Burned Out Heroes
Pandemonium gripped the 2nd Entrance Hall, opposite the area where 01 and Karen had been forced to wait for hours on end.
The security gate was not the only area engulfed by an explosion. Charges seemed to have gone off in many locations simultaneously, spreading chaos throughout the facility. Panicked citizens raced through the rubble in a desperate attempt to reach the exits.
This was only phase one. The main attack would come next.
“Everyone! Stay calm!! The exit is this way...!!”
Terrorist agents swooped in to eliminate the security personnel pinned down by the hysterical throng of humanity. Fleshy disguises fell away to reveal mechanical limbs brandishing guns, blades, and claws.
They seized control of the area in a mere ten seconds. Corpses of the gunned-down security guards littered the floor while the crushed frames of automated weapons blocked the exits.
“Nooow then, tax guzzlers. Line up and get on your knees, now!”
“D-Don’t shoot, please! We just work in the office...”
All citizens had either escaped or were dead on the floor by now. Only the civil servants assigned to process the paperwork still drew breath.
The attackers’ coordinated, cruelly-precise movements had all the markings of professional soldiers.
A small, three-person unit of demon cyborgs subdued the 2nd Entrance Hall in its entirety. Considering the level of security originally in place, that amount of firepower was overkill.
“I think the lot of ya’ve figured it out, but all y’all are hostages. Ya ain’t walking outta here alive, so just give up now. Hey, get the boss on the line, will ya?!”
The leader of the trio kept the rifle, taken from a dead security guard’s limp hands, trained on the line of office workers as he barked orders.
Terrorists tended to employ one of two general tactics. Either strike public facilities and events to cause as much destruction as possible, or use hostages as shields and bargaining chips for their demands. This particular instance was the former as these hostages were only meant to send a message.
“Sarge! Boss is inbound. Said to get started...”
“That’s how it is, eh? Suppose he doesn’t wanna get his own hands dirty.”
Massacres were just part of the job to them. Emotions were completely separate from numbers when it came to decision making.
“Well, folks, I ain’t got nothin’ against ya... Just somebody’s gotta die for people to learn.”
“W-Wait, please! We-”
A hair-trigger. The slightest pressure would splatter their innards across the floor in the blink of an eye.
Wind struck just before it.
“Yo, third-rate terrorists.”
The gun muzzle bent upward just as the trigger went off. The fired rounds wedged themselves into something far off in the distance.
Awareness cut out long before the unit’s sensors detected exactly what the bullets hit, however.
A solid punch at close range, backed by a pulse of sonic energy, pierced the leader’s chest armor and sent his nuclear reactor core of a heart flying.
“Huh?! What just...?!”
Two units remained. Wind struck again before they could aim their rifles at the new threat.
Green and crimson, 01 left afterimages in his wake as he closed in. His target was the closer of the two, so close, in fact, they may as well have been standing side by side.
The second unit tried to use the rifle as a shield, but it snapped in half right along with its wielder as 01 followed through with a knife-hand strike.
A difference in strength and ability as vast as night and day, not to mention the element of surprise. This battle was decided before it began.
“BURN IN HEEELL!!”
“Tch! Just my luck!”
The remaining cyborg’s trigger finger was a touch faster than expected.
A final volley of desperation. The unit could not have cared less about what the bullets hit nor who fell victim to the collateral damage.
Leaving a divot in his wake, 01 kicked off the floor and took to the air just before the spray of projectiles landed. Casualties could be kept at a minimum so long as he drew the cyborg’s fire.
However, mobility was severely limited when airborne. Rounds were going to hit no matter what he did, but the bullets were not strong enough to penetrate his armor on their own.
01 careened to the floor despite constant peppering of bullets. Like a comet, straight and true.
“And that’s three!”
His sheer momentum crushed the third cyborg beneath his feet. One synchronized burst from thrusters all over his body provided extra acceleration. The simple combination of solid steel and high velocity deprived 01’s hapless target of his life instantaneously.
Combat concluded in only five seconds. The terrorists displayed tremendous skill, but 01 had seen it all before.
He did, however, overlook one thing.
“...Well, shit. They were packin’ one of these, eh?”
01 laughed in spite of himself as he saw a new menace take shape. Disposing of simple terrorists was a bit monotonous. If he was going to kill something, he preferred it to feel like an accomplishment.
The whole building shook with a beastly howl. The air and even the hall itself seemed to quiver in fear of its majestic might.
50 meters from tip to tip and weighing in at 13 tons, the whale-like creature sported four muscular legs instead of fins. It was a monster in every sense of the word.
From its full-body coat of fur more resilient than specialized alloy to the massive horn that could seemingly pierce the heavens, everything about the beast was designed for combat.
An austere visage stared down at 01. The mixture of the most brutal lion and bear-like traits was enough to make hair stand on end with a single glance.
It was a Behemoth, the Terra King. The beast was one of the archetype weapons brought to life by anamnesis during the Conflict.
Archetypes were identified by their innate control over anamnesis. This ability came from the substance being spliced into their DNA, which made them superior to anything else in the animal kingdom.
This one had emerged from an orb that fell from the palm of the last terrorist’s hand just before his death. The indiscriminate spray of bullets must have been a stunt to buy enough time to activate it.
Of course, the beast recognized 01 as the one who had slain its master and therefore an enemy. It possessed enough intellect to carry out the cyborg’s final wish.
Another howl, this one accompanied by fully extended claws digging into the floor. Another shake coursed through the walls as the cement flooring crumbled away. Even 01 had to respect that kind of raw power.
The Terra King then swung its mighty horn about. 01 knew that his body would never withstand a direct hit from the appendage’s near carpet-bombing of the entrance hall.
Incessant impacts going off like explosions left and right, the sheer power and density of each strike was overwhelming. The Behemoth was truly worthy of being dubbed “Terra King.”
01 charged in to face the mythical beast head on. Dodging the horn and parrying claws with every step, he avoided death by the slimmest of margins as he pressed ever closer.
Each and every strike was evaded by a hair. Though, it wasn’t for a lack of maneuverability. Reducing the dodge clearance to that extent allowed him to approach on the shortest possible path.
This combination of inhuman physical strength and a wealth of experience is what made demon cyborgs the ultimate weapons of war.
However, the beast was a wily fighter. It switched up its attack pattern with each passing moment while coaxing more speed out of its gigantic body.
Rubble flew with every snap of its tail. Pieces of the building collapsed as bursts of flames came from the beast’s mouth. Though, this was no coincidence. The massive creature was purposefully blocking 01’s movements by putting more debris in his way.
Claws, the horn, and its massive body weren’t the only weapons at the Terra King’s disposal. It could accurately assess it’s target’s fighting strength and take steps to thoroughly neutralize it. In fact, that intelligence could very well be its strongest asset.
Only ten seconds had passed, but the combatants had gone back and forth nearly 100 times. 01’s reflexes lagged behind for a mere moment, however, and he realized it was too late to duck under an incoming swipe.
Just as the Terra King could taste its own victory, 01 disappeared from its sight. The perfectly timed killing blow merely turned another piece of the floor into rubble.
A 50 meter jump to the ceiling, and 01 used that very ceiling as a springboard to reach terminal velocity. He appeared as a streaking comet to the beast as it looked skyward.
A shockwave resulting from that high-speed impact shook the building yet again.
An armored fist had broken through its furry armor and shattered the skull beneath in a single blow.
The beheaded beast collapsed to the floor. Even the Terra King could not continue its reign lacking a functional cranium.
Just as the Behemoth had been cornering 01, 01 had been waiting for the moment the beast sensed victory.
With that settled, 01 scanned the area for any remaining hostiles.
“...Yeesh, who the hell are these guys, carryin’ around weaponry like that?”
01 scoffed as he analyzed their corpses.
Real archetype weapons cost the same as an average country’s GDP these days, a price range far beyond that of run-of-the-mill terrorists. Utilizing one meant one of two things: either these terrorists had an extremely powerful sponsor behind them or this one had been in their possession since the end of the Anamnesisian Conflict.
“I-It’s quiet? I-Is the fighting over...?”
“I-I though I saw something, but...”
“...Hey, is that 01?”
“Y-You idiot, 01 died in the war...”
The hostages quickly realized they weren’t alone once the final echoes waned. 01 had no intention of running away now that he had been spotted.
“You’re... 01, aren’t you? Did you... come to save us?”
“No to the first, yes to the second. I’m an illusion that just happened to save your asses.”
01 answered the few hostages brave enough to draw near. He dodged any question pertaining to the reason for their survival.
“But, you’re right here-”
“An illusion. Things’ll get messy if ya don’t accept that as is. Now, get the hell out of here. You’re in the way.”
“Y-Yeah, good point... S-Still, thank you!”
The shock of what just transpired was too much for them to process right away. Taking 01’s explanation at face value, the hostages made for the exit.
Some left without saying a word while others offered salutes on their way out.
“...Never do get used to this.”
Mumbled 01, conflicting emotions running rampant in his mind as he watched the survivors head for safety. This was a battlefield, neither he nor they had time for leisurely expressions of gratitude.
Seeing the last disappear through the exit, 01 shifted his attention to the digital display in his field of vision to check for movement. Seven blips flashed on a map of the facility, all of which were hostiles.
The enemy was concentrating their forces into the three entrance floors. Already jamming communication with the outside, they were taking up the defensive positions their isolation strategy called for.
“...Can you read me, Karen?”
“Loud and clear, Dad. What’s the problem? That last bunch didn’t seem to give you any trouble...”
01 opened a channel with his daughter while remaining on high alert. Even in this chaos, the line under Karen’s control was clear as a whistle.
She was the only person 01 would go to for answers. Never once had Karen betrayed that trust.
“Cronies like this ain’t that tough. It’s who’s pullin’ the strings that’s got me on edge. One thing’s for sure, they ain’t ordinary terrorists.”
In fact, they were well-trained soldiers. A solid chain of command, lethal fighting style, and their equipment all signaled as much.
“I couldn’t get anything off the bodies themselves because their data automatically wiped when they died, but I heard their transmissions. They’re using an old Federation code, looks like... the one that the North American branch used to use. Do you think they’re ex-military?”
“Damn near certain, yeah. Got anything else?”
“They’re using kinetic code, but it’s a weird one. The commander is ‘alpha,’ but their subordinates are ‘pack’... So inconsistent.”
Individual details eluded his memory, but 01 had most definitely heard those terms before. The flames of war had burned them in too deep.
“Ring any bells?”
“Not sure yet. Rendezvous on the other side of the wall? I’ve got incoming hostiles.”
“...All right. Just be careful, Dad.”
Obtaining information was important, just not as pressing as the threat before him. There would be time for research once his enemies had become carcasses at his feet.
This entrance hall had the same layout as the one 01 had just spent hours staring at while waiting. With that thorough knowledge of the floor plan, he already had a strategy in mind.
“Now, to roll out the red carpet.”
01 stepped up to the behemoth’s dead body and proceeded to lift it into the air with both arms. 13 tons of weight was barely enough for 01 to break a sweat.
He could see a corner identical to the one before out of the corner of his eye. What’s more, Karen’s arbiter abilities and support allowed him to pinpoint the enemies’ location in real time.
The group of seven had split into two cells, each using a different route to approach. The closer of which would arrive in three seconds.
01 hurled the Terra King’s corpse at a 3-man cell that arrived three seconds later. Spewing blood as it tumbled through the air, it landed right in front of the group.
The sight of the deceased monster’s body sliding toward them delayed their reaction by one fatal instant.
01, who jumped into the air after throwing the beast, kicked it with his full strength. A bone-curtling crunch echoed through the entrance hall as all 13 tons went through the wall, turning it to rubble and the enemy soldiers into scrap metal.
Three blips disappeared from his display at once.
“Fire!! Pin that bastard down!”
“Is that all ya got?!”
01 quipped as he dodged bullet fire from overhead. The second cell had arrived and taken up positions on the watchtower originally occupied by the facilities’ security guards.
Three lines of fire but four enemy signatures. That could only mean one thing: the bullets were a distraction.
An ambush was set for when 01 took cover, that was their objective.
“Saw it comin’!”
01 countered the perfectly timed attack with his own. His fist punctured the attacker’s chest cavity long before the brandished heat knife could reach its target.
“Damn, I’m totalled! Keep firing!!”
Of course, the enemies on the second floor were not simply watching the events unfold. 01’s rigorous counter attack did not go unnoticed.
Not the least bit concerned with the incoming bullets, 01 raced to the watchtower’s blind spot: directly beneath. He took a few hits along the way, but his armor was more than capable of repelling that level of firepower.
However, 01 could not reach his targets from this position either. This stalemate would persist until either of them made a move. At least, the three terrorists could not be blamed for believing that to be the case.
“Grenades! Smoke that bastard out-!!”
Ripping out the pin of a plasma grenade, one of the ex-soldiers went to throw it only to have the floor of the tower ripped out from under him.
Only after getting swallowed up in the explosion amid the freefall did he realize 01 had torn through the metal frame.
“SON OF A BIIIITCH!!”
The other two survived the fall, but one began desperately firing his weapon as smoke from the explosion robbed him of vision. The human fear and anger his cyborg optimization should have suppressed had come back with a vengeance.
01’s punch pierced the soldier’s chest from behind. The blow was so accurate that the man did not suffer any pain before losing consciousness.
One more, and the last blip would disappear from Karen’s sensors.
“...Ya sure ya want to finish this? Surrender an’ I’ll turn ya over to the military.”
01 offered the man who seemed to be in command. Though he doubted the man would willingly submit at this point, 01’s habit of offering such counsel dated back to his days in uniform.
“We ain’t no dogs.”
“Then come at me, will ya? I’ll make this quick.”
The final survivor was unarmed but braced for hand-to-hand combat, his fists clenched tight. 01 kept his hands open, but rose to the challenge.
The cyborg knew he was as good as dead. Therefore, 01 felt it was his duty to give the man a fitting send off.
The man went with the strongest weapon at a demon cyborg’s disposal, a sonically charged spinning kick. Any contact whatsoever would inflict serious damage.
Even if he could not defeat 01, he would have one hell of story to tell once he was on the other side.
That was the last thought to pass through the seventh and final member’s head.
Ducking beneath the kick, 01 drove his fist through his opponent as he flew by. The whole series of movements took a fraction of a second, but it was all too easy for 01.
“That should settle things-”
Zero blips remained on the display. All terrorists in the area had been neutralized. While not out of the woods, per se, all sparks had been extinguished.
Excluding the gaze he had felt on him since the beginning of the battle, that is.
“Hey, I know you’re watchin’! How ’bout sayin’ hello, eh?!”
01 slowly turned to face a gloomy presence that felt like a permanent fixture in the air. He knew from experience that anyone with eyes that powerful was not to be trifled with.
“-As expected from one of the Conflict’s heroes. You certainly live up to your reputation.”
There it was, a voice from the shadows of the crippled building that bridged the Inner and Outer worlds.