For those of you who are about to be confused by the first part of the chapter, read it through slowly. It is written from the point of view of a woman who is slowly going insane over the course of twenty or so years. Imagine that you are watching everything through Precia's eyes, with the only sound you hear being her thoughts. I've purposefully left it ambiguous as to what is spoken and what is not, and to get an idea of what other people are saying you will need to infer from Precia's reactions. I wanted to give you a front row view of her mind, and I think I've succeeded, but if you review then please give me your impression of it.
Also, don't expect me to use this experimental method often. It is really hard to get into the mindset of a crazy person. To get answers to some of your questions, see the longer author's note at the end of the chapter.
Graceful degradation: the ability of a computer, machine, electronic system or network to maintain limited functionality even when a large portion of it has been destroyed or rendered inoperative. The purpose of graceful degradation is to prevent catastrophic failure. Unlike fault-tolerant design, which would have a back-up system activate to maintain full functionality, graceful degradation allows a damaged system to perform its function in spite of decreased capability.
Chapter 1: Preventative Measures
I'll just cut a few corners to make the deadline. A little bit of money saved, just enough to keep the project on budget. Just a few unnecessarily redundant systems shaved off of that extra safety cushion that nobody ever needs. Nothing has ever gone wrong before, and there is no reason to expect anything will go wrong. It isn't as if we're researching anything truly dangerous, after all. This isn't as risky as working with a Lost Logia or trying to create a star or something. It won't make a difference.
How do you tell a little girl that she isn't going to have a little sister? I don't want to confuse her, but she's a bit too young to learn about what it takes to make a baby. Not the natural way, and definitely not Jail's way. Honestly, that man's work is just short of criminal; if he asks me to help with that project one more time… If only he could learn to be ethical he'd be allowed on big sanctioned projects like mine, imagine what we'd be able to do together! But only after he gets some serious psychological help. Or a lobotomy. But I'm not about to tell Alicia any of that, so I chuckle, giving her a hug, and distract her with a cookie.
Alicia looks so excited. After this project is finally over, I'll finally be able to spend more time with her. But for now it is good to show her around while I have the chance, to show her all of the important work that is going on. Everyone here is building a better future, and not just for Mid-Childa, but for all of the administered worlds. Alicia looks awed and proud of me after telling her that. I knew this would be a good experience for her.
What's happening? Why did the equipment… A power surge from the reactor? The reactor is what? Quick, the shut-down sequence! All non-essential personnel clear the room, start evacuating just in case! It isn't working! Emergency shut-down failure? This can't be happening. This can't be happening, this is wrong, why isn't this working? What is the status on the evacuation? Damn! Keep trying, we have to at least keep it under control until they get to safety! What, Alicia, why are you still- No! All mages, defend those around-
How dare they? After they pushed me into- No, of course you're right, they aren't worth my anger, those pathetic worms. Thank you for stabilizing Alicia, I owe you a debt I can never repay. Help you with your project? I don't know, Jail, I've always been doubtful about it, and while I can certainly help with Linker Core construction I have little experience with cloning. But I need to do something, and the implications of the technology could hold the key to saving Alicia… Such extensive biological manipulation; perhaps it could enable me to do what is currently impossible. It is… fuzzy in a moral sense, but it is for a good cause. Besides, I've seen a side of Jail lately that I never saw before. As for that other little dropped hint of his… he may be unstable, but after what he did for Alicia I'd be hypocritical if I didn't help him create children of his own, even if that's even less approved that Project Fate is. I don't think I'm ready to get fully involved though. I need to recover, and if there is a simpler solution I want to find it. But I'll work with you on the side, and if it seems like it is going somewhere I am more than willing to join full-time.
But at this point there isn't anything more we can do, is there? We still haven't found a way to make the process safe and viable for normal humans. Maybe in a few decades we'll have the technology to save her, but- wait, what did you say? I don't know, you know how I've always felt about that. But I suppose that if I refuse to consider it for much longer I'll be too old to raise Alicia like I want to. There isn't really an ethical issue, and the alternative is- Yes, thank you for being so understanding. I'll do it. For her I'll do anything. This was my fault, I'll make it right again. If you would use your resources to help me with this I will be eternally grateful. Hah! Yes, I suppose it isn't really problematic for you, is it. You've been waiting for this sort of chance for so long, people are hardly lining up to have newer, better versions of them replace them.
Success! After so long, so long slaving away at this project, finally success! Jail is pleased to have succeeded, and he keeps cackling about finally having proof of concept and some nonsensical plan, but I couldn't care less. I hope his daughters don't imitate that particular aspect of his personality. What tests we have been able to run indicate that the full memory transfer will work, so I'm moving Alicia and her new body to the Garden of Time to complete the process. There have been concerns expressed about the project's ethical standards, and I refuse to allow any possibility of interference! It has to work. It has to save her. Almost twenty-two years… If it doesn't… I don't know what I'd do. It will work. I have to believe that.
Damn it! What went wrong? Alicia's body, Alicia's memories, but this, this THING is NOT Alicia! This, this, creature is just a byproduct of that failed project, taunting me with its falseness! That banal faker is nothing more than a disgusting clone! It deserves no name of its own! Calm, calm, be rational, think through the options. I can't think clearly with that, that, Fate around, and I need to think clearly to save Alicia. I have to save her. If I don't, then her death will be my fault, and I can't live with that. I need options. I have plenty of space here to work, plenty of power, plenty of resources, I'll be able come up with something. But what to do with… Fate. She'll be useful if trained, it would be foolish to get rid of her. It will be painful to see her, but for Alicia's sake I need to keep my options open. Perhaps if I create a familiar to do it for me?
I think I have something. No, I know I do! This is a long shot, I'll admit, but nothing else has worked and this might very well- Gah! Why do these coughs keep coming and why do they hurt so much? I'll get the familiar to assist me with some scans later, if I get sick I'll be delayed in saving Alicia. That can't happen. I have to save her. I HAVE TO.
My research seems to indicate that it will work. Al-Hazard can help me save Alicia. It will take time to find the most probable location, and then after that I'll need to cause a dimensional dislocation to open the path. I'll need to find some way of directing the dislocation as well. The TSAB will try to stop me if they discover me, so I'll need to take steps. I cut corners once, and Alicia was kil- no, Alicia was hurt. I won't do that again. Redundancy. Fault-tolerant design. Back-up plans. By the time I'm done, not even the full power of the TSAB will be able to stop me!
The familiar is trying to force me to eat with Fate again, as if I have time or the interest. I'll eat and sleep when the generators are all online, but not with her! We are far too close to Mid-Childa for my liking, and I am not going to be prevented from saving Alicia by the TSAB forces stationed there. This system will decrease the disruption caused by moving the Garden of Time to one short burst; those fools will dismiss it as a random occurrence, a shift in time-space within the dimensional sea that can be safely dismissed. I suppose it will also limit the damage of the dimensional dislocation when the time comes. But what does that really matter? Alicia is the only important concern. Perhaps I can find some other uses for this technology, integrate it into the defenses. Controlled time-space distortions have never properly been weaponized before, most likely because of the dangers of experimentation and the sheer devastation such weapons could create. But I have the technology – and what does it matter if my enemies are destroyed? And I could work faster if that stupid familiar would just SHUT UP about Fate!
Yes, enjoy the truth you mangy feline. You wanted to know? There you have it! Your precious Fate is little more than a doll, a fake. My daughter? Hah! I only have one daughter. My Alicia, my dear Alicia, she's the only daughter I have. Fate is a tool, to be discarded after I have no more use for her. Just. Like. You. Happy now?
It seems that your usefulness has come to an end, familiar. It is a pity. After all, once you are gone I will have to interact with that thing. But for my Alicia's sake I will persevere. Keeping you around drains me and exacerbates my condition. I need all the time I can get to save my Alicia! Oh stop looking so frightened. I'm not going to kill you. That would be a waste! After all, I never did get to finish my research on familiars. I could always use more data on what happens when I take back my magic from you. You were healthy when I made you, so you might even survive! Hm? I suppose you are right. It won't make much difference to you, will it? But it isn't as if you were ever truly sentient to begin with. I admit I expected you to struggle at least a little. Don't want to fight your master? For that thing? You don't want to fight me because of that thing's feelings? You insolent worm! How dare you! Fate is not my daughter! Fate will never be my daughter! Alicia is my only daughter! Suffer for your crime! Ah, her screams are delightful as she fries.
Begone, Fate! I am working! You too, familiar. I have more important things to do than to interact with you mongrels! Why Fate bothered to create you I will never know. Finally! Why do they not leave me be? Hmph. They would leave me be if I told them of Alicia- but Fate still has her uses. I'll be sure to explain just how worthless she is before I journey to Al-Hazard with Alicia. Maybe I'll even leave that thing alive to suffer in the knowledge of the truth! Until then, perhaps I should take some time to teach them not to bother me. I'll just have to make sure that 'my dear Fate' knows that it is for her own good. Yes, it will be good to put her in her place!
At last, preparations are complete. The Garden of Time's defenses are fully operational, and all is ready. Just one last piece of the puzzle, or perhaps twenty-one. Those Jewel Seeds are just the thing, if the preliminary reports are correct. I'll have to be subtle, I've gotten this far by avoiding the TSAB and I'm not about to risk changing that now. Perhaps my old friend Jail will help? He's always been so eager to put his daughters' abilities to the test, and he is far from fond of the TSAB. And if he can't manage it I'll do it myself if that's what I need to do to save my Alicia. If necessary, I'll use the full force of the Garden of Time to accomplish my goals. If necessary, worlds will BURN!
And to think that I believed there would be difficulty in obtaining the Jewel Seeds! An accident! A simple accident! I didn't even have to do anything! Of course, incompetent fools that they are, the TSAB has no idea where the Jewel Seeds went, so I'll have to send Fate to search the possible locations. Most likely they are in one of these five dimensions, and thankfully due to the orientation of them in relation to the point in the dimensional sea that the Jewel Seeds were lost in, that is a mere five possible worlds. It will take time, but not all are Non-Administered Worlds. Three are uninhabited, and only one has a culture with any understanding of magic. Al-Hazard is within our reach, Alicia! Soon, we will be together again!
Non-Administered Planet #97, is it? Not ideal, but simple enough. That clone should be capable of collecting the Lost Logia. It isn't as if anyone there can stop a mage as long as she takes care, at worst she will be forced to retreat if the TSAB figures out what is going on, an unlikely prospect considering just how far ahead of them I am. I suppose I will tell her to be cautious but swift, much as it pains me to speak with her. That fake will be at the end of its usefulness soon enough, and then it can be just Alicia and I once more. And everything will be perfect.
That useless thing! Interrupted by a mage? A barely trained brat! And trying to buy your way into my good graces with a gift! The only gift I want is my Alicia! But I can't tell her that, not yet, so I smile at her. And I tell her what I did wrong, and I make sure the lesson sticks. She is lucky I am a kind woman, or the flesh would be flayed off her back for her failure! I think I'll grant her the opportunity to get started on her work again rather than keep her bound in the hall to contemplate her punishment. That familiar will keep her in good enough condition to do so. Seems that the wolf has some use after all! The pathetic animal seems to be getting angry, but Fate is such a 'good girl', isn't she! Oh, yes, you stupid clone, things will get better once you do your job. Everything will be as it should be. And I'll enjoy showing you just why your presence won't be required.
"Admiral, we've picked up some kind of distortion in the dimensional sea."
Admiral Lindy Harlaown, commander of the L-class ship Arthra, instantly put all of her work aside, picking up on the suppressed tension in her subordinate's voice. Moving swiftly- but calmly, that was very important, if she looked worried her crew would react negatively- she positioned herself a few steps to the right of Officer Cadet Amy Limietta's terminal such that the young lady would be able to see her and she would be able to see the information Amy was getting without looming behind her or looking over her shoulder. The Admiral took care to not press the officer cadet, as she could feel that something important was happening and needed to have accurate information in order to respond properly. Rushed people made mistakes. Asking unnecessary questions would not help.
Amy didn't make her wait more than ten seconds before continuing. "It doesn't seem to be a natural phenomenon. It's some sort of time-space distortion, and a large one, but if it's a ship it isn't anything like the ones we are familiar with. I don't think the distortion is dangerous, but beyond that I can't say."
Lindy considered this, and weighed her options. On the one hand, she had a responsibility to patrol this region of space for active threats and to avoid turning inactive problems into active ones. However, anything that affects the fabric of time-space negatively should be examined and, if necessary, dealt with. Trying to get a better idea of the current situation, she decided to ask Amy's assessment of the situation.
"Why do you say it isn't dangerous?"
"Well, I would hardly say that it isn't dangerous at all, but compared to anything else that I could compare it to it seems positively benign. The distortion is localized and about as stable as an artificial effect imposed on the dimensional sea can be. Furthermore, it hasn't caused a noteworthy level of damage to the area around it. Of course, whatever caused it could easily be dangerous, and I can't say for sure what the cause is."
"If you had to guess?"
Amy hesitated, but an encouraging smile from her teal-haired superior officer convinced the brunette to answer. "A Lost Logia seems most likely. Other than that, it could possibly be a large number of high ranked mages with no limiters- that much magic would have an effect on the fabric of time-space, but there isn't any real data on just how that would affect the dimensional sea. Maybe it could be constructed by a group of researchers specifically trying to get that effect? I don't know, I can't figure out why someone would build something like whatever it is, and I can hardly get a reading on it. Whatever it is, it's not anything I recognize."
"How large is the distortion?"
"Pretty large," Amy answered, pulling up the image of a multicolored blur on one of the larger screens, "Much larger than our ship. Beyond that I can't really say. This is dimensional space; everything is relative. As for what's inside? Depending on what is causing the distortion it could be as large as a small moon or small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. I have no data on what is beyond the distortion, or even how thick the distortion is."
The more Lindy heard the more certain she became that they needed to take a closer look. "Is it safe to get closer? Could we get far enough inside the distortion to get a better idea of what is causing it?"
Amy hummed thoughtfully, trying to think of a way to put it. "Do you remember the show back on Administered Planet #24 that we dragged Chrono to?"
Lindy blinked. "Yes, why?"
"Remember the part where that big cat jumped through a flaming hoop?"
"Ah!" exclaimed the admiral. "So it's like that?"
"Pretty much," said Amy, "except that in this case the ring would be a magical artifact that tries to set us on fire. Well, metaphorically; the distortion will actually try to- well, you get the idea. The Arthra is tough; it might be able to take it. But if the distortion is worse as we go along, or if it suddenly spikes in strength then all bets are off."
Lindy cursed mentally. They definitely needed to look into this, but there didn't seem to be a safe way to go about it. It would be a big risk to go in blind, but the nature of dimensional space gave them next to no options under the best of circumstances; it was no coincidence that only the desperate or the ridiculously confident would engage an enemy outside of normal space. Add in dimensional distortions and this was like activating a half dozen Lost Logia at the same time. While BLINDFOLDED. But the preservation of time-space was their mandate. Nothing was more important than preventing dimensional dislocations from occurring. She just hoped that she wouldn't regret this later
"Notify the rest of the crew as to what is going on. Increase our defenses to the highest level that we can sustain them at indefinitely, and attempt to contact whatever is causing the anomaly. Send a data burst, audio, and audio/visual; we can't assume that anyone in there has all of our capabilities. Message is as follows: 'This is Admiral Lindy Harlaown of the Time-Space Administration Bureau, broadcasting from the vessel Arthra. Please respond.'"
Unfortunately, it appeared that there would be no easy answers, as no response was received despite repeated attempts. After several hours, Lindy reluctantly gave the order to slowly approach the anomaly after transmitting what little data they had back to headquarters.
L-class Ship Arthra reactivating.
Automated emergency response systems online.
Initializing system check…
Initializing system check…
Error: Program not found.
Probable reasons for Error: Program not found:
-Physical damage to data storage units.
-Deletion of programs.
Course of action: Seek assistance from technicians.
Unable to contact technicians.
Probable cause found, barrier has isolated technical support personnel from emergency response systems. Electromagnetic emissions from barrier are a match with spectrum produced by Admiral Lindy Harlaown.
Running full scans to determine purpose of barrier…
Oxygen levels outside of barrier are negligible, atmospheric pressure approaches zero, temperature approaches that of space.
Conclusion: Hull breach has occurred.
Ship's hull 23% disrupted. Hull breach confirmed.
Probable cause: unknown, equivalent incident not found within records.
Attempting to seal ship…
Bulkhead 1-B sealed.
Bulkhead 1-F sealed.
Bulkhead 1-G sealed.
Bulkhead 2-C sealed…
"…going to be just fine, Chrono. Creating a shield like that is very draining, but it doesn't stress the linker core of as powerful and experienced a mage as your mother unless the shield is forcibly broken. See, she's already awake."
Doing her best to ignore her throbbing brain, Lindy chuckled at the poorly hidden relief on her son's face. "Aw, I'm glad that you were worried."
Chrono's face flushed with embarrassment, and Lindy took advantage of his attempts to hurriedly explain (no, he hadn't been worried about her, he had just been concerned that she might be unable to fulfill her duties, and he had full faith in her and he wasn't just a little kid who needed a hug from his mother, honest…) and took a quick glance around the room.
Low lighting that didn't seem to emanate from any particular location, standard cabinets, bedside table with a clock shaped like a Klein Bottle, workstation in the corner with a couple of mementos and a picture of her, her departed husband Clyde, and a three-year-old Chrono; she was in her room aboard the Arthra. Reassured that she was in no immediate danger, she turned her attention back to her son. Before Chrono could see it coming, she interrupted his rant by reaching out and pulling him into a hug and a hair ruffle (which made him start to grumble again, but he waited a few moments first, not to enjoy the affection, of course, he was just being polite to a superior officer).
"How are you feeling, Admiral?" queried the young man in the uniform of an intern non-magical healer. Realizing to her chagrin that not only had she ignored him completely, she had no idea what his name was, Lindy resolved to take another look at her personnel files the next chance she got. Just because not everyone was equally important to the ship's day-to-day operations didn't excuse her inability to recognize them all in the slightest. After the current crisis was over she would make sure she could recite everyone's records by heart.
"Like I had way too much to drink last night," she admitted. "But as long as I don't have to try something as mentally straining as a cobbled together atmospheric barrier, I think I'm fit for duty."
The intern gave her a wry smile at that, and hesitated, obviously considering saying something.
Lindy gave him a moment to see if he would tell her without encouragement, and looked him over. Maybe a foot taller than Chrono, he looked to be in his late teens or early twenties. He had close-cropped dark red hair and a hint of stubble on his square-ish jaw, in a fashion suggesting that he had been on-duty for most of the day rather than an inclination to grow a beard. His thick eyebrows seemed somewhat strange in contrast with his small nose, blue-gray eyes, and pale complexion. His slim stature didn't exactly make his clothes hang off of him, but he definitely had some filling out to do if he wanted to make wearing his white overcoat with a purple lining to show his position (albeit smudged with what looked like blood and grease in a few places) look natural.
"Go ahead, young man. I won't bite," Lindy prompted after he continued to remain silent.
He sighed, and exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Chrono. Her curiosity piqued, and getting an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach, she raised an eyebrow.
Chrono spoke up for him. "We survived, and repairs have been underway for the past three hours since you lowered the barrier, but…" He wavered. "The… distortion doesn't seem to really have been a purposeful, aimed phenomenon, since we didn't lose anything vital, although we do have a lot of repair work to do…"
Lindy stopped him from babbling by putting her hand on his shoulder, and gave Chrono a sad smile. "I understand," she said softly, giving his shoulder a light squeeze. "Not everyone made it, did they."
"As best we can tell, your barrier saved everyone who survived the… blast, distortion, or whatever it was, but… part of the crew quarters, engineering, and some of the corridors on the left side of the ship are just… gone," said the intern quietly, numbly. "We won't know for sure until after this is over and we can be sure of our headcount, but… 16 crewmembers are unaccounted for."
As the man's voice cracked, Chrono's control broke down, and Lindy held him close, doing her best to comfort him, but knowing that this was something she could not protect him from. The other occupant of the room met her eyes briefly, before nodding in understanding and leaving.
Quietly slipping out of the room and heading towards the infirmary as quickly as he could, the man suppressed his own response to the deaths. He couldn't get emotional; he needed to be strong for the injured. Several of the medics were already out of commission due to injuries and overstretching their magic. The number of injured crew members was not more than they could handle, but he knew that he was likely to be run ragged by the time they got everything under control. But he had some good news now, and knowing that the Admiral was back on her feet would be a great morale boost for everyone.
And for mages in particular, but even for non-mages to an extent, the belief that things were getting better tended to help them heal. There was quite a bit of magic involved in even the mundane medicine he could use, if you knew where to look.
Excerpts from the report given by Admiral Lindy Harlaown on the incident:
…approaching the source of the disruption of time-space, we maintained a sizable distance between us and it as we scanned it as best we could. The data collected, and the analysis of the data, can be found attached to this report. However, in brief, it was an unusual, apparently stable distortion of time-space of a size larger than that of the Arthra emitted by an unknown object assumed to be within the distortion. The disrupting effect of the distortion on magical and non-magical methods of gathering information made it impossible to learn more without approaching. After ordering our defenses to be raised to a heightened level, I attempted to open communications…
…at that point as there still was no reply, I transmitted our data to TSAB Headquarters, and gave the order to slowly approach with the intention of determining the source of the anomaly and whether or not it was a threat…
…without warning, there was a surge of power from something inside the distortion, and there was a flare of disruption that our defenses could not compensate for, resulting in the damage described in the attached document. The object vanished in some form of teleport or dimensional transfer, and it is believed that the backflow further damaged our systems including those that would have enabled us to seal off the damaged sections of the ship. The Arthra was at this time left helpless, as I was forced to respond with an atmospheric barrier that, while effective, severed numerous connections and separated our technicians from the controls to the systems needed to restore the ship. After two hours without power, the auto-response systems of the ship successfully activated and sealed off the areas of the ship exposed to dimensional space…
…while most of the ship's functionality was restored, our defensive capabilities were crippled by the extensive loss of our outer hull, and I ordered a course set for TSAB Headquarters…
"Lindy? How are you doing?'
"About as well as can be expected, Leti," Lindy remarked wryly. "I've never been the best at handling losses. It always gets to me, even if I can compartmentalize it enough to do my job."
"That isn't necessarily a bad thing," Leti noted quietly. "Come with me to get lunch. I imagine you could probably use some company today."
The two admirals walked side by side down brightly lit metallic corridors of the TSAB Headquarters in silence, save for exchanging occasional pleasantries with acquaintances as they made their way to the mess hall. Admiral Leti Lowran kept a careful eye on her old friend, knowing from long experience that Lindy's almost legendary light-heartedness and disregard for formalities was merely the most visible part of her personality. Leti readjusted her square-rimmed glasses and brushed aside an obstructive lock of lilac hair as her more personable compatriot waved cheerily and energetically yet elegantly (how Lindy managed that was a mystery, but she accomplished it) at yet another passerby. How Lindy knew so many more people than her was mystifying, as while Lindy got around more, Leti ran the personnel department.
Something about that seemed important, but Leti did not see how at the moment.
As they entered the wide, high-ceilinged room where they would be eating, Leti observed the subtle signs that Lindy was stressed while she let her friend get her food first. Lindy appeared to be doing well, but there was a slight tightening around the eyes, a hardness at the corners of her mouth, and the slightest bit of tension throughout her frame. The coming days would be hard on her, and Lindy was trying to prepare herself while still presenting a good face to those around her.
They ate silently and efficiently, knowing that small talk would be no distraction. Leti wasn't even sure what the food was, having not taken the time to look. Some sort of meat with assorted grains and some vegetables. In contrast, Lindy was paying meticulous attention to the food, distracting herself with the habitual motions of eating.
Once Leti's plate was clear, the uncomfortable silence between them deepened. Knowing that if her friend got the chance to control the conversation they would never get around to important matters before Lindy left, Leti took the plunge.
"It is my job to see to personnel assignments to make up for your losses," Leti said quietly, watching Lindy's features take on a stone-like quality out of the corner of her eye. "As the commanding officer of your ship, you will be consulted throughout the process."
Lindy simply gripped her teacup a little tighter.
"It is standard procedure that this process be begun as soon as possible…" Leti continued, but then hesitated, averting her gaze from her friend.
"…Unfortunately, there is a backlog of paperwork at the moment," Lindy's breathing hitched slightly, "and it seems that the notice for this is not labeled time sensitive. So it will probably be a few weeks before we need to speak of this again."
Leti gave Lindy a few more moments to compose herself before facing her again. The teal-haired woman did not speak, but the relief in her eyes communicated the message well enough. The issue would be left until later; it would not inflame the wounds while they were still this fresh.
"You're a far better leader than most, Lindy, even if that does tend to make you a bit soft," Leti said quietly, smiling reassuringly. "You have nothing to be ashamed of."
Lindy scrutinized her colleague, but there was no venom in her words as she spoke. "This isn't going to be the start of one of those 'no guilt no blame' lectures, is it? I'm doing fine. Chrono's doing better now, too."
"I'm not here to lecture you, Lindy." Leti rolled her eyes, not taking the offered change of topic. "I'm certain you've given enough of those talks to know the message."
"But you aren't here to enjoy a meal with an old friend either."
Leti didn't confirm the suspicion. But she didn't deny it.
"I appreciate the support, Leti, but this is something I have to do myself. I owe them that."
"You don't have to," Leti argued. "There are others who can handle it, or at the very least you could take someone with you to ease the burden. And it isn't good for you. By the time you finish, you'll be a wreck. You never learned how to control your emotions during the notifications."
"No," Lindy murmured. "I never did. And I probably never will."
They sat together silently while Lindy finished eating. Leti walked her friend to the dimensional transfer station, where she tried one last time.
"You don't have to do this…"
Lindy smiled sadly at her friend. "Yes, I do."
"Excuse me ma'am? I'm Admiral Lindy Harlaown of the Time-Space Administration Bureau, currently assigned to the Arthra. Could I speak with you privately? …I have some bad news about your daughter…"
Okay, here it is. This is the first chapter of what I've been working on for the past couple months. In case you didn't guess, the basic premise of the story is 'What if the Arthra didn't show up?' Of course, I then had a significantly more complex task of deciding why it wouldn't show up, and establishing believable grounding for it.
What I eventually stumbled upon was the thought that most people have a fairly predictable reaction to their mistakes coming back to haunt them: they try to make sure it never happens again, although their methods of accomplishing this vary. In canon, Precia Testarossa (the crazy woman talking about Alicia in the first half of the chapter, for those who don't know) is a good, loving mother and a brilliant scientist who, in the movie continuity at least, gets pressured to get results from her work and cuts the wrong corner. The end result is a great tragedy which results in her becoming a criminal, her daughter Alicia barely clinging onto life in a tube, and Precia going insane.
All that still happens in my universe, but Precia decides that her second plan could use some help to make sure it actually works. Her first plan involved cloning Alicia and transferring Alicia's memories into the new body, which doesn't work perfectly, although someone less obsessive would have no problems with the few minor differences between Fate and Alicia and would just be thankful to have a living, healthy daughter. Unfortunately, after two decades or so of trying to make this work, Precia goes from unstable to outright insane when Fate does not meet her expectations of complete success.
Her second plan involves getting a bunch of powerful artifacts called Jewel Seeds and using them to rip apart the fabric of reality in what is referred to as a 'dimensional dislocation' to reach a possibly mythical lost dimension known as Al-Hazard which might contain techno-magic capable of saving Alicia. Obviously, that plan needs all the help it can get. Ironically, my version of Precia realizes this… but decides that she really doesn't have a better idea, and as she gets increasingly unstable she convinces herself that it will work if she can just make sure nobody stops her.
For those who haven't watched the anime I won't spoil the ending until I get to the equivalent point in this story, Precia's defenses in canon consist of being on an asteroid called the Garden of Time in dimensional space (I'll try to define the mechanics of this later in-story to make up for the lack in canon), having that asteroid full of what seem to be mechanical golems of some sort, and her own ridiculous magical ability.
Unfortunately, the Garden of Time is located in the vicinity of Mid-Childa, Administered World #1. Somehow, she gets away with this. The army of magical robot things (which Precia may or may not have built) is made of a bunch of grunts that Nanoha and Fate can tear through like tissue paper, supplemented by a smaller number of more effect giant-sized golems. (Well, at least I hope so, as they only show one of those in the anime and I'd hope that she'd have built more than one.) Sadly, the entirety of the Garden of Time is powered by one single generator, containing a magical artifact that Precia may or may not constructed, and once Nanoha seals that, pretty much everything shuts down.
The one defense that really does do its job is Precia herself. While she isn't a trained combat mage, her mage rank is SS. She doesn't have a large number of combat spells, but she is able to take out the Arthra for a while by casting a ridiculously overpowered version of one of the spells Fate uses to far less effect. She is easily the strongest mage in the first season, in spite of the fact that she is dying of an unidentified, presumably fatal and incurable illness that causes her to cough up blood. All of her battles are pretty much curb-stomp battles in her favor.
I've removed several of the weaknesses listed above. All of these are hinted at or stated outright in the chapter itself if you look for them. There are multiple generators. The Garden of Time is moved away from Mid-Childa. And Precia put her ability to distort time-space (or as we would say, space-time) to good use.
What ability to distort time-space you ask? She obviously has that, as 1) she is able to cast a spell at the Arthra through the imaginary space around the Garden of Time (in spite of the fact that magic doesn't work in imaginary space), 2) it would be pretty pathetic if she only wanted to cause a dimensional dislocation rather than a dimensional dislocation that she could manipulate to bring herself to Al-Hazard, and 3) the power generator for the Garden of Time is suspiciously similar to the Jewel Seeds, and since in my story Precia built it…
For those of you who wonder just what the dimensional distortion around the Garden of Time is, it is a stabilization of the fabric of reality (or, more accurately, unreality) around the Garden of Time so that it 'pushes' everything away. Due to the nature of dimensional space (I'll explain in later chapters) manipulating this allows Precia to change the Garden of Time's location in a way that is half-teleport, half-flash step, so she both crosses the intervening space and she doesn't.
This also affects how the distortion produced by the movement manifests itself. A fundamental part of this is what takes down the Arthra. To use an analogy, it is like the blast that comes out the back end of an RPG, except in 4-D or 5-D. Basically, Precia ran away and cleaved off part of the starship at the same time, using magi-tech built to produce automatically what she can do magically except on a magnified scale, powering it with several generators to make it possible. And since just one generator powered the entire Garden of Time in canon, you should start to get an idea of just how much energy it takes to make this work.
As to how it would affect a full dimensional distortion, I have yet to decide. It won't stop the damage, but it will affect it, and I'm not touching that until I've got a weekend to burn thinking it through. Or five. The more physics-minded of you will be starting to get the impression that this has many similarities to quantum physics. You wouldn't be wrong.
I'll give more background information later, and will respond to questions in later author's notes. This story will likely take longer between updates than my previous multi-chapter story, especially if I make the length of this chapter my standard. No promises on that.