Harklight ran his hand slowly down the smooth surface of the Kataphrakt. The metal was cold and hard against his palm. He pushed. It stayed there, sucking the warmth from his skin until his wrist started to ache. And yet. And yet.
It didn’t feel quite real.
Harklight looked at his reflection. Even though everything was in shades of red, he could still clearly see himself in the grey uniform of a knight. He knew where he’d been born – speaking both geographically and socially. People like him… they didn’t become knights.
And yet, and yet – neither did Terrans. It was what the previous pilot of Herschel had believed: that a Terran couldn’t command the proud Orbital Knights.
Alone in the hangar, Harklight allowed himself to smile.
‘Miracles don’t exist.’ Harklight could still recall the stab of icy fear that had lanced down his spine when he’d heard his master’s voice crackling through the speakers. Such dark words.
Harklight started to walk around the Kataphrakt, admiring how seamlessly it had been repaired. Not a single crack out of place. A brand-new coat of protective paint. Unblemished. But of course, it had not been terribly damaged during the duel – it’s impossible to tell where the Tharsis had sliced neatly through the cockpit and let the void of space claim Count Marylcian. An elegant end to a disgusting man.
It’s almost a shock when lights switched on at Harklight’s command. As he pushed off the walkway, he marvelled at the fact that the power to command such a sophisticated machine, the very symbol of Versian nobility, was in his blood. Aldnoah: the power of the gods; the power that made the impossible, possible. In the past, he’d always looked at these Kataphrakts as an extension of their Count; each one unique, as unattainable and indeed inseparable from their highborn pilot as a part of their soul.
But now Herschel is his. His leisurely pace – letting the minimal amount of momentum carry him upwards – allows him to truly appreciate the size of this machine. It towers above him, a sentinel of steel. The glow of its blue lights is the only illumination in the darkened hangar. The colour reflects off the metal walls and give Herschel’s armour purple hues, transforming the dark red into something softer, calmer, something beautiful . Harklight lands on the should of this proud giant. When he looks down to the shadows where he once stood, he feels… accomplished? Powerful?
Safe in his solitude, Harklight relaxed his stance, leaning against the cockpit. The coolness of the metal kisses his temple as he gently strokes its silky surface. He closed his eyes. In the silence, he basks in that heavy, full feeling that had filled his chest ever since he was first given Herschel.
If he was going to be honest, Harklight would admit that it had settled there long before he’d received the Kataphrakt. There were days when it weighed down on his heart and made him wonder how he could keep it beating against its unyielding pressure. There were other days when it drove him with the unrelenting force of a generator – as if emotions were hydraulics and he was a machine like the humanoid weapon he was standing on.
Harklight slipped a hand under his coat. That warmth. That drive. If he was a Kataphrakt, then that… would be his Aldnoah.
He cast a glance at Herschel’s ‘face’; a stoic visage of grey that stared ahead with a burning violet gaze. It hissed open at his command – so obedient. Unquestioning loyalty. It was often a trait favoured in servants. Harklight had tried his utmost to cultivate it in himself, along with punctuality, efficiency, all those other things that had allowed him to rise until he held the late Count Saazbaum’s deepest trust. He’d made himself the closest he could to a ‘perfect servant’.
And then eyes as blue as the skies of distant Earth had looked at him and seen a knight .
‘ This era will be for people like us.’ As if there was any other person in the universe like him. As if Harklight was worthy to stand by his side. Such words, so carelessly thrown around. He didn’t seem to realise their strength; the grip they had over those that had seen him make the impossible, possible.
Harklight chuckled softly as he slipped into the pilot’s seat. The cushions are surprisingly luxurious; they caress legs and back rigid from standing to attention. He sighed as he let his head fall back into that soft embrace. The controls are easily within his reach – his fingers rest comfortably on them. Almost as if it was always meant to be. Harklight had adjusted the settings himself; he’d barely changed them. As if he’d been destined to sit here; if Herschel had been fated to be his.
If there were no miracles, then what had twisted reality so that he could be a knight?
Harklight smiled. He knew the answer – not what, but who .
A boy who’d carved a place for himself in an unforgiving world; a man who had climbed from the lowest rung on the social ladder; a leader that sought to reshape that harsh landscape. Not in his own image. Not for his own hubris. But for people like Harklight.
And what name could you give someone like that, someone whose very life was defined by defying reality, except ‘a miracle’?
Harklight let out a shuddering breath that sounded thunderingly loud in the silence. All he wanted to do was to serve. That was his purpose.
Sitting here, he had the strength of steel at his fingertips, the mobility that the thrusters provided him, the coverage of Herschel’s mobile lasers. He could fight for his cause better than ever before.
He could serve . That was all he needed.
It had to be.
He was no miracle worker.
With a sigh, he pushed himself out of the Kataphrakt. By the time the magnets on his shoes clicked onto the walkway, Herschel’s lights had darkened. Before he left, Harklight put his palm against the Kataphrakt’s armoured exterior once again.
It was so very cold.