Maria Belle. The tone of a woman that spat venom to those around her.
One look from anyone would give off the impression that she hated her job, that of being the personal secretary of Allen Reeves. Perhaps, it was just that demanding of an occupation. After all, tending to the most promising innovator of the generation was sure to have its troubles.
The looks of annoyance as she jotted down the daily tasks, the sharp glares whenever Allen made some off-handed remarks that were bad for publicity, and the sudden jabs into his side to signal a need for correction – people often wondered how Maria could get away with treating him so roughly and still hold onto her job.
But Allen loved it, despite how utterly silly it seemed to boss around the boss. That venom was no less than a silver tongue. A sharp contrast among the walls of praise that he was surrounded with. After all, he was a shallow man. He moved only with the intent of pursuing ‘truth’. Grasping onto the coattails of science to bring some form of humanity to himself was all he sought. The cheers and accolades that he received in the process were mere flashes of humanity trying to stir a cold heart. He had easily fooled society into believing in him. Nothing more.
“So… what lies are you going to spin today for your adoring crowd?” Maria said flatly, so naturally that it made Allen feel a bit like a conman.
“My dear Maria, embellishing one’s achievements is the natural way of mankind! We must simply celebrate even the smallest successes in life. Otherwise, all that awaits are disappointments. Disappointment stagnates motivation. Motivation hinders progress. So, we simply must continue with the farce, as you so call it.”
Allen’s mask of unbridled enthusiasm could not be broken today. He willfully parried Maria’s ‘playful’ jabs. In fact, that was the very reason for choosing her for the job. Those bitter statements constantly reminded him not to fall into the lull of his successes.
“Propaganda, if you ask me. But what do I know? I’m just a dumb secretary in your shadow.”
Despite that, Maria was in no way an idiot. Holding a doctorate in sciences from an esteemed university, she could keep up with the imaginative nature of the famous innovator. Even when Allen made huge leaps in logic, Maria would be right there catching up to him.
That was the reason she knew that his inventions often fell short of his seemingly bulletproof proposals. Allen could feel the room and talk a good game. And while the theories sounded promising, every person of science knew that making it work, exactly as planned, was on the level of gods. When it came to patching up the little bugs, Maria knew exactly which team of scientists to compensate for them. What the public didn’t need to know was best left under a rock, data taken but not flaunted.
Lamps dashed through the empty streets of Bryansk, cradling the unconscious form of Olivia. The smile that was normally on his face was conspicuously absent. But then again, there was no one around to notice.
All that Lamps could think about was the ‘failure’ of a suit that he created. He had paraded around, claiming that it was completely invulnerable. That its wearer would tear through the enemy’s ranks and be the champion that the Empire of Purnesia needed. How suitable it was to make the Mad Empress, the people’s hope, into the very image of a war goddess that brought down the decisive strike against their enemies.
But that had failed. He tried to rationalize it in any way that he could. The time constraint. The huge burden of mana. A slight oversight in design. Only in failure did Lamps see the faults of the process.
That was because Maria was not there with him.
He had grown so reliant on her that he had succumbed to the normal mistakes of a person impaired. He was not talking about his eyes, but those little things that people took to heart if they were human. Pride becoming conceit. Confidence turning to complacency. The little faults of man interfering with his life’s work.
“Stripping off graphene with adhesive materials, ha! What bullshit! How is that science?! How is that ingenuity?!”
Lamps had disregarded that silly idea as child’s play. Something that wouldn’t be relevant to technology. And while that was true to a certain extent, that didn’t stop the amazement of its simplicity from spreading all around the world.
This supposed failure in his eyes defined how different his ideals were from normal people. His cold heart found no joy in its practicality. No charm in its design. Graphene on tape was never meant to be something marketable, but for that exact reason, Lamps had tossed the whole possibility aside – the fact that his hastily made suit could be countered by such a novelty.
If only he had done a better job at discarding his human ways, he wouldn’t have let such bias keep him from the truth!
Because of that, he always projected forward, chasing after something more. He had a goal beyond becoming human. Just like what Maria said that one time, he would rather seek truth and become a God.
Now, he was racing with Olivia in his arms due to that oversight. He privately cursed to himself about treating it all ‘as planned’. The limp form held against him was never that. Not now. Not again.
The thought of losing Olivia brought forth memories that Lamps never wanted to experience again. He had laughed it all off. Clowned his way into another existence. The very fact that he had requested to be renamed was proof of that.
He needed no reminder of the person who was responsible for the death of Maria Belle.
“It will change how people do everything!”
“Humans, leaping like comic book heroes, prancing around with superiority like idols trying to repair an already unbalanced society. How ‘wonderfully noble’ your intentions are, Mr. CEO….”
As always, Allen and Maria traded verbal jabs about their newest innovation – a power suit that would boost the capabilities of a normal person by several fold. When worn, a person would become much more than human, able to move at incredible speeds and gifted with massive strength.
But Maria had her doubts about it.
“Hijacking directly into the nervous system and overriding signals. You’re messing with things far beyond your understanding.”
Allen dismissed her worries. “Any person would dream for the chance to become more than they are now. Imagine, people wielding the power to set things right, to fulfill their desires, and make their lives better!”
“Mr. CEO, for what purpose does a man need such power? God did not make us human for such things.”
God – that was one thing about Maria that Allen never understood. How could someone steeped in the truths of science worship the whims of a deity that no one could ever see? Even without eyes, it seemed like those that begged God for answers were truly the blind ones.
But he humored her. Perhaps, that was one other notion that gave people hearts, their willingness to give faith to something when there was nothing. But try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to trust in God. Not after all that had happened to him.
“But what about this?!” Allen pointed to his own eyes. “Imagine replacements to compensate for what God has taken away from us. To compensate for the unfairness brought upon by some divine will in the sky! That is the will of the people!”
“No, that is the will of your investors. Those that swarm you with dirty money harvested from the common people.”
Allen recoiled. Even if he couldn’t see the faces of greed pouncing all over him, waving imaginary blank checks, the voices were so filled with lust for new golden geese that it should have been all too apparent.
When had he gotten so used to it?
When had the voices become so drowned out that he could no longer dissect them on his own? He had prided himself at being able to read a person. That was how he crafted the artificial heart to everyone’s liking – façade of good first impressions to please the crowd.
But now, he had become too familiar. Like a fool, he let silly attachments overtake even the fabrication that he had built up. He no longer had any idea what to do. The people were banging on the final walls enclosing a heart that was not there.
He suddenly felt a pair of hands placed upon both cheeks.
“I can tell. You feel incomplete. Don’t think that I won’t notice it after so long. A blind man always wants to see. And in the same frame, you strive to make people do beyond what they can. That is the honest you, no matter how you try to twist it with embellished words or playful deceit. Mr. Allen Reeves always delivers the dreams of mankind.”
The encouraging tone of Maria was so unlike her that Allen had no idea what to say. But he could feel a single tear rolling down his cheek. Quickly, he jerked away, unsure of what even to make of Maria herself.
“Faith, dear Mr. Reeves. You are a man that lacks faith. Even when you try to instill it upon others.”
Often, Maria made that analogy. That Allen was trying to play God. Trying to do what no man could. But that seemed to be the only thing he could do. He couldn’t trust in God. He couldn’t put faith into something so unmeasurable. That was impossible, unreasonable if one looked at the results of his life, a scatter plot of data where matters of God were merely outliers of bad events.
“I will not. The only one I trust is myself.”
With that, Allen left the room.
It was not long after that the final test for the power suit approached. However, the inherent dangers of hijacking a body’s nerve signals became a point of contention. While Allen pushed for human tests, there was pushback in terms of health and safety.
Plagued by the delays and hounded by investors for results, Allen grew progressively fiercer in his insistence that it would work. His supporters pushed him forward, while his contemporaries pushed him back. That only served to build up pressure. The world was finally getting to him. Until finally, Maria stepped in.
“Your face looks like a madman preparing to fall into an abyss of no return.”
Allen gave Maria a sour look. Only around her did he stop making false gestures. She was the sole person to see the true face of Allen Reeves at this point. Hungry for the truth, but the knowledge held back like it was dangled upon a string above him.
“If I cannot get anyone willing to suit up, then I-”
“Allow me then.”
Allen turned to Maria in surprise. She was hardly the type of person he expected to sacrifice herself for his sake. He heard the clack of her high heels as she walked right up to him.
“I will put on your stupid suit.”
“W-Why? Aren’t you the one that always talks about how much of a ruse my creations are? That I cover up the ideals with shiny trinkets and palatable compromises?”
There was an awkward pause before Maria answered.
“Because, you seem dead set on becoming a God. And what kind of God would you be if you didn’t have at least one believer willing to stick her neck out for you?”
Placing her faith in Allen’s will, Maria became the first test subject.
And that resulted in an utter failure.
Lamps pushed open the doors to a bright room, light almost blinding despite a lack of windows. No entryway but the doors beside him led to this enclosed space. But particularly to Lamps, it was even more intense, colored by a cloud of dense mana swirling all around. The room itself was massive, losing out only to the grandest of rooms within the castle, but he could barely see through anything in front of him.
There was a rawness to the surroundings, which looked less like a properly furnished area than walls simply erected around nature. Rocks glowed blue as Lamps stepped forward, right up to a magic circle with faded inscriptions etched in stone. By the time he reached that circle, the entire room brimmed with light.
Very few people visited this place, as it was the site of a holy ritual. An altar of the Gods, as he found out from the Empire’s history. It contained the source of the Resonance Stones that powered his weapons. And because of all the fighting outside, the residual mana was syphoned to this very spot.
Lamps placed Olivia upon the circle, the failure of both lives overlapping. He had lost Maria that day. While the suit worked as intended, it was not until it was shut down that they discovered the issue. Maria simply fell over, unresponsive. Her nerves had been overtaken by the connection, and without a constant current running through her body, it ceased to function. Her faith in him had turned her into a lifeless doll, unable to survive without the suit. A true puppet held up by his own command.
Allen hung himself that day, and the next thing he knew, he woke up with a new name and servant to the one named Olivia. But somehow, he had forgotten those final days of his old life and continued on like his normal self.
Until he found this altar. The secret to this world and the existence of true Gods.
It was at that moment that Lamps realized what he had to do. It was something that he never thought possible for him.
He bowed his head, placed his hands together, and let the mana rush from his body. Just like the energy that emitted from the surroundings, his own bluish aura melted into it.
He prayed. For the coming of the God of Mana to grace him with its presence.