And then there was life.
Air rushed in through his nose, as hot blood coursed through his veins almost scalding his mind with the overflow of sensory information.
For a moment it was all too overwhelming.
The next, he simply acknowledged the change and it receded into the back of his mind, back into the subconscious routines where it had always been before. Emiya opened his eyes, the second inhalation just as putrid as the first had been. The rotten stench of refuse; the acrid odor of dust and pollution in the air; the smell of slow death and desperate struggle.
Noise. Distant and muted. Yet obviously that of an urban settlement all around him.
Darkness and light. The contrast only nightfall in a city could bring; the darkness of the starry vault above nearly black by contrast with the artificial brightness polluting the vista before him. Yet his eyes grew accustomed to it quickly, as he exhaled slowly.
Cracked concrete and worn-out buildings greeted him, the rundown urban environment around him strikingly familiar despite the alien and unfamiliar details here and there. In the distance, he could see a flying car blitzing through his field of vision. Further yet, great glowing advertisements that seemed akin to burning giants against the dark horizon, and tall sparkling glass spires that threatened to pierce the heavens themselves. It struck him as alien, if only for an instant, before the human-like elements in design settled in and the familiarity shone through. For all that this was an era obviously unfamiliar to him, it could not have been too far into the future.
Perhaps ten, twenty years? Thirty at most, he scoffed.
At his feet lay discarded wrappers and half-crushed processed foodstuffs, explaining the smell. He was sitting right next to a dumpster, with his frail back against a hard wall. Raising a hand, the needle still halfway into his skin fell out and clattered against the ground, soon to be followed by a fat drop of blood welling out of the perforation in his arm.
Emiya grimaced. Nothing to be done about it, he's long-dead. Whoever he once was.
For a moment he was struck by the dissonance of this situation, of how piercingly human it all was. Here he lay, dead-and-recovered of an overdose, surrounded by refuse and squalor. Yet there just in the distance, almost within the reach of his all-too-thin fingers it seemed, lay the wonders that humanity could achieve. Another light, trailing through the dark sky shone a blazing path into the heavens and beyond. His eyes followed it until it vanished from sight into the night sky.
Somehow, that duality of the destitute and impoverished living at the feet of the mighty and affluent seemed so familiar, that any and all doubts he had about being on Earth were utterly blown away.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh..." He huffed, getting up and ignoring the sense of vertigo while stubbornly refusing to lean against the wall for support. This body was quite weak, he could tell that from just this much. "...Where am I?"
He looked up, his eyes narrowing as he pushed a trace amount of magical energy into his vision to enhance it. Pushing past the light pollution of the city around him, he saw the stars in the night sky. He recognized the formations and the alignments quickly enough, as he had often relied on them for navigation before. Even when all other things failed, the stars above never ceased guiding him. But it also confirmed what he had been told before. He wasn't on another planet.
"...Earth, huh," he complained quietly.
How was he supposed to get to Mars from Earth? Especially with a body like this? He doubted there were any public fares to the red planet or that he could simply stow away on a ship. Are there any ships capable of going to Mars, even?
Even if he abandoned his body and used his Servant-self to travel, he wouldn't be able to make it there on his own. Even with the buffer of his Independent Actions skill, he would still perish before making it there. He doubted he would even be able to get off the planet under his own powers. This seemed all too complicated compared to how easy it would be to simply scan something using the Moon Cell's own facilities, he groused.
Then again, it did seem fairly interesting.
It was unusual for a Heroic Spirit to be able to live and exist among humanity after their passing into legend. Doubly so for a mere guardian like himself. The only real exception given was inside the cybernetic world of the Moon Cell, as in such a place a soul alone was sufficient for existence. While they remained inside that world, they could live as they once had. But given a corpus, a body... He chuckled, smiling despite the monumental task set before him.
Perhaps whatever bureaucratic decision that had led to this wasn't such a bad thing after all. Really, this was just a vacation to him. Even if he was to keep his head low, this was really quite a welcome respite from the nothingness of the Moon Cell's facsimile of a world.
Emiya walked out into the streets from the dark alley, looking around and drinking in the sights. Spray-painted gang signs and tags littered every surface within reach from the ground-level, the pavement was cracked and old, every metallic surface in sight was covered in rust and patina from years of disrepair.
Yet somehow, this place felt refreshing to him. No, that was the wrong word. Familiar. It was familiar to him. He smiled, taking his first steps into the world of the 22nd century.
"Hey, who the fuck are you! Never seen you 'round here!"
Emiya turned to look at the speaker, finding him leaning against a wall at the street corner. He had only walked a few blocks, so far, looking around and getting his bearings when he had been called out to.
"You know what street this is?" The stranger called out, now swaggering up to Emiya, obviously looking for trouble.
"Seventh and Baker's," Emiya replied, his eyes not wavering from the man's even as he analyzed the situation. Alone, has a knife but no gun. Possibly high; fresh blunt trauma around the neck, emotional and unbalanced. Got beaten up and now looking for some stress relief on easy pickings? A punk, in other words.
"The fuck you say, bitch?!" The punk screamed, his growing agitation obvious as he leaned over so that he was practically staring down, having closed distance already. "This is the fucking West Hounds' street! That means it's my street, ya hear?!"
Emiya blinked, more out of the stench of the man's breath washing over him than anything else. There was little danger in this situation, despite the obvious and overt hostility the punk was showing. Had he wanted to put down Emiya, he would have attacked already. A dog only bites when it has stopped barking.
"Alright then. I'll make sure to notify the city officials that there has been an error in the street signs," Emiya said, turning around and moving to walk away.
"Hey, hey, hey! I wasn't fucking done talking to you, fuckhead!" The thug shouted and Emiya blinked as he was yanked back and lifted into the air by two fists grabbing a hold of his filthy shirt.
And this is why I hated being short... Emiya thought, his mood steadily turning worse as he realized his feet were helplessly dangling in the air.
"You think you can just walk up here and disrep me—" The thug began to shout at him again, but Emiya didn't bother to listen as the hammer inside his mind struck down.
Magical energy flooded his limbs as his body temperature spiked for an instant. His fist lashed out before the thug could even finish his sentence, knocking his head back as the whites of his eyes showed. The grip slackened, and Emiya landed on his feet, sighing as the thug slowly but surely fell over backward against the wall and sliding down to the ground.
Emiya rolled his fist, checking the wrist and fingers for damage with some annoyance. Punching someone in the face with your bare fists was ill-advised normally, as the hand really was all too fragile to handle being forced to contend against the relatively hard structure of the skull. But he had Reinforced his hand, meaning it should have been fine, except—That would have broken four of the bones normally.
What the hell had this kid been eating before he died?
"Guh... You little, piece of..." The thug groaned, trying to sit back up and Emiya sighed. Even with Reinforcement, I couldn't even knock him out?
It was a proportional increase, meaning that it relied on the physical base to work. It was different for something like Magic Burst, but for him, it was necessary to have a strong body to be able to fight freely. A body wholly unlike his current one.
Emiya shook his head and kicked down thug one more time, using the bottom of his foot to merely bounced the punk's skull off of the wall for damage and then turned to leave. If putting down one lone thug was this difficult, trying to cut through the rest of the gang's territory was definitely not a good idea. He needed to find a place to hunker down and get some food and information.
Which means breaking and entering. It was a good thing he was an old hand at that.
Emiya sighed, rubbing his brow as he stared at the screen in front of him.
2172 CE. One hundred and sixty years had passed since his execution.
Which meant getting to Mars was apparently entirely possible, even if he had no idea how to go about getting there. But at least now he knew both when and where he was now. The Age of Space Exploration, he mused with a shake of his head as he continued browsing leisurely. Humanity had certainly come far since his death, that much he had to admit as he took another bite of his sandwich. Still, that made knowing where his body had been even more depressing. For all that Humanity had achieved, apparently, few of the social ills had been fixed. The average lifespan had shot up to 150 years; most if not all diseases had been eradicated and technology had advanced to a point where the most incredible things could be realized...
Yet nothing had seemingly changed. There were still fewer chairs to go around than there were people playing the game. His short walk through the city had been enough to prove that.
It wasn't surprising, not really. He hadn't expected his actions to truly change anything in the long run, he had known that it was simply his selfishness that drove him onward. He knew that the most efficient method for advancement was for the weak to be devoured by the strong. He knew that changing the nature of man would not be so easily accomplished, or that the solution to the age-old dilemma of inequality would not be realized within such a short span of time...
Hadn't he died with hope? That in this world of tomorrow things would be different? That his sacrifice might be another brick in the road to that world of justice? He scoffed, his appetite waning at those thoughts. There was too much resignation and bone-deep weariness in him now to care, beyond the old self-recriminations and regrets that had become an old habit by now.
Emiya sighed, shaking his head as he took another bite of the sandwich he had made. Even if he didn't want to eat, he needed to. It would be a waste, given the expiration dates listed on the ingredients and the dust that had been piling up in this apartment. No one had been here for a while, he had judged before breaking in. Precisely the kind of place he had been looking for.
Besides, he'd concluded that no one actually lived here and that for whatever reason someone still came over to clean and fill the fridge once a month or so. Perhaps it was someone's second home or a getaway house. It didn't really matter, as long as no one showed up while he was here. Additionally, there was a computer—which took some time to figure out on Emiya's part—which gave him plenty of information, and a fridge full of foodstuffs that would go to waste if no one ate it.
Of course, the numerous cameras had been slightly concerning, but he'd simply covered his face. Some of them were hidden, while some of them were right out in the open, too. And upon closer inspection, he had found them turned off. Perhaps it was some kind of hideout or sting operation set? Well, he had simply continued to cover his face and avoided leaving any fingerprints.
It was possible that there were more advanced methods of identification, but he hoped that it would be judged too much effort for a couple of sandwiches if anyone even noticed it. The security system, once he had reasoned it out through some liberal application of Structural Analysis, was easy enough to subvert and intrude through. No alarms had been tripped and no signs of his intrusion would remain. So no one should be coming here, for now. At least not because of his presence, which left him with a place to stay at for the moment.
The shower had been nice, though disconcertingly enough there were cameras in the bathroom as well. He'd washed his clothes and made some repairs while he was at it.
Then, he had taken to the computer. Or what he had thought was a computer, anyhow. For a moment, he had felt worried that he would have to break into another house until he found one he could use. Already in his lifetime, personal computers had grown more and more ubiquitous, so the idea that there wasn't one had seemed baffling given the obvious workstation he had discovered.
Ultimately he had been vindicated as he found it, though figuring out how it worked was another thing entirely. At least it wasn't password locked; just turning it on had brought him to what seemed like the desktop. The more things change...
Still, he made sure to only look up the information he needed in the vaguest possible terms. Then again, given the general nature of the information that he needed, it probably really didn't matter. If he had found a library or a public computer, he could have just as well looked up everything he needed there. He doubted anyone would care if they knew he was trying to look up information on Mars.
Emiya read about everything and anything, as his existence in the Moon Cell did not especially lend itself to keeping up with outside happenings and events. Unlike in the event of a Grail War, there had been no knowledge of the era granted to him. He had simply been plopped into a human body by Archimedes and told to get the job done. So he took his time reading, getting familiar with everything and anything.
He read about Mars among other topics, which was something of a galactic backwater apparently, which amused him to no end. In his lifetime, it had been seen as an exciting new frontier into space. A faraway but eminently realizable goal the represented the infinite potential of all that lay beyond it. Now, you had to wait six months to book for a freighter there because that was the only time anyone flew there with any regularity to drop off supplies. And he didn't have the money for that, either.
Some things did have to change, after all.
There weren't many options on how to get there, he eventually found out, which was somewhat troubling. The number of methods could be counted on one hand, with fingers left over. If he wanted to get out of the Sol system and into another star system entirely, that was easy enough apparently. But catching a ride to Mars? Something else entirely, that.
Of course... With enough money, he could get there in no time at all.
But that wasn't exactly something he possessed at the moment. Perhaps he could rob someone for money or steal a ride, but that would be altogether too noticeable. With advances in information technology, tracking money or a vehicle was apparently a cinch. He wouldn't get very far that way.
Perhaps he could have counterfeited himself a vast sum of money, but given his background getting off the ground would be a lot of trouble. He couldn't exactly sell gold on the street and any pawnshop would think him a thief, even if he tried to start out small. So what was left to him was a slow and more legitimate route. Building himself up and accruing wealth until he could pay for personal passage or wait until the supply ship came around to Earth and then stay on board until it dropped him off on Mars.
Which would be making a considerable amount of waves. Not quite public notice-level, but enough that he hesitated. The kinds of schemes he could think of surely had been tried before in some form or another, and just as surely there would be people on the lookout. He wasn't sure about how much attention it was okay for him to garner, but he was pretty sure that most of his methods would be crossing the line. Archimedes certainly hadn't given him an easy assignment...
Not that he was out of options, as one simple route presented itself to him after an hour of digging. The thing was, however, that where it would be cheap and low-key, it would require a considerable investment of time on his part.
As in, a minimum of two months. At least.
"Was this really the best way? No, of course it wasn't. It was just the easiest way for that guy," Emiya muttered under his breath, accepting things as they were with a sigh.
Checking out the internet—or rather, the extranet as it was called today—had also led him to realize that the surface of the Moon was actually inhabited by humanity already. Some 4 million lived on Luna, mostly in the capital Armstrong. It would have seemed more reasonable to him to incarnate on the Moon and acquire passage from there to Mars. The supply ship he had found went by the Moon and Mars months ahead of making the Earth-to-Mars passage.
Could he assume Archimedes had not simply paid enough attention to detail to notice such a thing—which was a distinct possibility, still—or should he assume that the lunar settlements lacked suitable bodies for him to possess? Perhaps it would have been possible for him to simply go through the Moon's facilities as an astralized Heroic Spirit. Or was there some kind of time limit on Archimedes part for taking action?
Emiya leaned back, shaking his head. It doesn't matter. I'll just do it however I can.
He knew everything he needed to, but he would have to wait until dawn at least before he could do anything else. The offices wouldn't open before that, he was sure. His eyes landed on one of the cameras hidden in the room. It wasn't pointing at him, rather it was pointed at a king-size bed. His curiosity had been pecking at him for a while now, and finally having nothing more to distract himself with, he had to wonder.
Why the cameras? And the bed smelled heavily of cleaning chemicals, as if it had been dunked and left to soak in a vat of industrial-grade cleaner more than a time. He frowned, turning back to the computer. There had been a folder that seemed relevant to the recording devices, but he hesitated for a second.
"Eh, what the hell..." He muttered, opening what looked like a recording.
"Hi, I'm Aubrey, 18 years old and I love big krogan di—"
"Yeah, okay. No," he muttered, closing the computer and rubbing his brow. He was definitely not going to sleep here tonight, he thought with a shake of his head. "No wonder this place is empty."
He sighed and stared at the rest of the sandwich, before throwing it away—having lost his appetite—and leaving the apartment the same way he had come, leaving no traces of his passing.
What's a krogan, anyhow?
The sun rose slowly, turning the dark towers of ebony glass into something majestic and wondrous as they sparkled and shone like pillars of glittering light all around him. He sat next to the glass doors of the office building he had looked up earlier, back when he had had access to the internet. Extranet, he reminded himself.
It had taken quite a bit of walking and more than one sneak aboard public transport to make it here. For whatever reason, it seemed that they did not deem it fit to have an office in the slums. Instead, they had a small office in the nice part of town, inside a strip mall. Though at this early hour the doors were still closed, the polished and flawless glass reflecting his gaze back quite clearly.
He had looked at the reflection, wondering whether they would accept him but at this point, there was little point in hesitation. Either they would or they wouldn't; he would simply think of something else once it came to that.
Still, this did seem like the best opportunity to check himself out. He closed his eyes, letting his breathing relax.
And he stepped out of his body, feeling almost like he was expanding after being forced to exist in a cramped space. Opening his eyes, he observed himself. His spiritual core was functioning as expected, allowing him to manifest as a Servant outside of his body. At a minute expense of magical energy, of course.
Luckily this container came with the Independent Action skill which minimized that drain, though at its current rank he could only manifest in this manner for a single day before it would become a problem. Twenty four hours was not much, but given that when he was outside of his body it would be completely unresponsive, it was probably for the best. Staying out of his body for more than twelve hours would make it seem like he wasn't merely sleeping, thus he resolved to avoid more than ten hours of operation in his true form.
It was vital to always keep enough in reserve for an emergency, after all. Already he could feel his energy stores trickling slowly as he maintained himself in the astral state.
It was not like his body acted as a Master or anything. It was merely a shell that he could reside in and use to slowly refill his magical energy reserves as it naturally generated life force for him. Were he to forcefully materialize so as to fight as he wished, it would no doubt be even more taxing. He would have to limit its use as much as possible. Of course, fighting in the body was always an option. But that would have consequences.
He had shied away from relying too much on that in his life, for a reason.
Turning to look at this body he frowned. It was somewhat strange to look at himself from the outside. Whoever or whatever the previous owner of this body had been, there remained no traces of him now. The corpus matched the pattern of the soul, or perhaps Archimedes had seen fit to alter it for optimal performance even before Emiya had come to inhabit the flesh.
Or something like that.
Auburn hair, fair skin and the features he had always known from the mirror; it really was him that sat there on the pavement. The him from a long, long time ago. The body couldn't have been older than fifteen, sixteen at most—a carbon copy likeness of himself in high school, though far thinner and in worse shape. Emiya shook his head, rubbing his darker features with a calloused hand. Or something to that effect, as he had not manifested a body at the moment and simply existed as a spiritual parasite-like entity.
How long will it take for this body to burn out, I wonder? Perhaps he should cut off the flow of magical energy from his spiritual core to the body? That would minimize the osmosis and probably slow down the rate at which the body would come to look like him. It should also limit its performance to mostly human levels, but that was probably for the best. Going all out would be like strapping a jet engine to a bicycle, after all.
He brought up a hand, concentrating on the codecast he had been entrusted. The glowing blue orb appeared in his hand, invisible to all, just as he was. He stared at it, uncertain what to make of it. Archimedes was a famed engineer as well as mathematician, though his reputation was quite a bloody one nonetheless. For a moment Emiya considered whether he would be able to tell if this was a bomb or weapon of some kind, or if Archimedes possessed sufficient skills to obscure such mechanisms from him. He peered at it, frowning.
It couldn't be helped; he would do as he had been instructed for now. Bloody though Archimedes' tale may be and an arrogant man he was, that did not erase the fact that Emiya Shirou had forged a contract with the Moon Cell.
He had received his miracle and in turn, he would repay it.
The doors opened and Emiya sighed, dissipating the codecast and letting his spirit settle back into the narrow and tight confines of the body that lay still against the wall. The guard who had opened the locks from the inside noticed him and began to walk towards him. No doubt to chase him off; homeless street urchins lounging about at the entrance would only unsettle paying customers, after all.
Emiya opened his eyes and stood up. Though he hadn't slept through the night, he felt fine. He met eyes with the guard and he affected a polite smile. The man hesitated, looking him up and down before frowning and remaining silent.
Though the clothes Emiya wore were old, he wasn't dirty or smelly anymore. He merely seemed like a youth from perhaps a poor family, wearing ratty hand-me-downs. That shower and wash he had taken at the apartment had definitely been worth it. He had also considered using Reinforcement to repair his clothes but decided that it would be a needless expenditure. Or worse yet, counter-productive to the image he wanted to play soon enough.
The guard frowned at him, but said nothing and went back to his duties. But the message was clear; 'I've got my eyes on you, kid'. He entered the mall, noting with some amusement how familiar the establishment felt despite the alien names and brands all around him. The walk was short and he couldn't help but frown as he found the door closed.
Emiya sighed, closing his eyes and leaning against the wall with arms crossed. Nothing to it but to wait some more, then. It was only another hour until the doors opened and Emiya walked in without hesitation. The uniformed man gave him a curious glance but did not question his entry immediately.
"Good morning, sir," Emiya spoke sharply, making sure to tailor his words and voice to the situation. A good first impression went a long way, though it shouldn't be all too difficult to get what he wanted here. The man before him ought to literally want the same thing as Emiya did, after all. That being so, he still mentally ran over the persona he would be adopting for this talk. Alright, affect politeness. But be firm. Determined. 'I' need this, so 'I' won't be swayed.
"Well a fine morning to you as well, son. Now how can I help you?" The man in the neat blue uniform answered. "Perhaps some coffee or tea?"
Emiya glanced at the instant stuff for a moment before shaking his head. "No, thank you. I've come to enlist in the Alliance Navy."
The unformed man licked his lips, squinting at Emiya for a moment. "Now sonny, aren't you a little bit young to be making such decisions?"
"Old enough to decide what to do with my life, at the very least."
The man seemed more amused by that than anything else. "That's what all the kids say, heh. My own girl would like nothing more than to dictate how she should live her life. But son, that's what parents exist for. Joining the Navy is a big decision, especially for an underage citizen such as yourself. Without your parents' consent, I couldn't possibly—"
"That won't be necessary." Emiya cut in, with a carefully blank face.
"I'm living on the street, with nothing but the clothes I'm wearing to my name. I'm not even sure how old I am, but I do know that this is the most reasonable option available to me right now."
That brought the Alliance Navy Recruiter up short as he peered down at Emiya. He opened his mouth to say something, but then thought better of it as he closed his mouth.
Emiya continued, gesturing at his body. "Besides, it's probably mostly just undernourishment."
"It's this or a life of crime, really. And that will just take me to bad places, sir. I want to do something with this life." Emiya continued, laying it thick as he could feel the man wavering. Of course, nothing of what he had said was untrue, exactly. It was simply phrased in a manner that suggested something other than what Emiya actually meant.
Using the Navy was the most reasonable option for him; he would have to resort to some form of crime to get to Mars otherwise. Be it stealing a shuttle or enough funds to purchase a shuttle-ride there. Either way, it would be quite risky. If he stole a vessel, assuming he even figured out how to operate it, he would no doubt be caught by whatever space-faring equivalent to the police there existed.
Flying from Earth to Mars was not like stealing a car and stopping in the next town, after all.
And if he started getting the funds to purchase a ride there, he would have to work out a mountain's worth of issues. He had no ID and he lacked any existing capital, thus anything he did would be faced with suspicion and scrutiny.
Thus, Emiya thought that simply enlisting was the most reasonable option. It was a rational choice for a street urchin, looking to escape the rough life. And once he was on Mars, he could simply leave behind this body as an empty husk and aside from some paperwork no one would probably care about the apparent vegetable of an enlisted they now had in their hands.
The two sat in silence, staring at each other for a minute. Outside, the rest of the city awoke slowly as people began to pass by the glass window. Shoppers, workers, people simply passing by. People of all walks of life seemed to pass through his peripheral vision before the man finally sighed.
"Alright. I'll... go make some calls, see what I can do and ask some people what they think..." He said, rising up to walk over to another room. "Oh, and... Help yourself to the cinnamon buns and coffee. There's hot cocoa, too. It's warm, if nothing else."
He gave an assuring smile and then left. Emiya exhaled, crossing his fingers as he waited. Now he could only wait and hope. To be honest, joining a military wasn't exactly high up on things he particularly wanted to do, but given that the easiest way for him to get to Mars lay this way, it couldn't be helped.
It was simple enough; go through boot camp on Earth and then apply for one of the branches that were trained on Mars' southern hemisphere. Once there, getting to the ruins should be easy enough. Sure, it would be a slow route. But given that Archimedes hadn't given him anything resembling a means to get there, it would have to do.
Well, at least he was familiar with military life from before. Though mostly from acting as a trainer in an irregular outfit waging asymmetrical warfare. He hadn't even been through a boot camp, but it couldn't be that bad compared to what he had put himself or others through.
His wait wasn't all too long, all things considered. Little over an hour later, the man returned as he sat down across from Emiya.
"Had a long talk, but it looks good. Well, let's see how it goes. I'll have to verify your identity, which seems like it will not be the easiest thing, I'm guessing... And then we'll have to get all the papers cleared and signed. But, if all things go well, then you'll be off to start your training by the end of the day." The man offered a slightly wean smile, but Emiya only nodded to accept the words.
"Thank you, you've made my life a lot simpler, sir," Emiya answered with a satisfied expression.
It wasn't quite as simple as that, but in the end, it didn't matter as he was on his way.
Emiya sat in a shuttle, headed for boot camp. As it happened, as the Systems Alliance began to grow in scale the need for a more unified training regimen began to appear. To that end, on Earth, there existed only a handful of facilities that handled the training and fitting of new recruits despite the huge number of people signing up biannually. So, a simple street urchin without a penny to his name was being flown halfway across the world in an otherwise empty shuttle. Certainly, there was some minor cargo as well. But aside from the pilot, he was the only other person aboard this shuttle.
Which gave him plenty of time and leeway when it came to observing anything and everything inside of it.
At first, on that night he had opened his eyes in the dark alleyway, he had simply accepted the flying cars in the sky as a part of the future. Such things had been romanticized enough in his time that the appearance of such vehicles was only a matter of time given the unstoppable march of technological progress.
But as he finally got to board one himself, he could not help but grow curious. This was no alien technology—or, well. It was, in a sense, from what he had already read—but rather something any human being could understand and learn. It was fascinating and he could not help but extend his grasp through his magical energy as he reproduced the schematics of the vessel in his mind.
"'Element Zero', what unusual material." He huffed, nodding to himself.
Carefully prodding the engine at work, he took care not to mess with anything. Magical energy was poison, but when you arrive at a certain level it becomes possible to bend those rules. Strictly speaking, analyzing the engine of the vehicle he was inside, in mid-air, was a terrible idea.
Terrible, as in a sudden and fiery death in a crash-terrible.
But his curiosity got the better of him. Extending his senses, eyes closed and his breathing stilled, he could feel the grain of the eezo core that allowed this shuttle to fly. It was quite alike a magnet, really.
It reminded him also quite a bit of the gravity magecraft that he had seen a time or two, though still very different at its core. He wondered if perhaps the principle behind it was the same, but dismissed the errant thought as he continued to learn and investigate the systems of the ship.
There wasn't much else to do, anyhow.
To his surprise, he realized that while eezo was an exotic element formed under very rare stellar conditions, it wasn't something that he couldn't replicate. It wouldn't be perfect, but it might work on a smaller scale. Well, it was amusing to know that he still had the option of flooding the market with forged valuable base elements if he wanted to. Not that he would, for a variety of reasons. But having access to liquidable assets was always good. He would have to experiment with it a little before he tried to make use of it.
Compared to the far-off flying cars in the night sky, honestly having a closer look at this shuttle was more magical to him. He could sense the pride of the designers, the sweat and effort of the engineers and the trust of the pilots as he combed through the vessel with a fine-tooth comb. It was a work of wonder; a testament to humanity in a sense.
As a craftsman, he could appreciate something of this quality on many levels even if he could not make use of it as a magus. A sword is a sword, a ship is a ship, and all that. But it was still a marvel of engineering and craftsmanship.
Finally, after what felt like several hours they touched down. Still, the trip had been far shorter than he had been used to from his old life. Though, as he had learned what this shuttle could do, he was far from surprised.
As the shuttle door opened, a uniformed man stepped in and made eye contact with him.
"Well, come on then."
Emiya nodded, sitting up and moving to follow the man. Following three steps behind, he had a chance to observe the third member of the Systems Alliance Navy he had seen so far. They all seemed to fit the same general profile; young, very fit, male, neatly trimmed hair—per regulation, he assumed—and a casual, almost relaxed air about them.
The walk was quite long, taking them through the landing port, several buildings, and more outdoor locations until they arrived at a simple lounge. Though at first, he had found the architecture quite novel but upon seeing how ubiquitous and uniform it was regardless of where on the planet you were, Emiya was beginning to find it less and less appealing by the minute. Was everything pre-fabricated using the same blueprints, or was it merely a result of the construction methods that everything acquired the same look?
"Sit down and wait until someone gets you. Do not leave this lounge, got it?" The man said, pointing at a chair. Emiya nodded, saying nothing. "If you are caught wandering, you will be treated with extreme prejudice by facility personnel, am I understood?"
Emiya nodded again, but as the man continued staring he finally caught on. "Understood, Sir."
He huffed, turning on his foot and leaving with a single curt word. "Good."
Emiya sat down, a small smile on his face. The more things change, the more they stay the same. 'Hurry up and wait' as it were, seemed to still be an integral part of the organized military experience. That, and the petty desire for dominance among the youngest of the NCO.
Two of the core reasons why he could never stand working in large groups for long.
Certainly, on that scale, downtime for individuals was inevitable. But for him in those days, it was unacceptable to be doing nothing. He always busied himself with something, be it repairs or training. The thought of slowing down was repugnant. It was something that had nothing to do with him as an existence. And that always led him to clash with people who regarded him as a step below in a chain of command. Which was why he had simply refrained from joining any organizations. He got more done on his own.
Well, after his death that had changed. Both things, really.
There wasn't much to do in the Moon. He had always been patient, but the languor he experienced there turned it into something else. Perhaps it was the memories; the knowledge and observations of the Moon Cell which were made available to him that changed him so. Stuck with nothing but his own thoughts and the unchanging eternity, he had grown introspective and stolid.
And after that, he had begun to wonder about his life. About his choices. About the ideals and that expression he had seen at the beginning of his life. Whether any of it had been real or if he had simply thought it had been. As a child, such a mistake might have been acceptable to let pass. But he had kept on running, stubbornly refusing to back down or slow his pace to let others match him, even as he grew up and confronted the world as an adult.
Emiya shook his head; he was brooding again.
"Might as well sleep," he concluded, closing his eyes.
It wasn't long until he noticed someone approaching, however. He opened his eyes to watch as a new person appeared to the waiting area. Wearing a green, white and black uniform of different design from the others, it was a woman in her forties that approached him.
"Well, hello there. You must be Shirou Emiya, correct?" She spoke with a polite smile; a professional mask of courtesy, born of several decades of practice.
"Yes, ma'am." He answered curtly, standing up.
"I am Doctor Roberts from MarsGene. Though it is a little bit late, we will be doing a screening of your genome. This way we can have you ready for gene therapy first thing in the morning, once the computer is all done," she said, speaking in an even and slow tone.
"Gene therapy?" MarsGene? Probably just a coincidence.
"Yes. After all, since you have no records we'll have to take a closer look. It's standard for military recruits. It was in your contract, on page—"
"54, yes. Though I had thought it only applied to the use of genetically engineered healing gels. The text was not quite so specific as to mention gene therapy." Emiya spoke evenly.
"Oh, well. It's quite standard. Completely safe; these are methods tested on quite literally billions of human beings already." She said, smiling in a reassuring manner. "But if you have objections, we can bring in an officer tomorrow for a discussion if that is alright? For now, let us simply do a genome scan, shall we? It is completely non-invasive and if nothing else, it will tell you about what has already been done to you or what kind of diseases you may be at risk to."
"...Alright. Lead the way."
Sleeping had been uncomfortable.
It was not the bed's fault or any lack of exhaustion in his body that led to his problem. But rather... He hadn't slept before that in a very long time. Servants and Heroic Spirits did not generally dream and neither did he, even as he closed his eyes and fell into a slumber. Then again, he hadn't dreamed much for decades prior to his death either so perhaps nothing had actually changed.
His internal world was as ever, though it seemed slightly odd to return there after having walked again on Earth after such a long time.
Opening his eyes, Emiya stared at the ceiling above. A depressingly featureless surface, fitting for a military bunk somehow, he thought. It was before dawn, he noted with some annoyance. He hadn't been in a bed for a very, very long time. Yet old habits die hard and Emiya Shirou awoke before the crack of dawn as he always had.
It did not matter that the genome mapping had gone quite late into the night and that he had only gotten to bed at midnight; he needed very little sleep after all. Swinging his legs down to touch the cold floor, he hesitated.
It all felt incongruous. As if everything was in order and in place, except for something so small that then threw everything else into question. Something so minor and unnoticeable that it was impossible to see with the naked eye, but in the whole managed to shift everything just enough that the whole thing seemed alien and wrong.
He hadn't trained the previous night, as had been his habit since as far as he could remember.
Even the night before his execution he had trained since that was his habit. Yet, last evening he had done no such thing. He frowned and then closed his eyes. Twenty-seven ghostly circuits awoke within his body and hummed with power. He frowned and then sighed, hiding them once more. There was little point he thought; he had reached his peak. There was nowhere for him to go, in a sense. Nothing to learn, nothing to train, nothing to experiment. He knew his talents well enough to simply say "that is possible" and "that is not possible" and could tell off-hand what he would have to pay for achieving that.
Yet, something inside of him craved for that, which he no longer had any need or use for.
Well, it wasn't like he could simply go and make breakfast either, so it could not be helped. He sighed and crossed his legs as he sat on the cold floor, wearing nothing but the ratty underclothes.
"Emiya Shirou is a creature of habit, after all," he muttered wryly.
"Good morning ma'am," Emiya spoke as he entered the office.
Doctor Roberts looked up from her screen and smiled at him, offering him a seat and then going back to reading in silence. The quiet moment stretched, though Emiya simply accepted it as a part of how things worked. Finally, after reading for a long moment, she sighed and looked at him.
"Well, I have checked and re-checked, but it seems there is no mistake."
"Hmm, well that certainly sounds ominous," Emiya quipped. She blinked at him and then laughed lightly.
"Mm, oh it's nothing so serious. It isn't anything good either, but that is what MarsGene is here for, I suppose." She spoke somewhat quietly, as she looked out the window. She took a deep breath before turning the screen so that he could see the results as well. "You've certainly had an interesting life, mister Emiya."
For a moment, Emiya wondered just what it was possible to divine from a person's genome. He weighed the possibility of his unique situation being revealed and considered what he should do. But then he clamped down on those thoughts and maintained his silence. Outwardly, his face did not so much as twitch at her words.
"Back in medical school, I was told that each and every human being already enjoyed the basic benefits of our scientific advancements. And that was well over 20 years ago already, goodness me." She spoke, seemingly saddened about the topic.
Emiya felt a slight urge to comment that she did not look a day over 20, but clamped down on it. It was hardly the time and place.
"But here you are... Lacking any and all genetic therapy. I found at least three genetic diseases in your genome and a complete lack of the basic benefits most of us have already come to enjoy in the 22nd century."
"Oh...?" Emiya asked, growing curious.
"Yes. For example, if you would look here..." She began to explain, using several images as aids as she talked.
He was not sure whether this was due to his host body, due to Archimedes' intervention or even due to his soul filling his vessel, but he felt quite interested as she continued to point out various parts of what she called a map of his genome. "So what does this mean in practice?"
"Well, usually we only supply the basic enhancements that the Alliance Navy specifies for their recruits... But given that it is considered nigh-on a human right at this point to receive genetic therapy, I cannot in good faith not include it as well... Well, we will have to apply for a grant based on the Sudham-Wolcott Genetic Heritage Act, but I am quite certain that it will be fine.
"Still, there is a limit to what can be done. It leaves me aghast that people still do not screen and treat their children as soon as possible. So many things that could be corrected, were you still just a little bit younger... Well, it can't be helped. We shall simply have to make do." She smiled at him, though it felt more patronizing than reassuring.
He had understood the commonplace nature of genetic modification and enhancement, especially in a military setting. Yet for someone who had only seen the most rudimentary of applications during his life, it felt slightly strange.
"The biggest problem will, of course, be your physical conditioning." She sighed, shaking her head. "Most if not all of the recruits will have received the gene therapy years in advance as the results are quite slow to show. Military families and those who know well in advance what they wish to do with their life get it years before actually signing up, you see..."
"So... You can't give me the physical enhancements?" He asked, tilting his head at her.
"Oh, oh no! You will receive them, don't worry about that. It's just that..." She hesitated for a moment, before continuing. "You will not be receiving any of the benefits during most of your training. It will be years before they begin to show most of the effects. You will be in boot camp with hundreds of others, all who surpass you physically and mentally, I'm afraid. It won't be easy. It isn't easy even for normal recruits, I think. But for you, keeping up will be even harder."
Emiya nodded at that.
"How big of a difference are talking about here?"
"Well... It's difficult to say, since there isn't exactly a reliable baseline any more given the many decades of genetic therapy has been in use. I could show you the old comparisons from when the first tests were conducted, but the techniques and methods have improved quite a bit since... But it should be obvious in everything. Physical strength, agility, endurance, healing and recovery, metabolism, vision, hearing, immune system... Anything and everything the Systems Alliance thinks will be useful for their Navy." She explained, smiling sadly.
"If it can't be helped, then it's fine. Just do what you have to and I'll deal with the rest as it comes."
She blinked at his words before nodding, though he could tell she simply thought he was putting up a strong front. Mostly he felt curious about the procedure. As long as it was physically possible for him, he wasn't worried about what was to come. Even then, as long as he simply tapped into his magical potential, he would be able to more than keep up.
Of course, that would run the risk of performing beyond his supposed limits and alerting others to his strange nature. But it shouldn't have to come to that, considering that he was only aiming for Mars. That should easily be achievable even during his basic training, before he was deployed into anything resembling active duty.
"Well, let's get the paperwork out then. We have a whole day ahead of us." She said, smiling comfortingly. "Don't worry, I will give you the best MarsGene can offer. With the extra budget, you two will get through the grant—which I am sure you will, you if anyone deserve it—we can put the best on the market to good use."
Emiya shrugged. "If you say so."
It had been a slow week for Emiya.
Apparently it was the offseason in terms of recruitment so he was in a strange spot. Usually, there were two busy times of the year when the majority of fresh recruits signed up, but as it was there would only be a few in his batch.
Which was fine, he supposed. Archimedes hadn't contacted him once, thus Emiya reasoned that taking the slow but sure route to Mars was fine. Perhaps the man had simply forgotten all about it already. For Emiya, the last few days were filled with nothing but strange and unusual medical procedures at the behest of MarsGene.
His strange timing for enlistment was apparently for the better, as going by Dr. Roberts' comments if there were any more recruits to handle she would be hard-pressed to keep up with it all. He hadn't seen anyone else, but apparently, they were all handled here and had more or less been according to standard, aside from a handful of unusual cases such as himself.
He had been following with rapt attention, Structurally Analyzing himself at every opportunity, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on. But it seemed that analysis of individual genes was beyond him, as while he could observe some changes he couldn't reason them out or understand how it all worked. Apparently it was more or less based on technology that had existed already in his time, but the current results were far beyond what could have been accomplished in those days.
Still, it was all working as intended, Dr. Roberts assured him. She showed him how the treatments were taking hold, showing graphs and projections for how it would affect him and how many years it would take for them to be complete with his body. It was unusual, to say the least. Knowing that his entire body was changing now. That it would be changing, and there would be nothing to be done about it. That it was now an inevitable fact.
Emiya wondered if anyone had ever experienced existential dread at being changed from the inside without their own notice. Whether he would have felt anything if he didn't know that he was merely a Spirit inhabiting and possessing a body. Then again given that every molecule in the body changed every decade or so, he supposed it wasn't that unusual and it was just him.
He had asked whether it wouldn't be easier to perform at MarsGene's headquarters, which he assumed were on Mars, simply to get there quicker. But apparently they had long since moved off that planet with the rapid expansion of humanity as a whole. Like everything else nowadays, their main office lay on Arcturus Station. Proving once again the strange situation where it was easier to get out of the solar system than it was to get to the second closest planet. Of course, given the orbits, it wasn't quite that simple. Still, it had been worth a shot.
And before he knew it, he was done with the gene therapy and boot camp began as he was shuttled off again.
Thanks to Gray Walker, Re Fenrir, and Tisaku for proofreading.