"What the hell does that mean?!" Lucy activated the propulsion jets and aimed them upwards to strike at the 204th kaiju's head with an uppercut.
"I don't know what Gabriel told you" Kaden's mk1 twisted to face towards the kaiju and broke into a dash, "but the lockdown function wasn't active for half a year. Most of that time you were fighting the kaiju like normal. Something caused all of our memories to be erased, we theorize that it was you."
"How could I have done that?!" Lucy's attack landed as debris from the kaiju's outer frame flew upwards from the impact. "More importantly, why?!"
"I don't know." Kaden's sword unfolded once again as he prepared to make a vertical slashing attack against the kaiju. "Gabriel seems to have kept his memory from the incident, he's the only one who should know. Everything I know about that span of time comes from that USB drive I mentioned earlier and what Gabriel has told me."
"And you trusted Gabriel?!" Lucy used the propulsion jets to push herself back away from the kaiju. "Didn't you just say that he wasn't human?!"
"My dad trusted him." Kaden's attack cut the cyclopean creature in twain as it immediately reformed once again. "We can't afford to be infighting now."
The 204th kaiju fired its beam attack once again, this time landing a direct hit on the mk1, blasting its head off.
"KADEN!" Lucy shouted towards him. She knew that he wouldn't be able to hear her if his DCP Core Unit was damaged, but that didn't matter.
"I'm okay! The mk1's core unit is right next to me, in the cockpit, which is located in the chest of the artificial kaiju." Kaden replied. "We need to end this fight now before the kaiju figures that out."
"Alright!" Lucy was relieved. "It seems immune to our attack though, how can we finish it off?!"
"The mk1's sword was specifically designed to disrupt the DCP Grid of a kaiju, if I can make a direct hit against the core, it should be unable to regenerate." Kaden said as the mk1 slowly rose to its feet. "The only problem is that my optical sensors are completely gone, I can't see from in here."
"So, if I make the attack we should be able to take it down?"
"That should work."
"Where do I aim?"
"This kaiju's DCP Core Unit is in its head, just like the 2nd kaiju's. If you can slice through its head, it will shut down completely."
Lucy ran over to the mk1 and took the sword from it before turning back to the 204th kaiju. "Got it! Here goes!"
Lucy blasted towards the 204th kaiju while bearing the gigantic blade. It had a trigger at the handle which opened the blade, which Lucy held down as she charged forward. She made a hard stop right before the cyclopean kaiju and swung the blade direct at its head.
"WAIT! Get away from the kaiju! Now!" Lucy heard a voice in her head. It wasn't Kaden, it was Hannah. "You must keep Lucy away from the 204th kaiju!"
"What does that mean?!" Kaden shouted back.
"If Alice absorbs more DCPs, it could use their internal codes to circumvent the firewall put in place by Gabriel 8 years ago." Hannah's voice echoed through Lucy's mind as she watched the 204th kaiju's head fly off its shoulders. Lucy had missed her swing and cut of its head instead of cutting through it.
"Wait, that's why it consumed the 202nd kaiju?!" Kaden replied. "I thought that was Lucy's doing?!"
"Lucy died when the 202nd kaiju destroyed the 2nd DCP."
"What the hell are you saying?!" Lucy shouted. "You're acting like I can't hear you two!"
"The Lucy that you've been interacting with is a backup created by the Atom-3 to consume more DCPs." Hannah continued. "It's nothing more than a recreation serving its purpose."
"Why are you ignoring me?! I can hear you! Tell me the truth!" Lucy said. The world around Lucy started to fade. The city skyline with the decapitated 204th kaiju was soon replaced by an overwhelming nothingness.
"When the Atom-3 consumed the 202nd kaiju, it made a new 'copy' of Lucy, one that would serve its purpose to help circumvent the firewall. We detected a massive DCP Grid surge during the incident, but the Atom-3 was still stopped by what remained of the firewall before it could rewrite reality." Hannah's voice slowly faded away as well. "Ever since that point, Lucy turner has been dead. Gabriel theorizes that Alice took..."
There wasn't a definitive point where Lucy stopped remembering, but eventually her consciousness ceased to exist.
Kaden pressed a button on the control panel in front of which that opened the cockpit. As the mk1's chest unfolded to open a way out, Kaden could see between the panels slightly. The 2nd kaiju's entire body was contorted to reveal a giant maw that jumped out of the kaiju's chest towards the 204th kaiju's severed DCP. In a single large bite, the DCP was gone. Immediately, both 2nd and 204th kaiju's bodies sprayed blood across the city in grid-like patterns as they crumbled into tiny cubes.
"What have we done?" Kaden asked in horror. "What happens now?"
Kaden's eyes were drawn toward Lucy's apartment building, which had been heavily damaged during the fight. Atop the remains stood a dark figure with piercing red eyes. The figure gazed intently towards Kaden. It was familiar somehow; Kaden barely couldn't recognize the person standing on the ruined apartment.
"We need to prioritize shutting down the Atom-3 at all costs" Gabriel's voice played out from the speakers within the mk1's cockpit, "even if it means purging the Egg of Orphan."
"For you to say that" Hannah replied, "that means you'd be willing to die if it means saving us?"
Kaden watched as the city started to rip itself apart. Buildings lifted into the sky as a hole tore out from the city's center. The Atom-3 flew out from the newly formed cavity and hung in the air above. Kaden had heard an account of the incident 8 years ago from his father before, but he had never imagined he'd see it happen again firsthand.
"I'll do what's necessary to ensure humanity's survival." Gabriel said. "It's very possible that the DCPs will eliminate humanity to keep knowledge of the kaiju a secret."
"What do you mean by that? The DCPs aren't going to just stop at destroying the Egg?"
"It's unlikely. The DCPs were created to destroy all traces of the civilization that created them, that's why they're destroying the eggs of the very species that created them." Gabriel explained. "The ancient beings that created the DCPs were able to ascend past their physical forms and exist in the form of data. They eventually reasoned that their existence was a threat to the universe, and thus they decided to eliminate themselves. The creation of one of these entities in physical form will destroy an entire planet, but the damage can be lessened if the egg is simply destroyed before that can happen."
"What about you?!" Kaden interrupted. "If we let you live, won't you destroy the planet?!"
"I took a lesser form in order to observe this world and stop its destruction." Gabriel answered. "I was awakened before the egg could mature, allowing me to halt my own development. It is my decision to preserve the race that exists on this world, my evolution isn't worth the sacrifice of humanity."
"So what do we do now?! How can we save Lucy?! How can we save the city?!" Kaden shouted. "There's something we can do, right?!"
"We might be able to hack into the Atom-3 with the KF system. Fastest way to do that would be to recover Lucy's cellphone, which is somewhere at her apartment." Hannah said. "I'm on my way to pick you up, that's where we're going."
"I saw-" Kaden heard the screech of tires as Hannah's car came to a quick halt in front of the mk1. Kaden climbed down the artificial kaiju and sat in the car's passenger seat.
"It should be three minutes until we get there, I'm going to make it two. Hold on!" Hannah pumped the gas as the car flew out across the damaged roadway.
"There was someone on the roof of the building. They looked really familiar, but I don't know from where."
"Not our problem right now, I need you to focus on retrieving that phone."
"Okay, I understand."
Hannah skidded the car to a stop and popped open the door. "Get out, we're here."
Kaden followed her up the stairs of the building to the apartment. "Wait a second, why would Lucy's phone be here? She had it when she was walking to the school to meet up with me."
"That's-" Hannah stopped. "Be on your guard, anything could happen. We have a GPS tracker on her phone, it's somewhere here."
Kaden opened the door to Lucy's apartment. The inside was a mess, Lucy's mother was on the floor. Hannah went up to check her pulse and confirmed that she was still alive. Kaden went into Lucy's room and searched, but he couldn't find her phone. He did feel a little dirty about going into a girl's room, especially the room of a girl he liked. After checking the kitchen and Mrs. Turner's room, Kaden and Hannah left the apartment.
"There's only one other place it could be." Hannah said. "You said there was someone on the roof?"
"I didn't check when we pulled up, hopefully they're gone by now."
Kaden and Hannah climbed the stairs to the roof, dreading the possibility of confrontation. The building was half-collapsed, leaving the roof at an incline. When they reached the top, Kaden's eyes were drawn to something lying on the floor at the top of the stairway: Lucy's hoodie. She was wearing it when Kaden was talking to her in front of the school, why was it here? After picking it up, Kaden felt something heavy in the coat's front pocket, it was Lucy's phone.
"Shhhh..." Hannah gestured for Kaden to stay silent.
"What do you mean?" Kaden whispered. "What's wrong?"
Hannah only pointed upwards. Standing on the highest point of the roof was a girl wearing a raincoat tied around her waist. Kaden instantly recognized her, save for one discerning feature: her eyes.
"Lucy, I thought you were-" Kaden was cut off.
"Shut up! We need to get the hell out of here!" Hannah grabbed Kaden by the arm. "That's not Lucy!"
"No, that's impossible!" Kaden replied. "That has to be her, I'm sure of it!"
The girl continued to gaze directly at Kaden. It wasn't a gaze of affection of curiosity, it seemed almost cruel. It was like how a person looks at an insect before crushing it.
"Gabriel said that he had reason to believe Alice took control of Lucy's body after she died." Hannah explained. "That thing is what killed Dr. Miller!"
"If that's Lucy's body that means we can still save her!"
"Lucy is dead! What makes you think you can change that?!"
Kaden locked eyes with the girl on the rooftop. This was Alice? Dr. Miller had told him about Alice, that she was the catalyst for the destruction eight years ago. Was there really no way to save Lucy now? There had to be one, Kaden was sure of it.
"Alice took control of Lucy's body, just like how Lucy takes control of the second kaiju, right?" Kaden asked quietly.
"You're not thinking of using the KF system, are you?" Hannah replied. "Alice knows what that is, it'll kill you if you get in its way."
"Why hasn't she killed us yet then?"
"I... I don't know..." Hannah responded. "Maybe it doesn't recognize us."
"I have to try." Kaden said. "I won't be able to forgive myself if I let Lucy die, so I have to keep pushing forward to save her, whatever the cost."
"We need you though, Kaden!" Hannah added. "You're the only one who can pilot the mk1!"
"Lucy should be able to. I'm going to get her back, I promise."
"You can't promise something like that! You're risking everything to save a girl you care about!"
Kaden smiled. "Is there something wrong with that?"
Kaden took Lucy's phone and inputted the password on her lock screen. Lucy told him how to get into her phone at one point. He opened the kaijufinder app and point the phone at Alice. He saw Alice's eyes contract through the phone's camera lens before he pressed the button on the phone's center.
Then Kaden died.
Hannah watched in horror as Kaden's body separated into hundreds of tiny cubes and his blood piled on the ground in front of her. Was he too late? This was the end. Without Kaden or Lucy, the whole world could be doomed.
Kaden walked onward through a sea of shadow, the only thing in sight being a tiny speck of light in the distance. He marched onward towards it as the light become more and more clear. Soon, he found himself at a train platform. On one side of the platform was a bench with no occupant. On the other was a girl, curled up on an opposite bench. The girl was Lucy.
Kaden stepped onward towards the railway. A train whizzed past at a blinding speed, pushing his progress backwards ever so slightly. When the tracks were empty, Kaden climbed down to the tracks on his side of the platform and up to the opposite one. Now he stood in front of Lucy once more.
Lucy opened her eyes. She was sitting on a bench in the station platform, the place where she once saw Alice. Sitting next to her was Kaden. What was he doing here? Thoughts raced through Lucy's mind. Was she dead? Was this the afterlife? Why was Kaden here? Was Kaden dead too?
"I figured you wake up eventually." Kaden said softly. "You aren't the type to stay lying down."
"Where are we?"
"I don't really know. I thought you'd have an answer to that."
"What are you doing here?"
"I don't entirely know that either."
"I've been remembering things" Lucy said, "things that hurt. I don't want to remember the pain."
"The painful things are the things that shape who we are." Kaden replied. "If we forget those things, we'll only feel more pain in the end."
"What does that have to do with you being here?"
"I don't know. I was just responding to what you said." Kaden continued. "I don't know much about your past or the things that hurt, but I've been dealing with pain for only a little while now. I decided that I don't want to forget my dad and try to live like nothing changed. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be here right now."
"What does that matter, doesn't it hurt more this way?"
"For some strange reason, being with you makes the pain feel like nothing. I always thought I might like you, but it wasn't until I started to take care of you that I was sure."
"Yeah, I think so. It was the arcade, right?"
"You had an attack when we were hanging out after school, I think you were only 14 at the time. The two of us had won a jackpot on one of the arcade machines and we decided that we wanted to trade it in for the most expensive prize they had there." Kaden recalled. "Do you remember what you asked as we were walking out of the arcade?"
"Where... Where are these headphones from?"
"I think that was it."
"Why would I forget a happy memory like that? Why can't I only forget the bad things?"
"Because our lives aren't only good or bad, we have ups and downs. The only thing we can do is push forward." Kaden stood up. "I don't think I'm going to be able to talk to you again, and there are certainly things I regret, but overall, I think I'm happy with the way I lived my life."
"What do you mean? I'll see you again, right?"
"I guess the main thing I regret is that we won't have our happy ending after all." Kaden was facing towards the railway, away from Lucy.
"Please don't leave me, Kaden!" Lucy said. "Stay with me, please!"
"You're strong." Kaden turned his face back to Lucy as he took two steps forward. "Keep moving towards the future, however hard it is. If you're forced to make a decision, I trust that you'll make the right one in the end."
"No! Don't leave!" Lucy shouted. "We can stay here longer, right?!"
"It's time for you to wake up, Lucy." Kaden faced back towards the railway. "Don't forget anything from here on out. The memories you make will be what leads you forward." Kaden stepped closer and closer towards the tracks before giving a wave back to Lucy.
"Kaden! Kaden! No, don't leave me!" Lucy cried. "I don't want to be alone! I don't want to face my painful memories alone!"
"Facing back is sometimes harder than living in the moment." Kaden smiled back as he stepped down onto the rails. "Just keep facing forwards. Don't ignore the past, but don't let it stop you from living."
Tears streamed down Lucy's face as the world around her slowly came into view. Before her lied what was left of Kaden. As she collapsed onto her knees and covered her face, Lucy was reminded what Kaden had said. She wouldn't let his death be in vain. Though the past cannot be changed, the future can still be saved.
Lucy wiped away her tears and stood up to face the Atom-3 as it hovered above the decimated city. The wind tossed her hair to the side as she gazed upon the buildings hoisted midair.
"Did... Did it work?!" Lucy heard a voice from behind her, Hannah. "Lucy, is that you?!"
Lucy turned towards Hannah; her face still wreaked with tears. Hannah saw the Lucy's eyes were now a brilliant blue, just as they were before she had died. Hannah ran up and embraced Lucy.
"I'm sorry, Lucy." Hannah said as she broke into tears herself. "I'm sorry that I couldn't stop this."
"It's okay." Lucy tearfully replied. "There's nothing you could have done."
"You're going to forgive me after everything." Hannah said. "I could have stopped Kaden from sacrificing himself. I could have stopped Gabriel from finding you."
"I'm going to save everyone." Lucy said determinedly. "I know what I can do now."
-to be continued-