Chapter 18:

A Liar's Nature and a King's Facade

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

In retrospect, just about everything Calli had done in the past five minutes was stupid.

She had decided she needed to prove her innocence to someone who trusted her anyway, let slip in the process that she was more guilty than he ever would have guessed otherwise, and then, in a crowning feat of stupidity, she had decided to play it off humorously by actually stealing from him in the hopes that it would somehow convince him not to reconsider his ill-advised faith in her.

Yeah... When she put it like that, it didn't really make a lot of sense. But, in fairness, there was really no rational way she could have expected things to turn out like this, either.

Calli stared first at the garish wolf's head bracelet in her hand, recalling the ridiculous catchphrases it had spouted during her – no, during their earlier battle on the train. Her gaze then shifted to the face of Genesis, which now looked almost as pale as her own. Her lips moved, but what came out wasn't an excuse, or an apology – just a long, trailing “Aaaah.” It was sort of like a silent scream, except it wasn't silent at all, and she was far too surprised to muster an actual scream – so nothing like that, actually, but –

He's the hero from the train. Why is he – how is he – This doesn't even make any sense! And now I know his secret, so... so...

“...I... didn't see anything?” She tried, hastily shoving the device into the pocket of his jacket and immediately stepping away.

“...Is that supposed to sound like a question?” She could hear the raised eyebrow in Genesis' voice, but she didn't dare look at him to see it. The hedge to her left suddenly occupied her complete attention. He sighed heavily, and Calli suddenly found herself lamenting her complete inability to whistle.

“You... uh... recognized it, then?”


Oh shit.

The hero who had appeared on the train, according to the news, was a complete mystery. Though his armor had looked awfully similar to Polaris, and there were theories that he worked for Orbital, this was his first documented appearance, and the only clip the media had of him was so grainy that the finer details of his armor were completely impossible to distinguish.

In other words, there was absolutely no way she should have recognized his bracelet.

“I... I mean it's obviously, uh, something important,” She hastily backpedaled, trying desperately to come up with some way to allay his suspicions without inculpating herself. “What are those things even called? Metaspacial... something-or-others. But that would mean that you're a –”

“Yeah.” He cut her off, casting a nervous glance around the park to make sure no one was close enough to hear. He looked like he was about to ask something else – maybe about why she was suddenly uneasily shifting away from him – but just then, an idea struck her, and before he could dig deeply enough to undermine her alibi, she hastily interjected.

“You do work for Orbital, though. I saw you, and stuff. So, does that mean that you're the one from –”

“Yeah.” He silenced her again, a complicated grimace forming on his face. He looked anything but pleased to be puzzled out, but at the very least he didn't inquire any further about how she'd done it. She was safe.

Thank God. I think my heart just about stopped. ...Wait a minute, though.

“You're not going to... silence me, or anything, right?”

“What?!” Genesis exclaimed, gazing at her with utter disbelief – a stare which was only broken when he realized heads were turning in their direction thanks to his sudden yelp.

“I mean, I just figured that... you know. Because I know, you'd want to make sure I didn't...”

- - -

“Wait a minute,” Genesis asked, the golden eyes staring warily up at him once again giving him an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. “Are you... blackmailing me right now?”

“What?!” Now it was Calli's turn to cry out in surprise, and he hastily shushed her with an upraised finger. Geez, it was only his first day on the job for crying out loud! How could he have let himself get figured out already!? If Kouji knew, he'd never let him hear the end of it. And if Oz knew... a shudder ran up his spine. Maybe her fears of being silenced weren't so unfounded, after all.

“No, no, no,” Calli hastily cut back in, shaking her head vigorously. “That wasn't what I meant at all. I just...”

“Just wanted to make sure. Right.” Genesis nodded uneasily, furrowing his brow. This... definitely was some kind of mess he'd gotten himself into. Kouji had warned him above all else that he couldn't afford to let his secret identity slip to anyone, because if he did, he'd be in danger if they ever shared it. More than just that, they'd be in danger if anyone found out they knew.

...Well, if that was the case, the solution was actually probably simple. Depending on his decisions here and now, one or both of them might be put into jeopardy. So, all he had to do was...

“Just... don't tell anyone, okay?”

“Don't –” Calli began to repeat, then stopped, her jaw dropping and suddenly refusing to rise again for several straight seconds as she finally processed the simplicity of his request. “No, hold on just a second here, there's no way you can just – you're just going to leave it at that? You have no idea who I might tell or what I might do!”

But he did know. At this moment, he was perfectly willing to let her walk away – and his powers weren't telling him to stop her. Rather, the only thing his instincts told him to do was...

“I don't think you're that sort of person,” He repeated. It was actually kind of incredible how Calli's face somehow managed to express every conceivable emotion simultaneously – confusion, embarrassment, anger, fear, and several other things he couldn't even begin to interpret all mixed upon her countenance, forming a tapestry of incredulity.

“You're... you're an idiot. You know that, right?” Her eyes shot away, refusing to meet his own, then seemed to realize and grow ashamed of their own cowardice, suddenly darting back to glare at him the moment his own focus shifted. “If you trust people so easily you're going to get taken advantage of."

“Maybe so,” Genesis shrugged. “But I'm not going to bribe you, and I'm not going to threaten you, either. I might hate my job, but a Hero's gotta have some standards.” He cleared his throat, doing his best to look and sound very official, very proper – very Hero-like as he stared her down. “So, I'm just going to ask nicely. Promise me you won't tell anyone what you just saw, and we won't talk about this any further.”

It was just a hunch, but seeing how long it took her to answer, he had a feeling his guess was correct. She'd gotten so worked up over being presumed innocent that she went and tried to prove her own guilt. Whoever Calli might have been, lying clearly wasn't in her nature.

All his instincts told him that if he could get her to promise him something, then that was an oath that could be trusted. Or, well... he hadn't actually heard as much, so maybe that was just what he wanted to believe. But if the convenient voice in the back of his head wasn't telling him not to trust her, then he'd count on his own judgment and place all his bets on her honesty!

- - -

This idiot... he doesn't have the slightest clue who he's dealing with.

She'd just gotten done fighting him to the death, nearly killed an entire crowd of bystanders trying to escape, dragged him into her own problems, and then sat him down and told him nothing but lies.

And now he was entrusting her with his secret identity.

In mere moments she'd gone from fearing for her life to wallowing in guilt at his obliviousness. Now, she almost wanted to laugh. This whole situation was so ridiculous that it could only be seen as farce comedy. Not even the most absurd of franchise novellas would have dared to include such a contrived incident to place their hero in jeopardy!

And yet here he was. The man of the hour. The following act to her childhood idol. Polaris' successor. An absolute, doe-eyed gull, whose downfall would be her meal ticket for years to come.

It would have been so easy. She could just say the words, cross her fingers, and then go trotting back to Atlantis to tell Sigma all about it. Just imagining the bonus she'd get made her almost giddy enough not to be repulsed at the idea.


But even a Villain has to have some standards, right?

Yeah. He'd nearly killed her. But she'd also blown him up and dropped a train on him, so she was pretty sure they were even. He'd also vouched for her, and... she supposed he'd been pretty fun to talk to. It wasn't as if she was sparing him just because she was lonely, though!

...She just couldn't help but remember what he'd been trying to say before she let go.

“Are you alright?”

Somebody who would offer to save even his enemies. Somebody who would trust even a lowlife and a thief unconditionally, and offer her his friendship. If somebody like that really existed outside of a Saturday morning cartoon, then...

“Alright. I promise. I won't tell anyone.”

I really am getting too sentimental today. But I already clocked out, anyhow. I can't keep thinking about work even on my time off, or I'll go crazy. I'll let it slide, just this once.

Genesis nodded, and gave her a slight smile. The mood between them should have still been uneasy, and yet those blue eyes of his seemed strangely clear. It was as though he'd expected her answer, right from the very start. Thinking like that kind of annoyed her, though.

“Oh, well. Even if I wanted to tell somebody, who'd believe me?” She gave an exaggerated shrug and forced a cheeky grin of her own. “Besides, it's not like I'd have much to say in the first place. After all, I hardly know anything about you, aside from your name.”

“Well, I think that alone would give me away, though, since it's so memorable, and all.”

Calli couldn't help but laugh – at the absurd situation in which she found herself, at the absurd choice she had made, and at the absurd day they had both inadvertently shared.

“You sure that's not some sort of clever alias?” She asked.

“Right back at you, Miss Calypso.”

“Tch. I wish.” She gave an exaggerated click of her tongue, and feigned anger as best she could. Genesis merely shook his head. The silence between them returned, but the air between them was clearer than it ever had been. What had been said had been said. What lies had been told could not be taken back. What secrets had been revealed could never be concealed again. And a meeting that had occurred by chance... had to come to an end.

So, with a wry smile on both their faces, they said their goodbyes, and turned to leave the park.

...And a block and a half later, for some reason, Genesis was still walking along right beside her in a now significantly more awkward silence. The light ahead of them changed just before they reached the crosswalk, and the finality of “goodbye” wore off at last.

“You don't need to go to the trouble of walking me home, you know,” She said quietly. “I mean, I appreciate the thought, but...”

“Ah, no...” Genesis scratched the back of his neck again. “I mean, I probably should have thought to do that to begin with, but, uh, this is just the way to my apartment.”


Silence returned again. The light changed. They both crossed the street. Calli turned right, and Genesis, at the exact same moment, did the same.

“Uh... are you sure you're not following me?” Genesis asked.

“Of course not! This is just the way to my apartment.”

Another block passed. Then another. She turned left, only to nearly bump into him as he also turned. They both stopped, and stared each other dead in the eye. Then, as if possessed by a singular spirit, they both spoke.

““Three blocks forward, second building on the left side, top floor, west corridor, end of the hall!””

...And sure enough, after a few minutes of determined strolling, they found themselves standing side by side at the end of the hallway, the flickering lights of the corridor more than sufficient to illuminate the number “1339” on the door in front of Calli, and “1340” on the door in front of Genesis.

Neighboring apartments.

You've got to be kidding me. Of all the stupid, unbelievable, impossible coincidences – and on top of everything else that's happened today...!

“That guy who's always waking up super early is...”

“The one who's always coming home late is...”

““It was you all along?!””

- - -

The distant rumbling of waves echoed through the empty halls of Atlantis. Somewhere far below, the metal shifted, giving a prolonged, eerie groan. In the darkness, atop his twisted throne, a certain man sat in silence, lost in his thoughts.

Their raid on the underground laboratory had proven fruitless. Even though the Stellar Knight's armor should have still been there, not only had it been moved – it had a user. A new hero had caught the eyes of all of NOAH... and had nearly killed some of his newest followers in the process.

He couldn't have cared less, under any other circumstances. Whether they shared in his dream of a better future, or simply wished to share in his wealth, the combatants of ATLAS were always meant to be disposable. Even he himself was nothing more than a piece in a much greater puzzle.

Even were he to fall, the will of ATLAS would live on, and surely, another would rise to take his place. Likewise, even if those under his command met a gruesome fate at the hands of heroes... combatants could be replaced. Yet that knowledge did little to allay the simmering anger within him, nor could it soothe the dread which he did not dare to name.

But such thoughts were better indulged in solitude, and he was anything but alone.

“...Since you've deigned to come in person, I expect an explanation.” Sigma flicked his wrist, and a cascade of crimson sparks spilled forth from his hand, jumping wildly across the room in arcs of blinding crimson. With a low hum, the lights at the center of the chamber flicked back on...

...revealing a figure draped in black robes standing at the room's center. From underneath his hood, flowing locks of golden hair spilled wildly out in all directions, trailing almost down to the cold metal floor beneath his bare feet.

“Now, now,” A boyish voice answered, as the figure wagged a single finger like a nagging mother addressing a misbehaving child. “Is that any way to greet your old friend?”

Sigma clenched his fist around the armrest of his throne, and the air crackled with unseen lightning. “I am in no mood for your games, Prometheus,” He hissed. “The information you gave me was mistaken. What I want to know is why.

“Well, that's going to make this difficult,” the hooded youth said amiably. “Since I came here to ask you why you failed when I gave you such... precise instructions.”

Failed?" Sigma repeated, his voice a rising mix of anger and incredulity. “The operation went exactly as planned – only our prize seems to have already come into the possession of another.”

“Another who would have been dead by now, if you had just followed my advice."

“We did exactly as you directed. You told us that bomb would kill him. Clearly, you were mistaken.”

“I am never mistaken.” In an instant, all the mirth vanished from the hooded boy's voice.

“...Say whatever you will. Polaris' successor still lives, and like the blind fool before him, he all-too-willingly bends the knee to the usurper.”

“No matter. If we have failed to remove Orbital's thorn from our side once, we must simply try again.”

“...What are you suggesting?”

“Return to where your first attack failed. Access the security systems there and find out who was close to the bomb when it detonated. Once you have found the identity of our little hero, well... A bit player whose part has ended has no business remaining upon the stage. I trust that removing him will not be too difficult?”

“Of course not,” Sigma answered, his voice seething with offended pride.

“Good,” Prometheus cooed. “Then I shall be expecting a good show...” He turned towards the darkened corner of the chamber, where the warp gate began to hum to life seemingly of its own accord. However, just before reaching the threshold, something seemed to occur to him, and the cloaked youth turned back one final time.

“Ah. And while you're at it... why don't you send those combatants from the last operation? Particularly that girl – whatever her name was. I have a feeling that a certain someone is going to interfere, and she seems to have a good head on her shoulders.”

“What are you talking about?” Sigma asked, rising from his seat. “Who's going to interfere?”

“Ah, silly me. I've said too much again,” the boy giggled. “Don't worry, though, old friend. If all goes as planned, then we'll soon be rid of two pesky heroes...”

As he stepped into the portal and vanished into the darkness beyond, all that remained behind him was the echo of his laughter, and a creeping sense of dread in the heart of a man who played the role of king...