– I –
The sound of the ocean waves, the chill in the air, and the storm enveloping it all was absent, replaced by a quiet stillness and dry warmth.
It didn’t take much reasoning to understand this wasn’t the island of the Proving Grounds.
A golden-brown desert stretched out before us in all directions, replacing the grey wet scenery of the island. The ground underfoot wasn’t permacrete but a hard yellow-orange rock, and the sky was blanketed by cast iron clouds that looked ready to deliver a deluge, yet the air was as dry as the thin layer of sand canvassing the terrain. In the distance, thirty degrees or so above the horizon, burned the red orb of the sun, but whether it was sunrise or sunset was difficult to tell until I realized I was facing west. This was because I could sense a faint pulling sensation in one particular direction, and quickly realized it was magnetic north.
Two hundred feet to the east stood an enormous building – actually two buildings – that towered over the rocky terrain. They were buildings I recognized and felt I knew quite well since they resembled the school I had attended these past three years. Now that school, undoubtedly a copy, rose before me amidst an arid, desolate setting.
Perhaps because of the surreal portrait it and its surrounding painted, I found myself descending into an incongruous state of tranquil introspection.
There is an order to the world.
Even chaos viewed from a distance can appear beautiful and regular.
As the warm breeze blew strands of blonde hair across my face, I chose to face the chaos surrounding me and bring it into a semblance of order by seeking to understand it. To do so I needed answers and the source of those answers sat on the desert ground at my feet.
Unfortunately, I found the first of those answers confusing.
The gusting wind blew particles of sand into my eyes that I squinted and blinked against, hampering my efforts to frown down at Clarisol, befuddled as I was by her reply.
“This…is a game?”
The wind waned for a few seconds, and the girl sitting on the desert ground brushed aside the locks of dark blonde hair that had strayed across her face. “Yes, to her this is a game. But to us it’s an opportunity to see what you are capable of. In other words, it’s very much a trial.”
My frown deepened. “How can you not know this body’s abilities?”
“Because until now, Mirai has been sleeping her days away both in and out of a maturation tank.”
“But you created this body. Didn’t you design it to meet certain specifications.”
“Are you seriously asking me that?” Clarisol questioned. “Let me ask you something. Do you know how tall or large a child will grow up to be just by looking at it? Do you know if it will be smart or stupid? Do you know if it will be healthy or diseased?”
“No. But you can make an educated guess by taking its parents into account.”
“Mirai doesn’t have parents. Although her body shares its genetics with a human donor, we can only guesstimate her physical abilities. We don’t know how strong, fast, agile, healthy, or resilient Mirai will be. We have rough estimates on your abilities, but you are essentially an unknown quantity.”
She made an attempt to rise to her feet but stopped when I shook my head at her. Sitting back down, Clarisol exhaled a heavy sigh and carried on.
“My family spent years working to create better Simulacra, but it took someone from this side, from your reality, to achieve what we couldn’t. Of course, there were dozens upon dozens of failures before we eventually succeeded with you. However, you are untested. We have no idea whether you will survive or die prematurely like the other failed attempts. That said, you could very well exceed all my family’s expectations.”
“That isn’t entirely reassuring,” I told her.
“No, I imagine it’s not.” She sighed and reached up to tie her hair into a taut ponytail. “But if it’s any consolation, Mirai’s body has shown no signs of abnormal cellular degradation. That is, she regenerates normally and the cellular protoplasm is stable.”
“But you don’t know if I’ll die unexpectedly.”
Clarisol shook her head weakly, and her shoulders slumped. “No, I don’t.” She studied me quickly from head to toes. “But I highly doubt it.”
“So what happens to me if this body dies?”
A look of disappointment settled upon Clarisol’s attractive face. “Then we’re back to square one.”
I pointed at my head. “What about me?”
She finished tying up her hair into the ponytail. “We have to make another copy of you to imprint into the next incarnation of Mirai. Hopefully, the next version won’t be so difficult to wake up.”
Without the need to turn and look at them, I sensed my travelling companions stir as they roused from the forced slumber. When I reached up with my right hand over my shoulder, the mechanical holster attached to my jacket over my right shoulder blade hummed ever so faintly and extended upwards. It swung the railgun over my shoulder, delivering the weapon to my waiting hand. I didn’t know how the mechanical holster responded to my conscious desire for the firearm, but I found it handy as this made it easier for me to grab the railgun that I recognized as a Viper Vanquish. While I lacked intimate knowledge of the railgun’s design, I knew of its capabilities and how to operate it, and assumed that this information had been imprinted into Mirai’s mind as I’d never seen or used such a weapon in my previous life.
Flicking down the safety switch situated on the curved stock of the firearm, I listened to a voice in my head – undoubtedly from the railgun’s Assisting Intelligence – report it was ready, and then I aimed the Viper down at Clarisol.
The young woman grew rigid, her attention on the weapon pointed at her.
I cleared my throat quickly. “So if this body dies, then my consciousness dies with it.”
Clarisol’s gazed flickered upwards and met mine. “Correct.”
For a while, possessing Mirai’s abnormally strong body had imbued me with a sense of confidence and power that helped me adjust to my present predicament. Yes, I was now a girl, but I wasn’t just any girl. I was a very strong girl, and knowing this had allowed me to face Clarisol with poise that was uncharacteristic of me. But the more I listened to the young woman, the more my confidence eroded away as I understood that very little had changed and I was still dancing on someone’s palm.
But was it the same palm…or someone else’s?
Clarisol’s attention alternated between my face and the railgun’s muzzle. “Are you planning to shoot?”
“Honestly, I haven’t decided. You put me through Hell, but oddly I’m feeling generous. Maybe you should thank Mirai for that. Then again, I could turn out to be a real bitch. Time will tell.”
Clarisol rearranged herself on the ground, tucking in her knees and wrapping her arms around them. “Does that mean you’re willing to listen?”
I nodded faintly down at her while in my peripheral vision I watched Tobias, and the three girls slowly sit up. I could faintly see the surprise on their faces as they realized they weren’t on the island anymore. The sight of the school buildings rising up from the desert like a derelict ship run aground caused them to panic and scramble to their feet. But it wasn’t long before they noticed me holding a gun on Clarisol, and quite abruptly their attention was now on me.
Reaching up with my left hand, I waited no more than a couple of heartbeats for the left mechanical holster to swing the second railgun over my shoulder, and I took hold of the weapon’s grip. Thumbing down the safety, I heard the railgun report its ready status, yet I kept the firearm at my side and pointed down. For now, I wanted Tobias and the girls to see that I was armed, but I refrained from aiming the second Viper Vanquish at any of them.
“I’m listening,” I told Clarisol. “From what you’ve told me this is a trial for me. But you said it was a game for her.” I paused as Clarisol nodded shallowly. “Who is this her that you’re talking about?”
The young woman squinted as the wind blew sand across her face. I had to narrow my eyes as well, but it didn’t distract me from maintaining the railgun’s muzzle pointed at her head.
“Has my brother told you about what my universe is like?” she asked.
“He told me a little. About the Noble Houses and the Empire. He said humanity on your side is ruled by an Empress from House Aventisse.”
Again, Clarisol nodded shallowly. “My family kept Project Mirai a secret. It was what people on your side call a super black project. Yet somehow the Empress learnt of Mirai and our success at creating a Simulacrum like none other. We’re still trying to determine how that happened, but the fallout was that she demanded we hand Mirai and all the data on her development over to the Imperial Family.”
“And your family refused?”
Clarisol pouted. "Naturally, but it wasn't so much my family as Mirai's creator who drew the line in the sand. Nonetheless, she had my family's full support. So in that respect, you could say that my family threatened to destroy it all, Mirai and the research data, rather than hand it over. The Empress then threatened us with banishment from the Imperial Court. However, despite losing our long standing ranking of Alus and being demoted to Elsis, House Novis is not without its supporters and they would have demanded an explanation—a reason for our exile—that could have undermined her fragile grip on the Empire, thereby complicating matters for her at a time when she needs all the support she can muster in order to keep the Empire at peace.”
“So what happened?” I asked, beginning to feel genuinely intrigued. Hearing about life in other universe from Tobias and Clarisol was like reading about a fantasy world become real, though unfortunately it seemed my participation was of key importance.
Clarisol brushed a hand over her eyes to clear away the sand that was bothering her. “The Empress proposed a compromise.”
“And that was?”
“An assurance that we would not employ Mirai or any of the Simulacra that we produced against her ruling over the empire.”
I inhaled softly in surprise.
“In exchange,” Clarisol continued, “House Novis would refrain from mass production, limiting the numbers produced to individual situations and circumstances as approved by House Aventisse.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that Simulacra like Mirai can only be produced to cater for very specific needs. And those needs cannot run counter to the Imperial Family’s decrees. In other words, you as Mirai cannot raise your hand against House Aventisse and the Empress’s rule. For that matter, House Novis is prohibited from employing you against the Empress.”
By her own account, Clarisol was painting an unexpected picture of the circumstances surrounding Mirai’s existence, one that I was able to follow though I found it unsettling and surprising, and the implication was so clear that it elicited a deep shiver that made the railgun tremble slightly in my hand.
“Why am I so important that an Empress would take an interest in me?”
“Because you possess the Angel Fibers,” Clarisol replied with the merest hesitation. “And that is what makes you an unknown quantity.”
“The Angel Fibers?”
“Let’s just say that they are something we don’t fully understand, but have already seen the benefit of.” She raised a hand smoothly. “Before you ask what they are, I can’t tell you because I don’t know. If you want an answer you’ll need to speak to the head of House Novis here in this universe, or ask the one who created you.”
“And who would that be?”
Clarisol’s lips curled into a smile that was both enigmatic and menacing. “Your sister, Doctor Erina Kassius.”
I'll be posting segments a little at a time over the coming weeks and months until Book Two's eventual release.
Note: what is posted here is just draft one. The final version to be released on Amazon will be more polished and may end up significantly different to the initial draft.
However, this book won't be as dark as Book One.
Actually, that should be something for the readers to decide.
Amazon Link: here!
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