7 Ledger - Aspera: Advent Trigger Pt. 2
The girl reached over for her gear, despite being weak and in such a fragile state.
I couldn't let her go through with it.
As much as I feared death, I couldn't let this girl go in there.
I'd be the cause of her death if I did.
I couldn't live with that...
"I'll do it," I said.
Orianna looked over at me.
Her face was indifferent and lacking any visible emotion. It was like she was fully obedient to the commands of Professor Aemon and nothing else mattered. She was prepared to do what had to be done, even if she was too injured to return from it.
She was insane if she thought she could handle anything in her current state.
Orianna stood silently, not saying a word.
"Great. Gear up. Amelie will be your tutor, assuming she doesn't mind doing so," said Professor Aemon as he waved a pencil.
"That's fine. Let's get in there already," said Amelie, as she excitedly reached for her NERO helmet.
"Is there anything I should know first?" I asked her.
"It's easier to just show you. But, whatever you learn inside these gates you keep."
I wasn't entirely sure what she meant by that.
"I'm not sure if you've noticed but we're running out of time before the rot reaches this facility. Soon we'll have to abandon it and use whatever abilities we've managed to obtain before that point. Judging by what we have now, it won't be enough," said the Professor, rushing me to the area marked Zero-Seven.
The facility was full of gear, equipment, tanks of water, and other technology but completely open and lacking any cover to properly put on my bodysuit with a hint of privacy.
"Right, I'm on it. Is there a changing room? Or should I just change over… here?" I asked.
"Just change here. We don't care," said Miss Kirasagi.
That wasn't the problem! I cared! I had only just met these people. Dressing down in front of them wasn't on my bucket list!
I nervously went behind the large vat tank to gear into my suit, which must have only amplified the problem. I could hear my team laughing. Probably due to my novice nature, or possibly because they found my choice of underwear funny.
The Esper-2 suits, also called Zwei or Angelsuits, left nothing to the imagination... It was like wearing a unitard, which tightly gripped at every curve of the body.
It's no different to walking around completely naked, besides the light padding on the crotch and thin possibly-metal plating on the knees, elbows, chest, shoulders, and spine.
The shoulders, neck, and all along the spine had circular connection ports for the "umbilical cords" to plug into. The umbilical cords were just the large tubes that the other pilots had hanging from them.
After having painstakingly fought my way into the super-snug Esper-2, I had only one part left to equip. The Aspera pilots all wore black metal fins over their ears. These fins covered their ears completely and looked like how a cat's ears looked while they were back. These fins apparently served the function of assisting with NERO scanning, which had something to do with the external helmet that went over top of the ears and connected directly to them.
I didn't really pay much attention to the scientists as they described how any of it worked. Too many abbreviations and not a hint of layman's terms. Just wear the suit, the ears, the helmet, sit in the pot of water and wait for connection. That's all I took from it.
I approached the group while pulling at my crotch area. The suit seriously clung to every inch of me. It was awkward to walk in, let alone hang out beside everyone else in. I kept trying to cover my bits, but it looked way more awkward trying to do so casually.
"Don't forget your ears!"
Amelie hopped over. With a light brush of her hands on both sides of my head, she combed back my hair and slipped on the two metal fins. After finishing, she rested her hand on my shoulder.
"You're almost ready now," said Amelie.
The underlying lights on my suit lit up changing from red, to yellow, to green. I guess it meant the suit was powered on and ready.
I could feel as two scientists plugged the large umbilical cords into my shoulders and all along my spine.
"What do I do now?" I questioned.
Miss Kirasagi pointed with her clipboard.
"Put on your helmet and wait in your pod," said Miss Kirasagi.
"First we'll analyze your dominant skills, parameters, and passive traits. These will all be things you've gained over the course of your life. Hidden values earned through cultivation, training, and labour. Each of these hidden values will be essential in being a Master Pilot," said Miss Kirasagi as she addressed me directly.
"The Cartesius Program will be after. It will assist you in separating from your physical form into "Sov". I know. You haven't heard that word before. That's fine. It's short for "Sovereign state", which is the phantom form that you witnessed Misaka disappear into earlier. Sov is the form in which pilots are capable of controlling others internally, and without the ability to go Sov you won't be of any use here. So, it's absolutely vital that you pass or we'll have to find someone who can."
I nodded my head, as I looked around at my other teammates. Every single one of them looked calm and casual, as if this was only P.E. class, while I stood at attention like I was just unexpectedly drafted into the military.
My Esper-2 suit began to flash its lights as it apparently scanned me for dormant skills and stats. The fins over my ears went up-right for a moment in an almost comical fashion. Within a few seconds, my stats were on a big screen displayed to everyone in the facility.
Name: Reid Aerys
Sov Type: Engel
Height: 167 cm
Weight: 58 kg
Blood Type: ---
Available Points: 26
Available Rolls: 2
The team quietly stared for a few seconds, with a few snickers and some hums.
"It's peculiar it doesn't have his blood type recorded -- it's only ever done that for him and Oni so far," said Miss Kirasagi.
"What's really interesting is your name registered as your father's name instead of your own. It's never done that," said Professor Aemon as he adjusted his glasses.
"Could it be an error?" I questioned.
"This system doesn't have simple errors," said Professor Aemon as he paced back and forth.
"His stats are extremely low…," said Setsera with a sinister smile.
"Yeah. Not very remarkable at all, really," said Aemon.
"Hey, I got feelings you know," I said.
"It can be extremely risky to bring along someone who has a low purpose stat. It can result in heavy side effects and debuffs to his other stats when it goes into the negatives, which could ultimately result in an alignment change during missions. It's too high-risk," said Setsera.
"Yeah, if you turn to Dark Alignment at any point expect that we'll hunt you down and kill ya," said Oni with a cheeky grin.
"Uh, alright. Good to know I guess," I said.
"He's got a pretty high Luck stat. Highest in the group," said Kirev.
"It's the worst stat to have a high mark in though. It's a barely noticeable effect. It's not like having high Extrasensory Perception which benefits both us and our summons greatly," argued Setsera.
"His Mana capacity is actually really good too. It's almost the same as Oni's was when she started," said Amelie, looking back to me.
Oni sat up against the wall in the back, focused on me. She seemed to suspect something was up with my strange stat sheet but stayed silent.
"Have you been cultivating, training or doing labour?" asked Miss Kirasagi.
"I haven't really done any training. I'm not sure what cultivation even is, but my last job was hard labour. Like fourteen hour days sometimes, with little to no days off."
"Well, it seems to have paid off in some form," said Miss Kirasagi.
Well, first time I've ever seen hard work actually paying off.
"Are we ready to take Ledger on his test run?" asked Aemon as he spun around and pointed at his science teams and Aspera pilots.
"Yes, boss!" said the team in unison.
Amelie quickly hopped over to her pod. I watched carefully as she climbed into it. I knew I would have to do the same in just a moment and if I did it wrong, Aemon would light a fire under my ass.
"SARTRE Online," said one of the scientists with his thumb held high.
"LOCKE is engaged," said another.
I climbed into the vat marked Zero-Seven, which was apparently going to be my new home and slipped cautiously into the water which was actually warmer than I expected it to be.
I watched Amelie carefully from across the room. She seemed so excited to jump back in. She was moving impatiently, and upon noticing me she gave me a wink and a thumbs up.
The umbilical cords attached to me freely swayed in the pod, before darting towards the connection ports inside the tank. I instinctively took a huge breath of air which was now blowing into my helmet through one of the cords.
It felt invigorating.
"Launching Cartesius," said Aemon, as he tapped on the glass of my tank.
I watched Amelie disappear from sight.
My body began to vibrate as if I was having a seizure or severe panic attack. My heart rate was increasing, beating out of control. Visions of places I've never been began to flash before me at a rapid pace.
Were these all different worlds accessible through the gates that I was about to enter?
I gasped for air and coughed loudly.
I had done it. I had entered through a gate for the first time.
This was remarkable…!
I pressed my hands into the coarse sand surrounding me. It all felt so real. It was smooth, and warm to the touch, and underneath the top layer, it was cool and refreshingly cold. Just like it should be.
"Welcome, welcome!" said a girl as she approached cheerfully.
The first thing I noticed about her was the dark raccoon-eyes. She wore a large amount of dark eyeshadow, which framed her eyes. Her black hair was chopped into a short bob-style and she wore an unordinary amount of golden jewelry, with a gold, black and blue colour-themed outfit.
"Ancient Egypt?..." I questioned.
I, too, was covered in golden decorations. My arms were wrapped in golden greaves, with black and blue decorative trim. A long white hooded cloak draped from my shoulders, blowing in the warm air. My hair was long and dark, and hanging in the way of my face.
"Yes. This particular gate takes place in the Ancient World." answered the girl, who had to be Amelie.
"What did you mean back there? About what we learn in the gate we keep for real?"
"Come here and let me show you," said Amelie.
She pulled me and then took a few steps forward. Turning around, she engulfed her hand in a bright red flame.
"This is a simple pyromancy spell. But, I learned it from another gate, not this one. Yet, I still possess the skill here. My mind has unlocked it, and it's now bound to me indefinitely. I can even cast it in the real world."
"How is that possible?" I asked.
"Without the gates, it wouldn't be. Anything you learn here or anywhere else stays with you no matter where you and your soul reside. The abilities you gain from the hieroglyphs in this world will be your first real abilities in the other worlds.
You'll be able to harness the traditional elements of earth, air, water, and fire here. And hopefully leave with an understanding of mana," said Amelie as she pointed towards a large temple behind us.
Amelie closed her flaming palm, extinguishing it, and opened it to reveal a small red orb.
"Crystallized mana. During my mission I was taught the art of forming mana into a physical form from wild elements -- it was a birthright of mine -- to gift it to the other worlds."
"This is fascinating," I said as she passed the small gem to me.
"Ultimately, here is where we'll train you until you have a firm understanding of how it all works. Days and weeks in this world are barely noticeable to those on the outside. I spent five years in my last mission, and it was only an afternoon for the rest of the Aspera gang, so we can spend as much time as it'll take for you to grasp this. An explanation inside a gate makes more sense logically to Professor Aemon. Everything is a waste of time to him on the outside. That's why he was rushing to get you ready. He always forgets to slow down and actually be in the moment, but he's a nice guy after you get to know him."
"So are we in a game right now?" I questioned curiously.
"No. Well, it's not a traditional game. Technically, this place is called Gate 11-22-56. It's the first place that I discovered on my own. Every world has a corresponding gate number, and inputting these numbers allow us to access them time and time again. Almost all of the gates haven't been explored yet. This was one of the previously undiscovered ones that I found when I joined Aspera."
"So this isn't a game? This is real life?"
"The gates aren't always games. Most of them aren't games as a matter of fact. We're not even sure why some of them are. But, it's not a bad thing. Game worlds tend to be the simplest way to obtain our abilities so finding them is crucial."
"So then, this world is part of history?"
"More likely it is a fabrication. Some reimaging of an Ancient Egyptian scenario generated by the gates. Maybe it's purely random. I doubt our two characters are even supposed to meet in history, and the world we see around us isn't factual neither. This temple is the Temple of Philae, where we are now, and behind us are the Pyramids of Giza. You shouldn't be able to see the pyramids so clearly from here, so that means this world has moved them closer to fit the narrative."
"Ah, and are you supposed to be Cleopatra?" I asked.
"Ah, yes!" said Amelie in Cleopatra's body, "I believe I'm some sort of Hollywood Cleopatra. I think the gates have made her far more beautiful than she was in real history, but who knows. I believe you are Ramses the Builder, a pharaoh of a different age. I doubt they've ever met, especially not as young adults like we are doing now. "
I stumbled as I attempted to move forward, which Amelie was quick to notice and helped me find my footing.
She let out a little laugh.
"It'll take a while to learn to move in a borrowed body. Eventually, you'll be able to summon in the real world and pilot beings far more capable than ourselves using the same skills you are using now that allow you to use Ramses.
That'll be crucial in the End Game. No amount of skills are as effective as piloting Summons against the impending darkness."
"What if I can... already..." I said.
"Piloting is very very advanced learning. Professor Aemon will want you to pass the Cartesius test first before we proceed with those kinds of lessons. Finding a summon is harder than it sounds. They are hidden in mementos for the most part, unless you find a world where they take to the streets.
It's worth noting that once we are fully fledged Summoners with full rosters it'll be our duty to patrol the borders. We won't have the same liberties as now, where we can explore worlds and acquire abilities and skills. We'll be generals in a war, and fodder for the demons on the other side of it.
All Graduates of the Academy have strict military duties."
"Ah, so that's the reason for the people patrolling with squads of soldiers around the borders. They are graduates of these facilities?" I asked.
"Yeah, sort of. Graduates are flown in from all over the world. Those academies are apparently much nicer than the one we had --- before the darkness claimed it and pushed us further into the city. Now we're forced to use this little run down facility below a city park. It's a pretty sketchy operation now, but we used to be a school with outfits and everything. Most of those teachers and students are Dark Aligned now though." said Amelie as she led me towards the temple by hand.
"A world based around God Game Royale or Spell Blade Bullet would be the best place to start hunting for summons, I'd bet. Those worlds are littered with summons."
"Heh. Your sister told us you were glued to playing those titles -- particularly GGR. I guess she wasn't lying.
That knowledge will come in handy when you're ready for those gates. But, first, we need to get you walking properly."
"So when you say borrowed bodies, does it mean we are possessing people right now?"
"It's a small interruption in their lives that they won't recall. It'll be like a dream to them. You ever have that feeling when you zone out and forget you were doing something -- it's in those moments that perhaps you were piloted by someone else, and you were none the wiser at the end of the day," said Amelie.
"I knew someone else was doing my tests at school for me. There was no way I should've been passing."
"Exactly. Maybe your sister has been piloting you all of this time, working in the shadows to get you good grades."
"I hope you're joking. Hailey would use that power to walk me into a moving train, no doubt."
Amelie stopped to laugh and covered her mouth with her hand.
"Fair enough!" she said with a big smile.
"Do you think it's possible to learn abilities and summon without the gate techniques? What if gamers were getting abilities from home somehow?" I asked her.
"It would be impossible without having access to the gates.
Right now we are basically tricking our minds into thinking this is reality, and by doing so it breaks the limitations of what our brain thinks is possible in reality. We are gaining access to powers we can inherently have, but which are normally locked. The gates are what breaks these locks, by essentially injecting us into another form of reality our minds believe they can do what they possibly once could but can't anymore.
Simply put, I doubt it's possible at this time unless the gates progress further beyond our comprehension. Right now the gates are key to unlocking our hidden potential. Playing at home won't have the same effect."
"So I'm guessing we're only here to study then?" I asked.
"To learn for the next gate. Hieroglyphics are hugely important in the gate I've been struggling with. Treat this as a tutorial. To get used to operating in a body that's not your own. I'm sure Professor Aemon will have us in the real gate later today. He's been obsessed with completing it since the beginning of Project Aspera," she answered.
"Why don't you just try a new gate if you're struggling with that other one? Isn't that the gate that we've lost three pilots in?" I asked.
"Aemon says it's the most important. It was the first gate to ever be unlocked via our systems. Aemon knew the number off by heart and had the whole class running it until most of them fell. He's obsessed with it. He thinks all of the answers are hidden within it," she replied.
"Jesus, most of your class fell to it? It's really that bad, eh?"
"Everyone has had the wrong approach to it, and when we got replacements to fill our open slots… we've only had hot-head soldiers in there instead of students. This gate needs to be done slowly, it needs to be studied. It can't be solved by killing everything that approaches from the shadows."
We walked along the warm stone steps heading towards the Temple of Philae.
A man bathed in the sun outside of the entrance. Just relaxing in the sun in front of the temple on a large step. The Egyptian man was remarkably handsome. He only sat up to greet us as we approached, almost as if a polite handshake was out of the question. His quirky long hair was combed backward in a rough fashion, with a strand hanging down into his face.
"You took your sweet time…" said the man.
"Oh, shut up," replied Amelie.
"You know this guy?" I asked.
"This is Ra, my summon," she answered quickly, "I hope you didn't think he was my boyfriend or anything. He's a bit too arrogant for my liking."
"Hah. I'm arrogant? You should see the way she stares at me. Perfection can do that to a girl though," said Ra with a cocky smirk.
"Told you," said Amelie as she nudged me.
"Does your summon just remain here? He doesn't follow you around or anything?" I asked.
"This is where he chooses to spend his time when I'm not summoning him to my aid. He's basically on vacation, most of the time."
"Ramses is a devout worshipper of mine. I assume you will be too, Summoner," said Ra as he finally stood up, "Who are you by the way?"
"My name is Ledger Aerys," I answered.
"He's the new Seven in my squad," added Amelie.
"Well, I hope we get a chance to see each other again," said Ra as he walked away towards the temple.
Ra waved without looking back, "So long."
"Don't worry, he's like that with everyone," she insisted.
"Sounds like he thinks I won't last the day," I said.
"You won't!" called out Ra from the distance.
"Summons have excellent hearing, too," said Amelie shrugging.
"Ah, wish I knew that sooner."
END OF PART 2