“I can’t begin to tell you how foolish this is,” he says. “But knowing you, there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind.”
“You’re damn right,” I say as I hastily sip the fresh coffee while trying to stay angry.
“Let’s start with logistics,” he says. “What are you going to do about opening the portal? You can’t steal from the Kingdom or the Syndicate, you’re already close to having an uprising on your hands...”
“I’ve been hunting,” I say. I take out the small vial I still have in my pocket; his eyes grow wide. “I’ll be able to buy a ticket once I sell this to Empress.”
“Hm, that’ll do I suppose,” he says, eyeing the vial as I carefully slip it away. “I have a feeling I know who that’s for. It doesn’t matter though, even if you do manage to purchase a ticket, there’s still the matter of the heavily guarded base in front of the portal. You may have fought off little groups of Legion soldiers here and there...”
“Excuse me?” I ask. “Last I remember, about a hundred bombers were driven away from this city permanently, along with fleet after fleet after fleet of airships and guards. You and the others were in the bunkers spitting shit while I did all of that, single handedly. That doesn’t sound little to me.”
“Eden, we’re not talking about taking down an infantry or a battle of even that scale. We’re not talking about fighting other tribes, or clans, or warlords like you have in the past. We’re talking about a whole planet putting their greatest defenses in the one spot specifically designed for keeping you out. I don’t care how powerful you’ve become, nobody can stand up to that.”
“I’m not attacking the whole fucking planet, I’m getting there, getting my son, and then getting out. I just have to get past the base at the portal unnoticed. That’s why I came. I know you were stationed there, I need to know what their defenses are.”
He sighs. “You might as well be. The base is massive, they pour all their best resources into it. Their best weapons, their best shields, their best soldiers, their best models, all of them controlled and revived by Titan in seconds.”
“Ominous, but manageable,” I say.
“No it’s not. There were hundreds, thousands of us stationed there guarding it. And I promise you, no matter what you hear around here or what you think has changed, they don’t let anyone through unless you are an immune kid that they can experiment on or you have a bounty on your head.”
“What do you mean? People cross over all the time, as long as they have the cash. Sky did it.”
“Did he come back?” He asks.
“No, but that’s besides the point...”
“Ah, but it isn’t. I promise you, he’s locked up in a ‘treatment’ center there, infected and torn apart for the Martians to study. Just like everybody else who tried to pass through. I know this because I put several travelers in there myself.”
“So it’s all just a big scam then,” I say.
“Exactly. That portal is a one way gate, only the Martian militia passes through from their side to ours just to terrorize us. They sell tickets as bait.”
“But you can still open it if you have a ticket right?” I ask. “Like they did back then?”
“You still have to pay to open the portal, or do whatever to get an access panel (what you call tickets). They still sell those to scam people into coming, even though they do still work, and they capture them at the portal gates for whatever bullshit reason they can come up with, just to have more people to assimilate for their army or infect and study. That’s the only way to activate it, unless you can get into the control room underneath the base...”
“There’s a control room?” I ask.
“Yes, every Martian base has one. It’s where all the guards get their energy from, where the power comes from, and what keeps everybody in their place.”
“Well that’s perfect,” I say. “If I can get to the control room, I can just open the portal from there and deactivate the guards.”
“No, not with Titan still alive. As long as she’s still active, no matter where you are on this planet, the guards will revive. Unless you can take her down, you have no chance whatsoever of making it to the portal. And even if you manage to beat her you’ll still be fighting thousands of troops on your own, they will overwhelm you whether they can regenerate or not.”
“I won’t have to take her out if I’m stealthy,” I say.
“You won’t make it. King, they will find you out. Listen carefully, this is the most important thing you have to know about that base...”
“Lay it on me,” I reply, yawning. All of this is boring, I’ve taken out legions ten times the size of what he’s describing.
“The 343 hybrids, that’s where they are are,” he says. “They are stationed there to protect the control room and the portal at all costs.”
I stiffen, but I can’t let him know of my sudden uneasiness. “Those things aren’t real...”
“You know they are,” he says.
“So what? What’s six more robots...”
“Eden they are not robots and they are terrifying. You will not, and promise me that you’ll listen to this, you will not surpass them. They are infinitely stronger than you. The Martians have had decades to perfect their design, fix all of their flaws, and find ways to control them. They’re so dangerous that even the Martians only use them when they absolutely have to, and trust me they will activate them to track you down if you go there. They will identify you, no matter your disguise, and they will rip you to pieces. It will be an awful, excruciating way to die. They have no morals and they show no grace.”
“Sounds like a challenge,” but my voice quivers. This changes things...
“It’s not a challenge, it’s a death sentence. I doubt you’ll even make it that far but if you do, those monsters will destroy you.”
“Hm, that does sound a bit tricky. Well I could just fly there like the good old days...”
“You know that there are no spaceships left on Earth. Besides, if for some forsaken reason you find one, your son will be long deceased by the time you get there. The portal is your only option and it’s deadly.”
I just sit and stare for a bit round eyed, not bothering to swallow the last sip of coffee I still hold in my mouth. “Okay, I see your point.”
“You will fail. And when you’re gone, they will come after all of us next. They will activate the hybrids and hunt us down; without you protecting the Southern Region we’re as good as dead. Sometimes you have to cut your losses, I know that’s harsh, but that’s the world that we live in. We have to choose our battles, Eden, you have to choose when to fight and when to stay and defend your people. That’s your solemn oath as our leader, don’t you forget it.” He jabs a finger at my chest.
“Fine, I hear you. I’m still leaving in the morning, I at least want to talk to Empress about it.”
“As you should,” he says. “I know I can’t convince you not to go. But maybe she can,” he says with a smile.
My face heats up again. “That was one time! ONE TIME!” and we both manage to laugh despite the tension between us. “That’s none of your goddamn business anyways,” I say as I hide my smile once more in my coffee.
“Maybe so,” he says. “How are you getting to her palace? Through your transporter?”
“No, Z used the last of it at Colossus. We’re stuck with the traditional methods of travel these days, unless he can find a way to rebuild it. Even if he can I don’t have time to wait for that, it’ll take years.”
“Hm, it’s a shame those don’t work planet to planet. That’d be too convenient, wouldn’t it?” He asks.
“I’m sure that Martian scum have some that do that already, hidden and locked away from us imbeciles.”
“Right.” He says. He sounds just as relieved as I am for transitioning into simpler small talk. “Take the parkway, the tunnels are dangerous. Even Saint stopped using them, they’ve become so overrun with Legion guards tracking down the other warlords.”
“Thanks for the tip. I wouldn’t have gone any other way though.”
He gets up from the table and I begin to follow, but he motions for me to stay seated. He walks over to a painted desk covered in designs, ink, needles, and various kinds of shells and ivory bones. He reaches into the top drawer and takes out a small silver ring, an old hologram.
“Here, you might as well take this.” I take the metal band and slide my finger around the edge. A fully scaled map of our country shimmers and glitches as hundreds of buildings and landscapes rise into view. I can see every district and the paths in between them, including my own, as well as the regions the Legion controls. “It’s connected to a satellite. Saint made it for me back when I was on my own. She constantly updates it, it’ll get you where you need to go without running into unnecessary enemies.”
“Thank you,” I say as I turn it off and slip it into my pocket.
“Just promise me that whatever happens, you’ll come back home.”
“I promise.” I stand and we clasp forearms, trying to give weight to my empty vow. I grab my half-full cup of coffee and make my way out.
“Take care Pharaoh. I’ll probably need a new piece when I get back.”
“Very well,” he says. “I’ll have the mat ready.”