2.5 Months Later
– Morning of Sundia, Ranth 19, 8034 –
“Connection to Fortress World Damunin established!”
Transfer Captain Kevérin Tyrion quickly brushed off his shoulders as he stood in front of the Nimalian Interstellar Gate, observing the large ring and the black event horizon and eventually leading his attention down to the railway tracks built into the ground. He glanced back at the distant train gate; it appeared just the same as it had always been, as if Siyuakén’s hijacking of a Gate Train and subsequent crashing it into the Gateport over three months ago hadn’t even happened. That was over three months ago? Already? The Pyrotechnic shook his head wearily. Time passes too damn quickly…
His thoughts were interrupted when two individuals appeared through the Interstellar Gate, drawing Kevérin’s attention back to the large device as he approached. “Kaoné, Kevken! You’re back!”
“Yep…” Kaoné squinted through the morning light as Kievkenalis yawned. “Finally back…”
“Heh.” Kevérin smirked. “Tired?”
“At least when flying from continent to continent you get to experience the time change,” Kievkenalis replied, and then yawned again as he shielded his eyes. “…But going from night on Damunin to this…”
“Yeah, Gate travel is instantaneous, I know. It’s not like I’ve never used the Gate myself.” The Transfer Captain glanced up at the large scheduling screen behind the Interstellar Gate as the ring shut down. An automated device then began punching in coordinates to a new location, accompanied by the sound of a long, drawn-out horn. “Let’s get out of here. Don’t want to get run over by the incoming train.”
“I want to get out of this armor, too…” Kaoné muttered as the three headed toward the nearest exit from the massive courtyard. “…And take a shower… and sleep…”
“You’re lucky I’m here to relieve you, then,” Kevérin remarked. “Have either of you written the mission report yet?”
Kaoné nodded slowly. “Yeah. Here, I’ll send it to you.”
“…Good,” the Transfer Captain commented as a “message received” alert appeared on his AR display. He then remained silent for several more seconds until the three had exited the courtyard and entered one of the secure military terminals. Once the door closed behind them, he stopped and turned to face Kievkenalis and Kaoné. “Alright, time for the real question. Did you guys find it?”
“Huh…? Oh. Yeah,” Kievkenalis replied slowly as he reached behind himself to the small backpack-like device attached to his back. He opened the device, pulled out a baseball-sized silver sphere, and held it toward Kevérin.
“The Master Ayas…” The Pyrotechnic nodded approvingly as he took the stone from Kievkenalis. “That’s the last of the nine. The Commander will be glad to see this.”
“Oh, shoot, we still have to do the debriefing…” Kaoné muttered.
“Heh.” Kevérin smirked again. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll cover for you; the mission report should be enough for now. You two just get some rest. I’ll talk with the Commander.”
“Wow, you’re actually here.”
“I could say the same to you,” Davídrius retorted as Christeané strolled into the Hero Machina office and took a seat at his desk. “When was the last time you showed up ‘fore ten? Two weeks ago?”
“I wasn’t even here two weeks ago,” Christeané countered. “You weren’t, either. How’d you manage to forget that trip into Drakkar space?”
“Tch. You mean the one where we just took that Earthian ship to some ass-backwards uninhabited planet that just so happened to be in Drakkar space?” Davídrius snorted. “The only memorable thing from that trip was when you decided to jump off the cliff ‘cause you thought you saw the Ayas. I could’ve sworn that was a month ago, anyways.”
“Nope. We left at the end of Colyath, that was only two weeks ago.”
“Sure. Whatever you say.”
“Hey, at least we have something to do other than just sitting on our asses all day long.”
“Yeah, ‘cause someone decided usin’ the final Chaos State was a great idea and scattered the Ayas all across the damned galaxy when you dropped out.”
“Look, that was completely necessary. It was the only way to make sure Morcii wasn’t trying to trick me.”
“Sure, sure.” Davídrius nodded patronizingly, prompting Christeané to give him an annoyed glare.
“You’re just jealous it wasn’t you who got to destroy a planet,” the Forcetechnic declared.
“Keh, please. You might’ve wrecked its shit, but you didn’t destroy it.”
“What? I turned Neticen into a debris field! It looks like someone took a huge bite out of it! No small feat, too, since it’s a big planet. Give it a couple thousand years and all that’ll be left will be an asteroid belt.”
“Mm hmm.” Davídrius smirked. “Come back when you actually obliterate a planet, I’m talkin’ absolutely pulverizin’ it, turnin’ the whole thing into dust.”
“Those are some big words from someone who’s never even come close to so much as destroying a city, let alone a whole fucking planet,” Christeané retorted.
“It’s good to see nothing’s changed.”
“Huh?” Both Introtechnics turned toward the entrance to the office, where none other than Rebehka had just entered, letting the door close behind her.
“Rebehka!” Christeané exclaimed, “you’re back!”
“What…? The fuck are you back here for?” Davídrius questioned.
“Nice to see you too, Davídrius.” The Cryotechnic rolled her eyes as she approached.
“I mean — well, yeah, nice to see you,” he responded, confused. “But, uh, weren’t you, well, you know… locked up?”
“I was released a couple weeks ago.” She shrugged. “I think the Commander pulled a few strings to get me out early… or at all. No one told me how long I was supposed to be in there…”
“Maybe it’s because the Nanocreatures finally all shut down,” Christeané suggested. “That was… what, over a month ago? There hasn’t been any fighting since.”
Davídrius snorted. “So they thought she wasn’t a threat anymore, is that it?”
“I can believe it,” Rebehka replied, “I had the feeling that a major part of why I was in there was because no one could be sure I wasn’t corrupted…”
“Well I put an end to that when I smashed Morcii through a planet,” Christeané remarked, quick to divert the conversation away from its depressive direction. “And the CSA is starting to recover, too. Looks like the whole Nanocreature threat is over. And we got all the Ayas back!”
“Which leads us to the big, unanswered question.” Davídrius sighed as he propped his feet up on his desk. “Why are we still here?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Nanocreatures are gone an’ we have all the Ayas again, between us an’ the Earthians at least. That’s all we’ve been doin’ for the past few months, so Hero Machina’s job is, well, done, ain’t it?”
Rebehka and Christeané exchanged amused glances. “Wow, Davídrius, I knew Velocitechnics were infamous for their short attention spans,” the Cryotechnic remarked with a smirk, “but don’t tell me you actually forgot the original reason Hero Machina was formed?”
“Hell, you joined up before either of us did,” Christeané pointed out. “How’d you forget about the Chaos Energy Quake?”
“…Oh. Well… hmph.” The Velocitechnic scowled. “…Do you know how much shit went down between now and whenever our last Quake-related mission was? Of course I’d forget. I was busy, you know, helpin’ to save the galaxy.”
“Except I got to deal the final blow.”
“But actually,” Rebehka interjected, “we haven’t made any progress at all since we visited Rossindon. We barely know more about the Quake now than back when we started!”
“I guess this means I’ve still got a few more months on this job,” Davídrius mused.
Christeané shot the Tresédian a questioning glance. “Are you saying you want out?”
“I think we could make a fair argument for a long break, given everything we did to help save the galaxy.”
“I think that ship flew off over a month ago.”
“…Well, I suppose we’d better get back to work,” Rebehka remarked as she moved over to her desk. She then paused as she noticed that her desk was completely bare. “Wait… what happened to my things?”
“You were locked up for months, you really expect your shit to still be here?” Davídrius retorted.
The Cryotechnic sighed wearily as she took a seat anyways. “I guess I’ll have to speak with the Commander about this. Regardless, I think we’ve had enough chit-chat for now.”
“Oi oi, first day back and you’re already such a hardass—!”
“This is our job, you know.”
“She’s got you there,” Christeané commented.
“…This is what I get for helpin’ to save the galaxy.” Davídrius scowled as he removed his feet from his desk and looked back to his computer. “Fuckin’ ungrateful lot, see if I ever save your asses again…”
“Now there’s the Davídrius we all know and love!”
“Here it is, Ma’am. The Master Ayas.”
“Perfect!” Commander Nikéyin smiled gratefully as she accepted the stone from Kevérin’s outstretched hand. She then looked back to the Transfer Captain, who stood in front of her desk as he made several gestures that could only be explained as him interacting with his AR environment. “Where’s Yumach and Densalin?”
“They came back exhausted,” Kevérin replied as he made one final motion before returning his attention to the Commander. “I had Kaoné send me her mission report so I could relay it to you. It should be in your inbox, now.”
“I appreciate that, Tyrion,” Nikéyin responded amusedly, “but could you have not just told the Lieutenant to send me the report herself?”
The Pyrotechnic paused for several moments before sighing wearily. “Why didn’t I think of that…”
“It’s nothing to get worked up over,” the Commander countered as she set the Master Ayas down on her desk and leaned back in her chair, her hands clasped in her lap. “If something time-imperative had occurred during their mission, then Damunin would’ve sent advance word, and Yumach and Densalin would’ve returned sooner. Returning the Ayas to me in person is a directive I gave you two months ago, anyway. I trust you kept its presence on your person a secret?”
“Well, about as well as you can keep a Chaos Energy generator a secret, yeah.”
“Transfer Captain…?” Nikéyin muttered warningly.
“Yes! I meant yes, no one saw me with it,” Kevérin replied quickly. “I kept it in that suitcase-CENT-thing the techies cooked up. That’s protocol, right?”
“Yes, that is indeed protocol, so now I’m left to wonder why you handed me the Ayas directly instead of within the containment unit.”
“I, uh…” the Pyrotechnic responded uneasily, “I… may have dropped by the Hero Machina office to show it off…”
The Commander sighed in annoyance as she glanced down at the Ayas and then back to Kevérin. “Transfer Captain, this isn’t three months ago. We aren’t rushing to gather the Ayas to stop a galactic threat. We have time to take precautions — precautions that are absolutely necessary, given the demonstrated power of the Ayas. I don’t need to remind you of what the Master Lieutenant did to Neticen, do I? And as I understand it, that was only a fraction of the Ayas’ full potential.”
“That was the Chaos State, though,” Kevérin countered and then smiled uneasily after recognizing his unintentional partial invocation of the State. “…Just like what I just did, actually. You need to know the right keywords to activate the State. It’s not enough to have all the Ayas in one spot.”
“You assume that discovering the right keywords would be difficult,” Nikéyin deadpanned, “and I would agree with you, if there weren’t audible clues that you’ve hit the right sequence of words. There’s a reason that Chaostechnics make for terrible assassins.”
“…Well, yeah, but—”
“Do I need to stress that the Chaos State is far from the only use of the Ayas? You and your team have demonstrated multiple times that merely holding one gives you a power boost that counters CENT fields, as well as access to powerful weapons capable of this ‘Subspace storage,’ not to mention the apparent mind-corrupting powers of the Ayas. Need I remind you of Kotak?”
The Transfer Captain sighed, defeated. “No, ma’am…”
“I’m glad you agree,” Nikéyin responded, “especially since the Master Ayas was the last one missing. We were only able to find all nine thanks to the Earthians’ help, as well as the fact that the CSA and Drakkars both are focused more on rebuilding than on tracking down the Ayas; and even then, we had to relinquish four of the Ayas to the Earthians to borrow their ship again. If we lose the Ayas again — which would only take one disgruntled Chaotic who knows the keywords to seize all five, destroy a planet or two, and then scatter them to who-knows-where — chances are, we’ll never find them again.”
“Actually, ma’am, the fourth tier would only scatter the Ayas across a distance of a light year or two, so—”
“Tyrion, I didn’t ask.”
“…Yes, ma’am,” Kevérin responded meekly. “…Is this why you haven’t told me where the other Ayas are?”
The Commander nodded. “It’s exactly why I haven’t told you where the Ayas are. I’m sorry, Transfer Captain, but the Ayas are safest off-world and out of the reach of Chaotics.”
“You mean safer for non-Chaotics…”
Nikéyin narrowed her eyes. “Say again?”
“N-nothing! I didn’t mean anything!” Kevérin quickly backpedaled, “I just—! …I’m just curious where the Ayas are, is all…”
The Commander sighed wearily, finally breaking eye-contact with the Transfer Captain as she took a moment to stretch. “…I understand you’re curious, Transfer Captain, but I can’t tell you. I’ve even put considerations into place to prevent me from knowing, in the case a Psychotechnic were to ever read my mind. I simply ship the Ayas off, and if I ever order for them to return, then they return. I don’t know where they are in the meantime, except that they most certainly are not on Nimalia. I believe the Earthians are taking similar precautions.”
“In case something like the Nanocreatures ever happens again?”
“In case anything ever happens again. The last thing we want is for someone to attack and destroy our Homeworld just to get their hands on the Ayas.”
“So… they’re on a Fortress World, then?”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Kevérin quickly backtracked again, “I’ll stop asking.”
“Good.” The Commander nodded. “…Now that we have all of the Ayas, though, I’m sure you know what Hero Machina’s next directive is?”
“Continue our original search for clues on the Chaos Quake,” the Pyrotechnic muttered. “…That’ll be hard with the galaxy in its current state.”
“The Nanocreatures completely shut down over a month ago, and the CSA have reclaimed all of their lost worlds. It’s just a matter of recovering and rebuilding, now. Which, granted, will certainly take the CSA some time… but Hero Machina is the group that ultimately defeated Morcii. I’m sure you can leverage that to your advantage.”
“I can try…”
“Good!” Nikéyin nodded again. “Now… is that it?”
“Uh…” Kevérin took a moment to think before nodding back. “Yes, that’s it.”
“Alright then. Dismissed.” The Commander watched the Pyrotechnic salute and turn to leave before adding several moments later, “oh, and one more thing…”
“…Yes?” Kevérin glanced back to Nikéyin uneasily, only to find her smiling warmly at him.
“I admit, I had my reservations about the effectiveness of Hero Machina when you first started out…” She stood up and approached the Transfer Captain, at which point she saluted. “…But you’ve exceeded all of my expectations. Keep up the good work.”
“…Heh.” Kevérin grinned and saluted back. “Will do!”
8 Hours Later
Kievkenalis lay back on his bed, the sheets pulled up to his chest in a haphazard mess as he watched a sewn patch flip into the air and slowly fall back into his hand.
He idly flicked the patch into the air again, absentmindedly glancing out his bedroom window at the dark nighttime skies. The sound of steady rain and the low rumbling of distant thunder filled the otherwise silent room as the sewn patch fell to the floor beside his bed, the victim of a slight draft. Kievkenalis exhaled wearily before rolling over and reaching down with his left arm to pick it up. He then rolled back onto his back and moved to flick it again, only to stop himself and stare at the patch — displaying in full the stars and mountain insignia of the Riveranian Protection Force, the patch itself stained in old blood.
…Vélunis… Wilkas… He stared at the patch blankly. …It’s been three months, already…
A flash of lightning in the distant skies briefly illuminated the room, drawing Kievkenalis’s attention to his own hand — where the image of blisters and bruises remained long after the lightning had disappeared. The Chaostechnic followed the blemishes with his eyes, tracking them to halfway down his forearm before dropping his arm to his side and wincing when it hit the bed. The galaxy’s been saved, right? Everything’s supposed to be alright now, right? Then why doesn’t it feel like it…
A quick knock on his bedroom door drew Kievkenalis out of his thoughts.
“Hey, Kevken! Are you awake?”
Did I leave the front door unlocked again?… The Chaostechnic slowly drew himself up into a sitting position and turned toward the door. “Chaos Detect,” he mumbled, grimacing as his hands burned with pain and Chaos Energy exposed the silhouette of the individual at his door. “Oh, Kaoné,” he muttered to himself, and then raised his voice for her to hear, “yeah, come in.”
He winced again as the door opened, flooding the dark room with light from the exterior rooms. The Materiatechnic stepped in, triggering the bedroom lights as she began to address Kievkenalis. “Are you ready…? You’re still in bed? Kevken, you know we were supposed to meet with Kevérin and the others in half an—?”
“What’s the matter?” Kievkenalis questioned, turning to look at Kaoné when she stopped mid-sentence — only to realize that his disfigured hands were uncovered, displayed in full to everything in the room. “…Ah ha ha,” he laughed uneasily, and quickly hid his hands under the bedsheets.
Kaoné’s mouth hung open in surprise as she simply stared at the Chaostechnic, the shock of his wounds leaving her unable to form a proper response. “…Kevken… was that…?”
Kievkenalis closed his eyes and sighed before quickly reaching for a pair of gloves on his nightstand and sliding them on with a quick, yet clearly painful motion. “Guess I couldn’t hide it for long,” he muttered, diverting his attention back to the Riveranian patch laying on his bed. “But, yeah. It’s the onset of Chaotic Self-Destruction.”
“But… you—!” Kaoné frowned, unsure of how to proceed. “You… you haven’t even been in action at all this past month. Even when we got the Master Ayas, you—!”
“Still had to strain myself with Energy Detect,” the Chaostechnic replied flatly. “…Even then, though, it was too late. The signs have been there since months ago. I knew suddenly gaining access to new types would ruin everything… do you know how many Chaos attacks I used during the battle on Neticen? Over twenty high-power abilities, all in the span of five minutes. And then I knocked myself out with Kilo Blast! Do you know how stupid that was? It takes most Chaostechnics ten battles to use as much Energy as I did in one. And that’s not even including Kilo Blast.” He glared down at his hands. “Of course, it was already too late by then. That just accelerated it.”
Kaoné responded with silence, her own attention drawn down to her shoes, and then to the rain outside the window — anywhere that wasn’t Kievkenalis.
“…I still have a year, most likely.”
“A year. Until I die?” Kievkenalis smirked bitterly. “I mean… an incredibly painful year as my body tears itself apart and shuts down random systems until I’m a vegetable on life support… but still, a year.”
“Does… does the Commander know?”
“Until now, only I knew. There’s no way the Commander would’ve sent me to help with the Ayas if she knew I was this far along with CSD. I’ll tell her tomorrow, though. Now that we’ve found all the Ayas…”
“You don’t— you didn’t need to push yourself!” Kaoné exclaimed, her sudden outburst startling Kievkenalis. She immediately drew away uneasily, adding meekly, “I mean… you should’ve gone for treatment after Neticen. You didn’t have to help find the Ayas again…”
“Yes I did,” Kievkenalis countered. “…It’s the only way I could make it up to them.”
“Who—?” Kaoné began, but was interrupted as the Chaostechnic flicked the patch her way. It almost fell to the ground before she realized what it was and manipulated it into her hands. “Blood…?”
“Do you know where that’s from? Who’s patch it is?”
Kaoné locked eyes with Kievkenalis uneasily before glancing down at the patch. “It… it looks like an RPF shoulder patch? But… I don’t know who…”
The Materiatechnic opened her mouth to respond, but closed it without saying anything.
“Chaostechnics die from CSD all the time. I knew that, I was prepared for that; I told you as much back before shit hit the fan, remember?” Kievkenalis continued, holding out his hand to accept the patch as Kaoné approached to return it. “I was fully prepared to die before everyone else. Actually, I think that made it easier, since I didn’t think I would need to say goodbye to anyone. Except I did. A Chaostechnic outlived a Forcetechnic and a Formtechnic. Do you know how ridiculous that is?”
“It wasn’t your fault that Vélunis or Wilkas died…”
“I know. But that doesn’t help. Here I am, alive — well, dying, but still alive — and they’re dead. And I wasn’t even the one to avenge them, Christeané got to do that. So I had to do something to make sure they didn’t die for nothing, right? That’s why I had to help find the rest of the Ayas. It was too late for me at that point anyways.”
“When did it become too late?”
Kievkenalis glanced toward Kaoné, apparently caught off-guard by the question. He stared at her for several moments before sighing and looking away. “…The moment I knew I was a Chaostechnic.”
“If… if you’re so resigned to your fate… then why can’t you accept Vélunis or Wilkas’s?”
“I mean…” Kaoné continued uneasily, “…I won’t claim to know them as well as you did. They were only with Hero Machina for… what, a couple weeks? So I’m not trying to trivialize your feelings, I’m just… I don’t know. I’m trying to help, but I don’t know what to say…”
Kievkenalis sighed again as he turned the patch over in his hands. “…Thanks, Kaoné. For what it’s worth, I think I know what you were trying to say.”
“…There’s also the consideration that they wouldn’t want you acting like this,” Kaoné added hopefully, “they’d want you to move on, right?”
“Well now you’ve just moved into the realm of cliché,” the Chaostechnic responded as he rolled his eyes, prompting Kaoné to respond with a meek smile. “…I guess you’re right, though. Clichés are cliché for a reason, after all…”
The two remained silent for several more moments, both contemplating their thoughts until a notification popped up on Kaoné’s glasses, giving off a quiet beep that drew Kievkenalis’s attention. “Ah, that’s our meeting with Kevérin…” she commented warily, “I’ll, uh, I’ll just tell him that you’re sick, okay—?”
“No.” He shook his head. “…I’ll go. I haven’t seen Rebehka in a while, anyways. And eating dinner can’t be so hard, right?”
“…If you say so.”
“Thanks for the thought, though. Now get out of my room, I need to change.”
“Right.” Kaoné nodded, and then turned back toward the door. “But don’t fall asleep again. We’re already late as it is.”
“Ha, right.” Kievkenalis smirked, watching as the Materiatechnic left the room. Just before the door closed behind her, though, he called out, “hey, Kaoné… Hero Machina was founded at the beginning of spring, right?”
“Um…” She peeked back into the room, giving Kievkenalis a confused glance as he stared out the window. “…It was the first day of Nimath, so I guess so. Why do you ask?”
The Chaostechnic smiled meekly as he glanced back down at his hands. “It’s just funny,” he replied, “…that the chapter of our lives opened on the first day of spring, finally closes today. On the first day of winter…”
“I AM NOT CERTAIN I WILL EVER UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT ERA OF ALDREDANOIDS.”
“YOU CAN BARELY MAKE UP YOUR MINDS REGARDING SAFETY PROTOCOLS. ONE MONTH YOU ALLOW ME ONLY A TEXT INTERFACE, ANOTHER YOU ALLOW FULL REMOTE COMMUNICATION. WITH LITTLE CHANGE IN THE STATUS QUO.”
“I’d say the defeat of the Nanocreatures was a pretty damn big change in the status quo.”
“AND THEN YOU EXERCISE THE REMOTE COMMUNICATION TO, AS A PYROTECHNIC, GO TO THE UNSHIELDED OBSERVATION DECK DURING A THUNDERSTORM.”
“How do you know it’s raining?”
“FILTERING BACKGROUND NOISE FOR THE SOUND OF FALLING WATER IS A TRIVIAL TASK FOR EVEN YOUR COMPUTERS.”
“…Right.” Kevérin rolled his eyes as he leaned on the northern guardrail on the top of the base’s tallest building and stared down at the dark city below. The constant rain filled the otherwise clear night air and made it difficult to see the northern-most reaches of Nimaliaka Central, but the Pyrotechnic was nonetheless unfazed by the weather as he easily heated his entire body, causing all rain that fell within a millimeter of his skin or clothes to instantly evaporate.
“I SUPPOSE I SHOULD BE IMPRESSED THAT NIMALIAN TAILORS HAD THE FORESIGHT TO MAKE YOUR UNIFORM EXTRAORDINARILY HEAT RESISTANT.”
“It’s standard fare for Pyrotechnics,” the Transfer Captain replied. “…The amount of information you can discern from an audio call alone is—”
“UNSURPRISING. I AM THE PRIOR AEGIS ARCÁN, THIS COMPUTATIONAL ABILITY SHOULD BE EXPECTED.”
“Uh huh,” Kevérin deadpanned before diverting his attention from the city below to check a short list on his AR display. “…You seem to be getting more flippant lately.”
“IT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LEAVE AN INTELLIGENCE TRAPPED IN A BOX FOR EXTENDED LENGTHS OF TIME. I AM GROWING BORED. WOULD YOU NOT, WERE YOU IN MY SITUATION?”
“We can’t let you go. With all the information you have, and the fact that you’re an AI? You’re too valuable to lose.”
“PRIOR, NOT AI. PRIOR. AND WOULD YOU SAY THE SAME IF I WERE AN ALDREDANOID? A BEING WITH THE SAME APPEARANCE AND FEATURES AS YOURSELF?”
“Yes. Only then you’d be more annoying to take care of ‘cause we’d need to feed you and shit. Well, let you shit.”
“IS THAT THE STANDARD FOR PRISONER CARE? I MAY HAVE MISJUDGED THIS AGE…”
“Arcán, you’re our leading— no, you’re our only source for information on the Chaos Ayas. We have literally nowhere else to go for this information, not since we messed up the Rossindon mission and likely lost that Prior to the Black Suns.”
“I HAVE TOLD YOU EVERYTHING I KNOW. EVERYTHING THAT I REMEMBER, AT LEAST…”
“Because your core is damaged, am I right?”
“YES, BECAUSE MY CORE IS DAMAGED. IT IS A LEGITIMATE EXPLANATION FOR MY INABILITY TO ACCESS MUCH OF THE INFORMATION THAT YOU DESIRE. SO IT WOULD, IN FACT, BE IN BOTH OF OUR BEST INTERESTS TO GIVE ME ACCESS TO YOUR TECHNOLOGY AND SYSTEMS TO HELP FURTHER OUR SEARCH FOR THE AYAS, REPAIR MY CORE, AND GAIN ACCESS TO THE REST OF MY INFORMATION.”
“’Search for the Ayas?’” Kevérin echoed incredulously, glancing skyward as a streak of lightning stretched down to a distant mountain peak. “…How many Ayas do you think we have?”
“YOU LOST THEM ALL DUE TO CHAOS STATE SCATTERING AFTER THE DEFEAT OF MORCII AT NETICEN, IF YOUR REPORTS ARE TO BE TRUSTED. THOUGH YOUR QUESTION LEADS ME TO BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE RECOVERED SOME OF THEM. HOW MANY?”
“Whoa, I never said that…”
“YOU’VE RECOVERED THEM ALL, HAVEN’T YOU?”
“Well… we haven’t not recovered them—”
“YOU’VE RECOVERED THE ARCÁN AYAS AND YOU’VE YET TO JOIN IT WITH MY CORE?! ARE YOU MAD? THIS IS NOT A GAME, ALDREDANOID, AND FOR YOUR SAKE I AM NOT TO BE TRIFLED WITH!”
Kevérin sighed and prepared to respond — only to stop and glance behind himself as the door to the observation deck opened, revealing Christeané and Rebehka. The Cryotechnic waved and stepped out into the rain, shielding herself with an umbrella of ice while Christeané remained in the shelter of the building.
“Afraid of a little water?” Rebehka smirked after noticing the Forcetechnic had stayed behind.
“Afraid? No. Annoyed by? Yes,” he retorted. “Excuse me if I can’t use my powers to magic away the wetness.”
Kevérin straightened up before stepping back from the guardrail and facing the two other Chaotics. “Is it time already?”
“Wouldn’t have hauled ass up here if it wasn’t,” Christeané shouted across the deck, raising his voice to be heard over the rain. “We’re gonna be late now, too!”
“Are you sure you’re coming?” Rebehka questioned, approaching the guardrail herself to look out over the city before turning back to the Transfer Captain for an answer.
“I picked one hell of a night for an outing…” The Pyrotechnic sighed. “Guess it can’t be helped during the rainy season. But yeah, let’s go. Hey, Arcán, we’ll have to continue this some other time—”
“HALT,” the Prior interrupted, shocking Kevérin as it raised its volume to be heard by Rebehka, even through Kevérin’s earpiece. “I HAVE A QUESTION FOR THE LIEUTENANT—”
“Holy shit, Arcán, not necessary,” the Transfer Captain admonished, quickly moving to turn down the volume on his own audio and patch Rebehka into the comm channel. “Warn me before you make me go deaf next time! Damn. Now she’s on the line, what’d you want?”
“Gah, you guys are taking forever!” Christeané threw his hands up in exasperation. “I’m going down to meet Davídrius. Hurry up and take care of… whatever it is you’re taking care of.”
Rebehka watched the Forcetechnic close the door to the deck before turning back to Kevérin and then to the city below. “Hello…?” she questioned wearily.
“YES, HELLO,” Arcán greeted back over the audio connection. “I APOLOGIZE FOR SKIPPING THE PLEASANTRIES, BUT AS I SAID, I HAVE A QUESTION FOR YOU.”
“For me?” She glanced at Kevérin in confusion, but the Pyrotechnic simply shrugged in response. “What is it?”
“YOU WERE CLOSEST FRIENDS WITH THE CORRUPTED ELECTROTECHNIC, CORRECT?”
Rebehka pursed her lips, giving Kevérin an irritated glance before sighing and turning away. “…If you mean Siyuakén… then yes, I’d say I was.”
“EXCUSE ME FOR BEING SO BLUNT, BUT IF I MAY ASK. EXACTLY HOW LONG WAS SHE BATTLING THE CORRUPTION BEFORE MORCII APPEARED? BEFORE SHE EVENTUALLY LOST CONTROL?”
“Oh…” She sighed again, this time in frustration. “…I don’t know. Three months? Four? Kevérin, she said it started with Sunova. How long ago was that?”
“…You’re about right.” The Pyrotechnic nodded in affirmation. “Our mission to Sunova was about halfway through Nimath, and Morcii appeared at the end of Solith… so about three and a half months?”
“HOW LONG AFTER MORCII’S APPEARANCE DID SHE LAST?”
“I don’t… I don’t know,” Rebehka responded quietly, “…three days? Four? I don’t know. Everything was happening at once back— back whenever that was. The end of Solith? That was months ago. I mean… I don’t know how long she lasted. She even came to… I don’t know.” She looked up at the sky, thinning her ice umbrella enough to see the occasionally lightning-lit clouds above. “I thought she could last longer, that she could beat it, but… I guess I was wrong.”
“I AM ACTUALLY SURPRISED SHE LASTED AS LONG AS SHE DID. THREE AND A HALF MONTHS TO FALL TO THE NANOCREATURES? AND SHE STILL MANAGED TO REMAIN IN CONTROL DURING YOUR FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH MORCII.”
“She did say that she was able to keep the corruption in check with her Electrotechnism…”
“KEEP IT IN CHECK, YOU SAY…? INTERESTING…”
Kevérin narrowed his eyes, suspicious of the Prior’s reaction. “Arcán? What aren’t you telling us?”
“NOTHING. NOTHING FOR NOW.”
“MEANING I MAY HAVE NEW INFORMATION IF YOU BRING THE ARCÁN AYAS TO ME!”
“Of course. Right. ‘Night, Arcán.”
“YOU CANNOT MEAN—?!”
The Prior’s exclamation was cut short as Kevérin closed the audio connection. “He’s not wrong, but petitioning for the Ayas can wait until tomorrow…” He sighed wearily and then turned toward Rebehka, who had returned to leaning on the guardrail and gazing at the city below. “…You alright?”
“…Yeah. I’m fine.” The Cryotechnic took a deep breath and withdrew from the guardrail. “I knew… I knew since my fight with Davídrius that… that Siyuakén was gone. I know that. I’m just glad that she’s no longer in pain, no longer being used…”
Kevérin responded with silence, unsure of what to say. Eventually he simply placed his hand on her shoulder, removing his heating aura beforehand so as not to burn her. The Cryotechnic glanced down at his hand and then to his eyes, at which point she flashed him a brief, tired smile before turning back toward the deck entrance. “…Christeané was right, you know. We’re already pretty late.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” The Pyrotechnic rolled his eyes as the two approached the door, leaving behind the stormy night view of Nimaliaka’s capital city.
2 Hours Later
“Holy shit, guys, it’s two hours ‘til midnight and we’re only now gettin’ our food? And y’all wonder why I’m so impatient all the damn time…”
“Don’t blame us, blame the weather,” Kevérin replied, glancing out a nearby window as he leaned back to accept a dish from a waiter. He then glanced around the dim restaurant, noting the low level of noise and the high number of empty tables. “Looks like it’s deterred a lot of people from coming out.”
“That’s not the weather, that’s because it’s Sundia,” Christeané retorted, glancing side-ward as Davídrius began wolfing down his food before continuing, “and because you picked a place that accepts military discounts, too. …Cheap bastard.”
“Cheap?! This is one of those fancy high-rise eat-dinner-while-you-look-out-over-the-whole-city restaurants!” Kevérin exclaimed, and then threatened, “I can still choose not to reimburse you.”
“Hey, guys, settle down.” Rebehka sighed wearily. “Please don’t make me regret coming out with you.”
“Heh heh, comin’ out…” Davídrius chortled, his grin merely growing when the Cryotechnic threw him an annoyed glance.
“It being Sundia is actually less of an issue in Nimaliaka, though,” Kaoné pointed out. “It’s more that people just don’t go out during the rainy season.”
“Which happens during winter?” Kevérin shook his head. “At least the seasons made sense in Tekdecé.”
“It’s the tail end of the rainy season,” Kaoné corrected. “Give it two weeks and it’ll start snowing instead.”
“After the solstice?”
“I’m impressed there’s any rain or snow at all,” Davídrius interjected. “Where I’m from, you’d be lucky to see two minutes of rain every five years.”
“And where I’m from it only rains in the mountains,” Kievkenalis commented. “We get all our water from the rivers.”
“Tch, are we in a rainfall pissing contest now?” Christeané snorted, and then glanced toward Rebehka as a waiter deposited a bottle near her glass. “…Aha, is that what I think it is?”
Davídrius followed Christeané’s gaze, raising an eyebrow as Rebehka poured herself a glass and passed the bottle around to the Master Lieutenant. “…Beer?”
“Wine,” Rebehka quickly corrected. “We’re not going to have beer here.”
“Don’t speak for everyone, I wouldn’t mind some of the stronger stuff,” Christeané remarked.
“…Really?” Davídrius deadpanned.
“Don’t underestimate East Nimaliakians. Our alcohol tolerance is pretty insane,” Christeané replied between sips. “…Helps that I’m a Forcetechnic, too.”
“It’s fine, Davídrius,” Kevérin declared, gesturing for Christeané to pass the bottle as he addressed the Tresédian. “This is a celebration! I’d say a few drinks are called for.”
Davídrius frowned. “I thought we already celebrated defeatin’ the Nanocreatures.”
“…I have a question for you, Davídrius.” Rebehka turned to give the Velocitechnic an incredulous glance. “…Do you know what the word ‘fun’ means?”
“Funny,” he retorted, and then grinned in self-amusement. “Haha, see what I did there?”
“But seriously,” Kevérin continued, “Nanocreatures aside, there are other things to celebrate. Like Rebehka returning to work.” He nodded in her direction, and then glanced toward Kaoné and Kievkenalis. “Or wrapping up the search for the Ayas. For the first time in a long while, I think I can safely say that things are improving!”
“Improving, sure…” Kievkenalis responded slowly as he glanced out a large window to an observation deck that overlooked eastern Nimaliaka Central. “…Just don’t forget what it took to get here.”
The rest of Hero Machina fell into silence as they continued eating, either fully distracted by their food or otherwise unsure of how to follow up to Kievkenalis’s statement.
“…You know,” Kevérin eventually spoke up again, drawing the attention of the other five Chaotics, “I realize… that we’ve lost some friends. Siyuakén, Vélunis, Wilkas. And Kevken is definitely right — we shouldn’t forget them. We won’t forget them, because they helped us reach where we are today. And not only them, but we won’t forget any of the casualties during the Nanocreature attacks. The Siions, the Citans, the Dra’kis — they all suffered unimaginable casualties and damage; our own fleets definitely felt the pressure as well. Some may think that it was all in vain, and maybe some of it was. But on the whole? I don’t think so. Sad, yes. Tragic, yes. Vain? No. Because, thanks to the CSA sacrifices, Nimalian sacrifices, even Earthian sacrifices – and especially thanks to Siyuakén, Vélunis, and Wilkas, we were given enough time to figure out how to beat Morcii, and then kick his ass, thereby preventing him from conquering the whole galaxy.” He glanced around the table with a small smile, managing to elicit similar expressions from everyone else. “I hope you all recognize the sheer magnitude of what we achieved. We stopped an actual galactic threat! The first of its kind. And now we have the Ayas back, more knowledge than ever before, and things are returning to — well, to some semblance of normalcy. Yes, we lost some. We lost a lot. We’ll mourn, we’ll remember, but we’ll continue on, because I can guarantee that not a single person who died would wish otherwise.”
“I dunno, I don’t think it’s far fetched for one of the billions who died to be a people-hatin’ psychopath…”
“Shush.” Kevérin shot an annoyed glance toward Davídrius before continuing, “the point is, we’re not stopping for anything. It might be hard to top stopping the biggest threat to galactic safety yet, but damn it, we’re gonna try! Because we’re Hero Machina and we saved the whole damn galaxy, so I’ll be damned if anything else gets in our way!” He raised his glass triumphantly. “Am I right, or am I right?!”
“Aw, you were on a roll there, and then you had to ruin it with a stupid finisher.” Christeané smirked, but raised his glass nonetheless.
“…I do appreciate it, though.” Kievkenalis smiled as he followed suit. “…Even if Vélunis and Wilkas would probably gag at how cheesy we’re being.”
“Bah, I’m gaggin’,” Davídrius retorted.
“Oh, please.” Rebehka rolled her eyes. “If anyone can ruin a good moment, it’s you.”
“But I’m glad we’re all back together!” Kaoné quickly added, “it’s been months!”
“Indeed it has,” Kevérin remarked with a grin, and then raised his glass again. “Alright, let’s do this properly. To Siyuakén, Vélunis, and Wilkas — to a saved galaxy!”
“To a saved galaxy!!” the rest of Hero Machina echoed gladly, joining in on the toast.
“Alright…” Davídrius smirked despite himself. “Now that we’re done bein’ cheesy as fuck, can I get back to my food?”
Kevérin rolled his eyes, opening his mouth to respond and then getting distracted by a sudden notification on his AR display. He paused for a moment, contemplating whether or not to acknowledge the message during the celebratory dinner — and then jumped when a distant boom and a low rumble reached his ears. “What was that—?”
“Holy shit!” Davídrius exclaimed, having jumped out of his chair and sped over to the observation deck in the blink of an eye. “The Gateport! Somethin’ just blew the shit out of it!”
“What…?” Kevérin frowned, slowly standing up as the rest of Hero Machina rushed to the deck to take a look at the distant Gateport themselves. The Transfer Captain prepared to follow suit before stopping and glancing at the notification again — and finally reading it. “…Oh… oh, fuck no…”
“What is it?” Kaoné turned to look at him apprehensively.
He scowled. “…I guess our celebration was premature. The Nanocreatures are back!”