Million Hypersigil
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Ashburn Alpha is a 32 kilometer steel cylinder, the single largest space habitat humanity has ever built. The combined efforts of the greatest thaumaturges and the finest paratech; rather, what the Foundation calls "combined efforts" while sweeping aside how impossibly fast it was for a structure of this scale to be built in two decades' time. The cities lining its interior are only rivaled in prosperity by those of the Martian Triangle, and for many it is the closest replacement they have for home after the 2041 Earth evacuation.

Someone is trying to break it.

Nobody careens out of the top of an exploding skyscraper in a cloud of molten shrapnel. He barely has time to conjure a spherical shielding array when the heat waves reach, deflecting around its hexagonally-plated sides moments before he can be liquified. While the bomb's blast continues to radiate, he generates a holographic panel on the inside of his goggles, showing the full feed of his aetheric resonance scanner from the past minute.

Zero seconds: he apportates into Floor 50 of the Merlin Corporation Thaumitech Tower. Five seconds: Amancio Ibarra — the target — triggers the bomb. Ten seconds: Nobody pushes past security androids and starts ascending the central stairwell. Eleven seconds: A massive potential energy well opens, pulling the aetheric energy of every thaumaturge and thaumaturgic device in the building into the orbuculum above the top floor, which redirects it into the bomb. Twelve seconds: Nobody switches from his personal aether — already entering the bomb — to an auxiliary source dropped out of extradimensional storage. Thirty seconds: Every thaumaturge becomes nauseous; Nobody's mind fully links to the auxiliary source and a thrust spells launch them up the stairwell. Fifty-eight seconds: Nobody breaks through the ceiling of Floor 120 and reaches Amancio on the roof.

Sixty seconds: The potential energy well vanishes and a single spell unleashes the pent-up magic in the bomb. It detonates.

Nobody passes out of the flaming cloud and the array collides against the radio mast of an adjacent building, the shields immediately extending nanoscale appendages to wrap around and stick in place. From his vantage point he sees the traffic in the streets grind to a halt, people fleeing from their vehicles while Floors 120 through 90 plummet in debris rainfall. The sides of surrounding skyscrapers drip like candles from the blast's wake. The orbuculum, built to display precognitive visions of market prices, is reduced to a haze of temporal crystals that flicker between the present and future. Minimum of a hundred already dead, more deaths inevitable as the debris meets the tarmac. If the apportation laser hadn't been abruptly redirected they would all be alive.

That was built to kill you.

Amancio's psionic message arrives the instant he shoots from the cloud and punches through the shields. Nobody twists the rest of the array into a tangled barrier enclosing the attacker. He drops and Amancio tumbles through the air. Milliseconds later the shields shatter, but Nobody has the time he needs. Rayguns ripped straight out of a 1950s sci-fi story drop from hammerspace into his hands and he pulls the triggers, firing green disintegration beams that atomize Amancio's left arm. The attacker crashes through the 101st story window of another tower.

Nobody's shoes generate miniature turborockets and he steers into the building in short, controlled engine bursts. A crater of glass shards and cubicle fragments rings Amancio, who is scrambling to form a arm-shaped puddle of the blood that spills from his newly-formed stump. The engines deactivate and Nobody casually steps in, dusting off his black suit and silver armor. Red emergency lights strobe.

"So, care to explain how you did the impossible and made a thaumaturgic potential energy well?" Both rayguns are trained on his head. Emergency systems went off throughout the city sector the moment the thaumic bomb went off, ushering everyone out of the building. They are the only two on the floor.

"I have to complete the hypersigil." Blood and dust aside, Amancio looks normal. Generic blue shirt, generic black pants, generic . Tomorrow would be his fortieth day working a desk job at the Thaumitower if he hadn't just ionized his head mages. "You came for me. What the fuck do you want? I have to complete the hypersigil."

"I want to know why you have spent the last several days planning to cause the decompression of an entire space habitat."

"I— How did — complete the — you know?"

"Why have you been planning this?"

"I have to. It's necessary you. Complete the hypersigil. Idiot." His speech sounds as if it is tuning in and out of different channels. He's glaring.

"Enlighten me on what extended magical workings need millions of people to die." The holograms in his goggles update with new data, stolen directly from the Foundation's monitoring network. Aspect Radiation surged around Amancio last night, boosting his aura by tenfold. That should be impossible. "Is that even possible for you to do?"

"Millions to save billions."

The arm-shaped puddle forms into a scarlet arm that attaches to his stump. Nobody instinctively fires right as Amancio dives through the floor, down thirty levels, then rockets straight up.

[more action, stuff with thaumic drones and tactical SEP field (repurposed to be an "everyone else's problem" field that gets thrown at Amancio)]

Shield arrays assemble an aerodynamic cone and Amancio cuts skywards in a resounding BANG. The arrays bloom a frictionally heated orange like a spark. He's approaching the Spire, the horizontal tower running through the middle of Ashburn Alpha, crawling with transport machines, regularly interrupted by elevators to the surface and the spindles of security monitoring devices. Beyond that, another glass panel and the void of space.

Nobody fires the rayrifle and flicks it up, shredding the mast's atomic structure in one clean motion. With the extra space acquired he braces himself against the rooftop, generating carbon fiber wrires that carve through his skeletal structure and replace it. A metal module pops into being on his back, quickly enlarging into a jetpack, red with white lightning bolt symbols and a black and white checkerboard pattern on the engine nozzles. Practically a missile welded to his spine.

The engines ignite, heat rippling the roof and layers of liquifying metal sloughing off, and he accelerates. All 32 klicks of Ashburn Alpha Section 3's city and the flanking glass seas drop beneath Nobody as he hits hypersonic speeds. Two seconds and he's four kilometers up, heading on a straight collision course with Amancio. He shifts perceptual levels to one relative thirty seconds per every actual second, draining from his auxiliary aether harder than ever before, and reorients himself. No time for rayguns.

His foot plows into Amancio's chest at Mach 6. Ribs crack, Amancio going wide eyed as his nerves catch up to the event and as blue lights dipping into the ultraviolet spectrum flare out of his irises. Nobody reaches for the rayrifle.

Amancio responds by creating an engine of his own. It follows no logical design, twisting and branching like roots into a metal abomination more akin to a deep sea creature than a rocket. It sprouts from his back and latches into his musculature with harpoons of thaumic light. Jaw-shaped thrusters spew flames glowing the same actinic hues of his irises. A fourth ARad surge. It would be impossible for someone to expand their aura like this on their own, and an engine this complex could never be envisioned by a human mind well enough to be conjured. Something is assisting him.

[battle, reach the glass]

The wards coil in on themselves, becoming more convoluted and more fractallic, but their heightening magical force isn't enough to keep Amancio from closing the gap centimeter by centimeter.

[failed attempt to break through glass, collision into the park, Neptune/THIRTEEN SUNS hints, kaboom]

The nearest person to the second thaumic bomb was one kilometer away. All they feel is a sudden rush of wind and static electricity.


[ending]

It was like nobody was ever there.





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