Burned Out Heroes
It took but mere minutes for the Resistance to seize control of Memorial Park, stadium and all.
Unable to mount a defence in the chaos, the Federation Chairman along with many high-ranking officials had been taken hostage before most of the battalions surrounding the area realized anything was amiss.
The battle was currently at a stalemate. The battalions had the stadium contained, but could not press into it. Events were playing out exactly as Erde had drawn them up. The chaotic battlefield had fallen eerily silent.
The Resistance had accomplished all this without suffering a single casualty. Though they were extremely skilled, this feat would not have been possible on their own.
Karen’s arbiter ability made it happen. Deactivating the Federation’s trusty mechanized soldiers had forced the battalions to wait for reinforcements to arrive.
“This is my fault...”
Looking out over the results her power had wrought, Karen was taken aback by everything she saw.
She had been given a spot in the VIP box with a view of the entire park, where the Federation officials had once sat.
Karen’s legs had gone numb to the point she could not move. She wanted nothing more than to get away from what was before her eyes, yet the ability to do something so simple eluded her.
What she saw: the scars of a massacre.
The citizens here had been slain by a rain of bullets and bombs. Though most had escaped during the pandemonium, all that missed their chance were gunned down. Men and women, children and the elderly, all killed without discrimination. Death comes for all eventually, but this was too senseless.
Only the Federation officials had value as hostages. The rest were deemed unnecessary by the Resistance.
“N-No, I... I’m not...”
Horror won out as Karen unconsciously averted her eyes.
The man laying face down in a growing pool of blood spilling from a bullet wound in his chest, the woman who shielded her child from a wall of flames to the very end... Karen desperately tried to convince herself that their deaths were not her doing.
Shifting the blame was easy. The Resistance was responsible for everything. They had manipulated her, that’s right. If she could only convince herself, then she would not have to suffer like this.
“Can’t... I just can’t...”
However, no amount of denial would change this reality.
Deactivating the mechanized soldiers, disabling the hundreds of automated weapons, Karen’s power had nullified them all.
She sobbed, the sounds plucked from her throat. The weight of what she had done would not let her stand. Never before had she wished so earnestly that she could just disappear. Had she the means, Karen probably would not have hesitated to take her own life in that moment.
Except, there was one thing more painful than the soul-crushing regret in her veins: that she was powerless to do anything other than sit here and cry.
Biting down on her lip, Karen grabbed hold of her trembling knees and looked up with the intensity of a sniper. Numb fingers and cloudy vision would not stop her from finding her target. Losing left and right went against her very being.
A battlefield sprawled out below her. Even without a weapon, even without an enemy, Karen was at war.
Just like the silhouette in her memory, standing ground no matter how unsightly she became was how Karen fought her battles.
“-Quite a view, isn’t it?”
A hand slid onto her trembling shoulder. Erde had arrived to see the battlefield she had wrought with her own eyes but her tone was that of a tourist.
“Don’t you agree? Or, are you still planning to side with them?”
“They aren’t like us. No matter how much they look like us, we’re completely different. Like cyborgs, for example. They look human, but aren’t. That’s just like us and them.”
“So, you killed them?”
“No, I’m just saying there’s no need for sympathy.”
“That should be obvious. This is revenge. We did to them exactly what they did to us. Right is on our side.”
Erde answered matter-of-factly. Despite her calm demeanor, a dark ecstasy was burning within her.
“An eye for an eye. That’s how this world works. No amount of sugar coating will ever change that.”
Erde’s gaze left the carnage and fell onto Karen. Then, her voice took on a motherly, warm tone as she spoke just above a whisper.
“Look back over the course of history, and you’ll see. Those who sought revenge were always righteous. Pretty words can’t hide the truth about the way human society has always been. This is justice, plain and simple. We’ve done nothing wrong.”
Erde’s fingers tightened. She had more than enough reason to seek revenge, as well as the right, and even the duty, to carry it out.
“...I think what you’re saying is not wrong.”
If there was any truth in this world, it was that offenses should be punished. If this world was trying to silence its own offenses, then it made sense to punish it.
“Yes! I knew you’d understand! I just knew that a girl with the same eyes as mine would see things our way!”
However, she could not sympathize.
Every person killed today had a family. There was no doubt that many of them had daughters like Karen and Erde.
Erde had forgotten that obvious fact. The trauma of her past shook it from her memory. That is what separated the two arbiters.
“...I understand what you want to say. I can also relate to your grief and hatred. But, you and I are not the same.”
Karen asserted while maintaining eye contact. Though she was not the best with words, they were from the heart. That would not change, no matter how many theoretical arguments Erde tried to make.
Erde’s fingers dug into Karen’s skin. The young arbiter was shocked by the feelings of surprise and betrayal that were coming across. Up until that rejection, Erde had considered her as one of her own.
“You’re correct that I don’t care for humans... It’s because they’re dirty cowards who lie... But, that’s all. I could never bring myself to do what you’re doing...”
Karen’s affirmation grew stronger with every word. She may be mistaken, but at the very least she was not making the mistake of twisting what was in her heart.
“I have a father. A father who rescued me, a complete stranger, and looks after me as his own. I don’t want him to be ashamed of me...”
Lacking the power to fight did not mean it was impossible to make a stand. Doing so would prove that she was the daughter of 01, if nothing else.
“All I see is you creating even more people like yourself. Making everyone suffer because you hate being alone is childish.”
All semblance of human expression left Erde’s face the moment Karen said so. Her level-headed mask of tranquility cracked, revealing the cold eyes of vengeance beneath.
“-So, that’s what you really think.”
Erde’s right hand, which had been hanging loosely at her side, suddenly flared open right in front of Karen’s face. Her fingers violently shook with rage she could no longer suppress.
“...Yes. I don’t want to acknowledge what you’re doing as right.”
Despite knowing that Erde could kill her in a heartbeat if she so desired, Karen never blinked.
She could accept being killed right here. It was a far better fate than to shame her position as 01’s daughter.
“-Erde, broadcast preparations are complete. Ready to commence at your command.”
What ended the stifling silence was not Erde or Karen, but a Resistance soldier speaking through Erde’s comm.
“...I’m on my way.”
Apparently, the soldier’s message was enough to steady Erde’s mind. Malice began to dissipate.
Fury still seethed within her, but Erde had regained the necessary leeway to don the “Number 10” persona.
As her revenge was taking shape, Karen’s words were irrelevant. She could not afford to ruin it by killing a key component in a moment of anger. There were plenty other, more productive ways to vent.
“Just you watch. I’ll make you just like me in no time.”
Karen kept up the conversation while using a tiny part of her brain to access the security system once more. With her frame of mind under control and the anamnesis in her body active once again, her abiterial power was now restored.
Karen winced as her head throbbed with a slight headache, but she now had a commanding view of Memorial Park in its entirety. Various streams of information came together to form a fully fleshed out, real time map in the back of her mind.
The vast majority of the automated weapons had been physically destroyed, just as she thought. Activating them remotely was impossible. The Federation military had entrenched themselves around the stadium, but could only watch and wait for reinforcements from the nearest base in silence.
Unfortunately, there was no time. All signs indicated that Erde was planning to execute the officials on a live broadcast for the whole world to see. It was most likely a declaration of war, but Karen could not sit idly by and let it happen.
Taking a stand was simple: send this information to the Federation military and the situation would take a drastic turn. Their sudden advance would surely hinder a showy execution.
Something caught Karen’s attention just as she was about to connect to the Federation’s communication network.
The oldest of the island’s sensors detected an object plummeting out of the sky. A weak signal like this normally would not even be flagged, written off as a bird dive bombing the ocean. However, something about this one felt different to Karen.
A high pitch shrill hit her ears a moment later. The protective barrier had shattered. Karen knew immediately her instincts had hit the nail right on the head.
She only knew of one person that would attempt something so brash. 01 had arrived to save her.