Edgar von Galen, The Ethocracy (first published in 2292 A.D.)
“Our recipe is simple yet indispensable to the palate of civilization— enough bread for all; not just for their own needs, not just so that they might break some with friends and loved ones freely—but also for abundant sharing with the other, the ‘enemy’, our neighbor. All of the Ethocracy is predicated on this ideal, and we exposit only on what must first occur in order for this to be accomplished.”
“Are Vanguards truly so fond of waiting, Ms. Anagonye?” Mr. Makgoba exhaled a silky cloud of breath—a quiet puff which tumbled gently into the dawning morn. Save for the muted sound of some or another vehicle passing distantly by—only the stiff gyrations of rain prevailed against the air between them.
“The lecture concluded some time ago Oni,” said Mr. Makgoba, “Even you… can still catch a cold, I believe?”
Oni Anagonye stood just beyond the bus-length eaves of the Mandela Preparatory School for Gifted Children. Her voluminous tresses of sable hair rustled in the cold wind, yet she stood undaunted, well-postured in the flight-suit of the Vanguard, which was streamlined with steel blue synthetics.
Behind her was the young and honorable instructor Dawud Makgoba, whose well-manicured nails shined with far more prominence than his weather-beaten shoes, fogged spectacles, and muted polyester bow tie.
“No,” she answered softly, her gaze unbroken from surveying the lot ahead of them, her eyes wandering—seeking safe haven for the landing of some esoteric thought.
Dawud’s eyebrow peaked.
“Oh! So sorry,” Oni chuckled, her daydream now broken. “Of course, you’re right, I’m not especially fond of waiting. But I find the rain somehow…” she paused, her eyes glancing upwards for the briefest moment, “…reassuring. You miss the little things like that when your home is space-side sometimes. Or at least, I do.”
Dawud shook his head reassuringly, “I totally understand: just wanted to catch up for a moment before you headed out.”
Oni’s eyes closed on a smile, “I’m glad! I’ve missed you.”
The heels of Dawud Makgoba’s shoes tapped against the stone tiles beneath the alcove as he approached his former student. He furnished a small umbrella from his back pocket, tossing its pastel fabrics skyward— purple, green, yellow, orange, and red twirling slowly as they rose. Oni grinned as the colors flashed across the gaze of her beaming hazel eyes.
“I’m glad you remember me fondly,” he replied, “Truth be told, my class hasn’t been quite the same since you left. What’d you think of today’s lecture? It’s a rare opportunity to get feedback from an actual Vanguard.”
Oni grinned reactively with a stifled gasp. “Well,” she began, “on the whole it was an amazing presentation.”
Dawud laughed, “Ah! I’d know that tone of voice from the Mandela School prodigy any day: Come now Oni, be direct with me. You’ve earned that right. Long gone are the days where you were my pupil.”
Oni averted her gaze, but regained her composure as Dawud softly trained his eyes with hers. “Well, you referred to Kant as the Father of the Enlightenment. I get where you’re coming from, but he was umm, only active in the last decade or so of the era.”
Dawud and Oni both scratched the back of their heads sheepishly.
“Ah,” he replied.
Oni chuckled. “Well, you weren’t so far off the mark, really,” she said, punching his arm playfully, “He was a… Critical figure of the period to be sure,” she winked.
Dawud’s lips tightened around a smile as he rubbed his bicep gingerly, “Ah, there’s the exasperatingly nerdy Oni we all know and love. Well done.”
Oni nodded, “Yeah, it’s funny because he wrote the Critique of Pure—” she noticed Dawud nodding slightly, “Oh. I don’t need to explain this, do I?”
Dawud once again shook his head, a pattern that Oni had often recognized in her former instructor.
“Oni, I—oh.” Dawud’s voice trailed momentarily. “I just noticed—Your suit, it’s…”
Drops of rain streaked along soft crevices in the ground, seeding the beginnings of erosion. But as the specks came as if to dash against the young Ms. Anagonye’s suit, they stopped short. Blue light flickered ever-so-faintly an arm-span before it, and the rain could journey no farther.
“It’s the armor’s primary defense mechanism, ” she explained, “any projectile which approaches us at a sufficiently threatening velocity is immediately vaporized.”
Her eyes wandered to the space above them, trailing the rain as it deflected off of Dawud’s umbrella, and then back to her own more complex arrangement.
She raised her hand as if to catch the mana as it fell, “apparently rain travels rather fast… Some would call it serendipitous, a happy accident, to always be dry in a storm.”
Dawud tilted his head gently, “What do you think?”
“I think,” Oni hunched her shoulder, “I’m quite fond of your umbrella.”
Her former teacher laughed, “well is it something you can disable from time to time? I understand the great need to protect our Vanguards…but isn’t this excessive? I mean, surely you’re safe here?”
“I’m afraid the rules are not so flexible,” Oni replied with a shrug, “but at least this way, we’re safe. Some of the more powerful Old World governments and corporations still have renegade actors who will do whatever they can to take power back.”
“Ah yes. The Machiavellians,” Dawud hummed. “They’re a tiny minority though, aren’t they? I mean, there’s hum-drum about the terrorist group and its leadership every now and then, but —”
“It’s worse than you know,” Oni interjected. “Their leadership is as ingenious as it is ruthless. And their elite soldiers, the so-called ‘Ravenous’… Well. We are not as safe as you hope. I am sorry, Dawud, I know that’s not what you want to hear.”
Dawud’s expression faded with a breath of wind. “Be safe, Oni. Please.”
Her former instructor shuddered, his arms trembling. “I’m sorry. It’s just — I can’t bear the thought that the sacrifices you make for the good of the world have become such a target on your back. What you are doing for… all people… That someone could ever want to hurt you… I can’t even comprehend…”
Oni placed a hand on her companion’s shoulder. “I know Dawud… but this is what I signed up for. This is my duty. I vote and fight on behalf of the People and the Ethocratic state to which we Vanguards have pledged our lives. This is what our victory looks like.”
Dawud turned his head. “That is all very well Oni. But do not lose yourself so completely in this doctrine of von Galen: the Ethocracy, that is…”
After a brief pause, her former instructor resumed. “I’m recalling my thesis in college on the American Revolution and the early years of its Republic. Shortly after the war was over for the Americans, there was a radical curtailment of the promise of freedom, and the fledgling nation was increasingly co-opted by wealthy interests which had financed the rebellion: plantation owners and colonizers all.”
Dawud met Oni’s attentive gaze once more.
“The bright idealism of the era of independence had faded to the harsh political realities of their life-world. It became so oppressive for our people in particular, even those as were free men and women, that my own ancestors were forced to flee to West Africa, to what would later become Liberia. Had the colonial plutocrats genuinely intended for their vision of the ‘shining city on a hill’ to apply to everyone, I’d likely have been born an American.”
Oni looked him in the eyes. “Dawud… I am so sorry.”
A smile graced Mr. Makgoba’s expression, “Your instinct to apologize is interesting… but unnecessary. I know you are not the same.”
“What I don’t know is whether or not the ideals of the Ethocracy can ever be fully bridged with reality. And I make this admission whole-heartedly: I do not know the answer to that question. But I do worry. It seems to me that especially in its infancy, the Ethocracy does not need to be militarily conquered in order to be ruined. History may indeed be on the side of the Machiavellians.”
“I hear you,” said Oni cautiously, “I promise I will not forget, and that I will not fail you.”
Dawud shook his head. “Please understand, I completely believe that we are in the best possible hands with this Great Experiment. But if it should fail… where is our next Liberia? What exodus is possible in a world where each country is now as one? Now that nationhood itself is dead? All is entrusted in the success of the new order of things. And nothing is born which is not at first fragile.”
Oni pat Mr. Makgoba on the shoulder. “Well, as always —you’ve given me something substantive to reflect on, old friend.”
Dawud’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not so old… am I…?” After an unluckily drawn-out moment of silence, both of them tilted their heads sunwards, or where the sun presumably could have been seen on a clearer day. From the distance, a throttled hum broke out from the cloudy skies above.
“It sounds as though your ride has arrived.” Dawud called out against the pounding air. “Shall we say goodbye?”
“Not yet, friend,” Oni replied with a soft smile, “Tune into channel 78187 on your Porta-COM, I can speak for some time longer while in-flight if you’d like.”
Her sleek conveyance was no larger than a sedan, descending on a 45-degree tilt. The top edges were styled with slender curves that came to a flat towards the back of the ship, while the bottom was dramatically cut, giving the ship a slender and agile appearance. Underneath the slicked wings were broad basins of yellow light, steadily fragmented by the mach-worthy motion of its bold steel-engine blades.
As it came to hover just above the ground, its nose tipped forward, and the glass plating of the cockpit opened with the help of some steel-tube hydraulics; laying bare a bodyformed seat and nothing more.
“Happily!” replied Mr. Makgoba, “I’ll head over to my office and patch in now Oni. Catch you soon!” Dawud intoned with a wave of the hand, jogging off to the nearest side door of the Nelson Mandela Preparatory School for Gifted Children.
In this Episode…
Vanguard Team K10 Theta
Born in the late 18th century, Corvin was drawn to the power of El through a life-long obsession with magic, danger, and the forces of darkness. He sought power and purpose from a young age, and so when the voice of the Shadow came to him, he was ready and eager to listen.
Professor at the Nelson Mandela Preparatory School for Gifted Children
Dawud is a kind and thoughtful friend, mentor, and confidant for Oni. He was her instructor when she first came into the school’s care, only recently hired at the age of 25.
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Oni boards the gargantuan Vanguard base, The Aeschylus, after a long stint on the ground.