“The war didn’t erupt overnight. It was a slow, gradual process. The involved parties took one step at a time… until they realized that things had gotten out of hand and that there was no way of turning back.”
I land on Nova's office table. Normally, I wouldn't care about her peculiarities, but the fate of my people is in her hands. If Nova behaves strangely, though it’s hard to tell what counts as strange behaviour in her case, then I have to know what's going on.
Sitting in her office, staring off into nothingness for hours, that counts as strange behaviour in my book. “What are you doing?”
Nova closes her eyes slowly and opens them again, focusing her attention on me. “I was testing the new interface to Illum. I was working on it for a long time, but spending an hour here and there between other tasks didn’t get me far. After a few failures, I think that I finally got it running.”
“Interface?” I cringe. Yet another strange expression. Nova has a lot of those. Luckily, I remember that Nova already used the word to refer to the magical illusion which controls Illum. “I thought that your light-show-thingy is your interface to Illum. Why would you need another one?”
“An interface doesn't have to be seen by others. The new one is thought-controlled, allowing me to tap directly into the spell-ware. It’s much more efficient but needs a lot of foundations. It took time to make it work. By itself, it isn’t much different than the old one. But it allows me to program much faster, which gives me the ability to improve a lot of Illum’s functions. I can also add new ones which were out of my reach up until now.”
Okay… I must admit that I didn’t entirely understand that. What’s spell-ware? But the implications of the rest of her explanation are mind boggling. “I thought that Illum is a series of separate enchantments which are woven together. How can you control all of them at once with your mind? It feels like something only a god could do.”
“Gods have nothing to do with it. But it’s tricky. That’s why it took me so long. Maybe you should visit the university and learn the groundwork of enchanting. Without that, I am afraid that you wouldn’t understand a more detailed explanation anyway.” Nova tilts her head, looking at her desk. “Strange.”
“What?” I ask, anxious. Did something go wrong?
Nova’s expression turns worried. “I just noticed that I didn’t have any paperwork today. That’s why I invested the entire morning into my project. Normally, I am overwhelmed by reports and requests to solve all sorts of issues regarding Illum. There were just three or four reports which needed my attention. No requests at all.” She reaches for a small stack of documents and sorts through them. “Did the aide forget to deliver the documents? I will flay the skin off her flesh if that’s the case.”
That would be me!
I shudder and clear my throat. “Most of the issues which are brought to you require a final word from Illum’s ruler. They only arrive at your office because there is no precedent to draw upon, or because the involved parties absolutely refuse to accept the judge’s decision. They try to circumvent the judge by requesting the justice of the highest priority.” Illum’s society is still a developing thing, but at least we managed to sort out the basic things like law, military and property rights.
Nova looks at me. Her expression says that she has no idea what that has to do with her decreased work.
Rolling my eyes, I answer, “Yesterday, you executed someone in public for speaking against you. Now, most of the petitioners who persisted on your judgement are afraid of pressing their cases past Illum’s judicial court. They are afraid that you might deem it necessary to punish one side or the other harshly.”
The corners of Nova’s mouth pull down in silent frustration and she slams her fist onto the table. I almost fall, because the entire table shakes under the impact. Shit, I should have returned to human size.
“Damn it all! I should have found a reason to kill someone much earlier. Had I known that they were pestering me because of that… All that lost time,” She complains, clearly angry.
Catching myself, I try to sound as calm as possible. “The downside is that some people really started thinking that you are some kind of god. That might cause problems with other nations.”
“Don’t worry about that. Our policies conflict with those of the large nations. The possibility that we have a positive relationship with all of them is non-existent. I can see us working together with the Alliance, the Orks and the Mirai. Maybe the Consortium... if some of their policies change. Though, that’s unlikely,” Nova answers and turns her attention inwards. “The war will take more and more of our enemy’s attention. Given time, Illum will quickly become a secondary target.”
“A secondary target?” That’s not very reassuring.
Nova waves her hand through the air and summons a map of the world.
“The orks are pressuring the Sociocrathy, but they will lose momentum. Their troops will be outmanoeuvred and picked off in small groups once they spread too thin. Without a large fleet of airships, they can’t fight the Sociocrathy’s army. Even with weapons which can take down an airship, it will turn into a stalemate.”
She points at the area around the Eternal Battlefield. “The Alliance is pressing through the pass, but they face the same problem. The Empire is a larger piece than they can chew. If you want to conquer another nation, you need enough troops to occupy the enemy’s territory. At least for long enough to turn a sizeable part of the population to your cause, and that takes time. A lot of it.
“Then there is the slave problem. The Empire is a moloch with more manpower than it could ever need. Were it only the slaves with collars, the Alliance could do something about it. But a large part of the Empire’s slaves are serfs without collars. They are so broken that they don’t even need to be collared. The fear of getting a collar is enough to hold them in check.”
Nova grimaces. “There are at least three or four slaves or serfs for every free man in the Empire.”
I pull my gaze away from the map. “You are clearly very well informed about the political situation.”
“That’s true. However, for that very reason, Illum poses no immediate threat to any of the larger countries. We can’t occupy them, but we can cause material damage. That’s our insurance. Attacking us doesn’t gain them anything, but could probably result in them losing a lot. That’s why I call Illum a secondary target. They will try to take us out, but only if they think that they can do it without losses, or have the chance of gaining control over Illum. I have no doubt that they will try, so we have to show them that it isn’t worth the effort.”
Someone knocks on the door.
Nova looks at me and then meaningfully at the ventilation shaft, so I fly back into the shaft and hide. From my hiding spot, I have the best view of the office, which allows me to snipe anyone who dares to try something against Nova.
Janice enters the room. She stops upon seeing the tiara on Nova’s forehead. “It seems as if you took a liking in that thing.”
Nova smiles and shrugs, touching the tiara with her fingertips. “Illum’s population has grown considerably. I am not into jewelry, but I thought that I should at least present myself according to my status. It’s no good to be underestimated.”
“I heard about your ‘judgement’ as your subjects call it. Sorry, but I don’t believe you. That barrette and the tattoo, then the ring on your finger and now the tiara. You are totally an accessory person.” Janice points her finger at the various items, grinning widely.
She’s right. I watched Nova several times while she was admiring artefacts. There is no doubt that shiny things draw her attention.
Nova sighs. “Is there any particular reason for your presence?”
Janice takes the chair in front of Nova’s desk and sits down, crossing her legs. “It’s about the little stunt which you pulled with Zane and his mother.”
Nova furrows her forehead, trying to remember what she did. “Oh, that... What about it?”
“Let’s just say that I am interested... and you know why.”
My master waves her hand in a dismissing manner, giggling. “Don’t worry. I was just teasing them. The task of training trustworthy offspring is much too tedious for me. It takes decades and getting them isn’t a pleasant experience.”
Sounds like Nova has experience. Ah, damn. If the reincarnation story is true, then she must have had hundreds of children. Isn’t it horrible to remember your lost ones each time you reincarnate? The thought isn’t comfortable.
Janice nods. “But you admit that there are certain advantages to having children?”
Nova squints her eyes at Janice and leans back. “I know that tone of yours. You want something from me.”
Janice wets her lips and leans forward. “Do you remember the details of our agreement? All you have to do is to play nice with your mother and do your best to get her better. If you do that, you have my full support.”
“Yes… I remember that.” Nova purses her lips, trying to catch onto Janice’s game.
“I think that it would be very helpful if your relationship with Zane was a little deeper than it’s now. You know, just to show your Mom that you are doing well. Living your life with a lover and children… that would show her that you are doing well. It’s important for her to know that her failure in protecting you wasn’t as grave as she thinks.”
I cover my mouth with both hands and fight the urge to giggle. Judging by Nova’s expression, there is a distinct possibility that laughing right now would get me killed.
It takes several long seconds for Nova to reply. “I see.”