Chapter 10:


Burned Out Heroes

The greatest hits from over 100 years ago blared inside the club.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

This place was, both figuratively and literally, the ideal society’s underbelly.Bookmark here

At least it was until 01 stepped inside. His very presence changed wherever he went into a battlefield. This was no exception.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Five minutes, give or take, remained before military police arrived on the scene. That was 01’s time limit.Bookmark here

“...Damn, I’m rusty.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

For if she had not been, the bouncers would not have thrown punches when he mentioned her name.Bookmark here

“So, if ya don’t know anything, who would?”Bookmark here

“The boss! He’ll know, I swear!!”Bookmark here

“Where can I find him?”Bookmark here

“Th-The back! He’s getting ready to split!”Bookmark here

“Thanks.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Ahh... Nghhh...”Bookmark here

“Oh, yeeeahhh! Hahaha! That’s right, I am God! Y’all better do what I say or else!!”Bookmark here

“Maria, wow, look how you’ve grown...”Bookmark here

An all too familiar scene was unfolding at the end of a dark hallway behind the dance floor.Bookmark here

Men and women with glazed eyes, some sprawled out on the floor while others shouted nonsense in a fit, filled the passageway.Bookmark here

The one thing they all had in common: they were not “here.”Bookmark 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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“...Yeesh.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Good, EVENIN’!”Bookmark here

“Arrgh?!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

A door like that could be dealt with without transforming. 01 did not even bat an eye.Bookmark here

“Wh-Who are you?!”Bookmark here

“Agh? A customer, obviously. The guys out front couldn’t do a damn thing, so I came to complain in person.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“H-Hey, get lost! D-Do you know who the fuck I am?! Do y-ARGH?!”Bookmark here

“Easy, ya ain’t got nothin’ to worry ’bout. Just here to ask a few questions and break a few bones, that’s all.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“DAHHHH! I-IT’S IN PIECES, MAN!!”Bookmark here

“Just a bonus. I never said I wouldn’t break the same one several times, did I?”Bookmark here

“The ’Kais runs this place!! If you think you can pull this shit and walk, you got another thing com-”Bookmark here

“Of course, I know. Want me to hit the other foot next?”Bookmark here

“O-Okay, OKAY! I’ll tell you whatever you wanna know, all right?!”Bookmark here

Used to conducting interrogations, snapping bones was par for the course at this point for 01.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“...Erde Hadias worked here. Where’s she now?”Bookmark here

“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!!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Rather than a warning, it was a clear threat. More of the same was in store if he got off-topic again.Bookmark here

“I want to know where she is. Keep the rest to yourself.”Bookmark here

“Sh-She quit! A month ago! I don’t know anything el-GAHH!”Bookmark here

“That’s a lie. So much for your leg.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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...”Bookmark here

“A ‘better hustle’?”Bookmark here

“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...!”Bookmark here

As the club manager was now offering information in quick succession unprompted, 01’s interrogation method was working like a charm.Bookmark here

Whatever their client’s peculiar, yet important, connection to the “Resistance” may be, 01 still did not have enough information to venture a guess.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“What about the necklace? She should’a had one on...”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“...So, that’s it.”Bookmark here

She never had a necklace on in the first place. That answer made the rest seem simple.Bookmark here

Investigating why the necklace failed was part of this job. However, it seemed the girl at the heart of everything never wore one.Bookmark here

Both sides were lying. Yet, the client was less trustworthy than this thug.Bookmark here

“...Where is Miss Hadias now? I’ve got business with her.”Bookmark here

“I-I don’t have a clue!”Bookmark here

“Oh? Wrong answer.”Bookmark here

“I-It’s true! Really! She went Outside three days ago and we haven’t heard a peep from her since!”Bookmark here

“Explain.”Bookmark here

“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!!”Bookmark here

“...Again, the Resistance.”Bookmark here

Breathing, perspiration, pulse, everything was normal. The information was trustworthy.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

And, the Resistance’s involvement made the situation exponentially more suspect.Bookmark here

“Th-There! I told you everything you wanted! N-Now, let me g-”Bookmark here

“Not just yet. There’s one more thing. Would ya tell me everything ya know about the Resistance?”Bookmark here

“Th-Those assholes?! Wh-Why in the hell would you want info on them...?”Bookmark here

“Call it personal curiosity. What’s their angle? Or, do ya need more convincing to talk?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Karen’s investigation revealed that the Federation had very little information on the Resistance, and the same was true for the network at large.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Okay! I’ll talk! That’s all you want, right?! What do you wanna know?!”Bookmark here

“...Everything ya do. Let’s start simple. Where’s their base?”Bookmark here

“H-Hell if I know! It’s Outside, but I don’t gotta clue where! HQ has guys out combing the slums right now!”Bookmark here

“Got anything else for me? Any details?”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“Business, ya say? Dealin’ what?”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“...What a nice sponsor.”Bookmark here

This was no lie. In fact, the weaponry the Resistance soldiers 01 fought fit that description.Bookmark here

Apart from units equipped with self-repair protocols like 01, efficiency should decrease along with performance over time.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“...Damn, I’m an idiot.”Bookmark here

The lies from the client for this job, the Resistance, Number 10, everything was intertwined.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

This was a trap afterall. Discretion was now of the utmost importance.Bookmark here

“...And?”Bookmark here

“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!!”Bookmark here

“I see... Well, anything else?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“E-Else?! There is nothing else!”Bookmark here

“Is that right? Maybe a crushed finger will jog your memory.” Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“He did...?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

True or not, Number 10 sustaining an injury was beyond intriguing. This was worth pursuing.Bookmark here

 “Y-Yeah, we aren’t the type to shut up and take it... Not by a long shot...”Bookmark here

“How did ya hit him? Those pea shooters of yours’d never get through.”Bookmark here

Federation weapons may be able to produce more firepower than 01, but that feat was nigh impossible for the Ryusei-kai’s arsenal.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The Ryusei-kai must have found a special means to inflict damage on Number 10.Bookmark here

With that knowledge, he could plan. Worst case scenario, taking that information from the Ryusei-kai by force was an option.Bookmark here

“N-Not with a weapon! What I heard was the guy hit the deck after getting nailed with an EMP!”Bookmark here

“Are you serious...?”Bookmark here

“It’s true! I’m not lying here! HQ divvied up our whole stock, said something about them being part of the payback!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Number 10 taking damage from an EMP flash meant they were not mechanized. That fact only confused 01 further still.Bookmark here

“...Looks like time’s up.”Bookmark here

Familiar sirens wailed outside the building, but all else was silent. Only two minutes remained before military police would storm into this room.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

He needed a miracle to vacate the premises safely.Bookmark here

“...All right, last question. There’s a portal here, yeah?”Bookmark here

“H-How, how did you...?!”Bookmark here

“I didn’t, but it turns out I was right.”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“How ’bout tellin’ me where the switch is?”Bookmark here

“T-Top desk drawer, secret compartment underneath! Y-You’ve got all you want, so let g- GH?!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The portal was prepped for use, the quantum axises already fixed in place.Bookmark here

01 felt a wave of nostalgia. There was no telling how many times he had used one of these portals during the Conflict.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“...Crap, forgot to com her.”Bookmark here

Realized 01 as the portal hummed to life, but it was already too late.Bookmark here

Cours Twent
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