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

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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

True Sight Is Timeless

He would look in the mirror often, that had been the deal.

“You will look yourself in the mirror until you’re not surprised by what you see.”

After a few weeks of trying, he made a schedule. He planned his mornings so that they would be the same, but it still surprised him to look at himself. He ate the same breakfast, he slept the same hours, and after a long while, he even bought copies of his clothes so he would dress the exact same.

And yet, it was surprising. The brightness of the hair, and its straight and short presence on a face trying to be round. Cutting it short enough that it looked the same whether it was combed or not didn’t help, it still looked oddly unique, and sometimes foreign.

He took pictures but it wasn’t the same thing.

What he saw in the images were momentary grasps of things that did not look like what he saw in the mirror. It was the same person, yes, but his existence wasn’t there. So often he looked happy when he wasn’t, sad when he was fine, pained when he was just tired.

His reflection showed him the truth of it, but at the same time, it manipulated him. Every time, he was uglier or handsomer than he expected, looked better or worse than he expected. And every time it would impact on him, making him smile or frown, no matter how much effort he put into keeping his expression stoic. The inside of his eyes would emote, there was no controlling that.

What even was that? He didn’t notice that in other people.

After one year of trying, he went back to her, his master. Desperate to understand and pass the challenge, yearning for the slightest of clues that would allow him to understand what was so special about one’s reflection.

“I can’t,” said the one-eyed man. “I am always surprised by what I see, for I never expect it. Teach me how not to be surprised.”

The old wise woman looked over him with greyed eyes, seeing more than she should, and she scoffed.

“Accept it,” she said. “Do not expect anything, simply accept what you see, and you will not be surprised. For I promise you that in this world, there are things far more beyond your knowledge, beyond your control…than how you look. To yourself and others. That is something all of us know, but that you still need to learn.”

And the man understood.

Different clothes again inhabited his closet, and facial hair was again allowed to grow. Sleeping schedule relaxed and so did his morning routine adapt better to each day’s demands.

And every day he would look in the mirror still. Deeply and interested.

And no matter what he looked like, he would nod in acknowledgement and say:

“I see.”

 

True Sight Is Timeless