Burned Out Heroes
The greatest hits from over 100 years ago blared inside the club.
Vivid lights shone through the night as swaths of degenerate youths danced like there was no tomorrow. Various alcoholic concoctions splashed around in their clutches. Unlike the healthy beverages infused with as many nutrients as liquid could hold available at convenience stores or vending machines, this club made their drinks with natural ingredients that actively damaged the mind and body.
Customers weren’t the only ones wasting away in the club. The flirty “companions” who brought them their drinks also showed signs of being under the influence, especially their abnormally dilated eyes.
This place was, both figuratively and literally, the ideal society’s underbelly.
At least it was until 01 stepped inside. His very presence changed wherever he went into a battlefield. This was no exception.
Throws of ecstasy and horse cheers were now eerily absent. The club’s bouncers and rougher patrons lay on the floor, every single one of them nursing at least one broken bone.
Frequenters of the club may be used to seeing drunken brawls between customers, but that was a far cry from combat. Racing for the exits once the first shrieks of battle rang out, most were likely contacting the military at this very moment with the stench of alcohol on their breath.
Five minutes, give or take, remained before military police arrived on the scene. That was 01’s time limit.
“...Damn, I’m rusty.”
It had taken a minute and a half to break the bones of 16 bouncers, but he was sure he could have done that and more in less than a minute five years ago.
Of course, this was not 01’s original plan coming in. Though improbable, he would have taken his leave without incident if staff members had given him the information he wanted at the outset.
Of course, he had made a few discoveries. There was no doubt that the Ryusei-kai controlled this establishment and the girl named Erde had been a fairly important person while she was here.
For if she had not been, the bouncers would not have thrown punches when he mentioned her name.
“So, if ya don’t know anything, who would?”
“The boss! He’ll know, I swear!!”
“Where can I find him?”
“Th-The back! He’s getting ready to split!”
Only after bending the person’s other arm around his fist did 01 finally get the information he was after. While not the crux of the matter, that detail made a world of difference.
“Oh, yeeeahhh! Hahaha! That’s right, I am God! Y’all better do what I say or else!!”
“Maria, wow, look how you’ve grown...”
An all too familiar scene was unfolding at the end of a dark hallway behind the dance floor.
Men and women with glazed eyes, some sprawled out on the floor while others shouted nonsense in a fit, filled the passageway.
The one thing they all had in common: they were not “here.”
Each was trapped in fever dreams brought on by hallucinogenic drugs. Their hyped-up minds were making them relieve memories or experience their wildest desires.
In other words, they were in another reality. There was no such thing as “impossible” in a dream, thus troubles and sorrow did not exist.
Becoming the undisputed overlord of that world, marrying the perfect wife, reuniting with a daughter after disease took her life... anything was possible. None would wake up by choice, that much was clear.
01 passed by the everyday sight without so much as a second thought. There was a difference between being used to seeing it and accepting it.
01 kicked the locked door clean out of its frame. The golden metal plate careened into the room behind, slamming into someone unlucky enough to be standing in its path at the time.
A door like that could be dealt with without transforming. 01 did not even bat an eye.
“Wh-Who are you?!”
“Agh? A customer, obviously. The guys out front couldn’t do a damn thing, so I came to complain in person.”
There were only two people in the office: a man in his 40’s with a beer gut and his unlucky bodyguard, currently pinned beneath what was left of the door. He had been careless, considering the situation, but this time the intruder was entirely to blame.
“H-Hey, get lost! D-Do you know who the fuck I am?! Do y-ARGH?!”
“Easy, ya ain’t got nothin’ to worry ’bout. Just here to ask a few questions and break a few bones, that’s all.”
01 grabbed the man’s foot as he tried desperately to scoot away on the floor and gave it a little twist. The bone snapped instantly, as it was little more than a toothpick in 01’s grip.
“DAHHHH! I-IT’S IN PIECES, MAN!!”
“Just a bonus. I never said I wouldn’t break the same one several times, did I?”
“The ’Kais runs this place!! If you think you can pull this shit and walk, you got another thing com-”
“Of course, I know. Want me to hit the other foot next?”
“O-Okay, OKAY! I’ll tell you whatever you wanna know, all right?!”
Used to conducting interrogations, snapping bones was par for the course at this point for 01.
Though, that was not the case for the one on the receiving end. A well-trained soldier may be able to endure, but this pompous thug became meek putty in the blink of an eye.
“...Erde Hadias worked here. Where’s she now?”
“O-Oh, that arbiter girl! You’re looking for that student, yeah? She made a killing, she did. That your type? ’Cause you’re in luck. A new girl just like h-GAAAHH!!”
01 gave the already mangled foot another squeeze before the man could finish that sentence. Sharp, fiery pain blazed through his nerves and nearly knocked him unconscious. However, it was that very same pain that kept him in the moment.
Rather than a warning, it was a clear threat. More of the same was in store if he got off-topic again.
“I want to know where she is. Keep the rest to yourself.”
“Sh-She quit! A month ago! I don’t know anything el-GAHH!”
“That’s a lie. So much for your leg.”
Tibia and fibula were crushed together in 01’s left hand the moment the thug feigned ignorance. Pieces of the mangled bones poked through the skin.
“O-Okay! P-Please, I’ll tell you anything, JUST STOP!! It’s true she left last month! She got shifted to a better hustle! The higher ups said to use her...”
“A ‘better hustle’?”
“R-Running narcotics! Other students are easy marks, and the military’d never suspect her! She’d clear the gate just by saying she’s ‘helping the poor’ or some shit like that...!”
As the club manager was now offering information in quick succession unprompted, 01’s interrogation method was working like a charm.
Whatever their client’s peculiar, yet important, connection to the “Resistance” may be, 01 still did not have enough information to venture a guess.
Which meant now was the time to pursue the visible trail. Clearing out the clutter to arrive at an answer was the way 01 preferred to operate.
“What about the necklace? She should’a had one on...”
“N-No, she never did! That girl, she’s some big-wig’s brat and he pulled strings for her! That made her perfect as a runner!”
“...So, that’s it.”
She never had a necklace on in the first place. That answer made the rest seem simple.
Investigating why the necklace failed was part of this job. However, it seemed the girl at the heart of everything never wore one.
Both sides were lying. Yet, the client was less trustworthy than this thug.
“...Where is Miss Hadias now? I’ve got business with her.”
“I-I don’t have a clue!”
“Oh? Wrong answer.”
“I-It’s true! Really! She went Outside three days ago and we haven’t heard a peep from her since!”
“She was doing a run but there was an attack! Some assholes calling themselves the ‘Resistance’ horned in on our turf! The girl probably went up in the explosion!! The guys at base are cooking up some payback right now!!”
“...Again, the Resistance.”
Breathing, perspiration, pulse, everything was normal. The information was trustworthy.
Erde had been missing for three days, which matched Berkov’s timeline. At the very least, it was true her location had been concealed for that length of time.
She had been working as a smuggler, bringing drugs Inside until seemingly vanishing into thin air. That, however, was the limit to what 01 knew was fact.
And, the Resistance’s involvement made the situation exponentially more suspect.
“Th-There! I told you everything you wanted! N-Now, let me g-”
“Not just yet. There’s one more thing. Would ya tell me everything ya know about the Resistance?”
“Th-Those assholes?! Wh-Why in the hell would you want info on them...?”
“Call it personal curiosity. What’s their angle? Or, do ya need more convincing to talk?”
01 grabbed hold of the man’s yet-undamaged right hand. He’d already proven he was willing to break not just two or three fingers, but all ten if he felt it was necessary.
Karen’s investigation revealed that the Federation had very little information on the Resistance, and the same was true for the network at large.
However, the underbelly of society was a different story. As another group operating in the shadows, the Ryusei-kai would have made it their business to know as much about the Resistance as possible.
“Okay! I’ll talk! That’s all you want, right?! What do you wanna know?!”
“...Everything ya do. Let’s start simple. Where’s their base?”
“H-Hell if I know! It’s Outside, but I don’t gotta clue where! HQ has guys out combing the slums right now!”
“Got anything else for me? Any details?”
“Y-Yeah, I do, I do! We used to do business with ’em. I wasn’t there for any of the deals, but it sounded like they were damn good customers!”
“Business, ya say? Dealin’ what?”
“W-Weapons! Guns, ammo, ’borg parts, the works! Not just any parts, either! I’m talking military-grade arsenal, top quality shit, right from Feds’ stock!”
“...What a nice sponsor.”
This was no lie. In fact, the weaponry the Resistance soldiers 01 fought fit that description.
Apart from units equipped with self-repair protocols like 01, efficiency should decrease along with performance over time.
Five years after the war, the lack of any deterioration whatsoever was bizarre. The Resistance forces who clashed with 01 were the splitting image of soldiers at the peak of the Anamnesisian Conflict. That explained why.
“...Damn, I’m an idiot.”
The lies from the client for this job, the Resistance, Number 10, everything was intertwined.
First and foremost, there was no doubt that Senator “Inferno Blade Flamberg” John Hadias, formerly of the Lone Wolf Squadron, was the sponsor backing the Resistance.
Records of his fighting style were uncannily similar to that of Number 10. To think, the terrorist making waves was actually a current member of the Federation’s High Consul. As hard as it was to believe, coincidences never line up this clearly.
This was a trap afterall. Discretion was now of the utmost importance.
“I-I don’t know the rest, okay?! Their marks are always military! But, for whatever reason, they raided our drop point! We don’t know shit!!”
“I see... Well, anything else?”
This aggressive chat had borne a great deal of fruit, but it still was not enough. 01 had played right into the enemy’s hands up until this point. Turning the tables required reaching the very heart of their scheme.
“E-Else?! There is nothing else!”
“Is that right? Maybe a crushed finger will jog your memory.”
“W-WAIT! I-I got something! Th-That’s right, in the raid three days ago, word is that prick calling himself ‘Number 10’ got hurt!”
A piece of information more valuable than 01 ever imagined came from the club owner’s lips just as he was about to apply pressure to his right hand.
True or not, Number 10 sustaining an injury was beyond intriguing. This was worth pursuing.
“Y-Yeah, we aren’t the type to shut up and take it... Not by a long shot...”
“How did ya hit him? Those pea shooters of yours’d never get through.”
Federation weapons may be able to produce more firepower than 01, but that feat was nigh impossible for the Ryusei-kai’s arsenal.
Even if they managed to deploy such a weapon, triggering it would draw the Federation military to them like moths to a flame. No such rumors had reached his ears and that kind of information would never slip passed Karen.
The Ryusei-kai must have found a special means to inflict damage on Number 10.
With that knowledge, he could plan. Worst case scenario, taking that information from the Ryusei-kai by force was an option.
“N-Not with a weapon! What I heard was the guy hit the deck after getting nailed with an EMP!”
“Are you serious...?”
“It’s true! I’m not lying here! HQ divvied up our whole stock, said something about them being part of the payback!”
A piece of the puzzle in 01’s mind suddenly did not fit. If the notorious Number 10 was indeed Flamberg, an electro-magnetic pulse should not have phased him.
The man had undergone changes after the war but was still a demon cyborg. In which case, he would be shielded from all sorts of hazards, including EMPs.
Immune to flashes, bioweapons, and hacking, demon cyborgs became known as the ultimate weapons of war because sheer power was the only way to stop them.
Number 10 taking damage from an EMP flash meant they were not mechanized. That fact only confused 01 further still.
“...Looks like time’s up.”
Familiar sirens wailed outside the building, but all else was silent. Only two minutes remained before military police would storm into this room.
Every moment was of the essence now that he knew this job was a trap. However, escaping the club would involve contact with the military, most likely an armed firefight barring a miracle.
He needed a miracle to vacate the premises safely.
“...All right, last question. There’s a portal here, yeah?”
“H-How, how did you...?!”
“I didn’t, but it turns out I was right.”
Warp portals, worm holes that connected here to there. Vast networks had been created during the Conflict. Though, what was once called the greatest invention in human history was now seen as a threat rather than a convenience and every portal not under Federation control had been destroyed.
That is what the public was told. The reality was many of the “destroyed” portals were still in use by groups like the Ryusei-kai. Portals just like this one had gotten 01 out of a jam on more than one occasion.
All signs pointed to a warp portal being installed in this location. From 01’s experience, the Ryusei-kai always had an escape route in place no matter where they went.
“How ’bout tellin’ me where the switch is?”
“T-Top desk drawer, secret compartment underneath! Y-You’ve got all you want, so let g- GH?!”
With that, the club owner was knocked out. The blow came from 01’s foot, sparring brain damage with a light stomp but disfiguring his nose in the process.
Finding the switch exactly where the man said it would be, a hidden door opened to reveal a miniature shrine-like structure as soon as he flipped it. 01 gazed upon the gaudy blue light pulsing from within like an old brother in arms.
The portal was prepped for use, the quantum axises already fixed in place.
01 felt a wave of nostalgia. There was no telling how many times he had used one of these portals during the Conflict.
The destination coordinates had been set for a port on the Outside. Getting back Inside would take time, but it was a sacrifice he had to make. So long as he got a message to his daughter, there would be plenty of chances for them to rendezvous.
“...Crap, forgot to com her.”
Realized 01 as the portal hummed to life, but it was already too late.