Burned Out Heroes
In the half-century that passed since the Western Calendar was changed to the modern, Amalgamate Age, a vast amount of items once vital to society had been rendered useless. Powerplants of all types, natural gas, and light bulbs are just a few of the countless things that had been replaced for the sake of convenience.
This was nothing new. Mankind had always replaced the old as civilization evolved through the ages, and these past 50 years were no different.
The old was discarded while the new took its place on the throne. The cycle was endless.
Human beings, however, had a tendency to hang onto what had become obsolete. They commit money and resources to passing the items they used down to the next generation.
Preserving culture, showing respect to those who came before. Even if they were not necessary to most, that extra effort is the necessary futility that culture allows to survive.
One such futility could be found in the Soul Settler’s central district library. It was nothing short of miraculous that a wooden structure so close to Memorial Park had suffered so little damage, let alone still be standing.
Five days had passed since the Resistance's assault. 01 and Karen stopped by this library before departing the island.
“-Still, ya really must love these things. Kids yer age are usually more into flashy stuff like live feeds or dinosaur books.”
“I hate to inform you, but I’m not a ‘usual kid.’ There’s nothing interesting on the network, anyway... And, you don’t like flashy things either, do you, Dad?”
Karen answered as she turned a page. The novel in her lap happened to be part of a 300-year-old detective series.
Rows of shelves stood like trees in a forest of ancient knowledge. The pair had settled in a nook between two of them. The only source of light were the sunbeams filtering through a bay window.
01 leaned against the shelf as Karen sat on a footstool that most likely had never been used. Their voices echoed through the large chamber, but there was no one to scold them.
“...I’da rather gone to a cinema, but there ain’t one on this island. Oh well.”
“You’d just watch some old action flick about some hero or another if there was. I’d be more than happy to join you if it was a romantic comedy or human drama.”
“Why watch somethin’ mushy on the big screen, eh? If I’m going there, I wanna leave sayin’ I had a damn good time.”
“...That sentiment is beyond me. Anyway, I’ve finished this volume, so would you grab the next one for me?”
“’At was quick. Are ya actually readin’ the things?”
“I read every word. The various contraptions in the empty house were quite interesting.”
Taking the next novel in the series from 01’s outstretched hand, Karen wasted no time diving right into the first page. She was aware that her reading speed was faster than most, but her policy was to mull over the story on her second read-through.
“Why not find something to read, Dad? There are shelves full of adventure stories I’m sure you would enjoy...”
“...Meh. Maybe if I feel like it later.”
01 passed on his daughter’s invitation.
He was not disinterested in books, just he did not feel as though he would enjoy reading anything at the moment.
The attack happened only five days prior. The chances of another attack were extremely slim, but not zero. “...If I may ask, what happened to Erd-... to Number 10?”
“Beats me... You’d think she’ve showed up on the news by now if they caught her, though. It looks like they only got ’bout half of the survivin’ Resistance members, too.”
That was no lie. Despite extending Erde’s life with his own hands, 01 did not have a good grasp on the events that transpired immediately following their battle.
The Federation could be keeping her capture a secret, or she may have gotten away entirely. It was still completely plausible that she was dead, as well.
01 could not care less, whatever the case may be.
“Seems like somethin’ ain’t sittin’ well with ya. Care to let me in on it?”
“...It’s just, you’re not getting any credit for what you did, Dad... That’s too ...”
Karen fumbled with her wording, as if she was not sure what to say. Deep down, she understood that she was being childish, but still had a difficult time accepting it.
The Federation had officially announced that their brave defense forces took control of the situation at Memorial Park and brought the assault to a swift end.
It had taken them mere minutes to seize control of all information channels following the Resistance’s stadium takeover. Despite their delay in taking action, the whole incident had been spun in the Federation’s favor within a matter of hours. 01 had been completely erased from the records.
“That’s what’s eatin’ ya? Hey, I never went in lookin’ for glory. But, if someone wants to give it, I ain’t gonna say no.”
“...Is that how you really feel?”
“Yeah. Besides, secret identities are perfect for heroes. I’ve had enough of bein’ chased by some guy or another.”
According to the official records, 01 was still dead and the “ghost” did not exist. Though it was never stated outright, that arrangement was best for the government and 01 alike.
The dead could not be pursued and he would not have to face former brothers in arms in combat. Though he had no qualms about that scenario coming to pass, 01 had enough humanity remaining to avoid it whenever possible.
“...Anyway, the ex-colonel is dead and the young lady’ll be layin’ low for a long time after causin’ this much ruckus.”
01 stated loud and clear for his daughters benefit while scratching at a bandage out of her view. The anamnesis within his body had regenerated, but his wounds had yet to fully heal. Though his recovery rate was far above that of a person who had not undergone mechanization, wounds that severe required more than five days to heal.
Engaging in combat now would reaggravate every injury he sustained. The inability to fight at full capacity always put 01 on edge.
“...Does it hurt? That scar.”
“This? Nah. Just itchy. Still healin’, after all.”
“...If you say so.”
01 lied, only now realizing that his daughter could see. Having discarded every function unnecessary to combat, he was not equipped with any form of pain inhibitors. He had no choice but to grit it out.
However, he refused to appear weak in front of his daughter in spite of his anxiety.
“...’At’s right. Ya said ya wanted to talk?”
01 was forced to change the subject to avoid further prying. Thus, he stopped beating around the bush.
They were here to relax and talk after everything that happened during this job. Discussing injuries was nothing more than putting the cart before the horse.
01 was not the only one who suffered injuries. Karen was in terrible shape. Not only had her mind been forcefully overtaken, assisting 01 in the final battle had driven her own anamensis to the point of exhaustion.
Exhausting anamnesis took an immense physical and mental toll on arbiters. Karen had a tendency to mope, and bringing her to this library was part of 01’s plan to prevent it.
“...I never properly apologized.”
“...For what? Ya didn’ break somethin’, did ya? Or did ya use up all our money without askin’-”
“-Nothing of the sort. Was that supposed to be a joke?”
Karen glared at the clueless 01 out of the corner of her eye. She understood that her father struggled to pick up on non-verbal cues, but to this extent? Unbelievable.
Just what could have been agonizing her over these past five days?
“...Those injuries, Dad. But not only that, everything that happened because of me...”
Anger proved to be the spark that allowed Karen to say what needed to be said. She had been meant to apologize so many times, yet the words never came until just now.
Part of the blame for 01’s wounds and the near destruction of Memorial Park lay on Karen’s shoulders. Under normal circumstances, her crimes would warrant punishment. However, she absolutely could not forgive herself for being a major liability for her father.
“...Yer tearin’ yerself up over that?”
“What do you mean, ‘that’...?”
“Sorry, shouldn’a put it like that. I was sure yer were at some kinda crossroads. But yeah, that’s what ya’ve been broodin’ over, eh?”
A surprising warm expression appeared on 01’s face as he addressed his distraught daughter. Though he recognized she was wrestling with a dilemma, he failed to identify the cause.
“Wait, wait. I’m sorry. Listen, do ya remember what I said back in that passage?”
“About it being my fault?”
“No, ’bout actin’ like a kid yer age and forgetting this stuff. Ya over analyze every little thing.”
Trailing off, 01 cast his gaze toward the ceiling to think for a moment. He had to tell his daughter what needed to be said. 01’s had reached that conclusion, but the words did not come so easily when the moment arrived.
“Yeah, but I ain’t sayin’ ya should act like one all the time. Just, yeah, I’m yer father and yer my girl.”
“So, ya don’t gotta feel ‘sorry’ for gettin’ me hurt or holdin’ me back. Comes with the territory of bein’ a kid, yeah?”
01 searched his memory and found words that he had once heard himself. He had no memory of his biological parents left, but pieces like that were still there.
At the very least, 01 understood what was required of him as a parent.
“We gotta support each other where we can. There’re things I rely on ya for ‘cuz I can’t do ’em myself. So, I don’t think of ya as an obstacle. Never have.”
“Maybe so, but...”
“If it’s botherin’ ya that much, just keep it from happin’ again. Ya have no idea how much I’ve messed up over my life, but I’m still here. Plus, I’m here to help ya. I’ve got yer back when the chips are down.”
This time, he made sure to show his genuine love and affection by gently patting Karen’s head. Her soft hair and unmistakable body heat gave him a feeling of serenity like no other.
These small details made him human again. In which case, the only way to pay her back was to ensure her survival so long as he drew breath.
“...My I sit in your lap?”
“Yeah, knock yerself out.”
01 sunk to the floor and crossed his legs. Concealing her crimson cheeks behind the pages of her book, Karen lowered herself onto his knee. This was her favorite place to be when she was in a good mood.
Just as 01 took comfort in Karen’s warmth, his solid frame gave her a calming sense of security. What’s more, the fact that her usually standoffish father had accepted her request made her happy beyond words.
“...Oh, I just remembered. What were you going to say back then?”
“Over the comm. We were interrupted by the Ryusei-kai, and I didn’t hear you.”
“Yes, that. Would you tell me now?”
“...Does it gotta be now?”
01 uncharacteristically fumbled over his own words. He remembered exactly what he was going to say that night, but the resolve to repeat it now eluded him. Simply put, he was too shy.
“Yes, if you can... But I won’t force you to...”
His daughter’s glistening eyes were too much and he caved. The fact that he could not be strict with her only proved that he was, for all intents and purposes, her father.
“‘Anytime, anywhere, I’ll always put your needs first and will do anythin’ for you.’ That enough fer ya?”
Taken aback by his own conceited tone, 01 said what he could not before. He had always expressed himself through actions, but recent events had made it clear that it was all to satisfy paternal pride.
She had to clearly understand, otherwise his gestures were pointless.
“...It feels like I coaxed it out of you.”
“Right? ’At’s why I didn’ wanna say it.”
“That's just like you, Dad.”
The two shared a laugh. Though meager, this was harmony at its finest for them.
They had no place in the outside world. Pursued no matter where they may go, gunpowder and blood permeated their hands to the bone. Their battles would never end.
However, the ability to laugh together was enough. So long as they had each other, they were home no matter where they may be. That much was certain.
Amalgamate Age, Year 55. Five years after the Amanesisian Conflict came to an end, the “Ghost” was here, very much alive.