“In tragedy, it's hard to find a good resolution; it's not black and white: it's a big fog of gray.”
Reaching out, I take another piece of popcorn and nibble on it while I read the latest reports. Popcorn alone has made this visit worth my time. Real popcorn! Who would have thought that this godforsaken island has real popcorn?
I hum, silently contemplating that thought. Actually, godforsaken isn't so far from the truth.
It has been three months since Illum arrived at the Mirai island. Three months which were filled with a lot of work and annoying human interactions. Okay, I admit it. Maybe I should invest a little more time in Castella. The poor woman is trying so hard to connect with me.
I grimace and think of all my other plans and obligations.
As if on cue, Castella's voice draws my attention. “Illum is wonderful. When I arrived here, I didn't imagine in my wildest dreams that it could be so interesting to live here.” My mother sashays into the room, followed by Janice. The Sovereign ignored me for most of the time up until now. Apparently, she took the time to take care of her own problems. After all, she left her country unattended for weeks to play escort for me.
I smile and lean back in my office's couch. “Thank you and hello. How may I help you?”
As much as I would like it if this was a simple family visit, somehow I can't think of Janice doing anything without reason.
Janice smiles and sits down in one of the chairs. She surveys the room as if to make sure that we are the only ones who participate in this conversation. “I want to talk to about the events in the Consortium and on the main continent.”
“Oh. That...” I throw the popcorn into my mouth and chew noisily to gain some time to think. Is it about something I did?
It was relatively silent since Rufus sent the metamorph after us. I retaliated with a series of attacks which didn't lack in ruthlessness. That's the only way I know to deal with people who try to get at you from the shadows. Hunkering down only encourages them to launch more vicious attacks. They have to realize that their actions cause a reaction, preferably even more brutal than their own.
Rufus didn't show any honour when he went after my employees, so I had to show him that I am also willing to sacrifice innocent bystanders, just to harm his operations. I think that he got the message after I spread a magical plague in Jade, the Consortium's capital. The plague wasn't targeted at humans since my agents already found out that the Consortium's protections against attacks of that sort are very good.
An inferno spell like the one I used in Orwen would have never worked in Jade.
However, my plague avoided that by being aimed at metals, accelerating the oxidation process. It took me over a week to puzzle the spell together and how to get it past Jade's magical defences. In the end, I had to settle for something that forced most of the metal in the city to rust. It didn't affect any of the properly protected buildings, but in a city like Jade there are tons of valuable metals which are very important.
And let's be honest, who in his right mind would put heavy magical protections on his railways? Let's just say that Rufus got the message that I am perfectly capable of destroying his toys. And since most of his businesses are located in Jade, I thought that damaging the city's economy will hurt him the most.
In the end, they found a way to stop my little 'rust'-spell, though it was far too late for most of Jade's flourishing industry by that point.
Apart from that, I didn't do anything, aside from observing what's happening around the world.
The conflict between the Alliance and the Empire is now a full-blown war, with both sides committing all their resources to the effort. I think that the Alliance got my last message when I allowed their agent to steal the fighter jet. At least they didn't try anything I am aware of.
The Empire also doesn't see me as a target of priority, since they have their hands full with the Alliance. Then there is the Resistance, which continues to free slaves and enslave the slavers, steadily spreading my network of agents. I wonder why the Emperor doesn't go with the simplest solution to the problem.
I don't think that his underlings are completely incompetent. Their efforts to hold the Resistance in check are effective. If they would free their slaves, they could eradicate my agents in a matter of weeks. Instead, they only pour oil into the fire by tightening their laws to press more people into slavery.
While those two powerful nations are busy with each other, the Sociocrathy also isn't exactly fit to deal with Illum. They have their own problems with the Resistance, but far less than the Empire. Their biggest issue are the orks who continue to run rampant along the coast.
The ork's ambassador took me up on my offer and contacted my corporation’s satellite stations within the Alliance. He requested specialized equipment and know-how, which I happily provided with my corporation as the middleman.
Okay. I see what Janice's visit could be about. Maybe I added a little to the rampaging fires of war on the main continent, but all the various countries already had animosities for each other. I just provided the spark and a little fuel. They are perfectly capable of digging their own graves.
“I am sure that you realized that the war on the continent is spreading rapidly. We've arrived at a point at which I think that I can't ignore the situation any longer.” Janice crosses her arms in front of her chest and tilts her head as if she expects a proper answer from me.
“Mhmh...” I nod to show that I am listening and continue chewing.
The Sovereign sighs, apparently giving up on dancing around the issue. “I had plenty of time to allow my own intelligence service to gather information. By now, I am very sure that your fingers are all over what's happening on the main continent. In addition, although I have no proof, I think that the calamity which befell Jade had your fingerprints on it.”
I raise both eyebrows and gulp down the popcorn, fishing for more in the bowl next to me. How did she get her information? More importantly, why is she so sure of her source? I am fairly certain to have identified agents from all the major powers in this world. Though, Janice's agents have eluded me so far.
“I am doing nothing more than defending myself. Admittedly, most people would consider my policies as an overreaction, but that’s their problem. All my actions are aimed at keeping Illum and its allies safe. Rest assured that Mirai has a decent chance at staying out of the conflict. Given that you want to stay out of it.” That's it. I am not willing to give her anything more.
Castella pouts, looking down at me as if she is hurt. “Nova...”
Why does she look at me like that? That's unfair! It seems like she is disappointed. My personal comforter can't be disappointed!
I avoid her eyes and concentrate on Janice. “I won't talk about it. Haven’t I shown you that I am a reasonable person? I won’t involve Illum or the Mirai in an immediate conflict.” I look down at my belly, feeling like a whale. “At least not in this state. Have a little consideration for a pregnant woman.” They tried to send me onto a guilt-trip, so I am allowed to use the same weapon.
That seems to pacify them at least a little. Janice actually seems to be a little guilty.
Before they have a chance to pressure me more, the door opens and Zane enters my office. His searching gaze finds me just as I shove more popcorn into my mouth. He raises his hand and averts his eyes. “Yuck! I told you not do that! It’s hideous!”
“Whad?” I mumble with a full mouth, chewing.
“Your fingernails!” He points down at my hand, which is digging for more popcorn.
I raise it and regard my elongated fingernails, furrowing my forehead. “I really don’t get why you have a problem with it. It’s like eating with chopsticks, so my skin doesn’t get oily.” I look questioningly at Janice and Castella. “Right?”
My mother presses her lips together. “I admit that it looks a little creepy. Especially when you use them to chop the vegetables to make salad.”
Oh, come on. Why should I use a knife when I have five of them in my hand? Ten in total!
Janice clears her throat. “We have known each other for long enough… At this point, your antics aren’t exactly a surprise to me.”