earth, it would never be easy to find that evidence. Still, something as large as the mythical Egyptian pyramids should be easily detectable from orbit using conventional scanners.
Leone believed it was possible that Egypt had indeed existed in ancient times. For Leone, "ancient" meant from before the 20th century, a time before the Space Age. Leone knew that he lived in the 25th century, as time and years had once been counted on Earth. Earth's year was still the "standard year" of the Empire. Within the Empire, everything from more than 200 years before the present was considered classical or Ancient by most people, due to the rapidly increasing rate of scientific advance and social changes.
Now, within the Empire, the years were not numbered that way (25th century) anymore, but Leone knew how to convert from the Empire calendar to the classical Earth numbering system. In the Empire's nomenclature of times, years were numbered since the founding of the Empire's capital, and they were in year 108 ANE (After the New Empire). Leone thought it was silly that the Empire called itself the "New Empire". He did not know of any past Space Age Empire, but his limited knowledge of Earth history did include some ancient examples such as the Roman Empire. Maybe the founders of the current Empire had wanted to trace their origins to Ancient Times, to make the Empire seem like Destiny for humanity.
Something that Leone found funny and amusing was "Set", the name. Leone had learned that in Egyptian mythology "Set" was thought to be some evil god. If the person Set believed in such crap maybe that could be one of his weaknesses, believing in false and exotic things. Leone could imagine that there had been an Egypt on Earth, but he did not doubt that belief in esotericism and secret knowledge handed down from Ancient Egypt was a complete fantasy. Leone had no reason to suspect that Set was murderous and evil in anything other than a perfectly conventional way. However, a strange thought came to mind....
“Do you believe in mental powers?” Leone asked Aristark, without any introduction.
“What?” said Aristark. Aristark was busy making calculations for how much light might penetrate the green cloud of Flammis and was not thinking along the same topics as was Leone.
“Do you believe in mental powers?” Leone asked again.
“Not at all,” answered Aristark. “Why do you ask?”
“Because we are searching for a Master of 'mental powers' and Sybil claimed that this green world is inhabited by a group of people who practice mind control,” Leone said.
“I don’t know what to believe about that, yet. My position is skeptical, but I could believe some of it if there were enough proof to support these claims. Maybe if these 'Masters' can read my thoughts or damage my laser gun with their mind, maybe then I will start to believe in 'mental powers'. If they don't prove it I will not believe a single word of Sybil's nonsense. Its the same as for any wild claim, they will have to show me evidence that supports their claims.”
“Yes, that's the point, but some mystics claim the existence of 'mental powers' cannot be proved to skeptics. According to them, you must first 'have faith" in the Powers. That is what I read about this 'Osiris Order' and the idea that they have an ancient tradition of 'mind powers'. They never show their powers to skeptical people, that is, to people outside their 'Hermetic' Order. Of course, a skeptic would say that their refusal to demonstrate their powers might be because they have no powers at all. Maybe their 'powers' are just something like a prestidigitation trick,” Leone said.
“Prestidigitation? What is that?”
“A practice from Earth's history in which a performer tricked other people by making illusions. Common tricks were pretending to make objects disappear and making them appear somewhere else or making it look like the trickster could magically escape from death traps.”
“Oh, my Graviton! Those ancient people actually payed for the 'pleasure' of being tricked, right? Weird!”
“Yes, through human history that type of showmanship has gone in and out of favor. Times are too dismal now for people to be entertained in that way. But maybe Sybil and Kalid and others in this 'Osiris Order' are tricking people and will try to trick us too,” said Leone.
“You are right. Maybe they know nothing about 'mental power' other than how to confuse and trick weak-minded people. But if this 'Osiris Order' has been able to hide here, then one thing they could do was to hide from the Empire. And that is no easy task,” Aristark said.
“Maybe Sybil's whole story about Flammis and the Masters escaping detection by the Empire is just self-deception. Maybe the Empire has laid a trap for the 'Osiris Order' and is just waiting to conquer them...and any allies who come to visit Flammis. Alternatively, it might be that the population on Flammis is too tiny to be of interest to the Empire. See," Leone pointed out the window, "It is a dead planet and according to our scans it does not even have any significant amounts of minerals either. I believe that 'mind powers' garbage is a fairy story invented to frighten or entertain kids...” Leone said.
“Fairies? Oh, I remember, some little mythical female creatures. Yes, that could be. But maybe there is more to this 'Osiris Order' than we know. Maybe these people like Sybil and Kalid are really hiding and conspiring....maybe they are few in number but still a force the Empire would be concerned about...”
“Do you really think that is likely?” Leone asked, surprised.
“I trust Ketar. Ketar would not tell you to take Sybil seriously unless there was something true in her story. I've been thinking I had heard something like her story long ago, anyway. There is a legend, a 'story invented to frighten or entertain kids' that I heard from my mother when I was very young....something about a mighty hermetic order that will overthrow the Empire and will rule instead of it.”
Leone shook his head. Both of his parents were rationalists and had never burdened Leone with such fantasy stories. “A legend is a legend, it gives false hopes to miserable people. Predictions of future events...that is just another invention of story tellers. Many people have dreams about a better galaxy, but they do not pretend to see the future. Anyhow, we are in the closest possible orbit now and the scanner results are all coming in. We will find out soon if this 'Osiris Order' exists and if these Masters are as mighty as Sybil claims...”
After that conversation, the two counselors resumed their work. Leone went to the main control room and prepared to take the ship off autopilot. He had already started making a list of possible landing locations, coordinates on the surface of Flammis near anything on the surface that seemed like a possible human base. Aristark went to the main engineering room where he could continue the study the scanner results and also prepare equipment for landing. By the looks of things, they would need special protective equipment in case they actually landed under the green nanite cloud that shrouded the planet.
In preparation for taking manual control, Leone connected himself to the spaceship. He took commanded of the ship by plugging in some electrodes that he attached to his head with a small cap. Now, to command the ship he did not need to touch any buttons; he could just use his mind and the associated electrical brain activity. He leaned back into the command alcove and let a powerful magnetic projector rest against the back of his head, directly over his visual cortex. By way of the projector, he saw the appearance of a virtual control panel for the spaceship right in his mind.
A second magnetic projector now moved against the left side of Leone's head. “Thot welcomes you. I am prepared to land on the spot you choose,” Thot, the main computer, said, with a neutral voice, neither male nor female.
“Show me a 3D model of the planetary scans you have done so I can choose the landing point.”
The computer showed him the 3D model it had built. Since the computer was connected to him through the neuro-computer connection there was no need for anything as primitive as a display screen. Thot now projected images on Leone’s visual area and "talked" directly to his language processing area in the brain. This neuro-computer interface was a new invention that only a few spaceships had and few planets could afford to buy. But Sakkara was a planet where science was a leading force and technology was at its peak. Sakkara was part of the “Associated Planets”, that is, the planets who did not pay direct tribute to the Empire. These planets lent services to the Empire and they were a little more independent than other planets. But this independence was only relative. Some on Sakkara complained that 'Associated Planet' was just a 'feel good' title because their government and economy were fully controlled by the Empire, just like the “Tribute” planets.
To be continued