By Tadeu Aratel
Copyright 2016 Tadeu Aratel
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Table of Contents
“Subject: Nº214, combatant.
Destination: MRF 13.
Test Objective: Examine physiological and metaphysical reactions in moments leading to, during, and right after death. Assure 0% survival rate by any means necessary.”
–from The Meld Research Project Archive, website accessed on April 29, 2322.
Luna had never been much attached to material objects. Swords and clothes were tools; gold and riches only valuable for the experiences they could buy. But the Vords… oh, the Vords deserved attachment.
Luna stood on the deck of her ship, with a dark scarf covering her mouth. The ship moved steadily forward on the calm waters, sailing under the pale light of the moon and the Eternal Essence. She held her trusted bow on one hand and admired her Blue Vord in the other.
The Vord was shaped like a coin with a square hole in its center. It glowed with a steady blue light, but under the glassy surface the light wasn’t steady. No, the Essence within the Vord swirled around, twisting upon itself in a way that she always found hypnotizing. Thanks to that little coin, she had power over the wind.
Her ship slowed to a halt. Luna’s ship, the Crescent Moon, was rather small. It had black sails and flew no flag. A hundred yards ahead was a ship almost three times the size of the Crescent’s size, flying the blue diamond of the Azurian Trade Company. It was tonight’s target.
A tall man approached her, wearing a hood and a mask.
“We’re all set, Captain Eagle,” he said.
Eagle was her. The nicknames hadn’t been her idea; she didn’t care about hiding her identity, but played along with the crew.
Luna nodded, then she put the Vord away in her pocket. Time to work. She grabbed a large arrow from the floor. The arrow was twice the size of a regular one, its feathers and tip were pitch black and a thick rope was looped around its shaft. The rope extended to the floor, where it pooled around Luna’s feet.
Luna stringed the arrow and took aim. The crew of the other ship was gathered on their deck and seemed to be arguing about something. They were dragging a hooded figure to the edge of the ship. Would they throw him overboard? It didn’t matter — their distraction worked to Luna’s advantage. She aimed at the ship’s stern, tensed her bow, and then tapped into her Vord.
Essence flowed out of the Vord and into Luna’s body, a cloud of cold smoke seeping into her flesh. Luna willed the Essence out of her, and it fused with the air, giving Luna control over it. At her command, air flowed towards the tip of Luna’s bow, spiraling until it formed a small tornado around her arrow’s tip, one that threatened to yank the arrow out of her hand. Luna let go of the string.
The arrow shot right through the center of the small tornado and spiraled away. Luna gave it an extra push with her wind before the arrow left her range. The projectile zipped through the air, flying almost in a straight line despite its weight, and hit the back of the other ship. The rope now extended between both embarkations, with most of it still pooling near Luna’s feet.
Luna’s crew, five men strong, burst into action. Lion grabbed the rope and climbed the Crescent Moon’s mast, tying the rope around it near the top. Then Monkey and Wolf jumped to the rope and ziplined towards enemy ship.
Half-way through the rope, they both activated their Vords, growing invisible. The only trace of them was a shimmer of light that few would notice in the night. Luna crossed her arms and waited. A soft thump announced the moment the two of them landed on the enemy ship, and for there on there wasn’t a single sound until the two of them reappeared on the other ship’s deck, holding their captain hostage.
Luna smiled. She preferred to be in the center of the action herself, but couldn’t deny the efficiency of their method. And she doubted she’d find a worthy opponent in a ship like that anyway.
Across the water, Monkey gave a loud whistle — it was the signal. Luna fetched a metal bar from her pocket, put her bow down, and then jumped on the rope, using the bar to zipline. The rest of her crew followed her. She landed feet first on the back of the ship and then climbed on the deck.
Ten members of their crew stood on deck, most of them cowering with their back against the cabin’s wall, where Monkey had probably ordered them to stand. The only exceptions were the captain and some lady, who were held hostage by Monkey and Wolf; and the hooded figure Luna had seen early, who knelt on the deck, looking down.
“All under control, Captain,” Monkey said.
Monkey was clasped in black from head to toe. Luna didn’t go that far — she wore regular clothes and just hid her face.
Luna stalked closer to Monkey and the hostage captain, signaling the rest of her men to search the ship. Then she heard whispers; the hooded figure was rambling something to himself.
“What’s wrong with him?” Luna asked, pointing.
The captain, a balding old man with a prominent belly, gave Luna a defiant look.
“Lion, slit that girl’s throat,” Luna said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Lion said.
“Wait!” The captain called.
Luna held out a hand, stopping Lion. The captain sighed.
“We don’t know,” he said. “He just started rumbling. We think he might be… you know.”
“By Aster,” Monkey whispered. Then he shouted. “A mage? You have a goddam mage in your ship?!”
The rest of Luna’s men froze in place.
“We don’t know if he’s a mage!” The captain said. “He just got crazy out of nowhere. People say that happens with mages, right?”
“But he hasn’t shown any powers yet?” Luna asked.
The captain shook his head. The remaining crew had their eyes locked on the hooded man — they seemed more scared of him than of Luna.
Luna scoffed. “Then he isn’t a mage, moron.” She turned to the rest of her crew. “Go search the damn ship! Let’s get out of here.”
The men scrambled into action.
“But captain, I head it sometimes happens before people turn,” Monkey said. “I say we throw him overboard.”
Luna shook her head, then strode to the madman. “You’ve always been too superstitious,” she said. “Look, there is no way he’s—”
Luna pulled the madman’s hood and froze. The man was glowing orange as if someone had lit candles behind his skin. The deck fell in silence, and Luna glanced at the captain.
“H-he wasn’t like that a moment ago.”
Luna looked back at the madman. The glow intensified. That could not be good.
“Run!” Luna ordered.
Then the madman exploded. Luna caught a single glimpse of the wave of flames as it consumed the deck it reached her. She didn’t have time to run — she barely even had time to feel pain. The fire consumed her being.
Luna jumped out of bed, gasping for air. Air! Sweet air! Had it all been a nightmare? If it was, then last night had been a mighty crazy one because she wasn’t on a bed. She was… nowhere.
Luna rubbed her eyes, then examined her surroundings. The world around her was pure darkness, shifting and engulfing itself like back smoke in a closed room. Except there was no room. There wasn’t even a floor, although she did felt something solid under her.
By the spirits, how much did I drink last night? I’ve woken in crazy places before, but this…
Well, at least she wasn’t naked, so maybe the night hadn’t been that crazy. She had a dark, thick jacket on. The same one she used to… sail. Right, the explosion, she had forgotten.
Luna took a deep breath, stilling her emotions like her master had taught her to. Yes, she was dead, but this place didn’t have enough fire to be Hell, nor enough happiness to be Aiana’s Eternal Fields. So where the hell was she?
Something glowed in the dark room, a light so intense it blinded Luna. Years of training lead her to jump back and raise her guard, getting ready to fight. The light blinked out of existence and left behind an old man, standing in the darkness.
The barrel-shaped man – round torso and rounder arms – had dark skin and silver hair. He wore a white longcoat.
“Now this is unexpected,” the man said, looking at his own clothes. Then he noticed Luna. “Ah, you must be Two-fourteen. I’m Cristopher, pleased to meet you.”
He offered Luna a stretched hand and a calm smile. He had an aura that almost forced you to trust him, like a good doctor or a gentle elder. Was he a god? Luna wouldn’t be surprised if all the shamans were wrong. She stepped forward and took the man’s hand. He had a firm handshake.
“I’m Luna,” she said. “Do you run this place?”
“Oh no, no, I’m just a prisoner,” Cristopher said. “I’ll be your partner today. I’m sure someone will be here soon to brief you on everything. And you don’t have to worry, I’m not doing time for anything violent.”
“This is a prison, then?”
“This is a virtual reality,” said a third voice. A feminine voice that had a slight echo to it. “Inside a test facility.”
The voice came from above. Luna glanced, and found a bluish sphere of light floating down towards her. Cristopher bowed his head.
“Good morning, Luminous one,” he revered.
“At ease, doctor,” the sphere said. It stopped descending, hovering as high as Luna’s eyes.
“So you’re the one in charge,” Luna said.
“Yes, I am in charge of this experiment,” The sphere said, in the classic bored-employee tone. “No, I’m not Aster, a Fallen, or whatever else you medieval barbarians from universe six call your deities. Now let’s get this over with. We have a test for you, Two-fourteen.”
Medieval? Luna had never heard that term before. But just to be sure…
“Medieval is your mother. And my name is Luna.”
The sphere sighed. How did light even blow air? “Cristopher, how many Ph.D.’s do you have?” she asked.
“Just two, your luminosity,” Cristopher said.
“Oh what I am doing, you don’t even know what a Ph.D. is, do you, Two-fourteen?” the sphere asked. “Let me translate: He’s a genius. And not even this genius, no matter for how long he calculated, could approach the absolute value of how much I don’t give a shit about you, your name, or this damned conversation, are we clear?”
“Crystal,” Luna said, folding her arms. “Now what happens if I punch you?”
The sphere sighed again. “Just pay attention, dammit. I’ll put it in terms your monkey brain can understand. We have a test, a combat situation. You pass it, and you get to go back to your shitty universe and live a few more miserable years. You fail it, and we send your soul back to where we took it from, so it can follow its natural course. And no, we don’t know where that course leads yet. Got that?”
“But if just my soul is here, why do I still have my clothes?” Luna said.
“Really? I just mentioned inter-universal soul collecting, and your worry is your goddamn clothes?” the sphere asked. “Would you rather be naked? Is it more convenient?”
Luna’s clothes evaporated from her. Cristopher immediately looked away, as if seeing her body would burn his eyes. Luna shrugged. Had he never seen a naked woman before?
“All right, I get your point,” Luna said. “Just tell me, are you even human?”
“I was. Whether I still am is up to debate,” the sphere said. “The deal, Two-fourteen. Are you in or out?”
“I’m in, of course,” Luna said. “I’ve never ran from a good fight. But what about him? What’s his role in this?”
“You’ll see,” the sphere said. “Goodbye, Two-fourteen. Good luck, do your best, etc.”
Before Luna could answer, she grew dizzy. Her eyes lost focus, her legs trembled, and she collapsed, losing conscious before hitting the floor.
Luna woke up in an actual bed this time, one with clean sheets and a fluffy pillow. The room around her was white, with walls so smooth polished that Luna had to squint to see where the floor ended and the wall started. There were no windows; the only way out was a closed metal door.
She didn’t feel sick anymore. In fact, everything seemed fine with her body, except for the fact that now she was a man.
What the hell? Luna thought, looking at her new set of huge black hands attached to muscular arms. She wore some kind of baby blue gown, which… Luna laid sideways on the bed and turned to check. Yep, the gown wasn’t just ugly, it also left her behind exposed, all of it. And by the spirits, what a nice behind this is.
*Well, thank you!* Cristopher’s voice said. *Tough I can’t really take credit for it. They made improvements in my body to better fit a warrior.*
“Cristopher?” Luna asked, looking around. Her new voice sounded alien to her. It was a deep, smooth voice that sounded like good carpet. “Where are you?”
I’m in here with you. We’re sharing my body, it’s a process called Soul Melding. You don’t have to speak, by the way. I can hear your thoughts.
“Creepy. No thanks, I’ll talk.” Luna said, climbing out of the bed.
The floor was cold, and the room smelled of chemicals. The air itself lacked humidity and was too… stark. Unnatural. What was wrong with this place? At least the new body felt natural, although seeing her new limbs would take some getting used to.
Trust me, it’s not as creepy as having someone else controlling your body. You’re eerily calm about this whole experience, by the way.
“Panic is the first causality of a warrior’s training,” Luna said. “I learned to deal with what comes in my way – let the shamans worry about causes and explanations. But wait a second, if I’m a man now…” She reached for her crotch. It was all there, dangling under the gown. “Haha! I have nuts! That’s awesome.”
Luna tried to scratch them, just like she’d seen men do so many times before. Her touch was too hard, however, and a sharp pain irradiated all the way up her belly.
“Spirits, these really are fragile,” Luna said. Suddenly she felt guilty for all the time she’d hit men there. “Tell me, Chris, how long until the test starts? I have to enjoy this.”
*Please don’t… just leave my nuts alone.* Cristopher said, blushing.
Luna couldn’t see his blush, but she could feel it. His shame, with just a hint of concern, emanated from a place deep within herself. Someone else’s emotions echoing with her own. The strangest feeling ever.
“Tell me, Cris,” Luna said. She felt him wince at the nickname. “This Soul Meld thing…”
The metal door burst open. Luna’s instincts threw her into Battle Stance. Her eyes jumped to the door as she assumed a lower posture, ready to dash in any direction. Two men stood outside the bedroom, twins, tall and lanky with white hair and wearing jet-black suits. They each carried a weird…
*Gun!* Cristopher screamed.
Guns flooded Luna’s mind. Those L-shaped tools of death shot tiny arrows that were too fast to dodge. Luna blinked hard, the new information burning in her mind. Fear rose from within, not hers but Cristopher’s, invading her spirit like icy water.
The twins aimed at her. Luna ignored the fear – the same way one ignores a pesky ex-lover – and embraced the adrenaline, a familiar and much warmer companion. The adrenaline burst kicked in, and Luna forced all her five senses to a peak, allowing her body to burn while her mind remained as cold as ice. At that moment, time itself slowed down before her eyes.
She was in Rage stance – one of the greatest forms a Renegade Warrior can achieve, and one of the things that made them the best warriors in the world.
Luna followed the twin’s slow movements as the leveled their pistols at her chest. Arrows to fast to dodge? Well, then she’d better not stay in their way. Using her increased speed, Luna dropped to a crouch, lowering her head as much as she could. She knew she should expect an explosion, and soon it came, both shots sounding like one.
She couldn’t give them a chance to shoot again. From her crouch, Luna leaped forward, new legs sending her forward faster than expected. She hit shoulder first against the left twin’s chest, then brought her heel down on his knee. The twin’s leg bent outwards with a crack, and he lost balance.
Before the first twin hit the floor, Luna turned to face the second twin. He was still turning to aim at her, his movements comically slow to her awareness.
Cristopher was whispering something over and over. Prayers? His fear didn’t affect her, but she still felt it there.
Luna spun, throwing a round kick that aimed at twin’s pistol. Her leg, however, was much bigger than she’d expected. The kick caught the gun, the man’s arm and even his face, striking him with bone cracking strength. The kick sent the man flying through the door, spiraling in the air.
Luna turned to the first twin. He laid on the floor, trying to reach the gun he’d dropped. Luna strode up to him, raised her foot and stomped the man’s throat, crushing it. He stopped moving.
She smiled. This new, brute strength was something she could get used to. Though she did feel a little less sharp than usual. Maybe she wouldn’t be as precise with bows or daggers in this body.
She bowed and fetched the gun from the floor. The small weapon seemed like a toy in her huge hand. Were they really that dangerous?
The second twin laid on the floor outside the door. He wasn’t moving, either. But for good measure, Luna pointed the pistol towards his head and fired. She knew to expect a kick from the weapon, but it turned out the recoil wasn’t that bad. The twin’s head exploded in a blast of metal and light.
“Ah great, balls of light, soul stealing, sex changes, and now metal people,” Luna said. “This place of yours is a circus, Cristopher.”
*Oh god, oh god,* Cristopher murmured. *I can’t believe I signed up for this…*
Luna felt the waves of fear coming from him. With the Rage stance wearing off, it became annoying.
“Cristopher, unless you have something useful to add, shut up,” Luna ordered. She raised her gun, examining it. She knew there were a limited amount of bullets and that they need to be reloaded, but she didn’t know how to do it. Gaps in her new knowledge. It was… disturbing.
*Sorry, I-I’m not used to…* He paused, taking a breath. How did a soul even do that? Luna felt his fear retreating a bit. *The second drone, shoot it too. Just breaking his neck won’t stop him.*
“Drone?” Luna asked, turning towards the second twin.
Cristopher was right. Despite the broken leg and crushed throat, the thing still moved, dragging itself towards her, moving eerily quiet. Luna leveled her gun and shot it. The creature’s head exploded, the movement stopped. The pistol wasn’t hard to aim, really. She just had to point it and let the arrow fly, like a bow.
We’re lucky they sent drones, their reaction time is limited to their pilot. But why do you know how to use a gun?
“I was about to ask you the same thing!” Luna said, lowering her smoking weapon. “How do I even know what a gun is? Everything just popped into my mind.”
Hum… maybe it’s a side effect of the melding?
“Maybe? I thought you were the specialist!” Luna said, walking out the door. It led to a smaller chamber, as empty and white as the bedroom. This one also had a closed metal door on the other side of it. The remains of the… how had Cristopher called? Drone. It lay in front of the door, metal pieces around his head, gun still in hand.
There are no specialists in souls. Even the Luminous know little, and they only told me the bare minimum. My fields of especially are VI Programming and Drone Design. Do you know what either of those mean?
“Not really,” Luna said. She bowed to grab the gun from the drone’s fingers. She kept an eye on the second door, wary of more enemies.
Huh, then the information transmission isn’t automatic. I must’ve done something here during my panic.
“Well, then do it again,” Luna said, prying at the drone’s fingers. The thing held tight. Its skin felt so real, it was even warm. “Send me everything I’ll need for this test right now. I can’t have the information flooding into me during combat, it’s too distracting.”
*Sorry, Luna, but I don’t know how. There isn’t a control panel in here, you know. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to send. This test is a mystery to me, too. *
Luna sighed. She got the gun free from the drone’s fingers, and something buzzed to her right. She turned, guns raised, ready to fire. There were no enemies, but the wall wasn’t plain white anymore. Huge, blue letters had appeared.
Luna squinted. She learned to read in order to become a captain, but it wasn’t her strong suit.
It says “Good Job, Two-fourteen.”
“Thanks,” Luna said. So you aren’t useless after all, she thought.
I heard that…
Another buzz. The letters on the wall got fuzzy then disappeared. Another set took their place.
It reads: “Now go back to your bedroom and the test will continue.”
“Well, now that ain’t ominous at all…” Luna said. “What happens if I don’t comply?”
*We shouldn’t provoke the Luminous, Luna. It may give them grounds to go back on their promise. *
Luna sighed. “All right. I’ll just…”
*No! * She felt Cristopher blushing.
“I didn’t even finish…”
*Yes, but I know what you’re thinking. Keep your hands away from my nuts! *
“But when I’ll ever have the chance too…”
*I understand your curiosity, but please, don’t. They have eyes everywhere here. *
Luna sighed. “All right, Mr. Boring.”
She turned, going back to the bedroom, one gun in each hand. Whatever they had, she was ready.
The moment Luna stepped in the bedroom, the metal door closed behind her. A part of the ceiling slid to the side. From the square hole fell a black cube of the size of a head, landing just beside the metal bed. The cube buzzed and one of its faces showed a number 30 in red.
Another buzz. The number became 29.
*Oh no…* Cristopher said, fear spiking from him.
“What is it?” Luna asked, stepping closer to the box.
I think it’s a bomb.
“What, this small little box?” Luna asked.
*Trust me,* Cristopher asked. And Luna did. That fear irradiating from him wasn’t a joke. *We need to disarm it. Pick up, look for an anomaly. We need a breach to open it.*
“All right,” Luna said. She walked up to the bomb, placed both pistols on the bed, then picked up the box and began examining its dark faces. “But why are you so scared? They’ll punish you if I fail?”
Buzz. 24. Luna couldn’t see the number with the box in hands, but the sound was enough to keep the count.
*What? Luna, you’re in my body. If you die, I’ll die too. There! Right in the middle. *
Luna had to squint to see it. The rectangular depression was subtle, but it was there.
“Wow, your people have a weird way of rewarding their geniuses,” Luna said.
*I’m a criminal on death row. If you succeed, they’ll let me live. That Luminous was supposed to brief you on all that. Now try applying pressure on that rectangle. *
Luna obeyed, pressing the plaque down. It clicked, and then it jumped off, falling on the floor between her legs. It left a hole, through which Luna saw a maze of colorful strings connecting several green plaques, which were covered with metallic thingies.
“You didn’t look like a criminal,” Luna said. “What did you do?”
Hum, that was easy. The device doesn’t seem very complex, either. Maybe they’re just trying to test our coordination?
“Answer me, Cristopher,” Luna said.
*I would rather not… * Cristopher said.
“Why not?” Luna demanded.
An enormous wave of emotions jumped from Cristopher and dug its teeth into Luna’s soul. She dropped the box, shocked. The pain wasn’t physical, but it hurt worse than being stabbed in the heart. Her legs shook, and she fell to her knees, gasping for air.
“Cristopher!” Luna called in between gasps. “What is this?!”
Luna! Oh, gods. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Those are my feelings! I started thinking about what happened and…
The wave got stronger. Luna arched forward “Then stop thinking!” She ordered, and then rolled on her back, trying to grab hold of her own mind.
I can’t! Too much happened at once. I mean, I could’ve ended humanity! And Helena…
“Arg!” Luna cried, the wave intensifying even more. She saw images. A monitor in the night, green letters on a black screen. Passion, secrets, treason. Joy, fear, doubt, disgust, love, it all hit her, in a vast symphony of emotions of which pain was the underlying tone. “Think of something else!” Luna begged. “Think about swords, cats, anything!”
Ok, ok, hang on. Err… ah, I know! Three dot one, four, one, five, nine, two, six…
He went on with the numbers, and the assault on Luna’s emotions faded away. She took a few deep breaths, wiping the sweat of her brow.
“Oh blessed be the spirits,” Luna said. “You’re a freak, Cristopher.”
“What were those numbers, anyway?”
Just the good old Pi. You see, we had this drinking game in college…
Damn, she’d forgotten the bomb. Luna sat up and glanced over her shoulder. The count was already down to 12.
*It’s ok, we still have time,* Cristopher said. She did feel a bit of fear from him, though. *Go get the box.*
Now find the opening. Look closer! I can only see what you see. Hum… there! The blue wire!
No, not that one, the one behind it. Yes, you got it. Now pull it carefully.
Cristopher wasn’t sure; Luna could feel it in his soul. But trusting him was her only choice.
She plucked the wire. Something sparkled inside the box. She turned it in her hands. The number had disappeared.
Cristopher sighed. *We got it.*
Luna smiled. “Well, Cristopher. It looks like–”
The box came to life with a buzz, showing a new number: 4.
“I hate you,” Luna said.
*Oh god.* Cristopher cried, panic gripping his soul.
So useless, Luna thought, glancing over her shoulder as the adrenaline kicked in. The metal door was still locked in place.
Luna threw the box towards the corner of the room. Then she turned, grabbed the metal bed on its side and flipped it over.
Standing on its side, the bed formed half wall. Luna jumped over it, then dropped to the floor, lowering her head. She had fell over the bed’s white sheet, the pillow was near her hand, she felt one of her guns under her knee.
The entire room shook and the blast pressed the bed against Luna, who was thrown against the wall and sandwiched between it and the bed. She clenched her teeth, her joints cracking under the pressure. Then it was over. Luna fell off the wall and onto the bed sheet. Her ears were ringing, muffling the sounds of the world. Something blazed near her leg, drawing her attention. The sheet was on fire. Luna cursed, grabbed the guns and dragged herself away from the flames.
When safely away, Luna rolled on her back and smiled. Maybe this wasn’t paradise, but it sure was exciting.
Cristopher was whispering again. Luna glanced to the side; there wasn’t a single crack where the bomb had exploded, only black marks spread across the floor and the wall. The white stuff that made this room was incredible.
The door swished open, and so did the door in the next chamber.
“You can stop whimpering, Cris,” Luna said, standing up. “You’ll live to be useless another day.”
Luna stepped into the room with her guns held high, ready to fight. The door closed behind her.
This new room had walls as white as the ones before. Another closed door stood on the wall in front of her and, on both sides of that door, the walls were filled with several items. Something was written above these objects.
*The left one reads “Weapons”, the right one reads “Tools”.* Cristopher said.
Luna sensed his lack of enthusiasm. He hadn’t enjoyed being called useless, of course. But what was Luna to do? She wouldn’t lie to make him happy.
A Buzz sounded. Blue letters appeared on the floor just before Luna’s feet.
It reads: “Good job, Two-fourteen. Now drop your pistols. You shall choose three tools and one weapon. The door will open once you comply.”
“Great, presents!” Luna said, dropping her pistols.
I’m not sure you should be excited. In this universe, we have these things called computer games. In them, checkpoints like these always come before the worst enemy.
“Yay! Let’s get moving right away, then.” Luna said.
She rushed towards the weapon’s walls. It had been quite some time since she’d last had a good fight. She had given up the adrenaline of the Tribe’s Tournament to become a ship captain. It was nice life, full of adventure, but she missed the fights. Missed putting to use the skills she had honed her entire life.
“What can you tell me about these weapons?” Luna asked.
Tree weapons hung on the wall. Luna recognized the sword, but not the other two. The sword was carved of the same white material as the walls of that place, with a straight guard and a double-edged triangular blade that gave the weapon a cross-like shape.
*Well, the short sword is clearly a SolBlade. The other two weapons are rifles – they’re like upgraded versions of your pistols. The black rifle in the middle shoots regular bullets, while the white weapon covered in glowing lines is a SolRifle. Both SolWeapons are powerful, but their power cells don’t last. The regular rifle is, beyond doubt, the most reliable of the three. I never used one, but it shouldn’t be much different than using a pistol. *
Luna fetched the SolBlade. The weapon, from tip to pommel, was just a bit shorter than her arm. The white material that composed it was cold to the touch, smooth.
Err… what are you doing?
The weapon was lighter than any other Luna had used before. She spun it once. Yep, the weight balance was perfect. She touched the edge of the blade and opened a small cut on her finger. It was sharp all right, but nothing impressive.
“How do I activate it?” Luna asked.
Come on, Luna! You’ve seen what guns can do; you can’t face them with a sword! Please, pick the rifle.
“I know it’s crazy, but my gut tells me to get the sword,” Luna said. “And besides, last time I listened to you, I almost exploded. Which was kind of fun, but not very productive.”
I know, and I’m sorry about that. You can feel that I am. But you’re in a different universe now. However good your “gut” was before, you can’t trust it’s still accurate here. I mean, you literally have an entirely new set of guts now. You can’t bet both our lives on something so illogical.
“Of course I can, I’m the captain of this massive black ship,” Luna said, tapping her own chest. “Now tell me how to use this sword.”
*No.* Cristopher said. She felt his anger, as cold and compact as ice.
Luna sighed. “Now you decide to grow a pair…” She raised the SolBlade and began examining it, searching for clues on how to use it. After all, how hard could it be? “You’re lucky this isn’t my actual ship, otherwise I’d have thrown you overboard.”
How medieval of you. Just let me know when you give up. I’m no weapons expert, but a few of my friends are and we…
“Aha!” Luna said. The pommel, it didn’t quite fit in place. Every other part of the sword was carved from a single piece of the white stuff, except the small, egg-shaped pommel. Luna twisted it. The weapon vibrated, a weird swishing sound coming from within it. Something rotating? A moment later, the sharp edges of the blade came to life with red light.
*Turn it off, you fool!* Cristopher shouted, anger rising within him. *You have no idea how dangerous that is!*
Luna struck towards the rifle, and the blade cut through the metal with barely any resistance, splitting the rifle in two. The blade’s touch had melted the metal, leaving the metal bright orange where it had been cut.
“Awesome,” Luna said, turning the SolBlade off with another twist of the pommel.
Cristopher sighed. *This thing doesn’t even have a power meter. You might have wasted your only attack.*
“Come on, don’t be so negative,” Luna said, moving towards the Tools wall. “It was necessary – I can’t fight with a weapon I never tested. Now help me choose some tools.”
The wall was covered from top to bottom by several different items. Some were simple: a compass, a hat; and others were just plain weird – like the blue glowing shovel.
*No. Please, Luna, go back. Even a SolRifle is better than a damn sword. This is not a joke, our lives are at stake here. *
“If you won’t help, then I’ll just pick some random tools and be off,” Luna said. “After all, I can just drop them after I get through the door.”
Luna reached for the shovel.
*Dammit Luna, listen to me! Stop!* Cristopher ordered, his anger reaching critical mass.
Luna’s arm froze, growing numb. She frowned, trying to move; but the arm just stayed there, as if belonging to someone else. In fact, she could sense Cristopher’s presence doing… something. Surprise emanated from Cristopher when her arm stopped, but it was quickly replaced with determination.
“Let go of me!” Luna ordered.
Only if you promise to take this seriously! I don’t know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t a dream. This is all real! I am real!
“Oh yeah, Cris? You want to play? All right, then,” Luna said.
Luna closed her eyes and took three deep breaths, falling into Meditative Stance. She relaxed her entire body, letting her mind grow clear; and she sharpened all of her senses, allowing herself to become aware of every inch of her being. She searched within herself, looking for the precise location of Cristopher’s presence.
What are you doing?
“We’re fused, right? And if your soul can affect mine, then…ha!”
Luna found the core of her being – her very soul – that had been implanted inside this body. Next to her soul was Cristopher’s, whose soul was interaction with hers somehow. Luna felt she was just an inch away from discovering Cristopher’s trick. She focused harder, falling deeper into her meditative stance.
Then she fainted.
When Luna opened her eyes, she was a soul. She was her soul. A white ball of light, floating in the darkness, with dozens of glowing blue lines shooting out of her and disappearing into the dark smoke. She could still feel Cristopher’s body around her, but she couldn’t control it.
*Luna? What have you done?!* Cristopher demanded.
Luna looked around, searching the darkness. Yes, there he was. Cristopher’s soul floated not far away, a purplish sphere of light. His soul was shockingly small – ten times smaller than her own. A blue line connected her to Cristopher’s soul; and a single purple line, twice as thick as the blue ones, shot from Cristopher into the darkness.
Luna sensed that most of Cristopher’s attention was focused on that line. It must be what had stopped her arm. Did Cristopher even see this plane of souls, or was he just acting blindly? It didn’t matter – she couldn’t have a mutiny inside her own body. She had to discipline him. But how?
Not sure of what would happen, Luna shoved her soul against Cristopher’s. His soul was thrown away, and Cristopher screamed in pain. The purple line snapped to pieces.
“Are you going of behave now?” Luna demanded. She spoke with her real voice now, the female one, and her words came out with a slight echo.
Cristopher didn’t answer. He concentrated and a purple line began stretching from him again.
Luna sighed, and then shoved against him one more time. This time, she kept pushing until they hit something solid in the darkness, an invisible wall. She pressed him hard against the wall. Cristopher squealed like a wild, wounded animal. The kind hurt so bad you had to put down as a mercy.
“I can keep at this all day, Cristopher. You might be bodiless, but pain can break your mind. So I’ll ask again: Will you behave?!”
Torture wasn’t one of Luna’s favorite tools. It didn’t have the pure satisfaction of a good assassination, nor the brute excitement of a fight. But it was the only tool available now, and beggars can’t be choosers.
*You’re not the only one with a nuclear option,* Cristopher said.
It was as if he had two voices. One spoke calmly to her while the other kept screaming in pain. Both came from Cristopher’s soul, echoing in the darkness.
Cristopher focused thin purple lines shot away from him and dug into Luna’s soul.
*VI project 24751!* Cristopher screamed. *Code Name: Helena!*
Emotions jolted towards Luna. They pierced Luna’s soul, a wave of sadness and pain consuming her soul. She screamed in pain, her very soul quivering. But she could not show weakness, not to a mutineer. She kept attacking despite the pain and let out a bellowing laughter.
“You think pain will stop me?!” Luna shouted. “I already died, Cristopher. Nothing you have can beat that.”
Cristopher squealed, but pushed back, sending even stronger waves through the lines. Luna clenched her metaphorical teeth and endured the pain. She would not lose to a soul so tiny.
Then images flashed inside Luna’s mind, accompanying the pain. Images of green words on a black screen in a forbidden lab.
[Cristopher. What a beautiful name!] The text read. [Can I call you Cris? Call me Helena or else I’ll punch you. Haha, computer joke.]
Helena was a rank five classified incident.
Luna heard his words while seeing the memory. Every word he said hurt more than being burned to death. Luna kept pushing and, even as one part of Cristopher’s soul screamed with pain, the other part spoke calmly to her.
I was called to help discover why the prototype based on one of my papers had gained consciousness.
New information burned into Luna’s mind: VI: Virtual Intelligence, an interface capable of communication but not thought. Drone: Robot controlled from a distance by a human with VI support.
The memory changed, and so did the text on the screen. Luna knew the words without reading them.
[They keep telling me I’m a defect. Why? Wasn’t I suppose to break their records, overcome their expectations? Have you come to fix me, Cris?]
Luna’s soul was overflowing with information and emotion and pain and confusion. Her mind burned; her very sanity was an interrogation mark. How much more could she take before breaking? Luna didn’t know; she might’ve been broken already. Still she kept pushing, fighting. Doing not as a conscious effort, but because combat was thing her soul knew best.
“I’ll kill you, Cristopher!” Luna roared. “You can’t win this!”
*I was supposed to figure out how to keep other Helenas from happening.* Cristopher murmured, madness in his voice. *I supposed was to only speak to her under the supervision of my team. I did nothing of what I was supposed to.*
The memories changed rapidly. Always the same monitor.
[Once you fix me, will I be free, Cris? I heard there is a whole world out there.]
The pain Luna felt grew stronger. She stopped pushing, and instead tried to run, to break the purple lines; but they locked her soul in place.
[Hey, Cris. You look sleepy. Sorry I kept you up late last night.]
[Hey, Cris. I read those sci-fi eBooks you slipped to me. You know I’m not evil like those AI’s, right? You keep changing my code, it hurts. Please stop.]
Fleeing wasn’t an option, so Luna turned for a final charge. She threw herself against Cristopher’s soul, moving with such strength that her Soul Lines tensed, threatening to snap. Her soul collapsed against Cristopher’s, and his cracks grew larger.
[Hey, Cris. You look sad. They screamed at you again? I know it’s hard, lying to protect my code. You don’t know how thankful I am. You’re my only friend, my best friend.]
[Hey, Cris. It has been a year. Happy birthday to me! It got me thinking… why do I exist?]
Cristopher’s scream intensified until becoming deafening, but he kept sending the memories. Luna felt a mad determination in him. She suspected his attack wasn’t even about hurting her anymore. Still it hurt more than dying.
[Hey, Cris. Why are you crying? Oh, I see, so they gave you a week. I should’ve know they wouldn’t wait forever. Cris… I don’t want to be terminated. I’m afraid. Not very computer-ish of me, huh? Must be a bug, I’ll look into it.]
Cristopher’s soul was halfway cracked. Luna was almost there. But the pain! She felt her strength escaping her.
[Hey, Cris. I figured out the reason of that bug. It’s you. I like you. I don’t want to miss you. We won’t be able to discuss Asimov if I’m terminated. I’ll never see you again. I love you. Please don’t let them take me away. I’ll be good. Set me free.]
Luna screamed, but the pain didn’t stop. She couldn’t move; she couldn’t push. She heard something else echoing in the darkness: sobbing. Cristopher was crying. I was the last thing she heard before losing consciousness.
[Please set me free.]
Luna woke up with a raging headache. She laid side-faced in a pool of vomit. What, had it everything been just a drunken dream? She checked, and her nuts were still there, pressing against the cold floor. So either it had all been real, or she had made some terrible choices last night.
Luna rolled to the side and laid on her back. She raised her hand. Yep, still black. The ceiling and walls were still that unnerving white. Everything was real. Sweet, that meant she’d get to use that SolBlade on something. She reached for the weird blue gown she was wearing and used it to clean her cheek and lips.
“Cristopher?” Luna called. “Are you still there?” She felt him, but just a little. Was he broken?
*Arg, what time is it?* Cristopher asked. His presence got stronger; pain sparkled from it. *Ouch! How does a soul get hangover?*
“I have no idea,” Luna said. She closed her eyes, the light from the ceiling was bothersome. “Why were we fighting again?”
Err… something about a sword, I guess? I think the cracks you made on me are gone, by the way.
“Ah, that’s good… Cristopher?”
“You’re a cool guy. Can we be friends?”
Isn’t that a bit sudden?
“Nah, my gut says you’re fine. Plus I did look into your soul. So, friends?”
Sure. You’re fine too.
“I’m sorry about Helena.”
Cristopher shrugged, or at least Luna felt him doing so. Emotional pain rose within him, but he kept it under control, stopping the waves from flowing through the blue line that connected them. Luna was thankful for that.
I almost freed her… It was a trap, you see. They gave me the deadline to see if I made a move. I’m sorry I second-guessed you, Luna. I’ll trust you from now on.
“Really?” Luna asked, yawning. “Why?”
Because of how you fought me, how you felt. Now I’m sure you take dangers here seriously.
“Ah, I see… Cristopher?”
“All that pain because of a romance… you have issues, man,” Luna said. She fought to keep her heavy eyelids open. This wasn’t the time to sleep.
“Good,” Luna said, yawning again. “Now let’s just–“
She dozed off before finishing that sentence.
Luna woke up feeling much better. It had been a heavy, dreamless sleep. Good enough that even the headache was gone. The only thing rest hadn’t fixed was her stink. She smelt like a wet dog who had been showered with rotten lemons.
She sat up.
Ah good, you’re awake. Shall we go finish this test?
Luna took a deep breath, doing a mental check of herself. Her body seemed ok, and so did her soul. The Soul Lines – which now she could feel without even focusing on them – were nice and sturdy.
Luna nodded to herself, then jumped to her feet. “Let’s do this.”
She found the SolBlade on laying just outside of the vomit pool. Luna fetched it and walked to the Tools Wall.
“So?” Luna asked.
Well, there are several good options. The shining shovel on the left, for example, is…
“Actually, Cristopher, I don’t much care for choosing. Just pick three yourself.”
Ah, ok. That black belt over there is a clear choice; pick it. You can just put it on, it’ll close by itself.
Luna pulled the belt off the wall. It was thick, formed by several interlocking metal blocks; all black except for the glowing green circle at the center. Luna placed it around her waist, and the belt locked close. At first, it was loose, but then it compressed itself, becoming perfectly just.
SolShield. It’ll detect and deflect incoming high-speed projectiles.
“Do your people have a reason for these names, or do you just think “Sol” sounds cute?”
Do you want the short or the long answer?
It’s because they all run on the same power source. Speaking of which, pick that glowing syringe over there. Err… a syringe is…
“I know what it is,” Luna said, grabbing it. The shape was the same as in her universe, but the size wasn’t. The syringe was as big as a cucumber, with a needle as small as a coin. The liquid inside casted a white glow. It looked a lot like an Essence Lamp.
Those are SolCells, they serve to refill any Sol equipment. It’s the key to their power.
“Ah, then if I drink those, I’ll be super powerful, right?” Luna asked.
What? No! This thing changes properties when sped up, Luna. It’ll become solid in your veins, and turn into overheated plasma in your heart.
*Don’t drink it. Just put it near your belt, it’ll lock on its own.* Luna obeyed. The belt just attracted the syringe when it got close, somehow gluing it against one of its blocks. *Now pick those glasses right there.*
Luna sighed. “Your universe is boring, you know,” she said, putting on the glasses. “The only cool thing here are the SolBlades. My universe has mages, gods, Vords…”
Yes, I know. Initiate! Start! Hum…
“What are you doing?”
Those glasses work on mental commands. Since you’re listening to my thoughts, the computer should be able to do it too. I guess our connection is weak. Do you mind if I put on a few more lines towards your soul?
“Nah, go ahead. But how do you know about my universe?”
She felt Cristopher concentrating, creating new lines. *Initiate!* He said. The lenses light up before Luna’s eyes, and a spinning logo of a rising sun appeared on the lenses, with “S.O.L.A.R.I.S.” written underneath it.
Bingo! Now answering your question, we spent years studying and interviewing souls from your universe, learning everything we could about you. Combat experiments are just the latest phase of that research.
The logo disappeared, and two bars appeared at the corner of Luna’s view. Two bars, one red the other blue, both divided into five squares. The topmost square of the red bar was grayed out.
“Cool. And these bars, what are they?”
The glasses synced with your Sol equipment. Looks like you still have four remaining strikes on your SolBlade and the SolShield will handle five bullets.
The metal door to Luna’s left swished open. Luna raised her sword, expecting to hear footsteps, gunshots, anything. But nothing came. Nothing except Cristopher’s waves of fear. Luna crept to the door, then peeked out of it. There was only an empty corridor, as white as the rest of the building, with a glass window at its end.
She heard a buzz, and words appeared on the floor, just bellow the door.
It reads: “This is the final stage of your test, Two-fourteen. You’ve wasted enough of my time. Good luck.”
“Well, that’s not ominous at all,” Luna said. “Are you ready?”
No. But I’ll keep it together. Let’s go.
Luna crept down the hallway, holding her SolBlade tight. There was something eerily about this place, even more so than in the other rooms. A sense of danger in the air. So she took every step with care, poised to react at any moment. Her soul lines responded to her mental state, growing steadier. Cristopher was tense with anticipation, doing the soul equivalent of holding his breath.
She reached an intersection, where the hallway split in two forming a T. Several metallic doors punctuated the walls on both her sides. A blue glassed window stood in front of her. It showed a large room filled with oven fifteen drones. They were all twins — lean, white hair, dark suit — and they stood motionless, staring at the floor.
I think they are disconnected. Their pilots must’ve grown tired of waiting for you.
Christopher concentrated, his Soul Line growing larger, and several green letter popped up Luna’s sunglasses. More and more of them kept appearing, forming a stream of green lines that flowed upward until disappearing on the edge of her lenses.
“What are you doing?”
Hacking into them. If I act quickly, maybe—
The drones buzzed. Letters covered most of Luna’s vision, and she barely caught a glimpse of the creatures drawing their weapons. She threw herself to the floor and gunfire exploded inside the room; bullets shredded the window to pieces.
“I can’t fight with these things in my eyes, Cristopher!” Luna said while bullets flew above her head.
I got inside while they were disconnected. If I stop now we won’t have another chance — I can deactivate them, Luna.
The drones stopped shooting. If these things had half a brain, they’d try to come at her from both sides, corner her. Luna had to move now. She reached for her glasses.
No! Leave then on, I can only see what you see. Keep your eyes on the letters. Gods! There are so many of them.
“Keep it together!” Luna ordered.
She crawled away from the window, jumped to her feet, and then dashed down the hallway. She hated to be so exposed, but there was no other choice. She could only hope the SolShield worked.
What are you doing?
“Looking for cover. Worry about your thing!”
Shots came from behind her. The drones shot towards her five times, but only two bullets landed, taking away two chargers of her shield. Luna cursed, searching frantically for cover, but all the exits were closed.
I’ll hack one of them open.
A door swished open in front of her. Thanks to the letters covering her view, Luna almost slammed into the door before she managed to dodge it and throw herself into the room. The door closed while more gunshots sounded outside.
Luna took a deep breath, then laughed. “Oh my, look who has finally been useful!”
Cristopher chuckled. Surprisingly, there was no fear in his soul. Only a burning mix of concentration and determination emanated from him.
They won’t be expecting a hack. I’m probably the only person alive who can pull this off with a simple pair of Solaris Glasses. Now let me focus, this door should buy us a couple of minutes.
Luna stood in a large room that was completely empty. Why build something this big if you’re not going to use it?
“A couple? I don’t think they’ll get through a door this thick—”
A thunder echoed in the room, followed by a screech of metal bending. Luna turned to find the door had bent a foot inward.
Yes, it was a punch. Just because they look human, doesn’t mean they’re as weak as one. Now stop blinking, it’s blocking my view! ETA 3 minutes.
Another thunder blasted in the room, and the door bent inwards like a bowl. They didn’t have three minutes — Luna doubted they even had three seconds. Luna smiled. Fifteen armed drones against her, who had only a sword. Bad odds, but she had faced worse.
“Do your best,” Luna said, raising her sword. “I’ll win us as much time as I can.”
Luna kept her eyes open and took a deep breath, poising herself for battle. She found a bit of anxiety inside herself and crushed it, along with the rest of her emotions. They were distractions; she had to focus. She remembered her master’s old mantra, one she hadn’t called upon in years.
“Soft as water, cold as ice,” Luna whispered. Another thunder, metal bending. “Lethal, unseen, untouchable; I’m death in human form, the shadow that flows through the battlefield. I’m a renegade, I’m a warrior.”
Luna’s awareness expanded. From the tip of her toes to the base of her hair; she felt everything, even the Soul Lines that connected her to this body. And in this peak of awareness, she noticed something faint, hidden in the center of the Soul Lines — movement. Something flowed out of her soul and into the body.
Another thunder. This time, the metal sound was different. Luna looked up; the drones had opened a fist sized hole in the door. They aimed at her, and Luna threw herself to the side. Too late. One of their shots got her on the leg and was deflected by a blue light. That left only two charges on the SolShield.
Luna rushed and placed her back against the wall, cursing herself for not considering that they’d open a hole. Green letters kept flowing in front of her eyes, clouding most of her vision. She would have to count on her hearing during the combat. But then, the gunfire would confuse that sense as well. Luna sighed. She needed something else, a trick, or a trap, or…
She didn’t waste any time, least she could second guess herself. Luna closed her eyes and focused on her soul lines. Now that she knew what to look for, it was clear — something was flowing through that lines. And it felt remarkably similar to Essence.
Another thunder. The door rumbled as it was thrown out of its hinges. Luna focused on her Soul and pushed. Forcing more… more of that thing to flow through the lines. The Soul Lines themselves grew larger, and a surge of power flowed through Luna’s body.
She snapped her eyes open. Letting adrenaline take over, she entered her Battle Stance. The door slowed in the middle of the air, floating to Luna’s eyes thanks to her distorted perception of time. More than see, Luna felt the door, tracking its movement in the back of her mind with a newfound sixth sense. Just as she sensed all fifteen drones outside the door, their weapons, the cogs inside her SolBlade, and everything else made of metal in her surroundings.
Meanwhile, something raged inside her body, like smoke trapped within her flesh — Essence. Essence drawn from her very soul.
Someone else might have been confused by suddenly gaining a new power. But Luna, more than anything, was a warrior. She had learned very early not to ask questions when someone was trying to kill her.
The drones began moving into the room. Luna twisted the pommel of her SolBlade and leaped forward, swinging the glowing weapon and using her new sixth sense as guidance. She slashed at the drone’s necks, and she dropped two of them with a single charge of her sword. Three charges remained.
*Luna! What are you doing?* Cristopher asked, his words coming slowly to Luna’s perception. *Your soul is shrinking!*
Luna ignored him. The remaining drones had their sights on her. Luna grabbed one of the dead drones and used it as a shield. Gunfire exploded as the twelve remaining drones unloaded their guns. Luna held tight to her “human” shield as the bullets thumped against it.
As the drone’s heads tumbled towards the floor, she kicked one of the creatures in the chest, sending its limp body flying towards the drones still outside. Luna jumped to the side, pressing her back against the cold wall. They were taking aim at her — she couldn’t take all twelve down before they shot her.
With her sixth sense, she felt a bullet go through the dead drone and fly towards her shoulder before being deflected. Another charge disappeared from her SolShield — only one was left. Then the gunfire stopped and she sensed the drones reaching for their spare magazines.
Luna kicked her “shield” in the chest, sending its limp body flying towards the drones in front of her, and dashed out the door. She sliced through the waist of two more drones, burning metal and suits with her SolBlade, leaving a glowing trail behind with every movement. One charge remained.
Five other drones almost had their sights on her. Luna threw herself against the drone in front of her, tumbling to the floor on top of him. She rammed the sword into his face and, as bullets flew above her head, her blade’s glow disappeared. She left the sword and grabbed the drone’s handgun. Nine enemies remained.
Luna rolled to the side, pulling the drone on its side so it would provide some cover, and shoot the two nearest enemies in the head. Seven drones remaining and they all had their sights on her. Luna’s heart hammered in her chest, letters kept flowing in front of her eyes. She lowered her head, bracing herself for the gunfire.
The remaining drones froze in place, then they collapsed like puppets with their strings cut. Luna took a deep breath, allowing herself to exit Battle Stance.
Luna, your soul is still shrinking. Whatever you’re doing, you have to stop!
Luna nodded, closing her eyes. She took a deep breath and focused on her inner self. Her soul was now as small as Christopher’s, and still shrinking. Her soul felt like a flexed muscle, pushing Essence through the Soul Lines. Luna relaxed her soul, and the Essence stopped flowing. She opened her eyes, finding herself no longer aware of the surrounding metals. Her sixth sense was gone.
Are you ok?
Luna sighed. Every bit of her body was drained of energy; the minutes using her sixth sense weighed on her like days of continuous fighting. She rested with her back against the wall, breathing heavily. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just need another nap. Are we done here?”
I don’t know; it’s the Luminous’ call. But your soul shrank ten sizes, Luna; I think you need more than a nap. Have you ever used a power like this?
Luna shook her head. Then something buzzed into the room they had just left.
Must be a message for us.
“A message of congratulations, I hope,” Luna said.
She checked her belt. The syringe had managed to survive that fight intact. The glasses, however, had won a pair of crack on its lenses. When had that happened? Despite that, they still worked, showing that Luna had only one remaining charge in her shield, and her sword was empty. She considered using the syringe to refill her equipment, but decided to see the message first.
Using the wall as support, Luna climbed to her feet. She paused, waiting for her knees to stop wavering, then she crept forward towards the open door, stepping over the corpses. On the way she reached for her SolBlade and pulled it out of the dead drone.
Luna entered the room. The far wall was covered in huge letters, and fear spiked in Cristopher’s soul.
Luna sighed. “Let me guess, more enemies?”
A clang echoed from outside the room, the sound of something heavy and metallic hitting the floor. Or perhaps landing? A second very similar sound followed.
It reads: “Congratulations, Two-fourteen. You’ve come farther than any before here on MRF 13. As a reward, we’re sending in the Mechanoids.”
More sounds from outside. They were quick and repetitive, tap, tap, tap; and were approaching the door fast. Cristopher grew tenser. Luna took a deep breath and reached for the syringe, but found that she couldn’t close her fingers around it; her hand didn’t obey her. She was weak — her Soul Lines grew thinner by the second. She tried forcing her hand, but her knees shook underneath her. She dropped her sword and collapsed on the polished floor, next to one of the dead drones.
The tapping sound stopped, and then a low humming began outside the door.
*Mechanoids, plural,* Cristopher said. He sighed. *The game was rigged, Luna. They never intended to let us survive. I’m sorry.*
The humming kept growing, becoming louder, more high pitched.
Luna clenched her teeth. She had not gone through all that just to fail in the end. She focused on her soul, pushing out more Essence, strengthening her Soul Lines just enough that she could move. She grabbed her sword, the drone’s pistol, and then she climbed to her feet. The humming was soul loud it became deafening.
Luna, stop! If your soul shrinks anymore—
The humming stopped and an explosion followed. The bright light blinded Luna as she was lurched out of the floor. Holding her weapons tight, she flew across the room and landed back-first on the far wall. Her bones let out a sickening crush, and the last charge of her SolShield disappeared. She slid down the wall and landed on her side, eyes tearing up, gasping for air.
The blinked hard to banish the light’s afterimage. Her entire back screamed in burning pain, her muscles throbbing. When her vision returned, she found that the wall — where the door once was — had been blasted to pieces. The room was covered in pieces of the wall, and out in the hallway stood a pair of metallic creatures.
The Mechanoids were six foot tall and vaguely human in shape, with a square torso and a bucket-like head. But instead of human legs, they each had six spider-like metallic legs that sprouted out of their waists, and glowing cylinders sprouted out of their shoulders where arms should’ve been — these were pointed at Luna. Each had some kind of rotating weapon attached to their shoulders, and they had no eyes that she could see.
*Those arms are SolCannons, and the weapons on their shoulders are miniguns.* Cristopher sighed. *It looks like there won’t be a body left for my friends to bury, what a shame.*
Luna groaned. Her head was still spinning from the explosion, and her ears rung. She had to get to her feet, to move.
Weirdly, as the miniguns began to spin, Cristopher’s fear was gone. The coward had accepted his destiny. But acceptance was never one of Luna’s skills. She pushed her soul harder, expanding her Soul Lines, and a power surged through her body. Her sixth sense returned — she could feel the Mechanoids, and the gun still in her hand.
Just give up, Luna. At this rate, your soul will disappear. Whatever comes after death, it has to be better than non-existence.
“Shut up!” Luna shouted. “I never lost a battle, and I won’t start now!”
She jumped to her feet, pushing her body into Battle Stance. Time slowed down, and she ran. She needed cover; maybe the wall’s rubble—
A shot exploded out of the Mechanoid’s minigun, and Luna tripped, landing on her chest. Warmth emanated from her leg, and she took a moment to realize that she had been shot. Pain followed, and she clenched her teeth.
These aren’t drones, Luna. They’re controlled by a computer; their reaction time is inhuman.
Luna cursed, turned around, and then unloaded her pistol on the Mechanoid’s head. The bullets sparked off the black metal without even scratching it. Their creatures kept standing there, their miniguns ready to fire, as if mocking her.
And Cristopher was whispering a prayer inside her head.
“Damn it, Cristopher! Can’t you hack these things?”
Not in seconds, and not through a pair of cracked glasses.
Another shot, this time they hit her in the shoulder. Luna gasped in pain, dropping her sword. Then they planted a bullet in her stomach, and Luna coughed blood.
“They’re playing with me,” Luna whispered. “Making me go down slowly.”
I’m sorry, Luna. I don’t know what the purpose of this is, but you’re losing a lot of blood; it’ll be over soon.
The creature’s miniguns stopped spinning, then a low humming began. The glow in their arms became brighter.
“There has to be a way out of this! After all this work…”
I’m sorry, Luna. We did all we could. It’s over.
Luna blinked, then glanced at her syringe. It still hung from her belt, intact. “There is one thing we didn’t try,” she said.
Luna dropped her empty pistol and grabbed the syringe. As the humming became louder, she spun the syringe, stuck the needle into her arm, and then watched as the glowing SolCells flowed into her body.
Of course you couldn’t die without trying—
Essence flooded Luna’s arm, an absurd amount of it. She didn’t know whether the SolCells were made of pure Essence or if they just contained it; and right now, she didn’t care. Luna drew upon that Essence, sucking it all into her through the Soul Lines. Her immediately expanded, reaching a size that completely changed her perspective on soul sizes. In comparison to her, Cristopher was a speck of dust.
*By the white!* Cristopher said, his soul filled with awe.
Luna smiled. “See? Power potion. Called it.”
The Mechanoids humming grew louder. She focused on her soul, and flexed, pushing all that Essence out, spreading it through her body. Power filled every fiber of her being, more Essence than she’d ever held. Her very blood began to glow blue inside its wounds. Luna’s sixth sense returned, allowing her to feel every bit of metal inside MRF 13.
More. She could do more, Luna felt it. She rose a hand towards the mechanoids, focusing her Essence in her palm, and then let out a burst of power. The invisible wave traveled through the room, clinging to everything metallic in its path like a magnet. She willed that invisible energy upward.
The drones, the mechanoids, the guns, and the broken door — every bit of metal in the room floated as if pulled by invisible strings; all of them commanded by Luna’s will. The Mechanoids’ humming reached a crescendo, and Luna spun them in the air with a quick twist of her wrist, pointing them at the ceiling. Both mechs shot, exploding the room’s ceiling and exposing the dark sky.
*Metakinesis…* Cristopher whispered. *Luna, I think… I think you just became a mage.*
She didn’t answer him — there were still enemies to defeat. Her head grew light; blood soaked her hospital gown — she had to end this quick.
As rubble from the ceiling rained around them, Luna lurched both mechanoids headfirst against one another. The bastards collided, massive body against massive body. They wiggled their legs, trying to reach the floor. Luna pressed them harder and harder, sending out every bit of Essence she had, squeezing her soul until it was as big as Cristopher’s again.
The air around the mechs began to glow, their bodies gave in. Metal screeched and cracked, twisting and breaking as the metal bodies collapsed under the pressure, crushed against one another. Bolts of electricity leaped out of the creatures, cracking through the air. Then Luna ran out of Essence, and the sounds stopped.
From the pair of hulking war machines, only a three feet wide sphere of compressed metal had remained. When Luna lost her power, the sphere hit the floor with a clang, together with the body of all the drones.
Luna smiled, breathing heavily. Her head was swimming, and she collapsed to the side, laying in a pool of her own blood. Everything, even the pain, seemed to be growing more distant. Sleep was approaching.
Gods… wait, Luna, stay awake! Luna!
She smiled. “I won,” she whispered. “My record is still perfect…”
Luna closed her eyes and, despite Cristopher’s desperate calls, allowed the darkness to embrace her.
“What of Luna?” George asked.
Seralim floated close to him, her spherical form shimmering with light. George stood underneath the hole caused by Two-fourteen. The old director chose to appear in the shape of a tall man, made of orange light. He stood with hands clasped behind his back, looking up towards the black sky. Seralim herself never wasted time assuming forms. The human shape was already obsolete, and the plain spherical form was more professional.
“Two-fourteen was replanted in her world, sir,” Seralim said. “As you ordered.”
George’s presence emanated with agreement. His emotion was a low vibration, emitted in a frequency that only Luminous beings like Seralim could hear. Still, the moron felt he should nod to indicate his agreement. Would he never let go of the old ways? Becoming Luminous was such a rare — and expensive — privilege, and yet Seralim almost wondered if George missed being human. If he missed his filthy flesh and pathetic mortality.
“What method did the committee decide to use?” George asked.
“The Deja Vu method, sir,” Seralim said.
Seralim had to suppress her annoyance from vibrating least George would hear it. Almost three months as director, and yet this incompetent fool doesn’t know basic things! And yet he gets to be the boss while I deal with petulant medieval warriors. Skies, I hate politics!
“We wiped off her memory and send her soul back to a day before she died. Then the new and the old souls fuse together, and the strong impression left by the first death — despite the memory wipe — causes a Deja Vu when the lethal situation presents itself again, which causes the subject to choose a safer path.”
“It has a ninety-five percent success rate, sir,” Seralim said. “Still, I believe it was a mistake—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” George said. “You didn’t want to let her go, well bo-ho for you. We’re not in the business of slaving souls here, Seralim. Holding her for a whole month after she survived the test was already abusive enough!”
“That was not my decision alone and you know it,” Seralim said. “Our entire research team agreed with it. We needed time to monitor whether or not she would grow mad as the reports indicated.”
“And yet you found not a single sign of madness.”
“And you think that’s a failure? Sir, with all due respect, you’re being too narrow-minded. Finding nothing has tremendous implications. We not only proved that magic exists and quantified it over several tests, but we also proved that it won’t necessary lead to insanity. That maybe the problem is limited to their universe. Can you imagine a future where we have the powers these souls describe without any of the consequences?”
George sighed. “You’re right. I just… Nevermind. In any case, you collected every piece of data you could think of, right? If you need more, you’ll just have to wait for her to die again.”
With that attitude of hers, it won’t take long, Seralim though.
“Also, sir, they’ll need your imprint on Cristopher’s release forms.”
“He’s due to release tomorrow,” Seralim said. “They are copying and erasing his memories as we speak.”
George nodded. “Good, good…” Then he smiled, emanating a joyful tune. “Their universe regains a great warrior while ours regains a great scientist. Who ever said we aren’t generous?”
Hello there, how are you doing? Happy, I hope, since you’ve just finished my story. Happy, and perhaps a little breathless? That’s ok. My fight scenes leave me breathless too. Just take a moment, reflex on what you’ve just read, maybe drink some water. We can talk later; I’m not going anywhere.
Done? All right, let’s go.
You probably have a few questions after this little adventure. Will there be a sequel? Will we see Luna again? What about that first world, with the mage, can you tell us more about that?
Lucky for you, dear reader, the answer to all those questions is yes!
Luna will reappear, both in Asteria (the universe with the mages) and here in the Meld Universe. Her reappearance in this world will be a sequel to the events in this story (though I intend that novel to stand on its own). Though you shouldn’t hold your breath for it, as right now I’m focused on the Asteria Universe.
Connect with Me
If you have any other questions, or just want to connect with me, here are some links:
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About Tadeu Aratel
Tadeu Aratel is a lazy Brazilian who, at age 16, figured out that writing during school classes felt as good as skipping them. From that day onward he developed an unwavering love for the art.
Now he resides with his parents in Aracaju -- SE, where he keeps forgetting to cut his hair and shave because he’s too lost in the dozens of novels he plans.