Burned Out Heroes
01’s body moved before a conscious thought formed in his mind.
The gate that separated the Inner World from the Outside was directly in his path. It was quite a distance away from his current location, but transforming would allow him to arrive in a matter of minutes. It goes without saying doing so would alert the Federation military, but that could not be less important to him now.
Countless buildings were damaged in 01’s wake as he carved the shortest path possible to his destination and drew the attention of every Outside resident in the process. The fact no one was seriously injured by the sonic shockwaves was nothing short of a miracle.
The abruptly cut-off transmission and the unease he had felt about this job from the very beginning combined to lead 01 to a single conclusion: Karen was being attacked. There was no doubt in his mind.
Denting the sound barrier, words as hot as his smoldering heart poured from his mouth. 01 felt as though he would collapse on the spot had he not let them out.
Karen could be gone forever. The very thought horrified him to his core. He had come too far to once again become a real “ghost” searching for a place to die.
“...Damn it! No signal!”
The comm unit was still silent. All sorts of ideas passed through 01’s mind, but there was no stopping them.
While there were several candidates for the attacker’s identity, the Resistance seemed to be the most likely party. Their intentions were still an enigma, but if this job was a trap, an assault on Karen may have been part of the plan. Furthermore, the attack commenced the exact moment 01 had worked out Number 10’s true identity thanks to Karen’s information. Coincidences like that did not happen.
Of course, it all could be baseless anxiety. If that were the case, he could chalk up this series of events to his own idiocy.
Be that as it may, 01 was now painfully aware that no minor detail could be overlooked. There was no such thing as being too concerned for the well-being of someone he cared about.
“-Attack drones have been dispatched.”
“Well, no shit...!!”
Now on his third bound, 01 covered several hundred meters in the blink of an eye as he entered the gate’s defensive perimeter. The faster-than-anticipated reaction time to his advance must be due to heightened security following the incident earlier today.
Breaking though would only require a minute. As every single second, no, millisecond was of the essence right now, even that was a substantial time loss.
“-Here I come.”
01’s mindset switched the moment he landed. Even former allies would have to be dealt with if they stood in his way in the present.
“-You’re a bit quick on the draw, I believe.”
The interruption came a mere second before he charged Federation ranks.
A single voice over brain wave transmission suddenly derailed his train of thought as a familiar face appeared within the peripherals of his visor. His timing disrupted, 01 elected to fall back for the moment.
Scanning for a suitable staging area, 01 chose the rooftop of a building located a full kilometer from the gate. Though he would lose optic camouflage and jamming capability, concealing his location was possible by reverting out of combat mode.
“...Ya gotta deathwish, Berkov?”
“There is no ‘wish,’ as it were. I simply thought it would behoove me, as the liaison, to stop someone under my dispatch from a needless confrontation with the Federation military.”
Berkov answered 01’s poorly veiled threat. He was one of a select few people who knew 01’s brain wave frequency.
“I aint got time for bullshit and I’m fucking pissed off right now, so do me a favor and... Wait. Whaddya mean by ‘needless’?”
“Exactly what I said, without need. This course of action is not reckless, I assure you, as you are more than capable of dealing with the three battalions stationed there at this moment, but unnecessary.”
“...Ya knew everything, didn’ ya?”
Berkov was the only one who knew their location. That naturally led to the conclusion he was involved in the raid. Even the timing of this communication was too perfect.
“If you were to ask if I know the client, Senator Hadias’ connection to the Resistance, the answer would be ‘yes.’”
“...So ya admit it.”
“More accurately, I know about it now. You would be surprised what I can unearth when I put my mind to it... I would like to make it clear there is no merit in taking sides against you.”
There was no hint of diversion or excuse in Berkov’s correction. Though it did not dismiss 01’s suspicions entirely, it persuaded him to lend an ear.
“...I ain’t so sure. Ya’d sell your own body if it’d further your agenda. Kinda hard to trust someone like that.”
“You know me so well. However, that knowledge makes my motives all the more obvious. Selling your information for hundreds of millions would only draw your ire, resulting in the destruction of every one of my businesses on the planet and every spare part I own being scattered to the wind. Thus, there would be no benefit.”
“...What’re ya tryin’ to say?”
01 pressed for the point while keeping a vigilant eye on his surroundings. Though his daughter’s well-being was still at the forefront of his mind, he managed to calm himself enough to listen.
“Wool was pulled over my eyes as well. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a Federation Senator would have any involvement with a terrorist organization. That plot twist is the stuff of ancient films, not the actual world. I was most surprised when my investigation came across that detail.”
“...The Ryusei-kai hire ya for that?”
“Yes, indeed. They have an image to protect as well, you see. Their representative approached me right after you left my office. I also happened to uncover some other interesting tidbits concerning their identity-”
“...I get it, Berkov. The point?”
Sensing another one of the automata’s tangents coming on, 01 cut him off before Berkov could get started.
Though Berkov was not innocent, per say, 01 could tell that he was not directly involved with the current situation. That, and he had contacted him because he had acquired relevant and useful information.
“Just as you surmised, the hotel where Karen was staying has indeed been raided. Two groups were involved, the first of which being the Ryusei-kai. Their attack was thwarted by the Resistance, who then fled the scene with Karen in tow. My mole within the Ryusei-kai has told me as such, thus this account is legitimate.”
Time was ticking away, but this information was more valuable than the seconds being lost. 01 would need as many accurate details as possible in order to rescue Karen.
“A report on the raid itself can wait. You want Karen’s current location, yes?”
“...Ya’ve already pinpointed her?”
“But, of course. I cannot compare to Karen in terms of hacking or cracking skill, but gathering intel is my business, after all.”
“Enough chit-chat. How much ya want?”
It was only natural for valuable information to come with an appropriate price tag. 01 was well aware Berkov knew he was desperate, but there was no amount of money 01 would not surrender for Karen’s safety.
“...Well, how does a simple favor sound?”
“A favor...? If that’s all it’ll take, name it.”
There was nothing more expensive than “free,” but 01 was in no condition to heed those words. So long as Karen was safe and sound, 01 was fully prepared to do anything Berkov asked of him down the road.
“Then, we have a deal. I shall send you the location of the Resistance’s base of operations. Karen is there now. By my name, you can trust this information to be accurate.”
“...Got it. Ya have my thanks.”
“Well, well... Perhaps pigs shall be flying tomorrow?”
A rare showing of gratitude from 01 rendered Berkov speechless for a moment. Their relationship had always been strictly business, so a “thank you” was unexpected to say the least.
“...Say messed up shit like that again an’ I’ll punch ya into orbit.”
“My apologies. At any rate, I wish you the best of luck and pray for Karen’s safe return. You have a favor to fulfil and I cannot wait to hear Karen’s thoughts on the novel I lent her.”
01 cut the transmission after those emotionless words of encouragement. Coordinates had formed within his visor and the Federation’s drones had already withdrawn from the airspace.
All that remained was to advance in the right direction. His new destination, the southern tip of the Outside, had once housed the nuclear reactor that served as the island’s power supply. The Resistance now called it home.