Chapter 11:


Code: Zero Defect

When I walked into the office, I was immediately greeted by a young woman leaning against a cabinet.

She wore a thin hoodie over a pink tactical outfit, though it wasn't as revealing as Loki's. Long strands of pink flowed graciously down her head, and the hair on her face split in the middle with both sides hanging behind her ears. Her eyes, one pink and one blue, looked... soulless, as if she had seen every dark corner in the world and nothing left could surprise her. Both had hollowed diamonds within.

She's also holding my dagger... the one that Nelia gave me.

"I take it that you're Strider," she said with a soft yet cold tone. "I'm Holiday, Captain of Calypso. Apologies for calling you out here when you're still recovering."

I distinctly remember her. She was on the foremost surveillance camera when Calypso hijacked the city screens.

"It's fine," I said. "But I would like to know the reason why I'm here. Zephyr mentioned that it was by your order."

"Ah, right. We'll get to that. First-"

"Captain!" a nasal voice shouted from outside. "I've finished the- Huh...?"

I turned around just in time to see yet another young woman dashing through the doors with a box filled with blueprints. She stopped in front of me with those huge, cobalt eyes. Just like the others, they were holding hollowed diamonds within. She wore a black crop top strapped with belts and a short skirt that revealed her belly. Her grayish-blue hair was rolled up into two perfect buns.

"Hey, never seen you around before," she said with a smile. "What's your name?"

"... Strider," I answered.

Her eyes then lit up as she dropped the box she was carrying. She then ran up and yanked my hands away.

"Ah! So you're Strider!" she exclaimed. "I'm Minerva, engineer slash weapons specialist of Calypso. Any new ideas for a weapon? Come find me, and I'll make it pronto! Doesn't have to be a weapon, though. Anything goes. Like that one thing I made for Loki the other day."

"Huh? You made me something?" asked Loki.

"Yeah! Uh... What was it again? Oh! The dil-"

She was immediately silenced when Loki threw her hand at her mouth. Loki lifted her head with an extremely menacing glare.

"We'll talk about this later, but you're gonna pay for sneaking that shit into my room."

Minerva's eyes widened with fear as her head shook left and right. "Mmm! Mmm!"

Minerva of Calypso. The only thing I remember about her is that she face-planted onto the camera during the hijack. Looking at her now, she seems like the type of person to do that.

"Loki, let go of her," Holiday sighed.

Finally, Loki released her hand to which Minerva emerged with a huge gasp.

"Keep. Quiet," Loki threatened.

"I won't say anything! I swear!" Minerva replied frantically before turning back to me. "Anyway, I've been hearing a lot about you. Popped outta the blue and already at a bounty of two million, huh? That's so sick!"

"Uh... Thanks...?"

"Hey, boss," another voice said from seemingly nowhere.

Suddenly, a secluded area covered by a curtain opened up, and out popped the last of the Calypso squad rolling out on a swivel chair.

"There's a... Oh."

She stopped and fixed those big emerald eyes on me. Her left eye had a hollowed diamond while her right eye was normal. An oversized lab coat covered a loose, oversized shirt. Her short beige hair fell to her shoulders, and to the side was a small ponytail.

"Hey, buddy," she grinned. "Fancy seeing you here."

My brain stopped working for a second. That voice... I swear I've heard it somewhere. It only hit me after I realized that only one person in the world calls me 'buddy.'

"W-wait... Ex...?" I gasped.

"Oops, looks like I've been busted. Haha. Anyway, nice seeing you in the flesh. I'm Astrid, your resident hacker of Calypso. Good to meet ya."

The hacker of Calypso... was secretly Ex the whole time. That certainly explains why Zephyr said she had files of me. How am I even supposed to react to this?

The look on Astrid's face was anticipating my response, and it quickly morphed into a taunting smile when I kept my silence.

"You don't seem to have a lot to say," she giggled. "What was it you told me that one time? Ah, that's right. You said, and I quote, 'If I ever come to meet you in real life, I'm gonna slap you as hard as I can.' Remember that?"

"... No," I mumbled.

"Hah! Liar! What happened to your 'cool guy' persona, eh? Why aren't you talking? Scared? Hm? Buddy? Hey, Strider? Your wires short-circuit or something?"

It's weird that Astrid perfectly fits the image I had of her. Actually, scratch that. She's much more annoying in person.

Even then, it still surprises me that she's... pretty. As reserved as I am, I'm not above admiring beauty when I see it, and all of these Calypso members are more than deserving.

"Well, I originally planned to gather all of you here for this, so thanks for saving me the trouble," Holiday spoke before she turned to me with a malicious gaze. "This dagger... Where did you get this?"

"This again?" I sighed. "Loki already threatened me to answer that question, and I refused. This time is no different."

"Just so you know, you're only alive right now because I gave the orders. I could've ignored Astrid's plea, but I didn't."

I tilted my eyes over to Astrid, who gave me a shrug.

"Imagine the look on my face when I saw you duking it out with Loki," she said. "Knowing her, she would've killed you regardless of the answer you gave. I can't just sit by and watch my favorite courier get killed, can I?"

"And the only reason why I bothered to keep you alive is because of this dagger," Holiday chimed in. "You see... It once belonged to a beloved comrade of ours. You can understand why we're so persistent, can't you?"

A precious comrade...? They can't be talking about Nelia. Calypso was a famous squad that often appeared on television, and I never once saw her among them. Besides, how could Nelia ever be one of them? There's no way.

"What a coincidence," I scoffed angrily. "Because that dagger was gifted to me by someone I love who died fighting for this fucking city. Pray tell, do you really think we're talking about the same person?"

As if a marionette pulled the strings, all five of their eyes flung wide open. What's with their reactions?

Holiday pushed herself off the cabinet and approached me, her eyes wide and beating. My heart sank. I've seen that look before—a look of longing and sorrowful reminiscence. She stood at almost my height as she stared at my face.

"Your eyes... look exactly like hers," she muttered, which made me flinch. "Solas...? Solas De Leux?"

I couldn't even say anything. Instead, I simply stared back.

"What... H-how..." I stuttered incoherently.

"No. Freaking. Way," Astrid scoffed monotonously as a smile overtook her face.

I took a couple of seconds to gather myself. There has to be a good explanation for this. I refuse to believe she made a wild guess and came to such an impossible conclusion.

"How do you know me?" I asked as steadily as I could.

"How could we not?" Zephyr chuckled. "She could never shut up about you and your older brother."

"Nelia? But..."

Holiday pinched her chin as her eyes trailed off. "I suppose it makes sense why you wouldn't know. At her request, the High Order concealed her involvement with us. To put it frankly, she was once the sixth Calypso. Nemesis... Our former captain."

It felt as though the hole left by Nelia's death grew wider, enough for my heart to sink straight through it. I stumbled back with a hand on my head, desperately trying to grasp all of this.

What the hell...? How am I supposed to believe any of this? But It's coming from Calypso themselves. There's no way they would tell a lie like that.

My older sister was the sixth and prior captain of the legendary spec-ops squad, Calypso. Just what have you been up to, Nelia?

"Us Calypsos weren't always defective, ya know," Loki spoke. "There was a time when we served the High Order as some of the first augmented humans in the city. Everything from stupid folks in the street to fighting off the eidolons in the outer lands, we went through all of it together. Those were the good ol' days."

Holiday tossed the dagger around and caught it by the blade. She then handed it back to me, but I neglected to take it.

"Captain Nemesis was our beacon," Zephyr praised with a soft smile. "She was beautiful, energetic, and always optimistic. More than anything else, she believed in the freedom of all. That's why she turned against the High Order after the Reclamation."

It felt like my skin began lifting. "After...? I thought... she died during the Reclamation. That's what we were told."

"That was the false news your father, General De Leux, fabricated in order to keep the truth from his family," Astrid muttered bitterly. "Every bit of information regarding Nemesis of Calypso, he scrubbed from the city's database. I've only managed to recover a small fraction of it, and even that proved to be difficult."

My heart sent a chilling beat throughout my whole body. What is that supposed to mean? We were lied to? Of all people, it was Father who lied to us? And this isn't just some minor fib like that time he told us he wasn't mad when we accidentally broke a flower vase. No... This is regarding the fucking death of my older sister.

"Then... Nelia... I-is she...?" I couldn't get the words out.

Minerva rested her hand on my shoulder when she noticed my distress. "I'm sorry. After the Reclamation, the High Order recognized the benefits of augmented humans. They pushed for a law that requires every citizen of New Olympos to undergo augmentation. Long story short, Calypso was against it, and so, we were marked as defects. Nemesis... died fighting for what she believed was right."

Finally, I took the dagger from Holiday and stared at it. The clear image I had became blurry, and slowly, I felt the cold strands of tears sliding down my face.

"I suppose that explains why you have this," Holiday said calmly, but her sadness was leaking through. "When she was the captain of Calypso, that dagger was the only weapon she would use. Guns made too much noise. Swords were too heavy. But that dagger? It was just right. And it seems she has entrusted you with her legacy."

"Nelia..." I whimpered quietly.

And here I was thinking I knew everything about her. Nelia always annoyed me and Caelus when we were younger.

She once unplugged our gaming console when she lost in a kart racing game. She would walk into my room and steal my snacks as if I wasn't watching her the whole time. To make it worse, she didn't even close the door on her way out. One time, she chucked a wooden block at my head. I was so angry that I ended up chasing her around the house before Mother pulled us aside and scolded us.

It was always the little things she did that made me hate her. Still, she was my older sister, so I loved her. However, I didn't figure that out until the day we received the news of her passing. The house that was once the loudest in the neighborhood turned silent.

I didn't wanna pick up the controller anymore. I waited and waited for her to walk in through my doors to steal my snacks like always. I left a wooden block on the table just in case she wanted to throw it at me again, but she never did.

What hurt the most was that she probably died thinking that I hated her. Never once did I tell her how much she really meant to me. I never even knew myself, and by the time I did, it was too late.

She's gone now, and the only thing I have left to remember her is this dagger.

I fell to the ground and sat there for a couple of minutes while the Calypso squad remained by my side in total silence. Is it because they were once Nelia's comrades that they pity me?

Suddenly, a beeping sound came from the massive computer setup behind Astrid. She rolled back over to the desk and began rapidly typing on the keyboard.

"Boss, we've got a situation," she said. "Multiple coatsmen spotted outside the perimeter of the camp. They're bothering our guys."

"Tell the men up there to dispatch them," Holiday ordered. "Make sure they do it quietly."

"Leave them," I muttered.

They all turned their eyes to watch me stand up. These people... They were Nelia's comrades—people that she cared about. As a defect, I'll do my part. Just like she did.

"I'm heading in that direction anyway," I said. "Let me handle it."

With that, I left the room and made my way out the mall's dark entrance. What an eventful night. I need to hurry. If Mother finds me coming home in a bloodstained outfit, she's gonna lose her mind. Just the thought of it terrifies me.

Nelia... You were the captain of Calypso, huh? That means you were a defect... like I am now. If you saw me today... would you be proud of me? I suppose I'll never know.