Chapter 18:

A Helping Hand

Burned Out Heroes


Mountains of corpses laid in piles around the massive nuclear reactor. The numerous craters that surrounded them were testament to the ferocious battle that had just concluded.
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This was a battlefield. The last one standing was the sole victor.Bookmark here

“-!”Bookmark here

Not that glory or jubilation was ever in store for the victor of this particular battle.Bookmark here

He killed every last one of them. Ryusei-kai or Resistance, that detail was irrelevant. Everything that moved other than himself had been permanently eliminated.Bookmark here

This was 01’s battlefield. Fight, fight until there was nothing left. That had once been his mantra.Bookmark here

“-Dammit!”Bookmark here

Now, he was facing the consequences. Getting so absorbed in the battle had caused him to lose sight of what was most important. Old habits had come back to bite him.Bookmark here

The battle was won, but she (Karen) was gone. Thoroughly searching the underground facility only uncovered the refugees taking shelter there. The Resistance had disappeared without a trace, and Karen along with them.Bookmark here

01’s calm demeanor at this moment was entirely due to the emotion inhibitors that came standard in all demon cyborgs. The machines would not allow sentiments to interfere no matter the situation.Bookmark here

His quick investigation of the area and aggressive questioning of the refugees had only yielded two pieces of useful information: the Resistance had used warp portals to escape and that their destination had been somewhere Outside.Bookmark here

Her (Erde’s) plan had been extremely meticulous.Bookmark here

The Resistance’s attacks and frequent dealings with the Ryusei-kai, including infiltrating their organization herself, must have all been a means to acquire portals. Setting up their base beneath an old yet active nuclear generator would provide enough power to activate them.Bookmark here

Using portals or forging documentation were the only ways to pass through the Inside’s security net.Bookmark here

The latter required funds and a great deal of technical skill, but lacked any guarantee of success. On the other hand, though warp portals were difficult to acquire, passage was instantaneous and would never fail. Furthermore, their presence would go undetected because the Inside never scanned for warp portal energy signatures. The teleporter network was completely under their control, thus the need for warp signature scanners had been deemed unnecessary. Even the Federation Military was none the wiser. Bookmark here

If he were to assail the Inside, 01 would have likely devised a similar plan.Bookmark here

“...For now, I need info.”Bookmark here

01 said to himself, venting anger by turning the walls in his path to rubble.Bookmark here

The enemy had taken his daughter somewhere Outside, that was all he knew. All indicators pointed to a terrorist plot, but that did him no good without identifying their target. He could punch his way through every wall to get Outside, but that would attract the Federation military’s attention. Without a destination, his pursuit would turn into a never-ending game of cat and mouse.Bookmark here

“First up, her followers... Still might make it in time.”Bookmark here

 01 had already extracted all salvageable information from the corpses. While their target itself never came up, he found out exactly where all undercover Resistance members on the Inside were lurking.Bookmark here

If the closest one did not have the information he needed, 01 could keep doing down the line until he found someone who did.Bookmark here

 01 would rescue his daughter no matter how many people he had to kill in the process.Bookmark here

“-What’s this?”Bookmark here

A signal appeared on his comm the moment his mind was set in stone.Bookmark here

“...A code? No, a memory file? But, who...?”Bookmark here

The message was heavily encrypted, to the point data analysis was impossible. While the file was not especially large, it was fragmented beyond recognition.Bookmark here

Initial scans resembled daydreams rather than memories. The content was so incoherent that 01 doubted his could make heads or tails of it even if he opened the file.Bookmark here

“Begin download?”Bookmark here

“...Do it.”Bookmark here

However, her (Karen’s) intent came along with it. Only 01 (her father) could detect something so subtle.Bookmark here

“-!”Bookmark here

A swirling hodgepodge of memories flashed through 01’s head the instant he granted access. Waking up in the shelter beneath the nuclear reactor, the hotel room, 01’s face, the plot twists contained within an open book. 01 saw wave after wave as if experiencing them through his own eyes. Bookmark here

However, there were some anomalies within the flow. Snippets that clearly did not belong to Karen, but someone else 01 did not know.Bookmark here

A dark room in a building somewhere spread out within 01’s mind, but he understood this location was strongly connected somehow. Underground, perhaps? A man who carried himself like a soldier stood before him with unmistakable tension etched into his face.Bookmark here

“Then, we ha----, the park into---ounding---”Bookmark here

“Yes, exactly how---colonel's plan---”Bookmark here

Only stray words made it through the haze, making their meaning difficult to decipher. Though, 01 knew who one of the voices belonged to: Erde.Bookmark here

“Must it be carried out on that day? Breaking through is possible, but we will suffer heavy losses. The amount of autonomous weaponry on standby is overwhelming.”Bookmark here

“There'd be no point to this any other day.”Bookmark here

“...So then, we do need them. I would rather not pin so much on a variable...”Bookmark here

“The colonel’s plan has accounted for everything. As the only ones left, it is our duty to carry it out.”Bookmark here

01 had no idea as to how his daughter had acquired these memories, but he understood exactly why she had sent them to him.Bookmark here

These were hints, a digital trail of breadcrumbs that would lead him to her.Bookmark here

“...Roger that. The plan will proceed as is.”Bookmark here

“Oh, and one more thing. My preparations are in place. Make sure everyone else is ready.”Bookmark here

Erde donned the mask just before the memory was interrupted. Her cognition changed to that of “Number 10” as it slid into place over her visage.Bookmark here

The surroundings changed instantaneously, as if a switch had been flipped. Now in the cheap hotel room they had secured, someone was laying flat on the desk and staring off into space.Bookmark here

“...Dad.”Bookmark here

That last memory was Karen’s. The emotional weight poured into that one word flowed into 01.Bookmark here

Fear, anxiety, affection... He felt all of his daughter’s emotions as if they were his own. At the same time, he realized just how wrong he had been.Bookmark here

01 just assumed that words were not necessary to convey certain things, that his daughter would be satisfied if they both carried out their given roles. Bookmark here

“...A hella’va idiot, ’at’s me.”Bookmark here

01 chided himself the second all the memories had played out. His missteps were now clear as day.Bookmark here

However, he could not lament his own foolishness forever. Karen had not sent these memories just to demonstrate his level of stupidity.Bookmark here

“...They’re targetin’ the ceremony, eh? So they needed us...”Bookmark here

The answer was within the incoherent mess of recollections.Bookmark here

Tomorrow’s ceremony marked five years of peace. The answer was so simple that 01 wanted to tear into himself for not identifying it sooner.Bookmark here

It would take place in the very center of the Soul Settler, at Memorial Park. Tens of thousands of people were expected to gather to see it with their own eyes while a great deal of Federation government officials would also be in attendance. It went without saying that exceptional security systems would be in place, but there was no better target the world over.Bookmark here

“...Inside, on the Inside...”Bookmark here

Simply knowing the location did not do 01 any good. Inside and Outside were separated by a protective barrier. What’s more, that barrier was heavily guarded at this very moment in preparation for the ceremony. Breaking through by force was on the table, but would require time and the resulting turmoil did not guarantee the Resistance would alter their plans. Bookmark here

A voyage to the Inside would require the utmost secrecy. However, passing through security without Karen’s power was impossible.Bookmark here

A dead end. 01 could not rescue Karen on his own.Bookmark here

“-Speak of the devil, whadda we got here?”Bookmark here

Just as he opened his mind for brain wave communication, 01 received notification of an incoming transmission. It originated from the very person he was about to contact.Bookmark here

“-Ahh, you answered. Good, good. The fighting has abated, no?”Bookmark here

“If yer lookin’ fer a beatdown, Berkov, it’s comin’ to ya.”Bookmark here

“...Judging by that tone, I assume you were unable to secure young Karen. Well, that outcome was always a possibility.”Bookmark here

The transmission came from the liaison, Berkov. His timing could not have been more spot-on.Bookmark here

“Ya sold info to the Ryusei-kai, didn’ ya?”Bookmark here

“Indeed. It was a business transaction, after all. Do you have an issue with that?”Bookmark here

“...It’s yer fault I failed.”Bookmark here

A part of his daughter’s current peril rested upon Berkov’s shoulders. The Resistance would not have been able to sneak away with Karen had the Ryusei-kai not interfered.Bookmark here

However, now was not the time to take Berkov to task. His assistance was an absolute necessity to have any chance of passing through the barrier. No matter how 01’s blood boiled with rage, he could not allow emotion to cloud his judgment.Bookmark here

“Bear in mind that the Resistance can ill afford to have any harm come to Karen. Can I offer my services?”Bookmark here

“...Get me info. A real ace-in-the-hole, got it?”Bookmark here

01 asked calmly as his systems contained his anger just below the surface.Bookmark here

With all the resources at Berkov’s disposal, he could guarantee safe passage to the Inside. 01 knew he could trust Berkov as a business partner.Bookmark here

The time was now past midnight, leaving less than ten hours before the ceremony was scheduled to get underway. There was time, but no way to know if it would be enough.Bookmark here

Everything would be over if 01 did not make it in time.Bookmark here

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