– Mondia, Ranth 20, 8034 –
A dim light suddenly blinked on, lighting a small nondescript reception room as the Interstellar Gate in the back slowly whirred to life, the ring’s interior filling with the black film known as the event horizon. Immediately after activation, the room filled with rushing air as long-dormant life support systems revived themselves, replacing the former vacuum with sterile, breathable air. Artificial gravity systems kicked in mere moments later, just in time for the Gate’s receiving indicator to light up; ten seconds later, Kevérin burst through the event horizon, charging forward and quickly inspecting his surroundings.
“Expecting a fight?”
“You can never be too careful,” the Transfer Captain replied, glancing back as Kaoné and Rebehka (who carried the unconscious Siyuakén on her back) stepped forward, having just arrived through the Gate themselves. They quickly cleared the way as Kievkenalis arrived with the Master Ayas in hand, followed by Christeané carrying Arcán’s core, and then Davídrius. The Forcetechnic set the Prior’s core down on the ground for a break as Davídrius promptly sped over to the Gate’s control panel and activated its block, thereby preventing any Nanocreature forces left on Nimalia from following.
“So… we’re here,” Kaoné commented as she glanced around at the small, dark room with unease. “…What do we do now—?”
Her question was cut short as six turrets exploded from the walls, all of them training their gun barrels on the seven Chaotics as four sentry bots charged into the room. Hero Machina quickly prepared to fight back, only to realize a key factor in play:
“…A CENT field just activated,” Kevérin remarked with a scowl.
“Should’ve known it’d be a trap,” Davídrius growled. “…Fuckin’ computer tricked us!”
“But they aren’t firing on us,” Rebehka countered, eying the bots warily as they stood completely still with their weapons focused forward. “Are they waiting for something…?”
Mere moments after her inquiry, a hovering drone descended from a hatch in the ceiling. It paused for a moment directly in front of Kevérin before turning toward Arcán’s core and approaching. A dim light flashed from the drone’s front bulb; it then grabbed the core with its underlying grips, lifting the dense object up into the air and back into the hatch from which it emerged. Silence followed for several seconds as the Chaotics glanced amongst each other in confusion until the room suddenly flooded with light, blinding them all.
“I APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY. I HAVE BEEN AWAY FROM THE PLATFORM FOR SOME TIME.”
“Arcán…?” Kevérin questioned as he glanced upward at a speaker in the ceiling — and then back toward the sentry bots as they lowered their weapons and stepped aside.
“I HAVE NOW TAKEN FULL CONTROL OF THE PLATFORM.”
Davídrius crossed his arms as he glared upwards at the source of the Prior’s voice. “Really should’ve warned us about the fuckin’ ambush,” he declared.
“THEY ARE MERELY A SECURITY FORCE AND WOULD NOT HAVE FIRED ON YOU UNLESS YOU ATTACKED FIRST. THAT YOU CARRIED MY CORE WITH YOU REDUCED THE LIKELIHOOD OF THEM ATTACKING YOU FURTHER.”
“Alright…” Christeané muttered as he looked around at the bare, steel gray walls. “…Now where are we supposed to go? There has to be more to this ‘Platform’ than this tiny little room.”
“INDEED. WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PROCEED UNTIL I HAVE EXPLAINED MYSELF AND MY PLAN. SIMPLY FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THE WALLS TO REACH THE CORE ROOM; IN THE MEANTIME, I WILL CONTINUE REVIVING THE PLATFORM AND RUNNING SYSTEM DIAGNOSTICS.”
“Understood,” Kevérin replied as a string of LEDs appeared on the left wall, leading out the room and around a corner. He glanced back at the rest of Hero Machina and then turned to face the room’s entrance as he stepped forward. “C’mon. Let’s see what Arcán has in store for us…”
1 Hour Later
“…I think we’re here.”
“Oh really now? And why would you possibly think that?” Davídrius drawled as he glanced toward Kevérin and then turned back to face a massive door that stood before the Chaotics. “Couldn’t have anythin’ to do with this bigass door, now, could it?”
“THE TRANSFER CAPTAIN IS CORRECT; YOU STAND AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE CORE ROOM.”
Kevérin shot Davídrius an annoyed glance before addressing the Prior, “can you let us in?”
“THE CORE ROOM IS NOT YET PREPARED FOR LIVING USE, BUT IT WILL BE MOMENTARILY. PLEASE STANDBY.”
“’Not yet prepared for living use?’” Christeané echoed incredulously, “the life support systems filled up the rest of the Platform pretty quickly, just how big is this room supposed to be?”
“Well, we have only been walking through hallways,” Kaoné pointed out, “maybe Arcán has just been prioritizing our path.”
“I’m with Christeané on this, actually,” Kevérin commented. “A room would have to be absolutely gigantic to take more than a couple minutes to fill with air, and that’s with our own life support technology. Given how seemingly advanced the Priors seem — based on Arcán’s core, at least — I wouldn’t expect filling a room to take this long.”
“He did say ‘prepared,’” Rebehka remarked, “Maybe there’s other things he has to do, aside from filling the room with air?”
“Maybe,” the Pyrotechnic responded, turning back to the door as it hissed and began to rise into the ceiling. “But I’d still like to know how it took… so… long… …holy shit.”
The door had barely opened halfway, but it was enough to allow Hero Machina to step onto a platform and view the absolutely massive expanse in front of them: an enormous, spherical room with bright white walls, apparently empty except for the long, levitating pathway that appeared to fade into the distance.
“…A hundred kilometers.”
“A what…?” The rest of Hero Machina turned toward Kevérin as he stared at his AR display dumbfoundedly.
“A hundred kilometers,” the Transfer Captain repeated, “…that’s the distance from here to the other side of the room.”
“…You’re shittin’ me.” Davídrius looked about himself in surprise. “You’re sayin’ you could fit a Deathnought in here?”
“YOU COULD INDEED.”
“Arcán…?” Kevérin started, “…well, I take it this is the Core Room. What now?”
“HOLD A MOMENT… TRANSPORTING YOU TO THE CORE PLATFORM NOW.”
“To the wha—?” Kaoné began, but halfway through her question, the scenery around Hero Machina instantly changed from the edge of the room to a fifteen-meter circular platform in the very center. The center two-thirds of the platform seemed to be constructed out of glass, allowing for a clear view Arcán’s core, suspended in a clear cylinder just under the platform — and the incredible drop to the bottom of the room.
“…Okay, you have beaming tech, cool,” Christeané commented as he took cautious note of his surroundings. “Uh… how far up are we, again…?”
“THE PLATFORM ON WHICH YOU STAND IS SUSPENDED FIFTY KILOMETERS FROM ALL WALLS. NEVER FEAR, SHOULD YOU FALL FROM THE PLATFORM, THE AUTOMATED BEAMING SYSTEMS WILL RETURN YOU WITHOUT HARM.”
“That’s… comforting,” Rebehka deadpanned as she carefully laid Siyuakén on a bench near the center of the platform. “…Now, perhaps you can tell us why we needed to come to such a… er… empty room?”
“PRIMARILY, I WISHED TO CLOSE THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND MY CORE, WHICH WILL BE RELEVANT SHORTLY. SECONDARILY, I WISHED TO DEMONSTRATE THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE PRIORS.”
“I admit, the size of the room is impressive,” Kevérin commented, “but we’ve seen beaming before, and the sentries we ran into when we first arrived aren’t too far ahead of what we have currently, at least as far as I could tell. And there isn’t really anything in this room…”
“THAT IS BECAUSE I HAVE YET TO ENGAGE THE HOLOGRAPHIC PROJECTORS. OBSERVE.”
A moment of silence passed before the walls faded to black, plunging the room into darkness — yet the center platform remained fully illuminated. A moment later, bright dots began populating the darkness, rapidly filling the room’s empty space until an obvious structure became apparent.
“It’s our galaxy…” Kaoné observed with awe as she stared down through the platform at the holograms below, showcasing the Milky Way Galaxy as though from an observer floating high above the outer rim.
“INDEED. THE VIEW YOU SEE NOW IS WHAT YOU WOULD SEE SHOULD YOU STAND ON THE EXTERIOR OF THE PLATFORM.”
“Wait,” Kevérin spoke up, focused on the galaxy below before turning his attention to view more distant galaxies around the display, “…you mean to say… we’re outside the galaxy right now?!”
“INDEED. EVERY PLATFORM, EXCEPT THE SYN PLATFORM, IS LOCATED AT A SIMILAR DISTANCE FROM THE GALACTIC CORE.”
“Is every Platform this fuckin’ huge?” Davídrius questioned as he turned his attention to his sides. Directly horizontal from the platform the Chaotics were standing on was a view of a massive space structure — presumably the Platform in which they currently inhabited — that stretched far into the distance, seemingly disappearing into the darkness of space on either side.
“EVERY PLATFORM IS OF VARIABLE SIZE AND LAYOUT, BUT IT IS INDEED TRUE THAT EACH AND EVERY ONE VASTLY EXCEEDS THE SIZE OF YOUR OWN SPACE STRUCTURES. THIS PLATFORM IS NEARLY FIVE THOUSAND KILOMETERS IN LENGTH, AND A THOUSAND KILOMETERS IN THE OTHER DIMENSIONS.”
“That’s, like, the size of a fuckin’ moon!”
“DO NOT BE SURPRISED; MINE IS FAR FROM THE LARGEST. THE SYN PLATFORM IS OVER FIVE TIMES THIS SIZE IN EVERY DIMENSION, MAKING IT MORE THAN TWICE THE SIZE OF YOUR HOMEWORLD.”
The Chaotics of Hero Machina remained silent for several moments as they allowed Arcán’s information to sink into their minds. The largest structures any of them had known before that moment were the CSA Deathnoughts or the CSA Class-1 Habitat Stations, neither of which exceeded a hundred kilometers in any dimension. Yet here they were, standing within a massive structure that was orders of magnitude greater in size.
“…This is ridiculous,” Kevérin declared, “why— …why does it need to be so damn huge?!”
“THE PURPOSES OF THE PLATFORMS NUMBER IN THE THOUSANDS, AND SEVERAL INDIVIDUAL SUCH PURPOSES WARRANT A LARGE STRUCTURE TO PERFORM THEM. GALACTIC MONITORING, FLEET FABRICATION, POWER PROJECTION — BOTH LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY. WHEREAS THE AYAS ARE THE CORE OF THE PRIORS’ POWER, THE PLATFORMS ARE THE CORE OF OUR ABILITIES, AND AS SUCH MUST BE ABLE TO OFFER ABSOLUTE DEFENSE AND A CONSTANT EYE ON THE GALAXY ITSELF.”
“THIS PLATFORM IS NOT RUNNING AT FULL POWER, DUE TO A LACK OF THE ARCÁN AYAS. HOWEVER ITS OFFENSIVE AND ECM SUITES, COUPLED WITH THE SHIELD ARRAY, SHOULD BE ABLE TO EASILY REPEL FLEETS OF UP TO A HUNDRED THOUSAND SHIPS, AND SEIZE DIRECT CONTROL OF THOUSANDS.”
“You’re kidding…” Rebehka muttered in awe.
“So basically, you could solo the entire damn galaxy if you wanted, is what you’re saying?” Christeané crossed his arms, frustration wrought across his features. “So why the hell didn’t you help us fight the Nanocreatures? This thing would’ve been useful against them!”
“IT IS NOT THE PRIORS’ ROLE TO BECOME SO DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN GALACTIC AFFAIRS—”
“Then why the fuck did you bring us here?”
Several moments of silence passed as the members of Hero Machina awaited Arcán’s response. Just as Kevérin opened his mouth to speak again, a multitude of holographic particles appeared in the air over Arcán’s core, rapidly coalescing to form a featureless Aldredanoid with long, dark hair dressed in elaborate gold and pale blue robing.
“…ALLOW ME TO TAKE THIS FORM,” the figure spoke as it clasped its hands and bowed toward the surprised Hero Machina. He glanced toward the unconscious form of Siyuakén before continuing, “YOUR FRIEND WILL NOT REVIVE FOR SOME TIME, AND WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ENGAGE THE NANOCREATURES UNTIL THEN. IN THE MEANTIME, I BELIEVE CREATING AN AVATAR FOR MYSELF WILL EXPEDITE OUR DISCUSSION.”
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Christeané pressed.
“YES, ABOUT WHY I HAVE ELECTED TO INVOLVE MYSELF IN YOUR AFFAIRS…” Arcán trailed off as he looked down at the galaxy below. “…THE STORY IS LONG, AND EVEN AFTERWARD YOU MAY NOT AGREE WITH MY DECISIONS, OR EVEN UNDERSTAND THE MATTER.”
“We’ll be the judge of that,” Kevérin countered.
“YOU ARE AS HEADSTRONG AS YOUR PREDECESSORS. VERY WELL.” Arcán bowed his head again before holding up his palms. Above his left hand formed a hologram of a light blue diamond — the Ayas Arcán — and above his right hand formed a solid, light blue cylinder — Arcán’s core. “THE CHAOS AYAS AND THE PRIORS… AS I HAVE TOLD YOU BEFORE, NEITHER CAN EXIST WITHOUT THE OTHER. THE AYAS GIVE THE PRIORS POWER, AND THE PRIORS GIVE THE AYAS PURPOSE. THIS HAS BEEN TRUE FOR OVER A BILLION YEARS.”
“Over a billion years?” Kaoné echoed skeptically as she eyed the Prior’s core. “…How could you possibly be that old?”
“AS MALEVOLENT AS MORCII IS, HE WAS CORRECT WHEN STATING THAT NOT EVERYTHING IN THIS UNIVERSE IS LINKED TO A PHYSICAL FORM,” Arcán responded. “MY CORE IS SIMPLY AN ANCHOR TO THIS REALM, A DEVICE THAT ALLOWS ME TO INTERACT WITH YOU AS I AM NOW. IT IS NOT MY ACTUAL BEING.”
“So you’re… what, some nebulous consciousness, then?” Kevérin questioned.
“FOR LACK OF A BETTER EXPLANATION, YES, YOU MAY THINK OF THE PRIORS AS SUCH.”
“I guess that’s why you’re so insistent that you aren’t an AI, then…”
“Hold it, hold it, hold it,” Davídrius quickly interjected, “…are you tryin’ to say that you just sprang into existence with the Ayas? That no one made you or anythin’? I call bullshit.”
“BIOLOGICAL LIFE DID MUCH THE SAME, DID IT NOT? ONE DAY, THERE WAS NO LIFE. THE NEXT DAY, THERE WAS.”
“…Well, yeah, but…”
“REGARDLESS, I DID NOT INTEND TO GIVE THAT IMPRESSION,” Arcán commented, allowing the holograms in his palms to disappear as he turned again to face the galaxy below. “WE PRIORS WERE INDEED CREATED LONG, LONG AGO, SHORTLY AFTER THE CREATION OF THE CHAOS ENERGY GENERATORS YOU KNOW AS THE CHAOS AYAS. BUT WE WERE NOT CREATED IN A VACUUM; OUR EXPLICIT PURPOSE, FROM CREATION UNTIL THE RECENT PAST, WAS TO STOP A THREAT TO THE UNIVERSE ITSELF, KNOWN AS ‘THE MENACE’.
“NO ONE IS COMPLETELY CERTAIN HOW THE MENACE CAME TO BE, BUT IT AROSE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CREATION OF THE AYAS, CAPITALIZING ON THEIR POWER AND THE ESSENCE OF CHAOS ENERGY ITSELF TO BEND THE VERY FABRIC OF REALITY TO ITS WILL, MORE SO THAN EVEN A REALITECHNIC COULD DREAM OF DOING. IN AN EFFORT TO STOP THE MENACE, THE CREATORS OF THE AYAS SACRIFICED THEIR ENTIRE RACE TO SCATTER THE AYAS ACROSS SPACE, THEREBY SEPARATING THEM FROM THE MENACE. THEN, WITH THEIR DYING BREATHS, THEY ESCALATED SEVERAL OF THEIR BRETHREN TO A SIMILAR LEVEL OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN ORDER TO PROVIDE GUIDANCE TO FUTURE RACES THAT MAY BE FORCED TO FIGHT THE MENACE. THIS IS THE ORIGIN OF THE PRIORS; THESE ARE THE FIRST MEMORIES THAT I POSSESS.”
“So… this ‘Menace’…” Kaoné spoke up, “…is that the Nanocreatures?”
“NO, BUT THE MENACE COULD BE SEEN AS THE NANOCREATURES’ PREDECESSOR. BEFORE THE NANOCREATURES, THE PRIORS ASSISTED MANY DIFFERENT RACES AND ERAS AS THEY FOUGHT OFF THE MENACE, ONLY FOR NEITHER SIDE TO REACH EITHER VICTORY OR DEFEAT. THE MENACE WAS NEVER ALLOWED TO SEIZE CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE AS IT DESIRED, YET WE WERE NEVER ABLE TO PUT A COMPLETE STOP TO ITS ACTIVITIES. HOWEVER, WE DID BEGIN TO LEARN. CHAOS ENERGY, AS POWERFUL AS IT IS, IS DIFFICULT TO CONCRETELY CONTROL; TO INCREASE THE AYAS’ EFFECTIVENESS, TO TRY AND PROVIDE THE GALAXY WITH WAYS TO COUNTER AND DEFEAT THE MENACE, WE PRIORS EVENTUALLY FOUND A WAY TO FOCUS THE AYAS’ POWER — BY CREATING WHAT YOU KNOW AS THE ORACULM. BY CREATING THE ORACULMIC PROPHECIES — ‘TEMPORAL GUIDELINES,’ SO TO SPEAK — WE WERE ABLE TO FOCUS THE AYAS’ POWER INTO KEY TIME PERIODS OR INDIVIDUALS, GRANTING ENOUGH POWER AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME AND PLACE TO COUNTER THE MENACE AND ITS REACH. AND INDEED, AFTER MANY, MANY FAILED ATTEMPTS, OUR PLANS FINALLY SUCCEEDED IN THE AGE IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO YOURS: THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS… AND OF THE MORIKAI.”
“The Morikai?” Kievkenalis echoed curiously, “the Prior Mystryth mentioned them when we talked to her months ago.”
“AND SHE TOLD YOU THAT THEY APPEARED IN THE MIDST OF WAR BETWEEN THE ALDREDAS AND THE DRAKKARS AND REDUCED BOTH EMPIRES TO RUBBLE, DID SHE NOT?”
“That sounds in line with what I remember…” Kevérin responded.
“WHAT SHE TOLD YOU IS TRUE, BUT IT IS ONLY A SMALL PART OF THE STORY. ORIGINALLY, THERE WAS NO NEED FOR THE MORIKAI; ONCE THE AYAS DETERMINED THAT THE MENACE WAS BOUND TO REAPPEAR DURING THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS, THEY DESIGNATED SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS AS ‘KEYS’ TO COMBAT ITS EVENTUAL APPEARANCE, AS THEY HAD DONE MULTIPLE TIMES BEFORE. BUT THE ALDREDAS WERE AN ARROGANT RACE, BLINDED TO THE ORACULM AND ITS WORDS BY THEIR MILLENNIA-LONG WAR WITH THE DRAKKARS. EVEN AFTER A SECOND DESIGNATION OF KEY INDIVIDUALS, THE ALDREDAS REFUSED TO SEEK OUT AND ELIMINATE THE MENACE, NOT BELIEVING IT TO BE A THREAT — ALL WHILE IT GATHERED POWER IN THE SHADOW OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE TWO GALACTIC EMPIRES. THUS THE AYAS TOOK ACTION ONCE MORE, THIS TIME IN A MUCH MORE DRASTIC FASHION: TAKING A SMALL SECT OF DRAKKARS AND A SMALL SECT OF ALDREDAS, THE AYAS MERGED THEM INTO THE ADVANCED RACE KNOWN AS THE MORIKAI.
“UNLIKE THE ALDREDAS, THE MORIKAI WERE SOLELY FOCUSED ON ELIMINATING THE MENACE FROM THE MOMENT OF THEIR CREATION. THEY READILY SOUGHT OUT HIDING PLACES FOR THE MENACE’S POWER AND SYSTEMATICALLY DESTROYED THEM, ALL WHILE SLOWLY LEARNING FROM THE PIECES THEY MANAGED TO SALVAGE. EVENTUALLY THEY SEIZED ON THE MENACE’S OWN POWER, CREATING THEIR OWN SERVANTS TO HELP THEM SEEK OUT AND DESTROY THE MENACE WITH ITS OWN ABILITIES.
“AT THIS POINT, THE MENACE HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO COME OUT OF HIDING AND ENGAGE THE MORIKAI IN ALL-OUT WAR. THE TWO FORCES BEGAN ENGAGING OPENLY, THEIR BATTLEFIELDS ROLLING INTO AND CLASHING WITH THE ALDREDAS AND THE DRAKKARS AS THE MORIKAI DISREGARDED EVERYTHING IN THEIR PATH FOR THE SAKE OF DEFEATING THE MENACE. BUT THE ALDREDAS AND THE DRAKKARS SAW NOTHING MORE THAN TWO ALIEN FACTIONS ENCROACHING ON THEIR TERRITORY; SO THEY ENGAGED THE MORIKAI AND THE MENACE IN BATTLE, LEADING THE GALAXY INTO A BRUTAL FOUR-WAY WAR THAT LASTED A DECADE.
“THE END OF THE WAR WAS MARKED BY THE MORIKAI’S ULTIMATE PLAN TO DEFEAT THE MENACE ONCE AND FOR ALL. USING THEIR SERVANTS TO DISTRACT THE ALDREDAS AND DRAKKARS, THE MORIKAI THEN BAITED THE MENACE INTO A SERIES OF BATTLES, THE FINAL OF WHICH INVOLVED THE LEADER OF THE MORIKAI ENLISTING THE ASSISTANCE OF THE PRIOR SYN TO ENGAGE THE MENACE DIRECTLY. AND INDEED, THE MENACE WAS DEFEATED, BUT AT GREAT COST: CONVINCED THAT THE MORIKAI WERE ACTING IN MALICE, THE ALDREDAS SENT THEIR KEYS AFTER THEM, DEFEATING AND SEALING AWAY THE MORIKAI WITH THE POWER OF THE AYAS MERE MOMENTS AFTER THE MENACE DISAPPEARED, BUT NOT BEFORE THE LEADER OF THE MORIKAI DECLARED A LASTING HATRED OF THE ALDREDAS AND ISSUED A FINAL COMMAND TO HIS SERVANTS… TO DEFEAT THE DESCENDANTS OF THE ALDREDAS AND FREE THE MORIKAI, ALLOWING THEM TO CONQUER THE VERY GALAXY THAT THEY ORIGINALLY SET OUT TO SAVE.”
“Let me guess,” Christeané interjected, “are these ‘servants’ of the Morikai the Nanocreatures?”
Arcán nodded once and reached out his hand, creating a hologram of a single Nanocreature bug in his palm. “THE NANOCREATURES WERE CREATED BY THE MORIKAI USING THE MENACE’S OWN TECHNOLOGY AND ABILITIES, ALLOWING MORCII AND HIS FORCES TO EASILY COMBAT AND DESTROY THE MORIKAI’S OPPONENTS. BUT THIS STRENGTH ALSO LENDS ITSELF A WEAKNESS: WE CAN DEFEAT MORCII USING THE SAME TECHNIQUE THAT THE MORIKAI USED AGAINST THE MENACE.”
“And that would be…?” Kevérin prompted impatiently.
“…THIS MAY TAKE SOME TIME TO EXPLAIN.” Arcán dropped his hands to his sides as the hologram of the Nanocreature disappeared. “AS YOU KNOW, CHAOTICS HAVE MANY DIFFERENT STATES OF POWER. THE OVERDRIVE STATE, THE BERSERK STATE, THE CHAOS STATE. BUT THERE IS ONE MORE STATE THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW OF, A STATE RIVALING THE POWER OF THE CHAOS STATE. AND THAT, IS WHAT IS KNOWN AS THE ‘PRIOR STATE.’”
“Rivaling the power of the Chaos State…?” Kievkenalis echoed, “…that’s… how does it work?”
“I assume it has something to do with the Priors?” Kevérin suggested.
Arcán nodded. “YOU ASSUME CORRECTLY. WHEREAS THE CHAOS STATE REQUIRES THE AYAS, THE PRIOR STATE REQUIRES A CONSENTING PRIOR. THE PRIOR AND THE CHAOTIC THEN JOIN TOGETHER, ALLOWING THE CHAOTIC TO TAP INTO THE PRIOR’S POWER TO RAISE THEMSELVES TO THE EQUIVALENT OF THE SECOND TIER CHAOS STATE, AS WELL AS GAINING ACCESS TO THE PRIOR’S RESPECTIVE AYAS WEAPON. HOWEVER, THIS IS ONLY THE BASE PRIOR STATE; IT CAN BE ELEVATED USING THE PRIOR’S RESPECTIVE AYAS, TO BOOST THE STATE TO THE EQUIVALENT OF THE FOURTH TIER CHAOS STATE.”
“That sounds all well and good,” Christeané commented, “but we’ve already proved that physical force won’t do anything against Morcii. So how’s this ‘Prior State’ supposed to change anything?”
“AS POWERFUL AS THE PRIOR STATE IS, ITS TRUE POWER LIES NOT IN BRUTE FORCE, BUT IN THE TECHNIQUE UNLOCKED BY GATHERING TOGETHER BOTH A PRIOR AND ITS AYAS. THIS TECHNIQUE IS KNOWN AS A ‘LINK DRIVE,’ AN OVERWHELMINGLY POWERFUL ATTACK WHOSE POWER LIES NOT IN ITS DESTRUCTIVE CAPABILITIES, BUT IN ITS POWER TO COMPLETELY DISSOCIATE A CONSCIOUSNESS FROM THIS REALM.”
“…What does that mean? ‘Dissociate a consciousness from this realm?’” Rebehka questioned, “how would that defeat Morcii?”
“IT WOULD REMOVE HIS MIND FROM THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT, THEREBY PREVENTING HIM FROM INFLUENCING THE PHYSICAL REALM IN ANY WAY. AND WITHOUT MORCII TO LEAD THEM, OR ANY OF THE AYAS TO BACK THEM, THE REST OF THE NANOCREATURES WILL RAPIDLY FADE AWAY INTO A MERE TOKEN FORCE THAT CAN BE EASILY DEFEATED BY THE FORCES OF YOUR GALAXY.”
“That sounds like exactly what we need,” Kevérin remarked, “…but it seems too easy. What’s the catch?”
“THE PRIOR STATE’S POWER IS UNPRECEDENTED. WHILE IT MAY ONLY OFFER THE PHYSICAL POWER BOOST OF A LOWER TIER CHAOS STATE, THE CHAOTIC MUST BE ABLE TO SURVIVE A MERGE WITH THE PRIOR’S MIND, ALBEIT TEMPORARILY. THE VAST MAJORITY OF CHAOTICS ARE NOT CAPABLE OF SUCH AND WOULD DIE FROM MENTAL STRAIN MERE MOMENTS AFTER ENGAGING THE PRIOR STATE; THIS IS PART OF WHY WE CREATED THE ROLES OF ‘KEYS,’ ALLOWING SOME INDIVIDUALS TO INTERFACE WITH THE PRIORS WITHOUT HARM AND WIELD OUR POWER AGAINST THE MENACE.”
“So, what, are we ‘Keys,’ then?”
“UNFORTUNATELY, NO. THE AYAS HAVE YET TO DESIGNATE ANY KEYS IN YOUR TIME.”
“Welp.” Davídrius threw his arms up in resignation. “Man, what a lotta help this is! Tellin’ us how to beat Morcii and then tellin’ us that we can’t do it!”
“Seriously, Arcán…” Kevérin responded irately, “is this your idea of a joke?”
“DO NOT PASS JUDGMENT JUST YET,” Arcán countered, “FOR I HAVE NOT YET COMPLETED MY EXPLANATION. WHILE IT MAY BE UP TO THE AYAS TO DESIGNATE KEYS IN ANY TIME PERIOD, THE PRIORS ARE NOT ENTIRELY HELPLESS AGAINST THE NANOCREATURES. WE MONITORED THE NANOCREATURES LEFT OVER FROM THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS, WATCHING THEM AS CLOSELY AS WE DID THE MENACE; WHEN IT BECAME EVIDENT THAT THE AYAS WOULD NOT ACT, FOR WHATEVER REASON, WE PRIORS TOOK ACTION ON OUR OWN, CAUSING WHAT YOU KNOW AS THE CHAOS ENERGY QUAKE.”
“Wait… what?” Kaoné responded slowly, “…you caused the Chaos Quake?”
“INDEED. THE QUAKE WAS INTENDED TO SLOW THE SPREAD OF THE NANOCREATURES; WE TIMED THE DISRUPTION OF CHAOS ENERGY JUST RIGHT TO INTERFERE WITH THE INITIAL GENERATION OF NANOCREATURES, THEREBY DELAYING MORCII’S APPEARANCE BY MANY YEARS. HOWEVER, THE QUAKE’S PURPOSE WAS TWO-FOLD; IT WAS ALSO INTENDED TO EXPOSE ALL CHAOTICS WHO POSSESSED COMPATIBILITY POTENTIAL FOR THE PRIOR STATE.”
“AS I SAID EARLIER, THE VAST MAJORITY OF CHAOTICS CANNOT SURVIVE THE PRIOR STATE ACTIVATION. FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD, THESE CHAOTICS ARE ‘ARTIFICIAL’ CHAOTICS, WHOSE POWER ONLY ARISES AS A SIDE EFFECT OF CHAOS ENERGY’S APPARENT OMNIPRESENCE. THESE ‘ARTIFICIAL’ CHAOTICS ARE THE RESULT OF BEING BORN INTO A CHAOS ENERGY-RICH ENVIRONMENT, WHEREAS A ‘TRUE’ CHAOTIC WILL MANIFEST THEIR POWERS REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THEIR BIRTH. THIS WAS THE PURPOSE OF THE CHAOS ENERGY QUAKE: TO CREATE A PERIOD OF TIME IN WHICH CHAOS ENERGY WAS INACCESSIBLE, DURING WHICH EVERY CHAOTIC THAT WAS BORN MUST BE A ‘TRUE’ CHAOTIC, AND THUS POTENTIALLY COMPATIBLE WITH THE PRIOR STATE.”
“Are you saying that the seven of us…” Rebehka glanced toward the rest of Hero Machina before turning back to Arcán, “…are… ‘true’ Chaotics?”
Arcán nodded. “INDEED. THOUGH I SHOULD NOTE THAT, FUNCTIONALLY, THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘ARTIFICIAL’ AND ‘TRUE’ CHAOTICS IS THEIR POTENTIAL FOR PRIOR STATE COMPATIBILITY. I SHOULD ALSO NOTE THAT, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, ‘TRUE’ CHAOTICS WILL STILL FAIL TO ACTIVATE THE PRIOR STATE WITHOUT PROPER PREPARATION… AND THIS IS WHERE YOUR FRIEND COMES IN.”
“Does this have to do with the corruption?”
“INDEED IT DOES. MORCII AND THE NANOCREATURES DERIVE THEIR TECHNOLOGY AND ABILITIES FROM THE MENACE, AND THE PRIORS AND THE MENACE ARE REMARKABLY SIMILAR ENTITIES. BY BEING EXPOSED TO NANOCREATURE CONTROL, YOUR FRIEND NOW POSSESSES A CLOSENESS TO THE PRIORS THAT IS OTHERWISE UNACHIEVABLE — A CLOSENESS THAT WILL ENABLE HER TO ACTIVATE THE PRIOR STATE AND FIGHT MORCII.”
“…Let me get this straight.” Kevérin furrowed his brow in frustration. “…You caused the Chaos Quake to single out Chaotics who might be able to beat Morcii, and then somehow banked on one of them getting corrupted and then overcoming the corruption so you could eventually join them and stop Morcii?”
“THAT IS ONE WAY TO VIEW IT, YES.”
“…Holy shit.” Davídrius shook his head in disbelief. “This is fuckin’ ridiculous.”
“It isn’t a sound plan, either,” Kevérin pointed out, “by your own words, the Prior State requires both the Prior and its Ayas to use this ‘Link Drive’, but the only Ayas we have is the Master Ayas. Morcii has the Arcán Ayas, so how are we supposed to do anything?”
“THEREIN LIES THE DANGER OF YOUR FINAL ENCOUNTER WITH MORCII,” Arcán acknowledged. “IN ORDER TO DEFEAT HIM, YOU WILL NEED TO BEAT THE AYAS OUT OF HIM. DOING SO WILL REQUIRE YOU BRING THE MASTER AYAS WITH YOU, AS IT IS YOUR ONLY HOPE TO MATCH HIS POWER… BUT IN SO DOING, YOU WILL BE BRINGING ALL OF THE AYAS TO ONE CENTRAL LOCATION. ONE WRONG MOVE AND MORCII WILL EASILY BE ABLE TO SEIZE THE AYAS AND FREE THE MORIKAI ON THE SPOT, AND IF THAT HAPPENS, THEN THE GALAXY IS DOOMED.”
“Can’t we just use the Link Drive against both Morcii and the Morikai, then?” Kievkenalis suggested.
“THAT WOULD BE A VIABLE POSSIBILITY IF NOT FOR IKIROM, THE COMMANDER OF THE MORIKAI. HE POSSESSES THE RAREST CHAOTIC ABILITY OF ALL: REALITECHNISM. CONTROL OVER REALITY ITSELF.”
“…Well that certainly raises the stakes,” Kevérin remarked.
“…Realitechnism is real,” Davídrius deadpanned. “…Wait one fuckin’ minute. If this guy’s a Realitechnic, then why didn’t he just wish away the Menace? How did the Aldredas manage to get the drop on him?”
“I’M SURE YOU HAVE REALIZED THAT THE NANOCREATURES POSSESS AN IMMUNITY TO DIRECT MANIPULATION,” Arcán responded. “THE MENACE WAS NO DIFFERENT. AND THE DESIGNATION OF ‘KEY’ GRANTS A SIMILAR IMMUNITY AS WELL. IN SHORT, IKIROM WAS DEFEATED THROUGH FOREORDINATION AND LUCK, LUCK THAT DOES NOT FAVOR THIS AGE NEARLY AS HEAVILY AS THE LAST.”
“Then why the hell are we facing Morcii now?” Christeané questioned, “going after him now isn’t even close to worth it if we run the risk of unleashing an evil reality manipulator on the galaxy!”
“UNFORTUNATELY, WE CANNOT AFFORD TO WAIT. MORCII DOES NOT POSSESS A LIFESPAN. HE WILL NEVER DIE, NOT BY HIS OWN ACCORD. HE IS FREE TO RAVAGE THE GALAXY AND SEARCH FOR THE MASTER AYAS ON HIS OWN TIME; HIDING IT MAY PREVENT THE RELEASE OF THE MORIKAI IN THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE, BUT IF THE GALAXY IS LOST IN THE PROCESS, THEN THE END RESULT IS THE SAME. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER CLOCK THAT IS TICKING AWAY AS WE SPEAK, AND PRESENTS A TIME LIMIT THAT FAST APPROACHES.”
“…Siyuakén…” Rebehka muttered.
“YES. YOUR FRIEND WILL NOT SURVIVE LONG UNDER HER OWN WILL. MY SUGGESTION TO UTILIZE THE PRIOR STATE IS AS MUCH A MEASURE TO DEFEAT MORCII AS IT IS TO SAVE YOUR FRIEND. IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO PREVENT HER MIND FROM FALLING BACK UNDER MORCII’S CONTROL, BUT THE MOMENT THE PRIOR STATE IS ENGAGED, MORCII WILL KNOW. HE WILL SEND HIS FORCES AFTER US, IMMEDIATELY. SO YOU ARE LEFT WITH A CHOICE: ALLOW YOUR FRIEND TO DIE OR REVERT BACK TO NANOCREATURE CONTROL, FOREVER LOSING YOUR CHANCE TO STOP MORCII… OR SAVE HER WITH THE PRIOR STATE AND BE FORCED INTO A FINAL CONFRONTATION WITH THE NANOCREATURES.”
Davídrius whistled. “One hell of a dilemma.”
“And I’m not really a fan of deciding this for her…” Rebehka muttered.
“On one hand, I agree…” Kevérin commented, “but on the other… this is the fate of the entire galaxy we’re talking about. Do we have the right to not go through with this?”
“Hold the moral debate for a second,” Christeané interjected as he glared at Arcán, “I… appreciate the history lesson, but you still haven’t answered my question. In fact, you’ve made even less sense — if you were planning to get involved from the very beginning, then why the hell didn’t you help us fight off the Nanocreatures? Why didn’t you just tell us what to do from the start?!”
“…It’s the same reason Archoné Culana refuses to explicitly tell anyone the contents of the Oraculm, isn’t it?” Kievkenalis questioned.
Arcán nodded once. “IT IS. DIRECT INTERVENTION HAS A WAY OF PRODUCING UNDESIRABLE RESULTS. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND; WHILE WE PRIORS ARE CAPABLE OF INTERACTION WITH THE PHYSICAL REALM, WE DO NOT POSSESS OUR OWN BODIES AND CANNOT USE OUR OWN LINK DRIVES WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE OF A CHAOTIC AND OUR AYAS. FURTHERMORE, AS I EXPLAINED EARLIER, THERE ARE NO KEYS IN YOUR TIME. IN ORDER TO DEFEAT MORCII, WE HAD TO ORCHESTRATE A SCENARIO IN WHICH A TRUE CHAOTIC WOULD BECOME CORRUPTED AND THEN OVERCOME THE CORRUPTION, THEREBY ALLOWING THEM TO USE THE PRIOR STATE. IF WE PRIORS WERE TO DIRECTLY INTERVENE IN THE CONFLICT, THEN MORCII WOULD EASILY RECOGNIZE OUR PLAN AND FOIL IT BY SIMPLY KILLING ANY TRUE CHAOTIC HE FINDS. IT IS… MOST UNFORTUNATE THAT SO MANY HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES, BUT THERE WAS NO ALTERNATIVE. THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY.”
Christeané crossed his arms, continuing to stare at Arcán for several moments until he finally looked away and sighed irately. “…I don’t like it,” he growled, “…but I suppose I can understand.”
“I’ve got a question, though,” Davídrius quickly interjected, “assumin’ we go through with this, I’m assumin’ we’re gonna have to attack the Nanocreature Homeworld or some shit, right? Well, wherever it is that Morcii’s holed up is bound to be crawlin’ with Nanocreatures. How the hell are we supposed to deal with that, huh?”
“Siyuakén was able to seize control of Nanocreatures back on Nimalia,” Rebehka pointed out.
“NO, HE RAISES AN IMPORTANT CONCERN,” Arcán commented, “YOUR FRIEND WAS ONLY ABLE TO DO AS MUCH SINCE MORCII POSSESSED NO AYAS AT THE TIME. HE HAS SINCE GATHERED THE OTHER AYAS AND WILL HOLD FAR MORE SWAY OVER HIS UNITS… HOWEVER, WE CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FACT THAT INDIVIDUAL NANOCREATURES WILL NOT ATTACK THAT WHICH IS ALREADY CORRUPTED. YOU SHOULD ONLY FEAR ATTACK FROM MORCII.”
“’Already corrupted’…?” Kevérin frowned warily. “What does that mean…?”
“TELL ME: AFTER YOUR FRIEND INTERRUPTED MORCII’S CONTROL OVER YOU, DID IT EVER OCCUR TO YOU TO RID YOURSELVES OF THE NANITES WITHIN YOUR BODIES?”
The six conscious members of Hero Machina glanced at each other, dumbfounded.
“EVEN THOUGH YOU HAD THE MASTER AYAS WITH YOU AND COULD HAVE EASILY ENTERED THE CHAOS STATE ONE-BY-ONE TO RID YOURSELVES OF THE CORRUPTION, YOU DID NOT. I’M SURE YOU NOW UNDERSTAND WHY.”
“We’re still corrupted…” Davídrius growled.
“INDEED, AND MORCII LEFT BEHIND MENTAL INHIBITORS TO PREVENT YOU FROM REALIZING YOUR SITUATION ON YOUR OWN AND RIDDING YOURSELVES OF THE CORRUPTION. BUT HOLD; DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE CORRUPTION JUST YET.” Arcán turned toward Kievkenalis and plucked the Master Ayas out of the Chaostechnic’s hands with a hard light hologram before he could engage the Chaos State. “YOUR CORRUPTION IS EFFECTIVELY INERT. YOUR FRIEND SEVERED YOUR CONNECTION TO MORCII ON NIMALIA, AND WHILE YOU REMAIN WITHIN THIS PLATFORM, I CAN EASILY PREVENT MORCII FROM SEIZING CONTROL. AND ONCE YOUR FRIEND ENGAGES THE PRIOR STATE, SHE AND I BOTH WILL EASILY BE ABLE TO SHIELD YOUR MINDS AND BODIES FROM MORCII’S CONTROL. THIS IS ONE SITUATION IN WHICH CORRUPTION WILL HELP YOU AND HINDER MORCII; HIS FORCES WILL NOT RECOGNIZE YOU AS AN ENEMY, ALLOWING YOU TO BYPASS THEM ENTIRELY. THIS IS A PLAN THAT, QUITE FRANKLY, WOULD NOT SUCCEED WERE NONE OF YOU CORRUPTED.”
“I don’t know whether to call this convenient or not…” Davídrius mused.
“It’s certainly surprising how it’s all seemed to work out,” Kevérin commented, “…and to think, we aren’t even dealing with the main threat, just the leftovers!”
“DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE MORCII OR THE MORIKAI,” Arcán quickly interjected. “THE ORIGINAL THREAT MAY BE GONE, BUT ONLY BECAUSE IT WAS DEFEATED BY THOSE YOU FACE TODAY. THE NANOCREATURES ARE A SIGNIFICANT THREAT IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, AS ARE THE MORIKAI.”
“And we’re the only ones who can stop them…” Kaoné muttered.
“That’s a lot of responsibility…” Kievkenalis commented uneasily.
“If only I’d known the shit we’d get up to when I joined,” Christeané remarked with a smirk, “I knew Hero Machina was the path to action. But this?…”
“I don’t like it…” Rebehka frowned. “…But if we were to explain all of this to Siyuakén… I’m sure she’d understand.”
“Goin’ by her big ol’ ‘fuck you!’ speech back on Nimalia, I’m sure she’d jump at the chance to kill Morcii herself,” Davídrius declared.
“I TAKE IT YOU ALL UNDERSTAND THE TASK BEFORE YOU, THEN?”
“…It’s funny, really,” Kevérin responded, “this mission seems as though there won’t be nearly as much destruction as there was during the Neticen operation… but the stakes are so much higher.”
“We’re going to kick Morcii’s ass all the same,” Christeané declared. “We actually know what we’re doing now. Morcii’s days are numbered!”
“GOOD.” Arcán nodded, a slight smile breaking the emotionless façade he had held since the creation of the hologram. “THEN IT IS SETTLED. IF YOU HAVE MORE QUESTIONS, THEN I CAN ANSWER THEM LATER, BUT FOR NOW YOU SHOULD REST. YOU ALL HAVE HAD A LONG DAY, AND WHEN YOUR FRIEND AWAKENS, THE END… WILL BEGIN!”