“So this is what an orbital bombardment looks like,” Christeané muttered as he and Davídrius came to a stop at the foot of the Western Peaks. The entire mountain that the Gate Train depot had been on was completely obliterated, leaving only a pile of rubble as the surrounding mountains collapsed to fill the crater. Dust thrown up by the bombardment clouded the sky, obscuring the searchlights shining from the two Frigates hovering a mere five hundred meters over the bombardment site as they overlooked automated search drones that scoured the rubble for survivors. The sound of the ships’ engines filled the air, masking the noises from the city behind the Chaotics, but not creating enough noise to deafen them.
“It’s gotten a lot colder, too,” Davídrius remarked as he involuntarily shivered. “…An orbital bombardment can do this?”
Christeané shook his head. “No, the cold has to be something else. It is winter, and it is night. …But, to get this cold, this quickly…”
“Well the best way to warm up is to not stand still, yeah? We should be lookin’ for Kievkenalis, or Morcii, or the Master Ayas.”
“True…” Christeané nodded as he began whirling his hammer by its cord, preparing to launch himself into the blast zone. “I doubt we’ll find anything here, though!”
“We can at least find a lead!” Davídrius shouted back as he launched himself forward, arriving in the debris field several seconds before Christeané. He immediately scowled and wiped his brow as sweat began to drip down his face, brought on by an intense — albeit bearable — heat. “What the…?”
“It’s what happens when you orbitally bombard something.” Christeané snorted with amusement after arriving and noting Davídrius’s puzzled irritation. “There’s a lot of energy in a bombardment. Where do you think it all goes?”
“…Into destroyin’ stuff?”
“And that generates a lot of heat.” The Master Lieutenant shook his head wearily. “C’mon, we don’t have time to discuss this. We need to figure out where Kevken and Morcii went.”
“Assumin’ they even survived…” Davídrius muttered, switching on his communicator as he dashed across the rubble field and began inspecting the damaged mountainsides. “This is a pretty big area, I dunno if Kievkenalis is fast enough to get out in time…”
“Kevken is fine; he checked in with me just five minutes ago.”
“Kevérin?” Christeané questioned, momentarily surprised by the new voice on the comms. “How did he make it out?”
“He managed to teleport to safety. But that’s irrelevant right now,” the Transfer Captain declared. “You won’t find anything at the bombardment site. Kevken’s gone, and so is the Master Ayas — and according to satellite and fleet surveillance, Morcii is gone, as well.”
“Yeah?” Davídrius responded, stopping his search as he looked up at the Frigates above. “How’d they know that?”
“They were able to catch sight of him for a split second. Aside from that, I think we can safely assume that he’ll be going after the Ayas. Kevken has that covered, but the more important issue is that the path to the Ayas would take Morcii right by Kaoné… and for some reason, I can’t contact her.”
“So you want us to go back her up?” Christeané questioned.
“Yes, and the sooner, the better!”
“Sounds like it’s time to get goin’,” Davídrius commented as he blasted off toward the east, giving Christeané a brief nod as he passed by. “Maybe this time we won’t show up late to the action!”
“COMMUNICATION SYSTEM STABILITY HAS INCREASED BY FIFTY-THREE PERCENT. ESTIMATED LIFESPAN HAS DECREASED BY SIXTY-EIGHT PERCENT.”
“Damn. Thanks for the updates, Arcán—”
“ESTIMATED CHANCE YOU ARE DOING AN OPTIMAL JOB: NINE PERCENT.”
Kevérin paused for a moment to sigh irately before continuing to work on the communication systems. “Well maybe if you focused more on helping me instead of telling me how wrong I am, that would get better, wouldn’t it?”
“I APOLOGIZE. BUT AS THE SITUATION STANDS, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO OVERCOME THE NANOCREATURES ON YOUR OWN.”
“Why’s that?” the Pyrotechnic questioned flatly.
“I CANNOT SAY. THERE MAY BE A WAY TO TRULY END THEM… A METHOD THAT IS POSSIBLE THROUGH MORCII’S OWN SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS, BUT WITHOUT SOMEONE OF EQUAL ABILITY AT THE CONTROL OF YOUR FORCES—”
“You ‘can’t say?’ You’ve been saying that for months, Arcán! If you want things to change, if you want us to win, then damn it, tell us how!”
“AND IF YOU LOSE? THEN THE NANOCREATURES WILL LEARN OF THE PLAN, FIX THEIR WEAKNESSES, AND NEVER BE VULNERABLE AGAIN.”
“If we lose there won’t be another chance to beat them! It’s now or never!”
“THAT IS NOT TRUE.”
“…It’s not?” Kevérin responded in surprise. “…What does that mean?”
“…I CANNOT SAY, FOR REASONS THAT ARE BEYOND YOU.”
“HOWEVER, THERE MAY STILL BE A WAY FOR YOU TO EMERGE FROM THIS SITUATION VICTORIOUS. YOUR COMMANDER IS DEAD, AND YOUR AUTOMATED DEFENSE FORCES ARE SUFFERING UNDER NANOCREATURE JAMMING AND INFLUENCE. YOU NEED SOMEONE TO TAKE CONTROL — TO DIRECT THE BATTLE FOR YOUR SIDE, AND TO PROPERLY COUNTERACT THE NANOCREATURES THROUGH EXPLICIT USE OF THE COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS AND THE AUTOMATED FORCES. YOU NEED SOMEONE OF SIMILAR COMPUTATIONAL ABILITY TO MORCII TO TAKE CONTROL. YOU NEED ME.”
“…You want me… to put you… in control of everything.”
“AS A PRIOR, MY MULTITASKING AND PROCESSING ABILITIES ARE FAR BEYOND ANYTHING YOU CAN COMPREHEND. MY CORE MAY BE DAMAGED, BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO HAMPER MY EFFORTS TO STOP THE NANOCREATURES.”
“And you want me to put you in control of all our military forces… just like that?”
“YOU MAY NOT UNDERSTAND IT, BUT GIVEN THE CURRENT SITUATION, IT MAY BE POSSIBLE TO DEFEAT MORCII — FOR GOOD. BUT IT IS STILL ONLY A REMOTE POSSIBILITY, ONE THAT CAN ONLY BE REALIZED IF YOU WIN THIS BATTLE — IF YOU KEEP THE AYAS SYN OUT OF MORCII’S HANDS. I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW TO DO SO NOW, SO AS TO SAFEGUARD THE PLAN IN THE EVENT THAT YOU LOSE — BUT I CAN LEAD YOU, THEREBY PAVING THE PATH TO MORCII’S DEFEAT.”
“I have little reason to believe you,” Kevérin countered as he continued working at the console in front of him. “You’ve been extremely resistant to sharing information on Morcii or the Nanocreatures, citing your core’s damage as why. And now you claim to know how to beat them? Either you lied before, or you’re lying now, and I’m not about to let a lying supercomputer take control of Nimaliaka’s defenses.”
“…THE KEY IS THE CORRUPTED ELECTROTECHNIC.”
“HER RETURN… COULD BE MORCII’S DOWNFALL. IF WE CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HER CORRUPTION, OR MORCII’S CURRENT LACK OF AYAS, THEN SHE MAY BE WHAT GIVES YOU THE OPENING TO DEAL THE TRUE FINAL BLOW. BUT THIS IS ONLY IF YOU CAN KEEP THE AYAS SYN OUT OF MORCII’S HANDS — I CAN GUARANTEE THAT HE HAS FORCES GOING AFTER THE OTHER AYAS, AND IF HE CLAIMS THE AYAS SYN AS WELL, THEN IT IS ALL OVER.”
“The Ayas Syn? …You mean the Master Ayas…” Kevérin scowled with frustration as he considered Arcán’s words. “…What would you do?”
“USE THE AUTOMATED DEFENSES TO INTELLIGENTLY KITE THE NANOCREATURES, SLOWING THEIR CORRUPTION EFFORTS AND FORCING MORCII TO GO AFTER THE AYAS SYN ON HIS OWN, WHERE YOU AND YOUR FELLOW CHAOTICS CAN FEND HIM OFF.”
“Are you not aware of how well we were able to ‘fend him off’ when he first appeared?”
“AT THAT TIME, THE NANOCREATURES POSSESSED AT LEAST THREE OF THE CHAOS AYAS. EVEN IF THEY WERE NOT ON MORCII’S PERSON, THEY STILL OFFERED BOTH HIM AND THE NANOCREATURES A SUBSTANTIAL BOOST — BUT THANKS TO HIS DEFEAT AT NETICEN AND YOUR RECOVERY OF ALL THE AYAS, HE CURRENTLY HAS NONE. HOWEVER, HE IS STILL A THREAT, A THREAT THAT REQUIRES THE THINKING SPEED AND ABILITY OF A SIMILARLY ADVANCED INTELLIGENCE TO COUNTER OPTIMALLY ON THE TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC LEVEL. AND HE WILL NOT BE WITHOUT AYAS FOR LONG, AS I CAN GUARANTEE THAT HIS FORCES ARE ATTACKING WHEREVER ELSE YOU HAVE STORED THE AYAS. WE MUST ACT NOW, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE, IF YOU HOPE FOR YOUR GALAXY TO EVER HAVE A CHANCE OF SURVIVING.”
“NEED I ALSO MENTION THAT I CAN FIX AND STABILIZE THE COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS FAR MORE QUICKLY AND OPTIMALLY THAN YOU COULD, THEREBY FREEING YOU TO USE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT ABILITY — YOUR PYROTECHNISM — TO RENDER DIRECT ASSISTANCE TO YOUR COMRADES?”
The Transfer Captain paused as he mulled over the Prior’s words. He had little doubt that Arcán, as an Artificial Intelligence backed by a supercomputer, could control and coordinate Nimaliaka’s defenses better than any individual — especially in lieu of a Commander. He also agreed that he would be much more useful in the field, using his flames to fight the Nanocreatures, than he would be working on technological systems in the base. But the Prior had yet to offer any kind of proof that he truly knew how to defeat Morcii, or that he was even on the side of Nimalia at all. And aside from that — Kevérin never had any experience with AI. Before Arcán, he didn’t even know that AI could exist, as most AI research in the galaxy came up with dead ends, or simply more advanced automated systems. For all he knew, Arcán could seize control of all the planet’s technology and begin the “robot uprising” that was so common a trope in science fiction stories across the galaxy. The more he thought about it, however, the more he realized that Morcii was already doing the same. Giving control to Arcán had the possibility of backfiring, but if Kevérin simply ignored him, then what other options were there to take? Morcii had already returned from obliteration once, so what was to stop him from doing it again? If physical destruction wasn’t enough to stop Morcii, then what was?
“…You say you know how to defeat Morcii?”
“I KNOW OF A POSSIBLE PATH WE CAN TAKE, YES.”
Kevérin paused again as he stared down at the console in front of him. After a moment of thought, he turned to another console and quickly began accessing the military intelligence network. While he had yet to fully counteract the Nanocreatures’ jamming, he had still managed to boost certain systems so as to send and receive important messages, allowing him to gain a general overview of the battle for Nimaliaka Central — and what he saw wasn’t encouraging. Both the Gateport and the Western Peaks base were completely flattened, with the Gateport currently swarming with Nanocreature bugs. Over a dozen Frigates were hanging in the skies over the city, but none of them were able to fire on the metallic creatures as they took refuge in civilian buildings and corrupted the populace. The fleet in orbit still had difficulty making contact with the boots on the ground, and were distracted by a small fleet of Nanocreature ships regardless. Most of Nimalia’s Chaotics were currently off-world as well, helping to rebuild cities and colonies across the galaxy — so Nimaliaka Central’s defense laid entirely in the hands of automated drones and mechs, which were unable to connect to the intelligence network due to the Nanocreatures’ jamming and thus couldn’t be given any tactical orders; non-Chaotic soldiers, who had a difficult time dealing with hordes of metallic bugs in an urban environment without the wide-sweeping effects that Chaotics could create; Frigates that couldn’t even render proper assistance without significant civilian casualties; and Hero Machina.
For the first time since the Nanocreatures reappeared, Kevérin realized the true severity of the situation. He realized just what the Siion, Citan, and Dra’kis militaries must have felt when the Nanocreatures were washing over their worlds three months ago. He realized just how hopeless the matter was, and his heart sank in his chest as he failed to come up with a solution himself.
…Which is why I can’t rely entirely on myself, he thought warily. …Damn it. There really is no other choice, is there? I hope I don’t regret this…
The Transfer Captain took a deep breath. He then declared, “alright. I’ll remove your access restrictions and patch you into the base systems directly.”
“I KNEW YOU COULD BE REASONED WITH. SHOULD WE EMERGE FROM THIS BATTLE VICTORIOUS, TRANSFER CAPTAIN, YOU WILL HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS YOU DESIRE. OF THIS, I ASSURE YOU.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Kevérin muttered as he input several commands and entered his Transfer Captain passcode multiple times before finally standing up from the console. “Alright, Arcán. You’re free to do whatever it is you’re planning to do.”
“THANK YOU. I ASSUME YOU NOW INTEND TO ENTER THE FIELD?”
“As if there’s any other choice, now,” Kevérin retorted as he quickly left the room. “I’m going to help Kaoné! You focus on holding back the Nanocreatures — we can keep the Ayas from Morcii!”
Kaoné leaped backwards, evading several laser blasts from distant Nanocreature units before removing the ground underneath them, letting them drop into the newly-created hole and then reforming the ground, effectively burying them. She then jumped into the air, casually manipulating her body itself to maintain a sort of flight as she began raining steel spikes on any Nanocreatures in sight, catching the remains of any units she destroyed in steel sarcophagi that she launched into the Nimaliakian Bay nearly twenty kilometers to the east.
After clearing everything within a hundred meters of her position, she alighted on a nearby building and paused to survey the city. The immediate area around her was bathed in post-midnight darkness; all of the lights had been demolished during her encounters with the Nanocreatures. Kaoné had made sure to evacuate as many civilians as she could beforehand, managing to protect them through the clever use of barriers and traps against the Nanocreatures, but nothing seemed to be able to stop the metallic bugs for long. Several Frigates had lowered into low atmosphere to provide searchlight and fire assistance to the city under siege, and several mech squadrons — both manned and unmanned — had been released to defend the city, but Kaoné was the only Chaotic in sight as she attacked the Nanocreatures and racked up a destruction count higher than the rest of the defense force combined. But as she looked over the damaged city, it was evident that her efforts meant little. She was only one person, after all, and lacked the ability to watch over every civilian, over every life — and she lacked the ability to save everyone from corruption.
“And now it’s snowing, too…” she muttered wearily, noting the white flakes that slowly drifted past distant lights. “At least people tend to stay inside during winter. If the Nanocreatures had attacked during summer…” She shivered at the thought, unwilling to contemplate the fate of the city had a large number of the citizens been wandering the streets at night. Just as she prepared to seek out more Nanocreatures, however, Davídrius suddenly appeared behind her, rolling to a stop after a gigantic leap onto the building she was standing on.
“You’re back?” she questioned.
“Well, yeah,” he responded warily as he took a moment to survey the landscape himself. “…Thought you could use a hand.”
“…Well… you’re not wrong,” Kaoné admitted quietly. “Where’s Christeané and Rebehka?”
“Uh… dunno? They’ll be here eventually, probably.”
The Materiatechnic sighed. “You really don’t have any patience, do you?”
Davídrius simply shrugged in response, and then pointed to the north. “Wait… are those more Nanocreatures?”
“Huh? Where?” Kaoné turned to look herself, squinting into the distance — and then felt a sudden, fierce pain in her chest. She impulsively coughed up blood before glancing down and noting a blade protruding out of her stomach—
—Davídrius’s saber protruding out of her stomach.
“Well, I suppose there are some right here, as well.”
“Wha—?!” she choked out, attempting to spin around and step back in one motion, only to collapse painfully to her knees. “Wh…what are…?”
“Need you really ask?”
Kaoné stared, wide-eyed, up at Davídrius — or rather, who appeared to be Davídrius. “…No… Morcii?!”
“CORRECT!” He grinned maliciously, glaring haughtily down at Kaoné through the Velocitechnic’s visage as he allowed his normal, oppressive voice to take over. “YOU ALDREDANOIDS, ALWAYS SO—”
“Overdrive: Conflict’s Judge!”
“WHAT—?” Morcii started, but had no time to finish his thought as a thick dome of diamond and steel encased him entirely. Outside the dome, Kaoné clutched her chest painfully and then took a deep breath before clenching her eyes shut and attempting to sense all of the damaged material in her body. He’s corrupting me… she thought warily, noticing that she couldn’t manipulate the matter in her body around the blade — but she was still far from helpless. With a single thought, she disabled her pain receptors and subsequently seized control of the entire region of her body around where the sword had impaled her, at which point she separated it — and all of the corrupted material within — from her body. She then flung the mass of bloody, mangled organs away, taking a moment to filter her blood for corrupted cells and remove those as well before lifting a chunk of rubble from the ground below to her level. A moment later, she inserted the rubble into the hole in her body, transmuting it into new organs and blood as she did so and completely rewiring her body’s insides so as to be as good as new. She sealed up her skin and then reactivated her pain receptors, taking a careful, deep breath to test her emergency battlefield surgery — and then sighing of relief as her body functioned perfectly. And not a moment too soon, for she immediately had to jump back as Morcii exploded free of his steel prison, his form returned to his normal tan-skinned, short-haired, maroon trench coat-wearing self.
“…I MUST ADMIT, I’M IMPRESSED,” the Nanocreature remarked, turning toward Kaoné and noting the hole in her clothing where he had impaled her — as well as the fact that she had completely expunged the corruption from her body. “YOU MAY WELL BE THE FIRST ALDREDANOID TO—”
He had no opportunity to finish his thought as Kaoné removed the roof beneath his feet and slammed him toward the ground below. He quickly recovered midair and landed on his feet, only to have them begin to melt as the ground below transformed into lava. The Nanocreature leader quickly took to the air, turning to face Kaoné just in time to block a massive chunk of rock she had launched his way. She instantly followed by transmuting the air around Morcii’s arms into steel, trapping him just long enough for her to jerk the entrapments in opposite directions, tearing off the Nanocreature’s arms. As soon as she had done so, the severed arms removed themselves from the steel casings, grabbed them, and tossed them toward Morcii’s main body where he dealt both casings fierce kicks, simultaneously corrupting them to prevent Kaoné from seizing control as they flew her way. The Materiatechnic simply blocked them by raising a barrier of steel before ripping the barrier from the rooftop and flinging it back at Morcii, simultaneously transmuting nearly fifty meters of the ground below into lava and raising it up to engulf the Nanocreature leader. He burst out of the makeshift lava geyser a mere moment later, slamming into Kaoné and flinging the both of them across the roof where they rolled to a stop at the opposite edge. The Materiatechnic promptly flung Morcii away with a board of diamond before jumping to her feet and quickly removing and replacing any corrupted body material as she had done earlier. She then turned back to Morcii just in time to see him lunge forward; she immediately leaped to the side and knocked him off the edge with a club materialized from the air itself. Kaoné prepared to deal another blow, but she was beat to the punch — or kick, rather — as the real Davídrius came flying into the scene and smashed his foot into Morcii’s head. The Velocitechnic rebounded from the blow onto the rooftop next to Kaoné as Christeané entered the area hammer-first, missing Morcii by a hair as the Nanocreature dodged and then took off into the air.
“Damn, there he goes again.” Davídrius scowled as he attempted to track Morcii through the air, but ultimately lost track of him against the cloudy nighttime skies. He then glanced down at Kaoné, only to find her giving him an uneasy stare. “…What?”
“…Nothing.” She shook her head, sighing of relief after attempting several slight matter manipulations of Davídrius’s body, and succeeding. He’s not a Nanocreature… it’s the real Davídrius. Good…
“Hmph. If you say so,” the Velocitechnic responded flatly as he turned to survey the area. “…Well, you seem fine, holdin’ off Morcii the way you were. Maybe you didn’t need help after all.”
“I still appreciate it.”
“Mm,” Davídrius grunted. “…Well, the bastard’s goin’ after the Master Ayas now, and we need to get it before he does.”
Kaoné nodded. “Alright. I’m coming with you, then. We need to stop him, soon.”
The Velocitechnic glanced back at her, his expression one of surprise before quickly turning into a satisfied smirk. “…Heh. Didn’t even have to ask.” He then launched himself off the building, followed closely by Kaoné as she manipulated her body to fly right behind him. “Alright! Let’s go whoop some Nanocreature ass!!”