Chapter 33 – Metallic Chaos

Chaos Impact!

Christeané and Wilkas jumped for the AI core as an invisible force smashed the beast against the wall. They had barely righted the device and picked it up before the infected creature recovered and whipped around to face them — just as Rebehka froze it in place with ice.

“It won’t last long! Get going!” She hurriedly waved the two Forcetechnics forward. They quickly moved past her and into the hallway, followed closely by Kaoné, Kevérin, and Vélunis. Kievkenalis backed up as well, but paused when he noticed Davídrius, Rebehka, and Siyuakén standing their ground.

“Guys—?”

Someone’s gotta hold it back!” Davídrius exclaimed, brandishing his single blade as he glanced over at the women. “And I figure it might as well be me. Make up for bein’ such an asshole lately. But the two of you should get back as well!”

Rebehka moved to object, but the beast broke free of its ice prison before she could. It spun around and lunged toward the room’s exit, but Davídrius intercepted it midair, knocking it to the side with a powerful kick. The moment he landed, he spun on his heel and launched himself at the creature, blade forward — only for the beast to snap its tail through the air and smack Davídrius on his hand, knocking his sword away and throwing him completely off balance. It then jumped forwards itself, its maw wide open — only to be blown back by a block of ice. The moment it recoiled, Siyuakén issued it an incredible electric shock and Rebehka immediately followed by freezing it again.

“I told y’all to stay back!” Davídrius snapped.

“As if you could take on that thing by yourself,” Siyuakén retorted, “just stop complaining and help us hold it off until the elevator comes back!”

“I don’t think the elevator is all that safe—!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, but was interrupted as the infected creature broke out of its frozen state and spun around toward Davídrius — and then dashed over to his sword, grabbing it with its mouth and swallowing it whole.

“What the—!?” The Velocitechnic scowled but was forced to immediately dive out of the way as two blades suddenly grew out of the beast’s shoulders and launched themselves his way. He quickly spun around and grabbed the weapons out of the air, continuing through his spin before jumping toward the beast and shoving the blades through its neck just as Kievkenalis hit it with Chaos Impact, forcing the blades all the way through. But the injury was non-fatal — the creature responded by whipping its tail around to whack Davídrius away, and was stopped only by the sudden appearance of several sheets of ice. Rebehka attempted to encase the beast in ice again but it leaped away too quickly; the moment it landed again, it lunged toward the Cryotechnic, but was forced aside as Siyuakén caught its shoulder with one of her grappling hooks and yanked hard. The creature remained fazed only momentarily — then, faster than Siyuakén could respond, it spun around, snapping the grappling line taught and yanking the Electrotechnic through the air. Davídrius quickly jumped forwards and ripped the grappling hook out of the beast’s shoulder before slamming his foot down on its head, allowing Siyuakén to sail over the two and into Rebehka unharmed.

Chaos Armor! Chaos Impact!” Kievkenalis jumped forwards, blowing the beast away before it could attempt to decapitate Davídrius. The Velocitechnic back-flipped away just in time to evade several more blade projectiles, but he landed unevenly and collapsed to the floor. The infected creature immediately pounced on his location, but he quickly rolled out of the way and leaped back to his feet as Siyuakén blasted it with electricity, stunning it momentarily. It then snapped its tail across the room, swiping Davídrius, Kievkenalis, and Siyuakén off of their feet before spinning around itself and slamming its front paws into the ground, creating a shockwave that further stunned the three Chaotics. Rebehka quickly formed two ice lances and dove toward the creature, freezing its paws to the ground right as she drove her lances into its face — only to be thrown to the side as the beast began writhing in pain. It let off a tremendous roar before leaping at the Cryotechnic — and then getting crushed as the ceiling collapsed, followed by tons of dirt and metal debris.

“What the—?” Davídrius muttered as he and the other Chaotics backed away from the debris cloud uneasily. He snapped his attention to the ceiling as the entire room began to rumble and the ceiling began to give way further. “What—?!”

“Ha! I’m here!” Christeané exclaimed as he leaped out of the wreckage, his armor’s shields flickering from absorbing heavy damage.

“What? Did you just smash your way down from the top?!” Rebehka exclaimed, looking up at the ceiling.

“Yep!”

“But… we’re on the eighth sub-basement!”

“I know.”

“How are we supposed to get back up?” Siyuakén questioned, but was interrupted as the infected beast began to move again.

“Still not done?” Christeané turned back toward the wreckage and cracked his knuckles. “Ha, well let’s fix that!”

“What’re you doing, we need to—!” Davídrius stopped abruptly when he noticed a broken satchel fixed haphazardly to Christeané’s armor. “Wait, you’re using the Ayas?!”

The Forcetechnic ignored him and instead dove forward, slamming his fist into the beast’s maw just as it turned toward him. He followed with an uppercut before summoning a glaive out of thin air and thrusting it forward, piercing the creature through its chest. He then dismissed the weapon and summoned it again, stabbing the creature once more before dismissing the weapon and summoning it again. He repeated this several times before finally slamming his fist down over the creature’s head.

“There. See?” Christeané turned back to everyone else, the creature’s mangled corpse lying motionless behind him. “Not that hard.”

“Except that you probably just sped up the release of the bugs!” Siyuakén scolded him, “do you even know what you’re doing?!”

“Uh. Stopping the… infected monster thing?”

“Is everyone alright?!”

Everyone turned to face Kaoné as she landed on the ground after jumping down the hole Christeané had created. She didn’t even wait for a response before rapidly lifting the ground beneath her and the other Chaotics to ground level and then completely sealing the hole with steel.

“Give me that,” Davídrius demanded, flash-stepping over to Christeané and snatching away the satchel before he could react. The Velocitechnic then tossed the satchel to Kievkenalis.

“Oh… whoa…” Christeané held a weary hand to his forehead. “…Guess I got a little carried away.”

“A ‘little?’” Siyuakén snorted.

“I told you guys.” Kievkenalis crossed his arms as he passed the other Chaotics irritated glances. “The Dark Ayas are called as much for a reason.”

“And now we need to get out of here,” Siyuakén insisted as she began jogging down the trashed hallway. “It’s only a matter of time before we have to deal with the swarm.”

“What about the AI core?” Rebehka glanced toward Christeané and Kaoné. “Did you take care of it?”

“That Wilkas guy is carrying it to a waiting shuttle,” Christeané replied, “the core’s got a bit of damage, but it should be fine. Most of the RPF have pulled out; I think it’s just us here, now.”

“They sure are fast about it,” Siyuakén remarked as the group moved through the hallways toward the nearest exit. “It looks like they’ve even rounded up all of the SFC resistance.”

“The RPF has had plenty of experience doing this kind of thing,” Kievkenalis replied, “that is, being in and out before you even know they’re coming.”

Christeané elbowed Davídrius cheekily. “You ever have that problem?”

The Tresédian stared at him blankly. “What problem?”

No problem.” Rebehka rolled her eyes. “It’s just Christeané being Christeané.”

“Huh?” Davídrius frowned. “Wait, what? …Was that a joke—?”

“Shhhh!”

“Eh?” The Velocitechnic glared at Siyuakén. “What’re you—?”

“No, seriously, shut up,” she repeated, her attention directed behind the Chaotics. They all quieted and glanced between each other uneasily, unsure of what the Electrotechnic was trying to do.

“…Do you guys feel that?” she asked quietly after a few seconds of silence.

“Feel what…?” Kaoné replied warily.

Siyuakén didn’t respond. She remained silent for several more moments before whipping around and jogging down the hallway. “We need to get out of here. Now.”

“Excuse me, then.” Kaoné parted the ceiling and all the floors above until sunlight leaked in. She then rapidly raised the ground below the Chaotics until they were level with the compound roof, high enough to spot an open shuttle circling the compound.

“Looks like that’s our ride,” Christeané commented as he began twirling his hammer, prepared to launch himself into the vehicle.

“Wait!”

“Huh?” The Forcetechnic glanced over at Siyuakén inquisitively just as the rooftop several meters away exploded upwards, a four-winged creature appearing — the same infected beast that had attacked down in the AI chamber.

“Of course it’d come back.” Davídrius scowled. “Of course it would.”

“It’s got two tails and wings now, so watch out,” Kievkenalis warned. “Chaos Assist. Wait— that second tail…”

He paused and jumped out of the way as the infected creature swooped down at the Chaotics and launched several metallic blades created from its very skin. Davídrius attempted to grab two of them, but his armor’s shielding flared, indicating that the blades were somehow corrosive. He discarded the blades and turned back to the creature just in time for its two tails to whip by.

“That’s the Ayas!” he exclaimed, “that’s—! That’s Hastryth! It’s attached to its tail?!”

“It has the Ayas…” Kievkenalis watched the beast fly off with apprehension. “We can’t leave without it!”

“Oh, but I think we can…” Christeané replied warningly, his attention directed elsewhere. The rest of Hero Machina turned to look where he was pointing and were surprised to find four torn bodies climbing haphazardly up onto the roof.

“Wait, they’re… RPF soldiers,” Kievkenalis muttered, “what’re they—?”

He was interrupted as one of them lunged for Kaoné, who reflexively stumbled backwards — and into the waiting maw of the winged infected creature. Davídrius immediately dashed forward and dealt a fierce kick to the beast’s neck, knocking it away before it could chomp down on the Materiatechnic.

“Watch it!” he shouted just as he ducked to evade a tail swipe from the creature. He then turned to the RPF soldiers just in time to knock back two of them as they charged forwards, each wielding dangerous metal scrap. “What’s up with them?!”

“They look infected—?” Rebehka started, but was interrupted as Siyuakén stepped forward… and then issued forth a massive electric shock, frying all four of the bodies and sending them flying off the rooftop.

The Electrotechnic scowled. “They were infected. Irreversibly… for a person to become infected so quickly…!” She paused apprehensively and glanced over at the infected creature. “…We need to get out of here! Now!

“But—!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, pausing to shout “Chaos Deflection” to knock away a bunch of bladed projectiles directed at Hero Machina. Christeané jumped forward and smacked the beast with his hammer as it dove by again, sending it flying away and allowing the Chaostechnic to finish his thought. “We can’t leave that Ayas here!”

“It’s only a matter of time before we’re attacked by swarms of bugs!” Siyuakén shot back, “we need! To! Leave!

“I’m with her on this one,” Davídrius commented wearily, “got a bad feelin’ about this. And there ain’t no fancy schmancy mystery Battlecruiser to beam us all up on the verge of death, like there was on Sunova! We leave now, or we don’t leave at all!”

“Then let’s go!” Christeané exclaimed as he began twirling his hammer, glancing over as Rebehka erected an ice shield to deflect the next few attacks from the infected creature. Without waiting for a response from Kievkenalis, the Forcetechnic launched himself toward the circling shuttle, followed by Davídrius leaping after him.

“Sorry, Kevken, but this is it,” Kaoné commented as she lifted the ground underneath her and the Chaostechnic. Rebehka and Siyuakén jumped onto the platform as Kaoné whisked them all over to the shuttle — just as a massive swarm of metallic bugs engulfed the rooftop.

“You were right… again.” Rebehka glanced at her friend curiously. “This isn’t the first time today that you’ve predicted a move from the infected creatures.”

“I got lucky,” Siyuakén replied flatly as the platform arrived next to the open shuttle. The four Chaotics jumped inside as it changed its trajectory to escape the atmosphere. Kevérin — who had been aboard the shuttle the whole time — and Kievkenalis offered a few more pot shots at the infected beast before the shuttle’s hatches closed, at which point the Chaotics finally took seats and fastened themselves to the safety harnesses.

Davídrius scowled. “Tch. Another ‘successful’ mission from the members of Hero Machina.”

“Shut it. Your little stunts at the beginning of the raid didn’t help at all,” Kevérin snapped. “So what happened? Do you guys have the Ayas?”

“I have the black one…” Kaoné held out the dark gemstone for all to see. “But the dark blue one…”

“…So we really did lose an Ayas?” Kevérin sighed irately, and then turned to Davídrius. “Do you have any idea—?!”

Yes, I do,” the Velocitechnic responded bitingly, “I know I screwed up. I know that. But I’m not arguin’ about it here.”

“Did we at least get the AI core?” Rebehka questioned.

“We did,” Kevérin replied, “it’s damaged… but we have it. Hopefully” He glared at Davídrius. “…It’ll make up for losing an Ayas.”

“We did get another one to replace it,” Kaoné pointed out.

“Yeah… but it’s still not good enough.” The Transfer Captain frowned. “We’ve lost an Ayas, and an entire outpost… I can’t be the only one to see the trend in our mission reports.”

“…Are you implying something?” Christeané crossed his arms.

“I won’t imply it, I’ll state it outright.” Kevérin sighed with apprehension. “If we don’t get better soon… Hero Machina is as good as disbanded.”

Chapter 32 – Retrieval

Chaos Deflection!

A rotating sphere of Chaos Energy exploded outward from Kievkenalis, flinging away Davídrius just before his claws could reach the Chaostechnic. The berserker tumbled across the ground before smashing into the ice wall surrounding the clearing, where he quickly recovered and dived out of the way just as Christeané slammed into the wall with both of his hammers. The Forcetechnic immediately yanked one of the hammers back into his hand, spun around on his heel, and launched it at the berserker — who simply punched it away. He then crouched down and attempted to leap at Christeané but slipped on the ice, instead sending himself into an uncontrolled slide.

Rebehka quickly took advantage of the slower action to actually get in a blow, and within the next few moments the berserk Velocitechnic was flipping through the air, flung upward by a sudden pillar of ice. Christeané immediately began twirling one of his hammers and then launched himself into the air toward the falling berserker, his second hammer in hand and prepared to come crashing down on the Velocitechnic. Just as the hammer made contact with Davídrius’s backside, though, the berserker whipped around midair and slammed his leg into Christeané’s stomach, sending both Introtechnics flying downward and away from each other. They both slammed into the ground and then went tumbling until crashing into ice walls at opposite sides of the clearing.

“That would’ve killed anyone else…” Christeané grumbled as he jumped back to his feet, just as the Davídrius did the same. The Forcetechnic began twirling both of his hammers just as the berserker let out another shockwave, thrashing half of the ice floor before he dashed forward — at the same moment Christeané released his hammers. The two Introtechnics flew toward each other, Christeané’s hammers on track to slam into Davídrius’s shoulders — until the berserker suddenly threw himself to the side just as the hammers shot past. Christeané was barely able to register the motion before the berserker had jumped back in line and smashed both of his clawed fists into the Forcetechnic’s chin. His Chaos Armor prevented any bodily injury, but the force from the blow still stopped Christeané in his tracks and knocked him out cold, flipping him onto his back. The berserk Velocitechnic paused for a moment and then turned toward Kievkenalis and Rebehka — just in time for Christeané’s hammers to come flying back and nail the berserker in the head before finally reeling into the hammer slots on Christeané’s armor. The berserker crumpled under the blow, collapsing to the ground just beside Christeané.

Rebehka immediately took advantage of the opening to ensnare Davídrius in a massive mound of ice, allowing only his head to be exposed to the air.

“They finally knocked each other out,” she observed with a slight smirk.

“Good thing they’re both Introtechnics, or they’d both be dead…” Kievkenalis sighed as he began approaching Davídrius. “At least now I can do this properly. Chaos Siphon!

Rebehka glanced between Davídrius, who was still cloaked in Chaos Energy, and Kievkenalis, who had his hand outstretched toward the berserker. “Nothing’s happening?…”

“I’m siphoning away the extra energy. You can’t see it,” the Chaostechnic explained. “…Though I need to be careful, or I’ll end up going berserk…” He paused for a moment, withdrawing his hand and turning to the side before thrusting both hands upward, palms out. “Chaos Beam!

Rebehka drew back in shock as a pillar of energy exploded from Kievkenalis’s hands, extending far into the sky before slowly dissipating a couple seconds later. The Chaostechnic turned his attention back to Davídrius and stretched his hand out again, muttering, “Chaos Siphon.” He then glanced over at the Cryotechnic, noticing her stunned expression. “What?”

“What was— what was that about?!”

“Well, I have to discharge the siphoned energy somehow. Beam is the most efficient way to do it.”

“…If you say so,” Rebehka responded wearily, just as Kievkenalis turned away to fire another Chaos Beam. She watched him turn back to Davídrius and re-initiate Chaos Siphon before crossing her arms impatiently. “…Just how much excess Chaos Energy is there?”

“Far more than usual… I should be almost done after the second Siphon.” Kievkenalis frowned, narrowing his eyes at the thick aura still surrounding the unconscious Velocitechnic. “It must’ve been the Ayas. I’ve never seen an Ayas-fueled berserk state before; I’m glad it wasn’t someone with broader powers…”

“You’ve seen someone go berserk before?”

“A few times, yeah. Uh, one sec — Chaos Beam! …Right. Uh, it comes with being a Chaostechnic in the RPF. It’s usually not too bad; just find a way to trap the berserker and throw them in a Chaos Energy negation field. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a Sabotage-type Chaostechic around who can use Siphon. Oh, speaking of which — Chaos Siphon.

“Speaking of that.” Rebehka glanced over at Kievkenalis. “Since when could you use Sabotage abilities? I thought you could only use Directed, Defense, or Support-type abilities.”

“You’re right. Today’s the first time I successfully used a Sabotage-type ability, they always failed for me before.” The Chaostechnic frowned with unease. “This is really weird. Uh, Chaos Beam! Chaos Siphon. Anyways, right, there’s no precedent for a Chaostechnic suddenly gaining access to another type. Especially if they already have three! I don’t even think quad-type Chaostechnics exist… I sure haven’t heard of any, at least…”

“Well, this is a good thing, right?”

“I hope so…” Kievkenalis muttered before turning his attention back to Davídrius as the Chaos Energy cloak finally began to thin. “Oh, here we go!”

A moment later, all of the Chaos Energy had disappeared. Rebehka removed the ice mound as Kievkenalis turned away again to release all of the Chaos Energy he had absorbed. By the time he turned back to the Velocitechnic, Davídrius was coming to.

“Ooooh… fuck…” he groaned, slowly pulling himself up to a sitting position. “…What happened…?”

“You went berserk,” Rebehka stated candidly.

“What? Damn— wait—!” He perked up and rapidly scanned the area, his gaze quickly coming to rest on Hastryth, still frozen in a small pillar of ice.

“Wait, Davídrius—!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, but the Velocitechnic had already leaped to his feet and dashed off. He arrived at the pillar in a split second and, without slowing down, smashed his foot into the pillar, shattering it and breaking Hastryth out. Davídrius grabbed the Ayas for a moment before tossing it into the air, letting it fall a short distance… and then punting it so hard that it smashed through the ice wall around the clearing and instantly disappeared from sight. The Velocitechnic then collapsed again, his breathing strained and hard.

“D-Davídrius…?” Rebehka and Kievkenalis quickly ran over to his side. “What are—?”

“Fuck! Fucking… fuck!” Davídrius suddenly slammed his fist into the ice. “I did it— I did it again! Fuck! I don’t— fuck!”

Kievkenalis and Rebehka exchanged uneasy glances. “Uh…” Rebehka spoke up timidly, “um, why did you just—?”

“It ain’t worth it!” Davídrius exclaimed angrily, “that, that damned Ayas, it— shit, I can’t, I didn’t, I didn’t mean to… fuck, I didn’t mean to do all that shit I did, I just— fuckin’ hell, I lost control, damn it!

“It was just the Dark Ayas, Davídrius,” Kievkenalis commented lightly, “the situation’s fine now. You’ll be fine.”

“Like hell I’ll be fine…” The Velocitechnic scowled. “This— this is— argh, damn it! Damn it all!”

“What the—? What happened here?”

Kievkenalis and Rebehka turned around to find Kevérin and Siyuakén approaching; Kaoné was kneeling some distance behind them, apparently attempting to wake up Christeané.

“We negated Davídrius,” Kievkenalis answered simply.

“No, actually.” The Transfer Captain gestured around at the massive ice walls, the several cracks and indentations in said ice walls, the shattered flooring, and Christeané’s unconscious body. “What the hell happened?”

Rebehka shrugged. “Apparently, this is what happens when you have an Ayas-fueled berserk episode.”

“Sorry…” Davídrius muttered.

“But enough about this, did you guys find the Ayas?” Kievkenalis questioned.

Kevérin gestured behind himself. “Kaoné has it. It’s the black one.”

“Oh, the Dark Ayas Aldrace…” Kievkenalis muttered

“W-what? Another Dark Ayas?!” Davídrius impulsively drew back.

“Yes, another Dark Ayas.” Kevérin eyed the Velocitechnic with irritation. “You won’t be the only one around here with an Ayas anymore. …Wait a minute.” The Transfer Captain’s eyes snapped to Davídrius’s waist. “Where’s your satchel? Where’s the Ayas?”

“O-oh, well, uh, funny story.” Davídrius smiled uneasily. “So, right after I came to after the whole berserk thing, I saw the Ayas sittin’ in an ice pillar, and I, um, I kinda punted it. Really hard. …It went really far.”

“…How far?”

“Uh… it’s-probably-lost-and-would-take-even-me-awhile-to-find far?”

Damn it, Davídrius, that was a Chaos Ayas!” Kevérin exploded, “do you know how valuable these things are?!”

“No! Yes! No, they’re shitty!” Davídrius shot back, “the Dark Ayas ain’t worth it! I ain’t touchin’ it! None of ‘em!”

“…That’s… very different from what you were saying half an hour ago,” Kevérin responded, confused.

“Why don’t you traipse around with the damn stone and we’ll see how you feel after it fucks with your head!”

“Guys, we don’t have time for this!” Siyuakén stepped in between them. “We’re about to have a repeat of Sunova! We need to get out of here!”

“A repeat?…” Rebehka questioned.

“There’s a monster down in the caves with all of the same signs of critical metallic infection that the Sunova and Hazard Island creatures had,” the Electrotechnic replied, “Kaoné sealed the caves, but it won’t stop the eventual swarm of bugs, and who knows how long it’ll be before they show up!”

“…What?” Kievkenalis scratched his head in confusion.

“No, she’s right,” Kevérin responded, “we need to get back to the compound and warn the RPF commander — it’s not safe here anymore. Now let’s get going!”


“A repeat of Sunova?”

“You know what happened, right?” Kevérin questioned.

“General Rantéin had all of the senior officers read that mission report, so yes, I do,” the RPF Colonel responded. “I’m also familiar with the metallic infection, though I can’t say I’ve ever dealt with infection situations directly.”

“Then you know what happened on Sunova, and how fast it happened,” the Transfer Captain pressed. “We have the Ayas. …Well…” He glanced over at Davídrius irately. “Due to… strenuous circumstances, we may have lost the Ayas we came here with… but we can reclaim that as we’re leaving.”

“OVERWHELMED BY THE DARK AYAS? I AM NOT SURPRISED. HASTRYTH WAS NEVER PATIENT, AND HIS TRAITS UNFORTUNATELY HOLD ALSO FOR HIS AYAS…”

“The AI again?” Kaoné questioned.

“It was actually very helpful during the raid,” the Colonel replied, “I’m still suspicious of a full AI, but thanks to it, we’ve put down all SFC resistance with minimal casualties. We hold the compound.”

“THE RIVERANIAN PROTECTION FORCE IS FAR MORE REASONABLE, HELPFUL, AND FORMIDABLE THAN THE STEALTH AND FORCE CORP. I BELIEVE I HAVE MADE THE CORRECT CHOICE.”

“And it’s a shame that we’ll never get to investigate this thing further.” The Colonel sighed as he turned back to face Kevérin. “I agree with you — better safe than sorry. There doesn’t seem to be anything of interest here anyways, aside from the computer.”

“WAIT, YOU MEAN TO LEAVE ME BEHIND?”

“We’re not equipped to deal with an AI,” the Colonel responded, “in any other situation, I’d order a dedicated tech team, but if we’re dealing with a critical infection then we don’t have the time.”

“TAKING ME WITH YOU WILL BE OF NO GREAT DIFFICULTY. YOU NEED ONLY DISENGAGE MY CORE FROM THE COMPOUND NETWORK AND THEN TAKE IT WITH YOU.”

“And how long will that take?”

“NOT LONG AT ALL. I SHALL INSTRUCT THE QUAKEBORN APPROPRIATELY.”

Kevérin sighed. “This again?”

“It seems to be attached to you.” The Colonel glanced back at Hero Machina. “You’re the only ones it’s referred to specifically.”

“AND NOT WITHOUT REASON. FURTHERMORE, LEAVING ME HERE WILL BE DETRIMENTAL TO THE GALACTIC CONDITION. YOU MUST BRING ME WITH YOU.”

“It would figure that the first AI I meet would be a self-entitled brat,” Kevérin muttered.

“It can’t hurt to at least investigate its core,” the Colonel mused, “given normal extraction times… I suppose we can afford this.”

“So we’re going to go get its core?” Kievkenalis questioned.

“Yes, and I’ll send two of our techs with you,” the Colonel responded.

Kevérin bristled. “You think we aren’t smart enough to handle an AI?”

“Yes, I do,” the Colonel declared as he glanced over at the Transfer Captain, “as much as I’d trust Captain Yumach and a Tekdecénian with technology, none of us know what we’re dealing with here. More hands are always welcome. In the meantime, I’ll start the evacuation and send a team to the east to look for that Ayas you lost. Don’t spend any longer than half an hour investigating the core.”

“You’re being very understandable about all this…” Kaoné replied uneasily.

“It’s always best to keep a calm head in these kinds of situations. But don’t get me wrong — once we’re clear of Kotak, I severely hope, for your own sakes, that there’s a damn good reason you left behind a Chaos Ayas.”

“Y-yeah…” Davídrius muttered.

“Mm hmm.” The Colonel raised an eyebrow, and then turned toward a group of RPF officers working at the far side of the room. “Húnon! Icard! Get over here!”

Two of the male officers — one of them blond-haired and stocky, the other thin with shoulder-length black hair — turned around and casually approached.

“Oh, Wilkas! Vélunis!” Kievkenalis perked up. “Long time no see!”

“So you know each other, then?” The Colonel glanced between the Chaostechnic and the two officers.

“Wooow, this is where you went?” The blond-haired officer crossed his arms as he addressed Kievkenalis. “You think you can just ditch us and then be all friendly like that?”

Kievkenalis grinned sheepishly. “Ha, sorry, you know how it is.”

“Man, Wilkas, you’re makin’ us both look bad.” The second officer — Vélunis — sighed and rolled his eyes. He then turned his attention to the Colonel. “What’re we doing?”

“The AI here wants us to take its core with us. You two are going to accompany Hero Machina and see if we can actually do that.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Vélunis replied.

“Good, because you’d still be doing it if you thought otherwise.” The Colonel smirked. “Now get going. We don’t have time for dawdling!”


“Wait, this is your core?”

“IT IS NOT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?”

“It— …well, actually, I don’t even know what I expected…” Kevérin frowned as he looked up at a steel blue cylindrical metal device fastened to the topside of a large mechanical console in the middle of a large, re-purposed reactor room. The device was a meter tall and just as wide, and was otherwise sleek and featureless.

“Doesn’t look too bad,” Vélunis mused, “should be able to carry it out. Doesn’t look too heavy.”

“MY CORE’S MASS IS APPROXIMATELY ONE THOUSAND KILOGRAMS.”

“…Well never mind.”

“We first have to disconnect it from the compound’s systems…” Kevérin approached an interface console on the nearest side of the device. “We can worry about carrying it then.”

“I’m gonna have to do all the heavy lifting by myself, aren’t I,” Christeané deadpanned.

“You are the resident Forcetechnic,” Rebehka replied.

“So am I,” Wilkas volunteered. “Between the two of us, it should be a piece of cake.”

“I MUST CAUTION YOU, DROPPING OR OTHERWISE DAMAGING MY CORE COULD HAVE DISASTROUS SIDE EFFECTS.”

“We won’t drop it, you’ll be fine,” Wilkas replied nonchalantly.

“Shouldn’t you two be, I don’t know, helping me?” Kevérin glanced irately at the two RPF technicians.

“Nah, I’m sure you’ve got it,” Vélunis responded airily, “it’s just SFC tech, I’m sure you can crack it.”

“Some great friends you have here, Kevken,” Kaoné muttered.

Wilkas smirked. “I know, we’re the best friends he has.”

“C’mon, guys,” Kievkenalis urged, “the Colonel did send you to help.”

“You aren’t helping, either.”

“Well… touché.”

“I guess it doesn’t matter anyways, since they’re right,” Kevérin grumbled. “I just cracked the system. Disengaging the core… now.”

The entire construct hissed loudly as the cylinder lifted up slightly, a piston under the device raising it just high enough for hands to fit under its lower edges.

“Alright.” The Transfer Captain turned back to the rest of the Chaotics. “Christeané, uh…”

“Wilkas.”

“Right, Wilkas. C’mon, let’s get this thing upstairs and outside.”

“I really hope that freight elevator is up to snuff,” Christeané grumbled as he approached the device, standing opposite it from Wilkas. The two Forcetechnics proceeded to work out the best way to grip the device and then hoisted it into the air.

“Can’t even carry a thousand kilograms by yourself, huh?” Rebehka taunted.

“Can it,” Christeané retorted as he and Wilkas began moving the large cylinder. “I can totally carry a thousand kilos all on my own, it’s the size and shape of this thing that’s an issue.”

“Wait a second…” Siyuakén frowned as she began glancing around the room uneasily. “Something doesn’t feel right…”

“Siyuakén?…” Rebehka questioned, but the Electrotechnic didn’t seem to hear her. She instead stepped forward and paused for a moment… and then dashed toward Christeané.

“Get back!!” she shouted as she tackled him to the side, causing Wilkas to drop the device and stumble backwards, the device beginning to roll away itself—

—just as a large, clawed paw exploded from the ground below, launching pieces of debris across the room and sending the core on a crash course for Siyuakén. Christeané quickly jumped back to his feet and stopped the device before it could crush either of them, but then he froze as a large, four-legged beast pulled itself out of the ground.

“It’s… the monster from the caves,” Siyuakén muttered, spotting the silver rashes all over the animal’s body.

“This is—! …Fuck!” Kevérin scowled. “So much for time! Christeané, Wilkas, grab the core! Everyone — run!

Chapter 31 – Breakdown

The dark blue veil, completely obscuring his face and skin; his arched back, hands and feet on the ground; the guttural growling emerging from his throat: all signs of the condition that had befallen Davídrius. All Chaotics hold this potential — the potential to, through either overuse of their powers or emotional breakdown, regress into a feral state in which all higher thought breaks down, and instincts become king. The state is well known, as all Chaotics are made aware of its danger during training, but it still manifests rarely enough that all of Hero Machina fell into stunned silence at the sight — at what had happened to Davídrius.

“He’s gone berserk!!”

Kievkenalis’s shout broke the rest of Hero Machina out of their stupor, but it also drew the attention of Davídrius. The berserk Chaotic dashed forward with amazing speed; Christeané reacted instantly and barely managed to intercept him, smashing him to the ground with one of his battlehammers. He then whirled around and attempted to body slam the Velocitechnic, but Davídrius whipped his foot around, slamming it into Christeané and sending him flying into a nearby tree. Immediately afterward, the berserker leaped back to his feet and sped off into the forest.

“Christeané! Rebehka! Kievkenalis! Stop him!” Kevérin shouted as he began running toward the cave entrance. “Kaoné, Siyuakén, you’re with me! We need to get the Ayas!”

“We’ve got it!” Christeané shouted back at the Transfer Captain before turning his attention to the surrounding forest as he began twirling his hammer. “…Well, this is great. How are we supposed to find him?”

“If we could catch up to him, I could at least slow him down…” Rebehka mused as she glanced around warily.

“Berserkers are drawn to Chaos Energy,” Kievkenalis explained, “and, luckily for us, I happen to be a Chaostechnic. Chaos Assist! Chaos Fortified Armor!” As his limbs and chest became covered in hardened Chaos Energy, Kievkenalis turned toward the forest and braced himself. “Cha… os…!

Davídrius suddenly leaped down from above, his trajectory set to land him on top of the Chaostechnic. Christeané immediately released his hammer and slammed into the berserker midair, sending the both of them tumbling. The Velocitechnic recovered faster, however, and was on top of Christeané in under a second.

Control!

Davídrius froze in place, his berserker claws mere centimeters from Christeané’s throat. The Forcetechnic quickly threw him to the side before jumping to his feet and lunging at the berserker — just in time for him to recover and dash off as Kievkenalis dropped to his knees.

Rebehka quickly covered the entire clearing with ice and rushed over to the Chaostechnic, leaving Christeané to intercept Davídrius as he dashed back into the clearing once more.

“Are you okay?” she questioned hurriedly.

“I… I think I’m fine…” Kievkenalis muttered.

“How did you use ‘Control’? I thought you weren’t a Sabotage type…”

“So did I…” The Chaostechnic looked down at his hands and then back up at the two battling Introtechnics. “…But there’s no time to question this now. Siphon and Negation will be extremely useful here… but we have to get Hastryth off of him first! The Ayas will just endlessly fuel the Chaos Energy dependency of the Berserk State!” He jumped back to his feet. “C’mon!”

“On it!” Rebehka replied, raising a massive ice wall around the entire clearing just before the berserker could dash out again. She and Kievkenalis then dashed toward the fight, intent on stopping the berserk Velocitechnic.


“I knew it… I fucking knew it…”

“I… I don’t think you’re being fair to Davídrius…” Kaoné commented quietly.

“Did you not see what he did to those Black Suns soldiers?” Kevérin countered irately, “there’s not really any leeway to give him.”

“But, you heard Kevken. It was the Ayas…”

“Much as I hate to say it, I’m with Davídrius on this one.” Kevérin scowled. “This light versus dark thing is fiction.”

“I don’t know,” Siyuakén interjected, “in hindsight, he’s been really aggressive and dismissive today, much more so than usual. I never would have pegged him for murderous until… well, until today.”

“He’s a Tresédian who’s spent his whole life killing people. We should’ve seen this coming.”

Kaoné and Siyuakén exchanged uneasy glances.

“I don’t appreciate those racist remarks,” Siyuakén responded, “and you don’t know what Davídrius’s life has been like. As wrong as he was for getting so angry he went berserk, he wasn’t wrong about what he said; none of us really know anything about him. Hell, we barely know anything about each other.”

Kevérin glanced back at her, his eyes narrowed in irritation. He then looked forward again and continued walking through the caves, lighting up the area with a ball of fire in his palm. “…There had better be an Ayas down here.”

“Could it… could it have been on one of the…?” Kaoné questioned softly.

“I doubt it,” Kevérin replied, “if any of them had the Ayas on them, then it would’ve reinforced their Chaos Armor enough to prevent Davídrius from slaughtering them. As it stands, the only reason I can see that he was able to pierce Chaos Shielding was because he himself had an Ayas.”

Kaoné shuddered. “…This is another off-world disaster, huh.”

Kevérin sighed irately. “No, not… not quite. I’ll make sure to kick Davídrius’s ass real hard for completely ignoring my orders, but… the Black Suns did attack first. The SFC did attack first. The way the brass would see it, everything he’s done is… technically defensible.”

“But he killed everyone!”

“I think you’re misunderstanding the situation,” Siyuakén cut in, “Davídrius is in the wrong because of how he killed them, not quite because he did so.”

Kevérin chuckled ironically. “Suddenly it sounds like we’re siding with him.”

“But…” Kaoné frowned. “Even if it wasn’t entirely his fault, for all of this to just be accepted so easily… this isn’t right.”

“Ethically? Probably not. Technically? You can bet your ass it is,” Kevérin responded, “I… really hate to keep siding with Davídrius, but this is what being a soldier is about, you know.”

“…It’s not fair. I never wanted this.”

“Maybe you should’ve come to that conclusion before moving to Nimaliaka, hmm?”

Kaoné froze in her tracks and stared after Siyuakén, dumbfounded. She eventually jogged back up to the two other Chaotics. “But that, I, that was— …that was over ten years ago, I couldn’t…”

Kevérin snorted. “Man, aren’t we a close little troupe here. I’d be glad that we at least lasted two months before everything went to shit, but I’m too irritated that everything’s going to shit.”

“Hey, whoa,” Siyuakén countered, “now that’s a little extreme. Things aren’t that bad.”

“Explain Davídrius going berserk, Kievkenalis insisting on this Riveranian Chaos Theory crap, and your little comment to Kaoné a few seconds ago, and then maybe I’ll believe you,” Kevérin drawled. “And even then, I almost wonder if we aren’t too diverse a group. What was Nikéyin even thinking, trying to pull a Chaotic from every nation…”

“Well,” Siyuakén huffed. “Typical that the Tekdecénian looks down on other nations.”

“Ha, and you accused me of racism.”

“Guys, there’s no need to argue…” Kaoné whimpered.

Kevérin and Siyuakén both glanced at the Materiatechnic and then to each other.

“She’s right,” the Pyrotechnic admitted as he turned back down the caves. “We have an Ayas to find, especially before some ‘menace’ comes and claims it. Heh.”


Chaos Siphon!

Davídrius reeled back, momentarily stunned as Kievkenalis began drawing Chaos Energy away. The berserker immediately switched targets to the Chaostechnic, digging his aura claws into the ice and using them to blast off toward the Riveranian. Kievkenalis immediately crossed his arms in front of him just in time to block the charge, but he was still thrown backwards as the Velocitechnic flipped away, whirling his foot around midair to smash down on Christeané right as he came flying by. The Forcetechnic tumbled to the ground as the berserker landed on all fours — after which Rebehka immediately froze his hands and feet to the ground. She then created two swords out of ice and dashed forward, aiming to cut off the satchel containing the Ayas Hastryth — but the berserk Velocitechnic broke his bounds with a shockwave, sending the Cryotechnic tumbling. He instantly dashed over to her but she managed to whack him away with one of her ice swords, sending him careening across the ice and into the clearing’s ice wall.

Immediately Christeané spun his hammer around twice to gain momentum before letting it smash into the ice floor two meters away. The force cracked the entire clearing floor and flipped a large chunk, sending Davídrius flying through the air. Rebehka quickly froze the cracks over and then intercepted the berserker midair with a mound of ice, snatching him by his torso. Before she could attempt to freeze the rest of his body, though, he smashed his knees into the mound, shattering it and freeing him.

“And here I thought that containing a berserk Introtechnic wasn’t supposed to be this annoying,” Rebehka grumbled.

“We’re more persistent than you’d think!” Christeané remarked, right as he intercepted the berserk Velocitechnic with a powerful uppercut. The berserker wasn’t completely stunned, however; as he was flipping backwards through the air, he lashed out with both feet and nailed Christeané in his stomach, sending him flying through the nearby ice wall.

Chaos Impact!” Kievkenalis flung Davídrius away as Christeané jumped back into the ice arena and Rebehka quickly repaired the ice wall.

“Can’t you make the wall sturdier?” Christeané glanced at Rebehka.

“Ice is ice. It can only withstand so much force—!” The Cryotechnic was interrupted when the berserk Velocitechnic appeared and head-butted her in the chest. Kievkenalis immediately flung the berserker away with another Chaos Impact as Christeané lunged after him, using both of his armor’s battlehammers to fling himself forwards.

“…I’ve had enough of this.” Rebehka sighed in irritation before shouting, “Christeané! Get back!”

The Forcetechnic barely had time to hear and process her command before the air all around Davídrius suddenly took a dive in temperature. The berserker perked up and then made to flee, but Christeané managed to floor him with his battlehammers first. A mere second later, the two Introtechnics were half-trapped in an ice cube — the berserk Velocitechnic from his torso up, and the other way around for Christeané.

“What the—?!” The Forcetechnic quickly slammed his hammers into the ice around him, shattering it and freeing himself. He jumped out just in time for the berserker to achieve the same with his powerful legs — but before he could eject himself, Christeané had slammed both hammers into him from below, sending him flying upwards. Rebehka then smashed several ice blocks into him, sending him higher still.

“Oh, wait, this is our chance!” Christeané exclaimed, and quickly began twirling one of his battlehammers. After a couple seconds he released it upwards, flinging himself into the air with enough speed that both he and Davídrius rapidly turned into mere specks in the sky.

“…What is he…?” Rebehka squinted, attempting to make out what was happening in the air. Almost as soon as she did, though, Davídrius came rocketing down into the ground, Christeané following shortly afterward.

“I’ve got it!” the Forcetechnic shouted, jumping out of the ice crater he created and holding up a broken satchel. He reached inside and pulled out the Ayas Hastryth, which he tossed to Rebehka — who then tossed it backwards and promptly encased it in a pillar of ice.

“Now that’s done…” Christeané wiped his hands. “It’s just a matter of time now.”

“We still can’t let our guard down,” Kievkenalis insisted. “We still have to negate him before he does significant damage to himself. That cloak of Chaos Energy is dangerous enough.” Shortly after he spoke, another shockwave exploded from the berserker’s location, blowing away all of the ice within five meters and cracking the rest of the arena. “Here we go. Chaos Siphon!


“For a cave, this is awfully linear…”

“I was just thinking the same thing.” Kevérin glanced back at Siyuakén. “It’s… really odd.”

“At least we won’t get lost,” Kaoné pointed out.

“Or we could be walking into a trap,” the Transfer Captain countered bitterly.

“I’d really appreciate it if that weren’t the case,” Siyuakén muttered, “I don’t want to do Sunova all over again.”

“You keep saying that,” Kevérin replied, “it won’t happen. The Sunova incident was a one-off thing; the Earthians had barely been there for a few years. But as I understand it, the SFC has had an outpost here for much longer. There’s no way they’d let something like the Sunova metallic infection get as far as it did, not in a cave two kilometers away from the main… compound…”

The trio stopped after rounding a corner, confronted with the sight of a small room. In the center of the room stood a simple steel pedestal, devoid of any significant markings. And sitting on top of the pedestal was a black triangle-cut gemstone, nearly the size of a fist.

Kevérin sighed. “It would figure we’d find another Dark Ayas.”

“I thought you didn’t believe the ‘Dark versus Light’ thing.”

“…Shut it.” The Transfer Captain shot Siyuakén a quick glare. “Anyways, at least that AI was telling the truth. Now let’s get back outside to help with Davídrius…”

“Whoa, wait—!” Kaoné exclaimed, but Kevérin only paused the moment after he had grabbed the Ayas and removed it from the pedestal.

He stared at the Materiatechnic cluelessly. “What?”

“What if the Ayas was there for a reason?”

Kevérin growled in irritation. “Again with the ‘Ayas have a purpose’ thing—”

A loud, muffled growling sound interrupted his thought. He froze before slowly turning to face the cave wall behind him — just in time for the entire cave to shudder under the force of a massive impact, causing the three Chaotics to tumble to the ground as much of the nearby stone collapsed…

…and revealed a large, metal-laced beast staring at them from the other side of the wall.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Kevérin deadpanned.

“I told you!” Siyuakén exclaimed as she quickly jumped back to her feet. “We need to get out of here! Kaoné, seal the caves behind us!” The Electrotechnic dashed back through the caves, Kaoné and Kevérin hard on her heels. “Let’s go!!”

Chapter 30 – The Tendency of Power

“Davídrius!!”

“Eh?” The Velocitechnic turned around just in time for Kevérin to barge up and glare at him.

The Transfer Captain gestured at the hall behind him, marred with the remains of the barricade Davídrius had broken through. “The hell is this?!”

“…Heheh,” Davídrius chuckled in self-amusement after he caught a glimpse of Kaoné coming around the corner and immediately backing away in disgust. “I’m just securin’ the place, like you said.”

“Did I not say no killing if you can help it?!”

“They attacked me—!”

They attacked you?” Kevérin echoed in disbelief. “Then why are they the ones smeared all over the walls?!”

Davídrius snorted in derision. “What, d’ya expect me to just rap everyone up the backside of their head?”

“I expect you not to leave behind a mess worthy of the Riaxen!”

“Everything okay, Davídrius…?” Christeané asked warily as he approached the two arguing Chaotics. “You’ve been a little… off, ever since we boarded the shuttle.”

“Off?” Davídrius smirked. “Ha! I’ve been feelin’ pretty damn great, actually!”

“…It’s Hastryth.”

“Eh?” The Velocitechnic crossed his arms as Kievkenalis walked up. “What’s that?”

“It’s the Dark Ayas Hastryth,” the Riveranian repeated, “I told you, it’s not one of the ‘Dark Ayas’ without reason!”

“This bullshit again,” Davídrius snarled, “if you’re tryin’ to say that it’s corruptin’ me, or somethin’, well, you’re wrong. Nothing controls me. Certainly not some damn stone!”

“…Davídrius,” Kevérin addressed him warningly, “calm down—”

“Don’t tell me to ‘calm down.’” The Velocitechnic shoved Kevérin away. “You can’t tell me shit—!”

“ENOUGH!!”

Everyone froze where they stood, startled by the booming voice over the intercom.

“WE HAVE NO TIME FOR PETTY SQUABBLES, QUAKEBORN!”

“…Who’re you?” Kevérin responded apprehensively.

“The base’s computer or some shit,” Davídrius replied nonchalantly. “That’s what it was sayin’ before you got all up in my face, at least.”

“WITH LUCK, THAT WILL NOT REMAIN THE CASE FOR LONG. WE ARE LOSING TIME; YOU NEED—”

“You’re the base’s computer?” Kevérin frowned. “…You’re saying you’re an AI?”

“IN A SENSE, YES.”

“Bullshit,” the Pyrotechnic scoffed. “Even the Syraus don’t have fully-functional AI. There’s no way the SFC could’ve created one.” He glanced over at Kievkenalis. “Right?”

“It’s technically possible, but I highly doubt it,” the Chaostechnic responded, “I’m sure the RPF would’ve picked up on something like a self-governing Artificial Intelligence.”

“THE ‘SFC’ DID NOT CREATE ME. THEY MERELY FOUND ME.”

“Are you saying you’re an Aldredas artifact?” Kievkenalis suddenly seemed very intrigued.

“This smells all kinds of wrong,” Kevérin commented, “for all we know, it’s just the SFC trying to throw us off…”

“DO NOT GROUP ME WITH THESE FOOLS! YOU MAY NOT BE THE KEYS, BUT I WOULD NOT DARE LIE TO THE QUAKEBORN!”

“Keys? Quakeborn? What?” Christeané scratched his head cluelessly.

“I SPEAK OF TOPICS YOU NEED NOT KNOW, NOT AT THE MOMENT. FOR NOW, YOU NEED ONLY KNOW MY IDENTITY. I AM ARCÁN, AN AEGIS PRIOR.”

“Arcán?” Kievkenalis’s intrigue piqued even further. “That’s… the name of one of the light Ayas. Is there a connection?”

“THERE IS LITTLE TIME FOR THIS NOW! THIS INFORMATION IS NOT IMMEDIATELY RELEVANT AND I CAN EXPLAIN ONCE WE ARE ALL FAR REMOVED FROM THE KOTAK MENACE.”

Kevérin rolled his eyes. “A likely story. We’ve wasted enough time here—”

“THERE IS AN AYAS IN THE CAVES TWO KILOMETERS EAST OF THIS COMPOUND.”

The four Chaotics froze again.

“…You’re lying,” the Transfer Captain replied flatly.

“THINK RATIONALLY. I AM NOT OF THIS MODERN GALAXY, BUT I HAVE HEARD AND PROCESSED MUCH DATA RELATED TO IT. THE PEOPLE OF THIS BASE, THOSE OF THE STEALTH AND FORCE CORP, ARE NO MATCH FOR THIS ONGOING RAID. I HAVE NOTHING TO GAIN FROM DISTRACTING AND DIVERTING SEVEN CHAOTICS OUT OF MANY. YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE, BAR TIME, AND EVEN THEN YOUR ABSENCE WOULD NOT BE TRULY NOTICED. YET YOU HAVE THE POSSIBILITY OF OBTAINING ANOTHER AYAS. THERE IS LITTLE REASON FOR YOU TO NOT AT LEAST INVESTIGATE.”

“I’m with the computer on this one,” Christeané stated, “another Ayas? Definitely worth checking out.”

“And if it’s a trap then we’ll just blow right through it!” Davídrius declared, “nothing can stop me!”

Kevérin hesitated for a moment before turning to his side and bringing up a tactical display of the compound on his glasses. After a few moments of investigating the location pings for the other raid teams, he closed the display and sighed as he turned back to the other three Chaotics. “Alright… we’ll go for it.”

“I AM GLAD YOU SAW REASON.”

“Can it,” Kevérin shot back, “when we get back, you’d better have proof that you’re actually an AI. And if there’s no Ayas, then I’ll be sure to format your core and use it to store my porn stash!”

“Porn?” Davídrius cocked his head cluelessly. “What’s that?”

Silence fell for a couple moments.

“Dude,” Christeané commented woefully, “I am so sorry.”

“THIS IS ALL BESIDE THE POINT. THERE IS AN AYAS THERE, I ASSURE YOU. AND UPON YOUR RETURN I WILL HAVE FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS AND INFORMATION; YOUR DESIRE FOR PROOF WILL NOT GO UNSATED. NOW GO! RETRIEVE THE AYAS BEFORE THE MENACE CLAIMS IT!”

“This had better all make since soon…” Kevérin grumbled as he turned back down the hallway. “Everyone, we’re moving out. To the east!”


“Caves again? I have a bad feeling about this…”

“We’ve only ever had one bad experience with caves,” Davídrius retorted.

“And that one ‘bad experience’ resulted in the loss of an entire colony,” Siyuakén countered. “I think I’m right to be somewhat worried…”

“On Sunova, we didn’t have an Ayas to help us out. But now we do.” The Velocitechnic grinned as he gestured toward his satchel. “There’s nothin’ to worry about! I can take care of it!”

“That’s exactly what we have to worry about…” Kaoné muttered.

“Quiet,” Kevérin ordered as he gestured for the rest of Hero Machina to hide in the underbrush. The caves may have only been two kilometers from the SFC compound, but those two kilometers were filled with dense forest and had taken them almost twenty minutes to clear. They were now at the edge of a small clearing, at the end of which was the entrance to a cave.

“…Is it… blocked?” Rebehka questioned, referring to the cave entrance.

“It looks like a steel door… probably something the SFC installed.” Kevérin stood up and stepped out of the underbrush, gesturing for the rest of the Chaotic squad to follow suit. “We don’t know what’s behind that door,” he commented, “so be careful. Kaoné, Kievkenalis, see if you can sense any presence. And once we’re close enough that you’re comfortable, tear down the door.”

“I can do that from here!” Kaoné remarked, promptly tearing down the steel door and tossing it to the side after transmuting it into dust.

As soon as she had removed the door, a full squad of six armored soldiers sprung forth, guns blazing. Kaoné and Rebehka reflexively raised shields to block the bullets and lasers, but before anyone else could react, Davídrius had vaulted over the barriers and lunged forward, ignoring the weaponry and simply allowing his armor to soak up the damage. The moment he was within arm’s reach of the front-most soldier, he whirled his right foot around and cartwheel kicked the soldier, slamming him straight down to the ground. The Velocitechnic then launched Hastryth’s blade end at the next nearest soldier before dashing toward him, running several circles around him until Hastryth’s tether bound his arms. Davídrius then grabbed the soldier by his head and back flipped, ramming his foot into the soldier’s chin and snapping his head back far further than the body would naturally allow. The moment the Velocitechnic had both feet planted on the ground again, he tossed Hastryth’s handle into the air and spun around, catching the handle with his foot and swinging the tethered corpse around in a circle, toppling two of the soldiers who had attempted to get in close. He then yanked on the cord, unraveling the corpse and sending it flying into a third soldier as Hastryth’s blade was flung backwards into a fourth. The Velocitechnic quickly drew his sword and flung it into the air; the moment it had fallen down tip-first, he whipped around in another cartwheel kick and drove the blade with his foot into the soldier he had floored earlier — piercing even the soldier’s Chaos Armor.

By then, the remaining four soldiers had become wary of Davídrius, and were slowly backing off while maintaining gunfire. Their actions did nothing but egg the Velocitechnic on, however — now confident that none of them were Chaotics, he blasted forward at full speed before shooting his foot out just in time to ram it through one of the soldiers and then used Hastryth to snag the soldier standing right next to him and yank him to the ground. He pulled Hastryth back and slammed the blade end through the corpse stuck on his leg, causing it to suddenly disappear in a cloud of blue mist. Without so much as stopping to give the odd occurrence any thought, Davídrius dashed toward the farther two soldiers and clothes-lined them before slamming his foot into the back of one of their necks, and through the crotch of the other. He then jumped away and spun around, launching Hastryth one more time toward the final remaining soldier and completely impaling him.

The rest of Hero Machina watched on in dead silence, frozen in awe of Davídrius’s ruthless display of speed and strength. They were slowly shaken out of their stupor by the sound of laughing — by the sound of Davídrius laughing.

“Ahahahaha!!” The Velocitechnic grinned gleefully. “Those guys weren’t even a match!!”

“Looks like they were Black Suns soldiers…” Kevérin muttered, “I guess that’s why the SFC resisted. They didn’t want us to know of their ties to the Black Suns…” He then turned his attention to the perpetrator of the brief massacre. “Davídrius! What the hell are you doing?!”

“Winning!” the Velocitechnic shouted back, “they attacked. So I retaliated!”

“They didn’t deserve this!” Rebehka countered, “there was no need to… to… to slaughter them!”

“Eh, looks like they’re just a bunch of Black Suns cannon fodder,” Davídrius remarked. “No one’ll miss ‘em.”

“I knew recruiting a Tresédian wouldn’t work out in the end.” Kevérin scowled. “Davídrius, stand down! Drop the Ayas!”

“Whaaat?” The Velocitechnic dismissed the Hastryth weapon and crossed his arms impatiently. “You’re tryin’ to give me orders again?”

“I’m temporarily relieving you of military standing!” the Transfer Captain barked, “you’re in no way fit to keep fighting!”

“Not fit for fightin’?!” Davídrius laughed again. “Bullshit! I feel better than ever!”

“It really is Hastryth,” Kievkenalis commented, and then stepped forward. “Davídrius, the Ayas is controlling you! Let it go!”

“No! Your bullshit is exactly that: bullshit,” the Velocitechnic countered irately. “Nothin’s controllin’ me! You think I’d actually lose myself to this fuckin’ stone here? You’ve got the master-servant relationship backwards, pal!”

“No, Davídrius! It’s blinding you!” Kievkenalis stood his ground. “You aren’t thinking straight!”

“Even if I wasn’t, do you really think I’d come around just ‘cause you said so?” Davídrius snorted derisively. “I took care of our attackers. That’s that. Now are we just gonna stand around here, or are we gonna go get the Ayas?”

“You’ve become a danger in your own right,” Kevérin declared, “we’re not going anywhere until you stand down and hand over the Ayas you have!”

Davídrius smirked. “Keheheh. I’m the danger. C’mon, stop bullshittin’. We needa get the next Ayas. Right, guys?” He turned toward the rest of Hero Machina.

“No, Kevérin’s right.” Christeané gripped his battlehammers defensively. “Something’s up with you.”

“’Up’ with me,” Davídrius echoed, “’up’ with me, you say. These are just some Black Suns soldiers! The Black Suns are mercenaries! Who gives a shit?”

“It’s one thing to kill them — it’s another to do so as brutally as you did!” Siyuakén exclaimed, “you’ve crossed a line!”

“This isn’t you, Davídrius!” Kaoné added, “even you never did something like this back in Treséd, or on Sunova, or Teghica!”

“’This isn’t me’…” the Velocitechnic muttered, and then suddenly exploded. “’This isn’t me?!’ Like hell you know me! You pacifistic little shit, you think you can tell me who I am?!” He snapped his attention to the rest of Hero Machina, all of whom had entered defensive stances. “Y’all think you know me better than I do?! You don’t know me! You don’t know my history! You don’t know shit! And you think you can just give me orders, tell me to ‘stand down,’ to drop the Ayas?! Like hell I will!!”

“Davídrius…!” Kievkenalis muttered warningly.

“No! Fuck off! If you think you can tell me what to do, then— then I’ll— I’ll show you—!! Haaugh!!”

“…What’s going on?” Kevérin questioned apprehensively as Davídrius collapsed to his hands and knees, his back arched.

“…The local Chaos Energy…” Kievkenalis muttered, and then widened his eyes in shock. “I’ve never seen it so excited before—!”

He was interrupted as a shockwave exploded outward from Davídrius, blowing each of the Chaotics of Hero Machina back several meters. By the time any of them could look back to the Velocitechnic, his entire body was covered in a dark blue aura, thick enough to obscure all of his features — as well as his entire armor.

“…Shit.” Kievkenalis scowled. “He’s gone berserk!!”

Chapter 29 – Chaos’ Influence

7 Days Later

Aboard RPF Frigate Krosus

 “I still can’t believe how quickly the RPF was ready to move out…”

“We’ve had eyes on Kotak for several years now,” Kievkenalis explained, “the SFC are a really shady group. The moment we catch wind of anything suspicious, we move in and shut them down, if appropriate. It’s all we can do to keep them from getting out of hand.”

“It’s one thing to ‘have eyes’ on them,” Rebehka responded incredulously, “it’s another to have two fully-armed Cruisers sitting a half-week jump away!”

The Chaostechnic shrugged. “This is how the RPF does things. There’s at least one Cruiser in range of every SFC outpost we know of, for situations exactly like this.”

“And because of that, we’re already almost at Kotak!” Christeané exclaimed, “come on, why are we complaining about this? We’re about to see some action!”

“Eh, probably not,” Kievkenalis refuted, “the SFC is usually pretty compliant with RPF ‘raids.’ Usually we just barge in, do a quick investigation, and then pull out just as quickly if we don’t find anything suspicious. Keeps the peace.”

Kaoné sighed of relief. “Oh, that’s good to know.”

Davídrius glanced over at her. “You—”

“Not here,” Kevérin cut in, “we’re minutes from dropping out of FTL, and planetfall is shortly after that.”

“You can’t—!”

“If you wanted to argue, you should’ve done it two hours ago, before suiting up and sitting in the damn shuttle,” Kevérin cut Davídrius off again. “We’re lucky enough that both Commander Nikéyin and General Rantéin allowed us to participate in this raid, so don’t botch it up. Our track record for screwing up off-world missions is two for four at this point; let’s try to keep that number down.”

Shortly after Kevérin had finished speaking, a small door at the front of the passenger compartment of the shuttle opened up. A young Nimalian man stuck his head around the doorway. “Five minutes ‘til FTL drop out,” he declared. “Assuming the SFC don’t have a significant space presence, we’ll launch as soon as the Cruiser decelerates. Planetfall should be in about ten minutes.”

“Thanks.” Kievkenalis nodded toward the pilot in acknowledgment. “We’ll be ready.”

The pilot nodded back and returned his attention to the shuttle controls, shutting and locking the door behind him.

“Alright, this is it,” Kevérin began, “you all know the drill. We’re Chaotics, so we’re part of the vanguard force. The moment we reach disembarkation altitude, we all jump. Rebehka, Kotak isn’t a desert planet, so you shouldn’t have any trouble creating an ice platform; you can take care of descent for yourself and Siyuakén. Kaoné, you’re with Kevken. Davídrius, Christeané, I’m sure you two can handle a short fall.”

“I’d hardly call five hundred meters a short fall,” Davídrius deadpanned.

“If you can survive being hit by my hammers then you should be fine,” Christeané remarked.

“Exactly,” Kevérin affirmed, “now, once we’re ground-side, the goal is to secure the compound. Stick together, and follow the orders of the nearest RPF Colonel if we find one. Otherwise, Kevken and I have authority to lead Hero Machina on our own. And, lastly — don’t attack anyone unless they attack you first. We’re not here to destroy the SFC, we’re here to see if there’s any connections or hints about the metallic infection.”

“Sure thing, dad,” Davídrius retorted as he rolled his eyes. “Anything else you want to warn us about?”

“…Yes, actually.” Kevérin passed the Velocitechnic an irate glance. “We’re all wearing the new prototype Chaos Armor. Now, they are prototypes, but they have been tested. They should stand up fine in battle. But if we come across a CENT field, we’re withdrawing immediately. Don’t overestimate your strength.”

“Even me?”

Kevérin stared at Davídrius, and then looked down at the satchel he was wearing. Inside was Hastryth — the dark blue Ayas. “Yes, even you,” the Transfer Captain eventually asserted. “I don’t care that you can operate in CENT fields, you stick with the group unless ordered otherwise. Understood?”

Davídrius scowled and made to retort, but the entire shuttle jolted, distracting him from his thoughts.

“That’s the FTL drop out,” the Transfer Captain declared. “We’re here. Get ready.”

The seven members of Hero Machina quickly fastened themselves to the shuttle’s safety harnesses in preparation for launch. Kevérin and Kievkenalis, as the only two present to have ever spent time on spacecraft before, braced themselves for the second jolt of the docking clamps releasing the shuttle… but the jolt never came.

“…So, uh,” Davídrius spoke up impatiently, “what’re we waitin’ for—?”

He was cut off as the entire shuttle rocked violently, the safety harnesses only barely keeping the seven Chaotics in place.

“What was that?!” Rebehka exclaimed.

“That was not the docking clamps releasing.” Kevérin scowled. “…Were we fired on?!”

“Looks like we were.” The pilot’s voice came out over a small speaker near the door to the cockpit. “There’s a single SFC Cruiser in orbit. The Syndisus. Somehow they think they can fend off both the Krosus and Naetolus at the same time… ha! This’ll only be a short delay. We’ll launch soon, but expect a bumpy ride down.” The shuttle suddenly jolted again, but in a much more subdued and controlled manner. “There it is. We’re clear of the docking clamps. Engaging inertial dampeners… launching! Planetfall in five!”

“W-wait, already?!” Kaoné exclaimed, “is— is this safe?!”

“We’ll be fine,” Kievkenalis waved her off, “like their name says, the SFC usually relies on stealth. They don’t have a chance in a straightforward battle against two RPF Cruisers.”

“Don’t they also have the word ‘force’ in their name?” Christeané countered.

“…Well, yes, but that part of their name is basically a relic from over a hundred years ago.”

“Which makes you wonder why they attacked us in the first place,” Kevérin muttered.

Davídrius smirked. “Well I guess this does away with that ‘wait ‘til you’re attacked to attack’ thing, huh?”

The Transfer Captain glanced at the Velocitechnic and then admitted begrudgingly, “I suppose so… but don’t get carried away.” He turned to fully face Davídrius and stated pointedly, “don’t kill if you don’t have to.”

“…Everyone always assumes I’m just gonna go off and kill someone,” Davídrius lamented with a scowl, “I haven’t killed anyone since, like… over two months ago.”

“Your attitude is exactly why we’re all wary,” Kaoné countered.

“Shut it, Ms. Useless,” Davídrius snapped.

“You too, Davídrius,” Kevérin ordered.

“…Tch,” the Velocitechnic snorted, but didn’t reply further.

The following several minutes passed in silence. The shuttle began to shake gently as they entered the atmosphere, and then jolted again as it switched to air-breathing engines.

“Planetfall in t-minus ten seconds,” the pilot’s voice appeared a minute later. The seven Chaotics quickly began undoing the safety harnesses as the pilot counted down. When he reached zero, two hatches slid open, one on either side of the shuttle, allowing the rushing winds to enter the shuttle and begin whipping around hair and Chaos Robes alike.

“Here we go!” Kevérin shouted over the wind, “see you ground-side!” He flung himself from the shuttle, taking a moment to observe his surroundings before pointing himself in a ground-ward dive.

“…You know, I said this would be easy…” Kaoné looked down at the ground below apprehensively after Christeané, Rebehka, and Siyuakén had all followed Kevérin. “But, uh… now that I’m actually here…”

“Something else that you’re scared of, eh?” Davídrius crossed his arms as he stood behind her.

“Well, sort of— uagh!!” Kaoné yelped as she was suddenly shoved out the hatch.

“Oops! Sorry, I think I slipped!” Davídrius shouted after her. He smirked and then glanced over at Kievkenalis just in time to catch the Chaostechnic shaking his head in disapproval. He promptly leaped after Kaoné, leaving Davídrius alone in the shuttle.

“…Hardasses, the lot of ‘em,” the Velocitechnic grumbled before throwing himself out the hatch.

Farther down, Kevérin was already meeting the first signs of resistance in the form of anti-air rounds. He barely avoided being hit by one before bathing the entire aerospace around him in fire, following up with launching fireballs at every anti-air platform he could reasonably identify from hundreds of meters in the air. As he rapidly approached the ground, he was able to recognize more and more of the compound’s weaponry — including a laser cannon that had just unpacked itself and was now aiming in his direction. He had no time to react before it fired — he instead instinctively flinched, before realizing that a massive ice shield had formed around him just in time to block the laser blast.

“You’re welcome!” Rebehka shouted as she fell past, Siyuakén on her tail. The Cryotechnic then spun herself around and created an ice platform midair, controlling the ice itself to catch herself and Siyuakén and gradually slow their descent. At that point, Kevérin fell past them again, confident in his abilities to catch himself with flame jets as he continued launching fireballs at the various military hardware.

That is, until he realized that his fireballs were dissipating prematurely.

“…CENT fields,” he muttered to himself, “it would figure…!” He immediately blasted himself to the side, changing his trajectory to land some distance outside of the compound instead of directly in it. “Watch yourselves!!” he shouted upward as he activated his wireless communicator, “they have CENT fields!!”

“Of course they do…” Christeané’s irritation was evident even over the audio-only connection. The Transfer Captain watched as the rest of Hero Machina slowly changed their falling trajectory to match his own before turning his attention back to the ground and initiating his flame jets to slow his descent. He landed softly on the dirt nearly a hundred meters from the compound’s outermost wall and set up a flame barrier to incinerate any incoming projectiles as the rest of Hero Machina began landing around him.

“Rebehka… Siyuakén… Christeané…” Kevérin acknowledged each as they landed on the ground. “Kaoné, Kevken… …where’s Davídrius?”

His question was answered by an explosion in the distance, somewhere around the area that they had originally been aiming for.

“He went directly for the compound?” Siyuakén facepalmed. “Even after the CENT field warning?”

“I tried to catch him, but he told me to go away…” Kaoné commented.

“…It would figure,” Kevérin growled. “He has the Ayas. He ignored my explicit orders because he’s too damn confident in the thing… damn it!”

“What do we do?” Kaoné questioned warily.

“…We go after him,” the Transfer Captain replied begrudgingly, “if he at least knows what he’s doing, he’ll disable the CENT fields. We can take advantage of that opening.” He began running toward the compound, gesturing for the rest of Hero Machina to follow. “Christeané, you’re with me! We’ll try to catch up with Davídrius. The rest of you, watch our backs! Try not to get separated!”


“Haaaah!!”

Davídrius flung the blade end of Hastryth forwards, piercing a steel door clean through. He then tossed the handle into the air and flipped, snatching the handle with his foot and yanking hard enough to rip the door off its hinges. He dismissed the Ayas weapon to detach it from the door and then re-summoned it just in time to rapidly block a bullet barrage. The moment an opening appeared he dashed forward with amazing speed, obliterating the turret with a single kick and then flooring the two soldiers behind it with Hastryth’s tether. One of them launched a blast of fire in his direction, but his armor’s energy shielding deflected the hit. The Velocitechnic grinned and launched himself forward, cutting down the two soldiers before either could offer further resistance.

Without offering the two new corpses so much as a glance, Davídrius bounded forwards and rounded a corner, maintaining his speed as he barreled through two small security mechs and another three SFC soldiers. He drew his sword — a side-arm, for if he somehow lost the Ayas — and held it in one hand and Hastryth’s handle in the other before spinning around in a tight circle just as he passed the barricade, ripping all of the defenders to shreds. He paused momentarily at the next hallway intersection and was about to launch himself to the right before he noticed dark red discolorings all over the lower areas of his armor’s robing.

“Aw, what the hell?” he muttered irately, “blood stains already? The shielding doesn’t even shield the robes? Damn prototype.” He then prepared to dash off, but was interrupted again — this time by a voice over the compound’s intercom.

“HOLD, QUAKEBORN!”

“…’Quakeborn?’” he echoed incredulously as he looked up at the intercom speaker. “Who’s there? Can you hear me?”

“YES. THIS BASE’S INTERCOM SYSTEM HAS BI-DIRECTIONAL CAPABILITY, SO I CAN INDEED HEAR YOU,” the booming, slightly robotic voice replied.

“Keh, alright. So, who are you? What d’ya want? I’m kinda busy, here.”

“SHOULD YOU DISREGARD MY WORDS, YOU SHALL SOON BE FAR BUSIER.”

The Velocitechnic crossed his arms impatiently. “The fuck are you on about?”

“YOU HAVE ARRIVED ON THIS PLANET WITH EXCELLENT TIMING. THIS SFC GROUP CANNOT BE TRUSTED WITH AN AYAS, YET IF IT IS NOT RETRIEVED SOON, IT WILL BE LOST TO A FAR WORSE ENTITY…”

“An Ayas? What? Where? …Why should I even trust you? You ain’t even told me who you are yet!”

“MY IDENTITY BESTOWS TRUST. FOR NOW, I AM TRAPPED AS THIS BASE’S PRIMARY COMPUTER SYSTEM, BUT BEFORE I WAS MUCH GREATER. I AM AN AEGIS PRIOR. MY NAME IS ARCÁN.”

Chapter 28 – The Best and Worst of Friends

8 Days Later

“They rejected our request.”

“Already?” Kevérin scowled with irritation as he sat back against his chair. “I only requested a visit last Watedia… at least the CSA pretends to think about things before rejecting visitation requests, but the Black Suns just instantly reject us?”

“You’d rather they waste our time?” Christeané questioned.

“Well… no…” the Transfer Captain admitted, “but… Rossindon’s just a Tier 4 world. It’s not even a Fortress World…”

“But it does belong to Sector 2 of the Black Suns,” Commander Nikéyin countered, “and if I remember a certain mission report correctly, you managed to irritate one of the Sector 2 Lieutenant Generals.” She glanced around at the seven members of Hero Machina, all of whom were sitting around a long table to Nikéyin’s left or right. Her gaze lingered on Davídrius for a moment, but neither expressly addressed the gesture. She then turned back to face Kevérin as she continued, “you do understand that, given the Black Suns hierarchy, you’ve nearly done the equivalent of walking up to the ruler of a nation and pissing them off?”

“Uh… well…” the Pyrotechnic stuttered, “…but… Rossindon’s the hypocenter of the Chaos Energy Quake…”

Nikéyin sighed and shook her head wearily. “Not everyone wants to get to the bottom of this as much as you do. The Black Suns probably don’t care, or they might even have their own investigation running. That could explain why they pulled down the CSA data on Quake outage times. And I have to say, given something as significant as the Chaos Quake… if the hypocenter was in Nimalian space and a group from the CSA or Black Suns requested access, we’d probably refuse them, too.”

“Bah, bureaucracy this, politics that…” Davídrius scowled. “Why block access to, uh, to this ‘hypercenter’ thing? What’s to gain from learning where the Quake started?”

“A lot, actually,” Rebehka replied, “if you know both when and where the Quake started, then it’s a lot easier to find out what started it, and why. We could learn if this was a natural phenomenon, or if someone caused it.”

“And don’t forget there’s a possibility that the Quake is linked to the metallic infection,” Siyuakén added, “if we can establish a firm link, then that would go a long way toward finding the cause of the infection, and possible ways of stopping it.”

“So… what, the Black Suns just don’t want us finding this stuff out?” Davídrius questioned.

“Possibly, but it could also just be that we’re dealing with Sector 2 here,” Nikéyin responded. “Even if you hadn’t managed to annoy General Bitincher, I doubt they would have agreed to let you visit. Sector 2 is by far the most secretive and paranoid of the Black Suns sectors, and the Sector 2 Master General, Sike Regek, isn’t exactly known for his welcoming attitude.” The Commander paused for a moment to massage her eyebrows before adding, “I agree that getting to the bottom of the Quake is a priority. I’ll look into this myself. Maybe I can pull some strings, start fleshing out the NSD’s connections…”

“Speaking of,” Christeané remarked, “what’s up with the NSD? We’re supposed to be part of it, right? But it’s not an actual organization yet…?”

“It’s turned political. There’s a surprising amount of opposition, especially from within the member militaries. General Acknos of the Tekdecénian military and General Rantéin of the RPF have already pledged their official support, at least, so effectively, we’re in business — as a defensive organization, at least. But the CSA and Black Suns won’t recognize us until we’re official.”

“What does that mean for us?” Kaoné questioned.

“Continue as you have been,” Nikéyin replied, “for now, Hero Machina is acting as part of the Nimaliakian military, with Tekdecénian and RPF access rights, thanks to Transfer Captain Tyrion and Captain Yumach.”

“So that’s why we pulled someone from every continent, eh?” Davídrius snorted. “Why’d you bother comin’ all the way to my shitty compound in Treséd to get me, though?”

“I have my reasons, and you’d do well not to question them,” Nikéyin responded. “Don’t think I can’t send you back to Treséd in a heartbeat, Wrikax.”

“…Tch.” The Velocitechnic scowled, but didn’t further the conversation.

“And with that…” Nikéyin stood up, prompting Hero Machina to do the same. “I think we’re done here. I’ll see what I can do as far as getting you onto Rossindon. In the meantime, continue to investigate any possible leads from the Hazard Island incident. And if you need me, as usual, I’ll be in my office. Dismissed!”

Hero Machina saluted Nikéyin and paused momentarily as the Commander left the room. The moment she did, they all relaxed, though Kievkenalis and Kaoné quickly made for the exit themselves.

“Hey, where are you going?” Kevérin questioned.

“Some more information from the RPF came in today,” Kievkenalis responded, “I think I might find another lead on the Hazard Islands infection.”

“Oh. Well… go do that, yeah,” the Transfer Captain replied as the two Chaotics left the room. He then turned toward Davídrius and Christeané and gestured for them to follow him. “C’mon, I need some help.”

“Eh?” Davídrius responded, “what for?”

The Transfer Captain glanced at the Velocitechnic with mild irritation. “Should it matter?”

Rebehka and Siyuakén exchanged apprehensive looks. “Here we go…” the Electrotechnic muttered.

“Hey, whoa, calm down.” Christeané stepped in between Davídrius and Kevérin, oblivious to Siyuakén’s comment. “I think it’s a valid question. You can’t just expect us to follow you because you said so.”

“What? Yes I can,” Kevérin insisted, “what’s it say on my uniform?”

“…You’re pullin’ rank?” Davídrius smirked spitefully.

“Yeah. I’m the CO of Hero Machina. You guys have to listen to me.”

“Not unquestioningly,” Christeané countered, “in battle, maybe, but I’m not just going to roll over and let you walk all over me because you’re a whole rank above me and have a fancy ‘Transfer’ designation.”

“Look, I don’t know how this works in East Nimaliaka, but here…”

“Let’s go,” Rebehka whispered as she placed a hand on Siyuakén’s shoulder and tugged slightly. The Electrotechnic quickly nodded and the two bowed out of the meeting room, their departure granted but a brief glance from Kevérin.

Once clear from the meeting room, the two women sighed wearily.

“Boys…” Rebehka shook her head.

“I knew this would happen sooner or later,” Siyuakén commented, “Davídrius and Christeané are too headstrong, and Kevérin…”

“Isn’t?” Rebehka finished.

“…Yeah. You could say that.”

“Kevérin actually brought this up almost a week ago… to be honest, I’m not sure if he’s ever actually been in charge before.”

“’Not sure?’” Siyuakén echoed incredulously. “Just goes to show how little we all know about each other.”

“Doesn’t help that it seems like everyone’s at each other’s throats…”

“Heh, like Davídrius and Kaoné?”

“To an extent, you, too.” Rebehka made pointed eye-contact with her friend. “I heard your comment back on Teghica, after Davídrius shouted down Kaoné, you know.”

“…So?” Siyuakén replied uneasily.

“Siyuakén, if there’s something wrong…”

“…It’s…” The Electrotechnic paused and sighed. “Okay, I guess… I dunno. Kaoné’s, just…”

“I… hate to ask, but does this have anything to do with the fact that you, um, that she was exchanged for you?”

Siyuakén paused, momentarily startled at the event being referenced out loud. Chaotic Exchanges were an old practice on Nimalia, wherein the five continent-nations would come together to redistribute newly-developed Chaotics around the globe, so as to keep the overall power of the nations in balance. Forcefully relocating ten-year-old children rarely resulted in positive experiences, however, and the spread of the Nimalians into space rendered the practice effectively obsolete anyways. For well over a hundred years, no Chaotic Exchanges had been made — but then the Chaos Energy Quake occurred, drastically lowering the Chaotic birthrate during that year. And on top of that, one of the Chaotics born during the Quake was a Materiatechnic, one of the most powerful types of Chaotic. When coupled with the fact that this Materiatechnic was born in the only continent-nation to have two Chaotic births in that year, the rest of the nations decided that they couldn’t let this stand. In response — as a one-time event — the practice of exchanging Chaotics was resurrected, thereby forcefully relocating two ten-year-olds across the world. One of those children was Kaoné, originally born in Relédiaka… and the other was Siyuakén, originally born in Nimaliaka.

Siyuakén glanced around warily, checking for any other presences in the hallway. Rebehka had been right on the mark when she broached the topic, and while Siyuakén was fine discussing the matter with her friend, she had no desire to share her past with unrelated third parties.

The Electrotechnic’s unease wasn’t lost on Rebehka. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dig up bad memories. Let’s talk about something else—”

“No, it’s fine. Your guess was right, anyways, and I’d rather get this out of my system now.”

Rebehka frowned. “I thought you had gotten over the exchange.”

“That’s what I thought, too.” Siyuakén shrugged. “But that was before I actually met Kaoné. I mean… don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I ended up in Relédiaka and met you, but… she’s who I was exchanged for? She’s the reason I had to leave my entire life behind in Nimaliaka when I was ten?”

“Sorry, I’m not sure I follow? What’s wrong with Kaoné…?”

“You know how Kevérin said that she was conscripted as a Chaotic? And then had to get promoted to Lieutenant?”

“Yeah.”

“Back when we were getting Davídrius, on Treséd? She told me she was conscripted as a Lieutenant. She said it was the same for all Nimaliakian Chaotics, so it definitely wasn’t just a mistake.”

“Oh… well, maybe Kevérin’s the one who got it wrong?”

“I thought that too, so I checked. Turns out, he’s right. Kaoné had to get promoted, just like any other conscript. She lied to me.”

“I see…”

“And then she wouldn’t even help us fight the Bleeders. The Bleeders, Rebehka! If you had to pick one group in our solar cluster to fight, it’d be them! Not to mention all of the fights she’s sat out of because she ‘doesn’t want to hurt anyone.’”

“I think I see, then… you think she’s trivializing what you went through because of the exchange?”

“Pretty much, yeah. I mean… I don’t quite think shes doing it on purpose, but… there’s still the fact that she lied, and I have no idea why. I don’t know what to think of her, but she’s… just, argh!”

“Siyuakén…” Rebehka paused for a moment, and then leaned in to give her friend a hug.

“Thanks,” Siyuakén responded gratefully.

“You know… it might be worth it to bring this up with Kaoné,” Rebehka suggested after the two released each other. “I doubt you’re the only one who was upset by the exchange. She might have good reasons for her current beliefs and actions.”

“Yeah…” Siyuakén sighed. “…You’re probably right.”

“Of course I’m right,” Rebehka replied cheekily, “when have I ever been wrong?”

“Oho, so we’re going there?” Siyuakén smirked. “I distinctly remember there being this one trip to East Nimaliaka that you said wouldn’t take much longer than a day or two.”

“Hey, that wasn’t my fault. Besides, you have to admit, Christeané showed us some great places around the region. We should really go back to Deepsough at some point…”

The two women continued conversing as they began walking down the hall, the issues within Hero Machina temporarily behind them.


“Kevken…!”

“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t realize how much data there’d be to look through…”

Kaoné sighed impatiently, but couldn’t bring herself to be truly irritated at Kievkenalis. “You’d think you’d know how much data you’re asking for when you request it.”

“Well, kinda.” Kievkenalis shrugged. “I just contacted the RPF intel department and requested a bunch of information related to shipping routes near the Hazard Islands.”

“You didn’t ask them to sort or process the information at all?”

“Well… no. I thought that’s what we were supposed to be doing?”

Kaoné shook her head in disbelief. “I thought you were supposed to be able to get almost anything you wanted.”

“Because I’m a Chaostechnic? Well yeah, but I’d burn a lot of bridges if I asked everyone else to do my work for me all the time.”

“Even though… even with what’s expected of you?”

“Huh?” Kievkenalis passed a confused glanced to Kaoné. “What do you mean?”

“You’re a Chaostechnic, so you’re basically expected to fight and, you know…”

“Kill?” Kievkenalis shrugged again. “Sure, but I’m usually used for defense. Support and Defensive abilities. I don’t do a lot of real fighting myself.”

“Yeah, but… when you have that expected of you, you don’t… you don’t care?”

“Fun fact: there’s been several studies that show a correlation between Chaostechnism and sociopathy.”

“…Uh…”

“That was a joke.” Kievkenalis grinned cheekily. “…At least, the part where I implied that I was a sociopath was a joke.”

Kaoné frowned. “Kevken…”

“I’m actually kinda curious why you have such a strong aversion to fighting,” the Chaostechnic replied as he turned his gaze back to the computer in front of him and began typing away. “You were perfectly fine fighting the security mechs back on Teghica, so it’s not fighting itself you don’t like. It’s fighting people, right?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, why’s that? Something big must’ve happened to you if you made it all the way through a Chaotic ‘education’ and still have a strong aversion to fighting people… especially as a Materiatechnic. You must’ve received one of the best educations in Nimaliaka.”

“That’s easy to say, but…”

“But what?”

Kaoné glanced over at Kievkenalis and then back to her computer. “…I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Huh?” Kievkenalis perked up and returned his attention to Kaoné. “Why not?”

“Because.”

“…Oh. Well, okay then.”

Kaoné watched Kievkenalis return his full attention to his computer, without showing any concern whatsoever for the conversation he had just dropped. “…How do you do it?”

“Do what?” he questioned without even looking up.

“You seem so carefree, but at the same time, so focused… I don’t know how you do it.”

“Eh, it’s not hard,” Kievkenalis replied airily, “I just kinda know what I need to do, and I do it. That’s all.”

“…Uh huh.”

“What?” The Chaostechnic glanced at Kaoné cluelessly.

She shook her head in response. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand you,” she commented amusedly.

“General Rantéin says that a lot, too,” Kievkenalis replied, “not sure why you think that, but whatever.” He then paused for a few moments. “Oh, hmm. I think I found something.”

“Already?!” Kaoné exclaimed, “what is it?”

“It’s another SFC lead… except this time it’s a shipment from one of their own bases, instead of from some other galactic organization. This one was about twelve years ago, too. No ocean events, though the flight path comes within a hundred kilometers of the main island in the Hazard Islands group… I guess that’s close enough?”

“That doesn’t sound as solid as back when you found the information on Teghica, and we didn’t even find anything there…”

“No, but the RPF has been wary of SFC outposts for a long time now, particularly this one. Only the RPF has the authority to found outposts outside the Nimalian Territories; I mean, the SFC can set up outposts too, if they want, but they aren’t recognized by any government.”

“What’s so bad about this outpost, then?”

“It’s two Transpace jumps and another half-week FTL jump down the unclaimed galactic arm. They’ve been doing suspicious things for many years now, but the RPF has never had a legitimate reason to launch a raid… but now, our infection investigation may be just the reason the RPF needs.”

“Wait, the SFC is setting up outposts that far outside of Nimalian space?… What is this outpost?”

“It’s actually a Tier 4 World, so not quite just an outpost. It’s more similar to an unofficial, low-key Fortress World… it’s SFC outpost 19, Kotak.”

Chapter 27 – Developments

1.5 Weeks Later

– Mondia, Beauth 11, 8034 –

“…Eh? What’s goin’ on in here?”

“Oh, hey, Davídrius.” Kevérin turned to face the Velocitechnic as he entered the base’s Chaotic sparring room. “Christeané and I were just checking out our new gear.”

Davídrius crossed his arms as he looked the other two Chaotics up and down, inspecting the layers of blue and silver robing draping down around their legs. “…New clothes?”

“Ha! No, it’s Chaos Armor,” Christeané replied. “There’s armor under the robing. Well, for you guys, at least — have a specially-made chest plate.” He knocked on the plate proudly. Whereas Kevérin was wearing a variant of his Transfer Captain jacket over the armor, Christeané’s chest plate was on top and had a Battlehammer slot under each armpit, connecting two battlehammers to a cord reel mounted on his back.

“These are prototype armors, work-in-progress pieces made by the Tekdecénian military,” Kevérin explained, “the armor itself is only a skin-tight bodysuit with a couple pieces of armored plating. Gauntlets, greaves, chest plate, codpiece; you know, like usual armors. The clothing is Chaos Robes, provided by the Archoné of Riverana himself, manufactured using the Master Ayas.”

“Oi, Chaos Armor, Chaos Robes…” Davídrius shook his head wearily. “There’s a ‘Chaos’ variant of everythin’, ain’t there. Anyways, so, we’re actually takin’ that one guy’s advice about armor?”

“He had a point,” Kevérin responded, referring to their encounter with the Black Suns Lieutenant General on Teghica. “I mean, you saw how our fight—”

“’Our?’” Davídrius echoed incredulously, “you barely lifted a finger!”

“…Well yeah, there wasn’t much I could do in that situation, you know? Besides, I was injured, remember?”

“Oh, stop crying about it,” Christeané quipped, “you got out fine. Rebehka was worse off than you and even she only had a few bruises and twisted joints.”

Kevérin shot the Master Lieutenant an annoyed glance before shaking his head to clear his thoughts. “Anyways, this armor has actually been under R&D for a couple years, but the Commander pulled a few strings to get us some prototypes.”

“So we’re just guinea pigs for new hardware?” Davídrius deadpanned. “Look, Chaos Armor sounds great and all, but I’m not a big fan of usin’ a prototype. It’s called a prototype for a reason, ya know. If we gotta have battle armor, then just give me some of the regular electrical stuff.”

“You say that,” Christeané responded with a smirk, “but can regular armor stand up to this?” He suddenly threw his fist forward, slamming Kevérin’s chest with massive force and knocking him into the wall behind him. The wall was shielded and received no damage — and neither did the Transfer Captain, who quickly picked himself up and stomped back over to the Forcetechnic.

“The hell was that for?!”

“I was just showing off the armor.” Christeané shrugged nonchalantly. “I knew it wouldn’t hurt you.”

“…Tch.” Kevérin scowled before turning back to Davídrius. “…The other sets of armor are back in shipping and receiving. Make sure you get the set marked specifically for you, ‘cause, well, you won’t really fit into any of the others…”

Davídrius chuckled in self-amusement; the Transfer Captain was right. The Tresédian stood at least half a head taller than everyone else in Hero Machina, except for Kievkenalis — though even the Riveranian was noticeably shorter than Davídrius. “Aight, I guess I’ll at least try it on,” he commented, “but I’ve got a couple important questions, ‘fore I even consider wearin’ this on a mission. For one…” He tugged at the old scarf wrapped around his neck. “Will the shields on those things protect stuff that ain’t part of the armor proper?”

“Uh…” Kevérin gave Davídrius an odd glance. “…I think so, but I’m not really sure. What’s so important about that raggedy scarf, anyways? You’re always wearing it everywhere. You at least wash it, right?”

“’Course I wash it. As for its importance, that’s none of your damn business. But I still got one more question about the armor.”

“Yeah?”

“How much work do I hafta do to take a piss?”

“Uh.” Kevérin glanced over at Christeané cluelessly before returning his attention to Davídrius and scratching his head. “I, I don’t know. That hadn’t actually occurred to me…”

“He’s got a point,” Christeané pointed out, “I mean, there’s a reason Citan and Black Suns armors have internal waste systems, you know? Even the Earthians have a way to deal with this shit. Literally!”

“The Earthians use the equivalent of a big diaper,” Kevérin deadpanned. “Do you really want to wear a diaper?”

“Well… no.”

Kevérin shook his head wearily. “To answer your question, Davídrius, I don’t know. I haven’t tried to take the robes or the codpiece off yet, so I don’t know how long it takes.”

Davídrius snorted. “See, this is why I don’t like prototypes.”

“If only we had a Hydrotechnic…” Kevérin mused.

“What? No! That’s disgusting!” Christeané grimaced. “Did you actually just suggest that?”

“…Uh—”

There you guys are!”

The three Chaotics turned toward the entrance of the room, through which Siyuakén quickly stepped. “What are you guys doing? You’ve been gone for hours!”

“Hey, whoa, I just got here,” Davídrius replied defensively.

“Relax,” Christeané remarked, “we’re just checking out our new armor.”

Siyuakén glanced between Kevérin and Christeané before asking, “will I still be able to use my swinging gear?”

“Not the gear you’re wearing right now,” Kevérin answered, “but your armor set has built-in gear of its own.”

“Wait, these things are personalized?” Davídrius questioned. “…Personalized… prototypes?”

Kevérin shrugged. “I didn’t make these. They just got here yesterday — great timing, too; this is a great birthday present.”

“Oh, it’s your birthday?” Siyuakén questioned.

“Well, two days ago. It’s actually on the ninth.”

“Happy belated birthday, then!”

“…Huh? People say that?” Davídrius responded with confusion.

“Say what, ‘happy birthday?’” Christeané smirked amusedly. “Well, yeah. The Dra’kis and Earthians do it, too, from what I hear.”

“Weren’t you paying attention last month when either mine or Kaoné’s birthdays came around?” Siyuakén crossed her arms.

“Uh… no?” Davídrius scratched his head. “…People keep track of this stuff?”

“You don’t?”

“All I know is that I was born durin’ the Quake, probably this month. I think. …It’s not really a priority back in Treséd.”

“Oh… right,” Kevérin responded uneasily, “I guess you were probably busy protecting yourself and your compound or something, right—?” The Pyrotechnic froze when he caught the cold glare Davídrius passed his way.

“…So, Kevérin!” Siyuakén spoke up, “wasn’t there some important data analysis you were supposed to do today?”

“Not quite yet. The raw data still has to finish processing before I can start trying to get anything useful out of — oh wait.” He paused as an alert popped up on his glasses display. “…Well would you look at that, the processing just completed! …Uh.” He glanced down at himself and the robes he was wearing. “…Guess I get to see now how long it takes to take everything off, eheh.”

Siyuakén watched him leave before turning back to Christeané and Davídrius. “Three hours…?”

“This stuff takes a long time to put on,” Christeané replied, “between the bodysuit, and the armor pieces, and all these robes…” He glanced down at the layers of robing that fell around his legs. “Takes a while, you know?”

“If it takes that long, is it really worth it?” Davídrius questioned.

“Maybe not for you and me, but we’re the only Introtechnics here so yeah, it’s probably worth it in the long run,” Christeané answered, “I mean, you saw what that Black Suns officer did to Kevérin and Rebehka.”

“I’m actually surprised they weren’t hurt worse,” Siyuakén commented with a frown, “’Slam’ is supposed to be one of the more brutal Directed-type Chaostechnic moves… speaking of Rebehka.” She turned to face Davídrius. “She’s a little irritated that you skipped the last two of your fencing lessons.”

Davídrius shrugged. “Eh, there’s not really any point anymore. I have a new weapon now! And it’s nothin’ like a sword.”

“You mean that Ayas weapon?” Christeané snorted. “I can’t believe the Commander actually agreed to let you keep it.”

“No, I can’t keep it. I can only use it on missions.”

“Regardless, you should’ve at least told Rebehka that you were canceling,” Siyuakén pointed out. “You know, instead of letting her waste her time.”

“…Uh. Sorry?” Davídrius responded uneasily.

Siyuakén shook her head and sighed. “I’m with Christeané on this one. Why you? And a Dark Ayas, no less.”

“Just ‘cause a Riveranian claims the Dark Ayas have some sort of ‘dark influence’ don’t mean they actually do,” Davídrius shot back. “That’s all up with the Oraculm nonsense. It’s bullshit. The Ayas are just massive Chaos Energy generators, nothing more.”

“If that’s true, then what’s with the weapon that comes with it?”

“Beats me. But there’s no ‘dark influence.’ I felt no different when I used the Ayas back on Teghica, and I won’t in the future — and even if there does happen to be some sort of weird influence, I won’t let it get the better of me. It won’t happen.”

Christeané and Siyuakén exchanged uneasy glances. “You seem really sure about something you know very little about,” the Master Lieutenant commented.

“I’ll be fine,” Davídrius insisted. “…Hmph, you wanna get on me about mental stability? How ‘bout that Overdrive unlock, eh?”

“What? My Overdrive is cool as fuck man, how is it not a good thing that I unlocked it?”

“I’d be impressed if you had, I dunno, saved the lot of us from being utterly obliterated. But from what I hear you just got pressed into sand and then suddenly, Overdrive.”

“Says the guy who was knocked unconscious by a security mech while wielding an Ayas weapon.”

“Don’t turn this on me. I’ve been through much worse back on Treséd and I still don’t have my Overdrive, so what’s up with you unlocking yours?”

“You’re trivializing the moment. The sand on Teghica wasn’t that soft shit you have in Treséd; I was almost crushed to death, you know? I’d say that counts as a life-threatening situation!”

“A life-threatening situation isn’t the only criteria for an Overdrive unlock,” Siyuakén pointed out, “it’s said that it’s somehow linked to one of your deepest fears…”

Christeané crossed his arms irately. “What, I can’t just be scared of death?”

“That’s—”

“Maybe before you start getting on other people’s cases you should sort out your own problems, huh? What’s up with you and Kaoné?”

“I— what?” Siyuakén drew back, a pained expression on her face. “There—! …Nothing’s ‘up’ with me and Kaoné.”

“You sure got defensive real quick,” Davídrius snorted, addressing the Forcetechnic.

Christeané turned away from the other two Chaotics and took several deep breaths before turning back. “…Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap like that. I just need some air, that’s all. I should probably take off this armor, too, heh.” He promptly exited the room before either Davídrius or Siyuakén could question him further.

Davídrius whistled out of mild amazement before glancing over at Siyuakén. “Somethin’ goin’ on between you and Kaoné?”

“No. The two of us fine.” Siyuakén quickly made for the exit herself. “Don’t spend too long in here. You have work to do.”

“…Tch. And they think I’m the one with problems,” Davídrius snorted. He shook his head and began walking back to the Hero Machina office, leaving the sparring room emptier than when he had entered.


“Oh, hey, Kevérin.”

“Hey,” the Transfer Captain responded as he passed Rebehka’s desk on the way to his own. As he sat down he glanced around the room, surprised to see that Rebehka was the only other person present. “Where’d everyone go?”

“I thought you’d know.” Rebehka turned to glance back at him. “Christeané left with you this morning, and Siyuakén left to check on you. I don’t know about the others, though.”

Kevérin frowned. “There’s never a moment when all seven of us are actually working, is there…”

“Not to be rude, but I have to agree with Davídrius on that point,” Rebehka replied, “there’s not really enough ‘work’ to warrant all seven of us being here at the same time.”

“So you all just decide on your own that you can take breaks like this, is that it?”

“What? …Kevérin, is something wrong?”

The Transfer Captain sighed as he slowly began looking over the data his computer had just finished processing. “It’s… maybe. I dunno. I mean, it’s not like anyone actually cares.”

“What?…”

Kevérin looked up to find Rebehka staring curiously at him.

“If you need someone to talk to, I’m here,” she replied.

The Transfer Captain sighed again. “…How do you see me?”

“What? …Uuuhh,” the Cryotechnic responded uneasily, “…look, when I said someone to talk to, I didn’t mean—”

“No, not like that.” Kevérin shook his head. “I mean… am I your co-worker? A friend? A leader?”

“…All of the above, I suppose.”

“What about the others, what do you think they think?”

“I think they’d say the same. …What’s this about, Kevérin?”

“I don’t know, it just… it feels like no one ever listens to me. I’m a Transfer Captain, I’m the highest ranking member of Hero Machina. I’m supposed to be the Commanding Officer, but no one ever listens.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that…”

“You just said yourself that everyone’s not here because they think they can decide for themselves whether or not to skip work.”

“That’s not what I said. And even if it was, that isn’t insubordination, is it? And you can’t really deny that you aren’t here all the time, either.”

“…I guess so.”

“If it’s being viewed as a leader that you’re worried about, well, you shouldn’t worry so much,” Rebehka commented, “only Davídrius, and maybe Christeané, are resistant to being ordered around, and that’s just how they are. I think they’ll listen to you once you know each other better, as long as you make good points.”

“We’ve been working together for over a month. This isn’t how the military is supposed to work anyways, I shouldn’t have to wait for them to get used to me.”

“Then… I don’t know what you want me to do. This is a problem between you and them. The only immediate solution is to just go to the Commander about it.”

“Hn… I guess so…” Kevérin responded reluctantly, his gaze focused directly on the monitor in front of him. Rebehka watched him for a few moments before slowly turning back to her own computer, still somewhat wary about the Transfer Captain’s well-being. It was barely a minute later before she was interrupted from her work again, however, as the Pyrotechnic suddenly leaped to his feet, exclaiming, “ha, that’s it!”

“What now?” Rebehka turned back to face him.

“Thanks to the data I pulled from Teghica, I was able to locate the hypocenter of the Chaos Energy Quake!” Kevérin replied, “though… it’s in Black Suns space. Specifically, the Sector 2, Tier 4 World of Rossindon.”