Burned Out Heroes
The island had gained the moniker of “Soul Settler” because it’s extensive database of Anamnesisian Conflict casualties had transformed it into a symbolic gravestone.
That database was central to an economic zone that was the island’s public face.
“In only five years...?”
“Has it changed that much? This place looks like a pretty normal city to me...”
“Yeah, it’s brutal. Not even a shadow is left.”
01 grumbled about how much the island had changed as the two looked out over the cityscape.
Their destination wasn’t connected to the teleporter network. With no choice but to walk from the port, witnessing the island's new reality firsthand was unavoidable.
Single-story concrete buildings stood abandoned. Barracks and other military facilities that had once been occupied by soldiers were now retrofitted into dwellings. That, or had become something reminiscent of slums from the old A.D. era. Sequences of completely unrelated structures lined the streets.
“...Soul Settler, my ass.”
“It’s because a lot of refugees found their way here. Data shows they number in the millions. There are 10 times more people here than when you were here, Dad. It’s pretty much a last stop for anyone with nowhere to go now. This kind of thing happens all the time.”
01 did his utmost to mask his displeasure while coming to terms with what his daughter was saying about the island’s fate.
It wasn’t military personnel living here, but countless refugees. Everyone afflicted with the gloom and melancholy that loomed over the world at large seemed to be drawn to the island city.
It was a common site in the world today. Considering how many countries had been torn asunder during the Conflict, several millions of people was a mere drop in the metaphorical bucket.
“But, hey, Dad? Are you lost? Would you like some directions?”
“I lived here for nearly 10 years. No matter how much it’s changed, I know exactly where I am.”
Throngs of beggars, overdosed addicts, and thugs were everywhere they looked. 01, however, relied on the faint memories he had to navigate the streets.
“Watch out for that puddle.”
“Oh, I saw it.”
Of course, he kept a close eye on his daughter following behind him at all times while on the move. Karen may be used to places like this, but she was still a child. It was his fatherly duty to protect her.
“...Still, this job seems kinda weird. Mr. Berkov never calls out of the blue.”
Karen strikes up conversation as they rounded yet another filthy corner. Though it was unclear if she had picked up on her father’s foul mood as he trudged silently forward, she was rather prone to share her opinions on their “jobs” when she felt like it.
“Hey, it’s Berkov. This gig ain’t gonna be pretty.”
“I won’t complain, as long as the pay is worth it.”
“Can’t know that without hearing the details. How many times have we shown up for a job just to find out they wanted us to do something like inspect a sewer?”
“...You mean the crocodile that turned out to be a dragon? Actually, that one was kind of fun.”
“Did you forget about the stench that hung around for a week?”
“Mngh... But, it was fun.”
01 did everything from mercenary work to odd jobs to make ends meet. His assignments ranged from malevolent to benign, but the demand to quell matters behind closed doors was far greater in today’s world.
Amid all the bloodstained jobs he had undertaken, a large-scale investigation of the New York sewer system last year was particularly prevalent in his memory.
Along with that putrid smell that refused to be vanquished, a dragon had been lurking in that darkness. Karen could recall that day with excruciating detail as well.
“Whatever the case, we’ve already made the trip out here. I’ll be giving him a piece of my mind if this turns out to be a fool’s errand.”
01 declared as he scanned their surroundings. All seemed peaceful enough, but that was no reason to get complacent.
Though he didn’t mention it to his daughter, 01’s 6th sense for danger was sending up all sorts of red flags about this assignment. That, however, wasn’t the only reason for him to stay frosty. There was another, even more pressing issue at the moment.
“Sure... Um, Dad? Are you sure you’re not lost?”
“...How’d you guess?”
The girl pointing it out made 01 wince. He thought he had concealed that fact quite well, so getting called on his bluff came as a surprise.
Indeed, 01 had completely lost his bearings. Nary a shadow of the backstreets he once knew remained on the route they were traversing and the sense of direction he had been so proud of during the war wasn’t doing him any favors at the moment.
“We’ve been going in circles. That’s the same puddle from before.”
“...Care to point me in the right direction?”
He may try to hide the truth, but 01 knew when to own up to his own mistake. Asking his daughter to navigate these backstreets was in the best interest for both of them.
“...I’ve found an overhead view of the city. We’re supposed to be on the opposite side.”
“...This used to be a shortcut, I swear.”
Hacking into the vast network of observation cameras interwoven into the complex backstreets laid the metallic catacombs bare.
Doing so broke nearly 10 Federation laws, but the two of them were well beyond caring at this point.
“Even the island’s security can’t keep you out. Damn, am I glad the enemy didn’t have anyone like you back in the day.”
“It was a cinch. Oh, but, you can keep the praise coming.”
Karen’s giddiness at 01’s compliment made her look like a girl her own age.
When it came to hacking or cracking weaponry in digital warfare, she was second to none.
It was a fitting alias for Karen, whose abilities as an arbiter allowed her to seize any type of electronic network. Software recognized her thoughts as part of their programming, which put electrical systems at the mercy of her every whim.
“Well, shouldn’t we get going? We need to get to Flavius, right?
“Yeah, Flavius, per usual. Just great...”
01 listened to his daughter’s instructions and stepped over the puddle.
He was here to do a job. While he was less than enthralled about the prospect, he couldn’t just walk away from his duty.