To Save the World – Part 6

TO PART 5

Part 6

“THIS WAS ALL A TRICK?!” Nathaniel screamed, clearly struggling. “You traitor! You tricked me! You really do just want to kill me!”

“I told you,” Kaneda said, beginning to move. He felt around his feet, trying to find the thing.

“This won’t kill me!” Nathaniel screamed. “It won’t! I’m more powerful than this stupid…whatever it is…ugh! It’ll run out of energy. But Kaneda…stop it, ow! Stop it now and I’ll knock you out before absorbing you!”

“That’s not supposed to kill you,” Kaneda said, bitterly, finding the handle of the knife.

He pulled it out and awkwardly began to crawl with his knees and arm. Apparently, Nathaniel must have seen it. It was impressive that he could look away from the sattelite’s laser. Kaneda knew that a gigantic beam of concentrated light, boasting of at least teen feet worth of width, was bearing down right above Nathaniel. Kaneda could feel the heat and white light filled all of his vision, unfocused as it was.

“What are you doing? Kaneda, no!”

Crying, Kaneda followed his friend’s voice. Heading towards him. Even Nathaniel would be unable to use his power against him, when defending against that massive beam.

“Kaneda, we’re friends! Maybe…maybe I am a monster, but what’s the point now?! Everything’s dead. Everyone’s gone!”

“I’m not here to save humanity,” Kaneda said, as he struggled towards him. He felt and found Nathaniel’s foot. “I’m here to save the world. With you gone, it’ll heal and birth life again. New fauna. New humanity, maybe, with enough time.”

Moaning with effort, Kaneda knelt, and felt with his closed hand for Nathaniel’s sides. He was shivering. Trembling beyond belief. Whether that was fear or effort, Kaneda didn’t know.

“Otherwise, you will kill it. Thoroughly and completely.”

“We don’t have to die!” Nathaniel yelled. “I’ll eat other things! I won’t eat you! C’mon, we’ll find a way to rebuild, we’ll find a way to go on. Trust me, I can stop. I promise you!”

Grunting, Kaneda placed the tip of the knife on Nathaniel’s back, and his head on his side, to support the stab. His strength had been waning, he would have to use mostly weight to get it through. He pushed with his hand and with his head, but slipped, failing to puncture.

“Aaahh!”

Kaneda felt a single moment of the beam upon them, and that alone seared his entire body, and that of Nathaniel. Their hairs burnt away, and all exposed skin as well. The pain was unbearable but Nathaniel had a survivor’s strength.

“You’ll die, Kaneda! You’ll die!!!”

“Are you a hero, daddy?”

Kaneda scoffed and smiled. He was beyond exhausted. He had spent a hundred and fifty years actively waiting for the opportunity to suffer unspeakable pain. He couldn’t see. He could hardly feel anything with every part of his nervous system painfully protesting.

He remembered Nate saving him from the men scooping them up off the streets. He remembered Nate joking around with him next to a tire on fire. He remembered his wife and his daughter.

“Stop this or you’ll die!”

Kaneda brought the knife back up and placed his head against his friend’s side. His forehead gained a good position on it.

“I love you,” Kaneda said, to no one in particular. To everyone. “I’m sorry.”

He pushed with his head, and pulled with the knife, essentially giving Nate a one-armed hug. Nathaniel gasped in pain, and then a bright light took hold of Kaneda’s entire existence, to the sound of the most painful screeching scream he had ever heard.

After one hundred and fifty plus years, Kaneda went to rest.

And the world was saved.

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To Save the World – Part 6

To Save the World – Part 5

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PART 5

Nathaniel had his good hand gestured towards Kaneda, in a grasping state. Kaneda could feel the pressure on him, around his body. Enveloping his wounds.

“How…? It’s been over  a century,” Nathaniel said, confused. “Is that…is that really you?”

“It’s me,” Kaneda said, with some effort. He was already sweating. He didn’t want to look and see the state of his hand. “How…how are you so young, still?”

“Me?” Nathaniel squinted his eyes, confused. He was angry, he was hurt, and Kaneda didn’t know which wound he was feeling the most. Nathaniel’s entire chest was charred, and a piece of his left shoulder, which was already missing the arm, was gone. “How are you alive?”

“Stasis tech,” Kaneda answered, bitterly. “We figured out most of the kinks.”

“Most?” Nathaniel asked, and his eyes were showing a lot of thinking. He was going through a lot, but his nostrils were still flared. Still smelling all the life in Kaneda. He needed it. “Agh…stasis…why?”

Kaneda spat to the side. His focus was waning but he needed to hold on. The sattelite would be charging. If it was even up there, where it was supposed to be, it might need more time.

“Why do you think?” Kaneda motioned to the weapon. “To charge the light particle gun.”

Nathaniel blinked and looked aside, then down at his ripped arm. His expression went mean, and he glared at Kaneda.

“You can’t kill me with that.”

Kaneda scoffed. “Almost did.”

“But what’s the damn point?!” Nate asked, yelling spit at his face. “Nobody’s alive. Trust me, I freakin’ now, it’s been years since–” a thought crossed his mind and an invisible force grabbed hold of Kaneda and lifted him up closer. “DID YOU PUT PEOPLE IN STASIS?! KANEDA, I NEED TO KNOW!!”

He was pained. He was hungry. Kaneda watched his old friend and did his best not to let compassion get the better of his heart. He had to keep it cold. Made of steel, and left behind in the far distant past along with his family.

“I’m sure a lot of people tried to stop you in a variety of different ways,” Kaneda said, regretfully. “And they all failed, if you’re still standing. My stasis bed was the only one of its kind. You should know that, you trashed all the others.”

“I did?” Nathaniel asked, his eyes glassy. He wanted to absorb Kaneda so much that he couldn’t touch him. His old and childhood friend blinked in pain. “Everything’s muddled. No more people then?”

“No. You have extinguished humanity. And most of the wild life, too.”

Kaneda’s body parted a little bit as Nathaniel looked aside, deep in thought. Nate shook his head, licking his lips.

“Been hunting the deep ocean to stay alive…I…I…I did kill everyone.” His expression gained edges. “They deserved it. They made me! They made me who I am, all of them.”

“Not all of them,” Kaneda said, accusingly. “Say what you will but I won’t allow you to do that.”

“No,” Nathaniel said, slamming Kaneda on the ground. It nearly killed him but he hung on, even if his eyes scrambled and stopped giving him good vision. “No! They experimented on me! They put that thing inside of me! They deserve to die, all of them! The world needs to die!!”

Kaneda shook his head at him, pretending to be able to see. It was upsetting that the satellite had not yet activated. Had he messed up with the mines? Had it malfunctioned?

“There’s only one thing I regret. Oh, Kaneda. My friend, I’m sorry, I…” Nathaniel slumped, apparently teary-eyed. “I took your daughter, too. I only…I only recognized her too late.”

Kaneda frowned hard. The young, crystal-like face of his daughter came to mind. Her tiny voice coming out of that tiny mouth.

“Are you a hero?”

Kaneda gritted his teeth, beginning to cry.

“Wait, you were in stasis?” Nathaniel asked again, still sounding confused. Hurt. As if on drugs, he continued to emote oddly and randomly. “Why weren’t you the—you abandoned Sora? To kill me?!”

The satellite was clearly not working. That was that, then. No more use delaying the inevitable.

They knew from the start that it was unlikely. The sacrifices were immense, but Nathaniel had become a cosmic force of destruction. For humanity to try and stop him was silly. Leaving his daughter to be absorbed by Nate had been for nothing.

Deep down, he always knew it. He was already dead, for all Kaneda cared. He had been dead the moment Nathaniel had absorbed his first crowd of people.

“Yes,” Kaneda answered, glancing up at Nate with eyes muddled by a scrambled head. Maybe bleeding. “I am humanity’s last attempt to end you.”

Nathaniel balked, heartbroken.

 “I thought you were my friend,” Nate yelped, stuttering. “I thought…I thought you’d be able to stop me. Or to convince me or–you go this far to kill me?!”

“No one can help you,” Kaneda yelled. “No one can stop you! Because you don’t want help, and you don’t want to be stopped. You want to be a monster!”

Nate stomped and the floor cracked.

“Me?! The monsters are the ones who made me! I am not responsible for–”

“YOU ARE!” Kaneda screamed, glaring at him in frustration. “NOW TAKE ME, NATE. YOU TOOK EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ELSE!” Kaneda tried to get up but his knee buckled before the pain and he knelt instead. “Ragh! Take me, kill me already–”

“Wait, what’s this?!”

Kaneda felt the heat and even through his deeply muddled vision, he could discern the increase in light. It happened in an instant. Wind blasted Kaneda back at the ground and Nate screamed in effort.

The satellite had fired.

To Save the World – Part 5

To Save the World – Part 4

TO PART 3

PART 4

The tunnel blew as if suffering a massive explosion, but there was no fire. The only red was from Nathaniel’s crimson cloak, tattered and ragged, and of the blood gushing from his left arm. Or rather, a lack of it.

He screamed at the ground, bending in rage and effort. The voice echoed out in every direction, as if chasing and encircling Kaneda. Amplifying his vision, even while driving away as fast as he could, he saw as the cloak ripped itself apart in a spiral of movement, as if alive. It tied itself around Nathaniel’s stump.

Then, those murderous eyes turned towards him.

Kaneda threw his body to the side, making a hard turn. The next moment, a force blasted past with a speed that put sound to shame. Kaneda drove away, feeling the ground rumble and crack.

In Nathaniel’s path, the ground exploded and the walls of the nearby buildings snapped, but Kaneda was well on his way to another part of the city, at full speed.

God Almighty, Kaneda thought, glancing back duly intimidated, has he gotten stronger? Or have I just forgotten what he’s really capable of?

The screaming didn’t stop, which gave Kaneda the ability to keep track of the rampaging monster that Nathaniel had become. He heard several explosions of concrete, and saw clouds of dust erupting to his side. Nathaniel was flying parallel to him, but on the other side of the buildings lining the road.

Kaneda aimed his gun on top of the arm holding the steering, and threw a few shots, one point five second each. They pierced the buildings to try and hit Nathaniel but apparently missed, each and every one.

Kaneda knew that having successfully dodged the shots, Nate would rush at him, so he pulled back and then hit the brakes, all while turning the bike around.

He landed in the reverse position, pushing the bike against its momentum. Within seconds, he was accelerating in the completely opposite direction, which was good, because a massive wall flew by to intercept his would-be position. Nathaniel came flying right behind.

“YOU THINK YOU’RE CLEVER!”

The wall went on to crash against another building, leaving smoke and debris behind it. Kaneda accelerated back where he had come from, again aiming his light particle gun behind. He pressed the trigger intermitently, one second each, trying to seek a hit.

It was considerably harder to aim like that, but he could correct his aim by glancing at each shot. The first one went wide, the second one made Nathaniel spin to be able to dodge, and the third one forced him to block, which made him slow down.

Yelling, he broke through and dodged the forth one, and the fifth. The sixth hit a barrier again, flashing with light as it dispersed and making Nathaniel yell again in raging frustration.

He thrust forward with his right hand, so Kaneda turned right. He sensed the air to his side flowing like a train was going past, and the ground cracked and shattered in reaction. His bike rocked and threatened to capsize but Kaneda managed to stay level. Immediately, he made a hard turn to change streets.

He heard a wall exploding and instinctually leaned back, throwing the bike to slide across the floor on its side. Above, debris flew past at a remarkable speed, and Nathaniel in its midst. He had cut a straight line through the building.

Yelling himself, Kaneda pulled his body and his bike back into position. The leather on his knee was all but gone, and the skin was stripped away to leave that part of his leg bleeding and essentially raw. Kaneda took the burning with but a slight bite of his lip. He was ready for pain, he was ready for all kinds of pains.

He made a few more turns, trying to give his pursuer the run-around, but now that Nathaniel was intent on barrelling through buildings, Kaneda was starting to run out of town to traverse.

It’s not even worth using the second tunnel, he’ll just blast me with it. So if there’s no step three, I gotta go straight to four.

That meant a serpentine.

Then five and six. And that’ll be it.

He turned left and followed a street, and then turned right as soon as possible. On and on from one end of the town to the other. That made it so he was slower, which encouraged Nathaniel to get ahead of him. Laughing like a maniac, he overcame Kaneda on the other side of a row of buildings. Kaneda still tried to hit him with some shots to sell the idea that he was being overwhelmed.

“Scurrying like a rat!” Nathaniel yelled out, overtaking his position.

The building several feet ahead of him exploded and Kaneda instantly lifted the front of his bike while hopping, placing his feet on the base of the bike.

“I’ll gobble you up like o—WHAT?!”

Kaneda jumped out of the bike, sending it onwards. He was in the air, holding the rifle with both arms for a perfect aim. Without another word, Kaneda pressed the trigger and sent a beam of light striking for Nathaniel’s torso. The bike collided against an invisible force, but the laser hit it right in the power-cell, instantly causing a massive combustion.

Kaneda’s sight went white before a flare of light and a roar of thunderous flames, all of which hid Nathaniel away to the sound of painful screams.

Gravity and momentum pulled at Kaneda but the explosion actually countered most of his kinetic force, stopping him in mid-air. The collision of forces made him let go of the trigger, and then he fell on the floor, tumbling violently.

Kaneda didn’t even lose track of his senses, and every part of the tumble was controlled. The left shoulder popping out of his socket, the scraping and burnt flesh on his back, and his helmet bending and leaving his head. Rolling into a stop, he grunted in pain and quickly reached out to the mines with his working arm. He threw one to the left, one to the right, and one behind him.

After a moment of pause, Nathaniel revealed he was alive.

The below came on from inside the cloud of dust and debris that was the point of contact between the bike and Nathaniel. It was only twenty feet away. Kaneda stepped back, raising the gun with his one good arm, and looked up at the charging monstrosity.

It came flying fast, lunging out of the smoke to catch him.

Kaneda yelled and pressed the trigger, but the beam shot for only a tenth of a second, meeting a barrier right at the tip of the barrel. A flash of light blinded Kaneda and burnt his hands, melting his finger tips and his nails down to the bone.

Kaneda yelled in pain. He hadn’t expected that. A force slammed him against the ground, and a moment later, he felt the burning sensation utterly thrown away.

Quickly, he realized that his right hand had been ripped out of his forearm. Nathaniel had ripped the light gun away so strongly it had taken his hand, which had been half welded into it by the heat of the deflected light beam.

Kaneda really wanted to writhe in pain and yell out with everything he had in his lungs, but he forced himself to grimace instead. He felt his gums buckling under the pressure of his bite, blood filling his lips, but the effort was worth it.

“Wait…” The mad voice whispered, recognition taking over it. “Ka…Kaneda?”

Kaneda opened one of his eyes and looked at Nathaniel. He had expected pain but his right hand was bleeding badly, severed in the worst possible way. Every bit of his nerves was trying to understand what the hell was happening, and their protest made it difficult to think clearly.

Kaneda had to speak, though. He had to speak to Nate.

“Hey Nate,” Kaneda said, through gritted teeth. “Long time no see.”

TO PART 5

To Save the World – Part 4

To Save the World – Part 3

TO PART 2

Part 3

Kaneda got up and ran. Nathaniel was still a mile away, and yet the building was already shaking. By the time Kaneda reached the ground floor, the rooftop was imploding. He vaulted over a window he had previously broken, straight onto his bike. The engine revved and he was off.

The building collapsed as if in the grasp of an earthquake.

Kaneda crossed two neighborhoods and came upon a road that was a straightshoot to the outside of the town, offering a clear line of sight. Kaneda could see the rust storm, in the long distance, but more importantly, he could see Nate flying in his direction. The bike was stopped, ready to ride, but he brought the gun against his shoulder and aimed forward.

Nathaniel seemed to scream in a violent spasm. The ground ahead began to rupture, shattering in a trail heading straight for Kaneda.

Kaneda pressed the trigger twice, for two one-second beams. The first consumed itself dispersing the invisible force that was on its way to crush him, again in a flash of light, with a small explosion of wind. The second pierced through and onwards, scattering the dust lifted in the wake of that first clash.

The young man in his late twenties stopped in mid-air and yelled out, pushing with his arms. The beam beat against another invisible shield, making Nathaniel wince in painful concentration.

Meanwhile, the bike roared again. Another invisible force pushed out towards Kaneda, but he moved away, driving completely to the side. The road ruptured and broke behind him, the force continuing until it hit a building a few blocks over.

The noise was thunderous with two massive buildings crashing down on top of themselves, and the fight was only getting started.

If Kaneda was able to survive as long as he had to. If not, the Earth was doomed. It was a responsibility that weighed heavily on his shoulders, and it had to. Any less and he would never have agreed to abandon his family.

“I dunno who you are or what you think you’re doing!” Nate’s voice boomed, echoing over the rumbling caused by the collapsing buildings. “But I’m way too hungry for this!”

This is not your friend, Kaneda reminded himself, resisting the urge to talk. There was no talking him down, and if there was, that was a tactic best left for later.

He leaned to the right to handle the tight turn. His bike hiccuped over a rumbling ground to the sound of terrifying destruction chasing him by the heels.

His once friend came charging on, bursting out of a wall of a building.

“Give up now and I won’t crush your every bone to dust before I finally–”

The gun was set upside down over Kaneda’s shoulder, pointing backwards at Nathaniel. It lit up with the light of pure, concentrated solar power. It ejected after crossing a wide variety of amplifying crystals, producing the beam of high intensity white energy that he had been using. With a yell, Nathaniel was forced to stop and disperse it.

“This new weapon of yours doesn’t work! Stop or I’ll make you wish you were never born!!”

Unstoppable telekinetic power. It would be the scariest part of him if it wasn’t for that which kept him alive.

And young, Kaneda added in his mind, as if things weren’t bad enough.

His bike slipped down a level, right into the hollowness of a building half-way burried into the ground. It was one of the halfbaked tunnels he had marked beforehand. While still holding the weapon, he brought a finger and pressed a button. The sides of the bike dropped several disk-shaped mines, shooting them out at the walls and ceiling around him. Around twenty of the tiny things were left behind.

As expected, Nathaniel came flying right after him. The time had arrived to truly depend on the gun’s battery.

Kaneda slid the bike to a perpendicular stop and rested the gun on his free arm, which stayed on the bike.

“I will make it fast!” Nathaniel yelled out, throwing his hands forward in desperate hunger.

The ceilings and walls, as well as the ground, started rupturing as an invisible force charged towards him. It would take out his mines, so Kaneda pressed the trigger.

And held it.

In successive flashes of light, it made it all the way to Nathaniel, at which point he brought the other arm and yelled out in either rage or concentration. Probably  both.

“THIS IS POINTLESS!” He screamed over the noise that was coming from the clash of powers. That of the sun versus his supernatural telekinetic magic.

Screaming, Nathaniel started stepping forward.

“That’s an impressive gun! But it’s gonna run out of ammo! Or I’m gonna reach you! There is no other outcome for this. The only question…” he grunted with effort. Impatience. “Do I kill you without pain, or with a lot of it. Give up! Give yourself up!”

Kaneda awkwardly rose his right foot to the head of the bike, and held it over the button. Nathaniel wouldn’t be able to see it. He wouldn’t be able to see anything with all the explosions of light happening right in front of his face.

“I can sense you,” Nate called out. “I will find you wherever you go. You can’t hide. Can’t run. You can only suffer! Absolutely last chance!”

Kaneda pressed with his heel on the button, and the mines activated. The places around each of them, for a radius of about one meter, imploded, and a momentary burst of sound blasted against Nathaniel. A sonic boom, of the likes that would blow any auditory system, human or otherwise. Kaneda’s helmet shuddered and his visor cracked, even at that distance.

It all blasted into Nathaniel at extremely close range, causing the intended effect.

A momentary lapse of concentration.

The barrier was gone and the beam shot forward, past Nate’s position and onward, stretching down to the horizon. Only then, did Kaneda let go of the trigger. Smoke and debris were blocking his view of what might have happened.

But he didn’t need to see it.

The shriek came on, hurting but very clearly alive. Kaneda turned the bike on, engaging its engines, and ran away before he even saw what damages he had caused.

“I WILL HURT YOU LIKE I’VE NEVER–GUH! GHUAHH!!!”

They had clearly not been enough.

TO PART 4

To Save the World – Part 3

To Save the World – Part 2

TO PART 1

PART 2

To the sound of muffled burning, Kaneda exited the tunnel at full speed. His helmet shaded his eyes from the sudden explosion of sunlight, but he still needed to squint to properly see. Without a doubt, that stasis technology could have used a few more decades of work.

Also, now that he was outside, there was no doubting that the other plans had all but failed. Right out the door, Kaneda found himself driving around a mountain of withering debris. Soon after that, he was beset with a complete wasteland. He dove into a sandstorm made of actual rust, riding on without stop or hesitation. Specks of reddened oxidized iron pushed against his uniform and scraped against the bike, as well as his helmet.

Where are you, Nate?

Certainly, Nathaniel would have smelled him already. Even if he was dormant. Even if he were on the opposite end of the globe, his old and childhood friend would already be rushing to catch him.

Kaneda looked around, grudgingly. I should try and find a spot with better visibility.

Whatever happened, though, he could not leave the island of Okinawa. The satellite, if it were still operational, would be poised to support him on no other location.

Kaneda punched out of the rust-storm and was met with a vast landscape of broken down buildings, well past eroded. As if giants had built them out of sand, and then left them to be melted down by rain.

There were no signs of life wherever he looked. No fires, no roads, not a single thing making noise. Not even animals were around, and that was because Nathaniel ate those too.

Or maybe absorb was the better word.

There, Kaneda thought to himself, seeing a relatively big town. For the life of him, he could not remember its name, but the streets were somewhat intact. He could ride them.

The wind blew in his face as he rode on at approximately three hundred kilometers per hour, gaining as much familiarity with the town as he could. First, he circled the outskirts, and then examined the several roads that were still rideable. He thought of ambush locations, trying to envision how he would conduct the fight with Nathaniel.

Even after a couple of hours had gone by, Kaneda was still rushing, always pressured by the sense that time was running out. Not for one second did he doubt his enemy would be on his way.

My enemy, he considered, bitterly.

Kaneda found and mapped three different spots where buildings had molded together in a way that provided him with good tunnels — routes that would be unseen. He would likely be able to use each only once. If that. He also found a couple of buildings he could likely climb up, and then ride out of in safety, even with Nathaniel giving chase. What took Kaneda the longest was to decide on the spot from which to launch the first attack.

To win, he was going to have to take a lot of gambles, each with a wildly different probability of success. The first of which was an attempt to burn Nathaniel’s brain before the battle even started.

The last of which was the satellite. Kaneda looked up, a bit melancholic. That’s the real plan. But maybe I luck out and get him before that.

Kaneda looked around at the devastated town. There was no sign of animals, no sign of people. Not even bodies. There were lots of signs of fighting, taken place a long time ago, but still, it was as if all the bodies had been sucked out of the world.

Or maybe absorbed was the better word.

Kaneda was lying down on top of a second story building. It wasn’t the tallest, but only three other buildings blocked the view of his surroundings, which was negligible.

As expected, Kaneda saw signs of his incoming long before Nathaniel could spot him. A disturbance in the horizon, air twisting about due to a fast moving body.

The storm of rusted particles ganged way, opening up in his wake. Using all of that, Kaneda could predict Nathaniel’s trajectory.

Lying down, he felt the light particle gun purring in his hands, charged and ready to engage.

Kaneda took a breath. He felt like he should embrace the quiet before the storm. The one last moment of peace and safety he would likely ever have.

In truth, he had already been through a century and a half of that, as undesired as it might have been. No, he wanted to get it over with. He wanted the noise to rage and the violence to erupt. With full force and fury.

With finality.

The gun whistled, the tip temporarily lighting up with the purest, brightest light he had ever seen. If it weren’t for his shaded helmet, he would not be able to keep his eyes open. But as it stood, he kept staring at where he was aiming.

His first shot exited the weapon.

Kaneda saw the air in front of him part in terror. The storm of rust ganged way, almost as energetically as with Nathaniel, and a brightness flashed into being all across the route and until it hit the target.

The two forces pushing the rust storm away collided with thunderous shock, pulling the storm of rust along to be sucked in a spiral around the point where the ray of light had collided with Nathaniel.

Kaneda rotated the little dial resting next to his scope, to zoom out. He was surprised he had hit anything on his first shot. Had that done it? He had to be honest, that anti-climatic of a defeat would be pretty cruel after everything he had sacrificed.

Kaneda felt very guilty for thinking that once he saw a body piercing out of the spiraling rust storm. He didn’t see the body, only the effects of its movement. The outer perimeter of the spiraling storm expanded to let it through, and now a trail was visibly tearing across the ground. Nathaniel was flying low, and very fast.

The gun hummed again, charging.

Here we go, Nate. It’s been a long time coming, but fate’s done its work and here we are.

A beam of light pierced the skies and hit something in the way, instantly lighting it up. The visual effect of a shattering invisible barrier looked very much like the sound barrier bursting in the wake of a plane, only it happened with a bright flash of light as well. The body dashed to the side, avoiding the laser, and then adjusted his direction. Heading towards Kaneda.

Kaneda spat to the side, eye wide open. He held the trigger, firing a two-second beam while flicking his aim a bit. The beam moved, bursting through another invisible barrier before whipping to hit the incoming silhouette. Kaneda saw a spasm of movement before it hit – like a full body flinch.

From the resulting flash of light, and the dust lifted by the small explosion, came Nathaniel. Speeding onward. Unrelenting.

Now he was near enough that Kaneda could see his balding head. The scars on his forehead and cheek looked the same as ever. The massive amount of blonde facial hair was new, as was the long crimson cape blowing in the wind.

Humanity’s most powerful creation. Once his dearest friend.

Now his greatest enemy.

TO PART 3

To Save the World – Part 2

To Save the World – Part 1

ENERGY RESERVES NOW FULL. INITIATING WAKE UP SEQUENCE.

He couldn’t believe it. It had been a long time since Kaneda had decided he must have died and gone to hell. In fact, surely, what he had heard was just a trick to worsen his punishment. Nothing would actually happen. His body would not wake up.

First, Kaneda felt a tingle. In reflex, he tried to see, but his eyes remained as unresponsive as they had ever been. The sensation must have been a trick, as well. A demon had poked him.

But the tingle devolved into a burning sensation.

His mind hadn’t had nerve responses in decades, perhaps longer, so what happened next apparently short-circuited his senses. Confused, he retreated into the deep dark corner where he had kept himself safe from the hell he had been living in.

And stayed there.

Outside was nothing but light, a piercing, burning light that would surely destroy him should he bask on it. No, he would stay in there and make sure he wouldn’t go mad. He couldn’t go mad, he had a job to do.

Did he? Why couldn’t he go mad? What was he protecting himself for?

“Are you a hero, daddy?”

The door burst open, and the light came in. A ceiling made of suns pierced his mind with pain, and in reaction, Kaneda as if dragged blades across his throat to produce a scream. Reflexively, he turned around and retched, puking only God knows what down at the floor.

My hands, Kaneda thought, with difficulty.

He could feel them. He could taste his teeth, as well, and his terrible breath. He felt around his surroundings for whatever he could touch, sliding his hands across ragged, icy edges. He blinked nervously and, shocked, began to see.

“Oh…God,” he whispered, with a voice yet wresting itself from hibernation. “God almighty, I really am awake.”

KANEDA TSUI, YOUR EQUIPMENT IS READY. PRESS THE BUTTON TO OPEN THE VAULT SEAL.

Kaneda covered his eyes with his hand, but he still looked around at his surroundings, properly taking stock of them. More cobwebs and critters were slithering around than actual technology, but despite that, it was all powering up. The lights, the noise of electricity, it pushed the insects and other vermin into a hasty, mindless retreat.

Kaneda’s eyes were still squinting, refusing to get used to the light any time soon. His voice seemed to be competing with them for who stayed asleep the longest. His ears seemed to be okay, but then, they had always been.

Kaneda turned his eyes to the screen, trying to read what was on it. It should be the latest message that he had heard. However, they were too blurry. He gasped for air, trying to remember how to breathe. Kaneda couldn’t help but think waking up would have been a lot easier if he had actually been asleep.

“Are you a hero, daddy?”

Kaneda shook his head, trying to get his mind on the present. How many years had passed? How long had he been in stasis, with his brain fully active and awake? With his ears listening in on everything around him?

Of all the things to go wrong, that had been a distant worse.

“Are you a her–“

“Raaah!” Blood once again spat out of his mouth, but he had to. He had expected to live only for a couple of days, as far as he was concerned. He could maybe deal with the guilt then, but that damn error had left him an infinite amount of time to ponder and think about what he had done.

About having left his family to die.

His eyes finally remembered how to read Chinese characters, then. Kaneda confirmed the screen was saying what he had heard.

Spite encouraged Kaneda to wrest control of his faculties. Groaning, he forced his torso to bend over and up. Then he pulled himself out of the stasis bed and fell on the ground. That was a lot more painful than it should have been.

Kaneda drew strength from that.

“Come on…” he whispered, but it sounded so loud to him. “There is…no time…”

He crawled towards a closet that was standing by. Ideally, there would be people there to help him, but the lack of personnel was only one of many catastrophic consequences that had been expected. Kaneda had given them the guarantee that he could administer the adrenaline himself. Better than to trust that to robots.

He grabbed hold of the drawer and pulled it open. He reached inside and felt for needles, finding them quickly. As fast as he could, he brought it over and pierced himself in the chest, pressing with all the strength he could muster, which wasn’t a lot.

Kaneda convulsed, losing his senses once again, but then they came back with a vengeance.

Fine! They seemed to say. Here we are!

The dim light flared even brighter, and the sounds of insects crawling about made themselves noticed. Kaneda reflexively punched at the ground and then got up with a yell.

In a spasm, he moved towards the computer. Blinking, he reminded himself of what the keys on the board meant and quickly pressed three in tandem.

IT HAS BEEN 54.750 DAYS SINCE VAULT HAS CLOSED.

Kaneda closed his eyes, leaking his sadness away now that he could.

That’s… Kaneda made the math. If there was something his brain was more than ready to do, it was to think. “A hundred and fifty…”

His hands closed, and so did his heart. He looked aside and saw the big red button. Beside it was a skeleton hand. Kaneda would likely see the skeletons of the people that had stayed there in case he was only asleep for a few decades. Clearly, they had attempted to escape.

Clearly, what he had heard had not been from his dreams. They had been there, arguing and fighting each other, blaming him most of all. They had tried to disrupt his stasis and failed. They had tried a lot of things and failed. They had died crying, every single one of them.

Maybe, it was their fault that he had woken up while still in stasis. It was hard to know for sure.

Kaneda put aside those worthless, irrelevant questions, and slammed the button down. In response, a whole lot of machinery gained life beyond the walls and what he could see. Kaneda could hear a whole lot of force moving the earth outside the bunker.

Kaneda walked to the brightest spot in the room, a glass chest. It was already opened, with the weapon inside in full display.

“What are the odds this has all been for nothing? That one of the other plans worked out, and I’m about to climb back up into some future world?”

Kaneda snatched the light particle gun. It was the size of a military rifle, but it had a canister that made it feel like a heavy assault machine gun. Handling the weight was all the confirmation Kaneda needed that his physical attributes were all but engaged, having weakened not the slightest bit.

Then he grabbed the three cube-like mines, wondering if the satellite was even in the sky, still. Whether it would respond. Finally, Kaneda grabbed the helmet and the leather gloves. Then he saw the knife, which caused the whole plan to come to his immediate memory. He took it as well, sheathing it in his boot.

He had been put into stasis with the expectation that, once awake, he would immediately leave and head to battle. Kaneda heard the air blowing from a mile away, echoing from above, trailing the tunnels down to him. But he felt nothing inside his combat suit. It suited him tightly, and the leather that made it up left him feeling very little.

Nate would be able to smell Kaneda now. He would be on the way.

Kaneda walked away to grab the solar cycle. As expected, there were two skeletons, long past eroded, lying next to the exit door. But it opened for him.

GODSPEED TSUI. MAY YOU BRING AN END TO THE WORLD ENDER.

Kaneda put the helmet on, holding the weapon down with his other hand. He mounted the solar cycle that was waiting for him right past the door, at the beginning of a tunnel that was hopefully still clear of debris.

A leg went over, and he rested the gun on the magnetic grappler that the cycle had on its side. The bike, much like the light particle gun, was fully charged. The difference was that it had probably been fully charged and waiting for well over a century.

His helmet turned on with night vision, and he immediately saw the light at the end of the vast tunnel. It was daytime, so he would soon deactivate it. Kaneda worked the engine of the solar cycle, hearing the perfectly conserved piece of machinery respond like it had only been a day.

“Are you a hero, daddy?”

Kaneda flinched, biting his lip just a little bit.

That was the last time. Kaneda shook his head and knew it for sure. It was not even a question of whether he had any hesitation left in him. Even if that had been the case when he first stepped into the bunker, a decade and a half had thoroughly annihilated it. There was no doubt in him that all the sacrifices had already been made, and were long past reversing.

No. Now, there was only making good on them.

The engine roared, and the wheels skidded against the ground. Kaneda Tsui rode off into battle.

“I’ll try to be, my flower petal,” had been Kaneda’s answer.

TO PART 2

To Save the World – Part 1

The Unknown We Always See

The flower petal landed right on her nose, that’s what was so unbelievable. Her brain showed her the angle that usually went ignored, and she not only saw the mango-colored rose petal but her own nose.

Her whole life, she could see her nose, but her brain filtered that out. It was something she had always known, but it took a whole new meaning right at that moment.

“The brain knows everything, but I don’t think it understands a lot.”

“What’s that?” He asked.

It was suddenly right there. The things she had seen but had filtered out. Rachel plucked the petal off her nose and sat up, eyes wide over blushing cheeks.

“Rachel?”


They had met on the beach. We never truly remember how we made a friend. One day we had no idea about each other’s existence, and the other, we were in each other’s lives.

It was like that with him.

But the scene came to her. Just like her mind showed her the nose that ever eluded, so did it now reveal how the moment had unfolded.

He was walking his dog, she was reading a book. The dog got her attention by barking, and so she looked at it, and then at him, and he was already looking her way. She had seen many handsome men, and yet, none had caused the reaction that that face, slightly unkempt as it was, managed to burn into her. She smiled, and he smiled, and that was it. They both wanted to talk to each other.

Until now, that’s where it had started. They wanted to talk, so they did, but looking at the reason behind it, Rachel now understood it had not been that simple. Something had happened between step a and step c, and she didn’t understand it. Yet, she certainly didn’t regret it.

“Nice to meet you, Rachel. This is Duke.”

She had giggled at that, pulling her hand to scratch the young dog’s head and gain its favor. “You introduce the dog first?”

“Of course. He’s the one that caught your eye, wasn’t he?”

Rachel had looked up at him, amused.

“And I caught yours, is that it?”

“Eventually,” he said with a thoughtful smirk. “First was the book.” He pointed down at it. “I’ve read it, and I really liked it.”

Ordinarily, that should have offended her somewhat. As she perused over that memory, she expected to have continued the conversation out of politeness, which was the obvious step e between d and f. The truth was different, she now realized. It was clear that his response had been charming to her. She had continued the conversation out of interest, not politeness.

The fact was that their first interaction had not been socially scripted in the way all relationships are.

From observing her own relationships, and that of others, everyone always seemed to be following a script that had been written by some ethereal agreement from which culture had been fabricated, and on which society had been built. People hardly spoke as they truly wanted, said the words they desired or did to others as they knew should be done.

Do not step on their toes. Do not overreach. Do not hurt their feelings. Do not be too informal, or too formal. Take into consideration their profile before choosing your words. Their history, their appearance, their gender and race, politics and religion. All of it.

Do not, ever, be yourself until you are sure that it’s appropriate. Rachel had never witness otherwise being beneficial, and as far as she could remember, she had only tried it once herself. To terrible results.

People either followed the right script, and their relationship thrived for the benefit of both people, or they followed the wrong one, and then not at all. As far as she could tell, several reasons were behind the mistakes that could be made, but the main one was willful ignorance.

Rachel, though, observed and considered everything carefully. Ever since she was a child, seeking to understand her parents and how not to disappoint them, Rachel had been incredibly apt at deciphering the script. Even if people weren’t themselves, they were still very honest about what they need in an interaction, if one pays enough attention.

Rachel paid a lot of attention.

They started meeting at that spot often, her and him. Rachel could see all the steps unfolding as they usually did. She watched, she listened, she deciphered the expectations. Politeness and interest gave way to subdued flirting that could very well simply be friendliness, and that gave way to overt flirting that makes the situation obvious, all the while avoiding any subject matters that could threaten their appreciation of each other’s company.

Enjoying moment after predictable moment, making sure nothing would be said or done that would ever ruin the mood. Building the relationship step by premeditated step.

Now, though, Rachel recognized how very unlike that it had been, actually. The overt flirting had begun when he showed up without Duke, his dog.

“Had to drop him at the vet for some treatment,” he had explained.

“And you still came to the beach?”

He smiled at her, knowingly. “Of course.  I wanted to see you.”

That was skipping a few steps, for sure. That had not been Rachel’s interpretation, though, but rather that she had simply misjudged the script as far as that relationship was concerned. That she had an inaccurate perception of what the steps were, and which one they were on.

“Well I’m glad one of us gets what they want, but I wanted to see Duke.” She winked at him, and he chuckled.

“He’s with me in spirit. I’m a guy, after all, we’re all dogs deep down, right?”

That was usually a very negative thing, especially to admit, but in that context, it was again inexplicably charming. Rachel gave him room on the bench and read not on more page that day.

The kiss was another thing that was odd. It was another day, and she had been driven into a small fit of giggling by the interaction between Duke, his dog, and a couple of poodles.

“Oh man,” he said, pained, and then he kissed her. She froze, not because it was unwelcome, but rather because that did not fit into any understanding she was currently on as far as the script was concerned. “Sorry,” he said. “Is. Is that okay? Am I okay to do that? I wasn’t sure, I just really wanted to? Sorry!”

He shied away, afraid of the consequences. The scripts existed for exactly that reason, so they can live without fear or embarrassment.

Rachel picked the petal off her nose and shook her head. Or try to, anyway, she thought.

When had she ever not been afraid? Her entire life was one long, uninterrupted attempt at avoiding embarrassment and regret. They had been meeting at that beach site for over a week and had explicitly made their attractions known. Why was it so illogical for him to kiss her?

Why was it not a step for her to kiss him?

Until now, she had been continuously trying to decipher the script. What was she getting wrong? What didn’t she understand about him?

The answer had been in front of her the whole time. Like her nose. It had eluded her because she was not wrong and never had been wrong.

Know the scripts. Follow the scripts. One makes no enemies. But then, they also make no friends they can really trust. And know no love that they truly believe in.

Because no one will know who they really are.

As they sat there, watching a beautiful day end side by side, she realized she didn’t know if he really liked Rachel. However, she knew she really liked Chris. There was no script to figure out, there was only who he was.

Rachel turned her hand around to wrap around Chris’s, since it was already on top of hers, and looked over at him. He was watching her a bit worried.

“Are…are you okay?”

She brought the petal and lifted it, holding it in-between her fingers. Rachel smiled and blinked tears, and he only looked more worried.

She took a breath and focused on the petal. It was now or never.

“I’m pretty sure I love you, Chris. And I’m terrified that that’s a mistake. I’m scared that I’m not being honest enough with you and you’ll change your mind about me. And. And-and I’m scared of the investment that we have to make to find out.”

Rachel was tearing away the script. With how much she cared about Chris and hoped that they could take their relationship the distance, it should be the last thing she should do. She wasn’t even sure why anxiety was gripping her so tightly, but stubbornly, she pushed through it. It was all a sign she really had to fight it.

Now more than ever, with him more than anyone, she needed to know that they could function without any script. Without rationale. Without any steps in mind, only the destination.

“Me too,” he said.

She blinked and took the petal down, blushing and hesitant.

“Me too…uhm, to what?”

His other hand reached and caressed against her back, gently pulling her close by the torso, and he leaned in.

“To everything.” He kissed her, then pulled back and smiled, desire in his eyes. “To anything.” He kissed her again, and she kissed back, with a purpose of emotion that she had never experienced. “To you.”

A bit teary-eyed, not really controlling herself as she started to laugh, she pulled back, glared at him, and then threw herself at him for a hug.

His hand came over to brush her hair.

“I have to be honest, I really don’t like those superhero movies,” she said, goofily.

He just laughed.

“I think I can live with that. But I’m still gonna watch them.”

Rachel chuckled into his neck, half-dizzy with relief. With a level of joy that was unprecedented.

Who needs the scripts? Who needs steps, when they finally have someone they can run with?

“I can live with that,” she said, pushing to lie him down.

The Unknown We Always See