The Past Cannot Be Cured An ASCEND Story Gloriana exists in a class all her own, wealthy beyond measure and nigh undefeatable in the arena. But behind the robotic form she claims she's always possessed, a darker history eats away at her.
Gloriana sits upon her throne. Her handmaid pries her arm from its socket.
Spring has come early this year. Around the balcony doors, the curtains flutter in a passing breeze. Flower petals dance into the sitting room, and Gloriana's optics gauge the trajectory each of them will follow.
When Levina severs her mistress's right arm completely, Gloriana vocalizes a sigh. It bothers her so when any marks tarnish her pristine plating. In her most recent match, a laser blast singed her arm near the shoulder—the fault of some up-and-comer, no doubt wishing to steal her glory and all too cocky in his approach. She dealt with him quickly enough, the fool. But being forced to wear the lesion through all post-match formalities was an embarrassment Even now, as her handmaid sees to its repair, the scar glares in her vision. Her discomfort remains until Levina removes the arm from view.
"Thank you, my dear Levina," Gloriana dotes, "I'd surely be a mess without your help."
Levina nods, peeking up from her work for a brief moment.
"Of course, Madame," she answers. Levina has always spoken in clipped, soft words. It pleases Gloriana—she enjoys the company of good listeners.
Gloriana peruses the fingers of her remaining hand, admiring the pearly, metallic sheen that envelops her physique.
"The arena has been so taxing of late. So many victories, so many ceremonies… The turnout for such a routine result baffles me!" She swings her arm, a gesture over dozens of holographic awards adorning the sitting room. "If the other competitors struggle to even touch me, is anyone surprised by my success?!"
"I suppose not, Madame," Levina returns.
When Gloriana's sensors detect an electric hum to her side, she faces the source of the disturbance. Levina's Ameliorated fingertips trace lasers along the gilded seams of the severed arm. But the handmaid's robotic fingertips meet human fingers, human hands, and a human body. Freckles and blemishes mar her flesh. Gloriana counts every one.
Levina's free hand pushes her mousy bangs from her eyes; the motion exposes a birthmark on her forehead.
Gloriana turns back to the balcony doors. In all the months of her handmaid's service, Gloriana has grown acutely aware of the girl's humanity. For civility's sake, she has suffered in polite silence. But the phantom pain of the charred blast wound aches in Gloriana's mind—so much that her restraint now fails her.
What I Needed An ASCEND Story Alone in the harsh streets of Saleh, Mufid has always done what he must to survive--even augment himself with makeshift robotic parts. Will the fight to stay alive kill his innocence in the process?
Mufid has been running as long as his young mind can recall. He can only feel thankful his new body makes it easier now.
Swift but silent, Mufid creeps along through the maze of alleyways, ever aware of the pressing echoes of his attackers' voices.
"Where did he go? He's too young—there's no way he could outrun us!" This one is a younger voice than the first man’s, tinged with worry. He hushes himself, continuing, "That was the last of our supplies! Amelia's repairs—!"
"Will remain on schedule," the woman cuts in, "We will get our materials before the night is through, and Amelia will thank us for our diligence." Her voice becomes a hiss. "The little rat will be dealt with. His trifling ends tonight."
Mufid holds his breath, slinking around a corner into an alleyway—only to skid to a halt. A barb-topped fence stands between him and the freedom of Saleh’s dark, winding side streets. He hunches, trying to catch his breath as he desperately scans the bare walls to either side.
He takes a half-step back, risking a glance behind him, but stops short as the ringing shouts of his pursuers grow steadily louder.. Clenching his jaw, he forces his attention back to the fence. His thumb runs over the metal switch protruding from his palm—a recent, but valuable augmentation. He braces himself, pinching his eyes as he closes his fist around the button.
The button sinks halfway. Nothing happens.
Mufid's breath catches in his chest. This can’t be—he’d scrounged for months to get this alteration working! He presses the button again—still nothing. The voices close inward, and the walls around him seem to do the same. Frantic, he tries the button again and again. He stumbles to the brick building beside him and slams his palm against it in any effort to unstick the trigger.
"I see him! The bastard is here!"
Mufid’s gaze snaps to the voice, and he finds his assailants closing in. They stand out easily against the darkness, clothes stitched with glowing threads and holographic gems to mimic Amelia's image. In their augmented metal hands, they brandish tools as makeshift weapons. When they fixate upon him, their faces darken. The woman stalks forward. She raises her knife, its edge catching the glow of Mufid's darting eyes.