Dan spent the next week in the same small room. Most of the time he was left to himself, and he spent many hours thinking about what NT9 had told him, and how he might get back to Heleer. While he didn’t like the sound of Vydar, the Valkyrie was obviously the first step. Dan would ask him to send him back. If he refused… well, he would have to find another way.
Occasionally, one of the bird-humans – or kyrie, as Dan was learning to call them – would visit him. Her name was Aviir, and Dan could only assume she had been sent to see if he was loyal to Vydar. He had told her he wasn’t the first time she had spoken to him, and he had spent the time since berating himself for the mistake. He doubted Vydar would listen to him now.
NT9 also visited him occasionally, and despite being a soulborg, Dan was beginning to believe he was an ally. One day he asked NT9 why he was different.
“I’m not Khyta Lekon,” he said. “Khyta Soulborg,” he added at Dan’s confused look. “I’m Senry Lekon. There are several different factions of soulborgs, and mine is different from the one which imprisoned you, if I’m correct.”
“I was imprisoned by these… Khyta Soulborgs?” Dan asked.
“Khyta are the only ones to use SR Units to imprison Mariedians, so I assume they are the ones, yes.”
“And you don’t?”
“No. Never. Khyta believe the Mariedians are inferior to them, and feel no guilt in what they do. We believe the future of the Mariedian lies in the soulborg, but we at least remember our roots, and respect the wishes of our Mariedian allies.”
“Allies?” Dan asked, glancing at the emblem on NT9’s shoulder, the same emblem which Darren had worn.
“Yes,” NT9 said. “Mariedians serve with us in our fight against Khyta.”
Dan sat up straighter. This was information had hadn’t expected.
“You fight Khyta? How? Who’s winning?”
NT9 looked at him, surprised. “Yes, we fight them. They are enslaving Mariedians; we weren’t about to sit by and do nothing. We frequently bomb their containment blocks, and free who we can. That’s about all we can do, though. Khyta’s resources and numbers are far better than our own. We can’t attack them head on; the best we can do is surprise them and flee before they know what happened. It’s an arms race, with Khyta’s better technology always beating our own. We survive, but only just.”
Too much information. Dan closed his eyes, trying to process it. He had no doubt that Darren had been part of these Senry Soulborgs, fighting the Khyta. At last, he knew what had been going on that night he was rescued. The Senry had bombed the prison block, blasted a hole in the ceiling, and Darren had come down to free as many Mariedians as he could. And if the constant thunderings and shakings and power outages were any indication, Senry was still hard at work bombing the prison cell. Or at least, they had been when Dan had left.
“I… actually meant to ask you something about that,” NT9 said. “About Khyta’s technology.”
Dan opened his eyes. What could he know?
“Every Mariedian we free mentions a ‘barrier’ of some sort, keeping them in their cell, but none of them can tell us what it is, or how it works. Such technology is something only the Khyta possess; Senry Soulborgs have never even seen one. Could you describe one to me?”
Describe one? Dan could do better than that. RR had told him exactly how it worked… if only he could remember. It had been years ago.
“RR – the Khyta who was there – explained it to me once, but I can’t remember… something to do with pulses?” Dan thought harder. “Wait!” Dan held up an arm. “My gloves! RR said they contained a replica of whatever made the Barrier!”
NT9 looked at his gloves. “Why?” he asked.
“I can’t remember… something about nerve damage, I think. I jumped at the Barrier when I was young and got stuck – RR said my arms were almost destroyed. She said they repaired them, and used a small replica of the Barrier to do… something. Something about nerves.”
“May I see your arms?” NT9 asked.
Dan held them out.
“A few Mariedians have had similar operations done – on a leg, one hand, one side – but they’ve always been pure metal replicas. This is different somehow… how did you get these scars?” He pointed to the faint red lines circling Dan’s arms, up from the gloves.
Dan remembered. He had gotten those scars when the power had gone out, and he had destroyed the service table trying to get free. That had been the day he had discovered what his gloves could do. He looked at NT9. Could he trust him? He was a soulborg after all, and the only proof Dan had that he was an ally was the emblem on his shoulder.
Dan thought about it. His gloves were the only weapon he had against the soulborgs, but they wouldn’t be very effective if they did as much damage to him as they did to them. What he really needed was knowledge; knowledge of how to use them, how to control them, how they worked. Maybe NT9 could provide that knowledge. It was a risk he would have to take.
Dan told him. He left nothing out, but told NT9 about the check, about the power going out, and how he had seen two devices touch inside his gloves, and what had happened.
NT9 considered his gloves for a moment. “I wonder,” he said, “might I see if I can open them up? See how they work? I might be able to tell you exactly what happened.”
Ever since that day, Dan had grown accustomed to thinking of his arms as machines, rather than part of his body. That was why he shrugged and sat back, laying his gloves flat on the table.
NT9 picked one glove up, and then the other. He looked at them from all angles. “Ah,” he said. “Knew it had to be somewhere.” With one finger, he pressed a small plate on the inside of Dan’s forearm. The glove promptly unfolded like a flower opening.
“What – How?” Dan wasn’t too worried by the fact that his arm was lying disassembled on the table; he was more curious about how NT9 had opened it. He himself had pressed on his gloves from every angle.
“Only a soulborg could do that,” NT9 said. “The plate can sense the exact amount of pressure I’m putting on it, and treats it like the code to a combination lock. Let’s see what we have…”
For a moment, Dan sat still while NT9 slid panels back and forth and moved wires in his arm. Dan pointed out the two devices he had seen touch when the blast came from his arm. NT9 looked at them carefully.
“Well,” he said eventually, “I won’t pretend to know what I’m looking at. Obviously, the Khyta have somehow developed a machine which can emit energy pulses at an unbelievable rate. This one,”— he tapped one device in Dan’s arm —“is the small replica of that machine. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to feel much of anything, aside from a constant dull pain in your arms. This one,” — he tapped a second device —“is an amplifier of some sort. It’s probably used to amplify the sensory input signals, so that you can feel better. Without it, your sense of touch would be minimal at best. But if those two devices were to touch… the pulse gets amplified instead. And with nowhere to go, it goes into a loop, passing through the amplifier again and again… until,”— NT9 lifted Dan’s arm, getting a better view —“until the expanding energy field hits the closest thing it can enter: the main shaft going down the arm. Most would flow into the hand and out through the palm or fingers, but a good portion would exit the back of the gloves and go into your upper arm. That’s undoubtedly what happened.”
“Right,” Dan said, struggling to understand what NT9 had said. There was a pause. “Can I do it again, without… you know, blowing myself up?”
NT9 considered the two devices. “Certainly. You would need an inhibitor in the shaft above the amplifier. That would send the energy back down the other way. There might still be some stray energy, but it shouldn’t do much more than cause some bruising. I can’t be certain, of course, but that would be my best guess.”
That was good enough for Dan. “Where can we get an inhibitor?” he asked.
“Easy,” NT9 replied, not even looking up. “The soulborgs have plenty of spare devices here in the Citadel, for repair. They won’t mind if I take two. And if I provide a connection between the amplifier and whatever device is creating those pulses, and tie it to an external trigger, you should be able to unleash an energy blast at will.”
“So you mean,” Dan said, “that if I wanted to I could replicate what I did to the service table? Without tearing up my arm?” This was better than he could have hoped.
“Yes, once I get the right materials,” NT9 said, pressing a few plates. Dan’s arm slid back together smoothly. “I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really need to though. There’s bound to be some damage to your arms above the gloves, even if it’s just bruises.”
A thought occurred to Dan. “Why did the Khyta give me these gloves? Don’t they know what they can do?”
“I doubt it,” NT9 said. “They would never give you such a powerful weapon if they knew. I suspect that not many Mariedians have gotten themselves stuck against the Barrier like you have. And of those who have, you are probably the only one who still wanted to get out. Plus, in their current state, the arms have got to be open, and you’d have to twist them quite a bit to get the blast you want. So it’s quite plausible that they don’t even know the capability is there, or at least they assume you couldn’t use it, which is perfectly true, since you could never open the gloves on your own. That being said… I wouldn’t use the gloves around any Khyta Soulborgs you might meet. If one of them sees it, they’ve all seen it. Then when you go back, they’ll know, and replace your gloves before you have a chance to use them.”
“How do I know which ones are the Khyta Soulborgs?” Dan asked.
“Simple,” NT9 said. “They’re on the enemy’s side. We call them Zettians. Dark armor, red eyes; you’ll know when you see one.”
Two days later, NT9 returned with several metal parts and devices. He installed an inhibitor in each glove to minimize the damage to Dan’s arms, and then created a trigger which would allow Dan to unleash a pulse of energy at will. Before he left, NT9 showed him how the trigger worked.
“There’s a safety,” he said, pointing out a small switch on the inside of each of Dan’s arms. “Pull that out and towards you, and your gloves will be armed. Pull it out and away from you, and they won’t fire. When armed, you simply put your hand out like you are pushing on something.”
Dan – first making sure the safety was on – tried it.
“A ninety degree angle,” NT9 said, correcting him. “Your arm should be straight out, and your hand straight up. The fingers should be as flat as you can make them. When in doubt, just make a motion like your shoving something away from you.”
“And the gloves will fire?”
“What exactly can I do with them? I shattered that table back on Isadora…”
“It depends,” NT9 said. “It’s important to remember that you aren’t creating blasts of energy; you are creating pulses. A pulse acts like a wave: it spreads out from a central point. But when a pulse comes into contact with something solid – something which can’t bend and flex sufficiently to let the pulse pass through it – it’s going to behave differently. A pulse traveling through a solid object will begin to break down the forces holding it together. If you used your gloves on this stone wall, for instance, and used them long enough, the wall would eventually just crumble to dust. If instead you released a single pulse, it would be more like a shot from a soulborg’s rifle, although with a much wider area of effect.”
Dan couldn’t stop a grin from spreading across his face. When he returned to Isadora, the soulborgs would have no idea what was coming. It didn’t matter where they put him; he would always be able to escape. He’d tear down the walls and blast open the ceiling if he had to. He had to be careful, of course. He knew that once he used his secret weapon in front of them, he’d have to escape. He couldn’t afford to fail, otherwise they would undoubtedly rework his gloves so that his advantage was gone.
But he wouldn’t let that happen. When the time came, when the soulborgs least expected it, he would find Heleer, and together, they would escape.