The End of the Old Order
On the fifth day of driving, we arrive just outside the border of New Iyandia. We cannot risk going through the border checkpoint, so I pull the transport into a thick patch of tall weeds and leave the car hidden there. I explain to Trina and Avir that we must go on foot the rest of the way.
As we walk, my Roamer begins to vibrate incessantly. The National Emergency Warning System has sent a series of urgent notifications.
The Royal Erabian Minister of Interior Affairs has issued a mandatory evacuation of all residents within 30 kilometers of the Hazalan Nuclear Power Station in the Blessed Borough of Saoodi Lower Erabia. Repeat: all residents within 30 kilometers of the Hazalan Nuclear Power Station must evacuate immediately.
The RNTM, a terrorist organization led by Mother Suri, has taken control over the power station. A similar attack on the Eastchester Nuclear Power Station in Anglica has taken place. Trace amounts of Cesium-137 have been detected, but there is no immediate danger of radiation contamination.
The RNTM and Mother Suri are considered extremely dangerous. The Royal Erabian Command Center has designated the RNTM and Mother Suri as Maximum Threats and the Kingdom has been placed at Terror Threat 1. The Royal Erabian Command is working to regain control over the Hazalan Nuclear Power Station and is implementing countermeasures against our enemies.
I stop walking. I pull Avir and Trina close. They look over my shoulder at my mobile device as we read the different reports coming out of Anglica and Erabia. The King and Prime Minister apparently decided to go public with what they know about Mother Suri. They issued a joint statement that the RNTM is a threat to the existence of both nations, as well as the rest of the civilized world. They quickly put together an armistice similar to the one the prince and I were supposedly working on and sign a treaty of mutual understanding and cooperation. I’m curious what the Prime Minister has to say, so I pull up his Twitter feed. His posts lack their usual angry bravado. He seems humbled by the threats from Mother Suri.
News is breaking all over the world—spontaneous protests, kilometer-long lines at hydrocarbon stations, rapid currency fluctuations, military mobilizations, refugees amassing on borders. We could spend days trying to digest what’s happening. But we have to keep going.
We head on foot through the tall weeds and shrubs. At some point we pass from Erabia to New Iyandia. The border is not clearly marked. New Iyandia is a completely neutral country and there is little in the way of illicit traffic between the two countries. We walk through some marshlands and cross a small creek before we see the plateau that Vayu sits on. The statuesque turbines, perched upon the plateau, are a beautiful sight. Their blades effortlessly spin through the rays of the sun churning up brilliant bursts of orange and yellow.
We march our way up a hill to the main street in Vayu and see that all the inns—six to be precise—are lined up next to each other. “Assuming Salen is even here, I’m not sure how we’re going to find her,” I say. “I doubt she would use her real name.”
Avir has a quick solution. “I will explain to the innkeepers that Salen probably didn’t use her real name, because she’s escaping an abusive husband. I will describe what she looks like and hopefully that will be enough.” She smiles at Trina and me and says, “I think it’s best if I go alone. I don’t think it helps to have two Anglicans poking around. In Vayu, brown skin goes a lot further than white.”
Trina and I sit on a steel and wood bench near the viewing center’s security station. There is a single armed guard manning his post. After an hour of waiting, Avir returns without Salen. The innkeepers were willing to help, but none were able to identify Salen. Avir plops down alongside Trina. She’s defeated. We sit silently watching the turbines spin. We can’t stay for long, but I want to give Avir a chance to gather herself.
As we sit, we notice an older woman making her way down the hill. She moves slowly and uses a walking stick. I’m not sure if she’s heading in our direction because she moves at a snail’s pace. Each meter is a marathon. Her back is so arched that her head mostly faces the ground. Suddenly, she stops walking. She slowly straightens her arched back and waves at Avir to come help her. Avir gets up to move towards her, but I stop her. I put my hand on her arm. It could be a trap, I tell her. Avir pushes my hand away and heads towards the woman. The woman whispers something in Avir’s ear and Avir can’t hold back the tears. As she cries, her smile widens. They walk back to us and the older woman stretches out her hand to Trina. “I’m Salen.”
“Thank God you are,” Trina says. “We thought we wouldn’t find you.”
“My innkeeper sent a message to everyone in the inn. I knew it was Avir coming to look for me.” Salen wastes no time getting us up to speed. “Bramir and Ayesha are safe and I’m going to take you to them. I don’t know what the King told you about them, but they are well.”
“The King said Mother Suri brainwashed them,” Avir says.
Salen laughs. “Have you met, Ayesha? No one is going to brainwash that girl. I tried to break up with her and she wouldn’t let me.”
“And Bramir?” Avir asks.
“Bramir is … okay. He’s confused. He’s angry. He took his father’s death hard. To be honest, he’s struggling a bit. But he’s trying in his own way to fight back. He’s trying to become a man. You will soon see for yourself.” Salen looks around. “But before we go, I need to tell you something important. It’s something you may have a hard time believing.”
“I find most things hard to believe these days,” I say.
“It’s about Mother Suri.”
“What about her? The only thing we need to know is that she’s wreaking havoc. She’s quite a powerful person.”
“Well, that’s the thing—she’s not a person.”
“I mean she’s not a person—not a human. She’s a piece of code. She’s artificial intelligence designed by Prescient Labs. She’s a computer controlled by Prescient Labs—controlled by Rhone Block.”
“That can’t be. We’ve all seen her.”
“Actually, we haven’t. There’s not one film, not even a photograph, of Mother Suri. But that’s not even the half of it. The part you’ll really struggle to wrap your head around is that Rhone Block is behind everything. For starters, he fixed Anglica’s election last year. Block and his psychographics experts got Track Layton elected. Think about all that personalized information about political preferences Prescient Labs has been accumulating over the decades. Block’s company controls well over 90% of the mobile devices in the world. It’s scary. And Block has been grooming Layton since Layton first became a news anchor. It was always Block’s plan to cultivate a prime minister and help him win an election using the data mined from Prescient Lab devices.”
“And the King?” I ask.
“He’s Block’s puppet too. But it’s far more complicated with the King. Block could develop a future prime minister. But the King has been in power for decades. So, it was more about gathering compromising information and blackmail with the King. Block has enough dirt on the King to build a mountain. Layton too. But it’s not all stick. It’s carrot too. Block made each of these men rich beyond their wildest dreams. More importantly, with all the information Prescient Labs has in its possession, Block gave them a way to stay in power indefinitely. These men are natural allies. All three men all want the same thing—a stable world order to further consolidate their power. The phony armistice negotiations, The War Show, the fake enemy in Mother Suri, and now this unholy alliance between Anglica and Erabia are all part of Block’s master plan.”
I’m skeptical of almost everything Salen is saying. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But I don’t understand how someone like you could have figured all of this out.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Colonel.” Salen laughs, but it’s not funny to her. “The truth is I didn’t figure any of it out.” She moves closer to me. “Ayesha did.” Salen turns her head to the side. “You don’t think a girl is capable of this kind of thing, do you? Well, let me educate you, sir. Ayesha figured this whole thing out. She doesn’t have a wall filled with journalism plaques because she’s painting her toenails every day. That girl knows how to find the answers. So when you finally meet her, you might want to show her some respect. She may have just saved the world.”
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