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Healing Light (Exalted/ Modern World AU)

Accelerator

Well-known member
Author
I'm aware how painful rewriting can be. It's also very demoralizing, and can often result in a stalled project.

But if I were to summarize the key issue with the story so far? I'd say it's the lack of personality. There's plenty of events yes, but character interactions and viewpoints are limited and when they do appear, they come off as flat. Closer to reading off a script than feeling it. Action tends to be a bit on the flat side as well for the same reason.

Here, I'll give you an example of something I've reworked before. The interactions here were less of a problem, but it did need some work to improve the narrative flow. It'll give you an idea of what I do.

Original
"Damn. Nothing but thick forests down here," Adam muttered to himself, flying over a wide open green area surrounded by mountains as he and the two Type-F Spectres accompanying him were heading toward Tokyo.

Every city, town and village in what was once Gunma Prefecture was no where to be seen. Nature had finally taken over all modern structures made of bricks, cement and metal, decaying them over time before covering the area with thick vegetation. Everything he saw below him was totally unrecognizable compared to what he remembered. It was a slightly depressing yet humbling feeling for him to see all of this.

Adam sighed somberly before focusing his sight on the HUD.

EVANS created a flight path in his HUD, guiding the Lancer out of this region before leading him to his destination. Since thousands of years had passed since Project Endurance began, it would make sense that all modern satellites in orbit had ran out of fuel. After the fuel was used, they could not keep their orbit in position and the satellites would run off course, becoming useless and drifted away into space forever.

Without GPS or any satellite-based communication system, they had to rely on old records and maps to find their way to the city. It was better than flying blind anyway,
"We're approaching maximum communication range between the Javelin and the bunker in five minutes. My subroutine copy will take over from here soon," EVANS declared from inside his helmet. Adam detected a tinge of sadness from the AI's synthetic voice.

The original plan for the Endurance bunkers did not include construction of long range communication towers and beacons. This was to maintain absolute secrecy and prevent leaks of the site locations from reaching the Legion, thus ensuring Endurance's success should Project Gestalt failed.

"Would your lesser copy do his job as great as yours, EVANS?" Adam joked.

"It won't be great, yet still good enough to provide adequate tactical support for the entire duration of your mission," EVANS answered. "Or as Doctor Okazaki put it and I quote: 'babysitting your moronic ass'."

Adam laughed breathlessly. The way EVANS unironically delivered the curse on the Lancer with his monotonous voice was priceless. "Hanako asked you to say that to me, didn't she?"

"While you were changing into your BDU back in the bunker, yes."

"Ah, EVANS..." Adam became silent for a moment, his joyful smile slowly changed into a slightly sad one. "You've grown so much, aren't ya?"

"It's all thanks to you and everyone in the bunker," the AI replied, appreciative of his praise.

Adam felt an ache in his chest, knowing that he would be separated from him indefinitely until his job was done. Even though he would be carrying out the mission with a subroutine version of EVANS, it still felt not quite the same for him. Especially after living in the bunker for ten years with the highly advanced AI. Right now, he was not sure if he could keep doing this without going mad, only due to the lack of proper social interaction with the closest thing of a human being in this godforsaken world.

"I'll see you again, EVANS. Take care of everyone back there, buddy."

"Understood. I wish you best of luck, Adam. EVANS-Main Program out."

Rework
"Damn. Nothing but forests down there," Adam muttered to himself, flying over the green expanse as he and the two escort Spectres headed towards Tokyo, the only break from vegetation being the mountains that bracketed the area.

Every city, town and village in the former Gunma Prefecture was nowhere to be seen. Nature had overtaken every last man made structure, the decayed mounds of brick, cement and steel buried under a thick bed of vegetation. There wasn't anything recognizable compared to his memories. It was a depressing and humbling feeling for him to see all of this.

Adam sighed somberly before focusing his sight on the HUD.

EVANS had drafted a flight path on the display, providing the best estimate for bearings and markers that should have led to his destination. It wasn't his preferred choice, but it wasn't like there was a better option. Not with the thousands of years that had passed since Project Endurance had begun. Most of the satellites would have long since fallen from orbit once their fuel was expended. Anything left up there in higher orbit would be a dead hulk, their systems burned out after a millennia of hard radiation.

With satellite options out of the question, they had to rely on literally millennia old maps and dead reckoning to find their way to the city. Not ideal, but better than flying blind anyway.

"We are approaching maximum communication range with the bunker in five minutes. A subroutine gestalt will take over from here soon," EVANS declared from inside his helmet, the synthetic voice carrying what Adam suspected was a tinge of sadness.

"Would your lesser copy do its job as well as you have, EVANS?" He joked.

"It will not be as capable, but sufficient to provide adequate tactical support for the entire duration of your mission," was the AI's response. "Or as Doctor Okazaki would say: 'babysitting your moronic ass'."

Adam chuckled. The way EVANS delivered unironic curses on the Lancer with his monotonous voice never failed to get a rise out of him. "Hanako asked you to say that to me, didn't she?"

"While you were changing into your BDU back in the bunker, yes."

"Ah, EVANS..." Adam became silent for a moment, his smile slowly changed into a slightly sad one. "You've grown so much, haven't you?"

"It is all thanks to you and the others in the bunker," the AI replied, appreciation clear in its voice.

Adam felt an ache in his chest, knowing that he would be out of contact with the AI for as long as the job would take. Ten years of living in the bunker with EVAN's omnipresence had accustomed him to the idea of the intelligence always being just a single word away. The subroutine intelligence it could spawn just wasn't the same. The limited personality matrices the lesser gestalts had were no replacement for actual sapience. And certainly no substitute at staving off the loneliness and isolation he was certain to face in this godforsaken world for the duration of his mission. But needs must...

"I'll see you again, EVANS. Take care of everyone back there, buddy."

"Understood. I wish you best of luck, Adam. EVANS-Main out."
So what you're saying... is that the details I put inside....

Ok, look. I'm trying to put this as best as I can. Because to me, the difference between both sections are pretty much tiny. The only thing I really noticed are the slight differences in description of the fate of the satellites, and the inner monologue on why the A.I. is different.
 
So what you're saying... is that the details I put inside....

Ok, look. I'm trying to put this as best as I can. Because to me, the difference between both sections are pretty much tiny. The only thing I really noticed are the slight differences in description of the fate of the satellites, and the inner monologue on why the A.I. is different.
That was a very small part of what I did. There are some parts where I excised multiple paragraphs due to how they didn't do anything but break narrative flow.

The later action scenes were subject to the heaviest editing in order to match desired tension to actual writing.

I haven't put them up out of semi-professional consideration, but give me a bit. I'll go ask the original author if I can use the rest of both cases to highlight the difference.
 
Ok, got the go ahead.

"Damn. Nothing but thick forests down here," Adam muttered to himself, flying over a wide open green area surrounded by mountains as he and the two Type-F Spectres accompanying him were heading toward Tokyo.

Every city, town and village in what was once Gunma Prefecture was no where to be seen. Nature had finally taken over all modern structures made of bricks, cement and metal, decaying them over time before covering the area with thick vegetation. Everything he saw below him was totally unrecognizable compared to what he remembered. It was a slightly depressing yet humbling feeling for him to see all of this.

Adam sighed somberly before focusing his sight on the HUD.

EVANS created a flight path in his HUD, guiding the Lancer out of this region before leading him to his destination. Since thousands of years had passed since Project Endurance began, it would make sense that all modern satellites in orbit had ran out of fuel. After the fuel was used, they could not keep their orbit in position and the satellites would run off course, becoming useless and drifted away into space forever.

Without GPS or any satellite-based communication system, they had to rely on old records and maps to find their way to the city. It was better than flying blind anyway,

"We're approaching maximum communication range between the Javelin and the bunker in five minutes. My subroutine copy will take over from here soon," EVANS declared from inside his helmet. Adam detected a tinge of sadness from the AI's synthetic voice.

The original plan for the Endurance bunkers did not include construction of long range communication towers and beacons. This was to maintain absolute secrecy and prevent leaks of the site locations from reaching the Legion, thus ensuring Endurance's success should Project Gestalt failed. [Anything more I should put here?]

"Would your lesser copy do his job as great as yours, EVANS?" Adam joked.

"It won't be great, yet still good enough to provide adequate tactical support for the entire duration of your mission," EVANS answered. "Or as Doctor Okazaki put it and I quote: 'babysitting your moronic ass'."

Adam laughed breathlessly. The way EVANS unironically delivered the curse on the Lancer with his monotonous voice was priceless. "Hanako asked you to say that to me, didn't she?"

"While you were changing into your BDU back in the bunker, yes."

"Ah, EVANS..." Adam became silent for a moment, his joyful smile slowly changed into a slightly sad one. "You've grown so much, aren't ya?"

"It's all thanks to you and everyone in the bunker," the AI replied, appreciative of his praise.

Adam felt an ache in his chest, knowing that he would be separated from him indefinitely until his job was done. Even though he would be carrying out the mission with a subroutine version of EVANS, it still felt not quite the same for him. Especially after living in the bunker for ten years with the highly advanced AI. Right now, he was not sure if he could keep doing this without going mad, only due to the lack of proper social interaction with the closest thing of a human being in this godforsaken world.

"I'll see you again, EVANS. Take care of everyone back there, buddy."

"Understood. I wish you best of luck, Adam. EVANS-Main Program out."

Soon after he said that, the small avatar in the HUD's upper right corner changed from an undulating blue orb to a solid ball with a cerulean shade and pixel dot texture on its surface. Looking at EVANS-Subroutine's avatar, it did not evoke the same good sense of camaraderie that Adam felt earlier with EVANS-Main Program. It just felt hollow... and meaningless than before.

Still, if he could survive fighting hundreds of Legionaries for three days with nothing but his Storm Javelin, raw magic and a pair of fists, why not endure a few weeks of having an emotionless artificial intelligence with limited learning capability as his companion? He could imagine every long conversation he would have with EVANS-Subroutine be dull and no less irritating.

"How far is Tokyo now, EVANS?" Adam asked.

"Approximately 100 kilometers left," EVANS-Subroutine answered. The voice of the "inferior" copy was completely toneless, devoid of any tinge of expression. "We will arrive in 1 hour and 12 minutes if we maintain our current flight speed."

"Alright," he sighed, it was going to take a while for him to reach the city. There was not much he could do for more than an hour. Listening to songs or watching movies in the Javelin all by himself would bored him quickly anyway. "EVANS, take over the flight for me, would ya? I'm gonna get some shut-eye for a while. Wake me up if you find something odd in visuals, scans and radar."

"Affirmative."

Adam was not used to sleep while flying in autopilot inside a Javelin suit. The lack of something soft or solid to rest on his back, along with his current body position made the nap a little awkward and uncomfortable. At least the suit's temperature regulation system would keep him warm within. He closed his eyes anyways, in an attempt to fall asleep.

Unless he would get hit by a bird, he doubt there would be anything unusual to wake him up. Not when the entire planet was ruined beyond recognition.

========================================================================================================

"AHHH!!!"

Adam cried out, his peaceful rest was rudely interrupted by a warning alarm went off, which directly followed by a rough jolt of his body via the Javelin suit, darted to the side just in time as a blast of red energy shot out from far away ahead of him. Before the Lancer could ask EVANS about what just happened, the Javelin suddenly moved itself again, performing a barrel roll to dodge another energy beam fired at him from at a distance. Two more were fired at the accompanying Spectres but they managed to evade them as a result of the AI's control on the drones.

"EVANS, what the hell?!" Adam shouted as soon as he was in a stable flight position. He knew EVANS-Subroutine would never take over the suit's physical control system unless it was a life-or-death situation for the Lancer. Still, he had to know why.

"We are being attacked by unknown hostiles firing high-intensity laser beams from beyond visual range," EVANS calmly explained.

Unknown hostiles? Laser beams? He thought, surprised that there were someone out here in this ruined land having such advanced weaponry and was able to target him from long distance.

Furthermore, Adam did not remember anyone from UNC forces back during the Legion War using laser weaponry of that scale. That could mean not only there was a technologically advanced group of humans still alive in this world, but also either Project Endurance or Gestalt was a success. It was very likely these people were mistaking him as a hostile or their automated defense system that was responsible for this.

As his mind was working overtime trying to piece together the situation he was in, EVANS quickly chimed in.

"Laser emission detected. Evade. Evade."

Adam hastily sent a signal to the Storm Javelin with his implant. The entire suit instantly glowed with bright magical blue aura as he teleported himself away at short distance, just as a beam of high energy streamed past a few metres next to him.

"Damn it!" He cursed, this attack was starting to annoy him. "EVANS, do we have visuals on the hostiles firing at us?"

"We do now," the AI proclaimed.

Soon afterwards, a small screen popped up in the right side of his HUD, finally revealing the attackers before him via the suit's built-in long range camera.

What Adam saw in the screen was not he was expecting. Dozens of hunchbacked mannequin-like rusted robots sat upon an equal number of flying metal pillboxes, the contraptions held aloft by what seemed to be turbofan engines bolted to the bottom while the top mounted a heavy weapon. And all of them were focused on him, twin red circles that served as eyes locked onto his position.

"Are those... drones?" Adam asked, disbelieving at what he saw. Those machines' overall design looked crude, ridiculous yet simplistic.

"Unknown. However, there are no records of UNC or any human military organization had drones similar to the ones before us," EVANS said. "It is likely they were developed much later when Project Endurance was running."

"How far are they from us?"

"Three and a half kilometers and closing."

"The fuck?" He was stunned that those machines had a better targeting system than what the Javelin and the Spectres were having now.

Right after Adam cursed at the revelation, one of the robots aimed its gun at him and the Javelin's laser warning system instantly blared out in his helmet. The Lancer promptly carried out another ethereal dodge, where he narrowly evaded a crimson lance of energy streaking past a couple of metres where he was flying. Those robots were becoming accurate in their aiming. Adam cursed again; one more shot and it would eventually hit his shields. He had no plans of testing the Storm's Kinesis Shield against laser beams of such power.

"It doesn't matter, EVANS. We're gonna take these bastards down before they'll do us the same!" Adam told the AI. "EVANS, how's our Spectres?"

"No damage detected on the Spectres. Performance is at optimal level and they are ready for combat," EVANS replied.

Each Spectre drone soon appear in Adam's peripheral vision, armed with assault rifles in their hands as they flew side by side with him toward the hostile flying robots. The missile launcher boxes on the drones' back were primed and ready to fire on the Lancer's command.

"EVANS, connect the Spectres' missile targeting system to my HUD," Adam ordered, the HUD in his helmet began locking onto the faraway prey, indicated by twelve small diamonds that started off green. "Okay, after you fire the missiles, disperse and engage any targets of opportunity immediately. We're gonna divide and destroy those rustbuckets. Wait for my command."

Right after he ordered the AI, each of his hand swiftly engulfed in frost particles and blazing flame respectively. The flying hostile robots were gradually becoming bigger in the Lancer's HUD, the small diamonds in the screen turned yellow as the trio were closing the distance. Those machines without a doubt possessed better range and target tracking advantages over the Javelin and the Spectres. They needed to close the gap between the robots and hoping that their mobility, EVANS' tactical support and the Storm's elemental attacks would give them an edge.

As soon as they were 500 meters away from the robots, he acquired solid lock on the targets and a continuous beeping sound rang in the helmet as the diamonds in his HUD changed to red.

"FIRE!"

A volley of six missiles were launched from each Spectre's two missile launcher boxes mounted on their backs. Twelve fiery trails streaked across the sky and maneuvered themselves to align with their rusted machine targets. Fire exploded in the sky as the missiles struck home and all twelve robots were blown to pieces immediately, while the rest of them were heading toward the trio.

Both Spectres dispersed, each flew in the direction of the robots' flanks while the Storm was making for the centre of the group.

The Javelin then stopped in mid-air, swiftly drew his right arm back before swinging it forward. Several globes of Bose-Einstein condensate shot out from his rime-covered hand, hitting a number of robots and smothered their entire metal surface with frost.

He quickly thrust his flaming left hand forward and a large orb of fire shot forward like a blazing comet. When the fireball impacted his frozen target at the centre, it exploded in a spectacular fashion. The nearby frost-covered robots that got caught in the blast radius triggered a chain reaction where all of them blew up instantaneously. The massive explosion created a powerful shockwave with metal debris traveling fast at every direction, inflicting significant damage to other unfortunate machines within reach.

Several robots fell out of the sky immediately, while five of them had gashes with missing metal parts on their body, along with black smoke trailing from their engines as they struggled to keep themselves hovering in the air. Never gave up to eliminate their target, the damaged robots and some of the unscathed ones aimed their guns at the Storm, firing multiple crimson energy orbs.

The orbs traveled significantly slower than old propellant-based pistol rounds, allowing the elemental caster to evade them easily. It was likely the energy orbs would inflict greater harm upon him than the laser beams, if their dark red color was any indication. The Lancer would rather not take any chance of testing his shields against them as well. Adam took an assault rifle off from his left waist and fired a stream of magnetically accelerated bullets into the onrushing group of flying robots.

8.6 mm slugs bored through their metal plates with ease, though the first two undamaged machines took a little longer to be put down than the damaged ones. Another robot flew toward him and it blasted away many crimson globes with its gun, forcing Adam to flew above it and quickly fired a single bullet at the robot's spherical head. The machine froze in mid-air and fell to the forest below.

One of the Spectres headed straight to another group of flying robots. As the hostiles fired their weapons at the oncoming mech, the AI-controlled Spectre performed a barrel roll, evaded much of the energy orbs. As an artificial intelligence, EVANS' reflexes were faster than that of most humans. As the Spectre fired its thrusters and began flying sideways, EVANS pointed its assault rifle at them from the hip and dispatched six machines with short yet precise bursts in rapid succession within less than five seconds.

At the same time, another Spectre flew in the direction of another group of machines. As the robots started firing their guns, the flight-based drone mech leveled off at 45 degree angle before firing its assault rifle. Three flying machines, riddled with bullet holes, were dropping from the sky. The Spectre then quickly descended, letting the energy orbs flew past above it before advancing. As soon as it was directly below the robots, the drone mech turned around and pointed its right arm at them, fired a high-explosive projectile from its wrist-mounted munition launcher.

The projectile hit a robot at the group's centre before it detonated in a brilliant red-orange fireball of heat and pressure, taking out the rest of the machines close to it as bits and pieces plummet to the ground.

While that was happening, the last flying robot flew into position to fire a clean shot on the Spectre. It did not get to do anything though, as a bolt of electricity cast by Adam hit the machine. As it was convulsing in the air with electrical surge traveled through its metal body, the other Spectre rushed toward the paralyzed robot and withdrew a blade from its upper left forearm, stabbing the machine's head. The robot's red eyes flickered and its light faded into gray.

The drone mech pulled the blade out, retracted back into its sheath while watching the last robot crashed to the surface.

"All hostile machines are eliminated," EVANS declared.

"Alright," Adam sighed, relieved that the fighting was over as the adrenaline faded away. "Let's head down there and check on those things."

========================================================================================================

The peaceful atmosphere of forest was interrupted by the increasing noise of thrusters produced from the Javelin and the two Spectres, hovering several feet off the ground before they landed with a subdued thud.

Adam opened up the suit's faceplate and took a deep breath of fresh forest air. He immediately felt his lungs relaxed and refreshed, closing his eyes as he exhaled slowly. Taking a little time to enjoy this moment of peace he had. Serene songs of birds chirping and the sound of bristling leaves from branches swaying against the wind filled the air. He felt gentle breeze brushed against his face completely and it was gratifying.

This was not the first time Adam stood in the middle of the woods like this, relishing such pleasant tranquility in nature. The Lancer did it several times before when he and his friends went out of the bunker to fish and hunt. Two decades as a soldier facing the carnage and brutality of the Legion War, plus living in an underground bunker and secluded from the rest of the world... It made this moment like a nice novelty for him.

Such experience was both incredible and humbling. It helped him to forget the pain that keep gnawing him every day.

"Adam, are you alright?" EVANS suddenly chimed in.

He opened his eyes, the serene moment swiftly faded away from his mind, reminding himself the reason they were here in this forest and their mission. Appreciating the moment of peace and nature could be intoxicating sometimes.

"Sorry, buddy. I was miles away," he sheepishly said.

The Lancer moved forward, inspecting the rest of robot corpses scattered the area before arriving at the one nearest to him, which happened to be the robot he gave a headshot earlier. He reached his hand out, hovering over the rusted cylindrical chassis as a ring of glowing translucent orange halo materialized on his palm.

"Beginning scan," EVANS said.

As the AI was scanning the dead machine, Adam got a better look at the metal cadaver in front of him, frowning at its appearance. It seemed childish, plain and terribly unimpressive, as if the robot's design was inspired directly from a kids' toy. Not to mention it had fewer fixed and moving parts than the modern drones he was familiar with. It could be for the sake of simplicity during production.

Ten seconds later, he heard a chime rang from his helmet, followed by EVANS' voice.

"Scan complete."

"Alright, EVANS. What did you find?" Adam asked.

"Based on the wear and tear, along with the amount of rust accumulated on the chassis, I estimated this machine is between 90 to 100 years old," EVANS explained to him. "However, while much of the components within are similar to our own modern electronics and machinery, particularly pre-Shaper technology, their method of construction is radically unconventional."

Adam frowned in confusion as soon as he caught the last part. "Huh? Very different how?"

"Different that this robot was not designed by a human mind nor an artificial intelligence of human origin." [I let you add or change whatever you think is appropriate for this part.]

The Lancer froze for a moment, standing in silence as a sense of befuddlement at the startling revelation by EVANS fell all over him. The notion that these machines were created by a non-human entity had shaken him. The last time humanity encountered anything non-human was during the Legion War, before Project Endurance started.

"EVANS," he said, trying to get a hold of the situation. "Do you have any theories about this?"

"Only two," the AI began, speaking as though the shocking fact did not bother him the slightest. "One, this machine and others like it could be made by the surviving Legion forces on Earth. Such theory is not without precedent. There were multiple occurrences where the Legion used some of our own pre-Shaper technology against us. And that was before they began manufacture their own equipment with extensive changes that improved the efficiency of their combat performance."

"The second theory is there were entities that came to Earth from another world, either within a parallel universe from this one or otherwise, as confirmed by the Multiple-Origin Theory. Whether the otherworldly entities that created these machines were invaders or settlers, I cannot confirm. Especially how much time has passed since Projects Endurance and Exodus initiated, plus the unknown status of Project Gestalt."

Project Exodus. Adam had forgotten about that one. It was another contingency plan created alongside Endurance, albeit more public than the latter should Gestalt failed. A massive undertaking started by a coalition of multiple governments to construct an interstellar sleeper ark that would carry around 300 people with thousands of cryo-stored zygotes, before embarking on a century-long trip to colonize an exoplanet in the Alpha Centauri System.

Adam still remembered how he was among hundreds inside a military mess hall that stood in front of a large TV screen, waiting anxiously as the countdown was getting close. A few minutes later, the entire crowd erupted into deafening roars of cheers and applause as they watched the rockets and shuttles from all over the world launched into space. It was an atmosphere revolved around hope and faith at that time, where humanity would not succumb to extinction and remain survive beyond Earth, far away from the horrors of the Legion and White Chlorination Syndrome.

Thousand of years had passed and there was still no news from them or their descendants. As if they never sent someone or even a fleet of automated probes here to check the how things were on Earth. Perhaps when they saw images sent to them of how completely devastated their original homeworld was, they decided it was not worth the effort to recolonize Earth and the Solar System when there were other nearby stars to settle in. Either that or Exodus was also a failure when the ark exploded somewhere in the middle of their journey in space.

And now he had robots designed by non-human creatures and quite likely manufactured at a massive scale for whatever motives they had on Earth. "Out of the frying pan and into the fire" would be the perfect idiom to describe the entire situation that Adam and every human survivor in Project Endurance had just got themselves into. There were still a lot of unknowns he had to deal with out here in this world. But for now, he had a mission to accomplish.

"Oh shit...," Adam sighed gravely as he was slowly trying to process everything that EVANS-Subroutine said. "Okay, until we get to the bottom of this, I think it's best we focus on the mission first. We'll share what we found to the experts back home later."

"Acknowledged."

After the Lancer closed the faceplate back, the Javelin's entire frame was enveloped in a mist-like ethereal aura. He then jumped off the ground before instantly launched into the air and flew above the tree line, followed behind by the Spectre drone mechs.

Once they were above the forest, the trio then flew once more toward their intended destination.


========================================================================================================

He was deep in thought during the entire flight, contemplating about the implications from EVANS' theories. The first was unthinkable yet not impossible. But if there were pockets of Legionaries still around after thousands of years, the Replicants he kept hearing about would had found and killed those monsters before they could raise an army. Those robots were probably their latest attempt to fight back those biomechanical androids.

Then there was EVANS' second theory, which sounded ludicrous but plausible. Those "Giant" and the "Dragon" that appeared in Tokyo back in 2001 were enough proof of the AI's hypothesis. Whether or not those robots' creators came to Earth by accident and they were created for self-defense, he could not be certain.

It was hard for Adam to get a firm grasp around this. He never liked unknown elements, they kept him confused and gave too many troubles for him every time he tried to solve them one by one. It irritated him to no end, as he would had prefer the paths he was taking was as clear as day.

But it was pointless. As much as the Lancer wanted to know what was going on in this world, he knew that he would not get every answer he wanted. All he could do for now was focusing on the mission. As Adam continued flying to his destination, EVANS' voice came over the speaker.

"We are approaching Tokyo soon."

He could see the outline of towering buildings gradually growing in the distance and beyond that, a coast that stretched into the ocean and a thick forest next to the city. Adam could increase his flight speed so that he could arrive sooner but that would risk overtaxing the seals on his Storm Javelin. He would only had to reach the city by maintaining his cruise speed and all would be well. That was until he saw something far ahead.

A giant red laser beam shot through the sky toward the sea. Several seconds later, another large beam was fired at the same direction. Adam was shocked by the sight of that. He was not sure what was that laser firing at, but the sheer firepower of that weapon got him very concerned.

"EVANS, where did those lasers come from?" Adam asked.

A small screen appeared in the left side of his HUD, showing a line of metallic structures sticking out of the water. The screen zoomed in and it revealed to him a massive industrial complex on the shore, which was almost completely covered in rust. All of a sudden, an enormous red lance of energy shot out from somewhere in the compound.

"Oh." It was all the Lancer could say in response to what he just saw.

"What is your next course of action, Adam?" EVANS inquired.

Watching as another large beam of laser fired from the factory from the screen, there was no way he could reach or fly around in the city safely when that weapon was still active. It could shoot him down effortlessly if the laser cannon had dealt with whatever it was firing at the sea.

First, the hostile flying robots and then this. What was once a straightforward mission to reestablish contact with other Endurance bunkers had became more complicated than he expected.

"Looks like we're gonna have take a little detour for a while," Adam declared. "EVANS, set up a course to that factory. We need to find the cannon and disable it first. Can't move on to our main goal if that laser can blast us before we reach Tokyo."

"Affirmative. Establishing a new flight path now."

Adam turned the Javelin left toward the factory with two Spectres trailing behind him. Hopefully, it would not give him as much hurdles to get through as he seemed to think. Then again, things were never easy as a Lancer.

"Damn. Nothing but forests down there," Adam muttered to himself, flying over the green expanse as he and the two escort Spectres headed towards Tokyo, the only break from vegetation being the mountains that bracketed the area.

Every city, town and village in the former Gunma Prefecture was nowhere to be seen. Nature had overtaken every last man made structure, the decayed mounds of brick, cement and steel buried under a thick bed of vegetation. There wasn't anything recognizable compared to his memories. It was a depressing and humbling feeling for him to see all of this.

Adam sighed somberly before focusing his sight on the HUD.

EVANS had drafted a flight path on the display, providing the best estimate for bearings and markers that should have led to his destination. It wasn't his preferred choice, but it wasn't like there was a better option. Not with the thousands of years that had passed since Project Endurance had begun. Most of the satellites would have long since fallen from orbit once their fuel was expended. Anything left up there in higher orbit would be a dead hulk, their systems burned out after a millennia of hard radiation.

With satellite options out of the question, they had to rely on literally millennia old maps and dead reckoning to find their way to the city. Not ideal, but better than flying blind anyway.

"We are approaching maximum communication range with the bunker in five minutes. A subroutine gestalt will take over from here soon," EVANS declared from inside his helmet, the synthetic voice carrying what Adam suspected was a tinge of sadness.

"Would your lesser copy do its job as well as you have, EVANS?" He joked.

"It will not be as capable, but sufficient to provide adequate tactical support for the entire duration of your mission," was the AI's response. "Or as Doctor Okazaki would say: 'babysitting your moronic ass'."

Adam chuckled. The way EVANS delivered unironic curses on the Lancer with his monotonous voice never failed to get a rise out of him. "Hanako asked you to say that to me, didn't she?"

"While you were changing into your BDU back in the bunker, yes."

"Ah, EVANS..." Adam became silent for a moment, his smile slowly changed into a slightly sad one. "You've grown so much, haven't you?"

"It is all thanks to you and the others in the bunker," the AI replied, appreciation clear in its voice.

Adam felt an ache in his chest, knowing that he would be out of contact with the AI for as long as the job would take. Ten years of living in the bunker with EVAN's omnipresence had accustomed him to the idea of the intelligence always being just a single word away. The subroutine intelligence it could spawn just wasn't the same. The limited personality matrices the lesser gestalts had were no replacement for actual sapience. And certainly no substitute at staving off the loneliness and isolation he was certain to face in this godforsaken world for the duration of his mission. But needs must...

"I'll see you again, EVANS. Take care of everyone back there, buddy."

"Understood. I wish you best of luck, Adam. EVANS-Main out."

As soon as it said that, EVANS avatar in the upper right corner of his display winked out, the undulating blue orb replaced by a solid pixel dot ball the color of cerulean. EVANS-Subroutine. It was only a minor change in look, but Adam felt the difference much more keenly. The subroutine did it's job, but as far as a facsimile of personality went, it was hollow and meaningless. Like talking to a picture of someone instead of the real thing.

But on the balance of things, it wasn't as bad as it could be, not like back in the days when the fighting against Legion was at its heaviest. He'd deal with the solitude.

"How far is Tokyo now, EVANS?" Adam asked.

"Approximately 100 kilometers remain." The subroutine answered, toneless and devoid of any expression. "ETA is 1 hour and 12 minutes at current flight speed."

"Alright," he sighed. It was going to take a while for him to reach the city, and not much else he could do in the meantime. Keeping watch might have been prudent, but the Javelin's sensors and threat response systems would ping on anything long before the plain old eyeball did, even one with access to its optical enhancement suites. And what he did have for onboard entertainment were films and music millennia old and watched a dozen times over during the long reawakening.

"EVANS, take over the flight for me, would ya? I'm gonna get some shut-eye for a while. Wake me up if you find something odd in visuals, scans and radar."

"Affirmative."

It was easier said than done though. Autopilot and posture locking or not, the Javelin's flight angle meant he would be largely sleeping on his front. And while the internal lining might have provided padding against concussive forces, it was a suit not a bed and all that implied as far as comfort went. At least the internal environment regulation meant he would be comfortably warm. Closing his eyes, he attempted to fall asleep.

Short of a bird strike, a nigh impossibility anyway with an AI at the helm, he doubted there would be anything to worth waking up for. Not when the entire planet was ruined beyond recognition.

**********
"AHHH!!!"

Adam jerked awake with a shout as the shrill screech of the threat alarm blared in his ears. Combat reflexes honed through a decade of combat sloughed through the initial panic and drowsiness, snapping his mind awake. Just in time to feel his body jolting under the pull of sudden acceleration, his Javelin automatically hurtling to the side with a flare of emergency power. A split second later, his visuals turned red as a massive blast of crimson energy split the sky, radiant heat from the near miss flooding his display with heat spike warnings. Before he could even blink the spots from his eyes, the Javelin moved again, rolling under another attack from across the horizon. Two more shots followed in quick succession, each one aiming for his escorts. Only semi-randomized thruster firing kept the Specters from being atomized, but both were looking worse for it.

"EVANS! Sitrep!" Adams shouted as soon as their flight stabilized on a sharp downward dash to the deck.

"Unknown enemy attack. Incoming directed energy weapons fire from beyond sensor range." The AI explained, the bland statement providing absolutely nothing but the obvious.

Shoving his frustrations to the side he glued his eyes to the horizon. But even the imminent threat of being blasted out of the sky couldn't keep his thoughts from racing at the implication. Weapons like that didn't exist in his time. Someone shooting at him meant someone had to be alive. There had to be other survivors outside of Endurance, thriving even if they could build things like that.

Which they were using to try and kill him. Happy thoughts.

Almost on cue, the threat alarm blared again to EVANS warning.

"Laser emission spike. Evade. Evade."

There was no need for movement. No reaching for control. At the speed of thought, a signal from his implant raced to the Storm Javelin. Maso emitters all over the suit flared with azure light, and the world blinked out of existence. A heartbeat later, and they blinked back, a dozen meters to the left. A beam of high energy death scorching the air where he'd been moments ago.

"Damnit!" He swore, an eye darting to the altimeter. The forest floor was rapidly coming too close for comfort. "How much longer until we're out of their firing angles?"

"We are now in the estimated clear zone," the AI announced, only to immediately speak again when blips appeared on his tac display, "Alert. New contacts inbound."

They were barely visible dots in the horizon, but a moments thought had the suit's long range camera focus on them, magnifying the image into clear detail.

They were... not what he was expecting. Instead of sleek interceptor craft or bulkier gunships, the contacts were little more than circular metal pillboxes, the contraptions held aloft by jet engines of some kidn bolted onto the bottom. Hunchbacked mannequin robots sat atop the devices. A patina of rust on the entire ensemble completed the ramshackle look, but there was nothing slipshod about the mounted heavy weapon in their hands, or the twin red circles that served as eyes locking onto his position.

"What the hell?" Adam couldn't hide the incredulity in his voice at the ramshackle appearance. "What even is that?"

"Unknown. There are no records of UNC or any human military organization fielding designs similar to the ones before us." EVANS stated. "It is likely they are a post-Legion development by a surviving faction."

"Ugh, nevermind. We can look for answers after they're splashed. Give me tactical."

Numbers blinked into his viewscreen, the inbound hostiles tagged with immediately relevant numbers. And right now, the most important was the rapidly shrinking distance of 3500 meters. At the rate of closure, it'd be seconds before his weapons were in effective ra-

"Alert. Laser spike."

"Fuck!"

Maso burned through his veins. Space twisted. His senses wrenched as they were spat out of the space between spaces. Only meters away, another lance of crimson energy carved through the sky where he'd been. Smaller than before, but the backwash of heat sent another thermal warning spiking into his HUD. Bathed in a bloody glow of its steaming weapon, his attacker was already lining for another shot even as the other machines brought their weapons to bear.

Adam cursed. The last shot had been too close to the emergence point. The bastards were learning fast. And against that kind of power, he wasn't going to bet on his Kinesis shield.

"Do or die," he muttered, thoughts whirling. "EVANS, hang the Spectres back, slave fire control to me."

More icons popped on his display, access control rights signalling in green. Blink commands flickered through, a dozen reticles marking targets in response. Behind and on either side of him, Spectre mounted missile launchers popped their covers as distance markers spun down. Two seconds.

Two seconds too long.

He felt the lash of enemy radar. The pinpricks of ionizing beams. The thermal bloom of a building plasma channel.

The world stuttered. A ravening stream of light crisscrossed empty air.

No, not empty. Disjunction induced nausea already pushed aside, he noted the angry red marker on his board.

Shit.

One of the escorts was closer to half a Specter, and slowing fast. But it's weapons...

Close enough.

Missiles roared from their racks, six fiery tails launching from each Specter. They rocketed into the sky on already discarding engines, jackknifed in a heartbeat as tracking systems engaged, bringing them to bear on their machine targets. Second stage engines erupted with life and the missiles streaked in with deadly intent. In less than a second, explosions stitched across the sky. Scrap and broken parts rained onto the forest floor below as half the machine force was swatted down. A human force would have faltered at that point.

The surviving machines simply accelerated to closing.

"Break and engage!"

Three things happened right then.

One Spectre roared to his right, arcing away for a flanking shot.

The other reached its limits, damaged systems finally sputtering out, the wreck falling on a terminal course.

And Adam disabled his engine limiters.

The roar of engines became a howling scream. The Javelin hurtled forward in an uncontrollable lunge, subject to acceleration stresses above design standard. His vision blackened. Distance went from kilometers to only tens of meters inside a heartbeat. To-

Now.

Preprogrammed triggers activated. Inertial shunts glutted on kinetic energy. His world came to an abrupt stop, capacitors whining to dangerous levels. Inertial bleed-through squeezed his body. Threatened to liquefy him inside his suit. Secondary emitters kicked online, captured energy flooding out as horizontal became vertical. Snapping his right arm out at whipcrack speeds.

Adding their angular velocity to the globes of Bose-Einstein condensate floating just above rime-covered palm emitters.

Spheres of absolute zero cracked out at supersonic speeds, splashing the nearby machines. Hoarfrost exploded across rusted metal, choking gears, blocking apertures and smothering intakes. Engines guttered, their passengers falling out of the sky as thrusters froze into immobility. Weapons that only moments before were dialing in now whined in protest as inch thick ice choked their servos. For a moment, the machines faltered.

Streaking above them, Adam gave them no time to recover. Kinetic energy was bled further, adding to the maso buildup. His left hand erupted in flames, waste energies wreathing the limb as an orb of liquid fire formed above his palm before shooting downwards like a blazing comet. Down towards the ice choked machine in the center of the formation.

The stable matrices of maso manifested ice and fire collided. Erupted. The targeted machine instantly vanished in an expanding ball of conflicting energies. Nearby frost covered machines were buffeted by the storm of burning ice, already weakened hulls crumpling under the blast wave. More eruptions filled the sky as power systems overloaded or failed containment, their deaths showering the rest of the densely packed formation with a hail of high speed shrapnel.

More enemy machines fell out of the sky, others struggled to stay aloft, bleeding smoke from shredded engines and sparks from deep tears within their metal frames or missing parts entirely. But with machine borne single mindedness, the surviving machines ignored the damage. As one they brought their guns to bear on Adam, some going as far as to tilt their entire platforms when damaged limbs weren't enough to get an angle on him.

He tensed, maso pooling, waiting for that laser alert.

Instead, a hail of crackling orbs streaked up at him. He reacted on instinct. The world inverted, space twisting as he translocated a dozen meters to the right-

"Gah!"

-only to shout in pain as his right flank all but exploded. Automated routines took over, sending the suit into a tailspin as damage alerts blared across his reddening vision. A toneless voice droned, medical status and quick response systems lost in the haze of screaming sensations. He never felt the pinprick on his neck. Never heard the hiss of injectors.

Clarity, abrupt and total, cut through the pain. Dulled it to nonexistence. The blood hue haze of damage warnings still painted his HUD, snapping into focus as time slowed, hammering into his brain with stiletto prefixes. Shield breached. Armor compromised. Inner seal fractured. Thermal and electrical burns both outside and inside. A litany of pain and hurt, yet-

Still functional. Still able to fight back. At least until the chemical cocktail finished burning through his brain.

He saw past the warnings and alerts. Witnessed the storm of dark crimson fire crawling through the air in that split second of sharpened clarity. Crackling orbs the size of watermelons spinning ever slightly so faster with each passing moment. Not just at him, but around him too. Bracketing fire. They had adapted.

A heartbeat to act faster.

The assault rifle on his waist popped free at a silent command, sucked into his charged grip in a blur of motion. His arm rose, targets feeding directly into his HUD from the smart link. A finger twitched.

The Impulse rifle thundered. 8.6mm spikes erupted from its muzzle, hypervelocity rounds shrouded with the actinic corona of electromagnetic energy. They snap-flashed through the sky, vacuum channels of distorted air their trail. Enemy fire slackened, fat bellied projectiles destabilizing when they intersected with rail fire, spending their fury on empty air with detonations of fire and lightning. Other spikes found enemy hulls, punching through rusted steel, erupting through the other side with showers of mechanical viscera. Several more machines fell from the sky, belching smoke as vitals were pierced.

Several more remained, but it was that exact moment when Spectre 002 returned to the field in a hail of fire.

Three more machines were swatted out of the sky when the drone smashed into the rear of their formation, impaling a fourth with a wrist spike. Thrusters flared, drone and victim spinning in a sharp circle before it let go, flinging the dying machine into the last two. Their engines flared, machines moving to evade, turning around to bring their guns on the new threat.

The Spectre's underbarrel weapon spoke first, sending a 60mm shell hurtling down range. It's proximity charge erupted an instant later, releasing and accelerating its payload from nuisance to fatal. Tungsten ball bearings hissed through the distance at supersonic speeds, ripping through the machines, tearing their internals and smashing vitals in a heartbeat of metal rain. Volatiles within ignited instantly, a wave of brilliant red-orange flames consuming the last of the machine forces. Only fragments emerged from the roiling cloud of fire, smoking debris raining down to the forest floor below.

"All hostiles eliminated," EVANS declared, lowering the Spectre's weapon as it returned to escort position.

"Alright," Adam sighed, wincing as the last of the combat stimulants were flushed, his burning wounds coming to the forefront of his awareness once more. Coagulants were already being applied by the autodoc, but it was only a temporary measure for in flight combat. "Let's head down there and check on those things once I've fixed myself."

**********


The forest glade was a picture of tranquility. All was quiet and still, with only the muffled susurration of a light breeze through the leaves to disturb the silence.

The high pitched roar of thrusters was an abrupt announcement that the quiet had come to an end, punctuated by the loud thud as Adam’s suit landed heavily on the forest loam before cutting engines. Amidst the whine of spooling down engines, there was a sharp hiss, a puff of condensation as the seals of his faceplate unlocked. And for the first time in a very long time, Adam took a deep breath of unfiltered surface air.

Only to spoil the moment by immediately hunching with a gasp.

“Please refrain from unnecessary exertion.” EVAN’s voice toned in his ear with all the emotion plain bread. “The application of medical foam application is not yet complete.”

Adam chose not to reply, simply focusing on keeping his breath shallow while the rest of his senses caught up. It was beautiful, once he could ignore the pain in his side. With his thrusters cold, the forest was starting to show signs of life again, hot jet wash replaced by a cool breeze that rustled the leaves of nearby trees while bird song tentatively filled the air again. Compared to the years of scrubbed sterile air while fighting in the front as a Lancer, and the additional years of canned air living in an underground shelter, it was… nice.

Peaceful.

“Medical treatment complete.” EVANS voice was a bucket of cold water. “You may continue the mission when ready.”

“Right.” Adam sighed sheepishly. “Miles away but there’s more to go.”

One of the enemy machines had gone down nearby, and it only took a minute of walking to reach the crash site. It was one of the more intact ones by his estimation. The ‘pilot’ had been tossed from its ride in the crash, but both robot and glorified flying can were recognizable as coherent forms rather than bits of blown up scrap. Reaching his hand out to the vaguely humanoid machine, he triggered the scan process, an orange halo of translucent light appearing above his palm.

“Scanning.” EVANS stated, the AI taking over the process while he settled in for a brief wait, eyeing the enemy machine for nothing better to do.

And almost at once, he was struck by the incongruity. The deadliness of their weapons aside, the enemy just didn’t look impressive to the casual eye. Bulbous body and head, clumsy looking stick limbs with crude grasping claws for fingers, articulation that was obviously even less flexible than the first generation drone soldiers. If form followed from function, he could only surmise that the robots function was a play school budget mascot run amok.

Honestly, it would have been a lot cheaper to omit the robot entirely.

Any further ruminations were cut short by a chime in his helmet followed by EVANS’s voice.

“Scan complete.”

“Alright EVANS. What did you find?”

“Battle damage has introduced some uncertain variables in the analysis, but rust pattern growth and other environmental degradation indicates that this machine was manufactured approximately 90 to 100 years ago.” EVANS explained to him. “However, attempts to interface with the control systems for further interrogation has revealed anomalous information. The machine’s internals possesses both a mixture of pre-Shaper technology and unknown components that diverge significantly from all known parent technologies.”

Adam frowned in thought as he caught at the last part. “How significant a divergence are you saying?”

“Significant.” The AI said, somehow managing to emphasize the word despite the voice remaining as toneless as before. “The power core and elements of its coding software are completely alien from my database. Of note is the motive systems which do not operate on any known scientific principles. Furthermore, given the delipidated nature of the machine and ease of its destruction, this technology is likely viewed as commonplace or even obsolete by its makers instead of an experimental unit using next generation devices. There is a high probability of non-human origin.”

The Lancer froze at the suggestion. The first and only time humanity had ever encountered any technology built by non-humans had been well before Project Endurance. Back when...

“Is it Legion?” He asked, feeling his mouth dry at the thought. He had to clamp down on the sudden desire to turn tail, burn for home at max thrust and tell the bunker to close the doors pull the earth in over them for another couple thousand years. If it really was their old enemy, if they were still present even so far into the future, the risks to Endurance were unimaginable.

“It is possible, but of low probability.” The AI began. “Legion technology and design principles are well documented. Their autonomous war machines have always fallen under specific patterns with certain universal traits, none of which are present in the current wreck. Logic dictates that they would refine proven proven designs in favor of radically new but potentially suboptimal platforms.”

“Who does that leave then? A different batch of aliens?”

“It is possible. The existence of White Chlorination Syndrome, and subsequently Legion, confirmed the Multiple-Worlds Theory. It cannot be ruled out that Earth has since experienced another incursion, be it extra-dimensional or extraterrestrial. It should be noted however, that radiocarbon analysis indicates local materials were used in this platform's construction. It is likely that it’s creators have established significant groundside industrial infrastructure.”

“Just great.” Adam grunted. As if Earth hadn’t had enough to deal with, they now had another unknown but very hostile alien force who had decided to turn humanities homeworld into their stomping ground. Endurance’s prospects of succeeding was looking to be getting dimmer by the minute. Still...

He sighed. “It doesn’t change the mission. The danger’s upped, but we still need to get a better idea of what’s going on. Wrap up the data we’ve got from this wreck in the backup storage. We’ll share what we’ve found with the experts once we get back home.”

“Acknowledged.”

Closing the faceplate, Adam cast one more look around the once seemingly peaceful forest. It didn’t seem so peaceful anymore. Shaking his head regretfully, he closed the faceplate and activated flight systems, letting the emitters wrap his frame with the signature mist-like aura of maso-atmospheric interactions. A flex of his legs had him jumping off the ground, servo boosted feet launching him a half dozen meters into the air. With a roar of thrusters, Adam took off into the horizon, followed by his surviving Spectre.

He never looked back.

**********

EVANS remained silent throughout the flight, and for once the silence from the sub-AI suited Adam just fine.

His thoughts more than filled up the quiet, old worries gnawing at him like a dried up bone.

The reasoning was solid, and he had to agree with the sub-AI’s conclusions. He’d fought Legion machines after all, and for all that they’d been wrong to the eye, the writhing things of limbs and steel bore little resemblance to this latest upset. It probably wasn’t Legion behind this. But probably wasn’t a certainty.

And even if it was a certainty, that still left him with an unknown hostile faction with powerful energy weapons, combat drones and a highly developed industrial footprint on the world stretching back by at least a century if not longer. Who were they, what were their goals, why were they shooting at him?

Unknown, unknown, and more unknown.

Adam was an uncomplicated man who preferred things laid out in a straightforward fashion. Not that he couldn’t adapt to life being it’s usual unpredictable self, you didn’t survive long on the front by being inflexible. But that didn’t mean he had to like it.

Similar thoughts circled his mind as they continued to fly, until at last EVANS’ voice came over the speaker.

“We are approaching Tokyo airspace. ETA 3 minutes.”

He blinked clicked the acknowledgement, noticing the buildings already starting to appear over the horizon, the endless canopy of thick forests giving way to signs of former civilization. They were towering things, skyscrapers once in an era long forgotten, now hollowed eyed concrete corpses covered in mould and the decay of millennia. Beyond that was a coast that stretched to the ocean, the lapping waters the only thing that remained unchanged from his memory.

Except for those strange structures standing in the-

Light bloomed, flashed in his vision with the intensity of a thousand suns. A pillar of light had erupted from the oceanic structure, splitting the sky in a single contemptuous second. Air roiled in its wake, atmospheric moisture flashing to steam as an errant cloud too close to its path was instantly obliterated.

And only as the beam tapered off, Adam came to one belated realization.

It hadn’t been aimed at him. It had been directed towards the sea.

In the moment it took to have that thought, another flash of incandescent death lashed out, and then another. The newly identified structures hurled death at some distant foe, and Adam felt a chill at just exactly what had been firing on him moments before his clash with the drones.

"The current approach vector is no longer feasible. What is your next course of action, Adam?" EVANS inquired as he dove for the deck, throttling down his thrusters to the lowest they could go without losing flight entirely.
“Detour looks like.” He grunted. “The regular approaches are out while those laser cannons are still active. Speaking of which, were you able to find out what they were shooting at?”

“Negative. Any such targets were well beyond this suits sensor capabilities.”

“Nevermind then,” he grunted, “Those laser platforms are a problem, and they need to go before we can complete our mission. Can you scan them from a distance? Look for a weakness for me to take out?”

“It is possible, but not at this distance.”

He suppressed the sigh that threatened to bubble up his throat. “Can you plot me a safe route then?”

“Of course, charting a new flight path now.”

Now if only the rest of the mission would be that easy. Somehow, Adam doubted it would.
 

Accelerator

Well-known member
Author
Thud.

The throbbing pain made Pacifica groan, even as the light struck her eyes through the gap of half-opened eyelids. She was... sitting somewhere? It hurt. There were people around her, shifting and moving, the sounds of clothing rubbing against each other and the thud of heavy footsteps onto solid earth, along with breathing and hushed whispers.

"She's alive."

"Damn, she's finally moving."

"Tell that fire-girl to come quick."

Her soldiers. There was a battle. A fight. A war. She had charged the thing, and then -

Ok, fine. Charging a gigantic hulk-like creature was, in retrospect, an immensely bad idea. Who would have thought that a creature that could rip a person in half with pure brute force could do horrendous damage to your body? The pain throbbed one more time, rising to a fever pitch as she tried to lift her arm to rest it on her poor forehead.

Extensive soft tissue damage, especially the ligaments and the left organs. Internal haemorrhage alongside left side of torso. Blunt abdominal trauma. Left scapula has suffered a communitated fracture. Oblique fracture on humerus, radius, and ulna. Extensive damage through the thoracic cavity via perforating damage from that damned tent pole. Pulmonary haemorrhage. Explains the pain in breathing. Tent pole has miraculously missed the heart and all major blood vessels and organs, save the lungs. Whiplash due to being flung at least a hundred metres.

She held up a hand, silencing them, the cessation of sound somewhat lessening the throbbing in her pain. First to deal with, was the pain. She let out a small sigh of relief as she applied her anesthesia power to herself, the soothing sensation flooding her and letting her concentrate. She made a dozen small taps on herself, focusing on the medical procedures that she would normally do to treat someone with injuries just like hers. The broken bones re-set themselves, sealing together so well not even microscopic scanning could detect that there had been a break. She coughed, and out came a wad of blood. The bruising and micro-tears on her body disappeared, disappearing like a drop of water on a frying pan. The pain in her neck muscles disappeared. In a few seconds, she was as good as new. With a sigh of relief, she opened her eyes and began to stand up.

Her soldiers were there, sitting on stools, watching them. Ten of them or so. They stirred as they saw her sit up, standing up from their chairs and holding their hands forward.

"Damn, boss." said Frederick, his eyes flickering up and down her form. "We thought that you would be dead or something. Carl said that you weren't moving when they found you. When we saw that pole through you, they said you were a goner."

"Yeah, I suppose so." said Pacifica, testing her left arm. The fracture had healed over. "So what, happened after I got knocked out?"

"Well, we shot the thing in the legs, and used the grenades. Slowed it down, but not enough. It was a hairy situation, and good thing nobody broke ranks." he pointed at the soldiers behind him, and they waved. "It slowed down enough for that fire girl to kill him, though. Smashed into it from the sky, then turned it into ash with green fire. She was the one that told us to stop yammering about and just bring her in. Jack was the one that got the tent pole out of you."

"Oh really?" said Pacifica. She turned to the hispanic man, currently talking to O'Neill. "Thank you."

"It's alright, ma'am." said the soldier. He was still wearing his fatigues, a sheen of sweat over his brown skin. It must be hot out here. "I took a few courses in first aid, hoping to keep my friends alive." He swallowed. "Frankly, when I saw you laying there, I thought you were dead. Was pretty much ready to give up until I saw you were still breathing."

"So Molten Stone was the one that got you to start moving?"

"Yep." he said, nodding. "She told me to, in her own words, 'pull that fucking tent pole out and let her breath, because its jamming her lungs'. I told her that it was stupid, because that meant that you would simply bleed to death. She told me 'Exalts don't bleed, stupid'. And pulled it out for me. And then really, now. It was true. We didn't even have to put on bandages." He helplessly shrugged his shoulders. "Was the damnedest thing I saw. Giant gaping hole, and barely any bleeding. Not even inflammation."

"That's nice." said Pacifica. She peeked out at the sky through the window in the room she was on, the planet hovering right above the horizon. "How long was I out? Were you waiting for a long time? Because my mother would kill me if she called the school and realized that I ran away."

Jack let out a small chuckle, sitting on the nearby plastic chair with a small squeal. "Well, that's a funny thing. When I found you, you were in complete shit shape. You got that tent pole that basically impaled you, the left side of your body completely broken, and basically, you looked like shit. The only people I've seen hit like were the unlucky ones who walked right next to an IED. Guess how long you were out?"

She squinted. "A...few days? A week?"

"Less than that. Half a day. It was evening when the attack came out, and morning just arrived. You got hit by something that would take years to recover from, and woke up from it in time for breakfast."

"Well, that's nice," said Pacifica, examining her hand, experimentally clenching her fingers. That was.... totally new. She had seen that she had better regeneration and healing than most. That was obvious when she scraped her knee by accident during a run. It was another thing to realize that she survived a hit that should have killed any other human being, and woke up from a severe concussion that would have left others unconscious for weeks.

"Excuse me, sir? I have to say something." The voice was coming from someone who hadn't spoken yet. It was Jack. His face was stern, his voice deep and rumbling. "You shouldn't have done that."

"Done what?"

"Charged in like that."

"Yes, but-"

"He's right, boss." said Frederick, chiming in. "You shouldn't have charged in like that. You didn't even have anything useful for fighting. It was pretty much a miracle you didn't die. And if you had died, then what would that leave us? Either stuck on a faraway planet at best, or at worst, we have to bring your corpse back to your family to bury. It's shit. With all due respect, you're a 15 year old kid. You haven't even shot a gun or learned to throw a punch. What could you have done?"

Silence.

"Nothing."

"Yeah. Nothing. Worse than nothing. Half the guys had to go and rescue you, because that thing sent you flying."

Pacifica frowned. This conversation was not going the way she wanted it to go. "Alright, alright, I get it now. Now get off my case." There was a harrumph and a sigh.

"So anyway, boss!" said another. "We got you this!"

He held out his hand. In it, was a hairband, created out of the local flowers. Pacifica's hand instinctively went up to her forehead. Yep, the decorative flowers around her head were gone.

The soldier must have seen the question in her face, because he clarified. "Well, after we saved you, the flowers were basically scattered and trampled. The locals thought it was a damn shame, so they gathered up a bunch of them and then made a new one for you." He extended his hands, the small wreath held in two outstretched palms.

Pacifica acquiesced, and pushed her head forward, letting the crown of flowers be placed onto her head. Then, she heard something.

Footsteps resounded on the stone floor, along with the clank of nails and hardened soles. Someone was running up the staircase. Someone barefoot and with hardened skin. The door slammed open, and Molten Stone burst in, chest heaving, sweat careening off her glowing skin and landing on the spotless whiteness of the room. She leaned on the door, saw that Pacifica was standing, and stood up, slowly waving at her with a small smile.

"Urm... hi. Glad that you're ok." she said. "We were kinda worried for a moment, until I realized you were still breathing. It's a trip, isn't it, how fast we recover?"

"Yeah...." replied Pacifica, wondering at the changes her body was going through. "So how's everyone? I mean, that thing was ripping people to pieces. It couldn't have been good for anyone that crossed its path."

"Casualties are minimal." said a man. It was that fellow. The one that had tried to get Pacifica and her soldiers to stop. "Only six or so are dead. There were already evacuation drills being carried out, so everyone left the area when it arrived. There were only two or three who were injured in the rush, non-urgent injuries on the level of cuts and scrapes. The only things lost were things easily replaced, like tents and tools."

"Well, that sucks. Guess I'll just-" she stopped as the aide held up a hand.

"Please do not bother yourself with helping us this time. The tools and the machine shops you have created for us will allow us to handle the problem on our own. Please, rest. You were injured in an attempt to help us. It is you who should be allowed to rest and relax, not us."

Pacifica nodded at that. It made a sort of sense. Then something the bespectacled man said hit her. "Machine shops?" she said, turning to Molten Stone. "I thought you said that you didn't get those, because it would be a waste of resources and they couldn't be moved easily. What changed?"

Molten stone made a shrugging motion, looking faintly embarassed. "Well, after you got hurt, I took a long time thinking. Those tents... we needed strong fortifications, but we didn't, because we were planning to move. To move to a place that despised us, and didn't want us." Her eyes darkened. "You know what? I've had it. To being the punching bag of the multiverse to being spat on and given slurs by strangers who know nothing." she looked at Pacifica, eyes burning with green. "I'm going to stand my ground, and start building here. Start making a city, start creating a civilisation. We would have a place to call our own, and then smash to pieces anybody trying to take it from us."

"Well that's nice." said Pacifica, somewhat lamely. She could sympathize, though. Being on the lower class of things had really shown her how people would treat those they think were weaker than them. "So... you need any help? Anything at all? I would be happy to give you stuff for setup."

"It would be nice to have a set of artificial wombs." admitted Molten Stone. "You also said something. What is it, about Gee Erm Ohs?"

"Oh! GMOs! Genetically-engineered Organisms!" exclaimed Pacifica, perking up. This was easy. Small talk was strange, but talking shop was something she could certainly get behind. "Well, you see, I had all these ideas for dealing with hunger. It's a bit difficult, because the lawmakers at my home don't really like genetic engineering-" Actually, they didn't even know I exist. "But I have some really cool ideas. I have crops that need a tenth of the light, and grow twice as fast, and can live basically anywhere. Just give me some information on the local climate and -"

~

"The plants you gave us will be vital to the starting of our agriculture." said a man. He had apparently been put in charge of the the lab Pacifica had built, a man educated in cellular culture and micropropagation. "They seem to take extremely well to cutting and propagation. Within the year, we should have enough to feed a sizable population."

Pacifica nodded, and was about to say something, before she was interrupted. "Hey boss!" said a soldier. "Molten Stone says that she's ready to go when you are. She's going to show us all a better way to travel than through the Endless Desert, or whatever that weird place was called."

"Coming!" said Pacifica. She made a short bow, and the man bowed back, and he walked away. Running at top speed, she appeared before the assembled party in a flash. Molten Stone, her soldiers, and several people in black robes.

"I heard you walked in through the Endless Desert." said Molten Stone, gesturing to a piece of ground which had been carved with a circle of roughly 12 meters diameter and decorated with symbols and various pieces of carved wood and stone. "But that method is really slow. Safe, if you know what you're doing, but it always takes 5 days. I've got a faster way of moving."

The black-robed people began to move. "These are my thaumaturgists. Your guys say that you can turn metal into gold. That's alchemy. There's another branch of thaumaturgy." The black robed thaumaturgists knelt at various points on the circle, and took a pose of prayer. Slow, ethereal chants began to fill the air. The soldiers began to shift uneasily, as time passed, a small nervous laughter passing from one man to another. And then, the space at the center of the circle began to warp and ripple, like the surface of a pond when a stone had been dropped into it. And then, the ripples thickened, until the area behind it could not be seen.

And then, the colours shifted, a psychedelic mixture of green, purple, and pink. There, where there was once nothing at all, was an archway opening to somewhere. Pacifica peered at it, using her enhanced eyesight. It was some kind of... grassland, with rolling hills, trees, and flying birds, and mountains. Well, it would be, if it wasn't for the fact that it looked like it was painted by someone on LSD.

"Ladies and gentlemen." said Molten Stone of blazing Fire, one clawed hand raised theatrically towards the portal to insanity. "Welcome to the Wyld."

~

"Fire, fire, fire! Do not get separated!" shouted Pacifica. The men bunched together, and opened fire, the bullets tearing through the pastel-coloured ponies riding towards them with murder in their eyes. Memories of her other life flashed through her eyes, and she breathed a sigh of relief as the monsters died screaming and wriggling.

The hills shuddered. They were currently running on some kind of purplish grass, on some psychedelic hell. Mountains embedded the sky, and clouds of blue floated in the sky, even as the land itself warped more and more. Hills and valleys rose and fell with disturbing regularity as if the world was some demented tablecloth and someone had given it a firm shake. The only source of stability was the area where her and Molten Stone's light touched, gold and green combining to give an island of safety in the midst of chaos.

A dozen trees twisted about in a non-existent wind, leaves fluttering and branches twitching. Then, they stood up, roots tearing themselves from the ground, and they began to move. Their shapes transformed, bark turning into smooth skin, transforming into jaw-droppingly beautiful women with leaves in their hair and bark covering enough of their bodies to tease the mind.

Pacifica scowled and began to gather power from the air around her, energy coalescing from the surrounding air. She looked back, wondering at why no one was shooting at the approaching enemy. Her soldiers were looking at the incoming beauties, a stunned look in their eyes. Their hands were shaking and twitching, their eyes were wide, but they could not pull the trigger.

She grimaced and turned back to the incoming dryads. The monsters were beautiful, yes, and they had apparently managed to ensnare her soldiers, preventing them from opening fire. The beasts ate the distance with long, limber legs, bare feet catapulting them as well as any athlete. 100 meters, 80 meters, 50 meters, then 30. And then, Pacifica unleashed her spell, a deadly hail of obsidian butterflies flying out to slay her foes. The winged insects cut into the slender bodies, slashing smooth skin, turning curves in all the right places into nothing more than meat from the butcher shop. She walked over the her soldiers, and gave them a good slap to the face.

"This is your idea of a shortcut?" she shouted at Molten Stone. The girl swung a gigantic halberd, and half dozen gigantic stone men fell, their corpses bursting into green fire, silver armour rendered useless as the flames crept through crevices and joints. The girl danced around, the giant weapon seemingly weightless as she performed a dance of death to slaughter anything that came too close.

"Well, it's a hell of a lot faster!" shouted Molten Stone. She let out a shout, and bright beams of green light burst from her eyes, incinerating a boulder that had been crawling too close for comfort. "Besides, I don't know why the hell there are so many, or why they're so mad! Usually, it's not like this!"

"Come on, you goddamned shitheels! Get up! Get up and fight!" Pacifica turned around, and there, her soldiers were there. Frederick had changed, transforming from the stoic and stern soldier into a shouting army sergeant, directing deadly firepower onto the interloping attackers, the men carrying out an orderly retreat even as they covered for one another. Grenades were thrown, exploding in a hail of deadly iron shrapnel, cutting down beautiful androgynous figures upon unicorns.

"Sir, where is the exit!" said O'Neil, his hair half-scorched by a fireball that had gotten way too close. There was a cut above his eye, blood slowly trailing down his face. "They're pressing us, and getting closer all the time. We can't hold them off for long."

"Almost there!" said Molten Stone, even as a shriek made everyone look up. There, in the clouds, were a flock of silver birds, flying straight down like deadly arrows. Their feathers glinted in the unlight, and they looked very, very sharp.

"Fire up!" came the shout, and men half-knelt, bracing their weapons, and fired upwards, bullets screaming through the air to slaughter the incoming living arrows. Half died, and the rest continued on their course, Men began to fumble for reloads. Pacifica had a single pistol, firing at the living projectiles until the clip ran dry. None of them hit.

"Watch out, guys." said Molten Stone, bringing out a single gun. A glint of green, and she fired it, the projectile flying into the midst of the silver birds even as they were about to strike them. It exploded in a deadly burst of green fire, and the birds disappeared in the flames, vaporized to nothingness.

"Are we there yet?" asked one of the men, even as he reloaded his rifle. He looked as if he had just about enough of this bulllshit. Pacifica sympathized. She would rather take 5 days crossing the endless desert.

"Yep." Said Molten Stone, stepping forward to some unknown point on the grassland. She waved a hand on the empty air, and began to concentrate. Pacifica sighed, even as she focused, bringing even greater light and power on the surroundings. The monsters that approached slowed, their movements sluggish, even as more of her soldiers began to pick them off.

"Done yet?"

"Yep!" said Fire, a toothy grin appearing on her face even as a portal opened up. There, Pacifica recognised the streets of her home city. Litter lined the streets. Graffiti marred white paint. Rust and rot and urban decay. But she had never felt so happy to see it now. Then, she clamped down on her relief. She had responsibilities.

"You there! Go!" The soldier started as she pointed at him. Then he understood, and ran through the portal. More and more of the mercenaries ran through, the stream of firepower raining on the fae slowly petering to nothing, until only Molten Stone was left firing out great gouts of green flame. And then, Pacifica ran through the portal, and Molten Stone behind her, closing the portal with a soft whump.

Pacifica looked up, silently blessing the great sun in the sky for being there for her. Several of the soldiers whooped, the energy and the adrenaline from their narrow escape leading to them shouting in celebration. Pacifica saw several of embrace the ground and kiss it, ignoring the dirt and dust, too thankful for the stability and sanity.

"So this is your place, huh?" said Molten Stone, looking around at the dilapidated and old buildings surrounding them. "Doesn't look like much."

Pacifica sighed. "It's a work in progress. Or maybe the city is just old. But anyway-" she turned to the soldiers still celebrating the fact that they were still alive. "Oi guys!" the sound made the men stand at attention. "Well, you did well. And I did say that I would pay you for your service." she gestured at Frederick. "Follow him, and he'll lead you to where the money is."

"Actually, you said that you wanted to bring me to someone to bless." piped Molten Stone. "You said his name is Kevin, and that he's one of your guys. Maybe we should do it now, before we forget?"

~

"If I want to be rich?" said Kevin, surprised. He looked over at the two. Frederick had taken the men, leading them to a room where briefcases of cash awaited them. It wasn't hard finding someone willing to take jewellery and raw gold bars for no questions asked. Easier than setting up the dummy accounts so nobody could trace them back. "Well, I guess so. Yeah. What about it? Does it have to do with your new friend?"

"Yeah." said Pacifica. "Say, Kevin. Life here sucks. It really sucks. Don't you agree?" The man nodded. "Well, it helps here. I can make food, clothing, provide the odd job or so... but its shit. There are houses that are empty while someone dies of cold in the street. People turn obese on food, or go dining on yachts, while others starve. Rents shoot up sky high, people walk around on crutches because its cheaper than going to hospitals. I have a dozen children here, all runaways from abusive homes and worse. The thing is, I need to fix things. But no one listens to a little girl."

"So your solution is to make me rich." said Kevin, leaning back on the office chair he was sitting in. "But how? You said you didn't want to expose yourself. So how are you going to get the money and influence to get changes done?"

"That's not me who does it." said Pacifica. She stepped aside, letting Molten Stone take center stage. Molten Stone stood there, the mousey brunette blinking in the lamplight. Then she transformed. Darkness fell away, revealing glowing skin, burning red eyes, and horns. Kevin's jaw dropped, and he instinctively moved back. This proved too much for the poor office chair, and it tipped over, letting the back of Kevin's head meet the floor.

"Ow ow ow...." he said, even as Pacifica helped him up. "Am I seeing things, boss? Is that some kind of demon? You said you were going to hell, so did you, like, bring something back out?" he pointed to the horned girl standing in front of him.

"How dare you," said Molten Stone, in mock-offense. "I am no mere demon. I am a Green Sun Prince. Chosen of the Fallen Titans. And I am here to offer you a deal." she extended a single clawed hand out to the man.

"Oi, Molten Stone. Quit it." Warned Pacifica. She glanced at Kevin, noting the dilating pupils and adrenaline spike. The poor man was probably going to have a heart attack if this was to go on for much longer. "Kevin, this is Molten Stone, and she's here to make you rich and powerful. As long as you agree to it."

"Wait, what? Huh?" Kevin's head was turning this way and that, shifting from Pacifica to Molten Stone. "Urm, I think I need some reassurance before I make a deal with the devil-"

"The deal has already been made, Kevin." aid Pacifica, cutting him off. "I paid the price for it. At least the price for getting her to grant you the money and power. All that's left for you to do is to do a few small favours for her."

Kevin's eyes widened and his gaze flickered towards her. "I hope that it's nothing small like signing a contract, or promising her my firstborn son, or my soul."

Molten Stone interrupted. "Wait, what? Why would I want your kid? I don't know how to handle babies. And why would I want your soul? It's not like its useful for anything."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, miss demon."

"I told you, I'm not a demon!"

"Look Kevin, Molten Stone, however how she looks and acts like she walks out from a dime-novel fantasy book, is not hostile-" "Hey! I think I understood that reference!" "And i assure you, she is very likely not dangerous."

"Very likely, eh?" said Kevin. He seemed resigned to his fate. "So what do you want me to do? Anything I have to sign?"

"No need for that." Said Molten Stone, stepping forward. Clasping her hands together, she looked over at Kevin. "Kevin Norton. Subordinate of Peace. Tell me, do you yearn for riches and power? Do you wish for affluence and influence?"

Kevin hesitated, just for a moment... then he replied. "Yes. I want money. I wish I had cash for a good few drinks of beer once in a while. I wish I had the power to help others, others who were once in my position, and those who have no one to protect them."

"So be it." said Molten Stone. "I, Green Sun Prince, have granted your wish." The air within the office space shivered, as if a fundamental law of reality had just been shaken or moved. "Now, Kevin. As payment for what I have given you... Get up, and walk around in a circle, in the office."

Kevin got up, and walked around, and then sat down on the chair. A disquieted look crossed his face, and he shifted uneasily. "I felt something strange there. Was that it? That was the favor I needed to do?"

"Yep. I can choose the favour, as long as its possible for you to carry out. Which, in this case, is walking around the room." said molten stone, sweeping a glowing-red arm around the office. "You are now free to go, Kevin. Sooner or later, luck will fall into your lap, and you will gain riches and power. Have a nice day."

Kevin stood up and shrugged. "Well, on second thought, demon girl promising me riches and power isn't anymore crazier than blond flower-girl here curing cancer with her bare hands." pointing to Pacifica's flower hair-band. "Well, I guess I'll be off. I have 50 bucks right now, so I guess right now I'll take a long walk."
 
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