Chapter 20:


Burned Out Heroes

A pair of powerful wings sliced through the air. Beyond the gale force wind was nothing but an endless azure sky, the sound barrier broken many times over during the ascent.

A creature was flying 1,000 kilometers above the surface of the earth, toeing the line between atmosphere and outer space.

Over 50 meters from tip to tip, its body was covered in hauntingly beautiful scales that were more durable than even the latest bionetic armor. The massive bat-like wings overwhelmed the laws of physics, surpassing the speed of sound with effortless ease.

A winged lizard, a dragon.

The ultimate antagonist in myths and legends the world over, he was the last of all the dragon-class archetype weapons ever created.

A wide array of attributes had been crammed into this one living creature. The temperature could drop to -90° C or skyrocket into the thousands and he would not bat an eye. Even the oxygen-starved stratosphere did not slow him down.


A human figure straddled the dragon’s back. The hastily constructed saddle’s gravity anchor held the figure in place as he held onto the reins for dear life.  

“-That’s far enough! Halt!”

01 ordered as he pressed his heels into the rapidly ascending dragon’s flanks. Despite only applying slight pressure against its living flesh, the dragon tapered off with surprising fluidity and grace. His command must have registered.

They had already reached an altitude of 500 kilometers. Auroras sparkled off in the distance and gravity was so weak that a little hop was all it would take to break free of its grasp.

All that was left now was to dive.

The plan had come together overnight, coming to fruition a mere ten minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. Even with all the resources at Berkov’s disposal, securing a route from Outside to Inside required every second.

“...A minute left, eh?”

01 ignored all the warning sirens blaring in the back of his mind and checked the time. No amount of oxygen insulation would protect 01 from high friction temperatures forever and his body was already feeling the effects. Worse, his injuries from last night had yet to be repaired. While it was true his mechanized body had been designed to function in all types of environments, it was a matter of time before his human disguise started causing problems.

“...I swore I’d never do this shit again.”

Ready for what was to come, 01 quietly gripped. This was the only way to save his daughter, and he knew it.

The plan called for him to ride a dragon into the thermosphere and skydive. From there, breaking through the barrier would require him to transform into battle mode just before impact. Once inside, he would have to launch an attack on the ceremony itself before security had time to react. Not only would he get a jump on the enemy, he could avoid any entanglements with the Federation as well.

A high-altitude low opening (HALO) approach was extremely reckless, but effective. The Federation would never anticipate a strategy this far removed from the norm.

“...Thanks, Puff.”

01 crouched atop the saddle and gently stroked the dragon’s scales.

He could not deny the idea bordered on absurd, but he had only gotten this far because of the dragon. Nothing would have been possible had Berkov not secretly taped his underground channels to get it to him in time.

This was not 01’s first time sharing ranks with a dragon. In fact, soaring through the air on a dragon’s back was among the few good memories he had.

“...Better head out.”

Memories of a time gone by played out in his head as 01 detached the safety line. They were beautiful, but he could not cling to them.

He had too many regrets to count. However, they were in the past, and looking for a place to die like the Lone Wolves was not an option.

“...I’m on my way, Karen.”

One step forward, and gravity took hold. 01 plummeted back toward Earth.