Chapter 9:

Walking on Air

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

As it turned out, there was an upside to working as a hero.

When Kouji had, on the previous afternoon, said they'd be going on patrol, Genesis had incorrectly assumed that would always mean trudging around the city with the summer sun broiling him within his metal shell. And, to be fair, that was almost exactly what they had done -- though thankfully, Kouji had at least let him go about it in his civilian attire, saying something about keeping his hero appearance confidential.

Still, armored or not, they had walked clear around the entirety of the Orbital District, covering most of NOAH's western shore along with a sizable chunk of the inner city. The trek had been a mind-numbing slog up and down every last boulevard and thoroughfare, with the only upside being that the dense skycar traffic and numerous suspended rail lines had at least provided ample shade. Regardless, by the end of enduring Kouji's guided tour and sitting through countless monologues about where every single Orbital subsidiary in the district was located and how he should remember what was where, Genesis hadn't been sure which was going to fall off first: his tired legs, or his ears.

As if having to train his body for combat wasn't enough, now he had to remember an entire district map's worth of information, too?

So, when he had met up with Kouji on the following morning, transformed, and clocked in for the day, he had expected more of the same. Never in his life had Genesis felt more glad to be proven wrong as he did in that single, glorious instant when Kouji had instructed him on how they were going to proceed.

"Alright, now we take off the training wheels. Hit your antigrav stabilizers and let's get moving."

...So, there he was, running weightlessly along the sides of skyscrapers a few hundred feet in the air, crossing six lane freeways in a single bound, and getting yelled at by his instructor every time he stopped paying attention and nearly launched himself into oncoming skycar traffic.

Logically speaking, this was insane and stupid in every possible way -- even leaving aside the possibility of being hit by a car or train. He was using technology nobody fully understood anymore in ways it was probably never designed to be employed, and if it failed or malfunctioned he'd quickly become reacquainted first with his old friend gravity, then a few moments later with the pavement. It was to be expected that he'd be a little nervous, then, right?

But once he realized that his power wasn't warning him of any danger on the horizon, even common sense and the basic human instinct to feel unspeakable dread at beholding such a long fall below him quickly took a backseat to the sheer, childlike wonder and euphoria of walking on air.

Genesis laughed, kicking off the side of another building and launching himself into a series of backflips, spiraling madly upon the summer breeze until his armor's stabilizers kicked back in. He could feel the unseen bands of gravitational force wrapping themselves around him like wires, lifting his arms outward, guiding him through recovering his balance, and turning what should have been graceless airborne tumbling into a perfect, spiraling pirouette -- then placing his feet underneath him once again just in time to land on the next building. His magnetized boots did the rest, allowing him to stand sideways on the sheer edifice and start walking his way up towards the top.

It was like the world had turned sideways, rather than him. His blood wasn't even rushing up his body to his backwards-craning head, nor did he feel even the slightest pull towards the actual ground far below him. Without gravity to act upon him, and feeling only the tug of his boots upon the iron rebar beneath the concrete siding, it really didn't feel that much different from just strolling down a perfectly level street.

"Oi, showing off for the gravitationally-challenged is one thing, but you've gotta cut the wall-crawling act and keep moving. If you stick around on one building for too long, people will start to think there's an incident going on in there." Genesis craned his head back just a little bit further, and was greeted with the surreal view of Ganryu standing equally skewed upon the opposite building, which seemed from his tilted perspective as though it was floating sideways above his head -- as though the other hero was looking down at him from far above, beckoning him to keep moving onward.

"Besides," Kouji added, motioning down -- actually down -- to where a small crowd of pedestrians had started pointing up at both of them -- mostly at the more well-known silhouette of Ganryu, thankfully. This being his usual patrol route, his fans probably knew to look for him here. "If you let them, they're gonna take a ton of pictures of you," he warned, and Genesis only then realized the problem, remembering just why they'd gone on foot yesterday. "Since you haven't debuted yet, I'd really rather not get blamed by the boss for leaking your appearance to the press."

"Right, almost forgot; sorry about that. I just wanted to see what it was like walking up a building." Genesis had long since lost the will to argue with Kouji's admonitions. His senior seemed to have rapidly developed an almost precognitive ability of his own to predict when Genesis' reckless enthusiasm would start causing problems, and no good was likely to come of ignoring his warnings. So, decoupling his magnetized boots, he leaped, and once again felt the strange sensation of half-falling, half-swimming through open air.

"Well, at least you're finally enjoying yourself, eh?" Kouji chuckled. "'Bout time you came around."

"Was it that obvious?" Genesis winced under his helmet.

"Don't worry about it! It's like that for pretty much everybody," Kouji replied with another, heartier laugh. "Making this stuff look easy is our job; if we didn't, nobody'd have any confidence in us. But that doesn't mean that just anyone can slap on an exosuit and do the impossible. Everybody falls on their asses at least a hundred times before they get it right. Just because you had a bit of a rougher start than the rest of us doesn't mean we didn't make plenty of mistakes ourselves." He stopped for a moment, but then made a hasty addition to his comment. "Well, except for me, anyway. But I'm a once-in-a-generation genius, so obviously you shouldn't hold yourself to my standard."

Something about that sounded less than convincing, but Genesis decided he'd let it slide just this once.

...It was strange how much Kouji had changed since their first meeting. He'd gone from overjoyed to disgusted in the span of the first five minutes, and his underlying arrogance had been a constant ever since Genesis had met him. Still, after Valkaiser had insulted both him and Genesis, the B-Lister had become strangely... supportive? Over the past few days, he'd even started to seem like he was enjoying his job teaching. Maybe that really did mean that Genesis was getting better. Or maybe, Kouji was just a nice guy, in spite of his occasional roughness. Either way, it was starting to set in for Genesis how lucky he was to have such a patient and knowledgeable mentor.

"Anyway, now that you've hopefully gotten the excitement out of your system, we should probably actually start checking for problems in the area that we might need to solve, eh?"

"Isn't that why we're up here this time?" He'd thought the purpose of their aerial jaunt had been to get a higher vantage point in case something happened. Was there something he was missing?

"Hell no!" Kouji's disbelief was obvious. "If we were relying on our eyes for everything we'd need thousands of heroes for every district! Just open the Hero Net and check for dispatch reports from District Security. Leave actually searching out crooks to the monitoring grid, man; don't make our job harder than it's gotta be."

"...Then why exactly are we flying?" Genesis asked, fumbling his finger back and forth in front of his face trying to get it to line up with the button displayed on the inside of his visor. Who thought a forced perspective interface that only had the illusion of depth was a good idea, anyway?! He was literally flying through the air at the speed of a skycar! How was he supposed to interact with this menu in anything remotely resembling a precise fashion?!

"Because it's fun. Duh," came the reply. Genesis... couldn't argue with that, honestly. But what he could argue with was...

"...Kouji, there's a full-scale map of the island on this app."

"Yeah...? Of course there is. Should there not be?"

"...It has the whole of the Orbital District, all of Orbital's subsidiaries and their locations listed -- access to their security systems, satnav directions to anywhere I would want to go..."

"Yeah, it's really convenient stuff! I was using it the other day when I was showing you around. Did you know you can open it by linking your Armor Key with your PT? You don't even need to be in your hero form to get access. It's really useful for getting around--"

"Then why did we have to walk everywhere yesterday?!" Genesis bellowed. "Why did I need to remember all of that stuff if it's all right here inside my helmet?!"

"Oh. Uh... I dunno." He could practically hear the disinterested shrug in his mentor's voice -- then saw it a moment later as the bronze-clad hero kicked off another building and began lazily floating alongside him -- and quickly recanted all of the good thoughts he'd just been thinking about this scatterbrain of a superheroic samurai.

"Whatever... I guess it's good to know in case the app doesn't work for some reason." He tried his best to convince himself that his suffering on the prior afternoon hadn't been for nothing.

"Nah, that'll never happen. It's maintained by all four of the Great Enterprises, y'know? There's no way it'd just break down. Hell, even if it did, they've probably got backups for its backups." Kouji tried his best to convince him otherwise. Genesis groaned, and tabbed to the next page, doing his best just... not to think about it.

"So what's all of this stuff, anyway?" He asked. "News articles?" A long, long list of what looked like headlines arrayed themselves before him, and he scrolled aimlessly down it, skimming as best he could. "Let's see... bomb threat in the Alterra District, SOS from some executive's yacht off the northern coastline, Lady Minerva Laurant still missing, runaway Orbital cargo tram -- suspected hijacking..."

"Close," Kouji finally answered him. The delay before his reply seemed to indicate that he was just as preoccupied scrolling through the veritable sea of information as Genesis was. "They're reports from District Security headquarters, collected from all four surface districts. Sometimes even the Volunteer Corps down in the 'Strata, too." That... made sense. The times these posts were made were far too quick for the news to have picked them up. Which meant all of this was happening right now? It was a little bit concerning to know so many dangerous events were occurring at that very moment. One of them even seemed pretty close by.

"Any time a crime or attack is detected, the information goes out to the network, and heroes in the area get pinged with a notification about it," Kouji continued. Wait... then what about...?

"This one here says it's in the Orbital District, but I'm not seeing anything like that."

"Well, that's just because you're not active on the roster yet," Kouji responded breezily. "The prez doesn't want you debuting until you're good and ready for it, so of course you're not getting flagged for dangerous missions." Kouji kicked off another building, taking the lead, and Genesis scrambled to keep up with him, taking a few quick bounds that sent him whirling slightly off course, forcing him to float all the way across the street and zig-zag his way back over towards where the armored silhouette of Ganryu was now floating out ahead of him. He didn't quite get it right the second time either, though, and ended up colliding harmlessly with the side of a billboard.

"Oi, keep your eyes on the road, rookie," Kouji admonished. Annoyed that he wasn't slowing down, Genesis forgot about his golden rule, and paid the warning no mind.

"What road?! We're literally -- Ugh. Nevermind." Catching hold of the hanging sign, he righted himself and kicked off it with all his might, launching himself like a bullet after his instructor. "So what's the plan, then? If dangerous stuff's out of the question, this yacht thing looks easy. We could just hop on over and pull them out --"

"Ah, slow down there." Genesis mistakenly interpreted this as him getting ahead of himself, and as such, completely failed to check his growing speed. "That incident's closer to Neuron turf," Kouji continued. "Valkaiser will have it over and done with long before we even get within sight of the damn thing."

"Oh. Right, yeah." He supposed the A-Lister's reputation wasn't just for show, then. To be able to respond to any threat so quickly within such a large district... he must have known the place like the back of his hand.

Maybe Kouji's little guided tour had a point, after all. A villain attack would be a race against time, and he probably wouldn't exactly have the luxury to stop and check his satnav for directions --


But apparently his precognition would do the trick just fine! By the time he'd even consciously processed the words that had suddenly forced themselves into his brain, and long before he could even begin to interpret the vision of the future flashing before his mind's eye, his reflexes had already kicked in and done exactly what his powers asked of him, sending him hurtling sharply upward just in time for his thoughts to finally catch up.

Wait... Doesn't this mean I'm in danger? Why would I be in --

"OI, I SAID EYES ON THE ROAD!" In all the time Genesis had known him, Kouji's voice had never sounded desperate before. He sounded very, very desperate now. Right. He probably should have paid more attention to those warnings a little sooner.

So, obediently, Genesis looked up. Or was it down? It was too little, too late either way. His boots magnetized onto something, and then all of a sudden his whole body lurched violently in the opposite direction, as though he'd been fired out of a cannon. He resisted the urge to vomit inside his helmet at the sudden acceleration, feeling as though all the blood was being yanked out of his body through his face.

"What... the hell did I just...?!"

"You flew right in front of a freight line, dumbass!" Kouji cut him off. "Since you're still conscious, I'm assuming you didn't get hit head on -- lucky bastard. But I don't see you anywhere; where the hell did you even get launched?"

"...I think... onto the train, probably?" The buildings around him were blurring by with blinding speed -- which was strange, actually. Didn't cargo haulers usually go a lot slower than this? He looked to be on top of one of the cars, though -- his precognition forcing him to jump up over the rails at the last minute must have aligned his boots properly to get sucked back downward and land standing up, keeping him from taking the impact head on. Even in his armor... yeah, colliding with a train moving this fast would probably still kill just about anybody. Even so, his neck was hardly grateful for the intervention. Seriously, his head could have popped off from that kind of whiplash!

Why the hell was it going so fast, anyway? What kind of train would even --

"Shit," Kouji's voice rang in his ears, though he was suddenly almost too distracted to hear it. "I guess that's better than the alternative. You'll just have to get off at the station. Don't try to jump while it's moving -- momentum is a bitch in zero-G."

As usual, he didn't argue with his senior's warning, but this time, it wasn't because the warning was relevant to his current predicament. Rather, his silence was for a much different, far more practical reason.

"About that... I don't think that's going to be an option here, Kouji."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"...So, uh..." Genesis took an uneasy step backward, looking around himself in vain for anything that might help get him out of the situation in which he suddenly found himself. "Y'know how there was that dispatch report about a hijacked cargo train?"

The three black-armored figures in front of him began to close in, raising their weapons.

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me."