Chapter 11:

The First Dance

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

The ringing in her ears had faded, and the wind was growing louder. The train's speed only seemed to be mounting as, in the distance, the gunfire continued unabated.

Rising from the crater he'd smashed into the metal plating with the force of his landing, a man in a pristine royal blue and silvery white exosuit slowly lifted his twin-crested head, blue LED eyes glaring at the three of them. The hero's coattails flapped in the breeze, and behind him, a metallic tail swished back and forth, like that of a wolf stalking its prey. Slowly, methodically, he shifted his weight back, raising his hands and uncoiling his fists to reveal wicked claws upon his fingertips.

"Cas, sorry, but it looks like we can't make it to you after all."

"What? Why the hell not?" The man called Cas barked back.

"Please, captain -- we're surrounded up here, and at this rate these brickies are going to hit something important!" Another voice joined in without delay -- his partner Pol, by the sound of it.

"Yeah, and we've got a hero to deal with back here, so I'd say you got the better end of the deal." Roland clenched his grip on his chainsword and raised it defensively. He hadn't so much as hesitated to dive in front of a firing squad armed with autocannons, but this unarmed man in front of them seemed to be a different story.

"We'll take him together," Roland ordered, evidently unconcerned that their enemy would overhear. Were their voices being muffled somehow? She hadn't actually heard any of the other combatants talking before until she'd put on a suit herself, now that she thought about it... but now was hardly the time to worry about that.

"When I give the signal, we attack him all at once," He continued. His voice was calm on the surface, but there was a certain urgency to it that sent a chill down Calli's spine. "Whatever you do, don't let him get behind you, and protect your back. So long as he doesn't hit anybody's recovery beacon, we should all be able to get out of here."

"Get out of here? What are you talking about? He didn't even bring a weapon!" The tone of Roy's voice, on the other hand, started setting off warning sirens in Calli's head for the opposite reason. "If this guy's our enemy, then I'm taking him down here and now!"

"No! Don't --!" Roland tried to stop him, but by then it was too late. The Stratan boy, his ego swelled by his newfound immunity to bullets, gave a battlecry and charged forward, raising his sword over his head and swinging wildly.

- - -

Before the enemy had even started moving, Genesis already knew what to do.

When he'd sparred with Ganryu, he'd scarcely been able to keep up with the hero's movements. He had always been frustrated about that, actually. If he could have just used his power, then he'd surely have been able to do much better – so he'd always told himself every time he lost. But he hadn't realized just how much of a difference it would actually make until he found himself facing down real villains.

The one on the left was going to break formation first, raising his weapon and rushing in. Well, he said “rushing,” but really, these guys didn't have anything on his usual opponent's speed. Was everything going slower all of a sudden, or was that just him? He stepped to the side without even thinking, and before he knew it, the first swing had gone wide, missing him completely.

Just as expected, he brought up his fist and – woah. That had just been a normal punch, right? The guy he hit in the gut went flying straight into the nearest shipping crate, caving it halfway in on itself from the force of the impact.

The other two seemed to get over their surprise pretty quickly, though. The taller one would rush in next, swinging – holy shit, is that a chainsaw?!

Genesis ducked in a hurry, hearing the roaring engine arc over his head as he came up swinging, aiming a fierce upward jab for his opponent's chin. Unlike the first one, though, this guy seemed to know what he was doing. He recovered more than quickly enough to dodge the hero's haymaker, and before Genesis could follow up, the third was already upon him. No matter, he'd just follow his instincts and –

Huh? Why isn't my power working all of a sudden!?

Before he could even process what this meant, the third combatant had brought down some kind of staff onto the ground in front of him, and then a veritable explosion of force from its tip had picked him up and launched him clear off his feet. He only barely managed to re-magnetize his boots to the floor and slide to a stop in time to avoid being knocked off the car entirely – and likewise only barely managed to toss himself to the side before the staff-wielder immediately tried the same trick again to finish what he had started.

No, not “he.” The third figure seemed at first glance to just be a little more slender than the other two, but now that he got a better look, the armor she wore hugged her closely enough that he could definitely make out a feminine silhouette. Normally, he'd probably have felt bad about fighting a girl, but unfortunately, at the moment he was doing a lot less “fighting” and a lot more “running away.”

Why can't I read her?! Hello? Mysterious convenient voice in my head? This seems pretty dangerous to me! Could I maybe get some help here?!

She kept swinging at him, twirling that staff around so quickly he couldn't keep track of either end – let alone both at once. But every time it looked like she was going to hit him, she would suddenly pull the strike to hit his surroundings instead. A thrust toward his gut suddenly arced out into the crate next to him, sending him tumbling to the side. He tried to rise, only for her to bring down the other end of her staff in a downward helm-breaker that stopped just short of actually hitting him, slamming against the floor instead and sending him skidding backward, kicking up a trail of sparks. Shockwave after shockwave buffeted his body, bouncing him around like a pinball – and only after a few moments of this did he realize why his powers weren't working.

She's not trying to kill me.

Genesis never thought he'd be angry at someone for not using lethal force against him, but, well, here he was. Because of her restraint, he couldn't predict her actions at all! At this rate, he was going to... well, actually, he was just going to get kicked around a bit rather than suffering any real injury, since the constant shockwaves she created were also keeping her own teammates from getting close. Still, that didn't mean he could just let this happen. He was a hero! It was his job to put a stop to their evil deeds!

It was a gamble, but... if she was trying to pull her strikes, then all he needed to do was throw her off. As she brought in her weapon for another swing, rather than trying to dodge it, he instead leaped upright and lunged forward. Sure enough, she hesitated, stopping in her tracks to avoid hitting him – and the moment she did, he crashed into her head on, bowling her over and rushing past her as she fell.

The guy with the chainsaw had been waiting for his chance, and now that his teammate wasn't smashing everything, he'd finally gotten it. But Genesis had the advantage of momentum on his side. Rather than backing off, once again, he just kept charging forward even as the big man brought his chainsword down. Raising an arm right as they collided, Genesis forced the man's wrist outward, dragging his strike wide and then plowing straight into him. The towering combatant stumbled backward... right towards the edge of the train.

Reaching down to his armored gauntlet, he took hold of the Armor Key lodged in the “mouth” of the stylized wolf's head on his bracelet, and twisted it. The eyes of the wolf flashed, and a mechanical announcer voice began to play loudly from the bracelet.


...God, he hoped that whatever Orbital employee had to read these silly lines was getting a raise for it. He had half a mind to ask for one himself, now that his own part had come up.

Cupping his free hand, he curled his clawed fingers as their bladed tips began to glow a brilliant blue. He took a deep breath, and then bellowed with all his might, his voice backed by... a reverberating stock soundclip of a wolf's howl? Seriously? Was that really necessary?

“Cerulean Claw!”

Three azure arcs of energy split the air, slamming into the man's greatsword as he hastily raised it to defend himself. Even though he blocked it, the sheer force of the attack picked him up bodily and launched him backwards... right over the gap and into the blown-out back of the adjacent car. That freight load was already destroyed, so there probably wasn't any loss in cutting it loose, right? Another swipe of his claws severed the coupling, and before the man could get back to his feet, the car he'd landed in was already trailing far behind the rest of the accelerating train, disappearing swiftly into the distance.

That leaves two more.

With the experienced fighter out of the way, that just left the girl who wasn't actually trying to hurt him, and the guy with the high-frequency sword.

...Speaking of whom, there was a loud humming noise coming from behind him all of a sudden. A swing from above, was it? Reaching back on instinct, he found his still-glowing claws curling around the wrist of his struggling enemy. The swordsman tried in vain to overpower the hero and bring his sword down as Genesis slowly turned around, and tightened his grip.

...He'd been trying to twist the guy's wrist, and make him drop his weapon.

Unfortunately, he realized only too late that his killer move was still running. The villain's armored gauntlet crumpled like tissue paper beneath his empowered claws, and a gout of blood began to flow from the wound. The enemy did, in fact, lose his grip on the sword, but at the same moment began frantically swinging his uninjured hand at Genesis's head, struggling to break free.

Genesis caught the sword, and just as quickly released his hold on the combatant's arm, shutting off his claws as he did so. He sidestepped the incoming punch, and the wounded enemy stumbled past him. Just to be sure, Genesis gave him a quick tap to the back with the pommel of his newly-obtained weapon, knocking him to the ground.

“Just stay down,” He said, half-threatening, half-pleading with his enemy to know his own limits. He really didn't want to hurt these people any more than he had to, and through his own carelessness, he'd already caused way more damage than was strictly necessary.

The guy on the ground didn't respond. He hadn't killed him, had he? No, he was still moving, but... Why was the back of his exosuit glowing all of a sudden? There was a little elevated disc of armor between the man's shoulderblades which he seemed to have unintentionally caved in with his strike, and underneath it, some kind of amorphous mass of light was beginning to pulsate wildly. Blue lightning arced out around it, and suddenly, all of his instincts screamed at him to get as far away as possible. Before he knew what he was doing, he had turned on his anti-grav stabilizers and half-floated, half-jumped to the other side of the car.

...The girl did just the opposite. She ran past him, darting to the side of her fallen comrade, reaching into the broken slot on his armor, and yanking out the object that was now glowing so brightly that it was almost blinding to look at, even though his helmet's shielded optics.

Then she drew back her arm and hurled the mysterious thing as far as she could.

...It exploded.

Genesis gaped. All he had done was tap him with the pommel of the sword! He hadn't even used the pointy end! So then why... why...


- - -

When the droids had exploded, it had been like a firework, or perhaps a grenade.

When... whatever the hell this was detonated in the air above them, an entire billboard just disappeared, taking a chunk of the building it was attached to along with it. The shockwave knocked Calli to her knees, and as the air rushed back in to fill the vacuum, she held onto Roy for dear life to keep either one of them from being swept backward over the edge.

"What... what just...?" Roy uttered. His voice sounded like he was barely holding back tears as he clutched his wounded arm. The bleeding didn't look too severe, but the fact that he was bleeding at all terrified her. That armor had bounced autocannon fire without so much as a dent, and this guy had crushed it with his bare hands.

“Roland, what the hell was that?!” She asked. Suddenly, he'd started screaming at her over the comm to “get it away before it goes critical” the moment Roy's armor got damaged, and she had complied... not a moment too soon, apparently.

The man on the other end seemed baffled at the mere question. "Wait, no one told you?” He asked. “The armor contains a recovery beacon that lets Atlantis open warp gates on our locations, much like our badges. It's how we can return from missions without being traced back to our hideout." That must have been why he sounded so calm, despite sitting stuck in a suspended train car just waiting to be captured. If he could just call back to base and leave at any time, he wasn't in much danger, even with the threat of more heroes showing up.

“They're also very volatile, He added helpfully. “And could easily take out the whole train if they go critical, as you just saw.”

“You probably should have led with that,” Calli replied bitterly. You'd think someone would have let them know sooner that they had bombs strapped to their backs.

"S-so how can I use it? How do I go back?" Roy asked, clearly too hurt and too scared to keep up with what Calli had already realized.

"You can't, because yours is what just blew up," She answered through gritted teeth, interposing herself between the wounded child behind her and the hero in front of her. Common sense and her survival instincts screamed at her to cut and run. But another, even stronger instinct kept her feet from moving even an inch.

"Wait? No, that's -- what do I do, then!? You can't – you can't just leave me here! I'll die!" His words wormed into the back of her head, and a rising sense of disgust she couldn't even begin to put into words simmered within her chest.

Roy was, frankly, infuriating to deal with. He acted all high and mighty, yet was careless to the point of being a danger to himself and everyone around him. He cowered behind others when he thought he might get hurt, then dived in without thinking once he mistakenly assumed that he wouldn't. And now, the moment things went wrong, he had completely lost his nerve and turned into a nervous wreck. He was an immature little brat, and --

– and despite all his bluster, he was just a crying kid, about the same age as one of her brothers. Their faces appeared in her mind's eye, unbidden, as though they were pleading with her...

Oh, for – fine.

"You're not going to die, idiot," Calli growled, kicking reason to the curb and rising to her feet. "I'm still here, aren't I?" She turned her staff forward, leveling its humming tip at the hero who stood across from her, silent save for the flapping of his coat in the wild wind. Her hands were shaking again, but she was still remembering to breathe this time.

In. Out. The shaking stopped.

The enemy couldn't hear her voice anyway, so talking was meaningless. But that didn't matter. It was for her own sake that she spoke -- a promise to herself that she was really going to do this.

"Alright, hero. Just you and me. Let's dance."