"MORE POWER, DAMMIT!"
"We don't have any more! We don't have the power!"
"It's so close. So close! Empty the tanks, we need every drop!"
"But… but that's madness!"
"It's not madness… it's BRILLIANT!"
Electricity crackled, lightning flashed and sparks fell like rain from overhead as the ants scurried to follow the orders of their leader. Atop her observation spire, Brilliant cackled, her mandibles snapping together in a staccato rhythm as the flashes and explosions lit her from below, projecting her demented shadow onto the wall.
"Th-th-the b-backup m-m-matrix is collapsing!" Assistant whimpered.
"It's fine, we have three backups!"
"This IS the third backup!" Experimant roared.
"Not to worry, I installed a secret fourth backup matrix and didn't tell you!"
"That's just a lie, isn't it?!"
Another explosion rocked the chamber and Brilliant teetered on the edge of her spire, a hair's breadth from losing her grip and falling into the swirling maelstrom of light below. The many-faceted eyes of the mage were filled with an unearthly glow, and for a long moment, Experimant was convinced she'd finally lost her mind.
"Dump the tanks and then hit the cages!" she shouted and hundreds of lab ants rushed to follow her orders.
"Th-th-th-th-th-this will overflow the matrix for sure!" Assistant said.
"That's why I'm carrying you to the cages," Experimant replied as she snatched up the smaller ant, threw her on her back and rushed to the blast cages.
"But who w-w-w-will save the leader?"
"I think she's beyond saving…."
The tanks of liquid mana emptied, sending the volatile substance flowing through the underground pipelines and into the gate matrix. As predicted, the matrix blew almost instantly, rocking the chamber once more and sending deadly blasts of unstable mana arcing through the air.
"I CAN SEE EVERYTHING!" Brilliant roared. "I CAN SEE IT ALL!"
The dimension mage was hanging upside down from her spire, so close to the unstable mass of power she could reach out and touch it. Within her heart, Experimant said a quick farewell to the disturbed genius as Assistant cried out from her back.
"L-l-leader! Be c-c-careful!"
"BAH! CALL ME BRILLI-"
The gate flashed white, then expanded rapidly, enveloping the entire room in a second. Brilliant never got a chance to complete her statement.
Within the blast cages, the ants ducked for cover as stone and debris rained down from above. The chamber had been built to withstand magic detonations, but that last one had been beyond even what Brilliant was normally capable of.
It took five minutes before the room stopped shaking and Experimant felt confident enough to emerge.
"Can we get a quick headcount? Sound off."
"I'm here," Brilliant said, emerging from the smoke.
"Of course you are…" Experimant said flatly.
"Do you want to know how I survived?"
"Because I'm Brilliant!" she boasted, slapping herself on the carapace with a front leg. "And that was the best experiment we've run so far! The results were spectacular!"
"Y-y-you're alive?" Assistant mumbled.
"Naturally! Come on, all of you out of the cages. We've got to check the data!"
"Haven't all of our sensor arrays melted?" Experimant grumbled as she helped the rest of the lab-ants emerge from the protective cages.
"Only the main ones. But that's fine, I got a good look at what they were detecting anyway."
"Can I extract your brain to study it, then?" Experimant said, then realised she said it out loud, went to apologise, then shrugged and kept doing what she was doing.
"No need," Brilliant remarked off hand, "I can project it if necessary. My brain, that is. Come on! We are on the verge of a breakthrough after this one, I can feel it!"
Filled with energy, the little mage raced off in the dust and began rummaging about, shouting and exclaiming all the while. Assistant hesitantly made her way from the perimeter as the rest of the staff began to clean up and rebuild.
"Come on, come on, come on, come on… YES!" Brilliant punched the air with her two front legs as an array embedded into a reinforced stone pillar flickered to life. "Someone extract the data from that, now!"
Then she rushed off to another one. When that refused to work, she savaged it with a bite before running to the next. In short order, she'd either repaired or fatally damaged all ten of the outer detectors and started poring over the printed scent-pages of information along with her team.
"Look at this! LOOK AT IT! The kick of power we got by infusing the liquid mana was just what we needed. See these readings? Are you seeing this!? Look at the stability!"
"Stability?!" Experimant boggled. "The gate blew up in your face, and you're talking about stability?!"
"Of course it blew up! We didn't design the manifold array to handle that kind of power. I'm talking about this."
She stabbed a leg down on the page and Experimant extended an antenna to check the data.
"Tha… that is odd."
For a period of time, the dimensional weave had been… stable.
"If w-w-w-we can replicate th-the conditions w-w-with a better array…" Assistant mumbled.
They'd have created a stable gate.
The thought hung heavy like a weighted balloon for a full second before Brilliant punctured it.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said, poking through the rest of the pages. "We had to expend an enormous amount of mana, even committing our precious liquid mana reserves. I know exactly how fast that stuff accumulates, because I discovered the method to create it. It'll take months before we have that much energy on hand. Besides, do you really think that much power is necessary to form and operate a gate? If so, nobody would ever use them."
Experimant flopped down for a moment before she drew herself back up. For a shining instant, she'd glimpsed the end goal.
"Fine. So what have we learned? Did this mess," she gestured to the exploded lab, "move us forward at all?"
"Of course it did! We stabilised the weave, which is our goal! All we need to do now, is find a more efficient method of doing so. Having succeeded once, even for an instant, is going to guide us on the right path. We've overcome our greatest hurdle! It's time to celebrate!"
"Oh? How are we going to celebrate?"
"Rebuilding the lab! I have some redesign ideas… and we'll need to adjust the matrix, of course. Plus I should probably put in something to dampen the explosive side effects…."
"Wait. You could have done that all along?!"