Chapter 6:

A Rough Week

ATLAS: Me, the Combatant, and Him, the Hero

Raising his arms high over his head, Genesis gave a battlecry and swung with all his might. A resounding thwack filled the air, and... the training sword once again slipped from his grip as he crumpled to the floor with a groan.

Standing across from him, a man in lustrous bronze-tinted armor shook his head in dismay, lowering his own still-sheathed sword back to his side. This marked the third time in less than five minutes that Ganryu, the hero of the longsword, had defeated his opponent without so much as drawing his famed blade.

"Come on, are you even trying, rookie?" The hero asked, causing Genesis to wonder why Ganryu's voice sounded so tired when he clearly wasn't even breaking a sweat.

Genesis himself, on the other hand, was a different story. The armor adorning him felt foreign and restrictive, a shell that served more to hinder than it did to protect. The countless tiny motors making up his suit's synthetic muscle fibers whirred as he tried to force himself to his feet, only for his knees to lock up halfway, causing him to flop right back onto his rear.

Sighing, the other hero reached out a hand, grabbed hold of his gaudy throat-protector, and hauled him bodily upright. "Seriously," Ganryu grumbled. He'd seemed quite excited at the prospect of helping to train Orbital's new hero when they had first started, but...

"Okay, where do I even begin here? You're doing just about everything wrong. This isn't a stage show or a cartoon, so stop throwing your whole body into every swing! You're leaving yourself wide open, and for what?! Your exosuit already gives you way more power than you need if you just swing normally!"

"All it's been doing so far is tripping me," Genesis responded weakly, struggling to catch his breath.

"That's another thing!" Ganryu exclaimed, slapping his palm against the honeycombed insectoid visor of his crested helmet. "Your armor's got anti-grav stabilizers and reactive synthetic muscles that should be correcting your balance and your posture, but you keep ignoring them and trying to fling yourself at me instead. You have to move with the armor, not against it!"

"...Is that how it works?"

Genesis couldn't see his face, but Ganryu suddenly seemed very much like he wanted to headbutt a wall.

"Sorry. I'm still pretty new to this," Genesis apologized instinctively. "It's kind of a lot to take in."

"Yeah, no shit," Ganryu groaned, tapping a device on his belt and releasing his transformation. The armor disappeared in a flash of light, revealing a man with slicked-back blonde hair and blood-red eyes, wearing an expression of utter disappointment. "Just looking at you makes me want to cry. I came rushing over here when I heard there was a new Stellar Knight, and it turns out it's just some kid who can't even stand up straight... How the hell did you get picked for this, anyway?"

Let's see... I got blackmailed by my boss because I can see the future? Not like I can say that, though...

"A peculiarity of the lost tech used to create the Polaris-series armor, I'm afraid."

And speak of the devil, look who finally decided to join in.

Oz spoke up from his seat in the observation gallery above the dojo, and gave an unflappable smile -- one which almost concealed the glare he was shooting at Genesis. To be fair, Genesis had tried to warn him that his powers weren't as convenient as the ambitious man might have thought. His precognition would only kick in once he already was placed into a dangerous situation, and even then, it might not offer him a way out -- the disastrous meeting that had saddled him with this job proved as much. In a training match like this, where he wasn't at any real risk, he was as good as powerless. And on the battlefield, well... that was its own issue.

Really, Oz only had himself to blame for getting his hopes up.

"Huh?" Ganryu -- or rather, Genesis was pretty sure he'd introduced himself first as Kouji -- did a double take. "Wait, how's it the armor's fault?"

"Simple. The Polaris-series was designed during the late stages of the Ascension Wars, when Metahuman tyrants and their petty kingdoms were popping up left and right. From what I understand, it was originally intended as a weapon to resist and overthrow those whose powers were too great to defeat through normal means," Oz explained in his usual carefree voice.

"...So it's some kind of Anti-Esper weapon?" Kouji asked, clearly not sure where this rambling explanation was going. Genesis grimaced at the phrase, though thankfully his helmet concealed his expression from view. Sure enough, megalomaniacal dictators and Esper-type Metahumans still went hand in hand in the public consciousness... though if anyone in this room fit the former description, it sure as hell wasn't Genesis.

"You misunderstand, Mr. Sasaki," Oz replied, shaking his head. "It's an Anti-Villain weapon -- something that can only be used by the pure of heart. Which means, I'm afraid, that the armor itself chooses its wearer."

"Wait, it does?" Now it was Genesis' turn to do a double-take. "You never told me anything about that."

"There was never any need to. Your actions prior to our meeting already more than adequately proved that you have what it takes."

That probably would have sounded like high praise if Genesis didn't already know what sort of person the herculean man looking down on them was. Still, that did shed some light on why Oz had been so keen on making use of him to begin with. It wasn't just because of his power -- it was because he'd been willing to risk blowing his own cover and dooming himself in order to save the lives of his crew.

Though, at the time of the incident, Genesis hadn't really been thinking about anything so altruistic. He had merely acted on instinct, and things had just happened to turn out this way. If the armor had accepted a half-baked hero like him, then maybe its standards weren't so high after all. Regardless, it also explained something he'd always wondered about.

"So that's why you didn't just replace Polaris!" Just as Genesis had been thinking the same thing, Kouji smacked his fist into his open palm, nodding understandingly. "Or... well, I guess you did, but..."

"We tried, yes. But as you know, our subsequent Stellar Knights ultimately failed to meet the armor's standards, and efforts to remove the armor's built-in limiters were similarly unsuccessful. Though some were promising enough to briefly be called heroes, not a one of them could stay the course, let alone follow in Polaris' footsteps."

"...And you think this kid can?"

"He's already overcome the first hurdle, hasn't he?"

"He doesn't know the first thing about fighting, though! Forget actual villains -- even a random grunt could probably take him down!"

"Well, that's why I called you here, after all."

Kouji winced at this, evidently none too fond of the prospect of teaching Genesis from the ground up, and almost immediately began looking for a way out. He seemed to find one a moment later, as his gaze refocused towards a lone figure slouched in the corner, clad head to toe in shadowy armor, with the slit visor of his helmet clapped firmly shut.

"You can't be expecting me to show him the ropes all by myself, right?" Kouji looked awkwardly between the uncompromising man who'd hired him, and the other attendee of their little gathering. "Oi, Valkaiser!" He called over. "Yeah, that's right, I'm talking to you, Mr. A-Lister! You're the expert here; least you could do is help me out!"

"Help you?" The black knight scoffed, kicking up from his chair and rising to his full height. "Musashi Securities might be willing to lend their heroes to whoever writes them a big enough check," He said, his voice a low, contemptuous growl that was only further distorted by his armor's voice modulator. "But I'm only here because Neuron wanted me to check up on the competition, and I've already seen enough. I've got nothing to worry about." Without so much as sparing them a second glance, the elite hero walked right past them and out of the training room. "Polaris' successor, my ass," his voice echoed back, before the door snapped shut behind him.

"...Asshole," Kouji muttered. Genesis nodded. It wasn't as though he'd even asked for this job, and he'd be the first person to admit he wasn't qualified for it in the slightest, but the knight's foul attitude had wounded a sense of pride that he didn't even know he had. At least Kouji, for all his condescension, had actually given some legitimate advice... Though that didn't seem likely to continue. Or at least, so Genesis thought, until the man turned back towards him with a cheeky grin.

"Well, whatever. Let him do what he wants. There's more than one way to the top in our business. He'll be sorry when I get recognized as the guy who taught Polaris' successor everything he knows, eh?" He reached down, slotting a glowing capsule back into his belt, which began playing an obnoxious shamisen tune at double-speed while an accelerated voice tried to read off a corporate script in a comically high pitch. With this rather unceremonious display, his brassy armor reappeared, and he held out his gauntleted hand. "Chin up, rookie. Your boss paid me to show you the ropes, and unfortunately for us both, we've got an entire day left. So let's get down to business, then, shall we?"

Genesis thought about it longer and harder than was probably necessary. He'd never wanted this job, but... well, if he was going to be a hero in his current state, it'd be more than just his unpleasant colleagues laughing at his clumsiness, right? So, if he was going to have to do this either way, he might as well at least do it right.

So, he took Ganryu's hand and gave it a firm shake. "Guess I'll be in your care, then, Kouji."

"Oi, can't you call me something a little cooler? I'm your senior, so you should be more respectful!"

"Ah, Master, please share your enlightened wisdom with this lowly one." He hadn't really intended to be sarcastic at first, but the man's weird mix of pompous attitude and underlying kindness made it difficult to resist jabbing at him. Kouji merely groaned in response.

"You could at least try and act like you mean it!"

"Heh. Sorry," Genesis apologized out of habit again, but this time they both knew he wasn't serious. The smile in his voice gave him away, even if his helmet blocked his face quite thoroughly from view.

"Whatever." Ganryu shook his head, but continued. "First thing's first, we need to get you moving in that armor like it's your own skin. You can't fight if you can't even walk straight, after all." He motioned across the room to a large viewscreen on the opposite wall, which flicked to life, displaying an image of the two of them from an observer's perspective.

"...Couldn't they just have installed a mirror?" Genesis wondered aloud. His question went unanswered as Ganryu slapped him on the back, pushing him towards the screen and practically knocking him over with the force of the blow, though he hardly felt the impact beneath his steely second skin.

His balance, on the other hand, was a different matter entirely. He frantically stumbled to keep his feet underneath him, but although that proved to be impossible, somehow, he... didn't fall? Rather, his upper half suddenly just stopped, and he was so surprised by the sudden feeling of weightlessness that overtook him that he forgot to move.

"See? Like I said. The only way you should ever be falling is if you throw yourself at the ground. Too strong an input scrambles the system -- makes it think you're trying intentionally for a dive or something and keeps it from pulling you back. But if you just don't move, then even if I do THIS--!" Ganryu lunged out his leg all of a sudden, and with a low sweeping kick from behind, knocked both of Genesis' feet out from under him.

He toppled backward, then once again slowed in mid-air, giving him just enough time to realize that his arms had at some point moved beneath him, and he'd pushed off the floor into a backwards leap. By the time he could even think about landing, his suit had already set him gently down on his feet, skidding smoothly to a stop.

"--you'll still be totally fine. See?" Ganryu chuckled, motioning to the viewscreen, which played back what had just occurred. Genesis watched with eyes wide as the figure displayed on the screen executed an acrobatic handspring and landed perfectly. The speed at which the fall was performed, and the distance covered by the leap back upright didn't seem quite natural though -- almost as though he was being carefully puppeteered by unseen wires.

It was a strange feeling, but as he watched, he found himself strangely mesmerized by what he saw. It was all so dazzling; the silver-trimmed azure armor that seemed to glint as though caught in an unseen spotlight, or the way the eyes upon its visor flashed a brilliant, familiar blue as Genesis stared at... himself.

That's right. This wasn't some superhero on a holoscreen. This wasn't Polaris, no matter how similar the armor might have looked at first glance. This was... actually him. He raised an arm, waving an oddly clawlike hand in front of his face. The image did the same. He reached up to the top of his head, poking at the two unusual crests atop his helmet that... now that he looked at them, didn't they kind of resemble ears? And the trailing coat-tails of the duster that had appeared when he transformed were split in the center by a bristling cybernetic tendril that... wait, hang on, was it moving in response to his thoughts? It was! What the heck kind of feature was--

Another armored strike landed atop his head with a decisive clang. "Yeah, yeah, you look cool. Don't admire yourself too much, though -- at least until you can learn how to do that consistently," Ganryu chided. "Once it's you moving deliberately and not just the armor walking you through things, then you can start admiring yourself."

"...Right," Genesis said, rubbing his helmet. He could have sworn the "ears" on top of it had just started drooping. The tail definitely had, at any rate. "Uh, I've been wondering this for a while, but... why does my armor have so many extra... uh... aesthetic features?" Rather, what he really wanted to ask was if they were trying to make him into some kind of mascot character, but Oz seemed to get his meaning regardless, giving a quiet chuckle from the other side of the room.

"Right, I never did tell you your codename, did I?"

"No, you didn't." Given that he was going to be a Stellar Knight, it would obviously follow the same sort of pattern as Polaris, but... what did any of that have to do with looking like some kind of cybernetic wolfman?

"Your namesake will be Sirius: the Dog Star," Oz explained. "As such, our designers thought it only fitting to modify your armor with some appropriate traits!"

The dog star, huh? "Only fitting," my ass.

In other words, this was all just Oz's harassment -- a reminder of who was holding his leash.

"Please tell me that's not my official subtitle," Genesis groaned. There was no way you could market "the Dog Star" as something cool, was there? They'd definitely choose something else for the full release.

"Well, nothing's been finalized yet, since your debut is still a ways off," Oz gave another taunting sneer, and Genesis' eyebrow twitched underneath his visor. "So, if you want a better name, I'm afraid you'll have to earn it before then, dear boy!" He laughed jovially, then rose to his feet. "Now, then, I'm a very busy man, so I really must be going. Of course, I do believe I'm paying Mr. Sasaki by the hour, so if you'd be so kind as to actually practice..." He gave a meaningful stare to Ganryu, who seemed to get the message, and nodded vigorously. So, just like that, their training resumed.

In appearance, he was Orbital's dog. In motion, he was like a puppet on a string. One of the top heroes currently active in NOAH had scorned him to his face, and he was stuck working for an insufferable bastard who could destroy his entire life on a whim. All things considered, it had been a pretty rough week.

But every now and again, as he watched himself played back -- as Ganryu kept reminding him of all the things he was still doing wrong, and all the ways he needed to improve so as not to kill himself -- he couldn't help but think...

If I could do this... if I could be like Polaris... Then that might not be so bad.