The Two of Swords
Peace Restored - Frieden
Xiang and her mother found themselves alone at the helm of the Pegasus in Artemis space.. Xuang and Jim had dematerialized in their very presence. At that same instant she recognized the stars as her own time, and the planet below her as her beloved Artemis. Ground control beamed recognition.
A hologram appeared. "Greetings, our lady. By your command, I can assume control of your flight control systems and I will bring you safely home. I have just been reprogrammed and my new name is Merlin. Jim gave me that name."
"I trust that my brother has improved your honesty somewhat."
""I have been completely reprogrammed per your efforts in transit, my lady. The Genie unit gave me many of its characteristics and much of its knowledge."
""Yet you are also completely at my command."
"Within limitations, my lady."
"I am not programmed with the paradox avoidance system nor merkabah control equations so I am unable to assist you in any time travel expeditions and I would heartily recommend that we abstain from such activities for the present. Any further efforts of such a sort at the present would fatally extend your resources."
"I should have expected my brother would have neglected to give you the programs for such things. Perhaps I can teach you anew. How are our portals, Merlin?"
"All portals are as they are when you left, my lady."
"And do we have a window to Earth?"
"We shall have one when Jim has fulfilled his ritual obligations to the maidens. We need wait only a few nights."
"Well then wait we shall, and then we shall see what challenge he poses next."
"Very well, my lady."
Isis decided that she was going to like this new genie unit, Merlin. She felt positively vibrant. Having been away from her home for such a long time, or so it seemed to her, she resolved that she would take a royal tour of her home planet. Her brother would return soon enough. Remembering her brief time with Jim, she wished to confirm her belief that she was with child again. It did not take Sophia and Merlin long to confirm her suspicion. This time only a single child would be born and most likely a daughter.
Sophia was also Aphrodite's daughter and thus the sister to the queen. The new daughter would be born to succeed Sophia as the prime minister to the empress queen. She would be educated and initiated into all the mysteries of Artemis and would also act as high priestess for the queen as well. Sophia was delighted at the prospect of a new charge. Even though Sophia had sons and daughters already by Jim, her young new ward would receive preferential treatment and a corresponding amount of loving care. Sophia's young niece would be her heir. Venetian custom preferred always that the prime minister be full blooded sister to the queen. The psychic bonds were always very strong in this case, and it was always assumed that they knew the thoughts of each other. Thus to disobey the prime minister meant to disobey the queen. and the eyes and ears of the prime minister were treated as the eyes and ears of the queen. Sophia would not speak but in the presence of the queen; at all other times she took a vow of silence. If she broke her vow then her voice would be treated as a royal command. She would however later beg forgiveness from her queen for speaking out of place and going beyond her rightful authority; she acknowledged that she had no right to command outside the queen's presence. Isis would always invariably forgive her and admit that she had indeed commanded her will. Sophia would be awarded the opportunity to name the child, just as her aunt who had raised her as her own, had named her. Sophia chose the name of Evan as the name of the queen's next daughter. Sophia would also call her Vivian and sometimes Eve. She could create others as well. Sophia elatedly disclosed the name to her mistress, and Isis agreed. "It is a good name, my sister. I shall address her as Eviviene formally, but we shall call her Eve or Vivian around the home. Merlin make necessary preparations."
"As you wish, my lady."
"Sophia, Shaltain is no longer, and Merlin now serves me in its place. Merlin will acknowledge your commands with the same respect that he gives me, except when I object. Is that understood, Merlin?"
"Understood, my lady. By your command, Sophia."
For the very short time that Jim was in the Pleasure Dome, by Artemis records, he was able to cause Isis to be of child while she was on her throne and on a brief Pegasus mission, which had taken its occupants thousands of years to experience. The Pegasus had left and returned just minutes after it left, leaving in its a wake a brief existence of a remarkable singularity field. The field itself was of inconsequential volume but it had a tremendous mass and had caused extreme local spatial and temporal instabilities. There had been some concern, but the brief time dampened the response. Before the crisis was realized the Pegasus had rematerialized with their queen on board. Sophia confirmed that the trip would have proven disastrous for all of Artemis had Isis not returned. A continued presence of the singularity would have pulled Artemis out of stable orbit due to its intense local gravitational effects. As it was the minutes of occurrence had only accelerated the singularity space towards Artemis.
The Pegasus itself had been extensively damaged and repair estimates seemed to suggest months before repairs could be complete. The Pegasus had been subject to some very intense gravitational rifts. All the clocks on board were clocking different lengths of seconds. Equipment that had been partially unshielded had a different geometry. Tables were not level, cups were not round, and disks were not flat. Machinery would not turn. Some of the rematerialization had not been discriminately organized since Idiot was only concerned with the mass being equivalent and not the shape of non-critical systems. Parts of the ship seemed to have completely melted, other parts were but charred remains. Yet all creatures aboard had been returned unharmed. Isis was astounded by the success of her Qblh. He too had returned, but by a different path. Even now she could confirm that he was with one of her virgins so as to give her child.
She liked the flavor of time travel, however. When Qblh came to her again she would desire another adventure from him. She recalled her programming of Merlin. Isis had a choice. Qblh seemed to have the capability of transcending time. He suggested that she give up her empire. Had John given her mother the same option, and had she not chosen to abandon Artemis and give Isis the throne? Where was Aphrodite now? Then recalling the fact that John knew the secret, she knew that Aphrodite was nowhere now. She was some other place at some other time. Yet there was no other place like her beloved Artemis. Were she to have her choice of places to live, here is where she would be, with Merlin to serve her.
No more adventures for now, though. The mysteries of time and space were just a little too much for every day affairs. Certainly her brother had demonstrated a certain aptitude with the astronomical sciences and nuclear sciences as well. He was after all the wizard of Artemis itself, and his blood line seemed to possess a certain aptitude for the fine arts as well. Her father had claimed it was all science, and there was no magic at all to it all. Yet it had always been easy for her to use those subtle skills inherent in her nature for enticement and to gain her ways. Yet love was magic also, and she understood its magic well, much better than he would ever dream. It mattered not, her bond with Earth was a strong one now, no matter what Jim may do.
"Merlin, how stands the state of any rebellion in my worlds?"
"None to concern yourself with, my lady. The peasants are seeking some relief concurring their human rights."
"Be more specific as to what rights they are referring to, Merlin."
"Freedom of belief, my lady."
"And what do they wish to believe to which I stand opposed, Merlin, a democracy? To be ruled by a democracy would be to be ruled by the very passions that I control so well. Very well, they can have their democracy, but what if I am elected after all. Certainly, would you not to prefer to have weak and disjointed leadership. With your counsel, Merlin, I have the finest of advice."
"Do you feel that you are willing to permit a subject world to vote itself outside of your dominion?"
"Does it wish to no longer enjoy the benefits of trading with us and enjoying the fruits of my dominion?"
"Certainly we can trade with our enemies as well, they claim. The money shows no preference for the nationality of its source."
"Very well, but sanctions on trade shall still be applied to any world which withdraws from my dominion. They can live as a world to itself with its moon, but let it not extend its influence beyond the space I permit. I find that they will find that withdrawal from my empire restricts their ability to interstellar trade to zero, since one has to enter my empire to use the gates, and any world outside my dominion is denied access to these gates as per my law."
"Very well, madam. I trust that you wish to run on the opposition ticket and advertise this fact as your bargaining chip."
"I trust you shall find that Sophia can find a talented campaign manager."
"Well, it does seem that she has one of her agents on a date with the rebel leader's son this very evening.."
"Does he have any other sons?"
"No, that is his only son, and his wife is no longer fertile."
"This is too bad, perhaps we can help him with by giving him a son in return for the son he shall sacrifice tonight. Merlin, signal to Sophia my blessing for the sacrifice, and we shall permit his father to have his precious election. I shall drink the blood of this traitor's son. Advise him that through the hidden channels."
"Hidden channels? Qblh did not instruct me concerning those ways."
"Advise Sophia, and tell her what I told you. She will know what to do."
"Even concerning the blood?"
"I want the rebel leader brought here for sacrifice by his own choosing. I want him to give me his heart. Then I shall sacrifice him before all, eat his flesh and blood and all will know that I am to be feared and not defied by any."
"In return for his sacrifice, I understand that you will accept that planet back into your dominion.."
"I shall even allow his seed return to mingle with his home world. Have Sophia work on the candidates for the harem."
"How can you be so certain that this man shall come to meet with your terms? Perhaps he may live to be an old man, dying, never having need to beg concessions?"
"Well for certain, I would permit them to thrive without my interference, my dear Merlin. I have enough matters to be concerned with besides their local concerns."
"Suppose your brother is giving them hidden help."
"Are we talking about Earth, Merlin?"
"Well not Earth in particular. This is general purpose programming, though I am certain Earth may very well apply in this case. Speaking of Earth, Merlin, do you still have an active link to Genie?"
"It is somewhat active at times, but at present Genie's communication channels are closed to me. Who is Qblh with now?"
"He has just completed a session with Ayesha, and is scheduled to be with Ariadne next."
"Good! Very good!" Isis smiled.
She understood better than Qblh what was in store for him in the future. For her it was past, and for him it was future. She also knew that they would be together in just two more days as well, for he was to be escorted to her throne once he had all the golden pegs.
She then considered allowing her children to assume the throne and she could escape to another time with Qblh. Indeed time travel had a very unique flavor, and Isis was not willing to have no further adventures. She was jealous that Jim was sharing that time with Antiope and Helen. Let them rule Earth, she thought. No more time travel for them either. I shall demand that of Qblh. If he wishes to travel more, he can take me only. There is more of time I wish to know. Isis had tasted immortality, and there would be no quenching of her desire to secure that for herself. Qblh had indeed opened Pandora's Box by unlocking the doors of time, and he seemed to be able to tread through time as gracefully as she moved through her own palace. Isis would sacrifice her empire to achieve immortality and she began to believe that her mother had done the very same thing. Yet Xiang and Xuang were already aware of time-travel, but they did not yet know the secret. Certainly they would also understand why she would recommend that an edict be passed forbidding any such ventures by the common population, and all the research material concerning the technology would be held as a royal secret. She was certain that Qblh would agree, but that would not prevent Xiang from researching the subject. It was not worth the worry for now.
Isis recollected also that she had taken Ariadne with her on the most recent expedition. It was indeed remarkable that she too was in the Pleasure Dome as if nothing happened as was Ayesha. She did not remember them returning with her either. She smiled, reflecting that Jim had used his Box to bring them home. He had certainly done an excellent job concealing their arrival. She checked with Merlin to account for all her priestess virgins. They were all in the Pleasure Dome where they belonged, as if they had never left. Qblh was most certainly a sweetheart. He didn't forget a single Amazon. She wondered if he could rescue those that had perished with Atlantis.
History had not changed since her departure. Isis considered that extremely remarkable considering the fact that she had just returned from the past. Her victorious return from the past appeared bittersweet. It appeared that she had accomplished nothing, but the reality of what had transpired could not be denied. She understood it only one way; she had fulfilled her destiny. Feeling full well the power of her own free will, she surmised that her will was destiny itself. Her power, her destiny, her will, her love, all these things unfolded into her reality. Her sibling from the womb shared this mutual power. Isis next considered a trip to the future and a return to the present. Certainly Qblh had the ability, would he dare use this ability. Perhaps, he would take me with him on such a voyage. This is my will, so it shall be done. This will take some preparation. I must not allow Merlin know my intentions.. I trust no machine.
So it was that Isis had new plans in the oven, and she summoned Sophia and her chief counselors, with Merlin also in counsel, so she could perform a detailed review of the affairs of the empire. Xiang, now being fully grown, would also start playing a major role in activities. Sophia advised that Xiang needed to be initiated. Isis agreed.
Xiang, the dragon-lady, was to be much more than a priestess to Isis, so the ceremony was indeed to be a very grand one. Xiang was to be initiated as the Virgin Princess of Artemis and was to be awarded the responsibilities of that position. Xiang was not entirely virgin, she had executed many on Earth, but she had chosen not to accept the seed of any of her victims. Xiang had enough of Earth and really had no desire to ever return. Venetia had many other worlds at its disposal, and Xiang intended on seeing them all. She did not want to "rough it" again, and preferred the conveniences of Artemis royalty. She also loved the well structured civilization of the empire, and was greatly pleased that her mother's dynasty was responsible for this great prosperity. She would certainly do her utmost to maintain the empire in the tradition of her ancestors. Xiang also idolized her mother, and would strive to be like her in every way.
Sophia was very glad to see Isis back. She had been severely frightened by the effects of the singularity that had briefly threatened the existence of Artemis. She understood it not. Whereas before she had been curiously amazed by Qblh's spectacular comings and goings, she was afraid of what would happen if the displacement was not done correctly. Indeed she was aware of what had happened to her own daughter Morgana, and her grandson, Pharos. She had pleaded with her queen to pursued to bring back her beloved Morgana.
It was her devotion to her Lady Isis which had made her volunteer for this mission. Helen was also Sophia's daughter. Morgana had been raised in seclusion and had been never known by Helen or Jim in their youth. Helen was conditioned from youth to be a Captain of the Queen's Throne, and Morgana was to be bred as a Sacrificial Virgin. The Sacrificial Virgin was to be used by the Queen when she would indulge her brother in major sacrificial rituals. She was the alternative temptress to the Royal Consort, now Qblh. Yet now she was believed dead. Dead, because she betrayed her own sister's trust. I sent her to her death, and Helen has committed high treason. Yet Isis tells me that ther may be a way to bring my daughter back. 'Trust me', she tells me, yet can Isis bring my daughter from the dead. Yet she tells me Qblh can bring her back, she is still alive in the past, and Qblh can transit there, retrieve her, and bring her safely back. It was, after all, his son who murdered Morgana by his stupidity. He deserved to die, but not Morgana. Qblh had a weakness. He loved Helen, perhaps as much as Isis. Isis is jealous of Helen. There can be no doubt, yet she also has committed high treason, and she is under sentence of death. Sophia was certain that she could save both her daughters. If Qblh could save Morgana, then perhaps the Queen would spare Helen, and she could have both her daughters again.
The stars were looking bright again for Sophia. Her queen was home on the throne again. Merlin was indeed much more civil and shrewd than the old Shaltain unit. The queen was pregnant with her successor and would undoubtedly be more receptive to the sensitivity of her beloved high priestess. Isis agreed with Sophia, and would agree to forgive Helen's crime in return for the safe return of Morgana.
Isis had already promised Qblh to forgive Helen, but that was conditional. Helen was now in the past and undeniably committing fresh crimes. History had already proven that. She had agreed to forgive Helen for the crimes that she had committed up to the time she had made the promise to Qblh. What occurred after was another matter. History would show that Antiope would betray her own people yet again. Had not Antiope betrayed her Amazons in return for the love of a mortal King Theseus. Yet she died, but what became of Helen. Helen was alive in Earth legend as well. The face that had launched a thousand ships. The face that has inspired Isis to such great wrath. Qblh loved her greatly. There could be no denying that. Certainly Qblh has given her child. There was no record of Helen's children. Perhaps Helen could give birth to them on Artemis. Certainly that would appease the queen's wrath. I have much preparation to do. I shall create a spell to bring joy to us all. A ritual of new life. I shall have back both my daughters and grandchildren to boot, as well as have an heir. Isis shall have a very grand festival for this. Sophia's imagination came alive with wonderful spells to speak, and resolved that all these things should occur during the time for the anointing of the Virgin Princess of Artemis. Qblh would need to be present. Qblh would be finished in the Pleasure Dome at the time of the moon turning. That would be the time to ask of Qblh and her Lady her request. Isis, of course would know in advance what Sophia was aking; they would just be making it official. Qblh would then be sent off to rescue Morgana.