My first full day in Atlantic City didn’t go terribly well. They had brought me to a small room in the basement, for my bedroom when I arrived. The next morning they took me to meet with Dr. Hardin Klein!
“Young miss, I am sorry that we have been reunited under such awkward circumstances. I have been here, paying penance for my sins. The Primes have chosen to punish me by keeping me confined here, but in truth this is where I belong. I must do whatever I can to make up for what I and my team did.
“All this war, murdering innocents by the thousands… All for mana. If I can prove my theories are correct, and find a way to access mana without refining or moving it, then all this territory grabbing will be unnecessary. We’ll have all the power we need, already in our grasp.
“Will you help me, Tristia? Will you help me save this country from itself?”
I’m ashamed to admit, I kind of lost it then. I stared at him for a long time. Emotions raging through my brain and across my face. Fear, anger, relief, hope among the top ones vying for control. It took longer than I liked to find my voice. Everything was still spinning, but I had to try.
“You… Wha…?” I tried again. “You want me to help you? After everything that happened?” I know it wasn’t his fault, but it was his lab! I press on. “T..tell me what you’ve been doing down here. I want to stop the war, stop the genocide of Fae and Natives. We agree on that. Did you help make those Machines? Was that you? Now you want something safer? Because people died?” I couldn’t stop. It probably wasn’t him, that’s not what he said. “What are you doing here? Why am I here? Why did they take my friends away?” I stop, I’m shaking again, like a child. Close my eyes and shut down for a moment, breathing. “What do you want from me?” I barely manage to whisper.
“Yes, I know what happened. The machine, it was designed based on some other mage’s work, a man named Garion. I wasn’t involved in that, though that project seemed miraculous. Recovering mana from summoned creations, that was rather ingenious, I still don’t know why that project was recently shuttered. But no, my research is a different animal. I don’t know what’s happened to you and your friends, but I want to help. I know I have sins to atone for, that’s why I’m asking for your help, so that I have a better chance. I am sorry for all that I’ve done, wittingly or not.”
“I don’t know why you’ve been sent here, Tristia. Please understand that I did not request you to be sent here, not specifically.” He seems genuinely sorry, but I can’t believe it.
“Those machines were awful! Those creatures being murdered inside them were Sentient Beings! By the Hundreds if not Thousands. Summoned from their homes and slaughtered for their Mana. Garion was a horrible monster who tried to do the same thing to me!” I’m yelling now, furious, and he’s the only person to yell at. I shouldn’t yell at people, it’s not proper. It wasn’t his fault, but I was still scared.
“They stopped using them because they all exploded at once, killing hundreds of soldiers who were near them.” I looked at him to see how he’s receiving all of this. “They sent me here because I don’t drink Mana like everyone else does. Like Xin Yue.”
Calm, I have to stay calm. Angering him will not help my chances, but I wanted him to understand.
“What are you working on, Mr. Klein? How do you want to use Mana? How can I help?”
So, he told me, and I tried to listen with an open mind.