“But…!” Kaoné frowned as she glanced between Kevérin and the distant, smoking ruins that used to be the Gateport. “But, they all shut down over a month ago!”
“I know,” Kevérin muttered as he rushed out onto the observation deck to get a better look at the city below. Just as he did so, the lights in the restaurant flickered, followed immediately by an alert on his AR display. “…Damn it! Comms are out!”
“Alright, Nanocreatures or not, it’s pretty damn clear we’re under attack!” Davídrius exclaimed, and then jumped forward to perch on the deck’s guardrail. “We needa get to the Gateport and we needa get there now!”
“No! Wait!” the Transfer Captain quickly countered, stopping Davídrius and Christeané just before the two Introtechnics jumped down to the ground. “We have no idea who we’re up against and we have no comms! Not to mention that we’re in Nimaliaka Central, of all places! A civilian city! This isn’t a Fortress World, it isn’t prepared for enemy attack. We can’t just rush out there blindly!”
“Then what do you suggest?” Rebehka urged, “Davídrius is right, the longer we wait here, the more damage the Nanocreatures can cause!”
Kevérin opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted as Kievkenalis dove into him, shouting “Chaos Impact!” Immediately afterward, an invisible force intercepted a Nanocreature beast as it jumped down to the deck from the building’s roof, launching it off the side and to the ground below. Kevérin immediately fired several fireballs toward the roof, illuminating a small Nanocreature vessel just long enough for Kaoné to impale it with a massive spike and launch it toward the mountains.
“See?!” Davídrius pointed upward irately. “The longer we wait—!”
“We still can’t all rush the Gateport!” Kevérin insisted, “most of Nimalia’s Chaotics are still off-world, assisting with the CSA recovery efforts. We’re some of the very few left here, and as such, we have a duty to protect the civilians! Do you understand that?”
“How ‘bout we protect the civilians by findin’ the threat and endin’ it?!”
“…We can do both,” the Transfer Captain replied after a moment of thinking, “…and we can do it smartly, too.” He briefly glanced at the other five members of Hero Machina before directing his attention to the Gateport — and then to the mountains to the south, where their base was located. “…Alright, this is what we’re going to do. Kevken, you and I will head back to the base; you need to get the Master Ayas’s location from the Commander and retrieve it as quickly as possible! I’ll work on getting city-wide comms back up; as we are now, we can’t even contact any of the ships in orbit. Davídrius, Christeané, Rebehka, the three of you need to reach the Gateport and figure out what the hell happened to it! Stick together, we have no idea what we’re dealing with. And Kaoné — stay in the city, use your Materiatechnism to save as many civilians as possible! This is no time to be conservative!”
The rest of Hero Machina stared at the Transfer Captain, dumbfounded and surprised by his quick thinking.
“…Well?!” he urged, “do you understand what I just said?”
“Right! Yeah!” Davídrius quickly responded as he offered a quick salute. The rest of Hero Machina followed suit.
“Good!” Kevérin nodded. “Now get going! We have a city to save!”
Davídrius perched on the edge of a building across the street from the Gateport… or rather, where the Gateport used to be. Several bulbs in the vicinity flickered erratically, offering just enough light to view the resulting damage through the stormy nighttime fog: the entire complex had been obliterated and replaced with a 500-meter crater, and much of the wreckage had either been blown out into the surrounding buildings — causing even more damage — or fallen back into the crater. Flames dotted the landscape; from their dim light the Velocitechnic could barely make out moving forms, but he was easily distracted by the moans and cries for help coming from scattered locations around the wreckage, and by the sirens echoing from the city that masked everything else.
Davídrius glanced over as Rebehka and Christeané climbed out of the hovercar they had commandeered to cross the city. He returned to staring at the wreckage, ignoring the falling rain as the two Chaotics silently approached his side.
“…Holy shit,” Christeané muttered, “was this caused by an orbital round?”
“The Nanocreatures are back…” Davídrius commented, “…so I’d bet on much worse.”
The Master Lieutenant glanced toward Davídrius warily. “You think Morcii’s back?”
“I think there’s a chance,” the Velocitechnic replied. “…We need to figure out what caused the crater, and where they went. Fast, too. The whole city’s gone to hell…”
“Assuming this isn’t just artillery damage, I could try to track the attacker with my Overdrive,” Rebehka suggested with a frown. “But, at least until we can be sure if it was Morcii or not, I think a blizzard would hurt more than it would help…”
“And more importantly, we need to find the Interstellar Gate,” Christeané pointed out as he jumped down to the street below. Davídrius and Rebehka quickly followed suit. “We need to make sure it’s blocked. Can’t have even more Nanocreatures crawling through the—”
He was interrupted as some nearby wreckage shifted, followed by three people crawling out from under it, their bodies bloodied and injured. Rebehka and Christeané rushed to their side — but Davídrius reached them faster, punting one of them away and smashing his foot into the other two, killing them instantly.
“Davídrius!” Rebehka exclaimed irately, “what are you–?!”
“They’re corrupted,” the Velocitechnic stated, pointing at the underside of the debris just as a large metallic bug leaped up into the air. Davídrius immediately flip-kicked the bug away before scanning the horizon for more. “The Nanocreatures are already here…”
“Of course they are,” Christeané muttered, cracking his knuckles before grabbing the chunk of debris, hoisting it into the air, and lobbing it further into the crater. “We can’t walk through this, not without our armor. It’d be too easy for something to ambush us.”
“Then we’ll go over,” Rebehka responded as she created a stairway of ice into the air and then a walkway a couple meters above the ground. She quickly climbed it, gesturing for the two Introtechnics to follow her as she continually created a levitating ice path over the wreckage.
“…I haven’t seen shit this fucked up since dealing with Bleeder massacres back in Treséd,” Davídrius muttered.
“What went wrong?” Christeané scowled, glancing around at the debris as the three Chaotics approached the location where the Gate should be. “…I killed Morcii. I took his Ayas, I saw him dissolve before my eyes! All the Nanocreatures even shut down! How are they back?!”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Rebehka replied. “…Actually, it’s probably better than mine, since I’ve been out of the loop for a few months… but we can concern ourselves with the ‘how’ after we’ve dealt with the attack here.”
“’Dealt with?’” Davídrius snorted derisively. “You think we can win? Newsflash, the CSA couldn’t save a single fuckin’ planet the moment the Nanocreatures touched down. Hell, you were there for Kotak; we had to evacuate that place immediately. Seein’ Nanocreatures on the surface of a planet is a fuckin’ death sentence.”
The Cryotechnic sighed warily as she stopped creating an ice path. “…Regardless, we’re at the Gate. Or where the Gate should be, if the Gateport was still intact.”
The three Chaotics fell into silence as they searched the terrain below them for any sign of the interstellar portal. Several moments later, Christeané pointed at a large piece of scrap metal several meters away — under which a part of the Interstellar Gate could be seen.
Davídrius frowned. “How’re we gonna uncover it?”
“I can do that easily,” Christeané responded, “but we don’t have our armor with us, so watch my back. One scratch, and we’re done for.”
“Good thing you’re a Forcetechnic then, huh?”
“Sure. Now watch out.” Christeané jumped down from the ice path and landed on the debris-ridden terrain below. He cautiously made his way over to the Gate, flinching when Rebehka launched an ice javelin to pierce a Nanocreature just before it attacked him. He gave her a brief nod before reaching toward the giant piece of metal and slamming his fists into it, flinging it away and revealing the Gate’s event horizon just below.
“It’s active!” Davídrius exclaimed.
“No shit!” Christeané retorted as he began to navigate around the large ring. “I’m gonna find the control panel and turn the block on.”
Rebehka created more ice platform to allow her and Davídrius to get closer to the Gate as Christeané carefully stepped around debris until he had reached the Gate’s control panel. He quickly looked for the block indicator; sure enough, the Gate was un-blocked. “At least it got knocked over,” he muttered to himself as he entered the brief command to block the portal, “kinda hard to use the Gate if you just fall back in immediately after coming out…” As soon as he was done, he glanced up and waved toward Davídrius and Rebehka, the latter of which moved to create an ice stairway back into the air for Christeané. Just as he approached the steps, however, he felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to rise — and then he flinched as Davídrius vaulted himself into the air over Christeané, intercepting a high-speed object and preventing it from smashing into the Forcetechnic. Rebehka quickly jumped down to join the two Introtechnics, erecting a dome of ice to block out any potential attackers — just as the debris cloud created by the impact of the foreign object cleared up, revealing the sparks trailing up and down her arms.
“…You’re shittin’ me,” Davídrius growled, stepping back defensively as soon as he recognized the newcomer. “…Siyuakén?!”
The Electrotechnic didn’t respond. Instead, she stared levelly at the other three Chaotics, bright sparks continually jumping from her arms and hands to the debris around her and dimly illuminating her face — just enough to see the metallic scars stretching across her neck and cheek.
“Alright, so Nanocreatures are impossible to kill, confirmed,” Christeané muttered apprehensively. “…Shit. Kaoné said Morcii killed her on Neticen. So how—?”
He was interrupted as Davídrius bowled into him, knocking them both out of the way just in time to evade a lightning blast. Rebehka immediately moved to freeze Siyuakén’s hands and feet, temporarily immobilizing her.
“I’ll distract her!” the Cryotechnic declared, “the two of you need to go help elsewhere!”
“Are you crazy?!” Christeané exclaimed, “if Siyuakén’s back, then Morcii’s definitely around here somewhere!”
“I know,” Rebehka responded, “and that’s why the two of you need to find and stop him. I can hold Siyuakén off on my own; I’ve fought her before, I know all of her abilities. I can do this.”
“I know you can…” Davídrius commented warily, “…but do you want to?”
The Cryotechnic glanced toward him and then back at Siyuakén, who had broken free of her ice bonds and was slowly backing away as she gathered energy in her arms again. “…No. I don’t. But that’s not the question anymore, is it? She’s suffering, and I need to end that… for her sake.”
Christeané frowned. “If you say so… but don’t go getting yourself killed. Losing both of you would be…” He paused, and then shook his head. “C’mon, Davídrius, she’s right. We need to find Morcii!”
“And before that, we need to get our weapons,” Davídrius insisted. “We need to drop by the base first.”
“Right!” Christeané nodded as he leaped toward the ice dome and smashed open a hole through which he and Davídrius left.
Rebehka watched the two Introtechnics leave before sealing the hole again and turning her attention back to the corrupted Electrotechnic. “…It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Siyuakén’s only response was a level stare and an increase in the number of sparks jumping from her body to the environment around her.
“…Don’t worry, Siyuakén. This time, I’ll do what I couldn’t do before…” The Cryotechnic took a deep breath as she covered her body in ice armor and crafted an ice spear for each hand. “I’ll stop your suffering. As your best friend, this is my last gift to you…” She closed her eyes and took a final breath before lunging forward, shouting, “Overdrive: Ice Storm!”
Kevérin and Kievkenalis jumped out of their hovercar at the entrance to the Nimaliaka Central mountain base. They approached the gates warily, both taking note that the entire complex was completely silent, save for the sound of falling rain.
“…The CENT fields are down.”
“What?” Kevérin glanced toward Kievkenalis and then turned his attention back to the gates. He held up his right hand and launched several fireballs, burning a hole through the gate and watching the projectiles careen through the sky, past the base and beyond. “If the base-wide CENT fields are down, then…” The Transfer Captain scowled and snapped his attention back to Kievkenalis. “What’s Detect tell you?”
“Chaos Detect,” the Chaostechnic muttered, wincing slightly — but not enough for Kevérin to notice. He then looked around… and found only Kevérin’s silhouette within range. “There’s no one in the guard outposts. Either they’re all gone, or…”
The two Chaotics glanced at each other uneasily before Kevérin turned toward the gate and incinerated it. He then rushed forward to search the base; Kievkenalis quickly followed, muttering “Chaos Assist” as the Pyrotechnic in front of him slammed through the complex’s entrances and finally reached the main building itself — where he stopped momentarily, shocked at the sight:
A ten-meter chunk of the building was missing, apparently blown away by an explosion as several dead bodies lay around the courtyard. Nearly a dozen mechs were strewn about the area haphazardly, their wrecks blocking all but the main entrance that itself was scarred from weapons fire and blood.
The Transfer Captain took a moment to take in the damage before glancing toward Kievkenalis. “Whoever did this might still be here,” he warned, “stay on your toes. First things first — we need to check on the Commander.”
Kievkenalis nodded in response, after which Kevérin wasted no time rushing forward, leaping over debris and bodies to enter the building through the hole. He and Kievkenalis rushed through the base’s hallways, taking note of the occasional dead soldier and the fact that they all appeared to have been stabbed to death. They passed the door to the Hero Machina office without a thought, though Kievkenalis slowly muttered “Chaos Detect” once more — and immediately grabbed Kevérin’s arm.
“What is it?” the Pyrotechnic questioned, his voice a whisper as he cautiously scanned the hallways in front and behind.
“There’s someone in the Commander’s office,” Kievkenalis responded, “…two someones.”
“…Fuck,” Kevérin swore as he immediately took off into a sprint, with the Chaostechnic close behind. Mere seconds and two hallway turns later, the Chaotics had reached the Commander’s office; Kevérin instantly incinerated the door and burst in, his eyes immediately latching onto the figures Kievkenalis had spotted:
Behind the Commander’s desk stood none other than Morcii, who held Nikéyin high in the air by her neck.
“Chaos Arrow!” Kievkenalis immediately responded, severing Morcii’s arm with a Chaos Energy projectile and allowing the Commander to drop to the floor, where she began coughing uncontrollably. The Nanocreature leader quickly turned on the Chaotics and lunged toward Kevérin, who ducked out of the way as he extended two flame sabers from his hands and slashed at Morcii. The Nanocreature collapsed to the floor haphazardly, now on the other side of the Chaotics in relation to the door — and he immediately fled, jumping backwards out the door and rocketing upwards through the ceiling. Kevérin quickly approached the doorway and stared up at the base’s new skylight, clicking his tongue irately.
The Transfer Captain looked back to Nikéyin, who was still collapsed on all fours as Kievkenalis crouched over her and tried to help her up. A second later, the Chaostechnic paused and glanced up at Kevérin uneasily; wary of the gesture, the Transfer Captain approached and then stopped in his tracks when he noticed the blood dripping from Nikéyin’s neck… and the metallic rashes spreading outward from the wound.
The Commander was corrupted.
“Sh…shit,” Kevérin growled, his fists tightly clenched. He turned to fully face the Commander, who had stopped coughing but had yet to stand up. A closer look revealed that she was trembling. “…Commander?”
Kievkenalis reflexively grabbed Nikéyin’s shoulders to steady her as she began coughing again, her statement agitating her wounds.
“No… get away from me,” she muttered, her voice barely a hoarse whisper as she jerked away from Kievkenalis. “Can’t… you see? I’m… corrupted.”
“…How long was Morcii here?” Kevérin questioned, taking a wary step back as Kievkenalis stood up and backed away from the Commander. “What did he want?”
“Went from… courtyard to here in… under ten minutes. Killed everything,” Nikéyin responded, and then paused as she shivered uncontrollably. “Couldn’t… stop him… even the CENT fields didn’t help… or they got taken out, I… don’t know…”
“Ten minutes, to work through all of the base’s defenses?” Kievkenalis frowned. “That’s actually kinda long, for someone like Morcii…”
“Why did he stop with you?” Kevérin insisted, “Commander, we…”
“No, I know,” Nikéyin replied. She coughed again as she slowly pulled herself to her feet, using her desk and chair as crutches. “Need to… know where he went. He…” She trembled again, grimacing as her entire body tensed and then relaxed slightly. “…He wanted the Ayas. …I couldn’t… I couldn’t stop him…”
“Of course he does…” The Transfer Captain scowled. “There’s no other reason to attack here, is there?”
“Did you tell him where it was?” Kievkenalis asked quietly.
“Didn’t… ask,” the Commander responded painfully. Kevérin’s entire body grew tense with apprehension; the rashes were spreading up her cheeks and down her collar, where he could only assume she was slowly losing control of her body. “It’s why he… corrupted me,” she eventually muttered, “…didn’t need to ask. Just… took the knowledge… …couldn’t… …resist…”
“Commander? Commander! Stay— stay with us!” Kevérin urged, watching apprehensively as Nikéyin dry heaved and collapsed to her knees again, clutching her chest. “We— we need to know! Where’s the Master Ayas?”
“Secondary… …second… …base…” she whispered hoarsely, “…Gate Train… depot… argh…!”
“C-commander…?” Kievkenalis questioned warily.
Nikéyin took several deep breaths before speaking up again. “…I’m… proud of you…”
“Commander…?” Kevérin responded quietly.
“I hate to— AGH!” Her breath caught in her throat as she doubled over again, before managing to turn her head toward Kevérin and Kievkenalis. “…Gah! Agh… Hero Machina, you… saved us once. …I hate to… ask so much… argh…! …But… please… …one more… …time…! …Guagh! Ahaaghhh!!”
Nikéyin suddenly lunged forward, her fingernails lengthened and sharpened into metal claws as she swiped at Kievkenalis — only for Kevérin to jump forward and pierce her chest with a flame saber. He quickly followed by piercing her forehead as well, and then allowed her body to slump to the floor, lifeless.
Kievkenalis quickly backed away from the Commander’s body, coming to stand near Kevérin as they both looked over the scene in solemn silence. Several seconds passed before the Transfer Captain realized he was hyperventilating; he quickly slowed his breath and calmed himself, only to grow tense again as his mind finally caught up with his actions.
“…Holy shit,” he muttered hoarsely, “…I just killed the Commander.”
“She was corrupted,” Kievkenalis commented. “…We couldn’t help that.”
Kevérin took several more breaths before shaking his head vigorously and snapping his attention to Kievkenalis. “…Yeah. Right. I know. A-anyways, we need to get to work. You heard her, right? Secondary base, Gate Train depot… that must mean the military depot in the Western Peaks. Take a communicator so we can talk if I fix the comms.”
“All the way out there, in the Western Peaks…?” the Chaostechnic muttered, and then nodded. “But I got it. I’ll get the Ayas! Chaos… Boost!”
Kevérin watched Kievkenalis dash away before looking down the hallway in the opposite direction. “Meanwhile, I need to try and get the comm system back online…” His gaze drifted back into the office and down to the floor where Nikéyin lay, her body resting on its side. He took a deep breath and then turned to face her corpse directly, stiffening up and offering a proper salute. “…Understood,” he responded, “…we can do it, Commander. Hero Machina will stop Morcii once and for all!”