Chapter 5:


Burned Out Heroes

Governments across the globe could all agree that this artificial island, the Soul Settler, was an accurate model for the world at large post-Conflict. Bookmark here

A tower of pure alloy that once held the war room and other vital facilities stood at the physical and economic center of it, almost as if to prove them right.Bookmark here

That tower provided a stark barrier between the Outside World (reality) and the Inside (delusion).Bookmark here

The Federation preserved peace after the war ended by erasing such inconvenient truths.Bookmark here

One heavily guarded entrance gate dwarfed by the barrier was the only bridge between that fantasy and reality. Though some on the island may voyage into the delusion for a short while, no one on the outside ever truly made it inside. Open doors simply did not exist.Bookmark here

Now, 01 and Karen had arrived at that bridge which was only constructed so those living in reality would think they hadn’t been abandoned.Bookmark here

“...How long we been here?”Bookmark here

“I told you five minutes ago. Dad, you’ve had three already. Don’t you always complain they ‘taste like shit’?”Bookmark here

“I ain’t had nothin’ else to do but gnaw on these. That Berkov’ll do anything to save a buck, I swear.”Bookmark here

Grumbled 01, reluctantly sinking his teeth into a bar of tasteless nutrients, the cheapest synthesized commodity on the market. Sticks like these were a staple for people living in the slums of reality or on this island devoid of nature’s bounty, but 01 couldn’t bring himself to think of them as “food.”Bookmark here

The pair had been sitting in this waiting room for two hours with nothing but these bland bars to eat. The sun, which had been at its zenith when they entered, had already begun descending into the horizon outside the window.Bookmark here

Throngs of people who had gathered in the entrance hall waiting for their turn to pass through the gate were illuminated by the reddish, early evening light. Originally built to house weaponry, the 50-meter tall hanger’s sturdy design made it perfect to retrofit into a passageway. Bookmark here

Before them stood a heavily guarded examination center. While it’s physical and electronic barriers were imposing on their own, automated weapons and anatomical soldiers’ sharp eyes scanned the room from indoor watchtowers that overlooked the crowd from the second floor. Of course, their fingers were permanently hitched to the trigger of their rifles.Bookmark here

“...I don’t think I’ve heard of a senator’s daughter working part-time at a nightclub before.”Bookmark here

“...Meh, probably a first. Still, students are always strapped for cash, right?”Bookmark here

“Are they?”Bookmark here

“Beats me. Never was one myself, so I ain’t got a clue...”Bookmark here

Two hours had proved to be plenty of time to read over every detail in the file from Berkov.Bookmark here

It contained the senator’s missing daughter’s (Erde’s) personal data as well as a record of her movements and activities over the past month.Bookmark here

What really stood out to them was Erde’s part time job. Clubs and nightlife facilities were fairly common on the Inside, but it was the organization running the show that was an issue.Bookmark here

“...Whatever her reasons, it being run by the Ryusei-kai bothers me. Their involvement sounds like it’ll be very important.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, probably. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”Bookmark here

Ryusei-kai. Like Berkov, they were one of the groups who had profited greatly from illicit activities after the Anamnesisian Conflict, perhaps the most successful of any black market entrepreneurs.Bookmark here

Dealing in weapons and drugs, their organization closely resembled that of an organized crime syndicate back when the world revolved around the old Western calendar.Bookmark here

They had enough firepower at their disposal to hold their position, so much so that small countries and even nation states didn’t dare challenge their status. 01, powerful as he was, would be hard-pressed in a direct confrontation.Bookmark here

“...Now serving number 3-7-5-6-4. Please proceed to the counter.”Bookmark here

“...’Bout time. I can’t believe they kept us waiting this long.”Bookmark here

“I’d rather pass through than complain, wouldn’t you?”Bookmark here

Just when the repetitive monotony was getting too much to bear, 01 and Karen’s number was finally announced. Though it felt as though they had been in their chairs for an eternity, three hours was a relatively short time to spend in limbo before the gate.Bookmark here

01 stretched his arms as far as they would go as he got to his feet. It was then that a wouldbe voyager from the Outside was dragged away right before their eyes.Bookmark here

“L-Listen to me, please!! It's a real permit, I swear! Really! You’ve gotta believe me, my parents are-”Bookmark here

“Illicit entry detected. Suspect in custody.”Bookmark here

“...Poor guy.”Bookmark here

01 mumbled under his breath as he watched an anatomical soldier pull a hysterical, bawling man through the waiting area. The soldier’s digital visor was completely blank.Bookmark here

They were human, and yet not human. Along with their surgical enhancements, empathy or remorse had been completely cut from their mental capacity. All that was unnecessary to carry out their duty had been stripped away.Bookmark here

A deep resentment for the Inside was palpable within these walls. Issues would surely arise if the guardians charged with its care treated each visitor as human beings.Bookmark here

On the Inside, a better life was possible.Bookmark here

On the Inside, real food could be eaten.Bookmark here

On the Inside, there was a place for them in society.Bookmark here

That baseless hope transformed into fury in the blink of an eye in this place. Countless legions of Outsiders had attempted to pass through the gate through any means necessary, legally or otherwise.Bookmark here

“...We oughta get moving.”Bookmark here

“...Yes.”Bookmark here

Karen picked up on her father’s raising ire and kept her voice down. Although she knew he would never vent that anger on her, that burgeoning fury still struck fear into her heart.Bookmark here

Every reminder that all that he once knew about this place no longer existed only served to add fuel to the fire in 01’s veins. This disgrace was more than enough to tarnish any remaining slivers of nostalgia.Bookmark here

“Next, please.”Bookmark here

“All right, Dad, I’ll go through first.”Bookmark here

Karen was first to undergo inspection. Though both carried far more than a guilty conscience on their records, she would have a much easier time passing through than 01.Bookmark here

“Present your ID.”Bookmark here

“Yes, yes, it’s right here.”Bookmark here

Security personnel strictly controlled who could pass through to the Inside. Those without the necessary credentials were indiscriminately barred from entry.Bookmark here

Two documents were required: a personal ID issued by the Federation and the seldom produced “voyage permit.”Bookmark here

And, though it goes without saying, 01 had neither. Should he abide by the digital voice’s instructions, he would find himself in a holding cell before nightfall.Bookmark here

“ID verified. Present voyage permit.”Bookmark here

The machine accepted Karen’s ID with nary a sound. One hurdle had been cleared.Bookmark here

Forging IDs was not difficult. The man they witnessed being forcefully escorted from the premises had cleared this stage as well.Bookmark here

The voyage permit, however, was a problem. A triple-layered biological identification coupled with a card constructed from incredibly rare metals made it so that only gifted engineers with access to the latest facilities were capable of producing them.Bookmark here

01 had neither the skill to create nor the financial resources to secure the genuine article. There wasn’t a single monetary note in his wallet, let alone a counterfeit permit.Bookmark here

“Permit verified. Identification confirmed.”Bookmark here

“...Damn, I’d lose a shit-ton of sleep if she weren’t on my side.”Bookmark here

However, that iron-clad security system was no stronger than paper mache once Karen had taken control.Bookmark here

She could have cleared security even without the counterfeit documents by simply telling the checkpoint to let her do so. It was as easy as taking candy from a baby for an arbiter of her caliber.Bookmark here

“Clearance granted. Welcome, Mister Hon’gu.”Bookmark here

The machine addressed 01 by his alias moments later. Takeru Hon’gu was the name he used while working odd jobs.Bookmark here

They were as good as on the Inside now. All that remained was to pass through the gargantuan gate up ahead.Bookmark here

“Excuse me, sir! Please wait a moment!”Bookmark here

“Can I help you?”Bookmark here

It was right before he boarded an elevator that a security agent called out to them.Bookmark here

The agent, a first lieutenant in the Federation army judging by the insignia on his uniform, smiled as he approached.Bookmark here

“...Dad?”Bookmark here

Said an uneasy Karen from the other side of the gate, but 01 signaled for her to keep moving by turning to face the newcomer.Bookmark here

She hadn’t been stopped, so 01 knew that she wouldn’t get dragged into any messes along with him at the very least.Bookmark here

“Would you step over here, please?”Bookmark here

“...Sure. No problem.”Bookmark here

01 was braced for a fight by the time he turned all the way around. The chances Karen’s hacking had been discovered were minimal, yet it was not entirely out of the question.Bookmark here

“There are extra security protocols in place now due to the upcoming ceremony... I must ask you to submit to a bodily inspection over there.”Bookmark here

“...I see.”Bookmark here

01 silently cursed his luck. Digital security systems could be dealt with one way or another, but there was no deceiving a full-body inspection.Bookmark here

No matter how human 01 appeared to be on the surface, he most definitely was not. Muscles constructed from nanocarbon fiber and a metallic skeleton were just below his artificial flesh.Bookmark here

“Now, please step this way. It will only take a minute of your time. What brings you inside the gate?”Bookmark here

“...Business. You know how it is.”Bookmark here

Power flooded into 01’s fingertips despite his obedient act. A single battalion would be stationed at a facility like this, if that. In terms of combat ability, 01 was an elephant among ants. Breaking through would be child’s play.Bookmark here

“Are you alright, sir? You seem distracted.”Bookmark here

“...I’m fine. Right behind you.”Bookmark here

Yet, 01 made no attempt to force his way past the lieutenant. His assignment required the utmost secrecy and unnecessary entanglements with the military had to be avoided at all costs.Bookmark here

“First, please place your hands over this machine. Any metallic devices you may have on your person need to be placed in this basket. Do you have any mechanical implants or interfaces within your body?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I do.”Bookmark here

“Then, would you please enter the surgical location? The military will be protecting that information, so there is no need to worry.”Bookmark here

“...Kinda the whole thing, so...”Bookmark here

01 filled out the paperwork as he pondered his options.Bookmark here

It would be easy enough to rendezvous with Karen after these events had run their course. Breaking out of custody after an arrest was certainly preferable to causing a scene here and now.Bookmark here

That meant the terms of his arrest were vital. Anything too suspicious would draw the military’s attention, so the charges needed to be minor. Best case scenario, he might make it through the process without having to reveal what he was.Bookmark here

“Is there a problem, sir?”Bookmark here

“Not a problem, per se...”Bookmark here

It was too late to fein drug addiction or drunkenness. Having the counterfeit permit come to light would suit his needs perfectly, but improvisation on that scale was impossible.Bookmark here

Which meant making a scene was his only choice. Punching a random guard and acting deranged would yield the fastest results.Bookmark here

“Do you require assistance?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’d appreciate it...”Bookmark here

01 kept his curling fist out of the lieutenant's sight and judged the distance.Bookmark here

One, two steps, plus a little extra. While the blow wouldn’t be fatal, the lieutenant would suffer a concussion to be sure.Bookmark here

“Dad!!”Bookmark here

“?!”Bookmark here

The sudden shriek sent 01’s body into action even before he understood the meaning behind it. Bookmark here

Just as the young female arbiter felt it coming, her father’s sixth sense warned him of the impending danger.Bookmark here

His mechanically enhanced reflexes and frame were sufficient to reach his target (Karen) a mere few meters away.Bookmark here

Ignoring the dumbfounded soldiers in their midst, 01 dove to shield Karen. He felt the heat on his back just as he got her to the ground.Bookmark here

“Ngh...!”Bookmark here

A storm of heat, powerful enough to incinerate anything within its blast radius, hit him before anyone even registered the explosion.Bookmark here

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