Burned Out Heroes
“...ne, please... up.”
01’s eyes finally opened. It had taken several persistent calls to get this far, but he was wide awake in an instant.
“...You haven’t slept that soundly in ages.”
“I clearly underestimated this chair.”
Wiping his eyes in disbelief, 01 slowly climbed to his feet. The Neoclassical style chair had been built so well that even mechanical bodies like his could feel serenity in its embrace.
He couldn’t fathom what their hotel-sized room cost as a whole when a simple chair was that good. Picturing that much money coming out of his own pocket sent a twinge of pain through his head.
The room had two occupants, 01 and his partner.
“How long ‘til we land?”
“About 10 minutes. You asked me to wake you up when we get close, remember?”
Responded 01, feigning ignorance as his partner gave him an annoyed stare. She wasn’t interested in playing along with his usual song and dance, especially not when she was losing precious reading time to do it.
“How’s your first time in the sky, Karen?”
“...No complaints. I got to read at my own pace.”
01 didn’t seem all that interested in her response, but the girl called Karen gave him a curt answer anyway.
Both she and 01 hailed from the Far Eastern town of “Karen,” a name that literally meant “beauty.” She more than lived up to her namesake.
Long, white hair reminiscent of snow framed her perfectly symmetrical face. The maturity of a woman beyond her years resided within the visage of a girl who seemed flawlessly beyond human.
Indeed, human she was not. The golden glint in her eyes identified her for what she was, an arbiter with the ability to manipulate anamensis at will.
On the other hand, the only memorable aspects of 01 were his imposing build and the resolute air about him. His black hair and black eyes were identical to that of others from the Far East. His gait and posture identified him as ex-military, but nothing else could be gleaned from his appearance.
“As long as we’re here, you might as well take in the view outside. Can’t call it scenery, but it’s something special.”
“Oceans of clouds are visible any time on the net. Finding out who the Orphan Island Killer is more important to me right now.”
“Ah, well, if it’s bugging you that much, it’s... Kidding.”
01 was that close to spoiling the story when a sharp glare made him think better of it. No matter how much fun it was to tease the girl, angering her would do more harm than good.
“Right, then. I’m going to have a look. Nothing else to do.”
“10 minutes until we get there. If you don’t have anything to do... No, no poker. You can never tell a winning hand from a losing one.”
“Hey now, I did pretty darn well last time, didn’t I? Probably would’ve taken that pot, too, if I’d kept going.”
Boasted 01 with a grin full of confidence, both of which were tells that he was lying through his teeth.
“Not according to my calculations. Trying to bluff your way through with a hand of rags is reckless.”
“Yeah, it’s reckless, but so what?”
“...Remember what would’ve happened last week if I hadn’t been there?”
“...Fine. I’ll give up poker, cold turkey.”
Take her warning to heart, 01 awardly readjusted himself in the chair. He wasn’t the best liar to begin with, but he was downright horrible when Karen was involved.
“Put on some news, will you? It’d be nice to know what’s been happening on the island before we land.”
“... ‘Access - Start’...”
Karen gave the ruminative but unapologetic 01 a sideways glance before activating the room’s hologram screen.
“The Federation Army is making great strides preparing Memorial Park to host the ceremony marking five full years since the end of the Anamnesisian Conflict. In a public statement, Unification Minister Ohmura, who is in charge of security for the event, said that state of the art defenses will be in place on the day of the ceremony. This announcement is likely in response to the recent string of terrorist bombings...”
A holographic newscaster was explaining the security measures in place to protect an upcoming event that celebrated the official end of the war. The scope of the operation and units set to be deployed were all too familiar to 01.
“Welp, it was about time they got around to it.”
“A bit, yeah...”
“......Do you miss it? The army.”
“Nah, not a bit. I’m not about to run back to them with my tail between my legs at this point. Missions were cut and dry in the army, but all the formality got old damn quick.”
“I see... I, for one, like the way things are now better...”
Acknowledging 01’s answer with a nod, Karen went back to the mystery novel in her hands without another word. She knew better than to pry when 01 used that tone.
“Yes... Things are better now. No question.”
Those words didn’t reflect the regret in 01’s eyes. Though, the pain wasn’t so great that he couldn’t have hidden it if he tried.
The past was like a scar. It would throb if given the chance. For 01, life was a series of chances like that.
“The Federation is looking for leads on ‘Number 10,’ the terrorist they think is behind the bombings. Anyone with information is requested to–.”
“...Seems nowhere is safe these days.”
“These days? Has anywhere been safe for the past 50 years?”
Although the war ended five years ago, true peace only existed in memories. As far as 01 was concerned, the word “peace” was synonymous with an unattainable dream.
“Speaking of which, what are you going to do with your hair and eyes today? Please don’t go with pink like last time.”
“...Black, for both. I’d rather not stand out.”
01 grew bored of the news and changed the subject.
Though it didn’t matter one way or another while inside their room, it would behoove her to hide the fact she was an arbiter while on the island. Only a few thousand of her kind had ever been born since the first arbiter appeared some 50 years ago, making them a rare sight indeed. Not only their blood, but fingernails and hair would fetch a high price. Flaunting her identity was an open invitation to be attacked.
Five minutes until arrival. 01 was set, but Karen had preparations to make.
Of course, there was no need for her to re-dye her hair. It was easy enough to make a passable disguise by tinkering with the amansesis within her body.
“Though, green does look nice...”
“Stick with black... I’m gonna go take in the view. Comm me if something comes up.”
“Okay. Go enjoy yourself, Dad.”
Said Karen as 01 left the room. While he still wasn’t used to her calling him “Dad,” it was starting to grow on him.
01 and Karen started working together three years ago. They had reached the point they could sense what the other was thinking instantaneously.
The hallway within their flight vessel was quiet. No passengers other than 01 enjoyed looking at the blue sky so much that they would leave their rooms so close to arrival.
Only the loud beats of his heart reached his ears. 01 never would never have thought the vessel was airborne if he hadn't already known it was currently flying in the clouds 8000 m above sea level.
“...Air seems a bit thick.”
Passing through a heavily reinforced door, 01 stepped out onto a balcony protected by a transparent barrier. The balcony had been designed to provide a place for passengers to enjoy the scenery in mid flight, but 01 found it unnerving to see the top of the clouds but feel no wind on his face.
Then again, only the massive underbelly of the gigantic bird carrying them was visible overhead. The once mythical beasts known as Roc had been artificially brought to life and now were the backbone of aviation in this world.
Seeing such creatures was commonplace, especially for 01 who had seen his fair share over the course of his time fighting in the Anamnesisian Conflict.
“Just as bleak as it always was...”
01 spoke his mind as he looked down over the horizon.
New colors were starting to break through the white clouds as they began their descent, but he’d rather they didn’t.
A still-blue ocean, rare for the world as it was now, and an ashen gray island. Built from special alloys, the artificial structure had once been a massive military outpost.
The sixth iteration of “Noah’s Float” measured 40 km from end to end and had been dubbed the “Soul Settler.” This floating monument to the dead in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was their destination.