New Horizons
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Sascha Klaus looked with a mixture of disbelief and fascination at the building in front of him. It looked a lot like he did: run-down, uninviting, and with wiring and pipes almost completely worn out.
Sascha was homeless, a man with too little money to afford a left shoe or a haircut for his thinning grey hair.
He looked utterly pitiful in his worn-out clothes, especially compared to the man next to him. He wore a dirt-free, sky-blue shirt and jeans, and a bow tie with an indefinable colorful pattern. Where Sascha was bearded and pot-bellied, this man was thin as a rake and clean-shaven, with well-coiffed brown hair.
He smiled with the peace of a Buddha, while watching Sasha's reaction with interest.
He'd introduced himself to Sascha as Professor Alexander Voss, after picking him up from the streets of Hamburg.
"I'd like you to help me out," he'd said.
Now that he'd been promised a thousand and already been paid half, Sascha was willing to bend over backwards to help Professor Voss, even to bend somebody else backwards.
That was simply how desperate he was. Or was the professor just that persuasive?
It's just that with his well-groomed appearance and the chic Audi he'd gotten out of, Sasha had expected to be housed somewhere very different to this.
"I know it doesn't look like much, but it's what's on the inside that matters. The rent here is cheap," explained the professor, setting off with a regal gait. Sascha waddled behind him.
"You said you wanted me to help you," he remarked as they walked through the door. "Anyway, do you want me to help you repair the house? I tried to be a bricklayer one time, if that helps."
"Oh no, I intend something much greater than manual labour for you," replied the professor enthusiastically. "I want you to support our research."
Sascha stopped dead in his tracks. Images of hideous experiments came to mind. Why else would he have been selected?
"You want… to perform human experimentation on me?"
Professor Voss stopped and turned around. He seemed to be searching for the right words.
"Well, if you break it down to the basics… Yes," he said, with an apologetic smile. "But have no fear, if all goes well, you can even come out of here with super-powers."
Sascha couldn't believe his ears.
"What?"
"Come with me," asked the professor kindly.
Confused, Sascha obeyed.
"Look, my research facility, the Institut für Menschliche Bildung und Weiterentwicklung1, is researching the possibilities of transhumanism. Does that word ring any bells?"
Clueless, Sascha shook his head. Science had never been his strongest subject.
"Sounds like a sex change."
"Ah, unfortunately no," remarked Voss indulgently. "Transhumanism is a school of thought, an objective. It's basically about exceeding human limits. Running faster, jumping higher, thinking further, if that makes any sense?"
"So, something like doping?" asked Sascha, proud to know something.
"Hmm, yes, doping could be seen as an aspect of transhumanism," the professor agreed. "But any fool can inject stimulants. We're a little more elegant than that. Do you believe in magic?"
They reached a flight of stairs and began to climb them.
"Magic?" repeated Sascha in disbelief. "Some sort of conjuring? Sleight of hand, nothing more."
Voss chuckled.
"A fair assessment. But what if I were to tell you that we've discovered real magic, something that you can scientifically prove and study?"
"I'd think you're crazy," said Sascha honestly.
"Understandable. After all, true magic is a rare phenomenon. There are people in this world who can work magic, but that requires a genetic predisposition. At first we thought that magic was only reserved for certain people, but in fact everyone is at least theoretically capable of using magic. But many people have no significant potential. But magical potential is like a muscle, it can be trained and exercised. And that's where you come in. "
"You want to make me a magician?" Sascha asked incredulously. "And how?"
"Well, most likely you will come out of here with an expanded potential for magic, but nothing that would make actual practitioners sit up," Voss said with a shrug. "Our research on this is unfortunately still in its infancy. So far, we assume that the process is bearable, since previous test subjects, myself included, have not indicated otherwise, but we have morphine on hand for emergencies. We don't want you to go mad from pain.
"You're performing experiments on yourself?" asked Sascha skeptically.
"Oh, certainly. Wherever there is potential, it should be used, is that not so?"
Sascha looked at the man with a certain admiration. He had such an personable and elegant manner. You could almost believe anything about him.
"Did it do anything for you?"
"Not really," said Voss dismissively. "I managed to light a candle, but that was incredibly exhausting. Not advisable, even for household use. Ah, we're here."
Voss led Sasha through a pair of double doors at the end of a corridor.
Cables were scattered across the room's floor, connecting various cupboard-sized machines together. Five men and one woman hurried around, jotting down notes and turning cogs. There was also a tall man in the room who, in addition to his black leather coat, also wore leather gloves and a motorcycle helmet. He looked very out of place, but he was fiddling with some cables and so was apparently part of the team.
At the front of the room was something that Sascha initially took as an electric chair. However, there was additional metal that looked like it could be placed onto the chair's occupant. It resembled some kind of full body clamp, with metal walls erected around it.
"Ah, Professor Voss." A stocky man with nerd glasses and gray hair and beard greeted his apparent superior. "Is that him?"
"Ah, Doctor Hohlbein," replied Voss politely. "Of course, this is Mr. Klaus. A great guy, if I say so myself."
Hohlbein briefly nodded at Sascha.
"Pleasure. Do you already know about the procedure, or do you still need briefing?"
"Well, I know what's going on here, but I don't exactly know what to do," admitted Sascha.
"No problem," replied the doctor. "Professor, will you?"
"Oh, with pleasure," said Voss happily. "Mr. Klaus, you have the honor of being allowed to sit in this chair. The procedure itself is easily explained. We will force your magical potential to grow, and stabilize in the process, and at the same time charge you with astral energy, the form of energy upon which all magic is based. The process feels a bit like being charged with static, only without the hair thing. Meanwhile, my coworkers here will be monitoring your magical potential and vital signs. Any questions so far? "
Sascha thought about it and none came to mind.
"Then please, step through here at once."
Sascha squeezed through the only opening in the walls and stepped up to the chair, then stopped in front of it.
"Uh, I have a question, why are these walls here?"
He turned around questioningly. The man in the motorcycle helmet stood behind him. Sascha himself was taller than average, but this man towered over him by at least a head. He hadn't heard any sign of his approach.
"They're shields against magical radiation," explained Professor Voss. "You may generate magical radiation during the process, which unfortunately has an extremely mutagenic effect.
"Mutagenic!? "repeated Sascha, shocked. "Am I going to grow a third arm or something? "
"That can happen, " admitted the professor. "But don't worry, we'll get through this together. It's time to be brave. "
He said it as if Sascha were a small child who needed to be persuaded to visit the dentist.
"Hey, no. I'll get out, that'll be quite-"
He tried to squeeze past the helmeted man, but he grasped Sacha with amazing strength, pressing him back against the chair with gentle but irresistible force.
"Hey, you can't do that!" shouted Sascha, fighting against this manhandling in vain.
The man held him in the chair with one hand as the professor began to fasten the metal parts.
"Let me go!" called out the homeless man to the two of them, once he was completely immobile.
The men disappeared behind the shielding.
"The recording equipment is running," he heard Voss say. "Start experiment Taum-A 023 with the modifications decided after experiment Taum-A 022. Dr. Hohlbein, is everything ready?"
"Ready to go," said the doctor, "all lights are green."
"The subject?" asked Voss.
"Accelerated heart rate, he's panicking," said the woman in the room.
"Within the tolerable range," determined the professor. "Well then, let's start the experiment."
Something started to hum, and Sascha felt like he'd been struck by lightning. Something was being pumped into him, but he couldn't open his mouth. In his mind's eye he saw a kind of infinite expanse, shining blue.
And from the infinite, something stared back.
And came closer.
With panic, Sascha noticed how he was beginning to lose control of his mind. But that didn't last for long…

Kawarama was happy. It realized for the first time what it really meant to be happy.
One moment! It was no longer an it. It was a he.
He was an astral being, and had finally found a way out of the astral plane and into the realm of the living.
It was strangely tight in here. Perhaps this body wasn't designed for magic?
"Professor? Something's wrong! The astral values ​​are going through the roof!"
"Heart rate calm. No sign of mutation."
"Hm… evacuate the room, no, better yet, the wing. I'll let you know when it's safe."
Footsteps could be heard.
Kawarama finally figured out how to focus his eyes. He saw a skinny, brown-haired man pushing his way through a narrow opening in a wall of shielding.
"Mr. Klaus? How are you doing? Everything okay?" he asked, before pausing. "Oh, you are not Sascha, are you?"
With a pulse of pure astral energy, Kawarama broke his bonds, knocked over the metal walls and swept the man off his feet. He was caught by a second man wearing a motorcycle helmet.
The astral being was not sure why it had just done that. It rummaged through the memories of its host and finally came to the conclusion that this man was responsible for its current predicament.
"Really amazing," said the professor (as Kawarama now identified him), as he got back onto his feet. "This is a new discovery! Mr. Klaus, if you can still hear me, I'm incredibly proud of you right now!"
He stepped over to the possessed individual.
"Who do I have the pleasure of meeting?"
"I am Kawarama," the astral being replied, speaking in an awe-inspiring voice that sounded like several people speaking simultaneously. "Are you really impudent enough to treat me as a curiosity?"
"I'm fascinated," corrected Voss, filled with an urge to explore. "These astral values, this power, they've never been encountered before. You're going to open up completely new territory for us."
Kawarama split him in two with a magically enhanced movement of his hand. He encountered a lot of resistance…
Then he noticed why.
As the body fell to the ground, it was obvious that a machine had been standing in front of the astral being. Oil and other liquids flowed out of the now motionless metal.
"Hm, why so aggressive?" asked the motorcycle helmet wearer, with a soothing tone.
His voice sounded similar to Voss, but was fuller and more melodious. The man could have been a singer.
"And who are you?" asked Kawarama.
"I'm Professor Alexander Voss," the man introduced himself. "You just destroyed my drone. An RTI-Titan like this is expensive, as is the other equipment in this room. So I would ask you to keep your destructiveness in check."
The astral being turned to face him.
"So, what, is that just another marionette you use? That you hide behind?"
"Oh, no, I am here in person," Voss explained, performing an elegant bow. "It's just that, thanks to the many experiments and improvements I've performed on myself, my appearance isn't exactly… appealing to the general public, so I usually use these puppets here to interact with my colleagues and with the world .
"The world that you let me into. Surrender, and I'll think about sparing you. After all, I wouldn't be here without you."
Kawarama grinned scornfully.
"I'm very sorry," replied the professor politely. "But there's so much about you that I want to investigate. This could be the Egg of Columbus that I've dreamed of for so long."
Kawarama lazily lifted a finger . An iron lance materialized in the empty air and drove right through Professor Voss's chest.
"Oh," he gasped in surprise as he tried to stand on his feet. "Negotiations seem to have broken down. How unfortunate."
Rivers of blood ran from the wound, but Voss made no sound of pain.
"You are amazingly calm for someone with a pierced heart," remarked Kawarama, appreciatively.
"Oh, no problem, I have four of them. And they grow back."
"… What?"
The professor held up his left palm and a beam of glowing yellow plasma, thick as a tree, shot out of it. Kawarama managed to pull up a protective barrier around him, but the force still knocked him through the wall behind him, which had melted from the direct heat.
Kawarama fell into the courtyard of the building and magically slowed his fall enough that it was not painful when he hit the ground.
Above him, Professor Voss jumped down from the second floor. Blood had stopped flowing from his wound.
"Hoho, a superhero landing!" he said happily following his landing. "Really amazing. You withstood the maximal output. Oh, how I would love to continue testing…"
"What was that?" exclaimed Kawaram, aghast.
He stared at Voss's left arm, with its sleeve and glove burned away to reveal black metal. Lines on it glowed red, but were slowly fading.
"An interesting device," remarked the professor. "Our institute developed it in collaboration with a weapons manufacturer by the name of Raptor Tec. Industries. I kept this model, because I unfortunately lost the arm in a failed experiment. I could let it grow back, but I quite like this prosthesis. Quite fashionable, isn't it? Has a sci-fi aesthetic. We're still adding new functions to it."
Kawarama responded with a salvo of shimmering flames. The professor evaded with inhuman speed and the projectiles scorched the wall behind him instead.
He reacted too quickly!
"Fascinating," commented Voss, and applauded. "Wonderful! Show me more, show me how you can take people to a new level! In this courtyard you can really let off steam, things explode out here quite often. Show me EVERYTHING!"
Voss moved too quickly for Kawarama's eyes to follow, rapidly closing the distance between them and striking Kawarama's chin with his right hand.
The force was enough to knock Kawarama to the ground. He used a pulse of pure electrical energy to force the professor to back away.
The astral being sat up and teleported directly in front of the professor. This time, Voss could not react quickly enough and was unable to escape the magically intensified barrage of punches that pressed him into the brickwork.
Part of his visor was shattered by a blow and broke away.
Kawarama suddenly stopped at the sight of the Thing trying to pretend to be human. He saw only one of several eyes in the darkness under the helmet, but that was enough.
It had four pupils and looked more like the eye of an octopus.
And it had a nictitating membrane next to the normal lid…
He was so fascinated by the sight that he didn't even notice Voss's right arm bulging with muscles and bursting out of his sleeve, or the hand growing to a size large enough to crush a man. It was covered with metallic armor plates…
Kawarama still had the presence of mind to teleport out of the danger zone before the claw-like fingers closed into a fist of primordial force.
Unfortunately, he reappeared behind Voss. From under his coat emerged a long, flexible and metal coated tail. The end was so sharp that it pierced the surprised Kawarama's stomach without resistance.
Voss' right hand shrank down to a more manageable size, and the metal retracted from his arm, revealing unhealthy greenish skin. The limb was still disproportionately large, and the fingers formed razor-sharp claws.
As he turned, Voss ripped his tail from the wound he had made.
Whatever it was that stood in front of the astral being wasn't human, Kawarama realized with terror. Voss had managed to horrify the horror.
"And you want to be human?" he spat at the monstrous eye underneath the helmet.
"Oh, I'm inherently human," replied the professor politely.
He was out of breath, but you couldn't tell that he had just taken the pugilistic equivalent of a jackhammer to the face.
"My goal is to augment people, to improve them. That will of course come alongside a change in what it means to be human, wouldn't you agree?"
He said this as the long, metal-clad tail swayed and turned hypnotically behind him.
Kawarama ran through his options and realized that he couldn't generate the output neded to take down Voss while within his current body.
He'd rather go back to the Astral Realm than stay here and see what Voss would do to him.
Only he couldn't.
"What… what is this?"
He tried to work magic, but suddenly he could only do that with great difficulty.
He looked around frantically.
Two of Voss' marionettes caught his eye. They looked exactly like the puppet he had destroyed earlier, and were approaching from the front door of the house. They were carrying what appeared to be a pile of interlocked rings. They constantly rotated on different axes, creating a fascinating pattern.
"What's going on here? What is that?!"
"As awesome as your powers are, I can't allow such an exemplary specimen as you to escape. I have taken to you too deeply for that," said the real Voss. "That's why I had my other Titans retrieve an astral blocker during our little exchange of blows. It increases the resistance of the link to the astral plane. Normally we use these devices as an emergency switch if an astral discharge occurs during an experiment, but it should also be able to keep you here and prevent you from causing unnecessary harm to yourself and others.
Kawarama tried to run away from him, but Voss came after him and dragged him to his feet.
And hugged him warmly.
"You and I, we will conquer completely new horizons for humanity. Look forward to it," he whispered in his ear. "In any case, I'm ecstatic just thinking about it."
For his part, Kawarama was not in the mood for joy. To him it seemed as if the devil had dragged him off to hell.

And as he later discovered, the comparison was not that wrong…

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