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Chapter: 22

"The devastation here is unlike anything this city has ever seen," said the reporter on the TV screen. The camera filming her jiggled slightly as PlanPol agents and soldiers swarmed past her. "Already we're looking at a confirmed eleven dead and twenty-five wounded…"

"Hey! Turn off the camera!" shouted a commanding voice as a black-vest-wearing soldier approached the reporter, hand already moving up to block the camera.

"What are you doing?! We're covering the…"

There followed a massive explosion in the background, accompanied by screams and the screen went black. There followed the sound of a click, and a new report turned on, this time of an aerial view of a place called Parthenon. Smoke rose into the air, obscuring the sight of devastation.

"It's incredible Mr. Kent," said a balding male reporter over the voice of his helicopter's rotary blades. "No information is presently available about what took place at this Guardian Factory, but presently forensic scientists are saying that whatever was involved had a class five strength level, suggesting possibly Delta class powers. Presently it's not known if there are any heroi living in the general population that have this kind of strength but…"

Another click, and this time the scene shifted to a news room. This time, a heavy-set man with a dark complexion sitting across from a brunette woman with long hair sat discussing the latest reports.

"…heroi aren't looking too good in the public eye right now, are they?" asked the man, his expression aghast as he looked at his co host.

"No it's not Cenk," the woman replied. "I mean, we're looking at five…five…cities and factories that have been targeted and attacked in the past twenty four hours, and the body count just keeps rising. If there's ever been a darker time to be a heroi since the end of the Bronze Age, this is it. There's already been a massive outcry to organize a response against the attacks."

"Could we be looking at a revolution here?" Cenk asked, shifting in his seat.

"That's hard to say. Civil Rights groups have already denied any connection to the attacks and have already condemned them. However analysts state that the timing of the attacks would indicate that there is some heavy organization working in the background and that they can't just be a coincidence. They've gone on further to indicate that we could be looking at a resurgence of the dark side of heroi—the so-called nemesi—that made up the opposing side in the Great War that began during the Golden Age."

The screen went dark with a final click and Owikawa leaned back in his seat, a pleased smile on his face. Kurata stood behind him, arms folded behind his back, a pensive look on his face.

"I'd say that got people to wake up, wouldn't you say?"

"Hm…" Kurata chewed the inside of his cheek in response. Owikawa looked up at him, still smiling.

"You're being awfully quiet."

"I just have the break in on our network on my mind," he said, pressing his lips together.

"I told you, it's nothing to worry about," Owikawa said dismissively. "If anything it will help the cause later. For now, I say we rejoice. Relax a bit." Getting up from his seat, he went over to the sidebar and began to take out some glasses and a bottle. "Which would you like? White or red?"

"I'll have neither," Kurata replied. "I'm still on the clock."

"It's all right. You have my permission," Owikawa smirked.

"Even so, I'd like to return to my desk sober." Kurata narrowed his eyes and looked away from his employer, bringing them back to the screen. "There was a lot of damage done today you know. What if this backfires?"

"We'll deal with that when the time comes. Right now it's important that the public starts to think that there is a nemesi, or a group of them, out there, looking to overthrow the current order. The Eurasian plate of the Old World still deals with them from time to time after all. It's not out of the realm of possibility."

"That's because Avalon is more accepting of heroi." Kurata folded his arms over his chest. "It's a completely different game on this side of the ocean."

"You're not normally so worried about our operations."

"I guess I'm just a bit spooked," Kurata admitted. "Tartarus is on our front doorstep; our network was broken into, and the whole coastline is getting angry. Noir…failed to take down any more of PlanPol's forces too. I feel a little…naked right now."

"I assure you that you are as clothed and well protected as possible. I've taken precautions to make sure of that. As for PlanPol…we'll work on it. No one said that we would reach our goals all at once."

Kurata glowered at the man, not looking the least bit convinced. Owikawa, still holding the wine bottle and glass, spread his arms out as if to ask him, why don't you believe me? Chuckling at Kurata's lack of response, he poured himself some wine and swallowed it down in one quick gulp.

"You know, this was made in the final year of the Bronze Age, right before things collapsed."

"So you mean it's a terrible vintage," Kurata said. Owikawa laughed.

"To me that makes it a good vintage. To drink this at the dawn of an age where champions will rise again…"

"Aren't you assuming that they are? The attacks on the Guardian facilities went…well enough, but PlanPol will be working hard to replace any that were flat out destroyed and get the rest up and operational again. And the military…"

"…is stretching itself thin to contain Tartarus. All it will need is a push to change the game back in favor of the heroi. The return of nemesi…through Noir…is just the first step. We have all the cards we need at this point. The committee has already given me—us—their blessings, so we can continue on to the next stage."

"Yes…about that…"

"The break in?" Owikawa raised an eyebrow. "We can still work it into our current stage. We'll need to operate a little bit outside of the original plan, but that's all right. Were you able to track whoever broke in to our network?"

"No," Kurata admitted. "They didn't leave much of a trail, unfortunately. But they were using the satellite system for something very specific. They were tracking electromagnetic fields over the city." He scowled. "We've got a blanket of it over us by the way. A big one."

"Should we be concerned?"

"If I don't know where it came from or why it's there I'd say we should be concerned. It might be because of the Tartarus entity that showed up yesterday, but I don't know. I need to look into it more."

"Hmmm…all right then." Owikawa poured himself another drink. "Look into it then and keep me posted." He swirled his drink, looking at it contemplatively. "Do you have any plans for how to deal with whoever hacked us?"

Kurata flexed his hands at that and frowned. "I'll have someone deal with them…whoever it is," he replied.

Owikawa smiled and nodded, seemingly pleased by this response. "Let me know then when you plan to move against them. I'll have someone available to do the deed."

"Yes sir…" Kurata said, his fingers curling into a tight fist.

###

Is this becoming a little too much? Kurata wondered as he made his way down Meta Foundation's hallway back to his office. He remembered that he had been ambivalent about the 'costs' of the project, but seeing the news reports… Kurata sighed and shook his head. First the Omega and now Trojan Horse was being brought into full swing. It was only just starting, but Kurata knew that now that it had, the situation would soon, like Owikawa's wine, flow quite easily.

Hands over fists, he thought, coming to his office and pushing open the door. Upon opening the door, his intern jumped and nearly knocked over the stack of CD's he had been piling up.

"What's gotten into you?" Kurata asked.

"Um…ah… Sorry sir. It's just…it's so quiet when you're not around and…and I got so busy I zoned out and…"

"Forget about it," Kurata replied dismissively. "What's the situation?"

"The situation on…what sir?" the intern blinked, confused.

"On anything!" Kurata ground his teeth together. Didn't the kid have it drilled through his head yet? "How's our visitor from PlanPol? What's the status update on Tartarus and our network? Do we have anything on our hacker? Give me something!" Irritably, he pushed back his chair and plopped himself down on it. It creaked and groaned from the force of his landing and he swung himself around to his computer.

"That…that wasn't the job you left me, sir…" the intern stammered out. Kurata sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Go get me some pudding from the vending machine. Twelfth floor this time." Digging into his pocket, he slapped some change on his desk. "Go on, get a move on."

His intern snatched the money up from off the desk and ducked out of the office so quickly that Kurata almost felt insulted. He snorted and quickly blotted the incident out of his mind, devoting himself to updating his information.

Still haven't found anything on that scum bucket that broke into the network today, he thought, scowling. After tapping his mouse a few times he brought up the image of Shibumi, sitting in a chair in a darkened room. Kurata leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head, drumming his fingers against it thoughtfully. Shibumi looked alone, but he knew that he wasn't. The room was darkened for a reason.

You're coming here brought PlanPol's eye on us, he mused. Owikawa said that you just stopped by at the front door and just…took a look before moving on.

"What are you here for?" he asked aloud.

Almost as though the man had heard his question, Shibumi craned his head in the direction of the camera and a smile drew across his face. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Kurata clicked out of the window and went back to trying to trace his hacker.

###

Teruo wiped a hand across his brow as he leaned his bike against the side of the alley and looked over at the fence that divided Shinjuku off from the city's dump site.

Directional fifteen thousand volt fence with variable amp control to counter any heroi that might try to get over. All controlled by an AI via through either Guardian Spheres, Bob the bot… He glanced over the fence, checking for cameras. Normally PlanPol's Guardian Spheres covered that angle, but with the recent reduction in their numbers, it was entirely within the realm of reason that a fallback was needed and would be implemented at the earliest opportunity. Especially considering what the junkyard held within it.

Across the Ages… He mused. He saw nothing, but that didn't necessarily mean that nothing was there.

The biggest obstacle that I can see right now is the fence, he thought, finally deciding that he should deal with what was in front of him. Going over is out of the question, and going under… He scrunched up his lips into a grimace. Probably not a good idea. It'd take too long and my window is too short for digging holes. Although if I was caught, I'd probably have plenty of practice for my jail sentence.

He chuckled and scratched his head. Taking a look around, he considered his options.

Power transformers… he thought, sighting the power lines. An idea started to formulate in his mind and he took a step toward it.

What should it be…? he wondered, coming to a stop in front of the power line. I could wedge a piece of metal between the transformers to overload them and create an EMP blast. That might do the job. He kicked at the post. Not exactly something I want to do. It'd be noticed, but…what other choice is there? He sighed and took his bag off his shoulder. Unzipping it he began to pull out some tools. Nothing particularly fancy, at least from his perspective, but just something he needed to do the job. One was a simple Avalon Army Knife; foldable blade, pliers, a small screw driver…the basics. He also had duct tape, rubber gloves that he had bought with his allowance some months before following an 'incident' dealing with electricity, a hammer…light weight tools and not a single one of them belonging to the kind of high tech. Pulling on the gloves and putting the hammer in his belt loop he began to climb up the pole, placing his feet on its ladder rungs.

After what felt like an eternity, he reached the top. Wiping his brow, he withdrew his hammer and reached down, aiming its metal head between the transformers. It clanged against them, but not where he needed it to be. Biting his lip he clenched his eyes shut. I'm too short… I can't reach. Maybe if I… Hiking himself up, he tried to angle the hammer's head closer…

It slipped from his hand and fell between the two transformers. Its clawed end hooked on and wedged itself in as its handle swung down between them. Sparks flew and Teruo nearly fell off in surprise.

"Whoa!" he shouted, his legs swinging as he tried to grab onto the pole. "Got to go! Got to go…now!"

He started to descend rapidly down the pole, his feet skipping rungs as he went while above him the transformer sparked and raged.

Upon exploding, Teruo's grip missed their mark and he plummeted the rest of the way down.

###

Ow…

Teruo limped through the junkyard, now safely on the other side of the fence. One hand was grasping his leg, trying to soothe it while simultaneously attempting to keep it from collapsing on him. Not for the first time was he grateful for the boost—however minor—that being a heroi had on his physical abilities.

Too bad I'm not anywhere in the same league as that Tempest chick from the end of Bronze. He winced as pain lanced up his leg. Rounding a corner he brought himself to rest against an old refrigerator and leaned his head against it, gasping heavily. That's going to take a while to heal up…

Not wanting to waste too much time, he shouldered off his bag and withdrew a notebook from it, flipping it open and going to the latest entry regarding a materials list.

Okay… This is where the tricky part starts. Pulling out his disk robot he activated it. Its legs unfolded and it stood up on his palm.

"Hey there," Teruo greeted with a smile. "I've got a job for you. I need you to go through the junkyard and start cataloguing materials. Surface stuff for now." He raised his notebook and the robot shifted its electric eye to it. "Memorize this and report back to me in this spot in an hour."

The tiny robotic device clicked and hopped off its creator's hand, quickly scurrying away. Teruo watched it go for a moment before dropping his head back on the refrigerator with a hollow bang, breathing a little heavily as pain flared in his leg.

This is going to be a problem. Spying a thin metal tube—a piece of emt, he believed—he crawled over to it, favoring his injured leg and roughly pulled it out. It was a good length of four feet; plenty tall enough for his purposes. Standing it up, he hoisted himself back to his feet, taking the weight off his injured leg and putting it on his makeshift crutch.

"All right," he breathed. "Let's do this."

###

Riley glared at the phone on her desk as it rang for what had to be the hundredth time since the incident at the mall. The caller ID informed her it was yet another news reporter. Riley laid her head into her hands and massaged her temples. She felt tired, and was certain that she looked it as well. Across from her, Tally stood, a clipboard in hand and placed against her legs while she also watched the phone. She didn't ask if Riley was going to answer it. By this point she knew that the woman wouldn't.

After what felt like an eternity, the caller finally gave up and the phone stopped ringing.

"They'll be back," Riley muttered, leaning forward on her desk. Lifting it off the receiver she dialed the front desk. "Take all messages," she said to the secretary. "I'll get to them when my plate has been emptied."

Not even bothering to wait for a response, Riley promptly hung up and returned her attention to Talley.

"Do you really think that your plate is going to be emptied?" she asked in a meek tone.

"Do heroi have powers?" she asked sardonically. "Where were we?"

"The survivor that we took captive at the mall has arrived at the hospital and is being worked on now. The doctor's believe that she is in stable condition."

"Good news for me," Riley replied. "We have a source of information now. I want guards on her."

"Manpower is a little short…"

"Then pull in anyone you can. I don't care where you get them from, just make sure that we have someone watching her. Redirect any Guardian Spheres that you can. Pull them from the junkyard if you have to. It's not like there's anything that anyone can use in their current state."

"That's just the thing," Tally continued. "Henry Wong from the H.C. Department."

That had been all that was needed to say for Riley to rub her fingers against her forehead again.

"What's that kid up to this time?"

"He says Teruo has requested materials."

Bad timing… "Apparently I stand corrected." She waved a hand through the air. "All right. Have him fill out a request form and see about getting him down here."

"Ma'am?" Tally raised her eyebrows.

"If we have him here, he won't go venturing off on his own to cook up whatever monster project he's got brewing in his brain now. I swear… That kid needs better supervision than what we've been doing so far. If it weren't for our sudden reduction in forces this wouldn't be an issue…"

"Should I still pull the remaining Guardians from their patrol duties at the junk…"

"Yes!" Riley said in exasperation. "I want those heroi that escaped found, Tally. They're still in the city and we have their bio-signature now." She heaved an especially heavy sigh just then. "Thank God for that Hall Monitor. What's the word on its replacement?"

"The spare has already been activated. No one should notice its personality's absence from its social network."

"At least something is going right today." She glanced at her computer monitor, seeing the reports that continued to stream in. Damage and casualties from attacks not just at the Shinjuku mall, but outside the province as well. The nearby factory that was going to ship them the replacement Guardian drones, to two other cities…one of which was disturbingly close to the capital. This can't be just some random outburst of heroi activity. They happened all at once. The group from earlier called themselves Noir. It's likely that they're all connected together, but why haven't we heard of this group until now?

"There's also another thing that you should know about," Tally continued. "Henry submitted his report on the Grey case."

"Oh? Anything interesting?"

"You'll want to see this for yourself, ma'am," Tally replied. "Also, Coleman reports that we presently have Jamie Grey in our custody. His Companion module transmitted a warning to our agents, along with his location and some files as well regarding his powers." She met Riley's gaze levelly. "I think you'll be interested in what they have to say as well."

"When it rains it pours," Riley said, pressing her lips together into one thin line.

###

Slowly, ever so slowly, Rika's eyes opened and she turned her head on the pillow of her home's to a pair of dark eyes belonging to the shining silver furred dog that she adopted just a day ago. Guilmon's eyes lit up upon seeing her awake and his head darted forward. Out came the tongue and the animal proceeded to slobber over the girl's face.

"Wha…Guil! Get offa me!" she exclaimed, trying to bat him away but somehow finding herself to do just that.

"Is that how you show love to your pet?" came the amused voice of her mother from off to the side. Rika's eyes widened and she sat up, dodging another lick. Not to be defeated by such a maneuver, the puppy hopped up onto the couch and pushed himself into her lap, tongue continuously lashing out in an attempt to find some place to express its happiness.

"Mom!" Rika shouted, pushing the pup away and standing up. Her eyes darted around her, confused. She smelled dust, finding the wall to her home broken open and she instantly remembered what had transpired between her and her mother. Focusing her concentration on her F.S. Field, she prepared herself for the worst.

Except for one problem: she wasn't prepared for her F.S. Field not appearing at all.

"Wha…?" Rika stammered, looking down at herself in complete and utter confusion. "What's going on?"

"Suppression pills," Rumiko informed her. "I know people, Rika. It doesn't take much, especially for someone your age. The effect changes based on weight so there might be some differences for you, but for your developed level…" She tilted her head to one side, thinking for a moment. "…Beta level five?" She shrugged nonchalantly. "That's what I was anyway when I was more active. Anyway, your powers won't activate for you until the pill's effects wear off." She leaned back in her chair, leveling her gaze at Rika. "So think very carefully, daughter. Your powers aren't working. Mine are. So let's have that discussion now."

Rika ground her teeth together, but reluctantly sat down. She was in a bad spot right now. She already knew that there was no escape for her, even with her powers. She couldn't believe how quickly and badly she had been shut down. For all her power she might as well have been standing still next to the woman.

"All right," she said, meeting her mother's eyes.

Rumiko raised the old-style Companion Module that Rika had earlier. "What are you doing with this?" she asked, shaking it slightly in an indicative manner. "I'd ask about when you got your powers, but I find this to be a lot more interesting to consider. I remember this model. This one has been modified visually and there doesn't appear that it has an AI present. What are you planning to do with it?"

Rika was silent. Rumiko tucked the device into her blouse's front pocket. "I can afford to wait, Rika. I've already lived a long time. So will you, but I know which of us will get bored first."

"I'm…I'm trying to find Ran," Rika finally conceded, looking away from her mother's eyes. "I met someone who said that would help me."

"Who? And did he say how?"

Rika was silent again, but already her mind was looking for a way to use this question to her advantage.

"I can't tell you."

"That's very loyal of you, Rika," Rumiko said, though she sounded disappointed. "I'm sorry that it doesn't extend to other members of your family." She removed the Companion Module from her breast pocket and looked it over again, hoping to find something that was familiar to her.

"You weren't doing anything!" Rika hissed, her eyes flashing with anger.

Rumiko looked at her, her expression betraying nothing but neutrality. "Are you saying that because I didn't look like I was doing anything?" She leaned forward. "Rika…you have no idea what I was trying to do…for Ran and for you."

"For me?!" Rika scoffed. "You didn't even know I had powers…"

"That's my fault," Rumiko admitted, interrupting the girl. "But that's not what this is about, Rika. You don't know what I've had to do to keep you safe from PlanPol because of what you've both inherited. You have no idea what you are or what I've been trying to do, and now you've jeopardized everything by doing what you've done…whatever it is you're doing or planning on doing." Rumiko tried to keep her voice level, but a hint of anger broke through the mask that she tried desperately to keep on. "PlanPol's eye is on us very closely right now. They would be only too happy to slap a collar on all of us."

Rika's eyes narrowed as her anger seeped into her heart. "You're just making this up," she shot back. "I'm not going to tell you anything. Why should I?" A cruel smirk crept across her face, though it didn't reach her eyes. "You never did a thing after Ran went to work for that…that place. The Meta Foundation…" The anger in her heart seethed and once more she tried to call forth her F.S. Field, but once more it failed to activate. Her body remained unlit.

"Don't like it, do you?" Rumiko asked. "Having that Suppression chemical in you? Imagine having it in you all the time. That's what could happen because of whatever you've been doing or whoever it is that you're dealing with. Now who is it? I want answers!"

"Why?" Rika still wasn't meeting her mother's eyes. She folded her arms over her stomach. "Are you going to stop me? Are you going to fight him?"

"Rika… I already know what it means to be under PlanPol's thumb for one lifetime. You do not want to experience that. You have no idea what it is you're getting into."

"I already know what it is I'm getting into. Ran is my sister! She's family! Something you can't seem to wrap your brain around! Otherwise you would never have let her go to that place!"

Rumiko tightened her grip on the Companion Module. It sparked but once before its casing collapsed, crushed beneath the weight of her strength. Rika's mouth dropped open in shocked horror as the woman relaxed her grip and let it fall to the floor in several broken pieces.

"I want to talk to whoever it is you've been in contact with," Rumiko said in a level tone. "Now."

Rika blinked and looked up at her mother. "I…"

"You will take me to him, or I promise you PlanPol will get involved." Rumiko stood up and stepped over to her daughter. "Make a decision, Rika. Because I've already made mine."

Rika's eyes were locked with her mother's for a moment before her mind seized upon her mother's suggestion.

"All right," she replied, trying to hide the shake in her voice. "Then let's go meet him."

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