Ascent, Ch. 2
On the way to the nearest elevator shaft, M1-11 checked around for anything Ten and Nine could use as weapons. L-7 led alongside the automaton while SEL-4, now dressed in a clean set of purple clothes nearly identical to what she had before, brought up the rear. The walk gave Ten an opportunity to reflect on some of the information she’d seen in their profiles, little as it had been.
Each of them had been created to embody one or two specific specializations. For instance, L-7’s specialties were enhanced speed and precision. SEL-4’s was in magic conjuration, which explained the glow that had surrounded her hands earlier: she had formed magical blades. Nine had strength augmentation, which he was testing along the way against the walls with a punch encased in a faint blue glow. No one bothered to comment on the dents he was leaving behind. Ten’s was supposed to be magic channeling, but her profile hadn’t mention her ever being involved in live tests like her teammates.
“It says here that you were slated to start testing in about a week from the last update,” M1-11 had told her. “Of course, all of your profiles haven’t been touched since the year 3486—however long ago that was—so it’s possible the experiments you were supposed to be involved in never began.”
Neither did that clear up for Ten why they were made in such ways. They were made to fight—that much was certain—but who was their enemy? What was their enemy? What numbers were they to deal with? Did the enemy still exist somewhere beyond the labs?
Her train of thought was interrupted when SEL-4 suddenly called out, “Hey, Em, I have a question for you.”
“Okay, shoot,” replied M1-11.
“Is there some reason why none of us look older than twenty years old?”
“Uh… you know… I don’t know the answer to that. I guess the scientists wanted all of you to be in or near your physical primes.”
“Or they had a fetish.” SEL-4 proceeded to laugh upon saying that.
“Whatever the case was, all the work they did ensured you would all age at half the rate of the average person—not that there are any average people here for us to do a comparison. Anyway, I’d say that gives you all plenty of time to see the world once we find a way out.” M1-11 spun in place so he could face the rest of the group, moving backwards himself as a result.
“Hang tight, everyone,” said L-7. “I think we hit something.”
She slapped her hand against something metallic, and the dull sound echoed off the walls. The something turned out to be a rectangular protrusion with a sigil in the middle of the surface that was the same shade of dark green as L-7’s clothes. The sigil itself consisted of a circle with three lines shooting out from the center, and a greater circle surrounded the rest.
Seeing this caused Nine to stop messing around with his augmentation, though when he did, he shook his head and rubbed his temple. Ten somehow got the sense that he was dizzy and then irritated, if just briefly, and assumed at least part of that had something to do with those voices he claimed to hear every so often. He seemed all right otherwise, though, so Ten turned her attention back to the protrusion on the wall.
M1-11 had already moved passed them to examine the protrusion before placing his left palm upon the sigil. He stood perfectly still for about half a minute before he removed his hand and stepped away, giving the protrusion enough room to swing open. Inside was an indented shelf that contained a handheld tablet, a belt with a pouch for the tablet, and a pair of white rings with red markings on the outside.
He picked up the rings and handed them to Ten. “Take these. They’ll help you focus the magical energy you gather so you can cast spells like in the days of yore! I don’t think you even need to recite any special incantations. That’ll be a time saver, won’t it?”
“Definitely,” said Ten. Her smile widened when she noticed the rings slipped around her wrists perfectly. Once the belt was strapped around her waist, she activated the tablet. The screen illuminated to life and revealed a menu with several items bulleted with book icons. Ten met the automaton’s blue eyes and asked him, “I take it these are the list of books?”
“Right you are!” came the reply. “Click on one; see what it shows you!”
So she tapped the first item on the list, something called The Book of Saints. Another menu appeared, this one a table of contents for various spells that invariably began with the words Light or Holy. The first spell in the book displayed a sketched demonstration on how to conjure a ball of light with a one-handed gesture, followed by more detailed instructions written below.
Ten scrolled back up to the sketches, though, and imitated the movements they showed. “Hold one hand outstretched, palm down… raise the hand and make a circular motion… close the hand, palm to me… then flick the hand open.”
As she murmured the instructions to herself, she felt something flow through her—something like a breeze yet also like a surge. The red markings on her left bracelet glowed a gold-tinted white, and when she finished her hand motion, the energy intensified around her wrist before a small ball of light appeared above her open palm.
“I don’t believe it,” she said, breathless. “I actually did it!”
“All right!” M1-11 rubbed his hands together while a few more grunts or cheers of approval sounded around them.
For the first time since leaving her room, Ten laughed, marveling at her success. A part of her doubted that the other spells would be as easy to learn, but right then and there, she felt like nothing would stop her from learning more. Her revelry was hardly interrupted when Nine gave her a slap on the back that made her stumble, especially once she saw that he was smiling at her.
“Great job,” he said, his eyes moving from her to the light ball.
But with the lights on in the hall, Ten saw little need to maintain the spell she had just learned. She looked back at the tablet screen and scrolled through the instructions to see how she could discontinue the spell. Once she found it, she closed her hand again, causing the light to dissipate into nothing. According to the rest of the text, she could use the spell as an attack by pushing it forward and letting her concentration do the work in directing it. That’ll come in handy, she figured.
She turned to Nine, tapping him on the chest with the butt of her fist. “Now we just need to find something for you.”
“Right,” he answered before rubbing his temple again. “Using those enhancement spells too many times in a row isn’t too good for my head.”
“Oh. Are you okay now?”
“Eh. I’ll live.”
Ten didn’t quite believe him but opted not to press further and said instead, “If you say so.” While thinking along the same lines, she gave the tablet a good look before she slipped it into the belt pouch. I should see if there are healing spells recorded into this thing—just in case.
“As a precaution for you, Ten,” said L-7 then, “you should refrain from casting a lot of spells in quick succession. When you draw magic into your body, you’re putting a strain on it. We seem to be made to take it better than normal people, but we still have our limits. Keep that in mind for the future.”
Ten replied with a nod. “I will.” By then, she had finished clasping the belt around her waist.
SEL-4 swiveled her head around to each of them, and then she jerked her head toward the corner. “So. About that elevator we were heading for.”
“Of course. I was just about to mention it,” said M1-11. “Let’s hope this one works.”
In the corner closest to SEL-4 was a cylindrical bump on the wall that ran from the ceiling to the floor. Beside it was a mounted sign that labeled it as Elevator 25 and that they were on floor B32. On the other side rested a control panel. The doors were colored in a faint gold color and had windows on each side, but Ten couldn’t see much beyond them other than darkness. Just enough light shone through to reveal that the shaft was empty.
“Hoo, boy,” said the automaton. “This is either going to work brilliantly, or this is going to be a bust. Hit the Up button, Sel Four.”
She proceeded to do just that by punching the button in question. It lit up with a pale light, and from beyond the elevator windows glowed two narrow strips of blue. From somewhere above them, a soft hum resonated.
L-7 looked up, then back at the elevator. “That sounds like a good sign.”
“It does,” said M1-11. He then directed everyone to gather around him. “If there’s one place we should go to before we try tearing down any walls, it’s the main computer. I mean the main computer, the one that has access to all the different servers to the facility and all its functions. If I can hack through all the passwords, we’ll be able to figure out anything we don’t know about ourselves or the labs. Then I can just open up a door for us on ground level, and bam! We’re out.”
“What floor is the main omputer on?”
“I believe it’s on Floor B Three.”
“All right, then.” L-7 turned to face the rest of the group, her face ever stern and unchanging. “We have a clear destination now, so stay sharp, everyone. We don’t know what we might encounter along the way.”
SEL-4 laughed again, forming a magical blade over each of her hands briefly before letting them dissipate. “I hope we find more critters. They’re fun to play with.”
“The less resistance we meet along the way, the faster we can go where we want to go.”
“One of these days, you will learn to have fun.”
“One of these days. But not today.”
SEL-4 held up her hands and shook her head.
Ten just exchanged an awkward smile with Nine and M1-11, unsure of what to say. In the end, she kept quiet. L-7’s really not in the mood for more talk, she noticed. Nine, however, just barely contained a laugh. Thankfully, L-7 ignored them.
Then, at last, something fell into place behind the elevator doors, obscuring the original view the windows had shown. The doors opened to reveal an empty shaft that was large enough for the five of them to fit inside. Once they had all shuffled in, M1-11 observed the control panel that consisted of buttons labeled with numbers ranging from B1 to B45. M1-11 hit the button that said B3.
The next few seconds passed by slowly. Too slowly. And nothing happened.
So the automaton slapped his forehead. “Damn it. It won’t go.”
“Try another one, then,” said L-7. “There’s more than one way to reach the different floors.”
Nine crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the back wall. “It’s never convenient when you want it to be, is it?”
“Well, what are you going to do? Let’s see now….” M1-11 eyed the buttons for a bit before trying B5. When that also yielded a whole lot of nothing, he tried B10. Only then did the elevator doors shut and begin to rise.
Ten peered around as they passed by about five floors, but no one spoke. During this time, she felt a certain unease coming from M1-11 and something her gut instinct said was worry from L-7. Nine was okay, just resting. SEL-4 was bored, emphasized all the more by her head bobbing back and forth like she were cricking her neck.
Me? I’m just relieved we’re going somewhere now, she thought. But I wonder… is it normal for us to feel what others are feeling?
She opened her mouth to ask just that—
—when something snapped below them.
Everyone’s eyes turned to the floor, but all they saw was solid steel. Somewhere beyond that came another loud clang. Then a third, this one louder than the last.
L-7 shot a look at M1-11. “Stop the elevator!”