Chapter 27:

Twelfth Hour

Code: Zero Defect

"The winds coalesce," Holiday hummed to herself. "You used to say that all the time, Captain Nemesis. Always using those big words that I never understood. Now, it's all in my vocabulary. You proud of me now?"

She was met with silence beneath a starless night. Her hands reached for the railing as she looked upon the still land of La Senia's Memorial.

A series of derelict buildings lined up next to the run-down mall, yet life never dissipated. People were still up and about, living their lives but always cautious.

In the past, these buildings used to be a part of a popular commerce strip. However, when La Senia began her revolution, it was destroyed, and this place was her final stand against the tyranny of the High Order.

What good is a government when it brings ruin to its people? What good is a military when all it does is enforce the laws that ruin its people? So many questions; not enough answers, but that's how always it goes.

"Captain," a voice called out.

Holiday turned around to see her team climbing the stairs to reach her. Minerva was the first to approach.

"What are you doing up here all alone?" she asked curiously.

"Ah... Just... reminiscing a little," Holiday replied with a smile.

"Really?" Loki scoffed. "That's a first."

"Is not."

"Is too."

"Is not!"

"Is too, and you know damn well that I'm right."

Zephyr chuckled. "Even I'm surprised that you're thinking about anything other than our next course of action."

"W-wha..." Holiday mumbled.

If Zephyr, of all people, is agreeing with Loki, then it's very hard to believe otherwise. Besides, the only way that this argument will end is when Loki finally gets tired of toying with her prey, so Holiday decides not to continue this any longer.

Astrid sat at the edge of the building, dangling her legs and swinging them back and forth.

"So? Whatcha thinking about?" she asked.

"What I'm sure we're all thinking about right now," Holiday replied. "Solas."

"That kid's got some serious issues," Loki chuckled. "No augmentations or nothing. Just a dagger that Nemmy left behind and a shit ton of willpower. He ain't no joke, that's for sure."

"Do you guys remember what he said?" Minerva asked. "What was it... Ah! 'Never will I look the other way. They can send the Queen's Guards, and I still won't back down. Never again.' That's almost exactly what Captain Nemesis told us before she went AWOL."

"I noticed that, too," Zephyr said. "He's like a splitting image of his sister. Every time I look at him... I can't help but be reminded of her."

"No kidding," Astrid scoffed. "Back when I was contracting him, it didn't even occur to me that he could be the late boss's kid brother. In hindsight, I should've known."

"The point of his secret identity is that no one was supposed to know."

"I ain't just a run-of-the-mill geek, ol' pal. I'm the best hacker in the city."

"My ass," Loki snickered. "You couldn't even figure out that Strider was Solly even though you spent six months with him. What a shame! I thought you were smart!"

"... Fuck off."

Loki threw herself onto Minerva and filled the air with that hideous laughter of hers, which made Minerva laugh as well.

Holiday sighed peacefully, before turning back to look at the camp, and Zephyr was the first to notice.

"Something is still on your mind, Captain," she said.

"You could tell?" Holiday smiled.

She took a deep breath and turned her attention to the stars above. However, only a few were present. In the undercity, where pollution is one of the most prominent issues, it is very difficult to see the rest.

"Upon her dying breath, Captain Nemesis gave me one last request," Holiday said.

The others turned to look at each other. It was clear that none of them knew what she was talking about.

"And? What was it?" asked Zephyr.

She paused for a moment as her mind trailed into the past. Lying still on her lap was the body of Nemesis, blood spewing from every corner of her body.

"Holiday..." Nemesis whispered. "Is that... you?"

"Yes, Captain... It's me," Holiday muttered as tears ran down her face.

"You know, I always told you... not to cry. As Calypso... we are eternally in the line of fire. This is just... another part of the job."

Nemesis's hand felt cold to the touch. A seemingly endless river of blood streamed out of her mouth. Her right arm was completely severed. The red glow of her eyes flickered, and the hollowed diamonds were visibly cracked, an undeniable proof that she had gone too far with the usage of her code.

"I can feel myself... fading," Nemesis muttered before she let out a faint chuckle. "Heh... Is this death? So fucking shitty."

"Captain... Please... Don't go," Holiday begged. "I-I... I won't disobey you anymore. I'll practice trigger discipline. I won't... I won't bully Astrid anymore... So please..."

"Judan... Listen to me. I have one last mission... for you."

Holiday hesitated. Nemesis called her by her real name only once before, and that was when they first met. Hearing it now, it was a true sign that the end was near.

She threw her head down, biting her lips in a desperate attempt to keep what sorrowful wail would've come out. Convulsive gasps forced their way out, but she stayed firm.

"Judan?" Nemesis asked again.

"I'm here, Nelia," Holiday sniffled.

"Take the others... and run. Get as far as you can... from the High Order... and don't allow yourselves to end up like me. From now on... you are the captain... of Calypso."

"No... No, no, no, no, Captain, please! Please, don't leave us! Please!"

As Holiday was weeping at the thought of losing her captain forever, the uniformed marching of the Queen's Guard could be heard closing in.

"H-hurry..." Nemesis struggled to say. "Get moving. Now."

"I'm not leaving you!" she declared.


Suddenly, the Queen's Guards came into view, and standing at the forefront was General Archontas himself, the great hero of the Reclamation.

Holiday sneered at him. She wondered how he could stand with such a stoic face when his own daughter was dying right in front of him.

Despite Nemesis's request, Holiday made up her mind. Leaving Nemesis behind was not an option, so she gently let her go and stood face-to-face with the Queen's Guards.

She shoved her gunblade into the ground and took a deep breath. Her eyes opened, showing not the eyes of the young girl whose only purpose was to serve the city. They were the eyes of someone hellbent on fighting for what she believed in, a belief that goes against the High Order—a defect.

"Code: Atlas's Burden!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.

Immediately, an enormous pressure fell in the vicinity. All of the guards were forced to the ground that was steadily cracking beneath them. Every single augmented part was violently crushed, tearing and breaking apart until it was nothing but scrap metal.

However, there was one who refused to yield to the power of absolute gravity control. General Archontas merely fell to one knee. His body was visibly shaking, but he did not go down like the rest. Instead, he steadily regained his footing. It was as if he had adapted to the extreme pressure, as he was now standing perfectly upright.

That didn't bother Holiday. She knew what he was capable of. After all, she once served him. She had seen the extent of his power. As such, there was only one way to defeat him.

Holiday released her code. The pressure lifted, but she was not done.

After a sharp exhale, the diamonds in her eyes were shining brighter than ever before, to the extent that even General Archontas was weary.

"Code: Atlas's Burden... Over-"

Right as she was about to finish the word that would've ended it all, someone grabbed her arm from behind. She twisted her hand around to find Nemesis forcing herself to stand just to stop her.

Nemesis rested her chin on her shoulder. "Judan... Think of the others. Loki... Minerva... Zephyr... and Astrid. If you stay... you die... and they'll die, too."

"But... Nelia..." Holiday whimpered. "I can't... leave you... I don't know what I'd do without you..."

"I understand that. You have no idea... how much I appreciate that. But please... the others are waiting. Don't leave them all alone."

As much as she wanted to stay with her captain, Holiday knew that she couldn't leave the others. They're waiting for someone to return to them. As the oldest of the group of young girls, she has to pick up the mantle of leadership.

"Alright..." she finally said. "I'll keep them safe... I promise..."

"Good," Nemesis smiled. "Ah... I almost forgot. This is more of a request. My youngest brother... Solas... He can be a bit... off the plot sometimes. If you ever come... to meet him... Tell him... I know he loves me. He always has... and I'll always love him as well."

"... I'll... I'll be sure to pass it on to him."

"And... Keep him out of trouble. Can you do that... for me?"

Holiday bit her lips and sniffled. "Okay... I'll keep him safe, too."

"Thank you."

Nemesis stepped in front of Holiday. She took a couple of deep breaths and opened her eyes. Even though her code was shattering, it was still viable. This time, however, will be her last.

"Give me the order," Nemesis said. "And I'll take these bastards with me... to the grave."

Holiday bit her lips in anger. The blissful days of the past are long gone. She never thought she would have to see her comrades dying right in front of her eyes, but here she stands.

With a heavy breath of air, she sorrowfully muttered, "Nemesis... Please... cover our escape."

A fulfilled smile appeared on Nemesis's face. "By your command... Captain Holiday."

With that, Holiday ran off as a faint voice whispered in her ears.

"Code: Nanite Manipulation... Overdrive."

An ear-splitting shriek filled the air as a sharp array of lights cast a shadow from behind, but she did not look back. She ran and ran as fast as she could until she couldn't take it anymore. Her legs gave in, and she fell to the ground, wailing at the top of her lungs.

Memories of past days replayed in her head. All they did was fight eidolons, have sleepovers, and gossip about everything. As different as they were from each other, they were just a group of little girls who enjoyed the company of each other. And now, the one web that strung them together was gone.

Never did she forget the sight of her captain's final moments. Never did the sadness in her heart fade away. Never did she fully move on.

Holiday opened her eyes as a strand of tear made its way down her cheek. She reached up to touch it, surprised to see that it was wet.

"Captain...?" Minerva called out.

"I... Hah," she chuckled. "When was the last time I cried like this?"

Zephyr reached for her hand and held it tight. Minerva followed after her, rushing to give Holiday the biggest hug. Then, it somehow spiraled into all four of them holding onto her with tearful eyes.

For a whole year following their former captain's death, they mourned, spilling tears almost every night. Ever since then, they had not cried once. What changed for them to finally let it all out now? Of course, they knew the answer.

They held each other for a while. No words, just complete silence. There came a time for them to move on, and they did, but they made sure to keep Nemesis close to their hearts. Always.