“Those that don’t bow down to CLEAR have no place here. To belong, you must follow orders without questions and take the initiative to bring about the best future for CLEAR. Failure to do so will only bring you suffering with no escape.”
I sat on a black chair in the break room for CLEAR’s workers. The only person besides me here was Akihiro, my partner in guarding CLEAR HQ.
The room had a large silver fridge, a few electric stoves, and a few black and white striped vending machines. There was also a large electric station where a human could fit inside, almost like a photo booth. There, people with cybernetic organs could recharge their batteries. It was named the Charged Injector
A machine equivalent to it but for cybernetic limbs was a bit more open. All you had to do was insert the limb you wanted to recharge and the machine would do everything for you. This machine was called a Charging Station
“Are you listening to me, Erity?” Akihiro asked tiredly.
For a while now, he had started explaining to me that I should keep my apartment clean and tidy. It wasn’t the first time he had lectured me, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“I’m not,” I answered honestly. I needed him to know that I just couldn’t care about whether my room is dirty or not. In the end, I have no energy to spare for cleaning.
“Everything went one ear in, and the other out…” he sighed, grabbed a mug from a coffee machine, and sat opposite me. The smell of roasted beans spread throughout.
“If you didn’t have a cat, you would be like me.”
“You mean Thomas? I do clean partly for him, but that cat is smart and resilient enough. He could find a place to live anywhere. It’s inspiring honestly.”
“Despite him being a cat, hasn’t he lectured you a lot?”
“...Maybe… that cat… he may not look like it but he’s… educated… One time I decided to mess with him, so I changed his elegant and proper voice into a squeaky one… I still have the scars on my arms from when he scratched me…” he said as if remembering something hard.
I took a sip of my lunch, something akin to soup. It contained all nutrients needed for a healthy body. To maintain my form, these soups are the only thing I eat throughout the day.
The door slid open automatically and two people entered. Mana and Rai. These two security guards take care of a CLEAR locale on Level 7, one Level lower than this place.
Mana had long blond hair that she normally placed in a bun, like today. The color of her long hair faded at its tips into a snowy white. Her eyes were like gold, always shining and pretty. In terms of cybernetic enhancements, she boasts metallic hands. Personality-wise, she’s a woman of action and often rushes into things too quickly. She also hates me for some reason since years ago. She, Akihiro, and I grew up together in one of the orphanages.
Rai on the other hand was small and Mana’s opposite. She was quiet and calculated, but also too cautious. She was short and small, though the muscles on her arms were toned because of a sniper rifle she tends to use. She has one metallic lung, a metallic right eye, and a metallic left foot. Her hair was purple, wavy, and even longer than mine or Mana’s, reaching to her waist without any fade.
“Good day,” Rai greeted.
“Yo!” Akihiro responded with a bright smile.
I nodded my head to Rai and Mana. Mana kept quiet and stood leaning against the wall near the door. Rai sat down next to me.
“I should report that I’m going to be a guest at the party tomorrow night for security and public image of CLEAR,” Mana said tiredly.
She took a look at me and stared at me for a few seconds with a frown on her face, before lowering her head and staring at the ground in front of her. Akihiro had turned around halfway to face her. I could see him grinning… a different one than the bright smile he had when they entered.
“I’m also going to be a guest at the party for the same reasons. We’ll be there together Mana,” I said to her.
“Okay,” she said in a sharp tone.
“Rai, can you take over my duties?”
“Thankfully, yes. Recruits for security are being taught practical lessons at our locale. That means I don’t need to be there,” she said softly.
“Why not ask Kanaye?” Akihiro asked.
“You haven’t heard?” I said.
Mana and Rai turned to me with puzzled expressions. It makes sense in some way, yet also doesn’t.
“Kanaye underwent cyborg surgery…” I said, staring at my empty bowl.
“He changed his body…?” Rai asked, her eyes widening.
“Why didn’t they tell us?” Akihiro wondered excitedly.
“That’s what confused me…”
The room went silent. A cyborg transformation was nothing to be happy about… I was probably the only one to think that. In exchange for their body, one becomes almost completely mechanical. They’ll never get sick or tired. All they have to do is recharge at the two stations in this room. The Charging Station for limbs, the Charged Injector for organs.
The downside is that Kanaye’s body could fail with a simple EMP blast from either a bomb or a shot from the pistols we all carried around. They’re strong, yet laughably, they can also fall quicker than a normal human. Then again, the usage of an Expansion Suit might be worth it…
The door opened once more, this time revealing a tall suit with pure white metallic plating, and red lines outlining the joints.
“Good to see everyone!” A voice said from within the metallic suit.
“You really are a cyborg then…” Mana said softly, the surprise on her face showing.
Kanaye walked into the room and stood next to the two charging stations. He spread his legs a bit and let his arms hang around his sides. Eventually, the suit opened up quickly from the front, showing Kanaye inside, who walked out. The suit closed up when kanaye pressed a button on its neck.
Kanaye was tall and large. Not surprising considering everything up until his upper jaw was now made of metal and wiring. It was supposed to be impressive, yet seeing a co-worker of mine like that… made me sad…
“Why did you do it?” Rai asked, her eyes filled with sparkles.
“Well… they were looking for test subjects regarding new users for Expansion Suits. I volunteered and they accepted me. I needed this power boost. I was the weakest out of everyone… now I’m probably the strongest,” he said with a bright smile.
“With an Expansion Suit? Of course, you would be! That thing is in an entirely different league,” Mana said passionately.
“I also…” he said, scratching his cheek and looking at me, “I wanted to catch up with you, Erity.”
I looked away from him and down at the table. I sighed softly, being careful no one heard me.
“Don’t say that as if it's a compliment to me,” I said firmly.
“Aren’t you happy for him Erity?” Mana asked loudly.
“What Kanaye does with his life, it doesn’t matter to me. If he’s happy with his new body, that’s good enough.”
“So you don’t care about Kanaye then? What about the rest of us?”
“Whatever you do with your life, it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never scolded or said a word about your hatred toward me, did I?”
I stood up from my chair and placed my bowl in the sink. I walked around the table until I could see everyone.
“Let’s begin this meeting then. Does anyone have anything urgent to report that can’t wait until I read the documents?”
“I do,” Kanaye said, raising his hand a little. “When I was testing my new Expansion Suit power, an unauthorized researcher was trying to record the tests. I captured him and after I questioned him, he confessed he belonged to a group named Mythical.”
“Mythical…” Rai said to herself.
“I also captured an intruder, right Erity?” said Akihiro.
“And he also claimed to be from Mythical,” I added.
“Even mentioned Hikaru the Dim Star from VOID, despite him not having anything to do with it.”
“Rai, do you think maybe an intruder is in our locale?” Mana asked
“Why do you think that?”
“If there was one at Kanaye’s locale and one here, there could be one in our place. Maybe Mythical has one traitor in each locale to spy on us.”
“I would say it's a possibility… but until they make any moves, all we can do is keep watch.”
“You’re right…” Mana said disheartened.
“Here’s our next course of action. Rai and Mana will keep a watchful eye on anyone suspicious. I would like to stop the next traitor before they pull something. Kanaye, send me the name and file of the Xenos you caught. After I receive it, I’ll ask permission to Isao to access their file from the orphanage.”
“What for?” Akihiro asked.
“I want to see if there are any commonalities between our two intruders.”
“Also,” Kanaye interjected, “Rai, please be careful. This intruder told me he hated you. Since he belongs to Mythical they might have agreed to something that can hurt you.”
“I’ll be sure to keep my guard up. Thanks, Kanaye.”
“Does anyone need to report anything else?”
“It’s not important, but I’m going to a lower level to take orphans to CLEAR. There was a battle between a group named Invisible and another group named Sacred. The whole area has been destroyed…” Kanaye said.
“Those terrorists…” Akihiro said, his fists clenched tightly.
“Be careful Kanaye. For now, we all have a bit of free time until our superior meets with Albus and Malcolm again. In twenty minutes, I want Akihiro with me. Rai and Mana will look at things from the security room. Kanaye, do you have any reconnaissance tech in that Expansion Suit?”
“I do have a scanner that detects EMP pulses. I can also track radiowaves down signals to their source.”
“Good enough then. You’ll take watch over the outside. Do you have a long-range weapon?”
“I have just the thing. What do you think about a railgun sniper rifle that can shoot anything between a small metal nail and a bullet the size of someone’s hand? Different projectiles, different amount of damage,” he said with a bright smile, wagging his finger around. “Did you know it can also shoot any projectile twice the speed of sound if I fully charge the barrel?”
Mana, Rai, and Akihiro all listened with glitter in their eyes. It didn’t matter to me.
“That’s good then,” I interrupted. “Search and destroy. Remember that everyone,” I said ending the meeting.
Akihiro and Rai stood up. They went over to Kanaye and looked at his metallic body with awe. Kanaye was wearing special clothing that wouldn’t disturb his connection to the suit, but he decided to take off his shirt and proudly show his body. I didn’t take a look at Kanaye. I felt that if I did… I might remember something…
I left the room and checked the security tablet in the hall. After a few minutes, Rai and Mana exited the room talking about some restaurant they were going to. Mana glared at me quickly but otherwise paid no attention to me.
I decided to go to the security room. From behind, I could hear the door open up.
“Mana, could we talk privately for a moment?” Akihiro asked.
“All clear outside,” Kanaye said.
“Nothing visible on the cameras,” Rai said.
I stood in a large room with a large oval-shaped table. The table was white, but its center was black and had some kind of device attached to it.
Akihiro stood beside me, next to the automated doors. Tasked with the mission to guard this meeting, Akihiro checked a thin crystal slab for any anomalies. His security tablet.
Besides the two of us here, our superior Isao was also present, along with two government officials of this ark, Senshin Tokyo.
Isao had short brown hair whose colors were lost at the tips. His hairline was receding and his face was somewhat wrinkled. It looked like he was much older than he actually was. In terms of power, he stood above me and only directly reported to CLEAR’s board of directors.
Albus was short and rather thin. He wore expensive clothing that seemed to border professional and casual, like his grey shirt with the pattern of the moon on it or his black pants with dark grey stars embroidered in them. He had brown-colored eyes and hair, which partly covered his left eyebrow, without any fade.
Malcolm’s hair was shoulder-length and dark. His face was well kept and he looked quite young. He wore a three-piece white suit with red outlines, a signature color pallet of CLEAR and its branding. The clothing he was wearing came from a CLEAR brand named Cover. He wore an expensive watch on his wrist and a golden necklace with a beautifully crafted golden phoenix hung from his neck.
“Do the two of you look forward to tomorrow’s party?” Isao asked in a kind tone.
“I, at the very least, am anticipating it. Malcolm, on the other hand, seems to have better things to do,” Albus replied curtly.
“Can’t do anything about the stack of work I still need to do,” Malcolm replied with a slight chuckle.
“Speaking of the party… Quite a few nasty rumors are being spread around in the lower levels, Isao.”
“And what do those rumors say?”
“Bear in mind it is unsubstantiated information. I for one believe it to be nonsense, especially with such a beautiful and talented head security guard like Erity in charge,” he said gazing at me with what I think was supposed to be a charming smile.
“Right. Rumors are going around about a traitor within CLEAR.”
“Is that so…” Isao knows about the events of yesterday. Akihiro captured a traitor, a Xenos.
The mere notion of a traitor used to be laughable, but now we can’t let our guard down…
“The fact that you're not denying the possibility, speaks louder than any words,” Malcolm said, leaning forward. “Do you know what you big three corporations have in common? SPEAR, VOID, and CLEAR. They all take in orphans from a young age. And when they’re older, they become the corporations' employees on the upper levels. Those orphans are the only upper-level workers… Do you want to know something else you all have in common? You all outright laugh at the possibility of a traitor…”
“That just means I’m more cautious than others.”
“That’s a lie. So, from which group was the traitor? We can’t tell you anything if you don’t share.”
Isao was deep in thought for a moment and closed his eyes. After a few seconds of waiting, he calmly began talking.
“Mythical. And he mentioned Hikaru from VOID. Said he was approached by the man itself.”
“That’s a cute lie,” Albus laughed.
“I doubt I should tell you this, but Hikaru is a man obsessed with research and new tech. He prefers to pull people’s strings from the darkness. To leave them wondering. He wouldn’t do this,” Malcolm said. “VOID seems to be doing its own thing under his leadership. They’re going to present a new product soon. A program. One where you can create your own environment and raise fictional people within. Once they’re grown up, you can use them as full-fledged AI and they don’t even know they’re not real.”
“Truly ground-breaking in the development of AI. And with it, the line between us ‘Natural Intelligences’ and ‘Artificial Intelligences’ fades. They also seem quite noble. According to our intel, they’re designing a machine to absorb power from humanity’s self-made disaster, the black hole,” Albus added.
“And finally, it appears someone amidst them was a traitor. They seem to have stolen data on VOID’s research into Expansion Suits and research into stealth technology.”
“That’s good to know,” Isao said, taking notes on a thin crystal slab, a tablet, and making sure the conversation is being recorded on his phone. “Now information about Mythical.”
“They are… an anomaly,” Malcolm said, his arms crossed. “Sometimes, they’re pathetic. Sometimes, they’re the best group around. It's as if different groups use the same name… or maybe someone takes up Mythical’s name once the old group has been wiped out.”
“If you want more information… I suggest heading to Level 3. That’s where your ‘secret’ group is hiding, right,” Albus said with an arrogant smile.
“I do wonder what you’re talking about,” Isao said dryly. “And SPEAR?”
“They’re selling weapons with OS. Specifically, assault rifles. To guarantee they won’t be used against them, they made sure the assault rifles would stop working if they were in a SPEAR building. Other than that… a traitor appeared, like in VOID. One that took a hostage…”
“And now… it seems CLEAR is the next target,” Malcolm said.
“I have everything I wanted. Malcolm, this is your payment,” he said, taking a silver suitcase from under the table and sliding it toward Malcolm.
Malcolm opened it up and I was just able to see what was inside. Expensive-looking necklaces, rings, gemstones, and watches. Malcolm smiled happily and close the suitcase, giving his thanks to Isao.
“As for you Albus… I have about four,” he said seriously, his eyes glaring at Albus.
“Tell me the ratio, length, and selling price…” Albus said an innocent smile on his face.
“FMFF. One-seventy, one-eighty-five, one-sixty-three, one-seventy-one. As for the selling price, I wouldn’t know. We don’t normally deal with this. They’ve been prepared down below at the exit.”
“Wonderful,” Albus said standing up.
He walked over to the door but stood still right in front of me. Albus was shorter than me so I looked down upon him.
“What about you?” he asked softly.
“If you want to pass through then I’m already enough to the side.”
“That’s not what I meant… Isao,” he said not turning his face, “will I get to see the wonderful Erity in a dress tomorrow night at the party?”
“Only if you leave your payment here,” I responded before Isao could.
Albus laughed but was glaring at me.
“Interesting… fine then, I accept,” he said leaving the room.
I saw Isao and Malcolm nodding to one another before Malcolm stood up. Malcolm reached his hand out to Isao, but before they could shake hands the normal lighting turned off and the red alarm lighting turned on.
“What has happened and why has no one told me?” I said firmly into the earpiece I was wearing, invisible to everyone else.
“The issue is inside, a Cyber has been hacked,” Rai said.
“A Cyber is heading towards the upper floors. It seems he’s either going to the server room or Isao’s office,” Mana added.
“Akihiro will stay here guarding Isao and Malcolm. I’ll call Albus back here. Mana, you keep track of where the Cyber is going and try to delay it. Rai will look for the Xenos from the cameras, and Kanaye will look for them from the outside. To confirm, the interrupter is active right?”
“Confirmed. Signals from outside to here are impossible.”
“Search and destroy everyone!” I said, leaving the room running.
I spotted Albus in the hallway, looking around bewildered.
“If you want to be safe, head back to the meeting room.”
“You’re not going to escort me?!”
“It's a ten-meter walk at most. I think it would be more insulting if I did accompany you,” I said, running away, leaving Albus behind.
I made my way around the maze of hallways. I didn’t even need to look at my security tablet to know where my destination is. Some workers in white lab coats were standing around bewildered, while others were running into their respective rooms and labs.
I reached the elevator and entered inside.
“Mana, where is the Cyber?”
“He’s just standing around in the room where we’re going to hold the party…” Mana said.
I forcefully pushed the button for the correct floor and the elevator ascended rapidly. Within a few seconds the doors opened up and I rushed towards the room, gripping my EMP pistol in my waist holster.
Once I got close to the doors, I took it out and changed its setting to Complete Shutdown.
I took out the tablet and looked at the security camera inside. He was just standing there… his back turned to the doors and his gaze fixed on the large windows.
I placed my tablet away and told Mana I was heading in.
“We’re nearing the hacker,” Rai said quickly.
“Erity, I’m heading towards you for backup,” Mana said just as rapidly
“By the time you get here, everything will be over. Stand by.” But there was no response…
I opened the door slowly and forced myself through the small opening I made. I closed the door with barely any sound and aimed my pistol at the Cyber.
“Beautiful view… Right Erity?” A voice said.
The Cyber turned around and revealed it was holding a tablet. A call was ongoing.
“No one important… not anymore at least.”
“If you surrender now, you might get off lightly.”
“You should know that is a hopeful lie.”
“What do you want?”
“An opportunity to talk to you… The person I hate the most… and to make an announcement.”
“Which group do you belong to?”
“One you haven’t heard from yet… Erity… I wish I could be there when you fall from grace… Regrettably, I have been ordered for such a mundane task and I will be killed because of it. But that’s all right… As long as I get what I want.”
I aimed my gun at the Cyber’s head and prepared to shoot.
“MATOYA!” the voice suddenly yelled, “YOU BETTER FINISH EVERYTHING. MAKE ERITY PAY FOR WHAT SHE DID TO MY FRIENDS. COMPLETELY ANNIHILATE HER, BREAK HER.”
“Don’t move you, Xenos!” Mana said after kicking open the doors.
She aimed her pistol and shot at the Cyber, the energy blasts sped beyond me and dissipated over the Cyber’s legs, causing it to kneel.
“I found him!” Kanaye said over the earpiece.
I lowered my gun and tapped the earpiece.
“Shoot him. I permit you to just destroy the room he’s in.”
The voice over the tablet was just rambling nonsense. About how I betrayed his friends at the orphanage… about how I should suffer in accordance to the suffering I brought to him… about how I’m just a monster in disguise.
I lowered my head and gazed at my open hand… Am I really a monster…?
“This is for MY FRIENDS!” The voice said loudly
It took me a second to realize it, but I knew full well what he was planning. He started reciting a line of code…
I told Kanaye to hurry while running to Mana and tackling her, forcing us out of the room.
The building shook slightly, and I heard a loud bang from the tablet followed by fizzling and crashing noises, and after that, the sound of the call ended…
I got off Mana and stood up as fast as I could.
“...tch…thanks,” she said, clearly irritated.
I opened the door ever so slightly…
The Cyber stood still… not moving from his place…
The Xenos couldn’t finish the code he was reciting… If he had, things could have turned bad for Mana and me… An explosion would have been enough to at least badly injure me…
That Xenos… he didn’t say what group he belonged to, but he did mention a name… Matoya…
Something is coming to attack us…
And when it does…
I will annihilate it…