8 Hours Later
“I SEE YOU HAVE FINALLY AWAKENED, TRANSFER CAPTAIN.”
“Don’t patronize me…” Kevérin muttered, checking the readouts on his AR display as he explored the halls of the Platform. “There are bio-sensors literally littered all over the station, I’m sure you knew the moment I woke up an hour ago.”
“AH, SO YOU NOTICED THE SENSORS,” Arcán commented, manifesting as a hologram by Kevérin’s side.
“Whoa!” The Pyrotechnic jumped back, startled. “…You can make holograms anywhere?”
“I CAN. HOWEVER, WITHOUT ACCESS TO THE ARCÁN AYAS, SOLID HOLOGRAPHICS ARE LIMITED TO THE CORE ROOM AND OTHER SPECIAL ROOMS,” the Prior responded, falling into step next to Kevérin as he continued down the hallway.
“Damn. I was hoping you could conjure up a meal or something…”
“SUSTENANCE CONSTRUCTED OF HARD LIGHT IS IN NO WAY INGESTIBLE, BUT I CAN NONETHELESS PRODUCE A PROPER MEAL FOR YOU PROMPTLY.”
Kevérin glanced toward the Prior in surprise. “Really?”
“I DO NOT LIE,” Arcán responded. Kevérin narrowed his eyes in irritation, prompting the Prior to add, “…I ONLY OMIT TRUTHS.”
“You sure do,” the Transfer Captain retorted.
“I TAKE IT YOUR JOURNEY TO THE WASTE DISPOSAL SECTION IS AN EFFORT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PLATFORM?”
“Waste disposal—?” Kevérin stopped in his tracks again. “Wait, no… I thought… I thought there was an engineering room down here, or… something.”
“WHY DID YOU NOT ASK?” Arcán questioned as the environment around the two spontaneously changed, the clean hallway being replaced by a large, rectangular room with a circular console in the center.
“…Beaming. Of course,” the Pyrotechnic deadpanned as he approached the console. “Alright, what can I see here…”
“IF IT IS INFORMATION YOU DESIRE, THEN YOU NEED ONLY TO ASK.”
“Yeah, well… I didn’t want to bother you.”
“YOU OVERESTIMATE YOURSELF IF YOU BELIEVE YOURSELF CAPABLE OF ‘BOTHERING’ ME WHILE ON BOARD MY PLATFORM. HOLDING MULTIPLE CONVERSATIONS AT ONCE WHILE STILL PERFORMING THE REST OF MY TASKS AT OPTIMAL LEVELS IS A TRIVIAL MATTER.”
“Should’ve known.” Kevérin sighed as he took a seat on a nearby stool and turned to face Arcán’s hologram. “Alright, first of all, how’s Siyuakén? I take it she still hasn’t come to, since we’re all still here…”
“YOU ASSUME CORRECTLY. HOWEVER, I ESTIMATE THAT SHE WILL AWAKEN SOON.”
“Then we have time. First of all, I want to know about your tech level. What this Platform can do, what you can do, and I’d like something a little more specific than ‘oh I can take out a hundred thousand ships with the wave of my hand’.”
“OF COURSE I CANNOT TAKE OUT A HUNDRED THOUSAND SHIPS WITH THE WAVE OF MY HAND, FOR I DO NOT TRULY POSSESS HANDS.”
Kevérin gave the Prior an irritated stare.
“IT IS, NONETHELESS, AS SIMPLE A GESTURE,” Arcán continued, “THIS PLATFORM POSSESSES NO SINGULAR WEAPON THAT IS CAPABLE OF WIPING OUT ENTIRE FLEETS; IT SIMPLY UTILIZES CONVENTIONAL WEAPONRY. THE ADVANTAGE LIES IN MY COMPUTATIONAL POWER, IN THAT I AM CAPABLE OF PREDICTING THE ACTIONS OF MY ADVERSARIES DOWN TO THE NANOSECOND, AND THEIR LOCATIONS DOWN TO THE NANOMETER, SUCH THAT I CAN EXPLOIT CONVENTIONAL WEAPONRY AS OPTIMALLY AS POSSIBLE.”
“…What do you define as ‘conventional weaponry’? Most weapons I know of are imprecise enough that knowing that kind of information is useless.”
“LASER AND MAGNETIC WEAPONRY, SUCH AS YOUR RAILGUNS. WEAPONS THAT MANIPULATE GRAVITY FIELDS ARE ALSO COMMON, AS WELL AS WEAPONS SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU KNOW AS ‘DRIVE BOMBS.’”
“I’m not sure if I’d consider Drive Bombs or gravity manipulation to be conventional…”
“YOUR SHIPS POSSESS GRAVITY MANIPULATION TECHNOLOGY IN THE FORM OF ‘ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY,’ DO THEY NOT?”
“Well, yes, but weaponizing it is a lot harder. You have to be incredibly precise in when you turn the field on or off, in which direction it’s going, what area of space it’s influencing… why am I telling you? You know what I’m talking about. But is that really it, then? You just have tons of powerful weaponry, and that’s how you win?”
“NOT ENTIRELY. I MENTIONED MY ECM SUITES EARLIER, DID I NOT? SEIZING CONTROL OF THE SYSTEMS OF ADVERSARIAL SHIPS IS A TRIVIAL TASK, UPON WHICH I CAN PUT THEM TO MY OWN USE. THE PLATFORM’S BEAMING SYSTEMS CAN ALSO BE UTILIZED IN AN OFFENSIVE NATURE, DUE TO MY ABILITY TO TRACK OPPOSING SHIPS WITH SUCH HIGH ACCURACY AND PRECISION. BYPASSING SHIELDS BY BEAMING A BOMB TO A SPECIFIC POINT IN SPACE, OR BY REMOVING A SHIP’S SHIELD GENERATOR OR WEAPONS SYSTEM, CAN BE EVEN MORE EFFECTIVE THAN SIMPLY FIRING ON THEM. AND THIS PLATFORM POSSESSES ENOUGH BEAMING SUITES TO TAKE OUT THOUSANDS OF SHIPS PER FRACTION OF A SECOND. THEORETICALLY, I COULD REMOVE THE PROPULSION AND WEAPON SYSTEMS OF FIFTY THOUSAND SHIPS WITHIN A SINGLE SECOND, MAYBE TWO. I COULD EVEN BEAM AWAY INCOMING PROJECTILES.”
“I SAY THIS BECAUSE I HAVE NEVER BEEN ENGAGED IN BATTLE. PLATFORMS HAVE ONLY BEEN ENGAGED A HANDFUL OF TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF HISTORY, AND MOST OF THOSE BATTLES OCCURRED AT THE SYN PLATFORM.”
“Wait, actual battles happened? What happened to wiping out entire fleets in seconds?”
“I USE THE TERM GENEROUSLY. A PLATFORM IS POWERFUL ENOUGH ON ITS OWN, ASSUMING ITS PRIOR IS PRESENT, BUT WHEN COUPLED WITH ITS AYAS IT BECOMES TRULY FEARSOME. POSSESSING AN AYAS ENABLES A PLATFORM’S REMOTE INSTANTANEOUS TRANSPORTATION SUITE, ALLOWING IT TO INSTANTANEOUSLY TRANSFER ENTIRE FLEETS TO ANOTHER REGION OF SPACE. MOST SMALL-SCALE ENGAGEMENTS WITH A PLATFORM THAT IS EQUIPPED WITH BOTH AN AYAS AND ITS PRIOR END IN THE ATTACKERS BEING TRANSPORTED TO THE EVENT HORIZON OF A NEARBY BLACK HOLE.”
“…What the fuck happened to having ‘no singular weapon that could wipe out entire fleets?’”
“I APOLOGIZE, I WAS SPEAKING IN TERMS OF MY OWN RACE. BEFORE IT FELL TO THE MENACE, WE FIELDED FLEETS MILLIONS OF SHIPS STRONG. THE FINAL BATTLE AGAINST THE MENACE — IN THAT CYCLE, AT LEAST — FEATURED OVER A HUNDRED MILLION SHIPS IN A SINGLE SYSTEM.”
“EVEN THE ALDREDAS AND OLD DRAKKARS OFTEN FIELDED FLEETS WITH MULTIPLE HUNDRED THOUSAND SHIPS. YOUR ERA MAY HAVE THE SMALLEST FLEETS I HAVE EVER SEEN.”
“…I want to say that numbers aren’t everything,” Kevérin responded warily, “…but I get the feeling that any one of your ships could probably take down several of ours with ease.”
“IT IS TRUE THAT YOU STILL HAVE ANOTHER THOUSAND YEARS, AT LEAST, BEFORE YOU CAN BEGIN TO REACH THE TECHNOLOGY LEVELS OF THE ANCIENT ALMITAS. HOWEVER, I WOULD NOT SELL YOURSELF SO SHORT; I ESTIMATE A FULL CSA FLEET COULD TAKE OUT AN ALMITAS SCOUT FORCE. PERHAPS EVEN A CRUISER SQUADRON. WITH LUCK ON YOUR SIDE, OF COURSE.”
“…Right.” The Pyrotechnic rolled his eyes. “…Who’re the Almitas? Wait, what do you mean by ‘Old Drakkars?’”
“THE OLD DRAKKARS ARE THE ORIGINAL FORM OF THE DRAKKARS, THE CIVILIZATION THAT CAME TO POWER IN THE CYCLE BEFORE THE ALDREDAS. THEY SOMEHOW SURVIVED THEIR FINAL BATTLE WITH THE MENACE AND LIVED ON IN THEIR CURRENT FORM TO ANTAGONIZE THE ALDREDAS. THE ALMITAS, HOWEVER, ARE A MUCH OLDER CIVILIZATION. THEY ARE THE ORIGINATORS OF THE PRIORS, THE AYAS, AND THE MENACE. THEY BEGAN THE CYCLE OF CONFLICT AND DESTRUCTION THAT IS PERPETUATED BY THE MENACE, ALBEIT UNINTENTIONALLY.”
“Right, the cycle, I wanted to ask about that too. …Uh, what exactly is this ‘cycle’…?”
“IT IS EXACTLY AS IT SOUNDS. CIVILIZATIONS RISE TO POWER, ENCOUNTER THE MENACE, AND FALL AFTER PREVENTING THE MENACE FROM GAINING CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE. UNTIL THE MORIKAI, THIS WAS UNAVOIDABLE; EVERY CIVILIZATION THAT EVER CAME INTO CONTACT WITH THE MENACE MANAGED TO STOP IT, BUT AT SUCH MASSIVE COSTS THAT THEIR CIVILIZATION FELL APART. EVEN THE MORIKAI DID NOT SURVIVE, AND INSTEAD PERPETUATED THE CYCLE BY CREATING THEIR OWN VERSION OF THE MENACE.”
“Not a single race won…?”
“IF THERE EXISTED A CIVILIZATION THAT OBTAINED TRUE VICTORY AGAINST THE MENACE, THEN YOU WOULD NOT FEEL ITS EFFECTS IN THE CURRENT AGE. THE MENACE ITSELF MAY HAVE BEEN DEFEATED IN THE PREVIOUS CYCLE, BUT THAT ITS WILL IS CARRIED ON IN THE MORIKAI AND THE NANOCREATURES IS EVIDENCE THAT NO ONE HAS EVER TRULY DEFEATED IT.”
“Then… how many cycles have there been…?”
“MORE THAN YOU WISH TO KNOW.”
“…Shit.” Kevérin held a weary hand to his forehead as he attempted to grasp the Prior’s claims. “…How have we never heard of any of this? How could we not see the remnants of any of these older civilizations?”
“PHYSICAL DECAY. WE PRIORS MAY BE EVERLASTING, AND OUR PLATFORMS SELF-MAINTAINING, BUT BIOLOGICAL BEINGS ARE FINITE. ONCE THE CIVILIZATION DIES, NOTHING REMAINS TO TEND TO THEIR STRUCTURES OR THEIR TECHNOLOGY. SELF-SUSTAINING SYSTEMS MAY BE ABLE TO SURVIVE, BUT THEY, TOO, WILL EVENTUALLY SUCCUMB TO DECAY AS THEY RUN OUT OF MATERIALS OR FUEL, OR SIMPLY BREAK. EVEN THE ALDREDAS HAVE VIRTUALLY DISAPPEARED FROM THIS AGE; THE ONLY REMNANTS OF THEM YOU CAN FIND ARE DERELICT SPACE STATIONS, PRESERVED BY THE VACUUM OF SPACE; OR SUBTERRANEAN SELF-SUSTAINING COMPLEXES THAT ARE BARELY FUNCTIONING OFF OF GEOTHERMAL ENERGY. AND THE CYCLE BEFORE THEM WAS THE AGE OF THE DRAKKARS, WHO YOU ALREADY KNOW. ANY CIVILIZATIONS BEFORE THEM WOULD HAVE TO HAVE BUILT STRUCTURES CAPABLE OF LASTING MILLIONS OF YEARS, WHICH I’M SURE YOU REALIZE IS NO TRIVIAL FEAT.”
“I don’t buy that. You said the Platforms are self-maintaining, why couldn’t an older race have built something similar? What makes the Platforms so special?”
“I DO NOT MEAN TO USE SELF-MAINTAINING IN THAT EACH PLATFORM, INDIVIDUALLY, CAN LAST ON ITS OWN. THE PLATFORMS HAVE THE ADVANTAGE OF OPERATING ON CHAOS ENERGY, WHICH ENABLES THEM TO LAST FAR LONGER THAN ANY OTHER STRUCTURE WITHOUT RUNNING OUT OF ENERGY. FURTHERMORE, WE PRIORS CAN TRACE OUR ORIGINS TO THE RACE THAT CREATED THE VERY CHAOS AYAS — SO, NATURALLY, OUR TECHNOLOGY CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CHAOS ENERGY TO A FAR GREATER DEGREE THAN ANY OTHER. HOWEVER, EACH PLATFORM STILL RELIES ON THE SYN PLATFORM TO PRODUCE ESSENTIAL REPLACEMENT PARTS — AND THE SYN PLATFORM RELIES ON THE BLACK HOLE IT ORBITS AS A SOURCE FOR SUCH MATTER. THE PLATFORMS ARE SELF-MAINTAINING ONLY BECAUSE THE RESOURCES WE RELY ON ARE, PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, INFINITE.”
“Wait wait wait— black hole? The Syn Platform orbits a black hole? I mean, I can understand that, but— it can somehow harvest matter from this black hole? What?”
“CHAOS ENERGY IS NOT TO BE UNDERESTIMATED.”
“Holy fucking shit. If the Platforms are so damned advanced and impenetrable then why don’t you just keep the Ayas on the Platforms? Surely you’d be able to keep them out of the hands of this ‘Menace’ then!”
“FIRST OF ALL, I SHOULD NOTE THAT PLATFORMS ARE NOT COMPLETELY IMPENETRABLE. PLATFORM DESTRUCTION HAS OCCURRED A HANDFUL OF TIMES DUE TO EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“IT IS ALSO NOT THE REASON WE PRIORS REFUSE TO KEEP THE AYAS UNDER LOCK AND KEY. YOU SEE, WE PRIORS ARE INCAPABLE OF DESTROYING ONE OF OUR OWN KIND. IN A WAY, WE CAN BE VIEWED AS BEINGS OF CHAOS ENERGY; WE EXIST ONLY BECAUSE CHAOS ENERGY EXISTS, AND WITHOUT IT, WE WILL DIE. BUT, WHILE CHAOS ENERGY CAN BE ‘NEGATED’ IN A LOCAL AREA, OR MAY FAIL TO BE PRESENT ALTOGETHER — SUCH AS WITH DEAD SPACE — AS LONG AS THE AYAS EXIST, SO TOO WILL CHAOS ENERGY — AND SO TOO WILL THE PRIORS. AND AS THE AYAS THEMSELVES ARE COMPLETELY INDESTRUCTIBLE, THERE EXISTS NO WAY TO REMOVE CHAOS ENERGY FROM THE UNIVERSE. THUS, WE NEED AN OUTSIDE FORCE IN ORDER TO DESTROY THE MENACE — WE NEED CHAOTICS, BEINGS WHO ARE CAPABLE OF INTERFACING WITH CHAOS ENERGY, BUT WHO ARE NOT DEPENDENT ON IT AND CAN LIVE OUT THEIR LIVES WITHOUT IT. ADDITIONALLY, IN ORDER TO HAVE A FIGHTING CHANCE AGAINST THE MENACE IN THE FIRST PLACE, WE NEED THE GALAXY TO BE AS FAMILIAR WITH THE WORKINGS OF CHAOS ENERGY AS POSSIBLE, AND WE NEED THEM TO BE AS FAMILIAR WITH THE CHAOS AYAS THEMSELVES AS POSSIBLE, SO THAT WHEN THE MENACE FINALLY RISES AGAIN, IT CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY COUNTERED. IT IS TRUE, KEEPING THE AYAS LOCKED UP ON THE PLATFORMS WOULD PREVENT THE MENACE — OR ANY OTHER ENTITY — FROM GATHERING THEM ALL AND ACHIEVING THE EQUIVALENT OF GODHOOD. BUT IT WILL ALSO MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE GALAXY TO FIGHT OFF THE MENACE, AND IF THE GALAXY IS DESTROYED OR CONQUERED, THEN THE END RESULT IS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME.”
“…This is ridiculous…” Kevérin muttered, “when the Commander told me to form a squad to investigate the Chaos Quake… I never thought I’d end up dealing with cosmic conflicts and all of this nonsense!”
“THE INFORMATION I HAVE JUST RELATED TO YOU IS DIFFICULT TO COMPREHEND, I REALIZE THIS. BUT EVERY WORD OF IT IS TRUE, AND YOU WOULD DO WELL TO REMEMBER IT.”
The Pyrotechnic sighed wearily. “…I can’t wait to get this done with and return to normal life. Maybe I can retire. I’ve already seen more shit than most Chaotics, I’m sure…”
“DO NOT DISMISS THE NANOCREATURES JUST YET. MORCII MAY NOT BE THE MENACE ITSELF, BUT HE IS OF SIMILAR DANGER.”
“Alright, I have one more question then: based on everything you’ve said, all of the races that came before us were crazy advanced. So why aren’t the Nanocreatures similarly advanced? What’s to stop Morcii from beating us by just beaming us into the core of a star or something?”
“THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE PLATFORMS IS UNIQUE TO THE PLATFORMS ALONE, AND CAN ONLY EXIST THANKS TO THE AYAS. WE PRIORS ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO POSSESS THIS TECHNOLOGY, AND IT CANNOT BE REVERSE-ENGINEERED UNLESS WE ALLOW IT, AS DOING SO WOULD REQUIRE ACCESS TO THE PLATFORM ITSELF. BUT TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION DIRECTLY, MY PRESENCE, COMBINED WITH YOUR CORRUPTION, WILL ENABLE YOU TO BYPASS THE MAJORITY OF MORCII’S TECHNIQUES. HE WILL BE FORCED TO ENGAGE YOU DIRECTLY.”
“…I guess all I can do is trust you on that…”
“DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE QUESTIONS?”
Kevérin sighed again as he stood up from the stool. “…Not for now,” he eventually responded, “it’ll take a while to process everything. It’s, uh… a lot.”
“VERY WELL.” Arcán bowed his head as the scenery transitioned back to the hallway Kevérin had originally been investigating. “IF YOU THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE, YOU NEED MERELY TO CALL FOR MY ATTENTION.”
“Sure…” the Pyrotechnic muttered as the Prior’s hologram disappeared in a blue fuzz. “…Wait, what happened to my meal…?”
“Finally got your ass outta bed, huh?”
“Shut up,” Christeané grumbled, trudging across the living room-like space to stare into a mirror with half-lidded eyes as Davídrius watched in amusement.
“Didn’t sleep well?”
“No…” the Forcetechnic responded, glaring at his tired face in the mirror before looking down and searching the wall. “Uh, how do I do that… that thing that Arcán said? The insta-cleanup thing.”
“Button on the left.”
“You really didn’t sleep that well, huh?”
“Shut up,” Christeané retorted again as he pressed the button to the left of the mirror. A bright flash of light followed; immediately afterward, Christeané glanced down to find himself perfectly cleaned up, as if he had taken a shower, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and cleaned his clothes, all in under a second.
“Prior tech is pretty useful, ain’t it?” Davídrius remarked, kicking a chair out from under the table across from him as Christeané turned and approached.
The Forcetechnic grabbed the chair and took a seat, resting his elbows on the tabletop as he rubbed his eyes wearily. “How’re you so awake?” he questioned a moment later, “it’s only been… what, eight hours?”
“With tech that allows you to be ready to go at literally the press of a button, I’d say that’s pretty reasonable.” Davídrius shrugged. “What, eight hours of sleep ain’t good enough for you?”
“Not after I’ve been awake for almost twenty-four hours, four or five of which was spent constantly fighting or on the move.”
“Eh… I guess I kinda got used to that shit back in Treséd.”
“It’s not just that, either,” Christeané added. “We’re about to take on Morcii in his own home, you know. And we run the risk of letting loose a Realitechnic! A Realitechnic that hates our guts! Doesn’t that make you nervous?”
“How’s this different from the Neticen op?”
“That was straight-forward. Just take the Ayas and beat the ever-living shit out of Morcii. Now beating stuff up, I can do. In fact, as a Forcetechnic, it’s what I do best. But now we have to do all this meticulous shit and be careful we don’t accidentally release the Morikai in the process. I’ve never been a fan of subtlety…”
“Uh… meticu… meticulous? What’s that mean?”
Christeané stared at Davídrius with a mixture of incredulity and amazement. “What? ‘Meticulous?’ It means, like… being really careful and paying attention to all the details.” The Forcetechnic smirked. “Heh, this is the first time I’ve seen you have a hard time with a word.”
“Well it’s a stupid word,” Davídrius countered defensively. “I’ve never had a reason to use it, and no one back in Treséd ever used it, ‘cause ‘attention to detail’ ain’t all that important. …Doesn’t help that the education is shitty.”
“Could’ve fooled me. You usually seem like you know what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshittin’ is a valuable skill in Treséd, ‘specially as a Guardian. Wouldn’t’ve made it through some situations without it.”
“Has it helped you since?”
“…Not really. Seems like most non-Tresédians I’ve run into know their way around bullshit.”
“Ha!” Christeané snorted. “ That’s not even close to true. You just have to come up with a different kind of bullshit. I find the sweet-talking variety can work wonders.”
“Bah…” Davídrius grunted irately. “…’Course. Wish Treséd was nice enough for that to work. Fuckin’ desert shithole…”
Christeané frowned and leaned back in his chair. “Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did.”
Davídrius flashed a self-amused grin at Christeané, who simply responded with an unamused stare.
“What’s up with the scarf?” the Forcetechnic eventually continued, gesturing toward the tan cloth wrapped around Davídrius’s neck that draped down behind his back. “Every single time I see you, you’re wearing it. Even with Chaos Armor. It’s from Treséd, right? So if you hate Treséd so much, why keep the scarf?”
“Hey, just ‘cause I hate the place doesn’t mean I can’t like people within the place, alright?”
“So it’s from someone you knew?”
“Yeah…” Davídrius responded wistfully, glancing downward as he tugged at the scarf around his neck. “…A friend gave it to me a long time ago. She was one of my only friends, actually…”
“’She’?” Christeané echoed cheekily, “ever go further than just ‘friends’?”
“Never got the chance. I was forced to kill her after a Bleeder Psychotechnic took control of her mind.”
“Yeah,” Davídrius snorted. “No one sees that one comin’.”
“Uh…” Christeané rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. “…Sorry about asking.”
“Meh. You couldn’t’ve known.”
A moment of uncomfortable silence passed.
“You know what’s really fucked up, though?”
Christeané glanced at Davídrius warily. “What…?”
“We’re about to go save the entire damn galaxy,” Davídrius declared, “…and ain’t no one’s gonna know that we’re the ones who did it!”
Christeané responded by staring at Davídrius incredulously.
“I mean, how’s anyone supposed to know?” Davídrius continued, “we only know ‘bout this Ikirom guy and the Morikai ‘cause Arcán told us. Random people out in the galaxy won’t know that shit, and probably wouldn’t believe it, either! I wouldn’t’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen first-hand all the shit that’s gone down over the past half year. All the rest of the galaxy cares about are the Nanocreatures, and sure, if we beat Morcii they’ll all disappear or somethin’, but who’s to say we’re the ones who did it?”
“Shit… you’re right.”
“’Course I’m right. You just watch, when this is all over and we get back to Nimalia, we’ll all be slapped with court martials or some shit for usin’ the Gate without permission. Ain’t no one gonna ‘preciate what we’re doin’ here.”
“There has to be some way to prove it… right?” Christeané frowned. “…Shit, we don’t even have our Armor, so we can’t submit action data, or recordings…”
Davídrius scowled. “Man, this sucks. …I mean, it’s not like I won’t help save the galaxy an’ all, but… a little credit would be nice.”
“It’s a valid concern, actually,” Christeané pointed out, “and I’m not talking about credit, I’m talking about confirmation that we killed Morcii. We’ll know it, but the rest of the galaxy will probably expect him to just pop up again. It’ll be a while before everything settles down…”
Davídrius sighed irately as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table. “…Meh.” He shrugged. “Guess it can’t be helped.”
“Yeah…” Christeané muttered in response, “guess not…”
“WELCOME TO THE AYAS CORE.”
“Is every room a ‘core’ for something?” Kaoné questioned as she and Kievkenalis stepped through the entrance to the room housing the Master Ayas.
“NOT EVERY ROOM,” Arcán refuted, appearing as a hologram beside the two Chaotics. “BUT I WILL ADMIT, MANY OF THE IMPORTANT ROOMS ARE. I BELIEVE IT TO BE A REASONABLE NAMING SCHEME.”
“…So this is where you took it,” Kievkenalis muttered as he stepped forward to approach the center of the room. A wide, transparent cylinder extended from the ceiling through the floor, blocking the two Chaotics from the Master Ayas as it sat suspended in the air in the middle of the cylinder. “I wondered what you did with the Ayas after you took it from me…”
“INDEED. IT IS NOT THE ARCÁN AYAS, SO MANY OF THE PLATFORM’S SYSTEMS REMAIN OFFLINE OR OTHERWISE INACCESSIBLE, BUT THE SYN AYAS WILL AT LEAST ALLOW ME TO INSTANTANEOUSLY TRANSPORT YOU TO MORCII’S LOCATION.”
“…I still don’t understand everything about the Priors and this Platform and… anything, really.” Kaoné shook her head warily. “It’s all just so… confusing.”
“DO YOU AT LEAST UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REQUIRED OF YOU TO DEFEAT MORCII? IF YOU UNDERSTAND THAT, THEN ALL ELSE IS TERTIARY.”
“But it’s not even us who have to fight him,” Kaoné countered, “Siyuakén’s the one who has to take him out, right? So there isn’t really anything for us to do…”
“THAT IS INCORRECT,” Arcán refuted, “IN FACT, THE TWO OF YOU MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT MISSION PARTICIPANTS, AFTER YOUR FRIEND.”
Kievkenalis finally tore his attention away from the Ayas to give Arcán a confused stare. “How?” he questioned with a frown, “even if I was at my peak… what could I do that anyone else can’t?”
“YOU UNDERESTIMATE YOURSELF. GIVEN MORCII’S CURRENT LOCATION, A CHAOS CONDUIT SUCH AS YOURSELF IS EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED.”
“What? But… I’m not a Chaos Conduit…”
“HOW DO YOU KNOW? HAVE YOU ATTEMPTED TO USE THE TRUE CHAOSTECHNIC ABILITY?”
“…Is he right?” Kaoné eventually questioned, glancing toward Kievkenalis for confirmation.
“I… guess,” the Chaostechnic responded warily, “…Chaos… Time?”
To Kievkenalis’s surprise, the environment around him instantly froze — furthermore, the use of Chaos Energy caused him no pain. He glanced between Kaoné and Arcán’s hologram, both as still as statues, before shaking his head vigorously to clear his mind. “…I can’t believe it…” he muttered, and then followed with “Chaos Time…”
“SURELY YOU UNDERSTAND NOW,” Arcán commented, able to move once again.
“…But I don’t.” The Chaostechnic furrowed his brow in confusion. “…How could I be a Chaos Conduit? Those are supposed to be the rarest kind of Chaotic, second only to Realitechnism. And I mean, yeah, I’ve been gaining access to Chaostechnic types I didn’t have before a year ago, but…”
Arcán shook his head slowly. “YOU MISUNDERSTAND THE TITLE AND ABILITIES OF CHAOS CONDUITS. ’CHAOS CONDUIT’ IS NOT A DEFINITIVE FORM OF CHAOSTECHNISM. IT IS INCORRECT TO SAY THAT AN INDIVIDUAL IS A CHAOS CONDUIT IN THE SAME SENSE THAT YOU SAY THAT AN INDIVIDUAL IS A PYROTECHNIC, OR A GEOTECHNIC. ‘CHAOS CONDUIT’ IS WHAT YOU BECOME, THROUGH USE OF YOUR ABILITIES AND EXPOSURE TO THE CHAOS AYAS. YOU, A TRUE CHAOTIC AND A CHAOSTECHNIC, WHO HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO MANY OF THE AYAS, TWO PRIORS, AND THE NANOCREATURES, ALL WITHIN THE SPAN OF MERE MONTHS, ARE ACTUALLY THE CLOSEST A CHAOSTECHNIC HAS EVER COME TO BECOMING A CHAOS CONDUIT SINCE THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS. AND WHEN YOU FINALLY UNLOCKED YOUR FINAL TYPE DURING YOUR ENGAGEMENT WITH MORCII ON YOUR HOMEWORLD, YOU ACHIEVED THE TITLE OF CHAOS CONDUIT. YOU ARE A CHAOS CONDUIT.”
Kievkenalis stared at Arcán, dumbfounded, only breaking out of his stupor when Kaoné placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Kevken…?” She looked him in the eyes, her own expression one of worry. “Are you okay?”
“I… don’t know,” he responded uneasily, “if I’m a Chaos Conduit… …what good would that do? I still have CSD. I’m still going to die soon if I continue to use my abilities — no, even if I stop now, it’s too late. So what good is the title, then?”
“IT IS TRUE THAT DEVELOPING INTO A CHAOS CONDUIT INCREASES THE RATE OF ONSET OF WHAT YOU KNOW AS ‘CHAOTIC SELF-DESTRUCTION’, BUT ACHIEVING THE TITLE ITSELF COUNTERACTS ALL SUCH PROGRESS. CHAOS CONDUITS ARE THE MOST RESISTANT TO CHAOS ENERGY’S NEGATIVE INFLUENCES OF ANY CHAOTIC, INCLUDING REALITECHNICS. SURELY, YOU NOTICED A DISTINCT LACK OF PAIN WHEN YOU USED CHAOS TIME A MOMENT AGO. YOUR CSD HAS BECOME A NON-ISSUE.”
Kievkenalis glanced down at his gloved hands; a moment later, he removed the glove on his left hand, only to see that the scars and blisters were still present.
“…I SHOULD SAY, YOU ARE NO LONGER IN DANGER OF DYING FROM CSD,” Arcán amended. “THE SCARRING, UNFORTUNATELY, WILL REMAIN.”
“So… he’s not going to die?” Kaoné’s expression of worry slowly transformed into a grin as she turned back to Kievkenalis. “Yay! Congratulations!”
“Uh… thanks?…” the Chaostechnic responded uneasily, still taken aback by the Prior’s revelation.
“MIND, I DID NOT ELECT TO MAKE YOU AWARE OF THIS OUT OF THE KINDNESS OF MY HEART. ENSURING THAT YOU FULLY UNDERSTAND YOUR NEW TITLE IS CRUCIAL TO THE SUCCESS OF YOUR MISSION AGAINST MORCII, AS YOU WILL NO DOUBT REQUIRE ALL OF THE NEW ABILITIES THAT BEING A CHAOS CONDUIT GRANTS YOU.”
“’All?’ There’s more than just Time?”
“I SPEAK IN A GENERAL SENSE. AS A CHAOS CONDUIT, YOU NOW POSSESS SUCH A STRONG RESISTANCE TO CHAOS ENERGY THAT, EFFECTIVELY, YOU CAN NO LONGER GO BERSERK. HOWEVER, WHAT THIS MEANS IS THAT YOU MUST WATCH THE REST OF YOUR FELLOW CHAOTICS WHO ARE NOT QUITE SO FORTUNATE, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE PLANET YOU ARE ABOUT TO TRAVEL TO.”
“What planet is that…?” Kaoné questioned uneasily.
“THE ALDREDAS KNEW IT AS ELECAL. IT WAS THE LOCATION OF THE FINAL BATTLE IN THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS, WHERE IKIROM DEFEATED THE MENACE — AND WHERE THE ALDREDAS KEYS SEALED AWAY THE MORIKAI WITH THE POWER OF THE AYAS. MORCII IS NO DOUBT PRESENT THERE, AS IT IS THE ONLY LOCATION IN WHICH THE SEAL CAN BE UNDONE.”
“Alright… what’s so special about this planet, then?”
“ELECAL WAS NOT CHOSEN BY THE MORIKAI AS THE FINAL BATTLEGROUND FOR NO REASON. IT WAS CHOSEN BECAUSE OF THE SYSTEM’S INCREDIBLY HIGH DENSITY OF CHAOS ENERGY — SO MUCH SO THAT CHAOS ENERGY HAS, SHALL WE SAY, ‘CONDENSED’ ONTO PHYSICAL BODIES IN THE SYSTEM, CREATING WHAT IS KNOWN AS CHAOS MATTER.”
“I’ve heard of Chaos Matter before,” Kievkenalis commented, “…but it’s supposed to be incredibly rare and extremely unstable. Are you saying there’s an entire system of it?”
Arcán nodded. “INDEED. WHICH IS WHY YOUR RESISTANCE TO CHAOS ENERGY IS SO IMPORTANT. BY MERELY STEPPING FOOT ONTO ELECAL, ALL CHAOTICS BEGIN TO FEEL THE PRESSURE OF THE CHAOS ENERGY AROUND THEM — ENOUGH SO TO GO BERSERK, EVEN BY SIMPLY STANDING IN PLACE. YOUR FRIEND, SIYUAKÉN, WILL BE PROTECTED DUE TO THE PRIOR STATE, BUT THE REST OF YOUR SQUAD WILL NOT BE QUITE SO FORTUNATE. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ENSURE THAT NONE OF THEM GO BERSERK, AND IF THEY DO, IT IS UP TO YOU TO CONTAIN THEM, BECAUSE THE BERSERK STATE WILL NOT WEAR OFF NATURALLY ON ELECAL AS IT DOES ELSEWHERE. ONLY ACTIVE INTERVENTION CAN STOP IT.”
Kaoné frowned. “You should’ve told us that sooner!”
“I DID NOT BELIEVE IT TO BE IMMEDIATELY RELEVANT.”
“You didn’t think that the fact that the very environment would drive us berserk would be relevant?!”
“IT IS AS MUCH OF A POSITIVE AS IT IS A NEGATIVE,” Arcán countered. “CHAOS MATTER MAY HAVE INCREDIBLY HIGH BERSERK POTENTIAL, BUT IT WILL ALSO BE WHAT ALLOWS YOU TO COUNTER MORCII. AS IT STANDS, HE POSSESSES EIGHT OF THE AYAS. YOU POSSESS ONLY THE SYN AYAS. IN ANY OTHER ENVIRONMENT, HE COULD CRUSH YOU THE MOMENT YOU APPEARED, BUT THANKS TO THE HIGH ENERGY DENSITY OF THE SYSTEM, EACH OF YOU WILL HAVE YOUR POWER BOOSTED TO AT LEAST THE EQUIVALENT OF THE FIRST TIER CHAOS STATE. FURTHERMORE, MORCII AND HIS NANOCREATURES WILL ACTUALLY BE HAMPERED BY THE ENVIRONMENT, AS INCREDIBLY HIGH LEVELS OF CHAOS ENERGY CAN SEVERELY INTERFERE WITH UNSHIELDED OR IMPROPERLY PREPARED MECHANICAL SYSTEMS.” He turned to face Kievkenalis. “YOU SIMPLY NEED TO MONITOR YOUR FRIENDS AND PREVENT THEM FROM GOING BERSERK, THROUGH CAREFUL USE OF BOTH CHAOS TIME AND CHAOS SIPHON, IN ORDER TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION.”
“’Simply’… right…” the Chaostechnic muttered. “Uh… I’ll be sure to keep that in mind…”
“THE AYAS WEAPONS ARE ALSO CAPABLE OF INSTANTLY ENDING A BERSERK STATE, SO YOU WILL NOT BE ALONE. WORKING WITH YOUR FRIEND IN THE CASE ANYONE GOES BERSERK WILL BE PARAMOUNT.”
“What about me?” Kaoné interjected, “earlier, you said ‘the two of us’ would be important, but you’ve only talked about Kevken.”
“I APOLOGIZE, I THOUGHT IT OBVIOUS,” Arcán commented. “CHAOS MATTER IS ESSENTIALLY JUST THAT, MATTER. A NAVITASTECHNIC MAY NOT BE ABLE TO MANIPULATE CHAOS ENERGY, BUT A MATERIATECHNIC SUCH AS YOURSELF CAN STILL MANIPULATE CHAOS MATTER. IT CANNOT BE TRANSMUTED INTO OTHER MATTER, AND OTHER MATTER CANNOT BE TRANSMUTED INTO CHAOS MATTER, DUE TO FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES — BUT YOU CAN MANIPULATE IT ALL THE SAME. THIS WILL ALLOW YOU TO BOTH ASSIST IN COUNTERING ANY BERSERKERS AND IN COUNTERING MORCII, AS DIRECT CONTACT WITH LARGE AMOUNTS OF CHAOS MATTER CAN STUN HIM.”
“…Wow,” Kaoné responded, “uh… what’s so special about Chaos Matter? Why can’t I transmute it?”
“IT IS… COMPLICATED. AS I’M SURE YOU ALREADY KNOW, CHAOS ENERGY DEFIES MOST DEFINITIONS OF ‘ENERGY’ AS YOU KNOW IT; IT IS SIMPLY CALLED ‘ENERGY’ BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT IT IS MOST ANALOGOUS TO. CHAOS MATTER IS VERY MUCH THE SAME. THE SIMPLEST DEFINITION OF CHAOS MATTER IS NORMAL MATTER THAT HAS BEEN SATURATED WITH CHAOS ENERGY TO THE POINT OF TRANSFORMING IT INTO SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT EVEN HAVE ATOMS OR MOLECULES, AND EVEN SEEMS TO DISAPPEAR AT THE MICROSCOPIC LEVEL; YET, IT REMAINS TANGIBLE AND VISIBLE AT THE MACROSCOPIC LEVEL.”
“That… doesn’t really make any sense…”
“THAT IS THE POINT OF CHAOS ENERGY AND CHAOS MATTER. THEY DO NOT MAKE SENSE, NOT WITH THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AS YOU UNDERSTAND THEM CURRENTLY. HENCE WHY THEY ARE NAMED AFTER CHAOS — FOR THEIR INTRODUCTION TO A SYSTEM CAUSES ONLY CHAOS.”
“Your use of the term ‘physics’ here is really starting to bother me…” Kaoné replied uneasily.
“IT IS INEVITABLE. AS YOU ARE NOW, YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF TRULY UNDERSTANDING CHAOS ENERGY. YOUR CIVILIZATION SIMPLY IS NOT ADVANCED ENOUGH.”
The Materiatechnic sighed wearily. “This all hurts to think about… but I can still manipulate Chaos Matter, right?”
“I guess that’s all I need to know for now, then…”
“INDEED.” Arcán bowed toward the two Chaotics. “I HAVE NOW EXPLAINED EVERYTHING I WISHED TO EXPLAIN TO YOU. I WILL TAKE MY LEAVE; IF YOU HAVE ANY MORE QUESTIONS, SIMPLY ASK, AND I WILL HEAR THEM.” The hologram then disappeared, leaving behind only the air in its place.
The two Chaotics remained silent, staring at Arcán’s previous location as they each processed everything the Prior had just told them.
Kaoné sighed. “…I can’t wait for life to go back to normal after this…”
“Yeah…” Kievkenalis agreed wistfully, “me neither…”
“How is she?”
“RECOVERING,” Arcán responded curtly, beaming Rebehka to the center of the Core Room as soon as she entered. The Prior manifested in hologram form, standing behind Siyuakén’s unconscious body as the Cryotechnic approached. “SHE SHOULD AWAKEN SOON. ARE YOU PREPARED TO MOVE OUT WHEN SHE DOES?”
“I’ve been ready to kill Morcii since he took Siyuakén three and a half months ago,” Rebehka declared. “You don’t have to worry about me. But…”
Arcán nodded in understanding. “YOU FEAR FOR YOUR FRIEND’S FUTURE.”
“I… guess that’s one way of saying it,” she responded, her eyes focused on Siyuakén. She slowly followed the visible signs of corruption down to her left arm, its gray, metallic sheen covered by a torn red sleeve. Rebehka reached down tentatively to touch Siyuakén’s left wrist, flinching away as the feeling of cold metal reached her fingertips. “…She’s been dealing with this for… over half a year, now. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like, living with this for months, and then being forced to follow Morcii? That’s…”
Arcán bowed his head. “CORRUPTION IS INDEED A TERRIBLE CONDITION. THE ALDREDAS QUICKLY ARRIVED AT THE CONCLUSION THAT DEATH WAS PREFERABLE, AND EVEN THE DRAKKARS DO NOT HESITATE TO SHOOT THEIR CORRUPTED COMPATRIOTS ON SIGHT. BUT FOR YOUR FRIEND TO SURVIVE AS LONG AS SHE HAS, UNDER HER OWN WILL… EVEN CONSIDERING THAT SHE IS A TRUE CHAOTIC, IT IS TRULY REMARKABLE.”
“Did I actually do the right thing, though? Taking her alive, instead of killing her… she’s here now, but… was her suffering worth it?”
“THANKS TO YOUR ACTIONS, WE NOW HAVE A WAY TO DEFEAT MORCII. THAT CHANCE ALONE IS INVALUABLE.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Rebehka shook her head as she took a seat on the ground next to the bench on which Siyuakén lay. “I meant, was it the right thing for her? She may be back with us, but she has to live with the past six, seven months forever in her memory. And how can she even get her normal life back? She’s in control now, but she’s still corrupted, and regardless of whether or not it was her fault, the entire CSA knows that she helped Morcii take down Tau’cen Kii and Neticen. And the only authority figure I know who could possibly vouch for her, is dead… what kind of a life is left for her? I thought I was saving her, but now that I think about it… I’m not so sure…”
“…THAT QUESTION IS… DIFFICULT TO ANSWER, IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE.”
Rebehka looked up at Arcán warily. “What does that mean?”
The Prior turned away, focusing his attention on the hologram of the Milky Way Galaxy below instead of on the Cryotechnic. “…YOUR FRIEND’S CONDITION IS… TROUBLESOME. IT WILL ALLOW HER TO DEFEAT MORCII WITH MY AID, BUT BEYOND THAT…”
“…Is she going to live?”
“…DOUBTFUL. SHE LIVES FOR NOW, BUT THE ALTERATIONS TO HER BODY ARE TOO GREAT. HER HEART AND LEFT LUNG HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY NANITE CONSTRUCTS, HER ENTIRE LEFT ARM HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH NANITES, HER NERVOUS SYSTEM HAS BEEN ALMOST COMPLETELY REPLACED WITH NANITES, AND THE REST OF HER VITAL ORGANS — EVEN HER VERY SKELETON ITSELF — HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANTLY CORRUPTED. ON THE OUTSIDE, HER CORRUPTION APPEARS TO BE LIMITED TO HER ARM AND PART OF HER FACE, BUT WITHIN… SHE MAY WELL BE MORE MACHINE THAN WOMAN.”
“INDEED, SHE LIVES NOW UNDER HER OWN WILL…” Arcán looked back to Siyuakén. “BUT EITHER THE NANITES WILL BREAK DOWN IN A WEEK OR TWO DUE TO LOSS OF CONTACT WITH MORCII-CONTROLLED NANOCREATURES, OR HER SELF-CONTROL WILL WEAKEN ENOUGH FOR MORCII TO SEIZE CONTROL ONCE AGAIN. USING THE CHAOS STATE TO REMOVE HER CORRUPTION IS NO LONGER AN OPTION, AS THE CORRUPTION HAS SPREAD TOO FAR. SHE MAY NOT EVEN BE ABLE TO ACTIVATE THE CHAOS STATE, IN HER CURRENT CONDITION… EVEN THE PRIOR STATE CAN ONLY MAINTAIN HER LIFE FOR SO LONG, AS AFTER A WEEK OR MORE OF USE MY OWN CONSCIOUSNESS WILL SLOWLY YET INEVITABLY ERODE AT HER MIND UNTIL NOTHING OF HER REMAINS. AND IF WE DEFEAT MORCII AND REMOVE THE AYAS FROM NANOCREATURE CONTROL, THEN ALL NANOCREATURES WILL CEASE TO FUNCTION — INCLUDING THE VERY NANITES THAT ARE KEEPING HER ALIVE. IN SHORT… YOUR FRIEND DOES NOT HAVE LONG TO LIVE.”
Rebehka responded with silence as she cupped Siyuakén’s hand with her own in an absentminded effort to comfort herself.
“…Should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy…”
“Siyuakén?!” Rebehka’s attention snapped to the Electrotechnic’s face as her eyes fluttered open, her mouth drawn up in a resigned smirk. “You’re awake—?!”
“Wish I could’ve slept longer,” Siyuakén muttered, slowly pulling her arms back to push herself up into a sitting position. “Haven’t had a good sleep in a long time…”
“You… …how much did you hear?”
“Enough,” she responded grimly, glancing up at Arcán and then back to Rebehka. “…It’s not so bad, though. I kind of expected this…”
“But, to come all this way, just to die now, is…” Rebehka looked away. “Is…”
“Completely worth it,” Siyuakén declared, drawing her friend’s attention back to herself. “You said it yourself; there isn’t much left for me. This…” She looked down at her left arm in disgust. “…This isn’t something I can get rid of with a little plastic surgery, not when the corruption runs so deeply. And there’s no way the CSA will allow me to just walk around, not after… not after what Morcii forced me to do. So what if I don’t have long to live? As long as we take down Morcii, as long as all my suffering can mean something, I’ll be happy. Well… content, I guess. Kind of hard to be happy with any of this.”
“How can you even be content? After everything that’s happened to you, and even now — you haven’t had any time at all to enjoy yourself since you regained control of your body. We immediately went to drive off Morcii, and then you fell unconscious, and now that you’re awake we’re about to head off to fight Morcii again — and after it all, you’ll die! You don’t have any problems with that?!”
“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t,” Siyuakén responded, and then continued quietly, “…it’s true that… it would’ve been easier if you just killed me back when I first lost control. The things I was forced to do after… …Tau’cen Kii wasn’t the first time Morcii used me, you know. It was just the first high-profile target. Before that, countless low-tier worlds that you’d never hear about when the main worlds are under attack… I helped ruin them all. Entire outposts, settlements even — wiped out, or corrupted. Many of the ships Morcii used in the attack on Tau’cen Kii were ships that I helped to take over, crews and all. And there was nothing I could do to stop myself… I was forced to watch, every time. Morcii didn’t even have the decency to take over my mind, he just used my body and fucking laughed as there was nothing I could do to stop him! It was terrible, worse than terrible. I’d never wish that on anyone, not even the Drakkars… so if I have a chance to stop Morcii once and for all, so that no one else has to suffer through what I did, of course I’d be happy to take it, no matter the cost! The galaxy is a big place, with many people, and to trade my life for all of it… it’s a small price.”
“I… but what about me? You can’t just leave me behind, that’s… I wanted to save you, so we could keep living! Not so you could just go die again…!”
“Sorry…” Siyuakén smiled forlornly. “…But, you know… I heard someone say something once, I think it was something like… ‘people die twice: once when they die, and once more when their name has been spoken for the final time’.”
Rebehka looked her friend in the eyes, startled. “What are you saying…?”
“I’m sorry…” Siyuakén turned to place her hands on Rebehka’s shoulders. “…I won’t be able to keep the promise I made yesterday. And I’m not going to ask you to waste your life and never make any friends ever again because you were too close to me. In fact, I’d probably hate you if you did that. But, if I may at least ask for something… even if you do go on to make new friends, new relationships — and I certainly hope that you do — don’t forget me. If you really want me to, er, ‘not die’… then at least do that.”
Rebehka sighed. “…You really won’t change your mind, will you?”
“Nope.” Siyuakén smirked bitterly. “Morcii needs to be stopped, at any cost. I’m sure you know that, too.”
Rebehka responded with silence, attempting to blink back the tears that were welling in her eyes until she suddenly leaned forward and embraced Siyuakén tightly. “…I know. And I promise… I won’t forget you. Ever.”
“…Thanks.” Siyuakén returned the hug. “…I’m glad I had you as a friend.”
“Hey now,” Rebehka interjected, “it’s a little early for the past tense, don’t you think?”
“Heh… right. We still need to kick Morcii’s ass.”
“AND ON THAT NOTE…” Arcán finally spoke up, prompting the two women to release each other and turn toward him, “…I’M AFRAID THAT EVEN WITH ALL OF THE TECHNOLOGY ON THIS PLATFORM, I CANNOT HALT THE FLOW OF TIME. MORCII REMAINS TO BE DEFEATED, AND WE MUST DO SO SOON. ARE YOU PREPARED?”
“Yes.” Siyuakén nodded resolutely. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
Arcán nodded back. “GOOD. I WILL CALL THE REST OF YOUR TEAM BACK TO THE CORE; IN THE MEANTIME, I WILL EXPLAIN THE MISSION BEFORE YOU. PREPARE YOURSELF, FOR IT WILL NOT BE AN EASY ONE…”
1 Hour Later
“So, we’re all here?”
“Looks like it,” Christeané replied, glancing around at the six other members of Hero Machina as they all stood on the platform at the center of the Core Room.
Kevérin turned toward Siyuakén. “And Arcán told you everything you need to know?”
She nodded. “Yep. Use the Prior State to beat the light blue Ayas out of Morcii, then use the Link Drive on him. Sounds simple enough.”
“Too simple, almost…” Davídrius muttered.
“INDEED, THE FULL BREADTH OF THE MISSION WILL BE… SOMEWHAT MORE COMPLICATED THAN SIMPLY DEFEATING MORCII IN BATTLE,” Arcán commented, his hologram appearing in the center of the Platform, just above his core. “THERE WILL BE MORE DANGER THAN SIMPLY FACING MORCII, AS I HAVE EXPLAINED TO MANY OF YOU ALREADY. YOU EVEN RUN THE RISK OF RELEASING THE MORIKAI THEMSELVES, AND IN THE ABSOLUTE WORST CASE SCENARIO, MAY FIND YOURSELVES IN BATTLE WITH IKIROM… BUT SUCH IS NECESSARY TO PUT A STOP TO MORCII AND THE NANOCREATURES. ARE YOU ALL PREPARED FOR SUCH RISKS?”
“We are,” Kevérin replied, answering for all of Hero Machina.
“GOOD.” Arcán nodded again, allowing his hologram to disappear in a blue fuzz. “SIYUAKÉN, THE ACTIVATION KEYWORDS.”
“Right,” she responded, “uh… right. Prior State: Arcán!”
An intense flash of light blinded the entirety of Hero Machina as Arcán’s core disintegrated into millions of tiny particles, each of which phased through the platform and converged on Siyuakén’s body. Her maroon waist-cloak rapidly split into strips, transforming into shades of decorative blues as silver greaves appeared over her boots and a small breastplate manifested over her chest. The exposed skin on her torso quickly disappeared behind pale blue clothing as the corruption in her face faded away, the nanites being forced through her body and out the back of her head to form a long ponytail, surpassed in length only by the pale blue cape that appeared on her shoulders. A silver headband formed over her head, a small blue flair developing in the center as Siyuakén brought her hands together and summoned the Arcán Claymore — and with it, an extravagant blue and golden gauntlet on her right arm, to contrast the metallic corruption on her left. She swung the weapon through the air once, learning everything she needed to about its balance in that one swing before allowing the weapon to disappear into thin air as she turned back to face her friends.
“…I never thought I’d actually see a transformation sequence in real life,” Rebehka deadpanned.
“SUCH IS ONE OF THE DEFINING TRAITS OF THE PRIOR STATE; UPON ACTIVATION, THE USER TAKES ON THE DRESS AND TERTIARY PHYSICAL TRAITS OF THE PRIOR’S OLD FORM.”
“Huh?” Kevérin glanced at the headband on Siyuakén’s head; in the middle of the blue flair was a pale blue dot that seemed to blink with each syllable uttered by the Prior. “So you can still talk to us, Arcán?”
“INDEED,” the Prior responded, “I CAN COMMUNICATE WITH SIYUAKÉN INTERNALLY, AS WELL.”
“It already sounds like you’re in my head…” she muttered, her voice carrying a barely perceptible echo.
“REGARDLESS, IT IS TIME. DO YOU HAVE ANY FINAL STATEMENTS TO MAKE BEFORE I TRANSPORT YOU ALL TO ELECAL? TRANSFER CAPTAIN?”
“…There really isn’t much to say,” Kevérin commented as he turned to look each of the other Chaotics in the eyes. “…I can’t pretend to know what we’re getting ourselves into. All this cosmic backstory stuff with the Menace and the Morikai and the Priors… that doesn’t matter. Not right now. Because right now, we’re about to face Morcii, and we’re about to stop him from releasing the Morikai back into the galaxy, and to stop him from running amok on his own as well! Our situation may not be optimal — Morcii’s survived destruction before, and even if we pull this off, well, there’s a chance we won’t get the credit. Which sucks, but that’s not why we’re here, is it? We’re not some ragtag team of adventurers looking for thrills and fame and fortune. We’re a team of professional Chaotics, gathered together for one purpose: to investigate the Chaos Quake. Well, we’ve learned what caused the Quake, and surprise, it happened because of none other than the Nanocreatures themselves! We’ve worked together to get here, fighting our way through thick and thin, and while we may have been separated once — here we are, all seven of us, back together! No matter how hard Morcii tried, no matter how hard anyone tried, nothing could stop us in the end! And now, thanks to his own arrogance, we have a chance to take Morcii down, once and for all! So let’s do this!” Kevérin pumped his fist, grinning as he pointed at the hologram of the Milky Way Galaxy below. “Arcán, Hero Machina…