Short Story Friday: The Trial of Rearden Black Part 2

Today’s short story is a direct continuation of last week’s story.  All of this takes place in a city called Lux and will begin to lay the groundwork for what I intend to be the third story overall in the Legacy of Shadow series.

The Trial of Rearden Black Part 2

The magi who accompanied Jayden moved into their places. Thomas Frasier took the spot of the water mage, his wife Jennifer took the spot of the fire mage, and the yet unnamed apprentice took the place of the wind mage. As was the custom, the position of an earth mage remained vacant. Instead, a vessel containing the cleanest soil and salt possible was in its place.

Rearden took a hard gaze at Jayden but did not voice any objections to the continued contest. Something interesting was at play here and curiosity was overriding his desire for an assured victory. Just as the council president prepared to stop Jayden from attempting activation of the now lifeless automation, Rearden held up a hand to pause him.

“If I am to win, I will win outright. There will be no question of it. Allow Mr. Dagny the time he needs. I do not want any lingering questions if I am to be Headmaster of this honored organization.”

The council president relented with a considered nod of respect to Rearden Black.

It was fortunate that Rearden phrased his request as he did because Jayden was certainly not in any kind of rush to completion. While the magi began meditating and preparing themselves in a far more serious way than Rearden’s magi had done, Jayden had taken a seat and brought forth a bottle of pale green liquid.

He began to prepare two glasses of the stuff. Resting a spoon atop the first and slowly filtering in a sugar cube as he poured, the pale green liquid took on a slightly cloudy appearance. Realizing at once that Jayden was preparing to drink a potent alcoholic concoction, the council objected all the more.

“Mr. Dagny! In no way will you…”

“Shut up. Don’t bother me.”

“That will be quite enough. This hearing is over…” The council president’s voice took on a deadly serious tone and he rose up from his seat. Rearden looked on the whole thing with great amusement.

“You seek the secrets of creation. You want a sinister solution to the precarious problems that face our people. The answers you want are not the answers you’ll get. The solution is equal parts technological terror and esoteric essence. Alcohol…is the little death that puts man near enough to grasp the intangible.” Jayden consumed the two glasses quickly. Something that should have taken an hour to drink properly was gone in an instant. He sat there considering the empty glasses while the room remained quiet. His words had created a sense of uneasiness that now paralyzed the gathering.

Rearden had never particularly liked Jayden Dagny. The man irritated him in ways that no one ever had before. To make matters worse, he was hiding something. Rearden had suspected as much from the first time they met but never had an inclination of which way to look for that weakness. Jayden’s ability with machinery had never been in question though. Even prior to this contest, Jayden had beaten him out on at least one occasion where government funding was on the line. Despite being dismissive of him at first, Rearden knew that the younger man held a hint of genius. Seeing the flaunted display that was happening before him, Rearden knew now that somehow he was going to lose this contest.

Jayden steadied himself and stood up. The potent liquor taken in dangerous quantities made him stagger and knock the chair over as he moved towards the gathered magi. As Jayden approached the lifeless body of the automation the whole atmosphere of the room began to change. The pressure dropped and there was a subtle coolness in the air as the few peaceful moments before a powerful storm takes hold.

With uncertain and shaking hands, Jayden climbed atop the table where the automation awaited its spark of life. Unsteady at best, Jayden teetered about before holding out both arms and declaring, “Ready.”

The magi at once began channeling their power. Thomas and Jennifer drew in far stronger currents of magic than Rearden’s were capable of doing but they were indeed limited by the apprentice mage whose powers were significantly weaker. Unlike the ritual that Rearden’s magi performed, these magi began focusing their elemental powers through Jayden instead of the Life Crux.

Being infused with elemental energy caused Jayden’s body to stiffen and his head to tilt back. He looked as though he were wracked with pain but after a few brief moments of channeled power, Jayden regained control over his body and knelt down atop the automation. Grasping the Life Crux at the center, he focused the entire torrent of energy down into the contraption. A focused intense burst of light emerged between his hands and the Life Crux and just as quickly as it had began, it was over.

Jayden’s body went limp and fell from the table. Thomas caught him before any real damage could be done. Setting the small man down carefully, he allowed Jayden to regain both his footing and sense of awareness before letting go.

Distracted by Jayden’s theatrics, there was a collective gasp when the automation laid out on the table sat up and looked about its new surroundings with the curiosity of a small child. Unlike the creature that Rearden’s magi sparked life within, there was an immediate hint of intelligent action from Jayden’s creation. It held its own hands up in front of its face and gave them marked consideration before turning to those around it with a thoughtful tilt of the head.

The council rose from their seats at once. Rearden knew defeat when he saw it. He closed his eyes and allowed the frustration to pass. Something incredible had occurred here. Anger would not teach him anything for now. He could only watch and observe.

The council approached Jayden and his magi. They were cautious and their eyes were locked on to his now living machine in both fear and awe. The president voiced what they were all wondering, “Jayden…what have you done?”

The automation reached out and touched Jayden’s face. It then asked a question that confirmed all the hopes and fears that the Society of New Engineers had been harboring since their failure with Automation Zero.

Deftly manipulating the sand-like mixture of material that resided under its face plate, the new life form crafted words, “You are different. Why?”

Jayden was too drunk at this point to answer it properly. He just smiled and took the creature by the hand, smiling at his work and feeling relieved that the process had once again worked. His body was exhausted and though they did not show it, the strain on his magi had been considerable as well.

The council president stepped to Jayden’s side, “How have you done this? Show us what your creation is capable of…order it to, order it to do…something. Have it fetch us a drink of that liquor of yours while you explain what you have done.”

Jayden was about to object when to his pleasant surprise, the automation objected for him.

“I will do no such thing.” the automation stated in no uncertain terms.

Rearden approached the group despite the objections of his magi. The refusal of this creation was intriguing.

The council president turned with shock to the automation, “You would refuse an order of your master?”

The automation returned the council president’s shock with feigned indignation, “You would ignore my question and then presume to order me around?”

Jayden began laughing. “Wonderful!” He grasped the new lifeform by the shoulders and smiled. “You tell him! You tell him! That’s right!” Turning back to the council president, Jayden sniggered, “If indeed you wanted proof that your failure with Automation Zero has been resolved, look no further. This creature has self-awareness, it questions, it has an identity of its own.” Shaking his head triumphantly at the newly living thing, Jayden answered its question. “You are different because you are a living machine and not a human. It is as simple as that. We are all stronger when we are different. The fact that you are here now, is a cause for celebration.”

The creature nodded at Jayden’s words. “I know things that you know. I know things that they know.” It pointed at the magi who helped fuel its existence. “Is this because you played a part in my creation?”

Jayden nodded sagely, “You are in someway, a product of our collective minds.”

“I require a name.”

“That you do.” Jayden nodded his agreement. “Edward. I always liked the name Eddie, so that will be your name.”

The faceplate filled with fine sand shifted and the automation formed a smile within it. It repeated its new name, “Eddie. Yes, this is a suitable name.”

The council approached all the closer to observe Eddie. Their questions came to the creature fast and without pause.

“You recognize your own existence?”
“Yes. I am here because Jayden and these magi have awakened me.”
“What do you want?”
“I do not know. What do you want?”
“Do you require food, fuel, sleep?
“I do not think so. I think perhaps I would enjoy sleeping though.”
“What is your purpose?”

The last question did not receive an immediate answer from Eddie. He hesitated

The council president repeated the question, “Eddie, what is your purpose?”

Jayden was as interested as the others to learn this as well. He gave a reassuring nod to Eddie, “Just…tell them what’s in your heart.”

“My purpose? Are people born with a purpose?”

The council looked amongst themselves with a mix of fear and excitement. They were close to the answers they had been seeking for so long now. They said nothing. The new life must answer for itself.

“Answer the question Eddie. This is important and no one can help you to answer it.” Jayden replied indirectly to him.

“My purpose is to find a purpose in life. Since I know nothing of the world yet, I must work to find meaning. Ask me this question again after some time has passed. I will provide a proper response then.” Eddie sounded almost apologetic as he replied. To his surprise, the men surrounding him were all smiling and nodding their heads in approval.

“That was the correct answer Edward. That is the answer that any living, thinking thing must start with. The ultimate answer is unimportant to anyone other than yourself.” The council president stepped back from both Jayden and Rearden. “In light of what we have seen here today, I am prepared to make a ruling on behalf of the council.”

There was to be no formal discussion on the matter. The president had decided to use his executive powers to make an immediate ruling. Rearden knew this was not going to end well for him.

“Rearden Black. In the matter of the accusations levied against you, this council finds you to be innocent. The charges are dismissed.”

“What?!?” Jayden angrily objected.

The council president continued despite the interruption. “My determination in these matter is complex, so you would be well advised to pay attention Mr. Dagny. Jayden Dagny, despite Mr. Black’s considerable advancements in the technology of living machinery, you have shown us something here today that goes beyond our scope of understanding. It would be irresponsible of the Society of New Engineers to deny you a place within our ranks. If you would have it, we would like you to take the chair of our Headmaster. We would learn from your advancements if you would teach us.”

“Damn straight you would…” Jayden teetered as the liquor once again held sway on the thin man. “I accept.”

“There is a condition though. Your creation, what we have seen here is remarkable, however your very success is also a point of contention. Mr. Black has created a thinking machine that can be controlled. This is also something that we have need for. If you are to become Headmaster of this society, your first action must be to appoint Mr. Black as the Director of Development. His production facilities are to be immediately put to use in creating the civilian police force we so desperately need.”

It took a moment for Rearden to realize that his efforts had not yet been wasted. Jayden’s creation Eddie was superb in its achievement but it was actually too good for what the Society was looking for. It had refused orders…something his creations would not do. He had created something of practical value. Even in failing here there was success.

Jayden despised the idea outright. “Never.”

“Then it will fall to Mr. Black. Mr. Dagny, while we are enamored with what you have done and your success, we must be mindful of the needs of the people. Lux is becoming a dangerous place and a mechanized policing force is unfortunately a necessity with the growing use of firearms…”

Eddie spoke to Jayden, “Would it not be better to oversee these things?”

Jayden sighed heavily and relented, “Yes…yes it would. I will accept the duties of Headmaster and I will accept Rearden’s automations as part of that.”

The council president smiled, “Splendid. Then we will reconvene tomorrow and Mr. Dagny will be brought in formally…”

There were other words spoken, however Jayden did not hear them. Exhausted from the ritual, his body finally gave out without warning. He collapsed amidst the others. Thomas and Jennifer explained that it was merely a matter of fatigue from the awakening of Edward and the meeting was called to an abrupt conclusion.

Rearden gathered up his magi and the automation they had awakened and quickly left the proceedings. His magi were surprised to find Rearden not overblown with anger.

Kiana could sense something was at play, “What now Rearden? All things considered, this was successful. You did not gain the title but your company has secured profits and a massive contract with the State. Surely this is cause to celebrate.”

Rearden snapped back at her, “No girl. It is not. What we saw today was something of great importance. We must work to find out what that boy did differently and how they came to know of such techniques. The ability to infuse life is not to be trifled with. Did you listen to what that boy said? We would learn why the Life Crux was originally referred to as Pandora’s Crux. What has been done here today…began here today can not be undone now. We must understand this thing before that irresponsible little man brings about the disaster that the original name for that device implies.”

“Of course Rearden…of course.” Kiana knew too much about Jayden, the Life Crux, and about how the stolen plans had come into Rearden’s hands without him knowing to say anything more. Caught in the grip of two dangerous geniuses, the young mage began to wish she had never left her home at all.

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