Burned Out Heroes
“-You’re here sooner than expected.”
Just as on the previous night, Erde stood before 01. Anamnesis allowed her voice to reach him from the VIP box.
“Though, how...? The gate has been completely sealed off...”
“Flew in outta the sky. People have a way of pullin’ off miracles when it matters most.”
She must have been laying in wait. Though surprised, there was no tremor in Erde’s voice.
01, on the other hand, had anticipated an entourage to be accompanying her. Corpses were all that was left.
“So, it seems you insist on getting in our way.”
“I get a kick outta throwin’ a wrench in plans at the last second... Looks like I’m a bit late but made it in time for the finale.”
Said 01 as he surveyed the stadium.
First, he had to get under Erde’s skin. Stoking her anger now would give it time to ignite her from within. The sense of duty he felt to those slain before his arrival would not allow him to make any missteps.
“...That’s a sick hobby.”
“Says the delinquent girl turned terrorist playin’ dress up. What’ll it be? Surrender now an’ I’ll turn ya over to the Feds.”
“...It seems we’ve reached an impasse.”
Unlike the previous night, however, Erde did not have the mental fortitude to let 01’s taunts roll off her back.
Was it due to taking off her mask or the gravity of this situation? Rather than acting as the leader of the pack, Erde was now moving independently. Thus, plenty of windows of opportunity would present themselves.
“-But, your timing is perfect. We were just about to get started. Isn’t that right, Karen?”
Erde pulled Karen forward, directly into 01’s line of sight. Brandishing her hostage was part of the plan, but doing so was the worst possible course of action in the face of 01.
The young arbiter would have been much more useful as a hostage had she been kept in a separate location and used as a bargaining chip at the very end.
Not stationing soldiers in this vicinity was yet another mistake. Most likely, she had deemed her own artiberal power enough to maintain control once the stadium had been conquered and Karen was secure. 01 recognized that Erde’s decision to send her troops elsewhere was due to overconfidence.
“-Hey there, Karen. Looks like ya’ve cooled off a bit.”
“Hey, I’m here to get ya outta this mess, so at least look happy ‘bout it, would ya? Don’ tell me ya’ve taken a shine to these Resistance folks? Well, everyone goes through ‘at kinda phase, but...ain’t ya a bit young? Yer still 14, yeah?”
01 jokingly addressed his frightened daughter with a shrug. Chalking up this whole incident to teenage hormones was his way of telling her that she was safe now.
In reality, Karen was far from it. Erde could end her life in a heartbeat if she had the inclination.
“...Dad... I’m s-”
“-Save ‘at for later. Now, sit tight and let me rescue ya.”
“...You seem quite confident, but you appear to misunderstand the situation. You’re wounded and Karen belongs to us now.”
“I ain’t no young pup. ‘Couse I can see that, and I still gave it to ya straight. Yeesh, whatever happened ta respectin’ yer elders?”
01 maintained the joking tone. Being flat-out ignored was making Erde visibly angier by the moment.
Frankly, he was nervous, but not afraid. The tables had been turned against far worse adversaries than this many times before.
“...Act tough all you want. You’re powerless now. I have your heart in my grasp.”
Despite Erde’s presumed thorough understanding of 01’s psyche, it was far from complete.
Controlling 01 would be child’s play so long as his daughter was at her mercy. That naive assumption was the crack that brought about this plan’s demise.
“Ah, there’s yer true colors. That attitude is more fittin’ fer a girl yer age than puttin’ on a mask an’ playin’ dress up.”
“...First, transform out of combat mode and disarm. Of course, that isn’t necessary if your daughter’s life means nothing.”
Erde declared as she raised a sweltering fist over Karen’s head. The heat only needed a split second to transfer. She could turn Karen to ash at any time she saw fit.
This menacing threat betrayed the outward appearance of justice she had worked so hard to portray.
“Dad?! You have to fight!! Don’t worry about me. I-I would just hold you bac-”
“SHUT IT!! That’d make everythin’ pointless!! Sit tight, will ya?!”
“...You have ten seconds. I’ll start with our honored guests. There are plenty, but how many will be left by the time you give in?”
Erde brought her many hostages into play. The high-ranking Federation officials, including the vice chairman, provided her with many useful pawns.
The 01 that Erde knew would never abandon them to their fate.
“-Guests? Ya mean those Fed bigwigs? Knock yerself out.”
However, 01 did not bother thinking twice. His serious tone left no doubt that he could not care less if they lived or died.
He had given the Federation a window. Not charging in during the confusion right after he landed was their mistake, not his. He was not responsible for rescuing faceless, important people anymore.
“...I don’t get you. Why go out of your way to get in ours if you don’t give a damn about th-”
“-’At’s obvious. The lot of ya manipulated my daughter at gunpoint. As far as reasons to fight go, that’s plenty.”
01 snapped at the visibly confused Erde.
He understood the Resistance’s calls for justice, even agreed with their philosophy. If their members were only looking for a place to die, they were free to do so. 01 had no intention of stopping them.
Had they never drawn Karen into this, 01 would not be standing here now.
“...It seems the Colonel was wrong about you... I had no idea you were such an egotist.”
“Hah! ‘Course I am. Heroes come in two types, ones that forge their own path or ones that get so caught up in protectin’ others that they think it’s their duty. That’s it.”
01 flat-out rejected the pedestal he had been placed on.
He long since discarded life as a human being. Five years ago, he’d abandoned his title as a hero. Until he met Karen, 01 had given up on living all together.
The upstanding, pristine hero with a red cape fluttering in the wind that had been immortalized in Memorial Park simply did not exist.
“I ain’t no hero. Not cut fer it. I’m livin’ on borrowed time as it is. My legs are scarred to all hell and my hands are stained pitch black.”
01 had wandered the world as little more than a corpse in the years following the Anamnesisian Conflict, slaughtering enemies as he went.
Justice did not fuel his actions. He simply could not carry on without putting down anything and everything that got in his way.
A true “ghost” that envied the living and wanted nothing more than to drag them all down with him to hell. That was 01 in a nutshell.
“Ya know somethin’? I’m a bumblin’ idiot, but I’m still ‘dad’ to her.”
The one who gave 01 a reason to live three years ago was the girl before him right now. A faint sliver of sentiment united with intellect and spurred into action the moment she first called him “Dad.”
That one trivial word was what brought him back from the brink. Something to live for other than finding a suitable grave proved to be his panacea.
Now, 01 lived to repay that debt.
“...Yes, yes, you care about your daughter, I get it. However, that’s all.”
Feeling a twinge of her own, Erde issued one final warning. She knew the bond children shared with their parents. Yet, she had done away with that unnecessary sentiment.
Reminiscing would only block her path forward.
“Nothing changes the choice before you. Obey us and save your daughter’s life, or defy us and lose her forever. Now, what is your answer?”
“I agree with ’at first part. Words an’ feelings can’t do nothin’.”
“In that case-”
Justice meant nothing without power. 01 himself had demonstrated that might equals right many times before. He understood that truth better than anyone else on the planet.
Thus, he was able to analyze this situation with a clear head. So long as a hostage hung in the balance, the tables would never turn in his favor.
Only an ace in the hole would do that.
“-But ya see, the world ain’t nice enough to just do what ya want it to.”
“Erde, Fed forces are-”
The moment had come. He’d kept their gridlocked conversation afloat for this exact reason.
The Federation attack was underway and Erde’s focus left 01 for an instant. A window had shown itself.
“-Karen! Plug yer ears and hit the deck!!”
The throw happened in the blink of an eye. An object hurtled to the VIP box before breaking open and spreading its contents in a flash.
Erde reflexively activated her ability in response to 01’s call, but it was already too late. An explosion of light went off just over her head.
The ear-shattering boom hit just as the blinding light forced their eyes shut. Each of the girls’ five senses were instantly overwhelmed.