The Last Hour

Dominic walked into that very familiar street of Paris, already enjoying the view. The day was sunny with that sort of light breeze that dreams are supposed to be made of. The fresh smell of bread and coffee permeated the air, with a hint of a perfume mix that could only be sensed in the most beautiful city in the world.

It wasn’t crowded there, it never was. Dominic liked the open space the most, as far as that location was concerned. However, his thoughts were suddenly stolen by his sight as it caught on to the presence of a familiar face.

“You’re alive, Leo!”

The blonde man turned equally surprised eyes over to Dominic, his face lighting up in joy.

“Dom, you’re still alive!”

Dominic walked quickly, and Leo stood up, and they embraced in a firm and fast hug. “Alright,” Dominic said, joyfully. “Great to see you, how are you?”

Leo nodded and sat down, continuing to speak. “Oh, this is the best time for me, Dom, without a doubt. Nobody makes croissants like them! How about yourself?”

Dominic nodded excited. “Oh, I am over the moon that I’m here, too. It’s my favorite of them all. Excuse me, Mademoiselle!”

Leo chuckled. “You and your French.”

Dominic winked at him, all while asking for a coffee and a piece of chocolate cake. “In general, Belgium’s the best, but this place has an especially great cake,” Dom explained.

Leo laughed, a bit muffled over his chewing. “Yes, but nobody else makes croissants quite like these. Other people will butter them up, fill them with chocolate chips, or almond cream, or whatever else. This is the real deal, though, so I never miss ‘em.”

“Hey, you two are still alive!”

Both of them turned their heads, and lit up at the sight of Patricia.

“You too!” Leo celebrated, lifting his glass half-filled with wine.

Dominic grinned widely. “Pat! You’re alive. Here, sit down with us!”

“Don’t have to ask me twice,” she said with a giggle. “Tell me you know about the chocolate cake!”

Leo raised his hands up in mock surrender. “Okay, now I’m intrigued.”

“You gotta try it, I’ll get an extra slice for you,” Patricia suggested.

Leo chuckled again, nodding helpfully. “Okay, okay, but fast, I think my hour’s almost up.”

“What? You’re still not keeping track? Man, I’m always counting the minutes,” Dominic said with a short laugh.

“That’s just depressing,” Leo said, shaking his head.

“Yes, two. And a black coffee. No sugar, okay?” Patricia asked.

“Oui oui, J’vous apporte ça tout d’suite!” the lady replied, helpfully leaving right away, with a happy pep to her step.

“I have to agree with Leo, Dom. Kind of mental to be keeping track,” Patricia added.

Dom laughed at that, and shrugged. He then looked around at the scenery before him. “Ahh, I love this place. What is your favorite? The heat or the wind?”

“Wind,” they both said immediately, and then they traded a look before giggling together.

“Yeah, that figures,” Dominic easily agreed. “It’s the same for me.”

“This wine is what I really love more than anything. The way it freshens up my throat, but heats me inside. I love it.”

Dominic smiled. That was because it was the opposite, but Leo wouldn’t clarify on that. Not only was there no need, but nobody talked about outside when they were inside. It was the greatest of wastes to do so.

“What about sounds? I love the birds chirping,” Dominic pointed out.

“Oh, here in Paris, it’s all about the mild chatter. French is so pleasing to me,” Patricia explained.

“You kidding? I love hearing myself think,” Leo said, and the two laughed, but then his face flickered with disappointment. It was very brief, but noticeable. “Well, seems one of you has to eat some extra cake. I have to go in a minute.”

Dominic shrugged, but did not gloat. “Oh, well. It was a real pleasure, Leo.”

“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT????!”

Leo, Dominic and Patricia turned their heads and landed eyes on a very young man. He could not be more than twelve years old.

“HOW?! What is this?!” He was looking around, and in his face were written countless atrocities, as well as the certainty of death. The shock that it hadn’t claimed him. The young man covered his face, then opened his hands, then closed them again and screamed.

Leo chuckled again, downing the rest of the wine. “Well, nice to know you guys. Good luck with the new guy.”

Dominic turned a pleasant smile Leo’s way, managing not to respond with sarcasm or even a roll of the eyes. It was Patricia who spoke first, however.

“See you again, possibly.”

“Have a good life,” Dominic added, in a friendly manner, and then they looked at each other, and then they turned to the young man.

“Hey there!” Dominic called out, waving with his arm. The young man looked their way. “Nice to see you alive! Come over here, sit with us.”

The young man looked around, confused. Dominic couldn’t help but notice how young they were getting. He was pretty sure he had not had his first day so young.

That wasn’t the time to wonder, though, so Dominic didn’t question it.

“Come,” Patricia called, full of kindness. The woman’s tone worked better, and the young man sniffed and nodded, and began his approach.

“My name is Patricia,” she said as he approached, smiling vividly, “and this is Dominic.”

“Dom, please,” Dominic said, chuckling. “Full name’s a waste of time.”

Patricia giggled. “I know! Aren’t they always?” Then she turned her smile the new comer’s way. “What’s your name?”

The young man looked around at the people around them. They were talking, but their voices seemed distant and unfocused. They were walking around, gesturing and cavorting, but their figures flickered somewhat. Not that Dominic paid any attention to such things, it was a waste to pay attention to stuff like that, but he remembered.

“Your name, friend,” Dominic asked, laughing at his confused face. “We don’t have all hour.”

“Char…Charlie. Is this a dream?” the squeaky voice asked.

“Isn’t it just?” Patricia asked, delightfully clapping her hands. The cake had arrived. “You’re in luck, Charlie. You get to have Leo’s slice! Here, sit,” she offered, tapping on Leo’s chair.

“But I don’t…oh wait. Is this my break? They said I’d get a break every…” Charlie’s mind was still wandering lost.

It was awkward to deal with the situation like they were, but even after the last three failures, Dominic had to try. To waste an hour on the grim that is every other hour was a desperate waste that he very much wished to avoid.

“A whole hour like this, isn’t it great?” Patricia asked. She pushed the plate with the piece of cake closer to the boy, and winked at him. “Here. For doing a good job.”

“I did a good job?” Charlie asked.

“You’re alive, Charlie, you did a great job!” Dominic said. That was okay to say. It was skirting the line, but it was still a positive thing to say. “Try it,” he said, eating a piece of his own and moaning with pleasure. “It is so darn good, I tell you.”

The young man looked down, suspiciously. He involuntarily sniffed, and his eyes misted with the effort to hold back tears. “I uh…okay?”

“Okay,” Dominic reassured, tapping Charlie on his back. “Oh, Pat, one thing I would like to tell someone! My favorite color!” He announced, proudly.

Patricia gaped. “No. You picked a favorite color? They are all so beautiful.”

“Yes, look. It’s orange!” Dominic looked around for something that was orange, but there was nothing. “Hm. Maybe I should order an orange.”

Patricia giggled. “Silly Dom. I know what orange is. I love it, but I love all the colors. Well, almost all of them. It’s crazy that you have a favorite.”

Dominic nodded, smiling widely. “When you get to visit enough wonderful places like this enough times, you start to really think about stuff like that. What do I want to repeat and stuff, the same way we decide what we want to eat at every particular place, you know?”

Patricia chewed happily, waving her hand side to side. She swallowed, “oh, I understand. I just–”

“What are you talking about?!” screeched Charlie, all of a sudden. He had been shivering and trembling, holding back a cry, and they had been ignoring it.

Dominic should know better but Patricia had probably not dealt with that situation before.

“This is just an illusion! It’s all fake! We’re inside a horrible capsule and horrible monsters want to eat us! Is that what they do?! There’s so many of them. It never…they never stop!” Charlie’s eyes danced around as if they were looking to escape his face. “Am I even alive, still? Are you?” tears welled up, at last. “We have to be, there’s no way you can be so stupid!” said his childish voice.

Dominic and Patricia stared at Charlie, momentarily thoughtful. Their expressions turned grim, sad, holding back the darkest thoughts born from the darkest experiences and visages they had ever experienced.

Which happened continuously every day.

Patricia suddenly glared over Charlie and away, her face lighting up with a very pleasant surprise. “Skylar! You’re alive, too!”

Patricia stood up and moved, leaving the two behind. Dominic sighed, accepting the role that was left to him.

“She just ignored me,” Charlie pointed out, his voice high-pitched and angry. “You are fake!”

Dominic scratched his head, taking a heavy breath. That kind of called Charlie’s attention. “Charlie, there’s something you need to understand about breaks, and you need to understand very quickly. Otherwise, nobody will want to talk to you, and you’ll be spending them alone.”

Charlie eyed Dominic, recognizing some sense in his words.

Dominic sighed. He could no longer taste the chocolate. The contrast that truly surrounded him started blending in a bit with Paris’s wonderful sunny surroundings. “Here, we are inside. There is no outside. No war. No amazons.”

“You just pretend?” Charlie asked, trying not to worsen his cry. He was hiccupping, trying to breathe. “How can you just. That was so much worse than they said it would be. It’s hot. It hurts. It’s so scary. They don’t stop coming, and making noises, and the guns never cease…not for a second, they never stop. None of it does. How can we…”

“Survive? We can’t. We’ll die for sure,” Dominic said, with a shrug. “You’ll take a while to accept it, but more than likely, you’ll die before you can. It’s like that with most, but it’s impossible to survive.”

“How are you so calm?” Charlie asked, his voice wavering like wind crossing a tunnel. “I can’t…I can hardly breathe. I don’t want to go back. I want my mom. I want to go back.”

Dominic tapped his fingers on the table. He kept hoping Charlie would unnaturally learn, from one moment to the other, and he could stop thinking about outside. No such luck. “There’s no getting out,” Dominic said. “This is your first break, but maybe it will be your last break. And here’s the point, Charlie. This is probably the last good hour I’ll ever experience. Yours too. And how did you spend it?”

Charlie’s eyes opened in realization, and Dominic gave him a helpless smile. And nodded, too.

“And how am I spending it?” Dominic added.

Charlie blushed, and looked away embarrassed. That helped. The young man completely understood what Dominic was saying.

“This is why, Charlie. We’re all the same. We are all going through exactly the same thing, and know exactly the same things. Which is nothing. I don’t know where I’m stationed. I don’t know who’s stationed near me. The only indication I get that Humanity is still alive is when I see someone new. But this kind of thing? Wasting an hour on this?”

Just then, he started getting the warning. Dominic couldn’t help but take an extremely disappointed breath. He was beyond distraught.

“Aww… my hour’s running out.” Dominic grabbed the cake with one hand and shoved it into his mouth, but there was no lying to himself at that point. Dominic’s brain just shook its head, denying him the fantasy. He was all too aware of the simulation now.

The break system only worked if one didn’t fight it.

Dominic massaged his face, sighing. “Ahh…man, I hope this isn’t my last break.”

“How many breaks have you had?” Charlie asked.

Immediately, Dominic’s hands fled as if he had been attacked, and he clicked his tongue and viciously glared at Charlie. “Never ask that! Do you want me to die?!”

Red lights in front of Dominic started blinking, and the noise of the alarm system pierced through the illusion. Grating.

Sighing again, Dominic helplessly smiled, as sincerely as he could. “Ah, well. Good luck, Charlie. See you again, maybe.”

“I…I’m sorry. It was…nice to know you, Dom,” Charlie said, and he smiled expectantly. “Thank you.”

Dominic took yet another breath, and smiled as well. Then he nodded.

Then Dominic was curled up and leaned down and forward, rolling his eyes awake. He was in the dark, strapped to his spherical turret which was his home. Very nearly his body, too.

Dominic could already hear the incessant shooting happening all around him. He grumbled and stretched out to push a big button which spelled out ARM.

At once, the alarm stopped, and the screen in front of Dominic lost its opaqueness. The darkness was maintained, outside of a few led lights so he could more easily find the buttons, dials and joysticks. Not that he needed the assistance since he could be blind and deaf and still use the controls just fine.

If that was the case, he also wouldn’t have to see it all.

Dominic was strapped to the ceiling of a pretty big cave, and he was a spherical blip in a vast sea of blips. The turrets around him were firing by the thousands, so it was utterly impossible to even guess whether the ones right next to him were disabled or not. And that’s if Dominic could check, which he couldn’t.

The amazons, which looked like insects far away, and even more so up close, were swarming the entire cave. The sea of dark metal blinking yellow lights was so thick that Dominic could barely see the glint and glow of the turret fire on the other side of it. Dominic could barely discern the drones getting hit and exploding, which to him, were just flickers of light happening constantly.

The drones were already diving in, trying to kill him.

Logic dictated that someone near Dominic was now on break, and that while he had been on break, everyone near him had been awake. Elsewise, he wouldn’t be alive.

However, there was no way to confirm that suspicion.

Already sick of the buzzing caused by the tiny propellers moving the drones, Dominic held back tears and squeezed the trigger, all too aware that it would be a week before he let go of it.

Bonded with the turret and kept alert and healthy intravenously, and not at all painlessly, Dominic never truly slept. None of them did. They shot drones down and hoped they were culling the swarm well enough that its vanguard, wherever it was, was not gaining ground.

Finally, and very much against Dominic’s will, the radio system came on.

“Quadrant three overrun.” “All good all good all good.” “Die amazons, die die die, get–” “No no, I missed one-ARGDHFGcv.”

A turret exploded, that was easy to discern. Another one would be propped out of the ground to replace it, containing yet another person.

Dominic controlled his turret frantically, rotating after the closest amazons, one after another after another.

The drones never stopped coming after him, and the turrets near him, and those in the distance, but more importantly, they never stopped flying by and away. Dominic’s nervous system was already in fight-or-flight, and it would maintain that tension until his next break. If he could make it that far.

For all Dominic knew, he had had his last hour.

The Last Hour

The Hero Ayina

She gulped, gripping the handle-bar tightly. Her life would soon depend on her grip, so she was getting ahead of it.

Master Kwo kicked the harness shut and tugged at the cord to make sure it was well and tightly strung. He then looked up, and then back.

“Yes. Like clockwork, it is coming. Look,” his voice beckoned.

Ayina grimaced and did not look back. “I rather not see.”

Kwo nodded his heavy face, hardened by the gruesome year of fighting and hunting. He gave the cord another tug to confirm its sturdiness, gazing at it suspiciously. “I almost died the first time we tried this,” he said, grumbling. “The winds the king crane produces are like nothing I’ve ever felt.”

“Yet, they will aid me,” she said, almost as a question, and he simply nodded.

“The calculations are unmistakable,” he stated, without a doubt. “Every three days, the king Crane flies by this valley. We have instruments around the entire breadth of this beautiful formation, and we have calculated.”

“The hero Lin failed, though,” she pointed out, still unsure of herself. Her hands were sweaty, would they slip? Cause a shift in weight that would send her down to her doom?

Did it matter?

“Lin, like you, was the right weight and possessed the perfect body proportions. Lin hesitated too long and was caught by the second wing flap. The first interacts well with the walls of the valley, and this cliff itself, and will aid in your glide. But the second will hit the cavernous surroundings of DugMole Clearing. They will rage tumultuously and flip you around like a leaf in a tornado.”

Ayina gulped, trembling with fear. It was very easy for Kwo to tell that that was the fact.

“Make no mistake, Ayina. Should you fail, we have no other plan. No one else matches the necessary calculations.”

“I know.”

“We have kept the cranes from migrating for all of this extremely vicious year. However, the discovery of the nest on the Volcano, with a flock of cranes that are already learning to fly, has revealed that we have failed. It was inevitable, really. Having finally grown children, the cranes will migrate together. The whole world will suffer.”

“I know.”

“The whole world is counting on you—“

“I KNOW! Master Kwo, please.” She wanted to calm down, but just then, she heard a swooshing sound that was trying to sound like a thunderclap, and seconds later, a gust of wind hit them.

She couldn’t help but yell as the winds battered her glider. They pushed Kwo aside with monstrous force, making his feet slide off the cliff. He grabbed hold of the cable to keep that from happening.

“One more flap, and on the one after that, you will go!” Kwo raised his voice over the startled winds. “You will go, Ayina, and save the world! And your husband and child, and all of their descendants, for as long as our nation is living, shall reap benefits worthy of kings!”

She bit her lip and shed a tear, feeling the winds settling down a bit. The noise was still there, though, flying fast towards her from afar. So much so that Kwo was yelling, to make sure that he was heard.

“Remember! Approach from behind the right wing! Watch as it raises its tip, a third of the wing’s breath. Once the feathers on that tip are aiming at the sky, press the trigger. You will take flight away from it, and then we will kill it. And its young. Then our world will be free of these titan cranes.”

It wasn’t the first time Ayina had heard those instructions. It wasn’t even the tenth. By the time she had heard it ten times, she had dictated it from memory another ten. That was the importance of her mission, or the lack of confidence that they had in her.

Her hair, once as long as the middle of her back, had been cut bald. A helmet stood in substitution, and it was uncomfortably strapped around her neck. Her eyes, dark brown, were unseen behind the visor that was supposed to withstand the harshest of winds. Her body, which the officers had desperately endeavored to maintain for the past week, was constricted by the blue and white leather suit that was supposed to blend in with the sky. Just in case.

The glider was huge. It had a width and girth that would never work on a normal day’s wind, and it had the weapon attached to its top. Wires connected it to the handlebar so that she could use it as a trigger. Hopefully, she would not accidentally fire it.

Looking ahead, at the depths of the canyon before her, the great valley that stood incomparable in all the world, she was reminded of when she had visited with her family. In a long time past, where a gigantic bird wasn’t making hunting grounds of all their great cities, they had sat around a ledge not far from where she now stood, and had eaten good food, laughed and talked, creating memories that she would cherish forever.

Even if that turned out to be a very short time. Oh, Kein…oh Kein, I did not kiss you enough, she thought, having mixed feelings about remembering his embrace because she might cry so much that the tears could muddle her vision and fumble the whole thing.

A thunderclap sounded even louder, and mere two seconds later, the winds came whistling and blowing, and battered against them so strongly that the whole cliff shook. Her glider felt like it would rip open, but the cables and harnesses kept it grounded. Kwo screamed with effort, and Ayina saw that he was floating in the air.

Slowly, his body came to fall on the cliff floor. He stood up, with difficulty, and took some hard steps in her direction, fighting through the continuous gust of invisible power. Meanwhile, he yelled at her.

“There are no words for how grateful we are for your sacrifice! A statue is already being built, just like it was with Lin. You are a hero already, Ayina. And we love you!”

She could see sincere and true admiration in the old man’s eyes. It meant a lot that he was there, risking his life. The leader of their island nation drew upon a pistol and pointed it down at something she couldn’t see, but she knew it was the agglomeration of nails holding down the chains that were keeping her glider from flying off.

Ayina swallowed fear because she didn’t know what else to do with it. There was too much.

“Remember! Right wing! When the tip is pointing at the sky! And whatever you do…” she heard his voice directed away from her. At the incoming behemoth. “Do not blink!”

Her breath blew nervously rampant. The noise was so clear. A massive existence, one that could perch on mountain tops and carry entire skyscrapers away, was bearing down in her direction.

Thunder clapped with a great, echoing bellow. Nature screamed in pain and rage at the massive beating it was getting from the wings. She could only hear the battle between the wind and her glider. Air rushed up into her helmet and draped her face in cold, pushing the tears away from her cheeks.

“SAVE US, AYINA!” The voice screamed, and she saw how gigantic feathers popped up from below her. The cliff they were on looked like an arm, and it was an arm that extended for a long distance. Nobody knew how that had formed, but the same could be said about all rock formations that had been shaped by seas and rivers that hadn’t existed for thousands of years.

“SAVE US!”

Metal struck and Ayina was suddenly ripped free from her chains. Her heart skipped many beats, and her respiratory system forgot how to function. The floor vanished and the cliff face, which had been right by her a moment ago, was now several feet below her. She had flown so very high so very fast.

And from that altitude, still, she could not see the whole of the titan crane. Its wing, deathly white, stood still below her, gliding the gigantic body along. She could see the short head and thin beak, near half a mile away. They were still large enough that people could live on them.

She looked aside, but her sight could not properly discern all the way to the left wing. There was the torso, big and huge beyond imagining.

How had this creature appeared, and where had it come from? Rumors were that it was the product of experimentation, and others said it had been inside the iceberg that had reached them several years now.

Ayina shook her head, awkwardly pushing away the remainder of her tears. The wind was blowing hard against her body, and the glider felt extremely flimsy in her hands. She leaned, sending the glider into a dive.

It didn’t matter where it came from, it only mattered that it was dead. Putting the world aside, Ayina did not want her son growing up in a world subjugated by those things.

In only one year, they had had to evacuate every city across the nation. They had been forced to become cave-dwelling hunters, living dreary, unhappy, terrified lives. That was why it felt like it had gone on for much longer than a simple year. A miserable life truly had a tendency to extend itself.

The beast is so large I can hardly tell I’m getting closer, Ayina complained in her mind. Still, she could tell well enough, and so she soon stabilized her gliding to use the speed to get closer to the bird. Another dive and she would be in a position to fire.

Nervously, Ayina watched the right wing. For the life of her, she could not be certain that she could discern its movements. The sunlight was reflecting off the white feathers powerfully, and while her visor enabled her to keep her eyes open, that was about all she was capable of. Her eyes were already stinging.

“Kein,” she whispered, thinking of her beloved. Finding strength in him, like she had always done. “Help me do this. Help me under–”

Just then, a shadow formed halfway to the tip. The wing was bending, and so Ayina dove again with her glider.

Her thoughts vanished beneath the tension of her perception and the terrible noise of the wind. And the wing continued to bend.

It’s just a slight flap, to maintain altitude, and yet it will blow me away and kill me.

Ayina almost cried again but held strong. She glided onwards, focusing as hard as she could on the glistening silver feathers. Awaiting the moment they would point at the sky.

They pointed at the sky, or so Ayina hoped. She hesitated for a second, but then saw by the shadows how the wing began to bend in the opposite direction. Swallowing, she leveled her glider into only a half glide, to get closer. The wing was huge now and completely filled the environment below her.

She squeezed the grip on her hand and turned it with both hands, a different direction each. When she heard a click, she pushed the hands together, and a loud thump came from above. A large canister, with the girth of a tree trunk, sped in front of her for a second, gaining distance, and then fire erupted on its bottom, blowing it away that much faster.

Ayina watched, tense, not really thinking about anything. All the while, the wing continued to bend down, winding up a storm that was gradually forming as the air was violently pushed away in abysmal volumes by the fall of the tip of that wing. Her glider rocked in increasingly rougher ways, and yet she watched the weapon go. It exploded, much like fireworks, shooting a myriad of projectiles at the wing. They looked so tiny when contrasted to that massive thing. The wind picked up and almost flipped her, but she was able to stay level to see the weapon get in contact with the bird.

Hundreds of contact points flared up with green flames, and while tiny, they provoked a shiver in the beast. Ayina watched, dumbfounded, as a wave of motion carried across the titan crane, which was easily the size of a small city. She was still not sure that it had worked because two long minutes had passed since she had first pressed the trigger. The whole thing was coming off as very anti-climatic, to say the least.

But the reaction was unspeakably violent.

The spasm that the creature produced, in reaction to pain, worsened the wing flap. An immediate and massive storm of winds blew into existence with the power of God. Ayina was blown away so brusquely that she completely lost track of all her senses.

Pain brought her back to conscience, that, and the terrible sensation of falling, which could only be compared to the imagined experiences of her nightmares. She opened her eyes to see that she was falling across the air. There was some of the glider still strapped to her back, but while she could feel it, she couldn’t see it. Most of it was gone. More importantly, her left arm wasn’t responding, likely broken.

That’s it, then…

Ayina looked up at the approaching ground and fear gripped her so strongly that it motivated her to look away and check on the bird. She found its massive body further ahead, gaining distance. Its wings were still moving slowly to her point of view, but she could tell they were moving much faster than before. They beat against the air, trying to gain control of its flight, and wind came raging after her. It blasted her body and sent her up a few feet. Or stopped her descent, it was hard to tell.

Either way, it took long seconds for her body to stop spinning, and a few seconds more for her head to stop spinning. Only then did she notice how the massive wing, growing smaller by the moment, was not moving correctly. It was undoubtedly damaged, with several patches having been set ablaze. She couldn’t see the fire, but she could see tiny trails of smoke dispersed by its movements.

The bird was going down, and her people would come upon it like ants on a sparrow.

She cried. Relief and terror were too odd of a mix, something she had never felt before. She was so very scared of the fact she was about to die, and yet, so very happy that she had saved the world. Her world.

She tried looking down again, but the sight of it near made her faint. So instead, she closed her eyes. But that was too nerve-racking, and she kept stealing glances at the ground rushing up towards her. So she turned around to face the sky.

It was a beautiful sky if she had to be honest. Ayina knew that sky very well, the sky that was a roof to her home. Her nation. Her island. Roof to all her people. Kein loved that sky. That was why he called her as he did, he called Ayina his sky.

Ayina whimpered and cried some more. It was beyond weird to feel so terrible and regretful, and at the same time, so happy. So much love.

I love you, Kein. Take care of our boy. In this world I saved for you.

Ayina chuckled, which was a crazy reaction to have. But still, she chuckled and then laughed. There was some change to the sound of the wind that let her know it was about to end. Or maybe it was instinct. Or maybe it was God.

Whatever it was, it allowed her to choose how to spend her final moment. So, in that one final instant, she stopped laughing. She smiled.

She pictured her family, remembering them not how they had been for that terrible year, but rather for how they would soon be. Happy and hopeful, and looking at her with welcoming, loving eyes.

The hero Ayina felt not a thing, and her people, too, would certainly forget.

Not a thing.

The Hero Ayina

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.

To Save the World – Part 6

To Save the World – Part 5

PREV

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