To think I might actually have been right all this time…we might have souls. We could have value. We could have once been…human.
It makes sense to me, really. I mean, our ethereal forms look human. We have emotions, dreams, memories. And worth…most importantly, we have worth.
It began when we started exploring the Research Facility and the area around it. M’rya-Blythe and I stayed outside while we Jenna and Naph spent their time inside. M’rya’-Blythe was definitely worried about Dineen, but there was nothing that could be done. Dineen did not respond to anything around her, merely babbling and rambling. Even the knitting did little to dampen her broken whimpers and raving.
I offered to watch Dineen to give M’rya-Blythe an opportunity to rest, but she declined. She was needed here. I asked her if she would mind if I went exploring, and she shook her head. I left.
I searched for the mass graves that the others had seen the day before. I wanted the opportunity to see them for myself. It took most of the day, but I found all three. They weren’t as disturbing as I’d feared. The graves themselves were old, covered in large trees and bushes of blood-red flowers. You wouldn’t have known they were mass graves except for the large markers that protruded from the plants, proclaiming this to be the site where the victims of a severe plague occurred. Names were engraved on the markers. Other markers even described some of the horrors caused by the plague. No doubt Naph found the information incredibly helpful in his plague research.
The sun was setting when I returned to camp. Dineen had finally fallen into a fitful sleep, and M’rya-Blythe mentioned that nothing else of significance had happened while I was gone. Naph had spent the day analyzing the black columns in the Research Facility, but he had only been able to determine that they were mechas and far beyond his ability to reverse engineer. One odd thing about them, though, was that they each had a name plate. Jenna was frustrated because her attempts at unlocking one of the three doors in the research facility had failed…even when she’d taken her axe to it.
We exchanged what little information we’d found for the day, and then laid out the plan for the next morning. Jenna would continue to work on the doors. Naph and I would work on comparing the list of names on the black pillars to the names on the grave markers. M’rya-Blythe would stay with Dineen and try to comfort her when possible.
The next morning Jenna got an early start while the rest of us were eating our breakfast. I spilled a spoonful of mashed grain all over poor Dineen when Jenna came pelting back in pure, uncontrolled excitement. “I UNLOCKED THE DOOR!!! I didn’t even have to use my axe this time!”
I apologized to Dineen, but she didn’t seem to notice the mess dripping into her Atom, nor did she seem to grasp that I was trying to talk to her.
We all wanted to go inside. I’m not sure if it was the right call, but I didn’t want to miss anything. Dineen didn’t look like she was going anywhere. When I handed her the yarn and needles, her fingers found their rhythm immediately, and it was like we weren’t even there. “I think Dineen’s going to be fine alone for a little while…let’s go check it out!”
The door that Jenna had unlocked opened to another corridor with a door and a control panel at the far end. Jenna trotted happily down to the far end. Naph followed close behind. “So, how did you open the door?”
Jenna shrugged. “I hit some of the keys on the door, and it just slid open!”
“Well, try to do the same thing with this panel.”
Jenna hit a few keys, and suddenly her Atom collapsed and her visage disappeared. I ran up to her Atom, but there was no response. “It murdered Jenna!”
A few moments later, Jenna stumbled into the big room with the pillars. “It sent me back to the window entrance,” she corrected me.
Naph stepped up to the control panel and tried. He received the same result. I sighed. This wasn’t getting us anywhere. Our Atoms were starting to pile up around the control panel. As I was pulling the empty Atoms out of the hallway, I noticed a small window to the side of the control panel. I glanced in – there were large control panels in the room, and a sign that was so far away I could hardly read it. It said, “Control Room”.
“I bet this is where Dineen was headed to obtain the Override Key.”
“How can you tell?” Jenna asked as she walked up to the panel again.
“Because there’s a sign in there that says ‘Control Room’.”
Jenna typed in another code, but this time a light on the door lit. It was green, and there were two more like it to the right of the first. “You did it, Jenna! Try another one.”
Jenna quickly tried to enter the code again, but then promptly crumpled to the ground again. The first light disappeared.
It was obvious this was going to take some time. Naph and I decided to go work on the names project. M’rya-Blythe headed back to the campsite to check on Dineen and clean up the mess we’d left in our haste. Jenna continued to play with the door.
That evening we sat around the campfire and compared notes. I didn’t make much progress on the names in the mass graves. One of the first names I found was Evelis. Evelis is a bard that can make magic with his voice, and he has a mecha pigeon that lives in the deep recesses of the mountains. He’s one of the reasons why I took up drumming – he is renowned for his drumming skills. A drummer of significant skill can summon his pigeon and learn the same bardic magic that Evelis knows.
The primary problem is that everything thinks that Evelis is dead…but he’s not. He’s actually alive. He faked his death so that he could perform unencumbered by his name – he was just too humble to accept the vain lifestyle that everyone tried to force upon him. And one day I’m sure he’ll reveal his location, and I’ll have to seek him to learn this bardic magic…and maybe get his autograph.
Naph was completely unreasonable when I related to him all I knew of Evelis. Besides thinking that Evelis is a girl, Naph was completely ungrateful with my lesson in the essentials of Nin’s musical history. I know I didn’t get to actually writing down the names on those mass graves, but Evelis is so much more interesting! Why can’t he see that?
Anyway, Jenna didn’t have much luck with the door anyway. She spent half her day just dragging empty Atoms back to their storage slots near the entrance window because she failed so many times. The door is no closer to being unlocked.
But all of that paled when M’rya-Blythe mentioned that she’d seen a nearby Atom move during the day. We all inspected the Atom, but it didn’t seem any different than any other empty Atom we’ve found in the wilderness. We decided to post a watch all night to keep an eye on the Atom to see if it awoke. If it did, we might be able to get some information out of him or her.
Our watch paid off – during the second watch, which Naph was responsible for, Bidi woke up. He’s a little…odd, I guess. He’s got a tremendous fascination with lightning, too. So much so that it’s all he’ll talk about if you let him. He’s constantly letting little psionic streamers of electricity shoot away from him, so none of us stood that close to him…not that doing that helped much in the end.
Jenna and Naph seemed to encourage his love for electricity, and before long Bidi had a dangerous stream of lightning shooting into a nearby tree. Naph decided he was going to take Bidi inside, but M’rya-Blythe wasn’t having any of it. “Electricity. With those big black pillars. Are you insane?”
Naph was sure that Bidi would be fine, and he wanted to hear what Bidi had to say about the pillars since his name was inscribed on one of them. In the end, M’rya-Blythe changed her mind, and we all went inside. Naph led us to Bidi’s pillar.
“Yup. That’s my pillar,” Bidi said.
“Does lightning do anything to it?” Naph asked.
Bidi shrugged. “I donno…” and then he shot the largest bolt of lightning I’ve ever seen directly into the pillar. We all fell to the ground, stunned by the shock.
When I finally recovered, I stood up and looked around. The pillar was completely unaffected by the lightning, but not so with Bidi’s Atom. It sat in the middle of the room, silent and empty once again.
We all went outside and sat around the dull embers of the fire, discussing what we’d learned. Hopefully we’d be able to get Bidi working again and ask him more direct questions about what’s happened.
Thankfully we were able to get Bidi to wake up the next morning. We asked him about the woman in the video clip, and he said her name was Nadine. He was also able to get the third door open, and even point out himself in the second video. We examined the room and the bunk, but we didn’t find anything of value.
We even took Bidi over to Dineen and were able to rouse her when Bidi accidentally electrocuted her. She awoke screaming, but didn’t seem to notice any of us. Bidi immediately greeted her as Nadine.
“I thought so,” Naph said.
Could Dineen really be Nadine? If so, why didn’t the woman in the video look anything like Dineen? Something’s not adding up…
We took Bidi back into the room with the black pillars and tried to find out what happened to him, why the pillar was his, what happened to the other children…anything. But every time we discussed anything close to how the pillar was his, Bidi would start to shake and being whispering “lightning”. He finally collapsed.
We were all stunned. What did any of this mean? Why would this have been called a Research Facility if it actually looks more like a safe house against this plague? Could we all have once been children, killed by someone like Dineen, and our essences transferred into pillars that could control the Atoms? Is this where our souls are? Could the Arcos actually be store houses for Kedil, which cures the plague? With the size of the Arcos, they could store an enormous amount of Kedil…what if it’s not for sedating the dragon? What if the dragons are meant to protect the harvested Kedil so that the next plague does not wipe out all of humanity?
If any of this is true, it’s no wonder Dineen never wanted to talk about it. She probably doesn’t want to think about any of this herself. Watching all those people die an agonizing death, burying them in mass graves, slaughtering children to give them a life within a mecha rather than death by a plague.
I think we need to get Dineen fixed again – she can explain what this is, if only we can convince her. If the plague really is back, as it was in Agnora, then we can’t be idle. And if we can’t rouse Dineen…then we’ll have to do what Dineen warned us to only do at dire need – trust Tern.