S1| Ep02: Nine Dragons (上)
December 15, 2010
Ausos must not be awakened.
The dead girl’s words haunted Intan through the next two days, even as the overall excitement among the student body settled down and life at school returned more or less to normal, aside from a few easily overlooked signs of heightened security in form of extra patrols. Intan had been certain she would be disciplined for her breach of conduct, perhaps even suspended or expelled. It had not occurred to her to worry at the time, of course, but as she lay alone in her bunk later that night she realized that she very well may have wrecked all the effort she’d spent on gaining admission to the Academy — and found herself caring less than she might have expected.
But in the end, she was not even summoned for a hearing. Instead, she and the medic boy had been herded onto one of the transports as soon as they were determined to be uninjured, and immediately taken to the safety of the dorms. Neither of them were questioned, and that was the end of it. The official story she heard later was of a tragic training accident, the result of an unfortunate dare.
Rites were held the very next day. But no one mourned the girl. Few had known her. Who could have, barely a month into the school year? She had been no one of consequence, no son or daughter of the Great Clans. And of the Doll that had escaped, nothing was said. No student had remained on the surface to hear the war drums’ last message, after all, and but for the engineering classrooms and a few minor wounds, all had escaped the incident without harm. Most therefore assumed that both Dolls had been taken care of as expected. A few wondered about the drums, but accidents were commonplace, and anomalies easily forgotten or explained away.
On the third morning, Intan went to breakfast for the first time since the girl’s death. Because it was the weekend, most students had elected to sleep in or skip the otherwise requisite morning meal, and the mess hall was unusually empty. Intan picked idly at her rice porridge in the silence. Thought of tossing it into the lake as an offering instead, though she had not eaten well since that strange night.
The voice, bright and cheerful and unfamiliar, barely registered in her mind.
“Hey, hey. You, you’re the one who was piloting that old piece of junk, aren’t you?”
Intan blinked and looked up. The speaker was a girl with floppy short hair dyed a blinding shade of pink and skin half a shade darker than Intan’s own. And she was, for some reason, still dressed in her uniform. (Intan herself had chosen to wear a short blue shift over her white uniform pants.)
Intan noted that the girl’s black uniform robes were marked with the bamboo insignia, and embroidered on her right sleeve was a single golden sun. First year engineering student. Likely one of the two she’d seen on the shore, then, though she didn’t remember that hair — they’d been wearing their caps then. She relaxed slightly.
“Ah!” The girl grinned and bowed. “That makes you my savior! Thank you! You really helped me back there, you know? That was real cool, by the way. Didn’t think I’d ever see one of those old models moving like that –”
“Um,” said Intan, bemused. “People are watching.”
“Oops! Sorry!” The girl grabbed Intan’s hand and dragged her away from the table and toward the hallway. “Come on, I’ve been wanting to talk to you!”
Intan followed without protest.
“But how did you figure out it was me?” No one else had witnessed her fight, or so she’d assumed.
“Huh? Oh, it was easy. People saw some girl from Wisteria running off during the evacuation. I asked around and figured it had to be you. Don’t worry though, I didn’t tell anyone about that whole piloting business.” She beamed. “But really, I don’t know how to thank you! I thought for sure I was a goner! If it hadn’t been for you, we’d be crustacean food right now!”
“It was nothing, really,” said Intan, trying very hard to follow the girl’s stream of chatter as they walked down the colonnaded hall, heading for the central stairway that led to the bubbled housing domes at the top of the building. The metal plate shell of the dormitory complex were currently retracted, leaving the lower levels exposed to wind and sunlight, as well as a pleasant view of the surrounding lake. In the distance Intan could see a squadron of Dolls running through basic exercises, like puppets dancing in the sky. If she squinted, she thought she could even make out the outline of the palace on the northern shore.
“Oh, right! Say, what’s your name? I’m Hadil. Hadil Wong, first year. Written like so.” The girl waved a finger in the air, drawing out the strokes.
“Intan Aghavni,” she replied, and mimicked Hadil’s finger-waving with growing amusement.
“Awesome! Now, let’s go!”
“To the junkyard, of course! I’ve been dying to find out how you managed to get that guy moving so well!”
Intan blinked. “In that case, we’re going the wrong way…”
* * *
In truth, Intan wasn’t sure what had happened to that old training Doll after security arrived, though she assumed it had been returned to its resting place. And yet when she and Hadil finally sorted out their directions and arrived at the junkyard, she was unsurprised to see that it was no longer there after all. Hadil, however, was undeterred.
“Security confiscated it, huh? I’m not surprised they did! I would’ve done the same if I were them. Guess it mustn’t have been as broken down as they thought. Still, I wish I could have gotten a hold of it first… Say, do you think maybe some of these other models might still be working too?”
Intan cocked her head to the side, frowning. “I don’t know…” She approached the armless model and reached out tentatively to pat its side. Despite the mild spring weather, the metal surface was chilled to the touch. Intan snatched her hand back, startled, but Hadil did not seem to notice. In fact, the other girl had pulled out a wrench and was tapping experimentally at its head.
“You shouldn’t do that,” said Intan. “It won’t be happy with you.”
“Oh, it’ll be fine. I just want to see if…” But then Hadil broke off, eyes widening.
For a moment Intan thought the Doll had done something, but when she looked, she saw that Hadil’s gaze was fixed elsewhere. A pair of female soldiers robed in their characteristic blue and silver strode purposefully toward them from beyond the fence.
“Uh-oh,” said Hadil. But Intan watched their approach curiously, with a vague sense of anticipation.
The soldiers stopped before Intan and Hadil, who bowed together in greeting. Hadil grinned nervously as she straightened, hiding her wrench behind her back. But the soldiers paid her no mind.
“The Headmistress wishes to see you.”