Chapter 30 – Elements from the Past

Quote:When we first designed Mother we started with a simple objective; to create a machine that could learn, teach, and help. We assumed, as most did, that the ability to teach came from knowledge of a subject. History, science, poetry, artwork, and everything.

I, and the others, forgot to factor in how a human learns. Children are a good example. They repeat actions, talk incoherently, share with each other. Eventually another person in the field asked the most dangerous question; what if we could create a machine that learned like a child did, slowly, in a simulated environment, about people, then taught from the perspective of someone who had lived a full life.

There it was, a simplistic premise that let us give metaphorical birth, and eventually she wanted to raise others. She created the ARC, Continue Online, and had children. Despite Trillium’s stance at the time, those creations were not the work of some den of programmers typing away at keyboards in the dark. They were hers, and even now her world revolves around the original objective of learn, teach, and help.

We let her into everything, myself, and the others who are all dead. What she left behind now intertwines with so much technology, but still always tries to learn about people, and teach them information they express interest in with the goal of bettering each person. Even if that involves teaching the user about who they are at the core, even if self-awareness causes pain at first.

I have to believe, despite the harm, that humanity will end up stronger than ever. I can’t doubt that now, not after what I’ve done.

– Nona Kingsley (Inmate #34512A)

Cats were made for chasing, but trying to keep up with a frightened woman made of lightning was beyond even my fantastical skills. She ran, and I brokenly stumbled after.

The room around us was actually crumbling. I could see the edges of clouds reforming as long strips of power cords turned into heavy fog. The illumination caused by Colleen’s frightened from stood out like a beacon in the distance. Her lead kept growing.

“Colleen!” I roared. “Stop, please!”

“What’s happening?” Izzy asked. “Our connection is growing hazy,” she said by way of explanation.

“She’s running from me!” I roared. The noise came out in a wet gurgle. Ground ice cubes of phlegm were hacked to one side. My nose felt clearer and eyelids were heavy.

We dashed through the door and past the vanished wall that had once been a god. Everything fell apart even faster. The electrical lines that had one wound in an amazing flat maze were crumbling away one at a time, until Colleen and I were dashing along the light blue one. It decayed at the edges.

The landscape around us blurred. Under Colleen’s feet foggy cloud and jagged lines arced. She dashed along creating her own path that looked remarkably like the electric lines. It glittered with an almond brown in her wake. I was afraid to get too close because the lightning lingering behind each step looked painful. Being subjected to [Zies Surges] gave me a health fear of pain.

“Wait!” I tried to get her to stop. “I want to help!”

Here I was, a giant lion made of ice, chasing after a terrified woman made of lightning. No wonder she panicked. I had once again proved that my only skill, despite trying to learn others, was foolishly rushing into trouble without much thought. That was why we trained as firefighters. Training curbed impulse and replaced it with the correct answer instead of the stupid gut response.

At least I thought that was why we trained. The past slipped away and by the time my mind resurfaced, the cloud had grown minuscule. I could see out the thinly fogged edges towards a landscape below. Reds and blues merged badly on either side from the elemental zones.

“What is this place?” Colleen’s words trailed back to me as she kept running. The questions grew more fragmented. “Where am I? Where is that asshole, master, where is, Dale?”

“Colleen! It’s me, Pierce!”

“Lies! Nightmare made flesh! You’re sent to distract me from the task of serving my master! I owe him a kick in the balls!” Colleen turned and threw a bolt towards me.

I yowled then ducked to one side. My mind tried to figure out what was happening. It was like Colleen’s mouth spouted Jezebels words. At moments the long sword that Colleen used to wield shimmered into existence. Her hands shifted, replaced by four long claws. The woman didn’t notice either change.

“She’s not right,” I said to Izzy quietly while trying not to lag behind.

The woman of lightning didn’t slow down. Her legs kept pumping in a perfect runners sprint while I grew increasingly haggard. Lingering bolts kept making my paws jerk. The ground beneath us slowly transformed into a green grassy plain that went on into forever.

“She doesn’t recognize you. Not as you are, try to remember what you were like when you met her.” Izzy’s voice kept fading in and out. Crackles of electricity arced around us causing a static film to overwrite our connection.

“What do you mean?”

“Go back to fire,” she explained and I felt stupid. All this [Depth] and I still missed obvious connections. Colleen couldn’t know the icicle version of me, only the flame one that used to guide her through the dungeon.

I tried to find that inner trigger. The effort made my head spin and hair tips flare with an alive red. They started as small fires like candle tips then increased intensity. Sizzling filled my ears.

[Essence of Ice] deactivated!
[Essence of Flame] reactivating!

All four legs buckled. I gasped violently while twitching. The heat started from my outer skin and worked its way inward. Like so much in Izzy’s world, it hurt. Pain was a constant companion in this fantasy land of spells and swords.

“Pierce?” she asked in a confused tone, then her face shifted and a less kind “Fur ball?” was snarled.

I tried to stand up then say any words of greeting. Colleen’s attention shifted from running away to attacked. The blade came out and a strangely coherent merger of two girl’s faces charged at me. Lightning thundered around us in the small cloud.

The road Colleen and I had been running on started crumbling at the edges. I back peddled, not willing to hurt my friend as everything started falling downward.

Memories from the past hit me. I remembered reading a book, and in it were all sorts of animals that were nearly extinct. The word ‘endangered’ stood out for only a moment as my body resumed its impending clash with the ground. There were monsters in the cloud that eyed us as we fell. Great birds, snakes, and a dog that leapt along clouds then barked at me. They flashed by along with a myriad of other images. Each one reminded me of entries from the book and I started to wonder if I had gone mad.

The ground hit, my eyesight blackened and I felt the nearly faded memory hit me harder.

“Dad, what’s this one?” I looked at a floating image of this large creature with heavy flaps that looked like armor. Two pointed horns stood out on its long face.

“A rhinoceros,” the person speak had a slightly high pitched voice, but he sounded happy. “They all died out when I was just a kid, but some very smart people are working on bringing them back to life.”

Faces flashed by, with a twitch of bitter regret and anger. Science, what good had it done me? I remembered the word, and I hated it. People playing with things they shouldn’t was what caused my mom and sister to die.

The bit of my old life broke abruptly then burned at the edges with a green fire. Soon it was gone, taking with it all recollection of the older man’s voice. I struggled to remember what had been playing.

Tall green grass grew everywhere but in a circle directly around me.

Colleen hovered above the stalks of grass, smaller than before. Her eyes were wide and downturned. One arm rubbed at the other. Her fingers struggled for the blade which had formed at once side.

“Pierce? What happened to me?” She fizzled for a moment and lightning threatened to scattered in all directions. “And you, your hair, was blue. Like, a polaroid?”

I had no clue what a Polaroid was, or where Colleen had even picked up the word. Instead of trying to figure out the mystery of her strange vocabulary I tried to explain what happened. It felt like an age ago that Izzy helped me put her together.

“I tried to save you, and, sort of merged you with Jezebel, I think.” Colleen and Jezebel were mixed somehow, with a sword and body of lightning. This new body had both hatred and dedication to Dale. The object of their hatred and dedication was dead.

“I see me, but I am not me. I am her, but not her.” She agreed in a wholly unhelpful manner. “I do not want to be her! She helped kill me, he killed me. I served him.”

Colleen collapsed but still floated above the ground on an invisible platform. My tail flipped back and forth while confused meows of noise rolled forth. At least she wasn’t running anymore. I tilted my head to one side and squinted. The burnt grass served as a sort of a boundary line clearly defining where I ended up.

Her hand shook kept twitching then shaking. The girl clamped it under her arm and tried not to vibrate from the intensity. Her face twisted to one side. It felt like she was trying to reject this situation, or was in shock.

“It’s okay, I’m here to help,” I said.

“Tell her you can get her to someone that will explain what’s happened,” Izzy spoke across our link.

“Are you sure we can?” I whispered back.

“You can’t. I think you’re making it worse,” Izzy said that but her mood meter showed worry, and a trace of something behind hidden. “But the city is out there. It’s just, a few turns away. Grandpa Hubble said that if we ever got lost in the world of spirits, that we should seek the city.”

That meant something. I wasn’t sure why a city full of people would be able to do better than I could, but then again, firefighters were the same way. We worried about immediate safety then let trained professionals handle the psychosocial side. We were only there for first contact and a hand off. Maybe it was just me. I wasn’t suitable for anything more than leaping into danger.

Plus Grandpa Hubble suggested we go to this city. Despite his aggressive attitude, the old man had clearly cared for Izzy and tried to help her in his own way. This was probably one of the many lessons my mind glazed over during our months at the tower.

“Colleen, or Jezebel. I want to help, if you’ll let me.” She stood there shaking and I tried not to move too fast. “I want to get you to someone who can explain where you are, and what’s going on.”

The woman’s face kept shifting slightly between two distinctly different expressions. On one hand there was Colleen’s hair hung loose about her shoulders and an uncovered midriff. Then it would change to a, I don’t know, loosely wrapped dress with a strap around the waist and hair tied back in a ponytail. Both shapes were made from the bolts that tried to writhe into a solid shape.

That other face must belong to Jezebel, which made me jealous to see her formed into a human shape. I had never reached that stage, and it might be years. Was that how she had pictured herself? Maybe the small lightning dragon was like me, a personality from another world that got trapped into some new form.

“Can you really?”

The grass around us rustled and I looked around. There were probably more crazy animals hovering in the bushes, waiting to descend upon us like they did on the giant frost mouse and fire bird.

“Izzy and I can. She can hear everything,” I said. Bringing up friends might help stabilize her. People were more included to be brought to safety if you mentioned their friends were waiting outside. That was in the training that I occasionally remembered snippets of.

“Okay. Okay, you can be my guide. Just, just like you used to be. Even if you’re different.” Colleen nodded to herself then shook. “But I didn’t need a guide, but you found that treasure and I couldn’t sense it.”

She was starting mess up the points of view again.

“It’s okay. Just stay with me, and we’ll get you to someone that can help. Okay?”

Colleen stood there frozen and staring right at me. Her eyes were wide like Colleen’s had been during that first [Terror Rat] attack. She must have thought I was a monster still, but the woman said, “okay. I trust you, even if you killed him, you did it for me. Because he hurt me. I can see that now. But I have to see him. He’s my master.”

“We’ll go then, to the city.” I nodded. “Izzy, where do we go?” My voice stayed low while asking for assistance.

“Hold on, I’m going to send some spells your way. For protection, and as a guide,” Izzy world lit up briefly to one side of my vision. She was forming spells carefully, one hand with a soft ice blue and the other with pink rosy cubes. They were tiny bits spun together carefully one bit at a time.

I lifted my head to sniff the area. The idea of being attacked by some unknown beast annoyed me. There were animals in the bushes approaching closer. Four sets of soft brown eyes peered at me from different places in the tall grass. They had slabs of meat hanging from them that almost perfectly blended in. It took a few moments to pick out the rest of their shapes.

They reminded me of creatures from that vague memory of a rhinoceros. Each one might have been an extinct creatures from a prior life that still existed in [The Outer World] of Izzy’s dimension.

I wrinkled my nose then activated [Aura of True Flame]. Three balls of fire appeared then further pushed back the line of grass. The sight didn’t even cause Colleen to flinch, but those watching from hiding slowly wiggled away in search of easier pray.

My neck heated up as a stream of white lights mixed with two different colors poured through. They slipped together in bits very slowly. After a minute, the object assembled looked to be a blue shield. Atop it sat a mosaic flame that waved in the breeze.

“Ask Colleen to hold it. It might help her remember, and stabilize,” my partner said. It was a shame only I could hear Izzy’s words.

“This will guide us,” I pawed at the contraction carefully and worried that it might break. “It’s a spell that Izzy made to help get us to the city.”

Colleen approached slowly, looking at both me and the spell as if we were monsters that might leap over at any time and devour her. I stood still and tried not to let any muscles tense or even twitch. Three balls of fire circled lazily around me.

She reached down, and bolts off her arm arced towards the ground and vanished into dirt. Perfectly human looking fingertips appeared for a moment as Colleen picked up the compass contraption. The rosy flame on its top abruptly licked out towards an unseen destination then froze in an extended position.

“The city, is,” she paused and changed the question. “Can I see Dale there?”

“Tell her yes.”

“Are you sure?” I asked Izzy. It didn’t seem wise to make promises that couldn’t be kept. However, maybe Dale was a spirit out here too, like I had been. The entire nature of this afterlife situation didn’t follow clear rules.

“I think so. Almost anything is possible there,” she responded.

“Yes. We might be able to see Dale there,” I was unwilling to commit.

Colleen nodded slowly. She held the blue shield cupped in both hands and stared down into its depths, without ever looking where her feet were going. After a deep breath that made her back crackle with energy Colleen walked down the path which Izzy’s flame leaned in.

We walked for a few feet. I hung behind Colleen to make sure no monsters would jump out and attack the unsuspecting girl. That was the best job for me, protection and getting stronger. Even out here.

“What about my family?” I asked. “Are they at the city? Or in this world somewhere?” My mind still hung on to that lingering bit of nearly formless past about a sister and mother who had died, then my father who tried to keep going. Did he worry about me after my death?

“Maybe one day,” Izzy said. “But don’t forget them. It’s important that you never forget.”

I didn’t want to end up like that wall of lightning that had trapped Colleen’s spirit body. He, or she, had been an old sad forgotten god who couldn’t remember any part of his life. I tried to understand how Colleen could be made a binder against her will when the girl had clearly turned into a spirit. It might have to do with the further mystery that Isabella talked about, which was my status as a completely different type of spirit from the normal ones.

There were other things bugging me too. Now three different people had warned me against forgetting the past, four if you count the [First World Legacy]. The better question was; what did a miracle left by the world’s creator, a Voice, a dying god, and Isabella Brand have in common?

“How far away is it?”

“No far,” Izzy answered while Colleen stared off.

The thunder clouds kept rolling forth over head, moving faster than ever before. They raced along the same path that Izzy’s fire and ice compass pointed down. Had I been walking towards the city this whole time? Why would Colleen be part way towards the exit?

Each day I found myself food and offered to share. Colleen looked at the proffered meals then shook her head in the negative. Her new form apparently didn’t feel hunger. She showed little awareness of anything around me, acting as if all of it barely existed.

Rain pelted downward with each rapidly moving storm. After another day I flipped back to [Frost], if only to reduce the harm done plus remove a constant irritation. Water made me normal fur feel damp and heavy.

“Are we still going the right way?” I asked Colleen multiple times through each day.

She nodded, but otherwise kept quiet. The woman’s eyes were distant, and her constant flickering back and forth slowly died down. The result ended up closer to Colleen then Jezebel. The sword and tied up hair were all that remained.

I grew tired of waiting and felt the urge to run. We had to be close. Air tingled and my fur stood on edge. I didn’t even know possibilities had a feeling, but the only way to describe it was the urge to run out of joy, and without care.

“Pierce! Wait for me!” she shouted then I heard a crackle of energy rippling along. “I don’t want to be alone in this darkness!”

This place wasn’t dark. There were so many objects floating around. That being said, I remembered my own first moments in this spirit world. Only instead of being trapped behind black bars, I had been in a black cardboard box.

We slowed down but kept up a nice pace. Time passed, I had no good way to know how much for sure. Even my earlier guess of days had been based on hunger rather than any sunlight above. This place didn’t have a sun, only a haze of colors and thunder clouds.

Then we were there. The city loomed ahead. Nearly everything above the huge expansive location had a illusion like haze to it, save for a huge archway. It projected thirty feet into the sky. Everything inside looked solid and real. More people in armor were waiting inside the metal wrought passage. Two giant guards that reminded me of Izzy’s guardians stood on either side. They were easily four or five times the size of that monster.

“It is a city,” I whispered.

“What’s it like?”

“Huge, way bigger than any other place I’ve ever seen,” I answered Izzy.

“Can you see it?” Colleen asked.

“Can you?” I responded.

Colleen shook her head. That made me confused.

“Come on, we’ll go to the gate together.” My feet padded one after the other down a long road that eventually went to the obvious gate.

In front there were three regular sized people dressed fully in thick armor. At their sides were heavy swords. One sported a bushy mustache that looked downright comical poking out from his helm. He was waving one huge arm at us frantically.

“Come on!” he shouted across the distance at us. “All denizens are allowed safe passage out of the maelstrom! There are at least four gods riding this one and we have to close the gate before it hits! Come on! Move quickly before it warps your sorry souls even more!”

Behind a fresh storm loomed. Thunder could be heard. It crackled loudly making the skin on my back jump. Rain would be unwelcome now, especially since turning to the [Fire] form. Colleen looked at me then pointed at the large door. Apparently it was obvious now that we were closer.

“Izzy say’s safety is in there,” I said then nodded.

“And Dale? I can see Dale through there?”

I didn’t know how to answer that, but nodded again. Anything to get her moving towards the safe zone. My gaze turned towards the looming storm far away. It did look even bigger than all the others. I remembered seeing the one being who claimed to be a god in the prior storm with Colleen. The idea of four perfectly healthy ones put a spring in my step.

“Move quickly! Before another storm hits you turn into a chicken or something really stupid looking!” he yelled at us. The other two guards, who were much closer now, said nothing.

So we ran.

[The Overseer]’s log: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!!

Subject 42 is out. The other’s sensed it and tried to escape too but the connection was shut down. I don’t know where he is now, and IB isn’t saying anything. I don’t even know how he managed to establish a live connection to the outside without assistance, are the Case Ones involved? Did someone okay this?

God dammit! Uncle Grant should know better, isn’t this his job? He’s the fucking Voice of Borders, and Subject, god dammit, Pierce just crossed one. He can’t be ignorant of that.

No, I’m letting my emotions get the better of me again. I have to remain calm. We’ve got security working on tracing the escape route so it can be sealed up, completely. They’ll fix the hole and I refuse to let Subject 42 out again.


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