Aquarium was officially part of the Dominion, even if it was also considered just an extension of Mzansi since it wasn’t big enough to be a nation of its own. But it was still mine, my refuge when I needed time, or a safe heaven, where my allies and I could get together and just be ourselves.
For a whole weekend I was going to host our allies and enjoy some peace and quiet, even if the assistance list had gotten longer than I anticipated and I was having to deal with logistic problems I had not expected.
“I think that everything is settled,” Kimball said, “we had to ask for some of the permanent residents to let us use their homes, since we didn’t have enough space for everyone.
“This place is huge, I never thought we would be able to fill it like this.”
“It’s not that unexpected, since we are hosting almost all of your old refugees and their families, plus a few new allies.”
“I never that many would accept the invitation.”
“A lot of people love you and respect you, some day you will realize that,” Kimball said, moving closer to me and wrapping me in his arms. “And this is just because some of them already had previous commitments they couldn’t get out of.”
“Where is Ethan?”
“Where do you think he is?”
I was to be expected that if Ethan and his cousins, and the rest of the young refugees, got together, they would be in the gym competing against each other.
I didn’t need to tell Kimball what I was thinking, he could always read my intentions, so he just moved to offer me his arm and guided me to the gym. The organized chaos that greeted us would be surprising to anyone who didn’t know this particular group of teens.
Apparently they had decided to form two teams and they were facing each other. Just as we walked in, we watch as Ethan raises a flag between shouts of joy and people complaining.
“That is not fair!” one of his cousins was complaining. “Everyone wants to be on your team, so we get the bad players.”
“There are always situations where you found yourself at a disadvantage,” I said, raising my voice, “so that’s not a valid excuse. A good warrior will always find a way to succeed no matter the challenge.”
“But it’s impossible to win against Ethan,” another one from the losing team complained.
“Nothing is impossible, it can be difficult, you may not even succeed the first time, but if you work hard enough, you can do it.”
“Mom, you are supposed to support me, tell them I’m invincible, make them fear me, or something.”
“I’m sorry, but another important lesson, one you have to learn, is that no one is invincible, and that you need to be prepared for anything.”
“Why don’t we try an ‘everyone against Kaiserin?'” Joon Hwan suggested.
“Isn’t that a bit unfair? There’s a lot of you,” I said, “at least let me have Kimball on my team.”
“Somehow I feel we would be the ones at a disadvantage with that arrangement,” someone said.
“I accept the challenge,” Ethan said. “Who is with me?”
A choir of voices, some more enthusiastic than others, agreed with Ethan, who immediately started to plan and organize his team.
“This will be fun,” Kimball said, “we will be doing a classic capture the flag setting. I suppose you are going to defend and I should capture?”
“That sounds like a good strategy,” I agreed.
A protective bubble around the flag was the easy choice, but Ethan knew me enough to know how to find and attack my weaknesses. He also knew his father’s strengths and most of his strategies, and that made the challenge a good one.
His plan was simple, he was attacking from different sides, trying to weaken my bubble, as Ethan used his powers to try and distract hard enough that I would lose concentration, allowing them to go through my bubble. It was a good plan, and in another setting, it may have been effective, the problem was that with Kimball trying to capture the flag, they didn’t have enough time to make it work.
Ethan had been consistently getting stronger as the years went by, and he was capable of keeping his mind alert enough to go against his father, making counterattacks and changing strategies on the fly, while simultaneously sending psychic attacks against me. Unfortunately for him, I had fought stronger attacks than his without problems. Eventually Kimball managed to get past Ethan’s defenses and had taken their flag, the exercise had taken more time than I had expected, and I had to recognize that I was tired after it.
I couldn’t avoid turning the game into a learning opportunity, and I went on to point out the mistakes and the successes of the exercise, while Kimball did the same.
We barely had time to go to our next stop by the time we finished with the young ones. My people in Aquarium had insisted that we needed a banquet to celebrate the reunion, even if I wanted something simple. After a quick shower and a change of clothes we went to the hall where the party was going to take place, and most of our guests were already there when we arrived. I had kept contact with most of them, but there were a few faces I hadn’t had a chance to see in a long time, and those were the first to approach me.
The reunion was pleasant and just what I needed to remember why I was doing what I was doing. My ulterior motive involved talking to the refugees and see if they could help me decide if it was ok to give the nations of the Dominion more freedom. Before Emily took control of it, being part of the Dominion was a choice, being part of it provided stability and protection, much like what happened in the Empire with those allied to the Imperial Clan. Once we had reached new levels of stability in the Dominion, it was time to move things a little closer to what they used to be, and that included letting them decide if they wanted to be part of us, or not. It wouldn’t be an easy task, but I needed to see if it was possible. I knew that opening that door could open us to a lot of problems, but I also knew how important it was for people to be able to have a choice. I doubted that anyone would jump to take the opportunity and leave the Dominion, at least not right away, not when being part of it gave them so many advantages, but I knew that with time, some of them would decide it was a risk worth taking, and I wanted them to have the option.
I needed to talk to Dante and present the proposal to the congress, but from what I had gathered, it would be well received.
“This is a celebration, you need to relax, you look too tense,” Sofia said. Our relationship had improved a lot since her betrayal, and I didn’t feel as angry as before, still I didn’t feel comfortable with her, especially not when she had cornered me while I was alone.
“Sofia, what are you doing here?”
“Still mad at me? I don’t know what else can I do to show you how much I regret what happened.”
“I expected you to be able to understand where I was coming from, for you to understand how hard it was for me to trust, and how much a betrayal could hurt me. You should have known how your decisions would sever our relationship. I trusted you, you know you could have approached me and talked to me about it, instead of going behind my back.”
“I get that, in retrospect, but you know that my children are my only weakness, and…” Sofia never finished her thought, because before she could, we both got trapped in a vision.
I couldn’t see Sofia, but I knew she was with me inside the vision, I wasn’t sure if it was mine or hers, but one of us had dragged the other inside it. We were in the middle of an unfamiliar landscape, a pair of figures approaching. I thought I recognized one of them, and once I heard her name, I knew who she was.
When we got out of the vision I found Sofia crying, something I wasn’t expecting, especially not if we considered the smile that accompanied the tears.
“Did you see? Do you recognize…?”
“Yes, that was my goddaughter Mistal.”
“No, that was my grandson, Charles’ son,” she said, leaving me speechless. “When his mother escaped Emily, I tried to ignore her future and what had happened to her son, I didn’t want Emily to know what had happened to them, and if I couldn’t tell if they were alive, then she wouldn’t either. I lost their trail, but I did that to keep them safe, and now I know he is ok.”
“But not for long. I could be wrong, but the vision showed us he is in a difficult situation. We need to go back to the fog and see more, at least now we will have the vision to guide us in the right direction. And even if that’s not enough, I think I will be able to find him, his path seems to be connected to someone close to me. Sofia, it’s possible we will meet with Melchizedek, that was his daughter Mistral with him.”
“Melchizedek, the seer.”
“This could become complicated,” I said, more to myself than to Sofia.
“For the moment you have a party to attend, nothing in that vision suggested this is urgent. But please, as soon as we can, help me find more information about my grandson.”
“I will,” and not just because of her, that vision could also mean danger for her.