The Conqueror’s Witch – 6: The Magus – Part One

Jazmynde lay in a half-awake state, aware of the gravity slightly pushing her into her bed. She could feel the IVs in her arms. If she chose, she could see the interior of her ship without opening her eyes. She was aware, yet not aware. She had mastered lucid dreaming decades ago – it gave her access to ideas that she would never have been able to grab consciously. The slight touch of hallucinogenic laid vivid sharpness to her dreams.

She sank further into dream and memory. She never relied on memory for facts; they were too vague and fit too easily into her own private narrative. But she knew that what she chose to remember said a lot about her own motivations and perceptions. She needed awareness of them before she met with Mara. They were oracles into her own mind.


Jazmynde woke up at her desk and looked around. She felt the hard mahogany, then lifted her hand up suddenly. It shot up farther than she anticipated. ‘Low Gs here,’ she thought. ‘Where am I?

She looked at the wall. A relief map was displayed on the cubed cement wall to her right, depicting a crater-strewn landscape in a Mercator projection. ‘Not strategic,’ she thought. ‘It looks familiar though…

The light was harsh and bright, sterile fluorescent light that…

Ganymede. She was in her office on Ganymede. Lighter gravity than she was comfortable with. There were her couches, planning table, projectors, all fastened to the floor because of the light gravity. It was a grim existence here. Military needs cut down on the amenities.

‘When it comes to design in the military,’ Wilhelm once said, “function follows function and nothing follows aesthetics.”

This must’ve been thirty or so years before the Leader’s death. Her and Wilhelm were close at that time. Lovers; one among many for each other.

Wilhelm once asked her if they would last forever. She said she hoped not while smiling blissfully. He did not take that well.

Was that in the future in this memory? Or the past?

There was a knock on the door. Jazmynde felt herself slip into the patterns of her past, recreating this role as she remembered it.

“Come,” she said.

Iaian peeked in through the door. “I am bringing the prisoner, as you asked.”

Jazmynde grimaced. “Guest. She’s my guest for now. Please tell me she isn’t bound.”

“I…um…” Iaian paused, then disappeared from the doorway. A moment later, he peaked in. “No, Marshall.”

Jazmynde laughed slightly and said, “bring her in.” She heard Iaian mutter behind the door, probably reminding the guest of protocol and warning her against trying anything rude. Iaian was always watching out for Jazmynde.

A slight woman walked through the door. She had short-cropped black hair and a blank expression. Her eyes were black, so much so that her pupil was barely discernable. She was rubbing her wrists as if the now-missing restraints were too tight.

Jazmynde clicked to herself. ‘The quality of our morals are reflected in how we treat prisoners. I will need to talk to the Leader about it.

“Welcome,” she said. “Thank you for joining me.”

“You say that as if I had a choice,” the woman said.

Jazmynde nodded. “I understand your assumption, but you could have refused with no repercussions.”

“You don’t know your staff very well,” the woman responded. “They are very invested in turning your whims into necessities.”

Jazmynde smiled. ‘I like her,’ she thought. She waved her hand dismissively. “That has no bearing. Please sit. I have some pouches if you’re hungry or thirsty. Military issue, so not very delectable, but possibly better than what you currently have.”

The woman shook her head. “I am fine. I am well fed.”

“Or reluctant to take something from someone so you don’t feel like you owe anything.”

“You’ve read a profile. How flattering to know I have one.”

“Not flattering,” Jazmynde said. “Necessary. I know who you are.”

“Of course you do. I imagine you know all prisoners on a first name basis.”

Jazmynde shook her head. “No, I know your skills. What you’ve done for your people.”

“Oh.”

Jazmynde stared at the woman for a moment, trying to read her. It was difficult. Her mannerisms or body language gave almost nothing away. Nothing that wasn’t obvious, anyway. She was sitting, back straight, almost on the edge of her seat and directly faced Jazmynde. There was one thing that was obvious.

This woman was not afraid.

Jazmynde walked away from her desk to the seating area where the woman sat. She sat across from the woman.

“I have no inclination to get into a staring contest with you to establish ape dominance. I don’t play mammalian politics,” Jazmynde said. “So stare all you want and forgive my not playing along.”

The woman finally cracked a smile.

“So,” Jazmynde said. “You’re Archimedes.”

The woman blinked. “No…”

“Well, no, not in a literal sense. You’re the Archimedes from Io.”

The woman frowned slightly. “That’s not my name…”

“No, Mara, it isn’t,” Jazmynde said. “Do you know who Archimedes is?”

Mara shook her head.

“Brilliant scientist, mathematician, and philosopher. He figured out how to measure the volume of an irregular shape via water displacement. More to the point, he was a brilliant engineer who helped defend his home city from invasion. He even supposedly invented a heat ray. Mind you, that was two-thousand, four hundred years ago or so. He invented a giant claw that picked up invading ships and destroying them.”

“Oh.”

“Despite that, the Romans took Syracuse. His inventions were amazing. Genius. But in the end, they did not avail. Sound familiar?”

“Did you summon me to gloat?” Mara asked.

Odd,’ Jazmynde thought, ‘how flat that came out…

“Of course not. That would be a waste of our time and would reflect very poorly on me. It is to say this: Syracuse is an unimportant town. No one thinks of it. But people still talk about Archimedes. He was greater than his town; greater than his cause. The impact of one person was far greater than a city of lesser people. So yes, you are Archimedes.”

Mara shrugged. “I cannot say if I am or not.”

“Your inventions were amazing. You nearly weaponized all of Io. You directed volcanic steam as a beam weapon. You covered your settlements in clouds so thick we couldn’t see through them without bathing the area in x-rays and thus giving away our positions. You used Io’s extreme environment to keep yourself in power indefinitely. We couldn’t starve you out. We couldn’t dig you out. You are the one who designed total self-sufficiency on a world whose environment is second only to Venus in places I would hate to visit. You actually made Wilhelm cry.”

Mara raised her eyebrows.

Jazmynde laughed. “Yes, cry. He is a driven man. He chases victory like an addict. He will sacrifice anything and anyone to get it. And you denied it to him for years. I have never seen such frustration.”

“What about the Leader?”

“He was frustrated but amused. Once the word that all of this was designed by one person, he made sure that the order was given to everyone to keep you alive. Not for retribution, although that was something Wilhelm demanded for a while. It is because as the Leader once said about you, ‘I would sooner destroy my art collection than damage someone as rare and valuable as that.'”

“So he assigned a value to me.”

Jazmynde nodded. “Don’t take it personally. He does that to everyone. We all live in service to him.”

“And does this satisfy you?”

Jazmynde knew to tread carefully. Already in this interview, Jazmynde was giving away more than she was getting from Mara.

“Remember what I said about a great person serving an inferior cause? It is the opposite here. I personally believe in causes more than leaders, but the Leader and I are in agreement on the ends. I help determine the means. I can accomplish more of I dreamed within this army under him. I am content with my place.” Which was as near to the truth as Jazmynde was willing to go.

“Hrmmm…” Mara said.

“You can accomplish all you dream of as well.”

“Create death for my conquerer?”

Jazmynde shook her head. “I know you well enough to know that you didn’t have deep ties to your colony. Io was an insular hellhole. It is a mining site that produces two things:  ore and corpses. At the very least, people didn’t have deep ties to you. You were a hero when useful, a weird pariah when you weren’t. Everything else was owned by ALCOR, set to a fiendish schedule. You resisted us out of sheer stubbornness, not because of any patriotism or especially fealty to ALCOR. Hell, it was your executives that ended up selling you out. When Wilhelm failed with might, the Leader succeeded with money.”

“There is an old saying,” Mara said. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Jazmynde laughed. “Hopefully not. We’re not as cutthroat as an Earth-based corporation. At the very least, we’re molepeople too.”

“Molepeople?”

Jazmynde shrugged. “It’s what Earthlings call us. Almost all colonies are deep underground, so they call us ‘molepeople.’ It’s after this animal on Earth called a mole that lives underground apparently. I think that nickname tells you what they think of us back on the Cradle.”

Mara smirked slightly. “Not surprised.”

“At least we’re out here together. We know the hardships of the frontier. We’re finally uniting. Your fellow colonists: they’re going to be repatriated to your colony, once the improvements are finished.”

“Improvements?”

“Far better living conditions. Better air cyc. Better food. No more hoarding from the executives. There’s going to be a regime change, certainly, but the common people will notice a huge betterment of their quality of life.

“So I have a question: do you want to live among those people again now that you are no longer special? Now that you are associated with propping up a system that kept them down? For helping the old executives keep a stranglehold on the people? Because if you do, I will allow you go. I don’t want revenge for your amazing brilliance. Neither does the Leader.”

Mara shook her head. “So what does he want?”

“Eventually, he wants your assistance. But I have explained to him that if one forces a genius, they get subpar results. You would have to want to work with us.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then you don’t. No one can force you to be brilliant. You just are. No one can force you to love us. That’s not how love is created. So here is my proposition.”

“Finally.”

Jazmynde laughed. “Sorry if I am keeping you, Mara. I am sure your schedule is full of sleeping and eating. Certainly not socializing, since none of your fellow prisoners will talk to you. Anyway, this is it: live in my compound. You don’t have to do anything. Just live here. Learn. Research. Dream. Your fellow citizens should be heading back to Io in a few weeks. You can go with them if you want. You are not going to be punished. There is no revenge. You can come and go at will within my compound. You must, of course, behave yourself. This is my house, after all. Live here, observe us. Think about things. Then let me know if you want to help us.”

Mara nodded and looked away thoughtfully. “I will need time.”

“You will have it, Mara. I will tell Iaian to assist you as he can and to tone down his vehemence.”

Mara smiled slightly. “And I can go back to Io if I want to?”

“At the end of a few weeks, yes. I won’t bother to give you a promise because when I say something, I do it.”

“Yet you are not completely honest.”

Jazmynde raised an eyebrow. “Like all very intelligent people, I am selectively honest. I know when to be so and when not to be.”

Mara smiled. “Yes. That is reasonable.”

“I will be as honest with you as I can be, given all of the variables.”

“I could not ask for more.”

Jazmynde stood up. “I already have a place prepared for you in hopes that you would say yes.”

“Did you know what I was going to do?”

“Within comfortable certainty. I am usually right about these things.”

Mara nodded and looked evenly at Jazmynde. ‘Still no fear,’ Jazmynde noted.

“You realize that the people of Io, they call you a ‘witch.'” Mara said. “We did not fear Wilhelm because we understood him. He is a very able thug. We feared you.”

Jazmynde nodded. “The people of Io are smart.”

Mara stood up. “I think then that I will stay.”

“Excellent,” Jazmynde said. “Iaian will see to your quarters, more politely this time.”

Iaian opened the door and entered the room. “This way, Mara,” he said.

She walked towards the door, then stopped. “Quick question for you, Marshall.”

“Jazmynde. I will answer to Jazmynde. We do not stand on ceremony here.”

“Jazmynde. Whatever happened to Archimedes?”

Jazmynde nodded. “Ah, well… perhaps that is a cautionary tale for you.”

“Oh?”

“He was killed by a soldier.”


THE CONQUEROR’S WITCH

1: FOUR OF SWORDS – TRUCE

2: THE QUEEN OF WANDS

3: THE LOVERS

4: THE SEVEN OF SWORDS – FUTILITY

5: THE SIX OF SWORDS – SCIENCE

6: THE MAGUS – PART ONE

7: THE FIVE OF CUPS – DISAPPOINTMENT

8: THE MAGUS  – PART TWO

9: THE MAGUS – PART THREE

10: THE EIGHT OF CUPS – INDOLENCE

11: THE TWO OF WANDS – DOMINION

12: THE KNIGHT OF DISKS

13: THE TEN OF WANDS – OPPRESSION