Burned Out Heroes
The Soul Settler’s Inner World was its public face.
Ashen-gray buildings stood high over the city streets and holographic advertisements were projected into vacant air space 24-7. Residents traversed streets paved with asphalt as they went about their normal lives.
A splitting image of the past, it seemed the world-wide trend of harkening back to the peaceful days of the old calendar had permeated the artificial island as well. Whether they were basking in nostalgia or trying to forget the war, perhaps both, all traces of the location’s military origins had been completely erased.
“Yes, as you say, sir... Yes, thank you for your time.”
“Seriously? Teach moved up the test? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Mommy! Mommy!! Buy that mini dragon for me!! C’mon, please! I’m the only one in my class that doesn’t have an ana-pet yet!!”
In fact, the old city was peaceful. Its residents had no reason to fear for their lives or their loved ones.
The worst of their problems came down to their own social standing at school or within the workplace. This distinctly human version of “peace” was the most valuable aspect of the Inside.
“And now to today’s top stories. A security update for the upcoming ceremony to mark the fifth year of peace after the Anamnesisian Conflict was announced earlier this morning. Military officials have confirmed that two full battalions will-”
Nothing served as better proof of it than the fact the holographic newscaster overhead was reading from a script that failed to mention the terrorist bombing at the gate.
Sweeping discord under the rug to maintain peace. Negligent perhaps, but the citizenry required guaranteed safety.
Meanwhile, 01 was not the least bit interested in this “peace” he had a hand in creating. Never once had he considered carving a place in it for himself, mostly because he believed soldiers and weaponry would lose their place in society should true peace become reality. Of course, he understood the value of peace, but never could experience that value himself.
“I said I was sorry, didn’ I?”
“If sorry solved everything, we wouldn’t need police. How many times have you told me that, Dad?”
“...I was wonderin’ why that sounded familiar.”
As far as 01 was concerned, quelling his daughter’s anger was far more meaningful than pondering the state of the Inner World.
It had been less than an hour since he reunited with Karen after slipping through the gate during the confusion. Their destination was only a few minutes away, but he was already against the ropes.
“You said you’d come right away, but you made me wait for THREE HOURS. I sat under that tarnkappe the whole time. Do you have any idea how lonely I was?”
“I had to wait for Feds to move out... Then got lost...”
“Again...? You’re the one who says silence is better than a pathetic excuse.”
01 could only eat his word as Karen countered him with his own logic. The urge to object was there in spades, but he was not childish enough to give in.
Especially now, as 01 was completely at fault. Though all the actions he took were out of necessity, his tardiness after the fact was inexcusable.
“...Hey, how ’bout a crepe or somethin’? Ya can add chocolate syrup if ya want.”
Suggested 01 as they passed a cafe on the street. Clearly intended for college students, no patrons or staff would expect someone like him to come inside. However, 01 was not one to bend to such pressure.
“You just want one, don’t you? I’d much rather have more of the fried dough we had a while back, sweat beans, or anything that pairs well with tea. You know, natural stuff.”
“...Tryin’ to bankrupt me over dinner?”
His sugary peace offering had failed. When it came to flavor, father and daughter had completely different, sometimes polar opposite, tastes.
“Besides, don’t you need money to buy anything in the first place? The cheapest hotel totally cleared us out...”
“Sure did... Things are too damn expensive in here.”
“Five times more than what they’re worth Outside is a rip-off. Who do we need to talk to to fix this?”
“Beats me... The Economic Regulation Ministry, maybe? But look, I’ll buy ya anythin’ ya want with the reward money, so would ya please let this drop?”
“...Instead of buying me things, I’d really like to go to the library later. It seems like this island still has one.”
With that, Karen sent a digital map into 01’s line of sight. A marker sparkled right across the street from Memorial Park in the middle of the city.
“...All right. Will takin’ ya there put ya in a better mood?”
“It’ll be a start.”
01 took a moment to think and consented to his daughter’s request. Though he was uncomfortable going that close to Memorial Park with the ceremony on the horizon, if it would improve Karen’s disposition, then so be it.
Other people were sparse in this area of the city. Their destination was a heretical anomaly within the Inner World, so foot traffic was at a minimum.
No matter how strict the surveillance, there would always be blind spots so long as human beings were in control. People needed a place away from prying eyes to indulge.
That place was on the northern tip of the Inside on the island in what was once the recreation block. Women and liquor were bought and sold under the neon lights in a recreation of the more salacious cultural influences from the past. It was a hotbed of crime that fit the Ryusei-kai to the letter.
01 and Karen were about to set foot into a place the Inner World kept swept under the rug.
“Oh, turn left up ahead. You remember which way that is, right?”
“I ain’t that dumb... So, how’d it go? Find anything on those guys?”
“Just finished, actually.”
Karen was not one to neglect research, even while walking and talking. Simple hacking and network skimming could be done in spare moments, but there was most definitely information to be gleamed.
“They, the ‘Resistance,’ operate mostly in the northern district of the island. The first records of their bombings turn up about two years ago, and, just as you said, they seem to target former military facilities and ports. I haven’t found any records of civilian casualties because they hit hard targets instead.”
“...So, things do line up.”
“What lines up?”
“Ah, never mind. Keep going.”
“Compared to the damages, the amount of information public security has on them is pathetic. It’s because they’re extremely good at covering their tracks. Whatever they do, steal or destroy, it’s over in an instant. All of their communications are heavily encrypted and it looks like they have a system to make dead bodies disappear if there are any casualties... Sound familiar?”
“...Yeah. Special forces, by the sound of it.”
The girl’s words were the final piece to the puzzle in 01’s mind. Now, all the dots were connected. Add information from the military database, and the answer became clear.
Of course, it was not the answer he wanted, but having it was better than none at all. Just knowing who needed to be dealt with was enough for 01.
“There. That’s the place.”
“...Pretty classy for the Ryusei-kai, yeah?”
“True... But, it’s a bit dirty.”
Thirty minutes of walking and they had cornered their quarry.
The outside of the building was decorated in the in-vogue neoclassical style. Even the concrete looked authentic, if in need of a wash.
“I can get inside if I hack into their system. Give me a minute and I-”
“No, ya’ve done enough. Head back to the hotel. Do me a favor and dig up some more on ‘Number 10,’ ’kay?”
Karen never expected to hear those words. The possibility of working separately simply did not occur to her.
“U-Um, what? Did I hear that right?”
“Yeah. What’re ya actin’ surprised for?”
01 answered as Karen pleaded with her eyes for him to say he misspoke.
Throughout all of the jobs they had done thus far, 01 had always been right at Karen’s side. Never once had he told her to leave. Father and daughter coming to each other's aid no matter the situation had been a mutual understanding between 01 and Karen.
“Hear me out. Ya’d stick out like a sore thumb in there, and ya don’ really want to go inside anyway, right? Besides, it’ll just be me breakin’ some bones and then comin’ right back out. Ya don’ need to be along for that.”
Her father was right. Karen knew she would not be able to contribute much, if anything at all, should she accompany 01 inside. Worse, she would be a liability.
Even though she understood logically, her emotions did not. Visions of being abandoned would not fade despite her best efforts.
“When I say no, I mean it. Please, be reasonable here.”
“B-But, you’ll never find your way back by yourself, Dad. Oh, why don’t I wait out here-”
“And cause more trouble? Ya know as well as I do that any anamnesis signals’ll get picked up by the ‘eyes’ around here, don’ ya?”
The Inner World security web was extremely tight. Military police would converge on any location where unauthorized optic camouflage or arbitral powers were used within five minutes.
Doing something to avoid trouble would result in causing it, effectively putting the cart before the metaphorical horse.
“I know, but... I-I...”
“It’s alright. I’ll be back to the room as quick as I can. Worse comes to worse, com me. I’ll be there in 30 seconds tops.”
01 ruffled her hair in an attempt to drive those visions from her mind.
As a way to tell her to relax, that gesture was sufficient. At the very least, it was the best way 01 knew to express affection.
He need not put his reasoning into words. In fact, 01 understood that her stubbornness would only increase the more he tried to explain.
“Okay... But, if anything happens, you better-”
“Yeah, ’course I’ll com you. Now, get goin’. I can’t legally pick ya up if ya get taken into protective custody.”
“As if I’d let that happen!”
Reluctant as she was, Karen started walking away after that exchange. Far from onboard with this plan and sulking to the point that anything around her feet was bound to get kicked halfway down the street, 01 was just happy that she still obeyed him.
“...Can’t exactly tell her, now can I?”
Once his stubborn daughter disappeared from sight, 01 turned to face the establishment. He had not chased her away because she would be a hindrance.
The military’s database contained a group that used the same callsigns as the Resistance. Alpha, the leader, and their subordinates, the pack. Only one unit referred to each other like a pack of wolves.
The Federation’s North American Continental Special Forces, dubbed the “Lone Wolf Squadron.” Composed of arbiters and demon cyborgs like other special units, they built a strong reputation during the Anamnesisian Conflict.
Of course, they were disbanded along with all other squads once the war had concluded. The records stated as much.
Based on the Resistance’s flawless coordination he had witnessed with his own eyes, 01 was certain ex-Lone Wolves were in their ranks. Their movements were too similar to the real thing for them to be simply imitating the callsigns.
Ex-special forces becoming terrorists was not a rare phenomenon, and not particularly a problem as far as 01 was concerned.
The issue was that their client, John Hadias, once belonged to that squadron.
Too many dots were connecting for it to be a coincidence. Whether a meticulously laid trap was in store or there was more information hidden just out of sight, one thing was for certain: this job was no longer just tracking down a runaway.
01 would not let his daughter get more mixed up in this plot than she already was. Even if it meant lying to her, that was 01’s rule as a father.