Michael gazed out over the city, rain staining the steel towers as the red tide erupted from the android-spewing volcano in the south end. He touched his fingers to his headset, the chirp echoing through his ear in the traumatic silence brought on by the disaster on the horizon.
The moments passed as he stood in silence, words failing him in the prelude of the onslaught.
He rolled his shoulders as his humanity fell away, his muscles tensing as the cold, calculative stream of commands came in.
“Wrights.” He began. “Evacuation. Take point to the North and South sides East of Gothic Federated. Destroy everything you see, take it from the air.
“Raz.” He said. “Take point at Trinity, move them towards the coast.”
“Gabriel. Lane control left, Iris right.” He said. “I want you two running laps like it’s the Olympic freaking games and tearing everything you see apart.”
He looked over at me. “You’re center lane.” He said. “You’ve got the targeting and the pushback to do the most damage there. I’ll push in on Gothic.”
“No.” I said. “Vivian’s headed straight for Gothic Federated. I can move in there while you do crowd control.”
“Priority one, Az.” He said, assuming my motivation to be personal.
“I can use the machines here to track where they’re getting their data from, but I’m willing to bet it’s Gothic Federated. If I can throw Vivian off there, we can keep this contained better, and I might be able to shut it down from the center.
“I know Vivian, Michael. I can keep her distracted.”
“Fine.” He said, hesitating for a moment before he agreed. “Don’t get carried away.”
He touched his fingertips back to his earpiece. “Immobilize. No kill shots yet.” He said. “Keep any detonations as contained as you can.”
I turned around, picking up the severed head from one of the machines and cracking it open on the table as Michael loaded his pistols. “I’ll try to disarm the detonators remotely.” I said. “Good luck.”
I attached my tablet to a port behind the grey plastic casing in the machine’s head, attempting to connect with its interface.
Odds are it’s using radial telemetrics to broadcast data from the tower, so if I can create a series of pings from here I should be able to use the pingbacks like a compass to get to the center.
Here goes nothing.
I cracked a telecoms unit from the side of its head, clipping the wires from the terminal before severing the end of my own interface cable and rewiring it to attach the two.
Raphael landed in the center of an intersection, signaling cars out of the way in the moments before the fight began.
His brother’s voice chirped in his ear, exaggeratedly gruff for the sake of the joke. “Told you they’d move you to traffic if you didn’t start playing by the book, rookie.”
“If one of us is the renegade cop, it isn’t me.” Raphael said.
“Probably right.” Uriel replied. “You’d be too old for this sh-”
A metallic thud marked the landing of six connected heavy metal cylinders that flipped from Raphael’s hand.
“I already am.”
The spear swung over his arm as the blade shot out from the end, splitting up the middle as it made a space to accommodate the black modification he’d dropped on the street.
He leveled the long staff, the six black barrels spinning up in front of him as he readied the modular minigun.
The first grey android fell down onto the street from a ledge above, peering at Raphael over the six rotating barrels.
“I’m more than too old for this.”
A pingback splashed over the screen.
I threw myself forward through the window towards the signal, plummeting from the top of the tower through the rain-soaked sky.
This was it.
This was our moment.
Twenty-two feet of sleek black feathers split the air in two as I curved up into the air.
The muscles stretching out from my shoulders rippled, flexing as they curled through the wind and I dove forward toward Gothic.
I landed in the street before it, black wings flattening out against the concrete as the onslaught faced me.
A woman opened her door to a knock, peering onto a grey doorstep to see a blue-clad young man.
“Sorry I don’t have a pizza or anything, but we’ve gotta go.” Gabriel said hurriedly.
Another one opened the next door.
“I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression, but you and me gotta get out of here.”
A third door opened.
“Look, I’m all out of one-liners, let’s move.”
Black steel tore the androids open, sparks and black fluid flying through the air in archs with severed steel limbs.
I marched on the steel doors at the entrance of the Gothic Federated tower, never losing a step in my pace as I shredded through the masses.
I held an armless robot by the top of the plasticized plate on its back, twisting back the framework of its skull and tearing the head off as the red lens powered down, wires sparking as they severed between my hands.
The machine’s decapitated torso shook as I hurled it forward between the others, pelting it into the glass.
The machine exploded, blasting the doors open with wrenching steel and shattering glass.
My scepter did the rest of the work, slamming into the ground and sending the surrounding androids flipping through the air as it pounded a crater into the bricks.
I passed through the collapsed vestibule beyond the inner set of doors, stepping into an empty foyer that echoed the sound of an apocalypse outside like a gentle rain.
A wide, grey hall stretched out in the mouth of Gothic Federated, pallid walls laid bare and decorated with only the stains of forgottenness and the dust of a slowly collapsing ceiling.
The drab tile floor beneath the stone pillars on either side of the room was laden with the building’s age, a thin clean line melting like fire through the grey snow of the years past.
Taking two steps forward my footsteps called out through the corporate crypt, disrupting a smooth silence that had held on since its abandonment and interrupted by only one other over the years.
Exactly who I came here to see.
The next room harbored two well-dressed Couture agents, each holding a black briefcase.
They threw their luggage forward as I kicked open the door, the two cases folding out into a set of standing androids.
I gripped the katana in the first one’s hands, twisting it back to drive it through the android’s neck.
The second followed, its head falling open as my clawed hands ripped the face plate off and tore the eye from its head.
I threw the remainder of the machine at the agents as it detonated in the back of the room, throwing them both forward.
One pulled a gun, promptly wrenched from her hands as her knuckles folded over one another, elbows shattering as I pounded her into the floor.
The second one took one round in the knee and a second in the shoulder before the knockout blow to her temple.
I opened the elevator door, panting as I pulled back the slide.
“Here goes nothing.” I said, examining the call buttons.
The penthouse had been pressed, a circular glove mark wiping the caked dust from the clear plastic.
She wanted me to find this.
I had no choice but to follow her suit, pressing the button and sliding the doors closed.
The elevator groaned to life as it began to climb, slow jazz music creaking from a speaker at the top of the cabin.
Okay, Gothic and Imperial were built forty years apart. I thought. How in the hell do they have the same damn elevator music.
The elevator ceased its struggle with a soft chime as the doors rolled open.
I shot the pistol twice into the ceiling, the four agents in the penthouse foyer recoiling from the sound as I spoke.
“One chance.” I said. “That’s it.”
The foyer doors opened as the last one hit the floor.
A large, grey room stood before me, a former corporate penthouse cleared of all its walls and furniture. The grey concrete floor stretched out to the ornate wooden wall paneling on the four pillared corners of the room, a second level outlined by the remains of a wood walkway running the perimeter beneath a high, rounded glass ceiling.
The space itself was filled almost entirely by a complex series of interconnected machines, lined in a rounded arch above a circular void in the floor, peaking at their highest point in the center with a massive steel broadcast tower.
Its side was gripped by a smooth leather glove produced from a white sleeve, a long coat hanging around Vivian’s shoulders.
“I had a feeling you’d come here first.” She said.
“And I had one that you’d have some dramatic personal reveal ready when I got here.”
“Well I hope I didn’t disappoint.” She said, peering down from the massive machine.
“It’s not awful.”
She shrugged. “It’s what I could do. I tried as hard as I could to get the nerds who built this thing to put in a swivel chair right up high in the center so I could do the slow turnaround.”
“Appropriate, albeit played out.” I said. “I half expected you to be in some lavish office watching the disaster over a glass of champagne.”
“Night’s not over.” She smiled. “But I knew you’d come here first. You’re too smart to come after me without finding the source.
“So here it is.” She said, her flourishing hand twisting through the air in a wave above the machine.
“I don’t suppose you’d be interested in telling me about it.”
“Oh of course.” She said. “The long explanation is just a classic. We can’t skip out on that.
“This… Where do I start with this? This is one of the most incredible pieces of technology that’s ever been built. Uncle Sam would have to change his pants if he could see this thing.
“We called it the Network, but I’m more partial to Lady. The foundation we built on is called Vue.”
“Sight.” I said.
“Exactly.” She said. “I figured it was appropriate for the digital version of the Panama Canal.
“Everything passes through the Network. Through Vue. The foundation of the machine was a monitoring tech Couture stole from a tech firm down the river in Pyropolis.
“But Vue’s only half the machine. The grand architecture of it is the algorithm.
“It starts by collecting social data. Instant messaging clients, social networks, geological and behavioral information.
“Then.” She smiled. “This is my favorite part.
“The thing that makes her beautiful is her ability to think. She is unbiased, perfectly balanced, and she is as blind as Lady Justice.
“She analyzed everything we pulled out and compiled a list, geotagged all of it. Used the information that people gave the public to identify the bottom rung.
“They are the lowest. The proven offenders and the malcontents of this city. Everyone who’s avoided the reach of the system or who’s escaped you. Criminals.
“The algorithm is Lady’s scales, and… Well, you’ve met her sword.”
“Jewel.” I said.
“Exactly.” She replied. “My little grey friends are out there right now on an errand of Justice, warriors for the righteous to show her face to everyone who’s been too afraid to face her.”
“You think this is justice?”
“I think this is retribution where the institutions of justice have failed. None of her victims are innocent. You know it as well as I do.
“I said you and I were similar. We both looked up at the city and wanted something better, had to find a way to make it happen.
“But to do that, we both had to learn that there’s a difference between law and order.
“The laws of men are noble, but they are far from perfect. Order is created when everyone cooperates, so when people work against the common good, sometimes it’s necessary to forego the law in the interest of good.
“That’s the foundation of what you do.”
“I don’t destroy people.” I said.
“You’re talking about the dregs of the city, Azrael. The most miserable. The people you’ve been fighting, and would keep fighting without me.” She said.
“That doesn’t justify their senseless murder. Any victory made like this a pyrrhic one that will cost this city too much.”
“They won’t die purely for their deaths, Azrael. They themselves are of little importance, but the thing their deaths will symbolize will be an immortal ideal that will change Bastion forever.”
“That’s not the ideal they need.” I said. “I can’t let you do that.”
“I was afraid of that.” She said, raising a hand.
She snapped her fingers.
Forty crimson lights emerged from behind the machine, crawling like spiders over the top of every part of the massive device and peering forward from Vivian’s sides.
“Be a dear.
The robots rained down in groups, katanas stretching to their fully extended positions.
I fought with everything I had to resist them, every wide gesture caught by another android as the swarm piled up, overtaking me.
I struggled to throw them off as they gripped at my arms, two more appearing where one departed.
My knees hit the floor, groups of androids holding down my shoulders and holding my arms back as one pulled back my head to gaze into the opening.
One stood before me, katana stretched out in its hands as it walked forward slowly.
It leveled the steel, gripping two tight hands around the hilt as it loaded it over its shoulder.
A brief pause of apparent silence filled the room, when it drove the blade forward.
© Josiah Delnay 2016.