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.
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.