Chapter 39: Aftermath 2- The Reckoning

Disclaimer: Ingram Pliskin is watching you read this. Mwaha.

...also, a cookie to whoever gets all of the references in this chapter. :3


"RED RIPPER!"

...!

BLAM!

BLAM!

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEE!

The entire outer wall of Legion's fifteenth-floor conference room exploded, a violet disc screeching as it cut through steel and stone alike, burning blue flashes erupting from the cloud of smoke.

Sidestepping the monstrous Black Cannon as it stabbed at him, firing at point blank range, Omega gave an angry growl and stepped forward, one armored fist raised. Seizing the front of the Black Rock Shooter's coat, he gave a snarl as the crooked black katana in her free hand stabbed through his upraised hand.

"Don't think that's going to stop me...!"

Undeterred, he yanked her in towards him, and smashed her straight into the ground with a devastating headbutt.

Despite the fact that the God of Destruction KNEW that should have done a lot of damage, the only sign of it was a slight tightening around the Black Rock Shooter's eyes, before she swung her legs around to knock his feet out from under him.

A flash of light, and suddenly Omega's fall was deadly, his Zweihander slamming point first into the ground where her neck had been seconds ago. Not even stopping, he hurled himself into a forward roll, burning blue shells blasting through his previous location. And even as he came out of the roll, the pale girl in black tracked him, still firing, as Omega twisted through the air, one palm open and extended towards her.

"Try THIS one on for size-!"

A fully charged shot blasted from the green gem on his palm. Skidding on the ground, he threw himself back the way he had come, ignoring the impacts of two flaming bullets that had managed to strike him, and cut loose with a second charge shot.

The Black Rock Shooter's eyes narrowed.

The crooked katana in her hand flashed once, shredding the first Charge. Barreling forward, she redoubled her firing rate, dropping down and skating under the second blast-

Only to see Omega rip through her assault, the great violet blade shattering the ground as he brought it swinging up with a wild roar, thunder raging around him.

"KOUGENJIN!"

The crescent wave of power blasted out towards her, splitting through her bullets with ease as it obliterated everything in it's path.

Blue lighting glinting in her eerie eyes, the Black Rock Shooter slammed the muzzle of her Black Barrel into the ground before her. An explosion of blue fire and she was gone, blasting herself out of the way of Omega's attack. With a speed faster than anything organic should possibly have, she tapped lightly down on the wall and barreled across it, racing towards Omega amidst a blitzkrieg of blazing blue shells.

The God of Destruction staggered as dozens of bullets slammed into him, spectral blue fire dancing around his frame as he stepped back.

"YOU...!" He snarled, slamming his boots into the ground. Tiled floors shattering around him, he took one, two steps, moving in past the massive black cannon, just as fast as the girl in the black coat-

-crooked katana flashing as it hurtled in to stab him through the eye socket-

-demonic fangs flashing as Omega's jaws slammed shut on the blade-

-a roundhouse kick that could split steel swinging in towards his ribs-

-twisting to the side, his free claw crashing forward to seize her by the face-

-black cannon roaring as it tore holes in the ceiling above him-

-palm jewel flashing as it fired buster shot after buster shot into her skull at point blank range-

-an avalanche of rubble from the shattered ceiling crashing down on the God of Destruction, a ton of broken rock and steel burying him-

-but not before he gave a roar of rage and hurled the Black Rock Shooter the length of the room with such force that she destroyed the entire wall with the force of her impact and disappeared into the corridor outside.

And as the dust settled, the remaining people in the room simply stared at the destruction in disbelief.

"Does anyone else here know..." Marino managed to say.

"...what in the world just happened?" Aile stuttered.

Nana stared wordlessly at her laptop's clock from her safe spot behind the upturned table.

Thirty seconds.

That nameless girl in the black coat had just fought both the ex-Pseudoroid Queenbee, the Raider Queen Syrene Nagato into a full retreat, all the way across Legion City, UP THE SIDE OF LEGION HQ, and had then leapt straight into battle with Saber, the man who only she and a mere handful of people knew to actually be the monstrous God of Destruction, and had FOUGHT HIM HEAD ON, under EQUAL CONDITIONS, for THIRTY FREAKING SECONDS STRAIGHT BEFORE ACHIEVING A MUTUAL ANNIHILATION RESULT.

Save for Zero himself, NOBODY ELSE should have that kind of capability!

...although there WAS the fact that Omega was currently finishing up internal repairs from the massive damage he'd taken from the Great, but still...!

Her eyes narrowed for a moment.

Wait...shouldn't she have had a alternate mode to that cannon? Like a melee form or something...? Why hadn't she used it in that fight?

Craft twitched as he felt a sudden chill in the air. He didn't even need to turn to know that there was a truly unholy sight standing next to him.

Arms folded, one eye glinting beneath the brim of his military cap, the ominous black specter that was the feared Colonel-Commissar of Legion City...

...was SMILING.

"No." Craft said evenly.

The Colonel's gaze flicked across to him.

"...at least wait to challenge her some other time?" Craft sighed.

"...Very well." The Colonel rumbled. "I shall stay my blade until a more opportune moment arises to duel this newcomer."

"Holy God."

Marino looked around at the quietly awed statement.

Ace was staring blankly at the spot where the Black Rock Shooter had disappeared into the rubble.

"Ace?"

"...it's really her." The Scarlet Phoenix muttered, complete shock written on his face. "I thought the multiverse theory didn't expand that far, but...!"

CRASH.

Blue fire erupted from the hallway outside. Black boots crunching over rubble, the Black Rock Shooter stepped back into the room. Numerous scrapes and scuff marks dotted her slender frame, her immaculate black coat now covered with a fine layer of dust.

Nonetheless, as she stared down at the pile of rubble that marked her opponent, her left eye ignited, the spectral blue fire burning within it for the first time during the battle with Omega.

And as that rubble shattered, an unmistakable crimson aura of energy erupting from it, her eyes narrowed.

It seemed as though this...'Omega' was every inch as formidable as she had been led to believe.

And as the crimson tyrant slowly rose from the wreckage, eyes burning with the rage of battle, the air around him taking on an unmistakable red glow, the Black Rock Shooter's grip tightened on her cannon.

No...possibly even more dangerous than that.

"As I thought..." Omega grinned dangerously, "You really are something out of the ordinary...Not even THAT MAN had this much battle experience...! To move this way, to strike back even in the midst of taking such damage, to be able to act purely on your own instinct without even needing to see..."

He glanced briefly up at the hole in the ceiling.

"To turn the environment against me like that with just a microsecond's consideration..."

His grin widened, his pupils dilating and contracting with a faint whine as they struggled to focus.

"And not only that...but you've got some MAD sensor cancelling to boot...!"

It was astounding, he had to admit. He had possibly the single most advanced sensor suite on the planet when it came to the realms of combat, and this girl...no, he'd be a fool to write her off as merely a girl. This...Black Rock Shooter was somehow undetectable by any of them.

Motion trackers, out. Thermals, out. Infrared, out. Night vision, out. Electromagnetics, out. Spectral analysers, out.

Not one damn thing was seeing her. If it hadn't been for his own normal optics, she might as well be invisible!

"So THIS is how you gave Granz so much trouble..."

Not even that stealth Reploid of Vile's could match up to this kind of 'invisibility'. He supposed it was lucky that she didn't have an optic canceller as well, because really, that'd just be plain BROKEN.

And that seamless flow of fighting, the high speed of movement and reaction, not relenting for a moment, with almost perfect control of her range...

His eyes narrowed.

"You fight like an assassin..."

The Black Rock Shooter said nothing, simply fixing him with that eerie blue glare, despite the accuracy of Omega's statement.

"All right then..." He grinned, raising one hand to his side. And as the unmistakable crimson world appeared behind him, that grin widened.

"In that case, allow me to show you the price you pay for daring to think that you can assassinate ME!"

Dozens of weapons emerged, the crimson air rippling out behind him with their arrival.

"I see...so this is the legendary Gate of Babylon I've heard so much about, then..." Master Thomas rubbed his chin in thought. "Interesting..."

Nana leaned towards Aile.

"Um...just a thought but...if this gets any bigger...?"

Aile swallowed.

"Either we need to evacuate Legion HQ now, or find a way to sto-"

Unfortunately, Omega himself seemed to be in no mood to wait. The enemy who'd stolen his deathmatch with Gearhead Granz was standing right before him, and was every bit as dangerous as he'd expected!

And as the Black Rock Shooter charged towards him once more, the cannon on her arm transforming into that fatal Black Blade once more, he laughed demonically, and lunged forward to meet her.

"So COME! GAAAAAATE...OOOOOOF...BABYLO-!"

"HOLD IT!"

A thunderous shout rang out, loud enough that both combatants skidded to a halt in surprise, Omega's weapon arrays jerking to stop behind him.

"Wha-?"

Ace blinked, then looked at his epic pointing finger again in surprise, having struck the same pose he'd used to break Gemini's Zone.

"...holy crap, that actually worked." He blinked again. "I should remember that trick..."

Realizing that the two fighters, and pretty much everyone else, were looking at him in irritation, he remembered what he was supposed to be doing.

"Oh yeah...ahem..." He cleared his throat.

"KNOCK IT OFF, YOU MORONS!" He thundered, an annoyed look on his face.

"Last I checked, she took out freaking Gearhead Granz, and probably saved Celtis and Ashe into the bargain! If that doesn't put her in the 'ALLY' category, then I don't know what will!"

"But...but she started it!" Omega protested.

The Black Rock Shooter gave him a deadpan look and pointed to the groaning figures of Queenbee and Syrene.

"Exactly!" Ace snapped. "Just what did you expect when you sent freaking Queenbee and Syrene Nagato out after her?!"

"HEY!" Omega gave an indignant yell. "I never sent them after HER!"

He pointed at the Black Rock Shooter in outrage.

"SHE, I was gonna go after personally once this was over! NOBODY steals my kills! NOBODY!"

He paused, and gave her a sidelong glance.

"Particularly when it's somebody as good as SHE is..." He growled.

Another pause as his gaze flicked up and down her body, stopping at the bikini top covering her chest.

"..."

After a moment, he smirked and gave a mocking shrug.

"Although I'll admit, I'd've probably given her more priority if she was a little more, y'know, 'grown-up'." He snickered, and you could all but HEAR the quotations dropping around that last word.

The Black Rock Shooter remained silent for a moment.

WHAM CRUNCH MAUL SHOOT

Marino grinned as Omega flew the length of the room.

"I like her already."

"Yesssss!" Ace whooped quietly, punching the air in jubilation.

She gave him a strange look.

"What's up with you?"

"Erk! Uh, I mean, nothing at all...!" Ace stammered.

There was a nondescript clunk as a book dropped from one of his armor's pockets, drawing the BRS' attention.

There was a wordless silence as all three of them stared down at something that looked suspiciously like a yuri doujin involving the very same Black Rock Shooter and a black haired, gothic dressed girl with skeletal horns and a scythe.

"..."

"..."

"Er...This totally isn't what it looks like...w-wait, what are you doing with those knive-GYAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

The Black Rock Shooter wordlessly picked it up, ignoring the immense sounds of violence in the background, and flipped through it.

...as an Anti-Virus, the girl was all too familiar with the idea of her legend inspiring stories for future generations and such. Although it seemed as though in her case, it had gone quite further than that.

She tilted her head slightly, still reading.

It seemed as though her connection to the Dead Master, another veteran of the Silent World's endless battles had been remembered as well.

...although she was pretty sure it hadn't been quite as...what was the word she had heard some other Anti-Virals use? 'Fluffy'...?

...all right, they HAD been quite close...

...and there had been some...'moments'...

Really, she'd never expected the DM to be so emotional sometimes...usually when they'd been trying to hack each other to pieces.

She flipped back through the book.

...the art was certainly nice. And, in all honesty, it could have been worse. It could have been one of those more...'passionate' descriptions of their relationships instead. The ones where very little clothes were involved.

...because she knew neither of them were human, but really, there was a limit to how much flexibility a person could have...

She looked up, meaning to give the man in red back his book-

"AARGH AARGH OW I NEED THOSE KIDNEYS! BESIDES, IT WAS AN ALL-AGES BOOK! NO PERVERTEDNESS! JUST FLUFF! GYAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

"Not that I mind you reading yuri stuff..." Marino grated, "...especially considering some of the relationships of people in here..."

She looked around.

"Er, no offense Queenbee..."

"None taken!" The ex-Pseudoroid paused in adjusting the collar her Master had given her to wave her concern off.

"But SERIOUSLY?! RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER?!"

"I WAS HOPING SHE COULD AUTOGRAPH IT-YAAAAAGH! MY SPLEEN!"

...the man in red seemed a bit busy. Maybe she'd return it later.

Wordlessly, she slipped it into an inside pocket of her coat.

...she wondered if he had any more stuff like that. The Dead Master DID look remarkably cute when you got her to blush...

"Son of a-" A familiar growl of irritation sounded as the God of Destruction as he finally picked himself back up out of the remains of the wall he'd been thrown through.

"Hoy, Queenbee!" He hollered.

"A-auuuu..." The ex Pseudoroid winced as his loud call triggered off the migraine left from the dents in her skull, moaning as she pressed one hand against her cracked helm. "Did you call, Master...?"

"Yeah, you BET I called!" He growled, stomping back into the room and ignoring the decidedly smug-looking blank expression on the BRS' face...despite her actual expression not having changed one whit from her normal poker face.

"Kindly explain to me how a simply search and recover mission went THIS wrong?!"

"B-but, Master, it DIDN'T go wrong!" She protested.

"...wait what?"

"You sent us to track down Celtis, ri-mmph!"

Omega hastily clamped a hand over her mouth.

"Not so loud, dammit!"

"Oh-hooo...So THAT'S what you were up to, then..."

The God of Destruction groaned, turning to find everyone else in the room giving him a knowing smirk.

"And here I thought you didn't care!" Aile grinned teasingly.

"Sh-SHUT IT!" Omega snapped.

He was NOT embarrassed, dammit! He was just suffering from some...minor...heating problems!

...on his face.

GOD DAMN IT WEIL!

"I-It's not like I was worried about her or anything!" He harrumphed. "It'd just be more difficult for me to move around without a piece of convenient cannon fodder! Yeah!"

"Soooo transparent..." Marino snickered to herself. "Yeah, he was totally worried about her..."

There was a long pause.

She blinked.

"Why is everyone staring at me?"

"Oh, the irony is overwhelming..." Aile muttered, as Nana dropped her head onto her keyboard with an exasperated groan. Over in the corner, Craft was hunched over, one hand wrapped around his midsection as he unsuccessfully attempted to stifle his chuckles.

"ANYWAY, YEAH!" Omega snapped, recovering his composure. "Yeah, I sent the two of them out looking for Arcana, but instead they...got...her..."

His voice trailed off as a thought occurred to him. From the way the Colonel seemed wholly unsurprised by the turn of events, he got the feeling that thought was a little too close to the truth for his liking.

He wordlessly pointed at the BRS.

She was suddenly very interested in the broken wall nearby.

"You...oh you have got to be fucking KIDDING ME!" Omega yelled in outrage.

The girl suspected it was an opportune time to leave. The battle was over, and she had indeed successfully confirmed the nature of her new summoner's commander. Had he been evil, she would have had no choice but to terminate him, as power like hers could never be allowed to languish under the control of someone evil. Fortunately, it seemed as though, despite his chaotic nature, he could be trusted. At least, to an extent.

...also, she'd gotten something to read in the meantime.

Before anyone could react, blue fire erupted around the Black Rock Shooter, a twisting column of flame that consumed her, hiding her from sight.

"What the-!" Aile winced, staggering back.

And as the flames burned themselves out, the Black Rock Shooter was gone.

Only the trademark crimson steel of the Hades handgun was left, clattering across the floor as Celtis collapsed behind it.

Omega stared at her for a moment, and then pressed a hand to his face with an exasperated groan.

"You know, just once, I'd like to be frigging WRONG about these things..."


"And then WHAT happened to Granz?!"

Everyone else winced, Celtis' panicked yelp ringing out in the stillness of a NEW conference suite, the old one having been totalled first by Ace, and then the Omega vs Black Rock Shooter fight.

...Ace was still wordlessly squeeing over the fact that one of his all time FAVORITE ANIME HEROINES EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVERYTHING had actually appeared right in front of his eyes.

...which, judging by the funny looks he was getting from everybody else, he kind of still needed to explain.

But first he'd had to catch Celtis up on all of the stuff that had apparently gone on while she was 'missing', I.e being substituted for by the BRS.

...well, okay, to be PERFECTLY accurate, he'd FIRST had to stop her crimson-clad partner from tying her to a stick and roasting her slowly over a pit of lava, complete with pirahna mechaniloids, until he'd gotten some kind of goddamn explanation for what the FLYING FUCK had just happened, and why in the SIX FLOORS OF HELL SHE HAD TRASHED TWO OF HIS PRIZED HAREM GIRLS HALFWAY ACROSS THE FUCKING CITY.

So yeah, AFTER he'd averted that particular crisis, and then after they'd gotten Celtis conscious again (something in which Ace had killed two birds with one stone by compromising and letting Omega dump a bucket of ice down the back of her shirt, solving the wake-up problem and pissed-off God of Destruction problem at the same time), he'd finally gotten a chance to sit her down and let Aile and Nana run through the specifics of what had happened while she was...unaccounted for.

Her reaction had been...about as expected.

"What do you mean, SHE TOOK OUT GRANZ?!" She was running her hands over her body frantically, as if making sure all her limbs were still attached. "HE WAS KICKING AROUND A NUCLEAR-POWERED ASHE! HOW AM I NOT DEAD?!"

Ace's eyes narrowed at that last part. With Ashe having apparently gone to ground, that could prove to be a most USEFUL story to hear. Particularly now, since Master Thomas was no longer in attendance, having remained to explain to a harried maintenance crew just why it was that yet ANOTHER conference room had been totaled by something involving Ace Phoenix within fifty feet of it, while carefully arranging for Queenbee to sneak the still-woozy Emerald Queen out of the back door when the officials weren't looking.

He found himself oddly pleased by that. Firstly, because it only added to his reputation of crazy awesome-ness...

And secondly, because he figured the old man deserved a headache, especially after he'd just given Ace a much LARGER one by introducing the shadowy figure called Dragon Joker into the mess.

WHAP!

He was jerked out of his grim contemplation by the sound of Omega whacking Celtis upside the head.

"OW!" She yelped, looking up at him in annoyance. "What was that for?!"

"To get you to stop whining so the story can move on." He replied in annoyance.

"Wait, what story?"

"...never mind."

As fun as it was to watch the two of them yelling at each other, the Scarlet Phoenix figured enough was enough, and he stepped in.

"All right, that's enough of that, you two..." He sighed. "Okay, Arcana...start from the beginning and explain just what happened when you fought Granz."

She gave him a surprised look.

"You mean you guys don't know?"

"Unfortunately, no." Marino admitted. "For some reason, there was a lot of radiation coming from your area, and it was playing hell with our sensors."

"And we only arrived in time to see..." Aile gestured to the Hades, "Her, kicking seventeen different kinds of crap out of Gearhead Granz in a one on one fight."

"There was no sign of Ashe, nor of you." Nana added, "Plus, both of you have been missing for a little less than a week, so you can understand why we're a little concerned."

"A-a week?!" Celtis stammered. "Say WHAT?!"

Ace's eyes narrowed. So she really hadn't been aware of the passage of time in that 'state'. Interesting...

"Yes, Arcana, you've been out of contact for the last five days." He leaned back in his seat, wincing as he felt it creak under the weight of his armored form. Really, using his Iron Phoenix armor like this had its drawbacks, but HELL if he was letting a silly thing like a butchered nervous system stop him from doing what needed to be done!

"As has Ashe, but at the very least we THINK we've got her trail. There's a faint trail of that odd nuclear signature heading for the outskirts of the city, so..."

Celtis flinched.

"Er...yeah. That's probably her, all right..."

Nana gave her a sharp look.

"You keep acting suspiciously every time we mention Ashe, Arcana...just what happened down there?!"

Marino risked a quick glance sideways. Ace was leaning forward on the desk, one hand resting against his chin, a calculating, dangerous look in his eyes as he stared intently at Celtis.

...a pose which in Ace language meant that he already had a pretty good idea of just WHAT had happened down in that radioactive waste, and was now only waiting for Celtis to confirm it. The grim look on Aile's features suggested that she too had a fairly good guess, and whatever it was, it was clearly not a pleasant thought.

...sometimes, she had to admit, it was a colossal pain to work with such Machiavellian planners...

"Well..." Celtis hedged, looking uncomfortable. "I'll tell you...but I don't think you're going to like it very much..."


Girl is explaining...


Ace dropped back against his chair with a drawn out exhalation.

"So that was it..." He said heavily. "Ashe, you damnable fool...!"

"And even after everything we told her about the danger of Model O...!" Aile gritted.

Omega said nothing, his red eyes cold.

So he had been right about that eerie sensation in Cyberspace after all...Ashe had gone ahead and used Data Get on the Model O inside of Celtis. He wasn't outraged or anything, nowhere near the reaction Celtis had expected from him.

Rather, he was simply...surprised.

At most, he would have expected it to have either killed her outright, or turned her into a busty, curvaceous version of the Model O form, similar to what it had done for Celtis. Not to mention he'd kinda hoped it would mess with her personality a bit too. After all, it would have been HILARIOUS to see her face when she returned to her normal form after a night of hot and heavy action with him...

Ah well, comedy aside, he was left with the puzzling fact that rather than do either of those things, Model O had instead stuck a fusion reactor into her chest. It was a poor copy of the monstrosity that seethed and surged within the locked chambers of Omega's 'heart' but the fact remained that it was still LUDICROUSLY powerful. Far more powerful, in fact, than any mere human body should have been able to withstand, even if it was that of a Chosen One.

To implant that data, and then allow that data to actually manifest in a physical form in the real world, taking on the shape of a fusion reactor and integrating itself seamlessly into Ashe...

He was beginning to suspect that corrupted fake's reality-hacking powers weren't so far from his own.

But despite that, if what Celtis had told him was anything to go by, it still wasn't perfect.

"Hmph..." Omega slouched in his seat, crossing his legs on the table again and folding his arms in annoyance. "Damn amateurs...of COURSE sticking a fusion reactor into a body not designed to hold one would cause problems...!"

Although, credit where credit was due, that psychopath had BALLS. Ripping out its own heart for hers, and then willing to risk it all on the mere chance that it would be able to restrain it enough for Ashe to win...

He had to laugh at that.

It really was a Biometal after his own heart...!

Dumber, but hey, even he hadn't always been this epic! No, it'd be really entertaining to see just how far this corrupted and broken reflection of his power could go...!

Not far away from the quietly chuckling God of Destruction, Hadrian Craft shook his head with a rueful smile.

"God of Destruction...Truly, that personality of yours is twisted beyond all repair..."

On the other end of the table, Marino sighed.

"So?" She asked. "What do we do now?"

Ace looked up at the ceiling, a weary look on his face.

"It depends..."

"On what?!" Celtis demanded.

The Scarlet Phoenix tilted his head back down to fix her with calculating glint in his eyes.

"On you, actually."

The green-haired Hunter girl blinked, taken aback.

"Wha...?"

"You said something about Model O having a connection to it, right? That's how you were able to prevent Ashe from losing control." Ace asked, gears already turning inside his head.

"I...um...well, maybe? I guess?" Celtis stammered, knowing that it was actually Model O who'd saved Ashe, but she wasn't sure if mentioning that was a good idea...

For it's part, the Biometal simply rolled its eyes in irritation and giving an exasperated growl, nodded that yes, it had a connection to her, and still did.

"Y-yeah, it still has some kind of link to Ashe's core..." She amended hastily.

"Good." Ace said decisively. "We can use that to monitor her current state. Is she in any danger of going critical and wiping you out too?"

"Um..." Mutely, she asked the same question to Model O inside her head.

Staring pensively at the now CONSIDERABLY reduced sun in front of it, the corrupted copy of Omega seemed to consider it.

Firstly, in the aftermath of the battle, Model O had found itself with plenty of time to spare. It had spent that time clamping down lock after lock after restraint on Ashe's fusion core, enough that it was reasonably confident she'd be fine even without Model O actively putting pressure on it to reduce the reactions. The root of the problem, however, was that she'd only be fine so long as she didn't START reacting again, meaning the instant she started tapping back into the star in her chest in any serious capacity, all hell would break loose.

Celtis then relayed this in...slightly more confidential terms to the others.

"I see..." Nana murmured, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "So the problem seems to be stable for now...the only issue left, therefore is finding a way to channel and control it, rather than simply locking it down completely."

"Of course..." Aile groaned. "THAT'S why she went into hiding...Ashe being as stubborn as she is, probably wants to sort this whole thing out on her own, without asking for help. She knows it's been locked down, so she's trying to hide out somewhere away from possible confrontations until she can figure out a way to use it WITHOUT endangering everybody!"

"...well, she could have just gone into hiding because she's afraid of her own power, and now thinks of herself as some kind of monster or freak, angst, angst, whine, complain, etc..." Ace added.

There was a brief silence while everyone considered that option, when compared to the person in question.

"...yeaaaaaaaaah, somehow I don't think so." Aile said dryly.

Marino smacked Ace over the head in annoyance.

"What did I tell you about re-watching Gundam Seed again?!"

"But, but...the main characters are so humongously shitty you can't help but marvel at it! It takes SKILL to make a main character that much of a complete pussy!"

"Yes, but that doesn't mean you have to somehow try and apply it to the situation at hand!"

"...well you never know!" Ace said defensively, "She MIGHT have had some kind of emo breakdo-yeah, okay, I can't even finish that sentence with a straight face."

"This being Ashe, she's probably counting down the hours until she figures out how to control it, just so she can go out and LITERALLY nuke something to bits." Nana deadpanned.

And Omega had to give her that. Somehow, he couldn't see a brash, hot-tempered spitfire like Ashe having the words 'depressed' or 'angst' anywhere in her vocabulary.

It was just one of the many things he found so remarkably desirable about the girl. Well, aside from those toned thighs, the sexy legs which looked like they went on forever in that curve hugging jumpsuit she always wore, the pert, perfectly rounded breasts always hidden under her heavy jacket, or the barely concealed attraction he KNEW she had for him, or-

...look, let's just say he thought Ashe was smoking hot, and let's leave it at that, okay?

Pointedly ignoring the snickering man in red, the conversation continued.

"All right...so Ashe is stable for the time being, at least provided that nobody else is dumb enough to pick a fight with her. That means for the time being, we leave her to her own devices."

Already seeing the objections coming his way, he raised a hand to cut them off.

"But NOT unprotected. Considering the danger involved, are there any complaints in having the Executor Unit be the ones responsible for keeping any less-than-legitimate characters from approaching Ashe?"

"Executor Unit?" Omega raised an eyebrow.

"The official designation for my three-member unit." The Colonel rumbled.

The God of Destruction considered this for a moment. If it was the Colonel and Fefnir involved...

"...Er..." Celtis stuck up a hand. "Are you SURE you want to put that psychopath Diz Aster on that...? It uh...it's probably not my place or anything, but...HE'S NUTS." She finished flatly.

"...okay, you have a point." Ace admitted, after seeing Nana nodding emphatically after Celtis' statement. "Just the Colonel and Nana, then. And Nana can transfer the Lieutenant in whenever the radiation levels begin to get too high. So instead..." He scratched his chin in thought.

"Why not ask Craft to fill in for Fefnir?" Marino suggested. In the back of the room, the commando looked up.

"True..." He admitted, "My Dullahan can get around almost as fast as Nana's trans-servers, so it would probably be suited for a perimeter defense like that."

"All right, then that's what we'll go with." Ace decided. "Craft and the Colonel will lay down a cordon for three blocks in every direction surrounding Ashe once she finds a location she thinks is safe enough, with Nana providing tactical and trans-server support."

The three in question nodded, Nana's fingers already dancing over the keys of her faithful laptop as she began drawing up a plan of action. In the back, the Colonel and Craft wordlessly exchanged a quiet, classy brofist, getting to their feet.

As the Colonel swept out of the room, Craft paused and looked back.

"We'll be moving out then, Commander."

"Roger that, Craft, Colonel." Ace nodded. "I'll send Nana along as soon as she's finished planning it out. For now, just stick to recon work...and considering I don't want a nuclear-powered Ashe storming Legion HQ to kick the crap out of me for 'babying her', refrain from contact for now. We'll contact her once she's had a chance to get things under control."

The commando nodded and walked out, heading after his friend.

"In the meantime, Marino, Cinnamon?"

Marino shifted, Cinnamon blinking and looking back at him from where she'd been admiring the view from the massive windows.

"Yes?"

"...put the...other project on hold for now."

Marino stiffened.

"Ace...are you sure?" She said hesitantly, "You know how long it takes Cinnamon to..."

A hand on her arm stopped her, Cinnamon giving a gentle smile.

"It's all right, Marino, I'm almost done anyway. At best, it might only take me an hour or two to finish refining it anyway."

Ace's second-in-command didn't look any less troubled, but she subsided for the moment, turning back to Ace instead.

"...I assume this means you want us to start work on something for Ashe in the meantime, then?" She said resignedly.

The Scarlet Phoenix nodded.

"Yes. I should still have several days worth left on my...current one, so I want you two to see if you can't put together something that'll let Ashe control and channel the Model O's nuclear power if she can't handle it herself."

"Oh, that shouldn't be too hard, mister Ace!" Cinnamon said cheerfully. "After handling your body for so long, I think I have enough experience to be confident with my skills!"

There was a long, LONG pause there while everyone in hearing range did their utmost to not envision all of the other, significantly less innocent ways that statement could be taken.

"Uh...yeah, Cinnamon...sure..." The Scarlet Phoenix cleared his throat awkwardly, carefully not meeting anyone else's eyes. Next to him, Marino simply groaned and pressed a hand to her face. One of these days, she was REALLY going to have to have a little talk with Cinnamon about how she phrased her sentences...

"...what?" Cinnamon blinked, "Did I say something wrong?"

Ace simply groaned, and dropped his head on the table.

"Can we...can we just...move on, now?"

Omega ignored the antics, instead focusing on the actual content of the conversation he'd just borne witness to.

It seemed as though there was far, FAR more to Ace Phoenix than he was letting on. A project that his two closest confidantes were working on, one of whom was a living Force Metal Generator. A project that was apparently immensely important to Ace's health, and also somehow had to do with the control of energy?

Omega was no scientific genius, but that series of connections was entirely too dangerous for him to pass by. With a grim look on his face, he flicked through his sensors and did something he should have done from the very first day.

He scanned Ace Phoenix.

Ace blinked as a sudden clatter drew his attention.

"Saber?"

The crimson-clad figure had jerked his legs back off of the table with a start, and was staring directly at the Scarlet Phoenix with an expression paler than anything he'd seen on that man's normally self-confident features.

"Er...is everything all right?"

"All ri-?!" Omega stopped his incredulous question, smoothly covering it up with a more normal appearance. "Uh, yeah...everything's just peachy...just...er...got a leg cramp, that's all..."

Ace gave him a look that lasted an entire two seconds longer than it should have, before simply giving him a nod and turning away. Celtis, on the other hand, saw the look on Omega's face and sidled over.

"Omega...?"

The God of Destruction looked as though he'd seen a ghost, dropping back against his seat with a long, slow exhalation, still trying to come to terms with what he'd just seen. It had been just for a split second, and he'd almost instantaneously shut the scans down as they came up, but that sight had been scorched into his memory banks.

"Ciel..." he muttered, shaken, "Just what the FUCK did you put into that poor kid...?!"

Omega had always taken pride in his own heart as possibly the most powerful and stable energy source known, but that...that THING was...

He shuddered.

Not even HE was fucking mad enough to put something like THAT inside of his chest...!

Finishing his private discussion with Marino and Cinnamon, the latter excusing herself from the room in order to get started on something for Ashe's use, Ace turned back to the rest of them.

"All right, that's that out of the way. We'll keep an eye on Ashe and will probably be in touch with her before the end of the week.'

Omega shot Celtis a look which said clearly, 'CHANGE OF SUBJECT. NOW.'

"Er...all right then..." Celtis said hesitantly, lifting her gaze to look across at Ace again. "S-so...about the, um...Black Rock Shooter...?"

There was a moment's silence.

"Ah." Ace said uncomfortably.

Omega did not like the sound of that.

"Okay...uh..."Ace scratched his cheek nervously, "What'd be...the...BEST way to do this...?"

When he caught Marino's annoyed stare, he flinched guiltily.

"All right, all right, don't bite my head off!"

Heaving a sigh, he looked back at the others.

"All right, here's how it goes: As I'm sure you're all aware, Cyberspace is widely considered to be like the programming code of well, reality itself."

Omega nodded grimly. That much he knew from the Elf Wars, and his own innate affinity for the place. It had been precisely that property of Cyberspace that had sent Weil after the Mother Elf, and all the horrors that his Baby Elves could inflict, after all.

"Well...it's...more than that." Ace hedged. "Cyberspace isn't just the programming code, like a static set of constants to uphold the laws of time and space...Cyberspace, an entire sub-reality of sorts, is alive in a way."

Omega raised an eyebrow.

Ace gave an annoyed growl, mussing up his hair in irritation.

"Argh, damn it...This is such a pain to explain... All right, let's try it this way: Cyberspace itself is the program, and the multiverse, REALITY as it is, is the end result of that program. That program began with the moment that the multiverse was created, and has since continued on, evolving and growing and expanding as time went on."

"...so...we're living in the Matrix?"

Ace hurled a convenient coffee mug across the full length of the table into the God of Destruction's face, knocking him clean out of his chair.

"OW! THE FUCK?!"

He staggered upright, clutching a wounded nose.

"THE HELL WAS THAT FOR?!"

"...for mentioning that pain-in-the-ass series that should have just shut up after one movie and not made two horrible sequels, that's what." Ace deadpanned. "But no. No, this is not the Matrix. Comparing the Matrix and Cyberspace is like comparing frigging Pong to Final Fantasy XIII. Nowhere close. And ANYONE who says otherwise gets a coffee mug to the face. ESPECIALLY YOU LOT READING THIS."

There was a pause.

"Who are you talking to?"

"NOBODY." Ace said desperately. "Anyway...so no. No it's NOT the Matrix. Cyberspace doesn't have some nefarious purpose. It simply exists, a program without an end. If you had to put it another way, it's like the work that goes on behind the stage, the clockwork of causality ticking onwards, making sure that gravity still works, two plus two equals four, and so on. Basically, if any of you are familiar with the really freaking ancient mythological concept of the Earth as having a spirit and will of its own, i.e. Gaia, this is basically the same thing, except applied to the multiverse itself instead of just one planet."

He gave them a despairing look.

"Please tell me this is making sense to you somehow. I literally cannot make it any simpler than that."

"Just shut up and get on with it..." The God of Destruction growled.

"...well that answers that question..." Ace deadpanned, "In truth, Cyberspace is simply a name the first researchers called it, to reflect its properties as the master program of everything. At any rate, it isn't something we as normal beings should have ever become aware of. As the clockwork behind the scenes, it's entire purpose is to remain invisible...I can't tell you how many religious nutjobs we've had to put down for starting cults about how the universe is a lie, and we're just living in one big computer simulation, etc etc."

He pointed a thumb at his chest.

"Take it from someone who's actually come into contact with other parts of the multiverse and seen it for what it is: This is reality."

Shaking his head in annoyance, he went on.

"The only difference between our universe and pretty much every other one out there, is that only we've ever found Cyberspace. Everywhere else, life is just taken as it is. We, on the other hand, became aware of Cyberspace, and, as humans are wont to do, promptly decided it would be a great idea to go dicking around in the cogwheels of reality because we figured we could. And THAT'S how you get Zone Technicians. But I digress."

Clearing his throat, he leaned back in his seat.

"Now, considering that Cyberspace is the coding for reality throughout the multiverse, it's gotta be a humongous program, right? And especially since it's the controlling influence for reality, it's kinda important to make sure it doesn't get a freaking logic error, or any other kind of bug or programming glitch."

"Wait, wait, whoa." Celtis cut in, holding up one hand desperately. "Run that by me again...? Cyberspace, the program which keeps reality running...can get GLITCHED?"

Ace gave her a speculative look.

"Odd, I'd have expected you to catch on to this stuff a bit quicker. You were technically connected with BRS before she overwrote you completely, so you should have at least gotten a glimpse of the truth."

"I...did...sort of...?" Celtis tried. "I saw...inside of her head for a bit, but it's all a jumbled mess now."

"All right then, simply put: Over the centuries, across the multiverse, there are always events where things...change, for lack of a better word. Disruptions that distort the laws of reality, and in turn cause the code of Cyberspace to become disturbed and corrupted. If you take the analogy of Cyberspace being like an organic, living structure, such distortions would be like a cancer of sorts. If the distortion is allowed to continue existing, to grow in magnitude, the effect on Cyberspace would increase, the cancer spreading. And considering Cyberspace's function as the programming of reality, the destabilizing effects of such a cancer on it would be..."

"Not good." Aile finished, an unnaturally hard look in her eyes as she stared at Ace. Not for the first time, she found herself wondering just who was the man behind that name, and just what on earth he had seen, how he had come across this kind of information...

"Thaaaat's putting it lightly." Ace sighed. "From some of the records I've come across in the Magnum Phoenix's archives, there've been worlds where the laws of physics were twisted horribly in on themselves, time and space reversing themselves...yeah, for Cyberspace to have it's data damaged in any way tends to have really bad consequences."

"So explain to me those Zone Technicians again?" Omega gave him a dangerous look. "From what I saw against...well, I THOUGHT it was Gemini, but you get my point...if THAT shit doesn't qualify as fucking with the program, I don't know what DOES!"

Ace grinned and shook his head.

"As always, Saber, you think in terms way too small for this."

"...come again?"

The Scarlet Phoenix sighed.

"Saber, Cyberspace is a program stretching from the dawn of time, and spanning the entire, infinite width of the multiverse, touching countless hundreds of thousands of alternate UNIVERSES. Faced with something like that, how significant do you think ANY short-lived human or Reploid, with their petty desires and uses of Cyberspace could EVER be."

He spread his hands wide.

"If we're thinking of Cyberspace as a living thing again, the closest I can explain it as is that a thousand Zone Technicians would MAYBE count as a single mosquito bite."

"...oh." Omega said, feeling oddly relieved. Huh, maybe that meant all the crazy shit he'd pulled during the Wars HADN'T sort of accidentally caused the end of the universe.

"No, examples of such distortions would be things...Problems, I should say, that cannot be solved by natural causes."

His eyes narrowed.

"Problems like the Dead Ends."

"...NOW we're getting somewhere."

"As existences which actually breach the boundaries of Cyberspace and reality, beings which literally shredded the laws of life and death, they are a good example of what I mean by distortions. However, that state of theirs can't really be 'corrected' any more, as they're out of the reach of Cyberspace, hidden away within their own private 'worlds'."

He took a deep breath.

"But I'm getting ahead of myself. My point is, Cyberspace itself has mechanisms to self-correct, to preserve itself by dealing with the problems if the natural laws of the world can't do it. It's those 'mechanisms' which are the reason Dead Ends prefer to stay in hiding, only surfacing when necessary."

Celtis blinked.

"Wait...I remember some of this...!"

"Good." Ace said approvingly. "You should, since that very same Black Rock Shooter is part of one such mechanism!"

Omega's eyes narrowed. From the moment he'd set eyes on the girl with the blue flames, he'd felt something...strange. When fighting her, it was as though he wasn't fighting just an individual, but...it was difficult to put into words, but the closest he could come up with was that it was like fighting a SYSTEM, and not simply a person.

It was only now that he was beginning to get the idea of what he'd REALLY been fighting...

"There are two general mechanisms, or patterns, which researchers have found so far. The first method is known collectively as the Anti-Virus. That method, is for Cyberspace to deploy 'champions' of a sort, so-called 'Antivirals', to sort the problem out on its behalf, usually by killing the one responsible. And it's these champions which we're most interested in right now..."

With a snap of his metal fingers, a colossal screen dropped from the ceiling behind him, additional panels unfolding to either side. A demonic smile stretched across the Scarlet Phoenix's features, his eyes glinting.

"And those Antivirals, my friends, are my SPECIALTY."

Next to him, Marino sighed.

"Here we go again..."

"Hey!" Ace stopped, giving her an indignant look. "What do you mean, 'again'?!"

Marino gave him a resigned look.

"Ace, this is the same speech you give EVERY TIME you had to orient newcomers about the Dead Ends and Cyberspace."

"N-no it isn't! Er...there's no theme music this time...?"

[Cue Music: Yu-Gi-Oh OST- Seto Kaiba's theme]

"..."

"..."

Marino simply gave him a look as hidden speakers came to life. Ace groaned and smacked a metal palm against his forehead.

"Thanks a LOT, Author...!"

"I rest my case." Marino said smugly, walking over to where Nana and Aile had more or less tuned out Ace's apparently recycled Cyberspace speech and was now either playing Galaga or putting together tactics for the Colonel and Craft to use when locking down Ashe's area.

Muttering imprecations under his breath, Ace turned back to Omega and Celtis, coughing into his hand.

"Ahem! Well then, since the others have apparently HEARD THIS ALL BEFORE," Dirty looks were cast in the direction of everybody else, "I'll just have to explain it to you two."

"Uh...lucky us...?" Celtis said hesitantly.

"SHUT UP AND BE EXPLAINED AT."

Clearing his throat, Ace brought the screen to life behind him.

"Considering the magnitude of these 'distortions' and the power required to cause such a distortion, Cyberspace in turn must have truly powerful 'champions' to destroy such things in turn. And what better candidates for such a task than those recognized by the very multiverse itself as 'heroes'?"

The screen came to life, showing numerous images.

"Legendary beings, ordinary people who, through one form or another, ascended to the heights of glory as heroes, magnificent in their struggles, their pursuits of justice, of victory, and their goals. People who, by their very actions, changed the world."

Omega's eyes widened, two figures visible among the files flickering across the screen.

The father of all Reploids, his blue armor flashing as his Buster tore through wave after wave of Mavericks.

And...

The Red Devil, scarlet Z sigil burning as the neon green saber tore through the enemies in his way.

"Yes." Ace nodded, "People such as X and Zero, who fought for the sake of everyone but themselves."

His eyes were distant, looking at something only he could see.

"The multiverse is a wide place, with individuals just as great as them scattered throughout it, people who would stand up and unite in the face of an enemy, no matter how great. That is what it means to be called a hero."

The screen changed, a small tagline indicating that it was now accessing some of the most restricted files of the A.C.E database, new figures appearing on the screen.

A lone outlaw, the Space Pirate who sailed the Sea of Stars, fighting for nothing but what was in his own heart.

The pale girl in black, with the eye that burned with the blue flame, fighting on forever in the monochrome Silent World.

The White Devil, the girl of magic who fought for her friends with magic of starlight and humongous amounts of real estate damage.

The black armored Kaiser, the Emperor of All Demons, fighting on forever against any foe that appeared before it.

The man whose hand was BURNING RED! Whose LOUD ROAR TOLD HIM TO GRASP HOLD OF VICTORY!

The man in the red and black coat, standing alone upon the hill of swords, the great, rusted gears turning in the sky above him.

"And there are others, people whose names are just as renowned, those who sought justice, who sought the same goals, but were cursed by it, damned by their own heinous actions in pursuit of it, no matter how noble their ideals."

The screen changed again, and Omega started, a familiar figure in royal purple armor storming through the battlefield.

The arch-rival of X in all of his glory, the walking siege engine that shrugged off all the damage, his vast arsenal of built in weaponry laying waste to all in his path, one red eye glowing in the darkness of that black, T-shaped visor.

The towering figure, clad in a commissar's black coat, the great iron cross cleaving evil in two on all sides.

The great bike tearing across the wastelands, the massive cannon surging with blue-white death, its wielder's teal cloak whipping in the wind.

"H-hey, those are-!"

"Yes, you've met them already." Ace gave a bitter smile, "All anti-heroes, doing what they thought was right, no matter the cost. Paradoxically, that's why they're here now, or at least the Colonel and Craft are. They're trying to make up for the crimes they committed. Neither of them are willing to give up on those ideals, though, but they're willing to make amends. As for Vile..."

He gave a sad smile.

"Not even I know what he's fighting for. I don't even know how he came back." Glancing up at the screen, he continued, even as the images changed to newer, less recognizable ones, again from the archives of the vanished Magnum Phoenix.

"And like heroes, anti-heroes too are a multiversal constant."

The towering mechanical figure in white armor, a massive black cannon mounted on his right forearm, red eyes glowing as he beckoned his troops forward, the purple sigil of his faction glinting on his chest.

The diminutive, insectlike alien with green skin, black antennae, and burning red eyes of madness, four long, spindly mechanical legs emerging from the pack on its back.

The dark blue colossus, it's chest opening as it generated the fearsome might of a black hole, hurling it at the enemy.

The samurai completely wrapped in bandages and clad in purple, his katana bursting into flame as he fought on past his fifteen minute limit, laughing.

The eight foot tall shadow, his coat billowing out behind him like the wings of a great bat, his frame completely hidden in the shadows, save for the glowing yellow double lines of his visor.

Ace paused.

"...wait, why is that last one in there? Wasn't he a CARDINAL...? Ahh, forget it."

Shaking his head, he went on.

"These are what Cyberspace looks for in its champions. As such, when these beings finally reach the end of their mortal lifespan, as all things inevitably must...it approaches them with an offer."

"Whoa, hold up." Omega cut him off. "What do you mean, 'approaches them with an offer'? What, like, it talks to them with a job offer? It's CYBERSPACE!"

"Hell if I know." Ace shrugged. "The Colonel and Craft have been...less than forthcoming, so I don't know if they got the offer. Or if there even IS anything like an offer. All I know is, from the Magnum Phoenix's reports, some of them make the cut, others don't. For all we can guess, it's a fifty-fifty chance!"

He gave an exasperated shrug.

"In short: Cyberspace is a program. That program is for reality. You break the program, the program does not like that. So the program hires debuggers. These debuggers were, in life, legendary figures, heroes and antiheroes alike. They kick ass. Culprit gets frigging erased, program fixes itself." He slapped his hands together. "That's as simple as I can make it."

The Scarlet Phoenix held up one finger.

"But, for those who accept the offer, there's no end. They remain in waiting, in Avalon, or wherever legends go to where they die. When the world needs them, it calls them. They show up, obliterate everything even remotely connected to the distortion, and leave. Kind of like a surgical strike team. Made of pure awesome."

Omega stared at him.

"So...in theory..." He said, choosing his next words carefully. "You're saying that maybe...even X and Zero could return...?"

The Scarlet Phoenix gave him a calculating look, as if sizing the white-haired menace up.

"You ask some...specific questions, don't you?" He answered finally.

Omega shrugged.

"Everyone was thinking it. I'm just saying it."

Ace considered that for a moment, then had to admit, he had a point.

"Touche..." He groaned, "The author's been getting constantly harassed about bringing them both back since Chapter 1..."

"You'd think badasses like the Colonel, Craft and Fefnir would be enough, wouldn't you?" Omega rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Tch..."

"At any rate...no, no I don't see X or Zero accepting even though they're both probably right on the top of Cyberspace's hiring list." Ace said dryly, repairing the broken fourth wall again.

The God of Destruction raised an eyebrow.

"How's that?"

Ace leaned back in his chair and gave him a sarcastic look.

"Fighting on and on and on...forever...with no hope of ever seeing an end to the bloodshed...only ever reappearing to clean up the mess, wiping out everything that might be considered even remotely guilty?" Ace smiled bitterly, "The price of being a hero, paid over and over again until Cyberspace itself dies...?"

Omega's features darkened.

"I see..."

"So no..." Ace sighed. "I don't see either of them as candidates, but only because they probably turned the offers down. And you know what?"

He flicked open one eye, a dangerous smile on his face.

"I've got no problem with that. They fought and won their battles already. They fought for over two hundred years for their victory. I figure wherever they are now, they earned their retirement. It's up to us, and this new generation to pick up where they left off."

He leaned forward on the table, pointing one metal clad finger at Celtis.

"Like it or not, Arcana, the day that Biometal tried to kill you was the day you joined the big leagues with Ashe, Vent, and the rest of them, the whole nine yards."

Celtis looked down at her hands, worry on her face.

"Me...a hero...?"

Omega snorted.

"Not likely." He said, giving her an unreadable look. "Hero be damned. If enemies appear in your way, smash 'em down. Thinking about it too much, with complicated things like idealism and justice just makes you confused."

He gestured down the table to Ace.

"Leave the great and noble pursuits to the idiots like him. Take it from me..." There was grudging respect in his tone. "They're the only ones strong enough or mad enough to do it and not hate themselves every time they look in the mirror."

"..." Ace said nothing, although the calculating look he gave the God of Destruction suggested that he was once again re-evaluating his opinion of the man, before he gave a grudging nod.

"...u-um..." Celtis looked between the two of them nervously, wondering if another random fight was going to break out.

...she'd been having pretty rotten luck with those so far...

And then a thought struck her.

"Wait...you explained what Cyberspace is, and how the...Black Rock Shooter fits into it, but..."

She hefted the Hades.

"...how does that all tie in to this?"

A pause.

"...and while I'm at it, why do you know so much about these heroes if they come from other worlds?"

Ace tugged at his collar nervously.

"I...have no idea what you're talking about with that last question..."

Two discs of anime episodes, one manga volume and a poster, all for the Black Rock Shooter, sailed through the air and landed on the desk in front of Ace.

"..."

"..."

"..." Ace started to sweat.

"..." Celtis gave him a deadpan look.

"...Marino, you suck." The Scarlet Phoenix finally groaned, smacking a metal palm over his face and falling back against his seat.

The Rose Hurricane didn't even turn from her conversation, just giving him an absent-minded thumbs up.

Heaving a sigh, he let his head clunk against the seat behind him.

"All right then..." He groaned. "To start with, the reason why I know about this is...well...to put it simply, such heroes are so great, that their deeds and actions resonate throughout Cyberspace, and thus the real world, even in alternate universes. But as always, some of the 'data' is lost in transit. Basically, it's no different to how myths and legends are passed down from generation to generation." He paused. "Except in this case, the myths actually reach other worlds, places where the hero never actually existed at all. Thus, they become stories of a sort, legends of people and places which never existed."

He gestured to the view outside.

"For all we know this world of ours, of Legion and 24XX to be real, to another universe out there, we could just be the characters of a famous game series, or a story dreamed up as part of that game." Ace shrugged. "Are you getting my meaning?"

Omega's eyes narrowed, Celtis speaking up.

"So...what you're saying is...the Black Rock Shooter, isn't real in a sense?"

"Not to us of this universe..." Ace nodded, "But in her original universe, the place where she became a legend, she was very much real. Take a figure like the God of Destruction."

Oblivious to the suddenly outraged choking noise coming from the other side of the table, he went on.

"A legend to us here, he wouldn't be real in another universe. At least," He paused, "Not in one that wasn't in the same setting. For all I know, there could be a parallel universe to this one where he came back, had some wild antics in Legion City, had an unrequited love affair with a resurrected Pandora, then betrayed all of Legion to side with the Raiders."

He shrugged.

"Like I said, the multiverse is a wild and confusing place. Everything that could happen, would happen, and MIGHT happen...usually does, a new 'verse born from every possibility."

With a sheepish glance across at the God of Destruction, who looked as though he was trying to make up his mind whether or not to be utterly outraged at the fact that there might be more than one of him out there, or be flattered that his legend was so great he could even become a stone-cold, calculating BADASS like that, (...so far the badass was winning.) Celtis looked back at Ace.

"I...think I get what you're saying..." She said slowly, before a thought struck her, and her eyes widened.

"Wait...THAT'S why you're such an otaku!"

"BINGO!" Ace grinned devilishly, "Those stories, those legends, they resonate through the multiverse, being reincarnated in many forms. The people who're inspired by them may not even realize they've been inspired, or that they're simply giving form to something that was already there, but the fact remains, it's the same hero. The story might change, the details might change, but at the heart, it's still the same!"

With a snap of his fingers, the screen sprang to life behind him, hundreds upon hundreds of manga, anime and comic title pages scrolling across its surface.

"Thanks to the inheritance of the Magnum Phoenix and A.C.E, I'm the only one who can see the truth in all of this. Each and every form of fiction in the world today is simply a reflection of the story and characters of a REAL universe, somewhere out there. Every game, every manga, every anime, every book...each and every one of them represents actual events, an actual world, somewhere out there in the infinite multiverse!"

He faltered.

"Un...fortunately, however, due to the rather bizarre nature of this phenomenon, I'm afraid that even I don't know everything. There are probably still 'series' of a sort, out there somewhere that I don't know about. For one thing, I think there's probably some kind of built in safeguard that no such stories like that can be found within the same universe that they're set in."

"...for obvious reasons..." Omega muttered.

"Yeah...do have ANY idea how different things might have been had say, Serpent gotten his hands on some kind of game regarding the whole Slither Inc. fiasco?" Ace shuddered, "Redefining genre savvy, that's for sure..."

Briefly, Celtis wondered if there might be any such stories out there about her...but sighed and dismissed the notion, depressingly reminded again of just how pathetic a 'character' she'd be in comparison to the maniacs around her...

"...and if that one the BRS took off with was any indication, some people have rather...strange ideas of their own regarding the 'heroes'..." Omega muttered. Not that he had a PROBLEM with stuff about two girls going at it, but if THAT could happen, it made him suddenly extremely nauseous about what ELSE there might be...

"Oh, that kind of thing?" Ace waved dismissively, "Nah, that kind of crap happens EVERYWHERE. Just look online. There's any number of internet boards out where people get together to talk about the famous characters of Legion today."

A pause, one eye twitching reflexively.

"I can't BEGIN to tell you how many Ace x Vent fanfics I have come across online..."

There was a brief pause as Omega detachedly considered the fact that yes, he had indeed felt some part of his brain die just now.

"Er..." Celtis gave him the Phoenix a worried look.

"No no, it's fine." Ace said, still with that entirely too happy and carefree smile. "Although it really is aMAAAA~zing how hilariously unlucky those posters are. Every single one, suddenly getting involved in Guardian or Security related accidents all of a sudden...really, it's a shame how much can go wrong with one turn of the Guardian Base's steering, or the erroneous launch of a dud cruise missile from Legion. Ahahaha~!" He laughed brightly.

….Celtis wordlessly decided then and there that she was never going online ever again.

Somewhere off to the side, Aile coughed something under her breath that sounded vaguely like "coughAcexMarinocough" before a panicked Marino whacked her over the head, Nana simply sighing between them.

There was a ringing sound from next to Ace.

"Oh, one minute, lemme get this."

Flipping open his comm again, he turned his chair away from them.

"This is Ace."

A pause.

"Oh. 'sup Vent."

Another pause.

"Wait, they actually UPDATED it?! SERIOUSLY?!" He glared at the phone. "Considering I dropped a deactivated Crushpactor on the LAST idiot to write one of those blasphemies of fan literature, you'd think they'd get the idea!"

Silence.

"...and they made it a LEMON too?!" You could hear Ace's temper snap. "...remind me WHY it is I waste my time protecting a city with people like this again?"

"Oh right..." He groaned. "Okay, fine...oh no you don't! You got the last idiot, this one's MINE!"

"...okay yeah, that IS pretty bad...alright, fine, rock paper scissors for it!"

After a moment of silence...

"God DAMN IT! HOW DO YOU KEEP DOING THAT?!" Ace fumed. "FINE, you get to flame this one...BUT I TOTALLY CALL DIBS ON THE NEXT ONE!"

The chair shifted, as though Ace had been about to turn but had been stopped by something else.

"What...? Oh, right. Nah, I'll be back down in the ICU in an hour or two. Yeah, yeah, no sweat...Oh, you're passing over on that side? Cool, um...alright, yeah, just pick up an order of that popcorn shrimp the little old lady on the corner makes. You know the one. Yeah, I'm sick of the damn health food the medical section keeps trying to feed me...yes, I KNOW I'm their boss, but it's kinda their job! What...? Oh. Uh...yeah, an extra-large sorrel drink if they've got that flavor. All right, yeah, I'm kinda in the middle of a meeting here, so I gotta go...yeah...yeah, right, cool. DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH MY CONTROLLER TILL I GET THERE!"

A click, and Ace spun around again, a bright, cheerful smile on his face as he stashed his comm again.

"Right, like I said...it's really quite astounding how many...accidents happen to those people, huh? Ahaha~!"

Celtis wordlessly shifted her chair a few inches to the side, making sure Omega was safely between her and the borderline psychopath on the other side. The God of Destruction for his part, simply gave Ace a blank look.

"...can I have your job?"

"No."

"Damn..."

"Anyway..." Ace coughed politely. "That's THAT taken care of. As for how this ties into the Hades..."

He leaned forward onto the desk, his face serious.

"Whoever the one behind this repurposed Dominion system was, make no joke, they're just as dangerous as the original creator."

Celtis started in alarm.

"What do you mean?"

He leveled one finger at the weapon at the table in front of her.

"That...thing, has the Dominion's ability for multiple forms and capabilities, but..." He hesitated. "In short, it basically cuts out the middleman."

A heavy silence followed his words.

"...what?" Omega said evenly.

"...where things like the original Dominion, and Biometals too, simply allow the power and wisdom of the original heroes to be bestowed upon the new wielder, the...Hades Dominion skips that, instead creating a FAR more powerful result. That damned gun..."

He leaned back in his chair with a resigned look.

"...that damned weapon can connect all the way to the home of the Antivirus Protocol itself. Cyberspace's unreachable, unattainable utopia, a server of sorts OUTSIDE the system, where every single one of its champions reside, awaiting the call to arms. There is literally NOTHING that should be able to do that, save for maybe using a Dead End as bait, which is what our Dimensional Field tries to do. It sort of forces the laws of reality back into place, so the world can recognize the presence of the Dead End and deploy Antivirals. It's why they never stay for too long. But at any rate, the Hades Dominion apparently CAN reach that place."

Celtis stared down at the gun before her.

"How...does something like this even work?" She asked, "Mythical heroes, the 'will' of Cyberspace, laws of reality...just what the hell kind of person can discover this stuff and then use it to their own ends so effortlessly?!"

"Normally? I'd say the Magnum Phoenix." Ace said flatly, "This kind of crap was his SPECIALTY. And had the original Doctors not been focused solely on robotics research, and perhaps branched out into multiple fields as the Magnum Phoenix did, I am CERTAIN they could have done it as well, as they were each formidably brilliant enough to match wits with even him. But where he saw the larger picture, they preferred the smaller one, working towards the betterment of mankind and robots. Then again, it's that specialization in robotics, that personal touch which gave us today's world, so they were probably right in their choices, even though the end result was war. But that...thing..."

Ace struggled to find an appropriate description.

"That Hades Dominion...SHOULD NOT EXIST. It's a greater blasphemy against the laws of reality than even the Dead Ends. By rights it should have never been allowed to come about. To create a method to summon any of the ultimate impartial adjudicators of EXISTENCE ITSELF?" Ace shook his head. "No, there's no way the laws of balance, that would defy even the Magnum Phoenix, would ever have allowed such a game-breaking weapon to exist."

Omega wordlessly pointed to the gun.

"And yet, here I am, looking at the damn thing." He stated sarcastically. "Which makes me think that you KNOW why it's here, and just what it is that the damn thing does."

"...there is a reason it could still be allowed, yes..." Ace said eventually. "And yes, Saber's right, that reason has to do with how it works."

He gestured at Celtis.

"You said you weren't aware of anything for the last week or so?"

"Y-yes, the last thing I remember was fighting Granz, and then suddenly I'm waking up here with a bunch of scattered memories, and him," She pointed to Omega, who looked entirely unrepentant, "Trying to kill me!"

A pause.

"...again." She added. There was also some time spent talking to Model O and trying to figure out what the hell had happened, but nothing really important otherwise.

"I see..." Ace shifted in his chair, leaning on one of the armrests. "It's as I suspected. SOMEBODY screwed with Cyberspace big time here...There IS a way to summon an Antiviral without triggering a brand new distortion and ending the world."

He leveled a finger at her.

"Simply put, when that..." Shaking his head in annoyance, Ace forged on, "Hades Dominion goes active, it effectively throws you into a pocket of sub-Cyberspace, a place outside of the rules. With 'Celtis Gisborne-Wingates Arcana' suddenly out of the game, there's now an empty space. And since Nature abhors a vacuum, metaphorically speaking, that 'space' is now open. And using the Hades itself as the catalyst, it manifests the Antiviral directly from Cyberspace and into the real world."

He sank his head into his hands with an aggravated groan.

"All of that, BLATANTLY GIVING THE ENTIRE MULTIVERSE THE FINGER IN THE PROCESS, and yet STILL perfectly acceptable by the programming of Cyberspace."

"So...for an entire week, I was...gone?" Celtis said weakly.

"Yep..."Ace groaned. "Put simply: The Hades punched you into a pocket dimension SO HARD that it left an Arcana-shaped hole in the universe. And then it used that 'empty space' to call the Black Rock Shooter."

"And then things blew up." Omega supplied helpfully. "So...what, the next time this happens, she'll randomly get subbed out for another one of these Counter Guardians?"

Because while he'd DEARLY love another round with that Black Rock Shooter...having to deal with a random number generator equivalent of every single Maverick Wars boss ever would be a COLOSSAL pain in the ass.

"...and there's the second reason why I say the son of a bitch who pulled this off is the single most reckless, mad as hell, and fucking BRILLIANT ASSHOLE I have ever encountered." Ace seethed. "It's a DOMINION weapon, which gives it the form changing specs like your Zweihander, right? Except yours came in with a BUILT IN LIMIT, like a framework to say how many available forms were available. That?"

He jerked a thumb in the direction of the Hades.

"NO limiter. SO yes, ordinarily it WOULD be a frigging roulette of 'Who's That Hero?!'...at least, if Model O hadn't thrown a colossal wrench into that."

"How so?" Omega asked, before he heard a sharp gasp from Celtis. Turning, he saw the green-haired Hunter pressing a hand to her mouth, looking pale. Seeing the look on his face, she slowly took it away, casting her eyes downward.

"Um...I...I think I might know what he means..." She said, a guilty look on her face.

"..." Omega gave her a searching look, and then glanced across at the grim expression of Ace Phoenix.

"Um...when Ashe tried to use Data Get on Model O, it...well, I think it took something out of her in return."

She remembered again the flashes she'd gotten from Model O in the aftermath, of it ripping out that shining orb from the center of Ashe's chest, and stifled a brief shudder.

Ace gave her a speculative look for several moments, before nodding and dropping back heavily against his chair.

"...yes, it most certainly did." He grunted. "When Model O shoved that fusion reactor into her, it took some data of its own in exchange. Whether it was deliberate or just instinctive, I don't know, but from what I got out of Grey and Model A..."

The Scarlet Phoenix sighed.

"...It tore out her copy of the A-Trans database."

There was a long silence.

"That sounds...bad." Omega said finally.

"...it depends." Ace said hesitantly. "Without examining Ashe herself, I have no way to say how bad the damage is. I CAN however say that the files concerning her forms have been relatively untouched, meaning that each of her forms, such as Bifrost, the other Biometals and so on, are still there, it's just that the overall framework of it's been ripped out. I have no idea if that might cause some hybridization when she tries to A Trans again, or if she even CAN A-Trans still. Model A seems to think so, though, since it said she still registered as being compatible. So on her end, I'm not too certain what that'll cause, partly because Biometals themselves aren't exactly my finest field..."

He scratched his cheek, momentarily embarrassed.

"...but anyway, what I can say is that it seems as though there was a hidden program within the Hades' Dominion system. It would only activate once it had everything necessary to ensure it wouldn't immediately be destroyed by the laws of reality."

"Meaning...?"

Ace's eyes narrowed.

"Whoever set that up made it so that the Dominion ability would only go into effect once it had appropriate...'vessels' of a sort, to be able to contain that power. With vessels here having the meaning of 'slots'...JUST LIKE YOUR ZWEIHANDER."

There was a moment's pause while that sank in.

"So...I can call the Black Rock Shooter again?" Celtis sounded...unsettled. Surprisingly, Omega didn't blame her. Being replaced entirely like that, just shunted aside for someone else to take over...it reminded him unpleasantly of his time locked in Weil's white armor...

Ace gave her a sympathetic look, before nodding.

"...yes. Just like Saber and his Zweihander, you can access the power at any time once you've unlocked it. However..." He turned back to Omega, his eyes narrowing. "UNLIKE Saber, you don't seem to require the power of another Virus Core. Save for that first one, which you tore out of Black Thresher, more cores don't seem necessary. Rather, emotion will more likely play a larger role in 'calling' a new Guardian. The firepower of the Hades, on the other hand, CAN be upgraded with more Cores. Also, I'm not certain, but they may still be able to help you reach more powerful Guardians."

He shrugged.

"Beyond that, and whatever other basic RPG tropes you want to break out, I got nothing."

"Then...we're done here." Omega growled. Swinging his feet off of the table, he stood, wincing slightly as he felt one of his mechanical ribs creaking. He seemed fine otherwise, and the God of Destruction estimated he'd be back up to full strength within a day, 48 hours earlier than he'd expected.

He gave a grim smile.

Good. At least ONE bloody thing was going right today...

Ace gave them both a calculating look, noting Celtis' still shaken expression.

"...consider this an order if you will, but Saber and Arcana, you're on downtime for the next few days."

Omega turned, a dangerous look on his face. Had Ace seen through his facade-?!

And then his eyes fell on Celtis.

...Ah.

He had to admit, she...didn't look so great. It was then he realized that she'd been on her own for practically a week without realizing it, and had come back to discover so much had happened in the meantime. He supposed that might have rattled him even worse, considering his fierce desire for independence. Sure, it'd probably saved her life, but...

Omega groaned and pressed a hand to his face. Stupid, lousy, rassafrassin' conscience subroutines...!

Reaching out one hand, he snagged the back of Celtis' jacket with one claw, lifting her clean off of the ground.

"Eh?" Celtis managed, before Omega slung her over his back with an annoyed sigh.

"I don't have time to wait around for you all day, Celtis." He grumbled. "Now let's get the hell out of here. I've had enough explanations to last me a lifetime."

"Wha-you...! P-put me down, you big lummox!" Celtis yelped, her feet dangling a good few inches from the floor. "You white-haired, good-for-nothing..."

She stopped as something dawned on her.

The green-haired Hunter looked up at him, stunned.

"D...did you just...actually say my name...?"

"..." Omega said nothing for a moment, before suddenly glaring over his shoulder at her. "What was that, sub-standard excuse for a Chosen One...?!"

Celtis stared at him for a moment, before breaking out into a quiet chuckle.

"Ah, no, it's nothing...never mind!"

Omega gave her a searching look, as if trying to see if she was messing with him or not, before he gave an annoyed sigh and headed for the door again.

"...this is why getting laid is SO much easier..." He grumbled.

And then, as he reached the door, the God of Destruction stopped, a thought occurring to him.

"Oi...Phoenix."

Ace's chair turned slightly, the Scarlet Commander regarding Omega through lidded eyes.

"...yes?"

"You...said there were TWO methods that Cyberspace used to deal with distortions." He spoke without turning around, Celtis looking up at him curiously.

"The Antivirus was one...but you never said what the other was."

A silence settled on the room.

"...Ah." Ace gave a bitter smile. "Yes, I did omit that, didn't I."

Omega said nothing, waiting for the Scarlet Phoenix.

"You see...there are situations where not even the Anti-Virals are enough." He turned to look out the wide glass windows, at the setting sun. "There are moments where nothing else save for a last resort can redeem the situation."

His eyes were distant, staring out at something only he could see.

"In that situation...Cyberspace itself rises, utterly erasing the distortion entirely with the full, crushing weight of the laws of reality. The world itself rebels, denying the distortion's existence. It erases it so utterly that there's nothing left, a natural disaster of such unprecedented magnitude that there is nothing that can defend against it."

"I see..." Omega said, his eyes still facing ahead of him.

"...to this date, there has been only one known occurrence of that. An event so great and terrible in magnitude that almost every race, in every universe, has some version of it in their own myths."

The God of Destruction's jaw tightened as he realized just what Ace was talking about, the unbelievable magnitude of destruction involved.

"After all, every culture tells the story..." Ace finally turned to look at him directly, that same rueful smile on his face.

"...of the civilization that vanished beneath the waves."


A/N:...I...honestly have no idea what to say about this chapter. I am almost certain that at LEAST half of you simply tuned all of this out, many of you no doubt leaving due to my even further descent into the realms of crossovers and the like.

This would have been out sooner, had I not been overly paranoid about getting all of these concepts down just right, or at least in a way that made as much sense as it did in my head.

Much of the physics and concepts mentioned here are borrowed HEAVILY, if not jacked outright from the works of Kinoku Nasu and Type Moon, the company behind Fate Stay Night and several of the single best visual novels of all time. Just go look up the Type Moon Wiki, and research the Counter Guardians. It'll probably give you an easier explanation than mine, which was altered to fit the physics of the Megaman Zx universe.

And yes, I am almost certain that I will get flamers saying that this is a load of nonsense, that Cyberspace is not 'alive', there's no multiverse, and that Cyberspace in general does not work that way. To those of you all indignant and up in arms, who aren't willing to just roll with my envisioning of it for the Chronicles...you know where the door is.

To the rest of you willing to stay and see where this goes, as I said in previous chapters, welcome to the party. Cyberspace, and all of the reality hacking that goes along with it, are going to be a MAJOR feature of the story from here on out, so look forward to even more insane fights, battles, and mindscrews.

But of course, it's not over yet. With the fight against the Zone Technician and even the terrifying Dead End called Great Redips finally over, and the necessary expositing, we'll have the final wrap-up for this whole arc and a considerable plot bomb too, which almost all of you should immediately recognize as meaning things will be getting way more crazy in the future.

...after all, I have once again, carefully omitted any explanation of a certain feature of the entire Zone Technician battle.

For those of you who know what that missing point is, good job, you're getting better at this! And to those who didn't, no sweat, it'll make it even better when I finally reveal it!

Anyway, that's all for now!

I'll see you guys in the next chapter!

DarkShift Out!