“My powers won’t work!”
“Tch…” Davídrius scowled. “The hell do you mean, ‘won’t work?’ There’s no CENT field here!”
“I— I don’t know!” Kaoné frowned, and then flicked her wrists up and outward. Immediately, two walls of dirt rose on either side of the vehicle column and then rushed outward, shoving all of the metallic bugs several meters back. “It’s like back in Relédiaka. I can still control matter, just… not the bugs.”
“You can still stop them, though, right?” Siyuakén pressed.
“I think. Maybe?” the Materiatechnic responded uneasily, “it was one thing to capture those infected creatures, but… you want me to stop an entire bug infestation on my own?!”
“That’s what you were ready to do two seconds ago!” Davídrius exclaimed, “you even played the part!”
Kaoné passed the Velocitechnic a disapproving stare. “Davídrius…”
“Guys, this really isn’t the time,” Siyuakén cut in as she glanced toward the rear of the vehicle column, and then back to Kaoné. “Even if you can’t completely stop the bugs, you can at least slow them down far better than either of us can.”
“…I’ll do my best.” She sighed before raising another dirt barrier between the convoy and the bugs. Soon afterward, the walls began crumbling and giving way to the invading creatures, though Siyuakén quickly disabled the closest bugs before they could get too close. Kaoné then solidified the wall into stone before raising a second wall and transmuting it into metal, which Siyuakén very quickly supercharged, thus frying all of the metallic bugs within half a meter.
“Be careful of the Earthian vehicles,” Kaoné warned, “their equipment isn’t shielded as well as Nimalian equipment.”
“Ah… got it.” Siyuakén nodded just as the convoy slowed to a stop.
“We’re stopping?” Davídrius questioned with irritation, “What for?”
Kaoné took the opportunity to erect several more steel walls before jumping to the ground and turning toward the front of the vehicle column. Siyuakén jumped down after her as Davídrius remained on top of the tank and watched Captain Lead quickly approach.
“Was that you?” the Captain questioned, gesturing at the walls. When Kaoné nodded he continued, “good, good. Will you be able to take care of the bugs?”
“Ah… I don’t think so, sorry,” the Materiatechnic commented sheepishly. “I can’t manipulate them directly.”
“I wish I knew…” Kaoné sighed. “I can definitely help fend them off, but… I can’t retake the entire colony, even with help. Not if I can’t do anything to the bugs directly…”
“Not to mention they seem to be really good at burrowing,” Davídrius threw in.
Kaoné glanced up at the Velocitechnic uneasily before glancing at the walls and then the dirt beneath their feet. Shortly afterward all of the ground under the vehicle column turned to steel.
“Great…” Lead sighed irately. “…We lost Sunova so damn quickly. Where did the bugs even come from?”
Siyuakén shrugged. “Your guess is as good as ours. I thought they came from the creature corpse back in the caves, but there seems to be a lot more of them now.”
Lead glanced at the Electrotechnic, alarmed. “You’re saying they can reproduce that quickly?”
“I don’t know. We can’t know if there’s so many because they reproduce quickly, or because there were more hidden away somewhere that Davídrius and I didn’t see.”
“But either way, just sittin’ here can’t be good at all,” the Velocitechnic pointed out, “we need to get off this damn planet!”
“Agreed.” Lead nodded before turning back to Kaoné. “Can you at least hold the bugs off for…” He glanced down at his watch. “…One, maybe two hours?”
“I can try…” Kaoné responded.
“Good. I appreciate it!” the Captain replied before turning around and sprinting off toward the front vehicle.
“Better get back up here,” Davídrius remarked. Siyuakén moved to begin scaling the vehicle herself but Kaoné easily lifted them both to the roof by raising the ground below them. The Electrotechnic shook her head in awe as she jumped over to the vehicle.
“Such usefulness…” she commented.
“And it’s still not enough.” Davídrius scowled as the vehicle column began to move again. “…Ngh, what a shitty way for this mission to go.”
“We won’t solve anything by complaining,” Kaoné countered before turning her attention back to the steel walls as a loud, ear-piercing metallic shriek resounded through the night air. The Materiatechnic immediately smashed all of the walls together, toppled them backwards, and then drove them into the ground, smothering any of the bugs caught in between.
“The hell was that?!” the Velocitechnic exclaimed.
“The walls were about to fall over,” Kaoné explained, “so I just made sure they fell in the right direction.”
“Well we aren’t clear just yet,” Siyuakén quickly pointed out as the vehicle column began a wide left turn. “We still need to make it to the clearing… and then hold off the bugs until the Earthian Frigates can pick us up.”
“If Kaoné can keep squashin’ bugs like she has been, then hopefully that won’t be a problem,” Davídrius remarked.
The Electrotechnic stared at him incredulously. “Really? Just a minute ago it sounded like you thought we’d all die.”
He simply shrugged in response. “Eh, my first impression wasn’t too impressive, ya know? But after that wall display, heh. Those looked like a good fifteen by fifteen meters of straight-up steel. Maybe you’re useful yet!”
“Davídrius…” Kaoné frowned as she once again turned the ground to steel before lifting another set of walls to squash even more approaching bugs.
“Hey! I was complimentin’ your skills.” The Velocitechnic smirked — and then jumped as a second metallic shriek echoed through the air. “…The walls again?”
“I guess?” The Materiatechnic squinted into the night, attempting to make out any figures beyond the walls and tree line. “That was awfully fast, though…”
“Maybe they figured out how to get through your walls,” Siyuakén suggested. “We don’t know anything about them; maybe they’re smarter than we’re giving them credit.”
“That’s a scary thought,” Davídrius replied.
Kaoné remained silent as she raised another set of walls, this time hardening them into diamond. She then glanced toward the front of the vehicle column. “If the bugs are as fast as you say…” she questioned warily, “…why haven’t they reached the front tank?”
“That’s, uh…” The Velocitechnic frowned warily. “…Good question. I’ll go check it out.” He jumped off of the vehicle and hit the ground running, but before he sped off, another metallic shriek reached his ears. He turned to glare into the darkness behind the convoy without slowing down. “The hell is goin’ on—?!”
The moment the words left his mouth, a huge bipedal creature leaped out of the darkness and smashed the last vehicle in the convoy before falling out of sight.
“What in the—!?” Siyuakén exclaimed, “is that—?!”
A second vehicle was lost to the mysterious creature before the convoy’s flood lights finally managed to focus on it. The massive creature appeared to be vaguely humanoid, with two metallic legs, two silvery arms, a lithe, featureless torso, and no head. It moved to lunge forward again, but Kaoné quickly lifted a huge chunk of dirt into the air, transmuted it into a metal club, and then slammed it into the creature’s legs. It tumbled forward, rolling head over heels before its limbs suddenly exploded off and burrowed into the ground as its chest morphed into a smaller, tiger-like quadruped that continued chasing the vehicles.
“The hell—? What the—? What’s that?!” Davídrius spluttered as he leaped back onto the tanks with Kaoné and Siyuakén.
“…It’s made of the same material as the bugs,” Kaoné replied, “I can’t control it… watch out!!”
The Materiatechnic spontaneously translated the entire vehicle they were standing on to the left as one of the creature’s disembodied arms burst out of the ground like a massive worm. It quickly swung around and knocked over the following vehicle instead, but before it could cause further damage Kaoné had shoved it out of the way with a steel wall. She quickly righted the knocked-over vehicle and turned her attention to the ground. The three Chaotics jumped, startled, as the sound of machine guns began filling the air; the Earthian gunships had engaged the metallic quadruped near the rear of the convoy. The rounds easily ripped into the creature, tearing it into shreds… and then, with absolutely no warning at all, two metallic worm-like appendages leaped out of the ground and smashed into one of the gunships, bringing it crashing down to the ground before dragging it under, all within seconds.
“…We’re fucked,” Davídrius deadpanned.
Ignoring the Velocitechnic’s comment, Kaoné quickly transmuted the top meter of soil within ten meters of her location into solid diamond just in time for a third metallic worm to slam directly into the firm layer. It just as quickly returned to the depths of the earth as Kaoné began to continually transmute the ground into diamond as the vehicle convoy progressed. She was forced to stop when a new creature stampeded out of the darkness, spraying bullets everywhere and kicking over two vehicles before the Materiatechnic could topple it with a diamond club and then smother it with several plates of steel.
“It was using guns…” Davídrius pointed out warily.
“It must’ve been from the gunship they took down…” Siyuakén scowled. “They’re learning… or they’re absorbing stuff, something’s going on here.”
“These damn bugs could be a legitimate galactic threat if they get off-planet… how can we know that the Earthians locked down their Gate properly? How do we know that the damn bugs won’t manage to board their Frigates?”
Siyuakén passed the Velocitechnic an uneasy glance. “Are you suggesting that—?”
“Oh hell no, I ain’t dyin’ here,” he scoffed. “But these bugs—”
The screech of broken metal resounded through the air as another gunship was taken out, spinning out of control and slamming into the tank just in front of the Chaotics — and flipping over the vehicle they were standing on in the process. The three Nimalians all managed to catch themselves on the ground, but they were forced to immediately get back to their feet as two bipedal metallic creatures rushed them. Kaoné easily tripped up one and sliced it in half with a diamond slab, but Davídrius had to grab Siyuakén and dive out of the way in order to evade the second creature. He then turned toward the Materiatechnic and barked, “I need weapons!!”
“Ah! Right!” Kaoné quickly stripped two meter-long pieces of steel from the ground and rapidly rounded off and then grooved the ends of both to form makeshift handles. She tossed them to Davídrius, who snatched them out of the air and immediately took to slashing any smaller creatures that approached. Kaoné then knocked over the remaining bipedal creature but was almost crushed by the remains of the first as they began thrashing around violently. The remains then morphed into two smaller bipeds that rushed the Materiatechnic — only to get sliced to bits by Davídrius. Siyuakén immediately offered a high-voltage shock to the pieces, permanently frying them. Kaoné thanked the two other Chaotics by smothering the remaining with another slab of diamond.
By then the entire back half of the convoy had been obliterated, and the front half had continued on, leaving the Chaotics behind in the dark of night. Kaoné quickly erected several tree branches which Siyuakén then shocked to create torches and light up the area, but the dim light was still sub-optimal.
Davídrius brandished his makeshift blades and glanced about warily. “Well,” he muttered, “can’t say I ever expected to end up in this situation.”
“Those damn bugs…” Siyuakén pursed her lips. “…If they’re actually connected to the metallic infection…”
“I still don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Davídrius cut in, “…and I really wish I’d live long enough to find out.”
“What makes you think that we…?”
Kaoné trailed off as three more of the bipedal creatures suddenly dropped out of the sky, followed by a massive hulking behemoth behind them, well over ten meters in height.
“That.” The Velocitechnic pointed at the creatures with his blades. “That. That’s what.”
Just as soon as he was done gesturing, the three smaller creatures dashed forward. Instead of attacking back, Kaoné immediately and reflexively created a protective dome of diamond around herself and the two other Chaotics. She then collapsed, winded, as the metallic creatures began banging on the dome from outside.
“Well gee. Thanks. This helps a lot,” Davídrius deadpanned.
“She just saved our lives,” Siyuakén countered irately.
“Saved our lives my ass,” Davídrius snarled back, “trappin’ a Velocitechnic like this is the worst thing you could do if you’re tryin’ to save lives!”
“So maybe you’d have survived, but what about the two of us?”
“You— I can totally save y’all.”
“Really. You’re that strong? I thought you had super speed, not super strength.”
“Tch. I was able to carry you just fine, and Kaoné’s no where near as big or heavy as you.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake— we are not having this damned argument right now!” The Velocitechnic whipped around to face Kaoné, who had recovered enough to stumble back to her feet. “Open up the dome!” he demanded, “at least let me out. Out there I can do something; in here it’s just—”
All three Chaotics froze and then slowly looked up at the top of the diamond dome. Through the vaguely transparent surface, they could make out the silhouette of the behemoth creature raising its arm from the last strike that had cracked the entirety of the dome. The creature was clearly preparing for a second strike — a strike which would surely pierce the layer of protection.
Siyuakén glanced over at the Materiatechnic warily. “Kaoné!”
“I… too tired…” she panted.
“Still think this was a good idea?” Davídrius snarled. Siyuakén was left to glare at him as the behemoth’s arm dropped, hitting the dome and shattering it — just as the three Chaotics were enveloped in a brief flash of white light and suddenly found themselves standing in a steel-gray room populated with many different computing consoles arranged in such a way to emphasize the back center.
“What…? Kevérin?” Siyuakén finally realized that there were two people standing in the back of the room. “…What just happened? Where are we?”
“We just figured out how to use all of the Genesis’s systems!” the Pyrotechnic exclaimed with glee. “We just beamed you guys up! Isn’t it great?!”
The other three Nimalians’ gazes drifted to Scott, who was standing next to Kevérin. He grinned in response. “It’s truly fascinatin’, this Battlecruiser,” he remarked, and then frowned. “Shame we couldn’t save everyone…” He shook his head and moved his focus back to the console in front of him. “No time to dwell on that, though. There’s a situation planetside that needs a little cleanin’ up. In the meantime, Colonel Yamamoto should be… somewhere on the ship.”
“Here…” Kevérin typed something into the console in front of him. “…Follow the lights on the ceiling, and you’ll find where we beamed all the Earthians to.”
“…Wow. So that’s really how this whole thing ends, huh?” Davídrius sighed.
“Yep.” Scott nodded in response. “Now, could you go get the Colonel? We need to fill her in on the state of the Battlecruiser, and then we need to work out the situation down on Sunova, see if it’s salvageable or not. …I’m sorry, but I’m not certain how soon we’ll be able to get you back to Nimalia.”
“No, it’s… it’s no problem,” Siyuakén responded wearily, “this whole situation may, in part, be our fault—”
“There was no way we could’ve—!”
“So yes…” the Electrotechnic cut Davídrius off, “…we can help.”
Scott smiled. “Good. I’m glad to know we can count on the Nimalians!”
7 Days Later
“The hell happened over there? I sent you all to investigate a fairly innocuous claim, and then you come back nearly a week later telling me that the colony was lost?!”
“Um…” Kevérin responded slowly, “that’s… correct…?”
Commander Nikéyin sighed irately as she leaned back in her chair. She slowly looked each of the members of Hero Machina in the eye before continuing, “I am… rather displeased, to say the least, about how your expedition to Sunova panned out. Being the cause of a full-scale colony evacuation is never a good thing.”
“But we weren’t the cause!” Davídrius protested, “it was the damn bugs! We had no way of knowin’—!”
“You’re out of line!” Nikéyin barked, “this is a military organization. You ask for permission before speaking; understand?”
The Velocitechnic bristled. “I’m part of no military—”
“Then get out.”
“What? But— I—!”
“Hero Machina is a team of Chaotics under the jurisdiction of the Nimalian Systems Defense, a military organization. I realize you weren’t a proper soldier before, but if you want to be part of this, then shape up and shut up. I’m willing to give you a chance, but don’t make me regret it.”
“Tch…” Davídrius pursed his lips, but said no more.
“Thank you.” Nikéyin then turned to address the group as a whole. “Yes, I’m aware that the situation was not completely your fault. I’m also aware that, Transfer Captain, you were able to offer significant help to the Earthians in mastering the use of their new Battlecruiser. I am also aware that the three of you made an effort to protect the Earthians to the best of your ability. And I am also aware that, for some absurd reason, the Earthians decided to hand over the Master Ayas.” The Commander shook her head incredulously. “I have no idea how, but you seem to have maintained the Earthians’ trust, even through this whole fiasco.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Kevérin responded curtly.
“I have no idea whether to call this mission a success or a failure,” Nikéyin continued, “…so, while I figure that out, I want the four of you to continue operating as a group. You have two objectives, currently: wrap up recruitment, and look into the ‘metallic rash’ issue. I imagine the research group up on the Continental Glacier knows a fair deal about the rash, so you might want to investigate them first. Though that is only a suggestion; I’m fully aware that the Continental Glacier is not the most…pleasant of places to be.”
“Gotta be better than Treséd,” Davídrius grumbled.
“Watch your tongue,” the Commander reprimanded, and then stood up. As she did so, Kevérin, Kaoné, and Siyuakén all stiffened up; Davídrius simply shuffled awkwardly when he realized he had no idea what was going on. “Do you all understand your current tasks?”
“Yes ma’am,” the three ranked members of Hero Machina responded.
“Very well then. Get to it,” Nikéyin nodded, and saluted. The rest of Hero Machina saluted back. “Dismissed!”