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Rocket attack

SurpriseEdit

Leone had only just started reading about the current politics of Azur, but something distracted him. He thought the spaceship was trembling. Leone stood up; he was surprised and scared. Another attack? It could not be, they could not have been followed. Could they? Conventional opinion held that hyperspatial jumps could not be traced by another ship, but there were always rumors about a new technology that had achieved that....at least, it was a perennial topic in fictional accounts of space travel.

"Aristark! We are attacked again!" Leone shouted.

Aristark was now in the main engineering room, trying to analyze the record of power usage by the equipment Sybil had installed in the spaceship, what the Haldus order technicians had referred to as an "Invocator". There had been a dramatic surge in how much power it drew in that last fateful minute before they had jumped through hyperspace away from Plato. "Yes. So it seems, although this bombardment is not doing much damage." Aristark replied, in a tired voice. "The problem is, we never recharged the spaceship shield. If they attack us with any kind of heavy weapon then we are lost. Rather than wait for that, I suggest we make another jump..."

"No way!" Leone said.

Aristark felt the spaceship make a sudden shift in acceleration. "Yes, of course, Mr. Leone wants to fight like a lion, a mad lion, I would add. Oh, my Graviton, I think I will have to flee at once, if my life is worth anything. I do not want to be a hero...a dead hero."

Leone was slapped down in his chair under full restraint as the spaceship altered its acceleration. He was surprised at the forces being exerted...had he selected the wrong evasive maneuvering subroutine? Well, there was no time to worry about that now. He could only imagine that this new attack against his spaceship was some kind of error; maybe he had jumped into the middle of some kind of war games for Akara's Defense Fleet. "We will NOT die. We just have to send some kind of signal to Azur and let them know who we are."

Aristark looked at the navigation radar display and saw the three spaceships that were rapidly moving towards them. Those three ships were broadcasting navigation beacons and identifying as a patrol of the Akara Defense Fleet. "I do not know if that will make any difference. After we got into this system we automatically communicated our destination with a standard navigation signal and then you also sent a personal message to Ketar. How can anyone be confused about our identity?"

Leone replied, "I do not know." Leone had encoded his message to Ketar, so that could not really be counted as an identification signal. Still, Leone decided that Aristark was correct, yet another communications signal besides their navigation beacon was unlikely to be useful...besides, standard communications channels were now being jammed. This pattern was familiar to Leone from his academy training. "They are treating us like we are pirates!" He knew that throughout all of civilized space the standard response to a pirate attack often involved blasting first and asking questions later. Leone commented, "Then our only option is to try to flee, but this bombardment is disrupting the hyperspatial engines. However, we have no other option..."

The odd vibration of the spaceship stopped. Leone noticed that he now had a chance to save the ship... Leone began to activate his emergency hyperspace jump protocol. "This time, just this time, I agree with you, Aristark... besides, I do not want you to be hurt again due to my behavior."

"Thanks. I expected to hear something like that from you, I am glad to know that the Leone I always knew is back and ready to kick..."

"It is not to br..."

At that moment, they could clearly feel that the attack was being resumed; the spaceship trembled again and they could hear an annoying beep. Another one of the subsystems was damaged and that was its cry of death. Further, the partially initiated hyperspatial jump aborted. Leone shouted, "We are being hit by particle weapon blasts that collapse the hyperspatial initiation field. We cannot escape!"

It was something inconceivable, the fact that they were being attacked... there were many non-aggression and fair trade treaties that applied to Azur. The Akara system was one of the great trading and passenger destinations in the galaxy. Leone had jumped into the Akara system and immediately transmitted the standard navigational beacon, so how could he now be treated like a pirate? The attack was completely illegal and as crazy as a nightmare. Leone started to lose his self-control once again and could not think clearly. Maybe these attackers were pirates, falsely identifying themselves as spaceships of Akara...but no, pirates never dared operate like this in the heart of the settled worlds.

"We have to do something." Leone said. "I am surprised that we are still alive while the shield is just 1%." Leone wondered if he should just shut down all systems of his spaceship...if they looked dead and passive, maybe the attack would stop. But rather than try that cowardly approach Leone decided that late was better than never and he channeled all excess energy from the antimatter reactors into the shield.

At that moment Aristark switched back to again view the radar display. Now there seemed to be positions of four other ships being shown on the battle display. But, no, the closest was moving too fast... "Thot, analyze that closest radar reflection!"

The spaceship's AI showed Aristark a close-up view that resolved that rapidly accelerating reflection into three points. "Three rockets, EMF signatures indicate that they are standard Harpoon Class projectiles...typically armed with antimatter warheads."

Aristark spoke to Leone, "It looks like they launched antimatter bombs at us. With our shields at 1% they will not even have to get close to us. If they detonate at a distance of 10,000 kilometers we will still lose all of our defense systems and they may damage the propulsion system too. That is the "best case" analysis, if they intend to destroy us with those rockets, there is nothing we can do."

It would be difficult to put into words the depth of anguish and and the heights of fear the two Counselors were feeling at that very moment, being there, locked inside that metal and energy tomb. They were going to die soon and there was no place to run or hide. Leone tried once more to initiate an emergency hyperspatial jump, but the field collapsed immediately. Those three spaceships continued to pour in disruptor blasts that made it impossible to enter hyperspace again.

Leone quickly examined the closeup image of radar reflections from the rockets then zoomed the image back out to get a feel for the scale and how close those engines of destruction were. Now at the periphery of the battle Leone could see six more spaceships closing in. Leone wondered: how had it come to this? In that desperate moment it was not as if his entire life passed before his eyes for review, evaluation and summation, but a trail of connections lay clearly before his mind's eye leading back to the Green planet "Plato" and then to Sakkara and then to Sybil's house and all the way back to the day he had first set eyes on Sybil when they were young and in school and their entire lives stretched before them as a mystery yet to be revealed.

Now, was this the end of that mysterious trail? He had always felt a strange connection to Sybil...had that been a premonition that she would lead him to his death? With a kind of fatalistic fascination, he allowed himself to wonder why it was that when he had heard others call Sybil a witch he had always ignored them. For a horrifying moment, Leone imagined that Sybil had telepathic abilities that allowed her follow Leone's spaceship through space and that also gave her the power to trick others into attacking his spaceship as an enemy.

WorriedEdit

Sakkara

The planet Sakkara

The year 74 ANE (After the New Elections)

It was a sunny afternoon. Memphis, the star of Sakkara, was bright in the sky. Sybil was sixteen and her mother was with her. Sybil was thin, not quite as tall as her mother and she had black hair. She had never tinted her hair although other girls did that all the time. She tried to be natural in everything she did. And she did not care much about beauty... she considered it best that we should not change our body in any way since it was what God has given and we must accept it. Sybil's appearance provoked in others a sense of fragility when she was seen for the first time, but that was only an apparent weakness; she actually had a very strong will within her. Upon a second glance others would notice her eyes and the way she looked at people; that metallic gaze made them feel uncomfortable.

Her mother was tall, thin and had black hair, too. She combed her hair in such a way that it nearly produced a sphere, and she was very hairy...sometimes it seemed like she used all that hair as a power display, in the way a cat might fluff out its fur in an attempt to look larger.

They both were on the landing point, where their flying car was parked. Although cars were usually driven by an AI, her mother, Dorothy, always liked to drive them manually. They both entered the flyer and sat in the two front seats, the doors closed automatically, the AI greeted them and they were prepared to shuttle. Her mother took control of the car and they rode to the appointment with Kalid. Sybil was a more than a little nervous about the whole matter since her destiny was going to be decided that very day. With a whistle, the flying car went up.

Sybil always liked to watch the land from above because it never failed to provide a very interesting feeling: a sense of power. While flying high above, one's daily duties and worries seemed far away, she thought. She started remembering what her mother had told her about Kalid the day before the meeting. That last night she could barely sleep. All night long she was bothered by imagined views of Kalid as if seen again and again from all angles... and she could not stop thinking about the coming meeting. She obsessively thought Kalid was going to say "no" to her, that was, not accept her as apt for Priesthood. Only a thin objection could be heard through the fear: that maybe he would accept her, after all. During the flight to the meeting she was very tired for not having slept and her mother was also clearly agitated and worried due to the fact that Sybil's fate would be decided once and for all that day. Her mother had said she trusted Kalid and that he would allow her to enter the Order, but nobody could really be certain about that. Kalid had strange and unknown ways to detect if a person had the gifts needed for Priesthood and there was no second guessing the Grand Master.

There were plenty of legends and rumors about Kalid. Some people said that he had fully studied ancient religions, particularly those using “the energy that pervades it all” concept. Now this was called Vichido, the art or study of the energy of life... of course, that jargon did not mean much to non-practitioners. In this context, "energy" was taken as a superset that included the more limited concepts of energy and matter as known in physics. In addition to the "energy" of conventional physics, Vichido included the more important spiritual energy, that which allows precognition, telepathy and martial arts special hits. It was thought that such energy circulated in the body and through the whole universe and that the practitioner could use it for good... although some people did use it for evil...

DutiesEdit

OsirisOrder

Haldus Order secret logo

108 ANE

Sybil was startled out of her thoughts about her first encounter with Kalid...what was that? She had heard a soft sound from the other side of the door. With a quick flick of her eyes to the window she noticed that it was now almost totally dark outside. Now there was a gentle knock on the door. She said, "Come in, Portia."

Portia, Sybil's assistant, opened the door of the little meeting room and entered. All the guests from the Silver Tulipan Order had finally departed, except for one. Portia suspected that Sybil wanted to see no one at this time, but she had promised to ask. "Master Danold is waiting for you."

Sybil sighed and tried to manufacture a smile for Portia. She knew that Danold would want a full report on what Sybil had told Leone, but she had no desire to answer to him or even to satisfy his curiosity. It was enough that Sybil had conferred with the Executive Circle of Silver Tulipan Order...even Danold had his say, although it was clear that he was not happy to find himself in the minority who did not want to risk forming an alliance with the Antiquists against Set.

Sybil stood up and went around the desk. She put a hand on Portia's shoulder, "Thank you for letting me know. I will see him to the door."

Sybil led the way back to the central core of the house. Portia walked at Sybil's elbow, "It might not be that easy."

Sybil laughed and felt the day's tensions slip away. "Yes, he is obstinate. It might go easier if you offered to take him out for dinner."

Portia knew well Sybil's sense of humor, but Master Danold was detestable and Portia got the creeps just knowing he was in the house. "It would be simpler if you just invited him to stay here for dinner, then you would have the time to answer all his questions."

The hallway connecting to the main part of her house came up a slight rise from what Sybil thought of as the "work wing". She let her long legs scale two steps at a time up the small set of stairs at the back of the main house. As she passed through the sliding door she was tempted to make another teasing comment about Danold, but then decided not to risk him over-hearing.

Danold was waiting just inside the living room. He had a teasing comment of his own, "I was wondering if you decided to go to Flammis with Leone."

Sybil shook her head, "No, but maybe you should go with him. There is still time to make the arrangements. It will take a day or so to install the beacon and navigation equipment in his ship."

Danold crossed his arms across his chest. "I would not care to face Kalid when he learns that you decided to reveal to Leone the secret of Kalid's base on Flammis."

Sybil was truly bored with the topic. "I was not alone in making the decision, but I'll gladly take full responsibility for what happens now. I'd willingly sacrifice all of the Silver Tulipan Order in order to protect the Haldus Order...everyone in our Circle has vowed to do so."

Danold complained, "The problem is that you have no plan for how to save the Haldus Order. You are only hoping that your friend Leone will keep the Antiquists in check, but soon that lummox Ketar will be breathing down your neck and you will learn how big an error you have made."

Portia returned with Danold's coat and the household robot, Glen. Glen was an ancient model, best suited to gardening and heavy manual labor...and intimidating boorish guests. Portia handed Danold his coat. Sybil said, "Glen, take Mr. Danold to his flitter, he is leaving." She turned and went to her study.

Glen grabbed hold of Danold's arm and did not let go until Danold boarded his flitter out on the landing platform. Sybil was watching by video feed. When Danold flew off into the Sakkaran night she shut off the video display and sank into her favorite chair.

For a minute she thought about going to Flammis with Leone. She was not afraid to face Kalid. She closed her eyes and it was as if she could picture being in a spaceship with Leone. She had a strange sensation of being crushed and having trouble breathing then there was a blindingly bright blue light. Her eyes snapped open. Had that been a vision? She felt her heart beating fast and again she imagined that she might be sending Leone into danger. Well, she would gladly go to Flammis by herself if she had a spaceship. And if she knew how to pilot a spaceship. And if she knew where Flammis was. No, such doubts were a waste of worrying. Her Circle had done their duty and considered the matter of how to deal with Set and now there was no way to alter the selected course of action.

Sybil's thoughts started slipping back to the sweet daydream she had been having about her youth...before Portia had arrived with the bad news about Danold being an annoyance. How simple things had once been, back when there was only the excitement of joining and learning about Silver Tulipan Order. Then when she had risen to the Inner Circle all had changed. She had learned that the Silver Tulipan Order was just a disguise, that what really mattered was the hidden Haldus Order.

Kalid was the Master of an Ancient Order of priests called the Haldus Order. That Order was thought to descend from Ancient Egyptian religion, from the times of the Great Pyramids. It was a very secret society and great efforts were made to assure that outsiders could not penetrate it with their spies. Plus, the vows of silence were very strict... there were even rumors that people who broke them ended up dead. But nobody on Sakkara knew for sure. Even an important member in the Siver Tilipan Order, a member of the Inner Circle like Sybil, knew very few members of the Haldus Order beyond Sakkar and what each knew about the other was only the information that each person needed to know. What members knew was strictly determined according to their rank. There were four grades called The Four Circles. The first one was the most advanced and only dead (disincarnated) Masters could enter it, in spirit; it was only accessible through the astral plane. Second Circle masters could access the first circle in order to get counseling from higher entities. Sybil was in the Third Circle and Circles One to Three were the Inner Circles. Most Silver Tilipan members were Fourth Circle, the Outer Circle.

The Order was only for people who already had mental powers (paranormal abilities): telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, feeling detection (a more advanced skill than empathy, it included emotion induction, too), among others. Before entering the Order, there was a special school for initiates. And after entering that school, where the special gifts of initiates were detected and improved, there was the meeting with Kalid. He would decide who deserved to get inside the Circles of the Order.

Even after passing through school the new initiates were only in the Fourth Circle and they only knew the name of the local cover organization. On the planet Sakkara, that was the Silver Tulipan Order. On other planets the cover organization was known by other names. Only upon reaching the Third Circle would a member begin to learn the deeper hidden truth about the Haldus Order.

Oh, for the simpler days! Sybil slipped back to her thoughts about the day of her first meeting with Kalid...

DestinyEdit

Flying

74 ANE

Sybil tried to imagine Kalid himself. One of the rumors about Kalid was that he was more than 90 years old, but his appearance was that of a 60 year old, people said. Very few people would actually say anything about Kalid's appearance to others after having seen him; secrecy pervaded the Order in many ways. Her mother had only met him the day he declared her apt for entering the Silver Tulipan Order. Sybil's father, Jeremy, had been personally instructed by Kalid, in contrast.

People said that in his youth, Kalid had been personally instructed by the wisest members of the Order, those who knew much about Earth's traditions due to family heritage. The Silver Tulipan Order possessed an eclectic body of knowledge from all ages, but that knowledge was in no way as chaotic as that found inside some of the many new religion movements at that time. Initiates of the Order depended on sources of knowledge that were very reliable, particularly the Order's special academies for training and detecting the gifts of candidates before they entered the Four Circles. Sybil had already passed through that school which could be thought of as a kind of unnamed Fifth Circle. She had been declared ready for the meeting with Kalid due to her skills as clairvoyant and specially due to her ability to see the Ether Body, a skill required to be able to see the aura in full colors. According to the Order's secret theories, the Ether Body was some kind of emanation coming from the soul which was around the physical body. It was like some kind of "egg shell" that the person was encircled by. Its colors indicated the person's health, thoughts and emotions... some even said that for skilled Masters, lies could be detectable by learning to distinguish aura colors, which turned dark yellow in that case.

Thanks to the training inside the Order's school, Sybil had developed her gifts. She could usually detect the Ether Body around people and sometimes she could even guess what people felt inside. She was unable to detect thoughts and only sensed emotions. After that day, she could start a long journey of learning in which she would further improve her paranormal abilities. It was like when she first entered the training school or when she had started to learn martial arts the first time. This reminded her the warm feelings she had towards starting a new task. And now, after this day, she could one day become a Priestess of Iris... if Kalid accepted her, anyway.

Although sixteen, Sybil's body looked like she was older than that. She was pretty and her personality had always been firm. Although "firm" was just a nice way to say that she was a rebel. She always had rebelled against everything and everyone, including the decision to become a Priestess. Nevertheless, because she loved her father so much, she ultimately had accepted the fate he chose for her. She considered herself a "freethinker".

Because Sybil's gaze was very penetrating and she did not blink very often, many people found it hard to think of her as warm and friendly. Besides, she sometimes scared people away. She was not as sociable as most girls her age and she had not had any boyfriends up to that time. She thought that was something that would arise later... if needed. She was interested in more important things now. She knew that someday her instinct for having children would activate and she would feel attraction to men and everything would change. But, if she became a priestess that could not be allowed to run its course! Priestess had to be celibate, as far as she knew. So, that was her opportunity to dedicate her life to something really important. Maybe that was the reason she had been born. Nevertheless, her interests were on her studies. She loved languages and had already learned one of the rarely spoken languages from ancient Earth and was starting to learn another. Many people said that there was no reason to learn more than just the most common language that most people in the galaxy spoke, but Sybil believed that there were mental benefits from knowing more than one language. She also liked to read about linguistics, specially about universal grammars and meta-language skills. She was an expert interpreting many forms of language, not only spoken ones but body language, emotions, among others. She was able to command animals and calm them when they were enraged. People said she was special in many ways, completely different to normal teenagers... and she was pleased to hear that.

As they flew to the appointment with Kalid, both women drifted deep into thought and were mostly oblivious to the outside world. Sybil's mother was driving and it might have been imagined that she concentrated on that task, but she was not thinking about driving; she was thinking about her daughter's future. They were both very anxious about Sybil's fate. Dorothy expected her daughter to be accepted by the Great Master, but nobody knew in advance. She knew about cases in which the Master denied access to the Order and never mentioned any reasons for his decision. She believed that the Master entered a person's mind and judged if each person was suited for a life in the Order. Other people believed that Kalid looked at the future of the candidate and judged if it was good for the person to enter the Order. Anyway, nobody knew which methods he used. In those matters, he was the first and last word because he was the Great Master of the Silver Tulipan Order.

"Do you think Mr. Kalid will accept me?" asked Sybil, as if she were reading Dorothy's thoughts.

"What? Ah, yes. I was just wondering the same thing. Maybe he will accept you because you can read thoughts..." Dorothy commented, making a joke. She was familiar with her daughter's abilities and knew very well that Sybil only sensed emotions.

"No. Really, what do you think?" young Sybil asked again.

"I do not know. I believe in your gifts and your father did too... but one thing is what your parents think and another what the Master thinks... we will have to pray and wait. The ancient principle of no action comes in, in this situation."

"But... what would happen if he does not accept me? I cannot imagine another destiny for myself." Sybil said.

"You would have to study at a university, as normal people do, and lead an ordinary life. There would be no other way. A cousin of mine had to do it when she was denied access to the Order. Kalid told her it was not in her destiny to become a priestess. Even if you enter the Order you might be told to study some subject at university, anyhow, so do not imagine that everything in your life will depend on what happens today. Life cannot depend on just one day. See, the reasons for Kalid deciding whether you are apt or not do not depend on your current state of mind... it depends on all that you are as a person and what you have lived before. Your gifts and the grades you earned at school also count. It is something that does not depend on how you behave today, but more what and who you are, deep inside."

"Oh. I was mostly worried about what to say and what to do. What you said clarifies the situation...what I say today is not really important. About Kalid, do you think he can actually see the future?" Sybil asked, in wonder.

"I do not know much more than you. When I was studying to become a priestess, I was told that the future did not exist yet, that we are the creators of it. However, they taught me to read the hexameters, runes and other types of divination. But I think that what we see in divination are only possibilities and, after all, we are the ones who decide what will happen, anyway. Predestination does not exist."

"But... it could exist, right?" Sybil asked, a little confused. She remembered a saying, that confusion is the short road to Light, as her father used to say.

"Wait. Evan, take automatic control, now." Evan was the AI of the car. She resumed, "In that case we would be mere pawns in a big game of chess played by gods. Or by God himself. Which would not make any sense, I think. But we will never know for sure and someone once said even if we are not really free, if we did lack free will, then that fact would not really affect us since we can never confirm it for sure... we would still behave as if we do have the power to make the future. Like the early ideas about multiple universes these various theories of the future cannot be proved of disproved. So I think, for all probable events, we can exercise free will, to some extent."

"Does Kalid know?" Sybil inquired, fascinated at the possibility.

"I do not know, my dear. But when you meet him be aware and do not ask silly impertinent questions of him... just try to listen instead of talking."

"I will. Was it really Kalid who accepted you into the Order or was it another master...maybe an earlier 'Kalid'?"

"No, not some other Kalid, you will meet the same man, the same Kalid as I."

"Then, he must be really old... Oh, excuse me, I do not say that because of you, I mean, imagine that he must be older than both of us." Sybil commented, a little embarrassed.

"Hmmm... Yes. And given that I am thrice as old as you, you can imagine it. He must be sixty or seventy years old, at least. However, there are rumors that he is much older than that and that he possess hidden knowledge to rejuvenate himself. Besides, he has the power to heal others too, using his mind and hands. But there are always strange legends about great men, I guess."

"If he were ninety or more..." Sybil tried to imagine what it would be like to live that long. "Anyway, it is very strange that he, being the higher rank Master in the Order, does that examination by himself. I can imagine he is very, very wise, then."

"Right, but whatever his age, he is very wise. His counseling has helped and protected us for a long time. And yes, he takes all his responsibilities seriously and personally performs all his duties in the Order rather than delegating. It has been that way ever since he became the head of the Order, people say. I just hope his decision about you and whatever advice he has for you leads you to a good future..." Dorothy commented, while wiping tears from her eyes.

"I wish. Nevertheless, I am worried... and afraid. I do not know what to do in case he does not accept me. I want to be no other thing than a priestess..."

She sighed. "Now you say that. You once wanted to became a psychologist, remember?"

"Yes. But that was, as you adults like to say, just a passing passion of a teenager, I think. A way to try to rebel and test my freedom."

"You are still a teenager, young girl."

"I think my mind has changed a bit now and I am proud to recognize the wisdom of my father's decision that guided me towards the Order. Maybe it is my destiny." Sybil said, in a solemn voice. For a time they slipped back into their private thoughts.

Dorothy knew that her daughter's mind had changed, indeed. She had always seen Sybil as her beloved little daughter, but now she realized that Sybil was acting like an adult, sometimes. Sybil was very strange sometimes; maybe it was that she was very special, unique. Or it could be that she had finally realized what it meant to take on the responsibilities of a priestess or a professional position and in that way her esoteric and psychology studies could have given her a more mature perspective. Dorothy was proud of her daughter and now she thought that whatever decision was made that very day, it would be the wisest.

Sybil had indeed read many books about psychology. She enjoyed learning about modern integrated cognitive approaches for study of mind and the historical beginnings of the science of mind. She had a fascination for the strange names that could be traced far back in time... words like Gestalt, structuralism, psychoanalysis... words coming from more than 500 years ago. Was it right for such a young girl to be so absorbed with such topics? Dorothy had tried to introduce Sybil to other topics, she even tried music. However, Sybil was not a normal girl. She became an expert playing the old electric piano and the new technology musical instruments. It seemed that Sybil could be a master in every field she engaged. Besides, in the mental sphere, Sybil had gifts of clairvoyance that were very advanced for her age and her limited training in those arts and she had even had prophetic dreams. For those reasons, Dorothy let Sybil follow her natural inclinations to enter the realms of mind and spirit.

As much as Sybil enjoyed her studies of ancient history, she was also aware that psychology was undergoing a new burst of development and advancement. For centuries there had been many waves of new discoveries and new models of the mind, but now parallel advances in robotics and artificial intelligence were finally allowing a long-anticipated unification between many fields, some kind of a new cognitive/AI revolution that went beyond the centuries of wishful thinking and empty talk that had come before. When Sybil had found some psychology books in her father's library she became instantly fascinated by that field... the study of human mind. Sybil took some comfort in thinking about psychology as a safe fall-back option in case she was not accepted as a priestess... she would have to study psychology as a career... maybe even neuroscience, but she was not sure; she still needed to learn more about both. Anyway, it would not be that bad if Kalid rejected her. However, Sybil doubted that would be her fate. Something inside her kept whispering that she would be accepted by Kalid that very day...

Sybil's mind turned to Kalid again. What was he like as a person? Her mother had described him as a gray-eyed tall man with his hair completely white, but she could not imagine him, in spite of that description. He was full of vitality, people said, because he was an advanced practitioner of Vichido and possessed the highest ranks in several martial arts. Another rumor said he had traveled to many planets during his training, before entering the Circles, and that he had learned several of the ancient languages of Earth and about the odd costumes worn by people before the space age... it was even said that he liked to dress in archaic clothing like the ancients had worn. Sybil thought that meeting Kalid would be like meeting a man from the past, like the ones she had read about. He looked, in her mind, as those ancient masters of old who had created new philosophies or martial arts techniques. And she would meet him, in person.

Rumor was that Kalid had managed to reach his position of greatness even after having entered the Order at the relatively old age of twenty. His parents had died from illnesses, in spite of the fact that they were very rich and could pay well for special medical treatments. Their deaths, at such young ages, were particularly painful and left a profound trace on the young Kalid. Maybe that was the reason why he sought refuge in the Order and so ardently accepted as his mission the careful accomplishment every challenge and task the Order assigned to him. When he was brought into the Order, his interest in living was almost completely destroyed and out of despair he might have accepted anything that was offered to him just to give purpose to his life and a reason to survive... anything, that is, that was fair and just. He asked no more.

Even as a child Kalid was animated by a compelling need to find reasons for his existence, to enter deeply into some fields of study just to know if they were the path to follow. In the Order, he had been told to develop his psychic gifts, as usual, but at first he was not sure about that and he had not distinguished himself early. After five years of slow and difficult training, he was finally accepted inside the Fourth Circle. It was said that in order to begin his advanced training within the Order he was sent to a secret planet that nobody on Sakkara could name, even in Sybil's time. Upon his return from that secret world, his powers were unequaled. He was a new Kalid, or so it had seemed to the very few who actually had contact with him during that time.

While they flew along in the car, Sybil's thoughts kept returning to and swirling with all the rumors and stories she had heard about Kalid. She was now completely lost in her worries about Kalid and her fate and was not even paying attention to the beautiful landscapes below and the new part of the planet they were flying over... new for Sybil, of course. There were types of flora and fauna down below that she had never previously had a chance to see with her own eyes, but even when she happened to look out the window she did not think about what was below. Her mother finally broke the silence.

"Sybil, are you worried?" Dorothy asked. "It seems as if you were on another world just now. Try to breathe and relax. Remember that you should put your mind at ease. You are pushing yourself too hard."

"It is just that... I don't know." Sybil answered. "I keep on thinking the same, in a circular manner." She thought about asking about the possibility of her not being accepted, but it was pointless. Her mother had already replied... but Sybil was so agitated she could not remember what her mother's answer had been.

Dorothy breathed aloud. "Then don't do that. See, if you don't enter the Order, you would move on and build your life around something else. Your father told you this too, and I say it again... you are very smart and you can be successful in any path you choose in life. I do not say that because you are my daughter, it is true; you are very special. Everything you do comes to success. I think you are as much of a perfectionist as your father was...that must be why. Dear, you could study psychology as you once planned or become an expert in ancient languages. Or both. Being a priestess is not the only thing you can do, you have many talents, there are many fields you are comfortable with, I think and you always surpass expectations in them. So, if he does not accept you, it would not be your fault, it would be your Destiny."

"Then... is he never wrong?" Sybil asked.

"We are all wrong sometimes, but he is very wise and makes every decision with much time, prudence, study and careful meditation. Besides that, he is very skilled in handling intuition and some people even say that he can actually read minds so..."

"No! I would not like that he read mine!" Sybil reacted in panic.

Dorothy regretted mentioning the rumor. "He would not find anything unusual, I think. You are not evil. However, he is forbidden to use telepathy without the other person's cooperation and participation. He only uses it during two-way telepathy sessions, which are rare, anyway, because very few people possess that special gift. The Circles in the Order are more like a pyramid. The Fourth Circle is the base. The First Circle is at the top. Very few people in higher Circles, particularly the Second one. Telepathy is for the few who advance to the inner circles so, do not worry. He will just see you, see your aura and maybe he could have a glimpse of your future. He will say what you will need to know in order to fulfill your destiny, just that, and then he will make up his mind about your place in the Order... if you will enter the outer Circle. It is usually very fast."

Something, the lack of sleep, the worrying, all the silly rumors about Kalid's powers... it was too much and was driving Sybil towards panic. "Oh, I want the meeting to be right now!" Sybil shouted. "Although now, at this moment, I do not even care which way it goes for my destiny in life. I just want this to all be over. I am afraid and I feel myself unable to meet him... I do not want my mind to be invaded by this strange man."

"He will not do that. Besides, that is not as people think. He may detect emotions and some of your fundamental attitudes but he certainly cannot listen to your thoughts as if in a spoken language. The brain express itself using a language, our conscience sees it that way, but internally it handles electrical signals and waves. He can catch some of those signals and translate them to the language of his own mind due to his astral abilities, but he cannot actually "hear" what you think. There is no danger. I remember the day I met him... I was as frightened as you are or even more. The meeting itself did not last more than thirty minutes. He saw me, he told me to relax, touched my forehead, prayed some unknown mantra and he focused during five minutes. After that, he told me I was apt and that I could enter the Silver Tulipan Order. It was something very fast and I was not afraid during the meeting, I did not feel anything wrong or weird. After seeing his calm ways, I think I calmed down too. He seems to emanate peace. It is a sensation I have not felt near anyone else. So, do not be afraid. Besides, we are near Kalid's temple now."

"OK."

"One more thing, my dear. Do not worry about anything, you will be in the presence of one of the best men of our times. Remember what I have taught you about Vichido. The principle of not expecting anything. When you enter meditation or any mental or martial technique expecting a result, you will get nothing. You have to empty your mind and focus on the task at hand. Worrying will not help you in any way. This is not a chase situation. So, do not try to guess what will happen. Just go there with optimism and faith in God and he will do the rest. God knows what is best for you and he will guide us and Kalid to your best destiny. Have that in mind and remember that you will be safe with him...he is a very good man."

"Right. I think I will try to calm down, mom" Sybil said, a little relieved from her fears. Her mother was right; she had to relax, it was the only thing to do now. She could not enter the meeting with the state of mind she was in now. Thinking about God and feeling his presence guiding all of them would be the solution. This brought memories of something her mother had often said: sometimes the best thing to do was to do nothing. No action, let nature do all the work. She had to start by calming her mind then her autonomic nervous system would change both her mind and body state and then she would really feel calm and in control. That was what relaxation achieved, in the physical plane, she reminded herself.

She looked out the window. Sybil had not realized where she was until that moment; she had completely forgotten to watch the landscapes. Now she noticed some peasants working the land. Would people still be useful for such manual labor? Shouldn't such work be given over to robots? She thought: well, maybe some people enjoyed working the land. Most of Sakkara's food depended on agriculture, as in Ancient Times. So, they were accomplishing a mission there, their job was important... Now she started thinking about Fate. Did it exist? She wondered whether we all have our destiny traced from the beginning or, alternatively, whether destiny depends on our acts, those of other people or even pure chance. She tried to imagine herself being a priestess and worshiping minor gods. She looked again at the fields below and the peasants... did they even imagine people such as her and options in life like entering the Order?

They were now within half an hour of the meeting place and suddenly their route was restricted to a single flight path. Normally the sky ways had several routes available to each car, but in this district transport engineers were repairing some force fields and only one path was still available for use, and at that exact moment it was blocked as a safety precaution for the repair crew. Dorothy had to take control again and stop the car. They waited for a light-emitting robot to give them the "all clear" and access to the sky way again. Meanwhile, Sybil watched the peasants closely. They seemed to be happy, enjoying their agricultural tasks! Nevertheless, life in the countryside had always been hard, too hard. Maybe those people could never choose another path, they just had to accept the same way of making a living as their parents did. And the parents of their parents, in an endless chain. Was that really any different than for Sybil herself, born from a marriage between two parents with psychic abilities? What real choices had she ever had?

Now that Sybil could see some of the farm workers up close, she could that they each directed a small army of robotic pickers. Sybil did not recognize the crop they were harvesting. She accessed the net and found that these were banana berries. The robots cleaned the berries, packaged them and loaded them onto automated carts that hauled the cartons away to market.

After some time, they were able to continue on their way and Dorothy again flew them by manual control of the car. After twenty minutes more they finally got to their destination, Kalid's temple. They got out of the car, the AI activated the alarm and shield and they started walking towards an old wood house, built in a very ancient style...


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