By Sh33p, CultofSh33p@aol.com
The final of this great trilogy. Hope you got airbags, 'cause this is going to be a crashing end. Tim Seltzer, email@example.com
Sh33p Disclaimer: Only crap I own are the original characters,
and even then I don`t own five of them in full. Consider this disclaimer
valid for the whole story.
Scene 1/2/3: E.S. Posthumus - Nara
Scene 4: Steve Conte - Heaven's Not Enough
Scene 5: Gundam SEED - Wheel of Destiny
Scene 6: Witch Hunter Robin - STN
Scene 7: Witch Hunter Robin - Plot
It had been around two hours since the major fighting ended, yet it still felt as if the battle was raging on. In a way, it had felt like that ever since that night when dreams had died. He could still remember hearing Brad screaming about launching the Scout Fox, and wondering where Bit was and how he was doing in the midst of all of it. He had woken up only blearily during the middle of the carnage, and since then...
It was almost like life could be divided into seperate chunks that all coincided with each other like the strands of fiber in an ever thinning rope.
Before Jamie could put much more thought into it though, he was drawn out of his zoned-out state by the sudden sound of a broadband transmission.
"All Zoids are to return to base at once! I repeat, all Zoids are to return to base at once!"
He blinked. It almost felt disappointing, considering how far they had come and how all of them had practically jumped into combat. Even so, Jamie responded to the message with a shrug before complying. Seconds after the transmission ended, the Raynos JT had banked down towards Gyran and kicked on its forward thruster before slowly coming to a halt and setting down in the vicinity of a rather gaping crater and a pile of debris. He had lost sight of Pierce's position outside of radar, and to be brutally honest, he also didn't care that much to have to deal with her right now.
Or anyone else for that matter. Combat anymore... It just had the tendency to take the wind out of his sails, piss on it and throw it off a bridge. Without the Wild Eagle - without Will - around, there wasn't really much to be enjoyed about it. Odd as it was, he had come to actually miss letting his other personality take control. As invasive and volatile as the relationship between them had been, it had always been something he could count on no matter what. Whenever the world became too much, Will could swoop in and take over...
And damn the loss of life that followed.
With a sigh of relief, he felt the feet of the Raynos hit asphalt and took a look over his shoulder to see where Stoller's Whale King was touching down. Naturally enough, the huge thing had wound up heading over to where all the other Whale Kings were parked and-
And the thought suddenly struck him: "Why in the hell didn't they just take the Whale Kings and use them as mobile fortresses or something?"
It wasn't until a few seconds later that the answer finally struck him: "Because most civilian Whale Kings don't have enough firepower for more than basic defense."
That little logic problem out of the way, it didn't take long to pry off his safety harness and open up the cockpit before standing up with a loud, painful sounding stretch. From there, he simply placed a hand onto the side of the cockpit and heaved himself over it, falling down a few yards before finally landing with an awkward crouch and the sudden movements of both arms to keep himself from falling over. Even though he had seemingly absorbed Will, he still lacked his other self's complete disregard for things like common sense and feeling pain when it was appropriate.
It wasn't until a full minute or two after he had hopped out of the Raynos that Jamie even noticed the sound of rocks shifting nearby, followed by the sound of someone laughing a bit sadistically.
When he turned his head to find the source though...
He immediately wished he hadn't.
"Long time no see, Jamie," Leyla Tsun greeted him, one of her eyes shut and the other only half-open. She was sitting atop a shallow pile of stoned-over Zoid armor, clad in a standard Champton Defense Force jumpsuit and looking as if she had been so far over the edge that she didn't even notice her own condition. She was bleeding from both ears, and had a dozen cuts, scrapes and bruises to her hands, plus a few larger cuts across her body and legs...
And she was smiling like a maniac at the end of the universe.
"How ya been?" She asked, seeming to completely ignore the awkwardness of the moment until-
"... What the hell happened to you?" Jamie asked.
Leyla looked half-ready to answer, but whatever she was going to say ended up coming out slurred in some foriegn language. With that, her eyes opened entirely to reveal that they weren't changing colors anymore, and then-
Her head lulled back and Leyla fell over backwards. She was out like a light by the time her head hit the ground.
For a long couple of minutes, Jamie just stared at his fallen ex-girlfriend-of-sorts, before finally just shaking his head all together.
"I'm not the only one who's changed, but... At this point, I don't really care what's happened to you," he thought, just before stepping forward and speaking to himself like he sometimes wished Will was around to hear, do or reply to in some snotty way.
"May as well get you to a doctor, or something," he said, just before all but scraping Leyla off the ground and flinging her onto one of his shoulders like a sack of potatoes.
With that, Jamie walked off towards one of the more intact hangars with
a grim look on his face and an apathetic gleam in his eyes.
The gunfire had died down, but there was still far too much work to be done for his tastes. Losses needed to be tallied, combat data analyzed and an inventory needed to be taken on all the Zoids that could be repaired or were still somehow functional. It was a daunting task, especially after an entire night spent behind the firing line, coordinating almost every single movement of Gyran's built-in defenses - most of which were now burning, smoking or already destroyed from a combination of battle damage and flat-out overuse. Supercannons weren't meant to be fired more than once every few seconds, and laser cannons had the annoying tendency to overheat at the worst possible times.
These were things that had been their job to fix. In fact, that was the main reason he and his exhausted comrade hadn't gotten into their Zoids and run out into the midst of battle with everyone else. Put simply: They had been the in-base 'fixers.' The go-to guys, combat IT and all that. Whenever things had broken, they had rushed to fix it, even if their 'repairs' were only patchwork at best for numerous reasons. In less than one night, even in the middle of pitched combat, they had singlehandedly reprogrammed the firing patterns on almost every single turret that had been in the base. They had managed to repair at least a dozen Zoids - without help - in the middle of the battle with only sparse protection whenever the gates opened and closed. They had even gone so far as to repair the base's primary power supply twice in a row, even if it was only a temporary solution at best.
In all ways, Steven Tauros and Leyon Martin looked like they had been through every bit as much Hell as the people who had actually been fighting. They were each covered in so much sweat that it had seeped through their clothes - which weren't even jumpsuits or fatigues, just their normal civilian get-ups with 'in-field custom' flak jackets worn over their lab coats - and both looked as if they hadn't showered in well over a month. Between them, they had sustained three steam burns to either leg, a black eye for Leyon, a bloodied forehead for Steve, singed hair for both, smoke inhalation, sleep deprivation, numerous bruises from the neck down and roughed up palms that hurt to even make fists with.
Yet in spite of all that, both of them were wide awake, resting exhaustedly on long emptied ammo crates and watching as one-by-one, wounded pilots were carted into the hangar-turned field hospital. It had been downright amazing, how much medical equipment had been spread out in only the past fifteen minutes that they'd been in there, not to mention how one particularly insane looking little twerp was running around with a drum of red paint on a cart and a mop, using it to paint red cross symbols on the outside of every doorway, along with arrows and just about anything else.
By now though, the hangar was starting to wreak of human blood, burnt flesh and clothing, medical chemicals and so much other battle-related things. Medics ranging from interns to nurses to doctors of all kinds were rushing from one end of the hangar to the other, and surgeries were being carried out on the floor with nothing but tarps and loosely jammed in-pads or soft wood to seperate patients from the concrete beneath them. Screams, moans of pain and calls to God echoed out almost unendingly, and in all honesty...
"I don't know how in God's name you can eat right now," Steve commented with a nervous twitch after glancing over to Leyon, who had - somehow - managed to not only find a can of ramen, but also cook it to the point that it was steaming. Granted, the can stank of gunpowder, but still.
"Ah'm hung'y, damnit," Leyon replied in kind, seemingly oblivious to how the ramen was probably burning his tastebuds.
"... There are people bleeding to death less than ten feet from you!" Steven stated, pointing furiously at a spot that was, indeed, less than ten feet away, where a man about their own age was being given a rushed blood transfusion even while someone was working feverishly to cauterize an internal injury with nothing but a portable laser and obviously frayed nerves. Which also, coincidentally, meant that the guy's stomach had been gashed open somewhere along the way.
"... Sho?" Leyon replied, noodles hanging from his mouth.
Steven's jaw dropped. Then comfortable numbness set in and for some reason, a garbled 'So?' seemed so appropriate that he wondered why he ever questioned it at all. With that, Tauros turned his attentions back towards the rest of the hangar-
And abruptly felt both brows shoot straight up into his forehead. Along with the accompanying sting of pain from his exposed head injury, which was still scabbing over.
"Whuh?" Leyon asked, his mouth now completely full as he glanced off in the direction that Steve had been looking in. His unblackened eye promptly widened less than a second later and then...
"Uh... What is it?" He asked after a loud gulp.
"It's Jamie, you pointy-headed idiot!" Steve answered, just before flinging himself from atop his crate and almost knocking it over as he half-ran, half-hobbled his way towards the hangar entrance. Leyon, oddly enough, wasn't really that far behind, though he was still gobbling ramen the entire way.
For a few seconds, nothing. Hameros was so occupied with lugging around whoever was on his shoulder that he barely even noticed anyone calling his name at all. Finally though, the youth'd found an empty place and been given permission to set aforementioned lump-of-human-mass down, doing just that before straightening back up.
When he turned towards Steve, the former Blitz Team owner felt his blood run cold.
The look in Jamie's eyes was like little else he had ever seen. It wasn't really tortured, and it wasn't weepy and angst-filled. It wasn't even relieved either, it was simply apathetic.
Considering that the last time Jamie and Steven had seen each other, those same eyes had been filled with nothing short of horrified concern, Steve felt almost as disturbed now as he had when Leena mentioned that her kidnapping at the hands of a psychotic Gojulas wasn't even worth worrying over. In a short-lived panic, he tried to slow himself down and instead stumbled a few paces before finally crashing to a halt-
Or, at least... He would've. If Jamie hadn't calmly put out his hands and somehow stopped the Doc right in his tracks by catching him squarely across either shoulder.
"Jamie," Steve sputtered out again, short of breath as he wrapped his arms around the boy and tried to squeeze him until his ribs popped. The only response he got was a pat on the back and-
"How are you, Steve?" Hameros asked a bit too formally. With that, Steve set him down and put his hands on the youngster's shoulders.
"I-I-I-... Damnit, it's not important right now," Steve managed to conclude. "What happened to you since you left the base?" He asked, cutting straight to the point rather uncharacteristically. He didn't know how to explain it, but there was something missing from Jamie's eyes...
And in all honesty, it scared the hell out of him.
"... A lot. Of stuff," Jamie replied with a shrug, prompting Steve to shake him around like some kind of bobblehead doll. By now, Leyon had arrived.
"Like?" Steve asked.
"Stuff," Jamie answered.
"What kind of stuff, Jamie? I need to know!"
There was a pause. A tense, uneven one as Leyon seemed to inch over to where Jamie's former humanoid luggage now lay.
Then, finally, Jamie spoke. His voice was cold, blunt and straight to the point in a way that made Steven's spine went to curl.
"I've killed people. A lot of them. And I also killed the Wild Eagle."
Steve's hands involuntarily clenched.
"Then I went home. Then I met a bunch of crazy people and killed a mutant Ultrasaurus. Then we came here," he pointed out, finally reaching up and prying Tauros' hands from his shoulders.
"Now if you'll excuse me," he said, slinking back a step or two and then speaking up with a nervous sounding voice. "I'm gonna go find a rec-room and lay down. It's been a long morning."
And with that, the former junior tactician of the Blitz Team turned away and walked off, passing right by two rows of wounded and dying patients without even looking at them. A minute or two later, he had arrived at a door out of the hangar and into Gyran's underground, then vanished from sight all together.
Steve simply stood there, staring. Until Leyon spoke up, that is...
"Isn't this Leyla Tsun?" He asked, poking the unattended girl in the side with his foot. Steve turned to look and then blinked several times before replying.
"Wait... How the heck do you know who Leyla Tsun is?" He asked, staring at Leyon now.
The pointy-headed ramen addict shrugged, then pointed at his own head with one finger.
"Hello! Mad scientist here," he commented. "'Sides, she was in Evil Scientist Digest. Somethin' about 'exploring genetic disruptions in Ancient Zoidians brought on by'... Something-blah," he explained, just before stepping back and dumping the rest of the ramen into his mouth. He didn't even bother to chew it this time.
"... Wait a minute... There's an Evil Scientist Digest?" Steve asked, the scabs and bleeding on his forehead looking remarkably similar to a misshapen WTF.
"... Duh," Leyon replied incredulously.
It had been almost twenty minutes since the initial order was given from the local chain of command, but at last, the lot of them were finally reunited. Mostly. A single Zoid was still missing from the group, but for the most part...
"Everyone come out unscathed?" Their own head honcho asked, his voice sounding surprisingly unconcerned. After all, see the end of the world often enough and have life as you know destroyed repeatedly within the span of a few short months and one tends to grow a bit of an immunity to these kinds of things.
"More or less," he replied with some impatience. In truth, he'd already been inside of Gyran's war-scarred walls for the better part of an hour now. It had taken almost every ounce of patience not to just wander off and find out what in the Hell happened himself, but somehow, against virtually all odds, he'd managed it. He had sat in one specific spot and held his ground there right up until almost all of the others - not counting Jamie, who had landed somewhere else - had shown up. Not only that, but he'd also stood guard over someone else's Zoid while doing it.
"What the hell took you guys so long, anyway?" Mark asked at last, sitting on the edge of the Fox's cockpit watching as the others arrived.
Said-others consisted of a dinged up looking Geno Breaker, a pair of Gustavs, a white Blade Liger and a Storm Sworder, the last of which was touching down only a short distance away in order to keep clear of crashing into anything. His own Zoid, the Shadow Fox, had taken point next to a downed, smoking red Liger, its own cockpit hanging open and its pilot having long since abandoned it.
"And why the hell are you so early?" Kyle shot back as the Ivory Liger came to a halt, followed by its head bowing and its cockpit popping open. A few seconds later, both Gustavs followed suit with Terry, that gold-toothed trucker who made Mark look civilized, hopping out from Pierce's Gustav first and Abbie disembarking from his own second. Suffice to say, Mark's eyes were naturally drawn to the driver who was both female, and clad in nice, worn clothing that had just the right fit and-
"Ow!" He let out as Kyle nonchalantly appeared from nowhere and backhanded him.
"Stop oggling your girlfriend and tell-"
"No, I don't know what in the fuckshit is going on!" Mark abruptly replied, having lost that sense of slow-motion jiggling that made life worth living in the first place.
"Ah... Then will you at least explain-"
"Is that Leon's Blade Liger?" Pierce interjected, also popping up out of nowhere and pointing to the smoking heap behind him. She also looked a bit more excited than anything else. To this, Mark frowned, twitched, shrugged and finally nodded.
"Yeah. He was roughed up earlier, so I had to push the thing here just to get it to move," he explained.
"Roughed up?" Pierce asked, now looking a bit concerned.
"Roughed up as in 'Oh, hi, my name is Leon and everyone I was working with last night got blown to fleshy little giblets, including one of the Tasker sisters! How are you today?'" He answered sardonically.
"Judging by all the wreckage, he's definately not the only one who went through Hell last night," Kyle pointed out, while Bill was finally exiting the Geno Breaker.
"No shit, Sherlock," Mark replied bluntly.
"Which way did he go in?" Pierce asked after a few seconds.
"That-a-way," Mark thumbed over his shoulder in the direction of the closest bunker entrance. "Said something about wantin' to be alone though," he added as an afterthought.
There was a pause.
"Tough shit," Pierce commented, just before heading off in the direction he had pointed her in.
Another pause followed as Kat and Abbie began waving refugees out of the back of Mark's Gustav's trailers, while that weird Alistair boy set himself down on one of the antenna. Bill waved over to the Suicide Duo and promptly vanished as well, taking off in a brief sprint and then heading towards the central building. With that, both glanced off in the direction Pierce had run off in.
"Yanno," Kyle began, scratching behind his head. "I honestly can't tell who's scarier anymore... Your girlfriend or your future in-law."
Sensation flickered across the back of his brain. Without even giving a glance, he had sent the thought through and leaned back in his seat, one foot coming up to rest on a part of the console that lacked any sensitive buttons, switches or knobs. The other was left to dangle to the floor below, just as one arm was left to hang almost lifelessly over the armrest and the other was used to prop his head up on a fist.
"What's wrong?" Vega asked, staring at the streaks on the screen. Each one was colored a starry blue, and he knew that the reason for this was because those were stars streaking by. They were moving on the edge of the atmosphere, and at this point, it still felt remarkably odd that they were speeding along at absurd speeds yet nothing in the Foe Hammer was even vibrating. Like sitting still even though everything around you was moving at a hundred miles per second.
You already know, Specular answered somberly, her talons resting at the top-back of Vega's chair and her head hunched lower than normal to avoid smacking into the ceiling. You can hear it, can't you?
"Barely. It sounds like static," he answered.
It's the world, Vega. The world is crying out in pain, Specular responded, her voice low and somewhat withdrawn. It's a sound that drove many of your ancestors completely insane.
"Then why am I not getting slap-happy with a shotgun?" Vega asked sardonically. At the same time, he let out a huff and closed his eyes.
The bridge was dark right now. Lars had taken to the floor in a sleeping bag on a mattress of seat cushions, and the only lights came from the still-active consoles and the stars streaking by on the main screen.
I don't know. It could be simple dilution of the Zoidian part of your blood... Or it could be that you're just too resillient. Either way, the why is irrelevent, she rambled out.
"How much longer do you think it'll be?" Vega wondered.
However long the former Guardians see fit.
"Not ones for a fixed schedule, huh?"
All too fixed, is more like it.
There was a pause. Vega finally opened his eyes and glanced around, only to find that Madison wasn't in the room anymore. In fact, she hadn't been ever since he had explained things to Lars - something that he almost immediately came to regret after the geeky jack-of-all-repairs had screamed and passed out where he was standing, only to come to and immediately do it all over again before finally accepting things. Escaping Lars was something he didn't blame her for, but she had been gone for almost twelve hours now and-
She's near the Core. Discussing private matters with Roc. Don't bother sending Sworders, they'll just be shredded, Specular explained with the tone of a stressed, slightly exhausted and utterly resigned mother on a roadtrip.
Another pause followed, this one a bit more relaxed in a more fatalistic sort of way. At first, it had just been a pause between words - Vega had either forgotten to reply or Specular had last sight of what she had been saying. Then though, the pause took on a life of its own. Slowly, the air seemed to thicken until it strained him to breathe. A knot that had been building up in his neck for hours made its presence known again, stinging at his senses. All feelings of comfort in their mental link washed away, and then, finally...
The pause broke.
"We're all gonna die, aren't we?" Vega asked, somewhere between bitter, expectant and even casual. It was like someone had dipped his heart into icewater after bathing it in napalm.
... Don't ask questions that you don't want the answers to, Specular answered after another pause. Where Vega had been a mix though, she sounded downright lifeless.
"Champton's still standing, and help seems to be on the way to meet us when we arrive, but..."
There was a fourth pause, this one every bit as foreboding as the ones before it. For neither good nor ill though, curiosity brought with it a change of subject as Vega moved to bring his other leg up onto the console.
"That woman... Riese. She wasn't your first bondmate, was she?" He asked.
... No. She wasn't, Specular answered. Her father was my first bondmate, she explained in short order, giving the equivelent of a sigh before continuing. His name was also Riese. My first memory is bursting out of my own father's chest with my siblings and hearing him crying out for me.
"He died during the Endtimes, didn't he?"
He did. I wasn't there though. I only learned second-hand, Specular pointed out. She was actually giving off a mental chuckle that sounded like his birth mother with four days of no sleep and too much coffee.
A final pause came as Specular tilted her head down and stared at him. If she could, Vega knew that she would've probably used lasers to burn through his skull and read what he was thinking from the very electrons rushing around in his brain. As it stood though, she already had access to his thoughts, and she didn't waste much more time than it took to read them before explaining.
His wife was killed. His daughter had been born without an Organoid - as rare then as someone having one is now. He learned of a last-ditch effort to preserve the Zoidians and Organoids through cryogenics and decided to take it. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, every pod but the last four was taken, and we had acquired two new... Companions, by the name of Reva and Boris. Children, as old as Erisi was. When it came down to it, Riese decided to stay out and ordered me to watch over his daughter. That, for the longest time, was the last I heard of him.
When I was asleep, my mind literally shut down... And when I awoke, the Sworders bluntly tried to flock to Erisi's mind as she was dealing with a boy named Nikalo. To try and spare her the effort, and begin my bonding with her, I took control of her powers and put them into dormancy, and I took the Sworders as well - just like I did with you. They then flooded my own mind with records of what had happened after we had all been put to rest.
Specular seemed to take a long breath, even though she never breathed at all, and then continued.
Riese had been driven to the same madness that overtook most of the male population at that time. He had acquired another Zoid after his Norga had broken down - a Daemon - and taken to running alongside Fintan Hiltz and his warband. He died just before Asmodeus was subdued, though I've never had the stomach to learn how, she finished, her voice as heavy as the air he was breathing.
To this, Vega could do little more than nod his head and try to form a coherent thought in the blank slate that was his mind. His eyes were glazed and clouded, obvious proof that he hadn't just been hearing the story play out, he had been watching it and using Specular's narrating as a way to track his progress. Finally though, his eyes cleared and his mind managed to form a straight sentence without the words tripping up in-thought.
"And Erisi ended up adopting his name as a coping mechanism," he concluded.
Yes. It was because Nikalo was killed. He was the last person who ever heard her real name. She didn't even tell it to the man who eventually fathered several of your ancestors, Specular pointed out. Erisi just couldn't handle being a weak and scared little girl. So she cut her hair and took her father's name. For a while, she even pretended to be him.
At this, Vega could only say one thing...
"I've got one of the most fucked up families on Zi, huh?"
... You don't know the half of it, Specular answered with a grim
sense of amusement.
An empty locker room. A flat red bench without a back, made of metal that was inherently uncomfortable to sit on for more than the time it took to get on one's shoes and socks. Normally, he wouldn't have been sitting here at all, if not for the fact that this particular locker room played host to a row of nametags that were probably going to be burned into his memory for the rest of his life.
Howard Franklin. Walter Hallsey. Berke Jones. Kelly Tasker.
If nothing else, the silence of the locker room made it easy to focus so hard on it that he could actually zone out and forget that only twelve or so hours ago, he had lead them into what amounted to the fires of Hell. Sure, he hadn't expected any of them to come out alive at the start of it, but he hadn't expected himself to be one of the only two survivors from the entire half-squad. In some ways, he already knew that it was flat-out ridiculous to blame himself for all of their deaths, but...
If he had been a bit faster. A bit less cautious. A bit more impulsive. A bit less logical.
Perhaps he could've left Chris to fend for herself for the few seconds it would've taken to ram a blade down that thing's throat or gut it with a claw. Maybe a shield ram to one leg would've put it off balance enough to save Kelly and Walter. Hell, maybe he should've just sent Kelly to pick Chris up after all. Blade Ligers were more agile than Lightning Saixes, he could've dodged around and decapitated the thing's hand and-
And maybe if he'd left Chris to fend for herself, there would be five names belonging to people who weren't breathing anymore. Maybe if he'd been stricter to Howard, a particle beam would've struck them both. Maybe the hand would've just kept squeezing on impulse even as its power died away, and maybe there would be six names whose owners were now dead.
Perhaps more than anything else though, he regretted-
"Never figured you to be the brooding type," a familiar voice pointed out as two soft, squishy things plopped onto the top of his head and a pair of gloved fingers dug between his lips and pulled his mouth into an awkward looking grin. "Perk up! Smile some - you're alive!"
Leon stared straight ahead. His right eyelid twitched a bit.
"Heglgho, Hwierss," he greeted flatly.
"What's up?" She asked casually, still prying his mouth open while leaning her head forward enough that she was bent over his back and staring him straight in the face. Upside down.
"Nihshe contaksh," Leon commented blandly upon noticing that her eyes had changed from purple to an unnaturally bright green. With that, Pierce finally pried her fingers out of his mouth and straightened up behind him. A few seconds later, Tauros felt her plop down beside him from behind, then glanced sideways in time to see the woman swing around in order to face the same direction as he was. She was still wearing a pilot's outfit not unlike the one she'd had on back in Romeo City.
"Just get here?" He asked after a few seconds more, looking back towards the lockers as he did so.
"Yep. Looks like the town went to Hell though," she answered, still casual.
"But you're alive, so why the long face?" She asked, now sounding a bit less casual, but not entirely so. Leon could only grimace before answering.
"Four of the people I lead into combat last night died. One of them ended up losing her sister. I ordered another to die fighting," he stated bluntly, with a certain detached feeling to what he was saying. It felt kind of good to get it out like that.
"... Oh. Sorry to hear that," Pierce replied after audibly wincing at him. "But-
"There was nothing I could do. I know that already. I've told myself that a hundred times in the past few hours and it still hasn't made me feel any better," Leon said after cutting her off. With that, he hunched forward a bit and left his hands to clasp together between his knees. At least now, he was left to stare at the floor, as opposed to the names of the dead. "It's kinda funny, really. I thought I was like Van Fleiheit until last night. My own mother came back from the dead for a little while just to tell me she thought I was like him," he pointed out.
"... Back from the dead?" Pierce asked with a blanked tone. At that, the woman reached over and laid a hand on his back, patting a few times. "People don't come back from the dead, Leon."
"They did yesterday. And the night before that. Ask almost anyone left alive in this city and you'll hear about them meeting with a dead relative, friend or lover," he explained, then paused and added, "if they were alone, at least. I guess you were travelling with others and didn't get time enough to be alone, did you?" He asked.
"No," she answered flatly. "I was stuck riding around with Jamie for most of the trip."
At this, Leon perked up a small bit.
"He's alive?" He asked, glancing over at her again with surprise evident on his face.
"Yeah," she answered, shaking her head. "He's been... Out of it, kinda, but he's alive. Messed up kid, that one. Rambled about killing a guy named Will when he was asleep," she pointed out. To this, Leon only raised an eyebrow.
"You sure that's Jamie?"
"He's a scrawny little shrimp with spikey hair and a tan who wears clothes that're two sizes too big," she answered bluntly.
"Yeah... That's Jamie," Leon replied.
"That's also not important," Pierce said. "I can tell a lot's happened since Romeo."
"You don't know the half of it."
"Neither do you."
There was a pause. Both of them stared at each other almost challengingly, as if whoever started to speak first would somehow be the loser in a compeitition that didn't even exist. Leon looked like death warmed over still, and Pierce looked somewhere between concerned and annoyed with him. Finally though, almost at the same time, each of them looked away and began to speak, only to stop, star and repeat several times in a row before Leon managed to get a word in.
"You first," he said. Pierce nodded.
"Farentown was burned to the ground even worse than this place. My uncle... My sort-of-uncle, Beck, is dead. I hooked up with Jamie, Mark, Kyle and the guy who pilots that blue Geno Breaker we fought in Romeo, then we ended up fighting a Black Liger and a cracked out Ultrasaurus. Kyle killed the Liger, Bill killed the Ultra, then we came here," she explained in short order, finally getting back around looking at him.
"Sorry to hear about Beck," Leon replied a few seconds later.
For a few seconds, neither of them spoke.
"Well?" She asked expectantly.
"I already told you everything," he answered.
At that, Pierce changed both tact and subject by flinging an arm around Leon's shoulders and nonchalantly yanking him over to lean against her.
"You need to stop blamin' yourself over this," she stated bluntly. "I don't know how any of 'em died, and to be honest, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that you survived, and as long as you're alive, you can make sure that they didn't die for nothing. Got that?" She asked.
Leon's initial response was to squirm a bit, but unfortunately, not only was he going on zero hours of sleep and no food since yesterday's lunch, Pierce was also a whole hell of a lot stronger than she looked. Even though he tried to sit upright, pry her arm off or even just stand up all together, she was still able to hold him in place without even looking strained by it. Finally though, after almost a minute of this uncomfortable struggle, he was forced to give up all together.
"You're a pain in the ass."
"I know. But you still haven't answered my question," she pointed out.
"... You're a pain in the ass," he replied.
With that, Pierce jammed her knuckles into his scalp and noogied him to the point that he was flailing around with her arm moved up to his neck. Eventually, he had slid from the bench and was reduced to struggling on the floor before finally-
"I got it already!" He shouted out. At that, Pierce let go and Leon was left to fall over sideways and land with an awkward thud on the floor. A few seconds later, Pierce had stood up, lifted a leg over him and wound up standing right over him, staring down like the devil incarnate with a smile to match.
"Feeling better yet?" She asked, though it was obvious that she was probably going to beat the snot out of him if he didn't answer the way she wanted.
"You scare the shit out of me," he answered simply.
"Good enough," Pierce replied.
Her watch alarm dinged out that it was officially noon, and almost at the instant this happened, Sarah Obscura heard half the people in the command room jolt awake while a quarter of them slumped forward in their seats, though a few oddballs had actually fallen asleep on their feet while leaned against something or other. The remaining quarter of the officers and other volunteers were either wide awake or so exhausted that they looked like they were. In many ways, the people in the command room had gone through their own form of Hell that rivalled the kind of stress that people on the battlefield had dealt with. At least two had suffered nervous breakdowns halfway through the night and a third had actually died of a heart-attack while coordinating defenses for the Eastern sector...
And yet, there they were. Even the ones who had passed out had done their jobs as admirably as anyone could. In a situation where they'd been hopelessly outgunned by an enemy who seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once without limit to their numbers, the lot of them had managed to keep the fight going - and keep it coordinated as well.
"Alright," she finally sighed out, more to herself than anyone else. Without even thinking, she had swiped an empty seat and flopped down into it before rubbing both eyes with her fingertips. While she hadn't exactly been manning any specific stations during the evening, she had still been pushed to her limits and beyond several times over. Where almost everyone else had been dealing with specific tasks, Sarah Obscura had been running the show almost from start to finish. Sure, Harry had been there and he'd been her equivelent to a superior officer, but they had handled things more as equals than anything else.
"Who here is fucking exhausted?!" She called out only half-heartedly, throwing aside any concept of manners in the process. The reply consisted of about three dozen partially slurred 'ME!'s and a few hands shooting up.
With that, Sarah let out a yawn and cracked the knuckles in her fingers before popping her neck from left to right several times and-
Frowning annoyedly as the comm officer shouted for her. The only one who wasn't passed out, at least.
"What is it?" She demanded a few seconds later, having heaved up out of her chair and crossed the full width of the room in record time without even breaking into a half-jog. The comm officer had been about to speak when-
"This is General Otto Schubaltz of the Guylos Empire," a square-jawed blonde man in an Imperial uniform stated. Almost on sight, Sarah knew she wouldn't like dealing with him.
"Gee... How convenient for a foriegn military to show up fashionably late to do any good," she muttered out to the agreeing, but unseen, nods of the comm officer and virtually anyone else who was awake right now. "What do you want?"
"We came to help," Schubaltz replied, green eyes narrowing slightly. Sarah could tell that the feelings of hostility were mutual.
"Not to mention getting supplies on your way back to Imperial territory, correct?" Sarah asked shrewdly.
"Yes," Schubaltz admitted with a flat shrug. At this, Sarah found herself liking the man a bit more. At least he was going to be an honest bastard, as opposed to a lying one.
"Unfortunately, we're in no condition to provide any of the supplies you need right now. The city is, more or less, in ruins at the moment," she explained with a blatantly false sense of appology in her voice, only to continue. Above all, Sarah Obscura was a businesswoman who was used to dealing with people who had a tendency to underestimate her. Dealing with heads of the military wasn't much different. "However..."
She paused, deliberately, allowing it to sink in before speaking again.
"The local hangars and supply depots within Gyran's walls are still well-stocked and, as a result of last night, have plenty of room to spare," she pointed out.
"In other words, you want us to stay long enough for you to secure yourself again, then take what we need and leave," Otto replied bluntly.
"Perceptive for a military slug," Sarah said with a smile.
"It's a de-"
"And one more thing," she cut him off, just as deliberately as when she'd paused earlier. "Do not, under any circumstances, expect special treatment during your stay," she growled out, sneering a bit. At this, Otto let out a sigh, as if someone had just spilled coffee all over the table.
"Typical Neutral Zone attitude," he replied blandly. "Don't worry about my soldiers. They're all good, honorable men and women and they wo-"
"If they break any of the rules, harrass anyone or somehow worsen the situation, I'll take your balls off with my bare hands," Sarah stated. At this, Otto finally looked as if someone had flat-out slapped him.
"... Yes, ma'am," he mumbled.
"Good," she said with a smile. "Now how many ships are coming in?"
"Three. Two Type Seven Whale Kings and one Type Eight," he answered briskly.
"Landing areas 2, 3 and 6," she replied from memory alone. "I'll be sure to send someone to give you a tour."
With that, Otto gave a curt nod and the screen cut off. The comm officer, who had gone from supportive to outright mortified, slowly looked up to regard her with a twitching eyelid.
"He's military. Career military at that, belonging to a foriegn power and completely removed from his traditional chain of command. With the satellite networks down, I doubt he can get any decent signals into Imperial territory right now, and even if he could, it's debatable as to whether or not anyone would be able to pick them up," she explained, softening almost visibly as she straightened up from the comm screen. "Give guys like that an inch and they'll either take two miles or feel too nervous to come within a hundred. Being a bitch is the best way to handle the situation."
"... Oh. I guess that makes sense," the officer admitted with an exhausted shrug.
"Damn right it does," she replied with a look that probably would've
sent Leena Tauros running.
"Next off... Next! Okay... One at a time, women and children first! Elderly come second, men and young people last!" A woman's voice, all too polite for his own taste, rang in the background. It was that Abbie woman, the one who had taken him in when he was in a daze. She was nice, of course. Kindhearted, very gentle... But far, far too polite. A bit too nurturing as well, but with the state the world was in today, he didn't really mind getting lavished with a bit of extra attention when most of the other children in the Neutral Zone were lucky to even get two meals a day anymore. Perhaps that was why that Katherine woman - and everyone else who was even remotely normal - seemed afraid of him. He was too damned mature for a boy his age and...
Well, there was the matter of that little death threat back in Farentown.
Shrugging to himself, he looked back towards the vast rows of hangars and buildings, watching as Zoid after Zoid trekked back in. Most were either on their last leg or close to it, but two in particular seemed almost completely unscathed and-
"Two are here, two are on the way and the fifth is missing," he thought to himself.
"Mark, gimme a hand with this one... Be careful, she's pregnant! Okay, easy does it... There we go," he heard as both of his adoptive parents helped down a woman who was probably loaded with triplets. He didn't need to see her to know that, it was just a lucky guess. All of his guesses were lucky like that though, some more than others.
Terry was the only one really helping them, unfortunately. Kyle and Katherine had wandered off to find local officials and inform them of their arrival, not to mention meet up with Stigma Stoller. Bill was... Elsewhere, of course. And Jamie, he reasoned, was probably taking a shower or falling asleep on a bench somewhere by now. Or he was in the airport. Pierce was off doing Piercely things to that Tauros guy he'd heard about too.
But at least Terry was reliable. Not as reliable as his adopted father, crazy though the man was, but reliable enough to be useful.
"And here you come," he thought suddenly, feeling the tell-tale tingle underneath his scalp. Compulsively, he wanted to reach up and scratch at it, but that never did any good. He reasoned that the feeling, and the eerie sensations of almost always being right, would fade away with age. He knew he was right about that much, at least. Regardless of what happened, he was always going to be right about that much.
A few seconds ticked by as Abbie hassled Terry about dropping something and Mark could be heard complaining about his foot. Then, he felt it. The ground rattled so subtly that anyone not paying attention would've missed it with ease. A few seconds more passed, and then he heard it too. The sound of jet turbines big enough to swallow a four story apartment building, accompanied by the shortlived view of aquatic shapes in the distance.
Slowly and with a grace that was almost intoxicating to behold, the three of them split up. The smaller two hovered sideways and vanished out of sight, but the largest of the trio let out a loud, echoing cry and began to lower straight down in the vicinity of the airport.
"In the best of what's available to you. You'll always be like that though," he thought to himself, hands slowly leaving the pockets of those khaki shorts that Abbie had given him before Farentown burned. From there, it was only a matter of taking a shrewd look over his shoulder before looking forward again.
"May as well. Not like she'll be able to stop me."
With that, he took off. There weren't any dramatics. He didn't stop and wave, and he didn't make it a point to look inconspicuous. He just ran for it, aiming right at a back-alleyway. A few seconds later, he heard Abbie's voice finally calling out, followed by Mark's own and then a shortlived set of orders from her before she had taken off after him. Unfortunately for Abbie, it was a chase she couldn't hope to succeed at - not because he somehow physically outperformed her, but because he was just too agile and small for her.
In the alleyways, there were plenty of sharp turns to make between buildings, and while Abbie had about two feet and the slight topheaviness that accompanied her girl-next-door physique, he was able to corner on a dime and not lose much speed. Not only did she have to compensate for the weight of her chest though, she also lacked a proper bra for distance running, making it even more of a hassle for her. After the first three turns, he had more or less lost her all together, even though he kept knocking over trash cans and hurling pipes aside in his runs so that she had a trail to follow.
It took him almost thirteen minutes of running through alleyways before he came to the landing pad. He had been able to guide himself there by the growing vibrations of the ground and the ever increasing, then decreasing noise of the engines cutting off. After he had arrived though, without even breaking a sweat, it was simply a matter of waiting. Either Abbie would catch up...
Or he would disembark from the Whale King.
As expected, the latter event happened first.
Five minutes after landing, the Whale King's mouth opened to reveal about two dozen men and women, some of them armed, and, just as he had expected, a single child, walking alongside the head of the group and holding a woman's hand.
"I guess his father would be able to bend the rules enough to bring his family around with him. Stupid habit, but probably reasonable given the current environment," he thought, waiting patiently alongside the door into a fighter hangar.
Moments ticked by before another group, this one clearly lead by a woman in her late thirties to early forties, appeared on the landing pad. Not only was this group larger, but almost all of them had come packing weapons.
"A show of force to try and cow the potential invader into submission," he mused, taking notice of the fact that the child had been forgotten for the moment. His mother and father, even his bodyguards, seemed preoccupied with the meeting of potential force and potential force. This afforded the kid a few split seconds to perform that vanishing act that almost all children seemed to know. With as much patience as a fisherman, he watched the boy slip between guards and casually walk off to try and explore what must have been an 'exciting' place.
Not that there was much special to be found on the landing pad of an airport. Even so, this gave him the opportunity he knew would be coming. With the mental calculation of a predator, he took it.
Seconds trickled by as the other boy finally noticed him, leaving the two to approach each other. As it happened, he was able to spot that cunning, malicious little streak in the boy's eyes that he knew would someday lead to havoc. A lethal ambition waiting to find an outlet and take hold. It really wasn't difficult to spot, after all...
It was easy to see things like this. Even in a broken mirror.
Eventually though, eternity wore away and the two were left within speaking distance of each other. Where he looked as malignant as ever though, this kid...
Looked absolutely normal. That's the impression he would've had if he was an adult, at least.
"Hello," the boy greeted him, holding out a hand. "My name is Christoph Siegfried Schubaltz," he introduced himself, smiling so brightly that it made him wonder just how sheltered the kid was.
For the longest time though, he didn't take the boy's hand. He didn't even speak to him. After a few seconds, Christoph seemed to notice this and lowered his hand accordingly, head tilting ever so slowly until it was forward and to the side.
It really was like looking into a broken mirror though. If not for the Schubaltz family's distinct mark on his left cheek, his paler skin and the golden color of his eyes and hair, the two could've practically been twins. They were the exact same height, bore the same facial features, had eyes that were shaped similarly and even the same lips and nose. Maybe the eternal look of death in his eyes made them look more different than they should have, but that difference would fade with time.
Finally though, as he heard Abbie shouting to him while Christoph's mother approached, he decided that it was time to introduce himself as well.
"My name is Alistair Edward Smith," he said, watching the other boy start to smile. For some unknown reason, he felt a small glimmer of satisfaction in knowing that he would crush that smile into oblivion.
"One day, I'm going to kill you," he stated as a fact.
Christoph's eyes widened so much that even his pupils enlarged. The smile on his face died into a sagging mouth as his nostrils flared visibly. Alistair could almost see the individual hairs on his head standing on end, but he didn't draw any real joy out of it. Hollow satisfaction, yes, but no real joy. Not enough to smile, or even squint his eyes.
A few seconds later, tears began to fall from Christoph's eyes and he felt Abbie's hands clenching down on his shoulders as she tried to forcefully turn him about. She was too exhausted from running to succeed though, and the matter was compounded as Christoph's mother, a tall blonde woman with milky skin and sky blue eyes, appeared behind him with a matching movement. Without a word, she furiously grabbed Christoph and glared at both Alistair and Abbie.
"I'm so sorr-" Abbie began to appologize, but the woman cut her off.
"What kind of sorry excuse for a mother are you?!" She demanded. At that, Alistair cut back in before Abbie, now blushing furiously, could retort.
"She's the kind who notices when her son runs off before strangers can threaten his life," he stated blandly, looking up from Christoph to the boy's mother.
"Shut up, you little hellspawn!" the woman demanded, glaring hot death at him before speaking again. "Private! Execute that boy for-"
"For what?" He asked, literally feeling Abbie's heart skip a beat through her palms. He wasn't panicked either. Only calm. Like ice. "Even in your own homeland, Mrs. Schubaltz, nobility doesn't give you the right to senselessly murder children who, at worst, deserve a spanking and time alone in a corner. And besides, I would bet that it would thoroughly kill your husband's career if one of his own soldiers killed a boy and a woman in full view of the default leader of this settlement, not to mention at least two-hundred fully functional security cameras," he pointed out before turning his attentions towards the soldier in question. The man was already lowering his gun on the spot.
"And you? Do you really want to jeopardize your own career like this? Not to mention your conscience. You're a good man, aren't you?" He asked simply.
With that, the soldier nodded slowly and turned towards Christoph's mother.
"This way, ma'am. We'll step up security and make sure this... Incident doesn't repeat itself," the man said, waving her and her son along in the process.
As the trio departed though, Alistair managed to catch one last glimpse of Christoph's face. The blonde boy had craned his head around in what Abbie was taking to be fear, but...
Alistair could see that humiliated glint crying out for revenge in his eyes.
"Yes," he thought, "someday, I'm going to kill you. I promise it."
And with that, Alistair took a few steps forward, pulling himself free before turning around in time to see Abbie shedding a few tears in shock.
"It's okay, Mother," he said, acknowledging for the first time that she really was his mother. "Let's go back to Mark and Terry now," he suggested, only to recieve a sound slap on the face. While his cheek stung, any emotional pain that she might've hoped to inflict as punishment failed to materialize. Not only had she become exhausted during the chase, she was also mentally exhausted from what had just happened, but even so...
"Don't you ever make threats like that again, Alistair!" She yelled at him, trembling with what he took to be a mixture of fear, anger and...
A lot more maternal concern than she ever expected to have. It almost made him smile.
"It's okay, Mother. I won't," he said, and meant it.
After all, he didn't ever make threats. He simply stated the facts.
Author's Note: Merry Christmas, people! Belatedly, but still! Happy
New Year's too, while I'm at it.
Oh, and as an aside: The only scenes in this chapter that weren't easy to write were Mark and Kyle's, and Leon and Pierce's. I want to bludgeon all four of them with blunt objects. Leon and Pierce more so, since I despise writing romance. Or anything close to it.
That said, I hope neither scene read like cardboard.
Oh, and there are many Plot Hints™ pertaining to the future in Alistair's scene. Very many. I'm not saying what they are, but when they appear, you're going to want to stab yourself in the groin for missing them, as they'll be rather blatant in hindsight. That scene also established the beginnings of a future part of any possible sequels to TOD, assuming I don't decide to go 'heyfuckit, I'll just blow up the world. BYE BYE!' >.>
Anyway, commentary'll be up in the usual place. Sh33p out.
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