Chapter 4:

Can't escape Trouble

Trouble In Paradise

Yui and Barnett haven’t spoken for several minutes now, seemingly still processing what they’ve been told.

Minerva and I had carried their unconscious bodies to an abandoned school, classrooms vacant and full of dust, with sunlight poking through boarded up windows.

Yui woke first, despite suffering from a painful headache she appeared to be feeling okay. Barnett on the other hand took much longer to recover, the damage he sustained clearly taking a greater toll on his body.

Once they were both conscious and coherent, Minerva began to explain exactly what had happened back at the warehouse. I remained completely silent.

That brings us to now.

They have been deathly quiet for the past few minutes. I don’t know if they are confused, or angry, maybe even fearful. I haven’t spoken a word either because I can’t think of anything to say.

Just before the silence becomes unbearable, Yui rises to her feet.

“I need a minute to get some air.” She states before scurrying out of the room.

Minerva scrambles to her feet and pursues after her, leaving me alone with Barnett.

As I sink my head into my hands, I notice that he has begun to slowly get back to his feet. His movements seem painful and measured, yet he is determined to stand.

Finally getting up off the floor, he stretches his arms up over his head and releases a loud groan.

“I don’t know why you look so down, I’m the one who just had the crap kicked out of him after all.”

He walks over to the door, but halts before passing through.

“Walk with me, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Following at his side, we stroll through the empty corridors.

“Just before I lost consciousness, I saw you running towards me.” He begins, “I was certain I was about to die, and you risked the same the same fate by coming back to help me.”

As I walk with my head down in shame, I realise that I have walked ahead of my companion. Turning around to face him, I am shocked to see he’s on his knees bowing to me.

“You had to choose between going to hell or becoming the devil. I don’t envy that choice, and I doubt I could have made it myself.”

He looks up at me, tears forming in his eyes.

“You did make the choice however, saving my life. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, I will always be grateful for your altruism.”

My own eyes begin to water, as I’m overcome with emotion. I’ve spent the last few hours focusing on the lives I’ve ruined, forgetting why I chose to act in the first place.

Those COOKIES operatives chose to attack other people, good people in fact. People who were kind enough to befriend somebody they had only just met.

They attacked my friends, so I attacked them.

Suddenly Yui emerges out of the gloom with Minerva in tow, joining Barnett in a kneeling position.

“He’s right you know kiddo” she remarks whilst bowing her head, “If it wasn’t obvious enough, I wasn’t upset with you, I was mad at myself for being so weak. Thank you for saving me.”

Minerva remains standing yet nods her head in agreement.

I feel so relieved. I thought the others would treat me as an outcast after what happened, but it turns out they are appreciative that I chose to act.

I’m just happy they still think I’m normal.

Minerva marches towards me, stopping just in front of me and making no effort to hide her interest as she stares at my cybernetic eye.

“So I’ve seen what this thing can do, but you’ve not explained much else about it. Tell us everything you know.”

“I wish I could.” I sigh exasperatedly, “The truth is that I’m pretty much as clueless as you guys are.”

I take my hand to my face and remove my eye from its socket, as I do I notice the others quickly flinch. I gently extend my hand, offering them the eye. As it becomes apparent that there is no danger, they lean in for a closer look.

“My parents gave me this right before they left.” I continue, “They told me the activation phrase and the fact that it could render cybernetic enhancements useless.”

I push the eye back into my socket, feeling whole now it’s a part of me once more.

“They also told me that it had other uses, that would only reveal themselves If I became worthy by rising to the occasion in a time of crisis.”

“Well, somebody’s clearly the protagonist...” mutters Minerva under her breath.

I look over to her, perplexed by her comment, however she stares straight ahead as if she has no recollection of speaking.

She really is quite bizarre.

The palpable tension in the air is broken by the sound of Yui clapping her hands together, she almost looks like her usual vibrant self again.

“So we don’t know what Dante can do, but we know he can do something.” She declares with assertiveness, “I say we take him with us, and bring the fight to them this time. Let’s put them on the backfoot for a change.”

We all nod excitedly, fuelled by the thought of revenge against those who wronged us. It is clear that the knowledge of my ability has allowed hope to infiltrate their minds once more, and to be honest I find their optimism infectious.

For once in my life I truly believe that we stand a decent chance of making real change, we could upset the natural order of society and bring justice to the world of Paradise.

If only reality reflected my hopeful ambitions.

Once again COOKIES were on top of us before we even knew what had happened. We covered our tracks and remained in the shadows, somehow, they still managed to find us.

The difference this time, was that they didn’t knock first before entering.

They tore the roof off the building.

I have to shield my face from the blinding white lights above. Multiple hovercrafts litter the sky, shining spotlights onto our location. Several of them attached via magnets to the roof, which now hangs suspended in the air.

Through squinted eyes I see ladders being thrown down to the ground, as hundreds of COOKIES operatives begin descending from the heavens.

That previous spark of hope is snuffed out almost immediately. There isn’t time for childlike delusions and fantasies, we are in no position to fight back.

We’ll be lucky to survive.

“RUN!” screams Yui as she sprints off down the hallway, the others and I waste no time bolting after her. The COOKIES operatives begin entering the school seconds later, the thundering chorus of footsteps following us round every corner.

We can’t keep running forever, eventually they’ll catch us. As we reach a section of the school with the ceiling still intact, we bundle ourselves into a classroom.

I desperately join the others grabbing tables and chairs to block the door, we finish our makeshift barricade just as the first operatives arrive outside. Luckily despite lots of banging and pushing against it, the door refuses to budge.

We’ve bought ourselves some time, but our safety is only temporary.

We need to come up with a plan immediately, unfortunately that kind of thing was never my specialty. Yui on the other hand, appears to be more than ready for this situation.

“Listen up!” she barks, “We need to divide their attention, but without abandoning each other this time. Once we’ve split them into smaller groups it’ll be easier to fight a smaller group together, then we can get out of here.”

Glancing around the room frantically, she runs up to a wall and begins knocking on it with her fist.

“I remember reading that this school closed due to being weak structurally, It can barely stand on its own.” She remarks whilst pacing, an idea seemingly manifesting in her head.

“What are you getting at?” replies Barnett, looking as puzzled as the rest of us.

“We can break through the walls! If we all burst through a separate wall and flee then they will be forced to split up after us, then we double back to here and fight any stragglers along the way.”

Yui looks as crazy as her plan, but we have no other choice.

“Barnett and I will take the first and second wall as that’s where most of the operatives are plus, we’re the fastest” continues Yui, “Dante you take wall three and Minerva break the fourth wall, can you do that?”

“Sure thing, some would say its what I do best.” Minerva replies, appearing to wink at nothing in the process.

The door is beginning to creak from the unrelenting pressure being applied to it, we need to act now.

Just as the classroom door is flung off its hinges we begin racing headfirst into our respective walls. Out the corner of my eye I see Barnett and Yui moving at an incredible speed, bursting through their walls with ease as COOKIES operatives can only watch in amazement.

Turning my head I see that Minerva is no slouch either, crashing into her wall and evacuating the area with admirable speed. The plan appears to actually be working, I might even come out of this ordeal alive.

Raising my arms to protect my head, I go barrelling into the wall.

I bounce straight off.

I bounce straight off? No that can’t be right, something must be wrong. Why am I tumbling through the air? Where did all the air in my lungs go?

This is not good.

I crash to the ground as the operatives flood into the room and surround me. Of course my wall is the only one not paper thin, Its just my luck.

Instead of hailing me with bullets, the endless sea of COOKIES operatives parts before my eyes. They raise their hands in a salute as a large shadowy figure begins to stalk towards me through the tunnel of bodies.

As they creep closer, I see that they are easily seven foot tall, wearing a black and white pinstripe suit and holding a tall black cane. Most frightening however is the silver mask across their face, without features apart from two small slits to allow vision.

Eventually coming close enough to tower above me, they thrust the cane into my chest- pinning me to the ground. I can only stare in horror at the terrifying behemoth.

Tilting their head to the side, they speak with a voice that’s cold and devoid of all emotion.

“You must be Dante Aito. I am aware you were causing trouble at the DERT, but instances such as that don’t require intervention. Then I saw the aftermath of what you did to my men earlier.”

He pulls the cane away from my chest, leaning in close with his face opposite mine.

“Now you have my attention.”