Leone tried to stop thinking about "Associated Planets" and “Tribute planets" and focus on the boring task at hand...searching a dead planet for signs of life. As they continued their orbital swing around Flammis, their 3D model of the planet's surface became nearly complete. There were nearly a dozen anomalous surface features that the spaceship's artificial intelligence had scanned and flagged and which showed with flashing red highlights in the model that was now being projected into Leone's brain. Leone asked, "Why are most of these surface features dark red but one is bright red?"
The Thot artificial intelligence replied, "All the red features appear to be human settlements that were destroyed by man-made explosive devices. The dark red sites were destroyed many decades ago and appear to have been human bases located on the surface of the planet. The bright red site was recently destroyed and appears to have been an underground base."
Leone's heart began to beat very fast. "What do you mean by 'recently destroyed'?"
The machine explained, "The craters are still cooling. They must have been made within the past few days."
"How deep was the base? Is there any chance of survivors?"
Thot was slow in answering. "The scanners on this ship are designed for use in space. I cannot penetrate the depths of the shattered rock at that site. I believe that antimatter bombs were used and some exploded at depths of more than ten kilometers. I doubt if anyone could have survived."
Leone muttered, "Too late. We arrive too late." But who could have arrived here just a day or two earlier and obliterated the inhabitants of this little-known planet? And why was the planet attacked twice, once long ago? If this had indeed been a hiding place for members of the Osiris Order, who was their enemy? Why did the Osiris Order have enemies who would pursue them to the death across space and across time?
Leone's spaceship was now completing its first orbit of Flammis. Still, there was about fifteen percent of the surface that they had not yet been able to scan, so theoretically there might be some small human base down there that had escaped destruction. Maybe the Masters had used a trick and offered their enemies a false target...maybe the Masters remained hidden at another site on Flammis...or deep below the surface of Flammis. Now that Leone understood the nature of the potential landing sites and that they were all sites of destroyed bases, he had no immediate interest in attempting a landing. He instructed the ship to let its orbit stabilize over the location of the recently destroyed base.
Assuming that there might be scattered survivors, Leone was now prepared to send a signal to the planet to ask for permission to land. The Thot spaceship was trying to swing into a geostationary orbit around the planet where it could wait for the “Masters” to send them a signal. Leone was about to start transmitting when the spaceship trembled. Both Leone and Aristark felt the odd motion of the spaceship and alarms began to sound. They both had imagined that the planet was dead, so this strange event surprised them completely. Although Leone was a veteran of a thousand trips through space, he had never been in a battle. The hundred year long history of the Empire was one of peace. The movement of the spaceship felt like being in the epicenter of an earthquake, but being in space they had nowhere to run. Leone had grown up near geologically active mountains on Sakkara and had been trained from an early age to run out of buildings during an earthquake. But now he was in a spaceship and surrounded by the interstellar void.
The battle of FlammisEditar
“What is it?” asked Leone, expecting no reply.
“I have no idea,” answered Aristark, notably scared.
Leone reasoned that if Flammis had recently been attacked then those attackers might still be nearby. Alternatively, the Masters of Flammis might still have means of self-protection and they might be attacking out of fear that Leone's ship was here to attack Flammis. Leone said to Aristark, “Well, we are under attack, there is no other explanation.” Leone was frustrated by the limited scanning equipment of the spaceship, equipment that was adequate for routine space travel but which was useless for detecting particle beams and other weapons. “But, from where? Radar does not show any spaceships around us. Thot has only logged some damage to our spaceship but there are no traces of the aggressor. Thot, activate the force field.”
Thot obeyed instantly and activated the protective field. In the next few seconds, the attack continued, but the shields limited the effects of the attack. Leone manipulated the available scanning instruments as fast as he could, but still could not detect the source of the aggression. With nothing showing on the scanners Leone was forced to think whether true “ghost ships”, invisible to normal spaceships, might be in use by the Osiris Order right now... against them. They were continuously being struck by some form of destructive energy and the attack went on and on. The worst thing for Leone was that he could not counterattack; the instruments showed nothing. Leone's spaceship was not entirely defenseless. Sometimes pirate ships dared to attack spaceships, so they were always equipped with ways to use the power of their matter-antimatter engines for both defense and for offense. In his academy days, Leone had been trained in how to fight pirates, but he had never needed that training...until now. The scanners still detected no other spaceship or asteroid weapons platform or projectile in the surroundings. Shots hit them instantly, as if they came out of nowhere.
“It cannot be. Thot does not detect anything, it is as if they were confus...”
At that very moment, Leone understood it all. In the beginning, he had thought Sybil was a naïve priestess, but what had happened now was confirming her beliefs. It was true that the Thot's sensors were confused... They showed no signal of the source of the attack. And Leone remembered now when Sybil had mentioned that sensors could be confused... by “mental powers”, in her own words. So, that was the warm welcome by Kalid, from Flammis. War!
“What?” Aristark asked, because he did not understand it yet.
“This is the nonsense Sybil said!” Leone shouted. “She was telling us the truth. They are attacking us from Flammis, but since they possess that 'mental technology' to hide themselves, our sensors cannot detect the projectiles before they are making contact with our defensive shield. Every projectile they fire is protected with some mental shield or whatever it is. They could destroy our entire spaceship and the damn sensors would not see anything at all! Not even Thot's fast response time is of any use for shifting our shield strength to the location of each new impact!" The apparent mystery of the attack was that easy to explain...Leone just had to shift his thinking to include the idea that Sybil had told the truth about "mental powers"...
“Do you need something, Captain? I cannot understand the order” said Thot, in its neutral voice.
“No, Thot. I just mentioned you in third person.”
“Then, are we forced to believe in those 'powers' this way?” Aristark asked. “But, why?”
“Why are we forced?”
“No. Why are they attacking us? We have Sybil's equipment 'on', so they should recognize us...”
“Maybe that is the reason why they are attacking. I feel inclined to think that this is all a trap set for Sybil and me by Kalid. For whatever reason, Kalid wanted to destroy us. Now, everything is very clear to me, we will have to counterattack!”
“What? Counterattack? It is like killing a ghost. Besides, we would be one single ship against an entire planet. We do not even know if they are attacking us from land or space! We do not know the locations of their remaining bases. Any attempt to fight would be a suicidal mission, we are blind and helpless. We will have to flee, that is our only choice.”
“Let's attack first and try to buy some time so that we can think,” As ship's captain, Leone pronounced his decision in a solemn manner, as if he had said the most wise thing in the universe.
And, in spite of Aristark's doubts, they both prepared to make a counterattack. Nevertheless, Aristark thought their counterattack would not last very long; soon enough they would have to flee because the shield created by Thot's force field was weakening, already down to 40% of peak strength after only 5 minutes of use! So, they had to act very fast. Each of them made use of a Thot interface in the main control room and they both shot indiscriminately towards the planet. They had no target, but Leone had read about ancient wars on Earth in which "anti-aircraft fire" was blindly used to good effect against unseen bombers over cities. Aristark even shot several times "with his eyes closed", without using the targeting system... there was no difference when doing that since there was no target.
Aristark had never bothered to use the targeting system, he just watched the display of the shield's power level and integrity. As soon as the shield's energy was down to 15%, Aristark got up from his chair, convinced that it was useless to fight and that it was time to flee.
Aristark shouted at Leone, “You are completely insane! I am sorry to say that, but we have no option but to stop the counterattack and flee. It is not like I am a coward; the graviton-damned shield is below 15% and we do not have enough time to repair the generators. I won't help any more in this suicide mission. I am going to escape, right now, in one of the lifeboats. I prefer to die trying to escape than being here, locked in a death grip with an invisible enemy and striking out at empty space like an idiot."
“Go back to your place, Aristark!” Leone shouted, now enraged even more by Aristark than the relentless attack. “Cursed graviton! Now half of the crew has rebelled. If I were alone, I would fight until I had 1% shield's energy!”
“You are very conscious of the fact that you could not escape with only 1% left. I never thought that you, a rationalist and my best friend, had such self-destructive tendencies. Your rage and desire to fight makes no sense. I am not going to continue this useless discussion, bye captain, I leave you to die with your ship”. Aristark made a military salute at this moment and fled from the control room, running down the passageway towards the lifeboats.
Leone did not care to answer, as angry as he was, but Aristark's words finally penetrated to the rational part of his mind. He now noticed that his hands were trembling from the effects of adrenalin in his blood and fear in his mind. He felt as if too much of his blood was in his head and he felt on his face a very strange heat and rolling drops of sweat. Still, it was hard to back down from this fight...if they both had continued firing, maybe they... But, what was he doing? After all, Aristark was right, in some sense. It was something for a psychopath to just keep on fighting until 1% shield. It was obvious he would not wait until that moment. Leone guessed that the shield should still be near 15%. He moved his attention away from the complex offensive targeting controls and glanced at the defensive shield display: it was down to 8%. Well, he could not take any more risks now, he knew exactly what he had to do in that moment. He always had a flight program for those cases... He approached Thot and loaded the program from his fingerprints. The program was inside his fingers and Thot scanned it like an ancient bar code. Thot loaded it and executed it. Leone also closed placed an emergency lock on all the lifeboat gates of the ship, to prevent Aristark from escaping. It was not that Leone wanted Aristark to die, but Aristark was, in Leone's eyes, a subordinate and could not disobey him or abandon the the ship without orders, no matter what. Besides, in spite of everything, Aristark was completely right, maybe he had saved them both their lives... If it was not for Aristark's insubordination, Leone might have failed to look at the shield's power level before it was too late. And now Leone realized that there was a programming error in the systems of this new type of force field: the shield had not activated automatically and there were not enough pre-programmed set points for Thot to provide alerts to Leone if the shield power dropped. Aristark had performed that vital function and saved the ship.
Leone relaxed into the softness of his chair. Now that the emergency routine was activated they would escape in less than a minute. A shout of fury was heard from down the hall and Leone listened to it with pleasure. It was Aristark, when he discovered that he was locked and forbidden from exiting the ship. Aristark's miniship was completely disabled and he was now stuck in the emergency lifeboat room, helpless. After a few more seconds, they could observe the approach of the intense black of hyperspace, something never fully seen by human eyes....they lost consciousness as the hyperspace jump was initiated. Such loss of consciousness was the usual thing when spaceships made a quick exit to hyperspace from a position too near a planet. The last thing Leone saw in his mind before losing consciousness was the last percentage of the shield, he observed: 1%. After that, the entire spaceship transferred his matter to hyperspace, disappearing from the normal space-time fabric.
This chapter will describe Leone's battles at Flammis and in the Akara star system, as they are heading to Azur, Ketar's home planet.
After the battle near Flammis, Leone calls Sakkara and tries to talk to Sybil, but Sybil is not available. We learn later that Sybil has been attacked by Set and has had to escape from Sakkara. Leone calls Ketar and reports the battle at Flammis, Ketar says, "So, you did not find Kalid? Come to Azur, we will make new plans".
When Leone's ship arrives at the Akara system they are attacked again. When the shield of Leone's ship dip below 1% energy reserves, the special equipment that was installed by Sybil activates and hides the ship. This second battle shows that Kalid (and the Osiris Order) owns a technology to hide spaceships. This chapter could include a flashback that describes the attack on the Space Elevators of Sakkara and Set's reaction to that attack....basically, the flashback in this chapter provides an account of why Set is in conflict with the Antiquist Party and the Spaceship Guild.