Chapter 35:


Red-Black Course

The Lion’s Den was a small portside bar situated at the far end of Liver Pier. Naturally, this meant that it was far away from the big city, with all of its glamor and darkness alike. However, it wasn’t where its owner lived – after all, it was only a one-story house. Instead, Mitch had settled in a rather decent house in the city center, though its placement between a forest of skyscraper would tell anyone about its original state.

The bottom line was, around Mitch’s house were buildings upon buildings. And dangling outside one of those building at the moment was a young man in a skin-tight black suit.

“Looks like it’s working fine,” echoing in the young man’s ears was a satisfied buzzing sound of his self-proclaimed tech assistant, or, as the latter would call it, “guy in a chair”.

Replying him was the young man in black in a concerned voice. “Are you sure it’s fine? I still feel like I can fall any moment now.”

“Oh, please. As if you’d get hurt just from falling.”

“I am fifteen stories up. What do you mean I can’t get hurt by just falling?”

“Relax, Zain,” Mike chuckled. “Remember what I told you? Your only limitation is…”

“My imagination, I know.” Zain let out a sigh of disappointment as the memories of what happened the last time they talked came back to him…

One week ago…

Taking a deep breath, Mike pointed at Zain and concluded.

“The point is, you’re wasting these things’ potential.”

“What?” Zain was just a hair’s breath away from blowing up in anger. It was natural to, of course, when someone you hardly knew suddenly came in and belittle you and the partner you thought you’d know better than anyone.

Contrary to Zain’s fuming attitude, Mike was a calm as a river – the first time these two’s positions were reversed. And of course, the boy had a perfectly valid explanation.

Going back to his monitor, Mike opened another folder of images. This time, it was filled with off-handed camera shots of Zain in action.

“Look,” the boy pointed out. “So far, you’ve shown me their armor, ball, rollerblades and scan form. Judging by the stories Uncle told me, you must have a bike form too. But all of these are either too generic, or too tailored for a single niche.”

Without giving Zain a chance of explanation, he continued. “Bike and rollerblades serve basically the same purpose. Sure, the latter means that you can maneuver better in tight spaces, but they’re both made for ground travel. Why not take another step? The sky, for instance.”

Another image was open – the shot when Zain destroyed the robot guards with his Thousand Knives.

“And look at this. You clearly showed a lot of creativity when it comes to applying the bots in your soccer techniques, so why are you limiting yourself in so many areas?”

Zain was silent, simply for the fact that he realized Mike was right. Once he traced back to everything he had done until now with Bitleo, Zain had no choice but to accept the truth in front of him – aside from his use of Sphere Mode to emulate his benefactor’s Soccer Style, Zain had very limited usage of the nanobots’ potential.

However, there was still a problem at hand, even if he had realized his shortcomings.

“Supposed that is true,” Zain finally answered. “It’s not like I can just get creative if I wanted to.”

“Of course,” nodded Mike. “But you can train it.”

“Train? How?”

As if waiting for that exact moment, Mike quickly typed a command on his monitor. Soon enough, the four walls around them rumbled and pushed themselves forward, revealing even more books hidden underneath.

“I’m glad you asked.”

Back to the present.

“Did you really think by shoving a metric ton of comic books onto me, I can have a better imagination?”

“Of course I’m sure,” retorted Mike. “Look at what you’re doing right now. Taking Arachno-Kid’s signature web hands, you’ve made a magnetic pull that holds you in place against skyscraper walls! It’s foolproof!”

“Yeah, if not for the fact that I’m barely hanging on.”

“That’s the beauty part! Try swinging around!”

Reluctantly, Zain followed his “tech guy’s” instruction.

The idea of Arachno-Kid’s movements was simple – the spider-based superhero utilized his strong webbings to act as a vine, and by firing repeatedly from building to building, he could take advantage of gravity to swing himself forward. Replicating this with magnetic pull, however, was harder than Mike could have given it credit for.

Right at the first swing, when Zain released his initial pull on his left hand, his falling velocity had already passed the point where the magnetic force would be strong enough to pull him to the next building. The natural result, of course, was Zain falling from a height that could very well kill him on the spot, no matter how trained his body might be.

“Uh, little help here!” The young man shouted as his impending doom grew closer by the second.

“I’m on it! I’m on it!” Mike frantically scrolled through his folders of different comic book heroes, before his eyes finally glittered as he inputted the command at once. “Here!”

Through the week of “training”, Mike had managed to connect his system to Bitleo’s command inputs, essentially creating a linked signal for Zain to gain access to his server any time, as long as he wore the nanobot armor. And the input’s connection was seamless as well, directly feeding to Zain’s mind just like how the Bitleo armor jacked his VR helmet when they first competed.

“Download complete,” a mechanical voice sounded in Zain’s helmet, and his suit started to change right after. A lean, black surfing board spawned under his feet, while his suit grew even thinner and his mask disappeared. Underneath the board was a set of rocket boosters, which instantly went off as soon as Zain’s feet touched the board’s surface. And soon enough, the young man was now quite literally surfing the air.

“Golden Mode, deployed,” Mike breathed a sigh of relief, finally able to relax himself on his chair. However, it was only for a second, as a certain beeping on his monitor sent the boy to a panic spree.

“Enemies at two! Drone-types!”

“Drones?” Zain exclaimed, turning his gaze to the appointed direction. True to the warning, from afar, a pack of black-and-white drones were slowly moving towards their general direction. “Should we get to the ground?”

“No! We’ll be in their scanning range if we go down now! Go up!”

“Got it,” with a swift nod of confirmation, Zain pushed down the back end of his board with his feet. Following the force, the board’s jet boosters lightly roared, sending the young man higher into the sky, passing even the building he used to cling onto. But the elevation trip wasn’t for too long, as the board rattled as soon as Zain made it over the local skyscrapers.

“What’s wrong with this thing?” The young man exclaimed, which was soon followed up by the support in his earpiece.

“It---” Mike tried to answer, but the increased in height had already lowered their signal. “Not--- fly--- high---”

Not fly high? Thought Zain. It’s already bad enough at this altitude? Or does he mean this form is not made for flying high?

If that’s the case, then… think. What’s something that can fly high enough?

A flutter of wings interrupted the young man’s train of thoughts, and along with it brought a smile to his face.

Right, of course.

“Bitleo is only limited by my imagination…” Zain mumbled for a moment. “Then… how about this?”

“Wing Mode.”

The board dissolved as soon as the order was given, and the swarm of nanobots circled over his back, linking into a beautiful set of red wings. In the center spot was another jet booster acting as a main source of thrust, while the showy wings’ main function was to steer and glide, allowing for much cleaner movements in the air.

“H—Hey, Zain! Can you hear me now?” As the young man slowly lowered his altitude, Mike’s shouting pierced through his eardrums.

“Geez, calm down. I can hear you loud and clear.”

“Phew, thank goodness!” Mike breathed another sigh of relief, finally not being cut short this time. “I was scared for a moment. And Wing Mode, huh? Looks good!”

“Yeah, though I think that’s enough testing for one day, right?”

“Definitely. You can—Hold up.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Anomaly to your right, around three hundred meters.”

“A distortion?”

“No, it’s… some kind of signal. If you go there, best to land about fifty meters away from the target.”

“Got it.”

It didn’t take long for Zain to arrive at the source of the ominous signal – a rather average-looking empty lot with a wooden stage. However, at this time of day and age, the fact that there was anything wooden was enough suspicion already, considering that wood was only a luxury item for weird collectors – those like Mike, for instance.

Zain quickly landed and disabled his nanobots, returning them to their pendant form, while he snuck behind the stage. And soon enough, a familiar voice sounded on the podium.

“Are you sure that this is going to work?”

Zain took a peek forward, and the figure standing close by was nothing but a surprise for him.

Bruce? What’s he doing here?

“Don’t worry Boss. Everything is under control,” another muffed voice sounded, the kind of stuffiness that also reminded Zain of a person he knew.

And it didn’t take long for him to recognize the other person, as his signature cat-eared helmet showed up in his sight.

So, he really is a contractor… But what exactly are they planning?

“You sure you can beat that guy?” Bruce asked once more, his forehead already frowning in excessive anxiety.

“Yes, I’m sure,” answered Leo. “I already fought him once, after all.”

“You fought him? When?”

“Now, what is my principle again?” Even through the helmet, Zain could hear a condescending smirk coming from the contractor.

“… Never ask about your former employers.”

“You know your stuff, Officer. And you’d also know that I never brag about my games.”

“Your game? Don’t get cocky, you lowlife! You’re not Messeo!”

Even as the policeman was already breathing smoke out of his nose, Leo remained as calm as ever.

“Messeo? That chump only knows the glory of the stage’s lights. I’m the real deal here. But rest assured, I know the kid’s strengths now. Consider that lawnmower mine.”

“And don’t forget…”

“Yeah, yeah. I take his nanobots after he loses. Got it.”

Zain quickly fled the scene afterwards, for he had heard all he needed to know already. As soon as the danger was behind him, the young man quickly pressed the small device in his ear – a failsafe measure for emergency contact even after Bitleo was deactivated, forceful or intentional.

“Well? Did you get all that?” Zain asked. On the other side of the line, a sigh of regret formed.

“Yeah, loud and clear,” replied Mike. “I can’t believe Leo would do that.”

“What do you expect? The guy himself said so, remember? He’s a contractor. And there has to be something that he does if he’s survived this long without being jailed.”

“I mean, yeah, it makes sense, but…”


“I told him to hold back when he faced you. So it means that while he knows all of our strengths and weaknesses, we practically know nothing about him.”

“It’s not too bad,” Zain smirked at the worry. “Not like I’m any slouch either. And besides, it’s a legalized, competitive lawnmowing competition. How on earth would he be able to hurt me anyway?”

“Well, it’s still best to be careful. Now let’s go home already; we got a tournament to prepare.”

“And a kitty to crush.”

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