Relic Knights: Calamity Comes, Chapter 4
Fortune’s Return, Black Diamond Frigate
The darkened chamber was lit only by the flickering holographic silhouettes of those who guided Leopold Magnus’s actions. He stood in the center of the chamber, the nine Synod members in a half-circle before him. Their features were concealed, but it mattered little to the cybernetic Knight. With the aid of his cypher, Static, he had divined all of their identities long ago. What did he care if they sought to rule the Galactic Merchants’ Guild from the shadows? Their falsely perceived anonymity made them feel secure in his presence—in control. If his robotic head could smile at the futility of their misplaced emotion he would, even if the gesture was empty. Magnus had long ago put aside emotion, just as he had put aside the frailty of his mortal flesh. He was a scientist, and only logic and fact, in the pursuit of truth, concerned him. Right now the truth he was in pursuit of was unlocking the mystery of the cyphers. A pursuit that was being hindered by the Synod’s insistence on a meaningless progress report.
“Vipers and sleeper agents throughout the academy have initiated their protocols.” Magnus’s voice was mechanical and hollow. He could modulate the frequencies to induce a wide range of responses in his listeners. In dealing with the Synod, he maintained as clinical and drone-like of a cadence as possible. He preferred for them to think of him as little more than a tool. “We have met with a 78% success threshold. As expected, success rates are diminishing as the academy and Shattered Sword go on alert. This is of little concern. The actions are having the desired effect of drawing forces away from our true target. I will command the final retrieval myself.”
“Deploy the Codebreaker Suit as well.” It was impossible to know which member spoke. Like their images, the Synod’s true voices were also concealed, their words echoing through the chamber like a demanding deity.
Magnus made no effort to conceal his agitation at the command. “Such a course of action would be unwise. We are operating in the heart of the Doctrine and are likely to face not only their formidable codifiers, lorekeepers, and constructs, but multiple Knights as well. To risk the Codebreaker’s loss in such an action would be foolish.”
“Do not forget your place!” The Synod boomed. “Our actions today are a violation of the Rakert Treaties and will be taken as an act of war by both the Doctrine and Alliance. We have accepted this course of action based on your assurances that the rewards are worth the risk. The Codebreaker Suit will be deployed to ensure your success.”
Magnus’s cybernetics hissed as his reverse-articulated legs stood to their full inhuman height, his royal purple cape billowing around him as he bowed to the Synod. “As you wish.”
With a silent command, he ended the communication and the lights snapped on, revealing the harsh industrial interior of his private chambers. Electricity crawled and writhed across the floor, steadily taking form until it coalesced into his cypher, Static. The unnatural cat-like creature was all right angles and hissing energy, its mood reflecting the depth of Magnus’s suppressed fury. It leaped to the top of his staff, charging the iridium rod with crackling esper. Magnus’s robotic head swiveled to peer at the creature. He never grew tired of studying the cypher—it possessed all the answers he sought yet revealed none of them. Many times he had to resist the urge to strap the creature to his tables. Only the knowledge that it would be a death sentence for him as well stayed his hand. The cypher’s esper infused his cybernetic form with the energies it needed to function. That would not always be the case.
The cypher hissed at him, knowing his thoughts. As Magnus stalked his way to the Codebreaker Project, personnel they encountered in the corridors averted their eyes and attempted to scurry away without him noticing. He cared nothing for their fears. He saw them as the Synod saw him, as tools to be used and discarded. The Codebreaker Project doors were not labeled, it was not required. Those who knew what lie beyond needed no such identifiers and those who didn’t knew to give them wide berth. Exploration and curiosity were not impulses to be indulged on any ship transporting Leopold Magnus. The doors slid open silently, revealing a laboratory bathed in cool blue light.
Several scientists and technicians worked quietly at their projects and research. Each had been hand selected by Magnus, their capabilities cybernetically and chemically augmented—as had their loyalty. At his entrance, he was greeted by a slight girl, a delicate silver web pulsing just beneath her skin as the billions of nanites that kept her alive did their work. “We have three candidates for the suit, sir,” she said. “They have all been prepped and are ready for your selection. However, we only have one functioning battery. The other is currently undergoing conditioning and we are still unable to slave it to the suit.”
“When is conditioning expected to be complete, Dr. Neada?” Magnus did not break his pace as he went deeper into the lab.
Dr. Neada quickened her step to keep pace with his long strides. Her hexagrammic irises glowing purple as they interfaced with the tablet in her hands. “Not for another sixteen standard weeks,” she responded. “Ah, here we are,” she keyed in a code on a wall panel and the wall slid away to reveal three human men in a single chamber. Each sat on the edge of their own cot, elbows rested on their knees, eyes looking straight forward. They all were coated to the neck in heavy black synth-flesh. Embedded in the synth-flesh were numerous couplings and sockets attached to an assortment of wires and hoses that led into the wall. Only the occasional slow blink and the steady beep of their monitoring equipment betrayed that they still lived.
Magnus took the tablet from Dr. Neada and surveyed their vitals. “Initialize Candidate 74c6.” Wordlessly the named candidate stood, the monitoring connections decoupled automatically and dropped to the cot. “Candidate 74c6, you are to be congratulated. You are about to become a Knight.”
The candidate nodded slowly and stepped forward into the center of the room. Panels in the floor and ceiling opened and robotic arms whirred into action, fastening mechanical components to the synth-flesh. They worked with surprising speed, and soon a gleaming silver exoskeleton had been assembled around the candidate. Never pausing, the robotic arms began to attach black armor plates to the exoskeleton. In minutes, the armor was assembled and a helmet was lowered onto the candidate’s head and secured in place.
“Install the battery,” Magnus ordered.
A clear cylinder was lowered from the ceiling. The fluid inside throbbed sluggishly with dim purple light. Suspended in the liquid was a small creature—a cypher—its body withered and warped; its limbs gnarled and contorted. Its eyes moved slowly as it tried to focus, rolling back into their sockets as its head bobbed drunkenly. The battery was socketed into a cradle on the suit’s back and the fluid flared to life with violet, corruption esper energy. The suit jerked as the esper surged through its systems. Magnus watched the candidate’s brain waves spike and stutter as the suit attempted to artificially bond him to the slaved cypher. His vitals flatlined, and for a moment Magnus feared they would have to attempt the bonding process with another candidate before they surged back to life stronger than before. The cypher writhed in obvious pain inside the battery as its life force was leached away. Atop Magnus’s staff, Static hissed in perverse pleasure at the cypher’s torture.
The suit’s visor flared energy and it took a tentative step forward. The next step was confident and sure as the candidate’s training and psycho-conditioning took over. With practiced grace, it unlimbered its crys-rifle, snapping the rifle tight to its shoulder to stand at attention.
In a dead voice, hollow and flat, the suit spoke. “Codebreaker awaiting orders.”
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