Ascent, Ch. 15
Once they’d gone through the giant double-layered doors, M1-11 rushed straight to the main computer. The computer stations throughout the room were clumped together into blocks, themselves arranged with evenly spaced pathways through each cluster. The group stopped in front of the one computer around the central pillar that appeared to have three monitors situated behind one keyboard.
M1-11 flipped some switches nearby, and soon, the monitors lit up. At first, the middle monitor displayed a black screen with a single word written in white: Starting. A series of dots followed the word but seemed to fluctuate rapidly between having five or none. Soon, the black faded to reveal a plain, blue-gray screen with a single blue bar adorned with a couple of odd icons that ran across the top, and the image repeated itself on the other two monitors. In the very top-right corner of the middle one was a peculiar notation: 1804 HR.
L-7 leaned back on one foot but kept her eyes on the screen. “Eighteen-oh-four hours? I think the doctors used to say it was heading into the evening at around this time.”
Ten cast her a curious look. “Wait, that’s a clock?”
“It is, and it’s also more than that,” said M1-11. “It doubles as a calendar. Hold on a sec; let me double-click on this.”
When the automaton placed his hand on a small square pad partially imbedded into the desk surface, a tiny arrowhead on the screen zipped over to the clock in the upper right. He tapped the pad twice, and a window popped out from the clock. The window displayed a pair of numbers bisected by a word: 25 Simha 3571.
M1-11 went completely still. His hand hadn’t even moved away from the ball. Ten peered at him, only to feel a kind of hollowness emanating from him. The kind that came with dread.
“Em?” she ventured. “What’s wrong?”
He answered in a distant-sounding voice. “That’s today’s date—3571. My data logs haven’t been time stamped since 3491, the year I self-activated to maintain the labs… and everyone was gone by then. All the files from before were dated 3486 or earlier.” M1-11 looked over his shoulder at Ten, then at L-7 and the others. “The labs have been abandoned for eighty-five years.”
“Eighty… -five… years…?” The weight of each word very nearly pulled her to the floor.
Somehow, she kept herself steady. A look around allowed her to see the same wide-eyed stare from Nine and R-6 that she must’ve had, a furrowed brow from L-7, a raised eyebrow from SEL-4, and a collective drained feeling from everyone, even M1-11. At least with him, though, it ebbed slightly soon after.
“I wonder,” he murmured, “is it just this computer that has the date recorded, or do the other computers in this room also have it?”
The automaton’s fingers flew across the keyboard and occasionally the square pad, bringing up more windows. He brought one of these to the forefront, and it showed a layout to a room—the very one they were in, actually. Every computer was indicated by a red block, but then gradually, they all turned green. At the same time, the dull and quiet hum of lightning magic whirring to life sprang up at the corresponding computers until all of them were on.
“Might as well take a seat,” said M1-11. “While you’re there, can you check to see if any of them also display dates? The ones we passed by on the way up here didn’t, and I’m curious about why.”
“We’ll check,” replied L-7.
It turned out that no other computers in the room displayed the dates, much to everyone’s confusion. “I’ll see if I can figure out what’s up with that,” said M1-11. “We’re going to be here for a long while, so you all may as well sit down and read, relax a little. I’ll secure us a way out, and then I’ll start spreading info around to the other computers. And don’t worry: I can watch activity on every floor from here, so I’ll catch if a critter comes up here.”
The group split up then, though everyone stayed in the room. Ten took a seat on the right side of the room’s entrance, placing her in the middle of the doors and the main computer, before R-6 sat down to her left. While L-7 and SEL-4 took places in the block across the aisle from her, I-9 went to a row behind her. All the chairs looked like they were on wheels and had accumulated quite a lot of dust, but only Ten bothered to brush some of it off her seat.
M1-11 discovered very quickly that he could control what data appeared on which machines, so Ten watched her screen for changes. For a good while, nothing happened beyond the initial boot up. The layout and colors she saw were identical to what she’d seen on the main computer, but after a time, it seemed to flicker once, then twice. After a third flicker, an icon appeared on the left side of the screen labeled Profile: MIC-10.
“The files you’re getting should be your complete profiles,” said M1-11. “Everything that wouldn’t have been included in the public versions should be in those master copies. The next few files I give will be anything related to the history of the world—if I can find them anytime soon. I’m not going to check the files for much beyond dates and corruption issues so I can get them to you as soon as possible.”
“Whatever works, Em,” L-7 assured him.
Seeing her profile prompted Ten to look for a square pad like what the automaton had used, and she spotted one to the right of the keyboard. She swept her forefinger over the pad’s smooth surface to test how it moved the little arrow on the screen. Once done with that test, she brought it to the icon.
Then Em did this, she thought, recalling the automaton’s movements from earlier. She tapped the pad right in the center, but it took her a few seconds more to figure out the rhythm of a double-tap to finally open the file. A window appeared then showing the following information:
Full Designation: Michaela 10 [CLASSIFIED]
Specialty: Magic Channeling
Project: Project SAINT [CLASSIFIED]
Operation: ADVENT [CLASSIFIED]
Base Model: Saint Michaela [CLASSIFIED]
Number of Tests: n/a
Last Updated: 2 Dhanus 3486
The photo of herself to the right confirmed for her that this was indeed her profile. So we were right before. I’m Michaela Ten.
Looking further down from the initial data showed a more detailed report overview. A quick skim clarified some of the above—that she had been made for participation in Operation ADVENT, which required that she or one of her nine predecessors be modeled after someone called Saint Michaela. Much of the rest of her profile detailed the speculated reasons for her success compared to predecessors’ failures. Apparently, it had something to do with a procedure during their creation that fused a significant and concentrated amount of magic with her skin.
“The tenth attempt was a success,” the last paragraph began. “MIC-10 was the first to retain form and live past the transfusion. Now she will possess a greater pool of inherent magic to draw from and a better capacity to channel it along with the ambient magic in her vicinity. She will also recover faster from the strain of using any earthly magic she uses than even a hybrid. Please remember the following when her tests begin: MIC-10 has not yet channeled a significant amount of magic, so it is likely she will not be able to show her true potential right away. However, this will be a minor setback. Even if we factor in the time we would need to spend on her tests, she should be ready for the operation as scheduled.”
Ten had to pull back for a moment after going through all that. I was made through some kind of magical transfusion? It sounds like I was meant to be a weapon, too, just like Are Six. And they were trying to make me ultra powerful… but how am I supposed to tell what “ultra powerful” is? Her head spun with more questions, but only until her eyes wandered to the top of her profile then, fixing on the name of Saint Michaela.
She hovered the arrow over the name and, almost on instinct, tapped the square pad. To her surprise, another window popped up, showing some information in a similar format to her profile. The difference, of course, was that the name at the top read Saint Michaela rather than MIC-10. What made Ten freeze, though, was the image on the right—a colored illustration of a woman in a long, white robe with billowy sleeves and a head of shoulder-length hair that was of a similar color. She flipped back and forth between her profile and the window with the Saint until the reality of it all sunk in: She looks just like me. Or would it be better to say I look like her?
Something tugged on her left-side sleeve. She looked over to see R-6 pulling on her sleeve, eyeing her from one side but with his head swiveling ever so slightly between her and the screen in front of him. Curious, Ten rolled her chair over to her friend’s computer station. Just like with her own information, R-6 flipped back and forth between his profile and another window that showed another colored illustration featuring a young man who looked like a slightly older version of the redhead himself. The name of the near-identical twin was given as Redimere, Duke of Whiteland.
The R in Are Six’s designation stands for Redimere. Then there was Lydia the Martyr and our Lydia Seven… so we were all cloned from these people from the past? Her thoughts ran the further along she read. Yeah, we were! It says here that Are Six was cloned from a sample of Duke Redimere’s preserved body because he was the only source they had for any human-dragon hybrid flesh. They did the same with Saint Michaela to make me. But more than that, Ten wondered, Who were these people? Why was it so important for us to look like them?
Both Duke Redimere and Saint Michaela had lived from the 980s to the 1000s, though Ten noticed that the former’s lifespan had been far longer than the latter’s. She moved back and forth between her screen and R-6’s long enough to notice an event in which both historical figures participated—something called The Great Redemption. Afterwards, thanks to more of M1-11’s hacking, Ten stayed in front of her computer to continue reading about the event, during which she spotted other familiar names.
Much of the world’s history had been defined by the relationship between mortals, spirits, and gods. In the year 998, the Empire of Verdanica had come to fear that their long-time guides, the gods, would soon leave them. The ruler at the time, Emperor Selydon, had tasked the country’s hierophant, Nero, to inform the gods that they still had a place in the world and thus did not need to leave. “This world is their home as much as it is ours,” said the emperor, or so the history stated. However, Nero had somehow come to the conclusion that he had to imprison the gods within God Star Tower instead of negotiating and thus trapped one of them. The most common explanation for his turn was cited to be a deep-rooted fear of being abandoned. Within a week of his betrayal, Nero and his expedition had become an enemy of the Empire and its two neighbors.
The effect of sealing away a god of the planet had ill effects on the world, causing sporadic crop failure and a lack of precipitation over the course of just six years. Furthermore, Nero and his faction were siphoning enough power from God Star Tower to fend off Verdanica’s attacks; the armies of the Kingdom of Merann, the Empire’s eastern neighbor; and Whiteland, the southern neighbor, and home of the dragons and to a tundra environment. From these three countries arose at least one individual who would contribute to the resistance that formed: Emperor Selydon and the peasants Lydia and later Ivan from Verdanica, Michaela from Merann, and Redimere from Whiteland.
“Lydia died during a last stand made against Nero’s forces,” so read the text, “but not before dealing a crippling blow his forces. Her last words expressed faith that their gods would not leave them and called for everyone to make a stand.” The history went on to say that Michaela, then a priestess from a small church in Merann, had been among the first to receive a plea for help from the god trapped in the tower sometime during the year 1004. The young woman went on to lead a united force with Ivan, Redimere, and Selydon consisting of soldiers from all three countries to God Star Tower. The four of them had then gone to the top of the tower to confront Nero, who was ultimately defeated in battle by Michaela while Ivan freed the imprisoned god.
In the aftermath of the battle, Emperor Selydon had set into motion immediate recovery efforts, executed Nero for treason, and officially knighted Ivan for his courage and dedication. Lydia had been named the Martyr posthumously; in a similar fashion, Michaela was named a saint five years after her death, and thereafter, she was remembered for her kindness and her contributions to Merann’s people. Emperor Selydon and Sir Ivan had been similarly revered after their deaths. The same was true of Duke Redimere once he had returned to Whiteland, where he had later claimed the longest reign of any ruler of that country owing to a lifespan of 150 years—quite unusual for the time, though that was attributed to his partially draconic nature. In all, each of the heroes had lists of accomplishments far too long for Ten to go through them.
The event would be known thereafter as the Great Redemption, so named for “the bravery and sincerity shown by the people, and the forgiveness shown by the god in turn,” according to the text. Stories of the heroes’ feats had spread far and wide since then: Saint Michaela’s unrivaled mastery of magic, especially in healing; Sir Ivan’s great courage and his stint of being wreathed in divine fire to free the god; Duke Redimere’s tactical genius that kept Nero’s forces at bay; Emperor Selydon’s unflinching faith, perseverance, and charisma; and Lydia the Martyr’s last stand. Their fame led to their bodies being preserved with magical rites. Most of all, it was the united front they represented that had compelled the god of the world to commend all people openly for their accomplishments and to stay with them, even if it would be in a distant capacity.
Upon taking all of that in, Ten leaned back in her chair and let out a breath to calm herself. “Goodness… that was incredible!”
“What was incredible?” asked M1-11 from the main computer.
Ten was more than happy to explain what she had just read about on the Great Redemption. On occasion, SEL-4 and L-7 would join in to add a detail here and there, but the white-haired girl spoke with far more enthusiasm. She finished the explanation with, “I kind of feel like… how are we supposed to measure up to them, you know? To heroes everyone remembered for thousands of years…?”
The automaton imitated the sound of a whistle. “That does sound pretty neat. I almost wish I could’ve seen it myself, but it was so long ago.”
“I think it’s funny they based me on a man,” said SEL-4 before she burst out laughing. “All because they screwed up some chromosomes. Ha!”
“Better than being based one someone who’s defining trait was getting killed.” Despite the deadpan tone, however, L-7 seemed to shrug off her own comment. “At least her efforts weren’t completely wasted. So what else do we have?”
M1-11 looked over his shoulder at the others. “Uh, hold on. I’ll be giving you some more history files in a bit. I just have to find them all.”
“See if you can also find anything about an Operation ADVENT. And did you ever secure that way out?”
“To the second question, yes! All we have to do after this is reach B1, punch in the code, and then bam! Free at last.”
“Awesome.” L-7 stood to stretch before sitting back down. “Now what else can we learn here…?”
“I found Doctor Preston’s personal logs. I can play them for you while you read up on that operation. You know, after I find them all.”
“How will you know if any of those logs talk about Operation ADVENT?” asked Ten.
“I’m checking for transcripts so I can scan for that info. Give me a few minutes.”
So we have to wait a while longer, thought Ten. Resting one elbow on the armrest, she clicked away from her profile, Saint Michaela’s, and the info about the Great Redemption. This allowed her to see a folder icon containing many more files about the world’s history—so many, in fact, that the white-haired girl arrived at a complete loss on where to start. She scrolled up and down the list until she saw one file hinted to contain an animated world map. It’s as good a place as any, she figured, and so she double-tapped on the file.
Before her appeared a globe swathed in deep blues and topped by five landmasses of greens, grays, and browns. Two of them, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern, were much larger than the other three and labeled Talosia and Ranverda, respectively. Of three smaller lands, the one called Aequare straddled the equator; another called Boreas rested close to the north pole; and the remaining one, Orien, lay adrift a good deal east from Ranverda, itself southeast from Talosia. Any other pieces of land on the world were tiny little islands that either hugged the larger continents or were scattered somewhere in the ocean.
Ten pondered the name of the southern continent and concluded, I guess that’s the home of the Ranverdese Empire?
She discovered quickly that she could click on the different lands of the world and so picked Ranverda. The globe turned itself so Ranverda was in the center. Icons appeared to the right indicating that Ten could watch a simplified history of the land. At least, that was what she assumed. One way to make absolutely sure, she figured, so she clicked on the triangular icon and watched.
At first, very little in the way of any civilization appeared. The only mark of note that wasn’t a land feature was God Star Tower. By 998, however, Ranverda had seen the rise of three distinct countries: the relatively small Whiteland to the south; the larger Merann along the eastern coast; and Verdanica, the most expansive of the three as it occupied the rest of the continent. The setup didn’t change much in the years that followed; at most, Merann and Verdanica swapped the portion of land that contained God Star Tower. By the year 2255, the three countries ceased to be sovereign states, turning the entire continent into the home of the Ranverdese Empire. Oriens became a part of it in the same year.
This whole facility is under God Star Tower, Ten recalled. Goodness… we seem so small compared to the rest of the world. I wonder how long the labs have been here? The Tower is beyond ancient, I know that much….
After that moment’s thought, she zoomed out from Ranverda and moved to Talosia. This one must’ve become the Talosine Federation. None of the other lands of the world look big enough to match Ranverda in whatever war Doctor Preston was talking about. And when she played out Talosia’s history, she found herself proven right. The northern continent was home at one point to as many as twenty different countries, including Boreas. The number of countries decreased steadily until 2369, the year in which they had all merged and become the Talosine Federation. Updates to the political boundaries didn’t change even when the history counter stopped at 3486.
Then, from the main computer, M1-11’s voice suddenly rang out. “Okay, I singled out the files and logs that talk about Operation ADVENT.”
“Think you can just play the logs?” asked SEL-4, stretching in her seat. “Having kind of an information overload over here.”
“Sure. I’ll send you the transcripts, too—oh, and some other files about the labs as a point of reference. There are also a few early logs from Doctor Preston we might want to listen to for context.”
“Cool. Thanks for that, Em,” said L-7.
Ten gave the automaton a thankful nod before looking back at her screen to await the changes. Right away, she saw the numerous other files he had copied onto her computer. I’m not going through all these right now, she realized. It wasn’t out of fatigue, however—quite the opposite, in fact. But first, Operation ADVENT. Priorities, Ten. You can look at the rest of this after we learn about this other thing. Just ignore the itch of curiosity that keeps asking for you to scratch it.
The sound of a crackling speaker cleared her mind well enough, at which point Doctor Preston’s voice echoed around the room.
“This is the personal log of Doctor Julius Preston. Not available for public access. Current date: 4 Darian 3475. It seems for my work in the Imperial Institute of Sorcery, I’ve been named the new head researcher of Corona Laboratories. If the higher-ups wanted to arrange that for the labs’ seventieth anniversary, they’re a little over a year late.” A quiet laugh rang out, followed by the sound of the man clearing his throat. “In any case, I’m to oversee all research and development projects that take place there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my doubts, but we’ve been at war for just one year now. Perhaps sometime soon, the President of Talosia will concede to listen to our Empress and the Imperial Council. I can only hope. For now, I will take my position. It wouldn’t do to defy a request from the Council, now would it?”
Ten blurted out the first thing she noticed about the log. “He sounds more frank here.”
“It’s a personal log,” said the team leader. “Probably comes with the territory.”
“It seems the labs changed heads every fifteen to twenty years since being built, starting from 3404. Huh… so this place has been around for longer than I thought,” said M1-11. “Anyway, Doctor Preston was in charge from 3475 to 3486.”
“The magic number,” came the droll remark from the wild one.
Then Nine spoke up, his tone unreadable. “I want to hear the rest.”
So they quieted themselves to better hear everything Doctor Preston had to say. Given how much he said, however, Ten caught her hearing growing tired now and then. She was good at catching the most important parts, thankfully.
Though after a certain point, she wondered if she was hearing too much.