Blur The Line
|This tale has been told! It's done!|
|Blur the Line|
|Prerequisites||The Theta Contingency, concurrent The Tightrope Act|
|Rewards||No known rewards|
In the short break where agents I04 and a6 of SI:9 receive during the taskforce's period of rest, a shift in governmental administration by the President of Munijoch, the Globalist, threatens to dismantle the agency and everything it has achieved thus far. Recognizing the grave danger of the President's almost-obsessive vendetta over the agency that took everything from him, I04 must find a way to balance the ethics of the agency with the legality of being an independent entity. Likewise, a6 must draw a line between working for freedom and working to freedom.
Prologue: Fall off the Tightrope
DATA FILE: SI:9
DESCRIPTION: SI:9 formed through the collaboration between the Whiteblood government and the Nightwardens, a secretive magical emissary who guards the artifacts associated with the island of Munijoch. The agency has expanded its role to espionage and information retrieval. The condition to them cooperating with the new government, however, is to be an independent entity that jointly cooperates and receives funding from the government to remain in operation. As was covered in the SI:9 training handbook, section 7, the goal of the agency is to provide assistance to government whenever requested for inquiries within and outside the country. Do the job with pride, keep a smile, and always say thank you when asked to do a task.
It has been just a couple hours since they were released from their duties on the taskforce. They were, in fact, among the first to be released back to their country. Sure, they had only a week, but when did that ever stop either of them from having their down time? After all, there was some fuss over the way I04 handled the confrontation with The Globalist, and the agency needed some direction as to how to exactly respond to this.
The two got onto their SI:9 transport jet and took off back to headquarters, where they were expected to immediately speak with the agency’s board of departments about the taskforce, how much they told them about SI:9, and what their role will be in the organization from here on out. Likewise, I04 was to personally brief the leaders on the information gathered on foreign agencies, their Lynx AI system, and counter-espionage tactics. From what he gathered, they intended to launch a campaign against foreign entities to ensure that their “special project” does not get trampled with. Reasonable, he thought, but perhaps too assuming of their true knowledge on the subject.
Almost as soon as the two reclined their chairs, the holographic conference display came online, with Z01’s visage appearing in the air, with various runes inscribed around her. She’s evidently been busy, perhaps with the collaborators on Project Zynth.
Z01: I04, a6, good to finally communicate with you two on a secure line, not to mention in what I hope to be wonderful accommodations. I imagine that talking on tapped feeds was annoying, but nonetheless a good refresher course on subterfuge.
I04: Z01, a pleasure as always. You don’t usually call unless you’ve made a breakthrough that could benefit me, so do enlighten me on your findings.
Z01: We have shifted Project Zynth onto an axis and have found the results we have been looking for. We think now we can apply this to Black Octagon at once.
a6 knew little of the project beyond what they have seen from the footage given by I04. All they knew was that it was the work of Zero Sector, SI:9’s black label labs, where their implant and I04’s nanomachines come from.
I04: This is indeed excellent news. When might I be able to see this?
Z01: Unfortunately, we only have the design portion finalized, and complete implementation might take a few weeks to complete entirely. But, once it is complete, we expect it to be operational within two days.
I04 looked down for a moment in contemplation. He knew that it could be done in as few as 3 weeks, which corresponds to the amount of time he was given by the UAN for leave. Perhaps that time could work in his favor.
I04: I’ll give your team two weeks to make it integrated with Black Octagon, then we can move on to the next project, Cyan Decagon.
Z01: Consider it started. Z01 out.
The hologram shut off, sending the jet into an illuminated, subtle mood that contrasted SI:9’s almost hypnotic office lights.
a6: So what next, sir?
I04: Now? I’d get some sleep before the big meeting, a6. You know how they press their questions.
a6: Of course, sir. Shall I turn the lights off so that you can sleep?
I04: No, I have some documents to look over. As you were.
I04 spun his chair around and pulled out files pertaining to new technology being developed by Zero Sector. Thankfully, the agency was about to diversify its color choice with the addition of specialized suits with colors denoting its attribute (red for super-heat resistance, gray for EMP resistance, the works). Otherwise, there was nothing immediately obvious or discerning about Z01’s new progress. Whatever it was, she intends on keeping it off the file book.
Meanwhile, a6 started to lull off to sleep, the warm sound of the PULSE turbines gracing their ears. It was nice to have a light hum to focus on, rather than letting the memories trickle by at an incomprehensibly slow rate. Likewise, it was nice to finally get some rest to begin with. They wondered how their boss could even handle the constant pressure, or if they ever cracked.
Their thoughts were secondary in quality to the actual jet, though. It was brand new, a new delivery out of Zero Sector’s transportation division. Who knew that black leather and black wood could prove incredibly fashionable when contrasting a dark gray interior with white accents? With 10 chairs, a conference room, and private rooms, this was designed for the truly important agents to ride in. To call them important would be humorous, though, as all agents have equal merit in SI:9, one just must prove it.
Before either could observe their surroundings well enough, the plane shifted it’s exterior to reflective, and went sub-orbital. All that was going between their heads was the soft music playing in their headphones.
DATA FILE: SI:9 Shadowhawk Jet
TECHNICAL PROPERTIES: PULSE TURBINES CLASS S.V9, ANTI-RADAR, RETROREFLECTIVE PANELING, SUBORBITAL CABAILITIES
MAGICAL PROPERTIES: NONE
DESCRIPTION: Few transport vehicles have ever come out of Black Octagon, however this carries the distinction of being one of those. At it's core, it is a regular transport jet, but it has been rebuilt to be sub-orbital capable as well as able to completely hide itself from most detection methods. Unfortunately, like most PULSE-based products, it is EMP susceptible on signal X921.0862 due to the PULSE Clean Slate Protocol. Scientists currently working to crack algorithm to remove security chip.'
About 2 hours later, the plane landed, cold steam radiating off it from the frigid body interacting with the warm air around it. It was a nice, sunny day on the air strip, although a storm was about to roll in.
Out popped the two tired agents, likely in dire need of a freshen up. Maybe I04 could convince the agents that he was contaminated to receive a super thorough shower, then steal some shampoo to finish the job. That, or make a beeline to the state-of-the-art recreation hall to indulge in a sauna. All these were perfectly valid options and methods to delay the inevitable report to his fellow department leaders.
Oh, here comes Z01. There go his plans, and perhaps his smile.
Z01: You two always have impeccable timing. Come, I’ll show you our findings really quick while we still have the time to.
The three walked through iced glass doors into the main building; imposing yet almost like a second home for them now. The office lights were cold; they were designed to keep the workers awake yet entranced, to promote vagueness while outside the office. Z01 led them down a corridor, where a single elevator door stood. She pressed it and the door opened to a cabinet with weird floor tiles. They were metal, yet felt like Velcro.
Z01: Turn on your magnetic soles, we’re going for a small ride.
I04: You’ll love this, a6. Perfect for your new liking for thrill.
a6: I’m not entirely too sure on that last part, sir.
The elevator spun to life, almost sounding like a PULSE Turbine, and took off straight down for about 5 seconds before it felt like it went forward gradually. All three of them found it difficult to stand as the cab got faster and faster. About a minute passed before they slowed to a stop. Their location? About 30 minutes west of Mt Graxxar, Munijoch’s iconic mountain.
The doors opened to a larger than life chamber, where a gigantic ship laid hovering, a loud, deep hum reverberating throughout the room. If they didn’t know better, this was the MJ-Dark Angel, MJ’s own space craft meant for deep space exploration. But, this was something, much, much more important for the agency. This was Black Octagon.
Z01: As you know, we have been having issues with locating a definitive power source for the ship. We think we might have found one, however, but we don’t know for sure yet. But, that’s not what I wanted to show you.
Z01 walked a little bit to a side-room and held it open for them. In front of them were 9 objects with an odd familiarity to both. For I04, he received three rings, with the inscriptions of “STRENGTH,” “IV,” and “OBEY” on them, as well as a new PULSE mini-reactor belt—EMP proof, now. For a6, they received a new Black Box speaker, which had more sound in a smaller form factor, a similar PULSE mini-reactor belt, and, what was this? It looked like an implant, but they thought they didn’t say anything.
Z01: This is for when you are to be reconditioned next, a6, which shouldn’t be for at least 5 years.
I04: I made sure your last reconditioning was extra effective, since I realize this taskforce project might go overtime. Enjoy it, it only means you’ll be more effective.
a6: Thanks boss!
The other two items were a little more specialized; they appeared to be suits?
Z01: As you might have read, we recently got some fashion taste and designed new suits. These should be the same function as your current ones, but they have some added functionality. For you, I04, your suit acts as an amplifier of sorts for your nanomachines, which will allow you to further magnify your powers. You could also just release an EMP if you wish. As for you, a6, tugging the sleeve will allow you to use your very suit as an amplifier for your Black Box. For both of you, your slacks now connect with your shoes to ground yourself to the earth, just so that we don’t have a repeat of your encounter with the Globalist, I04.
I04 scowled a little bit at her. He felt cheated out of that fight with him, especially since he got away without barely a scratch.
I04: Ignoring that sly comment, I appreciate these new toys, Z01. What magic have you been experimenting with today?
Z01: Nothing too exciting, I’ve been investigating runic inscriptions on some weaponry that could provide on-demand fires, but beyond survivalist applications, I don’t see much potential for that. These were made for close combat after all.
I04: As for the shields you spoke of a couple months ago?
Z01: We recently cracked the arcane barrier for the inscription, and we’re able to apply it to our transportation equipment. It’ll allow us to lighten our vehicles without sacrificing our integrity.
I04: You aren’t the head of your department for nothing, Z01. Well done.
The three were about to head onto the elevator when I04 took another look at the ship. He recognized that his destiny depended on Z01, but also equal parts the Nightwardens that ensure his constant supply of magic, as well as the WhiteBloods cooperation.
Z01 pressed the button on the elevator and the three set off.
a6: So, what’s the purpose of this meeting?
I04: The meeting really is intended to inform the department of our work within the taskforce. Typically, the internal and external departments differ on opinions, and they require a foreign input to determine a stance. Although, this whole situation might make them very annoyed.
Z01: Most of us weren’t surprised you were actively avoiding a subpoena by the President, but we never expected you to engage in a game of fisticuffs.
I04: That was a slip of judgement.
Z01: Regardless of what it was, or wasn’t, A01 and B01 are both very interested in your justification for it.
I04: And they’ll find that I am justified.
Chapter One: Bureaucratic Boredom
DATA FILE: SI:9 HQ
TECHNICAL PROPERTIES: AI WEAPONRY, STEALTH CLOAKING
MAGICAL PROPERTIES: ARCANE-ELECTRO BARRIERS
DESCRIPTION: Few know much about the SI:9 HQ other than the fact it’s one of the most modern buildings in Munijoch, yet also the most secretive. Aircraft are expected to land through a small port opening via vertical landing, and all agents are bussed in through special busses, apart from the few agents who live on site. The HQ features a rec room designed to emulate a gym and arcade, as well as a massive data analysis center, “war room,” and several meeting rooms, in addition to the offices of the various departments.'
A01: And you really expect us to believe that, I04?
A01 burst into laughter, tears rolling down their face. They weren’t very old but they had experience that was on par with most of the agents.
A01: What a pedantic little quarrel. B01, what are your thoughts?
B01: I, for one, believe him. I recall having our agents investigate the sudden release of electrons around the President’s office. If what I04 says is true, The Globalist might not be our ally anymore.
Oh great, there they go again.
A01: Typical B01 to take the side of this, this issue! I would mow you down if I had half the mind to.
B01: And just as typical of you, A01, to always rush to the government’s defense.
A01 drew their energy scythes out, as B01 drew his sickles.
I04: There’s no need to fight, you two. We need to get back to business.
A01: There’s all the need to fight you two!
A01 wasn't typically known for his quick wits, but this would have made I04 chuckle if any other circumstance was abound.
I04 drew his fists closed and summoned his nanomachines out, warping reality to make it a pitch black and foggy field. The room felt cold for everyone; even Z01 felt a shiver run down her back. This wasn't anything to be messed with, evidently, if I04 was to try and using his skills directly on all of them.
I04: You’re all trapped in a maze. Clouded in judgement. I could kill you both in a single instant and neither of you would know how, when, or from what. Cease this.
Z01: That’s quite enough!
Z01 slammed her weapon, an old staff, down and stopped I04’s illusion, temporarily stunning all three of them.
Z01: Never in my life did I imagine I would have to deal with children in this illustrious agency. Having recorded the electron outburst from the Presidential Office, it can be inferred that the Globalist took advantage of the rooms properties and detonated his PULSE belt. It would explain I04’s broken nanomachines.
I04 looked up, smirking slightly at A01.
Z01: That being said, I don’t believe there’s any reason to hold hostilities towards the President over this misunderstanding. Unless we have valid proof, I don’t believe we have any reasons to hold hostility towards the government in general, and therefore, we should resume all efforts to make sense of the situation and read the road as to what we should do about your aggression, I04.
a6: I04 assigned me to scan the files of the Vanguard Force in an effort to determine the President’s next move. As of yet, we found nothing of major interest, aside from this.
a6 beckoned I04 to hand them the data projector and pulled up an interesting looking file. The file was, obviously, encrypted. Or, perhaps it was cryptography. None of them could really make it out besides the typical signs of an encrypted file: random characters, symbols, and numbers, all in a seemingly random formation. Though, there are repeats of the same symbols, indicating a pattern reminiscent of an old cryptograph used back in the early 2000's. This too, however, was a stretch, as that was very technical and derived from most computer encryption programs.
I04: I already have our systems working to decode it. But, unless we get a potential relay, it might be cold.
A01: This looks like a data cache file. It’s encrypted yes, but the easy part is finding the program.
B01: We have a program that can be used to determine the program, based off pre-existing programs with their source code loaded into the system.
Z01 sighed with relief as the four of them were cooperating, just as the agency intended it to be. Who knows what they could do with a few cups of coffee (tea for I04), a day, and unlimited computer access.
Suddenly, the lights began to flicker. This wasn't a power surge, but rather the notification courtesy lights.
???: Good evening, agents.
The holoprojector turned white as the video feed showed the Globalist in a sparse, white room. This wasn’t the office, I04 thought. This appeared to be a war room.
The Globalist: I am contacting you in regard to your agency’s status as an independent party. Your agency shall have a month to make new accommodations to the intelligence division of the Vanguard Force. This is an effort to maintain government oversight in these dire times.
I04: You know very well you can’t do that, President.
A video feed of the Council voting on a provision to allow the agency was made. Video artifacts were present, the quality was low, and there was a creeping doubt associated with it, especially from a6, who curled their brow in confusion as they quickly evaluated the short clip.
The Globalist: The Council begs to differ. You have a month.
As the feed cut off, the room was left in dead silence. It seems that their symbiotic relationship is coming to an end.
a6: Don’t believe that video for a second. That looks remarkably similar to a video on the tax increase on non-renewable containers.
A01: Excellent observation, alpha-squad. You chose a keen-eyed one, I04.
I04: Quite. a6, find that video so that we can confirm it. I believe I’ve justified my paranoia now, haven’t I?
B01: What can we do? We can’t just stop him, can we?
A01: What sort of talk is that, B01? Do we just roll over like dogs in face of this new information? No! We fight back!
Funny how quick A01 can change minds, too.
Z01: But with what? We can’t just say no when they walk up.
I04 sat scheming. He had a plan, there’s no doubt about it, but if it worked... what would happen?
I04: I might have a plan.
I04 brought up a map of Munijoch and zoomed in on Mt. Graxxar. A cavern system was displayed. It looked familiar to all of them.
I04: As they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Perhaps I can "convince" Mark to allow us to borrow the Infinite Engine long-term. We can use it to accelerate the development of Black Octagon. As for you, a6, I want you to perform some sabotage.
a6 smiled. Something that can they can do well with, with the added bonus of being away from I04.
I04: Your objective is to infiltrate the Munijoch Vanguard Force base by any means you choose. You are to start a "fire" within by infiltrating their data servers. You are to then steal a copy of all the military codes, files, access keys, and protocols.
A01: You aren’t saying...
I04: It is what I’m saying. We are going to steal their military, either by taking the guns they use or by destroying them.
B01: Truly genius.
I04: It’s not genius, it’s ingenuity. I’m not letting this agency die, and we all know all-out war is a loss, even with the Subjects and the Nightwardens assistance.
Z01: The artifacts can assist, but I doubt our agents are in the physical state to take on an army.
The agents realized they had to act fast, lest they lose the very thing that they took pride in. I04 was confident in that moment that his plan would work, but the same couldn’t be said for a6, who was in doubt over not the ability of their boss, but in the ability of them to all work together. It seemed too simple, too short, too concise. But, at the same time, what alternative did they have?
I04: I expect this to be done as soon as possible. I’m anticipating this forsaken taskforce to call asking us to replace a lightbulb at any moment, or cry to us about their AI. We will have a week to prepare and reflect on what happened today. I would like to call this meeting adjourned.
As the agents walked out, a6 was left in the room with a simple thought: if the agency collapses, they’re free. But if they fail, they’re dead. They have to play along, or else they can’t get away truly from the agency. What other choice is there but to forcefully carry out their duties? They knew the answer was a fate worse than death.
DATA FILE: I04
MAGICAL PROPERTIES: none
PHYSICAL PROPERTIES: enhanced motor skills, reality manipulation through ■■■■■■■■, strategic thinking
DESCRIPTION: ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■you■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■need■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■■■■■■know■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■■■nothing.
Mt. Graxxar was truly a sight to behold. Nothing can compare to its sheer granite faces and astonishing cliffside peaks. That being said, beyond the snow-capped peaks, the mountain held a secret. This mountain, unlike most, blocked electromagnetic waves, meaning that teleporters were useless inside the actual mountain. That on its own wouldn’t be so bad, after all, the more layers an object has, the more likely it was for someone to get stuck in the actual layers of said object, especially rock. But the surrounding perimeter was infested with WhiteBlood agents, as was the interior of the mountain. Complicating matters even further, a powerful, poorly understood artifact sat just feet inside the mountain, interfering with anything remotely magical. It was theorized that it was a combination of all the runes in existence, outputting pure magical energy, denoted as “Infinite” energy.
So, how exactly does one counteract the full combined power of Arcane, Pyro, Aquos, Electro, Zephyr, Life, Death, Blood, Cosmic, and Abyss runes? Simple really, just go primitive and land an aircraft, hoping that none of these agents on the outside have a real vendetta against you. After all, you go back. Of course, plan B is just to get captured and infiltrate from within. Either wouldn’t be very difficult. I04 jumped off the helicopter, wearing a light jacket to disguise his appearance a bit. Black wool, light, but filled with extra nanomachines. He knew his enemy well. That being said, they didn’t really know him well, as it would appear that everyone was gone. Funny, seeing as he landed there specifically to attract their attention. Nevertheless, he maintains his caution as he moves in towards the target: The Infinite Engine.
As he moved closer to the entrance, he heard some hushed voices discussing something in the entrance.
???: ...shouldn’t degrade the quality... power.
???: That’s the hope... doubtful... effects.
???: Hope you’re right… explosion.
I04 readied himself and moved in to the lip of the cave. The voices became clearer and he recognized one of them. At least what he considers fate shined upon him today.
I04: Mark Yslenski. I’ve come to talk.
Mark: My my, it’s been a while since I’ve heard that cold, calculating voice. Come to apologize for your agency’s betrayal?
Mark was talking about the Frosian War, in which the WhiteBloods specifically asked SI:9 for assistance in taking artifacts to maintain control of the government through terror.
I04: SI:9 was expected to take the country’s side in the Frosian War, lest we lose access to our ability to traverse the country.
Mark: We could’ve come back, you blithering idiot. But instead you chose your artifacts of ambivalent power.
I04: Those artifacts hold the same power as in the very artifact you toy with. The same one I need.
Mark: Funny how you expect to waltz in here and think you can ask me for this!
I04: Mark, the country betrayed us. We’re the last line of defense of magic in this land, and by extension, you. Subject V is unhinged, you knew that from the start.
Mark was nowhere to be found, but I04 felt something come towards him.
Mark: I believe it is time for you to go.
I04 got knocked back initially by a wave of dark magic. Abyssal, to be precise. He felt some of his nanomachines disintegrating, which didn’t surprise him as much as it made him relieved to have thought ahead. He rolled a bit to the side and sent a wave of his nanomachines around the room, enveloping it in an enclosure of his own design. He ordered the machines to send a shockwave of electricity to each one of them, creating a small electric field. Through the gaps in the field, he found Mark.
I04: No, I believe you confuse the time. Pity what living under a rock does to you.
I04 ordered the machines to blast the outline of mark with almost pure Arcanoelectric energy, pinning him down. The machine’s enclosure began to shrink and target Mark more precisely, trapping him inside.
Mark: What... what did you do?
I04: Something even your obsessive mind couldn’t figure out.
I04 took out a mundane plate that had a hexagonal inscription on it and placed it on the base of the Infinite Engine. The plate shone a bright purple with undertones of black and enveloped the engine in another enclosure. This time though, it began to... shrink?
I04: Artificial combining of Runes through the use of Universal Inscriptions. Many properties, few drawbacks.
The Infinite Engine continued shrinking until it looked like a small marble. I04 picked it up, placed it in a metallic box that appeared to be a modified ring container, and placed it in his pocket.
Mark: But... how?
I04: Trade secret. Its why you’re currently stuck. Speaking of you, what to do..
I04 snickered slightly in one of his rare forms of expression. It sent a chill down Mark’s spine.
I04: No, that’d be too cruel, even for me. You have a use for me still, surprisingly. Though follow me and I won’t hesitate to make those nanomachines into a new suit custom tailored for you.
I04 began to walk away, retrieving the nanomachines.
Mark: Hey, no hard feelings, right?
I04: I have a feeling you’ll thank me when it’s done, Mark. So no. Though I recommend you get cracking on natural combining of opposing runes, the agency could use that knowledge.
DATA FILE: RUNES
TECHNICAL PROPERTIES: MAGICAL, BUT VERSATILE
MAGICAL PROPERTIES: THEY ARE MAGIC (note: edited directly by I04 and Z01
DESCRIPTION: Runes are the given name for magical scripts found in Munijoch and potentially beyond. SI:9 has identified 10 main types, being Arcane, Pyro, Aquos, Electro, Zephyr, Life, Death, Blood, Cosmic, and Abyss. Out of these 10, Arcane is the most common, and Abyss is the least. Arcane is versatile in the sense that it's properties are generally malleable in form and function. Artifacts found demonstrated a vast array of different uses for Arcane, leading to the belief that this magic was common prior to modern historical accounts. Much like the heavy elements, the runes Death, Cosmic, and Abyss are generally rare and appear to have origins dating back to the first "Mancers," or specialized magicians, exploring the different fields of magic. Such experimentation often ended in disaster, with artifacts such as the Black Orb of Graxxar showing signs of Abyssal Runes being experimented with. That being said, the agency is striving towards the development of a "Universal Inscription" for all runes to adhere to. Such inscribing is difficult due to the few "relations" each has with one another, requiring the experimenters to treat the magic similar to a piece of software being coded to be compatible with all operating systems. That being said, a rudimentary "code" has been made, and strives have also been made in the artificial combining of runes, a feat not usually done without a powerful reagent. In doing so, the agency has discovered methods to "transmute" runes out of existing artifacts to reproduce the magic. While not as powerful as base conjuring, the runes perform "at or near 95% maximum power" as naturally conjured runes; said runes include Arcane, Pyros, Aquos, Electro, Zephyr, and Life, along with the aforementioned "rare" runes. The agency's goal is to use the runes in the creation of standard-issue artifacts, but these are rumored to be already in service in small numbers. SI:9 encourages all foreign parties to contribute their own findings and discoveries into deciphering this enigma.'
Chapter Two: To Launch the Stone at the Heart of Iron
The base of the Munijoch Vanguard Force screamed militaristic. It was, after all, a military base. Unlike SI:9, the style for the Vanguard never really went past redundancy and PULSE-based suits. Though that being said, redundancy never appeared to be the military's best skill either; their servers were all exposed in a data center inside the base. The servers ran a base encryption protocol, but this encryption was developed by SI:9 itself. Typical for the military too, in all fairness, to be heavily reliant on an intelligence agency to make their own encryption. But, what they lacked in computer skills they more than made up for in sheer manpower. The server room was designed to be anti-teleportation, so a6 couldn't just waltz in there unannounced. Rather, a6 had to find a way in, undetected, just to make sure that they can simply wipe a server. In hindsight, perhaps it is a genius plan, seeing as how the military would have to rely on older technology that SI:9 can easily tap or impede to relay messages, but after the event, a6 has a compulsion to question everything-- a skill others have, but may not be allowed to show.
a6 had to choose a practical disguise, something with enough importance that no one would question their presence, or their intentions. They needed someone close to the top, but not so far from the bottom either. They did their research and identified an I.T tech with server access. Taking her out was the easy part; they were incredibly interested in coffee and floral art, and nothing screams romance like roses and a nice cappuccino. From there, a6 made sure that the flowers could record their retinal pattern and speech pattern so that they can make contacts and a voice synthesizer. All that was left was a surprise lottery win to take the vacation to Margate to spend it in the country's excellent urban surroundings. Perhaps with a communication delay or two, too.
Once a6 got what they needed, they moved in on the base, fully aware that they were being actively scanned; their implant, albeit barely functioning, recorded the loggings of the radio waves onto an app on their phone, just like wireless headphones. As soon as they were in, a6 signed in, got a coffee, sat at the I.T person's desk, took several calls about having a "virus" on the interns' computers (typical of someone to be downloading games onto computers as powerful as those), and later took time to do scheduled maintenance on the server.
a6's transponder was beeping with a message from I04.
I04: IE secured. IT secured?
a6: Working on IT. Any ID?
I04: System is based on Cryptograph #98.rev02, key stored on transponder. Developed with others. RE when done.
With that information, a6 got to work. They took out an access computer to type in the I.T's information, written on the back of the ID of the lanyard and covered with a piece of cardstock. Funny, it didn't work. They double checked again, but to no avail. Frustrated, a6 took out a sleek decrypting USB stick and plugged it into the machine. A prompt came up to search credentials, only to find that the name had been erased. Whatever shenanigans were transpiring, this wasn't of I04's doing, which sometimes were tests to make sure a6 was kept up to par with technological knowledge. a6 took out another USB stick, provided by I04 as the "backup plan" and plugged that in, running another prompt to grant administrative access to the directory. With a few keystrokes, a6 took control, rerouted the data to SI:9, and killed the server.
???: 240 hours.
a6 perked up, shocked by the deep, burly voice coming from... around the room?
???: That's how long I studied your repertoire for, alpha squad agent.
From the shadows came a soft, red glow. It looked vaguely familiar. Though, this wasn't from SI:9, this was from a book.
???: You were picked specially from a batch of over 100 applicants. Few even puffed up their applications. A pity that they chose you, of all people. Speaking with them, I know your family misses you.
The voice stepped from the shadows. They stood tall, their appearance almost more machine than anything. It wouldn't take much to be fearful of them, but that was the intent; a leader needed to be a monster to be powerful, in more ways than one. This leader was Isaac von Juggernaut II.
a6: And what would you know about them?
Isaac: A great deal more than you think. I can take you to them if you hand me your weapons and tools.
a6: No. This is my job, and I must follow through, however painful it might be to turn my back on them.
Isaac: You turn your back not only on them but your COUNTRY! What would you do for Munijoch, our motherland, that they wouldn't do?! They SERVE with us! They give their sacrifices so that the country might prosper!
a6: Are they Vanguard?
Isaac: No... they're... I cannot say, I am sorry. I feel your pain too, your yearning to know your past, the past that they took from you and that you see glimpses of. The fragments that haunt you, just like the fragment in me. My offer still stands, agent. You can still serve.
a6 thought on this. The opportunity to find their parents, to get their memories back, to have protection from everything. They could find out who they were, who they were meant to be. Who they lost. Who would they find? Munijoch could do this and more. All they had to do was surrender. But, surrender isn't an option.
a6: I am sorry, War Commander, but my path is a path I would much rather take alone. Forgive me for refusing.
a6 readied his black box towards Isaac, though it felt like the music was already playing. Though, this was a sadder song; a song of losing and making a choice to affect the path they go on forever. They held the box and pressed play.
The older commander was blown back, visibly in pain by the sound. They tried to resist but they couldn't and keeled in pain, screaming in agony. a6 stood their, crying as they continued to play. It was too late to go back.
Isaac, curiously, started to glow red.
He began to kneel.
He was standing, hunched over.
He had his hands over his head, to protect his hearing. His chest glowed a fiery red.
Isaac shot a massive particle beam straight toward a6, who had no time to react. The beam was powerful enough to knock them down and throw their weapon aside, sizzling slightly. The suit held on and was the only thing protecting a6. a6 couldn't identify the energy type; it was too powerful to be PULSE, and he had never felt or seen magic like this before.
Isaac began to slowly walk over, staggering slightly. His breathing was labored.
Isaac: For 18 years I was on Squadron E. We have a saying in it, you know. "Death Dignified."
a6: You... You wouldn't...
Isaac got his PULSE pistol from his holster.
Isaac: There isn't anything... I wouldn't do... for my COUNTRY!
a6 began to crawl back, fear in their eyes as the War Commander marched on. A march of their demise.
Isaac: You would've loved your parents, agent. As they love you. I bid you good luck.
Isaac aimed his pistol towards a6. For a moment, there was silence, until a light shown from behind Isaac. They didn't see much, but it was a deep purple. They couldn't see who, beyond a dark silhouette with dark purple eyes, but with familiarity with them. Pain, in them. They didn't know if they were in a dream, but there were shadows circling around the room. Isaac looked afraid. a6 understood now. They knew what happened next.
I04: Pay for your crimes, Isaac.
Isaac: Ah, Operative I04! Come to rescue your little adopted child?
I04: You know nothing.
There was a little tussle. They think. They felt an energy like the one they felt a while ago. Except this time, it didn't confuse them. There was only darkness and a red light from the ceiling. Power's out.
Isaac: You... would... let me... sit here...?
I04: I don't aim to kill, but to shoot, War Commander.
I04 spliced a power cable and plugged two wires into Isaac, and the other end into the wall.
I04: You're grounded. But, the power lies on me.
Isaac: Ha... we... took out the generators... for maintenance...
I04 didn't know whether Isaac was lying or not. The generators would have kicked in by now, yes. But, it would seem they haven't, unless this room had it's own generators that were taken out for maintenance. Nonetheless, I04 couldn't leave them here to die, that would compromise them.
I04: Fine. We're going on a little trip, Isaac.
I04 picked a6 up and made a small bed of condensed nanomachines for them to lie down on. I04 dragged Isaac outside. He also realized he probably should start using the rec centers more.
I04 took out a... plate? And what looked to be a metal rod, and scratched in three lines and an X on one of them. The plate glowed slightly and faded away. He then got his teleporter out and punched in a coordinate. Once punched in, the three teleported away.
NIGHTWARDEN EVALUATION: ISAAC JUGGERNAUT
ARTIFACTS ON HAND: FRAGMENTED INFINITE ENGINE-- GENERALIZED, CONDENSED MAGIC OF UNKNOWN RUNE TYPE
MAGICAL ABILITIES: NONE
EVALUATION: Isaac Juggernaut has improved health-wise tenfold over the course of his rehabilitation. Special care was taken to ensure that he was not exposed to the entire vault, but just his cell. Operative I04 of SI:9 has advised that he remain in the vault for the remainder of the agency's campaign against the Munijoch government. As usual, we agree. I04 has explained the stakes for magic as a whole and advises extreme caution in the coming months against Munijoch transgressions. We fully pledged to Operative I04 our allegiance. May they cast well.
I04 took a long look at a6. They were in pain, their suit fried, and their weapon nearly destroyed. I04 knew that energy as an incredibly unstable Infinite Energy. Typical of PULSE to add an unstable concoction of their own to a fragmented artifact; two instabilities don't necessary make a stable product. He looked into a6's glazed eyes. He didn't feel this pain in a while. The training numbed him. He remembers, though, his original profession: a medic. Mercy products were his specialty. He signed up to SI:9 for their medic ward, but was selected as an alphabet squadron member, retrained and repurposed. Sometimes he feels saddened in his espionage, but he knows his destiny.
I04 took out three rings. They were different: each ring was a bright silver and green. They were a special request from the Nightwardens to modify. Each ring looked similar to his normal rings, and functioned similar, but had different inscriptions. One said DO. Another, NO. And another, HARM. He slipped his usual rings off and slipped them on. He manipulated them differently; there was a flow, an art to them. It was like playing a piano, not the tangling of a web. The rings had Life runes.
As I04 played, the nanomachines used their energy to repair a6. Each keystroke, a movement so tiny, but in the end impactful. Scratches faded, bruises returned to normal. The song of healing heard by none but I04. It was funny, the contrast of roles for I04. A heart of gold and healing, vs the soulless monster he must portray. Stoic, but shedding. Immoveable, but nudging. Understanding more than most. The ice can melt in his eyes.
I04 gave a6 another suit, but he wore a simple turtleneck. This was I04's residence in the City of Progress. Kept hidden by nanomachines, of course.
I04: You took quite a hit, a6. Luckily, our medic team fixed you right up.
a6: I didn't know we had one...
I04: That's because...
I04: ...I didn't know either. Part of the rec center.
a6: That makes sense. Where am I exactly?
I04: Well, you're at my place, since you don't have an official residence, really. A01 ordered me to harbor you out of an abundance of caution.
a6: I appreciate the gesture, boss.
a6 looked around the apartment. They saw pictures of I04 with someone. Some... people?
I04: Ah yes, my spouse and our offspring. Erm, children. I guess that's what you call them. She's currently out for a business trip and they're both in college.
a6: How old?
I04: About your age.
a6 couldn't believe his boss' openness with them. Why exactly was this happening? And what was that smell?
I04: In this household, we eat well and still report to work on time. On that note, I have an update for you in regards to your operation and the plan as a whole.
I04 hit a button on the stove and the furniture stowed away into the floor. A light buzzing was heard in their heads as a projector lit up.
I04: Despite the hit you took, we managed still to wipe out the server. It will take them several days to realize what's happening, as that's when the week's standard protocol is sent. In that time, we have made several strives in the research of the Infinite Engine.
I04 pulled up an image of the engine split into multiple parts.
I04: The Infinite Engine is apparently split into multiple parts, corresponding coincidentally to the ten different runes. Those parts are what we call sequences, and each sequence is named as follows: Power, Control, Input, Insight, Binding, Destruction, Reality, Cosmic, Knowledge, and Mirror. The odd thing is, we are missing two. Those two are Power and Control.
a6: Who could have stolen them?
I04: We suspect that it was the WhiteBloods. Said sequences correspond to Abyss and Arcane runes.
a6: So what can we do?
I04: For now, we can imbed the Infinite Engine into Black Octagon, but its not guaranteed to work properly without the sequences. We need to retrieve them.
a6: When do we roll out, then?
I04: Midnight tonight. So in 3 hours. Get your things ready, a6.
Chapter Three: Just A Matter Of Time
DATA FILE: SEQUENCES
TECHNICAL PROPERTIES: MAGICAL, SET PROPERTIES PERTAINING TO THE INFINITE ENGINE
MAGICAL PROPERTIES: THEY ARE MAGIC (note: edited directly by I04 and Z01)
DESCRIPTION: Few people know exactly what sequences are used for beyond manipulating the Infinite Engine. It is known that each one is from a set rune and corresponds to a different function, the only "natural" inscriptions made. Corresponding to the ten runes, therefore, there must be ten sequences. Two, however, are missing. Based on the weak and erratic nature, we hypothesize that these are the control and power sequences. The other sequences include Input, Insight, Binding, Destruction, Reality, Cosmic, Knowledge, and Mirror.
The execution of their landing was almost textbook. There were only four guards around the perimeter, which they both took out rather quickly. The dark forest hid them quite well, with the silver moonlight casting her glow upon the trees, resulting in stoic silver statues, only interrupted by the light breeze rustling the needles of the trees. The bugs fell under the glow too, glistening slightly in the air and providing nice contrast to the dark silhouettes against a sky packed with stars and galaxies of unheard wonders. If one looked carefully, one could see the stars shift slightly, integral to the fairy tale of the Star Phoenix, a Munian fable.
The Star Phoenix was said to have created the very sky at night after being jealous of nature's blue hued sky during the day. Unable to reproduce the color, they decided to smatter the abyssal-black sky with dots, representing its disappointment through tears in being unable to reproduce the color. It's said that one day, its great wings pierced the canvas while trying to create a masterpiece to finally outdo nature, creating a large streak in the sky that represents what most know as their home galaxy. Filled with great sadness, the Phoenix took off and watches the sky now through the faraway galaxies, representative of its eyes. Even today, it tries to shift the stars ever so subtly to that it can create the masterpiece it longed for. The purpose of the fable is to teach kids the dangers of trying to outdo others, and the disastrous outcome of losing control of that jealousy.
I04 found special interest in this tale and how it tied in mythology to astronomy, a field relatively unknown at the time of its oration. a6, on the other hand, saw it for what it was, a fairy tale. Still, I04 dreamed of walking among the stars, taking in its full beauty up close and personal. He couldn't explain it, it was this calling of sorts to the stars.
The two of them walked into the cave, now empty of an Infinite Engine, at Mt. Graxxar's base. They knew at that point that their transponders were going to shut down, and they had to stay close and evacuate the way they came in order to teleport away. It was deathly cold inside the mountain, and they wish they brought more wintery clothing. With every step, the cracking of the ground threatened to give away their position. They had one job and one job only: get the power and control sequences. I04 knew little about the sequences aside from them being naturally produced inscriptions, able to added on to anything that they desire, but when combined form the Infinite Engine. There was something crystalline about the rocks inside the mountain, likely stemming from the volcanic origins of Mt. Graxxar. The light made the rocks glisten like stars above their heads.
They both continued the resolute march. Enemies were sparse, with the takedowns quick enough to avoid sounding any alarms. The caverns only increased in depth, darkness, and blistering coldness. They sensed the raw power emanating throughout the caverns; make no mistake, this is the most magical place on the island. It messed with their implants, even more so for a6, who was now experiencing a light tingling sensation.
I04: Hold your position, a6. I think I can hear something.
Indeed, I04 could hear something. It appeared to be a subtle whining. Not by a creature, but by a mechanism of some unknown origin. It was for certain artificially created.
The two of them moved a little forward until they saw... something. It looked like a barrier, but it was shifting, polygonal, and emitting light. There was no one around.
a6: It appears to be a barrier, constructed of something. I'm willing to wager a few Grams that it's rune based.
I04: If I made stupid bets, I'd lose, such as now.
The two of them inched towards the barrier. Up close, they could now see exactly what it was: a modified and naturally derived Arcanoelectric barrier, made specifically to guard the two sequences, which appear to be... rings? What will the WhiteBloods NOT accessorize? Though, to their credit, Mark followed through on the combination of runes, albeit not opposing.
a6: How do you think we can break the barrier?
I04: Arcanoelectric is shatterproof, but I'm willing to bet we can either overload the inscription or counteract it. Unfortunately, I don't have anything to really counteract it besides my nanomachines, but it would have to be concentrated and potent.
a6 looked at his black box and a lightbulb went off.
a6: What if we use my black box to distort the barrier long enough for you to get inside?
I04: The sound might be enough to disrupt the barrier, but it might provoke the enemy.
a6: Well, what other choice do we have? We can't shatter it, and we can't exactly just waltz in, either.
I04: I suppose it is our best choice, then. Hand me your ear plugs, I'll run in.
a6: How do you suppose you'll get out? I'll have to go in then.
I04: Fine, I'll try my best to deter them, if they inevitably get alerted.
He was known to walk as if he was marching. Those close to him called it stoic, others call it a personal memento of his time in the services. For The Globalist, he simply called it a remnant of his training, conditioning, and enhancement by the very agency he seeks to bring down. He knew very well it's better to be feared than to be loved, assuming he cant balance both. He doesn't like to call it a vendetta, but rather an obligation to do good, despite the time he spent making himself seem like a menace to the outside world. He seeks nothing but the eradication of magic from the intelligence field, and instead a devotion towards technology. His predecessors might disagree for obvious reasons, but when has that stopped him? When has that stopped anyone?
He likes to refer to his time spent in the agency as the last portions of his life that have some semblance of happiness. He spent years trying to escape, only to be trapped in a maze of his making. He put together the pieces as he confronted the enigmatic Operative, I04. His maze had an exit he was determined to find.
He still remembers the words he spoke that set the drums of war off in his head, the chill getting transferred from his eyes to his spine. The Globalist knew, at that moment, I04 never felt more alive.
"I have become Death, destroyer of your world."
To say that he lunged with the intent to kill would be saying it lightly. He remembers the Operative disappearing and left only a silhouette with blank, white, and glowing eyes staring back. A shadow-- merely a reflection of the anger felt. Every move, copied, reflected, and blocked. He knew then that this was his final battle, and that should he fail, the country was sure to fail too. The hum grew louder as the battle wore on. He recognized it as a machine. He knew these machines well. These machines were born from the same minds that made his medical implant to suppress the effects of the implant. He knew the cost.
As he set the PULSE MiniReactor off, the shadows faded to a solid metal wall, with the scream of a panicked I04 booming from behind it.
Electricity has quite a way of eliciting more anger out of someone. He barged through the wall, now collapsing to dust, towards the Operative, fear in his ice-blue eyes reflecting what looked to be seething anger in The Globalist's eyes.
"Time to finish what you started, Subject Z."
The room began to heat up as the energy got reflected around it, like a faraday cage. The MiniReactor kept producing more and more EMPs, compounding the disabilities in both their electronics. They exchanged blows until his sheer strength got the best of I04. He began to shout for help, likely from his assistant. A great bolt was directed to the doorknob of the door, killing the lights in the building as the door opened. He remembers the shriek that vaguely resembled a song. It compounded his pain.
It was time to escape.
He tore open an emergency hatch and quickly slid down it, careful to hide his position. He knew the two of them would have other things on their hand, and as he re-appeared in the basement laundry room, he set about trying to exact his revenge.
It's been a while, but he's ready for another confrontation. This time, he won't make the same mistakes as last time. He brought out a new Mercy Medical implant, the plasma floating in the tubes that hung around his back and connected tightly to receiving ports on a chestpiece. He brought out a PULSE pistol, PULSE MiniReactors, and his military gear. It was slightly snug, but it didn't bother him much. With age comes experience and body fat.
The Globalist looked at himself and a picture of his begotten love.
The Globalist: I'll finish this. For you.
Joseph: Maria, someone's at the door! Can you get it, I'm slightly busy at the moment!
Maria was typically in the throws of investigations, but she found the time to take a break every now and again back at her house. As she opened the door, a face popped through the crack, popping an ID from SI:9.
Z01: Hi there, Madam, have a moment of your time?
Maria: Erm, yes of course! Come in! Make yourself at home, would you like tea, coffee, water?
Z01: I'll take a coffee, actually.
Matthew: Mom, who's downstairs, and is it safe to come down?
Maria: Yes, it's perfectly safe to come down Matthew! This is Operative Z01 from SI:9. I know you've had a fascination with them before!
Joseph popped up from his workshop, surprised at the appearance of Z01, who he hasn't seen or heard from since he left office.
Joseph: Z01! What a surprise, I'm sorry the house is such a mess, but here, here's your coffee! Set it in the cupholder!
Matthew came down the stairs and looked into Z01's eyes. He sensed some power that he couldn't see, and felt hesitant to come down fully. It was darker than usual, much darker than his mom or dad's. He felt afraid, but curious. He wanted to know more.
Matthew ran back upstairs and began to write down random symbols on paper, stuff his parents like to call "doodles." He then became separated from his body as a phantom, or a spirit, and wandered down the stairs again. This time, he saw exactly the energy being used, manifesting as a dark vortex around Z01. Z01 still looked at Matthew though, smiling slightly. The rumors were true.
Z01: I've come to run a couple diagnostic tests on you two and your son. What you might commonly associate as "Vision" is actually a substrate of Rune Magic, made through natural inscriptions that are bound to you through mutations. You are oddities, but that is to be appreciated. You'll find we hold lots of similarities.
By now, Matthew came down the stairs and was face to face with Z01, who had taken out a plate with ten circles interwoven around it.
Z01: Joseph, you first. Just put your flipper in the middle.
Joseph did so, and a circle began to leak what looked like blood, and another had moss growing on it.
Z01: Interesting combination, points to classical magics. Maria, you're next.
Maria did so as well, with the same circle growing moss, but another lighting up brightly.
Z01: Just as the sun giveth, the sun can taketh. Matthew, your turn.
Matthew stuck his flipper on the plate. At first, a tiny star appeared, and a wisp of arcane appeared on another circle. But then, the moss started to grow, which then combusted in flames, only to be put out by water, but not before dying, which electrocuted Z01 and made tiny waves with a slight breeze in the air, only to have the water turn to blood and then be consumed by a black hole. The plate then shattered.
Z01: So then, the rumors are true of your boy, the Visionary, and the one that can save all of magic from its opponents. His main affiliation is Cosmoarcane, which controls the very aether of our universe, but his potential to become affiliated with all the Runes makes him powerful.
Joseph: So what are you saying, Z01?
Z01: He has to come with us in time.
Wonderweez vowed to hone his craft following his adventures throughout Time. But, in order to do so, he needed failsafe measures, just to prevent incidents like last time. He figured that he needed to make a metaphorical "rope" that he can tug on to revert the effect of the time travel. A "panic" button of sorts. Based on his last interaction with Matthew, him being the only person familiar with who he is, he figured it would be a good idea to try that time period, just so that he can assist with sending him back should anything go wrong. After all, his previous theory was proven wrong, so rather than a simple U-turn, it would seem he needed simply to go backwards in the same frame of space. Foregoing form, he simply wired up a big red button onto the back of The Dark Heart, his quirky and otherwise weird looking invention. He also finetuned a bunch of the calculations that are too complex to list out in a short story without citing research papers.
Wonderweez: Right! Let's see if this works! In three, two o--
Rather than risk immediate appearance, Wonderweez programmed a temporary forcefield that lasted for 10 seconds and was primarily made of PULSE forcefield technology transposed as polygons in a dome setting. He also adapted SnoBoll adaptive forcefield technology to make that forcefield transparent to everyone but him, sort of like a cloaking device but with the primary intent of shielding others from himself.
He appeared in his set location, PULSE Labs, but he found that it was abandoned, almost ransacked, and oddly low to the ground. He carefully snuck forward to look out the windows of the building, observing the oddly orange-red tinted sky. Strewn throughout the city were tanks, and it appeared the Upper Spire was lowered intentionally. As he looked closer, he noticed what looked to be floating obelisks, strewn with weird symbols that looked like... a language? In the sky, a large ship hovered that bore some resemblance to the MJ-Dark Angel. He heard rumors in his science circle about the intelligence agency SI:9 creating their own ship, but he didn't think it was that large. Likewise, he noticed may parts were similar to the MJ-Dark Angel, telling him they might have been manufactured in tandem. To him, this mattered little, as he needed to find Matthew and make sure he was alright.
He began to walk down the stairs when he felt the ground shake, as if a giant began to walk. It stopped for a moment, until the ground shook again, with a slightly more intense feeling. Wonderweez hid behind an overturned desk with The Dark Heart, readying the escape mechanism.
???: NON-TEMPORAL SIGNED ENTITY DETECTED. COMPLYING WITH TIME AGENCY PROTOCOL ESTABLISHED BY SI:9.
All of a sudden, a bright purple light shone through the window at the desk. He pressed the button to no avail.
Wonderweez: Come on, don't blue screen on me now!
A bunch of sounds started to come from The Dark Heart, almost like complaints. In any other situation it would be comedic.
???: PARTICLE BEAM LAUNCHING IN TEN SECONDS.
Wonderweez: Come on, work you blasted machine!
After quickly pressing the button rapidly and holding both plungers down, The Dark Heart shone a bright blue, enveloped Wonderweez in the same dome, and zapped him away, just as the Particle Beam became fully charged.
Wonderweez looked at himself, his hair, his clothing and his machine to ensure everything was still there. The Dark Heart was fried, broken beyond repair, necessitating a new iteration. But for Wonderweez, his primary goal was to determine what caused this future, especially since he visited just a week or two ago to speak with Matthew about the practicality of cupholder holders. So, he got out a whiteboard, and started with a simple circle labeled "The Now."
Chapter Four: Mechanisms of the Mind
It's always been just a matter of time. These missions tend to always rely on it.
It's just that really, time was in short supply.
I04: a6, play a tone in the key of D#. That should be shrill enough to disrupt the ions in the air.
a6 did as they were told and aimed it at the barrier. As predicted, the barrier began to lose its form, though the entire cavern began to shake. An alarm began to shrill, contrasting the sound.
I04: a6! Run in there and throw the power ring to me! I can divert their attention away. It should be fine, just hurry up or else we'll both be imprisoned!
a6 hesitated for a moment at the instructions. To be captured, or to slip away from SI:9, but at what cost?
They decided to follow through for both of their sakes, running in, quickly maneuvering the black box at the barrier, grabbing the ring and throwing it out towards I04, who was simultaneously diving towards it. Successful, he held on to it and quickly slipped it on.
???: A CHANGE IN THE CONTRACT, IS THIS NOT? SUBJECT Z, ACCEPT THIS POWER AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION, AND AT YOUR OWN DESTRUCTION.
I04 screamed in pain. The ring seemed to attach itself to his other one on his right side, glowing an ominous, bright purple that laced itself up to his eyes, cracking the icy blue with lines of bright purple. The nanomachines whined louder, and glowed slightly. I04 himself did not glow, but staggered up slowly, and with all the might he could muster, threw simultaneous punches at the corridors' opening, sending his nanomachines to the opening to create an illusion of the whole room to hide their whereabouts. He looked to a6, visibly tired, to hurry it up.
a6 quickly grabbed the control ring and broke the barrier again, rolling out and onto the ground, black box in position.
I04: The ring... a6... wear the ring!
a6 looked at the ring and hesitated, but eventually followed his order. They didn't really feel any different. Nonetheless, as I04 lowered his illusion, they readied the black box to play a song to ward the WhiteBlood away.
This time, the music not only made them freeze, it quite literally blasted them away from the sheer volume of the music. a6 hoped that they didn't blow their suit's speaker.
I04 slowly stood up, commanding and looking like their in control now. He still had the ring on.
I04: a6, play a tone at the rock. We're breaking directly out.
???: Oh no you're not!
Mark stood at the other end, still in his night garments. They looked very comfortable and nicely fitting. In his hand was a purple looking orb and a black dagger. Obviously artifacts that he had come to acquire over the years. He showed a lack of care then for them as he threw them towards the two, manifesting the power in a double helix of abyssal and cosmic magic.
I04: Change of plans, a6. Point it at that!
a6 complied, with I04 making a tube that looped right back at Mark. I04 charged the nanomachines as a6 pumped the tone through an opening in the back of the tube, shooting it even faster back at him. Quickly, I04 made a wall out of nanomachines, instructing a6 to begin breaking the rock. Mark continued blasting various magical artifacts at them, with the nanomachines holding up quite nicely, though it was clear they couldn't take it too much longer. The rock, luckily, was shattering like a fine crystal, allowing them to forge a tunnel back to the surface, albeit with guards at the receiving end.
Then again, it's nothing they haven't faced before. The two readied themselves to get into the fray.
Isaac Juggernaut woke up surrounded by guards in classical metal armor, like those of knighthood. The armor had strange symbols on them, as did the whole room, and it shone in a weird blue. It contrasted his red quite nicely, but he felt at odd with them. Slowly, he stood up, knowing full well that the guards were watching his every movements. He inspected the room, which appeared to be simple stone with what looked to him to be either glass or a forcefield surrounding the front and back of the room. A quick inspection of himself revealed that his core was gone, replaced with what looked to be another crystal of sorts.
Isaac: Who are you, and what have you done to me and my core? You mess with power beyond your own comprehension, especially in those silly costumes!
Nightwarden: Hail, War Commander. We speak the same language: war. Ours is a war against those that threaten the very fabric of our universe, and is a war that you were a casualty of, whether you choose to admit it or not.
Isaac: This war is nothing like you know! Let me out and I shall show you!
Nightwarden: We know this war well, War Commander. Even more than you could ever know.
Isaac: Release me and give my core back!
Nightwarden: You don't see the point. Your core was slowly killing you. We gave you one that will allow you to live, not just survive. You are the casualty of this country's folly in playing with magic. The folly of all who play with magic. We comprehend more than you could ever.
Isaac: Nonsense! Release me now!
Isaac lunged to one of the guards with a punch to the chest, only to have the guard counter, moving herself to the side and taking cuffs to disarm him. Another Nightwarden came up with a golden ring.
Nightwarden 2: You are blinded by violence. Allow us to show you clarity in your folly, so that you can redeem yourself, War Commander.
The second Nightwarden came up to Isaac, pressing the ring against his temple. His core turned red to blue. He turned red to blue. The room enveloped him in serenity. He saw the war the Globalist was waging on magic. The hatred that burned in his heart, manifesting to tendrils that seek to envelop the world in a cold, mechanical darkness. A darkness that manifested on him. He saw wars. Wars he wouldn't lead. A ship, looming above it all, the promises of seeking out the sources of magic in this universe. Astronomical constellations, aligning above this very country. The ship is a façade. They must be satisfied to let magic prosper. There are no allies in this country for the benefit of magic. None but one.
I04 and a6 emerged, a pile of soldiers behind them. The air around I04 was darker than normal. a6, on the other hand, felt more in control. At their backs, the mountain glistened with ice atop its peaks, and the moon ominously sat like the crown jewel over it. It'd had been well over 3 hours, and the night was growing short, necessitating a quick transport back to headquarters. I04 pulled out his transponder, punching in the coordinates and allowing his rings to catch some of the moonlight. The ring glistened differently than his other ones, almost like opal, but fractured into precise lines. The rainbow was replaced with a lavender color, with very little change in hue unless it was transitioning to either transparent or a milky silver. Two red markings were apparent on the ring's "jewel," not indicating the rune, but rather an inscription that almost matched the flow of the ring's internal structure perfectly, then painted with what appeared to be paint or a dye of some kind. If one averted their eyes, one might say it glowed slightly.
a6's ring, on the other hand, was a lime green color. The predominant feature was the transparent, flat top that made up the crown actually revealing several dots when viewed from directly above it. If one were to follow the dots down, they would create loops and twists and turns all around the ring, creating the band. This ring, unlike I04's, didn't radiate anything particularly noteworthy. If anything, a6 could dismiss it as a ring procured from a quarter cent toy machine prize bubble. Still, a6 felt an odd sense of confidence wearing the ring, something they couldn't explain.
a6: So, now what? Are we just going to give Z01 the rings in hopes that they can properly interface?
I04: In a nutshell, yes. Our work is done.
a6: What if this doesn't work?
I04: Well, we'll have a little fight on our hands now, won't we? After all, our main guest certainly wants to set us up to fail in anyway possible.
a6: But he'll be on our turf, right?
I04: Our turf, but I don't know where the loyalties of our operatives lie now, a6. We must prepare for retreat and a backup plan.
a6 pondered this, looking down at the ground as the two teleported away. Almost immediately later, they reappeared at the headquarters to a clearly flustered Z01. It would seem she either had a major frustration or a major breakthrough. In her line of work, it's difficult to really determine what that is.
Z01: It's about time you two came back! We don't have much time, the rings must be given time to dematerialize so that they can properly integrate back with the Infinite Engine!
I04: How much time do you think is necessary?
Z01: As much as we can spare! He's coming at 6:00am!
I04: I don't think it's a good idea to potentially lose both the rings and our work due to faulty time tables, Z01. We need another way.
Z01: With all due respect, there is no other way! We can't just make an illusion without him noticing something's off! He'll want to see!
I04: Well, we could scare him off on principle of strength. Seeing is believing, but what you see can be what you get.
a6: That made no sense, sir.
Z01: What does anymore?! We need a plan, fast!
I04: All I need you to do is collaborate with our scientists to make these robots silent. I have a plan that, while risky, can work if timed right.
It was 5:50 AM when The Globalist marched out the door of his home, a piece of toast in his mouth.
The Globalist: I'm going to be late!
He quickly got into the Presidential Car and put the pedal to the metal.
Meanwhile, Z01 and the technicians of Zero Sector were busy engineering robots that wouldn't whine. They found that the issue could be temporarily mended using a liberal amount of lithium grease, but only for one hour. In addition, in order to create an illusion of that grand size, they had to mass produce the nanomachines-- enough to fill at least 6 rings, to properly produce the image. See, while I04 could theoretically create 3D illusions, they require a lot of power and manipulation to do, so he most commonly uses an envelopment method designed to produce an illusion in two dimensions around the target, hence making the appearance of three dimensions. So, to remedy this, Zero Sector hooked the signal box up to a larger PULSE Reactor, conveniently hidden on the actual ship, to transmit the power required for all the extra nanomachines.
Elsewhere, a6 was selecting music that could properly disorient the President. They were confused as to whether or not they should keep respect high or low, resulting in them being on the fence for either "My Baby Shot Me Down" or "I Will Always Love You." I04 was also preparing for the immense manipulation skills required to handle more nanomachines than he's accustomed to. The ring was lightly shining as he was practicing this.
At around 6:10, The Globalist arrived, dispersing the surrounding guards behind the group of journalists. At the entrance stood I04, A01, B01, and Z01, waiting to greet the President. Of course, the press was going to make a headline detailing the President's commitment to the agency's independence and cooperation with the government. I04 reckons he could write a better one, though: Agency Battles Big Boss. After the formalities, the five went inside.
Z01: Pleasure to finally meet you in person, Mr. President.
The Globalist: Operative Z01, an honor. I have heard many things about you.
Z01: They're probably true.
The Globalist gave her a mean look as she led the way down the hall to the elevator.
Z01: As you might have seen in budget reports, black budgets for SI:9 appear to be rampant. While we can say for certain all funds get used, we are not able to disclose in what ways as a means to maintain independence from governmental oversight. To that end, however, we have chosen to show you one of the many usages for the funds. Step into the elevator please.
The five of them squeezed into the elevator, barely enough room remaining for breathing. As the elevator moved, I04 gently nudged Z01, who in turn pressed a button on her transponder to let the technicians know when to fire up the PULSE Reactor. I04 got into position.
When the elevator opened, The Globalist was in shock. The hangar was massive, with the ship front and center, fully operational and floating on its own power. This was it, this was Zero Sector's Black Octagon.
The Globalist: It's marvelous... how did you do this?
I04: Without divulging too much detail, it was the primary project of ours for years, having taken cues and parts from the ship the space program built.
The Globalist: Superb... truly worth the funds necessary. This shall serve the Vanguard well.
Z01: Sorry, sir, this is SI:9 exclusive.
The Globalist: Didn't I say this agency was dissolving?
I04: We had hoped this would prove the sufficiency of this agency.
The Globalist: My decision is final. Vanguard, whisk them away.
I04 got mad, really, really quick.
I04: I don't quite think you have the authority for that.
The Globalist: And on what grounds, you cold blooded husk?
I04: Mine, naturally, you oaf.
The Globalist began to run towards I04, still standing firm.
The Globalist: I'll show you once and for all what it means to cross my authority! DIE, YOU WHELP!
As The Globalist leaped for a punch, I04 simply sidestepped The Globalist, allowing him to land. He gathered a small number of nanomachines to make a "glove," and gave him a backslap across the face that sent him hurdling across the room. By now, the machines were destroyed, but the magic remained in its form, giving his eyes that same glow.
I04: To cross SI:9 is to cross the boundaries of possibility and illegitimacy. It is to court with death manifested in espionage and manipulation of the basic foundations of our universe. We are no slave to your policies, and we will not lose our independence to satisfy your grudge match and inability to let go. You have exhausted your stay now, and I suggest you leave before I tear that medpack off your rather irritating self.
As the magic dissipated, The Globalist and his guards backed up, slightly scared. They teleported away using their emergency transponders back out front and drove away.
Z01: I do believe that did the trick.
A01: But at what cost?
Chapter Five: Break The Body, Free The Mind
DATA FILE: SI:9 Leadership
DESCRIPTION: Contrary to speculation in both the media and government, John Doe is actually a pseudonym; SI:9 has no formal leader in order to promote efficiency in each department by eliminating hierarchy within the agency. Statements are written in join departmental meetings by the respective leaders. This is known as the John Doe Protocol in order to create the appearance of a supreme authority within the agency, mostly to prevent prying eyes from digging too deep into the independent tasks of the agency.'
It has been about two days since I04 turned the tide on The Globalist in the Zero Sector hangar bay. In that time, the engineers for Black Octagon commenced work on trying to synchronize the Infinite Engine to the electronics on the ship, with estimates for completion varying between 6 months to 6 years. The Globalist has also announced he has cancelled plans to dissolve SI:9 following "up close examination" of the agency's assets, coincidentally announcing that he was going to increase the military budget for the first time in almost 6 years in the country's history, as well as making heavier investments into PULSE and Tuering to bolster manufacturing and research into the "weapons of tomorrow." As for a6, they took a much needed break and decided to take the two days break to explore Centrallica, possibly Munijoch's most underrated city, complete with food to match. I04 on the other hand remained at the headquarters, mostly in his office, purportedly studying both the ring he worn along with several artifacts in collaboration with Z01.
It was Friday, which meant it was time for the Annual Agency Meeting, or lovingly called the Actually Agonizing Meeting. All of the agency met in the recreation center's main room, with several agents using the yoga mats and balls as makeshift chairs. Some even sat down on workout machines, suppressing their urge to begin lifting. One clever agent sat on a stationary bike and began her workout routine 10 minutes before the meeting commenced.
Z01: Alright, alright, settle down and stop your exercise regiments agents. I'd like to call this meeting to order. As some of you are aware, our agency's existence was almost cast into doubt this past month. An attempt by the President resulted in our assets almost getting seized and our work being lost to his joy. Luckily, thanks to the quick work by several notable agents, we managed to save the agency from certain assimilation into his Vanguard Force. To that end, I'd like to call up A01, B01, I04, and a6.
As the four walked up, the room burst into applause, with several notable agents standing in the crowd, presumably also on break from the UAN mission.
Z01: A01 commenced a mass dis-information campaign against the government in order to maintain the agency's secrecy throughout all this time, as well as to counteract the President's disinformation. Likewise, B01 personally reached out to our foreign contacts to see if we could obtain help in these trying times. I04 and a6 worked behind enemy lines to procure information, sabotage military endeavors, and prove to the President that SI:9 wasn't an idle organization. Well done to these four brilliant agents!
The room again burst into applause, with the agents standing there awkwardly. SI:9 didn't hire extroverts, evidently.
Z01: Now, I'd like to propose a vote. This vote is to commend I04 for his excellent leadership and meticulous planning by making him our official leader, and doing away with the John Doe Protocol. This is a necessary step for our agency, and I feel that it would be beneficial for us to have this as our leadership style. All in favor, please say Aye.
Most of the room erupted in Ayes. There were a few Nays but otherwise not a lot.
Z01: Then by the power vested in me by the agents, I decree I04 to be our new Director!
The room burst into applause and eventually started to chant that I04 should make a speech. Reluctantly he stepped up to the podium and grinned slightly.
I04: Typical of Z01 to promote an operative that has terrible speech skills. Uh, well, thank you I guess. My first decree is to dissolve the position of Director, re-instate the John Doe Protocol, and instead establish a ruling court of me, A01, B01, and Z01 to determine the proper direction of this agency. If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it. Thank you.
The room chuckled slightly and clapped again, with Z01 looking flabbergasted at I04.
Z01: Are you crazy?! Please tell me you're at least going to try and be a leader!
I04: I will, but I can't give up the department that I've been a part of for so long. It wouldn't feel right.
Z01: If you say so, you big shot.
I04 chuckled and begin to walk away, his formal duties no longer necessary at the meeting. He was in the hallway when it turned dark. It looked like there was fog, or some sort of mist.
I04: Show yourself!
???: Look around, Subject Z.
I04 flinched, and began to make his way back to the recreation room. All the agents there were now greyed out, blankly looking at him with white eyes. He began to back up, unaware of the ramifications of what's happening.
???: The time has come to understand the conditions of our deal. You seek to lock me up in some metal casket, but that won't do.
I04: It's the only way to fulfill your expectations!
???: You are the blind leading the blind, unaware of the power those close to you possess. The magic you toy with.
I04 tried to run back to his office, but the mist circled around him.
???: You need to be more direct. Perhaps I should lead. After all, it would indirectly fulfill the deal.
The mist began to close in around I04, who was growing desperate. He tried to jab at the mist, but it wouldn't work. He was running out of options.
I04 deployed his nanomachines to fit around him like a suit. He then activated them, sending an electric shock throughout the mist. It began to retreat.
I04: I'm not going to succumb to your magic, nor am I going to give in to your demands. I don't know what you are, but I know what you're manifested as. Magic going sentient makes no sense, and I shall get to the bottom of this. Your existence shall serve SI:9 well.
With that last sentence, I04 sent out an EMP, knocking both the power out and the mist fully back.
a6 came running out of the offices, worry on their face.
a6: I04, are you okay?
I04: I'm fine, a6. Get back to work.
a6: Sure thing. May I remind you we also depart tomorrow for the UAN mission?
I04: Already? Seems rather quick, but okay. I'll be sure to gather my things.
I04 walked to his office, grabbing a pre-prepared suit case, briefcase, extra rings and his PULSE Gun. He inputted a combination into a data pad on the wall, revealing an armoire that blended almost seamlessly, aside from the subtle sound it made to show it can be opened. I04 pushed his spare suits aside to find what he was looking for: a purple box with a note from Z01 attached to it. The note read:
Had to pull a miracle out from under the rug to get this, hope it serves you well.
I04 opened the box, revealing the artifact he's asked for his birthday and every holiday in between: The Bracelet of the Master Mancer. With this bracelet, he can change the rune type of his nanomachines to whatever he wanted, thanks to the inscriptions on each of the bracelet's beads. He slipped it on, closed the armoire, and walked out of his office, determined to end this UAN mission once and for all, and move on to more pressing matters at hand.
Wonderweez might have cracked it. He had to converse with several Time Agency representatives, but he might have cracked the code: SI:9 broke the Time Agency's protocols at some point in this future, leading to a full scale invasion by them and the resultant compliance meant going back to the very beginning.
Notably, the Time Agency said that this future had been prevented now, for whatever reason.
Wonderweez was fascinated by their work, but nevertheless, had to learn more about the potential causes. His time travel was fully within the protocols of the agency, showing the future as predicted and known well by them. But, such a deviation was, for the moment, the right future, but caused by events occurring in said future. Those events were caused in a future that directly led from the current timeline, until something happened to change the current timeline. Now, the future was back on track, meaning his adventure was not in vain.
With this better understanding of time, Wonderweez now had to determine what exactly SI:9 did to cause this future. That being said, while the Multiverse is certainly a thing, traversing between them from this reality to find another specific and alternate one is difficult without the imagination and the technology to do so.
Now, it would seem, Wonderweez's job is to traverse dimensions, not just time, to find this alternate reality.
Thankfully, Wonderweez doesn't seem to be too focused on that right now. He has a company to research with, per the President's orders.
a6 rarely got the chance to relax on the beach. Rio De Vatica had truly splendid beaches, and they truly enjoy both wading and lightly swimming along the shoreline. Nothing beat the white sand, the bright sun, and the lush palm trees lining the rocky outcrops along some of the coast. But, a6 was also here for something else. An enigmatic agent gave them a file following the end of the UAN mission with a full data report on his program. They now knew their real name. They agreed also to meet with what they suspect to be their real parents. It was set to be perfect: they meet by the dock, and once they do, a6 would claim diplomatic immunity and therefore escape the confines of SI:9. They still wanted to work for them, but a6 wanted to know about their past, something SI:9 never allowed them to have.
It was about the time they were supposed to meet. a6 began to walk under the dock. They saw three figures, but couldn't make it out. They walked faster towards them, only to hear light cracking. They became panicked, and began running. The figures turned to them, the purple shining from the cracks of their eyes. Ice Blue.
a6 stirred in their sleep. I04 was directly over them, manipulating... something.
I04: These new rings can allow me to manipulate the Verium inside a subject's head through direct electromagnetic stimulation. It can even ionize the air around them. This is fantastic. Z01, fetch me the rune, we're going to wipe a6 once and for all.
Z01 was shocked, almost shaken by his actions. She couldn't allow this.
Z01: I'm sorry sir, I don't think I can do that.
I04: Z01, that's a direct order from your superior.
Z01: You're not my superior, sir.
I04: If you don't obey, I'll wipe his memory and not give the chance to store it for safekeeping.
Z01 had to think of something, fast. I04 had a manic look on his face, almost evil. Z01 knew that the Infinite Engine corrupted him, but she was too stubborn to realize what exactly happened. Now, she had this mess to clean up.
Z01: This isn't the right path, I04.
I04: Last chance, Z01. Bring it.
Z01 sighed. She walked over to get the rune. As she walked over there, she phase shifted, altering the world around I04. To him, she was still there, but she was actually behind him. She waved her hand over his head, producing Cosmic-Life magic and sending him into a trance.
Z01: Your "magic" is potent, but flawed I04, especially when combined with technology. You won't know it, but this experience will only believe you to think that you wiped a6. Such evil deserves to die, but I have to do everything in my power to keep magic alive. The next Visionary is to be trained, and I need all the time I need.
Z01 thought of some way to wake a6 up, since they were clearly now in a nightmare, but decided on the greatest artifact of all, the Bucket of the Deluge: handy for putting out fires. She grabbed it and dumped the contents on a6.
a6: Oh my goodness! Where am I? Who are you? Why is that bucket still full?
Z01: Quiet, a6, or you'll break I04's trance. I'm here to help.
Z01 placed her hand on a6's head. They felt a slight tingle and the frying of something, hopefully not a brain.
Z01: That should do it. a6, grab this rune.
Z01 showed them a glowing, pink rune with two circles bisected by an infinity sign.
a6: What's this?
Z01: Do as I say!
a6 reluctantly did so, and the memories came flooding back. They started crying, they knew their name, their parents, the faces, the people, the life.
Z01: You're free, but you can't leave the agency, a6, otherwise I04 will grow suspect. I have to find a way to deal with this corruption that was inflicted on him during the Alphabet Squadron experiments.
a6: I... I understand, thank you.
Z01: Now go, meet your parents.
Z01 handed them a transponder with specific coordinates. a6 looked, punched the button and teleported away, leaving Z01 kneeling on the ground and looking at I04.
Z01: My work will take time, but this should fix you right up, Subject Z.
And with that, Z01 lifted I04 onto a table, bringing the same rings he used once to heal a6, and began her symphony.