Thursday, July 30, 2020

Project Stellar-3: The Tribute by Roman Prokofiev

Project Stellar-3: 

The Tribute

by Roman Prokofiev

Release - December 10, 2020
Pre-order on Amazon -


“YOUR STORY SOUNDS suspect to say the least, Tribute!”
The Legionnaire locked his gaze with mine in a well-practiced show of mistrust. Once again his eye implant glinted an evil red light, enveloping me in a mesh of scanning beams. The tattoo over my eyebrow began to ache, reacting to the ID process.
I held his gaze and shrugged. I’d told them everything I knew three times already: first to the patrol leader, then to the commander of the guard, and finally to this hulk of a man sporting a full centurion star on his shoulder protector.
Okay, so I’d come round in the A-zone experiencing symptoms of memory loss. I’d barely managed to escape the nuked city via the underground utility tunnels, after which I’d met Tara and followed her to Fort Angelo where I’d been entrusted with the mission to contact the City. After which, I’d gone out of my way to complete it. All of it was the pure unadulterated truth, with the omission of one tiny little detail. The problem was, a lot of the fort’s defenders who could corroborate my story had either been killed in action, were wounded, or missing.

The centurion was an impressive sight, a real bear of a man: combat-scarred, huge and abnormally burly. There was no way normal people could develop muscles that big: this just had to be genetic engineering at work, or probably even A-mutations. Or both. Apart from all the biological reinforcements, he also had cybernetic implants which replaced his right eye and a large part of his skull, plus his left hand and forearm.
This was one of Incarnators’ descendants, one of those fabled Warriors the Legion was known for. I stayed in control of the situation, sensing the weak pulsation of his Source and monitoring his emotions with my psi-perception. He was oblivious to it, blind and quite a bit annoyed by this sudden hindrance to their agenda. He followed the standard interrogation protocol whose phases weren’t very hard to double-guess.
Creating an oppressive environment. Applying pressure. Trying to push the suspect’s emotional buttons. Using an optical polygraph with a facial expression reader. All of that could work with someone who didn’t know how to control their emotions – but not with an Incarnator. I was curious to see if he could break through my defenses, and what he might do if he’d managed to find out who it was sitting before him.
“What’s so funny?” he barked, suddenly indignant. “Come on, tell me so we can laugh together!”
“Nothing, Sir.”
“Then let me tell you something. An attempt to desert is qualified as a violation of the oath. You know the punishment for that, don’t you?”
“Negative, Sir. I told you I can’t remember anything at all,” I replied calmly. “I didn’t attempt to desert, far from it. I just couldn’t contact the City. The Rogues were jamming all communications.”
“We’re gonna check that. I just find your behavior very odd. You’re too calm and confident. You don’t seem to be under stress at all. I know lots of people who’d have already shat their pants, and your vitals don’t seem to be affected at all. Even your adrenaline levels haven’t budged. What’s your problem, Tribute?”
Suddenly I knew what was bugging him. He, a Legionnaire, someone worthy of wearing the star of Stellar and the next best thing to a superhuman, was too used to all the others looking up to him. And here I was, cool as a cucumber. My unperturbed attitude seemed to offend him: it was as if his authority didn’t mean jack to a sorry-assed recruit like myself.
“The raid’s only survivor,” he went on, tapping his fingers on the desk, “who suffered a total memory loss and somehow managed to flee the A-zone. How odd.”
He paused. I sensed the electric impulse of a command sent down the vox channel to someone outside.
The automatic door hissed open, letting two more people into the room: a man and a woman, both very young, clad in green suits of light partial armor very similar to the one I’d initially worn. The guy was stocky and red-haired, a very common mixed-ethnicity type, while the girl was definitely of African descent with her full mouth and golden skin, her hair braided into a headful of delicate black plaits.
“Reporting as ordered, Sir.”
The Legionnaire cut short the mental report he’d been sending. “Belay that, Tributes. Do you recognize this person? Have you seen him before?”
Their wary eyes focused on me. I sensed their amazement followed by instant recognition; I could feel the weak pulsation of their respective Sources. They were Tributes, still endowed with their Incarnator ancestors’ gifts.
To my surprise, the girl must have sensed the presence of my psi field. Instinctively her mind reached out to it, forcing me to gently break the contact. How curious.
The girl was an Enchantress. Young and inexperienced, so weak she could only sense her own gift rather than control it, but an Enchantress nevertheless.
“Yes, Sir!” the young guy coughed, looking at me in surprise from under his eyebrows. “This is Sven. Sven of the Breeze People. We call him Grey. He’s from the second circle.”
“That’s right,” the girl nodded, peering at me. “That’s Sven Greyholm from Fenrir Clan.”
Apart from surprise, I could also read something else in her eyes: the first inklings of malicious glee.
“But he looks different somehow,” the girl went on slowly, weighing every word. “His hair is different. He’s unshaven. It’s as if he’s grown older. Really.”
The Centurion chuckled. “Older, you said?”
“Yes, Sir!” she replied in a loud, clear voice. “I didn’t recognize him at first.”
“I see. Dismissed!”
Once the two had left, the Legionnaire gave me another long look. “There’s one more funny thing, Tribute. Your description differs from what’s in the database. Not much, only a few percent, but still. It’s only been what, several days? How can you explain that?”
“I can’t, Sir. As I said, I don’t remember anything. It was as if I was born again. I’ve seen all sorts of things – A-Monsters, Rogues, the war...”
“Makes sense. If what you’re saying is true, you must have been through a lot,” he said, suddenly warming to me. “These wastelands can quickly make a child into a soldier...”
I could feel that he’d lost all interest in me for some reason, busy pondering something of much bigger importance. I’d passed the first hurdle on my way.
“Right, Greyholm. Your identity has been confirmed. Both your Mark and your ID card are genuine,” he pushed the card toward me with his fingertips. “They’re gonna take you off the KIA list. The rest is out of my remit.”
“What’s gonna happen to me now, Sir? I’d love to stay in Fort Angelo.”
“You can’t. As a tribute of Arctis, you’re property of the City and the Legion,” the centurion said through clenched teeth. The corner of his mouth was twitching. “Your clan has sworn the Oath.”
He focused, switching his attention from me to an invisible someone. The change in his emotional aura made me realize he’d just contacted his superior.
“Okay,” he said after a pause. “I’ve spoken to them about you. You can spend the night locked up in the camp. Tomorrow morning a few of our craft are flying home. They’re gonna take you back to the City. They’ll debrief you at Timus and decide what to do with you. In any case, congratulations on your safe return. Dismissed!”
He nodded at the open door. His steel hand twitched, motioning me to leave.
The Legionnaires had set up camp in the vicinity of Fort Angelo: row after row of identical rectangular boxes which appeared deceptively light and plasticky – but were in fact as strong as stone. According to my interface, those were “field modules”.
The camp seemed to be bustling with chaotic activity which was in fact strictly organized. The sky above it was crowded with ornithopters and delicate gliders, the air filled with the ear-shattering roar of heliplanes taking off. A group of legionnaires was hurrying somewhere on the double, their weapons at the ready. The Legion definitely didn’t seem to lack in the hi tech department: some of the soldiers wore massive exosuits of every modification imaginable; the camp’s perimeter was dotted with the spidery outlines of anti-personnel Tarantulas and the rattling monstrosities of Zeus tanks.
This was the first military unit I’d seen so far which actually looked like a professional army, well-disciplined and well-equipped. The sheer amount of the force they’d spared to fight the Rogues was impressive: a good thousand soldiers, many of whom were Incarnators’ direct descendants.
Having said that, I was yet to see a single Incarnator.
Two legionnaires took me to one of the empty modules and locked me up, blocking the automatic door.
I heaved a sigh and looked around myself, studying the gray walls. Escaping a place like this was a piece of cake, really. Question was, was it worth it?
Why would I want to disclose my true nature to the Legionnaires? What purpose would it serve? What consequences might ensue? Kai had warned me, hadn’t he, that the Legion might try to manipulate me, wishing to use the new Inca to achieve their own ends. And I wasn’t entirely sure whether their ends were in keeping with my own. One thing was for sure: if I jumped the gun and revealed myself to them, that might create a lot of unnecessary hoo-hah. In which case the Legion would keep tabs on me 24/7 – and I wasn’t even sure whether the City would be happy to welcome someone like me.
My main task now was to get to the City and find that wretched Tower of Void and the secret stash which the old me had left to his successor – to myself, that is. Apparently, the stash also held the clue to my identity. And it just might shed some light on a few mysteries of the Stellar system.
So why would I play hard to get when they’d just offered to fly me there? And even if I came across some of the City Incas and they recognized me, what bad could possibly happen? I was an Incarnator in my own right, someone who’d just eliminated several of the Possessed and lifted a Blue Alert.
I opened my interface and stared pensively at the cogitor’s inactive gray icon. After what Gnarl had told me, I started doubting Miko’s help very much. Sure we were a team, but cogitors made up part of the Stellar system - and if push came to shove, my cute neural network could become a big problem.
I’d disabled Miko the moment I’d noticed the legionnaires’ presence back in Fort Angelo, thinking that if the Possessed could tell Incarnators by somehow detecting the symbiotic activities of their brain, it stood to reason that the Legion knew how to do it too. I’d been wrong though. As they’d run preliminary checks on me, it became increasingly clear that they had no access to either the Stellar system or any interferometers like the ones used by the Possessed. At least regular humans among the legionnaires didn’t. They did have some kind of internal network and database allowing them to ID the soldiers’ Marks but it had nothing to do with the Stellar system – or rather, it was only a pale shadow of the real thing, just like the legionnaires themselves were only pale shadows of the Incarnators of old.
Never mind.

Wake up, Miko!

Chapter 1

THE FAMILIAR OUTLINE appeared in the corner of my vision. My cute virtual assistant yawned and stretched, then opened one eye and asked languidly,

“Hi Grey. Have you been captured? Not again!”

“No, not really. I’ve been apprehended. By the Legionnaires.”

“No way! Can I take a look? Oh wow, they’ve got a vox network here! Wait a sec, I’m gonna hack its encryption protocol...”

“Wait! You sure it’s safe? Won’t they notice?”

“We’re perfectly safe, don’t you worry. I’m only gonna take a look. I won’t touch anything. You even have clearance and a login, can you imagine?”

I shook my head in disbelief. What were they like? How was the Legion going to fight the Possessed Technomancers if any cogitor could hack into their vox system?

Miko shook a coquettish finger at me.

I focused, trying to remember the events of the last few days. It was a good job I’d been wearing my old clothes as I’d arrived in Fort Angelo because the Monolith-issued gear could have raised some unwanted questions. I’d only had the bare necessities on me: my Fang dagger, the cryptor and the Rat gun, and I’d managed to slip the weapons into the cryptor just in time. Although the Legionnaires had confiscated the cryptor during the preliminary search, I doubted they would dare open it, risking a huge explosion for trying to hack into a clan artifact.

“Everything’s fine, Incarnator. There’s no immediate danger. You’ve passed the preliminary test and have been put on the list of the personnel due back to the City. Sven Greyholm’s profile has been updated with the mentions ‘unconfirmed memory loss’, ‘exposure to an A-zone’ and ‘probability of A-mutations’. More than likely, we’ll face a more thorough check once we reach the City. Your plan is quite doable, but still I estimate the potential of their disclosing our identity as high.”

“Miko, and what if another Incarnator sees me – will they be able to identify me?”

“All the information about you is in the system. There’re two ways they could possibly identify you. First, if another cogitor sends me an ID query. If you and I accept it, both sides will reveal their respective statuses to each other. And the other way is through a system check. All acting Incarnators, you included, are listed in the Archive’s registry. If the other Incarnator’s cogitor has recently updated their Archives, then yes, they’ll be able to recognize you by your visuals. Still, there’re a few hurdles to this...”

She wrinkled her little nose, waiting for me to guess the right answer. When I hadn’t replied, she went on,

“Which are pretty obvious, aren’t they? No one can possibly see or know everything. Any information system is flawed by definition. So first of all, this inquisitive Incarnator will have to have recently updated his or her Archives, no earlier than three weeks ago when we’d first registered in the terminal. And secondly, he or she needs to purposefully try to identify you.”


“How often do you run checks on people you meet?”

Suddenly I knew what she was trying to say. My interface indeed allowed me to “read” the stats of any item or person, gleaning the data from Stellar’s Archives. But in order to do that – or at least try to do so – I had to purposefully focus on the said object or person, summoning a pop-up prompt with all the data. Lately, I’d been using that function intuitively, calling up the prompts only when I needed them. Had the system highlighted everything around me, my life would have long become a digital hell.
Which also meant that—

“Exactly. My point entirely. Try not to get on Incarnators’ radars – but even if you do, just keep a low profile and stay cool so that no one has a reason to ID you. There’re also special gadgets allowing one to either conceal or alter their appearance. Without an ID query, there’s no way they can recognize an Incarnator in a new host body. If you remember, the only reason we managed to ID Alice was because we saw her tattoo...”

So it just might work, then.
So what did we have? – we had a very convenient option of hitching a ride to the City. How things might work out there was a different story, of course, but at least that would spare me the perilous trek through the wild continent and the thousand-mile expanse of the ocean. Also, it was much easier to penetrate the City posing as Sven Greyholm, a tribute from Fenrir clan.
Alice’s situation kept worrying me. There was no knowing how she might react to the news that I’d been taken away. Trust her to go on a solo raid into the Legion’s camp and trash the place to smithereens. Which was a very dangerous scenario, primarily for Alice herself. If there were any Incarnators with the Legion – and I had little doubt of that, otherwise how had they expected to get hold of Gnarl? – the girl could get into real trouble.
I remembered how I’d carried her back to the Monolith after our battle with the Possessed. Afterward, I’d returned to the scene hoping to find any traces of Kai’s anima. Just think that Gnarl had killed the last Blizzard team member right in front of me! But there was nothing left of Kai, only the shurikens of blue steel and the blob of blood staining the grass.
The score was 2:1. Kai had paid with his life for the deaths of Evyl and Gnarl.
Choking on angry tears, I had collected our trophies: the Azurid fragments of the broken egg, our own gear and whatever was left of the two Possessed. Our main prize was “Aurora’s carrier” – the container of beryllium bronze which held several cartridges of neutral Umbra, Gloom’s cursed gift. Although I had no idea what to do with it yet, we couldn’t just leave it there.
After that, I had vented my fury, cremating all the remains with a Flash which scorched away every trace of the recent combat.
The liquidation of the Blue Alert had garnered us ten commendations, which allowed us to retrieve Alice’s status as Incarnator. She had her cogitor back, as well as the ability to reincarnate. Now that the Lash of Void had destroyed the Beast, Alice was in full possession of her own body.
Still, I wished it were as easy as that...
I leaned my back against the wall, closed my eyes and mentally replayed our last conversation.
Soon after I’d taken Alice back to the Monolith, she’d passed out and gone to sleep. Miko had told me that Gnarl’s attack must have cost the girl dearly and that it might take her some time to restore her Enyo and her Source balance.
The next morning though, I found the girl already standing by the terminal while Miko informed me we’d just gotten an ID query from a strange cogitor.
“Richie,” Alice explained with a faint smile and a suspicious glint in her eye. “That’s Richie. I completely forgot how cute he is. I spoke to him. We’ve been talking all night.”
“How are you feeling now?”
“Me? I’m okay. The Beast... is gone,” she replied. “Grey. You’re an Enchanter. A proper one. You saved me. No one else would have done it. Thank you.”
“You’re now Stellar’s Incarnator. You don’t need my help anymore. You’re free now.”
“Free. Yes,” she said with a strange expression on her face. “You don’t want me? You want me to leave?”
Unexpectedly she dropped to her knees, grabbed my hand with hers and pressed her forehead to it in almost religious awe. By then, I already knew that this must have been some kind of ritual she’d learned in her old clan, but still all these signs of veneration were beginning to tire me out. “Yes, but—”
“I’ve got nowhere else to go. I’ve got no one. No one... at all. I want to follow you. I can help you. If I may,” she added, looking up at me. “Grey the Enchanter. Alice the Warrior. We’re a team. Good team.”
“I thought you wanted to get yourself a new body?” I reminded her, gently helping her back to her feet.
“Yes. I did. This one is old,” she looked pensively at her own hands as if seeing them for the first time. “But it’s mine. I’ve gotten used to it. I’m gonna keep it. But—”
“But what?”
By way of answer, she lashed out at her own forearm. The crimson claw marks swelled, filling with blood. They weren’t in a hurry to heal though. The blood was gradually stopping but it was taking it too long – much longer than before.
Alice showed me her bleeding arm, then licked her other hand and ran it over the wounds. They immediately began to close, transforming into pale pink scar marks.
“My regeneration... is weak,” she said. “It’s normal now. Just the genome. The Beast made it stronger. His Azuric ability did. Not anymore. I can be killed... now.”
I nodded. The Beast – that powerful otherworldly entity which had snatched her body – must have somehow amplified her regeneration ability, making her virtually immortal. And now she’d lost this advantage, becoming as vulnerable as a third-Evolution Warrior Incarnator could possibly be.
“I have no intention of sending you away,” I said. “I want to help Fort Angelo. Then I need to go to the City.”
“The City... I can’t,” she said pensively.
“Why not? You’re an Inca now. You’re part of Stellar.”
“I can’t. The Legion. The City. They have a long memory. Old grudges. Dangerous. Very.”
“In that case, I’ll just go on my own.”
“Please don’t. The City... it’s bad. Stellar is bad. The Cube. The Omega seal.”
“I’m afraid I have to go. You understand?”
She heaved a sigh, apparently realizing she couldn’t talk me out of it. “Very well. First Fort Angelo. Then the City. It’s far. Very far. How can we get there?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Having had this conversation, we’d left all our possessions in Stellar’s extradimensional inventory and headed for Fort Angelo. We’d half-expected to walk into the Rogues but instead, we saw the legionnaires’ camp and their sky patrols controlling the approaches to the fort. We hadn’t had any problems getting in – but then they’d ID’d me as Sven Greyholm, and here I was.
So what should I do? My biggest worry was that Alice might try to break into the camp in order to set me free, thus disrupting my plans and making things worse for herself.

“You shouldn’t worry too much, Incarnator. She has Richie, doesn’t she? He’s so cute!” Miko rolled her eyes and smacked her lips.

“You too, Brutus?”

Miko giggled.

I wasn’t so sure.

* * *

The next morning, I was jolted awake by two legionnaires.
“Out you go, Greyholm. Here’s your stuff.”
I opened the package they’d given me. Inside was my clan cryptor and Fang. I could barely believe they’d given them back to me. That could only mean that nothing had changed in the course of last night.
That cheered me up so much that I immediately came up with a plan how to contact Alice. All I needed was a few minutes of solitude.
It was a gray early morning; the camp was just coming awake. We walked – or they led me, rather – along identical rows of modules toward the camp’s far end where they’d cleared some sort of landing site. I could make out the hunched outlines of heliplanes and a great many soldiers bustling around unloading them. Stacks of green crates around the Peregrines kept growing; personnel walked up the ramps in single files, disappearing inside.
“Where are you taking me?”
“You’re boarding with the others. You’re leaving for the City. Your transport is already loadi—””
The rest of his phrase was drowned out by a thunderous rumbling noise. All of us turned our heads toward the black dot which appeared from behind the mountains, approaching rapidly. It shot past us, its outline resembling a human silhouette.
The deafening roar and a violent gust of wind made me duck instinctively, but my Binocular Vision had already taken a detailed look at the object while my interface helpfully highlighted it, offering more intel.
A wingsuit. An unknown model of Icarus, to be precise. The suit was pitch-black - very similar to Angel’s ancient flying exosuit, in fact. The only difference between the two was that Angel’s had had two silver wings while this one had a trail of sapphire flame dissolving in its wake.
The flying visitor banked into a steep turn over the camp, then landed sharply somewhere closer to its center.
The Legionnaires had stopped too, gazing at the scene. Indeed, the effect produced by the arrival of the flying warrior was akin to that of some legendary messiah descending from the sky. I sensed a pang of envy: had my own appearance as Angel been just as spectacular?
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“That’s Cassandra,” one of the guards said. “She’s an Inca! She’s the Legate of the Eighth Cohort, the Sky Devils.”
“Are there other Incarnators here beside her?” I asked.
The Legionnaire butted me with his rifle by way of reply. “Move it, Tribute. Your transport is number thirteen. Go get in line to board!”
As we passed the row of latrines, I lingered in well-calculated embarrassment and gave my guards a meaningful look. “Officer, I think I’m gonna burst. Can I use it quickly?”
The legionnaires were regular humans; well-trained but humans nevertheless. I upped the ante, adding some psionic pressure from Leader of the Pack. I couldn’t dream of bringing them under my control – I was too weak for that and I was sure they’d have sensed any aggressive pressure. But my Empathy and my psi field could just give them a gentle nudge in the right direction.
“Wanna take a leak?” one of them asked. “Okay, go and do it while you can. It’s a long flight.”
The other one nodded. I heard a chuckle from under his closed helmet.
It had worked!
Last night, I’d already noticed that the camp had very decent latrines in purpose-built modules that stood aside from the rest. We turned toward the nearest one. I dashed into the cubicle while activating the black cube of my cryptor.
Now I had to act fast. I slammed on the mental amplifying headband – courtesy of Lion Face – and readied an empty Azure battery. Wincing, I stabbed my own neck with the extractor’s needle.

Azure extraction process initiated
Azure lost: ...
You’ve lost 10 000 Azure
Total Azure count: 3930/36300

The extractor’s little green light came on, signaling that the battery was fully charged. I slid it into the headband’s clot and tried to focus.
The device amplified my own psi-field manifold until my mental control embraced the entire camp. For a split second, the air around me vibrated with a great many voices of thousands of human minds. A few of them were remarkable by their own power and psi-activity – they must have been the Legion’s Enchanters or Incarnators like myself. I had no time nor desire to look into it, knowing they too could sense me. Instead, I transformed my psi-fiend into a thin beam which fanned out, searching the camp’s vicinity for the familiar scorching heat of Alice’s mind.
Yes! I located her almost straight away, waiting for me at the appointed place. Miko promptly used the established link to send the information about our plans to Richie while I could use the moment to say goodbye to my teammate. Sensing my touch, her mind opened up. For a few long seconds, we enjoyed a silent conversation.
“Where are you?” her question was rife with urgency.
“No, I’m okay. I’m at the Legion’s camp. I’m leaving for the City now. Please don’t do anything stupid.”
I sensed her anger and resentment. The next second, however, she responded, asking me for further instructions.
“Don’t go back to the Monolith. The Legion is sure to check it.”
She knew it already: she too had noticed the strange wingsuit in the sky. That reminded me of Angel’s own wingsuit which we’d left behind in Evyl’s lab in the Convoy. I sent Alice a clear image of its silvery wings.
“Greyholm, what are you screwing with?!”
They started banging on the flimsy door. I had no time left.
“The wings. I understand. I’ll find them,” Alice’s message breathed calm confidence.

“Watch out, Incarnator! Someone’s trying to locate you! Abort the communication now!”

I could sense it too. Someone was prying about. The stranger’s aura felt like a gentle but insistent tickle trying to detect the source of interference. The Legion must have had someone whose psi-abilities were just as good as mine – better even – and who must have sensed my presence.
Only now had I understood how risky it had been of me to venture into the camp without proper training.
With the amplifier enhancing my abilities tenfold, I had no problem slipping out of my opponent’s sensitive psi-fingers. I dodged his contact attempt, ripped off the headband and disabled Leader of the Pack, killing my psi-activity and shutting down my mind. It actually felt as if I’d turned deaf and blind, so used was I by now to my psi-perception.
“Greyholm!” the legionnaires’ voices rang with anger.
I hurried to return all the instruments of my crime back to the cryptor and stepped outside. Now I really had to leg it before the mysterious Enchanter got the chance to work out what was going on.
Conveniently for me, the boarding had already begun. We walked across the airstrip just as several ornoptars landed on it, croaking hoarsely. Those were monstrous A-birds clad in mechanized armor, which actually looked very similar to regular ptars. Apparently, the Legion – with the help from some Enchanters, no doubt – had learned to tame and use them as some sort of flying cavalry.
Each of those birds had a special seat on the back. Their chests, bellies and heads were shielded with sheets of silvery armor held together with leather straps. Next to the blackened barrels of the legionnaires’ machine guns and the mechanized armor of their exosuits, the A-birds’ toothy beaks and malicious yellow eyes looked dramatically out of place.
“Watch out!” my guard yanked my arm, dragging me away from the birdies shifting their three-digit feet on the ground. “They don’t like strangers. They’ll just smash your head in with their beaks, end of story.”
“Greyholm! Move your ass over here!”
I climbed up the ramp into the black gut of a large cargo heliplane and walked along the narrow aisle between two rows of steel seats, some of them already taken.
As I entered, a legionnaire with an Optio’s insignia scanned my Mark. “Another tribute? Greyholm? Over there,” she pointed to my seat.
I slumped into it and buckled up with two crisscrossed seatbelts, copying how all the others did it. I was surprised to discover the African girl sitting to my right, the one who’d had to identify me last night. All the others next to me were males in green partial armor, all of them looking suspiciously young. Apparently, some of the tributes were sent back to the City.
For a short while, the cabin bustled with the boarding activity until all the seats were taken and the cargo compartment was stacked up with battered old crates. Then the clearance lights blinked on; the rotors roared to life, pushing the Peregrine up into the sky.
We were flying to the City.

Chapter 2

THE PEREGRINE HAD SETTLED on its course. The strained roar of the rotors during takeoff had given way to a steady hum. The white expanse of heaping clouds flashed past the windows. I studied my fellow passengers, trying to commit every tiny detail to memory.
The craft held about forty people in total, both men and women, mainly privates who wore full sets of legionnaires’ gear: closed helmets, the tattered greenish gray capes sporting the star of Stellar, and massive breastplates fashioned of some dull silvery metal. Almost all of them had already removed the heavier parts of their accoutrements and were now dozing off, completely relaxed. Without their helmets, they presented a striking variety of types. Each of them had a strong and unique personality, and all together they were a collection of every ethnic type known to man.
I also noticed several wounded soldiers: some of them bandaged while two were lying strapped to gurneys, unconscious. Next to them sat a female legionnaire with a sleeve patch that sported the medical symbol of a snake curled around a bowl. Was she the raid doctor? Did that mean that the Legion had still managed to get into a scuffle?
The remaining minority of the passengers were tributes like myself. I could tell them by their light gear and their tender age: girls and boys, none of them a day older than twenty. They too boasted every possible skin shade and eye shape under the sun.
The African girl sitting to my right must have noticed my searching gaze. Her elbow inconspicuously poked mine. She gave me a wink. “Greyholm, do you read me, over! You okay?”
“Basically, yeah,” I returned her wink, sensing the inquisitive interest she exuded.
“We’ve been told to keep an eye on you,” she smiled, showing a row of perfect white teeth. “We’ve got orders to take you to the medical center on arrival. They told us you’re not quite right in your head. Is that true?”
“You could say that,” I said evasively.
“Sven, just relax, man. We have another twenty hours of flight ahead of us. You gonna tell me how you survived the A-zone?” she brought her face closer. “You won’t believe the stories people are telling about you! Holy kittens! What happened to Hunchback’s raid? Did the whole Group Nineteen die? Maria too?”
“Who’s Maria?”
“Tigris’ big sister, from Jaipur! The brunette from the third circle, don’t you remember?”
Maria? I thought about the group of legionnaires that had been killed when I’d first arrived. There had indeed been a brunette girl there, the one who’d fallen victim to Darkness and who had later chased after me across the ravaged city. It was very likely that Sven Greyholm hadn’t been the only tribute on that raid.
“They were all killed,” I said. “I was the only one who survived. I can’t even remember how they died. I must have hit my head real hard. When I came round, they were all dead. There were monsters fighting over their bodies... huge, they were. I escaped and then I found an old underground tunnel. It took me about twenty-four hours just to get out of there.”
Her eyes widened. “You don’t remember anything? Nothing at all?”
“Nothing. Not even my own name. Everything’s just blank. They say it’s post-traumatic amnesia. I don’t remember you either, by the way.”
“No way! How are you gonna train then?”
“No idea.”
“Holy kittens! I thought you looked sorta funny. Like you’re not yourself at all. Eva will get the shock of her life!” she added with a sudden giggle.
“Your girlfriend,” the girl explained with a sarcastic grin. “You two are an item, aren’t you? You’re her darling Valentine and all that. I wanna see her face when she sees you! She already got herself a substitute... oops,” she winced, realizing she’d said too much.
I chuckled. Apparently, my host was in for some love drama.
This young Enchantress seemed to have known Greyholm really well. They must have been training together for at least a year. She was a veritable treasure trove of information, and I’d better pick her brains while I still could, to make sure I didn’t walk into any minefields later. The amnesia story could partially explain my strange behavior, and in any case, I had no intention of staying in the tributes’ academy for any longer than absolutely necessary. Still, it would be better to know the lay of the land.
“Hey I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name either.”
“It’s Esther. Esther Marlowe. Or just Essie. They also call me Beanpole for obvious reasons, but I hate it.
“Do I have a nickname?” I asked jokingly.
She giggled. “You’re Dolly. I’m serious! There’s this old song,
“Very funny. Never mind. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Neo Mumbai. Icarus’ clan.”
“I knew someone from Icarus’ clan,” I remembered. “His name was Rico. The Enchanter with Fort Angelo. He helped me a lot...”
“Rico,” Essie said with a solemn nod. “Yes, he’s a distant relative of mine. I heard that he’d died...”
“Essie, mind telling me more about Timus?” I asked, locking her gaze with mine. “And about me? I really don’t remember anything at all. You and I, we were friends, weren’t we?”
“Er, not really,” she averted her gaze. “We just knew each other, that’s all.”
“Could you tell me more, please?”
Gradually, by asking the right questions, I led her to open up a little. Half an hour later, we were already chatting as if we’d known each other our entire lives.
Both Esther and Sven Greyholm were in second year of their training at Timus: the military academy which prepared cadets for service in the Legion as Warriors, Enchanters and Technomancers. In compliance with the Oath – which was some kind of agreement the City had made with all the vassal clans – the latter were obliged to send their young men and women to Timus every year. The suitable candidates were selected by the City’s representatives through gene mapping. As far as I’d gathered, the main criterion for the selection was the candidate’s possession of a powerful Source. Logically, most tributes selected that way were descendants of the Incarnators of old, with only a few exceptions.
The tributes then spent five years in training and raid practice, after which they were obliged to serve in the Legion for fifteen whole years. An impeccable service could knock a few years off the term, and in fact many of the old-timers were sent to their home towns to complete their service in the Legion’s local units.
This was a curious scheme eerily reminiscent of the ancient ransom practices. Human offerings, oh well. By claiming the clans’ “fresh blood” every year, the City strategically killed several birds with one stone. Firstly, it stripped the clans of their most talented young people, bringing everyone who showed some Azuric abilities under its own control. Secondly, it ensured their loyalty because the twenty years in the City’s service strengthened the bond between the recruit and the Legion, turning it into a home from home. And thirdly, it laid its hands on the clans’ most high-placed representatives because many of the tributes came from the clans’ ruling families, thus guaranteeing the said clans’ loyalty.
And last but not least (I didn’t even want to contemplate the idea but it just came naturally to me), this gave the City a choice of readymade candidates with an equally varied selection of Sources: fresh host bodies to suit every need and taste.
Sven was a tribute from Arctis. From what Esther had told me, he had lots of friends and relatives at Timus, as well as a girlfriend. After the raid had perished, he was considered killed in action. And now I would arrive in his guise, someone with totally different manners and body language and no memory of anything at all. How were they going to take it?
I asked a few inconspicuous questions about the City’s Incarnators and breathed a sigh of relief. Esther didn’t seem to know anything about them. In the whole year she’d been at Timus, she’d only managed to catch a few glimpses of them from a respectable distance. The Incarnators were rumored to frequent the Legion’s main base, so the tributes could only come across them during some major military campaigns of city ceremonies. The risk of running into one was minimal: as far as I’d gathered, Timus cadets were trained by perfectly ordinary people.
Esther’s replies were getting increasingly monosyllabic until finally she dozed off. All the others were already happily snoring away. The raid must have been really tiring for them; I doubted they’d gotten any decent rest. The soldier uses every opportunity to grab some sleep.
I didn’t have this problem anymore. I sat back and closed my eyes, pretending I was asleep. Now I could finally focus and have a good think.
On top of the two Orders of Merit and the liquidation of a Blue Alert that I’d received for my victory over the Possessed, Gnarl had also dropped a very curious genome. Very curious.
My interface showed it as bright brown with a scarlet sheen. In the Stellar system, each color had its own meaning depending on the class of the creature which had dropped it. I’d already had green, blue, red and Gold ones, even a Purple one – but although this one brought some necrotic associations, it actually wasn’t a Necro.

Schrader’s Genome
Class: Purple (Azuric, quantum mechanical)
Available genetic modifications:

Multithreading. Allows your mind to simultaneously perform several unrelated tasks. The number of tasks depends on your Source’s capacity.
Evolution (2)
Brain Restructuring (5)
Source Upgrade (10)
Ability type: Passive

Ortho-positronium impulse. Allows you to emit a powerful short pulse to destroy any positron- and quantum-based electronic systems.
Evolution (1)
Limbic System Upgrade (5)
Brain Restructuring (5)
Melon (5)
Ability type: Active
Cost: 10000 Azure

Spectral Analysis. Allows you to study an object’s properties via the use of penetrating radiation.
Evolution (1)
Limbic System Upgrade (5)
Brain Restructuring (5)
Melon (5)
Ability type: Active
Cost: 3000 Azure

All of the Genome’s affixes appeared more suitable for a computer rather than a human being. I had a trouble imagining what kind of living creature could have provided such genetic material. Could it be some sort of Azure-altered biomechanical cadaver? Very curious. The effects of Multithreading weren’t quite clear to me. The Impulse must have been something akin to a super powerful EMP attack scorching all types of electronics, while the Spectral Analysis was just a research tool. All of the genome’s abilities were undoubtedly very interesting but none of them suited me. I was pretty sure that an advanced Necromancer would have gladly accepted such a gift.
I looked at the two genes with question marks. The
Which meant that Schrader’s Genome was no good to me. I could invest my three neurospheres in something else, then. What would that be? My Source or my physical abilities? That got me thinking...
“Source!” I almost heard the pleading groan of the disabled Miko.
Of course. Physical upgrades were all too easy to detect. I was already far superior to a regular human, and my last central nervous system upgrades had resulted in phenomenal speed and reaction times. But the Source was still my main gift and weapon. Also, thanks to the Daat’s gift, I didn’t need Evolutions to level it up now, and it would have been a shame not to use it to my advantage.
Having thus made up my mind, I invested one neurosphere in
Shield of Light, Pyrokinesis, Aura of Light, Wave of Light, Healing with Light...
Protection, fire summoning, a blinding aura, the ability to hurt the enemy with directional waves of scorching light and the ability to heal. Which one should I take?
Also, I should really choose only one option. I already knew from experience that although the Azuric abilities were initially rather weak, they could become extremely effective once maxed out. The maxed-out Flash had already become my weapon of choice while Reinforcements with Light had allowed me to wound the Roc and kill Evelynn Mail.
Having studied the abilities’ descriptions, I unhesitantly selected Healing with Light and invested both neurospheres in it.

Healing with Light (3). Lends a powerful regenerative effect to your Light of Ra, which neutralizes any toxins and pathogenic processes, instantly stops bleeding, closes wounds and heals serious injuries, including any damage to internal organs.
Ability type: active
Cost: 1000 Azure per minute

Miko would have probably said I was making a mistake by spreading myself too thin. Yes, I knew that my source type Ra was perfect for a combat Enchanter who slayed his enemies with Light and scorched entire cities like the legendary Phoenix. For me personally, Healing with Light was pretty useless considering I had my Incarnation ability and my Hydra genome.
But for people around me, this particular Azuric ability could make a world of difference. I was sick and tired of losing those who’d put their faith in me. You never know: had I had this ability to begin with, Tara might have been alive now. And so would Kai.
I opened my interface and took a good look at the result:

Name: Grey
Rank: Guard Allarch
Combat group: Amnesia (commendations: 1, Orders of Merit: 4)
Total Azure count: 3930/36300
Source: Energy Type Ra
Special Abilities : Speck of Light (1), Reinforcements with Light (3), Flash of Light (3), Healing with Light (3)
Physical modifications: Source Upgrade (10); Bone Structure Upgrade (1), Muscle Tissue Upgrade (2), Metabolic Upgrade (2), Nervous System Upgrade (5), Neocortex Upgrade (2), thalamus Upgrade (2), Blood Circulation Upgrade (2)
Genetic Modifications: Binocular Vision (Ptar Genome), Impermeability (Bottom Crab Genome), Leader of the Pack (Rat King Genome), Molecular Regeneration (Hydra Genome)
Available Neurospheres : 0
Available Genomes : Ice Anubis Genome, Schrader’s Genome, ??? (unidentified genetic material), ??? (unidentified genetic material).

Thus finished, I fell asleep with the feeling of a job well done, joining the peaceful ranks of the legionnaires sniffing away all around me.
A poke in the ribs awoke me, accompanied by a sharp alarm and the pilot’s tinny voice:
“Attention all! Check your seatbelts, buckle up and secure the cargo.”
The pitch-black night beyond the windows wailed with gusts of wind punctuated with weird flashes of pale-blue light reminiscent of Transmutation Storms. The plane shuddered, its rotors groaning with the strain. The red emergency light kept flashing overhead.
The legionnaires stirred, talking in soft voices and strapping in.
“What happened?” I asked.
With a chuckle, Esther turned back to me from the window. “It’s a Wave. Can’t see a thing out there. It must be one hell of a show.”
“What’s a Wave?”
“Just something that comes with a tide. Heat Waves, they’re called. Basically, they happen when wind, water and radiation meet with Azure. They get all mixed together and surge at you like a flippin’ tsunami. Holy kittens! You should be happy if you don’t puke all over yourself.”
“Keep your hair on, Beanpole,” the burly red-cheeked guy to her right advised lazily. “So we’ve grazed a Wave, so what. Just a bit of a bumpy ride, then you can go back to sleep again.”
His advice couldn’t have come at a worse time. Soon the plane shuddered so badly that my teeth chattered. I really thought it was about to fall apart. The wailing and screaming outside had reached tremendous proportions – and I could swear I could hear some gigantic monsters adding their voices to the storm’s riot.
All of a sudden I struggled to breathe. The outside of the windows was covered with condensation, as if we’d dived into a boiling cauldron of soup and were now fitfully making our way through it. My Azure counter jumped back to life, showing a low but steady increase in Azure. The heliplane moved in fits and bounds, shuddering in the clutches of the deranged elements.
Most legionnaires sat motionless, their faces white as a sheet. Someone was puking; a loose shoulder protector rattled on the floor, rolling this way and that. Esther was mouthing something, her eyes closed. She must have been praying.
The Black Moon had changed the world a lot. That was something you didn’t really notice deep in the continent but which was pretty obvious here at the coast ravaged by these furious storms. The tides were now twelve times more powerful; the cyclones and typhoons brought by the ocean had no analogs in the past. During the Impact, a lot of the Black Moon’s fragments had dropped into the oceans creating submarine A-zones which were virtually impossible to liquidate for obvious reasons and which had dramatically changed the marine life. The ocean had become the breeding ground of most terrible monsters which regularly ventured ashore – and there was no knowing of what kind of sinister processes were unfolding in its depths.
Still, our pilots had plenty of experience. It definitely wasn’t the first time they’d had to battle through the Wave’s front. Despite the unbearable shuddering, the roaring of the storm and the furious gusts of wind, they didn’t budge off course.
Soon the storm began to ease off; the turbulence gradually released us. The emergency lighting went off. Everyone began stirring in their seats, apparently relieved, speaking in low voices between themselves.
“Is it a long way away still?” I asked an ashen-faced Essie.
“No, we’re almost there,” she replied. “Bah! I thought that was the end of me,” she gave me a pale smile. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said. After the Transmutation Storm, this one had failed to impress me that much.
“Want a quick pick-me-up?” she handed me a strange translucent fruit – a berry topped with a bright-red thorn. After a moment’s hesitation, I sent it into my mouth and cringed with an unbearably tart taste which surged through my whole body. I very nearly spat it out – but the aftertaste was unexpectedly sweet as if the berry consisted of two layers.
+2 Azure, my interface informed me matter-of-factly.
So it was an Azure fruit! Did they really eat A-foods in the City? How interesting.
Esther laughed. “Now I can see you really don’t remember anything!” she said with glee. “You should have seen your face! Everybody else already know this trick. You have to be born a Mumbai to eat
I couldn’t really appreciate the full measure of the fruit’s energizing effect, simply because thanks to my metabolism upgrades, I was always as fresh as a daisy. But Essie seemed to be wide awake now. She slid the window shutter open and clung to the glass, studying the view. I caught a few glimpses of a monotonous foggy expanse of green and gray in the gaps between the clouds. Were we flying over the ocean?
The legionnaires yawned and stretched their bodies awake. Then began clasping on the gear they’d removed earlier. The smell of legion rations and hot sublimate filled the cabin. They all seemed to have their own rations; I was given a mug of hot broth too.
Soon, the speakers came to life again:
“Buckle up, everyone! We’re coming in to land!”
We seemed to be approaching the City. At first I saw a mass of green and gray filling the space below. Gradually, the complex mosaic of the several gigantic walls encircling the City began to take shape.
“The White Star,” Esther said. “The first wall. It’s the biggest.”
“Strange name.”
She gave me a look of stern disapproval. “They called it after Elaine the White Star. One of the City and the Legion’s founders. It has been rebuilt an awful lot of times. Apparently, it’s resting on the scorched war machines of the First Legion.”
“Did someone try to storm the City?”
“Of course. The Monsters. The Shea. The Possessed. Haven’t you read about the Red Battle? Or Siegfried’s Barrier?”
From above, the wall may have looked like a child’s toy – but it was in fact a monstrous fortification several hundred yards tall, made of metal, stone and reinforced plastic. On the inside it was supported by giant triangular ribs which served as entry points. A proper two-way motorway ran the whole length of its parapet. I saw a great many watchtowers topped with the round landing pads for ornoptars; saw the massive Mikadoes frozen in their pens on airfields, and the quadruple barrels of anti-aircraft pulse cannons trained on the sky above.
The City had been built on a plateau locked between several mountain summits which served as natural fortifications. The concentric walls linked them, forming circles which nested within each other. Any potential invader would have to take five well-fortified lines of defense in close succession – each of which was a fortress in its own right.
The spaces between the walls were crisscrossed by the neat square patches of fields and farms. Here, within the safety of the gigantic walls, the City provided itself with fresh non-synthetic produce. I could see the gossamer cobweb of the roads; the perfectly straight monorail tracks and the sky-blue patches of water collectors; the mirrored hemispheres of the eco domes of plant nurseries and the grazing herds raising clouds of dust. The area within the walls could rival a small country. We kept flying, and there was no end to it all.
And as for the City itself... When it had first loomed on the horizon, I refused to believe my eyes. I had the impression we were back to our planet’s glorious past. The mirrored skyscrapers of steel and glass; the viaducts and monorails; the endless flow of bright-colored cars filling multi-level highways; the flashing of neon and the giant holographic adverts. It felt as if here, Utopia had never ceased to exist.
Topping all that urban opulence, a forked spire of a thin tower disappeared in the cloud layer above.
Esther cast me a quick look. “Impressive, eh?” she chuckled. “It’s not like our clan towers, oh no. This is the City.”
I wasn’t listening, my attention completely consumed by a tiny flashing icon in the corner of my field of vision. The second video message from the old me – the one I’d received together with Miko’s activation code – was finally live and available.

Read this when you get to the City.

I opened the file.

Interlude. The City

JUST LIKE THE FIRST file, this one had had the video erased: just a blank background flickering with interference. The familiar voice came on: a husky male voice, slightly distorted as if by a distant echo.
Was it my old voice? I focused, listening intently. You never know: I just might work out who I was by trying to identify the speaker’s tone and mannerisms.

“So, you managed to get to the City? Well done. Good boy. I’m going to show you something now. Just look and try to remember. Whatever you don’t understand, just ask Miko. She’s a smart girl. She’ll know.”

The picture frame widened, taking up my entire field of vision. The world around me – the cabin, even Essie’s non-stop chattering – had melted into the background, as if I’d been sucked into the message from the past.
I found myself walking, steadily and unhurriedly. The blinding sun assaulted the snow caps of the mountain range towering on the horizon.
I tried to turn my head around for a look – but I couldn’t. My body wasn’t mine anymore: it belonged to a certain somebody walking through the narrow lanes of what looked like a temporary camp bustling with desperate activity.
This was a crazy mishmash of every type of dwelling known to man. Tents, yurts, unsteady canopies; shacks thrown together with whatever happened nearby. Container homes, stacked up several stories high.
What kind of place was this? How had I gotten here?
Next to me, almost brushing my shoulder, walked a dark-skinned man in a tattered cape and full Army gear. Two more walked in front, their shoulders broad, their armor and weapons glinting with dull metal. One of them carried a backsword in a sling on his back; the other had a pulse assault rifle.
Four armed soldiers in total, and I was one of them. And seeing as my role was that of an impassive observer, I couldn’t even take a good look at my own body because my host kept looking unhurriedly right and left without lowering his gaze.
A mix of mud and garbage squelched underfoot. I could see shop stalls which sold steaming-hot food, clothes and various household goods. Bonfires burned by the tents; lots of dirty people in threadbare clothes hurried past on their own business. The place resembled a refugee camp, huge and chaotic which lived by its own haphazard sets of rules.
People stepped aside, giving way to us. They stared after us, talking in soft voices. Filthy children peeked out of holes in the dwellings. Dogs barked unenthusiastically.
Suddenly I realized that these snow-peaked mountains looked very familiar. Weren’t they the same I’d just seen from above from my heliplane window? The shape of the snow caps was slightly different now, but still you couldn’t confuse them for anything else: the City was built at the center of a giant triangle with the mountain peaks at its apexes.
It couldn’t be, surely...
“How many people have arrived in total?” the soldier in front asked the one next to him. His voice was stifled and sort of unpleasant.
“Nobody counts. A lot. And they keep coming,” the other one replied.
“Where did they get so many?”
“Elaine keeps bringing them from the coast. Some cross the strait. Others arrive by air. From what I heard, Cat has set up a booking office selling flights here.”
“Elaine? Is she out of her mind? How is she going to feed them all? There must be thousands here already!”
“So far, our Replicators are managing. We have enough organic matter for them. Some of the arrivals are already hunting and growing their own food. The soil is very fertile here. Lots of hot geysers and virtually no contaminated zones.”
“But why do you keep accepting them?”
“We don’t. They just come. They come because they know we’re here. And that we can protect them. This place is already known as the last safe haven.”
“This is madness. This is against the Confidentiality instructions.”
“I have my own instructions. I talk to them. I sit by their fires. They offer me their food. I can see their children. Some of them have already been born here, in this... this
Their voices rang with annoyance. The two of us walking behind them didn’t say a word.
The maze of filthy narrow lanes had brought us out to an enclosure surrounding a group of squat buildings which resembled a military base. They must have been built long before the camp – and this place must have been its heart. Two soldiers in combat exosuits guarded a large hermetic gate big enough to let through a tank. I couldn’t recognize their armor, the star of Stellar on their massive breastplates the only familiar detail.
A sloping corridor which started behind the gate brought us to a platform with a cargo elevator. This must have been a large and complex multi-level underground structure: the buildings on the ground level were just the tip of this subterranean iceberg. The walls sported stenciled prints of the three-pointed star with an inscription below in Latin, Cyrillic and Chinese characters:


“So it was true!” the soldier next to me gasped. “It does exist!”
The elevator descent was long. A woman met us below, her long dark hair mixing with the wolf pelt of her collar. Her high-profile white armor, her ramrod-straight posture and the confident turn of her head betrayed a habit of issuing orders. Her face, thin and hard like a knife blade, was dominated by her piercing blue eyes.
She studied each of us, her gaze pausing on me. I nodded back, sensing my lips stretch into a smile.
“So you decided to come back? Good.”
“Elaine, we found two more for you,” the one in front nodded. “They obeyed the instructions.”
“Good,” she said. “Follow me.”
We came to a huge underground hangar shaped as a wide cylinder. Its walls had been transformed into a multi-level anthill of techno labs, enormous storerooms, and greenhouses flooded with light.
Below, I saw the pointy outlines of something I didn’t have a name for. It was bright blue and sparkling with silver; its shape was a weird combination of smooth and broken lines. Overall, it gave me the impression of a dainty many-winged creature conceived for swift flight. It appeared alive in its monstrous size, trapped within a lump of transparent crystal which was permeated with a great many tubular glass tunnels. The researchers within those tunnels seemed like tiny ants in comparison.
My host didn’t say anything. He just stooped peering at the scene, clenching the railing in his white-knuckled grip.
I suddenly realized I was looking at Blue Bird.
The video footage froze, then disintegrated, replaced by silent interference. The calm husky voice came back:

“Did you see that? Did you remember it? It’s still there somewhere. Under the City. You need to find it. It looks completely different now – but when you find it, you’ll know. And one more thing. Go to the scriptorium in the Tower of Void and collect what I left there.
If the City is still in one piece, you could try and look for Corvin. He'll be able to help you. Just be careful.
And one more thing. You already know too much. It’s too dangerous. Which is why I’m going to activate the protective neuro seals. Just do it. Don’t be afraid.”

The voice paused and added,

“And good luck to us all.”

Release - December 10, 2020
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